As she watched Miles talk so animatedly - about himself, Sophie felt her plan spring into action. He was so cocky, so confident, and she was about to teach him a lesson. It was obvious he was trying to woo her, slowly wanting to talk her into his bed, and until now she’d been resistant. but with her change of plan had to come a change of attitude...but in a slow way, a way he believed was down to his rather off target chat up lines. It seemed that in the past talking about himself had wooed him many a woman. Some women were desperate that was obvious.
Leaning back in her chair, she listened to him, he was talking about celebrities he’d met in a party a few weeks earlier, and in particular a young American actress that was particularly enamoured with him - allegedly! Sophie took her foot off the gas and just sat back and listened. When he looked at her she smiled appropriately, and nodded where was necessary. She’d gone against his recommendation of steak and ordered lamb and it was delivered by the same googly-eyed waitress.
The wine was wonderful, belying the awful interior design of the building, and the lamb was equally as good. So she got lost in the pleasures of a good meal. When she glanced up, Miles was leaning back in his chair watching her with a bemused look on his face.
“What?” she asked a little self conscious.
“Nothing, just rare to see a woman eat so heartily!”
She fought off a blush, unable to decide if this was a deliberate dig, when she’d kissed him ten years ago she’d had more than her share of puppy fat, or whether he genuinely surprised at her enjoyment of food. She decided to go with the latter and quipped a response.
“Good food is one of life’s luxuries and should be enjoyed in the manner it was cooked. Whole heartedly!”
His response was a chuckle, “I like that scenario, but if you look around the room you’ll see you’re the only woman who views their meal that way!”
She glanced to first one side, then the other and saw that he was right, every other woman in the room was picking rather ineffectively at their food. This place was all about being seen, and the type of people who got off on that couldn’t possibly eat a decent meal. She found the whole situation hilarious and knew that this was why Bill hated this world. Not for the first time she wished it was Bill sat across the table from her instead of Miles. But this was her perfect chance to bury her past once and for all.
So she turned back to Miles and smiled, “well aren’t you the lucky one!”
From his lounging position, he nodded, “aren’t I just?!”
After dinner they wandered to a nearby wine bar and he ordered champagne. As he filled two flutes in the security of a secluded booth Sophie couldn’t help remembering that the last champagne she’d drunk had been her celebration for winning her contract...moments before falling out with her two best friends. She wanted to scream, but instead she smiled again and sipped her drink.
“I’ve had a great night.” Miles offered as he sat next to her in a taxi. He’d insisted on seeing her home, despite her protests. Sophie wondered if part of that was him flaunting with danger, he knew that she lived with Bill...His motives were becoming more and more obvious as the evening wore on.
She nodded, “I have too...surprisingly.”
“Can I see you again?”
She shook her head coyly, “I don’t think that’s a good idea Miles.” Looking up at him she could almost see his mind working.
“Sophie, we’ve had fun...can’t we just go out to dinner again, Friday maybe?”
The taxi had pulled up at her house, and he’d rushed around to open her door, as she stood in front of him she was non committal, “I don’t think so Miles,” she nodded in the direction of the house, hinting that Bill was inside. She was starting to think that him thinking she was in a relationship was half the attraction.
With that he kissed her. Ten years she’d waited for that moment, him wanting to kiss her, him actually initiating it, but it felt flat. There was no toe curling, no weak knees, and no racing heart. Pushing herself free of his cold hard lips, she smiled awkwardly. Any doubt she had about any lingering feelings for Miles, evaporated then at that flaccid disinteresting kiss, but she wasn't disappointed, because she'd had that heartstopping kiss since. With Bill.
“Miles,” she scolded him in a more gentle manner than she wanted to, playing along knowing the man that he was would appreciate a docile naive woman. “Don’t be naughty, you know I’m spoken for.”
“Maybe, but who says we can’t have a little fun, he never needs to know!”
And there it was, the intention. But he had no idea that she was going to use his suggestion of a casual affair in a cathartic manner, to clear away all the doubts that had shaped her life for SO many years.
“It’s an interesting offer...but I really don’t know!”
Not spotting the curtains flicker in the lounge of her home, she smiled coyly again, knowing exactly what she was going, then turned and rushed into the house!
As she closed the front door, leaning on to it with relief, she heard the lounge door open and looking up saw Bill stood there, hands on hips looking more than angry.
“Hope ‘he’...” the contempt dripped from his voice, “was worth abandoning your best mate in her hour of need!”
With that he stormed past her up the stairs in a rather wobbly fashion.
Disaster of some description had hit her home in her absence, and the only two people likely to explain the mess, make that carnage were ensconced in their rooms. Judging by the empty bottles stacked on the table, they had been celebrating...she lifted the empty bottle of Ouzo, the only remaining souvenir from her trip with Vincenza to Greece three years earlier. It had sat in their kitchen since, they’d joked that it was their ultimate commiseration bottle, there for the rainiest day.
They’d drunk it...all! She shook her head, what could be that bad?
It took half an hour to clear the dishes, the left over vegetables into the compost bin, the plates into the dishwasher, and the empties into the recycling, and her anger was still simmering. She wasn’t their servant here at every beck and call. Yes she’d been out with Miles, and she knew that Bill despised him, but there were two facts that he hadn’t taken into account - she was a free agent, and he’d done his best to avoid her, so he obviously didn’t have the same feelings for her, and she had to get over that, and secondly, this was all part of her plan, her healing.
No, she was already feeling hard done by, they’d both ganged up on her before the weekend and neither had made a real effort to apologise, or even to get past that, not that you’ve given them much opportunity to try a voice tried to reason in her head, but she ignored it. No, she was well and truly in the right here and damn Bill Swift for yet again judging her...
