An Extraordinary Nightshirt

Diana shivered apprehensively and hoped that Danny hadn’t noticed, but she should have known better.  Taking off his jacket, he laid it over the back of the sofa, and took her in his arms.  She felt rigid with fear, and he knew that he would have to work hard at reassuring her before going any further.

“I hate to be unromantic, my love, but can we just catch some news?” he asked, kissing her softly.

The sense of relief was immense, and Diana almost ran to pick up the remote and turn the TV on.  Danny kicked off his shoes and socks, and sat on the sofa, feet up on the coffee table.  He took off his black tie, and undid the top button of his shirt with the same expression of release that Diana’s son Ben used to have when he got home and threw his hated school blazer up the stairs.  This simple gesture calmed her nervousness more than any words could have done, and taking off her sandals, she curled up next to him, happy to feel his arm around her shoulders as she rested her head against his chest.

The television news was doom, gloom and football scores, but it gave them both a sense of normality, and it was just what Diana needed.  She could feel her eyes growing heavy as the weather man predicted storms for the next few days. She must have drifted into sleep before the bulletin finished, because her next sensation was of Danny’s butterfly kisses on her eyelids.

“Can I make a suggestion?” he said.

“Of course, I’m so sorry, I fell asleep, it must have been all the excitement. John’s right, I am boring!”

“Shush.  Go to the bathroom and get changed into something that you feel comfortable in.  Do whatever it is that you usually do at bedtime, brush your teeth and I’ll try to stay awake.  I’ll take my turn in the bathroom, brush my teeth and if you say yes, we can curl up in bed together.  If you want to talk, or sleep, or to send me back upstairs, that’s how it’ll be.  Okay?”

She nodded gratefully, and without further bidding, grabbed her nightshirt from under the pillow, and went into the bathroom, closing the door.  She tied her hair into a side plait, knowing that it was probably an adolescent look for a middle-aged woman, but also aware that her hair would turn into a fright wig overnight otherwise.  She took off most of her makeup, leaving just a smidge of lipstick, and brushed her teeth.  Throwing her underwear into the laundry bag, she hung her dress and jacket up on the door, amazed that it had survived the evening’s rigors so well. 

Danny had fallen asleep when she crept out of the bathroom.  She was tempted to find a blanket and drape it over him, but he was only catnapping.  He yawned, stretched and grinned at her, reaching up to tug her plait.

“This is another look for you.  I like it.  Where on earth did you get that nightshirt? Is that a sloth?”

“It was a Christmas present – made by my son Ben; he’s studying graphic art and design at Uni. We have a standing joke about sloths that goes back to his high school days.”

“Mm. ’Highly Huggable’.  I like his style.  What an extraordinary woman you are, Diana!  Don’t run away while I’m in the bathroom, will you?”

“I won’t – um – I sleep on the left – is that okay?”

“Oh yes, I’m definitely a left-hander,” he said.  Diana wasn’t quite sure what to make of that comment, but curled up under the duvet and concentrated on deep breathing in an effort to rid herself of the palpitations that were bedevilling her.

Danny came out of the bathroom wearing boxer shorts, and carrying his clothes.  He placed them carefully on the back of the sofa with his jacket, put his shoes and socks under the coffee table, and walked over to the bed.  The sight of his body took her breath away; his skin was the colour of butterscotch Angel Delight, and extremely toned.  He took his watch off and placed it carefully on the bedside table next to her alarm clock.  He also placed a familiar silver foil package there that confirmed Diana’s fears – or hopes – about what might happen next.

“May I?” he asked raising an eyebrow. Her eyes were obviously saying ‘yes’ because there he was, his head resting on the pillow next to hers, a gentle smile on his lips.

Just waiting.

Diana reached out a hand and touched his face tentatively, looking into those deep blue eyes, and not quite believing what was happening.   It was enough of an invitation for Danny; he cupped his hand over hers and kissed the palm, just as he had earlier that day. Moving closer; he took her in his arms and held her so tightly that she had to catch her breath.

Time seemed to hang in the air; Danny covered her face with kisses, coming back to her lips with each kiss more intense than the last.  She clung to him, desperate for him to make love to her, but not wanting the excitement of this exploration to end.  She felt adored and cherished, as his hands caressed her, and he murmured the sweetest of endearments.  She moaned softly as she felt her body responding in a way that she couldn’t remember feeling before.  

Danny was obviously proficient at wearing condoms; nothing like those sexual health sessions where she’d used a banana to show teenagers the best way to put one on. Nothing remotely sexy about a banana, especially when they were over ripe and collapsed before the demonstration could be completed. John had always refused to wear a condom, and it was only once she realised that he had no guilt about putting her at risk of infection from his numerous dalliances, that sex with him became very much a part of her past.

This wasn’t just sex though; Danny was slow and gentle with her at first, but just as Diana felt her own world turning upside down, he gave a shuddering groan and a kiss of such astonishing connection that she wondered if she’d ever be able to let him go. He burrowed into the warmth of her neck, and she felt a dampness on her skin.   Raising his head, he kissed her again, leaving a tear on her face like a talisman.  She’d assumed that he would be assured and confident in his love making; but she had not expected such raw emotion from him.  She felt the tears well up in her own eyes in response, and she held him close.

“Oh Danny, I never knew this could be so wonderful…”

“Diana.  I – Jesus – words fail me, and that’s not something that happens every day,” he whispered as his lips moved gently across her cheek. “Not exactly the hell-raiser I’m made out to be, am I?”

“It was never like this with John, and he was my first and only lover. You’ve given me something so special tonight. Something I will never forget, whatever happens.”

“My love, this has changed everything for me too,” he said as he stroked her face, and kissed her.  “I haven’t felt like this since my wife…since Lisa…oh God…oh, I’m so sorry!”

Diana ached for him then as he cried in her arms; really cried, with great wracking sobs that shook them both, but eventually subsided and she, ever practical in moments of crisis, handed him tissues from the bedside table. Pulling the duvet up to her chin, Diana sat beside him rubbing his back as he blew his nose noisily, and threw the tissues into the bin. He leaned back against the pillows and pulled her against his chest.

“Is it – is it because I remind you of her, of Lisa?” she asked tremulously.  “Is that why you sought me out?”

“No! No, my love!  That does you a grave disservice.” He shook his head.  “Physically you’re nothing alike, she was tall, thin and had dark curly hair. You have the same generosity of spirit as her though, and a smile that warms me right through like hers used to.  You like people, but you don’t take crap from them either.  She would have roared at the way you cut Debbie down to size this evening.  I’ve been fooling myself for the past two years, jumping from one skinny model or actress to the next, never managing to follow through, and feeling empty because there was nothing there to turn me on any more. I really thought I was past it as far as sex was concerned, let alone ever finding someone I could make love to again-.  Tonight, for the first time since I lost my wife, I actually felt a connection with someone – with you.  I haven’t cried for Lisa, I couldn’t cry.  Whoever heard of a man with my reputation crying?  I feel that I can trust you, Diana.  I hope that I haven’t made you feel uncomfortable, or embarrassed you…”

“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.” she said, running her fingers across his chest.  “You said it before, we’ve both had a bad time, and whatever happens tomorrow, we’ve had tonight and it’s wonderful, and you are the loveliest man I’ve ever met – not that I’ve met anyone else under these conditions – so I’m hardly an expert.  Oh God, I’m rambling!”

“You ramble beautifully.  What time is it?”

“Quarter to two.  We should get some sleep.  Could you pass me my nightshirt, please?”

“I need to get up and use the bathroom.  I should have stuffed a tee-shirt in my pocket as well as my toothbrush.  My poor old arthritic shoulders get really cold at night.”

Diana wriggled into her nightshirt, got out of bed and opened the wardrobe, pulling a man’s tee-shirt out of her suitcase. “Here, it’s one of my son’s that I packed by mistake; I was in a hurry. It’s another Ben original.”

“Will he mind?” Danny pulled it over his head and grinned at the vaguely obscene message on the front.  “He has an interesting line in clothing.  Still, it’s warm and it smells nice.”

  He pulled on his boxer shorts and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving the door ajar in a gesture of familiarity that made her feel so very included. She sat in bed, hugging her knees, and wondering what would happen next.  He smiled at her as he came out of the bathroom and turned off the lights.

“May I stay?”

“Oh yes, please?”  She threw back the duvet and he slid into bed next to her.

“Which side do you sleep on again?”

“My left.”

“Me too.  Can we do spoons?”

Diana looked puzzled.

“Umm, what’s that?”

“Lie on your side as if you were going to sleep, and I’ll show you.”

She did as he requested, and smiled happily as he curled his body around hers.

“Oh, spoons.  I see now.”

“But can I have a goodnight kiss first?” 

She turned round and kissed him, holding on to him, desperate for sleep, but not wanting the night to end in case it spelled the end of this affair.

