Friends or Lovers
Commissioned by Social Exchange Ltd

Rory Ridley-Duff

Friends or Lovers
For every man who has lost love, and every woman who can’t find it… Penny Leyton is one smart sexy woman on her way to the top. Bridget Jones she certainly is not, but she has the same chaotic approach to romance. Just as she is breaking through the glass ceiling, her boss Dave Stockton hints at a workplace scandal. Ablaze with moral outrage, Penny realises too late that one of her own friends is implicated and that she is part of the problem. Can she untangle herself from a hidden web of intrigue and save herself? Dr Rory Ridley-Duff is an author, composer and university lecturer whose research established how friendship, courtship and parental interests shape behaviour in organisations. His interest in gender issues and workplace democracy evolved out of directorships in worker cooperatives and 15 years of consultancy work in the social economy.

“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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.Rory Ridley-Duff feel good all over. 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.

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

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

He likes to play.Friends or Lovers Good. Every time a voice inside me warned me to be cautious another told me to be daring. This time he replied quickly. habit caused me to hit the Send button. And the bastard made me wait over an hour for a reply. Which? Wear a summer dress. Can you do that? Penny While I pondered whether this was too risqué. Too late. Do you have any that would fit me? John x . Penny x Not much chance of him accepting on those terms. Penny. Tricks? Well. Hmm! Tempting. Penny. I’ll come if you wear a kilt. but at least I get to kiss him back. I can walk on my hands (always goes down well in a beer garden when I’m wearing a summer dress without knickers). John. Bugger. 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. but she’s petite and it won’t fit me. We can shock some genteel country folk by doing handstands together…. But unfortunately I don’t have a kilt. I think my wife has one from her Scottish dancing days. John.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Phil, I understand how you must feel. Sometimes we have to do things that are not pleasant. The worst thing you might have to do one day is make people – decent people – redundant. If you stay in this profession, you‟ll learn how awful that can be. At other times, you may suspect that someone is acting more in their own interests than those of the business. When that happens, we sometimes need to be circumspect in finding out what we can. It is a very difficult job and we can only find out so much by asking people directly. I‟m not asking you to spy, just keep your ear to the ground and mix in certain circles when the opportunities arise.” He looked at me briefly and smiled, but the lines on his forehead never totally disappeared. “Okay. I‟ll see what I can find out.” “Good man,” I said and I felt my body relax. I smiled strongly at him, got up and walked towards the door. Phil got up slowly and made to leave. As he passed me, I put my hand on his shoulder and reassured him. “You‟ll be fine. If you‟re not, come and talk to me.” With Phil gone, my mind turned back to the task I‟d been putting off. I knew that I must reply to John, but did not relish the task. Even though I‟d thought about it all the previous evening, I was still not sure what to say. One thing I am sure about - I want to keep in touch with him. The problem is how to do that without ending up in a “situation” where I get hurt. Words and phrases keep going around and around in my head but no concrete sentences form. It is just a drink, I keep telling myself, but I cannot forget that nearly every relationship I‟ve had with a man gets complicated. One that I lived with, despite having a lovely side to his character, ended up taking me for

Friends or Lovers

granted. I don‟t want to mother my partner; I want him to look after me. There have been others that I adored for a short while (and who adored me) but as soon as they started talking about their goals in life, I felt them threaten my own. One wanted me to move with him to London just after I‟d started this job. I wouldn‟t go and the relationship ended. Why am I thinking like this? It is just a drink, after all. As much as I keep trying to convince myself that he only wants friendship, I cannot shake off the idea that going drinking with a married man will lead to problems. If I get close to him, will he make a pass at me? Why will this one be any different? And if he did, would I be able to resist him? Perhaps this is why I am so nervous. I don‟t want to be a mistress. I have to write something so I create an e-mail and stare at the screen. My fingers start to type:
John, Tell me about your marriage. How strong is it? Penny

I hit the Send key before I realise that he might take this question the wrong way. While contemplating my gaff, a message appears in my inbox.
Penny, Strong enough for you not to worry about it. John

I had hoped for a fuller explanation than that. No kiss today, I notice. Perhaps my question irritated him. At times like this, I tell myself to follow my head. What does my head say today? I listen carefully to my thoughts; there is danger here, to myself, to his marriage and children. But there is potential too. What if

Rory Ridley-Duff

he is how I hope he is? It will be a pleasure to know him. Could he become a friend I can trust and talk to like my father? But what if he turns out to be a creep? What will happen if I start to love him? I can‟t deny my desire to meet him or the thought that if I turn this opportunity down I‟ll always ask have the question “what if..” I will never answer any of my questions if I don‟t get to know him. As one of my school friends used to say to me “life is not a dress rehearsal”.
John, I accept. When would you like to meet? Penny x

In for a pound. Later that day, he e-mailed me back to ask if I‟d meet him in Leamington the following Wednesday. He could stop by as he was working in Birmingham then staying with friends in Warwick. With that out of the way, I relaxed and focussed better on my work.

