Emma was always alone on Valentine’s day. Always. No matter whether or not she had been in a relationship at any other time of the year, come the first week of February, the end was in sight, and had in fact arrived no later than the middle of the second.
As she sat on her own on the night of the most romantic day of the year, bemoaning the loss of another boyfriend for reasons she did not quite understand, she looked over the items she had bought before the demise of her relationship. Just to torture herself.
For once she thought that this year might have been different. Things had been going so well. So, she had gone out and spent her money, buying chocolates and candles, a couple of bottles of wine, one of those Valentine meal-deals that all the supermarkets seemed to be peddling these days, some aftershave and the new book he had mentioned he wanted.
Tears began to cascade down Emma’s cheek. She was sure he had been the one. But she had been wrong again. Emma was now in her mid-thirties and felt that time was running out in her quest for love. Soon, she contemplated, she would be too old and life would have passed her by completely. She shook her head and her light brown hair bobbed in front of her red-rimmed brown eyes.
‘What is wrong with me?’ she asked her reflection in the glass of the kitchen cabinet. No answer was offered up from the short, slim woman who looked back at her.
Opening one of the bottles of red wine, she filled a large wine glass and went to sit in front of the TV. She quickly drained one glass, before she was again in the kitchen refilling it. Surprisingly, for Emma hardly ever drunk alcohol, the bottle was empty before she realised.
Even more surprising, when she did realise that the wine had all gone, all she could do was giggle. And she giggled, and she giggled, and she giggled. It felt good to laugh, she noticed. All the morose thoughts that had consumed her over the past few days slowly disappeared into the ether.
Laughing at herself for getting so upset over the wretch who could not really have deserved her anyway, she looked again over her Valentine purchases.
Where the inspiration came from, she did not know, but soon she found herself laying the table in the dining room with her best crockery and cutlery, setting two places as she did so. She returned to the kitchen, removing a vase of flowers from the windowsill and put it on the table, and in between the two place-settings she positioned a couple of candles. On to the plates she sat two heart-shaped chocolates that were wrapped in gold foil.
Then she returned to the kitchen to take care of dinner. The starter was simple: goats cheese and tomoto tarts. The main was a Mediterranean pasta bake, served with salad and a herb flatbread, whilst the dessert was a decadent-looking crème brûlée.
Before long, she was back in the dining room adding a few finishing touches to the room. With romantic music playing in the background and soft candlelight gently illuminating the room, Emma finally came to her senses. As she looked about the scene she had created, it dawned on her just how alone she was.
‘What possessed me to do it?’ she wondered out loud, before the tears started to fall again. ‘What a stupid thing to do!’ she exclaimed. ‘Do I have to be alone every Valentine’s Day? Why can’t I, for once, just have someone to share it with? I wish that, for once, I could just have someone,anyone, to share Valentine’s Day with!’ and as she sobbed, she blew out one of the candles.
An uncomfortable cough that didn’t come from her, stopped Emma mid-sob. Had she really heard anything?
‘Might I be of assistance?’ a deep, kind voice, as real as her own, had asked. Emma thought her heart might stop. She had not heard anyone enter the house, she mused, but then she had already consumed an entire bottle of wine on her own.
Quickly, she scanned the room but saw nothing.
A figment of my imagination, she said to herself, sighing with relief. That’s all.
‘You’re wrong there,’ the voice said again.
Emma looked over towards the doorway where slowly, materialising before her very eyes, was the ghost of a man. He was tall and athletic, dressed smartly in a black dinner jacket and white shirt, looking no more than about forty.
In alarm, unable to comprehend what was going on, she fell off her chair and crawled under the table. That, naturally, didn’t help matters. It only served to make her feel even more silly that she already did.
‘Hello?’ the ghost man said, lifting up the corner of the tablecloth in an attempt to see where Emma had gone. ‘I say, are you all right under there?’
Emma now thoroughly lamented the amount of wine she had drunk.
‘It doesn’t have anything to do with the drink,’ the voice explained, patiently. ‘Though you probably shouldn’t have had so much. It won’t do you any good in the end, you know.’
‘I don’t usually drink,’ Emma retorted sharply, before realising that she shouldn’t be talking to the figment of her imagination because that was what crazy people did.
‘As I said a moment ago, I’m not a figment of your imagination. Now please will you come out and sit at the table. It takes rather a lot of effort for me to hold up the tablecloth.’
Emma feeling extraordinarily stupid, crawled out from under the table, trying to avoid looking at her unexpected, univited arrival.
‘Actually I was invited. In fact, the proper term is “summoned”.’
Emma couldn’t help herself. ‘Who “summoned” you?’
‘No I didn’t.’
‘Yes you did.’
‘A few moments ago.’ Emma could hear in his voice that his patience was fading.
‘I was crying,’ Emma shouted defensively, not claiming any responsibility for what was going on.
‘Yes, we all heard that,’ the ghost replied sounding quite amused. ‘Then you said, “I wish” for such and such and blew out the candle. You cast a summoning spell.’
‘It wasn’t intentional.’ She sat down on her chair feeling bemused, as well as a little tipsy.
‘And yet here I am.’
‘Well…you can go away again…back to wherever you came from. I didn’t mean to invite you…summon you…whatever. There has been some kind of misunderstanding. Go away.’ Emma made a shooing motion.
‘It doesn’t really work like that.’
‘Why not?’ she demanded.
‘I don’t know why not,’ the ghost stammered, exasperated. ‘It just doesn’t. Look, missy. I was trying to do you a favour. You didn’t want to be alone on Valentine’s Day. I had nothing else to do. I was trying to help.’
‘You’re a ghost! How can that be helping?’
‘All you said was that you wished that you had someone to share Valentine’s Day with this year. You did not stipulate whether they had to be living or dead.’
Emma’s head fell into her hands and she sighed. After a moment of trying concentrate on what appeared to be happening, she looked up hoping to see that he had gone.
‘Still here,’ he chirped, sounding cheerful again and smiling.
‘Are you sure you can’t leave?’ Emma asked, sounding rather desperate.
‘If this is how you treat people on Valentine’s Day, is it no wonder you’re always alone?’
Emma’s jaw dropped at his frankness.
‘Now, my dear. What fine fare have you cooked for us this evening?’ The ghost took his seat opposite Emma and smiled. ‘Come on. Some company must be better than being all by yourself, surely?’ He paused, before concluding with, ‘I’m here now. Might as well make the best of it.’
Of course, Emma realised that he was right. For once on Valentine’s Day at least she wouldn’t be alone. ‘If you’re staying, you might as well introduce yourself properly,’ Emma said, dusting herself down and rearranging her hair after her little spell on the floor.
‘The name’s Theodore Jackson,’ the man said, offering his outstretched arm across the table. As Emma shook it, he leaned over and ever so gently kissed the top of her hand. ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you,’ he said.