With Conversations out of the frame, I'm spreading my wings a little. Here's a romantic flash story that I practised on. Thanks to The Aardvark Aficionados for their invaluable input and support.
I settled into the aeroplane seat, tipped it back until it lay flat, kicked off my shoes and prepared to sleep.
Sleep would be a nice change, I thought. My eyes were shut, but the memories played out on the back of my eyelids, repeating over and over like a film stuck on a never-ending loop: the boardroom, the hotel suite, the restaurant -- the three places that had made up my prison over the last month and a half.
It had taken six weeks to work through the deal, battling the Stockard board and their lawyers every step of the way, as we negotiated each minute point of the sale: the licences, the premises, the stock, the staff and, of course, the process itself. On many occasions I'd been so tired during those twenty-hour working days, that there were times when I was more than ready to call everything off, go home, hold my wife and sleep for a year. The hell with the money and the dream future. It wasn't worth it.
But it was. My team had developed a new manufacturing process that would reduce costs and provide millions of dollars in additional profits over my lifetime. But for Stockard, which was so much bigger, it would be worth billions over the years. They wanted the process, and I wanted out, so I offered to sell my company to them.
The details had been limitless. But at last, they were done. The contracts were signed, initial payments made, and stacks of documents processed, initialled and put away safely.
I could go home.
A thought crossed my mind, as the engines and the gentle lurching of the plane lulled me to sleep. My wife had been Penelope to my Odysseus, faithfully waiting at home until I returned from the wars. I just hoped that hundreds of suitors weren't living in my lounge, ready to kill me and make off with the wife and my new fortune.
The last thought before I drifted into dreamless sleep was that it was her birthday in a month, and I could now give her whatever she wanted. It would be perfect!
The lounge had been suitably clear of strange men when I arrived, and Helga and I had spent the weekend in each other's arms, me attempting vigorously to make up for my long absence.
She'd been pleased with the confirmation of our new affluence, but not as excited as I'd thought she might.
"Helga," I said as we lay cooling off after yet another happy session of lovemaking. I twiddled her nipple thoughtfully. "What would you like for your birthday?"
She stroked my shoulder and kissed me. "Oh, whatever you want to give me. It's the thought that counts."
I propped myself up on one elbow and looked down into her exquisitely serene face. "Well, help me out here. You know how much we're worth now, and I want to spoil you to make up for all the time I was away. What about a new car?"
She pulled me down and kissed me again. "Nice thought, but no. I'm happy with the one you gave me last year. I like that little car. It's very nippy, and it's easy to park."
It was a Mini. I was thinking more along the lines of a limo, with a chauffeur.
When I suggested it, she laughed. "Don't be silly. I'd feel stupid, sitting there like Miss Daisy, while someone drove me to the shops."
I took a day to think about it.
"What about jewellery?" I asked. "You've always loved jewellery."
Her laughter tinkled from the bathroom, where she was shaving her legs. "I've only worn the necklace and earring set once since you gave it to me last Christmas. It would be a waste. And if you're thinking of it as a good investment, buy shares instead. You're clever with those."
Damn! I wasn't going to buy her shares for her birthday. She wasn't a favoured niece; she was my wife, my woman, my life.
I put a lot of thought into it over the next week, in search of that perfect gift for her.
"Okay, picture us looking down on Machu Picchu from a balloon, while we eat caviar and drink champagne, before flying to Sydney for the opera and then on to climb Mount Fuji."
"Oh honey, you know I'm afraid of heights, and you can't stand caviar or opera. Why would you suggest that?"
Curses -- foiled again.
Over the next few weeks, my quest for the perfect gift had me running around in circles.
A proposal of hiring a whole train to run us the length and breadth of the country made her smirk at the amount of sheer braggadocio in that thought. The idea of a string of horses, and her own riding stables, where she could learn to ride, saw her sweetly mocking me with thoughts of me shovelling horse shit. She greeted a proposal of a fur coat with stony silence, and I swiftly put that thought aside.
I consulted female friends, swearing them to secrecy, and they came up with the idea of an 'experience'.
I suggested an afternoon of golf with the world champion, which drew a sardonically raised eyebrow; or even with the president, which drew a sound of disgust.
Racking my brains, I switched golf -- which admittedly she didn't play -- with tennis, which she did. When I came up with an afternoon of tennis coaching with Rafael Nadal, and a day at Wimbledon with him as her escort, she looked perplexed and shook her head firmly.
Upping my game, I tendered the idea of her attending the latest James Bond premiere with Idris Elba. I didn't know whether I could hire him, but I thought an offer of a large donation to his favourite charity might tempt him.
She shut that down very quickly. "Are you trying to foist me off onto another man?"
God no! I'd adored this girl for seven years, the last three as my wife. I had nightmares that someone might take her from me.
Okay, so an 'experience with a celeb' didn't seem to ring any bells. What about a once-in-a-lifetime experience?
"A trip into low earth orbit on that plane that dives, so you feel weightless?"
The answer was a vomiting noise.
"Swimming with sharks off Cape Town?"
She squeaked with fright.
"Riding a turtle along the Benguela Current?"
She laughed. "That's not a real thing, is it."
"Dinner and dancing in Paris?"
"No, I'm good."
Us sharing a pizza on our settee would apparently be a much better prospect.
Every idea was received with a loving kiss, or some wonderful time with her naked self, which was more than welcome -- even though as a result, I needed more sleep than ever. But, by then, I was also starting to go slightly nuts. I was spending hours every day on the net, trying to find something that would prove to her how much I loved her. I quizzed family members, friends and acquaintances, and even professional shoppers.
When her birthday rolled around, I was almost in tears of despair. All I could do was prepare her breakfast in bed and give her a large bunch of wildflowers I'd picked in the fields around our house while torturing myself to try and come up with a last-minute brainwave.
"Happy birthday, Helga. I'm so sorry I couldn't find that perfect gift." I looked down at my feet, unable to look her in the face.
She rose to her knees on the bed, pulled me in close and gave me the longest, tightest hug.
"Oh, you did, honey. You absolutely did."
"What, a bunch of flowers? They're not even from a florist."
"My darling, the flowers are wonderful, and they're beautiful, but they're just a by-product of what I wanted."
I frowned. "How do you mean, by-product?"
"When you were away, selling the company, I felt alone. I know it was for us, and that it was absolutely the logical thing to do. But you were away for six weeks."
"I phoned as often as I could," I protested. I had felt guilty about taking that time away.
"I know, and I could see how much you hated us being apart. But then you came back -- the conquering hero. And for the next three weeks, you thought about that gift, trying to find the undeniably perfect thing that I would adore."
She finished with a simple, "And that was it."
"Don't you see, you gave me those three weeks of your life; three weeks when you thought of nothing but me, nothing but trying to please me. That was the perfect gift."
"It seems a bit nebulous," I commented.
"Of course it's nebulous. It's like the wind. You can't see it; only its effects. You showed me love, devotion, care, attention... so many things. I could die tomorrow happily knowing that the man I love, loves me so much that he'd do that for me. Three weeks of undivided, rock-solid attention! Most of my friends would be delighted with three minutes from their husband. Every one of them is going to be so envious you gave me the perfect gift. I won't rub it in their faces of course, but I'll certainly let them know what a perfect husband you are."
It seemed the gift was a two-parter, as we spent so much time in bed that week, while she showed her appreciation, that she ended up with another present.
My wife is a Discworld fan, so the present is going to be named Angua.