Friends or Lovers
Commissioned by Social Exchange Ltd

Rory Ridley-Duff

Friends or Lovers
For every man who has lost love, and every woman who can’t find it… Penny Leyton is one smart sexy woman on her way to the top. Bridget Jones she certainly is not, but she has the same chaotic approach to romance. Just as she is breaking through the glass ceiling, her boss Dave Stockton hints at a workplace scandal. Ablaze with moral outrage, Penny realises too late that one of her own friends is implicated and that she is part of the problem. Can she untangle herself from a hidden web of intrigue and save herself? Dr Rory Ridley-Duff is an author, composer and university lecturer whose research established how friendship, courtship and parental interests shape behaviour in organisations. His interest in gender issues and workplace democracy evolved out of directorships in worker cooperatives and 15 years of consultancy work in the social economy.

“Anyone who cares about love will give this book to their partner or spouse, sister or brother.” Dr Poonam Thapa Gender, Culture and Sexual Health Expert

Also by Rory Ridley-Duff

Emotion, Seduction and Intimacy:
Alternative Perspectives on Human Behaviour “Rory‟s work is insightful and helps to redress some of the imbalances in the feminist theory of patriarchy while simultaneously introducing the concepts of gender and intimacy to the subject of enterprise governance”.
Professor Phil Johnson, Head of HRM and Organisational Behaviour, Sheffield University

“Rory is a man who has deliberately chosen the left-hand path of progress. He does not shun the moral maze of human desires and passions but brings greater understanding to that very facet of life – the forbidden fruit that made us fall from grace and its role in our emancipation.”
Dr Poonam Thapa Gender, Culture and Sexual Health Expert Available from

Copyright © Rory Ridley-Duff, 2009 All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission except as defined below. No material may be reused except in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1T 4LP. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages. Rory Ridley-Duff has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Acts 1988. Published by: Rory Ridley-Duff 4 Rosehill Close Penistone Sheffield S36 6UF

Social Exchange logo designed by Natasha Ridley-Duff

For these and many other reasons. you are still my dream woman. Firstly. I thank you for helping me find moral courage when everyone around me thought I was mad or hopelessly naïve for writing this novel. Poonam. propose story lines. . this text would never have seen the light of day or come close to the reality of working life in early 21 st Century Britain. you have my enduring thanks. This book is fiction but without undertaking a series of workplace studies. and who will also check their manuscript for errors and support them through lean times. This book tackles a sensitive subject and I am indebted to many research participants and work colleagues for the insights they have provided over the years (whether intended or not). To family members and life-long friends who did not spare my feelings in their feedback on early drafts. you have been a constant source of inspiration and the best antidote to loneliness that any writer could ask for. my wife. draft chapters.Acknowledgements The people who made this book possible are numerous. I‟d like to thank Caroline. To my children. To my muse in business. for the enormous patience and support she has given to my writing aspirations. Your comments were invaluable and I trust you will spot your influence in the end result. Our conversations about the human condition will remain with me always. It is every author‟s dream to have someone with whom they can freely discuss ideas. Natasha and Bethany.


I‟m not making out she was „up for it‟ or anything crude like that. Time to give him a push.” Mike looked uncomfortable now. He was married and fancied himself a bit too much. “why have you been bothering Elona?” He looked so unconcerned that it made me slightly irritable. She said „no‟. that‟s not what I‟m saying. Still. we‟ve been close at times. maybe. Mike was traditionalist all right. There‟s been a complaint.” Yes. Mike was moderately bright. It‟s no big deal. Calm. If she felt uncomfortable. “It‟s nothing. “No. End of story. And yes. just a misunderstanding. Mike. she never showed it.” “She‟s never said anything about it. had worked his way up through the ranks.” “Not to you. and sometimes I think she‟s tried to flirt with me. The frown on his brow was more pronounced. To Elona. one of those „pretty boys‟ who does not realise that . His eyes looked around the floor. He was 50. To him a „bit of fun‟ probably included the occasional trip to a lap-dancing bar or shagging in the toilets. but that is not something that you show in this job.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 1 “So. confident. He prided himself on being „friendly‟ but I just found him a creep. landed himself a regional sales management job and probably felt he was enjoying the best years of his life. She wanted to discuss something private so I asked her if she‟d like to go for a drink. if you ask me. was she?” I said with a laugh. “Bit of a tease. it was a different matter.” I said. I just never got any sense that she didn‟t like the way I behaved. but I‟ve always been careful. concise – look him in the eye.

I guess the sexual revolution has helped a bit. I can see that men have it harder in some respects. “Mike. Nine months into my first job as Head of Personnel. I‟d better check with my boss before I do anything here.Friends or Lovers they are past it. Mike is proof enough of that. God. She‟s a bit sensitive at the moment. He was certainly not my type. but too old for me – definitely! And he really irritated me when he shared dirty jokes with his friends but never with me. but the patriarchy seems alive and well. still wanting to resurrect his youth and put it about. particularly in the company of like-minded female friends. In my previous job I‟d been fast-tracked to deputy director but came up against the glass ceiling. Come see me tomorrow and we‟ll wrap this up. In the mean time. I think. Not my type at all. I would not call myself a feminist. now leading a successful team but getting angry when one of his administrative staff won‟t go for a drink with him. Mike the macho. steer clear of Elona. Twenty years ago this company would not have contemplated me in this position. To progress I had to move. I‟ll look into this and get back to you. here we are. sales rep of the year four years ago. Leave it with me for the next 24 hours. was he past it! He had aged well. Many of my management colleagues are women too. It can be quite a laugh making a sexist-pig squirm. I could see right through him. but I‟m not averse to a confrontation with the occasional unreconstructed man. I guess. probably bored at home. Boyfriend trouble. Not quite as straightforward as some situations I‟ve faced because he has a good reputation and is well liked. I‟m fairly new here.” . Married with children. perhaps. So. I think.

His eyes met mine and he fixed his gaze for just a second then looked away. . He had never struck me as a formal sort before.Rory Ridley-Duff Mike did not look relieved at these comments and mumbled something I could not hear. He shook my hand.

but we should move him. I don‟t think he should be sacked. * * * Innovation Centre Ltd was modern and dynamic. Mike‟s good – his team like him. It‟s fair to Mike and it„ll send a strong message to the rest of the company that it won‟t be tolerated. “As far as I‟m aware this is the first such complaint against Mike. He . “Not completely sure. and I knew that he was ambitious too. He enjoyed working with me but was careful never to overstep the mark or make me feel uncomfortable.” I liked Dave. I hear he‟s not been a paragon of virtue in the past. he engaged with women as equals and was sympathetic to many of the problems they faced. “Well. Dave was „Director of Business Development‟ and spent his time seeking out creative types and developing relationships with them. I can‟t let this rest. Okay?” I nodded. “Do it sensitively. but it clearly looks like he‟s got the hots for Elona. This does worry me. Penny. He was not much older than me. Penny?” I was not sure whether the question was rhetorical but as no more words were forthcoming I gathered my thoughts. Unlike most men. my director. Zero-tolerance and all that! What‟s right here.Friends or Lovers Chapter 2 “He‟s done what?” asked Dave. Elona‟s upset. I could happily spend time in his company in the office or away on business. We shared a professional ethic and modern outlook.” Dave looked at me thoughtfully for several seconds. But I agree we can‟t let this pass. this isn‟t easy.

They‟re fine for those who want to give up work when they find their prince. able to live independently.Rory Ridley-Duff found inventors. I have my share of paranoia about my looks. I remember that he wistfully joked once that IC not only wanted its pound of flesh but also insisted that you hand it over with a smile. I still prefer the „relationship‟ thing. football . I‟ve read my share of self-help books. Workplace relationships might put that at risk. interested only in sex. but for me they‟re a heap of crap. Of course he‟s taken – most guys like him are – and he now has a young child that he rarely sees. I thought I may as well get myself an MBA couldn‟t see what harm it would do .and now I understand all that talk of returns on investment. intelligent. got them to commit their products to us then helped them obtain development grants. Most men are bastards anyway. the Innovation Centre – or IC as we call it in-house . nett present values and can put together a business plan. Dave has a penchant for that too. however. but go out on the town and get a shag if I want to. he is „strictly business‟. but avoid the ones called „How to Find the Man of your Dreams at Work”. but even so I am a bit of a man magnet when I wear black. He mentors me and I appreciate that. As for me. Over the last decade. smartly sexy. Much as I like him. I did the „women into business‟ thing a few years back. My friends joke that I am a model of the Cosmopolitan revolution – vibrant. and decided to specialise in human relations work. They were dishing out bursaries to encourage graduates into management. speaks well and is incredible at building trust. He looks smart. I‟ve worked hard for my career.has created a network of 60 inventors and a catalogue of wonderful gadgets.

Since then. same status.” I said showing him to a chair. and this provides one. It‟d mean travelling more. “We think it‟d be a good move for you to join Direct Marketing. I can‟t say that I like this side of my job. “That‟d create a problem. “I wasn‟t born yesterday. “Can you give me until Monday?” he asked. we need a solution to that too.Friends or Lovers and drinking. Another feather in your cap.” “Cut the crap. “It‟s a new project. I‟m taking the flak for Elona. They‟re a bit wet behind the ears. aren‟t I?” “Well.” he said quietly. and working with a new team. I dumped him.” Mike interjected. “Carry on. but only until they want me to cook them a „special‟ meal or wash their clothes.” “And what if I don‟t take this position?” he asked. Our eyes locked and his hand moved up and rubbed his chin. of course.” Mike looked blankly at me for a moment. “I‟ve had a chat with Dave and Elona about the situation and I‟ve a suggestion for you.” Mike looked at me and nodded to indicate he was ready. Same salary. but it goes with the territory and you have to harden yourself to it. I‟ve taken my pleasure carefully and on my own terms. Penny. so we want someone with lots of experience.” I said firmly. then around the side of his head as he pinched his ear-lobe. * * * “Thanks for dropping in. Mike. It seems to work for me. . I do boyfriends. I lived with a guy once but soon felt like his mother.

I‟m away in France next week. Mike. I have to go. I feel sorry for Mike. Mike?” “This…” his eyes looked up at the ceiling then down at the floor. He was trying to say something. “If that‟s all. I do have a conscience. Penny. but the world is changing and the type of behaviour he is responsible for is no longer acceptable to either men or women.” “She‟s working. Mike. Mike called me back later that day and accepted the new job. If I have to clip the wings of a man who sets a bad example then it feels like a job well done. His family is still safe. His awkwardness was palpable but no further words came out. He was not a happy man.Rory Ridley-Duff “No. He can‟t really complain.” I got up from my seat and felt his eyes burn a hole in me. I was able to protect his income.. I can give you „til 4 pm. The problem is sorted and Elona is protected..” he hesitated.” “Can‟t you call her? Meet her for lunch?” “I‟ll try. It is never easy giving someone a sideways move but it has to be done sometimes. The hardest thing is protecting someone‟s dignity while sending a message that some behaviour is unacceptable. “What is it. In some ways. If you need to talk to your wife then take the day off. but I could see that he was struggling to find the words. but I don‟t want this hanging around while I‟m away. . I get a small amount of satisfaction that I can contribute to changing the values of society and make the world slightly safer for women.

This time I did both. Usually that pissed me off. His eyes were brown and there were wrinkles stretching from the outer corners across both temples. The second night I decided to dress up and take my chances at the conference party. They were nice eyes. If I go to these events with Dave I feel obliged to spend time with him. At home I might bump into a neighbour or colleague from work. and applied a dab of Clinique near my ears. I studied him. but not . kind but sexy. Clearly he was a person used to smiling and laughing. He had definitely aged well. He had dark brown hair with touches of white. If there is one thing I enjoy about going away on business it is the freedom I have in the evenings. I shaved. I guess he was around 45 but still had a hint of the handsome features of his youth. But abroad. I can either lock myself away in my hotel room and read a good book or slip on a sexy outfit to indulge myself at conference parties. The best approach I got all week was not at the conference. When he cast them in my direction. It was a dull evening. After relaxing in the bath. but this time I was on my own and had the chance to really let my hair down. First night I snuggled down with a Bernice Rubens novel. He must have been at least ten years older than me and at the boarding gate I saw him reading what looked like a textbook.Friends or Lovers Chapter 3 France was fun. I could feel them undressing me. Our eyes met briefly a couple of times. He was casually dressed in jeans and a black top. but hard work – a two-day conference. moisturised myself with assorted oils. wrists and breasts before setting off to await the chat up lines.

I obliged by reading it out. I noticed his every move. “A comedy?” I asked. underlining phrases that caught his imagination. and at other times he frowned. then without another word he resumed reading his book. “Some comedy!” . and then he smiled. he continued to gaze at the buildings and roads below. After a while he let out a laugh. I instinctively smiled back. As the plane rose higher and higher. From then on. “You look down there and you realise just how insignificant you are.” he remarked showing me the title of an article he was reading.Rory Ridley-Duff today. He was not bad. When we boarded the plane. A pity he had not been at the party the night before. All the lines at the corners of his eyes creased. He turned to me again and smiled. I manoeuvred myself into the queue just in front of him.” He looked straight into my eyes and held my gaze for a second.” I paused for a moment and then quipped. “Of sorts. Sometimes he would sigh. He was reading intently. “The impact of sexuality on group dynamics: a symbolic interactionist perspective. Definitely nice eyes.” he suddenly remarked. “Flying always makes me feel humble. He held my gaze long enough to let me know he liked the way I looked. He continued to read his book until the plane took off but then started to look across me out of the window. My bum looks good in jeans so I ensured that he got a good look at it by bending down to tie a (non-existent) shoelace. It seemed to have the desired effect because five minutes later I was in a window seat and he sat down next to me. I thought.

but I‟m not a writer. I would guess they read my work sometimes…. “And what line is that?” “Employees. I‟m an HR manager.” “Partly. . “thirty-something manager from Warwickshire. “I challenge the way people look at themselves and each other. “Are you in my line of work?” I asked. eh! In what field?” I enquired. “Penny.” “Very enigmatic. “In what way?” I was genuinely curious.” he said guardedly. writing is a by-product of my living. “Behaviour.” “John. “Only to my wife!” he joked.Friends or Lovers He looked carefully at me and nodded in agreement.” “You‟re a writer?” This was getting better and better.” he responded. “A consultant. “Well…. “forty-something consultant from London.” I announced. or women to look at men differently. I mean I don‟t write for a living.” “So are you a relationship counsellor? A sex therapist?” As I said the word „sex‟ I placed just enough emphasis on it to ensure he knew it was a flirt. I guess. I sometimes work with HR people.” There was that smile again.I might help men to look at women differently. I write. This time I held his gaze for a little longer to let him know I liked the way he looked. acknowledging my interest and deflecting it at the same time.” he responded. “Well. hoping to dig a bit into his background. what is it you do?” He paused. So.

let‟s see. “Your assumption is right.” The way he said „knowledge‟ was weird. raising his eyebrows.” “The army!” I was genuinely surprised.Rory Ridley-Duff “You‟ve got a wife?” the words came out so fast that I kicked myself. brushing aside his comment with a smile. “What about the army. he convinced me that they had not. A taster only.” I said with a smile. Let‟s take something outside your everyday experience. “We don‟t have long enough to discuss that one! Okay. Khaki never was my colour and I don‟t like getting dirty. Let‟s think about the army. and kids. He continued without any trace of embarrassment while I wanted to shrink into my seat.” I was tempted to make another flirty comment. more than that. but resisted.” he immediately answered. then?” I asked.” “Oh. “Woman are made of sugar and spice and all things nice while men are made of slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails. right? You must have an abundance of „knowledge‟ about men and women. “Yes.” “You disappoint me.” He smiled. You‟re in HR. If my cheeks had coloured up.” “Of course. Did I detect the hint of mockery? “As much as the next person. . I guess.” he said. “Why?” “Well. like a challenge. surely? It is your job to know about men and women. “Some of my clients think of me as a pain in the arse. You must be acutely aware of their typical profile.

It was flattering to think I intrigued him. and it made me pause.” he said. I usually ask this question at the end of a course. “Can I phone a friend?” I teased. I liked that. However. I felt nervous and my right hand instinctively went to pinch my ear lobe. after all.” he said with mock severity. I found it difficult to look him in the eye while I thought. “All mobiles must be switched off during the flight. staffed largely by men with the purpose of keeping men in power. I imagine the army is even worse. “Aha! The million pound question!” I said. Some had to put up with dreadful abuse. . “Can I ask the audience?” “Well. it‟s your opinion that really intrigues me.” He looked at me kindly. Here‟s your question.” “Bullying. I didn‟t want to spoil a promising conversation by saying this. I started to offer less controversial suggestions. it may not be fair. and she talked of similar things happening to her. raping and abusing.” he said with a wry smile.” he said. “I saw a documentary some time ago about women in the army. „What‟s the most sexist thing about the army?‟” What an odd question. an organisation created by men. “Okay.Friends or Lovers “Well.” John said. “Bullying. rape and abuse happen to men as well. “That‟s three things. I had a girlfriend who was in the police. I thought. “Fuck! Where do I begin?” Where would this lead? I turned over half a dozen arguments in my head – the army is.

And I wouldn‟t want you to remember me as the depressing old git who spoiled your flight home. “You did ask!” he said with a laugh. was the real thought provoker.” said John.” “Don‟t get me wrong. a woman is always going to feel more violated. surely?” I retorted. “I can‟t say I‟ve given this much thought. more powerless. so I thought some more. I was genuinely shocked to hear that.” I added and shot him an irritated look that hopefully did not cross the boundary into rudeness. “It‟s not a trick question. “I mean. I felt. don‟t you think?” In a way it was and I kept looking for the way he wanted the question answered rather than the way that I would have answered it myself.” “Male soldiers get raped too. Have we asked the men how they felt about it?” I paused. “Maybe.” Even as I said it. “God.” I replied somewhat apologetically.” “Bit of a depressing subject. . But it‟s a thought provoker. That. that‟s sick. is it?” “Not at all. I wasn‟t going to be put off that easily.Rory Ridley-Duff “What‟s the most sexist thing about the army?” I repeated quietly to myself. usually when in enemy hands.” “But it‟s not the same. He was probably so practised at fielding answers to this question that I was on a hiding to nothing so I looked for a way out. It‟s food for thought. I wasn‟t sure that I was making sense. “Women soldiers get raped….” “You wouldn‟t be alone in that.” “ don‟t. “You‟re right.

“But it is sexy. “Then I‟d better not get to know you too well. I was not sure whether to invite him to join the mile high club. it was not this. married man! Should you be talking to me like that?” I snapped back ensuring my eyes caught his again.” “Hmmm.” I said coyly.” I quipped. Nice thought.. I felt that perhaps I should not be encouraging him to continue this conversation but there was something magnetic about him and I found myself energized in his company.Friends or Lovers “But not a very sexy topic. had I?” Whatever I had expected on the journey home. “I‟m old enough to gobble you up. but only with strangers. what should I say to a young woman like you?” It was not what he said that induced butterflies. “Do you like to open up?” he asked inquisitively. Not nearly as sexy as your perfume …. I wanted the conversation to continue. but the way he looked at me as he said it.” I laughed before I could stop myself. please. I can see that I‟m going to have to watch you!” he chuckled. or punch him in the balls for being so cheeky.” I was enjoying this..line of…. “Okay. Are you asking me to lie to you? I thought women hated liars….” I said these words with a smile that reassured him that his compliments were very welcome.” “Perhaps you should be a bit more choosey about the things you say. It was one of those moments where I could have . “Watch me? I think you opened up this…. “Hey. “Less of the „young‟. “Yes.

He‟d been married for 20 years. His boy was 12 and his daughter 14. I don‟t hide my friendships from her. “Exactly. It was not just his forwardness that . “My wife knows me well. and had two children he loved deeply. Our flirting gave way to convivial conversation but as I found him both engaging and interesting I did not care so long as it continued. survived a few ups and downs.” “And what way is that?” I added. continuing to dig. and children.” he said pleasantly.” I stressed. He thought for a moment. By the time we landed I felt like I‟d had a brief tour of his life. “I try to find another way to look at human relationships.” The brevity and simplicity of his response made me pause again and he used the moment to spring another surprise on me. “So what is it you do exactly?” “I just told you. Ann.” Friendship? That was a quite a leap in such a short space of time and I was taken aback. who specialised in work with creative teams. For a living he helped companies educate men and women to improve their marketing skills. I took him back to the start of our conversation. Our banter continued.Rory Ridley-Duff stubbed out the fire before it got too hot but chose to fan the fire instead. “The way they really are. “Would you like to meet up for a drink next week?” “What about your wife and kids?” I said with a hint of sarcasm. He was an academic turned marketing consultant. He talked fondly of his wife. As our descent into Heathrow started.

I chucked my bags into the corner of my bedroom. As I drove away. “I can pretend that we met at the conference. went through my winding down routine and settled into bed. and his hands moved slowly across me tantalising and pinching my nipples. As we swapped cards I felt a pleasant sensation that was rare for me. When I reached home. “Okay. caressing my stomach. but did not look disappointed. Here was a man who knew how to make a woman . greedily consuming every inch of my skin.” “Do you need to pretend?” he inquired without a trace of mockery. My head and body arched as the pleasure rose within me. With John it immediately mattered to me that he liked me for more than my womanly charms.Friends or Lovers caused me to stop short. I‟d flirted with quite a number of men over the years but I‟d never really cared whether they liked me or not. How about swapping e-mail addresses?” I smiled. I gave him my personal email. His eyes moved over me. I actually found that I cared what he thought. With one assured movement his mouth latched onto me and began to knead my flesh. I let a story unfold in my mind.” He nodded his head. anything. I continued to think of him as I allowed my fingers to work their way down into my pants. but also a sense of disappointment that his aspirations were not a little higher. “You‟re a most unusual man and while I‟d like to go for a drink. rather than work. I could not get him out of my mind. He saw my hesitancy and I felt a burning need to say something. I don‟t think it would be sensible…. He was hard to resist. “Just thought I‟d ask.” I found myself agreeing before I could stop myself. then slowly pulling down my knickers.

Rory Ridley-Duff feel good all over. I focussed all my thoughts on his delicate firm tongue circling and massaging until every nerve ending in my body sizzled and my heart pounded so loud that I heard it thumping in the dead of night. .

short listed people. After spending the morning organising the following week‟s meetings. I found most of these distasteful but they were becoming commonplace and whatever we did the problem still increased. just a variant on previous recruitment campaigns. There were offers of Viagra and penis enlargers as well as selection of links to web-sites for dating rich men or a quick shag. where they would have a second interview with Jo. but specialising in a much broader range of gadgets. We advertised in the local press. . There were several memos about recruiting regional organisers for the new home catalogue. to find out the unresolved issues and discuss them with me at the end of the day. Phil. Just like Avon.Friends or Lovers Chapter 4 On my return to work I found that Mike was now complaining that his salary would drop because his team would earn no commission until the direct marketing operation was up and running. I asked one of my staff. None of this was new. Despite the efforts of our IT department. Our approach was to recruit people with school age children who could use their local networks to recruit others (usually mothers) to go door-to-door. The marketing manager. really. junk mail still got through and I weeded this out as quickly as possible. wanted specialist training for her team on consumer behaviour. Those that I liked would be invited to our headquarters in Leamington Spa for an assessment day. not simply beauty products. This gave me time to cast my eye over some of the mail I had received. I turned to my e-mails. and then interviewed them at a hotel. Jo.

there was a message from someone that I did not immediately recognise: From: j. To think that you are so willing to corrupt a sweet innocent girl like me…. I hit the [Reply] button: From: penny@hotlips. Every time a new e-mail arrived.t. The hour seemed to drag. I felt a sense of expectation disturbing me. John My god. Had a word with my wife. I kept wondering if he was going to reply. he‟s e-mailed me To: j.simons@tascali.t.Rory Ridley-Duff I dealt with a couple of e-mails from friends wanting to know if I‟d had any conference adventures and I responded with the cyberspace equivalent of flouncing my hair.. No probs if you want a To: penny@hotlips. Penny. Subject: Drinking with women? Penny.simons@tascali. Who are you playing verbal tricks on today? Penny Even though I knew that I had more pressing tasks to do. He must be Re: Drinking with Women Hi John. There were several messages from Dave wanting to set a meeting to discuss what I‟d learnt in France so I arranged a follow up session for Monday. Isn’t it your turn to teach me some tricks…? John .

I think my wife has one from her Scottish dancing days. I’ll come if you wear a kilt. We can shock some genteel country folk by doing handstands together…. Penny. walk on my hands or lose my knickers? John x Ha! He‟d added a kiss! What was he trying to say? I started to wonder whether he‟d really asked his wife about me or whether it was just a trick to put me off my guard. very tempting. but she’s petite and it won’t fit me. Tricks? Well. John. Bugger. Which? Wear a summer dress. Every time a voice inside me warned me to be cautious another told me to be daring. Too late. Can you do that? Penny While I pondered whether this was too risqué.Friends or Lovers Good. And the bastard made me wait over an hour for a reply. but at least I get to kiss him back. John. I can walk on my hands (always goes down well in a beer garden when I’m wearing a summer dress without knickers). Penny. But unfortunately I don’t have a kilt. He likes to play. Hmm! Tempting. Do you have any that would fit me? John x . This time he replied quickly. Penny x Not much chance of him accepting on those terms. habit caused me to hit the Send button.

He had good grasp of psychology (always useful in this line of work) and had recently graduated with a good degree. hit me with it. . they had to be put on hold because Phil entered the office and sat down with a large sigh. Better back off for now. but not that big…. What was I playing at? Were we flirting or joking? I was not sure. John. the pick of an excellent bunch.Rory Ridley-Duff The cheeky bugger! He‟d mentioned his wife again.” “That‟s good. “I think I‟ve found the people to fill the vacant positions in the marketing team. and with careful guidance I could see him going far. For now.. “Good news first. Penny x I hoped that I‟d not pushed him away too quickly. He was young and hard working. Whatever my thoughts. bright but inexperienced. After 30 minutes. he had to learn how to do the donkeywork and that meant devising and running the administrative systems I needed. however. the joy I‟d been feeling drained away. He‟d clearly had an eventful meeting with Mike.” I replied. “What‟s he playing at?” Phil settled back in his chair. I felt a mixture of annoyance and regret. please. He was personable too. So what is the bad news?” “You‟ve got three vacancies in Mike‟s old team.” was my starter for ten. After 45 minutes.” “Shit!” I exclaimed. “Do you want the good news or bad news?” he asked. Phil was a good lad. “Okay. I’m a big girl. Looks like we are going to have to postpone that drink for the time being.

Few things to round off. They want to work with Mike. “Well. Anything else?” “Nope. All have contacts from previous sales jobs. they would be. What d‟you want to do?” “Leave it with me. Thanks. The moment I arrived in his department I was collared by three of his sales reps. . or prepare for battle if he doesn‟t. He had no problem working for a woman and we got along well. I‟ll keep you posted. I thought! Perhaps he weaves a magic spell that I don‟t know about yet. part of a new generation that accepts the way the workplace is changing. he said that he‟ll accept the temporary drop if these three can join him. Not sure he‟s playing at all. They want to move with him. They all fit our desired profile. “It overlaps their territories so they‟re confident they‟ll build sales quickly. He was fresh out of college. What about Mike‟s money concerns? Did he raise that?” I asked. They were pissed as hell at Mike being moved. Two have school age children and the other has grandchildren.Friends or Lovers “Not sure.” “Hmm. Are you off now?” I asked. “Not yet. I get the feeling that he‟ll quieten down if he gets his way on this.” How weird. Don‟t worry about it. I nodded to Phil to carry on. Sounds okay to me. wouldn‟t they? The old boy network will naturally stick up for him. I‟ll check with Dave. “Well.” Phil was good. Their sales records are pretty good.” “Okay.” “It‟s not the men – it‟s three of the women.

it may come in handy. but I could explain the changes at interview.” . He did not immediately jump at the idea and rubbed his chin in thought. Find out more about him .Rory Ridley-Duff I sought out Dave to confer on the latest developments. “Mike may become a problem. Dave finally agreed but as I left he said something that set off alarm bells. He asked if recruiting three salespeople for Mike‟s old team would be any more difficult than recruiting for the new one? I thought not. The differences were not so great that we needed to worry. The starting salary would be the same. Something was disturbing him. The job information we sent out would be slightly misleading.

I want to give you the chance to walk away if you wish. That is a lovely thought to keep in my head if that is all you want to give. so it was a surprise when another e-mail from him appeared in my inbox. You are an attractive woman. then I still have a pleasant memory of meeting a smart and sexy woman. My wife does not usually interfere in my personal friendships (unless she feels threatened) and we have become much more relaxed in recent years. I have women friends and I’d like you to be one of them. In saying that I don’t want you to read more into these comments than is in them. Our relationship is a strong one. Thanks for playtime. Fuck him. I like you. Try as I might. If you are not. That evening I settled down with my Bernice Rubbens again. then we will become friends. If I flirt it is because I think you find it fun too.” “A Fantasy.Friends or Lovers Chapter 5 Back at my desk I started to wind down for the night.” Why does . I love my kids. I love my wife. If you are okay with this. I hope we can enjoy more banter in the weeks to come. I retrieved my e-mails to see whether there were any final issues to deal with. Before logging off. I locked away sensitive information and tidied my desk. John x Who was this guy? His arrogance pissed me off. I could not concentrate. Before that resumes. Hope to hear from you soon. Penny. I‟d forgotten about John. But enjoying a mutual attraction does not mean I’m going to make a pass at you (that will have to remain a fantasy). however. It was fun. What had he called me? “Smart and sexy. Mixed in with my anger was a spine-chilling excitement that I could not shake off.

Rory Ridley-Duff he tell me he won‟t make a pass at me? Why not? Bastard. no denying it. He‟s fun. I must stop thinking like this. but I did not listen to it. The prospect of looking into them thrills me. The word „danger‟ keeps forcing its way into my thoughts but my mind wanders back to his eyes. My thoughts kept returning to our e-mail exchanges. The hours passed and still I could not read my book. And that realisation had a strange effect. For a few hours I was free of the conflict raging in my soul. He‟s too old for me. circling around like vultures gnawing at old wounds. He dares to resist me. I put on music. He makes me laugh. He‟s married. Don‟t let him in. Don‟t trust him. my eyes finally got so heavy that I dropped asleep. the minutes ticked and questions invaded my thoughts. Penny. . Why do I want to trust him? I never trust men. He‟s sexy. Maybe he is just after a fling. Play it cool. Why does this hurt? Don‟t let him in. Penny. He‟s got kids. No guy has ever talked to me like this. Slowly it dawned on me why I‟m angry at him – he dares to resist me. He‟s got “ups and downs” in his life. He‟s intelligent. By 2am. I tried to watch a film but the moving images were just a backdrop. As I lay in bed.

he scratched his nose.” He rubbed his hands together.Friends or Lovers Chapter 6 Following my conversation with Dave. won‟t they start wondering why?” “Just spend time with them in the canteen. of course. I told him not to be too obvious . we are part of the management team and that means we bend to their wishes. His eyes looked at the table while he rubbed his chin. “Nothing in start by finding out what he could from members of his former team as unobtrusively as possible. As he looked up. Just see if you can find out about him. not find out dark secrets. Whether I like it or not. you find there is this whole other world that no-one talks about. we have to work within management objectives and commercial constraints. get to know them. I‟m trying to build a picture.” I said. I too felt awkward because I had initially imagined that work was conducted in the way described in study texts. “I want to be sure that there is not a pattern to his behaviour. then join in the conversation. see if they talk about him. I asked Phil to find out more about Mike. and his brow still showed a frown. If they do. Naturally. “What am I looking for?” he asked. Much as I wanted to focus on recruiting the best people and developing them to their full potential. he quizzed me. When you experience the real world.” Phil looked awkward.” “If I start asking about him. Just take an interest. . I remembered the first time that my manager asked me to keep my ears and eyes open. “I‟m still concerned about Elona‟s complaint.

Rory Ridley-Duff

“Phil, I understand how you must feel. Sometimes we have to do things that are not pleasant. The worst thing you might have to do one day is make people – decent people – redundant. If you stay in this profession, you‟ll learn how awful that can be. At other times, you may suspect that someone is acting more in their own interests than those of the business. When that happens, we sometimes need to be circumspect in finding out what we can. It is a very difficult job and we can only find out so much by asking people directly. I‟m not asking you to spy, just keep your ear to the ground and mix in certain circles when the opportunities arise.” He looked at me briefly and smiled, but the lines on his forehead never totally disappeared. “Okay. I‟ll see what I can find out.” “Good man,” I said and I felt my body relax. I smiled strongly at him, got up and walked towards the door. Phil got up slowly and made to leave. As he passed me, I put my hand on his shoulder and reassured him. “You‟ll be fine. If you‟re not, come and talk to me.” With Phil gone, my mind turned back to the task I‟d been putting off. I knew that I must reply to John, but did not relish the task. Even though I‟d thought about it all the previous evening, I was still not sure what to say. One thing I am sure about - I want to keep in touch with him. The problem is how to do that without ending up in a “situation” where I get hurt. Words and phrases keep going around and around in my head but no concrete sentences form. It is just a drink, I keep telling myself, but I cannot forget that nearly every relationship I‟ve had with a man gets complicated. One that I lived with, despite having a lovely side to his character, ended up taking me for

Friends or Lovers

granted. I don‟t want to mother my partner; I want him to look after me. There have been others that I adored for a short while (and who adored me) but as soon as they started talking about their goals in life, I felt them threaten my own. One wanted me to move with him to London just after I‟d started this job. I wouldn‟t go and the relationship ended. Why am I thinking like this? It is just a drink, after all. As much as I keep trying to convince myself that he only wants friendship, I cannot shake off the idea that going drinking with a married man will lead to problems. If I get close to him, will he make a pass at me? Why will this one be any different? And if he did, would I be able to resist him? Perhaps this is why I am so nervous. I don‟t want to be a mistress. I have to write something so I create an e-mail and stare at the screen. My fingers start to type:
John, Tell me about your marriage. How strong is it? Penny

I hit the Send key before I realise that he might take this question the wrong way. While contemplating my gaff, a message appears in my inbox.
Penny, Strong enough for you not to worry about it. John

I had hoped for a fuller explanation than that. No kiss today, I notice. Perhaps my question irritated him. At times like this, I tell myself to follow my head. What does my head say today? I listen carefully to my thoughts; there is danger here, to myself, to his marriage and children. But there is potential too. What if

Rory Ridley-Duff

he is how I hope he is? It will be a pleasure to know him. Could he become a friend I can trust and talk to like my father? But what if he turns out to be a creep? What will happen if I start to love him? I can‟t deny my desire to meet him or the thought that if I turn this opportunity down I‟ll always ask have the question “what if..” I will never answer any of my questions if I don‟t get to know him. As one of my school friends used to say to me “life is not a dress rehearsal”.
John, I accept. When would you like to meet? Penny x

In for a pound. Later that day, he e-mailed me back to ask if I‟d meet him in Leamington the following Wednesday. He could stop by as he was working in Birmingham then staying with friends in Warwick. With that out of the way, I relaxed and focussed better on my work.

Friends or Lovers

Chapter 7
With the week coming to an end, I finalise arrangements with interviewees and then decide to check on Elona. She is quite young, in her mid-twenties, and works within sales administration. She‟s been with the company since leaving school and is well-known about the place. I‟ve only met her half a dozen times or so since joining, twice due to her recent complaint. I want to check that she is happy with the way we have dealt with it so I decide to read over her file and recent appraisals. She is a single child, the daughter of local shopkeepers. When she was in her teens, she worked in the shop with her parents and saved enough money to go to college for two years. She lives in Kenilworth, a small town about 7 miles away. Nice place. In her interview notes it says that she led a relatively sheltered upbringing due to her parents‟ ties to the shop. Holidays have been few but she does have good friends in the local community. She has a boyfriend – her fiancé - who she provided as a second emergency contact. They hope to buy a house together soon but each live with their parents at the moment. Her career at IC has progressed fairly smoothly. She started in a typing pool seven years earlier. When it was disbanded she took on a series of clerical jobs, including a stint in customer services, but eventually felt her attention to paperwork and maintaining filing systems was being under utilised. In short, she wanted something more challenging than a continual stream of phone calls. The move to sales administration, therefore, was a good one for both her and the company. Her knowledge of

Rory Ridley-Duff

order processing together with customer skills equipped her for a trouble-shooter role in which she dealt with customer complaints. By all accounts, she appears to be a reliable hardworking employee. So I called her and asked her to drop by. Fifteen minutes later, we were sitting together in my office having a cup of tea. “Hi. Glad you could come. Do you take sugar?” I asked. “No. Thanks. Hmmmm. That‟s very welcome,” she said taking her first sip. “I won‟t take much of your time – I‟m sure you want to get away like me. I want to check that you are happy with the way we have dealt with your complaint.” Elona looked slightly puzzled, but smiled and settled back in her chair a bit. “Yes. Very. It‟s the first time I‟ve seen anyone in this company take a complaint like this seriously,” she commented. “Good. I‟m glad I‟m making a difference. The directors want this company to follow best practice and I‟m here to make sure that happens.” Elona‟s comment made me feel good on the inside. I continued boldly and directly. “Elona. One of the directors wants to be sure that Mike‟s behaviour is not part of a pattern. Had you ever been concerned about his behaviour before you made the complaint?” “Me? Well…” she hesistated, “…sometimes I felt uncomfortable around him. He‟s very friendly – too friendly if you ask me – and he does seem to be very attentive to some of the women reps.”

Friends or Lovers

Elona stopped for a moment to gather her thoughts. She rubbed the back of her neck and crossed her legs. “They didn‟t seem pleased with me when they came in for a meeting yesterday. I heard later that they were leaving my section to stay with Mike. They always speak highly of him and he‟s always joking with them. I find it embarrassing sometimes. He treats them almost like they are his daughters. They seem to like it, but I don‟t. I don‟t like it when men are too familiar with me, put their arm round me and things.” “Things?” I asked. “Well, you know…” she said. “No, Elona, I don‟t know. Tell me?” I said firmly. “Well sometimes, especially if we‟re down the pub after work, they go too far.” “How?” I asked. “They put their arm round me like they would their girlfriend or something. I don‟t like it.” “Does Mike do this?” “Not often. Sometimes. The younger lads are worse.” “How exactly?” “Well sometimes their hands go down my back, and sort of rub it. It‟s too familiar, but I feel stupid if I say „no‟ because everybody seems to be okay with it. One of them sometimes puts his hand on my bottom and squeezes it. I don‟t know what to do, so I do nothing.” This seemed like „normal‟ behaviour in most companies that I‟d worked in but that did not make it okay. Clearly Elona was more shy than most. Others would have to be sensitive. I decided to dig a little more deeply; I adopted a more woman-to-woman style.

come and see me. “I was just saying that perhaps some blokes‟ attention is nicer than others?” She rubbed her ear and her brows came together as she spoke. Can you do that?” “Yes. Her defensiveness suggested she was hiding something. make a note in your diary.” she confirmed. I don‟t want other men doing it. “Yes. Elona. Okay?” She seemed to relax.” “And if you feel the need.” Ms Leyton? A bit formal. I could see she was agitated so I took another approach. After Elona left the room I pondered her behaviour. I wondered . Why?” “If you‟ve asked someone to stop and they continue to touch you in a way that you don‟t like. “It seems that we have a few more heads to knock together. I have a boyfriend and I only like him to touch me like that.Rory Ridley-Duff “I guess it depends whose got their hand on your behind. “What do you mean?” she replied as she shuffled in her seat.” I smiled strongly at her as I drew the conversation to a close. Elona tensed and was unsettled by this remark. “And quite right too. I detected a touch of embarrassment in her behaviour. eh?” I said with a furtive look. doesn‟t it? If anyone does something that you don‟t like. I‟ll try. “I don‟t understand what you are implying. “Okay.” “Do you have a diary?” I asked. I thought. Can you do that too?” “Sure. tell them straightaway. Still. I‟m glad we had this talk. Ms Leyton.

.Friends or Lovers if she was receiving more attention than she was saying. I‟ll discuss with Phil before I depart on Monday. Clearly we will need to work on this problem together.

Carole. I‟ve worked hard to shape it in my own image.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 8 I live on the outskirts of town in a two-bedroom flat. I take some pride in my home. Over the brick fireplace I have some ethnic artwork. On the wall either side are two African masks. Next to Carole is a picture of my parents on their 40 th wedding anniversary. the candles give the room a romantic sexy feel. and has made her career in teaching. I always work hard to make my living room the most welcoming one in the house. After meeting at university they wanted to travel the world together for a while. At ground level. they had children quite late. after I was accepted in this job. At the moment she is on maternity leave. I have large vases with dried flowers that give some colour and texture next to an attractive gas fire. The mantelpiece supports two tall candles in wrought iron holders and a number of stone carved nightlights. Recently he got a promotion to project analyst and is now supervising others for the first time. I have a photo of my younger sister. Last year. each with different tribal markings. It suits me for the moment. They had decided that if they still wanted to be together after living in each other‟s pockets for two . I splashed out on a wooden floor and cream leather sofa. Considering their generation. Although I live on my own. When I settle down with a box of chocolates and dim the light. I think he‟s a bit of dope – she does too – but since their son was conceived he‟s taken his job (as a computer programmer) more seriously. She is 30. two years younger than me. although one day I‟d like a house with a garden that I can tend. On the opposite wall. her first child with boyfriend Chris.

A few of these hang on a pin board in my living room. but she holds out hope that eventually they‟ll get married. sometimes we write e-mails to each other and swap humorous cards. like my sister. but hope springs eternal where she is concerned. I ask if we will hear wedding bells soon but the most optimistic response she‟s given so far is “Next Year: probably. Forlorn. they each established their careers. We now call each other every week. He even gets to write answers for the Prime Minister sometimes. My mother. I keep telling her that we are better off without them. I‟m proud of him. . I guess. I reckon. Fame of a sort. My father. I grew close to my sister and we stayed that way ever since. however.” What is it about men and commitment? Even though she‟s been with him for three years now. she will be able to retire next year. they‟d do it for life. He is a civil servant who rose through the ranks to lead a unit that answers parliamentary questions. At that time.Friends or Lovers years. got married and had children. Sometimes he gets to prepare answers for TV. My father is the kindest man I know but I have had a prickly relationship with my mother ever since I turned 14. many of our phone conversations still dwell on “man problems”. And so it has been. still has two years before he can retire. When they got back. My sister sent these to me when she was having difficulty getting her boyfriend to settle down with her. is a teacher. My favourite card is… Men have only two faults Everything they say And everything they do …although I also like another one that says “Grow your own dope: plant a man”.

Rory Ridley-Duff My bedroom is a mini-paradise. When I go to bed. I feel deliciously erotic. Either side of the mirror is a raised area for an assortment of bottles. The other side draw holds my collection of lingerie. I don‟t have space for a washing machine so I still do my laundry down the road. so the dresser came with an array of drawers to hold all my paraphernalia: lip gloss. They know how I like to adorn myself. make-up remover and spot sticks. Jewellery is in one of my side drawers. necklaces. bracelets (wrist and ankle). and a choice of rings for fingers and toes. organised into earrings. switch on the bedside lights. carefully selected so that on the rare occasions I think enough of a man to invite him back. I switch out the main light. I have a built-in wardrobe and dresser – a present paid for by my parents when they helped me buy this place four years ago. and on each bedside table I have one of these new cylindrical lights with slow moving silver flakes that refract light. belly bars. The focus is my pinewood king-size bed with a deluxe duck feather duvet and pillows. I can make him think that he‟s gone to heaven early. It gets me out of the house . facial scrubs. The headboard is decorated with subtle white lights. selections of lipsticks. and watch the patterns that meander around the room. just perfect for fuelling my fantasies when I feel like playing with myself. The work units and oven are built in so there is a reasonable amount of workspace and cleaning is easy. so a sensuous bedroom equipped for lingering self-pampering is one of life‟s essentials. moisturisers. I don‟t have a regular fella to keep me warm at night. a sensual and very personal love nest. Wrapped in my duvet. The kitchen is small but functional. nail varnishes and eye shadows (which I use only on special occasions).

Good week?” I enjoy these chats with my sister. “Yes. bless him. In some ways it‟s good to have him home. it just creates tension. “Chris has raised the idea of using his flexi-hours to spend more time at home. How about you?” . When Big Brother hits our screens we chat about it each week and I invite her around my flat to watch eviction nights. “I try.” “If only adults were as easy to amuse…” I commented. Quite sweet really. He is. but he just makes more work for me.Friends or Lovers and I can chat to Betty who does the service washes.” “Nothing on the matrimonial front. She gives me the latest celebrity gossip. I‟m not sure about it. I reassure him that as soon as he starts on solids then he‟ll be able to get in on the action. but baby refuses to be fed by bottle. I don‟t know. I give him a toy with a bell on it and he sits there shaking it and laughs for ages. I try. He is trying too. He actually gets upset that he can‟t feed his child. * * * “Hi sis‟” “Hi Carole. yet?” “Haven‟t raised it for a while. He‟s sitting up now and he‟s a lot happier because he can look around. Just wish he could cook then he‟d be really useful to me.” I interjected. This has been a standing joke ever since she started going out with him.” “He sounds keen. “Not bad.” “Can‟t you train him better?” I ask. He can change a nappy now.

” Carole quipped. But he seems different. He has lovely eyes. he‟s an oddball. “Oh. He is a practiced flirt. I can‟t explain. I‟m not sure. let you know how it goes.” “Tell me more…. why are you meeting him?” It was a pertinent question. He burned my ear with all this stuff about sexism in the army.Rory Ridley-Duff This is another standing joke . yes?” she asked. I say! You only live once.” No sooner had I uttered the words than I realised how stupid they sounded.” “You‟re smitten. but I didn‟t even convince myself so I doubt that I convinced her. a consultant. a writer. “He‟s married.” “So. it‟s not like that. “No. He‟s intelligent. But I did meet an interesting man this week on the plane back from France.” “No Carole.” We are so alike.” “Oh don‟t say that Carole. got kids. He was keen to meet me again so we‟ve agreed to meet up next week for lunch. “No. and you‟re giving him a big green light.” “And your libido?” “I don‟t think so.” “Hey you. Like I say. “Go for it. He‟s most odd. I have no idea whether I‟m doing the right thing and you know what I‟m like with inability to find any man worthy of me. “Yeah! I‟ll call you in the week. so that‟s a no go area.” .” “Too right you will. I can tell. I want to satisfy my curiosity. nothing to report there.” I said weakly. Sounds like he‟s a fast worker. “Oh.

” “Bye sis‟” And with that.” “I will. Stay cool. we both put down the phone and returned to our very different lives. .Friends or Lovers “Say „hi‟ to mum for me if you talk to her.

