Love in Lockdown: An Anthology by Cora Reilly
The only problem when everyone around you found love, was that they were so happy—so sickly, sweetly happy—they wanted you to join in. The fact that your divorce had been a horrendous, stressful, chaotic mess, did not stop them from showing you advertisements for Match.com or asking you who you'd swipe right on Tinder for.
That was the situation I currently found myself in while Rachel, my barmaid, became exasperated with me for picking faults with every single female she showed me.
"Oh come on, Dan. It is time you got back on the horse."
I carried on putting glasses away, and tried my best to ignore her, hoping she'd give up as usual. Unfortunately, however, this time it appeared Rachel was determined to see this through.
"But you're a good man, Dan. You deserve to be happy and you'd make someone else just as happy."
She was pouting. Even without looking at her, I knew it. A sympathetic look with a pout. I felt like the last rescue dog in a sanctuary. The one who looks cute but no one will adopt because they're old.
Scrubbing a hand through my hair, I turned towards her, wearing my best serious expression. "Rachel, I don't know how many times I have to tell you. I'm okay as I am. I love my single life. Being able to do what I want, bearing in mind the pub gets so busy. I don't have time for love. You know what it's like; up at five for deliveries and not back in bed until at least one am."
She eye-rolled me. "Everyone has time for love, Dan. You just need to find the perfect person who fits into the life you live."
I was between a rock and a hard place with Rachel because the best thing she could do right now was to get pregnant and therefore have something else to occupy her attention. As a relative newlywed, she'd be getting lots of practice. However, as her boss, the last thing I wanted was to have to look for another barmaid, bearing in mind that I'd just recently already lost one, as Anna had fallen in love with an Irishman and moved to Dublin. Thank goodness the rest of the staff were middle-aged and living normal lives, swinging between moments of happiness and moments of wanting to bump off their other halves.
"Look, as long as I get the occasional one night stand just to take the edge off when I'm bored with my right hand, I am A-okay."
I realised as soon as I said it, that it had been the wrong thing to say. Rachel's husband Evan had been the King of One Night Stands until he and Rachel had finally got together, and he'd become a whole new man. But Rachel and Evan were different. Both had wanted the other one and while Rachel had put up with an average relationship until she couldn't take anymore, Evan had dealt with not being able to date Rachel by refusing to commit to anyone else either.
The truth was that my first relationship had been fine until it wasn't; at which point it had become a living nightmare as my wife displayed tendencies of jealousy, paranoia, and gold digging never witnessed before. Was it any wonder then that while deep down the thought of a new relationship entered my mind from time to time—especially if I got on well with any of the women beneath the sheets—I was scared of committing myself full-time to a relationship again because of what had happened before.
"I'm not giving up on this, Dan." Added Rachel as she slung down the cloth she'd been wiping the bar with. "It's time you learned to love again, and if you won't help yourself then I'll just have to help you."
It was at that point I realised I needed a fake girlfriend, one who was happy to just be a friend with benefits until such time as Rachel found another interest.
As it turned out, I didn't need to ponder fake relationships, because a very real thing entered our lives that meant for a time, Rachel wouldn't be able to bug me. Because there was a whole other bug set to make itself known…
The bar had been busy as usual that evening and I'd been late getting to bed. Once I'd checked the deliveries and thrown myself into the shower, I came downstairs to find my cleaner, Rosie, looking concerned. She was usually such a quiet little thing, just getting on