â€œAmelia! What the hell are you doing now? Come on.â€ Alcohol made him impatient. It was a familiar pattern on Friday nights when they met their friends for drinks in some of the inner-city Melbourne bars. Young, professional, well-dressed â€“ they drank too much, too often, and laughed too loudly. Eventually the designer
|Choosing Chocolate by Maggie McGuinness|
beers and expensive cocktails would turn sour and niggle some of them into bickering and arguing; erupting sometimes into tearful, dramatic scenes. Amelia and Robert often had roles in Friday-night dramas. Perhaps that was the cost of a handsome, successful boyfriend. Their friends were used to it, and when his voice turned edgy and sharp with beer and Ameliaâ€™s fingers tightened on her wine glass, the other girls could only send wry glances of solidarity. They had plenty of problems of their own. â€œIâ€™m looking at the chocolates,â€ Amelia said. As they walked along the lane, heading from one wine bar to another, sheâ€™d been lured by a glittering display of gold-wrapped chocolates at Max Brennerâ€™s Chocolate Shop. â€œArenâ€™t they beautiful? I might buy some.â€ â€œNo, you wonâ€™t. Youâ€™re fat enough. Hurry up! I want a drink.â€ An elderly couple sat at one of the outside tables with two mugs of hot chocolate. The man stroked the back of his wifeâ€™s hand as they sat with their silver heads close together. Amelia watched them smile at each other and sip their drinks. The whole laneway was permeated by the seductive aroma of chocolate. She breathed in deeply. â€œWait a minute, Iâ€™m getting some chocolate.â€ â€œYouâ€™re leaving. Now!â€ He grabbed her arm. The silver-haired couple stared, hands entwined. â€œIâ€™m staying! Go without me.â€ She shrugged out of his grip. â€œCome with me right now or we are finished, Amelia.â€ She regarded him steadily for a moment. The eyes in his handsome face were unfocussed and his lips were pressed tight; bloodless and white on the edges. â€œYou know what I just realized, Robert? I want chocolate more than I want you. So, you might as well go. Now!â€ She was a little surprised at the words that leapt out of her mouth, and how right it felt to have said them. He turned and ricocheted his way down the lane. Bashing his leg on a chair he kicked it and swore. The silver couple couldnâ€™t suppress their smiles. â€œGood girl!â€ the old man said, winking at Amelia, and the woman nodded agreement. She walked into the warmth of the shop feeling numb. After six months they were finished â€“ just like that. There had been such scenes before and he would charm her back the next day when he was sober and contrite. That wasnâ€™t going to happen this time. Sheâ€™d had a choice between him and chocolate. Chocolate won. She stared at two large vats just inside the door. Stainless steel arms were mixing liquid, creamy waves. One held white chocolate, the other milky brown. It was soothing to watch as the chocolate swirled and folded; almost hypnotic. Amelia bought a melting marshmallow hot chocolate and sat at the table the silver couple had just left. She watched them walk away. He put his arm around her shoulders as they dodged a noisy group spilling out into the lane. Amelia sighed. Some people got it right. Why did she get it so wrong? She always seemed to go for the Jekyll and Hyde type. Charismatic and charming one minute â€“ angry and abusive the next. She sipped the soothing drink. She should give up on men, and stick with chocolate instead. Chocolate was smooth, even and dependable; it comforted you and made you happy. Chocolate didnâ€™t leave your feelings jangled and raw, and your nerves over-stretched like old elastic. That was it then. She was stepping off the relationship train at Spinsterhood Station. She would only love chocolate from this day forth. That was her pledge. â€œExcuse me,â€ said a voice. â€œWould it be okay if I shared your table? Itâ€™s busy here tonight.â€ He was tall and slim with rich, dark eyes and milky-brown skin. â€œOf course,â€ said Amelia. â€œIâ€™m on my own, anyway.â€ â€œThank you.â€ He put down his mug of hot chocolate and sat, arranging his long legs under the table. â€œYour . . . umm . . . friend isnâ€™t coming back?â€ â€œOh, you saw. No, he certainly isnâ€™t.