Utama My Great Ex-Scape

My Great Ex-Scape

What if your future was somewhere in your past? Rosie Jones has been dumped by every boyfriend she’s ever had – most recently by Dinosaur Dave, live on TV, during the ‘phone-a-friend’ segment of a quiz show. After the footage goes viral Rosie receives a bunch of flowers with a message: I love you, I should have never let you go, I want you back x But who sent them? At a loose end and with £50,000 prize money in her back pocket, Rosie decides to take a trip down memory lane, visiting each of her ex-boyfriends to see not just if they are the one who sent the flowers but if they are the one. Her journey takes her back to the house she grew up in and on a transatlantic cruise to New York, but can Rosie figure out which ex-boyfriend is the love of her life, or should the past stay in the past?

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My Great Ex-Scape

Portia MacIntosh

For Joe –The future Mr MacIntosh


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36


More from Portia MacIntosh

About the Author

About Boldwood Books


‘How would you like £50,000?’

I never expected to hear those words this evening. Who am I kidding? I never expected to hear those words ever.

I always try to look on the bright side of life, searching high and low for the positive in every negative situation. My mum calls this The Rosie Outlook – an obvious pun combining my name, Rosie, and my ability to always try and find the good, even when it seems impossible.

For example, not beating around the bush, I hate my job. I realise that hate is a strong word and not the kind of chat you would usually expect to hear from someone who prides herself on being positive, but I do, I absolutely hate my job.

When I was a kid, all I wanted was to be a detective. Not a police detective though, a private detective, the kind you see in film noir. You know the sort, the cigarette-toting, low-key sexist, wisecracking type in the long, plain coat with a fedora on top of their head – the only kind I saw on TV growing up. As I matured into my teens and this no longer seemed like a viable job (if it even seemed like a real job at all), I realised that a job did exist that involved exposing the truth. I wanted to be an investigative journalist, and this actually seemed like a goal I could achieve.

Flash-forward to me, here today, thirty-one years old, and I am a journalist… just not the kind;  I wanted to be. I work for the Salford News, just outside central Manchester. It’s only a small, local paper though, so not only is there not much room for an investigative journalist, but every page of the weekly paper is pretty much an advert. I spend most of my days writing paid advertorials – which is basically an advert hiding inside a news article – and given that the clients are paying for exactly what they want these pieces to say, it’s not exactly a challenge.

I don’t just hate my job, I resent it. I’m kind of trapped in it, until I can find something better – well, trapped by my finances at least, I’m technically a freelancer, so I’m not exactly bound by a contract. Unless I just want to stop paying my bills – but I’ve heard that doesn’t go down very well.

I did say there was a plus side though, and that plus side is Sam, my boss. I hate my job, but I love my boss. Sam is my editor and I can tell that she tries her best to give me the good jobs and, of the very few perks you get being a local faux journalist, she’ll often toss a few my way. She’s great when I need time off, she lets me off the hook when I arrive late – she even buys the office pizza on Fridays. Sam really is a wonderful boss.

Money isn’t great… I know, it’s not really great for anyone right now, is it? But I live within my means. My apartment is small (which means my rent is too), but at least it’s close enough to work for me to walk. I just keep doing what I’m doing and hoping things will get better.

I was a little down in the dumps today because David, my boyfriend of four months, cancelled our plans this evening because he needs to work late. He’s a lecturer at the university, teaching Palaeobiology (I didn’t know what it was either). I wrote my dissertation on yellow journalism and the paparazzi. David gets more excited about things like mass extinction. We might not have much in common, but we still get on really well. Sometimes opposites just attract, don’t they?

So David was going to be teaching young adults studying for their master’s degree all about macroevolution (I don’t know what it is either, I just remember seeing his lesson plan over his shoulder and feeling like a bit of a dummy) tonight and I was going home to my tiny apartment to watch Hollyoaks… or so I thought.

I was just about to leave work, after a particularly gruelling day writing an ‘article’ about a local window cleaning company, when Sam called me into her office. She had two tickets for the live filming on a new TV quiz show, but it was her husband’s birthday, so she wasn’t going to go. She offered them to me and Gemma, the other girl who does the same job as I do, so with nothing better planned I made the short trip to MediaCityUK – the development in Salford where all the big TV studios are based.

I didn’t think anything of it when they told us we had to download an app so we could play along, nor did I expect anything eventful to happen to me when I found out contestants would be plucked from the studio audience. But then I sat down and, as the filming started, I couldn’t believe it when my phone started ringing. Mine. I had been selected at random to play the game. Gemma was fuming, she’s not happy unless she’s the centre of attention. I was just a combination of embarrassed and terrified. I’ve never been on TV before – well, how many people have? – but I’m not really the kind of person who likes to be the centre of attention and I couldn’t even begin to imagine how many eyes would be on me – and not just here in the studio.

The show is called One Big Question. I’m guessing it’s aiming itself at millennials because the app seems to be at the heart of it. It can be used by people to play along at home, but here, in the studio, it’s what I can use to ask the public or the audience for help with answers.

I can’t actually believe my luck, but I’m on the final question – the titular one big question – and if I answer it correctly, I’ll win the money I’ve banked so far. A whopping £50,000.

‘I said, how would you like £50,000?’ Mike King, the host, asks again.

‘I’d love £50,000,’ I admit, my voice wobbling almost as much as I am on this tall chair.

If I’d known I was going to be chosen to take part today, I probably would have turned the opportunity down, even with the knowledge that I could win some serious money. I don’t think I would’ve thought I had it in me to get this far…

I’m somehow too hot and too cold. I want to say the studio lights are hot, but there’s cool air con to offset the warmth. I am sitting opposite the host in the centre of a brightly lit circle, in an otherwise dimly lit room. I can’t see the audience – I can’t even see the camera, not really. I only know they’re there now because of the little red LED lights I keep spotting. Even without them, I don’t think I’d be able to forget I was on TV. On live TV, no less.

‘This is your final question,’ Mike explains. ‘Who said blondes were dumb, huh?’

I smile politely. I have had to contend with the dumb blonde thing my entire life. First, when I was younger, when I had naturally blonde hair, and then more recently from all the highlights, because for some reason my hair gets darker as I get older.

‘Your only remaining lifeline is to make a call from your speed dial numbers,’ Mike reminds me.

When we started, I was allowed to select three numbers from my phone in the event of choosing the ‘make a call’ option. Without many friends or people who I even believed would answer, I chose my dad, Tim, Sam, and David. I don’t suppose any of them would know all that much about anything based in pop culture, but I think I have that covered myself. Anything on the life and works of Alan Titchmarsh, unscrupulous news practices, or bones, and one of them might be some use to me. I doubt my boss would appreciate me calling her on her husband’s birthday, so here’s hoping for the Chelsea Flower Show or cavemen. At least if it’s the latter, David’s lecture will be over and he’ll be able to take the call. My dad probably won’t even hear his phone ring.

‘Ready for it?’ Mike asks.

I nod unconvincingly.

‘OK, here we go… Which dinosaur had fifteen horns?’

An impossibly big grin stretches all the way across my face. This has to be a joke. I might be optimistic, but I am under no illusions – I am not a lucky person. I don’t get picked for TV shows, I don’t have many people to call for help, and I definitely don’t get questions that are going to be easy… and yet here we are.

‘You know this one?’ the host asks in disbelief.

I know I might be blonde, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know anything about dinosaurs. I mean, I don’t know anything about dinosaurs, but what gives him the right, huh?

‘I know a man who does,’ I say as my grin inches even wider. ‘I’d like to call my boyfriend please.’

‘Your boyfriend knows a lot about dinosaurs?’

I nod, only semi-smugly.

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ the host jokes. ‘What’s your boyfriend’s name? What does he do?’

‘His name is David and he’s a lecturer.’

‘What does he teach, dinosaurs?’

‘Palaeobiology,’ I reply.

‘Is that dinosaurs?’


The audience laugh wildly. Mike is a sort of cheeky-chappy host. A thirty-something former musician who has somehow made it as a TV presenter. I suppose it’s his charm – the audience clearly love him.

‘OK, let’s get Dinosaur Dave on the phone,’ Mike says.

I wince as he says ‘Dave’ – David hates being called Dave.

‘So all you have to do is, when Dinosaur Dave answers, just tell him you have one big question to ask him. If he gets it right, you’ll be £50k richer!’

‘Sounds good,’ I say.

It doesn’t just sound good, it sounds great. David knows everything there is to know about dinosaurs, there’s no way he’s getting this one wrong. I just hope he answers – can you imagine if he didn’t?

‘Quiet in the studio,’ Mike says, hushing the audience as the phone rings.

‘Hello,’ David says when he answers the phone.

‘Hey David, it’s Rosie,’ I say, in a suspiciously formal manner. ‘I… erm… I have One Big Question I need to ask you…’ I try to hide the nerves in my voice, but it’s impossible. I’m on TV – calling up my boyfriend on live TV – to ask him a question about dinosaurs so that I can win £50,000! I cannot stress enough that this is not a typical day for me.

‘Let me stop you there,’ he says. ‘Because I think I know what you’re going to say.’


‘No, let me speak,’ he insists, as though he’s talking to one of his students. ‘For a while now I have suspected you’re far more serious about this relationship than I am, and I was happy to let it slide because no one was getting hurt, but now I suspect you’re calling me to ask me to move in with you perhaps – maybe even marry you, you can be quite full-on… Anyway, I just don’t want you to make a fool of yourself so, the time has come – we need to break up. I didn’t want to do this on the phone but… it’s not you, it’s absolutely not you. It’s me. I’m just not that into you and you’re getting way too serious too quickly…’

I sit on my chair in stunned silence. The host is in silence. The audience is in silence. I imagine everyone watching at home is sitting in silence. If the cast of Gogglebox were watching this show, it would be one of the quietest episodes of Gogglebox ever. No one knows what to say or do.

‘Rosie, say something,’ David prompts.

I look over at Mike who has his hand raised over his mouth. He looks shocked, he’s cringing, but I can also see something hidden deep in his eyes that makes me think he knows this is TV gold, and he’s just leaving things to see how they play out. So I do the only thing I can think of doing…

‘Which dinosaur had 15 horns?’ I ask.

‘The kosmoceratops…’

I tap the button on the player dashboard in front of me.

‘Kosmoceratops, final answer,’ I say blankly.

‘I… erm…’ Mike blusters.

‘Kosmoceratops,’ I say again.

I don’t know if you can use willpower to stop yourself from blushing, but I am trying my hardest not to show how absolutely mortified I am. It’s taking all my strength – and even more not to burst into tears.

‘Kosmoceratops,’ I insist for a third time.

‘Erm… OK…,’ Mike tries to push on. ‘Is that the right answer?’

I have to endure one of those painfully long, uncomfortable pauses they do on quiz shows to build suspense while you wait to see if you’ve got the right answer. Every second is absolute agony as I try to keep a lid on my embarrassment. If this had happened under any other circumstances, I probably would have burst into tears.

The screen flashes up that this is the right answer, as it has done with all the other questions, only this time, as this is the final question, it is accompanied by a rainstorm of gold glitter. As it cascades down over me, Mike hands me a comically large cheque for £50,000.

This feels like one of those nightmares where everything seems fine before events take a horrible turn, like you’re giving your Oscars acceptance speech but then you look down and realise you’ve forgotten to put on your dress. It is somehow one of the best and one of the worst days of my life. I can’t even begin to figure out how I should be feeling right now.

