This is a fictional short story, in 2320 words.
It was prompted by a photo taken by Sue Judd, and featured on her blog. https://suejudd.com/
Losing her mother at such a young age had greatly affected Veronica’s life. Just at the time when she was looking forward to moving away from home and going to university, the shock was compounded by her sense of duty to stay and keep Dad company, as well as help out around the house. Not that he ever expected it, or asked her to. In fact, he tried to insist that she carry on with her plans, adding that Mum would never have wanted her to stick around just to look after him. But she would not be shaken in her resolve. She left school that summer with good exam results, and started working for the City Council just one month later.
She had asked herself if she was being self-sacrificing to prove a point, or even to compensate for what she saw as her own inadequacies. But she never truly faced the reality that she was just scared. Scared of a new city, scared of meeting new people, and scared of not making a go of it three years later. Mum’s unexpected death had actually provided her with a means of escape from all that fear and stress, but to acknowledge that would be unthinkable.
The new job meant starting at the bottom, but the prospects were good, and her skill with figures would prove its worth in the buying department. Most of the others in the office were older, and seemed to get some satisfaction from telling her what to do, and giving her all the repetitive, mundane tasks. Her below-average looks and decidedly above-average height meant that she didn’t attract the attention of any of the office Lotharios, and she was left alone to get on with her work. Home life with Dad worked out well too. He was in for dinner most evenings, appreciative of her efforts with the housework and cooking. And was always ready with the car when she needed a lift, or to go shopping on Saturdays.
She spent a lot of time in her room though, as she was secretly studying for professional qualifications. It never occurred to her to miss the few girl friends she used to hang out with. Most had gone off to university anyway, and made new lives in different towns and cities. Without worrying too much about it, she soon realised that she was turning into a version of her own mother. Life went on, and it seemed like a blink of an eye when she celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday. Where had those seven years gone? But as a bonus, great results in the exams meant she was next on the list for promotion at work, and now had the eye of the head of department. She was given the deputy job three weeks before her thirtieth birthday, and Dad beamed with pride when she told him.
The years passed without too much notice. By the time she was forty, Dad had started to cough a lot. He had never been what people thought of as a smoker, but had enjoyed a few cigars most weeks, and the odd glass of malt whisky. Approaching his seventieth birthday, his breathing began to give some concern. The doctor told him his x-rays were not good, and he had to give up the cigars, and take things easy. Veronica kept an eye on him. A low fat diet, no cigars anymore, and whisky only at the weekend. Some years later, she hardly remembered how many now, she had to go on a seminar for work, as it was implied that she would soon be the new department head, with the impending retirement of her boss. Dad would be alright, as she had arranged for some neighbours to check on him.
The guest speaker was no less than entrancing. Julio worked in the huge city of Los Angeles, and had vast experience in urban planning, and how to buy products from suppliers. He noticed her sitting at the front, and Veronica was sure that he was smiling just at her. Never having had a boyfriend, she had no real idea what to make of it. But when he sought her out at the wine and nibbles reception later, she could only feel flattered. He was younger than her, undoubtedly, and his Latin charm overwhelmed her. He listened to her, that alone was something unusual. When he suggested they go on somewhere, she agreed without hesitation. He held her coat, stood up when she came back from the toilet, and opened the door of the taxi for her. His manners were impeccable. She found herself relaxed in his company; he was easy to talk to, and making her feel rather girlish with his compliments.
At the end of the evening, he escorted her back to her nice London hotel, and kissed her briefly on the cheek. Never suggestive, never pushy. In many ways, Veronica regretted his restraint. She laughed to herself as the lift took her up to her room. He would never know how close he had been to deflowering the oldest virgin he had ever met.
Back home, she settled for fond memories of Julio. He was back in America, pursuing his consultancy business, and had no doubt forgotten her by now. Dad was getting worse though. The hospital tests confirmed their greatest fear, lung cancer. He went into a downward spiral, refusing some treatments and medication, and ultimately declining surgery that might give him nine more months. He couldn’t see the point, and Veronica had to agree with him. The end wasn’t pleasant, and she had to use up all her goodwill at work, and most of her annual leave, to see him into the next world.
The funeral was on the same day as her fifty-fifth birthday, and Veronica made a decision, after everyone had gone home. She would sell the large house, and downsize to a smart apartment in the city centre. After all, she needed no more than one bedroom, and the new place would be close to shops, restaurants, and some vestige of life. And it was time to give up work. She had been the department head for a long time, and now had thirty-seven years of service with the city council. Her pension had topped out at thirty years, and was not far short of her salary for still working. On top of that, the difference in equity from selling the house and buying her new apartment for cash left her very well off. By some standards, she could in fact claim to be a rich woman. She tendered her resignation, and reluctantly agreed to attend a mercifully short retirement party, where she declined to make a speech.
But life in the new place was surprisingly lonely. It occurred to her that this was the only time in her life she had been alone, and she didn’t even have the daily routine of work to break up the seemingly endless weeks. One night, she screwed back the top on the bottle of white wine she had become accustomed to drinking, and decided to do something out of character. Taking Julio’s card from a compartment in her purse, she used her new Apple Mac Pro to send him an email, hoping he would still have the same contact address. She was still only fifty-five, presentable, and whilst not attractive perhaps, far from ugly.
