I’ve never been so glad to get off a train in all my life – even if it looks like it’s about to pee it down. I actually thought I was going to be sick back there. I’m suffering from the worst hangover this decade has seen and, as if being rocked and jolted every thirty seconds when the train stopped and started isn’t bad enough, some dozy mare in my carriage decided to paint her nails. I spent the entire journey, from Chester to Liverpool, glaring at her – as did the whole carriage, but she was either completely wrapped up in her task (and probably herself – I mean, who paints their nails on public transport?) or she could feel the animosity and was deliberately avoiding looking up into the sea of disapproval. I waited for someone to say something, since I dare not open my mouth for fear of losing the contents of my stomach. But no, I was obviously among true, ‘stiff upper lip, grin and bear it’ Brits. It was like a game of stationary charades or something, where everyone had to convey the title of a book with their expression alone. The whole carriage was showing her Stephen King’s Misery but she never looked up, not once. If she had, we’d all probably have hastily looked away, too embarrassed to disapprove to her face, but more than happy to voice disapproval silently to her back. A few even managed to huff and puff a few times – quite forthright behaviour for upstanding residents of Chester.
Speaking of misery, today is my first day in the office since my split with Richard … or Dick as I’ve taken to calling him. He’d be a dick now, even if his name was … I don’t know – Jeremy. But Dick by name, and dick by nature it is. I’m only hoping that the new guy starting today will have all the attention focused on him, and I won’t have to admit that my marriage is over and divulge all the sordid details. I’ve had a word with my emotions and they’ve agreed to play ball. I’ve coached them into not bursting into tears or doing something stupid like hiring a PI to find out just how many women Dick has screwed during our marriage or calling the bank and emptying our joint accounts. These are obviously not things that I’d seriously consider doing … ever – even after copious amounts of wine, only to find that it was a Sunday and nobody was answering the phones because the offices were empty.
Actually, I’d better make sure he doesn’t do it either … I could be completely penniless without even realising it. Shit. That’s my lunchtime accounted for then. Great. But I guess I have to talk to the bank at some point. Just like I’ll have to speak to all sorts of people to tell them what’s happening, to change back to my maiden name and to get some financial advice.
I reach my place of work just as the first drops of rain begin to fall. Mercifully, Miles, my boss and founder of Miles Onions Entertainment Agency, has dragged his backside out of bed on time today and the office is unlocked. You wouldn’t believe how often he’s late. His tardiness beaten only by the fruit of his loins, his darling daughter, Charlotte … or Shallot as I call her, inside my head – a lot, or aloud – sometimes, behind her back, obviously. It’s quite fitting that Mild Onion (as I sometimes think of him) produced a shallot. Or that her mother is Sophia … I know what you’re thinking … Spanish Onion, right? That’s exactly what I thought! Her name may be of Spanish origin but Shallot’s mother is definitely English – a tragic loss to … well, my sense of humour, if nothing else.
“Morning, Miles,” I trill, more cheerfully than I feel as I swing by my best friend, Nespresso, and set about my most important task of the day. Switch flicked, cup placed, button pressed and all systems are go.
“Morning, Bella,” he says. “Good weekend?”
Crap. I plaster a smile on my face and nod enthusiastically, turning back to the coffee machine when I feel tears pricking my eyes, the treacherous swines. “You?” I manage as I talk the tears down from throwing themselves off the ledge of my lower lids.
“Not bad. Not bad,” he says and I think I’m spared, but no. It gets worse. “Before I forget, Charlotte wants to go over a fabulous idea she’s had with you at some point today, if you’re not too busy.”
Tears safely rescued and restrained, I roll my eyes as I check on the progress of my first cup of the day (here), my fourth overall (including home and rail stations). If Shallot insists on going over some hair-brained scheme (and it stands a good chance, since every other idea that’s had the misfortune of finding its way out of her mouth has been a load of tripe) then I’d better order more coffee supplies. I have a inkling that the week’s worth currently sitting inside the stock cupboard might be gone by five o’clock.
I turn, cappuccino in hand and give him my mega-watt smile, perfected in my former life as the ‘perfect’ wife of a successful businessman. “I’m always too busy, Miles. You don’t pay me to sit around, do you? But if Sha-arlotte needs some help with her idea, then I’ll skip my breaks or something. Anything to keep Charlotte happy.”
