Leonard Darcy’s dating life begun at just eleven years old. It was yet another Valentine’s Day and Leonard wasn’t planning on ending this fourteenth of February without a girlfriend; or at least without an attempt at getting one. For a week or so, by this point, he’d noticed a funny feeling in his stomach when Harriet got into class, a minute past half past eight every morning. Somehow she was always late; but stylishly so. On the fourteenth of February she, like usual, stumbled into registration with a wide grin on her face. “Sir!” she saluted Mr. Jones at the door. “Late again,” he observed. “I’d put you in detention but we’ve tried that already, haven’t we? Come in, Harriet.” He turned back to his computer and said, “It seems you have yourself an admirer.”
Leonard knew she’d be in at 08:31 and so he, before anyone else arrived to registration, popped one single rose he bought, with the remainder of his pocket money, onto her desk. Harriet clocked the flower but, Harriet being Harriet, didn’t even change colour. She smirked, skipped through the tables, her musky scent eagerly following her. See, it took Leonard about a week and a half to conclude that he must, in fact, be in love with Harriet. The girl who tied her plaits up with green ribbon and, rumour had it, spread cherry lip balm onto her lips. The girl who was friends with everyone; the girl who could probably outdo even their English teacher in a spelling test. Leonard certainly wasn’t her only admirer but he’d seen every Hugh Grant movie and was certain he knew how to be the one to win her over.
On the twelfth of February, they were reading a Shakespeare play in class. Mrs Swash wrote a quote on the board and asked what her students thought of it. Cool and collected, Harriet placed her hand firmly in the air. Mrs. Swash nodded toward her. “Well, their love is infinite,” she said, entirely self-assured. “Quite tragically so.”
Well it was right there and then when Leonard realised that he felt what Harriet was talking about. He was most certainly infinitely in love with Harriet. That was the feeling in his belly. With Valentine’s Day just two days away, he needed to act fast. Harriet, possibly unsurprisingly, knew within two seconds who gave her the rose that Valentine’s Day. She waited until the next day at lunchtime to approach Leonard (for Valentine’s is just too commercialised these days, she had later told him). He was talking animatedly with his best friends about a sleepover they were to have the following weekend. “Lenny,” she said, almost as a fact. Leonard turned, eyes widened; heart in his mouth. “Harriet,” he said, less certain.
“I will accept your offer to be my boyfriend, under one condition.”
“Ask her what the condition is,” his best friend Andy advised him.
“One condition…” Leonard felt confused under her intelligent stare.
“We don’t tell our parents until we’re sure of where this is going.”
They’d been boyfriend-and-girlfriend for only thirty seconds and Leonard wanted to shout it from the rooftops. He considered her proposition, but he needn’t have pretended to think it through. He wanted to make her happy. He knew his answer. And so did she. “Deal.” They held hands for the rest of lunchtime and Leonard spent the next three weeks doing everything he could to make her happy. He made his parents countless cups of tea and hoovered every single day, which ensured he found a bonus in his pocket money on pay day. He spent all of this money on Harriet’s favourite sweets─rhubarb and custard sweets, chewy lollipops, strawberry bonbons, white chocolate mice and green apple laces─and gave them to her at school. She had grinned the biggest grin in response and Leonard knew he wanted to spend his life making Harriet happy.
On their three week anniversary─a day after they went to the cinema and Leonard kissed her soft and freckly cheek once the film had ended─Harriet called it a day on the romance Leonard believed was made for a Shakespeare play. A happy one, of course. All at once he understood tragedy and heartache and spent the next week sobbing into his pillow after school.
After two years, four months, one week and three days, Leonard found the strength to not stare longingly at Harriet’s hair in English and, in time, he was ready to move on. His next love was called Carly. Carly was sporty and feisty and Leonard liked how she beat him in the hundred metre sprint. Not that he was surprised she beat him; he wasn’t fast and Carly was. It was, just, after Leonard crossed the finish line, Carly looked at him straight in the eye and said, “Not bad, Lenny D.” The feeling in his stomach returned.
Leonard was older now; wiser. At thirteen years old, he was ready for a proper relationship. So, after school on one warm day, he bought her an ice cream─with two flakes─and promised her he would buy her a gift every single week. He would fall in love with her more and more every day and wouldn’t sleep at night if she wasn’t happy. Carly nodded to symbolise she was in on the relationship.
