Dear listeners: I want to find out more all about YOU.
So I’ve made a survey, also known as a questionnaire! Basically, you will answer some questions about how you listen to the podcast, to help me understand what you want from it.
But I know how boring it is to fill in surveys, so after you complete it, you will get a beginner bonus story, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse! It’s my way of saying thank you for being such wonderful listeners.
OK, let’s start the episode!
Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for pre-intermediate learners. The name of the story is Dear Heart. This is chapter one. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Dear1. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Dear1. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
So I was talking to some of the listeners of the podcast and one of you said you wanted more contemporary stories.
So contemporary means ‘modern’, ‘of this time’.
And it’s true, I don’t write a lot of modern stories. I mainly do fairy tales, because they’re usually easier for beginners. It’s actually much easier to write a beginner fairy tale than a beginner modern story, because when we write about modern life, it always gets more complicated and it has to be more real. So I actually find it very hard to write contemporary stories for learners.
But one type of contemporary story that I think we all love is romance! Or at least, I love writing and reading romance.
Unfortunately, I always think I’m going to just write a short story and then it grows and grows. So like I said, this is chapter one but the whole story will probably be five or six chapters.
But I am really excited about this story! I’ve planned the whole story and I think you’re really going to enjoy it. It’s a very, very cute story.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that are in today’s story.
When you work out, do exercise, you can use weights. Weights are heavy things that you pick up with your hands. I have a pair of weights that I use every day to exercise with. They weigh 1.5kg, so they are not very heavy weights.
When you are attracted to someone, you feel attraction, you find them attractive. This means that you think they are pretty or handsome, and you would like to kiss that person, probably. Women who are only attracted to other women are lesbians. Men who are only attracted to other men are gay. People who are attracted to both men and women are bisexual or pansexual. Men who are only attracted to women, and women who are only attracted to men, are heterosexual, or straight.
When you assume something, you don’t know if it is true, but you think, ‘Well, it must be true, right?’ For example, if someone says to you, ‘I’m so busy looking after my kids,’ you might assume that they’re married. But maybe they aren’t married! They might be a single parent, so you can’t assume.
When you fire someone from a job, you tell them, ‘You don’t have this job anymore.’ Bosses fire people if they are very bad at the job, or if the company doesn’t have enough money to pay them anymore. To be honest, probably more of us have been fired than fired other people!
A bowtie is a type of tie. Normally, ties are long and go down to your stomach. But bowties are very short. You tie a bowtie, and it makes a shape like a butterfly or a small bird. People usually wear bowties at weddings and other formal events, but some people like wearing a bowtie every day.
Glitter is lots of little things that shine a lot. You can put glitter on a drawing, or you can wear glitter on your face. Children usually love glitter, but some musicians also wear glitter, for example.
When you write something wrong, you can cross it out. You draw a line through the word that you wrote wrong so that people can’t see it. To be honest, these days most people write on computers, so we don’t cross out stuff very often. Instead, we delete it with our keyboard.
A unicorn is a magical creature that doesn’t really exist. Unicorns are horses with a horn on their head, a long sharp thing on their head. Unicorns are very rare and can do magic. At least, in stories they can! Unicorns are usually popular with young children.
Freak is a very horrible word for calling someone who is very strange. If you call someone a freak, you think they are disgusting and strange.
When you tell someone off, you tell them they did something wrong. Usually, parents tell off children. For example, if a child steals a biscuit the parent might say, ‘No! Those biscuits aren’t yours. Give it back.’
Chopsticks are small wooden sticks that you use to eat food. They are used in many Asian countries like China, Japan and Korea. Some people find chopsticks very hard to use, especially if they didn’t learn as a child. Personally, I think I’m pretty good with chopsticks, because I have travelled to Japan twice.
Crafts are forms of art where you make things with your hands. For example, origami, sewing and arranging flowers are all crafts. Crafts are very popular with children, and are a great way to relax.
If you enjoy the podcast and want more, you can support me on Patreon. For just $2 a month you can get exercises with each episode, and for $5, you get an extra story every month, as well as Elevenses with Ariel, a daily conversational podcast for intermediate learners. Last week I talked about publishing a book, robot marriage proposals, the Netflix series Bridgerton, Millennials vs. Generation Z and piercings. You can support the show and get all the extra content at Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish. That’s Patreon.com/EasyStoriesInEnglish.
