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~NEW~ The Best Worst Day

Chrys wandered aimlessly down the street, eyes locked on the pavement in front of her, attempting to avoid catching her ridiculously high heels in the cracks between the stones. Wishing, not for the first time that day, that she had chosen a different outfit, Chrys sadly turned her back on Covent Garden, with it’s perilous cobbled streets, and instead headed southwest towards Piccadilly Circus.

 

She had been stood up. So the stupidly high heeled boots had been for nothing in any case. Well, maybe not for nothing she mused as she caught sight of her reflection in one of the highly polished shop windows. She was dressed in a long, deceptively warm, black jacket, over a fitted lilac vest, dark blue denim skirt and thick patterned tights, complemented by her favourite black leather knee-high boots. The shoes had cost a small fortune but, despite the stiletto heels, they were the most comfortable boots she had ever owned (if you discounted the pink fluffy slipper-boots she had purchased the previous winter). And it didn’t hurt that they oozed sex appeal. They were the definitive kinky boots. Chrys knew she looked good and that it was Jake’s loss. But even looking this good couldn’t quite ease the sting of sitting alone for 45 minutes amidst the pitying looks of the coffee shop staff and the soft chatter of loved up couples.

 

Passing the pink and red window display of a card shop, Chrys scowled to herself. Only three more days and once again she would be alone. Chrys had always hated February, even before she had grown old enough to understand Valentine’s Day. It was the halfway mark in her year, when the thrill of last birthday had long faded, but it was still too soon to look forward to the next one. The weather was cold, wet and often icy and it was almost impossible to believe that spring would ever break through. But none of that was as bad as the fact, that February housed what was unequivocally Chrys’ least favourite day of the year.

 

To be fair, the day was unseasonably mild for the time of year, but still, the slightly warmer weather, which had prompted the skirt and boots combo in the first place, did not detract from the fact that it was the 11th. Firstly, it was exactly halfway between her last birthday and next, but from the time she had hit her teens, that had been the least of her worries. At thirteen she had risked humiliation and ridicule to ask out a boy in the year above her at school. He had laughed in her face, resulting in weeks of red-rimmed eyes and overdosing on ice cream. Her first boyfriend had rather publicly dumped her at the tender age of fifteen, a mere three days before Valentine’s Day. And after she had spent three weeks’ pocket money on a gift for him. Two years later Chrys’ schoolgirl crush had kissed Anne, her best friend, on exactly the same date. And when that relationship eventually fizzled out, it had been blamed on Chrys. She had never quite worked out where she figured into that equation, but the point was irrelevant. The fact remained that Anne had refused to speak to Chrys for a whole month after that, starting from, you guessed it, 11th February.

 

The final straw had come when she was seventeen. Her little sister, of all people, had stolen her boyfriend from right under her nose, and that had been the day the pair had chosen to come clean. In retrospect, Chrys should have known something was up, should have taken more notice of the way her boyfriend looked at Pansy. But in the end it had come as a complete shock. She had been hurt. More by the betrayal than the heartbreak but hurt nonetheless. It had been a long time before she had been able to forgive her sister.

 

So, as one could imagine, Chrys did not favour this particular day. The question could be posed as to why she had agreed to go on a date in the first place, but that could quite neatly be put down to peer-pressure. For years Anne had been pestering her about moving on, and finally, after the rest of her friends joined in, Chrys had caved. After all, it had been ten years since anything terrible had happened. Secretly Chrys suspected that had more to do with spending every year avoiding all human contact than a change in her fortunes, but her friends had not been dissuaded.

 

So now, aged exactly twenty-seven and a half, Chrys had one more thing to add to her why-I-hate-the-eleventh-of-February list. It was not the first time she had been stood up, and she doubted it would be the last. She had no strong feelings towards Jake of any description, whether positive of negative, but still, this close to Valentine’s Day, when the world appears to be full of hearts and roses and gooey couples, it would have been nice to have someone to share it with. Distracted from her musings, and her careful observation of the pavement by a bright splash of colour in a shop window of the non-red and pink variety, Chrys looked up properly to investigate further. At precisely that moment, her heel caught in the crack of a broken paving slab and she stumbled inelegantly, falling forward onto the hard, damp pavement. Catching herself with her hands at the last moment, Chrys found herself in a heap on the cold ground. Torn between a curse and a sigh of resignation, Chrys looked up to find herself in front of a pair of slightly scuffed black shoes and denim clad legs, a gloved hand hanging in front of her face.

