My Friends' Wives And Me

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Chapter 10

Reality struck me as I pulled up on the drive. It looked as if Denise and Andrew had come round. I climbed out of the Range Rover and opened the front door. Mick ran down the stairs and gave me a big hug, told me how much he’d missed me and Liz opened the kitchen door looking flushed.

“ I didn’t expect you for a while, I’m just cooking something for dinner. Andrew’s here.”

I went into the kitchen, put my keys on the side and Andrew was pouring me a drink from an almost empty bottle of red wine. I picked it up and said to Liz it was no wonder she looked flushed. She gave out a shallow laugh and said, “I’m not working tomorrow, I thought I would get pissed.”

Andrew asked how I was if I’d had a good trip and we chatted while I opened a bottle of whiskey and poured myself a large one with loads of ice. I ate my dinner and we carried on talking and drinking till late in the lounge.

When I woke the next morning, I was still sitting in the chair in the lounge. Andrew had gone home and Liz was in bed. I must have fallen asleep talking to Andrew.

I woke Mick and got him ready for school. We ate breakfast quickly and said goodbye to Liz. I was in a hurry because I wanted to see Debbie at the school.

As we pulled up, I could see her getting out of her BMW just behind us. I waited and when she walked past the car we followed her across the playground. I said goodbye to Mick by the school and slowly walked back, waiting for Debbie to catch me up. I opened the back door of the Range Rover and pretended to look in a book that was on the back seat. I could see her walking towards me; I had this strange feeling of excitement, as she got closer.

“Good morning,” she said with that lovely smile on her face. I wanted to kiss her in the road.

“I did miss you last night,” I said as I closed the door. “Was everything OK when you got home?”

“Yes, I was quite surprised. I thought about what you said last night, and I’ll give it a go if you still think it might work.”

“I’ll ring him today then and ask him out tonight.”

She smiled again and said, “I’ll see you later then.” She walked away and got into her car and we drove off in different directions.

I arrived at work just after nine o’clock. One of the mechanics said, “You had some funny phone calls yesterday. I put the list on your desk next to the phone.” I went up to my office and looked at the list. There were two from the bank manager and three from a Mr Wiseman.

I spoke to the bank manager first: he told me that the cheque I banked - and had express cleared - for £3,267 wouldn’t clear. I asked him if there was any other money available. He replied with a very unsympathetic voice, “I’m sorry, the other cheques you put in won’t be cleared till next week.” I explained that I needed to draw wages and he said, “There’s nothing I can do, my hands are tied.”

I thought to myself, it should be your balls, in a knot. I pleaded, grovelled, asked, shouted, all to no avail, and then I slammed the phone down and ran downstairs to the safe. There was enough in there from the petrol money for the wages but not the rent, so I would be all right till Monday and some customers were due to pay me for work that was done in the week.

Then I phoned Mr Wiseman. He was from a company called Halsted demanding money. I agreed to put a cheque in the post. I went back downstairs to find out if anything had happened while I was away. They told me the petrol was delivered and they’d given the driver one of the cheques that I had left signed.

I went back upstairs and phoned the trader that gave me the cheque that wouldn’t clear but there was no answer. I jumped in the car and drove round to his workshop. He was in his office with a customer that was buying a car from him. I stood by the door and peeped through the crack in the glass. They paid him in cash for the car. As soon as he saw me I could hear him stuttering. As the customer left, I burst into his office and he apologised about the cheque and started to write me another one. I put my hand on his chequebook looked straight into his eyes and said that cash would do. He looked up at me and reached for his briefcase. He could tell I was not in a mood to be messed about. I left with it all in cash and went straight down to the bank. I was hoping to bump into the bank manager so I could stick my fingers up at him.

As I was driving back, I suddenly realised I’d never rung John. I made a slight detour, dropped in to see him and arranged to meet him and Debbie at eight o’clock in the White Swan; it’s just down the road from their house.

I became very excited at the thought of seeing Debbie again. I left work at six o’clock and went home. We had dinner, I got changed and Liz and I dropped Mick off, at the sitter’s, on the way.

