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Picture-Perfect

Picture-Perfect

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Picture-Perfect

Length:
286 pages
4 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Feb 14, 2018
ISBN:
9781543925852
Format:
Book

Description

'She dared to dream. She made a choice. She took a risk. She changed her life.'
Publisher:
Released:
Feb 14, 2018
ISBN:
9781543925852
Format:
Book

About the author


Book Preview

Picture-Perfect - Sacha Kurucz

Kurucz

PROLOGUE

Christmas Day 2016

Snow had begun to daintily drop on the ledge of the outside window, making its grand gossamer entrance with pure elegance; one minute it was clear, the next, the outside world was white. I watched it pour from the sky, like icing sugar from a sifted cloud, and relished in its beauty from the inside of my toasty home.

Those around me were relishing a different toasty view, as they rubbed their hands together in front of the log-fire, or used the heat from their mulled wines to surge themselves with warmth. The clinking of glasses and happy chatter made me smile.

My gaze turned to the paintings on the wall, with their golden frames working like mirrors to reflect the log fire’s sparking cinders. Then, to the presents that lay underneath the towering pine tree scattered with shining metallic baubles. A rectangular-shaped gift enveloped in scarlet-sheen wrap caught my eye. It was not under the tree, but just to the back of it. I thought to myself, ‘how had I missed this one?’

On it was a label which I peered over to look at.

‘For your Renaissance’ it read.

The message reminded me of how once upon a time, a life like this was so far from any reality I could achieve. 

It felt like forever ago to reflect on the woman whose past experiences reduced her to wondering her own worth. If partnerships could be personified, that former one was comparable to a rickety chair; no matter how many ways you tried to fix it, it would inevitably fall apart. But just imagine if that chair could talk. If it told you every so often that the reason it was broken was because of you. Those years with him were long gone, but they were never forgotten.

My reminiscence was soon broken by the chipper presence of those around me. I was offered a drink of eggnog and comical discussions about how some of our guests’ Christmas jumpers were embellished with temptingly squeezable shapes. As much as humour and shiny objects always were a welcome distraction, I’d taken it upon myself to sort out the Christmas karaoke. Besides, the guests seemed to be enjoying the festivities. So, I returned to fiddle with our sound system, whilst occasionally sipping my sweetly spiced drink in-between the gaps of my guesswork.

Those few intricate moments stitched themselves in my mind’s eye - a snapshot to remember. A life I wanted to capture forever. Everything about it was so beautiful, even down to the muffled-sounding electronics. Because I knew what they all stood for, why they were all there.

And I thought to myself, ‘So much has changed.’

CHAPTER 1

When Autumn Met Winter, 2014

There’s something rather therapeutic about cooking. You can whip up a little bit of your imagination in a bowl, ogle it as it crisps itself to golden perfection and immerse yourself in delight whilst you and those around you devour it like you’re tasting a piece of heaven. It’s an all-around sensual pleaser, and there was nothing I liked more than to make others happy.

This Mexican-style chicken is amazing, babe!

I hated being called babe though.

But, Tony Granger was my boyfriend, so I wasn’t going to correct him. However, after nearly two years of being together, you’d have thought that he’d have realised that by now.

I’m glad you like it. It’s all homemade too! I replied to him timidly.

He was still wearing his hat at the dinner table, some ridiculous cap that made him look about 10-years-old.

I wish you could cook for me all the time, Layla. Tony’s caring words were muttered through a mouth stuffed with chicken and he lightly sprayed herbs as he complimented my work. He ate so fast that I’m surprised he managed to verbalise anything - and who said men weren’t able to multi-task?

I smiled back at him and attempted to keep my internal thoughts away from my mind’s ‘exit’ door, in hope that they wouldn’t escape as tactless words.

It was Tony’s birthday, so after a pleasant August day spent at Brand’s Hatch to watch some speed-wagons drive into each other, and have him turn off my music so that he could enjoy listening to some daft hip-hop nonsense on the drive back (again, birthday wins, even in my own car), I felt obliged to be the discerning and kind girlfriend you see in all the movies. But, the truth of the matter was, I wasn’t as happy as I should’ve been. I wanted to be, I really did. But it had become so hard. I thought that those feelings were of my error, that maybe I was shallow for holding such mixed thoughts of negativity in my head. After all, he was okay today.

So instead, I attempted glee through forced smiles, in hope that somehow it’d magically make me feel the same inside, a bit like when you don a pair of shorts in early spring thinking it’ll encourage the sun to penetrate the cold.