 

Reluctantly, she followed her line of sight upwards until she reached the face of the person in front of her. He was a man, perhaps around thirty, dressed in a worn leather jacket, burgundy t-shirt and black jeans. His hair was a mid-brown colour and slightly too long, curling softly over the collar of his jacket. His jaw was perfectly chiselled, his cheeks lightly flushed from the cold wind and his eyes… his eyes were a dazzling blue that seemed to see right through to her soul. His lips were full and red and they quirked slightly as she stared at him. Belatedly she noticed the hand he had held out to her, which was now waving slightly in front of her face in an attempt to be noticed. Blushing hotly, Chrys took the offered hand, wincing slightly as her grazed palm caught on the fabric of his glove.

 

Getting to her feet, Chrys gingerly brushed herself down, relieved to find that her beloved boots were none the worse for her fall, and her tights were still thankfully intact. After rather too much stalling, Chrys glanced back up at the man who had witnessed her embarrassment.

“Damn 11th February.” She muttered to herself, before raising her voice to thank him.

“No problem.” He quirked his mouth at her, “So, what’s wrong with 11th February?”

“Everything!” She replied theatrically, spreading out her arms to encompass anything that may have been left out by her dramatic statement.

In response he merely quirked an eyebrow.

“Just trust me on this one.” She muttered before thanking him again and moving to walk past him.

He moved as well, effectively blocking her path. Irritated she looked up at him, noticing somewhere in the back of her mind that despite her heels, he still towered over her.

“I’m Ed. And you are…?” He held his hand out to her again.

She eyed his hand cautiously, as if waiting for it to explode in her face. When he hadn’t moved a moment later, she shrugged and met his gaze.

“Chrys.” She grimaced slightly as she took his hand, as the material of his glove irritated the scrape on her palm again.

“We should get that cleaned up.”

She glanced up at him surprised at his reference to ‘we’. He still held her hand in his, but now he was intently examining her graze.

 

The next shop in the parade was a coffee shop, and Chrys found herself being led through the doorway and towards the toilet at the back. Feeling slightly bewildered, she stood impassively as he took a damp paper-towel and wiped carefully at the scrape on her left hand. She tried not to wince at the pain, abstractly wondering why it was that grazes on your palms hurt so much. As he moved on to her right hand, Chrys took the time to look at him more closely. He was attractive in a slightly non-conventional way. Dark, brooding and mysterious without being particularly dark and his eyes were stunningly beautiful. Crystal blue, framed by long, sooty lashes and… She tailed off mid-thought.

“Are you wearing eye liner?”

Startled by her voice, Ed stopped dabbing at her hand and caught her eye, a light blush staining his cheeks. Chrys was just as startled as he was, only realising she had spoken out loud when he reacted to her question.

“I was…” he paused “attacked. By my sister armed with her make-up case.”

Chrys raised an eyebrow in response, indicating that he should elaborate.

“She’s a beauty therapist. She had some fancy new make-up to try out and her usual victims were busy or away or hiding or something. Apparently I was volunteered to be her guinea-pig.” He smiled wryly. “She only told me it was ‘new and improved’ waterproof make-up when she was done. The eye liner won’t budge no matter what I do to it.”

By the time Ed had finished his explanation, Chrys was finding it increasingly more difficult to control her laughter. The story was funny in itself, but to see the evidence right before her eyes was the icing on the cake.

“Well it suits you. You should wear it more often.” She giggled.

“Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.”

His wry tone sent her into another fit of giggles.

“That’s the last time I help you up when you fall in a heap at my feet.”

She sobered quickly at that, images of her earlier humiliation returning to haunt her.

“Yes well, thanks for helping me, but I really should be going now.”

Turning quickly, without waiting for a response, she headed back towards the front of the café, intent on going home and hiding in her flat, preferably wrapped in several layers of protective padding, until the day was over.

 

She was pulling open the door when a hand covered hers on the door handle.

“So is Chrys short for Christina?”

She sighed resignedly before turning to face Ed.

“No, Chrysanthemum.”

He laughed, as she’d known he would, and she scowled murderously at him.

“Well it’s a very pretty name.”

His eyes glinted with amusement and Chrys decided that this time she really had had enough. Turning on her heel, she walked out without another word.

