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Friday morning. The Kilcaidie Advertiser Daily Horoscope. Sagittarius: Despite a bumpy start to the day, positive aspects will forge a new beginning mid-afternoon. Don't turn away from new ideas or challenges as your future happiness might just depend on them.
Dee placed her cup of tea and bacon sandwich down on her desk and switched on her PC. There was no putting it off any further. In the last hour she'd considered and dismissed every conceivable excuse to avoid sitting down and doing some work today. Excuse number one: raging hangover. Dismissed on the grounds that it was self-inflicted so therefore not a credible reason to avoid doing paid labour. Number two: a mountain of ironing so high that a Sherpa would get vertigo just looking at it. However, ten minutes searching for the iron had proved fruitless. It was probably underneath the pile. Desperation started to creep in. Number three: it was nearly a fortnight since she'd visited her mother. She could nip over for a couple of hours. After all, she was already feeling atrocious, how much worse could it be? She sighed in resignation, then gritted her teeth. Sod it. It would be less painful to sit down and put in a few hours' work. Her mother's dulcet tones on top of the hangover from hell would have her speed-dialling the Samaritans.
She blinked hard, trying to clear the fog. Which of her literary hats would perch most comfortably on her pounding head today? Did she feel like being Desdemona White, the True Romance Book Club's novelist of the month, esteemed author of such romantic classics as He Came, He Conquered and His Throbbing Heart? Not for the first time, she gave an involuntary shudder. How had she managed to assume the identity of someone whom her mostly aged, single readers imagined lounging on a chaise-longue, wearing an apricot kaftan and patting a shitzu while she wrote her love classics on parchment with an antique fountain pen? If they could only see her now...She'd be evicted from the House Of True Romance quicker than a bigamist with body odour.
A flashback seared through her trance-like state. It had all been Trudy's fault. But then, everything always was. It had been Trude's idea to write romantic slush to supplement their meagre grants at uni. It had been Trude's theory that creating personas in keeping with the True Romance Book Club's average reader would give their manuscripts a better chance of being accepted. Thus Dee became Desdemona White, a fifty-year-old spinster who passed her days in a picturesque cottage in a blustery Scottish village, tending to her four cats and her petunias as she awaited the arrival of her God of Love, who would one day, she was sure, come and conquer.
It was also Trude's fault that even now, ten years after leaving university at the age of twenty-two, Dee was still penning her fluffy pink prose for a paltry income, instead of being the hard-hitting investigative journalist that she had always aspired to be. Well, okay, so that wasn't Trude's fault at all, but in her present tender state it made her feel better to pretend it was. In more lucid moments she would admit that the truth of the matter was that she just hadn't wanted it enough. No matter how many times she'd planned the move to London or composed applications to the more respectable tabloids and the lofty broadsheets, she never quite made it to the train or put her CV in the post. Finally, in a moment of clarity on her twenty-fifth birthday, she'd grudgingly acknowledged what everyone around her had always known: she was staying in Kilcaidie. And what's more, she was happy about it.
Three train stops and thirty minutes on a good day from the centre of Glasgow, Kilcaidie was notable only for the fact that, defying a long Celtic association with the merits of alcohol, it was the only dry village left in the West of Scotland. Not a pub for fifteen miles. It was therefore completely understandable that Dee was in this fragmented condition today, she reasoned. After all, you had to make the most of a trip to Glasgow and that's exactly what she and Trude had done on yesterday's shopping-cum-eating-cum-drinking-cum-rousing-three-other -passengers-and-a-dog-into-a-sing-song-on-the-last-train-home excursion. At her age she really should have known better. But then that was the story of her life, she mused. Common sense had never been her strongest personality trait. If it were, then she wouldn't have a career pretending to be a post-menopausal spinster on heat, earning a salary that was barely above the poverty line (not including, of course, a heady £100 bonus for being voted Author of the Month in September 1998), which she had to supplement by being Auntie Diana, author of the Kilcaidie Advertiser's agony column, and the in-house astrologer, Madame Donatella, predictor of the population's daily fortunes. Multiple personality disorder was more a career choice than a mental condition.
Indecision furrowed her brow. Auntie Diana it was. It was a warming thought that reading about other people's trials and tribulations would undoubtedly make her feel better about her present sorry condition.
Bacon sandwich in one hand, she manoeuvred the mouse to the Outlook Express icon and clicked. It pinged as it opened the program. Ouch! Good God, when did that ping get so loud? It was vibrating round her head so violently that her eyelashes started to tremble.
She quickly slid the mouse to the volume control and reduced it to mute, before switching to the "Advertiser -- Auntie Diana" profile and clicking send/receive. The screen flashed up its progress. Dialling. Verifying password. Checking mailbox. You have twelve new messages. Dee groaned. Kilcaidie was a troubled place this week. Normally there weren't more than three or four letters in a week and they generally consisted of a lonely heart, a couple of neighbourly disputes and a complaint from George the hypochondriac about skateboarders on the high street inducing his panic attacks.
She automatically clicked on the most recent arrival.