Friends or Lovers

Chapter 7
With the week coming to an end, I finalise arrangements with interviewees and then decide to check on Elona. She is quite young, in her mid-twenties, and works within sales administration. She‟s been with the company since leaving school and is well-known about the place. I‟ve only met her half a dozen times or so since joining, twice due to her recent complaint. I want to check that she is happy with the way we have dealt with it so I decide to read over her file and recent appraisals. She is a single child, the daughter of local shopkeepers. When she was in her teens, she worked in the shop with her parents and saved enough money to go to college for two years. She lives in Kenilworth, a small town about 7 miles away. Nice place. In her interview notes it says that she led a relatively sheltered upbringing due to her parents‟ ties to the shop. Holidays have been few but she does have good friends in the local community. She has a boyfriend – her fiancé - who she provided as a second emergency contact. They hope to buy a house together soon but each live with their parents at the moment. Her career at IC has progressed fairly smoothly. She started in a typing pool seven years earlier. When it was disbanded she took on a series of clerical jobs, including a stint in customer services, but eventually felt her attention to paperwork and maintaining filing systems was being under utilised. In short, she wanted something more challenging than a continual stream of phone calls. The move to sales administration, therefore, was a good one for both her and the company. Her knowledge of

Rory Ridley-Duff

order processing together with customer skills equipped her for a trouble-shooter role in which she dealt with customer complaints. By all accounts, she appears to be a reliable hardworking employee. So I called her and asked her to drop by. Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting together in my office having a cup of tea. “Hi. Glad you could come. Do you take sugar?” I asked. “No. Thanks. Hmmmm. That‟s very welcome,” she said taking her first sip. “I won‟t take much of your time – I‟m sure you want to get away like me. I want to check that you are happy with the way we have dealt with your complaint.” Elona looked slightly puzzled, but smiled and settled back in her chair a bit. “Yes. Very. It‟s the first time I‟ve seen anyone in this company take a complaint like this seriously,” she commented. “Good. I‟m glad I‟m making a difference. The directors want this company to follow best practice and I‟m here to make sure that happens.” Elona‟s comment made me feel good on the inside. I continued boldly and directly. “Elona. One of the directors wants to be sure that Mike‟s behaviour is not part of a pattern. Had you ever been concerned about his behaviour before you made the complaint?” “Me? Well…” she hesistated, “…sometimes I felt uncomfortable around him. He‟s very friendly – too friendly if you ask me – and he does seem to be very attentive to some of the women reps.”

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Elona stopped for a moment to gather her thoughts. She rubbed the back of her neck and crossed her legs. “They didn‟t seem pleased with me when they came in for a meeting yesterday. I heard later that they were leaving my section to stay with Mike. They always speak highly of him and he‟s always joking with them. I find it embarrassing sometimes. He treats them almost like they are his daughters. They seem to like it, but I don‟t. I don‟t like it when men are too familiar with me, put their arm round me and things.” “Things?” I asked. “Well, you know…” she said. “No, Elona, I don‟t know. Tell me?” I said firmly. “Well sometimes, especially if we‟re down the pub after work, they go too far.” “How?” I asked. “They put their arm round me like they would their girlfriend or something. I don‟t like it.” “Does Mike do this?” “Not often. Sometimes. The younger lads are worse.” “How exactly?” “Well sometimes their hands go down my back, and sort of rub it. It‟s too familiar, but I feel stupid if I say „no‟ because everybody seems to be okay with it. One of them sometimes puts his hand on my bottom and squeezes it. I don‟t know what to do, so I do nothing.” This seemed like „normal‟ behaviour in most companies that I‟d worked in but that did not make it okay. Clearly Elona was more shy than most. Others would have to be sensitive. I decided to dig a little more deeply; I adopted a more woman-to-woman style.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rory Ridley-Duff

Even with all this preparation, it‟s not looks alone that will attract. I‟ve learned from experience that the way I walk into a bar, the way I dance, the way I talk and engage makes a huge difference. If I go out in a bad mood and don‟t talk much, far fewer men approach me. But when I‟m with girlfriends being vivacious, talking boldly giving men discrete (and sometimes indiscrete) eye contact, then they flock to me like bees around a honey pot. There is nothing magical about it, I just understanding how to flaunt myself. Now my nails are dry, I open a bottle of wine. No harm having one glass before I go out. If I do have to buy my own drinks (unlikely) then it will cut down the cost of getting drunk. I take in the latest episode of Eastenders while I sip away. Eastenders! That reminds me – out comes my pad and pencil. I decided to try something out. Do men or women hit more in the soaps? To my astonishment, I find that the women hit far more often. Funny, I‟d never noticed that before. And as for adverts, I am finding that if anybody is ridiculed it is men. The only advert that reverses this is „Nuts!‟ an advert for a trashy weekly men‟s magazine. That advert is so unfunny – like women don‟t know how to do car repairs or serious DIY work in the home. Actually I don‟t know how to do these either, but it doesn‟t matter because I get my father to come over. If I‟m really stuck, then I pick up the phone to get my favourite handyman to sort it out for me. Isn‟t that what men are for? The adverts that do make me laugh are the car adverts aimed at women. „Size matters‟? It sure does – although girth is probably more important. And that AA car insurance advert, it just shows what plonkers men really are. Why spend hours and hours looking for a good deal when the AA can do it for you?

Friends or Lovers

And there are those women only insurance companies now. I can‟t believe that there is talk about banning them or forcing them to offer insurance to men too; if we women are safer drivers we should get cheaper insurance. All this stuff about insurers discriminating against men, it‟s just bollocks. Why don‟t men just learn to drive more safely? Anyway, these thoughts go through my mind as the doorbell rings. Up I get, open the door, and see Carole and Chris looking chic and ready to party. “Come on in,” I say. “Just let me finish my glass of wine and we can shoot.” I give Carole a hug. She looks great too, but her bust isn‟t as good as mine. She tends to avoid „V‟ neck tops and wears a wonderbra with smooth silky fabric against her skin. This gives the suggestion of a full breast and shows her nipples when she gets sweaty or turned on. She‟s got great nipples, my sis‟. I compliment her while I look at Chris. His eyes are on stalks as he takes in my outfit. He may be a bit of a twit, but he knows how to look at a woman and make her feel good. “You look good tonight Chris,” I say. I‟m not lying. He‟s been to River Island to buy new jeans and a shirt. I imagine Carole went with him, but he‟s a credit to her. His hair is washed and groomed. He‟s clean shaven – which I know Carole likes – and he‟s got some dead cool trainers on too. “Just let me pop to the loo,” interjects Carole. “Back in a mo.” As soon as Carole is out of sight, Chris turns to me. “You look fantastic, Penny. Whoever reels you in tonight will be a lucky guy.” “Thank you, Chris.” I respond coyly. “I aim to please.” I pause for a second and then a thought occurs to me.

