“Picture-Perfect” Sneak Peek of first 4 Chapters



              Sacha Kurucz                     


“Be brave enough to live creatively. The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You cannot get there by bus, only by hard work, risking and by not quite knowing what you are doing. What you will discover will be wonderful: Yourself.” – Alan Alda                   

Secret artist, Layla Griffiths, has had enough. She’s had enough of her stressful job, her jaded romance with Tony Granger and the somewhat tense relationship with his interfering family. She finds her only solace from it all in the pages of fantasy novels and in the brushstrokes of a painting. But Layla doesn’t yet know that her ordinary life is about to be swiftly upended, and only she can choose how to fill in what’s been erased.

So, with a splash of hope, a scattering of chance and a palette full of risk, she decides to sketch herself a whole new world.

Unbelievably, everything starts to change and she can’t believe her luck, especially in her illustrious new role, working with Benjamin Turner – one of her favourite mystical writers – on the art for his latest book. As promising as it all seems, though, this new world doesn’t come without its emotional consequences, and it is these serendipitous events that will make or break it all.

Layla has never been able to find what she’s been looking for, until now…

This is her remarkable story. One of courage, inspiration and love.


Christmas Day 2016

Snow had begun to daintily drop on the ledge of the outside window, making its grand gossamer entrance with pure elegance. One minute it was clear, the next, the outside world was white. I watched it pour from the sky, like icing sugar sifted from a cloud, and relished in its beauty from the inside of my toasty home.
Those around me were relishing a different toasty view, as they rubbed their hands together in front of the log-fire and used the heat from their mulled wines to surge themselves with warmth. The clinking of glasses and happy chatter made me smile.
My gaze turned to the paintings on the wall, with their golden frames working like mirrors to reflect the log fire’s sparking cinders. Then, to the presents that lay underneath the towering pine tree scattered with shining metallic baubles. A rectangular-shaped gift enveloped in scarlet-sheen wrap caught my eye. It was not under the tree, but just to the back of it.
‘How had I missed this one?’ I thought to myself.
On it was a label which I peered over to look at.
“For your Renaissance” it read.
The message reminded me of how – once upon a time – a love like this was so far from any reality I could achieve.
It felt like forever ago to reflect on the woman whose past relationship had reduced her to wondering her own worth. If partnerships could be compared, that former one was like a rickety chair. No matter how many unique ways you tried to fix it, it would still inevitably fall apart. But, in addition to that, imagine if that chair could talk. If it told you every so often that the reason it was broken was because of you. Those years with him were just like that, and whilst they were long gone, they were also never forgotten.
My reminiscence was soon broken by the chipper presence of those around me. I was offered a drink of eggnog and comical discussions about how some of our guests’ Christmas jumpers were embellished with temptingly squeezable shapes. As much as humour and shiny objects always were a welcome distraction, I’d taken it upon myself to sort out the Christmas karaoke. The guests seemed to be enjoying the festivities, so I returned to fiddle with our sound system, occasionally sipping my sweetly spiced drink in-between the gaps of my guesswork.
Those few intricate moments stitched themselves in my mind’s eye – a snapshot to remember. A life I wanted to capture forever. Everything about it was so beautiful because I knew what they all stood for, why they were all there.
And I thought to myself, ‘So much has changed…


