A couple of days went by and, luckily, I didn’t see Andrew, so the guilt was wearing off. I’d told Liz that I was still stuck in the traffic at eight o’clock, so I’d found a little cafe, had a bite to eat, fallen asleep in the truck till five o’clock in the morning and got back to the garage about nine.
On the Saturday morning, the phone rang. I was cleaning the Rolls when one of the lads said, “It’s for you.”
I took the call and a voice said, “Hello, it’s me, how are you?” I was surprised; it was Denise. She said, “I’m on the motorway coming home. Is everything OK?”
“Yes, fine, hold on while I run upstairs.” I went up to my office, and picked up the receiver. “ I’ve missed you.”
“Not as much as I’ve missed you,” Denise said. “I’ve tried to ring Andrew but there’s no reply. Have you seen him?”
“No, he’s probably working, I haven’t spoke to him yet. Does he know what time you’ll be home?”
“Yes, he always-” The phone went dead.
I replaced the receiver and waited. After a while, I phoned Denise’s car phone and a posh voice said, “Sorry, the number you are calling is not responding. It may respond if you try again.” It was probably because she was in a built-up area and had lost the signal.
I went back down the stairs. When I got to the bottom, the phone rang again. I answered it in the workshop and Denise said, “These phones are bloody useless.” I laughed and she said, “He must be working. It’s funny because he usually rings me. Never mind, I’ll speak to you later, when I-” The line went dead again.
I finished cleaning the car and left for home. As I turned into my road, the phone rang. I pulled over to the kerb to answer it. It was Denise again.
“Have you found him yet?” I jokingly said.
She sounded worried. “No, I’m home and there’s no sign, or note. I’ve phoned everywhere I thought he might be and no one has seen him. It’s not like Andrew, he always rings me.”
I mentioned a few places he could be and Denise told me she had tried them all. I started to worry as Denise started crying. “Don’t worry, I’m nearly home now. I’ll ring a few people as well and call you back.” As I pulled away the same thought entered my mind as when I was in the room in London: perhaps he was in the car park.
I turned onto my drive. I could see his car in the corner. I was so relieved as I quickly phoned Denise back. “It’s OK, he’s here, or at least his car is.”
“I never thought of ringing Liz,” she replied. “See you later.”
I parked the car and, as I entered the house, Liz was talking on the phone in the kitchen and Andrew was in the garden, playing Swing ball with Mick.
I opened two cans of beer, went outside and sat on the chair while they finished their game. Andrew came over and sat next to me, sweat pouring from his brow.
“How are you?” I said first.
“Worn out ... your son ... has had me running round like an idiot.”
Then Mick came over. “Hello, Dad, do you want a game?”
“Not yet, son, perhaps later.”
Just then, Liz came out with a glass of white wine in her hand and said, “Denise is looking for you.”
Andrew stood up quickly and said, “I forgot - what time is it?”
“Don’t worry, she’s coming round for a quick drink, as it’s so warm and sunny.”
I sat waiting for the doorbell to chime, so that I could be the one to open the door. Mick got changed and dived into the pool to cool off and Andrew followed him, so I went into the kitchen to fetch some more beers. Just as I opened the door to the fridge, I heard a car pull onto the drive. I got to the front door before Denise had time to ring the bell.
“Hello, how are you?” I asked, kissing her cheek.
“Better now. I thought Andrew had found out about us and left me. I’m very tired; I’ve not slept much in the last few days. While I was in Washington, I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”
I closed the door and, as we walked in to the kitchen, she said, “It must never happen again but thanks for a lovely night. I think it would be better if we didn’t mention it again, for obvious reasons.”
I rescued a couple of beers from the fridge and poured Denise a glass of red wine. As I handed her the glass I said, “Perhaps we could go for a drink one day.”
“No, what we did was nice, but wrong.”
Just then Andrew walked in. “Hello, have you had a good trip?”
“Yes, it was nice. I was worried when I couldn’t find you anywhere.”
Andrew apologised and said he was too busy playing with Mick, then we all went out into the garden and sat there till about seven, drinking and talking.
A few days passed; I didn’t speak to Denise at all. Andrew rang me to tell me that he had booked a squash court for Thursday night. So I went home early and met him at the courts. We trashed the little green ball up against the wall for twenty minutes or so and then went for a beer in our local.
While we were talking about work and things, he asked me if we would like to go for a meal in a couple of weeks. The table was booked for eight people. It was a new restaurant, in Lyddington, and the food was supposedly very nice. We had another drink and I went home.
Liz was in bed, so the following day she rang me when she finished work and I told her about the meal. “I know,” she said. “It will be nice. I will probably be working, but I’ll swap my shift with someone. Can you organise a minibus so we can all go together?”
“Leave it with me, I’ll do it now.” I said goodbye and drove up the road to see a friend who hired them out. I went into his office and booked it.
“The only problem is, no one but you can drive it, so you will have to stay sober,” he said, laughing.
I filled the forms out, thinking to myself, I will anyway because Denise will be there, and Julie - hopefully my next date - and I don’t want to say anything wrong.