I still can‟t get used to going to bed by myself and I especially miss the pleasure of waking up next to someone. Living on my own.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 9 My weekend was fairly typical: shopping. Sometimes I get really scared. but with others you can visibly see their bodies convulse with anger. but my sister was not so lucky. reading. One thing that only women can understand. and getting up when I like. relaxing and sleeping. Some withdraw into themselves and skulk off. I have the pleasure of buying in exactly the foods I wish. and sharing my thoughts and feelings. watching only the television that I want to. Her last boyfriend punched and kicked . I particularly hate having workmen in the flat during the day. So far none have hit me. Breaking up with a man is traumatic because you never know how he‟s going to react. But I can‟t deny that there is loneliness too. cleaning. most men who I let into my bed think that the corner of my room has an invisible linen bin placed there. if the doorbell rings on a dark winter evening I use my spy hole to check who‟s the other side. There is a constant battle to train them to put their clothes in a bag ready for them to take away when our romantic interludes are concluded. is the silent fear we have of violence. I think. snuggling up to them. I don‟t always feel safe on my own. Not having a man about the house also helps in that respect. No way am I going to start washing their clothes. Despite the façade of strength I present at work. I can also avoid having my house systematically trashed by boisterous kids (although I imagine it won‟t be long before my nephew will oblige). If it is a man I do not know – and sometimes even if I do – I don‟t let them in.

and I was able to remove my jumper and wear just a tee-shirt and shorts. The wind buffets my face as I stand like the French Lieutenant‟s Woman. so why do I feel so empty? As I walk on the brow of the hill I look north towards Worcester. watching her shrivel with humiliation as she admitted to a nurse how she received her injuries. time and space to think. By Sunday. looking at her bruised mouth and eye. holding her hand while she sobbed like a young child. Sitting with her. . I‟m sufficiently attractive to be able to enjoy male company more or less whenever I like. On the surface it looks very fulfilling. Walking gives me a wonderful sense of freedom. that‟s an experience that‟ll never leave me. I recall John‟s comment that looking down on the world reminds us of our insignificance. I have a nice home and neighbours. It was a pleasant day. In my mind. two circles of friends (inside and outside work) that balance each other and provide good times and support for bad times. good career with responsibility and the chance to travel. The houses on the plain are as tiny as an architect‟s model and the specks that move slowly along the motorway look like matchbox cars. warm for April. an isolated and desolate beauty searching the wilderness for something in life that will make it more meaningful and satisfying. a family I can see when I need (far enough away not to crowd me but close enough to visit the same day). I‟d done my chores so I took myself off to the Malvern Hills for a walk. Am I significant? Do I make a difference? Have I had a positive influence on the people I‟ve known? I wasn‟t sure. At the moment I wonder whether my life is going in the direction that I want.Friends or Lovers her when she ended the relationship.

but perhaps it is me who is avoiding commitment. I even hide my feelings from my sister. My deepest need. If my parents knew how I behaved sometimes they would probably die with shame. Parents walk with children. the desire to share myself physically. but deep in my heart I‟m still quite lonely. . perhaps). I don‟t think I‟ve shared myself fully with anyone. emotionally and spiritually. Rarely do I see two women or two men walking together. cannot be satisfied with any of them. I still feel lonely. In fact. I can‟t show them the real me.Rory Ridley-Duff I‟ve been hard on boyfriends who would not make a commitment to me. The life I have is safe. and I have many things that give me pleasure. Even when I‟m shacked up with a man. Family and friends are great but there are limits to how I can be with them. Husbands walk with wives (lovers or friends. Why is it that the greatest source of pleasure is also the source of so much fear and pain? As I resume my walk I cannot help but notice that most people are walking with someone else. I‟m too afraid. the hills are filled with people who have come to terms with sharing themselves with another. I‟m not sure there is anyone with whom I can do that.

I wish I didn‟t feel like this. We e-mailed each other over the weekend and agreed to meet at Pizza Hut. no matter what I do. I have George Benson playing “Lady. Both with children in the 11-15 age range and extended family support (that‟s usually necessary in this line of work). As I enter the outskirts of town. turn right into an NCP car park. I shouldn‟t be meeting him. . I found a man and woman. I keep reminding myself that this is an unrealistic (and unhealthy) way to be thinking but the butterflies in my stomach won‟t go away. “Go away!” but ranting makes no difference. There was a single woman with previous direct sales experience and good family support so I think we have found the people we need. both married. Love Me One More Time” on the CD player and this fuels an expectation that lunch will be the start of a romance. The car parks itself as if I‟m on auto-pilot.Friends or Lovers Chapter 10 I‟m in Leeds today. I can‟t help but feel excited even though I know this is not an appropriate way to feel. “Stop it!” I shout. see the front of the car turn to the left and climb the levels. I also interviewed a single man who had won custody of his children. The interviews went off as well as could be expected. I try not to think and focus on getting through the next few minutes. He too seems to possess the necessary enthusiasm and skills. At the moment. watch the barrier rise. I‟m driving back to meet John. But I keep driving towards the town centre. the clock shows there are only 50 minutes to go and my breathing deepens and lengthens as my nerves start to intensify.

My hair was washed this morning and tied back into a ponytail. classy but not tarty.” I say with false modesty. I‟m not only pleased I‟ve made an impression but also delighted that he‟s noticed. Where is my lippy? Look in the shop window. Go down the stairs. Wait for card. I can feel myself beginning to relax.Rory Ridley-Duff Find the exit. I take off my jacket and sit down. Turn left. Take the money.” The moment I hear his words I come out of my trance. Now right. Thank you for making the effort to look nice. Check my handbag. I‟ve put on a white top – thin enough to give a hint of the lace bra underneath – styled into a „V‟. Open the door.” “Thank you?” I ask. But his hair looks freshly washed and there . Press lips together. What a surprising remark! “Yes. Enter. Apply evenly. “Penny! There you are. I appreciate it. I applied a modest amount of eye shadow and liner. Choose “Cash no receipt”. look at him and smile. The necklace is long enough for the jewel to draw attention to a hint of cleavage. Turn left. Press 7725. There‟s no harm in showing off my pert behind and womanly curves. Thank you. Around the eyes. Continue.” “Just my normal work clothes. Along the high street. All this elegantly covered by a light purple trouser suit that hugs my figure. a subtle shade of blue (just enough to emphasise my long black lashes without looking trashy). Go to cashpoint. £50. Look in the shop windows. “You look good. He has turned up wearing an unironed tee-shirt and jeans with a hole in one knee. Turn left. Inside. Walk. Studs with a light blue jewel adorn my ears and a matching necklace drapes around my neck.

“Lots.” . “I use my wife‟s Nivea every day. Good on the wrinkles. I like it. but in the daylight I guess he‟s a bit younger than I first thought – somewhere in his late 30s.” he jests. I still don‟t know how old he is.” “I‟m 44. All the nerves that I‟d felt were swept away. Then he adds. “It did. Especially before I go on holiday. “I see you dressed up for me too…” I say cheekily.” “Perhaps it will catch on in Hollywood?” He laughed and looked deeply into my eyes. including a single father.” he says without any embarrassment.” I say boldly. when he‟s relaxed they disappear. then?” I quip. “So. I need an exclusive casual outfit for each day otherwise my beach cred is seriously damaged. I carefully ironed the creases into the shirt and hired a tailor to give my trousers that deliberate „just torn‟ look. “Tell me.Friends or Lovers is a day‟s stubble giving him an undeniably rugged look. I have to work hard to keep up with her. “how old are you?” “Forward aren‟t we?” “Oh. did your interviewing go well?” he asks. I felt comfortable and content. Shortlisted four people. Very energetic woman. I settle into my seat and look at him more closely. yes! I don‟t beat about the bush. obviously. His face has worn well and his hair shows only slight signs of greying.” “Does your tailor get much business from you. would you believe?” “Only just.” “She keeps you young. “Yes. The lines at the corners of his eyes only display when he smiles.” “Yes.

manager at 29 but stumbled across the glass ceiling. Likes . got angry with women. got angry with men. then?” “She prefers a quieter existence where her opinions are not the subject of public scrutiny. attended women‟s groups. Tried a few. Born. I felt we should dwell there a bit. Here we go. She saves her strong opinions for our marriage and children. One sister who is two years younger than me. always closer to dad. Politics became liberal. in Malvern where I grew up with my teacher mother and civil servant father. “Want to try something I do on my courses?” “Why not?” I answer. “What does she do?” “She‟s a linguist. “Your life in 5 minutes. Did radical bit at university. fell out with mum. Protested the Gulf War (the first one). Chose career instead. “So!” he says.” “Not out and about like you. Translates government documents from English to French to German and back again. Now HR manager in a growing firm. Relatively happy modern career woman.Rory Ridley-Duff Given that we‟d moved onto the subject of his wife. It suits her.” “Strong minded?” He says nothing. Shouted regularly at politicians. his smile and nod say it all. I could sense a question coming. now with child and dopey boyfriend.” “Okay. He doesn‟t need to. age 0. Started to like men less. including that he admires her. Developed well. Started to like men more. She‟s also a teacher but currently on maternity. Age 13 onwards I became a bit of a rebel. Warm loving home for the first dozen or so years. Can you do that? Then I‟ll give you mine.

romantic comedies. Got hired as a consultant. A waitress stands at the end of our table ready to take our order. walking. The portfolio life is for me. Loved them again. Marine engineer dad who died when I was eight. Now 32. One works in a women‟s refuge. Protested the Poll Tax. .” He stops and takes in a deep breath to replenish his oxygen supply. Returned to research. Went through the football craze. Lots of responsibility. flirting and friendship – but in reverse order. Born in Hampshire. fell in love with one. We both laugh in unison and I look at her. then calmed down. Frost. Lots of freedom. Went through the basketball craze.” he adds. Had kids.Friends or Lovers chocolate. Eastenders. the other lectures in some obscure social science. Married her. Did my extremist bit at university. “Right. Started writing. Went off radicals. the freedom. “I think that‟s the best exercise I‟ve had all day. then PhD. usually fine. sometimes lonely. Flirted with radicals (both ideologically and literally). exercise. I stop. This is fun and I am enjoying myself. Hobbies include walking. the pay. Went through the „girls‟ craze. Tried real world. Worked in academia. Artist mum. nights in with cat. Two sisters. Friends. Both older. A rebel until age 13. Did a masters. No Angels. Sex and the City – shame it has finished. Missed first Gulf War demo. “Wow!” he injects. Always liked women. Tried a few. “How about you?” I quickly ask. Hated kids. refused to pay it. Mexican food. Liked kudos. Loved kids. same age as you funnily enough. My turn. Went off real world. “All in one breath?” I laugh out loud. Very sad but coped okay.

” he answers politely. “Would you like any drinks while you are thinking?” Her voice came out in a monotone as if it had been prerecorded.” I request. His demeanour changed and took on a more relaxed and thoughtful expression. Wherever I go they never seem to work.” * * * As we chatted away.Rory Ridley-Duff “Could you give us a few more minutes?” I ask.” “Such as?” . please. sir. “Decaf coffee. “I‟d afraid the machine‟s broken. As he started to speak. Is a normal coffee okay?” “Of course. “Helping some marketing recruits find new ways to look at men and women. some well-founded. not a new one. As soon as she went. we were joyous and smiling. others not. and I was drawn more and more into the conversation.” “And did you succeed?” I was actually interested this time and he could sense this. People have many preconceptions. he leans over towards me and speaks quietly. “So what have you been doing in Birmingham?” I enquired. “Cappuccino?” asks John. “These things take time. He felt like an old friend. he started to gesticulate. “I think someone has placed a contract to sabotage all cappuccino makers worldwide.

“It depends on whose data you look at. Men are definitely more aggressive and violent. “In the 70s and 80s.” I affirmed. feeling that I knew the answer already. Then some people started to ask whether the research design was distorting the results.” “The studies must be biased. not just women. “Perhaps. I don‟t understand why.” he continued.” But he sounded sceptical. I could tell that he was selecting one from a great long list. “Difficult to tell. on TV. Researchers started to ask both men and women. Over one-hundred and seventy studies in the last three decades disagree with you. “lot of studies suggested that men were more violent than women in personal relationships. You see it all the time. In the papers.Friends or Lovers He thought for a moment. “There‟s a growing body of research now.” .” “But we all know that men are more violent that women. It‟s everywhere.” he replied surprisingly. It‟s my job to make sense of reliable data. The results were surprising and not what you‟d expect. but John continued calmly and reassuringly. In the last few years there have also been findings that children raised by single fathers are less violent that those raised by single mothers. I could feel a sprinkle of alarm go through me because I could sense he was leading me into a trap.” “Is that well-founded or not?” I asked.” “You are joking! I don‟t believe you. “That men are instinctively more violent than women.” I thought of my sister and my body felt tense all over.

I am interested. She had an impatient look on her face. It is just hard to accept.” “Of course. John and I looked at each other and this time we didn‟t laugh. and have been conducted by people from different research backgrounds. “No it‟s okay. Is that your point?” I asked. I stopped for a moment. What is meant by this phrase? I looked at John with curiosity. the waitress returned.” “You‟re not alone. “We don‟t have to talk about this if you don‟t want to.” he said. “D‟you remember „Wait „Til Your Father Gets Home‟?” he suddenly asked.Rory Ridley-Duff “I can‟t rule that out.” “I don‟t believe them. I‟m sure there was a hint of sarcasm in her tone. At that moment. different age groups. quickly found something we liked and ordered. “Thank you.” said the waitress.” John paused. John looked at me supportively. Yes. different social environments. I was in deep shock.” “I can‟t explain it – this is very new data to me too and I need time to reflect on it. I thought for a moment. . “Dad is being used to threaten the kids. We both picked up a menu.” he said with a smile. I remembered a TV series with this name. But the results are consistent across different industrialised countries. I know you are going to try.” “Explain.

“Now I come to thing of it. “Maybe we use Dad as a weapon whether he wants to be scary or not. My wife sometimes says to me „John. “I‟m not sure any more that men choose to be aggressive. but sometimes they dig their heels in and I come very close.” he said finally. I think it is about Mum making Dad responsible for discipline.‟ Even my female students used to say that they‟d play dumb or frightened to get their brothers. He was forming his thoughts onthe-fly as well. Make them go to bed. “When I think about this. I hate doing it – I feel like I‟ve failed .” He paused. there have been times when my wife says „are you going to let that man talk to me that way?‟” John became immersed in thought again and I watched him struggle to put his thoughts together. .” I said.Friends or Lovers “Not sure.” he continued. That happens in my house too. I‟ve seen girls say „leave me alone or I‟ll get my dad onto you‟ or they might say „I‟ll get my brother onto you. John paused for a moment. I have threatened it once or twice. will you?‟ I‟ve managed to avoid smacking so far. they won‟t listen to me. “you see it everywhere.but what d‟you do when kids won‟t respond to anything?” I was beginning to see his point. The threat is only effective if the kids fear Dad.” he answered speaking directly from the heart. fathers and boyfriends to do things for them. “Maybe we use Dad as a weapon because he is more scary.

“Okay. I raised my eyebrows. He only became worried after she started to flirt a bit. “John. I‟m not sure exactly what. But I‟m under no such obligation. That moment. He‟d ordered potato skins. But it is double-edged. She‟d been having some difficulties at home and she singled him out as a father figure to talk to. “What‟s your work like?” he asked.” I answered.” John looked at me in a way that suggested he did not know whether to carry on. and I was eating chicken dippers. We‟re never free of fear. I don‟t understand all the ins and outs. Completely. After that.” “Yes.” I stopped myself. “but the issue for women is that the threat is always there. I‟m trying to find out more because something peculiar seems to be going on. I‟m sure you are right. I have a friend who felt a young woman was getting too close to him. The threat is enough. Instinctively. “Yes. The woman is holding something back.” We both paused. I‟m not sure it is appropriate for me to talk about this. We have a man who has been pressuring a young woman for a drink. Busy at the moment. we both realised we‟d had enough of this. He tried to cool it off.Rory Ridley-Duff “Maybe. nodded and then . Tricky situation in one department. we shared a stuffed crust with extra mushroom and chicken. but he‟s done this before and the young woman was so upset that I had to separate them. I‟ve had to move him. our starters arrived. You understand?” I said. isn‟t it? On the one hand we want men to be violent for us but we don‟t want them to be violent against us.

I felt good. We both agreed there would be a next time in about a month. Always. he paid. I said softly…. isn‟t it?” I said.” He held my gaze.” But. We both knew exactly what the other was thinking. Men and women talk to each other in such oblique ways. “I don‟t want to tread on any mines. “He suggested they meet outside work to sort things and made it clear that he was providing her support as her manager and not asking her out on a date. She backed off and was hurt. I hoped that I had found a friend – a real friend. we danced around each other using metaphors hoping the other would understand.” I responded. but only after I made him promise that it would be my treat next time. “We‟ll be fine. When we parted. I could have said “I‟ll be very sensitive about your marriage”. we hugged. protecting our egos while leaving the door open just in case we both had a change of heart. After coffees. We swapped mobile phone numbers too. He could have said “I don‟t want to ruin this by sleeping with you.Friends or Lovers tilted my head slightly to one side to indicate that he should continue. . Next thing he knew she‟d complained about him.” he asserted.” “Me neither. no. We had our own minefield to navigate.” “It‟s always complicated. “Yes. “…we‟ll have to tread very carefully…” He nodded and also spoke softly. As I walked back to my car. I hoped he was right. A minefield.

Even with all this care and effort. recruitment is a hit and miss affair. At other times. I found them a good deal more open than I expected. then confirmed the final shortlist. but I‟m confident that we‟re reducing the recruitment lottery through the use of these techniques. participate in role playing exercises. Not quite what I expected. They are sad that he‟s . Lastly. More than once. but interesting nevertheless. you first?” “Okay. we‟ve found our perfect candidate only for them to decline the position at the last minute. “Some. I called Phil into my office for an update on Mike.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 11 When I returned to work. Anyway. Four accepted an invitation to our offices for the following week. “Have you been able to find out anything?” I asked. They undertake a psychometric test. The assessment centre uses an array of techniques to provide a more rounded picture of a candidate‟s suitability for a position. there is a formal interview that asks a series of technical and social questions that enable us to probe their experience and handling of social situations. and also to give the teams a chance to evaluate the candidates in a less formal setting.” “I chatted to Elona too. I met Dave to discuss the interviews. we introduce them to teams that undertake similar work to give them a flavour of the „real‟ workplace. those that were marginal in the recruitment process turn out to be the best performers. I got Phil to phone all the candidates and give them the news. After I rounded off with Dave. Nearly all his team talk highly of him. I‟d like to better understand why people decline.

Finally. and some of the younger men. People liked her well enough but they found her a bit quiet. some words were forthcoming.” I said. then he gave out a slight laugh. but was also sympathetic and supportive when his staff had problems.. Some didn‟t mention the complaint – in fact I got the impression they didn‟t know about it. He rubbed his chin and touched his eyebrow before making several attempts to start speaking. and I felt that it wasn‟t the right time to probe. . They were always working together to resolve customer issues. A couple found him a bit „old school‟. It sounds like he had a reputation for not putting up with any nonsense.” Phil paused. particularly the women. touch her and make her feel uncomfortable. “Elona told me she felt uncomfortable socialising with her team.” Phil stopped talking for a moment and had a puzzled look on his face. “Those that knew she had made a complaint were surprised. Some said they were shocked because they thought the two got on extremely well.” “Did you pick anything up about Elona? Were he and Elona close?” “Yes and no.” I decided to share what I found out. but they all respect his abilities as a manager and as a salesperson. polite and caring to women and a bit rougher and more argumentative with the men. you know. They wouldn‟t elaborate. “I can feel a „but‟ coming…. I still think there is something going on that we don‟t know about. She worked closely with Mike – that went with the job. Mike.Friends or Lovers moved on.

but I would hazard a guess that he broke up with his wife for a while.No. as if they had spent a considerable amount of time together outside work….” “Interpretation?” Phil was hesitant. “Sally‟s attitude to him was so different from the others. “Yes – I gathered that much and I‟m sure I spoke to her. I got the impression that they were saying „don‟t go there‟. There was such a familiarity in the way she talked about him. They clammed up a bit. “Come on Phil.” He paused again and I was starting to get a little frustrated. spit it out. “Yes?” I prompted. one of the sales reps.” “What about Mike‟s marriage?” “Ah! Yes.” He rubbed his chin vigorously as he sat thinking. I don‟t know. He did have a rough patch a couple of years back.” .. “…. He was searching for words. I think they sensed at this point why I was taking an interest.” I shared something that Dave had told me. She spoke about him almost like….a cross between a brother and a lover…. and his wife kicked him out for a while. He got close to Sally. Nobody said it out loud..something didn‟t feel right but I can‟t put my finger on it.Rory Ridley-Duff “I agree….” Then Phil said something that shocked me. “I‟ve heard that too. but I pressed him.” “Why d‟you think that?” I said with genuine surprise. “Tricky.

” After Phil left my office I pondered what I‟d learnt. What I find hard to understand is why his team is so supportive of him. So far as I can see. I got the feeling that Sally had lived with him for while. Thirdly. and when he admitted this he was definitely agitated. Okay. . Mike had an affair with a sales rep. his wife kicked him out.” “Hmm. We now know that Elona has been troubled by over attentive men at social events and that she‟s hiding something.Friends or Lovers “Well. I just can‟t work it out at the moment. Keep your ear to the ground. What do I know? Firstly. he still lives with his wife. Am I missing something? Why would the women put their jobs on the line to move with him? Why is his ex-lover so supportive? I think I should talk to Mike again – it is only fair to let him tell his side of the story. I‟ll see what I can find out my end. Elona is upset. his wife forgave him and he moved back in. Fourth. Secondly. he lived with the rep for a while. Mike asked Elona out for a drink. Mike admits that he put his arm around her.

. “Mike. Yes….” I said with a welcoming tone. “Has she told you about her problems at home?” he asked. She worked well. “Is there anything further you can tell me about your working relationship with her?” He knew he had to talk and I watched as he drew in a large breath and settled into his chair.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 12 “Hi. I understand that you worked closely with her. I‟m trying to clear up the background to this situation with Elona and. “I talked with Elona about a week ago and I can‟t help feeling that she‟s holding something back. but I liked her . He did not look relaxed so I tried to put him at ease. Mike. She was not the most talkative or outgoing young woman.” but he stopped short of saying anything more and looked down at his knees while he pondered further. Come on in. “What do you want to know?” he asked. to be frank. Is that right?” “Er.” The moment I said this. it doesn‟t make sense to me. I let him settle before I continued. “I‟m not accusing you of anything. “Not in any detail. We worked well. but I wondered if there is anything that you can tell me that would help me understand the situation. It was as if he was trying to decide whether he should speak. “It was good.” Mike looked at me for quite a few seconds. Are you happy to talk about it some more?” Mike‟s hands were locked together and he looked very tense. Mike shuffled a bit in his seat. I understand that things have not gone smoothly with her boyfriend.

I would feel more comfortable if you talked to her directly about it.” I said.” he said deliberately. It was someone else in the department. “If I‟ve made a mistake. I thought I detected a wry smile. I was not sure where to go next.” “I‟ve tried. But she‟s hedging. Mike. they clearly had no idea what was going on. but tried to remain calm.” “Well that explains a lot. Then his right hand moved swiftly to his face and he touched his cheek.Friends or Lovers and worked well with her. He started to nod slowly and relaxed a bit. “but she spoke to me in confidence. “There is more. Mike.” His statement puzzled me. “Why are we raking it up again?” “Because I think there‟s more that I don‟t know and maybe I didn‟t fully understand. “Well. I need to know.” he commented.” I corrected. she confided personal stuff to me and I don‟t think I should break her confidence.” “She didn‟t make a complaint.” I felt myself start to get irritated. She does have problems at home and some issues within the team – my old team – but I felt she and I had a good understanding. His hands settled back into lap and he started to speak. “No. Her complaint took me by surprise. “Penny.” . “Haven‟t we been over this before?” he asked. “What do you mean?” I asked. “She didn‟t?” he asked. “Why did you ask her out for a drink?” Mike tensed and I could see his hands clench.” I asserted. Nobody‟s interests are served by withholding relevant information.

” “Why didn‟t you come to me earlier?” I asked. If I have. I looked him in the eye. “You get close to people don‟t you?” I commented. I knew the damage had been done.” “Then why can‟t you look me in the eye when you say that?” he retorted. but I needed him to calm down if we were to make any progress. then gathered his thoughts. “Mike. “What on earth do you mean?” I regretted the remark but it was out now and I had to limit the damage.Rory Ridley-Duff He thought for a moment. Mike. I apologise but I really don‟t know what was alleged or why. I also offered to meet her outside work and the next thing there‟s a complaint against me. He decided to open up.” “Who‟ve you been talking to?” he asked aggressively. . “I know you give good support to your team. nobody‟s accusing you of anything. gave her whatever support I was able.” Inside. He immediately tensed again. Like I say. I thought I must‟ve said or done something insensitive. “I thought you were trying to straighten this thing out.” His defences were up now. “Nobody is accusing you of anything. I talked to her several times over a number of weeks. “I am used to handling these things within my team. “She spoke to me in private about issues with her boyfriend and also an upsetting incident with a team member. Slow down.” I found that remark patronising and privately wondered if he resented my involvement.

“Then tell me about these things. It sounds like one or more of policies have been breached and you have a duty to inform me if this is the case.” “She spoke to me in confidence and I‟m not prepared to break that confidence. I did not want this situation to get nasty but experience told me to remain calm and sit in my chair. but it is as well you understand how I feel.Friends or Lovers “Okay. On the basis of this conversation. He fixed my gaze. I will have to talk to Dave about calling a formal enquiry. You have a chance to be open with me now. he seemed to relax. “Cards on the table. I felt uneasy. I cannot manage a situation I don‟t understand. “I don‟t want to fall out about this Mike.” Mike looked at me. I gave her my word. Clearly you give them excellent support and I can see they appreciate this and it has worked well in the past. or Elona and a team member. You are well liked by your team. or later.” I said. “I did what any good manager would do.” he said with some force. Are you sure you‟ve not overstepped the mark with Elona?” I could see his anger rising and his face started to go red.” He was a stubborn bugger and I decided to exert a bit of pressure. Curiously. “I did not „overstep the mark‟. .” I struggled to contain my own impatience. But you have got too close to team members before and this has made managing the team complicated. I offered personal support for a member of my team who was experiencing personal difficulties at work and at home. I think something has taken place between you and Elona. Even if it makes my position difficult I‟m not prepared to break my word.

There is some serious shit going on here and it is my job to find out what it is. “Are you threatening me. “If you get Elona‟s consent. with a more friendly gesture he made a concession. “People have already been hurt. “No. Let me think on this and I‟ll get back to you. This is not in your interests – trust me. . Are you going to give it to me?” He stood thinking. People will get hurt.” Trust him? I don‟t think so.” “Right.” His tone was slightly sarcastic and that annoyed me. I need your co-operation.” I argued. Elona. maybe this is one can of worms that needs to be opened. I gave him one last chance. he said My patience ended. I‟ll talk.” he replied. but I let it ride and saw him to the door. This is one situation in which I will trust my own instincts. and seeing as you‟ve moved me to another department it is no longer my responsibility.Rory Ridley-Duff “Do that and a can of worms will open so large that you may never recover from it”. I‟m saying that you do not know enough about this situation to handle it. “Penny. Mike?” It was my turn to fix my eyes on his. Then. There is more at stake here than my job. You‟ve made mistakes already. you and others will be hurt if you pursue this. “Okay. I‟ll await your call. calling an enquiry will just compound things.” “Mike.

finally discovered the food that reduces women’s sex drive by 90%…. We bantered about men and women and I started sending him feminist jokes. John and I continued to e-mail each other in the evenings and steadily got to know each other. The other one I really liked was: After God made man. He added that when both men and women could laugh at both jokes. after 20 years of diligent research.. and a study involving 2000 women.. I put the Elona issue on a back burner. …to which he responded….. My favourites were: Question: Why does it take 20 million sperm to impregnate an egg? Answer: Because none of them know how to ask for directions. “The good news is that I’ve given you a brain and a penis”.Friends or Lovers Chapter 13 Things calmed down over the next few weeks. she said to Adam. and the new starters.. “there’s some good news and some bad news”. Scientists have. “The bad news is that you can only use one at a’s called Wedding Cake..” …. “So what’s the bad news?” asked Adam. He replied with “masculist” ones. With all the recruitment issues to deal with. . then perhaps we‟ll be approaching the end of the sex war. Adam asked to hear the good news which he replied…. I responded with a George Burns quote: . Question: Why does it take 20 million sperm to impregnate an egg? Answer: Because the egg is so busy rehearsing a speech about equality it forgot to meet the sperm half-way.

In fact. Not all women have this power – I‟m lucky. after several months off the scene. But when I think about things.Rory Ridley-Duff There will always be a sex war because men and women want different things: men want women and women want men. I‟m well into my beautification routine. I can choose to blow his mind or tell him to piss off. And with this power comes some responsibility. they do say that in their own way after they‟ve shagged me. more ardour than intellect. About an hour ago I had a bath and soaked myself in essential oils. Do I care? Yes. * * * Tonight. there is a perverse balance of power. out for fun without commitment. not least because I have looked after it. His final retort was that there were still too many women who thought the best way to end the sex war was to chop off the useless bit of skin attached to a penis called “a man”. They managed to pack the baby off to mum‟s so we‟re going to really rock „n‟ roll. Although I‟m thirty-two. I am lucky to have young skin. now I come to think of it. If I‟m eventually going to get rejected. I‟ve decided it is party night! My sister Carole and Chris will be around in half an hour and we are going to hit the pubs. I guess. It hurts a lot. They don‟t call me. actually. If they didn‟t fancy me they‟d probably tell me to piss off. at least let the man have a . It still gives me a thrill to lead a man from first eyecontact to passionate fuck knowing that I am controlling every second of his (and my) pleasure. But the men in the singles scene are playing the same game. it hurts. shaved under my arms and between my legs (quite the fashion at the moment). I easily pass for 25 and that means I can still enjoy the singles scene and taste the delights of men who have more passion than technique.

Any under wired bra brings out the best in them. but they complete the vision. and when I put on a black body-hugging Elle top with a suitably cut V-neck. Tonight. a femme fatale out for a kill. I look sexy as hell without looking cheap or trashy. fashioned to move the senses. On my feet. really cool – and cut above the knee but not so short that I look like a chav. This is a skill men cannot appreciate – one area where you must be ambidextrous and exercise care so that the varnish is evenly applied and no splodges get on the skin. It is studded with crystals and an eye catching sky blue jewel that fits into the crease of my cleavage. To complete the effect I‟m wearing close woven black fishnet stockings – not the unsubtle type with large holes that you get from Ann Summers – the type with holes so small that a guy won‟t notice them until he‟s up close and personal. but the women will. a handsome face. I like to soap my boobs. I‟m going for it. Under my trendy black leather jacket there is a leather skirt with an overlong belt – dead stylish. I imagine most blokes won‟t notice the detail.Friends or Lovers smooth tanned muscular body. While I wait for my sister. I‟ve put on some crystal studs and some dangly earrings that have a blue tint (to match my eyes). Sometimes being a woman is such fun. a living sculpture. . I‟m a hot babe tonight. I apply sky blue varnish to my fingernails. When I‟m getting ready for nights like this. I‟ve put on black high heels with open toes and a single buckle strap at the ankle. plenty of money in his wallet. Around my neck I have a Swarovski necklace bought for me by a former boyfriend – bastard wanted it back but I wouldn‟t give it to him. I have a great pair – no need for a padded bra or implants. They are not that comfortable. and a cock as big as his ego. I‟m a piece of art.

Rory Ridley-Duff

Even with all this preparation, it‟s not looks alone that will attract. I‟ve learned from experience that the way I walk into a bar, the way I dance, the way I talk and engage makes a huge difference. If I go out in a bad mood and don‟t talk much, far fewer men approach me. But when I‟m with girlfriends being vivacious, talking boldly giving men discrete (and sometimes indiscrete) eye contact, then they flock to me like bees around a honey pot. There is nothing magical about it, I just understanding how to flaunt myself. Now my nails are dry, I open a bottle of wine. No harm having one glass before I go out. If I do have to buy my own drinks (unlikely) then it will cut down the cost of getting drunk. I take in the latest episode of Eastenders while I sip away. Eastenders! That reminds me – out comes my pad and pencil. I decided to try something out. Do men or women hit more in the soaps? To my astonishment, I find that the women hit far more often. Funny, I‟d never noticed that before. And as for adverts, I am finding that if anybody is ridiculed it is men. The only advert that reverses this is „Nuts!‟ an advert for a trashy weekly men‟s magazine. That advert is so unfunny – like women don‟t know how to do car repairs or serious DIY work in the home. Actually I don‟t know how to do these either, but it doesn‟t matter because I get my father to come over. If I‟m really stuck, then I pick up the phone to get my favourite handyman to sort it out for me. Isn‟t that what men are for? The adverts that do make me laugh are the car adverts aimed at women. „Size matters‟? It sure does – although girth is probably more important. And that AA car insurance advert, it just shows what plonkers men really are. Why spend hours and hours looking for a good deal when the AA can do it for you?

Friends or Lovers

And there are those women only insurance companies now. I can‟t believe that there is talk about banning them or forcing them to offer insurance to men too; if we women are safer drivers we should get cheaper insurance. All this stuff about insurers discriminating against men, it‟s just bollocks. Why don‟t men just learn to drive more safely? Anyway, these thoughts go through my mind as the doorbell rings. Up I get, open the door, and see Carole and Chris looking chic and ready to party. “Come on in,” I say. “Just let me finish my glass of wine and we can shoot.” I give Carole a hug. She looks great too, but her bust isn‟t as good as mine. She tends to avoid „V‟ neck tops and wears a wonderbra with smooth silky fabric against her skin. This gives the suggestion of a full breast and shows her nipples when she gets sweaty or turned on. She‟s got great nipples, my sis‟. I compliment her while I look at Chris. His eyes are on stalks as he takes in my outfit. He may be a bit of a twit, but he knows how to look at a woman and make her feel good. “You look good tonight Chris,” I say. I‟m not lying. He‟s been to River Island to buy new jeans and a shirt. I imagine Carole went with him, but he‟s a credit to her. His hair is washed and groomed. He‟s clean shaven – which I know Carole likes – and he‟s got some dead cool trainers on too. “Just let me pop to the loo,” interjects Carole. “Back in a mo.” As soon as Carole is out of sight, Chris turns to me. “You look fantastic, Penny. Whoever reels you in tonight will be a lucky guy.” “Thank you, Chris.” I respond coyly. “I aim to please.” I pause for a second and then a thought occurs to me.

Rory Ridley-Duff

“…but I think it is me who will be doing the reeling in.” “I bet you will,” he replies, his eyes firmly looking into mine. “Doesn‟t Carole look great?” I say to deflect his attention. “She sure does. I‟m a lucky guy going out on the town with you two – I‟ll be the envy of every other bloke there. You both look a million dollars.” He was doing so well up to that point but had to spoil it by drawing attention to how good we‟ll make him look. I like attracting men, but hate it when they regard me as some sort of trophy. It is comments like these that show Chris for the prat he is. Still, Carole loves him, so I guess there must be something about him. For the life of me I can‟t see what it is. Carole returns from the loo and we call a taxi. Carole and Chris stay over on nights like this and I give Chris a pair of spare house keys. There is a good chance I won‟t make it back home so they need to be able to let themselves in. I usually try to come back for breakfast, but I like to take things as they come. I can‟t predict whether I‟ll feel like coming back home; it depends on whether a gorgeous guy has whisked me off to a stunning penthouse. The taxi arrives and drives us to a classy bar at the better end of town. I like this bar. It has lots of comfy chairs to relax in with stylish tables. There is a dining area too with a dance floor between the bar area and restaurant. On Friday nights it is quiet until about 8.30pm and is rocking by 10pm. A good time to arrive is 8.15 – as we have done – early enough to get a table in the bar area, drink until the restaurant table is ready, and then work off the calories on the dance floor. Chris gets in the first round of drinks. I alternate between sparkling mineral water and wine on these occasions – it gets me

Friends or Lovers

drunk quite quickly and the water prevents me dehydrating. We chat while deciding what to eat: “So what‟s happening in your life, sis?” asked Carole. “Usual stuff at work. Always someone having difficulties or creating tension,” I replied. “And outside work?” she added. “Well, I met John. We had a good time, I think.” “You think?” queried Chris. “You can never be sure, but yes, I think we had a good time,” I confirmed. Carole looked at me closely, and rested her chin on her hand momentarily as a subtle grin took shape on her face. “What?” I asked. She continued to grin but didn‟t say anything. “Why are you looking at me like that?” Both Carole and Chris looked at each other and smiled. “Are you going to meet him again, then?” Carole finally asked. “Yes. Now would you like me to tell you the length of his penis?” I remarked pointedly. Chris laughed. Carole looked me directly in the eye and did not miss a beat. “Yes. Just give me a rough idea. Was it as long as his CV?” “His what?” “His CV – you said he was an academic turned consultant – he must have a very long CV…..” “Carole. I‟ve news for you. He‟s just a friend.” “Oh yeah.” She took on a superior tone as she started to make fun of me. “My big sister who is all upright and proper at work, but a regular shag-bag outside work, has got a „friend‟. It‟s got bells on. Try again.”

Rory Ridley-Duff

“I like him, okay. He‟s married. He‟s told me straight that he loves his wife, his kids. This is a friendship.” “And you believe him?” interjected Chris. I paused for a moment. Inside I was not sure whether I believed him or not. I was not sure I wanted to believe that all he wanted was friendship, but for reasons that I could not understand I felt that he meant what he said, even if I would have liked more. Finally, I spoke. “Yes,” was all I said. Both Chris and Carole looked at each other again and gave each other a puzzled look. “But you never have male friends outside work!” shrieked Carole. “You have male friends at work and a line of hunks knocking at your door outside work.” I was about to object but on reflection she was probably right. I do have female friends although many stop seeing me when they have steady boyfriends. I used to think they were just busy, but slowly I realised that they were deliberately avoiding me. Men as friends? No. She was right. Friendship with men had thus far proved impossible. “Hey! Perhaps she‟s growing up?” Chris commented to Carole. “Cut the cheek you,” I objected, but there was no stopping him. “Next you‟ll be telling us that you are going to look for a husband.” “Not tonight,” I quipped. Then, to make sure Chris was aware that I‟d not enjoyed his comments, I looked at him with a dismissive smile. “Men over 25 need not apply.”

Friends or Lovers

It was Carole‟s turn to laugh. “God sis‟! When are you going to grow up and settle down?” If there is one thing that Carole had never said to me before it was that I should settle down. I thought she knew better, but the way she said this in such a carefree and matter of fact way actually stopped me in my tracks for a second. “Not tonight,” I said after a moment. “I‟ll give it some thought tomorrow.” My mind returned to the task in hand and I could feel my face relax and a more pleasant demeanour return. “But since the night is young and there are some young strapping lads here who are hot and willing…….let‟s get on and eat, drink and party.” We ordered our food and I finished my second glass of wine. People were beginning to come into the bar in greater numbers; couples, groups of young men and women, sometimes together and sometimes separate. By 9pm we were sitting at our table, and the bar was getting so crowded that we had to queue for drinks. After main courses and coffee, and a third glass of wine, I was ready to dance. “Shall we hit the floor?” I asked. Carole turned to Chris and gave a gesture. “I‟ll stay here and order some coffees?” he responded. “I‟d rather have another sparkling water. Best not to mix drinks too much,” I said with a delicate hint of sarcasm. Carole nodded and we made our way onto the floor. As I looked around, I could see the eyes of several men follow me. One of my great pleasures in life is attracting admiring looks when I dance. When the DJ put on “You Sexy Thing” I began to take control of the dance floor. I like this song, particularly

I put my arms above my head and I let my hips swing and my long hair fall sensuously about me. I saw that Chris was queuing at the bar not far from him so I turned to Carole. Good. As the song ended. “I‟ll just help Chris with the drinks. I grinned broadly and briefly as I flashed a look at the young man sitting at the bar. He was with friends. As I cast my eyes around the restaurant tables. I began to look around as I danced to see whose eye I could catch. He looked good and I caught his eye before quickly turning my face away and giving him a sight of my curves swinging in time to the music. . but his eyes kept looking in my direction. In Cosmo I read that a second of eye contact is a flirt. One was so taken that his girlfriend put her hand under his jaw and twisted his face back so that it looked at her. Three-seconds is tantamount to telling him I want him inside my knickers. Then I turn to Chris so that my back is towards him. At the bar was a strong looking young man in a white tee-shirt and jeans. I have his attention.” and off I went.Rory Ridley-Duff since I saw Robert Carlisle strut his stuff in The Full Monty. God. As I walk right past him. he was great – but I think I have the edge when it comes to oozing sex appeal. A two-second gaze is a come-on. within a couple of feet. As I walked towards this young man I looked directly at him and I could see his nervousness. our eyes meet. I caught half a dozen men looking in my direction. Each time I turned quickly the hem of my skirt rose up enough to show an increasing number of admirers that I had black stockings and suspenders on. For now. I give him a series of strong admiring looks each lasting a second or two. chatting.

“Dancing is thirsty work. I think” I say turning to my admirer and catching his eye again. he definitely looked good to me. I tip-toed around her while I downed the water. One gave him a shove forward as if to say “Go on.” he jokes. with my arms above my head. He seemed a bit more nervous that most men. gently moving in time with the music so as not to spill anything. I decided to bide my time. get after her!” He smiled and laughed in an embarrassed way but did not come out onto the dance floor. it had been a while since I‟d let my hair down so I decided to take things as I found them. Carole was bopping away to YMCA when I arrived back with my drink. His friends realised I was giving him the eye and they were ribbing him and laughing loudly. one of my favourites. His heart may not be up to it. They were. I knew that I‟d probably had enough. and Carole decided to leave me to hog the limelight while she drank her coffee. Chris. As I returned to the dance floor.” “It‟s not his heart I‟m interested in. “Go easy on the young lad.” “Watching you makes my throat go dry too. and that another glass might cause me to get sleepy before I‟d had any fun. Whether it was the drink or not. Pen. I could feel the effects of the drink. I walked past my admirer again and this time I made sure that I brushed close by him and turned my head to check his eyes were following me. . Still. Soon I was in full flow again. Pretending to be helpful.Friends or Lovers “Shall I take that.” Even though I was alternating water and wine. The next record was Madonna‟s Open Your Heart. Penny.” I ask. “Not as much as his. gyrating my hips and inviting the onlookers to let their imagination run wild.

but if they tried to touch I quickly moved away so as not to discourage the man I‟d set my eyes on. The tingle of anticipation heightened my arousal as I entered a cubicle to relieve myself. I looked in the mirror. After five minutes Carole and Chris joined me and we grooved away for the next couple of records. letting the alcohol and atmosphere go to our heads.” As I drew away. Yes. My black hair had become loose and free-flowing and I looked like a high-class tart.Rory Ridley-Duff A number of men tried to join in with me while my young admirer remained at the bar drinking his pint. It was time to cast my line and hook my man. he was really very fit indeed and his face was kind and very pleasing to the eye. “Just going to the loo. Would you like to get me a drink and we can chat when I get back?” He broke into a big grin and nodded. I closed my eyes and pictured the young man who was buying me a drink. I was ready.” I shouted in Chris‟s ear. I put my hand on his shoulder as I drew my mouth close up to his right ear. His friends. “White wine. “Hi! I‟m just going to the girls‟ room. I allowed them to dance near me. like the parting of the red sea. backed away a little as I went up to him calmly and confidently. I imagined my youthful admirer . “Back in a minute!” I walked towards the bar again and could see my catch stare at me as I approached him.almost certainly rock hard by now – as I entered the women‟s loos to reapply make-up that had been affected by the sweaty atmosphere. I shan‟t be long. I let my cheek very gently touch his. . I walked down the stairs to the toilets. past two young couples who were already exploring each other‟s throats and fondling each others‟ buttocks.

“Are you feeling lucky tonight. Very smooth.” I said. trying to get the conversation going again.” he said. Again. fast enough to give a flash of suspenders.Friends or Lovers I returned to the bar and he had my drink ready. Rescuing damsels in distress!” So. he raised it to his lips and kissed it. “Do you like the outfit?” I asked giving him a quick twirl. “Nothing wrong with a good toss…. but there was a hint of humour there. “So. but I thought it was already obvious that I was coming onto him. To my surprise. I see. I decided to play with him and see how far he would go. It looked like I was going to have to be gentle with him.” I said.” He took it and instead of shaking it. looking over in their direction. “Most of us work for the AA. I‟m Penny. but they‟re alright. you know. emergency breakdowns and that stuff. “George. what do you and your mates do?” I said. if I‟d not known better I would have said he almost wet his pants.” I raised my glass in their direction and they acknowledged me en masse. then?” I wondered if this was too much of a come on. he did not respond. not overloaded in the brain department. looking him straight in the eye. he didn‟t respond and I began to wonder whether I‟d misread him. “Out with your mates. I must say. “Yeah. His conversation skills could do with a bit of grooming. In fact. “Them lot?” he said. . It occurred to me that I had not heard him speak yet so I held out my hand. “Hi.. Load of tossers.

” he said and then he must have detected a slight movement in me because he looked me in the eye and continued “…but not as hot as her younger sister.absolutely fucking fantastic.I think you look…. That was good. was it?” He laughed and suddenly he relaxed. “I…. I smiled at him – a genuine smile of appreciation.. “I‟m twenty five. I thought. but from that moment on he seemed to change into a different person. “I‟ve not seen you here before. “Twenty next week.” “Fuck.” he said.” Come on lad. Hot stuff. “There. She‟s over there with her would-be hubby.. “I thought you were my age.” Keep them coming.” I moved closer to him and pointed her out on the dance floor. you look like a fit young lad. spit it out. that wasn‟t so hard. “I only go out when I‟m with my sister. Are you old enough for me?” I teased..” Cool. I‟m not sure exactly what I did or said.I…. very smooth. “Hmm. “I…. and then gave him a wicked look.” At last. You don‟t look it!” I was not sure whether that was a compliment or not but I need not have worried because he quickly reassured me. Christ.I think you look…. . Is he deliberately flattering me or does it come naturally. “Well.Rory Ridley-Duff I saw the Adam‟s apple in his throat move. he really was nervous! But then some words came out. How about you?” I decided to lie – no point shattering his illusions.

leaning against the wall like a prostitute waiting for a client. Carole and Chris joined us and we had quite a party for the next hour. He came down the stairs and I could see the animalism in him. Over the loud music. For his age he was a good kisser. There was a sudden movement from all of George‟s friends and I followed them onto the dance floor. our tongues winding around each others. with George‟s arms around my waist as we did a bump and grind. We kissed passionately. . I thought him quite a sexy dancer and his friends were fun too. I opened my mouth and let his tongue in.don‟t waste it all now. I pulled away slightly and whispered in his ear. and his tongue explored my mouth. “…. The place suddenly came alive and I found myself surrounded by young men. and then more passionately. It felt confident and firm which I hoped was a good sign for later. He moved well. I went to check my make-up again. I drank another glass of water and wine and started to feel very naughty. plenty of time for that later…. I parted my legs slightly and guided him in between them.” I put my hand between his legs and gave a quick squeeze. gently as first. We must have cut quite a picture – my arse pressed against his groin as he pretended to pump me from behind. He friends were looking on and gave a long slow “Wwwwooooooooorrrrrrrrrrrrr!” With perfect timing Rock DJ started to play.Friends or Lovers “Old enough to teach you a few tricks?” Before I knew it he‟d slipped his firm hand around the back of my head and kissed me. relieved myself once more and then waited outside. I heard a slow rising sound from my right. I managed to make him understand that he should meet me outside the loos in 5 minutes..

rubbing him up and down while he finger-fucked me.” I said. As the car moved away. closed my eyes. He nodded and we gathered our jackets and left.Rory Ridley-Duff our hand moving over each others bodies and between each others legs. He did . feeling his muscular body. under my skirt and inside my top. He understood immediately and took off his trousers and pants. We paid the taxi driver. and opened my legs wide for him so he could see my suspenders in all their glory. His hands were all over me. Then he climbed roughly back on top of me and tried to put it in. His fingers worked inside the hem of my pants and rubbed around my clit. kissing me gently. That firm tongue that was so good exploring my mouth felt like a dish mop between my legs. “Time to get out of here. He carried me through and dropped me on the bed. Then a finger was inside me and I gasped before grabbing his hair and guiding his mouth back to mine. His head was between my thighs. I grabbed his head. Then came my first disappointment. who bid us farewell with the comment “Have fun!” As soon as we were inside the door of my flat. his hand was under my skirt again and I opened my legs wide for him. and pointed down to his crotch. moving up slowing. I slowly pulled my arms up behind my head. indicating he should stop. I tried to focus and get excited but his tongue action was so off putting that I could not put up with it for long. I jumped up and put my legs around his waist. He pulled my pants to one side and buried his face in my pussy. “That room. My hands were inside his tee-shirt.” I indicate with a nod of the head. I flagged us a taxi and gave the driver the address.

