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#TheSpareBedroom

**Listed Today**: Fun and friendly professional just arrived from London seeks room in central location, double bed preferred, ex-boyfriend optional extra.

Armed with a super-sized backpack full of optimism, Jess sets off in search of sun, sea and a much-needed new beginning.

Things don’t get off to a good start.

Instead of sunshine, she’s met with torrential rain. Her job prospects are as dismal as the weather and that friend-of-a-friend she was meant to stay with has fallen through. Just as Jess is homeless, jobless and wishing she’d gone for the waterproof mascara, she runs into the last person she expected to see. Sam. The ex she never got over. Jess always believed that one day fate would bring them back together. Now he’s here, more gorgeous than ever.

Before she knows it, Jess is accepting Sam’s offer to stay in his spare room. But while she may have been less than truthful about the mess she’s in, there is also one rather important thing Sam has neglected to mention.

Suddenly Jess isn’t just living with her ex, but with his new girlfriend too. All of that baggage she thought she left behind may have caught up with her…

A touching, funny and uplifting look at how finding and losing love can lead you to discover yourself along the way. Fans of Mhairi McFarlane, Sophie Kinsella and classic rom coms like My Best Friend’s Wedding will love Elizabeth Neep’s wit and warmth.

Hair soaked, mascara-stained, broken umbrella clutched in my hand – this was Sydney.  Sydney. It wasn’t supposed to rain. Where was my golden tan? Where was my I’m-not-a-tourist-I-actually-live-here glow? Where was my boundless energy and newfound talent for volleyball? I’d been holding it together, pinning on a smile, but it was time to call a spade a flipping spade. So far, Sydney was crap.

Since the second I had hopped off the plane it had been non-stop rain, relentless rudeness and now this. Kicked out of my ‘you can stay for three months until you get settled’ accommodation onto the rainy streets of Coogee with nothing but my two-tonne rucksack, a broken umbrella and a deep suspicion that I was still saying Coogee wrong. Coo-geeeee? Cudgey? Cude-I care any less?

Trudging round Woolworths (a bog-standard supermarket in Sydney, not a pick-and-mix or tiny Coke can in sight), I left puddles behind me as I went. I didn’t even need anything. I was just trying to get dry. In fact, I did need something. I needed a lot of things. I needed sunshine, a job, rent money and somewhere to stay until I could get the above figured out. I turned down the next aisle. No, no rent-free accommodation down this one. Did I really leave my steady life in England for this? This was meant to be my do-over. My chance to rewrite a happily ever after that had somehow gone so wrong – one that everyone else seemed to be getting right. Even my forever-young best friend had drifted into adulthood, buying a two-bedroom house with her partner. Zoe would have a fit if she knew my ‘sure thing’ accommodation was about as sure as everything else in my life right now. I turned down the next aisle. Wine. Well, it couldn’t hurt, right? I grabbed the first bottle of red I saw, then realised it was twenty-six dollars and went to put it back quicker than you could say—

‘Jess?’

I froze, hand refusing to release the red. It couldn’t be. No one knew me here. That was the point in coming, after all. A fresh start, a fresh chance to salvage my twenties − before they slid into a decade demanding more milestones than I’d manage to reach.

‘Jess? Is that you?’

It just couldn’t be. There was no way. But then, Zoe had made me delete him, unfollow him, block him, erase him years ago, severing the ties of our ‘connection’ even though by then we hadn’t spoken in weeks. I had put up a fight at first, hooked to my digital self-harm, reminding every inch of me what we used to be. Then I had surrendered, bruised by her final blow: no amount of watching his stories is going to change yours…

‘Jess?’ the all-too familiar voice rang out again. It wasn’t. It couldn’t be. But in my down and out state, I could have sworn the voice sounded suspiciously like my…

Ever so slowly I unclutched the bottle. Even more slowly I turned. And finally came face to face with someone I had spent the last three years trying to forget. Sam. My ex-boyfriend.