When Autumn Met Winter, 2014

There’s something rather therapeutic about cooking. You can whip up a little bit of imagination in a bowl, ogle it as it crisps itself to golden perfection and immerse yourself in delight when you and those around you can finally enjoy it. It’s an all-around sensual pleaser. And whilst it may have taken me a while and be done after a long and busy day, there was nothing I wanted more than to make him happy.
“This Mexican-style chicken is amazing, babe!”
I hated being called babe, though.
But Tony Granger was my boyfriend. I wasn’t going to correct him. After nearly two years of being together, I’d have thought that he’d have realised all of the little things I didn’t like by now. I always took note of his.
“I’m glad you like it.’ I replied, timidly. “I remembered you saying it was something you wanted to try.”
He was still wearing his hat at the dinner table. It was some ridiculous black and white cap with a racing logo that made him look about ten years old.
“I wish you could cook for me all the time, Layla.” Tony muttered through a mouth stuffed with chicken. He lightly sprayed herbs onto the glass table as he complimented my work. I was surprised he managed to verbalise anything, eating at that speed.
I smiled back at him and attempted to keep my niggling thoughts away from my mind’s ‘exit’ door, hoping that they wouldn’t escape as tactless words. Today was not the day for them.
It was Tony’s 30th birthday. After spending a pleasant August day at Brand’s Hatch, watching some speed-wagons drive into each other, I continued to be a “good girlfriend” and sat back in silence on the journey home as he turned off my music in place of listening to some daft hip-hop nonsense. I was in a state of inner-conflict. Whilst I wanted to make him happy on the one hand, the truth of the matter on the other was that I wasn’t as happy as I should’ve been. I wanted to be. I really did. But it had become undeniably hard. I thought that those feelings were of my error – that maybe I was shallow for holding such mixed thoughts of negativity in my head. After all, he was being okay…today.
Aware of how rare these moments were, I attempted glee through forced smiles, in hope that it’d somehow magically make me feel the same inside. A bit like when you don a pair of shorts in early spring, thinking it’ll encourage the sun to penetrate the cold. It doesn’t. But, for a short and seldom time, you feel as though you have some kind of control over the situation.
After finishing his food, Tony lay on the sofa in a heap, massaging his newly rotund belly. As he nursed the Mexican chicken digesting inside of him, he turned on the T.V., leaving me to clear up on my own. I blew out the candles on the table and went into the kitchen to start washing up. Was I surprised he didn’t even offer to help as a gesture of thanks? Not really. Again though, I felt bad complaining on his birthday. So I carried on with a strained smile, singing a soft ballad in the kitchen to keep myself company.
“You know,’ I heard Tony bellow from the lounge. “If you had some singing lessons, you might sound better.”
A sting went through my chest. I forgot I was dating Simon Cowell.
Through gritted teeth and tested patience, I resisted responding. But I also ceased to sing. At that moment, I supposed silence was golden.
That night I lay in bed wide-awake whilst Tony spooned my foetal-positioned body. Thankfully, he was too full for any other kind of ‘present’ and fell asleep fairly swiftly.
I was left to be at peace with my thoughts, wondering who the man was that had his hands wrapped around me, breathing onto my neck.
Once upon a time, I used to know him so well. But that man seemed to be a distant memory. The man I fell for had a zest for life, a passion for the unique and would endlessly surprise me with his spontaneity. Now though, there was only his shell. Whatever dwelled beneath the skin that I used to admire no longer seemed to exist. I missed the old Tony – the one that went to pop concerts with me and swept me off to the theatre to appreciate magical plays. I missed the one that went for night drives to the hills with me and lay on a blanket watching the stars. I remembered us contemplating life, whilst merrily eating oversized marshmallows like excitable children. Those memories made me smile.
I turned towards him, thinking I’d see the same face that once glistened under the milky light of the moon, only to witness him lying there with his mouth semi-agape and a bit of drool cascading his bottom lip.
It was hopeless reverie.
With that dream shattered, I carefully unwound myself from his touch and went to retrieve a paperback from the bookshelf in the lounge. I hoped that a mythical story of adventure and heroism would prove a worthy distraction from my undesired thoughts, and that, eventually, I’d be able to fall asleep without them bleating away.
And as my stale reality continued on, reading fantasy became my salvation.