Dear Auntie Diana,
I'm very concerned about my best friend. I think she has a serious drinking problem -- every time she indulges in alcohol she has an irresistible urge to sing Beach Boys songs really loudly on public transport. Is there a support group for this condition? Please advise as to the best course of action.
Yours in deep concern,
An amused snort escaped as Dee started typing.
Pretend she's a horse with a broken limb and put her out of her misery -- with the severity of her current headache she'll thank you for it. And thank you for your concern.
Two minutes later the phone rang. Ouch. Dee snatched it from the table. The caller spoke before she did.
"Sorry, mate, I haven't got a gun. How's your head?"
"Don't ask. And stop bloody sending e-mails to Auntie Di -- she's overworked as it is. How are you feeling this morning?"
"Like I've spent two weeks marinating my head in gin." Pause. "But enough fantasizing. I've got a proposition for you."
Dee groaned out loud. "Whatever it is, you can forget it. I'm not going to start yoga classes at the community centre, donate my eggs or do a sponsored slim in aid of Save the Whale. No matter how ironic that is."
"Nope, it's none of those. Although, and I'm telling you this strictly in the spirit of a best friend who only wants what's best for you -- your thighs could definitely benefit from a session or six of Ashtanga. Anyway, the proposition. How would you like to join Dave and me tomorrow night for a veritable feast of dishes from around the world as featured in the new Jamie Oliver bible of home cooking?"
"What's the catch?"
"Why does there have to be a catch? Can't I just invite my best friend for dinner without there being some dark, ulterior motive? I'm so offended."
"It's a proposition, Trudy, therefore there's a catch. Who is he this time?"
"Okay." Trudy sighed in a tone pitched somewhere between resignation and defeat. "It's Dave's new boss. He's just moved up here from London, so we thought we'd do the hospitality bit and invite him over. Can't beat a bit of grovelling to authority in the name of career advancement."
Dee put her head in her hands. Or at least she tried to, but her aim was off and she succeeded only in imprinting her keyboard on her forehead. This was the last thing she felt like doing this weekend. Dave, Trudy's fiancé of four years (he didn't like to rush things), worked in some obscure department of Glasgow City Council. He had told her about his job a couple of times but Dee's tendency to zone out after the first two minutes meant that she was none the wiser. Another internal groan. Dinner with the remnants of a hangover (this was definitely a three-day headache) and two civil servants, one of them trying to impress the other -- was this some cosmic punishment for over-indulgence last night?
Trude sensed her hesitation and resorted to blatant pleading. "Come on, Dee, if you do this, I'll never mention your cellulite again. Please."
"Okay, okay. But I'm warning you, this had better not be a set-up. The first whiff of a blind date and I'm out of there, Trude."
"It's not a set-up, I promise. It's just a fine example of good old Scottish hospitality."
Somehow, Dee doubted that.
Saturday morning. The Kilcaidie Advertiser Daily Horoscope. Sagittarius: Today is a day for rest and recuperation and taking quiet time to recharge your batteries. For those Sagittarians who do have to venture out, avoid new social interactions arranged by friends -- despite their well-meant intentions, they don't always know what is best for you.
Dear Auntie Di,
I'm very worried about my best friend. She is in her thirties now and is still single despite numerous attempts by me to introduce her to suitable men. In fact, she was downright rude when I last sprung a blind date on her (I mean, what's so bad about a nervous twitch, a train-spotting hobby and mild halitosis -- nobody is perfect) and threatened to amputate my limbs if I repeated the exercise. What can I do about her anti-social tendencies and her threatening behaviour?
Yours in mortal fear,
Maybe your friend is perfectly happy with her single status and as her friend you should support her in this lifestyle choice. Perhaps there is something sadly lacking in your life that prompts you to take such an avid interest in other people's relationships. I suggest you look into taking up a hobby, such as basket-weaving or origami.
PS: Trude, you promised that tonight isn't another set-up. If it is, I'll have to kill you.
Dee stared at her reflection in the full-length mirror. She should have asked Trude what to wear tonight but she hadn't wanted to appear adolescent or apprehensive. She was a cosmopolitan woman of the world. One with no dress sense, she reflected. It was so difficult trying to dress for occasions like this. If she were too casual, Dave's boss might take offence, especially if he was one of those late-fifties, dress-for-dinner, formal types. On the other hand, Trudy and Dave's kitchen dining table, which doubled as a table tennis table and, in times of decoration, the wallpaper pasting area, didn't exactly lend itself to cocktail dress and diamonds.
In the end she settled for the middle road. Dark blue hipster jeans (size 12 -- who needed yoga?) with a black, low-cut T-shirt, supported by breast-enhancing bra. She clipped diamond studs into her ears and twisted up her long auburn hair, leaving some tendrils loose to frame her face. She couldn't decide if it looked Julia Roberts classy or been doing housework all day messy. Anyway, why was she caring? She was just there to make up the numbers and to reinforce the theory that Dave was a decent, normal guy who was a credit to any workplace. After all, it wasn't as if this was a date or anything...
