AngelOrb

TWO SHORTIES

HOT PROPERTY

YING & YANG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HOT PROPERTY

You could call her the quintessential ‘English rose’ but Chrissy Ingram couldn’t be further than the truth. Her job at the local estate agent had been her one and only job since leaving school, she was looking at 25 and beginning to wonder if this was all there was to life. Her colleagues wondered about her at times, she would be throwing herself into her work one minute then in the same day rant and rave in the cloakroom about some undeserving couple who to her mind didn’t warrant buying a house she considered to be ‘too good for them’ Her love-life was an empty page still waiting to be scrawled on; she was fussy and had many times during her teens and twenties rebuffed some pretty well meaning males. At one stage she began to wonder if she was ‘batting for the other side’ but her body told her otherwise when an attractive client called in smothered in Paco and sitting just across from her at her boss Bob Padgett’s desk. She would give them marks out of 10. Hair, dress, smell, eyes, smart shoes, whether they smoked or not-a minus if they did-skin, hands, nails-nicely manicured and how they conducted themselves-their voices. So far none had come up to par as far as she was concerned. Days came and went, lunch was always spent down The Flag on the corner, where she would munch on her cheese and pickle sandwich sipping her chardonnay trying to engage in conversation with her fellow colleague Sheena Adams while all the time her deep blue eyes would be scouring the pub for...what? A nudge in her ribs usually brought her back to earth.

‘Hey dreamy, are you going to eat the rest of that?’

She pushed her plate towards Sheila and gave a long sigh.

‘Do you ever wonder why we bother?’

‘What?’

‘Do you ever wonder why we go on the way we do?’

‘Oh gawd, are you off on one again?’

‘No, really. I’ve been working at Shaw and Simpson for nearly eight years. I get up, shower, get dressed, have my toast and cereal-boiled egg if I’m lucky, check myself in the hall mirror and charge out the door for the 21B.’

‘Yes, and?’

‘Oh, I don’t know...it gets so repetitive sometimes, I just wish that something different would happen...’

‘What, you mean have a bath instead of a shower?’

‘Shut-up, it’s not funny, you know what I mean, it all gets so hum-drum, so monotonous at times’.

‘Change your job’. Hearing this Chrissy shifted in her chair. ‘Trouble with you Chrissy Ingram you’ve got into that comfy safe place they call a rut’.

‘Rut?’

‘Yes, rut. I’ve been at that place a lot longer than you, my old man is just about due to retire and I’m dreading it’.

‘Dreading it?’

‘He’ll be home all day, making his plastic aircraft models and asking me when tea is...’

‘But surely when you jack it in it will be a whole lot better won’t it?’

‘Chrissy love, why do you think I have hung into this job for so long? Yes, it’s been good to me in more ways than one. But the main reason is, it keeps me out the house’.

‘But, I thought-’

‘You thought wrong sweetie. My sanity would be seriously compromised if I left now, he would drive me nuts’.

‘I didn’t realise...’

‘Forty-five years this year. When people hear that they look amazed, partly because some couples today don’t make it past forty-five weeks!’

Chrissy drained her glass and felt suddenly as if her problematic life had shrunk by half.

‘Fancy another?’

‘Better not, this pickle plays havoc with my digestive system and another glass will make me sleepy. I’ll be falling asleep over the computer’.

Back at the office things rumbled along with a few clients popping in to pick up keys and some making enquiries about a property they knew they couldn’t afford, ‘time wasters’ as Chrissy so fondly categorised them. Halfway through the afternoon a man came through the door. Tall, blond, a bit ‘Scandinavian looking’ Chrissy thought. He sat down right in front of her and gave a nervous cough as she carried on typing her notes. Her fingers paused above the keys and her eyes looked at him over the top of the computer.

‘Good afternoon sir, can I help you with anything?’

‘Eh, yes, if you wouldn’t mind. I see you have a property for sale on the outskirts of town, this one?’

He produced a newspaper displaying the details of a rather expensive detached mansion commanding a hilltop view of the out- lying area. Chrissy was impressed, but he wasn’t Scandinavian.

‘Oh yes, a beautiful property, been on our books for a while now. The owners have moved abroad and left it with us, would you like to arrange a viewing?’

‘Could I? How soon can it be arranged?’

‘Can I take your name and contact details if I may?' Sheila glanced up at such over the top politeness; Chrissy felt eyes boring into her back.

‘Sure. Ben Peterson, I live temporarily at ‘Firbank’ guest house. I’ve been out the country for a while’.

‘Oh yes, The Firbank, a lovely place, I’ve been there a few times myself’ Chrissy heard a muffled cough from the back but carried on. She noticed he had well-manicured nails and dressed smart but casually and he smelt rather nice too...’herbally’... ‘Well Mr Peterson, if you wouldn’t mind waiting just a moment I shall see if we can arrange an appointment for a viewing for you’

The man nodded and his smile was very pleasing. He looked like he was in his mid-thirties and there was no wedding ring. Chrissy fairly skipped out of her manager’s office.

‘We can arrange a viewing for you tomorrow morning’.

‘Wonderful’

‘Yes you are-I mean it is’.

‘Tomorrow morning’

‘Tomorrow morning’

They shook hands and his felt large and cool. ‘Cool’ thought Chrissy as she settled back down on her chair. She counted to five then Sheila appeared, eyeing her over her specs.

‘Well, he was nice’.

‘Wasn’t he just’

‘You going to show him round?’

‘If the car is free...’

‘Oh I’m sure it will be’.

Chrissy had a restless night. Flashes of blond hair, grey eyes and long fingers kept her from a proper night’s sleep and she had a lot of trouble rousing herself for work.

She arrived at the office only to be greeted by Ben who looked just as beautiful in a blue roll neck sweater and grey cords. ‘Got to be gay’ Chrissy suddenly surmised. She picked up the keys to the house and the car but Ben insisted they take his and so with slight hesitation Chrissy slid into the front seat and directed Ben to their destination. She watched him steering, so confident and self-assured and still no sign of a ring. ‘Got to be with someone’ Chrissy mused again, nearly missing the turning for the property.

It was impressive to say the least. Six bedrooms all with ensuite, a huge lounge, magnificent games room and dining room and a beautifully fitted state of the art kitchen. The study was a good size too and overlooked the garden where a large swimming pool took centre stage by a fair sized patio. Ben folded his arms and smiled a smile that was wider than a Cheshire cat’s.

‘It’s beautiful’.

‘Yes, it is a lovely property’

‘You think so?’

‘Oh yes’

‘I guess you would say that as it’s on your books’

‘Well yes, but even if it wasn’t Mr Peterson, it would tick all the boxes in my book’

He looked at her for a moment then glanced away.

‘Would you want to live in a place like this?’

‘Now that is a question...it would be too big for me, and anyway-it’s way out of my price range’

‘Where do you live now?’

‘A three bed semi in town, just the right size for me, but this, this is a family home, meant to be filled with people and music and laughter...’ Her mind was starting to wander; he was looking at her and started to laugh.

‘Well, that seals it for me...where do I sign?’

Chrissy couldn’t believe what she was hearing; she’d made a sale on ‘Fleetwood’ at last. Back at the office the wheels were set in motion concerning the offer which Ben put in a little below price but not much. He found himself shaking hands again with the short perky strawberry blonde.

‘Thank you’

‘No, thank you’

The door closed and Sheila’s voice broke the spell.

‘You’re misting up the glass’.

‘Shut-up. Oh, but he was lush...’

Chrissy couldn’t concentrate; twice she made mistakes on her notes and then wrongly filed a letter. She couldn’t face the pub for lunch and decided to have a drink at the Firbank. It was a lovely old fashioned place, all oak panelling and carpeted creaky floors. She sat in the bar with her glass of chardonnay and tried to look sophisticated. Short legs were not meant for crossing she decided and suddenly wished she was a six foot tall leggy blonde with pouting lips and long hair, instead of a five foot, blonde bobbed, 25 year old. She had good legs and her pointed high heels helped with her height issue.