I put my hands down between my legs and tried to compensate for this unerotic experience by massaging my clit. but he pumped me so fast and furiously that it hurt. looking for the entrance. He broddled about again before he found the hole and despite my instruction he continued to pump fast and furious. so I shut my eyes and let him fuck me for a few minutes. “Take it a bit slower. Then I did something that perhaps I should not have done.. come on John……. but poked around inexpertly. “John?!” he shouted and suddenly pulled out of me. “Do you want me on all fours?” I asked. I liked it long and slow.Friends or Lovers not guide it in with his hand. Yeah. my excitement rose. Then quickly nodded.” I added in a seductive tone. and lowered my head against the pillow and presented my perfectly fuckable clean-shaven fanny to him. I took up my position. ”Long and deep. preferably with my lover holding my legs up over his shoulders and making sure he angled his cock into the pit of my stomach. Eventually he was inside. egging him on.” I said with a hint of impatience.” he said furiously. I pictured John‟s handsome face behind me. He looked at me in an odd way. come on big boy. and his cock working away in my pussy. “Who the fuck is John?” he shouted at me. I shut my eyes and started to imagine it was John behind me. I was beginning to get frustrated. give it to me hard. . It started to work. his strong hands on my back. “Yeah. I started talking. thumping away in my hole and I began to feel a prickle welling up in my body. fill me up with your spunk.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed with distress and an emotion that I‟d not felt for years. “I am not a piece of meat!” He started to put on his clothes. You‟re a fucking crap kisser. It grew inside me slowly. are never 25. Piss off out of here. I suppose it was good while it lasted!” I added sarcastically. you old slapper. your tongue is like a dish mop and you fuck like a pneumatic drill! Go on. As soon as I realised he was going to leave the rage boiled over in me too. swelling like a wave and rolling slowly into shore. I felt my mouth twitch and my eyes grow moist. my emotions started to erupt.!” I shouted at the top of my voice but he was already out of the front door before I‟d finished saying it. As it did.” I picked up a glass of water by the bed and threw it at him. I turned away. His face turned red. What am I doing? I‟m a grown .. engulfing me and crashing frenetically throughout my body. Then he bellowed. “Well. As I felt it get closer. get it back in me.” He dressed quickly and did not bother to button up his shirt or jacket before he made for the door. so it rose in me too. come on hun. George.Rory Ridley-Duff “George. but he closed the door and it smashed. he turned around and with a cruel sneer made a parting remark that I‟ll never forget. “You bastard. “And you.” I saw his face slowly turn to beetroot as the resentment rose in him. the wave started to break. As he left the room. got up and shot an irritated glance at him as I walked to the bathroom. come on…. I sat back on the bed and curled up. “Fuck off out of here….

I curled up into a ball and started to howl like a baby. What am I doing? Suddenly. My pitifully shallow life crushed me. Never in my life had I felt such pain and I wept for the first time in 11 years. the first time since I kicked out my university boyfriend after he‟d cheated on me with my best friend.Friends or Lovers woman picking up a teenager for sex. John. . as if I had been run through with a wooden stake. to weep as I lay on his chest. to feel his arms around me. With my eyes dripping. I thought of only one thing. I thought of nothing else but to be with John. I wanted to be with John. My insides convulsed in pain. And as I wept. I was being swept away on a huge wave of feeling.

I had treated him like a piece of meat. But there is something missing that I can‟t understand. certainly nothing that would last. Same old. In the past. I never sought a relationship. week after . I used to like the staff I recruited. then that. Every year that passes. never letting anyone settle with me. I earn more brownie points but feel less enthusiasm. If they run away. Why not? What was I doing wasting my life? I‟m not young any more. I was all over the place. If they get too close. never settling with anyone. the less I seem to feel for people. I‟ve lived like this. But now. Who have I ever made happy? I‟ve done so much. same old. a succulent Sunday roast to devour and then throw away the carcass. There must be more. I feel ugly. so I can pull the guys. fill out more paper work. pulled this way. on and off. I get up and go to the bathroom. it is a chore. And. Sometimes I wish people would just stay still. I push them away. for ten years. I get mad and grab onto someone else to ease the pain. There must be something beyond passion and sex. Okay. update more systems. My face is stained and I look ugly. Who am I? What is this life I have created? Why am I so afraid? Why do men treat me like shit? Why do I treat them like shit? As much as I hated George for saying it.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 14 I cried for an hour as thoughts bounced around my mind like a powerball inside a hollow steel container. am I really happy at work? I tell everyone that I am. to enjoy nurturing them and watching them grow. but I don‟t know any more. Yet another person leaves and I have to shuffle everyone around. but achieved so little. The greater the responsibility.

this…ime…. “Just hearing a friendly voice helps. Pick it up.. I pick it up and type „John‟ and press „Dial‟. I finally manage to say my name. “I‟m such a fool. What is the point? As I throw myself on the bed. love?” I have no idea why.” “Good. And rings.giht”. It sounds like the line is breaking up. “Urrm. I calmed down enough to get a sentence out. Just tell me what happened. Such a fool. I can make out a woman‟s voice saying “who is it.” I said. month after month. but the moment he said the word „love‟ I started to feel safer. John.” I paused. I‟ve really fucked up. It rings. No hurry. “Hello?” he asks. “Just take your time. Who is it?” Amongst the whimpers. Who is there?” he finally says. Without a moment‟s thought. “Oh. darling?” and he responds that it is me. Come on John. I pull my hair back and begin to dab my face to remove some of the stains while the tears start to flow again. I really did not know what to say. be there. “Penny? What is it? What‟s happened?” In the background. I can faintly hear another question….of…. But what‟s happened?” he asked again. “I can hear you crying. Good. I look at the clock and the mobile phone next to it.Friends or Lovers week. I try to talk but all I can do is sob.” I knew I was not making much sense but at least some feelings were coming out. pick it up. Hawww… Who‟s th… What time is it? Fuck! What? Errm. . “Penny? You still there? What happened.she …. but then his voice comes across strongly.”wh….

” I could hear a woman‟s voice again asking “wher…. No. “Have you been attacked?” he said kindly. “Can you get a pen and paper and write down what you are feeling now.” And that was all he needed to say. Maybe it is the drink. Can you do something for me?” “I‟ll try. I just wanted to talk to someone. John.” I stopped for a moment and he spoke with a strong voice. It is so stupid. It‟s just that….Rory Ridley-Duff “I feel so stupid. but as I talked I was trying to work out in my head exactly what it was that I was upset about. “Thank‟s just….ling you?”.” I knew that he would not be able to make head or tail of this. He said he didn‟t know but that he‟d find out tomorrow. Write out what you are feeling.morrow?” and then John‟s voice explain that it was me on the phone and that I was seriously distressed by know I just don‟t know what it is.” I continued. I‟m not even sure. Before he signed off I heard her say in a less concerned. It‟s not that. and much . Thank you.goin….” I replied. Why exactly was I crying? “I just had a bad night. Don‟t think too hard. Then another faint question: “why….” “Why?” I said with a puzzled tone. “Penny. “No. Please forgive me for waking you up. To know that I was going to see him made such a difference that I felt my tears and distress subside.uck…. I‟ll call again in the morning. I don‟t even understand why I‟m upset or why I‟ve called you.. just get a pen and paper and write. “Tomorrow I‟ll come round and we‟ll read it together. Normality returned. Right now.

Penny. Start writing for me. Then he spoke to me again.Friends or Lovers friendlier voice “come…ack…t…. I got a pen and paper and started to think.ed. superman. . I’m lonely.” I said that I would. I did so for over 30 minutes trying to form thoughts in my mind and get them down on paper.”. “I have to go now. Find that pen and paper. By the time I heard a key in the lock I had written only two words.

“God.” . “What happened. “No. I could tell they‟d been talking to each other. No.” threatened Chris. let alone your sister? I had another session sobbing my eyes out at the breakfast table.He…. I had to tell them enough of the truth for them to understand and not blame anyone. We got back here. I‟m sure she must think that I was raped or assaulted. but I just can‟t tell her that the man I‟d seduced had realised.I….” “I…. that I was fantasising about another man. I couldn‟t tell her what happened . Then Carole took my arm and spoke more softly.” I had to tell them something. We just want to help. no!” I said with a start. You must not blame him. “You mustn‟t do that!” “But…. “It‟s too painful.d‟you…. They just sat there quietly. mid-shag. “I‟ll punch his face in next time I see him.” “What a bastard!” said Carole. with his hand on my back.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 15 Carole looked after me.” “What about the police?” Chris asked.” “Why not?” they said together. Chris on one side. you can tell us. Chris slept in the spare bed while little „sis slept with me. started having sex and then he just got up and walked out on me. „sis.” I said quickly. How do you tell that to anyone. “He walked out on me.want to…” “No. Carole holding my hand. Carole and Chris had no idea how to stop me.I just couldn‟t .and luckily she did not press me. “Um….Do you….

“No fairy tales. It just all came down on me.Friends or Lovers What could I say? I did not want to lie. she took my hand and indicated I should stand up.” she whispered.but when this „something‟ happened we got angry with each other.” Carole‟s mouth dropped open. but I could not tell them what happened. but I‟d trade places with you if I could. “Family cuddle.” I started but suddenly the words started to come out. I know I look all confident and happy. “Something happened that upset the evening. Then her mouth closed.” he said.” “But why all the tears. That‟s all I can say.” she said pulling away and looking me in the face. It is no-one‟s fault – you must not blame him . What could I say? “I don‟t want to tell you. sis‟” said Chris. Clearly she could not believe what she was hearing. Chris smiled back then put his arms around both of us. My life looks great on the outside but inside it is a heap of shit. I was so used to her moaning about his habits that I‟d not noticed that she really admired him. No happy endings?” I asked. As soon as I was on my feet she held her arms open and I fell into them. “Welcome to the real world. So will you.” and she cast a glance at Chris the like of which I‟d never noticed before. and for reasons I could not understand another wave of emotion engulfed me and the tears . sis. “Oh! Carole. I look at you and Chris and wonder what I‟m doing with my life. “Why not?” “I found my prince charming. “Don‟t be such a cynic.

Just put on something real casual and be yourself. Carole spoke softly while Chris hugged us both. yes!” I remembered and was amazed. It was already 10. “That‟s right. I‟d never been ready to do that. “Oh.” I suddenly realised that my little sister had done more growing up than I had. What had I done? Yeah. “Don‟t dress up for him.” “Don‟t!” was my first response. . He said he‟ll pick you up at 12pm. Carole smiled at me. Let it out. I had my career but how did that compare to the responsibility of loving another person? I hadn‟t done that. Go on. Get it out. “He sounded nice.Rory Ridley-Duff started to flow again. “Now girl. And I was still not sure if I was ready to do it now.” said Carole. He was going to keep his word. perhaps.” My hand rose to my forehead as I gave her a salute. I wondered if.” Carole suddenly interjected. I went over to the dresser and combed my hair.” “John? Oh God. I had misjudged him. “I‟ve had all the romance I can take for one weekend. I‟d never noticed before what a kind smile he had. She had taken on the responsibility of a partner and baby. “By the way. shut up.30.” I said. Chris smiled back at me. “John called. John was coming at mid-day so I had to stir myself to start getting ready.” “Romance?” laughed Chris. but the smile that was creeping back into my demeanour communicated to him that I did not really mean it.

. I took it on the chin. however it goes. it was good advice after all.Friends or Lovers “Don‟t try to impress him. Just let the day unfold and run with it. but it always annoyed me when she gave advice like this.” I knew she was trying to help. however.

“Oopps!” he said self-consciously. and just put on a small amount of transparent lippy to give them a moist look.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 16 Twelve o‟clock came and went. The wait seemed interminable. just jeans and a rugby shirt (with a cut especially for women). I drank the dregs of my tea. a car pulled up and a handsome man in jeans and a black pullover got out of the car and looked around. sat down. walked around again and generally irritated everybody. “Sure. I unlatched the door and opened it.” I quipped nodding my head in Chris‟s direction. “Don‟t apologise.” chirped Chris. “Hi there!” he said without a moment‟s hesitation. John had a cup of coffee and made small talk with Carole and Chris while I gathered up my things.” “And her partner…. “She has got a sexy voice. As each car passed outside. She lent back and gave him a kiss on his neck to thank him for the compliment. The one with the sexy voice. . and I could feel a few butterflies in my stomach with each passing minute. After what seemed like forever. I can meet that sister of yours. I looked at my watch and could not believe that it was only 12:06. I‟d dressed casually. He put his hand over his mouth. fidgeted.” Chris was standing behind Carole and wrapping her in his arms. I‟d removed my make-up. I kept expecting it to be him. He was clearly looking at the house numbers to check which doorbell to press. walked around. “Would you like to come in for a sec?” I asked.

“Any preferences?” “I particularly like Carly Simon. He had no need for a flashy sports car. but from work I had more knowledge of motors than the average gal. he had a selection of CDs. or gas-guzzler. “Any particular destination you‟d like?” he asked gently. It was quite a swish car. just the sensuous experience of listening. but was keen to walk somewhere quiet.Friends or Lovers “I‟m set to go!” I finally said. John got up. I thought for a moment. He‟d chosen a mid-range Ford in black. incar stereo/CD player. Queen. “Your carriage awaits you. and the colour and style had a hint of sexiness about it.” I suggested. full security system. I had no wish to go a long way. said his „farewells‟ and „nice to meet yous‟. . Norah Jones and Eva Casidy but it doesn‟t look like you have any. with a 2-litre engine. I thought. It fitted his character. Carly Simon. compilations of classical music by French classical composers and American jazz artists. He saw my eyes casting over his collection. His tastes were broad and selective. Madam. “How about Warwick castle? We could walk around the grounds. I was no expert. but he liked a few luxuries.” he joked as he escorted me to his car. the music of a person did not care about fashion or his own image. In there was music by Casiopeia. He took out the „Very Best of Carly Simon” CD and away we drove to the rich tones of „You‟re So Vain‟. the Yellowjackets and Mozart. Inside the car.” To my surprise he opened another hidden compartment with a further dozen CDs. sunroof and alloy wheels.

She‟ll get over it.” “Is that what you are?” I asked. “You know the way?” I queried. I realised that he must already know the area. . I could hardly tell him the truth. She knows that no man – particularly me – can totally resist being a knight in shining armour.” he added. I still had a bit of a hangover so food was not high on my agenda yet.” I suggested. I recalled the voice in the background during our phone conversation. She was forgiving. you told me. “Do you want to eat before or after the walk?” he asked. “What‟s that?” “No hanky panky!” he said with a smile. “Yes.” “Of course.Rory Ridley-Duff He nodded. Now he was here. I‟d called him when I was distressed and he was bound to think I wanted to talk about what happened. I have friends in Warwick. I was about to give him directions but he made a left turn. a bit. “Let‟s walk first. “Was your wife okay about your coming here today?” “Not really. but at this particular moment I was happy to borrow someone else‟s knight for the day. “I don‟t mind being a stand-in until you find someone who can do it for you full time. I was not sure what to say. “But there is one condition.” I did not feel talkative because I was not sure how to start.” It didn‟t fit somehow with the conversations we‟d previously had about equality between the sexes.

then up a slight incline as we crossed more open ground until we had . “Thank you.” I said with a haughty look that I imagined women of class would give to a chauffeur. Madam. I felt myself relax and the prospect of the day ahead filled me with pleasure. “I do.” he said with mock politeness. Then I blew it by whispering to him „do I give you a tip?‟ He broke into a chuckle as he swung the door shut.” I said. “I am now in your hands. He may have been driving. I liked this path because it led through a couple of wooded areas.” “In my dreams”. My sumptuous naughty side had not been destroyed by the humiliation I‟d been through. normally the preserve of people tying the knot. This small phrase.” he confirmed. After this. I was grateful for that. “Just so long as we both understand the boundaries.Friends or Lovers “The thought never crossed my mind. Even though it sometimes got me into trouble. or footman. with some irony. “Okay. We set off on a path around the perimeter of the castle. The trauma of the previous night receded as I filled my senses with thoughts of what we would do with our day. but he caught my message and smiled back at me briefly. my man. seemed appropriate for the contract that we were making between us. the kitten in me was still there.” I snapped back with a grin. We turned a corner that brought the castle into view then drove around the perimeter to the visitor car park. He continue playing the game of „protector‟ by opening the car door for me and indicating the direction of the grounds with a slight nod and wave of his right hand. I thought to myself.

I‟m not good at sharing my feelings. She‟s found a man to love her and now has a beautiful child that she dotes on. All the boyfriends I dumped. He did not interrupt and I realised that he expected something more. “The trigger for what?” I looked at him and the distress must have shown in my face. I could have written . The full circuit would take about 45 minutes and by then I would feel ready for lunch. I sensed that both of us were looking for an opening line that would enable us to talk about what had happened. made myself a coffee and tried to write down what was troubling me. but I had to start somewhere. This is not easy for me to talk about. That was the trigger.” I was afraid but I longed to talk to him. the bastards that dumped me. I could have written pages and pages of trivia. “It‟s okay. particularly with men. or made me feel beautiful when they were trying to get in my knickers. their irritating habits. “Last night I tried to follow your advice. We walked for a couple of minutes without saying anything to each other. “I imagine a man was involved somehow last night?” I wished it was that simple. lots of conflicting emotions about how angry I feel about things that happened in the past. he spoke. irritations with things at work. Finally.Rory Ridley-Duff a view of the whole locality. I sat down after I came off the phone.” He gave me one of those half-smiles that conveyed both sympathy and an understanding of my suffering.” I replied. but then backed off when I opened my heart in response to their lovely words. or didn‟t call me. I could have written about how jealous I am of my sister. lots of tiny agonies. we don‟t have to talk about this if you don‟t want to. “Penny. “Yes.

She thought I was „too young‟ for boyfriends! How can you choose things like that? I was ready at 14. “Well. I had passion in me. Unlike my sister. his arms were larger and stronger. John?” “Come here. “What is it.” As I said the words. Really lonely. I noticed that he was listening intently so I continued. John. Do you know what I wrote in the end?” It was a rhetorical question. “John!” I started. And then I said it. however. . but he followed form by asking me anyway. There were times we would hit each other. He was crying. John. “I fought her for years. You‟d think my father would be the one to object. They made me feel safer and all warm inside. And then I got a total shock. I said out loud the words that I‟d hidden in my head for years. “I‟m lonely. he offered his arms and I fell into them.Friends or Lovers about the distance I feel from my mother for the way she used to look at me when I brought boyfriends home.” he said. but no.” I stopped for a second to gather my recollections. I felt my eyes moisten again and I looked at him. but I would not be controlled. I could see a single tear rolling down his left cheek. He was crying. real passion and I did not want to wait until some stupid outdated law said I could sleep with boys. all this was going through my head last night while I held the pad. it was my mother who was constantly critical. and just as my sister had earlier in the day. I could tell she thought I was little better than a tramp so I dug my heels in and took my boyfriends up to my bedroom just to make her mad.” He nodded.

For the first time in years.” “And by the end of the day. It was such a gentle gesture. don‟t you think?” And I did think. “But at such a high price…” he responded.” I smiled. you had made several girlfriends who later became your enemies. And after your first disco. “When was the last time you felt like this. or be my slave. Unbearable. “All that „control‟. After my parents drove away. never let anybody run my life for me..” As he said this he cupped my cheek with his hand. talked like this?” I thought hard. I wished that I could have stayed in his arms for longer. I was not sure what he meant. all that „competence‟. “I‟ve made all my own choices. But those few hours were the loneliest. but I was still not sure what he meant. Then he released me and started to walk again.Rory Ridley-Duff He rocked me gently from side to side for a few seconds.” He gave me a sideways glance. “Not since my first day at university. I sat alone in my room and felt so unbearably alone that I cried my eyes out.” “We all need intimacy in our lives. “Yes. even hard-nosed career women. I felt the . something that my father might have done to me as he put me to bed. so I gave him a puzzled look. Penny. all that „professionalism‟ comes at a high price. He spoke more. I‟ll bet. I could not remember a time when I had cried like this…. you had lads competing to become your boyfriend. My God! I looked at him. but it would not have been right.

All that loneliness – it just crashed down on me and I had to talk to you.” I detected his pleasure at hearing this. “I fell out with the person I picked up at a bar. “I‟ll try. I guess it is you.Friends or Lovers warmth of a man‟s love and I could not stop my head incline itself towards his soft touch. indeed.” . I was not sure.” he said reassuringly. “Of course I will. “Not an expert. It is just something I take a keen interest in. You‟re an expert in it. I felt I just had to hear your voice.” “Why mine?” he asked. Penny. I had to say something. “Because if there is anyone who can help me unravel the minefield that stands between men and women. “Do you want to talk about last night?” he asked as we resumed our stroll. was the question I did not want to answer.” Suddenly some words popped out of my mouth that I did not intend.” There was a pregnant pause while he considered the import of what I had just said. John. after all. He walked out. “Help me. but I felt I should give him something to understand why I‟d called. however. That.

My attraction to him never completely left me. discussed politics. joked. not ogling my body. By late afternoon. The sexual tension was always there. but the desire to seduce him slowly ebbed away. and the way his eyes fixed themselves on me sometimes. I was more relaxed with him than I had been with any man for over a decade. we talked and exchanged thoughts constantly. occupy the same space. a place tucked away in a cobbled side street that was quiet enough to have a hint of romance. the meaning of life. I admired him. and it filled me with a confidence that I could not explain. Wherever we were. I chose my favourite Italian. however. whatever we did. His eyes were not lustful. “How‟s that problem at work you had?” he asked. I felt. he suggested that we might like to eat at Pizza Hut again. . lunched in a tea shop. laughed. He looked at me as if he was searching my soul. Our conversation never stopped all day.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 17 Over the next few hours we took in the views around Warwick. and know that he was nearby. and generally just chilled together. I could tell that he was sucking in my beauty so that he could savour and bathe in it. perhaps more relaxed with him than any man except my father. hear his voice. travelled to deepest outer space. that I should take him somewhere special to thank him for the day out. as we started on our desserts. I just wanted to be with him. just filled with the admiration a person might feel looking at a beautiful portrait or marvelling at a moment of cinematic brilliance. but with a festive atmosphere. climbed a tower.

so I dropped the stupid stuff and regained my composure. the more I sense that he‟s trying to be straight with me. but I should get the full story soon – we‟ll be working together on a project. The more I learn about the woman‟s situation…… Well. Can we?” he said with his smile broadening all the time. “The one about the problem you had at work. What about your friend? “I‟ve only had one update. but he‟s hiding something from me. “I don‟t know. The problem at work has made things worse at home. His face told me that he was interested in more than the game. Fifteen love. not just about the current incident but about a past relationship too. “Work. Things don‟t seem to be quite right. Yeah. but I think she is holding back on an incident with somebody in the team. he seems more on the level than I first thought. The more I talk to the man. second or third question?” he said chuckling. “Do you want to ask the first one?” I was not giving up first.” I said with a victory salute. “You mean there are so many?” “Can we utter a sentence without it being a question?” I asked. Things have moved on a bit.” “Gotcha. “What was your question again?” was my retort.” “So what‟s the story there?” “Well. but he‟s very sensitive about what happened. “My first.” . it has been difficult at home for him.Friends or Lovers “Which problem is that?” I answered without looking up. I get the feeling that some sexual shit is going on that nobody wants to talk about. She‟s a prude for sure.” “Why‟s that?” “He thinks it will be okay.

He‟s a really sweet guy. Well he had a difficult period with his wife about…. Big problem. “Anyway. and to this day he has always denied…four years. but he convinced her that he‟d no choice. His wife accused him of having an affair. So he stayed with his woman friend as her lodger for a while.Rory Ridley-Duff “Why?” “To explain that I‟d have to go way back. It took a few months but eventually his wife came around and let him come back home.” “Not a situation you come across every day. He didn‟t want to let . about four years ago.” he clarified. He helped her furnish her room. One of his colleagues was having marital problems and she started talking to him about them – eventually she admitted she was being abused by her husband.” “I‟m in no rush. Right. yes.” I commented “Not something you hear about every day.” “So what happened?” “Well.” I said. The money thing was too much for her and she threw him out. His wife was not pleased. Later he helped her find and move into a flat – he even gave her the money for a deposit. “Okay. She became his lodger for several months while they waited for a vacancy at a refuge. that night he collected her from her home and took her to his.” “So how does that have a bearing on his current problem?” “From what I gather he started to help another woman at work who had been having problems at home. Big rows.” “I bet his wife did not like that!” “Yeah. he gave her support but after a few weeks they had a real heart to heart and she said she wanted to get out. She took him back but made him promise never to get involved with another woman again.

” and he gave me that same warm smile that I remembered from our first meeting. “Deal. “Do you…. He took my hands in his.Friends or Lovers her down. “I‟ll answer that question if you will tell me why you‟re asking it. Did I have the courage to say it? “Do you…. I‟ve enjoyed today. So he backed off and upset her. why was I so nervous? I hate my nerves. He took one hand away and squeezed his nose. There didn‟t seem to be anyone in his life that he did not like. “Sometimes things don‟t need to be said. . This was risky.” It was one of those leading phrases.ever fantasise about me?” I asked. Whatever he had expected. He changed jobs and only told his wife afterwards.” Hell.” Inside I could feel my heart pumping and my breathing quicken. I‟ve enjoyed today too. one that invites intimacy. “John. but he also didn‟t want her to get too close to him. He sounded like he really cared for both his wife and his work colleagues and just wanted to help everybody. John was relaxed while we chatted and I could tell he cared about his friend. In fact. “Do you…. I don‟t think it was this because he immediately raised his eyebrows in astonishment.” I said. “Penny.. “Do……ah!” Then he did something that really startled me.” I stopped. I got a feeling that John just cared about people. I said it anyway.” Why was I asking it? I was not sure.” I felt sorry for this guy.

I wanted to share this. I closed my eyes and summoned my strength. Was this going to lead to disaster? I wanted to tell him. but disappointment that he mentioned his wife. “Last night?” he queried.” I never trusted anyone so why did I want to trust him? What was I doing here with him? He was married and we were holding hands in a restaurant while his family was a hundred miles away. . Clearly he wanted me to know that I would not take her place. I shuddered because I realised why I‟d asked him this question. “The answer is „Yes‟. You don‟t need to say it. “I…. I tensed. I wanted to tell him I fantasised about him. I hesitated..Rory Ridley-Duff He hesitated. about the way things had unfolded. I could feel the emotion rising in me again. Penny. to tell him the part he had played in it. What if he was angry? What if I spoiled the whole day? What if it ruined our friendship? “I…. This was crazy.” but I stopped again.” I stopped and looked down into my lap. a deep pleasure that he thought of me sexually.” he said. “Penny. “You don‟t need to say it. “Your turn. but I did not want him to reject me. reminding me of the pact. I wanted to share my humiliation with him.” I felt a peculiar sensation. I wanted to tell him about the night before.” he repeated.. “Last night…. I was not sure if I had the courage to say it. but not when I‟m making love to my wife.. and he noticed immediately and took my hands again. but only for a moment.” my hands started to shake.

My whole body was rigid. not my mother. And then he left. with relief mostly. “It was awful. John got up from his seat.” “Why?” he asked. I like that – it‟s honest. I could not say the words. “…I felt so alone. but it was not a very convincing one. I felt the tears fill my eyes again and I looked up at him. “Yes. “You bet it did. I laughed. I had never talked like this with anyone.” “Shit! I bet that cooled his ardour.” he said with a laugh. He gave my hands a little squeeze to keep me reassured. why?” he asked again. “Why?” I said with astonishment. and then I blurted out your he was fucking me I started to think of you. I looked up. People normally . I should not be telling you this. “Are you crazy? You‟re married and I‟m pouring out these feelings to you. and stroked my cheek with his left hand. and I shuffled awkwardly in my seat. I just could not. I‟m so sorry I rang you. I‟m attracted to you. He got really mad at me.” “So we‟ve broken the rules. I shouldn‟t be saying this. not my father or any of my boyfriends. And…and…” His hand was rubbing my back and it felt lovely. letting the tears roll. I laughed and suddenly I felt it was okay to carry on. …. came around to my side of the table and pulled up his chair.Friends or Lovers I made an attempt at a smile. tears were dripping down my face. Through my sobs I suddenly heard the sound of my own voice. He put his right arm around my back. Big deal. You‟re attracted to me. not my sister. I can‟t believe I‟m telling you this.

It was my turn to break the silence. He was quiet for a while and just rocked me in his arms. “Because my fantasies will be much more exciting now!” I laughed again. Why was he thanking me for sobbing all over him? “What for?” “For sharing this.” There was a prolonged silence during which neither of us dared to ask the question that was on both our minds. “I feel a bit better.Rory Ridley-Duff make each other miserable because they can‟t express or share the simplest feelings. I was not sure where to go from here but it did not matter because he carried on talking. “I love it that you are attracted to me. “but I couldn‟t keep it up!” I shook my head as my smile returned.” “You are really weird.” I responded.” he said.” I said.” he finally said. There are only sexual relationships where they agree not to have sex. “That took courage. “Why?” I asked with genuine curiosity. How did he make this happen? How did he take my troubles away at the very moment I felt more vulnerable than ever before? “I can‟t believe how close I feel to you.” “Thank you. . He was so strange.” I said. “Somebody once said to me that there is no such thing as a non-sexual relationship between a man and a woman. “I tried Mr Normal.” He paused. didn‟t it?” “More than you‟ll ever know.” he interjected.

I could not think of any good prospects at work that were not already in relationships and said so. He asked the waitress for coffee then continued. “Are there any left?” I asked. “You don‟t need to ask. Perhaps you‟ve already met him?” he suggested. “You‟re welcome. “Where are we going to find you a good man.” I was about to say that I thought he must be joking. I was not about to start another debate.” I said at last. All you need to do is get the person you are interested in talking about their life.” I answered. but I knew that it was not the right thing to say. where will you find Mr Right?” His question was rhetorical. “Isn‟t that why people go to work?” he asked. surely?” “Employerspeak!” he laughed. Take an interest. then?” I wanted to say I‟d found one. “Have you looked at work?” he asked.” he responded.” “Why on earth not?” he reacted. but on this occasion I let it pass.” . “Where?” I queried. “Oh. “Find out. “If not at work. I don‟t.Friends or Lovers “And thank you. “And you know that they are happy and committed?” “Well no.” I said. “I don‟t think people react well to women in positions of authority having sexual relationships at work. “What do you mean?” “Why is work any different from anywhere else?” “It‟s a place of work. So long as you know where to look. yes. “I can hardly ask them.

He‟d given up a whole Saturday for me and it was important that I should not intrude further on his time. but inside I now feel like I‟m walking on water. I wanted him to come in. risk more. he drove me back to my house and walked me to the door. and share the best of myself. how people feel when they first experience the deepest kind of love? . He makes me want to be a better person. I find it difficult to describe how I feel now. then returned to the car and gave me a salute as he drove off. I‟ve been more distraught today than I can ever remember. to live more. pecked me on the cheek. Then. At the door. but a tingling feeling burrowing into the darkest caverns of my soul. but I knew he needed to get back home to his family. Is this.Rory Ridley-Duff We drank the last of our coffee and I paid the bill. In the movies we might have kissed. This is not like the butterflies of teenage love. I wonder. he hugged me. but I just knew that we would not. a warmth so spiritual that I can feel my humanity light up.

Even Mike had admitted to me that he‟d flirted with her.Friends or Lovers Chapter 18 Due to a lot of demands on my time. If you ask me. I was perplexed by this. It did not seem to fit. . He was careful how he behaved and spoke around everyone. Phil was first to update me. when I got to work the weekend was purged from my mind. particularly Elona. He had been diligently taking lunch with Elona‟s team and learned that a number of the men enjoyed teasing her and flirting with her. According to them. the relationship between Elona and Nathan is connected to all of this somehow. What about Mike and Sally?” I enquired. Most of his team said that he was very gentlemanly. “They are surprised that she accused Mike.” “Okay. “What about him?” “He was quite cagey when the others were talking. Nathan was a lad in his mid-twenties and the general consensus was that she had a crush on him. Nathan himself was not that interested although he did join in some of the flirting. “Then there‟s this Nathan!” Phil said. Phil thought this was more to bond with his mates than to pursue Elona. I don‟t understand how Mike fits in – maybe he got jealous or something – but I feel there must be a connection somewhere.” “D‟you think I should talk to him?” I asked. “Well. He did not volunteer anything and I got the feeling that the whole conversation made him uncomfortable. Elona was pretty off-hand with all of them except one. I nodded for Phil to continue.

But they don‟t live together now. If they‟d had an affair and split up. but they did live together for a few months. Secondly. had enlisted Mike‟s support to get his team some training in consumer behaviour. who would have thought this? To think that hoards of women at . but there was nothing to be gained by discussing it now. John had suggested I look for a partner at work for two reasons. he claimed that nearly half of all married women chose their job in order to find a partner. “Okay. I could not see any reason to object. most people meet their marriage partner in a workplace setting. The marketing manager. I was keen to off-load this. Nobody is completely sure why they are so close. Then I‟ll speak to Nathan. He did live with her for a while. She said that she had worked with a consultant several times and wanted to bring him in again. I told him the second one must be rubbish. In this modern age.” I had to set this to one side for the moment. As I was up to my eye-balls helping Dave bring on board some new inventors. why would she want to keep working with him? It doesn‟t make sense.Rory Ridley-Duff “Yeah. he‟s back with his wife. I promptly went to WH Smith and bought the book. I found the statistics both staggering and appalling. but he provided me with a source. Firstly. Jo. We seem to be getting closer. It all sounds kind of bizarre. I‟ll have a word with Dave. Perhaps it is time for another chat with Elona. I was right about that. Well done. She‟s one of the people who transferred with him to the new team. so I signed off a purchase order for 30 days consultancy and left her to get on with it. after 40 years of gender equality.” I was puzzled too. I thought back to my weekend conversation. Sure enough he was right.

I did my best to ignore it and returned to the issue at hand. I‟ve got Clive Preston coming over from London. But a good find. Brian Thwaite from Birmingham. “We need to draw up three contracts. “We‟ll see in due course. She‟s ready for exposure and now has a large portfolio. I wondered.” said Dave.” I commented. So what needs doing today?” I asked. He also wants help recruiting marketing support staff and I said we‟d be able to help. Is that okay?” . They manufacture through companies in Sheffield. “Okay.Friends or Lovers work were actively looking for husbands.” “A woman?” I remarked. Standard Terms?” I asked. She‟s a remarkable designer and has assembled a small team of engineers to make customised kitchenware. The thought actually annoyed me. “For Claire and Clive yes.” I‟d never pictured Dave as someone with either the inclination or ability to appreciate cutlery and kitchenware. “Hi. “your wife will be asking for freebies. was searching for a husband in our workplace? * * * “Come in Penny. “Rare that?” “Yes. but Brian will be getting 25%” “Is he worth it?” I asked. I‟m sure you‟d be impressed. Sorry I didn‟t ask you beforehand. and Claire Nunn from Glasgow. Who.” He gave me an odd look. We are poaching him away from his current distributor so I had to offer a bit extra. “Careful.

Spill it.and I don‟t believe that.not well. I confirmed the contract details with him one last time and then remembered that I wanted to ask him about Mike and Sally. I used to get on well with one of Sally‟s colleagues and it seems that she moved in with him and . “I‟ll see what I can do…. Do you know anything about that?” Dave pondered and raised his eyebrows. “Well.. one of the local sales reps.” I said..” “I‟m sorry to hear that. “I‟ve been putting together a picture of our sales manager friend and it seems that he has a mystery relationship with Sally. He really could look quite cute at times. just tittle tattle. “There is something else. but I did not mind.” “Why‟s that?” I asked. “I heard they shared a flat for a while.” I insisted.” Something in his tone suggested that he had something else to add. “By the way. opened his palms and shrugged his shoulders.” As I made to go. I imagine. Lots of rumours flying about. “And?” I asked with an expectant look.Rory Ridley-Duff He gave me one of his hopeful looks. I made his request sound like an imposition. he touched my arm to stop me. “She‟s…. most people just think they had a fling – that they moved into a flat together and that it didn‟t work out so he left.” he added. “…. He looked hesitant. Dave. I hope she gets better soon. “my wife doesn‟t buy stuff for the house any more.” “Come on..” It was not often that Dave ever talked about anything outside work and it took me a bit by surprise.

then Nathan. “Not sure.” I said. Anyway. I think we‟ll get to the bottom of this soon. Unless the affair came later. “Maybe. “Really?” he said with surprise. Then Mike joined her. I think Sally had some domestic crisis and Mike offered her a way out. and then carried on. What he does in his own time is really not our business. Should find out soon.” “Feathering two nests. I just think that whenever people let their personal and professional lives get confused things can become very messy.” My sentiment entirely. I‟ve no strong feelings. you think?” I sensed that there was no love lost between Dave and Mike. “Interesting. it caused no end of problems in his marriage and Sally had to move out. I‟m not a rumourmonger. What is it with you and him?” I enquired. She asked to carry on working with him recently when he moved jobs. “How does this link to Elona?” he finally asked. I think. of course. “They still get on well. Bet Sally was pissed when he went back. “He should‟ve left well alone. That‟s not the sort of thing that she would do if she was having an affair him.” Dave paused for a smirk. I thought. I‟m meeting Elona in a few minutes.” “He‟s back with his wife now. “No.” .Friends or Lovers his wife.” he remarked.” He paused for a moment as pieces of the jigsaw were reassembled in his head. “Apparently not. Not sure what happened after that – all I know is that his personal life got into a real mess for a while. Not sure. “Oh. I think.” I said.

. Keep me posted.Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay. With Dave‟s support. I thanked him and returned to my department to meet Elona. I felt ready to get to the bottom of things and achieve closure.” I had not realised before how similar Dave and I were in our outlook but it pleased me that we shared this point of view. When you have a complete picture we can discuss how to bust up this secret network.

I got up from my chair and sat beside her. Phil entered the room with two cups of tea and a glass of water.” “Thanks.” Despite my calm and sympathetic words I detected an increase in her nervousness. This is just a quiet chat to establish what has been going on. “Do you mind if Phil sits in on this one?” Elona looked around the room and rubbed her ear. There!” I said. “Can I offer you a cup of tea?” I asked.Friends or Lovers Chapter 19 “Come in. “Elona. as I put my hand on her shoulder. As Phil left the room.” Elona shuffled in her seat and looked uncomfortable. It would give me a moment to put Elona at her ease. but I decided to ask Phil to make one for me anyway.” I said as I welcomed Elona into my office. keeping the other for himself. He knows more about this situation than I do. “If you want him to stay. I guess that‟s okay with me. “Don‟t worry. Although Elona had declined the tea. She lifted her hand to decline the offer. so I‟d like him here. “Elona. She would not look at me and her hands were clasped together on her knees. He put one cup on my desk. Phil‟s been following up on some of your concerns and we want to discuss a few things with you. come in. she immediately . She looked unsure but answered positively. Before Phil comes back. There‟s no need to worry. is there anything you want to share with me privately?” She glanced at me and shook her head quickly in denial.

” Elona seemed to relax when I told her this. and she looked a little more relaxed.” I said reassuringly. Phil chipped in too. you ignored them. It is alright. the lads in the team said that one of them. and they stopped.” “What‟s that?” she asked. finally finding her voice. but clearly this was a sensitive matter and she was deeply embarrassed. nobody minds. As she put the glass down. “Thanks for coming in again. Elona immediately went bright red and got extremely agitated. “Thanks for that. called Nathan.Rory Ridley-Duff picked up the glass of water and drank half of it. “What they say is that they flirted with you. love. I looked squarely at her. “There is one thing. Phil‟s talked to others in your team and they admit they behaved inappropriately to you. Nobody is judging you.” She looked down at the table in front of her. saying nothing. “As I was saying earlier. Would you agree with that?” Elona said nothing but nodded her agreement. “Well. however. “Elona. I tried to calm the atmosphere further.” I began. she summoned up a slight smile and I felt ready to begin. “Elona. we are grateful that you made a complaint and raised some important issues. We just need to understand whether there is any link between this and the incident with Mike? Is there?” . I‟ll be talking to them in due course.” At the mention of Nathan‟s name. gave you some attention and that you did not seem to mind. If you like Nathan‟s attention. Elona.

Friends or Lovers Elona seemed to be petrified by this suggestion and started to shake. but I shot him a look that he should let her go. She nodded again. “Go get Nathan!” I commanded Phil. I remembered that Mike said he would talk if Elona gave her permission.” I said. It fuelled my desire to find out more. “Not now. “Yes? You did confide in Mike?” She nodded again. her face went red again and her eyes filled with moisture. “Some serious shit has happened to her. “Mike mentioned that you confided some information in him. He has refused to talk about it because he gave you his word that he wouldn‟t. “No! No! No! I don‟t want to talk to anyone about any of this. Would you give your permission?” At this suggestion. “Let her calm down. Elona looked up at me and her mouth dropped open. I tried a new tack. “Mike won‟t speak about it without your permission.” “Fuck!” offered Phil. Leave me alone!” She got up and ran out of the room in tears. Her shaking got more acute and suddenly she exploded. “Now?” he asked. “Something about Nathan?” Phil asked.” At this. . That‟s for sure!” I felt angry that Elona was still so distressed. We can always go and see her later. She was clearly fighting back tears but to my surprise she started to nod. Phil got up to follow her.

” Nathan held my gaze and did not flinch for even a fraction of a second.” “What has Elona said?” he asked. My mind was spinning again. Phil held up both his hands as if to hold me at bay and quietly made his way out of the room. “Nathan. Come on in.” I said. . What had Nathan done to her? Had he raped her? Had she confided this in Mike? Had Mike done nothing? Had Mike tried to take advantage? Why was she later upset with Mike and not Nathan? None of this seemed to make any sense. I started to get angry again. “Nothing. please.” he asked. That is why I am asking you. I was in no mood to be pushed around any more. looking as puzzled as he was concerned. Can you explain?” Nathan seemed to go completely white and started reeling in his chair. But no more words came forth.Rory Ridley-Duff “Yes! Now!” I said raising my voice. “I would like to leave. “Nathan. She is extremely distressed. As I was running over all these things in my mind. “Tell me what happened. “I‟ve just had Elona in here and clearly something has happened between you and her. “Fuck!” he said as his eyes seemed to look everywhere in the room except at Phil or myself.” He sat down. Take a seat. “Look at me!” Nathan looked pale and distressed but finally looked me in the eye. Phil returned with suspect in hand.

the whites of my teeth were showing too. “You tell me what happened. “About what?” I fired back. but he will not talk either. Phil was gently moving his head from side to side to indicate „no‟..” he added. “We have a situation here. That did not satisfy me. Nathan. She confided something to Mike. was looking down at the floor as if he could not bear to watch what was happening. “Nathan.” I said.” he repeated without showing any anger. What on earth was going on here? Nathan kept looking at me and was unmoved. please. but my anger got the better of me and I let rip.” I saw Nathan‟s lips go tight and the whites of his teeth show. seemed to get agitated and looked at me and if to indicate that he should be allowed to go. who was sitting in the corner. You can give a full account to your line manager and myself.” Phil looked as white as a sheet. still calm and unflinching. gave me a look of absolute disgust. She is seriously distressed and will not talk. Do you understand?” “I would like to leave. “Let me be completely open with you…. “You don‟t have a fucking clue. do you?” Nathan started. “No!” I shouted. “A fucking clue about anything…. in the corner. What is it to be?” I imagine that while I said this. Someone in Elona‟s team has made a sexual advance. however. please. With Phil in the room I felt a bit bolder. or I will have to take this to your line manager first thing in the morning. .Friends or Lovers Phil.” he asked again. I‟ll suspend you here and now. You can either give me an account of your behaviour or I‟ll call a disciplinary hearing. “I would like to leave. Phil. “If you use that type of language once more.

Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay. Firstly. Whatever he said made Elona mad. “Is Mike still in the building?” Phil looked unsure. The situation felt like it was getting out of control. Do not take no for an answer. but I had one more card to play. who seemed taken aback at this question. He must have suggested they go out for a drink and then said something that upset her. Nathan must have made a pass at Elona.” Holding my gaze. You may go. Phil nodded a „yes‟. Whichever is true. he slowly left the room with hatred burning in his eyes. This kind of . Still looking shaken himself. “Is Mike still in the building?” “Sorry?” asked Phil. as if everything was coming together. she tried to confide in Mike and he tried to handle it „within the team‟. Maybe she didn‟t reciprocate and got upset. I felt on a roll. then dumped her.” Phil nodded. perhaps he would have suggested that I sleep on this. I imagine she tried to confide this in Mike. What a bloody amateur. but he was too intimidated. go immediately to Nathan‟s manager and inform him of the meeting at 10am. I would like you here at 10am tomorrow morning with your line manager. Shaken as I was. “Okay. Then again. I was glad that Phil was in the room. what if Elona did want Nathan to make a pass? Perhaps he seduced her. “Right. If he‟d been more experienced. you have made your choice. Is that clear?” Phil obediently did as I asked while I made myself another cup of tea. Idiot. I want you to get Mike and bring him here immediately. I could feel them pierce me right through. I held myself together and summoned Phil over.

“Yes.Friends or Lovers stuff really makes my blood boil. surprisingly. “I‟m not surprised. who stormed into my office with an irritated look on his face.” Mike raised his hands and grabbed his head in despair. She got so upset that she left the room in tears. Mike. “Okay.” he said ushering me into my chair with his open palm. okay. What on earth are you doing?” “Don‟t piss me around. always the man who gets away with it. I want to know what she said and how you handled it.” Phil had again retreated to the corner of the room and was looking uncomfortable. Sit down and let‟s talk about this. “What‟s the relationship problem between Elona and Nathan?” I asked. “What the hell is this? I was in a meeting with my team and Phil tells me that you have an emergency. He looked away as he thought for a moment. He looked me calmly in the eye. and then he rubbed his cheek. What is so urgent it cannot wait until morning?” “Sit down. It has come to light that there is a relationship problem between Elona and Nathan and that she reported this to you.” Mike.” he finally said. “So where d‟you want to start?” he asked. . Phil returned with Mike. “I told you to back off this. She won‟t talk about it. Always the woman who gets hurt. seemed to slow down and take this in. Mike. “Have you talked to Elona?” he responded. “Why?” I asked.

I began to wonder who was conducting this enquiry.Rory Ridley-Duff “Because this situation is probably the most upsetting thing that has ever happened to her.” I replied. “I did and she confirmed that she had confided in you. I can see that alright. And what about Nathan? What about me? Are you concerned about us too?” “What? What on earth are you going on about?” If looks could have killed. . then Mike would have been dead on the floor in an instant.” “A duty of care! You call this a duty of care?” he asked accusingly. “Did you ask her if she‟d mind me talking?” he asked. “Did it ever occur to you this witch-hunt is the cause of her distress?” His words inflamed me. “How dare you! If people told me what the fuck is going on then we could sort this mess out. “They why don‟t you respect her wishes?” he asked. “She‟s distressed.” “Are you going to tell me about it?” I asked again.” I responded keeping my calm. Why can‟t you see that?” “Oh. “There may have been a breach of the law and I have a duty of care towards her. I cannot help her unless I understand the cause of the distress. I‟m trying to help her. but she did not answer.” I confessed. She is of great concern to you. “Yes. him or me. “Did you ask her if she was okay about you talking to me?” he repeated.

