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Friends or Lovers
Commissioned by Social Exchange Ltd
Friends or Lovers
For every man who has lost love, and every woman who can’t find it… Penny Leyton is one smart sexy woman on her way to the top. Bridget Jones she certainly is not, but she has the same chaotic approach to romance. Just as she is breaking through the glass ceiling, her boss Dave Stockton hints at a workplace scandal. Ablaze with moral outrage, Penny realises too late that one of her own friends is implicated and that she is part of the problem. Can she untangle herself from a hidden web of intrigue and save herself? Dr Rory Ridley-Duff is an author, composer and university lecturer whose research established how friendship, courtship and parental interests shape behaviour in organisations. His interest in gender issues and workplace democracy evolved out of directorships in worker cooperatives and 15 years of consultancy work in the social economy.
“Anyone who cares about love will give this book to their partner or spouse, sister or brother.” Dr Poonam Thapa Gender, Culture and Sexual Health Expert
Also by Rory Ridley-Duff
Emotion, Seduction and Intimacy:
Alternative Perspectives on Human Behaviour “Rory‟s work is insightful and helps to redress some of the imbalances in the feminist theory of patriarchy while simultaneously introducing the concepts of gender and intimacy to the subject of enterprise governance”.
Professor Phil Johnson, Head of HRM and Organisational Behaviour, Sheffield University
“Rory is a man who has deliberately chosen the left-hand path of progress. He does not shun the moral maze of human desires and passions but brings greater understanding to that very facet of life – the forbidden fruit that made us fall from grace and its role in our emancipation.”
Dr Poonam Thapa Gender, Culture and Sexual Health Expert Available from Amazon.co.uk
Copyright © Rory Ridley-Duff, 2009 All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission except as defined below. No material may be reused except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 4LP. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. Rory Ridley-Duff has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Acts 1988. Published by: Rory Ridley-Duff 4 Rosehill Close Penistone Sheffield S36 6UF
Social Exchange logo designed by Natasha Ridley-Duff
propose story lines. 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.Acknowledgements The people who made this book possible are numerous. Firstly. . Our conversations about the human condition will remain with me always. For these and many other reasons. you have been a constant source of inspiration and the best antidote to loneliness that any writer could ask for. draft chapters. 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. To my muse in business. To family members and life-long friends who did not spare my feelings in their feedback on early drafts. This book is fiction but without undertaking a series of workplace studies. Natasha and Bethany. you are still my dream woman. 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. To my children. my wife. and who will also check their manuscript for errors and support them through lean times. I‟d like to thank Caroline. 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).
it was a different matter. but that is not something that you show in this job.” Yes. He was married and fancied himself a bit too much. Time to give him a push.” Mike looked uncomfortable now. “No.” “She‟s never said anything about it. And yes. Calm. but I‟ve always been careful. The frown on his brow was more pronounced.” “Not to you. To Elona. She said „no‟. Mike was moderately bright. just a misunderstanding. If she felt uncomfortable.” I said. concise – look him in the eye. if you ask me. “why have you been bothering Elona?” He looked so unconcerned that it made me slightly irritable. maybe. landed himself a regional sales management job and probably felt he was enjoying the best years of his life. It‟s no big deal. Mike was traditionalist all right. confident. I just never got any sense that she didn‟t like the way I behaved. Mike. that‟s not what I‟m saying. He was 50. we‟ve been close at times. “It‟s nothing. was she?” I said with a laugh. I‟m not making out she was „up for it‟ or anything crude like that. “Bit of a tease. and sometimes I think she‟s tried to flirt with me. had worked his way up through the ranks. Still. His eyes looked around the floor. End of story. There‟s been a complaint. She wanted to discuss something private so I asked her if she‟d like to go for a drink. she never showed it. one of those „pretty boys‟ who does not realise that .Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 1 “So. He prided himself on being „friendly‟ but I just found him a creep. To him a „bit of fun‟ probably included the occasional trip to a lap-dancing bar or shagging in the toilets.
I think. I think. still wanting to resurrect his youth and put it about. I would not call myself a feminist. Many of my management colleagues are women too. Twenty years ago this company would not have contemplated me in this position. Not quite as straightforward as some situations I‟ve faced because he has a good reputation and is well liked. here we are. Not my type at all. “Mike. but too old for me – definitely! And he really irritated me when he shared dirty jokes with his friends but never with me. I could see right through him. In my previous job I‟d been fast-tracked to deputy director but came up against the glass ceiling. So. I guess. probably bored at home. God. Leave it with me for the next 24 hours. It can be quite a laugh making a sexist-pig squirm. was he past it! He had aged well. Mike the macho. particularly in the company of like-minded female friends. but the patriarchy seems alive and well. In the mean time. She‟s a bit sensitive at the moment. Mike is proof enough of that. Nine months into my first job as Head of Personnel. Come see me tomorrow and we‟ll wrap this up. I‟ll look into this and get back to you. sales rep of the year four years ago. He was certainly not my type. now leading a successful team but getting angry when one of his administrative staff won‟t go for a drink with him. I can see that men have it harder in some respects. Married with children. perhaps. Boyfriend trouble.Friends or Lovers they are past it.” . steer clear of Elona. but I‟m not averse to a confrontation with the occasional unreconstructed man. I‟d better check with my boss before I do anything here. I guess the sexual revolution has helped a bit. To progress I had to move. I‟m fairly new here.
Rory Ridley-Duff Mike did not look relieved at these comments and mumbled something I could not hear. He had never struck me as a formal sort before. His eyes met mine and he fixed his gaze for just a second then looked away. . He shook my hand.
Zero-tolerance and all that! What‟s right here. he engaged with women as equals and was sympathetic to many of the problems they faced. He enjoyed working with me but was careful never to overstep the mark or make me feel uncomfortable. Penny?” I was not sure whether the question was rhetorical but as no more words were forthcoming I gathered my thoughts. “Not completely sure.” Dave looked at me thoughtfully for several seconds. “As far as I‟m aware this is the first such complaint against Mike. “Well. but we should move him. Penny. this isn‟t easy. Unlike most men. I could happily spend time in his company in the office or away on business. But I agree we can‟t let this pass. Okay?” I nodded. I can‟t let this rest.Friends or Lovers Chapter 2 “He‟s done what?” asked Dave. We shared a professional ethic and modern outlook.” I liked Dave. I don‟t think he should be sacked. It‟s fair to Mike and it„ll send a strong message to the rest of the company that it won‟t be tolerated. “Do it sensitively. my director. * * * Innovation Centre Ltd was modern and dynamic. He . This does worry me. Dave was „Director of Business Development‟ and spent his time seeking out creative types and developing relationships with them. Elona‟s upset. He was not much older than me. and I knew that he was ambitious too. I hear he‟s not been a paragon of virtue in the past. Mike‟s good – his team like him. but it clearly looks like he‟s got the hots for Elona.
Rory Ridley-Duff found inventors. Workplace relationships might put that at risk. He looks smart. I still prefer the „relationship‟ thing. got them to commit their products to us then helped them obtain development grants. As for me. They‟re fine for those who want to give up work when they find their prince. speaks well and is incredible at building trust. the Innovation Centre – or IC as we call it in-house . Dave has a penchant for that too.and now I understand all that talk of returns on investment. 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. but avoid the ones called „How to Find the Man of your Dreams at Work”. but go out on the town and get a shag if I want to. however. but for me they‟re a heap of crap. Of course he‟s taken – most guys like him are – and he now has a young child that he rarely sees.has created a network of 60 inventors and a catalogue of wonderful gadgets. They were dishing out bursaries to encourage graduates into management. I‟ve worked hard for my career. He mentors me and I appreciate that. he is „strictly business‟. I thought I may as well get myself an MBA couldn‟t see what harm it would do . My friends joke that I am a model of the Cosmopolitan revolution – vibrant. smartly sexy. nett present values and can put together a business plan. football . intelligent. I have my share of paranoia about my looks. I‟ve read my share of self-help books. able to live independently. I did the „women into business‟ thing a few years back. interested only in sex. Over the last decade. but even so I am a bit of a man magnet when I wear black. Most men are bastards anyway. and decided to specialise in human relations work. Much as I like him.
Mike.” he said quietly. “Carry on. we need a solution to that too. of course. It seems to work for me. Same salary. Since then. but only until they want me to cook them a „special‟ meal or wash their clothes. * * * “Thanks for dropping in.” “And what if I don‟t take this position?” he asked. I‟m taking the flak for Elona.Friends or Lovers and drinking. “I‟ve had a chat with Dave and Elona about the situation and I‟ve a suggestion for you. I‟ve taken my pleasure carefully and on my own terms. . so we want someone with lots of experience. and working with a new team. “That‟d create a problem.” “Cut the crap. 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. same status. Our eyes locked and his hand moved up and rubbed his chin. and this provides one.” Mike interjected. I lived with a guy once but soon felt like his mother. It‟d mean travelling more. They‟re a bit wet behind the ears. but it goes with the territory and you have to harden yourself to it. I do boyfriends.” Mike looked at me and nodded to indicate he was ready.” I said firmly. Another feather in your cap. then around the side of his head as he pinched his ear-lobe. “It‟s a new project. “Can you give me until Monday?” he asked. “I wasn‟t born yesterday. I dumped him. Penny.” Mike looked blankly at me for a moment.” I said showing him to a chair. aren‟t I?” “Well.
. 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. I do have a conscience. He was trying to say something.” “Can‟t you call her? Meet her for lunch?” “I‟ll try. “If that‟s all. “What is it. I was able to protect his income. Mike. Mike?” “This…” his eyes looked up at the ceiling then down at the floor.Rory Ridley-Duff “No. Mike. The problem is sorted and Elona is protected. but I don‟t want this hanging around while I‟m away. His awkwardness was palpable but no further words came out. Mike called me back later that day and accepted the new job. I have to go.. I‟m away in France next week. His family is still safe. He can‟t really complain. If you need to talk to your wife then take the day off. He was not a happy man. It is never easy giving someone a sideways move but it has to be done sometimes. .” I got up from my seat and felt his eyes burn a hole in me. but the world is changing and the type of behaviour he is responsible for is no longer acceptable to either men or women. In some ways.” “She‟s working. I can give you „til 4 pm. I feel sorry for Mike. The hardest thing is protecting someone‟s dignity while sending a message that some behaviour is unacceptable.” he hesitated. Penny. but I could see that he was struggling to find the words. If I have to clip the wings of a man who sets a bad example then it feels like a job well done.
kind but sexy. After relaxing in the bath. At home I might bump into a neighbour or colleague from work. His eyes were brown and there were wrinkles stretching from the outer corners across both temples. I studied him. but hard work – a two-day conference. When he cast them in my direction. He was casually dressed in jeans and a black top. This time I did both. 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. Usually that pissed me off. wrists and breasts before setting off to await the chat up lines. and applied a dab of Clinique near my ears. Clearly he was a person used to smiling and laughing. If there is one thing I enjoy about going away on business it is the freedom I have in the evenings. He had dark brown hair with touches of white. I shaved. but not . It was a dull evening. I could feel them undressing me. The second night I decided to dress up and take my chances at the conference party. If I go to these events with Dave I feel obliged to spend time with him. moisturised myself with assorted oils. But abroad. The best approach I got all week was not at the conference. 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. First night I snuggled down with a Bernice Rubens novel. I guess he was around 45 but still had a hint of the handsome features of his youth. He had definitely aged well. but this time I was on my own and had the chance to really let my hair down.Friends or Lovers Chapter 3 France was fun. They were nice eyes. Our eyes met briefly a couple of times.
“A comedy?” I asked. “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. 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. underlining phrases that caught his imagination. he continued to gaze at the buildings and roads below. From then on.” he remarked showing me the title of an article he was reading. “Flying always makes me feel humble. After a while he let out a laugh. Definitely nice eyes. He was reading intently. When we boarded the plane. He held my gaze long enough to let me know he liked the way I looked. and then he smiled. I noticed his every move. He was not bad.” He looked straight into my eyes and held my gaze for a second.” I paused for a moment and then quipped. As the plane rose higher and higher.” he suddenly remarked. I instinctively smiled back. Sometimes he would sigh. A pity he had not been at the party the night before. He continued to read his book until the plane took off but then started to look across me out of the window. “You look down there and you realise just how insignificant you are. He turned to me again and smiled. and at other times he frowned. All the lines at the corners of his eyes creased. then without another word he resumed reading his book.Rory Ridley-Duff today. “Of sorts. I thought. I obliged by reading it out. I manoeuvred myself into the queue just in front of him. “The impact of sexuality on group dynamics: a symbolic interactionist perspective.
” I announced. “A consultant.” “Partly.” “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 sometimes work with HR people.” he said guardedly. “Well. “forty-something consultant from London.I might help men to look at women differently. acknowledging my interest and deflecting it at the same time. I mean I don‟t write for a living. but I‟m not a writer. I guess.Friends or Lovers He looked carefully at me and nodded in agreement. I write. “thirty-something manager from Warwickshire.” he responded. “Only to my wife!” he joked. “In what way?” I was genuinely curious. or women to look at men differently. eh! In what field?” I enquired.” There was that smile again. “Are you in my line of work?” I asked. “Behaviour. I‟m an HR manager. writing is a by-product of my living. “Penny. hoping to dig a bit into his background.” “Very enigmatic. “And what line is that?” “Employees.” “You‟re a writer?” This was getting better and better. . “I challenge the way people look at themselves and each other. So. This time I held his gaze for a little longer to let him know I liked the way he looked. what is it you do?” He paused. I would guess they read my work sometimes….” he responded.” “John. “Well….
“Your assumption is right. You must be acutely aware of their typical profile. brushing aside his comment with a smile.” he said. “What about the army. You‟re in HR. Let‟s take something outside your everyday experience. then?” I asked. right? You must have an abundance of „knowledge‟ about men and women. . but resisted. Did I detect the hint of mockery? “As much as the next person.” He smiled. He continued without any trace of embarrassment while I wanted to shrink into my seat. surely? It is your job to know about men and women. “We don‟t have long enough to discuss that one! Okay. and kids. let‟s see. like a challenge. more than that. he convinced me that they had not. “Woman are made of sugar and spice and all things nice while men are made of slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails.” he immediately answered.” I said with a smile.” “The army!” I was genuinely surprised.” “You disappoint me.” “Of course.” I was tempted to make another flirty comment. “Some of my clients think of me as a pain in the arse. “Yes.” “Oh. Let‟s think about the army. raising his eyebrows.Rory Ridley-Duff “You‟ve got a wife?” the words came out so fast that I kicked myself. “Why?” “Well. A taster only. I guess.” The way he said „knowledge‟ was weird. If my cheeks had coloured up. Khaki never was my colour and I don‟t like getting dirty.
an organisation created by men. raping and abusing.” he said with a wry smile. “That‟s three things. I didn‟t want to spoil a promising conversation by saying this. “Aha! The million pound question!” I said. .” John said. However. and she talked of similar things happening to her. I felt nervous and my right hand instinctively went to pinch my ear lobe. staffed largely by men with the purpose of keeping men in power.” he said. “Can I ask the audience?” “Well. “All mobiles must be switched off during the flight. “Fuck! Where do I begin?” Where would this lead? I turned over half a dozen arguments in my head – the army is. I found it difficult to look him in the eye while I thought.” he said with mock severity. I thought. “Bullying. It was flattering to think I intrigued him. and it made me pause. I started to offer less controversial suggestions.” “Bullying.Friends or Lovers “Well.” He looked at me kindly. Some had to put up with dreadful abuse. „What‟s the most sexist thing about the army?‟” What an odd question. after all. I usually ask this question at the end of a course. it may not be fair. I imagine the army is even worse. Here‟s your question. I had a girlfriend who was in the police. rape and abuse happen to men as well. I liked that.” he said. it‟s your opinion that really intrigues me. “Okay. “I saw a documentary some time ago about women in the army. “Can I phone a friend?” I teased.
“It‟s not a trick question.” “Indeed. Have we asked the men how they felt about it?” I paused. “God. That.” “Don‟t get me wrong. more powerless.” “But it‟s not the same. that‟s sick. And I wouldn‟t want you to remember me as the depressing old git who spoiled your flight home. is it?” “Not at all. I felt.” said John.” Even as I said it. “Maybe. “Women soldiers get raped….” “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. I was genuinely shocked to hear that.” “Male soldiers get raped too. “I can‟t say I‟ve given this much thought. “I mean.” “Bit of a depressing subject. surely?” I retorted. 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.” I replied somewhat apologetically.men don‟t. I wasn‟t going to be put off that easily. was the real thought provoker. usually when in enemy hands. so I thought some more. It‟s food for thought. . “You did ask!” he said with a laugh.Rory Ridley-Duff “What‟s the most sexist thing about the army?” I repeated quietly to myself. “You‟re right. But it‟s a thought provoker. a woman is always going to feel more violated. I wasn‟t sure that I was making sense.” I added and shot him an irritated look that hopefully did not cross the boundary into rudeness.
” I was enjoying this. it was not this. “I‟m old enough to gobble you up. I wanted the conversation to continue.. or punch him in the balls for being so cheeky. “Then I‟d better not get to know you too well.” “Perhaps you should be a bit more choosey about the things you say. “Watch me? I think you opened up this…. It was one of those moments where I could have . “Less of the „young‟. please.” “Hmmm. what should I say to a young woman like you?” It was not what he said that induced butterflies.Friends or Lovers “But not a very sexy topic.” I said these words with a smile that reassured him that his compliments were very welcome.line of talk. 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. Not nearly as sexy as your perfume ….” I laughed before I could stop myself. Are you asking me to lie to you? I thought women hated liars…. married man! Should you be talking to me like that?” I snapped back ensuring my eyes caught his again.er…. I can see that I‟m going to have to watch you!” he chuckled. “But it is sexy. “Yes. Nice thought. “Do you like to open up?” he asked inquisitively.. but only with strangers. “Okay. but the way he looked at me as he said it.” I said coyly.” I quipped. had I?” Whatever I had expected on the journey home. I was not sure whether to invite him to join the mile high club. “Hey.
I don‟t hide my friendships from her. Ann. “I try to find another way to look at human relationships. I took him back to the start of our conversation.” The brevity and simplicity of his response made me pause again and he used the moment to spring another surprise on me. continuing to dig. He talked fondly of his wife. He thought for a moment. survived a few ups and downs. “My wife knows me well. and had two children he loved deeply. 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. By the time we landed I felt like I‟d had a brief tour of his life.” I stressed. and children. “So what is it you do exactly?” “I just told you. “The way they really are. As our descent into Heathrow started. His boy was 12 and his daughter 14. For a living he helped companies educate men and women to improve their marketing skills. He was an academic turned marketing consultant.” Friendship? That was a quite a leap in such a short space of time and I was taken aback. Our banter continued. “Exactly. who specialised in work with creative teams. He‟d been married for 20 years. It was not just his forwardness that .” “And what way is that?” I added. “Would you like to meet up for a drink next week?” “What about your wife and kids?” I said with a hint of sarcasm.Rory Ridley-Duff stubbed out the fire before it got too hot but chose to fan the fire instead.” he said pleasantly.
” I found myself agreeing before I could stop myself. He saw my hesitancy and I felt a burning need to say something.” He nodded his head. I continued to think of him as I allowed my fingers to work their way down into my pants. then slowly pulling down my knickers. With John it immediately mattered to me that he liked me for more than my womanly charms. “You‟re a most unusual man and while I‟d like to go for a drink. How about swapping e-mail addresses?” I smiled.Friends or Lovers caused me to stop short. Here was a man who knew how to make a woman . I gave him my personal email. caressing my stomach. rather than work. “Just thought I‟d ask. When I reached home. and his hands moved slowly across me tantalising and pinching my nipples. went through my winding down routine and settled into bed. I actually found that I cared what he thought. I chucked my bags into the corner of my bedroom.” “Do you need to pretend?” he inquired without a trace of mockery. anything. As we swapped cards I felt a pleasant sensation that was rare for me. but also a sense of disappointment that his aspirations were not a little higher. 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. I don‟t think it would be sensible…. He was hard to resist. With one assured movement his mouth latched onto me and began to knead my flesh. My head and body arched as the pleasure rose within me. As I drove away. “Okay. greedily consuming every inch of my skin. His eyes moved over me. I let a story unfold in my mind. “I can pretend that we met at the conference. but did not look disappointed.
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.
I found most of these distasteful but they were becoming commonplace and whatever we did the problem still increased. short listed people. I turned to my e-mails. . This gave me time to cast my eye over some of the mail I had received. 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. junk mail still got through and I weeded this out as quickly as possible. wanted specialist training for her team on consumer behaviour. Just like Avon. really. There were several memos about recruiting regional organisers for the new home catalogue. Despite the efforts of our IT department. where they would have a second interview with Jo. We advertised in the local press. Phil. not simply beauty products.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. to find out the unresolved issues and discuss them with me at the end of the day. I asked one of my staff. just a variant on previous recruitment campaigns. There were offers of Viagra and penis enlargers as well as selection of links to web-sites for dating rich men or a quick shag. Those that I liked would be invited to our headquarters in Leamington Spa for an assessment day. The marketing manager. Jo. but specialising in a much broader range of gadgets. After spending the morning organising the following week‟s meetings. and then interviewed them at a hotel.
com To: penny@hotlips.Rory Ridley-Duff I dealt with a couple of e-mails from friends wanting to know if I‟d had any conference adventures and I responded with the cyberspace equivalent of flouncing my hair. Penny.com Re: Drinking with Women Hi John.simons@tascali. Had a word with my wife. he‟s e-mailed me already.t. He must be keen. John My god.com Subject: Drinking with women? Penny. Every time a new e-mail email@example.com To: j. there was a message from someone that I did not immediately recognise: From: j. No probs if you want a drink. 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. I felt a sense of expectation disturbing me. To think that you are so willing to corrupt a sweet innocent girl like me….. The hour seemed to drag. Isn’t it your turn to teach me some tricks…? John . I kept wondering if he was going to reply. Who are you playing verbal tricks on today? Penny Even though I knew that I had more pressing tasks to do. Lastly. I hit the [Reply] button: From: penny@hotlips.
but she’s petite and it won’t fit me. Hmm! Tempting. very tempting. 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. Which? Wear a summer dress. Do you have any that would fit me? John x . Every time a voice inside me warned me to be cautious another told me to be daring. I think my wife has one from her Scottish dancing days.Friends or Lovers Good. Penny. Penny. And the bastard made me wait over an hour for a reply. Too late. Can you do that? Penny While I pondered whether this was too risqué. Bugger. This time he replied quickly. but at least I get to kiss him back. We can shock some genteel country folk by doing handstands together…. He likes to play. But unfortunately I don’t have a kilt. Penny x Not much chance of him accepting on those terms. John. Tricks? Well. I can walk on my hands (always goes down well in a beer garden when I’m wearing a summer dress without knickers). habit caused me to hit the Send button. John. I’ll come if you wear a kilt.
Phil was a good lad. For now. He‟d clearly had an eventful meeting with Mike. He was personable too. .” “Shit!” I exclaimed. please. John. After 45 minutes. they had to be put on hold because Phil entered the office and sat down with a large sigh.” I replied. “I think I‟ve found the people to fill the vacant positions in the marketing team. hit me with it. but not that big…. “Okay. I’m a big girl.” “That‟s good. “What‟s he playing at?” Phil settled back in his chair. I felt a mixture of annoyance and regret. he had to learn how to do the donkeywork and that meant devising and running the administrative systems I needed. Better back off for now.” was my starter for ten. “Good news first. “Do you want the good news or bad news?” he asked. however. and with careful guidance I could see him going far. What was I playing at? Were we flirting or joking? I was not sure. So what is the bad news?” “You‟ve got three vacancies in Mike‟s old team. the joy I‟d been feeling drained away. Looks like we are going to have to postpone that drink for the time being.. Penny x I hoped that I‟d not pushed him away too quickly.Rory Ridley-Duff The cheeky bugger! He‟d mentioned his wife again. bright but inexperienced. the pick of an excellent bunch. He had good grasp of psychology (always useful in this line of work) and had recently graduated with a good degree. After 30 minutes. Whatever my thoughts. He was young and hard working.
I nodded to Phil to carry on. I‟ll check with Dave.” “Hmm. He had no problem working for a woman and we got along well. I get the feeling that he‟ll quieten down if he gets his way on this. Two have school age children and the other has grandchildren. All have contacts from previous sales jobs.Friends or Lovers “Not sure. Don‟t worry about it. he said that he‟ll accept the temporary drop if these three can join him. The moment I arrived in his department I was collared by three of his sales reps. What about Mike‟s money concerns? Did he raise that?” I asked.” Phil was good. “Well. Sounds okay to me. or prepare for battle if he doesn‟t. wouldn‟t they? The old boy network will naturally stick up for him. They want to move with him. Their sales records are pretty good. I‟ll keep you posted. They want to work with Mike. Few things to round off.” “It‟s not the men – it‟s three of the women. They were pissed as hell at Mike being moved. Not sure he‟s playing at all. they would be. “Well. . Are you off now?” I asked. I thought! Perhaps he weaves a magic spell that I don‟t know about yet. “It overlaps their territories so they‟re confident they‟ll build sales quickly. They all fit our desired profile. Thanks. Anything else?” “Nope. part of a new generation that accepts the way the workplace is changing. “Not yet.” How weird. What d‟you want to do?” “Leave it with me. He was fresh out of college.” “Okay.
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. He did not immediately jump at the idea and rubbed his chin in thought. The starting salary would be the same. Find out more about him . Something was disturbing him.” . The job information we sent out would be slightly misleading.Rory Ridley-Duff I sought out Dave to confer on the latest developments. The differences were not so great that we needed to worry. Dave finally agreed but as I left he said something that set off alarm bells.it may come in handy. but I could explain the changes at interview. “Mike may become a problem.
What had he called me? “Smart and sexy. Hope to hear from you soon. so it was a surprise when another e-mail from him appeared in my inbox. I‟d forgotten about John.” Why does . In saying that I don’t want you to read more into these comments than is in them. If I flirt it is because I think you find it fun too. I retrieved my e-mails to see whether there were any final issues to deal with. Penny. Before that resumes. however.” “A Fantasy. My wife does not usually interfere in my personal friendships (unless she feels threatened) and we have become much more relaxed in recent years. It was fun. Mixed in with my anger was a spine-chilling excitement that I could not shake off. Try as I might. That evening I settled down with my Bernice Rubbens again. That is a lovely thought to keep in my head if that is all you want to give. then we will become friends. You are an attractive woman.Friends or Lovers Chapter 5 Back at my desk I started to wind down for the night. I hope we can enjoy more banter in the weeks to come. I love my wife. I locked away sensitive information and tidied my desk. But enjoying a mutual attraction does not mean I’m going to make a pass at you (that will have to remain a fantasy). I could not concentrate. Fuck him. John x Who was this guy? His arrogance pissed me off. Before logging off. then I still have a pleasant memory of meeting a smart and sexy woman. I want to give you the chance to walk away if you wish. Our relationship is a strong one. I love my kids. Thanks for playtime. I have women friends and I’d like you to be one of them. I like you. If you are not. If you are okay with this.
my eyes finally got so heavy that I dropped asleep. circling around like vultures gnawing at old wounds. He‟s married. He makes me laugh.Rory Ridley-Duff he tell me he won‟t make a pass at me? Why not? Bastard. Play it cool. Maybe he is just after a fling. My thoughts kept returning to our e-mail exchanges. By 2am. no denying it. He‟s intelligent. Why do I want to trust him? I never trust men. And that realisation had a strange effect. For a few hours I was free of the conflict raging in my soul. . The hours passed and still I could not read my book. He‟s got kids. He‟s sexy. I must stop thinking like this. Penny. I tried to watch a film but the moving images were just a backdrop. Why does this hurt? Don‟t let him in. He dares to resist me. Don‟t let him in. Don‟t trust him. but I did not listen to it. The prospect of looking into them thrills me. The word „danger‟ keeps forcing its way into my thoughts but my mind wanders back to his eyes. He‟s too old for me. No guy has ever talked to me like this. He‟s fun. Slowly it dawned on me why I‟m angry at him – he dares to resist me. the minutes ticked and questions invaded my thoughts. Penny. As I lay in bed. He‟s got “ups and downs” in his life. I put on music.
he scratched his nose. If they do.” Phil looked awkward. get to know them. he quizzed me. not find out dark secrets.Friends or Lovers Chapter 6 Following my conversation with Dave. Whether I like it or not. His eyes looked at the table while he rubbed his chin. Naturally. “I want to be sure that there is not a pattern to his behaviour. of course. and his brow still showed a frown. Just take an interest. “I‟m still concerned about Elona‟s complaint. then join in the conversation. Just see if you can find out about him. “What am I looking for?” he asked. won‟t they start wondering why?” “Just spend time with them in the canteen. I‟m trying to build a picture. Much as I wanted to focus on recruiting the best people and developing them to their full potential. . “Nothing in particular. we have to work within management objectives and commercial constraints. As he looked up. I asked Phil to find out more about Mike. I remembered the first time that my manager asked me to keep my ears and eyes open.” I said.” He rubbed his hands together. we are part of the management team and that means we bend to their wishes.” “If I start asking about him. I told him not to be too obvious . I too felt awkward because I had initially imagined that work was conducted in the way described in study texts.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. When you experience the real world. see if they talk about him.
“Phil, I understand how you must feel. Sometimes we have to do things that are not pleasant. The worst thing you might have to do one day is make people – decent people – redundant. If you stay in this profession, you‟ll learn how awful that can be. At other times, you may suspect that someone is acting more in their own interests than those of the business. When that happens, we sometimes need to be circumspect in finding out what we can. It is a very difficult job and we can only find out so much by asking people directly. I‟m not asking you to spy, just keep your ear to the ground and mix in certain circles when the opportunities arise.” He looked at me briefly and smiled, but the lines on his forehead never totally disappeared. “Okay. I‟ll see what I can find out.” “Good man,” I said and I felt my body relax. I smiled strongly at him, got up and walked towards the door. Phil got up slowly and made to leave. As he passed me, I put my hand on his shoulder and reassured him. “You‟ll be fine. If you‟re not, come and talk to me.” With Phil gone, my mind turned back to the task I‟d been putting off. I knew that I must reply to John, but did not relish the task. Even though I‟d thought about it all the previous evening, I was still not sure what to say. One thing I am sure about - I want to keep in touch with him. The problem is how to do that without ending up in a “situation” where I get hurt. Words and phrases keep going around and around in my head but no concrete sentences form. It is just a drink, I keep telling myself, but I cannot forget that nearly every relationship I‟ve had with a man gets complicated. One that I lived with, despite having a lovely side to his character, ended up taking me for
Friends or Lovers
granted. I don‟t want to mother my partner; I want him to look after me. There have been others that I adored for a short while (and who adored me) but as soon as they started talking about their goals in life, I felt them threaten my own. One wanted me to move with him to London just after I‟d started this job. I wouldn‟t go and the relationship ended. Why am I thinking like this? It is just a drink, after all. As much as I keep trying to convince myself that he only wants friendship, I cannot shake off the idea that going drinking with a married man will lead to problems. If I get close to him, will he make a pass at me? Why will this one be any different? And if he did, would I be able to resist him? Perhaps this is why I am so nervous. I don‟t want to be a mistress. I have to write something so I create an e-mail and stare at the screen. My fingers start to type:
John, Tell me about your marriage. How strong is it? Penny
I hit the Send key before I realise that he might take this question the wrong way. While contemplating my gaff, a message appears in my inbox.
Penny, Strong enough for you not to worry about it. John
I had hoped for a fuller explanation than that. No kiss today, I notice. Perhaps my question irritated him. At times like this, I tell myself to follow my head. What does my head say today? I listen carefully to my thoughts; there is danger here, to myself, to his marriage and children. But there is potential too. What if
he is how I hope he is? It will be a pleasure to know him. Could he become a friend I can trust and talk to like my father? But what if he turns out to be a creep? What will happen if I start to love him? I can‟t deny my desire to meet him or the thought that if I turn this opportunity down I‟ll always ask have the question “what if..” I will never answer any of my questions if I don‟t get to know him. As one of my school friends used to say to me “life is not a dress rehearsal”.
John, I accept. When would you like to meet? Penny x
In for a pound. Later that day, he e-mailed me back to ask if I‟d meet him in Leamington the following Wednesday. He could stop by as he was working in Birmingham then staying with friends in Warwick. With that out of the way, I relaxed and focussed better on my work.
Friends or Lovers
With the week coming to an end, I finalise arrangements with interviewees and then decide to check on Elona. She is quite young, in her mid-twenties, and works within sales administration. She‟s been with the company since leaving school and is well-known about the place. I‟ve only met her half a dozen times or so since joining, twice due to her recent complaint. I want to check that she is happy with the way we have dealt with it so I decide to read over her file and recent appraisals. She is a single child, the daughter of local shopkeepers. When she was in her teens, she worked in the shop with her parents and saved enough money to go to college for two years. She lives in Kenilworth, a small town about 7 miles away. Nice place. In her interview notes it says that she led a relatively sheltered upbringing due to her parents‟ ties to the shop. Holidays have been few but she does have good friends in the local community. She has a boyfriend – her fiancé - who she provided as a second emergency contact. They hope to buy a house together soon but each live with their parents at the moment. Her career at IC has progressed fairly smoothly. She started in a typing pool seven years earlier. When it was disbanded she took on a series of clerical jobs, including a stint in customer services, but eventually felt her attention to paperwork and maintaining filing systems was being under utilised. In short, she wanted something more challenging than a continual stream of phone calls. The move to sales administration, therefore, was a good one for both her and the company. Her knowledge of
order processing together with customer skills equipped her for a trouble-shooter role in which she dealt with customer complaints. By all accounts, she appears to be a reliable hardworking employee. So I called her and asked her to drop by. Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting together in my office having a cup of tea. “Hi. Glad you could come. Do you take sugar?” I asked. “No. Thanks. Hmmmm. That‟s very welcome,” she said taking her first sip. “I won‟t take much of your time – I‟m sure you want to get away like me. I want to check that you are happy with the way we have dealt with your complaint.” Elona looked slightly puzzled, but smiled and settled back in her chair a bit. “Yes. Very. It‟s the first time I‟ve seen anyone in this company take a complaint like this seriously,” she commented. “Good. I‟m glad I‟m making a difference. The directors want this company to follow best practice and I‟m here to make sure that happens.” Elona‟s comment made me feel good on the inside. I continued boldly and directly. “Elona. One of the directors wants to be sure that Mike‟s behaviour is not part of a pattern. Had you ever been concerned about his behaviour before you made the complaint?” “Me? Well…” she hesistated, “…sometimes I felt uncomfortable around him. He‟s very friendly – too friendly if you ask me – and he does seem to be very attentive to some of the women reps.”
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Elona stopped for a moment to gather her thoughts. She rubbed the back of her neck and crossed her legs. “They didn‟t seem pleased with me when they came in for a meeting yesterday. I heard later that they were leaving my section to stay with Mike. They always speak highly of him and he‟s always joking with them. I find it embarrassing sometimes. He treats them almost like they are his daughters. They seem to like it, but I don‟t. I don‟t like it when men are too familiar with me, put their arm round me and things.” “Things?” I asked. “Well, you know…” she said. “No, Elona, I don‟t know. Tell me?” I said firmly. “Well sometimes, especially if we‟re down the pub after work, they go too far.” “How?” I asked. “They put their arm round me like they would their girlfriend or something. I don‟t like it.” “Does Mike do this?” “Not often. Sometimes. The younger lads are worse.” “How exactly?” “Well sometimes their hands go down my back, and sort of rub it. It‟s too familiar, but I feel stupid if I say „no‟ because everybody seems to be okay with it. One of them sometimes puts his hand on my bottom and squeezes it. I don‟t know what to do, so I do nothing.” This seemed like „normal‟ behaviour in most companies that I‟d worked in but that did not make it okay. Clearly Elona was more shy than most. Others would have to be sensitive. I decided to dig a little more deeply; I adopted a more woman-to-woman style.
“It seems that we have a few more heads to knock together. Elona tensed and was unsettled by this remark. I‟m glad we had this talk. Can you do that too?” “Sure.” she confirmed.” I smiled strongly at her as I drew the conversation to a close. “I don‟t understand what you are implying. I‟ll try. “Yes. Still. Can you do that?” “Yes.” Ms Leyton? A bit formal. I could see she was agitated so I took another approach.Rory Ridley-Duff “I guess it depends whose got their hand on your behind.” “Do you have a diary?” I asked. doesn‟t it? If anyone does something that you don‟t like. make a note in your diary. “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. come and see me. Okay?” She seemed to relax. “What do you mean?” she replied as she shuffled in her seat. “Okay. Why?” “If you‟ve asked someone to stop and they continue to touch you in a way that you don‟t like. I don‟t want other men doing it. After Elona left the room I pondered her behaviour. I thought. I have a boyfriend and I only like him to touch me like that. eh?” I said with a furtive look. I wondered . “And quite right too. Her defensiveness suggested she was hiding something. I detected a touch of embarrassment in her behaviour. Elona. tell them straightaway. Ms Leyton.” “And if you feel the need.
. Clearly we will need to work on this problem together. I‟ll discuss with Phil before I depart on Monday.Friends or Lovers if she was receiving more attention than she was saying.
although one day I‟d like a house with a garden that I can tend. Over the brick fireplace I have some ethnic artwork. they had children quite late. her first child with boyfriend Chris. Carole. When I settle down with a box of chocolates and dim the light. two years younger than me. Recently he got a promotion to project analyst and is now supervising others for the first time. I always work hard to make my living room the most welcoming one in the house. After meeting at university they wanted to travel the world together for a while. each with different tribal markings. 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. Next to Carole is a picture of my parents on their 40 th wedding anniversary. I‟ve worked hard to shape it in my own image. I take some pride in my home. She is 30. At the moment she is on maternity leave. I have a photo of my younger sister. I have large vases with dried flowers that give some colour and texture next to an attractive gas fire. I splashed out on a wooden floor and cream leather sofa. They had decided that if they still wanted to be together after living in each other‟s pockets for two . The mantelpiece supports two tall candles in wrought iron holders and a number of stone carved nightlights. It suits me for the moment. Last year. On the wall either side are two African masks. On the opposite wall. after I was accepted in this job. Considering their generation. Although I live on my own. At ground level.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 8 I live on the outskirts of town in a two-bedroom flat. and has made her career in teaching. the candles give the room a romantic sexy feel.
” What is it about men and commitment? Even though she‟s been with him for three years now. 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”. Forlorn. got married and had children. My mother.Friends or Lovers years. but hope springs eternal where she is concerned. When they got back. I ask if we will hear wedding bells soon but the most optimistic response she‟s given so far is “Next Year: probably. Fame of a sort. however. she will be able to retire next year. My sister sent these to me when she was having difficulty getting her boyfriend to settle down with her. still has two years before he can retire. He even gets to write answers for the Prime Minister sometimes. I guess. they‟d do it for life. Sometimes he gets to prepare answers for TV. I reckon. sometimes we write e-mails to each other and swap humorous cards. We now call each other every week. like my sister. but she holds out hope that eventually they‟ll get married. My father is the kindest man I know but I have had a prickly relationship with my mother ever since I turned 14. is a teacher. they each established their careers. I‟m proud of him. many of our phone conversations still dwell on “man problems”. At that time. And so it has been. . My father. He is a civil servant who rose through the ranks to lead a unit that answers parliamentary questions. I grew close to my sister and we stayed that way ever since. A few of these hang on a pin board in my living room. I keep telling her that we are better off without them.
I feel deliciously erotic. I don‟t have a regular fella to keep me warm at night. selections of lipsticks. Wrapped in my duvet. Jewellery is in one of my side drawers. organised into earrings. It gets me out of the house . The kitchen is small but functional. The headboard is decorated with subtle white lights. and a choice of rings for fingers and toes. The work units and oven are built in so there is a reasonable amount of workspace and cleaning is easy. carefully selected so that on the rare occasions I think enough of a man to invite him back. and on each bedside table I have one of these new cylindrical lights with slow moving silver flakes that refract light. They know how I like to adorn myself. I can make him think that he‟s gone to heaven early. bracelets (wrist and ankle). When I go to bed. 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. 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. belly bars. I switch out the main light. The other side draw holds my collection of lingerie. facial scrubs. a sensual and very personal love nest. and watch the patterns that meander around the room. moisturisers. make-up remover and spot sticks. so a sensuous bedroom equipped for lingering self-pampering is one of life‟s essentials. switch on the bedside lights.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. 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 the dresser came with an array of drawers to hold all my paraphernalia: lip gloss.
” I interjected. “Chris has raised the idea of using his flexi-hours to spend more time at home.” “He sounds keen. He is trying too. How about you?” . bless him. He is. I don‟t know. I give him a toy with a bell on it and he sits there shaking it and laughs for ages.Friends or Lovers and I can chat to Betty who does the service washes. He can change a nappy now. * * * “Hi sis‟” “Hi Carole. but baby refuses to be fed by bottle. He actually gets upset that he can‟t feed his child. “I try. 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. I reassure him that as soon as he starts on solids then he‟ll be able to get in on the action.” “If only adults were as easy to amuse…” I commented. it just creates tension. This has been a standing joke ever since she started going out with him. “Yes. but he just makes more work for me. “Not bad. In some ways it‟s good to have him home. yet?” “Haven‟t raised it for a while. I‟m not sure about it. Quite sweet really. She gives me the latest celebrity gossip.” “Nothing on the matrimonial front. Good week?” I enjoy these chats with my sister.” “Can‟t you train him better?” I ask. When Big Brother hits our screens we chat about it each week and I invite her around my flat to watch eviction nights.
I can tell. He has lovely eyes.” “Hey you. I can‟t explain. so that‟s a no go area. “Go for it. Sounds like he‟s a fast worker. “Oh.” . a consultant. and you‟re giving him a big green light. He is a practiced flirt. “He‟s married.” “Oh don‟t say that Carole. But I did meet an interesting man this week on the plane back from France. He was keen to meet me again so we‟ve agreed to meet up next week for lunch. I want to satisfy my curiosity.” “And your libido?” “I don‟t think so. “No.” “Too right you will.Rory Ridley-Duff This is another standing joke . but I didn‟t even convince myself so I doubt that I convinced her. Like I say. He‟s most odd.” I said weakly. let you know how it goes. why are you meeting him?” It was a pertinent question.” “Tell me more….” No sooner had I uttered the words than I realised how stupid they sounded. a writer.my inability to find any man worthy of me. “Yeah! I‟ll call you in the week.” “You‟re smitten. got kids. he‟s an oddball. I have no idea whether I‟m doing the right thing and you know what I‟m like with men. “No. “Oh. He‟s intelligent. But he seems different. I say! You only live once.” “No Carole. He burned my ear with all this stuff about sexism in the army. nothing to report there.” We are so alike.” Carole quipped. I‟m not sure. yes?” she asked. it‟s not like that.” “So.
” “Bye sis‟” And with that. we both put down the phone and returned to our very different lives.” “I will. Stay cool. .Friends or Lovers “Say „hi‟ to mum for me if you talk to her.
and getting up when I like. watching only the television that I want to. I have the pleasure of buying in exactly the foods I wish. But I can‟t deny that there is loneliness too. reading. is the silent fear we have of violence. I particularly hate having workmen in the flat during the day. Despite the façade of strength I present at work. and sharing my thoughts and feelings. Living on my own. 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). If it is a man I do not know – and sometimes even if I do – I don‟t let them in. I think. Some withdraw into themselves and skulk off. One thing that only women can understand. but my sister was not so lucky. Sometimes I get really scared. I don‟t always feel safe on my own. Her last boyfriend punched and kicked . most men who I let into my bed think that the corner of my room has an invisible linen bin placed there.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 9 My weekend was fairly typical: shopping. if the doorbell rings on a dark winter evening I use my spy hole to check who‟s the other side. snuggling up to them. I still can‟t get used to going to bed by myself and I especially miss the pleasure of waking up next to someone. cleaning. No way am I going to start washing their clothes. So far none have hit me. Breaking up with a man is traumatic because you never know how he‟s going to react. but with others you can visibly see their bodies convulse with anger. Not having a man about the house also helps in that respect. 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.