“Brilliant,” he says, clapping his hands together and grinning agreeably before ambling back to his desk and leaving me to seek the sanctuary of mine.
Shallot can kiss my arse today. I’m really not in the mood. I’m not in the mood for anything, truth be told. Well, unless you count shoving my legs back into my jammies, laying on my sumptuous couch and watching films all day with generous helpings of popcorn. Who am I kidding? Copious amounts of cake and wine … and chocolate … maybe chocolate cake … actually, is there such a thing as chocolate wine? If not, there should be.
A shrill, vaguely musical voice singing Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas assaults my ears. Even ignoring the fact that it’s only the twelfth of November and that I’ve got the hangover from hell, I’m definitely not in the mood for that. Or the person it’s attached to. Don’t get me wrong, Shania is often the highlight of my work day with her colourful personality and inflated belief in her own talents, not least her singing ability. She will often sing at you rather than talk to you and, if that’s not bad enough, she’s loud. Very loud. When people say she’s got a right set of lungs on her, she takes it as a compliment. They’re most likely tactfully referring to the fact that their ears are now bleeding. It’s immensely entertaining when she’s doing it to someone else, especially some poor celeb on the other end of the phone, but not so much if she’s inflicting it on you. She’s not awfully perceptive, nor does she have much tact and as for her brain to mouth filter … let’s just say that while mine malfunctions on a regular basis, hers isn’t so much broken as non-existent. She is harmless though – eardrum damage excepted.
The former *cough* professional *cough* singer is our telephone booking agent … well, I guess she’s now the senior booking agent, since a new guy is supposedly starting today to replace Shallot after she convinced her adoring, clueless (where she’s concerned) father to promote her from booking agent to the dizzying heights of company secretary, with a salary commensurate with such a prestigious position. The fact that I perform all the duties associated with that role in my own role as office administrator, on a much lower salary, is neither here nor there.
“Good morning,” I call over, a blatant yet, I suspect utterly futile, attempt at getting her to stop singing, even if just for one minute so I can enjoy my coffee.
Shania breaks into the ‘Good Morning’ routine from Singin’ in the Rain – and when I say routine, I mean the whole shebang. She comes tap (allegedly) dancing (in stilettos) across the office and I swear if we had a sofa, she’d be standing on the back, upturning it like Debbie Reynolds and Co did in the film. As it is, I get the coat and hat part of the routine acted out as she belts out the words in her own inimitable fashion. It’s quite a sight, considering she’s wearing purple heels, a bright orange and lime green floral patterned dress that’s fighting with the cerise pink of her hair and the electric blue of her coat. If it’s one thing Shania can’t bear, it’s not being noticed.
All that swirling coloured motion is making me feel even more nauseous and, even if it had been a good morning, it would have taken a turn for the worse after Shania’s psychedelic-like floorshow. I hastily look away before she puts me off my coffee completely. Across the other side of the office, I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I’m like a rabbit caught in headlights … the spectacle of Shania in full flow cannot compete with the sight over near the door. Miles is enthusiastically shaking the hand of a god. No, not just a god. A sex god. Easily six feet tall, lean yet firmly muscular, dark, oozing charisma – despite the fact that he’s thirty feet away and not looking in my direction. He is totally – and, believe me I cannot overestimate this – freaking gorgeous. The fact that my mouth has gone dry – will testify to that. All bodily fluids seem to have gone south – my knickers will testify to that.
Please tell me this is the new guy. Oh, the things he could do to me …
I almost blush when I realise what’s going through my mind … especially when I don’t try to stop those naughty thoughts. This is so not me. Until a couple of days ago, I was a happily married woman, having been with Dick since I was nineteen. I never looked at other men. Never. I barely had a dirty thought about any celebrity males – actors, musicians … nothing. I was too wrapped up in my loving adoration of my husband. Maybe that’s what this is … my new found freedom, going to my head and making me think inappropriate thoughts. Only it’s not just my brain that’s been caught on the hop. In fact, as Miles shows him to the desk in front of, and positioned almost adjacent to mine, my vagina’s practically doing somersaults in delight. My vagina! The same vagina that has been lying dormant, not having seen action in months, unless you count my own frustrated bean-flicking. In hindsight, I’ll bet the start of my drought coincides exactly with when Big Dick began putting little dick to use elsewhere. At least I bloody well I hope it does … the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.