We were standing by the bar ordering our drinks when I caught a glimpse of Debbie walking towards me. John was behind her. I introduced them to Liz. I could see Debbie was a little embarrassed. I ordered a couple more drinks and we sat down in the corner. I couldn’t stop myself from staring at Debbie; she looked lovely. We had to be very careful not to do, or say, something that would get us in trouble. We all drank quite a bit and had a good time. John was up and down to the bar every 15 minutes and I noticed he was drinking shorts while he was waiting for the other drinks to be poured.

As the lights flashed for last orders, Debbie said, “Would you like to come back for a nightcap? I think I could find some whiskey.” I noticed John give Debbie a look of contempt and his eyes blinked very slowly as he looked around the room. He stood up to go to the toilet and he staggered across the floor. Debbie looked at me and dropped her head in shame, so I tried to make a joke of it and said he must have had a head start. Debbie smiled with her cheeks, but not her eyes as she normally did. I felt sorry for her as she stood up and lifted her handbag off the back of her chair and placed it over her shoulder. John staggered back and downed the last dregs of his beer. Liz looked at me with a frown, as if to say, ‘I don’t want to go back to their house’.

I quickly said, “We’ll come back for one, I’ll take you home in my car.” I’d only drunk shandy and I felt very sober.

We all left together and arrived at their house. Debbie opened the front door and John staggered down the drive, behind Liz and in front of me. He walked into his speedboat, which was on a trailer parked in front of the garage by the side of their house, and stumbled in the door clutching his leg, then made his way into the kitchen. Debbie poured the drinks and John went up the stairs to the toilet. I found the armchair and pushed my car keys down the side of the pillow, while Debbie showed Liz around the house.

By the time we’d finished our drinks and stood up to go, John was slumped in the chair opposite me and his eyes had almost closed. I pretended to kick his chair by accident as I walked past. I didn’t want him to fall asleep after all this. He looked up and said something like, “I’ll she you mate,” with his eyes still blinking very slowly, trying to focus.

Liz went up to the bathroom and Debbie whispered to me as we stood by the front door, “He’s in a foul mood, don’t leave me too long with him.” Then John came out, walking like Andy Pandy, and Liz came down the stairs.

We said goodnight and left. I walked up the drive and felt for my keys and said to Liz that I must have put them down in the house. Liz waited by the car and I went back and knocked on the door. I waited and knocked again louder.

As it opened, Debbie was standing there crying and her sleeve was ripped. I burst into the house and into the kitchen. I didn’t need to ask what was happening; John was leaning on the sink with a knife in his hand, shouting, “Come here, bitch!”

I put my hands up in front of me, trying to calm him down, and asked him, “What are you doing?”

He lifted his head and said, “Piss off, it’s nothing to do with you.”

I grabbed the hand with the knife in it and opened his fingers. He dropped it on the floor, then he went to grab another from the drawer that was still open but he pulled out a spoon. I opened the back door and pushed him out and he fell on the ground. I followed him out and slammed the door.

“What are you trying to do?” I said angrily as he rolled up into a ball.

“Leave me here,” he said. “You don’t know what it’s like.”

I grabbed his arm and pulled him up and sat him on a bench in the garden. He struggled a bit but he was in no state to start fighting. “I don’t know what, what is like?” I asked as he put his head in his hands.

“It’s that bitch in there, she keeps hiding all my bottles of whiskey and I can’t find them.”

“I know why,” I said. “You have got a serious drink problem.” He looked up at me and I asked him, “Have you hit Debbie before?” His head drooped again and he nodded. “You will have to get some help, you can’t carry on like this.”

He interrupted me and shouted, “I think she’s got another bloke,” with dribble coming out of his mouth.

“I wouldn’t blame her if you beat her up every time you get pissed. What makes you think that, anyway?”

“She goes away on courses, or that’s what she says. She’s just been on one this week and I don’t believe her. We don’t sleep together, we argue all the time.”

I wanted him to say something about his girlfriend, so I asked, “Have you ever had an affair?”

He nodded again. “I met a girl just after we got married and when I found out she was pregnant I left Debbie and moved in with her. Sometime after the baby was born, she got knocked down in the street and I moved back here.”

I was still mad and too cold to talk outside anymore, so I said, “It sounds to me like you’re the problem,” and I walked towards the back door. As I opened it, I looked back at him. He was trying to stand up. I opened the door and Liz was standing next to Debbie by the cooker. As I went in, they both looked at me. Debbie was still crying. She wiped her eyes and asked how John was. I was just about to say that he’d calmed down a bit when I heard him behind me by the back door. I turned to see him support himself by his hand on the door frame and, with a cough, he threw up all over the doorstep.