As the autumnal months drifted into more wintry weathers, organising outdoorsy escapades proved a challenge. Nevertheless, I am a woman who likes a challenge. So I dug my way through the internet, like a dog seeking a bone, in the hope that if I found a good outing in London then maybe it would trigger Tony’s interest. To my amazement, I found something.
“Oh, wow! Guess who’s at the Apollo theatre in London on Thursday?’ My voice was slightly shaky with excitement as I found out that my favourite fantasy writer, Benjamin Turner, was going to be doing a live reading and follow up on his previous books. “Tony, we should go. Maybe we can finally do the Q&A about his last book with the cliffhanger ending?”
Surprisingly, it was Tony who’d initially got me into his writing. Although Tony himself wasn’t an avid reader, he would always give something a chance if his friend, Simon, thought it was the bee’s knees, and when I found it by his bedside and started reading the first few pages, I couldn’t put it down. Ever since then, I’d been devoted to his work – especially of late. The escapism this genre had provided me put my mind at so much ease that it enabled me to feel more excited about life again. This catharsis resulted in my eagerness to persevere with our relationship. If only the same could have been said for Tony.
“That sounds cool, babe. But I was going to tinker with the car that evening.’ Not one fibre of his body moved when he finally replied to me. “You know it’s the only day this week I can fit the coilovers, since I’m with Kevin and Dad this weekend fishing.”
He didn’t even sound bothered as he turned down my proposition.
Benjamin wrote such fantastic, jaw-dropping, hard-hitting and mystifying reads that always left you wanting more, and I couldn’t imagine how Tony could pass up a chance like this just to “tinker with his car”.
As a rule, I wouldn’t have objected to a car needing to be fixed. But, every time I’d suggested something to him recently he’d put an object in the way, usually in the shape of his VW Polo. If there was such a thing as a Black-Market for cars, I was sure that was where he’d picked up that health-hazard on wheels from. He was constantly fiddling with it. He’d spent the majority of his savings on it after he’d written off his previous Corsa by wrapping it around a tree. I still remember the evening that happened and his slurring phone call to me in the midnight hours, explaining how it wasn’t his fault. But instead of saying what I was thinking, I let it go. That seemed to be a running theme with me lately. I’d learnt that my thoughts on matters like that usually went down badly, so it was best to say nothing. Instead, I attempted to think of ways to bring us closer together, then maybe he’d be less angry and I’d be happier? Isn’t that what love is – to not give up when the going gets tough?
“Can the car not wait a little longer for its springs?” I asked meekly, a pleading smile drawn on my face as I peered over at him from the laptop.
“Babe, the car’s on its last legs with the cut springs. It’s dangerous. I can’t take anyone in it in that state, especially now the weather’s getting colder. If anything happens then I’ll only have myself to blame. It’s a priority. I’m sorry.’ He continued to stare vacantly into his mobile from his sunken spot on the sofa, before adding. “Why don’t you go solo? Or see if Sara will go with you?”
I internalised the thought I wished I could have said out loud. ‘If you’d bought a decent car, I wouldn’t need to bother Sara.’
Sara Bellamy was my best friend. Ever since her dog managed to circle its lead around my bicycle and I went flying like Supergirl over the handlebars, we had been in each other’s lives. The landing was neither heroic nor graceful, but no bones were broken and Sara’s profuse apology inevitably made us friends for life. However, we couldn’t be more different. As fun-loving and as bold as she was, she hated books about fantasy. It was rather ironic. Though, she did adore the workings of erotic literature (especially the hunky boss meets sweetly angelic girl types) so I doubted she’d want to come with me. It was Tony who was mutually invested in his work. Not Sara.
“I just thought that it’d be nice if we went together, since you also like his books. But, I understand if the car needs work. I’ll talk to Sara.”
I wasn’t going to talk to Sara.
One of the things that made me fall in love with Tony in our early years was his power of invention and caprice. He had such a wild imagination in his younger days.
He once told me that, when he was a young boy, he’d configured an imaginary world that only consisted of his favourite people and things inside of it. Much like a Pixar movie, there were towers of syrupy waffles as big as skyscrapers and giant pterodactyl-type creatures that would fly around and observe the magical world below. When life became tough, this was the place he would visit in his mind to gather strength again.
Upon reflection, it sounds a little naïve and silly, but it was this creative spirit that intrigued me. It was also the same creativity that made him interested in the same kind of reading material as me. Finding a guy like that, in my world, truly was a feat.
By day, I worked in car sales, and most of my colleagues would’ve rather talked boobs than books. Not that I’m a prude, I am not averse to boob chat, but if it’s the exclusive topic of conversation then my ears will cave in on themselves. My point was it was this unique spirit that separated Tony from any other guy I’d met or was surrounded by day-to-day. He was special, because he had a rare and mutual love for something I did, too, and we could explore that creative wondering together.
…At first anyway.
I looked at the ticket to Benjamin Turner’s reading, as it sat aimlessly in my internet basket.
“Buy me…” it beckoned from the screen.
Of course, it didn’t really do anything. My mind was working overtime; creating a narrative for an inanimate bunch of cyber cells all floating about in a chasm of technological worlds. But still, one thing that couldn’t be disputed was that something inside me was yearning to go, even if that did mean going alone.
I glanced back at Tony, his concentration fully on the phone in his hand. My heart remained in my mouth as I slowly looked back at the glowing screen, biting my lip.
It was now or never.