Rory Ridley-Duff

“…but I think it is me who will be doing the reeling in.” “I bet you will,” he replies, his eyes firmly looking into mine. “Doesn‟t Carole look great?” I say to deflect his attention. “She sure does. I‟m a lucky guy going out on the town with you two – I‟ll be the envy of every other bloke there. You both look a million dollars.” He was doing so well up to that point but had to spoil it by drawing attention to how good we‟ll make him look. I like attracting men, but hate it when they regard me as some sort of trophy. It is comments like these that show Chris for the prat he is. Still, Carole loves him, so I guess there must be something about him. For the life of me I can‟t see what it is. Carole returns from the loo and we call a taxi. Carole and Chris stay over on nights like this and I give Chris a pair of spare house keys. There is a good chance I won‟t make it back home so they need to be able to let themselves in. I usually try to come back for breakfast, but I like to take things as they come. I can‟t predict whether I‟ll feel like coming back home; it depends on whether a gorgeous guy has whisked me off to a stunning penthouse. The taxi arrives and drives us to a classy bar at the better end of town. I like this bar. It has lots of comfy chairs to relax in with stylish tables. There is a dining area too with a dance floor between the bar area and restaurant. On Friday nights it is quiet until about 8.30pm and is rocking by 10pm. A good time to arrive is 8.15 – as we have done – early enough to get a table in the bar area, drink until the restaurant table is ready, and then work off the calories on the dance floor. Chris gets in the first round of drinks. I alternate between sparkling mineral water and wine on these occasions – it gets me

Friends or Lovers

drunk quite quickly and the water prevents me dehydrating. We chat while deciding what to eat: “So what‟s happening in your life, sis?” asked Carole. “Usual stuff at work. Always someone having difficulties or creating tension,” I replied. “And outside work?” she added. “Well, I met John. We had a good time, I think.” “You think?” queried Chris. “You can never be sure, but yes, I think we had a good time,” I confirmed. Carole looked at me closely, and rested her chin on her hand momentarily as a subtle grin took shape on her face. “What?” I asked. She continued to grin but didn‟t say anything. “Why are you looking at me like that?” Both Carole and Chris looked at each other and smiled. “Are you going to meet him again, then?” Carole finally asked. “Yes. Now would you like me to tell you the length of his penis?” I remarked pointedly. Chris laughed. Carole looked me directly in the eye and did not miss a beat. “Yes. Just give me a rough idea. Was it as long as his CV?” “His what?” “His CV – you said he was an academic turned consultant – he must have a very long CV…..” “Carole. I‟ve news for you. He‟s just a friend.” “Oh yeah.” She took on a superior tone as she started to make fun of me. “My big sister who is all upright and proper at work, but a regular shag-bag outside work, has got a „friend‟. It‟s got bells on. Try again.”

Rory Ridley-Duff

“I like him, okay. He‟s married. He‟s told me straight that he loves his wife, his kids. This is a friendship.” “And you believe him?” interjected Chris. I paused for a moment. Inside I was not sure whether I believed him or not. I was not sure I wanted to believe that all he wanted was friendship, but for reasons that I could not understand I felt that he meant what he said, even if I would have liked more. Finally, I spoke. “Yes,” was all I said. Both Chris and Carole looked at each other again and gave each other a puzzled look. “But you never have male friends outside work!” shrieked Carole. “You have male friends at work and a line of hunks knocking at your door outside work.” I was about to object but on reflection she was probably right. I do have female friends although many stop seeing me when they have steady boyfriends. I used to think they were just busy, but slowly I realised that they were deliberately avoiding me. Men as friends? No. She was right. Friendship with men had thus far proved impossible. “Hey! Perhaps she‟s growing up?” Chris commented to Carole. “Cut the cheek you,” I objected, but there was no stopping him. “Next you‟ll be telling us that you are going to look for a husband.” “Not tonight,” I quipped. Then, to make sure Chris was aware that I‟d not enjoyed his comments, I looked at him with a dismissive smile. “Men over 25 need not apply.”

Friends or Lovers

It was Carole‟s turn to laugh. “God sis‟! When are you going to grow up and settle down?” If there is one thing that Carole had never said to me before it was that I should settle down. I thought she knew better, but the way she said this in such a carefree and matter of fact way actually stopped me in my tracks for a second. “Not tonight,” I said after a moment. “I‟ll give it some thought tomorrow.” My mind returned to the task in hand and I could feel my face relax and a more pleasant demeanour return. “But since the night is young and there are some young strapping lads here who are hot and willing…….let‟s get on and eat, drink and party.” We ordered our food and I finished my second glass of wine. People were beginning to come into the bar in greater numbers; couples, groups of young men and women, sometimes together and sometimes separate. By 9pm we were sitting at our table, and the bar was getting so crowded that we had to queue for drinks. After main courses and coffee, and a third glass of wine, I was ready to dance. “Shall we hit the floor?” I asked. Carole turned to Chris and gave a gesture. “I‟ll stay here and order some coffees?” he responded. “I‟d rather have another sparkling water. Best not to mix drinks too much,” I said with a delicate hint of sarcasm. Carole nodded and we made our way onto the floor. As I looked around, I could see the eyes of several men follow me. One of my great pleasures in life is attracting admiring looks when I dance. When the DJ put on “You Sexy Thing” I began to take control of the dance floor. I like this song, particularly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

” I said that I would. I did so for over 30 minutes trying to form thoughts in my mind and get them down on paper. . Start writing for me. Penny. Find that pen and paper.Friends or Lovers friendlier voice “come…ack…t…. I got a pen and paper and started to think. Then he spoke to me again.”. “I have to go now. I’m lonely. superman. By the time I heard a key in the lock I had written only two words.ed.

