Exclusive Excerpt: One Hundred Proposals By Holly Martin CHAPTER 1
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‘Ok, you can open your eyes now,’ Harry said.
I blinked in the gloom of the cave. Moonlight tumbled through the opening above us, reflecting off the waterfall as it cascaded into the pool below. We had been in Australia for just a few days but I knew it would never cease to amaze me. Dancing in the pockets of the cave walls were hundreds of fireflies, sparkling like fairy lights.
Nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.
The fireflies started to gather together and slowly a shape was formed. I frowned in confusion and then within seconds the words, ‘Suzie, Marry Me,’ stood proud against the cave walls, written by the fireflies.
I whirled round to face Harry in shock. ‘How did you do that?’ I looked back at the fireflies, not wanting to miss anything. Would they perhaps move to form the lyrics of my favourite song? Were they super trained fireflies and in a minute they’d all whip out their mini cheerleader pom-poms and start some kind of dance where they would balance precariously on each other’s backs?
‘It’s some kind of fruit juice, they love it.’
I fumbled in my bag for my camera. ‘We have to get a picture for the website.’
I fired off a couple of shots and I could see a few other tourists had entered the cave and were clearly waiting for my answer. They’d be waiting for a long time.
‘So what do you think?’ Harry said. ‘Is this the perfect proposal?’
‘It’s definitely one of your best, very romantic.’ I focused my attention on the photos I was taking. They were going to look fantastic with the waterfall in soft focus in the background and the fireflies in sharp detail set against the inky blue light of the moon.
‘But still not the perfect proposal?’
‘Not for me, but someone else would love it.’ I watched the faces of the other tourists fall at my callous response. ‘We’re not together, we just work with each other.’ One couple looked at me dubiously, so I pressed on. ‘Our company creates the perfect proposal, this kind of thing is our bread and butter.’
I resisted the sudden urge to rush over to them and start handing out business cards. As if reading my mind, Harry slung an arm round my shoulder, restraining me with his hand.
I looked up at him innocently but he didn’t seem convinced.
The tourists moved further down the cave, leaving us alone.
‘You always do that,’ Harry said.
‘What, promote our business? I know, I can’t help it. I’m just so proud of what we’ve achieved that I want to tell anyone that listens and anyone that doesn’t.’
‘No, not that. You always say our company, our business. It’s yours, you started it. I’m just the tech guy.’
It was just me to start with. I created the.PerfectProposal.com over two years ago when my boyfriend at the time proposed drunkenly to me over a greasy kebab. It struck me that maybe the menfolk of this world might need a little helping hand to create a proposal their girlfriends would remember forever. Although the greasy kebab is not one I’m likely to forget.
Harry was my web designer. When the business first started he would come by my office, the back bedroom in my home, every day to help update the website with my new ideas, photos and special offers. In the end it made sense to make him a permanent feature. Our website looked fantastic and as an online company this was integral to our success.
But Harry wasn’t just the geeky IT guy, far from it. He was the biggest man I had ever seen in my life, with large thighs and big feet. He had stubbly, dark hair and chocolate eyes. But he also had a vivid imagination – where I was organising the logistics for a champagne helicopter trip, he would be the one that would come up with something completely unique like using fireflies.
‘And you always put yourself down. We’re equal partners now, you helped to make the company a success too,’ I said.
He shrugged, never keen to accept that he played such an important part in it. He gestured to the fireflies that were starting to break formation now. ‘Is it too sickly?’
I let my camera hang round my neck and leaned into him, I loved the way I fitted against him. ‘I love it, I really do, it’s… magical. But there’s still something missing.’
Was there really such a thing as a perfect proposal? Three months ago, just before Valentine’s Day, Harry had made it his mission to provide me with one. But deep down I knew what I wanted and I doubted Harry would be able to deliver it. I should have told him that when he first started this wild goose chase. It would have saved me a lot of heartache.
Three Months Before
I put the phone down on another excited client and sighed. It was February 11th and we’d had a surge of customers all desperately wanting to propose on top of the Eiffel Tower on Valentine’s Day. I felt like screaming. It was only by careful planning that I’d arranged that my customers weren’t going to be there at the same time. That’s just what a girl wants to feel special, to see other girls being proposed to at the same place and time that she was. Was there no originality anymore? Harry was brilliant at coming up with unique proposals, but no matter how many times I had tried to sell Harry’s ideas to them, they wanted the traditional and that was that.
‘Another Eiffel Tower?’ asked Harry as he absentmindedly uploaded photos to our rolling gallery.
‘He wants a dozen red roses delivered to the observation deck at eight.’ I rubbed my head in defeat. ‘What about something different, going to the ballet or proposing over a bag of chips at the end of Brighton Pier?’
He swivelled in his chair. ‘What would be your perfect proposal?’
I looked at him and had a sudden flash of him holding me in his arms and asking me to marry him.
‘I don’t know, the perfect guy would definitely be a bonus.’
