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Friends or Lovers
Commissioned by Social Exchange Ltd
Friends or Lovers
For every man who has lost love, and every woman who can’t find it… Penny Leyton is one smart sexy woman on her way to the top. Bridget Jones she certainly is not, but she has the same chaotic approach to romance. Just as she is breaking through the glass ceiling, her boss Dave Stockton hints at a workplace scandal. Ablaze with moral outrage, Penny realises too late that one of her own friends is implicated and that she is part of the problem. Can she untangle herself from a hidden web of intrigue and save herself? Dr Rory Ridley-Duff is an author, composer and university lecturer whose research established how friendship, courtship and parental interests shape behaviour in organisations. His interest in gender issues and workplace democracy evolved out of directorships in worker cooperatives and 15 years of consultancy work in the social economy.
“Anyone who cares about love will give this book to their partner or spouse, sister or brother.” Dr Poonam Thapa Gender, Culture and Sexual Health Expert
Also by Rory Ridley-Duff
Emotion, Seduction and Intimacy:
Alternative Perspectives on Human Behaviour “Rory‟s work is insightful and helps to redress some of the imbalances in the feminist theory of patriarchy while simultaneously introducing the concepts of gender and intimacy to the subject of enterprise governance”.
Professor Phil Johnson, Head of HRM and Organisational Behaviour, Sheffield University
“Rory is a man who has deliberately chosen the left-hand path of progress. He does not shun the moral maze of human desires and passions but brings greater understanding to that very facet of life – the forbidden fruit that made us fall from grace and its role in our emancipation.”
Dr Poonam Thapa Gender, Culture and Sexual Health Expert Available from Amazon.co.uk
Copyright © Rory Ridley-Duff, 2009 All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission except as defined below. No material may be reused except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 4LP. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. Rory Ridley-Duff has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Acts 1988. Published by: Rory Ridley-Duff 4 Rosehill Close Penistone Sheffield S36 6UF
Social Exchange logo designed by Natasha Ridley-Duff
I‟d like to thank Caroline. . It is every author‟s dream to have someone with whom they can freely discuss ideas. Natasha and Bethany. draft chapters. propose story lines.Acknowledgements The people who made this book possible are numerous. Our conversations about the human condition will remain with me always. For these and many other reasons. Your comments were invaluable and I trust you will spot your influence in the end result. my wife. Firstly. and who will also check their manuscript for errors and support them through lean times. To my muse in business. Poonam. for the enormous patience and support she has given to my writing aspirations. you are still my dream woman. this text would never have seen the light of day or come close to the reality of working life in early 21 st Century Britain. you have my enduring thanks. I thank you for helping me find moral courage when everyone around me thought I was mad or hopelessly naïve for writing this novel. To my children. you have been a constant source of inspiration and the best antidote to loneliness that any writer could ask for. To family members and life-long friends who did not spare my feelings in their feedback on early drafts. This book is fiction but without undertaking a series of workplace studies. This book tackles a sensitive subject and I am indebted to many research participants and work colleagues for the insights they have provided over the years (whether intended or not).
His eyes looked around the floor. that‟s not what I‟m saying. The frown on his brow was more pronounced. Mike.” Yes. if you ask me. was she?” I said with a laugh. Time to give him a push.” Mike looked uncomfortable now. It‟s no big deal.” “She‟s never said anything about it. Mike was traditionalist all right. Mike was moderately bright. Calm. He was married and fancied himself a bit too much. Still. To Elona. To him a „bit of fun‟ probably included the occasional trip to a lap-dancing bar or shagging in the toilets. He prided himself on being „friendly‟ but I just found him a creep. maybe.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 1 “So. He was 50. we‟ve been close at times. She said „no‟. concise – look him in the eye. If she felt uncomfortable. She wanted to discuss something private so I asked her if she‟d like to go for a drink. but I‟ve always been careful. it was a different matter. and sometimes I think she‟s tried to flirt with me. I‟m not making out she was „up for it‟ or anything crude like that.” I said. “It‟s nothing. And yes. “Bit of a tease. confident. landed himself a regional sales management job and probably felt he was enjoying the best years of his life. she never showed it. “No. “why have you been bothering Elona?” He looked so unconcerned that it made me slightly irritable. one of those „pretty boys‟ who does not realise that . but that is not something that you show in this job. had worked his way up through the ranks. just a misunderstanding. I just never got any sense that she didn‟t like the way I behaved. There‟s been a complaint.” “Not to you. End of story.
Many of my management colleagues are women too. sales rep of the year four years ago. Married with children. Leave it with me for the next 24 hours. I think. I could see right through him. So. Nine months into my first job as Head of Personnel. Not my type at all. I would not call myself a feminist. perhaps. To progress I had to move. I guess. but the patriarchy seems alive and well. I‟m fairly new here. probably bored at home. was he past it! He had aged well. I‟d better check with my boss before I do anything here. I can see that men have it harder in some respects. here we are. He was certainly not my type. Come see me tomorrow and we‟ll wrap this up. but too old for me – definitely! And he really irritated me when he shared dirty jokes with his friends but never with me. I guess the sexual revolution has helped a bit. In the mean time. now leading a successful team but getting angry when one of his administrative staff won‟t go for a drink with him. She‟s a bit sensitive at the moment. but I‟m not averse to a confrontation with the occasional unreconstructed man. “Mike. Mike the macho. Not quite as straightforward as some situations I‟ve faced because he has a good reputation and is well liked.” . particularly in the company of like-minded female friends.Friends or Lovers they are past it. In my previous job I‟d been fast-tracked to deputy director but came up against the glass ceiling. Mike is proof enough of that. Boyfriend trouble. steer clear of Elona. I‟ll look into this and get back to you. God. I think. still wanting to resurrect his youth and put it about. Twenty years ago this company would not have contemplated me in this position. It can be quite a laugh making a sexist-pig squirm.
His eyes met mine and he fixed his gaze for just a second then looked away.Rory Ridley-Duff Mike did not look relieved at these comments and mumbled something I could not hear. . He had never struck me as a formal sort before. He shook my hand.
but we should move him. * * * Innovation Centre Ltd was modern and dynamic. “As far as I‟m aware this is the first such complaint against Mike.Friends or Lovers Chapter 2 “He‟s done what?” asked Dave.” I liked Dave. Mike‟s good – his team like him. he engaged with women as equals and was sympathetic to many of the problems they faced. “Well. “Not completely sure. Elona‟s upset. I can‟t let this rest. Okay?” I nodded.” Dave looked at me thoughtfully for several seconds. this isn‟t easy. It‟s fair to Mike and it„ll send a strong message to the rest of the company that it won‟t be tolerated. We shared a professional ethic and modern outlook. and I knew that he was ambitious too. This does worry me. I could happily spend time in his company in the office or away on business. Penny. I hear he‟s not been a paragon of virtue in the past. He enjoyed working with me but was careful never to overstep the mark or make me feel uncomfortable. I don‟t think he should be sacked. But I agree we can‟t let this pass. “Do it sensitively. Unlike most men. Dave was „Director of Business Development‟ and spent his time seeking out creative types and developing relationships with them. but it clearly looks like he‟s got the hots for Elona. He . Zero-tolerance and all that! What‟s right here. Penny?” I was not sure whether the question was rhetorical but as no more words were forthcoming I gathered my thoughts. He was not much older than me. my director.
I‟ve read my share of self-help books. He looks smart. Workplace relationships might put that at risk. speaks well and is incredible at building trust. I remember that he wistfully joked once that IC not only wanted its pound of flesh but also insisted that you hand it over with a smile. nett present values and can put together a business plan. however. smartly sexy. but for me they‟re a heap of crap. able to live independently. They‟re fine for those who want to give up work when they find their prince.and now I understand all that talk of returns on investment. I have my share of paranoia about my looks. the Innovation Centre – or IC as we call it in-house . got them to commit their products to us then helped them obtain development grants. Over the last decade. he is „strictly business‟. I thought I may as well get myself an MBA couldn‟t see what harm it would do . intelligent. I‟ve worked hard for my career. I did the „women into business‟ thing a few years back. football . I still prefer the „relationship‟ thing. My friends joke that I am a model of the Cosmopolitan revolution – vibrant.has created a network of 60 inventors and a catalogue of wonderful gadgets.Rory Ridley-Duff found inventors. Much as I like him. but even so I am a bit of a man magnet when I wear black. They were dishing out bursaries to encourage graduates into management. Dave has a penchant for that too. and decided to specialise in human relations work. Of course he‟s taken – most guys like him are – and he now has a young child that he rarely sees. Most men are bastards anyway. but avoid the ones called „How to Find the Man of your Dreams at Work”. As for me. He mentors me and I appreciate that. but go out on the town and get a shag if I want to. interested only in sex.
” I said showing him to a chair. I do boyfriends. “Can you give me until Monday?” he asked. I can‟t say that I like this side of my job. Since then. I lived with a guy once but soon felt like his mother. and this provides one. but only until they want me to cook them a „special‟ meal or wash their clothes. same status. “We think it‟d be a good move for you to join Direct Marketing.” Mike looked at me and nodded to indicate he was ready. “Carry on. It‟d mean travelling more. * * * “Thanks for dropping in. we need a solution to that too. “It‟s a new project. then around the side of his head as he pinched his ear-lobe.Friends or Lovers and drinking.” “Cut the crap. I‟m taking the flak for Elona. so we want someone with lots of experience. “That‟d create a problem.” I said firmly. Same salary. Mike. They‟re a bit wet behind the ears. Penny. of course.” he said quietly.” Mike looked blankly at me for a moment. I‟ve taken my pleasure carefully and on my own terms.” Mike interjected. . aren‟t I?” “Well. Our eyes locked and his hand moved up and rubbed his chin. It seems to work for me. “I wasn‟t born yesterday. and working with a new team. but it goes with the territory and you have to harden yourself to it. “I‟ve had a chat with Dave and Elona about the situation and I‟ve a suggestion for you.” “And what if I don‟t take this position?” he asked. I dumped him. Another feather in your cap.
but I could see that he was struggling to find the words. If I have to clip the wings of a man who sets a bad example then it feels like a job well done. Penny.” I got up from my seat and felt his eyes burn a hole in me.Rory Ridley-Duff “No. It is never easy giving someone a sideways move but it has to be done sometimes. The hardest thing is protecting someone‟s dignity while sending a message that some behaviour is unacceptable.” “She‟s working. He can‟t really complain. I do have a conscience.. “What is it. I feel sorry for Mike. I can give you „til 4 pm. I get a small amount of satisfaction that I can contribute to changing the values of society and make the world slightly safer for women. . “If that‟s all. In some ways. His awkwardness was palpable but no further words came out. The problem is sorted and Elona is protected.” “Can‟t you call her? Meet her for lunch?” “I‟ll try. Mike. His family is still safe. Mike called me back later that day and accepted the new job. I was able to protect his income. but the world is changing and the type of behaviour he is responsible for is no longer acceptable to either men or women.” he hesitated. If you need to talk to your wife then take the day off. I‟m away in France next week.. He was not a happy man. Mike. I have to go. but I don‟t want this hanging around while I‟m away. He was trying to say something. Mike?” “This…” his eyes looked up at the ceiling then down at the floor.
but this time I was on my own and had the chance to really let my hair down. but not . If there is one thing I enjoy about going away on business it is the freedom I have in the evenings. wrists and breasts before setting off to await the chat up lines. But abroad. First night I snuggled down with a Bernice Rubens novel. and applied a dab of Clinique near my ears. He was casually dressed in jeans and a black top. After relaxing in the bath. Clearly he was a person used to smiling and laughing. I guess he was around 45 but still had a hint of the handsome features of his youth. Usually that pissed me off. He must have been at least ten years older than me and at the boarding gate I saw him reading what looked like a textbook. His eyes were brown and there were wrinkles stretching from the outer corners across both temples. but hard work – a two-day conference. I could feel them undressing me. If I go to these events with Dave I feel obliged to spend time with him. Our eyes met briefly a couple of times. At home I might bump into a neighbour or colleague from work. moisturised myself with assorted oils. It was a dull evening. I studied him. He had definitely aged well. The second night I decided to dress up and take my chances at the conference party.Friends or Lovers Chapter 3 France was fun. kind but sexy. They were nice eyes. When he cast them in my direction. I can either lock myself away in my hotel room and read a good book or slip on a sexy outfit to indulge myself at conference parties. The best approach I got all week was not at the conference. I shaved. This time I did both. He had dark brown hair with touches of white.
“You look down there and you realise just how insignificant you are. “Some comedy!” . I manoeuvred myself into the queue just in front of him. He was reading intently. Definitely nice eyes. I instinctively smiled back. Sometimes he would sigh. “The impact of sexuality on group dynamics: a symbolic interactionist perspective. I thought. He continued to read his book until the plane took off but then started to look across me out of the window. He held my gaze long enough to let me know he liked the way I looked. All the lines at the corners of his eyes creased. A pity he had not been at the party the night before. and then he smiled. and at other times he frowned.” he suddenly remarked. “A comedy?” I asked. He was not bad. As the plane rose higher and higher. After a while he let out a laugh.Rory Ridley-Duff today. It seemed to have the desired effect because five minutes later I was in a window seat and he sat down next to me. “Flying always makes me feel humble. When we boarded the plane. then without another word he resumed reading his book. he continued to gaze at the buildings and roads below. I obliged by reading it out. My bum looks good in jeans so I ensured that he got a good look at it by bending down to tie a (non-existent) shoelace.” he remarked showing me the title of an article he was reading. From then on.” He looked straight into my eyes and held my gaze for a second. underlining phrases that caught his imagination.” I paused for a moment and then quipped. I noticed his every move. “Of sorts. He turned to me again and smiled.
I mean I don‟t write for a living.” I announced. hoping to dig a bit into his background. “forty-something consultant from London. .” There was that smile again. I guess. I write. This time I held his gaze for a little longer to let him know I liked the way he looked. what is it you do?” He paused.” “Partly. “Are you in my line of work?” I asked. “In what way?” I was genuinely curious. or women to look at men differently.” he responded. acknowledging my interest and deflecting it at the same time.” he said guardedly. eh! In what field?” I enquired. “thirty-something manager from Warwickshire.” he responded. writing is a by-product of my living. “Only to my wife!” he joked. “Behaviour. “Well….” “So are you a relationship counsellor? A sex therapist?” As I said the word „sex‟ I placed just enough emphasis on it to ensure he knew it was a flirt. “I challenge the way people look at themselves and each other. I sometimes work with HR people. I would guess they read my work sometimes….I might help men to look at women differently.Friends or Lovers He looked carefully at me and nodded in agreement. “Penny.” “Very enigmatic. but I‟m not a writer.” “You‟re a writer?” This was getting better and better.” “John. “Well. “And what line is that?” “Employees. I‟m an HR manager. “A consultant. So.
more than that. Let‟s think about the army. and kids. “Woman are made of sugar and spice and all things nice while men are made of slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails.” “Of course. If my cheeks had coloured up. brushing aside his comment with a smile. I guess.” I said with a smile. Let‟s take something outside your everyday experience. “Yes. but resisted.” I was tempted to make another flirty comment.” he immediately answered.Rory Ridley-Duff “You‟ve got a wife?” the words came out so fast that I kicked myself. he convinced me that they had not. right? You must have an abundance of „knowledge‟ about men and women. “Some of my clients think of me as a pain in the arse. You must be acutely aware of their typical profile. “Your assumption is right. raising his eyebrows. Khaki never was my colour and I don‟t like getting dirty. “What about the army.” he said. “We don‟t have long enough to discuss that one! Okay. let‟s see. “Why?” “Well. then?” I asked. Did I detect the hint of mockery? “As much as the next person. A taster only.” “You disappoint me.” “Oh.” “The army!” I was genuinely surprised. . like a challenge.” He smiled. surely? It is your job to know about men and women.” The way he said „knowledge‟ was weird. He continued without any trace of embarrassment while I wanted to shrink into my seat. You‟re in HR.
after all. “Can I ask the audience?” “Well. “I saw a documentary some time ago about women in the army. „What‟s the most sexist thing about the army?‟” What an odd question. an organisation created by men. and she talked of similar things happening to her.” he said with mock severity. raping and abusing.Friends or Lovers “Well. I had a girlfriend who was in the police. I liked that. I thought.” He looked at me kindly. “All mobiles must be switched off during the flight. “That‟s three things.” John said.” “Bullying. It was flattering to think I intrigued him. it may not be fair.” he said with a wry smile. I usually ask this question at the end of a course. I found it difficult to look him in the eye while I thought. “Aha! The million pound question!” I said. Some had to put up with dreadful abuse. However. and it made me pause. “Bullying. staffed largely by men with the purpose of keeping men in power. I imagine the army is even worse. I started to offer less controversial suggestions.” he said. “Fuck! Where do I begin?” Where would this lead? I turned over half a dozen arguments in my head – the army is. it‟s your opinion that really intrigues me. I felt nervous and my right hand instinctively went to pinch my ear lobe. . Here‟s your question. “Can I phone a friend?” I teased. “Okay.” he said. I didn‟t want to spoil a promising conversation by saying this. rape and abuse happen to men as well.
” I replied somewhat apologetically.” I added and shot him an irritated look that hopefully did not cross the boundary into rudeness. “You‟re right. That. It‟s food for thought. I wasn‟t going to be put off that easily.” “But it‟s not the same. “I mean. “You did ask!” he said with a laugh. “Maybe.” “Male soldiers get raped too. don‟t you think?” In a way it was and I kept looking for the way he wanted the question answered rather than the way that I would have answered it myself.” “Indeed. I felt. Have we asked the men how they felt about it?” I paused.” “You wouldn‟t be alone in that. was the real thought provoker.” Even as I said it.” “Bit of a depressing subject. And I wouldn‟t want you to remember me as the depressing old git who spoiled your flight home. usually when in enemy hands. is it?” “Not at all. more powerless. .Rory Ridley-Duff “What‟s the most sexist thing about the army?” I repeated quietly to myself. “I can‟t say I‟ve given this much thought.” “Don‟t get me wrong.men don‟t. that‟s sick. I wasn‟t sure that I was making sense. I was genuinely shocked to hear that. a woman is always going to feel more violated. so I thought some more. But it‟s a thought provoker.” said John. “God. He was probably so practised at fielding answers to this question that I was on a hiding to nothing so I looked for a way out. “Women soldiers get raped…. surely?” I retorted. “It‟s not a trick question.
“Then I‟d better not get to know you too well. “Do you like to open up?” he asked inquisitively. I felt that perhaps I should not be encouraging him to continue this conversation but there was something magnetic about him and I found myself energized in his company.” I said these words with a smile that reassured him that his compliments were very welcome. Nice thought. but the way he looked at me as he said it.. “Yes.” I laughed before I could stop myself. I wanted the conversation to continue.line of talk. “Okay.” I was enjoying this. Not nearly as sexy as your perfume …. married man! Should you be talking to me like that?” I snapped back ensuring my eyes caught his again. or punch him in the balls for being so cheeky. “But it is sexy. what should I say to a young woman like you?” It was not what he said that induced butterflies.” I said coyly. I can see that I‟m going to have to watch you!” he chuckled.Friends or Lovers “But not a very sexy topic.. had I?” Whatever I had expected on the journey home. “I‟m old enough to gobble you up. “Watch me? I think you opened up this…. I was not sure whether to invite him to join the mile high club. Are you asking me to lie to you? I thought women hated liars…. It was one of those moments where I could have . please.” I quipped.er…. but only with strangers. “Hey. it was not this.” “Hmmm.” “Perhaps you should be a bit more choosey about the things you say. “Less of the „young‟.
Ann. He was an academic turned marketing consultant. Our banter continued. who specialised in work with creative teams. Our flirting gave way to convivial conversation but as I found him both engaging and interesting I did not care so long as it continued. and children.” he said pleasantly. By the time we landed I felt like I‟d had a brief tour of his life. “I try to find another way to look at human relationships. survived a few ups and downs.” I stressed.” “And what way is that?” I added. “My wife knows me well. I don‟t hide my friendships from her. His boy was 12 and his daughter 14. and had two children he loved deeply. I took him back to the start of our conversation. For a living he helped companies educate men and women to improve their marketing skills. “Would you like to meet up for a drink next week?” “What about your wife and kids?” I said with a hint of sarcasm. He talked fondly of his wife. “The way they really are. As our descent into Heathrow started. continuing to dig.” Friendship? That was a quite a leap in such a short space of time and I was taken aback. “Exactly.” The brevity and simplicity of his response made me pause again and he used the moment to spring another surprise on me. He‟d been married for 20 years. “So what is it you do exactly?” “I just told you. It was not just his forwardness that .Rory Ridley-Duff stubbed out the fire before it got too hot but chose to fan the fire instead. He thought for a moment.
I gave him my personal email. Here was a man who knew how to make a woman . caressing my stomach. When I reached home. I let a story unfold in my mind. I continued to think of him as I allowed my fingers to work their way down into my pants. As I drove away. “Okay. He was hard to resist.” “Do you need to pretend?” he inquired without a trace of mockery.Friends or Lovers caused me to stop short. “I can pretend that we met at the conference. I actually found that I cared what he thought. I chucked my bags into the corner of my bedroom. anything. His eyes moved over me. went through my winding down routine and settled into bed. greedily consuming every inch of my skin.” I found myself agreeing before I could stop myself. then slowly pulling down my knickers. “You‟re a most unusual man and while I‟d like to go for a drink. I could not get him out of my mind. With John it immediately mattered to me that he liked me for more than my womanly charms. As we swapped cards I felt a pleasant sensation that was rare for me.” He nodded his head. and his hands moved slowly across me tantalising and pinching my nipples. but did not look disappointed. I‟d flirted with quite a number of men over the years but I‟d never really cared whether they liked me or not. With one assured movement his mouth latched onto me and began to knead my flesh. I don‟t think it would be sensible…. but also a sense of disappointment that his aspirations were not a little higher. My head and body arched as the pleasure rose within me. “Just thought I‟d ask. How about swapping e-mail addresses?” I smiled. He saw my hesitancy and I felt a burning need to say something. rather than work.
I focussed all my thoughts on his delicate firm tongue circling and massaging until every nerve ending in my body sizzled and my heart pounded so loud that I heard it thumping in the dead of night.Rory Ridley-Duff feel good all over. .
There were several memos about recruiting regional organisers for the new home catalogue. This gave me time to cast my eye over some of the mail I had received. junk mail still got through and I weeded this out as quickly as possible. Phil.Friends or Lovers Chapter 4 On my return to work I found that Mike was now complaining that his salary would drop because his team would earn no commission until the direct marketing operation was up and running. The marketing manager. not simply beauty products. wanted specialist training for her team on consumer behaviour. Jo. Just like Avon. but specialising in a much broader range of gadgets. where they would have a second interview with Jo. just a variant on previous recruitment campaigns. to find out the unresolved issues and discuss them with me at the end of the day. Despite the efforts of our IT department. Our approach was to recruit people with school age children who could use their local networks to recruit others (usually mothers) to go door-to-door. After spending the morning organising the following week‟s meetings. I found most of these distasteful but they were becoming commonplace and whatever we did the problem still increased. and then interviewed them at a hotel. There were offers of Viagra and penis enlargers as well as selection of links to web-sites for dating rich men or a quick shag. Those that I liked would be invited to our headquarters in Leamington Spa for an assessment day. I asked one of my staff. I turned to my e-mails. really. short listed people. None of this was new. We advertised in the local press. .
Every time a new e-mail arrived. There were several messages from Dave wanting to set a meeting to discuss what I‟d learnt in France so I arranged a follow up session for Monday.t. there was a message from someone that I did not immediately recognise: From: j.com To: penny@hotlips.Rory Ridley-Duff I dealt with a couple of e-mails from friends wanting to know if I‟d had any conference adventures and I responded with the cyberspace equivalent of flouncing my hair.com To: j.com Re: Drinking with Women Hi John. No probs if you want a drink. To think that you are so willing to corrupt a sweet innocent girl like me….com Subject: Drinking with women? Penny. Who are you playing verbal tricks on today? Penny Even though I knew that I had more pressing tasks to do. Had a word with my wife.t. he‟s e-mailed me already. I hit the [Reply] button: From: penny@hotlips.. John My god.simons@tascali. The hour seemed to drag. Isn’t it your turn to teach me some tricks…? John . I felt a sense of expectation disturbing me. Lastly. He must be keen. I kept wondering if he was going to reply. Penny.simons@tascali.
walk on my hands or lose my knickers? John x Ha! He‟d added a kiss! What was he trying to say? I started to wonder whether he‟d really asked his wife about me or whether it was just a trick to put me off my guard. very tempting. John. Which? Wear a summer dress. And the bastard made me wait over an hour for a reply. But unfortunately I don’t have a kilt. He likes to play. Penny. Too late. Penny. Tricks? Well. We can shock some genteel country folk by doing handstands together…. I think my wife has one from her Scottish dancing days. I’ll come if you wear a kilt. I can walk on my hands (always goes down well in a beer garden when I’m wearing a summer dress without knickers). Bugger. Hmm! Tempting. Penny x Not much chance of him accepting on those terms. Do you have any that would fit me? John x . John. This time he replied quickly. habit caused me to hit the Send button. but at least I get to kiss him back. but she’s petite and it won’t fit me.Friends or Lovers Good. Every time a voice inside me warned me to be cautious another told me to be daring. Can you do that? Penny While I pondered whether this was too risqué.
He was personable too. please. After 30 minutes.Rory Ridley-Duff The cheeky bugger! He‟d mentioned his wife again. they had to be put on hold because Phil entered the office and sat down with a large sigh. John. Penny x I hoped that I‟d not pushed him away too quickly. . So what is the bad news?” “You‟ve got three vacancies in Mike‟s old team. Better back off for now. “What‟s he playing at?” Phil settled back in his chair. the joy I‟d been feeling drained away. hit me with it. He‟d clearly had an eventful meeting with Mike.” I replied.” “That‟s good.. Whatever my thoughts. Phil was a good lad. For now. however. “Do you want the good news or bad news?” he asked. He was young and hard working.” was my starter for ten. Looks like we are going to have to postpone that drink for the time being. and with careful guidance I could see him going far.” “Shit!” I exclaimed. “Good news first. “I think I‟ve found the people to fill the vacant positions in the marketing team. After 45 minutes. bright but inexperienced. What was I playing at? Were we flirting or joking? I was not sure. he had to learn how to do the donkeywork and that meant devising and running the administrative systems I needed. the pick of an excellent bunch. “Okay. but not that big…. I felt a mixture of annoyance and regret. I’m a big girl. He had good grasp of psychology (always useful in this line of work) and had recently graduated with a good degree.
Sounds okay to me. I nodded to Phil to carry on.” How weird. wouldn‟t they? The old boy network will naturally stick up for him.” “Hmm. part of a new generation that accepts the way the workplace is changing. “It overlaps their territories so they‟re confident they‟ll build sales quickly. They were pissed as hell at Mike being moved. Few things to round off. They all fit our desired profile.Friends or Lovers “Not sure.” “It‟s not the men – it‟s three of the women. What d‟you want to do?” “Leave it with me.” “Okay. they would be. Thanks. The moment I arrived in his department I was collared by three of his sales reps. I get the feeling that he‟ll quieten down if he gets his way on this. I‟ll check with Dave. They want to move with him. “Well. What about Mike‟s money concerns? Did he raise that?” I asked. I thought! Perhaps he weaves a magic spell that I don‟t know about yet. Their sales records are pretty good. Two have school age children and the other has grandchildren. All have contacts from previous sales jobs. Anything else?” “Nope. Are you off now?” I asked. “Well. Not sure he‟s playing at all.” Phil was good. Don‟t worry about it. he said that he‟ll accept the temporary drop if these three can join him. He was fresh out of college. They want to work with Mike. He had no problem working for a woman and we got along well. “Not yet. . or prepare for battle if he doesn‟t. I‟ll keep you posted.
He asked if recruiting three salespeople for Mike‟s old team would be any more difficult than recruiting for the new one? I thought not.Rory Ridley-Duff I sought out Dave to confer on the latest developments. The differences were not so great that we needed to worry.” . Find out more about him . Dave finally agreed but as I left he said something that set off alarm bells. Something was disturbing him. The job information we sent out would be slightly misleading.it may come in handy. He did not immediately jump at the idea and rubbed his chin in thought. “Mike may become a problem. The starting salary would be the same. but I could explain the changes at interview.
That is a lovely thought to keep in my head if that is all you want to give. Before that resumes. It was fun. Mixed in with my anger was a spine-chilling excitement that I could not shake off.” Why does . Try as I might. I like you. I retrieved my e-mails to see whether there were any final issues to deal with. In saying that I don’t want you to read more into these comments than is in them. I could not concentrate. I love my wife. Before logging off. Fuck him. I want to give you the chance to walk away if you wish. What had he called me? “Smart and sexy. Our relationship is a strong one. Penny. then we will become friends. however. then I still have a pleasant memory of meeting a smart and sexy woman. Hope to hear from you soon. I locked away sensitive information and tidied my desk. so it was a surprise when another e-mail from him appeared in my inbox. My wife does not usually interfere in my personal friendships (unless she feels threatened) and we have become much more relaxed in recent years. If I flirt it is because I think you find it fun too. If you are okay with this. You are an attractive woman.” “A Fantasy. I hope we can enjoy more banter in the weeks to come. If you are not. But enjoying a mutual attraction does not mean I’m going to make a pass at you (that will have to remain a fantasy). Thanks for playtime. I‟d forgotten about John. John x Who was this guy? His arrogance pissed me off. That evening I settled down with my Bernice Rubbens again. I have women friends and I’d like you to be one of them. I love my kids.Friends or Lovers Chapter 5 Back at my desk I started to wind down for the night.
Penny. My thoughts kept returning to our e-mail exchanges. He‟s intelligent. The prospect of looking into them thrills me. Don‟t trust him. my eyes finally got so heavy that I dropped asleep. He‟s got kids. the minutes ticked and questions invaded my thoughts. Don‟t let him in. He‟s married. No guy has ever talked to me like this. And that realisation had a strange effect. By 2am. but I did not listen to it. I must stop thinking like this. As I lay in bed. I put on music. Why does this hurt? Don‟t let him in. circling around like vultures gnawing at old wounds. Play it cool. For a few hours I was free of the conflict raging in my soul. He makes me laugh. . He‟s too old for me. Penny.Rory Ridley-Duff he tell me he won‟t make a pass at me? Why not? Bastard. no denying it. He‟s fun. He dares to resist me. The word „danger‟ keeps forcing its way into my thoughts but my mind wanders back to his eyes. Why do I want to trust him? I never trust men. He‟s got “ups and downs” in his life. Slowly it dawned on me why I‟m angry at him – he dares to resist me. I tried to watch a film but the moving images were just a backdrop. Maybe he is just after a fling. He‟s sexy. The hours passed and still I could not read my book.
” I said. and his brow still showed a frown. we have to work within management objectives and commercial constraints. As he looked up.” He rubbed his hands together. you find there is this whole other world that no-one talks about. “What am I looking for?” he asked. he scratched his nose. we are part of the management team and that means we bend to their wishes. His eyes looked at the table while he rubbed his chin. Whether I like it or not. I too felt awkward because I had initially imagined that work was conducted in the way described in study texts. he quizzed me. of course. I‟m trying to build a picture. not find out dark secrets. I remembered the first time that my manager asked me to keep my ears and eyes open. I told him not to be too obvious . Just take an interest. “I‟m still concerned about Elona‟s complaint.to start by finding out what he could from members of his former team as unobtrusively as possible. “I want to be sure that there is not a pattern to his behaviour.Friends or Lovers Chapter 6 Following my conversation with Dave. .” “If I start asking about him. If they do. When you experience the real world. “Nothing in particular. Much as I wanted to focus on recruiting the best people and developing them to their full potential. Naturally. won‟t they start wondering why?” “Just spend time with them in the canteen. then join in the conversation. see if they talk about him. get to know them. I asked Phil to find out more about Mike. Just see if you can find out about him.” Phil looked awkward.
“Phil, I understand how you must feel. Sometimes we have to do things that are not pleasant. The worst thing you might have to do one day is make people – decent people – redundant. If you stay in this profession, you‟ll learn how awful that can be. At other times, you may suspect that someone is acting more in their own interests than those of the business. When that happens, we sometimes need to be circumspect in finding out what we can. It is a very difficult job and we can only find out so much by asking people directly. I‟m not asking you to spy, just keep your ear to the ground and mix in certain circles when the opportunities arise.” He looked at me briefly and smiled, but the lines on his forehead never totally disappeared. “Okay. I‟ll see what I can find out.” “Good man,” I said and I felt my body relax. I smiled strongly at him, got up and walked towards the door. Phil got up slowly and made to leave. As he passed me, I put my hand on his shoulder and reassured him. “You‟ll be fine. If you‟re not, come and talk to me.” With Phil gone, my mind turned back to the task I‟d been putting off. I knew that I must reply to John, but did not relish the task. Even though I‟d thought about it all the previous evening, I was still not sure what to say. One thing I am sure about - I want to keep in touch with him. The problem is how to do that without ending up in a “situation” where I get hurt. Words and phrases keep going around and around in my head but no concrete sentences form. It is just a drink, I keep telling myself, but I cannot forget that nearly every relationship I‟ve had with a man gets complicated. One that I lived with, despite having a lovely side to his character, ended up taking me for
Friends or Lovers
granted. I don‟t want to mother my partner; I want him to look after me. There have been others that I adored for a short while (and who adored me) but as soon as they started talking about their goals in life, I felt them threaten my own. One wanted me to move with him to London just after I‟d started this job. I wouldn‟t go and the relationship ended. Why am I thinking like this? It is just a drink, after all. As much as I keep trying to convince myself that he only wants friendship, I cannot shake off the idea that going drinking with a married man will lead to problems. If I get close to him, will he make a pass at me? Why will this one be any different? And if he did, would I be able to resist him? Perhaps this is why I am so nervous. I don‟t want to be a mistress. I have to write something so I create an e-mail and stare at the screen. My fingers start to type:
John, Tell me about your marriage. How strong is it? Penny
I hit the Send key before I realise that he might take this question the wrong way. While contemplating my gaff, a message appears in my inbox.
Penny, Strong enough for you not to worry about it. John
I had hoped for a fuller explanation than that. No kiss today, I notice. Perhaps my question irritated him. At times like this, I tell myself to follow my head. What does my head say today? I listen carefully to my thoughts; there is danger here, to myself, to his marriage and children. But there is potential too. What if
he is how I hope he is? It will be a pleasure to know him. Could he become a friend I can trust and talk to like my father? But what if he turns out to be a creep? What will happen if I start to love him? I can‟t deny my desire to meet him or the thought that if I turn this opportunity down I‟ll always ask have the question “what if..” I will never answer any of my questions if I don‟t get to know him. As one of my school friends used to say to me “life is not a dress rehearsal”.
John, I accept. When would you like to meet? Penny x
In for a pound. Later that day, he e-mailed me back to ask if I‟d meet him in Leamington the following Wednesday. He could stop by as he was working in Birmingham then staying with friends in Warwick. With that out of the way, I relaxed and focussed better on my work.
Friends or Lovers
With the week coming to an end, I finalise arrangements with interviewees and then decide to check on Elona. She is quite young, in her mid-twenties, and works within sales administration. She‟s been with the company since leaving school and is well-known about the place. I‟ve only met her half a dozen times or so since joining, twice due to her recent complaint. I want to check that she is happy with the way we have dealt with it so I decide to read over her file and recent appraisals. She is a single child, the daughter of local shopkeepers. When she was in her teens, she worked in the shop with her parents and saved enough money to go to college for two years. She lives in Kenilworth, a small town about 7 miles away. Nice place. In her interview notes it says that she led a relatively sheltered upbringing due to her parents‟ ties to the shop. Holidays have been few but she does have good friends in the local community. She has a boyfriend – her fiancé - who she provided as a second emergency contact. They hope to buy a house together soon but each live with their parents at the moment. Her career at IC has progressed fairly smoothly. She started in a typing pool seven years earlier. When it was disbanded she took on a series of clerical jobs, including a stint in customer services, but eventually felt her attention to paperwork and maintaining filing systems was being under utilised. In short, she wanted something more challenging than a continual stream of phone calls. The move to sales administration, therefore, was a good one for both her and the company. Her knowledge of
order processing together with customer skills equipped her for a trouble-shooter role in which she dealt with customer complaints. By all accounts, she appears to be a reliable hardworking employee. So I called her and asked her to drop by. Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting together in my office having a cup of tea. “Hi. Glad you could come. Do you take sugar?” I asked. “No. Thanks. Hmmmm. That‟s very welcome,” she said taking her first sip. “I won‟t take much of your time – I‟m sure you want to get away like me. I want to check that you are happy with the way we have dealt with your complaint.” Elona looked slightly puzzled, but smiled and settled back in her chair a bit. “Yes. Very. It‟s the first time I‟ve seen anyone in this company take a complaint like this seriously,” she commented. “Good. I‟m glad I‟m making a difference. The directors want this company to follow best practice and I‟m here to make sure that happens.” Elona‟s comment made me feel good on the inside. I continued boldly and directly. “Elona. One of the directors wants to be sure that Mike‟s behaviour is not part of a pattern. Had you ever been concerned about his behaviour before you made the complaint?” “Me? Well…” she hesistated, “…sometimes I felt uncomfortable around him. He‟s very friendly – too friendly if you ask me – and he does seem to be very attentive to some of the women reps.”
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Elona stopped for a moment to gather her thoughts. She rubbed the back of her neck and crossed her legs. “They didn‟t seem pleased with me when they came in for a meeting yesterday. I heard later that they were leaving my section to stay with Mike. They always speak highly of him and he‟s always joking with them. I find it embarrassing sometimes. He treats them almost like they are his daughters. They seem to like it, but I don‟t. I don‟t like it when men are too familiar with me, put their arm round me and things.” “Things?” I asked. “Well, you know…” she said. “No, Elona, I don‟t know. Tell me?” I said firmly. “Well sometimes, especially if we‟re down the pub after work, they go too far.” “How?” I asked. “They put their arm round me like they would their girlfriend or something. I don‟t like it.” “Does Mike do this?” “Not often. Sometimes. The younger lads are worse.” “How exactly?” “Well sometimes their hands go down my back, and sort of rub it. It‟s too familiar, but I feel stupid if I say „no‟ because everybody seems to be okay with it. One of them sometimes puts his hand on my bottom and squeezes it. I don‟t know what to do, so I do nothing.” This seemed like „normal‟ behaviour in most companies that I‟d worked in but that did not make it okay. Clearly Elona was more shy than most. Others would have to be sensitive. I decided to dig a little more deeply; I adopted a more woman-to-woman style.
come and see me. “I was just saying that perhaps some blokes‟ attention is nicer than others?” She rubbed her ear and her brows came together as she spoke. Still. Ms Leyton. I have a boyfriend and I only like him to touch me like that. “I don‟t understand what you are implying. I wondered . I don‟t want other men doing it. Elona tensed and was unsettled by this remark. Why?” “If you‟ve asked someone to stop and they continue to touch you in a way that you don‟t like. Okay?” She seemed to relax.” “Do you have a diary?” I asked. make a note in your diary. “What do you mean?” she replied as she shuffled in her seat.” I smiled strongly at her as I drew the conversation to a close.” “And if you feel the need.” she confirmed. I thought. I could see she was agitated so I took another approach. tell them straightaway. Can you do that too?” “Sure. I‟m glad we had this talk. “It seems that we have a few more heads to knock together. Can you do that?” “Yes. “Okay. I detected a touch of embarrassment in her behaviour.Rory Ridley-Duff “I guess it depends whose got their hand on your behind. “And quite right too. Her defensiveness suggested she was hiding something. After Elona left the room I pondered her behaviour. I‟ll try. Elona. doesn‟t it? If anyone does something that you don‟t like.” Ms Leyton? A bit formal. eh?” I said with a furtive look. “Yes.
Friends or Lovers if she was receiving more attention than she was saying. I‟ll discuss with Phil before I depart on Monday. Clearly we will need to work on this problem together. .
Carole. After meeting at university they wanted to travel the world together for a while. I splashed out on a wooden floor and cream leather sofa. Last year. On the opposite wall. the candles give the room a romantic sexy feel. When I settle down with a box of chocolates and dim the light. At the moment she is on maternity leave. I‟ve worked hard to shape it in my own image. they had children quite late. Considering their generation. although one day I‟d like a house with a garden that I can tend. I think he‟s a bit of dope – she does too – but since their son was conceived he‟s taken his job (as a computer programmer) more seriously. I have a photo of my younger sister. Next to Carole is a picture of my parents on their 40 th wedding anniversary. each with different tribal markings. She is 30. Over the brick fireplace I have some ethnic artwork. At ground level. The mantelpiece supports two tall candles in wrought iron holders and a number of stone carved nightlights. two years younger than me. after I was accepted in this job. I always work hard to make my living room the most welcoming one in the house. her first child with boyfriend Chris.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 8 I live on the outskirts of town in a two-bedroom flat. Recently he got a promotion to project analyst and is now supervising others for the first time. It suits me for the moment. Although I live on my own. and has made her career in teaching. I take some pride in my home. I have large vases with dried flowers that give some colour and texture next to an attractive gas fire. On the wall either side are two African masks. They had decided that if they still wanted to be together after living in each other‟s pockets for two .
Fame of a sort. My favourite card is… Men have only two faults Everything they say And everything they do …although I also like another one that says “Grow your own dope: plant a man”. I ask if we will hear wedding bells soon but the most optimistic response she‟s given so far is “Next Year: probably. A few of these hang on a pin board in my living room.” What is it about men and commitment? Even though she‟s been with him for three years now. I reckon. got married and had children. When they got back. My father is the kindest man I know but I have had a prickly relationship with my mother ever since I turned 14. My father. He is a civil servant who rose through the ranks to lead a unit that answers parliamentary questions. I‟m proud of him. We now call each other every week. but hope springs eternal where she is concerned. Sometimes he gets to prepare answers for TV. . is a teacher. they each established their careers. I grew close to my sister and we stayed that way ever since. My sister sent these to me when she was having difficulty getting her boyfriend to settle down with her. I keep telling her that we are better off without them.Friends or Lovers years. He even gets to write answers for the Prime Minister sometimes. she will be able to retire next year. like my sister. Forlorn. I guess. however. My mother. And so it has been. many of our phone conversations still dwell on “man problems”. sometimes we write e-mails to each other and swap humorous cards. still has two years before he can retire. they‟d do it for life. but she holds out hope that eventually they‟ll get married. At that time.
and a choice of rings for fingers and toes. I have a built-in wardrobe and dresser – a present paid for by my parents when they helped me buy this place four years ago. belly bars. moisturisers. When I go to bed. Jewellery is in one of my side drawers. The other side draw holds my collection of lingerie. The work units and oven are built in so there is a reasonable amount of workspace and cleaning is easy. bracelets (wrist and ankle). so the dresser came with an array of drawers to hold all my paraphernalia: lip gloss. switch on the bedside lights. nail varnishes and eye shadows (which I use only on special occasions). I switch out the main light. organised into earrings. just perfect for fuelling my fantasies when I feel like playing with myself. and on each bedside table I have one of these new cylindrical lights with slow moving silver flakes that refract light. The focus is my pinewood king-size bed with a deluxe duck feather duvet and pillows. The headboard is decorated with subtle white lights. carefully selected so that on the rare occasions I think enough of a man to invite him back. I can make him think that he‟s gone to heaven early. necklaces. I don‟t have space for a washing machine so I still do my laundry down the road. make-up remover and spot sticks. selections of lipsticks. and watch the patterns that meander around the room. I feel deliciously erotic. Wrapped in my duvet. I don‟t have a regular fella to keep me warm at night.Rory Ridley-Duff My bedroom is a mini-paradise. Either side of the mirror is a raised area for an assortment of bottles. so a sensuous bedroom equipped for lingering self-pampering is one of life‟s essentials. It gets me out of the house . They know how I like to adorn myself. a sensual and very personal love nest. The kitchen is small but functional. facial scrubs.
He is trying too. He‟s sitting up now and he‟s a lot happier because he can look around. I don‟t know. When Big Brother hits our screens we chat about it each week and I invite her around my flat to watch eviction nights.” “If only adults were as easy to amuse…” I commented. I try.” “He sounds keen. bless him.” “Can‟t you train him better?” I ask.Friends or Lovers and I can chat to Betty who does the service washes. Quite sweet really. Just wish he could cook then he‟d be really useful to me. I reassure him that as soon as he starts on solids then he‟ll be able to get in on the action. He can change a nappy now.” I interjected. I give him a toy with a bell on it and he sits there shaking it and laughs for ages. This has been a standing joke ever since she started going out with him. yet?” “Haven‟t raised it for a while. He is. Good week?” I enjoy these chats with my sister. * * * “Hi sis‟” “Hi Carole. “I try. How about you?” . “Not bad. He actually gets upset that he can‟t feed his child. In some ways it‟s good to have him home. She gives me the latest celebrity gossip. but he just makes more work for me. but baby refuses to be fed by bottle. “Chris has raised the idea of using his flexi-hours to spend more time at home.” “Nothing on the matrimonial front. I‟m not sure about it. it just creates tension. “Yes.
” “Oh don‟t say that Carole. it‟s not like that. got kids. nothing to report there. I have no idea whether I‟m doing the right thing and you know what I‟m like with men. I can tell. “Oh.Rory Ridley-Duff This is another standing joke . “No. why are you meeting him?” It was a pertinent question. but I didn‟t even convince myself so I doubt that I convinced her. I say! You only live once.” Carole quipped. He has lovely eyes. “No. “Go for it.” “Too right you will. “He‟s married. He was keen to meet me again so we‟ve agreed to meet up next week for lunch. “Yeah! I‟ll call you in the week. yes?” she asked.” “So. “Oh. He burned my ear with all this stuff about sexism in the army.” . Like I say.” I said weakly. and you‟re giving him a big green light. He‟s intelligent.” We are so alike. But he seems different.” “You‟re smitten.” “Hey you. I want to satisfy my curiosity. Sounds like he‟s a fast worker.” No sooner had I uttered the words than I realised how stupid they sounded. He is a practiced flirt. he‟s an oddball. so that‟s a no go area. But I did meet an interesting man this week on the plane back from France.my inability to find any man worthy of me. I‟m not sure. let you know how it goes.” “And your libido?” “I don‟t think so. a consultant.” “Tell me more….” “No Carole. a writer. I can‟t explain. He‟s most odd.
we both put down the phone and returned to our very different lives. Stay cool.” “Bye sis‟” And with that. .Friends or Lovers “Say „hi‟ to mum for me if you talk to her.” “I will.
