It felt so good to be out of my wet clothes and in the shower. I let the hot water run over me for a while, then got out and wrapped a towel round my waist, enjoying the sensation as I dried off and felt clean and warm.
Amy was waiting in bed, sitting up, pyjamas on. I stood in the doorway and looked at her. I wasn’t relishing the explaining I was going to have to begin in a minute, and just wanted to keep looking at her while she didn’t know everything, while she wasn’t angry or upset or disappointed.
)Hey you, feel better?
‘Much. Love a shower. Not a cold, rainy one though, not nearly so enjoyable.’
)Come and tell me all about it.
She pulled my half of the duvet aside and patted the sheet. I finished drying myself, pulled on a pair of boxers and got in next to her, unable to delay any longer. I put my arm round her and looked at her, hesitating.
)What’s the matter, hon?
‘This is hard. I’ve been so stupid. I don’t want to fuck things up between us again, but I don’t want to hide anything from you.’
)Well, if it helps, I already know you gave Becca Davis a lift which ended in her being half naked in your car, although not which half or how it … er … happened. Although the lovely Becca texted me earlier to describe in some detail what she would like me to think you and her got up to.
‘Oh, babe … I’m such a fucking idiot. Almost as soon as she got in the car I realised what I’d done, but she wouldn’t get out and it just kept getting worse and worse. I didn’t, I didn’t do any of it.’
)I know, hon.
)I know. Didn’t you hear me at the restaurant? I said I trust you. I don’t trust Becca Davis further than I could throw her, but I trust you. Remember you said I had to decide if I believe her? Well, she’s a lying cow, so why would I?
‘Ames … I don’t know what to say. You’re fucking amazing.’
)I still want to know all the gory details. Maybe without all the beating yourself up about what an idiot you’ve been. Let’s just take that for granted, yeah?
‘Ha ha, OK babe, fair enough. Well …’
I told her absolutely everything, and she took it all really well, until I told her about getting aroused when Becca touched me. She swallowed hard at that point, tried to continue smiling up at me, but had to look away and blink a lot.
‘You know it doesn’t mean anything, right? Right, babe?’
)Actually, doesn’t it mean a bit of you wanted her?
‘Only the fucking testosterone-driven uncontrollable too-bloody-male-to-think-straight part. She was waving her tits in my face, I’d have had to be, I don’t know, not a man, to be able to have any say in the whole process. All the other parts of me were thinking about you, how gorgeous you are, how much I love you – Amy, I honestly with all my heart swear that no thinking, feeling part of me wanted any part of Becca fucking Davis. My dick has a mind of its own sometimes, you know that, but I don’t have to do what it says, and I definitely didn’t want to do anything about it with Becca fucking Davis. Honestly, babe. Please don’t focus on this. I wasn’t sure whether to tell you, I knew you’d be upset, but I just didn’t want to hide any of it.
)Did you ever consider it? For just a second?
‘Shit, no, Amy. No! Fuck no. She’s got nothing I want, even with it on a plate and staring me in the face. I only want you. I wish I knew what to say so you could believe me.
)Sorry. It’s just … that was one of the things she said in her text, and you just said you didn’t do any of it, and now … well, you did.
‘But she’s just twisting it. Shit, Amy, fuck, she’s a vicious cow. I didn’t lay one finger on her, oh, apart from to take her hand off my leg, and to push her away when she tried to snog me – OK, so maybe I laid a couple of fingers on her.’
Amy continued to look down and I cursed Becca fucking Davis and her mad bitch scheming.
‘Ames, we didn’t snog. She tried, I shoved her away – oh, that was another thing in her text, wasn’t it?’
‘Shit. Bloody fucking cow. Ames, I didn’t want to touch her, I didn’t even want to look at her. I feel so stupid for letting her get me there in the first place so she could carry on doing this to you. Please, Amy, please believe me, you’re all I was thinking of, you’re all I ever want.’
I was close to tears now, it felt like I’d never to be able to convince her. Amy was quiet for a while, looking down, her hair covering her face so I couldn’t see her expression
) … OK, I just needed to know. I’ll just have to do a bit more trusting won’t I?
She took a deep breath, looked up, smiled and squared her shoulders.
