Mr Notmeltingmypants holds out his hand. “Hi Bella. I’m Saxon but you can call me Sax,” he says in a voice that could melt steel and breaks into a smile that a) looks genuine and b) could melt even the hardest resolution.
I take his hand and shake it firmly. Sax … an unusual name but it suits him. Short of calling him sex, I can’t think of anything better.
“Miles here says you and Shania might be kind enough to look after me today,” he says in that seductively smooth yet dangerously deep tone as he holds out his hand to Shania. I hear a squeak and there’s Shania looking like one of Jeff Dunham’s puppets … with his hand inserted!
“Are you okay, Shania?” Miles asks, probably wondering what on earth is going on with his staff today. I almost grin when I picture Shallot’s face when she walks in and sees our new addition – and Miles’ when he sees his daughter engage slut mode – which she will.
I hear another squeak and watch as Shania nods furiously, her cheeks looking like they could roast chestnuts. She scurries off to hang up her coat and take refuge behind her desk. I don’t believe it. Nothing and no one has ever had that effect on her before. She loves attention … she thrives on any kind of attention, yet once glance from Sax and she’s a squeaking mess.
I turn back and see that Miles has wandered off to his own desk. “Looks like it’s just you and me,” Sax says. “Are you going to show me the ropes?”
Okay so he didn’t actually say that, that’s just what I heard in my head before I excused myself and hotfooted it to the loo to give myself another motivational talking to. I think it worked. I sidestep a puddle neatly and turn my eyes to the sky. I’ve dashed out of the office for some welcome fresh air and thank goodness, it stopped raining long enough for me to pop to the bank. Mind you, even if it had been raining buckets, it would have been more pleasurable than spending lunchtime back there. Shania can’t keep her eyes off Saxon and keeps looking over to me, mouthing suggestive suggestions and making gratifying gestures … well, they would be gratifying if she were humping him and not the air – accompanied by a very realistic soundtrack of sex noises. It’s so blatant that I can’t believe he’s not seen her. I’ve spent the morning attempting to hide behind my monitor, breaking cover only to hit up the coffee machine.
That said, Shania’s shenanigans I can cope with. What I can’t cope with is Shallot. Shallot and Sax to be precise. Because – and let’s be honest here, although it was utterly expected, it doesn’t make it any less pathetic – when Shallot finally strolled through the door (just as Shania pronounced it time for elevenses), she proceeded to spend the last two hours shoving her youthful, perky tits in Sax’s face. Literally – the space between her shoulder blades has disappeared as she presses her shoulders back, making her four inches narrower and sending those four inches out front. She’d make a Barbie doll look normally proportioned.
It’s a wonder she’s not put her back out yet but I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time. And, if leaning across his desk with her clumsily convexed spine won’t do it, I’m sure that perching on the corner of his desk (balancing there no easy task given her determined boob-unbalance), crossing her legs then tucking the top foot behind her other leg so that her already mini skirt practically disappears, will do the trick. I have visions of her immobilised on a spinal board as the paramedics carry her out of the door. I know it makes me a bad person to take pleasure from visualising her face contorting in agony, but it’s only because she looks better like that than when pulling the contorted duck faces she’s been inflicting on Sax.
To be fair, our newest member of staff hasn’t flirted back. In fact, he hasn’t shown any kind of response at all. Now, either he’s into her but he’s playing it remarkably cool – especially wise since she’s the boss’s daughter; he’s not interested but he’s too polite to publicly humiliate her or too shrewd to knock back our second in command; or he hasn’t even got a clue that she’s coming onto him … and that’s just not possible since she’s not so much hitting on him as coming in like a wrecking ball with no less subtlety than a Miley Cyrus naked selfie.
I’m halfway back from the bank and I feel my feet instinctively slowing. I’m surprised they’re not instigating a full scale rebellion. I’m really not in the mood for being in work, even without the Shallot floorshow. It could be worse. That’s what I keep telling myself – whether I’m thinking of my professional life or my private life. It could be worse.