I looked at Debbie with one hand over her eyes. She shook her head from side to side and said, “The dirty bastard’s done it again.”

Liz said, “Shall we stop and help you clean up the mess?”

“No, it’s all right, I’m used to it now. You get off, thanks for all your help.”

Liz walked out into the hall. I looked at John still by the door and said, “You lay one more finger on her and I will give you a beating as you’ve never had before.”

He wiped his arm over his mouth and, still trying to focus, turned and went back outside. Debbie walked us to the door and thanked us again. As I walked up the drive, I suddenly remembered my keys. “Can I just look for my keys? I’ve lost them somewhere.” I went into the front room and Debbie followed me. I put my hand under the pillow to get them and she said, “Thanks, I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Will you be all right?”

“Yes,” she said. “He can sleep outside for all I care. I’m leaving him, I can’t stand it any more.”

I kissed her on the cheek and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.”

As we drove home, Liz said, “It’s a good job you lost your keys, he would have killed her.” I just agreed as we pulled on to the drive.

We went into the house and Liz went straight up to bed. I poured a large whiskey and sat watching the telly for a while, thinking about Debbie. When I’d finished my drink, I went to bed; Liz was already snoring.

The next morning I got up early. I hadn’t slept very well; I kept thinking about Debbie. I was still thinking about her when I went for a run. I collected Mick from the sitter’s and we had breakfast together. I picked up a letter from the carpet. It looked like the bank statement I’d been waiting for. I put it in the car and took Mick to school. On Saturdays, the teachers ran a swimming club for a couple of hours and Mick loved to go. It was handy for all the mothers and fathers that had to work weekends.

Debbie’s car was parked by the gate, so I took Mick to the main doors as usual. Debbie came out and we walked back together. “How did you get on last night?” I asked.

She looked very tired and said, “After you went, I cleaned up and went to bed. I left John outside, hoping he would freeze to death. Unfortunately, he came in, sometime in the night, and slept on the settee. I left early to collect Dawn from my friend’s house and he’d gone by the time I got back.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I lay in bed last night with all sorts of things going through my head. If I walk out on him, what happens to Dawn? He’s in no fit state to look after her, is he? I wish he was dead, at least I could get on with my life and not have to worry about being battered every time he comes home. I’m having the day off. I’ll have a serious think today and sort something out.”

As we got to her car, I said, “If you want to talk to someone, I’ll be at work till about two; just ring me if you want.”

She looked at me with a sad face and said with a tear in each corner of her eye, “Why couldn’t I have met you...” She opened her car door and got in, reaching for a hanky from the glove box. I slowly walked away and drove to work wondering what I could do to help her. She was in such a state and obviously hated him.

I pulled up on the forecourt none the wiser; nothing sprang into my mind. I went into the workshop to see what was happening and everyone was working hard. I made myself a coffee and went upstairs to my office with the mail. I opened three out of the six letters and they were bills, so I left the rest until Monday.

I left work at about one o’clock and stopped at the Railway pub for a drink on the way home. Roger, one of the lads that worked for me was already in there drinking by the bar. I had a couple of beers with him and walked out with fifteen pounds extra that I won from the fruit machine.

I was just about to pull out of the car park as my phone rang. It was Liz, panicking: “Mick has fallen off his bike onto the kerb. I think he has broken his leg, shall I take him to the hospital, or call an ambulance?”

“Is he in much pain?” I asked as I pulled away in a hurry.

“He’s laid out on the settee and he won’t move his leg. He’s as white as a sheet - what shall I do?”

“Take him in your car, and I’ll meet you there.” I put my foot to the floor and drove as fast as I could to the hospital.

As I screeched around bends and raced along the country lanes, I began to think the worst. The more I thought, the faster I drove. I didn’t stop at any of the traffic lights, I went straight through them, overtook other cars on the inside, pulled out at junctions without stopping and skidded to a halt in the car park, just as Liz was pulling up by the accident unit’s main entrance. I opened the car door, jumped out and two policemen grabbed my arms. I looked up and noticed six police cars around me all with their roof lights flashing.

One of the policemen said, “Just hold on there, can you tell me why you were speeding, sir?”