)So what happened next?
I wrapped my arms around her, so relieved, knowing the effort she’d made to believe me. I pulled her closer to me, kissed her hair.
‘Where had I got up to? Oh yeah, my bloody uncontrollable dick. OK, so, after she tried to shove her tongue down my throat, which was pretty gross by the way, I basically told her she was sad and pathetic, needed to grow up and stop playing schoolgirl games, and to put her shirt on and fuck off out of our lives, and then I got out of the car and started walking. I bet that’s when she sent you the text, she did yell after me that she was going to, she tried everything to get me to stay with her.’
)I’m glad you didn’t.
‘Yeah, me too. I really, really did not enjoy getting soaked right through to my boxers, the rain was trickling down my back into some very uncomfortable places, and I feel like my feet are never going to recover, my shoes have rubbed everywhere. But it was still better than spending any more time with that mad fucking bitch.’
)So how far did you get before Matt found you?
‘Fuck, I don’t know. It felt like miles, but it was dark and raining and I was miserable and thinking about you with your parents, having them being all ‘I told you that boy was no good’, it felt like the longest walk of my life. Shit, I’m going to have to go and get the car, it’s not locked or anything, fuck knows what state she’s left it in. Shit, my fucking car.’
)Dec, do you think you can possibly wait until the morning to go and get the car? It’s late and I think what we’re talking about here is more important.
I swallowed my concern for my car. It meant a lot to me; I had bought it with money left to me by my parents, and it was in some ways irreplaceable. But not compared to Amy.
‘Yeah, it can wait.’
)So Matt found you where?
‘Oh babe, I don’t have a fucking clue where I was. She’d sent me all over the place. I only know I was walking back into the city. I’d got to some houses, just where the street lights started. Probably just as well, he might have run me over if I’d still been in the lane, my suit’s dark, so is my shirt, I didn’t think about whether cars would be able to see me. Matt’s was the only one I saw in all that time. Shit, Amy, I’m so glad you rang him. I would have had another hour or so in the rain without him. How did you work it out, where I was?’
)Well, when you rang to say you were, how did you put it, in a situation, I was really worried, especially when we got cut off and then I couldn’t get hold of you. I didn’t know your charge had run out, I thought, well, this is really silly I guess, but I remembered when you were beaten up and your phone was smashed. I completely couldn’t get it out of my head. I tried Jay and Beth, but they didn’t answer, so I tried Matt, and he really was so calm and knew just what to do. He knew Jay was home, so he went round, he called me from there, he’d called Bonksy, got a bit of a garbled story, but we worked out between us what must have happened. I told him whereabouts Becca used to live and he just went off to find you. The miracle is he hadn’t had anything to drink.
‘Yeah, that is actually a bit of a miracle for Matt at that time on a Saturday night.’
)Apparently he was just heading out to a club when I rang him.
‘Oh, so he hadn’t even started drinking yet.’
)Maybe. I didn’t ask. The other miracle is that he managed to find his way around in the dark, and actually found you. He’d never been out that way before. He must have a sat nav for a brain. He phoned me as soon as he spotted you. I was so relieved.
‘I bet your mum and dad were just loving all this.’
)Yeah, you can imagine – ‘Amy, do you not think you should order your main course now’. I was like, yeah Mum, once I’ve found out whether Dec is lying in a pool of blood somewhere or not, then I’ll completely have the sea bass with a side salad. God, they just didn’t get it at all. I’m not their most popular daughter right now, I should think.
‘You’re all they’ve got, they should be thankful you’re so fucking amazing. I should be thankful you’re so fucking amazing. Ames, I can’t believe how well you’ve taken all this. Walking down that road in the rain, all I could think was ‘That’s it, I’ve blown it, after everything we’ve talked about’, and call myself a fucking idiot over and over.
)But that’s kind of it, hon, isn’t it? We’ve done all that talking, and Beth and Jay have been completely amazing, and we’re stronger now. It’s not about me trusting you. I do. It’s not about you trusting me, either. It’s about us trusting in us. We know what we’ve got and we know how to keep it. We’re strong together – we beat Becca Davis! We’re awesome.
I looked at her with pride, admiration and so much love. She said we were strong, but she was stronger than me by a mile.
