Chapter One: Lonely Hearts
Melinda leans back in her chair and props her red four inch stiletto heels up on her desk, and sips her morning coffee. It’s a bright spring morning and the city is buzzing below her. As she gazes out of her office window overlooking Holland Park in west London, her focus shifts from her lengthy list of things to do, meetings to attend and phone calls to return. Melinda’s mind boggles as she dreams up her ideal man, and then wonders why it’s so hard to find her partner in crime. Yet she’s able to play cupid and organise some of the most beautiful weddings for other women, who have found their ideal match. Melinda takes pride in being organised and efficient for her clients, this helps her to keep her successful wedding planning service in demand.
Five years ago aged thirty, after finishing a project management course she pursued a new direction. She set out on a new adventure as an event organiser. She helped two of her close girlfriends pull together their ideal wedding, she fell in love with the romance, love and detail needed to create the perfect wedding day. From there Melinda’s Weddings was born.
Every client has a different vision for their perfect wedding day, Melinda loves the thrill of pulling it all together. When she first set out on her entrepreneurial journey she worked from home, her office was the living room of her one bedroom tiny flat in Shepard’s Bush west London. As soon as the money came rolling in she leased her very own office space and employed her assistant Roxanne.
As the phone rings Melinda snaps out of her daydream with a jump, spilling her coffee all over her expensive Karen Millen shift dress. Cursing she places her stilettos on the floor and then snatches up the phone. In her most professional telephone voice she greets the caller.
“Good morning Melinda’s Weddings, Melinda speaking.”
“Oh, hi Melinda my name’s Joanne Simpson I need a hand planning my wedding. I have no idea where to start.”
Melinda smiles at the familiar frantic call from a bride to be on the other end of the line.
“Of course, Miss Simpson, you’ve come to the right place. I’d love to assist you with planning your perfect day. Tell me a bit more about the kind of wedding you and your husband to be have in mind?”
“Something simple, and romantic. We’re thinking of a destination wedding.”
“Fantastic! I love planning these. Do you have any destinations in mind as yet?”
“Havana in Cuba.”
Melinda raises an eyebrow exotic locations excite her.
“Lovely, okay sounds perfect.”
Ever ready and organised to assist a potential client Melinda picks up her pen and notepad.
“So, simple and romantic is the theme you’re going for, do you have a date in mind?”
“Yes the fourteenth of May, a little short notice I know, just two weeks away. This is kind of a last-minute decision, after some research it was clear that London is just too expensive to get married. The cars, churches, bridesmaid dresses, it all adds up. And there is no guarantee we’ll have great weather either.”
“Hmm yeah, I hear that all the time. Many of my clients decide to go abroad for the same reasons.”
Melinda quickly pulls up her Outlook calendar on her computer and glances at April and May’s bookings.
“The time frame is a little tight, but leave it with me I’ll be able to pull it all together.”
“Great, I’m so happy to hear that, as I sure can’t.”
With a small giggle Melinda swings around in her chair and glances around her small office.
“Why don’t you come in and meet with me, I’d love to speak face to face and fine tune all your requirements. I’d like everything to be just perfect for you Miss Simpson.”
“I’d love to, how about today?”
Melinda glances back to today’s meeting slots to see where she can fit Miss Simpson in.
“Perfect. I have a free spot at 2:00 p.m. if that suits you?”
“Great, I’ll see you then.”
“Excellent. Do you know where to find me Miss Simpson? I’m based just on the corner by Holland Park tube station, number 135.”
“Thanks, I’ll find you.”
Melinda replaces the phone on its receiver with a smile.
“This could be an interesting project.”
She says out loud to herself, as she pulls up Google to start her research on wedding venues in Havana.
“Hey, Mel how are you? Did you pick up my message about Miss Smith?”
Melinda looks up from behind her large computer screen and smiles at Roxanne her assistant, poking her head around her office door.
“Yeah, I did. She’s gone into melt down mode again. I swear sometimes the older they are the more of a diva they can be.”
“Hmm melt down is not the word.”
“Leave it with me Roxanne, I’ll give her a call and set her mind at ease.”
“Great, I was hoping you’d say that. What do you fancy for lunch?”
“You know what I think I’ll pick up lunch myself today, thanks for the offer. It’s a beautiful spring day I’ll take a walk.”
