Definitely NOT Monica

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Chapter Twenty-Four

Ellen Stuart

Good morning ladies. How are we all?

Just checking whether we’re still meeting tonight? Jen - how are you feeling about having us over? If it is too stressful, everyone can come to my place instead? xx

Jenny took a sip of tea, and swallowed loudly. And THAT, my promiscuous friend, is the million dollar question. How DO I feel about it? I’m supposed to be having three friends over for a drink tonight. THREE other people, here, in my apartment. Touching my stuff. With their hands. Not to mention what we’re supposed to be talking about. Shit!

Jenny put her mug down on a coaster, and glanced around her. It was a clear morning outside and the sun was streaming through her office window. She would have enjoyed the warmth, and the prospect of winter soon becoming a distant memory, if she hadn’t been so wound up about the evening ahead. Before she had a chance to reply to Ellen, her mobile rang. Jenny checked caller ID, expecting to see Ellen’s number. It was Amber.

Jenny smiled to herself. She hadn’t spoken to her best friend in a while.

‘Ams, hi!’

‘Hello stranger. How are you?’

‘Good. Well, okay. Oh, a bit nervous actually. Trying to make a decision about something. But… um, never mind me. It’s nothing. How are YOU and the dishy Jack? Still crazy mad in love?’

‘Oh, Jen, he’s amaaazing. Wait til I tell you…’ Amber paused. ‘Hang on, don’t distract me. What are you nervous about? What’s wrong? What decision are you trying to make?’

Jenny chewed her lip, unsure how much to tell Amber. She desperately wanted to talk to her about the plan for Troy and the get together at her place later, and she wanted to talk to someone about the awkwardness with Phil. But she wasn’t sure how Amber would react. Especially about the whole ‘Destroy Troy’ planning session this evening. Actually, Jenny mused, that’s quite a catchy little slogan. I’ll tell the others later.

‘Well, Jen? What is it hun? You’re getting me worried. Why have you gone silent?’

‘Oh, sorry Ams. Lost in thought.’ Quick Jennifer Sullivan, what are you going to tell her? About Troy? No, she’ll talk me out of it. About the get-together later? Shit, I can’t, she’ll be hurt I haven’t even been to visit her house yet. Okay, Phil it is then.

Jenny cleared her throat. ‘So, um, it’s been getting kind of awkward in my group.’

‘Mm hmm,’ Amber’s voice sounded cautious, ‘go on.’

‘Er, not in general, just with one person. Someone in my group. God, this is so embarrassing.’

‘Jen,’ Amber giggled on the other end of the phone, ‘are you finally going to admit that you’ve got the hots for that blonde guy in your group. Um, what was his name again? Pete?’

‘Phil. It’s Phil.’

‘Yes, Phil. So, am I right or am I right?’

‘Not exactly, but… I don’t know.’ Jenny felt her cheeks burning.

‘I knew it!’ Amber screeched down the phone. ‘I just knew there was something going on when I saw him making moon eyes at you when we went speed dating.’

‘Did he?’ Jenny remembered all too clearly, but wanted to make sure she wasn’t imagining it.

‘Of course he did. Practically undressed you with his eyes when we were saying goodbye. Jen, this is fantastic! I’m so delighted for you.’

‘But, Ams, what am I going to do?’

‘What do you mean? You’re going to ask him out, you nutter!’ Amber was silent for a moment. ’Sorry, I didn’t mean…by ‘nutter’, well, you know.’

Jenny closed her eyes and examined the backs of her eyelids, ignoring Amber’s faux pas and considering her options. ‘Ams, the thing is, I tried speed dating and signed up to online dating, and did all that stuff that because I do want to meet someone. But, the truth of the matter is, even if I did meet someone, how could I ever have a proper relationship with them? I can’t even hug my parents, or, or my best friend, let alone a man! How can I date someone without touching or kissing or, you know, other stuff? I mean, honestly, what kind of guy would put up with that?’