‘I love you so much, Ames. Will you marry me?’
)Always, hon. You’re going to have to stop asking one day.
}Fucking hell, Summers, it’s the middle of the bloody night. Even I was asleep. Alone, sadly, not that you asked, even though it was your shenanigans that ruined my night.
‘Sorry, Matt. I’m just worried about my car. I couldn’t lock it because she was still in it, and I don’t know where it is because I was fucking lost. I really don’t want anything to happen to it. Ames wanted me to wait until tomorrow, but I’ve just been lying awake worrying about it.’
}I’ll be there shortly. Make sure you have a bloody enormous strong coffee ready for me when I arrive.
‘Thanks, I really appreciate it.’
}How far up here was it?
‘I don’t know. It felt like I was driving for miles, there wasn’t anywhere to turn round – oh, there it is … oh fuck.’
}Dec, I don’t think you’re going to be able to drive it home. Shit, what the fuck’s she done?
We pulled up behind my car, which was still in the gateway, all the doors open, all the lights on, all the stuffing ripped out of the seats, deep scratches along the paintwork and all four tyres flat. I sat, numb, and looked at it in Matt’s headlights.
}Come on, let’s inspect the damage.
‘I’m not sure I want to look any closer.’
}We need to see what she’s done, take some pictures, then we need to make it secure so nobody else who fancies a steering wheel or spark plug can help themselves.
‘I can’t take any pictures, I left my phone at home drying out.’
}I’ve got mine. And I’ve got a digital camera in the glove box for just such emergencies.
‘Well aren’t you prepared.’
}Yeah, you’re welcome. Come on, let’s get it over with.
I reluctantly got out of Matt’s car and approached mine. It looked worse the closer I got. As well as the damage to the car, all the contents of the inside of the car and the boot were scattered on the ground outside. There were CDs, tissues, my Raiders kit and suit, magazines, a picnic rug and road maps. They had all been broken, ripped, stamped on and otherwise destroyed. Everything, inside and out, was soaked with rainwater. The words ‘FUCK YOU’ were scratched into the roof.
}Fucking hell, Dec, you really pissed her off, didn’t you.
‘Looks like it. Fuck.’
I stood and stared, not sure quite what to do. Matt took his phone out and took several photos of the inside and outside of the car by the light of his headlights. Then he took some more with the digital camera.
}Well, that’s a record of it, I suggest picking all this shit up and putting it in the car – oh. Er … is this your club suit? Can you get another one?
‘Don’t know, they had a special tailor in to make them all up. I’m supposed to wear it after home games. Don’t expect they’ll want me to wear it like that. Shit, two suits ruined in one evening.’
Matt and I started picking things up and piling them in the boot. Then I turned the lights off – they weren’t very bright, as if the battery was nearly dead – and shut and locked the doors.
‘I guess I’ll have to call a garage tomorrow to get it towed. Do you think I’ll be able to get it repaired on the insurance?’
}Depends on your policy, they usually try to wriggle out of paying up for anything. I doubt you’ll get any admissions out of the lady in question, either, so it could take ages to sort out. You might have to suck it up and sort it yourself. Sorry, Dec, I know your car means a lot to you.
‘Yeah, well, it’s just a heap of metal and plastic, really, isn’t it?’
}Oh, mate, I know you don’t really mean that, you fucking nancy, but nice try. Summers is awarded five man points for putting on a brave face. You’ll get it fixed up, mate, it’ll be good as new. Which considering the fucking appalling way you’ve looked after it can only be a good thing. At least your swanky-arse sponsorship deal will help pay for it. Come on, let’s go back, there’s an outside chance I could actually manage an hour’s sleep tonight before your next drama unfolds.
Dec: =Msg fm last night’s reject. UR fucking wanker. Have 2 say I agree. No more favours.
Bonksy: =Wot u mean? Was problem? Thought all sorted with Scotty’s brother.
_Hi Dec. How do you fancy a fortnight in the South of France?