‘Sorry,’ he whispers into my ear, giving my shoulder a squeeze, before turning back to the camera to finish the show for the evening.

As he wishes the audience and the viewers goodbye, instructing them to tune in tomorrow for another live show, I look at my cheque.

Of all the things I expected to happen today, the events of the last few hours were certainly not on that list.


Last night I got dumped. Last night I got dumped in front of an audience. Last night I got dumped on live TV.

However you look at it, it’s bad, but the more you think about it, the worse it gets.

I’m trying to use my Rosie Outlook to remind myself that I am £50,000 better off than I was yesterday, but even that is proving challenging today.

I may be £50,000 richer, but I’m also one boyfriend poorer – albeit one terrible boyfriend who I’m better off without. I mean, come on, seriously, he thought I was trying to take our relationship to the next level, so he dumps me over the phone? And, I have to stress, I have shown no signs of wanting to level-up our relationship – none at all. I’ve just been a good, normal girlfriend. I haven’t expected much, I haven’t stopped him going out with his friends. I’ve just given myself to him with blind optimism and he’s tossed me away like an old dinosaur bone. Well, I don’t suppose he’d throw an old bone away, would he? He’d salivate over it and write a book about it. I guess that one doesn’t really work… He’s thrown me away like [insert cool thing here] because David hates cool things. His mum bought him a snapback cap for his holidays and he threw that away. He hates avocados with a fiery passion (not because he doesn’t like the taste, but because they’re a hip thing to eat) and he always looks at my iPhone with all the disgust you’d give a dog turd, so I guess he’s thrown me away like any of those things instead.

I sigh to myself. I really, really don’t want to get out of bed, but I need to leave for work in forty-five minutes. I know, I’ve just won £50k, but it’s not exactly quit-your-job money, is it? At least not overnight.

I roll over in my small double bed and grab my phone from my bedside table. The stupid One Big Question app drained my battery last night and by the time I got home and plugged it in, I was asleep before it had turned back on. I just wanted the day to be over with and, to be honest, I didn’t want to make any more phone calls anyway.

My screen looks like a whole mess of stuff that I can’t quite make sense of, so I grab my glasses. I don’t need them for reading so I don’t usually wear them in bed. I generally wear contact lenses through the day because I think my glasses make me look dorky, but my eyes feel all funny so I grab my glasses to wear for now.

Does that say… No? It can’t. Apparently I have over 100 notifications. I don’t think I’ve ever had 100 notifications on my phone, not even when I downloaded Tinder – especially when I downloaded Tinder.

Missed calls, iMessages, emails, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – they’re all blowing up. I wonder if the One Big Question app has caused something to malfunction in my phone… until I notice a notification for a suggested YouTube video called ‘Woman dumped on live TV by dinosaur nerd’.

I click it, as though there might be some small chance that this isn’t a video of me, but of course it is, and it’s had over three million views so far.

Oh boy…

I click Twitter and see that my mentions and DMs have erupted with messages from strangers. I keep my DMs open for work, which I seriously regret right now. Some people feel sorry for me, some find it all absolutely hilarious… and then there are the comments that are especially hard to take, the ones calling me a bunny boiler, laughing at me but in a mean-spirited way, saying David did right to dump me. No doubt from the idiotic incels of the internet who delight in seeing a young woman being made a fool of. As I get into the tweets where people start insulting the way I look, I realise there is only one thing for it. I need to deactivate my social media accounts. All of them. At least until all of this blows over.

I toss my phone to one side and get out of bed. As if this situation wasn’t bad enough, I just had to go viral, didn’t I? And not just in the UK, oh no, worldwide! Absolutely fantastic!

I wander into the kitchen and put the kettle on. I take a mug from the cupboard and toss in a teabag. I watch as the kettle boils, only to abandon it the second it does. What am I doing? Why am I carrying on like nothing has happened? My life is over. I’m humiliated.

I wonder if £50k can buy me a new identity. I wonder what I can actually do with it… I could go on holiday. I could quit the job I hate, using the cash as a buffer while I find another one. It is such a soul-destroying gig; I’d love nothing more than to leave. I’m an adult though, so I won’t. I might call in sick today, but I need to make sure I keep going to work and acting like everything is fine – things will catch up eventually, right? And at least I’ll be around allies of sorts, rather than reliving my mortification.

I grab my phone and call Sam.

‘Rosie, oh my God, are you OK?’ she asks, answering after one ring.

‘Oh, you know,’ I say as casually as I can, though of course she knows – everyone knows. ‘I’m just ringing to call in sick. I’m dying of embarrassment. Hoping I’ll feel better tomorrow.’

She laughs sympathetically. There aren’t many bosses who would accept embarrassment as a legitimate reason for a sick day.

‘I’ve been trying to call you,’ she says. ‘Gemma wants to write a news piece about the local girl who works for the paper who went viral overnight. I didn’t think it was a good idea, but the powers that be have signed off on it… so…’

‘Oh, OK,’ I say. Typical Gemma, that backstabbing snake. I’ll bet she’s over the moon that this has happened to me – and in front of her too. She was smiling like the cat that got the cream all the way home in the taxi last night. ‘I guess I quit then.’

‘You quit?’ Sam replies.

‘Yeah… I quit.’ The words leave my lips so effortlessly, so softly, they tickle. It’s one of the easiest things I have ever done. That’s money for you, it makes everything easier. Anyone who insists that money doesn’t bring happiness has obviously never been trapped in a dead-end job that sucks the life out of them.

‘Well, I understand,’ she says. ‘And I know you’ve just come into money, so I doubt I can say anything to change your mind. You know I’ll give you a glowing reference, right?’

‘Thanks,’ I say. ‘I suppose I haven’t been happy for a while and this money has just given me the push I needed. I thought all this was going to blow over but… meh.’

‘I’ll make sure the article is sympathetic, it’s the least I can do,’ she replies.

I hang up the phone, wondering what I am the most annoyed about – that Gemma is going to write this article about me, or that Gemma is getting to write articles. Real ones, not adverts pretending to be articles.

I’m about to discard my phone when it buzzes again. Since I deactivated my social media accounts, the barrage of notifications have stopped. Anything that comes through now can only be from people who have my number – and that’s a pretty short list these days.

When I see it’s from David, I stare at my phone suspiciously as I wonder what he wants. With that obviously getting me nowhere, I give in and open the message. He wants to see me. He’s asked me if I’ll go over. Why does he want to see me? He can’t be mad at me for not telling him we were live on TV when I called him because he didn’t even give me the chance… Even if he was going to break up with me anyway, David is an introvert. He’d never want to do it on TV, he’s not that hurtful. Perhaps he wants to apologise? I suppose I just gave him a scare, making him think I wanted to move in together or whatever… Hmm.

I hurry on a tracksuit and pull my long blonde hair into a bun on the top of my head. I put on a little foundation, but that’s it. Now that spring is starting to edge closer to summer, it’s quite bright out on a morning, so I’ll just hide behind my sunglasses. I want to keep things incognito anyway. I’ll just low-key slink over to David’s place, hear what he has to say for himself, and then work out what the hell I’m supposed to do with myself now that I’m internet famous and unemployed. I swear to God, this is how most people get into the porn business. I’m yet to receive an offer, as far as I can tell, but I’m not sure I’d accept anyway. My boobs are nowhere near big enough, my arse is covered in cellulite and I don’t even have a washing machine in my diddy apartment, so no chance of it breaking down.

I’m about to head for the door when someone knocks on it. I instinctively drop behind my sofa – a pointless move, living in a first-floor apartment, but still. I’m terrified of who might be behind it. They knock again, but I remain in cover. I allow them a few minutes before slowly getting up and looking through the spyhole. Confident there is no one there, I open the door to leave. I’m about to step through the door when I stop myself just in time. There’s a flower arrangement sitting on my doormat.

I pick it up and take it into the kitchen. It’s a beautiful bouquet, with white oriental lilies, creamy white chrysanthemums and baby pink roses. I remove the card to see who they are from.

‘I love you. I should never have let you go. I want you back.’

Oh my gosh, they must be from David. This must be why he wants to see me.

I grab the only vase I own (which is empty and just waiting to be used, but that’s because no one ever buys me flowers, not because I’m super tidy or organised) and place my flowers in water before heading back into my bedroom to get changed.

If David and I are getting back together, I don’t want to be dressed like a shamed TV star hiding from the paparazzi… even if I do kind of feel like one right now.


What kind of apartment do you expect a university lecturer to live in? Something stylish and studious? Books – lots and lots of books – but neatly and sensibly organised? Browns and greens and maybe, just maybe, the occasional bit of red? I always imagined David’s apartment being like that. A bit like Sherlock Holmes’s office, I suppose… but David’s apartment isn’t like that at all.

For starters, while he does have a lot of books, he has even more magazines. Piles and piles of them everywhere. On the coffee table, on the kitchen worktop – he’s even using an especially tall pile as a table for his keys to live on by his front door.

And then there’s all the dinosaur junk – not that I’d ever refer to it as that in front of him. I suppose it’s good that he’s passionate about his work, but it’s two kinds of creepy, in my opinion. It’s creepy to have bits of real bones and replica skulls and whatnot lying around, but it’s potentially even weirder that he has dinosaur toys all over the place. Yes, kids’ toys, stationery – he’s even just handed me a cup of tea in a dinosaur mug. I glance down at it. It features a cartoon image of an especially sad-looking diplodocus, his head hanging low with a little frown and heavy eyes, accompanied by the caption ‘All my friends are dead’. I can’t help but smile to myself.

‘So, you wanted to talk,’ I say, getting the conversation going.

If he wants me back, he’s crazy if he thinks I’m going to give him an easy time of it. Well, how can I just take him back after what he put me through last night. I know that he didn’t know we were live on TV, and that I scared him with my choice of words, but he’s going to have to show me that he’s serious about me, that he made a mistake last night, and that he’s really sorry.

‘Yes,’ he says, placing his own dinosaur mug on a coaster in front of him. His mug features a T-Rex along with the caption ‘Tea Rex’, which is about what I’ve come to expect from dinosaur mugs. They don’t get much better than that.

‘I know you never meant to embarrass me,’ I say, immediately kicking myself for making this easier for him.

‘Of course I didn’t,’ he replies. ‘I would never do that to you – I’d never do that to anyone. I panicked. When you said you had a big question for me, I thought you were trying to propose or something…’

‘Yeah, you said,’ I reply, trying to laugh that wild assumption off. It was too soon for us to even think about marriage. ‘But the show is called One Big Question, and when you call someone to ask them this One Big Question, you have to say “I’ve got One Big Question”…’

‘It makes sense now,’ he says with an awkward smile. ‘How’s the fallout?’

‘Nuclear,’ I reply. ‘I’ve had to deactivate my social media accounts, people won’t stop messaging me, some of them are being actually really quite mean – even I was shocked – and then there’s the fact I quit my job.’

‘You quit your job?’ he says. His tone of voice would suggest that he doesn’t think that was a smart move.

‘I did. I hated it. And I’m too embarrassed to go in at the moment anyway. And now I have this money, I can use some of it to keep me going while I find myself a new job. I suppose I’ll wait a few days, for this “gone viral” business to calm down, I don’t want job interviewers bringing it up, but then, yeah, I’m sure I’ll find something.’

I’m hoping that’s true.

‘Not the smartest move,’ he replies. ‘But I’m sure you’ve thought this through.’

It was more of a go-with-your-gut reaction, if I’m being honest. But even now, after I’ve had a little time to think about it, and seen David’s reaction to it, I still feel like it was the right thing to do.