 

Proud that for once she had walked out with her head held high, Chrys stormed down the street, paying very little attention to where she was headed. She didn’t know how long she walked for, driven by annoyance and frustration. It was for that reason (well, that and the fact that it was the blasted 11th February) that she suddenly found herself in the middle of Covent Garden, balanced precariously between the cobbles. Suddenly painfully aware of her predicament, Chrys began hobbling towards the safe haven that was level ground, wondering how she had managed to get so far without falling, without even noticing that she had strayed from the safety of the pavement. Unbidden, an image of piercing blue eyes filtered through her thoughts and with horrifying inevitability, at exactly the same moment, her ankle twisted beneath her and she crumpled to the floor.

“We really should stop meeting like this.”

Chrys didn’t even need to look up to know who was standing over her. There was only one day of the year on which she could be guaranteed to embarrass herself twice in front of the most beautiful man she’d seen in months, years even, and her luck was out.

 

Half tempted to remain on the ground and just give in to the tears that threatened; Chrys ignored the hand that Ed held out to her. When he realised she was not going to cooperate, he crouched down in front of her.

“You know it serves you right for going shopping in those shoes.” He grinned.

“I was supposed to have a date.” She mumbled, hoping he might not hear her.

“You what?”

Annoyed at having to repeat herself, conveniently ignoring the fact that it was her own fault he hadn’t heard in the first place, she shouted at him.

“I had a date. He stood me up. Happy now?”

Ed looked taken aback for a moment at her rapid change of tone, but quickly smoothed out his expression.

“Well that’s not on. Here, let me get you a coffee to apologise on behalf of my gender.”

It was Chrys’ turn to be taken aback, but she let him pull her to her feet, not even protesting when he wrapped his arm around her waist to help her walk back to the level pavement. In truth she was thankful for the support. Her ankle was slightly tender from the fall, and she was certain she would have bruises all down her legs the following day. They stayed like that as they walked up the road to the nearest coffee shop.

 

Finding a small table towards the front, Ed deposited her in a chair before going to order their drinks. He returned several minutes later with two steaming cappuccinos and a think, gooey slice of chocolate cake. Placing the dessert in front of her, along with one of the coffees, he gave her a cheeky smile.

“I thought you could do with a sugar boost.”

Grinning in response, Chrys immediately sunk her fork into the rich cake and dug in. It was delicious, and before long, she was feeling much better, the hot drink and sweet food, combining to give her a warm glow.

Ed was great company, after he stopped teasing her about her name that is.

 

“My parents own a nursery,” She explained impatiently a little while later, “They adore plants, and my Mum’s favourite flower is…”

“A Chrysanthemum.” He finished for her. “Well that’s as a good a reason as any.”

“I prefer Chrys, though.” She added

“It’s ok, I get the hint. Chrys it is!”

He took a sip of his drink, before stealing her fork and a bite of her cake. He moaned appreciatively and went to steal a second mouthful, but she slapped his hand away, taking her own rather large mouthful instead.

“You know, Ed isn’t short for Edward…”

It took her a moment to reply around the too large piece of cake she had shovelled into her mouth.

“So what is it short for then? Edmund, Edwin, Ed the Duck?”

“Ha ha, funny.” He gave her a look. “But no, none of those.”

“She thought for a moment.

“Edgar? Edison? Are you Spanish… Eduardo?”

He punctuated each name with a shake of his head.

“I can’t think of anymore ‘Ed’ names.”

“It’s Meredith.” He cringed slightly as he spoke, his voice low.

“And you made fun of my name?! People in glass house shouldn’t throw stones!”

He gave her a wry grin and she laughed.

“Your parents must have hated you! So how exactly did you get ‘Ed’ from that?”

“Well how would you abbreviate that to sound more masculine? Merry? Dith? It had an ‘Ed’ in it, and that was good enough for me. As for my parents, they wanted a girl. They used up all their boys names on my three older brothers.”

“I thought you said you had a sister?” Chrys asked, picking up her mug.

“She’s younger than me. And she’s called Charlie, for goodness sake, not Charlotte, Charlie. They couldn’t have given me that one could they?!”

Chrys laughed so hard she had to put her mug back on the table, or risk spilling her drink all over her hands.

“You know, I quite like it. It goes nicely with your eyeliner.”

She fell about laughing again, well aware that it was a terrible joke, but finding it funny just the same.