It was a pleasant day. an isolated and desolate beauty searching the wilderness for something in life that will make it more meaningful and satisfying. I‟m sufficiently attractive to be able to enjoy male company more or less whenever I like. In my mind. 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. I recall John‟s comment that looking down on the world reminds us of our insignificance. holding her hand while she sobbed like a young child. On the surface it looks very fulfilling. watching her shrivel with humiliation as she admitted to a nurse how she received her injuries. so why do I feel so empty? As I walk on the brow of the hill I look north towards Worcester. a family I can see when I need (far enough away not to crowd me but close enough to visit the same day).Friends or Lovers her when she ended the relationship. The wind buffets my face as I stand like the French Lieutenant‟s Woman. and I was able to remove my jumper and wear just a tee-shirt and shorts. looking at her bruised mouth and eye. . warm for April. good career with responsibility and the chance to travel. I‟d done my chores so I took myself off to the Malvern Hills for a walk. By Sunday. two circles of friends (inside and outside work) that balance each other and provide good times and support for bad times. time and space to think. that‟s an experience that‟ll never leave me. At the moment I wonder whether my life is going in the direction that I want. 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. Sitting with her.
Parents walk with children. the hills are filled with people who have come to terms with sharing themselves with another. but deep in my heart I‟m still quite lonely. . I‟m not sure there is anyone with whom I can do that. Family and friends are great but there are limits to how I can be with them. Even when I‟m shacked up with a man. I don‟t think I‟ve shared myself fully with anyone. emotionally and spiritually. If my parents knew how I behaved sometimes they would probably die with shame. perhaps). I still feel lonely. I can‟t show them the real me. and I have many things that give me pleasure. cannot be satisfied with any of them.Rory Ridley-Duff I‟ve been hard on boyfriends who would not make a commitment to me. 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. but perhaps it is me who is avoiding commitment. Husbands walk with wives (lovers or friends. the desire to share myself physically. I‟m too afraid. The life I have is safe. My deepest need. Rarely do I see two women or two men walking together. I even hide my feelings from my sister. In fact.
. “Stop it!” I shout. see the front of the car turn to the left and climb the levels. turn right into an NCP car park. As I enter the outskirts of town. I also interviewed a single man who had won custody of his children. The car parks itself as if I‟m on auto-pilot. He too seems to possess the necessary enthusiasm and skills. At the moment. But I keep driving towards the town centre. I can‟t help but feel excited even though I know this is not an appropriate way to feel. I keep reminding myself that this is an unrealistic (and unhealthy) way to be thinking but the butterflies in my stomach won‟t go away. I try not to think and focus on getting through the next few minutes. Both with children in the 11-15 age range and extended family support (that‟s usually necessary in this line of work). I wish I didn‟t feel like this. Love Me One More Time” on the CD player and this fuels an expectation that lunch will be the start of a romance. I found a man and woman. the clock shows there are only 50 minutes to go and my breathing deepens and lengthens as my nerves start to intensify. The interviews went off as well as could be expected. no matter what I do. both married. There was a single woman with previous direct sales experience and good family support so I think we have found the people we need. I have George Benson playing “Lady. “Go away!” but ranting makes no difference. watch the barrier rise. We e-mailed each other over the weekend and agreed to meet at Pizza Hut.Friends or Lovers Chapter 10 I‟m in Leeds today. I‟m driving back to meet John. I shouldn‟t be meeting him.
” The moment I hear his words I come out of my trance. Check my handbag. I applied a modest amount of eye shadow and liner. Wait for card. “Penny! There you are.” “Thank you?” I ask. I appreciate it. I‟ve put on a white top – thin enough to give a hint of the lace bra underneath – styled into a „V‟. Continue.” “Just my normal work clothes. My hair was washed this morning and tied back into a ponytail. I‟m not only pleased I‟ve made an impression but also delighted that he‟s noticed. look at him and smile. Now right. Turn left. There‟s no harm in showing off my pert behind and womanly curves. Press lips together. £50. Inside. “You look good. Open the door. I can feel myself beginning to relax. Choose “Cash no receipt”. Walk. Turn left.” I say with false modesty. Go down the stairs. Thank you for making the effort to look nice. Look in the shop windows. a subtle shade of blue (just enough to emphasise my long black lashes without looking trashy). All this elegantly covered by a light purple trouser suit that hugs my figure. Apply evenly. Studs with a light blue jewel adorn my ears and a matching necklace drapes around my neck.Rory Ridley-Duff Find the exit. What a surprising remark! “Yes. Turn left. The necklace is long enough for the jewel to draw attention to a hint of cleavage. Go to cashpoint. But his hair looks freshly washed and there . Take the money. I take off my jacket and sit down. Enter. Along the high street. Thank you. Where is my lippy? Look in the shop window. Around the eyes. classy but not tarty. He has turned up wearing an unironed tee-shirt and jeans with a hole in one knee. Press 7725.
when he‟s relaxed they disappear. “So. The lines at the corners of his eyes only display when he smiles.” he jests. Very energetic woman. yes! I don‟t beat about the bush. I like it. “Yes. “Lots. Shortlisted four people.” “I‟m 44.Friends or Lovers is a day‟s stubble giving him an undeniably rugged look. I still don‟t know how old he is. “Tell me. would you believe?” “Only just.” “Does your tailor get much business from you. but in the daylight I guess he‟s a bit younger than I first thought – somewhere in his late 30s. All the nerves that I‟d felt were swept away. Then he adds. I carefully ironed the creases into the shirt and hired a tailor to give my trousers that deliberate „just torn‟ look. His face has worn well and his hair shows only slight signs of greying.” “Yes. Especially before I go on holiday. I felt comfortable and content. did your interviewing go well?” he asks. “It did. “I use my wife‟s Nivea every day. then?” I quip. I have to work hard to keep up with her. I need an exclusive casual outfit for each day otherwise my beach cred is seriously damaged. including a single father.” . “I see you dressed up for me too…” I say cheekily. “how old are you?” “Forward aren‟t we?” “Oh.” “Perhaps it will catch on in Hollywood?” He laughed and looked deeply into my eyes.” “She keeps you young.” I say boldly.” he says without any embarrassment. obviously. Good on the wrinkles. I settle into my seat and look at him more closely.
then?” “She prefers a quieter existence where her opinions are not the subject of public scrutiny. Age 13 onwards I became a bit of a rebel. “Your life in 5 minutes.” “Not out and about like you. He doesn‟t need to. “Want to try something I do on my courses?” “Why not?” I answer. his smile and nod say it all. Shouted regularly at politicians. Developed well. Chose career instead. Translates government documents from English to French to German and back again. Relatively happy modern career woman. attended women‟s groups. got angry with men. including that he admires her. I felt we should dwell there a bit. fell out with mum. Did radical bit at university. Started to like men less. She saves her strong opinions for our marriage and children. Born. “What does she do?” “She‟s a linguist. Started to like men more. It suits her. age 0. Here we go. Tried a few. “So!” he says. Likes . now with child and dopey boyfriend.” “Strong minded?” He says nothing. got angry with women. in Malvern where I grew up with my teacher mother and civil servant father.” “Okay. She‟s also a teacher but currently on maternity. Protested the Gulf War (the first one). manager at 29 but stumbled across the glass ceiling. One sister who is two years younger than me. Now HR manager in a growing firm. Can you do that? Then I‟ll give you mine. Politics became liberal. always closer to dad.Rory Ridley-Duff Given that we‟d moved onto the subject of his wife. I could sense a question coming. Warm loving home for the first dozen or so years.
Two sisters. Did a masters. the other lectures in some obscure social science.” he adds. Friends. Artist mum. romantic comedies. Loved them again. This is fun and I am enjoying myself. “I think that‟s the best exercise I‟ve had all day. the pay. Marine engineer dad who died when I was eight. Hated kids. then calmed down. Sex and the City – shame it has finished. Both older. flirting and friendship – but in reverse order. Went through the basketball craze. Went off real world. Hobbies include walking. “Wow!” he injects. A waitress stands at the end of our table ready to take our order. sometimes lonely.Friends or Lovers chocolate. Missed first Gulf War demo. Started writing. No Angels. walking. Got hired as a consultant. “Right. Had kids. One works in a women‟s refuge. Flirted with radicals (both ideologically and literally). refused to pay it. Now 32. . Did my extremist bit at university. I stop. Eastenders. “All in one breath?” I laugh out loud. Very sad but coped okay. Married her. Went off radicals. Mexican food. The portfolio life is for me. Tried a few. “How about you?” I quickly ask. Loved kids. fell in love with one. A rebel until age 13. nights in with cat. Lots of responsibility. usually fine. Tried real world. Liked kudos. Born in Hampshire. We both laugh in unison and I look at her. Lots of freedom. exercise. the freedom. My turn.” He stops and takes in a deep breath to replenish his oxygen supply. Frost. same age as you funnily enough. Went through the „girls‟ craze. Always liked women. Protested the Poll Tax. Went through the football craze. Returned to research. then PhD. Worked in academia.
he started to gesticulate.” I request.Rory Ridley-Duff “Could you give us a few more minutes?” I ask. “Cappuccino?” asks John. “I‟d afraid the machine‟s broken. “I think someone has placed a contract to sabotage all cappuccino makers worldwide. People have many preconceptions. As soon as she went. “These things take time. “Would you like any drinks while you are thinking?” Her voice came out in a monotone as if it had been prerecorded. and I was drawn more and more into the conversation. some well-founded. others not. please. Wherever I go they never seem to work. “So what have you been doing in Birmingham?” I enquired. “Decaf coffee. he leans over towards me and speaks quietly. “Helping some marketing recruits find new ways to look at men and women. As he started to speak. we were joyous and smiling. He felt like an old friend.” * * * As we chatted away. Is a normal coffee okay?” “Of course. sir.” he answers politely. His demeanour changed and took on a more relaxed and thoughtful expression.” “Such as?” . not a new one.” “And did you succeed?” I was actually interested this time and he could sense this.
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. but John continued calmly and reassuringly.” I affirmed. I could tell that he was selecting one from a great long list. “In the 70s and 80s. You see it all the time.” “But we all know that men are more violent that women. I don‟t understand why. Over one-hundred and seventy studies in the last three decades disagree with you.” . The results were surprising and not what you‟d expect. Then some people started to ask whether the research design was distorting the results. In the papers.” I thought of my sister and my body felt tense all over.” “The studies must be biased. Men are definitely more aggressive and violent. “Difficult to tell. “That men are instinctively more violent than women.” he continued. “Perhaps. Researchers started to ask both men and women. “lot of studies suggested that men were more violent than women in personal relationships.Friends or Lovers He thought for a moment.” “Is that well-founded or not?” I asked. “It depends on whose data you look at.” “You are joking! I don‟t believe you. It‟s everywhere. It‟s my job to make sense of reliable data. feeling that I knew the answer already.” But he sounded sceptical. “There‟s a growing body of research now. on TV. I could feel a sprinkle of alarm go through me because I could sense he was leading me into a trap. not just women.” he replied surprisingly.
It is just hard to accept. What is meant by this phrase? I looked at John with curiosity. “Dad is being used to threaten the kids. and have been conducted by people from different research backgrounds.” “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. We both picked up a menu. quickly found something we liked and ordered. the waitress returned. different age groups.” “I don‟t believe them. “Thank you. She had an impatient look on her face. I remembered a TV series with this name. John and I looked at each other and this time we didn‟t laugh.” he said with a smile.” “You‟re not alone. I‟m sure there was a hint of sarcasm in her tone.” he said. I stopped for a moment. “We don‟t have to talk about this if you don‟t want to.” “Explain.Rory Ridley-Duff “I can‟t rule that out. different social environments. . Is that your point?” I asked. I am interested. But the results are consistent across different industrialised countries. I was in deep shock. At that moment.” John paused. “No it‟s okay.” “Of course.” said the waitress. John looked at me supportively. I thought for a moment. Yes. “D‟you remember „Wait „Til Your Father Gets Home‟?” he suddenly asked.
” I said. My wife sometimes says to me „John. but sometimes they dig their heels in and I come very close. “When I think about this. “Now I come to thing of it. 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.‟ Even my female students used to say that they‟d play dumb or frightened to get their brothers. fathers and boyfriends to do things for them.” he answered speaking directly from the heart. . Make them go to bed. 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.but what d‟you do when kids won‟t respond to anything?” I was beginning to see his point. “you see it everywhere.Friends or Lovers “Not sure. The threat is only effective if the kids fear Dad. “Maybe we use Dad as a weapon because he is more scary. I hate doing it – I feel like I‟ve failed . “Maybe we use Dad as a weapon whether he wants to be scary or not. That happens in my house too. “I‟m not sure any more that men choose to be aggressive. I think it is about Mum making Dad responsible for discipline. will you?‟ I‟ve managed to avoid smacking so far. He was forming his thoughts onthe-fly as well. I have threatened it once or twice.” he continued.” he said finally.” He paused. John paused for a moment. they won‟t listen to me.
” We both paused. “but the issue for women is that the threat is always there.Rory Ridley-Duff “Maybe. He only became worried after she started to flirt a bit. “John. After that. You understand?” I said. “Yes. But it is double-edged. We‟re never free of fear. I‟m trying to find out more because something peculiar seems to be going on. I have a friend who felt a young woman was getting too close to him. Tricky situation in one department. “What‟s your work like?” he asked. we both realised we‟d had enough of this.” “Yes. and I was eating chicken dippers. I don‟t understand all the ins and outs.” I stopped myself. The woman is holding something back. Completely. nodded and then . The threat is enough. I‟m not sure it is appropriate for me to talk about this. I‟m sure you are right. That moment. He tried to cool it off.” John looked at me in a way that suggested he did not know whether to carry on. Busy at the moment. But I‟m under no such obligation. I raised my eyebrows. “Okay. We have a man who has been pressuring a young woman for a drink.” I answered. but he‟s done this before and the young woman was so upset that I had to separate them. Instinctively. He‟d ordered potato skins. we shared a stuffed crust with extra mushroom and chicken. I‟m not sure exactly what. our starters arrived. 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. She‟d been having some difficulties at home and she singled him out as a father figure to talk to. I‟ve had to move him.
” But. “We‟ll be fine. She backed off and was hurt. we hugged. . he paid. We swapped mobile phone numbers too. I hoped that I had found a friend – a real friend. “Yes. After coffees. but only after I made him promise that it would be my treat next time. no.” he asserted. A minefield. we danced around each other using metaphors hoping the other would understand.” I responded. Always. “…we‟ll have to tread very carefully…” He nodded and also spoke softly. We had our own minefield to navigate. “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. We both agreed there would be a next time in about a month. “I don‟t want to tread on any mines.” He held my gaze. Men and women talk to each other in such oblique ways. I could have said “I‟ll be very sensitive about your marriage”. I felt good. We both knew exactly what the other was thinking. When we parted. He could have said “I don‟t want to ruin this by sleeping with you. isn‟t it?” I said. I hoped he was right.” “Me neither. protecting our egos while leaving the door open just in case we both had a change of heart. Next thing he knew she‟d complained about him.Friends or Lovers tilted my head slightly to one side to indicate that he should continue.” “It‟s always complicated. I said softly…. As I walked back to my car.
those that were marginal in the recruitment process turn out to be the best performers. participate in role playing exercises. After I rounded off with Dave. I called Phil into my office for an update on Mike. you first?” “Okay. Even with all this care and effort. They undertake a psychometric test. 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. but interesting nevertheless. we‟ve found our perfect candidate only for them to decline the position at the last minute. Anyway. Nearly all his team talk highly of him. Lastly. “Have you been able to find out anything?” I asked. I‟d like to better understand why people decline. More than once.” “I chatted to Elona too. and also to give the teams a chance to evaluate the candidates in a less formal setting. I got Phil to phone all the candidates and give them the news. I found them a good deal more open than I expected. Four accepted an invitation to our offices for the following week. They are sad that he‟s . we introduce them to teams that undertake similar work to give them a flavour of the „real‟ workplace. At other times. “Some. then confirmed the final shortlist. I met Dave to discuss the interviews. but I‟m confident that we‟re reducing the recruitment lottery through the use of these techniques. Not quite what I expected. recruitment is a hit and miss affair. The assessment centre uses an array of techniques to provide a more rounded picture of a candidate‟s suitability for a position.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 11 When I returned to work.
A couple found him a bit „old school‟. and some of the younger men.” I said. polite and caring to women and a bit rougher and more argumentative with the men. I still think there is something going on that we don‟t know about. some words were forthcoming. 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. He rubbed his chin and touched his eyebrow before making several attempts to start speaking. “Those that knew she had made a complaint were surprised. Some said they were shocked because they thought the two got on extremely well. and I felt that it wasn‟t the right time to probe. She worked closely with Mike – that went with the job. “I can feel a „but‟ coming…. Finally. Some didn‟t mention the complaint – in fact I got the impression they didn‟t know about it.” I decided to share what I found out. then he gave out a slight laugh.” Phil stopped talking for a moment and had a puzzled look on his face. They wouldn‟t elaborate.. Mike. particularly the women. People liked her well enough but they found her a bit quiet. They were always working together to resolve customer issues. “Elona told me she felt uncomfortable socialising with her team. you know.” Phil paused. but they all respect his abilities as a manager and as a salesperson. but was also sympathetic and supportive when his staff had problems. .Friends or Lovers moved on.
“Tricky. “Come on Phil. Nobody said it out loud. He was searching for words. but I pressed him. spit it out. I don‟t know.. There was such a familiarity in the way she talked about him.Rory Ridley-Duff “I agree…. “Yes – I gathered that much and I‟m sure I spoke to her. “….something didn‟t feel right but I can‟t put my finger on it.” He paused again and I was starting to get a little frustrated. He did have a rough patch a couple of years back.No.a cross between a brother and a lover…. “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….” Then Phil said something that shocked me.” He rubbed his chin vigorously as he sat thinking. one of the sales reps.” “What about Mike‟s marriage?” “Ah! Yes. He got close to Sally.” . and his wife kicked him out for a while. She spoke about him almost like…. but I would hazard a guess that he broke up with his wife for a while.” I shared something that Dave had told me.. I think they sensed at this point why I was taking an interest. I got the impression that they were saying „don‟t go there‟.” “Interpretation?” Phil was hesitant. “Yes?” I prompted. “Sally‟s attitude to him was so different from the others. They clammed up a bit.
and when he admitted this he was definitely agitated. . he still lives with his wife.” After Phil left my office I pondered what I‟d learnt. Okay. I got the feeling that Sally had lived with him for while. Mike admits that he put his arm around her. 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. Mike had an affair with a sales rep. he lived with the rep for a while. Keep your ear to the ground. Mike asked Elona out for a drink. his wife forgave him and he moved back in. What I find hard to understand is why his team is so supportive of him. Thirdly. So far as I can see. Elona is upset. Fourth. I‟ll see what I can find out my end. his wife kicked him out. What do I know? Firstly.Friends or Lovers “Well.” “Hmm. I just can‟t work it out at the moment. Secondly. We now know that Elona has been troubled by over attentive men at social events and that she‟s hiding something.
“I‟m not accusing you of anything. Mike. it doesn‟t make sense to me. We worked well. Are you happy to talk about it some more?” Mike‟s hands were locked together and he looked very tense. Yes…. He did not look relaxed so I tried to put him at ease. Mike shuffled a bit in his seat.” but he stopped short of saying anything more and looked down at his knees while he pondered further. “Has she told you about her problems at home?” he asked. “I talked with Elona about a week ago and I can‟t help feeling that she‟s holding something back. She was not the most talkative or outgoing young woman.” The moment I said this. I understand that things have not gone smoothly with her boyfriend. She worked well. but I wondered if there is anything that you can tell me that would help me understand the situation. I‟m trying to clear up the background to this situation with Elona and.. I understand that you worked closely with her.” I said with a welcoming tone. “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. Is that right?” “Er. I let him settle before I continued. “Not in any detail.” Mike looked at me for quite a few seconds. “It was good. “What do you want to know?” he asked.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 12 “Hi. to be frank. Come on in. It was as if he was trying to decide whether he should speak. “Mike. but I liked her .
” I felt myself start to get irritated. “but she spoke to me in confidence.” “She didn‟t make a complaint. but tried to remain calm. “Well. “Penny. they clearly had no idea what was going on. It was someone else in the department. “No. “Haven‟t we been over this before?” he asked. “If I‟ve made a mistake. His hands settled back into lap and he started to speak. But she‟s hedging.Friends or Lovers and worked well with her.” he said deliberately.” I asserted.” I corrected. “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‟ve tried. Her complaint took me by surprise. she confided personal stuff to me and I don‟t think I should break her confidence. Nobody‟s interests are served by withholding relevant information. I thought I detected a wry smile.” he commented.” . Mike. “There is more. I would feel more comfortable if you talked to her directly about it. “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. I need to know. Then his right hand moved swiftly to his face and he touched his cheek.” “Well that explains a lot. “What do you mean?” I asked. Mike. 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.” His statement puzzled me. I was not sure where to go next. He started to nod slowly and relaxed a bit.
Like I say. I knew the damage had been done. I thought I must‟ve said or done something insensitive. I apologise but I really don‟t know what was alleged or why.” Inside.” I found that remark patronising and privately wondered if he resented my involvement. “I thought you were trying to straighten this thing out. .” “Why didn‟t you come to me earlier?” I asked. “I know you give good support to your team. “She spoke to me in private about issues with her boyfriend and also an upsetting incident with a team member. Slow down.” “Who‟ve you been talking to?” he asked aggressively. “You get close to people don‟t you?” I commented.Rory Ridley-Duff He thought for a moment.” “Then why can‟t you look me in the eye when you say that?” he retorted. gave her whatever support I was able. I talked to her several times over a number of weeks. “I am used to handling these things within my team. I looked him in the eye. Mike.” His defences were up now. “Mike. He decided to open up. I also offered to meet her outside work and the next thing there‟s a complaint against me. nobody‟s accusing you of anything. but I needed him to calm down if we were to make any progress. He immediately tensed again. “Nobody is accusing you of anything. then gathered his thoughts. If I have. “What on earth do you mean?” I regretted the remark but it was out now and I had to limit the damage.
I gave her my word. or Elona and a team member. You have a chance to be open with me now. On the basis of this conversation.” He was a stubborn bugger and I decided to exert a bit of pressure.” Mike looked at me. or later. I will have to talk to Dave about calling a formal enquiry. I felt uneasy.” I said.” I struggled to contain my own impatience. “I did what any good manager would do. “Then tell me about these things. He fixed my gaze. Even if it makes my position difficult I‟m not prepared to break my word.Friends or Lovers “Okay. but it is as well you understand how I feel. . he seemed to relax. Are you sure you‟ve not overstepped the mark with Elona?” I could see his anger rising and his face started to go red. Curiously.” he said with some force. I did not want this situation to get nasty but experience told me to remain calm and sit in my chair. I offered personal support for a member of my team who was experiencing personal difficulties at work and at home. “Cards on the table.” “She spoke to me in confidence and I‟m not prepared to break that confidence. I cannot manage a situation I don‟t understand. But you have got too close to team members before and this has made managing the team complicated. Clearly you give them excellent support and I can see they appreciate this and it has worked well in the past. You are well liked by your team. It sounds like one or more of policies have been breached and you have a duty to inform me if this is the case. “I did not „overstep the mark‟. “I don‟t want to fall out about this Mike. I think something has taken place between you and Elona.
with a more friendly gesture he made a concession. Mike?” It was my turn to fix my eyes on his.Rory Ridley-Duff “Do that and a can of worms will open so large that you may never recover from it”.” I argued. you and others will be hurt if you pursue this.” “Mike. I‟ll await your call. “Penny. Are you going to give it to me?” He stood thinking. Then. “No. There is some serious shit going on here and it is my job to find out what it is. There is more at stake here than my job. I gave him one last chance. “Are you threatening me. calling an enquiry will just compound things. “Okay.” Trust him? I don‟t think so. “People have already been hurt. I‟m saying that you do not know enough about this situation to handle it. You‟ve made mistakes already. maybe this is one can of worms that needs to be opened.” His tone was slightly sarcastic and that annoyed me. This is one situation in which I will trust my own instincts. I‟ll talk. Let me think on this and I‟ll get back to you. I need your co-operation. and seeing as you‟ve moved me to another department it is no longer my responsibility.” he replied. “If you get Elona‟s consent. This is not in your interests – trust me. he said My patience ended.” “Right. . Elona. People will get hurt. but I let it ride and saw him to the door.
” …... finally discovered the food that reduces women’s sex drive by 90%…...it’s called Wedding Cake. I responded with a George Burns quote: . “The good news is that I’ve given you a brain and a penis”. and a study involving 2000 women. John and I continued to e-mail each other in the evenings and steadily got to know each other. 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..Friends or Lovers Chapter 13 Things calmed down over the next few weeks. “there’s some good news and some bad news”. . “The bad news is that you can only use one at a time. I put the Elona issue on a back burner. He replied with “masculist” ones. and the new starters. she said to Adam. “So what’s the bad news?” asked Adam. …to which he responded…. He added that when both men and women could laugh at both jokes. Adam asked to hear the good news first. after 20 years of diligent research. The other one I really liked was: After God made man. We bantered about men and women and I started sending him feminist jokes.to which he replied…. 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. then perhaps we‟ll be approaching the end of the sex war. With all the recruitment issues to deal with. Scientists have.
And with this power comes some responsibility. out for fun without commitment. But the men in the singles scene are playing the same game. I‟m well into my beautification routine. If they didn‟t fancy me they‟d probably tell me to piss off. more ardour than intellect. They don‟t call me. not least because I have looked after it. I guess. They managed to pack the baby off to mum‟s so we‟re going to really rock „n‟ roll. But when I think about things. 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. About an hour ago I had a bath and soaked myself in essential oils. It hurts a lot. 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. shaved under my arms and between my legs (quite the fashion at the moment). I am lucky to have young skin. at least let the man have a . it hurts. there is a perverse balance of power. I can choose to blow his mind or tell him to piss off. they do say that in their own way after they‟ve shagged me. actually. * * * Tonight. Do I care? Yes. If I‟m eventually going to get rejected. In fact. now I come to think of it.Rory Ridley-Duff There will always be a sex war because men and women want different things: men want women and women want men. after several months off the scene. 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”. 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. Although I‟m thirty-two. Not all women have this power – I‟m lucky.
I‟m going for it. I look sexy as hell without looking cheap or trashy. I‟ve put on some crystal studs and some dangly earrings that have a blue tint (to match my eyes). Under my trendy black leather jacket there is a leather skirt with an overlong belt – dead stylish. I have a great pair – no need for a padded bra or implants. Tonight. a femme fatale out for a kill. .Friends or Lovers smooth tanned muscular body. Sometimes being a woman is such fun. 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. I like to soap my boobs. To complete the effect I‟m wearing close woven black fishnet stockings – not the unsubtle type with large holes that you get from Ann Summers – the type with holes so small that a guy won‟t notice them until he‟s up close and personal. and a cock as big as his ego. but they complete the vision. a handsome face. really cool – and cut above the knee but not so short that I look like a chav. On my feet. I‟m a hot babe tonight. I apply sky blue varnish to my fingernails. When I‟m getting ready for nights like this. I‟ve put on black high heels with open toes and a single buckle strap at the ankle. a living sculpture. plenty of money in his wallet. and when I put on a black body-hugging Elle top with a suitably cut V-neck. It is studded with crystals and an eye catching sky blue jewel that fits into the crease of my cleavage. fashioned to move the senses. They are not that comfortable. 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. but the women will. While I wait for my sister. I imagine most blokes won‟t notice the detail. I‟m a piece of art. Any under wired bra brings out the best in them.
Even with all this preparation, it‟s not looks alone that will attract. I‟ve learned from experience that the way I walk into a bar, the way I dance, the way I talk and engage makes a huge difference. If I go out in a bad mood and don‟t talk much, far fewer men approach me. But when I‟m with girlfriends being vivacious, talking boldly giving men discrete (and sometimes indiscrete) eye contact, then they flock to me like bees around a honey pot. There is nothing magical about it, I just understanding how to flaunt myself. Now my nails are dry, I open a bottle of wine. No harm having one glass before I go out. If I do have to buy my own drinks (unlikely) then it will cut down the cost of getting drunk. I take in the latest episode of Eastenders while I sip away. Eastenders! That reminds me – out comes my pad and pencil. I decided to try something out. Do men or women hit more in the soaps? To my astonishment, I find that the women hit far more often. Funny, I‟d never noticed that before. And as for adverts, I am finding that if anybody is ridiculed it is men. The only advert that reverses this is „Nuts!‟ an advert for a trashy weekly men‟s magazine. That advert is so unfunny – like women don‟t know how to do car repairs or serious DIY work in the home. Actually I don‟t know how to do these either, but it doesn‟t matter because I get my father to come over. If I‟m really stuck, then I pick up the phone to get my favourite handyman to sort it out for me. Isn‟t that what men are for? The adverts that do make me laugh are the car adverts aimed at women. „Size matters‟? It sure does – although girth is probably more important. And that AA car insurance advert, it just shows what plonkers men really are. Why spend hours and hours looking for a good deal when the AA can do it for you?
Friends or Lovers
And there are those women only insurance companies now. I can‟t believe that there is talk about banning them or forcing them to offer insurance to men too; if we women are safer drivers we should get cheaper insurance. All this stuff about insurers discriminating against men, it‟s just bollocks. Why don‟t men just learn to drive more safely? Anyway, these thoughts go through my mind as the doorbell rings. Up I get, open the door, and see Carole and Chris looking chic and ready to party. “Come on in,” I say. “Just let me finish my glass of wine and we can shoot.” I give Carole a hug. She looks great too, but her bust isn‟t as good as mine. She tends to avoid „V‟ neck tops and wears a wonderbra with smooth silky fabric against her skin. This gives the suggestion of a full breast and shows her nipples when she gets sweaty or turned on. She‟s got great nipples, my sis‟. I compliment her while I look at Chris. His eyes are on stalks as he takes in my outfit. He may be a bit of a twit, but he knows how to look at a woman and make her feel good. “You look good tonight Chris,” I say. I‟m not lying. He‟s been to River Island to buy new jeans and a shirt. I imagine Carole went with him, but he‟s a credit to her. His hair is washed and groomed. He‟s clean shaven – which I know Carole likes – and he‟s got some dead cool trainers on too. “Just let me pop to the loo,” interjects Carole. “Back in a mo.” As soon as Carole is out of sight, Chris turns to me. “You look fantastic, Penny. Whoever reels you in tonight will be a lucky guy.” “Thank you, Chris.” I respond coyly. “I aim to please.” I pause for a second and then a thought occurs to me.
“…but I think it is me who will be doing the reeling in.” “I bet you will,” he replies, his eyes firmly looking into mine. “Doesn‟t Carole look great?” I say to deflect his attention. “She sure does. I‟m a lucky guy going out on the town with you two – I‟ll be the envy of every other bloke there. You both look a million dollars.” He was doing so well up to that point but had to spoil it by drawing attention to how good we‟ll make him look. I like attracting men, but hate it when they regard me as some sort of trophy. It is comments like these that show Chris for the prat he is. Still, Carole loves him, so I guess there must be something about him. For the life of me I can‟t see what it is. Carole returns from the loo and we call a taxi. Carole and Chris stay over on nights like this and I give Chris a pair of spare house keys. There is a good chance I won‟t make it back home so they need to be able to let themselves in. I usually try to come back for breakfast, but I like to take things as they come. I can‟t predict whether I‟ll feel like coming back home; it depends on whether a gorgeous guy has whisked me off to a stunning penthouse. The taxi arrives and drives us to a classy bar at the better end of town. I like this bar. It has lots of comfy chairs to relax in with stylish tables. There is a dining area too with a dance floor between the bar area and restaurant. On Friday nights it is quiet until about 8.30pm and is rocking by 10pm. A good time to arrive is 8.15 – as we have done – early enough to get a table in the bar area, drink until the restaurant table is ready, and then work off the calories on the dance floor. Chris gets in the first round of drinks. I alternate between sparkling mineral water and wine on these occasions – it gets me
Friends or Lovers
drunk quite quickly and the water prevents me dehydrating. We chat while deciding what to eat: “So what‟s happening in your life, sis?” asked Carole. “Usual stuff at work. Always someone having difficulties or creating tension,” I replied. “And outside work?” she added. “Well, I met John. We had a good time, I think.” “You think?” queried Chris. “You can never be sure, but yes, I think we had a good time,” I confirmed. Carole looked at me closely, and rested her chin on her hand momentarily as a subtle grin took shape on her face. “What?” I asked. She continued to grin but didn‟t say anything. “Why are you looking at me like that?” Both Carole and Chris looked at each other and smiled. “Are you going to meet him again, then?” Carole finally asked. “Yes. Now would you like me to tell you the length of his penis?” I remarked pointedly. Chris laughed. Carole looked me directly in the eye and did not miss a beat. “Yes. Just give me a rough idea. Was it as long as his CV?” “His what?” “His CV – you said he was an academic turned consultant – he must have a very long CV…..” “Carole. I‟ve news for you. He‟s just a friend.” “Oh yeah.” She took on a superior tone as she started to make fun of me. “My big sister who is all upright and proper at work, but a regular shag-bag outside work, has got a „friend‟. It‟s got bells on. Try again.”
“I like him, okay. He‟s married. He‟s told me straight that he loves his wife, his kids. This is a friendship.” “And you believe him?” interjected Chris. I paused for a moment. Inside I was not sure whether I believed him or not. I was not sure I wanted to believe that all he wanted was friendship, but for reasons that I could not understand I felt that he meant what he said, even if I would have liked more. Finally, I spoke. “Yes,” was all I said. Both Chris and Carole looked at each other again and gave each other a puzzled look. “But you never have male friends outside work!” shrieked Carole. “You have male friends at work and a line of hunks knocking at your door outside work.” I was about to object but on reflection she was probably right. I do have female friends although many stop seeing me when they have steady boyfriends. I used to think they were just busy, but slowly I realised that they were deliberately avoiding me. Men as friends? No. She was right. Friendship with men had thus far proved impossible. “Hey! Perhaps she‟s growing up?” Chris commented to Carole. “Cut the cheek you,” I objected, but there was no stopping him. “Next you‟ll be telling us that you are going to look for a husband.” “Not tonight,” I quipped. Then, to make sure Chris was aware that I‟d not enjoyed his comments, I looked at him with a dismissive smile. “Men over 25 need not apply.”
Friends or Lovers
It was Carole‟s turn to laugh. “God sis‟! When are you going to grow up and settle down?” If there is one thing that Carole had never said to me before it was that I should settle down. I thought she knew better, but the way she said this in such a carefree and matter of fact way actually stopped me in my tracks for a second. “Not tonight,” I said after a moment. “I‟ll give it some thought tomorrow.” My mind returned to the task in hand and I could feel my face relax and a more pleasant demeanour return. “But since the night is young and there are some young strapping lads here who are hot and willing…….let‟s get on and eat, drink and party.” We ordered our food and I finished my second glass of wine. People were beginning to come into the bar in greater numbers; couples, groups of young men and women, sometimes together and sometimes separate. By 9pm we were sitting at our table, and the bar was getting so crowded that we had to queue for drinks. After main courses and coffee, and a third glass of wine, I was ready to dance. “Shall we hit the floor?” I asked. Carole turned to Chris and gave a gesture. “I‟ll stay here and order some coffees?” he responded. “I‟d rather have another sparkling water. Best not to mix drinks too much,” I said with a delicate hint of sarcasm. Carole nodded and we made our way onto the floor. As I looked around, I could see the eyes of several men follow me. One of my great pleasures in life is attracting admiring looks when I dance. When the DJ put on “You Sexy Thing” I began to take control of the dance floor. I like this song, particularly
I began to look around as I danced to see whose eye I could catch. I give him a series of strong admiring looks each lasting a second or two. 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. I caught half a dozen men looking in my direction. A two-second gaze is a come-on. “I‟ll just help Chris with the drinks. Three-seconds is tantamount to telling him I want him inside my knickers. As I walk right past him. As I walked towards this young man I looked directly at him and I could see his nervousness. God. In Cosmo I read that a second of eye contact is a flirt. but his eyes kept looking in my direction. Good. At the bar was a strong looking young man in a white tee-shirt and jeans. Then I turn to Chris so that my back is towards him. 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. I put my arms above my head and I let my hips swing and my long hair fall sensuously about me.Rory Ridley-Duff since I saw Robert Carlisle strut his stuff in The Full Monty. One was so taken that his girlfriend put her hand under his jaw and twisted his face back so that it looked at her. within a couple of feet. For now. He was with friends. I saw that Chris was queuing at the bar not far from him so I turned to Carole. he was great – but I think I have the edge when it comes to oozing sex appeal. . I have his attention. As I cast my eyes around the restaurant tables.” and off I went. As the song ended. chatting. our eyes meet.
Whether it was the drink or not. Penny. The next record was Madonna‟s Open Your Heart. I decided to bide my time. “Dancing is thirsty work. I think” I say turning to my admirer and catching his eye again. I could feel the effects of the drink. Soon I was in full flow again. he definitely looked good to me.” I ask. They were. Chris. get after her!” He smiled and laughed in an embarrassed way but did not come out onto the dance floor. with my arms above my head. one of my favourites. He seemed a bit more nervous that most men.” “It‟s not his heart I‟m interested in.” “Watching you makes my throat go dry too. Still. Pen. Pretending to be helpful. His friends realised I was giving him the eye and they were ribbing him and laughing loudly. As I returned to the dance floor. and that another glass might cause me to get sleepy before I‟d had any fun. gyrating my hips and inviting the onlookers to let their imagination run wild. “Go easy on the young lad.” Even though I was alternating water and wine. it had been a while since I‟d let my hair down so I decided to take things as I found them. 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. . Carole was bopping away to YMCA when I arrived back with my drink. His heart may not be up to it. I tip-toed around her while I downed the water. One gave him a shove forward as if to say “Go on. gently moving in time with the music so as not to spill anything.Friends or Lovers “Shall I take that. “Not as much as his. and Carole decided to leave me to hog the limelight while she drank her coffee.” he jokes. I knew that I‟d probably had enough.
“Hi! I‟m just going to the girls‟ room.” As I drew away. I let my cheek very gently touch his. It was time to cast my line and hook my man.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. letting the alcohol and atmosphere go to our heads.Rory Ridley-Duff A number of men tried to join in with me while my young admirer remained at the bar drinking his pint. I imagined my youthful admirer . His friends. I walked down the stairs to the toilets. I was ready. Yes. After five minutes Carole and Chris joined me and we grooved away for the next couple of records. Would you like to get me a drink and we can chat when I get back?” He broke into a big grin and nodded. My black hair had become loose and free-flowing and I looked like a high-class tart. like the parting of the red sea.” I shouted in Chris‟s ear. but if they tried to touch I quickly moved away so as not to discourage the man I‟d set my eyes on. The tingle of anticipation heightened my arousal as I entered a cubicle to relieve myself. he was really very fit indeed and his face was kind and very pleasing to the eye. I shan‟t be long. I put my hand on his shoulder as I drew my mouth close up to his right ear. I allowed them to dance near me. past two young couples who were already exploring each other‟s throats and fondling each others‟ buttocks. “Back in a minute!” I walked towards the bar again and could see my catch stare at me as I approached him. . I closed my eyes and pictured the young man who was buying me a drink. backed away a little as I went up to him calmly and confidently. “Just going to the loo. “White wine. I looked in the mirror.
“Are you feeling lucky tonight. then?” I wondered if this was too much of a come on. but there was a hint of humour there. emergency breakdowns and that stuff. he did not respond.” he said. I see.” I said. “Them lot?” he said. “George.” I said. what do you and your mates do?” I said. if I‟d not known better I would have said he almost wet his pants. Very smooth. Rescuing damsels in distress!” So. I must say. “Nothing wrong with a good toss…. but I thought it was already obvious that I was coming onto him. you know. To my surprise. “Do you like the outfit?” I asked giving him a quick twirl. It occurred to me that I had not heard him speak yet so I held out my hand. I‟m Penny. looking him straight in the eye. His conversation skills could do with a bit of grooming. not overloaded in the brain department. It looked like I was going to have to be gentle with him. Again. fast enough to give a flash of suspenders.” He took it and instead of shaking it. In fact. but they‟re alright. he didn‟t respond and I began to wonder whether I‟d misread him. looking over in their direction. “Most of us work for the AA. trying to get the conversation going again.” I raised my glass in their direction and they acknowledged me en masse. “So. “Out with your mates. Load of tossers. he raised it to his lips and kissed it. “Hi. “Yeah. I decided to play with him and see how far he would go.Friends or Lovers I returned to the bar and he had my drink ready.. .
“I‟m twenty five. Is he deliberately flattering me or does it come naturally. I‟m not sure exactly what I did or said. Christ.Rory Ridley-Duff I saw the Adam‟s apple in his throat move.” Cool. “I thought you were my age. I thought.” 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. “Hmm. 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. spit it out.I think you look…. he really was nervous! But then some words came out. “I…. “I‟ve not seen you here before. “I…. How about you?” I decided to lie – no point shattering his illusions.” Keep them coming. She‟s over there with her would-be hubby.” At last.. you look like a fit young lad. was it?” He laughed and suddenly he relaxed. That was good...I think you look…. very smooth. “Well.I….” Come on lad. and then gave him a wicked look. Hot stuff.” “Fuck.absolutely fucking fantastic. Are you old enough for me?” I teased. “I only go out when I‟m with my sister. I smiled at him – a genuine smile of appreciation. but from that moment on he seemed to change into a different person.” I moved closer to him and pointed her out on the dance floor. “There. . that wasn‟t so hard. “Twenty next week.” he said.
don‟t waste it all now. We must have cut quite a picture – my arse pressed against his groin as he pretended to pump me from behind. For his age he was a good kisser. He moved well. Over the loud music. I pulled away slightly and whispered in his ear. relieved myself once more and then waited outside. plenty of time for that later…. I opened my mouth and let his tongue in. I managed to make him understand that he should meet me outside the loos in 5 minutes. and then more passionately. He friends were looking on and gave a long slow “Wwwwooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrr!” With perfect timing Rock DJ started to play. It felt confident and firm which I hoped was a good sign for later. We kissed passionately. I heard a slow rising sound from my right. Carole and Chris joined us and we had quite a party for the next hour. with George‟s arms around my waist as we did a bump and grind. our tongues winding around each others. gently as first. leaning against the wall like a prostitute waiting for a client. I thought him quite a sexy dancer and his friends were fun too. The place suddenly came alive and I found myself surrounded by young men. and his tongue explored my mouth.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. He came down the stairs and I could see the animalism in him. I drank another glass of water and wine and started to feel very naughty. There was a sudden movement from all of George‟s friends and I followed them onto the dance floor. . I parted my legs slightly and guided him in between them. I went to check my make-up again..” I put my hand between his legs and gave a quick squeeze. “….
I grabbed his head. He understood immediately and took off his trousers and pants. “That room.” I said.Rory Ridley-Duff our hand moving over each others bodies and between each others legs. I slowly pulled my arms up behind my head. Then he climbed roughly back on top of me and tried to put it in. rubbing him up and down while he finger-fucked me. “Time to get out of here. who bid us farewell with the comment “Have fun!” As soon as we were inside the door of my flat. 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. indicating he should stop. He nodded and we gathered our jackets and left. His hands were all over me. We paid the taxi driver. His fingers worked inside the hem of my pants and rubbed around my clit. My hands were inside his tee-shirt. his hand was under my skirt again and I opened my legs wide for him. moving up slowing. He pulled my pants to one side and buried his face in my pussy. As the car moved away. Then came my first disappointment. He carried me through and dropped me on the bed. and pointed down to his crotch.” I indicate with a nod of the head. His head was between my thighs. closed my eyes. I jumped up and put my legs around his waist. He did . Then a finger was inside me and I gasped before grabbing his hair and guiding his mouth back to mine. and opened my legs wide for him so he could see my suspenders in all their glory. kissing me gently. feeling his muscular body. under my skirt and inside my top. That firm tongue that was so good exploring my mouth felt like a dish mop between my legs. I flagged us a taxi and gave the driver the address.
” I added in a seductive tone. “Who the fuck is John?” he shouted at me. but poked around inexpertly. I was beginning to get frustrated. ”Long and deep. “Yeah. come on John……. . He broddled about again before he found the hole and despite my instruction he continued to pump fast and furious. “Take it a bit slower. It started to work. I shut my eyes and started to imagine it was John behind me. my excitement rose. give it to me hard. Then I did something that perhaps I should not have done. “John?!” he shouted and suddenly pulled out of me.” I said with a hint of impatience. I put my hands down between my legs and tried to compensate for this unerotic experience by massaging my clit. “Do you want me on all fours?” I asked. looking for the entrance. He looked at me in an odd way.” he said furiously. his strong hands on my back. come on big boy. but he pumped me so fast and furiously that it hurt. Eventually he was inside. I liked it long and slow. Then quickly nodded.Friends or Lovers not guide it in with his hand. I took up my position. I started talking. egging him on. fill me up with your spunk. so I shut my eyes and let him fuck me for a few minutes. preferably with my lover holding my legs up over his shoulders and making sure he angled his cock into the pit of my stomach. Yeah. thumping away in my hole and I began to feel a prickle welling up in my body. and lowered my head against the pillow and presented my perfectly fuckable clean-shaven fanny to him. I pictured John‟s handsome face behind me.. and his cock working away in my pussy.
