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Friends or Lovers a Novel by Rory RidleyDuff View in Full Screen Mode

Friends or Lovers a Novel by Rory RidleyDuff View in Full Screen Mode

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Published by: Parinita on Oct 02, 2010
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Sections

  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Chapter 7
  • Chapter 8
  • Chapter 9
  • Chapter 10
  • Chapter 11
  • Chapter 12
  • Chapter 13
  • Chapter 14
  • Chapter 15
  • Chapter 16
  • Chapter 17
  • Chapter 18
  • Chapter 19
  • Chapter 20
  • Chapter 21
  • Chapter 22
  • Chapter 23
  • Chapter 24
  • Chapter 25
  • Chapter 26
  • Chapter 27
  • Chapter 28
  • Chapter 29
  • Chapter 30
  • Chapter 31
  • Chapter 32
  • Chapter 33
  • Chapter 34
  • Chapter 35
  • Chapter 36
  • Chapter 37
  • Chapter 38
  • Chapter 39
  • Chapter 40
  • Chapter 41
  • Chapter 42
  • Chapter 43
  • Chapter 44
  • Chapter 45
  • Chapter 46
  • Chapter 47
  • Chapter 48
  • Chapter 49
  • Chapter 50

Friends or Lovers
Commissioned by Social Exchange Ltd

Rory Ridley-Duff

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.
www.roryridleyduff.com

“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

To my muse in business. you have been a constant source of inspiration and the best antidote to loneliness that any writer could ask for. you are still my dream woman. draft chapters. This book is fiction but without undertaking a series of workplace studies. To my children.Acknowledgements The people who made this book possible are numerous. and who will also check their manuscript for errors and support them through lean times. I thank you for helping me find moral courage when everyone around me thought I was mad or hopelessly naïve for writing this novel. Poonam. Your comments were invaluable and I trust you will spot your influence in the end result. 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. Firstly. my wife. Our conversations about the human condition will remain with me always. Natasha and Bethany. you have my enduring thanks. 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). To family members and life-long friends who did not spare my feelings in their feedback on early drafts. propose story lines. for the enormous patience and support she has given to my writing aspirations. It is every author‟s dream to have someone with whom they can freely discuss ideas. For these and many other reasons. . I‟d like to thank Caroline.

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just a misunderstanding. Mike was traditionalist all right. “why have you been bothering Elona?” He looked so unconcerned that it made me slightly irritable.” Yes.” “She‟s never said anything about it. it was a different matter. End of story. She wanted to discuss something private so I asked her if she‟d like to go for a drink. The frown on his brow was more pronounced.” Mike looked uncomfortable now. I just never got any sense that she didn‟t like the way I behaved. one of those „pretty boys‟ who does not realise that . we‟ve been close at times. but that is not something that you show in this job. He prided himself on being „friendly‟ but I just found him a creep. There‟s been a complaint. Mike was moderately bright. She said „no‟. He was 50. was she?” I said with a laugh. He was married and fancied himself a bit too much. had worked his way up through the ranks. Mike. To him a „bit of fun‟ probably included the occasional trip to a lap-dancing bar or shagging in the toilets. concise – look him in the eye. that‟s not what I‟m saying. Calm. confident. It‟s no big deal. To Elona. And yes. His eyes looked around the floor. maybe. “It‟s nothing. but I‟ve always been careful. and sometimes I think she‟s tried to flirt with me. landed himself a regional sales management job and probably felt he was enjoying the best years of his life. “No. Still.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 1 “So. I‟m not making out she was „up for it‟ or anything crude like that.” I said. if you ask me. she never showed it. If she felt uncomfortable. “Bit of a tease.” “Not to you. Time to give him a push.

I‟d better check with my boss before I do anything here. I think. “Mike. but I‟m not averse to a confrontation with the occasional unreconstructed man. Married with children. probably bored at home. I‟m fairly new here. Not quite as straightforward as some situations I‟ve faced because he has a good reputation and is well liked. still wanting to resurrect his youth and put it about. Mike the macho.” . She‟s a bit sensitive at the moment. I guess. here we are. perhaps. Leave it with me for the next 24 hours. Not my type at all. Mike is proof enough of that. In the mean time. particularly in the company of like-minded female friends. Twenty years ago this company would not have contemplated me in this position. To progress I had to move. Many of my management colleagues are women too. but too old for me – definitely! And he really irritated me when he shared dirty jokes with his friends but never with me. Come see me tomorrow and we‟ll wrap this up. Nine months into my first job as Head of Personnel. In my previous job I‟d been fast-tracked to deputy director but came up against the glass ceiling. sales rep of the year four years ago. but the patriarchy seems alive and well. I guess the sexual revolution has helped a bit. I‟ll look into this and get back to you. So. He was certainly not my type. was he past it! He had aged well. I can see that men have it harder in some respects. I could see right through him. steer clear of Elona. God. Boyfriend trouble. I think. now leading a successful team but getting angry when one of his administrative staff won‟t go for a drink with him.Friends or Lovers they are past it. I would not call myself a feminist. It can be quite a laugh making a sexist-pig squirm.

Rory Ridley-Duff Mike did not look relieved at these comments and mumbled something I could not hear. He shook my hand. He had never struck me as a formal sort before. . His eyes met mine and he fixed his gaze for just a second then looked away.

I could happily spend time in his company in the office or away on business. “Do it sensitively. “Well. I don‟t think he should be sacked.” Dave looked at me thoughtfully for several seconds. Penny?” I was not sure whether the question was rhetorical but as no more words were forthcoming I gathered my thoughts. “Not completely sure. “As far as I‟m aware this is the first such complaint against Mike. but we should move him.Friends or Lovers Chapter 2 “He‟s done what?” asked Dave. This does worry me. and I knew that he was ambitious too. my director. * * * Innovation Centre Ltd was modern and dynamic. He was not much older than me. It‟s fair to Mike and it„ll send a strong message to the rest of the company that it won‟t be tolerated. Dave was „Director of Business Development‟ and spent his time seeking out creative types and developing relationships with them. Elona‟s upset. Unlike most men. He . We shared a professional ethic and modern outlook. But I agree we can‟t let this pass. Okay?” I nodded. this isn‟t easy.” I liked Dave. He enjoyed working with me but was careful never to overstep the mark or make me feel uncomfortable. but it clearly looks like he‟s got the hots for Elona. he engaged with women as equals and was sympathetic to many of the problems they faced. I hear he‟s not been a paragon of virtue in the past. I can‟t let this rest. Penny. Zero-tolerance and all that! What‟s right here. Mike‟s good – his team like him.

Of course he‟s taken – most guys like him are – and he now has a young child that he rarely sees. I did the „women into business‟ thing a few years back. Workplace relationships might put that at risk. They were dishing out bursaries to encourage graduates into management.has created a network of 60 inventors and a catalogue of wonderful gadgets. the Innovation Centre – or IC as we call it in-house . football . but even so I am a bit of a man magnet when I wear black. and decided to specialise in human relations work. he is „strictly business‟. but for me they‟re a heap of crap. I still prefer the „relationship‟ thing. Much as I like him. smartly sexy.Rory Ridley-Duff found inventors. Most men are bastards anyway. I‟ve read my share of self-help books. but go out on the town and get a shag if I want to. I have my share of paranoia about my looks. 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. Dave has a penchant for that too. but avoid the ones called „How to Find the Man of your Dreams at Work”. As for me. speaks well and is incredible at building trust. nett present values and can put together a business plan. Over the last decade. He mentors me and I appreciate that. I‟ve worked hard for my career. He looks smart. got them to commit their products to us then helped them obtain development grants. I thought I may as well get myself an MBA couldn‟t see what harm it would do . intelligent. interested only in sex. able to live independently. however. They‟re fine for those who want to give up work when they find their prince. My friends joke that I am a model of the Cosmopolitan revolution – vibrant.and now I understand all that talk of returns on investment.

and working with a new team. I dumped him. Another feather in your cap. “I wasn‟t born yesterday.” Mike looked at me and nodded to indicate he was ready.” Mike looked blankly at me for a moment. we need a solution to that too. “Carry on. I‟ve taken my pleasure carefully and on my own terms. “That‟d create a problem.” he said quietly. Same salary.” I said firmly.” I said showing him to a chair. same status.” “Cut the crap.” Mike interjected. I can‟t say that I like this side of my job. “We think it‟d be a good move for you to join Direct Marketing. of course.” “And what if I don‟t take this position?” he asked. so we want someone with lots of experience. I lived with a guy once but soon felt like his mother. then around the side of his head as he pinched his ear-lobe. I do boyfriends. Our eyes locked and his hand moved up and rubbed his chin. but only until they want me to cook them a „special‟ meal or wash their clothes. but it goes with the territory and you have to harden yourself to it. It seems to work for me. It‟d mean travelling more. Mike. Since then. and this provides one. “Can you give me until Monday?” he asked. “I‟ve had a chat with Dave and Elona about the situation and I‟ve a suggestion for you.Friends or Lovers and drinking. aren‟t I?” “Well. * * * “Thanks for dropping in. . Penny. I‟m taking the flak for Elona. They‟re a bit wet behind the ears. “It‟s a new project.

If I have to clip the wings of a man who sets a bad example then it feels like a job well done. If you need to talk to your wife then take the day off. but I don‟t want this hanging around while I‟m away. . Mike called me back later that day and accepted the new job. I do have a conscience. “If that‟s all. The problem is sorted and Elona is protected. I have to go. Penny. Mike?” “This…” his eyes looked up at the ceiling then down at the floor. His awkwardness was palpable but no further words came out..” he hesitated. He can‟t really complain. He was not a happy man.” “She‟s working. His family is still safe.Rory Ridley-Duff “No. Mike. Mike. 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. but the world is changing and the type of behaviour he is responsible for is no longer acceptable to either men or women. It is never easy giving someone a sideways move but it has to be done sometimes. “What is it. but I could see that he was struggling to find the words. I was able to protect his income. I‟m away in France next week. The hardest thing is protecting someone‟s dignity while sending a message that some behaviour is unacceptable.. I feel sorry for Mike.” I got up from my seat and felt his eyes burn a hole in me. I can give you „til 4 pm. In some ways.” “Can‟t you call her? Meet her for lunch?” “I‟ll try. He was trying to say something.

Usually that pissed me off. and applied a dab of Clinique near my ears. 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. 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. kind but sexy. but hard work – a two-day conference. moisturised myself with assorted oils. If I go to these events with Dave I feel obliged to spend time with him. It was a dull evening. Clearly he was a person used to smiling and laughing. He had dark brown hair with touches of white. I could feel them undressing me. They were nice eyes. He was casually dressed in jeans and a black top. This time I did both. I guess he was around 45 but still had a hint of the handsome features of his youth. but this time I was on my own and had the chance to really let my hair down. but not . He had definitely aged well. First night I snuggled down with a Bernice Rubens novel. At home I might bump into a neighbour or colleague from work.Friends or Lovers Chapter 3 France was fun. wrists and breasts before setting off to await the chat up lines. When he cast them in my direction. The best approach I got all week was not at the conference. I shaved. The second night I decided to dress up and take my chances at the conference party. After relaxing in the bath. I studied him. But abroad. If there is one thing I enjoy about going away on business it is the freedom I have in the evenings. Our eyes met briefly a couple of times. His eyes were brown and there were wrinkles stretching from the outer corners across both temples.

“Some comedy!” . It seemed to have the desired effect because five minutes later I was in a window seat and he sat down next to me. He continued to read his book until the plane took off but then started to look across me out of the window.” he suddenly remarked. All the lines at the corners of his eyes creased. As the plane rose higher and higher. underlining phrases that caught his imagination. he continued to gaze at the buildings and roads below.” he remarked showing me the title of an article he was reading. Definitely nice eyes. A pity he had not been at the party the night before. Sometimes he would sigh. I instinctively smiled back. I thought. and then he smiled.” He looked straight into my eyes and held my gaze for a second. I obliged by reading it out. He turned to me again and smiled. He was not bad. and at other times he frowned. He was reading intently.” I paused for a moment and then quipped. “A comedy?” I asked. 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. “The impact of sexuality on group dynamics: a symbolic interactionist perspective.Rory Ridley-Duff today. “You look down there and you realise just how insignificant you are. I noticed his every move. I manoeuvred myself into the queue just in front of him. He held my gaze long enough to let me know he liked the way I looked. From then on. “Of sorts. then without another word he resumed reading his book. When we boarded the plane. “Flying always makes me feel humble. After a while he let out a laugh.

“thirty-something manager from Warwickshire.” “You‟re a writer?” This was getting better and better. “A consultant.” “Partly.” “John. I guess.” “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 write.I might help men to look at women differently. writing is a by-product of my living. “Behaviour. acknowledging my interest and deflecting it at the same time. I would guess they read my work sometimes….” he responded. “In what way?” I was genuinely curious. “Are you in my line of work?” I asked. “I challenge the way people look at themselves and each other. . “Penny. hoping to dig a bit into his background.Friends or Lovers He looked carefully at me and nodded in agreement. “forty-something consultant from London. “Well. “Well…. “Only to my wife!” he joked.” he said guardedly.” I announced.” “Very enigmatic. I sometimes work with HR people. This time I held his gaze for a little longer to let him know I liked the way he looked. eh! In what field?” I enquired.” he responded.” There was that smile again. what is it you do?” He paused. “And what line is that?” “Employees. but I‟m not a writer. I mean I don‟t write for a living. or women to look at men differently. I‟m an HR manager. So.

“Some of my clients think of me as a pain in the arse.” He smiled. raising his eyebrows.” “Of course. You must be acutely aware of their typical profile. then?” I asked. right? You must have an abundance of „knowledge‟ about men and women. “Woman are made of sugar and spice and all things nice while men are made of slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails.” I was tempted to make another flirty comment.” The way he said „knowledge‟ was weird. I guess. let‟s see. If my cheeks had coloured up.” “The army!” I was genuinely surprised. Let‟s take something outside your everyday experience. .” I said with a smile. “Your assumption is right. Did I detect the hint of mockery? “As much as the next person. more than that. surely? It is your job to know about men and women. brushing aside his comment with a smile. Khaki never was my colour and I don‟t like getting dirty.Rory Ridley-Duff “You‟ve got a wife?” the words came out so fast that I kicked myself. “Why?” “Well. “What about the army. but resisted.” “Oh.” he said.” “You disappoint me. “We don‟t have long enough to discuss that one! Okay. He continued without any trace of embarrassment while I wanted to shrink into my seat. and kids. You‟re in HR. he convinced me that they had not. like a challenge. A taster only.” he immediately answered. Let‟s think about the army. “Yes.

I started to offer less controversial suggestions. staffed largely by men with the purpose of keeping men in power.” he said. Here‟s your question. after all. “Can I ask the audience?” “Well. an organisation created by men. it‟s your opinion that really intrigues me. it may not be fair. “I saw a documentary some time ago about women in the army. I liked that.” he said. “All mobiles must be switched off during the flight. “That‟s three things. However. I found it difficult to look him in the eye while I thought. rape and abuse happen to men as well. “Bullying.” John said.” He looked at me kindly. I usually ask this question at the end of a course. Some had to put up with dreadful abuse.” “Bullying. and it made me pause. raping and abusing. I didn‟t want to spoil a promising conversation by saying this. „What‟s the most sexist thing about the army?‟” What an odd question. I imagine the army is even worse. and she talked of similar things happening to her. “Okay. . “Fuck! Where do I begin?” Where would this lead? I turned over half a dozen arguments in my head – the army is.” he said with a wry smile. “Can I phone a friend?” I teased.Friends or Lovers “Well. It was flattering to think I intrigued him. “Aha! The million pound question!” I said. I thought. I had a girlfriend who was in the police. I felt nervous and my right hand instinctively went to pinch my ear lobe.” he said with mock severity.

I felt.men don‟t. usually when in enemy hands. And I wouldn‟t want you to remember me as the depressing old git who spoiled your flight home. was the real thought provoker. . is it?” “Not at all. I wasn‟t sure that I was making sense. “Women soldiers get raped….” “Don‟t get me wrong. “I mean. I was genuinely shocked to hear that. Have we asked the men how they felt about it?” I paused. more powerless. That.” “Male soldiers get raped too.” Even as I said it.” “You wouldn‟t be alone in that. 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. “God. “Maybe. that‟s sick. “You did ask!” he said with a laugh. But it‟s a thought provoker. surely?” I retorted.” said John.” I added and shot him an irritated look that hopefully did not cross the boundary into rudeness. “It‟s not a trick question.” “Indeed. so I thought some more. “You‟re right. “I can‟t say I‟ve given this much thought. a woman is always going to feel more violated. 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.” “But it‟s not the same.” I replied somewhat apologetically. It‟s food for thought. I wasn‟t going to be put off that easily.” “Bit of a depressing subject.Rory Ridley-Duff “What‟s the most sexist thing about the army?” I repeated quietly to myself.

. “Okay. “Less of the „young‟. it was not this. I wanted the conversation to continue. “I‟m old enough to gobble you up. Not nearly as sexy as your perfume ….” I said coyly.” I quipped. but only with strangers.” “Perhaps you should be a bit more choosey about the things you say. “But it is sexy. please.Friends or Lovers “But not a very sexy topic. Are you asking me to lie to you? I thought women hated liars….” “Hmmm. 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. “Hey. married man! Should you be talking to me like that?” I snapped back ensuring my eyes caught his again. I was not sure whether to invite him to join the mile high club. “Yes.line of talk. Nice thought. “Then I‟d better not get to know you too well. or punch him in the balls for being so cheeky. I can see that I‟m going to have to watch you!” he chuckled. had I?” Whatever I had expected on the journey home.er…. It was one of those moments where I could have . but the way he looked at me as he said it.. “Watch me? I think you opened up this….” I was enjoying this.” I said these words with a smile that reassured him that his compliments were very welcome. “Do you like to open up?” he asked inquisitively.” I laughed before I could stop myself. what should I say to a young woman like you?” It was not what he said that induced butterflies.

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.” The brevity and simplicity of his response made me pause again and he used the moment to spring another surprise on me. survived a few ups and downs. “So what is it you do exactly?” “I just told you. For a living he helped companies educate men and women to improve their marketing skills. “The way they really are. He‟d been married for 20 years. Our banter continued. He thought for a moment.” Friendship? That was a quite a leap in such a short space of time and I was taken aback. I took him back to the start of our conversation. He was an academic turned marketing consultant.” he said pleasantly. and had two children he loved deeply. Ann. “I try to find another way to look at human relationships. “Exactly.” I stressed. By the time we landed I felt like I‟d had a brief tour of his life. “My wife knows me well.” “And what way is that?” I added. It was not just his forwardness that . and children.Rory Ridley-Duff stubbed out the fire before it got too hot but chose to fan the fire instead. He talked fondly of his wife. “Would you like to meet up for a drink next week?” “What about your wife and kids?” I said with a hint of sarcasm. I don‟t hide my friendships from her. continuing to dig. who specialised in work with creative teams. As our descent into Heathrow started. His boy was 12 and his daughter 14.

I actually found that I cared what he thought.” He nodded his head.Friends or Lovers caused me to stop short. I let a story unfold in my mind. I don‟t think it would be sensible…. I‟d flirted with quite a number of men over the years but I‟d never really cared whether they liked me or not. I could not get him out of my mind. With one assured movement his mouth latched onto me and began to knead my flesh. anything. His eyes moved over me. “Just thought I‟d ask. When I reached home. As we swapped cards I felt a pleasant sensation that was rare for me.” “Do you need to pretend?” he inquired without a trace of mockery. but also a sense of disappointment that his aspirations were not a little higher. Here was a man who knew how to make a woman . greedily consuming every inch of my skin. “I can pretend that we met at the conference. “You‟re a most unusual man and while I‟d like to go for a drink. As I drove away. caressing my stomach.” I found myself agreeing before I could stop myself. I gave him my personal email. “Okay. My head and body arched as the pleasure rose within me. but did not look disappointed. He was hard to resist. He saw my hesitancy and I felt a burning need to say something. I continued to think of him as I allowed my fingers to work their way down into my pants. went through my winding down routine and settled into bed. With John it immediately mattered to me that he liked me for more than my womanly charms. How about swapping e-mail addresses?” I smiled. rather than work. I chucked my bags into the corner of my bedroom. then slowly pulling down my knickers. and his hands moved slowly across me tantalising and pinching my nipples.

. 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.

The marketing manager. I turned to my e-mails. not simply beauty products. I asked one of my staff. really. short listed people. 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. There were several memos about recruiting regional organisers for the new home catalogue. Jo. 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. wanted specialist training for her team on consumer behaviour.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. None of this was new. and then interviewed them at a hotel. After spending the morning organising the following week‟s meetings. Phil. just a variant on previous recruitment campaigns. Those that I liked would be invited to our headquarters in Leamington Spa for an assessment day. where they would have a second interview with Jo. junk mail still got through and I weeded this out as quickly as possible. to find out the unresolved issues and discuss them with me at the end of the day. We advertised in the local press. This gave me time to cast my eye over some of the mail I had received. I found most of these distasteful but they were becoming commonplace and whatever we did the problem still increased. Just like Avon. . but specialising in a much broader range of gadgets. Despite the efforts of our IT department.

com Re: Drinking with Women Hi John. He must be keen. Had a word with my wife. I hit the [Reply] button: From: penny@hotlips.simons@tascali.com To: penny@hotlips. Isn’t it your turn to teach me some tricks…? John . Lastly. 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. Who are you playing verbal tricks on today? Penny Even though I knew that I had more pressing tasks to do.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. I kept wondering if he was going to reply.com To: j.t. I felt a sense of expectation disturbing me. Every time a new e-mail arrived..t. To think that you are so willing to corrupt a sweet innocent girl like me…. Penny. John My god. The hour seemed to drag.simons@tascali.com Subject: Drinking with women? Penny. No probs if you want a drink. there was a message from someone that I did not immediately recognise: From: j. he‟s e-mailed me already.

but at least I get to kiss him back. but she’s petite and it won’t fit me. Penny. John. Do you have any that would fit me? John x . He likes to play. Which? Wear a summer dress.Friends or Lovers Good. Hmm! Tempting. very tempting. Bugger. habit caused me to hit the Send button. Penny. But unfortunately I don’t have a kilt. Penny x Not much chance of him accepting on those terms. I think my wife has one from her Scottish dancing days. And the bastard made me wait over an hour for a reply. We can shock some genteel country folk by doing handstands together…. Too late. 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. 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). Can you do that? Penny While I pondered whether this was too risqué. This time he replied quickly. Every time a voice inside me warned me to be cautious another told me to be daring. John. Tricks? Well.

” “Shit!” I exclaimed. bright but inexperienced. John.. hit me with it. the joy I‟d been feeling drained away. “Okay. and with careful guidance I could see him going far. I’m a big girl. Phil was a good lad. however. but not that big…. So what is the bad news?” “You‟ve got three vacancies in Mike‟s old team. they had to be put on hold because Phil entered the office and sat down with a large sigh. “Good news first. . please. Better back off for now.Rory Ridley-Duff The cheeky bugger! He‟d mentioned his wife again. he had to learn how to do the donkeywork and that meant devising and running the administrative systems I needed. Penny x I hoped that I‟d not pushed him away too quickly. Looks like we are going to have to postpone that drink for the time being. He had good grasp of psychology (always useful in this line of work) and had recently graduated with a good degree. “Do you want the good news or bad news?” he asked. He was young and hard working. After 45 minutes. What was I playing at? Were we flirting or joking? I was not sure.” “That‟s good. After 30 minutes. He‟d clearly had an eventful meeting with Mike. “I think I‟ve found the people to fill the vacant positions in the marketing team. I felt a mixture of annoyance and regret. Whatever my thoughts.” I replied.” was my starter for ten. the pick of an excellent bunch. “What‟s he playing at?” Phil settled back in his chair. For now. He was personable too.

wouldn‟t they? The old boy network will naturally stick up for him. they would be.” “Okay. What d‟you want to do?” “Leave it with me. Anything else?” “Nope.” “It‟s not the men – it‟s three of the women.” “Hmm.” Phil was good. He had no problem working for a woman and we got along well. The moment I arrived in his department I was collared by three of his sales reps. Sounds okay to me.” How weird. They were pissed as hell at Mike being moved. They want to move with him. They want to work with Mike. Are you off now?” I asked. part of a new generation that accepts the way the workplace is changing. They all fit our desired profile. I thought! Perhaps he weaves a magic spell that I don‟t know about yet. “Not yet. All have contacts from previous sales jobs. Thanks.Friends or Lovers “Not sure. He was fresh out of college. Not sure he‟s playing at all. Two have school age children and the other has grandchildren. Their sales records are pretty good. “Well. “It overlaps their territories so they‟re confident they‟ll build sales quickly. Few things to round off. Don‟t worry about it. . I‟ll check with Dave. or prepare for battle if he doesn‟t. he said that he‟ll accept the temporary drop if these three can join him. I nodded to Phil to carry on. “Well. I get the feeling that he‟ll quieten down if he gets his way on this. I‟ll keep you posted. What about Mike‟s money concerns? Did he raise that?” I asked.

it may come in handy. The job information we sent out would be slightly misleading. “Mike may become a problem. The differences were not so great that we needed to worry. Something was disturbing him. Dave finally agreed but as I left he said something that set off alarm bells. The starting salary would be the same. Find out more about him . He did not immediately jump at the idea and rubbed his chin in thought.Rory Ridley-Duff I sought out Dave to confer on the latest developments. but I could explain the changes at interview. 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.” .

My wife does not usually interfere in my personal friendships (unless she feels threatened) and we have become much more relaxed in recent years. so it was a surprise when another e-mail from him appeared in my inbox. I love my kids. If you are okay with this. I want to give you the chance to walk away if you wish. In saying that I don’t want you to read more into these comments than is in them. I locked away sensitive information and tidied my desk. I retrieved my e-mails to see whether there were any final issues to deal with. It was fun. Try as I might. John x Who was this guy? His arrogance pissed me off. I have women friends and I’d like you to be one of them. Hope to hear from you soon. Fuck him. I could not concentrate.” “A Fantasy. What had he called me? “Smart and sexy. Thanks for playtime. I love my wife. Our relationship is a strong one. then I still have a pleasant memory of meeting a smart and sexy woman. Before that resumes. Penny. then we will become friends. If you are not. Mixed in with my anger was a spine-chilling excitement that I could not shake off. If I flirt it is because I think you find it fun too. I hope we can enjoy more banter in the weeks to come. however. I like you.” Why does . Before logging off.Friends or Lovers Chapter 5 Back at my desk I started to wind down for the night. You are an attractive woman. That is a lovely thought to keep in my head if that is all you want to give. That evening I settled down with my Bernice Rubbens again. I‟d forgotten about John. But enjoying a mutual attraction does not mean I’m going to make a pass at you (that will have to remain a fantasy).

The hours passed and still I could not read my book.Rory Ridley-Duff he tell me he won‟t make a pass at me? Why not? Bastard. The prospect of looking into them thrills me. Play it cool. Why does this hurt? Don‟t let him in. He‟s got kids. no denying it. I put on music. Why do I want to trust him? I never trust men. Slowly it dawned on me why I‟m angry at him – he dares to resist me. He‟s got “ups and downs” in his life. I tried to watch a film but the moving images were just a backdrop. Maybe he is just after a fling. The word „danger‟ keeps forcing its way into my thoughts but my mind wanders back to his eyes. And that realisation had a strange effect. my eyes finally got so heavy that I dropped asleep. For a few hours I was free of the conflict raging in my soul. the minutes ticked and questions invaded my thoughts. He‟s sexy. Don‟t let him in. He‟s married. He makes me laugh. No guy has ever talked to me like this. I must stop thinking like this. Don‟t trust him. He‟s too old for me. He‟s fun. . My thoughts kept returning to our e-mail exchanges. He dares to resist me. He‟s intelligent. Penny. Penny. As I lay in bed. but I did not listen to it. By 2am. circling around like vultures gnawing at old wounds.

and his brow still showed a frown. I too felt awkward because I had initially imagined that work was conducted in the way described in study texts. see if they talk about him. we are part of the management team and that means we bend to their wishes. I asked Phil to find out more about Mike. I told him not to be too obvious . His eyes looked at the table while he rubbed his chin. then join in the conversation. Whether I like it or not. If they do. “I want to be sure that there is not a pattern to his behaviour.” Phil looked awkward. Naturally.Friends or Lovers Chapter 6 Following my conversation with Dave. won‟t they start wondering why?” “Just spend time with them in the canteen. he scratched his nose. Much as I wanted to focus on recruiting the best people and developing them to their full potential. “I‟m still concerned about Elona‟s complaint. As he looked up. not find out dark secrets. “Nothing in particular. we have to work within management objectives and commercial constraints. get to know them. he quizzed me. . of course. Just see if you can find out about him.” “If I start asking about him.to start by finding out what he could from members of his former team as unobtrusively as possible. you find there is this whole other world that no-one talks about. “What am I looking for?” he asked. Just take an interest.” I said. I remembered the first time that my manager asked me to keep my ears and eyes open. I‟m trying to build a picture. When you experience the real world.” He rubbed his hands together.

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“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

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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

Chapter 7
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

Rory Ridley-Duff

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.

Ms Leyton. “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. Why?” “If you‟ve asked someone to stop and they continue to touch you in a way that you don‟t like. come and see me. “Okay. doesn‟t it? If anyone does something that you don‟t like. Okay?” She seemed to relax. I wondered .” Ms Leyton? A bit formal. eh?” I said with a furtive look. “And quite right too.Rory Ridley-Duff “I guess it depends whose got their hand on your behind. tell them straightaway. “Yes.” “Do you have a diary?” I asked. make a note in your diary. I‟m glad we had this talk. Still. “It seems that we have a few more heads to knock together. I have a boyfriend and I only like him to touch me like that. I‟ll try. I could see she was agitated so I took another approach. I don‟t want other men doing it. Her defensiveness suggested she was hiding something. “I don‟t understand what you are implying. After Elona left the room I pondered her behaviour. Elona.” she confirmed. “What do you mean?” she replied as she shuffled in her seat. Elona tensed and was unsettled by this remark. Can you do that?” “Yes. I detected a touch of embarrassment in her behaviour. Can you do that too?” “Sure.” I smiled strongly at her as I drew the conversation to a close.” “And if you feel the need. I thought.

Clearly we will need to work on this problem together.Friends or Lovers if she was receiving more attention than she was saying. I‟ll discuss with Phil before I depart on Monday. .

two years younger than me. She is 30. Although I live on my own. I always work hard to make my living room the most welcoming one in the house. her first child with boyfriend Chris. they had children quite late. I have large vases with dried flowers that give some colour and texture next to an attractive gas fire. I‟ve worked hard to shape it in my own image. They had decided that if they still wanted to be together after living in each other‟s pockets for two . On the opposite wall. I take some pride in my home. Considering their generation. each with different tribal markings. Recently he got a promotion to project analyst and is now supervising others for the first time. Over the brick fireplace I have some ethnic artwork. although one day I‟d like a house with a garden that I can tend. When I settle down with a box of chocolates and dim the light. and has made her career in teaching. The mantelpiece supports two tall candles in wrought iron holders and a number of stone carved nightlights. At the moment she is on maternity leave. It suits me for the moment. I splashed out on a wooden floor and cream leather sofa. Carole. Next to Carole is a picture of my parents on their 40 th wedding anniversary. After meeting at university they wanted to travel the world together for a while. At ground level. I have a photo of my younger sister. after I was accepted in this job. Last year. 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. On the wall either side are two African masks.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 8 I live on the outskirts of town in a two-bedroom flat. the candles give the room a romantic sexy feel.

still has two years before he can retire. sometimes we write e-mails to each other and swap humorous cards. I‟m proud of him. A few of these hang on a pin board in my living room. like my sister. they‟d do it for life. I grew close to my sister and we stayed that way ever since. is a teacher. they each established their careers. I reckon.Friends or Lovers years. We now call each other every week. . Sometimes he gets to prepare answers for TV. got married and had children.” What is it about men and commitment? Even though she‟s been with him for three years now. At that time. many of our phone conversations still dwell on “man problems”. Forlorn. My sister sent these to me when she was having difficulty getting her boyfriend to settle down with her. however. My mother. 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”. but she holds out hope that eventually they‟ll get married. When they got back. Fame of a sort. she will be able to retire next year. I keep telling her that we are better off without them. He even gets to write answers for the Prime Minister sometimes. And so it has been. I guess. He is a civil servant who rose through the ranks to lead a unit that answers parliamentary questions. I ask if we will hear wedding bells soon but the most optimistic response she‟s given so far is “Next Year: probably. My father. but hope springs eternal where she is concerned. My father is the kindest man I know but I have had a prickly relationship with my mother ever since I turned 14.

belly bars. When I go to bed. The work units and oven are built in so there is a reasonable amount of workspace and cleaning is easy. I switch out the main light. carefully selected so that on the rare occasions I think enough of a man to invite him back.Rory Ridley-Duff My bedroom is a mini-paradise. I don‟t have space for a washing machine so I still do my laundry down the road. organised into earrings. The kitchen is small but functional. selections of lipsticks. They know how I like to adorn myself. I feel deliciously erotic. and on each bedside table I have one of these new cylindrical lights with slow moving silver flakes that refract light. Wrapped in my duvet. switch on the bedside lights. The headboard is decorated with subtle white lights. so the dresser came with an array of drawers to hold all my paraphernalia: lip gloss. a sensual and very personal love nest. and watch the patterns that meander around the room. 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. Jewellery is in one of my side drawers. make-up remover and spot sticks. moisturisers. It gets me out of the house . and a choice of rings for fingers and toes. Either side of the mirror is a raised area for an assortment of bottles. just perfect for fuelling my fantasies when I feel like playing with myself. facial scrubs. bracelets (wrist and ankle). I don‟t have a regular fella to keep me warm at night. necklaces. nail varnishes and eye shadows (which I use only on special occasions). The focus is my pinewood king-size bed with a deluxe duck feather duvet and pillows. so a sensuous bedroom equipped for lingering self-pampering is one of life‟s essentials. The other side draw holds my collection of lingerie. I can make him think that he‟s gone to heaven early.

She gives me the latest celebrity gossip. He actually gets upset that he can‟t feed his child.” I interjected. He can change a nappy now. “Yes. * * * “Hi sis‟” “Hi Carole.” “Can‟t you train him better?” I ask.” “Nothing on the matrimonial front. How about you?” . I‟m not sure about it. When Big Brother hits our screens we chat about it each week and I invite her around my flat to watch eviction nights. I give him a toy with a bell on it and he sits there shaking it and laughs for ages. He is. yet?” “Haven‟t raised it for a while. Good week?” I enjoy these chats with my sister. I don‟t know. bless him. I reassure him that as soon as he starts on solids then he‟ll be able to get in on the action. it just creates tension. but he just makes more work for me. I try. but baby refuses to be fed by bottle.Friends or Lovers and I can chat to Betty who does the service washes. He is trying too. “Chris has raised the idea of using his flexi-hours to spend more time at home. He‟s sitting up now and he‟s a lot happier because he can look around. “I try. Just wish he could cook then he‟d be really useful to me.” “He sounds keen. “Not bad. Quite sweet really. In some ways it‟s good to have him home. This has been a standing joke ever since she started going out with him.” “If only adults were as easy to amuse…” I commented.

I can‟t explain. “No. Sounds like he‟s a fast worker. let you know how it goes. He has lovely eyes. but I didn‟t even convince myself so I doubt that I convinced her.” “And your libido?” “I don‟t think so.” Carole quipped. He is a practiced flirt. I can tell. I say! You only live once. I have no idea whether I‟m doing the right thing and you know what I‟m like with men. got kids.” “No Carole. “Yeah! I‟ll call you in the week. “Go for it. why are you meeting him?” It was a pertinent question. Like I say. yes?” she asked. he‟s an oddball.” “Hey you.my inability to find any man worthy of me. But I did meet an interesting man this week on the plane back from France. He burned my ear with all this stuff about sexism in the army. “Oh. “No. But he seems different. He‟s intelligent. “Oh.Rory Ridley-Duff This is another standing joke . nothing to report there.” We are so alike.” I said weakly.” .” “Tell me more….” “So.” “You‟re smitten.” No sooner had I uttered the words than I realised how stupid they sounded. He‟s most odd.” “Too right you will. and you‟re giving him a big green light. it‟s not like that. a consultant. “He‟s married. I want to satisfy my curiosity. He was keen to meet me again so we‟ve agreed to meet up next week for lunch. I‟m not sure. a writer. so that‟s a no go area.” “Oh don‟t say that Carole.

” “I will.” “Bye sis‟” And with that. we both put down the phone and returned to our very different lives. .Friends or Lovers “Say „hi‟ to mum for me if you talk to her. Stay cool.

if the doorbell rings on a dark winter evening I use my spy hole to check who‟s the other side. but with others you can visibly see their bodies convulse with anger. Some withdraw into themselves and skulk off. One thing that only women can understand. Her last boyfriend punched and kicked . I particularly hate having workmen in the flat during the day. Living on my own. watching only the television that I want to. and getting up when I like. Despite the façade of strength I present at work. cleaning. is the silent fear we have of violence. I think. I have the pleasure of buying in exactly the foods I wish. I still can‟t get used to going to bed by myself and I especially miss the pleasure of waking up next to someone. So far none have hit me. most men who I let into my bed think that the corner of my room has an invisible linen bin placed there. 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. relaxing and sleeping. 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). but my sister was not so lucky. If it is a man I do not know – and sometimes even if I do – I don‟t let them in. Sometimes I get really scared. I don‟t always feel safe on my own. Not having a man about the house also helps in that respect. No way am I going to start washing their clothes. But I can‟t deny that there is loneliness too.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 9 My weekend was fairly typical: shopping. snuggling up to them. and sharing my thoughts and feelings. Breaking up with a man is traumatic because you never know how he‟s going to react. reading.

By Sunday. time and space to think. Am I significant? Do I make a difference? Have I had a positive influence on the people I‟ve known? I wasn‟t sure. I have a nice home and neighbours. looking at her bruised mouth and eye. I‟d done my chores so I took myself off to the Malvern Hills for a walk. .Friends or Lovers her when she ended the relationship. The wind buffets my face as I stand like the French Lieutenant‟s Woman. good career with responsibility and the chance to travel. 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. Walking gives me a wonderful sense of freedom. holding her hand while she sobbed like a young child. watching her shrivel with humiliation as she admitted to a nurse how she received her injuries. It was a pleasant day. warm for April. an isolated and desolate beauty searching the wilderness for something in life that will make it more meaningful and satisfying. In my mind. Sitting with her. that‟s an experience that‟ll never leave me. On the surface it looks very fulfilling. I‟m sufficiently attractive to be able to enjoy male company more or less whenever I like. 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. two circles of friends (inside and outside work) that balance each other and provide good times and support for bad times. At the moment I wonder whether my life is going in the direction that I want. a family I can see when I need (far enough away not to crowd me but close enough to visit the same day). I recall John‟s comment that looking down on the world reminds us of our insignificance.

but perhaps it is me who is avoiding commitment. the hills are filled with people who have come to terms with sharing themselves with another. I even hide my feelings from my sister. Husbands walk with wives (lovers or friends. I don‟t think I‟ve shared myself fully with anyone. The life I have is safe.Rory Ridley-Duff I‟ve been hard on boyfriends who would not make a commitment to me. . cannot be satisfied with any of them. emotionally and spiritually. Family and friends are great but there are limits to how I can be with them. I still feel lonely. If my parents knew how I behaved sometimes they would probably die with shame. My deepest need. but deep in my heart I‟m still quite lonely. In fact. the desire to share myself physically. I‟m too afraid. Even when I‟m shacked up with a man. I can‟t show them the real me. and I have many things that give me pleasure. Parents walk with children. 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. Rarely do I see two women or two men walking together. perhaps). I‟m not sure there is anyone with whom I can do that.

He too seems to possess the necessary enthusiasm and skills. There was a single woman with previous direct sales experience and good family support so I think we have found the people we need. Love Me One More Time” on the CD player and this fuels an expectation that lunch will be the start of a romance. We e-mailed each other over the weekend and agreed to meet at Pizza Hut. But I keep driving towards the town centre. The car parks itself as if I‟m on auto-pilot. I also interviewed a single man who had won custody of his children. the clock shows there are only 50 minutes to go and my breathing deepens and lengthens as my nerves start to intensify. turn right into an NCP car park. I shouldn‟t be meeting him. 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. As I enter the outskirts of town. no matter what I do.Friends or Lovers Chapter 10 I‟m in Leeds today. see the front of the car turn to the left and climb the levels. “Go away!” but ranting makes no difference. . I‟m driving back to meet John. At the moment. Both with children in the 11-15 age range and extended family support (that‟s usually necessary in this line of work). watch the barrier rise. I can‟t help but feel excited even though I know this is not an appropriate way to feel. “Stop it!” I shout. I found a man and woman. I try not to think and focus on getting through the next few minutes. both married. The interviews went off as well as could be expected. I have George Benson playing “Lady. I wish I didn‟t feel like this.