So far none have hit me. cleaning. and getting up when I like. There is a constant battle to train them to put their clothes in a bag ready for them to take away when our romantic interludes are concluded. I can also avoid having my house systematically trashed by boisterous kids (although I imagine it won‟t be long before my nephew will oblige). I have the pleasure of buying in exactly the foods I wish. Breaking up with a man is traumatic because you never know how he‟s going to react. I don‟t always feel safe on my own. relaxing and sleeping.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 9 My weekend was fairly typical: shopping. Her last boyfriend punched and kicked . No way am I going to start washing their clothes. if the doorbell rings on a dark winter evening I use my spy hole to check who‟s the other side. most men who I let into my bed think that the corner of my room has an invisible linen bin placed there. is the silent fear we have of violence. but my sister was not so lucky. and sharing my thoughts and feelings. I particularly hate having workmen in the flat during the day. I think. I still can‟t get used to going to bed by myself and I especially miss the pleasure of waking up next to someone. Living on my own. Despite the façade of strength I present at work. One thing that only women can understand. Some withdraw into themselves and skulk off. watching only the television that I want to. Sometimes I get really scared. reading. If it is a man I do not know – and sometimes even if I do – I don‟t let them in. Not having a man about the house also helps in that respect. snuggling up to them. but with others you can visibly see their bodies convulse with anger. But I can‟t deny that there is loneliness too.
an isolated and desolate beauty searching the wilderness for something in life that will make it more meaningful and satisfying. In my mind. warm for April. looking at her bruised mouth and eye. two circles of friends (inside and outside work) that balance each other and provide good times and support for bad times. I have a nice home and neighbours. holding her hand while she sobbed like a young child. a family I can see when I need (far enough away not to crowd me but close enough to visit the same day). good career with responsibility and the chance to travel. The wind buffets my face as I stand like the French Lieutenant‟s Woman. On the surface it looks very fulfilling. It was a pleasant day. I‟m sufficiently attractive to be able to enjoy male company more or less whenever I like. By Sunday. Am I significant? Do I make a difference? Have I had a positive influence on the people I‟ve known? I wasn‟t sure. The houses on the plain are as tiny as an architect‟s model and the specks that move slowly along the motorway look like matchbox cars. . I recall John‟s comment that looking down on the world reminds us of our insignificance.Friends or Lovers her when she ended the relationship. I‟d done my chores so I took myself off to the Malvern Hills for a walk. Sitting with her. that‟s an experience that‟ll never leave me. watching her shrivel with humiliation as she admitted to a nurse how she received her injuries. so why do I feel so empty? As I walk on the brow of the hill I look north towards Worcester. and I was able to remove my jumper and wear just a tee-shirt and shorts. At the moment I wonder whether my life is going in the direction that I want. time and space to think. Walking gives me a wonderful sense of freedom.
I‟m not sure there is anyone with whom I can do that.Rory Ridley-Duff I‟ve been hard on boyfriends who would not make a commitment to me. My deepest need. The life I have is safe. cannot be satisfied with any of them. Family and friends are great but there are limits to how I can be with them. I don‟t think I‟ve shared myself fully with anyone. Rarely do I see two women or two men walking together. Parents walk with children. the hills are filled with people who have come to terms with sharing themselves with another. perhaps). and I have many things that give me pleasure. the desire to share myself physically. Even when I‟m shacked up with a man. Why is it that the greatest source of pleasure is also the source of so much fear and pain? As I resume my walk I cannot help but notice that most people are walking with someone else. . Husbands walk with wives (lovers or friends. I even hide my feelings from my sister. I still feel lonely. I‟m too afraid. In fact. but deep in my heart I‟m still quite lonely. emotionally and spiritually. but perhaps it is me who is avoiding commitment. If my parents knew how I behaved sometimes they would probably die with shame. I can‟t show them the real me.
“Stop it!” I shout. The interviews went off as well as could be expected. no matter what I do. the clock shows there are only 50 minutes to go and my breathing deepens and lengthens as my nerves start to intensify. “Go away!” but ranting makes no difference. I found a man and woman. The car parks itself as if I‟m on auto-pilot. Both with children in the 11-15 age range and extended family support (that‟s usually necessary in this line of work). see the front of the car turn to the left and climb the levels. But I keep driving towards the town centre. . He too seems to possess the necessary enthusiasm and skills. watch the barrier rise. I keep reminding myself that this is an unrealistic (and unhealthy) way to be thinking but the butterflies in my stomach won‟t go away. I also interviewed a single man who had won custody of his children. We e-mailed each other over the weekend and agreed to meet at Pizza Hut. I can‟t help but feel excited even though I know this is not an appropriate way to feel. At the moment. I‟m driving back to meet John.Friends or Lovers Chapter 10 I‟m in Leeds today. As I enter the outskirts of town. both married. Love Me One More Time” on the CD player and this fuels an expectation that lunch will be the start of a romance. turn right into an NCP car park. I wish I didn‟t feel like this. There was a single woman with previous direct sales experience and good family support so I think we have found the people we need. I have George Benson playing “Lady. I shouldn‟t be meeting him. I try not to think and focus on getting through the next few minutes.
There‟s no harm in showing off my pert behind and womanly curves. “You look good. Look in the shop windows. I‟ve put on a white top – thin enough to give a hint of the lace bra underneath – styled into a „V‟. I appreciate it. The necklace is long enough for the jewel to draw attention to a hint of cleavage. I applied a modest amount of eye shadow and liner. Walk. classy but not tarty. Turn left. a subtle shade of blue (just enough to emphasise my long black lashes without looking trashy).Rory Ridley-Duff Find the exit.” I say with false modesty. But his hair looks freshly washed and there . All this elegantly covered by a light purple trouser suit that hugs my figure. Go to cashpoint. “Penny! There you are. Turn left. Open the door. Enter.” “Thank you?” I ask. look at him and smile. He has turned up wearing an unironed tee-shirt and jeans with a hole in one knee. I take off my jacket and sit down. Inside. Check my handbag. My hair was washed this morning and tied back into a ponytail. Go down the stairs. Now right. Press lips together. I‟m not only pleased I‟ve made an impression but also delighted that he‟s noticed. Thank you for making the effort to look nice. Press 7725. Studs with a light blue jewel adorn my ears and a matching necklace drapes around my neck. Where is my lippy? Look in the shop window. Turn left. Wait for card.” “Just my normal work clothes. £50. What a surprising remark! “Yes.” The moment I hear his words I come out of my trance. I can feel myself beginning to relax. Choose “Cash no receipt”. Apply evenly. Thank you. Take the money. Around the eyes. Continue. Along the high street.
I have to work hard to keep up with her.Friends or Lovers is a day‟s stubble giving him an undeniably rugged look.” “I‟m 44. would you believe?” “Only just. I settle into my seat and look at him more closely.” “Yes. then?” I quip. “So. but in the daylight I guess he‟s a bit younger than I first thought – somewhere in his late 30s. when he‟s relaxed they disappear. I felt comfortable and content. “It did. The lines at the corners of his eyes only display when he smiles. did your interviewing go well?” he asks.” “Perhaps it will catch on in Hollywood?” He laughed and looked deeply into my eyes. “I use my wife‟s Nivea every day. including a single father. “Lots.” he jests. I need an exclusive casual outfit for each day otherwise my beach cred is seriously damaged. Very energetic woman.” I say boldly. Good on the wrinkles.” “Does your tailor get much business from you. obviously. I like it. Then he adds. I carefully ironed the creases into the shirt and hired a tailor to give my trousers that deliberate „just torn‟ look. “I see you dressed up for me too…” I say cheekily. I still don‟t know how old he is. All the nerves that I‟d felt were swept away.” “She keeps you young. His face has worn well and his hair shows only slight signs of greying. “Tell me. “Yes. “how old are you?” “Forward aren‟t we?” “Oh. Especially before I go on holiday.” . Shortlisted four people. yes! I don‟t beat about the bush.” he says without any embarrassment.
Started to like men less. She saves her strong opinions for our marriage and children. Born. “Want to try something I do on my courses?” “Why not?” I answer. “What does she do?” “She‟s a linguist. Here we go. I felt we should dwell there a bit. He doesn‟t need to. Can you do that? Then I‟ll give you mine. Relatively happy modern career woman. got angry with men. manager at 29 but stumbled across the glass ceiling. Politics became liberal. fell out with mum. It suits her. Likes . “So!” he says. Chose career instead. Age 13 onwards I became a bit of a rebel.Rory Ridley-Duff Given that we‟d moved onto the subject of his wife. Did radical bit at university.” “Okay. including that he admires her. I could sense a question coming. attended women‟s groups. Shouted regularly at politicians. One sister who is two years younger than me. got angry with women. Now HR manager in a growing firm.” “Strong minded?” He says nothing. She‟s also a teacher but currently on maternity. age 0. in Malvern where I grew up with my teacher mother and civil servant father. Tried a few. Protested the Gulf War (the first one). his smile and nod say it all. “Your life in 5 minutes.” “Not out and about like you. then?” “She prefers a quieter existence where her opinions are not the subject of public scrutiny. always closer to dad. Translates government documents from English to French to German and back again. Developed well. Started to like men more. now with child and dopey boyfriend. Warm loving home for the first dozen or so years.
Both older. Lots of freedom.” he adds.” He stops and takes in a deep breath to replenish his oxygen supply. walking. Marine engineer dad who died when I was eight. Went through the basketball craze. Flirted with radicals (both ideologically and literally). Artist mum. Friends. A rebel until age 13. Eastenders. I stop. then PhD. Went off radicals. Frost. the freedom. We both laugh in unison and I look at her. Now 32. Went through the „girls‟ craze. . Protested the Poll Tax. Hobbies include walking. No Angels. the pay. Returned to research. usually fine. Did a masters. “All in one breath?” I laugh out loud. Did my extremist bit at university. One works in a women‟s refuge. “Wow!” he injects. Sex and the City – shame it has finished. flirting and friendship – but in reverse order. Mexican food. “Right. same age as you funnily enough. My turn. Two sisters. A waitress stands at the end of our table ready to take our order. Tried a few. “I think that‟s the best exercise I‟ve had all day. nights in with cat. romantic comedies. Got hired as a consultant. Tried real world. then calmed down. Missed first Gulf War demo. the other lectures in some obscure social science. exercise. Liked kudos. Had kids. Born in Hampshire. Hated kids. This is fun and I am enjoying myself. The portfolio life is for me. Worked in academia. Went through the football craze. Loved them again. fell in love with one. Loved kids. Went off real world. Lots of responsibility.Friends or Lovers chocolate. “How about you?” I quickly ask. refused to pay it. Always liked women. Very sad but coped okay. Started writing. Married her. sometimes lonely.
” he answers politely. not a new one. and I was drawn more and more into the conversation.” “Such as?” . he leans over towards me and speaks quietly. please. “These things take time. “So what have you been doing in Birmingham?” I enquired. others not. “I‟d afraid the machine‟s broken.” * * * As we chatted away. Wherever I go they never seem to work.Rory Ridley-Duff “Could you give us a few more minutes?” I ask. we were joyous and smiling. some well-founded. His demeanour changed and took on a more relaxed and thoughtful expression. As soon as she went. “Decaf coffee. “Helping some marketing recruits find new ways to look at men and women. As he started to speak. “I think someone has placed a contract to sabotage all cappuccino makers worldwide. sir.” I request.” “And did you succeed?” I was actually interested this time and he could sense this. People have many preconceptions. Is a normal coffee okay?” “Of course. “Would you like any drinks while you are thinking?” Her voice came out in a monotone as if it had been prerecorded. He felt like an old friend. “Cappuccino?” asks John. he started to gesticulate.
It‟s my job to make sense of reliable data. In the last few years there have also been findings that children raised by single fathers are less violent that those raised by single mothers. The results were surprising and not what you‟d expect.” “You are joking! I don‟t believe you.” I thought of my sister and my body felt tense all over. “That men are instinctively more violent than women. feeling that I knew the answer already. “There‟s a growing body of research now.” .” “Is that well-founded or not?” I asked.Friends or Lovers He thought for a moment. “In the 70s and 80s. Researchers started to ask both men and women. You see it all the time. not just women. I could feel a sprinkle of alarm go through me because I could sense he was leading me into a trap. “Perhaps. “It depends on whose data you look at. Over one-hundred and seventy studies in the last three decades disagree with you. “Difficult to tell. Then some people started to ask whether the research design was distorting the results. In the papers. Men are definitely more aggressive and violent. on TV. “lot of studies suggested that men were more violent than women in personal relationships.” he continued.” But he sounded sceptical. I could tell that he was selecting one from a great long list.” I affirmed.” “The studies must be biased. It‟s everywhere.” he replied surprisingly.” “But we all know that men are more violent that women. I don‟t understand why. but John continued calmly and reassuringly.
” “I don‟t believe them. Yes.” he said. different age groups. I know you are going to try. “Thank you. and have been conducted by people from different research backgrounds. “D‟you remember „Wait „Til Your Father Gets Home‟?” he suddenly asked. I am interested.” he said with a smile. I remembered a TV series with this name. What is meant by this phrase? I looked at John with curiosity.” “Of course. the waitress returned. I thought for a moment. But the results are consistent across different industrialised countries.” said the waitress. We both picked up a menu.Rory Ridley-Duff “I can‟t rule that out. She had an impatient look on her face. “We don‟t have to talk about this if you don‟t want to. “No it‟s okay. “Dad is being used to threaten the kids.” John paused. I stopped for a moment. At that moment. John looked at me supportively.” “You‟re not alone. Is that your point?” I asked. I was in deep shock. It is just hard to accept.” “I can‟t explain it – this is very new data to me too and I need time to reflect on it. quickly found something we liked and ordered. I‟m sure there was a hint of sarcasm in her tone. John and I looked at each other and this time we didn‟t laugh. different social environments. .” “Explain.
but sometimes they dig their heels in and I come very close. they won‟t listen to me.” I said. I have threatened it once or twice.but what d‟you do when kids won‟t respond to anything?” I was beginning to see his point. “Maybe we use Dad as a weapon whether he wants to be scary or not. Make them go to bed. My wife sometimes says to me „John. there have been times when my wife says „are you going to let that man talk to me that way?‟” John became immersed in thought again and I watched him struggle to put his thoughts together. “you see it everywhere. He was forming his thoughts onthe-fly as well.” he said finally. I think it is about Mum making Dad responsible for discipline. .‟ Even my female students used to say that they‟d play dumb or frightened to get their brothers. The threat is only effective if the kids fear Dad. That happens in my house too.” He paused. fathers and boyfriends to do things for them. I‟ve seen girls say „leave me alone or I‟ll get my dad onto you‟ or they might say „I‟ll get my brother onto you. I hate doing it – I feel like I‟ve failed . “Now I come to thing of it. will you?‟ I‟ve managed to avoid smacking so far. John paused for a moment. “I‟m not sure any more that men choose to be aggressive.” he continued. “When I think about this.Friends or Lovers “Not sure.” he answered speaking directly from the heart. “Maybe we use Dad as a weapon because he is more scary.
” We both paused. We‟re never free of fear.Rory Ridley-Duff “Maybe. He only became worried after she started to flirt a bit. That moment.” “Yes.” I answered. nodded and then . “but the issue for women is that the threat is always there. I raised my eyebrows. But I‟m under no such obligation. He‟d ordered potato skins. “John. I‟m not sure it is appropriate for me to talk about this. You understand?” I said. I have a friend who felt a young woman was getting too close to him. but he‟s done this before and the young woman was so upset that I had to separate them. I don‟t understand all the ins and outs. We have a man who has been pressuring a young woman for a drink. Tricky situation in one department. Completely. The threat is enough. After that. But it is double-edged. our starters arrived. She‟d been having some difficulties at home and she singled him out as a father figure to talk to. I‟m trying to find out more because something peculiar seems to be going on. “Okay. He tried to cool it off. The woman is holding something back. I‟m not sure exactly what. I‟m sure you are right. “What‟s your work like?” he asked. Instinctively.” I stopped myself. we shared a stuffed crust with extra mushroom and chicken. and I was eating chicken dippers. I‟ve had to move him. isn‟t it? On the one hand we want men to be violent for us but we don‟t want them to be violent against us. “Yes. we both realised we‟d had enough of this. Busy at the moment.” John looked at me in a way that suggested he did not know whether to carry on.
As I walked back to my car. I felt good. no. We both knew exactly what the other was thinking. I hoped he was right. I hoped that I had found a friend – a real friend. . “I don‟t want to tread on any mines. I could have said “I‟ll be very sensitive about your marriage”. We both agreed there would be a next time in about a month. Men and women talk to each other in such oblique ways.” But. “…we‟ll have to tread very carefully…” He nodded and also spoke softly. protecting our egos while leaving the door open just in case we both had a change of heart. “Yes.” “Me neither. but only after I made him promise that it would be my treat next time. we hugged. She backed off and was hurt. he paid.” He held my gaze. I said softly…. He could have said “I don‟t want to ruin this by sleeping with you. Always. When we parted. isn‟t it?” I said. A minefield.” I responded. we danced around each other using metaphors hoping the other would understand. Next thing he knew she‟d complained about him. We swapped mobile phone numbers too.” he asserted. “He suggested they meet outside work to sort things and made it clear that he was providing her support as her manager and not asking her out on a date.” “It‟s always complicated.Friends or Lovers tilted my head slightly to one side to indicate that he should continue. We had our own minefield to navigate. After coffees. “We‟ll be fine.
recruitment is a hit and miss affair. At other times. Not quite what I expected. but I‟m confident that we‟re reducing the recruitment lottery through the use of these techniques.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 11 When I returned to work. there is a formal interview that asks a series of technical and social questions that enable us to probe their experience and handling of social situations. The assessment centre uses an array of techniques to provide a more rounded picture of a candidate‟s suitability for a position. “Have you been able to find out anything?” I asked. you first?” “Okay. those that were marginal in the recruitment process turn out to be the best performers. Lastly. Nearly all his team talk highly of him. Anyway. Four accepted an invitation to our offices for the following week. we introduce them to teams that undertake similar work to give them a flavour of the „real‟ workplace. and also to give the teams a chance to evaluate the candidates in a less formal setting. I‟d like to better understand why people decline. I got Phil to phone all the candidates and give them the news. but interesting nevertheless. participate in role playing exercises. Even with all this care and effort. More than once.” “I chatted to Elona too. After I rounded off with Dave. we‟ve found our perfect candidate only for them to decline the position at the last minute. They are sad that he‟s . I found them a good deal more open than I expected. They undertake a psychometric test. then confirmed the final shortlist. “Some. I called Phil into my office for an update on Mike. I met Dave to discuss the interviews.
particularly the women. Mike.. People liked her well enough but they found her a bit quiet. then he gave out a slight laugh. Some said they were shocked because they thought the two got on extremely well. but they all respect his abilities as a manager and as a salesperson.” Phil stopped talking for a moment and had a puzzled look on his face. touch her and make her feel uncomfortable. She worked closely with Mike – that went with the job. He rubbed his chin and touched his eyebrow before making several attempts to start speaking.Friends or Lovers moved on. but was also sympathetic and supportive when his staff had problems. . you know. It sounds like he had a reputation for not putting up with any nonsense.” Phil paused. and some of the younger men.” “Did you pick anything up about Elona? Were he and Elona close?” “Yes and no. A couple found him a bit „old school‟. I still think there is something going on that we don‟t know about. Some didn‟t mention the complaint – in fact I got the impression they didn‟t know about it.” I said. Finally. They were always working together to resolve customer issues. and I felt that it wasn‟t the right time to probe. some words were forthcoming. They wouldn‟t elaborate. “I can feel a „but‟ coming…. polite and caring to women and a bit rougher and more argumentative with the men. “Elona told me she felt uncomfortable socialising with her team. “Those that knew she had made a complaint were surprised.” I decided to share what I found out.
” Then Phil said something that shocked me. He was searching for words.” “Why d‟you think that?” I said with genuine surprise. and his wife kicked him out for a while. I don‟t know. “Tricky. “I‟ve heard that too. He got close to Sally. but I pressed him. “Sally‟s attitude to him was so different from the others. Nobody said it out loud...a cross between a brother and a lover…. He did have a rough patch a couple of years back.No. There was such a familiarity in the way she talked about him.” “What about Mike‟s marriage?” “Ah! Yes. “Yes – I gathered that much and I‟m sure I spoke to her. I got the impression that they were saying „don‟t go there‟.” . spit it out. one of the sales reps.” He rubbed his chin vigorously as he sat thinking. but I would hazard a guess that he broke up with his wife for a while.” “Interpretation?” Phil was hesitant. They clammed up a bit. “Come on Phil. “….” He paused again and I was starting to get a little frustrated. “Yes?” I prompted. She spoke about him almost like…. as if they had spent a considerable amount of time together outside work…. I think they sensed at this point why I was taking an interest.something didn‟t feel right but I can‟t put my finger on it.Rory Ridley-Duff “I agree….” I shared something that Dave had told me.
he lived with the rep for a while.” After Phil left my office I pondered what I‟d learnt. So far as I can see. Mike asked Elona out for a drink. Thirdly. Secondly. Elona is upset. I just can‟t work it out at the moment. Keep your ear to the ground.” “Hmm. Fourth. Okay. Am I missing something? Why would the women put their jobs on the line to move with him? Why is his ex-lover so supportive? I think I should talk to Mike again – it is only fair to let him tell his side of the story. . he still lives with his wife.Friends or Lovers “Well. What do I know? Firstly. What I find hard to understand is why his team is so supportive of him. I got the feeling that Sally had lived with him for while. his wife kicked him out. and when he admitted this he was definitely agitated. Mike admits that he put his arm around her. We now know that Elona has been troubled by over attentive men at social events and that she‟s hiding something. I‟ll see what I can find out my end. Mike had an affair with a sales rep. his wife forgave him and he moved back in.
Are you happy to talk about it some more?” Mike‟s hands were locked together and he looked very tense. “I talked with Elona about a week ago and I can‟t help feeling that she‟s holding something back. “Mike. Is that right?” “Er. She worked well.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 12 “Hi. but I wondered if there is anything that you can tell me that would help me understand the situation. “What do you want to know?” he asked. “Not in any detail.” Mike looked at me for quite a few seconds.” The moment I said this. I‟m trying to clear up the background to this situation with Elona and. He did not look relaxed so I tried to put him at ease. “Has she told you about her problems at home?” he asked. She was not the most talkative or outgoing young woman. “It was good. Yes…. I understand that things have not gone smoothly with her boyfriend.” but he stopped short of saying anything more and looked down at his knees while he pondered further.” I said with a welcoming tone. We worked well. Mike. “I‟m not accusing you of anything. It was as if he was trying to decide whether he should speak. but I liked her . to be frank. it doesn‟t make sense to me. I let him settle before I continued. Mike shuffled a bit in his seat. “Is there anything further you can tell me about your working relationship with her?” He knew he had to talk and I watched as he drew in a large breath and settled into his chair.. Come on in. I understand that you worked closely with her.
His hands settled back into lap and he started to speak. “She didn‟t?” he asked. I would feel more comfortable if you talked to her directly about it. Then his right hand moved swiftly to his face and he touched his cheek.” I felt myself start to get irritated. “There is more. but tried to remain calm.” “I‟ve tried. I thought I detected a wry smile. Her complaint took me by surprise. “Why did you ask her out for a drink?” Mike tensed and I could see his hands clench. “Well. “Haven‟t we been over this before?” he asked. “but she spoke to me in confidence. Mike.” he commented. she confided personal stuff to me and I don‟t think I should break her confidence. Mike. It was someone else in the department. “What do you mean?” I asked. “Penny.” I corrected. they clearly had no idea what was going on. I need to know. “Why are we raking it up again?” “Because I think there‟s more that I don‟t know and maybe I didn‟t fully understand.” . He started to nod slowly and relaxed a bit.” “She didn‟t make a complaint.” he said deliberately.” I said.” I asserted. Nobody‟s interests are served by withholding relevant information.” His statement puzzled me.” “Well that explains a lot.Friends or Lovers and worked well with her. “No. I was not sure where to go next. She does have problems at home and some issues within the team – my old team – but I felt she and I had a good understanding. But she‟s hedging. “If I‟ve made a mistake.
” “Then why can‟t you look me in the eye when you say that?” he retorted. nobody‟s accusing you of anything. I knew the damage had been done.” Inside. He immediately tensed again. “I am used to handling these things within my team.” “Who‟ve you been talking to?” he asked aggressively. “You get close to people don‟t you?” I commented. “Nobody is accusing you of anything.Rory Ridley-Duff He thought for a moment.” “Why didn‟t you come to me earlier?” I asked.” I found that remark patronising and privately wondered if he resented my involvement. “What on earth do you mean?” I regretted the remark but it was out now and I had to limit the damage. Slow down. Like I say. then gathered his thoughts. Mike. I also offered to meet her outside work and the next thing there‟s a complaint against me. He decided to open up. but I needed him to calm down if we were to make any progress. gave her whatever support I was able. I looked him in the eye. If I have. .” His defences were up now. “Mike. I thought I must‟ve said or done something insensitive. I talked to her several times over a number of weeks. “She spoke to me in private about issues with her boyfriend and also an upsetting incident with a team member. “I thought you were trying to straighten this thing out. I apologise but I really don‟t know what was alleged or why. “I know you give good support to your team.
” “She spoke to me in confidence and I‟m not prepared to break that confidence. Clearly you give them excellent support and I can see they appreciate this and it has worked well in the past. I offered personal support for a member of my team who was experiencing personal difficulties at work and at home.” He was a stubborn bugger and I decided to exert a bit of pressure. Even if it makes my position difficult I‟m not prepared to break my word. I will have to talk to Dave about calling a formal enquiry. Are you sure you‟ve not overstepped the mark with Elona?” I could see his anger rising and his face started to go red. I did not want this situation to get nasty but experience told me to remain calm and sit in my chair. You have a chance to be open with me now.” I struggled to contain my own impatience. or later. “Cards on the table. he seemed to relax. I cannot manage a situation I don‟t understand.” I said. “I did what any good manager would do. You are well liked by your team. I felt uneasy.” Mike looked at me. or Elona and a team member.” he said with some force. But you have got too close to team members before and this has made managing the team complicated. . “I did not „overstep the mark‟. On the basis of this conversation. but it is as well you understand how I feel. I think something has taken place between you and Elona. He fixed my gaze.Friends or Lovers “Okay. It sounds like one or more of policies have been breached and you have a duty to inform me if this is the case. “Then tell me about these things. “I don‟t want to fall out about this Mike. Curiously. I gave her my word.
Let me think on this and I‟ll get back to you.Rory Ridley-Duff “Do that and a can of worms will open so large that you may never recover from it”. Mike?” It was my turn to fix my eyes on his. People will get hurt.” he replied. he said My patience ended. You‟ve made mistakes already. “People have already been hurt. I‟ll await your call. “No. but I let it ride and saw him to the door. There is some serious shit going on here and it is my job to find out what it is. calling an enquiry will just compound things. “Are you threatening me.” I argued. Elona.” His tone was slightly sarcastic and that annoyed me. and seeing as you‟ve moved me to another department it is no longer my responsibility. I gave him one last chance. I‟m saying that you do not know enough about this situation to handle it. you and others will be hurt if you pursue this. I need your co-operation. Are you going to give it to me?” He stood thinking.” Trust him? I don‟t think so. maybe this is one can of worms that needs to be opened. This is not in your interests – trust me.” “Mike.” “Right. This is one situation in which I will trust my own instincts. “Okay. There is more at stake here than my job. with a more friendly gesture he made a concession. “Penny. “If you get Elona‟s consent. I‟ll talk. Then. .
” …. and a study involving 2000 women. I put the Elona issue on a back burner...Friends or Lovers Chapter 13 Things calmed down over the next few weeks.. I responded with a George Burns quote: . Scientists have. We bantered about men and women and I started sending him feminist jokes. then perhaps we‟ll be approaching the end of the sex war. …to which he responded…. The other one I really liked was: After God made man. .. “The good news is that I’ve given you a brain and a penis”.. finally discovered the food that reduces women’s sex drive by 90%…. With all the recruitment issues to deal with. He replied with “masculist” ones. she said to Adam. Question: Why does it take 20 million sperm to impregnate an egg? Answer: Because the egg is so busy rehearsing a speech about equality it forgot to meet the sperm half-way. My favourites were: Question: Why does it take 20 million sperm to impregnate an egg? Answer: Because none of them know how to ask for directions.to which he replied…. and the new starters. “there’s some good news and some bad news”. John and I continued to e-mail each other in the evenings and steadily got to know each other. “The bad news is that you can only use one at a time. He added that when both men and women could laugh at both jokes.it’s called Wedding Cake. Adam asked to hear the good news first. “So what’s the bad news?” asked Adam. after 20 years of diligent research.
His final retort was that there were still too many women who thought the best way to end the sex war was to chop off the useless bit of skin attached to a penis called “a man”. not least because I have looked after it. If I‟m eventually going to get rejected. But when I think about things. shaved under my arms and between my legs (quite the fashion at the moment). more ardour than intellect. They managed to pack the baby off to mum‟s so we‟re going to really rock „n‟ roll. And with this power comes some responsibility. out for fun without commitment. Not all women have this power – I‟m lucky. I guess. it hurts. They don‟t call me. Do I care? Yes. I‟m well into my beautification routine. If they didn‟t fancy me they‟d probably tell me to piss off. actually. Although I‟m thirty-two. now I come to think of it. I easily pass for 25 and that means I can still enjoy the singles scene and taste the delights of men who have more passion than technique. I‟ve decided it is party night! My sister Carole and Chris will be around in half an hour and we are going to hit the pubs. * * * Tonight. they do say that in their own way after they‟ve shagged me. About an hour ago I had a bath and soaked myself in essential oils. at least let the man have a . In fact. It hurts a lot. But the men in the singles scene are playing the same game. It still gives me a thrill to lead a man from first eyecontact to passionate fuck knowing that I am controlling every second of his (and my) pleasure. there is a perverse balance of power. I am lucky to have young skin. I can choose to blow his mind or tell him to piss off. after several months off the scene.Rory Ridley-Duff There will always be a sex war because men and women want different things: men want women and women want men.
This is a skill men cannot appreciate – one area where you must be ambidextrous and exercise care so that the varnish is evenly applied and no splodges get on the skin. When I‟m getting ready for nights like this. They are not that comfortable. but they complete the vision. plenty of money in his wallet. Sometimes being a woman is such fun. a femme fatale out for a kill. fashioned to move the senses. Around my neck I have a Swarovski necklace bought for me by a former boyfriend – bastard wanted it back but I wouldn‟t give it to him. I‟m a piece of art. I‟ve put on black high heels with open toes and a single buckle strap at the ankle. Tonight. I imagine most blokes won‟t notice the detail. a living sculpture. I‟ve put on some crystal studs and some dangly earrings that have a blue tint (to match my eyes). Under my trendy black leather jacket there is a leather skirt with an overlong belt – dead stylish. Any under wired bra brings out the best in them. I like to soap my boobs. really cool – and cut above the knee but not so short that I look like a chav. I apply sky blue varnish to my fingernails. I‟m a hot babe tonight. . I look sexy as hell without looking cheap or trashy. I‟m going for it. It is studded with crystals and an eye catching sky blue jewel that fits into the crease of my cleavage.Friends or Lovers smooth tanned muscular body. a handsome face. but the women will. To complete the effect I‟m wearing close woven black fishnet stockings – not the unsubtle type with large holes that you get from Ann Summers – the type with holes so small that a guy won‟t notice them until he‟s up close and personal. and a cock as big as his ego. and when I put on a black body-hugging Elle top with a suitably cut V-neck. While I wait for my sister. I have a great pair – no need for a padded bra or implants. On my feet.
Even with all this preparation, it‟s not looks alone that will attract. I‟ve learned from experience that the way I walk into a bar, the way I dance, the way I talk and engage makes a huge difference. If I go out in a bad mood and don‟t talk much, far fewer men approach me. But when I‟m with girlfriends being vivacious, talking boldly giving men discrete (and sometimes indiscrete) eye contact, then they flock to me like bees around a honey pot. There is nothing magical about it, I just understanding how to flaunt myself. Now my nails are dry, I open a bottle of wine. No harm having one glass before I go out. If I do have to buy my own drinks (unlikely) then it will cut down the cost of getting drunk. I take in the latest episode of Eastenders while I sip away. Eastenders! That reminds me – out comes my pad and pencil. I decided to try something out. Do men or women hit more in the soaps? To my astonishment, I find that the women hit far more often. Funny, I‟d never noticed that before. And as for adverts, I am finding that if anybody is ridiculed it is men. The only advert that reverses this is „Nuts!‟ an advert for a trashy weekly men‟s magazine. That advert is so unfunny – like women don‟t know how to do car repairs or serious DIY work in the home. Actually I don‟t know how to do these either, but it doesn‟t matter because I get my father to come over. If I‟m really stuck, then I pick up the phone to get my favourite handyman to sort it out for me. Isn‟t that what men are for? The adverts that do make me laugh are the car adverts aimed at women. „Size matters‟? It sure does – although girth is probably more important. And that AA car insurance advert, it just shows what plonkers men really are. Why spend hours and hours looking for a good deal when the AA can do it for you?
Friends or Lovers
And there are those women only insurance companies now. I can‟t believe that there is talk about banning them or forcing them to offer insurance to men too; if we women are safer drivers we should get cheaper insurance. All this stuff about insurers discriminating against men, it‟s just bollocks. Why don‟t men just learn to drive more safely? Anyway, these thoughts go through my mind as the doorbell rings. Up I get, open the door, and see Carole and Chris looking chic and ready to party. “Come on in,” I say. “Just let me finish my glass of wine and we can shoot.” I give Carole a hug. She looks great too, but her bust isn‟t as good as mine. She tends to avoid „V‟ neck tops and wears a wonderbra with smooth silky fabric against her skin. This gives the suggestion of a full breast and shows her nipples when she gets sweaty or turned on. She‟s got great nipples, my sis‟. I compliment her while I look at Chris. His eyes are on stalks as he takes in my outfit. He may be a bit of a twit, but he knows how to look at a woman and make her feel good. “You look good tonight Chris,” I say. I‟m not lying. He‟s been to River Island to buy new jeans and a shirt. I imagine Carole went with him, but he‟s a credit to her. His hair is washed and groomed. He‟s clean shaven – which I know Carole likes – and he‟s got some dead cool trainers on too. “Just let me pop to the loo,” interjects Carole. “Back in a mo.” As soon as Carole is out of sight, Chris turns to me. “You look fantastic, Penny. Whoever reels you in tonight will be a lucky guy.” “Thank you, Chris.” I respond coyly. “I aim to please.” I pause for a second and then a thought occurs to me.
“…but I think it is me who will be doing the reeling in.” “I bet you will,” he replies, his eyes firmly looking into mine. “Doesn‟t Carole look great?” I say to deflect his attention. “She sure does. I‟m a lucky guy going out on the town with you two – I‟ll be the envy of every other bloke there. You both look a million dollars.” He was doing so well up to that point but had to spoil it by drawing attention to how good we‟ll make him look. I like attracting men, but hate it when they regard me as some sort of trophy. It is comments like these that show Chris for the prat he is. Still, Carole loves him, so I guess there must be something about him. For the life of me I can‟t see what it is. Carole returns from the loo and we call a taxi. Carole and Chris stay over on nights like this and I give Chris a pair of spare house keys. There is a good chance I won‟t make it back home so they need to be able to let themselves in. I usually try to come back for breakfast, but I like to take things as they come. I can‟t predict whether I‟ll feel like coming back home; it depends on whether a gorgeous guy has whisked me off to a stunning penthouse. The taxi arrives and drives us to a classy bar at the better end of town. I like this bar. It has lots of comfy chairs to relax in with stylish tables. There is a dining area too with a dance floor between the bar area and restaurant. On Friday nights it is quiet until about 8.30pm and is rocking by 10pm. A good time to arrive is 8.15 – as we have done – early enough to get a table in the bar area, drink until the restaurant table is ready, and then work off the calories on the dance floor. Chris gets in the first round of drinks. I alternate between sparkling mineral water and wine on these occasions – it gets me
Friends or Lovers
drunk quite quickly and the water prevents me dehydrating. We chat while deciding what to eat: “So what‟s happening in your life, sis?” asked Carole. “Usual stuff at work. Always someone having difficulties or creating tension,” I replied. “And outside work?” she added. “Well, I met John. We had a good time, I think.” “You think?” queried Chris. “You can never be sure, but yes, I think we had a good time,” I confirmed. Carole looked at me closely, and rested her chin on her hand momentarily as a subtle grin took shape on her face. “What?” I asked. She continued to grin but didn‟t say anything. “Why are you looking at me like that?” Both Carole and Chris looked at each other and smiled. “Are you going to meet him again, then?” Carole finally asked. “Yes. Now would you like me to tell you the length of his penis?” I remarked pointedly. Chris laughed. Carole looked me directly in the eye and did not miss a beat. “Yes. Just give me a rough idea. Was it as long as his CV?” “His what?” “His CV – you said he was an academic turned consultant – he must have a very long CV…..” “Carole. I‟ve news for you. He‟s just a friend.” “Oh yeah.” She took on a superior tone as she started to make fun of me. “My big sister who is all upright and proper at work, but a regular shag-bag outside work, has got a „friend‟. It‟s got bells on. Try again.”
“I like him, okay. He‟s married. He‟s told me straight that he loves his wife, his kids. This is a friendship.” “And you believe him?” interjected Chris. I paused for a moment. Inside I was not sure whether I believed him or not. I was not sure I wanted to believe that all he wanted was friendship, but for reasons that I could not understand I felt that he meant what he said, even if I would have liked more. Finally, I spoke. “Yes,” was all I said. Both Chris and Carole looked at each other again and gave each other a puzzled look. “But you never have male friends outside work!” shrieked Carole. “You have male friends at work and a line of hunks knocking at your door outside work.” I was about to object but on reflection she was probably right. I do have female friends although many stop seeing me when they have steady boyfriends. I used to think they were just busy, but slowly I realised that they were deliberately avoiding me. Men as friends? No. She was right. Friendship with men had thus far proved impossible. “Hey! Perhaps she‟s growing up?” Chris commented to Carole. “Cut the cheek you,” I objected, but there was no stopping him. “Next you‟ll be telling us that you are going to look for a husband.” “Not tonight,” I quipped. Then, to make sure Chris was aware that I‟d not enjoyed his comments, I looked at him with a dismissive smile. “Men over 25 need not apply.”
Friends or Lovers
It was Carole‟s turn to laugh. “God sis‟! When are you going to grow up and settle down?” If there is one thing that Carole had never said to me before it was that I should settle down. I thought she knew better, but the way she said this in such a carefree and matter of fact way actually stopped me in my tracks for a second. “Not tonight,” I said after a moment. “I‟ll give it some thought tomorrow.” My mind returned to the task in hand and I could feel my face relax and a more pleasant demeanour return. “But since the night is young and there are some young strapping lads here who are hot and willing…….let‟s get on and eat, drink and party.” We ordered our food and I finished my second glass of wine. People were beginning to come into the bar in greater numbers; couples, groups of young men and women, sometimes together and sometimes separate. By 9pm we were sitting at our table, and the bar was getting so crowded that we had to queue for drinks. After main courses and coffee, and a third glass of wine, I was ready to dance. “Shall we hit the floor?” I asked. Carole turned to Chris and gave a gesture. “I‟ll stay here and order some coffees?” he responded. “I‟d rather have another sparkling water. Best not to mix drinks too much,” I said with a delicate hint of sarcasm. Carole nodded and we made our way onto the floor. As I looked around, I could see the eyes of several men follow me. One of my great pleasures in life is attracting admiring looks when I dance. When the DJ put on “You Sexy Thing” I began to take control of the dance floor. I like this song, particularly
I give him a series of strong admiring looks each lasting a second or two. our eyes meet. I grinned broadly and briefly as I flashed a look at the young man sitting at the bar. I began to look around as I danced to see whose eye I could catch. chatting.” and off I went. “I‟ll just help Chris with the drinks. For now. Good. As the song ended. . I caught half a dozen men looking in my direction. within a couple of feet. He looked good and I caught his eye before quickly turning my face away and giving him a sight of my curves swinging in time to the music. but his eyes kept looking in my direction. One was so taken that his girlfriend put her hand under his jaw and twisted his face back so that it looked at her. I put my arms above my head and I let my hips swing and my long hair fall sensuously about me. I saw that Chris was queuing at the bar not far from him so I turned to Carole. he was great – but I think I have the edge when it comes to oozing sex appeal. Then I turn to Chris so that my back is towards him.Rory Ridley-Duff since I saw Robert Carlisle strut his stuff in The Full Monty. A two-second gaze is a come-on. As I cast my eyes around the restaurant tables. Three-seconds is tantamount to telling him I want him inside my knickers. As I walked towards this young man I looked directly at him and I could see his nervousness. In Cosmo I read that a second of eye contact is a flirt. As I walk right past him. He was with friends. Each time I turned quickly the hem of my skirt rose up enough to show an increasing number of admirers that I had black stockings and suspenders on. God. I have his attention. At the bar was a strong looking young man in a white tee-shirt and jeans.
Still. get after her!” He smiled and laughed in an embarrassed way but did not come out onto the dance floor.Friends or Lovers “Shall I take that. I decided to bide my time.” he jokes. Carole was bopping away to YMCA when I arrived back with my drink.” Even though I was alternating water and wine. One gave him a shove forward as if to say “Go on.” “It‟s not his heart I‟m interested in. he definitely looked good to me. As I returned to the dance floor. “Go easy on the young lad. gyrating my hips and inviting the onlookers to let their imagination run wild. Whether it was the drink or not. it had been a while since I‟d let my hair down so I decided to take things as I found them. Penny. I walked past my admirer again and this time I made sure that I brushed close by him and turned my head to check his eyes were following me.” “Watching you makes my throat go dry too. with my arms above my head. “Not as much as his. I think” I say turning to my admirer and catching his eye again. I could feel the effects of the drink. Soon I was in full flow again. gently moving in time with the music so as not to spill anything.” I ask. Chris. The next record was Madonna‟s Open Your Heart. “Dancing is thirsty work. They were. He seemed a bit more nervous that most men. . Pretending to be helpful. I tip-toed around her while I downed the water. and Carole decided to leave me to hog the limelight while she drank her coffee. one of my favourites. Pen. His heart may not be up to it. and that another glass might cause me to get sleepy before I‟d had any fun. His friends realised I was giving him the eye and they were ribbing him and laughing loudly. I knew that I‟d probably had enough.
but if they tried to touch I quickly moved away so as not to discourage the man I‟d set my eyes on. “Back in a minute!” I walked towards the bar again and could see my catch stare at me as I approached him. After five minutes Carole and Chris joined me and we grooved away for the next couple of records. like the parting of the red sea. I allowed them to dance near me. I was ready. “Hi! I‟m just going to the girls‟ room. I shan‟t be long.” As I drew away.almost certainly rock hard by now – as I entered the women‟s loos to reapply make-up that had been affected by the sweaty atmosphere. The tingle of anticipation heightened my arousal as I entered a cubicle to relieve myself. His friends. backed away a little as I went up to him calmly and confidently. letting the alcohol and atmosphere go to our heads. “Just going to the loo. I looked in the mirror. I put my hand on his shoulder as I drew my mouth close up to his right ear.Rory Ridley-Duff A number of men tried to join in with me while my young admirer remained at the bar drinking his pint. Would you like to get me a drink and we can chat when I get back?” He broke into a big grin and nodded. I let my cheek very gently touch his. I closed my eyes and pictured the young man who was buying me a drink. Yes.” I shouted in Chris‟s ear. My black hair had become loose and free-flowing and I looked like a high-class tart. . past two young couples who were already exploring each other‟s throats and fondling each others‟ buttocks. “White wine. I imagined my youthful admirer . I walked down the stairs to the toilets. he was really very fit indeed and his face was kind and very pleasing to the eye. It was time to cast my line and hook my man.
In fact. It looked like I was going to have to be gentle with him. . Load of tossers.Friends or Lovers I returned to the bar and he had my drink ready. what do you and your mates do?” I said. Very smooth. Rescuing damsels in distress!” So. It occurred to me that I had not heard him speak yet so I held out my hand. not overloaded in the brain department. I decided to play with him and see how far he would go. “Most of us work for the AA. but I thought it was already obvious that I was coming onto him. His conversation skills could do with a bit of grooming. “Hi. looking him straight in the eye. he raised it to his lips and kissed it. “Yeah. “So. you know. then?” I wondered if this was too much of a come on.” he said. looking over in their direction. he didn‟t respond and I began to wonder whether I‟d misread him.” I raised my glass in their direction and they acknowledged me en masse. I‟m Penny. “Nothing wrong with a good toss…. “Out with your mates. but they‟re alright. he did not respond. but there was a hint of humour there. fast enough to give a flash of suspenders. emergency breakdowns and that stuff. Again.” I said.. “Are you feeling lucky tonight.” I said. trying to get the conversation going again. I must say. “Do you like the outfit?” I asked giving him a quick twirl. “Them lot?” he said.” He took it and instead of shaking it. if I‟d not known better I would have said he almost wet his pants. To my surprise. “George. I see.
Rory Ridley-Duff I saw the Adam‟s apple in his throat move.” Cool. “I‟m twenty five. you look like a fit young lad.” At last. was it?” He laughed and suddenly he relaxed. “I only go out when I‟m with my sister.” he said. “I…. he really was nervous! But then some words came out.” he said and then he must have detected a slight movement in me because he looked me in the eye and continued “…but not as hot as her younger sister.” Keep them coming. “I thought you were my age. Are you old enough for me?” I teased. I thought. You don‟t look it!” I was not sure whether that was a compliment or not but I need not have worried because he quickly reassured me. She‟s over there with her would-be hubby. I‟m not sure exactly what I did or said. “Twenty next week. Hot stuff. “Hmm.I…. How about you?” I decided to lie – no point shattering his illusions. Is he deliberately flattering me or does it come naturally. “There. . That was good.absolutely fucking fantastic. very smooth.” Come on lad. “I…. “I‟ve not seen you here before.I think you look….” I moved closer to him and pointed her out on the dance floor. I smiled at him – a genuine smile of appreciation.. spit it out.I think you look…. that wasn‟t so hard. and then gave him a wicked look. Christ.” “Fuck. but from that moment on he seemed to change into a different person. “Well...
He came down the stairs and I could see the animalism in him. I went to check my make-up again. our tongues winding around each others. I thought him quite a sexy dancer and his friends were fun too.don‟t waste it all now. The place suddenly came alive and I found myself surrounded by young men. “…. I heard a slow rising sound from my right. gently as first. plenty of time for that later….Friends or Lovers “Old enough to teach you a few tricks?” Before I knew it he‟d slipped his firm hand around the back of my head and kissed me. leaning against the wall like a prostitute waiting for a client. He moved well. relieved myself once more and then waited outside. There was a sudden movement from all of George‟s friends and I followed them onto the dance floor. It felt confident and firm which I hoped was a good sign for later. Carole and Chris joined us and we had quite a party for the next hour. Over the loud music. I parted my legs slightly and guided him in between them. with George‟s arms around my waist as we did a bump and grind..” I put my hand between his legs and gave a quick squeeze. We must have cut quite a picture – my arse pressed against his groin as he pretended to pump me from behind. and his tongue explored my mouth. I pulled away slightly and whispered in his ear. I opened my mouth and let his tongue in. We kissed passionately. I drank another glass of water and wine and started to feel very naughty. I managed to make him understand that he should meet me outside the loos in 5 minutes. He friends were looking on and gave a long slow “Wwwwooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrr!” With perfect timing Rock DJ started to play. For his age he was a good kisser. and then more passionately. .
” I indicate with a nod of the head. closed my eyes. and opened my legs wide for him so he could see my suspenders in all their glory. feeling his muscular body. Then came my first disappointment. My hands were inside his tee-shirt. He carried me through and dropped me on the bed. His hands were all over me. I grabbed his head. under my skirt and inside my top. “That room. I flagged us a taxi and gave the driver the address. Then a finger was inside me and I gasped before grabbing his hair and guiding his mouth back to mine. moving up slowing. who bid us farewell with the comment “Have fun!” As soon as we were inside the door of my flat. As the car moved away.Rory Ridley-Duff our hand moving over each others bodies and between each others legs. I slowly pulled my arms up behind my head. He understood immediately and took off his trousers and pants. kissing me gently. His fingers worked inside the hem of my pants and rubbed around my clit. indicating he should stop. I tried to focus and get excited but his tongue action was so off putting that I could not put up with it for long. his hand was under my skirt again and I opened my legs wide for him. “Time to get out of here. We paid the taxi driver. He nodded and we gathered our jackets and left. and pointed down to his crotch.” I said. His head was between my thighs. I jumped up and put my legs around his waist. That firm tongue that was so good exploring my mouth felt like a dish mop between my legs. He did . Then he climbed roughly back on top of me and tried to put it in. He pulled my pants to one side and buried his face in my pussy. rubbing him up and down while he finger-fucked me.