As he left the room. His face turned red. so it rose in me too. but he closed the door and it smashed. I suppose it was good while it lasted!” I added sarcastically. are never 25. your tongue is like a dish mop and you fuck like a pneumatic drill! Go on. “I am not a piece of meat!” He started to put on his clothes. What am I doing? I‟m a grown . George. my emotions started to erupt. “Fuck off out of here…. engulfing me and crashing frenetically throughout my body.” He dressed quickly and did not bother to button up his shirt or jacket before he made for the door.!” I shouted at the top of my voice but he was already out of the front door before I‟d finished saying it. You‟re a fucking crap kisser.Rory Ridley-Duff “George. As it did. As soon as I realised he was going to leave the rage boiled over in me too. I turned away.” I picked up a glass of water by the bed and threw it at him. Suddenly I was overwhelmed with distress and an emotion that I‟d not felt for years. I felt my mouth twitch and my eyes grow moist. you old slapper. “And you.. It grew inside me slowly. come on hun. “You bastard. the wave started to break.” I saw his face slowly turn to beetroot as the resentment rose in him. got up and shot an irritated glance at him as I walked to the bathroom. Piss off out of here. As I felt it get closer. swelling like a wave and rolling slowly into shore. I sat back on the bed and curled up. “Well. Then he bellowed. he turned around and with a cruel sneer made a parting remark that I‟ll never forget. come on…. get it back in me.
I curled up into a ball and started to howl like a baby. I was being swept away on a huge wave of feeling. to feel his arms around me. I thought of nothing else but to be with John. the first time since I kicked out my university boyfriend after he‟d cheated on me with my best friend. My insides convulsed in pain. My pitifully shallow life crushed me. . I wanted to be with John.Friends or Lovers woman picking up a teenager for sex. And as I wept. I thought of only one thing. as if I had been run through with a wooden stake. Never in my life had I felt such pain and I wept for the first time in 11 years. With my eyes dripping. What am I doing? Suddenly. to weep as I lay on his chest. John.
I feel ugly. In the past. I had treated him like a piece of meat. on and off. I get mad and grab onto someone else to ease the pain. for ten years. There must be more. My face is stained and I look ugly. but I don‟t know any more. fill out more paper work. But now. a succulent Sunday roast to devour and then throw away the carcass. then that. the less I seem to feel for people. And. Yet another person leaves and I have to shuffle everyone around. so I can pull the guys. The greater the responsibility. But there is something missing that I can‟t understand. Every year that passes. I used to like the staff I recruited. week after . it is a chore. Okay. update more systems. but achieved so little. I was all over the place. never letting anyone settle with me. If they run away. to enjoy nurturing them and watching them grow. am I really happy at work? I tell everyone that I am. There must be something beyond passion and sex. 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. pulled this way. Why not? What was I doing wasting my life? I‟m not young any more. I earn more brownie points but feel less enthusiasm. never settling with anyone. I push them away. Sometimes I wish people would just stay still. same old. I never sought a relationship. certainly nothing that would last. Who have I ever made happy? I‟ve done so much. I‟ve lived like this.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 14 I cried for an hour as thoughts bounced around my mind like a powerball inside a hollow steel container. Same old. If they get too close. I get up and go to the bathroom.
Come on John. What is the point? As I throw myself on the bed.of…. I look at the clock and the mobile phone next to it. I can make out a woman‟s voice saying “who is it. Without a moment‟s thought.she …. Hawww… Who‟s th… What time is it? Fuck! What? Errm. love?” I have no idea why. It rings. pick it up.” I knew I was not making much sense but at least some feelings were coming out. John. be there. “Hello?” he asks. I finally manage to say my name. Such a fool.”wh…. Who is there?” he finally says. Just tell me what happened.Friends or Lovers week.this…ime….giht”. “Just take your time. Who is it?” Amongst the whimpers.. I‟ve really fucked up. “Just hearing a friendly voice helps. “I can hear you crying.” “Good. I can faintly hear another question…. “Oh. “Penny? What is it? What‟s happened?” In the background. but the moment he said the word „love‟ I started to feel safer. I try to talk but all I can do is sob. month after month. Pick it up. I pull my hair back and begin to dab my face to remove some of the stains while the tears start to flow again. I calmed down enough to get a sentence out. It sounds like the line is breaking up. I really did not know what to say. darling?” and he responds that it is me. But what‟s happened?” he asked again.” I paused. “Urrm. Good.” I said. And rings. . I pick it up and type „John‟ and press „Dial‟. “I‟m such a fool. No hurry. “Penny? You still there? What happened. but then his voice comes across strongly.
No.Rory Ridley-Duff “I feel so stupid. It‟s not that. and much .” “Why?” I said with a puzzled tone.morrow?” and then John‟s voice explain that it was me on the phone and that I was seriously distressed by something. I‟m not even sure. Write out what you are feeling. He said he didn‟t know but that he‟d find out tomorrow. “Thank you.” I replied.. I‟ll call again in the morning. To know that I was going to see him made such a difference that I felt my tears and distress subside. Maybe it is the drink.” I could hear a woman‟s voice again asking “wher…. Thank you. It‟s just that….uck…. Before he signed off I heard her say in a less concerned. Don‟t think too hard.” I continued.” I knew that he would not be able to make head or tail of this. Please forgive me for waking you up.it‟s just….” And that was all he needed to say. It is so stupid.you know I just don‟t know what it is. Right now. “Have you been attacked?” he said kindly. Can you do something for me?” “I‟ll try. Then another faint question: “why…. John. “Tomorrow I‟ll come round and we‟ll read it together. I don‟t even understand why I‟m upset or why I‟ve called you.ling you?”. “Penny. Why exactly was I crying? “I just had a bad night. I just wanted to talk to someone. “No. but as I talked I was trying to work out in my head exactly what it was that I was upset about.” I stopped for a moment and he spoke with a strong voice.goin…. “Can you get a pen and paper and write down what you are feeling now. Normality returned. just get a pen and paper and write.
” I said that I would. I got a pen and paper and started to think. Penny.”. I did so for over 30 minutes trying to form thoughts in my mind and get them down on paper. By the time I heard a key in the lock I had written only two words. Start writing for me.ed. Then he spoke to me again. “I have to go now. I’m lonely.Friends or Lovers friendlier voice “come…ack…t…. . Find that pen and paper. superman.
Chris on one side. you can tell us.” I said quickly. “God. I had to tell them enough of the truth for them to understand and not blame anyone. “No.He…. Carole and Chris had no idea how to stop me. I could tell they‟d been talking to each other. no!” I said with a start. started having sex and then he just got up and walked out on me. “What happened. Chris slept in the spare bed while little „sis slept with me.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 15 Carole looked after me. Carole holding my hand.” “What about the police?” Chris asked. but I just can‟t tell her that the man I‟d seduced had realised.want to…” “No.d‟you….” “Why not?” they said together.Do you…. Then Carole took my arm and spoke more softly. let alone your sister? I had another session sobbing my eyes out at the breakfast table.and luckily she did not press me. No.” “I…. We got back here.” I had to tell them something. mid-shag. I couldn‟t tell her what happened .I…. „sis.I just couldn‟t . “It‟s too painful. “I‟ll punch his face in next time I see him. You must not blame him.” “What a bastard!” said Carole. “You mustn‟t do that!” “But…. with his hand on my back. They just sat there quietly. “He walked out on me. “Um….” .” threatened Chris. How do you tell that to anyone. that I was fantasising about another man. We just want to help. I‟m sure she must think that I was raped or assaulted.
I know I look all confident and happy. but I could not tell them what happened. she took my hand and indicated I should stand up. I was so used to her moaning about his habits that I‟d not noticed that she really admired him.Friends or Lovers What could I say? I did not want to lie. “Family cuddle. “Welcome to the real world. “No fairy tales. 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. but I‟d trade places with you if I could. “Something happened that upset the evening. So will you. That‟s all I can say. Chris smiled back then put his arms around both of us. “Why not?” “I found my prince charming.” Carole‟s mouth dropped open.” I started but suddenly the words started to come out. “Oh! Carole. As soon as I was on my feet she held her arms open and I fell into them. My life looks great on the outside but inside it is a heap of shit. I look at you and Chris and wonder what I‟m doing with my life.” he said. It just all came down on me. and for reasons I could not understand another wave of emotion engulfed me and the tears . Then her mouth closed. sis. No happy endings?” I asked. What could I say? “I don‟t want to tell you. sis‟” said Chris. Clearly she could not believe what she was hearing.but when this „something‟ happened we got angry with each other.” she said pulling away and looking me in the face. “Don‟t be such a cynic.” “But why all the tears.” she whispered.
She had taken on the responsibility of a partner and baby. Go on.30.” “Don‟t!” was my first response. And I was still not sure if I was ready to do it now.” “Romance?” laughed Chris. Get it out. Carole spoke softly while Chris hugged us both. “Don‟t dress up for him.” “John? Oh God. .” My hand rose to my forehead as I gave her a salute.” Carole suddenly interjected.” said Carole. “That‟s right. It was already 10. “John called. but the smile that was creeping back into my demeanour communicated to him that I did not really mean it. He was going to keep his word. shut up.” I suddenly realised that my little sister had done more growing up than I had. perhaps. What had I done? Yeah. Chris smiled back at me. “Oh. I had misjudged him. Carole smiled at me. I wondered if. I‟d never noticed before what a kind smile he had. John was coming at mid-day so I had to stir myself to start getting ready.Rory Ridley-Duff started to flow again. I had my career but how did that compare to the responsibility of loving another person? I hadn‟t done that. Just put on something real casual and be yourself. He said he‟ll pick you up at 12pm. “By the way. yes!” I remembered and was amazed. I‟d never been ready to do that.” I said. “He sounded nice. “Now girl. “I‟ve had all the romance I can take for one weekend. Let it out. I went over to the dresser and combed my hair.
Just let the day unfold and run with it. however it goes.” I knew she was trying to help. I took it on the chin. however. but it always annoyed me when she gave advice like this. it was good advice after all. .Friends or Lovers “Don‟t try to impress him.
and just put on a small amount of transparent lippy to give them a moist look. I kept expecting it to be him. a car pulled up and a handsome man in jeans and a black pullover got out of the car and looked around. She lent back and gave him a kiss on his neck to thank him for the compliment.” Chris was standing behind Carole and wrapping her in his arms. “Would you like to come in for a sec?” I asked. I drank the dregs of my tea. He put his hand over his mouth. “Oopps!” he said self-consciously. The one with the sexy voice. and I could feel a few butterflies in my stomach with each passing minute.” I quipped nodding my head in Chris‟s direction. I‟d removed my make-up.” chirped Chris. . I looked at my watch and could not believe that it was only 12:06. “Hi there!” he said without a moment‟s hesitation. “She has got a sexy voice. After what seemed like forever. “Don‟t apologise.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 16 Twelve o‟clock came and went. I‟d dressed casually.” “And her partner…. As each car passed outside. The wait seemed interminable. just jeans and a rugby shirt (with a cut especially for women). sat down. walked around. He was clearly looking at the house numbers to check which doorbell to press. “Sure. I can meet that sister of yours. I unlatched the door and opened it. fidgeted. John had a cup of coffee and made small talk with Carole and Chris while I gathered up my things. walked around again and generally irritated everybody.
He had no need for a flashy sports car. compilations of classical music by French classical composers and American jazz artists. but from work I had more knowledge of motors than the average gal. Carly Simon. he had a selection of CDs. the Yellowjackets and Mozart. Norah Jones and Eva Casidy but it doesn‟t look like you have any.” I suggested.” To my surprise he opened another hidden compartment with a further dozen CDs. Inside the car. incar stereo/CD player. said his „farewells‟ and „nice to meet yous‟. Madam. with a 2-litre engine. “How about Warwick castle? We could walk around the grounds. but he liked a few luxuries. and the colour and style had a hint of sexiness about it. He saw my eyes casting over his collection. It was quite a swish car. “Any particular destination you‟d like?” he asked gently. but was keen to walk somewhere quiet. just the sensuous experience of listening. full security system. . I had no wish to go a long way. In there was music by Casiopeia. “Your carriage awaits you. His tastes were broad and selective. It fitted his character. He took out the „Very Best of Carly Simon” CD and away we drove to the rich tones of „You‟re So Vain‟. Queen. or gas-guzzler. He‟d chosen a mid-range Ford in black. sunroof and alloy wheels. the music of a person did not care about fashion or his own image. I was no expert. I thought for a moment. “Any preferences?” “I particularly like Carly Simon.Friends or Lovers “I‟m set to go!” I finally said. John got up. I thought.” he joked as he escorted me to his car.
She was forgiving.” I did not feel talkative because I was not sure how to start.” he added. I recalled the voice in the background during our phone conversation.” “Is that what you are?” I asked. 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 suggested. I realised that he must already know the area. “Was your wife okay about your coming here today?” “Not really. “Do you want to eat before or after the walk?” he asked. you told me. She knows that no man – particularly me – can totally resist being a knight in shining armour.Rory Ridley-Duff He nodded. Now he was here.” “Of course. a bit. She‟ll get over it. “But there is one condition. I was about to give him directions but he made a left turn. I have friends in Warwick.” It didn‟t fit somehow with the conversations we‟d previously had about equality between the sexes. “You know the way?” I queried. “Let‟s walk first. I was not sure what to say. . “Yes. I could hardly tell him the truth. “What‟s that?” “No hanky panky!” he said with a smile. I still had a bit of a hangover so food was not high on my agenda yet.
” “In my dreams”.” he confirmed. My sumptuous naughty side had not been destroyed by the humiliation I‟d been through. “Thank you. “I do. my man. 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. “I am now in your hands. but he caught my message and smiled back at me briefly.” I said with a haughty look that I imagined women of class would give to a chauffeur.” he said with mock politeness. with some irony. We turned a corner that brought the castle into view then drove around the perimeter to the visitor car park. then up a slight incline as we crossed more open ground until we had . I was grateful for that. I liked this path because it led through a couple of wooded areas. I felt myself relax and the prospect of the day ahead filled me with pleasure. seemed appropriate for the contract that we were making between us.” I snapped back with a grin. “Okay.” I said. 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. Even though it sometimes got me into trouble. or footman. We set off on a path around the perimeter of the castle. After this. This small phrase. I thought to myself.Friends or Lovers “The thought never crossed my mind. normally the preserve of people tying the knot. “Just so long as we both understand the boundaries. the kitten in me was still there. Madam. The trauma of the previous night receded as I filled my senses with thoughts of what we would do with our day.
he spoke. lots of tiny agonies. I sensed that both of us were looking for an opening line that would enable us to talk about what had happened. 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. made myself a coffee and tried to write down what was troubling me. “It‟s okay. I sat down after I came off the phone.” He gave me one of those half-smiles that conveyed both sympathy and an understanding of my suffering. The full circuit would take about 45 minutes and by then I would feel ready for lunch. This is not easy for me to talk about. All the boyfriends I dumped.” I replied. “Last night I tried to follow your advice. “Penny. irritations with things at work. “The trigger for what?” I looked at him and the distress must have shown in my face.” I was afraid but I longed to talk to him. their irritating habits. particularly with men. we don‟t have to talk about this if you don‟t want to. She‟s found a man to love her and now has a beautiful child that she dotes on. I could have written about how jealous I am of my sister. the bastards that dumped me. That was the trigger. but I had to start somewhere. lots of conflicting emotions about how angry I feel about things that happened in the past. “Yes. or made me feel beautiful when they were trying to get in my knickers. but then backed off when I opened my heart in response to their lovely words. I could have written pages and pages of trivia. Finally.Rory Ridley-Duff a view of the whole locality. I could have written . I‟m not good at sharing my feelings. We walked for a couple of minutes without saying anything to each other. or didn‟t call me.
however.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. his arms were larger and stronger. And then I said it. real passion and I did not want to wait until some stupid outdated law said I could sleep with boys. 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. They made me feel safer and all warm inside. it was my mother who was constantly critical. I noticed that he was listening intently so I continued.” As I said the words.” He nodded.” he said. “John!” I started. but I would not be controlled. “Well. I said out loud the words that I‟d hidden in my head for years. “I fought her for years.” I stopped for a second to gather my recollections. Really lonely. but he followed form by asking me anyway. She thought I was „too young‟ for boyfriends! How can you choose things like that? I was ready at 14. I could see a single tear rolling down his left cheek. “What is it. He was crying. “I‟m lonely. Do you know what I wrote in the end?” It was a rhetorical question. but no. John. and just as my sister had earlier in the day. . John?” “Come here. John. There were times we would hit each other. I felt my eyes moisten again and I looked at him. And then I got a total shock. he offered his arms and I fell into them. I had passion in me. all this was going through my head last night while I held the pad. You‟d think my father would be the one to object. Unlike my sister. He was crying.
I was not sure what he meant. “All that „control‟. “Yes. I‟ll bet. all that „professionalism‟ comes at a high price.” “And by the end of the day. He spoke more. “Not since my first day at university. After my parents drove away. And after your first disco. so I gave him a puzzled look. something that my father might have done to me as he put me to bed. For the first time in years. “I‟ve made all my own choices.. “When was the last time you felt like this. all that „competence‟. Penny. or be my slave. I wished that I could have stayed in his arms for longer. but I was still not sure what he meant. It was such a gentle gesture. I could not remember a time when I had cried like this…. even hard-nosed career women. never let anybody run my life for me.” He gave me a sideways glance. My God! I looked at him.” I smiled. I felt the .” As he said this he cupped my cheek with his hand. Unbearable. “But at such a high price…” he responded. you had lads competing to become your boyfriend. Then he released me and started to walk again.” “We all need intimacy in our lives. but it would not have been right.Rory Ridley-Duff He rocked me gently from side to side for a few seconds. I sat alone in my room and felt so unbearably alone that I cried my eyes out. talked like this?” I thought hard. But those few hours were the loneliest. don‟t you think?” And I did think. you had made several girlfriends who later became your enemies.
was the question I did not want to answer. That.Friends or Lovers warmth of a man‟s love and I could not stop my head incline itself towards his soft touch.” “Why mine?” he asked. All that loneliness – it just crashed down on me and I had to talk to you. I was not sure.” . “Because if there is anyone who can help me unravel the minefield that stands between men and women.” There was a pregnant pause while he considered the import of what I had just said. You‟re an expert in it. indeed.” I detected his pleasure at hearing this.” he said reassuringly. Penny. but I felt I should give him something to understand why I‟d called. I had to say something. “I‟ll try. 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. I guess it is you. John. He walked out. “Do you want to talk about last night?” he asked as we resumed our stroll. however. “Not an expert.” Suddenly some words popped out of my mouth that I did not intend. I felt I just had to hear your voice.
lunched in a tea shop. I could tell that he was sucking in my beauty so that he could savour and bathe in it. The sexual tension was always there. and know that he was nearby. I was more relaxed with him than I had been with any man for over a decade. “How‟s that problem at work you had?” he asked. but with a festive atmosphere. perhaps more relaxed with him than any man except my father. Wherever we were. hear his voice. climbed a tower. occupy the same space. Our conversation never stopped all day. I just wanted to be with him. . I admired him. and the way his eyes fixed themselves on me sometimes. we talked and exchanged thoughts constantly. that I should take him somewhere special to thank him for the day out. not ogling my body. whatever we did. His eyes were not lustful. however. as we started on our desserts. and it filled me with a confidence that I could not explain. and generally just chilled together. I chose my favourite Italian. just filled with the admiration a person might feel looking at a beautiful portrait or marvelling at a moment of cinematic brilliance. but the desire to seduce him slowly ebbed away. he suggested that we might like to eat at Pizza Hut again. He looked at me as if he was searching my soul. travelled to deepest outer space. a place tucked away in a cobbled side street that was quiet enough to have a hint of romance. I felt. the meaning of life. joked. By late afternoon. laughed. My attraction to him never completely left me.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 17 Over the next few hours we took in the views around Warwick. discussed politics.
Things have moved on a bit. The more I talk to the man.” “Gotcha. What about your friend? “I‟ve only had one update. but I think she is holding back on an incident with somebody in the team. but he‟s very sensitive about what happened. Yeah. Can we?” he said with his smile broadening all the time. “Work. Things don‟t seem to be quite right.Friends or Lovers “Which problem is that?” I answered without looking up.” “Why‟s that?” “He thinks it will be okay. The problem at work has made things worse at home. “You mean there are so many?” “Can we utter a sentence without it being a question?” I asked. but he‟s hiding something from me.” “So what‟s the story there?” “Well. The more I learn about the woman‟s situation…… Well. it has been difficult at home for him. “My first.” I said with a victory salute. “What was your question again?” was my retort. “The one about the problem you had at work. I get the feeling that some sexual shit is going on that nobody wants to talk about.” . so I dropped the stupid stuff and regained my composure. His face told me that he was interested in more than the game. second or third question?” he said chuckling. She‟s a prude for sure. 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. Fifteen love. “I don‟t know. “Do you want to ask the first one?” I was not giving up first. he seems more on the level than I first thought.
The money thing was too much for her and she threw him out. about four years ago. She became his lodger for several months while they waited for a vacancy at a refuge.” “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. Right. 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. but he convinced her that he‟d no choice. Big problem. Later he helped her find and move into a flat – he even gave her the money for a deposit. It took a few months but eventually his wife came around and let him come back home.” “I bet his wife did not like that!” “Yeah. Big rows. and to this day he has always denied it. He didn‟t want to let .er…four years. Well he had a difficult period with his wife about….” “So what happened?” “Well. “Anyway. yes. She took him back but made him promise never to get involved with another woman again.” I commented “Not something you hear about every day.” he clarified. he gave her support but after a few weeks they had a real heart to heart and she said she wanted to get out. He helped her furnish her room. His wife was not pleased. that night he collected her from her home and took her to his.” “I‟m in no rush. His wife accused him of having an affair. He‟s a really sweet guy. So he stayed with his woman friend as her lodger for a while. “Okay.” “Not a situation you come across every day.Rory Ridley-Duff “Why?” “To explain that I‟d have to go way back.” I said.
” Inside I could feel my heart pumping and my breathing quicken.” Hell.” Why was I asking it? I was not sure.. “Do you…. There didn‟t seem to be anyone in his life that he did not like. “Do you…. This was risky. “Deal. In fact. “Sometimes things don‟t need to be said.Friends or Lovers her down. I‟ve enjoyed today too. . So he backed off and upset her.ever fantasise about me?” I asked. Did I have the courage to say it? “Do you…. why was I so nervous? I hate my nerves.” and he gave me that same warm smile that I remembered from our first meeting. one that invites intimacy. “Do……ah!” Then he did something that really startled me. John was relaxed while we chatted and I could tell he cared about his friend. “I‟ll answer that question if you will tell me why you‟re asking it. “Penny.” I said. He changed jobs and only told his wife afterwards. He took my hands in his. “John.” It was one of those leading phrases. but he also didn‟t want her to get too close to him.” I felt sorry for this guy. Whatever he had expected. He took one hand away and squeezed his nose. I got a feeling that John just cared about people.” I stopped. I‟ve enjoyed today. I said it anyway. 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.
Penny.. but I did not want him to reject me. I wanted to tell him about the night before. “I…. Clearly he wanted me to know that I would not take her place. “The answer is „Yes‟. to tell him the part he had played in it.” I felt a peculiar sensation. I shuddered because I realised why I‟d asked him this question. “Last night….. I tensed. I closed my eyes and summoned my strength.” 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. . “Last night?” he queried.” my hands started to shake. “You don‟t need to say it. This was crazy. but only for a moment. a deep pleasure that he thought of me sexually. I hesitated. but not when I‟m making love to my wife.” he repeated. What if he was angry? What if I spoiled the whole day? What if it ruined our friendship? “I….. and he noticed immediately and took my hands again. Was this going to lead to disaster? I wanted to tell him. reminding me of the pact. I was not sure if I had the courage to say it. about the way things had unfolded. but disappointment that he mentioned his wife. “Penny. “Your turn.” I stopped and looked down into my lap. I wanted to share my humiliation with him.” he said.Rory Ridley-Duff He hesitated. I could feel the emotion rising in me again. You don‟t need to say it. I wanted to share this. I wanted to tell him I fantasised about him.” but I stopped again.
He got really mad at me. not my father or any of my boyfriends. John got up from his seat. And…and…” His hand was rubbing my back and it felt lovely. and I shuffled awkwardly in my seat. tears were dripping down my face. and stroked my cheek with his left hand. I looked up.” “Why?” he asked. Through my sobs I suddenly heard the sound of my own voice. People normally . not my sister. but it was not a very convincing one. You‟re attracted to me. with relief mostly. not my mother. I laughed and suddenly I felt it was okay to carry on. I shouldn‟t be saying this. I felt the tears fill my eyes again and I looked up at him. why?” he asked again. Big deal. He gave my hands a little squeeze to keep me reassured. I‟m attracted to you.” he said with a laugh.” “So we‟ve broken the rules. My whole body was rigid. I can‟t believe I‟m telling you this. “Are you crazy? You‟re married and I‟m pouring out these feelings to you. came around to my side of the table and pulled up his chair. I should not be telling you this. And then he left. “…I felt so alone. letting the tears roll.Friends or Lovers I made an attempt at a smile. I‟m so sorry I rang you. He put his right arm around my back.” “Shit! I bet that cooled his ardour. I laughed. and then I blurted out your name. …. I could not say the words. I like that – it‟s honest. “It was awful. I had never talked like this with anyone. “Why?” I said with astonishment. “Yes. I just could not. “You bet it did.as he was fucking me I started to think of you.
” There was a prolonged silence during which neither of us dared to ask the question that was on both our minds.” he interjected.” I responded.” “You are really weird.” I said. He was so strange. “I love it that you are attracted to me. “Why?” I asked with genuine curiosity. “I tried Mr Normal. He was quiet for a while and just rocked me in his arms. Why was he thanking me for sobbing all over him? “What for?” “For sharing this. There are only sexual relationships where they agree not to have sex.” I said. . “Somebody once said to me that there is no such thing as a non-sexual relationship between a man and a woman.” he said. “That took courage. 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.” “Thank you.Rory Ridley-Duff make each other miserable because they can‟t express or share the simplest feelings.” He paused. didn‟t it?” “More than you‟ll ever know.” he finally said. It was my turn to break the silence. “but I couldn‟t keep it up!” I shook my head as my smile returned. I was not sure where to go from here but it did not matter because he carried on talking. “Because my fantasies will be much more exciting now!” I laughed again. “I feel a bit better.
He asked the waitress for coffee then continued.” he responded. “Are there any left?” I asked. I don‟t.Friends or Lovers “And thank you.” I answered. where will you find Mr Right?” His question was rhetorical.” I said. So long as you know where to look. “You‟re welcome. All you need to do is get the person you are interested in talking about their life. “Where are we going to find you a good man.” I said at last. “If not at work. Perhaps you‟ve already met him?” he suggested. but on this occasion I let it pass. 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. “What do you mean?” “Why is work any different from anywhere else?” “It‟s a place of work.” “Why on earth not?” he reacted. “I can hardly ask them. yes. surely?” “Employerspeak!” he laughed. “I don‟t think people react well to women in positions of authority having sexual relationships at work. Take an interest. “Find out.” I was about to say that I thought he must be joking. “And you know that they are happy and committed?” “Well no. “Oh.” . then?” I wanted to say I‟d found one. “Where?” I queried. I was not about to start another debate. “Have you looked at work?” he asked. “You don‟t need to ask. “Isn‟t that why people go to work?” he asked.
At the door. a warmth so spiritual that I can feel my humanity light up. then returned to the car and gave me a salute as he drove off. he drove me back to my house and walked me to the door. He‟d given up a whole Saturday for me and it was important that I should not intrude further on his time. I wanted him to come in. but I knew he needed to get back home to his family. but a tingling feeling burrowing into the darkest caverns of my soul. how people feel when they first experience the deepest kind of love? . This is not like the butterflies of teenage love. I wonder. I‟ve been more distraught today than I can ever remember. Is this. to live more. but I just knew that we would not. he hugged me. In the movies we might have kissed. He makes me want to be a better person. I find it difficult to describe how I feel now. and share the best of myself. Then.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. pecked me on the cheek. risk more.
Nathan was a lad in his mid-twenties and the general consensus was that she had a crush on him.” “D‟you think I should talk to him?” I asked. the relationship between Elona and Nathan is connected to all of this somehow.Friends or Lovers Chapter 18 Due to a lot of demands on my time. Elona was pretty off-hand with all of them except one. “Well. I was perplexed by this. If you ask me. I don‟t understand how Mike fits in – maybe he got jealous or something – but I feel there must be a connection somewhere. It did not seem to fit. particularly Elona. “Then there‟s this Nathan!” Phil said.” “Okay. 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. What about Mike and Sally?” I enquired. I nodded for Phil to continue. According to them. Nathan himself was not that interested although he did join in some of the flirting. Phil was first to update me. Even Mike had admitted to me that he‟d flirted with her. He was careful how he behaved and spoke around everyone. “What about him?” “He was quite cagey when the others were talking. 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 did not volunteer anything and I got the feeling that the whole conversation made him uncomfortable. . Most of his team said that he was very gentlemanly. “They are surprised that she accused Mike.
I‟ll have a word with Dave. She said that she had worked with a consultant several times and wanted to bring him in again. Well done. He did live with her for a while. but they did live together for a few months. Nobody is completely sure why they are so close. The marketing manager. Perhaps it is time for another chat with Elona. Firstly. Secondly. he claimed that nearly half of all married women chose their job in order to find a partner. I could not see any reason to object.Rory Ridley-Duff “Yeah. Then I‟ll speak to Nathan. I promptly went to WH Smith and bought the book. so I signed off a purchase order for 30 days consultancy and left her to get on with it. In this modern age.” I was puzzled too. We seem to be getting closer. Jo. “Okay. I was keen to off-load this. but he provided me with a source. after 40 years of gender equality. had enlisted Mike‟s support to get his team some training in consumer behaviour. I told him the second one must be rubbish.” I had to set this to one side for the moment. I thought back to my weekend conversation. As I was up to my eye-balls helping Dave bring on board some new inventors. But they don‟t live together now. Sure enough he was right. why would she want to keep working with him? It doesn‟t make sense. but there was nothing to be gained by discussing it now. who would have thought this? To think that hoards of women at . It all sounds kind of bizarre. John had suggested I look for a partner at work for two reasons. most people meet their marriage partner in a workplace setting. She‟s one of the people who transferred with him to the new team. I was right about that. If they‟d had an affair and split up. he‟s back with his wife. I found the statistics both staggering and appalling.
was searching for a husband in our workplace? * * * “Come in Penny.” I commented.” I‟d never pictured Dave as someone with either the inclination or ability to appreciate cutlery and kitchenware.” He gave me an odd look.Friends or Lovers work were actively looking for husbands. Standard Terms?” I asked.” said Dave. He also wants help recruiting marketing support staff and I said we‟d be able to help. “We‟ll see in due course. The thought actually annoyed me.” “A woman?” I remarked. “Careful. Who. I‟ve got Clive Preston coming over from London. “For Claire and Clive yes. “your wife will be asking for freebies. and Claire Nunn from Glasgow. She‟s a remarkable designer and has assembled a small team of engineers to make customised kitchenware. “Hi. I wondered. Sorry I didn‟t ask you beforehand. Is that okay?” . They manufacture through companies in Sheffield. I did my best to ignore it and returned to the issue at hand. but Brian will be getting 25%” “Is he worth it?” I asked. “Okay. We are poaching him away from his current distributor so I had to offer a bit extra. But a good find. “Rare that?” “Yes. Brian Thwaite from Birmingham. I‟m sure you‟d be impressed. She‟s ready for exposure and now has a large portfolio. So what needs doing today?” I asked. “We need to draw up three contracts.
but I did not mind. “And?” I asked with an expectant look. “By the way. opened his palms and shrugged his shoulders. one of the local sales reps. He really could look quite cute at times. I made his request sound like an imposition. He looked hesitant.and I don‟t believe that. he touched my arm to stop me.” “Why‟s that?” I asked. Lots of rumours flying about. just tittle tattle.” As I made to go.” I said.. 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 used to get on well with one of Sally‟s colleagues and it seems that she moved in with him and .not well.” I insisted. “Well. “I heard they shared a flat for a while. “my wife doesn‟t buy stuff for the house any more.. I confirmed the contract details with him one last time and then remembered that I wanted to ask him about Mike and Sally. I hope she gets better soon. “I‟ve been putting together a picture of our sales manager friend and it seems that he has a mystery relationship with Sally. Do you know anything about that?” Dave pondered and raised his eyebrows.” It was not often that Dave ever talked about anything outside work and it took me a bit by surprise..Rory Ridley-Duff He gave me one of his hopeful looks. I imagine. “I‟ll see what I can do…. “She‟s…. Dave.” Something in his tone suggested that he had something else to add. “There is something else.” he added.” “I‟m sorry to hear that. Spill it.” “Come on. “….
“No. “Apparently not. What he does in his own time is really not our business. What is it with you and him?” I enquired. and then carried on. Anyway. I‟m not a rumourmonger. Bet Sally was pissed when he went back. “They still get on well. “Maybe. “Really?” he said with surprise. That‟s not the sort of thing that she would do if she was having an affair him. I think. Unless the affair came later.” “He‟s back with his wife now.” he remarked. I think we‟ll get to the bottom of this soon. I‟ve no strong feelings. I just think that whenever people let their personal and professional lives get confused things can become very messy. Then Mike joined her. “Interesting. you think?” I sensed that there was no love lost between Dave and Mike. “How does this link to Elona?” he finally asked. I think.” I said. I‟m meeting Elona in a few minutes. I thought. Not sure what happened after that – all I know is that his personal life got into a real mess for a while. “He should‟ve left well alone. Not sure. it caused no end of problems in his marriage and Sally had to move out. then Nathan.” “Feathering two nests.Friends or Lovers his wife. “Oh.” He paused for a moment as pieces of the jigsaw were reassembled in his head. of course. She asked to carry on working with him recently when he moved jobs.” Dave paused for a smirk.” My sentiment entirely. Should find out soon.” I said. “Not sure. I think Sally had some domestic crisis and Mike offered her a way out.” .
With Dave‟s support. When you have a complete picture we can discuss how to bust up this secret network.Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay. I felt ready to get to the bottom of things and achieve closure. I thanked him and returned to my department to meet Elona. . Keep me posted.” 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.
is there anything you want to share with me privately?” She glanced at me and shook her head quickly in denial. so I‟d like him here. I got up from my chair and sat beside her. Before Phil comes back. Phil‟s been following up on some of your concerns and we want to discuss a few things with you. She lifted her hand to decline the offer. keeping the other for himself.” “Thanks. He put one cup on my desk. “Elona. This is just a quiet chat to establish what has been going on. come in. “Don‟t worry. but I decided to ask Phil to make one for me anyway. She looked unsure but answered positively. She would not look at me and her hands were clasped together on her knees. As Phil left the room. Although Elona had declined the tea. “Elona. “If you want him to stay.” I said as I welcomed Elona into my office.Friends or Lovers Chapter 19 “Come in. I guess that‟s okay with me. she immediately . He knows more about this situation than I do. There!” I said. “Do you mind if Phil sits in on this one?” Elona looked around the room and rubbed her ear. “Can I offer you a cup of tea?” I asked. Phil entered the room with two cups of tea and a glass of water. There‟s no need to worry.” Elona shuffled in her seat and looked uncomfortable.” Despite my calm and sympathetic words I detected an increase in her nervousness. as I put my hand on her shoulder. It would give me a moment to put Elona at her ease.
she summoned up a slight smile and I felt ready to begin. we are grateful that you made a complaint and raised some important issues. Nobody is judging you. If you like Nathan‟s attention. Phil‟s talked to others in your team and they admit they behaved inappropriately to you. I looked squarely at her. called Nathan.” “What‟s that?” she asked. Would you agree with that?” Elona said nothing but nodded her agreement. “Elona. saying nothing. I tried to calm the atmosphere further. you ignored them. We just need to understand whether there is any link between this and the incident with Mike? Is there?” . and she looked a little more relaxed. “Well. nobody minds. It is alright. and they stopped.” She looked down at the table in front of her. the lads in the team said that one of them. “Thanks for that.Rory Ridley-Duff picked up the glass of water and drank half of it. Elona immediately went bright red and got extremely agitated.” Elona seemed to relax when I told her this.” At the mention of Nathan‟s name. “What they say is that they flirted with you. Phil chipped in too. however. gave you some attention and that you did not seem to mind. “As I was saying earlier. Elona. As she put the glass down.” I said reassuringly. love. “Elona. but clearly this was a sensitive matter and she was deeply embarrassed. “Thanks for coming in again. “There is one thing. finally finding her voice. I‟ll be talking to them in due course.” I began.
He has refused to talk about it because he gave you his word that he wouldn‟t. “Some serious shit has happened to her. We can always go and see her later.” At this. Leave me alone!” She got up and ran out of the room in tears. I remembered that Mike said he would talk if Elona gave her permission. “Yes? You did confide in Mike?” She nodded again. Phil got up to follow her. “Not now. Her shaking got more acute and suddenly she exploded. I tried a new tack. her face went red again and her eyes filled with moisture. She nodded again.Friends or Lovers Elona seemed to be petrified by this suggestion and started to shake. Would you give your permission?” At this suggestion. “Mike won‟t speak about it without your permission. Elona looked up at me and her mouth dropped open. “Go get Nathan!” I commanded Phil. “Mike mentioned that you confided some information in him. “Something about Nathan?” Phil asked. “Let her calm down. “Now?” he asked. . “No! No! No! I don‟t want to talk to anyone about any of this. That‟s for sure!” I felt angry that Elona was still so distressed. but I shot him a look that he should let her go. She was clearly fighting back tears but to my surprise she started to nod. It fuelled my desire to find out more.” I said.” “Fuck!” offered Phil.
please. “I‟ve just had Elona in here and clearly something has happened between you and her. Come on in. My mind was spinning again. “Fuck!” he said as his eyes seemed to look everywhere in the room except at Phil or myself. Take a seat. “Nathan.” He sat down. Phil returned with suspect in hand. “Look at me!” Nathan looked pale and distressed but finally looked me in the eye.Rory Ridley-Duff “Yes! Now!” I said raising my voice. As I was running over all these things in my mind. “I would like to leave. . “Nathan. That is why I am asking you. But no more words came forth. Phil held up both his hands as if to hold me at bay and quietly made his way out of the room. I started to get angry again.” he asked. “Tell me what happened. 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. Can you explain?” Nathan seemed to go completely white and started reeling in his chair. looking as puzzled as he was concerned. She is extremely distressed.” I said.” “What has Elona said?” he asked.” Nathan held my gaze and did not flinch for even a fraction of a second. “Nothing. I was in no mood to be pushed around any more.
who was sitting in the corner. “If you use that type of language once more. Someone in Elona‟s team has made a sexual advance. What on earth was going on here? Nathan kept looking at me and was unmoved. “You tell me what happened. “About what?” I fired back. “Let me be completely open with you…. “You don‟t have a fucking clue. “We have a situation here. Phil was gently moving his head from side to side to indicate „no‟.” I said.. gave me a look of absolute disgust. She confided something to Mike. With Phil in the room I felt a bit bolder.Friends or Lovers Phil.” he repeated without showing any anger. She is seriously distressed and will not talk. was looking down at the floor as if he could not bear to watch what was happening. “No!” I shouted. . however. Do you understand?” “I would like to leave. I‟ll suspend you here and now. the whites of my teeth were showing too. please. “I would like to leave.” he asked again. but my anger got the better of me and I let rip. do you?” Nathan started. in the corner. Phil. That did not satisfy me. What is it to be?” I imagine that while I said this. seemed to get agitated and looked at me and if to indicate that he should be allowed to go. You can give a full account to your line manager and myself.” he added. “Nathan.” Phil looked as white as a sheet.” I saw Nathan‟s lips go tight and the whites of his teeth show. but he will not talk either. Nathan. or I will have to take this to your line manager first thing in the morning. You can either give me an account of your behaviour or I‟ll call a disciplinary hearing. please. “A fucking clue about anything…. still calm and unflinching.
as if everything was coming together. “Okay. Maybe she didn‟t reciprocate and got upset. “Is Mike still in the building?” “Sorry?” asked Phil. Is that clear?” Phil obediently did as I asked while I made myself another cup of tea. If he‟d been more experienced.Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay.” Phil nodded. she tried to confide in Mike and he tried to handle it „within the team‟. but he was too intimidated. You may go. perhaps he would have suggested that I sleep on this. I was glad that Phil was in the room. go immediately to Nathan‟s manager and inform him of the meeting at 10am. Nathan must have made a pass at Elona. who seemed taken aback at this question.” Holding my gaze. “Is Mike still in the building?” Phil looked unsure. This kind of . Idiot. but I had one more card to play. What a bloody amateur. I would like you here at 10am tomorrow morning with your line manager. Whichever is true. what if Elona did want Nathan to make a pass? Perhaps he seduced her. I want you to get Mike and bring him here immediately. then dumped her. I could feel them pierce me right through. Shaken as I was. The situation felt like it was getting out of control. I held myself together and summoned Phil over. I felt on a roll. Do not take no for an answer. Still looking shaken himself. you have made your choice. Firstly. Then again. I imagine she tried to confide this in Mike. He must have suggested they go out for a drink and then said something that upset her. “Right. Whatever he said made Elona mad. Phil nodded a „yes‟. he slowly left the room with hatred burning in his eyes.
Always the woman who gets hurt.” Mike raised his hands and grabbed his head in despair. who stormed into my office with an irritated look on his face. What on earth are you doing?” “Don‟t piss me around. What is so urgent it cannot wait until morning?” “Sit down. Phil returned with Mike. “Yes. “Why?” I asked. Mike. “I‟m not surprised. “Have you talked to Elona?” he responded. “What the hell is this? I was in a meeting with my team and Phil tells me that you have an emergency.” Mike. always the man who gets away with it. and then he rubbed his cheek. Mike. He looked away as he thought for a moment. surprisingly. okay. I want to know what she said and how you handled it.” Phil had again retreated to the corner of the room and was looking uncomfortable. Sit down and let‟s talk about this. “What‟s the relationship problem between Elona and Nathan?” I asked. “I told you to back off this.” he said ushering me into my chair with his open palm. seemed to slow down and take this in.Friends or Lovers stuff really makes my blood boil. “So where d‟you want to start?” he asked. He looked me calmly in the eye. She won‟t talk about it. . “Okay. It has come to light that there is a relationship problem between Elona and Nathan and that she reported this to you.” he finally said. She got so upset that she left the room in tears.
“There may have been a breach of the law and I have a duty of care towards her. “She‟s distressed. She is of great concern to you. him or me. “Did you ask her if she was okay about you talking to me?” he repeated. I began to wonder who was conducting this enquiry. but she did not answer. then Mike would have been dead on the floor in an instant. “They why don‟t you respect her wishes?” he asked. “Did it ever occur to you this witch-hunt is the cause of her distress?” His words inflamed me. I can see that alright. “How dare you! If people told me what the fuck is going on then we could sort this mess out. Why can‟t you see that?” “Oh. I‟m trying to help her. “Did you ask her if she‟d mind me talking?” he asked.” “A duty of care! You call this a duty of care?” he asked accusingly. 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 confessed.” I replied. .Rory Ridley-Duff “Because this situation is probably the most upsetting thing that has ever happened to her.” I responded keeping my calm. “I did and she confirmed that she had confided in you. “Yes. I cannot help her unless I understand the cause of the distress.” “Are you going to tell me about it?” I asked again.
pointed an accusing finger at me and carried on. You are not going to wriggle out of this. “It‟s got everything to do with it. “You sexist bastard…. 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.” Mike. my being a woman has nothing to do with it…….” Suddenly. I resented him asking all the questions. but I did not know how to respond. “He would not talk. not this time. not for one second!” . “What‟s so funny?” I said angrily. “You stupid woman!” I was bright red with anger and started to defend myself.” “And what did Nathan tell you?” he asked. Mike snapped and shouted at me in a way that reverberated in the marrow of my bones.” “You think you are so fucking clever! Well. One of you is going to answer for Elona‟s distress. He seemed to think that I don‟t know what I‟m talking about. One of you is going to answer for what happened.. “Because he‟s right.Friends or Lovers “I‟m asking you why you only seem concerned to protect Elona?” “You arrogant bastard. however. She is the one who is distressed and somewhere in this heap of shit Nathan or you did something to cause that distress.” Mike gave a small laugh.