Amber listened on the other end of the line, and when she finally spoke her voice was soft and quiet. ‘Jen, darling, you are a beautiful, funny and incredibly smart woman. So, you’ve got issues. Who doesn’t?’ Jenny started to speak, but Amber cut her off. ‘Yes, your issues are pretty severe, but who’s to say you’ll still have those same issues in six months or a year, or whenever down the track? You’ve changed so much since you started going to your support meetings, I mean the improvements you’ve made have been amazing. Who’s to say you’re not going to keep on getting better?’

‘I know I’ve improved Ams, but I still can’t touch someone’s hand, or even ruffle their hair.’ Jenny grimaced to herself. ‘Ugh, the germs you find in someone’s hair, don’t even get me started… Anyway, I’ve obviously still got those issues now - and who knows whether I’ll always have them or not. Who in their right mind would want to take that chance on me?’

‘Jen, it’s obvious. The very same man who looks at you like you’re a goddess. Who already knows all about your issues, and looks at you that way regardless.’ Amber paused. ‘He does know about your issues, right? I mean, did you tell him everything in your group?’

’Yeah, he knows. Jenny’s cheeks reddened as she remembered blurting out that she had her period at their last support group meeting. He knows way too much.

‘Well, there you go then.’ Amber’s voice was certain. ‘That’s your answer.’

‘But, there’s something else Ams. I’m ashamed of it, and I don’t want to sound mean. Because, let’s face it, I’m no Catch of the Century myself.’

‘You’re worried about his weight, right?’

Jenny felt bad even admitting it out loud, but was thankful for her friend’s ability to read her so well. ‘Well, in a roundabout way. I guess. I mean, he, um, sweats. A lot. Stuff like that.’

‘Jen, you’ve both got issues, and you’ve both got feelings for each other. You can work through it together. It’s worth a shot.’

‘Yeah, maybe you’re right. But the thing is, I might have already blown my chance anyway. He asked me out, a while back. And I told him no, that I didn’t want to date anyone.’

‘Jennifer Sullivan, you never told me!’ Amber briefly pondered this. ‘Easy - just tell him that you weren’t ready, and now you are. Seriously, Jen, you’ve just got to go for it. What have you got to lose?’

Before Jenny could reply that there were plenty of things to lose - primarily her dignity - Amber’s voice suddenly lowered to a whisper.

‘Gotta go hun, someone’s just come into my office. Talk soon. Good luck!’

‘Okay, bye. Thanks for…’ Jenny trailed off as she heard the dial tone. Amber had already hung up. Jenny closed her eyes, and finished their conversation in her head. I know he wants to date me Ams, but the thing is, I’m just not sure I want to date HIM. But beggars can’t be choosers right, and he’s an awesome guy – shouldn’t I just be grateful that someone wants me at all?

Jenny Sullivan

Hi guys. Yep, all good for tonight. Well, when I say ‘all good’ I actually mean I’ll probably have a bath in Janola just to calm my nerves before you get here. And then I’ll shower myself with disinfectant once you leave again… But thanks for checking E

Bout 8pm okay?

It didn’t take long for the rest of the group to get back to her.

Petra McDonald

Fucking hell Jen, you’re actually going through with having us all in your place! You must be having severe heart palpitations! Shall I get some of those plastic overalls from Bunnings to wear? You know, to stop my germs spreading around the place? Maybe a face mask? Haha. Shall I get a fucking hair net while I’m at it?

Suzanne Iremonger

I’m def still keen az. Can’t w8! I’ve got a latex catsuit, which is pretty much the same as plastic overalls. Shall I wear that Jen?

Petra McDonald

Better not Suze, you’ll drive the fucking nympho crazy!

Ellen Stuart

Hey! Who are you calling a fucking nympho?

Oh, that’s right… Better leave the latex catsuit in your wardrobe Suze. Or I can’t be held responsible for my own actions.

Jenny read the flurry of messages, laughing out loud when she got to Ellen’s reply. There was something so liberating about being able to laugh with each other, and at themselves, and she grinned as she wrote her response.

