“Iris, in the movies, we have leading ladies and we have the best friend. You, I can tell, are a leading lady, but for some reason, you’re behaving like the best friend.” — Arthur from The Holiday

For years I played the ‘best friend’ role in my life; a supportive, loyal doormat. Then I took charge, and took back control of my life.

I am unashamedly a romance novelist. Whether I write sci-fi, spy stories or a murder mystery, the most important part of the plot for me is the love interest.

So I decided to be the Leading Lady in my own romance plot. My friends and I started going out more; a change from sitting in front of our computers every Saturday night, or going to the movies alone.

We went to a place called Hops, which is a pleasant venue to dance, having an open air place with tables and chairs, where one can sit and talk, away from the loud music.

I found myself in the role of Elizabeth Bennet though. No one wanted to dance with me, and I was reminded of how undesirable I am to the male population.

Feeling rather down, I went outside and amused myself by looking around for the cutest guy in the room. A pastime I’m sure Jane Austen ladies engaged in as well.

I saw him… He was with a group of people outside; definitely the cutest guy there, and definitely someone with a personality, unlike many other men in the room who just seemed to be faces or bodies.

I’m not the sort to randomly chat to cute strangers, so I went back inside to my friends and tried to be cheerful.

After that, things took a promising turn, when the swimming coach at gym started showing an interest in me. I invited him out with my friends, but he couldn’t make it. He spent the whole night flirting with me via sms though, in a sort of Bridget Jones skirt situation.

He kept saying that he wanted to spend time with me, but was too busy.

After half a month of nothing, I decided that my romance plot was putting my readers to sleep, and I would have to spice it up a bit.

So my friends and I went out again.

My eyes roved around the dance floor, looking for danger spots, and the all-important identifying of the best looking man in the club.

Danger spots were duly noted. The exuberant young man who was already intoxicated at the beginning of the evening; his rugby team had either won or lost. The elderly predatory man to my left, and the ominous band of women who weren’t there for the men…

Yes, there he was, the best looking man in the room.

He was not classically handsome. The cliché went with tall and dark and stopped there. But he had kind eyes, a face that was very pleasant to look at, and laughter lines that hinted at a sense of humour. He was plainly dressed in slightly torn jeans and a dark blue shirt.

I ended up near him. We danced. We talked briefly about a song (as much as was possible with the decibels that flung themselves around the room) We swapped names, and established that we lived about an hour and a half away from each other. His smile was enchanting, and his glass seemed to be filled with only Coca cola, which was quite something in a room where I was about the only sober person.

And then he left the dance floor and never came back.  It was probably me.

Back in the safety of my home, I reviewed my holiday plans. I had long been discussing a day trip with my daughter. We would zoom off into the distance, meander around the Midlands and explore my third favourite town, Howick.

And then it struck me.

Howick was where the mystery man from the club lived. Why not make my proposed day trip after all, and venture into his territory?

I might even see him there, if it was meant to be.

Okay, he would probably be taking a walk with his wife and three children, but at least I was being slightly like the heroines in romance novels.

So I found the map. Told my excited daughter about our plans and packed our warm clothes just in case.

A few hours later, we drove back to Pinetown with no sign of the mystery man. I could have written so many romantic scenarios where we met unexpectedly, but obviously it was not going to happen in real life.

The swimming coach told me that he was too busy to sms me, so I told him that he didn’t deserve to have me in his life. I’m tired of men who think they can give me as little effort as possible and I’ll just keep coming back for more. Like Kate Winslet’s character in The Holiday, I had gained something resembling gumption!

My friends were going to Hops again, but I didn’t feel like going. Why put myself in a situation where more men could make me feel sub-standard? Where I would be like Jane Eyre hiding behind a curtain, watching all the beautiful butterflies being admired.

I would go to the Pavilion Shopping Centre, and watch Jeremy Renner in the new Bourne movie. Alone again. Naturally.

I was by the ticket counter, when I suddenly felt that I should go out after all. Why was I watching a movie by myself?

I went to Hops, and tried to be cheerful, but I couldn’t help thinking about the swimming coach. Why did he start something that he never intended to do anything with? He knew that I was confused and hurt, but he didn’t care what he was doing to me. Why was I never special enough?

I spent about half an hour moping, and then I asked myself why I was being sad over a jerk who didn’t appreciate me! My gumption returned in spades, and I shook myself out of my blue mood.

And then I saw him…

The cute guy from last time. (not the one from Howick; the other one) And I asked myself, why didn’t I just go and dance with him?

Some crazy burst of bravery took over me, and I went onto the dance floor with absolutely no clue what I was doing. I wasn’t brave enough to tap him on the shoulder and ask him to dance, so I went with the crowd and hoped for a miracle.

After about two songs, he turned around, and I smiled at him. We started to dance together, awkwardly at first, but then growing more and more comfortable. When he held my hand, I felt an amazingly safe warmth steal over me, and I knew that something special had just happened.

I was the leading lady of my own romance story, and I had just found my leading man.

And it all started when I held the hand of a stranger, and found myself at home…