Penny.Rory Ridley-Duff He paused for a moment and seemed to calm down. “Sit down. “Tell me honestly. he eventually ventured an opinion.” Phil looked at me and nodded slowly. His mouth opened several times without any words coming out. This was one of them. “Mike‟s an awkward bugger. Mike got ready to speak again. What had just happened? I looked up at Phil and beckoned him over to my desk. during which time Phil remained seated. “What a mess. This time. his voice was much calmer but the words cut into me and I felt a shiver run through my body. After a moment. Phil. “What d‟you think of what he just said?” Phil looked uncomfortable. There have only been a few occasions in my life when I have been completely lost for words. “Tell me.” I asked. He came over slowly looking as shaken and as shocked as me.” he said as he fixed his gaze on me. It took me a full 10 minutes to calm down and regain my composure. and his hands fidgeted on his knees. isn‟t he?” I grabbed my head with both hands.” I said. What a total fucking mess! Call Mike and tell him that I want him back here at 10am tomorrow. With his eyes fixed on the desk. I was so shocked that I did not know what to say. He found it difficult to look at me. I looked at the cold cup of tea on my desk and gave a short laugh. . “have you ever made a pass at a man?” Then he calmly walked out of the room.
. As such. if not religious. my father was quite different. even if that goal was a modest one such as building the scientist‟s reputation. particularly men. he would say. He would ask me why I liked some people and not others. he argued. was imbued with deeply human values. “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. Scientists. He argued that science was always oriented towards a political goal. His words echoed in my head. is the key to a deeper understanding. he had a strong spiritual side that. I think it was his career inside the civil service that inclined him towards a political way of thinking. my father told me that my instincts and emotions were my greatest assets. Intertwined in our deliberations. Together we had many conversations in which we traced my interest back to an emotional experience or aspiration. Penny. including a view that science was rarely scientific. He would ask me why I enjoyed learning some things but not others. put great stock in objectivity and science. it is because it moves us emotionally. We study something because it is interesting to us.Friends or Lovers Chapter 20 When I was young. he always pressed me to talk about the underlying reason for my interest in something. Emotion. It is interesting to us because it is meaningful. were doing themselves a disservice when they argued that emotion had no place in science. He was an unusual man. While many people.
would often walk out of the room and leave us to it. “Just look at what we do when we desire someone‟s attention. My mother. Our behaviour and feelings can change dramatically.” Despite his slightly pompous manner. And the reverse! What monsters we can be when we don‟t want a relationship. and is. We open our mind to their views. 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. my father was. on the other hand. my love for him grew with the conviction that there was wisdom in his words. studying new things in order to impress them. 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. Has Mike hurt me? Maybe it was the other way around. more willing to change our own values. . Emotion is what drives us! When people say we should not let emotion affect our judgement they forget that it‟s emotion that inclines us to make a judgement in the first place. We may find ourselves learning new skills. So strange.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. more humane than anyone else I‟ve met. I disliked her for that – she seemed to deliberately misunderstand him .and this was one of the reasons she and I argued throughout my teens. become more willing to learn things they are interested in. We‟re at our most cruel when trying to get people out of our lives. To me. She said my father talked twaddle about sex.
and finally annoying. but underneath I understand how it feels to be crushed by the weight of male attention. It was only the previous day that I had learned there was a Nathan at all. I felt used by men. I may have the veneer of confidence. And yet. So. not those that chose me. I decided that I‟d never again be a shrinking violet. I would make up my own. Whenever I met her. I felt. I tossed and turned throughout the night and in every configuration. I could not make the pieces fit the puzzle. . We either buckle under the weight or kick back.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. but later he cheated on me and I was crushed. In my first year at university. I had no feelings about him except as yet another person who was adding to Elona‟s distress. At first I was flattered. My father helped me look at these as learning experiences. I committed to one lad. my emotions kept on churning. She was as introverted as any person I had ever met. then confusing. I empathise with her. I would have the men I chose. Eventually. even as I had these thoughts. Would a person like that make a move on Nathan? I did not see how it was possible. I fell apart and he quickly left me for someone else. It was exciting. Am I reacting to my own past? I can feel Elona‟s hurt. Elona would not make up an accusation like this. It made no sense. she was quiet and scared. I would no longer wait for a man to make up my mind. would she? I couldn‟t buy Mike‟s view that Elona was the protagonist here.
He might have some words of wisdom for me so I called him. Encountering him up close was disturbing me. I thought of John. “Are you still troubled by the weekend?” The weekend? That seemed like a lifetime ago.” I replied. “I just thought I‟d pick your brains. Maybe he could help. “Hi. He‟s strong too. John. I realised that I was crossing another line and inviting a new type of relationship. Up until this point. “That‟s my girl” he responded. I was a bit irritated by his use of the word „girl‟. “Hi. I had never intruded into his professional world to benefit my own. Even at his age. I can see why young women might be attracted to him. but never professionally. if you don‟t mind. no!” I laughed. He is a good-looking man. “Good lord. It is quite possible that Elona likes him more than she‟s saying. As I did so. . This was something new. Do I understand what she is going through? I thought of Mike. Penny. All the other women seem to like Mike. Both mentally and physically. he immediately sensed concern in my voice. “What‟s up?” he asked.Rory Ridley-Duff Is my past affecting me now? Can I really understand her? For the first time I am having real doubts. We‟d been intimate in a personal way. As if by instinct. I find it very confusing and thought……” I hesitated for a moment. That situation at work is spiralling out of control.” he said brightly as he answered the phone. but I let it pass. the burden of the last few hours seemed to lift instantly.
it is more like a ritual series of moves that women and men make in turn. When it works everyone is happy. and not seeking a fatherly opinion so much as a professional dialogue. why not?” he answered without a moment‟s hesitation. “Sure. I was not an amateur. Sure I do. In this world.Friends or Lovers “…. “Involved in what way?” John enquired. “That‟s not clear. They initiate with non-verbal stuff that induces the man to talk to her. It seems there is another young lad involved and that she and this other lad somehow got „involved‟ with each other. “Hmmm! This does sound a bit more complicated than you first thought.” “Yes. “Yes. Has anything changed?” he asked. But the strangest thing is that the boss is now saying that she had a crush on the lad. How likely is that?” I asked this as a rhetorical question. but John took it literally and gave me a most peculiar answer.I thought that maybe we could discuss it a bit more and you could guide me a bit. “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. When it . but there it was tripping out of my lips before I could stop it.” I chose my words carefully. “Perhaps. and that the situation was caused by her giving him too much attention. “Most relationships are started by women in very subtle ways. It is fallacy that men always pursue and women always resist.” As I said the word „involved‟ I cringed. She confided something to her boss about this lad.” I said. but later she accused the boss of inappropriate behaviour.
“Well…. Men respond. “Is that a surprise. particularly if one party feels led on and then humiliated. 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 who don‟t pay attention to a .” “Do men signal?” I asked. Others jump in with both feet at the first opportunity. Many won‟t – they‟ll get scared. don‟t you think?” “If that is what you believe. I assure you that it‟s not the case. if an unattractive woman signals in a similar way. I was puzzled by this. Women signal. feeling a little more relaxed. Men are always pursuing and pestering women. “Successful ones do. Women comfort their own egos by thinking they have been singled out by an attractive man. Penny?” he asked. I‟d studied psychology and this was the opposite of what I had learnt. Men comfort their own egos by thinking they‟ve initiated the relationship.Rory Ridley-Duff doesn‟t things can turn quite nasty. “So you are saying this is only true for some people?” I asked. Close observation. Most of women‟s behaviours are non-verbal. There are women who take verbal initiatives but generally it is the other way around. This is true in most cultures. most of men‟s are verbal – at least initially. I suppose it is. it will look that way. “Men will respond quickly if an attractive woman signals. Men tend to think they are making the first move but often they are responding to a non-verbal cue. but most don‟t.. however. she may be ignored both verbally and nonverbally. These are generalisations. He started to give me to fuller explanation.” I paused for a moment unsure what to say next. providing they can overcome their own nerves. But.
he puts it around her. she links his arm. They‟ll exchange personal information. positive body movements and such like. but people have been able to observe it. otherwise they‟ll ignore the signals. I‟m giving you behaviour patterns. If there is a mutual attraction. we are talking probabilities. She lifts a glass. You‟ll know if this is happening in a group because a pair seem to be ignoring everyone else. just gut feeling stuff. I felt a need to direct the discussion. “Is it likely she made a pass at him?” I asked. she nods. tell stories.Friends or Lovers woman‟s signals will probably end up embarrassing themselves. If she likes him enough. Men who get a signal will usually proceed fairly gently at first to see whether they continue to get signals. increase their eye contact. I‟ve never met them and different couples behave differently. All I can say is that it is possible but against the norm. turn towards each other.” “So this is unlikely?” I confirmed. “Well. she whispers in his ear. he lifts a glass. Not everyone agrees about the meaning of this.” . Interesting as this was. behaviour moves through a series of stages. In these early exchanges. but in the trade it is called „synchronisation‟ or „rapport building‟. start touching each other. such as prolonged eye contact.” I stifled a laugh. They‟ll only carry on if they are interested. start sharing opinions. “I don‟t know the specifics. talk about common interests. laughter. he laughs and says something back. This is often unconscious. a woman‟s behaviour generally encourages the man to talk more. he nods. Then you get a kind of game that signals mutual interest. she‟ll eventually make a move that he cannot ignore.
I was still contemplating when he started to talk again. He hesitated for a moment. “Only kidding!” I added. Are you free?” I could hear other voices in the background and realised that someone in the house was calling to him.” he added with a light-hearted chuckle.” I could hear an urgency in his voice. “…. It is nothing special for them. I decided to ask directly. “Is there something you need to do?” I asked.Rory Ridley-Duff He paused for a second before making one final comment. . “If he doesn‟t respond. “No less than they deserve!” I replied quickly. There was a moment of awkward silence as I contemplated my last comment. so my defences were immediately triggered. she‟ll feel rejected and may do something to hurt his feelings.can you let me get my diary?” I asked to buy myself a moment. It really pissed me off that someone else only had to shout and he wanted to cut off our conversation. Sort of…” he responded. What is going on here? I wondered. I‟m in Leamington next Wednesday afternoon and all Thursday.it will be easier to talk next week. We could meet in the morning if you are free. She‟ll give him an emotional slap. Men are routinely humiliated.” he said. It was unlike John to cut short any conversation. but would you like to meet up next week to chat about it? You can give me specifics. I‟m away in the Lakes this weekend. but I detected a coolness in his tone. “Um. “Errr…. “Penny. “Sure.
it is unlikely that Elona would have felt any need to make an advance.” “Okay. Still. “I can fit you in on Wednesday morning.” He rang off before saying goodbye. . If Nathan had started flirting. making him wait a bit longer. Phil told me that all the lads had flirted with her... I think I have enough here to read the riot act to Nathan tomorrow if I don‟t get answers. his comments were interesting and useful. No.maybe.Friends or Lovers “Let me see…. The conservation was not as friendly or as pleasant as I had come to expect. from what John says. yes!” I finally said. No. I‟ll e-mail you with a time and see you then. I wondered if he resented me asking him for a professional opinion. I was not impressed. 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. I could not understand why he had been curt with me.ah……yes…. “….” I said.. No.
Over onto his front now. I just can‟t fathom it out. This is just brill! I wish you could see this. but if another sprog is going to come along I guess I‟ll just have to accept it fully. Carole‟s boy. I imagine that she‟s pregnant again and wants to celebrate in style. “He‟s on his back. Every time she does something grown up like this it makes me feel a little bit older. She says she has news. trying to sound enthusiastic. do your stuff!” As I wait. feet in the air. I tidy round the kitchen. it always looks like a bomb has hit it. she‟s happy and that‟s what matters. There is not much to do.” she said trying to contain guffaws. Still. He‟s on his back with a rattle in his hand. I tidy up the house. Big news. “Well. has progressed from sitting up to rolling around.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 21 My sister has just called. she roars with laughter as he manages to shift his weight again and roll onto his back. “I just wish you could see him. While I wait for her to come around.” I dutifully command. I still can‟t get used to being an aunty. Come on baby. My windowsill is adorned with an assortment of stones and rocks that I‟ve picked up over the years. Wait………here he goes.” Try as I might to understand how watching a baby roll over and over can make her giggle like a schoolgirl. Young Toby. cooing and laughing. She called me a few nights ago almost wetting herself with laughter. When I go around to Carole‟s. along with holders for utensils and . put the few plates I‟ve used in the dishwasher wondering just how lazy I can be. “Tell me what you see….
the front doorbell rings. Decadence! Just what the moment needs and I rustle around the cupboard seeing if I have the ingredients for a calorie busting meal. I walk right up to her and put my hand on her stomach.” And in she walks looking groomed and beaming. Just as the boredom is banished. I think.Friends or Lovers instruments for practising my Nigella Lawson recipes. Her breasts look quite firm today so I cup one in each hand. tracing a line from her shoulder to her elbow.” she says. I look carefully. I flick the switch on the kettle and amble back into the living room. Nothing special there. What is it?” “Keep looking. Her hand is different. . playing with me. with her smile getting wider all the time. Absolutely no sign of a baby there. I continue tracing a line from the elbow to her hand. “All right you. It is firm and flat. She smiles. “Am I getting warm?” I ask. “The door‟s open…. “Try a bit higher. “Has someone given you a happy pill?” I ask “No need. I cannot put my finger on it but something has definitely changed in her appearance. “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. “See anything now?” she asks.” she says. I look her up and down to try to understand what is different. I give her a puzzled look and start to move my hand upwards. I think. “Come on in!” I shout.” she says mysteriously.
How many women have ever been asked that question?” “‟Yes‟ will do nicely. It is so hard to describe how I‟m feeling. one with each hand. 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. 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. but now the moment is . “When did he ask?” “Last night.” she gasped. I took a step back and held both her arms. “July 31st?” “Oh. of course. “Careful sis‟. “Your what?” “My „best woman‟. I want a „best woman‟!” I just looked at her unsure what to say. 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. “Be my „best woman‟?” she asked.Rory Ridley-Duff As I look at the image before me. I could feel the moisture start to fill my eyes. It is. He came home and told me that he‟d got another promotion and had a present for me.” “Some present!” I shouted and suddenly the tears were there. “When?” was the only word that came out. The tears just kept rolling down my cheeks.” I just closed my eyes and nodded. I felt something in my sides coarse up through my body. what she has been dreaming of for the last few years. Carole!” I still felt in shock. “I want to make it to the alter without crushed ribs.” “I don‟t know what to say.
We would write all the words of the ceremony out and act the whole thing for hours and hours.” says Carole almost falling to the floor with me. . We never took it in turns. I am pleased for her. “Sis‟? Are you alright?” “I feel a bit woozy…. For a few moments. I would have got you to sit down first…. I can‟t explain why. My little sister. “Here. “What‟s happened?” “You think I know?” I ask. but I realise that I did not expect to feel like this. Of course. I can‟t get up. Put your arm around me!” She levers me towards the sofa and finally I think I can make it to my feet. My legs just gave way as if they simply could not hold me up any more.” And then it happened. I did not expect her to marry before me. concerned. “Jeez sis‟. like the room is spinning. My little sister is getting married.. “If I knew my news would have this effect on you.” I manage to get out before I completely give the game away. “I never thought of you as heavy!” she joked as she hauls me up. we would play „weddings‟ and I was always the bride and she the bridesmaid. shocked – every emotion I have in me just crashes down and I feel giddy with the intensity of it all. My little sister is getting married.!” Instead of feeling wild with excitement and happiness. I feel worried. I feel cold and sweaty. When we were young. she was always the bridesmaid and I was the bride. “Of course. ecstatic. and I tumbled onto the floor and nearly hit my head on the table.Friends or Lovers here.
” “That‟s simple!” she says without a moment‟s hesitation. drank all evening. She is my big sister. I playfully punch her on the arm. talk dirty and then……. but she is the mature one.. This should be one the happiest moments in our life. When I hear her wicked suggestion the grin returns to my face. totally alone. We flopped on my bed in fits of giggles. my lips part and my teeth are showing. “Okay! Okay!” I say. I quickly turn and give her a sly look. . “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.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked up at her and felt ashamed. totally old.you tell me exactly what is expected of a „best woman‟…. “down the pub we go. A few seconds later. She is not my little sister any more. As I go to get my coat. totally useless. and yet I feel totally hollow inside. How can I feel like this? I bury my head in my hands as more tears emerge. for not thinking of how happy she must be feeling. not me. get smashed. not being able to feel the excitement she feels.” “Okay sis‟ – lead the way!” and with that remark we went to the pub. got thrown out when we started to sing rude songs and staggered back to my place. my confidence returning. but she took it in her stride. But the truth is that my little sister‟s announcement makes me realise that I have not grown up yet. “Right!” I shout. “I think I can manage that. My little sister is getting married. It pains me to say it. I feel like taking a dagger and stabbing myself for not thinking of her. How can I possibly tell her? Whatever she was expecting it was not this.
Carole dissolves into fits of giggles and starts kicking her feet in the air. No!” I exclaim. “Yeah. “I thought you were going to say that you were pregnant again.Friends or Lovers “Do….” Laced with liquor. No. “I am!” she says.” “Tell me!” she asks.do you…. “Thought your „big news‟ was going to be…. “No. “It‟s due in November and her name is going to be Penny Anne – after you and mum!” . “Do you want to hear something funny?” she retorts busting her sides and unable to contain her hilarity.” I laugh. “Stop a moment. “Do you want to hear something funny? Do you want to know what I thought?” “Thought about what?” Carole asks. come on! Spill it to sis‟” I tell her.. Be serious!” I demand as we lie there trying not to giggle. “I do!” she shouts hysterically.. my words just will not come out properly.
” she said. Can I help you?” “Hello. I called Mike‟s department and his colleague said that he had also not arrived at work yet. “Hello?” she said. We‟ll have to rearrange.” There was a long pause and in the distance I thought I could hear some voices.” The tone in her voice was strange. the woman returned to the phone. Nathan phoned in sick. “Can I ask who is calling?” “My name is Penny – I‟m the Head of Personnel at IC. I think he‟s already gone. “I‟m still here.” I answered. I had a full schedule until the end of the following week. We had a disciplinary meeting this morning but Mike‟s not turned up for work. but I thanked her and spent a few moments considering what to do next. I .Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 22 My plans for Elona were thwarted the next morning. I left a message asking him to call me. “Hang on a minute. Is Mike there?” I asked. I called Nathan first and heard an answer phone message. almost mocking. Can you get him to call me?” “Sure. “It‟s nothing really. “He‟s already gone to work.” I replied. Can I take a message?” I thought for a moment because the issue was sensitive. I switched on my PC and opened the personnel database system and searched for their details. Next I called Mike‟s home number and a woman replied. “if I see him before you do. “Leamington 397333. I‟ll see if he‟s still here. Eventually.
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. and I felt my emotions stir a bit when I read his greeting. naughty. Just to let you know that I’ll be arriving in Leamington about 10. if you prefer. We found a slot free at 3pm the following Wednesday week – I would meet them after I‟d had lunch with John. I called Phil into my office and asked him to check later that day whether Nathan or Mike made it into work.30am. Penny xx I read over the message again.Friends or Lovers really wanted this resolved now and did not want it to drag on. Hi sexy. I was to chaperone the young entrepreneur who would be speaking while Dave was acting as host. Was I being too flirty? Hell. I’ll save the silky black dress for another occasion (!!) you’ll just have to admire my power suit instead. Still trying to corrupt my sweet innocence? Naughty. I’m stopping overnight with friends so we could either have our meeting late morning or make an evening of it. this was John and “flirt” was his middle name so I hit the [Send] . With a tinge of regret I declined John‟s offer of an evening meal. Phil agreed to inform all the parties concerned. I’d love to be seen with you. but it will have to be in the morning as we arranged – although a lazy lunch is possible. I retrieved my e-mails and my mood improved when I received a note. Hi John. I checked my diary and found that I had to go to an evening event with Dave – a launch event for a new product.
Fewer than five minutes had passed before I received his response. just been going through some Professional Development stuff. Are you able to meet me in the morning so that I can try out my presentation on you? Also. We can compare power suits. Both you and I need to consider this before our appraisal in July.30pm at Bella Marie? John xx I loved flirting with him. The evening event had two guest speakers . Subject: Launch Event Pen. He found an afternoon event with an optional evening dinner. Just finalising stuff for Wednesday. It would run on 30th June and covered the latest legislative changes in our field. I finished going through my emails and the last one was from Dave about the evening event. 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 . Penny. He still had a way of making me feel special.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. The issues with Nathan and Mike slipped from my mind as I contemplated the prospect of spending more time with John. 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. Lazy lunch it is. Meet you at 12.
the second of these really caught my attention. there was an option to stay overnight in the hotel. For those attending the evening event. Given what was going on. . I thought Dave would enjoy the first talk so I asked Phil to liase with him and book the overnight option for both of us. Thankfully the day ended without further incident.Friends or Lovers scheduled – one giving a talk on entrepreneurial behaviour and the other called “Intimacy at Work”.
. “Who is it?” I asked out loud.” I smiled because it was unusual for him to call me. “could you get that for me?” He picked up the receiver and redirected the call to his own phone. “Phil. “It‟s a man for you.” “Well he doesn‟t sound very friendly to me. “I‟m afraid she‟s……no she‟s…. He may be bold by e-mail but he rarely initiated phone conversations.she‟s busy at the moment. “Wednesday.” and with these words he pulled the handset from his ear and gave it a harsh look. Can you meet any earlier?” he asked without seeming to pause for breath. John!” I pointed out. “He‟s a friend. I mouthed to him „who is it?‟ but he shrugged his shoulders to indicate that he didn‟t know.” Phil said as he diverted the call to my phone. Called John.” I shouted. I picked up the receiver. Is everything okay?” I asked.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 23 On the Monday morning. John. Phil. “Hi. Around 9am. “It‟s okay. sir! I‟ll see if I can find her. A few moments later I could hear him conversing in a slightly agitated way. “And a „good morning‟ to you too. He insists he must talk to you. Can you……?” It sounded as though someone was not letting him get a word in edgeways.” I say. “Please hang on a moment. the phone rang.. I got into work early and resumed work on the contracts for Dave.
“Can‟t say. hang on!” I say.30. “What is this all about?” “Can‟t say.” “Yes. Can you meet any earlier on Wednesday?” he repeated. But .Friends or Lovers “Sorry Penny! „Good morning‟ to you.” With that last comment. not on the phone. trying to slow him down. I‟ll see you at 11.” “Your wife?” “Penny. “Well. “It‟s better to talk in person.” “John? Has something happened to you?” I could feel concern creeping into my being.30 if that helps. not on the phone. Whenever anybody says “try not to worry” it is sure to make you worry even more. “Why not? The heavens haven‟t fallen down over the weekend have they? My sister‟s wedding hasn‟t suddenly been cancelled.” “That sounds fairly ominous! What do „we need to talk‟ about?” I said in an attempt to mock him slightly and lighten the mood. “No! Not me. It was unlike John to sound so agitated. Okay.” “Hang on. Penny. Try not to worry. a bit – I could bring it forward to 11. has it?” He completely ignored this piece of news and carried on. I don‟t want to talk on the phone. He did not answer my question about his wife and I wondered whether something might have happened between them.” he repeated. he rang off. We need to talk. That‟s good. I‟ll tell you Wednesday. Penny. I‟ll meet you at 11.30 – we can talk over a coffee before lunch.
He was just very insistent that he talk to you immediately.Rory Ridley-Duff then I remembered that he said it was nothing to do with him. “About what?” “Did he say what he wanted to talk about?” “No. if you ask me. “Yeah.” I thought for a moment. What then? “Did he say anything to you?” I asked Phil. Very pushy guy.” In my head I added a few extra words that Phil did not hear.” . He‟s a pushy guy alright. “That‟s what I love about him.
I took notes and stopped him after each section to give him feedback. We don‟t do many major product launches so Dave was putting in extra effort. “Well. 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. looking straight into my eyes in a way that I‟d never seen before. He ran through the section again until I gave him a thumbs up and we continued this process until late morning. “Come on. It was almost like he was a blank. Tell aunty Penny…. “Do you have to rush off?” he asked. and for him to pause for any length of time before giving an answer was quite strange. but I responded with more confidence than I felt. “No. After working through the contracts. “Do you remember I said my wife was ill? I vaguely recollected him saying something. If there‟s something. you can tell me!” . 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. 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. Dave. “Of course! Is she not better?” Dave did not show any emotion. “Yeeaah!” he finally said slowly. Dave is rarely hesitant.
Rory Ridley-Duff He looked into my eyes again. “Family? Have you told them?” “I‟ll do that later today. You‟re the first person I‟ve told. He was in pain and I let go of his arms and put my hand on his cheek and stroked it. They‟ve done a scan and found a tumour. She‟s not been well for a while. Finally. It‟s advanced. Come here. There was fear in them. just tilted his head until it rested on my hand and closed his eyes. “She‟s dying!” This news had a deep and lasting impact on me. and in the evening when I was on my own I felt acutely . He licked his lips again. They don‟t think she‟ll survive more than a few months. “Oh Dave! I‟m so sorry. He turned slowly and left the room. I had never seen him like this before. As I held him I could feel his heart breaking and the gentle movement of someone crying. I held his left arm in my right hand and then placed my left hand on his shoulder. and she‟s been back and forth to the doctor. he spoke. Sometimes you work with a person for a while and simply do not realise the bonds that are forming.” I‟d worked with Dave for 10 months and this was by far the most human moment that we had shared. “Have you told anyone?” “No. I was sad for the rest of the day. He didn‟t say anything either.” I put his head on my shoulder and my arms around him. We stood there for many minutes before he slowly pulled away and without looking at me said “thank you”. Dave had a lot of energy but deep down he was a gentle soul. I took her into hospital this weekend because her headaches were so painful that she could not sleep.
Deep down a pain formed inside me that actually hurt. My friend Dave should not have to bear this so young. cruel and so unfair. but not by much. . It was my time.Friends or Lovers distressed. my moment to face someone else‟s pain and not shrink from the thankless task of helping him through it. He was a bit older than me. It was unnatural. He needed someone to care about him. I found myself struggling to get to sleep as the silent anger I felt kept me awake.thinking of him sitting with his wife at the hospital . There was no God if this could happen. I had not realised I cared about him and it came as a surprise. As I lay there .I decided he needed a friend.
Is there any background information you can bring on that personnel problem you have got? May help us find out what is going on. a few words came out. In the evening was Dave‟s product launch.” he said sheepishly. I had taken extra care getting dressed because I wanted to look good for my lunch date with John. smiling. “Doing something special today?” he asked. “That‟s very sweet of you. I was surprised at how flattered I felt. But it was a good lie. he raised his eyebrows. In the afternoon. John .” I said. He was a good-looking lad. but with a small shuffle of his feet and with his eyes slightly lowered. See you soon. as if he had said more than he meant to. I looked at him with new eyes. but for a moment I looked at him in a lustful way. I got myself a cup of coffee and went through my e-mails. When Phil saw me. I had no idea what was in store for me. “Got the launch event tonight and have no time to go home. “That young entrepreneur will think he‟s died and gone to heaven!” For Phil to pay me a compliment was so unexpected that I actually stopped in my tracks. I was due to meet Mike and Nathan for a showdown. “You‟re welcome. I thought.” I lied. I strode into work feeling smart and confident. He looked a little embarrassed. Hi Penny.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 25 When Wednesday came. too young for me.
Subject: CIPD Pen. By the time I‟d waded through them. there was an e-mail from Dave. The other e-mails were either trivial or junk. It was quite a showpiece. I took Phil with me. I couldn‟t take anything with me. That would be lovely. “You‟ll go down a treat. but I responded by saying that the Data Protection Act prevented me sharing confidential records. As he stood there in a new suit and tie. After the speeches.” “Are you sure? Are you really sure?” he hurriedly asked. “The preparation was worth it. He was impressive and looked cute. and we both settled into the company‟s small lecture theatre. “You don‟t think that final video is slightly overlong or overdone?” I put my hand on his arm and reassured him. a reward for his earlier flattery. Thanks for booking the CIPD thing. I thought he cut a fine figure. I just don’t feel like a big social evening afterwards. Dave. hair cut and groomed. . 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. it would be different. his voice confidently outlined the magnificent benefits of tomorrow‟s personal health gadgetry. Next. We would have to discuss the issues as a series of hypothetical situations. The information was confidential. the time for Dave‟s presentation approached.” I reassured him. If I hired him. complete with visuals and sound. I look forward to it. A swift response winged its way back through the IT network.
He was dressed in a dark deep blue suit. even though I didn‟t intend it that way. The banter I expected didn‟t materialise so I probed him to see if anything was up. but it was Dave who gave them charm and wit. he said that this was one of the best contracts he had been offered and it would bring him about £30k for little more than a month‟s work. .” He just beamed. “Thanks.” This was going to be a very long day. “See you tonight when the madness has died down.” he said. His behaviour was different as well and I initially attributed this to his meeting in the afternoon. Pen. * * * John was slightly late. I felt. He intended to use the money to support his writing for several months. The materials were fine. We arrived at Bella Marie around 11. ordered drinks and looked at the menu. We settled down at the table. he took this as a big compliment. I thought. “Nervous about this afternoon?” I asked. but much less spin. John „the businessman‟ just didn‟t seem quite right.Rory Ridley-Duff “Slicker than a New Labour political broadcast.50 and settled down for lunch. As he was a dedicated New Labour supporter. It was the first time I‟d seen him wear a tie. He was well groomed and I quickly realised that I preferred him in casual attire. He was pleased to see me but carried a grave look that I‟d not seen before. When we chatted on the phone yesterday. He would be nervous.
” If it was not his interview then why was his behaviour so different? I was puzzled and tried a bit of flattery. He called me a „stupid woman‟. slightly relieved. you know. “Not sure why? Can you expand on that?” “Well.” he requested. Very smart – you‟ll knock them dead. personable and popular.Friends or Lovers “A bit. I find him a bit „old school‟. 50-ish. I called him a sexist pig!” . and women would fall for him. As he settled back in his chair. so I thought I‟d dress the part. No point beating about the bush. I can see that he‟s good looking. his gaze started to focus on me properly. but I‟m not sure why. There are others to convince. however. I know the person contracting the work. I started to feel that something had changed between us but was at a loss to understand why. “Our hypothetical Mike!” I answered. but his gaze remained firmly on the menu. Not too bad.” John intervened at that point. My boss Dave is suspicious of him. but he averted his eyes quickly. Sometimes he gives me the creeps. What‟s on your mind?” He looked up. You said we had to talk. John nodded and set himself in a listening pose. “John. he‟s good at his job. “Tell me about Mike…. We had quite a row last week. patronizing. “He‟s one of our sales staff. I feel he looks down on me sometimes.” I looked at him directly as I said this. He momentarily looked up and tried to smile. married. We‟ve worked together several times so I think today‟s a formality. “You look the part.
either. “What do you think?” he asked. I moved him to a new position. however. She‟s engaged to be married. because he‟s got a reputation as a womaniser. “Someone complained that he was hassling a colleague for a drink. The boss is pissed off with everyone because he got landed with the blame for a situation not originally of his own making. 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.” John nodded. There‟s a meeting this afternoon. women mostly. “Well.” . looking very thoughtful. and one in particular got quite keen. and his demeanour was attentive and serious. they got close. their former boss.” “So what‟s changed?” John asked. says the young woman confided in him but he won‟t talk unless she consents. not the other way around. and I thought that‟d be the end of it. my boss wanted me to find out more. It looked open and shut initially. She was sufficiently upset to confide in her boss. He made a pass and she rejected him. He has a history. encouraging me to continue. That‟s where the stories conflict. But I know her. He gave her support. The young lad won‟t co-operate. He found that men in the department had been flirting with her. I don‟t buy his story. She lives at home. “My instinct tells me that the lads went too far. The young woman won‟t say what happened.Rory Ridley-Duff John nodded. Now he‟s implied she might have been pursuing the young man. Mike. He took some of his staff with him. There was one lad in particular that seemed to take a fancy. I asked my assistant to keep his ear to the ground. I intend to crack some heads.
So he backs off. He backs off some more. Let‟s call him Nath. “Okay. You use the information as you see fit.” . Elena is not put off and actually starts to single out Nath himself. I could be called as a witness to a tribunal. Regardless. I had never seen him this intense and studious before. I was slightly taken aback. Explain!” I commanded. shall we?” “You know these people. She starts to receive more sexual attention.Friends or Lovers John kept nodding. “Where are you getting these names from?” “This is a hypothetical example. She‟s inexperienced with men. “Err. In her previous job she worked with women so this is a change for her. a bit embarrassed. wants to marry her. but he sees her flirting with a whole group of lads.” I said hesitantly. I want to help. His mate is crazy about Elena. Let me pretend this is a hypothetical case. Nath thinks she‟s a bit of alright and joins in the flirting at first. let‟s call her Elena – she‟s quiet. “Shall I try another interpretation for you?” he asked. but likes one of them. but I nodded to indicate he should carry on. I was not looking for another interpretation. John started to talk. if I tell you the source of my information then I‟ll be involved and could be dragged into the process. We‟ll call her boss Mick. If things go badly. But then he realises that her boyfriend is an old school friend. and has a job as administrator to a department that has quite a few young men. Penny. “Penny. fairly pretty. right?” This was too coincidental. shall we?” “Hold on!” I said. She confides in her boss. Okay. She‟s confused. “The young woman – tell you what.
” It was my turn to start nodding. I could feel the shock rise through me as I realised where all this was coming from.Rory Ridley-Duff I was angry. I nodded. . When I felt in control again. John knew Mike. He never asked. Every day she goes home they argue with her and tell her she‟s ruined everything. Luckily.Mick?” I asked. “What happened to…. It never seemed relevant. I struggled to keep my emotions in check. Pin-pricks shuddered all the way through me. For a moment. He continued the story. Having recovered my composure. I reeled. the waitress brought the drinks and asked for our order.” As these words came out. Mick listens to Elena and realises she‟s in a difficult situation. He seemed to have more information than I did. He‟d risked his own marriage to get her out. Nath then tells his old school friend that Elena came onto him and was flirting with all her work colleagues. “D‟you want me to continue?” he asked. “Her boss has a reputation for being sympathetic to his staff. Once he helped a work colleague suffering abuse. “Mick‟s known for his kindness. I did not know where he was getting this information but suddenly things started to make more sense. She becomes desperate to leave home. He‟s been known to intervene personally sometimes and help people out when their personal lives are troubled. completely bewildered. Her boyfriend reacts badly. I asked John questions. I‟d never told John exactly where I worked. Her parents are furious. He storms around and tells her the wedding is off. He put her up at his home until she found a new home.
but he refuses. With nowhere else to go…. she finally relented and let him go back home. My head dropped and my eyes fixed on the table as John continued talking. 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. Mick‟s wife felt betrayed. however. She tries again to persuade Mick to take her in. Mick agreed. In a rage. There was a condition. She goes into work the next day and is angry. Either the work colleague leaves or the marriage is over. but with Mick and shouts at him for not helping her.Friends or Lovers “The situation got so bad that Mick‟s wife gave him an ultimatum. Mick was sympathetic.. she goes around to Nath‟s house and tells him what he‟s done.moved into a flat with his work colleague.” . After a few months of Mick calling his wife every day. Elena was angry because she‟d heard how Mick had helped someone else. Nath tells her to „piss off‟. Someone walking past stops to watch and immediately reports the scene to their manager. He hoped that would be the end. She resists so he takes hold of her by the arm and makes her leave. on the condition that he be allowed to help her find a place to live. They became extremely close but were never lovers. Mick gave in. not with Nath. She kicked him out. Elena told him private details about her life and now felt abandoned. but later his wife learned that he‟d given money to buy furniture.” I felt I knew where the story was heading and my sense of dread started to increase.Mick…. said that he would help her. that he never bring another woman into their home. but could not let her move into his house or give her any money. “Elena wanted Mick to let her have his spare room.
She feels the problem lies with the way Pen handled the original complaint.” said John. I did not speak for several minutes. Penny. He was concerned that his wife would pre-judge the situation and end the marriage. “There is another hypothetical character. “She did what?” I said. “It gets worse. did not tell his wife why he had recently changed job.” “Worse? How could it get worse?” “You may want a stiff drink. one day. So. let‟s call her Pen. that the new job was a promotion rather than a convenient solution to an accusation of sexual harassment. a clear case of sex . I thought. Pen calls his house announcing herself as the Head of Human Resources and that Mick should be in a disciplinary meeting. “She threw him out again. in some ways I‟m relieved.” I said. “What a total fucking mess!” John was silent so I looked up at him feeling completely at a loss. There was more to come and I had to hear it.” “Well.Rory Ridley-Duff My head just hung there as I looked down at the table. he told a half-truth. “Mick. Are you ready?” “I need a stiff drink now!” I said trying to lighten the mood but John‟s face was implacable. “Why the hell did she do that?” “At the moment he‟s staying at a hotel with a friend.” At the mention of this name. However.” No prizes for guessing who the „friend‟ is. another shock wave went through me and I became rigid with fear. “He‟s been to a solicitor. His wife‟s curiosity is fired and she relentlessly asks questions until Mick tells her the whole story. because of the past.
that‟s one way of looking at things.” “Is that true?” I ask. “Because I couldn‟t let you go into your meeting later today completely unprepared. Could I really have got everything so wrong? “Well.Friends or Lovers discrimination and failure to observe natural justice principles now enshrined in law. “Why are you telling me?” I asked in a slightly accusing way. “He and his solicitor have checked the employment contract. “Penny!” John exclaimed. There is also the issue of the call to his home. I lost my appetite. “Fucking mess was about right. “It is. and my eyes dropped as I let John finish. “Today he‟s going to bring his solicitor. Suddenly. The solicitor takes the view that Pen has not fulfilled her duty of care to all the parties concerned. My head was spinning while I tried to work out what to do. At least. She‟s been a friend since his university days.” “He can‟t do that!” I interject.” I felt attacked from all sides and my defences started to bristle.” I commented sardonically. It says he can bring a friend if there is a disciplinary hearing. There‟s nothing to say whether the friend must be a work colleague or not. The solicitor is coming as a friend.” I was silent. I did not know how to feel. Penny!” said John. .” My body froze a second time. I think. “How noble of you!” I retorted. that is the story he will stick to if challenged.
he might terminate our friendship.” “So it‟s all lads altogether is it?” I didn‟t know where these words were coming from. This could be the end of my career.” “Yes. or knew I‟m telling you this. He doesn‟t know that I know you. I‟ve not known a kinder more honest man in my entire life. “Penny. “Just let me think a moment. I care about you.” I snapped.Rory Ridley-Duff “M…. you are just telling one side of the story.” “You what? You‟re saying you might testify against me?” “Penny! He‟s been a friend all my life. “Don‟t be like that.has been a life-long friend of mine. I act as an expert witness at tribunals. He led my scouts group when I was a kid. I needed to talk to the legal department of the company before the meeting. really. but this could come between us if Mike asks me to testify. What was I to do? “Where did that come from?” he demanded.” “I try not to take sides. This is serious. I don‟t want to lose your friendship. this is my field. I‟m trying to help.Mick….” I was getting more and more defensive and angry.” “How? Why? You know nothing about this case.” “Why on earth would he do that? This is nothing to do with you. just give a professional opinion. Panic overwhelmed me. but part of me sensed that I had to get out of the restaurant and find Dave. this is all too much. It‟s going to come down on my fucking head not yours. This is serious. If he did.” . He‟ll ask for my help and I will give it to him.” “Penny. He‟s been like a father to me.
Friends or Lovers “You are going to testify against me. If you contact Mike after talking to your insurers.” “Another way? Is there another way? You said he‟ll have a solicitor with him this afternoon…. Amuse me. Make notes. Help him with his domestic situation until the mediation is complete. I‟m fresh out of ideas.. Once you talk to .” I said weakly. Don‟t say anything. You – and the company – will be completely exposed. Do whatever you have to do to get the company to offer mediation to all the parties involved. I felt like I was being driven by something outside myself.” “Well.” “There is a way out. “The moment you talk to them. just listen. but acknowledge the points of view of the other parties. Listen to the story the way it is told by the other parties. Don‟t admit liability.” “I‟ll have to involve the company lawyers…. the insurers will not cover your employer for any losses. You have to mediate. aren‟t you?” “Not if we can find another way. this is going to end up in a court of law. You‟ll have to grab it with both hands this afternoon.” “No! You mustn‟t do that. “You must listen this afternoon. At the moment I was not in control..” he shouted. “If you don‟t. lots of notes.” “I don‟t know if I can do that.” 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. they‟ll call your insurers and the insurers will instruct you to have no further contact. hoping somehow I would disappear down a hole in the ground and this would all go away. just existing from second to second.
Not Mike.” I wanted to talk to Dave. John was doing this to save Mike. “What if you can get Mike and his wife back together?” The pretence that we were talking about hypothetical characters had completely vanished. John. I had to protect the company‟s interests. but what then? What of your future career?” “Oh God! I don‟t know!” Privately. “There are risks. But do you think they‟ll protect you? They might get you through the court case.Rory Ridley-Duff your legal team it will be out of your hands and will go to court. why should I take your advice? I hardly know you. “Penny. I did. For all I knew.” He looked hurt at my words but composed himself. John?” My fiery response took him back a bit and he regrouped. “What if you can mediate?” he insisted. Do you think you get to my position and not know stuff like that?” I resented him treating me like an idiot.” “I bloody know that. You are personally at risk from prosecution. Anyway. This is too big for me. This was as real as it gets. My responsibility was to the company.” “I can‟t handle this. “And if I don’t tell the legal team. then I could lose my job as well. to protect him. John was not put off and continued his attempts to persuade me. Please. “Penny.” he said firmly. please listen. Not John. “Once a formal process starts it‟s almost impossible to stop. There was little chance I would survive after such a misjudgement. Do you appreciate that. .
sensing immediately he had irked me. How could you know?” Indeed. “And you‟re the big shot who thinks he knows?” I said sarcastically. “What do you mean?” I asked sharply. “No more than anyone else. “I‟m sorry for getting angry.Friends or Lovers “I can‟t authorise that on my own.” “Don‟t stereotype me.” I said. We assume men pursue women. “It‟s okay. I‟d need Dave‟s support. . We‟re close. I felt sick. but I picked at it intermittently. “What?” he reacted.” The waitress brought our food and asked if we‟d like any more drinks. how could I know? There was so much that I‟d not been told.” he said in a slightly frosty way. John continued. “I mean that you were looking at the situation the way the vast majority of people look at such situations. In any other circumstances it would have looked beautiful and tasted delicious. I can‟t keep this from him.” “Would he help?” “I couldn‟t do this without him. and that women spend most of their time resisting men. I wasn‟t blind to this!” I said with some irritation. I looked at the meal in front of me.” he said. I don‟t think he‟ll like this.” “Would he help?” “I see him later tonight. It sounded like he was criticising my judgement. At the very least. It‟s a kind of blindness. I can run it past him. “We can only see what we look for.
