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Monday, October 9, 2017

Showcasing 3 Snippets from - No Strings Attached By Joanne Rawson

It would almost be about a month, yes a month ago now. I arrived home from work, a pile of mail greeting me on my doormat. Sifting through the usual bank statement, household bills, and a whimper at the balance of my credit card bill, I winced at the next letter, a thick cream-colored expensive envelope, striking thick black letters, bearing just my solitary name, MISS LAURA LEE.
It suddenly dawned on me; it was the month of May. Inwardly I groaned, knowing that by the end of September, I would have a line of these cream cards, embossed with gold letters on my mantelpiece, inviting one guest and me.
Wedding invitations are supposed to bring a smile to your face, with thoughts of a happy occasion that two people would be joining in Holy Matrimony, publicly declaring their love for each other. But for me, it was just confirmation that at thirty three, I’d spent all my time and efforts on my career, and before you get any preconceived ideas, I’m no super model, fashion editor of a glossy magazine, or a world renowned surgeon, I’m a plain Jane, boring auditor for a large chain of bars and restaurants, who has fought her way through a world of male bureaucracy, thus enabling me to buy my own house, and filling it with cherished belongings, in the process having forgotten my main cherished possession, a man to share it all with. It seems I would spend a lifetime receiving invites to Miss Laura Lee and guest.
There had been one man, three years ago—Robert—that after years together, I thought would be a lifelong possession. However, my friend, (now ex friend) had swept him from under my nose, like a professional bargain hunter at the first day of the Next sale. You know what I’m talking about, ladies, don’t you? Having admired it for weeks, but you knew it was way out of your price range. Then for hours you stood in the queue waiting, knowing exactly what you want, and then, when you finally see it on the rack, you can’t believe that it is still there. You take a minute to admire it, knowing it fits perfect, makes you feel good, and then, before you know it, some silly bitch snatches it from your reach. You also know bloody well, that in a few weeks, she will toss it aside, unwanted, and soiled. Well, that is exactly what Marsha Doyle did to me, the bitch. She’d always wanted everything I had, and when she finally got her perfect manicured claws in Robert, she played with him like a cat with a mouse.
So here I am, a month later, and only three days to my cousin’s big event. Not that I’m counting. Normally such trivialities as a wedding would be pushed to the back of my mind, if it hadn’t been for the phone call.
* * * *
Nine thirty, I was already an hour late, as I trudged down the street, my Gucci loafers pinching my toes, bearing a blister on my heel the size of a boiled egg, (another disastrous first day of a sale bargain.) Hitching my laptop bag back onto my shoulder, and my handbag slipping off the other, I had no hands free; my sports bag in one, and my heavy briefcase ripped rivets into my fingers of the other, I saw Adam Ford leaning back on the wall of the pub, smoking a cigarette, yet just another misfortune to my already stressed morning. Although Adam and I had been with the company for the same amount of time, our relationship consisted of a nod to each other as we passed each other in the office, all his communication via text or e-mail, actual words not being Adam’s forte.
It wasn’t poor Adam’s fault he was as quiet as a church mouse, and didn’t have the pizzazz like the iffy Chinese I had last night, being the first reason I was late for work. My red dragon had certainly breathed a ring o’ fire, spending most of the night perched on the loo, only to run out of bog paper! (I’ll not go into detail only to say the Subway wrapper from my meatball sub, reminded me of Izal toilet paper from my school days.)
Reason number two. Tentatively making my way to my car, parked on the main road outside my house, my backside on fire, I walked like I had a red hot poker stuffed up my bum, only to find some stupid idiot had banged into my front wing. Now I’m no mechanic but the way the wheel arch had crumpled into my wheel, I knew I was not going to get very far.
This was quickly followed by reason three; having to take public transport that I’d not had to do since college, forgetting they actually didn’t take you to your destination, which meant I would have to WALK the extra twenty minutes by foot! Ringing my dad, asking if he would look at the car and call out George, our trusty mechanic, only to be told dad had nipped out with the dogs, but mum would pass on the message.