I glanced over to see Liz with a horrified look on her face as she was trying to lift Mick out of the car. “My wife phoned me to tell me my son has had an accident and I was worried about him. Can somebody help her get him into the hospital?”

Then I heard Liz shout, “He’s fainted.”

I tried to struggle free but they wouldn’t let me go. A couple of policemen ran over to help Liz and she looked back at me helplessly as she went through the electronic doors, holding Mick’s head up and stroking his hair.

The two policemen let my arms go and one bent down to pick his hat up off the floor. As he stood up, he said, “Have you been drinking, sir?” I couldn’t deny it. I explained that I’d popped into the pub on my way home from work, had two drinks and that afterwards was when I’d got the phone call from Liz. “I was worried and I drove here as fast as I could.”

“We followed you for two and a half miles and you were travelling at speeds in excess of 98 miles an hour,” pointed out one of the policemen. In the distance, I could hear another policeman talking on his radio, checking the registration number on my car. I told them how sorry I was and how worried I’d been and they asked me if I would mind taking a breathalyser test. I followed them to their car and sat in the back. While I was waiting, I noticed two of the other cars pulling away and the two policemen that had helped Liz carry Mick into the hospital walking towards us.

One of them opened the car door and said, “Your son is with the doctor now.”

“Is he OK?”

“We don’t know. They took him straight in on a stretcher.”

Just then one of the policemen in the front seat turned and said, “Can you breathe into the mouthpiece with one long continuous breath and stop when I say.” I took the device, placed it to my lips and blew into it as instructed. I was beginning to feel a bit nervous now; I was cold and shivering. As I blew harder, one policeman was looking through his paperwork and the other was looking at his watch. I thought I was going to run out of breath and he said, “OK, that will do.” I passed it back and they took it in turns to inspect it carefully. I sat patiently in the back seat, while they passed it from one to the other, and then the driver turned and said, “You’re OK, I can tell you have had a drink or two but you’re just under the limit.”

I smiled to myself and let out a sigh of relief. Then the other policeman said, “Unfortunately, I have to caution you. Anything you say will be taken down and used against you in a court of law. You don’t have to say anything but if you do, it could be used as evidence against you. Do you understand?” I nodded and he carried on, “We had to report to the station that we were chasing you along the road at 76 miles per hour and you will probably have to go to court. But, as we said before, you were travelling a lot faster than that, so I will write 76 mph in my report. Off the record, your driving was impeccable but you were driving too fast.”

I nodded my head and said, “Thank you and I am sorry.”

The driver turned his head and said with a smile on his face, “I quite enjoyed it. I love a good car chase now and again.”

Then the other one gave me a small slip of paper with writing on and said, “You will have to produce your driving licence, MOT certificate and insurance certificate to your local police station.”

I took the piece of paper and the driver let me out of the back. As I stood up, he said, “I hope your son will be all right.”

I smiled and said, “Thanks again,” and ran into the hospital to join my family.

I asked the nurse at the reception desk how Mick was. She flicked through some papers on her desk and asked, “When was he admitted?”

“About twenty minutes ago, with a suspected broken leg.”

“Ah, the little blond boy, he’s with the doctor. Are you a relative?”

“I’m his father,” I said anxiously.

“If you go through those doors there, ask for the nurse and she will take you to him.”

I thanked her and dashed off down the ward. When I reached Mick, he was laying back on the bed with his hands behind his head and a big smile on his face, Liz by his side and an attractive nurse bandaging his ankle. “How is he?” I asked Liz.

“He’s only sprained it and when he came in I thought he’d fainted, but he’s fine now.”

“It’s nothing that a couple of weeks off school won’t cure,” added the nurse. Mick smiled even more.

“What happened to you with the police?” asked Liz.

I explained quickly then Mick sat up; he thought it was great. “What happened then, Dad?” he said, all excited.

“I’ll tell you later when we get home.”

We left shortly after. Mick hobbled all the way out of the hospital; he wouldn’t let me carry him. He wanted everyone to see him with his leg out in front of him and a big bandage on his foot. All the nurses waved as he went through the door. Liz drove him home and I went to get some fish and chips for tea and a bottle of wine.

While we were eating, I told Mick about the police chasing me to the hospital - I exaggerated a bit and he loved it.