â€ â€œSorry. I hope Iâ€™m not being too personal, but I was inside buying chocolates and I couldnâ€™t help overhearing.â€ â€œI guess everyone heard,â€ she said. â€œHeâ€™s loud when heâ€™s drunk.â€ â€œHe shouldnâ€™t speak to you like that.â€ He opened his mouth to say something else, but hesitated. â€œYou want to know why I put up with it? Well I donâ€™t, any more. Heâ€™s an ex-boyfriend as of five minutes ago.â€ â€œHereâ€™s to liberation,â€ he said, raising his mug. His dark eyes sparkled. â€œCongratulations.â€ â€œThank you. Iâ€™m Amelia, by the way.â€ â€œIâ€™m Lucien, and Iâ€™m a choc-aholic.â€ â€œMe too!â€ she laughed. They shook hands. â€œHave you tried the Mexican Spicy hot chocolate?â€ he asked. â€œItâ€™s sublime.â€ â€œNot yet. I like the Italian and the Orange Zest, though.â€ â€œOh, you havenâ€™t lived till youâ€™ve tried the Mexican. Iâ€™ll buy you one . . .â€ Two hours, a few hot chocolates and a couple of serves of chocolate-dipped strawberries later, it was time to say goodnight. He walked with her to the train station. She liked his shyness when he asked for her phone number. â€œI will call,â€ he promised. â€œIâ€™m not one of those guys who says heâ€™ll phone you and then doesnâ€™t.â€ â€œThatâ€™s good,â€ she said, and stood up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. She turned to go, then hesitated. â€œIâ€™ve been wanting to say something, and I hope you donâ€™t think Iâ€™m rude . . . but do you realize that you are exactly the same colour as the milk chocolate they were mixing in the vat at Max Brennerâ€™s?â€ â€œYes, I know!â€ he grinned. â€œMy mates call me â€˜Freddoâ€™. My dadâ€™s a black American and my mum is French, so they reckon Iâ€™m a chocolate frog.â€ Walking through the turnstile and into the station, Amelia felt like laughing out loud. Who knows? Perhaps it would turn out to be true. Perhaps she really would only love chocolate â€“ from this day forth. ### Thank you for reading my story. If you liked it, Iâ€™d really appreciate it if you wrote a quick review. To keep in touch with my latest news, follow me on Facebook or visit my website. Iâ€™d love to hear from you. Best regards, Maggie McGuinness ***NEWS FLASH*** My first full-length novel has been published. Planet Single is available at your favorite retailer now! Read on for a sneak peek . . . Connect with me: Facebook: www.facebook.com/MaggieMcG99 Website and Blog: http://maggiemcguinness.com/ Smashwords author page: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/maggiemcg About the author: Maggie McGuinness lives in Melbourne, Australia, and has two teenage children and an Australian cattle dog called Missy. With the help of Smashwords, sheâ€™s hoping to live the dream (that is, spend less time editing other peopleâ€™s writing and more time doing her own). Maggie is a Zumba fanatic, extreme gardener and chocolate connoisseur. She is also an online dating tragic, who has been on 97 first dates over the past 10 years or so. (Thatâ€™s right, 97! Crazy, hey?) She has stalled a bit on the dating front these days, being too busy writing and editing stuff, but is still hoping to get to first date #100. Will she make it to a century? Stay tuned! Read Maggieâ€™s Smashwords interview at: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/maggiemcg Planet Single â€“ A sneak peek! About Planet Single Bad kissers, sexy sales reps, charismatic conmen and dashing detectives â€“ welcome to life on Planet Single! Being single again makes Katerina feel like sheâ€™s on a different planet. If only sheâ€™d had time to gather a few essentials, like a guide book, some fancy lingerie and a much thicker skin. Things have certainly changed. Was looking for love always this complicated? Kat sets off on a quest to rediscover herself and her lost libido, which went missing some time ago. Setting off into the rocky landscape of her new life, she encounters other inhabitants of her crazy new world, including a succession of dodgy online dates, a handsome detective, a little old lady with a taste for vengeance, and a whole tribe of young and virile workmates (who knew stationery could be so sexy?) Okay. Perhaps that libido isnâ€™t lost after all. This sparkling debut novel from Maggie McGuinness celebrates love, laughter, starting over â€“ and how friendship can be the sweetest revenge. Hereâ€™s Chapter 