“Stop worrying,” he said, kissing her neck.  “I’m not going anywhere, and later on, when we’ve had some sleep, we can talk about what happens next. I shouldn’t, but I’m hoping that you want us to spend some more time together?”

Diana sighed with relief.

“How did you know what I was worrying about?”

“Because it worried me too.  Now turn over, and let me snuggle up to you.”

They slept, without any concerns for the future because Danny had said things would be fine and Diana believed him. Having his body tucked around her, with his hand gently resting on her hip, and his warm minty breath on her neck, gave Diana a feeling of belonging that she had never encountered before, and she slept deeply without any nightmares to worry her.

The Auction

Dinner was served but neither Diana or Danny ate much; he was too busy whispering questions into her ear, and she was too busy telling him her life story in a quiet undertone.  The constant pressure of his thigh against hers, and the occasional squeeze when he thought no one would notice, had Diana in a simmering state of excitement that she’d never experienced before.  She noticed that Danny was drinking sparkling water, and remembered reading something about him having an alcohol problem, so she opted for sparkling water too. The dinner itself seemed to go on forever, and she was relieved when Simon, the young comedian who had been drafted in to cover for Danny, got up on the podium and banged the gavel for attention.

His vocal limitation had no effect on Danny’s ability to participate, and Diana watched in awe as large sums of money were bid for relatively trivial things.  As the auction progressed, so did the value of the goods.  Pictures and items of clothing were replaced by cars, boats, holidays and jewellery.  She leafed through the auction catalogue noting that Danny had marked a few items with stars.  The guide price alone made her feel quite faint, and as each item soared past its guide, Diana’s feeling of disorientation increased.  She’d lost count of how much Danny had spent by the end of the evening; he had been in a few bidding wars with other attendees, sometimes triumphing, and on other occasions confessing to her in a whisper that he didn’t want the goods, he was just doing it to wind the other person up a bit, and make them spend more money.

It was close to midnight when the last item was sold, and the extremely grand total raised was announced.  Danny stood and raised his glass of water to the room, pulling Diana up with him.  She blushed at being the centre of attention in this way, and was hugely relieved when they sat down again.

“Sorry my angel,” he said as he squeezed her hand.  “But I wanted everyone to see that I’m not just sitting next to you by accident.  You’re a beautiful woman, and you’re with me.  Have you had a good time?”

Diana pulled a face.  

“Talking to you has been the best bit, dinner was okay, and the amount of money that’s changed hands this evening frightens the life out of me. Have you any idea how much you spent?”

“Nope.  Mike has kept an eye on it though.  I haven’t had the daggers look from him yet, so I expect I’m still within budget.  Don’t forget that charitable donations are tax deductible anyway – according to Mike.”

“Do you remember what you bid for?”

“A fortnight on Necker.  Hamilton’s F1 helmet – we’ll probably put that up for auction again, and get some more money for a different charity.  Oh – a few small things and I think there was some jewellery somewhere.  Mike will know what I’ve brought.”

“What’s Mike’s official title?”

“He’s my manager and has been for the last fifteen years.  He’s the closest thing to a brother that I have.  Don’t be put off by his manner; he’s naturally suspicious of anyone new.  He’ll be fine once he gets to know you.”

Diana took a deep breath.

“I’m going to get that opportunity then?”

His eyes softened as he put his arm around her and whispered in her ear, “Do you honestly think I would let you go that easily?  I was dreading all the fuss and attention this weekend.  It’s been years since I did this sort of thing in the UK, and even Mike was a bit worried about how successful it would be.  You’ve turned it all around for me – for all of us really. You and I have still got some talking to do, but I’m getting a bit tired of all this whispering.  We need some privacy.  Your room or mine?”

“Oh!”  Diana was taken aback for a moment. “Mine please? I mean, there will be less people, won’t there?”

“Precisely.  I’ve even come prepared.” 

He opened his jacket and showed her the toothbrush and toothpaste tucked into his inside pocket.   She wasn’t sure whether to feel flattered by his attention, insulted by his assumption that she’d let him stay the night, or disgusted that he thought she was such a pushover.  As a nurse who had delivered many sexual health advice sessions in the course of her job, Diana wondered if Danny had anything else tucked away in his pockets.  The thought gave her cold shivers, and they weren’t caused by fear. He sensed her ambivalence and spoke softly to her again.

“We can just talk all night if that’s what you want to do.  I’d like the opportunity to brush my teeth at some stage though.  I have a bit of a thing about dental hygiene. I’ll go back to my suite whenever you say the word.”

She felt churlish to have judged him so harshly, and relaxed against him, closing her eyes as he kissed the top of her head, and breathed in the scent of her hair.  The room was beginning to clear at last; Danny called his entourage over, and croaked out a few orders, paramount of which was that he would be staying in Diana’s room, and did not want to be disturbed until morning unless the hotel burnt down.  Mike raised a quizzical eyebrow at this, but Danny’s responding glare put paid to any comment. Diana and Danny took the stairs to her room, and once inside she felt an overwhelming relief at being out of the public eye.  The relief was short-lived however, as she realised that now they were alone, all pretence would be stripped away and Danny would see her for what she really was; a middle-aged woman with stretch marks, good upholstery, but the actual sexual experience of a nervous but slightly wayward teenager.

Debbie

Diana sensed rather than saw him go, and sank back down in the armchair again, her heart racing and her mind trying desperately to make sense of it all.  It was a charity fundraiser, for goodness’ sake!  No one comes to these things looking for romance and unbridled sex!

 Actually, when she came to think about it, most people did – and often found it.  She had always been in the minority before, and now, here was this handsome, not to mention infamous, man who was charming away all her doubts and inhibitions.  There was a conflict between the sensible middle-aged nurse who was planning to pack, feign sickness, and hurry back to the safety of her memory-choked house; and the wanton woman that emerged when Danny touched her, and made her feel as if she were going to explode.

What choice should she make, could she make?

At the same time, she felt stunned that she had the ability to attract such a gorgeous man as Danny, and turn him on so very obviously.  It had been a very long time since John had expressed that kind of interest in her rather than his endless harem of other women – not that she was complaining about that anymore!

Mind made up, she got up from the chair and went into the bathroom, pinning up her hair with one hand as she turned the shower on with the other.  She took her best dress out of the wardrobe and looked at it, hoping it would do and thanking heaven that she had allowed her friend Helen to lengthen the ankle high split so that it came just above the knee.  Black velvet again but sleeveless this time, and with a sash of gold ribbon below the bust that emphasised her curves. She’d invested in a short matching jacket with three quarter length sleeves that had cost her more than the dress itself, but tonight, she had a feeling it would be worth every penny. 

Throwing off her clothes as she ran back into the bathroom, Diana had the world’s quickest shower, and at the last minute decided to wash her hair again, and leave it down rather than pinning it up as she had last night. 

It was another of John’s bugbears.

“You should cut your hair short, it’s impractical and you’re too old to have long hair anyway.”  

Caroline had overheard this comment and taken Diana into her bedroom, sat her down on the bed and given her a hug and a kiss. 

“I love your hair Mum.  If you cut it, do it because you want to, and not because of HIM.”

Diana had not cut her hair since, apart from the occasional trim with the nail scissors when her fringe got in her eyes.

She dressed quickly, did her make-up with a trembling hand, and moved everything from the green handbag back to the black velvet bag.  Men never had this problem, and it was another of the many things that John had found a constant source of annoyance; Diana never seemed to have the thing he wanted in the right handbag at the right time.

The thought of John brought her back to how she felt when Danny kissed her.   John had two methods of kissing; there was the perfunctory peck on the cheek that signified hello or goodbye, and the very rare tongue-thrusting preliminary-to-sex kiss that made her think of England, wifely duties, and long for it to be over so that she could turn away from him and go to sleep. 

Last Christmas Helen had presented her with a gift-wrapped box that was to be opened in private.  Courtesy of Ann Summers, it was the pinkest and most graphic vibrator Diana had ever seen.  It made such a noise when she put the batteries in, that she was afraid John, snoring in the next room, would hear it and come charging in to see what the racket was.  She had taken it out of the box when she knew he would be out for some hours, but the very thought of being caught in the act by him, or one of the children, had left it consigned to a dark corner of her wardrobe. You don’t miss what you don’t have – or do you?

She was a grown woman, a nurse, she knew all about anatomy, and she was well aware that some women had a wonderful time during sex; it just hadn’t ever happened to her, and in the two years since their separation Diana had come to realise that the fault for that lay mostly at John’s door, but partly at her own for not being attracted to him anymore, especially after the children were born. 

All that might change. 

Even in the minimal long-ago passion of the early days with John, she had never felt as alive and sensual as she had after just a couple of kisses from Danny.  Diana squared her shoulders, let out another deep and energetic sigh, and decided that whatever happened tonight, one of the first things she would do when she got home, was to take that box out of the wardrobe, lock all the doors and find her inner woman again.