‘Of course I have,’ I reply. ‘Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to start paying for everything.’

‘I mean, why would I?’ he says. ‘We broke up.’

I look at him with a raised eyebrow.

‘Rosie, I broke up with you last night,’ he says clearly, in a way you would speak if you were trying to explain something to someone who was completely delusional. ‘You know that, right?’

‘Well, yes…’

‘You come over here all dressed up, talking about me looking after you now you’ve quit your job—’

‘Whoa, that’s not exactly true,’ I insist. ‘And I’m here because you said you needed to talk to me.’

‘Yes, I want to talk to you about the money,’ he says. ‘The prize money.’


‘I think I deserve a share – potentially half of it.’

I laugh, until I realise he’s serious.

‘Are you kidding me?’

‘You don’t know what a Kosmoceratops is,’ he says.

‘I do,’ I reply confidently. ‘It’s a dinosaur with fifteen horns.’

‘You didn’t know until I told you,’ he clarifies, as though that might make me change my mind.

‘David, are you joking? You humiliated me on TV.’

‘You don’t think it was embarrassing for me?’ he replies. ‘My students are calling me Dinosaur Dave; they’ve lost all respect for me. It’s all over the uni intranet.’

‘Embarrassing for you? Embarrassing for you?’ I plonk my dinosaur mug down on his table – without a coaster – and pace in front of him angrily. ‘If you hadn’t been so quick to dump me…’

‘Well, that’s the thing,’ he starts. ‘I dumped you. Have you even stopped to think about why or are you too busy having a pity party and counting your money that you didn’t earn?’

‘OK, wow, that’s it,’ I say, grabbing my coat from the hook next to the door. ‘Well, I’m not sharing the money with you and there’s no way I’m taking you back. You can stick your flowers where the sun doesn’t shine.’

‘What flowers?’ he asks.

‘The flowers… the ones you sent me.’

‘I didn’t send you any flowers.’

Of course he didn’t. He dumped me on TV, he’s not going to want me back. He just wants a share of the prize money – well, he can think again.

Ergh, I am so annoyed at myself for coming over. I'm not even sure what I ever saw in him now. I feel like girls are always willing to date guys, to give them time to come out of their shell, to see how things go, even if they’re not quite working. And guys just cut and run.

I pop my sunglasses on and storm out. I’m outraged at his request – of course I am – but that’s not really on my mind right now. The only thing going through my head right now is a question: if Dinosaur Dave didn’t send those flowers, then who did?


It isn’t a long train journey to my parents’ house just outside Manchester, but it certainly feels like it is today.

It doesn’t matter how old you get in life, when the shit hits the fan you can always go running home to your mummy and your daddy, with tears in your eyes and your tail between your legs, and no matter what you’ve done, they’ll probably forgive you. I say probably because I’m sure there are some things even the most forgiving parents couldn’t overlook… I’m not quite there yet, so here I am with a packed bag and a racing mind, hurrying to their house to hide out. I can sleep in my childhood bedroom (even if they have turned it into an office) and watch TV with my dad, help my mum peel potatoes – it will be just like Christmas, but without the presents and with my life completely coming apart at the seams.

I arrived home from David’s place to a voicemail from Sam, saying that the team from This Morning had reached out to her in the hope of getting in touch with me. Apparently they want me to go on the show and talk about what happened. As much as I’d love to meet Phil and Holly, I never ever want to be on TV again, and I certainly don’t want to relive the single most embarrassing moment of my life.

It was that, combined with those bloody flowers sitting on my worktop, that drove me out of my own home.

Without a name on the card, I am left wondering where they might have come from. Yes, I tried calling the florists, but, as per the data protection act, they can’t tell me who sent them. I tried to explain my particular circumstances to the lady on the phone, but she wasn’t very sympathetic to my cause. She mumbled something about ‘bloody GDPR’ and how busy she was before hanging up, so that wasn’t much use.

Fortunately, because the card said ‘I want you back’, that means it must have come from one of my ex-boyfriends. I say fortunately because I have only had, including David, five ex-boyfriends. The reason I am so puzzled though, is because, of these five boyfriends, I have been dumped four and a half times. We’ll get to what constitutes a half dumping in a minute.

I know what you’re probably thinking because I’m thinking it too. If every single one of my boyfriends has dumped me, is it me who is the problem? Am I just so unlovable – or at least easily dumpable – to the point where all my relationships end in (my) tears?

Kevin was my first real boyfriend – well, as real as you can get when you’re fourteen years old. We met across a crowded, smoky food-tech room in year 9. Some pranksters thought it might be funny to put a wooden spoon in the oven, and it was – at least it was at the time. Everything is funny when you’re fourteen and don’t want to make scones. I look back at it now and just feel so, so sorry for the teacher. Anyone who teaches in a secondary school is a hero because I remember most of the kids being absolutely horrible.

After that day, with the almost fire, we were split from our friendship pairings and made to work with a pupil of the opposite sex. I’ve never really been sure of the boy-girl system. How or why does it work? Seems like an archaic, sexist system to me, that is heavily reliant on the two genders not being friends.

Anyway, I wound up working with Kevin. He was my next-door neighbour, so we’d been all the way through school together, but I honestly don’t think we’d ever said more than two words to each other up to that point, and it took us a while to have a proper conversation. At first we were both so shy and awkward, too scared to take the lead with our weekly cooking challenge. We’d edge around each other carefully, speaking as little to each other as possible, until one day our hands met over a slightly overcooked ham and pineapple pizza and we just hit it off. We became friends, then boyfriend and girlfriend. We stayed together all the way through school, but I stayed at school to do my A Levels while Kevin went to college. Not exactly a long-distance relationship, but we were definitely moving in different directions.

After Kevin, there was Eli. We had a reasonably brief relationship, lasting from towards the end of year 13 until not long after I started university. Eli worked at his dad’s mechanic workshop in town so, when I went to study English at uni in Bangor, we were far enough apart for it to cause a strain on our short-lived relationship.

There was no one else, not who I had anything serious with, until after university, when I met super sexy Simon. I was doing an internship at a lifestyle magazine in Manchester where he was a photographer. He was forever going off to fancy places and snapping beautiful people. I always felt like I was punching above my weight with Simon, and it didn’t help seeing models constantly buzzing around him like excitable little wasps, desperate for him to catch their good side. Let’s just say that Simon and I had some… trust issues.

My last ex, before Dinosaur Dave, was Josh. I feel like I did a lot of growing with Josh, but then we started growing apart. Unlucky for me, Josh realised the relationship wasn’t going to work within minutes of me realising the same, and it just so happened that he broke up with me before I could break up with him. Yes, I realise it’s not a competition, but when every boyfriend you’ve ever had has broken up with you, you start to worry that it’s a thing, and now that David has dumped me too, I am petrified that it’s a thing.

There is a hint of good news in all of this though… You don’t have to be a detective (or an investigative journalist) to realise that, given what it said on the card that accompanied the flowers, while all of them may have dumped me, at least one of them regrets it. But which one? That’s the question. It’s definitely giving me pause, that’s for sure. It’s making me wonder… could my future be hiding somewhere in my past?

My past is definitely my future today, as I walk up the driveway to my parents’ front door. A beautiful suburban detached down a cute little cul-de-sac. I reach for the perfectly polished handle, but it’s a waste of energy. My mum bursts through the door to greet me.

‘Rosie, Rosie, Rosie,’ she says. ‘Oh, Rosie.’

‘Hello, Mum,’ I say as she squeezes the life out of me.

‘Oh, Rosie.’

She starts crying.

‘Are you crying because I’m home, because I got dumped, or because I was embarrassing on TV?’ I ask.

‘I think it’s all of them,’ she mumbles into my body.

My mum is adorably petite. Sneaking in at just over 5ft, she’s small and skinny. I’m a bit more like my dad, who is broad-shouldered and towers over my mum at 5’10. I’m 5’8, so I dwarf my mum too.

I’m starting to regret telling them the full extent of what happened when I called them earlier to say I was on my way over for a few nights. Thankfully they missed it, and can’t work their TV to get it on demand. I’d rather they didn’t see it.

‘Hello,’ my dad says with a nod of acknowledgement.

I wiggle free from my mum’s grip to give him a hug.

‘Oh… love…’

‘Mum, let’s not talk about it,’ I insist. ‘Tell me how you guys are doing.’

‘Oh, we’re fine, we’re just cleaning out the shed,’ she replies.

‘Oh, God, I’m not sleeping in it, am I?’

‘Course not,’ my dad says. ‘I’m making room for tomato plants.’

‘Fab,’ I reply.

‘And you’re helping,’ he adds.


‘Did you think you could just hide in our living room, watching TV all day?’

I absolutely did, without a moment’s hesitation. I even looked into what constitutes daytime TV now because it’s changed so much since the last time I was knocking around during the day. I couldn’t think of anything better. It sounds like they’ve got other plans for me though.

Outside, it doesn’t look like they’ve been working on the shed for long, so I guess I’ve got my work cut out: shifting tools, moving boxes of God knows what, sweeping, trying to ignore the spiders…

I thought coming here was going to be a nice break… I was absolutely wrong.


After hours of dragging dusty boxes around, dodging creepy-crawlies, and listening to my dad’s views on who should be the next prime minister, I finally find a moment to sneak into the kitchen for a breather and a glass of lemonade.

I can’t decide how right my parents were when they said that a bit of hard work was just what I needed right now, in my ‘situation’ as they’re calling it… I sincerely don’t think their reaction would’ve been different if I were a pregnant fourteen-year-old, like maybe they think I’ve got myself into this mess that has potentially ruined my life as I know it… maybe I have.

The hard graft in the shed is certainly keeping me busy, but my mind is all over the place. I’ll forget about recent events for a moment, distracted by the discovery of potential antiques or magazines that, at a quick glance looked like weird porn but upon closer inspection are just really graphic angling magazines of my dad’s. But despite the pictures of dead fish, my mind goes back to my life and, well, what I’m going to do with it.

‘Rosie,’ my mum cries out. ‘Rosie, where are you?’

I put down my lemonade and leg it outside, convinced my mum’s screams spell out disaster, but rather than finding my dad on the ground with a pair of secateurs sticking out of his temple – either through a ridiculous accident of his own, or via the hands of my mother when she inevitably snaps –they’re both just standing there, absolutely fine, with green bin bags full of rubbish in their hands.

‘I thought it was an emergency,’ I say, just a little annoyed.

‘It is, we can’t move for rubbish. You’re supposed to be putting it in the gardening bin for us,’ she replies.

My parents, Timothy and Evelyn Jones, are the caricature couple you see in cartoons about relationships – usually the ones that accompany agony aunt pages. Timothy – or Tim, to his equally blunt friends – is your classic northern bloke. Firm but fair, stoically silent until you find a topic he’ll talk your ear off about, like fishing for example.

Evelyn – or Evie as she’s more warmly known – is the exact opposite. She is outgoing, chatty, friendly… she’s so warm, it starts to burn a little. All up in your space, all up in your business, but always with the best of intentions. She and my dad are both recently retired (my mum was a teacher and my dad was a builder) and I’m pretty sure she spends her day chasing my dad around with a rolling pin because he keeps drinking milk from the bottle every time he passes the fridge.

His latest thing, which, since arriving back home, I have only recently learned he has been doing, is pinching sugar from the jar – just to eat. I saw him do it earlier, just dip his hand in, grab a pinch of sugar and pop it in his mouth. He says it satisfies his sweet tooth (he’s on a diet, apparently, and missing eating cakes and biscuits and the like, so he’s taken to having a cheeky dip in the sugar to stop him breaking his diet), but I just think it makes him look like Manchester’s answer to Scarface.

My parents do drive each other mad, but you can’t deny that they’re still head over heels in love.

Since I moved out, I’m not sure I could live with either of them. Even just staying with them for a few days is probably going to drive me mad, but it’s better than hiding out in my flat.

I grab a couple of bin bags and head for the front garden, where the bin store lives.

‘Green bin,’ my mum calls after me.

‘Got it, Mum,’ I call back.

This isn’t my first trip to the bins with bags full of shed crap. I know that the green bin is for the garden stuff. Then there’s the black and the brown and blah, blah, blah. I suppose that’s one good thing about living in a tiny apartment, I don’t have a million different bins with a million different rules for each.

I toss the bags in an attempt to squash them down in anticipation of the bags that will follow. I try with my hands, but I’m not exactly Abbye ‘Pudgy’ Stockton (she was a bodybuilding strongwoman – I learned this watching repeats of The Chase with my dad over our lunch break earlier), so I hop up onto the bin next to it and swing my legs into the gardening rubbish bin, using my body weight to jump up and down on it, squashing it down into the bottom.

‘Are you OK?’ I hear a man’s voice ask.

I jolt my gaze from my feet to next-door’s garden, staring like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

At first I’m embarrassed to be caught, you know, in the bin (although it’s hardly my most embarrassing moment in the last twenty-four hours), but as I realise it is a familiar face I’m looking at, I cock my head curiously.


‘Hello, Rosie,’ he replies.

Kevin tosses a bag into his parents’ wheelie bin, like a normal person, rather than getting in it, before making his way over to the fence that separates the gardens. I clamber out of the wheelie bin and meet him there.

‘Oh my gosh, it’s been years,’ I say as I hug him over the fence. ‘How are you?’

‘I’m great,’ he says. ‘How are you? Were you… were you trying to get in the bin?’

‘Oh, no, no, no,’ I insist. ‘No. I’m helping my parents clean out their shed, I was just trying to make room in the bin for all the junk they’re throwing away.’

‘That makes more sense,’ he says with a laugh. ‘I’m just here for dinner with my parents.’

I look my first boyfriend from secondary school up and down. He looks great. Older, but I haven’t seen him in like fifteen years and time will do that to you. So he’s looking a bit crinkly around his eyes and his hairline is creeping back – I’ve got a few wiry grey hairs hiding in my blonde locks and I need to wear two bras when I exercise now.

‘How are they?’ I ask him.

‘Yeah, they’re great. How are yours?’

‘Probably dead in the shed after some kind of weird standoff with gardening tools used as projectiles,’ I reply, very matter-of-factly. ‘But otherwise fine.’

‘Oh, I’ll bet,’ he laughs. ‘Well, how about I let you get back to them, but, if you’re around tomorrow we could go for lunch? Have a proper catch-up. It’s wild, that we never see each other.’

I am taken aback by his invitation. So much so I just stare at him.

‘Don’t worry if you’re busy,’ he backtracks.

‘No, no, I’m not busy at all. Never busy,’ I add, although I probably shouldn’t have.

Kevin just laughs at me. ‘OK, well, meet you at Sally’s in town tomorrow – midday?’

‘Sounds great,’ I reply. ‘See you then.’

‘See you then,’ he says. ‘Don’t wear the gardening waste bin.’

‘The black is more my colour,’ I joke after him.

Gosh, is that weird, him asking me to lunch? I haven’t seen the guy in years. Our parents live next door to each other and suddenly he’s right here in front of me, asking me for a catch up.

Could it be Kevin who sent me the flowers? I suppose I’ll have to have lunch with him tomorrow and find out.


I’ve claimed a table by the window in Sally’s Tearoom. It’s an impossibly cute place – older than I am. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid.

It’s 12:04 now (I’ve been here for about twenty minutes because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t late) and there’s no sign of Kevin… he did say midday-ish though, didn’t he? Or did he just say midday? Either way, I’m not going to worry.

I felt bad, hogging a table in such a busy tearoom, so I ordered myself a cup of tea and one of their signature white chocolate blondies. Remembering my manners, I haven’t touched either yet, although the blondie is practically screaming my name.

‘Hello,’ a young woman standing at my table says.

‘Hi,’ I reply.

She’s a twenty-something brunette who I’ve never seen before in my life. She doesn’t work here; I can tell that by her lack of the cute little uniform they wear here with the adorable white pinny.

I purse my lips and raise my eyebrows expectantly, waiting for her to say something.

‘I saw you on TV,’ she says.

Oh God.

‘Me?’ I reply, hoping she’ll think she’s made a mistake.

‘Yeah,’ she says. ‘You got dumped on the quiz show.’

Christ, is this how it’s going to be from now on? When I walked in here today, Jon Bon shitting Jovi could’ve been sitting at one of the tables and I wouldn’t have said a word to him, I would’ve let him enjoy his coffee and his cake in peace, and he’s a real celebrity, not a viral epic fail like I am.

‘Erm, yeah,’ I reply.

‘OK, bye,’ she says before wandering off.

Oh, brilliant, she just came over to point it out – to remind me, in case I forgot.

‘Who was that?’ Kevin asks. I hadn’t realised he’d walked in.

‘Oh, no one,’ I say.

‘OK, well I’ll grab a coffee and join you,’ he says.

I watch Kevin as he orders his drink. He’s looking really good, in a pair of jeans and a plaid shirt. He’s still in great shape – he was always really sporty at school. I was never all that sporty, but he played for the school rugby team and I loved to watch his games, even if I didn’t really know what was going on. It was just nice to go along and support him, cheer for him on the sidelines, be proud of him when he won.

Our very first date – and our first interaction outside the food-tech room – was at a McDonald’s. We had cheeseburgers and milkshakes while we chatted about school and Blink-182. We shared our first kiss in a McDonald’s booth (the old-style cream plastic ones, before they all got funky new makeovers) while Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ blared out of the speaker above it. It was like something out of a corny movie.

Coincidentally, we also broke up in a McDonald’s, just after he left school. After a high tackle that saw Kevin break his jaw – although supposedly this happened because I was distracting him by watching him play, according to his dad – Kevin decided that it had to be me or rugby, and rugby won. That time we didn’t stay long, and I definitely don’t remember what music was playing. He dumped me over ice cream – I’m pretty sure it was one of those hot fudge sundaes they used to sell, or did they discontinue them sooner than that? Either way, the fact that they don’t sell them any more is the only real tragic takeaway. I’m only now, for the first time in years, recalling just how angry I was, to be dumped for a sport. Oh, I was great (that’s what he told me), but not as great as bloody rugby, it turns out.

I left McDonald’s that day wishing I had dumped my ice cream on his head and I swore to myself that, if I ever saw him again, I would launch the nearest dairy product at him. As he sits down next to me, suddenly nothing on the table seems worth sacrificing. I’d rather drink my tea and eat my blondie and, anyway, we’re both adults now. It would be crazy to be mad at him some fifteen years later.

‘So, how are you?’ he asks. ‘We can do more than scratch the surface today.’

‘Yeah, I’m doing good,’ I say, being mostly honest, but as for more than scratching the surface, I don’t know what to tell him, so instead I ask: ‘Still playing rugby?’

‘I am,’ he replies. ‘But only for fun. I’m actually an estate agent.’

‘Oh wow,’ I blurt. ‘That’s different.’

‘Yeah… I don’t know, after my injury, I started looking at things differently. I started to worry about hurting people, or getting hurt again. Having a broken jaw really sucked. The thought I might put someone else in that position… so… yeah, I sell houses now. What do you do?’

I smile. He always did seem a little too sensitive to play such a violent sport.

‘I’m a journalist,’ I say, semi-proudly.

‘Oh, cool, who do you write for?’ he asks, sipping his coffee.

‘I’m actually between jobs right now,’ I admit. ‘But only as of this week. I didn’t like the scruples of the paper I was writing for so I’m venturing out in search of something a little more rewarding.’

‘A journalist with scruples is about as useful as a rugby player who is too scared to hurt anyone, surely?’ he says with a chuckle.

‘Perhaps,’ I reply. ‘But I’m going to see what I can find, take a bit of a break…’

He nods thoughtfully.

‘That’s the thing with us,’ he starts. ‘We’re too pure. We don’t want to hurt people – whether it’s with a high tackle or a few careless words in the paper.’

I smile at him. He still seems like that awkward kid who silently measured flour with me in year 9, but it’s hidden deep down inside. He’s got that confidence that comes with nothing other than growing up and leaving school. He has no trouble talking to women or… or sending them flowers? Is that why he’s brought me here today? To try and get back with me after seeing me on TV and realising I’m his one that got away? Perhaps he is still a little shy after all, I mean, whoever sent the flowers didn’t put a name on the card – was that intentional? Has he invited me to lunch to test the water and see if I’m interested? Am I interested? Maybe I should show him that I am, just a little… Just interested in seeing what he has to say, and if he really is the person I wasn’t supposed to let go.

With the flowers coming from someone in my past, I am growing increasingly convinced that my future might be in their hands. It’s just simple course correction. One of my ex-boyfriends has clearly realised he was not supposed to depart my life when he did, and I’m starting to think it might be Kevin.

‘I always thought we’d get married,’ I say. No, I’m not being too full-on, before you go all Dinosaur Dave on me, I was a teenager when we got together, remember. ‘I suppose, just because you were my first boyfriend, and you always think you’re in love with your first and that you’re going to stay together forever, don’t you?’

‘I know what you mean,’ he replies, pausing briefly to bite his Chorley cake – a choice that hasn’t impressed me, it has to be said. You can tell a lot about people by what kind of baked goods they eat. ‘But I really do think that, when you know, you know. I knew. You just know, deep down, in your heart of hearts, if you should marry someone.’

‘You knew?’

‘I did,’ he says. ‘I knew 100 per cent.’

Wow, and Dinosaur Dave thought I was full-on.

‘I, erm—’

‘I think that’s why I asked so soon into our relationship,’ he says as he rummages around in his pocket.

Wait, what? He can’t be talking about me…

Kevin pulls out his phone and taps the screen a few times before holding it up in front of me. It’s a photo of a stunning blonde woman sitting on the grass with two beautiful small blonde children.

I glance between the phone and his left hand. He’s been wearing a wedding ring this whole time. I really need to start looking for wedding rings now that I’m in my thirties.

‘Oh, wow,’ I blurt. ‘Is that your wife and kids?’

It clearly is, I don’t exactly need confirmation. I don’t know what else to say while my brain processes this new information.

‘Yep,’ he says proudly. ‘June, my wife, and those two little angles are Annie and Bethany.’

‘They’re all gorgeous,’ I say. They really are.

‘What about you, do you have any kids?’

‘None that I know of,’ I joke awkwardly… I’m not sure that joke works when you’re a woman… unless that’s what makes it funny? Kevin isn’t laughing though.

‘Married?’ he asks.

‘No, I’m—’ I’m interrupted by a voice behind me.

‘That’s her,’ the girl from earlier says. ‘The one who got dumped on TV.’

‘I got dumped on TV,’ I tell Kevin. Well, he clearly didn’t watch it, and the brunette has let the cat out of the bag.

‘Oh…’ He pauses for a moment. ‘Were you on Catfish or The Undateables or something?’

‘Was I on The Undateables?’ I squeak. I don’t think he’s ever watched The Undateables – at least I hope he hasn’t. ‘No, I wasn’t.’

‘Oh, OK, well… I’m sorry.’

‘Thanks,’ I reply.

‘You’ve always had such a colourful life,’ he points out.

I raise my eyebrows. I really haven’t. Suddenly, Kevin seems like a stranger. Someone who knew me when I was kid, but as an adult there’s just no connection there.

OK, so maybe it wasn’t Kevin who sent the flowers. And after today, I’m not sure I’ll be hearing from him again – not even when he hits his midlife crisis and fancies an affair with an old flame.

I suppose there is a silver lining here, hidden away in all the continued embarrassment: if David didn’t send the flowers, and Kevin didn’t send the flowers, then there are only three possible people who could have. Only problem is, I have no idea where they are.


After an awkward encounter with Kevin I decide to talk a walk to clear my head.

I stroll down the local high street. Well, what’s left of it, anyway. A few of the shops I grew up with have stood the test of time – Argos, Poundland, New Look. But the hole where Woolworths used to be tugs at my heartstrings. I used to bloody love going to Woolworths when I was little, picking out toys (or CD singles when I got a little older). For a while, when I was a kid, I would swear that the happiest day of my life was when my mum took me to Woolies to buy a VHS copy of the Spice World movie. I remember it came in a limited-edition tin (which I’ll hazard a guess is in storage somewhere with the rest of my childhood stuff) and my mum took me for chicken nuggets after. I felt so grown-up.

It’s kind of chilly but really sunny, so I’m wearing an oversized padded coat with my aviator sunglasses. The sun is behind me now, but I’ll keep the glasses on. I like to hide behind them, they give me a self-confidence I absolutely don’t deserve.

I’m also trying to put my awkward lunch not-date with Kevin behind me. I can’t believe I thought, for a second, that he might have sent those flowers. It really was just coincidence that I bumped into him. Still, I wish I’d noticed his wedding ring before I let my imagination run away with me. This flower business has really rattled me, I feel so off the ball.

Amidst all the mobile phone shops, pawn shops and empty units, an old-fashioned sweet shop shines like a diamond in the rough. I pop in and buy myself a bag of jellybeans for my stroll home. I could get the bus, but I’m in no hurry to get back. Well, Mum and Dad will only start giving me jobs to do again and all this hard work is tiring me out. I’m not used to any physical work or activity at all – unless you count the few stairs at my old office that I’d sometimes have to carry bundles of newspapers up and down.

I rank the different flavours of jellybeans as I walk. Popcorn is obviously up there as one of the best, whereas the root beer one is like pure poison. This is important work that I’m doing right now, a definitive ranking is needed.

I am snapped from my hardcore time-wasting as I realise where I am. I’m outside Wilson’s mechanics, where my ex-boyfriend Eli worked – he probably still works here actually, it’s his family business and it was always the plan that he would take over from his dad.

Kevin might not have been fate – and this might not be fate, as such, but I must have walked this way on autopilot at least?

I hover outside for a moment. Do I really want to embarrass myself in front of another ex? Why not, eh?

I walk into the waiting room – it’s a lot different than it used to be. Before, it was an empty shell of a room with a couple of foldout chairs and a calendar of topless women straddling tyres on the wall. Now it has carpet, a comfortable sofa, magazines without a breast in sight – there’s even a plant, for crying out loud. A real, living, plant. It’s nothing like the macho chauvinistic hellhole I used to hate waiting in when I was meeting Eli, it’s positively modern.

The receptionist is a woman, which I’m not sure is progress or not. On the one hand, they didn’t used to have any women working here, but now that they do, she has the obvious job.

‘Hello,’ I say brightly. ‘I’m looking for Eli Wilson, I think he works here.’

‘Eli Wilson?’ she repeats back to me.

‘Erm, yes…’ I reply cautiously. ‘He works here? He did when I knew him…’

‘Just a second,’ she says.

She disappears into the workshop for a moment before returning with two men. Big, burly blokes in blue overalls covered in oil. Well, I say oil, I don’t know cars. I don’t know what oil looks like. I don’t know what other liquids cars can leak. I am a thirty-one-year-old baby who has always been a little too scared to learn to drive. Scared of the massive responsibility that comes with driving around in a heavy, fast, metal death machine, but also kind of scared of the financial burden too. Cars are expensive. Parking is expensive. Petrol is expensive. Insurance and tax and MOTs and repairs are all oh-so expensive. It’s a commitment I’m just not ready for yet – mentally or financially.

‘She’s looking for Eli,’ the woman practically bursts. ‘She thinks he works here.’

‘He used to,’ one man chuckles. ‘You looking for him for something specific?’

‘Just a catch-up,’ I say. ‘He was my boyfriend when I was eighteen, he—’

Fantastic, all three of them are laughing now. How wonderful, an in-joke. An in-joke everyone is in on but me.

‘He lives not far from here; do you want his address?’ the man asks.

‘Please,’ I say through gritted teeth.

I take the company-branded post-it note with Eli’s address on and leave as quickly as possible. It might be positively progressive now, but it’s still uncomfortable in there.

I punch the address into my phone and see that, wherever it is, it’s only five minutes away. I’ve come this far, I may as well drop in on him.

I know you shouldn’t have favourites, but Eli is maybe my favourite ex. I’m not saying my feelings were stronger for him than they were for the others and we weren’t even together that long, but I just had so much fun with him whenever we were together. Unfortunately, because I was at uni for most of that time, we didn’t get to see each other all that much.

All of a sudden, I happen upon the apartment building where he lives. It’s a tall building with big windows and balconies all the way to the top, where the penthouse sits, entirely made of glass.

I punch Eli’s flat number into the intercom. Eventually someone answers.

At first there are a few seconds of silence and then…

‘Is that… Rosie Jones is that you?’

‘Hey Eli,’ I say awkwardly. I didn’t realise he could see me.

‘What the hell are you doing here? Come in! Get in the lift, I’ll bring you up.’

He’ll bring me up? What is he going to do, step outside his apartment and call the lift? Does he not think I can handle being told a floor number?

The door pops open in front of me.

‘OK, see you in a sec,’ I say nervously and head into the waiting lift.

I feel like I’m at a weird disadvantage because he’s seen me but I haven’t seen him. As the lift doors open after the ascent, I’m about to step out when I notice something strange. Straight opposite me is a bathroom. The door is ajar, but that’s a bathroom for sure, I can see the heated towel rail on the wall. Stranger still, the hallway is full of ornaments – plants, vases, art.

‘Rosie!’ I hear Eli call out.

I glance to my left to see him emerge from a huge open-plan living room.

‘Hey,’ I say, a little taken aback. ‘Am I… in your flat?’

‘Yep, penthouse, baby,’ he replies, grabbing me for a hug, squeezing me tight. ‘Look at you, you look amazing.’

‘I look amazing?’ I reply as he finally releases me from his tight embrace. ‘Look at you, you look like a statue.’

Eli is ripped. I can see his muscles rippling underneath his perfect white shirt. He’s wearing a suit and tie that absolutely doesn’t look like it’s from Primark, and his hair is perfectly coiffed. He has a light dusting of stubble that looks both careless and intentional and he smells simply incredible. There isn’t a pair of overalls or an oil stain in sight.

‘Did you just sniff me?’ he asks.

‘Yeah, you smell amazing,’ I blurt.

‘Creed Aventus,’ he says, for my information.

Perhaps he’s telling me this in case I genuinely do want to know what that incredible scent radiating from his perfectly gorgeous person, or maybe he’s casually dropping into the sentence that he wears aftershave that costs over £200, because everyone knows it’s pricey, right?

‘You don’t work at your dad’s garage any more, do you?’ I say.

‘I don’t,’ he laughs. ‘Well, I do occasionally, but I gave up on being a mechanic, that was never for me.’

‘I always felt like you were destined for bigger things,’ I point out. At the time, I never would have said anything, if he wanted to keep the family business going and follow in his dad’s footsteps, I wasn’t going to tell him not to. But Eli has just always had so much about him and so much ambition.

‘Come in, sit down,’ he insists, taking me by the hand, leading me into his living room.

‘Eli, this place is incredible,’ I say, twirling around like a kid at Disneyland. ‘What do you do?’

‘I’m an image consultant,’ he says.

‘Who for?’

‘For anyone – for anything. I run my own consulting business from here, I have an office in the back. My first project was my dad’s garage.’

‘Oh my gosh, I just stopped by there, it’s so different – it’s better, so much better. More female-friendly.’

‘Well, exactly,’ he says as he runs a hand through his hair, almost victoriously. ‘I just had to convince my dad that half the people in this town are female, and females drive cars too. Well, that’s not strictly true… I waited until he and my mum went on holiday and then I just went in and pretended he’d commissioned me to sort the place out.’

‘Oh God… how did that go down?’

‘Initially, not well,’ he laughs. ‘But it worked and I just went onwards and upwards from there. I work with businesses, individuals – lots of unruly Manchester footballers who need a kick up the arse, image-wise.’

‘Wow, Eli, that’s just amazing.’

‘I know,’ he says with an immodest but completely charming nod. ‘What do you do?’

‘Oh, I’m just a journalist,’ I say. ‘One probably in desperate need of an image consultant but one that absolutely could not afford you – are your sofa cushions Versace?’ I don’t know why I’m asking; they blatantly are. They’re a light gold colour with a massive Medusa logo embossed on the front.

‘Are you OK?’ he asks me.

I look at him, wondering if people aren’t usually impressed by his cushions (or at least have the good grace to be inwardly impressed) before realising he’s referring to my image consultant comment.

‘Oh, yeah, I’ll be fine,’ I insist.

‘Let me make you a coffee,’ he says. He removes his jacket and rolls up his shirtsleeves before heading into the kitchen area. I’d say he fiddles with his big, complicated-looking coffee machine, but he masters it. Pushing buttons, twisting knobs – he knows exactly what he’s doing.

For a moment I just look around again. His penthouse is gorgeous. So, so gorgeous. The view out of his floor-to-ceiling windows is breathtaking, even if we aren’t in a city centre. This is easily one of the tallest buildings around. He’s like the king in the castle up here.

‘I can’t believe this apartment exists,’ I say. ‘How long have the flats been here?’

‘Since I built them,’ he says.

My eyes widen – I didn’t think I had any room left on my face for them to widen any more, but I’ve made some for that reply.


‘Yeah, I’ve had a really good run over the last decade,’ he says. ‘The business took off, I made some good investments, which led to these apartments… So many people don’t want to live in the city, or can’t afford to, so I give them a city life in the suburbs, for much less money per square foot.’

‘You’re brilliant,’ I tell him. ‘I always knew you’d do amazing things.’

I glance at Eli’s coffee table, where a bouquet of fresh flowers sits – not unlike the ones I received.

Could Eli have sent me the flowers?

I remember when we went on our first date. It was the start of the summer holidays, before I went to university. We met at a gig, at a pub in town – awful local band, way too loud, the kind of act that leaves you so disappointed with their performance that the tinnitus you have from the music being too loud for days after is actually a welcome sound. We struck up a conversation at the bar, bonded over alcopops and a mutual dislike for the trumpet player. By the end of the night we were a little more than tipsy and snogging outside in the car park. I didn’t think I’d hear from him again, but the next day he called me up and asked if I wanted to go on a date with him. He turned up looking dapper as hell, with a huge bunch of flowers for me – no one had ever given me flowers before. Come to think of it, no one has given me flowers since. All signs are pointing to Eli now.

‘Here you go,’ he says, placing two lattes down on the table in front of me. ‘One is caramel, the other is hazelnut. I didn’t want to give you choices because I know you always struggled to decide what you wanted. I also remember that you’d always wind up wishing you had what the other person was having, so I made one of each. You can have first pick.’

I smile.

‘Gosh, why did we ever break up?’ I joke. ‘You’re a dream.’

‘If I remember correctly, I broke up with you because you went to university and we didn’t see each other much. I had all these big ideas of what I wanted to do and I thought a long-distance girlfriend would get in the way of that… and, you know, I’m gay, so there’s that.’


‘OK, sure, I know wherever it was in Wales wasn’t that far away, but I did throw myself into my work ideas and look at me now.’

‘Not that bit,’ I squeak. ‘You’re gay now?’

‘Yes, well, I mean, that’s not quite how things play out, I’ve always been gay… it just took me a while to realise. You helped me realise.’

‘Oh OK, just, give me a second,’ I babble. Oh God, is that why everyone at the garage was laughing at me? ‘I know that people don’t turn people gay, but it sounds kind of like you’re saying being with me was the thing that made you realise you didn’t like women…’

‘Oh, shit, no, sorry,’ he says. Eli grabs my little paper bag of jellybeans from next to me, empties them out onto his coffee table and hands me the bag. ‘Breathe into this,’ he insists. ‘Get your breath while I explain. Rosie, I loved you so much – I still do. I loved being with you and hanging out with you. I suspected I was gay long before we met, but I wasn’t exactly brought up in the most tolerant family – everyone is fine with it now, but I wasn’t brought up thinking everyone would be chill with me dancing my way out of the closet in a pink leotard to Liza Minnelli or whatever…’

I cock my head. ‘Are you making this up to spare my feelings?’ I ask. ‘Because it kind of sounds like you’re just spitting out gay stereotypes.’

Eli laughs. ‘I don’t know what to tell you. People always expect me to very camp – I’m not very camp. I am very gay though.’

Eli seems almost amused by the situation, but for me, it’s a lot to take in.

I feel my phone vibrating in my pocket. I pull it out and see that it’s my mum.

‘Oh, God, not now,’ I say to myself. ‘It’s my mum.’

‘I’ll talk to her,’ Eli says, snatching my phone from me. ‘Evie! Hello! … It’s me, Eli! … Oh, I know, it’s been forever…’ There’s an extra-long gap while my mum talks his ear off. ‘She hasn’t told me that yet, no. I’m sure she was getting round to it, we were just catching up… Will she be in for dinner?’

I shake my head.

‘Yes, she will,’ he says. ‘Oh, Evie, I would love to… see you then… OK, bye.’

I glare at him.

‘Your mum has invited me round for dinner.’

‘I gathered,’ I reply. ‘I'm guessing she told you… stuff?’

‘Oh, she did,’ he says. ‘Live TV? Really?’

‘I told you I needed an image consultant,’ I say.

‘OK, well, let me go and get changed.’ Eli jumps to his feet. ‘We can talk about it on the way to your parents’ place.’

‘You’re actually coming for dinner?’ I laugh.

‘Of course,’ he replies. ‘Rosie, I would love it if we could go back to being friends, like we used to be?’

‘I mean, I didn’t realise we used to be friends,’ I point out. ‘The sex really threw me off.’

Eli laughs. ‘You have always been sexy,’ he points out. ‘I’m only human. Just, you know, a gay human, who would rather have sex with men.’

‘I understand how gay works,’ I say. ‘Friends would be great. I could certainly use one right now.’

‘Great,’ he says. ‘You drink both of those coffees; it sounds like Evie is in full Evie mode. I think you’re going to need them.’

I just smile at him. ‘I’m so happy I looked you up,’ I tell him. ‘Thank you.’

He might not have been the person who sent the flowers but I’m so glad that they led me to his door.

‘You’re welcome,’ he replies. ‘But don’t thank me yet, I want to hear all about your TV fail and I can’t promise I won’t find it funny.’

I see ‘gay besties’ in movies and TV shows all the time. They usually come in the form of a camp, bitchy gossip of a man – someone who isn’t afraid to speak their mind or say outrageous things. The on-screen stereotype isn’t really accurate though, is it? Eli might not be the kind of man who will bitch about boys with me over a bottle of rosé, but it’s good to have someone to chat with who knows me.

It will be nice, having him over for dinner with my parents like old times, but if Eli didn’t send those bloody flowers, then who the hell did?!


‘So lovely to have you here, Eli,’ my mum stresses for, oh, I don’t know, the billionth time.

‘It’s lovely to be here, Evie,’ he replies. ‘Your cooking never fails to impress.’

I look down at my lasagne. It is really nice, but my mum isn’t going to be winning MasterChef anytime soon. Eli has just always had this amazing way with my parents – he’s always had the gift of the gab. Of course, the effect he has on my mum has been amplified now that he isn’t an average-bodied young man any more, now he’s all grown up and, like, Love Island levels of buff. My mum is a big fan of the new look – there was a really uncomfortable four minutes when we arrived where she just brazenly felt his biceps. I mean, I don’t blame her, they’re a sight to behold, but still…

‘Would you like some more?’ my mum asks him from the edge of her seat, ready to get Eli whatever he wants.

‘Oh, I’d better not,’ he says politely. ‘I’m watching my weight.’

‘I’ll certainly watch your figure,’ my mum says. ‘If Rosie doesn’t want to.’

I break out my confused face.

‘Mum, we’re just friends.’

‘I know, I know… but you did make a gorgeous couple.’

‘Mum, Eli is gay,’ I tell her plainly, hoping she’ll get the message and let it go. I feel like she’s trying to push us back together.

She raises her eyebrows at me. My dad doesn’t even look up from his dinner.

‘Well, we know that,’ she says.

‘You do?’ Eli chimes in.

‘We’ve always known dear, haven’t we, Tim?’

My dad nods casually.

‘Erm, how?’ I ask in disbelief.

‘You’ve always been so clean,’ my mum tells Eli. ‘So clean and neat and tidy. Straight men are never so clean.’

‘Hang on a minute,’ my dad says.

‘Tim,’ my mum claps back. ‘You leave little lines of white powder wherever you go.’

‘Don’t ask,’ I whisper to Eli. ‘Wow, I really wish someone had told me,’ I say pointlessly.

‘Me too,’ Eli laughs.

‘Speaking of your exes,’ my mum starts. ‘I saw lovely Kevin this afternoon, he said he’d been for coffee with you.’

‘Yep,’ I reply, hoping we can leave it at that.

‘So, come on,’ Eli prompts. ‘Why are you visiting all your ex-boyfriends?’

‘What?’ I reply, feigning a blatantly exaggerated level of shock. ‘I’m not, it’s just…’

‘Two down, two to go?’ my mum says. ‘That we know of, anyway.’

Christ, how depressing, that my mum knows every inch of my mediocre love life like the back of her hand.

‘Well, OK, I wasn’t purposefully visiting my exes… but, after I was on TV, I got these flowers from someone – obviously an ex – saying that they wanted me back. I have been wondering who they were from…’

‘My money is on Sexy Simon,’ my mum says. ‘He was always flashy like that.’

‘Sexy Simon,’ Eli echoes. ‘Not historically a sexy name. Who are some famous Simons?’

‘Cowell, Pegg,’ my dad chimes off from the top of his head.

‘Ooh, Gregson. Simon Gregson from Corrie,’ my mum adds.

‘Right, so not your classically sexy guys,’ Eli reiterates.

‘Will you take Paul Simon?’ my dad asks him.

‘In neither sense,’ he insists. ‘Not technically a Simon, nor all that sexy.’

‘Well, this Simon was sexy,’ I insist, nipping their weird game in the bud. ‘I suppose he could have sent them… but Josh was always quite romantic too…’

‘Josh,’ Eli says, almost excitedly. ‘Josh is a sexy name. Lots of sexy men called Josh. Josh Jackson, Josh Holloway, Josh Hartnett.’

‘Josh Groben,’ my mum says. Such a mum pick.

‘Josh Brolin,’ my dad adds.

‘I can’t believe I’m playing “Name Sexy Joshes” over lasagne with my mum, dad and gay ex-boyfriend,’ I laugh in disbelief. ‘I also can’t believe no one has mentioned Josh Charles from The Good Wife.’

‘Objection,’ Eli bellows, banging his hand on the table. ‘Oh, I agree – just in case my objection was confusing – I just love that show.’

‘Anyway,’ I start, getting us back on track. ‘I don’t know where either of them are or what they’re doing – I lost touch with them years ago – in fact, we never stayed in touch.’

‘Well, Sexy Simon is still a photographer,’ Mum says.

I snap my attention back to my mum. ‘Wait, how do you know what he’s doing these days?’

‘I’m still friends with his mum on Facebook,’ she says matter-of-factly.

‘You never even met his mum,’ I point out, so amazed by the concept my voice is about three times higher than usual.

My mum bats this away with her hand. ‘He’s a photographer for a fancy magazine – he lives in New York,’ she tells me.

‘Oh,’ I say, immediately dismissing him as the phantom flower sender.

‘But you did go viral worldwide,’ Eli reminds me. He confessed to searching the internet for videos, comments and even memes while he was getting changed.

‘Yeah, OK, well I’ll just nip over to New York and see him,’ I say sarcastically. ‘And, wherever Josh is, I’ll bob there on the way home, make an around-the-world trip of it.’

When Josh broke up with me, it was so that he could travel. He was signing with an agency who provided singers for events, and Josh wanted more than anything to be a professional singer. He didn’t think he could realise his dream in Manchester and this seemed like too good an opportunity to turn down so… bye bye, girlfriend. Of course, when he said he was planning on going off to do a summer at a resort in Australia, I knew that things were coming to an end for us. No way would I be able to maintain a long-distance relationship like that – especially not with all the issues I was left with after dating Simon. When Josh broke up with me I wasn’t at all surprised, I knew it had to happen… I was still gutted though, I really thought we had a good thing.

‘I know where Josh is too,’ my mum says between mouthfuls of her dinner. She says it so casually – like, of course she knows where he is.

‘Oh?’ I say. ‘Dare I ask how?’

‘I have his mum on Facebook too,’ she replies.

‘Of course you do,’ I say with a laugh. At least she met Josh’s mum a few times while we were together. ‘Go on then, which country is he working in?’

‘None of them, I suppose,’ she replies. Again, this is said in such a casual manner, for something that makes so little sense.

‘Is he dead?’ Eli asks, his fork hovering in front of his face. My mum’s comment has seemingly frozen him in time.

‘What? No, don’t be silly,’ she says.

‘Because him not being in any country isn’t silly,’ I point out.

‘He works on a cruise ship,’ she says, as if we’re stupid for not figuring that out.

‘Ohhh,’ I say. Wow, I definitely thought he’d be working in the music industry by now, given how he, you know, bailed on our relationship to follow his dream. I feel almost annoyed that he hasn’t. Our break-up had to be for something. Perhaps he just wanted rid of me… I feel like everyone just wants rid of me. Now, more than ever, I really want to talk to them both and just try and find out what was so wrong with me. I’ll never be able to move forward, if I can’t figure out what it is about me that’s just so unlovable.

‘Imagine working on a cruise ship,’ Eli says, nudging me with his elbow. ‘Must be awful.’

I smile at him. I appreciate him trying to cheer me up, I was slipping into a moody mindset then.

‘Oh, no, it sounds like a fabulous ship,’ my mum informs us. ‘His mum has just got back, she sent me and your dad a voucher code to get a discount on the suites they offer. It’s very sophisticated and exclusive. Silverline Cruises. Ultra five-star. We’d love to go.’

‘You should go,’ Eli tells them. ‘Treat yourselves.’

‘I do fancy the trip,’ my dad chimes in. ‘I’ve never been to New York.’

‘It goes to New York?’ Eli asks in disbelief.

‘Yes,’ my mum confirms. ‘Liverpool to New York.’

‘Rosie, come on, do you think this is a coincidence?’ Eli asks me.


Is he seriously suggesting I travel halfway around the world to chase down two ex-boyfriends?

‘You’re trying to track down your exes, and now, one you want to see is in New York and the other is literally your way there…’

‘I know, it’s a big coincidence, but I can’t just go to New York—’

‘Why not? You said yourself, you’ve got time off work, a big fat lump of prize money burning a hole in your pocket… I’d definitely be up for a vacation. Perks of being your own boss.’

I laugh his comments off.

‘Rosie, I’m serious,’ he says. ‘Let’s take this cruise to New York.’

‘We can’t just… Can we?’

‘Sounds like a great idea to me,’ my dad says. It’s not like him to offer advice, especially not on my love life. ‘And we’ve got the discount code, you can use that…’

I smile at Eli. I can’t believe I’m considering this. ‘You’d really go with me?’

‘Of course,’ he says. ‘What are friends for? We can hang out, catch up, I can interfere with your life. Plus, I fancy a holiday.’

‘Will the voucher work for two suites?’ I ask my dad.

‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘Doesn’t say it can only be used for one.’

‘Will you book it for us please?’ I ask.

‘I’ll do it right now,’ he says excitedly.

Wow, my dad is really into this. I can’t believe he’s humouring my quarter-midlife crisis.

I fetch my handbag and take out my card.

‘Thanks, Dad,’ I say as I hand it to him.

He hurries off to book the next available trip.

‘I’ll send you the money for my half,’ Eli says. ‘I’m really looking forward to it, it’s been so long since I had a break.’

‘I don’t remember the last time I went on holiday,’ I point out. ‘Gosh, I’ll need to go shopping.’

‘I’ll take you,’ Eli says. ‘We can have a day out in Manchester, have lunch, shop… maybe I can give you a little unsolicited image consulting when it comes to dressing.’

I look down at my T-shirt dress.

‘What’s wrong with how I dress?’ I ask, just a little offended.

‘Oh, nothing. It’s the perfect outfit for smuggling snacks into the cinema,’ he replies.

I gasp. ‘Eli!’

‘Rosie!’ he responds in a similar tone. ‘That dress is a shapeless, baggy sack – it’s not even your size.’

‘It’s oversized,’ I reply. ‘Purposefully oversized.’

‘Yes, I’ve noticed,’ he says. ‘The oversized coat I liked, but you can’t wear it with oversized clothes. Christ, Rosie, you’ll look like Kanye West in that “I Love It” music video if you keep this up. We need to get you in some outfits that show off your curves – I’ve seen you naked, remember, I know what’s going on under there.’

I look at my mum, partially out of embarrassment but also for support. I know she’s not going to let a man talk to her daughter like that.

‘He’s got a point, Rosie,’ she says.

My eyes widen with horror. ‘Thanks, guys.’

Maybe Eli is right though, perhaps my look is a problem. I’ve never been all that good at flaunting my body, I feel so self-conscious about so many things. There are the stretchmarks on my boobs that appeared seemingly overnight when I was a teenager – both the stretchmarks and the boobs appeared all at once. I don’t suppose one would’ve happened without the other. Eli might say I should flaunt my curves, but some of them are a little… overdeveloped, shall we say. There’s a reason I’m wearing this baggy dress, it’s hiding my tummy. After taking down this large plate of lasagne, the last thing I want to be doing is shopping for bodycon dresses tomorrow. I’m also much paler than I ought to be – everyone seems to have such a great tan, but I never go on holiday, I’m too scared to use sunbeds and, as for fake tan, let’s just say there was an incident that involved leaving an unfortunate stain on a friend’s cream sofa that I’m never going to live down. All of the above, coupled with my inability to keep a boyfriend, have left me feeling a little subpar. Why wouldn’t I hide away?

‘All booked,’ my dad says. ‘Few details that need sorting out, but, in four days’ time, the Silverline Cruise will be departing Liverpool. Seven days at sea, a few days in New York, return flight home – first-class, no less. You’re lucky, you got the last two suites.’

‘So soon? That’s great,’ I say. ‘We need to get our things ready, figure out the best way to get to Liverpool.’

‘We’ll drive,’ my dad says.

Wow, I don’t remember the last time I heard him say so many words about something other than Brexit or fly-fishing. It’s all working out so well. And I’m actually really excited to take the trip now – catch-ups with ex-boyfriends aside – it sounds like it’s going to be amazing.

I just need to get everything ready. Thanks to my prize money, I can buy all new stuff too – I don’t need to worry about anything. Well, expect maybe tracking down Simon in New York, and facing Josh on the ship, but I’ll cross that ocean when I come to it…


After a whirlwind few of days of shopping and packing for my cruise, I think I finally have everything I might need. I have various outfits, for various activities. Apparently there are lots of different things going on, on the ship, and supposedly dinner is quite a formal occasion. I think I have something for every eventuality.

After an especially awkward yet empowering conversation in Victoria’s Secret, I managed to let Eli talk me into buying bikinis – only bikinis – so if I plan on swimming in the pool on board, I’m going to need to make peace with this ASAP.

‘Your boyfriend can pop in and have a look if you like,’ the fitting-room attendant said after earwigging our conversation.

People assuming Eli was my boyfriend became a common theme of the day – and the woman in the restaurant where we had lunch didn’t just think we were together, she clearly thought I was punching above my weight. That’s fair though, Eli is a solid 10/10 now. I can probably scrape a 6 with the right Instagram filter.

As well as bikinis, I have all the toiletries I’ll possibly need, warm clothes in case it’s chilly in New York, cool clothes in case their spring is better than ours, and I’ve even bought myself a couple of books and some new headphones so that I can have some chill time.

It’s fair to say that I’ve been in my own little world since booking my holiday, and when I haven’t been in my world, I’ve been in Eli’s. I’ve been staying in his massive spare room, which is much better than sleeping on the sofa bed in my parents’ office, so I haven’t seen all that much of them. That is until today, when they picked us up from Eli’s flat to drive us to Liverpool.

Yep, everything was going suspiciously well until just now.

‘I hope I don’t get seasick,’ my mum says. ‘Had a bout of it once on a boat on Loch Lomond. Terrible time. I had to throw up over the side of the boat.’

‘You don’t get seasick,’ my dad insists. ‘It was that deep-fried Mars Bar dessert you had in the hotel restaurant.’

Eli shudders at the thought, but, rather than weigh up the pros and cons of such a dessert (I love any and all chocolate, but that has to be a step too far?), I’m wondering why my mum thinks a trip to the dock car park is going to make her seasick.

I glance behind me, into the large boot of my parents’ car. Mine and Eli’s suitcases are there, but there are two other suitcases too…

‘Does it sound like my mum and dad are coming with us?’ I whisper to Eli while my mum and dad reminisce about their trip to Loch Lomond.

‘What?’ he whispers back. ‘I don’t think so?’

‘Their cases are in the back.’

Eli looks behind us and then looks at me. ‘Yeah, they’re coming with us. I guess… did your dad think you were inviting them?’

I shrug my shoulders.

‘So, this cruise is going to be great,’ I say.

‘Sure is,’ my dad replies, not really confirming whether or not they’re coming with us or going somewhere else.

I cast my mind back to when I asked my dad to book the cruise for us… did he think ‘us’ included them? It’s not that I don’t want them around, I just had no idea they were coming with me!

‘It’s years since we’ve been on a family holiday,’ I muse.

‘Long overdue,’ he replies.

I shrug my shoulders at Eli. He just laughs.

It’s hardly your classic family holiday, stalking your ex-boyfriends with your parents and your new gay best friend. I’m sure it will be fine though – it’ll be nice to spend some time with them and I’m sure they’ll be doing their own thing.

When we get to the dock and park up, it turns out we’re a touch on the late side – that or everyone else was super early. This means that we hop on to the tail end of the queue and breeze through the process of: checking in, having our photos taken to go on the system, being given our own cruise-ship ID cards.

My dad takes the lead, checking us in. I suppose it’s nice to have a real adult around for the boring stuff like that.

We’re ushered from the check-in area to the bottom of a ramp that leads up to the enormous ship. The bright white beast of a cruise liner is even bigger than I thought it was going to be. I’d seen photos of it, but you just can’t imagine how impossibly huge it is when you’re standing next to it.

‘Here you go,’ my dad says, handing us a pile of papers. ‘Your cards and all your room info are in here. We’re going to go and get settled in. We can meet you after?’

‘OK, sure,’ I say. ‘See you in a bit.’

The lobby of the ship doesn’t seem all that different to a hotel lobby. You could actually be forgiven for forgetting you were on a ship at all – I wonder if that will change when we start moving.

‘Sorry about my mum and dad tagging along,’ I tell Eli. ‘I had no idea.’

‘Don’t worry,’ he insists, laughing it off. ‘Always lovely to spend time with them.’

I search through the papers in my hand. ‘OK, so that’s my suite number, I just need to work out where it is…’

Eli takes the piece of paper from me. ‘There’s a map on the other side, I’ll help you find it.’

We walk along a corridor, weaving in and out of other people looking for their cabins. I don’t pay much attention unless we pass a staff member – if they are male, I glare at them while I work out if they are Josh or not. As soon as I realise they are not, I go on my way.

We approach the lift, to go up to our floor. There’s something about a lift on a ship that I find really unnerving. Although it looks nothing like it, I can’t get the lift scenes from Titanic out of my head. The scenes with the stairs are way better in that movie, so I think from now on I’ll take those. Not that I’m likening my transatlantic crossing to that of the Titanic. As anxious as I can be at times, I can honestly say that I haven’t floated the idea of sinking.

‘I’ve just thought of something,’ Eli says as he riffles through the papers.

‘What’s that?’ I ask before stopping outside a door. ‘Oh, look, this is my suite.’

‘Actually… this is our suite.’


‘You only asked your dad to book two suites.’

‘Yeah. One for me, one for you.’

‘Except he thought you were inviting him and your mum along… so I think he’s assumed you wanted one suite for them and one for us…’

‘Oh… Ohhh, yeah…. We could book another?’

Listen to me, I think I’m made of money now.

‘We could… but didn’t your dad say he booked the last two? And is it not a bit late now we’re on board and checked in?’


‘Well, you’ve proven yourself to be a completely fine roommate over the last couple of days,’ he jokes. ‘We’ll be fine.’

‘I think our bed-sharing days might be behind us,’ I remind him.

‘Perhaps, but we do have a sofa, apparently… You just might have to tie me to it, if the sea gets a little rough.’

‘Stop flirting with me,’ I joke. ‘But yeah, I’m sure we’ll be fine.’

Eli does the honours, letting us into our room. Our shared room. I can’t believe my dad thought I invited them along, and that I was planning on sharing a room with Eli. When we were dating, Eli wasn’t even allowed to be upstairs at the same time as me. I don’t even just mean to sleep over, I mean that if I were upstairs getting ready, Eli wasn’t even allowed to come up to use the toilet.

We walk into our suite and, again, I had imagined what I thought it was going to be like and this is not it. It’s a large room with a super-king bed in the middle. There’s a desk, a decent-sized TV, an inviting-looking sofa. The decor is nice. Subtle. Most of the soft furnishings are taupe. I worried about pokey little windows with water splashing against them, but we’re so high up and we’ve got our own balcony.

‘Ooh, we’ve got an aft balcony,’ Eli says.

‘A what now?’ I reply.

‘Basically we’re at the back of the ship.’

‘That’s good?’

‘Yeah, these ones are bigger – I looked it up – and when you’re at the back, there’s less wind.’

I walk over to the large glass door and peer through it. We aren’t just at the back end of the ship, we’re right at the back, looking out behind the ship. This means that, when we set off, we’ll be able to watch as the UK gets smaller and smaller until it disappears.

‘This is really, really nice,’ Eli says.

He sits down on the sofa and bounces a little to test its firmness.

‘Are you sure you want to sleep on it?’ I ask.

‘Yeah, it’s really comfortable, come here,’ he insists.

I sit down next to Eli, who wraps an arm round me.

‘Thanks for bringing me along,’ he says. ‘Unless I assumed I was invited…’

I laugh. ‘Thanks for coming.’

‘I’ve been working so hard recently and swearing I would take a break soon but… well, it’s no fun being single sometimes, is it?’

‘That it ain’t.’

‘I’m glad this has forced me to take a little time off. So thank you.’

I rest my head on his shoulder for a moment before an announcement plays over the speaker that apparently neither of us realised was in our suite.

Our captain speaks, introducing himself to us before advising us on when and where to attend our lifeboat drill.

‘Lifeboat drill?’ I squeak at Eli.

‘Yeah, I guess they always do them.’

‘I mean, it makes sense but… still… makes me a bit uneasy…’

He just laughs at me. ‘Come on, grab your life vest, let’s go get it over with.’

As instructed, we remove our life vests from the wardrobe and head to the dining room, where we’re all supposed to meet.

My mum and dad, who it turns out are staying in the room next to ours (they just got there much faster), are already there, sitting at the dining table, wearing their life vests.

‘I’m pretty sure you don’t have to put them on,’ I say, laughing at them sitting at the perfectly laid dining table, all suited up to abandon ship.

‘No need to go overboard,’ Eli quips.

We high-five each other with our eyes until we’re interrupted by a steward.

‘If everyone could put their life vests on please.’

Oh, OK, I guess we do have to wear them.

I put mine on, but it doesn’t quite sit right. I glance round at everyone else, who looks just fine in theirs. Dorky as hell, without a doubt, but they fit.

‘Erm… Why is mine sticking out like this?’

‘It’s your boobs,’ Eli laughs.

‘OK, but I’m not the only person with boobs,’ I say in as hushed a tone as possible.

‘It’s that bra you’re wearing, it’s got ’em up under your chin,’ he informs me.

I glance down at the life vest, the bottom of which stands about 20cm off my body.

‘God,’ I say. ‘It had better still work.’

‘You’ve got your own buoyancy aids,’ he reminds me.

I give him a playful nudge into his life-vest-covered ribs. I’m not even sure he feels it.

We are given a boring yet vital talk on health and safety and what to do in an emergency before we are led outside to our lifeboat. I think I expected them to be more sophisticated – and less over crowded than they’ll be if the throng I’m standing in all piled in it at once. Still, if it’s survival of the fittest, I’ll bet on myself. I might not be very fit, but I’m one of the youngest people here. In fact, there aren’t many young people on the ship at all now that I think about it.

‘We’re so much younger than everyone,’ I whisper to Eli.

‘We are… Imagine if we all got shipwrecked on an island, it would be up to us to repopulate it!’

‘Nobody wants that,’ I joke. ‘It’s weird that the suites are all older people.’

‘Skint millennials can’t afford suites,’ he replies. ‘We’re the exception.’

‘I’m barely an exception, I’ll burn through my money in no time. You’re the property-owning image consultant. I am a skint millennial.’

‘Only because of this bunch of tax dodgers,’ Eli replies.

An old woman coughs loudly behind us. ‘You might be young, but you’re not very smart,’ she tells Eli, not sounding at all impressed with what she just heard. ‘You’re on a Silverline Cruise – they’re for pensioners.’

‘Excuse me?’ Eli asks.

‘Most of the people on this cruise are retired,’ she says. ‘And we’ve paid tax for years, thank you very much.’

Just as the safety drill comes to an end, and Eli and I exchange a shared look of ‘we have to get off this ship’ – I feel something funny. An unsteadiness beneath my feet. We’re moving. I am officially stuck on this boat for a week, no getting off, no turning back.

‘Well… this is going to be interesting…’ Eli says.

‘It sure is.’


‘Breathe, Rosie. Breathe,’ Eli instructs me. ‘You need to exhale.’

No, I’m not having a panic attack, I’m just wearing a dress. A long, red, clingy thing that Eli talked me into on our shopping trip. He talked me into quite a lot of items of clothing I wouldn’t usually choose for myself, and these items can be divided into two piles: items Eli talked me into and items Eli talked me into after we drank too many cocktails at lunch. This dress is absolutely from that second pile. The sexy pile. The absolutely not me pile. The so tight I’m too scared to breathe out in case I burst the zip pile.

I didn’t spend too much money on clothes. Well, I’m only on this ship for a week before it’s back to unemployed reality. I heard dinner was always a formal affair aboard cruise ships so I bought a couple of fancy dresses, hoping I could alternate them without anyone realising - although now I’m here, that feels impossible. But this dress, this sexy, gorgeous, clingy, red, not me, silky, floor-length gown, was a gift from Eli. A gift that drunk Rosie accepted.

Eli suggested I wear it tonight and not wanting to throw his lovely gesture back in his face (and forgetting just how tight it was), I said yes.

So, here we are, casually strolling along to the dining room for dinner, except not all that casually because I’m mostly holding my breath.

‘I am breathing, just… in stages,’ I explain.

I’m hoping that, once we get to our table and I’m able to sit down, I can let my tummy poke out, safely hidden below table level. They say good posture is good for you, don’t they? I can’t see how. I’m at my most comfiest with my belly sticking out, hunched over just a little, my knees doing that weird thing where I let them relax so much they actually start to bend the other way. Whether I’m sitting on the sofa or lying on my side in bed, I’ll just let my pizza-dough body go where it likes. It’s no wonder I’m single, undressing me is like a mid-level escape room.

There are multiple dining rooms on board the ship, but this one is ours – the Alexander, named after blah blah blah… I absolutely wasn’t listening when Eli read the bit in the guest information book about the dining room to me.

We flash our ID cards before being promptly shown to our table, except it’s not our table, it’s a shared table. My mum and dad I recognise from my life to date, but there are two other couples too. Two women and two men.

‘Rosie, hello,’ my dad says brightly. My dad rarely says anything, let alone says it brightly.

‘He’s in holiday mode,’ my mum says. ‘You both look fantastic. Did you pick this dress, Eli?’

‘I certainly did,’ he replies before taking my mum’s hand and kissing it. ‘And you look incredible too.’

We have all actually scrubbed up quite nicely. My mum is wearing a lovely navy blue dress with little silver sparkles and my dad has made an alarming effort, in a matching navy blue suit.

Eli looks pretty damn good on my arm – a regular Jack Dawson, or should that be a stinking rich one?

‘Hello,’ I say to everyone else, suddenly aware all eyes are on us.

‘Looks like someone booked the wrong cruise,’ one of the women says with a chuckle.

Like I’m not living an embarrassing enough life at the moment. I decide to own it.

‘Oh, no, not at all. My friend works on the ship, and we thought it might be nice to join my parents on a trip.’

‘Married?’ one of the men asks.

‘Not yet,’ I reply, baffled by his prying question.

‘Been together long?’

Oh, he’s talking about me and Eli.

‘Since we were teenagers,’ Eli replies. Well, I suppose it’s better than explaining.

As I juggle all of my recent embarrassing incidents in my head, something occurs to me... One Big Question was a TV show aimed at younger people, the social media generation. No one at this table recognises me – I’ll be surprised if anyone on this ship does. At least there’s that.

‘I used to work on cruise ships,’ one of the women says. ‘Mostly on the Med – have you cruised the Med?’

I shake my head.

‘We have,’ one of the men says. ‘Best waters, without a doubt. Lovely weather.’

‘I took a mini cruise to Dublin once,’ Eli offers. ‘The weather was really bad, we got bashed all over the place.’

‘That’s maybe the worst sea you can go on,’ the woman says.

‘Have you seen The Poseidon Adventure?’ the older of the two men asks. ‘When the wave washes over them and the ship turns upside down and everyone is screaming and hanging from the floor?’

‘Colin!’ his male companion ticks him off.

Colin recalls this scene from the film with all the humour and belly laughs you would afford a Carry On movie.

‘What?’ Colin replies. ‘It could happen.’

‘This is Colin and Clive,’ my mum tells me. ‘They’re friends who go on holidays together.’

‘A couple of eligible bachelors,’ Colin says. ‘We met working in the oil industry.’

‘How fancy,’ one of the women says.

‘Licence to drill,’ Clive jokes.

Oh, what a couple of likely lads. Clive must be pushing sixty. He’s quite brown and wrinkly, like he’s spent a lot of time in the sun. His hair is suspiciously dark brown and is the same colour all over his head, which makes me think it has come out of a bottle. Colin is a little older – or at least he looks it, with his grey hair and his handlebar moustache. I don’t know how to describe their accents other than sounding like the old men in suits at the bank in Mary Poppins.

‘Nice to meet you both,’ I say.

‘And then we have Karen and Linda, who are also here together,’ my mum continues.

‘Hi,’ I say.

Karen is the one who was talking about working on cruise ships and Linda is her friend. They both have the exact same shade of blonde hair, it’s incredible how identical it is. Once again, given that these ladies must be in their sixties, I’d hazard a guess their colour has come from the same bottle.

There are menus in front of us with three courses on them, with four or five options for each one. Servers walk around the tables taking everyone’s orders. To start, I am having three cheese Gougères, followed by salmon en croûte for my main course. For dessert, I have chosen the hazelnut dacquoise and, if I’m being honest, that is the bit I am looking forward to the most.

Our first courses arrive and the presentation is impossibly fancy. A few mouthfuls of savoury choux pastry sit in the centre of my plate, surrounded by an elaborate garnish and some kind of reddish brown drizzled sauce that I can’t identify by sight or taste, but I could eat it until I died, it’s so delicious.

‘We’ve has a lovely time learning all about your parents,’ Colin says. ‘But what do you two do?’

‘I’m an image consultant,’ Eli tells him.

Colin looks baffled. ‘Oh, right,’ he says, narrowing his eyes. ‘What does one of those do?’

‘I sort people’s lives out,’ Eli says, putting it simply. ‘Say, if someone isn’t doing as well as they could, or if they make a mistake.’

‘Hey, you could do with his help, Rosie,’ my dad offers through a mouthful of his food.

I shoot him daggers.

‘Ooh, what have you done?’ Linda asks nosily, lighting up at the hint of gossip. I think she and Karen have been a little bored throughout the work-based small talk.

‘Oh, nothing,’ I insist.

As the conversation dies down, Collin takes it upon himself to liven it up again, talking to Eli about his job.

‘We had some business with some oil at work – slippery stuff, you know, can’t always contain it. So, you know, people get upset and… we had one of your lot clean it up. Metaphorically, of course. Oil itself is much harder to clean up.’

There’s so much