‘Ok so you have your perfect guy and it’s not greasy kebab boy –’
‘Let’s be clear, it was the kebab that was greasy not the man.’
He waved away the details. ‘So Orlando Bloom or some other non-greasy hunk is asking you to marry him, how would he do it?’
I took a sip of tea whilst I pondered this. If one of my customers phoned up at a loss for inspiration I had a hundred ideas. But for me, my mind was blank.
‘I have an idea.’ Harry’s eyes were suddenly bright with excitement. He whirled round on his chair and started tapping away furiously on his computer. I peered over his shoulder at our website.
How Do You Propose to a Proposer?
Over the next hundred days I intend to find out. I will find one hundred ways to propose to our Chief Proposer Suzie McKenzie, and post the results here for your enjoyment. One thing’s for sure, not one of my proposals will be on top of the Eiffel Tower with a dozen red roses.
‘You can’t put that, we’ve had fifteen customers who want to propose like that over the last week,’ I said, ignoring the sudden thundering of my heart that Harry was going to propose to me.
‘Then maybe they’ll have a rethink.’ Harry was already uploading a picture of a diamond ring onto the blog.
‘Or ask for their money back.’
But Harry was still writing.
Day 1: The Traditional Proposal. Location: Our office.
He stood up and got down on one knee – yanking the snake ring off his thumb, he held it aloft to my shocked face.
‘Suzie McKenzie, you are my best friend and I cannot imagine finding anyone I would rather spend the rest of my life with. Marry me.’
The world stopped. My mouth was dry. How unfair was it that the one thing I wanted most in the world was happening right in front of me and it was as real as a pair of breasts on Sunset Boulevard.
I wanted to snatch the ring off him, stuff it on my finger and march him down to the nearest registry office. But I didn’t.
I cleared my throat of the huge lump. ‘Too clichéd, wrong location, wrong ring.’
He grinned as he appraised his ring and stood up, clearly not fussed by this rejection. He started typing.
Crashed and Burned. Apparently a snake ring with evil red eyes and the beige walls of our cramped office isn’t good enough for her. I’ll try again tomorrow.
Surely not. A hundred days of this torment? I didn’t think I could bear it.
He looked at his watch. ‘Oh, I’ve got to go, hot date with Sexy Samantha again tonight.’
Samantha was his first girlfriend in nearly a year. When I first met him he seemed to go through a different girl each week, so I wasn’t sure why he’d gone through the sudden dry patch. But Samantha was definitely the type to tempt him out of it.
I’d had the pleasure of meeting Sexy Samantha the night before. Suspicious of Harry’s relationship with his best friend, she’d barrelled into my home and demanded that Harry introduce me. I came downstairs in leggings and an oversized black hoodie – I knew I was hardly dressed to impress. And impress her I didn’t. The look of relief when Samantha saw me was palpable. She, on the other hand, was a vision of heavenly loveliness. She was almost as tall as Harry, with long blonde hair and curves everywhere. My eyes were immediately drawn to a big pair of breasts, squeezed between an overly tight top. Harry was definitely a breast man. All of his girlfriends were very well-endowed in the breast department. Some of the breasts, I suspected, weren’t even real – though Harry didn’t seem to mind. I was more in the straight up, straight down department, definitely no curves and not really any breasts to speak of.
I watched Harry log off his computer with haste and obvious excitement about what Sexy Samantha had in store for him that night.
‘I have a hot date too,’ I blurted out, watching for any flicker of jealousy. Of course there was none.
‘That’s great Suze.’ He looked genuinely pleased. ‘You haven’t seen anyone since Jack…’ He trailed off. My life was defined into two segments. Before Jack and After Jack. I wondered if Jules felt the same. He grabbed his jacket, averting his eyes from me, perhaps knowing that he had said something he shouldn’t. ‘It’s about time you got back on the horse again. We can swap notes tomorrow.’
‘Or not.’ I couldn’t bear thinking about that conversation. The literal ins and outs of Harry’s date would be something I really didn’t want to hear. I’d changed the subject twice that morning already when he started giving me explicit details that would be right at home on the pages of an erotic fiction novel. Sexy Samantha was far kinkier than those baby blue eyes might suggest. Besides, what did I have to contribute to that conversation? My hot date consisted of a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and a night in with the beautiful Brad Pitt. I logged off my own computer, keen to show him I also had something exciting to run off to.
‘Where did you meet him?’
I racked my brain as I fluffed out my hair in the reflection of a photo showing me and Harry covered in snow and grinning ear to ear after sledging at the indoor Snow Zone. Before Jack.
‘Skiing,’ I said, then wished I hadn’t.
He stopped in his hasty exit. ‘Skiing? When have you been skiing?’
‘I go every Sunday, skiing lessons, he’s my ski instructor.’ I was making it worse.
‘You hate skiing.’