Sunday, Liz and I ran around all day, fetching drinks and sweets for Mick as he lay on the settee. One or two of his mates popped in to see his bad ankle and, later in the day, Denise and Andrew came round. We had a few drinks and Mick went up to bed.

Andrew popped out to get something more to drink and Liz went with him to get some crisps and nuts. I poured some more drinks in the kitchen and, after a couple of minutes, Denise came out to see if she could give me a hand. As I uncorked the last bottle of red wine, she said, “I want to go out with you again.”

I looked at her with a blank expression and she kissed me. I put the corkscrew down and placed my arms around her waist. “What’s brought this on?” I asked.

She looked up at me, put her arms around my neck and said, “I love you and I want to be with you.” Then she licked her finger and gently stroked my lips. We kissed again for a few minutes until I heard the key in the front door. I quickly turned and picked up the corkscrew and placed it back in the drawer, as the kitchen door opened. Andrew placed the carrier bag on the cupboard top and pulled out some bottles of wine, then Liz followed him in with the crisps. Denise pretended she was getting some bowls to put them in and I nearly had a heart attack. With my hands nervously shaking, I drank straight from the bottle. I was burning up inside, I was too frightened to turn and look at them, in case I was as red as a beetroot.

Liz went out of the kitchen first, followed by Denise, then I heard Andrew say, “Are you keeping that one to yourself?”

I turned and looked at him over the top of the bottle and realised I was drinking it like a pint of beer. I put the bottle down on the side; it was half empty.

Andrew laughed and said, “Are you on a mission?”

“No,” I said with half a smile, still embarrassed, and followed him through to the lounge. As I walked in, still thinking about what Denise had said in the kitchen, I caught the look in her big brown eyes as I sat down opposite her in the chair. I was still stunned; I couldn’t take in what she had said to me.

Liz asked me to put some music on, quietly in the background, so I put my glass down on the carpet, found a cassette in the cupboard and put it on. After about half an hour, Denise went to the bathroom. I gave her a few moments then said to Liz that I would check on Mick and I followed her upstairs. As I got to the top, Denise came out of the bathroom. “What were you on about earlier?” I whispered.

“I want to go out with you again,” she whispered back. I put my head round Mick’s door to make sure he was asleep and pulled it to.

“You’ll have to ring me next week then and we’ll sort something out,” I said a little louder.

Denise winked as she started to walk quietly down the stairs holding the rail for support. I stood at the top of the stairs for a few seconds before joining her. I grabbed another bottle of wine from the kitchen on the way. Liz was dancing with Andrew, arm in arm, at the other end of the room. So I put the bottle down on the table and danced with Denise.

I ordered a taxi for Denise and Andrew at about midnight, when we’d run out of wine, and they left holding each other up. Liz went straight to bed. I threw the bottles away, collected the glasses and put them in the kitchen, ready to wash up in the morning. I poured myself a little nightcap, whiskey with ice, and plonked myself in an armchair. I thought for ages about Denise and what she’d said.

Mick didn’t go to school the next day because of his ankle; so on my way to work, I drove slowly past the school, hoping I would catch a glimpse of Debbie, to find out if she had decided what to do with John but I couldn’t even see her car by the gate. As I drove, I kept hoping she would ring my car-phone. I arrived at work, still not knowing, so I collected the mail and went upstairs. It didn’t take me long to forget about Denise and Debbie as I opened the letters, one by one. More and more bills, one court summons, two small cheques and a letter from the bank. Same shit, different day, I said to myself as I threw them in the tray with the others.

The first three days of the week were much the same. I had even mastered the art of disguising my voice when I answered the phone, so I could tell everyone I wasn’t available. I hadn’t seen or spoken to Debbie and I was starting to worry that she might have done something stupid. I couldn’t ring her in case John answered the phone.

It was Thursday morning when Mick decided he wanted to go back to school, so Liz and I checked his ankle. The swelling had gone down considerably so we made him promise he wouldn’t play outside at break-times and we left it wrapped up. When I dropped him off, I went in and told the teacher about his accident and as I left he was showing his mates.

As I walked out of the main doors, Debbie was walking in with Dawn. I was so surprised to see her but I couldn’t speak until she’d taken Dawn into her class. I was so excited; I walked slowly across the playground, watching everyone that came out of the door. I had just reached the gate and she came out. I was so pleased to see her; I was trembling with excitement. “Hello,” I said first, “Are you all right?”