Jenny Sullivan

Sounds like we’re all confirmed then. I’ve got wine and snacks. Please don’t bring any food - and I’m not just being polite. Seriously, DO NOT bring any food. I don’t want to have to decontaminate you in my doorway…

Hitting send, Jenny switched her phone to silent and turned back to her computer. A cloud had spread a shadow across her window during their conversation, and her whole apartment had darkened. Jenny glanced at the increasingly grey and threatening sky, and prayed silently that it wasn’t a bad omen.

Attempting to spend the next few hours editing a press release for one of her clients, Jenny kept losing her ability to concentrate. After reading the same paragraph five times in a row and still not knowing what it actually said, she decided to call it a day. Shutting down her computer, Jenny checked her watch. It was almost five pm, which gave her a solid three hours to fret about the evening ahead.

Sighing, Jenny walked into her kitchen and opened the fridge. Surveying the contents, she thought she might as well start preparing the snacks for the evening. She had decided to put together a platter of cheeses and olives, which definitely wasn’t something she would ordinarily eat, especially not if it was served at someone else’s house. Or even in a five star restaurant. Not that she ever went to one-star restaurants, let along five. But, since she’d be able to see the food come straight out of the sealed packets and no-one else’s hands but her own would arrange the food, she had decided to give it a go. In fact, she had been quite excited ordering the food for it in her usual weekly online shop.

Jenny took a large container of green stuffed olives out of the fridge and looked at the label. There was an ingredients section, but no mention of how the olives were processed. Damn it, why didn’t I do my research? Jenny glanced at the ceiling, please God, let them be stuffed by a machine and not by hand.

After the platter of stuffed olives, feta, brie, salmon pate, pesto and hummus had been arranged, along with bread sticks and crostini, Jenny wrapped it tightly in three layers of cling film, and made space for it in the fridge. She double-checked the wine, which she had also ordered in her online shop, and then shut the fridge door. Taking a deep breath in, Jenny lay her forehead against the fridge’s warm surface and tried to calm her thoughts.

I’m just a normal woman, having a few of my normal friends over, for a normal little girly get-together. That’s all. Nothing to panic about. Jenny banged her head lightly on the fridge door.

Except I’m not a normal woman. And I’m pretty sure a sex addict, a drug addict and a shopaholic aren’t normal friends to have over. And a normal girly get-together doesn’t usually involve planning to seduce and humiliate a gym instructor.

Jenny shrugged her shoulders, and slowly backed away from the fridge. Right, what else? Food’s done. Wine’s cold. She looked around the kitchen and then walked through to her lounge. Everything was immaculate. She wasn’t even going to pretend to mess it up this time - Ellen had already been there, and both Petra and Suze would be expecting everything to be highly sterile and covered in plastic sheets. Jenny suspected that they might actually be surprised at how cosy her apartment was, despite the level of cleanliness.

Jenny checked her watch. Only five minutes to go until everyone arrived. Unsure whether to sit down and wait, or to walk back into the kitchen, Jenny remained standing. Waiting. She was so focused on listening for the apartment buzzer, that when it did ring she nearly passed out with fright.

You can do this. You’ve got this. Just a casual get-together, with a couple of addicts, drinking wine. And eating. With their hands. From. A. Platter. What the heck was I thinking? A platter? How will I eat anything after the others have touched it? Shit. Think, Jenny, think…

‘Forks!’ Jenny surprised herself, talking out loud. Nodding like a crazy person, she went to the kitchen to take some forks out of the cutlery drawer. Her apartment buzzer rang again, and Jenny shook herself before walking quickly to her front door. She hit the intercom button.

‘Hello?’

‘Thank fuck for that,’ it was Petra’s voice, ‘we’re all outside the building.’

‘We thought you’d changed your mind,’ Ellen’s voice was crackly. ‘Better hurry up and let us in. There’s some raggedy homeless guy on the street staring at Suze.’ Jenny heard Suze giggling in the background. She hoped the raggedy homeless guy wasn’t Neil.

Jenny buzzed them in. ‘Sorry guys! Come on up. Ellen knows the way.’

Jenny stood inside her front door nervously, checking how much hand sanitiser was in the bottle by the door while she waited. Half a bottle, Jenny thought to herself, hope that’s enough.

