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

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

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Published by: Parinita on Oct 02, 2010
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  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Chapter 7
  • Chapter 8
  • Chapter 9
  • Chapter 10
  • Chapter 11
  • Chapter 12
  • Chapter 13
  • Chapter 14
  • Chapter 15
  • Chapter 16
  • Chapter 17
  • Chapter 18
  • Chapter 19
  • Chapter 20
  • Chapter 21
  • Chapter 22
  • Chapter 23
  • Chapter 24
  • Chapter 25
  • Chapter 26
  • Chapter 27
  • Chapter 28
  • Chapter 29
  • Chapter 30
  • Chapter 31
  • Chapter 32
  • Chapter 33
  • Chapter 34
  • Chapter 35
  • Chapter 36
  • Chapter 37
  • Chapter 38
  • Chapter 39
  • Chapter 40
  • Chapter 41
  • Chapter 42
  • Chapter 43
  • Chapter 44
  • Chapter 45
  • Chapter 46
  • Chapter 47
  • Chapter 48
  • Chapter 49
  • Chapter 50

Friends or Lovers
Commissioned by Social Exchange Ltd

Rory Ridley-Duff

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

“Anyone who cares about love will give this book to their partner or spouse, sister or brother.” Dr Poonam Thapa Gender, Culture and Sexual Health Expert

Also by Rory Ridley-Duff

Emotion, Seduction and Intimacy:
Alternative Perspectives on Human Behaviour “Rory‟s work is insightful and helps to redress some of the imbalances in the feminist theory of patriarchy while simultaneously introducing the concepts of gender and intimacy to the subject of enterprise governance”.
Professor Phil Johnson, Head of HRM and Organisational Behaviour, Sheffield University

“Rory is a man who has deliberately chosen the left-hand path of progress. He does not shun the moral maze of human desires and passions but brings greater understanding to that very facet of life – the forbidden fruit that made us fall from grace and its role in our emancipation.”
Dr Poonam Thapa Gender, Culture and Sexual Health Expert Available from Amazon.co.uk

Copyright © Rory Ridley-Duff, 2009 All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission except as defined below. No material may be reused except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 4LP. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. Rory Ridley-Duff has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Acts 1988. Published by: Rory Ridley-Duff 4 Rosehill Close Penistone Sheffield S36 6UF

Social Exchange logo designed by Natasha Ridley-Duff

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


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

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

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

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

but even so I am a bit of a man magnet when I wear black. he is „strictly business‟. got them to commit their products to us then helped them obtain development grants. however. able to live independently. football . I thought I may as well get myself an MBA couldn‟t see what harm it would do . and decided to specialise in human relations work. but avoid the ones called „How to Find the Man of your Dreams at Work”.and now I understand all that talk of returns on investment. I have my share of paranoia about my looks. speaks well and is incredible at building trust. Over the last decade. I still prefer the „relationship‟ thing. I‟ve worked hard for my career.has created a network of 60 inventors and a catalogue of wonderful gadgets. but for me they‟re a heap of crap. I remember that he wistfully joked once that IC not only wanted its pound of flesh but also insisted that you hand it over with a smile. Dave has a penchant for that too. smartly sexy. nett present values and can put together a business plan. but go out on the town and get a shag if I want to. He mentors me and I appreciate that. They were dishing out bursaries to encourage graduates into management. I‟ve read my share of self-help books. Most men are bastards anyway. Much as I like him. Workplace relationships might put that at risk. Of course he‟s taken – most guys like him are – and he now has a young child that he rarely sees. He looks smart. My friends joke that I am a model of the Cosmopolitan revolution – vibrant. the Innovation Centre – or IC as we call it in-house .Rory Ridley-Duff found inventors. I did the „women into business‟ thing a few years back. As for me. interested only in sex. intelligent. They‟re fine for those who want to give up work when they find their prince.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends or Lovers

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

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

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

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

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

Friends or Lovers

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

Rory Ridley-Duff

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

. 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.” “I will. Stay cool.” “Bye sis‟” And with that.

