Bradford-on-Avon is a small town. Cute and old and ‘twee’. It’s what I wanted. To live in a place where, when you walk down the street, you always run into a familiar face.
At least … I thought it was what I wanted. But it can also be weird. There’s the local dad who uses the same hashtags on social media — we constantly “like” one another’s photos but when I see him on the street? Yeah, we pretend not to know each other. And Trixie’s dance teacher who, judging by how frequently I run into her, probably thinks I’m a stalker. But that’s nothing. After what happened last week, this town doesn’t just feel small, it’s starting to feel microscopic.
After much planning, I went for coffee with a fellow young adult novelist. I’d never met her, but stumbled upon her interview in the local paper to promote a new book. Maybe this sounds stalkerish (again, with the stalking?!), but I did a search for her on GoodReads and sent a message: You write YA, I write YA, want to meet up and discuss, I dunno, YA? She said yes, and after a bit of email tag, we set up a coffee date.
At first, things were going great. I had read her book and loved it, and even brought along a copy to have signed for my niece’s upcoming birthday (spoiler alert!). We chatted about our writing, the agonies of publishing, and everyday stuff like what brought us to this charming town. I gave her the whole spiel, that we’d had a really hard time finding an apartment (I mean flat) to rent (I mean let).
“We’d found the perfect place,” I said, sipping my green tea. “A little cottage near my in-laws and close to town. It had an open kitchen and outdoor space. All the things we wanted.”
My new friend nodded, sipping her Earl Grey.
“It was totally perfect,” I went on, and shook my head sadly. “But we didn’t get it. Apparently the landlord didn’t want a family with kids. We were gutted.”
I’ve told the story before. Too bad, people say. That’s not fair! they lament. But not this time.
“Oh … my god,” she said, wilting in her seat. “I don’t know how to say this, but … that’s my house.”
I cocked my head, confused. “You got the flat we wanted?” I asked.
“No,” she said sheepishly. “I’m really, really sorry — god, I almost don’t want to tell you — I’m the one who wouldn’t let you live there.”
“Wait, really?” I sputtered. A blush rose up my cheeks.
I mean, Are you serious?! In a town of 16,000 people, I was having coffee with the ONE person who’d refused me my dream home?
There were three ways this was going to go down: icy silence, an awkward pause and quick exit, or embrace it. So I embraced it. She spent the next five minutes apologising profusely, but I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean, what are the odds? What. Are. The. ODDS?!
But, ultimately, I think it was a little bit of fate, too. If this woman hadn’t rejected our application, we never would have ended up in the creaky cottage we love, or met our ridiculously awesome neighbours. And, neighbours, if you’re reading this, you are ridiculously awesome. You have welcomed us with open arms. You have the coolest kids (who have no shame knocking for five minutes straight until Trixie comes out to play); you take us on fun adventures; you’re easy to talk to; and that time when you brought over a slice of the cake you’d just baked? Totally hit the spot.
As much as I wanted that first cottage, I think I prefer the way the story unraveled. It’s more memorable this way. And it sure as hell broke the ice between me and my new writer friend.