Then crisis hit big time; reason number four. Mum announced that dad had booked us into The Chase hotel for Friday and Saturday night of my cousin’s wedding, and did I need two rooms or one for my guest?
“I was very surprised that you are taking someone. Really, Laura, you should have said, and I felt such a fool when Aunt Alison asked if it was a male friend. So tell me, who is it?” she said in her ‘why am I the last to know voice.’
“Your guess is as good as mine,” I whispered into my phone.
By mistake, I must have ticked the wrong box. There had been no hidden agenda. I hadn’t been on a date in months, and sad to say not a sniff of male testosterone in over a year.
While I listened to my mum twitter on about how nice it would be if her daughter was like Karen, her friend’s daughter, and how more like sisters they were, I wondered if I could let her down gently by saying I had made a huge mistake and there was no hidden lover, be it male or female in my life. When I caught the tail end of how she had bumped into Robert, (my ex,) and how he was so looking forward to seeing me at the wedding, my blood froze in my veins. On all accounts Robert was under the impression I was living a life of solitary confinement.
“How dare he,” I hissed down the phone. “After all this time, he swans back, from God knows where in the world, and assumes that I’m still broken-hearted? The arrogance of the man. Why the hell was he invited to Joanna’s wedding? No doubt to bloody humiliate me.”
“Laura, stop being so damned melodramatic, I hardly call Plymouth the other side of the world, and Robert has to be there since he’s Harvey’s best man.”
I had forgotten that that was how Robert and I had met. Joanna, and I being the same age, had met Robert and Harvey, while at Nottingham University. Joanna and Harvey, had concentrated on their careers, and building a relationship before tying the knot, whereas I had concentrated so much on my career, I was oblivious to Marsha digging her claws into Robert. Well he wasn’t going to get the satisfaction of thinking I had turned into some dried up, bitter spinster.
“Two rooms, Mum,” I said quickly as my stop was coming up.
My heart was pounding. Why had I opened my big mouth? Well, I know why, thanks to my mum setting the record straight, telling Robert that I did have a secret someone and we would all get to meet him at the wedding. So now what? I had no little black book of men I could call on. Where the heck was I going to find someone I could pass off as my boyfriend in just three days? Quickly I texted my friend Lisa, who had a black book as thick as war and peace, my fingers frantically punched away:
Help! Need a man for Friday & Saturday to be my date for wedding, no strings attached. Robert will be there! Call me A.S.A.P. Laura. Xxxxx
We walked to the sandwich bar, discussing our findings. It occurred to me that this was the most Adam and I had ever spoken to each other. I found his voice very soothing, very clear. If my Mum were here, she would be gagging at the bit to ask him if he was seeing anyone.
Mum had a thing about well-spoken men. “Did you hear how lovely he spoke? You can tell he was brought up well. Mark my words, he will have good manners and be the perfect husband,” was Mum’s philosophy of finding your ideal man.
Once inside the sandwich bar, I gave Adam my order, phone and lap top, and bolted for the loo. After a good fifteen minutes, I arrived back to see Adam perched on a stool in the window on the phone, no my phone I knew it was mine by the pink casing.
“What the hell?” I snatched it from his hand. Who is this?” I barked.
“And hello to you too, Laura,” came Lisa’s cheery voice. “A fine way to greet me seeing as I have spent all my hard earned profits on phone calls for you this morning, trying to dig you out of the poop.”
Lisa owned her own very chic and exclusive fashion boutique in a trendy Mews in Nottingham City centre. If anyone could find me a date, it was her. Not only had she dated every eligible bachelor in Nottinghamshire, and worked her way through Derbyshire, she was now stretching further afield to Leicestershire. She was the Who’s Who of men.
“Well I have some good news and some bad news, what will it be?”
“I could do with good news first.” I suddenly became excited. My palms began to sweat, and butterflies fluttered in my stomach, desperately wondering whom Lisa could have hooked me up with. Was it that barrister, Austin Templar? Now he was cute, and wasn’t it him whose Dad was a member of parliament? Ooooh… what about that Earl of somewhere, with the big stately home in the Peak District? He had the body of Brad Pitt in Troy and that gorgeous, come to bed face of Patrick Dempsey. Miles away thinking about Earls and members of parliament, I quite forgot to listen to Lisa’s good news until her next words startled me out of my musings.