“You look good. Look in the shop windows. Inside. Now right. Check my handbag. Along the high street. Thank you. Studs with a light blue jewel adorn my ears and a matching necklace drapes around my neck.” I say with false modesty. I‟m not only pleased I‟ve made an impression but also delighted that he‟s noticed. Apply evenly. I appreciate it. But his hair looks freshly washed and there . Open the door.Rory Ridley-Duff Find the exit. Go down the stairs. My hair was washed this morning and tied back into a ponytail. Where is my lippy? Look in the shop window. Turn left.” “Just my normal work clothes.” The moment I hear his words I come out of my trance. classy but not tarty. Enter. Around the eyes. £50. The necklace is long enough for the jewel to draw attention to a hint of cleavage. What a surprising remark! “Yes.” “Thank you?” I ask. All this elegantly covered by a light purple trouser suit that hugs my figure. I can feel myself beginning to relax. Continue. “Penny! There you are. Turn left. Walk. Wait for card. Turn left. I applied a modest amount of eye shadow and liner. He has turned up wearing an unironed tee-shirt and jeans with a hole in one knee. I‟ve put on a white top – thin enough to give a hint of the lace bra underneath – styled into a „V‟. There‟s no harm in showing off my pert behind and womanly curves. I take off my jacket and sit down. Thank you for making the effort to look nice. a subtle shade of blue (just enough to emphasise my long black lashes without looking trashy). look at him and smile. Choose “Cash no receipt”. Press 7725. Go to cashpoint. Take the money. Press lips together.

” “She keeps you young. I need an exclusive casual outfit for each day otherwise my beach cred is seriously damaged.” “Yes. but in the daylight I guess he‟s a bit younger than I first thought – somewhere in his late 30s. I felt comfortable and content. His face has worn well and his hair shows only slight signs of greying.” “Does your tailor get much business from you. The lines at the corners of his eyes only display when he smiles. when he‟s relaxed they disappear. “So. “Tell me.” “I‟m 44. “It did. Very energetic woman.” he jests. would you believe?” “Only just. did your interviewing go well?” he asks. yes! I don‟t beat about the bush. obviously. Especially before I go on holiday. then?” I quip.” I say boldly. I carefully ironed the creases into the shirt and hired a tailor to give my trousers that deliberate „just torn‟ look.” “Perhaps it will catch on in Hollywood?” He laughed and looked deeply into my eyes.Friends or Lovers is a day‟s stubble giving him an undeniably rugged look. “how old are you?” “Forward aren‟t we?” “Oh. “Yes.” he says without any embarrassment.” . “Lots. Then he adds. “I see you dressed up for me too…” I say cheekily. “I use my wife‟s Nivea every day. All the nerves that I‟d felt were swept away. I have to work hard to keep up with her. I still don‟t know how old he is. including a single father. Good on the wrinkles. I settle into my seat and look at him more closely. Shortlisted four people. I like it.

Politics became liberal.” “Strong minded?” He says nothing. One sister who is two years younger than me. Now HR manager in a growing firm. Translates government documents from English to French to German and back again.Rory Ridley-Duff Given that we‟d moved onto the subject of his wife. “What does she do?” “She‟s a linguist. Tried a few. attended women‟s groups. It suits her. Did radical bit at university. Can you do that? Then I‟ll give you mine. I felt we should dwell there a bit.” “Okay. in Malvern where I grew up with my teacher mother and civil servant father. “Your life in 5 minutes. Shouted regularly at politicians. fell out with mum. Developed well. She saves her strong opinions for our marriage and children. now with child and dopey boyfriend. “Want to try something I do on my courses?” “Why not?” I answer. then?” “She prefers a quieter existence where her opinions are not the subject of public scrutiny. I could sense a question coming. his smile and nod say it all. She‟s also a teacher but currently on maternity. got angry with women. Here we go. Likes . Started to like men less. got angry with men. Relatively happy modern career woman. Warm loving home for the first dozen or so years. manager at 29 but stumbled across the glass ceiling. Age 13 onwards I became a bit of a rebel. Born. Protested the Gulf War (the first one). Chose career instead. including that he admires her. He doesn‟t need to. age 0. Started to like men more. “So!” he says. always closer to dad.” “Not out and about like you.

usually fine. Now 32. Went off radicals. nights in with cat. exercise. Frost. Artist mum. Protested the Poll Tax. Started writing. Always liked women. flirting and friendship – but in reverse order. Lots of responsibility. Friends. Got hired as a consultant. Went through the „girls‟ craze. Went through the basketball craze. No Angels. Tried real world. the pay. Both older. Did my extremist bit at university. Sex and the City – shame it has finished. “All in one breath?” I laugh out loud. . then calmed down. Very sad but coped okay. “I think that‟s the best exercise I‟ve had all day. Mexican food. Marine engineer dad who died when I was eight. The portfolio life is for me. sometimes lonely. then PhD. A waitress stands at the end of our table ready to take our order. Worked in academia. “Wow!” he injects. Born in Hampshire. Went through the football craze.” he adds. same age as you funnily enough. refused to pay it.” He stops and takes in a deep breath to replenish his oxygen supply. This is fun and I am enjoying myself. Two sisters. My turn. Went off real world. “How about you?” I quickly ask. Married her. the freedom.Friends or Lovers chocolate. Tried a few. Flirted with radicals (both ideologically and literally). fell in love with one. Hobbies include walking. Did a masters. Loved kids. Liked kudos. romantic comedies. Returned to research. A rebel until age 13. I stop. Missed first Gulf War demo. Hated kids. “Right. Eastenders. Lots of freedom. walking. We both laugh in unison and I look at her. the other lectures in some obscure social science. Had kids. One works in a women‟s refuge. Loved them again.

“So what have you been doing in Birmingham?” I enquired. Wherever I go they never seem to work.Rory Ridley-Duff “Could you give us a few more minutes?” I ask. “Would you like any drinks while you are thinking?” Her voice came out in a monotone as if it had been prerecorded. “These things take time. He felt like an old friend. sir.” he answers politely. some well-founded. we were joyous and smiling. As soon as she went.” I request.” “Such as?” .” “And did you succeed?” I was actually interested this time and he could sense this. and I was drawn more and more into the conversation. “Helping some marketing recruits find new ways to look at men and women. he leans over towards me and speaks quietly. he started to gesticulate. As he started to speak. others not. please. “Decaf coffee. “Cappuccino?” asks John. “I think someone has placed a contract to sabotage all cappuccino makers worldwide. People have many preconceptions.” * * * As we chatted away. “I‟d afraid the machine‟s broken. Is a normal coffee okay?” “Of course. not a new one. His demeanour changed and took on a more relaxed and thoughtful expression.

“Difficult to tell. It‟s everywhere. The results were surprising and not what you‟d expect. Then some people started to ask whether the research design was distorting the results. Over one-hundred and seventy studies in the last three decades disagree with you.” But he sounded sceptical. 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. Men are definitely more aggressive and violent. I don‟t understand why. I could feel a sprinkle of alarm go through me because I could sense he was leading me into a trap.” he replied surprisingly.” “But we all know that men are more violent that women. “Perhaps. In the papers. feeling that I knew the answer already. “It depends on whose data you look at.Friends or Lovers He thought for a moment. It‟s my job to make sense of reliable data.” .” I thought of my sister and my body felt tense all over. “That men are instinctively more violent than women.” I affirmed.” “The studies must be biased. on TV. “lot of studies suggested that men were more violent than women in personal relationships. “There‟s a growing body of research now. You see it all the time.” “You are joking! I don‟t believe you. but John continued calmly and reassuringly.” he continued. not just women. Researchers started to ask both men and women. I could tell that he was selecting one from a great long list. “In the 70s and 80s.” “Is that well-founded or not?” I asked.

different social environments. “Dad is being used to threaten the kids. John and I looked at each other and this time we didn‟t laugh. She had an impatient look on her face. I thought for a moment. different age groups. “We don‟t have to talk about this if you don‟t want to.” “You‟re not alone.” “I don‟t believe them.” “I can‟t explain it – this is very new data to me too and I need time to reflect on it. I know you are going to try. Yes. the waitress returned. I was in deep shock.” “Of course. I remembered a TV series with this name. “Thank you.” he said.” “Explain.Rory Ridley-Duff “I can‟t rule that out.” John paused. Is that your point?” I asked. and have been conducted by people from different research backgrounds. . We both picked up a menu. John looked at me supportively. quickly found something we liked and ordered. I stopped for a moment. What is meant by this phrase? I looked at John with curiosity. It is just hard to accept. “No it‟s okay. At that moment. I am interested.” said the waitress. “D‟you remember „Wait „Til Your Father Gets Home‟?” he suddenly asked.” he said with a smile. I‟m sure there was a hint of sarcasm in her tone. But the results are consistent across different industrialised countries.

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 have threatened it once or twice. they won‟t listen to me. I think it is about Mum making Dad responsible for discipline. but sometimes they dig their heels in and I come very close.Friends or Lovers “Not sure.‟ Even my female students used to say that they‟d play dumb or frightened to get their brothers. John paused for a moment. “Maybe we use Dad as a weapon because he is more scary. fathers and boyfriends to do things for them. He was forming his thoughts onthe-fly as well. Make them go to bed. “Maybe we use Dad as a weapon whether he wants to be scary or not. “Now I come to thing of it.” he answered speaking directly from the heart.” He paused. “When I think about this. 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. That happens in my house too. “I‟m not sure any more that men choose to be aggressive. will you?‟ I‟ve managed to avoid smacking so far. “you see it everywhere. .but what d‟you do when kids won‟t respond to anything?” I was beginning to see his point. My wife sometimes says to me „John.” I said. I hate doing it – I feel like I‟ve failed . The threat is only effective if the kids fear Dad.” he continued.” he said finally.

“but the issue for women is that the threat is always there. 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. and I was eating chicken dippers. Completely. I‟ve had to move him. After that. I‟m not sure it is appropriate for me to talk about this. “What‟s your work like?” he asked. He only became worried after she started to flirt a bit.” We both paused. That moment. nodded and then . we shared a stuffed crust with extra mushroom and chicken. The threat is enough. He tried to cool it off. I‟m sure you are right. I‟m trying to find out more because something peculiar seems to be going on.” I stopped myself. We have a man who has been pressuring a young woman for a drink. But I‟m under no such obligation. But it is double-edged.” John looked at me in a way that suggested he did not know whether to carry on. She‟d been having some difficulties at home and she singled him out as a father figure to talk to. but he‟s done this before and the young woman was so upset that I had to separate them. “Okay.” “Yes. “Yes. Busy at the moment. “John.” I answered. I raised my eyebrows. He‟d ordered potato skins.Rory Ridley-Duff “Maybe. we both realised we‟d had enough of this. You understand?” I said. The woman is holding something back. Tricky situation in one department. our starters arrived. I‟m not sure exactly what. We‟re never free of fear. I have a friend who felt a young woman was getting too close to him. I don‟t understand all the ins and outs. Instinctively.

We swapped mobile phone numbers too.” “Me neither. we danced around each other using metaphors hoping the other would understand. I said softly…. “We‟ll be fine. I hoped he was right. “…we‟ll have to tread very carefully…” He nodded and also spoke softly.Friends or Lovers tilted my head slightly to one side to indicate that he should continue.” he asserted. “Yes. We both agreed there would be a next time in about a month. A minefield.” He held my gaze. I felt good. We had our own minefield to navigate. isn‟t it?” I said.” I responded. I hoped that I had found a friend – a real friend.” But. “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. Always. We both knew exactly what the other was thinking. I could have said “I‟ll be very sensitive about your marriage”. . She backed off and was hurt. we hugged. he paid. He could have said “I don‟t want to ruin this by sleeping with you. When we parted. “I don‟t want to tread on any mines. As I walked back to my car.” “It‟s always complicated. but only after I made him promise that it would be my treat next time. Men and women talk to each other in such oblique ways. After coffees. protecting our egos while leaving the door open just in case we both had a change of heart. no. Next thing he knew she‟d complained about him.

Even with all this care and effort. I met Dave to discuss the interviews. but I‟m confident that we‟re reducing the recruitment lottery through the use of these techniques. participate in role playing exercises. recruitment is a hit and miss affair. They undertake a psychometric test. Nearly all his team talk highly of him. More than once. I found them a good deal more open than I expected.” “I chatted to Elona too. you first?” “Okay. I called Phil into my office for an update on Mike. After I rounded off with Dave. 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. Four accepted an invitation to our offices for the following week. Lastly. At other times. I got Phil to phone all the candidates and give them the news. “Have you been able to find out anything?” I asked. we‟ve found our perfect candidate only for them to decline the position at the last minute. those that were marginal in the recruitment process turn out to be the best performers. The assessment centre uses an array of techniques to provide a more rounded picture of a candidate‟s suitability for a position. Not quite what I expected.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 11 When I returned to work. Anyway. They are sad that he‟s . but interesting nevertheless. we introduce them to teams that undertake similar work to give them a flavour of the „real‟ workplace. then confirmed the final shortlist. I‟d like to better understand why people decline. and also to give the teams a chance to evaluate the candidates in a less formal setting. “Some.

. you know. polite and caring to women and a bit rougher and more argumentative with the men.” Phil paused. particularly the women.Friends or Lovers moved on. Some didn‟t mention the complaint – in fact I got the impression they didn‟t know about it. but was also sympathetic and supportive when his staff had problems. “Elona told me she felt uncomfortable socialising with her team. They were always working together to resolve customer issues. “Those that knew she had made a complaint were surprised. . then he gave out a slight laugh. “I can feel a „but‟ coming….” Phil stopped talking for a moment and had a puzzled look on his face. some words were forthcoming. I still think there is something going on that we don‟t know about. She worked closely with Mike – that went with the job. People liked her well enough but they found her a bit quiet. Some said they were shocked because they thought the two got on extremely well. touch her and make her feel uncomfortable. It sounds like he had a reputation for not putting up with any nonsense.” “Did you pick anything up about Elona? Were he and Elona close?” “Yes and no. and I felt that it wasn‟t the right time to probe. Finally. He rubbed his chin and touched his eyebrow before making several attempts to start speaking. They wouldn‟t elaborate. Mike. A couple found him a bit „old school‟. and some of the younger men.” I said. but they all respect his abilities as a manager and as a salesperson.” I decided to share what I found out.

“I‟ve heard that too.” “Why d‟you think that?” I said with genuine surprise. as if they had spent a considerable amount of time together outside work…. “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‟. and his wife kicked him out for a while.” He rubbed his chin vigorously as he sat thinking. “Come on Phil. spit it out.a cross between a brother and a lover….” “What about Mike‟s marriage?” “Ah! Yes.” Then Phil said something that shocked me.something didn‟t feel right but I can‟t put my finger on it. There was such a familiarity in the way she talked about him.. one of the sales reps. “Sally‟s attitude to him was so different from the others.No. “….” I shared something that Dave had told me. “Tricky. They clammed up a bit. He got close to Sally. but I would hazard a guess that he broke up with his wife for a while. I think they sensed at this point why I was taking an interest. Nobody said it out loud. “Yes?” I prompted.” “Interpretation?” Phil was hesitant.” He paused again and I was starting to get a little frustrated. He did have a rough patch a couple of years back.Rory Ridley-Duff “I agree…. She spoke about him almost like…. but I pressed him. He was searching for words. I don‟t know..” .

Mike admits that he put his arm around her.” “Hmm. So far as I can see. Mike had an affair with a sales rep. he still lives with his wife. We now know that Elona has been troubled by over attentive men at social events and that she‟s hiding something.Friends or Lovers “Well. Fourth. and when he admitted this he was definitely agitated.” After Phil left my office I pondered what I‟d learnt. his wife forgave him and he moved back in. his wife kicked him out. . Elona is upset. 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. What do I know? Firstly. Secondly. Thirdly. Okay. he lived with the rep for a while. I just can‟t work it out at the moment. I‟ll see what I can find out my end. Mike asked Elona out for a drink. Keep your ear to the ground. 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.

Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 12 “Hi. “I talked with Elona about a week ago and I can‟t help feeling that she‟s holding something back. It was as if he was trying to decide whether he should speak. Mike. I understand that you worked closely with her. She worked well.” I said with a welcoming tone. to be frank. “I‟m not accusing you of anything. We worked well. Yes…. “What do you want to know?” he asked. “It was good. “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. She was not the most talkative or outgoing young woman. Mike shuffled a bit in his seat. Is that right?” “Er.” Mike looked at me for quite a few seconds. He did not look relaxed so I tried to put him at ease. it doesn‟t make sense to me. “Not in any detail. I let him settle before I continued. I‟m trying to clear up the background to this situation with Elona and.. I understand that things have not gone smoothly with her boyfriend. but I wondered if there is anything that you can tell me that would help me understand the situation. “Mike.” The moment I said this.” but he stopped short of saying anything more and looked down at his knees while he pondered further. Come on in. “Has she told you about her problems at home?” he asked. but I liked her . Are you happy to talk about it some more?” Mike‟s hands were locked together and he looked very tense.

“If I‟ve made a mistake. He started to nod slowly and relaxed a bit. they clearly had no idea what was going on.” “I‟ve tried. Her complaint took me by surprise. “Well. Nobody‟s interests are served by withholding relevant information. Mike. she confided personal stuff to me and I don‟t think I should break her confidence.” he commented. “What do you mean?” I asked. “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. “No. but tried to remain calm. Then his right hand moved swiftly to his face and he touched his cheek.” His statement puzzled me. I would feel more comfortable if you talked to her directly about it. I thought I detected a wry smile. But she‟s hedging. “Penny. 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. It was someone else in the department.” .” he said deliberately. “She didn‟t?” he asked.” I said. “Why did you ask her out for a drink?” Mike tensed and I could see his hands clench.” I felt myself start to get irritated. His hands settled back into lap and he started to speak. I need to know. Mike.” I corrected.” “She didn‟t make a complaint.Friends or Lovers and worked well with her. “Haven‟t we been over this before?” he asked. I was not sure where to go next.” I asserted. “There is more. “but she spoke to me in confidence.” “Well that explains a lot.

I talked to her several times over a number of weeks.Rory Ridley-Duff He thought for a moment.” Inside. Slow down. “I am used to handling these things within my team. then gathered his thoughts.” “Who‟ve you been talking to?” he asked aggressively. gave her whatever support I was able. I apologise but I really don‟t know what was alleged or why. but I needed him to calm down if we were to make any progress. I knew the damage had been done. “Nobody is accusing you of anything. “I thought you were trying to straighten this thing out. . I looked him in the eye.” His defences were up now. “You get close to people don‟t you?” I commented. nobody‟s accusing you of anything. He immediately tensed again.” “Why didn‟t you come to me earlier?” I asked. He decided to open up.” I found that remark patronising and privately wondered if he resented my involvement. I thought I must‟ve said or done something insensitive. Like I say. If I have.” “Then why can‟t you look me in the eye when you say that?” he retorted. “Mike. “I know you give good support to your team. Mike. I also offered to meet her outside work and the next thing there‟s a complaint against me. “She spoke to me in private about issues with her boyfriend and also an upsetting incident with a team member. “What on earth do you mean?” I regretted the remark but it was out now and I had to limit the damage.

You are well liked by your team.” “She spoke to me in confidence and I‟m not prepared to break that confidence. he seemed to relax. But you have got too close to team members before and this has made managing the team complicated. I offered personal support for a member of my team who was experiencing personal difficulties at work and at home.” I said. I felt uneasy. or Elona and a team member. “Cards on the table.” Mike looked at me. I think something has taken place between you and Elona. I gave her my word. I cannot manage a situation I don‟t understand. “I did what any good manager would do.Friends or Lovers “Okay. or later. but it is as well you understand how I feel. 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 „overstep the mark‟. I did not want this situation to get nasty but experience told me to remain calm and sit in my chair. I will have to talk to Dave about calling a formal enquiry.” He was a stubborn bugger and I decided to exert a bit of pressure.” he said with some force. “I don‟t want to fall out about this Mike. You have a chance to be open with me now. Even if it makes my position difficult I‟m not prepared to break my word. “Then tell me about these things. It sounds like one or more of policies have been breached and you have a duty to inform me if this is the case. Clearly you give them excellent support and I can see they appreciate this and it has worked well in the past. He fixed my gaze.” I struggled to contain my own impatience. . Curiously. On the basis of this conversation.

” he replied. I‟ll talk.” Trust him? I don‟t think so. calling an enquiry will just compound things. “Okay. Are you going to give it to me?” He stood thinking. I‟ll await your call. with a more friendly gesture he made a concession. “Penny. You‟ve made mistakes already. There is more at stake here than my job. There is some serious shit going on here and it is my job to find out what it is. I gave him one last chance. but I let it ride and saw him to the door. I need your co-operation. “Are you threatening me. This is one situation in which I will trust my own instincts.” “Right.” I argued. Mike?” It was my turn to fix my eyes on his. maybe this is one can of worms that needs to be opened. “People have already been hurt. . “No.” His tone was slightly sarcastic and that annoyed me. I‟m saying that you do not know enough about this situation to handle it. “If you get Elona‟s consent.Rory Ridley-Duff “Do that and a can of worms will open so large that you may never recover from it”. Let me think on this and I‟ll get back to you. Elona. People will get hurt. you and others will be hurt if you pursue this.” “Mike. Then. and seeing as you‟ve moved me to another department it is no longer my responsibility. he said My patience ended. This is not in your interests – trust me.

it’s called Wedding Cake. . I put the Elona issue on a back burner. With all the recruitment issues to deal with. then perhaps we‟ll be approaching the end of the sex war. “there’s some good news and some bad news”.Friends or Lovers Chapter 13 Things calmed down over the next few weeks. We bantered about men and women and I started sending him feminist jokes. and a study involving 2000 women.. He replied with “masculist” ones. John and I continued to e-mail each other in the evenings and steadily got to know each other. “So what’s the bad news?” asked Adam.. Scientists have. finally discovered the food that reduces women’s sex drive by 90%…. …to which he responded….. after 20 years of diligent research. 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”.. she said to Adam. I responded with a George Burns quote: . He added that when both men and women could laugh at both jokes. 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.. “The bad news is that you can only use one at a time.” …. 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. and the new starters.to which he replied…. Adam asked to hear the good news first.

I guess. I can choose to blow his mind or tell him to piss off. actually. shaved under my arms and between my legs (quite the fashion at the moment). 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”. If I‟m eventually going to get rejected. more ardour than intellect. They managed to pack the baby off to mum‟s so we‟re going to really rock „n‟ roll. Do I care? Yes. 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‟m well into my beautification routine. About an hour ago I had a bath and soaked myself in essential oils. 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. now I come to think of it. at least let the man have a . It hurts a lot. Not all women have this power – I‟m lucky. Although I‟m thirty-two. If they didn‟t fancy me they‟d probably tell me to piss off.Rory Ridley-Duff There will always be a sex war because men and women want different things: men want women and women want men. out for fun without commitment. But the men in the singles scene are playing the same game. not least because I have looked after it. there is a perverse balance of power. they do say that in their own way after they‟ve shagged me. after several months off the scene. * * * Tonight. They don‟t call me. I am lucky to have young skin. But when I think about things. it hurts. And with this power comes some responsibility. 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. In fact.

I‟m a hot babe tonight. I like to soap my boobs. I‟ve put on some crystal studs and some dangly earrings that have a blue tint (to match my eyes). really cool – and cut above the knee but not so short that I look like a chav. I‟ve put on black high heels with open toes and a single buckle strap at the ankle. It is studded with crystals and an eye catching sky blue jewel that fits into the crease of my cleavage. 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 have a great pair – no need for a padded bra or implants. I look sexy as hell without looking cheap or trashy. On my feet. I imagine most blokes won‟t notice the detail. 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. a femme fatale out for a kill. but they complete the vision. a living sculpture. They are not that comfortable. a handsome face. Tonight. I apply sky blue varnish to my fingernails. I‟m going for it. and a cock as big as his ego. . Any under wired bra brings out the best in them. but the women will. While I wait for my sister. plenty of money in his wallet. Under my trendy black leather jacket there is a leather skirt with an overlong belt – dead stylish. fashioned to move the senses. and when I put on a black body-hugging Elle top with a suitably cut V-neck. When I‟m getting ready for nights like this. I‟m a piece of art.Friends or Lovers smooth tanned muscular body. Sometimes being a woman is such fun. 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.

Rory Ridley-Duff

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.

Rory Ridley-Duff

“…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.”

Rory Ridley-Duff

“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‟ll just help Chris with the drinks. 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. As the song ended. but his eyes kept looking in my direction. At the bar was a strong looking young man in a white tee-shirt and jeans. he was great – but I think I have the edge when it comes to oozing sex appeal. I saw that Chris was queuing at the bar not far from him so I turned to Carole. One was so taken that his girlfriend put her hand under his jaw and twisted his face back so that it looked at her. 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. I grinned broadly and briefly as I flashed a look at the young man sitting at the bar.” and off I went. A two-second gaze is a come-on. I caught half a dozen men looking in my direction. Good. I have his attention. He was with friends. I began to look around as I danced to see whose eye I could catch. As I walk right past him. I give him a series of strong admiring looks each lasting a second or two. . As I cast my eyes around the restaurant tables. I put my arms above my head and I let my hips swing and my long hair fall sensuously about me. God. 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. our eyes meet. 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. For now. Three-seconds is tantamount to telling him I want him inside my knickers. chatting.

it had been a while since I‟d let my hair down so I decided to take things as I found them.” “It‟s not his heart I‟m interested in. “Go easy on the young lad. I decided to bide my time. with my arms above my head. As I returned to the dance floor. I knew that I‟d probably had enough. I think” I say turning to my admirer and catching his eye again. His heart may not be up to it. They were. and that another glass might cause me to get sleepy before I‟d had any fun.Friends or Lovers “Shall I take that. Pen. Soon I was in full flow again. One gave him a shove forward as if to say “Go on. get after her!” He smiled and laughed in an embarrassed way but did not come out onto the dance floor. He seemed a bit more nervous that most men. Penny. gently moving in time with the music so as not to spill anything. “Not as much as his. Whether it was the drink or not. one of my favourites. I could feel the effects of the drink. Chris. and Carole decided to leave me to hog the limelight while she drank her coffee.” I ask. . 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. The next record was Madonna‟s Open Your Heart. gyrating my hips and inviting the onlookers to let their imagination run wild. I tip-toed around her while I downed the water.” Even though I was alternating water and wine. “Dancing is thirsty work. Carole was bopping away to YMCA when I arrived back with my drink. he definitely looked good to me. Pretending to be helpful. His friends realised I was giving him the eye and they were ribbing him and laughing loudly.” “Watching you makes my throat go dry too.” he jokes. Still.

I shan‟t be long. His friends. “Back in a minute!” I walked towards the bar again and could see my catch stare at me as I approached him. It was time to cast my line and hook my man.” I shouted in Chris‟s ear. “Just going to the loo. I let my cheek very gently touch his. “White wine. “Hi! I‟m just going to the girls‟ room. After five minutes Carole and Chris joined me and we grooved away for the next couple of records. but if they tried to touch I quickly moved away so as not to discourage the man I‟d set my eyes on. I allowed them to dance near me. I was ready. I put my hand on his shoulder as I drew my mouth close up to his right ear. The tingle of anticipation heightened my arousal as I entered a cubicle to relieve myself. I looked in the mirror. I walked down the stairs to the toilets. like the parting of the red sea. letting the alcohol and atmosphere go to our heads. Yes. I imagined my youthful admirer .” As I drew away. Would you like to get me a drink and we can chat when I get back?” He broke into a big grin and nodded. he was really very fit indeed and his face was kind and very pleasing to the eye. . past two young couples who were already exploring each other‟s throats and fondling each others‟ buttocks. backed away a little as I went up to him calmly and confidently.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. I closed my eyes and pictured the young man who was buying me a drink.Rory Ridley-Duff A number of men tried to join in with me while my young admirer remained at the bar drinking his pint. My black hair had become loose and free-flowing and I looked like a high-class tart.

he did not respond. but I thought it was already obvious that I was coming onto him. Rescuing damsels in distress!” So. then?” I wondered if this was too much of a come on. To my surprise. Load of tossers. I‟m Penny. “So. but there was a hint of humour there.” I raised my glass in their direction and they acknowledged me en masse.Friends or Lovers I returned to the bar and he had my drink ready. fast enough to give a flash of suspenders. “Hi.” I said. trying to get the conversation going again. looking him straight in the eye. It looked like I was going to have to be gentle with him.. “Nothing wrong with a good toss…. but they‟re alright. It occurred to me that I had not heard him speak yet so I held out my hand. looking over in their direction. not overloaded in the brain department. In fact. I must say. “Out with your mates.” I said. emergency breakdowns and that stuff.” he said. “George. what do you and your mates do?” I said. “Yeah. you know. he raised it to his lips and kissed it. . “Most of us work for the AA. “Are you feeling lucky tonight. I decided to play with him and see how far he would go. he didn‟t respond and I began to wonder whether I‟d misread him. I see.” He took it and instead of shaking it. “Them lot?” he said. Very smooth. if I‟d not known better I would have said he almost wet his pants. “Do you like the outfit?” I asked giving him a quick twirl. Again. His conversation skills could do with a bit of grooming.

you look like a fit young lad. was it?” He laughed and suddenly he relaxed.I…..” At last. that wasn‟t so hard.absolutely fucking fantastic. How about you?” I decided to lie – no point shattering his illusions.” “Fuck. I smiled at him – a genuine smile of appreciation. “I only go out when I‟m with my sister. “Well. “I‟m twenty five.. “I….” I moved closer to him and pointed her out on the dance floor.I think you look…. but from that moment on he seemed to change into a different person.I think you look….” Keep them coming. That was good. I thought. Is he deliberately flattering me or does it come naturally. “I‟ve not seen you here before. “There. She‟s over there with her would-be hubby. .Rory Ridley-Duff I saw the Adam‟s apple in his throat move. Are you old enough for me?” I teased. “I thought you were my age. Hot stuff. “Hmm. he really was nervous! But then some words came out.” Come on lad.” Cool.. “Twenty next week. very smooth. spit it out. I‟m not sure exactly what I did or said.” 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. and then gave him a wicked look. “I…. 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.” he said. Christ.

. I managed to make him understand that he should meet me outside the loos in 5 minutes.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. The place suddenly came alive and I found myself surrounded by young men. our tongues winding around each others. Over the loud music. He friends were looking on and gave a long slow “Wwwwooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrr!” With perfect timing Rock DJ started to play. gently as first. I thought him quite a sexy dancer and his friends were fun too. It felt confident and firm which I hoped was a good sign for later. with George‟s arms around my waist as we did a bump and grind. We must have cut quite a picture – my arse pressed against his groin as he pretended to pump me from behind. plenty of time for that later…. I pulled away slightly and whispered in his ear. Carole and Chris joined us and we had quite a party for the next hour.don‟t waste it all now. I opened my mouth and let his tongue in. and then more passionately. “…. He moved well. There was a sudden movement from all of George‟s friends and I followed them onto the dance floor. I went to check my make-up again. For his age he was a good kisser. . We kissed passionately. I drank another glass of water and wine and started to feel very naughty. and his tongue explored my mouth. I parted my legs slightly and guided him in between them.” I put my hand between his legs and gave a quick squeeze. relieved myself once more and then waited outside. He came down the stairs and I could see the animalism in him. I heard a slow rising sound from my right. leaning against the wall like a prostitute waiting for a client.

I grabbed his head. his hand was under my skirt again and I opened my legs wide for him. I flagged us a taxi and gave the driver the address. He understood immediately and took off his trousers and pants. feeling his muscular body. indicating he should stop. He pulled my pants to one side and buried his face in my pussy. Then a finger was inside me and I gasped before grabbing his hair and guiding his mouth back to mine. His fingers worked inside the hem of my pants and rubbed around my clit. I slowly pulled my arms up behind my head. and pointed down to his crotch. Then he climbed roughly back on top of me and tried to put it in. My hands were inside his tee-shirt. He nodded and we gathered our jackets and left. under my skirt and inside my top. His head was between my thighs. kissing me gently.” I indicate with a nod of the head. closed my eyes. “Time to get out of here. Then came my first disappointment. He carried me through and dropped me on the bed. rubbing him up and down while he finger-fucked me. That firm tongue that was so good exploring my mouth felt like a dish mop between my legs. and opened my legs wide for him so he could see my suspenders in all their glory. I jumped up and put my legs around his waist. We paid the taxi driver. “That room. He did .” I said. who bid us farewell with the comment “Have fun!” As soon as we were inside the door of my flat. moving up slowing.Rory Ridley-Duff our hand moving over each others bodies and between each others legs. 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 hands were all over me. As the car moved away.

come on John……. but he pumped me so fast and furiously that it hurt. and his cock working away in my pussy. I pictured John‟s handsome face behind me. fill me up with your spunk. I put my hands down between my legs and tried to compensate for this unerotic experience by massaging my clit. I started talking. . Yeah.. my excitement rose. Then quickly nodded. “John?!” he shouted and suddenly pulled out of me. He looked at me in an odd way. “Yeah. Eventually he was inside. give it to me hard.Friends or Lovers not guide it in with his hand. “Who the fuck is John?” he shouted at me. Then I did something that perhaps I should not have done.” I added in a seductive tone. He broddled about again before he found the hole and despite my instruction he continued to pump fast and furious. “Do you want me on all fours?” I asked. come on big boy. egging him on. but poked around inexpertly.” he said furiously. I took up my position. preferably with my lover holding my legs up over his shoulders and making sure he angled his cock into the pit of my stomach. so I shut my eyes and let him fuck me for a few minutes. thumping away in my hole and I began to feel a prickle welling up in my body. ”Long and deep. I shut my eyes and started to imagine it was John behind me. “Take it a bit slower. and lowered my head against the pillow and presented my perfectly fuckable clean-shaven fanny to him. his strong hands on my back. looking for the entrance. I was beginning to get frustrated. I liked it long and slow.” I said with a hint of impatience. It started to work.

but he closed the door and it smashed. the wave started to break. I sat back on the bed and curled up. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with distress and an emotion that I‟d not felt for years. my emotions started to erupt. Then he bellowed. His face turned red. “And you. “Well. swelling like a wave and rolling slowly into shore. come on hun. You‟re a fucking crap kisser. your tongue is like a dish mop and you fuck like a pneumatic drill! Go on. I suppose it was good while it lasted!” I added sarcastically. As it did. so it rose in me too. I turned away. engulfing me and crashing frenetically throughout my body. As he left the room. “I am not a piece of meat!” He started to put on his clothes..Rory Ridley-Duff “George. I felt my mouth twitch and my eyes grow moist. As soon as I realised he was going to leave the rage boiled over in me too. you old slapper.” I picked up a glass of water by the bed and threw it at him. come on…. he turned around and with a cruel sneer made a parting remark that I‟ll never forget. Piss off out of here.!” I shouted at the top of my voice but he was already out of the front door before I‟d finished saying it.” I saw his face slowly turn to beetroot as the resentment rose in him. What am I doing? I‟m a grown . “Fuck off out of here…. George. As I felt it get closer. are never 25. get it back in me.” He dressed quickly and did not bother to button up his shirt or jacket before he made for the door. It grew inside me slowly. got up and shot an irritated glance at him as I walked to the bathroom. “You bastard.

I thought of only one thing. to weep as I lay on his chest. . as if I had been run through with a wooden stake. With my eyes dripping. My pitifully shallow life crushed me. And as I wept. John. I curled up into a ball and started to howl like a baby. I was being swept away on a huge wave of feeling.Friends or Lovers woman picking up a teenager for sex. Never in my life had I felt such pain and I wept for the first time in 11 years. I wanted to be with John. 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. to feel his arms around me. My insides convulsed in pain. I thought of nothing else but to be with John.

but I don‟t know any more. never settling with anyone. My face is stained and I look ugly. Okay. on and off. If they run away. pulled this way. I used to like the staff I recruited. I get up and go to the bathroom. I was all over the place. it is a chore. am I really happy at work? I tell everyone that I am. I push them away. Who have I ever made happy? I‟ve done so much. Every year that passes. I earn more brownie points but feel less enthusiasm. I had treated him like a piece of meat. for ten years. Sometimes I wish people would just stay still. Same old. fill out more paper work. week after . so I can pull the guys. I never sought a relationship. I‟ve lived like this. I feel ugly. I get mad and grab onto someone else to ease the pain. the less I seem to feel for people. but achieved so little. update more systems. certainly nothing that would last. If they get too close. In the past. a succulent Sunday roast to devour and then throw away the carcass. then that. same old. And. to enjoy nurturing them and watching them grow. There must be more. There must be something beyond passion and sex. The greater the responsibility. But there is something missing that I can‟t understand. 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. never letting anyone settle with me. But now. Why not? What was I doing wasting my life? I‟m not young any more.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 14 I cried for an hour as thoughts bounced around my mind like a powerball inside a hollow steel container. Yet another person leaves and I have to shuffle everyone around.

I look at the clock and the mobile phone next to it. “Just hearing a friendly voice helps. . But what‟s happened?” he asked again.this…ime…. “Penny? You still there? What happened. “I can hear you crying.” I knew I was not making much sense but at least some feelings were coming out.. No hurry. “Penny? What is it? What‟s happened?” In the background.”wh…. I finally manage to say my name. It sounds like the line is breaking up. “Oh. “Urrm. Such a fool.Friends or Lovers week. And rings.” “Good.she …. What is the point? As I throw myself on the bed.giht”. “Hello?” he asks. “I‟m such a fool. Without a moment‟s thought. I can make out a woman‟s voice saying “who is it. love?” I have no idea why. I pull my hair back and begin to dab my face to remove some of the stains while the tears start to flow again. It rings. Who is there?” he finally says. I pick it up and type „John‟ and press „Dial‟. Just tell me what happened. John. Come on John. but the moment he said the word „love‟ I started to feel safer. be there. I really did not know what to say. I‟ve really fucked up.” I said. “Just take your time. Hawww… Who‟s th… What time is it? Fuck! What? Errm. Pick it up. I calmed down enough to get a sentence out. Who is it?” Amongst the whimpers. month after month. I try to talk but all I can do is sob. darling?” and he responds that it is me. Good.of…. I can faintly hear another question…. pick it up.” I paused. but then his voice comes across strongly.

“Tomorrow I‟ll come round and we‟ll read it together.” “Why?” I said with a puzzled tone. “Penny. Right now.uck….” I knew that he would not be able to make head or tail of this. Can you do something for me?” “I‟ll try. Please forgive me for waking you up. I‟m not even sure.” And that was all he needed to say. and much . He said he didn‟t know but that he‟d find out tomorrow. It‟s not that.it‟s just….” I stopped for a moment and he spoke with a strong voice. “Thank you.” I could hear a woman‟s voice again asking “wher…. No. Thank you. but as I talked I was trying to work out in my head exactly what it was that I was upset about. Why exactly was I crying? “I just had a bad night. I‟ll call again in the morning. Then another faint question: “why…. It is so stupid.morrow?” and then John‟s voice explain that it was me on the phone and that I was seriously distressed by something.” I replied.Rory Ridley-Duff “I feel so stupid. It‟s just that….goin….” I continued. I don‟t even understand why I‟m upset or why I‟ve called you. To know that I was going to see him made such a difference that I felt my tears and distress subside. John. Before he signed off I heard her say in a less concerned.ling you?”. Write out what you are feeling. Don‟t think too hard. “Have you been attacked?” he said kindly. “No. Maybe it is the drink. I just wanted to talk to someone.you know I just don‟t know what it is. just get a pen and paper and write.. “Can you get a pen and paper and write down what you are feeling now. Normality returned.

Friends or Lovers friendlier voice “come…ack…t…. superman.ed. Find that pen and paper. “I have to go now. I’m lonely. Then he spoke to me again.” I said that I would. 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. Start writing for me. Penny. I got a pen and paper and started to think.

Chris on one side.” I said quickly.and luckily she did not press me.” “What a bastard!” said Carole.” threatened Chris. that I was fantasising about another man. let alone your sister? I had another session sobbing my eyes out at the breakfast table. We got back here.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 15 Carole looked after me. “It‟s too painful.want to…” “No. You must not blame him.” “Why not?” they said together. We just want to help. Carole holding my hand. “No. but I just can‟t tell her that the man I‟d seduced had realised. “You mustn‟t do that!” “But…. Then Carole took my arm and spoke more softly.Do you…. Carole and Chris had no idea how to stop me.I just couldn‟t . “God. No. “Um…. I‟m sure she must think that I was raped or assaulted. “He walked out on me.” .d‟you…. no!” I said with a start. mid-shag. “I‟ll punch his face in next time I see him. I had to tell them enough of the truth for them to understand and not blame anyone. with his hand on my back.” I had to tell them something.He…. you can tell us. I couldn‟t tell her what happened . started having sex and then he just got up and walked out on me.” “I…. „sis. They just sat there quietly. I could tell they‟d been talking to each other. “What happened.” “What about the police?” Chris asked. How do you tell that to anyone. Chris slept in the spare bed while little „sis slept with me.I….