‘Miss Ingram?’ It was Ben; he’d spotted her from his table. Chrissy nearly lost her balance on the stool.

‘Oh, Mr Peterson, what a surprise’.

‘You eh, eating something with that?’

‘Well-I just thought I’d pop in for a quick drink before I head back to work’. ‘Is that wise to just drink and not eat, you must be hungry’.

‘I don’t usually eat a lot lunch time, my friend ends up pinching it’

‘Some friend’

‘No, it’s not like that. I never manage to finish it’.

‘Let me get you something’.

‘No, honestly, I’m fine’. But Ben ordered a large club sandwich which they both ended up sharing in the end. She could smell that herbal smell and noticed his blond wavy hair which was combed back.

‘Can I ask you something Mr Peterson?’

‘Ask away’

‘Fleetwood is a big house, I was wondering if it was just you wanting to live there?’

It went quiet then he smiled and turned to look her in the face.

‘To be honest...I’m not sure at the moment’.

‘Oh’

‘You sound disappointed’

‘No, not at all. It is none of my business. I just thought it being such a large property...’ Her voice trailed off as his eyes held hers.

‘Well. You see it’s a long story and a really stupid one at that.’

‘Oh?’

‘I guess I haven’t been entirely honest with you Miss Ingram. You see, I have been to your office before’.

 

‘Have you? I don’t remember, I mean I think I would have remembered...’

‘It was a few months ago. I’m afraid you have been part of a ruse Miss Ingram, can I call you Chrissy?’

‘Ruse?’

‘It was a stupid silly prank really. I dressed in a shabby old coat, rubbed some saffron into my fingertips, wore a fake beard and flat cap’.

Chrissy’s brain cells started to whirr round.

‘You were the person who was looking for rented accommodation in town...stank of cigarettes and wore old trainers’

‘Yep. That was me’.

‘Why?’

‘Because some friends of mine had told me of this cute, astute strawberry blond who worked at the local estate agents and was very particular of the clientele they entertained’.

Chrissy went to get up but Ben’s large cool hand stilled her.

‘This was all a prank to-’

‘See what your reaction would be’.

‘Why?’

‘Because...ever since that day I have been thinking about you...dreaming about you’.

‘What?’

‘True’.

‘I still don’t understand why?’

‘To be quite honest with you, I don’t either, but that is the truth. So now you see me as my true self’.

‘Really’.

‘Really’.

Chrissy pulled her hand away and for a moment wanted to hurl abuse at Ben who was obviously waiting for the obvious. Instead he watched a slow smile creep across her face.

‘You sod, you cheeky sod’. Ben smiled back; relieved a third world war had been averted. Chrissy wasn’t done. ‘What about the offer?’

‘Oh, that. It still stands’.

‘You are pulling my leg’.

‘No. I want Fleetwood’.

‘You are kidding me?’

‘No. Straight up, I am going to buy Fleetwood’.

‘And where are Mrs Peterson and all the little Peterson’s?’

‘Well there are no little Peterson’s’.

‘But there is a Mrs Peterson’.

‘Oh yes’.

‘Might have known there would be’.

‘Really?’

‘Well, I have been well and truly played, hats off to you Mr Peterson, or should I call you Ben?’

‘Only if I can call you Chrissy-Mrs Peterson?'

 

Chrissy didn’t return to work that afternoon. In fact she never went back to work again.

As for ‘Fleetwood’?

It is said that music spills out through the masonry and large amounts of laughter can be heard coming from the bedrooms every night...all six of them.

 

THE END

 

© HILLY KENDRICK. All rights reserved

YING & YANG (an adult shortie)

 

Celia Spotswood’s kitten heels clicked purposefully down the marbled corridor towards her boss's office. He had been in a foul mood all week, possibly due to a failed attempt at seducing another blonde bimbo twenty-something who was only interested in his cheque book. Receptionist Mia glanced up from her computer as Celia entered the carpeted ante-chamber.

‘Hi Mia-how is he?’

‘Still sulking’

‘Oh dear’. Celia’s voice sounded unsympathetic.

‘He hasn’t drunk his coffee either and asked me to hold all incoming calls’.

‘Great. Thanks Mia-go take a break, I’m going in’. Celia straightened her skirt and adjusted her cream tailored blouse and knocked on the door bearing the gold embossed letters of Maxwell B Bryant. No response. She took a sharp intake of breath and pushed open the door, her glasses perched on the end of her nose. Max Bryant-or MB as she called him, sat brooding behind his large oak desk. He was an attractive man in his early 40’s with thick dark hair and deep blue eyes. He had been born and raised in Ontario Canada but chose to put down roots in England after graduating in Architecture and Business Studies. With a gentle leg up from daddy and mummy he established his own corporation Maxwell Bryant Associates. He was single and loved flirting, but only with women who had the right criteria. Curves and bumps in all the right places. But just lately he was experiencing problems; his libido was mysteriously not up to its usual standard. His laptop was closed and there was a faint smell of cigarette smoke. Bad sign. He had kicked the habit a while back when he decided to go on a health kick. Celia walked over to the large panoramic window through which could be seen the distant blurred outline of the ‘gherkin’ and the ‘shard’. She had been his ‘rock’ for fifteen long years and sometimes wondered why she put up with his petulance and transparency.

‘You’ve started smoking again’ No reply. She plonked herself down opposite her still po-faced boss and pushed her glasses up onto her head. She opened the large leather diary she always carried with her, something she treasured, rather than a tablet to tap on. She was ‘old school’ even though she was just a couple of years older than Max, and was quite happy sitting at a computer but the written word suited her more. She eyed him warily then proceeded to inform him of the day’s appointments. ‘Okay. Your 10 o’clock ap’ has been moved to 11-’

‘What?’

'You were meeting with ‘Brookes and Marchant’ but we moved it because you said it was too early?’

‘Oh, right-fine’. There was a pause and she carried on.

‘You have lunch with John Gardener at Simpsons at 12.30-’

‘Who?’

‘John Gardener, he’s involved in the development near the Barbican, the apartments?’

‘Elaborate’

‘You met him last month at The Connaught Rooms dinner. You thought he had some interesting ideas on how to enlarge extend the company’.

‘Did I? I must have been drunk’. At this reply Celia uncrossed her legs and closed the diary.

‘Do you want to carry on MB or shall I leave you to wallow like a great hippopotamus that refuses to get out of the mud?’ She knew it was okay to say these things to him, she had come to know that the man she worked for was after all only human and had flaws and weaknesses, especially when it came to the fairer sex. At last the deep blue eyes looked up and a long exhale of breath followed.

‘Oh God ‘Spotty’-(his nickname for her, she had hated it but over time had come to love it like an old faded sweater). She tried a sympathetic smile.

‘Who is/was she?’ Max rested his head back and gazed at the ceiling.

‘She is/was a blonde Mona Lisa with the body of Monroe and lips that could suck the flesh from a grape in seconds’. Celia swallowed at this last remark, trying to keep from visualising what Max actually meant by the word sucking. ‘Forgive me MB but I thought the Mona Lisa-no insult to Leonardo-is not that attractive-’

‘You know what I mean’.

‘Do I?’ He swung out of his chair, his long muscled legs moving as if in slow motion as he came round to rest up opposite Celia who was opening up the diary again.

‘Tell me, be honest, what am I doing wrong Spotty. Why is it when I meet a delicious woman it all turns to shit?’ Celia had heard this so many times.

‘Not all the time. There have been some successes in the past...just not lately it seems’. He was looking down at her, that little boy lost look on his face, but it had to be said.

‘Well, maybe you should stop trying to be 21 and aim for somebody a little more worldly wise?’

‘What do you mean, start dating someone my own age?’ Celia didn’t want to reply and carried on with the schedules.

‘Now, where was I? Right. Your 2 o’clock – reception for our Chinese friends-’

‘What Chinese friends?’ He was coming out of his musings it seemed.

‘Park Hotel function suite’. No response. ‘That takes us to 4 o’clock-’

‘Sixteen hundred hours you mean’. She hated that too...4 o’clock was 4 o’clock not sixteen hundred bloody hours! He had walked over to the window and she could see he was shutting down again. He started nibbling his nails.