_James has just been offered this villa practically on the beach for a fortnight in June. It’s enormous, big enough for all of us. We’re going to take Cal out of school, Matty’s coming, Carol’s coming, Nico and Lis too, I thought we could ask Rose, and if you and Amy would like to come it would be a complete family holiday …
‘Whoa, sounds fucking awesome. We might have to cancel our month on the private yacht, or reschedule the visit of the Prince of Monaco, but as long as Ames is OK with it … fuck yeah!’
_You didn’t have anything else planned, did you?
‘Ha ha, Beth, very funny, you know I don’t do plans.’
_No, but Amy is a bit more organised. She hasn’t booked something you’ve forgotten about?
‘Shit, I’d better check, that would be the kind of sneaky thing she’d go and do. I’ll text her now.’
Dec: =Can we go south of France, 2 weeks in June with Beth n Jay n every1? Please canwecanwecanwe? xx
Amy: =What? Really? Sounds completely amazing!
Dec: =Really! We’re not booked 2 do anything?
Amy: =Not unless u booked it – oh, what am I thinking? 😉 xx
‘Hey Ames, sorry got held up at Carol’s, she needs some stuff taking to the tip. Just had a thought. It’s your birthday on Saturday isn’t it, shall we go out somewhere, have a meal or something?’
)A meal? Yeah, OK, that’d be … nice, I guess.
‘Great, I’ll book somewhere. Only the best for you, babe. See you soon. Love you.’
_Great performance, sweetheart. Do you think she suspects?
‘No, she sounded really pissed off and disappointed at my usual thoughtlessness and lack of foresight. I hope she doesn’t get too upset, I’ll have to spill.’
_Dec, you can’t! You’ve got to stay strong. It’s only a couple of days. Have you got that playlist finished yet?
‘Yeah, well I have now Matt helped me set it up. I’ve been sneaking out of bed after she’s gone to sleep to finish it off, all her favourites, things she used to go clubbing to, stuff from when she was a kid. I’ve been so devious getting it all out of her.’
_Well done, sweetheart.
‘Well, not really, it wasn’t that hard. You’ve done all the hard work. The hardest bit for me has been all the lying.
_They’re only tiny fibs, sweetheart. For a good cause.
‘I know, I know. It’s not easy though. Thanks so much, Beth, you’ve been fucking magnificent. You should go into business as a party planner or something.’
)Thanks hon, I’ve had the best day and night and morning ever. I’ll say a proper thank you later.
‘Well it was really all Beth, and Rose and Carol did the food. I can’t claim credit for anything except the playlist.’
)Actually, I think the playlist was my favourite bit. And besides, I don’t think Beth would appreciate how completely grateful I’m going to be. She might be a bit surprised if I tried to thank her the same way.
‘Oh? Oh! Well in that case, I accept your heartfelt gratitude and await my reward. Mm, come here for a quick preview?
Amy: =Just got results *drum roll* got a DISTINCTION!!!!! WOOOOOHOOOO!!!
Dec: =UR fucking AWESOME! Love u so much xxxxxxxx :)))))
Is there such a thing as the perfect mate? Not the love of your life, not your soul-mate, not any of those sentimental romantic lies ultimately designed to sell wedding venues and valentines cards. No, the perfect mate. Someone who so perfectly complements you physically, sexually, socially, attitudinally, intellectually that it’s just ridiculous not to, well, mate with them. In both the sexual and the ‘partners in (but not necessarily for) life’ sense.
Well of course there is no such thing, but I thought I’d got close with Matt Scott. Apart from his over-affectionate, over-interested, over-populated family, he was, eventually, perfect for me. I was perfect for him. We were perfect together, theoretically speaking. Obviously, nobody’s actually perfect, and I was well aware of Matt’s flaws, as aware as he was of mine. And yet, it should have been the perfect match…
We both started working for GreenScreen at about the same time, and although he seemed serious enough about his work, his immature stalking of all the superficial, blonde, gel-nailed business school graduates meant I wanted little to do with him in the first year of our employment.
Eventually he ran out of playmates, as word of his standard modus operandi filtered down to the bottom feeders and dried up the ready supply. So he set his sights on bigger challenges and, according to office gossip, started dating women who might actually be able to hold a conversation with him about something more than the latest issue of OK magazine – word had it he had cleaned up his act a little, and although still a Lothario who would bed you, then drop you at the merest sniff of commitment, he would at least pay for dinner before trying to stick his hand down your bra.
