7 minutes on Romance

An extract from ‘Fix You’ by Carrie Elks

Six

3th September 2001

… Hanna watched as Ruby slowly walked through the main gate, never once turning back to look at them. When she looked over, Richard’s face was pulled down into a frown. Even Nathan looked glassy-eyed.

“Do you fancy a coffee?” Hanna suggested, trying to find a way to cheer them all up.

“I’m meeting a couple of friends this morning, but you go ahead.” Nathan leaned forward and gave Hanna a gentle squeeze. “It was a real pleasure to meet you, Hanna. The way you look after Ruby is awesome.”

“She’s an easy kid to love.”

“Somebody should tell her that.” Nathan agreed, and then gave Richard a slap on the back before walking up the street, back toward the tube station.

Hanna turned her gaze back to Richard. “Coffee?” she asked again with a gentle voice.

Richard turned to look at her. “That sounds good.” As he stared down at her, she could see the good humour returning to his face, his lips curling into a crooked smile.

She reminded herself that it was just a coffee. They would sit opposite each other and discuss inanities while sipping lukewarm — rather mediocre — coffee, from a chipped, over-used mug. It meant nothing; it was just two friends sharing some time together. She wouldn’t be looking at him and wondering if he liked her. She wouldn’t be thinking about that snowy night in New York City, when for one electrifying moment she thought he might be about to kiss her.

She wouldn’t be doing a lot of things.

Telling Josh about this coffee date was one of them.

THEY WERE RESTING near the statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, blanketed by the warm late summer air. Richard lay back, his head propped on his rolled-up jacket. Hanna lay curled up beside him, her cheek resting on his chest. An empty bottle of expensive wine lay on its side next to them. They were both feeling a little drunk.

“Ruby will be home soon,” he murmured, his hand tangling in her hair, playing with her loose tendrils.

“Mmm.” Hanna’s eyes remained closed. He could feel a slight moistening of his t-shirt where her mouth was.

“Are you dribbling on me?” He lifted his head to get a better look.

“I don’t dribble.” She was suddenly awake, whipping her head around to catch his eye, surreptitiously wiping her lips with the back of her hand. Richard laughed at her telltale gesture.

“Come on, admit it, I make you salivate.”

“Your modesty is scaring me.” Staring up at him, she bit her lip to restrain a smile before poking her tongue out and licking his T-shirt. “But if you’re going to accuse me of something I haven’t done, then I’m going to do it, anyway.”

Clocking the expression on his face, she jumped up and grabbed her bag, running over the open grass. She passed the statue in the middle of the lawn, heading toward the wooded area surrounding them. Grabbing his coat, Richard ran after her, his long, fast strides allowing him to catch her before she even reached the first oak.

“You’ve got no chance,” he laughed. Hooking his arms around her waist, he pulled her body back to his. He could feel the softness of her stomach rising and falling in line with her short, sharp breaths.

Hanna tried to wriggle against him, tugging at his arms, trying to escape. He held firm, keeping her body contained within his embrace, fighting off her attempts to get free. Her breathing slowed. He could feel his own heartbeat starting to calm after the unexpected burst of activity.

They went back to pick up their rubbish, disposing of it in a nearby bin, and began their long walk back through the park. It was nearly 3:00 p.m., and though Nathan was picking Ruby up from school, Richard had promised to be waiting for her at home as soon as they arrived.

“So, how are things with Josh?” he asked. They reached the Long Pond, following the path around until it became the Serpentine.

Watching as a smile crossed Hanna’s face, his stomach clenched in response to her happiness. He tried to work out why her obvious attachment to her boyfriend caused such a reaction in him. They were just friends. So why was he feeling jealous?

“He’s good. We’re good. It’s going to be strange not having him with me at university this year.”

The pain in his stomach lessened. “Why won’t he be there?”

“He graduated in July. He has a trainee journalist position here at the Guardian. He’s moved into a little flat in Earl’s Court.”

“Are you guys going to stay together?”

