Welcome to Once. a story of stories with a new one published each week.

Everyone has a story to tell…

Hamish and Emily

 He had given up trying to get close to her months ago now, every advance was rebuffed so it made it a futile effort. Soft furnishings, school projects and her endless social events took pride of place in her life, leaving him quite forgotten. He glanced at his phone, at the last message she had sent to him earlier that morning and felt despondent. Outlining dinner plans (not including him) and asking him to let his mother in law into the house so she could hem the living room curtains, it was impersonal and indifferent.

In 1994 Hamish Carmichael had married Beth Simpson in a lavish ceremony in the grounds of a country estate. It had been a well planned and even better executed event that had hosted over one thousand of their closest friends and family. Hamish was dazed by the grandeur of the wedding, and in awe of his new wife who had stormed into his life quite suddenly and changed it almost beyond recognition. He had basked in her adoration of him, without an inkling that eleven years down the line she would take more joy in the prospect of redecorating the hall way then anything he could do for her. Sometimes he looked across their pristine dinning table at her while she ate, her perfect mouth chewing carefully, her eyes glazed over to feelings. She talked during dinner, although she never quite met his gaze, and around twice a week she laid him out an outfit and indicated he accompany her to an event. She always looked stunning on these evenings, and spoke to everyone, including him, animatedly, smiling and gracious. She held on to his arm, and introduced him magnanimously to everyone with twinkling eyes. On these evenings Hamish would wait in hope that on returning home the twinkle would stay but it never did.

He looked at his phone hoping she would text again but he knew she wouldn’t, and with his ever increasing disappointment he opened his desk drawer and stowed his phone away.

For as long as he could remember Hamish had taken his carefully packed lunch down by the river to eat, even when it rained. He sat on a bench staring at the water swirling over the rocky bed and mourned his life, and his lack of courage to change it. It was rare to see people down on that patch of river, apart from dog walkers and he liked the fact he could sit there and eat in peace. He twiddled silently with his wedding ring gazing at nothing and so was only half aware of another person sitting down beside him, until she spoke to him.
‘Your shoe lace is untied.’ He turned his head, suddenly very aware that a young woman had sat herself down, lunch box in hand, on the bench beside him.
‘I’m sorry?’
‘Your shoe lace, its dragging in the mud.’ She indicated with delicate fingers at his ancient brogues, and met his gaze. ‘I thought maybe you hadn’t noticed.’
‘Oh, thanks!’ He said, pulling himself together and bending down to tie the lace. She smiled at him nodding her head in acknowledgement and began eating her sandwich. He returned his eyes to the water.
‘I just got a new job, started today in fact.’ He turned his head back to her, acutely aware of how pretty she was, and watched her take two huge bites of her sandwich before she spoke again. ‘I thought it was going to be boring but its ok.’ She looked up at him. ‘Do you mind me talking to you? It’s just you looked quite forlorn sat here on your own and there aren’t any other benches.’ He swallowed a piece of tangerine and shook his head. She smiled, taking this as an indication to talk more, and so it began…


Sam and Mathilde 

Sam crept along the hall way to the kitchen, he needed a drink and a think and he didn’t want to wake her. He had known for a long time that she would never be fully his, and he had sworn this wouldn’t happen again, that he would be strong and not let her in, but when she had stood there at the door her hair wet from the shower his self resolve had diminished. He opened the fridge and took the orange juice out silently, cursing himself for being so weak. All his friends had told him to give up on her, especially after last time when he had seen her with that man in a restaurant. She had been wearing a tight white dress, her hair in loose curls and she had been laughing. He was an old friend she had told him, someone she had known forever. He drank down his glass of orange.

They had met at a street fair in the September of the previous year, he hadn’t wanted to go but his brother had persuaded him, pulling him out of bed and throwing a t-shirt at him.
‘There’s this girl I want to meet there’ he had told him, and so they had gone. The fact that she had been meeting his brother should have been enough to warn him, but she had shown so little interest in Joe and stared so much at him that when she had discreetly passed him her phone number he had taken it with gusto.
‘She used to go out with my friend,’ Sinead at work had told him, ‘He said he was always playing catch up with her, he never knew where he was and she had so many “friends” he found it difficult to trust her.’ Sam had resented these comments at first, lost in the lust, which he was certain was love, of her luscious locks and perfect body. He had told everyone about her, friends, family, acquaintances, work colleagues and then three weeks after she stopped returning his calls.
‘Well she was clearly bound to be a head case,’ his brother had said, to which Sam had promptly put the phone down.  She had phoned him a month later, when he had just about given up hope of ever speaking to her again. She was so sorry, she hadn’t meant to hurt him, an old friend had been going through a rough time so she had gone to stay with him. He hadn’t asked who the old friend was, although he had his suspicions, and instead she had come over and he had cooked her dinner.
A few weeks later he had been walking to get his train when he had seen her sitting outside a café with her hand on another mans. He had been unable to take his eyes off the scene, watching surreptitiously from the side lines like a passing stranger. When she had finally noticed him she had smiled and beckoned him over but he had walked away. Why did you leave? She had text him and he had managed to ignore the text for twenty four hours, after which she had turned up again and clung onto him, her skin warm against his skin.
‘Its acceptable behaviour if you aren’t official,’ his sister had said when he’d told her, ‘Just don’t fall for her.’ But it was too late he had.

He poured himself another glass of orange, last night they had had a fight, he had told her he’d seen her in the restaurant and that he didn’t understand. He’d demanded some truth and thrown his weight around and now he regretted it. She had cried, staring at him with her big brown eyes full of tears and he had taken her to bed to try to make things better. He sighed and put his glass in the sink, the argument had been futile all he had done was upset her, and he hadn’t got the answer he wanted. He tiptoed back down the hall, she was still there in his bed, hugging a pillow. He slid in beside her and as she rolled over and snuggled herself into the nook in his arm he forgot his worries because she was there with him, at least for that night.

Peter and Shelly

Peter had done everything he felt possible to make Shelly notice him, apart from in fact talk to her. He had first noticed her six months ago, when in a rush he had boarded the wrong train to Coventry, making him late for work. Now he made himself late on purpose once a week just so he could see her.

She was medium height with red hair, and he knew she was called Shelly because once when it had been hot on the train she had taken off her coat to reveal a name badge. He had glanced at it out of the corner of his eye, not wanting to stare straight at her. She always sat in the same compartment, and he made sure to walk through that compartment when he got on and off the train, never sitting in the same one though, close proximity to her made him breathless. He hadn’t told anyone about Shelly or the fact that he knew she was the one, he didn’t want people to think he was crazy. And it was crazy, he’d never even spoken to her, but somehow he knew.

Peter had never expected to meet the one, especially at the age of 46, it wasn’t that time was running out it was just that his Mum had always told him that there was no such thing, and his Mum was nearly never wrong (apart from that incident with the spaghetti bolognese but he didn’t like to think about that).

As he sat on the train on that Tuesday, it’s gently rocking allowing him to really concentrate on his own thoughts (just the way he liked it) he heard a commotion coming from the next carriage. Her carriage. He looked up, peering over the seats in front of him. He could hear shouting. He couldn’t think of any other time he’d heard shouting on a train, they were usually such quiet places. Suddenly a flurry of red burst through the glass doors from the adjoining carriage and past where Peter was sitting. He could hear crying. He looked after the figure and saw that it was Shelly. He turned quickly back around concentrating hard on the seat in front, what should he do? Would now be a good time to make himself known to Shelly? It had been nearly 7 months now that he’d been travelling on the wrong train just to be near her…

He turned slowly in his seat and peered up the centre aisle, the woman in the seat across had her headphones in, eyes closed against the world. Good, he thought, no need to make eye contact with too many people.

He stood. He walked. There she was right at the end of his carriage, tissue in hand, dabbing her eyes. She looked up and she saw him. She saw Peter.