I recalled the image of my work desk from the first day on the job. Back then, it was a crisp, pine office unit. There was a matte-black telephone and a tidily organised business card stack on top, which rested adjacent to my shiny, toblerone-shaped name placard. With pride, I sat there, gleaming at it and vowed that I would maintain its immaculate appearance no matter what.
However, no one told me that the motor industry was full of paperwork, phones that incessantly rang off-the-hook and stupid computers that seldom loaded anything more than a backlog of spam emails. And, much like an earthquake, the consequences of such bedlam would render all of those orderly dreams completely destroyed. Instead of being loved, my poor, pine platform would be subjected to an earth-shattering clunk of fists, spilt mochas and many tired nights of drooling beside a bright screen. The other sad truth of the matter is that it wouldn’t just be my perfect desk that would become a dishevelled mess. I would, too.
My panicking that day was off the Richter. I had four cars going out, two appointments due and my daily tasks to-do list growing faster than a Kudzu plant. One of my cars due for handover hadn’t even been cleaned yet, and the invoiced document for another was missing a vital piece of paper to sort out the tax. So I sat at my desk, hands curling against my pounding head, and tried to work out how to solve the chaos that was my day job.
Before the stress of work, my hair looked pretty good. I’d shaped into an elegant top-knot. In all of the fantasy books I’d read, if the women had their hair styled up high then it meant they were ready for battle. Perhaps, my situation was similar? Only, instead of fighting dragons, they were impatient customers, and instead of armour, I wore white pussybow blouses and tight black trousers. There was no blood shed in my job, but that didn’t deter me from wearing victory red lipstick to finish off my polished style. Unlike with Tony, this was my domain and I was never afraid to speak my mind if it meant getting the job done. But by eleven in the morning on this particular day, stress had won the war. I looked as though I’d been rolling down a hillside. My desk didn’t look much better, either. Despite being rushed off my feet, though, I reminded myself that I had something to look forward to.
Benjamin Turner’s reading was only a few hours away. Nothing could get in the way of that. I certainly didn’t want to miss it because of work pandemonium. This job demanded enough of my time as it was. However, I also didn’t want to leave work with unfinished call-backs or with hair like a bird’s nest. There just never seemed to be enough time in the day to do it all.
“Can someone answer that bloody phone?” My boss, Richard, yelled out from his glass-walled office.
Within the wide room and its ringing backdrop, I looked around and swiftly realised my colleagues were either busy pretending to already be on the phone or had mysteriously vanished elsewhere. So it was up to me, as per, to take the millionth call of the day.
“Good morning, you’ve reached Layla Griffiths in Sales.’ I answered with fake cheer. “How can I help you?”
Service, they wanted to talk to service. My eyes rolled involuntarily. This type of thing happened far too often.
Why bother calling sales then?! It’s not like there’s a keypad option at the beginning of the call or anything…
I grumbled in my head before slamming the telephone back down into the receiver. It seemed as though my workload was determined to mount up quicker than a pile of Tony’s dirty dishes.
Milliseconds of silence went by before I suddenly heard my own mobile ping in the drawer. My second reconnaissance was more surreptitious than the first, as I carefully went to dig it out and take a look.
‘Tonight’s reading with Benjamin Turner at London’s Apollo theatre starts at 8 p.m. Doors open from 7.30 p.m. Drinks are available at the bar. We hope you enjoy the event.’
A little smile worked its way onto my face. I stole a second of my schedule to keep it there. With everything else feeling so heavy, it was nice to have a reminder that there was still something happening which made me feel lighter. I just hoped that I’d make it there on time.


The numbers 5.27 p.m. glowed at me from the bottom right-hand side of the computer screen. To the middle, six tasks lit up in red as overdue and four others were due but remained a calm shade of blue. Who’d have thought that something with no personality or ability to speak could be so infuriating? If I didn’t leave by quarter to six I was going to be late. So I worked on speedily prioritising tasks that could be completed within five minutes and rescheduled the rest of them to another day. Something inside of me pranged with guilt. I was usually so meticulous with my work ethic. But today was asking too much of me. There was only a small time slot to play with and, unlike my favourite fantasy characters, I didn’t possess warrior-like strength to help push me through.
Before anyone could say anything or stop me, I hastily shut the computer down, picked up my handbag from the drawer and deserted my desk, leaving no trace of my presence behind except in the spinning of my black swivel chair.
As I jogged to my car in the cold and dark November night, I heard my phone ping again. A small curse escaped my chattering lips. When I got in the car I checked to see who it was from.
‘Hv a gd time, bbe <3’ it read.
Aside from hating being called “babe”, I also detested text speech. Why omit so many letters? What did those vowels ever do to people that was so bad they became obsolete? A jarring emotion began to fill my chest where the cold had been.
‘But,’ I supposed, ‘at least he remembered.’
‘Thanks x’ I wrote back quickly, my fingers still shaking from the prickly air. Despite the chill, I refused to succumb to a reply of ‘Thx’. Even if frostbite took hold of my entire hand, I’d still write every vowel.
Chucking the phone back into my handbag, I kick-started the engine and put the heating on full blast. A quick choice of noughties pop music and off I went, speeding down the carriageway towards the station, keeping my foot down hard on the throttle. I was going to do everything in my power to make sure I didn’t miss that train.