“It may be small and more reddish than pink, but it fits quite snugly. I did try it out first, but it’s only for the weekend.”
I became very confused, and as you can imagine my mind was working overtime, wondering who or what was small, and more reddish than pink and fit snugly? I wondered if Lisa had gone beyond her call of duty in finding me a date. “Lisa what the hell are you talking about?’
“The dress I have sorted out for the wedding. Were you not listening?”
“Of course I was,” I lied. “I’m sure it will be fine. So what is the good news?”
“That was the good news, the bad news is… I’m sorry, Laura,” and then she mumbled, “I can’t find you a date.”
My heart raced in panic. “But you know thousands of men! You’re telling me not one of them said yes?”
I could sense Lisa’s embarrassment even down the phone—that awkward silence, the deep sigh as she thought of comforting words. “To tell you the truth, Laura, and I think you really should know, everyone I spoke to said the same. Firstly, to which I had to agree, two days notice is very short. All the people I know have their diaries booked up weeks, even months in advance.” Lisa endured another awkward silence before she continued. “Now what I’m about to say, please take it as constructive criticism, not from me. Laura, they said you are a beautiful and intelligent woman, which you are, but you come over as a little frosty.”
The reality of what Lisa said hit home; is that what men really thought about me? I couldn’t breathe; my heart was lodged in my throat, making it hard for me to swallow. “Frosty?”
“Look, Laura, don’t take it personally. Just because you wear your work suits on a date that conceal your boobs because you never have time to get home, and make an effort, or that you analyse a menu in a restaurant working out how much profit …..”
I gasped, “Do I really do that?”
“Oh, my god, I’ve said too much. Look, Laura, go to this wedding, hold your head up high and say bollocks to Robert, if you want my advice.”
I quickly interrupted, “Really, Lisa, I don’t want your advice, thank you, I’ll be round in the morning to fetch my outfit. Thanks anyway.”
I turned off my phone and took a deep breath. That was perfect, bloody perfect; apparently, across three shires, I was known as the frosty, smart aleck, who wouldn’t get her tits out for the boys. What made it even more unbearable was Adam had heard the whole bloody conversation.
I turned around to see a big smug smile plastered over his face and I snarled, “What in the word gives you the right to answer my phone?”
“Well, you did give it me, and it just confirmed my suspicions, and half the office, that Laura Lee is the Ice Queen and can’t get a date, even for a wedding. I bet you never have a second date either, do you?”
“How dare you?”
He, of course, was right, not quite but nearly. My problem was, I enjoyed the odd casual date, even the odd one night stand, maybe a second date, but we all know about the third date, and that freaks me out! A third usually means they wanted sex, and once that has happened, normal, honest guys, would expect at least a few months of commitment. However, the third date problem was not an issue, I’d never got past the first date, and now I knew why. God knows I wanted commitment too, but after Robert, the next guy had to be the right one.
I could feel the colour rushing to my cheeks as Adam laughed, pointing his finger at me. ‘Oh I am so right,” he gloated. I can see it written all over your face.’
My embarrassment suddenly turned to anger. “I don’t understand you. In all the years we have worked in the same office; you couldn’t bring yourself to utter two words to me. All of a sudden you think, after intercepting one phone call, which I might say is beyond rude, that I’m going to bear all to you about my personal life?” I grabbed my laptop and left.
Marching down the street, I heard Adam running behind me, shouting words that brought my self-esteem to an all-time low. “You know what you need is a male escort. Seeing as you’d be paying for his services, he would have no biased feelings, and ideally, for you, no strings attached.”
I carried on walking, trying not to make eye contact with the sniggering passers-by. Adam had a point. I did text those exact words to Lisa, “No Strings Attached.” Had I really dropped to that level, paying wannabe actors or even worse, waxy looking, out of work models, to take me out? No, this wasn’t for me.