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

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

What had I done? Yeah. Let it out. He said he‟ll pick you up at 12pm. “He sounded nice. shut up.” “Romance?” laughed Chris. And I was still not sure if I was ready to do it now. I wondered if. I went over to the dresser and combed my hair. I had misjudged him.” said Carole.” My hand rose to my forehead as I gave her a salute. I had my career but how did that compare to the responsibility of loving another person? I hadn‟t done that. but the smile that was creeping back into my demeanour communicated to him that I did not really mean it. “Don‟t dress up for him.” I said. . I‟d never noticed before what a kind smile he had. He was going to keep his word. “By the way. Chris smiled back at me. “That‟s right. “I‟ve had all the romance I can take for one weekend.” “Don‟t!” was my first response. I‟d never been ready to do that. It was already 10.30. “John called.Rory Ridley-Duff started to flow again. Carole spoke softly while Chris hugged us both. Just put on something real casual and be yourself. “Oh.” “John? Oh God. “Now girl.” I suddenly realised that my little sister had done more growing up than I had. John was coming at mid-day so I had to stir myself to start getting ready. yes!” I remembered and was amazed. perhaps. Carole smiled at me. Get it out. Go on. She had taken on the responsibility of a partner and baby.” Carole suddenly interjected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Tell me what happened. Phil held up both his hands as if to hold me at bay and quietly made his way out of the room. Can you explain?” Nathan seemed to go completely white and started reeling in his chair. I was in no mood to be pushed around any more. My mind was spinning again. Take a seat. She is extremely distressed. As I was running over all these things in my mind. “Nothing. That is why I am asking you. Phil returned with suspect in hand. looking as puzzled as he was concerned. “I‟ve just had Elona in here and clearly something has happened between you and her. I started to get angry again. But no more words came forth.” he asked. “Fuck!” he said as his eyes seemed to look everywhere in the room except at Phil or myself. please. Come on in.Rory Ridley-Duff “Yes! Now!” I said raising my voice.” Nathan held my gaze and did not flinch for even a fraction of a second. . “Look at me!” Nathan looked pale and distressed but finally looked me in the eye.” I said.” “What has Elona said?” he asked. “Nathan. What had Nathan done to her? Had he raped her? Had she confided this in Mike? Had Mike done nothing? Had Mike tried to take advantage? Why was she later upset with Mike and not Nathan? None of this seemed to make any sense. “I would like to leave.” He sat down. “Nathan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decadence! Just what the moment needs and I rustle around the cupboard seeing if I have the ingredients for a calorie busting meal. Absolutely no sign of a baby there. It is firm and flat. I flick the switch on the kettle and amble back into the living room. I think. with her smile getting wider all the time. 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. “Try a bit higher. I walk right up to her and put my hand on her stomach.” she says mysteriously. Nothing special there. Her hand is different. “The door‟s open…. the front doorbell rings. “Come on in!” I shout. I think. I continue tracing a line from the elbow to her hand. Just as the boredom is banished.Friends or Lovers instruments for practising my Nigella Lawson recipes. “See anything now?” she asks. She smiles. I look her up and down to try to understand what is different. tracing a line from her shoulder to her elbow. . I give her a puzzled look and start to move my hand upwards. “Am I getting warm?” I ask. I look carefully. Her breasts look quite firm today so I cup one in each hand.” she says.” And in she walks looking groomed and beaming.” she says. “Has someone given you a happy pill?” I ask “No need. “All right you. What is it?” “Keep looking. playing with me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penny. Subject: Launch Event Pen. Meet you at 12. Both you and I need to consider this before our appraisal in July. 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 . Just finalising stuff for Wednesday. Fewer than five minutes had passed before I received his response. I finished going through my emails and the last one was from Dave about the evening event. Lazy lunch it is. 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. He found an afternoon event with an optional evening dinner.Rory Ridley-Duff button without further ado. The evening event had two guest speakers . Are you able to meet me in the morning so that I can try out my presentation on you? Also. just been going through some Professional Development stuff. Do you know of any CIPD events coming up that we could attend to catch up on the latest issues? Dave I confirmed that I could meet him and asked Phil to call the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development to find out any events that would be running in Birmingham in the near future. He still had a way of making me feel special. It would run on 30th June and covered the latest legislative changes in our field.30pm at Bella Marie? John xx I loved flirting with him. We can compare power suits.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends or Lovers distressed. My friend Dave should not have to bear this so young. cruel and so unfair. He was a bit older than me. It was unnatural. but not by much. Deep down a pain formed inside me that actually hurt. 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 .I decided he needed a friend. my moment to face someone else‟s pain and not shrink from the thankless task of helping him through it. He needed someone to care about him. . I had not realised I cared about him and it came as a surprise. There was no God if this could happen. It was my time. As I lay there .