At seventeen minutes past seven, the train pulled in at London Victoria station. Thankfully, the journey was long enough for me to sort out my face and hair before I terrified any onlookers. However, as I attempted to navigate my way to the venue, my city mapper app was beyond useless. Having a balancing act with my bag, ticket and cheese sandwich didn’t exactly help matters either.
Crust in mouth and ticket now in an available pocket, I arrived in good time and waited by the moonlit steps outside the doors. The queue was longer than I’d expected. I didn’t realise so many people would turn up to something like this. I guess I’d had the blinkers on for an exceptionally long time after hanging around people on a daily basis who showed no interest in reading anything – unless it was on the top-shelf of a newsagent’s, of course. Everyone looked different, too. Some people had come dressed in the attire from Benjamin’s top-selling books and others just came in their casuals. I suddenly felt inappropriately dressed, still donning my work wear, but I hoped no one would judge me for it.
Once inside the building, I treated myself to a compulsory glass of Prosecco and went to find my seat, praying it was within good hearing distance of the stage.
The usher’s torchlight guided me to a cosy spot on the nearside stall with no immediate company. As I settled myself into the red-velvet chair, a question suddenly dawned on me.
‘What does Benjamin even look like?’
For so long, he’d just been a name at the bottom of my bedtime reading. I’d never considered him as anything more. And now, he was about to become a reality.
‘I bet he’s older…maybe, with a beard and a colourful outfit?’ At this point, I couldn’t imagine him any other way. Anyone who could write with such flair, creativity and depth could only be a man who’d gathered wisdom through years of experience.
I then looked upon the empty seat next to me, as if someone there would answer my thoughts. But there was no one. It was a shame I’d had to go alone. As much as Tony sometimes annoyed me, if it weren’t for him (or, Simon in this case) then I wouldn’t have ever known about Benjamin’s work in the first place. Whoever was responsible for this chicken and egg situation, I still wanted to share this with Tony. I thought it would be special for us. But, instead of drinking Prosecco with me and curiously marvelling about one of our favourite novelists, he was jacking up his death-trap of a car and getting a stinky bait bucket ready for a fishing weekend with his Dad. My head shook with disappointment.
The stage lighting then became more apparent and the audience began to hush. Others hurried to find their seat without causing too much disturbance or dropping their drink.
I took a sip of my Prosecco and stared in awe at the stage, wondering which direction Benjamin would come from and what insight he’d give us into his most recent work. My handbag had his book ‘The Wrath of the Gods’ inside, ready for him to sign later. I wanted something to remember the night by, considering the use of cameras was prohibited (fun sponges).
“Ladies and Gentleman, please take your seats.’ The commentator echoed around the room. “You are all about to come on a spellbound journey. Your mind will ascend to places it has never been before. The experience will feel ethereal, but you yourselves will not have to move a muscle. Allow yourselves to immerse in an evening of true mystery and fantasy with award-winning author, Benjamin Turner!”
Everyone applauded enthusiastically. This level of atmosphere felt so unfamiliar to me. It’d been such a long time since I’d felt a part of something so big and fervently alive. So I applauded carefully, trying not to spill my drink.
A man entered from the left-hand side of the stage. From the angle I was seated I could only see the back of his classically short yet floppy raven-coloured hair. Something I’d expect to see on a shampoo advert. Even those of the strongest will would be tempted to put their fingers through it.
To my surprise, he wore youthful clothes that lacked colour entirely: a pair of dark blue jeans with a stonewash grey t-shirt and a black leather-look jacket, well-fitted to his athletic build.
As he approached the stool in the centre of the stage where a book, glass of wine and a pen waited for him, he waved at the audience. His face was open, friendly and perfectly oval. The kind you trust in an instant.
Once seated, the cameraman managed to focus and projected him onto the big screen behind, for all of us who were sat too far away to see.
“Well, that was all very dramatic, wasn’t it?’ Benjamin said with a smile on his face. “Oh, a glass of vino. Just what the doctor ordered.’ He took a small sip and raised it to the audience. “Good evening everyone. How are you all?’ A pleased rumble of voices replied. “Fantastic. So, I’m guessing you already know this next fact since you’re here, but to anyone new out there, my name’s Benjamin Turner and tonight we’re going to have a lot of fun. Before all that starts, though, I’d like to take a quick opportunity to make a toast to all of you who have come here tonight. Without you, there wouldn’t be a stage, there wouldn’t be red wine, nor would there be a boyband stool waiting for me.’ Laughter echoed from the audience in response to that comment. “In fact, life would be pretty bland without you all.’ He continued, once the room had quietened again. “Your support is what enables me to keep writing. Truly, it is an honour and a privilege to be standing here. Having so many people share a love for a fictional world I created is incredible, but the fact that it has become a very real part of all of our lives is even better. I still pinch myself every day. So, thank you. Cheers.”
Everyone in the audience cheered and got up on their feet. This guy had real stage presence. My initial conceptions were way off. Benjamin Turner wasn’t anything like I’d imagined.
Without questioning why, one of the first things I noticed about him were his eyes. As I watched him on the big screen, reading from his bestselling book, I couldn’t help but think about how much they reminded me of sapphire gemstones. Much like a diamond, they sparkled against the contrast of his dark hair and ivory skin. He was unimaginably handsome. The level of beauty he possessed was so surreal, I was certain that my heart stopped beating for a moment. Even a character in one of his stories couldn’t compare.
‘How could a young man like that carry the creative mind that wrote those books?’ I wondered, looking upon him with interest.
Realising I’d been studying his looks more than listening to what he had to say, I swished down more Prosecco and settled restfully back into my seat.
His velvety and yet jovial voice bounced around the room – so spiritedly it travelled. And as he enlightened us all with new tales for his upcoming novels, I was completely and utterly awestruck.