It just all came down on me. sis.Friends or Lovers What could I say? I did not want to lie.but when this „something‟ happened we got angry with each other. Clearly she could not believe what she was hearing. That‟s all I can say. What could I say? “I don‟t want to tell you. but I could not tell them what happened. “Oh! Carole. but I‟d trade places with you if I could.” Carole‟s mouth dropped open. Chris smiled back then put his arms around both of us.” I started but suddenly the words started to come out. My life looks great on the outside but inside it is a heap of shit. No happy endings?” I asked. Then her mouth closed.” he said. “Don‟t be such a cynic. “Why not?” “I found my prince charming. 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 .” and she cast a glance at Chris the like of which I‟d never noticed before. sis‟” said Chris. I was so used to her moaning about his habits that I‟d not noticed that she really admired him. “Something happened that upset the evening.” she whispered. So will you. and for reasons I could not understand another wave of emotion engulfed me and the tears . I know I look all confident and happy. she took my hand and indicated I should stand up. I look at you and Chris and wonder what I‟m doing with my life. “Family cuddle. “Welcome to the real world.” she said pulling away and looking me in the face.” “But why all the tears. “No fairy tales.

” “John? Oh God. “That‟s right. Just put on something real casual and be yourself. .” “Romance?” laughed Chris. Get it out. I had misjudged him. I‟d never noticed before what a kind smile he had. “I‟ve had all the romance I can take for one weekend.” said Carole. Go on. Carole smiled at me. “Don‟t dress up for him. John was coming at mid-day so I had to stir myself to start getting ready. yes!” I remembered and was amazed. Chris smiled back at me. “Oh. shut up.” I suddenly realised that my little sister had done more growing up than I had. What had I done? Yeah. I went over to the dresser and combed my hair. She had taken on the responsibility of a partner and baby. “Now girl. I wondered if. And I was still not sure if I was ready to do it now.” “Don‟t!” was my first response.” I said.30. perhaps. I‟d never been ready to do that. He was going to keep his word. “By the way.” My hand rose to my forehead as I gave her a salute. “John called. I had my career but how did that compare to the responsibility of loving another person? I hadn‟t done that. Let it out. but the smile that was creeping back into my demeanour communicated to him that I did not really mean it.Rory Ridley-Duff started to flow again. It was already 10.” Carole suddenly interjected. “He sounded nice. Carole spoke softly while Chris hugged us both. He said he‟ll pick you up at 12pm.

but it always annoyed me when she gave advice like this. however. .” I knew she was trying to help. however it goes. I took it on the chin.Friends or Lovers “Don‟t try to impress him. Just let the day unfold and run with it. it was good advice after all.

“Sure. He put his hand over his mouth. a car pulled up and a handsome man in jeans and a black pullover got out of the car and looked around. “Hi there!” he said without a moment‟s hesitation.” “And her partner…. The one with the sexy voice. “Would you like to come in for a sec?” I asked. The wait seemed interminable. I‟d removed my make-up. and just put on a small amount of transparent lippy to give them a moist look. I kept expecting it to be him. “Don‟t apologise. just jeans and a rugby shirt (with a cut especially for women). sat down. After what seemed like forever. I drank the dregs of my tea. I unlatched the door and opened it. “She has got a sexy voice. She lent back and gave him a kiss on his neck to thank him for the compliment.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 16 Twelve o‟clock came and went.” chirped Chris. As each car passed outside. I can meet that sister of yours. . and I could feel a few butterflies in my stomach with each passing minute. I looked at my watch and could not believe that it was only 12:06.” Chris was standing behind Carole and wrapping her in his arms. John had a cup of coffee and made small talk with Carole and Chris while I gathered up my things. fidgeted. “Oopps!” he said self-consciously.” I quipped nodding my head in Chris‟s direction. He was clearly looking at the house numbers to check which doorbell to press. I‟d dressed casually. walked around again and generally irritated everybody. walked around.

the music of a person did not care about fashion or his own image. I thought. He saw my eyes casting over his collection. full security system. sunroof and alloy wheels. “Any particular destination you‟d like?” he asked gently. he had a selection of CDs. compilations of classical music by French classical composers and American jazz artists. Inside the car.” I suggested. I was no expert. the Yellowjackets and Mozart. It fitted his character. “Any preferences?” “I particularly like Carly Simon. It was quite a swish car.” To my surprise he opened another hidden compartment with a further dozen CDs. . “How about Warwick castle? We could walk around the grounds. Madam. just the sensuous experience of listening. Queen.” he joked as he escorted me to his car. and the colour and style had a hint of sexiness about it.Friends or Lovers “I‟m set to go!” I finally said. In there was music by Casiopeia. but from work I had more knowledge of motors than the average gal. I thought for a moment. He‟d chosen a mid-range Ford in black. His tastes were broad and selective. Norah Jones and Eva Casidy but it doesn‟t look like you have any. I had no wish to go a long way. but was keen to walk somewhere quiet. with a 2-litre engine. or gas-guzzler. incar stereo/CD player. said his „farewells‟ and „nice to meet yous‟. He had no need for a flashy sports car. but he liked a few luxuries. Carly Simon. John got up. He took out the „Very Best of Carly Simon” CD and away we drove to the rich tones of „You‟re So Vain‟. “Your carriage awaits you.

“Was your wife okay about your coming here today?” “Not really. . She knows that no man – particularly me – can totally resist being a knight in shining armour. you told me. a bit.” “Is that what you are?” I asked.” It didn‟t fit somehow with the conversations we‟d previously had about equality between the sexes. I have friends in Warwick.” I did not feel talkative because I was not sure how to start. I was not sure what to say. “But there is one condition.” he added. “What‟s that?” “No hanky panky!” he said with a smile. “You know the way?” I queried.” “Of course. I was about to give him directions but he made a left turn. “Do you want to eat before or after the walk?” he asked.Rory Ridley-Duff He nodded. She‟ll get over it. but at this particular moment I was happy to borrow someone else‟s knight for the day. I‟d called him when I was distressed and he was bound to think I wanted to talk about what happened. “I don‟t mind being a stand-in until you find someone who can do it for you full time. I realised that he must already know the area. “Let‟s walk first. She was forgiving. I could hardly tell him the truth. “Yes. I recalled the voice in the background during our phone conversation. I still had a bit of a hangover so food was not high on my agenda yet. Now he was here.” I suggested.

Friends or Lovers “The thought never crossed my mind.” I said with a haughty look that I imagined women of class would give to a chauffeur. Even though it sometimes got me into trouble. I was grateful for that. Madam. normally the preserve of people tying the knot. or footman. the kitten in me was still there. “I do.” I said. but he caught my message and smiled back at me briefly. After this. “Okay. The trauma of the previous night receded as I filled my senses with thoughts of what we would do with our day. We turned a corner that brought the castle into view then drove around the perimeter to the visitor car park. my man. We set off on a path around the perimeter of the castle.” I snapped back with a grin. with some irony. I liked this path because it led through a couple of wooded areas. seemed appropriate for the contract that we were making between us. then up a slight incline as we crossed more open ground until we had . 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. “Thank you. This small phrase. I felt myself relax and the prospect of the day ahead filled me with pleasure. He may have been driving. 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.” he confirmed. “I am now in your hands. “Just so long as we both understand the boundaries. My sumptuous naughty side had not been destroyed by the humiliation I‟d been through.” he said with mock politeness. I thought to myself.” “In my dreams”.

or didn‟t call me. we don‟t have to talk about this if you don‟t want to. “Last night I tried to follow your advice. particularly with men. I‟m not good at sharing my feelings. Finally.” He gave me one of those half-smiles that conveyed both sympathy and an understanding of my suffering. but I had to start somewhere. lots of tiny agonies. That was the trigger.Rory Ridley-Duff a view of the whole locality. made myself a coffee and tried to write down what was troubling me. he spoke. I could have written . “It‟s okay. the bastards that dumped me. She‟s found a man to love her and now has a beautiful child that she dotes on. or made me feel beautiful when they were trying to get in my knickers. We walked for a couple of minutes without saying anything to each other. This is not easy for me to talk about. The full circuit would take about 45 minutes and by then I would feel ready for lunch. but then backed off when I opened my heart in response to their lovely words. He did not interrupt and I realised that he expected something more. “I imagine a man was involved somehow last night?” I wished it was that simple. “Penny. lots of conflicting emotions about how angry I feel about things that happened in the past. “The trigger for what?” I looked at him and the distress must have shown in my face. “Yes. I could have written about how jealous I am of my sister. I sensed that both of us were looking for an opening line that would enable us to talk about what had happened. I could have written pages and pages of trivia.” I replied. I sat down after I came off the phone. irritations with things at work. All the boyfriends I dumped. their irritating habits.” I was afraid but I longed to talk to him.

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.” He nodded. He was crying. “I fought her for years. but I would not be controlled. John. Do you know what I wrote in the end?” It was a rhetorical question.” he said. You‟d think my father would be the one to object. John?” “Come here. but he followed form by asking me anyway.” I stopped for a second to gather my recollections. I had passion in me. “I‟m lonely. his arms were larger and stronger. And then I said it. he offered his arms and I fell into them. Unlike my sister. and just as my sister had earlier in the day. They made me feel safer and all warm inside. I noticed that he was listening intently so I continued. 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. “John!” I started. however. . all this was going through my head last night while I held the pad. I felt my eyes moisten again and I looked at him. I said out loud the words that I‟d hidden in my head for years. it was my mother who was constantly critical. He was crying. real passion and I did not want to wait until some stupid outdated law said I could sleep with boys. “Well. And then I got a total shock. She thought I was „too young‟ for boyfriends! How can you choose things like that? I was ready at 14. There were times we would hit each other. but no. John.” As I said the words. I could see a single tear rolling down his left cheek. Really lonely. “What is it.

don‟t you think?” And I did think.Rory Ridley-Duff He rocked me gently from side to side for a few seconds. He spoke more.” I smiled. After my parents drove away. or be my slave. but it would not have been right. Unbearable. all that „competence‟.” “We all need intimacy in our lives. Penny. “Not since my first day at university. My God! I looked at him. “I‟ve made all my own choices. I could not remember a time when I had cried like this…. I felt the . you had lads competing to become your boyfriend. “All that „control‟. It was such a gentle gesture.” As he said this he cupped my cheek with his hand. “But at such a high price…” he responded. all that „professionalism‟ comes at a high price. “When was the last time you felt like this. I sat alone in my room and felt so unbearably alone that I cried my eyes out. And after your first disco.. but I was still not sure what he meant. “Yes. But those few hours were the loneliest. even hard-nosed career women. you had made several girlfriends who later became your enemies. Then he released me and started to walk again. I was not sure what he meant. For the first time in years. something that my father might have done to me as he put me to bed.” He gave me a sideways glance. talked like this?” I thought hard. I‟ll bet. never let anybody run my life for me. so I gave him a puzzled look. I wished that I could have stayed in his arms for longer.” “And by the end of the day.

however. “I‟ll try. but I felt I should give him something to understand why I‟d called. That. I felt I just had to hear your voice. was the question I did not want to answer.” I detected his pleasure at hearing this.” “Why mine?” he asked.” 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.” There was a pregnant pause while he considered the import of what I had just said.” he said reassuringly. He walked out. John. I had to say something. All that loneliness – it just crashed down on me and I had to talk to you. indeed.Friends or Lovers warmth of a man‟s love and I could not stop my head incline itself towards his soft touch. “Because if there is anyone who can help me unravel the minefield that stands between men and women. “Not an expert. I guess it is you. Penny. I was not sure. You‟re an expert in it. It is just something I take a keen interest in. “I fell out with the person I picked up at a bar.” . “Help me. “Of course I will. after all.

The sexual tension was always there. we talked and exchanged thoughts constantly. I just wanted to be with him. Our conversation never stopped all day. climbed a tower. not ogling my body. perhaps more relaxed with him than any man except my father. and it filled me with a confidence that I could not explain. travelled to deepest outer space. that I should take him somewhere special to thank him for the day out. however. he suggested that we might like to eat at Pizza Hut again. By late afternoon. occupy the same space. but with a festive atmosphere. as we started on our desserts. and the way his eyes fixed themselves on me sometimes. and know that he was nearby. I chose my favourite Italian. and generally just chilled together. laughed. I was more relaxed with him than I had been with any man for over a decade. discussed politics. lunched in a tea shop. hear his voice. My attraction to him never completely left me. but the desire to seduce him slowly ebbed away. . Wherever we were. whatever we did. I admired him. a place tucked away in a cobbled side street that was quiet enough to have a hint of romance. just filled with the admiration a person might feel looking at a beautiful portrait or marvelling at a moment of cinematic brilliance. I felt. His eyes were not lustful. “How‟s that problem at work you had?” he asked. He looked at me as if he was searching my soul. I could tell that he was sucking in my beauty so that he could savour and bathe in it. joked. the meaning of life.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 17 Over the next few hours we took in the views around Warwick.

What about your friend? “I‟ve only had one update. The problem at work has made things worse at home. second or third question?” he said chuckling.” “Gotcha. Fifteen love. Can we?” he said with his smile broadening all the time. it has been difficult at home for him. but I think she is holding back on an incident with somebody in the team.” “So what‟s the story there?” “Well.” I said with a victory salute. he seems more on the level than I first thought. Yeah.” “Why‟s that?” “He thinks it will be okay.Friends or Lovers “Which problem is that?” I answered without looking up. but he‟s very sensitive about what happened. “My first. The more I learn about the woman‟s situation…… Well. I get the feeling that some sexual shit is going on that nobody wants to talk about. She‟s a prude for sure. Things don‟t seem to be quite right. “Work.” . but I should get the full story soon – we‟ll be working together on a project. not just about the current incident but about a past relationship too. the more I sense that he‟s trying to be straight with me. but he‟s hiding something from me. The more I talk to the man. His face told me that he was interested in more than the game. “I don‟t know. “Do you want to ask the first one?” I was not giving up first. so I dropped the stupid stuff and regained my composure. “The one about the problem you had at work. Things have moved on a bit. “What was your question again?” was my retort. “You mean there are so many?” “Can we utter a sentence without it being a question?” I asked.

” “I‟m in no rush.” “Not a situation you come across every day. “Okay. Right. She became his lodger for several months while they waited for a vacancy at a refuge.Rory Ridley-Duff “Why?” “To explain that I‟d have to go way back. he gave her support but after a few weeks they had a real heart to heart and she said she wanted to get out. “Anyway. Big rows. yes. His wife was not pleased. that night he collected her from her home and took her to his. It took a few months but eventually his wife came around and let him come back home. The money thing was too much for her and she threw him out.” I said.” he clarified. 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. So he stayed with his woman friend as her lodger for a while. He didn‟t want to let .” “I bet his wife did not like that!” “Yeah. Later he helped her find and move into a flat – he even gave her the money for a deposit.” “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. His wife accused him of having an affair. and to this day he has always denied it. She took him back but made him promise never to get involved with another woman again.er…four years. He helped her furnish her room. Big problem. about four years ago. Well he had a difficult period with his wife about…. but he convinced her that he‟d no choice.” I commented “Not something you hear about every day.” “So what happened?” “Well. He‟s a really sweet guy.

but he also didn‟t want her to get too close to him. why was I so nervous? I hate my nerves. . I‟ve enjoyed today too. “Do……ah!” Then he did something that really startled me. “Sometimes things don‟t need to be said.” I said. “Do you…. So he backed off and upset her.” It was one of those leading phrases. In fact.” I stopped. “Do you…. Did I have the courage to say it? “Do you…. This was risky. John was relaxed while we chatted and I could tell he cared about his friend. He took one hand away and squeezed his nose. “I‟ll answer that question if you will tell me why you‟re asking it. He took my hands in his. He changed jobs and only told his wife afterwards. I said it anyway.” and he gave me that same warm smile that I remembered from our first meeting.” Inside I could feel my heart pumping and my breathing quicken.” Hell.Friends or Lovers her down. Whatever he had expected. “John. There didn‟t seem to be anyone in his life that he did not like. I‟ve enjoyed today. “Deal. He sounded like he really cared for both his wife and his work colleagues and just wanted to help everybody. I don‟t think it was this because he immediately raised his eyebrows in astonishment. one that invites intimacy. I got a feeling that John just cared about people.. “Penny.” I felt sorry for this guy.ever fantasise about me?” I asked.” Why was I asking it? I was not sure.

“Last night?” he queried.” he repeated. I wanted to tell him I fantasised about him. “You don‟t need to say it. Penny. I wanted to share this. This was crazy. and he noticed immediately and took my hands again. “Last night…. “Penny. “Your turn.” 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. Clearly he wanted me to know that I would not take her place.Rory Ridley-Duff He hesitated. but only for a moment. I hesitated. Was this going to lead to disaster? I wanted to tell him. I closed my eyes and summoned my strength. You don‟t need to say it.. I could feel the emotion rising in me again. I was not sure if I had the courage to say it. What if he was angry? What if I spoiled the whole day? What if it ruined our friendship? “I…. . I tensed. reminding me of the pact.. I wanted to tell him about the night before.” I felt a peculiar sensation. but not when I‟m making love to my wife.” he said. a deep pleasure that he thought of me sexually.” but I stopped again. about the way things had unfolded.” my hands started to shake. to tell him the part he had played in it. but disappointment that he mentioned his wife. I shuddered because I realised why I‟d asked him this question. but I did not want him to reject me. I wanted to share my humiliation with him..” I stopped and looked down into my lap. “The answer is „Yes‟. “I….

not my father or any of my boyfriends. and I shuffled awkwardly in my seat. And…and…” His hand was rubbing my back and it felt lovely. “You bet it did. And then he left. “Why?” I said with astonishment. I had never talked like this with anyone. I laughed. He got really mad at me. and then I blurted out your name.” “Shit! I bet that cooled his ardour. I looked up. came around to my side of the table and pulled up his chair.” “Why?” he asked. tears were dripping down my face. “Are you crazy? You‟re married and I‟m pouring out these feelings to you. not my sister. I like that – it‟s honest. I‟m attracted to you. My whole body was rigid. I felt the tears fill my eyes again and I looked up at him. I shouldn‟t be saying this. not my mother. I‟m so sorry I rang you. letting the tears roll. “It was awful. …. with relief mostly. I just could not. People normally . You‟re attracted to me.” “So we‟ve broken the rules. why?” he asked again.” he said with a laugh. Through my sobs I suddenly heard the sound of my own voice. I laughed and suddenly I felt it was okay to carry on. He put his right arm around my back. I can‟t believe I‟m telling you this.Friends or Lovers I made an attempt at a smile. Big deal. and stroked my cheek with his left hand. John got up from his seat. He gave my hands a little squeeze to keep me reassured. but it was not a very convincing one. “Yes. I could not say the words. I should not be telling you this. “…I felt so alone.as he was fucking me I started to think of you.

He was quiet for a while and just rocked me in his arms.” There was a prolonged silence during which neither of us dared to ask the question that was on both our minds.” he said.” “Thank you. “I feel a bit better.” I responded. “That took courage. Why was he thanking me for sobbing all over him? “What for?” “For sharing this.” I said. “but I couldn‟t keep it up!” I shook my head as my smile returned. didn‟t it?” “More than you‟ll ever know. There are only sexual relationships where they agree not to have sex. I was not sure where to go from here but it did not matter because he carried on talking. It was my turn to break the silence. .” He paused. “Why?” I asked with genuine curiosity.” he finally said. “I tried Mr Normal. “I love it that you are attracted to me. “Somebody once said to me that there is no such thing as a non-sexual relationship between a man and a woman.” I said.Rory Ridley-Duff make each other miserable because they can‟t express or share the simplest feelings.” “You are really weird. He was so strange. 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. “Because my fantasies will be much more exciting now!” I laughed again.” he interjected.

surely?” “Employerspeak!” he laughed. Take an interest.” I said.” “Why on earth not?” he reacted. “Have you looked at work?” he asked. “I don‟t think people react well to women in positions of authority having sexual relationships at work.” I answered.” I said at last. Perhaps you‟ve already met him?” he suggested. All you need to do is get the person you are interested in talking about their life.” I was about to say that I thought he must be joking. “You‟re welcome.Friends or Lovers “And thank you. “I can hardly ask them. I don‟t. He asked the waitress for coffee then continued. “Find out. “Oh. “If not at work. “Where are we going to find you a good man. I was not about to start another debate. “And you know that they are happy and committed?” “Well no. So long as you know where to look. yes. “You don‟t need to ask. “Where?” I queried. but on this occasion I let it pass. “Isn‟t that why people go to work?” he asked. “What do you mean?” “Why is work any different from anywhere else?” “It‟s a place of work. then?” I wanted to say I‟d found one. “Are there any left?” I asked.” . where will you find Mr Right?” His question was rhetorical. but I knew that it was not the right thing to say. I could not think of any good prospects at work that were not already in relationships and said so.” he responded.

Then. pecked me on the cheek. I find it difficult to describe how I feel now.Rory Ridley-Duff We drank the last of our coffee and I paid the bill. 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. Is this. In the movies we might have kissed. and share the best of myself. At the door. I wonder. but I knew he needed to get back home to his family. I‟ve been more distraught today than I can ever remember. He makes me want to be a better person. I wanted him to come in. he drove me back to my house and walked me to the door. how people feel when they first experience the deepest kind of love? . but a tingling feeling burrowing into the darkest caverns of my soul. to live more. risk more. He‟d given up a whole Saturday for me and it was important that I should not intrude further on his time. This is not like the butterflies of teenage love. a warmth so spiritual that I can feel my humanity light up. he hugged me. but I just knew that we would not.

the relationship between Elona and Nathan is connected to all of this somehow. Phil thought this was more to bond with his mates than to pursue Elona. when I got to work the weekend was purged from my mind. He was careful how he behaved and spoke around everyone.” “D‟you think I should talk to him?” I asked. Elona was pretty off-hand with all of them except one. If you ask me. What about Mike and Sally?” I enquired. Phil was first to update me. It did not seem to fit. I nodded for Phil to continue. “What about him?” “He was quite cagey when the others were talking. Most of his team said that he was very gentlemanly. I was perplexed by this. “They are surprised that she accused Mike. .Friends or Lovers Chapter 18 Due to a lot of demands on my time. 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. According to them. He did not volunteer anything and I got the feeling that the whole conversation made him uncomfortable. particularly Elona. Even Mike had admitted to me that he‟d flirted with her. I don‟t understand how Mike fits in – maybe he got jealous or something – but I feel there must be a connection somewhere. “Then there‟s this Nathan!” Phil said. “Well.” “Okay. Nathan himself was not that interested although he did join in some of the flirting. Nathan was a lad in his mid-twenties and the general consensus was that she had a crush on him.

” I had to set this to one side for the moment. but he provided me with a source. who would have thought this? To think that hoards of women at . Well done. He did live with her for a while. after 40 years of gender equality.Rory Ridley-Duff “Yeah. She said that she had worked with a consultant several times and wanted to bring him in again. but there was nothing to be gained by discussing it now.” I was puzzled too. John had suggested I look for a partner at work for two reasons. had enlisted Mike‟s support to get his team some training in consumer behaviour. But they don‟t live together now. If they‟d had an affair and split up. Perhaps it is time for another chat with Elona. I was keen to off-load this. he‟s back with his wife. The marketing manager. he claimed that nearly half of all married women chose their job in order to find a partner. In this modern age. I promptly went to WH Smith and bought the book. Sure enough he was right. Jo. but they did live together for a few months. I‟ll have a word with Dave. so I signed off a purchase order for 30 days consultancy and left her to get on with it. “Okay. I told him the second one must be rubbish. It all sounds kind of bizarre. As I was up to my eye-balls helping Dave bring on board some new inventors. She‟s one of the people who transferred with him to the new team. Then I‟ll speak to Nathan. I could not see any reason to object. Nobody is completely sure why they are so close. We seem to be getting closer. I was right about that. Secondly. Firstly. I found the statistics both staggering and appalling. most people meet their marriage partner in a workplace setting. why would she want to keep working with him? It doesn‟t make sense. I thought back to my weekend conversation.

“Okay. The thought actually annoyed me. “Rare that?” “Yes.” “A woman?” I remarked. They manufacture through companies in Sheffield. She‟s a remarkable designer and has assembled a small team of engineers to make customised kitchenware. Is that okay?” . Sorry I didn‟t ask you beforehand. Standard Terms?” I asked. and Claire Nunn from Glasgow. But a good find.” I commented. but Brian will be getting 25%” “Is he worth it?” I asked. “We need to draw up three contracts. I did my best to ignore it and returned to the issue at hand. “For Claire and Clive yes. Brian Thwaite from Birmingham. Who. So what needs doing today?” I asked. “your wife will be asking for freebies. I wondered. She‟s ready for exposure and now has a large portfolio.” I‟d never pictured Dave as someone with either the inclination or ability to appreciate cutlery and kitchenware. was searching for a husband in our workplace? * * * “Come in Penny.Friends or Lovers work were actively looking for husbands. “Careful. I‟ve got Clive Preston coming over from London.” said Dave.” He gave me an odd look. He also wants help recruiting marketing support staff and I said we‟d be able to help. “We‟ll see in due course. “Hi. I‟m sure you‟d be impressed. We are poaching him away from his current distributor so I had to offer a bit extra.

” “Come on.. just tittle tattle.and I don‟t believe that. I made his request sound like an imposition. “I heard they shared a flat for a while. one of the local sales reps.” he added. Dave.” “Why‟s that?” I asked. “And?” I asked with an expectant look. but I did not mind.” Something in his tone suggested that he had something else to add. I imagine. “…. He looked hesitant. “my wife doesn‟t buy stuff for the house any more. “By the way. “She‟s….” “I‟m sorry to hear that. “There is something else. Do you know anything about that?” Dave pondered and raised his eyebrows.not well. 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. I confirmed the contract details with him one last time and then remembered that I wanted to ask him about Mike and Sally. “Well.” I said. “I‟ll see what I can do….” I insisted.” It was not often that Dave ever talked about anything outside work and it took me a bit by surprise. he touched my arm to stop me. Lots of rumours flying about.Rory Ridley-Duff He gave me one of his hopeful looks. “I‟ve been putting together a picture of our sales manager friend and it seems that he has a mystery relationship with Sally.” As I made to go. I hope she gets better soon. I used to get on well with one of Sally‟s colleagues and it seems that she moved in with him and . He really could look quite cute at times.. Spill it. opened his palms and shrugged his shoulders..

it caused no end of problems in his marriage and Sally had to move out. “They still get on well. “Apparently not. Should find out soon.” I said. “He should‟ve left well alone. What is it with you and him?” I enquired. then Nathan. “Really?” he said with surprise. “Oh. Not sure. I think.” he remarked. I think we‟ll get to the bottom of this soon. “Interesting. “Maybe. I‟m meeting Elona in a few minutes.Friends or Lovers his wife. you think?” I sensed that there was no love lost between Dave and Mike.” “He‟s back with his wife now. I‟ve no strong feelings. Bet Sally was pissed when he went back. Anyway. That‟s not the sort of thing that she would do if she was having an affair him.” Dave paused for a smirk. Unless the affair came later.” . “No. of course. I think. I think Sally had some domestic crisis and Mike offered her a way out. Not sure what happened after that – all I know is that his personal life got into a real mess for a while.” I said. I just think that whenever people let their personal and professional lives get confused things can become very messy. “Not sure.” “Feathering two nests. I thought. What he does in his own time is really not our business. “How does this link to Elona?” he finally asked.” He paused for a moment as pieces of the jigsaw were reassembled in his head.” My sentiment entirely. She asked to carry on working with him recently when he moved jobs. and then carried on. Then Mike joined her. I‟m not a rumourmonger.

When you have a complete picture we can discuss how to bust up this secret network.Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay. . I thanked him and returned to my department to meet Elona. Keep me posted. I felt ready to get to the bottom of things and achieve closure. With Dave‟s support.” 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.

” Despite my calm and sympathetic words I detected an increase in her nervousness. She lifted her hand to decline the offer. “Can I offer you a cup of tea?” I asked. “If you want him to stay. Phil entered the room with two cups of tea and a glass of water. Although Elona had declined the tea. she immediately . She would not look at me and her hands were clasped together on her knees. 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. is there anything you want to share with me privately?” She glanced at me and shook her head quickly in denial. As Phil left the room. “Do you mind if Phil sits in on this one?” Elona looked around the room and rubbed her ear. but I decided to ask Phil to make one for me anyway. I guess that‟s okay with me.” Elona shuffled in her seat and looked uncomfortable. There!” I said. “Don‟t worry. There‟s no need to worry. keeping the other for himself. He knows more about this situation than I do.Friends or Lovers Chapter 19 “Come in. She looked unsure but answered positively. This is just a quiet chat to establish what has been going on. He put one cup on my desk.” “Thanks. “Elona. come in. as I put my hand on her shoulder. so I‟d like him here. It would give me a moment to put Elona at her ease.” I said as I welcomed Elona into my office. Before Phil comes back. “Elona.

but clearly this was a sensitive matter and she was deeply embarrassed. It is alright. Would you agree with that?” Elona said nothing but nodded her agreement. Phil‟s talked to others in your team and they admit they behaved inappropriately to you. and they stopped. “Thanks for coming in again. I looked squarely at her. nobody minds. “Elona. As she put the glass down.Rory Ridley-Duff picked up the glass of water and drank half of it. I‟ll be talking to them in due course. Phil chipped in too. finally finding her voice. gave you some attention and that you did not seem to mind. “Thanks for that. she summoned up a slight smile and I felt ready to begin.” I said reassuringly. We just need to understand whether there is any link between this and the incident with Mike? Is there?” . Elona.” At the mention of Nathan‟s name.” I began. Nobody is judging you. love. called Nathan. I tried to calm the atmosphere further. we are grateful that you made a complaint and raised some important issues. “Elona. “As I was saying earlier. saying nothing. “There is one thing. If you like Nathan‟s attention. you ignored them.” “What‟s that?” she asked. and she looked a little more relaxed. “Well. the lads in the team said that one of them. Elona immediately went bright red and got extremely agitated.” She looked down at the table in front of her. “What they say is that they flirted with you.” Elona seemed to relax when I told her this. however.

“Mike won‟t speak about it without your permission. Would you give your permission?” At this suggestion. She was clearly fighting back tears but to my surprise she started to nod.” I said.Friends or Lovers Elona seemed to be petrified by this suggestion and started to shake. . “Not now. Elona looked up at me and her mouth dropped open. He has refused to talk about it because he gave you his word that he wouldn‟t. “Go get Nathan!” I commanded Phil. but I shot him a look that he should let her go.” At this. “Something about Nathan?” Phil asked. Leave me alone!” She got up and ran out of the room in tears. We can always go and see her later. It fuelled my desire to find out more. “Mike mentioned that you confided some information in him. Her shaking got more acute and suddenly she exploded. “No! No! No! I don‟t want to talk to anyone about any of this. I remembered that Mike said he would talk if Elona gave her permission. “Yes? You did confide in Mike?” She nodded again.” “Fuck!” offered Phil. I tried a new tack. “Let her calm down. She nodded again. her face went red again and her eyes filled with moisture. Phil got up to follow her. “Now?” he asked. “Some serious shit has happened to her. That‟s for sure!” I felt angry that Elona was still so distressed.

“I would like to leave. Come on in. “I‟ve just had Elona in here and clearly something has happened between you and her.” He sat down. looking as puzzled as he was concerned. Phil returned with suspect in hand. Can you explain?” Nathan seemed to go completely white and started reeling in his chair. I started to get angry again. But no more words came forth. I was in no mood to be pushed around any more. 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. “Nathan.” “What has Elona said?” he asked.” he asked. “Nothing. My mind was spinning again. That is why I am asking you. She is extremely distressed.” I said. “Nathan.Rory Ridley-Duff “Yes! Now!” I said raising my voice. “Look at me!” Nathan looked pale and distressed but finally looked me in the eye. As I was running over all these things in my mind. please. Phil held up both his hands as if to hold me at bay and quietly made his way out of the room.” Nathan held my gaze and did not flinch for even a fraction of a second. . Take a seat. “Tell me what happened. “Fuck!” he said as his eyes seemed to look everywhere in the room except at Phil or myself.

She is seriously distressed and will not talk. please. I‟ll suspend you here and now. the whites of my teeth were showing too. do you?” Nathan started.” he added. please. “No!” I shouted. You can either give me an account of your behaviour or I‟ll call a disciplinary hearing. but my anger got the better of me and I let rip. .. What on earth was going on here? Nathan kept looking at me and was unmoved.” I saw Nathan‟s lips go tight and the whites of his teeth show. Do you understand?” “I would like to leave. She confided something to Mike. “Nathan.” I said. “A fucking clue about anything…. “About what?” I fired back.” he repeated without showing any anger. Phil was gently moving his head from side to side to indicate „no‟. Someone in Elona‟s team has made a sexual advance.” Phil looked as white as a sheet. That did not satisfy me. was looking down at the floor as if he could not bear to watch what was happening. “We have a situation here. With Phil in the room I felt a bit bolder. in the corner. Nathan. “You don‟t have a fucking clue. You can give a full account to your line manager and myself.” he asked again. “I would like to leave. Phil. or I will have to take this to your line manager first thing in the morning. “If you use that type of language once more. who was sitting in the corner. however. gave me a look of absolute disgust. still calm and unflinching. “Let me be completely open with you….Friends or Lovers Phil. seemed to get agitated and looked at me and if to indicate that he should be allowed to go. but he will not talk either. “You tell me what happened. What is it to be?” I imagine that while I said this.

perhaps he would have suggested that I sleep on this. Do not take no for an answer. Then again. I would like you here at 10am tomorrow morning with your line manager. you have made your choice.” Phil nodded. If he‟d been more experienced. he slowly left the room with hatred burning in his eyes. I felt on a roll.” Holding my gaze. Idiot. Maybe she didn‟t reciprocate and got upset. I was glad that Phil was in the room. I could feel them pierce me right through. What a bloody amateur. I want you to get Mike and bring him here immediately. Shaken as I was. Is that clear?” Phil obediently did as I asked while I made myself another cup of tea. she tried to confide in Mike and he tried to handle it „within the team‟. This kind of . Phil nodded a „yes‟. what if Elona did want Nathan to make a pass? Perhaps he seduced her. Nathan must have made a pass at Elona. “Is Mike still in the building?” “Sorry?” asked Phil. Firstly. Whichever is true. go immediately to Nathan‟s manager and inform him of the meeting at 10am. Still looking shaken himself. but he was too intimidated. I imagine she tried to confide this in Mike. who seemed taken aback at this question. “Right. “Okay. The situation felt like it was getting out of control. I held myself together and summoned Phil over. Whatever he said made Elona mad.Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay. He must have suggested they go out for a drink and then said something that upset her. “Is Mike still in the building?” Phil looked unsure. then dumped her. as if everything was coming together. You may go. but I had one more card to play.

Friends or Lovers stuff really makes my blood boil.” he said ushering me into my chair with his open palm. Always the woman who gets hurt. okay. “Okay.” he finally said. It has come to light that there is a relationship problem between Elona and Nathan and that she reported this to you. “Have you talked to Elona?” he responded. What is so urgent it cannot wait until morning?” “Sit down. Phil returned with Mike.” Mike raised his hands and grabbed his head in despair. Mike. She won‟t talk about it. seemed to slow down and take this in. and then he rubbed his cheek. . “Yes. “What the hell is this? I was in a meeting with my team and Phil tells me that you have an emergency. I want to know what she said and how you handled it. Sit down and let‟s talk about this. Mike. “So where d‟you want to start?” he asked. “Why?” I asked. always the man who gets away with it.” Phil had again retreated to the corner of the room and was looking uncomfortable. He looked away as he thought for a moment. What on earth are you doing?” “Don‟t piss me around. who stormed into my office with an irritated look on his face. surprisingly. He looked me calmly in the eye. “I told you to back off this. She got so upset that she left the room in tears. “I‟m not surprised. “What‟s the relationship problem between Elona and Nathan?” I asked.” Mike.

Rory Ridley-Duff “Because this situation is probably the most upsetting thing that has ever happened to her. . I cannot help her unless I understand the cause of the distress. “Yes. I can see that alright. 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.” I responded keeping my calm. him or me. “Did it ever occur to you this witch-hunt is the cause of her distress?” His words inflamed me. “She‟s distressed. “How dare you! If people told me what the fuck is going on then we could sort this mess out. I began to wonder who was conducting this enquiry. “Did you ask her if she was okay about you talking to me?” he repeated. “They why don‟t you respect her wishes?” he asked. Why can‟t you see that?” “Oh.” I confessed.” “Are you going to tell me about it?” I asked again.” I replied. “There may have been a breach of the law and I have a duty of care towards her. I‟m trying to help her. She is of great concern to you. “I did and she confirmed that she had confided in you.” “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. but she did not answer. then Mike would have been dead on the floor in an instant.

He seemed to think that I don‟t know what I‟m talking about.. “You stupid woman!” I was bright red with anger and started to defend myself. 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. One of you is going to answer for Elona‟s distress. She is the one who is distressed and somewhere in this heap of shit Nathan or you did something to cause that distress. “He would not talk.Friends or Lovers “I‟m asking you why you only seem concerned to protect Elona?” “You arrogant bastard. “You sexist bastard…. I resented him asking all the questions. Mike snapped and shouted at me in a way that reverberated in the marrow of my bones. however. “It‟s got everything to do with it. not for one second!” .” “And what did Nathan tell you?” he asked.” Mike.” “You think you are so fucking clever! Well. You are not going to wriggle out of this. “What‟s so funny?” I said angrily. pointed an accusing finger at me and carried on. One of you is going to answer for what happened. “Because he‟s right.” Suddenly. but I did not know how to respond.” Mike gave a small laugh. not this time. my being a woman has nothing to do with it…….

isn‟t he?” I grabbed my head with both hands. I was so shocked that I did not know what to say. His mouth opened several times without any words coming out. This time.Rory Ridley-Duff He paused for a moment and seemed to calm down. he eventually ventured an opinion.” he said as he fixed his gaze on me. “Tell me honestly.” I asked. It took me a full 10 minutes to calm down and regain my composure. What a total fucking mess! Call Mike and tell him that I want him back here at 10am tomorrow. After a moment. “Sit down. What had just happened? I looked up at Phil and beckoned him over to my desk. Phil.” Phil looked at me and nodded slowly. . He came over slowly looking as shaken and as shocked as me.” I said. Mike got ready to speak again. With his eyes fixed on the desk. “have you ever made a pass at a man?” Then he calmly walked out of the room. There have only been a few occasions in my life when I have been completely lost for words. This was one of them. “What a mess. his voice was much calmer but the words cut into me and I felt a shiver run through my body. “Mike‟s an awkward bugger. I looked at the cold cup of tea on my desk and gave a short laugh. and his hands fidgeted on his knees. “What d‟you think of what he just said?” Phil looked uncomfortable. Penny. “Tell me. during which time Phil remained seated. He found it difficult to look at me.

including a view that science was rarely scientific. my father told me that my instincts and emotions were my greatest assets. my father was quite different. He would ask me why I enjoyed learning some things but not others. Together we had many conversations in which we traced my interest back to an emotional experience or aspiration. Penny. . he argued. it is because it moves us emotionally. Scientists. he always pressed me to talk about the underlying reason for my interest in something. even if that goal was a modest one such as building the scientist‟s reputation. particularly men.Friends or Lovers Chapter 20 When I was young. Intertwined in our deliberations. if not religious. He argued that science was always oriented towards a political goal. is the key to a deeper understanding. We study something because it is interesting to us. he had a strong spiritual side that. He would ask me why I liked some people and not others. he would say. It is interesting to us because it is meaningful. “When we are interested in something. We don‟t study a subject because it is intrinsically interesting – if that were true then everybody would be interested in the same things. put great stock in objectivity and science. was imbued with deeply human values. As such. I think it was his career inside the civil service that inclined him towards a political way of thinking. While many people. Emotion. were doing themselves a disservice when they argued that emotion had no place in science. His words echoed in my head. He was an unusual man.