“Yeah, of course. We’re only a couple of hundred miles apart. We can see each other at weekends and holidays.”

The large oak trees shaded the wide, paved walkway that ran alongside the Serpentine. They found themselves stepping to one side to avoid a rollerblader who was hammering down the middle of the concrete, intent on picking up as much speed as possible. On the edge of the water, dappled-brown ducks and elegantly pale swans lay waiting for the legions of London children who came to feed them daily.

Richard pulled Hanna toward him, putting his arm around her shoulders in a friendly gesture. She curled her arm around his waist.

“I’m going to miss you when you move to California. Will you be coming over here for Christmas?” Her voice was soft.

“I don’t know when I’ll be back in London, or even New York, come to that. If Chris and I want to get this business off the ground, then I think we’ll be working too hard to leave San Francisco for any length of time.”

“Tell me again what you’re planning to do?”

“Okay, have you heard of Friends Reunited?” He decided to try and start at the basics, to help her understand the concepts.

“Yeah, my mum has made contact with some of her old school friends through that.”

“Well, Chris and I want to use that sort of concept, but make it wider, and more modern. Not just catching up with old friends, but keeping in touch with your current ones, chatting, letting them know how you are doing. Maybe even playing games against each other, that sort of thing.”

“Why would you do that when you can just pick up the phone and call them?”

“Because this way you can keep in contact with hundreds of friends at once. With a click of a button, you can let everybody in your life know what’s going on with you. Say, for instance, you want to tell them that you’ve graduated. You either have to phone or email them, send them a letter, or rely on word-of-mouth. With our site, you’d be able to write a line to say you’ve graduated, and all of your friends will read it at once. You’ve spent less than a minute updating them, and can spend the rest of your day reading Jane Austen, or whatever the hell it is you want to do.”

“Hmm. I can’t really see why I’d ever want to do that.”

“Did you ever think that you’d want to have a cell phone?”

“A what?”

“Surely you know what a cell phone is?” Richard felt incredulous, pulling his Nokia 8250 out of his pocket and showing it to her.

“Oh! You mean a mobile phone?” Hanna took the phone from him, looking at the chromatic display. “Ooh, this one is nice.”

Richard shook his head. “As I was saying, although you may not have thought about needing a mobile phone,” he drawled the last two words, “now everybody has either got one, or wants one, and it’s changing the way we communicate. It will be the same with websites like ours. We’re fulfilling a need people didn’t even know they had. That’s the way to innovate.”

“Well, I’ll let you know if I ever feel the need to tell hundreds of acquaintances that I’ve just bought a loaf of bread. Until then, I’ll reserve judgment.” Hanna smiled, as if she was enjoying winding him up, and Richard realized he was enjoying it, too.

“I’ll expect a very public, web-based apology. Perhaps some grovelling, too.”

“I can do dribbling, if that helps?”

“I noticed.”

They had reached Hyde Park Corner. Hanna jammed her hands in the pockets of her shorts. “You’d better get back. Ruby won’t be happy if you’re not there when she gets home. It was so nice to see you again.”

“And you. I’ll miss you.”

“It doesn’t sound like you’ll have time to miss me.”

“I’ll make time.”

“Then make sure you email me. Or invite me to join your website. I’m still all about the grovelling.”

Richard laughed, running his hand through his hair. He looked down at her smiling face. “I can’t wait for the grovelling.”

“Seriously, good luck with it all. Don’t be a stranger.” Hanna pulled her hands out of her pockets and threw her arms around him, pulling him closely for a brief hug before she released him and stepped back.

He leaned down and brushed his lips against the soft skin of her cheek, taking a moment to breathe her in. Hanna turned and walked down the steps, into the depths of the underground station. Standing at the top of the steps, Richard watched her retreating body until she had reached the bottom and he could see her no more. Touching his lips briefly with his fingers, he turned and walked along the sidewalk in the direction of Chelsea.

If you enjoyed reading this extract you can pre-order Fix You from Amazon, Kobo or Apple.

You can also watch a book trailer on youtube.

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