‘I have your diary,’ said a male voice.

Jorja Philips held the mobile phone at arm’s length and counted to ten, then flipped her straight dark hair back over her shoulder and brought the phone back to her ear. This was a new tack to chat up a girl, ‘Who am I speaking to and I have not lost my diary.’

            ‘Karl Bennett; and I assure you I do have it.’

            Jorja felt her heartbeat quicken. There was so much personal rubbish scribbled in those pages. ‘Hold on a second please.’  Putting the phone down, she snatched her handbag from the desk drawer. It weighed a ton. Why did she carry so much?  She rummaged round make-up, letters, supermarket receipts and two wallets – why two? Half the cards were out of date and useless. Frustrated, she emptied the contents onto the desktop. It wasn’t there. She pulled the lining out willing it to appear like magic.

            ‘So … you have my diary. Where did you find it?’

            ‘In the park. Under the seat, by the rose garden.’ 

He was so controlled, authoritative and now that the initial panic had eased, she liked the sound of his voice.

            ‘Where did you get my number?’

            ‘From your diary. Where else would I get it?’

            ‘You’ve been reading my diary! How dare you pry into my …’

            ‘Hey, I only looked at the detail page. How else was I going to know who to call?’  His manner changed. ‘I’m not a peeping Tom, if that’s what you think.’

            ‘Sorry, it’s just …’ Jorja felt so stupid and her cheeks burnt with humiliation. ‘Can you post it back to me, please? You have the address.’

            ‘I’ve a better idea. Have lunch with me. 12.30 in the park.’ 

He didn’t wait for an answer, and it left her no choice if she wanted the diary back.

Jorja sat on the edge of the park seat, head down, feeling more like a honeybee than the stinging wasp on the phone earlier. A pair of long legs filled her view and a voice asked, ‘Hello. Are you Jorja Philips?’

            She looked up, ‘Yes. You’re Karl Bennett?’ Of course he was.

What a dumb thing to say and she bit her lower lip to stop it trembling. Big girls don’t cry, but she was so nervous. Was this how a blind date started? Two strangers, eyeing each other up and wondering what they had let themselves in for? What if he was a serial killer, a rapist or a kidnapper? He didn’t look evil. In fact, she liked what she saw. Stop, she warned herself, keep it strictly business. Get the diary and go. He sat down beside her. She caught the tang of aftershave on his rugged face and his complexion hinted moors and mountains. Even sitting down she had to tilt her head to look into his green eyes and his hair was the colour of a new thatch.

Jorja smiled and two dimples dented her cheeks.

            He raised an eyebrow, ‘Am I such a clown?’

            ‘No, of course not. I’m sorry I didn’t mean to be rude.’

            ‘No offence taken. Are you ready for lunch?’ He took a brown takeaway bag from behind his back.

            Jorja blinked in surprise. This was lunch?  Sandwiches at a park bench. What had she expected, a three course á la carte at the Ritz? Seated, served, eaten and back to the office within an hour. Wake up girl! This is reality, a hurried snack out of a bag.

            ‘This is kind of you.’

            ‘My pleasure, Jorja. I hope you like chicken and mayonnaise. It’s what my sister eats, so I assumed …’

            ‘Yes, I do.’ As she took the cellophane pack from him her fingers brushed his. They were warm, slightly hardened. Yet he wore a dark business suit.

They sat in the shade of a tree, relaxed, no awkwardness between them. He told her he was an architect - not yet famous - but there was time. She guessed he was in his mid-thirties. He didn’t mention a wife. He could have a partner. Weddings were going out of fashion in the twenty-first century. She and Paul had been an item. Parting had been civilised. Split the merchandise and wave good-bye. Yet the trauma seemed as hurtful and messy as divorce. Never again for her! She was a free agent. No ties. That had been her New Year’s resolution.

            ‘Will you have dinner with me tonight?’ 

            Jorja’s brown eyes widened in her oval face and pink lips parted, but no words were spoken. Instead her heart thumped against her ribs and butterflies flittered in her stomach. ‘No … thank you. I’ll just have my diary. It’s time to go back to the office.’  She sprang off the seat like a jack-in-the-box and held out her hand.

            ‘Hey, I didn’t say I wanted you for dinner. Do I look like a cannibal?’

            ‘Of course not. It’s just that I’m not into dating … period.’

            ‘That bad was it?  Join the club. Mine left me at the altar.’

            Jorja was stunned. She and Paul had skirted round marriage talk, but jilted, that was really sad news. ‘I’m sorry to hear that, but the answer is still, no. May I have my diary, please? I’ll be late if I don’t go now.’

            Karl stood and took an oblong black book from his jacket pocket and placed it in her palm. ‘See you around, sometime.’ He walked away in the direction he had arrived.

To find out if they do or they don’t… read the whole story

Extract from Julie’s story in The Guilty Suitcase

Available as a printed book or eBook