The very thought sent her eyeballs rolling and a shiver down her spine. She so wished that Trudy would just let her get on with living her life the way she wanted to. Why must everyone on the planet be shackled up to a member of the opposite sex to ensure everlasting happiness? Why was a man (or another woman for that matter) crucial to self-esteem, image and sense of worth? Dee shrugged her shoulders. She just didn't get it. She'd tried to analyse her feeling many times over the years (especially after a few libations and in between the Beach Boys' greatest hits) but the truth was she didn't care enough to delve too deeply. Maybe it was the fact that she'd been an only child and was therefore used to enjoying her own company. Perhaps it was because the things she enjoyed doing most -- reading, lying in the bath pondering life, and running in the mornings with her walkman on full blast -- were predominately solitary pursuits.
She had never had her heart broken and had never crushed anyone else. And no, it wasn't down to deep-rooted self-loathing, a pathological aversion to commitment or some deep psychological scar tissue on her soul. It was simply a fact of life. Dee Statton was happy being the word that was greeted with fear, horror and loathing amongst other women of her generation: single. She didn't want children, she didn't want to be married and she enjoyed only emotionless flings with members of the opposite sex. As soon as they demanded any form of commitment deeper than occasionally borrowing her toothbrush after they'd spent the night, Dee would trot out the "going too fast, maybe we should have a break" speech.
Meaningless sex and someone to be her partner at weddings, funerals and the odd trip to the cinema -- that was all she wanted in a man. Was that too much to ask? And anyway (she was perched on her metaphorical soapbox now), why was it that a single, attractive thirty-something male with a job, financial security and the freedom to change partners at a whim was revered and envied by his peers, yet a female in the same circumstances was almost unanimously pitied by hers? It was one of life's little idiosyncrasies, she decided. Like why men automatically scratch their nether regions in times of deep concentration, bravado or when they think no one's watching them. God was definitely having a laugh when he created human beings...
Trudy opened the door and physically dragged Dee inside. "He's here and he's gorgeous," she stage-whispered through the hand that was trying to cover the grin stretching from one gold hoop to another. "I promise, Dee, this wasn't a set-up. But he's thirty-five, was married for three years to a female who sounds like a major bunny boiler. Anyway, she ran off with the plumber who was installing their en-suite. Marble. Cream. He's been divorced for six years. No children. Earns over fifty grand a year. Likes football, rugby and tennis, but isn't obsessed. Hates cricket. Listens to soul, Motown and also likes rock. Favourite group Oasis. No obvious halitosis or strange hobbies. Likes to travel, go to the flicks and Italian food is his favourite." She paused for breath. "Sorry, that's all I could find out. He's only been here five minutes."
Dee laughed, despite an overwhelming premonition of doom. "You forgot his inside leg measurement."
"Thirty-four and a half inches, give or take a fraction. And you know I'm never wrong about these things."
That summer job in the gent's tailors had left its mark.
Dee followed Trudy into the kitchen, mentally noting that she seemed to have got her outfit just right. Trudy too was wearing jeans with a black top, her blonde hair pulled up into a high ponytail. That was no surprise. Ever since their virtually inseparable childhood, they would arrange to meet and then invariably both turn up in almost identical clothes. They liked the same music, the same movies, excelled at the same sports...Sometimes it was almost as if they had one brain, just with extra arms and legs.
Thankfully, though, there was one area in which they differed, Dee thought, as she entered the kitchen and Dave stood up to kiss her. Men. To Dee, Dave had all the appeal of a big teddy that looked good in the corner of a room and might occasionally warrant a cuddle in times of severe stress or depression. He was sweet, cuddly and cute, but didn't set the bells ringing in her brain, or any other part of her anatomy for that matter. Still, he loved Trudy and she adored him and that was all that mattered. And one day they'd give her gorgeous adopted nieces and nephews to play with. Ones that she could hand right back at the end of the day.
"Hey, Dee, you look gorgeous," Dave smiled as he kissed her cheek. None of this air-kissing nonsense. North of the Watford Gap, you got the full saliva-leaving, make-up-smearing, deadly suction smacker. It's been known to result in bruising.
She returned Dave's kiss, then turned to face the newcomer. He put out his hand and shook hers. "Hi, I'm Greg, pleased to meet you."
"Dee," she replied superfluously.
"I know. Thirty-two, natural hair colour, journalist and author, single, never been married, likes ER, re-runs of the Sweeney and had a childhood crush on Tony Hadley. Hates seafood, likes Japanese, Chinese and Indian food and going to the cinema."
Dee closed her eyes in embarrassment.
"Oh, and inside leg thirty-one and a half inches," he concluded.
She opened one eye and contorted her face into what she hoped was an apologetic expression. Trude should carry an early warning alarm.
She half expected him to make a run on his thirty-four and a half inch legs, but no, he was still standing there with a lopsided grin. Trudy hadn't mentioned that he had a killer smile.
There was a pause, then the ludicrousness of the situation seemed to descend on all four of them at the same time and they creased into laughter.
Can't beat a bit of ritual humiliation to break the ice, Dee thought, as she offered her hand to his. "Erm, pleased to meet you," she laughed. And she was.