At least Dick is playing fair financially. I just checked with the bank and found that he hasn’t emptied our joint accounts. In fact, when the cashier turned the screen around to show me the account balances, everything looked so shockingly normal. Mr and Mrs with matching surnames, sitting together so innocently, like nothing had changed. A benign remainder of a malignant marriage.
The poor cashier didn’t know where to put herself when I asked if she had any advice for wives of cheating husbands in order to protect themselves when the marriage was over. She flapped and ummed and ahhed for at least ten seconds before abruptly turning on her heel to find her manager. I was quietly ushered into a meeting room where the manager politely tiptoed around my emotions as he explained that he couldn’t give advice but if I was worried about the accounts being emptied, he could open an account in my name alone and transfer whatever I wanted into it.
Call me stupid, but I declined his offer. Initially, it was purely because I didn’t want anything new with my sullied, tarnished married name on it. Dick’s name. It turns out that the bank can’t open a new account in my maiden name until I have officially changed it and have the documents to prove it so I’m still completely at Dick’s mercy when it comes to money. Walking back to the office, it occurs to me that it might not have looked good if I’d transferred a chunk of money out of one of our accounts. It could have prompted Dick to transfer the rest out, citing my move as provocation.
I can’t risk that. I’d be in real trouble if that happened. I can’t afford to run the house on my salary but I can’t face up the prospect of losing my home. I just have to hope that Dick is reasonable about it. I might be living in cloud cuckoo land but that’s where I’m staying where the house is concerned, until Dick shoots my cuckoo. He’s only in Dubai for a few more days so I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
Fear starts gnawing at my subconscious. I’m walking past a bar, packed to the rafters with young professionals meeting up for lunch. I see their carefree smiling faces as their chatter and laughter filters into the cracks of my own smiling façade. My feet bring me to a stop and I stand here, gawping at people in my own age group having fun with friends and colleagues during their lunch break. It’s with a heavy heart that I realise I don’t even do this outside of the work day … and why? Because I have no friends. I’m a complete saddo. Loner. Loser. That’s me.
All because I put a man before everything else. A man who insisted we move from our three-bed detached new build in the East Midlands once he began climbing the career ladder. Oh, and I don’t mean we moved around the corner, or even to a ‘more desirable’ neighbourhood nearby. Oh no, Dick’s ambitious nature was more insecure than that. He’d wanted to move to London but I’d said no. He’d tried to get around me for weeks. But I wasn’t a city-dweller; I was a semi-rural kinda gal. The prospect of living in London scared me and it would take me further away from my family in North Yorkshire.
I’d burst into tears so many times in sheer frustration at his inability to understand that I could not live in London and, what’s worse, he wouldn’t listen to the fact that we didn’t need to. He travelled all over the world and, when in the country, he either worked from home or spent his time touching base with the various regional offices. Being based in the Midlands made sense to me. His decision to move was based on snobbery alone. He was expected to entertain other businessmen. His home needed to reflect his status, he’d insisted. As soon as he finally (and grudgingly) accepted that I wouldn’t move to London, Dick spent hours one weekend, researching the most desirable locations in England. I had the man I fell in love with back, for a while at least – the man who put me first. I’d blindly ignored the fact that I’d had to fight tooth and nail for it … and that he bitterly resented it.
The closest location he could stomach was St Albans. But he made it clear he’d rather Winchester, Chichester or Brighton … all prestigious locations but all too difficult for me to visit my family given that – and this was the part he could not understand – he was out of the country more than he was in it. I would be left in a strange place. Alone. Abandoned. And that, for a wife who loved her husband dearly and missed him more than she could verbalise was difficult enough to bear when within reach of her family and with a huge circle of friends on her doorstep. The prospect of starting over, having no job, no friends and being isolated from my family was not a desirable one when he was set to travel at least as much as before.
We were all set to move to Cambridge when one of his snooty colleagues closed on a house (I say house, stately home was more like it) in the area that we couldn’t possibly compete with. The place we’d lined up was a quarter of the size with a less prestigious postcode but I loved it. Once Dick learned of the discrepancy between the two, that was the end of that. The only other ‘befitting’ locations were all in the South East and he would not contemplate anywhere else. I could have put my foot down but I loved him. I wanted him to succeed. I wanted him to be happy. He’d compromised on London so it was my turn to compromise.
