Cactus Boy

It was supposed to have been paradise. Two weeks of heroic, independent holidaying in some sunny paradise. That’s all she had thought about for the whole of lockdown. Back when her boyfriend of a year unceremoniously dumped her by text, using their isolation as an excuse for his ungentlemanly behaviour. But as bad as it made her feel, she surprised herself by not being particularly upset about it.

Fuck him! Is what she repeated to herself, loudly, as she tramped around her flat in her pyjamas. As she tried in earnest to work from home, as she sat alone on her birthday. As she defiantly watched all the romantic comedies she loved, and that he hated. Then when she was done with being mad, at him, and the politicians, and the stupid people who leaned over her to reach higher shelves in Tesco, she began to think forward.

She was going to go on holiday, she decided. Whenever it was she could go on holiday again, she would go somewhere far away, somewhere hot. She’d always waited on other people to take her on holiday, or to keep her company. This time she was going to do it alone, somewhere she wanted to go, and when she wanted to go. It was such a simple thing and one you would think would have been encouraged. But no.

It’s unsafe people told her, to travel alone. Who will keep you company they asked. Maybe you should wait until you’ve got a nice boy to go with. Spurred on by her frustration she set her mind even firmer. She’d had ideas of roaming the land but then she wasn’t quite brave enough. Plus, she succumbed to everyone else’s fears of what happens to girls when they travel alone. In the end she plumped for two weeks in Kefalonia.

And now, after all this time, she was finally here. Paradise, it was not. Her hotel room was hot, and the hotel was filled with a post lockdown crowd of Brits, who wolfed down the typical western food being served. The beach was too hot, and the town didn’t interest her, plus she didn’t understand anyone. She’d had notions of high adventure, but she’d settled, and she was so disappointed in herself.

For the third day in a row she sat in the hotel’s restaurant, eating muesli, because all the other food looking greasy and questionable. She’d spent two days reading her book on the beach, she wasn’t looking forward to a third. She was bored. She let her mind wander, watching the Brit heavy crowd pile plates with food they didn’t need but would eat all the same.

Her eyes rested on the door. An older woman walked through, she would have guessed she was in her seventies. A younger man followed, probably about her own age. He was cute, in a geeky sort of way. She amused herself by imagining them in some kind of illicit romance, maybe the lady was incredibly rich and he was her toy boy.

As the host asked for their room number the man was caught unaware and stumbled back into a large cactus, placed inconveniently on the route into the room. She giggled to herself. They certainly didn’t seem like lovers, but they were too awkward to be anything like family or friends. Maybe they were quarrelling lovers. She amused herself for a while, before pulling herself back to the matter at hand. She picked up her book and headed to the beach.

The next day, she sat with the same bowl of muesli, still bored. She had regressed to her pre holiday self and had started spending time on Facebook, watching Netflix. That’s where she was going to go today, back to her room to watch Stranger Things from the beginning. She was lost in her thoughts when the couple walked in; the lady first, the younger man straggling behind. Again the host asked for their room number and again the anxious young man whirled around into the waiting cactus.

She bit her lip in a smile. Then she watched as they walked to their table, still as awkward as ever. The man was actually very cute she realised. He looked everything like one of those strange seventies B-movies where the scientist drinks a potion to make himself sexier, but basically ends up just looking like the same guy but without glasses. It was all very Clark Kent. She watched them until they left. Then, heavy hearted, she took herself back to her room.

The next morning she found she was actually waiting for him to appear, her ‘cactus boy’ is how she had described him to her mother. He was late, but he came. Alone now and seemingly just as awkward. On cue the host asked for his room number and he stumbled back even further this time, his bum making direct contact with the cactus. She couldn’t help herself, she screeched with laughter.

He and most of the restaurant turned to look at her, she couldn’t stop herself from laughing. She covered her mouth with one hand, and waved with apology with the other. She thought the man was glaring, but his face was soft, he just seem surprised. As she righted herself he spoke to the host. Moments later the host approached her and she froze in a strange fear. Oh no! Was she in trouble?

‘I’m sorry to bother you, but we seem to be a bit full. Would you mind if the young man shared your table?’ the host asked kindly. Her eyes grew wide, what? She looked over at the man still standing in the doorway, he was looking at the floor. She didn’t know what to do. She gave the host a nodding shake of her head, unsure of the answer to give. He smiled politely and beckoned the man over.

He walked over and pulled out the chair next to her. He was very close. She felt herself fumbling for words, he was much more attractive in person, and she had laughed at him. He smiled sheepishly at her, she smiled back. ‘I’m Sam,’ he said, pulling in his chair. ‘I’m Laura,’ she replied, tight lipped, a little embarrassed. ‘I’m sorry, I, uh,’ she gestured to the cactus in the distance and he turned to follow her line of sight.

‘It’s okay,’ he smiled again ‘I’ve been doing that a lot’.

‘Yeah, I um, noticed,’ she didn’t know what else to say. He noticed her nervousness and he fixed her with a firm look. It was comforting, but also strangely sexy. ‘It really is okay,’ he said, leaning across the table to confirm his point. She smiled shyly, he was lovely. ‘And it’s nice of you to let me sit with you. Will be great to talk to someone who isn’t my mum for a change.’

‘That’s your mum?’ Laura exclaimed. ‘The lady you have breakfast with?’

‘Yes. Yeah, of course she is,’ Sam said, smiling. ‘Who did you think she was? What like my lover or something?’

Laura froze. Sam’s face dropped. They stared at each for a moment. He spoke quietly. ‘Oh my god. You totally did? You thought I was her bit of stuff?’ As the smile crept across Sam’s face Laura broke, she shrieked and then laughed loudly.

As she was trying to compose herself the waiter brought over more coffee. She nodded her acceptance with pursed lips. When she finally looked up Sam was smiling at her. He brought his coffee cup to his lips. He took a sip. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said, only half meaning it. ‘That’s okay,’ Sam said, looking into the cup ‘this is fun.’ He looked up and caught her eye, he smirked. ‘I’ve always wanted to be in a romantic comedy.’

 

This is part of my ‘Happy Endings Series’ where I write a story inspired by three words given to me by a friend and set within a genre of their choosing. The conditions of the series is that each story is only around 1000 words and that it has a happy ending. This story is for my friend Polly; a romantic comedy inspired by the words: door, cactus and paradise.

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