1 for you to sample: Chapter 1 â€“ Shot into orbit The night I landed on Planet Single, I had no idea I was about to blast off from the familiar married landscape and land in a strange, alternative reality. If Iâ€™d known, I could have packed a few essentials like some nicer undies, a dating guide book and a much thicker skin, but I didnâ€™t have the chance. I was dumped â€“ defenceless â€“ into a strange new world that looked quite like the old one, but was so, so different. The night had started like many others. My two sons were in their bedrooms. Angus should have been asleep but was probably plugged into his iPod. Ben had homework but I could hear some stifled laughs. He was either on YouTube again or calculus was more amusing than I remembered. My husband, Neville, was watching a DVD â€“ his favourite documentary on the mating ritual of Leopard slugs, which involves hanging upside-down with glow-in-the dark genitalia and an awful lot of mucus. For the slugs, that is, not Neville. That documentary fascinated him, which I found quite interesting, as heâ€™d never been very inspired by the human type of ritual. Anyway, with all that slug-porn going on I knew heâ€™d barely notice my absence, so I ditched the washing up and grabbed my coat to go for a walk. I often paced the streets at night and I didnâ€™t mind bad weather â€“ it gave me an excuse to wear my hooded raincoat. This became a cocoon I could hide in, lost in my own world, while raindrops splattered on the oilskin in a soothing rhythm. I liked the invisibility of walking when the slick, black streets were empty. I printed â€˜Gone For A Walkâ€™ in big letters on Nevilleâ€™s Daily Schedule Whiteboard (he liked things to be capitalised), and shut the door softly behind me. It was beautifully cold outside, and I gulped the fresh, damp air like a drunk at a cocktail party and set off. While I walked, I used the muted backdrop of the night to watch a movie playing in my head â€“ written by me, starring me. I often did this. Iâ€™d create another life for myself â€“ full of passion and sexy adventures. Iâ€™d be an adventurer in an exotic location where Iâ€™d meet an exotic man. The sexual chemistry between us would flare up like one of the saucepans I had a bad habit of setting on fire, to my spouseâ€™s annoyance. To go into my fantasy world, I only had to select a storyline in my head, like reaching for a book on a shelf. It made a nice break from Neville and his daily recitations of things I hadnâ€™t done properly. I squelched through the door an hour later to find my husband in the kitchen. Strange! I thought he would have been cloistered in his study by now, crooning to one of his beloved spreadsheets, but there he was â€“ sitting under the fluorescent light with two coffees on the table. I waited to be criticised over the greasy pans Iâ€™d abandoned in the sink, but he just sat there, with his thick, grey hair perfectly in place, like a giant pad of steel wool on top of his head. I noticed how grey and long his eyebrows were these days. Is it only men whose eyebrows sprout at a certain age? I wondered what my eyebrows looked like, as I hadnâ€™t scrutinised them for a long time. I didnâ€™t study myself in a mirror often, just a quick glance in the mornings as I tied back my curly hair and slapped cheap moisturiser on my face. I was lucky I had good skin â€“ Neville had a fit if I spent much on toiletries. â€œThanks for the coffee.â€ I slid into a chair while quickly trying to gauge my eyebrow length with my fingertips. Neville took his glasses off, blinked, and put them on again. â€œThereâ€™s something I have to tell you.â€ Oh, no. Heâ€™d probably devised a new compost roster. I imagined the boys rolling their eyes and saying, â€œYes, Dad.â€ â€œOkay, go for it.â€ I tried to sound enthusiastic. He sniffed. This was odd â€“ Neville hated it when people sniffed. â€œWell, Katherine . . .â€ He cleared his throat. â€œItâ€™s not something I thought Iâ€™d ever have to say.â€ He fiddled with the crumbs on the table and lined them up a row, using the edge of the coaster to make sure they were straight. Also odd. He couldnâ€™t stand it when people fidgeted. While he rounded up an errant crumb, my concentration began to wane. I was impatient to shower and go to bed, so I could lie in the dark and get back to the current storyline. It involved a gorgeous, sensitive hero, who hated slugs and had neat eyebrows. â€œWell, let me guess.