‘You’re nibbling your nails’.

‘Dammit’

‘4 o’clock you are seeing your parents about their divorce’. That did it.

‘What did you say?’

‘Great. I managed to grab your attention at last. MB you really should try and listen to what I’m saying’.

‘Divorce?’

‘No. I just said it to shake you out of your stupor’.

‘Not funny Spotty’.

‘Well, it’s not funny having to listen to you mooning over some pouting blonde who’s probably old enough to be your daughter’. Silence. Max slunk back to his chair and ran well manicured fingers through his dark hair. Celia continued. 'Like I was saying. You have a 4 o’clock appointment with Bernice Westgate’.

‘Don’t tell me, she’s the pain in the arse woman who keeps complaining about the new apartments next to her bloody Spa Centre. God knows she should be grateful, who doesn’t like steaming in a sauna and extending their nails?’ Again Celia didn’t respond to that.

‘Nothing after that, your time is your own MB’.

‘Nothing?’

‘No. You cancelled Bill Turner. You had a big row with him last time and called him –quote-‘a fat jumped-up arse-wipe’ un-quote’. Max’s eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips in that cheeky boyish way he always did when he knew he’d over-stepped the mark with a client.

‘Will that be all MB?’ No reply. She got to her feet and walked to the door but stopped when he spoke.

‘What’s wrong with me Spotty?’ Celia turned to face him and smiled, shaking her head.

‘Nothing’s wrong with you, it’s just you think you’re Peter Pan all the time. Fact is MB you are a man in his forties, and yes, passably attractive, but you think you’re still twenty-one, that’s all’. Max grunted and started swinging backwards and forwards in his swivel chair like a spoilt petulant child.

‘Is that how you see me, Peter Pan?’

‘Sort of’.

‘Maybe I need a ‘Wendy’ to clip my wings to stop me flying all over the place’.

‘Wendy’s are hard to find these days, but, if you look hard enough, beyond all the Botox blonds and the false bling, you just might get lucky’. Silence. ‘Will that be all MB?’

‘Yeah, I guess that’ll be all...for now’. Celia exited holding her breath only to hear a ‘dammit’ as she clicked the door shut. One day he would come to his senses, it was just a matter of time.

                                             ********************

He knew by the time he reached the fifth hole he had lost the plot. Max’s golf chum Oliver Parker looked on bemused and very dumbfounded as shot after shot the ball disappeared into the ether.

‘You seem to be a bit off today – any reason why?’ Max huffed and returned his iron to the trolley.

‘I really don’t know why I bother Ollie; it’s never been like this. Every bloody ball has changed direction in mid-air...dammit’.

‘Call time?’

‘Why not. What’s the point in carrying on?’

In the club bar they sat with two frothy beers. Ollie was growing a moustache and some of the froth had become attached to the already thick thatch of whisker. He had known Max for many years and although they both chose separate career paths they met up every other weekend at Sunningdale to play an un-competitive game of golf. Usually ending with Max winning but this time neither had. At last Max drained his glass and started to get his ciggies out. Ollie noticed and gave a frown, pointing to the no-smoking sign.

‘You started smoking again?’ Max huffed again replacing the offending pack in his breast pocket.

‘Dammit’.

‘I must say you are controlling your language very well so far. I remember in the past you never held back on the F word or the-’

‘Okay Ollie, I get the message’. Ollie drained his glass and ordered another round. It just was so unusual for his friend to be so unsettled.

‘So?’

‘So what?’

‘Who is she?’

‘Who?’

‘The latest squeeze?'

‘Don’t ask’.

‘But I am. I hear you have been like a bear with a sore head lately. Well, it must be a woman, am I right?’ Max sipped his cold beer and pondered.

‘Do I remind you of Peter Pan?’

‘Who?’

‘Peter Pan...you know, the boy in the JM Barrie story...the kid with the wings who never gets old’. Ollie nodded, feeling confused already.

‘Right’

‘Well do I?’

 

Ollie was eyeing Max’s broad shoulders.

‘Well, I can’t see any wings...’ Max’s eyebrows knit together and a peeved look came over his face.

‘Don’t be a joker; I’m not in the mood’.

‘Sorry. Must be serious. She told you to grow up?’

‘Who?’

‘Your latest Hottie'.

‘Hottie?’

‘Well, isn’t that what they usually are?’

‘Hottie?’

‘Max, you’re beginning to sound like a broken record’. They took their drinks onto the terrace, nodding to familiar faces, some well-known. But today there was a weird feeling of heads together and whispering going on. Max glanced round.

‘They know don’t they?’

‘Know what?’

‘They know about Fern’.

‘Fern?’ Max gave his friend another peeved look and Ollie shrugged and smiled.

‘Look. It was an accident waiting to happen...she wasn’t interested in you, it was what’s in your bank account’. Max pushed his glass away and looked up at the already clouding sky.

‘I just thought she’d see beyond that...want me for me, y’know?’

‘Unfortunately you were born with the proverbial silver spoon in your mouth and, let’s face it, you are sitting on a huge mound of dough...most of which you earned fair and square may I add. You left a lot of us guys behind, but, I’m happy with Cyn and the kids are great, I earn good money...uncomplicated and maybe boring, but stable’.

‘Meaning that I’m not?’

‘Not what?’

‘Stable’ It went quiet for a while as the two men finished their drinks. Pausing at his car Ollie rested a hand on his mates shoulder.

‘Look. Maybe it’s a sign’.

‘Sign?’

‘Yeah, sign. Maybe you should be thinking of, dare I say the word, settling down? You know, it’s not really that bad once you get used to it. These bubble-heads are parasites Max. They don’t want you, they want a sugar daddy...love is right at the bottom of their list. Time maybe to kick’em into touch?’ He left Max standing forlornly by his car, a vintage racing green E-type, it was the first car he treated himself to after he ‘made it’. Driving back to his apartment he suddenly felt the urge to see Celia.

 He needed a shoulder, and hers was always available. Good old reliable Spotty. Celia lived in a small flat near Swiss Cottage. He had never been inside but it always looked so welcoming on the outside with loads of pot plants by the door and trellis up the walls with rambling roses and summer clematis. He pulled up at the front and after pausing to re-think his decision slid out the driving seat and strode up the path to her florally decorated front door. The bell sounded like a poor imitation of Big Ben and he prayed it wouldn't start chiming twelve. The expression on his face changed from mournful to surprise when the door was opened by a tall, rather debonair male.

‘Oh. Hi. Is Celia around?’

‘Who are you?’

‘I’m her boss, Maxwell Bryant, MB, she’s probably mentioned me?’

‘No’.

‘Oh, right. Well er...we’ve known each other a long time and I just wondered-’

‘She’s not well I’m afraid Mr er... Bryant-a bad case of Flu, went down with it this morning, sorry. Maybe if you give her a call tomorrow she might be well enough to speak to you?’

‘Yes, right...of course, please give her my best; tell her I hope she recovers soon’.

‘I will.’

'Is there anything she needs, you need?’

'Thank you, but we have all we need’. Max turned to go but he needed to know-

‘Can I ask who you are?’

‘David’

‘David...right’ No help whatsoever, but did it really matter? Max slid behind the wheel and fired the engine. Who was this David? A Good Samaritan from next door? Maybe Spotty did have a life outside the job, outside him. Max couldn’t understand why he had become irked by the man called David and resolved to head back to his apartment and dial up one of his Hotties as Ollie called them, he needed consoling. He had lost his swing and his appeal, but he wasn’t ready to join the ‘settling down’ brigade-not by a long mile.

 

Sienna Jenning sprawled herself across the large oval bed in Max’s apartment and looked up at the overhead mirror which reflected her voluptuous body. Her breasts stood to attention and the proud pink nipples topping them looked good enough to eat. Her tanned, satin smooth legs moved up and down beneath the crisp white sheets and she had a glass of champagne balanced on her perfect flat stomach. Max had been gone for what seemed like hours, saying he needed a shower after their hasty hot lovemaking but this just wasn’t like him.