“Yes,” she replied. “I’ve been away for a few days and I feel much better.”

“I kept looking for you and hoping you’d ring me.”

“I couldn’t ring you because I wanted time to think about everything.”

“Well, you look lovely.”

“Thank you,” she said, with that gorgeous smile back on her face. I wanted her again, desperately. As we approached Debbie’s car, she said, “I have decided to-” then her phone beeped. “Excuse me,” she said as she answered it and pushed her hair behind her ear with one finger like she’d done at the cabin, in the snow. I stood on the pavement, rested my arms on the roof of her car and waited. I watched the different expressions on her lovely face as she spoke. Then she turned the phone off and said, “ I’ve got to go, I’m late. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll wait for you here.” With that, she got in her car. As soon as the engine started, she drove off in a hurry. I walked to my car wondering what she had decided to do.

As I pulled onto the forecourt, my phone rang. It was Debbie. “I’m sorry,” she said.” I’m very late for a meeting and I need to talk with you. I want to tell you the reason for my decision. I haven’t got the time today but could we meet somewhere for lunch, perhaps tomorrow, and I can explain?”

“Yes, certainly. If I don’t see you in the morning,” I said, “ring me, at the same time, on this number.” She rang off.

All day I worried about the decision that she was talking about. Until about four o’clock, when Denise phoned.

“I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to ring you back, I’ve been waiting for my roster to arrive in the post. I was hoping I had another back-to-back, but unfortunately, I haven’t for the next three weeks and I can’t wait that long to see you.”

I thought for a moment. “Can you meet me for a drink on Monday? I won’t be here tomorrow.”

“ Yes, where?”

“Meet me at the Bridge Steak House in Earlshill, at midday.”

“OK, don’t be late, will you?” she said.

I put the phone down and sat back in my chair, wondering what I was doing. I’d told myself at the beginning of the game I would have one affair with each girl and here I was arranging a second. I sat there for ten minutes and the phone rang again. I answered it and, with a deep voice, I said, “Hello.”

This familiar voice said, “Is the boss there?”

“Who is it?” I asked.

“Tell him its Lucy, he’ll know who I am.”

My heart started pounding again, as I put her on hold. I was dropping myself deeper and deeper into trouble but I couldn’t stop myself. I pressed the button and said, “Hello, stranger, where have you been?”

“Hi,” she said. “I’ve been away with Ivor, to Switzerland skiing. We had a great time, we came back on Tuesday. Are you all right?”

“Yes,” I said in a trance; I didn’t know what to say.

Lucy carried on talking about Switzerland and then she said, “We met a couple over there, and I became very good friends with the girl, and she invited me to stay with her in France for a long weekend. I talked to Ivor about it and he suggested I go on my own because he is too busy at work. What do you think?”

I couldn’t believe my ears. This was the girl that had said, no, I couldn’t, it’s impossible, and now she was asking me to meet her in France. “Whereabouts in France?”

“North,” she said. “It’s twenty minutes from Calais?”

“When are you thinking of going?”

“In about two weeks. I have to ring Colette and she’ll meet me off the plane.”

“Does this mean that you are flying from here?”

“Yes, why do you ask? We could fly together, and split up at the airport.”

“What about Liz, at the customs desk?”

I heard Lucy breathe in quickly. “I never thought of that,” she said.

“Leave it with me to work out something and I’ll ring you back or pass your house next week. Is Ivor away soon?”

“Yes, he leaves Monday for three days.”

“So it’s safe to ring your house, then?”

“After the kids have gone to school, about ten, to be safe.”

After I put the phone down, I counted the money that was left in the safe: there was £3626.99p, so I could afford a trip to France, but a long weekend? That was a bit more awkward.

I drove home that night not knowing what to do; Denise was madly in love with her husband’s best friend; Lucy wanted me to go to France; and Debbie, I didn’t know what was happening with her. I turned into Oak Lane and I could see behind me, in the mirror, flashing lights getting closer. I pulled over to let them pass. There were two police cars, an ambulance and two police motorbikes. I watched them pass and carried on. As I approached the T-junction at the end of the road, I could see an accident just up ahead. The traffic was quite bad and everyone was slowing down to have a look. At first, I couldn’t make out what had happened but, as I got closer, the police were directing the traffic around the two cars that were mangled together. I passed the accident and noticed one of the damaged cars was foreign - the number plates were different to ours - and it started me thinking. If that person in the car was French, they might want someone like me to take it back to France on my truck. I pulled away from the accident and started to make up a story in my mind. The car would have to be something different; if it was an ordinary car, it could be repaired here. To make the story believable it would have to be a left-hand drive, expensive car like a Mercedes or a Ferrari. The parts would be easier to get in France. The driver would have to be rich enough to pay a lot of money to take it back and it must be something I’d towed into my garage.

