In a few days time, my latest short story compilation (currently available on pre-order from Amazon) is released. To give you a taster, here is Chapter 1 of the story Keeping our Distance, which is about finding love during these times of Covid-19. I really hope you enjoy it!
Keeping our Distance
Living under the ever-growing threat of a potential world pandemic, Milla and Tim accept that life must go on. Excited about their obvious attraction following an intense week of chatting online, they finally agree to meet up in person for a date. Unfortunately, before they have chance, fate conspires against them; the UK is locked down, to try and curtail the unparalleled spread of Covid-19.
Despite their enforced social distancing, the desire between the couple continues to flourish online and so they conceive new ways of sharing their attraction, in this strange new world. After all, lockdown must eventually end. And going by the insane levels of desire they have for each other, the moment they can physically interact, can’t come fast enough.
I’m highly aware that we’re living through the strangest and most worrying of times; one that will undoubtedly be referred to for centuries to come. A virus is spreading rapidly across the globe and suddenly, the word on everyone’s lips is the previously unheard of Covid-19. Within a matter of months, we’ve gone from a couple of isolated cases in the UK, to the World Health Organisation upgrading the status to a global pandemic.
The virus itself spreads stealthily, unseen, causing anxiety where there had previously been none, making you fear being in close contact with your fellow man; your neighbours, your nearest and dearest. And yet somehow, initially at least, life continues on as before. I’m still going to work every day, seeing friends and family, popping out to the shops, going to the gym. Although I can’t help notice the wary looks that bounce between cautious strangers, crossing to the other side of the street if they encounter somebody with a bad cough.
Increasingly unenthusiastically, I’ve also been continuing with my search for love. I’d even taken out a three month subscription to a dating site. It expires next week and I have no intention of renewing it. Having struggled to meet any suitable men in the “real” world, I turned to the online one for help. Until last week, my quest had been fruitless; indeed, the website only seemed to serve as a tool to emphasise my loneliness, and cost me sixty quid for the privilege. Following a flurry of unsolicited dick pics, I was just about to give up with the whole enterprise, when Tim appeared like a digital knight in shining armour.
At first, our conversations are about relatively broad subjects, but as the days pass, their intensity has increased…as has our low-level flirting. Logging onto my laptop, I can feel a nervous tingle start to spread through me, taking hold of my senses. It makes my tummy bubble with excitement, whilst my hands tremble slightly, disrupting the movement of my fingers as they work their way over the keyboard. It’s a few minutes before the time that Tim and I agreed to next chat and I literally can’t wait to share my day with him. Whilst all around, the world fearfully struggles through the grip of the worst pandemic in a century, cuddled up safely in my bed, spending the evening chatting to Tim, I can’t help but feel safe. Protected. Special.
I log straight onto an instant messaging app we use; we’ve long since stopped relying on the dating site. Neither of us have an interest in chatting to anybody but each other and being logged onto the site tends to result in regular interruptions from fellow singletons, in their own search for love. My breath catches in my throat when I see a little green light next to his name; he’s already online. Immediately, three little dots materialise, indicating that he’s started to type, as though he’s been waiting for me to appear. Biting my lip in delicious anticipation, I wait to see what he will say.
‘Good evening,’ I reply, sighing deeply. How can it be that a few words on a screen, from somebody I’ve never even seen, can make me feel so grounded? So entirely at peace.
As is our way, the next hour is then lost in a flurry of touch-typing, giggles and desire.
‘Promise not to hate me for asking this.’ The words appear on my screen, late into our conversation. Well past midnight, it is almost entirely dark in my room, save for the faint glow of the screen lighting up the action of my fingers as they rapidly type their way across the keyboard.
‘What is it?’
‘I really want to meet up with you.’
For an extended period of time, I’m ashamed to say that I don’t respond. Instead, I just sit there, staring, my mind a confused whirl of thoughts. Most of them are largely unhelpful and boil down to one basic question. What if we meet in person and realise that this amazing spark we share online, simply doesn’t exist. The enforced distance and secrecy of online conversations automatically make them more exciting than real life. I know chat rooms are an entirely false scenario, where people can shape themselves into whatever they want others to believe. And who would really know the difference? I’m probably guilty of doing it myself to some extent; focussing on the positives and not sharing the less attractive parts of my personality. It’s human nature.