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

two circles of friends (inside and outside work) that balance each other and provide good times and support for bad times. Walking gives me a wonderful sense of freedom. It was a pleasant day. 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. I‟m sufficiently attractive to be able to enjoy male company more or less whenever I like. time and space to think. By Sunday. looking at her bruised mouth and eye. 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. watching her shrivel with humiliation as she admitted to a nurse how she received her injuries. In my mind. On the surface it looks very fulfilling. that‟s an experience that‟ll never leave me. so why do I feel so empty? As I walk on the brow of the hill I look north towards Worcester. Am I significant? Do I make a difference? Have I had a positive influence on the people I‟ve known? I wasn‟t sure. good career with responsibility and the chance to travel. The wind buffets my face as I stand like the French Lieutenant‟s Woman.Friends or Lovers her when she ended the relationship. Sitting with her. and I was able to remove my jumper and wear just a tee-shirt and shorts. . I recall John‟s comment that looking down on the world reminds us of our insignificance. warm for April. At the moment I wonder whether my life is going in the direction that I want. 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends or Lovers Chapter 13 Things calmed down over the next few weeks. Adam asked to hear the good news first. My favourites were: Question: Why does it take 20 million sperm to impregnate an egg? Answer: Because none of them know how to ask for directions.. …to which he responded…. and the new starters. We bantered about men and women and I started sending him feminist jokes. and a study involving 2000 women. “there’s some good news and some bad news”. “So what’s the bad news?” asked Adam. after 20 years of diligent research.. I responded with a George Burns quote: . He added that when both men and women could laugh at both jokes. Scientists have.. “The bad news is that you can only use one at a time.to which he replied…. I put the Elona issue on a back burner... John and I continued to e-mail each other in the evenings and steadily got to know each other. He replied with “masculist” ones. finally discovered the food that reduces women’s sex drive by 90%…. “The good news is that I’ve given you a brain and a penis”. then perhaps we‟ll be approaching the end of the sex war. she said to Adam.” …. 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.it’s called Wedding Cake. The other one I really liked was: After God made man. .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I flagged us a taxi and gave the driver the address. He did . under my skirt and inside my top. and pointed down to his crotch. “Time to get out of here.Rory Ridley-Duff our hand moving over each others bodies and between each others legs. As the car moved away.” I indicate with a nod of the head. I grabbed his head. closed my eyes. feeling his muscular body. His hands were all over me. moving up slowing. rubbing him up and down while he finger-fucked me. Then came my first disappointment. My hands were inside his tee-shirt. his hand was under my skirt again and I opened my legs wide for him. I jumped up and put my legs around his waist. He carried me through and dropped me on the bed. kissing me gently. I tried to focus and get excited but his tongue action was so off putting that I could not put up with it for long. His fingers worked inside the hem of my pants and rubbed around my clit. Then a finger was inside me and I gasped before grabbing his hair and guiding his mouth back to mine. who bid us farewell with the comment “Have fun!” As soon as we were inside the door of my flat. He pulled my pants to one side and buried his face in my pussy. We paid the taxi driver. indicating he should stop. He understood immediately and took off his trousers and pants. “That room. Then he climbed roughly back on top of me and tried to put it in. He nodded and we gathered our jackets and left. and opened my legs wide for him so he could see my suspenders in all their glory. That firm tongue that was so good exploring my mouth felt like a dish mop between my legs. I slowly pulled my arms up behind my head. His head was between my thighs.” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you have a complete picture we can discuss how to bust up this secret network. I felt ready to get to the bottom of things and achieve closure. With Dave‟s support.” I had not realised before how similar Dave and I were in our outlook but it pleased me that we shared this point of view. Keep me posted. .Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay. I thanked him and returned to my department to meet Elona.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was to chaperone the young entrepreneur who would be speaking while Dave was acting as host. 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 called Phil into my office and asked him to check later that day whether Nathan or Mike made it into work. Was I being too flirty? Hell. Still trying to corrupt my sweet innocence? Naughty. Penny xx I read over the message again. Hi sexy. I checked my diary and found that I had to go to an evening event with Dave – a launch event for a new product. Phil agreed to inform all the parties concerned. I’ll save the silky black dress for another occasion (!!) you’ll just have to admire my power suit instead. naughty. 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. Hi John. 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.Friends or Lovers really wanted this resolved now and did not want it to drag on. Just to let you know that I’ll be arriving in Leamington about 10. I’d love to be seen with you. I’m stopping overnight with friends so we could either have our meeting late morning or make an evening of it. 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.30am.

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

Friends or Lovers scheduled – one giving a talk on entrepreneurial behaviour and the other called “Intimacy at Work”. I thought Dave would enjoy the first talk so I asked Phil to liase with him and book the overnight option for both of us. the second of these really caught my attention. there was an option to stay overnight in the hotel. Given what was going on. Thankfully the day ended without further incident. For those attending the evening event. .

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

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

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

If there‟s something. and for him to pause for any length of time before giving an answer was quite strange. I took notes and stopped him after each section to give him feedback. we agreed a few minor changes for his afternoon meeting. His belief in this entrepreneur and his innovations was high so he was making a career gamble by investing in a lavish public relations event. He ran through the section again until I gave him a thumbs up and we continued this process until late morning. After working through the contracts. “No. “Yeeaah!” he finally said slowly. Tell aunty Penny…. Dave is rarely hesitant. looking straight into my eyes in a way that I‟d never seen before. “Come on. “Do you have to rush off?” he asked. We don‟t do many major product launches so Dave was putting in extra effort. Something on your mind?” I enquired.” I was beginning to get used to the idea that I was going to be an aunty twice over. come on then. “Do you remember I said my wife was ill? I vaguely recollected him saying something. you can tell me!” . He licked his lips and I could tell that he was slightly nervous so I walked up to him and touched his arm. Dave. It was almost like he was a blank. “Well.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. but I responded with more confidence than I felt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh well! It‟s out now. “Already?” I asked.Friends or Lovers “I‟ll tell her….” he said with a big grin. When I got back to the office. I turned to leave the room. 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. just a little kiss in his office. “I‟m all yours. As I sat with John in the canteen. “May as well have sent out an e-mail!” he retorted with a chuckle. I lent over and spoke quietly into his ear “Because this week I‟m going to fuck your brains out every night!” And with that remark. one of the reps came up and congratulated me. Elona was up and dressed. One of his staff had noticed our kiss and by lunchtime a rumour was making its way around the offices. “What did you do – send out a company wide e-mail?” “No. 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. I told her again that there were people at work who cared. When I returned in the afternoon.” Phil looked at me warmly.” I replied.” “Why next weekend?” he asked.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. . She promised to think about it and let me know the next day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends or Lovers