I didn’t say anything that night to Liz. I thought I would leave it for a few days and see if anything came of the trip first.

I didn’t see, or hear, from Debbie, Lucy or Denise till Monday morning. Debbie was at the school and briefly said in the playground that she would meet me in the Red Lion at dinner-time on Tuesday. I drove straight into town, to get some parts for a car, and got back to the garage just after 11.30, only to be greeted by another massive bailiff, walking around and writing things down on a list.

“Can I help you?” I asked inquisitively.

He pulled out a card with his picture on and said, “I’ve been asked by the council to retrieve a sum of money that was due to be paid by November of last year, for rates on this property. The amount outstanding is £2608.09p; that includes bailiff charges.”

My heart came up into my mouth. “Can we go up to my office and discuss this?”

“Yes,” he said, almost with a smile on his face, as if he really enjoyed his job.

I opened the door and sat down at my desk. “What happens next?” I asked him.

“Well, you can either pay me in full now, or I will take this inventory back with me and give you thirty days to pay the said amount. If you fail to comply, we will come out with a van, remove the items on this list and auction them off at a public auction, to raise as much as possible to reduce the amount. Then, after that, you will be asked for the balance at a later date.”

I tried to reason with him but the best he could do was the thirty days. He left me with a copy of the list he’d made and a yellow sheet of paper with the charges printed out in full.

He left shortly afterwards and drove off in his new car, to visit some other poor hard working person that was trying to make a living and, like me, probably had cash problems. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he drove round in an old wreck of a car.

Then the phone rang; it was Denise. “Where are you? You promised to meet me today.” I had completely forgotten.

“I’ll be there in ten minutes, I’m sorry.” I ran down the stairs and drove off to meet her. As I drove into the Bridge car park, I could see her standing by the door. She looked so sexy. I sat in the car for a few moments, just staring at her. The breeze was gently moving her brown curly hair over her eyes as she waited for me to get out of the car. I opened the door and waved. As I stood up, she smiled and waved back. She held the door open, waiting for me, and we went in together.

I glanced around the room to make sure no one was there I knew and Denise sat down in the corner. I ordered our drinks at the bar, went over and joined her. “Sorry I was late. I had a problem to sort out and I forgot everything else for a moment.”

“How could you forget me?” she said, looking at me with those brown eyes. We talked for a while and then I said, “What are we going to do about the other night?”

“What do you mean?” she replied.

“Do you think it would be a good idea to go out again?”

“Why not?” she quickly said. “Don’t you want to?”

“I do, but we nearly got caught when Andrew opened the door to the kitchen.”

“I know that was a bit silly of me but I couldn’t stop myself, something inside me said to hell with the risk. All day, of every day, I never stop thinking about you; no matter what I do, you are on my mind. I want to live with you, look after you and love you. While I was away last week, I had this vision, about moving abroad and living together, by the sea somewhere. I thought about Zante - we could rent a small house, just off the front in Argassi and walk on the sand together every day and night; we could make love whenever we wanted, in the sea or on the sand with a warm breeze on our backs. Just think of the all-over suntan we would have, the food, the drinks on the balcony just before we go to bed together and hold each other every night.”

I didn’t say anything for a while. I looked at the soft tanned skin on her face. She looked so excited. Her mouth curled up slightly at both ends and her lips were perfect and painted with a very pale pink, almost see-through, satin lip gloss. The small gap between them was just showing her brilliant white teeth and just above was the most perfect nose and eyes I could ever remember seeing on a girl. Her eyelashes were long and almost black to match her eyebrows. She seemed to blink in slow motion and it made those big brown eyes even bigger. Every strand of her curly hair was shining from the light above her on the wall. She took a sip from her glass of wine and slowly licked her lips with her deep red tongue and it slowly slipped back into her mouth.

