“Thanks. You shouldn’t have.”
The response was automatic as I stared down at the small, bright pink, heart-shaped box in my hands. It looked like Tyler had chosen it to match his latest hair colour. But what kind of man gives another guy heart-shaped presents for no good reason other than he hasn’t seen you in two weeks? It’s not like we were, or ever had been, an item. We’d met five years ago when he’d modelled for one of my sculptures, but we’d never both been single at the same time. Besides, he might have a body worth immortalising in bronze, but he really wasn’t my type.
Mind you, I was appreciating Tyler’s good qualities more and more as it became apparent that he was the only one of my old friends willing to make the long drive down from Manchester to visit me here in the sticks. Still, when he turned up like this bearing heart-shaped gifts, it did make me feel a bit uncomfortable.
I put the box down on my kitchen table and stared at it, unwilling to meet the intensity of Tyler’s gaze.
“It’s a bit… small.”
Tyler rolled his eyes and ticked me off with his finger. “Eddie, darling, you’re such a size queen. Go on, open it.”
I eased off the lid to reveal three exquisite chocolates, dusted with gold and shimmering enticingly. “You really shouldn’t have. I’m meant to be watching my weight.” I’d been going overboard on the cheese and wine since Philip dumped me, and was becoming uncomfortably aware of a soft patch where my abs used to be. I didn’t even fancy myself much anymore. How could I expect other men to be interested?
Tyler crossed his arms and glared in a way that was probably meant to be stern but came over as cute. “As if three itty-bitty chocolates are going to turn you into a bloater. You’re looking great. Now come on, read the note in the lid. That’s the best bit of all.”
It was handwritten on thick paper that seemed to have bits of twigs and wildlife mashed into it.
As You Wish… These chocolates have been lovingly handcrafted by a master warlock from the finest natural ingredients, and suffused with secret herbs and spices to ensure that your wishes come true. Simply make your wish as they melt in your mouth. One wish per chocolate.
Oh please. How much money did Tyler waste on these things? “What, no small print? Do they offer a refund if your wishes don’t come true? What if I wish for world peace or a new Audi or something?”
“Ooh, wait! I had to memorise this bit. Okay . . .” Tyler screwed his forehead up and his big brown eyes started to cross as he concentrated. “He said the effect is localised to your immediate surroundings and time limited to the day you receive them. It works best if you wish for things that involve changing your own behaviour, like self-affirmation.”
I stared at him. “He saw you coming, didn’t he?”
Tyler preened and twirled. “He most certainly did. I was absolutely bewitching in my new leather jeans.” He wrinkled his nose. “Not my type, though. You’d probably like him. He was all beefcake like Philip.”
I smiled despite myself. Tyler had this way of saying “Philip” like it was a dirty word. I was glad to have the solidarity, but I wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily, sexy leather jeans or not.
“I meant you’ve been hoodwinked. This is one of those hippy things, isn’t it? Positive thinking or some such New Age twaddle. It’s not real magic.”
“It’s not a con, if that’s what you’re thinking. He promised a full refund if you’re not satisfied. He had a stall outside that Cheese Festival I was telling you about.” Tyler’s face lit up and I groaned inwardly. “Come on, Mr. Grumpy-drawers—fancy joining me for a day out there? You can ask him about them, and I hear there’ll be Morris dancers aplenty.” He waggled his eyebrows at me and I tried to imagine the two of us launched on the unsuspecting folk of Somerset. Tyler was like a one man Pride march at times. We’d probably be run out of town by pitchfork-wielding farmers.
“Nah, I’m feeling a bit headachey. Not very good company. You go on your own.” It was a lame excuse, but it was Philip’s birthday and I wanted to wallow in the misery of the recently dumped. I felt a twinge of guilt when Tyler’s face dropped, but not enough to make me change my mind.
“You’ll join me for dinner later, though, right? I came all this way ‘specially to see you.” He laid a hand on my arm.
“Yeah, if I’m feeling rested enough.” I shrugged him off, irritated at the kind words for no good reason.
“Suit yourself, then. You always do.” Tyler slammed the front door on his way out. It was the first time I’d seen him that upset about anything.
I couldn’t shake off that vague sense of guilt after seeing Tyler’s kicked-puppy face. He was the only one of my old friends who had made the effort to visit after Philip left me stranded here in splendid rural isolation. I kept telling myself I was going to move back to Manchester, but I rather liked the peace and quiet. It made working on my sculptures much easier if there weren’t constant distractions.
It would be good to have someone special to distract me when I needed it, though.
I was contemplating heading down to the studio at the end of the garden when my gaze fell on the little heart-shaped box.
One chocolate wouldn’t hurt, would it? Especially since I’d turned down all that cheesy goodness Tyler had tried to tempt me with.
