She opened her eyes and squinted at the clock. ‘Oh Christ!’ She looked again, yes it did say 12.27. Bloody hell, her head hurt. She laid on her back and tried to remember what they had actually done last night after the horrific incident in the hotel bar. It all came flooding back like a bad dream and she was more mortified than she thought possible. Drinks had turned into more drinks, then dinner and more drinks, then a club and more drinks and ended with them finally getting the night bus back from Trafalgar Square at around 4am. Ten hours solid drinking. No wonder she felt like someone had taken to her head with an axe. And yet, all that alcohol and she still could not blot out the horror of what she had done and then what her supposed best friend had done by giving that weird man her number. She would have to get Louise to change the answer phone message so that it sounded like she didn’t live there and then he’d think he’d got the wrong number and go away. She hoped.
She threw back the covers of her warm bed and the cold hit her like a wave from the North Atlantic. ‘Bloody heating has gone off again.’ She put on the very short kimono style dressing gown that Lou had brought back as a gift from her trip to Thailand and thought again that it wasn’t particularly practical or warm. But as it was a gift, she felt that she had to use it. She threw a cardigan over her shoulders, put on her slippers shaped like little pigs and walked through to the kitchen, where Louise, seemingly full of the joys of spring, was whipping up some pancake mix and getting some bacon ready for frying.
‘Morning sweetie, or should I say afternoon? Coffee is on and there’s some freshly squeezed orange juice in the fridge. Back or streaky?’ She looked up from the two packs of Bacon she was holding and glanced over at Anna. ‘Jesus, you look terrible.’
‘Yes, thank you Louise. I don’t feel too brilliant this morning to be honest. It must have been that last Tequila that did it.’
Louise laughed, ‘I think you will find that it was the six Tequila shots before the last one that did it, love. I’ve never seen you drink like that before. It was most impressive. Well, it would have been if you could have walked unaided. As it was that nice bloke from your office was on a night out in town and came to our assistance.’
‘Sorry? What nice bloke from my office? Oh no, I remember seeing Alex, is that who you mean, he helped me walk didn’t he? Bloody hell, Monday is going to be fun!’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Louise with a wink. ‘He thought it was highly amusing, couldn’t stop laughing!’
‘I bet he did.’ Anna slumped down at the kitchen table and poured herself a cup of black coffee, a drink that she only had if she had a particularly bad hangover. Louise put a big plate of pancakes, bacon and maple syrup in front of her. Anna thought she might throw up there and then, but also knew that eating was the only thing that was going to make her feel half human again.
‘Have we got any diet coke? I need something ice cold and fizzy.’ She asked through a mouthful of food.
Louise went to the fridge and pulled out a couple of cans, popped some cubes from the ice tray into a glass and poured it for her. ‘There you go, that should do the trick.’
‘Thank you,’ said Anna. ‘I am sorry I am such a lightweight and you had to practically carry me home, I will make it up to you. Perhaps my famous Macaroni Cheese for tea tonight?’
‘Can’t do tonight I’m afraid, I have a date.’ Louise grinned over her huge pile of pancakes.
Anna looked up surprised. ‘Really? A date with who?’
‘Your Alex from work. We sort of hit it off last night and, well, we have you in common so, anyway he’s taking me to the pictures to see the new Tom Hanks thing, ‘“Large”, or whatever it’s called.’
’He’s not ‘my Alex’ and the film is called ‘Big!‘’ Anna was horrified that her friend would be going out with someone she knew from work. It could only end one way and that was badly.
‘Whatever, I suspect he’ll just want a snog in the back row so I don’t suppose it matters what we see.’
Anna tutted in mock indignation and then laughed. ‘These pancakes are brilliant, thanks Lou.’
‘You’re very welcome. Now, go and have a shower and put some clothes on, we need to do a big shop at the Co-Op. We have absolutely no food and, worse, no booze. Chop Chop!’
While she was in the shower, Louise had done what she had asked and changed the answerphone message, albeit somewhat reluctantly. She dried herself off and blow dried her hair. Dressed in jeans and an oversized jumper she shouted to Louise that she was ready. Louise, with very much her own idea of what was in vogue, appeared in a bright yellow rah rah skirt, a Frankie says Relax T-shirt and a pair of turquoise leggings.
‘You’re not seriously going shopping dressed like that? You look like a reject from those dancers on Top of the Pops!’