Dinner passed in a comfortable, lots-of-laughs and four-bottles-of-red-wine kind of haze. Dee made a mental note to apologize to her liver -- no alcohol for a month then two blow-outs in the one week. She was going to feel like road-kill in the morning.
They ran the usual gauntlet of discussion topics. Dee was pleasantly surprised to find that other than the information Trudy had forcibly extracted from the defenceless Greg, they actually had loads more in common too. Maybe there was a bit of potential there after all. There was, if she was reading the signals correctly, definitely the hint of a mutual attraction going on. It was the little things: he listened with a smile when she spoke, was interested in everything about her and didn't cringe when a spoonful of chow-mein missed her mouth and landed in the cleavage created by her push-up bra. By midnight she'd decided that the wine was fantastic and dinner parties were great! And so was Trudy, for obviously fixing her up with this lovely man. She must remember to thank her in the morning. Good old Trude, what a star!
At one o'clock, Greg called a taxi just as she announced that she was heading for home.
"Let me drop you off," Greg offered.
"No, there's really no need. But thanks."
"Look, I insist."
"Thanks, but honestly, I'm happy to walk. It's really not far," Dee persisted.
Greg refused to listen, so eventually Dee shrugged her shoulders and succumbed. Five minutes, lots of kisses and so much winking from Trudy that she now had repetitive strain injury in her right eye, they were ensconced in the back of a Mondeo.
"Thirteen Thistle Drive," Dee said with only a slight slur.
The driver looked at her quizzically. "But -- " he started to say.
Dee put up her hand. "I know, but humour me. Thirteen Thistle Drive, please."
The driver shrugged his shoulders and released the handbrake, shaking his head.
Greg looked momentarily confused by the exchange, but obviously put it down to too much wine or a taxi driver with attitude. As the car pulled away, he turned to Dee.
"I wanted to take you home because I thought we could talk on the way there without the relationship sheriff monitoring our every move," he confessed with a smile.
Dee said nothing.
"You see, the thing is -- " He was caught in mid-sentence as the driver slammed on the brakes. What was wrong with this guy?
"Thirteen Thistle Drive," Schumacher announced.
Greg looked confused and Dee couldn't suppress a giggle.
"I told you there was no need. I live only three doors down from Dave and Trude."
She almost felt sorry for causing his flabbergasted expression.
"But -- " he stuttered. Dee cut him off by leaning over and kissing his cheek.
"Call me," she said with a wink, as she alighted from the Mondeo and started up her path. "Trudy will give you my number," she continued without turning round.
As she closed the door behind her, she heard the taxi take off down the road.
Maybe there was something to this blind date thing after all...
Thursday morning. The Kilcaidie Advertiser Daily Horoscope. Sagittarius: Planetary aspects are conspiring to bring a racy time to you lucky Sagittarians. Whether single or not, emotions and passions will be running high. Brace yourselves!
Dear Auntie Di,
My best friend is going out on a date tonight for the first time in ages. It might even be decades. Anyway, since it's been so long, could you please advise her as to what is currently acceptable in the -- well, physical sense for a first date in the year 2002, as she's obviously a bit out of touch.
Yours in helpfulness,
This is such a difficult subject to advise on as it is highly subjective and depends on the individuals concerned and the amount of alcohol consumed. I would say that most intimate activities are perfectly acceptable these days. However, games involving Batman costumes, swinging from chandeliers or using objects made from leather or chain should perhaps be saved until much further into the relationship, that is the second date.
PS. It bloody well has not been decades.
Dee poured a glass of wine as she waited for Greg to collect her. She didn't know if the feeling in her stomach was hunger or apprehension. It wasn't that dates made her nervous. If anything, the opposite was true -- the prospect of great food, interesting conversation and the potential of a frolic was something to be looked forward to. No, it was more that she was beginning to doubt whether she and Greg had the same approach to relationships.
Her misgivings had started to sprout on the morning after Trude's dinner party when, despite the fact that it was a Sunday, he had managed to talk, bribe or coerce some poor unsuspecting florist into delivering twenty-four red roses to her door. She accepted them with some reticence. There was nothing she disliked more than cut flowers. It was a shocking waste! As far as she was concerned, flowers belonged in a garden with trees and bushes, not on top of her Ikea dining table amongst used coffee cups, two weeks of filing and yesterday's half eaten tuna salad. It was criminal. Florists should be outlawed.
Fortunately, she had managed not to share this train of thought when Greg called later that day to ask her out for dinner. He might think she was one of those demented tree-huggers or a closet eco-warrior.
After summoning up as much graciousness as she could muster and thanking him for the flowers, she checked her diary. Monday night: deadline for the following week's horoscopes and problem pages, so she'd be glued to her laptop. Tuesday night: Scotland was playing football against some tiny, obscure nation that she couldn't have found with the aid of a satellite navigation system. They'd almost certainly get beaten by an embarrassingly high margin (when will we accept that curling is our forte -- half sport, half housework), but she had to be on the sofa in her tartan beret nonetheless. Wednesday: ER and Friends on telly. Nothing but death, fire or a plague of locusts would get her out of the house that night. So Thursday it was.