It was kind of a no-no to interfere in another team’s projects, but when the boss asks you to do something, you don’t really have a choice. So when Phil asked me to have a look at the weakpoint analysis on the Duffenheim project that Jules’ team was handling, I had a go. I took the print-out, wandered over to her office and leaned on the door frame, watching her for a bit.
Jules was hot. She was … I can only describe her as petite, really, although when she was fired up you forgot how small she was. She had short dark hair that curled round her ears, and brown eyes that went almost black when she was angry. Which she was, with me, at first, quite a lot of the time.
So anyway, I stood watching her for a bit, wondering how long it would take her to realise I was standing there, arms crossed, my best get-your-coat-you’ve pulled smile on my face. Eventually she looked up, and I jumped in before she could send me packing.
‘You need me.’
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘Oh, you won’t have to beg for it, Jules. Unless that’s what floats your boat.’
I was going to enjoy myself, because I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to her very often, and I wanted to see if she blushed. I had a whole arsenal (although as a Tottenham supporter it pains me to admit that) of flirty banter at my disposal.
‘It’s Julia. What are you talking about?’
He was quickly becoming irritating. I wasn’t about to respond to his innuendo, and I had work to do. His smirk widened, however, and he straightened up, running a hand through his thick, short, sandy hair, leaving a lot of it standing out at crazy angles.
Oh this was great, I already had a way to wind her up, and it was completely unintentional. In my mind, she was always Jules, it had just come out. I widened my smile, straightened up, and ran a hand through my hair.
‘See, the thing is, Jules …’
I paused, leaving a gap for her to correct me again, but she stayed silent and I inwardly applauded her self control.
‘…aha, I see I only get one warning, nice. Makes things interesting. OK, the thing is, Phil thinks you need me to help you with your Dufflebag project –’
Yeah, it was pretty childish, getting the name of the project amusingly wrong. Didn’t I mention I was immature?
He laughed, the corners of his eyes crinkling not unattractively. He had big grey eyes. I’m not sure why I noticed.
‘He said you’d say no. I, er, don’t think it’s a request actually. I’ve fixed your problem with the weakpoint analysis. Here.’
He handed me a sheet of paper with graphs printed on it. I put it on my desk without looking at it.
She spoke without looking at me, eyes fixed on her computer screen.
‘Tell Phil we’re working on a solution. Thanks for the offer, though.’
‘Come on Jul – ia.’
Calling her Jules had had an unexpected effect, so I tried it again, mixing it up a bit to keep her on her toes. But this time she didn’t answer, just started tapping the keyboard. She was good; this required the full Matt Scott treatment.
‘Just look at the bloody graphs, woman. Just one tiny little look, what’s it going to hurt? Then you can say thank you very much Matt you really are so brainy what can I possibly do to repay you and I can say oh I don’t know maybe dinner at eight my treat and a club afterwards and you can pretend you don’t really want to but you can let me persuade you because I really am so brainy and actually quite charming and handsome too in a kind of skinny but rugged way and –’
‘Oh for fuck’s sake, alright.’
Just to stop him talking, I reached over to the piece of paper he’d given me and had a look at the graphs. It didn’t take me long to see they were brilliant, and Matt had managed to save my team hours of work. I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of letting him know that, though, because he shouldn’t have done it in the first place, so I studied the page as if I had seen several glaring errors.
What? She was going to come out with me? Just like that? She was – oh. She meant she was going to look at the print-out. She picked it up and looked at it, and if I hadn’t been looking at her really intently, I would have missed the split second when her eyes widened a fraction and she was impressed. But I did see it, and then I saw her rearrange her features so she appeared unaffected by what was clearly going to save her team hours of work, and I nearly laughed out loud. Instead, I channelled my amusement into more sport for me.
‘So this is where you say thank you very much Matt, you really are so brainy, et cetera, dinner, club, your place –’
She looked up and tried to throw ice daggers from her eyes, but I let them all bounce off me. It took more than a look to intimidate me, and I melted them with my solar smile. I wasn’t going to thaw the Ice Queen all in one go, but I might sneak in a bit of a defrosting if she let her guard down.