He lay on the sofa in a heap, massaging his newly rotund belly, nursing the Mexican chicken digesting inside of him, and turned on the T.V. I cleared the table on my own, blew out the candles and began to wash up. Was I surprised he didn’t even offer to help as a gesture of thanks? Not really. Again though, I felt bad complaining on his birthday, so I carried on and sang in the kitchen to keep myself company.

You know, if you had some singing lessons, you might sound better. He bellowed from the lounge. I forgot I was dating Simon Cowell.

Through gritted teeth and tested patience, I resisted responding. But, I also ceased to sing. I supposed silence was golden.

That night I lay in bed wide awake whilst Tony spooned my foetal-positioned body. Thankfully he was too full for any other kind of ‘present’ and fell asleep fairly swiftly, so I was left to be at peace with my thoughts. I wondered who the man was that had his hands wrapped around me, breathing onto my neck.

Once upon a time, I used to know him, now that man seemed to be a distant memory. The man I fell for had a zest for life, a passion for the unique and would endlessly surprise me with his spontaneity. Now there was only his shell, and whatever was inside it that I used to admire no longer seemed to exist. I missed the old Tony, the one that went to rock concerts with me and who swept me off to the theatres to appreciate magical plays. Or, the one that went for night drives with me to the hills and lay on a blanket watching the stars. I remembered us contemplating life whilst merrily eating oversized marshmallows like excitable children. Those memories made me smile.

I turned towards him thinking I’d see that same face that once glistened under the milky light of the moon, only to witness him lying there with his mouth semi-agape and a bit of drool cascading his bottom lip.

With that dream shattered, I went to retrieve a book for some late-night reading. I hoped that a mythical story of adventure and heroism would prove a worthy enough distraction that I’d eventually be able to fall asleep without my undesired thoughts bleating away.

CHAPTER 2

As the autumnal months drifted into more wintry weathers, organising outdoorsy escapades proved a challenge. But, I am a woman who likes a challenge, so I ploughed my way through the internet hoping that if I sought out a good outing in London then maybe it would trigger Tony’s interest, and to my amazement, I found something.

You know he’s at the Apollo theatre on Thursday? We should go! Maybe we can finally do the Q&A about his last book with the mysterious ending? My voice was slightly shaky with excitement as I found out that fantasy writer, Benjamin Turner, was at the London theatre doing a live reading and follow up on his previous books. Surprisingly, it was Tony who’d got me into him. Although Tony himself wasn’t an avid reader, he would always give something a chance if his friend Simon thought it was the bee’s knees, and when I found it by his bedside and read the first few pages, I couldn’t put it down.

That sounds cool, but I was going to tinker with the car that evening. You know it’s the only day this week I can fit the coilovers since I’m with Kevin and Dad this weekend fishing. He didn’t even sound bothered as he turned down my proposition. Benjamin wrote such fantastic, jaw-dropping, hard-hitting and mystifying reads that always left you wanting more, and I couldn’t imagine how Tony could pass up a chance like this just to "tinker with his car".

As a rule, I wouldn’t have objected to a car needing to be fixed. But, every time I’d suggested something to him he’d put an object in the way, usually in the shape of his VW Polo. If there was such a thing as a Black-Market for cars, I was sure that was where he’d picked up that health hazard on wheels from. He was constantly fiddling with it. He’d spent the majority of his savings on it after he’d written off his previous Corsa by wrapping it around a tree. I still remember the evening that happened, and his slurring phone call to me in the midnight hours explaining how it wasn’t his fault. But instead of saying what I was thinking, I let it go. That seemed to be a running theme with me lately. I’d learnt that my thoughts on matters like that usually went down badly, so it was best to say nothing. Instead, I attempted to think of ways to bring us closer together, then maybe he’d be less angry and I’d be happier? Isn’t that what love is - to not give up when the going gets tough?

Can the car not wait a little longer for its springs? I asked meekly, a pleading smile drawn on my face as I peered over at him from the laptop.

Hun, the car’s on its last legs with the cut springs. It’s dangerous. I can’t take anyone in it in that state, especially now the weather’s getting colder. If anything happens then I’ll only have myself to blame. It’s a priority. I’m sorry. Why don’t you go? See if Sara will go with you? He exclaimed, whilst continuing to stare vacantly into his mobile from his sunken spot on the couch.

‘If you’d bought a decent car, I wouldn’t need to bother Sara’, I thought.