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. And the reverse! What monsters we can be when we don‟t want a relationship.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. We‟re at our most cruel when trying to get people out of our lives.” Despite his slightly pompous manner. more willing to change our own values. “Just look at what we do when we desire someone‟s attention. would often walk out of the room and leave us to it. I disliked her for that – she seemed to deliberately misunderstand him . She said my father talked twaddle about sex. my father was. To me. my love for him grew with the conviction that there was wisdom in his words. studying new things in order to impress them. and is. My mother. We open our mind to their views. We may find ourselves learning new skills. . more humane than anyone else I‟ve met.and this was one of the reasons she and I argued throughout my teens. 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. Our behaviour and feelings can change dramatically. Has Mike hurt me? Maybe it was the other way around. So strange. on the other hand. 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.

but underneath I understand how it feels to be crushed by the weight of male attention. In my first year at university. I had no feelings about him except as yet another person who was adding to Elona‟s distress. then confusing. She was as introverted as any person I had ever met. It was only the previous day that I had learned there was a Nathan at all. And yet. I would no longer wait for a man to make up my mind. I felt used by men. Elona would not make up an accusation like this. she was quiet and scared. Would a person like that make a move on Nathan? I did not see how it was possible. My father helped me look at these as learning experiences. So. At first I was flattered. I fell apart and he quickly left me for someone else. I felt. my emotions kept on churning. I may have the veneer of confidence. It was exciting. I tossed and turned throughout the night and in every configuration. not those that chose me. We either buckle under the weight or kick back. I decided that I‟d never again be a shrinking violet. Eventually.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. Am I reacting to my own past? I can feel Elona‟s hurt. I would have the men I chose. It made no sense. I committed to one lad. . but later he cheated on me and I was crushed. Whenever I met her. would she? I couldn‟t buy Mike‟s view that Elona was the protagonist here. I would make up my own. I empathise with her. I could not make the pieces fit the puzzle. and finally annoying. even as I had these thoughts.

I was a bit irritated by his use of the word „girl‟. I find it very confusing and thought……” I hesitated for a moment. . “Hi. Penny. “That‟s my girl” he responded. As I did so. the burden of the last few hours seemed to lift instantly. He is a good-looking man. Even at his age. John. he immediately sensed concern in my voice. Up until this point. if you don‟t mind. “What‟s up?” he asked. As if by instinct. Encountering him up close was disturbing me. This was something new. Both mentally and physically. “Hi. but I let it pass. I can see why young women might be attracted to him. We‟d been intimate in a personal way. That situation at work is spiralling out of control.” I replied.” he said brightly as he answered the phone. Maybe he could help. He might have some words of wisdom for me so I called him. “I just thought I‟d pick your brains. I thought of John. He‟s strong too. but never professionally. All the other women seem to like Mike. I had never intruded into his professional world to benefit my own. no!” I laughed. “Are you still troubled by the weekend?” The weekend? That seemed like a lifetime ago. I realised that I was crossing another line and inviting a new type of relationship. It is quite possible that Elona likes him more than she‟s saying.Rory Ridley-Duff Is my past affecting me now? Can I really understand her? For the first time I am having real doubts. Do I understand what she is going through? I thought of Mike. “Good lord.

How likely is that?” I asked this as a rhetorical question.” I chose my words carefully.” I said. When it works everyone is happy. “Involved in what way?” John enquired. It seems there is another young lad involved and that she and this other lad somehow got „involved‟ with each other.Friends or Lovers “…. “Yes. but there it was tripping out of my lips before I could stop it. When it . They initiate with non-verbal stuff that induces the man to talk to her. She confided something to her boss about this lad. “Most relationships are started by women in very subtle ways.” As I said the word „involved‟ I cringed. and that the situation was caused by her giving him too much attention. But the strangest thing is that the boss is now saying that she had a crush on the lad. Has anything changed?” he asked. “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. why not?” he answered without a moment‟s hesitation.I thought that maybe we could discuss it a bit more and you could guide me a bit. but John took it literally and gave me a most peculiar answer.” “Yes. “Hmmm! This does sound a bit more complicated than you first thought. it is more like a ritual series of moves that women and men make in turn. In this world. but later she accused the boss of inappropriate behaviour. “Sure. “That‟s not clear. It is fallacy that men always pursue and women always resist. Sure I do. “Perhaps. I was not an amateur. and not seeking a fatherly opinion so much as a professional dialogue.

Women comfort their own egos by thinking they have been singled out by an attractive man. Most of women‟s behaviours are non-verbal. feeling a little more relaxed. however. These are generalisations. I was puzzled by this. Women signal. He started to give me to fuller explanation. Men who don‟t pay attention to a . “Successful ones do. “Men will respond quickly if an attractive woman signals. she may be ignored both verbally and nonverbally. “So you are saying this is only true for some people?” I asked. Men tend to think they are making the first move but often they are responding to a non-verbal cue. I suppose it is. Penny?” he asked. Others jump in with both feet at the first opportunity. Many won‟t – they‟ll get scared.” I paused for a moment unsure what to say next.. I‟d studied psychology and this was the opposite of what I had learnt. if an unattractive woman signals in a similar way.Rory Ridley-Duff doesn‟t things can turn quite nasty. most of men‟s are verbal – at least initially. providing they can overcome their own nerves. “Well…. But. “Is that a surprise. Men comfort their own egos by thinking they‟ve initiated the relationship. particularly if one party feels led on and then humiliated. Close observation.” “Do men signal?” I asked. I assure you that it‟s not the case. don‟t you think?” “If that is what you believe. but most don‟t. it will look that way. This is true in most cultures. shows women select the man they want and do everything they can to ensure he notices them so that he starts a conversation.yes. Men respond. Men are always pursuing and pestering women. There are women who take verbal initiatives but generally it is the other way around.

They‟ll exchange personal information. “Well. They‟ll only carry on if they are interested. increase their eye contact. but people have been able to observe it. he laughs and says something back. You‟ll know if this is happening in a group because a pair seem to be ignoring everyone else.Friends or Lovers woman‟s signals will probably end up embarrassing themselves. just gut feeling stuff. she whispers in his ear. Not everyone agrees about the meaning of this. Then you get a kind of game that signals mutual interest. If she likes him enough. I‟ve never met them and different couples behave differently. she‟ll eventually make a move that he cannot ignore. a woman‟s behaviour generally encourages the man to talk more. talk about common interests. he nods. we are talking probabilities. but in the trade it is called „synchronisation‟ or „rapport building‟. she nods. This is often unconscious. behaviour moves through a series of stages. otherwise they‟ll ignore the signals. All I can say is that it is possible but against the norm. “I don‟t know the specifics. laughter. Interesting as this was. She lifts a glass. he lifts a glass. start touching each other. such as prolonged eye contact. turn towards each other. I felt a need to direct the discussion. start sharing opinions. Men who get a signal will usually proceed fairly gently at first to see whether they continue to get signals. tell stories. I‟m giving you behaviour patterns.” . If there is a mutual attraction.” “So this is unlikely?” I confirmed. he puts it around her.” I stifled a laugh. “Is it likely she made a pass at him?” I asked. In these early exchanges. positive body movements and such like. she links his arm.

He hesitated for a moment. “Penny. What is going on here? I wondered. “Is there something you need to do?” I asked. Sort of…” he responded. “No less than they deserve!” I replied quickly. I‟m away in the Lakes this weekend. It really pissed me off that someone else only had to shout and he wanted to cut off our conversation.” he added with a light-hearted chuckle. She‟ll give him an emotional slap. There was a moment of awkward silence as I contemplated my last comment. .” he said. I‟m in Leamington next Wednesday afternoon and all Thursday. “If he doesn‟t respond. “Errr…. she‟ll feel rejected and may do something to hurt his feelings.” I could hear an urgency in his voice. “…. Men are routinely humiliated. “Only kidding!” I added. but I detected a coolness in his tone. I was still contemplating when he started to talk again. but would you like to meet up next week to chat about it? You can give me specifics. It is nothing special for them. “Um. We could meet in the morning if you are free. I decided to ask directly. It was unlike John to cut short any conversation. so my defences were immediately triggered. Are you free?” I could hear other voices in the background and realised that someone in the house was calling to him.Rory Ridley-Duff He paused for a second before making one final comment. “Sure.it will be easier to talk next week.can you let me get my diary?” I asked to buy myself a moment.

” “Okay.Friends or Lovers “Let me see…. If Nathan had started flirting. it is unlikely that Elona would have felt any need to make an advance. He confirmed that it was unlikely Elona would have made the sexual advance. but could have done so if Nathan had not been responding to her. from what John says. “…. making him wait a bit longer.” He rang off before saying goodbye. I think I have enough here to read the riot act to Nathan tomorrow if I don‟t get answers. No. Phil told me that all the lads had flirted with her. I‟ll e-mail you with a time and see you then. “I can fit you in on Wednesday morning. I could not understand why he had been curt with me. I was not impressed. yes!” I finally said. .ah……yes….” I said. I wondered if he resented me asking him for a professional opinion.. The conservation was not as friendly or as pleasant as I had come to expect.maybe. No. No... his comments were interesting and useful. Still.

Every time she does something grown up like this it makes me feel a little bit older. “Well. Over onto his front now. When I go around to Carole‟s. “Tell me what you see…. I tidy round the kitchen. She called me a few nights ago almost wetting herself with laughter. cooing and laughing. Come on baby. I still can‟t get used to being an aunty. He‟s on his back with a rattle in his hand.” she said trying to contain guffaws.” Try as I might to understand how watching a baby roll over and over can make her giggle like a schoolgirl. My windowsill is adorned with an assortment of stones and rocks that I‟ve picked up over the years. I tidy up the house. do your stuff!” As I wait. “I just wish you could see him. Carole‟s boy. along with holders for utensils and . Wait………here he goes. “He‟s on his back. it always looks like a bomb has hit it. has progressed from sitting up to rolling around.” I dutifully command. she roars with laughter as he manages to shift his weight again and roll onto his back. put the few plates I‟ve used in the dishwasher wondering just how lazy I can be. There is not much to do. she‟s happy and that‟s what matters. trying to sound enthusiastic. I just can‟t fathom it out. She says she has news. Young Toby. feet in the air. Still. This is just brill! I wish you could see this. I imagine that she‟s pregnant again and wants to celebrate in style.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 21 My sister has just called. Big news. While I wait for her to come around. but if another sprog is going to come along I guess I‟ll just have to accept it fully.

“The door‟s open…. “Come on in!” I shout. Just as the boredom is banished.Friends or Lovers instruments for practising my Nigella Lawson recipes. Decadence! Just what the moment needs and I rustle around the cupboard seeing if I have the ingredients for a calorie busting meal. playing with me. I look her up and down to try to understand what is different. I look carefully.” she says mysteriously. Nothing special there. “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. the front doorbell rings. I think. “Has someone given you a happy pill?” I ask “No need.” she says. “Am I getting warm?” I ask. I flick the switch on the kettle and amble back into the living room. “Try a bit higher.” she says. . I cannot put my finger on it but something has definitely changed in her appearance. She smiles. “See anything now?” she asks. It is firm and flat.” And in she walks looking groomed and beaming. Her breasts look quite firm today so I cup one in each hand. I walk right up to her and put my hand on her stomach. I think. tracing a line from her shoulder to her elbow. What is it?” “Keep looking. I continue tracing a line from the elbow to her hand. with her smile getting wider all the time. “All right you. I give her a puzzled look and start to move my hand upwards. Her hand is different. Absolutely no sign of a baby there.

He came home and told me that he‟d got another promotion and had a present for me. How many women have ever been asked that question?” “‟Yes‟ will do nicely. I could feel the moisture start to fill my eyes. The tears just kept rolling down my cheeks. “July 31st?” “Oh. I took a step back and held both her arms. one with each hand.” she gasped. “Careful sis‟. of course. 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. It isn‟t happiness. I felt something in my sides coarse up through my body. what she has been dreaming of for the last few years. “Be my „best woman‟?” she asked. It is so hard to describe how I‟m feeling. It is. “Your what?” “My „best woman‟. “I want to make it to the alter without crushed ribs. Carole!” I still felt in shock. I want a „best woman‟!” I just looked at her unsure what to say.” “Some present!” I shouted and suddenly the tears were there. 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. but now the moment is .Rory Ridley-Duff As I look at the image before me.” I just closed my eyes and nodded.” “I don‟t know what to say. “When did he ask?” “Last night. 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?” was the only word that came out.

like the room is spinning. concerned. “I never thought of you as heavy!” she joked as she hauls me up. I feel worried. We never took it in turns. My little sister is getting married. “Sis‟? Are you alright?” “I feel a bit woozy….!” Instead of feeling wild with excitement and happiness. she was always the bridesmaid and I was the bride. “If I knew my news would have this effect on you. I feel cold and sweaty. shocked – every emotion I have in me just crashes down and I feel giddy with the intensity of it all.Friends or Lovers here. We would write all the words of the ceremony out and act the whole thing for hours and hours.” And then it happened. but I realise that I did not expect to feel like this.” I manage to get out before I completely give the game away. When we were young. I would have got you to sit down first….. Of course. I can‟t get up. My little sister is getting married. . “Of course. “Here. “Jeez sis‟. I am pleased for her. “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. ecstatic. I can‟t explain why. I did not expect her to marry before me. For a few moments. My little sister. we would play „weddings‟ and I was always the bride and she the bridesmaid. My legs just gave way as if they simply could not hold me up any more.” says Carole almost falling to the floor with me. and I tumbled onto the floor and nearly hit my head on the table.

totally old. totally alone. I quickly turn and give her a sly look. This should be one the happiest moments in our life. When I hear her wicked suggestion the grin returns to my face. We flopped on my bed in fits of giggles. not being able to feel the excitement she feels. . “Okay! Okay!” I say.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked up at her and felt ashamed. my confidence returning. But the truth is that my little sister‟s announcement makes me realise that I have not grown up yet. drank all evening. get smashed. but she is the mature one. talk dirty and then……. It pains me to say it. “I think I can manage that. and yet I feel totally hollow inside. but she took it in her stride. got thrown out when we started to sing rude songs and staggered back to my place. She is my big sister. As I go to get my coat. “Right!” I shout. for not thinking of how happy she must be feeling. She is not my little sister any more.” “That‟s simple!” she says without a moment‟s hesitation. A few seconds later. “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. How can I possibly tell her? Whatever she was expecting it was not this. my lips part and my teeth are showing.you tell me exactly what is expected of a „best woman‟…. not me. How can I feel like this? I bury my head in my hands as more tears emerge. I playfully punch her on the arm. My little sister is getting married. “down the pub we go..” “Okay sis‟ – lead the way!” and with that remark we went to the pub. I feel like taking a dagger and stabbing myself for not thinking of her. totally useless.

“I am!” she says. “Yeah. “Do you want to hear something funny?” she retorts busting her sides and unable to contain her hilarity. “Thought your „big news‟ was going to be…. come on! Spill it to sis‟” I tell her. “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. No.” I laugh. “I do!” she shouts hysterically.Friends or Lovers “Do….” “Tell me!” she asks. Carole dissolves into fits of giggles and starts kicking her feet in the air. Be serious!” I demand as we lie there trying not to giggle. my words just will not come out properly. No!” I exclaim.do you…..” Laced with liquor. “Stop a moment.. “It‟s due in November and her name is going to be Penny Anne – after you and mum!” . “No.

“He‟s already gone to work. “It‟s nothing really. I‟ll see if he‟s still here.” she said. I switched on my PC and opened the personnel database system and searched for their details. but I thanked her and spent a few moments considering what to do next. I . “if I see him before you do. Is Mike there?” I asked. Can you get him to call me?” “Sure. “Hello?” she said.” The tone in her voice was strange. I think he‟s already gone. almost mocking.” There was a long pause and in the distance I thought I could hear some voices. Eventually. We‟ll have to rearrange. Can I take a message?” I thought for a moment because the issue was sensitive. Nathan phoned in sick. I called Nathan first and heard an answer phone message. “Hang on a minute.” I replied.” I answered. I left a message asking him to call me. I called Mike‟s department and his colleague said that he had also not arrived at work yet. “Leamington 397333. “Can I ask who is calling?” “My name is Penny – I‟m the Head of Personnel at IC.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 22 My plans for Elona were thwarted the next morning. We had a disciplinary meeting this morning but Mike‟s not turned up for work. Next I called Mike‟s home number and a woman replied. the woman returned to the phone. Can I help you?” “Hello. “I‟m still here. I had a full schedule until the end of the following week.

We found a slot free at 3pm the following Wednesday week – I would meet them after I‟d had lunch with John. Penny xx I read over the message again. Still trying to corrupt my sweet innocence? Naughty. Was I being too flirty? Hell. I retrieved my e-mails and my mood improved when I received a note. I checked my diary and found that I had to go to an evening event with Dave – a launch event for a new product. this was John and “flirt” was his middle name so I hit the [Send] . I’m stopping overnight with friends so we could either have our meeting late morning or make an evening of it. I was to chaperone the young entrepreneur who would be speaking while Dave was acting as host. Hi sexy. Phil agreed to inform all the parties concerned. and I felt my emotions stir a bit when I read his greeting. but it will have to be in the morning as we arranged – although a lazy lunch is possible.30am. Hi John. naughty. I’ll save the silky black dress for another occasion (!!) you’ll just have to admire my power suit instead. With a tinge of regret I declined John‟s offer of an evening meal.Friends or Lovers really wanted this resolved now and did not want it to drag on. I’d love to be seen with you. 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. Just to let you know that I’ll be arriving in Leamington about 10. if you prefer. I called Phil into my office and asked him to check later that day whether Nathan or Mike made it into work.

Just finalising stuff for Wednesday. Are you able to meet me in the morning so that I can try out my presentation on you? Also. I finished going through my emails and the last one was from Dave about the evening event. Penny. He still had a way of making me feel special.30pm at Bella Marie? John xx I loved flirting with him. just been going through some Professional Development stuff. 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. It would run on 30th June and covered the latest legislative changes in our field. Subject: Launch Event Pen. Lazy lunch it is. Fewer than five minutes had passed before I received his response. The issues with Nathan and Mike slipped from my mind as I contemplated the prospect of spending more time with John. The evening event had two guest speakers . He found an afternoon event with an optional evening dinner. Both you and I need to consider this before our appraisal in July. Meet you at 12. We can compare power suits.Rory Ridley-Duff button without further ado. 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. 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 .

For those attending the evening event. the second of these really caught my attention.Friends or Lovers scheduled – one giving a talk on entrepreneurial behaviour and the other called “Intimacy at Work”. 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. Thankfully the day ended without further incident. there was an option to stay overnight in the hotel. .

He insists he must talk to you. . Can you meet any earlier?” he asked without seeming to pause for breath. “I‟m afraid she‟s……no she‟s…. Called John.” I say. sir! I‟ll see if I can find her.” “Well he doesn‟t sound very friendly to me. “It‟s a man for you. “It‟s okay. “Hi. “could you get that for me?” He picked up the receiver and redirected the call to his own phone. “Please hang on a moment.” I shouted. “Wednesday. “Phil. Around 9am. “Who is it?” I asked out loud. I picked up the receiver.” and with these words he pulled the handset from his ear and gave it a harsh look. He may be bold by e-mail but he rarely initiated phone conversations. I got into work early and resumed work on the contracts for Dave.” I smiled because it was unusual for him to call me. Phil. John!” I pointed out. Is everything okay?” I asked.she‟s busy at the moment. I mouthed to him „who is it?‟ but he shrugged his shoulders to indicate that he didn‟t know. the phone rang.” Phil said as he diverted the call to my phone.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 23 On the Monday morning.. A few moments later I could hear him conversing in a slightly agitated way. “And a „good morning‟ to you too. John. Can you……?” It sounded as though someone was not letting him get a word in edgeways. “He‟s a friend.

not on the phone. trying to slow him down.” “Yes. “It‟s better to talk in person. Penny.30.” “John? Has something happened to you?” I could feel concern creeping into my being. “Why not? The heavens haven‟t fallen down over the weekend have they? My sister‟s wedding hasn‟t suddenly been cancelled.30 – we can talk over a coffee before lunch. “No! Not me. he rang off. not on the phone.” “Your wife?” “Penny. It was unlike John to sound so agitated. Penny. Whenever anybody says “try not to worry” it is sure to make you worry even more. I‟ll meet you at 11.” he repeated.Friends or Lovers “Sorry Penny! „Good morning‟ to you. has it?” He completely ignored this piece of news and carried on. a bit – I could bring it forward to 11. I don‟t want to talk on the phone.” “That sounds fairly ominous! What do „we need to talk‟ about?” I said in an attempt to mock him slightly and lighten the mood.” With that last comment. But .30 if that helps. That‟s good. Try not to worry. We need to talk. I‟ll tell you Wednesday. Can you meet any earlier on Wednesday?” he repeated. Okay. hang on!” I say. “What is this all about?” “Can‟t say. “Can‟t say. I‟ll see you at 11.” “Hang on. He did not answer my question about his wife and I wondered whether something might have happened between them. “Well.

” . What then? “Did he say anything to you?” I asked Phil. if you ask me.Rory Ridley-Duff then I remembered that he said it was nothing to do with him.” I thought for a moment. “Yeah. “That‟s what I love about him.” In my head I added a few extra words that Phil did not hear. He‟s a pushy guy alright. Very pushy guy. He was just very insistent that he talk to you immediately. “About what?” “Did he say what he wanted to talk about?” “No.

After working through the contracts. If there‟s something. We don‟t do many major product launches so Dave was putting in extra effort. but I responded with more confidence than I felt. “Of course! Is she not better?” Dave did not show any emotion. I took notes and stopped him after each section to give him feedback. and for him to pause for any length of time before giving an answer was quite strange. “Yeeaah!” he finally said slowly. “Come on. 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. “Well. looking straight into my eyes in a way that I‟d never seen before. you can tell me!” . Dave. come on then.Friends or Lovers Chapter 24 I took the contracts around to Dave‟s office and he ran through his presentation. Something on your mind?” I enquired. “No. “Do you have to rush off?” he asked. we agreed a few minor changes for his afternoon meeting. He licked his lips and I could tell that he was slightly nervous so I walked up to him and touched his arm.” I was beginning to get used to the idea that I was going to be an aunty twice over. Dave is rarely hesitant. It was almost like he was a blank. “Do you remember I said my wife was ill? I vaguely recollected him saying something. He ran through the section again until I gave him a thumbs up and we continued this process until late morning. Tell aunty Penny….

he spoke. They‟ve done a scan and found a tumour. I held his left arm in my right hand and then placed my left hand on his shoulder. Dave had a lot of energy but deep down he was a gentle soul.” I put his head on my shoulder and my arms around him. There was fear in them. We stood there for many minutes before he slowly pulled away and without looking at me said “thank you”. Finally. “She‟s dying!” This news had a deep and lasting impact on me. She‟s not been well for a while. I had never seen him like this before. “Family? Have you told them?” “I‟ll do that later today. You‟re the first person I‟ve told. Sometimes you work with a person for a while and simply do not realise the bonds that are forming.Rory Ridley-Duff He looked into my eyes again.” I‟d worked with Dave for 10 months and this was by far the most human moment that we had shared. Come here. He was in pain and I let go of his arms and put my hand on his cheek and stroked it. He didn‟t say anything either. I took her into hospital this weekend because her headaches were so painful that she could not sleep. just tilted his head until it rested on my hand and closed his eyes. He licked his lips again. I was sad for the rest of the day. “Oh Dave! I‟m so sorry. As I held him I could feel his heart breaking and the gentle movement of someone crying. He turned slowly and left the room. and she‟s been back and forth to the doctor. It‟s advanced. and in the evening when I was on my own I felt acutely . “Have you told anyone?” “No. They don‟t think she‟ll survive more than a few months.

It was unnatural. Deep down a pain formed inside me that actually hurt.Friends or Lovers distressed. 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 found myself struggling to get to sleep as the silent anger I felt kept me awake. There was no God if this could happen.I decided he needed a friend.thinking of him sitting with his wife at the hospital . It was my time. but not by much. He was a bit older than me. . I had not realised I cared about him and it came as a surprise. As I lay there .

He looked a little embarrassed. “Got the launch event tonight and have no time to go home. I got myself a cup of coffee and went through my e-mails. I had no idea what was in store for me. In the evening was Dave‟s product launch. a few words came out. I had taken extra care getting dressed because I wanted to look good for my lunch date with John. “You‟re welcome. I was due to meet Mike and Nathan for a showdown.” he said sheepishly. See you soon. Is there any background information you can bring on that personnel problem you have got? May help us find out what is going on. Hi Penny. but for a moment I looked at him in a lustful way. “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. but with a small shuffle of his feet and with his eyes slightly lowered. John . as if he had said more than he meant to. too young for me. he raised his eyebrows. When Phil saw me. In the afternoon. But it was a good lie. I was surprised at how flattered I felt.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 25 When Wednesday came. I looked at him with new eyes. He was a good-looking lad. “That‟s very sweet of you. “Doing something special today?” he asked.” I said. smiling. I strode into work feeling smart and confident.” I lied. I thought.

If I hired him. Dave. After the speeches. I took Phil with me. A swift response winged its way back through the IT network. would you like a drink? Not the most difficult executive decision I have ever had to make.Friends or Lovers Even if I had wanted to. By the time I‟d waded through them.” “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. The other e-mails were either trivial or junk. I just don’t feel like a big social evening afterwards. “You‟ll go down a treat. “The preparation was worth it. there was an e-mail from Dave. We would have to discuss the issues as a series of hypothetical situations. I thought he cut a fine figure. Subject: CIPD Pen. Next. it would be different. It was quite a showpiece. As he stood there in a new suit and tie. . That would be lovely. complete with visuals and sound. Thanks for booking the CIPD thing. The information was confidential. his voice confidently outlined the magnificent benefits of tomorrow‟s personal health gadgetry.” I reassured him. I couldn‟t take anything with me. He was impressive and looked cute. and we both settled into the company‟s small lecture theatre. I look forward to it. hair cut and groomed. the time for Dave‟s presentation approached. a reward for his earlier flattery. “You don‟t think that final video is slightly overlong or overdone?” I put my hand on his arm and reassured him.

He was pleased to see me but carried a grave look that I‟d not seen before. As he was a dedicated New Labour supporter. We settled down at the table. 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. We arrived at Bella Marie around 11. ordered drinks and looked at the menu. “See you tonight when the madness has died down. “Thanks. He would be nervous. He intended to use the money to support his writing for several months.Rory Ridley-Duff “Slicker than a New Labour political broadcast. Pen.” He just beamed. It was the first time I‟d seen him wear a tie. . John „the businessman‟ just didn‟t seem quite right. “Nervous about this afternoon?” I asked. His behaviour was different as well and I initially attributed this to his meeting in the afternoon.50 and settled down for lunch. He was well groomed and I quickly realised that I preferred him in casual attire. but it was Dave who gave them charm and wit. I felt. but much less spin. I thought.” he said. * * * John was slightly late. He was dressed in a dark deep blue suit. even though I didn‟t intend it that way. he took this as a big compliment. When we chatted on the phone yesterday.” This was going to be a very long day. The materials were fine. The banter I expected didn‟t materialise so I probed him to see if anything was up.

“John. I know the person contracting the work. There are others to convince. As he settled back in his chair. He momentarily looked up and tried to smile. “Our hypothetical Mike!” I answered.Friends or Lovers “A bit. married. his gaze started to focus on me properly. No point beating about the bush. “Tell me about Mike…. Sometimes he gives me the creeps. personable and popular. “You look the part. You said we had to talk. I feel he looks down on me sometimes. “Not sure why? Can you expand on that?” “Well. but I‟m not sure why. I can see that he‟s good looking.” John intervened at that point. so I thought I‟d dress the part. What‟s on your mind?” He looked up. “He‟s one of our sales staff.” If it was not his interview then why was his behaviour so different? I was puzzled and tried a bit of flattery. Not too bad. We had quite a row last week. We‟ve worked together several times so I think today‟s a formality. I find him a bit „old school‟. Very smart – you‟ll knock them dead. He called me a „stupid woman‟. 50-ish. My boss Dave is suspicious of him. I called him a sexist pig!” . however. I started to feel that something had changed between us but was at a loss to understand why. patronizing. and women would fall for him. he‟s good at his job. John nodded and set himself in a listening pose. but he averted his eyes quickly.” he requested. you know. slightly relieved.” I looked at him directly as I said this. but his gaze remained firmly on the menu.

they got close. “My instinct tells me that the lads went too far. I moved him to a new position. says the young woman confided in him but he won‟t talk unless she consents. women mostly. The young woman won‟t say what happened. The young lad won‟t co-operate. She‟s engaged to be married. Now he‟s implied she might have been pursuing the young man. 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. I asked my assistant to keep his ear to the ground. But I know her. There‟s a meeting this afternoon. There was one lad in particular that seemed to take a fancy. The boss is pissed off with everyone because he got landed with the blame for a situation not originally of his own making.Rory Ridley-Duff John nodded. not the other way around. That‟s where the stories conflict. and one in particular got quite keen. either. He gave her support. She was sufficiently upset to confide in her boss. and I thought that‟d be the end of it. “Well. He made a pass and she rejected him. He took some of his staff with him. She lives at home. because he‟s got a reputation as a womaniser. He has a history. I don‟t buy his story. encouraging me to continue. their former boss. and his demeanour was attentive and serious. my boss wanted me to find out more.” .” “So what‟s changed?” John asked. “Someone complained that he was hassling a colleague for a drink. I intend to crack some heads. however. It looked open and shut initially. Mike.” John nodded. “What do you think?” he asked. He found that men in the department had been flirting with her. looking very thoughtful.

So he backs off.Friends or Lovers John kept nodding. wants to marry her. let‟s call her Elena – she‟s quiet. Regardless. a bit embarrassed. shall we?” “Hold on!” I said. if I tell you the source of my information then I‟ll be involved and could be dragged into the process. Explain!” I commanded. John started to talk. She confides in her boss. I was not looking for another interpretation. “Where are you getting these names from?” “This is a hypothetical example. shall we?” “You know these people. But then he realises that her boyfriend is an old school friend. We‟ll call her boss Mick. His mate is crazy about Elena. She‟s confused. Nath thinks she‟s a bit of alright and joins in the flirting at first. “Err. “Shall I try another interpretation for you?” he asked. I want to help.” I said hesitantly. “Penny. You use the information as you see fit. She‟s inexperienced with men. and has a job as administrator to a department that has quite a few young men. but he sees her flirting with a whole group of lads. Penny.” . I could be called as a witness to a tribunal. “The young woman – tell you what. right?” This was too coincidental. but I nodded to indicate he should carry on. She starts to receive more sexual attention. I was slightly taken aback. In her previous job she worked with women so this is a change for her. If things go badly. Let‟s call him Nath. He backs off some more. Let me pretend this is a hypothetical case. Elena is not put off and actually starts to single out Nath himself. but likes one of them. Okay. fairly pretty. I had never seen him this intense and studious before. “Okay.

When I felt in control again.” It was my turn to start nodding. completely bewildered. . Pin-pricks shuddered all the way through me. Her parents are furious. “What happened to…. Mick listens to Elena and realises she‟s in a difficult situation. Luckily. “Her boss has a reputation for being sympathetic to his staff. “D‟you want me to continue?” he asked. the waitress brought the drinks and asked for our order. He‟d risked his own marriage to get her out. I‟d never told John exactly where I worked.Rory Ridley-Duff I was angry. Having recovered my composure. “Mick‟s known for his kindness. It never seemed relevant. I reeled. Every day she goes home they argue with her and tell her she‟s ruined everything. I could feel the shock rise through me as I realised where all this was coming from. He storms around and tells her the wedding is off.Mick?” I asked. He put her up at his home until she found a new home. Nath then tells his old school friend that Elena came onto him and was flirting with all her work colleagues. Her boyfriend reacts badly. Once he helped a work colleague suffering abuse. I asked John questions. He‟s been known to intervene personally sometimes and help people out when their personal lives are troubled. He never asked. He seemed to have more information than I did. I struggled to keep my emotions in check.” As these words came out. I nodded. John knew Mike. I did not know where he was getting this information but suddenly things started to make more sense. He continued the story. For a moment. She becomes desperate to leave home.

moved into a flat with his work colleague. After a few months of Mick calling his wife every day. “Elena wanted Mick to let her have his spare room. she finally relented and let him go back home. Elena told him private details about her life and now felt abandoned. Mick was sympathetic. Elena was angry because she‟d heard how Mick had helped someone else. but he refuses. that he never bring another woman into their home. Mick agreed. Someone walking past stops to watch and immediately reports the scene to their manager. Mick gave in. but later his wife learned that he‟d given money to buy furniture. on the condition that he be allowed to help her find a place to live.” . Nath tells her to „piss off‟.Mick…. She kicked him out.. He hoped that would be the end.Friends or Lovers “The situation got so bad that Mick‟s wife gave him an ultimatum. In a rage. she goes around to Nath‟s house and tells him what he‟s done. Mick‟s wife felt betrayed. but could not let her move into his house or give her any money. My head dropped and my eyes fixed on the table as John continued talking. Either the work colleague leaves or the marriage is over. She goes into work the next day and is angry. She tries again to persuade Mick to take her in. said that he would help her. She resists so he takes hold of her by the arm and makes her leave. but with Mick and shouts at him for not helping her. however. They became extremely close but were never lovers. There was a condition. not with Nath. With nowhere else to go….” I felt I knew where the story was heading and my sense of dread started to increase. 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.

” “Worse? How could it get worse?” “You may want a stiff drink. because of the past.” “Well. a clear case of sex . one day. I did not speak for several minutes. Penny. 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. I thought. that the new job was a promotion rather than a convenient solution to an accusation of sexual harassment. “There is another hypothetical character. He was concerned that his wife would pre-judge the situation and end the marriage. “What a total fucking mess!” John was silent so I looked up at him feeling completely at a loss. “Mick. he told a half-truth.” At the mention of this name. So. “He‟s been to a solicitor. “She threw him out again. She feels the problem lies with the way Pen handled the original complaint.” No prizes for guessing who the „friend‟ is. However. Are you ready?” “I need a stiff drink now!” I said trying to lighten the mood but John‟s face was implacable.Rory Ridley-Duff My head just hung there as I looked down at the table.” said John. Pen calls his house announcing herself as the Head of Human Resources and that Mick should be in a disciplinary meeting. There was more to come and I had to hear it. in some ways I‟m relieved. His wife‟s curiosity is fired and she relentlessly asks questions until Mick tells her the whole story. let‟s call her Pen. “It gets worse. did not tell his wife why he had recently changed job. “She did what?” I said.” I said.

and my eyes dropped as I let John finish. “Why are you telling me?” I asked in a slightly accusing way. that‟s one way of looking at things.” I commented sardonically.” My body froze a second time. Penny!” said John. “How noble of you!” I retorted. My head was spinning while I tried to work out what to do.” “Is that true?” I ask. It says he can bring a friend if there is a disciplinary hearing. I lost my appetite.” I felt attacked from all sides and my defences started to bristle.” “He can‟t do that!” I interject. I think. She‟s been a friend since his university days.Friends or Lovers discrimination and failure to observe natural justice principles now enshrined in law. that is the story he will stick to if challenged. Could I really have got everything so wrong? “Well. I did not know how to feel. “Penny!” John exclaimed. “Fucking mess was about right. There is also the issue of the call to his home. “He and his solicitor have checked the employment contract. The solicitor takes the view that Pen has not fulfilled her duty of care to all the parties concerned. “Today he‟s going to bring his solicitor. The solicitor is coming as a friend. There‟s nothing to say whether the friend must be a work colleague or not. “Because I couldn‟t let you go into your meeting later today completely unprepared. “It is. .” I was silent. Suddenly. At least.

I act as an expert witness at tribunals. I needed to talk to the legal department of the company before the meeting. but this could come between us if Mike asks me to testify.Rory Ridley-Duff “M…. “Just let me think a moment.” “Penny. It‟s going to come down on my fucking head not yours. I‟ve not known a kinder more honest man in my entire life. I‟m trying to help. “Don‟t be like that. this is my field.” “So it‟s all lads altogether is it?” I didn‟t know where these words were coming from.” “You what? You‟re saying you might testify against me?” “Penny! He‟s been a friend all my life. but part of me sensed that I had to get out of the restaurant and find Dave. This is serious. What was I to do? “Where did that come from?” he demanded. He led my scouts group when I was a kid. He‟ll ask for my help and I will give it to him.” “Yes. really.” .” “I try not to take sides. If he did. “Penny.” I snapped. this is all too much. I don‟t want to lose your friendship. or knew I‟m telling you this. He‟s been like a father to me.” “Why on earth would he do that? This is nothing to do with you.” I was getting more and more defensive and angry.” “How? Why? You know nothing about this case. you are just telling one side of the story. he might terminate our friendship. He doesn‟t know that I know you.has been a life-long friend of mine. Panic overwhelmed me. This could be the end of my career. I care about you.Mick…. This is serious. just give a professional opinion.

Help him with his domestic situation until the mediation is complete. “You must listen this afternoon. Do whatever you have to do to get the company to offer mediation to all the parties involved. this is going to end up in a court of law.” “I‟ll have to involve the company lawyers…. You‟ll have to grab it with both hands this afternoon.. Don‟t admit liability.” “I don‟t know if I can do that.. I‟m fresh out of ideas. Don‟t say anything. they‟ll call your insurers and the insurers will instruct you to have no further contact.” 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. the insurers will not cover your employer for any losses. hoping somehow I would disappear down a hole in the ground and this would all go away. Amuse me. lots of notes.” “No! You mustn‟t do that. Listen to the story the way it is told by the other parties. “The moment you talk to them. but acknowledge the points of view of the other parties. If you contact Mike after talking to your insurers. “If you don‟t.” “Well. I felt like I was being driven by something outside myself. aren‟t you?” “Not if we can find another way. At the moment I was not in control.” “Another way? Is there another way? You said he‟ll have a solicitor with him this afternoon…. just existing from second to second. Once you talk to . Make notes.” “There is a way out. You have to mediate. just listen.” I said weakly. You – and the company – will be completely exposed.” he shouted.Friends or Lovers “You are going to testify against me.

Do you appreciate that. but what then? What of your future career?” “Oh God! I don‟t know!” Privately. to protect him. This is too big for me. For all I knew. “There are risks. 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. Anyway. I did. John.Rory Ridley-Duff your legal team it will be out of your hands and will go to court. “Penny. I had to protect the company‟s interests. why should I take your advice? I hardly know you. Please. Not Mike. John?” My fiery response took him back a bit and he regrouped.” I wanted to talk to Dave. . My responsibility was to the company. please listen. There was little chance I would survive after such a misjudgement. Not John. “Penny. “Once a formal process starts it‟s almost impossible to stop.” “I bloody know that. “What if you can mediate?” he insisted.” “I can‟t handle this. “What if you can get Mike and his wife back together?” The pretence that we were talking about hypothetical characters had completely vanished. “And if I don’t tell the legal team.” He looked hurt at my words but composed himself. You are personally at risk from prosecution. Do you think you get to my position and not know stuff like that?” I resented him treating me like an idiot.” he said firmly. then I could lose my job as well. This was as real as it gets. John was doing this to save Mike.

It sounded like he was criticising my judgement. how could I know? There was so much that I‟d not been told. How could you know?” Indeed. . At the very least. “We can only see what we look for. I don‟t think he‟ll like this. “It‟s okay.” “Would he help?” “I see him later tonight. “No more than anyone else.” “Don‟t stereotype me. We assume men pursue women. “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. I wasn‟t blind to this!” I said with some irritation. sensing immediately he had irked me.” “Would he help?” “I couldn‟t do this without him. I looked at the meal in front of me.Friends or Lovers “I can‟t authorise that on my own. John continued. I felt sick. I can run it past him. We‟re close.” he said in a slightly frosty way. In any other circumstances it would have looked beautiful and tasted delicious.” The waitress brought our food and asked if we‟d like any more drinks.” I said. I can‟t keep this from him. “And you‟re the big shot who thinks he knows?” I said sarcastically. “What?” he reacted. and that women spend most of their time resisting men. “What do you mean?” I asked sharply. It‟s a kind of blindness.” he said. I‟d need Dave‟s support. “I‟m sorry for getting angry.

“Sorry. but it just kept pouring out of me. try divorcing one!‟” “John. “Good!” I added. “Bugger off!” was all I could say. “You know that.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m sorry.” “Stop talking like a fucking academic…” I wished I could stop myself behaving in such an angry way. “You are not the first person to say that. I nodded. “Women aren‟t weak. I started to realise that I was being deeply unfair to him. As the remorse grew. “Sorry. “Equality means protecting both sexes. “Who is protecting the men. I looked at him. I‟m sure you are very knowledgeable.” he said.” he said looking me firmly in the eye. .” I simmered for a few minutes and ate my food. You are so fucking pompous!” He smiled. “But this is my field!” he responded.” I looked at him coolly. He laughed again and I found that I could not sustain my anger with him. I remembered Mike saying something similar during our earlier argument. “As one of my friends told me a few years ago „if you think women are weak. John ventured a question. I didn‟t mean to sound critical. It‟s a common problem. Penny?” “What?” I responded. 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.” I said with as much conviction as I could muster.” he laughed.

