The Runaways: A Trilogy of Short Love Stories is a collection of short fiction all about the same couple. This is the opening extract from the first book in the trilogy, also called The Runaways. Find out what happens next and where the other two stories take this rebellious, spirited couple by downloading the trilogy from Amazon.
“Run away with me,” he said. “Let’s do it.”
“Let’s run away and get married,”
It wasn’t a shock to hear, but it still sounded foreign and forbidden.
“But we can’t. We can’t just go and…” I half believed it. Where would we go? What would we do? What would they say?
“Of course we can. Who’s going to stop us?” He had a determined smile, like a child.
Stepping in closer, he reached for my hand. The feelings I sheltered for him charged through me, thrilling and fulfilling. Surely that would never change?
“See. You can’t give me a reason why we shouldn’t.”
“They love you, I love you. They’ll understand.”
I pulled away and sat down on my bed, feeling weighed down by the potential for disobedience.
“But where will we go?”
“I don’t know. Gretna Green?” He sat beside me.
“That’s so obvious. And a little tacky,” I squeezed his leg and felt the curved edge of his kneecap through his trousers. How I loved his skinny legs.
“We’ll go wherever you want. How about Bath? You said you loved it there.”
I went with my family a few years ago, when I was still living at home. The golden greystone of the Regency properties, the steam that rose from the Roman baths, the tearoom I ate too much coffee cake in. It was a happy day.
“Yes. Bath is beautiful.”
“That’s where we’ll go then,”
“How will we get there?”
“We’ll take the first train tomorrow morning.”
I glanced at my watch, the gold one my sister gave me for my eighteenth birthday. “It’s already tomorrow morning,”
“Even better!” He stood up. “I’ll book us a taxi to take us to the station. We can spend the rest of the night in that greasy spoon opposite. We’ll eat bacon butties and drink tea until it’s time to catch our train,”
“And where will we stay in Bath?”
“In a hotel. The best, most expensive hotel we can find,”
“Yes. It’s my treat,” he silenced me. Everyone gossiped about how rich he was, but only I knew it for a fact.
“I’ll be back,” he said and then he was gone.
I took in a deep breath and wrapped my cardigan around me. Made of pure merino wool, it was warm and carried the smell of my perfume. I thought about Lucy next door, Debbie across from me and Georgie down the hall. This late at night they were most likely all sleeping thoughtlessly or watching TV in their rooms. I wanted to tell them – share my rebellion and my joy - but I feared even their reaction. Eloping to get married wasn’t something that happened everyday on our corridor.
Johnny always told me I cared too much about what other people thought but that didn’t dilute how excited I was by him and us. I thrived on our late night meetings, crossing corridors and using soft, secret knocks. I knew they talked about us, that we weren’t as subtle or invisible as we thought, but that didn’t stop me.
I opened my wardrobe and considered my clothes; so many new and unworn, so many too big, so many too small. I should have a clear out when we get back.
Coming back? I hadn’t thought of that. I should have asked him what happens next, when we get back. It was the most important question and yet neither of us had even considered it. I shook my head and pushed it to the back of my mind. I told myself I was allowed to be happy. I was getting quite good at that.
“So, what does a girl wear on her wedding day?” I asked the wardrobe, putting on a silly voice. It answered by pulling my eye to a pale pink low cut summer dress with a floating hem that would dance in the lightest of breezes. It wasn’t quite summer yet, but I would hope for sunshine.
Moments later I had a bag packed. I’d found earrings that used to belong to my grandmother and a lace shawl that Mum had given me for Christmas one year. As I folded it, I felt a little sad about them not being there to see me get married.
A tender tap on my door and there he was, wearing a grey three-piece suit complete with a too-tight tie knot. I’d never seen him dressed like this before and it reminded me that he was a man full of surprises. I loved how he saw life as one big party after another and how he had an outfit for each one. Of course, I also liked how good-looking he was, with those kind blue eyes and his broad, giving grin. He made me feel lucky; lucky that he’d chosen me over all the other girls he could have had. I knew Debbie liked him and just the other week I found Lucy playing with her hair as they chatted in the kitchen. I loved him for choosing me.
There was an old brown suitcase by his feet. Nobody carried suitcases like that these days. I loved him for being different.
I kissed him firmly on the lips. It felt like the start of something.
“Let’s go,” I whispered.
* * * * *
He paid for First Class tickets and we settled into wide, upright chairs. Across from us a middle-aged man with a briefcase gave us an uneasy look before opening up a laptop and typing with few interruptions. I slipped my hand under my future husband’s and fell asleep.
* * * * *
Bath was more beautiful than I remembered. The buildings were taller, the hills steeper and the streets longer. I used to think things got smaller as I grew older. For once, it was nice to be proved wrong.
Our hotel was far grander than I liked to think about. I had almost no money to contribute to our adventure. Nonetheless, I smiled foolishly as I stroked the plump white towels folded in our bathroom and I squealed when he leapt onto the giant bed and bounced into me. How would we ever go back to sharing my single bed again?
I didn’t ask how long we were going to stay but as he pulled me to him, his tie loosened already, I hoped for forever.
* * * * *
We gave notice for our marriage that afternoon. I clutched the confirmation so tightly it creased around my fingertips.
It was a mixed happiness as two numbers abruptly slowed the pace of our plans.
Seven was the number of days we had to live in the city before they would marry us. And fifteen was the number of days the notice needed to be displayed in the Registry Office before we could legally wed. They were bureaucratic necessities that reminded me of the real world and they made me question it all again. I asked Johnny if it was worth it. What about the hotel bill? What about those who would miss us and worry? Would they try and find us? What would we say afterwards? How would we tell them? What happens next?
He soothed my fears and made arrangements for us to stay and wait – new clothes, a backgammon board and a pack of cards. I made a series of lying phone calls home and to Debbie, saying I’d gone on an unplanned creative writing retreat and that’s why I couldn’t be reached on the phone in my room. They knew about my books and my secret ambition to be a writer; they showed no sign of surprise and certainly no concern. Johnny was right, I needn’t worry…
In those fifteen days I learned that Johnny liked to sing Frank Sinatra in the shower, that he flossed every day and that he drank half an inch of whiskey in bed before turning the light off. We were slow to wake up in the mornings but quick to never miss breakfast. Some days we took the train further west and I watched England’s endless green blur into cities I’d never visited before; Bristol, Taunton and Weston-super-Mare. Most afternoons we took to strolling around Bath hand-in-hand, often ending up in the tearoom I remembered from my first visit. We made friends with the owner, a stout woman called Rosemary who wore mismatched floral prints and turquoise eye shadow. We shared our secret with her and she called us the “young lovers”, forcing free cake on us during each visit. I feared my dress wasn’t going to fit.
But it did. When the day arrived, it did.
* * * * *
Frances M. Thompson
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