“You know that. As the remorse grew. “Equality means protecting both sexes. He laughed again and I found that I could not sustain my anger with him. I‟m sure you are very knowledgeable. I remembered Mike saying something similar during our earlier argument. It‟s a common problem.” I simmered for a few minutes and ate my food.” I looked at him coolly.” he said.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m sorry. I didn‟t mean to sound critical. “As one of my friends told me a few years ago „if you think women are weak. “Good!” I added. “But this is my field!” he responded. Penny?” “What?” I responded. “Sorry. John ventured a question. try divorcing one!‟” “John. “Women aren‟t weak.” he said looking me firmly in the eye. I looked at him. “Who is protecting the men. . “Sorry. “Bugger off!” was all I could say.” I said with as much conviction as I could muster. You are so fucking pompous!” He smiled. Unless you understand that both men and women are initiating and responding in different ways it is easy to presume the man is doing all the initiating and is always to blame.” he laughed. I nodded. “You are not the first person to say that. but it just kept pouring out of me. I started to realise that I was being deeply unfair to him.” “Stop talking like a fucking academic…” I wished I could stop myself behaving in such an angry way.
his own smile broadened and I realised how tense he had been throughout. he said “come here” and guided by an external force I stepped forward and fell into his arms. about nothing in particular. I saw real concern in his eyes. It would have been much easier for ignore it. Touching says everything that needs to be said. As we departed. I guess John must have felt the same way. As I left the restaurant. He hugged me for a whole minute and I just clung on for as long as I could. not just the other parties. How was I going to protect myself while finding a way to resolve the situation? We said our goodbyes outside the restaurant and agreed to call each other the following evening. I acknowledged what he was saying but said that I still didn‟t see how I could avoid discussing this internally. it was this last point that occupied my mind. for the next hour. We stood there chatting for a bit then going silent then chatting some more.Friends or Lovers Right now I had a plateful of food and an attractive man sitting opposite. offering a conciliatory smile. . We chatted away. When he saw this. or cry off the lunch date and avoid me. I was not going to waste either a moment longer. Hearing this story from Mike. he reiterated that the situation could go pear shaped if the legal teams got involved. must have been difficult for him. Parting turned out to be quite difficult. Sometimes words are so inadequate and unnecessary. and for the first time I saw him more as a friend than a potential lover. I had to protect myself. As his body relaxed. Neither of us wanted to walk away. Eventually. “Shall we enjoy the rest of our meal?” I continued. I considered what an ordeal this must have been for him. and then deciding to tell me over lunch.
” He looked as apprehensive as I felt. “Come into my office for a chat. even John – these all beat a path to my door. Elona‟s distress. Another thing that consumed me was how I felt about myself. How could I have known? So. In the end. I decided to follow some of John‟s advice. And yet.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 26 By the time I returned to work all my doubts and dilemmas had returned. Others could see I was troubled and avoided me. I thought about visiting the legal department to spill all this out. * * * “Hi Phil. how could I have known? Was I being too hard on myself? Nobody would explain. Nobody would talk. I felt so torn about what to do that I went to the staff canteen for another coffee. Another part of me wanted to find Dave and have a heart to heart but he was preoccupied with the product launch. “I need to discuss things with you before we go into the meeting. Mike and his wife. . and that of Nathan. but John‟s caution made me pause – at least for now. I was ashamed. I hatched a plan.” I said as I returned to my office. his apprehension seemed to progress to outright fear but he obediently followed me. I sat there both angry at myself and at others. “Can you close the door?” I asked. and my invitation to discuss things did nothing to reduce his unease. If I had got things completely wrong then I was responsible for a great deal of misery. and he duly obliged.” At this suggestion.
. Phil…. but a little more caution was called for. Everything about his body screamed “Thank God!” His words..” I answered.” I paused for a moment to see if Phil would say anything.” He was moving in the right direction. he was more relaxed.” The idea that Phil has worked out the situation without help came as both a relief and a surprise. so I gave him a few moments by leaving the room to make coffee. “If he is right. but his eyes remained fixed and expressionless. both of which had been in his lap. “……how are we going to approach this meeting?” As I asked this question. were cautious. I took a deep breath and made a start.” I let the words linger for a moment. Clearly he had not expected this. “I think we need to admit that maybe we got it wrong. or considered this question. suddenly surfaced and started to gesture strongly. It makes more sense. I wondered whether I should have solicited his opinion more quickly. Phil was my first port of call for a good reason. “I‟ve been thinking a lot about Mike‟s outburst. Phil‟s lips parted and his rigid body began to move and come alive. Phil‟s moment of relief ended and his face became thoughtful again. “I agree with you on the „listen and listen and listen‟. His hands. When I returned..Friends or Lovers I had gathered my thoughts and knew how I wanted to play this. however. “Any ideas?” I asked as I walked in the door. . “What if he‟s right?” At this suggestion. “That thought had occurred to me too. Then listen and listen and listen….
I completed the act of seduction. “Then I guess admitting we got it wrong is out of the question. and just keep insisting that we‟ll do everything we can to mediate a solution. and then waited until his eyes were again looking into mine.” . We‟ll say that we want to look at the whole thing again. He broke into a smile and nodded. “You‟re a good lad. When he looked up again.” he said. I offered my opinion. His eyes left mine and looked down at the table for a few seconds. When Phil got up and made to leave the room.Rory Ridley-Duff After waiting for a moment to see whether he might say anything else. “Okay. listen to what they have to say. “Of course. We‟ll keep our mouths shut. 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. with just a hint of a smile. We‟ll do as you suggest. “Phil?” I asked. Okay?” I could see from Phil‟s reaction that his ego felt well and truly massaged. I want you to bring a notebook and take lots of notes. I looked away from him to give the impression the meeting was over. I appreciate you. I smiled back at him – a big smile showing my teeth. at least until I‟ve talked to Dave and Legal. there was a definite sense of conviction as he spoke. 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 looked him straight in the eye as I answered him. Phil.
I caught a trace of redness in his cheeks. He turned to go. started to walk. I smiled back. .Friends or Lovers I did not look away and his eyes remained on mine until he could hold the gaze no longer. but when he reached the door he glanced over his shoulder and smiled at me again. I have to admit that sometimes it is great fun being a woman.
Every few minutes I glanced at Mike‟s solicitor friend to see how this was playing with her. At the start of the meeting. With each reaction.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 27 I feigned surprise when I met Mike‟s solicitor and was as pleasant as possible. To my surprise. If we made it through this conflict. At the mention of his name. If his solicitor had been a man. I opened the meeting and stressed that we would be as cooperative as possible. prompted. enquired and encouraged. I have to say that Mike was proving a lot smarter than I‟d expected. she had looked calm and confident. I found myself developing a grudging respect for him. gave their accounts while I nodded. still beaming from our earlier encounter. Phil followed my lead and we successfully communicated the seriousness of what had taken place. No conclusions had been reached. I introduced Phil as my assistant and said that he had expressed a view that we should listen to Mike and Nathan. but my opening gamble paid off and took the wind out of his sails. If we were to meet again in a court room or industrial tribunal. a married woman giving a single woman a hard time in the witness box would not be pleasant. Phil looked up and smiled. At certain points in the narrative. I might have peppered my pleasantness with a brusque manner. I promised myself that I would get to know him better. First Nathan. then Mike. Phil made copious notes as the story unfolded more or less exactly as John said it would. I expressed surprise and shock at what I was hearing. Mike initially looked as if he was ready for a battle. I noticed that her look changed from one of confidence to one of .
“What would be helpful is if you could work out with Mike the amount of wages he has lost. “My pleasure. At this suggestion. “There are two flats rented by the company to accommodate sales managers who commute here from time to time. she started to engage me. I offered to get Phil to type them up and send Mike‟s to her for checking. “And what about the loss of pay since changing his job?” “On pay.” “Who will pay?” she asked. Penny. I meet him later tonight. I didn‟t like her using my first name but I let it pass. “The company will pay. She was not expecting this. after taking both Mike‟s and Nathan‟s statements. One of them is free at the moment and I can arrange for Mike to use it until he can make alternative arrangements.” I paused for a second before I asked the next question to ensure it had maximum impact.” she said. David Stockton.” I answered. She was trying to work out how the meeting could be going so well for her client. and a problem with his housing situation……” “We can help with that. I‟ll have to clear any changes with my director.” I answered. I cannot guarantee that we will . “How?” I was growing in confidence and put the final piece of my plan into place. With surprise on her face she uttered a question. My comment stopped her in her tracks.” I answered. Sometimes she would look at Mike and tilt her head to one side. “Mike‟s got issues over lost pay.Friends or Lovers puzzlement. At the end. “That‟s good of you.
” He chuckled again as he looked at Phil. If we don‟t. “Yes?” I answered. then me again. he gave a short chuckle. I looked at them both. Thank you. We‟ll do that now. then at me again.” I said. “I‟ll check with Dave tonight. Mike can confirm it in writing. After a few moments. “I underestimated you. I was taken aback at just how attractive he looked. “Women! I have no idea why you go around letting men think they are in charge. “just to see whether I need to involve Legal. but now I saw him in a moment of happiness. but as it turned out a mutual respect was born. I‟ll deliver it by hand. “Yes. if necessary.” Mike looked at me. “Penny?” he asked. Thank you. but I‟m sure it will be sufficient for him to treat you to dinner. he‟d looked worried and pensive. They looked at each other for a moment and I noticed that she nodded her head at him. Could you do that?” As I asked this question.” At the start of the day. I‟d hoped to stall things long enough to consult with Dave but we‟d gone almost as far as resolving the .Rory Ridley-Duff meet it in full.” He looked me strongly in the eyes. I detected a smile on his face. then you‟ll have my response tomorrow. In all our previous meetings. I would have been happy to see someone kick him hard in the balls.” Mike smiled at me – the first time I had seen him do so – and I have to admit that his face was handsome. “I underestimated you as well. then at her.
He beat me at my own game. he was also extraordinarily sexy. when he felt at ease. As Mike turned to leave the room.” 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. “I can now see why Dave hired you. Not only did he have integrity and courage but. The moment of exhilaration passed and I finally understood why he had such a good reputation as a salesman.Friends or Lovers whole thing.
“That was fantastic. I noticed them hug warmly as she departed. Clearly they were more than acquaintances.” Phil nodded and still smiling. laughed. while still smiling. “What made you change your mind about Mike?” he asked. touched and moved indicated a much closer relationship. developed a small frown and his body language became submissive. . A curious look came over his face.” he said. was a friendlier person than I had thought. the way they looked. offered a further comment. “Thank you. “Let‟s just call it a woman‟s intuition. Mike. It‟s hard to force niceness and that was exactly what I had been doing for most of the last two hours. shall we?” I responded. with a look that communicated not just my appreciation.” I said. with a puppyish expression. “That is sweet of you. “I learnt a lot today. This comment caught me short for a moment.” Such praise I can live with. “Can you tidy up the loose ends here? I need to get ready for this evening. Penny! Absolutely brilliant. fussed about me.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 28 I remained in the room with Phil while Mike and his solicitor exchanged words. Phil. but also the gap in status between us. but I actually felt exhausted. now I was experiencing him up close. It made me wonder why Dave harboured hostility towards him. His face. “Nothing more?” he asked again inquisitively. It was time to cool Phil‟s ardour now the job was done.” was all he could say.
Friends or Lovers Clearly he was not convinced. and let my locks fall about my face alluringly. I thought of the way John had helped. “I certainly believe in a woman‟s cunning!” he remarked. If he had felt dominated a few moments ago. I thought back over the whole day. I had one of those “ah ha!” moments in life. . twists and turns had left their mark. all trace had left him. and Phil‟s shrewdness at seeing through me. He started to walk out of the room and his final remark not only surprised me. Perhaps men were not jerks after all. “Don‟t you believe in women‟s intuition. As I stood there. I flicked my head back. surprises. but also deflated my ego a bit. Phil?” His smile returned as well as his confidence. Mike‟s willingness to accept a settlement when he could have thrown the book at me. A number of shocks. Suddenly things came together.
Shame he‟s taken. All the good ones are. As I delicately added a small amount of rouge to my cheeks. but as I‟d had a totally stressful day. We signed a contract this afternoon.” “Sounds good.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 29 What a day it had been and there was still quite a way to go. “I‟m off tonight to see Dave strut his stuff at the launch. I let my hair down a bit as well. She was not a stunner but even without make-up her skin was quite good. I thought for a moment. and get the new team ready. “You look happy. of course. Her comment surprised me. not attractive. thinking back to the book John had recommended to me.” “You looking?” I asked. “Hmm! He can look quite dashing at times. Are you coming?” “Yes. Always enjoy watching Dave strut his stuff!” she remarked. Jo looked professional. “Yes. She had cut her hair quite short – a mistake I thought – because without a good size bust it gave her a rather boyish look. Jo – the marketing manager – came in looking very pleased with herself. I visited the women‟s toilets. Long hair would have made her look womanly. good meeting. Was I? I didn‟t really know. Certainly. can‟t he?” “Yeah! I‟ll say. I‟ll be there.” I remarked. “Aren‟t you?” she answered. It will give a boost to our training programme.” I chirped. 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. .
„My mum‟s going to die‟ he said. With Carole announcing her marriage. He might be back on the market soon. Over the last couple of months I felt a change in myself.” . I also considered her question.” Jo seemed pleased that she was not in competition and moved a little closer. there were men who wanted marriage. “No! Not Dave. but I don‟t think he‟s my type. I considered Mike. I certainly felt that I wanted that before I died. that she won‟t live long. “That his wife has cancer. had a maturity and confidence that came from understanding how to keep a relationship interesting. Clearly. sweet really. the sadness in his eyes when he thought of his wife. Then there was Dave. with meeting John and feeling more comfortable with men as friends. “There‟s a rumour going round that his wife is ill. Anyway. having a second child. Even John. deciding to dig a bit. the total commitment he seemed to have for her.” Her comment made me both cross and curious. perhaps I was ready to look. One of my neighbour‟s children is at school with Dave‟s kids. I found it hard to believe that Dave himself would mention this to anyone else. and how hard he had tried to make things work with his wife. “What‟s the rumour?” I asked.Friends or Lovers As these thoughts flashed through my mind. Perhaps I had misjudged him. They were playing one day and came straight out with it. flirty as he was. my neighbour went round and they admitted she was not well. “Maybe I am!” I finally answered. “Really? With Dave?” I could not help but laugh out loud at this suggestion. Perhaps he had. He‟s nice and all.
” Jo continued. even if her source was a little further from home. I gave a small laugh.” I responded as casually as possible. “Hi!” we both said to her. She looked dreadful. “Where did you hear it?” she asked. At the same time. where do you hear most rumours?” I asked. She nodded. My respect for Dave remained intact. I could tell that Jo was digging for information because her casual manner was suddenly replaced by attentive curiosity. “In here!” she responded. I said nothing.Rory Ridley-Duff Just as Jo was giving me the low down. “Anyway. I omitted. “Well. “they said that Dave‟s wife looked terrible. “When was this?” I asked. I thought. clearly not satisfied by my response. Jo seemed to know as much as I did. I think. “I‟ve heard the same rumour. It was not a lie. . Quite masterful that. and the admission that I‟d heard a rumour did nothing to substantiate or deny her claim. rumours spiralling out of control were problematic and could cause embarrassment. but did not talk and started to look in the mirror. that it was Jo who had told me the rumour only a few moments ago.” I was not sure whether to confirm or deny the rumour. You know anything?” With this remark. Elona walked in. of course. I was relieved that she‟d got the rumour from outside the company. This was a difficult call because I was obliged to keep information confidential. Jo. “Oh! A couple of weeks ago. as if she‟d been unable to sleep for a week.
Half an hour earlier.” I turned to leave wondering whether issuing a denial was wise. If there was a rumour. I turned back to Jo. As she left. There‟s a rumour going „round about me. Jo looked both shocked and amused.” “What rumour‟s that?” asked Jo. “That Nath has a thing going with me!” What was Elona doing? I felt that I had to act fast. “What rumour?” asked Jo enthusiastically.Friends or Lovers Elona reapplied her make-up and listening to our conversation.” Jo clearly did not understand why Elona had the hump. They are hurtful and mess people up. I knew from past experience that if a rumour started it would be hard to quash. “Bloody rumours!” she remarked. “What rumour?” “I just said that I don‟t like rumours. “Quickly now!” I demanded and Elona packed up her stuff and hurried out of the toilets. She gestured with her eyes and head to indicate something to me. “Elona! Not another word. but I could not take it in. I was concerned at the direction of this conversation. “Someone been pissing you off. clearly not happy. Ellie?” she asked. I was indicating that „something‟ was going on between Elona and Nathan. but whichever it was I had to put a stop to it. “‟bout me and Nathan!” “What about you and Nath?” Jo enquired. I felt . “Sorry. it was the first I‟d heard.” I said. you will soon. glancing at Elona. To my office now!” I was not sure if there was a rumour. Ellie?” asked Jo. “is not true. By drawing attention to it. “That rumour. or whether Elona was trying to start one. “If you haven‟t heard.
. “What….Rory Ridley-Duff that things were under control. “Yes. “What the fuck d‟you think you were doing?” Elona was so shocked that she did not sit down.” “Sure!” she said. like something out of Yes. when Jim Hacker had Humphrey Appleby in a corner embarrassed and grasping for words. but now they could easily spiral out of control again. There was too much pleasure in it. “I thought you knew?” she said.thought you…. “I what?” “I…. . If Jo went back to her team and started talking about it.. But it was a smile I didn‟t feel I could trust.” I demanded. the rumour might yet cause more problems. trying to get a grasp of the situation. “Jo?” I said. this exchange struck me as slightly comical.” blurted Elona.” she replied.but you……you…. however. “Just answer the question.. “But…. with a smile. Elona. I turned to her and let fly.what do you mean?” she said quietly. As soon as Elona was installed in my office. Prime Minister.I thought…. but this was an occasion when coolly losing my temper was the most effective way to drive home what I had to say. did not really cut the mustard as “Sir Humphrey” and that made it hard for me to keep a straight face. “I would appreciate if you did not repeat to others what Elona just said. I don‟t often lose my temper..” mumbled Elona “Thought what?” Given that I was faking my anger.
” She looked relieved. “Sit down. but to do so would breach the confidentiality I observed in these matters. “I can say with reasonable certainty that we will not be investigating the matter any further.” Elona looked concerned but did not say anything. “We won‟t be looking into it any more. “Elona. When I remember the way she left my room in some distress. Was she asking who had been found „guilty‟? I wished I could tell her more. “Does that mean you‟ve got to the bottom of things?” I wondered what she wanted to hear. but I did not oblige. she was trying to get me to say what I knew. I‟m satisfied that all parties have told me the truth. Was Elona implying that there was something going on with Nathan.” I started. I considered carefully how to put it across. didn‟t you?” “Yes. I accept that you‟ve had a . or just that she thought I knew about the rumour. “I thought you……well you had Mike and Nathan in here nearly all afternoon.” “So you know. it was good to see her relax. “Elona. gesturing that I needed more clarification. “I imagine you‟re wondering what happened earlier?” She took her place and nodded.Friends or Lovers This was an interesting turn of events.” I said. Elona. at least as far as they are able to. I did. Clearly. Elona‟s eyes started to dart around the room as if she was looking for something to say. “Thought what?” I repeated. and I don‟t think that questioning people further will reveal anything more. please tell me what you think I know. don‟t you?” she prompted again.
Then she nodded to indicate that she understood. I hope. “I‟ve got a question. Have you put a notice on the board?” I asked. “So don‟t start any rumours. and I don‟t want to add to your distress any more.” I was being economical with the truth.” . “I have an idea. “Do you know anywhere I could stay?” I didn‟t enquire why. but no untruths passed my lips.” Elona said.” “Okay. “People will ask why. “I don‟t. My only regret was that Elona might think that her account of events had been vindicated.” she answered. and I don‟t want to say. But could she really think that Mike and Nathan would back up her story? That was naivety beyond possibility. You can go home tonight and sleep better. “Don‟t want to do that. She looked up and paused for a moment. I‟ll ask around discretely. “Give me a few days. She must surely realise I was being kind and saving her face. okay?” I said pointedly. I‟m afraid. I braced myself.Rory Ridley-Duff difficult time.” I said. She seemed happier and relaxed.” she said. Is there anything else?” “No.
however. “Play it again. Sam tells me that his wife. He was dynamic and Dave made the most of this during the presentation. Sam. . was the one that Dave believed would become a top seller. She will vouch for it personally.” Dave announced. has extensively tested this final product. This last product is something that every woman will want. A narrator started to explain benefits to an attentive audience. “All of Sam‟s products involve the use of advanced technology to improve personal hygiene.Friends or Lovers Chapter 30 The evening passed off well. The entrepreneur that Dave was promoting came across fairly well. and every man will want to buy for her. or anywhere else that a woman wanted to remove hair. legs. The lights dimmed as the finale began. Just as selfexercise belts use gels to transmit current into the muscles (without actually having to do any exercise). He had his younger wife and family with him and the evening was something of a personal endorsement and triumph for him after years of struggling at home and in university laboratories. Sam‟s product went one further.” Dave cast his eye over to the other side of the stage where Sam and Elaine were standing.” said Dave boldly. and I quite enjoyed minding him for the evening. and there was a gentle ripple of laughter as the video images appeared. This last product. It was a battery operated hair remover that could be strapped onto arms. “I‟ve saved the best for last. Sam‟s product range comprised „advanced technology‟ approaches to personal care that were – to say the least – sensuous in their design and application. Elaine.
he dons a pair of black glasses – a la Terminator . the model tastefully disrobes.Sensuous Hair Removal Experience. And what does every man want? To buy the ultimate gift for his partner and bring a smile to her face. Sam‟s wife moves to centre stage. He leaves the package. to have silky smooth skin. The man jumps off a cliff edge and the next 90 seconds is a tongue in cheek satire of past Milk Tray adverts. is the . On the screen. a handsome male model gave a gift wrapped present to a beautiful brunette. adorned with tasteful jewellery. removes the gift from her package and relaxes. The music changes again. Moments later. with his card. The mockhero slides down the mountain-side. With a hint of wickedness in her grin. You want to SHARE. and what every man will want to buy for her. Then.Rory Ridley-Duff What does every woman want? Yes. . in her bathroom and jumps out of the window into the night. and as the model‟s eyes close and she enjoys the sensual delights of the SHARE experience. The satire switches to playful pastiche of 1980s Flake adverts. Dressed in a daring black dress. to deliver a second package to a mansion home in the valley beneath.and a fanfare of music alerts the audience to a James Bond like action sequence. a blonde in a long robe picks up the package. What every woman will want next Christmas. risking life and limb. a beam of light is shone onto her from the back of the auditorium and the volume of the music lowered. her face full of mock excitement at receiving her „favourite‟ present. as the man wanders onto a patio to reveal a breathtaking mountain landscape. she takes the package into her stately bedroom and lies down on the four-poster bed.
and herself on. She sucked. Take away your own SHARE experience and enjoy the benefits of the latest in personal hygiene technology. “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. however. Nobody said it out loud. then bit her finger. We‟ve prepared a gift pack for every woman here tonight. but everyone clearly understood. then turning the appliance . The eyes of the men. I looked around the hall and saw women alternating their glances at the presentation with chuckles into the ears of their female friends. I could now see why. As Elaine walked off the stage and sat down next to me. He did tell me that there was another presentation but that Sam and Elaine were keeping it under wraps. “We will be. Even as I was starting to think that this was a bit OTT. This was no ordinary hair remover. I lent over and whispered into her ear.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. the larger than life model held a pose reminiscent of the flake advert delicately crumbling chocolate between two gorgeous red lips. “What accessories?” I whispered with more than a hint of curiosity. but we can‟t say that here. When I watched Dave‟s practice run. he had not shown me this video. were on stalks watching every tiny movement of the model applying gel to the insides of her thighs. as her mind becomes occupied with the erotic. .” It was my turn to smile at her.
“Can we slip out of here . much less painful than wax and much more effective than creams.” I chuckled.” “Can‟t wait to try mine out!” I said. The chatter was interminable but the evening was a success with guests energised and enthusiastic. “You won‟t see the accessories advertised anywhere in your brochures. She carried on talking in my ear as the video presentation neared the end. There is a range of „innovative‟ extensions. the blonde looked seductively into the camera and spoke breathlessly. As the final chord echoed throughout the hall. It‟s a good hair removal product. When the VIPs had been safely escorted home in pre-booked taxis. We exchanged smiles and a final fanfare alerted the audience to the finale. Dave walked back to the microphone and announced that drinks and snacks were available in the lobby.” said Elaine. Dave thought it might be regarded as distasteful. It can‟t wait until tomorrow.” . I pulled Dave to one side for a private word.Rory Ridley-Duff “Let me put it like this. The gift packs could be collected at the exits. Our pilot trials have produced spectacular feedback. “Much better than Milk Tray!” The place filled with roars of laughter and the lights came up. “If we‟ve not beaten „the rampant rabbit‟ into second place by next Christmas then I‟m going to be pissed as hell.there is something I need to discuss. 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.
They have everything under control. shook their hands and spoke with a representative of the PR company. He exchanged words with them. then walked over to Sam and Elaine.” . “Okay – we‟re off.Friends or Lovers Dave nodded.
on the flight home. “I‟ve had quite a day. We both thought it had been a mini-triumph. “John? Who‟s this John?” “I met him at the conference in Paris. and Dave reacted in quite a peculiar way. including the lunchtime meeting with John. “Yes. but if it did so. It might backfire. “May as well take it off. there was a feeling that a calculated risk was appropriate. it might catapult the company into the top league.” I said.” “You should try wearing high-heels!” I joked.” “Is he married?” he interrupted sternly. Dave bought the first round – a real ale for himself.” “I‟ve been wearing these things for 20 years and still hate them. “Why do you ask?” His question irritated me. the portfolio was now broad enough to weather a set-back. Alternatively. We spent a few minutes discussing the evening. He confessed that he thought the product was risqué for IC. With the company enjoying some success. “You wanted to talk about something?” he asked.” I said a bit defensively. “No point standing on ceremony.” I said.” I recounted the events. he removed his jacket and loosened his tie. As soon as he had parked the glasses on the table. “Yes.. a gin and tonic for me.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 31 We walked to a nearby bar and settled ourselves into a corner table. Not at the actual conference. “Is it wise?” . but Harry (the MD) had given him the go ahead..
” I thought about how much more John knew about me. It‟s just different isn‟t it?” “I don‟t see why. but I‟m a close colleague. Could he be jealous. he knew only a fraction of the real me. “John and I exchange e-mails as often as you and I talk.” I affirmed. Dave looked at me with surprise and I realised that he may have misinterpreted what I said. but it must have been obvious because Dave backed off a bit.” I said firmly. I could see in his body language and movements that he felt hurt. “Work colleagues often go out together. I sat for a few moments wondering why it mattered to Dave. As I didn‟t .Friends or Lovers “Dave! You are married too!” I said trying to lighten the mood. The more I thought about it.” he said starting to sound defensive. the more incensed I got.” he said casting me a badtempered glance. For all the time I‟d spent with Dave. “Why is it different?” I said. We know each other well. Penny. “How often do you and I go out after work?” I asked.” Dave raised his eyebrows. deciding to defend my friendship with John. I wondered? “Well…I see you all the time. “It‟s different!” he said. “It‟s different. “John and I know each other well.” I wished that I could hide my irritation. Dave immediately looked a bit put out. “I didn‟t even know that your wife had been unwell until you told me recently. “Yes.
” “D‟you want to talk about it?” I asked. He recommended that I see Legal to arrange a three-month tenancy. then I‟ll get the next round in. He promised to email them first thing in the morning. Why did he have to laugh like that? Why take pleasure at Mike‟s marriage breaking down? I didn‟t expect it of Dave. I don‟t think she‟ll ever leave hospital. but I was immediately irritated. “I‟m fond of you. I downed my gin and tonic then went to the bar to get another round of drinks. I don‟t know why. “Maybe after another round of drinks…” he said tentatively. Dave!” I said. “Let‟s get this work stuff finished. and concurred with me that I would need his authorisation to fund Mike‟s housing costs until he could find accommodation elsewhere. Dave listened to the story that unravelled with Mike.” Dave gave a small laugh. He seemed to take it in okay. I think. and his face lit up again.” I said positively. I watched him closely as I described Mike‟s part of the story to see if I could detect anything in his response. “Thanks!” I said with as much sincerity as I could muster. He‟s shacked up at a hotel at the moment. He looked up at me and appeared unsure. “How are things at home?” The smile left his face and his eyes were downcast. I had not been to this place before so I cast my . “When does he want to move in?” “As soon as possible.Rory Ridley-Duff want the situation to spiral out of control I decided to offer some reassurance. “My parents are with her tonight. Nathan and Elona.
” It was difficult to respond. but doing the “there. was that I didn‟t know how else to be. He had an expression. Drinks in hand. He looked up. there was wood panelling. “She‟s deteriorating. I returned to the table and asked Dave again about the situation at home. I don‟t think he expected me to ask such a question. so I put my hand on his shoulder and encouraged him. drawn from his love of cricket: “playing a straight bat”. The doctors want to talk to me tomorrow. however. there” routine just was not me. He looked pained and I could not really work out why. Dave. I thought about trying to show deep sympathy.. I‟m dreading it. I wondered if I was being insensitive. but it was impossible for me to feign feelings that I didn‟t have. The problem. “What will you say?” I finally responded. “You‟ll have to tell them something.I‟m…. not that “manufactured to the nearest tenth of a millimetre” feeling. The tables were wooden. His eyes looked down into his lap as he spoke.” he said. He looked awkward and reticent. “They give her less than a month.Friends or Lovers eyes around while waiting to be served.” I continued. On the wall. They had a natural look about them. “Er…. . Most of the patrons were in their 30s and 40s.I‟m……” he stopped for a moment. and each table had a bowl in the middle that had the appearance of driftwood. I thought of my father. Certainly I cared. deliberately unvarnished to fit in with the tenor of the furnishings. filled with stones. Not having had a lover or even a family member in this situation. The edges were jagged and rough. I liked it.
“…. A few days ago. but I tried not to show it. as if he thought I might be slightly mad. Why was I putting up barriers now? These thoughts swirled around in my head. I traced my mind back and suddenly realised that his moment of mirth at Mike‟s situation really infuriated me. Dave. “I‟m sorry. I surely should have felt more sympathy for him. I had no problem comforting him. But why? “What is the deeper meaning here?” I kept asking myself.” he responded brusquely. There in my mind was my father smiling at me. but for some reason he was irritating me. I could see his face growing red. “I‟m torn between helping her die and keeping her alive. encouraging me to reflect. “Might it be kinder to let her die?” He looked at me and I saw tears form in his eyes..Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m……I‟m……” I began to grow tired of his hesitation. 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. And yet. as if he had noticed my prickliness and was responding with some of his own. even as I had these thoughts I heard my father‟s voice.torn!” Finally! “What are you torn about?” He gave me a look that was puzzling. the . 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. For someone approaching forty. „What‟s the deeper meaning here. he sure was immature. Suddenly.
I fought a gut instinct to get up and walk out. I even started to wonder if Dave was playing the sympathy card.” As he said this. So I sat there and found myself no longer wanting to comfort Dave.” he had said. After all. wouldn‟t it?” Dave‟s eyes were on me now as we talked and I felt increasingly self-conscious. He was watching me to see how these lines played. I was evaluating them. He had every reason to hate me. I stopped looking at him but then he spotted my awkwardness. “Penny? Are you okay?” . But kinder!” It felt incongruous that he was looking deep into my eyes while talking about his wife dying. I can‟t bear the thought of losing her.Friends or Lovers awful realisation hit me. Why did it matter? Dave broke the silence. That didn‟t seem right. I didn‟t feel worthy of his respect. he found it in him to pay me a compliment. deciding which of them would get my sympathy. It was generous and I kept thinking I had completely misjudged him. When the meeting with Mike had concluded. “It would be kinder. The moment Dave took pleasure at Mike‟s misfortune he lost my respect. Unbearable. “I can see why Dave hired you. I hardly knew Mike. but instead he appreciated me. I saw his eyes furtively look at mine. “I don‟t want to admit that it would kinder to let her die. “Yes. I kept asking myself why I felt more sympathy for Mike than Dave. Even as I chastised myself for being so uncharitable. I continued with a straight bat.
I was sure he sensed my tension because his hand dropped and eyes looked away. Book some time off and spend it with your wife.” he replied. It was an instant reaction and both of us realised what it meant. Don‟t stay up too late. I appreciate you meeting me and going through things. Grab every moment you can. will you?” “No. “Look. I‟ll see you in the morning. I‟ll come in early and sort the stuff out with you. “Just need to go to the loos and then I‟ll be back. “Perhaps. I‟ve had a really long day and my stomach does not feel good. “It‟s okay. Pick the car up tomorrow. My sense of urgency was growing.Rory Ridley-Duff I was not sure what to say. I felt his hand touch my back and my body reacted like it had received an electric shock. then. I won‟t” “Bye. It went really well tonight. I made my way to the toilets and lingered there for as long as I could without appearing rude. “Okay. When I came out.” I said hurriedly. I‟ll get a cab. D‟you want me to walk you back?” “No. “Okay. okay. no!” I said too quickly. I couldn‟t tell him how I was feeling. As I started to get up. “Okay.” . I grabbed my glass and tried to smile.” I was talking too quickly. he did not challenge me and just kept nodding. Even so. Dave.” I said. Pen.” I looked at the table and saw that he had nearly a whole pint to drink up. Wait here. I‟ve drunk too much. “I feel a bit unwell. “I‟ll do that!” he replied. you should do the same!” I blurted out. You were a star.
My opinion of Mike had risen from rock bottom to something approaching respect. my respect for him was waning. Perhaps I was attracted to him? My desire for John had changed from one of girlish lust to one of sisterly love. As for Dave.” he replied with just a hint of sarcasm. What was going on? What was happening? . As I rode home in the taxi. As for Phil. they evaporated that night. 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.Friends or Lovers “Bye. to a sharp and roguish young man who merited the occasional fantasy. I could not explain why. Whatever hopes I had of growing close to Dave. the events of the last week just kept playing in my mind.
it was there. I indulged myself by recalling Phil‟s red cheeks when I flirted with him. I started to relax and drink the wine. I made a mental note to follow it up with Phil. I ran a bath and as I lay in the warm water. but the water kept washing away the wetness I was feeling and prevented me reaching orgasm. I wondered why he was not offended. He may be young. I ran it over my breasts and built up a sumptuous lather. the more I started to like him. With these thoughts behind me. On my bed was the bag from the launch. This was a good way to relax. the more I felt I had misjudged him. Inside the bag there were two gift-wrapped presents. The events with Dave were upsetting so I tried to eradicate them from my mind with soothing music and some self-pampering. he chose not to be. Then I did my stomach. As these positive thoughts about Mike ran around my head. With the soap in my hands. thighs and between my legs. He had told me to “find out about Mike” because “he may become a problem”.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 32 When I got home. but he was quite a dish. 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. it raised new questions over Dave. The SHARE experience? Yes. I was now curious about Dave‟s comments. Even though he had reason to feel bitter. The more I thought about him. I thought about Mike. I undid the larger one to reveal a tasteful . I poured myself another glass of wine and had a bath. so I got out of the bath and returned to my bedroom. I had to find a way to make up for the way I had treated him.
but one was triangular and obviously moulded so that women could use it to remove their pubic hair. I started to feel aroused as the sense of expectation started to build. 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.Friends or Lovers package that contained a battery operated motor. I looked like someone‟s whore. Inside was a dildo extension and another tube of gel. By the time I had finished. There were two buttons on it. one for switching the device on and off. Next I took the dildo and second tube of gel and worked my hands up and down the shaft until it was covered all over. I took it in my hand and turned it over. Lying back on the bed. and attached the straps that were included. I applied the first tube of gel. On the side were four holes for attaching accessories. Some of the pads were round. I lifted up my legs and inserted the dildo into the motor device then inserted it. The dildo was mainly plastic but there were small metal panels inlaid at various points.” So there I lay on the bed almost breathless with anticipation. I looked like a porn model. and the other to increase and decrease the intensity. As I opened the package. There were several pads and a tube of gel. I started to lick my lips with a sense of exhilaration. enjoying my sexual power. The gel was good and it slid in nicely and I worked it around until its full length . I used my fingernail to slide under the sellotape and gently remove the gift wrap from the second gift. plugged the panel into the motor. There was a fine mesh of plastic teeth interspersed with similar inlaid metal panels. I pictured Phil‟s cock in my hand to increase my excitement.
dildo inserted. My finger was now circling furiously. I reached over to the motor and pressed the on switch.Rory Ridley-Duff was pressing on the pit of my stomach. then hard as his firm tongue edged me towards a heavenly climax. Then. as I played out a fantasy of being a hot and horny slut. 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. I remembered the booklet describe an intensity button for “a special experience”. With each press. I wanted Mike. massaging gently then harder then gentler again. I wanted to fuck him like . Mike and John walking into the room. small shots of electricity engulfed my pussy from both the hair remover and the dildo and I just gasped. The SHARE experience had been thoughtfully designed. Phil and John came either side of me. with my free hand. While they gorged themselves. pressing on my clitoris at the same time to heighten my arousal. bare breasted and naked with my legs wide apart. John started to pinch and suck my nipples and run his hands all over my stomach and sides. two strange thoughts burrowed into my mind. John took my breasts in his hand and gentled rubbed them while I felt Phil‟s mouth on mine. there was a gentle vibration inside me. As I let my finger work me into a frenzy. A sensation ripped through me that made me shudder in total ecstasy. With one finger on my clit. There I was. and I closed my eyes as I imagined Mike‟s tongue in place of my finger. I imagined Mike‟s hand on the insides of my thighs and his mouth sucking on my fingers. As I lay on the bed exhausted. Firstly. and the other periodically pressing the „ecstasy button‟. I imagined Phil. Not only could I feel a gentle vibration on my pubic bone. I played with myself for a couple of minutes.
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. finishing a new plan to suck as much pleasure out of life as possible. the SHARE experience was going to make IC rich beyond belief. How could this product fail? How could anything capable of bringing women so much pleasure be anything except a runaway success? In that moment. . Secondly. as a Professor of Cunning. naked.Friends or Lovers no-one else I had ever met and felt I would do anything to have him. a vixen with a keen eye. emotionally and physically spent body fell into a deep sleep.
” “Okay. Can you sort out the paperwork and I‟ll come back this afternoon. Stella. but he didn‟t mention anything about a flat. Perhaps I had misunderstood him. I found that Dave had not e-mailed them and I wondered whether he too had overslept. Even so.” That‟s strange. Once at work.” Stella replied. he was in here about half an hour ago. I need to sort out a threemonth tenancy agreement for him.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 33 Despite my good intentions to get up early and speed off to work. That being the case. Has Dave been in yet?” “Yes.” . Given my attendance beyond the call of duty the previous evening. my exertions the previous day caused me to oversleep. I thought. “Hi. I was sure Dave said he would sort this out. I got up and took breakfast on the way to work. “He must have forgotten!” I said. I felt entitled. my first port of call was Office Services from where I picked up the key to the company flat. “I‟m here about the company flat. She quickly checked her inbox and shook her head. I signed for the keys on my own authority and proceeded to the legal department to sort out the paperwork. “But you‟ll need Dave to sign the contract. “Did he e-mail you about it?” I asked “Let me check. Hurriedly.” “Well. I was half an hour late. “We agreed last night that I could rent it out to Mike Bennett.” I said walking up to her desk. I can get the paperwork sorted. I need to arrange for Mike to rent it for three months.” said Stella. It has to be a director.
Friends or Lovers
I returned to my desk and said good morning to Phil. He was cheerful and greeted me warmly. I felt that we were developing a good working relationship and the prospect of that pleased me. We had been through an emotional experience together. I sent Dave an e-mail to ask him to sign the contract that Stella was preparing and promised to catch up with him later in the day. I told him that “after testing the product personally, I think the SHARE experience is going to be a winner.” I chatted with Phil and mentioned that I wanted to offer my apologies to Mike. “Keep that off the record,” quipped Phil. “Yes, of course,” I responded. Then – for a reason I could not fathom - I winked at him. He gave me a broad smile in return. What was I doing? Even as I struggled to understand myself, I felt good inside, like a newborn person. She was happier than the old one, confident and self-assured, complete and rounded, tolerant and self-critical. I found that it gave me pleasure to give others pleasure. I found Mike having a coffee with a woman. “Can I just interrupt a moment?” I asked. “Sure, we‟re just chatting.” “Here are the keys for the flat. Dave says you can move in any time you like. There‟s some paperwork being drawn up. You‟ll need to sign that later.” “Thanks! I appreciate this.” The woman nodded her approval too, which struck me as slightly odd. She was older than me. Her clothes were well kept but not designer labels. She came across as someone who would look chic if she could afford it, but was not currently able
to. Her face had a modest amount of make-up around the eyes, but other than this she had a natural beauty that her advancing years did nothing to diminish. “Do you need any help moving in?” I asked. “Are you offering?” Mike replied, in hope more than expectation, I think. “Sure, I‟ll help!” I responded. “Thanks!” he said with some surprise and pleasure. “This is Sally,” he said looking at his coffee companion. “She‟s offered to help as well.” Sally! Things quickly slotted into place. I studied her more closely and felt her doing the same to me. She was in her midforties and kept herself fit. Her face looked as if she applied cream, but I could not detect any eye-shadow or blusher. Her attractiveness was natural, not manufactured. I extended my hand. “Good to meet you. I feel like I already know you a bit,” I said. She glanced in Mike‟s direction as she responded. “Yes, I gather he has told you quite a bit about me. Not all good I hope!” I liked her playfulness and returned the favour. “Well, he said he‟d leave you to fill in the details.” Mike smiled when he heard me say this and glanced at Sally to check that she was not going to scold him. Sally continued the riposte. “From what he‟s been telling me, it doesn‟t sound like he left details out!” “Then you can get your own back by telling me all his secrets!”
Friends or Lovers
I felt an instant rapport. It was like that with John, and I hoped it would be the same with Sally. Sally looked playfully at Mike. “Good idea. There are plenty to tell,” and then, as she looked back at me she added, “Are you interested in them?” Linguistically speaking, she had just speared me and I realised she was checking me out on Mike‟s behalf. My confidence was high, however, and I continued to joust. “Only the particularly wicked ones!” She laughed out loud and then turned to Mike. “Watch this one, Mike! She‟s got her eye on you.” Mike gave me a wry smile. Today I stood my ground much better and did not look away. “And very nice eyes they are too,” he complimented. Sally laughed and managed to divert attention from the colour that was flushing through my cheeks. “Well, I have to familiarise myself with this new SHARE experience!” blurted Sally. I laughed out loud and it caused both of them to look at me enquiringly. At that moment I felt just a touch of embarrassment. “What?” I asked. They both paused momentarily, and then Mike spoke. “Are you going to share it?” he said, with a chuckle. I caught his dark and sexual humour, but it went over Sally‟s head. I wondered how I could respond without being too explicit. “I‟m already familiar with the SHARE experience. Sally, you‟re in for a treat – particularly if they give you a product sample.”
Sally and Mike looked at each other in a puzzled way, and then Mike turned and winked at me out of Sally‟s line of sight. I actually felt butterflies. He was definitely flirting with me. To my relief Sally did not ask any further questions. “See you after work, then?” asked Sally. “I‟ll come by your office around 5-ish,” answered Mike. “You definitely in?” asked Sally, directing the question at me. I nodded and then Sally lent over and whispered into my ear. “Be careful! He‟ll charm the pants off you and before you know it you‟ll be deeply in love with him.” Her remark cleared up many loose ends. The story that Phil had uncovered, and that Dave had hinted at, suddenly made sense. Sally realised that she would never have a hold over Mike the way that she wanted to and had accepted the next best thing. I realised that she was talking from experience and while I was grateful for the advice, it also brought home to me that the issue was not whether he could charm the pants off me, but whether I could charm the pants off him.
Friends or Lovers
Back at my desk, I asked Phil to come into my office. As my mind went back over events, I realised that Dave had fuelled my concerns about Mike and this had directly motivated me to ask Phil to investigate Mike‟s private life. Given the way that events had turned out, I wondered why Dave had done this. “How are you feeling?” I asked. Phil looked quite relaxed so I felt it may be a good time to gather his thoughts on the outcome of the investigation. “Okay. Quite a turn of events, wasn‟t it?” “Yes – it certainly was. When did you think something wasn‟t right?” I asked. Phil sat back in his chair and became quite animated. He clearly appreciated his views being taken seriously and was keen to express them. “Quite a while ago. When I sat in the canteen with Mike‟s colleagues nothing seemed to fit. When Mike lost his temper with you in that meeting, I think my suspicions were confirmed.” I wondered how much I should tell Phil. I was going to need his help again and involving him would be risky. I decided to come clean. “I was not particularly clever over this,” I said. “You seemed pretty sharp to me,” he replied. I gave him a smile and shrugged my shoulders. “I‟d love to take the credit,” I said, “but that would be dishonest. Someone outside work – a good friend – suggested to me that maybe I was looking at things the wrong way.” “I see,” mused Phil.