“John?!” he shouted and suddenly pulled out of me.” I added in a seductive tone. It started to work. Then quickly nodded. Yeah. I took up my position. I liked it long and slow. come on John……. “Take it a bit slower. but poked around inexpertly. egging him on. ”Long and deep. thumping away in my hole and I began to feel a prickle welling up in my body.” I said with a hint of impatience. and his cock working away in my pussy. and lowered my head against the pillow and presented my perfectly fuckable clean-shaven fanny to him. but he pumped me so fast and furiously that it hurt. give it to me hard. He looked at me in an odd way. . I shut my eyes and started to imagine it was John behind me. fill me up with your spunk. so I shut my eyes and let him fuck me for a few minutes. looking for the entrance. “Yeah. Then I did something that perhaps I should not have done..” he said furiously. “Who the fuck is John?” he shouted at me. his strong hands on my back. I put my hands down between my legs and tried to compensate for this unerotic experience by massaging my clit.Friends or Lovers not guide it in with his hand. come on big boy. He broddled about again before he found the hole and despite my instruction he continued to pump fast and furious. I was beginning to get frustrated. I pictured John‟s handsome face behind me. “Do you want me on all fours?” I asked. I started talking. my excitement rose. preferably with my lover holding my legs up over his shoulders and making sure he angled his cock into the pit of my stomach. Eventually he was inside.
As he left the room. His face turned red. As it did. got up and shot an irritated glance at him as I walked to the bathroom. What am I doing? I‟m a grown . “You bastard. get it back in me.Rory Ridley-Duff “George.!” I shouted at the top of my voice but he was already out of the front door before I‟d finished saying it. Then he bellowed. As I felt it get closer. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with distress and an emotion that I‟d not felt for years. Piss off out of here. I suppose it was good while it lasted!” I added sarcastically. You‟re a fucking crap kisser. are never 25.” I saw his face slowly turn to beetroot as the resentment rose in him. so it rose in me too. the wave started to break.. come on…. come on hun. but he closed the door and it smashed. swelling like a wave and rolling slowly into shore.” I picked up a glass of water by the bed and threw it at him. George. “Well. “And you. your tongue is like a dish mop and you fuck like a pneumatic drill! Go on. I sat back on the bed and curled up. It grew inside me slowly. engulfing me and crashing frenetically throughout my body. “Fuck off out of here…. As soon as I realised he was going to leave the rage boiled over in me too. he turned around and with a cruel sneer made a parting remark that I‟ll never forget. I turned away. my emotions started to erupt. “I am not a piece of meat!” He started to put on his clothes. I felt my mouth twitch and my eyes grow moist.” He dressed quickly and did not bother to button up his shirt or jacket before he made for the door. you old slapper.
I curled up into a ball and started to howl like a baby. I was being swept away on a huge wave of feeling. to weep as I lay on his chest. And as I wept. I wanted to be with John. . as if I had been run through with a wooden stake. I thought of nothing else but to be with John. John. With my eyes dripping. My insides convulsed in pain.Friends or Lovers woman picking up a teenager for sex. the first time since I kicked out my university boyfriend after he‟d cheated on me with my best friend. What am I doing? Suddenly. My pitifully shallow life crushed me. Never in my life had I felt such pain and I wept for the first time in 11 years. to feel his arms around me. I thought of only one thing.
week after . I never sought a relationship. for ten years. If they run away. then that. I was all over the place. Every year that passes. am I really happy at work? I tell everyone that I am. I feel ugly. I had treated him like a piece of meat. I get up and go to the bathroom. never settling with anyone. Okay. I get mad and grab onto someone else to ease the pain. Yet another person leaves and I have to shuffle everyone around. Who am I? What is this life I have created? Why am I so afraid? Why do men treat me like shit? Why do I treat them like shit? As much as I hated George for saying it. but achieved so little. on and off. The greater the responsibility. Who have I ever made happy? I‟ve done so much. Same old. And. but I don‟t know any more. a succulent Sunday roast to devour and then throw away the carcass. In the past. My face is stained and I look ugly. never letting anyone settle with me. so I can pull the guys. If they get too close. I earn more brownie points but feel less enthusiasm. fill out more paper work. But now. to enjoy nurturing them and watching them grow. But there is something missing that I can‟t understand. same old. There must be something beyond passion and sex. it is a chore. certainly nothing that would last.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 14 I cried for an hour as thoughts bounced around my mind like a powerball inside a hollow steel container. I used to like the staff I recruited. pulled this way. I push them away. Why not? What was I doing wasting my life? I‟m not young any more. Sometimes I wish people would just stay still. update more systems. There must be more. I‟ve lived like this. the less I seem to feel for people.
And rings.Friends or Lovers week. love?” I have no idea why. “Urrm.”wh….” I said. Pick it up. pick it up.this…ime….” “Good. Without a moment‟s thought. Who is there?” he finally says. “I can hear you crying. I calmed down enough to get a sentence out. I really did not know what to say. but then his voice comes across strongly.. Just tell me what happened. month after month. John. I try to talk but all I can do is sob.” I paused. “Just hearing a friendly voice helps. What is the point? As I throw myself on the bed. “Penny? You still there? What happened. I finally manage to say my name. It sounds like the line is breaking up. I pick it up and type „John‟ and press „Dial‟. Good.” I knew I was not making much sense but at least some feelings were coming out. Who is it?” Amongst the whimpers. It rings. darling?” and he responds that it is me. be there.giht”.she …. “Penny? What is it? What‟s happened?” In the background. I can faintly hear another question…. I‟ve really fucked up. but the moment he said the word „love‟ I started to feel safer. I pull my hair back and begin to dab my face to remove some of the stains while the tears start to flow again. “Oh. “Just take your time. But what‟s happened?” he asked again. “Hello?” he asks. Such a fool. Come on John. “I‟m such a fool. I can make out a woman‟s voice saying “who is it. . I look at the clock and the mobile phone next to it.of…. No hurry. Hawww… Who‟s th… What time is it? Fuck! What? Errm.
morrow?” and then John‟s voice explain that it was me on the phone and that I was seriously distressed by something. “Tomorrow I‟ll come round and we‟ll read it together. Write out what you are feeling. Don‟t think too hard. It‟s not that. “Penny. “Have you been attacked?” he said kindly.Rory Ridley-Duff “I feel so stupid. Before he signed off I heard her say in a less concerned.” I could hear a woman‟s voice again asking “wher…. Please forgive me for waking you up. I just wanted to talk to someone.” I continued. “Can you get a pen and paper and write down what you are feeling now. John. “Thank you. No. “No.. I‟m not even sure.” I replied.you know I just don‟t know what it is. Thank you. but as I talked I was trying to work out in my head exactly what it was that I was upset about.ling you?”. Can you do something for me?” “I‟ll try.” I stopped for a moment and he spoke with a strong voice.” I knew that he would not be able to make head or tail of this. I‟ll call again in the morning. and much . To know that I was going to see him made such a difference that I felt my tears and distress subside. just get a pen and paper and write.” And that was all he needed to say.” “Why?” I said with a puzzled tone.uck…. I don‟t even understand why I‟m upset or why I‟ve called you. Normality returned. Why exactly was I crying? “I just had a bad night. Then another faint question: “why…. It is so stupid.goin…. He said he didn‟t know but that he‟d find out tomorrow. Maybe it is the drink. Right now.it‟s just…. It‟s just that….
superman. Find that pen and paper. “I have to go now. .ed. Start writing for me. I’m lonely. I got a pen and paper and started to think. By the time I heard a key in the lock I had written only two words. I did so for over 30 minutes trying to form thoughts in my mind and get them down on paper.”. Penny.Friends or Lovers friendlier voice “come…ack…t…. Then he spoke to me again.” I said that I would.
“What happened. Then Carole took my arm and spoke more softly. started having sex and then he just got up and walked out on me. “He walked out on me.” I had to tell them something. I could tell they‟d been talking to each other. You must not blame him. I had to tell them enough of the truth for them to understand and not blame anyone. let alone your sister? I had another session sobbing my eyes out at the breakfast table. you can tell us.” . Chris on one side.” “What a bastard!” said Carole.Do you…. mid-shag. “I‟ll punch his face in next time I see him. We just want to help.I….He…. no!” I said with a start.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 15 Carole looked after me. with his hand on my back. “You mustn‟t do that!” “But….” threatened Chris. “Um…. “It‟s too painful.” I said quickly.” “I….” “What about the police?” Chris asked. Carole and Chris had no idea how to stop me. “No. No.I just couldn‟t .and luckily she did not press me. I‟m sure she must think that I was raped or assaulted. How do you tell that to anyone. but I just can‟t tell her that the man I‟d seduced had realised.d‟you….want to…” “No. I couldn‟t tell her what happened . We got back here. „sis. Carole holding my hand. that I was fantasising about another man.” “Why not?” they said together. Chris slept in the spare bed while little „sis slept with me. “God. They just sat there quietly.
” she whispered. “No fairy tales. “Oh! Carole.” she said pulling away and looking me in the face. Then her mouth closed. As soon as I was on my feet she held her arms open and I fell into them. It is no-one‟s fault – you must not blame him . “Don‟t be such a cynic.” he said. No happy endings?” I asked.” I started but suddenly the words started to come out. Clearly she could not believe what she was hearing. she took my hand and indicated I should stand up. My life looks great on the outside but inside it is a heap of shit. “Welcome to the real world. “Why not?” “I found my prince charming.” Carole‟s mouth dropped open. I look at you and Chris and wonder what I‟m doing with my life. “Something happened that upset the evening. but I‟d trade places with you if I could.Friends or Lovers What could I say? I did not want to lie. I know I look all confident and happy. sis‟” said Chris.” “But why all the tears. That‟s all I can say. It just all came down on me. What could I say? “I don‟t want to tell you. Chris smiled back then put his arms around both of us. I was so used to her moaning about his habits that I‟d not noticed that she really admired him.” and she cast a glance at Chris the like of which I‟d never noticed before. and for reasons I could not understand another wave of emotion engulfed me and the tears . but I could not tell them what happened. “Family cuddle. So will you.but when this „something‟ happened we got angry with each other. sis.
“He sounded nice.” I suddenly realised that my little sister had done more growing up than I had. “I‟ve had all the romance I can take for one weekend. I had misjudged him. but the smile that was creeping back into my demeanour communicated to him that I did not really mean it. John was coming at mid-day so I had to stir myself to start getting ready. Get it out. He was going to keep his word. I‟d never noticed before what a kind smile he had.” “John? Oh God. Chris smiled back at me. Carole smiled at me. shut up.” I said. perhaps. “By the way. And I was still not sure if I was ready to do it now.” My hand rose to my forehead as I gave her a salute. . She had taken on the responsibility of a partner and baby. yes!” I remembered and was amazed.Rory Ridley-Duff started to flow again. I wondered if. I went over to the dresser and combed my hair.” Carole suddenly interjected.” said Carole. “Now girl. “John called.” “Romance?” laughed Chris. “Oh.30. What had I done? Yeah. “That‟s right. He said he‟ll pick you up at 12pm. I‟d never been ready to do that. Go on. Carole spoke softly while Chris hugged us both.” “Don‟t!” was my first response. I had my career but how did that compare to the responsibility of loving another person? I hadn‟t done that. It was already 10. Just put on something real casual and be yourself. Let it out. “Don‟t dress up for him.
. however it goes. I took it on the chin.” I knew she was trying to help. but it always annoyed me when she gave advice like this. Just let the day unfold and run with it. it was good advice after all.Friends or Lovers “Don‟t try to impress him. however.
I unlatched the door and opened it. “Oopps!” he said self-consciously. I‟d dressed casually. “Hi there!” he said without a moment‟s hesitation. As each car passed outside. “Would you like to come in for a sec?” I asked. John had a cup of coffee and made small talk with Carole and Chris while I gathered up my things.” chirped Chris. I can meet that sister of yours. I looked at my watch and could not believe that it was only 12:06. “Don‟t apologise. I‟d removed my make-up. a car pulled up and a handsome man in jeans and a black pullover got out of the car and looked around.” Chris was standing behind Carole and wrapping her in his arms. just jeans and a rugby shirt (with a cut especially for women). “She has got a sexy voice. I drank the dregs of my tea. walked around.” I quipped nodding my head in Chris‟s direction. and just put on a small amount of transparent lippy to give them a moist look. She lent back and gave him a kiss on his neck to thank him for the compliment. After what seemed like forever. “Sure. . sat down. walked around again and generally irritated everybody. fidgeted. The one with the sexy voice.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 16 Twelve o‟clock came and went. He put his hand over his mouth. The wait seemed interminable.” “And her partner…. I kept expecting it to be him. He was clearly looking at the house numbers to check which doorbell to press. and I could feel a few butterflies in my stomach with each passing minute.
or gas-guzzler. It fitted his character. His tastes were broad and selective.” To my surprise he opened another hidden compartment with a further dozen CDs. He took out the „Very Best of Carly Simon” CD and away we drove to the rich tones of „You‟re So Vain‟. with a 2-litre engine. I had no wish to go a long way. He‟d chosen a mid-range Ford in black. John got up. said his „farewells‟ and „nice to meet yous‟. Norah Jones and Eva Casidy but it doesn‟t look like you have any.Friends or Lovers “I‟m set to go!” I finally said. . but was keen to walk somewhere quiet. full security system. the music of a person did not care about fashion or his own image. the Yellowjackets and Mozart. “Any preferences?” “I particularly like Carly Simon. and the colour and style had a hint of sexiness about it. I was no expert.” he joked as he escorted me to his car. but he liked a few luxuries. Carly Simon. just the sensuous experience of listening. Inside the car. It was quite a swish car. In there was music by Casiopeia. He saw my eyes casting over his collection. I thought. incar stereo/CD player. He had no need for a flashy sports car. “Your carriage awaits you. “Any particular destination you‟d like?” he asked gently.” I suggested. sunroof and alloy wheels. Queen. “How about Warwick castle? We could walk around the grounds. I thought for a moment. but from work I had more knowledge of motors than the average gal. Madam. he had a selection of CDs. compilations of classical music by French classical composers and American jazz artists.
. “What‟s that?” “No hanky panky!” he said with a smile.” I did not feel talkative because I was not sure how to start.” I suggested. but at this particular moment I was happy to borrow someone else‟s knight for the day. “I don‟t mind being a stand-in until you find someone who can do it for you full time. I‟d called him when I was distressed and he was bound to think I wanted to talk about what happened. She was forgiving. you told me. I was not sure what to say. “Let‟s walk first. I recalled the voice in the background during our phone conversation. I could hardly tell him the truth.” It didn‟t fit somehow with the conversations we‟d previously had about equality between the sexes. “But there is one condition. a bit.Rory Ridley-Duff He nodded. I have friends in Warwick. I was about to give him directions but he made a left turn.” “Of course.” “Is that what you are?” I asked. I still had a bit of a hangover so food was not high on my agenda yet. Now he was here. I realised that he must already know the area. “Do you want to eat before or after the walk?” he asked. She‟ll get over it. “Yes. “You know the way?” I queried. She knows that no man – particularly me – can totally resist being a knight in shining armour. “Was your wife okay about your coming here today?” “Not really.” he added.
seemed appropriate for the contract that we were making between us. After this. “Just so long as we both understand the boundaries. or footman.” I said with a haughty look that I imagined women of class would give to a chauffeur. “Okay. the kitten in me was still there. “Thank you. We turned a corner that brought the castle into view then drove around the perimeter to the visitor car park.Friends or Lovers “The thought never crossed my mind. I was grateful for that. The trauma of the previous night receded as I filled my senses with thoughts of what we would do with our day. Even though it sometimes got me into trouble.” he confirmed. Madam.” he said with mock politeness. I liked this path because it led through a couple of wooded areas.” I snapped back with a grin. My sumptuous naughty side had not been destroyed by the humiliation I‟d been through. but he caught my message and smiled back at me briefly. This small phrase. He continue playing the game of „protector‟ by opening the car door for me and indicating the direction of the grounds with a slight nod and wave of his right hand. He may have been driving. I felt myself relax and the prospect of the day ahead filled me with pleasure. We set off on a path around the perimeter of the castle. then up a slight incline as we crossed more open ground until we had . my man. “I am now in your hands. “I do. with some irony. I thought to myself. normally the preserve of people tying the knot. Then I blew it by whispering to him „do I give you a tip?‟ He broke into a chuckle as he swung the door shut.” “In my dreams”.” I said.
I could have written pages and pages of trivia. “Last night I tried to follow your advice. made myself a coffee and tried to write down what was troubling me. We walked for a couple of minutes without saying anything to each other. This is not easy for me to talk about. or made me feel beautiful when they were trying to get in my knickers. lots of conflicting emotions about how angry I feel about things that happened in the past. he spoke.” I replied. All the boyfriends I dumped. particularly with men. I could have written about how jealous I am of my sister. lots of tiny agonies. The full circuit would take about 45 minutes and by then I would feel ready for lunch. I could have written .Rory Ridley-Duff a view of the whole locality. “Penny. their irritating habits. “The trigger for what?” I looked at him and the distress must have shown in my face.” I was afraid but I longed to talk to him. but then backed off when I opened my heart in response to their lovely words. irritations with things at work. the bastards that dumped me. “I imagine a man was involved somehow last night?” I wished it was that simple. but I had to start somewhere. “Yes. She‟s found a man to love her and now has a beautiful child that she dotes on.” He gave me one of those half-smiles that conveyed both sympathy and an understanding of my suffering. I sensed that both of us were looking for an opening line that would enable us to talk about what had happened. I‟m not good at sharing my feelings. That was the trigger. we don‟t have to talk about this if you don‟t want to. He did not interrupt and I realised that he expected something more. I sat down after I came off the phone. Finally. “It‟s okay. or didn‟t call me.
and just as my sister had earlier in the day. John?” “Come here. “Well.Friends or Lovers about the distance I feel from my mother for the way she used to look at me when I brought boyfriends home. real passion and I did not want to wait until some stupid outdated law said I could sleep with boys. “I fought her for years. And then I said it. And then I got a total shock. John. “What is it. I could see a single tear rolling down his left cheek. I could tell she thought I was little better than a tramp so I dug my heels in and took my boyfriends up to my bedroom just to make her mad. He was crying. . I had passion in me. She thought I was „too young‟ for boyfriends! How can you choose things like that? I was ready at 14.” I stopped for a second to gather my recollections. I felt my eyes moisten again and I looked at him. I noticed that he was listening intently so I continued. There were times we would hit each other. but he followed form by asking me anyway.” He nodded. “I‟m lonely. I said out loud the words that I‟d hidden in my head for years. his arms were larger and stronger. all this was going through my head last night while I held the pad. Do you know what I wrote in the end?” It was a rhetorical question. They made me feel safer and all warm inside. He was crying. Unlike my sister. however.” he said. he offered his arms and I fell into them. “John!” I started. it was my mother who was constantly critical. but I would not be controlled. but no. John. You‟d think my father would be the one to object.” As I said the words. Really lonely.
Rory Ridley-Duff He rocked me gently from side to side for a few seconds. I‟ll bet. And after your first disco. or be my slave. talked like this?” I thought hard. so I gave him a puzzled look.” He gave me a sideways glance. “When was the last time you felt like this. you had made several girlfriends who later became your enemies. “Yes.” As he said this he cupped my cheek with his hand. Then he released me and started to walk again. don‟t you think?” And I did think. you had lads competing to become your boyfriend.” I smiled. Unbearable. Penny. It was such a gentle gesture. but it would not have been right.” “And by the end of the day. “I‟ve made all my own choices. But those few hours were the loneliest. “Not since my first day at university. My God! I looked at him. He spoke more. never let anybody run my life for me. all that „professionalism‟ comes at a high price. something that my father might have done to me as he put me to bed. For the first time in years.. “But at such a high price…” he responded. I felt the . “All that „control‟. After my parents drove away. I was not sure what he meant. even hard-nosed career women. I could not remember a time when I had cried like this….” “We all need intimacy in our lives. but I was still not sure what he meant. I wished that I could have stayed in his arms for longer. I sat alone in my room and felt so unbearably alone that I cried my eyes out. all that „competence‟.
“Help me. That. “Because if there is anyone who can help me unravel the minefield that stands between men and women. John.” “Why mine?” he asked. “I‟ll try. after all. It is just something I take a keen interest in. “I fell out with the person I picked up at a bar. I felt I just had to hear your voice. All that loneliness – it just crashed down on me and I had to talk to you. I was not sure. but I felt I should give him something to understand why I‟d called. indeed.Friends or Lovers warmth of a man‟s love and I could not stop my head incline itself towards his soft touch. I guess it is you.” There was a pregnant pause while he considered the import of what I had just said. was the question I did not want to answer. “Not an expert.” . however. You‟re an expert in it.” he said reassuringly. He walked out. “Of course I will.” Suddenly some words popped out of my mouth that I did not intend. “Do you want to talk about last night?” he asked as we resumed our stroll. Penny. I had to say something.” I detected his pleasure at hearing this.
His eyes were not lustful. He looked at me as if he was searching my soul. and it filled me with a confidence that I could not explain. climbed a tower. whatever we did. he suggested that we might like to eat at Pizza Hut again. . not ogling my body. joked. and know that he was nearby. the meaning of life. perhaps more relaxed with him than any man except my father. laughed. I felt. My attraction to him never completely left me. Wherever we were. “How‟s that problem at work you had?” he asked. discussed politics. but with a festive atmosphere. however. The sexual tension was always there. I was more relaxed with him than I had been with any man for over a decade. but the desire to seduce him slowly ebbed away.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 17 Over the next few hours we took in the views around Warwick. and the way his eyes fixed themselves on me sometimes. and generally just chilled together. Our conversation never stopped all day. lunched in a tea shop. as we started on our desserts. By late afternoon. I could tell that he was sucking in my beauty so that he could savour and bathe in it. travelled to deepest outer space. hear his voice. a place tucked away in a cobbled side street that was quiet enough to have a hint of romance. that I should take him somewhere special to thank him for the day out. we talked and exchanged thoughts constantly. I chose my favourite Italian. I just wanted to be with him. occupy the same space. just filled with the admiration a person might feel looking at a beautiful portrait or marvelling at a moment of cinematic brilliance. I admired him.
the more I sense that he‟s trying to be straight with me. “I don‟t know.” I said with a victory salute. Can we?” he said with his smile broadening all the time. Fifteen love.” “So what‟s the story there?” “Well. but I think she is holding back on an incident with somebody in the team. so I dropped the stupid stuff and regained my composure. but he‟s hiding something from me.” “Why‟s that?” “He thinks it will be okay. not just about the current incident but about a past relationship too. “The one about the problem you had at work. “My first. Things have moved on a bit. His face told me that he was interested in more than the game. What about your friend? “I‟ve only had one update. “What was your question again?” was my retort. but I should get the full story soon – we‟ll be working together on a project. She‟s a prude for sure. Things don‟t seem to be quite right. “You mean there are so many?” “Can we utter a sentence without it being a question?” I asked. The more I learn about the woman‟s situation…… Well. “Do you want to ask the first one?” I was not giving up first.Friends or Lovers “Which problem is that?” I answered without looking up. Yeah. it has been difficult at home for him. The problem at work has made things worse at home.” “Gotcha. but he‟s very sensitive about what happened. he seems more on the level than I first thought. The more I talk to the man. second or third question?” he said chuckling. I get the feeling that some sexual shit is going on that nobody wants to talk about.” . “Work.
er…four years. The money thing was too much for her and she threw him out. Big rows.” “I‟m in no rush.” “I bet his wife did not like that!” “Yeah. “Okay. He‟s a really sweet guy. and to this day he has always denied it. he gave her support but after a few weeks they had a real heart to heart and she said she wanted to get out. but he convinced her that he‟d no choice. She became his lodger for several months while they waited for a vacancy at a refuge. One of his colleagues was having marital problems and she started talking to him about them – eventually she admitted she was being abused by her husband. Right.” “So how does that have a bearing on his current problem?” “From what I gather he started to help another woman at work who had been having problems at home. She took him back but made him promise never to get involved with another woman again. He didn‟t want to let . Well he had a difficult period with his wife about…. about four years ago. that night he collected her from her home and took her to his.Rory Ridley-Duff “Why?” “To explain that I‟d have to go way back. His wife accused him of having an affair.” he clarified. His wife was not pleased. yes.” “Not a situation you come across every day.” I said. “Anyway. It took a few months but eventually his wife came around and let him come back home.” “So what happened?” “Well. Big problem. He helped her furnish her room. So he stayed with his woman friend as her lodger for a while. Later he helped her find and move into a flat – he even gave her the money for a deposit.” I commented “Not something you hear about every day.
“Penny. I don‟t think it was this because he immediately raised his eyebrows in astonishment. I‟ve enjoyed today. but he also didn‟t want her to get too close to him.” I felt sorry for this guy.” It was one of those leading phrases. He took my hands in his.Friends or Lovers her down. He sounded like he really cared for both his wife and his work colleagues and just wanted to help everybody..” Hell. “Do you…. “Do you…. He changed jobs and only told his wife afterwards. I‟ve enjoyed today too.” I stopped. There didn‟t seem to be anyone in his life that he did not like.” I said. “Do……ah!” Then he did something that really startled me.” Inside I could feel my heart pumping and my breathing quicken.ever fantasise about me?” I asked. I said it anyway.” Why was I asking it? I was not sure. John was relaxed while we chatted and I could tell he cared about his friend. “Sometimes things don‟t need to be said. So he backed off and upset her. I got a feeling that John just cared about people. In fact. “Deal. He took one hand away and squeezed his nose. Whatever he had expected. why was I so nervous? I hate my nerves. Did I have the courage to say it? “Do you…. This was risky. “I‟ll answer that question if you will tell me why you‟re asking it. “John. . one that invites intimacy.” and he gave me that same warm smile that I remembered from our first meeting.
“You don‟t need to say it. I was not sure if I had the courage to say it. I tensed. “I…. I could feel the emotion rising in me again.” but I stopped again. a deep pleasure that he thought of me sexually. I wanted to tell him about the night before. but disappointment that he mentioned his wife. and he noticed immediately and took my hands again. You don‟t need to say it. This was crazy. Clearly he wanted me to know that I would not take her place. “Last night?” he queried. “Your turn.” I stopped and looked down into my lap.” my hands started to shake. “The answer is „Yes‟. but not when I‟m making love to my wife. reminding me of the pact.” he repeated. “Penny. Penny.” I felt a peculiar sensation. “Last night….. I wanted to share this. to tell him the part he had played in it.” I never trusted anyone so why did I want to trust him? What was I doing here with him? He was married and we were holding hands in a restaurant while his family was a hundred miles away.. I closed my eyes and summoned my strength.Rory Ridley-Duff He hesitated.” he said. Was this going to lead to disaster? I wanted to tell him. I hesitated. What if he was angry? What if I spoiled the whole day? What if it ruined our friendship? “I…. but I did not want him to reject me. I shuddered because I realised why I‟d asked him this question. I wanted to share my humiliation with him. I wanted to tell him I fantasised about him. but only for a moment. about the way things had unfolded. ..
” “Shit! I bet that cooled his ardour. I laughed and suddenly I felt it was okay to carry on. I just could not. I shouldn‟t be saying this. not my sister. letting the tears roll. I looked up. “Are you crazy? You‟re married and I‟m pouring out these feelings to you.” “Why?” he asked. tears were dripping down my face. I should not be telling you this. “You bet it did. and I shuffled awkwardly in my seat. He gave my hands a little squeeze to keep me reassured. I felt the tears fill my eyes again and I looked up at him. and then I blurted out your name. John got up from his seat. why?” he asked again. And…and…” His hand was rubbing my back and it felt lovely. And then he left. but it was not a very convincing one. “Why?” I said with astonishment. with relief mostly. came around to my side of the table and pulled up his chair. not my father or any of my boyfriends. Through my sobs I suddenly heard the sound of my own voice. I can‟t believe I‟m telling you this.” he said with a laugh. People normally .” “So we‟ve broken the rules. My whole body was rigid. and stroked my cheek with his left hand. He put his right arm around my back. not my mother.as he was fucking me I started to think of you. “It was awful. …. I had never talked like this with anyone. I laughed. I‟m attracted to you. I‟m so sorry I rang you.Friends or Lovers I made an attempt at a smile. I could not say the words. “…I felt so alone. You‟re attracted to me. He got really mad at me. Big deal. I like that – it‟s honest. “Yes.
Why was he thanking me for sobbing all over him? “What for?” “For sharing this.” “You are really weird. “Somebody once said to me that there is no such thing as a non-sexual relationship between a man and a woman.” I said.” He paused. “Why?” I asked with genuine curiosity. He was so strange. “I love it that you are attracted to me. There are only sexual relationships where they agree not to have sex.” “Thank you. didn‟t it?” “More than you‟ll ever know. “but I couldn‟t keep it up!” I shook my head as my smile returned.” I said.” he finally said. It was my turn to break the silence. “Because my fantasies will be much more exciting now!” I laughed again.” There was a prolonged silence during which neither of us dared to ask the question that was on both our minds. “That took courage. .” he said. He was quiet for a while and just rocked me in his arms.” he interjected. How did he make this happen? How did he take my troubles away at the very moment I felt more vulnerable than ever before? “I can‟t believe how close I feel to you.Rory Ridley-Duff make each other miserable because they can‟t express or share the simplest feelings. “I feel a bit better.” I responded. I was not sure where to go from here but it did not matter because he carried on talking. “I tried Mr Normal.
I don‟t. Take an interest. surely?” “Employerspeak!” he laughed.” I said at last. So long as you know where to look. “What do you mean?” “Why is work any different from anywhere else?” “It‟s a place of work.” I said.” . “Find out. “You don‟t need to ask.” I was about to say that I thought he must be joking. but on this occasion I let it pass. All you need to do is get the person you are interested in talking about their life. I was not about to start another debate. then?” I wanted to say I‟d found one. “Where are we going to find you a good man. Perhaps you‟ve already met him?” he suggested. “If not at work. “Isn‟t that why people go to work?” he asked. “Are there any left?” I asked. “I can hardly ask them. where will you find Mr Right?” His question was rhetorical. “I don‟t think people react well to women in positions of authority having sexual relationships at work. He asked the waitress for coffee then continued. “Where?” I queried. “Have you looked at work?” he asked. “You‟re welcome. yes.” “Why on earth not?” he reacted. “And you know that they are happy and committed?” “Well no.Friends or Lovers “And thank you. I could not think of any good prospects at work that were not already in relationships and said so.” I answered. but I knew that it was not the right thing to say. “Oh.” he responded.
I wonder. Then. I wanted him to come in. At the door. This is not like the butterflies of teenage love. He makes me want to be a better person. and share the best of myself. but inside I now feel like I‟m walking on water. then returned to the car and gave me a salute as he drove off. but a tingling feeling burrowing into the darkest caverns of my soul. In the movies we might have kissed.Rory Ridley-Duff We drank the last of our coffee and I paid the bill. but I knew he needed to get back home to his family. but I just knew that we would not. risk more. how people feel when they first experience the deepest kind of love? . Is this. he drove me back to my house and walked me to the door. to live more. pecked me on the cheek. I‟ve been more distraught today than I can ever remember. he hugged me. I find it difficult to describe how I feel now. a warmth so spiritual that I can feel my humanity light up. He‟d given up a whole Saturday for me and it was important that I should not intrude further on his time.
Most of his team said that he was very gentlemanly. Elona was pretty off-hand with all of them except one. particularly Elona. Phil was first to update me. . If you ask me.” “D‟you think I should talk to him?” I asked. Phil thought this was more to bond with his mates than to pursue Elona.” “Okay. What about Mike and Sally?” I enquired. “They are surprised that she accused Mike. the relationship between Elona and Nathan is connected to all of this somehow. “Then there‟s this Nathan!” Phil said. He did not volunteer anything and I got the feeling that the whole conversation made him uncomfortable. He was careful how he behaved and spoke around everyone. I don‟t understand how Mike fits in – maybe he got jealous or something – but I feel there must be a connection somewhere. He had been diligently taking lunch with Elona‟s team and learned that a number of the men enjoyed teasing her and flirting with her. Nathan himself was not that interested although he did join in some of the flirting. Even Mike had admitted to me that he‟d flirted with her. According to them. “What about him?” “He was quite cagey when the others were talking. Nathan was a lad in his mid-twenties and the general consensus was that she had a crush on him. “Well.Friends or Lovers Chapter 18 Due to a lot of demands on my time. when I got to work the weekend was purged from my mind. It did not seem to fit. I was perplexed by this. I nodded for Phil to continue.
I was right about that. who would have thought this? To think that hoards of women at . I thought back to my weekend conversation. The marketing manager. most people meet their marriage partner in a workplace setting. he‟s back with his wife. Sure enough he was right. Secondly. He did live with her for a while. but he provided me with a source. She‟s one of the people who transferred with him to the new team. after 40 years of gender equality. why would she want to keep working with him? It doesn‟t make sense. I was keen to off-load this. Well done.” I was puzzled too. Nobody is completely sure why they are so close. John had suggested I look for a partner at work for two reasons. “Okay. he claimed that nearly half of all married women chose their job in order to find a partner.” I had to set this to one side for the moment. so I signed off a purchase order for 30 days consultancy and left her to get on with it. Perhaps it is time for another chat with Elona. I told him the second one must be rubbish. I found the statistics both staggering and appalling. Firstly. We seem to be getting closer. She said that she had worked with a consultant several times and wanted to bring him in again.Rory Ridley-Duff “Yeah. If they‟d had an affair and split up. In this modern age. As I was up to my eye-balls helping Dave bring on board some new inventors. but there was nothing to be gained by discussing it now. But they don‟t live together now. Then I‟ll speak to Nathan. I‟ll have a word with Dave. but they did live together for a few months. It all sounds kind of bizarre. I promptly went to WH Smith and bought the book. I could not see any reason to object. Jo. had enlisted Mike‟s support to get his team some training in consumer behaviour.
“Hi. But a good find. She‟s ready for exposure and now has a large portfolio. He also wants help recruiting marketing support staff and I said we‟d be able to help. I did my best to ignore it and returned to the issue at hand. I wondered. Is that okay?” .Friends or Lovers work were actively looking for husbands. “We need to draw up three contracts. The thought actually annoyed me. “your wife will be asking for freebies.” “A woman?” I remarked. Brian Thwaite from Birmingham. She‟s a remarkable designer and has assembled a small team of engineers to make customised kitchenware. was searching for a husband in our workplace? * * * “Come in Penny. We are poaching him away from his current distributor so I had to offer a bit extra. They manufacture through companies in Sheffield. Standard Terms?” I asked. and Claire Nunn from Glasgow. “Okay.” said Dave.” He gave me an odd look. I‟ve got Clive Preston coming over from London.” I commented. Sorry I didn‟t ask you beforehand. I‟m sure you‟d be impressed. but Brian will be getting 25%” “Is he worth it?” I asked. “Rare that?” “Yes.” I‟d never pictured Dave as someone with either the inclination or ability to appreciate cutlery and kitchenware. “We‟ll see in due course. “Careful. “For Claire and Clive yes. Who. So what needs doing today?” I asked.
” As I made to go. opened his palms and shrugged his shoulders. “I heard they shared a flat for a while. but I did not mind. I used to get on well with one of Sally‟s colleagues and it seems that she moved in with him and .” I said.” I insisted.” “I‟m sorry to hear that. most people just think they had a fling – that they moved into a flat together and that it didn‟t work out so he left.. “…. He really could look quite cute at times.” It was not often that Dave ever talked about anything outside work and it took me a bit by surprise. just tittle tattle.Rory Ridley-Duff He gave me one of his hopeful looks. “my wife doesn‟t buy stuff for the house any more. I hope she gets better soon. Spill it. one of the local sales reps. “Well.” he added.” “Come on. Do you know anything about that?” Dave pondered and raised his eyebrows.not well. Lots of rumours flying about.” Something in his tone suggested that he had something else to add. Dave.and I don‟t believe that. “By the way. he touched my arm to stop me. He looked hesitant.. I imagine.. I confirmed the contract details with him one last time and then remembered that I wanted to ask him about Mike and Sally. “I‟ll see what I can do….” “Why‟s that?” I asked. “There is something else. “I‟ve been putting together a picture of our sales manager friend and it seems that he has a mystery relationship with Sally. “She‟s…. I made his request sound like an imposition. “And?” I asked with an expectant look.
” he remarked. I‟m not a rumourmonger. “How does this link to Elona?” he finally asked. you think?” I sensed that there was no love lost between Dave and Mike.” “Feathering two nests. and then carried on.Friends or Lovers his wife. “No. I just think that whenever people let their personal and professional lives get confused things can become very messy. of course.” I said.” Dave paused for a smirk. “Maybe. I‟m meeting Elona in a few minutes. Should find out soon. “He should‟ve left well alone. “Really?” he said with surprise. Unless the affair came later. I thought. That‟s not the sort of thing that she would do if she was having an affair him. Not sure. What is it with you and him?” I enquired. I‟ve no strong feelings. “They still get on well. I think. “Interesting. I think. I think we‟ll get to the bottom of this soon. What he does in his own time is really not our business. it caused no end of problems in his marriage and Sally had to move out. She asked to carry on working with him recently when he moved jobs. Not sure what happened after that – all I know is that his personal life got into a real mess for a while. Bet Sally was pissed when he went back.” I said.” He paused for a moment as pieces of the jigsaw were reassembled in his head. “Not sure.” My sentiment entirely. Anyway. “Apparently not. I think Sally had some domestic crisis and Mike offered her a way out. then Nathan.” .” “He‟s back with his wife now. “Oh. Then Mike joined her.
I felt ready to get to the bottom of things and achieve closure. With Dave‟s support. Keep me posted.Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay. When you have a complete picture we can discuss how to bust up this secret network. . I thanked him and returned to my department to meet Elona.” I had not realised before how similar Dave and I were in our outlook but it pleased me that we shared this point of view.
He put one cup on my desk. “If you want him to stay. She looked unsure but answered positively. As Phil left the room. as I put my hand on her shoulder. Phil entered the room with two cups of tea and a glass of water. “Can I offer you a cup of tea?” I asked. There‟s no need to worry. This is just a quiet chat to establish what has been going on.Friends or Lovers Chapter 19 “Come in. “Do you mind if Phil sits in on this one?” Elona looked around the room and rubbed her ear. Although Elona had declined the tea. “Elona. “Don‟t worry.” “Thanks. She lifted her hand to decline the offer.” Despite my calm and sympathetic words I detected an increase in her nervousness. Before Phil comes back. but I decided to ask Phil to make one for me anyway. He knows more about this situation than I do. It would give me a moment to put Elona at her ease. so I‟d like him here. There!” I said.” Elona shuffled in her seat and looked uncomfortable. come in. keeping the other for himself. she immediately . She would not look at me and her hands were clasped together on her knees. “Elona. I got up from my chair and sat beside her. Phil‟s been following up on some of your concerns and we want to discuss a few things with you.” I said as I welcomed Elona into my office. I guess that‟s okay with me. is there anything you want to share with me privately?” She glanced at me and shook her head quickly in denial.
” I said reassuringly. I‟ll be talking to them in due course. saying nothing. We just need to understand whether there is any link between this and the incident with Mike? Is there?” . the lads in the team said that one of them. “There is one thing.” She looked down at the table in front of her.” “What‟s that?” she asked. If you like Nathan‟s attention. Nobody is judging you.” I began. however.” At the mention of Nathan‟s name. “What they say is that they flirted with you.Rory Ridley-Duff picked up the glass of water and drank half of it.” Elona seemed to relax when I told her this. “Elona. Phil‟s talked to others in your team and they admit they behaved inappropriately to you. Elona. “Elona. It is alright. I looked squarely at her. Would you agree with that?” Elona said nothing but nodded her agreement. “As I was saying earlier. gave you some attention and that you did not seem to mind. “Well. we are grateful that you made a complaint and raised some important issues. I tried to calm the atmosphere further. you ignored them. Phil chipped in too. but clearly this was a sensitive matter and she was deeply embarrassed. finally finding her voice. Elona immediately went bright red and got extremely agitated. she summoned up a slight smile and I felt ready to begin. love. and she looked a little more relaxed. As she put the glass down. and they stopped. “Thanks for coming in again. “Thanks for that. nobody minds. called Nathan.
We can always go and see her later. “Mike won‟t speak about it without your permission. “Some serious shit has happened to her. That‟s for sure!” I felt angry that Elona was still so distressed.” “Fuck!” offered Phil. “Now?” he asked. She was clearly fighting back tears but to my surprise she started to nod. Would you give your permission?” At this suggestion. “Yes? You did confide in Mike?” She nodded again. He has refused to talk about it because he gave you his word that he wouldn‟t. “No! No! No! I don‟t want to talk to anyone about any of this. .” At this. “Something about Nathan?” Phil asked. Elona looked up at me and her mouth dropped open. “Let her calm down. “Mike mentioned that you confided some information in him. “Not now. but I shot him a look that he should let her go. I remembered that Mike said he would talk if Elona gave her permission. It fuelled my desire to find out more.” I said. She nodded again. her face went red again and her eyes filled with moisture. “Go get Nathan!” I commanded Phil. I tried a new tack. Leave me alone!” She got up and ran out of the room in tears.Friends or Lovers Elona seemed to be petrified by this suggestion and started to shake. Her shaking got more acute and suddenly she exploded. Phil got up to follow her.
. “Nathan. “I‟ve just had Elona in here and clearly something has happened between you and her. “Nothing. looking as puzzled as he was concerned.Rory Ridley-Duff “Yes! Now!” I said raising my voice. “Tell me what happened. “Look at me!” Nathan looked pale and distressed but finally looked me in the eye. I was in no mood to be pushed around any more.” I said. “Nathan. What had Nathan done to her? Had he raped her? Had she confided this in Mike? Had Mike done nothing? Had Mike tried to take advantage? Why was she later upset with Mike and not Nathan? None of this seemed to make any sense. As I was running over all these things in my mind. please. That is why I am asking you. Take a seat. My mind was spinning again. “I would like to leave. Phil returned with suspect in hand. I started to get angry again. “Fuck!” he said as his eyes seemed to look everywhere in the room except at Phil or myself. Phil held up both his hands as if to hold me at bay and quietly made his way out of the room. But no more words came forth.” He sat down. Can you explain?” Nathan seemed to go completely white and started reeling in his chair.” he asked.” “What has Elona said?” he asked.” Nathan held my gaze and did not flinch for even a fraction of a second. Come on in. She is extremely distressed.
please. You can give a full account to your line manager and myself.” he added. please. Phil was gently moving his head from side to side to indicate „no‟.” Phil looked as white as a sheet.” he asked again. What is it to be?” I imagine that while I said this. “A fucking clue about anything…. “Nathan. “We have a situation here. You can either give me an account of your behaviour or I‟ll call a disciplinary hearing. Nathan. She is seriously distressed and will not talk. however.” he repeated without showing any anger. “About what?” I fired back. “I would like to leave. With Phil in the room I felt a bit bolder. do you?” Nathan started. the whites of my teeth were showing too. “You don‟t have a fucking clue. gave me a look of absolute disgust. “No!” I shouted. was looking down at the floor as if he could not bear to watch what was happening.. in the corner. still calm and unflinching. but he will not talk either. seemed to get agitated and looked at me and if to indicate that he should be allowed to go. “Let me be completely open with you…. “If you use that type of language once more. Do you understand?” “I would like to leave.” I saw Nathan‟s lips go tight and the whites of his teeth show. or I will have to take this to your line manager first thing in the morning. Phil. . I‟ll suspend you here and now. What on earth was going on here? Nathan kept looking at me and was unmoved. She confided something to Mike.Friends or Lovers Phil. Someone in Elona‟s team has made a sexual advance.” I said. That did not satisfy me. but my anger got the better of me and I let rip. “You tell me what happened. who was sitting in the corner.
but he was too intimidated. I held myself together and summoned Phil over. go immediately to Nathan‟s manager and inform him of the meeting at 10am. Shaken as I was. This kind of . but I had one more card to play. perhaps he would have suggested that I sleep on this. you have made your choice. I imagine she tried to confide this in Mike. Whatever he said made Elona mad. “Is Mike still in the building?” “Sorry?” asked Phil. Then again. Is that clear?” Phil obediently did as I asked while I made myself another cup of tea. The situation felt like it was getting out of control. Idiot. I want you to get Mike and bring him here immediately. he slowly left the room with hatred burning in his eyes. “Right. If he‟d been more experienced. Whichever is true. “Is Mike still in the building?” Phil looked unsure. You may go. Nathan must have made a pass at Elona.” Holding my gaze.Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay. Maybe she didn‟t reciprocate and got upset. He must have suggested they go out for a drink and then said something that upset her. then dumped her. Do not take no for an answer. as if everything was coming together. What a bloody amateur. I would like you here at 10am tomorrow morning with your line manager. I felt on a roll. I could feel them pierce me right through. who seemed taken aback at this question.” Phil nodded. Firstly. “Okay. I was glad that Phil was in the room. what if Elona did want Nathan to make a pass? Perhaps he seduced her. Phil nodded a „yes‟. Still looking shaken himself. she tried to confide in Mike and he tried to handle it „within the team‟.
Always the woman who gets hurt. He looked away as he thought for a moment. It has come to light that there is a relationship problem between Elona and Nathan and that she reported this to you. I want to know what she said and how you handled it. “So where d‟you want to start?” he asked. She won‟t talk about it. What is so urgent it cannot wait until morning?” “Sit down. She got so upset that she left the room in tears.” he said ushering me into my chair with his open palm.” he finally said. okay. seemed to slow down and take this in. Sit down and let‟s talk about this. who stormed into my office with an irritated look on his face. “What the hell is this? I was in a meeting with my team and Phil tells me that you have an emergency. He looked me calmly in the eye. Mike. “I told you to back off this.” Phil had again retreated to the corner of the room and was looking uncomfortable.Friends or Lovers stuff really makes my blood boil.” Mike. . and then he rubbed his cheek.” Mike raised his hands and grabbed his head in despair. surprisingly. “Why?” I asked. Phil returned with Mike. “I‟m not surprised. “Have you talked to Elona?” he responded. What on earth are you doing?” “Don‟t piss me around. Mike. “Yes. “Okay. “What‟s the relationship problem between Elona and Nathan?” I asked. always the man who gets away with it.
I cannot help her unless I understand the cause of the distress. then Mike would have been dead on the floor in an instant. “Did it ever occur to you this witch-hunt is the cause of her distress?” His words inflamed me. And what about Nathan? What about me? Are you concerned about us too?” “What? What on earth are you going on about?” If looks could have killed. but she did not answer. She is of great concern to you.” I replied. Why can‟t you see that?” “Oh. “There may have been a breach of the law and I have a duty of care towards her. I can see that alright.” I responded keeping my calm.” “A duty of care! You call this a duty of care?” he asked accusingly. “Did you ask her if she‟d mind me talking?” he asked.” I confessed. I began to wonder who was conducting this enquiry. . “They why don‟t you respect her wishes?” he asked. him or me. “I did and she confirmed that she had confided in you. “She‟s distressed.” “Are you going to tell me about it?” I asked again. “Did you ask her if she was okay about you talking to me?” he repeated. I‟m trying to help her. “Yes.Rory Ridley-Duff “Because this situation is probably the most upsetting thing that has ever happened to her. “How dare you! If people told me what the fuck is going on then we could sort this mess out.