He seemed to think that I don‟t know what I‟m talking about. One of you is going to answer for Elona‟s distress. “What‟s so funny?” I said angrily.” Mike gave a small laugh.” Suddenly. “He would not talk. but I did not know how to respond. not this time.Friends or Lovers “I‟m asking you why you only seem concerned to protect Elona?” “You arrogant bastard. however. “You stupid woman!” I was bright red with anger and started to defend myself. One of you is going to answer for what happened.. my being a woman has nothing to do with it……. I resented him asking all the questions. “It‟s got everything to do with it. “You sexist bastard….” Mike.” “And what did Nathan tell you?” he asked. “Because he‟s right. Mike snapped and shouted at me in a way that reverberated in the marrow of my bones. She is the one who is distressed and somewhere in this heap of shit Nathan or you did something to cause that distress.” “You think you are so fucking clever! Well. You are not going to wriggle out of this. not for one second!” . Did it ever occur to you that it might be Elona who made a pass at Nathan? Did it ever occur to you that Nathan was the one receiving unwanted attention? Did it ever occur to you that Elona might have made accusations because she felt rejected and hurt? No. pointed an accusing finger at me and carried on.

“Mike‟s an awkward bugger.” Phil looked at me and nodded slowly. This time. He found it difficult to look at me. . I was so shocked that I did not know what to say. he eventually ventured an opinion. his voice was much calmer but the words cut into me and I felt a shiver run through my body. and his hands fidgeted on his knees. It took me a full 10 minutes to calm down and regain my composure. “What a mess. His mouth opened several times without any words coming out.” he said as he fixed his gaze on me. during which time Phil remained seated. “What d‟you think of what he just said?” Phil looked uncomfortable. “have you ever made a pass at a man?” Then he calmly walked out of the room. Mike got ready to speak again. Phil. “Sit down. I looked at the cold cup of tea on my desk and gave a short laugh.” I said. What had just happened? I looked up at Phil and beckoned him over to my desk. There have only been a few occasions in my life when I have been completely lost for words.” I asked. What a total fucking mess! Call Mike and tell him that I want him back here at 10am tomorrow. After a moment. isn‟t he?” I grabbed my head with both hands. “Tell me honestly. Penny. With his eyes fixed on the desk. He came over slowly looking as shaken and as shocked as me. “Tell me.Rory Ridley-Duff He paused for a moment and seemed to calm down. This was one of them.

Together we had many conversations in which we traced my interest back to an emotional experience or aspiration. It is interesting to us because it is meaningful. We don‟t study a subject because it is intrinsically interesting – if that were true then everybody would be interested in the same things. was imbued with deeply human values. He was an unusual man. he had a strong spiritual side that. if not religious. he always pressed me to talk about the underlying reason for my interest in something. He would ask me why I enjoyed learning some things but not others. he would say. Intertwined in our deliberations. my father told me that my instincts and emotions were my greatest assets. he argued. . my father was quite different. I think it was his career inside the civil service that inclined him towards a political way of thinking.Friends or Lovers Chapter 20 When I was young. even if that goal was a modest one such as building the scientist‟s reputation. While many people. He would ask me why I liked some people and not others. Emotion. is the key to a deeper understanding. Scientists. put great stock in objectivity and science. particularly men. As such. Penny. “When we are interested in something. including a view that science was rarely scientific. His words echoed in my head. We study something because it is interesting to us. were doing themselves a disservice when they argued that emotion had no place in science. He argued that science was always oriented towards a political goal. it is because it moves us emotionally.

So strange. “Just look at what we do when we desire someone‟s attention. Emotion is what drives us! When people say we should not let emotion affect our judgement they forget that it‟s emotion that inclines us to make a judgement in the first place. would often walk out of the room and leave us to it. And the reverse! What monsters we can be when we don‟t want a relationship.” Despite his slightly pompous manner. more humane than anyone else I‟ve met. and is. Why does this situation with Elona and Mike make me so angry? Why does Mike rub me up the wrong way? What is the deeper truth here? Is my past coming back to haunt me? My father would say that if I want to hurt someone it is because they have hurt me. We may find ourselves learning new skills. more willing to change our own values. my father was. To me. We open our mind to their views. on the other hand.and this was one of the reasons she and I argued throughout my teens. We‟re at our most cruel when trying to get people out of our lives. studying new things in order to impress them. become more willing to learn things they are interested in. Our behaviour and feelings can change dramatically. Has Mike hurt me? Maybe it was the other way around. My mother. She said my father talked twaddle about sex. my love for him grew with the conviction that there was wisdom in his words.Rory Ridley-Duff “Don‟t you find it strange when people talk about being motivated? They talk as if the thing that motivates them is outside themselves. Had I hurt him and he was now trying to get back at me? My emotions did not settle and Mike‟s words kept echoing in my head. . I disliked her for that – she seemed to deliberately misunderstand him .

even as I had these thoughts. not those that chose me. but underneath I understand how it feels to be crushed by the weight of male attention. We either buckle under the weight or kick back. I had no feelings about him except as yet another person who was adding to Elona‟s distress. She was as introverted as any person I had ever met. I may have the veneer of confidence. I tossed and turned throughout the night and in every configuration. Would a person like that make a move on Nathan? I did not see how it was possible. she was quiet and scared. So. Am I reacting to my own past? I can feel Elona‟s hurt. I fell apart and he quickly left me for someone else. I decided that I‟d never again be a shrinking violet. I felt used by men. but later he cheated on me and I was crushed. . It was only the previous day that I had learned there was a Nathan at all. I would no longer wait for a man to make up my mind. My father helped me look at these as learning experiences. At first I was flattered. then confusing. Eventually. I committed to one lad. I could not make the pieces fit the puzzle. It made no sense. It was exciting. would she? I couldn‟t buy Mike‟s view that Elona was the protagonist here. And yet. I empathise with her. I felt. and finally annoying. I would have the men I chose. In my first year at university. I would make up my own. Elona would not make up an accusation like this. Whenever I met her. my emotions kept on churning.Friends or Lovers “Did it ever occur to you that Nathan was the one who was receiving unwanted attention?” Had I considered this? It was an unfair question.

I was a bit irritated by his use of the word „girl‟. Even at his age. He‟s strong too. That situation at work is spiralling out of control. I find it very confusing and thought……” I hesitated for a moment. Both mentally and physically. As if by instinct. He is a good-looking man. but I let it pass. no!” I laughed. “Hi.” he said brightly as he answered the phone. he immediately sensed concern in my voice. It is quite possible that Elona likes him more than she‟s saying. I realised that I was crossing another line and inviting a new type of relationship. .” I replied. “Hi. “Are you still troubled by the weekend?” The weekend? That seemed like a lifetime ago. John. Encountering him up close was disturbing me. I can see why young women might be attracted to him. As I did so. This was something new. I thought of John.Rory Ridley-Duff Is my past affecting me now? Can I really understand her? For the first time I am having real doubts. Maybe he could help. “I just thought I‟d pick your brains. I had never intruded into his professional world to benefit my own. He might have some words of wisdom for me so I called him. if you don‟t mind. “Good lord. We‟d been intimate in a personal way. but never professionally. “That‟s my girl” he responded. “What‟s up?” he asked. the burden of the last few hours seemed to lift instantly. Penny. All the other women seem to like Mike. Up until this point. Do I understand what she is going through? I thought of Mike.

But the strangest thing is that the boss is now saying that she had a crush on the lad.” “Yes. “Involved in what way?” John enquired. When it . but John took it literally and gave me a most peculiar answer. “Sure. In this world. It is fallacy that men always pursue and women always resist. “Perhaps. but there it was tripping out of my lips before I could stop it. Sure I do. They initiate with non-verbal stuff that induces the man to talk to her.” I said. “Do you remember that I mentioned someone who had been moved to a new job because he had distressed a young woman in his department?” I asked. and that the situation was caused by her giving him too much attention. Has anything changed?” he asked. and not seeking a fatherly opinion so much as a professional dialogue. why not?” he answered without a moment‟s hesitation.Friends or Lovers “…. How likely is that?” I asked this as a rhetorical question. She confided something to her boss about this lad. “Most relationships are started by women in very subtle ways. It seems there is another young lad involved and that she and this other lad somehow got „involved‟ with each other. When it works everyone is happy.I thought that maybe we could discuss it a bit more and you could guide me a bit.” As I said the word „involved‟ I cringed. “Yes.” I chose my words carefully. but later she accused the boss of inappropriate behaviour. I was not an amateur. “Hmmm! This does sound a bit more complicated than you first thought. it is more like a ritual series of moves that women and men make in turn. “That‟s not clear.

This is true in most cultures. Men respond. Men are always pursuing and pestering women. He started to give me to fuller explanation. providing they can overcome their own nerves. most of men‟s are verbal – at least initially. it will look that way. Men comfort their own egos by thinking they‟ve initiated the relationship. “So you are saying this is only true for some people?” I asked. “Successful ones do.Rory Ridley-Duff doesn‟t things can turn quite nasty. feeling a little more relaxed. shows women select the man they want and do everything they can to ensure he notices them so that he starts a conversation.” I paused for a moment unsure what to say next. There are women who take verbal initiatives but generally it is the other way around. I assure you that it‟s not the case.yes. don‟t you think?” “If that is what you believe. I was puzzled by this. “Is that a surprise. I suppose it is.” “Do men signal?” I asked. I‟d studied psychology and this was the opposite of what I had learnt. But. Penny?” he asked. Close observation. if an unattractive woman signals in a similar way. Men tend to think they are making the first move but often they are responding to a non-verbal cue. Women signal. Others jump in with both feet at the first opportunity. Women comfort their own egos by thinking they have been singled out by an attractive man. however. “Well…. Many won‟t – they‟ll get scared. Men who don‟t pay attention to a . particularly if one party feels led on and then humiliated. These are generalisations.. “Men will respond quickly if an attractive woman signals. Most of women‟s behaviours are non-verbal. but most don‟t. she may be ignored both verbally and nonverbally.

Then you get a kind of game that signals mutual interest. talk about common interests. he puts it around her. If she likes him enough. such as prolonged eye contact. but in the trade it is called „synchronisation‟ or „rapport building‟. Men who get a signal will usually proceed fairly gently at first to see whether they continue to get signals. she whispers in his ear. he nods. In these early exchanges. turn towards each other. she links his arm. I‟ve never met them and different couples behave differently. I‟m giving you behaviour patterns. laughter. we are talking probabilities. I felt a need to direct the discussion. just gut feeling stuff. All I can say is that it is possible but against the norm. “Well. Not everyone agrees about the meaning of this. They‟ll exchange personal information. positive body movements and such like. “Is it likely she made a pass at him?” I asked. Interesting as this was. start sharing opinions. start touching each other.” . otherwise they‟ll ignore the signals. increase their eye contact. but people have been able to observe it. she‟ll eventually make a move that he cannot ignore. This is often unconscious. a woman‟s behaviour generally encourages the man to talk more.” “So this is unlikely?” I confirmed. she nods.Friends or Lovers woman‟s signals will probably end up embarrassing themselves.” I stifled a laugh. he lifts a glass. behaviour moves through a series of stages. They‟ll only carry on if they are interested. tell stories. he laughs and says something back. She lifts a glass. “I don‟t know the specifics. If there is a mutual attraction. You‟ll know if this is happening in a group because a pair seem to be ignoring everyone else.

I was still contemplating when he started to talk again. She‟ll give him an emotional slap. “No less than they deserve!” I replied quickly. I decided to ask directly.Rory Ridley-Duff He paused for a second before making one final comment.can you let me get my diary?” I asked to buy myself a moment.” I could hear an urgency in his voice.” he said. There was a moment of awkward silence as I contemplated my last comment. It is nothing special for them. He hesitated for a moment. but would you like to meet up next week to chat about it? You can give me specifics. I‟m away in the Lakes this weekend. “…. “If he doesn‟t respond. “Errr…. so my defences were immediately triggered. “Only kidding!” I added. “Penny. “Is there something you need to do?” I asked. It really pissed me off that someone else only had to shout and he wanted to cut off our will be easier to talk next week. What is going on here? I wondered. “Sure. We could meet in the morning if you are free. . I‟m in Leamington next Wednesday afternoon and all Thursday.” he added with a light-hearted chuckle. she‟ll feel rejected and may do something to hurt his feelings. It was unlike John to cut short any conversation. “Um. Men are routinely humiliated. Are you free?” I could hear other voices in the background and realised that someone in the house was calling to him. but I detected a coolness in his tone. Sort of…” he responded.

Still.. I was not impressed.maybe. his comments were interesting and useful.” He rang off before saying goodbye. No. it is unlikely that Elona would have felt any need to make an advance. I‟ll e-mail you with a time and see you then. . Phil told me that all the lads had flirted with her. “I can fit you in on Wednesday morning.ah……yes….. I could not understand why he had been curt with me. If Nathan had started flirting. I wondered if he resented me asking him for a professional opinion..” I said. “…. making him wait a bit longer. from what John says. yes!” I finally said. No.” “Okay. The conservation was not as friendly or as pleasant as I had come to expect.Friends or Lovers “Let me see…. No. but could have done so if Nathan had not been responding to her. He confirmed that it was unlikely Elona would have made the sexual advance. I think I have enough here to read the riot act to Nathan tomorrow if I don‟t get answers.

Big news. Young Toby. it always looks like a bomb has hit it. I just can‟t fathom it out. There is not much to do. “Tell me what you see…. feet in the air. I imagine that she‟s pregnant again and wants to celebrate in style.” Try as I might to understand how watching a baby roll over and over can make her giggle like a schoolgirl. put the few plates I‟ve used in the dishwasher wondering just how lazy I can be. cooing and laughing. While I wait for her to come around. she roars with laughter as he manages to shift his weight again and roll onto his back. has progressed from sitting up to rolling around. she‟s happy and that‟s what matters. She says she has news. “Well. “He‟s on his back.” she said trying to contain guffaws. She called me a few nights ago almost wetting herself with laughter.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 21 My sister has just called. Come on baby. This is just brill! I wish you could see this. do your stuff!” As I wait.” I dutifully command. I tidy round the kitchen. My windowsill is adorned with an assortment of stones and rocks that I‟ve picked up over the years. He‟s on his back with a rattle in his hand. but if another sprog is going to come along I guess I‟ll just have to accept it fully. Over onto his front now. I tidy up the house. Wait………here he goes. “I just wish you could see him. Every time she does something grown up like this it makes me feel a little bit older. Still. I still can‟t get used to being an aunty. When I go around to Carole‟s. Carole‟s boy. trying to sound enthusiastic. along with holders for utensils and .

with her smile getting wider all the time. She smiles. I look her up and down to try to understand what is different. “Come on in!” I shout.” she says.” she says. “All right you. It is firm and flat. “Don‟t tell me you‟ve had these done?” “Better than that!” she jokes and with one swift move she places her left hand on top of my right hand. tracing a line from her shoulder to her elbow. Just as the boredom is banished. the front doorbell rings. I give her a puzzled look and start to move my hand upwards.” she says mysteriously. Her hand is different. playing with me. “See anything now?” she asks. “Am I getting warm?” I ask. Her breasts look quite firm today so I cup one in each hand. I think.” And in she walks looking groomed and beaming. “Try a bit higher. I look carefully.Friends or Lovers instruments for practising my Nigella Lawson recipes. “The door‟s open…. . “Has someone given you a happy pill?” I ask “No need. I cannot put my finger on it but something has definitely changed in her appearance. I walk right up to her and put my hand on her stomach. Absolutely no sign of a baby there. I think. Nothing special there. Decadence! Just what the moment needs and I rustle around the cupboard seeing if I have the ingredients for a calorie busting meal. I flick the switch on the kettle and amble back into the living room. I continue tracing a line from the elbow to her hand. What is it?” “Keep looking.

“I want to make it to the alter without crushed ribs. It is. I don‟t know why I was crying but the drops started to roll down my face as I grabbed her with both my arms and squeezed her as if my life depended on it. “July 31st?” “Oh. “Careful sis‟.Rory Ridley-Duff As I look at the image before me. “Be my „best woman‟?” she asked. “When did he ask?” “Last night. Carole!” I still felt in shock. I felt something in my sides coarse up through my body. How many women have ever been asked that question?” “‟Yes‟ will do nicely. He came home and told me that he‟d got another promotion and had a present for me. “Your what?” “My „best woman‟. My mouth dropped open and I barely heard myself speak as a wave of emotion moved through my neck and my head started to tingle.” I just closed my eyes and nodded. I took a step back and held both her arms. what she has been dreaming of for the last few years.” she gasped. The tears just kept rolling down my cheeks. but now the moment is . It isn‟t happiness. “When?” was the only word that came out.” “Some present!” I shouted and suddenly the tears were there.” “I don‟t know what to say. one with each hand. I want a „best woman‟!” I just looked at her unsure what to say. It is so hard to describe how I‟m feeling. What do you say when your younger sister displays a dazzling engagement ring and asks you to be her „best woman‟? I pulled her to me and held her tight. of course. I could feel the moisture start to fill my eyes.

I would have got you to sit down first….. We never took it in turns. ecstatic. “I never thought of you as heavy!” she joked as she hauls me up. . like the room is spinning. “Here. “Sis‟? Are you alright?” “I feel a bit woozy…. I feel cold and sweaty.” And then it happened. I am pleased for her. I did not expect her to marry before me. she was always the bridesmaid and I was the bride. “Jeez sis‟.!” Instead of feeling wild with excitement and happiness. For a few moments. “If I knew my news would have this effect on you. but I realise that I did not expect to feel like this. Of course. Put your arm around me!” She levers me towards the sofa and finally I think I can make it to my feet. we would play „weddings‟ and I was always the bride and she the bridesmaid.Friends or Lovers here.” says Carole almost falling to the floor with me. I feel worried. When we were young. My little sister is getting married. and I tumbled onto the floor and nearly hit my head on the table. We would write all the words of the ceremony out and act the whole thing for hours and hours. My little sister. shocked – every emotion I have in me just crashes down and I feel giddy with the intensity of it all.” I manage to get out before I completely give the game away. I can‟t explain why. My legs just gave way as if they simply could not hold me up any more. “What‟s happened?” “You think I know?” I ask. My little sister is getting married. concerned. I can‟t get up. “Of course.

“Right!” I shout.. got thrown out when we started to sing rude songs and staggered back to my place.” “Okay sis‟ – lead the way!” and with that remark we went to the pub. but she took it in her stride. my lips part and my teeth are showing.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked up at her and felt tell me exactly what is expected of a „best woman‟…. “Okay! Okay!” I say. She is not my little sister any more. for not thinking of how happy she must be feeling. How can I possibly tell her? Whatever she was expecting it was not this. I quickly turn and give her a sly look. I playfully punch her on the arm. My little sister is getting married. not me. As I go to get my coat. totally alone. “You make us all laugh with a funny speech and then you get drunk and try to shag the „best man‟!” My moment of despair is over as quickly as it started. I feel like taking a dagger and stabbing myself for not thinking of her. “I think I can manage that. “down the pub we go. How can I feel like this? I bury my head in my hands as more tears emerge. talk dirty and then……. not being able to feel the excitement she feels. but she is the mature one.” “That‟s simple!” she says without a moment‟s hesitation. A few seconds later. get smashed. We flopped on my bed in fits of giggles. and yet I feel totally hollow inside. When I hear her wicked suggestion the grin returns to my face. totally useless. It pains me to say it. my confidence returning. totally old. But the truth is that my little sister‟s announcement makes me realise that I have not grown up yet. This should be one the happiest moments in our life. She is my big sister. drank all evening. .

“Do you want to hear something funny? Do you want to know what I thought?” “Thought about what?” Carole asks. “ you…. “Do you want to hear something funny?” she retorts busting her sides and unable to contain her hilarity.” I laugh...Friends or Lovers “Do…. come on! Spill it to sis‟” I tell her. No. “It‟s due in November and her name is going to be Penny Anne – after you and mum!” . Carole dissolves into fits of giggles and starts kicking her feet in the air. No!” I exclaim. Be serious!” I demand as we lie there trying not to giggle. “Thought your „big news‟ was going to be…. “Stop a moment. “Yeah.” Laced with liquor. “I do!” she shouts hysterically.” “Tell me!” she asks. “I am!” she says. my words just will not come out properly. “I thought you were going to say that you were pregnant again.

We had a disciplinary meeting this morning but Mike‟s not turned up for work. “Hang on a minute. Nathan phoned in sick. but I thanked her and spent a few moments considering what to do next. I left a message asking him to call me. Can you get him to call me?” “Sure. Can I help you?” “Hello.” The tone in her voice was strange.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 22 My plans for Elona were thwarted the next morning.” There was a long pause and in the distance I thought I could hear some voices.” I answered. “Leamington 397333. We‟ll have to rearrange. I called Mike‟s department and his colleague said that he had also not arrived at work yet. Can I take a message?” I thought for a moment because the issue was sensitive. “Can I ask who is calling?” “My name is Penny – I‟m the Head of Personnel at IC. Eventually. I think he‟s already gone. “Hello?” she said. “if I see him before you do. “He‟s already gone to work. “I‟m still here. I . I had a full schedule until the end of the following week. almost mocking.” she said. Next I called Mike‟s home number and a woman replied. I switched on my PC and opened the personnel database system and searched for their details.” I replied. Is Mike there?” I asked. “It‟s nothing really. the woman returned to the phone. I called Nathan first and heard an answer phone message. I‟ll see if he‟s still here.

Just to let you know that I’ll be arriving in Leamington about 10. Penny xx I read over the message again. and I felt my emotions stir a bit when I read his greeting. Phil agreed to inform all the parties concerned. I retrieved my e-mails and my mood improved when I received a note. Hi sexy. Hi John. Will it damage your street cred if you are seen out on the town with an oldie like me? I was glad that his sense of humour had returned. I checked my diary and found that I had to go to an evening event with Dave – a launch event for a new product. naughty. We found a slot free at 3pm the following Wednesday week – I would meet them after I‟d had lunch with John. I’d love to be seen with you. Was I being too flirty? Hell. I’m stopping overnight with friends so we could either have our meeting late morning or make an evening of it. I’ll save the silky black dress for another occasion (!!) you’ll just have to admire my power suit instead.30am. I was to chaperone the young entrepreneur who would be speaking while Dave was acting as host. Still trying to corrupt my sweet innocence? Naughty. I called Phil into my office and asked him to check later that day whether Nathan or Mike made it into work. if you prefer. this was John and “flirt” was his middle name so I hit the [Send] .Friends or Lovers really wanted this resolved now and did not want it to drag on. but it will have to be in the morning as we arranged – although a lazy lunch is possible. With a tinge of regret I declined John‟s offer of an evening meal.

The evening event had two guest speakers . It would run on 30th June and covered the latest legislative changes in our field. He found an afternoon event with an optional evening dinner. Do you know of any CIPD events coming up that we could attend to catch up on the latest issues? Dave I confirmed that I could meet him and asked Phil to call the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development to find out any events that would be running in Birmingham in the near future.30pm at Bella Marie? John xx I loved flirting with him. Meet you at 12. Are you able to meet me in the morning so that I can try out my presentation on you? Also. Fewer than five minutes had passed before I received his response. The issues with Nathan and Mike slipped from my mind as I contemplated the prospect of spending more time with John. We can compare power suits. Lazy lunch it is. I confirmed the time and place of our next lunch date and allowed myself a few minutes to bask in the warmth of feeling attractive and desirable. If my meeting goes well in the afternoon then I’ll be in Leamington quite a lot over the next 2 months and you can impress me with your silky attire .Rory Ridley-Duff button without further ado. Both you and I need to consider this before our appraisal in July. Just finalising stuff for Wednesday. just been going through some Professional Development stuff. I finished going through my emails and the last one was from Dave about the evening event. Subject: Launch Event Pen. He still had a way of making me feel special. Penny.

Given what was going on. For those attending the evening event. there was an option to stay overnight in the hotel. I thought Dave would enjoy the first talk so I asked Phil to liase with him and book the overnight option for both of us. the second of these really caught my attention. .Friends or Lovers scheduled – one giving a talk on entrepreneurial behaviour and the other called “Intimacy at Work”. Thankfully the day ended without further incident.

Around 9am. “could you get that for me?” He picked up the receiver and redirected the call to his own phone. Phil.” “Well he doesn‟t sound very friendly to me. He insists he must talk to you. “He‟s a friend. A few moments later I could hear him conversing in a slightly agitated way. . Can you……?” It sounded as though someone was not letting him get a word in edgeways. John. “Wednesday. “And a „good morning‟ to you too.” I shouted.she‟s busy at the moment. “Hi. “Please hang on a moment. “I‟m afraid she‟s……no she‟s….Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 23 On the Monday morning.” I say. He may be bold by e-mail but he rarely initiated phone conversations. I got into work early and resumed work on the contracts for Dave. I picked up the receiver. sir! I‟ll see if I can find her. “It‟s okay.” Phil said as he diverted the call to my phone. “It‟s a man for you. the phone rang. “Who is it?” I asked out loud. Is everything okay?” I asked. I mouthed to him „who is it?‟ but he shrugged his shoulders to indicate that he didn‟t know. John!” I pointed out.. Called John.” I smiled because it was unusual for him to call me. Can you meet any earlier?” he asked without seeming to pause for breath. “Phil.” and with these words he pulled the handset from his ear and gave it a harsh look.

“What is this all about?” “Can‟t say. he rang off. “Well. “It‟s better to talk in person. I‟ll see you at 11. I‟ll tell you Wednesday. “Why not? The heavens haven‟t fallen down over the weekend have they? My sister‟s wedding hasn‟t suddenly been cancelled. But . trying to slow him down. Can you meet any earlier on Wednesday?” he repeated. “Can‟t say. He did not answer my question about his wife and I wondered whether something might have happened between them.” With that last comment. has it?” He completely ignored this piece of news and carried on.30 if that helps. We need to talk.30.” he repeated.” “Yes. I‟ll meet you at 11. That‟s good. It was unlike John to sound so agitated.30 – we can talk over a coffee before lunch.” “John? Has something happened to you?” I could feel concern creeping into my being.” “Your wife?” “Penny. not on the phone. Try not to worry. Okay. Whenever anybody says “try not to worry” it is sure to make you worry even more. a bit – I could bring it forward to 11.Friends or Lovers “Sorry Penny! „Good morning‟ to you. Penny.” “That sounds fairly ominous! What do „we need to talk‟ about?” I said in an attempt to mock him slightly and lighten the mood. not on the phone. “No! Not me.” “Hang on. I don‟t want to talk on the phone. hang on!” I say. Penny.

Rory Ridley-Duff then I remembered that he said it was nothing to do with him. if you ask me. “That‟s what I love about him. He‟s a pushy guy alright. What then? “Did he say anything to you?” I asked Phil. “About what?” “Did he say what he wanted to talk about?” “No. He was just very insistent that he talk to you immediately. Very pushy guy. “Yeah.” In my head I added a few extra words that Phil did not hear.” .” I thought for a moment.

but I responded with more confidence than I felt. “Yeeaah!” he finally said slowly. “Do you remember I said my wife was ill? I vaguely recollected him saying something. Dave. “Come on. we agreed a few minor changes for his afternoon meeting. We don‟t do many major product launches so Dave was putting in extra effort. If there‟s something. Dave is rarely hesitant. His belief in this entrepreneur and his innovations was high so he was making a career gamble by investing in a lavish public relations event.” I was beginning to get used to the idea that I was going to be an aunty twice over. “Well. “Do you have to rush off?” he asked. He ran through the section again until I gave him a thumbs up and we continued this process until late morning. come on then.Friends or Lovers Chapter 24 I took the contracts around to Dave‟s office and he ran through his presentation. “Of course! Is she not better?” Dave did not show any emotion. Something on your mind?” I enquired. “No. you can tell me!” . I took notes and stopped him after each section to give him feedback. He licked his lips and I could tell that he was slightly nervous so I walked up to him and touched his arm. After working through the contracts. It was almost like he was a blank. Tell aunty Penny…. looking straight into my eyes in a way that I‟d never seen before. and for him to pause for any length of time before giving an answer was quite strange.

and in the evening when I was on my own I felt acutely . It‟s advanced. He turned slowly and left the room. “Family? Have you told them?” “I‟ll do that later today.” I‟d worked with Dave for 10 months and this was by far the most human moment that we had shared.” I put his head on my shoulder and my arms around him. I took her into hospital this weekend because her headaches were so painful that she could not sleep. He didn‟t say anything either. There was fear in them. I was sad for the rest of the day. Dave had a lot of energy but deep down he was a gentle soul. he spoke. As I held him I could feel his heart breaking and the gentle movement of someone crying. and she‟s been back and forth to the doctor. He licked his lips again. just tilted his head until it rested on my hand and closed his eyes. We stood there for many minutes before he slowly pulled away and without looking at me said “thank you”.Rory Ridley-Duff He looked into my eyes again. She‟s not been well for a while. Finally. Sometimes you work with a person for a while and simply do not realise the bonds that are forming. I had never seen him like this before. He was in pain and I let go of his arms and put my hand on his cheek and stroked it. Come here. I held his left arm in my right hand and then placed my left hand on his shoulder. You‟re the first person I‟ve told. “She‟s dying!” This news had a deep and lasting impact on me. They don‟t think she‟ll survive more than a few months. “Oh Dave! I‟m so sorry. “Have you told anyone?” “No. They‟ve done a scan and found a tumour.

Deep down a pain formed inside me that actually hurt. I found myself struggling to get to sleep as the silent anger I felt kept me awake.I decided he needed a friend. I had not realised I cared about him and it came as a surprise. He was a bit older than me. As I lay there . my moment to face someone else‟s pain and not shrink from the thankless task of helping him through it. He needed someone to care about him. My friend Dave should not have to bear this so young.Friends or Lovers distressed.thinking of him sitting with his wife at the hospital . It was unnatural. . but not by much. It was my time. There was no God if this could happen. cruel and so unfair.

I had no idea what was in store for me. In the afternoon. “Got the launch event tonight and have no time to go home. He was a good-looking lad. Is there any background information you can bring on that personnel problem you have got? May help us find out what is going on. I looked at him with new eyes. but for a moment I looked at him in a lustful way.” I said. I had taken extra care getting dressed because I wanted to look good for my lunch date with John. When Phil saw me. See you soon. I thought. In the evening was Dave‟s product launch. John . “That‟s very sweet of you. he raised his eyebrows. Hi Penny. “That young entrepreneur will think he‟s died and gone to heaven!” For Phil to pay me a compliment was so unexpected that I actually stopped in my tracks. but with a small shuffle of his feet and with his eyes slightly lowered. as if he had said more than he meant to. I was due to meet Mike and Nathan for a showdown. a few words came out. “You‟re welcome. I strode into work feeling smart and confident. too young for me.” I lied. smiling. But it was a good lie.” he said sheepishly. I was surprised at how flattered I felt. He looked a little embarrassed. I got myself a cup of coffee and went through my e-mails. “Doing something special today?” he asked.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 25 When Wednesday came.

it would be different. The other e-mails were either trivial or junk. his voice confidently outlined the magnificent benefits of tomorrow‟s personal health gadgetry. but I responded by saying that the Data Protection Act prevented me sharing confidential records.” “Are you sure? Are you really sure?” he hurriedly asked. By the time I‟d waded through them. I took Phil with me. complete with visuals and sound. “You don‟t think that final video is slightly overlong or overdone?” I put my hand on his arm and reassured him. That would be lovely.Friends or Lovers Even if I had wanted to. After the speeches.” I reassured him. I look forward to it. As he stood there in a new suit and tie. A swift response winged its way back through the IT network. there was an e-mail from Dave. hair cut and groomed. “You‟ll go down a treat. I just don’t feel like a big social evening afterwards. Thanks for booking the CIPD thing. We would have to discuss the issues as a series of hypothetical situations. The information was confidential. the time for Dave‟s presentation approached. Dave. and we both settled into the company‟s small lecture theatre. I couldn‟t take anything with me. He was impressive and looked cute. a reward for his earlier flattery. would you like a drink? Not the most difficult executive decision I have ever had to make. Next. If I hired him. It was quite a showpiece. . Subject: CIPD Pen. “The preparation was worth it. I thought he cut a fine figure.

“See you tonight when the madness has died down. * * * John was slightly late. I felt. He intended to use the money to support his writing for several months.” This was going to be a very long day. The banter I expected didn‟t materialise so I probed him to see if anything was up. When we chatted on the phone yesterday. “Thanks. he took this as a big compliment. . he said that this was one of the best contracts he had been offered and it would bring him about £30k for little more than a month‟s work. We arrived at Bella Marie around 11. ordered drinks and looked at the menu.50 and settled down for lunch. I thought. His behaviour was different as well and I initially attributed this to his meeting in the afternoon. He was dressed in a dark deep blue suit.” He just beamed. but it was Dave who gave them charm and wit. but much less spin. “Nervous about this afternoon?” I asked.Rory Ridley-Duff “Slicker than a New Labour political broadcast. It was the first time I‟d seen him wear a tie.” he said. He was pleased to see me but carried a grave look that I‟d not seen before. As he was a dedicated New Labour supporter. even though I didn‟t intend it that way. Pen. He was well groomed and I quickly realised that I preferred him in casual attire. He would be nervous. John „the businessman‟ just didn‟t seem quite right. The materials were fine. We settled down at the table.

however. he‟s good at his job. “You look the part.” he requested. married.Friends or Lovers “A bit. “Our hypothetical Mike!” I answered. We had quite a row last week. “He‟s one of our sales staff.” If it was not his interview then why was his behaviour so different? I was puzzled and tried a bit of flattery. Not too bad. There are others to convince. I started to feel that something had changed between us but was at a loss to understand why. “Tell me about Mike…. I find him a bit „old school‟.” I looked at him directly as I said this. but his gaze remained firmly on the menu. As he settled back in his chair. Sometimes he gives me the creeps. I can see that he‟s good looking. slightly relieved. so I thought I‟d dress the part. I feel he looks down on me sometimes. No point beating about the bush. You said we had to talk. but he averted his eyes quickly. and women would fall for him. He called me a „stupid woman‟. I know the person contracting the work. 50-ish. personable and popular.” John intervened at that point. “Not sure why? Can you expand on that?” “Well. He momentarily looked up and tried to smile. but I‟m not sure why. I called him a sexist pig!” . What‟s on your mind?” He looked up. My boss Dave is suspicious of him. Very smart – you‟ll knock them dead. you know. patronizing. “John. his gaze started to focus on me properly. We‟ve worked together several times so I think today‟s a formality. John nodded and set himself in a listening pose.

There was one lad in particular that seemed to take a fancy. Mike.” . I moved him to a new position. women mostly. He took some of his staff with him. Now he‟s implied she might have been pursuing the young man. I asked my assistant to keep his ear to the ground. “My instinct tells me that the lads went too far. I intend to crack some heads. and I thought that‟d be the end of it. The young lad won‟t co-operate. however. “Someone complained that he was hassling a colleague for a drink. The young woman won‟t say what happened. He made a pass and she rejected him. There‟s a meeting this afternoon.” “So what‟s changed?” John asked. he invited her for a drink and perhaps she misunderstood – or maybe he was making his own play she got upset again and now she won‟t talk.Rory Ridley-Duff John nodded. encouraging me to continue. She lives at home. But I know her. because he‟s got a reputation as a womaniser. It looked open and shut initially. I don‟t buy his story. She‟s engaged to be married. they got close. He has a history. That‟s where the stories conflict. and one in particular got quite keen.” John nodded. He gave her support. “What do you think?” he asked. my boss wanted me to find out more. says the young woman confided in him but he won‟t talk unless she consents. either. She was sufficiently upset to confide in her boss. looking very thoughtful. and his demeanour was attentive and serious. their former boss. not the other way around. He found that men in the department had been flirting with her. “Well. The boss is pissed off with everyone because he got landed with the blame for a situation not originally of his own making.

You use the information as you see fit. Explain!” I commanded. fairly pretty. but he sees her flirting with a whole group of lads. I had never seen him this intense and studious before. She confides in her boss. a bit embarrassed. and has a job as administrator to a department that has quite a few young men. I could be called as a witness to a tribunal. Penny. I was not looking for another interpretation. but I nodded to indicate he should carry on. but likes one of them. Elena is not put off and actually starts to single out Nath himself.” . But then he realises that her boyfriend is an old school friend. If things go badly. So he backs off. She‟s inexperienced with men. Regardless. if I tell you the source of my information then I‟ll be involved and could be dragged into the process. I was slightly taken aback. She starts to receive more sexual attention.Friends or Lovers John kept nodding. He backs off some more. Let‟s call him Nath. “Penny. right?” This was too coincidental. “Okay. “The young woman – tell you what. Nath thinks she‟s a bit of alright and joins in the flirting at first. “Where are you getting these names from?” “This is a hypothetical example. We‟ll call her boss Mick. Let me pretend this is a hypothetical case. shall we?” “Hold on!” I said. His mate is crazy about Elena. Okay. shall we?” “You know these people. “Shall I try another interpretation for you?” he asked. I want to help. wants to marry her. let‟s call her Elena – she‟s quiet. “Err. In her previous job she worked with women so this is a change for her.” I said hesitantly. She‟s confused. John started to talk.

Pin-pricks shuddered all the way through me. I nodded.” It was my turn to start nodding. He continued the story. the waitress brought the drinks and asked for our order. Once he helped a work colleague suffering abuse. He‟d risked his own marriage to get her out. Luckily. John knew Mike. He storms around and tells her the wedding is off. I could feel the shock rise through me as I realised where all this was coming from. Nath then tells his old school friend that Elena came onto him and was flirting with all her work colleagues. completely bewildered. He put her up at his home until she found a new home. Her parents are furious.Mick?” I asked. . Her boyfriend reacts badly. Mick listens to Elena and realises she‟s in a difficult situation. “Mick‟s known for his kindness.Rory Ridley-Duff I was angry. Every day she goes home they argue with her and tell her she‟s ruined everything. He‟s been known to intervene personally sometimes and help people out when their personal lives are troubled. I struggled to keep my emotions in check. He never asked.” As these words came out. It never seemed relevant. She becomes desperate to leave home. When I felt in control again. Having recovered my composure. I asked John questions. “What happened to…. I did not know where he was getting this information but suddenly things started to make more sense. I‟d never told John exactly where I worked. “D‟you want me to continue?” he asked. I reeled. He seemed to have more information than I did. For a moment. “Her boss has a reputation for being sympathetic to his staff.

but could not let her move into his house or give her any money. She won‟t calm down so Mick tries to persuade her to leave the building and continue the conversation at a local pub for a drink.” I felt I knew where the story was heading and my sense of dread started to increase. Mick‟s wife felt betrayed. My head dropped and my eyes fixed on the table as John continued talking. Either the work colleague leaves or the marriage is over. she finally relented and let him go back home. however. They became extremely close but were never lovers. “Elena wanted Mick to let her have his spare room. In a rage. She kicked him out. but later his wife learned that he‟d given money to buy furniture. on the condition that he be allowed to help her find a place to live.Mick…. but he refuses. Nath tells her to „piss off‟. she goes around to Nath‟s house and tells him what he‟s done.Friends or Lovers “The situation got so bad that Mick‟s wife gave him an ultimatum. She resists so he takes hold of her by the arm and makes her leave. She tries again to persuade Mick to take her in. Mick agreed. There was a condition. Mick was sympathetic. Elena told him private details about her life and now felt abandoned. Someone walking past stops to watch and immediately reports the scene to their manager. He hoped that would be the end. that he never bring another woman into their home. said that he would help her. After a few months of Mick calling his wife every day. Mick gave in.” .moved into a flat with his work colleague. not with Nath. but with Mick and shouts at him for not helping her. With nowhere else to go…. She goes into work the next day and is angry.. Elena was angry because she‟d heard how Mick had helped someone else.

I did not speak for several minutes. “There is another hypothetical character. However. “Mick. I thought. Are you ready?” “I need a stiff drink now!” I said trying to lighten the mood but John‟s face was implacable.” No prizes for guessing who the „friend‟ is. “What a total fucking mess!” John was silent so I looked up at him feeling completely at a loss. His wife‟s curiosity is fired and she relentlessly asks questions until Mick tells her the whole story. a clear case of sex . “She threw him out again. She feels the problem lies with the way Pen handled the original complaint. let‟s call her Pen. So. “She did what?” I said.” At the mention of this name. “He‟s been to a solicitor. did not tell his wife why he had recently changed job.” “Worse? How could it get worse?” “You may want a stiff drink. another shock wave went through me and I became rigid with fear. There was more to come and I had to hear it. “It gets worse. one day.” said John. Pen calls his house announcing herself as the Head of Human Resources and that Mick should be in a disciplinary meeting.Rory Ridley-Duff My head just hung there as I looked down at the table.” I said. in some ways I‟m relieved. because of the past.” “Well. that the new job was a promotion rather than a convenient solution to an accusation of sexual harassment. “Why the hell did she do that?” “At the moment he‟s staying at a hotel with a friend. he told a half-truth. Penny. He was concerned that his wife would pre-judge the situation and end the marriage.

“He and his solicitor have checked the employment contract. “Why are you telling me?” I asked in a slightly accusing way. At least. My head was spinning while I tried to work out what to do.” My body froze a second time.” I felt attacked from all sides and my defences started to bristle. . “How noble of you!” I retorted. that is the story he will stick to if challenged. Could I really have got everything so wrong? “Well. Suddenly. She‟s been a friend since his university days. “Because I couldn‟t let you go into your meeting later today completely unprepared. “It is.Friends or Lovers discrimination and failure to observe natural justice principles now enshrined in law.” “Is that true?” I ask. “Fucking mess was about right. There‟s nothing to say whether the friend must be a work colleague or not. that‟s one way of looking at things. “Penny!” John exclaimed. I lost my appetite.” I commented sardonically.” “He can‟t do that!” I interject. It says he can bring a friend if there is a disciplinary hearing. and my eyes dropped as I let John finish. I did not know how to feel.” I was silent. Penny!” said John. “Today he‟s going to bring his solicitor. The solicitor takes the view that Pen has not fulfilled her duty of care to all the parties concerned. I think. There is also the issue of the call to his home. The solicitor is coming as a friend.

I needed to talk to the legal department of the company before the meeting. or knew I‟m telling you this. This could be the end of my career. this is all too much. “Don‟t be like that. I care about you. just give a professional opinion. I‟m trying to help.” “Why on earth would he do that? This is nothing to do with you. If he did. you are just telling one side of the story. He‟ll ask for my help and I will give it to him. I act as an expert witness at tribunals.” I was getting more and more defensive and angry.Rory Ridley-Duff “M….” “Yes. What was I to do? “Where did that come from?” he demanded.” “Penny. This is serious. “Just let me think a moment.Mick…. He led my scouts group when I was a kid.” “I try not to take sides.” I snapped. I‟ve not known a kinder more honest man in my entire life. This is serious. this is my field. Panic overwhelmed me. but this could come between us if Mike asks me to testify.” “You what? You‟re saying you might testify against me?” “Penny! He‟s been a friend all my life. I don‟t want to lose your friendship.has been a life-long friend of mine. he might terminate our friendship.” “How? Why? You know nothing about this case. He‟s been like a father to me. It‟s going to come down on my fucking head not yours.” “So it‟s all lads altogether is it?” I didn‟t know where these words were coming from. He doesn‟t know that I know you. but part of me sensed that I had to get out of the restaurant and find Dave.” . really. “Penny.

” “I don‟t know if I can do that. “If you don‟t.” “Another way? Is there another way? You said he‟ll have a solicitor with him this afternoon…. You have to mediate.Friends or Lovers “You are going to testify against me. Once you talk to . Amuse me. this is going to end up in a court of law.” I said weakly.” “Well.” “No! You mustn‟t do that.” he shouted. You – and the company – will be completely exposed. I‟m fresh out of ideas. lots of notes. hoping somehow I would disappear down a hole in the ground and this would all go away. they‟ll call your insurers and the insurers will instruct you to have no further contact. If you contact Mike after talking to your insurers. You‟ll have to grab it with both hands this afternoon. “The moment you talk to them.” “I‟ll have to involve the company lawyers…. Do whatever you have to do to get the company to offer mediation to all the parties involved. Make notes. but acknowledge the points of view of the other parties. Don‟t admit liability. the insurers will not cover your employer for any losses. “You must listen this afternoon. Listen to the story the way it is told by the other parties. aren‟t you?” “Not if we can find another way..” I wished that I could stop myself being sarcastic and argumentative but I was shaking from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. Don‟t say anything. just listen. just existing from second to second. At the moment I was not in control.. I felt like I was being driven by something outside myself. Help him with his domestic situation until the mediation is complete.” “There is a way out.

. “Once a formal process starts it‟s almost impossible to stop. why should I take your advice? I hardly know you. “What if you can get Mike and his wife back together?” The pretence that we were talking about hypothetical characters had completely vanished. John.” I wanted to talk to Dave. but what then? What of your future career?” “Oh God! I don‟t know!” Privately. “Penny. John was not put off and continued his attempts to persuade me. For all I knew. Do you think you get to my position and not know stuff like that?” I resented him treating me like an idiot.Rory Ridley-Duff your legal team it will be out of your hands and will go to court. You are personally at risk from prosecution. “What if you can mediate?” he insisted. Do you appreciate that. John?” My fiery response took him back a bit and he regrouped.” He looked hurt at my words but composed himself. Not Mike. There was little chance I would survive after such a misjudgement. I had to protect the company‟s interests. then I could lose my job as well. This was as real as it gets. John was doing this to save Mike. “Penny. Anyway. to protect him. I did. “There are risks. Please.” “I can‟t handle this. This is too big for me. Not John. please listen. But do you think they‟ll protect you? They might get you through the court case.” “I bloody know that. My responsibility was to the company. “And if I don’t tell the legal team.” he said firmly.

We assume men pursue women. “We can only see what we look for. How could you know?” Indeed. but I picked at it intermittently. We‟re close.” he said in a slightly frosty way. I can‟t keep this from him. I don‟t think he‟ll like this. how could I know? There was so much that I‟d not been told. In any other circumstances it would have looked beautiful and tasted delicious. “What?” he reacted. . and that women spend most of their time resisting men. I wasn‟t blind to this!” I said with some irritation. “And you‟re the big shot who thinks he knows?” I said sarcastically. I looked at the meal in front of me. At the very least. It‟s a kind of blindness.” The waitress brought our food and asked if we‟d like any more drinks.Friends or Lovers “I can‟t authorise that on my own. “I mean that you were looking at the situation the way the vast majority of people look at such situations. I felt sick. sensing immediately he had irked me. I can run it past him. “I‟m sorry for getting angry.” “Would he help?” “I couldn‟t do this without him.” “Don‟t stereotype me. It sounded like he was criticising my judgement.” I said.” “Would he help?” “I see him later tonight. “No more than anyone else. John continued.” he said. “It‟s okay. “What do you mean?” I asked sharply. I‟d need Dave‟s support.

“Bugger off!” was all I could say. You are so fucking pompous!” He smiled. “Sorry. try divorcing one!‟” “John. I remembered Mike saying something similar during our earlier argument. It‟s a common problem. I didn‟t mean to sound critical.” I simmered for a few minutes and ate my food. I‟m sure you are very knowledgeable.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m sorry.” he said. He laughed again and I found that I could not sustain my anger with him.” “Stop talking like a fucking academic…” I wished I could stop myself behaving in such an angry way. I started to realise that I was being deeply unfair to him.” he laughed. “You know that. “Who is protecting the men.” I looked at him coolly.” I said with as much conviction as I could muster. but it just kept pouring out of me. “Women aren‟t weak. . “Good!” I added. John ventured a question. “You are not the first person to say that. “As one of my friends told me a few years ago „if you think women are weak. “But this is my field!” he responded. I looked at him. I nodded. Unless you understand that both men and women are initiating and responding in different ways it is easy to presume the man is doing all the initiating and is always to blame. Penny?” “What?” I responded. “Sorry. “Equality means protecting both sexes.” he said looking me firmly in the eye. As the remorse grew.