“You were not entirely wrong when you asked if someone had influenced my thinking.” It was Phil‟s turn to smile at me. “Anyone I know?” he asked. “No. Someone outside work. We discussed the situation – hypothetically.” Even as I gave Phil this explanation, I felt a tinge of embarrassment that I did not admit how completely wrong I had got things. Why had I been so convinced that Elona was right and Mike wrong? Mike, if anything, had acted with remarkable restraint when I moved him to a new department. I took that as an indication of his guilt. It never crossed my mind for one second that he might actually be helping and protecting his accuser. In fact, he sacrificed his own interests to honour a promise to Elona. I had never met anybody willing to do that. It did not just add to my respect for him, it shamed me for the selfish way I conducted my life. In the pub, John said we only see what we are looking for. What an insight that is! I was only looking for things that confirmed Mike‟s guilt and Elona‟s innocence. As I considered these thoughts, I reflected on my own behaviour. How many times had I taken the lead? Often. How many times had I made a pass at a man? I had lost count. I was a master at coaxing someone into making a pass and I suddenly realised how it is almost impossible for two people to get into an intimate situation without both parties actively considering a relationship. In the past I had been hurt. My cavalier attitude toward men, indeed my hostility toward them, was rooted in the pain of past rejection. Afterwards, I had judged all men harshly. It was only
” I saw Phil‟s eyebrows quickly rise and fall and he tried to form some words. “If he had not helped me understand my own prejudices.” he said with just a hint of sadness. 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.” he said. He taught me the value of being honest about my desires. My loneliness was largely a choice and not an accident or misfortune. I felt young next to him. then it is a price worth paying. “You should take some credit. I spoke. and wondered what else I might have missed. I may be young. fearful and difficult they are. My errors were born out of a desire to protect myself. to avoid the pain of rejection and avenge those who I thought were responsible. However imperfect. “We all have our cross to bear. but I‟m old enough to have seen people dig themselves into an early grave through bitterness. My fear of being intimate – my fear of sharing thoughts and feelings – began to fade when I met John.” I looked up at Phil. I want to know the people in my life better.Friends or Lovers when I met John that I wanted to find a way out. 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. The humility did me good. Finally. “I can only speak for myself. He grew in . In this moment. I might have been responsible for a tremendous injustice. “When did you become so wise?” I asked. Phil waited patiently. inconsistent.
This isn‟t a seek and destroy mission.” “Okay.” This instant loyalty and acceptance of responsibility moved me so I felt it necessary to sound a note of caution.” Phil realised not only the extent to which I was about to take him into my confidence. I‟ll see what I can find out. just a way to understand what happened. “Are you suggesting what I think?” queried Phil.” I said.” he replied.” I said pointedly.” I added. “Phil.” “How?” Phil asked. Perhaps I had as much to learn from him as he from me. “Phil. “What‟s that?” I swallowed hard at the thought of what I was about to say.” “I did so because Dave led me to think Mike might become a problem. “And now I‟m not sure who to believe. “And now?” Phil asked. “There‟s one other thing.” “What did you have in mind?” “D‟you remember that I asked you to find out about Mike – a kind of necessary evil?” “Yes. “Eyes and ears to the ground again. “we‟ve just poked around a number of people‟s private lives and screwed them up. I saw him momentarily shuffle uncomfortably. . Not sure what else we can do because I‟ve no idea where to start. “We need to find out whether there‟s a reason for Dave‟s animosity.” I responded.Rory Ridley-Duff stature before my eyes. “I need your help again. but also the import of what I was about to suggest.” “I understand.
Do you think I‟m mad?” Phil‟s face broke into a broad smile. The result would be one of the most enduring and loving relationships I would ever have. It was a risk. of course!” he replied. “Come on. “…and that he‟s also one hell of a lucky guy.” “Oh!” I said. 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.Friends or Lovers “I am starting to fancy Mike like crazy. Eventually. “Yes. what d‟you think?” I asked with urgency. “I think. 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.” Phil said with a momentary pause. “that he is old enough to be your father…. “Friends?” I said. .” I was so chuffed that Phil said this that I was lost for words. I offered him my hand. much as John had taken a risk with me. He took my hand and shook it firmly. in a moment of blind instinct. somewhat deflated.
My detour took me near to Jo‟s office. I had only met Harry formally.” I responded. and explained the situation. Penny. He signed off the contract to rent the flat to Mike and called Legal to approve the pay settlement. I felt I should touch base with her over the comment Elona had made. I returned to Legal to collect the contract for Mike. Until now. A strange feeling came over me.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 35 Later in the afternoon. Harry accepted my comments with good grace. That‟s good to hear. The flattery that I felt was considerable and I duly made the promise. the company‟s managing director. “Quite a learning experience?” he asked. I admitted my mistake.” I swallowed quite hard when I heard this. I did not want gossip or rumour to spread. Today was turning into a very good day indeed. so I took the contract to Harry. but I‟m assured by Dave that you‟ve made quite a mark here. “You‟ve no idea. “I know we see each other infrequently. 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. but also said that the proposed settlement would ward off the possibility of litigation and save the company money in the long run. I thanked him for his help and left his office feeling as though I had just grown wings and could fly.” I answered. but he was inviting me to be more informal with him.” “Thank you. . I guessed that Dave must be too busy to deal with it. “Don‟t be afraid to drop in from time to time. As I walked into her office I heard a voice that was familiar.
“…. As I looked at John.” I could see Sally looking both pleased and surprised as she whispered something in the ear of a colleague. but there was little I could do. . In my mind I wondered “how good?” but I resisted the temptation to ask. John noticed me at the back of the room and his face beamed. I was not sure whether to admit to a close friendship in front of all the others. “You are Jo‟s new consultant. “Yes. Tongues would probably wag. then?” John looked at Jo.we‟ve worked on projects together and had some interesting results!” The way he said „interesting‟ made both Jo and him laugh out loud. My attitude to mixing business and personal relationships was momentarily compromised. 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. “Jo and I are good friends too…. but if I had denied it then it would surely have shown in my face. continuing the charade.Friends or Lovers Surely it could not be? But as I walked up to the door the voice was unmistakable.” he replied. our eyes connected just long enough for others to register that we were more than acquaintances. “We are good friends. John was outlining his thoughts on male and female consumer behaviour. “You know each other?” asked Jo.” I answered. I imagine she was asking herself the same question about me. As I entered the room. presentation in full flow.
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. “How are you fixed later?” asked John. smiled. “Helping Sally and Mike move him into a company flat!” He turned to them both. but his manner was so open and unaffected that he disarmed me. Remember to bring in lots of magazines. I thought for a moment and remembered my commitment to Mike. buy some this week. Not only did it make me feel special. Mixed with surface irritation. “Well. you‟ll need to bring some in yourself – if you don‟t buy them normally. “Things worked out. John leaned over and whispered into my ear. Without batting an eyelid. For a second I wondered whether to chide him for creating the impression we were close. he put his hand on my shoulders and kissed me on the cheek.” With these words. . See you all next Wednesday. “Watch out! He‟ll charm the pants off you before you know it!” I laughed out loud.” I responded. isn‟t it?” “I guess it is. however.Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay everyone. and gave a thumbs-up sign. Guys. this is a turn up. That‟s more or less it for today. was a deep pride that he acknowledged me so warmly. then?” “Sure did!” and he immediately sensed the glint in my eye. he shut down his laptop to signal the end of the meeting and walked over to greet me. it would probably do my social standing amongst the staff no harm at all. but John did not understand.
Penny.” I said. “Sure if it leads him to deny himself the company of other interesting people. I could have deliberately misunderstood him and read more into his words than was there. “Problem is that he‟s far too devoted to his wife!” “Can a man be too devoted?” I joked. but Mike is not just a nice man. but I was beginning to realise the limits of his commitment. he‟s a very nice man. Treat him well. “So what‟s going down with Mike. but not so much that I would avoid your company. I am.” he quipped.” “Aren‟t you devoted to your wife?” I asked. “Penny. “You interested?” I blushed. “I would normally not say such a thing. John took one look at me and twigged. indeed his life.” “I intend to. “Yes.” His eyes had that glorious warmth that I had come to adore. . I felt myself giving up any aspirations I had to seduce John and I comforted myself by looking forward to more fantasies.Friends or Lovers “Someone else said the same thing earlier!” “Must be true then. Sure he wanted to be close to me. and his tone changed in an instant. why do I do that! His remark caught me so off-guard that for a moment I was angry with him.” he said in a low voice and drawing me towards the corner of the room. John smiled. I felt that his marriage. Damn it. must be an endless juggling act. He immediately sensed this. but an instinct told me not to. Reluctantly. with just a hint of playfulness. then?” I asked.
they‟re like a married couple. “The way he tells it to me is that she wants children – he does not. John then grinned at me and I realised that he was playing. . not children. I was looking forward to the evening. They fight and bicker all the time! She‟s been in love with him for years. He‟s got three already and does not want any more. I looked at John again.” I responded. more as a remark to myself than a question for John. Whether he was being deliberately obtuse or just plain dumb. 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.” “No more kids?” I said. Apart from that. I still felt no maternal twinge. Mike and Sally came over and John announced that he too was helping with the move.Rory Ridley-Duff “I believe you will. “For that advice. but I can‟t see his feelings changing.” he said with more confidence than I felt. but because of this he would never let anything start. Even as my own sister brought hers into the world. “For what?” he asked. Knowing that neither Mike nor I wanted children took away one potential conflict.” I said warmly. “What about Sally?” I asked. “Thanks for that. I thought there was no harm seeing if she was competition. “What advice was that?” he said. I wanted a man. I did not care.
When I finished. Penny. This was odd. the contract!” I said “What contract?” answered Dave. His stubbornness was mirrored by the rigidity in his body. “I said you‟d need my approval.” “What?” Dave was acting so strangely that I felt like asking why. but I confined myself to the issue in hand.” “You‟re mistaken. We didn‟t agree anything last night – you just told me what you wanted to do. His fists were clenched as he spoke.” “Why‟s that?” answered Dave. I couldn‟t understand why he was behaving this way. Dave was behaving quite strangely and I was confused. “I just dropped by to say that I‟ve sorted it anyway. “Don‟t you remember?” I asked. What was he playing at? “Well. .” he said. My mood changed from one of confusion to concern. I didn‟t agree to it. “The flat. but I didn‟t approve it.” I said again.” “What do you mean? You said you‟d e-mail Legal this morning. he finally said something. I thought. whatever Dave!” I said. Mike is moving in tonight. “I‟ve been looking for you all day.Friends or Lovers Chapter 36 “There you are!” I said. He was standing next to his desk. I went over the talk we had the night before in the pub and he listened without making comment.” “Dave! What d‟you mean?” “I wanted to discuss it with Harry first. You said you would go and see them to sort this out. “He‟s moving in tonight.
And I‟ve sorted out the contract. You haven‟t given him any keys. I didn‟t „go around you‟. That was so out of character I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He must have had a very bad day.” He looked defensive and angry. You haven‟t signed it yourself?” “No!” I answered. His behaviour was strange and my evening engagement so much more inviting. It was my turn to feel defensive. I wondered if something might have happened at the hospital.Rory Ridley-Duff “But we haven‟t sorted out a contract yet.” I said. “How?” he said. . I left the room. but I wanted to retreat. “I got someone else to sign it because I couldn‟t find you. On another occasion I would have challenged him. “So how d‟you sort it?” he asked with a tone bordering on aggression. “Don‟t do it again!” he said finally. almost shouting. clearly irritated. “Okay. He was speaking to me like a child.” “You went around me?” “No. have you?” “Yes. “I need to sign it. Without saying goodbye.” Dave looked at me. I couldn‟t find you so I got Harry to sign. I have.
“Yes he did! Yes he did! I don‟t mean he saved my life like he rescued me from death or anything. By nine o‟clock. As the evening wore on I felt more and more relaxed. unloaded and had four glasses of champagne on the table before the 7pm. I mean that he rescued me in here. hi-fi and a portable television. computer.” Mike‟s eyes looked downward as he shook his head and laughed. bedding. Sometimes he would look back and acknowledge my interest. “To new beginnings!” I noticed myself glancing in Mike‟s direction repeatedly. but at other times he would remain engaged in conversation with John and Sally. “…. We all dutifully raised our glasses and clinked them together.” she announced. “To new beginnings. but they took care to include me in their conversation. I initially felt out of place amongst such close friends. after we had consumed a pizza-takeaway and several bottles of wine.Friends or Lovers Chapter 37 It took us less time than expected to move Mike‟s stuff.” she started. Sally stood up and raised her glass. She quickly regrouped and continued. With four helpers and four cars. drove to the new flat.” she lost her balance for a moment as the drink began to affect her. “Penny.. . “This man here…. he needed to take only a few easily transportable things. we quickly filled each of them up. As the flat was partly furnished. plus his clothes.this man saved my life. Sally raised her glass.” She pointed to her heart with a finger and kept stabbing herself as she laughed.
“You‟re one of life‟s superheroes. I decided to mimic Sally so I feigned a stumble. When he did that…. Her boldness had made me bold and I wanted to say my piece as well.” answered Mike. “This man saved my career!” John smiled back and raised his glass to me in appreciation.” Mike threw up a hand to discard her remark. “Don‟t you look around the place like that!” she barked at Mike.” 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. “Well firstly. “He and his stinking brother can rot in hell for all I care. “You leave „er alone. I wobbled momentarily as I raised my glass to John. I never. “This man.” I said looking at him. “How d‟ee do that?” I was feeling liberated so I let my feelings spill out.” “Sod Dave!” she said. I stood up. “Come on Sal. I wanted him in no doubt how special he was to me.he stopped me causing this man…” . As I spoke I looked deep into John‟s eyes. “…. “Did he? Well.Rory Ridley-Duff Mike‟s eyes looked everywhere but towards me and I sensed that he wished Sally would shut up. he helped me see something that I couldn‟t see.(hic)….” Everybody laughed as I struggled to articulate what I felt. “If she wants to praise you.” responded Sally. “I don‟t think Dave would see it like that…. sit down love and rejoin the party. you!” I said boldly. let „er!” As Sally sat down.
and I would‟ve done so if my good friend John – who I will now love forever….this man…. I do.this man…. but in my mind a whole world of understanding descended on me and I felt completely overwhelmed. “I was about to do one of the most stupid things I‟d ever done. “John..Friends or Lovers I quickly glanced at Mike before continuing “…any more upset and pain. I did not understand what was happening to me. “You don‟t have to. Really you don‟t.” Mike‟s embarrassed look left his face and was replaced by one of genuine surprise. “…. “you don‟t have to say this.” I laughed as I realised just how comfortable I suddenly felt. “Ah shit! What the hell. the other three giggled away..” “Penny!” John interrupted again.this man….” I said and then continued..” He sat down again and with a resigned look. “Penny.” As I stood there.” I looked at him and was overcome with such feelings of love and affection that I put my hand up again. John noticed and started to get up but I put my hand up to stop him.this man did more than save my career. but I knew that I had more to say so I gathered myself and started to find the words. Before I knew it there were tears in my eyes and I was struggling to talk. “This man…. I do have to say it and I want these two to listen.” as these words spilled out my hand instinctively moved to cover my mouth.” as the words formed in my head a single tear started to roll down one of my cheeks. . “….” said John. braced himself for what he thought I was going to say.
so this caught him by surprise. and I‟ll tell you!” Sally creased up with laughter when I called Mike an arsehole.arsehole!” I said with a smile. so I continued . but a vixen at night who stalks and preys on vain and needy men to satisfy her own vanity and neediness. What I‟ve done while at conferences would fill the pages of a Jackie Collins novel! But you.” As I spoke. I mean really living – not just have a job and exist. I had them all where I wanted them now. I‟ve been a bad girl. you arsehole..” and this time I paused for effect more than anything else. Good as gold at work. I don‟t know how you did it but you made me take an interest in living again.Rory Ridley-Duff “Shut up. I‟m the sort of person your mother warned you about. “You‟ve had this coming to you for a long time so don‟t spoil it. John…” I fixed my eyes and aggressively pointed my finger at him.you….” John obviously felt that I was going to tell him again how much I loved him. “For the last 10 years. me. honestly! Never know when to shut up…. I giggled at the comedy that was taking place. “taught me how to feel again. John looked less worried and began to take in what I was saying.. “Right! This man…. you….” Sally and Mike were transfixed as they witnessed this intimate exchange. I‟ve known a series of jerks and losers and none of them ever made me actually want to know them. “You shut up too. You John. “Since when did you two get so close?” asked Mike. “…you made me want to behave!” Sally and Mike creased up with laughter as I fired my double barrel. “You men. you changed all that. and John gave a short chuckle and relaxed in his chair.
Friends or Lovers with the performance and grew in confidence. stubborn…and surprising person I‟ve ever met. If I had thought that John had helped me to feel again. 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. Sally‟s giggles subsided and it was John who creased up with laughter. it was nothing compared with the tidal wave that engulfed my being on hearing these words. Sally.. “…are the most difficult. I knew. “You make me want to be bad again!” When I said this. better than any drug. better than any orgasm. In that moment. He roared and clapped. This was living. As Mike‟s giggles subsided. And one more thing…” I held up both hands to stop them interrupting. started to join in too. . “You. It was the most exquisite feeling I had ever known. Then. 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. Mike starred back at me and for a few seconds we were transfixed by each other. And then he pulled away. I knew. I blew Mike a kiss then sat down. Was this love? Was this lust? In that moment I was touched by my own humanity. on the other hand. came over and gave me a hug. on the other hand…. walking backward.” I said conjuring up the sexiest look I could muster. Mike. the vixen started to return and my gaze left John and fixed on Mike. and kept his eyes on me while he sat down in his chair. grinned to himself contentedly. 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 too!” he whispered in my ear. he got up. There was not a force in the world that was going to stop it.
” I joked. haven‟t you my dear?” Now it was my turn to crease up with laughter. It was not only his family that he was protecting. “John! How long has this been going on?” He looked at me half-embarrassed. “You sly old dog. She and John were lovers. it was Sally.” answered John.” I was laughing again. “As for this one. “he‟s been a bad boy a few times. Mike raised his glass to John in appreciation but when I glanced at Mike. Sally looked at me. “He‟s too damn loyal for his own good. “And there was I thinking that you are a family man. He was not the paragon of virtue I had believed him to be. “But I thought he told you?” I responded. She did not need to say anything. Suddenly his resistance made sense.Rory Ridley-Duff It took me a few moments to notice that Sally had climbed onto John‟s knee and was kissing his forehead. . “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. All my inhibitions regarding John vanished. “He was so loyal to this sweet woman that he nearly destroyed his marriage. 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.” she started to say. the thought ran through my mind that his loyalty was coming to an end. I pointed at John and shouted at him. and he glanced back. Then he was so loyal to Elona that he nearly destroyed his career.
and asked Sally if I could borrow him for a minute. That‟s why I had to go.” I said to him.” said Sally. and our tongues touched. She consented. As my hand slipped under his shirt and felt his strong body. the situation. Whether it was the drink. “Oh yes I have…. I was not going to waste this moment.” I got up from my chair. darling. “One day soon. You must have known how much I wanted you. I pressed myself up against him.Friends or Lovers “He is. or the knowledge that he was weak with women. didn‟t you?” “Yes.” As I said these words. offered my hand to John. and you called me right in the middle of it! She thought you were Sally and started wrecking the house.” I remembered the recent phone call. “He‟s frustratingly devoted to his wife and children. gently parted. “Right you!” I said. “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. “I want to talk about this.” he said..” I replied. “You have no idea…. put my hands around his buttocks and pulled him close. so I grabbed him and led him roughly across the living room and out of the flat. . Why did you resist me?” He looked at me and draped his arms around my neck.” “Why did you tell her?” “I wanted to stay at Sally‟s while working on this contract. “You told her. his hands clutched my behind. We pulled each other close and snogged until we both sensed that enough was enough. Our lips met.
You liked me from the moment we met.” I stroked his face. that‟s how you did it. very needy. even after I told you I wouldn‟t make a pass at you. That was the price of continued friendship. after my father.” “She‟s certainly a looker. This isn‟t the first time for either of us. Mike was gone. Being with you was enough. if they thought I was not intending to sleep with them.” “How are things with your wife?” “They‟re okay.” I said. I was there. that I‟ve not been afraid to love. “You look after her and I‟ll look after you. “You have yourself a deal. I‟d have lost her. It was hard for her to leave her husband.” “What about Sally?” “If I‟d not slept with Sally. That made you special. With others. Penny Leyton.” “And I love you too. But with you. I was part of her recovery. Just being with him had been enough for me too. Very special. I think.” I said.” He laughed and held hands. You‟re the first woman I‟ve not had to sleep with to keep interested. Things changed some years back. When the kids were both at . She was. “I love you. “That‟s what I thank you for the most. but it‟s not that. You are the first man.” I nodded as I spoke. it was different somehow.Rory Ridley-Duff “Sally is not the only woman that I‟ve given in to . He did not have to explain how he felt. they would lose interest. If you „saved me‟. John. I‟m fond of her and she was in a state after Mike returned to his wife. Penny.there has been one other. “Yes. You made it possible for me to love again. not surprisingly.
We both get lonely. The kids are older now. We hugged again but this time .” “Don‟t worry. When we are together we still have a fabulous time. sometimes weeks. am I? I hope you aren‟t disappointed. I was determined to hold onto his love. Sally won‟t marry me. I took the plunge. A nomadic life suits me and I have friends and nests in many places.” With this exchange of words we made our pact. She holds a torch for Mike and likes having her own place. This is a long contract and it‟ll be lovely to spend time with Sally. There‟s no reason to divorce.Friends or Lovers school she started working again. we‟re able to get past blaming each other. That was a lovely thought and I warmed to it. “Not so white as white. I travel for days. I‟m just a temporary distraction for her. thankfully. We found that we both liked the idea of more freedom. Maybe I can sleep in your nest occasionally?” I smiled.” I said. I‟m travelling much more. She‟s a lovely woman and. I admitted to her that I‟d thought of having an affair as well.” “But you need somewhere that‟s a home. We drifted apart and she had an affair. Soon after. Then I met Sally through Mike and gave in again! My wife and I are still good friends. I admire her more than when we first married but the exclusivity has been lost. my whole life‟s like that. “As long as you behave. You‟re secret is safe with me. at a time. lover. You don‟t want to just drift between places like a visitor?” “With my work. We worked things through but a lot changed. There‟s no way to get it back so things have changed. “We both love the kids.” “D‟you think you‟ll have a house in one piece when you get home?” I quipped. Penny.
only ones where they chose not to have sex. It was almost as if we were saying goodbye and hello at the same time. without question. and mine alone. I retired to the other with Mike. we had become lovers of a sort. We knew that sex would be there if we ever both needed and wanted it at the same time. I hope you will forgive me for shielding it from gossip that would corrupt it. the most special moment of one of the most extraordinary days of my life. a priceless treasure that sparkles.Rory Ridley-Duff it was devoid of sexual passion. . But when I thought about it. Sleeping with Mike for the first time was. The memory is like a precious stone. But I didn‟t care either way – the most important thing was to protect the trust. It would be our joke – just as it had been for Sally and Mike . There was now such a deep intimacy. This diamond is mine. It would be John and I that others would mistake now. a bond as strong as I‟d ever known. As for the rest of the evening.that acquaintances would misunderstand. We both understood our attraction to each other. Sally retired to one of the bedrooms with John. Our relationship was now like that. I remembered John‟s words that there was no such thing as a non-sexual relationship between men and women. I thought of Sally and Mike and how everyone thought they had been lovers.
Is there anything we need to follow up after the product launch? I was irritable and too harsh. it would have been imprudent and insensitive. Suddenly all those soppy romance novels. worried and pleased at the passion I felt. and songs made sense and I realised people were not simply making it up. We all have off days.leyton@innovation. or how a husband or wife might feel driven to murder after discovering the other was having an affair. To have waited nearly 33 years to discover this! Suddenly I understood why people could fall apart when their partner leaves. Don’t worry about it.uk To: penny. I was astonished and frightened. As I sensed these feelings. If anybody tried to steal Mike from me.co. . Every few minutes I would pause to think of the future.Friends or Lovers Chapter 38 I went into work the next day on a tremendous high. I felt capable of doing anything. Even though I felt like telling him (and the whole world) what had happened the night before.uk Subject: Sorry Pen.co. Sorry about yesterday. there was an apology from Dave.stockton@innovation. forgive me? Dave. Can you I answered immediately. I was pleased that Dave apologised because that was how I expected him to be. From: dave. As I settled down to my computer to retrieve my e-mails. movies.
okay?” “Okay. “Don‟t you go blurting this around the place. Strange... give me the address and I‟ll go round.Rory Ridley-Duff There was a knock at the door and Phil was standing with a cup of coffee. She‟s over the 10-day mark and her manager is asking if you‟ll visit. boss!” he said sarcastically. I‟m happy enough for both of us.” I responded.” Phil said.” “Hard to believe it myself. “Don‟t tell me…. Okay. No answer.” “Hmm. I want them to come from me.” “Have to keep the boss happy!” he joked. This was a surprise. “No need to do that today. Keep it under wraps for now. “Okay. Phil did not usually make coffee unless I asked. That‟s the third time in two weeks. What have you got for me?” “Elona‟s off sick again. But I can‟t see this staying a secret for long. Have you called her?” “Yes. “I guess that‟s a good idea. “If any rumours start. “Bloody hell. right?” he asked. Penny.you…. That‟s very sweet of you. No answer from her parents?” “No. “Thank you. They‟ll probably be in the shop.” I said. That was fast work.” Elona! I had forgotten about her in all the excitement.” “Sure thing. “You don‟t have sugar.” . Phil looked up and my smile told him all he needed to know.?” I just kept silent and smirked enough for him to work out that he was right.
Having played hide and seek with the butter.” I asked them to let me in. What do you want to do?” “Can I stay here a bit. so her mother gently opened the door of her room and a crumpled figure lay in the bed asleep.Friends or Lovers “Yes. We‟re at our wits end. of course. wake her up and chat. Don‟t know what to do. All weekend. maybe make her a drink. “You‟ve been busy!” “Yes. I finally assembled something that looked appetising. “She‟s up there but we can‟t get her out of bed.” “Feel free. . plates and bowls. There was no reply so I entered the shop and spoke to her mother.” I sat with Elona for fifteen minutes before stirring myself to go to the kitchen. We‟re worried sick. my dear. Her mother led me though the shop and up the stairs. just crying and crying.” “What‟re you doing here?” she asked. “there‟s someone here to see you…. “She‟s cried herself to sleep.” There was silence. I took the liberty of putting together breakfast-in-bed. We‟ll be in the shop. “Elona?” I said gently as I rocked her shoulder. all last night. “Elona! Elona. bread. “Oh the pet!” said her mother. love!” she shouted.” *** I drove to Elona‟s flat and rang the bell. She turned around and after a moment of confusion she saw the breakfast tray. You looked like you could do with something.
Without make-up she looked quite different. “He‟ll just say I‟m depressed and give me some drugs. “You didn‟t have to come. she started to nod and the tears began to flow as she tucked into her toast and cup of tea. And yet I did feel concern for her so I accepted her thanks. We were worried.” she commented. but still had a girlish charm. I did not try to start a conversation and just sat next to her. “Your mum and dad say you‟ve been upset.” “I‟m sure they‟ll do what‟s best.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m finding out how you are.” I responded.” She sat up in bed and I gave her the tray. I‟m here because you‟ve been off work for 10 days this year and it is my job to be here.” As I looked at her face. I won‟t kid you.” “Just part of the job. “This is kind of you. Don‟t make me into a saint. At the same time I do care what happens to you and if there‟s a way I can help then I will. “Elona.” 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. Nobody at work could contact you. She looked at me sorrowfully and tried to talk but nothing coherent came out.” . Have you seen a doctor?” She gave a dismissive laugh. I could see the tear stains around her eyes. It is hard watching someone sink into the depths of despair. We sat there while she finished her breakfast and then she thanked me again. Eventually. I don‟t want that. This is kind of you. “No.
” I said. “Nothing. a zero. Nobody likes me. I was on my own and had to do the best I could. There are people at work who believe in you.” “Why?” I asked.” she said. I heard you. Nobody.” It was my turn to show a bit of aggression.” I listened with patience. “I‟m useless.” I said. completely fucking useless.” “Is this to do with Nathan?” At this remark she turned toward me and I could see the rage building in her face.” My efforts were not rewarded. “I don‟t give a shit. a waste of space. “I‟m nothing. I recalled the many conversations I‟d had with John.Friends or Lovers At this comment Elona looked at me angrily. I‟ve seen your file and you‟ve earned that position. I wondered if he might be able to help. however. a failure. “I said I don’t want that. As I walked out of the room a torrent of abuse showered my back as . I‟m useless. Nobody likes me. “I need you. “Don‟t give me that crap. Even though she was slightly built I began to feel a bit afraid. It‟s all meaningless. “What then?” I asked. In the back of my mind. She looked like she was going to explode. “Yes. At the moment. Administrators are ten-a-penny. 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. so I started to clear the tray and returned to the kitchen. “You don‟t need me.
“Elona. work. her parents. She turned onto her side and wept again. I sat with her for another quarter of an hour. When I returned from the kitchen I held out my hand and surprisingly she took it. Do you understand?” She made no movement so I repeated the question and she gave a nod of her head. motionless except for the occasional stroke of her face. I need to go now. me. Phil. her exboyfriend.Rory Ridley-Duff she screamed the place down about Nathan. We had all ruined her life. Mike. There are a couple of people I want to talk to and then I‟ll be back. . I tried to remain calm but it was difficult.
and there was I hoping you wanted to shag me in the toilets….. I felt myself get aroused as I moved closer toward him.Penny!” he said slightly stiffly.” I whispered back. My first port of call was John. “….” I said. but he agreed to take a break at mid-day and chat to me in the canteen.” “We‟ve got to keep a lid on it at work. He was in a meeting with Jo.I do. Even though I was there on business. “Any ideas?” he replied. “Elona!” I said in response and suddenly he dropped the formality and whispered in my ear. “What can I do for you?” “Can I speak to you in private?” I asked. Next I went to see Mike.err…. “Anything in particular you want to speak about?” he enquired. but none that I can act on here. I managed to calmly lead him into his own office. “Okay. As I walked through the door. “…. I‟d go and have one. looking down towards his crotch. He nodded and even though I felt like dragging him into the nearest broom cupboard for a quickie. I busied myself.Friends or Lovers Chapter 39 For the rest of the day.” I said. “Better do something about that!” I said with a smile. “If there was a cold shower somewhere. “Hello….” He pulled his head away and I noticed there was a bulge in his trousers. he smiled at me as if it was any other day at work. “Plenty. . but this has to come first …. What is it?” he asked as soon as I closed the door.
He looked surprised at my remark. “You‟re not thinking….. My hand instinctively jumped to my mouth.” I proffered. “Are you checking me out?” he queried. Penny?” he said. . It‟s technically your place. but I think she needs some space to herself.” I protested. We were always friends before and I‟m sure we will be again.” “Does that mean you‟d be okay if she moved into the other room?” “It‟s going to look very odd. but he anticipated me. I visited her and she‟s in a right state. I don‟t hold what happened against her. I‟ll talk to John later.Rory Ridley-Duff “Elona needs somewhere to stay. if you want to get back with your wife….” “Elona? What‟s the problem now?” “The same problem. I‟m not sure it‟d be a good idea anyway. She was upset and I was there so she took it out on me. “Of course. “Let them!” he said.” “Elona and I have always got on well. I could hardly believe what I‟d said and started to apologise profusely.” “What d‟you have in mind?” I gave a half smile and got ready to ask him. I wanted to know how you felt about the idea.Jeez! I‟ve only just got you to myself. I allowed him to kiss me briefly but stopped him when I felt my passion rising. I can‟t act without your consent. “Stop! People will see. He walked over and silenced me with a kiss. Is it really that urgent?” “Well actually.
When I got back to the office. one of the reps came up and congratulated me. As I sat with John in the canteen. She took the news of the flat offer in her stride and did not seem to show any great enthusiasm. When I returned in the afternoon.” I replied.” Phil looked at me warmly. “May as well have sent out an e-mail!” he retorted with a chuckle. I turned to leave the room.” “Why next weekend?” he asked. “Not a word passed my lips!” said Phil as I brought him a cup of tea. Elona was up and dressed. “Already?” I asked. One of his staff had noticed our kiss and by lunchtime a rumour was making its way around the offices. 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. She promised to think about it and let me know the next day.I‟ll tell her that she can move in next weekend if she wants.” he said with a big grin. “I‟m all yours. 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. “Oh well! It‟s out now. the rumour about myself and Mike had spread to Phil. just a little kiss in his office.Friends or Lovers “I‟ll tell her…. “What did you do – send out a company wide e-mail?” “No. I told her again that there were people at work who cared. .
*** At my desk. my heart sank slowly into the quicksand of despair.30pm Phil found me slumped at my desk. just two words sprang forth from his lips. 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. Where on earth had this come from? As I tried to find answers to impossible questions. Subject: Sorry Pen.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m happy for you. After a few moments. Penny?” I swivelled my screen around so he could read the e-mail. “What‟s up. “Oh fuck!” . the high spirits that had kept me aloft all day dissolved. Beads of sweat formed over my body and face.” he said. crashing and spinning out of control. 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. By 4. With every passing minute. Dave x I sat for 30 minutes while thoughts burned my mind.
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.I . my mind was preoccupied. “Just in case what?” I asked. He made me a cup of coffee. He sat at one end of the sofa and I put my head on his lap. he would slide his fingers between mine and hold my hand more tightly . Even though we were not speaking.Friends or Lovers Chapter 40 Instead of going home. we communicated a lot. 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. but the promise to explore the love-making potential of the flat was a distant thought. I could see a potential for disaster. He seemed to take it in his stride and did not press me. I returned to Mike‟s flat. He went out for bottle of wine and came back with two. My right hand rested on his knee and every few moments I would caress it and sometimes rub the inside of his knee. Intermittently. stroking me. “Just in case we finish the first one. To others we looked like a regular couple but inside I was full of questions about how far I could trust him. his left hand would stroke the back of mine and I would move my head and nestle it even more deeply in his lap. Now I had a personal problem it dawned on me that I hardly knew him. He joked that the second was “just in case”. sat with me. His right hand lay on the side of my face. but after receiving Dave‟s e-mail. I gave him a hug. Sometimes.” he answered. watched the television and held my hand. I think he expected me to jump him as I walked through the door.
There‟s a man standing with a woman and she‟s talking about her husband who has just died. “Know what?” he replied. “What do you mean?” . She says to him „I miss the little things‟ and the man replies „ah!…. don‟t they?” “I hope so. “Know how you felt about me?” I answered. I was not really watching it so I started to ask Mike questions. “Are you going to tell me about your wife?” I asked. “I remember this film. but it gave me confidence that he looked upon me as more than a fling. I‟m stroking you. “Well I was just lying here and our hands are touching. “Plenty of time for that!” It was a small remark. “The little things. “When I insulted you!” I sat up and looked at him.” he said. There‟s nothing bigger is there?” “Little what?” he answered. a line from a film entered my head. there‟s nothing bigger is there?‟ Don‟t you think that‟s a great line?” He smiled and stroked my head again. I sipped the wine as the TV programme played in the background. “Not yet. “When did you know?” I asked.” he said.Rory Ridley-Duff would respond by tightening my grip to catch and squeeze his fingers.the little things. As I lay there. and these little things mean a lot. “Where‟s this coming from. Penny?” he asked. you are stroking me.
“You thought of that while we were arguing?” “Well. yes. I think there were two moments. 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. “Won‟t forget that in a hurry!” “Well there I was shouting at you.” “Do you remember when we first met?” he asked. but at home I‟ve always been quite passive. maybe.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. I‟d always pegged you as old fashioned and that completely took me back. At work.” I answered. I did.” I laughed out loud because at that moment I would have fed him to the sharks. Secondly. so the thought came into my head. Firstly. “Well. Do you remember that?” “Yes. “When did you know?” he asked.” I was not sure how to react. I thought and went back over my mind. then looking at you intently thinking that a woman as confident and smart as you would surely have made a pass at a man. he‟d asked me the same question. And there I was challenging you on whether you had ever made a pass at a man. . I remember being really angry. when you asked why women let men think they rule the world.” I encouraged. Before I had time to think. I can‟t remember ever standing up to my wife like that. “I was thinking how nice it would be if you made a pass at me.” “Go on. when you held my gaze and would not look away.
didn‟t I?” commented Mike. Dave had successfully hidden this from me for nine months. “Yes.” I commanded.” he replied.” he said.” This came as a surprise. “He didn‟t want you in the company. after a moment. “Yes. Anyway. He told me to watch out for you because you were a „ball breaker‟” “He said that!” I exclaimed.” I interjected.” Mike laughed. “I was with Dave. Yes. He‟d been bitching about Harry insisting on your appointment. “Why are you laughing?” I demanded. I pegged you as a paternalistic antifeminist old git. “He‟d say that I censored myself because I was afraid of you.” he replied. He preferred the other candidate. He said to be careful because of you.Rory Ridley-Duff I tried to recollect but I couldn‟t. “John. “Why would you be afraid of me when you don‟t even know me?” . I thought back. “What about him?” I asked. “Tell me. “Dave and I were chatting and I was about to tell him a sexual joke. “Go on.” “My God! I remember now. “I annoyed you. I started the joke then stopped when I saw you walking toward us. you did.” I directed. “I was thinking what John would say.” “Is that true?” It was Mike‟s turn to reflect. but Harry insisted on you.
“My God. Without any further words he pulled my face closer.” I replied. . It was strangely reassuring.” he replied. you are!” I responded. I‟m sexist because I turn women into sex objects. “Why?” he asked. “I didn‟t want your first impression of me to be a bad one. I‟m sexist because I‟m excluding you. I‟m afraid.Friends or Lovers Mike looked me in the eye. If I don‟t tell the joke.” I said.” “Well.” “Was it a good joke?” I said trying to lighten the mood. “Tell me the joke. His mouth met mine and we got properly reacquainted.” “That‟s the problem. “It was brilliant. “I can imagine. a witty remark would have been forthcoming as he popped the cork. damned if you don‟t. One of John‟s best.” I thought back to my e-mail exchanges with John. While he had charm and sex appeal. he did not routinely crack jokes or flirt when he was alone with me. “Damned if you do. If he had been John.” “What do you mean?” I queried “If I tell the joke.” “Are you serious?” Mike frowned. but Mike was quieter and calmer. “What‟s the problem?” I asked.” he said. it was. “I don‟t know any male manager today who‟s not afraid of sexual accusations. We soon finished the first bottle of wine and opened the second. “Because you didn’t tell me the joke. “No.” I said sinking into his lap.
” I said. Mike felt no need to press me to explain myself.” he answered.” “Too repressed for his own good. “I‟ve always liked him. “Too repressed?” “Yeah. yes. “Well.” I remarked. Comes across as such a „nice guy‟ but underneath beats a heart of appalling meanness. Do that some more. “He asked me to find out about you. “We joined IC at roughly the same time. not absolutely sure how I felt about him now.Rory Ridley-Duff “I had a shock today. “Dave and I go back a long way. “Yeah! He behaves great to his favourites or women he fancies. “Very well indeed.” I blurted out. “Did pretty well.” he answered seductively as his hand moved under my blouse.” . I am. “And?” “That‟s it. Get on the wrong side of him and you‟ll discover just what a bastard he can be.” “Did he really?” said Mike with a sarcastic knowing laugh.” I recalled how Dave had been suspicious of Mike. He‟s never done that before. “Dave sent me an e-mail that was sexually suggestive. Clearly the feelings were reciprocated. didn‟t I?” I quipped.” he continued. Nice. “You‟re concerned?” he asked. I was his boss back then. His body was relaxed and I felt comfortable opening up to him. “Hmmm.” I said. Mike obliged but kept talking at the same time. around my waist and started to caress the small of my back.” he said with considerable force.” I said.
“Okay. “Only half the time…” he answered. as if waiting for me to ask a question. smiling or wavering for an instant.” I said with mock impatience.” he asserted. “You‟re teasing me!” I answered. “Oh yes.” he replied. “Are you going to ask how?” he continued. “Sally used to be related to Dave. You know how dim women can be. “Sally?” I responded with some surprise. I wondered. there is usually a man and woman involved!” “Cynic!” I joked. I began to realise that his wit was considerably drier than John‟s. “We fell out over Sally. .” He paused. How?” “She was Dave‟s sister-in-law. Whenever there is shit in the workplace. Mike.” I suddenly pretended to be stupid. “Oh. Where did he get these insights from. “What?” “Doesn‟t work!” he said again. “What about the other half?” “Optimist!” he said without missing a beat.” “Doesn‟t work!” he suddenly said.” he said.Friends or Lovers “What happened?” I asked. “You like being teased. “What doesn‟t work?” “The „can you explain it to me coz I‟m a stupid woman‟ routine. “Get on with your story. Please explain it for me.
You‟ve had this story from John so I‟m not sure what else to tell you. With only a moment‟s hesitation.” “It‟s okay – I was being rhetorical!” I said. he continued and finished the story. There was just a hint of smile on his face. “You like it. “What are you smiling for?” I asked.” I said.” Mike concluded. .Rory Ridley-Duff He did not play the way that John played so I tried another approach. “So now you know why he and I are not best buddies. do you?” I queried. but his assertive and commanding manner turned me on. “Sally used to….” he answered. He gave a gesture to indicate that he did not understand. He might not make me laugh as much as John.” he replied. “Sally used to be married to Dave‟s brother. I like strong direct women. “Oh. yes.. will you?” I said briskly. “Just get on with the bloody story. “Say again?” I asked. It was beginning to dawn on me that Mike liked to play things straight. my lad. “That works!” he said with a laugh. “You are going to like me a lot!” He relaxed a bit and laughed.” I sat up straight and suddenly the pieces dropped into place. gathering words together in my head. “What?” I asked. I could feel my confidence and ardour beginning to build. “Well. “You are so sexy when you raise your voice. Dave‟s brother used to beat her.
I began to wonder whether I had been completely blind.and Sally..” Mike replied.” I added. “He has to know sometime.Friends or Lovers I still did not get it completely. that Dave had invited me out after the CIPD event in Birmingham and that we would be staying in the hotel together.” I insisted. “No. I thought he was getting ready to make a move on me. there could be more unpleasantness. “He thinks that you…. No wonder Dave had a grudge against Mike! Suddenly my need to tell Mike about Dave‟s e-mail became more urgent. “You don‟t need me to answer that.” I said.” I said. “Okay. He had helped Sally. “Still want to hear.” “Yes.” “You may not like it. “I want to tell you more. The words came out so fast I had no time to retract them. “He thinks….. “Just try to look at this from his perspective.” I started. I told Mike of Dave‟s wife. her illness. he thinks I fucked Sally and broke up his brother‟s marriage.” he replied. “You and I are at loggerheads.” “Did you?” I asked. And out it all came. Whatever Dave felt when he recruited me.” he responded. If Mike and Dave had fallen out once before. What would Dave do if he found that I was sleeping with Mike? “Maybe we should deny our relationship?” I suggested. You leave your wife after a big row . I don‟t. So what? Then the final piece of the puzzle clicked into place and I instinctively covered my mouth in shock. When I told him the details of the recent e-mail exchanges. my fondness for him.
Never in my life had I enjoyed such passion and intimacy with a man. . How does that look to you? Dave behaved strangely at the pub the other night. I find you a company flat to move into. we used my flat as a new base. “What did he say. Later he and I had our first angry words. I was just being polite after the hasty exit the night before. The next day Elona decided she wanted to move in and with only a few days of freedom. “I didn‟t mean it like that.” Mike pointed out. That was the first of many times we made love there. I repeated the recent e-mail exchanges with Dave. Within a month neither of us had any secrets left to tell. “He must have taken your message as encouragement…. So I shoved him off the sofa. he gave me another shove and I realised he wanted to play. After she moved in. I gave him a playful shove and he shoved me back with a deadpan face. got up and ran away. For the next 10 minutes he chased me all over the flat until he managed to corner me in the bathroom. Mike!” Having felt a bit dim a moment before. 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. As I backed up against the wall. I suddenly felt quite clever. again?” asked Mike. Then it comes out that we are sleeping together. his strong frame moved towards me and my screams gave way to giggles. Mike and I made the most of our freedom.” “You? Polite?” he teased again. I don‟t want to take the risk.Rory Ridley-Duff with me in the workplace. The following morning he didn‟t want to sign the contract for this flat. When I did not respond.