” Mike. however. my being a woman has nothing to do with it……. “What‟s so funny?” I said angrily. “You sexist bastard….” “You think you are so fucking clever! Well. “It‟s got everything to do with it. Did it ever occur to you that it might be Elona who made a pass at Nathan? Did it ever occur to you that Nathan was the one receiving unwanted attention? Did it ever occur to you that Elona might have made accusations because she felt rejected and hurt? No. She is the one who is distressed and somewhere in this heap of shit Nathan or you did something to cause that distress. but I did not know how to respond.” “And what did Nathan tell you?” he asked. One of you is going to answer for Elona‟s distress. Mike snapped and shouted at me in a way that reverberated in the marrow of my bones.Friends or Lovers “I‟m asking you why you only seem concerned to protect Elona?” “You arrogant bastard. “He would not talk. One of you is going to answer for what happened. I resented him asking all the questions. not this time. He seemed to think that I don‟t know what I‟m talking about.” Mike gave a small laugh. not for one second!” . You are not going to wriggle out of this.” Suddenly.. “Because he‟s right. pointed an accusing finger at me and carried on. “You stupid woman!” I was bright red with anger and started to defend myself.
This was one of them.” he said as he fixed his gaze on me. “Tell me honestly. “What a mess. It took me a full 10 minutes to calm down and regain my composure. Mike got ready to speak again. isn‟t he?” I grabbed my head with both hands. With his eyes fixed on the desk. What a total fucking mess! Call Mike and tell him that I want him back here at 10am tomorrow. “Tell me. I was so shocked that I did not know what to say. during which time Phil remained seated.Rory Ridley-Duff He paused for a moment and seemed to calm down.” I said. “Sit down.” Phil looked at me and nodded slowly. There have only been a few occasions in my life when I have been completely lost for words. he eventually ventured an opinion. I looked at the cold cup of tea on my desk and gave a short laugh.” I asked. What had just happened? I looked up at Phil and beckoned him over to my desk. “Mike‟s an awkward bugger. He came over slowly looking as shaken and as shocked as me. Phil. . “What d‟you think of what he just said?” Phil looked uncomfortable. After a moment. “have you ever made a pass at a man?” Then he calmly walked out of the room. Penny. His mouth opened several times without any words coming out. and his hands fidgeted on his knees. He found it difficult to look at me. This time. his voice was much calmer but the words cut into me and I felt a shiver run through my body.
Together we had many conversations in which we traced my interest back to an emotional experience or aspiration. While many people. He would ask me why I enjoyed learning some things but not others. He would ask me why I liked some people and not others. it is because it moves us emotionally. put great stock in objectivity and science. he always pressed me to talk about the underlying reason for my interest in something. he had a strong spiritual side that. We don‟t study a subject because it is intrinsically interesting – if that were true then everybody would be interested in the same things. were doing themselves a disservice when they argued that emotion had no place in science. is the key to a deeper understanding. even if that goal was a modest one such as building the scientist‟s reputation. He was an unusual man. my father was quite different. particularly men. was imbued with deeply human values. His words echoed in my head. Intertwined in our deliberations. he would say. my father told me that my instincts and emotions were my greatest assets. I think it was his career inside the civil service that inclined him towards a political way of thinking. “When we are interested in something. he argued. . He argued that science was always oriented towards a political goal. if not religious. Scientists. including a view that science was rarely scientific. Emotion.Friends or Lovers Chapter 20 When I was young. Penny. As such. It is interesting to us because it is meaningful. We study something because it is interesting to us.
become more willing to learn things they are interested in. Why does this situation with Elona and Mike make me so angry? Why does Mike rub me up the wrong way? What is the deeper truth here? Is my past coming back to haunt me? My father would say that if I want to hurt someone it is because they have hurt me. studying new things in order to impress them. We‟re at our most cruel when trying to get people out of our lives. To me. Had I hurt him and he was now trying to get back at me? My emotions did not settle and Mike‟s words kept echoing in my head. Our behaviour and feelings can change dramatically. She said my father talked twaddle about sex. And the reverse! What monsters we can be when we don‟t want a relationship. my father was. Has Mike hurt me? Maybe it was the other way around. on the other hand.” Despite his slightly pompous manner. and is. We open our mind to their views. Emotion is what drives us! When people say we should not let emotion affect our judgement they forget that it‟s emotion that inclines us to make a judgement in the first place. We may find ourselves learning new skills. my love for him grew with the conviction that there was wisdom in his words. “Just look at what we do when we desire someone‟s attention. . more willing to change our own values. So strange. more humane than anyone else I‟ve met. I disliked her for that – she seemed to deliberately misunderstand him . would often walk out of the room and leave us to it.and this was one of the reasons she and I argued throughout my teens.Rory Ridley-Duff “Don‟t you find it strange when people talk about being motivated? They talk as if the thing that motivates them is outside themselves. My mother.
It made no sense.Friends or Lovers “Did it ever occur to you that Nathan was the one who was receiving unwanted attention?” Had I considered this? It was an unfair question. . I would no longer wait for a man to make up my mind. Eventually. but underneath I understand how it feels to be crushed by the weight of male attention. I would have the men I chose. she was quiet and scared. I fell apart and he quickly left me for someone else. We either buckle under the weight or kick back. My father helped me look at these as learning experiences. It was only the previous day that I had learned there was a Nathan at all. I felt. Would a person like that make a move on Nathan? I did not see how it was possible. I empathise with her. I would make up my own. and finally annoying. I decided that I‟d never again be a shrinking violet. And yet. even as I had these thoughts. Whenever I met her. She was as introverted as any person I had ever met. my emotions kept on churning. I may have the veneer of confidence. would she? I couldn‟t buy Mike‟s view that Elona was the protagonist here. I could not make the pieces fit the puzzle. So. I had no feelings about him except as yet another person who was adding to Elona‟s distress. Am I reacting to my own past? I can feel Elona‟s hurt. Elona would not make up an accusation like this. In my first year at university. I felt used by men. then confusing. not those that chose me. It was exciting. At first I was flattered. I committed to one lad. I tossed and turned throughout the night and in every configuration. but later he cheated on me and I was crushed.
Encountering him up close was disturbing me. Even at his age. I was a bit irritated by his use of the word „girl‟. “Hi. As I did so. I realised that I was crossing another line and inviting a new type of relationship.” I replied. I thought of John. Up until this point. if you don‟t mind. “What‟s up?” he asked. He is a good-looking man. “Good lord. All the other women seem to like Mike. Maybe he could help. That situation at work is spiralling out of control. the burden of the last few hours seemed to lift instantly. but never professionally. As if by instinct. he immediately sensed concern in my voice. I had never intruded into his professional world to benefit my own. Penny. I can see why young women might be attracted to him. “Are you still troubled by the weekend?” The weekend? That seemed like a lifetime ago. but I let it pass. Both mentally and physically. no!” I laughed. He‟s strong too. .” he said brightly as he answered the phone. This was something new. “Hi. I find it very confusing and thought……” I hesitated for a moment. “That‟s my girl” he responded. John. He might have some words of wisdom for me so I called him.Rory Ridley-Duff Is my past affecting me now? Can I really understand her? For the first time I am having real doubts. “I just thought I‟d pick your brains. Do I understand what she is going through? I thought of Mike. It is quite possible that Elona likes him more than she‟s saying. We‟d been intimate in a personal way.
They initiate with non-verbal stuff that induces the man to talk to her. It seems there is another young lad involved and that she and this other lad somehow got „involved‟ with each other.Friends or Lovers “…. “Involved in what way?” John enquired. “Sure.” “Yes. In this world. it is more like a ritual series of moves that women and men make in turn. but there it was tripping out of my lips before I could stop it.” As I said the word „involved‟ I cringed. When it . but John took it literally and gave me a most peculiar answer. “That‟s not clear. It is fallacy that men always pursue and women always resist. Has anything changed?” he asked. Sure I do. but later she accused the boss of inappropriate behaviour. “Perhaps. and that the situation was caused by her giving him too much attention. I was not an amateur. why not?” he answered without a moment‟s hesitation. “Do you remember that I mentioned someone who had been moved to a new job because he had distressed a young woman in his department?” I asked. But the strangest thing is that the boss is now saying that she had a crush on the lad. How likely is that?” I asked this as a rhetorical question. She confided something to her boss about this lad. “Yes.” I chose my words carefully. and not seeking a fatherly opinion so much as a professional dialogue. When it works everyone is happy. “Hmmm! This does sound a bit more complicated than you first thought.I thought that maybe we could discuss it a bit more and you could guide me a bit. “Most relationships are started by women in very subtle ways.” I said.
“So you are saying this is only true for some people?” I asked. however. “Well…. I assure you that it‟s not the case. if an unattractive woman signals in a similar way. feeling a little more relaxed. “Is that a surprise. she may be ignored both verbally and nonverbally. Close observation. I was puzzled by this. But.” I paused for a moment unsure what to say next. Men who don‟t pay attention to a . “Successful ones do. These are generalisations. don‟t you think?” “If that is what you believe.yes. Men tend to think they are making the first move but often they are responding to a non-verbal cue. Many won‟t – they‟ll get scared. He started to give me to fuller explanation. Men are always pursuing and pestering women. Women comfort their own egos by thinking they have been singled out by an attractive man. but most don‟t. Women signal. Men respond. most of men‟s are verbal – at least initially. I‟d studied psychology and this was the opposite of what I had learnt. I suppose it is.. particularly if one party feels led on and then humiliated. This is true in most cultures. it will look that way.” “Do men signal?” I asked. There are women who take verbal initiatives but generally it is the other way around.Rory Ridley-Duff doesn‟t things can turn quite nasty. Penny?” he asked. Others jump in with both feet at the first opportunity. Most of women‟s behaviours are non-verbal. shows women select the man they want and do everything they can to ensure he notices them so that he starts a conversation. “Men will respond quickly if an attractive woman signals. Men comfort their own egos by thinking they‟ve initiated the relationship. providing they can overcome their own nerves.
They‟ll exchange personal information. Interesting as this was. just gut feeling stuff. he nods. laughter. otherwise they‟ll ignore the signals. positive body movements and such like. he puts it around her. I‟ve never met them and different couples behave differently. he laughs and says something back. If she likes him enough. she whispers in his ear. such as prolonged eye contact. we are talking probabilities. behaviour moves through a series of stages. a woman‟s behaviour generally encourages the man to talk more. talk about common interests. I felt a need to direct the discussion. turn towards each other. I‟m giving you behaviour patterns. start sharing opinions. She lifts a glass. “I don‟t know the specifics. Not everyone agrees about the meaning of this. but in the trade it is called „synchronisation‟ or „rapport building‟.” “So this is unlikely?” I confirmed. If there is a mutual attraction.Friends or Lovers woman‟s signals will probably end up embarrassing themselves. but people have been able to observe it. This is often unconscious. she links his arm. he lifts a glass. “Is it likely she made a pass at him?” I asked. increase their eye contact.” I stifled a laugh. In these early exchanges. Men who get a signal will usually proceed fairly gently at first to see whether they continue to get signals.” . They‟ll only carry on if they are interested. start touching each other. Then you get a kind of game that signals mutual interest. You‟ll know if this is happening in a group because a pair seem to be ignoring everyone else. All I can say is that it is possible but against the norm. she nods. she‟ll eventually make a move that he cannot ignore. “Well. tell stories.
” he added with a light-hearted chuckle. “Um. I‟m in Leamington next Wednesday afternoon and all Thursday. I decided to ask directly. . “Sure. “Is there something you need to do?” I asked. “…. Are you free?” I could hear other voices in the background and realised that someone in the house was calling to him. “No less than they deserve!” I replied quickly. What is going on here? I wondered. but would you like to meet up next week to chat about it? You can give me specifics. Men are routinely humiliated. “Only kidding!” I added. “Errr….can you let me get my diary?” I asked to buy myself a moment. so my defences were immediately triggered. It was unlike John to cut short any conversation.” I could hear an urgency in his voice. “Penny. Sort of…” he responded. “If he doesn‟t respond. He hesitated for a moment.Rory Ridley-Duff He paused for a second before making one final comment. She‟ll give him an emotional slap. I was still contemplating when he started to talk again. It is nothing special for them.it will be easier to talk next week. We could meet in the morning if you are free. I‟m away in the Lakes this weekend. but I detected a coolness in his tone. she‟ll feel rejected and may do something to hurt his feelings. There was a moment of awkward silence as I contemplated my last comment.” he said. It really pissed me off that someone else only had to shout and he wanted to cut off our conversation.
making him wait a bit longer. “I can fit you in on Wednesday morning.” I said.. No. Still.maybe. “…. it is unlikely that Elona would have felt any need to make an advance. Phil told me that all the lads had flirted with her. I think I have enough here to read the riot act to Nathan tomorrow if I don‟t get answers. No. I‟ll e-mail you with a time and see you then. but could have done so if Nathan had not been responding to her. If Nathan had started flirting.” He rang off before saying goodbye. The conservation was not as friendly or as pleasant as I had come to expect. . I could not understand why he had been curt with me. his comments were interesting and useful. yes!” I finally said.. No. I was not impressed. from what John says. He confirmed that it was unlikely Elona would have made the sexual advance.” “Okay..ah……yes….Friends or Lovers “Let me see…. I wondered if he resented me asking him for a professional opinion.
she roars with laughter as he manages to shift his weight again and roll onto his back. has progressed from sitting up to rolling around. There is not much to do. This is just brill! I wish you could see this. she‟s happy and that‟s what matters. “I just wish you could see him. feet in the air. Big news. My windowsill is adorned with an assortment of stones and rocks that I‟ve picked up over the years. along with holders for utensils and . Carole‟s boy. I tidy up the house. He‟s on his back with a rattle in his hand. When I go around to Carole‟s. She says she has news.” she said trying to contain guffaws. I just can‟t fathom it out. Still. do your stuff!” As I wait. trying to sound enthusiastic. Over onto his front now. Every time she does something grown up like this it makes me feel a little bit older. “He‟s on his back. it always looks like a bomb has hit it. Wait………here he goes. but if another sprog is going to come along I guess I‟ll just have to accept it fully. cooing and laughing. “Well. “Tell me what you see….” I dutifully command. put the few plates I‟ve used in the dishwasher wondering just how lazy I can be.” Try as I might to understand how watching a baby roll over and over can make her giggle like a schoolgirl. I imagine that she‟s pregnant again and wants to celebrate in style. While I wait for her to come around. I tidy round the kitchen. Come on baby. I still can‟t get used to being an aunty. She called me a few nights ago almost wetting herself with laughter.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 21 My sister has just called. Young Toby.
“Try a bit higher. tracing a line from her shoulder to her elbow. Absolutely no sign of a baby there. the front doorbell rings. “All right you. “Has someone given you a happy pill?” I ask “No need. “See anything now?” she asks.” she says. “The door‟s open….” she says mysteriously.Friends or Lovers instruments for practising my Nigella Lawson recipes. with her smile getting wider all the time. playing with me. I flick the switch on the kettle and amble back into the living room. What is it?” “Keep looking. I give her a puzzled look and start to move my hand upwards. “Am I getting warm?” I ask. I walk right up to her and put my hand on her stomach. Her breasts look quite firm today so I cup one in each hand. She smiles. I continue tracing a line from the elbow to her hand. “Don‟t tell me you‟ve had these done?” “Better than that!” she jokes and with one swift move she places her left hand on top of my right hand. I cannot put my finger on it but something has definitely changed in her appearance. Nothing special there. “Come on in!” I shout.” And in she walks looking groomed and beaming.” she says. I think. I look carefully. Decadence! Just what the moment needs and I rustle around the cupboard seeing if I have the ingredients for a calorie busting meal. It is firm and flat. I look her up and down to try to understand what is different. Her hand is different. . I think. Just as the boredom is banished.
My mouth dropped open and I barely heard myself speak as a wave of emotion moved through my neck and my head started to tingle. I could feel the moisture start to fill my eyes. How many women have ever been asked that question?” “‟Yes‟ will do nicely.” I just closed my eyes and nodded. “Be my „best woman‟?” she asked. but now the moment is .” “Some present!” I shouted and suddenly the tears were there. one with each hand. It isn‟t happiness. “I want to make it to the alter without crushed ribs.Rory Ridley-Duff As I look at the image before me.” “I don‟t know what to say. He came home and told me that he‟d got another promotion and had a present for me. “July 31st?” “Oh. I took a step back and held both her arms. I want a „best woman‟!” I just looked at her unsure what to say. “Careful sis‟. I don‟t know why I was crying but the drops started to roll down my face as I grabbed her with both my arms and squeezed her as if my life depended on it. “When did he ask?” “Last night. of course. “Your what?” “My „best woman‟. Carole!” I still felt in shock. “When?” was the only word that came out. what she has been dreaming of for the last few years. The tears just kept rolling down my cheeks. What do you say when your younger sister displays a dazzling engagement ring and asks you to be her „best woman‟? I pulled her to me and held her tight. I felt something in my sides coarse up through my body.” she gasped. It is so hard to describe how I‟m feeling. It is.
we would play „weddings‟ and I was always the bride and she the bridesmaid. “What‟s happened?” “You think I know?” I ask. Put your arm around me!” She levers me towards the sofa and finally I think I can make it to my feet. My little sister. I feel cold and sweaty. but I realise that I did not expect to feel like this. When we were young. she was always the bridesmaid and I was the bride. I can‟t explain why. shocked – every emotion I have in me just crashes down and I feel giddy with the intensity of it all. and I tumbled onto the floor and nearly hit my head on the table.” says Carole almost falling to the floor with me. “Of course.!” Instead of feeling wild with excitement and happiness. We never took it in turns. My legs just gave way as if they simply could not hold me up any more. ecstatic. Of course. “Here. concerned.” I manage to get out before I completely give the game away. I can‟t get up. “I never thought of you as heavy!” she joked as she hauls me up. “If I knew my news would have this effect on you. like the room is spinning. “Sis‟? Are you alright?” “I feel a bit woozy…. For a few moments. I am pleased for her. We would write all the words of the ceremony out and act the whole thing for hours and hours.. . I did not expect her to marry before me.Friends or Lovers here. My little sister is getting married. I feel worried. My little sister is getting married.” And then it happened. I would have got you to sit down first…. “Jeez sis‟.
A few seconds later. for not thinking of how happy she must be feeling. not me. How can I feel like this? I bury my head in my hands as more tears emerge. I feel like taking a dagger and stabbing myself for not thinking of her. “Okay! Okay!” I say. totally alone. She is not my little sister any more.. my confidence returning. drank all evening. She is my big sister. “You make us all laugh with a funny speech and then you get drunk and try to shag the „best man‟!” My moment of despair is over as quickly as it started. It pains me to say it. totally useless. but she is the mature one. not being able to feel the excitement she feels. get smashed.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked up at her and felt ashamed. “Right!” I shout. and yet I feel totally hollow inside. We flopped on my bed in fits of giggles. I quickly turn and give her a sly look. “I think I can manage that.you tell me exactly what is expected of a „best woman‟…. got thrown out when we started to sing rude songs and staggered back to my place. “down the pub we go. totally old. my lips part and my teeth are showing. As I go to get my coat.” “Okay sis‟ – lead the way!” and with that remark we went to the pub. . But the truth is that my little sister‟s announcement makes me realise that I have not grown up yet. How can I possibly tell her? Whatever she was expecting it was not this.” “That‟s simple!” she says without a moment‟s hesitation. When I hear her wicked suggestion the grin returns to my face. I playfully punch her on the arm. This should be one the happiest moments in our life. talk dirty and then……. but she took it in her stride. My little sister is getting married.
my words just will not come out properly. “Do you want to hear something funny?” she retorts busting her sides and unable to contain her hilarity.” “Tell me!” she asks.Friends or Lovers “Do…. No. “I do!” she shouts hysterically.. “It‟s due in November and her name is going to be Penny Anne – after you and mum!” . “No.do you…. Be serious!” I demand as we lie there trying not to giggle.. No!” I exclaim.” Laced with liquor. “Yeah. come on! Spill it to sis‟” I tell her. Carole dissolves into fits of giggles and starts kicking her feet in the air. “Thought your „big news‟ was going to be…. “Stop a moment.” I laugh. “I am!” she says. “Do you want to hear something funny? Do you want to know what I thought?” “Thought about what?” Carole asks. “I thought you were going to say that you were pregnant again.
I had a full schedule until the end of the following week. I called Mike‟s department and his colleague said that he had also not arrived at work yet. Can you get him to call me?” “Sure. Can I help you?” “Hello. “Leamington 397333.” she said. “Hang on a minute. “I‟m still here. “if I see him before you do. I switched on my PC and opened the personnel database system and searched for their details.” There was a long pause and in the distance I thought I could hear some voices. We‟ll have to rearrange.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 22 My plans for Elona were thwarted the next morning. “Hello?” she said. I called Nathan first and heard an answer phone message. Next I called Mike‟s home number and a woman replied. Eventually.” I replied. almost mocking. I‟ll see if he‟s still here. “It‟s nothing really. I .” The tone in her voice was strange.” I answered. We had a disciplinary meeting this morning but Mike‟s not turned up for work. Nathan phoned in sick. “He‟s already gone to work. Is Mike there?” I asked. Can I take a message?” I thought for a moment because the issue was sensitive. “Can I ask who is calling?” “My name is Penny – I‟m the Head of Personnel at IC. I think he‟s already gone. the woman returned to the phone. I left a message asking him to call me. but I thanked her and spent a few moments considering what to do next.
Just to let you know that I’ll be arriving in Leamington about 10. and I felt my emotions stir a bit when I read his greeting.Friends or Lovers really wanted this resolved now and did not want it to drag on. Hi sexy. I called Phil into my office and asked him to check later that day whether Nathan or Mike made it into work. if you prefer. this was John and “flirt” was his middle name so I hit the [Send] . I retrieved my e-mails and my mood improved when I received a note. I’ll save the silky black dress for another occasion (!!) you’ll just have to admire my power suit instead. Penny xx I read over the message again. I’d love to be seen with you. Hi John. naughty. Still trying to corrupt my sweet innocence? Naughty. Will it damage your street cred if you are seen out on the town with an oldie like me? I was glad that his sense of humour had returned. Was I being too flirty? Hell. I checked my diary and found that I had to go to an evening event with Dave – a launch event for a new product. I was to chaperone the young entrepreneur who would be speaking while Dave was acting as host. I’m stopping overnight with friends so we could either have our meeting late morning or make an evening of it.30am. With a tinge of regret I declined John‟s offer of an evening meal. We found a slot free at 3pm the following Wednesday week – I would meet them after I‟d had lunch with John. but it will have to be in the morning as we arranged – although a lazy lunch is possible. Phil agreed to inform all the parties concerned.
just been going through some Professional Development stuff. Both you and I need to consider this before our appraisal in July. He still had a way of making me feel special. I confirmed the time and place of our next lunch date and allowed myself a few minutes to bask in the warmth of feeling attractive and desirable. I finished going through my emails and the last one was from Dave about the evening event. Do you know of any CIPD events coming up that we could attend to catch up on the latest issues? Dave I confirmed that I could meet him and asked Phil to call the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development to find out any events that would be running in Birmingham in the near future. The issues with Nathan and Mike slipped from my mind as I contemplated the prospect of spending more time with John. If my meeting goes well in the afternoon then I’ll be in Leamington quite a lot over the next 2 months and you can impress me with your silky attire . We can compare power suits.30pm at Bella Marie? John xx I loved flirting with him. Meet you at 12. Lazy lunch it is. Just finalising stuff for Wednesday.Rory Ridley-Duff button without further ado. It would run on 30th June and covered the latest legislative changes in our field. The evening event had two guest speakers . Penny. He found an afternoon event with an optional evening dinner. Are you able to meet me in the morning so that I can try out my presentation on you? Also. Fewer than five minutes had passed before I received his response. Subject: Launch Event Pen.
Friends or Lovers scheduled – one giving a talk on entrepreneurial behaviour and the other called “Intimacy at Work”. Thankfully the day ended without further incident. For those attending the evening event. Given what was going on. . I thought Dave would enjoy the first talk so I asked Phil to liase with him and book the overnight option for both of us. the second of these really caught my attention. there was an option to stay overnight in the hotel.
Around 9am.. “Hi. A few moments later I could hear him conversing in a slightly agitated way. “Who is it?” I asked out loud.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 23 On the Monday morning. “Wednesday.” and with these words he pulled the handset from his ear and gave it a harsh look. Can you meet any earlier?” he asked without seeming to pause for breath.” I smiled because it was unusual for him to call me. I mouthed to him „who is it?‟ but he shrugged his shoulders to indicate that he didn‟t know.” “Well he doesn‟t sound very friendly to me. John!” I pointed out. John. “Please hang on a moment. the phone rang. “It‟s a man for you.” I shouted. “I‟m afraid she‟s……no she‟s…. sir! I‟ll see if I can find her. Is everything okay?” I asked.” Phil said as he diverted the call to my phone.she‟s busy at the moment. Called John. I picked up the receiver. Can you……?” It sounded as though someone was not letting him get a word in edgeways. Phil.” I say. I got into work early and resumed work on the contracts for Dave. “Phil. He insists he must talk to you. “could you get that for me?” He picked up the receiver and redirected the call to his own phone. “He‟s a friend. “It‟s okay. “And a „good morning‟ to you too. . He may be bold by e-mail but he rarely initiated phone conversations.
I‟ll see you at 11.” “Hang on. Try not to worry.” “John? Has something happened to you?” I could feel concern creeping into my being.” With that last comment.30 if that helps. hang on!” I say.” “Your wife?” “Penny. “No! Not me. “Why not? The heavens haven‟t fallen down over the weekend have they? My sister‟s wedding hasn‟t suddenly been cancelled.Friends or Lovers “Sorry Penny! „Good morning‟ to you. “Can‟t say.30 – we can talk over a coffee before lunch. Okay. It was unlike John to sound so agitated. “Well. I‟ll tell you Wednesday. That‟s good.” he repeated. not on the phone. trying to slow him down. Can you meet any earlier on Wednesday?” he repeated. Whenever anybody says “try not to worry” it is sure to make you worry even more.30. “It‟s better to talk in person. He did not answer my question about his wife and I wondered whether something might have happened between them. he rang off. Penny. But . not on the phone. has it?” He completely ignored this piece of news and carried on. I don‟t want to talk on the phone. We need to talk. a bit – I could bring it forward to 11.” “Yes. Penny.” “That sounds fairly ominous! What do „we need to talk‟ about?” I said in an attempt to mock him slightly and lighten the mood. “What is this all about?” “Can‟t say. I‟ll meet you at 11.
What then? “Did he say anything to you?” I asked Phil.” . “About what?” “Did he say what he wanted to talk about?” “No. if you ask me. He was just very insistent that he talk to you immediately. “Yeah. He‟s a pushy guy alright.” I thought for a moment. “That‟s what I love about him.Rory Ridley-Duff then I remembered that he said it was nothing to do with him.” In my head I added a few extra words that Phil did not hear. Very pushy guy.
“Of course! Is she not better?” Dave did not show any emotion. Something on your mind?” I enquired. come on then. His belief in this entrepreneur and his innovations was high so he was making a career gamble by investing in a lavish public relations event. He ran through the section again until I gave him a thumbs up and we continued this process until late morning. “No. but I responded with more confidence than I felt. “Well. you can tell me!” .Friends or Lovers Chapter 24 I took the contracts around to Dave‟s office and he ran through his presentation. It was almost like he was a blank. “Yeeaah!” he finally said slowly. Dave is rarely hesitant. After working through the contracts. Dave. looking straight into my eyes in a way that I‟d never seen before. “Come on. “Do you have to rush off?” he asked. we agreed a few minor changes for his afternoon meeting.” I was beginning to get used to the idea that I was going to be an aunty twice over. “Do you remember I said my wife was ill? I vaguely recollected him saying something. He licked his lips and I could tell that he was slightly nervous so I walked up to him and touched his arm. I took notes and stopped him after each section to give him feedback. If there‟s something. Tell aunty Penny…. We don‟t do many major product launches so Dave was putting in extra effort. and for him to pause for any length of time before giving an answer was quite strange.
They‟ve done a scan and found a tumour. Come here. He was in pain and I let go of his arms and put my hand on his cheek and stroked it. he spoke. “Family? Have you told them?” “I‟ll do that later today. She‟s not been well for a while. Finally.” I‟d worked with Dave for 10 months and this was by far the most human moment that we had shared. He turned slowly and left the room. “Oh Dave! I‟m so sorry. I held his left arm in my right hand and then placed my left hand on his shoulder. and she‟s been back and forth to the doctor. “Have you told anyone?” “No. He licked his lips again. I took her into hospital this weekend because her headaches were so painful that she could not sleep.Rory Ridley-Duff He looked into my eyes again. Sometimes you work with a person for a while and simply do not realise the bonds that are forming.” I put his head on my shoulder and my arms around him. You‟re the first person I‟ve told. There was fear in them. They don‟t think she‟ll survive more than a few months. I had never seen him like this before. We stood there for many minutes before he slowly pulled away and without looking at me said “thank you”. “She‟s dying!” This news had a deep and lasting impact on me. Dave had a lot of energy but deep down he was a gentle soul. He didn‟t say anything either. It‟s advanced. and in the evening when I was on my own I felt acutely . I was sad for the rest of the day. As I held him I could feel his heart breaking and the gentle movement of someone crying. just tilted his head until it rested on my hand and closed his eyes.
It was unnatural. It was my time. Deep down a pain formed inside me that actually hurt. but not by much. As I lay there . I found myself struggling to get to sleep as the silent anger I felt kept me awake.Friends or Lovers distressed. I had not realised I cared about him and it came as a surprise. There was no God if this could happen.thinking of him sitting with his wife at the hospital . He was a bit older than me.I decided he needed a friend. . My friend Dave should not have to bear this so young. cruel and so unfair. my moment to face someone else‟s pain and not shrink from the thankless task of helping him through it. He needed someone to care about him.
I strode into work feeling smart and confident. but with a small shuffle of his feet and with his eyes slightly lowered. “That young entrepreneur will think he‟s died and gone to heaven!” For Phil to pay me a compliment was so unexpected that I actually stopped in my tracks. I got myself a cup of coffee and went through my e-mails. I had no idea what was in store for me. I was surprised at how flattered I felt. John .Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 25 When Wednesday came. When Phil saw me. He was a good-looking lad. as if he had said more than he meant to. He looked a little embarrassed. I was due to meet Mike and Nathan for a showdown. In the afternoon. he raised his eyebrows. “That‟s very sweet of you. I thought. “Doing something special today?” he asked. but for a moment I looked at him in a lustful way. smiling. I looked at him with new eyes.” I lied. a few words came out. But it was a good lie. “You‟re welcome. Is there any background information you can bring on that personnel problem you have got? May help us find out what is going on. I had taken extra care getting dressed because I wanted to look good for my lunch date with John. See you soon. In the evening was Dave‟s product launch. Hi Penny.” he said sheepishly. “Got the launch event tonight and have no time to go home. too young for me.” I said.
The information was confidential. a reward for his earlier flattery. “You‟ll go down a treat. It was quite a showpiece.” I reassured him. I couldn‟t take anything with me. it would be different. his voice confidently outlined the magnificent benefits of tomorrow‟s personal health gadgetry. complete with visuals and sound. would you like a drink? Not the most difficult executive decision I have ever had to make. A swift response winged its way back through the IT network. As he stood there in a new suit and tie. By the time I‟d waded through them. the time for Dave‟s presentation approached. “You don‟t think that final video is slightly overlong or overdone?” I put my hand on his arm and reassured him. We would have to discuss the issues as a series of hypothetical situations. Dave. hair cut and groomed. He was impressive and looked cute. If I hired him. I look forward to it. Next. there was an e-mail from Dave. I took Phil with me. and we both settled into the company‟s small lecture theatre. The other e-mails were either trivial or junk.Friends or Lovers Even if I had wanted to. Subject: CIPD Pen. “The preparation was worth it. That would be lovely. After the speeches. I thought he cut a fine figure. I just don’t feel like a big social evening afterwards. Thanks for booking the CIPD thing. .” “Are you sure? Are you really sure?” he hurriedly asked. but I responded by saying that the Data Protection Act prevented me sharing confidential records.
When we chatted on the phone yesterday. Pen.Rory Ridley-Duff “Slicker than a New Labour political broadcast. I thought. .” he said. he took this as a big compliment. but it was Dave who gave them charm and wit. The materials were fine. “Nervous about this afternoon?” I asked. John „the businessman‟ just didn‟t seem quite right. He intended to use the money to support his writing for several months. He would be nervous. I felt. * * * John was slightly late. We arrived at Bella Marie around 11. “See you tonight when the madness has died down. he said that this was one of the best contracts he had been offered and it would bring him about £30k for little more than a month‟s work. He was pleased to see me but carried a grave look that I‟d not seen before. His behaviour was different as well and I initially attributed this to his meeting in the afternoon. He was dressed in a dark deep blue suit. It was the first time I‟d seen him wear a tie. We settled down at the table.” This was going to be a very long day. ordered drinks and looked at the menu.50 and settled down for lunch. but much less spin. The banter I expected didn‟t materialise so I probed him to see if anything was up.” He just beamed. He was well groomed and I quickly realised that I preferred him in casual attire. even though I didn‟t intend it that way. “Thanks. As he was a dedicated New Labour supporter.
Friends or Lovers “A bit. personable and popular. “Our hypothetical Mike!” I answered. but his gaze remained firmly on the menu. You said we had to talk. “John. married. I feel he looks down on me sometimes. but I‟m not sure why. My boss Dave is suspicious of him. I know the person contracting the work. and women would fall for him. his gaze started to focus on me properly. I can see that he‟s good looking. We‟ve worked together several times so I think today‟s a formality. I find him a bit „old school‟. I called him a sexist pig!” .” I looked at him directly as I said this. patronizing. I started to feel that something had changed between us but was at a loss to understand why.” John intervened at that point. As he settled back in his chair. He momentarily looked up and tried to smile. 50-ish. you know. Not too bad. No point beating about the bush. “He‟s one of our sales staff. We had quite a row last week. John nodded and set himself in a listening pose. “Not sure why? Can you expand on that?” “Well. however. but he averted his eyes quickly. What‟s on your mind?” He looked up. “You look the part. He called me a „stupid woman‟. he‟s good at his job. There are others to convince. so I thought I‟d dress the part. “Tell me about Mike…. slightly relieved.” If it was not his interview then why was his behaviour so different? I was puzzled and tried a bit of flattery. Very smart – you‟ll knock them dead. Sometimes he gives me the creeps.” he requested.
He made a pass and she rejected him. She lives at home. There was one lad in particular that seemed to take a fancy. The young lad won‟t co-operate. “Well. I don‟t buy his story.” . He has a history. either. He gave her support. however. says the young woman confided in him but he won‟t talk unless she consents. “What do you think?” he asked. But I know her. they got close. She‟s engaged to be married. my boss wanted me to find out more. their former boss. women mostly. and one in particular got quite keen. and his demeanour was attentive and serious. he invited her for a drink and perhaps she misunderstood – or maybe he was making his own play she got upset again and now she won‟t talk. It looked open and shut initially. The young woman won‟t say what happened.Rory Ridley-Duff John nodded. I moved him to a new position. Now he‟s implied she might have been pursuing the young man.” “So what‟s changed?” John asked. That‟s where the stories conflict. “Someone complained that he was hassling a colleague for a drink. looking very thoughtful. because he‟s got a reputation as a womaniser. Mike. The boss is pissed off with everyone because he got landed with the blame for a situation not originally of his own making. encouraging me to continue. I asked my assistant to keep his ear to the ground. “My instinct tells me that the lads went too far. There‟s a meeting this afternoon. He took some of his staff with him.” John nodded. and I thought that‟d be the end of it. I intend to crack some heads. not the other way around. She was sufficiently upset to confide in her boss. He found that men in the department had been flirting with her.
fairly pretty. I had never seen him this intense and studious before. You use the information as you see fit. John started to talk. She confides in her boss. I could be called as a witness to a tribunal. wants to marry her. But then he realises that her boyfriend is an old school friend. “The young woman – tell you what. So he backs off. let‟s call her Elena – she‟s quiet. Let‟s call him Nath. “Shall I try another interpretation for you?” he asked.” I said hesitantly.” . Let me pretend this is a hypothetical case. Explain!” I commanded. Elena is not put off and actually starts to single out Nath himself. a bit embarrassed. “Where are you getting these names from?” “This is a hypothetical example.Friends or Lovers John kept nodding. Nath thinks she‟s a bit of alright and joins in the flirting at first. He backs off some more. She‟s confused. if I tell you the source of my information then I‟ll be involved and could be dragged into the process. but likes one of them. I was slightly taken aback. “Okay. I was not looking for another interpretation. I want to help. Regardless. She‟s inexperienced with men. “Penny. We‟ll call her boss Mick. She starts to receive more sexual attention. If things go badly. right?” This was too coincidental. Penny. shall we?” “You know these people. but he sees her flirting with a whole group of lads. In her previous job she worked with women so this is a change for her. shall we?” “Hold on!” I said. “Err. and has a job as administrator to a department that has quite a few young men. but I nodded to indicate he should carry on. His mate is crazy about Elena. Okay.
Every day she goes home they argue with her and tell her she‟s ruined everything. “Mick‟s known for his kindness. He‟d risked his own marriage to get her out. For a moment. I reeled. Luckily.” As these words came out. He continued the story. I asked John questions. “D‟you want me to continue?” he asked. Mick listens to Elena and realises she‟s in a difficult situation. the waitress brought the drinks and asked for our order. “What happened to…. I could feel the shock rise through me as I realised where all this was coming from. Having recovered my composure. She becomes desperate to leave home. Her boyfriend reacts badly. John knew Mike.Mick?” I asked. I nodded.” It was my turn to start nodding. He storms around and tells her the wedding is off. I struggled to keep my emotions in check. “Her boss has a reputation for being sympathetic to his staff. He never asked. He seemed to have more information than I did.Rory Ridley-Duff I was angry. Her parents are furious. It never seemed relevant. Once he helped a work colleague suffering abuse. completely bewildered. Pin-pricks shuddered all the way through me. I‟d never told John exactly where I worked. He put her up at his home until she found a new home. I did not know where he was getting this information but suddenly things started to make more sense. Nath then tells his old school friend that Elena came onto him and was flirting with all her work colleagues. He‟s been known to intervene personally sometimes and help people out when their personal lives are troubled. . When I felt in control again.
With nowhere else to go….. she goes around to Nath‟s house and tells him what he‟s done. that he never bring another woman into their home. but with Mick and shouts at him for not helping her.moved into a flat with his work colleague. In a rage.Mick…. Nath tells her to „piss off‟. on the condition that he be allowed to help her find a place to live. Someone walking past stops to watch and immediately reports the scene to their manager. she finally relented and let him go back home. Mick‟s wife felt betrayed. There was a condition. but could not let her move into his house or give her any money. She goes into work the next day and is angry. Mick was sympathetic.” . She won‟t calm down so Mick tries to persuade her to leave the building and continue the conversation at a local pub for a drink. She resists so he takes hold of her by the arm and makes her leave. He hoped that would be the end. They became extremely close but were never lovers. Mick gave in. but he refuses. however. Mick agreed. She tries again to persuade Mick to take her in. said that he would help her. but later his wife learned that he‟d given money to buy furniture. Elena told him private details about her life and now felt abandoned. Either the work colleague leaves or the marriage is over. After a few months of Mick calling his wife every day. not with Nath.Friends or Lovers “The situation got so bad that Mick‟s wife gave him an ultimatum. Elena was angry because she‟d heard how Mick had helped someone else. My head dropped and my eyes fixed on the table as John continued talking. “Elena wanted Mick to let her have his spare room.” I felt I knew where the story was heading and my sense of dread started to increase. She kicked him out.
he told a half-truth. because of the past.” At the mention of this name.Rory Ridley-Duff My head just hung there as I looked down at the table. I did not speak for several minutes. His wife‟s curiosity is fired and she relentlessly asks questions until Mick tells her the whole story. “There is another hypothetical character. one day.” “Worse? How could it get worse?” “You may want a stiff drink. There was more to come and I had to hear it. that the new job was a promotion rather than a convenient solution to an accusation of sexual harassment. did not tell his wife why he had recently changed job. another shock wave went through me and I became rigid with fear. “Why the hell did she do that?” “At the moment he‟s staying at a hotel with a friend. Are you ready?” “I need a stiff drink now!” I said trying to lighten the mood but John‟s face was implacable. I thought.” said John. He was concerned that his wife would pre-judge the situation and end the marriage. She feels the problem lies with the way Pen handled the original complaint. “She threw him out again. let‟s call her Pen. “What a total fucking mess!” John was silent so I looked up at him feeling completely at a loss. “He‟s been to a solicitor. However. Penny.” “Well. in some ways I‟m relieved. Pen calls his house announcing herself as the Head of Human Resources and that Mick should be in a disciplinary meeting. “Mick. “She did what?” I said. So. “It gets worse.” I said.” No prizes for guessing who the „friend‟ is. a clear case of sex .
” I felt attacked from all sides and my defences started to bristle. “It is. Suddenly. I lost my appetite. that‟s one way of looking at things. “Penny!” John exclaimed. It says he can bring a friend if there is a disciplinary hearing. There‟s nothing to say whether the friend must be a work colleague or not. She‟s been a friend since his university days. I think. and my eyes dropped as I let John finish. The solicitor is coming as a friend. Penny!” said John.” My body froze a second time. Could I really have got everything so wrong? “Well. “He and his solicitor have checked the employment contract. “Because I couldn‟t let you go into your meeting later today completely unprepared. that is the story he will stick to if challenged. At least. “Today he‟s going to bring his solicitor. “Fucking mess was about right. The solicitor takes the view that Pen has not fulfilled her duty of care to all the parties concerned. . I did not know how to feel.” I commented sardonically. There is also the issue of the call to his home.Friends or Lovers discrimination and failure to observe natural justice principles now enshrined in law. My head was spinning while I tried to work out what to do.” I was silent. “How noble of you!” I retorted. “Why are you telling me?” I asked in a slightly accusing way.” “He can‟t do that!” I interject.” “Is that true?” I ask.
“Penny. This could be the end of my career. “Don‟t be like that. this is all too much. This is serious.Rory Ridley-Duff “M…. What was I to do? “Where did that come from?” he demanded.” I snapped. I act as an expert witness at tribunals.” I was getting more and more defensive and angry. this is my field. He‟s been like a father to me. he might terminate our friendship. He‟ll ask for my help and I will give it to him.has been a life-long friend of mine. but part of me sensed that I had to get out of the restaurant and find Dave.” .” “How? Why? You know nothing about this case.” “Why on earth would he do that? This is nothing to do with you. I‟m trying to help. This is serious. I‟ve not known a kinder more honest man in my entire life.Mick….” “I try not to take sides. I care about you. just give a professional opinion.” “Yes. really.” “Penny. or knew I‟m telling you this. Panic overwhelmed me. I needed to talk to the legal department of the company before the meeting. He led my scouts group when I was a kid. If he did. He doesn‟t know that I know you. It‟s going to come down on my fucking head not yours. I don‟t want to lose your friendship. you are just telling one side of the story. but this could come between us if Mike asks me to testify.” “You what? You‟re saying you might testify against me?” “Penny! He‟s been a friend all my life. “Just let me think a moment.” “So it‟s all lads altogether is it?” I didn‟t know where these words were coming from.
Do whatever you have to do to get the company to offer mediation to all the parties involved.. Once you talk to . “If you don‟t. Make notes. Help him with his domestic situation until the mediation is complete. the insurers will not cover your employer for any losses. I felt like I was being driven by something outside myself.Friends or Lovers “You are going to testify against me. At the moment I was not in control. just existing from second to second. You – and the company – will be completely exposed. this is going to end up in a court of law. aren‟t you?” “Not if we can find another way. they‟ll call your insurers and the insurers will instruct you to have no further contact. lots of notes.” I wished that I could stop myself being sarcastic and argumentative but I was shaking from the top of my head to the tips of my toes.” “Another way? Is there another way? You said he‟ll have a solicitor with him this afternoon…. just listen.. If you contact Mike after talking to your insurers. Don‟t admit liability. hoping somehow I would disappear down a hole in the ground and this would all go away. Don‟t say anything.” I said weakly. Amuse me. but acknowledge the points of view of the other parties. Listen to the story the way it is told by the other parties.” “I‟ll have to involve the company lawyers….” “There is a way out. I‟m fresh out of ideas. You‟ll have to grab it with both hands this afternoon. You have to mediate.” “Well. “You must listen this afternoon.” “I don‟t know if I can do that.” he shouted.” “No! You mustn‟t do that. “The moment you talk to them.
For all I knew.” “I can‟t handle this. Not John. “There are risks. please listen. Do you appreciate that. My responsibility was to the company. but what then? What of your future career?” “Oh God! I don‟t know!” Privately. But do you think they‟ll protect you? They might get you through the court case. John was not put off and continued his attempts to persuade me.” he said firmly.Rory Ridley-Duff your legal team it will be out of your hands and will go to court.” I wanted to talk to Dave. You are personally at risk from prosecution. then I could lose my job as well. “Penny. John. Please.” “I bloody know that. This is too big for me. “What if you can get Mike and his wife back together?” The pretence that we were talking about hypothetical characters had completely vanished. Do you think you get to my position and not know stuff like that?” I resented him treating me like an idiot.” He looked hurt at my words but composed himself. . This was as real as it gets. “Penny. I had to protect the company‟s interests. “Once a formal process starts it‟s almost impossible to stop. I did. Not Mike. There was little chance I would survive after such a misjudgement. “And if I don’t tell the legal team. why should I take your advice? I hardly know you. Anyway. John?” My fiery response took him back a bit and he regrouped. John was doing this to save Mike. “What if you can mediate?” he insisted. to protect him.
I can‟t keep this from him. We assume men pursue women.” I said. sensing immediately he had irked me. We‟re close. It‟s a kind of blindness. John continued. I wasn‟t blind to this!” I said with some irritation. “I mean that you were looking at the situation the way the vast majority of people look at such situations. . but I picked at it intermittently.” he said in a slightly frosty way.Friends or Lovers “I can‟t authorise that on my own. “It‟s okay. “What?” he reacted. I can run it past him. “I‟m sorry for getting angry.” “Would he help?” “I see him later tonight. “No more than anyone else.” The waitress brought our food and asked if we‟d like any more drinks.” “Would he help?” “I couldn‟t do this without him. I don‟t think he‟ll like this. It sounded like he was criticising my judgement. how could I know? There was so much that I‟d not been told. At the very least. and that women spend most of their time resisting men. I looked at the meal in front of me. I‟d need Dave‟s support.” he said. How could you know?” Indeed. In any other circumstances it would have looked beautiful and tasted delicious. “And you‟re the big shot who thinks he knows?” I said sarcastically. I felt sick.” “Don‟t stereotype me. “We can only see what we look for. “What do you mean?” I asked sharply.