The knock at the door made her jump, and she got to her feet quickly, picked up her bag and checked her appearance in the mirror one last time before opening the door.  Debbie was there, a sour expression on her face, wearing a red dress so skimpy that it made Diana feel as if she were muffled up for winter.  Debbie looked Diana up and down, shrugged her shoulders and turned on her stiletto heels without comment, stomping off towards the lift.  Diana followed her with a meekness that belied the urge to plant a kick very hard on Debbie’s taut buttocks. 

‘Bide your time’, said the still small voice inside her, and Diana, with the cunning and ingenuity borne of being the mother of teenagers, plotted revenge.

The journey up to the penthouse was conducted in stony silence, which suited Diana admirably.  The lift doors opened into a small hallway, and Debbie led the way into Danny’s suite.  She recognised Mike and Mark from earlier, and smiled as she took a quick look around her surroundings.  The huge penthouse suite, with its ceiling to floor windows all down one side, was definitely more opulent than her own room four floors down. 

Danny came out of his bedroom, resplendent in elegant evening attire that looked as if the jacket alone cost more than Diana earned in a year. 

Somewhat at odds with his bare feet however.

The smile of appreciation on his face as he saw her said it all, and she was equally gratified to see the expression on Debbie’s face turn positively malevolent. 

Time to act.

Diana fished in her handbag and brought out a tissue.

“Debbie dear, you’ve got a – you know – just a little one – just hanging out of your nose – there – that’s got it – you can keep the tissue.”

It took a moment to accomplish, but Debbie was left with a face that matched her scarlet dress.  Throwing the empty tissue into the bin, she stormed out of the suite, slamming the door behind her.  Diana feigned astonishment at her reaction, while Danny fell onto the sofa in an apoplexy of laughter, before remembering his viral infection and sore throat.  Mark, also recovering from a fit of the giggles at Debbie’s departure, handed him a glass of water.  He sipped it, shaking his head and motioning for Diana to sit beside him on the sofa.  She sat down primly, keeping a respectable distance between them, although the sight of him in his dinner jacket was giving her goose pimples.  Danny beckoned to Mike who had just come off the phone. 

“Better start looking for another PA,” he croaked “I’ve a feeling Debbie won’t be gracing us with her presence for much longer.”

“I’m getting you a bloke this time,” said Mike crossly. “Either you have sex with these girls, and they get upset, or you won’t have sex with them and they get upset.  Perhaps I should be looking for someone who swings the other way to keep you in order!”

Danny shrugged his shoulders, trying hard to maintain a whisper despite his annoyance.  “To be honest Mike, I just want someone who can pull their weight, be useful and not give me any grief.  It isn’t my fault if you keep on employing sulky girls who see me as their meal ticket to the bright lights.  Is there no one normal out there anymore?”

Mike sighed, picked up his mobile phone and went out into the hallway, pausing to give Danny another stern look. 

“You need to put your shoes and socks on Danny, and get downstairs even if you aren’t saying anything at the auction.  They’ve just called and are waiting for you before they start serving dinner.

“Don’t worry Mike, Diana’s here to look after me now.  You did remember to rearrange the seating I hope?”

“Of course, put a few noses out of joint, but you will have your personal nurse by your side as requested.”

“Careful Mike, or she’ll take a bogie out of your nose too.”

Mike almost smiled.

“I doubt it very much. I’m too old to fall for that one and I only give people dirty looks if they deserve it.  Just get a move on, we need to get dinner over and done with if this auction’s going to be any kind of a success.”

Danny put on his shoes and socks, got to his feet and offered Diana his arm.  She took it and gave just the slightest wink.  He put his head close to hers and whispered, “You were very naughty with Debbie.  What did she do?”

“Looked me up and down as if I was something someone had trodden in.  That was the third time today that I’ve seen her give me that look, and if her mother had done what I did a few years ago she’d probably be a much nicer person.  It worked with my daughter Caroline, but I think she’s forgiven me now.”

“Can I just say that you look extremely gorgeous, and even if Debbie doesn’t appreciate you, I most certainly do.  I’m glad you left your hair down tonight.”

His words made Diana feel warm, and more than a little excited as they got into the lift and rode downstairs to the bustle of the banqueting hall.  They were led to a table in the centre of the room, and Diana was seated to Danny’s right.  Looking around she saw Alice, Mandy and the Scottish contingent on a table far out to the left of the room.  Alice was waving frantically and raising her eyebrows, Diana waved back and grinned as Alice’s companions stuck their thumbs up and blew kisses.  Danny gave them a wave too, and told Mike to get a couple of bottles of champagne sent over to their table with his compliments.

Trying Hard to Whisper

The car drew to a halt in the hotel car park, and Diana remembered to wait for the chauffeur to open her door and offer his hand in assistance.  She took Danny’s arm and the butterflies of tension rose up again as he squeezed her elbow against his body.

“Are you okay?” he whispered.

“I’m fine,” she replied “but why are you whispering?”

“Preparation, I’m supposed to be losing my voice, remember.”

“God, yes! I’m really not very good at lying though.”

“Leave it to me. I get paid for this kind of silliness.  Just play along with it and don’t argue – please?”

Diana nodded compliantly. “I promise.  This is probably the most exciting thing I’ve done since my friend Helen and I sneaked into an X-rated film when we were only fourteen.”

Danny raised his eyebrows in alarm and squeezed her arm again. 

“Girl, you need some excitement in your life.  I could well be just the man to provide it!”

His entourage were waiting in the entrance hall, nervously checking wrist watches, and muttering at Debbie for having returned to the hotel without Danny.  Mike rushed forward as Danny strolled slowly through the doors with Diana on his arm.

“Where the hell have you been Danny?  The auction starts in an hour and we have a lot of briefing to go through.”

Danny shook his head and croaked, “Can’t do it mate, the voice is almost gone.  I must have picked up a virus or something from one of those women who kept draping themselves all over me last night.  Luckily for me, Diana is a nurse and she has some medication in her room that’ll keep me on my feet tonight, but my throat is totally shot.”

Mike looked at Diana suspiciously. “Is that true or is this another of Danny’s scams?”

Diana took a deep breath and put on her best dealing–with-a-stroppy–person voice.

“Mr Vincent has probably picked up some kind of viral infection, his glands are swollen, and his throat looks very sore.  I have a local anaesthetic spray that will take some of the pain away, and some analgesia that will lower his temperature, but I really don’t think he should be straining his voice at all for at least twenty-four hours.” 

Just to add a little authenticity to the lie, she put the back of her hand to Danny’s neck as if to indicate his swollen glands.  He did his best to look pathetic, but Diana didn’t think it was convincing at all.

Debbie definitely looked sceptical. “You never said you were a nurse.” she said accusingly.

“You never asked me, dear.” Diana replied sweetly. “I spend some of my time fundraising for the hospice, but I’m a qualified nurse, and I do clinic sessions at the hospice and local health centres as well as supporting our patients and their families.  If you want Mr Vincent to attend the dinner this evening, I really do need to sort out some medication for him.” 

She took Danny’s arm and led him towards the stairs, then turned to the lift realising that stairs might not be the best idea for a man in his allegedly weakened condition.  The all-round mirrors and security camera in the lift had a temporary restraining effect on Danny’s behaviour, but once they were safely in her room, he laughed uproariously and fell back on her bed.  She stood in front of him, hands on her hips and brought forth her stern voice again.

“Mr Vincent!  Your throat is in a delicate state, and you should not be abusing it in this way!”

He sat up and grinned.

“Did you and Helen manage to get into the X-rated film?”

“Of course!”

“Nurse Davenport, come and feel my pulse.  I may be about to have a seizure.”

“I doubt it! You fraud!”  Diana sat beside him on the bed.  “I could get suspended for lying about this.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with you at all.”

“I don’t know about that.  Sitting next to you on this bed is making me feel very hot and bothered.”

Diana got to her feet swiftly and moved to one of the armchairs.  Danny started laughing again, began to cough, and almost choked. She wasn’t sure if this was another of his stunts, but brought him a glass of water from the bathroom anyway.  He took it gratefully, and his laughter and coughing subsided.  Diana sat back down in the armchair and studied him from a distance.

“What? You’re perfectly safe,” he said. “I promised I’d behave like a gentleman – at least with you anyway.”

“Mm.  I ought to give you some pills to take back with you otherwise they won’t believe your story.”

“Have you really got medication with you?”  Danny looked quite amazed.

“I never travel without a basic first aid kit, and that includes throat spray and painkillers.”

“Do I have to go?  I’d much rather stay here and have you mop my fevered brow.  I don’t suppose you brought a nurse’s uniform with you? Ah – I think maybe I just pushed my luck a bit too far with that one, didn’t I?”