Mid-evening, our mission for the day completed, the area manager shook both our hands, congratulating us on another corrupt manager that bites the dust.
Adam opened the door for me and with a roguish smile he said, “Ladies first.”
Funny, how he had changed during the afternoon, Adam had almost been civil, making light conversation instead of plugging into his iPod. He was almost likeable, almost.
I went to say my goodbyes when he took me by surprise with his next words.
“So what do you fancy, Laura, wine at The Grape Vine, or hammered at Ruskis?”
“You drink at Ruskis?” This was a very trendy and expensive vodka bar in the centre of town.
“Yes, and why shouldn’t I?”
I choose my words carefully. “You seem like a pint of real ale in your local, kind of a guy.”
Adam squeezed my shoulder, and shook his head. “See, I’ve learned something else about you today, Laura. You judge a book by its cover.”
For a second time today, he had been spot on with his assumptions. I did judge people, mainly men, by their looks, and I’m sorry but my street cred was already hanging by the thread. The last thing I needed was to be seen with a sixties throwback nerd.
“To tell you the truth, Adam, what I really fancy is a long soak in a hot bath, with a glass of red wine.”
“Sure, I’m up for that. Normally that would be a fourth date kind of thing for me, but hell, let’s cut with the formalities and get right to the nitty-gritty.”
“No, sorry I mean on my own!” I hope the look of disgust didn’t actually show on my face, so I smiled. Well, a joke from Adam was a first. At least I knew now he did have a bit of a sense of humour.
“Oh, well, can’t blame a man for trying, I suppose. I’ll just drive you home.”
“Please, there is no need.”
“Laura, look at you. You’ve got your laptop, you’re wearing Gucci shoes and if I’m not mistaken, an Armani suit? You’re just asking to be mugged in this area of town.”
I’m wondering how can a man who buys his suits and shoes at Save The Children knew Armani or Gucci when books and covers came to mind. “That would be very nice, thank you.”
Soon we pulled onto Lilac Avenue, and I told Adam my house was third on the left. Slowly we came to a stop outside, the engine died.
“Well, this is it.” I pointed to my three-story town house.
Leaning across me, Adam bent forward to look through the passenger window. “Wow, this is yours?” At my nod, he added. “It’s very nice.”
I felt there was little else to say. Adam and I had spoken earlier about where we lived so the conversation seemed to have been covered. I was more concerned about how uneasy I felt that his hand was resting on my thigh, and so close to me, his hair brushed my nose. There seemed to be an awkward silence. I knew asking him in for a drink was the polite thing to do, after all he’d asked first after leaving The Merry Men.
“Seeing as I’m off tomorrow, I suppose we’ll see each other at the office on Monday.” I tried to fumble with the door handle to make a quick getaway.
”Oh!” Adam turned his head, his nose now within an inch of mine. “Okay,” came a despondent reply.
“Unless…, you would like to come in for a drink?”
“That would be lovely.” He grinned.
Once inside, I pointed to the lounge area of my open-plan ground floor. Make yourself at home. What can I get you, beer or wine?”
“Wine would be great, thanks.”
“Red or white?” I turned to see Adam literally taking me up on my invitation, slinging his jacket onto the sofa, followed by his tie, and to my horror kicking off his shoes.
“Red.” He started to wander around the lounge, picking things up, looking at them, and putting them back down.
As I busied myself in the kitchen, with glasses and wine, I found my hands shaking as I tried to unscrew the bottle. Was it Adam getting intimate with my possessions, or quite simply just the presence of Adam, here in my home, that I tried to keep so separate from my business life. This was ludicrous. Why was I acting like it was the first time I’d invited a man back for a drink? I’d done it countless times, but then again I had an ulterior motive with them, to get their trousers off, and then they could fiddle with my knick-knacks as much as they wanted.
Adam broke my train of thought as to how long it had actually been since I’d had a man in my house, let alone without their trousers.
“To be honest with you, Laura, I assumed you to be a chintz and pink kind of a woman, but this ethnic theme you have, I really like it.”