She rose from the bed like Aphrodite and tiptoed over to the closed bathroom door and gave a tentative knock.

‘Max, you okay in there?’ The shower was still running. ‘Max baby, is everything alright?’ She pushed down the handle and entered into what seemed like a Turkish bath. Eventually she made out the figure of Max sitting cross-legged in the shower asleep. ‘Max! What are you doing? Wake up!’ She turned off the water, crouched down in front of him and kissed his forehead. ‘Max?’ The dark eyelashes twitched open.

‘Mmm?’

‘Max-you’ve been asleep a whole hour...it’s a wonder you aren’t wrinkled’. Max leant forward and hiccupped before planting a lingering kiss on Sienna’s luscious mouth. Soon she was sitting astride him and moaning wanton words into the steamy air and all Max could do was hiccup-rather loudly.

The space beside Max was cold and he suddenly felt very vulnerable, maybe because he had never woken up alone before plus his right leg was hanging out of the bed. His head felt like a football that had been kicked from one end of the pitch to the other. He turned onto his side and buried his head in the cool pillow, smelling Sienna’s potent scent. A frown exploded across his forehead.

‘Shit’

Eventually he made it to the kitchen where he poured a large black coffee and picked up the newspapers from the carpet on the way back to bed. It was Sunday and usually around this time a pair of long silky legs would be wrapped around his body, perfectly capped teeth nibbling his ear and overlong nails piercing his back. He tried to immerse himself in the FT supplement but lost interest after five minutes. Glancing at the phone he remembered Celia and decided to do HIS Good Samaritan bit.

‘Hi-it’s Max Bryant-I called on you yesterday...I was wondering how Sp- Celia is’.

‘Oh. Well she isn’t any better I’m afraid’. It was HIM. ‘It’s spread to her chest and the doctor has given strict instructions for her to keep to her bed until it’s been kicked into touch’.

‘Oh. Right...right. Well, could you tell her not to hurry back until she’s a hundred percent better and not to worry-I’ll sort out a temp’.

‘Already sorted’.

‘What?’

‘She got onto the agency and there should be one with you tomorrow’.

‘Oh. Right...right. Great. Tell her thank you from me’.

‘Of course. Bye now’. The line went dead before Max could reply. He gave an exasperated huff and chucked the papers onto the floor nearly knocking over the coffee. This bloody David was beginning to irk him and he was cross that he did.

Monday Morning started badly. The temp was a short round Scottish women called Isla McFadden. She had a pale face and dark reddish brown hair. Her lipstick was bright vermillion and her perfume permeated the atmosphere like a sub-machine gun, not subtle, not like Spotty’s, fragrant and soft. He missed her soft grey eyes and bobbed brown hair and those clicking kitten heels. Isla sat waiting with her tablet tapping her stylus on the lid as Max gazed out of the window. He hadn’t slept at all well and felt he didn’t want to be here at all. Isla opened up the tablet and started to read out the day’s appointments.

They all went in one ear and out the other but Max nodded and said 'yes' every time without even thinking what he was saying yes to.

‘Will that be all Mr Bryant?’ Mr Bryant?

‘Er yes...thank you’.

The rest of the week Max felt like a robot being wheeled from one post to another, he was on overdrive and everything just seemed automatic and meaningless until he met Ollie for lunch one day at ‘Bunga Bunga’ in Covent Garden. Max studied the menu but really didn’t feel inspired by anything he saw. Ollie, on the other hand, was famished and ordered for them both as max was taking far too long. When the food arrived Ollie just watched his friend push food around his plate with a faraway look on his face.

‘Are you going to eat that or are you just going to make patterns on your plate?'

No reply.

‘Oh for God’s sake Max, eat your bloody meal before it congeals on the plate’. Max took a half-hearted mouthful and chewed slowly, then swallowed painfully and put down his fork. Ollie was beginning to lose patience. ‘What’s wrong Max?’ He topped up their glasses and waited. And waited. ‘Max!’ The deep blue eyes looked up from the table and Ollie knew his ears were in for another sob-story.

‘She is the woman from hell...’

‘Who?’

‘The temp...’

‘Temp?’

‘Spotty’s ill with fucking flu’.

‘Is that all?’

‘All?’

‘Well, it's not the end of the world. People do get ill sometimes, not everyone is infallible-even your PA’. Max twisted the stem of his wine glass thoughtfully.

‘She is a total waste of space’.

‘How come?’

‘Well the week started well but as it progressed everything went tits up. Appointments I’d asked to be cancelled weren’t cancelled and times I needed moved weren’t moved so I found myself going to things at the wrong time and turning up at places I hadn’t planned to go to...meeting people I couldn’t stand...it was a total mess...all of it’.

 

‘How long is your PA off for?’

‘Another week...Ollie I’m going to end up killing her...Isla McFadden, the haggis from Humbie’.

‘Humbie, where’s that?’

‘East Lothian’.

He watched Max over his glass and smiled. Max picked up on it.

‘What’s with the smile?’

‘You’.

‘Me?’

‘Yes you. You’re missing Spotty’.

‘Of course I’m missing her, she keeps the wheels oiled, dots the i’s and crosses the t’s’.

‘I don’t think that’s all she does Max’.

‘What?’

‘Old ‘tight knickers’ is adept at -’

‘Tight knickers?’ Ollie realised he had overstepped the mark.

‘Sorry...no offence’.

‘Tight knickers?’ Max had raised his voice and people were starting to look over at their table. Two waiters had started to laugh and hurried out into the kitchens.‘What’s with this tight knickers Ollie, spill’.

‘I never told you did I.’

‘Never told me what?’

‘We were at the same school together’.

‘You and Spotty? ‘Why did you never tell me?’

Ollie finished his wine and dabbed his mouth waving for the bill. 

‘Why would I?’

‘Because I’m her boss dammit’.

‘And?’

Max huffed and threw down his napkin.

‘Why the name?’

‘Tight knickers?’

‘Yes, tight knickers’. There was a pause as the bill was checked and signed for.

‘Well. She was very...’

‘Very what?’

‘Well...she didn’t succumb like the other girls’.

‘Succumb?’ Ollie glanced round as if there was a hidden camera somewhere.

‘She wasn’t like all the rest...y’know, easy...’

‘You mean she was a virgin.’

‘Yes’.

‘How old were you then?’

‘Well, I think we must have been seventeen, eighteen, just before we all went out into the big bad wide world’.

‘Just how many girls did you conquer Ollie?’

‘Well most of the sixth form...except tight knickers’. Max reddened.

‘Celia, she has a name Ollie.’ Ollie leaned back in his chair eyeing his friend.

‘Oh. Getting protective now...Celia... Do I sense some feeling here?’

‘Feeling?’ Ollie got to his feet and gave a chuckle.

‘You carrying a torch for your PA?’

‘What?’ Max watched Ollie walk toward the door and quickly got to his feet, catching him up outside, the glaring sun blinded him for a moment. ‘What did you mean in there?’

‘What?’

‘You said I was carrying a torch for tight knickers- er- Spotty’.

‘Where did Celia go?’ Ollie hailed a taxi. ‘Want to share?’ Max thrust his hands in his pockets and backed away.

‘No thank you. I’ll walk’.

‘Long way back Max’

‘I could do with the exercise and the fresh air if it’s all the same to you’. Ollie gave a mock salute and slid grinning into the taxi. Max's breathing hadn’t calmed and he turned and strode back in the direction of God knows where, he didn’t really care now if he missed an all-important appointment. He was simmering, and he didn’t know why.

Max could hear the sound of raised voices before he got anywhere near his office and there was a small crowd of earwigging employees hovering near Mia’s desk. They quickly dispersed as he strode past them into his office to find Isla McFadden red-faced and flustered and an even more red-faced Bill Turner-the ‘arse-wipe’. Isla’s eyes widened as they focussed on her boss.

‘Mr. Bryant-I trust your ‘luncheon meeting’ went well, I was just going to explain to Mr. Turner you may be held up’.