Hearing this story from Mike. I guess John must have felt the same way. and then deciding to tell me over lunch. I considered what an ordeal this must have been for him. about nothing in particular. I acknowledged what he was saying but said that I still didn‟t see how I could avoid discussing this internally. As I left the restaurant. “Shall we enjoy the rest of our meal?” I continued. or cry off the lunch date and avoid me. Parting turned out to be quite difficult. Touching says everything that needs to be said. How was I going to protect myself while finding a way to resolve the situation? We said our goodbyes outside the restaurant and agreed to call each other the following evening. I had to protect myself. Neither of us wanted to walk away. We chatted away. he reiterated that the situation could go pear shaped if the legal teams got involved. he said “come here” and guided by an external force I stepped forward and fell into his arms. I was not going to waste either a moment longer. We stood there chatting for a bit then going silent then chatting some more. . He hugged me for a whole minute and I just clung on for as long as I could. it was this last point that occupied my mind. not just the other parties. As we departed. Sometimes words are so inadequate and unnecessary. Eventually. his own smile broadened and I realised how tense he had been throughout.Friends or Lovers Right now I had a plateful of food and an attractive man sitting opposite. and for the first time I saw him more as a friend than a potential lover. I saw real concern in his eyes. offering a conciliatory smile. must have been difficult for him. It would have been much easier for ignore it. As his body relaxed. When he saw this. for the next hour.

Nobody would talk. Another thing that consumed me was how I felt about myself. . And yet. How could I have known? So. I was ashamed. I decided to follow some of John‟s advice. “Can you close the door?” I asked. “I need to discuss things with you before we go into the meeting. Others could see I was troubled and avoided me.” At this suggestion. In the end. and he duly obliged. * * * “Hi Phil.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 26 By the time I returned to work all my doubts and dilemmas had returned. Another part of me wanted to find Dave and have a heart to heart but he was preoccupied with the product launch. and my invitation to discuss things did nothing to reduce his unease. but John‟s caution made me pause – at least for now. I thought about visiting the legal department to spill all this out. “Come into my office for a chat. how could I have known? Was I being too hard on myself? Nobody would explain. even John – these all beat a path to my door. Elona‟s distress. I hatched a plan. Mike and his wife.” I said as I returned to my office. If I had got things completely wrong then I was responsible for a great deal of misery. his apprehension seemed to progress to outright fear but he obediently followed me.” He looked as apprehensive as I felt. I sat there both angry at myself and at others. and that of Nathan. I felt so torn about what to do that I went to the staff canteen for another coffee.

. however. When I returned. or considered this question.. “What if he‟s right?” At this suggestion. I wondered whether I should have solicited his opinion more quickly. “If he is right. suddenly surfaced and started to gesture strongly. I took a deep breath and made a start. Phil was my first port of call for a good reason. both of which had been in his lap. but his eyes remained fixed and expressionless. It makes more sense.” I let the words linger for a moment.. he was more relaxed. so I gave him a few moments by leaving the room to make coffee.” He was moving in the right direction.” The idea that Phil has worked out the situation without help came as both a relief and a surprise. His hands. but a little more caution was called for.” I answered. “……how are we going to approach this meeting?” As I asked this question.. Phil‟s lips parted and his rigid body began to move and come alive. Everything about his body screamed “Thank God!” His words. Then listen and listen and listen…. “I‟ve been thinking a lot about Mike‟s outburst. were cautious. Clearly he had not expected this. Phil‟s moment of relief ended and his face became thoughtful again.” I paused for a moment to see if Phil would say anything. “I agree with you on the „listen and listen and listen‟. “Any ideas?” I asked as I walked in the door.Friends or Lovers I had gathered my thoughts and knew how I wanted to play this. “That thought had occurred to me too. Phil…. “I think we need to admit that maybe we got it wrong.

I completed the act of seduction. I appreciate you. When Phil got up and made to leave the room. and just keep insisting that we‟ll do everything we can to mediate a solution. We‟ll do as you suggest. His eyes left mine and looked down at the table for a few seconds. He broke into a smile and nodded. I offered my opinion. This afternoon is about buying time. I want you to bring a notebook and take lots of notes. Okay?” I could see from Phil‟s reaction that his ego felt well and truly massaged. I smiled back at him – a big smile showing my teeth. “Of course. “Okay. and then waited until his eyes were again looking into mine. I looked him straight in the eye as I answered him. “You‟re a good lad. “Phil?” I asked. if we admit that we „got it wrong‟ both you and I could be for the high jump if this ever goes to court……” I had his attention now and a look of horror spread across his face.” he said. listen to what they have to say. We‟ll keep our mouths shut.Rory Ridley-Duff After waiting for a moment to see whether he might say anything else. When he looked up again. We‟ll say that we want to look at the whole thing again. “Then I guess admitting we got it wrong is out of the question. “We‟ll make a manager out of you yet!” Without letting my eyes wander even for an instant I took the lead. at least until I‟ve talked to Dave and Legal. Phil. I looked away from him to give the impression the meeting was over.” . with just a hint of a smile. there was a definite sense of conviction as he spoke.

I smiled back. . I caught a trace of redness in his cheeks.Friends or Lovers I did not look away and his eyes remained on mine until he could hold the gaze no longer. I have to admit that sometimes it is great fun being a woman. He turned to go. but when he reached the door he glanced over his shoulder and smiled at me again. started to walk.

I expressed surprise and shock at what I was hearing. I have to say that Mike was proving a lot smarter than I‟d expected. she had looked calm and confident. a married woman giving a single woman a hard time in the witness box would not be pleasant. I found myself developing a grudging respect for him. I opened the meeting and stressed that we would be as cooperative as possible. Phil looked up and smiled.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 27 I feigned surprise when I met Mike‟s solicitor and was as pleasant as possible. If we were to meet again in a court room or industrial tribunal. Mike initially looked as if he was ready for a battle. If his solicitor had been a man. Phil made copious notes as the story unfolded more or less exactly as John said it would. At the start of the meeting. I noticed that her look changed from one of confidence to one of . At certain points in the narrative. First Nathan. prompted. At the mention of his name. With each reaction. still beaming from our earlier encounter. then Mike. but my opening gamble paid off and took the wind out of his sails. gave their accounts while I nodded. To my surprise. I promised myself that I would get to know him better. No conclusions had been reached. If we made it through this conflict. enquired and encouraged. I might have peppered my pleasantness with a brusque manner. I introduced Phil as my assistant and said that he had expressed a view that we should listen to Mike and Nathan. Every few minutes I glanced at Mike‟s solicitor friend to see how this was playing with her. Phil followed my lead and we successfully communicated the seriousness of what had taken place.

“There are two flats rented by the company to accommodate sales managers who commute here from time to time. She was trying to work out how the meeting could be going so well for her client. “What would be helpful is if you could work out with Mike the amount of wages he has lost. “Mike‟s got issues over lost pay. and a problem with his housing situation……” “We can help with that. At this suggestion.” I answered.” I answered. She was not expecting this. One of them is free at the moment and I can arrange for Mike to use it until he can make alternative arrangements. Penny. Sometimes she would look at Mike and tilt her head to one side. I didn‟t like her using my first name but I let it pass. “That‟s good of you.Friends or Lovers puzzlement.” she said. I cannot guarantee that we will . “My pleasure. David Stockton.” I answered. I meet him later tonight. “How?” I was growing in confidence and put the final piece of my plan into place. I offered to get Phil to type them up and send Mike‟s to her for checking. With surprise on her face she uttered a question. I‟ll have to clear any changes with my director.” “Who will pay?” she asked. she started to engage me. “The company will pay. after taking both Mike‟s and Nathan‟s statements. My comment stopped her in her tracks.” I paused for a second before I asked the next question to ensure it had maximum impact. At the end. “And what about the loss of pay since changing his job?” “On pay.

he‟d looked worried and pensive.Rory Ridley-Duff meet it in full. I detected a smile on his face. then you‟ll have my response tomorrow. If we don‟t. but I‟m sure it will be sufficient for him to treat you to dinner. We‟ll do that now. “Yes?” I answered. “just to see whether I need to involve Legal. After a few moments.” Mike smiled at me – the first time I had seen him do so – and I have to admit that his face was handsome. They looked at each other for a moment and I noticed that she nodded her head at him.” Mike looked at me. “Penny?” he asked. “I underestimated you.” He chuckled again as he looked at Phil. Thank you. I would have been happy to see someone kick him hard in the balls. “I‟ll check with Dave tonight. “Women! I have no idea why you go around letting men think they are in charge. “Yes. I‟ll deliver it by hand. if necessary. but as it turned out a mutual respect was born. he gave a short chuckle.” He looked me strongly in the eyes.” At the start of the day. but now I saw him in a moment of happiness. I was taken aback at just how attractive he looked.” I said. I‟d hoped to stall things long enough to consult with Dave but we‟d gone almost as far as resolving the . then at me again. Mike can confirm it in writing. then at her. I looked at them both. Could you do that?” As I asked this question. “I underestimated you as well. Thank you. In all our previous meetings. then me again.

The moment of exhilaration passed and I finally understood why he had such a good reputation as a salesman.” I tried to return his look but found that I could not as I felt a rush of adrenalin rip through me. “I can now see why Dave hired you. he was also extraordinarily sexy. . He beat me at my own game. As Mike turned to leave the room. he fixed me one last time with his handsome face.Friends or Lovers whole thing. when he felt at ease. Not only did he have integrity and courage but.

It made me wonder why Dave harboured hostility towards him. now I was experiencing him up close. It‟s hard to force niceness and that was exactly what I had been doing for most of the last two hours. A curious look came over his face. “That is sweet of you. Mike. “Thank you. with a look that communicated not just my appreciation. It was time to cool Phil‟s ardour now the job was done. . the way they looked.” Such praise I can live with. “What made you change your mind about Mike?” he asked. His face. “Nothing more?” he asked again inquisitively.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 28 I remained in the room with Phil while Mike and his solicitor exchanged words.” he said. was a friendlier person than I had thought. but I actually felt exhausted.” was all he could say. I noticed them hug warmly as she departed.” I said. “I learnt a lot today. offered a further comment. laughed. fussed about me. This comment caught me short for a moment.” Phil nodded and still smiling. “That was fantastic. developed a small frown and his body language became submissive. with a puppyish expression. touched and moved indicated a much closer relationship. shall we?” I responded. “Let‟s just call it a woman‟s intuition. Penny! Absolutely brilliant. “Can you tidy up the loose ends here? I need to get ready for this evening. Phil. Clearly they were more than acquaintances. but also the gap in status between us. while still smiling.

A number of shocks. I had one of those “ah ha!” moments in life. “Don‟t you believe in women‟s intuition. I flicked my head back. and Phil‟s shrewdness at seeing through me. twists and turns had left their mark. . “I certainly believe in a woman‟s cunning!” he remarked. I thought of the way John had helped. Perhaps men were not jerks after all. and let my locks fall about my face alluringly. As I stood there. all trace had left him. He started to walk out of the room and his final remark not only surprised me. surprises. If he had felt dominated a few moments ago. Phil?” His smile returned as well as his confidence. Mike‟s willingness to accept a settlement when he could have thrown the book at me.Friends or Lovers Clearly he was not convinced. Suddenly things came together. but also deflated my ego a bit. I thought back over the whole day.

Jo – the marketing manager – came in looking very pleased with herself. good meeting. We signed a contract this afternoon. It will give a boost to our training programme. Her comment surprised me. “I‟m off tonight to see Dave strut his stuff at the launch. and get the new team ready. “Hmm! He can look quite dashing at times.” “You looking?” I asked. I enjoyed fantasising about people – sometimes people I knew – but did that mean I was looking? Jo smiled at me as she washed her face and removed some of her make-up.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 29 What a day it had been and there was still quite a way to go. Long hair would have made her look womanly. All the good ones are. . I‟ll be there. “You look happy.” I chirped. Always enjoy watching Dave strut his stuff!” she remarked. She was not a stunner but even without make-up her skin was quite good. Was I? I didn‟t really know. Are you coming?” “Yes. “Aren‟t you?” she answered. Certainly.” I remarked.” “Sounds good. Jo looked professional. As I delicately added a small amount of rouge to my cheeks. “Yes. can‟t he?” “Yeah! I‟ll say. but as I‟d had a totally stressful day. Shame he‟s taken. not attractive. I thought for a moment. thinking back to the book John had recommended to me. of course. I let my hair down a bit as well. I visited the women‟s toilets. She had cut her hair quite short – a mistake I thought – because without a good size bust it gave her a rather boyish look.

flirty as he was. deciding to dig a bit. perhaps I was ready to look. Anyway. “Really? With Dave?” I could not help but laugh out loud at this suggestion. I found it hard to believe that Dave himself would mention this to anyone else. the sadness in his eyes when he thought of his wife. that she won‟t live long. the total commitment he seemed to have for her. but I don‟t think he‟s my type. With Carole announcing her marriage. They were playing one day and came straight out with it. “What‟s the rumour?” I asked. “That his wife has cancer. Clearly.” Jo seemed pleased that she was not in competition and moved a little closer.” Her comment made me both cross and curious. I considered Mike.Friends or Lovers As these thoughts flashed through my mind. He‟s nice and all. Even John. I certainly felt that I wanted that before I died. Over the last couple of months I felt a change in myself. there were men who wanted marriage.” . He might be back on the market soon. “Maybe I am!” I finally answered. Perhaps I had misjudged him. „My mum‟s going to die‟ he said. sweet really. with meeting John and feeling more comfortable with men as friends. having a second child. “No! Not Dave. Perhaps he had. Then there was Dave. I also considered her question. had a maturity and confidence that came from understanding how to keep a relationship interesting. and how hard he had tried to make things work with his wife. “There‟s a rumour going round that his wife is ill. my neighbour went round and they admitted she was not well. One of my neighbour‟s children is at school with Dave‟s kids.

clearly not satisfied by my response. This was a difficult call because I was obliged to keep information confidential. My respect for Dave remained intact. I gave a small laugh. “Where did you hear it?” she asked. She looked dreadful.” Jo continued. “In here!” she responded. I think. I thought.” I was not sure whether to confirm or deny the rumour. I was relieved that she‟d got the rumour from outside the company. Jo seemed to know as much as I did. I omitted.Rory Ridley-Duff Just as Jo was giving me the low down. “Well. rumours spiralling out of control were problematic and could cause embarrassment. I said nothing. “Oh! A couple of weeks ago. but did not talk and started to look in the mirror. It was not a lie. At the same time. “Anyway. and the admission that I‟d heard a rumour did nothing to substantiate or deny her claim. Elona walked in.” I responded as casually as possible. where do you hear most rumours?” I asked. that it was Jo who had told me the rumour only a few moments ago. “I‟ve heard the same rumour. “When was this?” I asked. I could tell that Jo was digging for information because her casual manner was suddenly replaced by attentive curiosity. “Hi!” we both said to her. . even if her source was a little further from home. Quite masterful that. Jo. “they said that Dave‟s wife looked terrible. She nodded. of course. as if she‟d been unable to sleep for a week. You know anything?” With this remark.

Friends or Lovers Elona reapplied her make-up and listening to our conversation. Half an hour earlier. I was concerned at the direction of this conversation. it was the first I‟d heard. but whichever it was I had to put a stop to it. They are hurtful and mess people up.” “What rumour‟s that?” asked Jo. but I could not take it in. “Bloody rumours!” she remarked. you will soon. As she left. By drawing attention to it. There‟s a rumour going „round about me. “That rumour. “is not true. I was indicating that „something‟ was going on between Elona and Nathan.” I turned to leave wondering whether issuing a denial was wise. “Sorry. To my office now!” I was not sure if there was a rumour. Jo looked both shocked and amused. Ellie?” asked Jo. I turned back to Jo. “Quickly now!” I demanded and Elona packed up her stuff and hurried out of the toilets. glancing at Elona. clearly not happy. I knew from past experience that if a rumour started it would be hard to quash. I felt . “That Nath has a thing going with me!” What was Elona doing? I felt that I had to act fast. “What rumour?” “I just said that I don‟t like rumours. “If you haven‟t heard. “What rumour?” asked Jo enthusiastically. If there was a rumour.” I said. She gestured with her eyes and head to indicate something to me.” Jo clearly did not understand why Elona had the hump. “Someone been pissing you off. “‟bout me and Nathan!” “What about you and Nath?” Jo enquired. Ellie?” she asked. or whether Elona was trying to start one. “Elona! Not another word.

Prime Minister. “I what?” “I….” she replied. .. trying to get a grasp of the situation.but you……you….I thought…. “Yes. Elona. As soon as Elona was installed in my office. “Just answer the question.Rory Ridley-Duff that things were under control.what do you mean?” she said quietly. like something out of Yes. when Jim Hacker had Humphrey Appleby in a corner embarrassed and grasping for words..” blurted Elona.. with a smile..” “Sure!” she said. There was too much pleasure in it. but this was an occasion when coolly losing my temper was the most effective way to drive home what I had to say. the rumour might yet cause more problems. but now they could easily spiral out of control again.thought you…. But it was a smile I didn‟t feel I could trust. “But….” mumbled Elona “Thought what?” Given that I was faking my anger. I don‟t often lose my temper. “I thought you knew?” she said. did not really cut the mustard as “Sir Humphrey” and that made it hard for me to keep a straight face. this exchange struck me as slightly comical. however. “What the fuck d‟you think you were doing?” Elona was so shocked that she did not sit down.” I demanded. “What…. “Jo?” I said. I turned to her and let fly. If Jo went back to her team and started talking about it. “I would appreciate if you did not repeat to others what Elona just said.

Elona.” I said.” She looked relieved.” I started. “We won‟t be looking into it any more. but to do so would breach the confidentiality I observed in these matters. and I don‟t think that questioning people further will reveal anything more. “I can say with reasonable certainty that we will not be investigating the matter any further. Clearly. “Thought what?” I repeated. she was trying to get me to say what I knew. or just that she thought I knew about the rumour. “Does that mean you‟ve got to the bottom of things?” I wondered what she wanted to hear. I accept that you‟ve had a . don‟t you?” she prompted again. Elona‟s eyes started to dart around the room as if she was looking for something to say. Was Elona implying that there was something going on with Nathan. I did. “Elona. please tell me what you think I know. but I did not oblige.Friends or Lovers This was an interesting turn of events. “I thought you……well you had Mike and Nathan in here nearly all afternoon. it was good to see her relax.” “So you know. “Elona. Was she asking who had been found „guilty‟? I wished I could tell her more. I considered carefully how to put it across.” Elona looked concerned but did not say anything. “I imagine you‟re wondering what happened earlier?” She took her place and nodded. When I remember the way she left my room in some distress. didn‟t you?” “Yes. I‟m satisfied that all parties have told me the truth. “Sit down. at least as far as they are able to. gesturing that I needed more clarification.

and I don‟t want to say. “People will ask why.” “Okay. She seemed happier and relaxed. Then she nodded to indicate that she understood. I braced myself. I hope. okay?” I said pointedly. but no untruths passed my lips. I‟m afraid. I‟ll ask around discretely.Rory Ridley-Duff difficult time.” she answered.” she said. “I have an idea. Have you put a notice on the board?” I asked. “I don‟t. and I don‟t want to add to your distress any more. “Don‟t want to do that. But could she really think that Mike and Nathan would back up her story? That was naivety beyond possibility. My only regret was that Elona might think that her account of events had been vindicated. “Do you know anywhere I could stay?” I didn‟t enquire why. “I‟ve got a question. “So don‟t start any rumours. Is there anything else?” “No. You can go home tonight and sleep better. “Give me a few days.” Elona said.” I was being economical with the truth. She must surely realise I was being kind and saving her face.” . She looked up and paused for a moment.” I said.

Sam‟s product range comprised „advanced technology‟ approaches to personal care that were – to say the least – sensuous in their design and application. “All of Sam‟s products involve the use of advanced technology to improve personal hygiene. It was a battery operated hair remover that could be strapped onto arms. “I‟ve saved the best for last.” Dave announced. legs. and I quite enjoyed minding him for the evening. has extensively tested this final product. A narrator started to explain benefits to an attentive audience.” said Dave boldly. however. Sam. The lights dimmed as the finale began. This last product. . He had his younger wife and family with him and the evening was something of a personal endorsement and triumph for him after years of struggling at home and in university laboratories. “Play it again. Sam‟s product went one further. Sam tells me that his wife. was the one that Dave believed would become a top seller.Friends or Lovers Chapter 30 The evening passed off well. She will vouch for it personally. This last product is something that every woman will want. Elaine. and there was a gentle ripple of laughter as the video images appeared.” Dave cast his eye over to the other side of the stage where Sam and Elaine were standing. and every man will want to buy for her. He was dynamic and Dave made the most of this during the presentation. or anywhere else that a woman wanted to remove hair. The entrepreneur that Dave was promoting came across fairly well. Just as selfexercise belts use gels to transmit current into the muscles (without actually having to do any exercise).

The man jumps off a cliff edge and the next 90 seconds is a tongue in cheek satire of past Milk Tray adverts. she takes the package into her stately bedroom and lies down on the four-poster bed. The music changes again. He leaves the package. What every woman will want next Christmas. and what every man will want to buy for her. risking life and limb. The satire switches to playful pastiche of 1980s Flake adverts. and as the model‟s eyes close and she enjoys the sensual delights of the SHARE experience. a handsome male model gave a gift wrapped present to a beautiful brunette. the model tastefully disrobes. And what does every man want? To buy the ultimate gift for his partner and bring a smile to her face. in her bathroom and jumps out of the window into the night. is the . The mockhero slides down the mountain-side. to have silky smooth skin. a blonde in a long robe picks up the package. removes the gift from her package and relaxes. With a hint of wickedness in her grin.Rory Ridley-Duff What does every woman want? Yes. to deliver a second package to a mansion home in the valley beneath.and a fanfare of music alerts the audience to a James Bond like action sequence. Dressed in a daring black dress. her face full of mock excitement at receiving her „favourite‟ present. Moments later. You want to SHARE. Sam‟s wife moves to centre stage. . Then. as the man wanders onto a patio to reveal a breathtaking mountain landscape. with his card. a beam of light is shone onto her from the back of the auditorium and the volume of the music lowered.Sensuous Hair Removal Experience. On the screen. adorned with tasteful jewellery. he dons a pair of black glasses – a la Terminator .

Even as I was starting to think that this was a bit OTT. but everyone clearly understood. He did tell me that there was another presentation but that Sam and Elaine were keeping it under wraps. The eyes of the men. as her mind becomes occupied with the erotic. . the larger than life model held a pose reminiscent of the flake advert delicately crumbling chocolate between two gorgeous red lips. he had not shown me this video. I lent over and whispered into her ear.and herself on. As Elaine walked off the stage and sat down next to me. but we can‟t say that here.Friends or Lovers “Dear guests – Sam and I are so confident that you will enjoy this wonderful product that we – and I personally – will guarantee that you will treasure it.” As she stepped back from the microphone. were on stalks watching every tiny movement of the model applying gel to the insides of her thighs. She sucked. I could now see why. This was no ordinary hair remover.” It was my turn to smile at her. “We will be. “You should be selling this at Ann Summers parties!” She gave a broad smile and leaned towards me. I looked around the hall and saw women alternating their glances at the presentation with chuckles into the ears of their female friends. then turning the appliance . When I watched Dave‟s practice run. “What accessories?” I whispered with more than a hint of curiosity. then bit her finger. Nobody said it out loud. however. Take away your own SHARE experience and enjoy the benefits of the latest in personal hygiene technology. We‟ve prepared a gift pack for every woman here tonight.

It‟s a good hair removal product.there is something I need to discuss.” .” “Can‟t wait to try mine out!” I said.” said Elaine.” I chuckled. The chatter was interminable but the evening was a success with guests energised and enthusiastic. “Much better than Milk Tray!” The place filled with roars of laughter and the lights came up. This was pretty risqué for IC but it was becoming clear why Dave was prepared to take the unprecedented step of a full product launch. The gift packs could be collected at the exits. much less painful than wax and much more effective than creams. There is a range of „innovative‟ extensions. Our pilot trials have produced spectacular feedback. “Can we slip out of here . Dave walked back to the microphone and announced that drinks and snacks were available in the lobby. It can‟t wait until tomorrow. the blonde looked seductively into the camera and spoke breathlessly. I pulled Dave to one side for a private word. We exchanged smiles and a final fanfare alerted the audience to the finale.Rory Ridley-Duff “Let me put it like this. “If we‟ve not beaten „the rampant rabbit‟ into second place by next Christmas then I‟m going to be pissed as hell. She carried on talking in my ear as the video presentation neared the end. When the VIPs had been safely escorted home in pre-booked taxis. Dave thought it might be regarded as distasteful. “You won‟t see the accessories advertised anywhere in your brochures. As the final chord echoed throughout the hall.

” .Friends or Lovers Dave nodded. shook their hands and spoke with a representative of the PR company. They have everything under control. He exchanged words with them. then walked over to Sam and Elaine. “Okay – we‟re off.

Not at the actual conference. We spent a few minutes discussing the evening. there was a feeling that a calculated risk was appropriate. “Yes. but if it did so.” “You should try wearing high-heels!” I joked.” I said a bit defensively. “You wanted to talk about something?” he asked. a gin and tonic for me. “Yes.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 31 We walked to a nearby bar and settled ourselves into a corner table. the portfolio was now broad enough to weather a set-back.” “I‟ve been wearing these things for 20 years and still hate them. “I‟ve had quite a day. We both thought it had been a mini-triumph. “Why do you ask?” His question irritated me. With the company enjoying some success. It might backfire.” I said. but Harry (the MD) had given him the go ahead. “May as well take it off. He confessed that he thought the product was risqué for IC. Dave bought the first round – a real ale for himself. it might catapult the company into the top league. including the lunchtime meeting with John. on the flight home.” I recounted the events. he removed his jacket and loosened his tie.” I said. “Is it wise?” . As soon as he had parked the glasses on the table. “John? Who‟s this John?” “I met him at the conference in Paris. “No point standing on ceremony.. Alternatively.” “Is he married?” he interrupted sternly.. and Dave reacted in quite a peculiar way.

but it must have been obvious because Dave backed off a bit.” I thought about how much more John knew about me. We know each other well. The more I thought about it.” Dave raised his eyebrows. For all the time I‟d spent with Dave. “John and I exchange e-mails as often as you and I talk.” he said starting to sound defensive. but I‟m a close colleague. Could he be jealous. Penny. “Work colleagues often go out together. Dave looked at me with surprise and I realised that he may have misinterpreted what I said. “John and I know each other well. the more incensed I got. “Yes. Dave immediately looked a bit put out. “Why is it different?” I said. “I didn‟t even know that your wife had been unwell until you told me recently.Friends or Lovers “Dave! You are married too!” I said trying to lighten the mood.” I affirmed.” I said firmly. “It‟s different. It‟s just different isn‟t it?” “I don‟t see why. I wondered? “Well…I see you all the time. I sat for a few moments wondering why it mattered to Dave. deciding to defend my friendship with John. As I didn‟t .” he said casting me a badtempered glance. I could see in his body language and movements that he felt hurt. he knew only a fraction of the real me. “It‟s different!” he said. “How often do you and I go out after work?” I asked.” I wished that I could hide my irritation.

I downed my gin and tonic then went to the bar to get another round of drinks. Why did he have to laugh like that? Why take pleasure at Mike‟s marriage breaking down? I didn‟t expect it of Dave.” “D‟you want to talk about it?” I asked. He‟s shacked up at a hotel at the moment. He looked up at me and appeared unsure. “Maybe after another round of drinks…” he said tentatively. but I was immediately irritated. I watched him closely as I described Mike‟s part of the story to see if I could detect anything in his response. He seemed to take it in okay. I don‟t know why. “When does he want to move in?” “As soon as possible. and concurred with me that I would need his authorisation to fund Mike‟s housing costs until he could find accommodation elsewhere. “Thanks!” I said with as much sincerity as I could muster. “I‟m fond of you. “How are things at home?” The smile left his face and his eyes were downcast. then I‟ll get the next round in. Nathan and Elona. “Let‟s get this work stuff finished. “My parents are with her tonight. Dave listened to the story that unravelled with Mike.Rory Ridley-Duff want the situation to spiral out of control I decided to offer some reassurance.” I said positively. I don‟t think she‟ll ever leave hospital. and his face lit up again. I think. He recommended that I see Legal to arrange a three-month tenancy. Dave!” I said.” Dave gave a small laugh. I had not been to this place before so I cast my . He promised to email them first thing in the morning.

so I put my hand on his shoulder and encouraged him. He looked awkward and reticent. The problem. “What will you say?” I finally responded. He looked pained and I could not really work out why. I‟m dreading it. “Er…. I wondered if I was being insensitive. He had an expression. was that I didn‟t know how else to be. drawn from his love of cricket: “playing a straight bat”. “She‟s deteriorating. They had a natural look about them. there” routine just was not me. “They give her less than a month. “You‟ll have to tell them something. I don‟t think he expected me to ask such a question. Not having had a lover or even a family member in this situation. filled with stones. I returned to the table and asked Dave again about the situation at home. there was wood panelling. Drinks in hand. The doctors want to talk to me tomorrow.I‟m…. I thought about trying to show deep sympathy. The tables were wooden.. I liked it.” It was difficult to respond. Certainly I cared. His eyes looked down into his lap as he spoke. but doing the “there.Friends or Lovers eyes around while waiting to be served. On the wall.I‟m……” he stopped for a moment. I thought of my father.” I continued. however. . Most of the patrons were in their 30s and 40s. He looked up. The edges were jagged and rough. and each table had a bowl in the middle that had the appearance of driftwood. Dave. deliberately unvarnished to fit in with the tenor of the furnishings. not that “manufactured to the nearest tenth of a millimetre” feeling.” he said. but it was impossible for me to feign feelings that I didn‟t have.

but I tried not to show it.. “I‟m sorry. For someone approaching forty. the . “…. “Might it be kinder to let her die?” He looked at me and I saw tears form in his eyes. A few days ago. Suddenly. even as I had these thoughts I heard my father‟s voice. I had no problem comforting him. but for some reason he was irritating me. There in my mind was my father smiling at me. he sure was immature.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m……I‟m……” I began to grow tired of his hesitation. encouraging me to reflect. Why was I putting up barriers now? These thoughts swirled around in my head.” he responded brusquely. I surely should have felt more sympathy for him. I traced my mind back and suddenly realised that his moment of mirth at Mike‟s situation really infuriated me. “I‟m torn between helping her die and keeping her alive. as if he thought I might be slightly mad. of course!” I felt a bit of a twit but then some words emerged from my mouth that I wished had remained in the darkness of my mind. But why? “What is the deeper meaning here?” I kept asking myself. Dave. „What‟s the deeper meaning here. Penny?‟ I kept asking myself „why don‟t I feel more sympathy?‟ Why? The right thing to do at this moment would have been to put my arms around him. as if he had noticed my prickliness and was responding with some of his own. And yet. I could see his face growing red.torn!” Finally! “What are you torn about?” He gave me a look that was puzzling.

” he had said. I saw his eyes furtively look at mine.Friends or Lovers awful realisation hit me. Why did it matter? Dave broke the silence. Unbearable. “I don‟t want to admit that it would kinder to let her die. I can‟t bear the thought of losing her. I even started to wonder if Dave was playing the sympathy card. deciding which of them would get my sympathy. I continued with a straight bat. “Penny? Are you okay?” . The moment Dave took pleasure at Mike‟s misfortune he lost my respect. but instead he appreciated me. he found it in him to pay me a compliment. “I can see why Dave hired you. It was generous and I kept thinking I had completely misjudged him. I kept asking myself why I felt more sympathy for Mike than Dave. “It would be kinder. After all. That didn‟t seem right. So I sat there and found myself no longer wanting to comfort Dave. Even as I chastised myself for being so uncharitable. wouldn‟t it?” Dave‟s eyes were on me now as we talked and I felt increasingly self-conscious. He was watching me to see how these lines played. I was evaluating them. “Yes. I hardly knew Mike. He had every reason to hate me. But kinder!” It felt incongruous that he was looking deep into my eyes while talking about his wife dying. I didn‟t feel worthy of his respect. When the meeting with Mike had concluded. I fought a gut instinct to get up and walk out. I stopped looking at him but then he spotted my awkwardness.” As he said this.

Pen. I‟ll get a cab. you should do the same!” I blurted out. You were a star. Pick the car up tomorrow. I‟ve had a really long day and my stomach does not feel good. will you?” “No. I made my way to the toilets and lingered there for as long as I could without appearing rude.” . I grabbed my glass and tried to smile. As I started to get up. “Okay.” I was talking too quickly. “Okay. I‟ve drunk too much. “Just need to go to the loos and then I‟ll be back. I felt his hand touch my back and my body reacted like it had received an electric shock. “I‟ll do that!” he replied. “Perhaps. My sense of urgency was growing. Wait here. It was an instant reaction and both of us realised what it meant. I couldn‟t tell him how I was feeling.Rory Ridley-Duff I was not sure what to say. Grab every moment you can. Don‟t stay up too late. he did not challenge me and just kept nodding. Book some time off and spend it with your wife. Even so. no!” I said too quickly. okay. “Okay. I appreciate you meeting me and going through things.” I looked at the table and saw that he had nearly a whole pint to drink up.” he replied.” I said. D‟you want me to walk you back?” “No. “Look. I won‟t” “Bye. I was sure he sensed my tension because his hand dropped and eyes looked away. “It‟s okay. When I came out. Dave. I‟ll see you in the morning. “I feel a bit unwell. then. It went really well tonight.” I said hurriedly. I‟ll come in early and sort the stuff out with you.

What was going on? What was happening? . My opinion of Mike had risen from rock bottom to something approaching respect. they evaporated that night. I could not explain why. to a sharp and roguish young man who merited the occasional fantasy. As for Dave. my respect for him was waning. As I rode home in the taxi. Whatever hopes I had of growing close to Dave.” he replied with just a hint of sarcasm. he had changed from someone on a level with a placement student. it was a sixth sense telling me not to get close to him. the events of the last week just kept playing in my mind. As for Phil.Friends or Lovers “Bye. Perhaps I was attracted to him? My desire for John had changed from one of girlish lust to one of sisterly love.

I undid the larger one to reveal a tasteful . The events with Dave were upsetting so I tried to eradicate them from my mind with soothing music and some self-pampering. it was there.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 32 When I got home. I ran a bath and as I lay in the warm water. but he was quite a dish. it raised new questions over Dave. I thought about Mike. With the soap in my hands. I wondered why he was not offended. the more I felt I had misjudged him. I ran it over my breasts and built up a sumptuous lather. he chose not to be. I made a mental note to follow it up with Phil. He may be young. On my bed was the bag from the launch. I poured myself another glass of wine and had a bath. I arched my buttocks and started working on the folds of flesh between my legs. I was now curious about Dave‟s comments. I indulged myself by recalling Phil‟s red cheeks when I flirted with him. but the water kept washing away the wetness I was feeling and prevented me reaching orgasm. Inside the bag there were two gift-wrapped presents. As these positive thoughts about Mike ran around my head. thighs and between my legs. He had told me to “find out about Mike” because “he may become a problem”. so I got out of the bath and returned to my bedroom. I had to find a way to make up for the way I had treated him. This was a good way to relax. I started to relax and drink the wine. It was as if he felt threatened by Mike and wanted me to get dirt on him. Then I did my stomach. The SHARE experience? Yes. the more I started to like him. With these thoughts behind me. The more I thought about him. Even though he had reason to feel bitter.

Inside was a dildo extension and another tube of gel. There was a fine mesh of plastic teeth interspersed with similar inlaid metal panels. A small instruction book was also inside and I excitedly opened it and read: “Apply the SHARE gel to both the accessory and the pubic hair remover for an unforgettable experience. I pictured Phil‟s cock in my hand to increase my excitement. I looked like a porn model. one for switching the device on and off. By the time I had finished. There were two buttons on it. There were several pads and a tube of gel. enjoying my sexual power. and the other to increase and decrease the intensity. I looked like someone‟s whore.Friends or Lovers package that contained a battery operated motor. I lifted up my legs and inserted the dildo into the motor device then inserted it. As I opened the package. Lying back on the bed. I used my fingernail to slide under the sellotape and gently remove the gift wrap from the second gift. I started to lick my lips with a sense of exhilaration. and attached the straps that were included. The gel was good and it slid in nicely and I worked it around until its full length . I took it in my hand and turned it over. but one was triangular and obviously moulded so that women could use it to remove their pubic hair. Next I took the dildo and second tube of gel and worked my hands up and down the shaft until it was covered all over. I applied the first tube of gel. Some of the pads were round. On the side were four holes for attaching accessories. The dildo was mainly plastic but there were small metal panels inlaid at various points. plugged the panel into the motor. I started to feel aroused as the sense of expectation started to build.” So there I lay on the bed almost breathless with anticipation.

with my free hand. Phil and John came either side of me. I wanted to fuck him like . small shots of electricity engulfed my pussy from both the hair remover and the dildo and I just gasped. then hard as his firm tongue edged me towards a heavenly climax. I played with myself for a couple of minutes. With one finger on my clit. With each press. Not only could I feel a gentle vibration on my pubic bone. A sensation ripped through me that made me shudder in total ecstasy. and I closed my eyes as I imagined Mike‟s tongue in place of my finger. I remembered the booklet describe an intensity button for “a special experience”. bare breasted and naked with my legs wide apart. there was a gentle vibration inside me. I reached over to the motor and pressed the on switch. My finger was now circling furiously. While they gorged themselves. The SHARE experience had been thoughtfully designed. I imagined Mike‟s hand on the insides of my thighs and his mouth sucking on my fingers. I imagined my three lovers filling me with cock and spurting their cum over me until wave after wave of pleasure set my convulsing body on fire. John took my breasts in his hand and gentled rubbed them while I felt Phil‟s mouth on mine. I wanted Mike. as I played out a fantasy of being a hot and horny slut. two strange thoughts burrowed into my mind. As I lay on the bed exhausted. massaging gently then harder then gentler again. There I was. dildo inserted. Firstly.Rory Ridley-Duff was pressing on the pit of my stomach. Then. pressing on my clitoris at the same time to heighten my arousal. I imagined Phil. As I let my finger work me into a frenzy. and the other periodically pressing the „ecstasy button‟. Mike and John walking into the room. John started to pinch and suck my nipples and run his hands all over my stomach and sides.

as a Professor of Cunning. . a vixen with a keen eye. the SHARE experience was going to make IC rich beyond belief. With these debauched thoughts filling my mind my satisfied. Secondly. How could this product fail? How could anything capable of bringing women so much pleasure be anything except a runaway success? In that moment. finishing a new plan to suck as much pleasure out of life as possible. naked. emotionally and physically spent body fell into a deep sleep. the future took on a positive glow and I saw myself as Phil had seen me.Friends or Lovers no-one else I had ever met and felt I would do anything to have him.

“He must have forgotten!” I said. I felt entitled. he was in here about half an hour ago. my exertions the previous day caused me to oversleep.” said Stella.” Stella replied. “I‟m here about the company flat. I need to sort out a threemonth tenancy agreement for him. I was sure Dave said he would sort this out. I got up and took breakfast on the way to work. I signed for the keys on my own authority and proceeded to the legal department to sort out the paperwork. Hurriedly. “Did he e-mail you about it?” I asked “Let me check. Once at work. Given my attendance beyond the call of duty the previous evening. That being the case. Perhaps I had misunderstood him. but he didn‟t mention anything about a flat.” . She quickly checked her inbox and shook her head. I found that Dave had not e-mailed them and I wondered whether he too had overslept. Can you sort out the paperwork and I‟ll come back this afternoon. It has to be a director.” That‟s strange. Stella.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 33 Despite my good intentions to get up early and speed off to work. I can get the paperwork sorted. I thought. “But you‟ll need Dave to sign the contract.” I said walking up to her desk. “We agreed last night that I could rent it out to Mike Bennett. Even so. Has Dave been in yet?” “Yes. my first port of call was Office Services from where I picked up the key to the company flat.” “Well.” “Okay. “Hi. I need to arrange for Mike to rent it for three months. I was half an hour late.

Friends or Lovers

I returned to my desk and said good morning to Phil. He was cheerful and greeted me warmly. I felt that we were developing a good working relationship and the prospect of that pleased me. We had been through an emotional experience together. I sent Dave an e-mail to ask him to sign the contract that Stella was preparing and promised to catch up with him later in the day. I told him that “after testing the product personally, I think the SHARE experience is going to be a winner.” I chatted with Phil and mentioned that I wanted to offer my apologies to Mike. “Keep that off the record,” quipped Phil. “Yes, of course,” I responded. Then – for a reason I could not fathom - I winked at him. He gave me a broad smile in return. What was I doing? Even as I struggled to understand myself, I felt good inside, like a newborn person. She was happier than the old one, confident and self-assured, complete and rounded, tolerant and self-critical. I found that it gave me pleasure to give others pleasure. I found Mike having a coffee with a woman. “Can I just interrupt a moment?” I asked. “Sure, we‟re just chatting.” “Here are the keys for the flat. Dave says you can move in any time you like. There‟s some paperwork being drawn up. You‟ll need to sign that later.” “Thanks! I appreciate this.” The woman nodded her approval too, which struck me as slightly odd. She was older than me. Her clothes were well kept but not designer labels. She came across as someone who would look chic if she could afford it, but was not currently able

Rory Ridley-Duff

to. Her face had a modest amount of make-up around the eyes, but other than this she had a natural beauty that her advancing years did nothing to diminish. “Do you need any help moving in?” I asked. “Are you offering?” Mike replied, in hope more than expectation, I think. “Sure, I‟ll help!” I responded. “Thanks!” he said with some surprise and pleasure. “This is Sally,” he said looking at his coffee companion. “She‟s offered to help as well.” Sally! Things quickly slotted into place. I studied her more closely and felt her doing the same to me. She was in her midforties and kept herself fit. Her face looked as if she applied cream, but I could not detect any eye-shadow or blusher. Her attractiveness was natural, not manufactured. I extended my hand. “Good to meet you. I feel like I already know you a bit,” I said. She glanced in Mike‟s direction as she responded. “Yes, I gather he has told you quite a bit about me. Not all good I hope!” I liked her playfulness and returned the favour. “Well, he said he‟d leave you to fill in the details.” Mike smiled when he heard me say this and glanced at Sally to check that she was not going to scold him. Sally continued the riposte. “From what he‟s been telling me, it doesn‟t sound like he left details out!” “Then you can get your own back by telling me all his secrets!”

Friends or Lovers

I felt an instant rapport. It was like that with John, and I hoped it would be the same with Sally. Sally looked playfully at Mike. “Good idea. There are plenty to tell,” and then, as she looked back at me she added, “Are you interested in them?” Linguistically speaking, she had just speared me and I realised she was checking me out on Mike‟s behalf. My confidence was high, however, and I continued to joust. “Only the particularly wicked ones!” She laughed out loud and then turned to Mike. “Watch this one, Mike! She‟s got her eye on you.” Mike gave me a wry smile. Today I stood my ground much better and did not look away. “And very nice eyes they are too,” he complimented. Sally laughed and managed to divert attention from the colour that was flushing through my cheeks. “Well, I have to familiarise myself with this new SHARE experience!” blurted Sally. I laughed out loud and it caused both of them to look at me enquiringly. At that moment I felt just a touch of embarrassment. “What?” I asked. They both paused momentarily, and then Mike spoke. “Are you going to share it?” he said, with a chuckle. I caught his dark and sexual humour, but it went over Sally‟s head. I wondered how I could respond without being too explicit. “I‟m already familiar with the SHARE experience. Sally, you‟re in for a treat – particularly if they give you a product sample.”

Rory Ridley-Duff

Sally and Mike looked at each other in a puzzled way, and then Mike turned and winked at me out of Sally‟s line of sight. I actually felt butterflies. He was definitely flirting with me. To my relief Sally did not ask any further questions. “See you after work, then?” asked Sally. “I‟ll come by your office around 5-ish,” answered Mike. “You definitely in?” asked Sally, directing the question at me. I nodded and then Sally lent over and whispered into my ear. “Be careful! He‟ll charm the pants off you and before you know it you‟ll be deeply in love with him.” Her remark cleared up many loose ends. The story that Phil had uncovered, and that Dave had hinted at, suddenly made sense. Sally realised that she would never have a hold over Mike the way that she wanted to and had accepted the next best thing. I realised that she was talking from experience and while I was grateful for the advice, it also brought home to me that the issue was not whether he could charm the pants off me, but whether I could charm the pants off him.

Friends or Lovers

Chapter 34
Back at my desk, I asked Phil to come into my office. As my mind went back over events, I realised that Dave had fuelled my concerns about Mike and this had directly motivated me to ask Phil to investigate Mike‟s private life. Given the way that events had turned out, I wondered why Dave had done this. “How are you feeling?” I asked. Phil looked quite relaxed so I felt it may be a good time to gather his thoughts on the outcome of the investigation. “Okay. Quite a turn of events, wasn‟t it?” “Yes – it certainly was. When did you think something wasn‟t right?” I asked. Phil sat back in his chair and became quite animated. He clearly appreciated his views being taken seriously and was keen to express them. “Quite a while ago. When I sat in the canteen with Mike‟s colleagues nothing seemed to fit. When Mike lost his temper with you in that meeting, I think my suspicions were confirmed.” I wondered how much I should tell Phil. I was going to need his help again and involving him would be risky. I decided to come clean. “I was not particularly clever over this,” I said. “You seemed pretty sharp to me,” he replied. I gave him a smile and shrugged my shoulders. “I‟d love to take the credit,” I said, “but that would be dishonest. Someone outside work – a good friend – suggested to me that maybe I was looking at things the wrong way.” “I see,” mused Phil.

Rory Ridley-Duff

“You were not entirely wrong when you asked if someone had influenced my thinking.” It was Phil‟s turn to smile at me. “Anyone I know?” he asked. “No. Someone outside work. We discussed the situation – hypothetically.” Even as I gave Phil this explanation, I felt a tinge of embarrassment that I did not admit how completely wrong I had got things. Why had I been so convinced that Elona was right and Mike wrong? Mike, if anything, had acted with remarkable restraint when I moved him to a new department. I took that as an indication of his guilt. It never crossed my mind for one second that he might actually be helping and protecting his accuser. In fact, he sacrificed his own interests to honour a promise to Elona. I had never met anybody willing to do that. It did not just add to my respect for him, it shamed me for the selfish way I conducted my life. In the pub, John said we only see what we are looking for. What an insight that is! I was only looking for things that confirmed Mike‟s guilt and Elona‟s innocence. As I considered these thoughts, I reflected on my own behaviour. How many times had I taken the lead? Often. How many times had I made a pass at a man? I had lost count. I was a master at coaxing someone into making a pass and I suddenly realised how it is almost impossible for two people to get into an intimate situation without both parties actively considering a relationship. In the past I had been hurt. My cavalier attitude toward men, indeed my hostility toward them, was rooted in the pain of past rejection. Afterwards, I had judged all men harshly. It was only

He taught me the value of being honest about my desires. to avoid the pain of rejection and avenge those who I thought were responsible.” I saw Phil‟s eyebrows quickly rise and fall and he tried to form some words. fearful and difficult they are. then it is a price worth paying.” he said with just a hint of sadness. inconsistent. I spoke. but I‟m old enough to have seen people dig themselves into an early grave through bitterness. “You should take some credit. Finally. However imperfect.Friends or Lovers when I met John that I wanted to find a way out. It was strange to sit in my office exchanging these views with a person who just a few days earlier I would not have credited with sufficient experience or wisdom to handle a dispute. My errors were born out of a desire to protect myself. and wondered what else I might have missed. “If he had not helped me understand my own prejudices. In this moment. “When did you become so wise?” I asked. I felt young next to him. Phil waited patiently. “I can only speak for myself. My fear of being intimate – my fear of sharing thoughts and feelings – began to fade when I met John. I want to know the people in my life better. The humility did me good. I may be young. Can I forgive myself for not being perfect? Can I forgive myself for having fears? If shame and fear are the price of the warmth and desire I now feel.” he said. I might have been responsible for a tremendous injustice.” I looked up at Phil. “We all have our cross to bear. My loneliness was largely a choice and not an accident or misfortune. He grew in .