‘Jess? What the…’ The words spilled from his stubble-framed mouth, rough hands reaching to rub his disbelieving eyes. I stared on, frozen to the spot. I had been ready to give someone – anyone – a mouthful but had all of a sudden lost the ability to speak. Against a backdrop of white wine, Sam’s tanned figure looked like a mirage.

‘What are you…’ His second sentence trailed off like his first. I shook my head, still and silent, my heart making enough noise for both of us. His wide eyes met mine as he began to shake his head too, no doubt hoping he’d wake up soon. If there were other people around, I didn’t notice them. Sam demanded my full attention. I watched his face spread into a smile as he looked me up and down – and not in a good way, not like the first time all those years ago. Heart beating, hands sweating, I said nothing. I held my breath. Maybe if I held it for long enough I’d die right here, right now. Why was he here? In Sydney? On the other side of the world? And why was I here – mascara-stained with the remains of a crappy umbrella that looked like a flipping stick?

‘Jess, you’re here.’ He reached a hand further towards me, as if wanting to touch me to see that I was real. I flinched, torn between wanting to run and hide or shelter in the warmth of his arms. It was Sam. Sam.

‘I am,’ I confirmed, not knowing whether I was convincing him or me. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d dreamt of such a run-in, but never once here, never once like this. Of all the places I’d imagined him being, all the rooms I’d scanned hoping, dreading, that he’d be in them, all the times I almost risked finding him again, friending him again, I could never have imagined this, here, now. My eyes darted to his basket – avocados, chia seeds, blueberries: the ingredients of a grown-up – to the shelves, stacked with unfamiliar brands, trying to make sense of our surroundings. Sam cleared his throat and asked the one question I’d been trying not to ask myself ever since I’d arrived in Australia: ‘Why?’

For a fresh start, for a chance to…

For me? his eyes seemed to ask. No, Sam, not for you. It’s not all about you.

He hadn’t changed a bit, not really. Older, more refined, getting better with age. And lighter somehow – whilst I felt the weight of my rucksack rest heavy on my back.

‘For work?’ he asked with momentary confusion as he looked from my rucksack to my sopping hair and down to my lips, lingering on the latter just a little too long.

No, I thought as my eyes started to well with tears. Stop it, eyes, stop it. I had to keep it together. I could just tell him the truth. That I’d come to Sydney to escape the nothingness and noise of London only to find Australia was the same. Just this time with tans and accents.

His free hand reached towards me for a second time, still wanting to hold me together after all these years. He looked so composed, sorted. For once, it would be nice for him to see me the same. In just a moment we’d both move on again and Sam would never need to know I needed a job, rent money…

‘You look like you need a drink,’ he said before I could say anything. Did I? Did I really? What gave him that bloody impression? The fact I had just been clutching a bottle of red for dear life? Or that I had near enough cried when I saw the price? Perhaps it was the way my pasty white legs were caving under the strain of a backpack bigger than both of us put together. I looked like I needed a drink? This one was a genius.

‘Hmmm,’ I said as my mind berated me for even considering it. This was my blank slate, my do-over. But at the risk of coming across like a crazy ex-girlfriend totally ‘not cool’ with bumping into her drop-dead ex for the first time in forever in the last place either one of us would expect…

I forced a smile and said, ‘That would be nice.’ For a moment Sam looked stunned; was he just asking to be polite? Like that’s just what grown-up ex-boyfriends should do. If only I knew how grown-up ex-girlfriends should act in return. I studied his face as he smiled again. I guess he was just thrown by this whole scenario, though judging from his smile, it didn’t seem like a totally unwelcome surprise.

Elizabeth Neep was born in 1990 in Derbyshire and now lives in London Bridge. After studying Law at the University of Nottingham and the University of New South Wales, she worked in magazine journalism, most noticeably writing for Dazed and Confused and PETRIe. Elizabeth now works as a non-fiction Senior Commissioning Editor and writes and paints in her spare time.
https://www.elizabethneep.com/
https://www.instagram.com/elizabeth_neep/?hl=en @elizabeth_neep


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