Under normal circumstances, this would lead me into my chat up line, of traveling Asia, when at university, each possession coming with a story, and how even when I can, I go back and visit still. Telling tales of blue cloudless skies, romantic white sandy beaches, and the serenity of getting lost in the mysticism of temples, wafting pungent smells of incense and exotic spices, never fails at getting the carnal juices of my prey flowing. Well, there was no way I was going to let that happen tonight.
“One day, I will tell you about my travels, Laura. I’ll tell you about Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, romantic white sandy beaches, cloudless blue skies, the aroma of incense and spices.”
I nearly dropped the two glasses of wine. Oh, my God, he had the same chat up line as me! “Yes I know I’ve been there too, I tell the same tale.” My face flushed, and the obvious shake of my hand as I passed him his glass, he knew.
Brazenly he chuckled, turned, and began to rifle through my cd collection. “I can’t believe it. We have two things in common, the same chat-up lines, and Michael Buble.” He held up a cd. “Do you mind?”
“No, not at all.” I willed him not to choose Michael’s Love Songs album; this little puppy of love was only ever dusted off the shelf as my foreplay tool. But that would be even more of a coincidence… and there was Buble crooning from my cd at seduction level, his Love Songs Album.
Up until now, it had never crossed my mind; my heart was beating like a racehorse galloping the last furlong. Noooo, surely not, not Adam; he couldn’t have been expecting more than a glass of wine, could he? Cans of worms opening in my mind. Refusing his advances, I’d proved I was the ice queen, to partake he would think I was desperate. Oh, god, and the uncomfortable encounters afterwards, in the office after expectations that one of us would ring first, and neither of us do. Then I’m not even going to open the can on judging each other on technical merit. And horror of horrors, I realised I’d not shaved my legs in over a week.
Holy mother, Adam had turned down the dimmer switch. “Yes, that’s nice. So we have wonderful wine and music, so…” He came and sat close to me on the sofa, draped his arm around the back, and I could feel his fingers lightly touching my neck. I tried to swallow but it felt like I had a huge lump of bread stuck in my throat. “Tell me, Laura, who is this Robert that has hurt you so badly, and do you think you can be fixed?”
Well, hello, kick a girl when she’s already down why don’t you? Three years trying to mend a broken-heart, by the man I really loved, and today finding out I had been shunned by three counties, and here was Professor Ford, trying to psychoanalysing me? Way to go Adam.
In my anger, it all came flooding from me like my Red Dragon Chinese last night.
“I was devastated, yes, at finding Robert in bed with Marsha, but what hurt me so badly, was what he said. ‘To be honest, Laura, you’re not worth the three hour commute for a bonk. If I really loved you then maybe, but if you really must know, you’re no fun in the sack.’ It’s one thing to be cheated on, while your friend still lays there as cool as a cucumber in your boyfriend’s bed. But to find the reason the love of your life was finishing it was because I was no fun at sex, well that was more than humiliating, and dammed well spiteful. So, there you go, Adam, can you fix that for me? Or will it just be a laugh with the men from work around the coffee machine?”
Adam fidgeted awkwardly with his glasses, shit. Shit, shit, shit. I really had gone too far this time. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. It’s just Robert is under the illusion that I live the life of a bloody nun. Then Mum tells him I’m seeing someone, and when I turn up on Saturday with nobody, it will add more ammunition for his firing guns.”
We sat in silence for a bit. Adam gawked at me, then he picked up his drink, downed it in one, and refilled it. He turned to me, with a caring smile, took my hand and softly said, “I think I can fix this.”
I was actually touched by his kindness. At least he hadn’t made a dash for the door, thinking I was some kind of nut job. “Thank you and I mean this in all sincerity. If it’s taken me three years and I can’t, I doubt you can.”
“I can and I will. Laura I would be honoured to be your guest.”
I begin to laugh. “Are you mad? It’s bizarre. Do you really think people would believe we were a couple?” Then I realise Adam is serious, as his smile slipped away. What the hell was I supposed to do now?
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