Greg somewhat weakly hid the disappointment in his voice. He had hoped he wouldn't have to wait quite that long to see her again. Perhaps he'd misread what he thought was a spark of mutual attraction.
He was still analysing this as he knocked on Dee's door and manoeuvred a box of chocolates the size of a coffee table into her hands when she answered. Dee's smile was more of a grimace as she feigned gratitude, the noise of another nail going into the coffin of her healthy eating plan banging in her head. Okay, so she was prone to the odd lapse, but chocolates! Didn't he know that it would take three weeks on the Stairmaster to work those off?
She grabbed her coat and followed him to the car where they made comfortable, light-hearted small talk all the way into Glasgow. They continued chatting as they weaved around the city's one-way system, finally coming to a halt in St. Vincent Street. Dee almost groaned out loud. They had stopped outside L'Amour, the restaurant with the reputation of being the most intimate and romantic in the city. It was the type of place where men who were floundering for inspiration or a slither of originality took their girlfriends to propose. It came complete with pink-silk table covers, a violin quartet that serenaded you until you were squirming in your seat with embarrassment, and menus for the ladies with no prices down the sides. Dee hated those. If she was going to be charged an exorbitant amount of money for a steak that she could get for a tenner in Garfunkels, then she wanted to know about it. Oh, groan.
She frantically scanned the street, hoping that there was a Pizza Hut or TGI Friday's nearby and she'd misunderstood where they were headed. But no. Fate wasn't that kind. An elderly doorman in a top hat, morning coat and with a slightly inebriated smile held the door open for them (while simultaneously attempting to hold a lit cigarette behind his back -- the rising smoke gave his top hat the appearance of a chimney) and ushered them in. The atmosphere inside was enough to throw anyone with an aversion to Mills & Boon into a catatonic depression.
Dee had been there once before with her mate Charlie, who was the food critic for the Daily Record. Anything for a free meal. Anyway, when Charlie's subsequent review described the heart-shaped pink canapés with the cherry on top as the naffest things he'd ever seen and an insult to puddings (and that was coming from a gay guy with a predilection to anything remotely twee), he'd received a curt letter from L'Amour saying he wouldn't be welcomed back. Dee hoped they didn't recognize her now.
She lowered her head as an immaculate maitre d' with a patronizing expression, a gel overdose on his hair and shoes with inch-thick rubber soles showed them to their table. Right in the centre of the room. Oh, groan, groan. Where were secluded alcoves when you needed them? Was this the kind of place that Greg liked, she thought in horror. And how much would it be for a taxi back to Kilcaidie?
"I hope you like it here," Greg said haltingly as they took their seats. "The guys in the office recommended it." Of course! Dee suddenly realized that this wasn't intentional. Greg had just moved up from London, so how would he know that this restaurant ranked right up there with getting your partner's name tattooed on your bottom? It was probably some sad case in his office, the kind who spent all day sending replies to personal ads, who had suggested it. She decided to cut him some slack and visibly relaxed. She was going to enjoy herself tonight. She was determined.
A couple of hours later, she realized that she was starting to do just that. The conversation had flowed easily, although they'd avoided the hotspots of religion, politics, past relationships and worst sexual experience. There were a couple of sticky moments when Greg tried to hold her hand across the table, but she managed to avoid contact every time by reaching for the breadbasket. Her loathing of public displays of affection had now resulted in a carbohydrate overload. Nonetheless, she was just slipping into that kind of comfortable, flirty haze of sexual attraction when Greg blew it. Big time.
"So what star sign are you?" he asked with a provocative smile.
"I'm fascinated by star signs," he continued. "So tell me, what are the main characteristics of a Sagittarian?" He made a move for her hand again, so Dee jerked towards the breadbasket. Empty. She plunged her hand into the finger bowl instead, fully aware that she now looked like the lady in the Fairy Liquid advert.
It was time to be honest. The night was suddenly sinking quicker than a U-boat. And to make matters worse, the violin quartet were approaching.
"We're short-tempered, impatient, hard to please and terrible company. And we like an early night. It's a beauty sleep thing. I think we'd better be going, if that's okay."
Harsh, she knew, but there was no point in leading the poor guy on. They were obviously on different planets when it came to relationships.
An expression of disconcertion crossed Greg's face. He took a deep breath.
"Look, Dee, is there a problem?" he asked with just a hint of hostility in his voice. "All night you've seemed really uncomfortable. You sounded like I'd given you a contagious disease when you thanked me for the flowers I sent, you obviously hated the chocolates I brought you when I picked you up, and now you're giving me the impression that you'd rather be anywhere else but here."
Greg's voice was getting louder and louder. Other diners were starting to stare and the violin quartet did such a sudden about turn that they left skid marks on the floor.
Dee paused for a while. Honesty. She had to go for the direct approach. She just wished she didn't have a room full of eyes burning into her with undisguised aggression for impinging on their oh-so-romantic culinary experience.
