A Date at the end of the Pier by Emily Harvale


thirty minutes. An hour at the latest.’

‘Yeah right,’ my sister Katie says.

Nan, our gran, is also on the video call. Her name is Nancy, but everybody calls her Nan. ‘If Katie and I had a pound for every time you told us you’d be leaving work at a reasonable hour,’ she says, ‘we’d both be very rich women.’

They’re standing in my kitchen and, while Nan takes two glasses from the cupboard and places them on the worktop, Katie helps herself to a bottle of wine from my cooler.

‘And if you two stopped drinking my wine, so would I.’

They grin at one another like mischievous children and then at me. I don’t mind at all and Katie and Nan know that. Besides, Nan is currently staying at my house, so it’s as much her home as mine, for a few more days, at least.

Nan and her partner, Donald have recently bought a bungalow about five minutes’ walk away from my house. They’ve already completed the purchase but they’re having some work done and won’t be moving in until that’s finished. Donald had been staying with his daughter, who also lives nearby, but she’s been causing a lot of upset over the last few months so I agreed he should come and join Nan at mine. He was there most days in any case, so it doesn’t make that much difference.

Although I will admit, there have been times when I wished the walls in the house were thicker, or preferably, completely soundproofed. There’s something slightly disconcerting about knowing that your gran and her partner, who are both in their eighties, are enjoying a much more active sex life than you are at almost thirty-one.

‘If you stopped buying such good wine,’ Katie says, still grinning, ‘we’d stop drinking it.’

‘Oh I see. It’s my fault.’

‘Obviously,’ says Katie, as she pulls the cork from the bottle and tosses the bottle opener to one side.

‘Oi! Wash that and put it back in the drawer, please.’

I don’t know how many times I must tell her stuff like that. Sometimes it amazes me that she’s five years older than me.

She winks. ‘I’ll do it when I wash the glasses, grumpy.’

‘So what time will you be back, sweetheart?’ Nan asks.

This is the second call within the last ninety minutes, to check when I’m leaving work, so I’m tempted to say that if they stopped calling me, I’d get my work done faster, but I’m fairly certain what they’d say to that.

‘By 7 p.m. or thereabouts.’

Katie frowns. ‘Can’t you get away any earlier?’

‘That’s cutting it fine,’ Nan adds.

They’re clearly not convinced I’ll be home in time to meet up with them together with Donald, and Katie’s partner, Aaron (who also happens to be my next-door neighbour) and make it to Alberto’s Italian restaurant by 7.30 this evening.

I don’t know what the big deal is. Okay, so I spend most of my life working, and I’ve been working even more hours recently. What can I say? I work for a major, computer software company, one of the top companies in the UK, and our state-of-the-art accounting software is increasingly in demand. Our clients are mainly blue-chip companies, and international and multi-national corporations (not many smaller businesses can afford even our ‘starter packages’) and, as such, they expect to receive twenty-four-hour support, and that’s what they get. We go above and beyond to keep our clients around the globe, happy. That’s one of the reasons we’re so busy.

But Katie and Nan both know I’m never late. If I agree to be somewhere at a certain time, I’m there on the dot. Or I’m early. But I’m never, ever late. Not that it really matters tonight if I am. They can all go on ahead without me and I can meet them there. I’ll still be at the table on time.

‘I promise I’ll be home soon,’ I reassure them. ‘But even if I’m not, I can simply meet you at Alberto’s. In any case, I can stake my life on the fact that, whatever happens, I’ll be there before Tori and Mack, and as this evening is to celebrate Tori officially reopening Seascape Café tomorrow, surely that’s what’s important?’

‘Fine,’ says Katie, grudgingly. She can’t really argue with that. Tori is often late.

‘And I can always go straight to the restaurant. I don’t need to go home and change.’

As they both tell me what they think about that, in no uncertain terms, the phone on my desk rings, so I quickly say, ‘goodbye,’ wave at them, and end the call.

‘There’s trouble in the trenches, Em.’ It’s Ben Affleck.

Unfortunately, not the Ben Affleck, the gorgeous actor – although my Ben does bear an uncanny resemblance and could easily pass as a close, younger relative. Sadly though, my Ben is not related to that Ben in any way, shape, or form.

And when I say, ‘my Ben’ what I mean is, he works with me in the ‘new client team’, not that he’s actually mine. Which is also sad, because I’ve had a bit of a crush on him for several years. Since the day he joined the company, soon after me, in fact.

Ben is head of sales. I’m head of installation and training. Basically, Ben’s team sells the product to the new client, and I ensure that my team handles the installation smoothly, and that the client’s staff receive training on how the software works on a day-to-day basis. That means me and my team must go to the client’s offices, wherever in the world that might be, so we’re on hand to supervise the installation and to sort things out if anything goes wrong during the first few weeks. After that, the support teams take over and they are on-call via phone or video call, twenty-four-seven. But during those first few weeks, the responsibility for the smooth running of the product remains with Ben and his team and me and mine.

Ben and I get on well and we rarely disagree about what needs to be done to resolve any issues. We bounce ideas and solutions off one another and there’s never been any sort of one-upmanship by either of us.

Sometimes, we even flirt with one another, although I hate to admit this because I am thirty-one in a matter of months, but I’m still a little shy when I’m attracted to someone. And I’m definitely attracted to Ben.

We did actually kiss once. Very briefly. But that was just over five years ago, at someone’s birthday drinks one evening after work. I can’t recall whose birthday it was, or anything much about that night because we’d all had a lot to drink, except that it was a Monday, and the person was leaving the following day. So it was really a birthday slash leaving do. But that Monday night was the night my mum died, so other than the brief kiss with Ben, Mum’s death is all I remember about that day, or week, or month.