Alas, seven weeks and seven gifts (a yellow─her favourite colour─notebook whereby Leonard had written a different quote about love on each page, a box of her favourite chocolates, a bubblegum pink nail varnish, a small teddy bear, a homemade cupcake, a purse she had expressed an interest in and a pair of fluffy socks) later, Carly broke up with Leonard with just a text: We’re over. Sorry. X
By the time Leonard was eighteen years old, he had entered five serious relationships since the Harriet and Carly heartbreaks. But they all ended in a similar way. He did everything he could do to make them smile─a big, movie-like smile that was─at least once a day and saved his pennies to shower them with little mementos to prove his love. His longest love lasted eight months and it was on this very important anniversary where Leonard felt his heart shatter for the seventh time.
At seventeen Leonard had learnt the term “honeymoon period” and he wanted to ensure Kelly believed this loved up period of time would never end; so long as she stayed by Leonard’s side. Even when they celebrated their eight month anniversary, Leonard had bought Kelly’s favourite cider, put together a picnic and insisted they watched the sunset to celebrate. Leonard was talking quickly about his excitement for their first summer together as he put his arm around the loveliest girl in the world.
Kelly was quiet. “What’s up, Kells?” Leonard sipped on his cider.
“I don’t see us going anywhere, Lenny.”
Leonard felt an all too familiar feeling─the ugly familiar feeling; not the Shakespeare quote one─settle in his stomach. The feeling he had felt five times already since Harriet told him she wasn’t a relationship kind of person. Leonard listened as Kelly broke up with him and he wiped a tear from his eye when she wasn’t looking. He loved Kelly and if she wanted to break up before university because “long-distance won’t work”, then that was what they would have to do. She finished her cider and got up. Leonard looked up at her green eyes. “Sorry Lenny.” Leonard grieved their relationship for the whole of the long summer break, even when, a month into it, she got into a relationship with Mitch Bishop; the most recent captain of the football team. So it turned out, Kelly and Mitch went through the whole of university, video calling every night and visiting each other at their different universities.
Leonard had bought Kelly presents every single month to celebrate their relationship. Only little tokens of his heart; but things she said she loved. So he carried on giving her a present on the twenty-second of each month. He took her out for dinner when she was sad, when she was happy and even when she was mad at him. He always listened to what upset her about him and he made physical notes to remind himself not to message soppy morning messages, not to hold her hand when they were at dinner and not to give her those sad eyes when she was shouting at him. He loved her and wanted her to believe the “honeymoon period” could last for ever; Leonard would do everything to keep their spark alive. He read that is what girls really want so that’s what Kelly would get.
Now, at twenty-seven years old, Leonard is facing his best friend; the version of Andy that actually brushes his big hair and sprays aftershave because it’s a suit-wearing kind of a day. Andy reaches out and adjusts Leonard’s bow tie. “You’re looking pretty dashing, mate,” Andy grins. “Ten out of ten.”
“And you, my friend, have done well to put deodorant on.”
Andy feigns offence. “I always wear deodorant,” he protests. “Well, when mum reminds me to.”
“You smell delicious.” Andy grins a smaller grin than before in response. “If you’re not careful, mate, you might actually be looking serious for a second there.”
“Hey, if I can’t get sentimental on my best mate’s wedding day, when can I?”
Leonard feels a little nostalgic. “You’ve seen me through it all.”
“And, by all, you mean fifteen horrendous break ups and you stating you’d never move on.”
Leonard laughs a hearty laugh. “Yeah, thanks for not calling me a dramatic idiot.”
“You’re welcome. I always thought ‘soppy sod’ was more sensitive too.” Andy offers his hand for his best friend to shake. “Let’s go get you married to the love of your life, eh?”
Leonard shakes Andy’s hand, firm and confident. His girlfriend of six years was to become his wife in just one hour and Leonard felt a feeling in his stomach that he’d never felt before. When Leonard had been dumped for the tenth time, his mum had said to him, “Son, we all need to start appreciating the feeling that is contentment. Content is a good feeling, my boy. Forget chasing the girl who barely says thank you in the face of flowers and perfume and chocolate. Find the girl who makes you feel content.” Leonard might not have bared this sentiment in mind for the next five relationships but the words didn’t leave him.
