Home > Most Popular > Just The Way You Are

Just The Way You Are
Author:Beth Moran

Just The Way You Are

Beth Moran




1





Arriving home on Valentine’s Day, after a slog of a day, to find a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates and the enticing fragrance of a homemade curry is a lovely surprise.

For me, however, currently single and living with my mother, this was neither lovely, nor, unfortunately, that much of a surprise.

‘Surprise!’ she cried, popping the cork off a bottle of Prosecco once I’d slipped off my sopping wet trainers, shaken the rain out of my hair and found her standing beside a dining table laid for two.

‘What’s this?’ I asked, trying to sound grateful rather than utterly dismayed.

‘Well, we can’t spend this evening sitting about feeling sorry for ourselves, can we?’ she gushed. ‘Team Tennyson, our favourite chicken balti and all the sides. Who needs a man?’

While I agreed with the sentiment – if I needed a man I’d be in big trouble, because I’d not had one for years – I had, in fact, arranged to meet one, that evening, for dinner. In an Indian restaurant.

Crap.

My first date in forever, and I was going to have to cancel.

Mum’s smile had begun to waver in the two-second hesitation while I tried to summon up the appropriate response.

‘Wow, it looks fantastic. The flowers are gorgeous. Thank you so much, Mum.’

Appeased, she tugged her hand-knitted jumper – pale grey with tiny love hearts in every shade of pink – down over teal cropped trousers that had been stylish ten years ago but now appeared faded and shabby. She’d blow-dried her chin-length salt-and-pepper bob and even added a swipe of lipstick to brighten her sharp features.

Inside, my heart drooped.

‘I’ll quickly get changed, if that’s okay?’ I worked for ReadUp, an adult literacy charity, and had spent all day in a grubby community centre on the other side of Nottingham. I was pretty sure the stink of stale sweat had followed me home.

‘Here.’ Mum handed me a glass of Prosecco. ‘Take your time. I’m not going anywhere!’





The second I got upstairs, I undressed, pulled on a dressing gown and messaged Steph, my best friend of eighteen years.

HELP!! Mum has cooked dinner and bought flowers and chocolates! What do I say to Mark?





Steph’s reply seemed to ping through before I’d even pressed send.

Tell him you’re looking forward to seeing him later AS PLANNED A WEEK AGO





I took in a shaky breath. Mark was a manager at one of the libraries where I met with clients. We’d been engaging in slightly awkward conversations for a few months now. Mostly about books, gradually progressing on to the weather, local news and eventually restaurants – his slightly bumpy segue into asking me out. He was nice, if a little over-earnest, and had beautiful brown eyes. If I could keep focused on the top of his face, and avoid his constant lip-chewing, I could quite possibly, almost definitely end up sort of attracted to him.

This was my first date in nearly two years. Even if Mark didn’t turn out to be ‘the one’, I was in desperate need of the practice.

I was also in desperate need of a social life that didn’t revolve around my sixty-three-year-old mother and my newly married best friend.

But I couldn’t go.

I can’t go!





I replied to Steph, even while willing her to force me into it. She sent me a flurry of replies:

No! NO NO NO! YOU HAVE TO GO!!

You cannot let her do this again!





I am literally begging you





Drew is begging you





Tell her the truth, turn off your phone and GO AND ENJOY YOURSELF





I sucked in an anxious breath.

I should have told her I had plans





Another split-second reply:

Have you forgotten tooth-gate?





I would never forget tooth-gate.

Ollie, you are not going to stand someone up on V Day! I forbid you to cancel!





I jumped in and out of the shower, trying to hold back the tears that had, if I’m honest, been building for years now. Steph continued bombarding me with messages as I got ready. I didn’t bother replying that I didn’t even like Mark that much. That it was rude and cruel to leave my mother, riddled with two decades of abandonment issues, alone on Valentine’s Day. That I wouldn’t enjoy the date anyway due to stressing out about Mum’s anxious messages reproducing like mutant bacteria on my phone.

And then her last message hit me like a punch in the guts:

Keep giving in to this and the Dream List might as well die.





Dressed in flared black trousers and a pale blue halter-neck top, coppery hair curled into soft waves, my grey eyes rimmed with a smudge of eyeliner, I took a breath fit for a deep-sea dive, picked up my chunky-heeled shoes and steeled myself for impact.





Mum was ready and waiting for my footsteps on the stairs. As soon as I entered the dining room she hurried in, bearing two plates, piled high. A platter of samosas and bhajis was already on the table.

‘Well, don’t you look gorgeous! Almost a shame you haven’t got a date tonight.’

‘Well, actually, Mum, I have.’ To avoid me backing out as soon as I saw her, I’d messaged Mark to say that a family emergency had come up, and I would be half an hour late, but I was definitely coming.

‘What?’ Mum’s face crumpled in confusion. ‘What are you talking about?’

‘A friend from work invited me to go for a drink with him later on. I’ll stay and eat with you first, then head off.’ Not entirely true, and my lie would require eating two meals in one evening, but that was the least of my worries.

‘You’re going to leave me. On my own. After I’ve done all this for you?’ The smile was gone, her face mottled with crimson.

‘No, I said I’m going to eat with you, and then pop out afterwards. If you’d checked first, I’d have told you I had plans.’

‘If I’d checked first?’ She pressed a trembling hand to her chest. ‘It never crossed my mind that you’d not tell me if you had a date. I didn’t even know you were interested in anyone.’

‘It was a last-minute arrangement.’ I was frustrated by the quiver in my voice. If I’d told her I had plans, she’d only have had more time to invent a reason for me to cancel them. Two years ago, she developed agonising toothache on the day I was supposed to be going away for the weekend with Steph. By the time I’d taken her to the emergency dentist and found out that it was nothing that couldn’t have waited until Monday, we’d missed our flight to Amsterdam.

‘Well, I organised this days ago. You’ll have to tell him you’re busy.’

‘No. I’m sorry, but I’m not cancelling a date on Valentine’s Day to spend yet another evening with my mum. Let’s just enjoy our dinner, and then I’m going out. It’s not that big a deal.’