‘Meet you at The Long Legged Frog at eight. I’ve booked the table.’
I hadn’t done any such thing, but it was going to annoy the shit out of her to think I’d been confident enough to do so, and that I’d planned this whole thing. I turned and walked away, hands in my pockets, without another word.
Matt turned and walked away, hands in his pockets, leaving me annoyed and discomfited. He was arrogant enough that he might have booked a table in anticipation of winning some imaginary contest, but I suspected it was a bluff.
And that should have left me with a dilemma, because tables at the Long Legged Frog weren’t easy to come by, but I decided that, as she was really unlikely to turn up anyway, I’d just go down there, wait around for half an hour outside just in case, then bugger off home. If she did turn up, I’d confess, and maybe she’d let me take her somewhere else, or maybe she wouldn’t. But when I got there, I thought I’d check, and they bloody well had a table for two, so I sat and waited.
I can’t explain why I went to The Long Legged Frog that evening. Maybe part of me wanted to see if he really had booked a table. I certainly hadn’t planned on going inside, just peering through the window with my hood up, seeing if I could spot Matt, then I was going to walk away. But I couldn’t see properly through the windows, which were covered in some kind of streamers for a birthday party, and although I thought I could see someone near the back of the restaurant who looked like him, I wasn’t sure.
I waited for my self-allotted half an hour, picked something from the menu that I was going to ask them to do up as a takeaway, and was just about to order it, when I saw a hooded figure looking through the window. Not Death or anything so sinister – I’d always imagined Death as a tall bloke in a cape, carrying a pointy farming implement, but this was just a short-arse woman wearing a coat with a hood.
There was a birthday party going on at the table in the window, and it wasn’t easy to see, but I thought it was her. I had no idea if she’d seen me, and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity, so I got up and went to the door, where there was Julia Marran, looking as indecisive as I had ever seen her, one foot on the threshold.
‘Well what the fuck are you waiting for? You’re already half an hour late, I was about to order takeaway.’
She had a weird kind of frightened rabbit look in her eyes, and I wondered if I’d just scared her away, so I made sure I was smiling as I said it, and gestured her inside before she could change her mind.
I looked up into Matt’s wide grey eyes, which were crinkling at the corners to take the bite out of his words. I took in his casual but well-chosen clothes, his deliberately rumpled appearance; there might be worse ways to spend an evening, especially if he was paying. Tables at the Long Legged Frog weren’t readily available, because the food was excellent; Matt’s confidence levels were obviously way higher than I had given him credit for if he really had booked before our earlier conversation.
As I led her to the table, part of me was wide-eyed with surprise. Holy fuck! Julia Marran had come on a date with me. She’d actually turned up. I mean, yeah, albeit looking like it wasn’t the place she most wanted to be in the world, but still. I wondered briefly whether I was going to get into her pants, and then brushed the thought away as unworthy.
Julia Marran wasn’t the kind of woman who you dallied with in any way, shape or form. You didn’t shag Julia Marran once, and then leave in the middle of the night while she was still asleep.
If I was lucky, Julia Marran would stay for the main course and I’d get home without my ego taking too much of a bruising. It was new territory for me, and although part of me resisted the novelty, another part of me was excited at the departure from the old familiar ways.
Let me be very clear – at this point, I was still an excellent no-strings lay. It was just that Jules was way classier than any of the women I usually took up with, and away from work there was something … vulnerable about her that grabbed me by my lapels and said ‘be gentle’.
The evening went much better than I would have anticipated. Matt was surprisingly good company; he had a quick wit and a keen intellect, which he usually hid under lots of laddish banter about beer and football; he had a degree in systems technology (a better one than mine although only just); was well-read and appreciated good literature even if he didn’t enjoy the same books as me; he liked the same arts films that I did, and generally surprised me with his ability to talk in an informed way about lots of different subjects. He even made me laugh a few times. He didn’t offer much personal information, but then neither did I, and our conversation was doing fine without needing to bother about family histories.
Matt swore a lot, his speech was peppered with variations on a theme of ‘fuck’, ‘shit’ and ‘bollocks’, not that it worried me, as I wasn’t averse to the odd curse when appropriate, but it was noticeable. To start with I thought he was trying to impress me or irritate me but I realised after a while that, just as I blocked it out, so he didn’t really notice he was doing it.