The next morning after very little, no make that NO sleep, she was reading a newspaper in the kitchen when the door opened and Vincenza stood there, her eyes puffy from crying. Sophie’s heart melted.
Jumping to her feet she rushed across to her, “what is it?
Vin sighed slumping into a seat, “I told Ed, that I was the daughter of my father, ‘the infamous Italian magnate’...needless to say he was furious. I don’t know why he was so angry, but I suppose I have lied to him, I mean we’re supposed to be starting a relationship and I lie from day one. How does that look?”
Sophie sat next to her, “well it’s not as if you told him you were married! I think he’s over reacted! What happened?”
“We were having a beer after work, and I thought I should tell him...he turned white and ran off. Left me there alone. He hasn’t answered his phone since...I came home...”
Sophie reached out and covered her hands with her own, “and I wasn’t here. I’m so sorry Vin, I really am!”
Vin shook her head, “if there’s one thing I’ve learnt the last few weeks is that I take you for granted. All the time. Why shouldn’t you be off having fun? Where were you anywhere nice?”
Groaning, she looked at her friend, “Miles Langley, turned up here and insisted we go out to dinner.”
“Really?” Vin’s eyes lit yup. “Hottie Langley? OMG! Tell me all!”
“Yes!” said a voice from behind, and they both spun around to see Bill stood there, already dressed for work, anger giving his face an arrogant appearance. “Let’s hear ALL about the smooth talker!”
He reached for a mug and filled it with coffee from the machine then stared at her, his face devoid of all emotion.
Sophie groaned, “it was just dinner. That’s all.”
Vin clapped her hands, “oooh! How brilliant! Are you seeing him again?”
She shrugged noncommittally, she’d intended to see him again, but she knew how Bill felt about him, and she was embarrassed to admit her plans in front of him.
He tutted then walked out with a “some people never learn!”
Bill spent most of the day negotiating with his bosses and the GB team manager, Dave Parnell, a workable schedule. Dave wanted Bill to join up with him immediately, the rest of the ten man squad had trained together for the last few months, and he had hours of video and tactics to work through, it was ten days of catch up. In the end, Bill managed to offload his regular clients and workload and took unpaid leave, starting the following day. His boss wasn’t happy, but fortunately Bill had a trust fund that he never touched, it could see him through the next few months and whatever that brought.
Triumphant he left work and finding an empty house he started to pack. He was going to Manchester to the velodrome, the base of the cycling world. Dave was putting him up at his house and he had a strict plan for the next ten days, until the flight to Australia, glancing at the schedule Bill wondered where sleep fitted in, but then the adrenaline was already pumping through his veins with excitement, anticipation. This was more than he’d ever dreamed about.
He didn’t have time to deal with his anger at Sophie, or rather his anger at the bloody upstart that was Miles Langley, he could barely think of him without wanting to punch a wall. His feelings for Sophie were complicated of late, but as a minimum he loved her as a friend, a best friend. Taking the jealousy at the thought of that bastard’s hands on her and the memory of seeing him kiss her aside, he KNEW that Langley didn’t deserve her, that he was a womaniser, a letch that she could do without. For all her intelligence and wit, Sophie was naive when it came to men, to relationships, her past disasters told him that. The fact that he was abandoning her now, before he’d told her that he loved her more than he should, or apologised for the way he’d avoided her as he tried to deal with those feelings, was made even more painful with Langley interfering, a silent threat to hurt her.
There was no sign of either of his housemates arriving before Dave Parnell turned up with a huge van to collect Bill, his clothes, his bikes and his equipment, and he hated the thought of leaving without a goodbye. Vincenza’s devastation at the actions of Edward had meant his news had remained untold...how could you tell someone who’s more upset than you’ve ever seen them that you’ve had the greatest news of your life?
Neither girl was answering their phone, and now that things had come so quickly to a head, he had to leave that night, he was desperate to speak to them. Pulling out his laptop he flipped it open and logged into his email quickly.
Sending them a joint email he explained his news, the rapid deadline, and his sadness at not telling them he was leaving in person. He left a list of contact numbers, everything was covered in the event of a problem with the house, and as detailed a schedule as he had for the next six weeks.
As the horn of a van sounded outside, he closed the computer, repacked it, then headed outside, closing the door on everything he knew as safe.
“Who needs men?” Vincenza asked, drunkenly sloshing her glass towards Sophie. An equally drunk Sophie lifted her glass and clunked it against her friends.
“THIS Vincenza Dorino, was your GREATEST idea EVER!” Sophie slurred with a smile.
The previous night, at the height of her grief, Vin had called her boss and taken the rest of the week off. That morning, after Bill had left for work, Vin had grinned from beneath her puffy eyes. “Let’s go to Paris? What’s stopping us? We can be on a Eurostar in what two hours?”
Sophie never did anything on impulse, she was renown as an over-thinker...that was before winning her major contract. For the first time in her life she was financially viable. There was no reason why they couldn’t just disappear. Neither had anything stopping them. So within half an hour they’d packed an overnight bag each, scribbled a note to Bill, then rushed off to the terminal to get on the next train with vacancies. Neither had spotted their note fall from the mantelpiece as they’d slammed the door closed behind them.
Once they had tickets, Vincenza booked them a hotel via her phone, and then...they were on their way to Paris!
The champagne they’d bought on the train had merged into the white wine in their hotel, more with dinner. Now at two am they were drinking whisky in a nightclub where they’d danced until they could barely walk. Several men had tried to chat them up, but in an anti-men way, they’d both dispatched potential ‘encounters’ off with a few sharp words and a high-five!
Vincenza nodded, “we should do this more often! I am LOVING Gay Pa-reee!”
Wrapping an arm around her friend, Sophie smiled, “Me too! I just wish...”
“Bill was here!” they both said, at exactly the same time!