An entire audience sat captivated by Benjamin’s poetic storytelling. There was no denying that we’d all been taken on a journey of pure imagination that evening. I’d been engrossed by his presence, I’d clung to every word and I’d savoured every part of his literary adventures. When it came to meeting the man himself though, I’d never expected to be nervous.
To witness someone who could have only been a few years older than me with such confidence and command was truly inspiring. I felt an intense admiration for him. However, that feeling of admiration also left me feeling rather uneasy. To my annoyance, I couldn’t put my finger on what the crux of that emotion was. This wasn’t something I was used to. And as I stood there, analysing myself, it was the first time that I’d ever been thankful to be stuck in a queue.
An excitable woman in front of me squealed, before she leapt up and squeezed a very shocked looking Benjamin Turner into a sudden bear hug. Once he’d registered what was happening and who she was, though, he soon returned it. I watched on curiously as he wrapped his arms around her and smiled, his tinge of shock subsiding into innocent joy.
“Nice to see you again, Naomi. I see your death grip has improved.’ He chuckled at her. She grinned into his shoulder, releasing him slightly. “How have you been keeping?”
Judging by the conversation that followed, it soon became clear that this jittery female was a fan he’d met before. Her bouncy demeanour was expressed with such theatrical animation I thought Benjamin’s bodyguards might intervene, but he seemed to expect this from her.
I continued to wait my turn in the queue whilst taking a look at his book in my hand every so often. Thoughtfully, I tried to absorb how the name on the front of the cover was owned by the same young guy that was seated a mere few yards away from me in a black leather jacket. All of a sudden, my stomach gently rumbled and I clasped the front of my blouse in my hand. With a discomforted expression, it was then that I began to wonder if the combination of Prosecco and the takeaway cheese sandwich I’d eaten earlier had been a poor idea.
“Was my book really that bad?” Dulcet tones tinkled at me.
Looking up from my clutch, I soon realised I was standing at the front of the queue and now facing Benjamin Turner himself. Slightly shocked and unsure as to whether I’d caused offence, I quickly reacted with staccato-like trip.
“What? No! Not at all. I—I think…’ The next words escaped my mouth before my brain could lasso them to a halt. “I think I ate something dodgy.”
According to Richard, my boss, first impressions are everything. Apparently, it takes less than four seconds of meeting someone to figure out whether you can connect with them or not – and that’s hugely important when clinching a sale. Not that, in this instance, I desired a connection, per se. That’s not what I was there for. Although, looking back, using those precious four seconds to insinuate that I was feeling gassy probably wasn’t going to sell me to anyone.
“Did you have a cheese sandwich as well?’ He asked, piquing my attention I nodded in recollection of the chunky butty. “Honestly, that was the worst food choice ever, right? I was terrified that any repeating of it would reverberate around the theatre. The microphone I wear is so crisp it’s almost to a fault. Hey, maybe my next book should be called ‘Echo of the Cheddar’?” he jokingly added, gesturing an interstellar-like wave of wonder.
Despite being worried seconds ago that I’d made a bad impression, I was pleasantly surprised. Benjamin was talkative and welcoming, and made me feel completely at ease.
I laughed in response to his question. “It’s definitely a gripping title.’ Before playfully adding, “Should you need any inspiration for a heroine in this cheesy adventure, look no further.”