A big thank-you to our new patrons: Lidiya Filevych and Lai Ching Ching. Thank you so much. Your support really means a lot to me.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
Dear Heart Chapter 1
There are three things you should know about me.
One, I wear as little makeup as possible. I don’t like to be bothered at work, and when people see me on a Monday morning, my face definitely does not say, ‘Come and talk to me about Microsoft Excel.’
Two, I run five miles every day, and I lift weights, too. Yes, I’m stronger than you. Sorry, boys.
And three, I am the best person in the IT department. I know you’re not used to having a woman fix your computer, especially not such a powerful one, but you’ll just have to learn.
So when I saw him, early on a Monday morning, fighting with the photocopy machine, I knew it was trouble. Nobody liked the photocopiers, because photocopiers are designed by people who only understand pain. But men especially don’t like photocopiers, because they look like they should be simple to deal with, but they’re not.
‘I don’t want to interrupt your morning work out, but some of us use that for making copies.’
The man gasped and immediately stopped kicking the machine. Clearly, he hadn’t noticed I was there, and his face went completely red.
And there it was: PING! Attraction.
Here’s the thing. When I told you that I don’t wear makeup and lift weights, you probably assumed I only liked women. And you wouldn’t be wrong, 99% of the time. But that 1% of the time, I see men who just have something in their eyes. Like a frightened animal. And for some reason, the IT part of my brain says, ‘Well, let’s fix that.’
Except with men, you couldn’t turn them off and on again.
That’s exactly what I did with the photocopier, though, and the machine jumped back into life, printing his copies.
Now the redness had travelled down his face and onto his neck, and I was starting to wonder if I should call an ambulance. Then he pushed his thick brown hair out of his eyes and said, ‘T-thanks.’
‘Just doing my job,’ I said, putting on a big smile. ‘I work in IT. Cass.’
‘Short for Cassandra.’
He just looked at me.
‘You know, my name?’
‘Oh, right!’ He hit his forehead to say, ‘I’m stupid!’ but he hit it a bit too hard, and quietly said, ‘Ow…’
That PING was getting louder in my head. This man was like a piece of wet spaghetti, and for some reason, I was very attracted to him.
‘I’m Fergus,’ he said, the redness finally starting to leave his face. ‘Sorry you had to see that. I don’t usually get angry, it’s just… I’m really, really bad with technology. And there are my copies.’
He grabbed the papers and ran to the door.
‘Wait!’ I called. ‘You didn’t tell me which department you are.’
He stopped and bit his lip.
‘I’m Nigella’s new assistant.’
My heart went cold.
Nigella, the head of our branch. Our boss, and possibly the nastiest creature on earth.
‘Ah,’ I said. ‘Good luck.’
He gulped and left the room.
I didn’t expect to see him again after that. If he was working for Nigella, he’d be working very hard for her. Somehow, he must have hidden his lack of technology skills in the interview. When Nigella found out, she would probably fire him.
I made my copies, drank some coffee and went to solve computer issues. Several of them just involved turning them off and on again. Did I really get paid for this? I couldn’t complain. It was easy work.
When I returned to my desk, I found an envelope on it. That was strange. Nobody tried to contact the IT department by post. Maybe it was a wedding invitation—that was what our company did, make wedding invitations.
There was just one word written on the envelope: Cass
I opened it, and found a letter inside, with beautiful handwriting.
Thank you so much for your help this morning with the photocopier. My copies came out looking very smart. If you ever need a favour, let me know.
I almost laughed. I felt like I was in a TV show, getting invited to a party in the King’s castle.
A favour… Could a date be a favour?
I jumped into my chair and opened my email program. I was all ready to message him when I realised something.
If he wrote me a letter, he probably expected me to reply the same way. And when he saw my ugly handwriting… He had to be a traditional kind of guy, if he wrote me a letter. He had been wearing a sweater and a bowtie, and cute old-fashioned round glasses. He wouldn’t accept a date by email.
But I couldn’t go into Nigella’s office and ask him, could I? Nigella was awful, even worse than people who designed photocopiers. She would fire him and then fire me for ‘behaving in a way not suitable for the workplace’.