Max suddenly felt he was warming to this Scottish ‘haggis’ and silently congratulated her on her quick thinking. He beamed an over the top smile at her and nodded towards the door.

‘Thank you Isla...it over-ran slightly...lots to discuss...all sorted thank you’.

‘Right you are Mr. Bryant’ Isla exited quickly. Bill Turner was eyeing Max as if he really didn’t get what was going on.

‘Who was that?’

‘That?’

‘That red lipped Scots siren from hell?’

‘Isla-my temp’. Max settled behind his desk but was aghast at what he heard next.

‘Well, tell me when you get rid of her, she is one hell of a spunky Scot’. Max glanced up from his desk and felt his eyes traveling back and forth from the door to Turner then back again. But before he could even answer Turner had sat himself down and began to sell his ideas to a bewildered Max, who still hadn’t really taken in what had happened in the last few minutes. One hour later a very satisfied Bill Turner left the building leaving Max still dazed and confused. Isla gave a timid knock.

‘Come in Isla’ A much becalmed Isla entered and hovered at Max’s desk, his voice broke the awkward silence. ‘Thank you’.

‘Thank me? For what?’

‘Saving my hide. That was very quick thinking on your part...’ Isla’s shoulders relaxed and suddenly her face became more serene if not relieved.

‘Well, he was very rude Mr. Bryant, the things he was calling you...’ Max’s eyebrows instantly rose.

‘Oh? And what did he call me exactly’. Isla fidgeted with her tablet and reddened.

‘Well, I don’t think it’s my place to say Mr. Bryant. I doubt if any of them are in the dictionary’.

‘They probably are Isla; you just haven’t had to look them up’.

‘You have two more appointments and then I’ll need to brief you on tomorrow’.

Max smiled and gave Isla one of his best winks.

‘I’m in your hands Isla’.

Isla McFadden was still blushing as she came out of Max’s office. Mia chuckled and carried on tapping on her keyboard, her boss truly was a charmer.                                                                 *****************

Celia felt very happy. She was soaking in her stand-alone bath listening to Jonas Kaufmann (her favourite Tenor) surrounded in perfumed bubbles, a cold glass of chardonnay perched on her chest. This last week had been bliss and she hadn’t given work one thought. She started to realise there was more to life than running herself ragged over a very spoilt over-indulged boss and always putting herself last on the list of thank-yous. Her moment was short lived as the annoying answer machine kicked in.

‘Hi-it’s Max. Just wondered how you were. Isla’s turning into a good little temp but I miss you and your diary. Oh, by the way, ‘arse-wipe’ called in-I think he has the hots for her the horny old toad. Looks like he might get his Wendy, wonder when I’ll get mine, he’s certainly no Peter Pan! Anyway, let me know how you are and when you hope to be back...missing you Spotty’.

Celia disappeared beneath the bubbles along with her chardonnay.

 

Another week and no Celia. Max was vexed, she had never gotten back to him and Isla was becoming more and more hooked by Bill Turner, he was reeling her in like a fish that had lost the will to fight. Every time he came to the office she would stutter and fidget, it was becoming quite amusing. Max likened himself to a cupid but then he would grimace at the idea and immerse himself in work, it was the only way to take his mind off his missing PA. It all came to a head one night when Max got a reply from Celia.

‘Sorry I never got straight back to you MB’.

‘That’s okay. How you feeling?’

‘Much better thanks, how’s Wendy?’

‘Wendy?’

‘Isla?’

‘Oh, ha! Yes-well that’s the thing. She’s gone’.

‘Gone?’

‘Yep. This morning. Bill Turner managed to snare her and it looks like I’m without a temp’.

‘Oh...well I suppose I’m ready to come back...shame really’.

‘Shame?’

‘Well. It’s been blissful these last few days, doing absolutely bugger all and David doing it all for me’.

‘David? He’s still there?’

‘Yep, and he has been such a great help’.

‘I bet he has’ Max mumbled.

‘What?’

‘He sounds a real treasure.’

‘Oh, he is, believe me. I don’t know what I would have done without him’.

‘I see...’

‘Max, you there?’

Max was still there and his brain started to ratchet up a notch.

‘My Mate Ollie is having a birthday bash tomorrow night, fancy tripping the light fantastic?’ The line went quiet. ‘Spotty?’

‘Where is it?’

Bunga Bunga’ The line again went dead ‘Private party...bring David’.

‘Okay. What time?’

‘7.30?’

‘Great, I’ll tell him. Thanks’.

‘Well, it’s the least I can do, sounds like he needs a break too’.

‘See you tomorrow then’. Click.

Max cradled the phone for a moment and then smiled, one of his conspiring smiles that you could never feel comfortable with. Just who was this amazing angel called David, and why hadn’t Celia mentioned him before?

 

Sienna sat pouting in the bathroom mirror at Max’s apartment.

‘Do we HAVE to go? Really?’

Max was growing tired of her moods and sulks and decided he would soon end his fling with her if things didn’t improve.

‘We are going. Ollie is an old friend and he’s done me lots of favours in the past’.

‘Such as?’

‘Introducing me to you’. His arms circled her trim waist and his mouth nuzzled her neck. She stopped pouting and turned to face him. He smelt of expensive cologne, his hair shone and his eyes were even more blue.

‘Well, maybe I will come...’

Their lips met in a fevered kiss that quickly turned into something deeper but Max put on the breaks, he couldn’t face undressing now, although looking at Sienna in her nearly transparent flesh coloured dress dotted with little sparkles it felt as if one of them at least was. By the time they arrived, the party was just starting to warm up and the Burlesque dancers were mingling in the crowd, their faces brightly painted, bright carmine lips and extended lashes and nails. Ollie and his wife Vicky were surrounded by well-wishers and a heap of bottle shape presents was piled on a table. Ollie waved Max and Sienna over and soon music started to vibrate against the voices. Max glanced around furtively.

‘Seen Celia?’

‘Yes, she’s round the other side...having a dance with a guy called David?’ Sienna had disappeared into the throng having recognised an old flame so Max pushed on through towards the dance area which was already crowded with gyrating figures. The lighting didn’t help but once his eyes adjusted to it he was able to start scanning the crowd. He saw her. She was laughing and waving her arms in time to the music which was a number by Fleetwood Mac called ‘Don’t Stop’. He watched the man with her, now and then shouting something and laughing, he was starting to flag, Max rested up against the bar and picked up a bottle of Becks, swigging from it casually. The music changed and that was it, David conceded defeat. He took Celia’s hand, leading her from the dancefloor, she looked bemused.

‘You party pooper!’ Then she caught sight of Max her look changed. She pulled away and walked towards him, all breathless, her hair disheveled but not in an untidy way, Max liked it. Her face was flushed and the dress was pure Celia, close fitting but demure. He raised the bottle and eyed David following close behind her.

‘You got here okay’.

‘It’s a great place. They keep playing all my favourites...’ she glanced around, ‘you come alone?’

Max nodded back toward the other side of the bar.

‘Nah, Sienna has seen an old flame, I probably won’t see her the rest of the evening, she hates these things’.

‘Parties? That’s a shame...so young too...’

Max gave a smirk.

‘Is that a dig?’ But Celia didn’t reply as David had joined them. Max offered his hand. ‘David, pleased to meet you again’.

For a moment it was as if David was sizing Max up but a curtain lifted and he smiled and took Max’s hand.

‘C’ has told me so much about you’. For a second Max sensed a weird feeling of betrayal, Celia jabbed David playfully in the ribs with her elbow.

‘Rubbish, don’t take any notice of him MB, he loves winding people up’. Max smiled, his eyes still narrowing, he wondered about the connection these two had with each other, he had called her ‘C’.

‘So, David. How long have you known Celia?’

‘Oh...how long have you got?’

‘You go back a long way then...I thought you were the neighbour from next door’.