I had said that hadn’t I. Because this photo was taken when we had our first and last skiing lesson a year before. I had spent forty minutes falling on my bum – as kids as young as five glided effortlessly past me – and the last twenty minutes of the lesson, after Harry had been upgraded to the adult slopes, trying to get up and rolling around on the floor with my skis in the air, looking like an oversized beetle stranded on its back. Harry had felt sorry for me that I had failed so spectacularly and had taken me sledging instead. Much more up my street. There was no skill at all involved in sliding down a slope in a red plastic sledge.
‘I like it now. I’m very proficient. Obviously just needed the right instructor.’
‘Well that’s great, maybe we can go together sometime.’
I fixed a smile onto my face. ‘Maybe.’
‘What’s his name?’
I cast around for a suitable name and a suitable adjective to describe him, something comparable to Sexy Samantha. I had nothing, no names in my head at all. The only name in my head was Harry and that would be too weird. He was staring at me, waiting for me to come up with a name, the silence stretched on. I had to say something.
‘Tim.’ I almost shouted out with relief. ‘Tiny Tim.’
Great. Just great.
Harry’s face fell. ‘Tiny Tim?’
‘As in…’ he waggled his little finger at me.
‘No, no, of course not, he’s very big in that department. Big all over in fact. Huge. It’s kind of an ironic name.’
‘Big like me?’
‘Well I have no idea how big you are in that department.’ My eyes cast down to the sizeable bulge in his jeans and I felt my cheeks burn as he clearly saw me checking him out.
‘I meant in height,’ Harry said. I’m sure I saw his mouth twitch as he supressed a smile.
‘Oh yes, he’s very tall.’
‘Good. That’s good. I have a friend who’s a ski instructor at the Snow Zone, he might know your Tim. What’s his surname?’
I was a terrible liar.
A horn tooted outside and Harry peeled back the net curtain to wave at Sexy Samantha as she leaned on the bonnet of her sexy red convertible. I didn’t think I’d ever be so relieved to see her again.
‘Well have fun.’ Harry threw me a cursory wave as he thundered down the stairs. A second later I heard the front door slam.
I peered out the window, hoping not to be noticed as Harry swept Sexy Samantha into his arms and swung her round as if he hadn’t seen her in months. As he deposited her on the floor she waved up at me and I was forced to wave politely back.
With a wheel spin and the stereo blaring out something young and hip, the red convertible roared up the road, taking my heart with it.
I’d been in love with Harry for two long, painful years and we were further away today from getting together than we had been when we first met. We were now firmly in the friend zone and there was never any coming back from that.
Two years was way too long for unrequited love. It was time I moved on with someone else. I would just fall out of love with him, simple as that.
I sighed as I walked into my bedroom and got changed into my cow print onesie. I flicked through some songs on my iPod until I found something suitably rousing and as Gloria Gaynor started belting out ‘I am what I am’, I turned up the volume, leapt up onto the bed and danced and wiggled my bum in time with the lyrics. I was highly skilled in the playing of air drums and as Gloria reached a crescendo so did my frenetic drum playing. As the instrumental kicked in I leapt off the bed, doing the splits mid-air. I pulled a muscle in my groin and as I flicked my hair theatrically out of my face I saw Harry’s eyes widen in horror as I landed on top of him, one leg somehow hooked over his shoulder as my other foot kicked him square in his crotch.
He screamed in pain. I screamed with embarrassment as he staggered back and landed hard on his bum, my leg still wrapped round his neck.
Gloria was still singing loudly in the background as we stared at each other. Finally I managed to speak.
‘What are you doing here?’
‘Currently, wondering if I’ll ever be able to have sex again. Can you please get off my lap?’
I quickly climbed off him, kneeing him in the face as I tried to stand up. He slowly staggered to his feet, doubled over in obvious pain.
‘I forgot my wallet,’ he said, by way of explanation.
I swallowed. ‘You saw me dance?’
He lifted his head and this time there was no mistaking the grin. ‘From the very beginning to the dramatic finale.’
‘I better go, Samantha will be wondering where I am. Nice onesie by the way. Does Tiny Tim have one too? A horse or a pig perhaps?’
I stared down at myself, at the pink udders hanging limply from my stomach, and wanted the ground to swallow me up. ‘He’s not coming round till later.’
‘Of course not. And I imagine he thinks you look quite cute in it.’
Cute? Puppies were cute. Is that how he thought of me, as a cute little puppy?
He moved to the top of the stairs and I followed him.
‘Do you think I look cute in it?’
He turned and walked back up a few stairs, kneeling on the stair below me so we were eye to eye. ‘Yes.’
My heart dropped. I was so far in the friend zone I was now categorised as cute. He’d be patting me on the back next and telling me he saw me like a sister.
My heart sank into my feet.
‘I bet Samantha would look sexy in it?’
‘I doubt it. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to look sexy in it.’
I felt slightly better at this.
‘And don’t underestimate the value of cute, it’s a great quality to have.’ He leaned forward and kissed me on the nose. ‘And don’t stay up too late, I have a big day planned for you tomorrow.’
He ran down the stairs and was gone a second later.
I touched my nose, still feeling the softness of his lips. He thought I was cute. I smiled as I fell in love with him all over again.