Touching says everything that needs to be said. He hugged me for a whole minute and I just clung on for as long as I could. We stood there chatting for a bit then going silent then chatting some more. Parting turned out to be quite difficult. It would have been much easier for ignore it. We chatted away. or cry off the lunch date and avoid me. not just the other parties. it was this last point that occupied my mind. and then deciding to tell me over lunch. he said “come here” and guided by an external force I stepped forward and fell into his arms. Sometimes words are so inadequate and unnecessary. As we departed. I considered what an ordeal this must have been for him. When he saw this. offering a conciliatory smile. 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. about nothing in particular.Friends or Lovers Right now I had a plateful of food and an attractive man sitting opposite. and for the first time I saw him more as a friend than a potential lover. I guess John must have felt the same way. I acknowledged what he was saying but said that I still didn‟t see how I could avoid discussing this internally. his own smile broadened and I realised how tense he had been throughout. As his body relaxed. “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. must have been difficult for him. . Hearing this story from Mike. for the next hour. I had to protect myself. Neither of us wanted to walk away. As I left the restaurant. Eventually. I was not going to waste either a moment longer. I saw real concern in his eyes.

I sat there both angry at myself and at others. Mike and his wife. Nobody would talk. I felt so torn about what to do that I went to the staff canteen for another coffee. “I need to discuss things with you before we go into the meeting. And yet. I decided to follow some of John‟s advice. and that of Nathan. “Come into my office for a chat. how could I have known? Was I being too hard on myself? Nobody would explain.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 26 By the time I returned to work all my doubts and dilemmas had returned. I was ashamed. I hatched a plan. and he duly obliged. Others could see I was troubled and avoided me. If I had got things completely wrong then I was responsible for a great deal of misery. Another thing that consumed me was how I felt about myself. I thought about visiting the legal department to spill all this out. “Can you close the door?” I asked. How could I have known? So. .” I said as I returned to my office. and my invitation to discuss things did nothing to reduce his unease. Another part of me wanted to find Dave and have a heart to heart but he was preoccupied with the product launch.” He looked as apprehensive as I felt. In the end. but John‟s caution made me pause – at least for now. even John – these all beat a path to my door. Elona‟s distress. his apprehension seemed to progress to outright fear but he obediently followed me.” At this suggestion. * * * “Hi Phil.

” I answered. Phil was my first port of call for a good reason. I wondered whether I should have solicited his opinion more quickly. were cautious. but his eyes remained fixed and expressionless.” He was moving in the right direction. Phil…. I took a deep breath and made a start. both of which had been in his lap. Clearly he had not expected this. “……how are we going to approach this meeting?” As I asked this question.. “I think we need to admit that maybe we got it wrong. “I agree with you on the „listen and listen and listen‟. Then listen and listen and listen…. “That thought had occurred to me too. Phil‟s moment of relief ended and his face became thoughtful again. . “Any ideas?” I asked as I walked in the door. so I gave him a few moments by leaving the room to make coffee. When I returned. he was more relaxed. His hands. or considered this question. “If he is right.Friends or Lovers I had gathered my thoughts and knew how I wanted to play this.. “What if he‟s right?” At this suggestion. It makes more sense. Phil‟s lips parted and his rigid body began to move and come alive.” The idea that Phil has worked out the situation without help came as both a relief and a surprise. “I‟ve been thinking a lot about Mike‟s outburst. but a little more caution was called for. however.” I let the words linger for a moment. Everything about his body screamed “Thank God!” His words.. suddenly surfaced and started to gesture strongly.” I paused for a moment to see if Phil would say anything.

at least until I‟ve talked to Dave and Legal. “Of course.” he said.Rory Ridley-Duff After waiting for a moment to see whether he might say anything else. He broke into a smile and nodded. with just a hint of a smile. Phil. When Phil got up and made to leave the room.” . “You‟re a good lad. I appreciate you. I looked away from him to give the impression the meeting was over. 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. I offered my opinion. I looked him straight in the eye as I answered him. We‟ll keep our mouths shut. “Then I guess admitting we got it wrong is out of the question. I smiled back at him – a big smile showing my teeth. I want you to bring a notebook and take lots of notes. listen to what they have to say. and then waited until his eyes were again looking into mine. His eyes left mine and looked down at the table for a few seconds. This afternoon is about buying time. “We‟ll make a manager out of you yet!” Without letting my eyes wander even for an instant I took the lead. I completed the act of seduction. and just keep insisting that we‟ll do everything we can to mediate a solution. “Okay. When he looked up again. “Phil?” I asked. Okay?” I could see from Phil‟s reaction that his ego felt well and truly massaged. We‟ll do as you suggest. We‟ll say that we want to look at the whole thing again. there was a definite sense of conviction as he spoke.

.Friends or Lovers I did not look away and his eyes remained on mine until he could hold the gaze no longer. He turned to go. I caught a trace of redness in his cheeks. but when he reached the door he glanced over his shoulder and smiled at me again. I smiled back. started to walk. I have to admit that sometimes it is great fun being a woman.

At certain points in the narrative. then Mike. Phil looked up and smiled. a married woman giving a single woman a hard time in the witness box would not be pleasant. At the mention of his name. I opened the meeting and stressed that we would be as cooperative as possible. If his solicitor had been a man. gave their accounts while I nodded. Mike initially looked as if he was ready for a battle. If we made it through this conflict. I found myself developing a grudging respect for him. I expressed surprise and shock at what I was hearing. First Nathan. I might have peppered my pleasantness with a brusque manner. but my opening gamble paid off and took the wind out of his sails. To my surprise. 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 . I introduced Phil as my assistant and said that he had expressed a view that we should listen to Mike and Nathan. prompted.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 27 I feigned surprise when I met Mike‟s solicitor and was as pleasant as possible. With each reaction. Every few minutes I glanced at Mike‟s solicitor friend to see how this was playing with her. At the start of the meeting. I promised myself that I would get to know him better. If we were to meet again in a court room or industrial tribunal. No conclusions had been reached. Phil followed my lead and we successfully communicated the seriousness of what had taken place. still beaming from our earlier encounter. enquired and encouraged. she had looked calm and confident. I have to say that Mike was proving a lot smarter than I‟d expected.

She was not expecting this. “How?” I was growing in confidence and put the final piece of my plan into place. “My pleasure. I offered to get Phil to type them up and send Mike‟s to her for checking. I‟ll have to clear any changes with my director.” I answered. One of them is free at the moment and I can arrange for Mike to use it until he can make alternative arrangements. “What would be helpful is if you could work out with Mike the amount of wages he has lost. I didn‟t like her using my first name but I let it pass.” she said. “And what about the loss of pay since changing his job?” “On pay. “Mike‟s got issues over lost pay. “That‟s good of you. she started to engage me. Penny. I meet him later tonight.” I paused for a second before I asked the next question to ensure it had maximum impact. With surprise on her face she uttered a question. At the end.” I answered. David Stockton. after taking both Mike‟s and Nathan‟s statements. At this suggestion. Sometimes she would look at Mike and tilt her head to one side.” “Who will pay?” she asked. My comment stopped her in her tracks. and a problem with his housing situation……” “We can help with that.Friends or Lovers puzzlement. She was trying to work out how the meeting could be going so well for her client. I cannot guarantee that we will . “The company will pay. “There are two flats rented by the company to accommodate sales managers who commute here from time to time.” I answered.

but as it turned out a mutual respect was born.” Mike looked at me.” He looked me strongly in the eyes. “just to see whether I need to involve Legal.” Mike smiled at me – the first time I had seen him do so – and I have to admit that his face was handsome. “Women! I have no idea why you go around letting men think they are in charge. Mike can confirm it in writing. If we don‟t. he gave a short chuckle. Could you do that?” As I asked this question. then at me again.Rory Ridley-Duff meet it in full. In all our previous meetings. “I underestimated you as well. Thank you.” I said. “Yes. They looked at each other for a moment and I noticed that she nodded her head at him. Thank you. “Penny?” he asked. I‟ll deliver it by hand. but now I saw him in a moment of happiness. “Yes?” I answered. We‟ll do that now. “I underestimated you. but I‟m sure it will be sufficient for him to treat you to dinner. “I‟ll check with Dave tonight.” At the start of the day. I was taken aback at just how attractive he looked.” He chuckled again as he looked at Phil. then at her. I would have been happy to see someone kick him hard in the balls. if necessary. then you‟ll have my response tomorrow. I detected a smile on his face. he‟d looked worried and pensive. I looked at them both. I‟d hoped to stall things long enough to consult with Dave but we‟d gone almost as far as resolving the . then me again. After a few moments.

” I tried to return his look but found that I could not as I felt a rush of adrenalin rip through me. he fixed me one last time with his handsome face. The moment of exhilaration passed and I finally understood why he had such a good reputation as a salesman. Not only did he have integrity and courage but. “I can now see why Dave hired you. . As Mike turned to leave the room. He beat me at my own game. when he felt at ease.Friends or Lovers whole thing. he was also extraordinarily sexy.

” he said. offered a further comment.” Such praise I can live with. fussed about me. This comment caught me short for a moment. “Nothing more?” he asked again inquisitively. “Thank you. . but also the gap in status between us. Penny! Absolutely brilliant. but I actually felt exhausted. while still smiling. It made me wonder why Dave harboured hostility towards him. the way they looked. “Can you tidy up the loose ends here? I need to get ready for this evening. A curious look came over his face. shall we?” I responded. developed a small frown and his body language became submissive. Phil. with a puppyish expression. “I learnt a lot today. “That was fantastic. now I was experiencing him up close. It‟s hard to force niceness and that was exactly what I had been doing for most of the last two hours.” was all he could say. laughed. with a look that communicated not just my appreciation.” I said. touched and moved indicated a much closer relationship. was a friendlier person than I had thought. “What made you change your mind about Mike?” he asked. Clearly they were more than acquaintances. It was time to cool Phil‟s ardour now the job was done. His face.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 28 I remained in the room with Phil while Mike and his solicitor exchanged words.” Phil nodded and still smiling. Mike. I noticed them hug warmly as she departed. “Let‟s just call it a woman‟s intuition. “That is sweet of you.

all trace had left him. I flicked my head back. Suddenly things came together. “I certainly believe in a woman‟s cunning!” he remarked. If he had felt dominated a few moments ago. “Don‟t you believe in women‟s intuition. twists and turns had left their mark.Friends or Lovers Clearly he was not convinced. A number of shocks. As I stood there. . surprises. I thought back over the whole day. Mike‟s willingness to accept a settlement when he could have thrown the book at me. and Phil‟s shrewdness at seeing through me. I thought of the way John had helped. Perhaps men were not jerks after all. but also deflated my ego a bit. Phil?” His smile returned as well as his confidence. and let my locks fall about my face alluringly. He started to walk out of the room and his final remark not only surprised me. I had one of those “ah ha!” moments in life.

Long hair would have made her look womanly. All the good ones are. .” “Sounds good. of course. I‟ll be there. and get the new team ready. Was I? I didn‟t really know. Jo looked professional. “You look happy. “Yes. 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. can‟t he?” “Yeah! I‟ll say. She had cut her hair quite short – a mistake I thought – because without a good size bust it gave her a rather boyish look.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 29 What a day it had been and there was still quite a way to go. Jo – the marketing manager – came in looking very pleased with herself. She was not a stunner but even without make-up her skin was quite good. It will give a boost to our training programme. “I‟m off tonight to see Dave strut his stuff at the launch.” “You looking?” I asked. I visited the women‟s toilets. Always enjoy watching Dave strut his stuff!” she remarked.” I chirped. As I delicately added a small amount of rouge to my cheeks. Shame he‟s taken. I thought for a moment. Her comment surprised me. good meeting. Are you coming?” “Yes. I let my hair down a bit as well. “Aren‟t you?” she answered. We signed a contract this afternoon. but as I‟d had a totally stressful day.” I remarked. Certainly. “Hmm! He can look quite dashing at times. thinking back to the book John had recommended to me. not attractive.

” . Anyway. that she won‟t live long.” Her comment made me both cross and curious. Perhaps I had misjudged him. deciding to dig a bit. One of my neighbour‟s children is at school with Dave‟s kids. the total commitment he seemed to have for her. Perhaps he had. my neighbour went round and they admitted she was not well. I found it hard to believe that Dave himself would mention this to anyone else. “No! Not Dave. They were playing one day and came straight out with it. Clearly. With Carole announcing her marriage. I considered Mike. with meeting John and feeling more comfortable with men as friends. “There‟s a rumour going round that his wife is ill. Over the last couple of months I felt a change in myself. He‟s nice and all. Then there was Dave. there were men who wanted marriage. having a second child.Friends or Lovers As these thoughts flashed through my mind. I certainly felt that I wanted that before I died. “That his wife has cancer.” Jo seemed pleased that she was not in competition and moved a little closer. I also considered her question. „My mum‟s going to die‟ he said. sweet really. but I don‟t think he‟s my type. “Really? With Dave?” I could not help but laugh out loud at this suggestion. “What‟s the rumour?” I asked. “Maybe I am!” I finally answered. He might be back on the market soon. perhaps I was ready to look. and how hard he had tried to make things work with his wife. had a maturity and confidence that came from understanding how to keep a relationship interesting. flirty as he was. the sadness in his eyes when he thought of his wife. Even John.

of course. I think.” I was not sure whether to confirm or deny the rumour. I could tell that Jo was digging for information because her casual manner was suddenly replaced by attentive curiosity.” I responded as casually as possible. even if her source was a little further from home. This was a difficult call because I was obliged to keep information confidential. She looked dreadful. “Anyway. “Where did you hear it?” she asked. “I‟ve heard the same rumour. . She nodded. and the admission that I‟d heard a rumour did nothing to substantiate or deny her claim. I was relieved that she‟d got the rumour from outside the company.Rory Ridley-Duff Just as Jo was giving me the low down. I thought. clearly not satisfied by my response. that it was Jo who had told me the rumour only a few moments ago. I omitted. You know anything?” With this remark. At the same time. “When was this?” I asked. as if she‟d been unable to sleep for a week. “Well. My respect for Dave remained intact. Quite masterful that.” Jo continued. Elona walked in. I said nothing. rumours spiralling out of control were problematic and could cause embarrassment. “Hi!” we both said to her. “In here!” she responded. “Oh! A couple of weeks ago. I gave a small laugh. but did not talk and started to look in the mirror. Jo. Jo seemed to know as much as I did. “they said that Dave‟s wife looked terrible. where do you hear most rumours?” I asked. It was not a lie.

you will soon.” I turned to leave wondering whether issuing a denial was wise. “Someone been pissing you off. By drawing attention to it. Ellie?” asked Jo. There‟s a rumour going „round about me. She gestured with her eyes and head to indicate something to me. “Bloody rumours!” she remarked.” I said. I knew from past experience that if a rumour started it would be hard to quash. but whichever it was I had to put a stop to it. it was the first I‟d heard. Half an hour earlier. “Elona! Not another word. If there was a rumour. I felt . Jo looked both shocked and amused. “Quickly now!” I demanded and Elona packed up her stuff and hurried out of the toilets. I turned back to Jo. “That Nath has a thing going with me!” What was Elona doing? I felt that I had to act fast. “If you haven‟t heard. To my office now!” I was not sure if there was a rumour. or whether Elona was trying to start one. but I could not take it in. “What rumour?” asked Jo enthusiastically. I was indicating that „something‟ was going on between Elona and Nathan. “‟bout me and Nathan!” “What about you and Nath?” Jo enquired. Ellie?” she asked. They are hurtful and mess people up. “What rumour?” “I just said that I don‟t like rumours.” Jo clearly did not understand why Elona had the hump.” “What rumour‟s that?” asked Jo.Friends or Lovers Elona reapplied her make-up and listening to our conversation. I was concerned at the direction of this conversation. “That rumour. glancing at Elona. “is not true. clearly not happy. “Sorry. As she left.

I thought…. As soon as Elona was installed in my office.. “What the fuck d‟you think you were doing?” Elona was so shocked that she did not sit down. Prime Minister. If Jo went back to her team and started talking about it.” I demanded.. Elona. the rumour might yet cause more problems. trying to get a grasp of the situation. with a smile. when Jim Hacker had Humphrey Appleby in a corner embarrassed and grasping for words. like something out of Yes. . “I would appreciate if you did not repeat to others what Elona just said.. “What…. did not really cut the mustard as “Sir Humphrey” and that made it hard for me to keep a straight face. “Just answer the question.” she replied.Rory Ridley-Duff that things were under control. but now they could easily spiral out of control again. however.what do you mean?” she said quietly. “But…. “Yes.” mumbled Elona “Thought what?” Given that I was faking my anger. There was too much pleasure in it.. this exchange struck me as slightly comical.thought you…. “Jo?” I said. But it was a smile I didn‟t feel I could trust.” blurted Elona.but you……you…. “I what?” “I…. but this was an occasion when coolly losing my temper was the most effective way to drive home what I had to say. “I thought you knew?” she said. I turned to her and let fly. I don‟t often lose my temper.” “Sure!” she said.

“I can say with reasonable certainty that we will not be investigating the matter any further.Friends or Lovers This was an interesting turn of events. she was trying to get me to say what I knew.” I said. “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. “We won‟t be looking into it any more. “I imagine you‟re wondering what happened earlier?” She took her place and nodded. didn‟t you?” “Yes. don‟t you?” she prompted again. but to do so would breach the confidentiality I observed in these matters. I did.” I started. please tell me what you think I know. at least as far as they are able to. gesturing that I needed more clarification. or just that she thought I knew about the rumour. Clearly.” “So you know. Was Elona implying that there was something going on with Nathan. I considered carefully how to put it across. and I don‟t think that questioning people further will reveal anything more.” Elona looked concerned but did not say anything. but I did not oblige. I accept that you‟ve had a . Elona‟s eyes started to dart around the room as if she was looking for something to say. “Elona. “Thought what?” I repeated. it was good to see her relax. “Does that mean you‟ve got to the bottom of things?” I wondered what she wanted to hear. I‟m satisfied that all parties have told me the truth.” She looked relieved. “Sit down. Was she asking who had been found „guilty‟? I wished I could tell her more. Elona. “Elona.

I‟ll ask around discretely.” . “So don‟t start any rumours. “Give me a few days. I‟m afraid.” she answered.” Elona said. I braced myself. My only regret was that Elona might think that her account of events had been vindicated. Is there anything else?” “No.” I was being economical with the truth. “People will ask why. She looked up and paused for a moment. “Do you know anywhere I could stay?” I didn‟t enquire why. “Don‟t want to do that.Rory Ridley-Duff difficult time. “I have an idea. She must surely realise I was being kind and saving her face. “I don‟t. okay?” I said pointedly. “I‟ve got a question.” “Okay. but no untruths passed my lips. and I don‟t want to say. Have you put a notice on the board?” I asked.” I said.” she said. and I don‟t want to add to your distress any more. But could she really think that Mike and Nathan would back up her story? That was naivety beyond possibility. I hope. She seemed happier and relaxed. Then she nodded to indicate that she understood. You can go home tonight and sleep better.

Friends or Lovers Chapter 30 The evening passed off well. .” Dave cast his eye over to the other side of the stage where Sam and Elaine were standing. however.” Dave announced. The entrepreneur that Dave was promoting came across fairly well. “I‟ve saved the best for last. “All of Sam‟s products involve the use of advanced technology to improve personal hygiene. This last product. Elaine. and there was a gentle ripple of laughter as the video images appeared.” said Dave boldly. Sam tells me that his wife. 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. and I quite enjoyed minding him for the evening. He was dynamic and Dave made the most of this during the presentation. Sam‟s product went one further. She will vouch for it personally. “Play it again. A narrator started to explain benefits to an attentive audience. has extensively tested this final product. Sam. This last product is something that every woman will want. Just as selfexercise belts use gels to transmit current into the muscles (without actually having to do any exercise). legs. was the one that Dave believed would become a top seller. It was a battery operated hair remover that could be strapped onto arms. or anywhere else that a woman wanted to remove hair. Sam‟s product range comprised „advanced technology‟ approaches to personal care that were – to say the least – sensuous in their design and application. and every man will want to buy for her. The lights dimmed as the finale began.

a handsome male model gave a gift wrapped present to a beautiful brunette. With a hint of wickedness in her grin. in her bathroom and jumps out of the window into the night. And what does every man want? To buy the ultimate gift for his partner and bring a smile to her face.and a fanfare of music alerts the audience to a James Bond like action sequence. the model tastefully disrobes. The satire switches to playful pastiche of 1980s Flake adverts.Sensuous Hair Removal Experience. she takes the package into her stately bedroom and lies down on the four-poster bed. a blonde in a long robe picks up the package. The music changes again. and as the model‟s eyes close and she enjoys the sensual delights of the SHARE experience. What every woman will want next Christmas. You want to SHARE. he dons a pair of black glasses – a la Terminator . He leaves the package. The mockhero slides down the mountain-side. a beam of light is shone onto her from the back of the auditorium and the volume of the music lowered. as the man wanders onto a patio to reveal a breathtaking mountain landscape. Sam‟s wife moves to centre stage. . adorned with tasteful jewellery. removes the gift from her package and relaxes. to have silky smooth skin. Dressed in a daring black dress. On the screen.Rory Ridley-Duff What does every woman want? Yes. her face full of mock excitement at receiving her „favourite‟ present. is the . Then. and what every man will want to buy for her. to deliver a second package to a mansion home in the valley beneath. risking life and limb. The man jumps off a cliff edge and the next 90 seconds is a tongue in cheek satire of past Milk Tray adverts. Moments later. with his card.

Even as I was starting to think that this was a bit OTT. Nobody said it out loud. I could now see why. This was no ordinary hair remover. The eyes of the men. As Elaine walked off the stage and sat down next to me. were on stalks watching every tiny movement of the model applying gel to the insides of her thighs.” It was my turn to smile at her. the larger than life model held a pose reminiscent of the flake advert delicately crumbling chocolate between two gorgeous red lips. however. Take away your own SHARE experience and enjoy the benefits of the latest in personal hygiene technology. I looked around the hall and saw women alternating their glances at the presentation with chuckles into the ears of their female friends. 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. “What accessories?” I whispered with more than a hint of curiosity. he had not shown me this video. She sucked. then turning the appliance . I lent over and whispered into her ear. but everyone clearly understood. . “We will be.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. We‟ve prepared a gift pack for every woman here tonight. as her mind becomes occupied with the erotic. “You should be selling this at Ann Summers parties!” She gave a broad smile and leaned towards me.” As she stepped back from the microphone. then bit her finger. but we can‟t say that here.

We exchanged smiles and a final fanfare alerted the audience to the finale. The chatter was interminable but the evening was a success with guests energised and enthusiastic. Our pilot trials have produced spectacular feedback. the blonde looked seductively into the camera and spoke breathlessly.” I chuckled. 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. There is a range of „innovative‟ extensions. Dave thought it might be regarded as distasteful. 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. “Much better than Milk Tray!” The place filled with roars of laughter and the lights came up.there is something I need to discuss. When the VIPs had been safely escorted home in pre-booked taxis.Rory Ridley-Duff “Let me put it like this.” “Can‟t wait to try mine out!” I said. It can‟t wait until tomorrow. She carried on talking in my ear as the video presentation neared the end.” said Elaine. “Can we slip out of here . The gift packs could be collected at the exits. As the final chord echoed throughout the hall. I pulled Dave to one side for a private word. “If we‟ve not beaten „the rampant rabbit‟ into second place by next Christmas then I‟m going to be pissed as hell.” . “You won‟t see the accessories advertised anywhere in your brochures. It‟s a good hair removal product.

He exchanged words with them.” . They have everything under control. shook their hands and spoke with a representative of the PR company.Friends or Lovers Dave nodded. then walked over to Sam and Elaine. “Okay – we‟re off.

“May as well take it off.” I said a bit defensively. Not at the actual conference. We spent a few minutes discussing the evening. the portfolio was now broad enough to weather a set-back.” “I‟ve been wearing these things for 20 years and still hate them. “John? Who‟s this John?” “I met him at the conference in Paris. “Why do you ask?” His question irritated me..” I said.” “Is he married?” he interrupted sternly. a gin and tonic for me. but if it did so. there was a feeling that a calculated risk was appropriate. “Yes. on the flight home.. Alternatively. it might catapult the company into the top league. he removed his jacket and loosened his tie.” I said. It might backfire. He confessed that he thought the product was risqué for IC. and Dave reacted in quite a peculiar way. “Yes. With the company enjoying some success. As soon as he had parked the glasses on the table. “Is it wise?” . We both thought it had been a mini-triumph. including the lunchtime meeting with John. “You wanted to talk about something?” he asked. but Harry (the MD) had given him the go ahead. Dave bought the first round – a real ale for himself. “I‟ve had quite a day.” “You should try wearing high-heels!” I joked.” I recounted the events. “No point standing on ceremony.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 31 We walked to a nearby bar and settled ourselves into a corner table.

I wondered? “Well…I see you all the time. It‟s just different isn‟t it?” “I don‟t see why. but I‟m a close colleague.” I thought about how much more John knew about me.” he said starting to sound defensive.Friends or Lovers “Dave! You are married too!” I said trying to lighten the mood. “How often do you and I go out after work?” I asked. he knew only a fraction of the real me.” I wished that I could hide my irritation.” Dave raised his eyebrows. deciding to defend my friendship with John. “Yes. “Why is it different?” I said. Penny. I sat for a few moments wondering why it mattered to Dave. “John and I know each other well. Could he be jealous. Dave looked at me with surprise and I realised that he may have misinterpreted what I said. The more I thought about it. We know each other well. I could see in his body language and movements that he felt hurt. “It‟s different.” he said casting me a badtempered glance.” I said firmly. “I didn‟t even know that your wife had been unwell until you told me recently. “Work colleagues often go out together. but it must have been obvious because Dave backed off a bit. the more incensed I got.” I affirmed. “John and I exchange e-mails as often as you and I talk. As I didn‟t . “It‟s different!” he said. For all the time I‟d spent with Dave. Dave immediately looked a bit put out.

then I‟ll get the next round in. and his face lit up again. “When does he want to move in?” “As soon as possible. I downed my gin and tonic then went to the bar to get another round of drinks. Dave listened to the story that unravelled with Mike. I watched him closely as I described Mike‟s part of the story to see if I could detect anything in his response. I don‟t know why. “Maybe after another round of drinks…” he said tentatively. He‟s shacked up at a hotel at the moment. I had not been to this place before so I cast my . but I was immediately irritated.” “D‟you want to talk about it?” I asked. Dave!” I said.Rory Ridley-Duff want the situation to spiral out of control I decided to offer some reassurance.” I said positively. 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. and concurred with me that I would need his authorisation to fund Mike‟s housing costs until he could find accommodation elsewhere. I think. I don‟t think she‟ll ever leave hospital. “My parents are with her tonight. “Let‟s get this work stuff finished. “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‟m fond of you.” Dave gave a small laugh. He looked up at me and appeared unsure. He seemed to take it in okay. He promised to email them first thing in the morning. “Thanks!” I said with as much sincerity as I could muster.

” he said.I‟m……” he stopped for a moment. They had a natural look about them. but it was impossible for me to feign feelings that I didn‟t have.” It was difficult to respond. I‟m dreading it. . His eyes looked down into his lap as he spoke. The tables were wooden. “They give her less than a month. The edges were jagged and rough.Friends or Lovers eyes around while waiting to be served. He looked pained and I could not really work out why. I returned to the table and asked Dave again about the situation at home. so I put my hand on his shoulder and encouraged him.” I continued. there was wood panelling. He looked up. “She‟s deteriorating. The problem. Drinks in hand. Most of the patrons were in their 30s and 40s. not that “manufactured to the nearest tenth of a millimetre” feeling. filled with stones.I‟m…. He had an expression. “Er…. I thought about trying to show deep sympathy. I don‟t think he expected me to ask such a question. Certainly I cared. On the wall. deliberately unvarnished to fit in with the tenor of the furnishings. I thought of my father. there” routine just was not me.. however. drawn from his love of cricket: “playing a straight bat”. and each table had a bowl in the middle that had the appearance of driftwood. Dave. was that I didn‟t know how else to be. He looked awkward and reticent. but doing the “there. I liked it. The doctors want to talk to me tomorrow. I wondered if I was being insensitive. “You‟ll have to tell them something. Not having had a lover or even a family member in this situation. “What will you say?” I finally responded.

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.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m……I‟m……” I began to grow tired of his hesitation. 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. encouraging me to reflect.torn!” Finally! “What are you torn about?” He gave me a look that was puzzling. “I‟m torn between helping her die and keeping her alive. “Might it be kinder to let her die?” He looked at me and I saw tears form in his eyes. I traced my mind back and suddenly realised that his moment of mirth at Mike‟s situation really infuriated me.” he responded brusquely. but for some reason he was irritating me. A few days ago. But why? “What is the deeper meaning here?” I kept asking myself. Dave. “I‟m sorry. „What‟s the deeper meaning here. There in my mind was my father smiling at me. And yet. “…. but I tried not to show it. the . I could see his face growing red.. Suddenly. I had no problem comforting him. as if he had noticed my prickliness and was responding with some of his own. as if he thought I might be slightly mad. Why was I putting up barriers now? These thoughts swirled around in my head. I surely should have felt more sympathy for him. he sure was immature. even as I had these thoughts I heard my father‟s voice. For someone approaching forty.

After all.Friends or Lovers awful realisation hit me. “I can see why Dave hired you. He was watching me to see how these lines played. I was evaluating them. I kept asking myself why I felt more sympathy for Mike than Dave. When the meeting with Mike had concluded. “Penny? Are you okay?” . I stopped looking at him but then he spotted my awkwardness. I fought a gut instinct to get up and walk out. But kinder!” It felt incongruous that he was looking deep into my eyes while talking about his wife dying. The moment Dave took pleasure at Mike‟s misfortune he lost my respect. I saw his eyes furtively look at mine. I continued with a straight bat. he found it in him to pay me a compliment. Even as I chastised myself for being so uncharitable.” he had said. So I sat there and found myself no longer wanting to comfort Dave. I hardly knew Mike. I even started to wonder if Dave was playing the sympathy card. Why did it matter? Dave broke the silence.” As he said this. He had every reason to hate me. Unbearable. I didn‟t feel worthy of his respect. “I don‟t want to admit that it would kinder to let her die. It was generous and I kept thinking I had completely misjudged him. deciding which of them would get my sympathy. “Yes. “It would be kinder. That didn‟t seem right. wouldn‟t it?” Dave‟s eyes were on me now as we talked and I felt increasingly self-conscious. I can‟t bear the thought of losing her. but instead he appreciated me.

” I said hurriedly. then. “Just need to go to the loos and then I‟ll be back. Wait here. no!” I said too quickly. I appreciate you meeting me and going through things. I‟ll come in early and sort the stuff out with you. “Okay. It went really well tonight. Grab every moment you can. he did not challenge me and just kept nodding. I made my way to the toilets and lingered there for as long as I could without appearing rude. Book some time off and spend it with your wife. Pick the car up tomorrow. I‟ll get a cab. Pen. D‟you want me to walk you back?” “No. “Perhaps. “I‟ll do that!” he replied. I couldn‟t tell him how I was feeling. I‟ve drunk too much. “It‟s okay.” he replied. I grabbed my glass and tried to smile. I was sure he sensed my tension because his hand dropped and eyes looked away.Rory Ridley-Duff I was not sure what to say. “I feel a bit unwell. I‟ve had a really long day and my stomach does not feel good. I felt his hand touch my back and my body reacted like it had received an electric shock. Even so. It was an instant reaction and both of us realised what it meant. “Okay. Dave.” I said.” I was talking too quickly. I‟ll see you in the morning. okay. When I came out. I won‟t” “Bye. “Look. will you?” “No.” I looked at the table and saw that he had nearly a whole pint to drink up. My sense of urgency was growing. “Okay. Don‟t stay up too late. you should do the same!” I blurted out. You were a star. As I started to get up.” .

I could not explain why. Perhaps I was attracted to him? My desire for John had changed from one of girlish lust to one of sisterly love. the events of the last week just kept playing in my mind. it was a sixth sense telling me not to get close to him. he had changed from someone on a level with a placement student. to a sharp and roguish young man who merited the occasional fantasy. As I rode home in the taxi. As for Dave. As for Phil.Friends or Lovers “Bye.” he replied with just a hint of sarcasm. my respect for him was waning. they evaporated that night. What was going on? What was happening? . My opinion of Mike had risen from rock bottom to something approaching respect. Whatever hopes I had of growing close to Dave.

I arched my buttocks and started working on the folds of flesh between my legs. It was as if he felt threatened by Mike and wanted me to get dirt on him. The SHARE experience? Yes. it was there. I made a mental note to follow it up with Phil. I wondered why he was not offended. As these positive thoughts about Mike ran around my head. The more I thought about him. it raised new questions over Dave. On my bed was the bag from the launch. thighs and between my legs. I had to find a way to make up for the way I had treated him. the more I felt I had misjudged him. I poured myself another glass of wine and had a bath. the more I started to like him. Then I did my stomach. With these thoughts behind me. Even though he had reason to feel bitter. Inside the bag there were two gift-wrapped presents. he chose not to be. He had told me to “find out about Mike” because “he may become a problem”.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 32 When I got home. I was now curious about Dave‟s comments. With the soap in my hands. I ran it over my breasts and built up a sumptuous lather. I ran a bath and as I lay in the warm water. I indulged myself by recalling Phil‟s red cheeks when I flirted with him. He may be young. This was a good way to relax. so I got out of the bath and returned to my bedroom. I thought about Mike. The events with Dave were upsetting so I tried to eradicate them from my mind with soothing music and some self-pampering. but he was quite a dish. I started to relax and drink the wine. but the water kept washing away the wetness I was feeling and prevented me reaching orgasm. I undid the larger one to reveal a tasteful .

one for switching the device on and off. As I opened the package. I used my fingernail to slide under the sellotape and gently remove the gift wrap from the second gift. I looked like a porn model. and the other to increase and decrease the intensity. There was a fine mesh of plastic teeth interspersed with similar inlaid metal panels. 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.Friends or Lovers package that contained a battery operated motor. I started to lick my lips with a sense of exhilaration. and attached the straps that were included. By the time I had finished. The dildo was mainly plastic but there were small metal panels inlaid at various points. I looked like someone‟s whore. I started to feel aroused as the sense of expectation started to build. I pictured Phil‟s cock in my hand to increase my excitement. Some of the pads were round. enjoying my sexual power. 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. but one was triangular and obviously moulded so that women could use it to remove their pubic hair. plugged the panel into the motor. Inside was a dildo extension and another tube of gel. There were two buttons on it. The gel was good and it slid in nicely and I worked it around until its full length .” So there I lay on the bed almost breathless with anticipation. There were several pads and a tube of gel. I lifted up my legs and inserted the dildo into the motor device then inserted it. Lying back on the bed. I applied the first tube of gel. On the side were four holes for attaching accessories. I took it in my hand and turned it over.

Then. Firstly. A sensation ripped through me that made me shudder in total ecstasy. As I lay on the bed exhausted. Phil and John came either side of me. I imagined Mike‟s hand on the insides of my thighs and his mouth sucking on my fingers. small shots of electricity engulfed my pussy from both the hair remover and the dildo and I just gasped.Rory Ridley-Duff was pressing on the pit of my stomach. There I was. there was a gentle vibration inside me. as I played out a fantasy of being a hot and horny slut. As I let my finger work me into a frenzy. While they gorged themselves. The SHARE experience had been thoughtfully designed. I played with myself for a couple of minutes. I imagined Phil. 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. John started to pinch and suck my nipples and run his hands all over my stomach and sides. I reached over to the motor and pressed the on switch. I remembered the booklet describe an intensity button for “a special experience”. My finger was now circling furiously. then hard as his firm tongue edged me towards a heavenly climax. dildo inserted. John took my breasts in his hand and gentled rubbed them while I felt Phil‟s mouth on mine. Not only could I feel a gentle vibration on my pubic bone. massaging gently then harder then gentler again. With one finger on my clit. I wanted Mike. two strange thoughts burrowed into my mind. and I closed my eyes as I imagined Mike‟s tongue in place of my finger. Mike and John walking into the room. with my free hand. bare breasted and naked with my legs wide apart. pressing on my clitoris at the same time to heighten my arousal. With each press. I wanted to fuck him like . and the other periodically pressing the „ecstasy button‟.

emotionally and physically spent body fell into a deep sleep. naked. as a Professor of Cunning. a vixen with a keen eye. Secondly. finishing a new plan to suck as much pleasure out of life as possible.Friends or Lovers no-one else I had ever met and felt I would do anything to have him. . How could this product fail? How could anything capable of bringing women so much pleasure be anything except a runaway success? In that moment. the SHARE experience was going to make IC rich beyond belief. With these debauched thoughts filling my mind my satisfied. the future took on a positive glow and I saw myself as Phil had seen me.

I can get the paperwork sorted. Once at work. “We agreed last night that I could rent it out to Mike Bennett. “But you‟ll need Dave to sign the contract. Hurriedly.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 33 Despite my good intentions to get up early and speed off to work. That being the case. I got up and took breakfast on the way to work. Even so. I need to arrange for Mike to rent it for three months. Has Dave been in yet?” “Yes. “Did he e-mail you about it?” I asked “Let me check.” Stella replied.” I said walking up to her desk. I was sure Dave said he would sort this out. I was half an hour late. but he didn‟t mention anything about a flat.” “Well. Given my attendance beyond the call of duty the previous evening. Perhaps I had misunderstood him. “I‟m here about the company flat. I felt entitled. he was in here about half an hour ago.” said Stella. Stella.” That‟s strange. I need to sort out a threemonth tenancy agreement for him. Can you sort out the paperwork and I‟ll come back this afternoon.” . She quickly checked her inbox and shook her head.” “Okay. I thought. “Hi. “He must have forgotten!” I said. It has to be a director. my first port of call was Office Services from where I picked up the key to the company flat. my exertions the previous day caused me to oversleep. I found that Dave had not e-mailed them and I wondered whether he too had overslept. I signed for the keys on my own authority and proceeded to the legal department to sort out the paperwork.

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

Rory Ridley-Duff

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.”

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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

Chapter 34
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.

Rory Ridley-Duff

“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

fearful and difficult they are. “We all have our cross to bear.” I looked up at Phil. inconsistent.” he said. My fear of being intimate – my fear of sharing thoughts and feelings – began to fade when I met John. I want to know the people in my life better. then it is a price worth paying. However imperfect. but I‟m old enough to have seen people dig themselves into an early grave through bitterness. My errors were born out of a desire to protect myself. “When did you become so wise?” I asked. and wondered what else I might have missed. “If he had not helped me understand my own prejudices. He taught me the value of being honest about my desires. My loneliness was largely a choice and not an accident or misfortune. “You should take some credit.” he said with just a hint of sadness. Phil waited patiently. In this moment.” I saw Phil‟s eyebrows quickly rise and fall and he tried to form some words. He grew in . I might have been responsible for a tremendous injustice. The humility did me good.Friends or Lovers when I met John that I wanted to find a way out. I spoke. Finally. I may be young. 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. to avoid the pain of rejection and avenge those who I thought were responsible. I felt young next to him. 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. “I can only speak for myself.

Not sure what else we can do because I‟ve no idea where to start. “we‟ve just poked around a number of people‟s private lives and screwed them up.” “Okay. Perhaps I had as much to learn from him as he from me. “What‟s that?” I swallowed hard at the thought of what I was about to say. but also the import of what I was about to suggest. I saw him momentarily shuffle uncomfortably.” This instant loyalty and acceptance of responsibility moved me so I felt it necessary to sound a note of caution. “Eyes and ears to the ground again.” “How?” Phil asked.Rory Ridley-Duff stature before my eyes.” “What did you have in mind?” “D‟you remember that I asked you to find out about Mike – a kind of necessary evil?” “Yes.” I said. “And now?” Phil asked.” Phil realised not only the extent to which I was about to take him into my confidence. “Are you suggesting what I think?” queried Phil.” he replied. “Phil. “And now I‟m not sure who to believe.” I said pointedly. “There‟s one other thing. just a way to understand what happened. I‟ll see what I can find out.” I added. “We need to find out whether there‟s a reason for Dave‟s animosity. “Phil.” I responded. This isn‟t a seek and destroy mission. .” “I understand.” “I did so because Dave led me to think Mike might become a problem. “I need your help again.

“…and that he‟s also one hell of a lucky guy.” “Oh!” I said. “Come on. “I think. somewhat deflated. As I look back over my life now I can trace the start of my friendship with Phil to this meeting. but Phil put up his hand to indicate that I should stop talking. The result would be one of the most enduring and loving relationships I would ever have. what d‟you think?” I asked with urgency.” Phil said with a momentary pause. much as John had taken a risk with me. It was a risk. Do you think I‟m mad?” Phil‟s face broke into a broad smile. “that he is old enough to be your father…. Eventually. 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.” I was so chuffed that Phil said this that I was lost for words. “Yes. in a moment of blind instinct. I offered him my hand.Friends or Lovers “I am starting to fancy Mike like crazy. . “Friends?” I said. of course!” he replied. He took my hand and shook it firmly.

Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 35 Later in the afternoon. The flattery that I felt was considerable and I duly made the promise. I thanked him for his help and left his office feeling as though I had just grown wings and could fly.” I answered. I admitted my mistake.” I swallowed quite hard when I heard this. Until now. Harry accepted my comments with good grace. “Don‟t be afraid to drop in from time to time. 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. I found that Dave had still not signed it. I had only met Harry formally. I felt I should touch base with her over the comment Elona had made. As I walked into her office I heard a voice that was familiar. I returned to Legal to collect the contract for Mike. and explained the situation. so I took the contract to Harry. My detour took me near to Jo‟s office.” I responded. I guessed that Dave must be too busy to deal with it. Today was turning into a very good day indeed. “I know we see each other infrequently. I did not want gossip or rumour to spread. That‟s good to hear. the company‟s managing director. but he was inviting me to be more informal with him. He signed off the contract to rent the flat to Mike and called Legal to approve the pay settlement. but I‟m assured by Dave that you‟ve made quite a mark here.” “Thank you. A strange feeling came over me. but also said that the proposed settlement would ward off the possibility of litigation and save the company money in the long run. Penny. . “You‟ve no idea. “Quite a learning experience?” he asked.

then?” John looked at Jo. John noticed me at the back of the room and his face beamed.Friends or Lovers Surely it could not be? But as I walked up to the door the voice was unmistakable. presentation in full flow. “Yes. I imagine she was asking herself the same question about me. . As I looked at John. continuing the charade. “You know each other?” asked Jo. My attitude to mixing business and personal relationships was momentarily compromised. “Jo and I are good friends too….” he replied. John was outlining his thoughts on male and female consumer behaviour. but if I had denied it then it would surely have shown in my face.” I could see Sally looking both pleased and surprised as she whispered something in the ear of a colleague.” I answered. our eyes connected just long enough for others to register that we were more than acquaintances. Tongues would probably wag. As I entered the room. I was not sure whether to admit to a close friendship in front of all the others. Everybody turned around to look at me and for a moment I felt quite embarrassed. “Hello there!” he said with just a trace of a smile. “You are Jo‟s new consultant.we‟ve worked on projects together and had some interesting results!” The way he said „interesting‟ made both Jo and him laugh out loud. In my mind I wondered “how good?” but I resisted the temptation to ask. but there was little I could do. “…. “We are good friends.

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. he shut down his laptop to signal the end of the meeting and walked over to greet me. .Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay everyone. Mixed with surface irritation.” With these words. That‟s more or less it for today. then?” “Sure did!” and he immediately sensed the glint in my eye. Guys. “Watch out! He‟ll charm the pants off you before you know it!” I laughed out loud. was a deep pride that he acknowledged me so warmly. “Helping Sally and Mike move him into a company flat!” He turned to them both. and gave a thumbs-up sign. but John did not understand. this is a turn up. See you all next Wednesday. Without batting an eyelid. isn‟t it?” “I guess it is. “How are you fixed later?” asked John. “Well. buy some this week. For a second I wondered whether to chide him for creating the impression we were close. it would probably do my social standing amongst the staff no harm at all. smiled. Remember to bring in lots of magazines. you‟ll need to bring some in yourself – if you don‟t buy them normally. John leaned over and whispered into my ear. “Things worked out. Not only did it make me feel special. I thought for a moment and remembered my commitment to Mike.” I responded. however. he put his hand on my shoulders and kissed me on the cheek. but his manner was so open and unaffected that he disarmed me.

but I was beginning to realise the limits of his commitment. “So what‟s going down with Mike. “Problem is that he‟s far too devoted to his wife!” “Can a man be too devoted?” I joked. “Penny.” “I intend to. but an instinct told me not to. Damn it. Penny. must be an endless juggling act. “Sure if it leads him to deny himself the company of other interesting people. indeed his life. then?” I asked.Friends or Lovers “Someone else said the same thing earlier!” “Must be true then. I am. he‟s a very nice man. Reluctantly.” he said in a low voice and drawing me towards the corner of the room. but Mike is not just a nice man. John took one look at me and twigged. with just a hint of playfulness. John smiled. “You interested?” I blushed. why do I do that! His remark caught me so off-guard that for a moment I was angry with him.” I said.” “Aren‟t you devoted to your wife?” I asked. I could have deliberately misunderstood him and read more into his words than was there. I felt myself giving up any aspirations I had to seduce John and I comforted myself by looking forward to more fantasies. .” His eyes had that glorious warmth that I had come to adore. I felt that his marriage. “I would normally not say such a thing. He immediately sensed this. and his tone changed in an instant.” he quipped. but not so much that I would avoid your company. Treat him well. Sure he wanted to be close to me. “Yes.

“The way he tells it to me is that she wants children – he does not. I thought there was no harm seeing if she was competition. “What about Sally?” I asked. “Thanks for that. Even as my own sister brought hers into the world. I still felt no maternal twinge. I did not care. not children. “What advice was that?” he said. they‟re like a married couple. Whether he was being deliberately obtuse or just plain dumb. but I can‟t see his feelings changing. They fight and bicker all the time! She‟s been in love with him for years. . but because of this he would never let anything start. Mike and Sally came over and John announced that he too was helping with the move. He‟s got three already and does not want any more.” he said with more confidence than I felt.” “No more kids?” I said. “For what?” he asked. I wanted a man. John then grinned at me and I realised that he was playing. I looked at John again. I was looking forward to the evening.” I said warmly. Knowing that neither Mike nor I wanted children took away one potential conflict.Rory Ridley-Duff “I believe you will.” I responded. I returned to my office and decided to make one more trip to Dave‟s before packing up my things. If they‟d agreed on that then perhaps he would have let her get close to him. Apart from that. more as a remark to myself than a question for John. “For that advice.

“Don‟t you remember?” I asked. the contract!” I said “What contract?” answered Dave.” he said.” “Why‟s that?” answered Dave. You said you would go and see them to sort this out. he finally said something. Penny.” “You‟re mistaken. This was odd. Mike is moving in tonight. “I‟ve been looking for you all day. His fists were clenched as he spoke. but I confined myself to the issue in hand. When I finished. “The flat. . “He‟s moving in tonight. What was he playing at? “Well. but I didn‟t approve it. I couldn‟t understand why he was behaving this way.Friends or Lovers Chapter 36 “There you are!” I said. Dave was behaving quite strangely and I was confused. I went over the talk we had the night before in the pub and he listened without making comment. He was standing next to his desk. We didn‟t agree anything last night – you just told me what you wanted to do. whatever Dave!” I said. “I said you‟d need my approval.” I said again. I thought.” “What do you mean? You said you‟d e-mail Legal this morning. My mood changed from one of confusion to concern. His stubbornness was mirrored by the rigidity in his body. I didn‟t agree to it.” “What?” Dave was acting so strangely that I felt like asking why.” “Dave! What d‟you mean?” “I wanted to discuss it with Harry first. “I just dropped by to say that I‟ve sorted it anyway.

” I said. “I got someone else to sign it because I couldn‟t find you. clearly irritated. On another occasion I would have challenged him. I didn‟t „go around you‟. It was my turn to feel defensive. . have you?” “Yes. You haven‟t given him any keys. That was so out of character I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was speaking to me like a child. I couldn‟t find you so I got Harry to sign. I left the room. And I‟ve sorted out the contract. but I wanted to retreat. “Okay. “Don‟t do it again!” he said finally. You haven‟t signed it yourself?” “No!” I answered. I wondered if something might have happened at the hospital.” Dave looked at me.” He looked defensive and angry. I have.” “You went around me?” “No. His behaviour was strange and my evening engagement so much more inviting. “I need to sign it. “So how d‟you sort it?” he asked with a tone bordering on aggression.Rory Ridley-Duff “But we haven‟t sorted out a contract yet. almost shouting. Without saying goodbye. He must have had a very bad day. “How?” he said.

“To new beginnings. drove to the new flat. Sally raised her glass. we quickly filled each of them up. Sally stood up and raised her glass. I initially felt out of place amongst such close friends.this man saved my life.” she announced. computer. By nine o‟clock. “To new beginnings!” I noticed myself glancing in Mike‟s direction repeatedly. “…. unloaded and had four glasses of champagne on the table before the 7pm. plus his clothes.” she lost her balance for a moment as the drink began to affect her. I mean that he rescued me in here. “Penny. We all dutifully raised our glasses and clinked them together. “Yes he did! Yes he did! I don‟t mean he saved my life like he rescued me from death or anything. With four helpers and four cars. “This man here….” She pointed to her heart with a finger and kept stabbing herself as she laughed.” she started. Sometimes he would look back and acknowledge my interest.Friends or Lovers Chapter 37 It took us less time than expected to move Mike‟s stuff. As the evening wore on I felt more and more relaxed.” Mike‟s eyes looked downward as he shook his head and laughed. but at other times he would remain engaged in conversation with John and Sally. after we had consumed a pizza-takeaway and several bottles of wine. . hi-fi and a portable television. he needed to take only a few easily transportable things. She quickly regrouped and continued. As the flat was partly furnished.. bedding. but they took care to include me in their conversation.

” responded Sally. I stood up. “I don‟t think Dave would see it like that…. “If she wants to praise you.” answered Mike. As I spoke I looked deep into John‟s eyes. “Well firstly. “…. “Don‟t you look around the place like that!” she barked at Mike. “You‟re one of life‟s superheroes. “Come on Sal. sit down love and rejoin the party. I wobbled momentarily as I raised my glass to John. let „er!” As Sally sat down. “How d‟ee do that?” I was feeling liberated so I let my feelings spill out.(hic)…. When he did that….” Everybody laughed as I struggled to articulate what I felt. Her boldness had made me bold and I wanted to say my piece as well.he stopped me causing this man…” .” I said looking at him. I wanted him in no doubt how special he was to me. “This man. you!” I said boldly. “This man saved my career!” John smiled back and raised his glass to me in appreciation. “You leave „er alone.” Mike threw up a hand to discard her remark.Rory Ridley-Duff Mike‟s eyes looked everywhere but towards me and I sensed that he wished Sally would shut up. I decided to mimic Sally so I feigned a stumble. I never.” 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. he helped me see something that I couldn‟t see. “He and his stinking brother can rot in hell for all I care. “Did he? Well.” “Sod Dave!” she said.

. braced himself for what he thought I was going to say.” He sat down again and with a resigned look. “John. “Ah shit! What the hell. John noticed and started to get up but I put my hand up to stop him.” as these words spilled out my hand instinctively moved to cover my mouth. Really you don‟t. and I would‟ve done so if my good friend John – who I will now love forever…. but I knew that I had more to say so I gathered myself and started to find the words. “You don‟t have to. . I do have to say it and I want these two to listen.” As I stood there.this man….” Mike‟s embarrassed look left his face and was replaced by one of genuine surprise. the other three giggled away.this man did more than save my career. I do.” “Penny!” John interrupted again. “….” said John. Before I knew it there were tears in my eyes and I was struggling to talk. “….” I said and then continued. “This man…. but in my mind a whole world of understanding descended on me and I felt completely overwhelmed..” I laughed as I realised just how comfortable I suddenly felt.” as the words formed in my head a single tear started to roll down one of my cheeks.this man…. I did not understand what was happening to me.Friends or Lovers I quickly glanced at Mike before continuing “…any more upset and pain.. “I was about to do one of the most stupid things I‟d ever done.” I looked at him and was overcome with such feelings of love and affection that I put my hand up again. “you don‟t have to say this.this man…. “Penny.

” As I spoke. “…you made me want to behave!” Sally and Mike creased up with laughter as I fired my double barrel.” and this time I paused for effect more than anything else. I giggled at the comedy that was taking place. Good as gold at work.. John looked less worried and began to take in what I was saying. “For the last 10 years. so I continued . “You men. I‟m the sort of person your mother warned you about. “Right! This man…. you changed all that.you…. “taught me how to feel again. I don‟t know how you did it but you made me take an interest in living again. You John. John…” I fixed my eyes and aggressively pointed my finger at him. you arsehole. me. so this caught him by surprise. I mean really living – not just have a job and exist.. “Since when did you two get so close?” asked Mike. What I‟ve done while at conferences would fill the pages of a Jackie Collins novel! But you. I‟ve been a bad girl. I‟ve known a series of jerks and losers and none of them ever made me actually want to know them. “You‟ve had this coming to you for a long time so don‟t spoil it. “You shut up too.” John obviously felt that I was going to tell him again how much I loved him. you…. honestly! Never know when to shut up…. and I‟ll tell you!” Sally creased up with laughter when I called Mike an arsehole.” Sally and Mike were transfixed as they witnessed this intimate exchange.Rory Ridley-Duff “Shut up. I had them all where I wanted them now. and John gave a short chuckle and relaxed in his chair.arsehole!” I said with a smile. but a vixen at night who stalks and preys on vain and needy men to satisfy her own vanity and neediness.

Sally‟s giggles subsided and it was John who creased up with laughter. he got up. There was not a force in the world that was going to stop it. on the other hand…. the vixen started to return and my gaze left John and fixed on Mike. 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. Sally. I knew. Mike..” I said conjuring up the sexiest look I could muster. “You make me want to be bad too!” he whispered in my ear. it was nothing compared with the tidal wave that engulfed my being on hearing these words. Then. “…are the most difficult. started to join in too. . I knew. Mike starred back at me and for a few seconds we were transfixed by each other. And one more thing…” I held up both hands to stop them interrupting. stubborn…and surprising person I‟ve ever met. As Mike‟s giggles subsided. A few moments later I felt a tingle rush through my body and I had to shut my eyes and wait until it passed. despite her feelings. It was the most exquisite feeling I had ever known. walking backward. He roared and clapped. Was this love? Was this lust? In that moment I was touched by my own humanity. And then he pulled away. A modest contented grin was etched onto his face and we both knew what was going to happen. “You make me want to be bad again!” When I said this. grinned to himself contentedly. In that moment. I blew Mike a kiss then sat down. and kept his eyes on me while he sat down in his chair. This was living. on the other hand.Friends or Lovers with the performance and grew in confidence. If I had thought that John had helped me to feel again. “You. came over and gave me a hug. better than any orgasm. better than any drug.

Suddenly his resistance made sense. She did not need to say anything. haven‟t you my dear?” Now it was my turn to crease up with laughter. Mike raised his glass to John in appreciation but when I glanced at Mike.” she started to say. and he glanced back. She and John were lovers. Then he was so loyal to Elona that he nearly destroyed his career. “He‟s too damn loyal for his own good. the thought ran through my mind that his loyalty was coming to an end.Rory Ridley-Duff It took me a few moments to notice that Sally had climbed onto John‟s knee and was kissing his forehead. you! And there was me thinking you were a devoted and loyal husband!” “You are mixing me up with Mike!” he said. “Sally?” I quizzed. I pointed at John and shouted at him. “He was so loyal to this sweet woman that he nearly destroyed his marriage.” answered John. “As for this one.” I joked. “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.” I was laughing again. “But I thought he told you?” I responded. Sally looked at me. “You sly old dog. it was Sally. . “John! How long has this been going on?” He looked at me half-embarrassed. “And there was I thinking that you are a family man. It was not only his family that he was protecting. All my inhibitions regarding John vanished. “he‟s been a bad boy a few times. He was not the paragon of virtue I had believed him to be.

I was not going to waste this moment. We pulled each other close and snogged until we both sensed that enough was enough. “Oh yes I have…. You must have known how much I wanted you.Friends or Lovers “He is. gently parted. or the knowledge that he was weak with women. “He‟s frustratingly devoted to his wife and children. Our lips met.” “Why did you tell her?” “I wanted to stay at Sally‟s while working on this contract. and you called me right in the middle of it! She thought you were Sally and started wrecking the house. offered my hand to John.” he said.” As I said these words. I pressed myself up against him. didn‟t you?” “Yes.” I said to him. his hands clutched my behind. “Right you!” I said.” I replied. put my hands around his buttocks and pulled him close. . darling. Whether it was the drink.” I remembered the recent phone call. She consented. and asked Sally if I could borrow him for a minute.” said Sally. the situation. “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. “One day soon.” I got up from my chair.. “You have no idea…. That‟s why I had to go. As my hand slipped under his shirt and felt his strong body. and our tongues touched. Why did you resist me?” He looked at me and draped his arms around my neck. “You told her. “I want to talk about this. so I grabbed him and led him roughly across the living room and out of the flat.

You‟re the first woman I‟ve not had to sleep with to keep interested. I‟m fond of her and she was in a state after Mike returned to his wife. “You look after her and I‟ll look after you. very needy. if they thought I was not intending to sleep with them. after my father. That made you special. “You have yourself a deal. that‟s how you did it. it was different somehow.” I said.” I said. I think.” “How are things with your wife?” “They‟re okay. This isn‟t the first time for either of us. It was hard for her to leave her husband. You made it possible for me to love again. You are the first man. John. I was part of her recovery. That was the price of continued friendship. He did not have to explain how he felt. that I‟ve not been afraid to love. not surprisingly. “I love you. even after I told you I wouldn‟t make a pass at you.” I nodded as I spoke.” He laughed and held hands. But with you. With others.” “And I love you too. Penny. I was there. but it‟s not that. Things changed some years back. I‟d have lost her. “That‟s what I thank you for the most. She was.there has been one other. When the kids were both at .” I stroked his face.Rory Ridley-Duff “Sally is not the only woman that I‟ve given in to . Being with you was enough. If you „saved me‟. Just being with him had been enough for me too. Penny Leyton. Very special. Mike was gone. “Yes.” “She‟s certainly a looker. You liked me from the moment we met. they would lose interest.” “What about Sally?” “If I‟d not slept with Sally.

“Not so white as white. I‟m travelling much more. Penny. I was determined to hold onto his love. We both get lonely. She‟s a lovely woman and. We drifted apart and she had an affair. Then I met Sally through Mike and gave in again! My wife and I are still good friends. This is a long contract and it‟ll be lovely to spend time with Sally. my whole life‟s like that. There‟s no way to get it back so things have changed. I took the plunge. The kids are older now. thankfully.” “D‟you think you‟ll have a house in one piece when you get home?” I quipped. I admire her more than when we first married but the exclusivity has been lost. Sally won‟t marry me. She holds a torch for Mike and likes having her own place. When we are together we still have a fabulous time.” “But you need somewhere that‟s a home.” “Don‟t worry. We found that we both liked the idea of more freedom. We worked things through but a lot changed. You‟re secret is safe with me. I admitted to her that I‟d thought of having an affair as well.Friends or Lovers school she started working again. sometimes weeks. am I? I hope you aren‟t disappointed. That was a lovely thought and I warmed to it. Maybe I can sleep in your nest occasionally?” I smiled. I travel for days. You don‟t want to just drift between places like a visitor?” “With my work. lover. I‟m just a temporary distraction for her. We hugged again but this time . “As long as you behave.” I said. There‟s no reason to divorce. “We both love the kids. A nomadic life suits me and I have friends and nests in many places.” With this exchange of words we made our pact. we‟re able to get past blaming each other. Soon after. at a time.

We both understood our attraction to each other. Our relationship was now like that. without question. But when I thought about it. the most special moment of one of the most extraordinary days of my life. Sleeping with Mike for the first time was. and mine alone. This diamond is mine. only ones where they chose not to have sex. I remembered John‟s words that there was no such thing as a non-sexual relationship between men and women. The memory is like a precious stone. I retired to the other with Mike. It would be our joke – just as it had been for Sally and Mike . There was now such a deep intimacy. I hope you will forgive me for shielding it from gossip that would corrupt it. Sally retired to one of the bedrooms with John. . As for the rest of the evening.that acquaintances would misunderstand. we had become lovers of a sort. I thought of Sally and Mike and how everyone thought they had been lovers. We knew that sex would be there if we ever both needed and wanted it at the same time. a bond as strong as I‟d ever known. a priceless treasure that sparkles.Rory Ridley-Duff it was devoid of sexual passion. But I didn‟t care either way – the most important thing was to protect the trust. It would be John and I that others would mistake now. It was almost as if we were saying goodbye and hello at the same time.

leyton@innovation.uk To: penny. From: dave. worried and pleased at the passion I felt. Every few minutes I would pause to think of the future. movies. I was astonished and frightened. Don’t worry about it.stockton@innovation. forgive me? Dave. If anybody tried to steal Mike from me. it would have been imprudent and insensitive. To have waited nearly 33 years to discover this! Suddenly I understood why people could fall apart when their partner leaves.Friends or Lovers Chapter 38 I went into work the next day on a tremendous high. As I settled down to my computer to retrieve my e-mails.co. and songs made sense and I realised people were not simply making it up. . there was an apology from Dave.uk Subject: Sorry Pen.co. As I sensed these feelings. Is there anything we need to follow up after the product launch? I was irritable and too harsh. We all have off days. Suddenly all those soppy romance novels. 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. Sorry about yesterday. Even though I felt like telling him (and the whole world) what had happened the night before. Can you I answered immediately.

” “Hmm. This was a surprise.” “Sure thing. “You don‟t have sugar.” “Hard to believe it myself. Okay. Phil looked up and my smile told him all he needed to know. She‟s over the 10-day mark and her manager is asking if you‟ll visit. No answer from her parents?” “No.” Phil said. give me the address and I‟ll go round.” .. No answer. Penny. right?” he asked. boss!” he said sarcastically. I want them to come from me. That‟s very sweet of you. “Okay. “I guess that‟s a good idea. But I can‟t see this staying a secret for long. “Thank you.” Elona! I had forgotten about her in all the excitement. That‟s the third time in two weeks. “If any rumours start. I‟m happy enough for both of us.?” I just kept silent and smirked enough for him to work out that he was right. Have you called her?” “Yes. “Don‟t tell me….” I said.Rory Ridley-Duff There was a knock at the door and Phil was standing with a cup of coffee.” “Have to keep the boss happy!” he joked. That was fast work.. “Don‟t you go blurting this around the place. Phil did not usually make coffee unless I asked. “No need to do that today.” I responded. They‟ll probably be in the shop. “Bloody hell.you…. Keep it under wraps for now. okay?” “Okay. What have you got for me?” “Elona‟s off sick again. Strange.

bread.” I sat with Elona for fifteen minutes before stirring myself to go to the kitchen.” “What‟re you doing here?” she asked. Don‟t know what to do.” There was silence. Having played hide and seek with the butter. so her mother gently opened the door of her room and a crumpled figure lay in the bed asleep.” *** I drove to Elona‟s flat and rang the bell. I took the liberty of putting together breakfast-in-bed.Friends or Lovers “Yes. of course. “Elona! Elona. “You‟ve been busy!” “Yes. “She‟s cried herself to sleep. “there‟s someone here to see you…. I finally assembled something that looked appetising. . What do you want to do?” “Can I stay here a bit. “Elona?” I said gently as I rocked her shoulder. We‟re worried sick. She turned around and after a moment of confusion she saw the breakfast tray. all last night. maybe make her a drink. my dear. You looked like you could do with something. plates and bowls. We‟re at our wits end. There was no reply so I entered the shop and spoke to her mother. “She‟s up there but we can‟t get her out of bed. All weekend.” “Feel free. We‟ll be in the shop. just crying and crying.” I asked them to let me in. Her mother led me though the shop and up the stairs. love!” she shouted. wake her up and chat. “Oh the pet!” said her mother.

Don‟t make me into a saint. “Your mum and dad say you‟ve been upset.” “I‟m sure they‟ll do what‟s best. At the same time I do care what happens to you and if there‟s a way I can help then I will. “Elona. It is hard watching someone sink into the depths of despair. I‟m here because you‟ve been off work for 10 days this year and it is my job to be here. Eventually. “You didn‟t have to come. We sat there while she finished her breakfast and then she thanked me again.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m finding out how you are. she started to nod and the tears began to flow as she tucked into her toast and cup of tea. “This is kind of you. I won‟t kid you. She looked at me sorrowfully and tried to talk but nothing coherent came out. “No.” she commented. I don‟t want that.” As I looked at her face. This is kind of you. but still had a girlish charm.” I responded.” She sat up in bed and I gave her the tray. We were worried. Without make-up she looked quite different. And yet I did feel concern for her so I accepted her thanks. “He‟ll just say I‟m depressed and give me some drugs. Nobody at work could contact you. I did not try to start a conversation and just sat next to her. I could see the tear stains around her eyes.” “Just part of the job.” .” 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. Have you seen a doctor?” She gave a dismissive laugh.

It‟s all meaningless. so I started to clear the tray and returned to the kitchen. As I walked out of the room a torrent of abuse showered my back as .” I listened with patience. I wondered if he might be able to help. “What then?” I asked. “I don‟t give a shit. I‟m useless. “I‟m nothing. Administrators are ten-a-penny.” “Why?” I asked. I heard you. At the moment. 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.” “Is this to do with Nathan?” At this remark she turned toward me and I could see the rage building in her face. “I said I don’t want that. “I‟m useless. I‟ve seen your file and you‟ve earned that position. “Nothing. Even though she was slightly built I began to feel a bit afraid. “Yes. In the back of my mind. a zero.” I said. “Don‟t give me that crap. a waste of space.Friends or Lovers At this comment Elona looked at me angrily.” I said.” she said. I recalled the many conversations I‟d had with John. completely fucking useless. a failure. Nobody likes me.” My efforts were not rewarded. “You don‟t need me. “I need you. There are people at work who believe in you. She looked like she was going to explode. I was on my own and had to do the best I could. Nobody likes me. Nobody.” It was my turn to show a bit of aggression. however.

work. I sat with her for another quarter of an hour. motionless except for the occasional stroke of her face. Phil. me. her exboyfriend. . “Elona. I need to go now. Do you understand?” She made no movement so I repeated the question and she gave a nod of her head. There are a couple of people I want to talk to and then I‟ll be back. her parents. Mike.Rory Ridley-Duff she screamed the place down about Nathan. We had all ruined her life. When I returned from the kitchen I held out my hand and surprisingly she took it. She turned onto her side and wept again. I tried to remain calm but it was difficult.

“Anything in particular you want to speak about?” he enquired. but this has to come first …. “…. “Okay. I managed to calmly lead him into his own office.” I said. he smiled at me as if it was any other day at work. but none that I can act on here.Penny!” he said slightly stiffly. Even though I was there on business. . “…. My first port of call was John. What is it?” he asked as soon as I closed the door. but he agreed to take a break at mid-day and chat to me in the canteen.” He pulled his head away and I noticed there was a bulge in his trousers.” I whispered back.” I said. He was in a meeting with Jo.Friends or Lovers Chapter 39 For the rest of the day.err….. As I walked through the door. “Plenty. “If there was a cold shower somewhere.and there was I hoping you wanted to shag me in the toilets…. Next I went to see Mike. I‟d go and have one.I do. I felt myself get aroused as I moved closer toward him. He nodded and even though I felt like dragging him into the nearest broom cupboard for a quickie. 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.” “We‟ve got to keep a lid on it at work. I busied myself. “What can I do for you?” “Can I speak to you in private?” I asked. “Hello….

but I think she needs some space to herself.” “Does that mean you‟d be okay if she moved into the other room?” “It‟s going to look very odd. “You‟re not thinking…. We were always friends before and I‟m sure we will be again. I can‟t act without your consent. I could hardly believe what I‟d said and started to apologise profusely. He walked over and silenced me with a kiss.. She was upset and I was there so she took it out on me. It‟s technically your place.” I protested. Is it really that urgent?” “Well actually. . I wanted to know how you felt about the idea. I‟ll talk to John later.Rory Ridley-Duff “Elona needs somewhere to stay.” I proffered. I don‟t hold what happened against her. My hand instinctively jumped to my mouth. Penny?” he said. I‟m not sure it‟d be a good idea anyway. He looked surprised at my remark. I allowed him to kiss me briefly but stopped him when I felt my passion rising. “Let them!” he said. “Of course. “Are you checking me out?” he queried. but he anticipated me.Jeez! I‟ve only just got you to myself.” “What d‟you have in mind?” I gave a half smile and got ready to ask him. “Stop! People will see.” “Elona and I have always got on well. if you want to get back with your wife…. I visited her and she‟s in a right state.” “Elona? What‟s the problem now?” “The same problem.

When I returned in the afternoon. 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. “May as well have sent out an e-mail!” he retorted with a chuckle. She promised to think about it and let me know the next day. 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 the reps came up and congratulated me. When I got back to the office. She took the news of the flat offer in her stride and did not seem to show any great enthusiasm. Elona was up and dressed. I told her again that there were people at work who cared. As I sat with John in the canteen.” I replied. the rumour about myself and Mike had spread to Phil.” Phil looked at me warmly.” he said with a big grin.” “Why next weekend?” he asked. “Not a word passed my lips!” said Phil as I brought him a cup of tea. One of his staff had noticed our kiss and by lunchtime a rumour was making its way around the offices. “Oh well! It‟s out now. I turned to leave the room. just a little kiss in his office. . “What did you do – send out a company wide e-mail?” “No.Friends or Lovers “I‟ll tell her….I‟ll tell her that she can move in next weekend if she wants. “I‟m all yours. “Already?” I asked.

Penny?” I swivelled my screen around so he could read the e-mail. crashing and spinning out of control. After a few moments. 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.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m happy for you. my heart sank slowly into the quicksand of despair. With every passing minute. By 4. “Oh fuck!” . Dave x I sat for 30 minutes while thoughts burned my mind. Beads of sweat formed over my body and face. “What‟s up. and the clarity I had brought to work evaporated as my mind felt like it was turning to treacle. I decided to have one last trawl through my emails in case Dave had replied. Subject: Sorry Pen. *** At my desk.30pm Phil found me slumped at my desk. Where on earth had this come from? As I tried to find answers to impossible questions. the high spirits that had kept me aloft all day dissolved. just two words sprang forth from his lips.” he said.

I gave him a hug. To others we looked like a regular couple but inside I was full of questions about how far I could trust him. I think he expected me to jump him as I walked through the door. Now I had a personal problem it dawned on me that I hardly knew him. “Just in case we finish the first one. Intermittently. He sat at one end of the sofa and I put my head on his lap. Even though we were not speaking. I returned to Mike‟s flat. Sometimes. He made me a cup of coffee.I . my mind was preoccupied. He seemed to take it in his stride and did not press me. 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.” he answered. but after receiving Dave‟s e-mail. but the promise to explore the love-making potential of the flat was a distant thought.Friends or Lovers Chapter 40 Instead of going home. stroking me. He joked that the second was “just in case”. His right hand lay on the side of my face. we communicated a lot. 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 see a potential for disaster. He went out for bottle of wine and came back with two. 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. “Just in case what?” I asked. he would slide his fingers between mine and hold my hand more tightly . sat with me. watched the television and held my hand. My right hand rested on his knee and every few moments I would caress it and sometimes rub the inside of his knee.

Penny?” he asked.” he said. 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?” . “Know how you felt about me?” I answered. She says to him „I miss the little things‟ and the man replies „ah!…. “I remember this film. There‟s a man standing with a woman and she‟s talking about her husband who has just died. and these little things mean a lot. There‟s nothing bigger is there?” “Little what?” he answered. don‟t they?” “I hope so. I sipped the wine as the TV programme played in the background.Rory Ridley-Duff would respond by tightening my grip to catch and squeeze his fingers.the little things. a line from a film entered my head. “Plenty of time for that!” It was a small remark. but it gave me confidence that he looked upon me as more than a fling. “Are you going to tell me about your wife?” I asked. “The little things.” he said. “When did you know?” I asked. you are stroking me. “Where‟s this coming from. “Know what?” he replied. I‟m stroking you. “When I insulted you!” I sat up and looked at him. I was not really watching it so I started to ask Mike questions. “Not yet. “Well I was just lying here and our hands are touching. As I lay there.

” I encouraged. 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. .” “Do you remember when we first met?” he asked. when you held my gaze and would not look away. 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 laughed out loud because at that moment I would have fed him to the sharks. he‟d asked me the same question. At work. And there I was challenging you on whether you had ever made a pass at a man.” I answered. I can‟t remember ever standing up to my wife like that. I thought and went back over my mind. when you asked why women let men think they rule the world. maybe. I remember being really angry. so the thought came into my head. “You thought of that while we were arguing?” “Well. I‟d always pegged you as old fashioned and that completely took me back.” “Go on. I think there were two moments. yes. “Won‟t forget that in a hurry!” “Well there I was shouting at you. Secondly. I did. “When did you know?” he asked.” I was not sure how to react. Before I had time to think. “I was thinking how nice it would be if you made a pass at me. Firstly.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. “Well. but at home I‟ve always been quite passive. Do you remember that?” “Yes.

I pegged you as a paternalistic antifeminist old git. “Dave and I were chatting and I was about to tell him a sexual joke.” I commanded. “Yes. you did. “He didn‟t want you in the company. He preferred the other candidate. He said to be careful because of you. “Tell me. He told me to watch out for you because you were a „ball breaker‟” “He said that!” I exclaimed. “He‟d say that I censored myself because I was afraid of you.” This came as a surprise. after a moment.” he replied. “Why are you laughing?” I demanded.” I interjected.” he replied. didn‟t I?” commented Mike. but Harry insisted on you.” “Is that true?” It was Mike‟s turn to reflect.” I directed.” he said. “What about him?” I asked. He‟d been bitching about Harry insisting on your appointment. Anyway. Dave had successfully hidden this from me for nine months. “Why would you be afraid of me when you don‟t even know me?” . Yes.Rory Ridley-Duff I tried to recollect but I couldn‟t. I started the joke then stopped when I saw you walking toward us. “Yes. “Go on. “John.” “My God! I remember now. “I was with Dave. “I was thinking what John would say. I thought back. “I annoyed you.” Mike laughed.

“I didn‟t want your first impression of me to be a bad one. We soon finished the first bottle of wine and opened the second. Without any further words he pulled my face closer.” “What do you mean?” I queried “If I tell the joke. “No. I‟m sexist because I‟m excluding you.” I thought back to my e-mail exchanges with John. he did not routinely crack jokes or flirt when he was alone with me. “Damned if you do. If I don‟t tell the joke. One of John‟s best. “My God.” he said. “Because you didn’t tell me the joke. While he had charm and sex appeal. I‟m sexist because I turn women into sex objects.” I said. . “What‟s the problem?” I asked. “I don‟t know any male manager today who‟s not afraid of sexual accusations. “Why?” he asked. “Tell me the joke. but Mike was quieter and calmer.” “That‟s the problem. It was strangely reassuring. If he had been John.” “Was it a good joke?” I said trying to lighten the mood.” I replied. it was. His mouth met mine and we got properly reacquainted. damned if you don‟t.Friends or Lovers Mike looked me in the eye.” “Are you serious?” Mike frowned. “It was brilliant. “I can imagine. I‟m afraid.” “Well. you are!” I responded.” I said sinking into his lap.” he replied. a witty remark would have been forthcoming as he popped the cork.

“Did pretty well.” “Did he really?” said Mike with a sarcastic knowing laugh. “He asked me to find out about you. Mike obliged but kept talking at the same time.” he answered seductively as his hand moved under my blouse. “Dave sent me an e-mail that was sexually suggestive. “You‟re concerned?” he asked. His body was relaxed and I felt comfortable opening up to him. He‟s never done that before. “Well. Clearly the feelings were reciprocated. didn‟t I?” I quipped.Rory Ridley-Duff “I had a shock today. Do that some more.” he said with considerable force. “We joined IC at roughly the same time. Mike felt no need to press me to explain myself.” .” I said. “I‟ve always liked him. around my waist and started to caress the small of my back. yes. “Yeah! He behaves great to his favourites or women he fancies. Get on the wrong side of him and you‟ll discover just what a bastard he can be. “Dave and I go back a long way.” “Too repressed for his own good. I was his boss back then. “Very well indeed. I am. “Hmmm.” he answered.” I blurted out. “And?” “That‟s it.” he continued. Nice. not absolutely sure how I felt about him now.” I recalled how Dave had been suspicious of Mike. “Too repressed?” “Yeah.” I remarked.” I said. Comes across as such a „nice guy‟ but underneath beats a heart of appalling meanness.” I said.

“What doesn‟t work?” “The „can you explain it to me coz I‟m a stupid woman‟ routine.Friends or Lovers “What happened?” I asked. Whenever there is shit in the workplace. Mike. “Get on with your story.” I said with mock impatience. .” he replied. “Only half the time…” he answered. You know how dim women can be. “Sally used to be related to Dave.” he said. “What?” “Doesn‟t work!” he said again. smiling or wavering for an instant. I began to realise that his wit was considerably drier than John‟s. “Oh. “You‟re teasing me!” I answered.” “Doesn‟t work!” he suddenly said. there is usually a man and woman involved!” “Cynic!” I joked. “You like being teased. I wondered. “Oh yes. “Sally?” I responded with some surprise. “We fell out over Sally.” He paused.” he asserted. “Okay. “Are you going to ask how?” he continued. How?” “She was Dave‟s sister-in-law. Where did he get these insights from. Please explain it for me. as if waiting for me to ask a question. “What about the other half?” “Optimist!” he said without missing a beat.” I suddenly pretended to be stupid.

Dave‟s brother used to beat her. “You like it. gathering words together in my head. yes. There was just a hint of smile on his face. will you?” I said briskly.” Mike concluded.” I said. but his assertive and commanding manner turned me on. I like strong direct women. “Sally used to…. He gave a gesture to indicate that he did not understand. he continued and finished the story.” “It‟s okay – I was being rhetorical!” I said. “Sally used to be married to Dave‟s brother. my lad. “Oh. With only a moment‟s hesitation.” he replied. “You are going to like me a lot!” He relaxed a bit and laughed. I could feel my confidence and ardour beginning to build. It was beginning to dawn on me that Mike liked to play things straight.Rory Ridley-Duff He did not play the way that John played so I tried another approach.” he answered. do you?” I queried. “So now you know why he and I are not best buddies. He might not make me laugh as much as John. “Just get on with the bloody story. “You are so sexy when you raise your voice.. .” I sat up straight and suddenly the pieces dropped into place. “That works!” he said with a laugh. “Say again?” I asked. “Well. You‟ve had this story from John so I‟m not sure what else to tell you. “What are you smiling for?” I asked. “What?” I asked.

When I told him the details of the recent e-mail exchanges..” I said. my fondness for him. “He thinks….. her illness. “You and I are at loggerheads.” I insisted. I began to wonder whether I had been completely blind. he thinks I fucked Sally and broke up his brother‟s marriage. I told Mike of Dave‟s wife.” he responded. that Dave had invited me out after the CIPD event in Birmingham and that we would be staying in the hotel together.” I added. “No. If Mike and Dave had fallen out once before. there could be more unpleasantness. “Okay.” “Yes.” Mike replied. He had helped Sally. “I want to tell you more.Friends or Lovers I still did not get it completely. “He thinks that you…. So what? Then the final piece of the puzzle clicked into place and I instinctively covered my mouth in shock. What would Dave do if he found that I was sleeping with Mike? “Maybe we should deny our relationship?” I suggested. No wonder Dave had a grudge against Mike! Suddenly my need to tell Mike about Dave‟s e-mail became more urgent. Whatever Dave felt when he recruited me.” “Did you?” I asked. “Just try to look at this from his perspective. You leave your wife after a big row . I thought he was getting ready to make a move on me.” “You may not like it. “He has to know sometime. I don‟t.” I said.and Sally. The words came out so fast I had no time to retract them.” he replied. “Still want to hear. “You don‟t need me to answer that. And out it all came.” I started.

I don‟t want to take the risk. Later he and I had our first angry words. “He must have taken your message as encouragement…. The next day Elona decided she wanted to move in and with only a few days of freedom. again?” asked Mike. Then it comes out that we are sleeping together. 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. his strong frame moved towards me and my screams gave way to giggles. “What did he say. As I backed up against the wall. Mike and I made the most of our freedom. Mike!” Having felt a bit dim a moment before. For the next 10 minutes he chased me all over the flat until he managed to corner me in the bathroom. got up and ran away. I repeated the recent e-mail exchanges with Dave. Within a month neither of us had any secrets left to tell. 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. he gave me another shove and I realised he wanted to play. 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. I find you a company flat to move into. Never in my life had I enjoyed such passion and intimacy with a man.” Mike pointed out. “I didn‟t mean it like that.Rory Ridley-Duff with me in the workplace. I suddenly felt quite clever. How does that look to you? Dave behaved strangely at the pub the other night. we used my flat as a new base. When I did not respond.” “You? Polite?” he teased again. So I shoved him off the sofa.