Sara Henshaw was my best friend, she’d been a part of my life ever since her dog managed to wrap its lead around my bicycle and I went flying like Supergirl over my handlebars. Albeit the landing was neither heroic nor graceful, Sara’s profuse apology and fun-loving personality made us friends for life. However, we couldn’t be more different. She hated books about fantasy (but adored the workings of erotic literature, especially the hunky boss meets sweetly angelic girl types) so I doubted she’d want to come with me.

I just thought that it’d be nice if we could go since you like his books too. But I understand if the car needs work. I’ll talk to Sara. I wasn’t going to talk to Sara.

One of the things that made me fall in love with Tony in our early years was his mutual love of all things fantasy and adventure. He had such a wild imagination in his younger days.

He told me that when he was a young boy he’d configured a world that only had his favourite people and things inside of it. Much like a Pixar movie, there were towers of syrupy waffles as big as skyscrapers and giant pterodactyl-type creatures that would fly around and observe the magical world. I know it sounds a little naïve and silly upon reflection, but it was this creative spirit that intrigued me. It was also the same creativity that got him interested in the same kind of reading material as me, and you have no idea how hard it was to find a guy like that in my world. I worked in car sales, and most of my colleagues would’ve rather talked boobs than books. I am not averse to boob chat, but I think if it’s the exclusive topic of conversation then my ears will cave in on themselves. The point was, it was this unique spirit that separated Tony from any other guy I’d met, he was special because he had a mutual love for something I did and we could explore that creative wondering together…at first anyway.

I looked at the ticket as it sat aimlessly in my internet basket.

Buy me… it beckoned from the screen. Obviously, it didn’t really do anything, because it was an inanimate bunch of cyber cells all floating about in a tech universe processing a mere image of a ticket to Benjamin Turner’s reading evening. Still, something inside me was yearning to go, even if that did mean going alone.

‘Enter checkout’ and I clicked to proceed.

CHAPTER 3

I recalled the perfect image of my work desk from the first day on the job. It was a crisp-pine office unit with a matte-black telephone and a tidily organised business card stack that rested adjacent to my shiny name badge. With pride, I sat there gleaming at it and vowed that I would maintain its immaculate appearance, no matter what.

However, no one told me that the motor industry was full of papers, phones that incessantly rang off-the-hook and stupid computers that seldom loaded anything more than a backlog of spam emails. And much like an earthquake, the consequences of such bedlam would render all of those orderly dreams completely destroyed. Instead of being loved, my poor, perfect pine platform would be subjected to an earth-shattering clunk of fists, spilt coffee and many tired nights of drooling at a bright screen. But it wouldn’t just be my desk that would inevitably become a dishevelled mess – I would too.

My panicking that day was off the Richter. I had four cars going out, two appointments due and my daily tasks to-do list growing faster than a Kudzu plant. One of my cars due for handover hadn’t even been cleaned yet, and the invoiced document for another was missing a vital piece of paper to sort the tax out. So I sat at my desk, hands curling against my pounding head as I tried to work out how to solve the chaos that was my day job.

My hair before work looked pretty good, all nicely shaped into a stylishly elegant top-knot; the polished image of a woman ready to tackle the day ahead. But by 11am it looked as though I’d been rolling in sticky weeds. My desk didn’t look much better. But despite being rushed off my feet, that night was the eve of Benjamin’s reading and I didn’t want to miss it because of work pandemonium. However, I also didn’t want to leave work with unfinished call-backs or with hair like a bird’s nest. There just never seemed to be enough time in the day to do it all.

Can someone answer that bloody phone? My boss, Richard, yelled out from the office.

My colleagues were either busy pretending to be on the phone already or had mysteriously vanished. So it was up to me, as per, to take the millionth call of the day.

Good morning, you’ve reached Layla in Sales, how can I help? I answered with fake cheer. Service, they wanted to talk to service. ‘Why bother calling sales then?!’ I argued in my head before slamming the telephone back into the receiver. Honestly, I already had enough to do.

Milliseconds of silence went by before I heard my own mobile ping in the drawer. Looking around surreptitiously, I went to dig it out for a nose.

Tonight’s reading with Benjamin Turner at London’s Apollo theatre starts at 8pm. Doors open from 7.30pm. Drinks are available at the bar. We hope you enjoy the event.

A little smile managed to work its way onto my face. It was nice to have a reminder of something I was looking forward to when everything else felt so dire. I just hoped that I’d make it on time.