â€ I stifled a yawn. â€œYouâ€™ve realised you want to be a woman? Oh, I know! Youâ€™re having an affair with a twenty-year-old lap dancer called Sharee!â€ I giggled at my own wit. The thought of sedate Neville hanging out at a strip joint was pretty funny. He started talking, but it took a while for the words to sink in. â€œYes, an affair . . . Christine. Forty-five actually . . . canteen manager . . .â€ â€œCanteen manager?â€ I snapped back to reality. â€œNot the Christine? Corporal Christine at the boysâ€™ school?â€ He nodded. I was gobsmacked. I knew the Corporal. She barked at me whenever I was dragged in to do canteen duty when I scorched the party pies and mangled the hot dogs. She was a stout woman, with a no-nonsense bosom, who organised the canteen with military precision and loved to reminisce about her glorious army days. â€œI didnâ€™t mean this to happen, but I think Christine might be The One.â€ A strange, dreamy look appeared on his face, and the moment was so surreal I almost laughed. â€œBut Neville, thatâ€™s so . . . interesting! Itâ€™s the least boring thing youâ€™ve done in fifteen years!â€ I was babbling â€“ dizzy with shock. Iâ€™d never thought Neville capable of passion or spontaneity. â€œYou donâ€™t have to hide behind sarcastic humour,â€ he said. â€œYouâ€™ve always had intimacy avoidance issues. Please focus on reality. And â€“ Iâ€™m sorry. I never meant to hurt you and turn our lives upside down. It just happened. On Dadsâ€™ Day in the canteen I stayed back to help reorganise the pantry and, well, I think Christine and I are soul mates.â€ What? This was so unlike Neville it jolted me out of my paralysis. â€œSoul mates? Fucking hell! Thatâ€™s not fair!â€ â€œPlease donâ€™t swear, Katherine. And besides, life isnâ€™t fair. You know that.â€ â€œDonâ€™t you â€˜life isnâ€™t fairâ€™ me! Iâ€™m not talking about life; Iâ€™m talking about us. We got married, remember? I wore a frock like a sequinned meringue, and you wore a brown suit and new shoes with â€˜Help!â€™ written on the soles by your hilarious accountant mates. Itâ€™s not fair because the one interesting thing youâ€™ve ever done in our marriage just squashed it. Itâ€™s not fair because Iâ€™m the one who was supposed to be unhappy â€“ not you. How dare you turn out to be unhappier than me and then waltz off and get bloody . . . interesting!â€ My voice was getting higher and louder. I didnâ€™t usually raise my voice and it felt strange â€“ like I was trying to sing opera. â€œShhh!â€ Neville whispered. â€œThe boys will hear! But, what do you mean you were unhappy? You never told me.â€ â€œI did!â€ I whispered back. â€œYou never listened! You always had your head pointed at the TV or the computer. When I said I was bored you told me to try cooking classes. I meant I was bored with you, Neville. I couldnâ€™t fix that by learning deft tricks with couscous. I was the one who was bored and resentful, not you. I was the one who should have had an affair. How dare you be unfaithful before I was!â€ I was sounding a bit peculiar with my enraged whispering. And during my rant, without noticing, Iâ€™d grabbed the newspaper on the table, ripped it into confetti and flung handfuls in the air. Some of the pieces were still floating gently back to earth. I looked around the kitchen and spotted Nevilleâ€™s masterpiece â€“ the Household Duties Roster â€“ on the fridge. I marched over and yanked it off the door, sending fridge magnets clattering in all directions. â€œAnd Iâ€™ve hated this bloody thing for years as well,â€ I hissed. â€œBut did I run off with the milkman? Or even get a job? No! I did the stay-at-home mumsy-wife thing like you wanted, despite being so bored for so long I thought my brain might turn to mush and drip out my nose. And now I learn that you and the Corporal are floating each otherâ€™s anal-retentive boats and sailing down Soul Mate River. Itâ€™s not fucking fair!