She really wasn’t sure what to make of him, and busied herself with rummaging in her bag for the medicine instead.  Danny got up from the bed and crouched down beside her.

“I’m sorry Diana, I’ve been playing the bad boy for far too long.  Lisa used to have a civilising effect on me, but two years is a long time to be running amok with only Mike and the rest of the team trying to manage me.” 

He hung his head in shame and she wanted so much to reach out to him again.

“Have I scared you off?” he asked.

She took a deep breath and leaning forward, pressed her lips against his forehead.  He was very still, obviously perplexed by her actions. 

“This is how we take the temperature of babies and toddlers who don’t like thermometers,” she said.  “Your temperature is completely normal, so if you’re feeling hot and bothered, it has nothing to do with a viral infection, I’m afraid.”

Danny stood up and held out his hand; she took it, and kept hold as he pulled her upright. They stared at each other for a moment; two rivals sizing each other up.  In the end, she broke eye contact first and putting her hands on his shoulders, kissed him very gently on the cheek.  His arms closed around her as he returned the kiss.  Oh, but it felt wonderful to be held by him, to feel those light kisses on her neck, her ears and then, at last on her lips.  Diana found herself being kissed like no man had ever kissed her before.  Who was she kidding!  There had only ever been one man, and whilst John had once possessed a couple of positive qualities, the ability to kiss had never been one of them.

She was beginning to feel faint, and had to break away, burying her face in his shoulder as she fought for breath. He stroked her hair and held her for a moment, then sat her down in the armchair, crouching down in front of her as before.  He took both her hands in his and squeezed them.

“It would be so easy for us to make love right now, wouldn’t it?”

She nodded, her stomach flipping at the very thought.

“But if we did, we’d be in a rush, because the mob upstairs are waiting for me – for us.  I have this feeling Diana, that it’s been a long time since anyone made you feel wonderful, and that is what I would love to do – if you’ll allow me?  Not now, maybe later tonight if that’s what you want, it’s up to you to set the pace here.  I want to make love to you, and unless I’m very much mistaken – you want me too.  Am I right?”

Diana, still dumbstruck, nodded assent again.

“Give me the painkillers please, and I’ll go back and get changed for dinner. You get yourself ready too, and I’ll send someone to fetch you in about three-quarters of an hour.  Just to prepare you, Mike, his assistant Mark, and I are in the penthouse suite.  I have the big bedroom.  Debbie has been sulking because although she’s got a room to herself, it’s on one of the lower floors.  We didn’t think it would be appropriate for her to share the suite with us blokes, especially at night. There, now you know all the important things!”

Danny stood up, planting a kiss on top of Diana’s head.  She looked up and smiled in response, wishing that he didn’t have to go, wishing that he’d kiss her again. He did, pulling her into his arms and kissing her in a way that left her in no doubt of his attraction to her.  His hands slid inside her jacket, around her waist, and then lower, pressing his body against the thin cotton of her dress, and making it very obvious just how much he wanted her. “I’m definitely going now, or I may never leave,” he groaned. “I’ll see you in three quarters of an hour. Please?”

Book Signing

It was mid-morning before Danny managed to make eye contact with her.  Either he was too busy signing copies of the book, or she was too busy smiling and handing out her information packs.  Then the crowd cleared briefly, and he looked across and caught her eye.  He grinned, crinkling up the corners of his eyes, even more amused when she looked around her to make absolutely sure that he was smiling at her. The return smile warmed him again; it was without artifice, a truly genuine gesture of friendliness.  The crowd blocked her from view just as he was beginning to think that he might be able to make contact with her properly.  Debbie turned up and whisked him off to the refreshment marquee, to a small screened off area with a separate buffet laid for him, and a very select group of others. 

He caught a glimpse of her though, coming into the marquee looking for lunch, and finding that all but a few curling sandwiches had gone.  He saw her expression of resignation, as she poured a glass of fruit juice, and admired the sway of her hips in the thin cotton dress as she turned and went back to her stall.

“Put some of this food on a plate please?” he barked at Debbie.

“Are you still hungry?” she asked, having watched him polish off several sandwiches already.

“No, it’s for someone who doesn’t seem to have got any lunch.  I want you to take it over to her with this note – if you’re not too busy that is?”

Debbie looked slightly disgruntled, but did as he asked her and watched as he scribbled a few words on a paper napkin, pushed it under a sandwich, and gave her directions. 

“Just make sure she reads it.  Don’t let her throw it away.”

She shrugged and picked up the plate, only to be stopped briefly, as he selected a delicate cream rosebud from the vase on the table, and laid it beside the sandwiches. He watched as she picked her way through the crowd, losing sight of her as she left the small marquee, and crossed the grass to the larger one.

Diana looked up as a sullen-looking girl approached her, plate in hand.

“I was asked to bring you these as you appeared to have missed out on lunch.” She said in a bored tone of voice.

“Thank you. That’s very kind.” said Diana, as she placed the plate on the table.

The girl stomped back out of the tent, throwing the screwed-up napkin into a nearby bin, and grinning to herself.  Diana turned her attention to the sandwiches.  She was famished.  Smoked salmon and cream cheese, prawns and mayonnaise, thinly sliced cucumber, and all on brown bread with real butter.  She picked up the rose and sniffed it before tucking it into a buttonhole in her jacket.  Alice looked on in awe. 

“Where did that come from?” she asked.

“A kind and thoughtful person who saw that all the sandwiches had gone when I went to for lunch. I don’t know who it was. That’s all.”

“But …”

“Honestly, that’s all.”

Alice obviously knew when she was beaten and stopped her line of questioning to pilfer a salmon sandwich, and hand out some more information packs. 

It became busy again after lunch, and Diana sensed rather than saw him return to the book signing.  Against all her better judgement, she felt a tingling at the back of her neck, and a thrill of excitement when she saw him glance over at her and smile again.  Twenty-odd years of being married to a man who rarely gave her a second thought had taken its toll.  The person who sent the sandwiches was probably just feeling sorry for her. 

“Whoever it was should have gone for a full-blown rose that was past its prime,” said the snide voice of her ex-husband inside her head. 

“No,” she said to herself. “This rosebud is the new me.  I’ve cast off the shackles of an unhappy marriage, and there’s no earthly reason why I shouldn’t appreciate this gesture of kindness.”

The rest of the afternoon sped by as a constant stream of potential customers picked Diana’s brains, and took away her information packs.  She and Alice tidied up the stall and put the remaining papers back into wallets ready to be returned to the company.   The book signing had finished, and the man she now knew as Danny Vincent had gone.

Time for a third sigh.

As Diana was gathering up her handbag to leave, the stroppy girl from earlier on appeared.

“I’d like you to come with me please.” she said in a very formal tone of voice.

Diana’s first thought was that she must have done something wrong, and one of the organisers was about to haul her over the coals about it.  She took a deep breath, smiled politely and followed the girl out of the marquee, across the lawn and into the main house.  She was shown into the study, where Danny Vincent, was leaning against the marble mantelpiece.  Diana had estimated that he was of a similar age to her, but she felt he was wearing a lot better, and his well-cut jacket, jeans and designer polo shirt showed off a very impressive physique.  She was trying to remember all that Alice had told her the night before.  The girl stood by the door, curious as to what this meeting was about.  Danny turned to her and gestured with his head. “You cut along then, Debbie. Hitch a lift on one of the minibuses and I’ll catch up with you later. “

“But…”

“No buts, love, just get a move on, or they’ll leave without you.”

She stalked out of the room, evidently piqued at not going back to the hotel in the Bentley. 

Danny closed the door after her and turned towards Diana.

“We haven’t really been introduced.”

She held out her hand to him. “My name is Diana, Diana Mug…I mean Davenport.”

He frowned and took her hand in both of his.

“That’s not what the organisers told me.”

“My married name was Muggeridge; my divorce has now been finalised and my ex-husband moved out of our house three days ago. I think I’d rather be known by my maiden- name again.”

“Davenport sounds far more stylish than Muggeridge, more stylish than Vincent too.”  He smiled, and she liked the way his eyes crinkled up at the corners. Diana smiled back, acutely aware that he was still holding onto her hand.  He raised it to his lips and kissed the back of it so gently that it made her blush.

“What’s going on please?”  she asked, feeling her cheeks reddening.

He pulled a face and let go of her hand. 

“This is going to make me sound like some kind of a loser, a stalker or something. I saw you last night, laughing and talking to your friends, and when I looked around, I realised that you were one of the few people who didn’t seem desperate to attract my attention.  I watched you all evening, but you never even noticed that I was there until I saw you in reception.  You smiled at me, and it was the best thing that had happened to me all evening.  I had them move the book stall from the other end of the marquee once I found out where you were going to be – which upset a few people, but I didn’t care. I wanted to see you again.  How sad does that make me sound?”