‘Really?’ Celia gave a nervous giggle and after draining her third glass of champagne took hold of David’s hand and dragged him back onto the dance floor. Max finished his Becks and grabbed another off the bar, he studied the two laughing figures gyrating rather well to ‘Superstition’ and suddenly began to feel extremely jealous and left out. Sienna was still wrapped around her old flame and he didn’t like the way he felt at all.

‘Look good together don’t they?’ It was Ollie. He had divested himself of his jacket and his shirt was open halfway, he looked very happy. ‘Thanks for the present by the way’. But Max carried on staring ahead at the dancing crowd. ‘Penny for them?’ He waved a plate of prawn canapes under Max’s nose, it twitched and the blue eyes gazed at the mouth-watering morsels.

‘Huh, prawns...that’s just what I feel like...’

‘What?’

‘A big fat lonely pink prawn’.

‘Oh. Well you certainly don’t smell like one!’

‘Was that meant to be funny?’ Ollie followed Max’s gaze. Celia and David were spinning and laughing but he noticed they never touched intimately. ‘I can’t make it out...’

‘What?’

‘Celia and that David fella...Strange she never mentioned him before...she gets sick and he appears on the scene like Mary Poppins’.

‘Well, maybe they’re just good friends, just like us’. Max looked at his friend quizzically.

‘Have we ever danced together?’

‘You never asked, do you want to?’

‘Shut up Ollie’.

 

Ollie studied Max over the top of the plate.

‘You jealous?’

‘What?’

‘I get the feeling the little green god is irking you’.

‘Me? Jealous? Of who?’

‘Celia and Mary Poppins’. Max took a long swig of his beer then slammed the bottle onto the bar.

‘Time to call time. Where is Sienna?’ But Sienna had disappeared into the ether. Max felt totally side-lined. Ollie sensed his friends’ frustration.

‘I saw a cute little blond arrive earlier, she looked just as lost as you’.

‘What do you mean, lost?’

‘C’mon Max, stop hungering after the intangible’. But Max ignored Ollie’s words of temptation and decided to head off towards the roof garden; the prawns had awoken hunger pangs. Outside it felt cool and a gentle breeze caught the balloons as they bobbed and danced to a secret rhythm. Max wandered over to a table groaning with sumptuous delights and decided he would stay there the rest of the night and stuff his face until he was sick.

 

Max decided he would never eat another prawn again. It was 4.30am and he had thrown up for the sixth and hopefully the last time. He had arrived home minus Sienna and decided to open a bottle of Remy which he hadn’t planned to do as he had lost count of the beers and canapes he had consumed at the party. He sat on the edge of the loo trying not to look into the bidet in which floated the contents of his stomach. He felt as though his body had turned inside out and his head was thudding like a bass guitar. Eventually he got to his feet and headed into the shower where he remained until Sienna appeared-solo-with his bath robe and a shriek of- ‘What is that in the bloody bidet?’

 

It was one of those mornings when the early morning mist clung to the buildings turning them into ghostly blocks of grey. The sun was fighting to break through the  cloud and the air felt heavy. Max sat behind  his desk resting his head in his hands, he felt like shit. Sienna had decided to call it a day on their relationship, the bidet was the final straw, and she had grown tired of rescuing him from the shower. A gentle tap on the door brought him round.

‘Come’ he winced as he said it. Celia walked in, diary at the ready and a serene smile decorated her lovely face. She made herself comfortable and coughed. ‘Well, I won’t ask what happened to you the other night’.

‘No, don’t’. She opened up the diary and started to tick things off but Max was more than ticked off. ‘Who is he?’

‘Who’s who?’

‘Mary Poppins’.

‘Mary who?’

‘David’.

‘David?’

‘Spotty, stop sounding like a repeat prescription. Is he a permanent fixture?’

‘Fixture? Like the races you mean?’ Max got up and walked around his desk, he rested up against it and looked quizzically down at his PA.

‘Damn it Spotty, who is he?’ Celia closed her diary and crossed her legs, her brows coming together in a frown. Max realised he had overstepped the mark; it was none of his business after all.

‘He’s David’.

‘I know that’.

‘Well, what else do you want to know?’

‘Is he more than just a friend?’

‘Why do you ask?’

‘I know. I have no right to ask, it’s none of my business-’

‘You’re right; it is none of your business’. She was right of course, it wasn’t. He walked back round to his chair and sat slowly down.

‘That was out of line, I apologise. I won’t mention it again. Now, where were we?’

 

Back in her office Celia smiled to herself then phoned David. ‘Hi sweetie, it’s sis. Thanks for looking after me, you will get a mention in despatches, oh, and I think your ears might be burning, bye for now, love you’.

 

 

‘Maybe you should take up another hobby besides golf?’

Ollie was eyeing Max over his beer in the club room. Max’ form had been the pits all afternoon and there had been no sign of improvement. ‘What about fencing?’

‘Why would I want to take up fencing?’

‘I guess I can see you thrusting and parrying your rivals’.

‘Rivals? Where did that come from?’

‘How old are you Max? Forty-one, two?’

‘What’s that got to do with it?’

‘The years are ticking by Max, you need to...to...’

‘Don’t say it...if you want to live out the rest of this day, don’t say it!’

‘Look. I don’t like to see you like this’.

‘Like what?’

‘Sad...No correction, filled with self-pity’.

‘Self-pity? Where did that come from?’

‘Oh come on Max, you’ve been total crap lately. You’ve lost your swing, lost your girlfriend, lost your wit, lost your-’

‘Well thank you Ollie, who needs enemies when I have you?’ They walked to the carpark in silence and then Ollie put a hand on Max’ shoulder.

‘You ever been in-love Max?’

‘What?’

‘In-love. All the women that have floated in and out of your bedroom over the years, have you ever felt anything for any one of them?’ For once Max was speechless, he had no answer. Ollie patted him like an old faithful dog. ‘Time’s ticking Max, time’s ticking’. They parted and for a while, Max sat quietly at the wheel of his car ruminating. He started to leaf back in his mind through the years. Years of living hard, working hard and flirting hard. The word love had never come into the equation. He was dying for a cigarette but pushed the tempting thought away. Deep down he knew he had never been in-love with anyone, if anything he had been in-love with himself. He glanced in the overhead mirror and two blueberry eyes stared back, they suddenly looked sad and very tired.

Bernice Westgate sat swinging an impatient crossed leg back and forth as she flicked through her glossy mag-uninterestingly. Max had kept her waiting for half an hour and she was not pleased. Her blond bleached hair was very short and the colour stood out against her over-tanned skin which seemed to be stretched across the whole of her body, there was not a single wrinkle in sight. For a woman approaching her late fifties, she cut quite a formidable figure. Slim tanned legs and curves in all the right places-still. Her glossy pink nails shimmered beneath the lights; occasionally she would tap them on the arm of the chair and glance annoyingly up at the clock which ticked noisily. Her mode of dress was an eye opener, a denim skirt six inches above the knee and a low cut ‘t’ which left nothing to the imagination, with the inscription 'Soukis Spa’ emblazoned across her very well formed breasts. At last Max’s voice cut through the silence.

‘Mia, send Ms. Westgate in please would you?’ There was a loud huff from the chair and Bernice got to her feet, they looked very small compared to the rest of her and her Jimmy Choo heels looked lethal.

‘At last!’

Mia smiled sweetly, relieved that she wouldn’t have to inhale Ms. Westgate’s overpowering perfume another minute, Max could enjoy the aroma now. He hadn’t had a good day, in fact, he hadn’t had a good week, in fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he did have a good week. He so needed to get out into the fresh air, escape. There was a strong smell of Opium perfume wafting around, he looked up and got slowly to his feet coming eye to eye with Bernice, she smiled thinly and her tattooed eyelids were at half-mast.

‘Finally. I thought you were trying to ignore me-again Mr Bryant’.

Max thought how difficult that would be under the circumstances.

‘Please take a seat Ms. Westgate’.

‘I wasn’t planning on staying long actually; I just wanted to check on progress being made next door to me’.

‘Right’

‘That monstrosity  you call luxury apartments’.

‘Right’

‘The noise is driving me and my staff and my clients round the bend’.