Our conversations were realistic and grounded. not even John and Sally. I listened to his experiences as a father. but never of our future aspirations. he learnt of mine. When. Even as they expressed surprise. for all the commitments we made. for all the intense times we spent together.Friends or Lovers Despite the generation gap. for all the future plans we mapped out. To call this a “whirlwind romance” does not do it justice. But throughout all this. But publicly nobody. towards the end of June. I turned up at my parent‟s house for Sunday lunch with Mike in tow. he listened to my memories of childhood. he might file for divorce so we could marry. At the end of each . John and Sally occasionally dropped in and we would all go out for a meal. we started to talk extensively about politics (office and otherwise). our first month felt like a honeymoon that would never end. Carole and my parents thought I had disappeared off the face of the earth. The threads of our lives intertwined and bonds were woven into a fabric so strong that I could not imagine them ever breaking. we announced that he would be moving into my flat. If our first night together was the most special moment of my life. I learnt of his dreams and fantasies. I savoured every second. but we were never a lovely-dovey couple. and our love-making was varied and passionate. For sure our relationship took off at quite a pace. our plans firm and concrete. I talked to her of the things we had done together. the words “I love you” never passed our lips. Carole phoned me daily after Mike and I had appeared for lunch at my parents. they accepted and welcomed this development and all quietly congratulated me. knew of our plans. Privately Mike and I had discussed that if we enjoyed living together. Many joint dreams were born.

we remained the very souls of discretion. did not learn of our relationship and Mike and I managed to keep our contact low-key and light-hearted. If people knew. I apologised for not getting more involved but she assured me that mum was on top of everything. speech in hand. there was a conspiracy of silence. All I needed to do was to turn up. fortunately. . He. The only person I updated from time to time was Phil.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. Dave. told me about people that he fancied. I broke the news to her that I would have to pass up the opportunity of shagging the best man. Like true professionals. the rumours at work died quickly and did not spread further. in turn. To my surprise. We talked about her forthcoming wedding and the preparations. make everybody laugh and be beautiful.

as sales manager for the domestic market. but there was sufficient common ground to compare perspectives. I was conscious that my probationary period was coming to an end and Dave would decide my future. As a group. John knew Elaine from academic conferences so all six of us started going out weekly for meals.Friends or Lovers Chapter 41 The prospect of going to the CIPD event with Dave was something that I came to dread. . also met Sam and Elaine regularly to develop marketing strategies. Her background in sociology and international business was different to mine. Mike. While we still worked together well on a professional level. So far as I could tell. In the back of my mind I wondered whether it was wise to say nothing. confirmation was a formality but this new situation meant that I could no longer take my appointment for granted. I would join them for drinks and found that I particularly enjoyed Elaine‟s company. and many side-stories and alternative plot lines were elaborated. we developed too. Even if he had said it as a joke. The story of how Mike and I got together became something of a party piece. We exaggerated. of course. I met Sam and Elaine again (with Dave) to organise the recruitment of more support staff. After much drinking we playfully acted out the battle-axe and gentle man confronting each other angrily while an unspoken mutual passion was developing. Following the launch of the SHARE experience. our personal relationship had cooled. 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.

It was her interest in his engineering.Rory Ridley-Duff Elaine became the first person to learn of my private aspiration to marry Mike. After obtaining an MBA she took up a senior management post at the engineering company where Sam had been working. Their close working relationship evolved into a personal one. It had been a struggle but the relationship with IC was a breakthrough. “Not sure. I love sexy outfits. I arranged to go with her to Birmingham beforehand to buy an evening dress. “So what you going to get?” Elaine asked.” “Is there such a thing?” she asked. and the company‟s ignorance of its potential. They married secretly and this triggered a hostile reaction from some board members. On the day of the CIPD conference. After all their hard work. I look good in tight black dresses but perhaps that would be too risqué. For the last 5 years they had developed their product line. but as I‟m going with Dave I don‟t want to send out the wrong signals. We would take lunch together and have girly chats. they were beginning to achieve security both for themselves and the company. She had also been a human resources manager before advancing her education. “I guess. This enabled them to expand their market and leverage in considerable financial investment.” “Get something you can wear for other occasions as well!” said Elaine. . She picked me up about 10am and we made our way up the motorway. They decided to establish a new company for Sam to continue working on his ideas. that spurred their close relationship.

We shouldn‟t be embarrassed about using ours. she took her foot off the gas and cruised into Birmingham at 90mph.” she replied. I found a lovely black dress. Her Porsche 911 accelerated quickly and my body pressed back into the seat. A matching necklace and earrings completed the vision. She reminded me of John. “You‟ll have to introduce me. “If only men tasted as good!” said Elaine. irresponsible and exuded a freedom than I‟d never witnessed at close quarters.” “Killer combination. “Men use their power when it suits them. After a few seconds. “Chocolate delight! They weren‟t kidding were they?” I said as I tucked away another slice and sipped on my café latte.” I quipped. It hung at the knee and had a waist that was gathered with a belt that was covered in ethnic beads. flushed with shock and excitement. elegant with a cut that was suggestive without being too daring. great boobs and a sharp brain. .” she answered.” I quipped. “Just ask Erin Brockovich.Friends or Lovers “Depends. surely. 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. we retired for coffee and cake. But I do have a lovely pair of legs. but I don‟t have millions stashed away to bring in the punters. I nodded and she carried on. coffee and chocolate cake. She was irrepressible. lunch.” “You better believe it!” And with our sights set on the shops. “Some of them do. “Don‟t know about you love. After shopping. I could hardly wear something like that to work!” She glanced at me and we laughed at the thought.

My new circle of friends gradually brought me out of my shell. 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. we were split into workgroups for role-play exercises that covered recent legislative changes. I found an emotional security that reminded me of my early childhood. The CIPD event went off well. My sense of well-being grew. Nagging at the back of my mind was the possibility that he might be harbouring feelings for me. but many organisations still did not grasp the full impact. I showered. Others made notes and gave feedback on the legality (or otherwise) of their intended actions. then sat in front of the mirror applying my face. and closing comments. Various scenarios were introduced on video. After an opening key speech.30pm. Of particular concern were provisions regarding temporary and part-time staff. After a question and answer panel. We said our farewells and departed to attend to our respective tasks. Dave and I checked into the hotel and agreed to meet in the bar about 6. Their employment rights had been strengthened. pampered myself with goodies from my overnight bag.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‟. we adjourned and were asked to come back at around 7. I talked more about my thoughts and feelings to Mike. Elaine and John than to everyone else in the whole of my life. I sat with Dave during the keynote speech but we were separated for the group sessions. .30pm for the dinner. then pairs of people acted out one-to-one meetings between an employee and personnel officer.

wasn‟t it? Do you know him?” “No. I‟ll have a rum and black.” he said looking at me. “Thank you. “Here she is!” he said. “Here you are ma‟am. I signed it and gave it back to him. “She‟s stable. He turned to face me again. I was just being polite.” he responded.30 I made my way down to the bar. Dave looked slightly flustered. but nothing was forthcoming. “I don‟t suppose it matters who signs it. “How are things at home?” I asked. The barman looked surprised but took the hint and gave me the bill. Perhaps I should have complimented him too but I didn‟t. Given the occasion.” He duly ordered and the barman said he would bring it to our table. ma‟am!” he said with appropriate emphasis. Dave was chatting and laughing with the barman. I expected more than this. “You can call me. He smiled gently at me but it only increased my nervousness. “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. Penny! I‟m not the queen.Friends or Lovers At 6. Penny!” he said and we both smiled. “Barman?” I said boldly. “What would you like?” asked Dave.” “Thank you. I felt I should broach the subject of his wife. and the prospect of spending the whole evening together. Dave.” . He presented the till slip for Dave to sign. “That was a bit „familiar‟.” said the barman as he delivered the drink. “Thanks.

First. holding my drink aloft. Penny?” “Up yours!” I said.” “You were. At first he laughed.” I started. We sat in silence for a few minutes. I decided to see if table places had been set. “Yes. “You shouldn‟t be too familiar with bar staff.” “You are at work. however. At the end of the conversation. however. I decided that it would be stupid not to. “Just don‟t.” he said sternly. “Dave?” I said. . “Don‟t use that tone with me. “Dave.” I said. “Oh lighten up.Rory Ridley-Duff I wondered if we were in for a bad tempered night. immediately recalling that Dave was laughing with the barman when I entered. being polite to the hotel staff. which made me all the more cantankerous. I felt so awkward that I got up and went back to my room. Penny.” “And I was doing it splendidly. That was a really dumb thing to do with my appraisal only a few weeks away so I phoned Mike on my mobile. Penny. But please don‟t tell me how to behave towards people when I‟m not at work. Dave. A bubble of rage formed in the pit of my stomach but I managed to contain it. “You were flirting with the barman.” I said dismissively.” he said. but he managed to calm me down. I was none the wiser whether I should apologise or not. I began to panic.” I answered. You‟re representing the company here. Penny. “I don‟t want to fall out with you.” he said defensively.

It had been turned into a charity event so the 50 participants were swelled with another 200 people for the dinner. Waiters and waitresses plied us at regular intervals with wine and aided the socialisation over dinner. I take it?” she asked. who showed me to a private bar and the seating plan for the evening. That was rude of me. Husbands and wives joined the delegates and professional bodies had been invited for the evening speakers and networking opportunities. Using her mobile she called reception and about ten minutes later a man came through with an amended seating plan.” I said. were excellent. but there was no smile. This time I went back to the private bar without making a show of my feelings. however. “Dave?” I asked. I thanked Jules then went to the private bar to order another rum and black. With the prospect of a stressful evening receding. “I really appreciate this. “Not at the moment.” he said. He turned around and acknowledged me.” “Forget it. but none was forthcoming. “Thank you. I waited for him to give me an apology in return. “Glad to help.” “Not too keen on your boss. My table included a CEO and his .Friends or Lovers In the dining room I met Jules. the conference manager. “I‟m sorry for earlier. The food was well presented but not especially delicious.” she said with a warm smile.” I answered. The service and company. I had been allocated a place next to Dave so I asked Jules if I could sit elsewhere. I returned to the main bar. no. The sea change in our relationship worried me.

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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

Rory Ridley-Duff

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.

Friends or Lovers

“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

Rory Ridley-Duff

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?”

I looked hard but couldn‟t find that induction technique in the CIPD manual!” he quipped. okay – I realise that some of you probably consider this essential work in the run up to the Christmas party. the hum of personal reflection lingered in the air. He paused and the audience obliged with more laughter. Then he delivered a killer sentence. This also has a lovely butt in it.” He paused again and took another swig of „gin‟. “This leads me onto my second story. and without fail there is some set piece bit of „corporate fun‟. but questioning. Each year they have a big celebration. John‟s tone was not critical. but this time it belongs to a man. .” he continued boldly.” John smiled. He somehow managed to avoid accusing his audience. isn‟t it?” he agreed with his audience. “Okay. but everyone in the room suddenly felt embarrassed that they had been laughing. “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. In the silence that followed. Diane told him about the company annual dinner. Then his tone suddenly became quieter. “Yes – it‟s funny. The audience laughed some more. It involves Ben and Diane. “Here‟s the rest of the story. but this story has a challenging ending.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked around and saw some people nodding. The year Ben joined. “Diane thought one of the directors‟ butts was so sexy that she described it to Ben during his induction. they had a „Butt of the Year‟ competition. This involved a number of men taking pictures of each others‟ naked bottoms and creating a slide show for the women. During Ben‟s induction. more measured. Diane is a CIPD qualified member of staff.

Ben thanked her and felt reassured. His objections fell on deaf ears. Ben was questioned for over an hour in a private room about „inappropriate‟ behaviour.” “You may think that you know what is coming…….” John raised his volume a couple of notches to finish the story “He was fired. Ben responded that he liked one or two of the women at work and had asked one out for a drink.Friends or Lovers “At the Christmas Party. Ben argued with the company‟s MD. “Ben‟s marriage collapsed and Diane offered him a place to sleep. “So!” he said. Ben argued that the accusation was unjustified.‟ she told him. Ben confessed his wife had been having an affair. Both were married. hypocritical and sexist. Diane flung her arms around Ben and playfully put ice cubes down his trousers. When Ben asked why. Diane confessed that her marriage was sexless. She now claimed that Ben was „womanising‟ and might misuse personnel records.” he teased. He thanked her but did not accept. put ice cubes down Ben‟s trousers at a party. “a woman who talked openly about her lust for a male director during Ben‟s induction.” A few people in the audience gasped. invited Ben to stay at her house. Diane reported his activities to her own manager. He did not mind her attention and they grew close. told Ben he had admirers and then got jealous when Ben admired someone . She told him repeatedly that he had „admirers‟. Diane got cross and told him he should not look for love at work. They started to go out for drinks after work.” “Instead of being pleased for him. „You won‟t be lonely.

” I thought back over my own experience. intimacy. Workplace behaviour arises out of our desire for. That much is obvious and while it is not discussed much. most enlightened people realise it. “a kind of power that we don‟t acknowledge. but this time he did so for effect. at the way the accusation against Mike has triggered the storm inside IC. Our desires are not always sexual. Maybe we are trying to avoid loneliness. or our desire to avoid. “Firstly. Accusations often reveal as much about who is hurting as who is being hurt.” John paused again. “My main point is that whenever there is a sexual conflict it is usually underpinned by a complex intimate relationship. Attention switches immediately to the accused. Maybe we are trying to be accepted. Most people are like icebergs. Both parties play a part. Nine tenths of what might be known is submerged beneath the surface. in turn. “That is power. “What can we learn from this?” continued John. are affected by what is taking place in our lives outside work.Rory Ridley-Duff else…she only had to make an accusation that Ben might be behaving inappropriately for his world to quickly fall apart. The accuser may be given special protection before it is known whether their accusation is true. We had weathered it but not without capsizing a few times. Those desires. This said.” he said. HR departments rarely investigate the motive for an accusation. feeling accepted by a sexually . only the accusation itself. “These are two cases where the underlying dynamics are known. my main point is not that men can also be subject to sexual harassment or false allegations. Both parties are responsible.

I want you to think about how to contribute to the current debate on equality of opportunity and sexual harassment. In Ben‟s case it cost the company over ten thousand pounds to replace him. by deliberately being provocative. I could be accused in the same way as Ben. That ignores the costs of training and lost . How would you go about investigating that to undercover „the truth‟?” “So. regardless of my intent. would I have been guilty of sexual harassment? Or was her behaviour. Isn‟t this the most naïve policy in the history of humankind? “So. I ask you to think of the cost of replacing staff. 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‟. 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. enough to pay for over 20 days of mediation. It is.Friends or Lovers desirable or successful person is particularly meaningful. 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. if Patsy had objected when I started to talk to her on the airplane. are we destroying our society with zero-tolerance policies? Are we compromising our ability to take. therefore. emotive and triggers disruptive conflicts. 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. “Two thoughts for you as you retire to the bars. Firstly.

Penny?” “I‟ll let you get away with it. “Get away with what?” asked Dave. however. he initially beamed with pleasure.” “Indeed we do.” I said. When John saw me. My mood changed and John noticed instantly.” “And I‟m a case study.” “Dave! Good talk.Rory Ridley-Duff productivity. I did not realise that ……” . “You know each other a lot better than you are telling me. am I?” “An anonymous one. eh?” “You think I‟m being economical with the truth. while this is an ethical issue. Suddenly I felt another person moving up beside me. “Such a good story and I never thought that you would ever be in one of my audiences. then – as he realised that I had been in the audience – he started to look apologetic.” I said with a smile. mate. Hope I‟m not interrupting anything.” The audience broke into a round of applause. just this once. Instead. I can see. John smiled as we shared the private joke. Dave. yes!” “And close friends. turning on the professional charm. I did not join in. “Ladies and Gentlemen . it is also a financial one. So.” said John. “Hello.thank you for listening! My name is John Simons and I am at your service. was surprisingly astute. “Can you forgive me?” he asked.” “Not at all. It ignores whether the replacement is as good at the job. I got up and walked towards the front. “You might have asked. My name is John. My business cards and these two cases are available on the table.

Penny?” asked Dave.” “And John. I‟ll join you in a second. is this Patsy?” asked Dave pointedly. How else can people establish another person‟s motive?” Dave was slightly taken aback at these remarks. “Flirting is dangerous. “but like most adults I still end up in situations where there is flirting. “If you go to the bar and order what you like. you don‟t just flirt with barmen. “I‟m married!” he said indignantly.” said Dave. “Would you like to have this conversation at the bar so I can buy you a drink?” asked John. Is this the John you mentioned to me? The one you met on a plane?” I hesitated. “So. There was little point denying it..” replied John. Dave?” asked John. “Yes.” “Are you coming. whether I like it or not. Just ask them to charge it to Room 1156 and I‟ll sign the receipt in a moment. “…. Dave laughed.” “One of your best friends!” said Dave. John and I hesitated. but also strange men in airports!” John joined in the conversation again. Dave nodded. “And you don‟t. “Don‟t what?” asked Dave. you are a dark horse. Penny. . “Well.Friends or Lovers Oh God! I prayed that he was not about to say what I though he was about to say. one of my best friends was in the audience. “Don‟t you flirt?” asked John. “So am I.

I accept it is a problem for them. It is those who are inexperienced or shy who are uncomfortable with flirting. John did agree with Freud. Most people do this in non-threatening ways and it works most of the time. Were the stories true? Yes.” Dave had committed himself now and went off to the bar. On the way. They push and probe to check out how the other responds. Having negotiated these questions. “I‟ve chatted to Mike and thought we were through this.” said John boldly.Rory Ridley-Duff John glanced in my direction and I realised that he was trying to get me on my own. We had an argument earlier this evening.” . However. Many find it fun.” “I can meet you later if you like?” he asked again. “He‟s hurt. “I disagree. Freud thought it all emanated from complexes formed in childhood experiences. “Flirting is a good way for men and women to establish the level of intimacy they want in their relationships. we got to the bar and Dave was ready with our drinks. You‟ve got a problem.” said John. “Tell me about it.” John and I made our way to the bar. Was it not all a bit Freudian? Not really. he engaged with people who wanted to talk to him. okay.” said Dave. He did not agree with that. totally true. “Always leads to trouble. said John. I just want a quick word with John. “You were saying that flirting is dangerous?” remembered John.” “Do you want to talk about it later?” asked John. We found a space to talk. “Yes. in the sense that sexual desires and aspirations underpinned a lot of adult behaviour. It‟s getting worse and worse. “I‟ll join you in a second.

Too much experience.” commented Dave. “but you won‟t notice all the problems that are solved by it. It was almost as if he was suggesting that Dave was inexperienced and shy.” answered John.” “Don‟t buy it. “…as well you know!” John picked up my allusion and acknowledged my concern. “Flirting causes misunderstandings. “Only if people are insensitive to each other. “I‟ve had to deal with many problems caused by flirting. “I can‟t say that flirting has ever landed me in deep water at work. By the way. but it has certainly landed others…” I responded. John. They never land on your desk. “Insensitive?” I asked. however. how is Sally?” “Sally?” asked Dave.” said Dave arrogantly. I added a rider as a warning shot. Penny?” said John. “Not directly. The sarcasm was back and I couldn‟t help fuelling the situation. “Yes we are.” said John. “But it causes so much disagreement. as John proceeded to respond.” insisted Dave. mate.Friends or Lovers I was not sure whether John intended to be offensive but he was coming perilously close. “but I think we will later. . also picked up that some covert message was passing between us.” he added. “What about you. “Perhaps that‟s not a good word.” “I don‟t doubt it. “Oh! Are you two getting together?” asked Dave.” answered John. Dave.” said Dave. “You‟re a good flirt!” I wanted John to stop because his comments could deepen my problems. “Sounds like you‟ve discussed this before.” said John.

” replied Dave. Penny. Before I could answer. John made another intervention. “She never mentioned you to me.” “And when did this happen?” he asked. “What?” said Dave.” “Sally at work? Do you know Sally?” “Yes – known her for years. Dave intervened. “Yes. slightly embarrassed and mouthed the word „sorry‟. “By the way. “You and Mike?” he asked. “John is staying at Sally‟s while he works for us. We‟re enjoying ourselves . John looked at me.” said Dave.I wish I could stay longer but I‟m needed back at home. “Well!” he started. piecing things together in his head. totally engaged by this discovery. By asking John about Sally it invited John to ask me about Mike. . “Do you and Mike want to come over for dinner on Sunday night?” My blood ran cold.” answered John.Rory Ridley-Duff “Oh she‟s great. “Small world. “Before or after you arranged the flat for him?” Dave asked with disdain.” asked John. “Just as well. isn‟t it?” he added. “After!” I said firmly.” said Dave cynically. “No. Didn‟t you know?” I said. “Just recently – hardly got used to the idea myself!” I said pretending joy while my mind was turning to clay. “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.

. John moved closer and whispered in my ear.” he said with his hand on his heart. “That…. trying to diffuse the situation.Friends or Lovers “It‟s a simple question. You‟ve not been employed for a year yet. “There are better ways to do it.. If he starts a fight with you.” said Dave. my sense of humour returning.pig is going to do my appraisal in three weeks!” “Then you‟ve got to use this.” quipped John. “Only as a first resort!” he responded. “Not complicated at all. I want to be there to watch you beat the shit out of him!” “And you the mediator?” I asked. A few people near us picked up my tone and turned to look.” It took me a moment to get the joke. “because if he‟s not we really have a problem. I was about to go after him and make him apologise but John stopped me.” Dave turned and left before I could answer. “I‟m fed up working with this tart.” “My knight in shining armour?” I queried. “Fuck him! Wanker!” “I hope so.” he said pointing at my head.that…. then find me. “I‟d like to fry his arse!” I shouted. “as well as this.” responded John. Penny!” said John trying to calm me down. “Be careful. Why?” “It‟s complicated. “No. “Why don‟t we circulate for a bit and then slip out? If Dave comes anywhere near you.” .” I said.” “Shit! You‟re right. “The two of you are antagonising each other.

I told him of my wish to marry Mike.. 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.” “Thank you. I could see the concern growing on his face.Rory Ridley-Duff “You‟ll need friends for this one. About an hour later.” The rest of the evening passed off without any more incidents.” I said before I saw his grin. the launch evening. he cryptically replied that „every good soldier needed the support of his unit‟. invited them for dinner then insisted that I come with Mike. Dave‟s e-mail and my conversations with Mike. When I asked why. When he heard this. I want to go home.” he corrected. How‟s Mike going to take this?” he asked.” “I‟d take you – but I‟ve been drinking gin all evening…. As days go. Penny. John and I took a cab to a quiet pub and I told him about Dave‟s wife. he grabbed me and hugged me for what seemed like an age. When he let go. “I‟ll call him later. I never drink before a talk so if you want to go home. You‟re a sweetie. I noticed that his eyes were filled with tears. “I‟m probably the only sober person in the room. He said that he wanted to talk “strategy”. but now I was battling to save my job. He called Elaine and Sam.” he joked. . I can take you. “Damn.

Now it was Dave who was being judgemental about me. and the frustration of having to deal with others‟ unstated agendas. In the past. And what was it that I was guilty of? Most of his attacks were about my flirting. It was bad enough that I had intruded into a number of delicate personal relationships. however. Given what I‟d learnt from the conflict between Mike and Elona. he was matter of fact and kept reassuring me that I had truth on my side. Two months earlier. It may not only have been my . 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. I began to wonder whether perhaps I might have done things differently. I had been convinced that sexual harassment laws were progressive. but I now realised that my attitude had been coloured both by the hurt I felt in the past and my attraction to him. however. we can only see what we are looking for. I was less confident. Hard as it was to admit. as John had suggested. I had been judgemental about Mike‟s motives. then I was up shit creek without a paddle.Friends or Lovers Chapter 42 I was glad to get home to Mike. If. Not only had I misjudged Mike. Dave would not be looking for evidence of my innocence. but now I was not so sure. but now it was the other way around I started to experience how the intrusions feel on the receiving end. only evidence of my guilt. or left Mike and Elona to sort out their own problems. I was now experiencing things from the other side. When I told him what had happened. The law required me to investigate.

Not everybody saw the distinctions as I did. Mike the stubborn idealist. I was coming to a realisation that these bonds not only reached deep into my personal life. Together they were a formidable combination. but were also contributing to better decisions about people in the workplace. to some extent. 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. I was „independent‟ and „efficient‟. I protected myself with professional ethics and personal boundaries to create a haven for corporate values. I started to see myself as a female version of Will. John pierced my armour. but perhaps my values as well. rather than at home. and Phil has also made some inroads. and most recently Elaine. Unlike John. Mike did the same. Instead he just savoured the conversation we had. In my mind. They rarely saw eyeto-eye. I did this not only to share treasured . John was the pragmatic politician. On Sunday we went for a walk. Elona has. I remember once seeing the film About a Boy. or felt they should be enforced. I was also emotionally disconnected and dysfunctional. however. Later. others intruded into my world. searching for “truth” and “justice” and then working out how to make it happen. Mike and John were different. he had no wish to talk “strategy”. I had created an imaginary world in which men and women should behave one way at work and another way outside work.Rory Ridley-Duff judgement that was at fault. but every conversation made me question my life a little bit more. Firstly. The main character Will tried to live an „island‟ existence but gave in to the attention of a lonely 12-year-old boy. Mike and I had a quiet day. Just like Will.

“You might be disappointed. “And now for me. my change of heart.” he answered. He never used five words where three would do. I smiled and said that would be nice. “A few. “And for me. Lock.” he replied. from the moment I faced-down my fear and shared my most private feelings. but as a tribute to John. stock and barrel.” responded Mike. “What would be solved by talking about it?” he responded. “Nice for him. “Would you take me to them?” “I‟d rather find new places. Mike. “You have me.” I commented. With John.” “What would you like to know?” I suddenly realised that it was not so much his past that I was interested in.” he said. in body. “I‟m just interested.” I said. my coming out of myself started on that day. That was another difference between them.” I said. “I brought John here a couple of months ago. his emotions always came out as he spoke. “You.” “Yes.” I said. pointing to his head.” he replied with a straight face. “You don‟t talk about the past. .Friends or Lovers memories with Mike. But I also want to know the person in here!” I said. but with Mike you had to dig for them. but any remaining attachments that might affect our future together. When I look back. “Do you have any special places? Places you went with your wife?” I asked.

“You were very committed to her……” Suddenly I stopped. . then held me in his arms and kissed me. Even though I did not push him. Strangely. “That‟s because you‟ve only microscopically examined my body!” he joked.Rory Ridley-Duff “Haven‟t been so far. “I prefer not to think about it.” I responded. I realised that I was starting to have doubts about his commitment. His silence on the issue of his wife troubled me. I would have these memories forever. While it was nice to have his attention. “I guess I‟m curious how you feel about your marriage. he had also evaded the question. No matter what happened in the future.” He stopped and turned to me. I felt unconcerned. 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. “I guess. nothing could take away the bliss that I was enjoying right now. There was little point holding back now I had started.” he replied.” I said with a grin.

” “But you said that even Harry thought you were doing a good job. “Now look at this from Harry‟s point of view. “How long have you been there.” Mike joined in the “strategy” discussion and kept coming back to what people had said about my work. Mike?” asked John. It was Dave who gave him this impression. Sam. But John is right about Dave. Penny?” said Sam. He‟s pissed off with me. surely?” responded Mike. “He‟ll see through Dave. “But that‟s what pisses him off – surely he‟ll raise it?” I argued. We had been discussing my situation at work for nearly half an hour over after-dinner coffee. but most of the others would not believe him. “He‟s going to look at the truth. but it was good to have his support. won‟t he?” . He thought the company would be crazy to sack me. who probably knew the least about all the cock ups I had made. 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.Friends or Lovers Chapter 43 “He‟s not going to bring that up!” asserted John. John was trying to persuade everyone that Dave was going to block my appointment. “Nearly 6 years.” he answered. getting quite heated. “But Penny is brilliant at her job – aren‟t you. “Thank you. I knew he was biased.

” “But isn‟t this between Penny and Dave?” asked Sam. “I certainly am. He‟s under no obligation to keep her on. “If I‟m wrong then we have nothing to worry about. he‟ll control what Harry hears. the subtle political pressures and pragmatic alliances that work behind the scenes. If Dave wants to fuck it up because he can‟t deal with Penny‟s rejection then I want to apply some pressure. I concur with John. If he sacks Penny. “No.Rory Ridley-Duff John gave Mike a dismissive look. “That‟s right. Elaine. showing considerable irritation. who had been listening more than talking.” Everyone around the table stopped for a moment to consider her remarks. I noticed John smile at Elaine and she raised her glass to him.” “And also give Dave a few worries of his own!” added Elaine. but what we are going to do about it. Elaine had talked to me about some of the corporate battles that she‟d been in. “What do you mean?” asked Sam. “Let‟s assume that Dave is going to look for a way to get Penny out. If there is a conflict. The only thing Dave has to fear is Harry‟s reaction. “Let‟s assume for a moment that John is right. “And how is Mike going to be able to work when . “We‟ve invested a huge amount in this partnership.” said John enthusiastically.” she started. then I‟m going to kick his arse – it will affect my working relationship with him!” she said pointedly. He does not even have to give her a proper reason. “You‟re not suggesting we get involved?” queried Sam.” said Elaine. Everyone turned to look at her. I began to catch her drift. now joined the conversation. But if I‟m right then we need to ensure that Dave does not control what Harry is hearing. It‟s not what‟s going to happen.

“It‟s not that. This isn‟t just about our friends. Sally!” Sally had remained fairly quiet throughout.” she said. “I‟m keeping out of this. If Mike‟s . Sam. I‟d taken over his life and he saw her much less. Perhaps you‟re right!” responded John. 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.Friends or Lovers Dave sacks his future wife. “Stuff like this doesn‟t stay secret. With John returning home in a couple of weeks she might start to miss Mike‟s company. Since we‟d become a couple. I wondered for a moment whether Sally might secretly want me off the scene to open the way to Mike again. you can put them straight!” “And have Dave on my back?” she asked. “We all have an interest!” said Elaine. Sal. However. “So little confidence!” complained Elaine.” “Okay. I could understand Sally‟s fear. “But you can influence things on the ground. Only Mike stood between her and Dave.” she said. this is about our company‟s well-being. Mike‟s our sales manager. 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. She was also in a line management situation with Dave.” “On the ground?” she asked. “I don‟t have a way of influencing things the way you do. “You‟d stand by while Dave shits on Mike?” asked John. “You too. If your colleagues talk about it. Elaine had both political and financial independence whereas Sally‟s life was more precarious. Dave‟s the Director of Business Development.

As soon as the car sped away from Sally‟s house. He had been much quieter after her comment. My security came from the knowledge that there was no shortage of organisations seeking HR professionals. Elaine. we do. as we talked. was not over worried regardless of the outcome of my appraisal. as protecting the group. I made a mental note to update her. “Are you having second thoughts?” “Not exactly. We all wanted to work and live together and this guided our discussions.” he replied. In fact. Mike opened up. Various scenarios and plans were hatched. The debate continued over more bottles of wine. “Sal has to be careful.” said Mike. debated and discarded. It was reassuring that my friends took such a keen interest in protecting my future. “I‟m much older than you. By the time Mike and I left. Penny!” “So what?” . “Yes. I did not have to wait long. Mike and Sally. but they were protecting theirs at the same time. or protecting themselves. 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. My mind. I realised that it was not so much that they were protecting me. I realised.Rory Ridley-Duff position was threatened then Dave would be able to exact personal revenge on Sally. therefore.” he said. “What then?” I enquired. “We have to talk.” I replied. did not understand the complex background and network of relationships involving Dave. I focussed more on Mike‟s reaction to Elaine‟s comment about our marriage plans.

Once she faced a real choice her feelings started to change.she accidentally got pregnant. the argument began to affect me. When I considered the question in the abstract I was sure of my feelings. Penny?” When he asked that question. “Well. Did I want to give up the choice? “Tell me about your friend.” Despite what I had told him previously. Did she want to miss that chance?” “I have thought about this.” “What‟re you saying?” “I‟m saying that I know for sure that I don‟t want children. I paused trying to imagine what it would be like to have a child growing inside me. You know that. “I don‟t want them. a regular boyfriend who she lived with. And who could blame her?” he asked. “She was successful – like you. I actually felt a pang of disappointment that he did not want children with me. But what if you change your mind? What if you accidentally get pregnant?” “I don‟t know!” I answered.” I asked. “How do you mean?” I said. it dawned on her this might be her only chance to be a mother. Mike.” “But have you ever been pregnant. I don‟t want children. She didn‟t want children until – in her mid-thirties .” “How can you know that?” “My wife got pregnant a few years ago and I was completely opposed. “I had a friend once who „didn‟t want children‟ until she got pregnant. but when I asked myself how .Friends or Lovers “What if you want children?” he asked. “You don‟t now.” I answered. She had a good career.

” “So what‟re you saying? You want to break up?” “No. They both feel the other betrayed them. . The relationship with her boyfriend broke up soon after. “I can‟t say. “Yes – but I don‟t want to be a dad in my 70s. Could I do that? “No. I haven‟t. “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.” he continued. Our relationship probably won‟t survive the birth of a child. no! I want to treasure this for as long as possible and that means being realistic. When I was young I imagined that all serious relationships operated on the basis of unending commitment.” I pondered this strange proposal. I really don‟t. Is it a good idea to marry?” I did not respond. She never forgave him for leaving. “I‟ll live with you – but if you want children then I‟m going to bow out so you can fulfil your dream. He never forgave her for ignoring his feelings. our relationship won‟t survive.Rory Ridley-Duff I would feel aborting Mike’s child it affected me differently. “It could tear us apart. She thought he‟d change when the child was born. Mike!” “That‟s what worries me.” “But don‟t you love me?” He smiled broadly.” “What did your friend do?” “She had the child. I can‟t stand in the way of that. I was not sure what to think.” I finally answered. If you want a child and I don‟t. no. Now they hate each other with a vengeance.

went into the kitchen and made two cups of cocoa. “If you reach the menopause and we‟re still together. Romantic this was not. Moments later I felt one of his arms around me as he kissed my neck and said “goodnight”. then went upstairs. this was the clearest indication I‟d had that we were going to have a long-term relationship.” he continued again.Friends or Lovers “Tell you what. “Okay.” And with that. I‟ll marry you!” I gave a short chuckle. Even though we‟d talked about the possibility of breaking up. 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. but that was Mike through and through. I‟ll think about it. we arrived home. . We chatted more in front of the TV and caught a late night film.

He had not seen me when I felt weak and feeble (the way John had seen me). It took two weeks for her to feel strong enough to return to work. but also to learn about myself. Elona. I told him I was not always strong but he would not believe it.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 44 Elona‟s move into the flat with Mike was problematic at first. As a result. my professional worries receded. I felt we should visit daily. There was no weekend in her family. We talked about her upbringing. I asked Phil to make some visits to see how she was progressing. I decided to visit her when Mike went out with his drinking pals. turned out to be strong in ways I‟d not realised. Normally we would not visit so much. As part of his professional development. Was I a bully? Mike sometimes joked that I could be. they chided her for . but given her precarious state. just a Sunday and Wednesday afternoon when the shop closed. I was trying to build her confidence. but also the scriptures and morality that affected her freedom. her parents disapproved of her drinking in pubs and when the situation erupted at work they felt deeply ashamed. not just to learn about her. she accused me of bullying her. on the other hand. a by-product of my strength of character. Even as a grown up. Brownies and Guides followed and she talked of the many skills she had developed. I dropped in a couple of times to check how things were. Instead of showing sympathy. We started to have chats in the evening at home and at work during lunch breaks. When I had been at her parents‟ shop and heard her torrent of abuse. When she did. Her parents were committed Christians and they arranged for her aunt to take her to Sunday school each week.

on the other hand. to take them up to my room. my voice was heard and sex talk was commonplace in our house. I started to wonder how she had turned out so „normal‟ despite her upbringing. When I asked her how she got to know boys. Elona‟s father was protective and would never let her go to parties. My room was a private space to do as I pleased. judged as little as I could. Attitudes to sex – or more accurately. especially my father. Sometimes I would get keen on a boy and still my parents would not interfere. Private conversations with boys were not allowed in her house – one or other parent had to be present. More than once that led to us having a fight. I listened as much as I could. Elona. play music.upstairs was strictly out of bounds even after she reached the age of 18. she simply said that she had not been able to. Both my father and mother allowed me to have male friends. If I had a boy with me they would knock on my bedroom door. although my mother would tell me what I should and should not do. 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. and . those of our parents could not have been more different. Instead. My parents had been liberal in their attitudes. was not allowed to bring boys into the house without the permission of her father . and avoided the temptation to get angry with either her or her parents. people pursued each other for sex and treated each other disrespectfully. Even so. They would tell her that in the „devil‟ world of „Godless‟ people.Friends or Lovers getting mixed up with a “bad crowd”. chat and talk. I remember only mild embarrassment at their openness. They did not even let her take girlfriends upstairs.

she gradually opened up and admitted that she had been buying romance novels for years. She imagined bold heroines aggressively seducing their prey. There was something tragic in hearing her story. While I had no inhibitions about my body. he triggered all the feelings she was harbouring. Privately she lusted after the kind of life that was described in them but never imagined she could ever be part of it. I remember feeling grateful. betrayed and misled. She fantasised about this other world. she was bursting with curiosity. We laughed as stories came out of hiding and got aired for the first time. when it came to my mind. I tried to reassure her that experience had to be gained first hand. I shared with her my boldest adventures. and showed interest in her. at their attitude. You could not rely on what was written in books. it was as if I was also talking to myself. thoughts and feelings I was . Some women deliberately excluded her. this strange morality where people could express themselves freely. As I talked. she felt bitter. They admitted that they knew but chose not to say anything. Elona. When Nathan took a shine to her.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. Even at work. or meek wallflowers schooled in the art of attracting „real‟ men. on the other hand felt embarrassed if her parents even hinted at sex. she would walk away if she heard crude conversations. When he rebuffed her. But in talking to me. When the young lads at work invited her to the pub. rather than relieved. Others picked on her and ridiculed her prudishness.

I started to realise new things that I had been missing – that the ephemeral materialism . But since the fall out over Sally he had returned home only to be with his children. I started to get a sense of just how important parents are and the huge responsibility they bear. and our friendship gave her a way to compare her fantasy world to the reality of my life. Was my hostility to motherhood another way of avoiding responsibility? These questions troubled me. “You are good for her. I felt a shudder. A mother like me! At hearing those words. he gradually opened up about his marriage and I learnt that his kids were the principle reason he had remained for so long. he found his wife attractive and their argumentative relationship spiced up their sex life. she might have grown up very differently. He did admit too that.Friends or Lovers even more inhibited than Elona. 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. It was the financial betrayal that killed it. I found yet another avenue to release the pain and hurt of the past. perhaps?” he retorted. His comment started a chain of thoughts that still haunts me. I found new depths in myself. As for Mike.” “And a mother like you. I switched the conversation back to Elona. I was learning again from someone years my junior. “If she‟d had a father like you. As I watched Mike and learnt about each new layer of his character. Before I realised it. Through her candid confessions to me. His wife never forgave him for giving financial support to another woman. despite the problems. Mike joked that if he had lied and said it was „just sex‟ his marriage might have survived. you know!” I told him.

the transient consumerism pressed on us by the media. was not important. The world of parenthood took on a new fascination. but was not life itself. . It was a setting in which our lives unravelled. In them. Their stories – which had for two decades been a source of entertainment and amusement to me – started to lose their standing. setting out my life on paper became part of my liberation. That spurred me to take greater interest in how I came to be who I am. my mother told me stories. Before the arguments of my teenage years. it was a place where vanity ran amok. For me.Rory Ridley-Duff of corporate life. The media was not reality. I cast my mind over my life with my mother and father. I had loved Scooby Doo and rather than watch videos again and again. conversations with real people flourished to the point that my television became just another piece of furniture. she would make up new adventures on the spur of the moment. In their place. I found that there was nothing more fascinating or more pleasurable than getting to know people well. Perhaps that is what spurred me to write this story. it was a means. where those obsessed with self-importance told us how to live our lives. And when Mike suggested I would make a good mother the urge to be a parent grew stronger and stronger. Corporate life was not a reason for being. Perhaps my own mother encouraged this creative streak in me. she and I would join the gang and solve our own mysteries. 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.

Show me!” Inside her sweaty palm was her mobile phone. raising my eyebrows in wonder. When I emerged. pleaded with Elona to let me go to the loo first. “Well. something happened that transformed her life. “Penny! Penny! Come here. Wud u like drink with mates after work? Phil x “Better than the lottery?” I asked. Her excitement was so great that she could not contain it.” she answered. M and P tell me u r recovering. For a couple of seconds a fancy graphic showed a pile of papers being sorted. “What‟s happened?” I asked. She open the lid. then “inbox”. “Well.Friends or Lovers Chapter 45 Six weeks after Elona moved in with Mike. then “messages”. but at the top was a phone number. Elona excitedly pressed a green button and the message appeared. pressed “menu”. come on then. The moment I arrived at her flat she screeched at me to come and see something. “Have you won the lottery?” “Better than that. come on. “Who is that from?” I asked. Her eyes were wide open and her face was so animated that I thought she would burst a blood vessel. Down the list I could see messages from her old boyfriend. I mean he must……he must like me!” . she was waiting on the sofa clutching something in her hand. it‟s good isn‟t it. come here!” I hastily hung up my jacket.