‘You never know who you will meet at the supermarket so I will dress how I want thank you very much.’
‘Fine, fine,’ sighed Anna. ‘Let’s go.’
The supermarket wasn’t far and it was a nice day so they decided to walk, agreeing that they would get the bus back if they had a lot of heavy bags. Shopping with Louise was always a nightmare and it took twice as long as it would if Anna was on her own. She had to follow Louise around swapping the expensive brand products for the stores own. At least one of them was money conscious. Once they had paid and decided that actually, the bags weren’t too heavy after all, they walked the ten minutes back to the flat.
She loved their little flat. It was the top half of a converted Victorian Terraced house with a bright living room with big bay windows overlooking the street and a kitchen off of it with views over the back garden that belonged to the flat downstairs. Two reasonable sized bedrooms and a bathroom with an avocado suite that had seen better days. But it was theirs and she had been sharing with Lou for nearly eighteen months. They split the rent and bills so it wasn’t too much of a struggle and they never seemed to be in each others pocket. They’d had a series of downstairs neighbours over the time that she had been there. Currently they had Nigel, who was a one-armed motorbike fanatic who spent long hours tinkering with his bike in the back garden. She didn’t know many people with disabilities and the first time they had met, she couldn’t keep her eyes off his missing limb. He didn’t seem overly bothered and had told them that he had lost it in a bomb disposal accident. They didn’t believe him of course, and the story seemed to change each time he told it, but it kept an air of mystery about Nigel and it made him quite an interesting character.
They dumped the shopping in the kitchen and Anna put the kettle on. ‘Tea?’ she asked.
‘No thanks, I think I will have a little lay down, that walk has knackered me out and I want to be on my best form for your Alex tonight.’
Anna watched her friend go out the door and heard her door shut. I’ll give her an hour, she thought to herself, and then I’ll wake her up.
As she poured the hot water on to the tea bag, she heard the phone ring. Instinct made her run to pick it up, but she just stopped herself just in time. What if it was him, that bloke? She didn’t want to speak to him at all.
The answer phone picked up. ‘Hello, this is Louise Latham, I am sorry I am not here at the moment. I’m probably out getting pissed or laid, or both, so please leave a message after the tone and if you’re interesting enough I will call you back, Ciao.’ Anna raised her eyes to heaven and chuckled.
The tone ended and there was a little silence then a voice she recognised from night before came through. ‘Oh, hello, this is Jeremy Whittingdale, I am looking for Anna? Your friend gave me your number, but this message doesn’t sound as if it’s yours so maybe I have it down wrong. Um, if it is you, don’t worry I am not going to sue you or send you my dry cleaning bill or anything nasty like that, I um, just wanted to know if you fancied meeting me for a drink or dinner or something tonight? No ulterior motive or anything I just wanted to apologise for calling you a hooker.’ He laughed a little to himself. ‘Um, so if you do want to then please call me on…’ he recited his number. ‘Um, thank you and if this isn’t you Anna, I’m so…..’ The tone cut in and he was gone.
‘Well, the bloody cheek of him. Asking me out for a drink. Probably thinks he is going to get extras or something. I’m not falling for that rubbish.’ She pressed the delete button and went to finish making her tea.
After Louise had left the flat in a haze of perfume, Poison, Anna thought, was her scent of choice tonight, which would send poor Alex running if nothing else, Anna sat on the sofa with a takeaway pizza and a glass of wine. There was some nonsense on the telly where Jeremy Beadle was dressed as a nun trying to get a man to jump start his car only to take his mask off and everyone fell about laughing. She didn’t find it very funny at all, but there was nothing else on so it would do for now. Anna thought the name Jeremy was quite unusual and then she remembered that she had come across two in the last twenty-four hours.
Jeremy Whittingdale? She thought about him and his good looks and deep eyes and wondered whether it had been the right thing to delete his message. ‘Yes’, she said out loud to herself. ‘Why would I want to go out with someone who thinks I sell my body for money?’ As the end titles rolled, the doorbell rang. She looked at her watch, 8.30, quite late and she wasn’t expecting anyone. She looked out the front window but couldn’t see who was there. She double checked the back and saw that Nigel’s lights were on so at least he was in if it was a burglar or someone there to do her in. She wrapped her cardigan around her and went downstairs. They hadn’t put a spy hole in the door of the flat so she had to open it to see who was there.