“You should feel honoured. I can probably count on my fingers how many people know my real name and, considering I have four siblings, that’s saying something.”

Chrys schooled her features into a more serious expression, though she couldn’t help the occasional giggle that bubbled over.

“Well thank you for confiding in me.”

Rolling his eyes, Ed stole another bite of cake, before she could stop him.

“So what have you got against 11th February?”

“How did you know I have something against it?” She asked curiously.

“You said so earlier. I asked what was wrong with it and you told me ‘Everything!’” He punctuated his sentence by impersonating her dramatic display from earlier.

She laughed as recollection dawned on her. “Well I meant it. Everything is wrong with today.”

“Elaborate?”

And she did.

 

For the first time Chrys told someone new about everything that had happened to her on 11th February, growing up. She could tell he thought she was being a bit dramatic, but he listened to her anyway, and when she reached the final ‘chapter’, his vague amusement turned to compassion.

“It sounds rather like a Channel Five soap, doesn’t it?”

“It does a bit.” He chuckled. “Must have been hard for you though. So what happened after that?”

“Nothing really.” Chrys gave him a wry smile. “Pansy and Craig are still together, they’re getting married in the autumn. I get the impression Pansy wants to ask me to be her maid of honour, but she’s worried about bringing up the past. I told everyone back then that I would marry Craig one day.”

“Well, you’re obviously happy for them, maybe you just need to reassure her you’re ok with things.” He smiled at her and she found herself returning the smile with a genuine one of her own.

“You know, I’ve never told anyone about this stuff before.”

“Well I never tell anyone my real name, so we’re square.”

She laughed, scraping the last of the chocolate icing up with her fork and licking it off. 364 days of the year she was usually quite a happy bunny, but now she felt happier than she had in months. If things carried on this way, she’d have to change that figure to 365. Funnily enough, she didn’t have a problem with that.

 

A little while later, Ed excused himself, heading towards the facilities at the back of the café and leaving Chrys to her slowly fading giggles.

“Didn’t take you long to move on.”

Surprised out of her thoughts, Chrys looked up to find Jake hovering by her table.

“No, I move quite quickly. Unlike some people.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Being a bit late is rude, but forgivable. Not turning up is just downright rude. And not even calling to apologise? That is unforgivable.” Chrys regarded him coldly, refusing to be intimidated by the way he was looming over her.

“Ten minutes late is hardly a crime.”

She looked up at him incredulously.

“What do you take me for? You think I wouldn’t wait ten minutes?” She stopped short, unwilling to admit how long she had waited for him.

“Really,” he drawled, “So how long did you wait?”

Astonished, Chrys said nothing for a full minute. The man really wanted to know, and expected her to tell him! A mental image popped into her head of him boasting to his friends about how she’d waited almost an hour for him.

“Twenty, maybe twenty five minutes - long enough to finish my paper. Did you see? Looks like they’re having the mildest weather for decades up in the Alps. Shame about your holiday.”

He frowned, obviously not expecting her to have a comeback. Opening his mouth, he was about to speak when he was neatly pushed aside by Ed returning to his seat. Jake’s mouth snapped shut then opened again, reminding Chrys distinctly of a fish.

“Can I help you?” Ed smiled politely up at Jake.

“No, I was just leaving.”

Without another word, Jake spun on his heel and stormed out the door, pausing only to shoot them a filthy look, before disappearing onto the crowded street.

 

“I take it that was Mr No-Show?” Ed asked when they were alone.

Chrys nodded absently, taking a sip of her drink.

“I don’t know what you saw in him, I’m much better looking.”

Chrys almost choked on her drink, and it took her a moment to catch her breath again.

“It’s not that funny.” Ed mumbled sulkily.

She giggled again before straightening out her expression and apologising.

“Of course. You’re much better looking.”

“Do I sense sarcasm?” He raised an eyebrow

“Not at all, you’re very attractive.” She responded matter-of-factly, her glittering eyes the only outward sign of amusement.

“Oh really?” He winked.

She blushed slightly, cheeks turning a deeper shade of red at his knowing smile.

“Let’s take a walk.”

Surprised by the abrupt change of conversation, Chrys nodded mutely in acceptance before she had even thought the question through.

