Blindsided By Love



Valerie Byron    

© Copyright 2023 by Valerie Byron  


Photo by Alan Healy at Pexels.

Photo by Alan Healy at Pexels.

On a morning like any other, Horace Green reluctantly dragged himself out of bed wondering what on earth the point was. 
Leaving behind the warmth of his snug cocoon, and the delightful dreams that made going to bed early so appealing, he padded across the carpeted floor to the bathroom. Turning on the shower, he arranged his shaving gear neatly around the sink, and only looked up as the steam from the shower formed a thick condensation on the mirror, blocking his view.
The pulsating hot water from the shower brought him fully awake.  He stepped out of the tub into a fluffy white terrycloth bathrobe and dried himself off.  Combing his hair back, he lathered shaving lotion all over his face, enjoying the aroma of the thick, white foam on his cheeks.  As he shaved, he avoided the mirror. However, it was hard to shave without seeing, so he grabbed a hand towel and wiped off the mist, glancing at his face with an air of disapproval.
Thinning dark hair and a narrow face glared back at him.  You again, he muttered, scowling at his reflection.  How unfair, he thought.  He was only thirty-five, yet his glossy locks, his only good feature, had started to fall out in clumps in his mid-twenties.  His nose was what kind people called aristocratic but to Horace, it was a hook.  He’d often fancied having plastic surgery, but dismissed the notion.  Wouldn’t make much of a difference now, would it?
Eyes of an indeterminate shade of grey peered into the mirror, tracking down the last whisker on his face.  Finally, rinsing off, Horace turned from the mirror and went back into the bedroom to dress. 
Horace Green was not a conventionally handsome man; he’d always believed his looks were the reason he had no friends. 
As he dressed, he thought back to his adolescence, such lonely times.   He never had confidence in himself, and lacked the personality or talent to downplay what he thought were his unattractive looks. But - he was bright and a good student, earning honors in every class.  
Leaving his apartment, with thoughts of the past still racing through his head, Horace walked to his nearby office, humming tunelessly.  As he strode through the glass doors of the five-story building that was home to the tax firm of Horace Green, Chartered Accountant, he nodded at the doorman. Ignoring the blonde receptionist, Kathy, who was busy painting her nails, he strode to the elevator, pressing the button to the fourth floor. Another lonely day, he thought, wondering why on earth he even bothered coming to work.
As Horace opened the door to his office, he sighed.  The red light on the message machine was blinking, but no secretary sat in her usual place.  Looks like Millie’s taken the day off again, he surmised, going over to the coffee maker situated next to Millie’s desk and turning it on.  He picked up the answering machine and listened to his secretary’s grating accent.
Hello, Mr. Green. It’s me, Millie. Listen, I’m sorry I can’t come in today.  My mom’s not feeling well and I have to take her to the doctor.  Sorry, Mr. G.  See you tomorrow, OK?”
Pouring himself a cup of coffee, and selecting a cookie from Millie’s stash in the cupboard, Horace sat back in his swivel chair and tackled the paperwork that had accumulated over the prior week.  
A few hours later he was finished.  Stretching in his chair, he wondered what to do with the rest of the day. He stood up and walked to the window, gazing out onto the busy street below. Buses and cars screeched and rumbled, while pedestrians struggled with packages and umbrellas, fighting off the sudden downpour. It was going to be another miserable, rainy day in Bristol, and he doubted if anyone would be making an appointment to see him in this weather. 
He walked aimlessly around his office, staring at the bookcases filled with file folders of clients who came to see him perhaps once a year.  It was a lackluster room containing his desk and chair, a few file cabinets and an armchair reserved for the clients who came to discuss their annual taxes.  The windows were tall, draped with dusty curtains that could do with a good washing.  An old potted plant leaned tiredly in the corner of the room, and Horace, taking pity on it, poured the rest of the water from the coffee maker around the brown, curling leaves.