Urgh! That’s almost enough to put me off sex for life. Or maybe not! Oh my god. He’s looking at me. Holy spunktrumpet, he’s tilting his head slightly as if he’d rather be over talking to me than having Miles jabbering on at him. That head tilt is adorable … forget that, it’s hot … the way he’s angled his head away from Miles to look at me means he’s almost peering out from under those long eyelashes. Okay, so I can’t see them but I know they’re long – of course they are, this man is visual perfection. The voice of reason in the back of my head is stamping her feet and shouting ‘abort … abort’ through a loudhailer. Men are nothing but using wankers. No matter how attractive the packaging, they’re all the same underneath.
The tip of his tongue swipes across his bottom lip and ‘poof’ just like that, those sensible thoughts go up in smoke. I argue with that little voice, telling it that you don’t have to get involved with a man to enjoy him. You can look. Admire. Even make use of … maybe. I’ve never had a one-night stand. Maybe I don’t know what I’m missing. He nods at something Miles says but he’s still looking at me. Oh my god. That smile! If mine is a megawatt, his is a gigawatt. He looks younger … I’d have said he was mid-thirties but smiling like that, he loses ten years easily.
Suddenly his expression is playful … as though he’s enjoying what he’s seeing. I’m tempted to be playful in return. I over to him, idly twirling the ends of my hair around my finger thinking how I could happily roll over for him to tickle my tummy … or anywhere else he might like to caress me with those long, lean, capable looking fingers.
Oh shit. I’m too busy perving over his fingers to realise that he’s walking this way with Miles. I look up to his face: he’s got a sparkle in his eye and a smile is flirting with his mouth. I want to be that smile so badly. I want to flirt with that mouth … I want to be touching that mouth … I want-
“Bella, are you alright? … Bella?”
“Hmm? What? Oh god. Yes. Yes, I am, Miles. Just … distracted. Sorry.”
It’s quiet and I realise that everyone is looking at me. Everyone. Even Shania, having finally ended her bloody awful rendition of Good Morning. I’m racking my brain, desperately trying to force it to tell me what I’ve missed, for surely I missed something that was said for them all to be staring at me. Are they waiting for my reply to something? Did I speak my thoughts about the new guy out loud?
Then it hits me … well, maybe not what I missed just then, but something far more embarrassing that I missed … or misinterpreted. Mr Meltmypants wasn’t smiling playfully at me – he was watching Shania’s performance immediately behind me. Of course he was – it was quite a sight, after all. I don’t know whether I’m more annoyed at myself for being so foolish and for blushing beetroot red and making them all frown at me even more as I struggle with the mortifying revelation, or whether I’m annoyed with him for not reserving those smiles for me. I vow to dislike Mr Notmeltingmypants and steer well clear of the self-obsessed ladies’ man, which he obviously is.
No evidence, you say? I don’t need any. I can just tell, and I don’t need any more crap in my life. Or any melted pants. The only S.O.B. in my life is going to be my silicone orgasm bringer that was a secret Santa present from Shania last Christmas. A joke present that delivers very serious pleasure.
I straighten up and fold my arms across my chest in a classic defensive stance. I take a reaffirming breath … in through the nose and … ooh, he smells divine. Whatever aftershave he’s wearing, it suits him. In fact, it could have been custom made just for him … unless he emits nothing but natural pheromones, because it’s wrapping itself around my senses and hauling me in as surely as his exceptional good looks and fit body.
Focus, Bella. This is a workplace, not a singles bar, for heaven’s sake. The only thing on my mind should be the fact that my coffee’s going cold and that I have a ‘to do’ list that fills two sides of A4, thanks to Shallot being so useless.
That’s it. I’m arming myself with a virtual chastity belt made of steel and activating my inner Ice Queen, totally immune to his hotness … and the heat he effortlessly summons inside me. Whatever he throws my way, I’m going to deflect casually. It’ll be easy peasy, lemon squeezy.
See? Piece of cake.
Read Part Three ‘Upon Reflection‘