 

As they stepped out into the street, Ed wrapped an arm tight around her waist, to make sure she stayed on her feet this time, he assured her. But Chrys couldn’t help the happiness bubbling up inside her at the feel of him so close to her. Even so, she kept an eye on the pavement, just to make sure that she didn’t embarrass herself yet again. They walked for some time, each lost in their own thoughts, a comfortable silence between them. They reached Leicester Square and bought some ice cream, even though by this time the cold wind had turned bitter. By the time she had finished her cone, Chrys was shivering noticeably, so tightening his hold on her, Ed led them into a pub to warm up.

 

Chrys headed to the ladies room while Ed ordered a couple of pints, and when she returned, he was ensconced at a small table in the back of the room. They sat for over an hour, talking and laughing. Exchanging stories of their childhood, right up until the prank phone call Ed had received the previous week from his intoxicated best mate.

“Jeff thought he was being all mysterious, but he forgot one important detail; caller ID.”

She laughed as he waved his mobile at her.

“And he’s the only one who has ever gotten away with calling me ‘Merry’” He cringed.

“Someone called you Merry more than once and they lived to tell the tale?”

“I’ve known him since we were three. He couldn’t pronounce my full name and I didn’t discover Ed ‘til school. In the end it sort of stuck. Most people think it’s a reference to ‘Lord of the Rings’. At times I’m not sure which is worse.” He gazed at her, “Do I look like a hobbit to you?”

His voice was so serious that she just couldn’t help it. She laughed so hard that her eyes watered. The slightly put out look on his face just made it worse.

“Don’t worry,” She finally forced out through her laughter. “You’re much too tall to be mistaken for a hobbit!” And with that she fell back into peals of laughter.

He let her laugh, merely watching her with a slightly amused expression on his face. Finally, she sobered enough to drink the last of her beer.

“So.” He grinned, “How about dinner?”

 

<><><>

 

Chrys linked her arm with his as they stepped out onto the street. It was well past 11pm and the night sky was dotted with twinkling stars. They’d had a wonderful dinner at a little Italian restaurant near the Embankment, and now they were heading towards the river for a late night stroll. The air was cold and crisp, the mildness of the day giving way to traditional February weather, but at least it was dry. Wrapping her coat more tightly around her, she allowed Ed to pull her closer as they reached the river and began walking south.

 

A little while later they came to a halt looking out over the river, watching the ripple of the reflected lights on the black surface.

“So, Chrys…” his voice was husky as he turned towards her, pulling her body closer to his own.

She looked up at him, waiting for him to continue. His face was cast in shadows and she couldn’t make out his expression. But his eyes seemed to hold an inner glow.

“There’s only ten minutes left. How do you want to spend it?”

Turning slightly in his arms, she caught sight of Big Ben. It had just gone 11:50pm. She paused for a minute, thinking. She had a dilemma. Chrys had had the most wonderful evening of her life, but it was still 11th February. What if all this build up was just leading to her biggest fall yet.

“Well?” He prompted gently, tucking a hand beneath her chin and tilting her face up until their eyes met.

Suddenly a cold wind whipped through, making her shiver. He pulled her closer to him and she knew. There was every chance he might reject her, but if she walked away now, she would forever wonder what could have happened.

 

Pushing herself up onto her tiptoes, Chrys wrapped her arms around his neck. She paused, their faces only inches apart, suddenly nervous. What if he did say no. Still unsure, she looked into his eyes and he took the decision out of her hands. Closing the last of the distance between them, he captured her lips with his own, kissing her softly. His lips were soft and pliant, but with an underlying sense of need. She shivered again, but this time it had nothing to do with the weather. Her fingers tangled in his hair, pulling him closer. She tilted her head, encouraging him to deepen the kiss and sighing as he accepted the invitation. All conscious thought flew from her mind as his tongue brushed hers and she found herself clinging to him. If she had ever been kissed like this before, she could not remember it. And she suspected that this kiss would prove to be unforgettable.

 

Finally, he drew back, though his embrace did not loosen. She couldn’t help the slight flutter in her stomach as she noticed that his breathing was just as irregular as her own. For a long moment, neither of them spoke, content simply to gaze into each other’s eyes.

“So, when do I get to see you again?”  Ed asked softly, finally breaking the silence.

“Tomorrow?” She responded uncertainly, dropping her gaze to nervously examine his collar.

He tilted her face up again, waiting for her to meet his eyes before replying.

“That sounds perfect.”

And he kissed her once more, just as the chimes of Big Ben announced the end of the best worst day of her life.

 

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