I remembered Mike saying something similar during our earlier argument. I nodded. try divorcing one!‟” “John. John ventured a question. . You are so fucking pompous!” He smiled. “Sorry.” I simmered for a few minutes and ate my food. I‟m sure you are very knowledgeable.” he said looking me firmly in the eye. “Women aren‟t weak. I looked at him.” he said. I started to realise that I was being deeply unfair to him.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m sorry. but it just kept pouring out of me. “You know that. “Who is protecting the men. “You are not the first person to say that. Penny?” “What?” I responded. I didn‟t mean to sound critical. As the remorse grew.” he laughed. “But this is my field!” he responded. It‟s a common problem.” “Stop talking like a fucking academic…” I wished I could stop myself behaving in such an angry way. “Sorry. “Equality means protecting both sexes. “Good!” I added. Unless you understand that both men and women are initiating and responding in different ways it is easy to presume the man is doing all the initiating and is always to blame. He laughed again and I found that I could not sustain my anger with him. “As one of my friends told me a few years ago „if you think women are weak. “Bugger off!” was all I could say.” I looked at him coolly.” I said with as much conviction as I could muster.
about nothing in particular. I was not going to waste either a moment longer. Parting turned out to be quite difficult. Sometimes words are so inadequate and unnecessary. We stood there chatting for a bit then going silent then chatting some more. I acknowledged what he was saying but said that I still didn‟t see how I could avoid discussing this internally. Touching says everything that needs to be said. I considered what an ordeal this must have been for him. We chatted away. and then deciding to tell me over lunch. He hugged me for a whole minute and I just clung on for as long as I could. Hearing this story from Mike. It would have been much easier for ignore it. it was this last point that occupied my mind. When he saw this. . must have been difficult for him. and for the first time I saw him more as a friend than a potential lover. Neither of us wanted to walk away. Eventually. his own smile broadened and I realised how tense he had been throughout. I had to protect myself. offering a conciliatory smile. “Shall we enjoy the rest of our meal?” I continued. he reiterated that the situation could go pear shaped if the legal teams got involved. he said “come here” and guided by an external force I stepped forward and fell into his arms. or cry off the lunch date and avoid me. As we departed. I guess John must have felt the same way. As I left the restaurant.Friends or Lovers Right now I had a plateful of food and an attractive man sitting opposite. As his body relaxed. How was I going to protect myself while finding a way to resolve the situation? We said our goodbyes outside the restaurant and agreed to call each other the following evening. I saw real concern in his eyes. not just the other parties. for the next hour.
Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 26 By the time I returned to work all my doubts and dilemmas had returned. Another part of me wanted to find Dave and have a heart to heart but he was preoccupied with the product launch. even John – these all beat a path to my door. Mike and his wife.” I said as I returned to my office. Others could see I was troubled and avoided me. Another thing that consumed me was how I felt about myself. and he duly obliged. Elona‟s distress. and that of Nathan. “Can you close the door?” I asked. I sat there both angry at myself and at others.” At this suggestion. I hatched a plan. And yet.” He looked as apprehensive as I felt. If I had got things completely wrong then I was responsible for a great deal of misery. In the end. How could I have known? So. “I need to discuss things with you before we go into the meeting. I felt so torn about what to do that I went to the staff canteen for another coffee. “Come into my office for a chat. Nobody would talk. I thought about visiting the legal department to spill all this out. * * * “Hi Phil. his apprehension seemed to progress to outright fear but he obediently followed me. I decided to follow some of John‟s advice. and my invitation to discuss things did nothing to reduce his unease. but John‟s caution made me pause – at least for now. how could I have known? Was I being too hard on myself? Nobody would explain. . I was ashamed.
he was more relaxed. or considered this question.Friends or Lovers I had gathered my thoughts and knew how I wanted to play this. Clearly he had not expected this.” I paused for a moment to see if Phil would say anything. . “That thought had occurred to me too. Everything about his body screamed “Thank God!” His words. “Any ideas?” I asked as I walked in the door. both of which had been in his lap.” I let the words linger for a moment. however. but a little more caution was called for. “I‟ve been thinking a lot about Mike‟s outburst. I wondered whether I should have solicited his opinion more quickly.” The idea that Phil has worked out the situation without help came as both a relief and a surprise. It makes more sense. “If he is right. so I gave him a few moments by leaving the room to make coffee. suddenly surfaced and started to gesture strongly. “……how are we going to approach this meeting?” As I asked this question. I took a deep breath and made a start... were cautious. “I think we need to admit that maybe we got it wrong. Phil‟s lips parted and his rigid body began to move and come alive. “I agree with you on the „listen and listen and listen‟. His hands.” I answered. Phil‟s moment of relief ended and his face became thoughtful again. “What if he‟s right?” At this suggestion. but his eyes remained fixed and expressionless.. Phil…. Then listen and listen and listen…. Phil was my first port of call for a good reason. When I returned.” He was moving in the right direction.
and then waited until his eyes were again looking into mine.” he said. I smiled back at him – a big smile showing my teeth.” . “Of course. listen to what they have to say. His eyes left mine and looked down at the table for a few seconds. When Phil got up and made to leave the room. “We‟ll make a manager out of you yet!” Without letting my eyes wander even for an instant I took the lead. and just keep insisting that we‟ll do everything we can to mediate a solution. there was a definite sense of conviction as he spoke. I looked away from him to give the impression the meeting was over. “Okay. with just a hint of a smile. We‟ll say that we want to look at the whole thing again. We‟ll keep our mouths shut. “Then I guess admitting we got it wrong is out of the question. I looked him straight in the eye as I answered him. I offered my opinion. “You‟re a good lad. Okay?” I could see from Phil‟s reaction that his ego felt well and truly massaged.Rory Ridley-Duff After waiting for a moment to see whether he might say anything else. Phil. at least until I‟ve talked to Dave and Legal. if we admit that we „got it wrong‟ both you and I could be for the high jump if this ever goes to court……” I had his attention now and a look of horror spread across his face. We‟ll do as you suggest. “Phil?” I asked. I want you to bring a notebook and take lots of notes. I appreciate you. He broke into a smile and nodded. When he looked up again. I completed the act of seduction. This afternoon is about buying time.
I smiled back. .Friends or Lovers I did not look away and his eyes remained on mine until he could hold the gaze no longer. started to walk. but when he reached the door he glanced over his shoulder and smiled at me again. I caught a trace of redness in his cheeks. He turned to go. I have to admit that sometimes it is great fun being a woman.
First Nathan. At the start of the meeting.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 27 I feigned surprise when I met Mike‟s solicitor and was as pleasant as possible. but my opening gamble paid off and took the wind out of his sails. At the mention of his name. No conclusions had been reached. I might have peppered my pleasantness with a brusque manner. If we made it through this conflict. Phil made copious notes as the story unfolded more or less exactly as John said it would. I noticed that her look changed from one of confidence to one of . Every few minutes I glanced at Mike‟s solicitor friend to see how this was playing with her. a married woman giving a single woman a hard time in the witness box would not be pleasant. If we were to meet again in a court room or industrial tribunal. With each reaction. I found myself developing a grudging respect for him. gave their accounts while I nodded. she had looked calm and confident. enquired and encouraged. Phil followed my lead and we successfully communicated the seriousness of what had taken place. I have to say that Mike was proving a lot smarter than I‟d expected. I introduced Phil as my assistant and said that he had expressed a view that we should listen to Mike and Nathan. If his solicitor had been a man. Phil looked up and smiled. I promised myself that I would get to know him better. prompted. I expressed surprise and shock at what I was hearing. To my surprise. then Mike. I opened the meeting and stressed that we would be as cooperative as possible. still beaming from our earlier encounter. At certain points in the narrative. Mike initially looked as if he was ready for a battle.
“Mike‟s got issues over lost pay. “And what about the loss of pay since changing his job?” “On pay. I offered to get Phil to type them up and send Mike‟s to her for checking.” I paused for a second before I asked the next question to ensure it had maximum impact.” I answered. I didn‟t like her using my first name but I let it pass. One of them is free at the moment and I can arrange for Mike to use it until he can make alternative arrangements. “My pleasure.” I answered. “That‟s good of you. At this suggestion. she started to engage me.” “Who will pay?” she asked. I cannot guarantee that we will . Penny.Friends or Lovers puzzlement. At the end. Sometimes she would look at Mike and tilt her head to one side. She was trying to work out how the meeting could be going so well for her client. With surprise on her face she uttered a question. and a problem with his housing situation……” “We can help with that. “What would be helpful is if you could work out with Mike the amount of wages he has lost. I meet him later tonight.” she said. She was not expecting this. David Stockton.” I answered. “The company will pay. I‟ll have to clear any changes with my director. after taking both Mike‟s and Nathan‟s statements. “There are two flats rented by the company to accommodate sales managers who commute here from time to time. My comment stopped her in her tracks. “How?” I was growing in confidence and put the final piece of my plan into place.
” He chuckled again as he looked at Phil. “Yes?” I answered. then you‟ll have my response tomorrow. “I‟ll check with Dave tonight.” He looked me strongly in the eyes. “I underestimated you.Rory Ridley-Duff meet it in full. but now I saw him in a moment of happiness. he‟d looked worried and pensive. then me again. “Penny?” he asked.” At the start of the day. They looked at each other for a moment and I noticed that she nodded her head at him. “just to see whether I need to involve Legal. I looked at them both. “Yes. After a few moments. I would have been happy to see someone kick him hard in the balls. Mike can confirm it in writing. I‟d hoped to stall things long enough to consult with Dave but we‟d gone almost as far as resolving the . if necessary.” I said. In all our previous meetings. then at me again. If we don‟t. Could you do that?” As I asked this question. “I underestimated you as well.” Mike looked at me. Thank you. but I‟m sure it will be sufficient for him to treat you to dinner. then at her.” Mike smiled at me – the first time I had seen him do so – and I have to admit that his face was handsome. Thank you. “Women! I have no idea why you go around letting men think they are in charge. but as it turned out a mutual respect was born. I‟ll deliver it by hand. I detected a smile on his face. We‟ll do that now. he gave a short chuckle. I was taken aback at just how attractive he looked.
” I tried to return his look but found that I could not as I felt a rush of adrenalin rip through me. he was also extraordinarily sexy. he fixed me one last time with his handsome face. “I can now see why Dave hired you. . when he felt at ease. He beat me at my own game.Friends or Lovers whole thing. The moment of exhilaration passed and I finally understood why he had such a good reputation as a salesman. As Mike turned to leave the room. Not only did he have integrity and courage but.
I noticed them hug warmly as she departed. Phil. It made me wonder why Dave harboured hostility towards him. It‟s hard to force niceness and that was exactly what I had been doing for most of the last two hours. A curious look came over his face. with a puppyish expression.” Such praise I can live with. shall we?” I responded. Penny! Absolutely brilliant. “What made you change your mind about Mike?” he asked. fussed about me. with a look that communicated not just my appreciation.” Phil nodded and still smiling. “I learnt a lot today. “Let‟s just call it a woman‟s intuition. was a friendlier person than I had thought. the way they looked. touched and moved indicated a much closer relationship. . now I was experiencing him up close.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 28 I remained in the room with Phil while Mike and his solicitor exchanged words. “Can you tidy up the loose ends here? I need to get ready for this evening. but also the gap in status between us. laughed. It was time to cool Phil‟s ardour now the job was done. “Nothing more?” he asked again inquisitively. “Thank you.” I said. Mike. This comment caught me short for a moment. Clearly they were more than acquaintances. offered a further comment. “That is sweet of you. His face. while still smiling. but I actually felt exhausted.” he said. “That was fantastic.” was all he could say. developed a small frown and his body language became submissive.
but also deflated my ego a bit. I thought of the way John had helped. all trace had left him. surprises. and let my locks fall about my face alluringly. Mike‟s willingness to accept a settlement when he could have thrown the book at me. . I flicked my head back. Perhaps men were not jerks after all. Suddenly things came together. He started to walk out of the room and his final remark not only surprised me. “I certainly believe in a woman‟s cunning!” he remarked. If he had felt dominated a few moments ago.Friends or Lovers Clearly he was not convinced. I had one of those “ah ha!” moments in life. I thought back over the whole day. Phil?” His smile returned as well as his confidence. As I stood there. A number of shocks. twists and turns had left their mark. “Don‟t you believe in women‟s intuition. and Phil‟s shrewdness at seeing through me.
Jo looked professional. I‟ll be there. Always enjoy watching Dave strut his stuff!” she remarked. can‟t he?” “Yeah! I‟ll say. “Aren‟t you?” she answered. It will give a boost to our training programme.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 29 What a day it had been and there was still quite a way to go. of course. “Yes. As I delicately added a small amount of rouge to my cheeks. All the good ones are.” “You looking?” I asked. I enjoyed fantasising about people – sometimes people I knew – but did that mean I was looking? Jo smiled at me as she washed her face and removed some of her make-up.” I remarked. good meeting. We signed a contract this afternoon. “I‟m off tonight to see Dave strut his stuff at the launch. Her comment surprised me. Was I? I didn‟t really know. I visited the women‟s toilets. . Shame he‟s taken. thinking back to the book John had recommended to me. Long hair would have made her look womanly. Certainly. Are you coming?” “Yes. I let my hair down a bit as well.” I chirped. Jo – the marketing manager – came in looking very pleased with herself. “You look happy. and get the new team ready. She was not a stunner but even without make-up her skin was quite good. not attractive. I thought for a moment. but as I‟d had a totally stressful day. “Hmm! He can look quite dashing at times.” “Sounds good. She had cut her hair quite short – a mistake I thought – because without a good size bust it gave her a rather boyish look.
Over the last couple of months I felt a change in myself. “There‟s a rumour going round that his wife is ill. I also considered her question.” . I found it hard to believe that Dave himself would mention this to anyone else. the total commitment he seemed to have for her. I considered Mike. Perhaps he had. „My mum‟s going to die‟ he said. “No! Not Dave. He might be back on the market soon. flirty as he was.” Her comment made me both cross and curious. had a maturity and confidence that came from understanding how to keep a relationship interesting. Perhaps I had misjudged him. With Carole announcing her marriage. with meeting John and feeling more comfortable with men as friends. sweet really. Then there was Dave. One of my neighbour‟s children is at school with Dave‟s kids. He‟s nice and all. “Maybe I am!” I finally answered. I certainly felt that I wanted that before I died. Clearly. but I don‟t think he‟s my type. “That his wife has cancer. having a second child. Anyway. perhaps I was ready to look.Friends or Lovers As these thoughts flashed through my mind. and how hard he had tried to make things work with his wife. deciding to dig a bit. “Really? With Dave?” I could not help but laugh out loud at this suggestion. my neighbour went round and they admitted she was not well. Even John. the sadness in his eyes when he thought of his wife. that she won‟t live long. They were playing one day and came straight out with it.” Jo seemed pleased that she was not in competition and moved a little closer. there were men who wanted marriage. “What‟s the rumour?” I asked.
even if her source was a little further from home. I gave a small laugh. I thought. “I‟ve heard the same rumour. “Oh! A couple of weeks ago. You know anything?” With this remark. that it was Jo who had told me the rumour only a few moments ago. Jo seemed to know as much as I did. of course. Quite masterful that. I omitted. “they said that Dave‟s wife looked terrible. She nodded. This was a difficult call because I was obliged to keep information confidential. but did not talk and started to look in the mirror. It was not a lie. I was relieved that she‟d got the rumour from outside the company. Jo. and the admission that I‟d heard a rumour did nothing to substantiate or deny her claim. where do you hear most rumours?” I asked.Rory Ridley-Duff Just as Jo was giving me the low down.” I responded as casually as possible. clearly not satisfied by my response. I think.” Jo continued. “When was this?” I asked. At the same time. “Where did you hear it?” she asked. Elona walked in. “In here!” she responded. as if she‟d been unable to sleep for a week. “Anyway. “Hi!” we both said to her. rumours spiralling out of control were problematic and could cause embarrassment. “Well. I said nothing. .” I was not sure whether to confirm or deny the rumour. She looked dreadful. I could tell that Jo was digging for information because her casual manner was suddenly replaced by attentive curiosity. My respect for Dave remained intact.
I turned back to Jo. glancing at Elona.Friends or Lovers Elona reapplied her make-up and listening to our conversation. you will soon. but whichever it was I had to put a stop to it. Jo looked both shocked and amused. but I could not take it in. “What rumour?” “I just said that I don‟t like rumours. “If you haven‟t heard. I felt . Half an hour earlier.” “What rumour‟s that?” asked Jo. As she left. “That Nath has a thing going with me!” What was Elona doing? I felt that I had to act fast. I was indicating that „something‟ was going on between Elona and Nathan. “Bloody rumours!” she remarked.” I said. Ellie?” asked Jo. “Quickly now!” I demanded and Elona packed up her stuff and hurried out of the toilets. “is not true. “Sorry. “Elona! Not another word. I knew from past experience that if a rumour started it would be hard to quash. By drawing attention to it. “That rumour. “‟bout me and Nathan!” “What about you and Nath?” Jo enquired. it was the first I‟d heard. “Someone been pissing you off. They are hurtful and mess people up. She gestured with her eyes and head to indicate something to me. There‟s a rumour going „round about me.” I turned to leave wondering whether issuing a denial was wise. To my office now!” I was not sure if there was a rumour. I was concerned at the direction of this conversation.” Jo clearly did not understand why Elona had the hump. or whether Elona was trying to start one. If there was a rumour. clearly not happy. Ellie?” she asked. “What rumour?” asked Jo enthusiastically.
but now they could easily spiral out of control again. with a smile.” mumbled Elona “Thought what?” Given that I was faking my anger. “Just answer the question. the rumour might yet cause more problems. Prime Minister. “But…. trying to get a grasp of the situation. this exchange struck me as slightly comical. I don‟t often lose my temper. however. Elona..thought you…. “Yes. As soon as Elona was installed in my office. “What…. “I what?” “I…. like something out of Yes.I thought…. If Jo went back to her team and started talking about it.” blurted Elona.” “Sure!” she said. But it was a smile I didn‟t feel I could trust. did not really cut the mustard as “Sir Humphrey” and that made it hard for me to keep a straight face. “I would appreciate if you did not repeat to others what Elona just said. but this was an occasion when coolly losing my temper was the most effective way to drive home what I had to say.but you……you….. “Jo?” I said. I turned to her and let fly..what do you mean?” she said quietly.” she replied. “What the fuck d‟you think you were doing?” Elona was so shocked that she did not sit down. “I thought you knew?” she said. There was too much pleasure in it.Rory Ridley-Duff that things were under control. . when Jim Hacker had Humphrey Appleby in a corner embarrassed and grasping for words..” I demanded.
Elona‟s eyes started to dart around the room as if she was looking for something to say. gesturing that I needed more clarification.” She looked relieved. “I imagine you‟re wondering what happened earlier?” She took her place and nodded.Friends or Lovers This was an interesting turn of events. “I can say with reasonable certainty that we will not be investigating the matter any further. Elona. Clearly. it was good to see her relax. Was Elona implying that there was something going on with Nathan. don‟t you?” she prompted again.” I said.” “So you know. I accept that you‟ve had a . I did. Was she asking who had been found „guilty‟? I wished I could tell her more. “Thought what?” I repeated. “Does that mean you‟ve got to the bottom of things?” I wondered what she wanted to hear. but I did not oblige.” I started. or just that she thought I knew about the rumour. I‟m satisfied that all parties have told me the truth. didn‟t you?” “Yes. “Sit down. but to do so would breach the confidentiality I observed in these matters. “I thought you……well you had Mike and Nathan in here nearly all afternoon. When I remember the way she left my room in some distress. “Elona. “We won‟t be looking into it any more. and I don‟t think that questioning people further will reveal anything more. I considered carefully how to put it across. please tell me what you think I know.” Elona looked concerned but did not say anything. “Elona. she was trying to get me to say what I knew. at least as far as they are able to.
” . Is there anything else?” “No.” Elona said. I braced myself. She must surely realise I was being kind and saving her face. I‟ll ask around discretely. “I don‟t. You can go home tonight and sleep better.” I said. okay?” I said pointedly. “I have an idea. “I‟ve got a question. Then she nodded to indicate that she understood. “So don‟t start any rumours. But could she really think that Mike and Nathan would back up her story? That was naivety beyond possibility.Rory Ridley-Duff difficult time. She seemed happier and relaxed. “Do you know anywhere I could stay?” I didn‟t enquire why.” she said. and I don‟t want to say.” I was being economical with the truth. She looked up and paused for a moment. and I don‟t want to add to your distress any more. but no untruths passed my lips. My only regret was that Elona might think that her account of events had been vindicated.” “Okay. “Give me a few days. “People will ask why. I‟m afraid. “Don‟t want to do that.” she answered. I hope. Have you put a notice on the board?” I asked.
The entrepreneur that Dave was promoting came across fairly well.Friends or Lovers Chapter 30 The evening passed off well. has extensively tested this final product. however. It was a battery operated hair remover that could be strapped onto arms. “All of Sam‟s products involve the use of advanced technology to improve personal hygiene.” Dave cast his eye over to the other side of the stage where Sam and Elaine were standing.” Dave announced. He was dynamic and Dave made the most of this during the presentation. This last product. He had his younger wife and family with him and the evening was something of a personal endorsement and triumph for him after years of struggling at home and in university laboratories. Sam tells me that his wife. legs. was the one that Dave believed would become a top seller. Sam. Just as selfexercise belts use gels to transmit current into the muscles (without actually having to do any exercise). “I‟ve saved the best for last. This last product is something that every woman will want.” said Dave boldly. A narrator started to explain benefits to an attentive audience. and there was a gentle ripple of laughter as the video images appeared. “Play it again. or anywhere else that a woman wanted to remove hair. The lights dimmed as the finale began. and I quite enjoyed minding him for the evening. Elaine. Sam‟s product range comprised „advanced technology‟ approaches to personal care that were – to say the least – sensuous in their design and application. She will vouch for it personally. Sam‟s product went one further. and every man will want to buy for her. .
Then. and what every man will want to buy for her. You want to SHARE. adorned with tasteful jewellery. to deliver a second package to a mansion home in the valley beneath. He leaves the package. What every woman will want next Christmas. risking life and limb. as the man wanders onto a patio to reveal a breathtaking mountain landscape. her face full of mock excitement at receiving her „favourite‟ present. and as the model‟s eyes close and she enjoys the sensual delights of the SHARE experience. And what does every man want? To buy the ultimate gift for his partner and bring a smile to her face. . Moments later.and a fanfare of music alerts the audience to a James Bond like action sequence. With a hint of wickedness in her grin. to have silky smooth skin.Rory Ridley-Duff What does every woman want? Yes. is the . On the screen. a beam of light is shone onto her from the back of the auditorium and the volume of the music lowered. The music changes again. in her bathroom and jumps out of the window into the night. a blonde in a long robe picks up the package. The mockhero slides down the mountain-side. Sam‟s wife moves to centre stage. Dressed in a daring black dress. The man jumps off a cliff edge and the next 90 seconds is a tongue in cheek satire of past Milk Tray adverts. he dons a pair of black glasses – a la Terminator . The satire switches to playful pastiche of 1980s Flake adverts. a handsome male model gave a gift wrapped present to a beautiful brunette. with his card. she takes the package into her stately bedroom and lies down on the four-poster bed. the model tastefully disrobes.Sensuous Hair Removal Experience. removes the gift from her package and relaxes.
This was no ordinary hair remover. When I watched Dave‟s practice run.and herself on. He did tell me that there was another presentation but that Sam and Elaine were keeping it under wraps. . then bit her finger. however.Friends or Lovers “Dear guests – Sam and I are so confident that you will enjoy this wonderful product that we – and I personally – will guarantee that you will treasure it. I looked around the hall and saw women alternating their glances at the presentation with chuckles into the ears of their female friends. then turning the appliance . but everyone clearly understood. “What accessories?” I whispered with more than a hint of curiosity. She sucked. Nobody said it out loud. but we can‟t say that here. Even as I was starting to think that this was a bit OTT. We‟ve prepared a gift pack for every woman here tonight.” It was my turn to smile at her. were on stalks watching every tiny movement of the model applying gel to the insides of her thighs. as her mind becomes occupied with the erotic. Take away your own SHARE experience and enjoy the benefits of the latest in personal hygiene technology. I lent over and whispered into her ear. As Elaine walked off the stage and sat down next to me.” As she stepped back from the microphone. the larger than life model held a pose reminiscent of the flake advert delicately crumbling chocolate between two gorgeous red lips. The eyes of the men. “We will be. I could now see why. “You should be selling this at Ann Summers parties!” She gave a broad smile and leaned towards me. he had not shown me this video.
” said Elaine. She carried on talking in my ear as the video presentation neared the end.there is something I need to discuss. “Can we slip out of here . As the final chord echoed throughout the hall. This was pretty risqué for IC but it was becoming clear why Dave was prepared to take the unprecedented step of a full product launch. Dave walked back to the microphone and announced that drinks and snacks were available in the lobby. much less painful than wax and much more effective than creams. The chatter was interminable but the evening was a success with guests energised and enthusiastic.” “Can‟t wait to try mine out!” I said. Dave thought it might be regarded as distasteful.” . When the VIPs had been safely escorted home in pre-booked taxis. The gift packs could be collected at the exits. “If we‟ve not beaten „the rampant rabbit‟ into second place by next Christmas then I‟m going to be pissed as hell. It can‟t wait until tomorrow. the blonde looked seductively into the camera and spoke breathlessly.Rory Ridley-Duff “Let me put it like this. It‟s a good hair removal product. Our pilot trials have produced spectacular feedback. There is a range of „innovative‟ extensions. “You won‟t see the accessories advertised anywhere in your brochures. We exchanged smiles and a final fanfare alerted the audience to the finale.” I chuckled. I pulled Dave to one side for a private word. “Much better than Milk Tray!” The place filled with roars of laughter and the lights came up.
then walked over to Sam and Elaine. He exchanged words with them. They have everything under control. shook their hands and spoke with a representative of the PR company. “Okay – we‟re off.Friends or Lovers Dave nodded.” .
. including the lunchtime meeting with John.” I recounted the events. With the company enjoying some success. “May as well take it off. “I‟ve had quite a day. it might catapult the company into the top league. As soon as he had parked the glasses on the table.” I said. and Dave reacted in quite a peculiar way. “You wanted to talk about something?” he asked. the portfolio was now broad enough to weather a set-back. Dave bought the first round – a real ale for himself.” I said a bit defensively.” “You should try wearing high-heels!” I joked. Alternatively. It might backfire. on the flight home.. “Why do you ask?” His question irritated me. he removed his jacket and loosened his tie. “Yes. We spent a few minutes discussing the evening.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 31 We walked to a nearby bar and settled ourselves into a corner table. “No point standing on ceremony. Not at the actual conference. there was a feeling that a calculated risk was appropriate. “Yes. He confessed that he thought the product was risqué for IC. “John? Who‟s this John?” “I met him at the conference in Paris.” I said. but Harry (the MD) had given him the go ahead. We both thought it had been a mini-triumph. “Is it wise?” .” “I‟ve been wearing these things for 20 years and still hate them.” “Is he married?” he interrupted sternly. a gin and tonic for me. but if it did so.
” I thought about how much more John knew about me.” I affirmed. It‟s just different isn‟t it?” “I don‟t see why.” I said firmly. Penny.Friends or Lovers “Dave! You are married too!” I said trying to lighten the mood. “John and I know each other well. We know each other well. Dave looked at me with surprise and I realised that he may have misinterpreted what I said. “It‟s different!” he said. “Yes. I wondered? “Well…I see you all the time. For all the time I‟d spent with Dave.” he said casting me a badtempered glance. the more incensed I got. The more I thought about it. I could see in his body language and movements that he felt hurt. deciding to defend my friendship with John. “Work colleagues often go out together. “It‟s different. Could he be jealous. “Why is it different?” I said. Dave immediately looked a bit put out. “John and I exchange e-mails as often as you and I talk. but I‟m a close colleague. “I didn‟t even know that your wife had been unwell until you told me recently.” Dave raised his eyebrows.” he said starting to sound defensive.” I wished that I could hide my irritation. he knew only a fraction of the real me. but it must have been obvious because Dave backed off a bit. I sat for a few moments wondering why it mattered to Dave. “How often do you and I go out after work?” I asked. As I didn‟t .
Dave listened to the story that unravelled with Mike. He‟s shacked up at a hotel at the moment. “Let‟s get this work stuff finished. “My parents are with her tonight. I don‟t know why. and his face lit up again. and concurred with me that I would need his authorisation to fund Mike‟s housing costs until he could find accommodation elsewhere. He seemed to take it in okay. I watched him closely as I described Mike‟s part of the story to see if I could detect anything in his response. “How are things at home?” The smile left his face and his eyes were downcast. He recommended that I see Legal to arrange a three-month tenancy.” I said positively. I don‟t think she‟ll ever leave hospital.” Dave gave a small laugh.” “D‟you want to talk about it?” I asked.Rory Ridley-Duff want the situation to spiral out of control I decided to offer some reassurance. “I‟m fond of you. He promised to email them first thing in the morning. “Maybe after another round of drinks…” he said tentatively. “When does he want to move in?” “As soon as possible. but I was immediately irritated. then I‟ll get the next round in. Dave!” I said. I think. I had not been to this place before so I cast my . “Thanks!” I said with as much sincerity as I could muster. Nathan and Elona. Why did he have to laugh like that? Why take pleasure at Mike‟s marriage breaking down? I didn‟t expect it of Dave. He looked up at me and appeared unsure. I downed my gin and tonic then went to the bar to get another round of drinks.
was that I didn‟t know how else to be. The tables were wooden. His eyes looked down into his lap as he spoke. I‟m dreading it. “What will you say?” I finally responded.” he said. there” routine just was not me. however. Not having had a lover or even a family member in this situation. On the wall. but doing the “there. I thought about trying to show deep sympathy. Certainly I cared. The edges were jagged and rough. I thought of my father. drawn from his love of cricket: “playing a straight bat”. The problem. and each table had a bowl in the middle that had the appearance of driftwood..Friends or Lovers eyes around while waiting to be served. there was wood panelling. Dave. They had a natural look about them. filled with stones.” I continued. Drinks in hand. “She‟s deteriorating. “They give her less than a month. but it was impossible for me to feign feelings that I didn‟t have. He looked up. He had an expression. He looked awkward and reticent. “You‟ll have to tell them something. “Er…. deliberately unvarnished to fit in with the tenor of the furnishings.I‟m……” he stopped for a moment. Most of the patrons were in their 30s and 40s. . not that “manufactured to the nearest tenth of a millimetre” feeling. He looked pained and I could not really work out why.” It was difficult to respond. I don‟t think he expected me to ask such a question. I returned to the table and asked Dave again about the situation at home. I liked it. The doctors want to talk to me tomorrow. so I put my hand on his shoulder and encouraged him. I wondered if I was being insensitive.I‟m….
as if he thought I might be slightly mad. But why? “What is the deeper meaning here?” I kept asking myself. Penny?‟ I kept asking myself „why don‟t I feel more sympathy?‟ Why? The right thing to do at this moment would have been to put my arms around him. as if he had noticed my prickliness and was responding with some of his own. There in my mind was my father smiling at me. he sure was immature. I traced my mind back and suddenly realised that his moment of mirth at Mike‟s situation really infuriated me. Suddenly. And yet. the . Dave.. even as I had these thoughts I heard my father‟s voice.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m……I‟m……” I began to grow tired of his hesitation. “I‟m torn between helping her die and keeping her alive. of course!” I felt a bit of a twit but then some words emerged from my mouth that I wished had remained in the darkness of my mind. I surely should have felt more sympathy for him. but for some reason he was irritating me.” he responded brusquely. but I tried not to show it. Why was I putting up barriers now? These thoughts swirled around in my head. I could see his face growing red. I had no problem comforting him. “…. A few days ago. “I‟m sorry. For someone approaching forty.torn!” Finally! “What are you torn about?” He gave me a look that was puzzling. encouraging me to reflect. „What‟s the deeper meaning here. “Might it be kinder to let her die?” He looked at me and I saw tears form in his eyes.
Why did it matter? Dave broke the silence. After all. I continued with a straight bat. I saw his eyes furtively look at mine. I was evaluating them.Friends or Lovers awful realisation hit me. I fought a gut instinct to get up and walk out. He had every reason to hate me. Unbearable. I kept asking myself why I felt more sympathy for Mike than Dave. “Yes. deciding which of them would get my sympathy. When the meeting with Mike had concluded. He was watching me to see how these lines played. It was generous and I kept thinking I had completely misjudged him.” As he said this.” he had said. So I sat there and found myself no longer wanting to comfort Dave. “I can see why Dave hired you. That didn‟t seem right. I didn‟t feel worthy of his respect. wouldn‟t it?” Dave‟s eyes were on me now as we talked and I felt increasingly self-conscious. I hardly knew Mike. Even as I chastised myself for being so uncharitable. But kinder!” It felt incongruous that he was looking deep into my eyes while talking about his wife dying. but instead he appreciated me. I even started to wonder if Dave was playing the sympathy card. I can‟t bear the thought of losing her. “I don‟t want to admit that it would kinder to let her die. “It would be kinder. I stopped looking at him but then he spotted my awkwardness. “Penny? Are you okay?” . he found it in him to pay me a compliment. The moment Dave took pleasure at Mike‟s misfortune he lost my respect.
“It‟s okay. “Just need to go to the loos and then I‟ll be back.” he replied. D‟you want me to walk you back?” “No. no!” I said too quickly. Grab every moment you can. It was an instant reaction and both of us realised what it meant. My sense of urgency was growing. “I feel a bit unwell. I couldn‟t tell him how I was feeling.Rory Ridley-Duff I was not sure what to say. I‟ll come in early and sort the stuff out with you. “Look. “I‟ll do that!” he replied. It went really well tonight.” I was talking too quickly. I made my way to the toilets and lingered there for as long as I could without appearing rude. then. Even so.” I said. I‟ll see you in the morning. I grabbed my glass and tried to smile. Book some time off and spend it with your wife. “Okay. I felt his hand touch my back and my body reacted like it had received an electric shock. you should do the same!” I blurted out. I was sure he sensed my tension because his hand dropped and eyes looked away.” I said hurriedly. okay. I appreciate you meeting me and going through things. Pick the car up tomorrow. As I started to get up. Wait here. I‟ve had a really long day and my stomach does not feel good. Pen. “Okay. he did not challenge me and just kept nodding. “Perhaps.” . I‟ll get a cab. “Okay. You were a star. When I came out. Don‟t stay up too late. Dave.” I looked at the table and saw that he had nearly a whole pint to drink up. I‟ve drunk too much. will you?” “No. I won‟t” “Bye.
it was a sixth sense telling me not to get close to him. What was going on? What was happening? .” he replied with just a hint of sarcasm. Whatever hopes I had of growing close to Dave. As I rode home in the taxi. they evaporated that night. my respect for him was waning. he had changed from someone on a level with a placement student. to a sharp and roguish young man who merited the occasional fantasy.Friends or Lovers “Bye. As for Phil. I could not explain why. My opinion of Mike had risen from rock bottom to something approaching respect. As for Dave. the events of the last week just kept playing in my mind. Perhaps I was attracted to him? My desire for John had changed from one of girlish lust to one of sisterly love.
thighs and between my legs. He had told me to “find out about Mike” because “he may become a problem”. I indulged myself by recalling Phil‟s red cheeks when I flirted with him. As these positive thoughts about Mike ran around my head. I ran it over my breasts and built up a sumptuous lather. Inside the bag there were two gift-wrapped presents. It was as if he felt threatened by Mike and wanted me to get dirt on him. but he was quite a dish. I undid the larger one to reveal a tasteful . I wondered why he was not offended. so I got out of the bath and returned to my bedroom. the more I felt I had misjudged him. With these thoughts behind me. On my bed was the bag from the launch. Then I did my stomach. it raised new questions over Dave. The SHARE experience? Yes. Even though he had reason to feel bitter. I arched my buttocks and started working on the folds of flesh between my legs. With the soap in my hands. but the water kept washing away the wetness I was feeling and prevented me reaching orgasm. it was there. I ran a bath and as I lay in the warm water. I made a mental note to follow it up with Phil. The more I thought about him. I poured myself another glass of wine and had a bath. the more I started to like him. he chose not to be. The events with Dave were upsetting so I tried to eradicate them from my mind with soothing music and some self-pampering. I was now curious about Dave‟s comments. I had to find a way to make up for the way I had treated him. This was a good way to relax.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 32 When I got home. I thought about Mike. He may be young. I started to relax and drink the wine.
Next I took the dildo and second tube of gel and worked my hands up and down the shaft until it was covered all over. I started to feel aroused as the sense of expectation started to build. The dildo was mainly plastic but there were small metal panels inlaid at various points. enjoying my sexual power. and the other to increase and decrease the intensity. one for switching the device on and off. I applied the first tube of gel. I looked like a porn model.” So there I lay on the bed almost breathless with anticipation. I used my fingernail to slide under the sellotape and gently remove the gift wrap from the second gift.Friends or Lovers package that contained a battery operated motor. I looked like someone‟s whore. plugged the panel into the motor. The gel was good and it slid in nicely and I worked it around until its full length . A small instruction book was also inside and I excitedly opened it and read: “Apply the SHARE gel to both the accessory and the pubic hair remover for an unforgettable experience. On the side were four holes for attaching accessories. I lifted up my legs and inserted the dildo into the motor device then inserted it. Inside was a dildo extension and another tube of gel. I pictured Phil‟s cock in my hand to increase my excitement. and attached the straps that were included. There was a fine mesh of plastic teeth interspersed with similar inlaid metal panels. There were several pads and a tube of gel. By the time I had finished. Lying back on the bed. There were two buttons on it. As I opened the package. Some of the pads were round. I started to lick my lips with a sense of exhilaration. but one was triangular and obviously moulded so that women could use it to remove their pubic hair. I took it in my hand and turned it over.
bare breasted and naked with my legs wide apart. and the other periodically pressing the „ecstasy button‟. Mike and John walking into the room. A sensation ripped through me that made me shudder in total ecstasy. there was a gentle vibration inside me. I imagined Mike‟s hand on the insides of my thighs and his mouth sucking on my fingers. dildo inserted. I wanted to fuck him like .Rory Ridley-Duff was pressing on the pit of my stomach. I wanted Mike. I imagined my three lovers filling me with cock and spurting their cum over me until wave after wave of pleasure set my convulsing body on fire. then hard as his firm tongue edged me towards a heavenly climax. There I was. As I lay on the bed exhausted. Not only could I feel a gentle vibration on my pubic bone. and I closed my eyes as I imagined Mike‟s tongue in place of my finger. two strange thoughts burrowed into my mind. With each press. I imagined Phil. pressing on my clitoris at the same time to heighten my arousal. As I let my finger work me into a frenzy. John started to pinch and suck my nipples and run his hands all over my stomach and sides. The SHARE experience had been thoughtfully designed. I reached over to the motor and pressed the on switch. I remembered the booklet describe an intensity button for “a special experience”. I played with myself for a couple of minutes. Firstly. With one finger on my clit. massaging gently then harder then gentler again. small shots of electricity engulfed my pussy from both the hair remover and the dildo and I just gasped. My finger was now circling furiously. Phil and John came either side of me. with my free hand. While they gorged themselves. John took my breasts in his hand and gentled rubbed them while I felt Phil‟s mouth on mine. Then. as I played out a fantasy of being a hot and horny slut.
a vixen with a keen eye. the future took on a positive glow and I saw myself as Phil had seen me. With these debauched thoughts filling my mind my satisfied. How could this product fail? How could anything capable of bringing women so much pleasure be anything except a runaway success? In that moment. .Friends or Lovers no-one else I had ever met and felt I would do anything to have him. emotionally and physically spent body fell into a deep sleep. finishing a new plan to suck as much pleasure out of life as possible. Secondly. as a Professor of Cunning. the SHARE experience was going to make IC rich beyond belief. naked.
I need to sort out a threemonth tenancy agreement for him.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 33 Despite my good intentions to get up early and speed off to work. I was half an hour late. “Hi. Even so. I got up and took breakfast on the way to work. my first port of call was Office Services from where I picked up the key to the company flat. he was in here about half an hour ago. I signed for the keys on my own authority and proceeded to the legal department to sort out the paperwork. Has Dave been in yet?” “Yes.” “Okay.” “Well. “I‟m here about the company flat. I was sure Dave said he would sort this out. “Did he e-mail you about it?” I asked “Let me check. I found that Dave had not e-mailed them and I wondered whether he too had overslept.” That‟s strange. “We agreed last night that I could rent it out to Mike Bennett.” said Stella. Perhaps I had misunderstood him. It has to be a director. Can you sort out the paperwork and I‟ll come back this afternoon. I need to arrange for Mike to rent it for three months. Hurriedly.” Stella replied. I felt entitled. “But you‟ll need Dave to sign the contract. my exertions the previous day caused me to oversleep.” . “He must have forgotten!” I said. I thought. but he didn‟t mention anything about a flat. Stella. She quickly checked her inbox and shook her head. Given my attendance beyond the call of duty the previous evening. Once at work. That being the case.” I said walking up to her desk. I can get the paperwork sorted.
Friends or Lovers
I returned to my desk and said good morning to Phil. He was cheerful and greeted me warmly. I felt that we were developing a good working relationship and the prospect of that pleased me. We had been through an emotional experience together. I sent Dave an e-mail to ask him to sign the contract that Stella was preparing and promised to catch up with him later in the day. I told him that “after testing the product personally, I think the SHARE experience is going to be a winner.” I chatted with Phil and mentioned that I wanted to offer my apologies to Mike. “Keep that off the record,” quipped Phil. “Yes, of course,” I responded. Then – for a reason I could not fathom - I winked at him. He gave me a broad smile in return. What was I doing? Even as I struggled to understand myself, I felt good inside, like a newborn person. She was happier than the old one, confident and self-assured, complete and rounded, tolerant and self-critical. I found that it gave me pleasure to give others pleasure. I found Mike having a coffee with a woman. “Can I just interrupt a moment?” I asked. “Sure, we‟re just chatting.” “Here are the keys for the flat. Dave says you can move in any time you like. There‟s some paperwork being drawn up. You‟ll need to sign that later.” “Thanks! I appreciate this.” The woman nodded her approval too, which struck me as slightly odd. She was older than me. Her clothes were well kept but not designer labels. She came across as someone who would look chic if she could afford it, but was not currently able
to. Her face had a modest amount of make-up around the eyes, but other than this she had a natural beauty that her advancing years did nothing to diminish. “Do you need any help moving in?” I asked. “Are you offering?” Mike replied, in hope more than expectation, I think. “Sure, I‟ll help!” I responded. “Thanks!” he said with some surprise and pleasure. “This is Sally,” he said looking at his coffee companion. “She‟s offered to help as well.” Sally! Things quickly slotted into place. I studied her more closely and felt her doing the same to me. She was in her midforties and kept herself fit. Her face looked as if she applied cream, but I could not detect any eye-shadow or blusher. Her attractiveness was natural, not manufactured. I extended my hand. “Good to meet you. I feel like I already know you a bit,” I said. She glanced in Mike‟s direction as she responded. “Yes, I gather he has told you quite a bit about me. Not all good I hope!” I liked her playfulness and returned the favour. “Well, he said he‟d leave you to fill in the details.” Mike smiled when he heard me say this and glanced at Sally to check that she was not going to scold him. Sally continued the riposte. “From what he‟s been telling me, it doesn‟t sound like he left details out!” “Then you can get your own back by telling me all his secrets!”
Friends or Lovers
I felt an instant rapport. It was like that with John, and I hoped it would be the same with Sally. Sally looked playfully at Mike. “Good idea. There are plenty to tell,” and then, as she looked back at me she added, “Are you interested in them?” Linguistically speaking, she had just speared me and I realised she was checking me out on Mike‟s behalf. My confidence was high, however, and I continued to joust. “Only the particularly wicked ones!” She laughed out loud and then turned to Mike. “Watch this one, Mike! She‟s got her eye on you.” Mike gave me a wry smile. Today I stood my ground much better and did not look away. “And very nice eyes they are too,” he complimented. Sally laughed and managed to divert attention from the colour that was flushing through my cheeks. “Well, I have to familiarise myself with this new SHARE experience!” blurted Sally. I laughed out loud and it caused both of them to look at me enquiringly. At that moment I felt just a touch of embarrassment. “What?” I asked. They both paused momentarily, and then Mike spoke. “Are you going to share it?” he said, with a chuckle. I caught his dark and sexual humour, but it went over Sally‟s head. I wondered how I could respond without being too explicit. “I‟m already familiar with the SHARE experience. Sally, you‟re in for a treat – particularly if they give you a product sample.”
Sally and Mike looked at each other in a puzzled way, and then Mike turned and winked at me out of Sally‟s line of sight. I actually felt butterflies. He was definitely flirting with me. To my relief Sally did not ask any further questions. “See you after work, then?” asked Sally. “I‟ll come by your office around 5-ish,” answered Mike. “You definitely in?” asked Sally, directing the question at me. I nodded and then Sally lent over and whispered into my ear. “Be careful! He‟ll charm the pants off you and before you know it you‟ll be deeply in love with him.” Her remark cleared up many loose ends. The story that Phil had uncovered, and that Dave had hinted at, suddenly made sense. Sally realised that she would never have a hold over Mike the way that she wanted to and had accepted the next best thing. I realised that she was talking from experience and while I was grateful for the advice, it also brought home to me that the issue was not whether he could charm the pants off me, but whether I could charm the pants off him.
Friends or Lovers
Back at my desk, I asked Phil to come into my office. As my mind went back over events, I realised that Dave had fuelled my concerns about Mike and this had directly motivated me to ask Phil to investigate Mike‟s private life. Given the way that events had turned out, I wondered why Dave had done this. “How are you feeling?” I asked. Phil looked quite relaxed so I felt it may be a good time to gather his thoughts on the outcome of the investigation. “Okay. Quite a turn of events, wasn‟t it?” “Yes – it certainly was. When did you think something wasn‟t right?” I asked. Phil sat back in his chair and became quite animated. He clearly appreciated his views being taken seriously and was keen to express them. “Quite a while ago. When I sat in the canteen with Mike‟s colleagues nothing seemed to fit. When Mike lost his temper with you in that meeting, I think my suspicions were confirmed.” I wondered how much I should tell Phil. I was going to need his help again and involving him would be risky. I decided to come clean. “I was not particularly clever over this,” I said. “You seemed pretty sharp to me,” he replied. I gave him a smile and shrugged my shoulders. “I‟d love to take the credit,” I said, “but that would be dishonest. Someone outside work – a good friend – suggested to me that maybe I was looking at things the wrong way.” “I see,” mused Phil.
“You were not entirely wrong when you asked if someone had influenced my thinking.” It was Phil‟s turn to smile at me. “Anyone I know?” he asked. “No. Someone outside work. We discussed the situation – hypothetically.” Even as I gave Phil this explanation, I felt a tinge of embarrassment that I did not admit how completely wrong I had got things. Why had I been so convinced that Elona was right and Mike wrong? Mike, if anything, had acted with remarkable restraint when I moved him to a new department. I took that as an indication of his guilt. It never crossed my mind for one second that he might actually be helping and protecting his accuser. In fact, he sacrificed his own interests to honour a promise to Elona. I had never met anybody willing to do that. It did not just add to my respect for him, it shamed me for the selfish way I conducted my life. In the pub, John said we only see what we are looking for. What an insight that is! I was only looking for things that confirmed Mike‟s guilt and Elona‟s innocence. As I considered these thoughts, I reflected on my own behaviour. How many times had I taken the lead? Often. How many times had I made a pass at a man? I had lost count. I was a master at coaxing someone into making a pass and I suddenly realised how it is almost impossible for two people to get into an intimate situation without both parties actively considering a relationship. In the past I had been hurt. My cavalier attitude toward men, indeed my hostility toward them, was rooted in the pain of past rejection. Afterwards, I had judged all men harshly. It was only
“When did you become so wise?” I asked. Finally. “I can only speak for myself. My errors were born out of a desire to protect myself. to avoid the pain of rejection and avenge those who I thought were responsible. It was strange to sit in my office exchanging these views with a person who just a few days earlier I would not have credited with sufficient experience or wisdom to handle a dispute. inconsistent.Friends or Lovers when I met John that I wanted to find a way out. I want to know the people in my life better. My loneliness was largely a choice and not an accident or misfortune.” he said with just a hint of sadness. fearful and difficult they are. I spoke. My fear of being intimate – my fear of sharing thoughts and feelings – began to fade when I met John. He taught me the value of being honest about my desires. In this moment. “If he had not helped me understand my own prejudices. “We all have our cross to bear. then it is a price worth paying. “You should take some credit.” I saw Phil‟s eyebrows quickly rise and fall and he tried to form some words. and wondered what else I might have missed. I may be young. He grew in . Can I forgive myself for not being perfect? Can I forgive myself for having fears? If shame and fear are the price of the warmth and desire I now feel. but I‟m old enough to have seen people dig themselves into an early grave through bitterness. However imperfect.” he said. I felt young next to him. I might have been responsible for a tremendous injustice. Phil waited patiently. The humility did me good.” I looked up at Phil.