I suddenly heard her say, “Are you all right?” and I realised I was in a deep trance. Denise had me hooked. The thought of living abroad with her was something any man would dream about.

I took a large gulp of my beer and said, “Before we sail off into the blue caves of Zante, aren’t we forgetting a few things? Like Andrew, Liz, Mick, families, homes, businesses, jobs, money? In six months, or a year, we might not like each other, or we could be homesick.”

“This isn’t a schoolgirl crush I’ve got, it’s a lot more than that - I love you; I have never wanted to be with anybody as much as I want to be with you,” she said with a pained look on her beautiful dark face.

I didn’t know what to say. I loved the thought of it all and, if I was going to run off with someone, it would have to be someone like Denise, who was attractive and tall, lovely personality, a good friend, someone you can talk to and have a laugh with. It was like that with Liz and me once many years ago. The money side of things didn’t really matter if we loved each other, not that it wouldn’t be a problem for us. It was all too much for me, what with everything else that was going on. I tried to explain that I fancied the idea but I wasn’t going to say anything until I had given it some serious thought. For the while, I told her, it would be best if we carried on as we were.

Denise held my hand and said, “I really do love you.” We carried on talking for about two hours and left just after three o’clock. I switched the radio off and thought about the conversation we’d just had, all the way back to work.

I never saw Debbie at Mick’s school the next morning, so I waited impatiently until 12.30 and made my way over to the Red Lion to meet her for a drink and find out what she was going to do with John. She arrived at 1.30, just as I was thinking she wasn’t going to make it. She kissed me on the cheek as she sat down on a stool next to me and apologised for being late. I ordered her a drink and said, “Shall we move over by the fire?”

As we walked over, Debbie said, “It’s just like the one in the cabin, isn’t it,” and smiled. We reminisced for a while about that night and she started to tell me about her weekend away.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t say anything the other day, but as it involves you, I didn’t want to tell you bits. As you know, I went away that weekend, to my friend’s house with Dawn and I had a long talk with myself about everything. I can’t thank you enough for what you did for me on that Friday night. You were right in saying I couldn’t go on like that, so I thought long and hard and decided to go back to John for a while, to see if he can sort himself out. He has promised me he will stop drinking and seek help from someone professional and I think he means it. But only time will tell. When I came back on the Monday night, we sat and talked for hours. I’ve set a bed up for him in the spare room and he’ll sleep in there, not with me. To be honest, I don’t want to be near him; it will take me a long time to get over the things he did to me. If he starts drinking again, I have told him I will leave him and I will take Dawn with me and he will have to take me to court to get her back. And with his present drinking problem, I don’t think he would stand much chance, do you?”

I shook my head and swigged at my drink as she carried on. “Something happened to me that day you took me out that has never happened to me before. I fell in love with a very nice gentleman.”

I didn’t say anything, because deep down I’d fallen for her and I wanted to hear what she had to say first.

“I thought about asking you to leave your wife, and Mick, to live with me but I don’t think it would be fair to even suggest it. I am the one with the problems, not you, and I will have to sort it out on my own for now. However, I would like to see you now and again if it’s possible and, in time, who knows? Things might change between you and your wife. If you asked me now, I would leave John today without a second thought but I know you can’t. All I’m trying to say is I will wait and carry on, as I said, hoping that there is a small chance that one day we might be together. And I would be more willing to live on that hope than to have nothing.” Debbie stopped and sipped her drink and I fell in love with her even more.

As she put her glass back down on the table, I gently put my hands on her rose-coloured cheeks, kissed her on the lips and said, “You’ve obviously thought about it a lot and I think you’ve made a very good decision. Will you tell me if he starts drinking or playing up? And definitely, if he as much as looks at you with a frown? You don’t deserve to be treated like that, you are a lovely person too, and very clever. I think what you said earlier was lovely and yes, I would love to see you and take you out again.”

Debbie grabbed my hand under the table and said, “I promise I will tell you.” We kissed.

We left the Red Lion about 2.15 because Debbie had to meet a client at three o’clock. We held each other and kissed. As we left, I made Debbie promise we could see each other every morning, even if we couldn’t speak. She gave me one of those massive smiles before she left.

I drove back to work, with my head in the clouds, and then Roger phoned me from work and said that the petrol had run out again. I came back down to earth with a big bang.

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