” .Rory Ridley-Duff I didn‟t know how to break the news that this may be kindness. but remember that this may be your wish but not his. “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…. “I was excited. love! Look at me. “Elona.” “But my Dad said….” My heart sank..” she answered. You‟ve met him?” I asked. but had his eye on others as well. starting to look a bit downcast.” “Forget your Dad. “When a man asks you for a drink..” “You just want to spoil my dreams!” she interrupted. Pretend he‟s your fantasy hero. especially after he did that workshop about sexism in the army.” “What about John?” she continued. “But it‟s a drink invitation! He‟s asking me out. “Yes. Secretly I thought about him a lot. He had mentioned Elona. She duly obliged.. He may be interested in that. but when I was with him I took nothing for granted. Very excited.” I interrupted. it does not always mean that he‟s asking you to be his girlfriend.” I said as I took her hands and our eyes locked. or an attempt to help her mix in with people at work. It was „good‟. my love.” I commented. however. I mentally got ready to nail Phil when I saw him next morning. “Dream all you like. It may be that Phil was asking her out. But he may just want to be your friend…. “Maybe you shouldn‟t read too much into it. “Everyone talks about him at work. but then again it may not and I felt that it would be irresponsible not to prepare her for the possibility.

My heart went out to her.” I said finally. right?” “You‟re the best! First impressions. The thought of me flirting by mobile with Phil while he thought he was talking to Elona tickled me.” she said imploringly. giving in to her. She jumped on her seat and punched the air with her fist. “You‟re hot for him. I gave her a school-ma‟am grin. “How d‟you want to play it then?” I replied. returning to the question in hand. “Just start me off. She so wanted to get this one right. But you don‟t want him thinking you‟re not interested either?” I replied. “Just send the first few messages then I‟ll take over. She‟d been planning this all day.” I thought about this.” “Good. I don‟t want to appear too forward. “No! I was waiting for you. Perhaps Phil would never know the difference. “Why not?” she asked. “I think it would be better if it all came from you. Would it be so bad? “I can‟t have a text conversation with him. I saw that she looked slightly hurt by my mirth so I immediately apologised and gave it some thought. Pen. “But I don‟t know what to say! Could you…?” “Could I what?” “Could you reply?” I laughed.Friends or Lovers “Have you replied to this?” I asked. eh? I want him to know I‟m interested – I mean really interested.” I said.” .

Could she change that much in a few weeks? “You can get hurt. isn‟t it?” she replied. “On what?” I asked. I sat for a second wondering why she would admire me. I guess it didn‟t!” “Penny?” I looked up at her and she continued to speak. “Depends!” she replied. “I‟m flattered. She took my free hand with both of hers. but also that he had a quiet confidence. in response. Thank you!” I said. “D‟you think that‟s too risqué?” I asked her. I knew Phil could be shy. wondering if she was drunk. “Don‟t you care?” “A bit. I guess. Then she broke into laughter as I added the last two words. . We were so different. “Do you have any idea how much I admire you?” “What! Admire me?” I said. “No.” I said. I showed the message to Elona and she kept nodding enthusiastically. I selected „reply‟ and typed away carefully. despite all our conversations.Rory Ridley-Duff I thought for a second. you know?” I answered. “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. “I want to have some fun!” I suddenly felt as if. I hardly knew her. How could we use that? “Okay! Give me the phone. “Never stopped you!” she said. in a matter of fact way. But it‟s so exciting. We didn‟t want to be tacky or crude.

mean and nasty……” I started to run out of words so Elona decided to take over. selfish. I‟ve pissed around and messed things up big time.” She suddenly got cross with me.” “I wish! Seriously. “you‟re a natural. emotional. and sexy and vivacious. “Elona. done things. Elona! I‟m nothing of the sort. Been places.Friends or Lovers “You‟re my heroine!” she said. Sometimes I‟m miserable. Elona. “….” she continued. “Are we going to send that. bitchy.. Inside I knew I was no better and no stronger than she was. travelled. I‟d not had to overcome the things she had lived through. she wanted me as her role model. or suffer the disappointments she had faced.” She glanced at the phone. studied. you only see what‟s on the outside. lonely and wretched. that‟s such a sweet thing for you to say. Inside I have doubts just like you. From where I‟m sitting. I can be crabby and unreasonable. What possible claim could I have to a life better than hers? And yet. “But most of all. “Oh. then?” .. “What are you talking about? You‟ve done so much with your life.” “What do you mean?” “I mean that you live your life without any fear. you know how to live!” She said this with such force that I didn‟t know what to say.and kind and thoughtful.. It was not something that I felt I could refuse. I‟m really touched. 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.

Elona handed me the phone again and I typed away. Elona held it up and read it out loud. I think. “Where are you going?” she asked. “He‟s added four kisses.” “Okay. In an instant. “I want all the gory details. “But tomorrow. She pressed the green button and away it went. okay? After this you‟re on your own!” Elona nodded. Let‟s reel him in. “Wot u have in mind? P xxxx” “Look! Look!” shrieked Elona. What outfit wld u like me 2 wear for u.” I said. okay?” . she read Phil‟s reply out loud while jumping up and down. He‟s taking the bait.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked at the message once more and read it out loud. “Too late for second thoughts now. “Accept. We were like two schoolgirls swapping messages in class with a boy. This is between you and him. “You two should be alone. sexy?” Elona took the phone out of my hand and pressed the green button.” She looked slightly confused. A moment later. her mobile signalled the arrival of new mail so we excitedly opened her inbox. girl. I looked up at her.” I said. “Skn-tite and sexy? Wow! Looking 4wrd to seeing you in it…and out of it…. “This is the last one I send. When I finished. She read the message to herself and cackled again. Ellie..” I said confidently.” “But Penny?” “Trust me. Call right now!” I got up and went to get my coat.

As she dialled the number and let it ring. “You‟re welcome. I had taken from the experience that I had to be more cautious and respectful of others. 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. Some other time. able to make your own judgements – even if sometimes they turn out to be flawed and wrong. ready to learn „how to live‟. With my coat on. I walked over and gave her a big hug. Even as I chided myself for my judgement. but the excitement and joy that filled her whole body was matched only by the size and breadth of the smile she beamed.” I replied. as she put it. I had challenged the behaviour of others and shown no fear. Elaine and John – the extent of my impact on Elona was beginning to dawn on me. with your own thoughts and feelings. I realised that perhaps this mattered less to her than the example I had set. She was . “Thank you!” she said. As I walked down a flight of stairs into the car park. For me.Friends or Lovers She grinned broadly. only the confidence and bluster that erupted when I was in the grip of moral indignation. Even as I contemplated my own heroes and heroines – Mike. piss off then and see if I care!” she said. She could not see what was going on inside me. Elona had come alive – she was. “Okay. She had seen me stand up for her against men she felt had hurt her. In her eyes. I would have to talk to her about that. I realised that this was the first time I‟d ever been someone‟s heroine. In the distance the sound of an excited young woman could be made out amidst much laughter and giggling. If I had only heard her words I might have been offended.

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.

” Mike got up and walked over to me and I felt his arms move around my stomach. At around 10pm the phone rang. then moved underneath my skirt and played with the elastic of my pants. “I‟ve got to go now. really. and then heard something crash in the background. have you?” “I talked so much I ran out of credit. Ellie!” I said. and Mike looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face. Gradually.Friends or Lovers Chapter 46 Mike and I had a quiet evening at my flat watching a DVD. Take things slowly. laughing and shouting that she needed a wage rise. one of his hands edged up inside my blouse and started to fondle my breasts while the other stroked my leg. “Why?” “Because I won‟t be able to talk soon!” . He fondled me gently as I talked some more. “I don‟t think „slowly‟ is in his vocabulary.” she said coyly.” “Then how come you are talking to me now?” I heard her giggle. Pen!” “Are you okay?” “I‟m on cloud nine! Thank you so much. “What was that? Is there someone with you?” “Maybe. It was Elona again.” I started to say. “Now don‟t rush things. “Why?” I asked. Need a raise to keep my mobile phone topped up. “Not just booked a holiday with Phil. “Faaannnnntttttaaaassssttttiiiiccccc!” I shouted.” “I did nothing.

then picking her up and carrying her to bed. “Better finish…. As Mike pleasured me between my legs.this………conversation………Oh God!……. “What?” I replied. “……to have sex with me while I talk on the phone to you……. I imagined what might be happening to Elona..I‟ve got…. Right there in the hall Mike nibbled the folds of my flesh while two fingers eased their way in. while the other……. He was dying for me. “…….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….oooohhh…. pulled down my knickers and buried his head between my legs. I tried to imagine Elona‟s excitement as she trembled in anticipation of her first fuck.. her level of laughter increased and I heard her shriek.bye Ellie!” I put the phone down and spread my legs wide.” whispered Mike a second time.. that Phil‟s strong body had moved between Elona legs. “Ellie? I have a man here who is dying ………. “Me too!” she said when she finally came back to the phone. Elona thought I was talking to her and asked again what was wrong.aaahhhh……has just gone down inside my pants..” Mike whispered in my ear “Keep talking”. I pictured Phil ripping open Elona‟s blouse..” Mike had knelt down on the floor. .. “Keep talking..to go….left nipple. A few moments later.” I had to pause for a second as his finger touched a spot that took my breath away. lifted me onto the table.tomorrow…….” I heard a round of giggling as Elona repeated my words to Phil.

Mike‟s lips made their way up the front of my body gently kissing the breasts that I had exposed. until I felt his breath on my face. . 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. my breath shortening. Then I put both my hands on his cheeks and felt tears welling up in my eyes. Comes naturally. I arched back and focussed my thoughts on the feeling of Mike‟s tongue while picturing Phil between Elona‟s legs. until the nerve ends all pulsated simultaneously and I convulsed struggling to catch my breath. “I don‟t know. my eyes closed. and I surfed towards heaven. “This much?” he said.Friends or Lovers In my mind‟s eye. “Have you any idea how deeply I am in love with you?” I asked.” He did not intend the pun. His strong muscular buttocks thrust into her with each movement of Mike‟s fingers inside me. but I laughed anyway. moaning. gesturing a small amount with his thumb and finger. I guess. He tried to kiss me but I pulled away. The surge continued and built. Just as I started to wonder whether it was pure wickedness to picture Phil as Mike brought me off. waves of pleasure started to glide up through my body. “How do you do that?” I said. It was the first time I had uttered the actual words and I waited for his reply. “Do what?” he asked.

I held his head in my hands as I explored everything I could find. my mind suddenly cast itself back to the moment when John had asked me about the army and sexism. he threw me down manfully and put his hands on my knees while glancing down at a huge erection. This much!” I said as I pressed my lips onto his and aggressively pushed my tongue into his mouth. I spread my legs as wide as I could. Something told me I was wicked but I just knew he was dying for me. pretending to resist while egging him on to have his way with me. for reasons I could not fathom. I helped to bring him to the heights of ecstasy.” I said. he picked me up and I wrapped my legs around his waist. “Come on. As a teenager. “Show me what you are made of!” As these words left my mouth. Then. Suddenly here. I held his sleek and powerful body as it tensed and relaxed. “No. He tried to spread my legs but I resisted him. After carrying me to the bedroom. As the man I had chosen to give my heart glided into me again and again.Rory Ridley-Duff I laughed again but wanted to preserve the tenderness of the moment. I gave in and allowed him to overpower me. I immediately pushed the thought from my mind. as Mike overpowered me and started to thrust himself deep into me. As we kissed. I found myself wondering if I had stumbled across the answer. big boy. I revelled in the lust that we‟d created and teased him to the full. remembering the way Elona and I had goaded Phil. and guided his penis towards my pussy. my sister once said to me that she could not imagine anything more satisfying than the thought of her lover so filled with passion . “And I love you this much!” he said.

every spark of sexual energy that he possessed ignited and firing through his body. All the certainties that I had ever felt about how men and women should behave vanished in the dust. She would fantasise about her boyfriend so full of lust that he would force himself on her as she tried to resist him. I held him in my arms and wept. I found her fantasies sick. But in this moment I realised what was so exciting to her. with Mike‟s spent body still lying inside me. not even I. could stop. . as if she was fantasising about rape. the woman that he could not resist. I wanted to be Mike‟s greatest fantasy. At the time. 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. And there. If I could do that to him…for him…he would be mine forever. I hoped he felt the bewilderment and disorientation I felt when his magic tongue took me to another plane of existence.Friends or Lovers that he could not resist her. I watched his face strain as he reached the limits of his passion. I hoped he was feeling the same crushing desire that I felt for him. I had entered a new world and reached a new level of understanding. 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.

It was my appraisal form. In fact. but I did it both quickly and diligently. then ask one of my peers. Unusually for him.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 47 My first task. adding written . 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. one of my first acts was to introduce 360º reviews. he was late so I passed the time by checking over my emails. The tick boxes allowed each person to say how the employee performed relative to their own expectations. I felt this was better than a 1 – 5 scale because “communication skills” in a CEO were much more important than in a bookkeeper. I had two agendas . the other professional. The objective was to stimulate discussion and reflection about different perceptions of my work. was to invite Phil into my office for a private conference.one personal. There was the usual junk that I discarded. but today I looked at them differently. then one of my subordinates and lastly get feedback from a director. I printed it and filled it in. It was strange filling out an appraisal form that I had designed myself. 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. I was tempted to tear up the zero-tolerance policy on porn completely. I found myself less worried about pornography than e-mails offering prescription drugs. Each part of the appraisal had tick boxes. But when it came to “attention to detail” the reverse was probably true. I had to appraise myself. when I arrived at work the next morning. When I started.

then felt his hands on mine. Finally. . “Good morning. slightly defensively.” he said.” My gentle sarcasm amused him and he felt slightly awkward as I put my arms around him for the first time. Penny!” Before I could protest. 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. did you?” “Yes.” he replied with a smile. I realised that he was having a joke with me. Dave had to complete the section as director. 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 started to rub his back. Mr Trent!” I said with mock formality. “For what?” I asked. “I think it‟s permitted. After a second. It felt really good.” I said. “Between friends. his arms made their way around my back and he held me much more tightly than I expected. As soon as Phil arrived. Phil broke into laughter and I instinctively moved to embrace him. Ms Leyton. “I‟m off the market. I gave the form to him and asked if he would complete it then pass it to Jo. 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.Friends or Lovers comments at the bottom of each section. “Very pleasant. “Too late. I found myself hanging onto him and not letting go. “Had a good evening.

there‟s a first for everything!” I said with some surprise. you know!” A sudden surge of modesty interrupted my moment of vanity. but inside I was uncomfortable at anyone building me into a special person. hoppit and come back in 5 minutes. by the way.” added Phil. On the outside were the words “Penny Leyton – strictly Private and Confidential”. sir!” I said mocking him a bit. “if an employee says something is private and confidential. but accepting of my command. Penny. It was not the wonderful and incredible experience that I had hoped for but it was still very exciting. Inside was a folded bit of paper. Go make a coffee or something. I lost something last night – I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean.” I said. “Rule number 1. “You are too kind. left for the coffee machine while I opened the envelope. “I can. “Go on then. “I cannot think why!” I replied.” “Aren‟t you going to show me?” he asked. “She gave me a message for you. “What is it?” He rummaged around in his briefcase and brought out an envelope. slightly surprised.” he said. as he separated himself from me and sat down in a chair. I found the . “Well. see you in a moment!” Phil. “She worships you.Rory Ridley-Duff When we finally let go of each other. we looked into each other‟s eyes and both realised the intensity of the feelings that we had just communicated. I showed the writing to Phil. then treat it as private and confidential! Go on.

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.” “Why not?” “I might hurt his feelings!” Why. “Can you talk?” I asked. Ellie. He wasn‟t that gentle!” “Then tell him. There‟s no-one here at the moment. he‟ll want to give you as much pleasure as he can. I wondered.” “I can‟t do that.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see Phil coming back into the office. the better it gets. “Yes. “Am I being too hard on him?” “No.” “I got your note!” I said. . The more you practice it. 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. If he doesn‟t then you‟ll want to think again about whether he‟s right for you. Waking up with someone next to you is something else.Friends or Lovers cuddling afterwards more enjoyable and we talked and talked. yes. Just be patient and it will happen. But when we started it hurt a bit. Sex is like everything else in life.

okay?” “Yeah. “Phil‟s coming!” “Don‟t tell him. “Are you alright? You don‟t have to say anything.” He hesitated again. He suddenly looked quite sheepish and unsure. I think I can definitely confirm that the answer is „yes‟!” He smiled as he gave me the coffee. See you at the flat tonight.” I offered. trying to be reassuring. “What did she say?” “That‟s between me and her. but we didn‟t……I didn‟t…. but if you are wondering whether she wants to see you again. “Phil?” I asked. He was surprisingly nervous.” I answered. When he didn‟t start talking I tried to give him some gentle encouragement. I decided to . I remembered how he had moved around to my side and gently reassured me. “I‟m more interested in what you have to say. As I watched Phil struggle it reminded me of my own struggle with John. it was good and all.Rory Ridley-Duff “I have to go now.” “This is in confidence. 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. “Well. Ellie! I wouldn‟t dream of it.. I realised that his anxiety about sharing his feelings was no different from mine.” I said. “She told you then?” “No secrets between girlfriends. Please!” “Jeez. right?” “Like a doctor and patient!” I said. sure!” I rang off as Phil entered the office.

They were going to do well if they cared so much about each others‟ feelings on their first date. I was instantly relieved. 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. Phil.” “We didn‟t……. “But……we didn‟t……” “It‟s okay – nobody‟s going to judge you. but I didn‟t know how to ask her to……you know…. Penny! I just wanted her so bad. I started to understand what he was saying and gently encouraged him. “I was so excited. I just ended up sticking it in and pumping away. I gently listened to him and tried to work out how to tell him what he needed to hear.. Phil!” I said confidently. It hurt and I was worried about hurting her. Can there be . These are the moments when people are at their most vulnerable. but she didn‟t really know what to do.have any……foreplay!” he finally said..Friends or Lovers do the same. As I sat next to him. “I mean – I took her into the bedroom and I could tell she wanted me……” He hesitated again. “I wanted her to…but she didn‟t seem to know anything. Neither was interested in blaming the other. when one wrong word or gesture can destroy trust and end a relationship. I put my arm on his back and helped him. I thought I might hurt her feelings.” I had to stifle a laugh – he would not have understood why I found this funny. “I really like her and all. Do you know what I mean?” I looked at him and nodded. Clearly this was difficult for him to say.?” “I think I know what you mean.

This was a first for me. had expressed his fears to me about sex.Rory Ridley-Duff anything more important in my line of work? Is there anything more important in life? “Talk to her. “No promises!” I said. “Tell her!” I said gently.” I said reassuringly. “I did something once that I‟m truly ashamed of….” I started. I wonder? I tried to imagine how he must have felt as he walked away. I thought about George and the violence I had done him by not treating him with respect. I had always thought men didn‟t care but as Phil poured out his feelings. . any man. I couldn‟t remember any other occasion when a man. Phil. 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. I thought about George. friend or lover. Talk to her about her upbringing. “but I‟m confident you‟ll be happier the more you get to know her. I saw his eyes grow moist.” As I looked at him. He had screamed at me that he was not a piece of meat. Where did he end up that night. As Phil talked about the pleasure he had wanted to bring Ellie. family. Talk to her about her parents. I realised. but I smiled broadly and looked him in the eye.” “I just wanted it to be better for her. you know?” “Then tell her. words started to spill out of my mouth. Before I knew it. “She‟s ready to learn if you have the confidence to teach her.” “You think?” he said. the lad I had picked up in the bar when I was out with Carole and Chris.

“I……”. “I….” I repeated.Friends or Lovers It was my turn to feel ashamed and hesitant.. I realised that I was letting Phil into my life. “What happened?” Phil asked.. but found it too hard to say at first. but gently coaxed me with his eyes and gentle touch.” Phil looked surprised at my choice of words. As the realisation of what I had done engulfed me.. not even as old as you…” It was Phil‟s turn to touch me gently and reassure me that it was okay to talk. I did the most disrespectful thing I‟ve ever done…. Out poured the story of that night with a frankness and level of detail that I had withheld from John. I felt Phil‟s hand at the small of my back rubbing my spine. “I wished he was someone else. I looked at Phil and his gentle smile reassured me. letting the import of the words hang in the air for a moment. saying nothing.” Phil sat there. instead of gently telling him how to give me the pleasure I wanted. not just as a professional . “I took him back to my flat and demanded service. When he wasn‟t very good at it. It felt nice. He was called George.wished……. “I ruthlessly seduced him. “I picked up a young lad once. I looked up at him with eyes full of tears. to cast my eyes down on the floor and wonder whether I had the courage to talk.” Phil just nodded and suddenly the words started to flow much more freely. “Yes.” as I struggled to say it. I ruthlessly seduced him. I began. my eyes started to moisten and tears started to roll down my nose and drip onto the floor.

“Never!” he reaffirmed. “I‟m going to get us some more drinks. When do men talk about this I wondered? “Never?” I asked again. neither of them had ever revealed to me how they felt about making love to a woman.” I said after a pause. He nodded more strongly. “My God. “What a thought!” As we gathered ourselves up we noticed the cold coffees on the table. ever. I have to tell you that I think I‟m going to be sacked. “Penny. “Then. for all my closeness to Mike.” I said. I poured out my feelings to him for nearly 15 minutes. Phil started to talk again. I‟ve never talked to anyone. about this kind of stuff. When I thought about it.Rory Ridley-Duff colleague but as my closest personal friend.” . for all John‟s openness.” “Never?” I asked. drying my eyes. “Never!” he said again. When I stopped.

I talked with him for nearly two hours. Phil reassured me that whatever happened I would always have his respect. At the end of our meeting. Privately I knew that it had more to do with the way our relationship had turned sour. mattered more to him than the prejudices I had initially displayed. He had marked me down on most aspects of my performance and cited the handling of the dispute as the reason. This was the beginning of the end. having briefed Dave and the other senior executives about the appraisal process.Friends or Lovers Chapter 48 The rest of the week was unsettling. I quickly realised that my continued employment was problematic. Phil confessed to me that he‟d been visited by Harry. there was a growing interest in the dispute between Elona and Mike. It was this that gave him confidence in me. After I had divulged to Phil what happened at the CIPD event. . as had Phil. and the care I had shown to Elona. going over the issues that the appraisal had raised but avoiding the matter of Dave‟s behaviour toward me. 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. I nearly screwed up completely for no other reason than my own prejudices. The way I changed my mind about Mike. Nevertheless. he said he could make „no promises‟ which I took to mean that a decision had already been taken. I took the matter into my own hands and visited Harry. I told him he was too generous. I received my appraisal from Dave and there were no surprises. At senior management levels. Jo had been kind and positive.

Managers stop facing – on a daily basis .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. As I contemplated what would happen if I failed my probation. goes unchecked then eventually a company loses the very people capable of forming a top-rate management team. 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 . It is only by keeping someone in a post after they have made a mistake that a company can benefit from what they learn. Harry would act on what he knew. maybe not.the impacts of their decisions. They should have been urging him to avoid acting precipitously. challenges to management behaviour. The human resource policy capable of developing truly outstanding leaders is the one that allows people to learn from their mistakes. I could see that matters were already spiralling out of control. Maybe he would survive it. a layer of new managers develops beneath them . Management failure is passed down the line and before long senior managers start to wonder why „no good people are coming through‟. I felt in awe of the social forces that were assembling. ideals. Harry. was about to make a corporate decision that would spark a major conflict. And so. If our propensity to sack people. thoughts and actions slowly fades away. As conformity and false consensus takes root. perhaps. or demote them.Rory Ridley-Duff As I left his office. but his isolation from what had taken place meant that people around him should have been urging caution.

Instead I returned to my office and trusted that my friends would be able to bring off their coup d’etat. . I was foolish to harbour any hope. 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.

In the time he had been there. Before I left. I was particularly glad to see him. The way he talked and cut through bullshit impacted on staff morale. His contract at IC was at an end. He had anticipated a long lunch and had ordered a bottle of wine. A week ago I was dreading this. I was moved that people listened to my views and were so supportive.” “Mike talked to everyone in the department yesterday. The reaction was really good. He let me say my piece. Now it was a cohesive squad equipped to take on the competition. As we looked over the menu. “That‟s good. They had . Two-months earlier when the department had been formed. He felt the training had gone well and that there was now a good chance that the SHARE experience would sell well.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 49 John was waiting for me at Pizza Hut. 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.” he said.” It was good to hear that the future was positive for IC staff despite the direction of my own life. he had formed a committed and thriving team. I talked to Jo and realised that John‟s contribution was not just technical. “Everything is set. he chatted about progress. but now I‟m quite excited about it. At the end of such an emotional week. there was a group of disparate and irritable people. It felt like a homecoming. I wanted to return to the scene of our first meeting. I finally realised why John‟s reputation was so good.

looking variously at his food.” . Then I decided to get personal. “John?” I started tentatively. the table and me. His eyes wandered around.Friends or Lovers organised a drinks reception to round off the day: a last chance to let their hair down before “the big push”. Our eyes met a couple of times and I liked that. We chatted and exchanged small talk until the food came. but as he spoke he focussed more and more on his thoughts. like me. “You mentioned that in the speech. I really want to know!” I said. your arse was definitely part of the equation but not the main reason!” “What else?” “I noticed you sitting in the lounge. trying to see myself through his eyes and understand how I had impacted on him. You were reading a book. He looked at me from time to time. But it was when you moved in the queue that I realised you‟d noticed me too. Several things bugged me and I wanted to clear them up.” he said. “Yes. As he did so. When you did that I knew you must‟ve read Ms magazine. I think. Pen?” “Why did you sit next to me on the plane?” “Seriously?” “Yes.” I was listening attentively. “The clincher was definitely the shoelaces. didn‟t you?” “Yes. It was a novel by Bernice Rubens. I‟ve read her novels so I thought we might get on. his face lit up. “Remember my talk at the CIPD?” “Could hardly forget it!” “Well.

John looked me square in the eye. There was an article in the mid-90s telling women how to flirt at work. It was art creating life. “So there you were doing something to attract me that I‟d written about nearly 10 years earlier. I didn‟t read the article.” “I can‟t believe it!” I said. I thought the idea was amusing and it would be a laugh for the magazine‟s readers. That‟s where the advice was first given to women. I pictured you as a single professional woman who enjoyed her independence and men!” We both laughed at the irony. “You never cease to amaze. absolutely gob-smacked. I‟d never seen anybody do it. I stood there behind you and realised . I remember. but I was still amazed that he‟d made a connection. I wrote it! I added that bit of advice about the shoelace as a joke.” “You?” “Why so surprised? I‟d just finished my PhD and was full of that stuff.Rory Ridley-Duff I did not understand how he could work out that I had once read Ms magazine. I had to make a living and for a short while I wrote lots of magazine articles. I think it was something like „The Working Woman‟s Guide to Sex at Work‟ right before an article about sexual harassment! Anyway. The headline was quite uninspiring. I was looking at you in those fantastic jeans and pondering the connection between us. 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. “How could you know that?” “Easy. John.

“I have an answer for you. Pen. I realised what a complex and accidental thing attraction can be. I must‟ve asked you many things. I wanted to tell him of my discovery. What if I had missed the point and was about to make a complete fool of myself? I dismissed it quickly from my . dummy!” “Oh. then you have my total respect. “You mean there are people more forward than me?” he joked. “Yes! You were very forward. I couldn‟t resist talking to you. if not thousands of times. “Do you remember what you asked me on the plane?” “We chatted for ages.” he laughed.” he replied. To me that question had separated him from everyone else I‟d ever known.” As I was trying to take this in. but could not. To him. “Well. “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. that?” he said mockingly as I realised that he was jesting with me. I tried to think of one. to comprehend the myriad of different things that he had been thinking about when we met.” I hesitated. the question was old hat. Usually I have to spend ages giving hints and heavy clues before people work it out. “Yes. “You‟re definitely more forward than me!” As we laughed. there‟s me!” I answered.” I said. “If you have.Friends or Lovers that my life had touched yours 10 years earlier.” “To what?” “To your question. a party piece that he‟d asked hundreds.

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. I was encouraging him to be aggressive and I started to wonder why I was doing it. as if I was doing something wrong. And then. Then it hit me. Never before had I thought of the problems that might create. I wanted him to prove he was stronger than me. That phrase kept popping into my head. really dying for me‟. Just as I was about to panic that I‟d made a huge gaff. . I thought how unfair it was that I should be testing him.” I said. If I was to become a fool again. He was truly amazed. “How did you come up with that?” He was truly amazed. making him use force to get what I dearly wanted to give anyway. “How did you work it out. And in the next instant. Initially. So I started to tell the story. a grin started to spread over his face. He looked gob-smacked.Rory Ridley-Duff thoughts. 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. I wanted to test that his love was so great that I couldn‟t stop him expressing it. “It‟s strange. So I started to resist him. really. it would take its place at the back of a very long list of foolish thoughts and actions. Mike had been fondling me while I was talking on the phone and in my head I kept thinking „he‟s dying for me. Never before had I thought of sex as a kind of test through which men had to pass to prove their strength. Pen?” he asked. His hand moved to his cheek and he rubbed it as his mouth stayed open. but I wanted him to overpower me to prove to me that he could.

how could he ever protect me? And the moment I felt ashamed of thinking this way. I wondered about that phrase. A few days before. I could not imagine making such a sacrifice.Friends or Lovers So I set out for John what had been going through my head. but I realised that I would not die for him. I put these two thoughts together. even die for me. I gave it to him willingly. 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. John. would sacrifice himself for me. “But your question. And yet. John‟s question popped into my head – it was one of those flashes of intuition that have no explanation. If he was not stronger than me. Mike. So I stopped teasing him and started to care instead about giving him as much pleasure as I could. but not in the movie hero sense. when we had been driving home. Suddenly. I wanted him to overpower me so that I would know he was strong enough to protect me. 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. “It stopped me insisting that he be prepared to die for me as a pre-condition of my love. he told me that he would let me go if I wanted children. I knew. the phrase “he‟s dying for me” kept spinning through my head. but that was not the same thing as being prepared to die to save him. I stopped resisting him. I wanted him to be prepared to die for me. no preconditions.” .” I continued. 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. no tests.

it was to show themselves worthy of someone‟s love. our armies would have many women fighting alongside men.” I said.” “We expect men to die. “There is another point of view. maybe not. finally. Penny! That‟s what men are taught to do. not just their right.” I said with ardour of a convert. Sensible. We expect them to die to protect us. As I faced up to the truth that I would not die for my man.Rory Ridley-Duff “That‟s it. War might be fought – in the minds of the men who fought them – to protect those they love. For the last 20 years. for the benefit of men. my own part in men‟s violence became clearer to me. John interrupted my thoughts with some of his own. even if the average man is stronger than the average women. John stopped me. Usually they never think twice about it for the entirety of their lives. “Then that‟s what we should do. but wanted him to be prepared to die for me. since I had been introduced to feminism. By rights.” “Why? Surely we should recognise this…. Perhaps it was not even for this reason.” I thought about this for a second and suddenly became bold.” I said.we would be recruiting the strongest people to fight our wars. I had been taught (and taught others) that war was caused by men. “If we cared about equality. fought by men. What a journey I had travelled.” he said firmly. It had taken me all this time to see it a different way. “It‟s only fair!” “Fair. Many women are strong and fit. Equality means that women would insist on their responsibility to fight. For them. perhaps.. Pen – if we valued men as much as women . . And for no other reason than they are men. yes.

even if there were not as many left. Women have fought alongside men in revolutions so why not in armies?” He smiled at me. Penny. my own government is likely to put me in jail where I can be expect to . “I don‟t buy that.000 women left in a village who could bear children. “If women and men were fighting on the front line together. “We don‟t force people into the army. And those men are going to be busy. I thought about his words but challenged them.” “Of course you do. “But what if it was the other way around? What if there were 1. His face. when the battle was over there would be roughly equal numbers left.000 men and only 100 women left?” His question made me think. It would take countless more generations to rebuild a community if this happened. If I refuse to fight.” John disagreed. I think any community would be happier as a result of that.” I started. Would the society be able to survive?” “Of course. not only would they be building mutual respect and enduring relationships with each other. “I don‟t have a choice.” I insist.Friends or Lovers I gestured for him to continue. but only 100 men. aren‟t they?” “I suppose they are. “Let‟s suppose that there was a battle and after there were 1. “Would you?” I responded. wouldn‟t they.” he said. “Would you fight?” he asked. “Look at the history of war. I hesitated. however. was not whimsical.

would I get mercy from the enemy?” he asked. I can choose the enemy. The women and children were allowed to leave. It‟s not true that men love war.” “But that‟s genocide. They don‟t care if I support the war or not.” “My God!” was all I could say. They cleared the ground by shooting everyone they came across. “Only men were killed. they‟ll still kill me. my own brothers and sisters. “No. No man between the age of 15 and 55 was allowed out of the city before the US forces attacked it. no . If we did. the enemy won‟t. Remember the phrase they used? The soldiers were „clearing the ground‟. my own government. Not long ago I would have been executed if I tried to reject violence. The horror of this appalled me. “What do you mean?” “Do you remember Fallujah?” he enquired. It‟s not a question that really means anything to me. John saw my discomfort. not bravery. I am court-marshalled for cowardice. Either way. I‟m left with no way out of violence. Penny.Rory Ridley-Duff be beaten. “Fallujah? In Iraq you mean?” “Yes. Again. I felt sick.” John replied. or a court of law. then change my mind. buggered and left to die.” I objected. “I don‟t have the choices you do. there would be no need for conscription. Even if my own country supported a right to conscientiously object. Even if my own side spares me. no need for military laws to punish deserters. If I fight at first. My only other alternative would be to take up arms against my own government – which means fighting my own people. I have no choice except to fight. no need for draft laws.

It‟s not necessary to teach them. “Keep saying these things. you would be forced to fight against your will. peppers and extra cheese.” I wondered what it must be like to grow up constantly wondering if. . After a second bottle of wine. they simply work out for themselves that one day they may have to fight. Don‟t let anyone stop you. John. Suddenly it made sense that little boys played with guns. I was too drunk to drive home so we walked it off in the park and visited a coffee bar. one day. 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. I had a truly wonderful day.Friends or Lovers need for court marshals.

I did not want to end up being one of the women who contributed to the problems that men face today. to make their peace with each other. 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. prejudiced and limited as me. who did so only out of affection for me. For the rest of his life he enjoyed – if that is the right word – an open . I was sacked. that truth and justice prevailed. but as things changed. 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. or a voice to be used against men and women I had come to respect. some died so that I could do so.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 50 I wish I could tell you that things worked out well. Or. that the initial love I felt for Mike lasted until the day I died. problems which after millennia of neglect are finally becoming the subject of debate. Several generations of women made it possible for me to exercise choice. It wasn‟t to happen. John returned to his wife and they continued. and I felt a responsibility to give back some of what they had given to me. between his and her escapades. If it had not been for the intervention of a gifted person. They did their best. I wish I could say that most of us lived happily for most of our lives. if you prefer the description on my employment record “Penny failed her probationary period because of poor job performance”. I would have added to these statistics myself. but were as frail. new relationships were formed and moments of happiness were found amidst the problems we all faced.

he lost his seat and switched to writing. at times when we both felt sad. I gave him one or two pushes in that direction but he kept his word and stubbornly encouraged me into a new relationship. I prefer to think of them as two free spirits with the capacity to forgive each other when loneliness led them astray. he kept returning home from his travels to enjoy time with the family that he created. John remained a nomad for another decade before finally giving in to the temptation of politics. At the same time. of course. we got together to spend good times. It is no less special for that and we continue to protect what we have in ways that seem right to us. and certainly whenever she needed his support he made himself available. After serving just one term. Once or twice. Sally was immediately on the scene and this time . Sometimes we would cuddle on the sofa. But – and this is something I partly regret. He never rose to the level of cabinet minister but he distinguished himself in small ways as a member of one government. I enjoyed many happy years with Mike. but am also proud of – we have not felt the need to consummate our relationship. nurtured and loved. John saw Sally from time to time. for him ever be completely free of bias or prejudice. You have probably never heard of him. Professionally. It was impossible. but I watched as he did his best to navigate them. or the interests within which he had become embedded. We parted amicably and he remains a good friend. He remains my dearest and most enduring friend. My cynicism about politicians faded dramatically as I met him over the years and learned of the endless no-win scenarios that they face. I have his books and read each one that comes out.Friends or Lovers marriage. but he was right about my desire to have children.

Sam. and their second child – Penny Ann – was born one day early. of course. In giving a „best woman‟ speech. their marriage hit the rocks about five years later. I also found myself taking a much greater interest in being an aunt. Within twelve months he had been demoted. After Procter & Gamble bought them out. I discovered my talent for public speaking. he had a breakdown. They are one of life‟s happy couples. They are now married. I detect the kind of closeness that I have in my own marriage.Rory Ridley-Duff Mike gave in to her. She got a buzz from the political battles and liked to forge change. According to Phil. Sally finally got her man. My sister Carole married Chris. adding that he hoped never to see me again. I think of the good times we had. Dave kept his job. It was a sad way for our relationship to end and despite the bitterness on his side. I once wrote to him to see whether he wanted to talk about the past. Nine years after his first wife had falsely accused him of sleeping with her. The love . wanted to get back to inventing and engineering new products. She had been through the menopause and Mike lost his excuse for resisting her. As for Sam and Elaine. Elaine enjoyed life as a company director and took on more directorships. Sam rejoined IC to engineer new products. their marriage failed. She was the business brains and it was her will that prevailed in the short term. Mike ended up committing himself to Sally for life. When I meet them. The success of their company created problems. Afterwards. His wife went into a hospice where she died six-months later. but the events that took place following my departure cost him dearly. he never fully recovered. when the success of SHARE began to fade. He declined.

It took much of the spirit out of him for many years. I went to work for Sam and Elaine. of course. Each had a tremendous capacity to accommodate the other‟s weaknesses and failings. As for me. Phil felt they spent all their time interfering in his marriage and the raising of his children. the contingency plan worked a treat. Sam and Elaine. Mike. it did not last. There was a furious legal battle. When I look back. When Elona‟s parents retired. Sam and Elaine gave each member a generous shareholding in the new company. Everyone expected the SHARE product to be a success. When Elona took out a court injunction to stop Phil seeing his children. but Sam and Elaine had committed investors and staff. Phil was promoted into my position at IC and we kept in touch. the dispute between Elona and Mike was the catalyst that ended . so they took up this opportunity in large numbers. He felt so superfluous that eventually he left. It broke his heart. eventually got married and had two children. 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. persuaded the entire SHARE team to leave IC and become members of Sam and Elaine‟s company. with help from John. Phil got limited access after a lengthy court battle. I found it impossible to build bridges with her again. In exchange for giving up continuous employment rights. he eventually stopped seeing them altogether. Given what happened later. it created a big rift between Elona and myself.Friends or Lovers between Carole and Chris was elastic: it stretched and bent as life threw its worst at them. However. Phil and Elona had a crack at things. and when his children started blaming him for the marriage break-up. they devoted themselves to grandparenthood.

I am its managing director and we help organisations develop progressive approaches to human resource management. Trade begins when you trust someone enough to pay for the products or services they offer. this simple truth is not stated often enough. Many of us became paper millionaires for a while. I remain close to Elaine and we both did well out of the company sale. and certainly does not require a written contract of employment. standardised codes of ethics and kitemarks. If it works for them both. but never toppled it. finance. We formed a new business together – the Social Exchange. but arrogance and shortsightedness eroded the share price before the company was sold off. Each new business starts out with two people who like and trust each other well enough to give the other what they need. two people enter into their own agreement. against the trend towards ever more standards of excellence. it is not only inside the home that intimate relationships are of vital importance. Through the simple act of exchanging labour for money.Rory Ridley-Duff IC‟s rapid growth. Today. 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. It gave the rampant rabbit a good run as the number one sex toy. In the 5 years that followed. That can happen without any written agreement. against increasing numbers of . they continue it. It is a thankless task arguing against bureaucracy. As I learnt through reflecting on my life and writing this story. or company constitution. While banks and development agencies get flustered about business planning. but he is getting quite old now. constitutional matters and legal frameworks. John works with us on some projects.

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. but for now I am content. there is only one thing of which I am certain. If I can teach this to my children and grandchildren. We called her Hope. There is a strength that grows from being quick to listen and slow to judge. ~ End ~ . and Phil split from Elona. my time on this earth will not have been wasted. In this struggle I have – unsurprisingly . For a business to grow. and that is why I wanted to tell you this story. Three years later we had a girl. but even the way we articulate our thoughts.made little headway. We now have two lovely children: a boy I insisted we call John. and from them spring not just new human life but new economic life as well. and exploring ways to make it work in practice. As I look to the future. customers. It may not last. there needs to be a culture in which relationships are intimate and people can learn from the mistakes they make. Intimate relationships are the foundation our society. Thankfully I have been able to make a living saying this to many people. I learned this at IC. employees and suppliers. these things are never certain. Our friendship developed into a lasting romance. 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. I started to see Phil more. After I split from Mike.Friends or Lovers laws that seek to regulate not only our behaviour.

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