He glanced at his watch, noting it was getting close to lunch time.  Again, he walked to the window and stared out. The rain had finally stopped and it looked as though a diluted sun was determined to push through the grey clouds. 
Biting his thumb, Horace debated what to do next.  Lunch at the corner restaurant?  A drink at the pub down the street?  Or, how about a jog?  He thought for a moment, and then impulsively opened the door to his bathroom. 
Swiftly discarding his grey trousers, white shirt, tie and tweed jacket, Horace pulled on jogging pants, tennis shoes and a Bristol City sweatshirt. Grabbing a cap just in case the rain came back, Horace picked up his keys and left the office.
One of the reasons Horace had selected his office was its fabulous location along Queen Square. A five-acre garden square in the center of Bristol, it had originally been a fashionable residential address but more recently most of the buildings had been taken over for office use.  A peaceful and relaxing green space, it was ideal for lunching businessmen, or for taking a scenic jog.
Horace found himself on the jogging path within minutes, and soon maintained a steady running pace. He enjoyed the beauty of the scenery as he ran. It was quiet in the park since the rain had kept picnickers away. The vegetation was lush and green, newly drenched by the recent downpour. Birds chirped in the trees and the surrounding lawns were emerald green, glistening with raindrops.
As Horace ran through the park, his mind wandered, thinking about his early years and how he had come to this lonely way of living. 
He thought of his parents, killed too young in a car crash when he was only eighteen years old. Fortunately, they had left enough money for Horace to finish his higher education, and to purchase an apartment in the heart of Bristol. Money had been no object but the lack of siblings, or even relatives, made his life an emotional wasteland.
His thoughts skipped forward to university, and the times he had attempted to make friends. 
Er, Jack,” he had mumbled once to a classmate. “Doing anything interesting this weekend?”
Oh, sorry, mate,” Jack responded distractedly, “Seeing some friends.  How about you?”
Oh, nothing really.  Maybe I’ll catch a movie,” Horace had murmured, embarrassed that he had even had the temerity to ask.
His lack of self esteem, and awkwardness were off-putting to his peers. In his mind, they recoiled when he came near, seemingly repelled by his unattractive presence.  Of course that wasn’t the case at all.  His looks had nothing to do with the way he was treated.
He had often stared at himself in the mirror, wondering what he could do to change his appearance. His skin was a little acne scarred and his lips were thin and pinched under his aquiline nose, but when he occasionally smiled, his face lit up.  Unfortunately, not many people had seen him smile, certainly not Horace himself.  He had no idea how his shy smile transformed and softened his face.
As Horace ran, he thought about his four years at university. Life at “uni” had been lonely, and he’d spent most of his nights alone in his dorm room, studying.  He longed for just one person to ask him to join them at the pub or the local dances, but they never did.  He listened to them come home late at night, singing drunkenly on the stairs, laughing and shouting.  He’d pull the covers over his ears, wanting so badly to be part of their lives.
As Horace rounded a bend in the park, he noticed a young couple walking arm-in-arm as they walked slowly across the commons.  Heads together, they seemed deeply in love.
Dammit,” he thought to himself. “Why is my life this way? I wish I could find someone to talk to, to be with, just once in my life. Surely there has to be more than this emptiness.”
The aching for the warmth of anyone, even a stranger, suddenly burst forth, and to his horror and embarrassment, hot tears seeped through his eyes as he ran. Hating himself for this unexpected surge of self-pity, he rubbed his knuckles in his eyes to wipe away the tears. 
At that very moment, without warning, eyes closed, he crashed into someone. He could feel the form of a body right in front of him and, as he opened his eyes in alarm, he saw that a young woman had collapsed on the gravel footpath at his feet.
Oh, dear,” Horace cried, bending down to assist the fallen woman.  “Are you all right?  Oh, I am so sorry; here, let me help you up.”

