FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE/LINDA SOLE
Avril knew she should never have bought the sandals, not with her record for accidents. The heels were too high and thin, the straps cut into her toes and she was going to have a blister on her heel by the time she'd walked to work. And after the exorbitant price she'd paid for the sandals, she would have to walk to work both ways for the next two weeks!
'Bednobs and broomsticks!' Avril muttered her favourite curse. 'May the witches fly that salesgirl to the dark caverns of Zenobia.' She stopped to examine the strap cutting her the most and felt someone cannon into her.
'I'm sorry.' A hand shot out, grabbing her arm and saving her as she almost went flying herself. 'I wasn't looking and you stopped so suddenly.'
'Broomsticks!' Avril muttered, then glanced up and gasped. It was the gorgeous sales manager from the sop where she'd bought her sandals. 'Oh, don't apologize, it was all my fault.' She felt the colour flood her cheeks.
Avril had a delicate peaches and cream complexion, short, cropped blonde hair and eyes more green than blue. Blushing did her no favours at all.
'Having trouble with your shoes?' he asked. 'I'm Kevin – sales manager at Barnet's. I think you bought those from us yesterday. Julie served you, didn't she?'
Avril didn't need to be told his name. It was Kevin's dark, smouldering gaze that had made her go and try the sandals on in the first place. He had taken the job at Barnet's three weeks previously and every day since then Avril had paused on her way to the bus to gaze longingly into the window, not at the expensive merchandise but at him.
She had gone into the shop on an impulse, hoping Kevin would serve her, but no such luck. Julie had been eager to secure a sale, assuring her that the straps would soon wear into a comfortable fit, and because Avril had been dreaming over Kevin, she'd allowed herself to be persuaded.
'Those straps look too tight to me,' Kevin was saying. 'Do they cut you?'
'Yes, just a little. That's why I stopped.'
'You will get blisters,' he said and the genuine concern in his voice made Avril feel warm inside. Why don't you stop by this evening, bring them in and let me see what I can do?'
'Would you really?' Avril's breathtaking smile peeped out. 'May the blessings of Zenobia be upon you. I adore them but they are very uncomfortable.'
'What did you say?' Kevin's eyes were bright with laughter. 'The blessings of who?'
'Oh…' Avril felt herself blush again. 'That's habit, I'm afraid. I'm into fantasy…books, videos, you know. Witches, warlocks and worlds beyond worlds.'
'Yes, I suppose it is,' Avril said, feeling a little sad. She sometimes thought she was the only one who believed in magi these days. 'Well, I must go. I'll see you later.'
She swooped on a taxi that had just drawn up at the side of the road. Her budget for the month would be shot to pieces, but she felt reckless – and disappointed.
It wasn't unusual for friends to mock her about her choice of fiction. Not many of them shared her love of fantasy books and films.
'Well, it's just not life, is it?' Mark had said when they argued just before they split up. 'Get real, Avril. Life is about paying the mortgage and work.'
'Yes, fine. I know that,' she had replied reasonably. 'I pay my rent and my bills – at least most of the time. Last month I had to buy Jamie that special spaceship he wanted…'
'And the month before that he broke next door's windows because you let him play football,' Mark snapped. 'That nephew of yours is a menace. If you keep paying out for him, you'll always be in debt.'
'Jamie can't help being accident prone, he's like me.' At the time, her left wrist had been in a sling after a fall at work. 'Besides, Lucy is always broke. I have to help her.'
Lucy was Avril's sister, five years older and a widow. She could only just manage on the wage she earned as a part time cleaner with Avril's help. Fortunately, that might be about to change. Because Lucy had finally found a man she liked enough to go out on a date, and Avril was baby-sitting for her that night.
That row had been the final one with Mark. Since then, Avril had been looking … for someone who was ready to see the funny side of life, who still believed in magic.
Kevin's smouldering good looks reminded her of Lord Zorb, the hero of her favourite videos, but sadly he was just like the others. He thought fantasy was unbelievable.
Throughout a busy day at work – thankfully, she had some flatties there to change into! – Avril's mind kept leaping ahead to that evening. She still fancied Kevin like mad, of course, so perhaps she ought to change, to try to be more sensible the way Mark had wanted.
She wore her flatties to walk home, carrying the beautiful but lethal sandals in a bag. When she went into the shop, Kevin came straight to her.
'Leave this to me, Julia,' he said to the assistant, and to Avril, 'I'll soon have the sandals sorted. Can't have you reduced to those.' He grinned at the flatties. 'A girl like you needs her talisman, and those sandals are magic for legs.'
Avril's spirits rose as he went out the back. He obviously wasn't all bad.
Kevin came back sandals in hand. 'Let me fit them for you, see how they feel.'
The sandals slid on her feet like Cinderella's slipper.
'Perfect,' she said. 'How much do I owe?'
'Nothing. We aim to please. We want our customers to come back.'
She would be coming back, even if she had to take out an overdraft!
'I was wondering,' Kevin said, disappearing behind the counter for a moment. 'Have you seen this one?'
Avril stared at the fantasy video he was showing her. It was one of her favourites.
'No – not recently. I like Lord Zorb though.'
'I'm going to watch it tonight. I wondered…' Kevin hesitated. 'But if you've seen it…'
'I'd love to see it again. If you wouldn't mind bringing it to my flat? Only I'm looking after Jamie. My sister has a date…' She explained about the need to baby-sit.
Kevin took the news that he would be sharing her with a six-year-old tearaway in his stride. 'Sounds great to me. I'll bring ice-cream and popcorn, shall I?'
'Wonderful.' Avril was slightly bemused. Was she dreaming? 'I thought you didn't believe in fantasy?'
'What was so unbelievable was that you shared my passion for the genre,' Kevin said with a grin that set her heart racing. 'Most girls who look like you think I'm mad.'
'Fantastic – Princess Rosalind?'
Avril giggled. Princess Rosalind was the heroine in most of the Lord Zorb videos.
She wrote out her address, made a firm date for seven, and tottered out of the shop still wearing her sandals. Ten minutes later she changed into her flatties. The sandals still cut her toes, but what the heck, they were probably the best investment she would ever make.
'May the blessings of Zenobia be upon you, Lord Zorb,' she said fervently, startling a passer by.
From somewhere in the world beyond worlds came the reply, 'And on you, Child of the Earth. Now let the magic begin…'