The chocolate melted on my tongue, the bittersweet cocoa conquering my taste-buds as the velvety butter coated the inside of my mouth. Delicious! I remembered I was supposed to make a wish and as I was looking out of the window onto the tangle of undergrowth masquerading as a lawn, I wished it gone so I could get a sun lounger out there.
The weeds stubbornly stayed in place, taunting me with their resistance to my amateur spell-casting. I sighed, remembering the pair of secateurs and thick leather gloves Philip had given me for my last birthday—a sure sign that things were on the rocks—and figured there was only one way to get rid of the bloody brambles.
It took me the best part of an hour and provoked a fair few curses, but eventually I stood in the middle of a large clear patch. I lugged out a teak sun lounger from the shed and set it up on my new “lawn”. Then I thought about Tyler’s disappointed face and went back to fetch the second one. It wouldn’t hurt to invite him back later, would it? I could probably do with the company, and Tyler was always good for surprising a laugh out of me.
I went back inside for a glass of water and noticed the chocolate box. So much for the magic wishes—I’d had to do all the hard work myself. Still, may as well have another try. I popped the second chocolate into my mouth and imagined meeting a friendly and attractive single man—willing to travel—who wouldn’t mind the fact I lived in the middle of nowhere among a load of cheese-worshipping farmers.
I wondered if the enigmatic beefcake wizard would have an entertaining explanation for the failure of his spells. The Cheese Festival was only a couple of miles down the road, so I could always walk the calories off on the way.
I smiled to myself. What the hell, maybe the warlock chocolatier could be my mystery-wish-man…
The stall was right by the gate, and the guy behind the table was every bit as appealing as Tyler had said. Seemed impervious to my charms, though.
“Oh yeah, so you’re the grumpy old hermit, are you?”
“That’s me.” I was going to kill Tyler when I saw him next.
“You happy with your wishes so far?”
“Not really. I got my garden sorted out but had to do all the hard work myself.” I brandished the box containing my last remaining chocolate. “Then I wished to meet a friendly and attractive single man and so far, nada.” I gave him a flirtatious grin but he didn’t rise to the bait. Must be straight, after all.
He stared at me, making me wonder if I had something stuck between my teeth. “God, you’re thicker than I expected,” he muttered eventually.
“Excuse me? That’s no way to address your customers!”
“Look mate, your wishes have all come true. What about that poor guy who drove all this way wanting to buy chocolates for you? The friendly, attractive and very single poor guy, I might add.”
“Oh.” Come to think of it, Tyler was all those things.
“He was bubbling with excitement about bringing you here, and you turn up all alone after eating two of the finest aphrodisiac chocolates I could craft. What a waste! I hope you’re happy with the way things have worked out, because you’ve only yourself to blame.”
I thought about Tyler and his generous nature, about all the times he’d been there for me over the years, despite the way I always took him for granted. Most of all I thought about those big brown eyes and ready smile. Okay, he might not be my “type”, but even I could recognise how gorgeous he was. Best of all, I could see how much he cared for me. There was a tightness in my chest and a fluttering in my stomach. I eyed the last chocolate.
When I closed my lips around my last chance, I knew exactly what I wanted to wish for. It was very local, very time-restricted, and very much within my own power to make happen.
I spotted Tyler instantly. He was hard to miss among the country folk, what with his bright-pink hair and even more colourful body language. The old geezer he was talking to kept watching Tyler’s rapidly moving hands with trepidation, like he was worried he’d get smacked in the face if he took his eyes off them. I could sympathise, having been accidentally clipped by an over-enthusiastic gesture more than once.
I caught the moment when Tyler first noticed me walking over. It was like a full beam spotlight had been turned on me—he radiated joy and even gave a little jump on the spot. I could see him holding himself back, though. I couldn’t blame him. I was always shrugging off his hugs, especially when we were out in public. I flushed with shame as I realised how much I must have hurt his feelings.
It was up to me to make amends.
I walked right up to him. I flung my arms out and pulled him to me. He knitted his brows in a really cute manner, and God help me if I didn’t want to kiss him right there. I wasn’t going to, though. Not at the Cheese Festival.
“What’s got into you?” he asked. “Not that I’m complaining or anything.”
“Just your chocolates.”
“Oh.” I could see the realisation dawning. “Ohh!”
“Yeah. Now what say we get out of here before they sacrifice us to their Cheese God? I’ve got a newly cleared garden, a bottle of wine and a couple of sun loungers waiting for us.”
Tyler’s lips curved up in the sweetest smile, like I’d just made him the happiest man on Earth. Damn the Cheese-worshipping locals. I was going to kiss him anyway.