Soon Leonard is stood at the alter, in a room full of friends and family. As he waits, he cherishes the feeling that moved into his stomach six years before. The feeling that had no intention of moving out.
Leonard had been single for one year and six months exactly when he met Eleanor Ealey at the uni cafe, as he was proofreading his dissertation for what felt like the the hundredth time. “I’ve been watching you.”
Leonard had looked up from his laptop. He hadn’t even noticed someone had joined his table. “You… have?” He asked and he meant it. How long had she been sat there?
“I’m gonna take a stab in the dark and say you’re editing your dissertation.”
“That stab in the dark is spot on,” Leonard had laughed. He noticed her left eye was a different shade of blue to her right eye. Her caramel-coloured hair was roughly pulled together by a hairband; a pencil stuck through the middle of it. She had a faint line of pen on her face and a permanent smile in between her lips.
“Do you like chocolate with nuts in?”
“More than anything,” Leonard felt a sense of ease wash over him. She pushed half a chocolate bar across the table.
“I realised I wasn’t hungry enough to eat the rest of this. And then I looked up and saw some poor bloke scratching his head in frustration as he frantically read whatever was on his laptop screen.” She looked at the chocolate and grinned with wide eyes. “So… It’s your lucky day.”
Leonard laughed and closed his laptop. “I’m Leonard Darcy.”
“And I’m Eleanor Ealey.”
Over half a chocolate bar, Leonard gave himself a well-deserved rest and chatted to Eleanor Ealey about his home, his dog and why he would rather be Robin than Batman. Eleanor told him about her little sister, her plans to run four marathons in the year after graduation and her final big art project that would round off her degree. They chatted until the cafe shut down and the city went black. Leonard had made a pact with his heart to not endeavour to create any kind of relationship until after university. He couldn’t face another episode of believing he was part of the best relationship in the world while his girlfriend thought everything but. Not when he was certain they’d break up once university was coming to an end because long-distance won’t work.
Leonard and Eleanor were about to part ways but something was nagging in his stomach. Before he could quickly argue with his heart and convince it he could give a university relationship a chance just one more time, Eleanor handed him her phone, “Your number. You ate my chocolate bar; you should probably give me your number. I won’t take no for an answer.”
“You gave me your-”
“Our first argument,” Eleanor shrugged. Leonard laughed a big laugh and felt the heavy dissertation stress lift from his shoulders. He noted that he didn’t feel a need to plan anything extravagant for the girl in the big grey jumper and bright orange scarf. Leonard wasn’t picturing all the gifts he could buy this artsy and witty aspiring marathon-runner. He wasn’t putting the “honeymoon period” on a pedestal like he had done for the last decade. He wasn’t trying to recreate any scene from Notting Hill.
“Under one condition.”
“A few hours in and I’m already making sacrifices for you, Darcy?”
“Once my dissertation is in and your project is done, we go on a date. If you haven’t got bored of my incessant need to send jokes via text by then.”
“Under one condition.”
“We’re both sacrificing; I like it.”
“Equality and all that,” Eleanor shrugged. “We split the bill.”
Leonard thought back to all of his dates; his insisting to pay the bill every time. His tendency to always give and never take; he existed for them to be happy. That made him happy. Or so he thought. “Yeah; we’ll split the bill.” He entered his number and wrote his name as “Chocolate bar guy.” Eleanor laughed when she saw. “Just in case you forget who I am,” Leonard shrugged.
“I’ll always remember the guy who took my chocolate bar and didn’t even offer me a block.”
“You gave me the-” Eleanor giggled and Leonard stopped protesting. “Message me when you’re in. I’ve already thought of my first joke.”
Six years later, Leonard was leaving the best moment of his life behind at the alter as he walked out of the church, his hand firmly in his wife’s. He looked at his watch. Twelve thirty-seven. He looked at Eleanor Ealey, the woman he watched run four marathons and open an art gallery in the years following university. The woman who proposed to him on their city break to Rome just one year before. The woman who, when Leonard’s mother found out her cancer scare was, in fact just that, threw Leonard’s family a surprise afternoon tea- his mother’s favourite.
Leonard grinned at his wife and she grinned right back.
Love sought is good, but given unsought better.