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Monday 29th December

She wasn’t in work today, which was nice, though she did send me another picture this morning. It was on my phone when I woke up. Another mirror selfie, this time with the caption: Morning Glory. Mei was stirring beside me so I deleted it quickly.

I still feel a bit raw having seen Mrs Mellor off, though the whole touchy feely bit in the carpark has overshadowed that somewhat.

I found out that the owner of the company, Robert Blacksmith, will be visiting for the end of the year after all. I’ll put the option to him to hire me for the vacant office job to give Agatha a bit of breathing space. I don’t understand why they haven’t advertised the job yet. There’s obviously a need for one. Perhaps they have and the interviewees were scared off.

Mei and I are going to see a midwife tomorrow, which makes the entire thing more real. She got the afternoon off work so I just need to pick her up when I finish. Her appointment is at three so there’s plenty of time.

It’s raining as I drive around Longton. A white Ford Fiesta catches my eye in the rear view mirror. I swear I’m seeing things. There are plenty of white Ford Fiestas around so there’s every chance it’s not Amy. I think I’m just being paranoid.

Chicken casserole today. Not that it matters what the meal is; I just want it delivered and I’m gone before the first ‘hello’ is uttered.

Seeing the white Fiesta has made me want to get a move on.

Mei and I – and her mother – are going out for a meal tonight. Pizza. And not a Chinese pizza. An Italian pizza. They do pasta as well, which Mei will prefer. I don’t know what her mum would like because she’s a fussy eater. It’ll be a bit of an eye opener. Usually if she can’t eat it with chopsticks she doesn’t seem interested. I never really gave it a thought that some people find it hard to use a knife and fork. I just took it for granted. I thought chopsticks were the problem utensil.

For the rest of the round I check every mirror like I’m a drug dealer evading the police. I can’t rest. Even when I get out to take a meal from the boot I have to check around. It might be just me. There was something in the way that she warned me that told me she wasn’t joking. I think she’s more than capable of upping her game from just the pictures. I dread to think.

Why didn’t I just tell her to piss off at the beginning when I was training her? Because I’m a moron that’s why.

On my last drop I see the car again. It crosses the road in front of me. Right to left. I’m sure I saw Amy at the wheel looking at me.

I stand there at my car door. In the road. My feet won’t move. It’s like I’ve been frozen in time. I replay the image I’ve just seen. The blond hair, still in the thirties style. There aren’t many women around with that kind of hairstyle. It had to be her. Shit. It looks like she’s upped her game.

I finally get in the car and head home.

I think I’ll have to tell Mei. What if Amy tries something with her? She probably already knows where I live, being friends with Bret and Alan.

Later, when I pick Mei up, I need to take her mum with me so we can go straight to the restaurant. Until then I’ll hide out at Harold’s.

I go and see him when I get home and vent. It’s like he’s my agony aunt. I tell him about Amy following me and he’s a bit sceptical about it. ‘Are you sure it’s her, Lee?’ I’m certain it was her though I can’t believe it myself. Perhaps it wasn’t her. I don’t know.

We do the usual: he makes a brew, we ask how we are, I play with his kitten, and we talk about the news and moan about things we usually moan about. Then I tell him about the texts. Even while I’m there she sends me another one. Another nude. The caption on this one says: Like Pussies Do You?

I cringe. She knows I’m here.

Harold watches my face as I read it. The utter horror in my face is very evident.

‘Another?’ he asks.

I nod. ‘Want to see?’

He goes a little red. I think he wants to see. He is a man after all. I show him before he can say no.

His jaw drops and he can’t help but let out a shy smile. I don’t think he’s led a sheltered life but I also don’t think he’s seen a picture like that for a very long time. His forehead gets a little shine to it. He’s sweating.

‘Can I have my phone back now?’ I ask.

‘Err, yeah. Sorry.’ He hands it back while looking at the screen the whole time until it’s in my hand.

I raise an eyebrow. ‘Thanks.’

It gets to half four and I feel I’ve outstayed my welcome. Harold hasn’t done anything to point to that assumption; I just feel like I’ve been here too long. I have to go home.

That being watched feeling has returned. Jesus, when will it end.

I decide not to tell Mei about Amy tonight. Not while we eat a nice meal. I’m really looking forward to this. There’s only so much Chinese cuisine someone can stomach. I read something earlier that said the liquid surrounding a baby in the womb takes on the flavours ingested by the mother and the baby drinks it, which is why it is accustomed to the flavour palette when it goes onto solid food. Makes sense I suppose.

Her mum is in the seat behind me as I head to town. It’s the first time she’s been with me alone in the car while we pick Mei up and I can see how uncomfortable she is. Gone has the newfound personality. The miser has returned. I can almost feel the heat behind me coming from her. She hates being stuck in a traffic jam. Being from China I’d of thought she’d be used to it. Not being in a jam should make her uncomfortable. She keeps looking between the seats at the car’s clock. I get it: we’re late.