Mum was only fifty-eight and had never been seriously unwell. There wasn’t even a hint that anything was wrong with her health. The cardiac arrest was completely unexpected and we have no idea what caused it, but it’s known as Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, and it’s not as rare as you might think.

My boss insisted I took two weeks of compassionate leave at the time, and when I returned to work, other than Ben expressing his sincere condolences and telling me to let him know if there was anything he could do, he kept his distance and neither of us mentioned that kiss. And we haven’t, to this day.

Not long after, Ben got a girlfriend, so whether or not there might have been anything between us romantically, I’ll never know. Since then, we’ve just been work colleagues really.

I did invite him to my moving in party when I bought my house last July, and to my thirtieth birthday bash last October, but both dates clashed with prior engagements, so he was unable to come to either one. I hadn’t really felt much like having any parties after Mum died, so those two last year were the first for a long time.

Mum loved a party, but we didn’t have much money after Dad left when I was five and Katie was ten, so parties were a rare occasion. Nan sold her home and moved in with us to help out, but despite a serious lack of funds at times, we were happy. Mum and Nan always made birthday cakes for me and Katie, and we would always get a present, either something homemade or something ‘preloved’ as Nan and Mum called it. That meant something purchased from a local, charity shop. And fish and chips were a special treat.

Mum also loved to dance, and I can still see her and Nan, and me and Katie bopping around the living room. Mum had a beautiful smile, a melodious laugh like the trill of a happy bird, and a soft voice as warm as her hugs. The scent of lavender reminds me of her, and of her homemade lavender soap, and I miss her so much that my heart still breaks when I think of her.

Now, my heart flutters just a teensy-weensy bit at the sound of Ben’s voice. Again, it’s much like the ‘other’ Ben’s, only without the American accent.

And then my heart skips a beat, but not in a good way, as his words register in my brain.

‘What kind of trouble, Ben?’


Ben sometimes says things one wouldn’t expect a thirty-five-year-old man to say, and he watches far too many action movies and thrillers for his own good. I’m not sure why he chose to work for a computer software company, and not the military, or the UK government, but I trust his judgement implicitly. And his commitment to after sales service is second to none.

‘What? You have got to be kidding me,’ I say.

‘Nope. It’s gonna be a late one.’

I close my eyes for a second and a sigh escapes me. ‘Why did it have to be tonight?’

‘Is there a problem?’

‘Yeah. I’m supposed to be at a restaurant at 7.30 and I’ve just this minute confirmed I won’t be late, no matter what.’

‘You’re never late, Em.’ He laughs, and then there’s a moment of silence, followed by, ‘Don’t tell me you have a date!’

‘Hey! There’s no need to sound so surprised. I do have a life outside of the office, you know.’

‘Who’s the lucky guy?’

Damn it. Now I’ll have to admit that it’s not that kind of a date.

I’m sure he thinks I’m a bit of a boring, computer nerd, despite that drunken kiss five years ago, although he often says things like, ‘How’s your love-life?’ or ‘Who’s the lucky guy you’re spending this weekend with?’, but he also often tells me I should, ‘get out more’, and I’m not entirely sure what he means by any of that.

Whenever he’s asked about my boyfriends, I’ve always laughed and said that I love my job and I don’t have time to date. He tells me I should make time, and sometimes he looks at me as if he’d like me to make some time for him.

Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part. From what I hear, and from things he says, it seems to me he’s always got a girlfriend. Not the same one for very long though. And he’s never asked me out. Not even when he doesn’t have a girlfriend, so I’ll simply have to crush on him in silence, from a distance.

Now he’ll know just how sad my love life really is.

‘My family and some friends are getting together to celebrate my sister’s best friend reopening Seascape Café,’ I say. ‘I think I mentioned it to you. It was a café and bar, overlooking the beach in Norman Landing but now it’s reopening tomorrow as a café during the day, and a bar, bistro, and live music venue in the evenings … and at weekends … but it’s still called Seascape Café and all that’s really changing is…’ I let my voice trail off because I’m waffling.

‘Wow. How exciting. Listen. Don’t worry about this. I’ll sort it. You go and have fun. You deserve it. As long as you don’t mind me getting the whip out with your team, if I need to.’

‘No whips needed. My team’s great, as you well know. But I can’t leave you and them to deal with this problem. Whatever it is. I’ll stay.’

‘No you won’t,’ he says authoritatively. ‘And I’m not even going to tell you what’s happened. So there.’ He laughs and blows a raspberry down the phone. ‘Seriously, Em, as difficult as it will be, we can manage without you for one night.’

‘But you said it was DEFCON 3?’

‘Yeah well. The client thinks it’s 3 but it’s an Italian company, and we all know that Italians can be a tad dramatic. It’s probably somewhere between 4 and 5, so not really a problem at all. Just something we need to be aware of. A minor issue. The smallest glitch. Go. We’ll sort it. And I promise that if we can’t, I’ll call you myself and let you know. Bye. Have a good night.’

‘If you’re sure, Ben, thanks,’ I say. But he’s already hung up.

I consider dashing along the corridor to his office but we’re at opposite ends of the building and someone else is bound to grab me for some reason or another, between my office and his, and I’ve still got stuff on my desk I need to get done before I leave.

I hesitate for a fraction of a second and then decide he’s right. They can manage without me for one night. And I did promise Katie and Nan I’d leave in half an hour or an hour at the most. Besides which, I am never late. Not even when there’s a work emergency. If he needs me, Ben will call.

I ignore the little voice in my head telling me how nice it would be to be needed by Ben. But not necessarily for a work-related emergency.