She put the chain on and opened the door. A faint waft of Eau Savage came through the gap. It took her by surprise as it wasn’t a cheap brand so she didn’t think it was a burglar. She opened the door fully and there he was. Jeremy, bloody, Whittingdale. Well, she thought it was him, he was holding the most enormous bouquet of Lilies she had ever seen outside of a funeral parlour, so she couldn’t actually see his face.
He peered from behind. ‘Ah, there you are, I thought that I had the wrong address as well as the wrong phone number.’
‘How? Why? Who?’ Anna stuttered. ‘How did you know my address?’
‘Well your strange friend sort of gave it to me last night, although she told me not to tell you where I got it from but I couldn’t really think of anywhere else to say I had got it so….’
‘Bloody Louise Bloody Latham, I’ll kill her!’ Anna was almost puce with rage and embarrassment. ‘She told me that she had given you our number and that was bad enough, but our address as well, that is just too much.’
‘No, you shouldn’t blame her, I did sort of mislead her into giving it to me. I said I would send a bottle of champagne to say sorry for jumping to the wrong conclusions last night. I get the impression that it wasn’t a hard choice for her.’ He laughed then and his eyes shone with mischief.
She couldn’t really put an age on him other than that he was considerably older than her 21 years. She thought maybe he was about 45, perhaps a little older, but he was certainly more attractive than she had first thought. In fact, he was a lot more attractive. Maybe she had got it wrong. Maybe he wasn’t that bad. Maybe she should have gone out with him for that drink. She would have to tell him she couldn’t abide Lilies, but that could wait. ‘Would you like to come in for a drink?’ She asked. ‘We don’t have much other than a half decent Italian red that I had been saving for a special occasion.’
‘And is this a special occasion?’ He said, eyebrows lifting in mock surprise. ‘Because if it is, I would be delighted to accept.’
‘You had better come in then, I’ll get a vase for those, those….’
‘Lilies,’ He chuckled. ‘I think they’re called Lilies.’
‘I know what they are called, but it’s such a huge bouquet, I wasn’t sure if there was something else in there, like a small child or a Mini Cooper?’
He laughed properly then, a mighty deep laugh that made her go slightly weak at the knees. ‘No, no children or small cars, just the lilies. I suppose they are a little bit big.’
‘Just a bit,’ she said and took them from him, pointing up the stairs.
When she came out of th kitchen with the wine and two glasses, he was holding a photograph of her Mother and Father, when they were younger, and looking at it very intently. ‘Where was this taken?’ He asked. ‘Only it looks quite familiar.’
‘That’s my Mum and Dad in Portugal, on the Algarve. It’s where I used to live.’
’You’re Portuguese? He looked up interested.
‘No, but most people think that. It’s the hair and skin. I do look quite Mediterranean I suppose. No, we moved out there when Dad sold his company. They bought a bar, but my Dad died a couple of years ago, so my mum is on her own now.’
She handed him a glass of wine and he immediately put it on the table. He held out his hand. ‘I think I ought to introduce myself,’ he said. ‘Jeremy Whittingdale.’
She took his warm hand in hers and shook it. ‘Anna Hawley.’
‘Cheers, Anna Hawley.’
‘Cheers, Jeremy Whittingdale,’ she said and started to relax.
He had left at about 11.30 and Anna had been surprised at how quickly the time had gone by. She had found out quite a lot about him in those three hours. That he was a hot shot solicitor, that he was widowed three years ago and that he had two children, boys, from that marriage who were grown up and were married themselves now. She also discovered that he was 48, an age which had concerned her at first until she found out that his favourite bands were Prefab Sprout and Bros. Quite a departure from the bands she thought he would like. He had even seen The Red Hot Chilli Peppers in concert. Very with it, she thought. Still at 48 he was 27 years older than she was, a whole life time. Was it too much of a gap? She wasn’t sure. She knew that she enjoyed his company and surely that was all that mattered at this stage. Maybe she would see how it went and go from there. They had arranged a date for the following Thursday night and she was actually looking forward to it already.
Louise piled th rough the front door at about 2am by which time Anna had been tucked up in bed for a couple of hours. Whilst she heard her, and Alex, come in, she was far too tired to go into tonight’s events and anyway, they sounded like they wanted some time to themselves. She’d tell her in the morning, and, tell her not ever to give their address to anyone again, even for free champagne. Or maybe she wouldn’t. Maybe this would be the start of something special.