On my way back to the garage, I had a phone call telling me that there was someone looking at the Rolls Royce. I told them I’d be about five minutes and hung up. As I approached, I could see someone sitting in the car on the forecourt. I drove past to park my car at the other end and, as I looked at him, I could tell he was, what we call in the trade, a time waster or a dreamer. If someone wants to buy a car of this class, they don’t bring the three kids and let them climb all over the back seats.
After about ten minutes of him looking under the bonnet, inside the boot, kicking the tyres and revving the engine, trying to seem like he knew what to look for, I started to get a little angry. He asked questions like, “How many miles will it do to the gallon?” and “Are the tyres expensive?” Straight away, I could tell he couldn’t afford it. Then I really lost interest when he said, “Will you take £4,000 in cash?” It was £3,000 less than I wanted.
I closed the bonnet, shut the boot, took the keys out and locked the doors. As I walked away, I couldn’t help myself. I said, “I bet you drive a mini.”
The man said, “There’s no need to be like that, I didn’t come here to be insulted.”
I replied, “Your type can probably go anywhere for that.” I walked away and went up to my office shaking with anger.
The following week, I sold the car to an Arabic-looking man, from Liventry. Apparently, he’d passed the garage a few times on his way to work and had fallen in love with the car. It was just what he had been looking for. He paid me the asking price, with a cheque, and, when it cleared at the bank, I rang him and he collected the car, after we completely valeted inside and out. I would have liked it myself but, with business not so good, I couldn’t justify it.
As it drove off down the road, I thought about my first date with Denise. I had made a small profit, so I was quite pleased with myself. I rang my cousin, told him and arranged for the money to be sent down to London by registered post to save me the journey; not that I would mind if Denise was going to be down there again.
On the Friday, I made a quick phone call to make sure everything was OK with the minibus and arranged to collect it on the way home.
I arrived home about six o’clock to see Liz walking round the house in curlers and a dressing gown. Mick was watching telly with his overnight bag ready by his side, eating sweets and dropping wrappers all over the floor with one leg dangling over the arm of the chair. I went upstairs and got in the bath after a quick chat with him about school.
As I lay there, soaking in the steamy bathroom, I tried to think of ways to ask Julie out. Maybe while we were dancing, or outside; perhaps I could get her to sit in the front of the minibus? None of them seemed a good idea, in case someone overheard me.
I got myself ready in a dinner suit that I’d hired. I thought it best not to wear my own, which was at the garage; Liz would have asked me questions.
Liz wore a tightly fitted, long red dress, with long sleeves and a row of pearls around her neck that I hadn’t seen before. She looked lovely. It was probably the first time we’d been out together in ages.
We climbed into the bus and dropped Mick off at his Nan’s on the way. There was no school the next day, so we didn’t have to worry about collecting him till the morning.
We were the first to arrive at Denise and Andrew’s. It was decided we’d all meet there because the location was in the middle of everyone’s house and not far from the motorway. They could all have a drink before we made our way to the restaurant.
First to appear were Sandra and Henry. Sandra was a lovely girl but I hadn’t included her in my game because I knew she would definitely say no. They were only married about two years ago. I could remember that wedding like it was yesterday. It was one of those weddings you never forget; even the stag night was a good one. If I remember, it was on the Thursday night; Sandra wanted Henry to be sober on the wedding day and have Friday off to help with the organising.
We went to a few bars and clubs in the city centre, getting a little more drunk at each one. By the end, Henry was so drunk he couldn’t stand on his own. Three of us had to carry him out of the last place, so we took all his money off him and put him on a train to Scotland. It was about ten in the morning when someone found him and woke him up. He had to reverse the charges and ring Sandra, who wasn’t very pleased at all with any of us, and her father had to pay to get him back. He arrived home about seven o’clock that night, still covered in sick and piss.
The wedding was much the same; the car broke down and was late to start with. Then it went to the wrong church, the organ music was out of key and, to top it all, the vicar was pissed and forgot his words. The bride started crying, the groom was trying to console her outside the church. The best man put his arm around Sandra’s mum because she started as well and he was accused by Sandra’s dad of trying to get off with her.
Anyway, it all calmed down in the end and the photographs said it all: most people had red sore eyes through crying or laughing.
I laughed through most of it. In fact I was in pain at one stage. We still talked about it at parties.
As I was standing talking to Henry, the doorbell rang. It was Simon and Julie. Andrew opened the door and my heart came up into my mouth; Julie looked like a film star. Her hair was shorter than I remembered. I couldn’t stop myself staring; she looked sexier than ever. I hadn’t seen her since the barbecue. Her auburn hair was layered just over her shoulders and her blue eyes looked piercing as she smiled at me. She was wearing a black short skirt to just above her knees and a black shiny top. She had lost some weight and looked absolutely stunning.
After I stopped myself dribbling, I went over and kissed her on the cheek and said hello. I wanted to throw her on the carpet and have her, there and then.