"Greg, I'm so sorry. The truth is that I just really hate all this love and hearts stuff. I'm more of a football and Budweiser kind of girl." May as well get hung for a sheep as a heart-shaped canapé, she decided. Plough on. "I don't like getting flowers, I don't eat chocolates, romance makes me break out into a cold sweat and I don't believe in all that star sign nonsense." Dee exhaled forcefully, then added, "I'm sorry, Greg, but it's better that you know now. I guess I'm just not your kind of date."
There was a long pause. Then, just as the violin quartet decided it was safe to make a covert approach, Greg leaned towards her, the look on his face inscrutable.
"Let me get this straight. You write romantic novels for a living, but you have an aversion to romance?"
Dee nodded. "I hate it," she agreed weakly.
"You write a daily horoscope column, but you don't believe in astrology."
"Nope, I make them all up. I just write the first thing that comes into my head."
She almost had the decency to look ashamed.
"And you don't want me to be openly affectionate, touchy feely, or whisper sweet nothings when we're out together?"
"The very thought makes me want to heave," she replied. So that was it. The end of another almost started, almost beautiful relationship.
Greg took a few moments to think this new information through.
His brow furrowed. "You know, Dee, I really made an effort tonight. I brought you to a nice restaurant and tried to make conversation about things I thought you'd be interested in. I'm a bloke, for God's sake -- star signs are in the same department as knitting, netball and remembering birthdays. But at least I tried."
She hung her head in mortification. She was an ungrateful cow and should be burned at a stake. The guilt trip was starting at her toes and working its way up. The violin quartet had disappeared, obviously on a break. How she wished that she were sitting in a dingy staff room with them, a bottle of beer and a packet of Marlboro. Instead, she was sitting with a lovely guy, gouging holes in his heart. She was relationship Satan.
"And what you're saying, after all this effort I've gone to, is that you'd rather stay in with a takeaway and watch footie, then go down the pub. You don't want me to be at your beck and call and you just want to have a bit of a good time as opposed to a commitment to one day stroll up the aisle. You don't want me to shower you with affection, except at appropriate times when physical contact is imminent. And I don't have to call you every two minutes or see you every night?"
Dee nodded. "Sorry. I guess you want more. But that's all I do, I'm afraid. We should go now." She suddenly wanted to be at home, away from his disparagement.
Then a slow hesitant smile started to cross his lips. "I think I should be straight with you too. You see, the truth is, my wife said that the reason she left was because I didn't appreciate her enough, didn't treat her like she was special. But even though I tried, it just seemed that it was never enough. I guess I'm just a beer and footie, no hassle, no commitment kind of guy."
Her eyes rose from the floor. He was grinning now.
"I think, Miss Statton," he continued with a chuckle, "that we might just make a go of this after all."
She met his eyes. They really were gorgeous, she decided. Yes, there could possibly be potential here. Maybe. Definitely. The guilt trip was swept away by a tidal wave of relief.
"Glad we sorted that out," she laughed. "Now can we get out of here? We might just make last orders at the pub."
Greg quickly paid the bill, not taking his eyes from hers and grinning maniacally. She was just too perfect. He couldn't believe his luck. They dashed to the door, the sounds of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, just a little off tune, ringing in their ears, with the same thought running through their heads: hope the pub jukebox has Oasis.
Thursday morning. The Kilcaidie Advertiser Daily Horoscope. Sagittarius: Jupiter and Uranus are aligning to create a period of contentment in relationships with loved ones. Relish this time and don't think it's too good to be true...it isn't!
Dear Auntie Di,
Once again, I write to you in concern for my friend, Miss X. She has been seeing her boyfriend for almost six months now and hasn't so much as sneaked a peek at a jeweller's window, a bridal magazine or tuned into the GMTV Plan the Ultimate Wedding Day series. Surely that's not natural? Do you think she could be missing a hormone or two? And can that be treated on the NHS?
It is obvious to me that your friend is of that almost extinct, highly prized and much studied sector of the female species -- Latin name: Contentimus aloneous. This rare breed finds happiness in solo habitation and does not rely on others for any kind of physical or mental support. Take comfort in the fact that you are very lucky to have this extraordinary, treasured example of womanhood as your friend.
Yours in reassurance,
PS: There is no need for NHS treatment, but if you want to pop round with some Lucozade and grapes that would be fab.
Dee took a break from writing Desdemona White's latest love fest, The Girder of My Loins, and sat back in her chair, sipping a mug of hot chocolate. She pondered Trudy's latest e-mail. Was that really what she should be doing? Should she be starting to entertain thoughts of a more permanent arrangement with Greg? She shuddered involuntarily, mental pictures flying to the forefront of her brain: someone else's toiletries in the bathroom cupboard, toilet seats left up, having to make up both sides of the duvet instead of just one, double the amount of washing and don't even contemplate the ironing...she'd never get to the bottom of the pile.