‘Please say something,’ follows a plea a minute or so later. I smile, imagining him sitting at the other end of the connection, anxiously awaiting my response. This is one of the many things I adore about this faceless man; he never tries to hide his emotions.
‘I don’t want it to spoil what we have,’ I admit, looking thoughtfully at the screen before I continue to type. ‘Right now, talking to you is the absolute highlight of my day. If I lost that, I’m not sure what I’d do.’
‘You wouldn’t lose it.’
‘I might. Once we meet, the spell could get broken. I don’t even know what you look like.’ And physical appearance is only the smallest part of the story. What if we meet and we don’t like the sound of each other’s voices, or the way each of us smell, or move, or act? Our personalities might even be completely different, once we are without the luxury of editing time that an online conversation automatically provides?
‘Let’s not be too pessimistic here!’ he responds, forcing me to giggle, despite my reservations. ‘Meeting up might strengthen what we have.’
With a deep sigh, I rub an open hand across my weary face. I know he’s right. After all, we live in adjacent towns. Physical distance is no barrier; my concerns are all down to emotional fear, and there is quite enough fear in the world right now, without adding to it.
‘When?’ I type the word quickly and hit send, before I have any chance to back out. Within seconds, Tim has responded with a glut of emojis which certainly give the impression that he’s thrilled with my response. I’ve got a feeling I’ve made his day.
‘This Saturday evening too soon?’
‘Sounds perfect,’ I reply, a huge cheesy grin plastered across my face, despite the fact that my pulse had now escalated to critical levels. ‘Consider yourself in my diary.’
I lean back in my chair and exhale deeply, feeling a great sense of accomplishment. I know we’ve never seen each other, never spoken other than by instant messenger, but I also know that the connection I share with Milla is a special one. I’m far less concerned about what she looks like, than the incredible person I believe her to be inside. However, as she specifically raised the point, I navigate to my emails, attach a photograph of myself and hit send.
We’ve never shared photographs before now. Unusually, neither of us had an image on our dating site profile and to be honest, that’s one of the things that drew me towards her in the first place. In a world of posed selfies and pouting lips, it is pretty unusual not to display your wares. Most subscribers were more than happy to flaunt their beach-perfect bodies, or lack thereof. Of course, chatting to somebody in the absence of a photograph was always a risk. Sometimes photographs were not publicly shared to prevent a spouse finding out that their partner was regularly cruising a dating site. However, that’s not the vibe I get from Milla at all.
‘If you want to see what I look like, I’ve just sent you a photograph.’
Whilst I nervously wait for her to react, I have to admit my actions were undertaken with slightly selfish intentions. To be honest, I do hope she’ll reciprocate with a photograph of her own for. Whatever she looks like, I know her physical appearance won’t prevent me from wanting to meet with her, but men are visual creatures and I’d simply love to know.
‘After all, we are going to be meeting in a matter of days, aren’t we?’ I continue, when she doesn’t respond. ‘You still there?’
‘Is that an accurate photograph?’ she eventually types. ‘Or was it taken like… twenty years ago?’
I can’t help but laugh out loud. She’s so wonderfully transparent.
‘Right. Let me translate. You’re either worrying that I’m a con man in a flasher’s mac, posting photos from his youth. Or you think I’ve just located a random photo on the internet which I’m passing off as myself?’
‘Yep,’ she confirms, causing me to chuckle further. ‘So, which one is it?’
‘You could always hit that video conference button in front of you and find out?’ I suggest cheekily, knowing she won’t. We’ve previously had this conversation…not only do I get the impression that Milla might be a little shy about her appearance, but she also made it clear that she’d want the first time we meet to be in person, not through a screen. And I certainly can’t blame her for that. In fact, I agree.
‘Nice try,’ the immediate response states.
‘Then it’s a third option,’ I explain. My eyes are starting to feel tired and I rub them vigorously in the hope that it might wake me up a little. It’s been a long day, but I’m not ready to stop our conversation yet. ‘The photo is of me, taken last summer.’
Not the reply I’d been expecting.
‘Wow? Is that good or bad?’
‘Wow, you’re gorgeous!’