So, we talked. We actually bloody well talked. Books, films, art, we had a lot in common. We had similar degrees, although mine was a bit better than hers – score – and the evening flew by. I had expected her to be distant and unapproachable, but Julia was different away from work. I wasn’t sure if she realised how far her act had slipped; I saw a bit of the real her, and I liked it.
When we’d finished our meal, done the coffee, and the waiters were starting to hover as time ticked on, I paid the bill as I’d promised and we left. I couldn’t resist another go, though; it had worked so well before.
‘So where are we going now?’
I knew she had no intention of going anywhere else, but my spiel back in the office had been dinner, club, your place.
‘I’m going home.’
‘Oh great, your place then. Skip the club. Fuckably good plan. Where do you live?’
I was pushing for all I was worth. Maybe I stood a chance, maybe I didn’t. Don’t ask, don’t get.
I couldn’t work out if he was joking, serious or pushing his luck, and decided some clarification was in order.
‘Just so we’re clear, Matt, I’m going home, to my home, on my own, without you. Thank you for dinner, and thank you for the weakpoint analysis. I think we’re even now.’
And it was Return of the Ice Queen. I mimed stabbing myself in the heart as if with an icicle, and staggered back against a wall for added effect.
‘But Jules, we were getting on so well.’
We had been getting on well, and part of me was disappointed to be dismissed so summarily. I pushed my bottom lip out in a sulk.
‘It’s Julia. I will admit I’ve had a better evening than I was expecting.’
‘You’re really quite pleasant company. It’s a shame you’ve let your reputation hide your intelligence.’
‘Double ouch. You really tell it how you see it don’t you. I can see it’s going to be a bit of a bloody challenge getting into your knickers.’
I realised my mistake as soon as I said it. I hadn’t even thought about the flirty banter while we were inside, but the second I mentioned her knickers, the shutters went up and I lost her. She rolled her eyes, and walked off. I felt the need to rescue something; the need for this not to be finished just yet. I hurried after her and pulled her gently by the arm.
I started to walk in the direction of my car, a little disappointed that he had been unable to refrain from making at least one sexual remark. I felt his hand on my arm.
‘Hey. No goodbye?’
His hand turned me slightly towards him, and without warning he leaned forwards and kissed me on the mouth. His hand came up to cup my cheek as he tilted my face up towards him. I thought about pushing him away, but to be honest I had heard tales of Matt Scott’s kisses and I wanted to find out how true they were. Albeit without letting his tongue anywhere near mine.
I turned her slightly towards me, quickly leaned forwards and kissed her, tilting her face up to mine with my hand. And she let me. Well, after a fashion she let me. She didn’t wrap her arms round me, or touch me in any way, but she just stood there while I bombarded her with my best tongue and lip action. Or the best I could manage with someone who wouldn’t open her mouth.
I ran my tongue along the edges of her lips and probed her locked down teeth looking for a way in. I sucked her bottom lip gently into my mouth and nibbled on it, running my tongue over it and then trying again to force my way into her mouth. I got frustrated and mashed both lips against hers, then gave her the smallest of pecks all the way around her mouth, then tried again with my tongue. It was like she had lockjaw or something, and I suddenly found it really, really funny, standing there trying my best, while Julia just stood there letting me, having no intention of actually giving anything back.
Matt’s lips were soft and warm, and his tongue was insistent and surprisingly inventive. He made a very good attempt, and I was tempted to give in and experience the full version of a Matt Scott kiss, but I felt him hum or cough or something, and suddenly realised he was laughing, with his mouth still pressed to mine. I pulled my head back and looked into his smiling eyes as he continued to laugh.
‘Something’s amusing you?’
‘You know your nickname’s The Ice Queen, right?’
I was sure she must do, despite each new batch of juniors thinking they’d made it up. I might have helped them along a bit.
‘That’s supposed to be a secret. The juniors all think I’ll stab them with an ice pick if I find out that’s what they call me.’
‘Well I was just thinking, you’re so hard to give a good Frenching to, I think your new nickname should be The No-Dice Queen. Shit, Julia, anyone’d think my tongue carried the plague the way your barricades are rammed home.’