” “What did you have in mind?” “D‟you remember that I asked you to find out about Mike – a kind of necessary evil?” “Yes.” he replied. “I need your help again. “And now I‟m not sure who to believe.” “I understand.” “I did so because Dave led me to think Mike might become a problem. Perhaps I had as much to learn from him as he from me. “Phil. “Phil. “There‟s one other thing.” I added. This isn‟t a seek and destroy mission.” This instant loyalty and acceptance of responsibility moved me so I felt it necessary to sound a note of caution.Rory Ridley-Duff stature before my eyes. but also the import of what I was about to suggest.” Phil realised not only the extent to which I was about to take him into my confidence. “And now?” Phil asked. “Are you suggesting what I think?” queried Phil. just a way to understand what happened. “What‟s that?” I swallowed hard at the thought of what I was about to say.” “Okay. “We need to find out whether there‟s a reason for Dave‟s animosity.” “How?” Phil asked. I‟ll see what I can find out. . “we‟ve just poked around a number of people‟s private lives and screwed them up. “Eyes and ears to the ground again.” I said. Not sure what else we can do because I‟ve no idea where to start. I saw him momentarily shuffle uncomfortably.” I responded.” I said pointedly.

“…and that he‟s also one hell of a lucky guy. but Phil put up his hand to indicate that I should stop talking. of course!” he replied. “Friends?” I said. “Yes. It was a risk.Friends or Lovers “I am starting to fancy Mike like crazy. Do you think I‟m mad?” Phil‟s face broke into a broad smile.” Phil said with a momentary pause.” I was so chuffed that Phil said this that I was lost for words. As I look back over my life now I can trace the start of my friendship with Phil to this meeting. “Come on. somewhat deflated. The amount of goodwill that was generated between those four walls in a few minutes contributed to one of the best working partnerships I would ever have. “I think. He took my hand and shook it firmly. . I offered him my hand. “that he is old enough to be your father…. much as John had taken a risk with me. Eventually. The result would be one of the most enduring and loving relationships I would ever have.” “Oh!” I said. in a moment of blind instinct. what d‟you think?” I asked with urgency.

” “Thank you. I returned to Legal to collect the contract for Mike. The flattery that I felt was considerable and I duly made the promise. I guessed that Dave must be too busy to deal with it. but he was inviting me to be more informal with him. I added that Mike was doing a good job establishing the new sales team and that any protracted dispute could have indirect costs that were unforeseeable. “I know we see each other infrequently. “Quite a learning experience?” he asked. He signed off the contract to rent the flat to Mike and called Legal to approve the pay settlement. Harry accepted my comments with good grace.” I answered. A strange feeling came over me.” I swallowed quite hard when I heard this. I felt I should touch base with her over the comment Elona had made.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 35 Later in the afternoon. the company‟s managing director. I thanked him for his help and left his office feeling as though I had just grown wings and could fly.” I responded. As I walked into her office I heard a voice that was familiar. My detour took me near to Jo‟s office. but also said that the proposed settlement would ward off the possibility of litigation and save the company money in the long run. “Don‟t be afraid to drop in from time to time. Until now. That‟s good to hear. I had only met Harry formally. but I‟m assured by Dave that you‟ve made quite a mark here. “You‟ve no idea. I admitted my mistake. I found that Dave had still not signed it. Today was turning into a very good day indeed. Penny. and explained the situation. I did not want gossip or rumour to spread. so I took the contract to Harry. .

“You are Jo‟s new consultant. but if I had denied it then it would surely have shown in my face. “Hello there!” he said with just a trace of a smile. . but there was little I could do. As I looked at John. continuing the charade. John noticed me at the back of the room and his face beamed. “Yes. Everybody turned around to look at me and for a moment I felt quite embarrassed.” I answered. In my mind I wondered “how good?” but I resisted the temptation to ask. “…. “You know each other?” asked Jo. I was not sure whether to admit to a close friendship in front of all the others.” he replied.we‟ve worked on projects together and had some interesting results!” The way he said „interesting‟ made both Jo and him laugh out loud. John was outlining his thoughts on male and female consumer behaviour. presentation in full flow. As I entered the room. then?” John looked at Jo. “Jo and I are good friends too….Friends or Lovers Surely it could not be? But as I walked up to the door the voice was unmistakable. I imagine she was asking herself the same question about me. My attitude to mixing business and personal relationships was momentarily compromised. Tongues would probably wag. “We are good friends. our eyes connected just long enough for others to register that we were more than acquaintances.” I could see Sally looking both pleased and surprised as she whispered something in the ear of a colleague.

We are going to learn where different products are advertised and you are going to do some serious research about men and women! And don‟t forget to ask yourself „what is the most sexist thing about the army?‟ We‟ll touch on that again next time. “Things worked out. he put his hand on my shoulders and kissed me on the cheek.” With these words. “Well. . he shut down his laptop to signal the end of the meeting and walked over to greet me. Mixed with surface irritation. however. Not only did it make me feel special. was a deep pride that he acknowledged me so warmly. smiled. this is a turn up. but John did not understand. but his manner was so open and unaffected that he disarmed me. then?” “Sure did!” and he immediately sensed the glint in my eye. “How are you fixed later?” asked John. For a second I wondered whether to chide him for creating the impression we were close. See you all next Wednesday. “Watch out! He‟ll charm the pants off you before you know it!” I laughed out loud. Without batting an eyelid. it would probably do my social standing amongst the staff no harm at all. I thought for a moment and remembered my commitment to Mike. That‟s more or less it for today. Guys. buy some this week. and gave a thumbs-up sign. Remember to bring in lots of magazines.” I responded. John leaned over and whispered into my ear. isn‟t it?” “I guess it is. “Helping Sally and Mike move him into a company flat!” He turned to them both.Rory Ridley-Duff “Okay everyone. you‟ll need to bring some in yourself – if you don‟t buy them normally.

“So what‟s going down with Mike. “I would normally not say such a thing. why do I do that! His remark caught me so off-guard that for a moment I was angry with him.” I said.” “Aren‟t you devoted to your wife?” I asked. then?” I asked.” His eyes had that glorious warmth that I had come to adore. “Penny. Treat him well. I felt myself giving up any aspirations I had to seduce John and I comforted myself by looking forward to more fantasies. Penny. but Mike is not just a nice man. “Yes. He immediately sensed this. Sure he wanted to be close to me. with just a hint of playfulness. Damn it. . John took one look at me and twigged. “Problem is that he‟s far too devoted to his wife!” “Can a man be too devoted?” I joked. I am. I could have deliberately misunderstood him and read more into his words than was there. but I was beginning to realise the limits of his commitment.Friends or Lovers “Someone else said the same thing earlier!” “Must be true then.” he quipped. must be an endless juggling act. but an instinct told me not to.” “I intend to. and his tone changed in an instant. “Sure if it leads him to deny himself the company of other interesting people. he‟s a very nice man.” he said in a low voice and drawing me towards the corner of the room. “You interested?” I blushed. John smiled. but not so much that I would avoid your company. indeed his life. Reluctantly. I felt that his marriage.

but because of this he would never let anything start. “What advice was that?” he said.” I said warmly. I did not care. but I can‟t see his feelings changing.” he said with more confidence than I felt. If they‟d agreed on that then perhaps he would have let her get close to him. I looked at John again. “The way he tells it to me is that she wants children – he does not. I wanted a man. I still felt no maternal twinge. . not children. John then grinned at me and I realised that he was playing. “What about Sally?” I asked. “For what?” he asked. Apart from that.Rory Ridley-Duff “I believe you will. I thought there was no harm seeing if she was competition. I was looking forward to the evening. Mike and Sally came over and John announced that he too was helping with the move. They fight and bicker all the time! She‟s been in love with him for years. “For that advice. Knowing that neither Mike nor I wanted children took away one potential conflict.” “No more kids?” I said. Whether he was being deliberately obtuse or just plain dumb. Even as my own sister brought hers into the world. they‟re like a married couple. more as a remark to myself than a question for John. I returned to my office and decided to make one more trip to Dave‟s before packing up my things. He‟s got three already and does not want any more.” I responded. “Thanks for that.

” “What do you mean? You said you‟d e-mail Legal this morning. “He‟s moving in tonight. the contract!” I said “What contract?” answered Dave. What was he playing at? “Well. This was odd. “I said you‟d need my approval. he finally said something. Dave was behaving quite strangely and I was confused.” “What?” Dave was acting so strangely that I felt like asking why. My mood changed from one of confusion to concern. . but I confined myself to the issue in hand.” “You‟re mistaken. I didn‟t agree to it. He was standing next to his desk.” “Why‟s that?” answered Dave. “The flat.Friends or Lovers Chapter 36 “There you are!” I said. His fists were clenched as he spoke. “I just dropped by to say that I‟ve sorted it anyway. You said you would go and see them to sort this out. whatever Dave!” I said. I thought. “I‟ve been looking for you all day.” “Dave! What d‟you mean?” “I wanted to discuss it with Harry first. but I didn‟t approve it. Penny.” he said. “Don‟t you remember?” I asked. We didn‟t agree anything last night – you just told me what you wanted to do. His stubbornness was mirrored by the rigidity in his body. When I finished.” I said again. I couldn‟t understand why he was behaving this way. I went over the talk we had the night before in the pub and he listened without making comment. Mike is moving in tonight.

I couldn‟t find you so I got Harry to sign. He must have had a very bad day. “I need to sign it. “So how d‟you sort it?” he asked with a tone bordering on aggression. I have. I left the room. clearly irritated. have you?” “Yes.” Dave looked at me. His behaviour was strange and my evening engagement so much more inviting. I didn‟t „go around you‟. “How?” he said. It was my turn to feel defensive. “Don‟t do it again!” he said finally. .” He looked defensive and angry. That was so out of character I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. He was speaking to me like a child. On another occasion I would have challenged him. but I wanted to retreat.Rory Ridley-Duff “But we haven‟t sorted out a contract yet. “I got someone else to sign it because I couldn‟t find you.” “You went around me?” “No. You haven‟t given him any keys. “Okay. And I‟ve sorted out the contract. almost shouting.” I said. I wondered if something might have happened at the hospital. You haven‟t signed it yourself?” “No!” I answered. Without saying goodbye.

As the evening wore on I felt more and more relaxed. “Yes he did! Yes he did! I don‟t mean he saved my life like he rescued me from death or anything.” Mike‟s eyes looked downward as he shook his head and laughed. Sally raised her glass. We all dutifully raised our glasses and clinked them together. “This man here….this man saved my life. “To new beginnings!” I noticed myself glancing in Mike‟s direction repeatedly.Friends or Lovers Chapter 37 It took us less time than expected to move Mike‟s stuff. hi-fi and a portable television. bedding. By nine o‟clock. but they took care to include me in their conversation. we quickly filled each of them up. She quickly regrouped and continued. Sometimes he would look back and acknowledge my interest.” she announced. I mean that he rescued me in here. plus his clothes. drove to the new flat. . As the flat was partly furnished. With four helpers and four cars. “…. but at other times he would remain engaged in conversation with John and Sally.” She pointed to her heart with a finger and kept stabbing herself as she laughed. “Penny. after we had consumed a pizza-takeaway and several bottles of wine.” she lost her balance for a moment as the drink began to affect her.” she started. I initially felt out of place amongst such close friends. “To new beginnings.. Sally stood up and raised her glass. computer. he needed to take only a few easily transportable things. unloaded and had four glasses of champagne on the table before the 7pm.

I wanted him in no doubt how special he was to me. As I spoke I looked deep into John‟s eyes. “You‟re one of life‟s superheroes.” I said looking at him. I wobbled momentarily as I raised my glass to John.” This outburst – and the mention of Dave‟s name – fired my curiosity but in my drunken state I was more interested in giving Sally some sisterly support. When he did that….Rory Ridley-Duff Mike‟s eyes looked everywhere but towards me and I sensed that he wished Sally would shut up.” responded Sally.he stopped me causing this man…” . “You leave „er alone. “If she wants to praise you. let „er!” As Sally sat down.” Everybody laughed as I struggled to articulate what I felt.” Mike threw up a hand to discard her remark. Her boldness had made me bold and I wanted to say my piece as well. I stood up. “This man saved my career!” John smiled back and raised his glass to me in appreciation.(hic)…. “Well firstly. “I don‟t think Dave would see it like that…. “Did he? Well. sit down love and rejoin the party. I never. he helped me see something that I couldn‟t see. “Come on Sal. I decided to mimic Sally so I feigned a stumble. “How d‟ee do that?” I was feeling liberated so I let my feelings spill out. “Don‟t you look around the place like that!” she barked at Mike.” “Sod Dave!” she said. “He and his stinking brother can rot in hell for all I care. “…. you!” I said boldly. “This man.” answered Mike.

the other three giggled away..” “Penny!” John interrupted again. “I was about to do one of the most stupid things I‟d ever done. Really you don‟t.” as the words formed in my head a single tear started to roll down one of my cheeks.. “you don‟t have to say this.” said John.” I laughed as I realised just how comfortable I suddenly felt. “….this man…. “….Friends or Lovers I quickly glanced at Mike before continuing “…any more upset and pain. “Penny. “This man…. “You don‟t have to. “Ah shit! What the hell. but in my mind a whole world of understanding descended on me and I felt completely overwhelmed.” Mike‟s embarrassed look left his face and was replaced by one of genuine surprise.” I looked at him and was overcome with such feelings of love and affection that I put my hand up again.” He sat down again and with a resigned look. .this man…. “John. I do. John noticed and started to get up but I put my hand up to stop him.this man…. but I knew that I had more to say so I gathered myself and started to find the words.” I said and then continued. and I would‟ve done so if my good friend John – who I will now love forever…. Before I knew it there were tears in my eyes and I was struggling to talk. braced himself for what he thought I was going to say.” as these words spilled out my hand instinctively moved to cover my mouth.this man did more than save my career.” As I stood there.. I did not understand what was happening to me. I do have to say it and I want these two to listen.

I‟m the sort of person your mother warned you about. “For the last 10 years.” As I spoke. but a vixen at night who stalks and preys on vain and needy men to satisfy her own vanity and neediness. I‟ve been a bad girl. I mean really living – not just have a job and exist. you arsehole. “You‟ve had this coming to you for a long time so don‟t spoil it. “You men. I had them all where I wanted them now.” John obviously felt that I was going to tell him again how much I loved him. I‟ve known a series of jerks and losers and none of them ever made me actually want to know them. I giggled at the comedy that was taking place.arsehole!” I said with a smile. honestly! Never know when to shut up…. you….” Sally and Mike were transfixed as they witnessed this intimate exchange. Good as gold at work. and John gave a short chuckle and relaxed in his chair. “Since when did you two get so close?” asked Mike. so this caught him by surprise. You…. “Right! This man…. What I‟ve done while at conferences would fill the pages of a Jackie Collins novel! But you. “You shut up too. “taught me how to feel again..Rory Ridley-Duff “Shut up. me. John…” I fixed my eyes and aggressively pointed my finger at him. I don‟t know how you did it but you made me take an interest in living again. you changed all that. so I continued . “…you made me want to behave!” Sally and Mike creased up with laughter as I fired my double barrel.” and this time I paused for effect more than anything else.. John looked less worried and began to take in what I was saying. and I‟ll tell you!” Sally creased up with laughter when I called Mike an arsehole.

walking backward. Suddenly all the other sounds in the room seemed to go silent and every fibre and nerve-ending in my body was focussed on Mike‟s eyes and mouth. on the other hand…. the vixen started to return and my gaze left John and fixed on Mike. better than any orgasm. Sally‟s giggles subsided and it was John who creased up with laughter. A few moments later I felt a tingle rush through my body and I had to shut my eyes and wait until it passed. I blew Mike a kiss then sat down. came over and gave me a hug. If I had thought that John had helped me to feel again.” I said conjuring up the sexiest look I could muster. grinned to himself contentedly.Friends or Lovers with the performance and grew in confidence. As Mike‟s giggles subsided. started to join in too. A modest contented grin was etched onto his face and we both knew what was going to happen. “…are the most difficult. “You. he got up.. He roared and clapped. Was this love? Was this lust? In that moment I was touched by my own humanity. And then he pulled away. it was nothing compared with the tidal wave that engulfed my being on hearing these words. better than any drug. Sally. There was not a force in the world that was going to stop it. “You make me want to be bad again!” When I said this. This was living. “You make me want to be bad too!” he whispered in my ear. on the other hand. . And one more thing…” I held up both hands to stop them interrupting. Then. Mike. In that moment. It was the most exquisite feeling I had ever known. and kept his eyes on me while he sat down in his chair. despite her feelings. Mike starred back at me and for a few seconds we were transfixed by each other. stubborn…and surprising person I‟ve ever met. I knew. I knew.

“he‟s been a bad boy a few times. and he glanced back. He was not the paragon of virtue I had believed him to be. it was Sally. She did not need to say anything. “How else do you think I got to know all the stuff that was going on in his life?” he quipped firing a glance at Mike.Rory Ridley-Duff It took me a few moments to notice that Sally had climbed onto John‟s knee and was kissing his forehead. Sally looked at me. “He was so loyal to this sweet woman that he nearly destroyed his marriage. “But I thought he told you?” I responded. Then he was so loyal to Elona that he nearly destroyed his career. “John! How long has this been going on?” He looked at me half-embarrassed. “And there was I thinking that you are a family man.” I was laughing again. I pointed at John and shouted at him. “Sally?” I quizzed. Suddenly his resistance made sense. the thought ran through my mind that his loyalty was coming to an end.” answered John. All my inhibitions regarding John vanished. .” she started to say. “As for this one. Mike raised his glass to John in appreciation but when I glanced at Mike. “He‟s too damn loyal for his own good. She and John were lovers. haven‟t you my dear?” Now it was my turn to crease up with laughter. It was not only his family that he was protecting.” I joked. you! And there was me thinking you were a devoted and loyal husband!” “You are mixing me up with Mike!” he said. “You sly old dog.

“One day soon. She consented. and asked Sally if I could borrow him for a minute.. “He‟s frustratingly devoted to his wife and children. We pulled each other close and snogged until we both sensed that enough was enough. put my hands around his buttocks and pulled him close. Our lips met.” said Sally. Why did you resist me?” He looked at me and draped his arms around my neck. “Right you!” I said. his hands clutched my behind. “You have no idea…. As my hand slipped under his shirt and felt his strong body. so I grabbed him and led him roughly across the living room and out of the flat. That‟s why I had to go. didn‟t you?” “Yes. offered my hand to John. and our tongues touched. You must have known how much I wanted you. .” he said. the situation.” I remembered the recent phone call. I pressed myself up against him. “Oh yes I have….” I got up from my chair. I was not going to waste this moment. gently parted.” “Why did you tell her?” “I wanted to stay at Sally‟s while working on this contract. and you called me right in the middle of it! She thought you were Sally and started wrecking the house. “I want to talk about this. darling.” As I said these words. “You told her. Whether it was the drink. or the knowledge that he was weak with women.” I said to him.Friends or Lovers “He is. “This is the one and only chance you will ever get to kiss me because by midnight tonight I‟m going to be off the market.” I replied.

even after I told you I wouldn‟t make a pass at you. If you „saved me‟. You made it possible for me to love again. “I love you. Penny. I think. But with you. I was there. I‟d have lost her. You are the first man. “You have yourself a deal. I‟m fond of her and she was in a state after Mike returned to his wife. that I‟ve not been afraid to love. but it‟s not that.” I nodded as I spoke.Rory Ridley-Duff “Sally is not the only woman that I‟ve given in to . Very special. Just being with him had been enough for me too. “Yes. Penny Leyton. With others. Being with you was enough. She was. after my father. That made you special. it was different somehow.” “What about Sally?” “If I‟d not slept with Sally.there has been one other. I was part of her recovery.” “And I love you too. they would lose interest. that‟s how you did it. if they thought I was not intending to sleep with them.” He laughed and held hands.” I said. You liked me from the moment we met. very needy.” “How are things with your wife?” “They‟re okay. When the kids were both at . You‟re the first woman I‟ve not had to sleep with to keep interested.” I stroked his face. Things changed some years back. He did not have to explain how he felt.” I said. This isn‟t the first time for either of us. Mike was gone. “That‟s what I thank you for the most. That was the price of continued friendship. It was hard for her to leave her husband. John. “You look after her and I‟ll look after you. not surprisingly.” “She‟s certainly a looker.

” “But you need somewhere that‟s a home. There‟s no way to get it back so things have changed. We worked things through but a lot changed. lover. Sally won‟t marry me. There‟s no reason to divorce. Soon after. The kids are older now. I admire her more than when we first married but the exclusivity has been lost. We drifted apart and she had an affair. She‟s a lovely woman and. I was determined to hold onto his love. We hugged again but this time .” “D‟you think you‟ll have a house in one piece when you get home?” I quipped. This is a long contract and it‟ll be lovely to spend time with Sally. You don‟t want to just drift between places like a visitor?” “With my work. sometimes weeks. I admitted to her that I‟d thought of having an affair as well. We both get lonely.” I said. Then I met Sally through Mike and gave in again! My wife and I are still good friends. I took the plunge. Maybe I can sleep in your nest occasionally?” I smiled. You‟re secret is safe with me.Friends or Lovers school she started working again. I travel for days. my whole life‟s like that. I‟m just a temporary distraction for her. A nomadic life suits me and I have friends and nests in many places.” “Don‟t worry. I‟m travelling much more. Penny.” With this exchange of words we made our pact. at a time. “Not so white as white. we‟re able to get past blaming each other. “As long as you behave. We found that we both liked the idea of more freedom. am I? I hope you aren‟t disappointed. “We both love the kids. That was a lovely thought and I warmed to it. thankfully. She holds a torch for Mike and likes having her own place. When we are together we still have a fabulous time.

I retired to the other with Mike. It would be our joke – just as it had been for Sally and Mike . a priceless treasure that sparkles. But I didn‟t care either way – the most important thing was to protect the trust. . Our relationship was now like that. and mine alone. The memory is like a precious stone. I hope you will forgive me for shielding it from gossip that would corrupt it. a bond as strong as I‟d ever known. the most special moment of one of the most extraordinary days of my life. There was now such a deep intimacy. without question. This diamond is mine. I remembered John‟s words that there was no such thing as a non-sexual relationship between men and women.Rory Ridley-Duff it was devoid of sexual passion.that acquaintances would misunderstand. only ones where they chose not to have sex. We both understood our attraction to each other. But when I thought about it. we had become lovers of a sort. We knew that sex would be there if we ever both needed and wanted it at the same time. As for the rest of the evening. I thought of Sally and Mike and how everyone thought they had been lovers. Sally retired to one of the bedrooms with John. Sleeping with Mike for the first time was. It was almost as if we were saying goodbye and hello at the same time. It would be John and I that others would mistake now.

As I settled down to my computer to retrieve my e-mails.stockton@innovation. there was an apology from Dave. Can you I answered immediately. I was astonished and frightened. worried and pleased at the passion I felt. . Is there anything we need to follow up after the product launch? I was irritable and too harsh. Sorry about yesterday. Every few minutes I would pause to think of the future. forgive me? Dave. I felt capable of doing anything. Don’t worry about it. From: dave. As I sensed these Subject: Sorry Pen. We all have off days. I was pleased that Dave apologised because that was how I expected him to be. and songs made sense and I realised people were not simply making it up. Even though I felt like telling him (and the whole world) what had happened the night before.Friends or Lovers Chapter 38 I went into work the next day on a tremendous To: penny. To have waited nearly 33 years to discover this! Suddenly I understood why people could fall apart when their partner leaves. If anybody tried to steal Mike from me. movies.leyton@innovation. it would have been imprudent and insensitive. or how a husband or wife might feel driven to murder after discovering the other was having an Suddenly all those soppy romance novels.

Have you called her?” “Yes.. okay?” “Okay. right?” he asked..” Elona! I had forgotten about her in all the excitement. No answer. give me the address and I‟ll go round.Rory Ridley-Duff There was a knock at the door and Phil was standing with a cup of coffee.” I said. “Bloody hell.” “Hmm.” . “Don‟t tell me…. Phil did not usually make coffee unless I asked. No answer from her parents?” “No. She‟s over the 10-day mark and her manager is asking if you‟ll visit. Okay. “Don‟t you go blurting this around the place. This was a surprise. Phil looked up and my smile told him all he needed to know. I‟m happy enough for both of…. “Okay. “If any rumours start. What have you got for me?” “Elona‟s off sick again.” Phil said. I want them to come from me. “I guess that‟s a good idea. Penny.” I responded. “No need to do that today. That‟s very sweet of you.” “Hard to believe it myself.?” I just kept silent and smirked enough for him to work out that he was right. That was fast work. They‟ll probably be in the shop.” “Have to keep the boss happy!” he joked. “You don‟t have sugar. “Thank you. Strange. boss!” he said sarcastically. But I can‟t see this staying a secret for long. That‟s the third time in two weeks. Keep it under wraps for now.” “Sure thing.

maybe make her a drink. I took the liberty of putting together breakfast-in-bed.” I sat with Elona for fifteen minutes before stirring myself to go to the kitchen. I finally assembled something that looked appetising. wake her up and chat. bread. “there‟s someone here to see you…. “Oh the pet!” said her mother. “Elona?” I said gently as I rocked her shoulder.” I asked them to let me in. You looked like you could do with something. There was no reply so I entered the shop and spoke to her mother.Friends or Lovers “Yes. all last night. We‟ll be in the shop. . Don‟t know what to do.” “Feel free.” “What‟re you doing here?” she asked. so her mother gently opened the door of her room and a crumpled figure lay in the bed asleep. All weekend. She turned around and after a moment of confusion she saw the breakfast tray. What do you want to do?” “Can I stay here a bit. Having played hide and seek with the butter. “Elona! Elona. Her mother led me though the shop and up the stairs. plates and bowls.” There was silence. of course. We‟re at our wits end. We‟re worried sick. love!” she shouted. “She‟s cried herself to sleep. my dear. “She‟s up there but we can‟t get her out of bed. “You‟ve been busy!” “Yes.” *** I drove to Elona‟s flat and rang the bell. just crying and crying.

She looked at me sorrowfully and tried to talk but nothing coherent came out.” “I‟m sure they‟ll do what‟s best. “Your mum and dad say you‟ve been upset. At the same time I do care what happens to you and if there‟s a way I can help then I will. I‟m here because you‟ve been off work for 10 days this year and it is my job to be here. Have you seen a doctor?” She gave a dismissive laugh.” As I looked at her face. We were worried.” . And yet I did feel concern for her so I accepted her thanks. “He‟ll just say I‟m depressed and give me some drugs.” She sat up in bed and I gave her the tray. Without make-up she looked quite different. she started to nod and the tears began to flow as she tucked into her toast and cup of tea. but still had a girlish charm. “Elona. We sat there while she finished her breakfast and then she thanked me again.” she commented. Eventually.” Earlier in my career I might have believed that these visits were out the kindness of the company‟s heart but over the years I had come to realise that this was just another way to ensure that people did not take the piss and bunk off work.” I responded. It is hard watching someone sink into the depths of despair.” “Just part of the job. This is kind of you. I won‟t kid you. “This is kind of you. Nobody at work could contact you. I could see the tear stains around her eyes. “You didn‟t have to come.Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m finding out how you are. “No. I did not try to start a conversation and just sat next to her. Don‟t make me into a saint. I don‟t want that.

Nobody likes me. Did you not hear me?” The sharpness of her tone took me aback and I realised that perhaps she was not quite the shrinking violet that I had previously thought. “Yes. “I don‟t give a shit. “Nothing. I heard you. At the moment.” I said. “You don‟t need me. I recalled the many conversations I‟d had with John. Even though she was slightly built I began to feel a bit afraid. a failure. I‟m useless. so I started to clear the tray and returned to the kitchen.” I listened with patience.Friends or Lovers At this comment Elona looked at me angrily. She looked like she was going to explode. “I need you. Nobody likes me. I wondered if he might be able to help. a zero. “I‟m nothing. “What then?” I asked. Administrators are ten-a-penny. a waste of space. “Don‟t give me that crap.” I said.” My efforts were not rewarded. “I‟m useless. In the back of my mind. completely fucking useless.” It was my turn to show a bit of aggression. As I walked out of the room a torrent of abuse showered my back as . Nobody.” she said. “I said I don’t want that.” “Is this to do with Nathan?” At this remark she turned toward me and I could see the rage building in her face. I‟ve seen your file and you‟ve earned that position. I was on my own and had to do the best I could. however.” “Why?” I asked. It‟s all meaningless. There are people at work who believe in you.

Mike. her parents. her exboyfriend. We had all ruined her life.Rory Ridley-Duff she screamed the place down about Nathan. “Elona. I sat with her for another quarter of an hour. motionless except for the occasional stroke of her face. work. I tried to remain calm but it was difficult. . I need to go now. She turned onto her side and wept again. Phil. Do you understand?” She made no movement so I repeated the question and she gave a nod of her head. There are a couple of people I want to talk to and then I‟ll be back. me. When I returned from the kitchen I held out my hand and surprisingly she took it.

but this has to come first …. He nodded and even though I felt like dragging him into the nearest broom cupboard for a quickie. My first port of call was John.” I said. What is it?” he asked as soon as I closed the door. Even though I was there on business. “Anything in particular you want to speak about?” he enquired.and there was I hoping you wanted to shag me in the toilets…. looking down towards his crotch. “…. he smiled at me as if it was any other day at work. I‟d go and have one. I felt myself get aroused as I moved closer toward him. He was in a meeting with Jo.” “We‟ve got to keep a lid on it at work. I busied myself.Penny!” he said slightly stiffly.err…. “Okay. “If there was a cold shower somewhere. “Elona!” I said in response and suddenly he dropped the formality and whispered in my ear. “Better do something about that!” I said with a smile.Friends or Lovers Chapter 39 For the rest of the day. but none that I can act on here.. “Any ideas?” he replied. “What can I do for you?” “Can I speak to you in private?” I asked. “Plenty.I do.” I whispered back. but he agreed to take a break at mid-day and chat to me in the canteen. As I walked through the door. Next I went to see Mike. “Hello….” He pulled his head away and I noticed there was a bulge in his trousers. . I managed to calmly lead him into his own office. “….” I said.

. I don‟t hold what happened against her. “Stop! People will see. but he anticipated me. Is it really that urgent?” “Well actually. My hand instinctively jumped to my mouth. “You‟re not thinking…. I could hardly believe what I‟d said and started to apologise profusely. “Are you checking me out?” he queried. He looked surprised at my remark. but I think she needs some space to herself. I allowed him to kiss me briefly but stopped him when I felt my passion rising. if you want to get back with your wife….” “Elona and I have always got on well. Penny?” he said. I visited her and she‟s in a right state.Rory Ridley-Duff “Elona needs somewhere to stay.” “What d‟you have in mind?” I gave a half smile and got ready to ask him. She was upset and I was there so she took it out on me.” I proffered.Jeez! I‟ve only just got you to myself. I can‟t act without your consent. It‟s technically your place.” “Does that mean you‟d be okay if she moved into the other room?” “It‟s going to look very odd. “Let them!” he said.” I protested. I‟ll talk to John later.” “Elona? What‟s the problem now?” “The same problem. We were always friends before and I‟m sure we will be again. “Of course. He walked over and silenced me with a kiss. . I‟m not sure it‟d be a good idea anyway. I wanted to know how you felt about the idea.

one of the reps came up and congratulated me. “May as well have sent out an e-mail!” he retorted with a chuckle. She took the news of the flat offer in her stride and did not seem to show any great enthusiasm. I lent over and spoke quietly into his ear “Because this week I‟m going to fuck your brains out every night!” And with that remark. . I turned to leave the room. One of his staff had noticed our kiss and by lunchtime a rumour was making its way around the offices. just a little kiss in his office.I‟ll tell her that she can move in next weekend if she wants.Friends or Lovers “I‟ll tell her…. She promised to think about it and let me know the next day. When I got back to the office. Elona was up and dressed.” Phil looked at me warmly. I played it cool by asking “what for?” I talked to John about my idea and he concurred that a move to the flat might be helpful to Elona. I told her again that there were people at work who cared. “Already?” I asked. “What did you do – send out a company wide e-mail?” “No. When I returned in the afternoon. “I‟m all yours.” he said with a big grin.” “Why next weekend?” he asked. As I sat with John in the canteen. “Not a word passed my lips!” said Phil as I brought him a cup of tea. the rumour about myself and Mike had spread to Phil. “Oh well! It‟s out now.” I replied.

and the clarity I had brought to work evaporated as my mind felt like it was turning to treacle. *** At my desk.” he said. Dave x I sat for 30 minutes while thoughts burned my mind. I just wanted to say that the thought of you testing the SHARE experience “personally” is definitely something to dream about at night!! I look forward to a blow-by-blow description of your experiences. the high spirits that had kept me aloft all day dissolved. “What‟s up. just two words sprang forth from his lips. I decided to have one last trawl through my emails in case Dave had replied. my heart sank slowly into the quicksand of despair. With every passing minute. crashing and spinning out of control. Where on earth had this come from? As I tried to find answers to impossible questions. Beads of sweat formed over my body and face. By 4. Penny?” I swivelled my screen around so he could read the e-mail. Subject: Sorry Pen.30pm Phil found me slumped at my desk. “Oh fuck!” .Rory Ridley-Duff “I‟m happy for you. After a few moments.

I gave him a hug. stroking me. He joked that the second was “just in case”. He made me a cup of coffee. Could I talk to him? What if I scared him off by mentioning it? What if he asked questions? Did I really want to explain that I‟d told Dave about testing out the SHARE experience? Whichever way my mind went. Even though we were not speaking.” he answered. To others we looked like a regular couple but inside I was full of questions about how far I could trust him. He went out for bottle of wine and came back with two. He sat at one end of the sofa and I put my head on his lap. I think he expected me to jump him as I walked through the door. but after receiving Dave‟s e-mail. I could see a potential for disaster. My right hand rested on his knee and every few moments I would caress it and sometimes rub the inside of his knee. Sometimes. I returned to Mike‟s flat.Friends or Lovers Chapter 40 Instead of going home. He seemed to take it in his stride and did not press me. sat with me. he would slide his fingers between mine and hold my hand more tightly .I . watched the television and held my hand. Intermittently. “Just in case what?” I asked. His right hand lay on the side of my face. I could tell he was nervous too but he poured us both a glass of wine and we passed the time watching Channel Four News. his left hand would stroke the back of mine and I would move my head and nestle it even more deeply in his lap. Now I had a personal problem it dawned on me that I hardly knew him. but the promise to explore the love-making potential of the flat was a distant thought. “Just in case we finish the first one. we communicated a lot. my mind was preoccupied.

“I remember this film. “Not yet. but it gave me confidence that he looked upon me as more than a fling. “Are you going to tell me about your wife?” I asked. “Plenty of time for that!” It was a small remark. and these little things mean a lot. “Where‟s this coming from.Rory Ridley-Duff would respond by tightening my grip to catch and squeeze his fingers. you are stroking me. I‟m stroking you. “The little things. I sipped the wine as the TV programme played in the background. “When I insulted you!” I sat up and looked at him. She says to him „I miss the little things‟ and the man replies „ah!…. don‟t they?” “I hope so. As I lay there. There‟s a man standing with a woman and she‟s talking about her husband who has just died. “When did you know?” I asked. “Know what?” he replied.the little things. there‟s nothing bigger is there?‟ Don‟t you think that‟s a great line?” He smiled and stroked my head again.” he said. “Know how you felt about me?” I answered. a line from a film entered my head. I was not really watching it so I started to ask Mike questions. Penny?” he asked.” he said. “Well I was just lying here and our hands are touching. “What do you mean?” . There‟s nothing bigger is there?” “Little what?” he answered.

” “Do you remember when we first met?” he asked. he‟d asked me the same question. “You thought of that while we were arguing?” “Well. “Well.” I encouraged. then looking at you intently thinking that a woman as confident and smart as you would surely have made a pass at a man.Friends or Lovers “When we were arguing and I called you a „stupid woman‟ and I asked you if you‟d ever made a pass at a man.” I was not sure how to react.” I laughed out loud because at that moment I would have fed him to the sharks. “I was thinking how nice it would be if you made a pass at me. I‟d always pegged you as old fashioned and that completely took me back. . I can‟t remember ever standing up to my wife like that. At work. I thought and went back over my mind. And there I was challenging you on whether you had ever made a pass at a man. Secondly. yes. That‟s my trick and you stole it from me! You made me go funny inside and I couldn‟t hide from myself that you excited me.” “Go on. but at home I‟ve always been quite passive. “Won‟t forget that in a hurry!” “Well there I was shouting at you. when you held my gaze and would not look away. I did. Do you remember that?” “Yes. maybe. I think there were two moments.” I answered. so the thought came into my head. when you asked why women let men think they rule the world. “When did you know?” he asked. Before I had time to think. I remember being really angry. Firstly.

He said to be careful because of you. I pegged you as a paternalistic antifeminist old git. didn‟t I?” commented Mike. He‟d been bitching about Harry insisting on your appointment.” “My God! I remember now. “Dave and I were chatting and I was about to tell him a sexual joke. “I annoyed you. I started the joke then stopped when I saw you walking toward us. “Yes.Rory Ridley-Duff I tried to recollect but I couldn‟t.” I directed. He preferred the other candidate. Yes. He told me to watch out for you because you were a „ball breaker‟” “He said that!” I exclaimed. “Yes. “Tell me. after a moment. “Why would you be afraid of me when you don‟t even know me?” . “Why are you laughing?” I demanded.” he replied. but Harry insisted on you.” This came as a surprise.” I commanded.” Mike laughed. “I was thinking what John would say.” “Is that true?” It was Mike‟s turn to reflect.” I interjected. “What about him?” I asked. Dave had successfully hidden this from me for nine months. “He‟d say that I censored myself because I was afraid of you.” he replied. “He didn‟t want you in the company.” he said. “Go on. you did. “I was with Dave. “John. Anyway. I thought back.

a witty remark would have been forthcoming as he popped the cork. If he had been John.” “That‟s the problem. “Why?” he asked. I‟m sexist because I turn women into sex objects. I‟m afraid. I‟m sexist because I‟m excluding you. “I can imagine. “It was brilliant. .” he replied.” he said.” I said. “I don‟t know any male manager today who‟s not afraid of sexual accusations.” “Are you serious?” Mike frowned. “Damned if you do.” I said sinking into his lap. One of John‟s best. you are!” I responded.” “Well. “No. “Tell me the joke. If I don‟t tell the joke.” “What do you mean?” I queried “If I tell the joke. Without any further words he pulled my face closer.Friends or Lovers Mike looked me in the eye. We soon finished the first bottle of wine and opened the second. but Mike was quieter and calmer. “Because you didn’t tell me the joke. “What‟s the problem?” I asked.” “Was it a good joke?” I said trying to lighten the mood. it was.” I replied. His mouth met mine and we got properly reacquainted. It was strangely reassuring.” I thought back to my e-mail exchanges with John. While he had charm and sex appeal. “I didn‟t want your first impression of me to be a bad one. damned if you don‟t. “My God. he did not routinely crack jokes or flirt when he was alone with me.

Mike obliged but kept talking at the same time. “Dave sent me an e-mail that was sexually suggestive.Rory Ridley-Duff “I had a shock today. “Dave and I go back a long way.” I said. Clearly the feelings were reciprocated.” “Did he really?” said Mike with a sarcastic knowing laugh. “I‟ve always liked him. His body was relaxed and I felt comfortable opening up to him. “We joined IC at roughly the same time. didn‟t I?” I quipped.” I said. Comes across as such a „nice guy‟ but underneath beats a heart of appalling meanness.” . “And?” “That‟s it. Do that some more.” he continued. “He asked me to find out about you. I was his boss back then.” “Too repressed for his own good. yes. “Hmmm. not absolutely sure how I felt about him now. “Too repressed?” “Yeah. “Well. Nice.” I remarked.” he said with considerable force. Get on the wrong side of him and you‟ll discover just what a bastard he can be. I am. He‟s never done that before.” I said. around my waist and started to caress the small of my back. “Did pretty well. “Yeah! He behaves great to his favourites or women he fancies. Mike felt no need to press me to explain myself.” he answered seductively as his hand moved under my blouse. “You‟re concerned?” he asked. “Very well indeed.” I recalled how Dave had been suspicious of Mike.” I blurted out.” he answered.

“Oh yes. “Get on with your story. “We fell out over Sally. “You‟re teasing me!” I answered.Friends or Lovers “What happened?” I asked.” “Doesn‟t work!” he suddenly said.” He paused. Please explain it for me. “What doesn‟t work?” “The „can you explain it to me coz I‟m a stupid woman‟ routine. . “Only half the time…” he answered. Whenever there is shit in the workplace. “What?” “Doesn‟t work!” he said again.” he replied. smiling or wavering for an instant. “Sally used to be related to Dave. “You like being teased.” I suddenly pretended to be stupid. I began to realise that his wit was considerably drier than John‟s. “Oh. there is usually a man and woman involved!” “Cynic!” I joked. I wondered. Where did he get these insights from.” I said with mock impatience. Mike. “What about the other half?” “Optimist!” he said without missing a beat. How?” “She was Dave‟s sister-in-law. “Are you going to ask how?” he continued. “Okay. “Sally?” I responded with some surprise. You know how dim women can be. as if waiting for me to ask a question.” he said.” he asserted.

“That works!” he said with a laugh. but his assertive and commanding manner turned me on. With only a moment‟s hesitation. yes. “Well. “Sally used to…. will you?” I said briskly. “You are so sexy when you raise your voice. “You are going to like me a lot!” He relaxed a bit and laughed. my lad. It was beginning to dawn on me that Mike liked to play things straight. “Just get on with the bloody story. “So now you know why he and I are not best buddies. “What are you smiling for?” I asked. “What?” I asked.” “It‟s okay – I was being rhetorical!” I said. There was just a hint of smile on his face. Dave‟s brother used to beat her. “Oh. I like strong direct women. ..Rory Ridley-Duff He did not play the way that John played so I tried another approach.” he replied.” he answered. I could feel my confidence and ardour beginning to build. “You like it.” Mike concluded. “Say again?” I asked. You‟ve had this story from John so I‟m not sure what else to tell you.” I said.” I sat up straight and suddenly the pieces dropped into place. do you?” I queried. He gave a gesture to indicate that he did not understand. He might not make me laugh as much as John. he continued and finished the story. gathering words together in my head. “Sally used to be married to Dave‟s brother.

“Still want to hear. I began to wonder whether I had been completely blind.” he replied.” I said.” “You may not like it.. I told Mike of Dave‟s wife.” “Did you?” I asked. he thinks I fucked Sally and broke up his brother‟s marriage.” I insisted. “He thinks that you…. You leave your wife after a big row . “You and I are at loggerheads. “I want to tell you more. And out it all came.” he responded.and Sally. her illness. that Dave had invited me out after the CIPD event in Birmingham and that we would be staying in the hotel together.” I started. “He thinks….” “Yes. He had helped Sally. Whatever Dave felt when he recruited me. “You don‟t need me to answer that.Friends or Lovers I still did not get it completely. there could be more unpleasantness. No wonder Dave had a grudge against Mike! Suddenly my need to tell Mike about Dave‟s e-mail became more urgent. I thought he was getting ready to make a move on me. “Just try to look at this from his perspective..” I said. The words came out so fast I had no time to retract them. “Okay. “He has to know sometime. When I told him the details of the recent e-mail exchanges. So what? Then the final piece of the puzzle clicked into place and I instinctively covered my mouth in shock.” I added. What would Dave do if he found that I was sleeping with Mike? “Maybe we should deny our relationship?” I suggested. my fondness for him. If Mike and Dave had fallen out once before. I don‟t.” Mike replied. “No.

his strong frame moved towards me and my screams gave way to giggles. he gave me another shove and I realised he wanted to play. When I did not respond. Mike and I made the most of our freedom. I repeated the recent e-mail exchanges with Dave. Within a month neither of us had any secrets left to tell. “I didn‟t mean it like that. Then it comes out that we are sleeping together. So I shoved him off the sofa. That was the first of many times we made love there.” “You? Polite?” he teased again. “What did he say. After she moved in. Mike!” Having felt a bit dim a moment before. The following morning he didn‟t want to sign the contract for this flat. I find you a company flat to move into.” Mike pointed out. I was just being polite after the hasty exit the night before. again?” asked Mike. As I backed up against the wall. got up and ran away. . I gave him a playful shove and he shoved me back with a deadpan face.Rory Ridley-Duff with me in the workplace. then my giggles gave way to a low pitched moaning as I suddenly felt his hand between my legs and his hot breath on my neck. “He must have taken your message as encouragement…. Later he and I had our first angry words. we used my flat as a new base. For the next 10 minutes he chased me all over the flat until he managed to corner me in the bathroom. How does that look to you? Dave behaved strangely at the pub the other night. The next day Elona decided she wanted to move in and with only a few days of freedom. Never in my life had I enjoyed such passion and intimacy with a man. I don‟t want to take the risk. I suddenly felt quite clever.

Many joint dreams were born. At the end of each . Even as they expressed surprise. Our conversations were realistic and grounded. for all the future plans we mapped out. he learnt of mine.Friends or Lovers Despite the generation gap. he might file for divorce so we could marry. he listened to my memories of childhood. For sure our relationship took off at quite a pace. I learnt of his dreams and fantasies. I savoured every second. towards the end of June. we started to talk extensively about politics (office and otherwise). I talked to her of the things we had done together. for all the commitments we made. John and Sally occasionally dropped in and we would all go out for a meal. But throughout all this. and our love-making was varied and passionate. knew of our plans. they accepted and welcomed this development and all quietly congratulated me. Carole phoned me daily after Mike and I had appeared for lunch at my parents. To call this a “whirlwind romance” does not do it justice. not even John and Sally. but we were never a lovely-dovey couple. the words “I love you” never passed our lips. our first month felt like a honeymoon that would never end. But publicly nobody. for all the intense times we spent together. we announced that he would be moving into my flat. The threads of our lives intertwined and bonds were woven into a fabric so strong that I could not imagine them ever breaking. but never of our future aspirations. I listened to his experiences as a father. Privately Mike and I had discussed that if we enjoyed living together. Carole and my parents thought I had disappeared off the face of the earth. When. If our first night together was the most special moment of my life. our plans firm and concrete. I turned up at my parent‟s house for Sunday lunch with Mike in tow.

did not learn of our relationship and Mike and I managed to keep our contact low-key and light-hearted. told me about people that he fancied. Like true professionals. in turn. there was a conspiracy of silence. Dave. He. We talked about her forthcoming wedding and the preparations. All I needed to do was to turn up. fortunately. I broke the news to her that I would have to pass up the opportunity of shagging the best man. the rumours at work died quickly and did not spread further. make everybody laugh and be beautiful. If people knew. .Rory Ridley-Duff phone call she would say “I‟m really happy for you” and gradually I began to see what it was that bound she and Chris together. I apologised for not getting more involved but she assured me that mum was on top of everything. The only person I updated from time to time was Phil. we remained the very souls of discretion. speech in hand. To my surprise.