Max pressed a button on his desk. The Opium was starting to get to him,

‘Mia, could you bring me the Hamilton file please?’ The file was brought in duly and Max took out various sheets bearing the different stages of planning. Bernice bent across the table to look and Max tried to avert his eyes from her burgeoning cleavage. He stroked his chin and trying not to inhale too much and stare too much started to point out the various stages of the building work. At last Bernice sat back down, Max found himself  gazing at the logo ‘Soukis Spa’

Bernice seemed satisfied, her eyes had widened and she was smiling.

‘Well, it looks better than last time, but I just want it to get finished. My staff and clients cannot concentrate when these bloody pile drivers are pumping away outside’. Strangely enough, the word ‘pumping’ brought sexual connotations to Max’s mind and he tried to draw his gaze from her breasts. But Bernice had twigged and got up lazily from her chair to come round and bend over Max whose eyes had still not budged. He swallowed noisily as Bernice moved behind him, her long pink nails kneading his shoulders. ‘Oh dear, you do have a lot of tension here Mr. Bryant...very knotty’, she carried on moving her well-trained fingers along to his neck then back to his shoulders, ‘my...we are very tense aren’t we Mr. Bryant...’ She bent her head so her lips were brushing his ear. That’s when Celia entered.

 

 

‘So, what happened?’ Ollie was eyeing his friend over a beer in the ‘Dead Duck’ just around the corner from his job. Max could still smell Opium on himself.

‘She put her tongue in my ear just as Spotty came in with some documents for me to sign’.

‘Ha! Caught in the act!’

‘There was no ‘act’ as you so tactfully put it. The woman’s a pink-lipped vampire’.

‘I don’t see any blood’. Max cast Ollie an irate glare and drained his glass.

‘That woman should have a warning sign on the front of her tee shirt’.

‘Fit was she?’

‘You could park a Harley in her cleavage’. Ollie gave a whistle and got two more beers. He was enjoying this, seeing Max out of his depth, a rare occurrence.

‘So, what did Celia do?’

‘Well, that’s what’s so strange. She just turned around and walked back out’. ‘She didn’t say anything?’

‘Nope’

‘So what happened then?’

‘We both stripped off and did it on the floor. What do you think happened Ollie?’

‘Did you?’ Max began to lose the will to live.

‘Of course we didn’t, what do you take me for?’

‘Peter Pan?’

Celia hadn’t returned and when Max asked to see her Mia played dumb, confessing she had no idea. For the rest of that day, Max stewed and stewed until he decided to look for her himself. He walked across to a small café he knew she frequented only to see his faithful PA kissing a familiar blond haired man on the cheek and sitting down with him. Max turned up his jacket collar and sneaked in, sitting in the booth behind them. He leaned back against the high backed seat and listened intently.

‘I do care David...it’s just so difficult’.

‘I care about you ‘C’...you know I’m always there for you, night and day, rain or shine’.

‘I know...you have always been such a brick...’

Brick? Max slid to the edge of the booth and pressed his ear hard up against the back.

‘Well...what do you want to do?’

‘Oh, I don’t know...I suppose I should tell him...it’s only fair’.

Tell him?

‘You know it’s the right thing to do ‘C’, he’ll find out sooner or later’.

Find out?

‘Yes, I know. Better to get it all out into the open’.

Get it all out?

‘That’s it then. I’ll tell him tomorrow, first thing’.

‘Atta girl – you know it makes sense, and then we can get on with our lives’.

‘Yes, it makes sense’.

‘Call me after?’

‘Of course, how could I not?’ There was a pause and then Max saw them walk out, pausing to embrace with a kiss on the cheek.

 

 

‘So...sounds like she’s going to hand in her notice matey’. Ollie was not helping matters. But Max’s temper was up.

‘Well, she better have a bloody good reason’.

‘Well it’s clear this David is special...they are obviously involved’.

‘You think so?’

‘Well don’t you?’

‘How come she’s kept this quiet for so long?’

‘Well, maybe it hasn’t been that long. Maybe they met recently and it was love at first sight?’

‘That’s bollocks Ollie and you know it’.

‘No, it’s not bollocks. A lot of people fall in-love at first sight. I did’.

‘You?’

‘Why sound so shocked? It happens Max. Love can take time to grow or it can come along and zap you between the eyes’. Max was still staring at Ollie, unbelieving. ‘Face it Max, Celia has been snapped up at last, old tight-knickers has surrendered’. Now Max was really peaked.

‘Shut-up Ollie’. But Ollie was right, and Max hated admitting he was. They hailed a cab and both sat in silence until it pulled up outside Maxi’s apartment. Ollie smiled at his miserable looking friend and watched him slide slowly out into the chilled evening. He felt sorry for him but realised there was nothing he could do to change him. He had always been this way. But deep down inside he knew there was an untapped part of Max. Somewhere beneath that smart suit and smart mouth there was another Max, a Max that was waiting in the wings for the final curtain call.

 

 

Max stared at the phone for what seemed like ages before he started tapping in the number only to replace it and turn on the TV. ‘Love Island’ was on. He switched it off instantly. Morons! He took a long hot shower then wrapping a   bath towel around his waist sauntered into the bedroom glancing at the full-length mirror as he passed. He let the towel fall to the floor and gazed at his still  virile body. Good legs, firm butt, flat stomach and well-honed muscles. He began to think back to the days when he would be up and out, jogging a circuit or two round the local park, stopping to talk to early risers with their dogs and other joggers. Times long gone now, he suddenly wished they were back. Crossing over to the bed he collapsed on his back and lay looking up at the mirrored ceiling, eyeing that most secret part of him, the part that was always so alive and hard. A lump came to his throat and he turned over onto his front and fell asleep.

 

Max had a rough night. He kept waking from dreams and they all concerned Celia. One, in particular, had her on a pedestal too high for him to reach and she was admonishing him with harsh words, like cad, playboy, cold-hearted clown and Peter Pan. He had wings but they wouldn’t work so he couldn’t get to her at all, he kept falling back to the ground on top of a pile of blond bimbo’s who were clawing at him and holding him back. He woke in a sweat and threw off the bedclothes, his heart beating like a drum, pounding in his ears. He charged into the bathroom to wet his face and for an awful second he thought he saw Bernice Westgate’s reflection the mirror. What on earth was happening to him? Was he going mad, totally losing his marbles?

He arrived at the office earlier than usual wearing his power suit, his lucky suit. Mia swallowed when she saw him and started to speak but he cut her off-

‘Hold all my calls Mia and tell Celia I want to see her as soon as she gets in’. Mia nodded dumbly as he disappeared into his office; a faint whiff of Paco Rabanne hit her nostrils. Celia had decided against wearing her usual snappy skirt and blouse. She chose a pair of pale blue trousers and fitted short sleeve top but her kitten heels remained on. Mia heard the click-click of them down the corridor, getting nearer and nearer, she smiled meekly as Celia entered.

‘I was just about to leave you a message, but you’re here now...’

‘What message?’

‘Only that he wanted to see you as soon as you got in...’

‘Oh...right. Well, I’m here now’. The two women looked at each other as if they had only just met for the first time.

‘Good luck’.

‘Why do you say that?’

‘He’s wearing ‘the suit’.

‘Oh...right. Thank you Mia’. Celia took a deep breath and knocked sharply three times.

 

‘Come’, was the brusque reply. He was standing at the window; arms folded looking extremely pensive but didn’t turn round. ‘Sit down Celia’. But she was already sitting, diary already opened. ‘Do you like it here Celia?’ What a strange thing to ask she thought.

‘I’m sorry, what exactly do you mean?’

‘I mean, are you still happy working here, for me?’

Celia still couldn’t quite understand what he was getting at.

‘Of course, why on earth would I not be?’

Max turned around and suddenly became lost for words, he was seeing a vision in blue and not a tailored skirt and blouse. He returned and sat down behind his desk, his eyes had seemed to glaze over and then he mentally shook himself out of his stupor and straightening his tie gave a nervous cough. ‘Where was I?’

‘You were asking if I was still happy here’.