“Cool, okay I’m next door if you need me.”
With that Roxanne disappears into her office next door. Setting her notepad and Google research to one side Melinda snatches up the phone, then braces herself as she dials Miss Smith. Her sixty five year old bride to be.
“Detective Garcia, great to see you this week you look well. Please take a seat.”
“Hi doc, I’m sorry about last week, work’s been a little crazy I have a big investigation I’m overseeing.”
“No problem, great to see you as I said.”
Dr. Black eases his small frame from behind his large chestnut oak desk and makes his way over to the comfortable leather sofas to meet Detective Sebastian Garcia. Detective Garcia is one of his long-term clients, he has a soft spot for him. As intimidating and masculine as he appears to the outside world, Detective Garcia suffers from a terrible case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Following the death of his long term girlfriend in a car accident while Detective Garcia was driving. Almost one year later Detective Garcia is still full of grief and blames himself completely.
“So how have things been the last couple of weeks Detective?”
“Please doc call me Sebastian, well Seb. We’ve been seeing each other for long enough now, time to drop the formality. What do you say?”
Dr. Black smiles broadly at his client.
“As you please, Seb.”
Sebastian runs a hand over his low shaven jet black hair and then closes his large brown eyes, as he recalls the last few weeks. After a beat he exhales slowly and meets Dr. Black’s gaze.
“Well, apart from work it’s been pretty rough, with the anniversary of Anna’s death coming I— I.”
Sebastian gazes down at his large hands folded in his lap and then bites his inner lip. Dr. Black encourages him to continue.
“It’s okay Seb. Take your time, I’m listening.”
“Doc I just can’t shake the feeling ya know, that feeling that’s been with me for almost a year now. That it’s all my fault. Her death, our unhappy relationship, the fact that I put work before her all the time.”
“I just wish I could …”
“Turn back the clock, rewrite history?” Dr. Black cuts in.
“Seb, a lot of PTSD sufferers feel the exact same way. They blame themselves and wish they would have done things differently. But all that does is eat away at you.”
“So how do I move forward, how do I shake this shitty feeling inside?”
Sebastian pokes himself in the chest to emphasise his point.
“You need to forgive yourself Seb, forgiveness is the first step to moving forward and shaking the ill feelings you have inside.”
“Right, forgiveness? I’m just supposed to forgive myself for killing the one woman I truly loved, but waited too long to show her that?”
Dr. Black crosses his legs at the knee and adjusts his half moon glasses, he studies the tall handsome Spaniard in detail. His body language shows signs of stress, he looks as though he has not shaven for a few days. A dark line of stubble graces his tanned skin, his large brown eyes are hooded from lack of sleep.
“Well, if you want to put it that way Seb yes. You need to forgive yourself for the accident which took place and claimed Anna’s life. Remember you were not the only driver that night there was another party involved. Second you need to accept that you are not to blame, you were fully sober that night remember.”
Dr. Black watches Sebastian’s thick jet black eyebrows knit together as he frowns and lowers his gaze to the floor.
“Yeah, doc you’re right I know. You always are!”
The two men laugh and the air feels instantly lighter in Dr. Black’s office.
“You need a break Seb. You’re not a machine. I understand that you have a very demanding job but you need some time out.”
“You’re right again it’s just this case—”
“Seb, London’s Drug Squad are going to have to do without you for a while, I’m signing you off on sick leave— with pay from tomorrow. They’ll have to find a replacement for a few weeks. If you don’t take some time out, trust me you’ll burn out then you’ll be no good to anybody.”
“But doc I’ve got this one case and—”
Dr. Black cuts Sebastian off.
Dr. Black observes Sebastian closely to ensure the message has sunk in. Then he eases his old frame from the low leather sofa, and moves over to his desk draw for his paperwork. He does not care how much of a fight Sebastian Garcia puts up about taking time off, he is going to take it. He’ll call his supervisor if he must, to confirm he has two weeks off work due to his PTSD not showing any sign of improvement. Dr. Black hands Sebastian a piece of paper.
“Here, this is your sick note keep a copy for yourself. Call in sick tomorrow and send the original off to your supervisor in the mail.”
Sebastian looks up at the old doctor in his starched black trousers, grey shirt and sensible shoes. Dr. Black stares down at him over the top of his glasses, sitting on the sofa. Sebastian sighs.