Then, a random stroke of genius (in reality, a well-heeled old dear with impeccable social graces and a dated yet opulent wardrobe who was dining at a table next to ours one night) had loudly grandiloquently proclaimed the virtues of residing in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. I could have kissed her when I saw Dick’s ears prick up as she mentioned phrases such as ‘Millionaire’s Row’, ‘£2 million average property price’ and … the absolute killer line ‘so exclusive that google maps are refused access’. He was on rightmove before bedtime. I was over the moon. I’d be closer to my family than I’d been since leaving for Uni. My parents were ecstatic at the prospect of having me so close and, what’s more, the more I researched it, the more I loved Cheshire. I’d have to find another job but the area was perfect for that since transport links are so good. I was confident of finding work in the nearby towns or even in Manchester. I was so buoyed. Things were perfect between Dick and I, excepting his working away, but being close to my family would alleviate my concerns about starting over somewhere new and being alone so much.
However, just as house hunting commenced, a particularly pompous colleague magniloquently mocked the location because of its ‘pitiful proximity to Manchester Airport’ and its penchant for attracting ‘footballers and their pejorative entourages’, during cocktails before a charity gala dinner. From the crumbling fragments of my idea location, I grabbed anything the estate agents had in the whole of Cheshire, hoping against hope that it had another Millionaire’s Row. It didn’t. But, by some weird twist of fate, an estate agent sent out the wrong particulars and so, into our heads, and ultimately our hands, fell a beautiful riverside property in the heart of Chester.
Dick had taken some persuading, for the property needed a complete renovation and wasn’t in his ‘preferred prestigious location’ list but I managed to procure some photographs of the imposing Victorian property in its heyday, proudly radiating its former glory from the crumpled paper. His interest was piqued enough to check out the estate agent’s claims about the allegedly prestigious location and then, when validated, he insisted upon viewing the property with a surveyor, architect and interior designer – all of whom fell in love with the place and enthused significantly to have Dick putting in an offer to the bemused estate agent before the viewing was over.
A long, sweeping driveway sitting behind electric gates and tall walls kept the impressive façade in seclusion from prying eyes. High ceilings, intricate mouldings, magnificent fireplaces, four huge reception rooms, two kitchens, five bedrooms with three bathrooms … all sprawled across four floors and let’s not forget the beautiful patio and manicured sloping gardens that gently roll down to the river bank (with exclusive mooring rights). Overlooking the river and farmland to the rear, whilst resting practically in the shade of the open air theatre of Grosvenor Park at the front, it is ideally positioned – to impress colleagues (him), to not feel isolated when alone and to commute easily for work (me).
I love it – I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it in it’s near dilapidated state. Yes, it’s too big for a couple on their own and definitely for someone living alone, as it often felt since I spent most of my time their alone. From the moment we moved in, once the ‘no expense spared’ renovations were complete, it made me feel like the heroine of a romantic novel or the lead in a black and white movie from the golden age of film. When Dick was away and I was bored, I’d dress up and sashay down the wrought iron spiral staircase from the balcony as though I were Vivienne Leigh playing Scarlett O’Hara. A stupid romantic notion, underlined by the fact that the only thing that’s gone with the wind is my marriage.
At least Rhett Butler loved Scarlet and did all he could to win her heart. Scarlet was the fool who couldn’t see what she had, always wanting more. If I’d behaved like she did, I’d deserve to be alone. But no, Dick was the one who decided I wasn’t enough for him. He was the one who gave up on our marriage when he decided to screw around outside of it, although I was at home, craving his attention. Craving his touch. I guess, in the cold light of day, our marriage was no more sincere than Scarlett and Rhett’s.
Dick was the sole reason I left my wonderful circle of friends, my hobbies, my entire social life behind. And for what? To fulfil my role as his dutiful wife. The perfect hostess in the perfect house.
The wind beneath his wings.
More like the doormat beneath his feet.