5.37pm, six tasks overdue, four due, my computer screen glared at me. Who’d have thought that something with no personality or ability to speak could be so infuriating? I was going to be late if I didn’t leave by quarter to six, so I worked on speedily prioritising calls to be done in 5 minutes and rescheduled the rest. Something inside of me pranged with guilt. I was usually so meticulous with my work ethic, but it was driving me mad. Plus, if I didn’t get out of there soon, I wouldn’t just have bird’s nest hair to worry about; it was at risk of becoming a mirror image of Yoda’s own follicular temple (but without the immense wisdom that dwelled inside).

I hastily shut the computer down, picked up my handbag and deserted my desk quicker than The Flash could run to save a city.

As I ran to my car in the dark November night, my phone pinged again. Rolling my eyes and jogging through the cold with my belongings, I waited until I got in the car to look at it. It was Tony.

Hv a gd time <3 it read. He sounded like an idiot, even down to the emoji heart shape. I do hate text speak. ‘But,’ I supposed, ‘at least he remembered.’

Thanks x I wrote back quickly, my fingers still shaking from the prickly air. Despite the chill, I refused to succumb to a lazy reply of Thx just to make him feel better.

Chucking the phone back in my handbag, I kick-started the engine and put the heating on full blast. A quick choice of fist-pumping string music and off I went, speeding down the carriageway, keeping my foot down hard on the throttle just to make sure I didn’t miss that train.

At 7.17pm, the train pulled in at London Victoria station. Thankfully the journey was long enough for me to sort out my melted face and hair before I terrified any onlookers. However, my city mapper app was beyond useless as I attempted to navigate my way to the venue, whilst having a balancing act with my bag, and wrestling with my ticket and sandwich.

Crust in mouth and ticket now in an available pocket, I arrived in good time and waited by the moonlit steps outside the doors. The queue was longer than I’d expected. I didn’t realise so many people would turn up to something like this. I guess I’d had the blinkers on for an exceptionally long time after hanging around people on a daily basis who showed no interest in reading anything, unless it was on the top-shelf of a newsagent’s, of course. Everyone looked different too. Some people had come dressed in the attire from Benjamin’s top-selling books, and others just came in their casuals. I suddenly felt inappropriately dressed still donning my work wear, but I hoped no one would judge that. At least I’d managed to tame my previously wild bush hair on the train (now that certainly would’ve got some odd looks.)

Once inside, I treated myself to a compulsory glass of Prosecco and went to find my seat, praying it was within good hearing distance of the stage.

The usher’s torchlight guided me to a cosy spot on the nearside stall with no immediate company. And as I settled myself into the red-velvet chair, it suddenly it dawned on me, ‘What does Benjamin even look like?’ For so long he’d just been a name at the bottom of my bedtime reading, now he was about to become a person. Well, he is a person, but metaphorically speaking.

I wonder if he’s old and has a bedraggled beard like Gandalf? I asked myself. Anyone who could write with such flair, creativity and depth could only be a man who’d gathered wisdom through years of experience.

I then looked upon the empty seat next to me, as if someone there would answer. But there was no one. It was a shame I’d had to go alone. As much as Tony sometimes annoyed me, if it weren’t for him then I wouldn’t have known of Benjamin’s work in the first place. I wanted to share this with him. I thought it would be special for us. But instead, he was jacking up his death-trap of a car and getting some stinky bait bucket ready for his fishing weekend with his Dad, when he could have been drinking Prosecco (okay, he’d probably have a lager) and wondering with me about one of our favourite novelists instead.

The stage lighting became more apparent and the audience began to hush, whilst others hurried to find a seat without causing too much disturbance or dropping their drink.

I took a sip of my Prosecco and stared in awe at the stage, wondering which direction he’d come from and what insight he’d give us to his most recent work. My handbag had his book ‘The Wrath of the Gods’ inside, ready for him to sign later just so I had something to remember the night by, considering the use of cameras was prohibited (fun sponges).

Ladies and Gentleman, please take your seats. You are all about to come on a spellbound journey. Your mind will ascend to places it has never been before. The experience will feel ethereal, but you yourselves will not have to move a muscle. Allow yourselves to immerse in an evening of true mystery and fantasy with award-winning author, Benjamin Turner! The commentator echoed around the room and so did the applause. Everyone was rather enthusiastic, but I thought that going along with it would be more fun than judging it. So I applauded carefully, trying carefully to not spill my drink (I couldn’t afford another glass with those London prices).

A man entered from the left of the stage. From the angle I was seated I could only see the back of his raven-coloured hair. He wore youthful clothes; a pair of dark jeans with a stonewash grey t-shirt and a leather jacket.

He waved and

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