Love in the Time of Corona

Ebook edition released 01/03/2022

by Rachel Rees

Shorter Reads

Love in the Time of Corona Synopsis

She’s sitting alone in a restaurant slightly more expensive than she can afford but which TripAdvisor assures her makes ‘the tastiest burgers in the city’. Jack loves burgers. His profile picture is a monochrome snap of James Dean eating one. After necking back half a bottle of wine and working up the courage to download Tinder, his decision to use an image of a dead celebrity rather than his real face had seemed witty and strangely profound. Now, sober and exposed, it strikes her as the calling card of a psychopath.

A waitress passes by with a bowl of curly fries and her stomach rumbles. She’d prefer a curry, but it’s their first date and - if all goes well - she doesn’t fancy spending the next sixty plus years answering the question “How did you two meet?” with “I watched him sweat his way through a vindaloo, turn a worrying shade of puce and make a desperate dash for the bogs.” In the unlikely event that tonight resembles a fairytale, she’d rather it not be Shrek.

Eyes on her phone, she scrolls down her newsfeed, articles on the latest climate crisis, government cock-up and Coronation Street spoilers flashing past. She doesn’t click on any, wouldn’t be able to make sense of them if she did. Her heart’s beating too fast to concentrate on anything other than the digital clock at the top of her screen.

19:09.

He’s late.

Why did she agree to this? She doesn’t want to meet the love of her life through the internet. She’s watched too many Cary Grant movies to settle for a courtship consisting primarily of fruit-based emojis and sympathetically lit dick pics. She wants romance. Old-fashioned, will-they-won’t-they, Darcy and Elizabeth, Ross and Rachel, Simba and Nala style romance. Is that really too much to ask?

Apparently so. In her twenty-eight years of existence, the most thoughtful thing an ex-boyfriend’s ever done for her is walk to the late-night Tesco’s and buy a box of Kleenex when she was battling a head cold. Admittedly, it would have been sweeter if he hadn’t handed them over with a terse “It was either that or suffocate you with a pillow. You sniff like you’re kickstarting a chainsaw with your nostrils.” but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

And, when it comes to love, she’s most definitely cash-strapped. A lost cause whose mother has even abandoned the obligatory hurry-up-and-make-me-a-granny schtick. Nowadays, whenever they’re stood behind a loved-up couple at the checkouts or seated beside a pregnant woman on the bus, she’ll just sigh and mutter “I used to have such high hopes.” As if her daughter’s eternal spinsterhood is now all but guaranteed. An unfortunate fact of life to be grudgingly endured, like the menopause or her glasses fogging up every time she opens the oven door.

19:18

He’s very late.

Maybe he’s not coming. Maybe he saw her through the window, winced at the extra pounds she’s put on during the pandemic and decided not to bother. Or maybe he was put off by the bad dye job that’s left her with more roots than a Shepherd’s tree (230 feet deep, apparently. Contrary to reports, not every Millennial used furlough to learn Mandarin. Or make a fortune investing in Bitcoin. No. Some whiled away that precious oasis of free time obsessively Googling pointless trivia on their phones at two o’clock in the morning.)

“Hello.”

She jerks her head up. The man approaching her table is mid-to-late twenties, pale, with hair that’s slightly too long behind the ears and brutally short on top. Not quite James Dean, but no obvious Patrick Bateman vibes either. She’ll take it.

He lowers his mask to smile and for a moment she sees their future unfurling in front of her. She’s not asking for anything too outrageous. There’s no surprise proposal at the top of the Eiffel Tower or fancy wedding on some far-flung, crystalline beach. Instead there’s a steady heartbeat beneath her ear when she’s laying on the sofa late at night. A hand squeezing hers as she walks into some dreaded family function. An arm around her waist and a line of heat against her back as she drifts off to sleep. Little things which keep the rising pit of loneliness at bay.

“Hello,” she says, grinning up at him. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“You too.”

She rises to hug him and then wonders if she’s being too forward. “Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve done this. That’s why I turned to Tinder. I’ve never really bought into the whole ‘tick, tock, better listen to your body clock’ rubbish, but after having eighteen months of our twenties effectively wiped out I’m definitely starting to feel The Fear.”

He looks confused.

“You know The Fear,” she elaborates. “Like sometimes I’ll be lying in bed, silently cursing whichever raging sadist invented alarm clocks, when it’ll hit me that I’m almost thirty and I’ve got no savings, no partner, no real career plan. Hell, I don’t even think I’ve got hobbies anymore - unless spending an hour scrolling through Netflix trying to decide what to watch before giving up and going to bed counts. It doesn’t, does it?”

He shakes his head.

“I thought not. So, what do you fancy eating? Not to rush you, but if I don’t order something soon the owner’s going to have me arrested for squatting!”

Instead of answering, his gaze drifts down to the empty chair opposite hers.

Her stomach sinks. “You came over to see if that seat is free, didn’t you?”

“No.”

“Oh thank god! For a moment there I was worried you weren’t my date and I’d just made a right tit of myself droning on about my sad little…”

“Actually it’s just that our table is out of ketchup. Do you mind if I borrow yours?”

“Of course, go right ahead,” she says, slumping back down.

19:27

Her mother is right. She’s definitely dying alone.

About This Edition

ISBN: VSSA202205
Publication date: 1st March 2022
Author: Rachel Rees
Publisher: Independently published
Format: Ebook
Primary Genre Shorter Reads

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ISBN: VSSA202205
Publication date: 01/03/2022
Format: Ebook

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About Rachel Rees

I’m Rachel, I’m 29, and I grew up by the sea in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. I studied English Literature at Cardiff University and last year undertook a PGCE. I was shortlisted for the LoveReading Very Short Story Award in 2020 with my entry Millennial Madness and I also write book and art reviews for Buzz magazine.

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