Carole and my parents thought I had disappeared off the face of the earth. and our love-making was varied and passionate. for all the commitments we made. our first month felt like a honeymoon that would never end. Even as they expressed surprise. The threads of our lives intertwined and bonds were woven into a fabric so strong that I could not imagine them ever breaking. At the end of each . I savoured every second. I learnt of his dreams and fantasies. our plans firm and concrete. I turned up at my parent‟s house for Sunday lunch with Mike in tow. for all the intense times we spent together. If our first night together was the most special moment of my life. John and Sally occasionally dropped in and we would all go out for a meal. not even John and Sally. he learnt of mine. the words “I love you” never passed our lips. for all the future plans we mapped out. but never of our future aspirations. Carole phoned me daily after Mike and I had appeared for lunch at my parents. Privately Mike and I had discussed that if we enjoyed living together. but we were never a lovely-dovey couple. knew of our plans. towards the end of June. Our conversations were realistic and grounded. I talked to her of the things we had done together. When. For sure our relationship took off at quite a pace. But publicly nobody. I listened to his experiences as a father.Friends or Lovers Despite the generation gap. he listened to my memories of childhood. To call this a “whirlwind romance” does not do it justice. we announced that he would be moving into my flat. they accepted and welcomed this development and all quietly congratulated me. we started to talk extensively about politics (office and otherwise). he might file for divorce so we could marry. But throughout all this. Many joint dreams were born.
we remained the very souls of discretion. make everybody laugh and be beautiful. If people knew. We talked about her forthcoming wedding and the preparations. . Like true professionals. To my surprise.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. The only person I updated from time to time was Phil. I broke the news to her that I would have to pass up the opportunity of shagging the best man. All I needed to do was to turn up. there was a conspiracy of silence. told me about people that he fancied. speech in hand. the rumours at work died quickly and did not spread further. I apologised for not getting more involved but she assured me that mum was on top of everything. Dave. did not learn of our relationship and Mike and I managed to keep our contact low-key and light-hearted. in turn. fortunately. He.
as sales manager for the domestic market. We exaggerated. Her background in sociology and international business was different to mine. confirmation was a formality but this new situation meant that I could no longer take my appointment for granted. we developed too. The story of how Mike and I got together became something of a party piece. but there was sufficient common ground to compare perspectives. So far as I could tell. While we still worked together well on a professional level. In the back of my mind I wondered whether it was wise to say nothing.Friends or Lovers Chapter 41 The prospect of going to the CIPD event with Dave was something that I came to dread. of course. I would join them for drinks and found that I particularly enjoyed Elaine‟s company. Following the launch of the SHARE experience. After much drinking we playfully acted out the battle-axe and gentle man confronting each other angrily while an unspoken mutual passion was developing. Mike. Even if he had said it as a joke. I felt that raising it with him was too risky. . our personal relationship had cooled. John knew Elaine from academic conferences so all six of us started going out weekly for meals. I met Sam and Elaine again (with Dave) to organise the recruitment of more support staff. Neither of us spoke about the situation with his wife or his admission that he fantasised about me. also met Sam and Elaine regularly to develop marketing strategies. I was conscious that my probationary period was coming to an end and Dave would decide my future. and many side-stories and alternative plot lines were elaborated. As a group.
I look good in tight black dresses but perhaps that would be too risqué. She had also been a human resources manager before advancing her education. I love sexy outfits. they were beginning to achieve security both for themselves and the company. They married secretly and this triggered a hostile reaction from some board members. On the day of the CIPD conference. She picked me up about 10am and we made our way up the motorway. I arranged to go with her to Birmingham beforehand to buy an evening dress. . After obtaining an MBA she took up a senior management post at the engineering company where Sam had been working. It had been a struggle but the relationship with IC was a breakthrough. They decided to establish a new company for Sam to continue working on his ideas. “So what you going to get?” Elaine asked. It was her interest in his engineering. We would take lunch together and have girly chats. but as I‟m going with Dave I don‟t want to send out the wrong signals. For the last 5 years they had developed their product line. “Not sure. that spurred their close relationship.” “Is there such a thing?” she asked. This enabled them to expand their market and leverage in considerable financial investment. “I guess.Rory Ridley-Duff Elaine became the first person to learn of my private aspiration to marry Mike.” “Get something you can wear for other occasions as well!” said Elaine. After all their hard work. Their close working relationship evolved into a personal one. and the company‟s ignorance of its potential.
” she replied. great boobs and a sharp brain.” I quipped. lunch.” I quipped. “You‟ll have to introduce me. “Just ask Erin Brockovich. 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.” she answered. but I don‟t have millions stashed away to bring in the punters.” “Killer combination. “Chocolate delight! They weren‟t kidding were they?” I said as I tucked away another slice and sipped on my café latte. I could hardly wear something like that to work!” She glanced at me and we laughed at the thought. I nodded and she carried on. “Some of them do. flushed with shock and excitement. After shopping. “Men use their power when it suits them. Her Porsche 911 accelerated quickly and my body pressed back into the seat. “Don‟t know about you love. We shouldn‟t be embarrassed about using ours. It hung at the knee and had a waist that was gathered with a belt that was covered in ethnic beads. irresponsible and exuded a freedom than I‟d never witnessed at close quarters. A matching necklace and earrings completed the vision. After a few seconds. coffee and chocolate cake. we retired for coffee and cake.” “You better believe it!” And with our sights set on the shops. I found a lovely black dress. But I do have a lovely pair of legs. She was irrepressible. elegant with a cut that was suggestive without being too daring. “If only men tasted as good!” said Elaine.Friends or Lovers “Depends. she took her foot off the gas and cruised into Birmingham at 90mph. surely. . She reminded me of John.
Various scenarios were introduced on video. Their employment rights had been strengthened. We said our farewells and departed to attend to our respective tasks. and closing comments. pampered myself with goodies from my overnight bag. we were split into workgroups for role-play exercises that covered recent legislative changes. The CIPD event went off well. Elaine and John than to everyone else in the whole of my life. My new circle of friends gradually brought me out of my shell.30pm for the dinner. I talked more about my thoughts and feelings to Mike. I sat with Dave during the keynote speech but we were separated for the group sessions.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‟. I found an emotional security that reminded me of my early childhood. . but many organisations still did not grasp the full impact. Nagging at the back of my mind was the possibility that he might be harbouring feelings for me. My sense of well-being grew. I showered. then pairs of people acted out one-to-one meetings between an employee and personnel officer. Dave and I checked into the hotel and agreed to meet in the bar about 6. Of particular concern were provisions regarding temporary and part-time staff. After a question and answer panel. As I retired to my room I began to realise that for the first time I found myself struggling to find things to say to him. then sat in front of the mirror applying my face. Others made notes and gave feedback on the legality (or otherwise) of their intended actions. After an opening key speech.30pm. we adjourned and were asked to come back at around 7.
Penny!” he said and we both smiled. and the prospect of spending the whole evening together. “You can call me. “Here she is!” he said. I felt I should broach the subject of his wife. He presented the till slip for Dave to sign. Dave was chatting and laughing with the barman. “That was a bit „familiar‟. I expected more than this. “Thank you.Friends or Lovers At 6.” . I signed it and gave it back to him.” he responded.” he said looking at me. but nothing was forthcoming. “What would you like?” asked Dave. He turned to face me again.” said the barman as he delivered the drink. The barman looked surprised but took the hint and gave me the bill. “Here you are ma‟am. Given the occasion.30 I made my way down to the bar. Dave. I was just being polite. Dave looked slightly flustered. wasn‟t it? Do you know him?” “No. He smiled gently at me but it only increased my nervousness. “Thanks. Perhaps I should have complimented him too but I didn‟t. “How are things at home?” I asked. “She‟s stable.” “Thank you. I‟ll have a rum and black. “Barman?” I said boldly. “I don‟t suppose it matters who signs it.” He duly ordered and the barman said he would bring it to our table. Penny! I‟m not the queen. “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. ma‟am!” he said with appropriate emphasis.
” I started. I felt so awkward that I got up and went back to my room. Penny. “Dave. Penny. Dave.” he said sternly. At the end of the conversation. I decided to see if table places had been set. Penny.” I said.” “You were. “Just don‟t. That was a really dumb thing to do with my appraisal only a few weeks away so I phoned Mike on my mobile. You‟re representing the company here. I decided that it would be stupid not to. . “Don‟t use that tone with me. I was none the wiser whether I should apologise or not. which made me all the more cantankerous. “I don‟t want to fall out with you. “Dave?” I said. “Oh lighten up. A bubble of rage formed in the pit of my stomach but I managed to contain it. “Yes.” he said. “You were flirting with the barman. “You shouldn‟t be too familiar with bar staff. however. We sat in silence for a few minutes. First. At first he laughed.” I answered.” “And I was doing it splendidly. Penny?” “Up yours!” I said. But please don‟t tell me how to behave towards people when I‟m not at work. holding my drink aloft. immediately recalling that Dave was laughing with the barman when I entered.” he said defensively. however.” “You are at work. but he managed to calm me down. I began to panic.Rory Ridley-Duff I wondered if we were in for a bad tempered night.” I said dismissively. being polite to the hotel staff.
” I said. the conference manager.Friends or Lovers In the dining room I met Jules. It had been turned into a charity event so the 50 participants were swelled with another 200 people for the dinner. The sea change in our relationship worried me. who showed me to a private bar and the seating plan for the evening. That was rude of me.” I answered. This time I went back to the private bar without making a show of my feelings. were excellent. no. He turned around and acknowledged me. “Thank you. “I really appreciate this. however. My table included a CEO and his . I thanked Jules then went to the private bar to order another rum and black.” he said. I returned to the main bar.” “Not too keen on your boss. I waited for him to give me an apology in return. I had been allocated a place next to Dave so I asked Jules if I could sit elsewhere. Waiters and waitresses plied us at regular intervals with wine and aided the socialisation over dinner. “Not at the moment. but there was no smile. “I‟m sorry for earlier.” “Forget it. but none was forthcoming.” she said with a warm smile. The food was well presented but not especially delicious. The service and company. Husbands and wives joined the delegates and professional bodies had been invited for the evening speakers and networking opportunities. I take it?” she asked. Using her mobile she called reception and about ten minutes later a man came through with an amended seating plan. “Glad to help. With the prospect of a stressful evening receding. “Dave?” I asked.
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
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of familiarity in his voice. I thought he must be a celebrity off the TV but annoyingly one of my dinner companions kept distracting me. The speaker continued. “Thank you. Thank you very much,” he said. “I hardly recognise myself in those kind words.” I asked my dinner companion if we could continue our conversation later because I was particularly keen to hear this speaker. He looked offended, but at last I was able to focus on the speaker‟s words. “I‟ve been asked to talk about a subject that most of us think about daily, some of us talk about regularly, but which is rarely talked about publicly. It is a subject hardly ever discussed in business books. In my view, it exerts more influence over the workplace than any other single thing and is the bedrock of social organisation both at home and at work. I‟m talking, of course, about sexual attraction and intimacy. Now if you think I‟ve come here to talk about bonking in the broom cupboard……” With most of the audience tipsy, the speaker expected a few giggles and paused. A few people obliged. Everyone else stopped chatting and started to listen. “…..or kissing in the canteen, then you are going to be disappointed. If you‟ve come here to understand how private lives impact on work then you are in the right place.” I noticed that more and more people were sitting up and taking notice. On the top table was a jug of water. The speaker paused for a moment and poured himself a glass. “Always good when they give you a large jug of gin to drink – always makes the talk more interesting,” he quipped. “If you see them bringing a second jug, then the chances of me telling
you a story about bonking in the broom cupboard rises considerably!” A slightly larger group laughed at this remark, but one of my dinner companions just raised their eyebrows and gave a disapproving look. “Talking of stories,” he continued, “I have a couple for you that I hope will prompt interesting discussion in the bars.” Everybody in the room was now paying attention. He came across as an above average public speaker. “Not so long ago I was sitting in an airport lounge and an attractive woman called Patsy glanced in my direction. When they called the flight, Patsy joined the queue and edged her way in front of me.” I laughed out loud as I recalled the way John and I had met. A few people on adjacent tables turned their heads to look at me. I thought it was uncanny the speaker had such a similar experience. “Then Patsy did something that most people here will probably think is a bit bizarre, but which – to me – was not bizarre at all. She bent down to tie her shoelace……” My laughter subsided and I began to feel slightly uncomfortable. “Nothing strange in that, you might think? Well, it would not have been strange except for one small detail. Patsy was wearing shoes that had no shoelaces……” A ripple of laughter went around the room and the speaker paused to let the import of the joke linger. As for me, my heart was pounding as I realised that the speaker was John and that he was talking about our first meeting.
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“What is significant about this story is that Patsy‟s willingness to give me a bird‟s eye view of her butt was one of several reasons I decided to sit next to her. Very bold behaviour, I felt, and not something I was likely to come across every day. We fell into conversation, swapped e-mail addresses and later met for lunch. Now we take walks together. She became a close friend and is now also a professional colleague.” He paused again. “She‟s also dating one of my best friends!” he said loudly with gusto. His comic timing was excellent and there was a further smattering of laughter. “Now what‟s the relevance? Sexual attraction is often the reason we choose to take an interest in someone. As we work out the tensions many long and durable friendships are formed. I was lucky. Patsy liked and welcomed my response, but not immediately and not without a lot of soul searching about my intentions towards her. If she had taken offence, she might have withdrawn, confronted me, argued with me, perhaps even accused me of sexually harassing her.” “We are still, even in this modern age, overwhelmingly social beings. Yes, we come to dinners like this to talk about how to make more - or lose less - money. We come for the networking opportunities, the social opening that will start a new business venture. But I want to suggest to you that there is something more than that, something deeper, more important.” He paused and took a sip of his water before continuing. “Once, a business mentor of mine said to me that money was not the most important thing to him. To him, the money was a means and not an end. The money enabled him to feed his
family, to open doors to social networks he wanted to belong to, to attract and be in the company of many beautiful women. In short, he was in business to have fun. „If you‟re not having fun‟ he would say, „sell the business‟. To him, business was entertainment.” “So what‟s the key thing here?” asked John. “For him, being in business meant an emotionally fulfilling life. He did it for the buzz. For the challenge. For the company. And yes, let‟s admit it, for the sex. He was, in a way, one of the business world‟s rock stars, although he liked to avoid the press.” “Of course, there are many out there….and perhaps even in here…who will take a dim view of this. Business is about profitmaximising, about efficiency, about effectiveness and all those terms that are popular in business schools and board rooms. There are a few strange people who actually get off on this. Picture them in your mind: Laddie Lawyer…… Amy Accountant…… Adam Auditor.” There was substantial laughter as he recounted these names. He knew his audience. Human resource staff often battled legal and financial staff for influence and John cleverly used his knowledge of workplace tensions to win them over. “Now, I imagine that you‟re sitting there thinking „not me‟. I‟m rational, everybody else is emotional. I always do my best for my boss. I‟m a complete professional – never let myself get distracted by this stuff. So I‟m going to ask for a bit of audience participation. Can I have a show of hands, please? How many of you met your most recent wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend in an organisation? Don‟t just think of your own place of work. Did you meet in theirs? Was he or she your client? Were you students together?”
Friends or Lovers
The hands started to rise, at first tentatively. The murmurs grew as spouses and partners reminded each other of their first meeting, with the result that more and more hands were raised until at least three-quarters held them aloft. “More than usual,” he commented. “We have a horny bunch in tonight!” The room rumbled with chatter and laughter as people started to absorb what had just been illustrated. As the noise died down, so John continued. “So let me make one or two comments before I tell you my second story. Firstly, how is it that most human resource professionals here tonight met their partner or spouse in a workplace and yet the profession is being persuaded to support zero-tolerance policies towards sexual behaviour at work?” There was less laughter now and he paused to have another drink. The women entrepreneur opposite looked irritated. “See what I mean?” she said. I nodded, but privately I thought John had a point. “Need a bit more gin for this bit,” John quipped as he drank some more water. “More controversially, recent research suggests that research participants say harassment is very rare, almost unheard of, during the formative stages of a relationship. Accusations are made when relationships are breaking down. This raises an issue. Are we are missing the underlying sexual dynamics that bring about these accusations. It may be that a man is trying to break off the relationship rather than form it, or that a woman is trying to back off a relationship that has aroused her sexual feelings. When it comes to the law, have politicians created a rod to break our back?”
” he continued boldly. “Okay. but this story has a challenging ending.” John smiled. He somehow managed to avoid accusing his audience. Then his tone suddenly became quieter. Then he delivered a killer sentence. During Ben‟s induction. and without fail there is some set piece bit of „corporate fun‟. Diane told him about the company annual dinner. I looked hard but couldn‟t find that induction technique in the CIPD manual!” he quipped. In the silence that followed.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked around and saw some people nodding. “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. “Yes – it‟s funny. but this time it belongs to a man. Each year they have a big celebration. “Diane thought one of the directors‟ butts was so sexy that she described it to Ben during his induction. “Here‟s the rest of the story. John‟s tone was not critical. . It involves Ben and Diane. This also has a lovely butt in it. isn‟t it?” he agreed with his audience. He paused and the audience obliged with more laughter. okay – I realise that some of you probably consider this essential work in the run up to the Christmas party.” He paused again and took another swig of „gin‟. they had a „Butt of the Year‟ competition. but questioning. Diane is a CIPD qualified member of staff. “This leads me onto my second story. more measured. The year Ben joined. the hum of personal reflection lingered in the air. but everyone in the room suddenly felt embarrassed that they had been laughing. This involved a number of men taking pictures of each others‟ naked bottoms and creating a slide show for the women. The audience laughed some more.
Diane confessed that her marriage was sexless. invited Ben to stay at her house.‟ she told him. His objections fell on deaf ears. Diane reported his activities to her own manager. Ben thanked her and felt reassured. Ben responded that he liked one or two of the women at work and had asked one out for a drink. Ben argued with the company‟s MD. Diane flung her arms around Ben and playfully put ice cubes down his trousers. “Ben‟s marriage collapsed and Diane offered him a place to sleep. She told him repeatedly that he had „admirers‟.” “You may think that you know what is coming…….Friends or Lovers “At the Christmas Party. put ice cubes down Ben‟s trousers at a party. Ben argued that the accusation was unjustified. Ben confessed his wife had been having an affair. “a woman who talked openly about her lust for a male director during Ben‟s induction. “So!” he said. They started to go out for drinks after work. „You won‟t be lonely. Both were married.” “Instead of being pleased for him. Diane got cross and told him he should not look for love at work. told Ben he had admirers and then got jealous when Ben admired someone . Ben was questioned for over an hour in a private room about „inappropriate‟ behaviour.” John raised his volume a couple of notches to finish the story “He was fired. He did not mind her attention and they grew close. When Ben asked why. hypocritical and sexist. She now claimed that Ben was „womanising‟ and might misuse personnel records.” he teased. He thanked her but did not accept.” A few people in the audience gasped.
Our desires are not always sexual. are affected by what is taking place in our lives outside work.” I thought back over my own experience. Attention switches immediately to the accused. Maybe we are trying to avoid loneliness. That much is obvious and while it is not discussed much. Both parties are responsible. “Firstly. or our desire to avoid. “These are two cases where the underlying dynamics are known. “a kind of power that we don‟t acknowledge. Accusations often reveal as much about who is hurting as who is being hurt. HR departments rarely investigate the motive for an accusation. most enlightened people realise it. only the accusation itself. Those desires. my main point is not that men can also be subject to sexual harassment or false allegations. but this time he did so for effect.Rory Ridley-Duff else…she only had to make an accusation that Ben might be behaving inappropriately for his world to quickly fall apart. Both parties play a part. feeling accepted by a sexually . Most people are like icebergs. in turn. “That is power. The accuser may be given special protection before it is known whether their accusation is true. “What can we learn from this?” continued John. intimacy. We had weathered it but not without capsizing a few times.” John paused again. Maybe we are trying to be accepted.” he said. at the way the accusation against Mike has triggered the storm inside IC. “My main point is that whenever there is a sexual conflict it is usually underpinned by a complex intimate relationship. Nine tenths of what might be known is submerged beneath the surface. Workplace behaviour arises out of our desire for. This said.
That ignores the costs of training and lost . 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. are we destroying our society with zero-tolerance policies? Are we compromising our ability to take. enough to pay for over 20 days of mediation. 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. It is. regardless of my intent. or continue to „name and blame‟ one party? Are we serious about equality? “If you are sitting next to your financial director and she or he is saying „too expensive‟. I want you to think about how to contribute to the current debate on equality of opportunity and sexual harassment. if Patsy had objected when I started to talk to her on the airplane. I could be accused in the same way as Ben. How would you go about investigating that to undercover „the truth‟?” “So. to conclude. “Two thoughts for you as you retire to the bars. I ask you to think of the cost of replacing staff. by deliberately being provocative. In Ben‟s case it cost the company over ten thousand pounds to replace him. would I have been guilty of sexual harassment? Or was her behaviour. Firstly. 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. Isn‟t this the most naïve policy in the history of humankind? “So. emotive and triggers disruptive conflicts. therefore.Friends or Lovers desirable or successful person is particularly meaningful.
just this once. mate. while this is an ethical issue. Instead. I did not realise that ……” . Dave. So. “Ladies and Gentlemen . then – as he realised that I had been in the audience – he started to look apologetic. yes!” “And close friends.” “Not at all.” I said with a smile. “You know each other a lot better than you are telling me.” said John. “Can you forgive me?” he asked. am I?” “An anonymous one. I got up and walked towards the front.” “Indeed we do.Rory Ridley-Duff productivity. When John saw me. he initially beamed with pleasure. Penny?” “I‟ll let you get away with it. “Get away with what?” asked Dave. My business cards and these two cases are available on the table. I did not join in. was surprisingly astute.” “And I‟m a case study. My mood changed and John noticed instantly. Hope I‟m not interrupting anything. however. My name is John. It ignores whether the replacement is as good at the job. eh?” “You think I‟m being economical with the truth.” I said. I can see. “Such a good story and I never thought that you would ever be in one of my audiences. turning on the professional charm.” The audience broke into a round of applause. “Hello. it is also a financial one. Suddenly I felt another person moving up beside me.” “Dave! Good talk.thank you for listening! My name is John Simons and I am at your service. John smiled as we shared the private joke. “You might have asked.
“Yes.” “And John. but also strange men in airports!” John joined in the conversation again. Just ask them to charge it to Room 1156 and I‟ll sign the receipt in a moment. I‟ll join you in a second. “…. Is this the John you mentioned to me? The one you met on a plane?” I hesitated. John and I hesitated.” replied John.” “Are you coming. you are a dark horse. . “Flirting is dangerous.. “Don‟t you flirt?” asked John. How else can people establish another person‟s motive?” Dave was slightly taken aback at these remarks. “And you don‟t. “Well. Penny?” asked Dave.” said Dave. Penny.” “One of your best friends!” said Dave. “So am I. “So. is this Patsy?” asked Dave pointedly. “If you go to the bar and order what you like.Friends or Lovers Oh God! I prayed that he was not about to say what I though he was about to say. whether I like it or not. Dave?” asked John. Dave nodded. There was little point denying it. “Would you like to have this conversation at the bar so I can buy you a drink?” asked John. Dave laughed. “but like most adults I still end up in situations where there is flirting. “I‟m married!” he said indignantly. you don‟t just flirt with barmen. “Don‟t what?” asked Dave. one of my best friends was in the audience.
” Dave had committed himself now and went off to the bar. “I‟ve chatted to Mike and thought we were through this. “Flirting is a good way for men and women to establish the level of intimacy they want in their relationships.” said John boldly. We found a space to talk. They push and probe to check out how the other responds. However. I just want a quick word with John.” . we got to the bar and Dave was ready with our drinks.” John and I made our way to the bar. okay. Having negotiated these questions. You‟ve got a problem.” “I can meet you later if you like?” he asked again. “Tell me about it. in the sense that sexual desires and aspirations underpinned a lot of adult behaviour. he engaged with people who wanted to talk to him. “You were saying that flirting is dangerous?” remembered John. Freud thought it all emanated from complexes formed in childhood experiences. Was it not all a bit Freudian? Not really. It is those who are inexperienced or shy who are uncomfortable with flirting. “Yes.Rory Ridley-Duff John glanced in my direction and I realised that he was trying to get me on my own.” said Dave. “Always leads to trouble. said John. “I‟ll join you in a second. John did agree with Freud. Were the stories true? Yes. “He‟s hurt. totally true. Many find it fun. It‟s getting worse and worse. On the way. “I disagree.” said John.” “Do you want to talk about it later?” asked John. We had an argument earlier this evening. Most people do this in non-threatening ways and it works most of the time. He did not agree with that. I accept it is a problem for them.
“I‟ve had to deal with many problems caused by flirting. By the way.” insisted Dave.” answered John.” said Dave arrogantly. “Not directly. as John proceeded to respond. how is Sally?” “Sally?” asked Dave.” said Dave.” answered John. also picked up that some covert message was passing between us. “Perhaps that‟s not a good word. “Sounds like you‟ve discussed this before. “But it causes so much disagreement. John. They never land on your desk. Too much experience. The sarcasm was back and I couldn‟t help fuelling the situation. “Only if people are insensitive to each other.” said John. but it has certainly landed others…” I responded. Dave.” “I don‟t doubt it.” said John. “I can‟t say that flirting has ever landed me in deep water at work. “Yes we are. “Oh! Are you two getting together?” asked Dave. “…as well you know!” John picked up my allusion and acknowledged my concern. “but you won‟t notice all the problems that are solved by it. mate. Penny?” said John. however. It was almost as if he was suggesting that Dave was inexperienced and shy. “What about you. “but I think we will later.” commented Dave. I added a rider as a warning shot. “You‟re a good flirt!” I wanted John to stop because his comments could deepen my problems.Friends or Lovers I was not sure whether John intended to be offensive but he was coming perilously close. “Insensitive?” I asked.” he added.” “Don‟t buy it. “Flirting causes misunderstandings. .
” said Dave cynically.” asked John. “After!” I said firmly. “Yes. “What?” said Dave.” said Dave.” “And when did this happen?” he asked. “Small world. “By the way. Dave intervened. Before I could answer. isn‟t it?” he added. “Well!” he started. “Just as well.” replied Dave. “She never mentioned you to me. .Rory Ridley-Duff “Oh she‟s great. “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. Penny. “Just recently – hardly got used to the idea myself!” I said pretending joy while my mind was turning to clay. John looked at me. “Before or after you arranged the flat for him?” Dave asked with disdain. “Do you and Mike want to come over for dinner on Sunday night?” My blood ran cold. John made another intervention.” answered John. “John is staying at Sally‟s while he works for us. We‟re enjoying ourselves . “No. slightly embarrassed and mouthed the word „sorry‟. By asking John about Sally it invited John to ask me about Mike. “You and Mike?” he asked. piecing things together in his head. totally engaged by this discovery.I wish I could stay longer but I‟m needed back at home. Didn‟t you know?” I said.” “Sally at work? Do you know Sally?” “Yes – known her for years.
Why?” “It‟s complicated. “No.” said Dave. trying to diffuse the situation. “I‟d like to fry his arse!” I shouted. “The two of you are antagonising each other. “as well as this. I want to be there to watch you beat the shit out of him!” “And you the mediator?” I asked. “That….” “Shit! You‟re right. You‟ve not been employed for a year yet.. my sense of humour returning. If he starts a fight with you.” he said pointing at my head. “Fuck him! Wanker!” “I hope so.. “I‟m fed up working with this tart. Penny!” said John trying to calm me down. then find me.” quipped John.” I said.” Dave turned and left before I could answer. John moved closer and whispered in my ear. “because if he‟s not we really have a problem.” responded John.” “My knight in shining armour?” I queried.” he said with his hand on his heart.” .pig is going to do my appraisal in three weeks!” “Then you‟ve got to use this. “Why don‟t we circulate for a bit and then slip out? If Dave comes anywhere near you. “Not complicated at all. I was about to go after him and make him apologise but John stopped me. “There are better ways to do it.” It took me a moment to get the joke.that…. “Be careful. A few people near us picked up my tone and turned to look. “Only as a first resort!” he responded.Friends or Lovers “It‟s a simple question.
How‟s Mike going to take this?” he asked.” The rest of the evening passed off without any more incidents. I can take you. When I asked why. I told him not be such a soppy idiot. “Damn. “I‟ll call him later. I want to go home. When I set out this morning I was full of the joys of spring. When he let go. he cryptically replied that „every good soldier needed the support of his unit‟. He said that he wanted to talk “strategy”. When he heard this. but now I was battling to save my job. I noticed that his eyes were filled with tears.Rory Ridley-Duff “You‟ll need friends for this one.” I said before I saw his grin.” he joked. . As days go. I told him of my wish to marry Mike. I never drink before a talk so if you want to go home. he grabbed me and hugged me for what seemed like an age. You‟re a sweetie. He called Elaine and Sam. I could see the concern growing on his face. today had not been a good one. John and I took a cab to a quiet pub and I told him about Dave‟s wife. “I‟m probably the only sober person in the room. Penny.” “Thank you.” he corrected. Dave‟s e-mail and my conversations with Mike. About an hour later. invited them for dinner then insisted that I come with Mike.. the launch evening.” “I‟d take you – but I‟ve been drinking gin all evening….
and the frustration of having to deal with others‟ unstated agendas. Dave would not be looking for evidence of my innocence. I began to wonder whether perhaps I might have done things differently.Friends or Lovers Chapter 42 I was glad to get home to Mike. I had been judgemental about Mike‟s motives. Not only had I misjudged Mike. When I told him what had happened. 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. Given what I‟d learnt from the conflict between Mike and Elona. Two months earlier. he was matter of fact and kept reassuring me that I had truth on my side. It was bad enough that I had intruded into a number of delicate personal relationships. And what was it that I was guilty of? Most of his attacks were about my flirting. Now it was Dave who was being judgemental about me. 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. as John had suggested. however. however. It may not only have been my . but I now realised that my attitude had been coloured both by the hurt I felt in the past and my attraction to him. or left Mike and Elona to sort out their own problems. I was now experiencing things from the other side. Hard as it was to admit. In the past. then I was up shit creek without a paddle. The law required me to investigate. If. I had been convinced that sexual harassment laws were progressive. I was less confident. only evidence of my guilt. we can only see what we are looking for.
I had created an imaginary world in which men and women should behave one way at work and another way outside work. to some extent. Mike and John were different. I remember once seeing the film About a Boy. Instead he just savoured the conversation we had. and most recently Elaine. I had my island existence at work. I did this not only to share treasured . On Sunday we went for a walk. searching for “truth” and “justice” and then working out how to make it happen. The main character Will tried to live an „island‟ existence but gave in to the attention of a lonely 12-year-old boy. rather than at home. Not everybody saw the distinctions as I did. I started to see myself as a female version of Will. In my mind. he had no wish to talk “strategy”. They rarely saw eyeto-eye. John pierced my armour. and Phil has also made some inroads. Mike the stubborn idealist. Firstly. I protected myself with professional ethics and personal boundaries to create a haven for corporate values. Mike and I had a quiet day. but perhaps my values as well. Mike did the same. however. but every conversation made me question my life a little bit more. Elona has. others intruded into my world. John was the pragmatic politician. but were also contributing to better decisions about people in the workplace. Unlike John. I retraced the route I took with John around Warwick castle and we ended up at the same Italian restaurant. I was coming to a realisation that these bonds not only reached deep into my personal life. or felt they should be enforced. Together they were a formidable combination. I was „independent‟ and „efficient‟. Later.Rory Ridley-Duff judgement that was at fault. Just like Will. I was also emotionally disconnected and dysfunctional.
” I said.Friends or Lovers memories with Mike. my change of heart.” he said. “What would be solved by talking about it?” he responded.” I said. pointing to his head. but with Mike you had to dig for them. “And for me. “You don‟t talk about the past. but any remaining attachments that might affect our future together. “I brought John here a couple of months ago.” he replied with a straight face. “Do you have any special places? Places you went with your wife?” I asked. “And now for me.” I said. “You. “Nice for him. “You have me. “You might be disappointed. That was another difference between them.” I commented. He never used five words where three would do.” responded Mike.” he replied. his emotions always came out as he spoke. When I look back. stock and barrel. Lock. but as a tribute to John. But I also want to know the person in here!” I said. my coming out of myself started on that day. With John.” “Yes. in body.” he answered. from the moment I faced-down my fear and shared my most private feelings. “Would you take me to them?” “I‟d rather find new places. I smiled and said that would be nice.” “What would you like to know?” I suddenly realised that it was not so much his past that I was interested in. Mike. “I‟m just interested. “A few. .
nothing could take away the bliss that I was enjoying right now. I realised that I was starting to have doubts about his commitment. “I guess I‟m curious how you feel about your marriage. His silence on the issue of his wife troubled me.” He stopped and turned to me. “I prefer not to think about it.” I said with a grin. No matter what happened in the future. I would have these memories forever. . “You were very committed to her……” Suddenly I stopped.Rory Ridley-Duff “Haven‟t been so far. “I guess. 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 felt unconcerned. Strangely. “That‟s because you‟ve only microscopically examined my body!” he joked. There was little point holding back now I had started.” he replied.” I responded. he had also evaded the question. Even though I did not push him. then held me in his arms and kissed me. While it was nice to have his attention.
It was Dave who gave him this impression. 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. won‟t he?” . “Nearly 6 years. “He‟s going to look at the truth. Penny?” said Sam.” Mike joined in the “strategy” discussion and kept coming back to what people had said about my work.” “But you said that even Harry thought you were doing a good job. Mike?” asked John. I knew he was biased. He thought the company would be crazy to sack me. “He‟ll see through Dave. But John is right about Dave. “But that‟s what pisses him off – surely he‟ll raise it?” I argued. Sam. “Thank you. 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. “But Penny is brilliant at her job – aren‟t you. who probably knew the least about all the cock ups I had made.” he answered. getting quite heated. “How long have you been there. but it was good to have his support. surely?” responded Mike. He‟s pissed off with me. “Now look at this from Harry‟s point of view. John was trying to persuade everyone that Dave was going to block my appointment.Friends or Lovers Chapter 43 “He‟s not going to bring that up!” asserted John.
“We‟ve invested a huge amount in this partnership.” said John enthusiastically. showing considerable irritation. “What do you mean?” asked Sam. now joined the conversation. He does not even have to give her a proper reason. “Let‟s assume that Dave is going to look for a way to get Penny out. he‟ll control what Harry hears. Elaine. “You‟re not suggesting we get involved?” queried Sam. “Let‟s assume for a moment that John is right. He‟s under no obligation to keep her on. but what we are going to do about it. the subtle political pressures and pragmatic alliances that work behind the scenes.” “And also give Dave a few worries of his own!” added Elaine. “I certainly am.” “But isn‟t this between Penny and Dave?” asked Sam. I concur with John. If Dave wants to fuck it up because he can‟t deal with Penny‟s rejection then I want to apply some pressure. “That‟s right. Everyone turned to look at her. The only thing Dave has to fear is Harry‟s reaction. It‟s not what‟s going to happen. “No. Elaine had talked to me about some of the corporate battles that she‟d been in.” said Elaine.Rory Ridley-Duff John gave Mike a dismissive look. But if I‟m right then we need to ensure that Dave does not control what Harry is hearing. “If I‟m wrong then we have nothing to worry about.” 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. then I‟m going to kick his arse – it will affect my working relationship with him!” she said pointedly. who had been listening more than talking. “And how is Mike going to be able to work when . I began to catch her drift.” she started. If he sacks Penny. If there is a conflict.
If Mike‟s . 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.” “On the ground?” she asked. 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. Mike‟s our sales manager. “You too. With John returning home in a couple of weeks she might start to miss Mike‟s company. “It‟s not that. Sal. If your colleagues talk about it. “But you can influence things on the ground.” she said. She was also in a line management situation with Dave.Friends or Lovers Dave sacks his future wife. “Stuff like this doesn‟t stay secret. I‟d taken over his life and he saw her much less.” “Okay. Dave‟s the Director of Business Development. I could understand Sally‟s fear. Since we‟d become a couple. “I don‟t have a way of influencing things the way you do. However. “You‟d stand by while Dave shits on Mike?” asked John. “So little confidence!” complained Elaine. this is about our company‟s well-being. Perhaps you‟re right!” responded John. Elaine had both political and financial independence whereas Sally‟s life was more precarious. This isn‟t just about our friends. “We all have an interest!” said Elaine. I wondered for a moment whether Sally might secretly want me off the scene to open the way to Mike again.” she said. Only Mike stood between her and Dave. Sam. you can put them straight!” “And have Dave on my back?” she asked. Sally!” Sally had remained fairly quiet throughout. “I‟m keeping out of this.
By the time Mike and I left. I focussed more on Mike‟s reaction to Elaine‟s comment about our marriage plans. I did not have to wait long. We all wanted to work and live together and this guided our discussions. I realised. as we talked. Penny!” “So what?” . Mike opened up. He had been much quieter after her comment.” I replied.” said Mike. I realised that it was not so much that they were protecting me. or protecting themselves. “Are you having second thoughts?” “Not exactly. My mind. therefore. The debate continued over more bottles of wine.” he replied. did not understand the complex background and network of relationships involving Dave. “Yes. debated and discarded. As soon as the car sped away from Sally‟s house. “Sal has to be careful. as protecting the group. In fact. “I‟m much older than you. was not over worried regardless of the outcome of my appraisal. “What then?” I enquired. My security came from the knowledge that there was no shortage of organisations seeking HR professionals. “We have to talk.Rory Ridley-Duff position was threatened then Dave would be able to exact personal revenge on Sally.” he said. Mike and Sally. I made a mental note to update her. Elaine. we do. It was reassuring that my friends took such a keen interest in protecting my future. Various scenarios and plans were hatched. but they were protecting theirs at the same time. we had some idea of what to do if Dave tried to block my appointment and there was talk of a “last resort” action plan if he succeeded.
“I had a friend once who „didn‟t want children‟ until she got pregnant. it dawned on her this might be her only chance to be a mother. “I don‟t want them.” “But have you ever been pregnant. I don‟t want children. Penny?” When he asked that question.” I asked. Once she faced a real choice her feelings started to change. I actually felt a pang of disappointment that he did not want children with me. I paused trying to imagine what it would be like to have a child growing inside me. “How do you mean?” I said. “Well. When I considered the question in the abstract I was sure of my feelings. But what if you change your mind? What if you accidentally get pregnant?” “I don‟t know!” I answered. Did she want to miss that chance?” “I have thought about this. “She was successful – like you.Friends or Lovers “What if you want children?” he asked.” “What‟re you saying?” “I‟m saying that I know for sure that I don‟t want children. And who could blame her?” he asked.” Despite what I had told him previously.she accidentally got pregnant. Mike. Did I want to give up the choice? “Tell me about your friend. a regular boyfriend who she lived with.” I answered. She had a good career. You know that. She didn‟t want children until – in her mid-thirties . but when I asked myself how .” “How can you know that?” “My wife got pregnant a few years ago and I was completely opposed. “You don‟t now. the argument began to affect me.
Is it a good idea to marry?” I did not respond.” he continued. “Yes – but I don‟t want to be a dad in my 70s. no! I want to treasure this for as long as possible and that means being realistic. When I was young I imagined that all serious relationships operated on the basis of unending commitment. “I can‟t say.” I finally answered. I was not sure what to think. They both feel the other betrayed them. She thought he‟d change when the child was born. “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. The relationship with her boyfriend broke up soon after. I can‟t stand in the way of that. I really don‟t. He never forgave her for ignoring his feelings. . I haven‟t. She never forgave him for leaving. no. “I‟ll live with you – but if you want children then I‟m going to bow out so you can fulfil your dream.” “But don‟t you love me?” He smiled broadly.Rory Ridley-Duff I would feel aborting Mike’s child it affected me differently. Could I do that? “No. If you want a child and I don‟t. Mike!” “That‟s what worries me.” I pondered this strange proposal. Now they hate each other with a vengeance. our relationship won‟t survive. “It could tear us apart.” “What did your friend do?” “She had the child.” “So what‟re you saying? You want to break up?” “No. Our relationship probably won‟t survive the birth of a child.
“Okay. The future was still full of possibilities. this was the clearest indication I‟d had that we were going to have a long-term relationship. Moments later I felt one of his arms around me as he kissed my neck and said “goodnight”. I‟ll think about it. went into the kitchen and made two cups of cocoa. Even though we‟d talked about the possibility of breaking up. We chatted more in front of the TV and caught a late night film. For the first time since we‟d started sharing a bed we did not make love before going to sleep.Friends or Lovers “Tell you what. “If you reach the menopause and we‟re still together.” he continued again. I‟ll marry you!” I gave a short chuckle. Romantic this was not. then went upstairs. . we arrived home.” And with that. but that was Mike through and through.
Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 44 Elona‟s move into the flat with Mike was problematic at first. she accused me of bullying her. a by-product of my strength of character. I was trying to build her confidence. When I had been at her parents‟ shop and heard her torrent of abuse. but given her precarious state. but also to learn about myself. they chided her for . When she did. I felt we should visit daily. just a Sunday and Wednesday afternoon when the shop closed. Instead of showing sympathy. Her parents were committed Christians and they arranged for her aunt to take her to Sunday school each week. I told him I was not always strong but he would not believe it. As a result. As part of his professional development. It took two weeks for her to feel strong enough to return to work. my professional worries receded. I asked Phil to make some visits to see how she was progressing. There was no weekend in her family. I dropped in a couple of times to check how things were. but also the scriptures and morality that affected her freedom. Even as a grown up. I decided to visit her when Mike went out with his drinking pals. We talked about her upbringing. He had not seen me when I felt weak and feeble (the way John had seen me). Brownies and Guides followed and she talked of the many skills she had developed. her parents disapproved of her drinking in pubs and when the situation erupted at work they felt deeply ashamed. Normally we would not visit so much. on the other hand. We started to have chats in the evening at home and at work during lunch breaks. turned out to be strong in ways I‟d not realised. Was I a bully? Mike sometimes joked that I could be. not just to learn about her. Elona.
Elona‟s father was protective and would never let her go to parties. Even so. My parents had been liberal in their attitudes. was not allowed to bring boys into the house without the permission of her father . chat and talk. Instead. Both my father and mother allowed me to have male friends. people pursued each other for sex and treated each other disrespectfully. I listened as much as I could. Sometimes I would get keen on a boy and still my parents would not interfere. When I asked her how she got to know boys. My room was a private space to do as I pleased. They did not even let her take girlfriends upstairs. on the other hand. 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. If I had a boy with me they would knock on my bedroom door. those of our parents could not have been more different. judged as little as I could. More than once that led to us having a fight. I remember only mild embarrassment at their openness. and .Friends or Lovers getting mixed up with a “bad crowd”. Private conversations with boys were not allowed in her house – one or other parent had to be present. to take them up to my room. she simply said that she had not been able to. especially my father. I started to wonder how she had turned out so „normal‟ despite her upbringing. Elona. Attitudes to sex – or more accurately. They would tell her that in the „devil‟ world of „Godless‟ people.upstairs was strictly out of bounds even after she reached the age of 18. play music. and avoided the temptation to get angry with either her or her parents. my voice was heard and sex talk was commonplace in our house.
Some women deliberately excluded her. As I talked. rather than relieved. When Nathan took a shine to her. she was bursting with curiosity. he triggered all the feelings she was harbouring. she felt bitter. betrayed and misled. She fantasised about this other world. She was a young woman trying to navigate the minefield of courtship armed only with knowledge from romance novels. or meek wallflowers schooled in the art of attracting „real‟ men. at their attitude. she gradually opened up and admitted that she had been buying romance novels for years. when it came to my mind. You could not rely on what was written in books. There was something tragic in hearing her story. she would walk away if she heard crude conversations. on the other hand felt embarrassed if her parents even hinted at sex.Rory Ridley-Duff confessed to them that sometimes I had sneaked a boyfriend into my room in the middle of the night. While I had no inhibitions about my body. We laughed as stories came out of hiding and got aired for the first time. Privately she lusted after the kind of life that was described in them but never imagined she could ever be part of it. They admitted that they knew but chose not to say anything. I shared with her my boldest adventures. thoughts and feelings I was . this strange morality where people could express themselves freely. Others picked on her and ridiculed her prudishness. Even at work. it was as if I was also talking to myself. and showed interest in her. But in talking to me. I remember feeling grateful. Elona. I tried to reassure her that experience had to be gained first hand. When he rebuffed her. When the young lads at work invited her to the pub. She imagined bold heroines aggressively seducing their prey.