There was no doubt. I had to reply by letter.
‘Ugh!’ I cried, pulling at my short hair.
There was only one person I could ask for help with this, and I really didn’t want to ask them. But what choice did I have?
I picked up my phone and sent a voice message: ‘Hey, Jo. I need your help.’
I knew it was stupid to send a letter. I mean, who still sends letters these days? But I had to thank her. If she hadn’t come and saved me, I would have had the worst first day at work ever. Nigella already wanted to kill me for spilling coffee on her desk. If I couldn’t even make a basic copy, she would eat me.
It had also been a stupid idea to move here. Who was I to move to a big city like this? Everything was so fast and everyone was so busy, and you couldn’t live without technology here. It was everywhere.
I didn’t see Cass again for a few days, and slowly I got used to working with Nigella. I made sure to be very nice to the photocopier, and to never spill any food or drink on Nigella’s desk. Actually, I just stopped eating and drinking in the room in general.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about Cassandra. She was… interesting. Not the kind of woman you met in the small village where I came from. But I had looked completely stupid in front of her. There was no way she would be my friend. I shouldn’t have sent that letter.
Then I opened my post box in the staff room and found an envelope with my name written on it. I took it out and opened it, and huge amounts of glitter poured out.
You’re very welcome, ______—here there was a word that had been written and then crossed out. It looked like ‘handsome’?
I was just doing my job.
But I do know a favour you can do for me.
Come to dinner with me tonight?
I’ll be waiting outside at seven.
‘Close your mouth, Fergus, or something might fly into it.’
I jumped as Nigella walked behind me. I tried to fold up the letter and hide it, but it was still pouring glitter everywhere, right onto the carpet.
‘Did a unicorn invite you to its birthday party?’ she said, sniffing unhappily. ‘Whatever, as long as it’s outside of work hours. Clean that up before you leave.’
‘Yes, Ms. Hopkins…’
I waited for her to leave and then opened the letter again. I didn’t love the glitter, mainly because of the cleaning work it had just given me, but the handwriting was… extraordinary.
And there went my heart: PING! Just like that damn photocopier.
This was stupid. I was stupid. What was I doing here, waiting outside in the cold street? He would probably see the letter and think I was a freak. But that wasn’t anything new. Lots of people thought women with short hair and big arms were freaks.
It would’ve been fine if Jo had just written it like I asked. But he’d had to write the word handsome, and while I was crossing it out, Penny had walked into the room and asked what we were doing. Five minutes later, the letter was covered in pink glitter. When I told her off, she started crying, and then I felt like a terrible aunt, so I had to give Penny a very big bar of chocolate to make her happy again.
I almost let her draw a unicorn on the letter, but that would have been too far. I didn’t want Fergus to really think I was a freak.
Penny was my niece, who I loved with all my heart. I looked after her a lot, because her father—my brother Greg—was a single dad, and didn’t find it easy. But I was terrible with her, because she loved glitter and unicorns and pretty handwriting, and all I knew how to do was fix computers and motorbikes.
I was going to look after her tonight, but then I got the idea of asking Fergus on a date, and so Greg was looking after her instead.
But God, what if Fergus didn’t want to go on a date with me? Or what if Nigella had him working late? I could go up to her office and ask, but then if he didn’t want to see me…
And there he was, standing in a long brown coat and hat like Sherlock Holmes, his cheeks a bit red. And I didn’t think it was just from the cold.
I smiled. ‘Ready for dinner? I promise there will be no glitter involved.’
We went to a steak restaurant, which was nice. I was worried she was going to take me to a sushi restaurant and I would have to admit I didn’t know how to use chopsticks.
‘So,’ she said, while we waited for our food. ‘How’s life with Nigella?’
‘Urgh,’ I said, covering my face with my hands. ‘She’s going to fire me any day, I can feel it. I was just feeling confident with the photocopier, and then she told me to create a new email system for her. All I know is: reply and delete. I didn’t know there were other options!’
‘Oh dear,’ she said, touching my hand. ‘I can help you, you know.’
My heart beat fast, but before I could reply, our food arrived.
‘What do you do in your free time?’ I asked, trying to look normal as I ate.
She had touched my hand. That was more than friendly, right? I mean, was this a date? God, I wished I understood these things.