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

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

We arrived at Bella Marie around 11. but much less spin. ordered drinks and looked at the menu. “Nervous about this afternoon?” I asked. * * * John was slightly late. He was pleased to see me but carried a grave look that I‟d not seen before. We settled down at the table. When we chatted on the phone yesterday. As he was a dedicated New Labour supporter. The materials were fine. “Thanks. The banter I expected didn‟t materialise so I probed him to see if anything was up.50 and settled down for lunch. I felt.” he said. even though I didn‟t intend it that way.” This was going to be a very long day. Pen. He would be nervous. he took this as a big compliment. He intended to use the money to support his writing for several months. but it was Dave who gave them charm and wit. It was the first time I‟d seen him wear a tie.Rory Ridley-Duff “Slicker than a New Labour political broadcast. His behaviour was different as well and I initially attributed this to his meeting in the afternoon. He was dressed in a dark deep blue suit.” He just beamed. “See you tonight when the madness has died down. John „the businessman‟ just didn‟t seem quite right. he said that this was one of the best contracts he had been offered and it would bring him about £30k for little more than a month‟s work. . He was well groomed and I quickly realised that I preferred him in casual attire. I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

plugged the panel into the motor. The dildo was mainly plastic but there were small metal panels inlaid at various points. There were two buttons on it. but one was triangular and obviously moulded so that women could use it to remove their pubic hair. I looked like a porn model. 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. I took it in my hand and turned it over. By the time I had finished. Inside was a dildo extension and another tube of gel. I used my fingernail to slide under the sellotape and gently remove the gift wrap from the second gift.” So there I lay on the bed almost breathless with anticipation. and the other to increase and decrease the intensity. enjoying my sexual power. and attached the straps that were included. On the side were four holes for attaching accessories.Friends or Lovers package that contained a battery operated motor. I started to lick my lips with a sense of exhilaration. 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. The gel was good and it slid in nicely and I worked it around until its full length . I looked like someone‟s whore. I applied the first tube of gel. Some of the pads were round. Lying back on the bed. As I opened the package. There were several pads and a tube of gel. one for switching the device on and off. I lifted up my legs and inserted the dildo into the motor device then inserted it. I started to feel aroused as the sense of expectation started to build. 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 remembered the booklet describe an intensity button for “a special experience”. pressing on my clitoris at the same time to heighten my arousal. John took my breasts in his hand and gentled rubbed them while I felt Phil‟s mouth on mine. Not only could I feel a gentle vibration on my pubic bone. The SHARE experience had been thoughtfully designed. My finger was now circling furiously. Mike and John walking into the room. With each press. As I let my finger work me into a frenzy. John started to pinch and suck my nipples and run his hands all over my stomach and sides. With one finger on my clit. there was a gentle vibration inside me. and I closed my eyes as I imagined Mike‟s tongue in place of my finger. and the other periodically pressing the „ecstasy button‟. bare breasted and naked with my legs wide apart. with my free hand. Firstly. small shots of electricity engulfed my pussy from both the hair remover and the dildo and I just gasped. then hard as his firm tongue edged me towards a heavenly climax. I wanted Mike. I imagined Mike‟s hand on the insides of my thighs and his mouth sucking on my fingers. While they gorged themselves. Then. I imagined Phil. A sensation ripped through me that made me shudder in total ecstasy. Phil and John came either side of me. I reached over to the motor and pressed the on switch.Rory Ridley-Duff was pressing on the pit of my stomach. dildo inserted. As I lay on the bed exhausted. There I was. as I played out a fantasy of being a hot and horny slut. I played with myself for a couple of minutes. 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 wanted to fuck him like . massaging gently then harder then gentler again. two strange thoughts burrowed into my mind.

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

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

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

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to. Her face had a modest amount of make-up around the eyes, but other than this she had a natural beauty that her advancing years did nothing to diminish. “Do you need any help moving in?” I asked. “Are you offering?” Mike replied, in hope more than expectation, I think. “Sure, I‟ll help!” I responded. “Thanks!” he said with some surprise and pleasure. “This is Sally,” he said looking at his coffee companion. “She‟s offered to help as well.” Sally! Things quickly slotted into place. I studied her more closely and felt her doing the same to me. She was in her midforties and kept herself fit. Her face looked as if she applied cream, but I could not detect any eye-shadow or blusher. Her attractiveness was natural, not manufactured. I extended my hand. “Good to meet you. I feel like I already know you a bit,” I said. She glanced in Mike‟s direction as she responded. “Yes, I gather he has told you quite a bit about me. Not all good I hope!” I liked her playfulness and returned the favour. “Well, he said he‟d leave you to fill in the details.” Mike smiled when he heard me say this and glanced at Sally to check that she was not going to scold him. Sally continued the riposte. “From what he‟s been telling me, it doesn‟t sound like he left details out!” “Then you can get your own back by telling me all his secrets!”

Friends or Lovers

I felt an instant rapport. It was like that with John, and I hoped it would be the same with Sally. Sally looked playfully at Mike. “Good idea. There are plenty to tell,” and then, as she looked back at me she added, “Are you interested in them?” Linguistically speaking, she had just speared me and I realised she was checking me out on Mike‟s behalf. My confidence was high, however, and I continued to joust. “Only the particularly wicked ones!” She laughed out loud and then turned to Mike. “Watch this one, Mike! She‟s got her eye on you.” Mike gave me a wry smile. Today I stood my ground much better and did not look away. “And very nice eyes they are too,” he complimented. Sally laughed and managed to divert attention from the colour that was flushing through my cheeks. “Well, I have to familiarise myself with this new SHARE experience!” blurted Sally. I laughed out loud and it caused both of them to look at me enquiringly. At that moment I felt just a touch of embarrassment. “What?” I asked. They both paused momentarily, and then Mike spoke. “Are you going to share it?” he said, with a chuckle. I caught his dark and sexual humour, but it went over Sally‟s head. I wondered how I could respond without being too explicit. “I‟m already familiar with the SHARE experience. Sally, you‟re in for a treat – particularly if they give you a product sample.”