” Phil realised not only the extent to which I was about to take him into my confidence. “And now I‟m not sure who to believe. “We need to find out whether there‟s a reason for Dave‟s animosity.” I responded. “Eyes and ears to the ground again. “Phil.” “I understand.Rory Ridley-Duff stature before my eyes.” This instant loyalty and acceptance of responsibility moved me so I felt it necessary to sound a note of caution. “we‟ve just poked around a number of people‟s private lives and screwed them up. I saw him momentarily shuffle uncomfortably.” I said.” I added. Not sure what else we can do because I‟ve no idea where to start. I‟ll see what I can find out. . “What‟s that?” I swallowed hard at the thought of what I was about to say. “Phil. This isn‟t a seek and destroy mission. just a way to understand what happened. “And now?” Phil asked. Perhaps I had as much to learn from him as he from me.” “What did you have in mind?” “D‟you remember that I asked you to find out about Mike – a kind of necessary evil?” “Yes. “There‟s one other thing.” “I did so because Dave led me to think Mike might become a problem.” he replied.” “How?” Phil asked.” “Okay.” I said pointedly. “Are you suggesting what I think?” queried Phil. “I need your help again. but also the import of what I was about to suggest.
what d‟you think?” I asked with urgency. but Phil put up his hand to indicate that I should stop talking. “…and that he‟s also one hell of a lucky guy. “that he is old enough to be your father…. The amount of goodwill that was generated between those four walls in a few minutes contributed to one of the best working partnerships I would ever have. “Come on. Do you think I‟m mad?” Phil‟s face broke into a broad smile.” Phil said with a momentary pause. He took my hand and shook it firmly.” “Oh!” I said. . “Friends?” I said. The result would be one of the most enduring and loving relationships I would ever have. It was a risk. much as John had taken a risk with me. “I think. I offered him my hand. somewhat deflated.” I was so chuffed that Phil said this that I was lost for words. As I look back over my life now I can trace the start of my friendship with Phil to this meeting. of course!” he replied.Friends or Lovers “I am starting to fancy Mike like crazy. Eventually. in a moment of blind instinct. “Yes.
He signed off the contract to rent the flat to Mike and called Legal to approve the pay settlement. Today was turning into a very good day indeed. “I know we see each other infrequently.” I responded. I had only met Harry formally. Until now. My detour took me near to Jo‟s office. “Quite a learning experience?” he asked. Harry accepted my comments with good grace. I did not want gossip or rumour to spread. I thanked him for his help and left his office feeling as though I had just grown wings and could fly. I returned to Legal to collect the contract for Mike. “You‟ve no idea.” I swallowed quite hard when I heard this. but I‟m assured by Dave that you‟ve made quite a mark here. “Don‟t be afraid to drop in from time to time.” I answered. I felt I should touch base with her over the comment Elona had made. the company‟s managing director. but also said that the proposed settlement would ward off the possibility of litigation and save the company money in the long run. Penny. As I walked into her office I heard a voice that was familiar. I guessed that Dave must be too busy to deal with it. so I took the contract to Harry. but he was inviting me to be more informal with him. I added that Mike was doing a good job establishing the new sales team and that any protracted dispute could have indirect costs that were unforeseeable. and explained the situation. The flattery that I felt was considerable and I duly made the promise.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 35 Later in the afternoon. . That‟s good to hear. I admitted my mistake.” “Thank you. A strange feeling came over me. I found that Dave had still not signed it.
John noticed me at the back of the room and his face beamed. As I looked at John.” he replied.Friends or Lovers Surely it could not be? But as I walked up to the door the voice was unmistakable. “You are Jo‟s new consultant.” I answered. My attitude to mixing business and personal relationships was momentarily compromised. our eyes connected just long enough for others to register that we were more than acquaintances. As I entered the room. I was not sure whether to admit to a close friendship in front of all the others. “…. presentation in full flow. “We are good friends. “Jo and I are good friends too…. Everybody turned around to look at me and for a moment I felt quite embarrassed. but there was little I could do.we‟ve worked on projects together and had some interesting results!” The way he said „interesting‟ made both Jo and him laugh out loud. “You know each other?” asked Jo. In my mind I wondered “how good?” but I resisted the temptation to ask. Tongues would probably wag. John was outlining his thoughts on male and female consumer behaviour. “Yes. I imagine she was asking herself the same question about me. but if I had denied it then it would surely have shown in my face. “Hello there!” he said with just a trace of a smile. continuing the charade. then?” John looked at Jo.” I could see Sally looking both pleased and surprised as she whispered something in the ear of a colleague. .
That‟s more or less it for today. Remember to bring in lots of magazines. smiled. “Watch out! He‟ll charm the pants off you before you know it!” I laughed out loud. buy some this week. I thought for a moment and remembered my commitment to Mike. Guys. “How are you fixed later?” asked John. then?” “Sure did!” and he immediately sensed the glint in my eye. this is a turn up. See you all next Wednesday. he shut down his laptop to signal the end of the meeting and walked over to greet me. We are going to learn where different products are advertised and you are going to do some serious research about men and women! And don‟t forget to ask yourself „what is the most sexist thing about the army?‟ We‟ll touch on that again next time.” With these words. but John did not understand. he put his hand on my shoulders and kissed me on the cheek. and gave a thumbs-up sign. “Things worked out. Mixed with surface irritation. Not only did it make me feel special. “Helping Sally and Mike move him into a company flat!” He turned to them both. Without batting an eyelid. isn‟t it?” “I guess it is. “Well. it would probably do my social standing amongst the staff no harm at all. you‟ll need to bring some in yourself – if you don‟t buy them normally. but his manner was so open and unaffected that he disarmed me. however.” I responded. was a deep pride that he acknowledged me so warmly.Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay everyone. For a second I wondered whether to chide him for creating the impression we were close. John leaned over and whispered into my ear. .
Damn it. but not so much that I would avoid your company.” he said in a low voice and drawing me towards the corner of the room. I am. Treat him well.” His eyes had that glorious warmth that I had come to adore. I felt myself giving up any aspirations I had to seduce John and I comforted myself by looking forward to more fantasies.” I said. Sure he wanted to be close to me.” he quipped. indeed his life. “I would normally not say such a thing. why do I do that! His remark caught me so off-guard that for a moment I was angry with him. must be an endless juggling act. “So what‟s going down with Mike. and his tone changed in an instant. Reluctantly. I could have deliberately misunderstood him and read more into his words than was there. “Problem is that he‟s far too devoted to his wife!” “Can a man be too devoted?” I joked. then?” I asked. I felt that his marriage. John smiled.Friends or Lovers “Someone else said the same thing earlier!” “Must be true then.” “Aren‟t you devoted to your wife?” I asked. but I was beginning to realise the limits of his commitment.” “I intend to. he‟s a very nice man. “You interested?” I blushed. but an instinct told me not to. with just a hint of playfulness. John took one look at me and twigged. He immediately sensed this. . Penny. “Sure if it leads him to deny himself the company of other interesting people. “Yes. “Penny. but Mike is not just a nice man.
“What advice was that?” he said. they‟re like a married couple. “Thanks for that. I did not care. I thought there was no harm seeing if she was competition.” I said warmly. John then grinned at me and I realised that he was playing. I wanted a man. Whether he was being deliberately obtuse or just plain dumb. He‟s got three already and does not want any more. Apart from that. I still felt no maternal twinge. but I can‟t see his feelings changing. . If they‟d agreed on that then perhaps he would have let her get close to him. “What about Sally?” I asked. They fight and bicker all the time! She‟s been in love with him for years.” I responded. more as a remark to myself than a question for John.Rory Ridley-Duff “I believe you will. but because of this he would never let anything start. I was looking forward to the evening. “For what?” he asked.” he said with more confidence than I felt. I looked at John again. Mike and Sally came over and John announced that he too was helping with the move. I returned to my office and decided to make one more trip to Dave‟s before packing up my things. “For that advice. Knowing that neither Mike nor I wanted children took away one potential conflict. not children.” “No more kids?” I said. Even as my own sister brought hers into the world. “The way he tells it to me is that she wants children – he does not.
I couldn‟t understand why he was behaving this way.” “You‟re mistaken. You said you would go and see them to sort this out.” “What?” Dave was acting so strangely that I felt like asking why. the contract!” I said “What contract?” answered Dave. “I said you‟d need my approval.” “What do you mean? You said you‟d e-mail Legal this morning. This was odd. What was he playing at? “Well. We didn‟t agree anything last night – you just told me what you wanted to do.Friends or Lovers Chapter 36 “There you are!” I said. “The flat. Dave was behaving quite strangely and I was confused. Penny. but I confined myself to the issue in hand. . My mood changed from one of confusion to concern.” I said again. His stubbornness was mirrored by the rigidity in his body. When I finished. I thought. Mike is moving in tonight. I went over the talk we had the night before in the pub and he listened without making comment. “Don‟t you remember?” I asked. “He‟s moving in tonight. He was standing next to his desk.” “Why‟s that?” answered Dave. “I just dropped by to say that I‟ve sorted it anyway.” he said. His fists were clenched as he spoke.” “Dave! What d‟you mean?” “I wanted to discuss it with Harry first. whatever Dave!” I said. “I‟ve been looking for you all day. but I didn‟t approve it. he finally said something. I didn‟t agree to it.
Without saying goodbye. On another occasion I would have challenged him.” Dave looked at me. “Don‟t do it again!” he said finally. I didn‟t „go around you‟. He was speaking to me like a child. I couldn‟t find you so I got Harry to sign. almost shouting. “I got someone else to sign it because I couldn‟t find you.” He looked defensive and angry. “How?” he said. . You haven‟t signed it yourself?” “No!” I answered. It was my turn to feel defensive. “So how d‟you sort it?” he asked with a tone bordering on aggression. He must have had a very bad day. have you?” “Yes. “I need to sign it.Rory Ridley-Duff “But we haven‟t sorted out a contract yet. I have.” “You went around me?” “No. but I wanted to retreat.” I said. clearly irritated. You haven‟t given him any keys. His behaviour was strange and my evening engagement so much more inviting. I wondered if something might have happened at the hospital. I left the room. “Okay. That was so out of character I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. And I‟ve sorted out the contract.
. he needed to take only a few easily transportable things. “This man here….” she lost her balance for a moment as the drink began to affect her. I initially felt out of place amongst such close friends. “To new beginnings!” I noticed myself glancing in Mike‟s direction repeatedly. hi-fi and a portable television. Sometimes he would look back and acknowledge my interest.” she started. As the flat was partly furnished.this man saved my life. We all dutifully raised our glasses and clinked them together. after we had consumed a pizza-takeaway and several bottles of wine. With four helpers and four cars. computer. but at other times he would remain engaged in conversation with John and Sally. By nine o‟clock. Sally raised her glass. “To new beginnings. bedding. She quickly regrouped and continued.” she announced. “…. Sally stood up and raised her glass. plus his clothes.Friends or Lovers Chapter 37 It took us less time than expected to move Mike‟s stuff. “Penny. “Yes he did! Yes he did! I don‟t mean he saved my life like he rescued me from death or anything. but they took care to include me in their conversation..” Mike‟s eyes looked downward as he shook his head and laughed. unloaded and had four glasses of champagne on the table before the 7pm. drove to the new flat. I mean that he rescued me in here.” She pointed to her heart with a finger and kept stabbing herself as she laughed. As the evening wore on I felt more and more relaxed. we quickly filled each of them up.
“Come on Sal. “If she wants to praise you. “How d‟ee do that?” I was feeling liberated so I let my feelings spill out. I stood up.Rory Ridley-Duff Mike‟s eyes looked everywhere but towards me and I sensed that he wished Sally would shut up. “This man. “You leave „er alone.” I said looking at him.” This outburst – and the mention of Dave‟s name – fired my curiosity but in my drunken state I was more interested in giving Sally some sisterly support. you!” I said boldly. “Did he? Well. Her boldness had made me bold and I wanted to say my piece as well. sit down love and rejoin the party. “Well firstly. I decided to mimic Sally so I feigned a stumble.” answered Mike.” “Sod Dave!” she said. “This man saved my career!” John smiled back and raised his glass to me in appreciation. As I spoke I looked deep into John‟s eyes.” Mike threw up a hand to discard her remark. let „er!” As Sally sat down. When he did that…. he helped me see something that I couldn‟t see. “…. “Don‟t you look around the place like that!” she barked at Mike. I wanted him in no doubt how special he was to me. I never.” Everybody laughed as I struggled to articulate what I felt.(hic)…. I wobbled momentarily as I raised my glass to John. “You‟re one of life‟s superheroes.he stopped me causing this man…” . “I don‟t think Dave would see it like that….” responded Sally. “He and his stinking brother can rot in hell for all I care.
I do.. “you don‟t have to say this.” “Penny!” John interrupted again. “Penny. I do have to say it and I want these two to listen. I did not understand what was happening to me. the other three giggled away.” I said and then continued. “…. but I knew that I had more to say so I gathered myself and started to find the words. braced himself for what he thought I was going to say. .this man did more than save my career. Really you don‟t. Before I knew it there were tears in my eyes and I was struggling to talk. “I was about to do one of the most stupid things I‟d ever done. John noticed and started to get up but I put my hand up to stop him.this man…. “….. “John.. and I would‟ve done so if my good friend John – who I will now love forever….” I laughed as I realised just how comfortable I suddenly felt.” as these words spilled out my hand instinctively moved to cover my mouth.this man….this man….” as the words formed in my head a single tear started to roll down one of my cheeks. “This man….” said John. “You don‟t have to.” As I stood there.Friends or Lovers I quickly glanced at Mike before continuing “…any more upset and pain.” Mike‟s embarrassed look left his face and was replaced by one of genuine surprise. but in my mind a whole world of understanding descended on me and I felt completely overwhelmed.” I looked at him and was overcome with such feelings of love and affection that I put my hand up again.” He sat down again and with a resigned look. “Ah shit! What the hell.
. “…you made me want to behave!” Sally and Mike creased up with laughter as I fired my double barrel. “You‟ve had this coming to you for a long time so don‟t spoil it. “You shut up too. “For the last 10 years. Good as gold at work. and John gave a short chuckle and relaxed in his chair. John looked less worried and began to take in what I was saying. I giggled at the comedy that was taking place.Rory Ridley-Duff “Shut up. and I‟ll tell you!” Sally creased up with laughter when I called Mike an arsehole. you…. I had them all where I wanted them now. honestly! Never know when to shut up…. “You men. I don‟t know how you did it but you made me take an interest in living again. John…” I fixed my eyes and aggressively pointed my finger at him.” John obviously felt that I was going to tell him again how much I loved him. “taught me how to feel again.” As I spoke. “Right! This man…. so this caught him by surprise. but a vixen at night who stalks and preys on vain and needy men to satisfy her own vanity and neediness.” and this time I paused for effect more than anything else. so I continued . me. I mean really living – not just have a job and exist. What I‟ve done while at conferences would fill the pages of a Jackie Collins novel! But you. I‟ve been a bad girl.arsehole!” I said with a smile. I‟m the sort of person your mother warned you about. you arsehole.you…. “Since when did you two get so close?” asked Mike.” Sally and Mike were transfixed as they witnessed this intimate exchange. You John.. I‟ve known a series of jerks and losers and none of them ever made me actually want to know them. you changed all that.
Then. it was nothing compared with the tidal wave that engulfed my being on hearing these words. despite her feelings. In that moment. and kept his eyes on me while he sat down in his chair. the vixen started to return and my gaze left John and fixed on Mike. Mike. It was the most exquisite feeling I had ever known. A few moments later I felt a tingle rush through my body and I had to shut my eyes and wait until it passed. This was living. I knew. A modest contented grin was etched onto his face and we both knew what was going to happen. Sally. As Mike‟s giggles subsided. He roared and clapped. grinned to himself contentedly. started to join in too. he got up.” I said conjuring up the sexiest look I could muster. Suddenly all the other sounds in the room seemed to go silent and every fibre and nerve-ending in my body was focussed on Mike‟s eyes and mouth. If I had thought that John had helped me to feel again. stubborn…and surprising person I‟ve ever met. on the other hand…. Sally‟s giggles subsided and it was John who creased up with laughter. “You make me want to be bad again!” When I said this. better than any orgasm.. “…are the most difficult. walking backward. “You make me want to be bad too!” he whispered in my ear. And one more thing…” I held up both hands to stop them interrupting. I knew. “You. And then he pulled away. Mike starred back at me and for a few seconds we were transfixed by each other. Was this love? Was this lust? In that moment I was touched by my own humanity. There was not a force in the world that was going to stop it. on the other hand. better than any drug.Friends or Lovers with the performance and grew in confidence. . I blew Mike a kiss then sat down. came over and gave me a hug.
I pointed at John and shouted at him. “he‟s been a bad boy a few times. . It was not only his family that he was protecting. and he glanced back. She and John were lovers. “You sly old dog.” I was laughing again. Suddenly his resistance made sense. “He‟s too damn loyal for his own good.” she started to say. He was not the paragon of virtue I had believed him to be. “As for this one. “How else do you think I got to know all the stuff that was going on in his life?” he quipped firing a glance at Mike. it was Sally. “Sally?” I quizzed. Then he was so loyal to Elona that he nearly destroyed his career.Rory Ridley-Duff It took me a few moments to notice that Sally had climbed onto John‟s knee and was kissing his forehead. “But I thought he told you?” I responded. Sally looked at me. “He was so loyal to this sweet woman that he nearly destroyed his marriage.” answered John. the thought ran through my mind that his loyalty was coming to an end. “John! How long has this been going on?” He looked at me half-embarrassed. haven‟t you my dear?” Now it was my turn to crease up with laughter. you! And there was me thinking you were a devoted and loyal husband!” “You are mixing me up with Mike!” he said. All my inhibitions regarding John vanished. “And there was I thinking that you are a family man.” I joked. Mike raised his glass to John in appreciation but when I glanced at Mike. She did not need to say anything.
” “Why did you tell her?” “I wanted to stay at Sally‟s while working on this contract. “Oh yes I have…..” I said to him. offered my hand to John. the situation. . put my hands around his buttocks and pulled him close.” I got up from my chair. “One day soon. gently parted. Our lips met. “This is the one and only chance you will ever get to kiss me because by midnight tonight I‟m going to be off the market. and asked Sally if I could borrow him for a minute.” I replied. or the knowledge that he was weak with women. and our tongues touched. That‟s why I had to go.” he said. You must have known how much I wanted you.” said Sally. She consented.Friends or Lovers “He is. “You told her. I pressed myself up against him.” I remembered the recent phone call. I was not going to waste this moment. his hands clutched my behind.” As I said these words. Whether it was the drink. “I want to talk about this. didn‟t you?” “Yes. Why did you resist me?” He looked at me and draped his arms around my neck. so I grabbed him and led him roughly across the living room and out of the flat. “Right you!” I said. As my hand slipped under his shirt and felt his strong body. We pulled each other close and snogged until we both sensed that enough was enough. and you called me right in the middle of it! She thought you were Sally and started wrecking the house. “He‟s frustratingly devoted to his wife and children. “You have no idea…. darling.
She was. But with you. Things changed some years back. it was different somehow. after my father. Penny Leyton.” I stroked his face. It was hard for her to leave her husband. He did not have to explain how he felt. very needy. When the kids were both at . With others. that‟s how you did it.” “How are things with your wife?” “They‟re okay. Just being with him had been enough for me too.” “What about Sally?” “If I‟d not slept with Sally. Mike was gone.” “She‟s certainly a looker. Penny.Rory Ridley-Duff “Sally is not the only woman that I‟ve given in to . “You have yourself a deal. even after I told you I wouldn‟t make a pass at you. You liked me from the moment we met. That was the price of continued friendship. John. “You look after her and I‟ll look after you. You made it possible for me to love again. I was there. that I‟ve not been afraid to love. not surprisingly. I was part of her recovery. they would lose interest. “I love you. You are the first man. This isn‟t the first time for either of us.” I said.” He laughed and held hands.” I said. That made you special. “Yes. You‟re the first woman I‟ve not had to sleep with to keep interested. “That‟s what I thank you for the most.” I nodded as I spoke. I‟m fond of her and she was in a state after Mike returned to his wife. Being with you was enough. I think. I‟d have lost her. if they thought I was not intending to sleep with them.” “And I love you too.there has been one other. If you „saved me‟. Very special. but it‟s not that.
That was a lovely thought and I warmed to it. “As long as you behave. You don‟t want to just drift between places like a visitor?” “With my work. There‟s no reason to divorce.” With this exchange of words we made our pact. “We both love the kids. I admire her more than when we first married but the exclusivity has been lost. we‟re able to get past blaming each other. She‟s a lovely woman and. sometimes weeks.” “Don‟t worry. I‟m just a temporary distraction for her. am I? I hope you aren‟t disappointed. We worked things through but a lot changed. I travel for days. We found that we both liked the idea of more freedom. Penny. You‟re secret is safe with me. my whole life‟s like that.” “But you need somewhere that‟s a home. There‟s no way to get it back so things have changed. I took the plunge. I was determined to hold onto his love. I admitted to her that I‟d thought of having an affair as well. Sally won‟t marry me. This is a long contract and it‟ll be lovely to spend time with Sally.Friends or Lovers school she started working again. I‟m travelling much more. The kids are older now. A nomadic life suits me and I have friends and nests in many places.” “D‟you think you‟ll have a house in one piece when you get home?” I quipped. “Not so white as white. Soon after. Then I met Sally through Mike and gave in again! My wife and I are still good friends. at a time. We hugged again but this time . thankfully. She holds a torch for Mike and likes having her own place. We both get lonely.” I said. When we are together we still have a fabulous time. lover. Maybe I can sleep in your nest occasionally?” I smiled. We drifted apart and she had an affair.
It would be our joke – just as it had been for Sally and Mike . I hope you will forgive me for shielding it from gossip that would corrupt it. . We both understood our attraction to each other. This diamond is mine. I retired to the other with Mike. only ones where they chose not to have sex.that acquaintances would misunderstand. But I didn‟t care either way – the most important thing was to protect the trust. I remembered John‟s words that there was no such thing as a non-sexual relationship between men and women. There was now such a deep intimacy. It was almost as if we were saying goodbye and hello at the same time. a bond as strong as I‟d ever known. As for the rest of the evening. and mine alone. It would be John and I that others would mistake now. Sally retired to one of the bedrooms with John. Our relationship was now like that. the most special moment of one of the most extraordinary days of my life.Rory Ridley-Duff it was devoid of sexual passion. a priceless treasure that sparkles. We knew that sex would be there if we ever both needed and wanted it at the same time. But when I thought about it. we had become lovers of a sort. The memory is like a precious stone. I thought of Sally and Mike and how everyone thought they had been lovers. Sleeping with Mike for the first time was. without question.
uk Subject: Sorry Pen.firstname.lastname@example.org@innovation. it would have been imprudent and insensitive. Sorry about yesterday. Can you I answered immediately. From: dave. Is there anything we need to follow up after the product launch? I was irritable and too harsh. there was an apology from Dave.co. As I settled down to my computer to retrieve my e-mails. worried and pleased at the passion I felt. and songs made sense and I realised people were not simply making it up.Friends or Lovers Chapter 38 I went into work the next day on a tremendous high. I was astonished and frightened. forgive me? Dave. Every few minutes I would pause to think of the future. Suddenly all those soppy romance novels. Even though I felt like telling him (and the whole world) what had happened the night before. To have waited nearly 33 years to discover this! Suddenly I understood why people could fall apart when their partner leaves. movies. If anybody tried to steal Mike from me.co. or how a husband or wife might feel driven to murder after discovering the other was having an affair. I was pleased that Dave apologised because that was how I expected him to be. . I felt capable of doing anything. Don’t worry about it. As I sensed these feelings. We all have off days.uk To: penny.
Phil looked up and my smile told him all he needed to know. okay?” “Okay. No answer. Phil did not usually make coffee unless I asked. “No need to do that today. Okay. “Don‟t tell me…. I‟m happy enough for both of us...” I responded. “Bloody hell.” “Hard to believe it myself. I want them to come from me. “Thank you.” .” “Sure thing. “Okay.” “Have to keep the boss happy!” he joked. That was fast work. boss!” he said sarcastically. Have you called her?” “Yes. “Don‟t you go blurting this around the place. No answer from her parents?” “No. She‟s over the 10-day mark and her manager is asking if you‟ll visit. give me the address and I‟ll go round.you….” Phil said.?” I just kept silent and smirked enough for him to work out that he was right. But I can‟t see this staying a secret for long. They‟ll probably be in the shop. That‟s very sweet of you.Rory Ridley-Duff There was a knock at the door and Phil was standing with a cup of coffee. right?” he asked. Penny.” Elona! I had forgotten about her in all the excitement. “I guess that‟s a good idea. “If any rumours start. This was a surprise. That‟s the third time in two weeks.” I said. Strange. “You don‟t have sugar.” “Hmm. What have you got for me?” “Elona‟s off sick again. Keep it under wraps for now.
bread. I finally assembled something that looked appetising.” I sat with Elona for fifteen minutes before stirring myself to go to the kitchen. “Elona! Elona. just crying and crying. We‟re worried sick. so her mother gently opened the door of her room and a crumpled figure lay in the bed asleep. You looked like you could do with something. All weekend.” “What‟re you doing here?” she asked. What do you want to do?” “Can I stay here a bit.” *** I drove to Elona‟s flat and rang the bell. love!” she shouted. Having played hide and seek with the butter. wake her up and chat. We‟re at our wits end.” There was silence.” I asked them to let me in. I took the liberty of putting together breakfast-in-bed. Her mother led me though the shop and up the stairs. “She‟s cried herself to sleep. “She‟s up there but we can‟t get her out of bed. my dear. “Elona?” I said gently as I rocked her shoulder. all last night. We‟ll be in the shop. There was no reply so I entered the shop and spoke to her mother. “Oh the pet!” said her mother.” “Feel free. maybe make her a drink. “You‟ve been busy!” “Yes. Don‟t know what to do. .Friends or Lovers “Yes. plates and bowls. She turned around and after a moment of confusion she saw the breakfast tray. of course. “there‟s someone here to see you….
” As I looked at her face.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m finding out how you are. Have you seen a doctor?” She gave a dismissive laugh. she started to nod and the tears began to flow as she tucked into her toast and cup of tea.” “Just part of the job. I won‟t kid you. We were worried. Without make-up she looked quite different.” I responded. Eventually. “He‟ll just say I‟m depressed and give me some drugs. It is hard watching someone sink into the depths of despair. And yet I did feel concern for her so I accepted her thanks. “No. I could see the tear stains around her eyes. “This is kind of you.” She sat up in bed and I gave her the tray. I‟m here because you‟ve been off work for 10 days this year and it is my job to be here. Don‟t make me into a saint. She looked at me sorrowfully and tried to talk but nothing coherent came out. but still had a girlish charm. Nobody at work could contact you.” Earlier in my career I might have believed that these visits were out the kindness of the company‟s heart but over the years I had come to realise that this was just another way to ensure that people did not take the piss and bunk off work. “You didn‟t have to come. This is kind of you. “Your mum and dad say you‟ve been upset. “Elona. I did not try to start a conversation and just sat next to her.” she commented.” “I‟m sure they‟ll do what‟s best. I don‟t want that. At the same time I do care what happens to you and if there‟s a way I can help then I will. We sat there while she finished her breakfast and then she thanked me again.” .
“I said I don’t want that. There are people at work who believe in you.Friends or Lovers At this comment Elona looked at me angrily. I‟m useless.” I said. In the back of my mind.” “Why?” I asked. It‟s all meaningless. Nobody likes me. I‟ve seen your file and you‟ve earned that position. Did you not hear me?” The sharpness of her tone took me aback and I realised that perhaps she was not quite the shrinking violet that I had previously thought. “I need you.” she said. so I started to clear the tray and returned to the kitchen. “I don‟t give a shit. Administrators are ten-a-penny. Even though she was slightly built I began to feel a bit afraid. however. As I walked out of the room a torrent of abuse showered my back as . completely fucking useless.” I said. I wondered if he might be able to help. a failure.” “Is this to do with Nathan?” At this remark she turned toward me and I could see the rage building in her face. “You don‟t need me.” It was my turn to show a bit of aggression. “Nothing. “Don‟t give me that crap. I heard you. Nobody likes me. “Yes. “I‟m nothing. I recalled the many conversations I‟d had with John. She looked like she was going to explode.” I listened with patience. At the moment. a waste of space. Nobody. I was on my own and had to do the best I could.” My efforts were not rewarded. “What then?” I asked. “I‟m useless. a zero.
Do you understand?” She made no movement so I repeated the question and she gave a nod of her head. her exboyfriend. I need to go now. When I returned from the kitchen I held out my hand and surprisingly she took it. Mike. She turned onto her side and wept again. There are a couple of people I want to talk to and then I‟ll be back. “Elona.Rory Ridley-Duff she screamed the place down about Nathan. I sat with her for another quarter of an hour. her parents. We had all ruined her life. me. motionless except for the occasional stroke of her face. Phil. . I tried to remain calm but it was difficult. work.
“….err…. “Hello…. Even though I was there on business. Next I went to see Mike.Friends or Lovers Chapter 39 For the rest of the day.” I said. but this has to come first …. My first port of call was John. I busied myself.I do. “If there was a cold shower somewhere. I felt myself get aroused as I moved closer toward him. As I walked through the door. he smiled at me as if it was any other day at work. looking down towards his crotch. “Any ideas?” he replied. “Better do something about that!” I said with a smile. “…. “Elona!” I said in response and suddenly he dropped the formality and whispered in my ear. “What can I do for you?” “Can I speak to you in private?” I asked.” I said. “Plenty. “Anything in particular you want to speak about?” he enquired.” He pulled his head away and I noticed there was a bulge in his trousers. I managed to calmly lead him into his own office.. “Okay. What is it?” he asked as soon as I closed the door. . but none that I can act on here. He nodded and even though I felt like dragging him into the nearest broom cupboard for a quickie.Penny!” he said slightly stiffly.and there was I hoping you wanted to shag me in the toilets…. He was in a meeting with Jo.” “We‟ve got to keep a lid on it at work. but he agreed to take a break at mid-day and chat to me in the canteen.” I whispered back. I‟d go and have one.
.Jeez! I‟ve only just got you to myself. “Let them!” he said.” “What d‟you have in mind?” I gave a half smile and got ready to ask him. if you want to get back with your wife….” “Does that mean you‟d be okay if she moved into the other room?” “It‟s going to look very odd. I don‟t hold what happened against her.” “Elona? What‟s the problem now?” “The same problem. I wanted to know how you felt about the idea.” I protested. Is it really that urgent?” “Well actually. She was upset and I was there so she took it out on me. My hand instinctively jumped to my mouth. He walked over and silenced me with a kiss.” I proffered. “You‟re not thinking…. I visited her and she‟s in a right state. I could hardly believe what I‟d said and started to apologise profusely. I‟ll talk to John later. He looked surprised at my remark.Rory Ridley-Duff “Elona needs somewhere to stay. I can‟t act without your consent. “Of course. I allowed him to kiss me briefly but stopped him when I felt my passion rising. . but I think she needs some space to herself. It‟s technically your place. We were always friends before and I‟m sure we will be again. but he anticipated me.” “Elona and I have always got on well. I‟m not sure it‟d be a good idea anyway. Penny?” he said. “Are you checking me out?” he queried. “Stop! People will see.
I played it cool by asking “what for?” I talked to John about my idea and he concurred that a move to the flat might be helpful to Elona. one of the reps came up and congratulated me. “Not a word passed my lips!” said Phil as I brought him a cup of tea. just a little kiss in his office. “Oh well! It‟s out now. I turned to leave the room.I‟ll tell her that she can move in next weekend if she wants. “What did you do – send out a company wide e-mail?” “No. . I lent over and spoke quietly into his ear “Because this week I‟m going to fuck your brains out every night!” And with that remark. One of his staff had noticed our kiss and by lunchtime a rumour was making its way around the offices. “Already?” I asked. “I‟m all yours. When I got back to the office.” he said with a big grin. Elona was up and dressed. the rumour about myself and Mike had spread to Phil. As I sat with John in the canteen.” Phil looked at me warmly. “May as well have sent out an e-mail!” he retorted with a chuckle. She took the news of the flat offer in her stride and did not seem to show any great enthusiasm.” “Why next weekend?” he asked. She promised to think about it and let me know the next day. When I returned in the afternoon.” I replied.Friends or Lovers “I‟ll tell her…. I told her again that there were people at work who cared.
“What‟s up. Where on earth had this come from? As I tried to find answers to impossible questions.30pm Phil found me slumped at my desk. I just wanted to say that the thought of you testing the SHARE experience “personally” is definitely something to dream about at night!! I look forward to a blow-by-blow description of your experiences. By 4. crashing and spinning out of control. Beads of sweat formed over my body and face. Subject: Sorry Pen.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m happy for you. Dave x I sat for 30 minutes while thoughts burned my mind. “Oh fuck!” . my heart sank slowly into the quicksand of despair. Penny?” I swivelled my screen around so he could read the e-mail. I decided to have one last trawl through my emails in case Dave had replied. *** At my desk. With every passing minute. and the clarity I had brought to work evaporated as my mind felt like it was turning to treacle.” he said. just two words sprang forth from his lips. After a few moments. the high spirits that had kept me aloft all day dissolved.
My right hand rested on his knee and every few moments I would caress it and sometimes rub the inside of his knee. Sometimes. “Just in case we finish the first one. He seemed to take it in his stride and did not press me.Friends or Lovers Chapter 40 Instead of going home. “Just in case what?” I asked.” he answered. sat with me. I returned to Mike‟s flat. He sat at one end of the sofa and I put my head on his lap. but after receiving Dave‟s e-mail. stroking me. watched the television and held my hand. Could I talk to him? What if I scared him off by mentioning it? What if he asked questions? Did I really want to explain that I‟d told Dave about testing out the SHARE experience? Whichever way my mind went. Now I had a personal problem it dawned on me that I hardly knew him. my mind was preoccupied. He made me a cup of coffee. I could see a potential for disaster.I . I think he expected me to jump him as I walked through the door. Even though we were not speaking. His right hand lay on the side of my face. He joked that the second was “just in case”. his left hand would stroke the back of mine and I would move my head and nestle it even more deeply in his lap. I could tell he was nervous too but he poured us both a glass of wine and we passed the time watching Channel Four News. but the promise to explore the love-making potential of the flat was a distant thought. Intermittently. we communicated a lot. he would slide his fingers between mine and hold my hand more tightly . He went out for bottle of wine and came back with two. To others we looked like a regular couple but inside I was full of questions about how far I could trust him. I gave him a hug.
There‟s a man standing with a woman and she‟s talking about her husband who has just died. “The little things. “Plenty of time for that!” It was a small remark.the little things. “When I insulted you!” I sat up and looked at him. don‟t they?” “I hope so. Penny?” he asked. “Well I was just lying here and our hands are touching. As I lay there. but it gave me confidence that he looked upon me as more than a fling. there‟s nothing bigger is there?‟ Don‟t you think that‟s a great line?” He smiled and stroked my head again. “What do you mean?” . “Not yet. I was not really watching it so I started to ask Mike questions. “Know what?” he replied. and these little things mean a lot.” he said. There‟s nothing bigger is there?” “Little what?” he answered. I‟m stroking you. “Know how you felt about me?” I answered. “Where‟s this coming from. “Are you going to tell me about your wife?” I asked.” he said. a line from a film entered my head.Rory Ridley-Duff would respond by tightening my grip to catch and squeeze his fingers. you are stroking me. “I remember this film. She says to him „I miss the little things‟ and the man replies „ah!…. I sipped the wine as the TV programme played in the background. “When did you know?” I asked.
when you held my gaze and would not look away. he‟d asked me the same question.” I answered. “Won‟t forget that in a hurry!” “Well there I was shouting at you. I did. Secondly. I can‟t remember ever standing up to my wife like that. And there I was challenging you on whether you had ever made a pass at a man. That‟s my trick and you stole it from me! You made me go funny inside and I couldn‟t hide from myself that you excited me. “I was thinking how nice it would be if you made a pass at me.Friends or Lovers “When we were arguing and I called you a „stupid woman‟ and I asked you if you‟d ever made a pass at a man.” “Go on. Before I had time to think. “When did you know?” he asked. maybe. but at home I‟ve always been quite passive. I‟d always pegged you as old fashioned and that completely took me back. Firstly. I thought and went back over my mind. . “Well. so the thought came into my head. Do you remember that?” “Yes. then looking at you intently thinking that a woman as confident and smart as you would surely have made a pass at a man.” I was not sure how to react.” I laughed out loud because at that moment I would have fed him to the sharks. yes.” I encouraged. At work.” “Do you remember when we first met?” he asked. I think there were two moments. I remember being really angry. “You thought of that while we were arguing?” “Well. when you asked why women let men think they rule the world.
” he said.” I directed. “He‟d say that I censored myself because I was afraid of you. “I annoyed you. after a moment. “Dave and I were chatting and I was about to tell him a sexual joke. “I was thinking what John would say. “I was with Dave.” Mike laughed. but Harry insisted on you.” “My God! I remember now. “Yes. He said to be careful because of you.” “Is that true?” It was Mike‟s turn to reflect. I started the joke then stopped when I saw you walking toward us. I thought back. “He didn‟t want you in the company. I pegged you as a paternalistic antifeminist old git.” I interjected. “What about him?” I asked.Rory Ridley-Duff I tried to recollect but I couldn‟t. Anyway.” This came as a surprise. Yes. He‟d been bitching about Harry insisting on your appointment. He preferred the other candidate.” he replied.” I commanded. didn‟t I?” commented Mike. “John. “Why would you be afraid of me when you don‟t even know me?” . “Why are you laughing?” I demanded. He told me to watch out for you because you were a „ball breaker‟” “He said that!” I exclaimed.” he replied. “Yes. you did. “Go on. “Tell me. Dave had successfully hidden this from me for nine months.
I‟m sexist because I‟m excluding you.” “What do you mean?” I queried “If I tell the joke.” I said.” “That‟s the problem. “Tell me the joke. If he had been John.” I said sinking into his lap. I‟m sexist because I turn women into sex objects.” “Was it a good joke?” I said trying to lighten the mood. “What‟s the problem?” I asked. His mouth met mine and we got properly reacquainted. “I didn‟t want your first impression of me to be a bad one. . “No. Without any further words he pulled my face closer. While he had charm and sex appeal.” he said. he did not routinely crack jokes or flirt when he was alone with me.” “Well. a witty remark would have been forthcoming as he popped the cork. “Because you didn’t tell me the joke. One of John‟s best. damned if you don‟t. If I don‟t tell the joke.” I thought back to my e-mail exchanges with John. you are!” I responded.” “Are you serious?” Mike frowned. but Mike was quieter and calmer. “I don‟t know any male manager today who‟s not afraid of sexual accusations. It was strangely reassuring. “Why?” he asked. it was. We soon finished the first bottle of wine and opened the second. “I can imagine. I‟m afraid.” he replied.” I replied. “It was brilliant. “Damned if you do. “My God.Friends or Lovers Mike looked me in the eye.
“Yeah! He behaves great to his favourites or women he fancies. Mike felt no need to press me to explain myself.” he continued.” I said. “Too repressed?” “Yeah.” I said. didn‟t I?” I quipped.” he answered.” I remarked. yes.” I recalled how Dave had been suspicious of Mike. “We joined IC at roughly the same time.” he answered seductively as his hand moved under my blouse.” “Too repressed for his own good. Nice. Mike obliged but kept talking at the same time. “You‟re concerned?” he asked. His body was relaxed and I felt comfortable opening up to him. around my waist and started to caress the small of my back. I was his boss back then. “Well. “I‟ve always liked him. He‟s never done that before. Comes across as such a „nice guy‟ but underneath beats a heart of appalling meanness. Clearly the feelings were reciprocated. “And?” “That‟s it.” “Did he really?” said Mike with a sarcastic knowing laugh. “He asked me to find out about you.” I blurted out. I am. “Did pretty well. “Dave sent me an e-mail that was sexually suggestive. Do that some more. Get on the wrong side of him and you‟ll discover just what a bastard he can be. “Hmmm.” I said.” he said with considerable force.Rory Ridley-Duff “I had a shock today.” . “Dave and I go back a long way. “Very well indeed. not absolutely sure how I felt about him now.
“You‟re teasing me!” I answered. “Only half the time…” he answered. Where did he get these insights from.” he replied. .” he asserted. I began to realise that his wit was considerably drier than John‟s. Whenever there is shit in the workplace. You know how dim women can be. “Oh yes. “Are you going to ask how?” he continued.Friends or Lovers “What happened?” I asked. I wondered. “Get on with your story. “Sally used to be related to Dave. “We fell out over Sally. Mike.” “Doesn‟t work!” he suddenly said. “You like being teased. “Oh. How?” “She was Dave‟s sister-in-law. Please explain it for me. there is usually a man and woman involved!” “Cynic!” I joked.” I said with mock impatience.” he said. smiling or wavering for an instant. as if waiting for me to ask a question. “What doesn‟t work?” “The „can you explain it to me coz I‟m a stupid woman‟ routine.” He paused. “What about the other half?” “Optimist!” he said without missing a beat. “Okay. “Sally?” I responded with some surprise.” I suddenly pretended to be stupid. “What?” “Doesn‟t work!” he said again.
“You like it. “Well. “You are going to like me a lot!” He relaxed a bit and laughed. “What?” I asked. “Just get on with the bloody story. will you?” I said briskly. There was just a hint of smile on his face. He might not make me laugh as much as John. gathering words together in my head. It was beginning to dawn on me that Mike liked to play things straight. “Oh. “Say again?” I asked.Rory Ridley-Duff He did not play the way that John played so I tried another approach. I like strong direct women. With only a moment‟s hesitation.” I said.. “Sally used to…. You‟ve had this story from John so I‟m not sure what else to tell you. Dave‟s brother used to beat her.” he replied. he continued and finished the story. I could feel my confidence and ardour beginning to build. do you?” I queried.” “It‟s okay – I was being rhetorical!” I said. “That works!” he said with a laugh. He gave a gesture to indicate that he did not understand.” he answered. “So now you know why he and I are not best buddies. “You are so sexy when you raise your voice. but his assertive and commanding manner turned me on. . yes. “What are you smiling for?” I asked.” I sat up straight and suddenly the pieces dropped into place. my lad. “Sally used to be married to Dave‟s brother.” Mike concluded.
. “You don‟t need me to answer that. “You and I are at loggerheads.” “You may not like it. What would Dave do if he found that I was sleeping with Mike? “Maybe we should deny our relationship?” I suggested. The words came out so fast I had no time to retract them. “He thinks….” “Did you?” I asked. “He thinks that you….and Sally. “I want to tell you more. He had helped Sally. that Dave had invited me out after the CIPD event in Birmingham and that we would be staying in the hotel together.” I said.” Mike replied.. I don‟t. So what? Then the final piece of the puzzle clicked into place and I instinctively covered my mouth in shock. No wonder Dave had a grudge against Mike! Suddenly my need to tell Mike about Dave‟s e-mail became more urgent.Friends or Lovers I still did not get it completely.” I started. he thinks I fucked Sally and broke up his brother‟s marriage. I thought he was getting ready to make a move on me. my fondness for him. I began to wonder whether I had been completely blind.” I said. I told Mike of Dave‟s wife. If Mike and Dave had fallen out once before.” “Yes. You leave your wife after a big row . “Just try to look at this from his perspective. there could be more unpleasantness. And out it all came. “He has to know sometime.” he replied.” he responded. “Still want to hear. “Okay. “No. Whatever Dave felt when he recruited me. her illness.” I insisted. When I told him the details of the recent e-mail exchanges.” I added.
I don‟t want to take the risk. As I backed up against the wall. The next day Elona decided she wanted to move in and with only a few days of freedom. I suddenly felt quite clever. we used my flat as a new base.” “You? Polite?” he teased again.” Mike pointed out. again?” asked Mike. I find you a company flat to move into. “I didn‟t mean it like that. . “He must have taken your message as encouragement…. then my giggles gave way to a low pitched moaning as I suddenly felt his hand between my legs and his hot breath on my neck. Mike!” Having felt a bit dim a moment before. How does that look to you? Dave behaved strangely at the pub the other night. Within a month neither of us had any secrets left to tell. I repeated the recent e-mail exchanges with Dave. For the next 10 minutes he chased me all over the flat until he managed to corner me in the bathroom. he gave me another shove and I realised he wanted to play. The following morning he didn‟t want to sign the contract for this flat. That was the first of many times we made love there. So I shoved him off the sofa. Never in my life had I enjoyed such passion and intimacy with a man. Later he and I had our first angry words. When I did not respond. got up and ran away.Rory Ridley-Duff with me in the workplace. “What did he say. his strong frame moved towards me and my screams gave way to giggles. Mike and I made the most of our freedom. After she moved in. I was just being polite after the hasty exit the night before. I gave him a playful shove and he shoved me back with a deadpan face. Then it comes out that we are sleeping together.
not even John and Sally. Many joint dreams were born. and our love-making was varied and passionate. he learnt of mine.Friends or Lovers Despite the generation gap. If our first night together was the most special moment of my life. we started to talk extensively about politics (office and otherwise). When. Carole phoned me daily after Mike and I had appeared for lunch at my parents. for all the future plans we mapped out. But publicly nobody. for all the commitments we made. Even as they expressed surprise. The threads of our lives intertwined and bonds were woven into a fabric so strong that I could not imagine them ever breaking. I turned up at my parent‟s house for Sunday lunch with Mike in tow. I learnt of his dreams and fantasies. he might file for divorce so we could marry. At the end of each . they accepted and welcomed this development and all quietly congratulated me. John and Sally occasionally dropped in and we would all go out for a meal. our plans firm and concrete. towards the end of June. our first month felt like a honeymoon that would never end. but we were never a lovely-dovey couple. Our conversations were realistic and grounded. But throughout all this. we announced that he would be moving into my flat. For sure our relationship took off at quite a pace. Carole and my parents thought I had disappeared off the face of the earth. I talked to her of the things we had done together. To call this a “whirlwind romance” does not do it justice. I listened to his experiences as a father. he listened to my memories of childhood. the words “I love you” never passed our lips. but never of our future aspirations. I savoured every second. knew of our plans. Privately Mike and I had discussed that if we enjoyed living together. for all the intense times we spent together.