I have to give her credit, she can manage in this country pretty well given that she can’t speak English. The first time she came Mei told me about her mum going to town and going into Greggs the bakers. She wanted a steak bake but didn’t know the English for it so she just made a moo sound right there in the shop. I bet it was pretty funny. But it worked and she got what she wanted. I just hope she doesn’t ever need to ask someone where the toilets are.

I finally get to the carpark and Mei is there waiting for me. I can already feel her mum’s mind ticking: You’re late. You’re not good enough for my daughter. Her moods can change like the wind.

Mei gets in and her mum says something to her about me. Mei replies and her mum shuts up. I wish I knew what she said. Whatever it was, her mum now has a smile on her face again. I look through the rear view mirror and see her looking back like she’s about to giggle. I can’t work her out at all.

The restaurant is called Giuseppe’s. It’s in Penwortham on Liverpool Road (that is one long arse road). Mei and I have been here before. A long time ago mind. Long enough that they’ve changed the menu. Looks like they’ve still got the garlic bread with chilli and tomato on there which makes me happy.

We’re seated in a corner, which makes me even happier. I take the seat farthest away and so my back isn’t facing anyone. I can see everything: every person slurping their wine, every person shovelling food into their mouths, and every person smiling and joking with their family and friends. It’s how life should be. Harold once told me that, although the bible isn’t what he would call ‘fact’, the ideology of the whole thing, the ‘love thy neighbour’ stuff is actually a decent motto for life and one that, if we all followed, would lead to a better world. It’s a nice thought but it would never happen. Not unless you’re a country in the Eurovision Song Contest. They always love their neighbours. Unless their neighbour is England. Nobody wasn’t to be our friend.

Mei orders lasagne. If it’s like it was the last time we came then it’ll be lovely. Her mum has spaghetti bolognaise. It’s one of the few things on the menu she’s actually eaten before. I order a spicy pizza with the chilli garlic bread for the table. Seems we’re all playing it safe with the food tonight.

The restaurant is nice and warm with soft light against creamy walls. It looks cold in the daytime and warm in the evening. I don’t know why we don’t come here more often. It’s one of those places with the kitchen on view for the whole restaurant to see. I wouldn’t want to work like that, being watched and judged by everyone.

As is the norm these days when eating out, Mei and her mum yack on about something while I sit like the boy nobody wants to talk to; the last one to be picked for the team.

I sit and watch the chefs toss their dough and pour their sauce and fry whatever it is they’re frying. I wish I was a chef. I also wish I was a mechanic when the car’s in the garage and a plumber when the sink’s blocked.

When the food arrives it’s lovely. The garlic bread is just as I remember.

I ask Mei if she spoke to her boss about the week’s paid holiday. She tells me he said she can have it whenever she’s ready. That’s good. Then she returns to the non-stop chatter with her mum.

During a small respite while my food settles, I see something that might bring it back up again: a white Ford Fiesta parked beneath a street light outside the front door.

I stare at it.

Mei follows my gaze. ‘What are you looking at?’

I shake my head. ‘Nothing.’

I’ve suddenly lost my appetite. All this wonderful food in front of me and I don’t want it. I try to eat some to keep up appearances. It might not even be her.

I make an excuse to go to the toilet. With their backs to the restaurant it makes sneaking out a whole lot easier.

I step out into the cold. I don’t have my coat. I just have my chequered shirt with a white t shirt underneath. The chill cuts through me.

The car is empty. I’m not sure if it’s her. I take a mental note of the number plate: PE07PFC. It’s imprinted in my mind filed beside the naked pictures.

While I’m looking at the plate I hear a voice. ‘If I didn’t know better I’d say you were stalking me.’

It’s her. She’s walking up to me. I don’t speak.

‘What if I were to go inside and tell your precious lady wife about us? Hmm?’

’There is no us.’

‘There should be.’

‘Who’s to say I haven’t already told her?’

‘You wouldn’t be out here if you had, right?’

‘Amy, this needs to stop. It’s sick. What the hell do you want?’

‘You, Lee.’

I’m well aware that I’m in full view of the restaurant out here. ‘Why? Why do you want to ruin a married man’s life?’

‘I want to make it better.’ She scrunches her eyebrows like she’s confused about something. ‘I can help you.’

I take a step back. ‘You’re crazy.’

She stretches an arm and rubs her hand over my cheek. ‘I’m not crazy. I’m just giving you what you deserve.’

I head to the restaurant, but before I go inside, I say, ‘Any more of this and I’ll be speaking to the police.’

I retake my place at the table. What the hell does she see in me? I’m nothing special.

Mei and her mum are still deep in conversation. Her mum is different now, having changed her mood yet again. She looks at me accusingly. Shit I think she saw something. Just beyond her is Amy standing by her driver’s side door watching me. She blows me a kiss before getting in and pissing off. I don’t care where she’s gone as long as it’s as far away from me as possible.

I try to forget about it and finish my meal.

When we finish we order cheesecake and head home. I pay for the meal, which came to seventy five quid. Now I remember why we don’t come here often.

For the rest of the evening her mum keeps on giving me that look. She definitely knows something.

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