He turned to walk away back towards the mantlepiece, and she reached out a hand so tentatively that her fingers just grazed the arm of his jacket; it was enough to make him turn back to her.

“Was it you that sent the sandwiches – and the rosebud?” she asked. 

“I wrote you a note, on a napkin.  I take it that you didn’t get it then?  Damn that girl!” he said crossly.  “I’m not sure if she’s stupid or deliberately manipulative.  Either way, she’s marked her card again.”

Diana sat down on one of the ornately embroidered armchairs, hoping that it was meant to be sat on and not just for show. 

She felt very confused.

“I had a feeling someone was watching me last night,” she said. “But I didn’t feel uncomfortable. I just wanted to find out who it was.  With all those slim young things in front-less, back-less, side-less dresses, I was surprised that anyone would be looking at me at all.”

Danny shook his head and smiled at the memory.  

“You were relaxed, happy, and all that a lovely woman should be.  I wanted you to smile at me the way that you were smiling at your friends, and when you finally did, that smile just as I was leaving to go upstairs, it made me feel less alone.  My wife Lisa died two years ago, and nobody smiles at me properly anymore. They look at me with pity in their eyes and it doesn’t help me.” 

He looked over at her, his eyes narrowing.  She smiled at him again, and although he could see some other emotions in her expression, there was no pity there, just an understanding. She got up and took a step towards him.

“I’m a nurse and I work in a hospice; I’m used to being there for people who are losing someone special. The last thing you need in that situation is pity. Empathy, friendship, the ability to listen and share. I hope I have all of those for the people I support and their families. It sounds to me as if we’ve both had a pretty crappy two years. I bet people keep telling you to man up and get on with your life?”

He laughed bitterly and nodded.  “I’m so sick and tired of being invited to parties and dinners, with obvious extra women.  It’s as if people can only accept me if I’m part of a couple.  And if you stop going out then everyone calls you a recluse.  How do you cope?”

“I keep being volunteered to go to fundraising events like this one.  I’m sure they think I’ll meet another Mr Right one of these days.  I thought I had many years ago, but he turned into a Mr Couldn’t-Keep-It-In-His-Trousers-Control-Freak.”

“You’re right,” he said. “We’ve both had a crappy two years.”

When she thought about it afterwards, she could never explain where she got the courage from at that moment; what inspired the impulse that made her touch his hand.  He looked down at her fingers, then up at her face, slowly raising her hand and turning the palm to his lips before kissing it, with a tenderness that was starkly at odds with his alleged reputation.   Diana’s stomach flipped, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up. 

“I smiled at you because you made me want to smile.” she said.  “I haven’t wanted to smile like that for a long time either.”

 “Will you have dinner with me tonight please, Diana?” he asked.

“Aren’t we supposed to be attending this dinner dance and auction?”

“Come and sit at my table, I’ll bump somebody boring, then you and I can sit and find out what else we have in common.”

“You’re the host of this event – it’s huge charity auction!”

“I’ve developed such a sore throat,” he said in a very croaky voice.  “That means I’ll only be able to talk quietly to you.  Somebody else can do the auction tonight.”

“Oh dear!”  she laughed, and he felt a sudden rush of happiness at the sound.

“Come on, let’s go for a ride in my car,” he said.   “I’ll ask my driver to take the pretty route, and you can tell me about the other things that make you smile.”

He held out his arm to her in a charming and companionable gesture, and she slipped her arm through his.  He led the way back out of the house, and across the gravelled drive to the immaculate silver Bentley.  The minibuses had all gone, and the only other vehicles left in the car park were those of the caterers and the men who were dismantling the marquees.  Diana felt oddly unreal as she held on to Danny.  The warmth of his arm through the cloth of his jacket was real though; he was so close she could smell a very faint trace of aftershave, something subtle and obviously expensive.  She couldn’t deny the very solidity of him next to her with so much evidence, but she still felt confused and as if she were in a dream. 

The chauffeur opened the car door for her and smiled with the very slightest of winks, whilst Danny got into the car from the other side.  The interior was truly luxurious; leather upholstery soft as silk and just as she’d imagined it earlier. Walnut panelling gave the impression that the car was old and venerable, although she knew from the exterior that it was a very new model.  Diana fumbled with the seat belt and felt Danny’s hand on hers, his head bent very close to her as he guided the belt into position with the clip.  She couldn’t help wondering what her ex-husband would say if he could see her right now; in a top of the range car with a famous celebrity, who appeared to be a much nicer person than the media had portrayed him.  She couldn’t stop herself from laughing; and Danny sat back, a look of bemusement on his face.

 “What did I do?” he asked.

“Nothing!  Nothing at all. I was just – well – I was just thinking about what my ex-husband would say if he could see me right now – he would absolutely die!”

“Does he have a mobile that can accept pictures?”  said Danny with a very wicked grin.

“Yes?”

“I’ll get my chauffeur to take a photo of us posing in front of the car when we get back to the hotel, and if you give me his number, I’ll send it to him.”

“No, don’t do that,” she said shaking her head. “He’s miserable enough as it is.  That would just be rubbing salt into his wounds.”

“Who left who?”

“I told him that I wanted a divorce after my neighbour complained that he had been groping her.  It turned out that she was just the latest in a long line of willing and unwilling participants. You think you know somebody after having children with them, and being married all that time, and then suddenly the whole world turns upside down. He admitted that he’d been having affairs for years because I was so boring; he’d been out with women that he worked with at the start, but then he turned his attentions to our female friends.  Women that we’d both known for years, and some of whom had been looking at me with pity, but laughing behind my back.”

“Some friends!”

“Yes, I very quickly found out who my real friends were.  He’d spun several tales about me; how I neglected him once I had the children to look after, that I was frigid, a poor cook and an even worse housewife, that my job meant more to me than he did. My ex’s private life suddenly became very public, and his latest flame came round to the house and told me that I should give up and let him go.  That was the most ironic part.  I was quite willing to let him go, but he refused to. He’s been living in our son Ben’s bedroom, only leaving to go to work or visit his current girlfriend. She’d managed to kick her husband out straight away. I had to wait till the divorce was finalised.”

“How do you feel about him now?”  Danny asked as the car slid smoothly down the country lanes.

Diana stopped to consider for a moment before answering.

“Nothing can take away the early years, and our children.  For a while I really hated him and the way he’d shattered our lives. I was terrified that he might have passed on some disease or infection to me so I made sure I had a thorough medical check-up.  The more I get my life together, the more he seems to shrivel, and I see the pathetic fantasist that he really is.  I felt sorry for him when he finally moved out; he was so determined to get his fair share of everything.  You know, he even tried to wash out an old Worcester sauce bottle so that he could take half the cider vinegar.  He was taking so long to get the plastic stopper out that I had to go and sit in the front room because I couldn’t bear to watch.”

“Did he manage it?”

“No,” she smiled and shook her head at the memory. “I came back in and told him to take the whole bottle of vinegar and I’d buy a new one.  To be truthful I just wanted it over and done with.  He looked so ridiculous that I even made him a cup of tea before he left.”

“How long was it between you splitting up and him finally going?”

“Two long and very dreadful years.  It didn’t help that both our children took my side, or that having said the marriage was over, he wouldn’t actually get out.  I had to watch TV in my bedroom, and none of my friends would come to the house when they knew he was there.  If I went out anywhere, he would be asking me where I’d been and who with – so I stopped going out after a while.”

Danny closed his hand over hers and squeezed it gently.  She looked over at him, her smile weakened by the still painful memories.  She returned the squeeze, and a part of her hoped that he might kiss her, although another part hoped that he wouldn’t. 

He didn’t.

Although she felt slightly disappointed, it gave her the courage to ask him the question that had been on her mind all afternoon.

“What is it that you want from me, Danny?  I’ve already worked out that you’re a very kind person, but I’m not sure why you approached me – or that I have anything left to give right now.”

He leaned back in his seat, still holding her hand but his grip had loosened.  She watched him as he considered his words almost as carefully as she had done a few moments before. “Since Lisa died, I’ve had every skinny WAG, minor celebrity, and would-be hanger-on pestering me.  I admit, some of them found their way into my bed, and most them left it pretty sharpish once I realised what they were after.  It’s all about the money and the fame, not about me.  I saw the way people talked and laughed with you last night, and how you seemed to connect with the people who came to your stall today.  I would like to get to know you better Diana, if you’ll allow me to?”

She shook her head in amazement, still unable to believe that he would be interested in getting to know someone as ordinary as her, when there were so many beautiful women to around him.

“I’d love to get to know you Danny but …”

“After two years of hell and a marriage break up, the last thing you need is a fling with an infamous celebrity who might pick you up and discard you just as quickly, leaving you in a far worse state than you were before.  It’s okay Diana, I understand,” he said sadly.  “We’re adults, we could go back to the hotel and bonk each other’s brains out, and no one would bat an eyelid.  The idea is very appealing to me I admit, but the last thing I want to do right now is to leave you feeling that another man has abused you.  I promise to be a proper gentleman, if that’s what you want me to be.”

