The sprawling city of Brighton & Hove is cut off from the outside world by the sea on one side and the south downs on the other. In the heart of the narrow Laines lay rows upon rows of identical townhouses, each as brightly coloured as the beach huts that line the seafront promenade. Alternative lifestyles are the norm and the mainstream is considered both unethical and socially unacceptable, although the rise of the Hipster has confused this. Brighton was Hipster before Hipster was hip. The bohemian streets are lined with bearded men on bikes. These immaculately groomed men dressed as lumberjacks parade around with perfectly styled monochrome hair, twizzling the points of their moustache while they shop for round vintage spectacles and the perfect hummus.
Beatrice longed to meet a man who spent more time admiring her than he did his own beard. The last one, Gerry, lined the walls of their flat with mirrors so he could make sure that his hair was immaculate at all times, and spent three hours every Sunday pruning and oiling his bushy appendages. He even refrained from kissing her too much for fear of undoing his tireless work. It all ended with that terrible argument on the seafront. She’d watched him storm off into the sunset, zigzagging towards Hove and hoping that his gears wouldn’t fall apart until he was out of view so she didn’t feel obliged to help him fix them again.
Since then, she’d been spending more and more time sitting in the myriad of boutique coffee shops that lined every street in the hope that a handsome stranger would ask her out. At first it seemed exciting, the sort of start to a relationship that would be in a movie (apart from being there on purpose – these things are supposed to happen by accident). But at the rate she was going, she’d need to take out a second mortgage to fund it. Spending more on a cup of Fairtrade cruelty free organic coffee from deepest darkest Peru that buys poor children a pair of shoes with every sip you take seemed nice in principle, but it didn’t taste very good and was costing her a fortune. Plus, all this coffee was giving her the shakes, and she was finding it hard to look busy (and actually get some work done) while also oh-so casually looking around for totty every 5 minutes.
Ben had noticed the young woman with the red coat in the other cafes he delivered milk to each lunchtime. She was pretty in a cute kooky way and he almost went over to ask her out, but hesitated because of her unusual behaviour. In every café he’d seen her in, she’d type on her iPad for a few minutes, and then scan every person in the room, eyes as wide as a rabbit, fingers tapping the table like she was late for a fix. Sometimes she’d burst in from the rain and cause quite a commotion getting to a seat by the window through the cramped tables. Then, she’d put her sunglasses on as though they made her invisible and very noticeably stare at various people in the room, as if weighing them up for a duel.
He would feel concerned if it wasn’t so amusing… his curiosity was stirred and he decided to watch her from the side lines. It seemed she was looking for someone, but he couldn’t understand why she would be touring Brighton’s café’s to do so. He considered the possibility that she may be a spy, but chuckled to himself at how ridiculous this seemed, given her lack of subtlety. Suddenly her head turned sharply to him. He jerkily averted his eyes to the ceiling, realising that she had seen him laughing straight at her. He didn’t even have his earphones in to pretend he was on handsfree. He slowly lowered his gaze back to her. Her scarlet lips were pouting and she wore a frown that disappeared behind her huge sunglasses. She was staring straight at him.