“Thanks doc. What do I do for two whole weeks?”
Dr. Black lets out a genuine laugh at Sebastian, as he slowly heads back over to his seat on the sofa.
“Take a vacation Seb! Live it up, go somewhere you’ve never been before. Have a few cocktails, work on your tan, find yourself a holiday romance, anything. Just don’t think about work, Anna, the anniversary of her death or London.”
Sebastian smiles a half genuine smile at the old doctor opposite him, he’s grown fond of him and their weekly sessions.
“I’ll try doc.”
“Okay sounds perfect. Come back and see me when you’re back.”
“Okay, will do.”
Sebastian eases himself out of the sofa and pulls himself up to his full six-foot-three height. Sebastian towers over Dr. Black’s five-foot-eight frame, as he also stands up to offer Sebastian his hand.
“Seb, take care of yourself son, and remember you’re young enough to start over. I’m sure Anna would want that. Happiness not years of grief and upset. You don’t want to get to my age and then think hey maybe I should start living life. You get to my age, it’s almost over!”
Sebastian shakes Dr. Black’s hand and smiles.
“That-a-boy. It’s good to see you smile, I’ll see you soon have fun.”
As Sebastian leaves Dr. Black’s office, Dr. Black snatches up his phone and dials Charing Cross Police Station in central London. He obtains details of the most senior officer in charge above Detective Sebastian Garcia. Once he’s armed with an email address he writes a personal email to the officer in charge, to inform him of his recommendation for young Detective Garcia to take some time off.
Later that evening Sebastian orders a large spicy peperoni pizza, a side of garlic bread and some chicken wings. He winds down for the evening with the TV on mute showing Sky News and Spanish flamenco music in the background. Pulling out his laptop Sebastian settles himself at his dinner table, and then pulls up a Google page to start his research for some sun, sea and sand. He hopes Dr. Black’s recommendation will help him to claim back his sanity, and wash away his feeling of guilt over Anna’s death. He’s torn between a Caribbean island or embracing his Spanish roots in south America or his motherland Spain. He decides not to head to his homeland Madrid, in Spain.
“Let’s have the best of both worlds, a Caribbean feel with a Spanish influence.”
He says out loud to his empty living room. Smiling to himself Sebastian clicks on the travel agent’s link for Cuba.
He moved to London from the Spanish capital Madrid ten years ago, aged twenty seven right after he completed his police training in Spain. He longed for a change of scenery and to improve his English language skills. Sebastian is proud of his Spanish heritage and wants to embrace some of his own culture again. Selecting his flights and hotel for the week, he pulls out his credit card and books his first solo trip abroad to Havana, Cuba’s capital.
One week later:
“Hello Miss Simpson, it’s Melinda here.”
“Oh hi Melinda, how is everything progressing?”
“We’re on a roll, I’ve managed to secure your first choice from the venues I sent you, you will be married on the fourteenth May 2016 at the Casa De Amor hotel in Havana.”
“Oh wow that is amazing, thank you so much. What do I need to do next?”
“Nothing, leave it all to me, focus on your dress, rings and your husband to be’s suit. I’ve got everything covered, invites, flowers, the works. And don’t worry I’m working closely from your list of requirements you gave me.”
“My goodness you really do deliver Melinda, thank you.”
“Glad you’re happy so far … and you’re welcome.”
“Melinda, I don’t know if this is the norm but I’d really like you as a guest at our wedding. All you have done in such a short space of time is unbelievable, it’s eased so much of the stress for me and Brad. What do you say?”
“Oh wow, Miss Simpson that is so sweet of you but honestly you really don’t have to. Plus, I have a stack of work waiting—”
Joanne cuts Melinda off mid sentence.
“No excuses Melinda, and stop with this Miss Simpson stuff. Please call me Joanne and as we speak, I’m behind my laptop searching for a flight for you, my treat!”
“No excuses! You’re coming.”
“Well … if you insist.”
Melinda can sense Joanne’s smile on the other end of the phone, she can’t help but smile herself. Joanne has been a dream to work with. Melinda reflects on the relationship they have built in such a short space of time, both professionally and as potential girlfriends. Melinda’s professional approach and care over the minor details has set Joanne’s mind at ease as well as encouraged the two women to bond.