Diana felt the tears prickling behind her eyes and dug her fingernails hard into the palm of her free hand in an effort to control her emotions.

“I’m not sure that I’d recognise a proper gentleman after all this time,” she said with a feeble attempt at a smile.

“There are those who’ll say that I’ll never be a gentleman – especially when you think of my behaviour in the past – and some of the stuff I’ve done for TV!”  Danny chuckled at the thought of his previous misdemeanours.  “I’ve had my fill of one-night stands and sycophants.  You are a lovely woman, Diana; warm and compassionate, and you have a good sense of humour, which you are going to need very shortly.  Things could get awkward when we arrive back to the hotel, and I may have to behave badly in order to get my own way.  As you’ve already seen, Debbie isn’t the most helpful of people.  My wonderful PA Sally left to have a baby after a long spell of IVF treatment. Debbie is the latest in a endless procession of ambitious young women who think they can make their mark by ruling my life.  She sat me with the most dull and boring group of people ever last night, and I’ve no intention of having that repeated.  Just take everything I say with a pinch of salt, please?”

“I don’t want anyone being upset on my behalf,” said Diana hastily. “I hate conflict.  I think that’s why I gave in to John for most of our marriage.”

“That’s the first time you’ve actually said his name. You referred to him as your ex before.”

“Maybe it’s because he’s finally gone, and I don’t have to think of him as being a permanent part of my life now.  He can just be John, rather than my husband or my ex – he isn’t a part of me anymore.  That’s probably a bit of a revelation.  Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For helping me to face up to something I’ve been hiding away from.  John’s gone, and I really can move forward now.”

“Good.  And you can start by getting to know me better, and having dinner with me.  You can see it as good works because if you aren’t sat next to me tonight, I’ll probably die of boredom, or behave very, very badly, and you don’t want that on your conscience, do you?” Diana’s smile triumphed at last and she shook her head as she laughed.  Danny squeezed her hand again, happy to have broken through the melancholy.

That Smile

Diana was surprised that she didn’t have a hangover the next morning, but was grateful nevertheless.  The sun was shining, the TV weather forecaster promised a lovely day, and she sent up a silent prayer of thanks that she’d brought a light cotton dress with her.  Her pale green linen jacket echoed the variegated shades of the delicate leaf pattern on her dress, and her two best assets were shown off by the modest, but ample décolletage.  She slipped on some sandals, changed her worldly goods to a large green leather handbag that matched her outfit, picked up the wallet containing the company handouts, and went in search of breakfast and to see how Alice had fared after the previous night.

There was no sign of Alice, or her Scottish beau; his two companions greeted Diana with enthusiasm, and a wink when they mentioned that there was no response from his room this morning.  Alice managed to make it down just before they finished serving breakfast, her companion was at a respectable distance, and both of them tried to make out that they’d just bumped into each other on the stairs, but the makeup smudges under Alice’s eyes, and his rumpled shirt from the night before told a different story.

A group of minibuses waited outside to ferry them to the marquee-covered grounds of the stately home.  A solitary Bentley sat amongst them guarded by a uniformed chauffeur, who was casually leaning against the stone wall that circled the car park and making sure that no one touched the car.  Diana peeped in at the luxurious leather upholstery as she made her way to the bus, imagining what it would be like to feel the softness against her skin.  The chauffeur tipped his hat to her and smiled. She smiled back but with a tiny tinge of envy; she sighed for the second time in two days, then admonished herself for this uncustomary behaviour.

Alice and Diana struck lucky with the placement of their stall, they were near enough to the entrance to attract attention, and of more importance to both of them, they were opposite the stall where their celebrity sponsor would be signing copies of his biography.  Alice applied another layer of lipstick in readiness and squirted herself with the heady smell of Poison that completely overwhelmed Diana’s more delicate scent.

Their stall was busy from the start, they were good representatives, and knew their audience, so it wasn’t until there was a lull in the proceedings that Diana finally noticed that the book signing opposite had begun.  Their host looked up from his book at the very moment she caught sight of him. He smiled, and the twinkle in his eyes made her catch her breath.  She looked over her shoulder at Alice to see if he was smiling at her, but no, Alice was busy with a client and the smile was all hers. She smiled back, tentatively, and was rewarded with another grin and a slightly raised eyebrow.  A further influx of visitors put paid to more communication, and when she next had a chance to look up, he was gone, and the sign on the table confirmed that he would be back at two o’clock.

There was a buffet for delegates in the small marquee next door, and Diana encouraged Alice to go first, knowing that things would be slack now, and wanting to relive the reverie of that sudden smile. The peace and the daydreaming didn’t last long however as Alice soon returned with a plate of sandwiches and some fresh fruit.  Diana made her way out to the refreshment marquee, not surprised to find that there was very little food left.  She picked up a glass of fruit juice, and went back to join Alice who had made quick work of her sandwiches, and was in a deep conversation with her Scottish friend, who just happened to be passing by.

Diana

Diana sighed as she packed her suitcase for yet another fundraising event.  It was all very well volunteering for these things, but since her separation from John she seemed to be volunteered for anything that meant spending time away from home. She had a feeling that this was a way of ensuring that she got out of the house when she wasn’t working.  Well-meaning, but all the packing and unpacking was beginning to wear thin.  Her children, Ben and Caroline, were both leading their own lives at university; the cat spent most of its life sleeping in her neighbour’s house, and for the past two years she had been sharing her home with an estranged, curmudgeonly, and now very ex-husband. 

She’d hung out the virtual flags when he finally left, presenting her with an itemised list of the house contents and a ‘legal’ document telling her she couldn’t have anyone other than family staying overnight in the house.  She refused to sign it, of course and took great pleasure in pointing out that half the objects in the kitchen that he claimed were his, had actually belonged to her in long-ago student nurse days.

He’d been different when they first met.  Seven years older than her, courteous and always well-dressed, her parents had approved of him, even more so when he insisted on putting their wedding on hold until she had finished her nursing training, and found suitable employment.  They’d bought their house on a mortgage but paid for it from a joint account, until she became pregnant with their Ben and had to give up work.  At that point all the bills and wages were diverted to John’s account; his excuse was that he didn’t want her bothered with the finances when she had a baby to look after.  It hadn’t taken her long to see that this was John insisting on being in control of every aspect of their life. 

She was about to consider going back to work when she fell pregnant with Caroline; a very welcome and much-loved baby, but even in the early years of their marriage, Diana had realised that she was supposed to be the wife and mother that John wanted her to be. Mother definitely, but he never failed to let her know that she was falling far short of his expectations in other respects.  Once the children had started at nursery and school, Diana signed up for refresher training so that she could go back to nursing.  John was initially reluctant, until he realised that there would be more money coming in, and that he would have more opportunity to indulge in his new hobby; infidelity, and he wasn’t exactly selective in his conquests.

The weekend ahead of her promised to be a little different from the usual events Diana attended.  The hotel accommodation was superior, and she’d been asked to staff a stall at the charity awareness fundraiser being held on the Saturday, and taking place a few miles away in the grounds of an elegant country mansion.  All she had to do was sit at the stall, smile a lot, hand out brochures, and tell people what a wonderful service her company provided.  This was a part of the job that Diana had no problem with.  She liked people and she believed in what she did.

Packing was always the downside though; so many changes of clothing! Something to travel in, casual clothes for the so-called team-building event, her best clothes for Friday and Saturday evenings, and a practical but smart outfit for the fundraising day.  She packed her favourite nightshirt, feeling that a couple of good night’s sleep was all she really required from the weekend.  The sound of her ex-husband’s snoring still permeated through the walls, even though he’d been gone for three days now.

She left the suitcase and her handbag in the hallway and checked her watch.  She still had a few minutes before the taxi arrived to take her to the station, and she spent the time checking that all the doors and windows were secure.  Her daughter was coming home for the weekend; Diana had the locks changed the moment her ex-husband moved out, and the new keys were waiting next door with her neighbour Jane – and the cat – for Caroline to collect them.  Ironic that Diana had to go away, now that she finally had the house to herself!

Although she was listening out for it, the sound of the taxi driver’s horn still made her jump, and with haste borne of many years of living with a man who was always impatient with her, she dragged her case out of the front door, picking up her coat and handbag with her free hand.  The taxi driver concentrated on driving rather than chatting, and managed to get her to the station in good time to catch her train.  A minibus would be collecting delegates at the other end, and Diana felt some of the stress draining out of her as she sat on the train, carefully unpacking her book, a bottle of water, and sandwiches from her capacious handbag. Smiling, she settled down to enjoy the two-hour train ride.