The story of how Mike and I got together became something of a party piece. In the back of my mind I wondered whether it was wise to say nothing. So far as I could tell. . also met Sam and Elaine regularly to develop marketing strategies. we developed too. As a group. but there was sufficient common ground to compare perspectives. and many side-stories and alternative plot lines were elaborated. of course. I would join them for drinks and found that I particularly enjoyed Elaine‟s company.Friends or Lovers Chapter 41 The prospect of going to the CIPD event with Dave was something that I came to dread. Neither of us spoke about the situation with his wife or his admission that he fantasised about me. confirmation was a formality but this new situation meant that I could no longer take my appointment for granted. I felt that raising it with him was too risky. John knew Elaine from academic conferences so all six of us started going out weekly for meals. I met Sam and Elaine again (with Dave) to organise the recruitment of more support staff. Following the launch of the SHARE experience. After much drinking we playfully acted out the battle-axe and gentle man confronting each other angrily while an unspoken mutual passion was developing. I was conscious that my probationary period was coming to an end and Dave would decide my future. our personal relationship had cooled. Her background in sociology and international business was different to mine. Mike. Even if he had said it as a joke. as sales manager for the domestic market. While we still worked together well on a professional level. We exaggerated.

She picked me up about 10am and we made our way up the motorway. They decided to establish a new company for Sam to continue working on his ideas. that spurred their close relationship. Their close working relationship evolved into a personal one. It was her interest in his engineering.” “Is there such a thing?” she asked. I look good in tight black dresses but perhaps that would be too risqué. After obtaining an MBA she took up a senior management post at the engineering company where Sam had been working. We would take lunch together and have girly chats. “I guess. I love sexy outfits. She had also been a human resources manager before advancing her education. but as I‟m going with Dave I don‟t want to send out the wrong signals. For the last 5 years they had developed their product line. and the company‟s ignorance of its potential. “So what you going to get?” Elaine asked.” “Get something you can wear for other occasions as well!” said Elaine. They married secretly and this triggered a hostile reaction from some board members.Rory Ridley-Duff Elaine became the first person to learn of my private aspiration to marry Mike. After all their hard work. they were beginning to achieve security both for themselves and the company. . I arranged to go with her to Birmingham beforehand to buy an evening dress. It had been a struggle but the relationship with IC was a breakthrough. This enabled them to expand their market and leverage in considerable financial investment. On the day of the CIPD conference. “Not sure.

After shopping.” “Killer combination. lunch. flushed with shock and excitement.” I quipped. she took her foot off the gas and cruised into Birmingham at 90mph. “If only men tasted as good!” said Elaine. She reminded me of John. elegant with a cut that was suggestive without being too daring. But I do have a lovely pair of legs.” she replied. great boobs and a sharp brain. I nodded and she carried on. I could hardly wear something like that to work!” She glanced at me and we laughed at the thought. She was irrepressible.” I quipped. we retired for coffee and cake. “Just ask Erin Brockovich. surely. “You‟ll have to introduce me. A matching necklace and earrings completed the vision. but I don‟t have millions stashed away to bring in the punters. We shouldn‟t be embarrassed about using ours. “Chocolate delight! They weren‟t kidding were they?” I said as I tucked away another slice and sipped on my café latte. Her Porsche 911 accelerated quickly and my body pressed back into the seat.Friends or Lovers “Depends. “Men use their power when it suits them. “Some of them do. coffee and chocolate cake. “Don‟t know about you love. she gave out a loud “Yee-haw!” and put her foot down on the accelerator as if she was about to drive off the cliff in Thelma & Louise. After a few seconds. I found a lovely black dress. irresponsible and exuded a freedom than I‟d never witnessed at close quarters. It hung at the knee and had a waist that was gathered with a belt that was covered in ethnic beads. .” she answered.” “You better believe it!” And with our sights set on the shops.

As I retired to my room I began to realise that for the first time I found myself struggling to find things to say to him. Elaine and John than to everyone else in the whole of my life.Rory Ridley-Duff I could see why they had become friends and I secretly wondered if perhaps she was the „other woman‟ to whom he had once „given in‟. we were split into workgroups for role-play exercises that covered recent legislative changes. Of particular concern were provisions regarding temporary and part-time staff. My new circle of friends gradually brought me out of my shell. Dave and I checked into the hotel and agreed to meet in the bar about 6. . but many organisations still did not grasp the full impact. we adjourned and were asked to come back at around 7. Nagging at the back of my mind was the possibility that he might be harbouring feelings for me. After a question and answer panel. and closing comments. I sat with Dave during the keynote speech but we were separated for the group sessions. pampered myself with goodies from my overnight bag. Various scenarios were introduced on video.30pm. I talked more about my thoughts and feelings to Mike. then sat in front of the mirror applying my face. The CIPD event went off well. then pairs of people acted out one-to-one meetings between an employee and personnel officer. I found an emotional security that reminded me of my early childhood. After an opening key speech. Others made notes and gave feedback on the legality (or otherwise) of their intended actions. We said our farewells and departed to attend to our respective tasks. My sense of well-being grew. I showered. Their employment rights had been strengthened.30pm for the dinner.

“Thank you. ma‟am!” he said with appropriate emphasis. Dave. He smiled gently at me but it only increased my nervousness. Dave looked slightly flustered. “I don‟t suppose it matters who signs it. He presented the till slip for Dave to sign. “How are things at home?” I asked. “What would you like?” asked Dave.” . He turned to face me again. “Doesn‟t she look fabulous?” A compliment is almost obligatory when a woman presents herself in a new frock so I acknowledged and dismissed the remark. “That was a bit „familiar‟.” he said looking at me. but nothing was forthcoming. “Here you are ma‟am.30 I made my way down to the bar. “Thanks. and the prospect of spending the whole evening together. I felt I should broach the subject of his wife. Penny!” he said and we both smiled. The barman looked surprised but took the hint and gave me the bill.” He duly ordered and the barman said he would bring it to our table. “You can call me. Given the occasion. “Barman?” I said boldly. I‟ll have a rum and black. “Here she is!” he said. Perhaps I should have complimented him too but I didn‟t.Friends or Lovers At 6. I was just being polite. Dave was chatting and laughing with the barman.” he responded.” “Thank you.” said the barman as he delivered the drink. wasn‟t it? Do you know him?” “No. I expected more than this. Penny! I‟m not the queen. “She‟s stable. I signed it and gave it back to him.

” he said. At the end of the conversation.” “And I was doing it splendidly. “Don‟t use that tone with me. At first he laughed. “Dave?” I said. Dave. “You were flirting with the barman. Penny?” “Up yours!” I said.” he said defensively. however. . I felt so awkward that I got up and went back to my room. “I don‟t want to fall out with you. being polite to the hotel staff. “You shouldn‟t be too familiar with bar staff. Penny. First.” I said dismissively.” I started.” I answered. Penny. I began to panic. “Dave. which made me all the more cantankerous. however. But please don‟t tell me how to behave towards people when I‟m not at work. I decided to see if table places had been set. You‟re representing the company here.” I said. “Oh lighten up. A bubble of rage formed in the pit of my stomach but I managed to contain it.” “You are at work.Rory Ridley-Duff I wondered if we were in for a bad tempered night. but he managed to calm me down. “Just don‟t. holding my drink aloft. immediately recalling that Dave was laughing with the barman when I entered.” “You were. I was none the wiser whether I should apologise or not.” he said sternly. Penny. “Yes. That was a really dumb thing to do with my appraisal only a few weeks away so I phoned Mike on my mobile. We sat in silence for a few minutes. I decided that it would be stupid not to.

who showed me to a private bar and the seating plan for the evening.” “Not too keen on your boss. “Not at the moment. Using her mobile she called reception and about ten minutes later a man came through with an amended seating plan. Waiters and waitresses plied us at regular intervals with wine and aided the socialisation over dinner.” “Forget it. I returned to the main bar.” I answered. “Thank you. “I really appreciate this. the conference manager. The sea change in our relationship worried me. however. but none was forthcoming. It had been turned into a charity event so the 50 participants were swelled with another 200 people for the dinner. “Dave?” I asked. The food was well presented but not especially delicious. That was rude of me.” she said with a warm smile. but there was no smile. He turned around and acknowledged me. The service and company. no. “I‟m sorry for earlier.” I said.Friends or Lovers In the dining room I met Jules. This time I went back to the private bar without making a show of my feelings. I thanked Jules then went to the private bar to order another rum and black. My table included a CEO and his .” he said. I take it?” she asked. “Glad to help. were excellent. I waited for him to give me an apology in return. With the prospect of a stressful evening receding. I had been allocated a place next to Dave so I asked Jules if I could sit elsewhere. Husbands and wives joined the delegates and professional bodies had been invited for the evening speakers and networking opportunities.

Rory Ridley-Duff

wife, a female entrepreneur and her husband, and three other human resource professionals (two men and a woman). With four men and women around the table, the conversation was mixed and lively. The woman entrepreneur started to talk about one of the speakers. She heard him once in Scotland. Later they contracted him to assist in the investigation of a sexual harassment case. She described him as humorous and charming, but with a mind and attitude so sharp that you could cut yourself on it. She found him difficult to work with but praised the way he helped staff reconcile their differences. Desserts came and went, coffees were served, and the chatter was eventually interrupted by a clink of glasses as the Chair introduced the fundraiser. It was a typical appeal to emotional sympathies. I felt sickened by the scene of an earnest charity worker begging for crumbs at the tables of the rich. I wrote a cheque for £30 – unsure what would be considered an appropriate amount – but as I was getting dinner for free I contributed the cost of the meal to the charity. Even as I did it, I felt no virtue. There must be better ways to help the less fortunate than this. The first speaker was reasonable. The subject matter was more in Dave‟s line, but I did see the pros and cons of entrepreneurial behaviour amongst employees. While she talked about side-stepping rules and procedures, the CEO at my table joked that if anybody tried that in his place, they‟d be out. Controls were there for a reason, he said, and had to be followed. I wondered whether he had ever been an accountant. Our table was a long way from the platform. When the second speaker stood up, I did not recognise him but there was a touch

Friends or Lovers

of familiarity in his voice. I thought he must be a celebrity off the TV but annoyingly one of my dinner companions kept distracting me. The speaker continued. “Thank you. Thank you very much,” he said. “I hardly recognise myself in those kind words.” I asked my dinner companion if we could continue our conversation later because I was particularly keen to hear this speaker. He looked offended, but at last I was able to focus on the speaker‟s words. “I‟ve been asked to talk about a subject that most of us think about daily, some of us talk about regularly, but which is rarely talked about publicly. It is a subject hardly ever discussed in business books. In my view, it exerts more influence over the workplace than any other single thing and is the bedrock of social organisation both at home and at work. I‟m talking, of course, about sexual attraction and intimacy. Now if you think I‟ve come here to talk about bonking in the broom cupboard……” With most of the audience tipsy, the speaker expected a few giggles and paused. A few people obliged. Everyone else stopped chatting and started to listen. “…..or kissing in the canteen, then you are going to be disappointed. If you‟ve come here to understand how private lives impact on work then you are in the right place.” I noticed that more and more people were sitting up and taking notice. On the top table was a jug of water. The speaker paused for a moment and poured himself a glass. “Always good when they give you a large jug of gin to drink – always makes the talk more interesting,” he quipped. “If you see them bringing a second jug, then the chances of me telling

Rory Ridley-Duff

you a story about bonking in the broom cupboard rises considerably!” A slightly larger group laughed at this remark, but one of my dinner companions just raised their eyebrows and gave a disapproving look. “Talking of stories,” he continued, “I have a couple for you that I hope will prompt interesting discussion in the bars.” Everybody in the room was now paying attention. He came across as an above average public speaker. “Not so long ago I was sitting in an airport lounge and an attractive woman called Patsy glanced in my direction. When they called the flight, Patsy joined the queue and edged her way in front of me.” I laughed out loud as I recalled the way John and I had met. A few people on adjacent tables turned their heads to look at me. I thought it was uncanny the speaker had such a similar experience. “Then Patsy did something that most people here will probably think is a bit bizarre, but which – to me – was not bizarre at all. She bent down to tie her shoelace……” My laughter subsided and I began to feel slightly uncomfortable. “Nothing strange in that, you might think? Well, it would not have been strange except for one small detail. Patsy was wearing shoes that had no shoelaces……” A ripple of laughter went around the room and the speaker paused to let the import of the joke linger. As for me, my heart was pounding as I realised that the speaker was John and that he was talking about our first meeting.

Friends or Lovers

“What is significant about this story is that Patsy‟s willingness to give me a bird‟s eye view of her butt was one of several reasons I decided to sit next to her. Very bold behaviour, I felt, and not something I was likely to come across every day. We fell into conversation, swapped e-mail addresses and later met for lunch. Now we take walks together. She became a close friend and is now also a professional colleague.” He paused again. “She‟s also dating one of my best friends!” he said loudly with gusto. His comic timing was excellent and there was a further smattering of laughter. “Now what‟s the relevance? Sexual attraction is often the reason we choose to take an interest in someone. As we work out the tensions many long and durable friendships are formed. I was lucky. Patsy liked and welcomed my response, but not immediately and not without a lot of soul searching about my intentions towards her. If she had taken offence, she might have withdrawn, confronted me, argued with me, perhaps even accused me of sexually harassing her.” “We are still, even in this modern age, overwhelmingly social beings. Yes, we come to dinners like this to talk about how to make more - or lose less - money. We come for the networking opportunities, the social opening that will start a new business venture. But I want to suggest to you that there is something more than that, something deeper, more important.” He paused and took a sip of his water before continuing. “Once, a business mentor of mine said to me that money was not the most important thing to him. To him, the money was a means and not an end. The money enabled him to feed his

Rory Ridley-Duff

family, to open doors to social networks he wanted to belong to, to attract and be in the company of many beautiful women. In short, he was in business to have fun. „If you‟re not having fun‟ he would say, „sell the business‟. To him, business was entertainment.” “So what‟s the key thing here?” asked John. “For him, being in business meant an emotionally fulfilling life. He did it for the buzz. For the challenge. For the company. And yes, let‟s admit it, for the sex. He was, in a way, one of the business world‟s rock stars, although he liked to avoid the press.” “Of course, there are many out there….and perhaps even in here…who will take a dim view of this. Business is about profitmaximising, about efficiency, about effectiveness and all those terms that are popular in business schools and board rooms. There are a few strange people who actually get off on this. Picture them in your mind: Laddie Lawyer…… Amy Accountant…… Adam Auditor.” There was substantial laughter as he recounted these names. He knew his audience. Human resource staff often battled legal and financial staff for influence and John cleverly used his knowledge of workplace tensions to win them over. “Now, I imagine that you‟re sitting there thinking „not me‟. I‟m rational, everybody else is emotional. I always do my best for my boss. I‟m a complete professional – never let myself get distracted by this stuff. So I‟m going to ask for a bit of audience participation. Can I have a show of hands, please? How many of you met your most recent wife, husband, boyfriend or girlfriend in an organisation? Don‟t just think of your own place of work. Did you meet in theirs? Was he or she your client? Were you students together?”

Friends or Lovers

The hands started to rise, at first tentatively. The murmurs grew as spouses and partners reminded each other of their first meeting, with the result that more and more hands were raised until at least three-quarters held them aloft. “More than usual,” he commented. “We have a horny bunch in tonight!” The room rumbled with chatter and laughter as people started to absorb what had just been illustrated. As the noise died down, so John continued. “So let me make one or two comments before I tell you my second story. Firstly, how is it that most human resource professionals here tonight met their partner or spouse in a workplace and yet the profession is being persuaded to support zero-tolerance policies towards sexual behaviour at work?” There was less laughter now and he paused to have another drink. The women entrepreneur opposite looked irritated. “See what I mean?” she said. I nodded, but privately I thought John had a point. “Need a bit more gin for this bit,” John quipped as he drank some more water. “More controversially, recent research suggests that research participants say harassment is very rare, almost unheard of, during the formative stages of a relationship. Accusations are made when relationships are breaking down. This raises an issue. Are we are missing the underlying sexual dynamics that bring about these accusations. It may be that a man is trying to break off the relationship rather than form it, or that a woman is trying to back off a relationship that has aroused her sexual feelings. When it comes to the law, have politicians created a rod to break our back?”

He paused and the audience obliged with more laughter. “Here‟s the rest of the story. The audience laughed some more. In the silence that followed. Then he delivered a killer sentence. “This leads me onto my second story. isn‟t it?” he agreed with his audience. but this story has a challenging ending. This also has a lovely butt in it. During Ben‟s induction. “Okay. Then his tone suddenly became quieter. but everyone in the room suddenly felt embarrassed that they had been laughing. . It involves Ben and Diane. Diane told him about the company annual dinner. they had a „Butt of the Year‟ competition. but questioning. Each year they have a big celebration. Diane is a CIPD qualified member of staff. This involved a number of men taking pictures of each others‟ naked bottoms and creating a slide show for the women.” John smiled.Rory Ridley-Duff I looked around and saw some people nodding. “Yes – it‟s funny. okay – I realise that some of you probably consider this essential work in the run up to the Christmas party.” he continued boldly. the hum of personal reflection lingered in the air. John‟s tone was not critical. “Diane thought one of the directors‟ butts was so sexy that she described it to Ben during his induction. more measured. but this time it belongs to a man. and without fail there is some set piece bit of „corporate fun‟. I looked hard but couldn‟t find that induction technique in the CIPD manual!” he quipped.” He paused again and took another swig of „gin‟. The year Ben joined. He somehow managed to avoid accusing his audience. “Would it have been funny if I‟d told you that Ben was making comments to Diane about one of the women director‟s tits?” The room quickly went quiet.

She told him repeatedly that he had „admirers‟. His objections fell on deaf ears. „You won‟t be lonely. When Ben asked why. Both were married. told Ben he had admirers and then got jealous when Ben admired someone . put ice cubes down Ben‟s trousers at a party. Ben confessed his wife had been having an affair. “a woman who talked openly about her lust for a male director during Ben‟s induction. invited Ben to stay at her house. “So!” he said. hypocritical and sexist. Ben argued that the accusation was unjustified. Diane reported his activities to her own manager.” A few people in the audience gasped.” he teased. Ben was questioned for over an hour in a private room about „inappropriate‟ behaviour. He did not mind her attention and they grew close.” “Instead of being pleased for him. Ben thanked her and felt reassured.‟ she told him. Diane got cross and told him he should not look for love at work.” “You may think that you know what is coming……. She now claimed that Ben was „womanising‟ and might misuse personnel records. Ben argued with the company‟s MD. Diane confessed that her marriage was sexless. “Ben‟s marriage collapsed and Diane offered him a place to sleep. Diane flung her arms around Ben and playfully put ice cubes down his trousers. Ben responded that he liked one or two of the women at work and had asked one out for a drink.” John raised his volume a couple of notches to finish the story “He was fired.Friends or Lovers “At the Christmas Party. They started to go out for drinks after work. He thanked her but did not accept.

Those desires. Most people are like icebergs. most enlightened people realise it. feeling accepted by a sexually . This said. Attention switches immediately to the accused. Both parties play a part. “My main point is that whenever there is a sexual conflict it is usually underpinned by a complex intimate relationship. HR departments rarely investigate the motive for an accusation. my main point is not that men can also be subject to sexual harassment or false allegations. That much is obvious and while it is not discussed much. Maybe we are trying to avoid loneliness. are affected by what is taking place in our lives outside work. We had weathered it but not without capsizing a few times.” he said. Nine tenths of what might be known is submerged beneath the surface. “a kind of power that we don‟t acknowledge. Our desires are not always sexual.” John paused again. but this time he did so for effect. “What can we learn from this?” continued John. Maybe we are trying to be accepted. Workplace behaviour arises out of our desire for. at the way the accusation against Mike has triggered the storm inside IC. only the accusation itself. “Firstly. or our desire to avoid. “That is power. intimacy.” I thought back over my own experience. The accuser may be given special protection before it is known whether their accusation is true. Both parties are responsible.Rory Ridley-Duff else…she only had to make an accusation that Ben might be behaving inappropriately for his world to quickly fall apart. Accusations often reveal as much about who is hurting as who is being hurt. in turn. “These are two cases where the underlying dynamics are known.

“Two thoughts for you as you retire to the bars. are we destroying our society with zero-tolerance policies? Are we compromising our ability to take.Friends or Lovers desirable or successful person is particularly meaningful. Firstly. emotive and triggers disruptive conflicts. if Patsy had objected when I started to talk to her on the airplane. That ignores the costs of training and lost . enough to pay for over 20 days of mediation. face and overcome the everyday risks that underpin stable enduring relationships? Zero-tolerance approaches assume it is right and proper to prevent any intimacy that could be interpreted as sexual. itself a form of sexual harassment? Perhaps neither? The situation we have now is that if she claims to others that I am creating a „hostile environment‟ for her. by deliberately being provocative. therefore. would I have been guilty of sexual harassment? Or was her behaviour. I want you to think about how to contribute to the current debate on equality of opportunity and sexual harassment. How would you go about investigating that to undercover „the truth‟?” “So. I could be accused in the same way as Ben. regardless of my intent. It is. Would it not be better to have a process that allows each party to tell their story until they find closure? Should we approach conflicts in a way that allows both parties to learn about each other. I ask you to think of the cost of replacing staff. Isn‟t this the most naïve policy in the history of humankind? “So. In Ben‟s case it cost the company over ten thousand pounds to replace him. or continue to „name and blame‟ one party? Are we serious about equality? “If you are sitting next to your financial director and she or he is saying „too expensive‟. to conclude.

just this once. it is also a financial one. “Such a good story and I never thought that you would ever be in one of my audiences. however. My name is John. eh?” “You think I‟m being economical with the truth. Dave. I did not join in. John smiled as we shared the private joke.” “And I‟m a case study. while this is an ethical issue. Instead. My mood changed and John noticed instantly. “Get away with what?” asked Dave.” I said.” said John. he initially beamed with pleasure.Rory Ridley-Duff productivity. yes!” “And close friends. am I?” “An anonymous one.thank you for listening! My name is John Simons and I am at your service. Hope I‟m not interrupting anything. “You know each other a lot better than you are telling me. “Can you forgive me?” he asked. Penny?” “I‟ll let you get away with it. turning on the professional charm. was surprisingly astute. “Hello.” “Dave! Good talk. “You might have asked. It ignores whether the replacement is as good at the job. I did not realise that ……” .” The audience broke into a round of applause.” “Indeed we do. then – as he realised that I had been in the audience – he started to look apologetic. mate. I got up and walked towards the front. “Ladies and Gentlemen .” I said with a smile. My business cards and these two cases are available on the table. I can see. Suddenly I felt another person moving up beside me.” “Not at all. So. When John saw me.

whether I like it or not. Dave laughed. “….” “One of your best friends!” said Dave. you are a dark horse. “Would you like to have this conversation at the bar so I can buy you a drink?” asked John. “but like most adults I still end up in situations where there is flirting. one of my best friends was in the audience.” “And John. “Yes. There was little point denying it. Is this the John you mentioned to me? The one you met on a plane?” I hesitated. . Dave nodded.” “Are you coming.” said Dave. is this Patsy?” asked Dave pointedly. Penny?” asked Dave. “Don‟t what?” asked Dave. Just ask them to charge it to Room 1156 and I‟ll sign the receipt in a moment.. “And you don‟t. “Don‟t you flirt?” asked John. but also strange men in airports!” John joined in the conversation again. Penny. “Flirting is dangerous.” replied John. “I‟m married!” he said indignantly. How else can people establish another person‟s motive?” Dave was slightly taken aback at these remarks. “So. John and I hesitated. Dave?” asked John. you don‟t just flirt with barmen. “Well. “If you go to the bar and order what you like.Friends or Lovers Oh God! I prayed that he was not about to say what I though he was about to say. I‟ll join you in a second. “So am I.

” “I can meet you later if you like?” he asked again.” Dave had committed himself now and went off to the bar. Were the stories true? Yes. in the sense that sexual desires and aspirations underpinned a lot of adult behaviour. Having negotiated these questions.Rory Ridley-Duff John glanced in my direction and I realised that he was trying to get me on my own.” John and I made our way to the bar. Many find it fun.” said John. totally true. “Always leads to trouble. It is those who are inexperienced or shy who are uncomfortable with flirting. he engaged with people who wanted to talk to him. “Flirting is a good way for men and women to establish the level of intimacy they want in their relationships. On the way. Most people do this in non-threatening ways and it works most of the time. “You were saying that flirting is dangerous?” remembered John. “I‟ll join you in a second. Freud thought it all emanated from complexes formed in childhood experiences. However. You‟ve got a problem. Was it not all a bit Freudian? Not really. we got to the bar and Dave was ready with our drinks.” “Do you want to talk about it later?” asked John. “Tell me about it. John did agree with Freud.” said John boldly.” said Dave. He did not agree with that. It‟s getting worse and worse. “I‟ve chatted to Mike and thought we were through this. I accept it is a problem for them. We found a space to talk.” . “He‟s hurt. I just want a quick word with John. said John. “Yes. They push and probe to check out how the other responds. okay. We had an argument earlier this evening. “I disagree.

“Perhaps that‟s not a good word.” insisted Dave. I added a rider as a warning shot. “I can‟t say that flirting has ever landed me in deep water at work.” commented Dave. “Sounds like you‟ve discussed this before.” said Dave arrogantly.” said Dave. “Yes we are. “Only if people are insensitive to each other. “…as well you know!” John picked up my allusion and acknowledged my concern. mate. “But it causes so much disagreement. Dave. however.” answered John.” “I don‟t doubt it. “Insensitive?” I asked.” he added. “Flirting causes misunderstandings. . Penny?” said John. also picked up that some covert message was passing between us. “Oh! Are you two getting together?” asked Dave.Friends or Lovers I was not sure whether John intended to be offensive but he was coming perilously close. The sarcasm was back and I couldn‟t help fuelling the situation. “but I think we will later.” “Don‟t buy it. By the way. Too much experience. “Not directly. as John proceeded to respond.” said John. It was almost as if he was suggesting that Dave was inexperienced and shy. “You‟re a good flirt!” I wanted John to stop because his comments could deepen my problems. They never land on your desk.” said John. “but you won‟t notice all the problems that are solved by it. “What about you. John. how is Sally?” “Sally?” asked Dave.” answered John. “I‟ve had to deal with many problems caused by flirting. but it has certainly landed others…” I responded.

. “Well!” he started.” said Dave. “John is staying at Sally‟s while he works for us. Dave intervened. “Perhaps the two of you could explain to me what the fuck is going on?” Both Dave and I looked at John with a start.” “And when did this happen?” he asked.” replied Dave. We‟re enjoying ourselves . “Yes. “She never mentioned you to me. “What?” said Dave. Penny.” answered John. “Just recently – hardly got used to the idea myself!” I said pretending joy while my mind was turning to clay. John made another intervention.Rory Ridley-Duff “Oh she‟s great. By asking John about Sally it invited John to ask me about Mike. “Just as well. “After!” I said firmly. “By the way. “No. isn‟t it?” he added. totally engaged by this discovery. John looked at me. “You and Mike?” he asked.” “Sally at work? Do you know Sally?” “Yes – known her for years. piecing things together in his head. slightly embarrassed and mouthed the word „sorry‟. “Do you and Mike want to come over for dinner on Sunday night?” My blood ran cold. “Before or after you arranged the flat for him?” Dave asked with disdain.” asked John.” said Dave cynically. Didn‟t you know?” I said. Before I could answer. “Small world.I wish I could stay longer but I‟m needed back at home.

trying to diffuse the situation.” said Dave..that….” responded John.. I was about to go after him and make him apologise but John stopped me. I want to be there to watch you beat the shit out of him!” “And you the mediator?” I asked. “No. John moved closer and whispered in my ear. A few people near us picked up my tone and turned to look.” he said pointing at my head. “Only as a first resort!” he responded. If he starts a fight with you.” he said with his hand on his heart. “Be careful.” It took me a moment to get the joke. then find me. “That….” Dave turned and left before I could answer.” “My knight in shining armour?” I queried. “Why don‟t we circulate for a bit and then slip out? If Dave comes anywhere near you. “because if he‟s not we really have a problem. You‟ve not been employed for a year yet.” I said. “Not complicated at all. “as well as this. “Fuck him! Wanker!” “I hope so.pig is going to do my appraisal in three weeks!” “Then you‟ve got to use this. “The two of you are antagonising each other.” quipped John. “I‟d like to fry his arse!” I shouted.” . “I‟m fed up working with this tart.” “Shit! You‟re right. Why?” “It‟s complicated. “There are better ways to do it. Penny!” said John trying to calm me down. my sense of humour returning.Friends or Lovers “It‟s a simple question.

invited them for dinner then insisted that I come with Mike. You‟re a sweetie. I told him not be such a soppy idiot. He said that he wanted to talk “strategy”. When he let go. When I set out this morning I was full of the joys of spring. I noticed that his eyes were filled with tears. but now I was battling to save my job. When he heard this.” I said before I saw his grin. I can take you. John and I took a cab to a quiet pub and I told him about Dave‟s wife. As days go. Dave‟s e-mail and my conversations with Mike. Penny. I told him of my wish to marry Mike.Rory Ridley-Duff “You‟ll need friends for this one. I could see the concern growing on his face. He called Elaine and Sam.” “Thank you. today had not been a good one. he cryptically replied that „every good soldier needed the support of his unit‟. “I‟m probably the only sober person in the room. When I asked why. About an hour later.” The rest of the evening passed off without any more incidents. the launch evening. I never drink before a talk so if you want to go home.” he corrected.” “I‟d take you – but I‟ve been drinking gin all evening….” he joked. he grabbed me and hugged me for what seemed like an age. . I want to go home. “Damn.. “I‟ll call him later. How‟s Mike going to take this?” he asked.

It was bad enough that I had intruded into a number of delicate personal relationships. I had been judgemental about Mike‟s motives. Not only had I misjudged Mike. however. How could others possibly know or understand what had gone on? How could I possibly explain the complexity of this situation so that another person could understand it? The world not only looked more complex but it also made more sense. but now it was the other way around I started to experience how the intrusions feel on the receiving end. Two months earlier. Dave would not be looking for evidence of my innocence. we can only see what we are looking for. The law required me to investigate. Given what I‟d learnt from the conflict between Mike and Elona. then I was up shit creek without a paddle. only evidence of my guilt. as John had suggested. I was now experiencing things from the other side. or left Mike and Elona to sort out their own problems. and the frustration of having to deal with others‟ unstated agendas. In the past. but I now realised that my attitude had been coloured both by the hurt I felt in the past and my attraction to him. I was less confident. he was matter of fact and kept reassuring me that I had truth on my side. however. And what was it that I was guilty of? Most of his attacks were about my flirting.Friends or Lovers Chapter 42 I was glad to get home to Mike. but now I was not so sure. I began to wonder whether perhaps I might have done things differently. Hard as it was to admit. If. When I told him what had happened. It may not only have been my . Now it was Dave who was being judgemental about me. I had been convinced that sexual harassment laws were progressive.

I was „independent‟ and „efficient‟. Not everybody saw the distinctions as I did. I had my island existence at work. Firstly. others intruded into my world. Later. Just like Will. Instead he just savoured the conversation we had. searching for “truth” and “justice” and then working out how to make it happen. Together they were a formidable combination. but were also contributing to better decisions about people in the workplace. I remember once seeing the film About a Boy. Elona has. I had created an imaginary world in which men and women should behave one way at work and another way outside work. In my mind. rather than at home. The main character Will tried to live an „island‟ existence but gave in to the attention of a lonely 12-year-old boy. he had no wish to talk “strategy”. I retraced the route I took with John around Warwick castle and we ended up at the same Italian restaurant. Mike and John were different. Mike did the same. I protected myself with professional ethics and personal boundaries to create a haven for corporate values. but every conversation made me question my life a little bit more. I was also emotionally disconnected and dysfunctional. or felt they should be enforced. but perhaps my values as well. I did this not only to share treasured . Unlike John. On Sunday we went for a walk. and most recently Elaine. however. I started to see myself as a female version of Will. to some extent. They rarely saw eyeto-eye. Mike and I had a quiet day. Mike the stubborn idealist. I was coming to a realisation that these bonds not only reached deep into my personal life. John was the pragmatic politician.Rory Ridley-Duff judgement that was at fault. John pierced my armour. and Phil has also made some inroads.

“I brought John here a couple of months ago. my coming out of myself started on that day. He never used five words where three would do. “What would be solved by talking about it?” he responded. I smiled and said that would be nice. “I‟m just interested.” I said. his emotions always came out as he spoke.” he answered. in body. When I look back.” I said. from the moment I faced-down my fear and shared my most private feelings. pointing to his head. “A few. .” he replied.” he replied with a straight face.” responded Mike. “Would you take me to them?” “I‟d rather find new places. That was another difference between them. “Do you have any special places? Places you went with your wife?” I asked.Friends or Lovers memories with Mike. but any remaining attachments that might affect our future together. my change of heart. “And now for me. but with Mike you had to dig for them.” “What would you like to know?” I suddenly realised that it was not so much his past that I was interested in. “You might be disappointed. Lock. Mike. “You have me.” I commented. but as a tribute to John. With John. “Nice for him.” I said. “And for me. “You don‟t talk about the past.” he said. But I also want to know the person in here!” I said. “You.” “Yes. stock and barrel.

While we had made plans – and I kept telling myself that I should take comfort from them – it worried me that he may not truly be over her. I realised that I was starting to have doubts about his commitment. While it was nice to have his attention.” I said with a grin. Even though I did not push him. “I prefer not to think about it. then held me in his arms and kissed me. I felt unconcerned. Strangely. nothing could take away the bliss that I was enjoying right now.” he replied. No matter what happened in the future. His silence on the issue of his wife troubled me. I would have these memories forever. “That‟s because you‟ve only microscopically examined my body!” he joked.Rory Ridley-Duff “Haven‟t been so far. he had also evaded the question. “I guess I‟m curious how you feel about your marriage. “You were very committed to her……” Suddenly I stopped. There was little point holding back now I had started.” I responded.” He stopped and turned to me. “I guess. .

Mike?” asked John.” “But you said that even Harry thought you were doing a good job. “He‟s going to look at the truth. “Thank you. but it was good to have his support. “But Penny is brilliant at her job – aren‟t you. but most of the others would not believe him. surely?” responded Mike. “Nearly 6 years. Sam. But John is right about Dave. who probably knew the least about all the cock ups I had made.” Mike joined in the “strategy” discussion and kept coming back to what people had said about my work. “He‟ll see through Dave. He‟s pissed off with me.Friends or Lovers Chapter 43 “He‟s not going to bring that up!” asserted John. won‟t he?” . John was trying to persuade everyone that Dave was going to block my appointment. Penny?” said Sam. “How long have you been there.” he answered. getting quite heated. We had been discussing my situation at work for nearly half an hour over after-dinner coffee. “Now look at this from Harry‟s point of view. It was Dave who gave him this impression. I knew he was biased. Is he going to believe someone he‟s worked with closely for 6 years or a probationer that he‟s met just once or twice?” asked John. He thought the company would be crazy to sack me. “But that‟s what pisses him off – surely he‟ll raise it?” I argued.

I began to catch her drift. now joined the conversation. If he sacks Penny. I noticed John smile at Elaine and she raised her glass to him. Elaine had talked to me about some of the corporate battles that she‟d been in. If there is a conflict. “No. “Let‟s assume for a moment that John is right. who had been listening more than talking. “We‟ve invested a huge amount in this partnership. Everyone turned to look at her. he‟ll control what Harry hears. showing considerable irritation. Elaine. but what we are going to do about it.Rory Ridley-Duff John gave Mike a dismissive look. He‟s under no obligation to keep her on.” said John enthusiastically.” she started. The only thing Dave has to fear is Harry‟s reaction. the subtle political pressures and pragmatic alliances that work behind the scenes. “That‟s right. “If I‟m wrong then we have nothing to worry about.” “And also give Dave a few worries of his own!” added Elaine. “What do you mean?” asked Sam.” “But isn‟t this between Penny and Dave?” asked Sam. He does not even have to give her a proper reason. But if I‟m right then we need to ensure that Dave does not control what Harry is hearing. then I‟m going to kick his arse – it will affect my working relationship with him!” she said pointedly. “And how is Mike going to be able to work when .” Everyone around the table stopped for a moment to consider her remarks. I concur with John. “Let‟s assume that Dave is going to look for a way to get Penny out. “I certainly am. “You‟re not suggesting we get involved?” queried Sam.” said Elaine. It‟s not what‟s going to happen. If Dave wants to fuck it up because he can‟t deal with Penny‟s rejection then I want to apply some pressure.

“So little confidence!” complained Elaine. this is about our company‟s well-being. you can put them straight!” “And have Dave on my back?” she asked. Sam. Perhaps you‟re right!” responded John. Elaine had both political and financial independence whereas Sally‟s life was more precarious. I could understand Sally‟s fear. Only Mike stood between her and Dave. “Stuff like this doesn‟t stay secret.” “Okay. “I don‟t have a way of influencing things the way you do. Sally!” Sally had remained fairly quiet throughout. Mike‟s our sales manager. This isn‟t just about our friends. She was also in a line management situation with Dave.Friends or Lovers Dave sacks his future wife. “We all have an interest!” said Elaine. If your colleagues talk about it.” she said. “You too. Mike was not aware that I‟d talked to the others and he shot me a quick glance then cast his eyes down at the table. Sal. I‟d taken over his life and he saw her much less. If Mike‟s . “You‟d stand by while Dave shits on Mike?” asked John.” she said. Can‟t you see the threat?” Since I had told both Elaine and John about my marital aspirations it had been common knowledge within the group. With John returning home in a couple of weeks she might start to miss Mike‟s company. However. “I‟m keeping out of this. “But you can influence things on the ground. Dave‟s the Director of Business Development. Since we‟d become a couple. I wondered for a moment whether Sally might secretly want me off the scene to open the way to Mike again. “It‟s not that.” “On the ground?” she asked.

or protecting themselves. we had some idea of what to do if Dave tried to block my appointment and there was talk of a “last resort” action plan if he succeeded. was not over worried regardless of the outcome of my appraisal. Various scenarios and plans were hatched. I made a mental note to update her. Mike opened up. therefore. “Sal has to be careful. “I‟m much older than you. As soon as the car sped away from Sally‟s house. did not understand the complex background and network of relationships involving Dave. as we talked. The debate continued over more bottles of wine.” said Mike. My security came from the knowledge that there was no shortage of organisations seeking HR professionals. I focussed more on Mike‟s reaction to Elaine‟s comment about our marriage plans. as protecting the group. In fact. I did not have to wait long.Rory Ridley-Duff position was threatened then Dave would be able to exact personal revenge on Sally.” he replied. “Yes. Penny!” “So what?” .” I replied. I realised. “We have to talk. “What then?” I enquired. we do. but they were protecting theirs at the same time. Mike and Sally. Elaine. I realised that it was not so much that they were protecting me. By the time Mike and I left. It was reassuring that my friends took such a keen interest in protecting my future.” he said. He had been much quieter after her comment. debated and discarded. My mind. We all wanted to work and live together and this guided our discussions. “Are you having second thoughts?” “Not exactly.

” “How can you know that?” “My wife got pregnant a few years ago and I was completely opposed. it dawned on her this might be her only chance to be a mother. “You don‟t now.she accidentally got pregnant. “I don‟t want them. Did I want to give up the choice? “Tell me about your friend. I don‟t want children.” I asked. “She was successful – like you. And who could blame her?” he asked. But what if you change your mind? What if you accidentally get pregnant?” “I don‟t know!” I answered.” “But have you ever been pregnant.” I answered. When I considered the question in the abstract I was sure of my feelings. a regular boyfriend who she lived with.” Despite what I had told him previously. but when I asked myself how . “Well. You know that. Mike. Once she faced a real choice her feelings started to change. “I had a friend once who „didn‟t want children‟ until she got pregnant. “How do you mean?” I said. She had a good career. the argument began to affect me.” “What‟re you saying?” “I‟m saying that I know for sure that I don‟t want children.Friends or Lovers “What if you want children?” he asked. Did she want to miss that chance?” “I have thought about this. Penny?” When he asked that question. I actually felt a pang of disappointment that he did not want children with me. She didn‟t want children until – in her mid-thirties . I paused trying to imagine what it would be like to have a child growing inside me.

Mike!” “That‟s what worries me. Could I do that? “No. She thought he‟d change when the child was born.” “So what‟re you saying? You want to break up?” “No. They both feel the other betrayed them. “I can‟t say. “I‟ll live with you – but if you want children then I‟m going to bow out so you can fulfil your dream.” he continued. our relationship won‟t survive. “What will happen if you get pregnant and I don‟t want it?” His questions were beginning to deeply unsettle me and I started to feel emotional.” “But don‟t you love me?” He smiled broadly. “It could tear us apart. The relationship with her boyfriend broke up soon after. Is it a good idea to marry?” I did not respond. Now they hate each other with a vengeance. I was not sure what to think.” “What did your friend do?” “She had the child. If you want a child and I don‟t. no! I want to treasure this for as long as possible and that means being realistic. When I was young I imagined that all serious relationships operated on the basis of unending commitment. He never forgave her for ignoring his feelings.” I pondered this strange proposal. I haven‟t. “Yes – but I don‟t want to be a dad in my 70s. . I really don‟t. Our relationship probably won‟t survive the birth of a child. no. I can‟t stand in the way of that.” I finally answered. She never forgave him for leaving.Rory Ridley-Duff I would feel aborting Mike’s child it affected me differently.

we arrived home. The future was still full of possibilities. “If you reach the menopause and we‟re still together.Friends or Lovers “Tell you what. went into the kitchen and made two cups of cocoa. . We chatted more in front of the TV and caught a late night film.” he continued again.” And with that. but that was Mike through and through. For the first time since we‟d started sharing a bed we did not make love before going to sleep. Romantic this was not. this was the clearest indication I‟d had that we were going to have a long-term relationship. I‟ll marry you!” I gave a short chuckle. Even though we‟d talked about the possibility of breaking up. “Okay. I‟ll think about it. then went upstairs. Moments later I felt one of his arms around me as he kissed my neck and said “goodnight”.

she accused me of bullying her. just a Sunday and Wednesday afternoon when the shop closed. Was I a bully? Mike sometimes joked that I could be. I felt we should visit daily. I asked Phil to make some visits to see how she was progressing.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 44 Elona‟s move into the flat with Mike was problematic at first. We started to have chats in the evening at home and at work during lunch breaks. I dropped in a couple of times to check how things were. her parents disapproved of her drinking in pubs and when the situation erupted at work they felt deeply ashamed. Normally we would not visit so much. There was no weekend in her family. He had not seen me when I felt weak and feeble (the way John had seen me). When I had been at her parents‟ shop and heard her torrent of abuse. I told him I was not always strong but he would not believe it. on the other hand. not just to learn about her. We talked about her upbringing. turned out to be strong in ways I‟d not realised. I was trying to build her confidence. As part of his professional development. but given her precarious state. Even as a grown up. but also the scriptures and morality that affected her freedom. Brownies and Guides followed and she talked of the many skills she had developed. I decided to visit her when Mike went out with his drinking pals. but also to learn about myself. Instead of showing sympathy. they chided her for . When she did. a by-product of my strength of character. my professional worries receded. Her parents were committed Christians and they arranged for her aunt to take her to Sunday school each week. As a result. It took two weeks for her to feel strong enough to return to work. Elona.

I remember only mild embarrassment at their openness. I started to wonder how she had turned out so „normal‟ despite her upbringing. They did not even let her take girlfriends upstairs. play music. chat and talk. my voice was heard and sex talk was commonplace in our house. More than once that led to us having a fight. When I asked her how she got to know boys. I listened as much as I could. she simply said that she had not been able to. and avoided the temptation to get angry with either her or her parents. Elona‟s father was protective and would never let her go to parties. They would tell her that in the „devil‟ world of „Godless‟ people. although my mother would tell me what I should and should not do. to take them up to my room. If I had a boy with me they would knock on my bedroom door.Friends or Lovers getting mixed up with a “bad crowd”. on the other hand.upstairs was strictly out of bounds even after she reached the age of 18. judged as little as I could. Even so. those of our parents could not have been more different. especially my father. Sometimes I would get keen on a boy and still my parents would not interfere. Elona. Attitudes to sex – or more accurately. My parents had been liberal in their attitudes. My room was a private space to do as I pleased. Private conversations with boys were not allowed in her house – one or other parent had to be present. people pursued each other for sex and treated each other disrespectfully. Instead. Both my father and mother allowed me to have male friends. was not allowed to bring boys into the house without the permission of her father . and . I can still remember my parents telling me on my 16 th birthday that if I wanted boys to stay over they would be allowed to sleep with me if I wished.

she gradually opened up and admitted that she had been buying romance novels for years. When the young lads at work invited her to the pub. at their attitude. But in talking to me. or meek wallflowers schooled in the art of attracting „real‟ men. thoughts and feelings I was . Elona. I shared with her my boldest adventures. when it came to my mind. She was a young woman trying to navigate the minefield of courtship armed only with knowledge from romance novels. You could not rely on what was written in books. rather than relieved. She imagined bold heroines aggressively seducing their prey. I tried to reassure her that experience had to be gained first hand. this strange morality where people could express themselves freely. When he rebuffed her. she would walk away if she heard crude conversations. She fantasised about this other world. and showed interest in her. on the other hand felt embarrassed if her parents even hinted at sex. I remember feeling grateful. While I had no inhibitions about my body. We laughed as stories came out of hiding and got aired for the first time. he triggered all the feelings she was harbouring. Some women deliberately excluded her. There was something tragic in hearing her story. it was as if I was also talking to myself. Even at work. she felt bitter. Others picked on her and ridiculed her prudishness. When Nathan took a shine to her.Rory Ridley-Duff confessed to them that sometimes I had sneaked a boyfriend into my room in the middle of the night. she was bursting with curiosity. betrayed and misled. They admitted that they knew but chose not to say anything. Privately she lusted after the kind of life that was described in them but never imagined she could ever be part of it. As I talked.