At the first knock on her front door, Jenny swung the door open and stared at her friends.

‘Surprise!’ they all shouted, laughing hysterically.

True to their word, they had taken every precaution. Petra was wearing white plastic overalls over her clothes and a hair net over her head, Suze had squeezed herself into the tightest catsuit Jenny had ever seen, and Ellen looked to be wearing a garbage bag with holes cut out for her head and arms, and thick yellow rubber gloves.

Jenny laughed out loud, and stepped aside to let them into her apartment. ‘You’d better come in before you scare my neighbours!’

Once the three women had shuffled inside and Jenny closed the door behind them, they all reached down to take off their shoes and laid them neatly in a row by the door. Ellen took off her rubber gloves and picked up the bottle of disinfectant by the door, pumping a generous amount on her hands before passing it to Petra. Jenny smiled as she watched Petra do the same, and then hand the bottle to Suze. Ellen looked at her, and winked.

‘Right, Jen,’ Petra finished rubbing her hands together and looked around the apartment, ‘show us around - where can we sit, where the fuck can’t we sit, give us the low down.’

‘Come on, follow me.’ Jenny led them into the lounge, and motioned at the couches - only wincing slightly as she thought about their clothes touching the couch material. Note to self - wash couch covers. ‘Have a seat, I’ll get the wine.’

‘I’ll give you a hand,’ Ellen said, following her through to the kitchen. Once they were out of earshot, Ellen lowered her voice to a whisper. ‘How are you doing Jen? You okay? You know, with all of us in your apartment.’

‘So far so good… Thanks Ellen.’

‘For what?’

‘Um, I know you must have told the others, about where to put their shoes and about the disinfectant.’

Ellen shrugged. ‘No worries darling. Now, give me something to carry.’

Jenny handed her the platter from the fridge, and smiled at Ellen’s back as she walked off with it. Grabbing the wine and glasses, she followed her.

‘Wow, that’s fucking fantastic,’ Petra was saying, as Jenny walked into the room.

‘What’s fucking fantastic?’ Jenny asked, putting the wine and glasses down on the coffee table and looking at each of them in turn. Petra pointed at Suze.

‘This spoilt little brat has only gone and gotten herself a fucking job!’

Jenny turned to Suze, who was smiling broadly and nodding. ‘You were right, Jen. You know, about me being a good personal shopper. That I should do it for a job. You remember when I took you shopping at Cene?’ Jenny nodded at her. ‘Well, I went back to Cene to, um, just look… and the same manager was there. Apparently she manages a couple of other retail shops too. I knew she seemed really familiar. Anyway, she offered me a job! She’s created a new role, just for me - people can hire my services, as a fashion consultant and a personal shopper!’

‘That’s wonderful!’ Before she could think about what she was doing, Jenny reached a hand out and patted Suze on the shoulder. As soon as she realised what she was doing, her hand froze and then she quickly withdrew it. The others all stared at her with wide eyes, and exchanged glances. Jenny stared at the floor, astounded.

‘Jen!’ Petra exploded. ‘When did you turn into Miss Touchy Fucking Feely? Next thing you’ll be offering to give us back rubs and braid our hair.’

Jenny shuddered, and laughed out loud. ‘Petra, no offence, but you can be rest assured I will never, ever, EVER offer to braid your hair.’

Everyone laughed, and Jenny reached for the wine to open it.

It was at least half an hour before the subject of Troy came up, and Jenny was beginning to hope the others had forgotten about it. Ellen was the first to mention his name, and Jenny’s heart sank.

‘So, ladies. Let’s talk about Troy, and the plan for tomorrow.’

After much discussion, laughter and a second bottle of wine between them, it was decided that Jenny would ring Troy, and arrange to meet him in the gym basement the following day.

Jenny looked at the other women and frowned. ‘I just don’t know. How can we guarantee he’ll even remember me, let alone want to meet me?’ She looked at her watch. ‘It’s already almost ten pm, what if he’s asleep?’

Suze shook her head. ‘He won’t be.’