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Sally and Mike looked at each other in a puzzled way, and then Mike turned and winked at me out of Sally‟s line of sight. I actually felt butterflies. He was definitely flirting with me. To my relief Sally did not ask any further questions. “See you after work, then?” asked Sally. “I‟ll come by your office around 5-ish,” answered Mike. “You definitely in?” asked Sally, directing the question at me. I nodded and then Sally lent over and whispered into my ear. “Be careful! He‟ll charm the pants off you and before you know it you‟ll be deeply in love with him.” Her remark cleared up many loose ends. The story that Phil had uncovered, and that Dave had hinted at, suddenly made sense. Sally realised that she would never have a hold over Mike the way that she wanted to and had accepted the next best thing. I realised that she was talking from experience and while I was grateful for the advice, it also brought home to me that the issue was not whether he could charm the pants off me, but whether I could charm the pants off him.

Friends or Lovers

Chapter 34
Back at my desk, I asked Phil to come into my office. As my mind went back over events, I realised that Dave had fuelled my concerns about Mike and this had directly motivated me to ask Phil to investigate Mike‟s private life. Given the way that events had turned out, I wondered why Dave had done this. “How are you feeling?” I asked. Phil looked quite relaxed so I felt it may be a good time to gather his thoughts on the outcome of the investigation. “Okay. Quite a turn of events, wasn‟t it?” “Yes – it certainly was. When did you think something wasn‟t right?” I asked. Phil sat back in his chair and became quite animated. He clearly appreciated his views being taken seriously and was keen to express them. “Quite a while ago. When I sat in the canteen with Mike‟s colleagues nothing seemed to fit. When Mike lost his temper with you in that meeting, I think my suspicions were confirmed.” I wondered how much I should tell Phil. I was going to need his help again and involving him would be risky. I decided to come clean. “I was not particularly clever over this,” I said. “You seemed pretty sharp to me,” he replied. I gave him a smile and shrugged my shoulders. “I‟d love to take the credit,” I said, “but that would be dishonest. Someone outside work – a good friend – suggested to me that maybe I was looking at things the wrong way.” “I see,” mused Phil.

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“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was now such a deep intimacy.that acquaintances would misunderstand. the most special moment of one of the most extraordinary days of my life. a priceless treasure that sparkles. But when I thought about it. without question. As for the rest of the evening. I thought of Sally and Mike and how everyone thought they had been lovers. We both understood our attraction to each other. a bond as strong as I‟d ever known. only ones where they chose not to have sex. This diamond is mine. I hope you will forgive me for shielding it from gossip that would corrupt it. It would be our joke – just as it had been for Sally and Mike . and mine alone.Rory Ridley-Duff it was devoid of sexual passion. We knew that sex would be there if we ever both needed and wanted it at the same time. It was almost as if we were saying goodbye and hello at the same time. But I didn‟t care either way – the most important thing was to protect the trust. we had become lovers of a sort. I retired to the other with Mike. . It would be John and I that others would mistake now. Sleeping with Mike for the first time was. 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. The memory is like a precious stone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but there was sufficient common ground to compare perspectives.Friends or Lovers Chapter 41 The prospect of going to the CIPD event with Dave was something that I came to dread. confirmation was a formality but this new situation meant that I could no longer take my appointment for granted. John knew Elaine from academic conferences so all six of us started going out weekly for meals. we developed too. of course. Even if he had said it as a joke. As a group. In the back of my mind I wondered whether it was wise to say nothing. Following the launch of the SHARE experience. . The story of how Mike and I got together became something of a party piece. Mike. as sales manager for the domestic market. So far as I could tell. Her background in sociology and international business was different to mine. After much drinking we playfully acted out the battle-axe and gentle man confronting each other angrily while an unspoken mutual passion was developing. our personal relationship had cooled. also met Sam and Elaine regularly to develop marketing strategies. and many side-stories and alternative plot lines were elaborated. I would join them for drinks and found that I particularly enjoyed Elaine‟s company. I felt that raising it with him was too risky. While we still worked together well on a professional level. We exaggerated. Neither of us spoke about the situation with his wife or his admission that he fantasised about me. I was conscious that my probationary period was coming to an end and Dave would decide my future. I met Sam and Elaine again (with Dave) to organise the recruitment of more support staff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rory Ridley-Duff

wife, a female entrepreneur and her husband, and three other human resource professionals (two men and a woman). With four men and women around the table, the conversation was mixed and lively. The woman entrepreneur started to talk about one of the speakers. She heard him once in Scotland. Later they contracted him to assist in the investigation of a sexual harassment case. She described him as humorous and charming, but with a mind and attitude so sharp that you could cut yourself on it. She found him difficult to work with but praised the way he helped staff reconcile their differences. Desserts came and went, coffees were served, and the chatter was eventually interrupted by a clink of glasses as the Chair introduced the fundraiser. It was a typical appeal to emotional sympathies. I felt sickened by the scene of an earnest charity worker begging for crumbs at the tables of the rich. I wrote a cheque for £30 – unsure what would be considered an appropriate amount – but as I was getting dinner for free I contributed the cost of the meal to the charity. Even as I did it, I felt no virtue. There must be better ways to help the less fortunate than this. The first speaker was reasonable. The subject matter was more in Dave‟s line, but I did see the pros and cons of entrepreneurial behaviour amongst employees. While she talked about side-stepping rules and procedures, the CEO at my table joked that if anybody tried that in his place, they‟d be out. Controls were there for a reason, he said, and had to be followed. I wondered whether he had ever been an accountant. Our table was a long way from the platform. When the second speaker stood up, I did not recognise him but there was a touch