But then...their relationship was giving her a feeling of contentment that she'd never experienced before. She loved the fact that she now had two indentations on her sofa seat after watching a football game, someone's shoulder to lean on when she was pretending not to cry at the sad bits in a movie, and an interested ear when she was throwing around ideas for the latest Desdemona plot. She smiled to herself, deep in thought. If she were honest, it wasn't just those reasons that were giving her a glow unaided by St. Tropez tan in a bottle. It was also, well, just Greg. He was gorgeous, he was funny, he made her laugh and he wasn't all caught up in his image and the whole designer label thing like so many self-obsessed guys these days. She was actually starting to miss him when he wasn't around. That was a first! And he was so secure in himself that he didn't cling to her, demand anything of her, get upset when she cancelled dates or couldn't see him for a week. He was a totally self-sufficient, independent and together guy. Oh, and he was great in bed. What more could a girl want? Maybe, just maybe, taking this relationship to the next level (overnight stays twice a week -- she didn't want to get over her head just yet) wouldn't be such a bad thing after all.
The telephone rang and she snatched it from the cradle. "What happened to my grapes?" she asked with a smile.
"You put them around your erogenous zones and paid someone to bite them off. The grapes that is, not the erogenous zones," chuckled a male voice.
Dee was confused. Who the hell was this? She hoped it wasn't her doctor with the results of her latest smear test -- he was being just a bit too familiar. She couldn't bring herself to speak, so there was an interminable silence.
"Dee? Dee, it's Charlie, your beloved fellow journalist and food critic extraordinaire."
Dee burst out laughing. "Sorry, Charlie, I was expecting Trudy to call and you threw me -- I didn't recognize your voice. How the devil are you? And what do you know about erogenous zones? Your last boyfriend chucked you because your idea of passion was spending a whole day in the soft furnishings department of Habitat."
Charlie was still laughing. "That's right, go for the kill. Just when I was calling to invite my favourite lady to the VIP opening of Glasgow's newest, so in that it's almost out, star-studded spectacle of an eatery this Friday. All expenses paid, of course. Say yes and I'll love you for ever."
"Flattery, flattery. What you really mean is that you can't find anyone else to take, you've been rejected by everyone including the work experience guy who does the photocopying and now you're calling me as a last resort because you don't want to sit there all night like Charlie-no-mates."
"Erm, well, yes. That's about the size of it."
"Charlie, you're a lucky man. The fact that I'll go anywhere for a free meal and an ogle at celebs compels me to say yes. Pick me up at eight and you can grovel in thanks all night for me agreeing to this."
Charlie agreed instantly. "Grovelling is my specialist subject -- consider it done."
It was only when she hung up that Dee remembered she had arranged to go to the flicks with Greg on Friday night. She rang his office and explained the situation.
"Dee, this is the third time you've cancelled in two weeks," he replied. Did she detect a note of impatience in his voice or was it just a bad line? Must be a bad line. He did work in a council building after all -- the recent cutbacks must have affected the telecoms system.
"Erm, do you mind?" she stuttered. Surely not. Total freedom was part of their arrangement. Even if she was beginning to consider the possibilities of changing the parameters.
"No, not at all," he replied. There was a definite change in his tone now -- it was decisive, positive. This was more like it. The phone system must have sorted itself out and she could hear him clearly again. "I'll give you a call next week," he added.
As she replaced the handset, she returned to her earlier train of thought. Yes, Greg was definitely one in a million. One who was worth hanging on to.
She dressed with care on Friday night, trying to tread the thin line between being trendy but not veering into fashion victim territory. Finally, she settled on a tan suede skirt with an obscenely tight black T-shirt. After a quick nipple check -- yes, both pointing in the same direction -- she ran down the path to a waiting Charlie.
They gabbed incessantly all the way to the city, swapping titbits of gossip about the others who had been at college with them. Charlie might have struggled with his journalism degree but he had attained a distinction in bitchiness. Even so, it seemed to Dee that all their classmates had done fantastically well for themselves: national magazines, broadsheets, internet publishing. The Kilcaidie Advertiser fell somewhat short in the glamour stakes. Still, she had a lovely, uncomplicated life with minimal stress, she could work in her dressing-gown all day and she made enough money to give her everything she wanted. Life was pretty good, she reasoned. Oh, and she had Greg too.
Charlie pulled to a halt in the middle of the Merchant City, the über-cool centre of Glasgow's nightlife, where fashionista police scoured the streets in search of illegal outerwear. White stilettos were a towing offence.
"I thought the restaurant was in Ingram Street?" Dee asked, realizing that they'd stopped two streets away and that Charlie would never walk more than ten yards in the open air for fear of a sudden gust of wind messing his hair.
"Yes, but the invitation says eight o'clock and it's only half past now. I can't possibly arrive this early. It would be just too gauche. Don't you know how important I am?" he preened in his campest voice.
They made their way into the Mortuary, the only bar in Glasgow with its own resident paparazzi. Charlie nearly tripped over his feet trying to ensure they got his best side.
Two vodka tonics later, they were ensconced at a suitably prominent table in the shape of a mortuary slab, Charlie trying to look as chic, cosmopolitan and interesting as possible. Unfortunately nobody noticed, as they were all too busy unobtrusively checking their own reflections in the stainless steel of the fake body lockers that lined the walls. Whoever dreamed up the concept of this place needed therapy, Dee decided.