Despite the time difference meaning it was very early in the morning for him, the reply was almost immediate. Veronica tingled. He did remember her. He had never forgotten her. He always thought of her, and regretted not taking things further that night in London. He didn’t care about the sixteen year age difference, and he thought she was an elegant and attractive lady. She found herself breathing much faster than she was used to. Replying quickly, she told him that she would be very happy to meet him again, the next time he was in London, or anywhere in England. Failing that, she was now in a position to fly out to America to see him. He could even show her around Los Angeles, if he so wished. Her heart was fluttering as she sent that reply, She had a good feeling about the future, at last.
A long time passed until he sent another email. She opened the wine again, and finished the bottle as she stared at the computer screen, waiting.
Oh, he was so sorry. The consultancy business was in trouble. He had debts, and could never afford to fly to England, let alone expect Veronica to entertain him while he was there. And he was now living in a shabby apartment, on the wrong side of the city. He would be too ashamed to invite her there, and was too poor to even be able to show her around. He really had no idea what the future held for him, and couldn’t imagine when he could ever get back to England, or be able to show her a good time in his home city. He still thought about her every day, but had to sadly accept that nothing could ever come of it.
Halfway through the second bottle of wine, Veronica made a decision. She emailed Julio again, offering to send him two thousand dollars to cover the cost of a return ticket to London. He could stay at her new apartment, and eat with her. She would never mention his situation, or his lack of money. She promised faithfully that her intentions were only good ones, and assured him that she was now wealthy enough to fund his trip, after the death of her father. She sent the email with her fingers actually crossed, then went to bed, where she found it hard to get to sleep.
At seven the next morning, Veronica checked her email. dismayed to find that Julio had rejected her kind offer. He had debts of over fifty thousand dollars to settle because of his business, and could not dream of leaving America while that was hanging over him. On top of that, he was about to lose his lease car, due to missed payments amounting to six thousand dollars, and he currently owed over two thousand dollars in rent on his small apartment. He wasn’t about to worry Veronica about his problems, although he missed her, and wanted to see her again, really badly. She hardly hesitated, sending an email asking for money transfer details. She would send him seventy thousand dollars, which would solve all his immediate problems, and allow him to get plane tickets to visit her. If things turned out well, maybe she could even go back with him, and start a new life in America.
He refused of course. Too proud, too ashamed. He couldn’t possibly accept her generous offer. But she kept on insisting. After her third email that morning, he accepted with thanks, as long as he could pay her back one day, when his business improved. He sent bank transfer details, and Veronica sent the money from her account immediately. She felt relaxed and happy, and composed a reply, outlining her plan for their first day together in the city.
There was a nice restaurant just at the bottom of the steps leading up to her apartment. As soon as she knew his date and time of arrival, she would book a table for lunch, and send him the address of the restaurant. He could get a taxi from the airport, and meet her at their table for two. After lunch, they could walk up to her place, and discuss what to do with the rest of their lives. Less than one hour later, she received an email with the flight number, and the arrival time. Only three days to wait, and Julio would be joining her at the restaurant. She rang down, and booked a table for two, for twelve forty-five on Friday.
Veronica had never followed fashion. But she knew how to dress well for her age, and always bought quite expensive clothes, of good quality. She went out and bought a white linen top, a nice flowing skirt in yellow, and matching shoes. The ensemble was finished off with a navy cashmere cardigan, and a tan leather handbag that was twice as much as she would normally ever pay for a bag. She had her hair cut a little shorter, more suitable than the shoulder length it had been, and decided on some auburn highlights too.
On the day, she made sure to arrive at twelve-thirty. The young waiter was friendly, and showed her to an outside table, on that sunny and warm morning. Veronica ordered some still water, and a large glass of white wine. She told him that she was expecting company, and would see the menus once the gentleman arrived. Just after one-fifteen, the waiter hovered, asking if she needed anything. She smiled, sipping more of her wine. “Perhaps another glass of the same”. He nodded professionally, and returned with the wine soon after. Twenty minutes later, Veronica took out her smartphone, and checked the flight arrival online. It had landed on time, no delays. She scrolled down to Julio’s number, and rang it. The constant beeping confused her. Was it engaged, or unavailable?
At two-twenty, the waiter returned with menus. He leaned forward, speaking quietly. “We are of course open all day, madam. But if you want the lunch menu, I am afraid you are supposed to order by two-thirty”. Veronica ordered the first main course on the daily specials. “The salmon fillet, with salad please”. The food arrived quickly, and she nodded her thanks. Picking at it, she was distracted, constantly checking her phone. The afternoon was becoming warmer. Taking off the cardigan, Veronica wrapped it around her waist. Just before four-thirty, she waved a hand at the waiter, indicating he should bring the bill. Her face flushed as she paid, leaving a generous tip.
The walk back up the stairs to her apartment was strangely arduous.