‘What if he traces my number, you know, after tomorrow? I could get in trouble right?’

Ellen looked thoughtful. ‘I don’t think he’ll try and trace your number Jen. But we’ll ring from your home phone and dial *33 before the number to block caller ID, just to be sure. I’ve also been thinking about the laxatives, I think that might be going too far.’

‘Really? No fucking laxatives?’ Petra looked disappointed.

‘We don’t want Jenny to get into trouble,’ Ellen continued, ‘we just want to teach Troy a lesson. So, I think you arrange to meet him Jen, convince him to get undressed, take his clothes and then set off the fire alarm. Easy.’

Jenny shook her head, and took a deep breath. ‘I still can’t believe I’m agreeing to this, but let’s do it. I’ll just go and get the phone.’

The other women clapped their hands excitedly. Jenny returned a few minutes later gripping the phone in her hand. ‘What should I say?’

After ten’s minutes’ discussion, Jenny had a script worked out in her head. She only hoped she’d remember what to say when he answered. Suze read out Troy’s number from her own mobile, and Jenny punched the numbers into her landline, starting with *33. She pushed the speaker button and held the phone out, so they could all listen to the call. After several rings, she had begun to hope he wasn’t going to answer.

‘Hello?’ barked a voice on the other end. Jenny gulped. This is really happening!

‘Hello? Who’s there? Is that you Sandy? Sandy? Stop fucking calling me!’

Jenny looked at the others with wide eyes. “Speak” they all mouthed back at her.

‘Um, hi. Is Troy there?’

‘This is the man. Who’s this?’

‘It’s, er, Jenny.’

‘Jenny? Jenny? Which Jenny? Is this Jenny from my spin class? It is, isn’t it? You naughty girl, I knew you’d call me.’

Jenny patted her chest a few times, trying to move the lump that had wedged itself in her throat. ‘Um, it’s not Jenny from your spin class. It’s Jenny Sullivan. We met at dinner one night, through Jack Keane.’

There was silence on the other end of the line. ‘What do you look like?’

‘I’ve got glasses. Dark brown hair.’

‘Nup, doesn’t ring a bell. You sure it was me you met? What’s your body like?’

Suze, Ellen and Petra collectively rolled their eyes. Jenny tried to remember what she was wearing that night.

‘I was wearing a red, er, lacy bra.’ Jenny’s cheeks burned with embarrassment.

‘Hmm, I think I remember you. Small tits. Nice face.’

‘Fucking Pri…’ Suze started to say into the phone, before Ellen clamped a hand over her mouth.

‘What’s that?’ Troy asked.

‘Oh, um, fucking please can we meet tomorrow? I’ve, er, got some new, um… moves I think you might like.’

Jenny looked at the other women, who were giving her the thumbs up and nodding.

’I’ll come to you, and I’ll make it worth your while,’ she added huskily.

‘What did you have in mind?’ Troy’s interest was obviously peaked, and he licked his lips noisily on the other end of the line.

‘I’ll meet you tomorrow, at the gym, at…’ Jenny looked at Ellen, who held up one finger. ‘At one o’ clock. Is there somewhere dark and quiet, and private, we can meet?’

‘Why yes, yes I do know somewhere like that. I’ll meet you in the gym basement.’

‘Sounds purrrrfect.’

‘So, you want to give me a taste of what’s to come right now, over the phone?’

Jenny felt bile rise in her throat. ‘Uh, no, sorry, gotta go, see you at one.’ Jenny hung up before he could say anything else.

‘Good job, Jen.’ Petra said, and the others nodded. ‘Looks like we’re on.’

As the women were leaving later that night, Ellen took a plastic bag out of her tote bag, and put it down beside Jenny’s door.

‘That’s for tomorrow Sweets, that’s how you’ll encourage Troy to get undressed without having to touch him.’

Jenny had looked at the bag as if it was a bomb about to explode, and the others had laughed.

‘It’s new darling, never been used,’ Ellen winked at her, ‘nothing to be afraid of.’

But Jenny was afraid.

Jenny was very afraid.

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