Apart from the noisy mobile phone users and a couple of boisterous toddlers, Diana’s journey was uneventful; there were no delays, and there really was a driver with a minibus waiting to collect her and the others from the station. Polite conversation during the short trip back to the hotel revealed that one of the other female train travellers, Alice, would be sharing the stall with Diana on Saturday.  This was Alice’s first attendance at this type of event, and she was grateful to have stumbled across a more seasoned companion.  As was her nature, Diana felt quite humbled by Alice’s interest and attention, and was pleased to be walking into the hotel with a new acquaintance for a change, instead of facing a sea of totally unfamiliar faces.

They went to their respective rooms to unpack and arranged to meet up in the bar for pre-dinner drinks.  Diana was surprised by the opulence of her accommodation; a decent sized bathroom with a Jacuzzi bath and separate power shower, a king-sized bed and a small lounge area with a sofa, two armchairs, and a coffee table laden with magazines, complementary fruit, wine, and chocolates.  She unpacked quickly and had a long soak in the bubble filled Jacuzzi, then slopped around in the equally complementary bathrobe and slippers.

Caroline phoned to say that she was on the way home, would pick up the keys and send a text later. Diana’s ex-husband texted asking if he could pick up some more of his belongings over the weekend. She reminded him that she was away, that their daughter was on her way home, and that the locks had been changed so he couldn’t just wander in and out of the house any more. When she advised him that he would not get a warm welcome if he turned up at the house, he was not best pleased.  Caroline had been very defensive of her mother during the separation, angry with her father for his many affairs, for breaking up the marriage, and angrier still with him for not moving out during the two years of the divorce proceedings. 

Diana felt a sense of achievement after replying to his text.  Being assertive towards someone who treated her with such little regard during their marriage, and even less during the divorce, was an empowering feeling.  She got up from the sofa with her glass of wine in hand, and walked confidently to the wardrobe to get out her second-best dress.  Black velvet and very simple, it clung to her in all the right places, and was of a style ‘very flattering to the larger lady’.  At least, that was what the sales assistant had said, with a thinly concealed sarcastic smirk. Diana brushed her long fair hair and kept her make-up fairly discreet – with the exception of her favourite red lipstick and a pair of silver star earrings that were a present from Caroline.  Her essential items for the evening were stowed into a small black velvet bag, she sprayed herself with Chanel No. 5, and sallied forth to meet Alice in the bar downstairs.

The bar was busy and by the time she found Alice, Diana had also met up with some familiar faces from previous events she had attended. She found herself in a small group of six; three men from Scotland that she already knew, Alice, and Mandy, another lady that she‘d also talked to before.  They took over some seats at one of the coffee tables in the lounge, and the conversation was light and entertaining.  Diana couldn’t shake off the feeling that someone was watching her however, and whilst she kept looking around for another familiar face, she couldn’t work out who it was.

Alice nudged her as they were making their way into the restaurant for dinner.

“That’s him!”

“Who?”

“Danny Vincent. You know; our celebrity host, and the main sponsor for the fundraising day tomorrow.  You must know him; ex-sportsman turned presenter – and hell-raiser.  To be honest, he was the main reason for my volunteering for this weekend; he was very big in the US for several years but stopped working when his wife became ill.  It’s been two years since she died and he’s been persuaded to come out of retirement. A bit old for me, but you know what they say about older men. I think he’s gorgeous!”

Diana looked in the direction of Alice’s pointing finger, but their host seemed to have disappeared into another group of people, and all she could see was a tantalising back view of his short black curly hair.  She shrugged, sure that she would catch a glimpse of him later on in the evening, or at least the next day.  She could vaguely remember what he looked like from his sporting days, and that far from being an ‘older’ man as Alice described him, he was about her age. It was only a dim recollection however, from a time before sport and television were overtaken by more important issues like being on time for Caroline’s ballet classes, their swimming lessons, and helping Ben to get his homework done without annoying John. 

Dinner that evening was pleasant; nothing extravagant or over-ambitious, but the kind of food you could eat and still carry on a conversation without spilling anything down your front.  She felt in good company, and as they sank another couple of bottles of wine between them, Diana could see that one of the men from Scotland was quite smitten with dark-haired, petite Alice, plying her with drink in the age-old conference custom. 

What goes on at these events stays at these events.  

It hadn’t ever happened for Diana though.  Up until two years ago she had been the dutiful wife, who would never have dreamed of being unfaithful.  After her husband dropped the bombshell about his numerous affairs throughout their marriage, she was too wrapped up in trying to patch up the fabric of her life to even consider looking at another man.

By eleven thirty that night, her group had left the restaurant, and only the hard-core drinkers and seducers were left lounging.  Diana made her excuses and went off to bed.  As she passed through the reception area, she saw that tantalising back view again and was rewarded when Danny turned suddenly, and looked directly at her.  He seemed unhappy and annoyed, so she smiled at him, and felt rewarded when he smiled back.  Then he was propelled through the lift doors and upwards, and she lost sight of him again.  He didn’t look as fierce as his reputation would have her believe, and in that very brief moment Diana sensed a deep sadness behind those deep and rather astonishingly blue eyes. 

Perhaps Alice was right after all.

Diana’s room was on the first floor, so rather than wait for the lift, she took the stairs in an effort to work off some of the alcohol.  The bed had been turned down and a single chocolate left on the pillow. 

Comfort food for the lone divorcee. 

She munched it anyway as she switched on the late news and took off her make up, hanging up the velvet dress carefully in the wardrobe and slipping gratefully into the comforting familiarity of her nightshirt.  She brushed her teeth and had a quick wash before climbing into the big comfortable bed, setting her travelling alarm clock for the morning. It was the memory of that smile that made her sigh as she closed her eyes and drifted off into the sleep of a middle-aged, but free and single woma

A Time to Smile

Danny

He couldn’t take his eyes off her.  He’d spotted her earlier in the evening, and wondered who she was.  He liked the way she smiled at people, the way she laughed, the brightness of her face when she talked with her group of friends, and he also liked the way her black velvet dress moulded round her curves.  Danny had put himself in a space apart from those around him at this event, in order to shut out the fawning and sycophancy.  His manager Mike, had persuaded him that it was time to lift his head above the parapet, and make some money from his glorious, but notorious past.  He was there this weekend to publicise the book of his life, and host a charity auction.  Mike said that it was a foot on the ladder to getting back into the public eye, but it was proving to be more of a struggle than either of them had realised. How Danny longed for the company of his late wife; being with the people he used to know, and with whom he could be himself, rather than with a bunch of boring but hand-picked strangers.  He watched this woman from a distance and more than anything, he wanted to know who she was.

The opportunity to meet her never arose on that Friday evening; he was too busy shaking hands and moving from one dignitary to another, acting the celebrity for their benefit and trotting out the same old clichés.  His fame had been with him for a long time now, but it was still an uneasy thing, and he hated that it was in the way of his getting to know someone that he liked the look of. 

The woman wasn’t even his type, whatever his type was; his wife Lisa had been tall and very elegant with long dark hair that she usually wore up, whereas this woman was of average height, fair-haired, curvy, and seemed to have less interest in dolling herself up than most of the other women at the event.  He couldn’t remember when he’d last seen so much bare flesh, diamante and Lurex on display. 

She’d smiled at him that night though, and it was a genuine smile.  She was in the reception area at the end of the evening, when he and his entourage were waiting for the lift to take them up to the penthouse suite.  He saw her heading towards the stairs, and he willed her to look round at him.  When she did; when she gave him that heart-warming smile, he’d wanted to push people aside and go to her, to ask her who she was and whether she’d join him for a drink.  The lift doors opened though, and the moment passed as she walked on up the stairs and he was propelled by Mike’s guiding hand. Looking around the empty suite when the lift doors opened, his loneliness had been temporarily lifted by the memory of that smile.  He sighed and wished the weekend was over, the book that he hadn’t written or even contributed to much, would have been promoted, and he could stop pretending to be someone that he no longer felt at ease with.

 Her name was Diana. His personal assistant Debbie seemed confused as to why he needed to know who this woman was, but she’d realised two days into her new job that it was easier to do as he asked than to demand an explanation.   Danny was determined to meet Diana at the fundraising event being held on the next day.  Once he’d found out more about her, he arranged for his book signing stall to be moved to a less prominent, but more strategic place where he could observe, and hopefully get an introduction.  The book publicist had kicked off a bit about changing things around, but just one of Danny’s famous glares had silenced any further objections.

Happy Days and Holidays

We had a short holiday booked for May this year. Just a week by the seaside for the two of us and Bella Kate dog. That’s had to be cancelled due to CV19 but we’ve managed to re-book for September. It got me thinking about holidays in the past and how much, at the moment , I miss the sea.

When we were children, our parents didn’t have a great deal of money and my Dad didn’t drive so we were reliant on the goodwill of Dad’s friends and extended family to drive us to our holiday destinations and bring us back a week later. I was very confused one year when I overheard my Dad telling my Mum that he had tipped his mate a pony for the trip.

