Extract: After I’ve Gone by Linda Green

Monday 11 January 2016

I smell his bad breath a second or two before I feel his hand on my arse. That’s the weird thing about public transport gropers, they always seem to have personal hygiene issues.
‘What’s your problem?’ I shout, as I spin around to face him. Immediately, the crowd of people jostling around the ticket barriers parts. The one thing commuters hate even more than delays is a confrontation.
The guy with the dodgy breath and wandering hand obviously hadn’t expected this. He looks to either side, desperate to pass the buck.
‘Nope, it’s definitely you, middle-aged man in the shiny grey suit. Get off on touching women’s arses, do you?’
He shuffles his feet and looks at the ground then pushes his way towards the ticket barrier.

‘That’s it, you run along to work. I bet the women at your office can’t wait to see you. Keep your mucky hands to yourself
next time, OK?’ I glance behind to see Sadie looking at me with a raised eyebrow.
‘What?’ I say. ‘He got off lightly if you ask me.’ There is now a clear path in front of me to the ticket barrier. I go straight through and wait for Sadie on the other side. A young guy with dark hair stops in front of me.
‘Nice takedown,’ he says with a smile.
‘Do you want me to go after him for you?’
He is wearing a plum-coloured jacket over a white T-shirt, like he’s come in for dress-down Friday on a Monday by mistake.
‘What I really want is for all members of the male species to go to hell and stop bothering me.’
The smile falls off his lips. ‘Point taken,’ he says, before walking off.
‘What did you do that for?’ asks Sadie, staring at me. ‘He was only trying to be nice.’
‘Yeah, well, it’s difficult to tell sometimes.’
Sadie shakes her head. ‘I don’t get you. Is this national bite-someone’s-head-off day or something?’
‘PMT and hunger, always a bad combination. Come on, I need food.’
Breakfast (I hate the word ‘brunch’ so I refuse to call it that, even when it is after ten thirty) for me consists of a huge blueberry muffin (that I hope will count as one of my five a day) and a can of Tango (that possibly counts as another). Mum used to tell me that the day would come when I wouldn’t be able to eat and drink all that crap without looking as if I did. I’d taken it as a green light to have as much of it as possible while I could still get away with it.
I hear footsteps approaching as I stand waiting to pay. Sadie gives me a nudge. I look up. The guy who’d offered to go after the groper is standing there, bunch of flowers in hand. Actually, it isn’t a bunch; it’s a proper bouquet. Handtied, I think they call it, not that I’ve ever seen a machine tie flowers.
‘An apology for earlier,’ he says. ‘On behalf of the male species. To show we’re not all complete jerks.’
All conversation in the queue stops. I am aware my cheeks are turning the same colour as the roses in the bouquet.
‘Thanks,’ I say, taking them from him. ‘You didn’t have to do that.’
‘I know, but I wanted to. I also want to ask you out to dinner but I’m not sure if that would be risking a massive public bawl-out so I’ve left my business card in there with the flowers. Call me if you’d like to take up the invite. And thanks for brightening my morning.’ He turns and walks away, one of those supremely confident walks that stops just short of being a full-blown swagger.
‘I hate you,’ says Sadie. ‘I have no idea why I chose someone who strangers give flowers to as a best friend.’
‘You didn’t choose me,’ I reply. ‘I chose you, remember? Mainly because you had the best pencil case in reception.’
‘Well, whatever. I still hate you. You don’t even have to try. You wear a puffer jacket, leggings and DMs and you still get a gorgeous stranger asking you out.’
‘I might not call him,’ I say, lowering my voice, aware other people in the queue are listening.
‘Then you’re a bigger mug than I thought.’
‘Well, I’m certainly not going to do it straight away.’
‘Playing hard to get, are you?’
‘No. I’m just starving and I’m not going to do anything until I’ve stuffed this blueberry muffin down my gob.’
Sadie smiles at me and looks down at the flowers. As well as the roses there are lilies and loads of other things I don’t even know the names of.
‘They must have cost him a packet,’ she remarks.
‘Shame he didn’t know I’d have been happy with a blueberry muffin then,’ I reply. She laughs. I hold the flowers a little tighter, despite myself.

 

You have 18 months left to live . . . On a wet Monday in January, Jess Mount checks Facebook and discovers her timeline appears to have skipped forward 18 months, to a day when shocked family and friends are posting heartbreaking tributes to her following her death in an accident. Jess is left scared and confused: is she the target of a cruel online prank or is this a terrifying glimpse of her true fate?

Amongst the posts are photos of a gorgeous son she has not yet conceived. But when new posts suggest her death was deliberate, Jess realises that if she changes the future to save her own life, the baby boy she has fallen in love with may never exist.

 

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