‘For all I know it does, from what I hear you’re not that particular where you put it. Thanks for the meal, Matt, see you at work tomorrow.’
I walked off again, surprising myself by feeling a little disappointed that he didn’t come after me again. I heard a quiet ‘Bye Jules’ as my footsteps took me to my car.
Wow, that stung. I knew what tales were out there about me, and I knew Julia would have heard most of them, in passing if not directly, but to be confronted with that brief but damning assessment of me, and hearing the distaste with which she said it, brought me up sharp and stopped my games instantly.
Julia walked off along the street, as I stood there, chastened. I managed a subdued, ‘Bye Jules’ as she went.
Back in the sanctuary of my flat, I sank down onto the sofa with a glass of wine and reflected on the evening. When I’d woken up that morning, I would have laughed in the face of anyone who told me that by the end of the day I would have survived a meal and a kiss with Matt Scott.
Although I had my impulsive side, most of the things I did were considered, and I was very careful to maintain strict control over how I revealed myself at work. My Ice Queen persona had been painstakingly developed by me to keep colleagues at a distance and remain efficient within my team. Workplace complications tended to have an impact on getting the job done and I did not welcome diversionary intimacies of any sort. I had a full and satisfying social life which was completely separate from work; I was a different person when I was spending time with my friends, who would have recognised The Ice Queen as little as anyone from GreenScreen would have recognised Jules. I smiled wryly to myself as I thought about Matt trying to get away with calling me that. It was one of the ways I was able to retain my distance at work. Only people who got close to me called me Jules, and he wasn’t going to be one of those. I was going to have to be careful not to make too much of an issue of it, though, as he was the sort of guy who would carry on to get a reaction.
Anyway, I was hardly going to come across him again after tonight; his brief involvement in the Duffenheim project was over, he’d had his fun and failed in his quest. He would have moved on to the next more willing victim by tomorrow. Or even tonight. I was surprised to find that thought gave me a bit of a pang of … what? Regret? Ridiculous. I finished my wine, washed up the glass and went to bed.
And I suppose that’s when I started seriously evaluating my life, with all the wine, women and song (possibly reworked into beer, birds and bad karaoke if you want to be honest and slightly insulting) needing a long hard look. I’d started to slow down, put the brakes on a bit, already, but Jules throwing back some of the things she’d doubtless heard about me, and the way she said it, made me realise what some people, people whose opinions I valued, might actually believe about me. I let a lot of the bollocks stand, because it suited me, and a lot of other bollocks just became hard-wired into the myth. But I never had anything nasty or infectious. After Carrie convinced the population of Stafford that I had, I made doubly sure I was always protected, and I got myself thoroughly and regularly checked. I’d heard the stories of the nasties you could get if you let Matt Scott near you, but I knew where they’d originated from, thank you Petra, and I did my best to squash them. Obviously my best squashing hadn’t been enough.
Ironically, what people thought about the state of my sexual health and morals wasn’t a million miles from the heap of shite that Carrie led everyone to believe about me up in Stafford. The difference this time was that it was largely my own doing.
So now it was all coming home to roost. I was getting tired of being fun-boy Matt, and sometimes I was lonely, despite the surprising closeness I still maintained with my family. I wouldn’t say I was looking for someone, or if I was, I was not in any way prepared to admit it to myself. But I began to see that this state of affairs couldn’t last, had maybe had its time, and I changed. Oh, I was still Matt the Lad, the chat was still there, I still partied, snogged, groped, but that final bit, that back to your place, fumble with the underwear, ooh yeah, cheers love, that went – or at least saw a drastic cut in occurrences.
And I would look at Jules sometimes, and kick myself, because she was an echo of what might have been. I could have chased her, I could have convinced her, I could have won her over, if things had been different. But she thought I was the worse kind of sleazeball, and she wasn’t far wrong, and that was the end of that.
Much as I expected, if I thought about it at all, I didn’t see a lot of Matt at work after that. I presented his graphs to my team, we acknowledged the man-hours they had saved us, and I didn’t really think about him. It wasn’t until Nons died several weeks later that I even spoke to him again.