He. Like true professionals. We talked about her forthcoming wedding and the preparations.Rory Ridley-Duff phone call she would say “I‟m really happy for you” and gradually I began to see what it was that bound she and Chris together. If people knew. To my surprise. I apologised for not getting more involved but she assured me that mum was on top of everything. All I needed to do was to turn up. make everybody laugh and be beautiful. in turn. speech in hand. The only person I updated from time to time was Phil. told me about people that he fancied. Dave. I broke the news to her that I would have to pass up the opportunity of shagging the best man. we remained the very souls of discretion. fortunately. . did not learn of our relationship and Mike and I managed to keep our contact low-key and light-hearted. the rumours at work died quickly and did not spread further. there was a conspiracy of silence.
. also met Sam and Elaine regularly to develop marketing strategies. I was conscious that my probationary period was coming to an end and Dave would decide my future. After much drinking we playfully acted out the battle-axe and gentle man confronting each other angrily while an unspoken mutual passion was developing. but there was sufficient common ground to compare perspectives. So far as I could tell. and many side-stories and alternative plot lines were elaborated. of course. Mike. I met Sam and Elaine again (with Dave) to organise the recruitment of more support staff. as sales manager for the domestic market. our personal relationship had cooled. confirmation was a formality but this new situation meant that I could no longer take my appointment for granted.Friends or Lovers Chapter 41 The prospect of going to the CIPD event with Dave was something that I came to dread. Her background in sociology and international business was different to mine. Even if he had said it as a joke. we developed too. I felt that raising it with him was too risky. Neither of us spoke about the situation with his wife or his admission that he fantasised about me. In the back of my mind I wondered whether it was wise to say nothing. John knew Elaine from academic conferences so all six of us started going out weekly for meals. As a group. Following the launch of the SHARE experience. I would join them for drinks and found that I particularly enjoyed Elaine‟s company. While we still worked together well on a professional level. We exaggerated. The story of how Mike and I got together became something of a party piece.
they were beginning to achieve security both for themselves and the company. but as I‟m going with Dave I don‟t want to send out the wrong signals. “I guess. After obtaining an MBA she took up a senior management post at the engineering company where Sam had been working.” “Get something you can wear for other occasions as well!” said Elaine. and the company‟s ignorance of its potential. She picked me up about 10am and we made our way up the motorway. We would take lunch together and have girly chats.” “Is there such a thing?” she asked. On the day of the CIPD conference. that spurred their close relationship. “So what you going to get?” Elaine asked. They married secretly and this triggered a hostile reaction from some board members. She had also been a human resources manager before advancing her education. I love sexy outfits. For the last 5 years they had developed their product line. It was her interest in his engineering. “Not sure. They decided to establish a new company for Sam to continue working on his ideas. It had been a struggle but the relationship with IC was a breakthrough. I arranged to go with her to Birmingham beforehand to buy an evening dress.Rory Ridley-Duff Elaine became the first person to learn of my private aspiration to marry Mike. I look good in tight black dresses but perhaps that would be too risqué. After all their hard work. This enabled them to expand their market and leverage in considerable financial investment. Their close working relationship evolved into a personal one. .
A matching necklace and earrings completed the vision. elegant with a cut that was suggestive without being too daring. “Men use their power when it suits them. “Just ask Erin Brockovich. . irresponsible and exuded a freedom than I‟d never witnessed at close quarters.” she answered. coffee and chocolate cake.” I quipped. great boobs and a sharp brain. She reminded me of John. It hung at the knee and had a waist that was gathered with a belt that was covered in ethnic beads.” I quipped. surely. lunch. We shouldn‟t be embarrassed about using ours. Her Porsche 911 accelerated quickly and my body pressed back into the seat. she took her foot off the gas and cruised into Birmingham at 90mph. we retired for coffee and cake. After a few seconds. but I don‟t have millions stashed away to bring in the punters. she gave out a loud “Yee-haw!” and put her foot down on the accelerator as if she was about to drive off the cliff in Thelma & Louise. I could hardly wear something like that to work!” She glanced at me and we laughed at the thought. “Chocolate delight! They weren‟t kidding were they?” I said as I tucked away another slice and sipped on my café latte.” “You better believe it!” And with our sights set on the shops. “Some of them do. “If only men tasted as good!” said Elaine.Friends or Lovers “Depends.” “Killer combination. flushed with shock and excitement. “Don‟t know about you love. She was irrepressible. I nodded and she carried on. I found a lovely black dress.” she replied. “You‟ll have to introduce me. But I do have a lovely pair of legs. After shopping.
Rory Ridley-Duff I could see why they had become friends and I secretly wondered if perhaps she was the „other woman‟ to whom he had once „given in‟. Nagging at the back of my mind was the possibility that he might be harbouring feelings for me. we adjourned and were asked to come back at around 7. and closing comments. I talked more about my thoughts and feelings to Mike. then sat in front of the mirror applying my face. Of particular concern were provisions regarding temporary and part-time staff. but many organisations still did not grasp the full impact. Others made notes and gave feedback on the legality (or otherwise) of their intended actions. The CIPD event went off well. Elaine and John than to everyone else in the whole of my life.30pm. I found an emotional security that reminded me of my early childhood. . After a question and answer panel. My new circle of friends gradually brought me out of my shell. Their employment rights had been strengthened. I showered. Dave and I checked into the hotel and agreed to meet in the bar about 6. My sense of well-being grew. As I retired to my room I began to realise that for the first time I found myself struggling to find things to say to him. then pairs of people acted out one-to-one meetings between an employee and personnel officer. We said our farewells and departed to attend to our respective tasks. pampered myself with goodies from my overnight bag.30pm for the dinner. After an opening key speech. Various scenarios were introduced on video. I sat with Dave during the keynote speech but we were separated for the group sessions. we were split into workgroups for role-play exercises that covered recent legislative changes.
” he said looking at me. “Here she is!” he said. “That was a bit „familiar‟. I‟ll have a rum and black.Friends or Lovers At 6. He turned to face me again. “Thanks. He presented the till slip for Dave to sign. “Barman?” I said boldly.” said the barman as he delivered the drink.” he responded. Penny! I‟m not the queen. wasn‟t it? Do you know him?” “No. I signed it and gave it back to him.” “Thank you. I expected more than this. Perhaps I should have complimented him too but I didn‟t. Dave was chatting and laughing with the barman. Given the occasion. “She‟s stable. “I don‟t suppose it matters who signs it. Dave looked slightly flustered. ma‟am!” he said with appropriate emphasis. The barman looked surprised but took the hint and gave me the bill. Dave.” . and the prospect of spending the whole evening together. I was just being polite. I felt I should broach the subject of his wife. “Thank you. He smiled gently at me but it only increased my nervousness.” He duly ordered and the barman said he would bring it to our table. “You can call me. “How are things at home?” I asked. “What would you like?” asked Dave. “Here you are ma‟am.30 I made my way down to the bar. but nothing was forthcoming. Penny!” he said and we both smiled. “Doesn‟t she look fabulous?” A compliment is almost obligatory when a woman presents herself in a new frock so I acknowledged and dismissed the remark.
” I said. Penny. . being polite to the hotel staff. But please don‟t tell me how to behave towards people when I‟m not at work.” I answered. Penny?” “Up yours!” I said. I decided that it would be stupid not to. holding my drink aloft. however. Penny.” I started.” he said. “Oh lighten up.” “And I was doing it splendidly. I decided to see if table places had been set. I began to panic. “Yes. “Dave. which made me all the more cantankerous. “You shouldn‟t be too familiar with bar staff. First.” I said dismissively. “Dave?” I said.” “You were. A bubble of rage formed in the pit of my stomach but I managed to contain it.” he said defensively.” “You are at work. We sat in silence for a few minutes. “I don‟t want to fall out with you.” he said sternly. “Just don‟t. immediately recalling that Dave was laughing with the barman when I entered. Dave. I was none the wiser whether I should apologise or not. but he managed to calm me down. You‟re representing the company here. “You were flirting with the barman. At the end of the conversation.Rory Ridley-Duff I wondered if we were in for a bad tempered night. “Don‟t use that tone with me. Penny. At first he laughed. however. I felt so awkward that I got up and went back to my room. That was a really dumb thing to do with my appraisal only a few weeks away so I phoned Mike on my mobile.
no. “Glad to help. Waiters and waitresses plied us at regular intervals with wine and aided the socialisation over dinner. It had been turned into a charity event so the 50 participants were swelled with another 200 people for the dinner. Using her mobile she called reception and about ten minutes later a man came through with an amended seating plan. “Not at the moment.” “Forget it. He turned around and acknowledged me. I take it?” she asked. but there was no smile. The food was well presented but not especially delicious. but none was forthcoming. “I‟m sorry for earlier. The service and company. Husbands and wives joined the delegates and professional bodies had been invited for the evening speakers and networking opportunities.Friends or Lovers In the dining room I met Jules. This time I went back to the private bar without making a show of my feelings. “Thank you. That was rude of me. “I really appreciate this. My table included a CEO and his . I returned to the main bar. the conference manager.” I answered. I waited for him to give me an apology in return.” she said with a warm smile. I thanked Jules then went to the private bar to order another rum and black. who showed me to a private bar and the seating plan for the evening. “Dave?” I asked. With the prospect of a stressful evening receding. The sea change in our relationship worried me.” “Not too keen on your boss.” he said. however.” I said. were excellent. I had been allocated a place next to Dave so I asked Jules if I could sit elsewhere.
wife, a female entrepreneur and her husband, and three other human resource professionals (two men and a woman). With four men and women around the table, the conversation was mixed and lively. The woman entrepreneur started to talk about one of the speakers. She heard him once in Scotland. Later they contracted him to assist in the investigation of a sexual harassment case. She described him as humorous and charming, but with a mind and attitude so sharp that you could cut yourself on it. She found him difficult to work with but praised the way he helped staff reconcile their differences. Desserts came and went, coffees were served, and the chatter was eventually interrupted by a clink of glasses as the Chair introduced the fundraiser. It was a typical appeal to emotional sympathies. I felt sickened by the scene of an earnest charity worker begging for crumbs at the tables of the rich. I wrote a cheque for £30 – unsure what would be considered an appropriate amount – but as I was getting dinner for free I contributed the cost of the meal to the charity. Even as I did it, I felt no virtue. There must be better ways to help the less fortunate than this. The first speaker was reasonable. The subject matter was more in Dave‟s line, but I did see the pros and cons of entrepreneurial behaviour amongst employees. While she talked about side-stepping rules and procedures, the CEO at my table joked that if anybody tried that in his place, they‟d be out. Controls were there for a reason, he said, and had to be followed. I wondered whether he had ever been an accountant. Our table was a long way from the platform. When the second speaker stood up, I did not recognise him but there was a touch
Friends or Lovers
of familiarity in his voice. I thought he must be a celebrity off the TV but annoyingly one of my dinner companions kept distracting me. The speaker continued. “Thank you. Thank you very much,” he said. “I hardly recognise myself in those kind words.” I asked my dinner companion if we could continue our conversation later because I was particularly keen to hear this speaker. He looked offended, but at last I was able to focus on the speaker‟s words. “I‟ve been asked to talk about a subject that most of us think about daily, some of us talk about regularly, but which is rarely talked about publicly. It is a subject hardly ever discussed in business books. In my view, it exerts more influence over the workplace than any other single thing and is the bedrock of social organisation both at home and at work. I‟m talking, of course, about sexual attraction and intimacy. Now if you think I‟ve come here to talk about bonking in the broom cupboard……” With most of the audience tipsy, the speaker expected a few giggles and paused. A few people obliged. Everyone else stopped chatting and started to listen. “…..or kissing in the canteen, then you are going to be disappointed. If you‟ve come here to understand how private lives impact on work then you are in the right place.” I noticed that more and more people were sitting up and taking notice. On the top table was a jug of water. The speaker paused for a moment and poured himself a glass. “Always good when they give you a large jug of gin to drink – always makes the talk more interesting,” he quipped. “If you see them bringing a second jug, then the chances of me telling
you a story about bonking in the broom cupboard rises considerably!” A slightly larger group laughed at this remark, but one of my dinner companions just raised their eyebrows and gave a disapproving look. “Talking of stories,” he continued, “I have a couple for you that I hope will prompt interesting discussion in the bars.” Everybody in the room was now paying attention. He came across as an above average public speaker. “Not so long ago I was sitting in an airport lounge and an attractive woman called Patsy glanced in my direction. When they called the flight, Patsy joined the queue and edged her way in front of me.” I laughed out loud as I recalled the way John and I had met. A few people on adjacent tables turned their heads to look at me. I thought it was uncanny the speaker had such a similar experience. “Then Patsy did something that most people here will probably think is a bit bizarre, but which – to me – was not bizarre at all. She bent down to tie her shoelace……” My laughter subsided and I began to feel slightly uncomfortable. “Nothing strange in that, you might think? Well, it would not have been strange except for one small detail. Patsy was wearing shoes that had no shoelaces……” A ripple of laughter went around the room and the speaker paused to let the import of the joke linger. As for me, my heart was pounding as I realised that the speaker was John and that he was talking about our first meeting.
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“What is significant about this story is that Patsy‟s willingness to give me a bird‟s eye view of her butt was one of several reasons I decided to sit next to her. Very bold behaviour, I felt, and not something I was likely to come across every day. We fell into conversation, swapped e-mail addresses and later met for lunch. Now we take walks together. She became a close friend and is now also a professional colleague.” He paused again. “She‟s also dating one of my best friends!” he said loudly with gusto. His comic timing was excellent and there was a further smattering of laughter. “Now what‟s the relevance? Sexual attraction is often the reason we choose to take an interest in someone. As we work out the tensions many long and durable friendships are formed. I was lucky. Patsy liked and welcomed my response, but not immediately and not without a lot of soul searching about my intentions towards her. If she had taken offence, she might have withdrawn, confronted me, argued with me, perhaps even accused me of sexually harassing her.” “We are still, even in this modern age, overwhelmingly social beings. Yes, we come to dinners like this to talk about how to make more - or lose less - money. We come for the networking opportunities, the social opening that will start a new business venture. But I want to suggest to you that there is something more than that, something deeper, more important.” He paused and took a sip of his water before continuing. “Once, a business mentor of mine said to me that money was not the most important thing to him. To him, the money was a means and not an end. The money enabled him to feed his
family, to open doors to social networks he wanted to belong to, to attract and be in the company of many beautiful women. In short, he was in business to have fun. „If you‟re not having fun‟ he would say, „sell the business‟. To him, business was entertainment.” “So what‟s the key thing here?” asked John. “For him, being in business meant an emotionally fulfilling life. He did it for the buzz. For the challenge. For the company. And yes, let‟s admit it, for the sex. He was, in a way, one of the business world‟s rock stars, although he liked to avoid the press.” “Of course, there are many out there….and perhaps even in here…who will take a dim view of this. Business is about profitmaximising, about efficiency, about effectiveness and all those terms that are popular in business schools and board rooms. There are a few strange people who actually get off on this. Picture them in your mind: Laddie Lawyer…… Amy Accountant…… Adam Auditor.” There was substantial laughter as he recounted these names. He knew his audience. Human resource staff often battled legal and financial staff for influence and John cleverly used his knowledge of workplace tensions to win them over. “Now, I imagine that you‟re sitting there thinking „not me‟. I‟m rational, everybody else is emotional. I always do my best for my boss. I‟m a complete professional – never let myself get distracted by this stuff. So I‟m going to ask for a bit of audience participation. Can I have a show of hands, please? How many of you met your most recent wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend in an organisation? Don‟t just think of your own place of work. Did you meet in theirs? Was he or she your client? Were you students together?”
Friends or Lovers
The hands started to rise, at first tentatively. The murmurs grew as spouses and partners reminded each other of their first meeting, with the result that more and more hands were raised until at least three-quarters held them aloft. “More than usual,” he commented. “We have a horny bunch in tonight!” The room rumbled with chatter and laughter as people started to absorb what had just been illustrated. As the noise died down, so John continued. “So let me make one or two comments before I tell you my second story. Firstly, how is it that most human resource professionals here tonight met their partner or spouse in a workplace and yet the profession is being persuaded to support zero-tolerance policies towards sexual behaviour at work?” There was less laughter now and he paused to have another drink. The women entrepreneur opposite looked irritated. “See what I mean?” she said. I nodded, but privately I thought John had a point. “Need a bit more gin for this bit,” John quipped as he drank some more water. “More controversially, recent research suggests that research participants say harassment is very rare, almost unheard of, during the formative stages of a relationship. Accusations are made when relationships are breaking down. This raises an issue. Are we are missing the underlying sexual dynamics that bring about these accusations. It may be that a man is trying to break off the relationship rather than form it, or that a woman is trying to back off a relationship that has aroused her sexual feelings. When it comes to the law, have politicians created a rod to break our back?”
” John smiled. The audience laughed some more. and without fail there is some set piece bit of „corporate fun‟. John‟s tone was not critical.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked around and saw some people nodding. “Here‟s the rest of the story. “Okay. Diane told him about the company annual dinner. isn‟t it?” he agreed with his audience. but questioning. “This leads me onto my second story. more measured. but everyone in the room suddenly felt embarrassed that they had been laughing. He paused and the audience obliged with more laughter. I looked hard but couldn‟t find that induction technique in the CIPD manual!” he quipped. Diane is a CIPD qualified member of staff. Each year they have a big celebration. He somehow managed to avoid accusing his audience. but this story has a challenging ending. but this time it belongs to a man. This involved a number of men taking pictures of each others‟ naked bottoms and creating a slide show for the women. “Would it have been funny if I‟d told you that Ben was making comments to Diane about one of the women director‟s tits?” The room quickly went quiet. they had a „Butt of the Year‟ competition. Then his tone suddenly became quieter. “Yes – it‟s funny.” He paused again and took another swig of „gin‟. It involves Ben and Diane. “Diane thought one of the directors‟ butts was so sexy that she described it to Ben during his induction. the hum of personal reflection lingered in the air. okay – I realise that some of you probably consider this essential work in the run up to the Christmas party. During Ben‟s induction. Then he delivered a killer sentence. In the silence that followed. This also has a lovely butt in it. . The year Ben joined.” he continued boldly.
told Ben he had admirers and then got jealous when Ben admired someone . Ben was questioned for over an hour in a private room about „inappropriate‟ behaviour.” “Instead of being pleased for him. Ben argued with the company‟s MD. “Ben‟s marriage collapsed and Diane offered him a place to sleep. She now claimed that Ben was „womanising‟ and might misuse personnel records. He thanked her but did not accept.” “You may think that you know what is coming……. hypocritical and sexist. “a woman who talked openly about her lust for a male director during Ben‟s induction. Diane flung her arms around Ben and playfully put ice cubes down his trousers. Diane confessed that her marriage was sexless. “So!” he said. Ben argued that the accusation was unjustified. put ice cubes down Ben‟s trousers at a party. When Ben asked why. They started to go out for drinks after work. Diane reported his activities to her own manager.‟ she told him. „You won‟t be lonely.Friends or Lovers “At the Christmas Party. Diane got cross and told him he should not look for love at work. Ben responded that he liked one or two of the women at work and had asked one out for a drink. Ben confessed his wife had been having an affair.” A few people in the audience gasped. She told him repeatedly that he had „admirers‟. He did not mind her attention and they grew close. Both were married.” John raised his volume a couple of notches to finish the story “He was fired. Ben thanked her and felt reassured. invited Ben to stay at her house. His objections fell on deaf ears.” he teased.
feeling accepted by a sexually . Those desires. “a kind of power that we don‟t acknowledge.” I thought back over my own experience. in turn. The accuser may be given special protection before it is known whether their accusation is true. Maybe we are trying to avoid loneliness. intimacy. or our desire to avoid. “These are two cases where the underlying dynamics are known. at the way the accusation against Mike has triggered the storm inside IC. are affected by what is taking place in our lives outside work. Attention switches immediately to the accused. Workplace behaviour arises out of our desire for. “That is power. “My main point is that whenever there is a sexual conflict it is usually underpinned by a complex intimate relationship.Rory Ridley-Duff else…she only had to make an accusation that Ben might be behaving inappropriately for his world to quickly fall apart. Nine tenths of what might be known is submerged beneath the surface. Both parties play a part. This said. Both parties are responsible.” John paused again. We had weathered it but not without capsizing a few times. but this time he did so for effect. “Firstly. HR departments rarely investigate the motive for an accusation. Our desires are not always sexual. Maybe we are trying to be accepted. Most people are like icebergs. “What can we learn from this?” continued John.” he said. only the accusation itself. my main point is not that men can also be subject to sexual harassment or false allegations. That much is obvious and while it is not discussed much. Accusations often reveal as much about who is hurting as who is being hurt. most enlightened people realise it.
emotive and triggers disruptive conflicts. regardless of my intent. therefore. itself a form of sexual harassment? Perhaps neither? The situation we have now is that if she claims to others that I am creating a „hostile environment‟ for her. if Patsy had objected when I started to talk to her on the airplane. I could be accused in the same way as Ben. or continue to „name and blame‟ one party? Are we serious about equality? “If you are sitting next to your financial director and she or he is saying „too expensive‟. I ask you to think of the cost of replacing staff. are we destroying our society with zero-tolerance policies? Are we compromising our ability to take. Would it not be better to have a process that allows each party to tell their story until they find closure? Should we approach conflicts in a way that allows both parties to learn about each other. to conclude. by deliberately being provocative. In Ben‟s case it cost the company over ten thousand pounds to replace him.Friends or Lovers desirable or successful person is particularly meaningful. enough to pay for over 20 days of mediation. That ignores the costs of training and lost . would I have been guilty of sexual harassment? Or was her behaviour. Firstly. face and overcome the everyday risks that underpin stable enduring relationships? Zero-tolerance approaches assume it is right and proper to prevent any intimacy that could be interpreted as sexual. Isn‟t this the most naïve policy in the history of humankind? “So. It is. How would you go about investigating that to undercover „the truth‟?” “So. I want you to think about how to contribute to the current debate on equality of opportunity and sexual harassment. “Two thoughts for you as you retire to the bars.
mate.Rory Ridley-Duff productivity. My mood changed and John noticed instantly. “You know each other a lot better than you are telling me. “Can you forgive me?” he asked. I did not realise that ……” .” The audience broke into a round of applause.” I said. Hope I‟m not interrupting anything. I did not join in.” said John. “Ladies and Gentlemen . then – as he realised that I had been in the audience – he started to look apologetic. yes!” “And close friends. Suddenly I felt another person moving up beside me. Dave.” “Dave! Good talk. So.” “Not at all.” I said with a smile. “You might have asked. “Get away with what?” asked Dave. Penny?” “I‟ll let you get away with it. I can see. eh?” “You think I‟m being economical with the truth. It ignores whether the replacement is as good at the job. was surprisingly astute. I got up and walked towards the front. My business cards and these two cases are available on the table. just this once. “Such a good story and I never thought that you would ever be in one of my audiences. turning on the professional charm. Instead. When John saw me. it is also a financial one. he initially beamed with pleasure. am I?” “An anonymous one.thank you for listening! My name is John Simons and I am at your service.” “Indeed we do. while this is an ethical issue. John smiled as we shared the private joke. however. “Hello.” “And I‟m a case study. My name is John.
” “Are you coming. “So am I.” said Dave.. “…. you are a dark horse.” “One of your best friends!” said Dave. There was little point denying it. Just ask them to charge it to Room 1156 and I‟ll sign the receipt in a moment. “Don‟t what?” asked Dave. whether I like it or not. is this Patsy?” asked Dave pointedly. “Flirting is dangerous. I‟ll join you in a second. “And you don‟t. “but like most adults I still end up in situations where there is flirting. “Don‟t you flirt?” asked John.” replied John. “So. “Yes. Dave?” asked John.” “And John. one of my best friends was in the audience.Friends or Lovers Oh God! I prayed that he was not about to say what I though he was about to say. Dave nodded. John and I hesitated. Dave laughed. “Well. How else can people establish another person‟s motive?” Dave was slightly taken aback at these remarks. Penny?” asked Dave. . “If you go to the bar and order what you like. “Would you like to have this conversation at the bar so I can buy you a drink?” asked John. you don‟t just flirt with barmen. but also strange men in airports!” John joined in the conversation again. Penny. “I‟m married!” he said indignantly. Is this the John you mentioned to me? The one you met on a plane?” I hesitated.
in the sense that sexual desires and aspirations underpinned a lot of adult behaviour. “Yes.” “Do you want to talk about it later?” asked John. “Always leads to trouble. Was it not all a bit Freudian? Not really. On the way. John did agree with Freud. “You were saying that flirting is dangerous?” remembered John.” Dave had committed himself now and went off to the bar. “Tell me about it. said John. Having negotiated these questions. It‟s getting worse and worse. It is those who are inexperienced or shy who are uncomfortable with flirting. They push and probe to check out how the other responds. Many find it fun. I accept it is a problem for them. we got to the bar and Dave was ready with our drinks. “I disagree. “He‟s hurt.” “I can meet you later if you like?” he asked again. “Flirting is a good way for men and women to establish the level of intimacy they want in their relationships. Most people do this in non-threatening ways and it works most of the time. totally true. You‟ve got a problem.” said John. We found a space to talk. he engaged with people who wanted to talk to him.” John and I made our way to the bar.” said Dave. He did not agree with that. “I‟ll join you in a second. However. I just want a quick word with John.Rory Ridley-Duff John glanced in my direction and I realised that he was trying to get me on my own.” .” said John boldly. Freud thought it all emanated from complexes formed in childhood experiences. okay. We had an argument earlier this evening. Were the stories true? Yes. “I‟ve chatted to Mike and thought we were through this.
as John proceeded to respond. “but you won‟t notice all the problems that are solved by it. how is Sally?” “Sally?” asked Dave. “Yes we are.” he added.” insisted Dave. “Sounds like you‟ve discussed this before. also picked up that some covert message was passing between us. but it has certainly landed others…” I responded. “Oh! Are you two getting together?” asked Dave. I added a rider as a warning shot. The sarcasm was back and I couldn‟t help fuelling the situation. “I can‟t say that flirting has ever landed me in deep water at work.” said John. By the way. “You‟re a good flirt!” I wanted John to stop because his comments could deepen my problems. however. “Not directly. “Perhaps that‟s not a good word. “What about you.” said Dave. John.” answered John. “but I think we will later. “I‟ve had to deal with many problems caused by flirting.” said Dave arrogantly. “Only if people are insensitive to each other. Too much experience. It was almost as if he was suggesting that Dave was inexperienced and shy. “But it causes so much disagreement. mate. “…as well you know!” John picked up my allusion and acknowledged my concern.” “Don‟t buy it. Dave. They never land on your desk.” commented Dave.” said John.” “I don‟t doubt it. Penny?” said John.Friends or Lovers I was not sure whether John intended to be offensive but he was coming perilously close. “Insensitive?” I asked.” answered John. “Flirting causes misunderstandings. .
“Before or after you arranged the flat for him?” Dave asked with disdain. slightly embarrassed and mouthed the word „sorry‟.Rory Ridley-Duff “Oh she‟s great. “John is staying at Sally‟s while he works for us. “Just as well. isn‟t it?” he added.” asked John. “After!” I said firmly. “Small world.” “And when did this happen?” he asked. “Perhaps the two of you could explain to me what the fuck is going on?” Both Dave and I looked at John with a start. “What?” said Dave. We‟re enjoying ourselves . “No.I wish I could stay longer but I‟m needed back at home. “Do you and Mike want to come over for dinner on Sunday night?” My blood ran cold. totally engaged by this discovery. Before I could answer. “Just recently – hardly got used to the idea myself!” I said pretending joy while my mind was turning to clay. “She never mentioned you to me. “You and Mike?” he asked. By asking John about Sally it invited John to ask me about Mike. piecing things together in his head. Didn‟t you know?” I said. “Yes. “Well!” he started. John made another intervention.” replied Dave.” said Dave cynically.” answered John.” said Dave. Dave intervened. John looked at me. . Penny. “By the way.” “Sally at work? Do you know Sally?” “Yes – known her for years.
A few people near us picked up my tone and turned to look. trying to diffuse the situation.. “Only as a first resort!” he responded. You‟ve not been employed for a year yet. my sense of humour returning. “Fuck him! Wanker!” “I hope so.” I said. “That….” he said with his hand on his heart. If he starts a fight with you. “Be careful. “as well as this..” . I was about to go after him and make him apologise but John stopped me. Why?” “It‟s complicated. John moved closer and whispered in my ear. I want to be there to watch you beat the shit out of him!” “And you the mediator?” I asked. “I‟m fed up working with this tart.” quipped John.” said Dave.” It took me a moment to get the joke. “because if he‟s not we really have a problem.” he said pointing at my head.” responded John. then find me.pig is going to do my appraisal in three weeks!” “Then you‟ve got to use this.that….” Dave turned and left before I could answer. “No.” “Shit! You‟re right. “Not complicated at all. “I‟d like to fry his arse!” I shouted. Penny!” said John trying to calm me down.” “My knight in shining armour?” I queried. “There are better ways to do it. “Why don‟t we circulate for a bit and then slip out? If Dave comes anywhere near you. “The two of you are antagonising each other.Friends or Lovers “It‟s a simple question.
I want to go home. I could see the concern growing on his face.” The rest of the evening passed off without any more incidents.” “I‟d take you – but I‟ve been drinking gin all evening…. When he heard this. but now I was battling to save my job. I noticed that his eyes were filled with tears. I never drink before a talk so if you want to go home.” he corrected. He said that he wanted to talk “strategy”. Dave‟s e-mail and my conversations with Mike. You‟re a sweetie.Rory Ridley-Duff “You‟ll need friends for this one. As days go. When I asked why. he cryptically replied that „every good soldier needed the support of his unit‟. About an hour later. . I can take you.” “Thank you. the launch evening. How‟s Mike going to take this?” he asked.” he joked.. invited them for dinner then insisted that I come with Mike. John and I took a cab to a quiet pub and I told him about Dave‟s wife. When he let go. I told him of my wish to marry Mike. Penny.” I said before I saw his grin. When I set out this morning I was full of the joys of spring. today had not been a good one. I told him not be such a soppy idiot. he grabbed me and hugged me for what seemed like an age. “I‟ll call him later. He called Elaine and Sam. “Damn. “I‟m probably the only sober person in the room.
How could others possibly know or understand what had gone on? How could I possibly explain the complexity of this situation so that another person could understand it? The world not only looked more complex but it also made more sense. Given what I‟d learnt from the conflict between Mike and Elona. and the frustration of having to deal with others‟ unstated agendas. When I told him what had happened. but now I was not so sure. Not only had I misjudged Mike. however. If. I began to wonder whether perhaps I might have done things differently.Friends or Lovers Chapter 42 I was glad to get home to Mike. It was bad enough that I had intruded into a number of delicate personal relationships. Now it was Dave who was being judgemental about me. or left Mike and Elona to sort out their own problems. we can only see what we are looking for. but now it was the other way around I started to experience how the intrusions feel on the receiving end. I was less confident. Hard as it was to admit. In the past. Dave would not be looking for evidence of my innocence. I was now experiencing things from the other side. he was matter of fact and kept reassuring me that I had truth on my side. only evidence of my guilt. I had been judgemental about Mike‟s motives. It may not only have been my . I had been convinced that sexual harassment laws were progressive. Two months earlier. The law required me to investigate. however. then I was up shit creek without a paddle. And what was it that I was guilty of? Most of his attacks were about my flirting. but I now realised that my attitude had been coloured both by the hurt I felt in the past and my attraction to him. as John had suggested.
I had created an imaginary world in which men and women should behave one way at work and another way outside work. and Phil has also made some inroads. I did this not only to share treasured . I protected myself with professional ethics and personal boundaries to create a haven for corporate values. Mike the stubborn idealist. In my mind. Firstly. They rarely saw eyeto-eye. Later. but perhaps my values as well. I remember once seeing the film About a Boy. The main character Will tried to live an „island‟ existence but gave in to the attention of a lonely 12-year-old boy. I was coming to a realisation that these bonds not only reached deep into my personal life. I had my island existence at work. I retraced the route I took with John around Warwick castle and we ended up at the same Italian restaurant. On Sunday we went for a walk. I was also emotionally disconnected and dysfunctional. he had no wish to talk “strategy”. John pierced my armour. others intruded into my world. Together they were a formidable combination.Rory Ridley-Duff judgement that was at fault. Elona has. I started to see myself as a female version of Will. John was the pragmatic politician. rather than at home. however. but every conversation made me question my life a little bit more. to some extent. Unlike John. Not everybody saw the distinctions as I did. Instead he just savoured the conversation we had. Mike and I had a quiet day. but were also contributing to better decisions about people in the workplace. I was „independent‟ and „efficient‟. Mike and John were different. Just like Will. and most recently Elaine. or felt they should be enforced. Mike did the same. searching for “truth” and “justice” and then working out how to make it happen.
“You have me.” “What would you like to know?” I suddenly realised that it was not so much his past that I was interested in. but as a tribute to John. my coming out of myself started on that day. “What would be solved by talking about it?” he responded. “You might be disappointed.” I said. With John. I smiled and said that would be nice. his emotions always came out as he spoke. “I‟m just interested. stock and barrel.” he answered.” I said. “Would you take me to them?” “I‟d rather find new places. in body.” I said. “You. Mike.” he replied with a straight face. “And for me. pointing to his head. “You don‟t talk about the past. “Nice for him. When I look back. “Do you have any special places? Places you went with your wife?” I asked.” he said. my change of heart. That was another difference between them. “I brought John here a couple of months ago.Friends or Lovers memories with Mike.” responded Mike. from the moment I faced-down my fear and shared my most private feelings. Lock.” I commented. . “A few. But I also want to know the person in here!” I said. He never used five words where three would do. but any remaining attachments that might affect our future together. but with Mike you had to dig for them.” he replied. “And now for me.” “Yes.
” he replied. While it was nice to have his attention. . “I guess. There was little point holding back now I had started. “I prefer not to think about it. I would have these memories forever.” I said with a grin. His silence on the issue of his wife troubled me. “I guess I‟m curious how you feel about your marriage. I felt unconcerned. “That‟s because you‟ve only microscopically examined my body!” he joked. Strangely. nothing could take away the bliss that I was enjoying right now.” I responded.” He stopped and turned to me. “You were very committed to her……” Suddenly I stopped.Rory Ridley-Duff “Haven‟t been so far. While we had made plans – and I kept telling myself that I should take comfort from them – it worried me that he may not truly be over her. No matter what happened in the future. then held me in his arms and kissed me. he had also evaded the question. I realised that I was starting to have doubts about his commitment. Even though I did not push him.
But John is right about Dave. “He‟ll see through Dave. Penny?” said Sam.” Mike joined in the “strategy” discussion and kept coming back to what people had said about my work.” “But you said that even Harry thought you were doing a good job. Is he going to believe someone he‟s worked with closely for 6 years or a probationer that he‟s met just once or twice?” asked John. “How long have you been there. “But Penny is brilliant at her job – aren‟t you.Friends or Lovers Chapter 43 “He‟s not going to bring that up!” asserted John. “Now look at this from Harry‟s point of view.” he answered. He thought the company would be crazy to sack me. but it was good to have his support. “But that‟s what pisses him off – surely he‟ll raise it?” I argued. won‟t he?” . I knew he was biased. “Thank you. “He‟s going to look at the truth. “Nearly 6 years. but most of the others would not believe him. He‟s pissed off with me. surely?” responded Mike. who probably knew the least about all the cock ups I had made. It was Dave who gave him this impression. Mike?” asked John. getting quite heated. We had been discussing my situation at work for nearly half an hour over after-dinner coffee. John was trying to persuade everyone that Dave was going to block my appointment. Sam.
“I certainly am. If he sacks Penny. Elaine had talked to me about some of the corporate battles that she‟d been in. “That‟s right. he‟ll control what Harry hears. who had been listening more than talking.” she started. Everyone turned to look at her. “You‟re not suggesting we get involved?” queried Sam. the subtle political pressures and pragmatic alliances that work behind the scenes. The only thing Dave has to fear is Harry‟s reaction. I concur with John. “And how is Mike going to be able to work when . I began to catch her drift. “What do you mean?” asked Sam. “No. If Dave wants to fuck it up because he can‟t deal with Penny‟s rejection then I want to apply some pressure. Elaine. then I‟m going to kick his arse – it will affect my working relationship with him!” she said pointedly.Rory Ridley-Duff John gave Mike a dismissive look.” said Elaine. It‟s not what‟s going to happen. But if I‟m right then we need to ensure that Dave does not control what Harry is hearing. I noticed John smile at Elaine and she raised her glass to him.” “But isn‟t this between Penny and Dave?” asked Sam. “If I‟m wrong then we have nothing to worry about. “We‟ve invested a huge amount in this partnership. He‟s under no obligation to keep her on. but what we are going to do about it.” “And also give Dave a few worries of his own!” added Elaine.” said John enthusiastically. showing considerable irritation. If there is a conflict. “Let‟s assume for a moment that John is right.” Everyone around the table stopped for a moment to consider her remarks. He does not even have to give her a proper reason. now joined the conversation. “Let‟s assume that Dave is going to look for a way to get Penny out.
If your colleagues talk about it. Sal. Can‟t you see the threat?” Since I had told both Elaine and John about my marital aspirations it had been common knowledge within the group. This isn‟t just about our friends.” “Okay. With John returning home in a couple of weeks she might start to miss Mike‟s company. She was also in a line management situation with Dave. this is about our company‟s well-being. “I don‟t have a way of influencing things the way you do. “Stuff like this doesn‟t stay secret. “It‟s not that. Mike was not aware that I‟d talked to the others and he shot me a quick glance then cast his eyes down at the table. “I‟m keeping out of this. “You‟d stand by while Dave shits on Mike?” asked John. Elaine had both political and financial independence whereas Sally‟s life was more precarious.” she said. However.” “On the ground?” she asked. I wondered for a moment whether Sally might secretly want me off the scene to open the way to Mike again. Only Mike stood between her and Dave. Since we‟d become a couple. “You too. you can put them straight!” “And have Dave on my back?” she asked. “But you can influence things on the ground. Perhaps you‟re right!” responded John. “So little confidence!” complained Elaine. Dave‟s the Director of Business Development.” she said. “We all have an interest!” said Elaine. I could understand Sally‟s fear. Sam. If Mike‟s . I‟d taken over his life and he saw her much less. Sally!” Sally had remained fairly quiet throughout. Mike‟s our sales manager.Friends or Lovers Dave sacks his future wife.
therefore. we had some idea of what to do if Dave tried to block my appointment and there was talk of a “last resort” action plan if he succeeded. “I‟m much older than you. “What then?” I enquired. “We have to talk. as protecting the group. debated and discarded. did not understand the complex background and network of relationships involving Dave. I realised that it was not so much that they were protecting me. He had been much quieter after her comment. I made a mental note to update her. Penny!” “So what?” .” he said.” he replied. “Yes. As soon as the car sped away from Sally‟s house. We all wanted to work and live together and this guided our discussions. In fact. Various scenarios and plans were hatched. It was reassuring that my friends took such a keen interest in protecting my future.Rory Ridley-Duff position was threatened then Dave would be able to exact personal revenge on Sally. but they were protecting theirs at the same time.” said Mike. “Sal has to be careful. we do. Elaine. was not over worried regardless of the outcome of my appraisal. By the time Mike and I left. My mind. My security came from the knowledge that there was no shortage of organisations seeking HR professionals. The debate continued over more bottles of wine. I focussed more on Mike‟s reaction to Elaine‟s comment about our marriage plans.” I replied. Mike opened up. Mike and Sally. I realised. or protecting themselves. “Are you having second thoughts?” “Not exactly. I did not have to wait long. as we talked.
Did I want to give up the choice? “Tell me about your friend. the argument began to affect me. “I don‟t want them. “Well.she accidentally got pregnant.” I asked. She had a good career. a regular boyfriend who she lived with.” I answered. “How do you mean?” I said.” Despite what I had told him previously. When I considered the question in the abstract I was sure of my feelings. “She was successful – like you. Once she faced a real choice her feelings started to change. Penny?” When he asked that question. But what if you change your mind? What if you accidentally get pregnant?” “I don‟t know!” I answered. You know that. “You don‟t now. I don‟t want children.” “But have you ever been pregnant. “I had a friend once who „didn‟t want children‟ until she got pregnant. I actually felt a pang of disappointment that he did not want children with me. but when I asked myself how . I paused trying to imagine what it would be like to have a child growing inside me. She didn‟t want children until – in her mid-thirties . Did she want to miss that chance?” “I have thought about this. Mike.Friends or Lovers “What if you want children?” he asked. it dawned on her this might be her only chance to be a mother. And who could blame her?” he asked.” “How can you know that?” “My wife got pregnant a few years ago and I was completely opposed.” “What‟re you saying?” “I‟m saying that I know for sure that I don‟t want children.
” “What did your friend do?” “She had the child. Now they hate each other with a vengeance. Our relationship probably won‟t survive the birth of a child. When I was young I imagined that all serious relationships operated on the basis of unending commitment. The relationship with her boyfriend broke up soon after. She thought he‟d change when the child was born. Could I do that? “No.” he continued. She never forgave him for leaving. I haven‟t. Is it a good idea to marry?” I did not respond. If you want a child and I don‟t. He never forgave her for ignoring his feelings.Rory Ridley-Duff I would feel aborting Mike’s child it affected me differently. “Yes – but I don‟t want to be a dad in my 70s. no! I want to treasure this for as long as possible and that means being realistic. no. I can‟t stand in the way of that.” I pondered this strange proposal. I was not sure what to think. .” I finally answered. “What will happen if you get pregnant and I don‟t want it?” His questions were beginning to deeply unsettle me and I started to feel emotional.” “But don‟t you love me?” He smiled broadly. Mike!” “That‟s what worries me. “It could tear us apart. our relationship won‟t survive. “I‟ll live with you – but if you want children then I‟m going to bow out so you can fulfil your dream. I really don‟t.” “So what‟re you saying? You want to break up?” “No. “I can‟t say. They both feel the other betrayed them.
Even though we‟d talked about the possibility of breaking up. I‟ll think about it. this was the clearest indication I‟d had that we were going to have a long-term relationship. .” he continued again. “Okay.Friends or Lovers “Tell you what. Romantic this was not. The future was still full of possibilities. For the first time since we‟d started sharing a bed we did not make love before going to sleep. I‟ll marry you!” I gave a short chuckle. went into the kitchen and made two cups of cocoa. then went upstairs. “If you reach the menopause and we‟re still together.” And with that. We chatted more in front of the TV and caught a late night film. we arrived home. but that was Mike through and through. Moments later I felt one of his arms around me as he kissed my neck and said “goodnight”.
We started to have chats in the evening at home and at work during lunch breaks. but also the scriptures and morality that affected her freedom. but given her precarious state. I asked Phil to make some visits to see how she was progressing. on the other hand. Even as a grown up. Instead of showing sympathy. she accused me of bullying her. I decided to visit her when Mike went out with his drinking pals. they chided her for . I dropped in a couple of times to check how things were. her parents disapproved of her drinking in pubs and when the situation erupted at work they felt deeply ashamed.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 44 Elona‟s move into the flat with Mike was problematic at first. I was trying to build her confidence. but also to learn about myself. turned out to be strong in ways I‟d not realised. When she did. Was I a bully? Mike sometimes joked that I could be. There was no weekend in her family. Elona. I told him I was not always strong but he would not believe it. It took two weeks for her to feel strong enough to return to work. When I had been at her parents‟ shop and heard her torrent of abuse. just a Sunday and Wednesday afternoon when the shop closed. not just to learn about her. Brownies and Guides followed and she talked of the many skills she had developed. a by-product of my strength of character. We talked about her upbringing. Her parents were committed Christians and they arranged for her aunt to take her to Sunday school each week. As part of his professional development. I felt we should visit daily. As a result. He had not seen me when I felt weak and feeble (the way John had seen me). Normally we would not visit so much. my professional worries receded.
was not allowed to bring boys into the house without the permission of her father . Both my father and mother allowed me to have male friends.Friends or Lovers getting mixed up with a “bad crowd”. judged as little as I could. chat and talk. although my mother would tell me what I should and should not do. especially my father. I remember only mild embarrassment at their openness. If I had a boy with me they would knock on my bedroom door. she simply said that she had not been able to. to take them up to my room. Private conversations with boys were not allowed in her house – one or other parent had to be present. I can still remember my parents telling me on my 16 th birthday that if I wanted boys to stay over they would be allowed to sleep with me if I wished. When I asked her how she got to know boys. Elona. More than once that led to us having a fight. people pursued each other for sex and treated each other disrespectfully.upstairs was strictly out of bounds even after she reached the age of 18. and avoided the temptation to get angry with either her or her parents. I listened as much as I could. My parents had been liberal in their attitudes. I started to wonder how she had turned out so „normal‟ despite her upbringing. Instead. Elona‟s father was protective and would never let her go to parties. Attitudes to sex – or more accurately. and . They did not even let her take girlfriends upstairs. play music. Even so. My room was a private space to do as I pleased. on the other hand. Sometimes I would get keen on a boy and still my parents would not interfere. my voice was heard and sex talk was commonplace in our house. They would tell her that in the „devil‟ world of „Godless‟ people. those of our parents could not have been more different.
it was as if I was also talking to myself. We laughed as stories came out of hiding and got aired for the first time. on the other hand felt embarrassed if her parents even hinted at sex. she gradually opened up and admitted that she had been buying romance novels for years. I remember feeling grateful. I shared with her my boldest adventures. They admitted that they knew but chose not to say anything. at their attitude. There was something tragic in hearing her story. When the young lads at work invited her to the pub. betrayed and misled. While I had no inhibitions about my body. When he rebuffed her. when it came to my mind. thoughts and feelings I was . She fantasised about this other world. and showed interest in her. As I talked. she was bursting with curiosity. Some women deliberately excluded her. Even at work. But in talking to me. You could not rely on what was written in books. Others picked on her and ridiculed her prudishness. She imagined bold heroines aggressively seducing their prey. or meek wallflowers schooled in the art of attracting „real‟ men. Elona. he triggered all the feelings she was harbouring. she would walk away if she heard crude conversations. she felt bitter. I tried to reassure her that experience had to be gained first hand. Privately she lusted after the kind of life that was described in them but never imagined she could ever be part of it.Rory Ridley-Duff confessed to them that sometimes I had sneaked a boyfriend into my room in the middle of the night. She was a young woman trying to navigate the minefield of courtship armed only with knowledge from romance novels. When Nathan took a shine to her. this strange morality where people could express themselves freely. rather than relieved.
I started to get a sense of just how important parents are and the huge responsibility they bear. I found yet another avenue to release the pain and hurt of the past. I was learning again from someone years my junior. “If she‟d had a father like you. Was my hostility to motherhood another way of avoiding responsibility? These questions troubled me. It was the financial betrayal that killed it. I switched the conversation back to Elona. despite the problems. she might have grown up very differently.” “And a mother like you. he gradually opened up about his marriage and I learnt that his kids were the principle reason he had remained for so long. They mattered to him and he felt the pleasures that came from fatherhood and family life outweighed any problems in his relationship with his wife. A mother like me! At hearing those words. His comment started a chain of thoughts that still haunts me. perhaps?” he retorted. He did admit too that. But since the fall out over Sally he had returned home only to be with his children. he found his wife attractive and their argumentative relationship spiced up their sex life. I felt a shudder.Friends or Lovers even more inhibited than Elona. Mike joked that if he had lied and said it was „just sex‟ his marriage might have survived. As I watched Mike and learnt about each new layer of his character. and our friendship gave her a way to compare her fantasy world to the reality of my life. I started to realise new things that I had been missing – that the ephemeral materialism . Before I realised it. His wife never forgave him for giving financial support to another woman. As for Mike. “You are good for her. you know!” I told him. I found new depths in myself. Through her candid confessions to me.