Friends or Lovers

of familiarity in his voice. I thought he must be a celebrity off the TV but annoyingly one of my dinner companions kept distracting me. The speaker continued. “Thank you. Thank you very much,” he said. “I hardly recognise myself in those kind words.” I asked my dinner companion if we could continue our conversation later because I was particularly keen to hear this speaker. He looked offended, but at last I was able to focus on the speaker‟s words. “I‟ve been asked to talk about a subject that most of us think about daily, some of us talk about regularly, but which is rarely talked about publicly. It is a subject hardly ever discussed in business books. In my view, it exerts more influence over the workplace than any other single thing and is the bedrock of social organisation both at home and at work. I‟m talking, of course, about sexual attraction and intimacy. Now if you think I‟ve come here to talk about bonking in the broom cupboard……” With most of the audience tipsy, the speaker expected a few giggles and paused. A few people obliged. Everyone else stopped chatting and started to listen. “…..or kissing in the canteen, then you are going to be disappointed. If you‟ve come here to understand how private lives impact on work then you are in the right place.” I noticed that more and more people were sitting up and taking notice. On the top table was a jug of water. The speaker paused for a moment and poured himself a glass. “Always good when they give you a large jug of gin to drink – always makes the talk more interesting,” he quipped. “If you see them bringing a second jug, then the chances of me telling

Rory Ridley-Duff

you a story about bonking in the broom cupboard rises considerably!” A slightly larger group laughed at this remark, but one of my dinner companions just raised their eyebrows and gave a disapproving look. “Talking of stories,” he continued, “I have a couple for you that I hope will prompt interesting discussion in the bars.” Everybody in the room was now paying attention. He came across as an above average public speaker. “Not so long ago I was sitting in an airport lounge and an attractive woman called Patsy glanced in my direction. When they called the flight, Patsy joined the queue and edged her way in front of me.” I laughed out loud as I recalled the way John and I had met. A few people on adjacent tables turned their heads to look at me. I thought it was uncanny the speaker had such a similar experience. “Then Patsy did something that most people here will probably think is a bit bizarre, but which – to me – was not bizarre at all. She bent down to tie her shoelace……” My laughter subsided and I began to feel slightly uncomfortable. “Nothing strange in that, you might think? Well, it would not have been strange except for one small detail. Patsy was wearing shoes that had no shoelaces……” A ripple of laughter went around the room and the speaker paused to let the import of the joke linger. As for me, my heart was pounding as I realised that the speaker was John and that he was talking about our first meeting.

Friends or Lovers

“What is significant about this story is that Patsy‟s willingness to give me a bird‟s eye view of her butt was one of several reasons I decided to sit next to her. Very bold behaviour, I felt, and not something I was likely to come across every day. We fell into conversation, swapped e-mail addresses and later met for lunch. Now we take walks together. She became a close friend and is now also a professional colleague.” He paused again. “She‟s also dating one of my best friends!” he said loudly with gusto. His comic timing was excellent and there was a further smattering of laughter. “Now what‟s the relevance? Sexual attraction is often the reason we choose to take an interest in someone. As we work out the tensions many long and durable friendships are formed. I was lucky. Patsy liked and welcomed my response, but not immediately and not without a lot of soul searching about my intentions towards her. If she had taken offence, she might have withdrawn, confronted me, argued with me, perhaps even accused me of sexually harassing her.” “We are still, even in this modern age, overwhelmingly social beings. Yes, we come to dinners like this to talk about how to make more - or lose less - money. We come for the networking opportunities, the social opening that will start a new business venture. But I want to suggest to you that there is something more than that, something deeper, more important.” He paused and took a sip of his water before continuing. “Once, a business mentor of mine said to me that money was not the most important thing to him. To him, the money was a means and not an end. The money enabled him to feed his

Rory Ridley-Duff

family, to open doors to social networks he wanted to belong to, to attract and be in the company of many beautiful women. In short, he was in business to have fun. „If you‟re not having fun‟ he would say, „sell the business‟. To him, business was entertainment.” “So what‟s the key thing here?” asked John. “For him, being in business meant an emotionally fulfilling life. He did it for the buzz. For the challenge. For the company. And yes, let‟s admit it, for the sex. He was, in a way, one of the business world‟s rock stars, although he liked to avoid the press.” “Of course, there are many out there….and perhaps even in here…who will take a dim view of this. Business is about profitmaximising, about efficiency, about effectiveness and all those terms that are popular in business schools and board rooms. There are a few strange people who actually get off on this. Picture them in your mind: Laddie Lawyer…… Amy Accountant…… Adam Auditor.” There was substantial laughter as he recounted these names. He knew his audience. Human resource staff often battled legal and financial staff for influence and John cleverly used his knowledge of workplace tensions to win them over. “Now, I imagine that you‟re sitting there thinking „not me‟. I‟m rational, everybody else is emotional. I always do my best for my boss. I‟m a complete professional – never let myself get distracted by this stuff. So I‟m going to ask for a bit of audience participation. Can I have a show of hands, please? How many of you met your most recent wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend in an organisation? Don‟t just think of your own place of work. Did you meet in theirs? Was he or she your client? Were you students together?”