â€ It was an interesting sensation, letting anger boil over after all those years on slow simmer, even at a whisper level. Iâ€™d tried for so long to be the sort of wife Neville wanted. When weâ€™d first got together Iâ€™d liked his approach to life â€“ his lists, his planning, his restraint. I didnâ€™t so much like his fussiness and zero tolerance for take-away food, but love could solve everything, couldnâ€™t it? Now, standing there in the kitchen under the shuddering green-tinged light, I wanted to take my young self and slap her. I had learned loveâ€™s limits. Now I knew that whatever annoys you a little bit when your love is shiny and new annoys you ten times more with every year that passes, until your bubbling frustration threatens to make your skull explode and your brain fizz out like an ice-cream soda. It wasnâ€™t all Nevilleâ€™s fault; I really should come clean about that. I used to crave the orderly lifestyle he offered, but it gradually began to suffocate me, creeping up like ivy through a gum tree and strangling me with subtle force. Iâ€™d been in denial about this for years, but the real me wasnâ€™t Nevilleâ€™s sort of person at all. The real me liked being spontaneous, relaxed and not very organised and was usually running ten minutes late for everything â€“ more like my mother than I wanted to admit. Iâ€™d tried hard for years to be different to her, and had married her complete opposite, but Iâ€™d made a bad decision. One of Motherâ€™s favourite sayings, which Iâ€™d always liked, popped into my head. â€œItâ€™s too late,â€ she cried, as she waved her wooden leg! It had always annoyed Neville. â€œWho is she?â€ he would grumble. â€œWhat wooden leg? Your motherâ€™s quite demented, you know.â€ This, from a man with a phobia of constipation and a cupboard full of laxatives to prove it. They were both as mad as cut snakes, but at least Mother was more fun. Neville wasnâ€™t a bad man. That was the problem â€“ he was just on the reasonable side of intolerable. The fact that heâ€™d done a PhD in Tedious Behaviour, majoring in Annoying Habits, wasnâ€™t a reason to break up a family, so Iâ€™d stayed. I loved my sons, and being a mother, but as the boys grew older and the marriage staggered from one year to the next I felt like a sort of robot-mum. Iâ€™d been programmed to be the tidy wife who ran the house in an orderly fashion, but the core of me â€“ the passion, the joy, the capacity to laugh till I cried â€“ had gone. I think it was packed away in one of those plastic storage bags you suck the air out of with a vacuum cleaner. Neville was staring at me. Iâ€™d ripped the roster into pieces and thrown it in the air as well. Iâ€™d just learned that severe stress turned me into a human confetti machine. A few flakes landed on my nose and others wafted to the floor. â€œWe donâ€™t have milkmen these days,â€ he said, literal to the bloody end. â€œI suppose weâ€™ll have to get a divorce.â€ â€œYes. Iâ€™m truly sorry, Katherine. Please believe that.â€ â€œIâ€™m not Katherine.â€ Neville had been amending my name for years. He reckoned his version was more sensible than the fanciful name my whacko mother had chosen. (His words, not mine.) As you might guess, Neville and Mother didnâ€™t get along. In retaliation to Katherine, she always called him The Accountant, which was a bit unfair as heâ€™d become a financial advisor now. I knew it was ridiculous that Iâ€™d let him change my name but, if you knew him, youâ€™d understand. Once he got an idea in his head he was like a bull terrier attached to your ankle â€“ he never let go. So, for many years Iâ€™d been Katherine, but now I was getting my name back. â€œMy nameâ€™s Katerina,â€ I said, liking the way it felt on my tongue. â€œI understand youâ€™re upset and Iâ€™m expecting a period of adjustment. Weâ€™ll talk some more tomorrow. Can I get you anything? A glass of port?â€ Incredible! Normally Iâ€™d be in trouble for drinking alcohol late at night. Iâ€™d sneak Baileyâ€™s Irish Cream into a mug and pretend it was chocolate Quik. â€œNo thank you, I need some time alone,â€ I hissed as I stalked past, with bits of paper on my shoulders like giant flakes of dandruff. â€œOf course. Iâ€™ll bunk in the spare room until we get things sorted out. Okay, Katherine?â€ I stared at him. â€œI mean . . . Katerina?â€ â€œToo fucking right,â€ I said, enjoying the fact that he hated me swearing. I went to our bedroom â€“ my bedroom now â€“ and sat on the bed, looking out at the rain dropping like shiny bullets in the light of the street lamp.