‘Right’.

‘And I said I was’.

‘You can be honest with me. If you really feel you need a change...feel free to tell me, don’t hold back’.

‘Right’.

‘So you’re not happy here’.

Celia couldn’t make head or tail of what Max was playing at and all of a sudden she snapped.

‘MB, will you stop being a total arse and explain to me why on earth you are asking me these stupid pointless questions?’

Oh dear, he was getting to his feet and coming round, she could see nothing else but the suit.

‘For a few weeks now I’ve had the feeling you...’

‘What?’

‘Forget it’. He walked back to the window, but Celia was getting riled.

‘MB, what is this all about?’

‘Nothing, forget it’.

Now Celia had gotten to her feet and clutching the diary to her bosom huffed out a long tired sigh.

 

‘You are the most infuriating, exasperating, stubborn, bone-headed man I have ever known and worked for. I really despair of you at times MB I really do. You call me in here and ask me stupid questions which I am sure you already know the answer to and then decide to pull the plug, just when it suits you. For fifteen years I have wet nursed you, stood by you, covered for you even lied for you. Short of wiping your nose and arse I’ve done everything that has been required of me. I have gone above and beyond the call of duty and you still never get it do you?’

‘What don’t I get?’

‘That I bloody love you, you pig-headed Canadian moose!’

The door slammed as Max turned around. A hard lump had come into his throat and he mouthed a few silent words one of which was ‘what?’

By the time he reached her office she had gone. He returned his and told Mia to cancel all appointments for that day, he noticed she had a strange look on her face.

‘Are you alright Mr. Bryant?’

‘No, I’m not. I think I’m coming down with something’.

‘Do you want me to fetch the doctor?’

‘No...No. I’m heading home’.

Max walked the streets in a half daze. Celia’s words echoed in his head and they wouldn’t let up. She had told him she loved him. Had she always loved him? So who was this David she was seeing? He sat down on a park bench and called Ollie.

‘She said what?’

‘She said she loved me’.

‘We are talking about tight-knickers?’

‘Ollie, drop the tight-knickers thing, it’s fucking disrespectful’.

‘Sorry. So who’s David?’

‘I don’t know...Ollie; she called me a pig headed Canadian moose’.

 

‘And yet she said she loves you. Max? You still there?’

But Max had switched off his mobile and hailed a taxi to Swiss Cottage. He sat muttering one word over and over until the cab driver laughed over his shoulder. ‘Who’s this bloody Wendy?’

Celia sat robotically shucking peas on her back doorstep; she always felt it was therapeutic when she found herself in difficult situations, and heaven knows there had been enough of them in her working life. Like the time she had her first secretarial job where the boss was all hands and dirty laughs, the playful slap on her backside was the final straw. Then there was the part-time taxi firm, taking bookings and fending off bored wife-nagged drivers who only wanted to confide how fed up they were with their lives/wives and how much they needed somebody who understood them, somebody like Celia. Max saved her from all that. He had walked to the rank or rather staggered from an all-night party and decided his voice needed to be heard, very loudly and out of tune. What was it now? ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’ by Leo Sayer, only the high notes were not exactly high, more screechy. She remembered making him coffee, strong and black and then pushing him into the cloakroom to hear him throw up. His face was a picture when he finally emerged and he wrapped his arms around her waist and told her in a half garbled way she was his 'angel of angels’, shoving his business card into her hand and kissing it as he did so. He fell into the passenger seat singing ‘Only You’ by the Platters and all she could do was laugh and stare down at the card.

Working for Max Bryant had been a journey. Celia learned very early that multi-tasking was something you were expected to do. Not ordinary mundane multi-tasking, oh no, but tasks which involved covering, lying, offering a shoulder to cry on, pretending to be someone else, clearing up messes, righting wrongs, the list had been endless. Ever since she could remember, Max had a weakness for the fairer sex but the trouble was they were all too young and all totally a waste of space. All they wanted was a good time and his money to spend it on, it had turned Max into a very self-centered, self-indulgent, unemotional, Neanderthal where women were just objects to use for sexual gratification and decoration, love didn’t come into it, love was right at the bottom of the bimbo heap. But somewhere along the line she had started having feelings for him which she just couldn’t understand. His name for her, ‘Spotty’, stung at first and then weirdly she began to warm to it, just as she was warming to him. Of course, he was totally oblivious and just carried on in his own little world knowing that when everything went tits up good old ‘Spotty’ would be there to pick up the pieces and him too. Her musings were interrupted by David sitting down beside her.

‘He’s here’.

‘Who?’

‘Who do you think?’

‘Oh...’

‘Shall I let him in?’

‘Where is he?’

‘Sitting on the wall out front’.

‘Oh...’

‘Do I let him in?’ Celia carried on shucking peas and deciding he wasn’t going to get any more response David got slowly to his feet and went to answer the door. Max looked up and his eyes narrowed.

‘Oh, it’s you’.

‘Yes, it’s me’.

‘Is she in?’

‘Well I’m not sure...’ David stood to one side and motioned for Max to enter with a flourish of his arm. Max gave an exasperated sigh.

‘Who exactly in hell's name are you?’

‘Me?’

‘Stop jiving me around David’.

‘There, you know who I am’.

‘You know damn well what I mean. Who are you in relation to Celia?’

‘He’s my brother’. Celia had appeared and was still clutching a peapod. Her face had caught the sun, her hair was disheveled and there was soil on her trousers. Max swallowed, fervently trying to find the right words. David nodded quietly and winked.

‘I’ll leave you to it then’. He slipped out the door and left Celia and Max staring at each other. At last Max started to move towards her.

‘You’ve got soil on your trousers’.

‘Have I?’

He glanced at her hands.

‘You’ve got some on your hands’.

‘I’ve been shucking peas’. They were face to face now and Celia could smell his cologne, the one he always asked her to buy for him when she went on holiday because he could never be arsed to. He gave a wistful smile.

‘I used to help my mom pod peas when I was small...’

Celia turned and walked slowly to the back door. Sitting down on the step she resumed her shucking, Max threw off his jacket and eased down beside her. He dipped his hand into the bowl of fresh peas and inhaled the green scent.

‘There’s a lot here for just one, do you freeze them?’

 

Without a word, Celia lifted the bowl and emptied the contents over his head. A couple of small wriggly maggots squirmed on his shoulder, his face was a picture.

‘I deserved that’.

‘Yes, you bloody did’.

Celia brushed the offending objects from his shoulder and he grabbed her hand, kissing the upturned palm reverently, and then looked up, his blue eyes burning into hers.

‘Tell me, how long?’

‘How long?’

‘How long have you been in love with me?’

‘How long is a piece of string ?’

He brushed a strand of hair from her forehead, it felt hot.

‘Oh my dear sweet Spotty...’

‘Don’t’.

‘Don’t what?’

‘Don’t call me that...I’ve heard it so many times and I hated it at first...then I got used to it, like everything else’.

Max gave a long drawn out sigh.

‘I’ve been a total arse-wipe haven’t I?’

‘Not all the time...but yes, you have’.

‘You were right’.

‘About what?’

‘Those women...the empty headed-’.

‘Bimbo’s?’

He looked thoughtful for a moment and scratched his head. It was getting warm; he removed his tie and undid the collar of his shirt.

‘I should have listened to you years ago...’

‘Well, better late than never...’

‘You said I needed to find a ‘Wendy’.

‘Did I?’

‘You said I was like Peter Pan’.

Celia smiled and relaxed her shoulders, letting her guard down. She could feel his warm breath on her neck, and then his face was close to hers, his lips coming dangerously near to hers.

‘Celia...is this love, are you my Wendy?’

His kiss was gentle then urgent and suddenly Celia pulled him against her as though she might drown if she let go, running her fingers through his dark, wavy hair, she felt herself sliding off the step onto the cool grass and there beneath the glorious afternoon sun with an audience of pink ramblers, wallflowers and peas, Max and Celia dissolved into each other like soapsuds in a very hot shower.

THE END

© HILLY KENDRICK. 2019 All rights reserved