Authors: John Marrs
By JOHN MARRS
A Thousand Small Explosions.
First published in 2016.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission from the author.
Text: © John Marrs
Cover design: Spiffing Covers
The events, characters and company portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Likewise, Match Your DNA is a fictional business and bears no affiliation to any other company.
Author’s note: This book has been written using British spellings.
‘To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.’ – Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
‘Love cannot save you from your own fate.’ - Jim Morrison
Amanda stared at the photograph on her computer screen and held her breath.
The shirtless man with the cropped, dirty blond hair posed on a beach with his legs spread apart and the top half of his wetsuit rolled down to his waist. His eyes were the clearest shade of blue, his huge grin contained two perfectly aligned rows of white teeth and she could almost taste the salt water dripping from his chest and onto the surfboard lying by his feet.
‘Oh my Lord,’ she whispered to herself and let out a long breath she didn’t realise she’d been holding. She felt her fingertips tingle and her face flush and wondered how on earth her body would react to him in person if that’s how it responded to just one photograph.
Her coffee was cold but she still finished it. She took a screengrab of the photograph and added it to a newly created folder on her desktop entitled “Richard Taylor.” She scanned the office to check if anyone was watching what she was up to in her booth, but no-one was paying her the slightest bit of attention.
Amanda scrolled down the screen to locate other photographs in his Facebook album entitled Around The World. He was certainly well travelled, she noticed, and he had been to places she’d only ever seen on TV or in films. In many pictures he was in bars, trails or temples, posing by landmarks, enjoying golden beaches or choppy waters and he was rarely on his own. She liked that he seemed the gregarious type.
Curious, she looked back further into his pictorial timeline, from when he first joined social media as a sixth former and through his three years at university. She even found him attractive as a gawky teenager.
After an hour and a half of gawping at close to five hundred photographs of the handsome stranger’s history, Amanda made her way to his Twitter feed to discover what opinions he’d felt the need to share with the world. But all he ranted about was football club Arsenal’s rise and fall up and down the Premier League, occasionally broken up by re-posts of animals falling over or running into stationary objects.
Their interests appeared to differ greatly and she questioned exactly why they had been Matched and what they might have in common. Then she reminded herself she no longer had the mindset required for using dating websites and Apps; Match Your DNA was based on biology, chemicals and science – none of which she could get her head around. But she trusted it with all her heart like millions of others did.
Amanda moved on to Richard’s LinkedIn profile, which revealed that since graduating from Loughborough University two years earlier, he’d worked as a personal trainer in a town approximately forty miles from hers. No wonder his body appeared so solid, she thought, and she imagined how it might feel on top of hers.
She hadn’t set foot in a gym since her induction a year ago when her sisters insisted she should stop lamenting her failed marriage and start concentrating on her recovery. They whisked her away to a nearby hotel day-spa where she’d been massaged, plucked, waxed, hot-stoned, tanned and massaged again until she felt her ex had been pummelled out of every back and shoulder knot and each pore of her skin. However, motivating herself to work out every few days had yet to become part of her weekly routine, but she paid for the gym membership regardless.
Amanda began to imagine what her children with Richard might look like, and if they’d inherit their father’s blue eyes or her brown eyes; whether they’d be dark haired and olive skinned like her or fair and pale like him. She found herself smiling.
‘Shit!’ yelled Amanda at the voice that made her jump. ‘You scared me to death.’
‘Well you shouldn’t have been looking at porn at your desk then,’ Olivia grinned, and then offered her a chocolate from a bag of Minstrels. Amanda declined with a shake of her head.
‘It wasn’t porn, he’s an old friend.’
‘Yeah, yeah, whatever you say. Keep an eye out for Charlie though, he’s after some sales figures from you.’
Amanda rolled her eyes then looked at the clock in the corner of her screen. She realised that if she didn’t start doing some work in company time soon, she’d end up having to take it home with her. She clicked on the little red ‘x’ to make the page disappear and cursed her Hotmail account for assuming the Match Your DNA confirmation email was spam. It had sat in her spam folder for the last six weeks until, by chance, she had discovered it earlier that afternoon.
‘Amanda Taylor, husband of Richard Taylor, pleased to meet you,’ she whispered, then noticed she was absent-mindedly twiddling an invisible ring around her wedding finger.
Christopher shuffled from side to side until he reached a comfortable position on the armchair.
He placed his elbows at ninety degree angles on the chair’s arms and inhaled deeply to take in the scent of its leathery covering. She hadn’t scrimped on quality, he thought, confident from both its smell and soft touch that it hadn’t been purchased from a run-of-the-mill high street retailer.
While she remained in the adjacent kitchen, Christopher glanced around her apartment. She lived on the ground floor of an immaculately restored Victorian building that, according to a stained glass mural above the front door, had once been used as a convent. He admired her taste in pottery ornaments that were arranged on shelves built into the walls on opposite sides of the open fireplace’s chimney breast. But her choice of literature stacked behind them left a lot to be desired and he turned his nose up at the paperback works of James Patterson, Jackie Collins and JK Rowling.