She smiled at my question and started talking. And that was when I realised a relationship couldn’t happen for us.
Cass rode motorbikes, climbed mountains and lifted weights. Me? I got tired carrying the shopping home. I was short, very thin, and I dressed like Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ assistant. I didn’t even know how to use a photocopier without breaking it!
She needed a strong man. A real man.
Or a strong woman. Someone like Nigella. I imagined them together and felt sick.
‘Are you OK?’ said Cass. ‘Oh God, I’ve just talked all evening, haven’t I? I’m sorry, I—’
‘Don’t be sorry!’ I said.
I didn’t want to talk about my hobbies, because then she would realise just how weak I was.
‘Your bill,’ said the waiter. ‘Sign here.’
‘Huh?’ said Cass. ‘Why do I have to sign?’
‘Our card machine is rather old. We just want to make sure.’
Cass opened her mouth, like she was going to argue, but then she looked at me briefly and stopped.
‘Uh, OK, that’s fine…’
He handed her a pen and she looked at the paper. I moved forward without thinking. I always loved seeing people’s handwriting. I knew what Cass’s looked like, but it was always better seeing it in person.
Then I realised her hands were shaking.
‘Is something wrong?’ I said.
She bit her lip. ‘No.’
She quickly wrote a signature. I wanted to be nice, but the only way I could describe it was ‘ugly’. Very ugly. Like a spider got drunk and was sick on the paper. She threw the bill at the waiter and stood up.
‘I better go.’
‘Wait!’ I said, my brain working slowly. ‘You… you didn’t write that letter yourself?’
Now it was her turn to go red.
‘I got help. Look, my handwriting is awful. God, you probably think I’m a real fr—’
‘I can help you.’
She stopped putting on her scarf and looked at me.
‘What, with not being a freak?’
‘Huh?’ Was that how she saw herself? ‘No, I mean, I can help you improve your handwriting. I actually enjoy it.’
I bit my tongue. It was a stupid idea. Nobody needed good handwriting anymore. I loved to teach people, but nobody ever wanted to learn. And it wasn’t really romantic, was it?
But Cass didn’t laugh at me, or tell me that was a waste of time. She sat down, and a serious look came over her face.
‘Do you do anything else? Like drawing, or crafts?’
‘Huh?’ I couldn’t see the connection. ‘I mean, yes. I like drawing, and things like that.’ I couldn’t tell her all of my hobbies. Then she would think I was a freak. ‘Why do you ask?’
Cass sighed deeply. ‘To be honest, I could use your help.’
‘Yeah. I have a niece, the one who put glitter all over that letter. I’m awful with her. I never know what to do, and we have nothing in common, and I always say something that makes her cry. She loves art and writing and I… I fix bikes.’
As Cass spoke, she pulled on her short, blonde hair, and she somehow looked weak.
‘How about this?’ I said. Suddenly my mouth was completely dry, and I had to take a big drink of water. ‘You help me with technology, and I’ll teach you how to do stuff with your hands. Uh, I mean… That didn’t sound how I meant it to!’
Cass laughed. ‘That sounds perfect.’
My mouth went dry again. ‘Really?’
‘Sure. You don’t get fired, I fix my relationship with my niece. Also,’ she said, moving forward and grabbing my chin, ‘you’re really cute. I had fun tonight.’
Then she stood up and put on her coat. Now, instead of being dry, my whole body seemed to be made of water.
‘I’ll email you tomorrow,’ she said. ‘We can find a date that works for both of us. Or wait, no. I’ll send you a letter. I hope you don’t hate my handwriting too much.’
‘I look forward to reading it.’
I got up and followed her to the door. For a moment, we stood outside on the street. She moved a bit closer to me, and I thought that this was where the man would usually kiss the woman.
But I wasn’t that kind of man.
‘Good night,’ I said quickly, and ran away before she could reply.
God, I was weak.
END OF CHAPTER 1
If you enjoyed the story and want to say thank you, you can buy me a coffee on Ko-Fi. Just go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and click the orange button that says Buy me a coffee! Then you’ll be able to send me $3 so that I can buy a coffee, but really, I’ll probably get a bubble tea. And I’ll think of you while I drink it! Thank you for listening, and until next week.