Joanne has not been overly fussy as she knows exactly what kind of wedding day she wants, no diva like behaviour and her personality is easy to get on with. Suddenly Melinda starts to look forward to spending time in Cuba with Joanne as part of her wedding party.
“Okay so the wedding is organised for the fourteenth of May, but you’ll need to fly out a few days early for the dress rehearsal.”
“We Melinda… we will need to fly out remember.”
“Oh, yes. Of course, we will need to fly out.”
Melinda smiles to herself.
“No problems, if the hotel can accommodate us from the twelfth of May that would be wonderful. We could have a day to laze around, then the next day hold a rehearsal.”
“That should be fine, let me send a quick email to the Casa De Amor to firm up the details.”
“Sounds perfect, keep me posted and I’ll talk to you soon Melinda.”
Melinda replaces the phone on its receiver and kicks her four inch heels up on her desk, she is satisfied with her work done so far. In a week she has pulled together a romantic wedding in an exotic destination, and scored a free holiday. God knows she could do with the break. She can’t remember the last time she relaxed properly and soaked up some sun. Her last holiday was with the girls a few years ago. They all went to Jamaica for some girl time, after her girlfriend Dani had a bitter break up with her boyfriend. For weeks the poor girl was in tears. A girly getaway with herself, Sarah and Hannah was just what the doctor ordered for Dani. The four of them had a blast traveling around the island, drinking fresh coconut milk from its shell and eating endless island delicacies.
In Cuba, Melinda has visions of hot Hispanic men, beautiful white sandy beaches and sunsets, she can’t wait to get on the plane. Filled with excitement Melinda sends a text to Sarah, Dani and Hannah to organise drinks at the local bar after work.
Later that evening Melinda showers and wraps herself up in a fluffy towel, and then pads from the bathroom to her bedroom. With upbeat dance music in the background she selects an outfit for the evening. The girls all agreed to meet for mid week drinks at their local drinking spot in Shepard’s Bush west London. Melinda always likes to make an effort— after all you never know who you may run into. She has been single for far too long. Online dating, Tinder and speed dating all produced little hope of her happy ever after. Just a string of men interested in her for one reason or another, but not to have anything more than just a “casual relationship.”
At thirty five, Melinda wants more. Day in day out she spends pulling together the perfect happy ever after for other women, she feels it’s now her time to find someone to call her own. She believes in love and romance, and lives in hope that there is someone out there made for her.
“This will have to do, what do you think?”
Melinda turns around and shows her outfit of dark denim skinny jeans and a black sparkly flowing off the shoulder top to Lady, her long haired cat and only housemate curled up at the foot of her bed.
“Yeah, I think so too, casual but still well put together.”
Melinda lets out a laugh at herself. Thirty five, single and talking to her cat. What would people think. Her phone rings, glancing at the screen she notices it’s Gavin a guy she met on Match.com.
“Hey, Gavin, how are you?”
“Yeah, I’m good. Where have you been stranger?”
Gavin’s smooth deep voice rings down the phone, Melinda rolls her eyes. Gavin just did not take no for an answer. After two dates she decided he was not her knight in shining armour. He was her usual type tall, dark and handsome, successful in his own way, but she couldn’t help but feel he is after just one thing. Melinda’s days of friends with benefits were over, she hung up her stilettos a long time ago on this kind of relationship.
“Ah ya know just working, things have picked up a bit so I’ve not really had time to socialise.”
“Not even return calls? I called you twice this week already.”
Melinda bites her lip.
“Really? Gavin I’m so sorry work’s been busy as I said.”
“So what are you up to tonight, you could make it up to me?”
With a sigh, Melinda sits down on the edge of her bed and pouts with a facial expression of pure disgust.
“Gavin, I’m sorry I don’t think I want to date anyone right now. I’ve got a lot on and…”
“And what Melinda? I thought we had a connection, you like me I like you…”
“I would not go that far Gavin we had two dates, it’s just not the right timing.”
“Is there someone else?”
Secretly wishing that there was Melinda pauses before she responds.
“Well? Is there Melinda?”
“No, Gavin like I said dating is not on the cards for me right now. I’ve got to go so take care.”
Before Gavin can continue Melinda presses end on the call, and casually chucks her phone to one side on her bed.
“Men, right Lady what is it with them?”
Lady let’s out a low meow, Melinda cracks up laughing, piles her long braids on top of her head and sets about applying her makeup.