‘Just when you think it’s a comedy, the Kleenex moment sneaks up on you’ – More magazine
This was inspired by a comment someone once made to me about how single mothers are treated like they’re responsible for all the social ills of the world, while single fathers are treated like some kind of hero. I set it in the fictional – and slightly disreputable – York suburb of Haxsall (not to be confused with any similar-sounding places, of course…)
There’s only one man in single mum Tess’ life – her disabled son Dan. But at seventeen, Dan’s more independent than she realises, and has taken it upon himself to track down his absent father and bring his parents back together, whether Tess wants it or not. Meanwhile, to their Yorkshire town moves Jack, a widower with a mountain of baggage and a stroppy teenager sitting on top of it. His interfering family want him to find a partner too. But daughter Emily has other ideas…
Tess woke slowly opening her eyes to the morning sunshine which streamed through the open window. She stretched, luxuriating in the feel of silk sheets against her bare skin.
And then she saw him, standing at the foot of the bed, his dark hair ruffled by the soft breeze. It was Colin Firth. In one hand he held a bottle of champagne, in the other a carton of Haagen-Dazs.
As their eyes met, he smiled enigmatically and said…
‘Miss Doyle, the video’s finished.’
Tess dragged her attention away from the rain drizzling down the window pane and back to the thirty expectant faces in front of her. She reached for the remote control. Damn, she’d been so busy daydreaming she’d missed the bit where Colin – sorry, Mr Darcy – emerged from the lake, all lean thighs and dripping masculinity. Her finger hovered longingly over the rewind button, then she stopped herself.
‘Right, so what does that tell us?’
‘That Mr Darcy’s really sexy?’ Becky Whiting sighed.
‘Leave it out, he’s ancient!’ Jason Fothergill looked affronted. He was supposed to be Becky’s boyfriend, but at fourteen years old, with terminal acne and an ink-stained shirt, there was really no comparison.
‘I’d rather have him than you.’
Wouldn’t we all, Tess thought. At least Becky had a boyfriend. Drooling over Darcy was the closest thing Tess had to a love life these days. ‘I was thinking more about his relationship with Elizabeth Bennett. What does it tell us about that?’
‘They haven’t got one,’ Jason muttered, fiddling with his biro. ‘She’s a right snotty cow. I wouldn’t go out with her.’
She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. Two weeks into the new school year and she was already counting the days until half term. She had a headache throbbing in her temples, thanks to covering Marjorie Wheeler’s double lesson with 9C earlier on.
Tess had spent half the lesson explaining Hardy’s view of fatalism, and the other half trying to stop them shutting each other’s heads in desks. Just as she was wondering if she should take up a more rewarding career, like septic tank cleaning, a voice piped up from the back of the classroom. It was the new girl, Emily Tyler. ‘He’s in love with her, but he doesn’t know how to say it.’
Tess looked at her with surprise and gratitude. Everyone else just stared.
‘Then why doesn’t he just come out with it?’ Mark Nicholls asked. He was the class stud – dark, brooding and brainier than he let on.
‘No offence Miss, but why are we bothering to learn this old stuff? I mean, it’s not exactly relevant, is it?’
The kids always tried this argument if they wanted to distract her. But not today. She met Mark’s eye unflinchingly.
‘I’m sure it would be nice to study something relevant to you, Mark. But sadly Loaded magazine has yet to make it on to the GCSE syllabus.’ She turned back to the class. ‘Maybe Mark’s got a point,’ she said. ‘How do you think Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship would go if Jane Austen was writing it today?’
That started a lively discussion. The only one who didn’t join in was Emily. She sat at the back, listening to Leanne Hooper and Jordan Nuttall gossiping on either side of her. It was odd she’d made friends with those two. They didn’t seem to have anything in common.
Leanne and Jordan had streaked hair, lipgloss and lovebites; Emily wore not a scrap of make-up and her dark hair was pulled back in a messy pony tail. Tess hoped she wouldn’t start following their example too closely. She seemed such a nice girl.
Her father had seemed nice too, when he came to meet Tess before the start of term. The family had only recently moved to York from Leeds, and he was worried how Emily would settle in.
‘We’ve had a few family problems recently,’ he’d explained. Tess guessed that meant there’d been a divorce. If so, Emily certainly wouldn’t be alone; she couldn’t think of more than half a dozen kids in the class with both parents still living at home.
Ten minutes later the bell went for the end of the lesson. As they all made a dash for the door Tess called Emily over. She came reluctantly, dragging her feet.
‘We haven’t had much chance to chat since you started here. I just wanted to make sure you’re all right?’
‘Fine, thanks,’ Emily shrugged.
‘So you’re settling in all right? I see you’ve made friends with Jordan and Leanne?’
‘They’re all right.’ She fiddled with a tendril of hair escaping from her pony tail. Her nails were bitten right down, Tess noticed.
‘What about at home? Your dad mentioned you’d been through a bad time– ’
‘Everything’s fine,’ Emily cut her off. She glanced longingly at the door. Tess decided to put her out of her misery.
‘Okay, then. You can go. But don’t forget, if you ever need – ’ But the door was already slamming behind her. Through the glass, Tess could see Leanne and Jordan waiting outside.
She shook her head regretfully. Maybe she should have kept a closer eye on her, made sure she didn’t get too well in with those troublemakers. She’d meant to, but like the aerobics classes she’d signed up for and the big pile of ironing in her airing cupboard, she hadn’t got round to it.