I found new depths in myself. A mother like me! At hearing those words. But since the fall out over Sally he had returned home only to be with his children. As I watched Mike and learnt about each new layer of his character. His comment started a chain of thoughts that still haunts me. They mattered to him and he felt the pleasures that came from fatherhood and family life outweighed any problems in his relationship with his wife. I found yet another avenue to release the pain and hurt of the past. As for Mike. “You are good for her. “If she‟d had a father like you. Through her candid confessions to me.” “And a mother like you. I switched the conversation back to Elona. and our friendship gave her a way to compare her fantasy world to the reality of my life. he found his wife attractive and their argumentative relationship spiced up their sex life. perhaps?” he retorted. It was the financial betrayal that killed it. Was my hostility to motherhood another way of avoiding responsibility? These questions troubled me. Before I realised it. He did admit too that. I was learning again from someone years my junior.Friends or Lovers even more inhibited than Elona. she might have grown up very differently. I started to realise new things that I had been missing – that the ephemeral materialism . you know!” I told him. I felt a shudder. Mike joked that if he had lied and said it was „just sex‟ his marriage might have survived. I started to get a sense of just how important parents are and the huge responsibility they bear. he gradually opened up about his marriage and I learnt that his kids were the principle reason he had remained for so long. His wife never forgave him for giving financial support to another woman. despite the problems.

my mother told me stories. Before the arguments of my teenage years. the transient consumerism pressed on us by the media. The media was not reality. The world of parenthood took on a new fascination. I found that there was nothing more fascinating or more pleasurable than getting to know people well. was not important. conversations with real people flourished to the point that my television became just another piece of furniture. it was a means. No longer could I ignore how the crazy complicated mess that Elona and I had created at work had its foundation in our family histories. Perhaps my own mother encouraged this creative streak in me. In their place. but was not life itself. For me. something that my father‟s pragmatism and liberalism also shaped. Perhaps that is what spurred me to write this story. That spurred me to take greater interest in how I came to be who I am.Rory Ridley-Duff of corporate life. Their stories – which had for two decades been a source of entertainment and amusement to me – started to lose their standing. Corporate life was not a reason for being. she would make up new adventures on the spur of the moment. And when Mike suggested I would make a good mother the urge to be a parent grew stronger and stronger. where those obsessed with self-importance told us how to live our lives. setting out my life on paper became part of my liberation. It was a setting in which our lives unravelled. . I cast my mind over my life with my mother and father. it was a place where vanity ran amok. In them. she and I would join the gang and solve our own mysteries. I had loved Scooby Doo and rather than watch videos again and again.

then “messages”.Friends or Lovers Chapter 45 Six weeks after Elona moved in with Mike. M and P tell me u r recovering. raising my eyebrows in wonder. “Well. then “inbox”. “Who is that from?” I asked. Show me!” Inside her sweaty palm was her mobile phone. Down the list I could see messages from her old boyfriend. When I emerged. The moment I arrived at her flat she screeched at me to come and see something. pressed “menu”. come here!” I hastily hung up my jacket. “Well. “What‟s happened?” I asked. pleaded with Elona to let me go to the loo first. but at the top was a phone number. it‟s good isn‟t it. Wud u like drink with mates after work? Phil x “Better than the lottery?” I asked. “Penny! Penny! Come here. “Have you won the lottery?” “Better than that. For a couple of seconds a fancy graphic showed a pile of papers being sorted. I mean he must……he must like me!” . Her excitement was so great that she could not contain it. she was waiting on the sofa clutching something in her hand. Her eyes were wide open and her face was so animated that I thought she would burst a blood vessel. come on then. come on. She open the lid.” she answered. Elona excitedly pressed a green button and the message appeared. something happened that transformed her life.

but when I was with him I took nothing for granted. He may be interested in that. “Yes. love! Look at me. “Everyone talks about him at work. Pretend he‟s your fantasy hero. “But it‟s a drink invitation! He‟s asking me out. especially after he did that workshop about sexism in the army. but had his eye on others as well. “Elona. starting to look a bit downcast. She duly obliged.” “But my Dad said…. It may be that Phil was asking her out..” “What about John?” she continued.” I said as I took her hands and our eyes locked..” . I mentally got ready to nail Phil when I saw him next morning.Rory Ridley-Duff I didn‟t know how to break the news that this may be kindness. You‟ve met him?” I asked.. He had mentioned Elona. however.” “Forget your Dad. “I have a friend called John and when he first asked me for a drink I thought that perhaps he was trying to ask me out…. it does not always mean that he‟s asking you to be his girlfriend. It was „good‟. my love. But he may just want to be your friend….” My heart sank. “When a man asks you for a drink.” I interrupted.” “You just want to spoil my dreams!” she interrupted. “Maybe you shouldn‟t read too much into it.” I commented. Very excited. but remember that this may be your wish but not his. but then again it may not and I felt that it would be irresponsible not to prepare her for the possibility. “I was excited. “Dream all you like. Secretly I thought about him a lot.” she answered. or an attempt to help her mix in with people at work.

” I said. “Just start me off.” I thought about this. I don‟t want to appear too forward. I gave her a school-ma‟am grin. But you don‟t want him thinking you‟re not interested either?” I replied. eh? I want him to know I‟m interested – I mean really interested.” .” she said imploringly. “But I don‟t know what to say! Could you…?” “Could I what?” “Could you reply?” I laughed. “You‟re hot for him. right?” “You‟re the best! First impressions.Friends or Lovers “Have you replied to this?” I asked. “Just send the first few messages then I‟ll take over. The thought of me flirting by mobile with Phil while he thought he was talking to Elona tickled me. “I think it would be better if it all came from you. “No! I was waiting for you. “Why not?” she asked.” I said finally. She jumped on her seat and punched the air with her fist. giving in to her. returning to the question in hand. She so wanted to get this one right. “How d‟you want to play it then?” I replied. Would it be so bad? “I can‟t have a text conversation with him.” “Good. My heart went out to her. Pen. Perhaps Phil would never know the difference. I saw that she looked slightly hurt by my mirth so I immediately apologised and gave it some thought. She‟d been planning this all day.

Then she broke into laughter as I added the last two words. you know?” I answered. I guess. in a matter of fact way. . “D‟you think that‟s too risqué?” I asked her. But it‟s so exciting. “Depends!” she replied. “I want to have some fun!” I suddenly felt as if. in response. “I‟m flattered. I knew Phil could be shy. Thank you!” I said. We were so different. Could she change that much in a few weeks? “You can get hurt.” I said. I hardly knew her. isn‟t it?” she replied. but also that he had a quiet confidence. “On what?” I asked. I showed the message to Elona and she kept nodding enthusiastically. “On whether I care about frightening him off!” I‟d assumed that she‟d be crushed if he turned her down so I was confused by her comment. We didn‟t want to be tacky or crude. “Don‟t you care?” “A bit. wondering if she was drunk. I sat for a second wondering why she would admire me. She took my free hand with both of hers. “Never stopped you!” she said. “Do you have any idea how much I admire you?” “What! Admire me?” I said. despite all our conversations. I guess it didn‟t!” “Penny?” I looked up at her and she continued to speak.Rory Ridley-Duff I thought for a second. “No. I selected „reply‟ and typed away carefully. How could we use that? “Okay! Give me the phone.

.” “I wish! Seriously. I‟ve pissed around and messed things up big time.. Been places. I‟d not had to overcome the things she had lived through. Inside I knew I was no better and no stronger than she was. “What are you talking about? You‟ve done so much with your life. or suffer the disappointments she had faced. that‟s such a sweet thing for you to say. Elona! I‟m nothing of the sort.” she continued.” “What do you mean?” “I mean that you live your life without any fear. lonely and wretched. I can be crabby and unreasonable. selfish. emotional. Elona.. and sexy and vivacious. got a good career and now a fantastic man. mean and nasty……” I started to run out of words so Elona decided to take over. “Are we going to send that. “But most of all. studied.Friends or Lovers “You‟re my heroine!” she said. “…. you know how to live!” She said this with such force that I didn‟t know what to say. “you‟re a natural. and strong and fair……” I shuddered at the thought that someone would use me as a role model. “Elona. you only see what‟s on the outside. Inside I have doubts just like you. I‟m really touched.” She glanced at the phone. What possible claim could I have to a life better than hers? And yet. From where I‟m sitting.” She suddenly got cross with me. It was not something that I felt I could refuse.and kind and thoughtful. done things. travelled. Sometimes I‟m miserable. bitchy. then?” . “Oh. she wanted me as her role model.

Rory Ridley-Duff I looked at the message once more and read it out loud. okay?” . sexy?” Elona took the phone out of my hand and pressed the green button. “Wot u have in mind? P xxxx” “Look! Look!” shrieked Elona. I think. What outfit wld u like me 2 wear for u. “I want all the gory details.” She looked slightly confused. Elona handed me the phone again and I typed away.” I said. “Where are you going?” she asked. girl.” I said confidently. “Skn-tite and sexy? Wow! Looking 4wrd to seeing you in it…and out of it…. We were like two schoolgirls swapping messages in class with a boy. A moment later. Call right now!” I got up and went to get my coat. “He‟s added four kisses. she read Phil‟s reply out loud while jumping up and down. In an instant. Elona held it up and read it out loud.” I said. “This is the last one I send. “But tomorrow. Let‟s reel him in. “Too late for second thoughts now. “Accept. She pressed the green button and away it went. okay? After this you‟re on your own!” Elona nodded.” “But Penny?” “Trust me. This is between you and him. When I finished. “You two should be alone. her mobile signalled the arrival of new mail so we excitedly opened her inbox. She read the message to herself and cackled again.. He‟s taking the bait. Ellie. I looked up at her.” “Okay.

Even as I chided myself for my judgement. “You‟re welcome. I realised that this was the first time I‟d ever been someone‟s heroine. able to make your own judgements – even if sometimes they turn out to be flawed and wrong. In the distance the sound of an excited young woman could be made out amidst much laughter and giggling. “Thank you!” she said. For me. I turned and walked out of the flat. I had challenged the behaviour of others and shown no fear. She was . With my coat on. Some other time. I walked over and gave her a big hug.” I replied. In her eyes. Even as I contemplated my own heroes and heroines – Mike. Elona had come alive – she was.Friends or Lovers She grinned broadly. She had seen me stand up for her against men she felt had hurt her. “Okay. I had taken from the experience that I had to be more cautious and respectful of others. as she put it. but the excitement and joy that filled her whole body was matched only by the size and breadth of the smile she beamed. As she dialled the number and let it ring. with your own thoughts and feelings. I would have to talk to her about that. Perhaps I was able to show her that you could be a woman in your own right. Elaine and John – the extent of my impact on Elona was beginning to dawn on me. She could not see what was going on inside me. only the confidence and bluster that erupted when I was in the grip of moral indignation. piss off then and see if I care!” she said. As I walked down a flight of stairs into the car park. I realised that perhaps this mattered less to her than the example I had set. ready to learn „how to live‟. If I had only heard her words I might have been offended.

.Rory Ridley-Duff setting out on a bumpy road – of that I had no doubt – but after several weeks of pain and years of loneliness it was a moment of unfettered joy. She grasped her future with both hands and held on firmly.

“I don‟t think „slowly‟ is in his vocabulary. Pen!” “Are you okay?” “I‟m on cloud nine! Thank you so much. At around 10pm the phone rang. It was Elona again. Ellie!” I said. and Mike looked at me with a quizzical expression on his face. laughing and shouting that she needed a wage rise. “Faaannnnntttttaaaassssttttiiiiccccc!” I shouted. then moved underneath my skirt and played with the elastic of my pants. one of his hands edged up inside my blouse and started to fondle my breasts while the other stroked my leg. “Why?” I asked.” “Then how come you are talking to me now?” I heard her giggle. “Why?” “Because I won‟t be able to talk soon!” . really.” Mike got up and walked over to me and I felt his arms move around my stomach. Take things slowly.Friends or Lovers Chapter 46 Mike and I had a quiet evening at my flat watching a DVD. “Now don‟t rush things.” “I did nothing.” I started to say. have you?” “I talked so much I ran out of credit. Gradually. “I‟ve got to go now. and then heard something crash in the background. “What was that? Is there someone with you?” “Maybe. He fondled me gently as I talked some more. “Not just booked a holiday with Phil.” she said coyly. Need a raise to keep my mobile phone topped up.

oooohhh….to go…. “……to have sex with me while I talk on the phone to you……. then picking her up and carrying her to bed. that Phil‟s strong body had moved between Elona legs.. “Keep talking.this………conversation………Oh God!……. “Me too!” she said when she finally came back to the phone. “What?” I replied..... He was dying for me. I tried to imagine Elona‟s excitement as she trembled in anticipation of her first fuck.” Mike whispered in my ear “Keep talking”. . Right there in the hall Mike nibbled the folds of my flesh while two fingers eased their way in. lifted me onto the table.” Mike had knelt down on the floor.left nipple. A few moments later...” I had to pause for a second as his finger touched a spot that took my breath away.I‟ve got…. Elona thought I was talking to her and asked again what was wrong.tomorrow……. I pictured Phil ripping open Elona‟s blouse. As Mike pleasured me between my legs.” I heard a round of giggling as Elona repeated my words to Phil. pulled down my knickers and buried his head between my legs. “Better finish….bye Ellie!” I put the phone down and spread my legs wide. “Ellie? I have a man here who is dying ……….” whispered Mike a second time. I imagined what might be happening to Elona.aaahhhh……has just gone down inside my pants.Rory Ridley-Duff “Why? What‟s wrong?” “Nothing at all – it is just that right at this moment there is someone‟s hand gently playing with my…. “……. her level of laughter increased and I heard her shriek. while the other…….

“I don‟t know. As I lay there. my eyes closed. The surge continued and built. I guess. Comes naturally. “How do you do that?” I said. . I arched back and focussed my thoughts on the feeling of Mike‟s tongue while picturing Phil between Elona‟s legs.” He did not intend the pun. “This much?” he said. “How d‟you make me feel like that?” He laughed gently. Just as I started to wonder whether it was pure wickedness to picture Phil as Mike brought me off. gesturing a small amount with his thumb and finger. He tried to kiss me but I pulled away. and I surfed towards heaven. waves of pleasure started to glide up through my body. my breath shortening. Mike‟s lips made their way up the front of my body gently kissing the breasts that I had exposed. His strong muscular buttocks thrust into her with each movement of Mike‟s fingers inside me. “Have you any idea how deeply I am in love with you?” I asked. until the nerve ends all pulsated simultaneously and I convulsed struggling to catch my breath. until I felt his breath on my face. moaning. “Do what?” he asked. I watched him as he spread her legs and climbed between them.Friends or Lovers In my mind‟s eye. Then I put both my hands on his cheeks and felt tears welling up in my eyes. but I laughed anyway. It was the first time I had uttered the actual words and I waited for his reply.

for reasons I could not fathom. pretending to resist while egging him on to have his way with me. This much!” I said as I pressed my lips onto his and aggressively pushed my tongue into his mouth. I helped to bring him to the heights of ecstasy. Something told me I was wicked but I just knew he was dying for me. “Come on. Suddenly here. and guided his penis towards my pussy. After carrying me to the bedroom. I spread my legs as wide as I could. He tried to spread my legs but I resisted him. As we kissed. As the man I had chosen to give my heart glided into me again and again. “And I love you this much!” he said. he threw me down manfully and put his hands on my knees while glancing down at a huge erection. I held his head in my hands as I explored everything I could find. remembering the way Elona and I had goaded Phil. as Mike overpowered me and started to thrust himself deep into me. my sister once said to me that she could not imagine anything more satisfying than the thought of her lover so filled with passion . I held his sleek and powerful body as it tensed and relaxed. “No. “Show me what you are made of!” As these words left my mouth.Rory Ridley-Duff I laughed again but wanted to preserve the tenderness of the moment.” I said. I immediately pushed the thought from my mind. I found myself wondering if I had stumbled across the answer. he picked me up and I wrapped my legs around his waist. my mind suddenly cast itself back to the moment when John had asked me about the army and sexism. As a teenager. big boy. I revelled in the lust that we‟d created and teased him to the full. Then. I gave in and allowed him to overpower me.

I wanted to be Mike‟s greatest fantasy. I had entered a new world and reached a new level of understanding.Friends or Lovers that he could not resist her. I watched his face strain as he reached the limits of his passion. What greater gift could I give him? And what more could he give me than show his inability to resist me? As I lay on the bed. I found her fantasies sick. She would fantasise about her boyfriend so full of lust that he would force himself on her as she tried to resist him. I wanted to him to feel an uncontrollable desire for me that no-one. not even I. I hoped he felt the bewilderment and disorientation I felt when his magic tongue took me to another plane of existence. the woman that he could not resist. every spark of sexual energy that he possessed ignited and firing through his body. At the time. And there. . with Mike‟s spent body still lying inside me. I hoped he was feeling the same crushing desire that I felt for him. If I could do that to him…for him…he would be mine forever. But in this moment I realised what was so exciting to her. I held him in my arms and wept. All the certainties that I had ever felt about how men and women should behave vanished in the dust. as if she was fantasising about rape. could stop. as Mike arched in the throws of orgasm and shot his sperm deep into me.

I had two agendas . when I arrived at work the next morning. The objective was to stimulate discussion and reflection about different perceptions of my work. was to invite Phil into my office for a private conference. When I started. I found myself less worried about pornography than e-mails offering prescription drugs. I had to appraise myself. Did we want staff self-prescribing Vallium or Diazepam? That thought horrified me considerably more than sex-invitations from places like Dirty Dicks or Giant Jugs. but I did it both quickly and personal. he was late so I passed the time by checking over my emails. I printed it and filled it in. But when it came to “attention to detail” the reverse was probably true.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 47 My first task. adding written . Unusually for him. It was strange filling out an appraisal form that I had designed myself. The tick boxes allowed each person to say how the employee performed relative to their own expectations. In fact. Each part of the appraisal had tick boxes. I was tempted to tear up the zero-tolerance policy on porn completely. the other professional. Would it really cause a problem to treat people like adults and allow them to exercise their own judgement? I received an e-mail from Dave. I felt this was better than a 1 – 5 scale because “communication skills” in a CEO were much more important than in a bookkeeper. It was my appraisal form. then ask one of my peers. but today I looked at them differently. There was the usual junk that I discarded. then one of my subordinates and lastly get feedback from a director. one of my first acts was to introduce 360º reviews.

“I‟m off the market. After a second. When Phil had completed the form I called him into my office. did you?” “Yes.” he said. “Good morning. slightly defensively.” he replied with a smile.” My gentle sarcasm amused him and he felt slightly awkward as I put my arms around him for the first time. Finally. How about you?” “I‟ve had worse!” I replied in probably the biggest understatement of my entire life. his arms made their way around my back and he held me much more tightly than I expected. I gave the form to him and asked if he would complete it then pass it to Jo. Ms Leyton. I was quite hard on myself – a reflection of the difficult period I had just been through – but in the comments I talked extensively about what I had learnt. Phil broke into laughter and I instinctively moved to embrace him. “Very pleasant. As he walked through the door the two of us beamed at each other in the knowledge that we had both enjoyed the evening before. “Between friends. Penny!” Before I could protest. Mr Trent!” I said with mock formality. As soon as Phil arrived. “For what?” I asked. “I think it‟s permitted.” I said. I started to rub his back. “Had a good evening. “Too late. then felt his hands on mine. I realised that he was having a joke with me.Friends or Lovers comments at the bottom of each section. Dave had to complete the section as director. It felt really good. I found myself hanging onto him and not letting go. .

It was not the wonderful and incredible experience that I had hoped for but it was still very exciting. you know!” A sudden surge of modesty interrupted my moment of vanity. but accepting of my command. “What is it?” He rummaged around in his briefcase and brought out an envelope.” I said.” “Aren‟t you going to show me?” he asked. see you in a moment!” Phil. we looked into each other‟s eyes and both realised the intensity of the feelings that we had just communicated. “Well. “You are too kind. then treat it as private and confidential! Go on. I found the .Rory Ridley-Duff When we finally let go of each other. left for the coffee machine while I opened the envelope. I showed the writing to Phil. as he separated himself from me and sat down in a chair.” added Phil. “She worships you. by the way. but inside I was uncomfortable at anyone building me into a special person. “Go on then. slightly surprised. “I cannot think why!” I replied. hoppit and come back in 5 minutes. On the outside were the words “Penny Leyton – strictly Private and Confidential”. “She gave me a message for you. “Rule number 1. I lost something last night – I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean. “if an employee says something is private and confidential. Penny. sir!” I said mocking him a bit. “I can. Inside was a folded bit of paper.” he said. there‟s a first for everything!” I said with some surprise. Go make a coffee or something.

He wasn‟t that gentle!” “Then tell him. Was the spark there?” “What do you mean?” “I mean did you want to rip his clothes off and jump into bed with him?” “God. “Yes.” Out of the corner of my eye I could see Phil coming back into the office.” “Why not?” “I might hurt his feelings!” Why. Waking up with someone next to you is something else. The more you practice it. the better it gets. . Just be patient and it will happen. There‟s no-one here at the moment.” “I got your note!” I said. isn’t it? Is this normal – I don’t feel completely bowled off my feet? Ellie I immediately picked up the phone and dialled her extension.” “I can‟t do that. But when we started it hurt a bit.Friends or Lovers cuddling afterwards more enjoyable and we talked and talked. yes. “Can you talk?” I asked. he‟ll want to give you as much pleasure as he can. Sex is like everything else in life. Ellie. I wondered. “Am I being too hard on him?” “No. did people so often think that it was preferable not to hurt someone else‟s feelings when their body was being hurt? “Ellie. If he doesn‟t then you‟ll want to think again about whether he‟s right for you.

it was good and all. As I watched Phil struggle it reminded me of my own struggle with John. right?” “Like a doctor and patient!” I said.” He hesitated again. “What did she say?” “That‟s between me and her. “Phil?” I asked. “Phil‟s coming!” “Don‟t tell him. “I‟m more interested in what you have to say. but if you are wondering whether she wants to see you again. I decided to . “She told you then?” “No secrets between girlfriends.” I offered.Rory Ridley-Duff “I have to go now.” I answered. Please!” “Jeez. “Are you alright? You don‟t have to say anything. sure!” I rang off as Phil entered the office. trying to be reassuring.. See you at the flat tonight. I realised that his anxiety about sharing his feelings was no different from mine. okay?” “Yeah. He suddenly looked quite sheepish and unsure.” “This is in confidence. When he didn‟t start talking I tried to give him some gentle encouragement. but we didn‟t……I didn‟t…. I think I can definitely confirm that the answer is „yes‟!” He smiled as he gave me the coffee. Ellie! I wouldn‟t dream of it.” I said. His eyes left mine for a moment and studied the floor and I noticed that his hands moved from his knees and joined together in an awkward clasp. He was surprisingly nervous. I remembered how he had moved around to my side and gently reassured me. “Well.

Phil!” I said confidently. But I‟d started and didn‟t want to take it out because I thought she might think I didn‟t want to make love to her. Do you know what I mean?” I looked at him and nodded.have any……foreplay!” he finally said.?” “I think I know what you mean. “I was so excited. Clearly this was difficult for him to say.. but I didn‟t know how to ask her to……you know…. when one wrong word or gesture can destroy trust and end a relationship. Phil. They were going to do well if they cared so much about each others‟ feelings on their first date. Can there be . I gently listened to him and tried to work out how to tell him what he needed to hear. I started to understand what he was saying and gently encouraged him.. It hurt and I was worried about hurting her.” I had to stifle a laugh – he would not have understood why I found this funny. I just ended up sticking it in and pumping away. “I wanted her to…but she didn‟t seem to know anything.Friends or Lovers do the same.” “We didn‟t……. Penny! I just wanted her so bad. Neither was interested in blaming the other. I put my arm on his back and helped him. “I really like her and all. As I sat next to him. but she didn‟t really know what to do. “I mean – I took her into the bedroom and I could tell she wanted me……” He hesitated again. I thought I might hurt her feelings. I was instantly relieved. These are the moments when people are at their most vulnerable. “But……we didn‟t……” “It‟s okay – nobody‟s going to judge you.

I saw his eyes grow moist. . I thought about George and the violence I had done him by not treating him with respect. but I smiled broadly and looked him in the eye. Phil. “I can‟t do that!” I felt like I was in the middle of a re-run. This was a first for me. “but I‟m confident you‟ll be happier the more you get to know her.Rory Ridley-Duff anything more important in my line of work? Is there anything more important in life? “Talk to her.” I started. Before I knew it. Talk to her about her parents. He had screamed at me that he was not a piece of meat. Where did he end up that night. I realised. had expressed his fears to me about sex. I wonder? I tried to imagine how he must have felt as he walked away. friend or lover.” I said reassuringly. “Tell her!” I said gently. the lad I had picked up in the bar when I was out with Carole and Chris. If you can do that you will find the answers you are looking for and discover someone who is going to bring you a lot of pleasure. family. “She‟s ready to learn if you have the confidence to teach her. As Phil talked about the pleasure he had wanted to bring Ellie. Talk to her about her upbringing.” As I looked at him.” “I just wanted it to be better for her. I thought about George. words started to spill out of my mouth. “No promises!” I said. you know?” “Then tell her. any man. “I did something once that I‟m truly ashamed of….” “You think?” he said. I couldn‟t remember any other occasion when a man. I had always thought men didn‟t care but as Phil poured out his feelings.

to cast my eyes down on the floor and wonder whether I had the courage to talk. I realised that I was letting Phil into my life. not just as a professional .. “Yes. “I wished he was someone else. my eyes started to moisten and tears started to roll down my nose and drip onto the floor. letting the import of the words hang in the air for a moment. “I ruthlessly seduced him.” I repeated. instead of gently telling him how to give me the pleasure I wanted.Friends or Lovers It was my turn to feel ashamed and hesitant. I looked at Phil and his gentle smile reassured me. saying nothing. I felt Phil‟s hand at the small of my back rubbing my spine. I began. I looked up at him with eyes full of tears. When he wasn‟t very good at it. Out poured the story of that night with a frankness and level of detail that I had withheld from John. “What happened?” Phil asked.. “I……”..wished……. As the realisation of what I had done engulfed me. It felt nice.” Phil sat there. I did the most disrespectful thing I‟ve ever done….” as I struggled to say it.” Phil looked surprised at my choice of words. I ruthlessly seduced him. “I picked up a young lad once. but gently coaxed me with his eyes and gentle touch. “I took him back to my flat and demanded service. “I…. not even as old as you…” It was Phil‟s turn to touch me gently and reassure me that it was okay to talk. but found it too hard to say at first.” Phil just nodded and suddenly the words started to flow much more freely. He was called George.

about this kind of stuff. I poured out my feelings to him for nearly 15 minutes. “Penny.” “Never?” I asked. “I‟m going to get us some more drinks. “Never!” he said again. When I thought about it.Rory Ridley-Duff colleague but as my closest personal friend. for all John‟s openness. for all my closeness to Mike. “Never!” he reaffirmed.” I said. drying my eyes. When do men talk about this I wondered? “Never?” I asked again. Phil started to talk again. “Then. He nodded more strongly.” I said after a pause. I‟ve never talked to anyone. “What a thought!” As we gathered ourselves up we noticed the cold coffees on the table. When I stopped. neither of them had ever revealed to me how they felt about making love to a woman.” . ever. I have to tell you that I think I‟m going to be sacked. “My God.

The way I changed my mind about Mike. there was a growing interest in the dispute between Elona and Mike. I quickly realised that my continued employment was problematic. At the end of our meeting. he said he could make „no promises‟ which I took to mean that a decision had already been taken. Jo had been kind and positive. . This was the beginning of the end. going over the issues that the appraisal had raised but avoiding the matter of Dave‟s behaviour toward me. I took the matter into my own hands and visited Harry. I told him he was too generous. Phil confessed to me that he‟d been visited by Harry. He had marked me down on most aspects of my performance and cited the handling of the dispute as the reason. Phil berated me for being too hard on myself and said that I had come to terms with it more quickly and more fully than anyone else he had known. Phil reassured me that whatever happened I would always have his respect. I talked with him for nearly two hours. having briefed Dave and the other senior executives about the appraisal process. I nearly screwed up completely for no other reason than my own prejudices. Privately I knew that it had more to do with the way our relationship had turned sour. mattered more to him than the prejudices I had initially displayed. and the care I had shown to Elona. I received my appraisal from Dave and there were no surprises. Nevertheless. It was this that gave him confidence in me. At senior management levels. After I had divulged to Phil what happened at the CIPD event.Friends or Lovers Chapter 48 The rest of the week was unsettling. as had Phil.

a layer of new managers develops beneath them . or any moral debate about their actions.a generation of sycophants and conformists who (having watched their own bosses fall from grace) learn not to take risks and never do anything that might lead to failure.Rory Ridley-Duff As I left his office. I felt in awe of the social forces that were assembling. The human resource policy capable of developing truly outstanding leaders is the one that allows people to learn from their mistakes. challenges to management behaviour. As conformity and false consensus takes root. And so. They should have been urging him to avoid acting precipitously. If our propensity to sack people. Management failure is passed down the line and before long senior managers start to wonder why „no good people are coming through‟. As I contemplated what would happen if I failed my probation. Harry would act on what he knew. but his isolation from what had taken place meant that people around him should have been urging caution. or demote them. My two-hour conversation . Intolerance toward failure removes the very people learning the most and those lucky enough to avoid it remain untouched. goes unchecked then eventually a company loses the very people capable of forming a top-rate management team. I could see that matters were already spiralling out of control. I suddenly realised something that had never occurred to me before. ideals. maybe not.the impacts of their decisions. It is only by keeping someone in a post after they have made a mistake that a company can benefit from what they learn. thoughts and actions slowly fades away. Maybe he would survive it. perhaps. Managers stop facing – on a daily basis . was about to make a corporate decision that would spark a major conflict. Harry.

Instead I returned to my office and trusted that my friends would be able to bring off their coup d’etat. I was foolish to harbour any hope. I was tempted to return to Harry‟s office and say all this. .Friends or Lovers was a drop in the ocean compared to the tidal wave of advice and information sweeping across his desk from Dave and others who knew nothing of what had occurred.

At the end of such an emotional week. A week ago I was dreading this. but now I‟m quite excited about it. “That‟s good.Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 49 John was waiting for me at Pizza Hut. I was particularly glad to see him. Before I left. As we looked over the menu. there was a group of disparate and irritable people. I finally realised why John‟s reputation was so good. It felt like a homecoming. I talked to Jo and realised that John‟s contribution was not just technical. “Everything is set. We were gearing up for the largest marketing and sales push in our history and even Sam and Elaine had taken the time to speak with everyone. His contract at IC was at an end.” he said. he chatted about progress. The reaction was really good. They had . He had anticipated a long lunch and had ordered a bottle of wine.” “Mike talked to everyone in the department yesterday. In the time he had been there. He let me say my piece. I was moved that people listened to my views and were so supportive.” It was good to hear that the future was positive for IC staff despite the direction of my own life. He felt the training had gone well and that there was now a good chance that the SHARE experience would sell well. Two-months earlier when the department had been formed. Now it was a cohesive squad equipped to take on the competition. he had formed a committed and thriving team. The way he talked and cut through bullshit impacted on staff morale. I wanted to return to the scene of our first meeting.

” he said. Several things bugged me and I wanted to clear them up. trying to see myself through his eyes and understand how I had impacted on him. But it was when you moved in the queue that I realised you‟d noticed me too. looking variously at his food.” . your arse was definitely part of the equation but not the main reason!” “What else?” “I noticed you sitting in the lounge. “Remember my talk at the CIPD?” “Could hardly forget it!” “Well.” I was listening attentively. Our eyes met a couple of times and I liked that. the table and me. “John?” I started tentatively. didn‟t you?” “Yes. I think. “The clincher was definitely the shoelaces. You were reading a book. his face lit up. but as he spoke he focussed more and more on his thoughts. He looked at me from time to time. His eyes wandered around. “Yes. As he did so. It was a novel by Bernice Rubens. like me.Friends or Lovers organised a drinks reception to round off the day: a last chance to let their hair down before “the big push”. I‟ve read her novels so I thought we might get on. When you did that I knew you must‟ve read Ms magazine. Then I decided to get personal. “You mentioned that in the speech. Pen?” “Why did you sit next to me on the plane?” “Seriously?” “Yes. We chatted and exchanged small talk until the food came. I really want to know!” I said.

“So there you were doing something to attract me that I‟d written about nearly 10 years earlier. That‟s where the advice was first given to women. I was looking at you in those fantastic jeans and pondering the connection between us. “How could you know that?” “Easy. Are you really telling me that you remembered this article about tying non-existence shoelaces while in the queue at the airport?” “It‟s not so strange Penny. absolutely gob-smacked. I had to make a living and for a short while I wrote lots of magazine articles. but I was still amazed that he‟d made a connection. I thought the idea was amusing and it would be a laugh for the magazine‟s readers. The headline was quite uninspiring. John.” “You?” “Why so surprised? I‟d just finished my PhD and was full of that stuff. I stood there behind you and realised . It was art creating life. I pictured you as a single professional woman who enjoyed her independence and men!” We both laughed at the irony. I‟d never seen anybody do it.Rory Ridley-Duff I did not understand how he could work out that I had once read Ms magazine. There was an article in the mid-90s telling women how to flirt at work. I didn‟t read the article.” “I can‟t believe it!” I said. “You never cease to amaze. I think it was something like „The Working Woman‟s Guide to Sex at Work‟ right before an article about sexual harassment! Anyway. I wrote it! I added that bit of advice about the shoelace as a joke. John looked me square in the eye. I remember.

” he replied. I realised what a complex and accidental thing attraction can be. then you have my total respect. I wanted to tell him of my discovery. “I have an answer for you. “If you have.” As I was trying to take this in.Friends or Lovers that my life had touched yours 10 years earlier. Usually I have to spend ages giving hints and heavy clues before people work it out. the question was old hat.” I hesitated. that?” he said mockingly as I realised that he was jesting with me. “Do you remember what you asked me on the plane?” “We chatted for ages. I couldn‟t resist talking to you. “You mean there are people more forward than me?” he joked. To me that question had separated him from everyone else I‟d ever known. I must‟ve asked you many things. Pen. “Yes. but could not. if not thousands of times. dummy!” “Oh. to comprehend the myriad of different things that he had been thinking about when we met. there‟s me!” I answered.” I said. “About sexism in the army!” “Did I ask you that? My goodness – we must have got on well for me to ask you that!” He had forgotten. “Well. “You‟re definitely more forward than me!” As we laughed. “Yes! You were very forward.” he laughed. What if I had missed the point and was about to make a complete fool of myself? I dismissed it quickly from my . To him.” “To what?” “To your question. I tried to think of one. a party piece that he‟d asked hundreds.

. That phrase kept popping into my head. I was encouraging him to be aggressive and I started to wonder why I was doing it. Pen?” he asked. He looked gob-smacked. His hand moved to his cheek and he rubbed it as his mouth stayed open. making him use force to get what I dearly wanted to give anyway. really. a grin started to spread over his face. I thought how unfair it was that I should be testing him. And then. Mike had been fondling me while I was talking on the phone and in my head I kept thinking „he‟s dying for me. I wanted to know whether my answer was the one he was looking for so I set aside my fears and told him. He was truly amazed. I wanted him to prove he was stronger than me. “How did you work it out. “It‟s strange. So I started to tell the story. So I started to resist him. If I was to become a fool again. Then it hit me. Never before had I thought of sex as a kind of test through which men had to pass to prove their strength. as I started to tease him and goad him I had a sudden realisation that I wanted him to be strong – I wanted him to be stronger than me. really dying for me‟.Rory Ridley-Duff thoughts. “How did you come up with that?” He was truly amazed. as if I was doing something wrong.” I said. I felt bad. but I wanted him to overpower me to prove to me that he could. it would take its place at the back of a very long list of foolish thoughts and actions. Just as I was about to panic that I‟d made a huge gaff. Initially. I wanted to test that his love was so great that I couldn‟t stop him expressing it. Never before had I thought of the problems that might create. And in the next instant.

I wanted him to be prepared to die for me. If he was not stronger than me. but not in the movie hero sense. the phrase “he‟s dying for me” kept spinning through my head. I wanted him to overpower me so that I would know he was strong enough to protect me. Suddenly. John. I knew.Friends or Lovers So I set out for John what had been going through my head. John‟s question popped into my head – it was one of those flashes of intuition that have no explanation. Mike. he told me that he would let me go if I wanted children. I could not imagine making such a sacrifice.” . when we had been driving home. but that was not the same thing as being prepared to die to save him. And yet. no tests. “It stopped me insisting that he be prepared to die for me as a pre-condition of my love. A few days before. So I stopped teasing him and started to care instead about giving him as much pleasure as I could. “But your question. It gave me my first true glimpse of the power that women can wield – that we make a man feel that he has to prove his willingness to die before we will love him. Why do we say „he‟s dying for me‟? Where does that expression come from? There I was lying there wanting him to prove that he would be prepared to die for me. how could he ever protect me? And the moment I felt ashamed of thinking this way. even die for me. What could be more sexist than expecting a man to die for you when you were not prepared to die for him? Would I be prepared to die for him? I would kill to keep him. I wondered about that phrase. I stopped resisting him. no preconditions. would sacrifice himself for me. I put these two thoughts together.” I continued. I gave it to him willingly. but I realised that I would not die for him.

” I said.Rory Ridley-Duff “That‟s it. For them.” I thought about this for a second and suddenly became bold. my own part in men‟s violence became clearer to me. “If we cared about equality. It had taken me all this time to see it a different way. Equality means that women would insist on their responsibility to fight. maybe not. Pen – if we valued men as much as women . As I faced up to the truth that I would not die for my man. John stopped me.we would be recruiting the strongest people to fight our wars. By rights.” I said with ardour of a convert. even if the average man is stronger than the average women. Sensible. We expect them to die to protect us. “There is another point of view. yes. War might be fought – in the minds of the men who fought them – to protect those they love. our armies would have many women fighting alongside men.” I said.” “Why? Surely we should recognise this…. And for no other reason than they are men. since I had been introduced to feminism.. “Then that‟s what we should do. not just their right.” “We expect men to die. What a journey I had travelled. it was to show themselves worthy of someone‟s love. finally. fought by men. perhaps. For the last 20 years. Usually they never think twice about it for the entirety of their lives. I had been taught (and taught others) that war was caused by men. Penny! That‟s what men are taught to do. Many women are strong and fit. “It‟s only fair!” “Fair.” he said firmly. but wanted him to be prepared to die for me. for the benefit of men. John interrupted my thoughts with some of his own. . Perhaps it was not even for this reason.

I think any community would be happier as a result of that. “Look at the history of war. wouldn‟t they. “I don‟t buy that. I thought about his words but challenged them.” I insist. If I refuse to fight.000 men and only 100 women left?” His question made me think. “If women and men were fighting on the front line together. aren‟t they?” “I suppose they are. was not whimsical.” he said. It would take countless more generations to rebuild a community if this happened.” “Of course you do. Penny. Women have fought alongside men in revolutions so why not in armies?” He smiled at me. “Would you fight?” he asked. “Would you?” I responded. “But what if it was the other way around? What if there were 1. His face.Friends or Lovers I gestured for him to continue.000 women left in a village who could bear children.” I started. I hesitated. And those men are going to be busy. “I don‟t have a choice. but only 100 men. “Let‟s suppose that there was a battle and after there were 1. when the battle was over there would be roughly equal numbers left.” John disagreed. however. even if there were not as many left. not only would they be building mutual respect and enduring relationships with each other. Would the society be able to survive?” “Of course. “We don‟t force people into the army. my own government is likely to put me in jail where I can be expect to .

It‟s not a question that really means anything to me.” I objected. I felt sick. “I don‟t have the choices you do. “What do you mean?” “Do you remember Fallujah?” he enquired. If I fight at first. the enemy won‟t. I am court-marshalled for cowardice. there would be no need for conscription.Rory Ridley-Duff be beaten. buggered and left to die. my own government. The women and children were allowed to leave. Remember the phrase they used? The soldiers were „clearing the ground‟. Penny.” “My God!” was all I could say. The horror of this appalled me. I can choose the enemy. my own brothers and sisters. then change my mind. They cleared the ground by shooting everyone they came across. “Fallujah? In Iraq you mean?” “Yes. no need for draft laws. or a court of law. Even if my own country supported a right to conscientiously object. My only other alternative would be to take up arms against my own government – which means fighting my own people. not bravery. It‟s not true that men love war. Not long ago I would have been executed if I tried to reject violence. Either way. I have no choice except to fight. I‟m left with no way out of violence. would I get mercy from the enemy?” he asked. They don‟t care if I support the war or not. they‟ll still kill me. No man between the age of 15 and 55 was allowed out of the city before the US forces attacked it. “No.” John replied. “Only men were killed.” “But that‟s genocide. Again. Even if my own side spares me. no need for military laws to punish deserters. John saw my discomfort. no . If we did.

It‟s not necessary to teach them. peppers and extra cheese. Don‟t let anyone stop you.” I wondered what it must be like to grow up constantly wondering if. one day. . you would be forced to fight against your will. no executions or jail for men when they reject violence. After a second bottle of wine.Friends or Lovers need for court marshals.” He nodded and the conversation moved onto an assortment of trivia as we finished off a lovely “stuffed crust” pizza with chargrilled chicken. they simply work out for themselves that one day they may have to fight. “Keep saying these things. John. I had a truly wonderful day. Suddenly it made sense that little boys played with guns. I was too drunk to drive home so we walked it off in the park and visited a coffee bar.

to make their peace with each other. If it had not been for the intervention of a gifted person. John returned to his wife and they continued. It would have been easy to get bitter and start a crusade over the injustice but I did not want to become another statistic at the Equal Opportunity Commission. prejudiced and limited as me. if you prefer the description on my employment record “Penny failed her probationary period because of poor job performance”. For the rest of his life he enjoyed – if that is the right word – an open .Rory Ridley-Duff Chapter 50 I wish I could tell you that things worked out well. I would have added to these statistics myself. I did not want to end up being one of the women who contributed to the problems that men face today. some died so that I could do so. I wish I could say that most of us lived happily for most of our lives. and I felt a responsibility to give back some of what they had given to me. But nor did I want to become another woman who gave up her dreams of mixing work and family by finding a balance that enabled me to enjoy life outside the home. problems which after millennia of neglect are finally becoming the subject of debate. I was sacked. Or. but as things changed. new relationships were formed and moments of happiness were found amidst the problems we all faced. They did their best. It wasn‟t to happen. but were as frail. between his and her escapades. that the initial love I felt for Mike lasted until the day I died. Several generations of women made it possible for me to exercise choice. that truth and justice prevailed. who did so only out of affection for me. or a voice to be used against men and women I had come to respect.

of course. It was impossible. It is no less special for that and we continue to protect what we have in ways that seem right to us. I enjoyed many happy years with Mike. We parted amicably and he remains a good friend. After serving just one term. He remains my dearest and most enduring friend. John remained a nomad for another decade before finally giving in to the temptation of politics. nurtured and loved. he kept returning home from his travels to enjoy time with the family that he created. At the same time. he lost his seat and switched to writing. I have his books and read each one that comes out. or the interests within which he had become embedded. Once or twice. But – and this is something I partly regret. Professionally. we got together to spend good times. I prefer to think of them as two free spirits with the capacity to forgive each other when loneliness led them astray. Sometimes we would cuddle on the sofa. My cynicism about politicians faded dramatically as I met him over the years and learned of the endless no-win scenarios that they face. but I watched as he did his best to navigate them. You have probably never heard of him. for him ever be completely free of bias or prejudice. He never rose to the level of cabinet minister but he distinguished himself in small ways as a member of one government.Friends or Lovers marriage. Sally was immediately on the scene and this time . and certainly whenever she needed his support he made himself available. I gave him one or two pushes in that direction but he kept his word and stubbornly encouraged me into a new relationship. but am also proud of – we have not felt the need to consummate our relationship. John saw Sally from time to time. at times when we both felt sad. but he was right about my desire to have children.

Dave kept his job. I think of the good times we had. His wife went into a hospice where she died six-months later. He declined. Sally finally got her man. They are one of life‟s happy couples. I once wrote to him to see whether he wanted to talk about the past. She got a buzz from the political battles and liked to forge change. Elaine enjoyed life as a company director and took on more directorships. their marriage hit the rocks about five years later. and their second child – Penny Ann – was born one day early. their marriage failed. The success of their company created problems. In giving a „best woman‟ speech. he had a breakdown.Rory Ridley-Duff Mike gave in to her. of course. The love . wanted to get back to inventing and engineering new products. I also found myself taking a much greater interest in being an aunt. when the success of SHARE began to fade. As for Sam and Elaine. Within twelve months he had been demoted. Mike ended up committing himself to Sally for life. When I meet them. She was the business brains and it was her will that prevailed in the short term. but the events that took place following my departure cost him dearly. It was a sad way for our relationship to end and despite the bitterness on his side. She had been through the menopause and Mike lost his excuse for resisting her. Sam. After Procter & Gamble bought them out. he never fully recovered. Afterwards. I detect the kind of closeness that I have in my own marriage. Nine years after his first wife had falsely accused him of sleeping with her. adding that he hoped never to see me again. They are now married. According to Phil. My sister Carole married Chris. I discovered my talent for public speaking. Sam rejoined IC to engineer new products.

Mike. persuaded the entire SHARE team to leave IC and become members of Sam and Elaine‟s company. I went to work for Sam and Elaine. of course. and when his children started blaming him for the marriage break-up. He writes to them each birthday and still clings onto the hope that one day he will be able to make up for lost time. Given what happened later. with help from John. so they took up this opportunity in large numbers. Everyone expected the SHARE product to be a success. Phil got limited access after a lengthy court battle. I found it impossible to build bridges with her again. he eventually stopped seeing them altogether.Friends or Lovers between Carole and Chris was elastic: it stretched and bent as life threw its worst at them. they devoted themselves to grandparenthood. it did not last. It took much of the spirit out of him for many years. However. it created a big rift between Elona and myself. Sam and Elaine gave each member a generous shareholding in the new company. As for me. In exchange for giving up continuous employment rights. Phil and Elona had a crack at things. the contingency plan worked a treat. the dispute between Elona and Mike was the catalyst that ended . Phil was promoted into my position at IC and we kept in touch. eventually got married and had two children. but Sam and Elaine had committed investors and staff. Phil felt they spent all their time interfering in his marriage and the raising of his children. He felt so superfluous that eventually he left. There was a furious legal battle. When I look back. Each had a tremendous capacity to accommodate the other‟s weaknesses and failings. When Elona‟s parents retired. Sam and Elaine. When Elona took out a court injunction to stop Phil seeing his children. It broke his heart.

Each new business starts out with two people who like and trust each other well enough to give the other what they need. I remain close to Elaine and we both did well out of the company sale.Rory Ridley-Duff IC‟s rapid growth. this simple truth is not stated often enough. While banks and development agencies get flustered about business planning. I am its managing director and we help organisations develop progressive approaches to human resource management. against increasing numbers of . Today. Trade begins when you trust someone enough to pay for the products or services they offer. Through the simple act of exchanging labour for money. In the 5 years that followed. but arrogance and shortsightedness eroded the share price before the company was sold off. That can happen without any written agreement. finance. but never toppled it. As I learnt through reflecting on my life and writing this story. If it works for them both. We formed a new business together – the Social Exchange. against the trend towards ever more standards of excellence. John works with us on some projects. or company constitution. I rode on the crest of a wave as the SHARE experience exceeded all our expectations and became the number one seller in the personal hygiene market. constitutional matters and legal frameworks. two people enter into their own agreement. and certainly does not require a written contract of employment. It is a thankless task arguing against bureaucracy. standardised codes of ethics and kitemarks. Many of us became paper millionaires for a while. but he is getting quite old now. they continue it. it is not only inside the home that intimate relationships are of vital importance. It gave the rampant rabbit a good run as the number one sex toy.

For a business to grow. my time on this earth will not have been wasted. We called her Hope. But I am pleased to have influenced a few organisations so that they keep bureaucracy to a minimum and replace this with the exercise of moral judgement in the way they deal with investors. It may not last. There is a strength that grows from being quick to listen and slow to judge. and that is why I wanted to tell you this story. and exploring ways to make it work in practice.Friends or Lovers laws that seek to regulate not only our behaviour. but even the way we articulate our thoughts. there needs to be a culture in which relationships are intimate and people can learn from the mistakes they make. Our friendship developed into a lasting romance. Intimate relationships are the foundation our society. In this struggle I have – unsurprisingly . and Phil split from Elona. I learned this at IC. and from them spring not just new human life but new economic life as well. Phil and I are the closest of friends and managed to rekindle our passion for each other after we got the kids out of our bed. these things are never certain. If I can teach this to my children and grandchildren. there is only one thing of which I am certain. Thankfully I have been able to make a living saying this to many people. Three years later we had a girl.made little headway. ~ End ~ . customers. We now have two lovely children: a boy I insisted we call John. employees and suppliers. I started to see Phil more. As I look to the future. but for now I am content. After I split from Mike.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful