Alice Brown's Lessons in the Curious Art of Dating Page 0,1

her and looked happily at the gaggle of anxiously expectant faces. She loved coming to Audrey’s talks and was always the first (and only) member of staff to volunteer to help out. She’d arrive early to set up the room, unstacking the chairs, pouring the wine and checking that Audrey’s lighting was kind and that her microphone was working. And then she’d open up the packets of biscuits and miniature sausage rolls, and lay out the brochures before greeting every member of the audience with a hello and a smile. She’d reassure them over their worries and give soothing answers to their uptight questions. Despite the regular orders barked in her direction by Audrey—and the fact that she’d never hand back the function room key before ten—Alice always went home with a spring in her step and a giddy, fluttering feeling in her tummy that was a bit like being drunk but a million times better. This was the kind of night she lived for; it was the kind of night that changed everything.

“The lavatories are in the lobby,” Audrey chivvied loudly. “Chop-chop; you’ve got the rest of your lives to chatter. The talk will be starting at 7:30 prompt. Cupid won’t wait for stragglers.”

Alice’s smile wavered for a moment, but then her mind deliciously drifted. How many faces from tonight’s throng would she see again, she wondered? How many would make it to the office next week? A lot, she hoped; as many as the books could take without bursting. She suddenly imagined the audience as a line, starting at her desk, continuing out through the office front door and snaking the whole way around the block: a laughing, chattering ribbon of love-hopefuls, all waiting to be matched with their perfect other halves. Who knew: maybe romance might even blossom while they were waiting in line!

As she daydreamed, the melee of people hovering between the nibbles table and the exit shifted, and Alice suddenly caught a glimpse of two young women standing apart in the corner. One was striking, dark-haired and seemed to be drinking two glasses of wine at once, but it was the other woman who caught Alice’s eye. Shorter and softer-looking than her friend, she was dressed in a smart skirt-suit and heels. But her sophisticated clothes were at odds with the expression on her face. Beneath the shiny hair and blunt, obedient fringe, her smile was clenched. Alice knew that smile. She’d seen it many times before, and at least one person always wore it on nights like tonight. Translated, it said Be positive; breathe deeply; look relaxed. It was a smile of jumbled-up hope, disappointment and a desperate determination to see things through.

Instinctively Alice stepped out from behind the Bourbon biscuits and started moving toward her. This woman was interesting. She was more than interesting: she was exactly the reason why she volunteered for nights like this. She had to speak to her, reassure her, make sure that she was one of the ones who made it into the office next week.

“Alice!” Audrey hissed violently from nowhere, making Alice jump from her path. “Lights!”

Reluctantly, Alice faltered. The melee moved again and the woman disappeared from view.

“In your own time . . .” Audrey was eyeballing her sharply.

Alice turned back toward the electronic control panel hidden discreetly behind the nibbles table and started to dim the room’s lights. The audience instantly stopped their conversations and spilled forward into the empty rows of seats. She faded up the apricot spotlight positioned over Audrey’s lectern, and her boss was illuminated, revealed to the room. Alice searched the darkness to see where the woman with the smile had sat. She’d make sure she spoke to her later. Alice was a firm believer in following her instincts, and all her instincts were telling her she could help the woman with the sharp suit and soft face.

Theatrically, Audrey cleared her throat and laid her hand to her bosom. Everyone was seated and silent; the room was emphatically hers. Alice flicked a final switch and Audrey’s microphone gently hummed into life. As if on cue, the audience leaned collectively forward in edgy anticipation as they prepared to learn the elusive secrets to finding their Mr. and Miss Rights.


“It’s all the bloody Daily Post’s fault.” Kate picked up her glass of wine and took an angry gulp. “If it didn’t keep going on about how impossible it is to conceive after the age of thirty-five, we wouldn’t even be thinking about this.”