Elsewhere in the room, a suede covered square tray placed dead centre on a chunky coffee table held two remote controls and was surrounded by four matching place mats that’d been perfectly organised. Her use of symmetry put him at ease.
Christopher ran his tongue across his teeth and hovered over a sliver of pistachio nut that’d been trapped between his lateral incisor and canine. When it failed to dislodge, he used his fingernail but it still wouldn’t budge so he made a mental note to poke around her bathroom cabinet for dental floss before he left. Very little irritated him more than a stray piece of trapped food. He’d once walked out on a date mid-meal because she had a tiny piece of kale on show for all to see.
A vibrating in his trouser pocket suddenly tickled his crotch, not an entirely unpleasant experience. As a rule, Christopher was quite fastidious when it came to turning his phone off at appropriate times and he loathed people who didn’t extend him the same courtesy.
He removed the phone and read the message on the screen; it was an email from Match Your DNA. He recalled sending them a mouth swab of his DNA on a whim some months earlier but had yet to receive a registered Match. Until now, it appeared. Would he like to pay to receive their contact details, the message asked. “Would I?” he thought. “Would I really?” He put the phone away and pondered what his Match might look like, before deciding it was inappropriate to be thinking about a second woman while he was still in the company of the first.
Eventually he rose to his feet and returned to the kitchen to find her where he’d left her minutes earlier, lying on her back on the cold, slate floor, the garrote still embedded in her neck. She’d finished bleeding and the final few drops had pooled onto the collar of her blouse.
He took a digital Polaroid camera from his jacket and used it to take two identical photographs of her face before waiting patiently for them to develop. He placed both photos in an A5 hard-backed envelope and then slipped it into his jacket pocket.
Then Christopher scooped his kit into his backpack and left, waiting until he had exited the darkness of the garden before removing his plastic overshoes, mask and balaclava.
Bethany grinned like a Cheshire cat when a message from Kevin flashed across the screen of her mobile phone.
‘Evening beautiful girl, how are you?’ it read. She liked how Kevin always began his messages with the same phrase.
‘I'm good thanks,’ she replied before adding a yellow smiley-faced emoji and a red pulsating heart. ‘I’m quite tired though.’
‘Sorry I didn't text you earlier. It's been a busy day.’
‘What have you been up to?’
A picture appeared on her screen of a wooden barn and a tractor under a bright, blazing sun. Inside, she could just about make out cattle behind metal bars and milking equipment attached to their udders.
‘I’ve been repairing the roof on the cowshed. Not that we’re expecting rain but we might as well do it now. How about you?’
‘I'm in bed in my pyjamas and looking at the weird hotels on the Lonely Planet website you told me about.’
‘Amazing aren’t they? I’d love to travel one day.’
‘It kind of makes me wish I'd taken a year out before uni and gone backpacking with my friends.’
‘Why didn't you?’
‘Too scary! Then I got a job working in Top Shop so I wouldn’t have a massive student loan to pay off. Didn’t stop me being envious of them partying their way around America though.’
‘I hate to cut this short babe but Dad wants me to help with the cattle feed. Text me later?’
‘Of course. Love you.’
‘Love you too. Xx’
Bethany climbed out from under her thick duvet and placed her phone on its charging mat on the bedside table. She glanced into the full-length mirror with the photographs taped to the frame and vowed to reduce the dark rings around her blue eyes by getting more sleep and drinking more water. She made a mental note to get her red, curly locks trimmed at the weekend and to maybe treat herself to a spray tan. She always felt better when her pale skin had a dash of colour.
She slipped back into bed and wondered how different her life might have been had she taken that gap year in America with her friends. Maybe it would’ve given her the self-confidence she still lacked at twenty-five – confidence to broaden her friendship circle outside of work or to apply for that job in teaching that she had always dreamed of. Instead, she was one of a team who spent nine hours a day behind a desk in a travel agency advising customers on where to go abroad for their holidays while she remained stationary in Sheffield.
It was supposed to have been a stopgap job after gaining her degree in travel and tourism but somewhere along the line it had become the norm. She hated living in the town of her former university, when all her friends had left years ago, and she was stuck two hundred miles from her family. The only bright spot in each day was talking to the man she’d been paired with on Match Your DNA.
Bethany blew a kiss to the most recent photograph she had of Kevin that watched over her from its frame on the bookcase. He had almost white-blond hair and eyebrows, a smile that spread from ear to ear and his tanned, shirtless body was lean but muscular. She couldn’t have made him up if she’d tried.
Kevin had only sent her a handful of pictures over the seven months since they’d been Matched, but from the moment they’d first spoken on the phone and Bethany had experienced the shiver she’d read about in magazines, she was sure there was no man on earth better suited to her than Kevin.
Fate could be cruel, she decided, placing her Match on the other side of the world in Australia. Maybe one day, she might meet him.