I looked for the animal on the way there and on the way back but there was no sign. I was very disappointed because I had entertained dreams of keeping the pony in the garden shed with our guinea pigs.

On that particular trip we were being ferried down to a holiday camp in Hayling Island. I remember that there were two swings close to our chalet and that my older brother and sister always got on them first. I even have a photograph of them on the swings and me, disconsolate and leaning against one of the metal posts.

The other vivid memory is of the site gift shop. In amongst the sticks of rock, beach balls and windbreaks, there was a small book selection. One slim volume held my attention every time we visited. It was one of those cut-out doll books with a number of different and interchangeable outfits. I loved that book and wanted it desperately, but most of my ten shillings holiday money had already been spent in the arcades.

I went in every day to look at the book; to stroke the brightly coloured pages containing a variety of Chinese inspired outfits. I’d been brought up to respect books, so I was almost reverential when looking at it. I carefully put it back on the shelf; each time hiding it a bit further behind other books in case some other child came in and bought it.

The memory has a happy ending. On the last day of our holiday, my Mum took me into the shop and bought me the book. I was so happy that I could barely speak. Mum and the shop assistant shared conspiratorial winks. Many years later I found out from Mum that the shop assistant took the book down and put it under the counter as soon as I left the shop each day, putting it back whenever she saw me coming.

I played with that book until the tabs dropped off the clothes and the doll fell apart from over use.

The next year we were lucky enough to stay in the caravan belonging to the family of one of my big sister’s friends. Her father drove us down to Selsey Bill and back as well. No ponies this time. We stayed on the West Sands site and at that time there was great rivalry between our caravan site and the White Horse site next door.

The caravan slept six, was a drab olive green with a cream roof and was lit by gas mantles that had a fascinating smell, made little popping noises when they were about to expire, and were extremely fragile so NO playing with beach balls inside the caravan please!.

We were well placed; halfway between the sea, the shingle beach and the delights of the site ballroom, gift shops and amusement arcade. Evenings were spent up in the ballroom dancing to the March of the Mods and other such 60’s floor fillers.

Sometimes there were competitions and, courtesy of my Mum and big sister, one year I won first prize dressed as a Mexican bandit. I wore a sombrero and a very dashing striped towel over my usual shorts and tee-shirt. My sister drew an elegant moustache on my face with eyebrow pencil, and the piece de resistance was a cardboard plaque around my neck reading ‘Speedy Gonzales’, and which my artistic sister had used her skills to draw cacti in place of the d and the l.

I can’t remember what the prize was, but I do remember marching proudly around the ballroom and loving the applause. The moustache didn’t wash easily however, and I spent the rest of the week with a very red upper lip.

As a special treat, we took the bus to Chichester and looked around the Cathedral. Mum and I often went up to Winchester Cathedral on the bus from home, so this gave us a good opportunity to compare and expand our knowledge. My brother and sister stayed behind on the site. They had other things to do than hang around with parents and an annoying little sister.

My Dad got bored with the Cathedral quite soon, and hurried us off to an Italian restaurant where he ordered spaghetti bolognese for me because he knew that it was my favourite. When it arrived I couldn’t eat it. I was used to the kind of spaghetti bolognese that came out of tin and had a very dark brown sauce.

This spaghetti was white and very long; the sauce was a pale brown, had no lumps, and although I have no doubt that it was far more authentic than the tinned stuff that I was used to. It wasn’t right.

We left the restaurant because Dad was in a huff about the waste of money and my lack of gratitude. I was too young to understand his anger. The trip back on the bus was sombre and quiet. I didn’t know what I had done wrong or why my Dad was so cross, or why my Mum was so cross with my Dad.

When this isolation is over, I have a list of places I want to see again; some are close by and others require a bit more planning. Now I am older and understand the meaning of money and well-meant gestures, I’d like to go back to Chichester and see if the Italian restaurant is still there. If spaghetti bolognese is still on the menu, I will eat it and remember my Dad’s attempt to make a small girl happy.

Most of all, I want to be near the sea again. To smell the salt tang and the seaweed. To watch the tide rolling in and out forever, whilst the greedy seagulls search for food. Roll on to the happy days and holidays.

Look after your memories.

By chiara1421 Posted in Places

Glad Thursdays

Thursday were always special when I was a child.

My Auntie Glad visited on Thursdays. Whatever the weather, she would get on the bus and make the half an hour journey to visit us. A journey that involved a lengthy walk at both ends of the bus journey.

Gladys was the eldest of thirteen children, reduced to nine by stillbirth and infant death; my Father was the youngest. When their parents died, it was Gladys that took on the role of mother to their surviving siblings, but to my father in particular as he was only a baby. Two of the girls perished in WWII, and their brothers (and Gladys’s husband) showed a tendency to fall out with each other over nothing in particular.

When my parents married, they spent the first years of their life together living with Auntie Glad, her husband and daughter. From what my Mother told me, it was Auntie Glad whose support and encouragement helped them through those early days. My Mother was a volatile red-head. My Father was a brooder whose moods were later diagnosed as depression.

The epitome of a grandma; Auntie Glad was denied grandchildren of her own because her daughter had been starved of oxygen at birth, and had learning difficulties as a consequence. The family feuds between the other siblings meant that we were the only children that she had really close contact with, and we were the recipients of her unconditional love – and rainbow drops.

Nowadays people think of those horrible multicoloured lumps of puffed rice as rainbow drops. Some people call our rainbow drops ‘Jazzies’. To me, a rainbow drop will always be circles of milk chocolate covered on one side by hundreds and thousands, and delivered in white paper bags by Auntie Glad. One bag for each of us to in order to ensure fairness and no squabbling. It was an unwritten law that you never pinched a rainbow drop from someone else’s bag. Auntie Glad would know if you did and that would make her sad. We all loved her so much that we never wanted to make her sad.

Back in the days when our city still had a pier, Auntie Glad would sometimes visit on a extra day, in order to accompany my Mother and the three of us on a bus journey to town. We’d sit on the pier and play on the attractions, or watch the sea and the ships while Auntie Glad fed us wine gums from a capacious bag. As soon as I could read, I can remember tracing the word on a wine gum with my finger. ‘Port’ and ‘Sherry’ were my favourites, and there was something slightly naughty about eating sweets that might have alcohol in them. I think we all knew that there wasn’t but it was another family myth that didn’t need to be exploded.

It didn’t matter how badly behaved we had been; Thursdays wiped away all our sins and started us off afresh. I can remember decorating the walls of one of the rooms of our council house with crayons. It was a small room between the kitchen and the front hall and in some families might have been used as a dining room. We ate in the kitchen, except for Christmas when the kitchen table was brought into what we called the ‘Living room’. The little room (named by my Father as the ‘Glory Hole’) also housed the Understairs Cupboard; a place of magic, mystery and spiders, where various items we had acquired were put for ‘lateron’. I was convinced that this was all one word for years, and described a time when all the exciting objects would be taken out and used.

It was a Wednesday when I decided to do a Banksy on the party wall. My Mother took the silence as a warning, and came in from the kitchen to see what I had been up to. She was not impressed, as in those days, the removal of wax crayons on a painted wall would require bleach, hot water and a great deal of elbow grease. My Father was at work, my Mother shouted, I cried and my siblings stayed upstairs, out of the way and absolved of any blame for my doodling. (I still doodle.)

“I wish it was Thursday!” I cried.

“So do I!” cried my Mother.

Auntie Glad’s magic touched us all and made our world a better place.

She died when I was about eight, and although we still had some happy memories, the loss of Auntie Glad was hard to bear. Life went on. My Father wheeled a bicycle several miles from the cycle shop when he discovered that I had learned to ride. We went on caravan holidays to Bournemouth and Selsey Bill, and trips to Winchester Cathedral, sitting at the front on the top deck of the bus, clutching a bag of sandwiches and a bottle of watered down squash.

It was only a few years later that without Auntie Glad, the glue that had helped cement my parents’ marriage, came unstuck and the family split in three directions. My Brother stayed with my Father, my Sister had already left home and my Mother and I left the house in the middle of the night in a taxi hurriedly called by my big Brother from the phone box at the end of the road.

It wasn’t a Thursday

Many years later and with adult children of my own, Thursdays are always a glad day for me. They have the ability to lift sad shadows and invoke happy memories. Rainbow drops are a rare treat now but even as I taste the first one out of the bag (there are still sweet shops where you can buy a quarter of sweets in white paper bag), I remember Auntie Glad and sunny afternoons in the days when none of us had anything to worry about.

It seems that Thursdays have become the day for going outside at 2000 hours and applauding the heroes in all occupations who are doing their best to keep us all safe, fed and well during this difficult time. Another reason to be glad for Thursdays.