I know he’ll fight me over the house eventually and I’ll most likely lose it. There’s no way I can afford to buy him out, or even cover the mortgage repayments on my own. But it just feels so unfair. Because he earns more than me, does that mean he can behave anyway he likes with no regard to my feelings or my needs? Should I suffer because he can’t keep little dick in his pants? Because he broke his marriage vows? My hands clench at my sides and I grit my teeth in grim determination, as my vision leaves the past and comes back into focus. I almost jump out of my skin when I see a pair of eyes, just inches from the glass, staring into mine.
I’d drifted off, lost in my own pitiful problems, but to any observers, it must look like I was gawping inside the bar like some weirdo. Humiliation crawls up my cheeks, bathing them in a scarlet glow that I swear I can see reflected back at me as bold as the neon bar sign over the door. I turn away quickly, but my brain screams of recognition and attempts to get my attention. I glance back, even as my feet start forward then almost instantly freeze, meaning that I almost go sprawling arse over tit but thankfully, an old boy, about eighty, grabs my arm until I’m steady. I’m still gawping at the bar window, even as I croak my thanks. Sax is there with a group of what appear to be his friends. He’s almost pressed up against the glass, smiling at me and gesturing for me to go inside.
Balance restored, I attempt to get control of my self-respect. Not an easy feat, given my recent impressions of a nine carat imbecile. I blink, making sure it’s him. Of course it would be … the hottest guy I’ve seen in … well, forever, and he’s there to witness me making a fool of myself. Oh god. What if he thinks I was spying on him … stalking him? Why can’t the pavement just open up and swallow me whole? I should have made today a duvet day. I should have gorged myself on chocolate cake and ice-cream. I should have been pissed by 11am. I should have- I jump again as Sax taps on the glass, once more bringing me back to the here and now. “Come in,” he mouths, beckoning with his finger and looking pleased to see me – not shit scared, like he would be if he really did think I was stalking him. I shake my head and smile my thanks before turning away but I’ve only taken half a dozen steps before he’s there.
“What’s the matter, sad girl?” he says, almost making me laugh – I mean, girl? At my age? What stops me is that he looks genuinely concerned – and sincerity looks good on him. Probably not as good as devilment. Or passion. Or …
He cocks his head as I smirk outwardly while inwardly considering what his ‘sex face’ would look like. I shake my head again. “Nothing. It’s nothing. Go back and enjoy the rest of your lunch break. I’d better get back to the office. See you later.”
He reaches out and puts his hands on my shoulders. “And leave a damsel in distress? No way. If you go back, I’m coming with you.”
When I open my mouth to protest, he gives my shoulders the slightest shake. “No arguments, Bella the blue. Either come in and allow my good friends to cheer you up as we celebrate the first day of my new job, or, if you insist upon returning to that office and allowing that creature to torture me for longer than she has to, no matter that my friends have all made the effort to come here for me on my big day, then I shall insist upon going back to the office with you.”
His eyes are dancing with fun and mischief but again, his sincerity shines through. How can I tear him away from his friends? And I have no doubt that he would indeed walk out on them if I refused. I want to shake my head but, at the same time, I can’t deny how good it feels that someone wants to include me in their revelry. The temptation to chill in a bar during my lunch hour is surprisingly great. It feels naughty to even consider it … like passing notes in high school. Not something Dick’s perfect wife would do. That thought strikes me like a bolt of lightning, as my brain goes ding ding ding like fruit machine when someone’s hit the jackpot.
“Come on sad girl,” he says, apparently taking my hesitation as agreement since he’s put his arm around me and is steering me towards the door. “Time to turn that frown upside down.” He laughs good naturedly as I do indeed frown at his use of that cringey phrase.
He pushes open the door and the joviality assaults my ears before he ushers me forward and I find myself under the intense scrutiny of a load of immaculately groomed twenty-somethings. As Sax makes the introductions, I’m pulling my hair across in a sweeping fringe a la Justin Bieber, to hide my unwaxed eyebrows. I know from catching my reflection in the window that I’m not looking my best. I feel naked. I feel judged. I feel old.
What the hell have I just done?
What has Bella let herself in for? Read Part Four ‘Sax Appeal‘ to find out.