As for Mike. 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. “If she‟d had a father like you. A mother like me! At hearing those words. you know!” I told him.” “And a mother like you. As I watched Mike and learnt about each new layer of his character. Was my hostility to motherhood another way of avoiding responsibility? These questions troubled me. I found new depths in myself. I was learning again from someone years my junior. Before I realised it. and our friendship gave her a way to compare her fantasy world to the reality of my life. I switched the conversation back to Elona. I felt a shudder. despite the problems. perhaps?” he retorted. He did admit too that.Friends or Lovers even more inhibited than Elona. he found his wife attractive and their argumentative relationship spiced up their sex life. Through her candid confessions to me. His wife never forgave him for giving financial support to another woman. I started to get a sense of just how important parents are and the huge responsibility they bear. His comment started a chain of thoughts that still haunts me. “You are good for her. he gradually opened up about his marriage and I learnt that his kids were the principle reason he had remained for so long. I found yet another avenue to release the pain and hurt of the past. But since the fall out over Sally he had returned home only to be with his children. Mike joked that if he had lied and said it was „just sex‟ his marriage might have survived. It was the financial betrayal that killed it. I started to realise new things that I had been missing – that the ephemeral materialism . she might have grown up very differently.
In their place. setting out my life on paper became part of my liberation. was not important. 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. In them.Rory Ridley-Duff of corporate life. Perhaps that is what spurred me to write this story. 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. The world of parenthood took on a new fascination. she would make up new adventures on the spur of the moment. Corporate life was not a reason for being. I found that there was nothing more fascinating or more pleasurable than getting to know people well. the transient consumerism pressed on us by the media. Perhaps my own mother encouraged this creative streak in me. my mother told me stories. For me. 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. I cast my mind over my life with my mother and father. something that my father‟s pragmatism and liberalism also shaped. it was a place where vanity ran amok. Their stories – which had for two decades been a source of entertainment and amusement to me – started to lose their standing. it was a means. The media was not reality. Before the arguments of my teenage years. . she and I would join the gang and solve our own mysteries. That spurred me to take greater interest in how I came to be who I am. It was a setting in which our lives unravelled. but was not life itself.
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. it‟s good isn‟t it. For a couple of seconds a fancy graphic showed a pile of papers being sorted. she was waiting on the sofa clutching something in her hand. I mean he must……he must like me!” . When I emerged.” she answered. M and P tell me u r recovering. “Well. then “messages”. “Penny! Penny! Come here.Friends or Lovers Chapter 45 Six weeks after Elona moved in with Mike. She open the lid. come on then. Her excitement was so great that she could not contain it. pleaded with Elona to let me go to the loo first. come here!” I hastily hung up my jacket. Wud u like drink with mates after work? Phil x “Better than the lottery?” I asked. but at the top was a phone number. something happened that transformed her life. The moment I arrived at her flat she screeched at me to come and see something. “What‟s happened?” I asked. raising my eyebrows in wonder. “Have you won the lottery?” “Better than that. come on. “Who is that from?” I asked. pressed “menu”. Elona excitedly pressed a green button and the message appeared. “Well. then “inbox”. Show me!” Inside her sweaty palm was her mobile phone.
It may be that Phil was asking her out.” “But my Dad said….” ..” “What about John?” she continued. Secretly I thought about him a lot. but then again it may not and I felt that it would be irresponsible not to prepare her for the possibility.” I interrupted.Rory Ridley-Duff I didn‟t know how to break the news that this may be kindness.” I commented. “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…. “Yes. especially after he did that workshop about sexism in the army. “Maybe you shouldn‟t read too much into it.. Pretend he‟s your fantasy hero. It was „good‟. He may be interested in that.” “Forget your Dad. but had his eye on others as well. “Dream all you like. “When a man asks you for a drink. my love. however.” “You just want to spoil my dreams!” she interrupted. but when I was with him I took nothing for granted. love! Look at me. “Elona.” I said as I took her hands and our eyes locked. But he may just want to be your friend….” My heart sank. “I was excited. but remember that this may be your wish but not his. or an attempt to help her mix in with people at work.. Very excited. “But it‟s a drink invitation! He‟s asking me out. starting to look a bit downcast. He had mentioned Elona. I mentally got ready to nail Phil when I saw him next morning. You‟ve met him?” I asked.” she answered. She duly obliged. “Everyone talks about him at work. it does not always mean that he‟s asking you to be his girlfriend.
” she said imploringly. I gave her a school-ma‟am grin. She‟d been planning this all day.” .” “Good. “I think it would be better if it all came from you. “No! I was waiting for you. I saw that she looked slightly hurt by my mirth so I immediately apologised and gave it some thought. “Just send the first few messages then I‟ll take over. “You‟re hot for him. My heart went out to her. “Just start me off. But you don‟t want him thinking you‟re not interested either?” I replied. Would it be so bad? “I can‟t have a text conversation with him.” I said finally. She jumped on her seat and punched the air with her fist. I don‟t want to appear too forward. right?” “You‟re the best! First impressions. Pen. returning to the question in hand.Friends or Lovers “Have you replied to this?” I asked.” I said. “But I don‟t know what to say! Could you…?” “Could I what?” “Could you reply?” I laughed. eh? I want him to know I‟m interested – I mean really interested. She so wanted to get this one right. giving in to her. Perhaps Phil would never know the difference. “Why not?” she asked.” I thought about this. The thought of me flirting by mobile with Phil while he thought he was talking to Elona tickled me. “How d‟you want to play it then?” I replied.
“Don‟t you care?” “A bit. “No. “Do you have any idea how much I admire you?” “What! Admire me?” I said. isn‟t it?” she replied. I sat for a second wondering why she would admire me. I showed the message to Elona and she kept nodding enthusiastically. Thank you!” I said. “On what?” I asked. . We were so different.Rory Ridley-Duff I thought for a second. But it‟s so exciting. in a matter of fact way. Could she change that much in a few weeks? “You can get hurt. How could we use that? “Okay! Give me the phone. She took my free hand with both of hers. I hardly knew her. Then she broke into laughter as I added the last two words. “D‟you think that‟s too risqué?” I asked her. you know?” I answered. “I want to have some fun!” I suddenly felt as if. I knew Phil could be shy. but also that he had a quiet confidence. “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‟m flattered. I selected „reply‟ and typed away carefully. “Never stopped you!” she said. despite all our conversations.” I said. wondering if she was drunk. I guess. We didn‟t want to be tacky or crude. in response. “Depends!” she replied. I guess it didn‟t!” “Penny?” I looked up at her and she continued to speak.
“you‟re a natural. got a good career and now a fantastic man.” “What do you mean?” “I mean that you live your life without any fear. Been places. Inside I have doubts just like you. It was not something that I felt I could refuse. “What are you talking about? You‟ve done so much with your life. Inside I knew I was no better and no stronger than she was. I‟ve pissed around and messed things up big time. Sometimes I‟m miserable. and strong and fair……” I shuddered at the thought that someone would use me as a role model..” She suddenly got cross with me.” She glanced at the phone. travelled. mean and nasty……” I started to run out of words so Elona decided to take over. I‟m really touched. you only see what‟s on the outside. that‟s such a sweet thing for you to say. emotional..Friends or Lovers “You‟re my heroine!” she said.” she continued. Elona. bitchy. “Elona. I can be crabby and unreasonable. selfish. or suffer the disappointments she had faced. then?” . lonely and wretched. studied. Elona! I‟m nothing of the sort.and kind and thoughtful. and sexy and vivacious. you know how to live!” She said this with such force that I didn‟t know what to say. she wanted me as her role model.. What possible claim could I have to a life better than hers? And yet.” “I wish! Seriously. “…. done things. “But most of all. From where I‟m sitting. “Are we going to send that. I‟d not had to overcome the things she had lived through. “Oh.
girl. I think. okay?” . okay? After this you‟re on your own!” Elona nodded. She pressed the green button and away it went. “Wot u have in mind? P xxxx” “Look! Look!” shrieked Elona.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked at the message once more and read it out loud.” She looked slightly confused.” “But Penny?” “Trust me. I looked up at her. He‟s taking the bait. Elona handed me the phone again and I typed away. A moment later. she read Phil‟s reply out loud while jumping up and down. This is between you and him. Let‟s reel him in. In an instant. Elona held it up and read it out loud. “Skn-tite and sexy? Wow! Looking 4wrd to seeing you in it…and out of it…. “Where are you going?” she asked. What outfit wld u like me 2 wear for u. “He‟s added four kisses. Call right now!” I got up and went to get my coat.. She read the message to herself and cackled again. “Accept.” I said confidently. “You two should be alone. “Too late for second thoughts now. “This is the last one I send.” I said. sexy?” Elona took the phone out of my hand and pressed the green button. her mobile signalled the arrival of new mail so we excitedly opened her inbox. “I want all the gory details. “But tomorrow. We were like two schoolgirls swapping messages in class with a boy.” “Okay.” I said. When I finished. Ellie.
In the distance the sound of an excited young woman could be made out amidst much laughter and giggling. piss off then and see if I care!” she said. In her eyes. She was . I would have to talk to her about that. Perhaps I was able to show her that you could be a woman in your own right. As she dialled the number and let it ring. but the excitement and joy that filled her whole body was matched only by the size and breadth of the smile she beamed. as she put it. only the confidence and bluster that erupted when I was in the grip of moral indignation. She could not see what was going on inside me. I turned and walked out of the flat. With my coat on. “Thank you!” she said. I had challenged the behaviour of others and shown no fear. “You‟re welcome. I realised that this was the first time I‟d ever been someone‟s heroine. I realised that perhaps this mattered less to her than the example I had set. ready to learn „how to live‟. Elona had come alive – she was. Even as I chided myself for my judgement. I had taken from the experience that I had to be more cautious and respectful of others. Elaine and John – the extent of my impact on Elona was beginning to dawn on me. with your own thoughts and feelings.Friends or Lovers She grinned broadly. She had seen me stand up for her against men she felt had hurt her. For me. Some other time. As I walked down a flight of stairs into the car park. I walked over and gave her a big hug. Even as I contemplated my own heroes and heroines – Mike. If I had only heard her words I might have been offended.” I replied. “Okay. able to make your own judgements – even if sometimes they turn out to be flawed and wrong.
She grasped her future with both hands and held on firmly. .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.
really.” “I did nothing. and then heard something crash in the background.” “Then how come you are talking to me now?” I heard her giggle. “Why?” “Because I won‟t be able to talk soon!” . “What was that? Is there someone with you?” “Maybe.” she said coyly. “I‟ve got to go now. and Mike looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face. It was Elona again. “Not just booked a holiday with Phil. Need a raise to keep my mobile phone topped up. then moved underneath my skirt and played with the elastic of my pants.” Mike got up and walked over to me and I felt his arms move around my stomach. “Why?” I asked. laughing and shouting that she needed a wage rise. He fondled me gently as I talked some more. Ellie!” I said. one of his hands edged up inside my blouse and started to fondle my breasts while the other stroked my leg. Pen!” “Are you okay?” “I‟m on cloud nine! Thank you so much. “I don‟t think „slowly‟ is in his vocabulary. “Faaannnnntttttaaaassssttttiiiiccccc!” I shouted. Take things slowly.” I started to say. “Now don‟t rush things.Friends or Lovers Chapter 46 Mike and I had a quiet evening at my flat watching a DVD. At around 10pm the phone rang. Gradually. have you?” “I talked so much I ran out of credit.
“Me too!” she said when she finally came back to the phone.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….I‟ve got…. then picking her up and carrying her to bed..” I had to pause for a second as his finger touched a spot that took my breath away. “…….oooohhh…. I tried to imagine Elona‟s excitement as she trembled in anticipation of her first fuck. I imagined what might be happening to Elona.this………conversation………Oh God!…….to go….” Mike had knelt down on the floor.. her level of laughter increased and I heard her shriek..” Mike whispered in my ear “Keep talking”. “Keep talking. He was dying for me.left nipple. “……to have sex with me while I talk on the phone to you……. while the other…….” whispered Mike a second time.. “Better finish…. lifted me onto the table. A few moments later. . Right there in the hall Mike nibbled the folds of my flesh while two fingers eased their way in.tomorrow……. pulled down my knickers and buried his head between my legs. I pictured Phil ripping open Elona‟s blouse.. Elona thought I was talking to her and asked again what was wrong.aaahhhh……has just gone down inside my pants. “What?” I replied... “Ellie? I have a man here who is dying ……….” I heard a round of giggling as Elona repeated my words to Phil. As Mike pleasured me between my legs. that Phil‟s strong body had moved between Elona legs.bye Ellie!” I put the phone down and spread my legs wide.
The surge continued and built. waves of pleasure started to glide up through my body. It was the first time I had uttered the actual words and I waited for his reply. “Do what?” he asked. I arched back and focussed my thoughts on the feeling of Mike‟s tongue while picturing Phil between Elona‟s legs. I guess. . and I surfed towards heaven. His strong muscular buttocks thrust into her with each movement of Mike‟s fingers inside me. until I felt his breath on my face. “Have you any idea how deeply I am in love with you?” I asked. I watched him as he spread her legs and climbed between them. Mike‟s lips made their way up the front of my body gently kissing the breasts that I had exposed. my eyes closed. until the nerve ends all pulsated simultaneously and I convulsed struggling to catch my breath. As I lay there. Then I put both my hands on his cheeks and felt tears welling up in my eyes.” He did not intend the pun. “How d‟you make me feel like that?” He laughed gently. Just as I started to wonder whether it was pure wickedness to picture Phil as Mike brought me off. my breath shortening. “How do you do that?” I said. gesturing a small amount with his thumb and finger.Friends or Lovers In my mind‟s eye. but I laughed anyway. Comes naturally. “I don‟t know. moaning. He tried to kiss me but I pulled away. “This much?” he said.
I revelled in the lust that we‟d created and teased him to the full. pretending to resist while egging him on to have his way with me. Suddenly here. “And I love you this much!” he said. After carrying me to the bedroom. remembering the way Elona and I had goaded Phil. “No. As the man I had chosen to give my heart glided into me again and again. and guided his penis towards my pussy. “Show me what you are made of!” As these words left my mouth. As we kissed. I held his sleek and powerful body as it tensed and relaxed. my sister once said to me that she could not imagine anything more satisfying than the thought of her lover so filled with passion . “Come on. as Mike overpowered me and started to thrust himself deep into me. I gave in and allowed him to overpower me. 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. As a teenager. he picked me up and I wrapped my legs around his waist. big boy. I helped to bring him to the heights of ecstasy. He tried to spread my legs but I resisted him. I spread my legs as wide as I could. This much!” I said as I pressed my lips onto his and aggressively pushed my tongue into his mouth. for reasons I could not fathom. I immediately pushed the thought from my mind. Then. I held his head in my hands as I explored everything I could find.Rory Ridley-Duff I laughed again but wanted to preserve the tenderness of the moment.” I said. Something told me I was wicked but I just knew he was dying for me. I found myself wondering if I had stumbled across the answer.
But in this moment I realised what was so exciting to her. 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. I wanted to him to feel an uncontrollable desire for me that no-one. All the certainties that I had ever felt about how men and women should behave vanished in the dust. If I could do that to him…for him…he would be mine forever. I wanted to be Mike‟s greatest fantasy. I watched his face strain as he reached the limits of his passion. could stop. At the time. She would fantasise about her boyfriend so full of lust that he would force himself on her as she tried to resist him. . I had entered a new world and reached a new level of understanding.Friends or Lovers that he could not resist her. I found her fantasies sick. with Mike‟s spent body still lying inside me. I hoped he was feeling the same crushing desire that I felt for him. not even I. And there. I hoped he felt the bewilderment and disorientation I felt when his magic tongue took me to another plane of existence. every spark of sexual energy that he possessed ignited and firing through his body. as Mike arched in the throws of orgasm and shot his sperm deep into me. I held him in my arms and wept. as if she was fantasising about rape. the woman that he could not resist.
I found myself less worried about pornography than e-mails offering prescription drugs. 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. Unusually for him. But when it came to “attention to detail” the reverse was probably true. then ask one of my peers. There was the usual junk that I discarded. The objective was to stimulate discussion and reflection about different perceptions of my work. but today I looked at them differently. It was strange filling out an appraisal form that I had designed myself. It was my appraisal form.one personal. was to invite Phil into my office for a private conference. 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. The tick boxes allowed each person to say how the employee performed relative to their own expectations. when I arrived at work the next morning. but I did it both quickly and diligently. the other professional. I had to appraise myself.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 47 My first task. then one of my subordinates and lastly get feedback from a director. Each part of the appraisal had tick boxes. In fact. When I started. I had two agendas . 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 printed it and filled it in. I was tempted to tear up the zero-tolerance policy on porn completely. he was late so I passed the time by checking over my emails. one of my first acts was to introduce 360º reviews. adding written .
I realised that he was having a joke with me.” I said. Ms Leyton. his arms made their way around my back and he held me much more tightly than I expected. “Between friends. “Good morning. “I‟m off the market. It felt really good. I gave the form to him and asked if he would complete it then pass it to Jo. “Too late. 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. “Very pleasant.” he replied with a smile. Mr Trent!” I said with mock formality. did you?” “Yes. 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. “I think it‟s permitted.” he said. I started to rub his back.Friends or Lovers comments at the bottom of each section. Finally. Phil broke into laughter and I instinctively moved to embrace him. “Had a good evening. When Phil had completed the form I called him into my office. . As soon as Phil arrived.” My gentle sarcasm amused him and he felt slightly awkward as I put my arms around him for the first time. How about you?” “I‟ve had worse!” I replied in probably the biggest understatement of my entire life. Penny!” Before I could protest. “For what?” I asked. slightly defensively. then felt his hands on mine. Dave had to complete the section as director. After a second. I found myself hanging onto him and not letting go.
“Rule number 1. I lost something last night – I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean.” he said. “Go on then. I showed the writing to Phil. “I cannot think why!” I replied. On the outside were the words “Penny Leyton – strictly Private and Confidential”.” I said. but accepting of my command. see you in a moment!” Phil. “Well. It was not the wonderful and incredible experience that I had hoped for but it was still very exciting. “I can. then treat it as private and confidential! Go on.Rory Ridley-Duff When we finally let go of each other. sir!” I said mocking him a bit. there‟s a first for everything!” I said with some surprise. we looked into each other‟s eyes and both realised the intensity of the feelings that we had just communicated. “What is it?” He rummaged around in his briefcase and brought out an envelope. Go make a coffee or something. “She worships you. slightly surprised. “if an employee says something is private and confidential. “You are too kind. you know!” A sudden surge of modesty interrupted my moment of vanity. I found the . but inside I was uncomfortable at anyone building me into a special person.” added Phil. left for the coffee machine while I opened the envelope. Inside was a folded bit of paper. by the way. Penny.” “Aren‟t you going to show me?” he asked. “She gave me a message for you. as he separated himself from me and sat down in a chair. hoppit and come back in 5 minutes.
If he doesn‟t then you‟ll want to think again about whether he‟s right for you. Ellie. the better it gets. yes. Waking up with someone next to you is something else. The more you practice it.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see Phil coming back into the office.” “Why not?” “I might hurt his feelings!” Why. 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. “Am I being too hard on him?” “No. . 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. He wasn‟t that gentle!” “Then tell him.” “I can‟t do that. But when we started it hurt a bit. There‟s no-one here at the moment. Sex is like everything else in life. he‟ll want to give you as much pleasure as he can. I wondered.Friends or Lovers cuddling afterwards more enjoyable and we talked and talked. “Can you talk?” I asked. “Yes. did people so often think that it was preferable not to hurt someone else‟s feelings when their body was being hurt? “Ellie.” “I got your note!” I said. Just be patient and it will happen.
“What did she say?” “That‟s between me and her. I think I can definitely confirm that the answer is „yes‟!” He smiled as he gave me the coffee. okay?” “Yeah. but we didn‟t……I didn‟t…. Please!” “Jeez.. He suddenly looked quite sheepish and unsure.Rory Ridley-Duff “I have to go now. it was good and all. I realised that his anxiety about sharing his feelings was no different from mine. trying to be reassuring.” I answered. right?” “Like a doctor and patient!” I said. When he didn‟t start talking I tried to give him some gentle encouragement. Ellie! I wouldn‟t dream of it. He was surprisingly nervous. “I‟m more interested in what you have to say. “Are you alright? You don‟t have to say anything. I decided to . but if you are wondering whether she wants to see you again. sure!” I rang off as Phil entered the office.” He hesitated again.” I said. I remembered how he had moved around to my side and gently reassured me. “Well. “Phil‟s coming!” “Don‟t tell him. “She told you then?” “No secrets between girlfriends.” I offered.” “This is in confidence. “Phil?” I asked. 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. As I watched Phil struggle it reminded me of my own struggle with John. See you at the flat tonight.
?” “I think I know what you mean. “I wanted her to…but she didn‟t seem to know anything. but she didn‟t really know what to do. Clearly this was difficult for him to say.. It hurt and I was worried about hurting her. when one wrong word or gesture can destroy trust and end a relationship.Friends or Lovers do the same. Phil. “I was so excited. I started to understand what he was saying and gently encouraged him. Penny! I just wanted her so bad. As I sat next to him. They were going to do well if they cared so much about each others‟ feelings on their first date.” “We didn‟t…….” I had to stifle a laugh – he would not have understood why I found this funny. I thought I might hurt her feelings. but I didn‟t know how to ask her to……you know…. I put my arm on his back and helped him. Can there be .have any……foreplay!” he finally said. “But……we didn‟t……” “It‟s okay – nobody‟s going to judge you. Neither was interested in blaming the other. Phil!” I said confidently. I was instantly relieved. I just ended up sticking it in and pumping away. “I mean – I took her into the bedroom and I could tell she wanted me……” He hesitated again. These are the moments when people are at their most vulnerable. I gently listened to him and tried to work out how to tell him what he needed to hear. Do you know what I mean?” I looked at him and nodded. 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.. “I really like her and all.
” As I looked at him. This was a first for me. . Talk to her about her upbringing. I had always thought men didn‟t care but as Phil poured out his feelings. “but I‟m confident you‟ll be happier the more you get to know her. the lad I had picked up in the bar when I was out with Carole and Chris. As Phil talked about the pleasure he had wanted to bring Ellie. I wonder? I tried to imagine how he must have felt as he walked away. but I smiled broadly and looked him in the eye. “She‟s ready to learn if you have the confidence to teach her.Rory Ridley-Duff anything more important in my line of work? Is there anything more important in life? “Talk to her. Phil. you know?” “Then tell her. I thought about George. words started to spill out of my mouth. I saw his eyes grow moist. had expressed his fears to me about sex. family. “I can‟t do that!” I felt like I was in the middle of a re-run. any man.” I started. “No promises!” I said. Talk to her about her parents. 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. He had screamed at me that he was not a piece of meat.” “You think?” he said. I couldn‟t remember any other occasion when a man. friend or lover. I thought about George and the violence I had done him by not treating him with respect. Where did he end up that night. “Tell her!” I said gently.” I said reassuringly. “I did something once that I‟m truly ashamed of…. I realised. Before I knew it.” “I just wanted it to be better for her.
Out poured the story of that night with a frankness and level of detail that I had withheld from John. “I…. I realised that I was letting Phil into my life. 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 took him back to my flat and demanded service. “I ruthlessly seduced him. I ruthlessly seduced him. I began. instead of gently telling him how to give me the pleasure I wanted.” Phil looked surprised at my choice of words. I felt Phil‟s hand at the small of my back rubbing my spine.. As the realisation of what I had done engulfed me. I did the most disrespectful thing I‟ve ever done….. “I……”. I looked at Phil and his gentle smile reassured me. to cast my eyes down on the floor and wonder whether I had the courage to talk.” Phil sat there.Friends or Lovers It was my turn to feel ashamed and hesitant. but gently coaxed me with his eyes and gentle touch. “Yes.” as I struggled to say it. He was called George.. “I picked up a young lad once. saying nothing.” Phil just nodded and suddenly the words started to flow much more freely. not just as a professional . When he wasn‟t very good at it.” I repeated. It felt nice. I looked up at him with eyes full of tears. my eyes started to moisten and tears started to roll down my nose and drip onto the floor. letting the import of the words hang in the air for a moment.wished……. “I wished he was someone else. but found it too hard to say at first. “What happened?” Phil asked.
” I said. drying my eyes. “Then. When do men talk about this I wondered? “Never?” I asked again. I poured out my feelings to him for nearly 15 minutes. “Penny. about this kind of stuff. When I stopped. for all my closeness to Mike. neither of them had ever revealed to me how they felt about making love to a woman. “Never!” he reaffirmed. When I thought about it. I have to tell you that I think I‟m going to be sacked. He nodded more strongly. Phil started to talk again. I‟ve never talked to anyone.” . “Never!” he said again.” “Never?” I asked. “My God. ever. “I‟m going to get us some more drinks. “What a thought!” As we gathered ourselves up we noticed the cold coffees on the table.Rory Ridley-Duff colleague but as my closest personal friend.” I said after a pause. for all John‟s openness.
I told him he was too generous. there was a growing interest in the dispute between Elona and Mike. I talked with him for nearly two hours. Privately I knew that it had more to do with the way our relationship had turned sour. . Nevertheless. and the care I had shown to Elona. I quickly realised that my continued employment was problematic. He had marked me down on most aspects of my performance and cited the handling of the dispute as the reason. After I had divulged to Phil what happened at the CIPD event. 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. It was this that gave him confidence in me. Jo had been kind and positive. At the end of our meeting. Phil reassured me that whatever happened I would always have his respect. going over the issues that the appraisal had raised but avoiding the matter of Dave‟s behaviour toward me. At senior management levels. as had Phil. The way I changed my mind about Mike. mattered more to him than the prejudices I had initially displayed. Phil confessed to me that he‟d been visited by Harry. I received my appraisal from Dave and there were no surprises. This was the beginning of the end. he said he could make „no promises‟ which I took to mean that a decision had already been taken. I nearly screwed up completely for no other reason than my own prejudices.Friends or Lovers Chapter 48 The rest of the week was unsettling. I took the matter into my own hands and visited Harry. having briefed Dave and the other senior executives about the appraisal process.
Harry. or any moral debate about their actions. but his isolation from what had taken place meant that people around him should have been urging caution. maybe not.the impacts of their decisions. It is only by keeping someone in a post after they have made a mistake that a company can benefit from what they learn. a layer of new managers develops beneath them . or demote them. The human resource policy capable of developing truly outstanding leaders is the one that allows people to learn from their mistakes. My two-hour conversation .Rory Ridley-Duff As I left his office. Intolerance toward failure removes the very people learning the most and those lucky enough to avoid it remain untouched. I suddenly realised something that had never occurred to me before. Managers stop facing – on a daily basis . goes unchecked then eventually a company loses the very people capable of forming a top-rate management team. Maybe he would survive it. As conformity and false consensus takes root. I could see that matters were already spiralling out of control. Management failure is passed down the line and before long senior managers start to wonder why „no good people are coming through‟. thoughts and actions slowly fades away. ideals. was about to make a corporate decision that would spark a major conflict.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. challenges to management behaviour. If our propensity to sack people. As I contemplated what would happen if I failed my probation. They should have been urging him to avoid acting precipitously. Harry would act on what he knew. perhaps. And so. I felt in awe of the social forces that were assembling.
I was tempted to return to Harry‟s office and say all this. I was foolish to harbour any hope.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. . Instead I returned to my office and trusted that my friends would be able to bring off their coup d’etat.
I was moved that people listened to my views and were so supportive. At the end of such an emotional week. He felt the training had gone well and that there was now a good chance that the SHARE experience would sell well. He had anticipated a long lunch and had ordered a bottle of wine. The way he talked and cut through bullshit impacted on staff morale. he chatted about progress. I finally realised why John‟s reputation was so good. His contract at IC was at an end. It felt like a homecoming.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 49 John was waiting for me at Pizza Hut. I wanted to return to the scene of our first meeting. They had . “Everything is set. Now it was a cohesive squad equipped to take on the competition. I talked to Jo and realised that John‟s contribution was not just technical. In the time he had been there. “That‟s good. but now I‟m quite excited about it. I was particularly glad to see him. As we looked over the menu. The reaction was really good. He let me say my piece. A week ago I was dreading this.” “Mike talked to everyone in the department yesterday. he had formed a committed and thriving team. there was a group of disparate and irritable people. Two-months earlier when the department had been formed. 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. Before I left.” It was good to hear that the future was positive for IC staff despite the direction of my own life.
He looked at me from time to time. Our eyes met a couple of times and I liked that. “John?” I started tentatively. You were reading a book. I‟ve read her novels so I thought we might get on. “The clincher was definitely the shoelaces. Then I decided to get personal. your arse was definitely part of the equation but not the main reason!” “What else?” “I noticed you sitting in the lounge. his face lit up. trying to see myself through his eyes and understand how I had impacted on him.” .” he said. but as he spoke he focussed more and more on his thoughts. When you did that I knew you must‟ve read Ms magazine. As he did so. I think. 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”. “You mentioned that in the speech. “Remember my talk at the CIPD?” “Could hardly forget it!” “Well.” I was listening attentively. I really want to know!” I said. Pen?” “Why did you sit next to me on the plane?” “Seriously?” “Yes. We chatted and exchanged small talk until the food came. like me. Several things bugged me and I wanted to clear them up. the table and me. It was a novel by Bernice Rubens. “Yes. didn‟t you?” “Yes. looking variously at his food. But it was when you moved in the queue that I realised you‟d noticed me too.
I had to make a living and for a short while I wrote lots of magazine articles. “You never cease to amaze. John looked me square in the eye.Rory Ridley-Duff I did not understand how he could work out that I had once read Ms magazine. I thought the idea was amusing and it would be a laugh for the magazine‟s readers. I wrote it! I added that bit of advice about the shoelace as a joke. but I was still amazed that he‟d made a connection. I was looking at you in those fantastic jeans and pondering the connection between us. John. I‟d never seen anybody do it.” “I can‟t believe it!” I said. “How could you know that?” “Easy. There was an article in the mid-90s telling women how to flirt at work. I think it was something like „The Working Woman‟s Guide to Sex at Work‟ right before an article about sexual harassment! Anyway. It was art creating life. I stood there behind you and realised . I didn‟t read the article. “So there you were doing something to attract me that I‟d written about nearly 10 years earlier. Are you really telling me that you remembered this article about tying non-existence shoelaces while in the queue at the airport?” “It‟s not so strange Penny. I remember.” “You?” “Why so surprised? I‟d just finished my PhD and was full of that stuff. The headline was quite uninspiring. absolutely gob-smacked. 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.
I must‟ve asked you many things. “You‟re definitely more forward than me!” As we laughed. if not thousands of times. I realised what a complex and accidental thing attraction can be. “You mean there are people more forward than me?” he joked. “Yes. the question was old hat.” I said. To me that question had separated him from everyone else I‟d ever known. “I have an answer for you. “Do you remember what you asked me on the plane?” “We chatted for ages. “If you have. What if I had missed the point and was about to make a complete fool of myself? I dismissed it quickly from my . but could not.” I hesitated. I tried to think of one. Pen.” As I was trying to take this in. then you have my total respect. that?” he said mockingly as I realised that he was jesting with me. To him. there‟s me!” I answered. “Yes! You were very forward. dummy!” “Oh. to comprehend the myriad of different things that he had been thinking about when we met.” he replied.” he laughed.Friends or Lovers that my life had touched yours 10 years earlier. Usually I have to spend ages giving hints and heavy clues before people work it out. “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. I wanted to tell him of my discovery. “Well. I couldn‟t resist talking to you.” “To what?” “To your question. a party piece that he‟d asked hundreds.
Then it hit me. He looked gob-smacked. but I wanted him to overpower me to prove to me that he could. And then. Initially. I wanted him to prove he was stronger than me. making him use force to get what I dearly wanted to give anyway. I wanted to test that his love was so great that I couldn‟t stop him expressing it. Never before had I thought of the problems that might create. really. “It‟s strange. So I started to tell the story. as if I was doing something wrong. it would take its place at the back of a very long list of foolish thoughts and actions.” I said.Rory Ridley-Duff thoughts. . “How did you come up with that?” He was truly amazed. Just as I was about to panic that I‟d made a huge gaff. I felt bad. I was encouraging him to be aggressive and I started to wonder why I was doing it. really dying for me‟. If I was to become a fool again. So I started to resist him. He was truly amazed. Pen?” he asked. 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. Never before had I thought of sex as a kind of test through which men had to pass to prove their strength. That phrase kept popping into my head. I wanted to know whether my answer was the one he was looking for so I set aside my fears and told him. I thought how unfair it was that I should be testing him. His hand moved to his cheek and he rubbed it as his mouth stayed open. And in the next instant. a grin started to spread over his face. Mike had been fondling me while I was talking on the phone and in my head I kept thinking „he‟s dying for me. “How did you work it out.
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. If he was not stronger than me. when we had been driving home. how could he ever protect me? And the moment I felt ashamed of thinking this way. I gave it to him willingly. I could not imagine making such a sacrifice. I stopped resisting him. 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. Mike.” . “But your question.” I continued. the phrase “he‟s dying for me” kept spinning through my head. I knew. but I realised that I would not die for him. no preconditions. but that was not the same thing as being prepared to die to save him. John. I wanted him to be prepared to die for me. Suddenly. I wondered about that phrase. A few days before.Friends or Lovers So I set out for John what had been going through my head. he told me that he would let me go if I wanted children. John‟s question popped into my head – it was one of those flashes of intuition that have no explanation. “It stopped me insisting that he be prepared to die for me as a pre-condition of my love. I wanted him to overpower me so that I would know he was strong enough to protect me. would sacrifice himself for me. 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. I put these two thoughts together. no tests. 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. even die for me. And yet.
yes. John interrupted my thoughts with some of his own. “Then that‟s what we should do. As I faced up to the truth that I would not die for my man. Sensible. perhaps. even if the average man is stronger than the average women. Equality means that women would insist on their responsibility to fight. “If we cared about equality. fought by men. for the benefit of men. but wanted him to be prepared to die for me. For them. By rights.” I said.” “We expect men to die. it was to show themselves worthy of someone‟s love. Perhaps it was not even for this reason. War might be fought – in the minds of the men who fought them – to protect those they love. finally. I had been taught (and taught others) that war was caused by men.we would be recruiting the strongest people to fight our wars.” he said firmly. What a journey I had travelled. We expect them to die to protect us.” I said.Rory Ridley-Duff “That‟s it. Pen – if we valued men as much as women . “It‟s only fair!” “Fair. our armies would have many women fighting alongside men. Usually they never think twice about it for the entirety of their lives. John stopped me. . For the last 20 years..” “Why? Surely we should recognise this…. my own part in men‟s violence became clearer to me. not just their right. since I had been introduced to feminism. Penny! That‟s what men are taught to do.” I thought about this for a second and suddenly became bold. “There is another point of view. And for no other reason than they are men. maybe not.” I said with ardour of a convert. Many women are strong and fit. It had taken me all this time to see it a different way.
I think any community would be happier as a result of that.” “Of course you do. “Let‟s suppose that there was a battle and after there were 1. was not whimsical. however. Penny.” I insist. “Would you fight?” he asked. but only 100 men. It would take countless more generations to rebuild a community if this happened. And those men are going to be busy. His face.” I started. aren‟t they?” “I suppose they are. Would the society be able to survive?” “Of course. “If women and men were fighting on the front line together.” John disagreed. Women have fought alongside men in revolutions so why not in armies?” He smiled at me. I hesitated. not only would they be building mutual respect and enduring relationships with each other. “But what if it was the other way around? What if there were 1. even if there were not as many left. when the battle was over there would be roughly equal numbers left. wouldn‟t they. “We don‟t force people into the army. “Look at the history of war.000 men and only 100 women left?” His question made me think. my own government is likely to put me in jail where I can be expect to .” he said. I thought about his words but challenged them. If I refuse to fight.000 women left in a village who could bear children. “I don‟t buy that. “Would you?” I responded.Friends or Lovers I gestured for him to continue. “I don‟t have a choice.
then change my mind. Not long ago I would have been executed if I tried to reject violence. “I don‟t have the choices you do. Again. I am court-marshalled for cowardice. “What do you mean?” “Do you remember Fallujah?” he enquired. the enemy won‟t. They cleared the ground by shooting everyone they came across. My only other alternative would be to take up arms against my own government – which means fighting my own people.” “But that‟s genocide. there would be no need for conscription. The horror of this appalled me. The women and children were allowed to leave. No man between the age of 15 and 55 was allowed out of the city before the US forces attacked it. no .” “My God!” was all I could say. my own government. Penny. It‟s not a question that really means anything to me. no need for military laws to punish deserters. Even if my own side spares me. or a court of law. “No. I felt sick. If I fight at first. no need for draft laws. not bravery.” John replied. I‟m left with no way out of violence. John saw my discomfort.Rory Ridley-Duff be beaten. I have no choice except to fight. “Fallujah? In Iraq you mean?” “Yes. “Only men were killed.” I objected. If we did. It‟s not true that men love war. they‟ll still kill me. would I get mercy from the enemy?” he asked. Even if my own country supported a right to conscientiously object. They don‟t care if I support the war or not. Remember the phrase they used? The soldiers were „clearing the ground‟. I can choose the enemy. Either way. buggered and left to die. my own brothers and sisters.
It‟s not necessary to teach them. I was too drunk to drive home so we walked it off in the park and visited a coffee bar.” I wondered what it must be like to grow up constantly wondering if.” He nodded and the conversation moved onto an assortment of trivia as we finished off a lovely “stuffed crust” pizza with chargrilled chicken. peppers and extra cheese. I had a truly wonderful day. one day. . After a second bottle of wine. they simply work out for themselves that one day they may have to fight. Suddenly it made sense that little boys played with guns. John.Friends or Lovers need for court marshals. “Keep saying these things. no executions or jail for men when they reject violence. you would be forced to fight against your will. Don‟t let anyone stop you.
I would have added to these statistics myself. new relationships were formed and moments of happiness were found amidst the problems we all faced. if you prefer the description on my employment record “Penny failed her probationary period because of poor job performance”. between his and her escapades. some died so that I could do so. that truth and justice prevailed. Several generations of women made it possible for me to exercise choice. problems which after millennia of neglect are finally becoming the subject of debate. They did their best. It wasn‟t to happen. and I felt a responsibility to give back some of what they had given to me. Or.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 50 I wish I could tell you that things worked out well. If it had not been for the intervention of a gifted person. who did so only out of affection for me. or a voice to be used against men and women I had come to respect. but were as frail. 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. to make their peace with each other. but as things changed. I was sacked. John returned to his wife and they continued. that the initial love I felt for Mike lasted until the day I died. prejudiced and limited as me. 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. I did not want to end up being one of the women who contributed to the problems that men face today. I wish I could say that most of us lived happily for most of our lives. For the rest of his life he enjoyed – if that is the right word – an open .
Professionally. I gave him one or two pushes in that direction but he kept his word and stubbornly encouraged me into a new relationship. nurtured and loved. It is no less special for that and we continue to protect what we have in ways that seem right to us. I have his books and read each one that comes out. Sometimes we would cuddle on the sofa. But – and this is something I partly regret. You have probably never heard of him. At the same time. John saw Sally from time to time. I enjoyed many happy years with Mike. we got together to spend good times. I prefer to think of them as two free spirits with the capacity to forgive each other when loneliness led them astray. Sally was immediately on the scene and this time . at times when we both felt sad. He never rose to the level of cabinet minister but he distinguished himself in small ways as a member of one government. or the interests within which he had become embedded. It was impossible. and certainly whenever she needed his support he made himself available. but I watched as he did his best to navigate them.Friends or Lovers marriage. He remains my dearest and most enduring friend. Once or twice. of course. he lost his seat and switched to writing. John remained a nomad for another decade before finally giving in to the temptation of politics. My cynicism about politicians faded dramatically as I met him over the years and learned of the endless no-win scenarios that they face. We parted amicably and he remains a good friend. for him ever be completely free of bias or prejudice. but he was right about my desire to have children. but am also proud of – we have not felt the need to consummate our relationship. he kept returning home from his travels to enjoy time with the family that he created. After serving just one term.
Afterwards. After Procter & Gamble bought them out. When I meet them. I once wrote to him to see whether he wanted to talk about the past. adding that he hoped never to see me again. The love . The success of their company created problems. He declined. According to Phil. of course. I detect the kind of closeness that I have in my own marriage. She got a buzz from the political battles and liked to forge change. Within twelve months he had been demoted. Nine years after his first wife had falsely accused him of sleeping with her.Rory Ridley-Duff Mike gave in to her. their marriage failed. They are one of life‟s happy couples. and their second child – Penny Ann – was born one day early. their marriage hit the rocks about five years later. They are now married. His wife went into a hospice where she died six-months later. Sally finally got her man. I discovered my talent for public speaking. Mike ended up committing himself to Sally for life. when the success of SHARE began to fade. Dave kept his job. My sister Carole married Chris. It was a sad way for our relationship to end and despite the bitterness on his side. In giving a „best woman‟ speech. Sam rejoined IC to engineer new products. I think of the good times we had. She had been through the menopause and Mike lost his excuse for resisting her. he had a breakdown. Elaine enjoyed life as a company director and took on more directorships. As for Sam and Elaine. I also found myself taking a much greater interest in being an aunt. wanted to get back to inventing and engineering new products. She was the business brains and it was her will that prevailed in the short term. but the events that took place following my departure cost him dearly. he never fully recovered. Sam.
Each had a tremendous capacity to accommodate the other‟s weaknesses and failings. Everyone expected the SHARE product to be a success. When Elona took out a court injunction to stop Phil seeing his children. Sam and Elaine gave each member a generous shareholding in the new company. Phil was promoted into my position at IC and we kept in touch. Phil and Elona had a crack at things. of course.Friends or Lovers between Carole and Chris was elastic: it stretched and bent as life threw its worst at them. and when his children started blaming him for the marriage break-up. When Elona‟s parents retired. with help from John. When I look back. so they took up this opportunity in large numbers. He writes to them each birthday and still clings onto the hope that one day he will be able to make up for lost time. He felt so superfluous that eventually he left. Mike. persuaded the entire SHARE team to leave IC and become members of Sam and Elaine‟s company. it did not last. but Sam and Elaine had committed investors and staff. Phil felt they spent all their time interfering in his marriage and the raising of his children. the contingency plan worked a treat. There was a furious legal battle. they devoted themselves to grandparenthood. It took much of the spirit out of him for many years. Sam and Elaine. In exchange for giving up continuous employment rights. However. Given what happened later. eventually got married and had two children. I found it impossible to build bridges with her again. As for me. I went to work for Sam and Elaine. the dispute between Elona and Mike was the catalyst that ended . Phil got limited access after a lengthy court battle. it created a big rift between Elona and myself. It broke his heart. he eventually stopped seeing them altogether.
against the trend towards ever more standards of excellence. but he is getting quite old now. I remain close to Elaine and we both did well out of the company sale. standardised codes of ethics and kitemarks. 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. We formed a new business together – the Social Exchange. but arrogance and shortsightedness eroded the share price before the company was sold off. finance. two people enter into their own agreement. against increasing numbers of . While banks and development agencies get flustered about business planning. but never toppled it. It gave the rampant rabbit a good run as the number one sex toy.Rory Ridley-Duff IC‟s rapid growth. Through the simple act of exchanging labour for money. they continue it. Each new business starts out with two people who like and trust each other well enough to give the other what they need. Many of us became paper millionaires for a while. I am its managing director and we help organisations develop progressive approaches to human resource management. As I learnt through reflecting on my life and writing this story. John works with us on some projects. Today. It is a thankless task arguing against bureaucracy. That can happen without any written agreement. Trade begins when you trust someone enough to pay for the products or services they offer. this simple truth is not stated often enough. constitutional matters and legal frameworks. If it works for them both. or company constitution. In the 5 years that followed. and certainly does not require a written contract of employment. it is not only inside the home that intimate relationships are of vital importance.
Intimate relationships are the foundation our society. I started to see Phil more. Our friendship developed into a lasting romance. and that is why I wanted to tell you this story. but for now I am content. Three years later we had a girl. If I can teach this to my children and grandchildren. customers. there is only one thing of which I am certain. We now have two lovely children: a boy I insisted we call John. and Phil split from Elona. It may not last. and exploring ways to make it work in practice. 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. We called her Hope. After I split from Mike.made little headway. For a business to grow. there needs to be a culture in which relationships are intimate and people can learn from the mistakes they make. As I look to the future. but even the way we articulate our thoughts.Friends or Lovers laws that seek to regulate not only our behaviour. these things are never certain. Thankfully I have been able to make a living saying this to many people. I learned this at IC. But I am pleased to have influenced a few organisations so that they keep bureaucracy to a minimum and replace this with the exercise of moral judgement in the way they deal with investors. In this struggle I have – unsurprisingly . and from them spring not just new human life but new economic life as well. ~ End ~ . There is a strength that grows from being quick to listen and slow to judge. my time on this earth will not have been wasted. employees and suppliers.
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