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

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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

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

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

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

I want you to think about how to contribute to the current debate on equality of opportunity and sexual harassment. I could be accused in the same way as Ben. enough to pay for over 20 days of mediation. Firstly. I ask you to think of the cost of replacing staff. emotive and triggers disruptive conflicts. That ignores the costs of training and lost . It is. would I have been guilty of sexual harassment? Or was her behaviour. 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. Isn‟t this the most naïve policy in the history of humankind? “So.Friends or Lovers desirable or successful person is particularly meaningful. therefore. if Patsy had objected when I started to talk to her on the airplane. 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. 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‟. “Two thoughts for you as you retire to the bars. to conclude. regardless of my intent. by deliberately being provocative. are we destroying our society with zero-tolerance policies? Are we compromising our ability to take. Would it not be better to have a process that allows each party to tell their story until they find closure? Should we approach conflicts in a way that allows both parties to learn about each other. In Ben‟s case it cost the company over ten thousand pounds to replace him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

.Rory Ridley-Duff setting out on a bumpy road – of that I had no doubt – but after several weeks of pain and years of loneliness it was a moment of unfettered joy. She grasped her future with both hands and held on firmly.

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

while the other…….. then picking her up and carrying her to bed. I imagined what might be happening to Elona. “Keep talking. As Mike pleasured me between my legs.” whispered Mike a second time..oooohhh….” Mike whispered in my ear “Keep talking”.I‟ve got….. “Me too!” she said when she finally came back to the phone.this………conversation………Oh God!……. Elona thought I was talking to her and asked again what was wrong. Right there in the hall Mike nibbled the folds of my flesh while two fingers eased their way in. “Ellie? I have a man here who is dying ……….tomorrow……. lifted me onto the table.. I tried to imagine Elona‟s excitement as she trembled in anticipation of her first fuck. “Better finish….. pulled down my knickers and buried his head between my legs...” Mike had knelt down on the floor.to go…. that Phil‟s strong body had moved between Elona legs. A few moments later. . He was dying for me.Rory Ridley-Duff “Why? What‟s wrong?” “Nothing at all – it is just that right at this moment there is someone‟s hand gently playing with my…. “What?” I replied.bye Ellie!” I put the phone down and spread my legs wide. “……to have sex with me while I talk on the phone to you……. “…….aaahhhh……has just gone down inside my pants. I pictured Phil ripping open Elona‟s blouse.left nipple.” I had to pause for a second as his finger touched a spot that took my breath away.” I heard a round of giggling as Elona repeated my words to Phil. her level of laughter increased and I heard her shriek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

challenges to management behaviour. perhaps. Managers stop facing – on a daily basis .a generation of sycophants and conformists who (having watched their own bosses fall from grace) learn not to take risks and never do anything that might lead to failure.the impacts of their decisions. ideals. If our propensity to sack people. Harry would act on what he knew. As conformity and false consensus takes root. It is only by keeping someone in a post after they have made a mistake that a company can benefit from what they learn. The human resource policy capable of developing truly outstanding leaders is the one that allows people to learn from their mistakes. Maybe he would survive it. As I contemplated what would happen if I failed my probation. Intolerance toward failure removes the very people learning the most and those lucky enough to avoid it remain untouched. but his isolation from what had taken place meant that people around him should have been urging caution. thoughts and actions slowly fades away. Management failure is passed down the line and before long senior managers start to wonder why „no good people are coming through‟. I suddenly realised something that had never occurred to me before. They should have been urging him to avoid acting precipitously. Harry. I could see that matters were already spiralling out of control. goes unchecked then eventually a company loses the very people capable of forming a top-rate management team. My two-hour conversation . maybe not. or demote them. And so. or any moral debate about their actions. was about to make a corporate decision that would spark a major conflict.Rory Ridley-Duff As I left his office. I felt in awe of the social forces that were assembling. a layer of new managers develops beneath them .

I was tempted to return to Harry‟s office and say all this. .Friends or Lovers was a drop in the ocean compared to the tidal wave of advice and information sweeping across his desk from Dave and others who knew nothing of what had occurred. I was foolish to harbour any hope. Instead I returned to my office and trusted that my friends would be able to bring off their coup d’etat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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