"So, tell me all about this new man then," Charlie probed. "All the details, intimate and otherwise, just make it bloody fast because I'm freezing my body parts off in here." It was true. In keeping with the theme, the bar was so cold it would be a natural habitat for penguins.
"Weeeelll," Dee grinned coyly, "he's tall, he's dark, he's handsome..."
"Oh, stop, you're making me giddy," Charlie feigned a blood rush.
"He's funny, he's smart and he's -- " Dee broke off, her attention caught by something in her peripheral vision. "And he's sitting over there with some blonde piranha sucking on his earlobe." Dee's heart sank to the bottom of her knee-high boots.
Charlie tried to express shock and sympathy but that was difficult to do with the smile he had fixed on his face just in case the paparazzi were lurking nearby.
What to do? Dee was steeped in horror, disbelief and trepidation. They'd agreed on total freedom, she mentally raged, but monogamy was also part of the deal. Or so she'd thought. Should she make like Dodge City and march over there, demanding an explanation? Or surreptitiously sneak out and pretend she hadn't seen him?
She was about to grab Charlie's hand and do a commando crawl to the door when the decision was taken out of her hands. Greg's eyes met hers and he jumped to his feet, leaving the piranha sucking on fresh air. He walked hastily towards them and, courtesy of her weekly copy of Hello!, Dee could tell that he was dressed top to toe in Armani. Greg in Armani? What was going on? She thought he shopped only in Gap.
Charlie realized what was happening and dashed to the gents, reasoning that this was no place for a pacifist.
"Dee, I'm sorry," Greg began.
"Sorry that I saw you here or sorry that you had a blonde attempting to pierce your ear with her veneers?" Dee spat.
They stared at each other for a few moments.
Greg spoke first. "I guess our relationship just wasn't working for me, Dee. I feel terrible about it, but I realized a couple of weeks ago that we'd run our course."
Dee was dumbfounded. "But I thought you said that I was your perfect woman -- no hassle, no commitments, no demands. What's changed?"
"Sorry, Dee," he repeated. "I think, to be honest, I know now that I need more than that. You're always so independent, so sure of yourself. You act like you need no one."
"I don't need anyone," Dee agreed with venom.
"Well, there's the difference. Maybe I do. Maybe I need some commitment. Now and again, I'd like some demands made on me -- it would make me feel like I was needed. You just make me feel, well, unfulfilled."
Dee almost groaned out loud at that one. Unfulfilled? Had he been watching too much daytime telly? To her, unfulfilled meant that she hadn't had pudding yet. To think that she had even considered stepping this relationship up a level!
A gag couldn't have halted Greg's emotional outpouring now.
"You're just too uncomplicated for me, Dee. I thought you were every guy's fantasy emotionally, the kind of woman I'd always wanted, but I know now that I'm looking for more than you want to give."
Good Lord, would he never stop?! Dee's brain was screaming for mercy. This was exactly the kind of situation that she'd spent her whole life avoiding and now here she was, trapped by an emotionally lacking guy in front of all of Glasgow's beautiful people. This was hell. And he still wasn't done.
"You see, Dee, I'm at the age where I'm starting to yearn to settle down, starting to think about children, and there's no point being stuck in a relationship that isn't going anywhere..."
Dee closed her eyes. Greg wasn't a guy -- he was a woman with an out-of-control body clock.
"So I think that we should call it a day: say goodbye while we can still be friends."
Silence. Dee opened one eye just to check that his mouth wasn't still moving and the trauma of all this emotion wasn't simply causing her to block out his voice. No, mouth was shut. Coast clear. And further more, Charlie was making a cautious approach.
Dee leaned over and kissed Greg on the cheek, a wave of relief washing over her. Thank goodness she'd found out now what he was really like. A close escape if there ever was one.
"Good luck, Greg. I hope you find what you're looking for," she smiled. "And talking of demands, I think you'd better get back to your friend over there, she's starting to look demonic." It was true. The female's expression was so murderous due to this total neglect from her date that her pout was threatening to suck up the cocktail umbrellas.
Dee grabbed Charlie's hand as they strolled out of the door -- slowly, to give the photographers plenty of time to snap.
Her shoulders started to shake. For a moment Charlie thought she was crying, until he realized that it was huge chortles causing the spasms.
"You know what, Charlie? I think from now on I'll stick to gay guys and girls for company. They're much less complicated!" And with that, they strutted off into the night.
The Kilcaidie Advertiser Daily Horoscope. Sagittarius: The solar system has now realigned, bringing you Sagittarians who have lost your way of late back onto your destined path. But have no regrets -- recent experiences have taught you a valuable lesson. Heed it well.
It has been very commendable to see how you have attempted to comfort your friend after the recent and very public break-up of her relationship. I do feel, however, that it is time for you to move on as it has been over a month now. I must point out that your friend had indeed recovered from the break up before she returned home on the night in question. In short, it is time for you to enrol in those basket-weaving sessions now.
Yours with love,
PS: Fancy a night out -- you, me and the Beach Boys?
Copyright © 2003 by Shari Low