Corporate life was not a reason for being. she would make up new adventures on the spur of the moment. setting out my life on paper became part of my liberation. where those obsessed with self-importance told us how to live our lives. It was a setting in which our lives unravelled. The media was not reality. Perhaps that is what spurred me to write this story. she and I would join the gang and solve our own mysteries. For me. my mother told me stories. I found that there was nothing more fascinating or more pleasurable than getting to know people well. And when Mike suggested I would make a good mother the urge to be a parent grew stronger and stronger. . Their stories – which had for two decades been a source of entertainment and amusement to me – started to lose their standing. was not important. it was a means. That spurred me to take greater interest in how I came to be who I am. The world of parenthood took on a new fascination. In them. Perhaps my own mother encouraged this creative streak in me. the transient consumerism pressed on us by the media. something that my father‟s pragmatism and liberalism also shaped. No longer could I ignore how the crazy complicated mess that Elona and I had created at work had its foundation in our family histories. conversations with real people flourished to the point that my television became just another piece of furniture.Rory Ridley-Duff of corporate life. Before the arguments of my teenage years. but was not life itself. I had loved Scooby Doo and rather than watch videos again and again. I cast my mind over my life with my mother and father. In their place. it was a place where vanity ran amok.
pressed “menu”. She open the lid. Show me!” Inside her sweaty palm was her mobile phone. Elona excitedly pressed a green button and the message appeared. “Well. “Penny! Penny! Come here. but at the top was a phone number. it‟s good isn‟t it. Down the list I could see messages from her old boyfriend. come on.Friends or Lovers Chapter 45 Six weeks after Elona moved in with Mike. pleaded with Elona to let me go to the loo first. Her excitement was so great that she could not contain it. she was waiting on the sofa clutching something in her hand. For a couple of seconds a fancy graphic showed a pile of papers being sorted.” she answered. I mean he must……he must like me!” . then “messages”. When I emerged. come here!” I hastily hung up my jacket. Her eyes were wide open and her face was so animated that I thought she would burst a blood vessel. come on then. “Well. then “inbox”. The moment I arrived at her flat she screeched at me to come and see something. “What‟s happened?” I asked. “Have you won the lottery?” “Better than that. raising my eyebrows in wonder. something happened that transformed her life. “Who is that from?” I asked. M and P tell me u r recovering. Wud u like drink with mates after work? Phil x “Better than the lottery?” I asked.
but when I was with him I took nothing for granted. love! Look at me. She duly obliged.. It may be that Phil was asking her out. my love. Secretly I thought about him a lot. It was „good‟.” I said as I took her hands and our eyes locked. I mentally got ready to nail Phil when I saw him next morning.” she answered. or an attempt to help her mix in with people at work. starting to look a bit downcast.” “Forget your Dad. however. “I have a friend called John and when he first asked me for a drink I thought that perhaps he was trying to ask me out….” “What about John?” she continued. but remember that this may be your wish but not his. Pretend he‟s your fantasy hero. “When a man asks you for a drink.Rory Ridley-Duff I didn‟t know how to break the news that this may be kindness.. “Maybe you shouldn‟t read too much into it.” “You just want to spoil my dreams!” she interrupted.” My heart sank.. but had his eye on others as well. “But it‟s a drink invitation! He‟s asking me out. You‟ve met him?” I asked.” I commented.” I interrupted. But he may just want to be your friend…. “I was excited.” . Very excited. it does not always mean that he‟s asking you to be his girlfriend.” “But my Dad said…. He may be interested in that. “Everyone talks about him at work. “Dream all you like. He had mentioned Elona. especially after he did that workshop about sexism in the army. “Elona. but then again it may not and I felt that it would be irresponsible not to prepare her for the possibility. “Yes.
“Just send the first few messages then I‟ll take over. “No! I was waiting for you.” “Good. But you don‟t want him thinking you‟re not interested either?” I replied. Pen. eh? I want him to know I‟m interested – I mean really interested.” I said. “But I don‟t know what to say! Could you…?” “Could I what?” “Could you reply?” I laughed. “Why not?” she asked. Would it be so bad? “I can‟t have a text conversation with him. She so wanted to get this one right. returning to the question in hand. I gave her a school-ma‟am grin.” . Perhaps Phil would never know the difference. right?” “You‟re the best! First impressions.Friends or Lovers “Have you replied to this?” I asked. giving in to her. “I think it would be better if it all came from you. “You‟re hot for him. My heart went out to her.” I thought about this. She jumped on her seat and punched the air with her fist.” she said imploringly. She‟d been planning this all day. I saw that she looked slightly hurt by my mirth so I immediately apologised and gave it some thought. I don‟t want to appear too forward.” I said finally. The thought of me flirting by mobile with Phil while he thought he was talking to Elona tickled me. “How d‟you want to play it then?” I replied. “Just start me off.
We were so different. How could we use that? “Okay! Give me the phone. “Never stopped you!” she said. “On whether I care about frightening him off!” I‟d assumed that she‟d be crushed if he turned her down so I was confused by her comment. you know?” I answered. I selected „reply‟ and typed away carefully. Then she broke into laughter as I added the last two words. I guess. “No. “On what?” I asked. isn‟t it?” she replied. “D‟you think that‟s too risqué?” I asked her. “I want to have some fun!” I suddenly felt as if. Could she change that much in a few weeks? “You can get hurt. She took my free hand with both of hers. but also that he had a quiet confidence. Thank you!” I said. I guess it didn‟t!” “Penny?” I looked up at her and she continued to speak. I sat for a second wondering why she would admire me. But it‟s so exciting. I knew Phil could be shy.” I said. “Do you have any idea how much I admire you?” “What! Admire me?” I said. . wondering if she was drunk. We didn‟t want to be tacky or crude. “Don‟t you care?” “A bit. “I‟m flattered. “Depends!” she replied. despite all our conversations. in a matter of fact way.Rory Ridley-Duff I thought for a second. in response. I hardly knew her. I showed the message to Elona and she kept nodding enthusiastically.
that‟s such a sweet thing for you to say. Been places. “…. “What are you talking about? You‟ve done so much with your life. It was not something that I felt I could refuse. she wanted me as her role model. “Are we going to send that. you only see what‟s on the outside.Friends or Lovers “You‟re my heroine!” she said. travelled. you know how to live!” She said this with such force that I didn‟t know what to say. “But most of all. I‟ve pissed around and messed things up big time. Inside I knew I was no better and no stronger than she was.” “What do you mean?” “I mean that you live your life without any fear. I‟d not had to overcome the things she had lived through. emotional. or suffer the disappointments she had faced.” She suddenly got cross with me.. I‟m really touched. From where I‟m sitting. bitchy. “you‟re a natural.and kind and thoughtful.” she continued. “Elona. What possible claim could I have to a life better than hers? And yet. and strong and fair……” I shuddered at the thought that someone would use me as a role model. got a good career and now a fantastic man.” She glanced at the phone.. I can be crabby and unreasonable. done things. Inside I have doubts just like you. “Oh. and sexy and vivacious.” “I wish! Seriously.. selfish. Sometimes I‟m miserable. lonely and wretched. then?” . studied. mean and nasty……” I started to run out of words so Elona decided to take over. Elona! I‟m nothing of the sort. Elona.
She pressed the green button and away it went. “He‟s added four kisses. I looked up at her.. I think. “Too late for second thoughts now.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked at the message once more and read it out loud. girl.” I said. We were like two schoolgirls swapping messages in class with a boy. Elona held it up and read it out loud. her mobile signalled the arrival of new mail so we excitedly opened her inbox.” I said confidently. “You two should be alone. He‟s taking the bait. Let‟s reel him in. When I finished. What outfit wld u like me 2 wear for u.” I said. “Wot u have in mind? P xxxx” “Look! Look!” shrieked Elona. “Where are you going?” she asked.” “But Penny?” “Trust me.” “Okay. A moment later. sexy?” Elona took the phone out of my hand and pressed the green button. “Skn-tite and sexy? Wow! Looking 4wrd to seeing you in it…and out of it…. This is between you and him. Call right now!” I got up and went to get my coat. “This is the last one I send. In an instant. okay? After this you‟re on your own!” Elona nodded. she read Phil‟s reply out loud while jumping up and down. “But tomorrow. “I want all the gory details. “Accept. She read the message to herself and cackled again. Ellie. okay?” . Elona handed me the phone again and I typed away.” She looked slightly confused.
Elona had come alive – she was. If I had only heard her words I might have been offended. I had challenged the behaviour of others and shown no fear. In her eyes. piss off then and see if I care!” she said. I would have to talk to her about that. I realised that perhaps this mattered less to her than the example I had set. She had seen me stand up for her against men she felt had hurt her. In the distance the sound of an excited young woman could be made out amidst much laughter and giggling. I turned and walked out of the flat. Perhaps I was able to show her that you could be a woman in your own right. but the excitement and joy that filled her whole body was matched only by the size and breadth of the smile she beamed. Elaine and John – the extent of my impact on Elona was beginning to dawn on me. as she put it. I realised that this was the first time I‟d ever been someone‟s heroine. “Okay. I walked over and gave her a big hug. With my coat on.Friends or Lovers She grinned broadly. Even as I chided myself for my judgement. As she dialled the number and let it ring. Even as I contemplated my own heroes and heroines – Mike. I had taken from the experience that I had to be more cautious and respectful of others. “Thank you!” she said. She could not see what was going on inside me. ready to learn „how to live‟. As I walked down a flight of stairs into the car park. For me. only the confidence and bluster that erupted when I was in the grip of moral indignation. Some other time. able to make your own judgements – even if sometimes they turn out to be flawed and wrong. She was . “You‟re welcome.” I replied. with your own thoughts and feelings.
.Rory Ridley-Duff setting out on a bumpy road – of that I had no doubt – but after several weeks of pain and years of loneliness it was a moment of unfettered joy. She grasped her future with both hands and held on firmly.
Gradually.Friends or Lovers Chapter 46 Mike and I had a quiet evening at my flat watching a DVD. “Now don‟t rush things.” I started to say.” Mike got up and walked over to me and I felt his arms move around my stomach. really. and Mike looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face. “I don‟t think „slowly‟ is in his vocabulary. “Why?” I asked. have you?” “I talked so much I ran out of credit. “What was that? Is there someone with you?” “Maybe. He fondled me gently as I talked some more. “Faaannnnntttttaaaassssttttiiiiccccc!” I shouted. Need a raise to keep my mobile phone topped up. and then heard something crash in the background. one of his hands edged up inside my blouse and started to fondle my breasts while the other stroked my leg. Take things slowly. then moved underneath my skirt and played with the elastic of my pants. At around 10pm the phone rang. “Why?” “Because I won‟t be able to talk soon!” .” “I did nothing. Pen!” “Are you okay?” “I‟m on cloud nine! Thank you so much. “I‟ve got to go now. “Not just booked a holiday with Phil.” she said coyly. laughing and shouting that she needed a wage rise. Ellie!” I said. It was Elona again.” “Then how come you are talking to me now?” I heard her giggle.
while the other…….” I had to pause for a second as his finger touched a spot that took my breath away.tomorrow…….” Mike whispered in my ear “Keep talking”.to go….I‟ve got…. A few moments later. “…….bye Ellie!” I put the phone down and spread my legs wide..” whispered Mike a second time. “What?” I replied. then picking her up and carrying her to bed. her level of laughter increased and I heard her shriek. lifted me onto the table.Rory Ridley-Duff “Why? What‟s wrong?” “Nothing at all – it is just that right at this moment there is someone‟s hand gently playing with my…. pulled down my knickers and buried his head between my legs..... Elona thought I was talking to her and asked again what was wrong.. “Better finish….oooohhh….left nipple. As Mike pleasured me between my legs.aaahhhh……has just gone down inside my pants. Right there in the hall Mike nibbled the folds of my flesh while two fingers eased their way in.this………conversation………Oh God!……..” I heard a round of giggling as Elona repeated my words to Phil. “Ellie? I have a man here who is dying ………. I tried to imagine Elona‟s excitement as she trembled in anticipation of her first fuck. “Me too!” she said when she finally came back to the phone. “……to have sex with me while I talk on the phone to you……. “Keep talking. I pictured Phil ripping open Elona‟s blouse. that Phil‟s strong body had moved between Elona legs. .” Mike had knelt down on the floor. I imagined what might be happening to Elona. He was dying for me.
“Do what?” he asked. Mike‟s lips made their way up the front of my body gently kissing the breasts that I had exposed. until the nerve ends all pulsated simultaneously and I convulsed struggling to catch my breath. It was the first time I had uttered the actual words and I waited for his reply. waves of pleasure started to glide up through my body.Friends or Lovers In my mind‟s eye. and I surfed towards heaven. but I laughed anyway. His strong muscular buttocks thrust into her with each movement of Mike‟s fingers inside me. until I felt his breath on my face. The surge continued and built. I watched him as he spread her legs and climbed between them. “How d‟you make me feel like that?” He laughed gently. As I lay there. moaning. .” He did not intend the pun. He tried to kiss me but I pulled away. “This much?” he said. “Have you any idea how deeply I am in love with you?” I asked. “I don‟t know. “How do you do that?” I said. gesturing a small amount with his thumb and finger. my breath shortening. I guess. I arched back and focussed my thoughts on the feeling of Mike‟s tongue while picturing Phil between Elona‟s legs. Comes naturally. my eyes closed. Just as I started to wonder whether it was pure wickedness to picture Phil as Mike brought me off. Then I put both my hands on his cheeks and felt tears welling up in my eyes.
I gave in and allowed him to overpower me. he threw me down manfully and put his hands on my knees while glancing down at a huge erection. I immediately pushed the thought from my mind. Then. He tried to spread my legs but I resisted him. my sister once said to me that she could not imagine anything more satisfying than the thought of her lover so filled with passion . I held his sleek and powerful body as it tensed and relaxed. As a teenager. I found myself wondering if I had stumbled across the answer. and guided his penis towards my pussy. I spread my legs as wide as I could. Something told me I was wicked but I just knew he was dying for me. I held his head in my hands as I explored everything I could find. “Come on. This much!” I said as I pressed my lips onto his and aggressively pushed my tongue into his mouth.Rory Ridley-Duff I laughed again but wanted to preserve the tenderness of the moment.” I said. as Mike overpowered me and started to thrust himself deep into me. remembering the way Elona and I had goaded Phil. Suddenly here. “And I love you this much!” he said. As the man I had chosen to give my heart glided into me again and again. I revelled in the lust that we‟d created and teased him to the full. As we kissed. for reasons I could not fathom. my mind suddenly cast itself back to the moment when John had asked me about the army and sexism. “No. big boy. he picked me up and I wrapped my legs around his waist. After carrying me to the bedroom. I helped to bring him to the heights of ecstasy. pretending to resist while egging him on to have his way with me. “Show me what you are made of!” As these words left my mouth.
. the woman that he could not resist. every spark of sexual energy that he possessed ignited and firing through his body. could stop. What greater gift could I give him? And what more could he give me than show his inability to resist me? As I lay on the bed. not even I. I had entered a new world and reached a new level of understanding. I hoped he was feeling the same crushing desire that I felt for him. as if she was fantasising about rape. And there.Friends or Lovers that he could not resist her. All the certainties that I had ever felt about how men and women should behave vanished in the dust. But in this moment I realised what was so exciting to her. She would fantasise about her boyfriend so full of lust that he would force himself on her as she tried to resist him. At the time. I found her fantasies sick. I wanted to him to feel an uncontrollable desire for me that no-one. as Mike arched in the throws of orgasm and shot his sperm deep into me. I hoped he felt the bewilderment and disorientation I felt when his magic tongue took me to another plane of existence. If I could do that to him…for him…he would be mine forever. I wanted to be Mike‟s greatest fantasy. with Mike‟s spent body still lying inside me. I watched his face strain as he reached the limits of his passion. I held him in my arms and wept.
was to invite Phil into my office for a private conference. It was strange filling out an appraisal form that I had designed myself. then one of my subordinates and lastly get feedback from a director. the other professional. I found myself less worried about pornography than e-mails offering prescription drugs. I had to appraise myself. I felt this was better than a 1 – 5 scale because “communication skills” in a CEO were much more important than in a bookkeeper. then ask one of my peers. Unusually for him. adding written .Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 47 My first task. I printed it and filled it in. I was tempted to tear up the zero-tolerance policy on porn completely. It was my appraisal form. But when it came to “attention to detail” the reverse was probably true. When I started. Each part of the appraisal had tick boxes.one personal. but I did it both quickly and diligently. Would it really cause a problem to treat people like adults and allow them to exercise their own judgement? I received an e-mail from Dave. Did we want staff self-prescribing Vallium or Diazepam? That thought horrified me considerably more than sex-invitations from places like Dirty Dicks or Giant Jugs. I had two agendas . There was the usual junk that I discarded. In fact. when I arrived at work the next morning. one of my first acts was to introduce 360º reviews. The objective was to stimulate discussion and reflection about different perceptions of my work. he was late so I passed the time by checking over my emails. but today I looked at them differently. The tick boxes allowed each person to say how the employee performed relative to their own expectations.
It felt really good. As he walked through the door the two of us beamed at each other in the knowledge that we had both enjoyed the evening before. then felt his hands on mine. Mr Trent!” I said with mock formality.” he said. Ms Leyton. “Good morning. “Between friends. How about you?” “I‟ve had worse!” I replied in probably the biggest understatement of my entire life. When Phil had completed the form I called him into my office.” I said. Penny!” Before I could protest. “Too late.Friends or Lovers comments at the bottom of each section. After a second. slightly defensively. I found myself hanging onto him and not letting go. “I think it‟s permitted. “For what?” I asked. his arms made their way around my back and he held me much more tightly than I expected. “Had a good evening. . Phil broke into laughter and I instinctively moved to embrace him. I was quite hard on myself – a reflection of the difficult period I had just been through – but in the comments I talked extensively about what I had learnt. I gave the form to him and asked if he would complete it then pass it to Jo. Finally. Dave had to complete the section as director.” he replied with a smile. did you?” “Yes. “I‟m off the market. I realised that he was having a joke with me.” My gentle sarcasm amused him and he felt slightly awkward as I put my arms around him for the first time. As soon as Phil arrived. “Very pleasant. I started to rub his back.
It was not the wonderful and incredible experience that I had hoped for but it was still very exciting. I lost something last night – I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean. Penny.” I said. I showed the writing to Phil. sir!” I said mocking him a bit. slightly surprised. “I cannot think why!” I replied. On the outside were the words “Penny Leyton – strictly Private and Confidential”. we looked into each other‟s eyes and both realised the intensity of the feelings that we had just communicated. “You are too kind. “What is it?” He rummaged around in his briefcase and brought out an envelope.” he said. then treat it as private and confidential! Go on. but accepting of my command.” added Phil. by the way. Inside was a folded bit of paper. you know!” A sudden surge of modesty interrupted my moment of vanity. “Rule number 1. see you in a moment!” Phil. but inside I was uncomfortable at anyone building me into a special person. left for the coffee machine while I opened the envelope. “I can. “She worships you. “if an employee says something is private and confidential. “Go on then.” “Aren‟t you going to show me?” he asked. as he separated himself from me and sat down in a chair. “Well. hoppit and come back in 5 minutes. “She gave me a message for you. I found the .Rory Ridley-Duff When we finally let go of each other. there‟s a first for everything!” I said with some surprise. Go make a coffee or something.
The more you practice it. did people so often think that it was preferable not to hurt someone else‟s feelings when their body was being hurt? “Ellie. Was the spark there?” “What do you mean?” “I mean did you want to rip his clothes off and jump into bed with him?” “God. Waking up with someone next to you is something else.” “I can‟t do that.Friends or Lovers cuddling afterwards more enjoyable and we talked and talked. Sex is like everything else in life. “Can you talk?” I asked. There‟s no-one here at the moment.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see Phil coming back into the office.” “I got your note!” I said. “Yes. He wasn‟t that gentle!” “Then tell him. isn’t it? Is this normal – I don’t feel completely bowled off my feet? Ellie I immediately picked up the phone and dialled her extension.” “Why not?” “I might hurt his feelings!” Why. Ellie. the better it gets. he‟ll want to give you as much pleasure as he can. I wondered. But when we started it hurt a bit. “Am I being too hard on him?” “No. Just be patient and it will happen. yes. If he doesn‟t then you‟ll want to think again about whether he‟s right for you. .
I remembered how he had moved around to my side and gently reassured me. When he didn‟t start talking I tried to give him some gentle encouragement.Rory Ridley-Duff “I have to go now. but if you are wondering whether she wants to see you again. okay?” “Yeah. “I‟m more interested in what you have to say.” I answered. He was surprisingly nervous. “Are you alright? You don‟t have to say anything. I realised that his anxiety about sharing his feelings was no different from mine. it was good and all. trying to be reassuring. He suddenly looked quite sheepish and unsure.” I said. Ellie! I wouldn‟t dream of it. but we didn‟t……I didn‟t…. right?” “Like a doctor and patient!” I said.” He hesitated again. “Well. His eyes left mine for a moment and studied the floor and I noticed that his hands moved from his knees and joined together in an awkward clasp. See you at the flat tonight. I think I can definitely confirm that the answer is „yes‟!” He smiled as he gave me the coffee. Please!” “Jeez. “Phil‟s coming!” “Don‟t tell him. As I watched Phil struggle it reminded me of my own struggle with John.” I offered.” “This is in confidence. I decided to .. “What did she say?” “That‟s between me and her. “She told you then?” “No secrets between girlfriends. sure!” I rang off as Phil entered the office. “Phil?” I asked.
” I had to stifle a laugh – he would not have understood why I found this funny. Do you know what I mean?” I looked at him and nodded. Neither was interested in blaming the other. “I was so excited. It hurt and I was worried about hurting her.” “We didn‟t……. I just ended up sticking it in and pumping away. Phil!” I said confidently.have any……foreplay!” he finally said. Clearly this was difficult for him to say.. But I‟d started and didn‟t want to take it out because I thought she might think I didn‟t want to make love to her. These are the moments when people are at their most vulnerable. Can there be . I thought I might hurt her feelings. As I sat next to him.. when one wrong word or gesture can destroy trust and end a relationship. “I wanted her to…but she didn‟t seem to know anything. but I didn‟t know how to ask her to……you know…. “But……we didn‟t……” “It‟s okay – nobody‟s going to judge you.Friends or Lovers do the same. I put my arm on his back and helped him. I started to understand what he was saying and gently encouraged him. I gently listened to him and tried to work out how to tell him what he needed to hear. “I really like her and all. but she didn‟t really know what to do. I was instantly relieved. They were going to do well if they cared so much about each others‟ feelings on their first date. Penny! I just wanted her so bad.?” “I think I know what you mean. Phil. “I mean – I took her into the bedroom and I could tell she wanted me……” He hesitated again.
Where did he end up that night. words started to spill out of my mouth. “but I‟m confident you‟ll be happier the more you get to know her. I had always thought men didn‟t care but as Phil poured out his feelings. I realised. He had screamed at me that he was not a piece of meat. I couldn‟t remember any other occasion when a man. the lad I had picked up in the bar when I was out with Carole and Chris.Rory Ridley-Duff anything more important in my line of work? Is there anything more important in life? “Talk to her.” “I just wanted it to be better for her.” “You think?” he said. Phil. “She‟s ready to learn if you have the confidence to teach her. had expressed his fears to me about sex. family. Talk to her about her parents. you know?” “Then tell her. any man. If you can do that you will find the answers you are looking for and discover someone who is going to bring you a lot of pleasure. . “I can‟t do that!” I felt like I was in the middle of a re-run. Before I knew it.” I said reassuringly. but I smiled broadly and looked him in the eye.” I started. “No promises!” I said. Talk to her about her upbringing. I wonder? I tried to imagine how he must have felt as he walked away. friend or lover. I thought about George and the violence I had done him by not treating him with respect. “Tell her!” I said gently. “I did something once that I‟m truly ashamed of….” As I looked at him. I saw his eyes grow moist. This was a first for me. As Phil talked about the pleasure he had wanted to bring Ellie. I thought about George.
. As the realisation of what I had done engulfed me. but found it too hard to say at first..” Phil looked surprised at my choice of words. instead of gently telling him how to give me the pleasure I wanted. “I……”. I began. “Yes. I ruthlessly seduced him. When he wasn‟t very good at it.. “I took him back to my flat and demanded service.Friends or Lovers It was my turn to feel ashamed and hesitant. “I…. Out poured the story of that night with a frankness and level of detail that I had withheld from John. “What happened?” Phil asked. I realised that I was letting Phil into my life. I looked up at him with eyes full of tears. “I wished he was someone else. to cast my eyes down on the floor and wonder whether I had the courage to talk. not even as old as you…” It was Phil‟s turn to touch me gently and reassure me that it was okay to talk.” Phil just nodded and suddenly the words started to flow much more freely. “I ruthlessly seduced him. He was called George. letting the import of the words hang in the air for a moment. It felt nice. not just as a professional . I felt Phil‟s hand at the small of my back rubbing my spine. I looked at Phil and his gentle smile reassured me.” Phil sat there. but gently coaxed me with his eyes and gentle touch. “I picked up a young lad once. my eyes started to moisten and tears started to roll down my nose and drip onto the floor. saying nothing. I did the most disrespectful thing I‟ve ever done….” as I struggled to say it.” I repeated.wished…….
I‟ve never talked to anyone. When I thought about it. neither of them had ever revealed to me how they felt about making love to a woman. He nodded more strongly. Phil started to talk again.” I said after a pause. about this kind of stuff. “Then. drying my eyes. for all my closeness to Mike.” “Never?” I asked. I have to tell you that I think I‟m going to be sacked.Rory Ridley-Duff colleague but as my closest personal friend.” I said.” . “Never!” he said again. When do men talk about this I wondered? “Never?” I asked again. “My God. for all John‟s openness. “Never!” he reaffirmed. ever. “I‟m going to get us some more drinks. “What a thought!” As we gathered ourselves up we noticed the cold coffees on the table. “Penny. When I stopped. I poured out my feelings to him for nearly 15 minutes.
Phil confessed to me that he‟d been visited by Harry. going over the issues that the appraisal had raised but avoiding the matter of Dave‟s behaviour toward me. Privately I knew that it had more to do with the way our relationship had turned sour. he said he could make „no promises‟ which I took to mean that a decision had already been taken.Friends or Lovers Chapter 48 The rest of the week was unsettling. At the end of our meeting. Nevertheless. as had Phil. there was a growing interest in the dispute between Elona and Mike. He had marked me down on most aspects of my performance and cited the handling of the dispute as the reason. At senior management levels. I told him he was too generous. I took the matter into my own hands and visited Harry. Phil berated me for being too hard on myself and said that I had come to terms with it more quickly and more fully than anyone else he had known. After I had divulged to Phil what happened at the CIPD event. I talked with him for nearly two hours. Jo had been kind and positive. mattered more to him than the prejudices I had initially displayed. It was this that gave him confidence in me. I received my appraisal from Dave and there were no surprises. . The way I changed my mind about Mike. This was the beginning of the end. and the care I had shown to Elona. having briefed Dave and the other senior executives about the appraisal process. I quickly realised that my continued employment was problematic. Phil reassured me that whatever happened I would always have his respect. I nearly screwed up completely for no other reason than my own prejudices.
or any moral debate about their actions. I suddenly realised something that had never occurred to me before. Intolerance toward failure removes the very people learning the most and those lucky enough to avoid it remain untouched. My two-hour conversation . If our propensity to sack people.a generation of sycophants and conformists who (having watched their own bosses fall from grace) learn not to take risks and never do anything that might lead to failure. They should have been urging him to avoid acting precipitously. Managers stop facing – on a daily basis .Rory Ridley-Duff As I left his office. perhaps. challenges to management behaviour. I felt in awe of the social forces that were assembling. goes unchecked then eventually a company loses the very people capable of forming a top-rate management team. or demote them. And so. maybe not. was about to make a corporate decision that would spark a major conflict. but his isolation from what had taken place meant that people around him should have been urging caution. As I contemplated what would happen if I failed my probation. Management failure is passed down the line and before long senior managers start to wonder why „no good people are coming through‟. As conformity and false consensus takes root. ideals. thoughts and actions slowly fades away. It is only by keeping someone in a post after they have made a mistake that a company can benefit from what they learn. I could see that matters were already spiralling out of control.the impacts of their decisions. Maybe he would survive it. Harry would act on what he knew. a layer of new managers develops beneath them . Harry. The human resource policy capable of developing truly outstanding leaders is the one that allows people to learn from their mistakes.
. I was tempted to return to Harry‟s office and say all this.Friends or Lovers was a drop in the ocean compared to the tidal wave of advice and information sweeping across his desk from Dave and others who knew nothing of what had occurred. I was foolish to harbour any hope. Instead I returned to my office and trusted that my friends would be able to bring off their coup d’etat.
As we looked over the menu. but now I‟m quite excited about it. there was a group of disparate and irritable people. I finally realised why John‟s reputation was so good. He felt the training had gone well and that there was now a good chance that the SHARE experience would sell well. he had formed a committed and thriving team. I was particularly glad to see him. A week ago I was dreading this.” “Mike talked to everyone in the department yesterday. The way he talked and cut through bullshit impacted on staff morale. In the time he had been there.” he said. The reaction was really good. I talked to Jo and realised that John‟s contribution was not just technical. It felt like a homecoming. He let me say my piece. “Everything is set. he chatted about progress. He had anticipated a long lunch and had ordered a bottle of wine.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 49 John was waiting for me at Pizza Hut.” It was good to hear that the future was positive for IC staff despite the direction of my own life. I was moved that people listened to my views and were so supportive. Before I left. We were gearing up for the largest marketing and sales push in our history and even Sam and Elaine had taken the time to speak with everyone. Now it was a cohesive squad equipped to take on the competition. At the end of such an emotional week. I wanted to return to the scene of our first meeting. “That‟s good. Two-months earlier when the department had been formed. His contract at IC was at an end. They had .
When you did that I knew you must‟ve read Ms magazine. trying to see myself through his eyes and understand how I had impacted on him. the table and me. He looked at me from time to time. didn‟t you?” “Yes. looking variously at his food. like me. Several things bugged me and I wanted to clear them up. But it was when you moved in the queue that I realised you‟d noticed me too. your arse was definitely part of the equation but not the main reason!” “What else?” “I noticed you sitting in the lounge. “John?” I started tentatively. His eyes wandered around. “You mentioned that in the speech. Our eyes met a couple of times and I liked that. I‟ve read her novels so I thought we might get on.” he said. It was a novel by Bernice Rubens. “Remember my talk at the CIPD?” “Could hardly forget it!” “Well. I think. I really want to know!” I said. “Yes.” I was listening attentively. “The clincher was definitely the shoelaces. Pen?” “Why did you sit next to me on the plane?” “Seriously?” “Yes. his face lit up. As he did so.” .Friends or Lovers organised a drinks reception to round off the day: a last chance to let their hair down before “the big push”. Then I decided to get personal. You were reading a book. but as he spoke he focussed more and more on his thoughts. We chatted and exchanged small talk until the food came.
The headline was quite uninspiring. John. “How could you know that?” “Easy. Are you really telling me that you remembered this article about tying non-existence shoelaces while in the queue at the airport?” “It‟s not so strange Penny. I pictured you as a single professional woman who enjoyed her independence and men!” We both laughed at the irony. “So there you were doing something to attract me that I‟d written about nearly 10 years earlier.Rory Ridley-Duff I did not understand how he could work out that I had once read Ms magazine. That‟s where the advice was first given to women. I stood there behind you and realised .” “You?” “Why so surprised? I‟d just finished my PhD and was full of that stuff.” “I can‟t believe it!” I said. but I was still amazed that he‟d made a connection. “You never cease to amaze. I wrote it! I added that bit of advice about the shoelace as a joke. absolutely gob-smacked. There was an article in the mid-90s telling women how to flirt at work. I thought the idea was amusing and it would be a laugh for the magazine‟s readers. I didn‟t read the article. I remember. I think it was something like „The Working Woman‟s Guide to Sex at Work‟ right before an article about sexual harassment! Anyway. I was looking at you in those fantastic jeans and pondering the connection between us. I had to make a living and for a short while I wrote lots of magazine articles. John looked me square in the eye. I‟d never seen anybody do it. It was art creating life.
” he replied. if not thousands of times. I wanted to tell him of my discovery. To him. What if I had missed the point and was about to make a complete fool of myself? I dismissed it quickly from my . but could not. “Do you remember what you asked me on the plane?” “We chatted for ages. that?” he said mockingly as I realised that he was jesting with me.” he laughed. “If you have. I realised what a complex and accidental thing attraction can be. I tried to think of one. “About sexism in the army!” “Did I ask you that? My goodness – we must have got on well for me to ask you that!” He had forgotten. Usually I have to spend ages giving hints and heavy clues before people work it out. the question was old hat. Pen. a party piece that he‟d asked hundreds. “I have an answer for you. “You mean there are people more forward than me?” he joked. “You‟re definitely more forward than me!” As we laughed.” I said. to comprehend the myriad of different things that he had been thinking about when we met. I must‟ve asked you many things. To me that question had separated him from everyone else I‟d ever known. there‟s me!” I answered.Friends or Lovers that my life had touched yours 10 years earlier. dummy!” “Oh. then you have my total respect.” I hesitated.” As I was trying to take this in. “Well.” “To what?” “To your question. “Yes! You were very forward. I couldn‟t resist talking to you. “Yes.
Never before had I thought of the problems that might create. Initially. “How did you work it out. “It‟s strange. He was truly amazed. If I was to become a fool again. but I wanted him to overpower me to prove to me that he could. I wanted him to prove he was stronger than me. His hand moved to his cheek and he rubbed it as his mouth stayed open. I was encouraging him to be aggressive and I started to wonder why I was doing it. a grin started to spread over his face. So I started to resist him. And then. Then it hit me. So I started to tell the story. He looked gob-smacked. “How did you come up with that?” He was truly amazed. making him use force to get what I dearly wanted to give anyway. I wanted to test that his love was so great that I couldn‟t stop him expressing it. really dying for me‟. Just as I was about to panic that I‟d made a huge gaff. Pen?” he asked. I wanted to know whether my answer was the one he was looking for so I set aside my fears and told him. I felt bad. . as I started to tease him and goad him I had a sudden realisation that I wanted him to be strong – I wanted him to be stronger than me. it would take its place at the back of a very long list of foolish thoughts and actions. as if I was doing something wrong. I thought how unfair it was that I should be testing him. Never before had I thought of sex as a kind of test through which men had to pass to prove their strength.Rory Ridley-Duff thoughts. That phrase kept popping into my head.” I said. Mike had been fondling me while I was talking on the phone and in my head I kept thinking „he‟s dying for me. really. And in the next instant.
It gave me my first true glimpse of the power that women can wield – that we make a man feel that he has to prove his willingness to die before we will love him. he told me that he would let me go if I wanted children. Mike. but that was not the same thing as being prepared to die to save him. Why do we say „he‟s dying for me‟? Where does that expression come from? There I was lying there wanting him to prove that he would be prepared to die for me. the phrase “he‟s dying for me” kept spinning through my head. If he was not stronger than me. Suddenly. I wanted him to be prepared to die for me. but I realised that I would not die for him. I knew.” I continued. I could not imagine making such a sacrifice. So I stopped teasing him and started to care instead about giving him as much pleasure as I could. I gave it to him willingly. I wondered about that phrase.” . A few days before. no preconditions. no tests. when we had been driving home. even die for me. I wanted him to overpower me so that I would know he was strong enough to protect me. John. “But your question. but not in the movie hero sense. John‟s question popped into my head – it was one of those flashes of intuition that have no explanation.Friends or Lovers So I set out for John what had been going through my head. how could he ever protect me? And the moment I felt ashamed of thinking this way. would sacrifice himself for me. And yet. I stopped resisting him. I put these two thoughts together. “It stopped me insisting that he be prepared to die for me as a pre-condition of my love. What could be more sexist than expecting a man to die for you when you were not prepared to die for him? Would I be prepared to die for him? I would kill to keep him.
” I said. What a journey I had travelled.” I said.” he said firmly.” I said with ardour of a convert. Penny! That‟s what men are taught to do. Usually they never think twice about it for the entirety of their lives. yes.” “We expect men to die. Pen – if we valued men as much as women . our armies would have many women fighting alongside men. Equality means that women would insist on their responsibility to fight. John interrupted my thoughts with some of his own. And for no other reason than they are men. Sensible. “If we cared about equality. it was to show themselves worthy of someone‟s love.” “Why? Surely we should recognise this…. even if the average man is stronger than the average women.we would be recruiting the strongest people to fight our wars. for the benefit of men.. “Then that‟s what we should do. my own part in men‟s violence became clearer to me. finally. Perhaps it was not even for this reason. since I had been introduced to feminism. maybe not. fought by men. I had been taught (and taught others) that war was caused by men. “It‟s only fair!” “Fair.” I thought about this for a second and suddenly became bold. . “There is another point of view.Rory Ridley-Duff “That‟s it. perhaps. but wanted him to be prepared to die for me. It had taken me all this time to see it a different way. War might be fought – in the minds of the men who fought them – to protect those they love. For them. For the last 20 years. By rights. Many women are strong and fit. John stopped me. not just their right. We expect them to die to protect us. As I faced up to the truth that I would not die for my man.
“Would you fight?” he asked. “I don‟t buy that. I hesitated. Would the society be able to survive?” “Of course. however. Penny. “We don‟t force people into the army. Women have fought alongside men in revolutions so why not in armies?” He smiled at me.000 men and only 100 women left?” His question made me think. “I don‟t have a choice. I think any community would be happier as a result of that.” I insist.” John disagreed. but only 100 men. aren‟t they?” “I suppose they are.” “Of course you do. “Let‟s suppose that there was a battle and after there were 1. “Would you?” I responded. even if there were not as many left.000 women left in a village who could bear children. I thought about his words but challenged them. wouldn‟t they. “If women and men were fighting on the front line together. not only would they be building mutual respect and enduring relationships with each other. “But what if it was the other way around? What if there were 1. If I refuse to fight.” I started. was not whimsical. His face. when the battle was over there would be roughly equal numbers left. “Look at the history of war. And those men are going to be busy. It would take countless more generations to rebuild a community if this happened. my own government is likely to put me in jail where I can be expect to .Friends or Lovers I gestured for him to continue.” he said.
” I objected. “Fallujah? In Iraq you mean?” “Yes. no . They cleared the ground by shooting everyone they came across. Either way. there would be no need for conscription. I can choose the enemy. Not long ago I would have been executed if I tried to reject violence. Even if my own country supported a right to conscientiously object.” “My God!” was all I could say. my own government. then change my mind. buggered and left to die. Even if my own side spares me. “What do you mean?” “Do you remember Fallujah?” he enquired. “No. not bravery. no need for military laws to punish deserters. would I get mercy from the enemy?” he asked.” John replied. no need for draft laws. No man between the age of 15 and 55 was allowed out of the city before the US forces attacked it. my own brothers and sisters. I felt sick. They don‟t care if I support the war or not. Again. “Only men were killed. The women and children were allowed to leave.Rory Ridley-Duff be beaten. the enemy won‟t. or a court of law. My only other alternative would be to take up arms against my own government – which means fighting my own people. John saw my discomfort. “I don‟t have the choices you do. If we did. It‟s not a question that really means anything to me. I‟m left with no way out of violence. It‟s not true that men love war. I have no choice except to fight. Penny. Remember the phrase they used? The soldiers were „clearing the ground‟. The horror of this appalled me. If I fight at first. I am court-marshalled for cowardice.” “But that‟s genocide. they‟ll still kill me.
Suddenly it made sense that little boys played with guns. no executions or jail for men when they reject violence.” He nodded and the conversation moved onto an assortment of trivia as we finished off a lovely “stuffed crust” pizza with chargrilled chicken. you would be forced to fight against your will. “Keep saying these things. . It‟s not necessary to teach them. they simply work out for themselves that one day they may have to fight. John. one day.Friends or Lovers need for court marshals. I had a truly wonderful day. peppers and extra cheese.” I wondered what it must be like to grow up constantly wondering if. I was too drunk to drive home so we walked it off in the park and visited a coffee bar. Don‟t let anyone stop you. After a second bottle of wine.
But nor did I want to become another woman who gave up her dreams of mixing work and family by finding a balance that enabled me to enjoy life outside the home. that truth and justice prevailed. prejudiced and limited as me. to make their peace with each other. It wasn‟t to happen. Several generations of women made it possible for me to exercise choice. that the initial love I felt for Mike lasted until the day I died. I was sacked. but were as frail. who did so only out of affection for me. problems which after millennia of neglect are finally becoming the subject of debate. If it had not been for the intervention of a gifted person. and I felt a responsibility to give back some of what they had given to me. For the rest of his life he enjoyed – if that is the right word – an open . I did not want to end up being one of the women who contributed to the problems that men face today. John returned to his wife and they continued. I wish I could say that most of us lived happily for most of our lives. It would have been easy to get bitter and start a crusade over the injustice but I did not want to become another statistic at the Equal Opportunity Commission. They did their best. but as things changed. Or. I would have added to these statistics myself. or a voice to be used against men and women I had come to respect.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 50 I wish I could tell you that things worked out well. some died so that I could do so. between his and her escapades. if you prefer the description on my employment record “Penny failed her probationary period because of poor job performance”. new relationships were formed and moments of happiness were found amidst the problems we all faced.
for him ever be completely free of bias or prejudice. but he was right about my desire to have children. or the interests within which he had become embedded. I prefer to think of them as two free spirits with the capacity to forgive each other when loneliness led them astray. I have his books and read each one that comes out. I gave him one or two pushes in that direction but he kept his word and stubbornly encouraged me into a new relationship. He remains my dearest and most enduring friend. but I watched as he did his best to navigate them. My cynicism about politicians faded dramatically as I met him over the years and learned of the endless no-win scenarios that they face. John remained a nomad for another decade before finally giving in to the temptation of politics. he lost his seat and switched to writing. I enjoyed many happy years with Mike. at times when we both felt sad. We parted amicably and he remains a good friend. John saw Sally from time to time. It is no less special for that and we continue to protect what we have in ways that seem right to us. You have probably never heard of him. but am also proud of – we have not felt the need to consummate our relationship. It was impossible. He never rose to the level of cabinet minister but he distinguished himself in small ways as a member of one government. But – and this is something I partly regret. he kept returning home from his travels to enjoy time with the family that he created. Sally was immediately on the scene and this time . and certainly whenever she needed his support he made himself available. At the same time. Sometimes we would cuddle on the sofa. Professionally. After serving just one term.Friends or Lovers marriage. Once or twice. nurtured and loved. we got together to spend good times. of course.
I detect the kind of closeness that I have in my own marriage. their marriage hit the rocks about five years later. Afterwards. Mike ended up committing himself to Sally for life. their marriage failed. I once wrote to him to see whether he wanted to talk about the past. but the events that took place following my departure cost him dearly. adding that he hoped never to see me again. She had been through the menopause and Mike lost his excuse for resisting her. In giving a „best woman‟ speech. I also found myself taking a much greater interest in being an aunt. The love . My sister Carole married Chris. Within twelve months he had been demoted.Rory Ridley-Duff Mike gave in to her. It was a sad way for our relationship to end and despite the bitterness on his side. and their second child – Penny Ann – was born one day early. when the success of SHARE began to fade. Nine years after his first wife had falsely accused him of sleeping with her. Dave kept his job. I discovered my talent for public speaking. She was the business brains and it was her will that prevailed in the short term. he had a breakdown. She got a buzz from the political battles and liked to forge change. According to Phil. he never fully recovered. Sam rejoined IC to engineer new products. His wife went into a hospice where she died six-months later. Sally finally got her man. As for Sam and Elaine. of course. They are now married. He declined. wanted to get back to inventing and engineering new products. After Procter & Gamble bought them out. Sam. Elaine enjoyed life as a company director and took on more directorships. The success of their company created problems. When I meet them. They are one of life‟s happy couples. I think of the good times we had.
Phil felt they spent all their time interfering in his marriage and the raising of his children. When Elona‟s parents retired. I found it impossible to build bridges with her again. and when his children started blaming him for the marriage break-up.Friends or Lovers between Carole and Chris was elastic: it stretched and bent as life threw its worst at them. I went to work for Sam and Elaine. it created a big rift between Elona and myself. It took much of the spirit out of him for many years. of course. they devoted themselves to grandparenthood. Phil was promoted into my position at IC and we kept in touch. but Sam and Elaine had committed investors and staff. When Elona took out a court injunction to stop Phil seeing his children. In exchange for giving up continuous employment rights. Phil got limited access after a lengthy court battle. He felt so superfluous that eventually he left. Everyone expected the SHARE product to be a success. with help from John. Sam and Elaine. Phil and Elona had a crack at things. the contingency plan worked a treat. the dispute between Elona and Mike was the catalyst that ended . As for me. Sam and Elaine gave each member a generous shareholding in the new company. Given what happened later. so they took up this opportunity in large numbers. He writes to them each birthday and still clings onto the hope that one day he will be able to make up for lost time. Mike. It broke his heart. When I look back. persuaded the entire SHARE team to leave IC and become members of Sam and Elaine‟s company. There was a furious legal battle. Each had a tremendous capacity to accommodate the other‟s weaknesses and failings. eventually got married and had two children. However. he eventually stopped seeing them altogether. it did not last.
As I learnt through reflecting on my life and writing this story. or company constitution. We formed a new business together – the Social Exchange. Through the simple act of exchanging labour for money. If it works for them both. against the trend towards ever more standards of excellence. constitutional matters and legal frameworks. and certainly does not require a written contract of employment. John works with us on some projects. I am its managing director and we help organisations develop progressive approaches to human resource management. against increasing numbers of . Each new business starts out with two people who like and trust each other well enough to give the other what they need. they continue it. but arrogance and shortsightedness eroded the share price before the company was sold off. While banks and development agencies get flustered about business planning. but never toppled it. I remain close to Elaine and we both did well out of the company sale. two people enter into their own agreement. it is not only inside the home that intimate relationships are of vital importance. It is a thankless task arguing against bureaucracy. Trade begins when you trust someone enough to pay for the products or services they offer. standardised codes of ethics and kitemarks. this simple truth is not stated often enough. It gave the rampant rabbit a good run as the number one sex toy. In the 5 years that followed. I rode on the crest of a wave as the SHARE experience exceeded all our expectations and became the number one seller in the personal hygiene market. Many of us became paper millionaires for a while. Today. That can happen without any written agreement. but he is getting quite old now.Rory Ridley-Duff IC‟s rapid growth. finance.
Our friendship developed into a lasting romance. If I can teach this to my children and grandchildren. Thankfully I have been able to make a living saying this to many people. Phil and I are the closest of friends and managed to rekindle our passion for each other after we got the kids out of our bed. employees and suppliers. I learned this at IC. but even the way we articulate our thoughts. my time on this earth will not have been wasted. I started to see Phil more.Friends or Lovers laws that seek to regulate not only our behaviour. there needs to be a culture in which relationships are intimate and people can learn from the mistakes they make. and that is why I wanted to tell you this story. there is only one thing of which I am certain. Intimate relationships are the foundation our society. After I split from Mike.made little headway. and exploring ways to make it work in practice. We called her Hope. and Phil split from Elona. Three years later we had a girl. It may not last. But I am pleased to have influenced a few organisations so that they keep bureaucracy to a minimum and replace this with the exercise of moral judgement in the way they deal with investors. In this struggle I have – unsurprisingly . We now have two lovely children: a boy I insisted we call John. customers. There is a strength that grows from being quick to listen and slow to judge. but for now I am content. and from them spring not just new human life but new economic life as well. As I look to the future. ~ End ~ . For a business to grow. these things are never certain.
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