A warmth quickly spreads through my chest, firing me up inside. I no longer feel tired. In fact, I feel ready to drive the ten miles up the road right now and pull this delectable woman into my arms…not that I know her address, but that’s a minor complication. I take a quick look at the photograph I emailed across, just to check I haven’t made a mistake and it is me. Sure enough, I’m gazing out of the screen, dark hair being buffeted by a light summer breeze that’s making its way through the sand dunes. I remember the day well; it was one of the last times I felt the warm sun on my skin, thanks to what has felt like a very long winter. My parents and wider family had taken a drive down to the coast and we’d ended up having a beach barbeque. I’m not sure about gorgeous but, thanks to my wide, beaming smile, I certainly look happy and relaxed. Because I was.
‘Thank you, but I’m really not. I know they say the camera never lies but clearly, this time it has.’
‘You look tall.’
‘Six foot two. How about you?’
After another slight pause, a window suddenly pops up, informing me that I’ve received an email with an attachment. With a buzz of excitement, I know that Milla has just forwarded me a photograph of herself. Without opening it, I return to our conversation.
‘I meant how about your height. I wasn’t trying to guilt you into sending a photo.’
‘Oh. Sorry. I’m five foot eight.’
‘A perfect height,’ I reply, a wicked grin already spreading across my face.
‘Ha ha. For what?’
‘For all sorts. I haven’t opened your email yet, by the way. Would you like me to delete it?’ From a previous chat, I know that sharing her photograph wasn’t something Milla was particularly comfortable about doing. I only want to see it if she’s completely happy.
‘You’d do that?’ I can almost sense the disbelief in the words that appear on my screen.
‘Yes. I am capable of practising self-control you know?’ I chuckle to myself, in the silence of my bedroom. For a moment, I gaze out through the windows. I haven’t drawn the curtains yet and a white, perfectly-rounded moon is shimmering in the dark, starry sky.
‘It’s fine. You can look. We’re going to meet in person anyway, right?’
‘That’s right,’ I confirm, aware of that tingling in my tummy starting again.
Navigating away from our conversation, I open the email and double-click on the attachment. Fuck. For a short while, all words fail me, which is something that very rarely happens. Staring back at me, under a wide-brimmed hat protecting her from the hot sun, is Milla laughing openly. And she’s beautiful. Long, blonde hair, sparkling blue eyes with freckles across the bridge of her nose and full, hugely kissable lips. She just looks so naturally pretty; not heavily made up or false in any way. Perfection. For me, at least.
‘You still there?’
As I rub the heel of my hand against my eye, I chuckle.
‘Yeah – just.’
‘I’m speechless,’ I admit.
‘In a good way,’ I rush to type. ‘The only two words that keep circling my brain are “you’re stunning” but in my mind, that sounds a little trite.’
‘It’s not trite. It’s a huge compliment. I’ve certainly never been called that before.’
‘Then, I’d say it’s long overdue. You’re stunning, Milla.’
‘Thank you. But on this occasion, that photo is definitely a case of the camera being kind.’
‘Bollocks!’ I type, my deep laugh echoing around the room. The tips of my fingers are tingling, such is my desire to be beside Milla this very instant. To hold her, touch her. Saturday can’t come soon enough, as far as I’m concerned.
‘Ha ha, thanks for your vote of confidence! Look, we should get some sleep. I’ve got to be at work in six hours’ time.’
‘Yeah. I know. Me too.’ It was always the same. Once we start chatting, neither of us ever want to stop. Only at some point, very late into the night, does sense eventually prevail. ‘Good night sweetheart. I’m counting the hours until our date x.’ And I meant it.
‘Me too. Night night x’
With the deepest sigh, I shut down all the apps on my laptop, leaving just Milla’s photo remaining. For a while, I stare at its brightness, allowing it to burn into my retina, so that I might memorise every feature. Every nuance. Eventually, my need for sleep triumphs and I close the lid, collapse back into the pillows and hope that tonight we will meet in my dreams.
Fenella Ashworth is a British author of contemporary erotic fiction. All of her stories are available from Amazon and free for those with Kindle Unlimited access. Her bestselling novels are ‘To Love, Honour and Oh Pay’ and the Daniel Lawson series.
Fenella also releases stories on BooksieSilk, Booksie, Lush Stories and Literotica, and is often visible in the Literotica ‘Erotic Couplings’ Hall of Fame (Top Rated).
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