We all stood in the kitchen and talked for a while and Henry opened the champagne that he’d brought with him. I was standing by the fridge, still looking at Julie, when the cork popped. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Denise peering over her fluted crystal glass. She winked, which reminded me of London, then she smiled and turned away.
When everyone had finished their drinks, I loaded them into the bus. I put the men at the back and the girls towards the front, so when I looked in the rear-view mirror, I could see Julie and Denise while I was driving.
We arrived at the restaurant just after eight. The waiters took our coats and showed us to the long table that was laid out well. The girls sat one side and the men the other. I sat opposite Julie, on the end, and by her side was Denise, so I could look at them both all night.
Denise looked extremely sexy with her dark hair and short, pleated white skirt. In fact, we all looked like millionaires and so did some of the other people that were in there. The diamonds on some of the women were massive. And gold - I’d never seen so much in one room.
We ordered some wine. I had a glass while we were waiting for the menu. We talked a bit and the waiter came over with a menu for each of us and we ordered some more wine with our meals. Some of the people who had already eaten were dancing on the other side of the room to a five-piece soft jazz band. The restaurant was quite large inside and full of people. The decor was very modern; lots of chrome and glass everywhere.
While we were waiting for the food to arrive, I asked Denise if she would like to dance. She placed her glass on the table and said, “Yes, please, I thought you would never ask.” She stood up and I could hear the others on our table clapping as we walked towards the dance floor.
There was a big round pillar in the middle of the room, so I wanted to dance with that between our table, and us so no one could see what we where up too. We stepped onto the dance floor. Denise put her arms on my shoulders, and I put mine around her waist. She looked deep into my eyes, tipped her head slightly to one side and said, “I love you.” Then she pulled my head towards hers and kissed me, long and slowly. We started to move from side to side gently, still kissing each other passionately as a clarinet introduced the next tune softly.
I lifted my head and looked around. A few other couples were dancing close together around us. After a while the rhythm changed. It was more upbeat. We danced lambada-style in the middle of the dance floor, with all the others watching us. Everyone started clapping and cheering as the beat got faster and faster.
After the music finished, we walked back to the table. Simon followed us. As we sat down, he asked what was happening. “I couldn’t see from the side, there were too many people standing around the edge of the dance floor.”
I told him that there was a couple dancing and they were very good, just as the waiter appeared with our food. I had a steak in white wine sauce. It was nice but very small; I had to move the ten peas and one potato to find it - they call it nervous cuisine, I think.
When I finished, I looked over at Julie and hoped I might have a dance with her later. While I was sipping the last of my red wine, I noticed that Liz was having a deep conversation with Andrew at the other end of the table and Henry and Sandra got up and went for a dance. I talked to Julie, hoping Simon would ask Denise for a dance so I could ask her out, but he started talking to her instead, so I asked Julie for a dance. She stood up and dabbed her mouth with the table napkin and held my hand as we walked through the tables to the dance floor.
We held each other closely as we danced, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the words, then Henry came over with Sandra and said, “It’s my turn to dance with Julie, can we swap?”
I agreed and danced with Sandra for the rest of the song but every time I looked at Julie as we faced each other, she seemed as if she wanted to say something.
After that we all sat down. Some of the girls had sweets, Simon ordered more wine and I had boring lemonade. Simon and Andrew had started to look a little worse for wear by this time and Liz didn’t look too good either. I looked at my watch; it was almost 11.30.
Denise said, “I’ve had enough now, take me home.” Henry called the waiter over and asked for the bill.
Liz was just starting to nod off, slumped back in the chair, so Andrew tapped her arm. She opened her eyes and just said, “Home,” and closed them again.
The bill came and Andrew paid it with his credit card and said something like, “Short it out tomorrow.” Another waiter came over with the coats, and we made our way out to the car park. Andrew helped Liz most of the way, then she came round as the fresh air hit her. The others were swaying a bit and I was as sober as some judges.
I opened the minibus’s side door and everyone piled in. As we pulled away, Simon started to sing and, by the time we got to the motorway, they were all joining in.
We pulled up on Andrew’s drive and I heard him shout, “Let’s get the driver pished, everybody into our houshe!”
I locked the van and we all went in. Liz walked in the front door, turned left and straight up the stairs to bed. Andrew poured some more drinks and Simon put the music on. I had a few drinks, a dance or two and fell asleep next to Henry on the settee.
When I awoke in the morning, Henry had gone. Simon was snoring in the chair across the room, so I went into the kitchen and made some coffees.
I was banging the cups so someone would hear me and come down. Liz was first, with make-up all over her cheeks, trying to focus on anything. “Are you all right?” I asked with my arm around her shoulder.
“I think so,” she said as she yawned.
“Drink this then and we’ll go and fetch Mick.”
“I don’t want anything, just my bed.”
I put some cold water in my coffee to cool it down and left the rest ready for when the others awoke. I drank mine quickly, poured Liz’s down the sink and we left. We picked Mick up and I dropped them both off at home, took the bus back, then made my way to work.