As he leaned forward to give the woman his hand, he noticed that she ignored it. Struggling to her feet, she gave a little shake and a smile, waving her hand in front of him.

Don’t worry yourself, I’m fine. It was my fault. I didn’t see you,” she reassured him. “Is there anywhere to sit around here?  Maybe you could take my arm so I can catch my breath.”
Horace spotted a park bench close by and led her across the gravel path. The wooden seat was located under the shade of a beautiful sycamore tree, which cast a shadow over the two of them, shading them from the light of the newly arrived sun.
Smiling, she laughed and patted his hand. 

”It’s all right.  Please don’t worry.”

Horace gazed upon the young woman with amazement. She was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Shoulder length wavy auburn hair shone in the sunlight. Her skin was like porcelain, smooth and creamy, and her eyes were as blue as the sky. She appeared to be in her early thirties and spoke like an educated young woman.
Horace sat there, just staring. He could smell the light flowery fragrance of her hair, and had a sudden urge to bury his face in it. Pulling himself together, he took a deep breath, desperately thinking of something witty to say to impress this goddess.
Mutely, he sat there, a thousand words rushing through his brain. He had absolutely no idea what to say to such a vision of loveliness.  His experience with women was nil. 
What’s your name?” she asked after a few awkward moments had passed.
He thought wildly, wondering if he should tell her the truth. He hated his name and most likely she would too.
In a moment of impulse he blurted out “Jake,” thinking this a more manly name than ‘Horace’. Besides, she would never know the difference as they were hardly likely to meet again.
Pleased to meet you, Jake. I’m Helen.”
She put out her hand, and he looked at it, not knowing what to do.  She laughed again, and he took her hand in his damp one and shook it. It was soft and smooth, and it was all Horace could do to not let go.
Although the ice seemed to be broken, Horace could not believe such a beautiful woman would want to waste even a second more with him. Embarrassed and uncomfortable, he thought perhaps he should just get up and continue his run. 

”Well, I’m so sorry I knocked you over,” he apologized again, starting to rise.  “I don’t want to keep you if you have to get going.”

No, I’m fine,” Helen responded. “Please stay. Actually, I’d love to chat for a while, if you don’t mind. It would be nice to have someone to talk to. It gets very lonely sometimes.”
Mind?” thought Horace wildly. “Lonely?” “What on earth is going on here?”
You have a lovely voice,” she remarked. “So kind and gentle. Where did you go to school?”
Horace was baffled. He stared at Helen, wondering how on earth a beauty such as she could be lonely.
Oh, I went to Bristol University, right here in the City,” he responded.  “I’m an accountant.”
Really? How interesting,” she went on. I expect you meet lots of fascinating people in your line of work.”
Not really,” Horace explained.  “I only see them once or twice a year. Not enough time to get to know anyone on a personal level.”
So tell me about yourself, Helen. Do you like this park?  I’ve never seen you here before.”
And so the afternoon passed in a hazy blur. The conversation grew deeper and Horace eventually started to relax, basking in the glow of Helen’s beauty and interest. She was witty yet sweet, and he found himself starting to believe it was all a dream.
I really should get back to the office,” he remarked, looking at his watch. It was hard to believe that two hours had passed so fast.  “It was lovely meeting you, and again, I’m sorry for slamming into you like that.”
Her face dropped.  “Must you go?  I’ve really enjoyed getting to know a little about you. ” 
Horace’s heart almost stopped beating.  What was going on?  Was this some kind of prank?  But who would do it?  He had no friends.
I really must, but. . . but, I don’t suppose I could see you again?” he offered weakly, expecting instant rejection.
Oh, that would be wonderful,” she cried, a huge smile lighting up her face.  “Perhaps we could meet here tomorrow?  I could bring a picnic lunch for us both?  What do you think, Jake?”
I’m dreaming,” thought Horace.  “This cannot be real.
Well, sure.  I would love that.  Shall we meet here, at this bench?”
She smiled, nodding her head in assent. “See you here tomorrow, at noon, okay?”
Horace stood up, his head in a whirl, and took her hand.
I’ll see you tomorrow, Helen.  Thank you so much for this afternoon – and again, I’m so sorry for knocking you over!”
Ah,” she murmured, “but we would never have met otherwise, would we?”
She squeezed his hand and sat there smiling to herself.
Horace turned, and started back along the jogging path, walking slowly, his heart filled with such joy and exultation he felt it might burst.
To confirm that he had not been dreaming, he turned to wave once more.  She apparently did not see him as she stood up slowly from the park bench, picking her way across the footpath to the other side.  As he watched, mesmerized, she bent down in the grass to pick something up. 
Staring at her, his hand held up in a half wave, he seemed transfixed.  As he was about to call out, she finally righted herself, turned, and started to walk slowly in the opposite direction, her white cane tip-tapping in front of her as she moved into the distance.

Contact Valerie
(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Valerie biography and story list

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher