This is the second part of a fiction serial, in 1140 words.
Ellie was gone before Steve woke up. She left earlier and earlier these days, claiming that it was the only way she could get a seat on the train. He felt sluggish and tired, the result of a troubled sleep. It had been impossible to get the voice of Sophie out of his head, leaving him feeling like a Cobra being charmed by the notes from a snake-charmer’s flute. And that unusual email, with two kisses at the end. He was sure that meant something, but hesitated to overstate the implication.
After twelve years together, married life with Ellie had settled into a routine for both of them. They hardly went out anymore, and their circle of friends had slowly diminished as to be almost non-existent. Living so far from both sets of parents meant they generally did the trip just a few times a year, Christmas and birthdays. Between both jobs, and a long daily commute, they hardly had the energy to chat at night, let alone attempt anything remotely exciting. The truth was, Steve was bored, and he was certain that Ellie felt exactly the same. At least they had stuck to their decision not to have children. He couldn’t imagine coming home to all that noise and mess, and he was sure that his wife would have hated the disruption to her life.
He checked his watch. Wouldn’t hurt to be a little bit late. Easy enough to blame traffic on the ring road. So he went downstairs and switched on the laptop. When it had loaded up, he checked Sophie’s email again. No mistaking the friendly tone, or the way it read with genuine affection. A reply would only be polite, he decided.
‘Dear Sophie, I was very pleased to get your nice email, and not at all offended. I completed the survey, and gave you five stars, as well as a nice personal recommendation. You said that I have a nice voice, but I have to tell you that you have an amazing voice; perfect for your job, and so pleasant to listen to. If only everyone was as kind and professional as you, life would be a lot easier. By the way, please call me Steve. Mr Fuller is far too formal. It’s a strange thing to say in an email to someone I have never met, but you seem to me to be a very warm and sincere person. I really appreciated you contacting me. Regards, Steve. xx’
Once it was sent, Steve immediately regretted adding the kisses. But as he was getting dressed later, he relaxed about that. After all, he was only doing the same as she had done, so she was unlikely to get the wrong idea, or be upset about it.
The traffic was genuinely bad that morning. Terrible in fact. He hardly needed the excuse when he got to work, as everyone else was moaning about it too. On top of arriving late, he had a lot on. There was a big building project south of the town, and his company were tendering for much of the work. He spent all morning costing the prices of pipework, groundwork, and concrete. It was very dull, but easy for him, after so many years at the same firm. By the time it got to his lunch break, he decided to buy something from the van that stopped outside head office, and eat outside, in the sunshine.
Sitting on the low wall, he checked his emails using the smartphone. One from his Mum, and another two from work colleagues trying to arrange a night out at a football match. He deleted them after reading, as he couldn’t be bothered with all that macho stuff at the football, and his Mum was just waffling on about her sister being ill again. The fourth one caught his eye, as it was from Sophie.
‘Dear Steve, I was so excited to get your reply, and very pleased that you didn’t mind me writing to you. I love what you said about my voice, as it never sounds anything like that to me. I have never contacted a customer like this before, but felt sure we had connected in some way. I hope you agree. Feel free to email me any time, I will look forward to it. Sincerely, Sophie. xxx’
Steve grinned as he read it. Three kisses, she had slipped in one extra. But as nice as it was, he knew he had to tread carefully. No point giving her the wrong impression, or leading her on. He put down the unfinished sandwich, and typed a reply.
‘Hi Sophie. I am pleased that you liked the fact I replied. I will be happy to keep in touch, but should tell you up front that I am married, thirty-four years old, and not looking to give you the wrong impression. I was sincere about your voice of course, as it is genuinely wonderful to listen to. But for all I know, you could be an eighteen year old girl, or a married woman with a family, so I thought it best to be honest with you. Regards, Steve. xxx’
He pressed send without even realising that he had also added three kisses, but sure that he had done the right thing by being honest.
The afternoon was a nightmare, as the dates for the tenders had been moved forward, and his boss was raging about possible corruption in the Town Hall. It looked like they might have been working on this for months, and it was all going to come to nothing. Steve retreated to the toilets for a break, hiding inside one of the cubicles to chill out. He checked his phone, and sure enough he had a reply from Sophie. Not just a text message, but a photo too. It was a selfie, apparently taken at her desk that day, judging by all the screens surrounding her, and the fact she was wearing a headset.
‘Dear Steve, thanks for being so honest with me. I am twenty-nine, and have never been married. I live on my own in a small flat, with a cat for company. 🙂 I thought you might like to see a photo of me, so sent one separately. I am not trying to disrupt your life at all, but imagined it might be nice to be friends. Don’t you agree? Love, Sophie. xxxx’
Steve looked at the photo. Despite looking a lot older than twenty-nine, she was gorgeous. Even the large frame glasses she was wearing suited her, and although the picture only showed her from the waist up, her curvy body was evident. It certainly suited her voice, he had to conclude.
And yes, it might be nice to be friends.