Friends or Lovers

The hands started to rise, at first tentatively. The murmurs grew as spouses and partners reminded each other of their first meeting, with the result that more and more hands were raised until at least three-quarters held them aloft. “More than usual,” he commented. “We have a horny bunch in tonight!” The room rumbled with chatter and laughter as people started to absorb what had just been illustrated. As the noise died down, so John continued. “So let me make one or two comments before I tell you my second story. Firstly, how is it that most human resource professionals here tonight met their partner or spouse in a workplace and yet the profession is being persuaded to support zero-tolerance policies towards sexual behaviour at work?” There was less laughter now and he paused to have another drink. The women entrepreneur opposite looked irritated. “See what I mean?” she said. I nodded, but privately I thought John had a point. “Need a bit more gin for this bit,” John quipped as he drank some more water. “More controversially, recent research suggests that research participants say harassment is very rare, almost unheard of, during the formative stages of a relationship. Accusations are made when relationships are breaking down. This raises an issue. Are we are missing the underlying sexual dynamics that bring about these accusations. It may be that a man is trying to break off the relationship rather than form it, or that a woman is trying to back off a relationship that has aroused her sexual feelings. When it comes to the law, have politicians created a rod to break our back?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I‟ll call him later. About an hour later.” I said before I saw his grin. How‟s Mike going to take this?” he asked.” he corrected. When he let go. When he heard this. he grabbed me and hugged me for what seemed like an age. I want to go home.” “I‟d take you – but I‟ve been drinking gin all evening….. I noticed that his eyes were filled with tears. When I set out this morning I was full of the joys of spring. As days go. You‟re a sweetie.Rory Ridley-Duff “You‟ll need friends for this one.” “Thank you. invited them for dinner then insisted that I come with Mike. I told him not be such a soppy idiot. Penny. He said that he wanted to talk “strategy”. the launch evening. I told him of my wish to marry Mike. he cryptically replied that „every good soldier needed the support of his unit‟.” The rest of the evening passed off without any more incidents. but now I was battling to save my job. “Damn. John and I took a cab to a quiet pub and I told him about Dave‟s wife. I could see the concern growing on his face. today had not been a good one. I can take you. When I asked why. “I‟m probably the only sober person in the room. . Dave‟s e-mail and my conversations with Mike. He called Elaine and Sam. I never drink before a talk so if you want to go home.” he joked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. 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.

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

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

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

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

I wanted to be Mike‟s greatest fantasy. She would fantasise about her boyfriend so full of lust that he would force himself on her as she tried to resist him. the woman that he could not resist. with Mike‟s spent body still lying inside me. as Mike arched in the throws of orgasm and shot his sperm deep into me. I wanted to him to feel an uncontrollable desire for me that no-one. every spark of sexual energy that he possessed ignited and firing through his body. I held him in my arms and wept. I watched his face strain as he reached the limits of his passion. And there.Friends or Lovers that he could not resist her. as if she was fantasising about rape. I hoped he felt the bewilderment and disorientation I felt when his magic tongue took me to another plane of existence. not even I. I had entered a new world and reached a new level of understanding. 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 hoped he was feeling the same crushing desire that I felt for him. But in this moment I realised what was so exciting to her. If I could do that to him…for him…he would be mine forever. All the certainties that I had ever felt about how men and women should behave vanished in the dust. could stop. . I found her fantasies sick. At the time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends or Lovers Chapter 48 The rest of the week was unsettling. He had marked me down on most aspects of my performance and cited the handling of the dispute as the reason. mattered more to him than the prejudices I had initially displayed. The way I changed my mind about Mike. After I had divulged to Phil what happened at the CIPD event. I told him he was too generous. Phil reassured me that whatever happened I would always have his respect. there was a growing interest in the dispute between Elona and Mike. Phil confessed to me that he‟d been visited by Harry. I nearly screwed up completely for no other reason than my own prejudices. This was the beginning of the end. I received my appraisal from Dave and there were no surprises. going over the issues that the appraisal had raised but avoiding the matter of Dave‟s behaviour toward me. It was this that gave him confidence in me. I took the matter into my own hands and visited Harry. . Privately I knew that it had more to do with the way our relationship had turned sour. I quickly realised that my continued employment was problematic. I talked with him for nearly two hours. Nevertheless. Jo had been kind and positive. having briefed Dave and the other senior executives about the appraisal process. he said he could make „no promises‟ which I took to mean that a decision had already been taken. as had Phil. and the care I had shown to Elona. At senior management levels. At the end of our meeting. 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 is only by keeping someone in a post after they have made a mistake that a company can benefit from what they learn. I suddenly realised something that had never occurred to me before. but his isolation from what had taken place meant that people around him should have been urging caution. Harry. challenges to management behaviour. was about to make a corporate decision that would spark a major conflict. Management failure is passed down the line and before long senior managers start to wonder why „no good people are coming through‟. Intolerance toward failure removes the very people learning the most and those lucky enough to avoid it remain untouched. Managers stop facing – on a daily basis . a layer of new managers develops beneath them . I felt in awe of the social forces that were assembling. As conformity and false consensus takes root. perhaps. As I contemplated what would happen if I failed my probation. thoughts and actions slowly fades away.the impacts of their decisions. ideals. And so. They should have been urging him to avoid acting precipitously.Rory Ridley-Duff As I left his office. or any moral debate about their actions. maybe not. If our propensity to sack people. goes unchecked then eventually a company loses the very people capable of forming a top-rate management team. The human resource policy capable of developing truly outstanding leaders is the one that allows people to learn from their mistakes. Harry would act on what he knew. My two-hour conversation .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. I could see that matters were already spiralling out of control. Maybe he would survive it. or demote them.

I was tempted to return to Harry‟s office and say all this. Instead I returned to my office and trusted that my friends would be able to bring off their coup d’etat. I was foolish to harbour any hope. .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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had a truly wonderful day. you would be forced to fight against your will. Suddenly it made sense that little boys played with guns. they simply work out for themselves that one day they may have to fight. It‟s not necessary to teach them. . After a second bottle of wine.Friends or Lovers need for court marshals.” He nodded and the conversation moved onto an assortment of trivia as we finished off a lovely “stuffed crust” pizza with chargrilled chicken. no executions or jail for men when they reject violence.” I wondered what it must be like to grow up constantly wondering if. peppers and extra cheese. “Keep saying these things. I was too drunk to drive home so we walked it off in the park and visited a coffee bar. Don‟t let anyone stop you. one day. John.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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