Now, I was no longer aware of any rumblings in my stomach, only our giddy laughter and my unexpected confidence. It was strange. I’d only been stood there for a short while and yet I felt so relaxed in his company, which was a great relief after my previous nerves. For a brief minute, I’d even forgotten why I was there and who he was or what he did. The world disappeared as we continued to talk about an array of random subjects and I enjoyed relishing in his hilariously dry character. But as the seconds turned into minutes, I suddenly remembered what I’d actually been waiting in line for.
Brought back into the room, I heard the queue growing impatient. Tuts and sighs kept me grounded. So I hurriedly placed Benjamin’s book down on the table, ready for him to squiggle away. However, as he carefully began to sign the hardback’s sleeve, gaze closely fixed on getting his cursive autograph perfectly formed, he asked me something I didn’t anticipate.
“So…how long have you been reading my books? Only, I’ve not seen you before.”
I was slightly taken aback that he obviously knew his following so well. Simultaneously though, I felt a tad embarrassed and hoped that it wouldn’t make him think badly of me.
I bashfully replied, “Well, I’ve read a few books of yours over the last couple of years. But, this is the first time I’ve actually been able to attend a physical performance. Usually, the venues are a little far out for me to venture.”
I neglected to mention that, even if I had wanted to go to events like this in the past, Tony always had an excuse under his cap as to why we couldn’t go. This was the first time he’d allowed me to make a choice, independent of us as a couple.
“Ah, I see.’ Benjamin said whilst passing me my signed book back gently, “Management sort out where I tour, sadly. But, if you go to the website and make a venue recommendation I’ll be sure to make it a priority to visit.”
Our eyes were locked for those few seconds and I wondered where I’d gone whilst we’d exchanged our words. But, despite my apparent fixation, he didn’t seem to mind.
“What’s your name, by the way? I’ll know who the venue notification is from then.” He asked, smiling innocently.
“Layla,’ I gently voiced, before shaking off the entranced look from my face and adding buoyantly, “But, after today’s conversation, I’ll probably nickname myself, ‘Lady Cheese Sarnie’ as that seems a far more fitting handle.”
We both shared a laugh at this rather silly notion. Maybe it was daft – two adults talking like this. But I wasn’t complaining. It felt good to laugh for a change.
As I began to make my way to the ascending stairwell exit I heard him part with, “Take care, Lady Cheese. Hope to see you again.” And I smiled one more time.
It was bizarre. For the first time in what felt like forever, I felt good – like I’d achieved something. Over the last couple of years, my main focus had been to maintain the life I had and the happiness of those within it. Before that, I used to happily indulge in “me time”, feeling responsible for nothing and no one else but myself. I’d missed those times. Embracing an evening of mysticism and escapism from my current reality made me realise that. If the chance should come again, I wanted to go to another reading, or something similar. Sure, the trains were a pain in the derriere and work was as demanding as a nuisance puppy, but I’d had a taste of life that I’d been missing – and I liked it.


I continued my journey back to the place that I called home. Looking out of the blackened window on the train, the world drifting by in shadow, I digested how I was feeling.
‘What exactly made me feel so happy? Was it just the chance to be out doing something different?’ I assumed it was the distraction from the everyday doldrums of life. But also, ‘Should I be concerned that I enjoyed being alone so much…?’ I wasn’t sure. All I knew was that I wanted to do it again, with or without Tony.


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