Chapter Five

SOPHIE

I was all keyed up next day on the way to work. When I got there there was a huge order to check in so there was no chance of making contact with Tim. At lunch I sneaked up into the office and found out that it was Tim’s day off. Fortunately we were just as busy in the afternoon so I didn’t have the opportunity to brood but I didn’t know what to do with myself when I got home. Tracy was there and offered to make me a cup of tea.  I’d begin to get over my initial dislike of her and was pleased to have the opportunity to get to know her better and hear about her latest holiday.  She and Dad had been to Florida for a fortnight.  Dad had apparently spent most days on the golf courses leaving her to kick her heels.  I wondered if he’d been seeing that woman I’d heard him on the phone to.  Fortunately they’d met another golfing widow from the UK and Tracey and her got on famously.  They’d spent the days shopping, having long drunken lunches or sunbathing by the pool.  The four of them went out for dinner most nights.

I went upstairs for a bath to settle my nerves but I didn’t fancy a night in on my own was so I decided to phone Sarah and take up her offer of a night out on the town.   She wanted to go to the Superstar Club in Manchester.  She sounded really pleased that I’d agreed to go but as soon as I put the phone down I had regrets.   I can be like that at times – desperate to do something until it’s arranged then get cold feet.  Anyway I’d agreed so I immersed myself in dolling myself up, putting on bright red lipstick, heavy eye make-up, long silver ear-rings and I chose a mini-dress with a low neckline so my legs (one of my best features) and my cleavage were there to entice whoever. In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought. I do so love dressing up.

I decided to drive as that would take away the temptation to drink. Sarah appeared at her door when I hooted. She was wearing a coat so I couldn’t really see what she was wearing apart from the high heels and bare legs. The club in Manchester was three-quarters of an hour’s drive away and we arrived about 10, early enough to avoid the queue at the door to get in. The bouncers leered at us as we went in. We ignored them and handed our coats over. I noticed Sarah was dressed equally as revealingly as me. She looked stunning.

“Wow,” she exclaimed looking me up and down, “what a cool outfit.  We shouldn’t have any trouble tonight.”

“Yes, that’s what worries me.” I replied, “We won’t get any peace.”

“I’m not here to get peace. I want action.”

At the bar I ordered an orange juice and Sarah a pint of Stella. We found an unoccupied table and sat down. I took a selfie of the two of us. It was a while since I’d been in a nightclub and I was deafened by the music. It was virtually impossible to carry on a conversation. As anticipated several lots of creeps came over and offered to buy us drinks, all tattoos and body piercings. Then two smartly dressed older men came and sat down with us. I looked across at Sarah and gave her a wink, which she returned. I got up and indicated to her I wanted to dance. She was a good dancer and we had a great session before retiring back to our table. The two men were still there and we had new drinks waiting for us, a pint for Sarah and an orange juice for me. Before we sat down with them I asked them to take a picture of us standing up so we could show off our outfits and our figures. As they were now in the centre of the semicircular table we sat with them between us. I tried to have a conversation with the man nearest me who was called Bob and he was an investment banker, so he said, in other words, loaded. Sarah seemed to be getting on with the other man and soon they were on the dance floor together. Bob and I watched and continued to try to exchange pleasantries. Sarah was having fun, really letting go. I was pleased for her but felt a bit flat inside myself. This just wasn’t where I wanted to be. Bob pulled me to my feet and onto the dance floor. I squeezed through so we were next to Sarah and her partner so we could dance as a foursome.

After a while we’d all had enough and we returned to the table. Bob got another round of drinks in, Sarah having her third pint. We went off to the ladies together. It was a little quieter in there. After we’d had our pees we stood in front of the mirror touching up our faces. I didn’t say anything as I wanted to know what Sarah was thinking.

“Rick’s lovely.” she said, “How’s your fella?”

“He’s OK.” I said.

“I’m going to go back with him.” she said.

“Is that wise?” I asked. “You’re drunk and in no state to defend yourself.”

“Exactly.” she said.

The rest of the evening was a bit of a nightmare for me. Bob got frisky and wouldn’t keep his hands to himself. Sarah got even drunker and I thought she really let herself down. I stayed with it though as I was still hoping to take her back home in one piece. This was not to be as she went off with Nick and I was forced to get shot of Bob. I drove home alone, in a foul mood.

Sarah phoned next evening. She was not proud of herself. Nick was married and just out for a quick shag which was what he got with Sarah, in the back of his car. Sarah threw up half way through but Nick was not put off.

“I was gagging for it, I know. But I didn’t enjoy it. I just wanted him to do his bit and get off me. Maybe I sobered up a bit when I was sick.”

“I think Bob was married. I had a job keeping his hands off me and left him in no doubt I was going home alone.”

We chatted a bit more then I asked her what to do about Tim. He’d been at work that day but our paths didn’t really cross, either he was busy or I was and we had separate breaks.

“What’s the problem, love?” Sarah asked, “Ask him out. It’s a woman’s prerogative these days.”

“Yes I know all that but… I just don’t want to seem too forward. You know I can be a little bit um bossy I suppose and I hate myself for it.

“Then I’d have the problem as to where to take him. Would he expect me to pay if I’d done the asking? I can’t get my head round it all.”

“Look Sophie, don’t try to cross too many bridges all at once. Take one step at a time. Play it cool. Not that I’m any expert. Just look at the fool I made of myself last night.”

“Well that wasn’t your finest hour, obviously, but put it behind you. Forget it happened. Just put it down to experience.”

Then I added mischievously: “Just keep checking yourself to make sure haven’t picked anything nasty up from him.”

“Thanks a lot for that. I’m worried enough without you stoking the fires. I’m sure he put a condom on, or at least I think I remember him doing so. But I could just be imagining it.”

“I was only winding you up. If Nick was married he’d be almost certain to take precautions. He wouldn’t want to give his wife anything would he?

“Anyway you’re not helping me with my problem. I know I’m probably being stupid but I really did think Tim was well special. I can’t stop thinking about him.

“What did you mean, play it cool?”

“Well just say something like ‘I’m at a loose end tonight and wondered what you were doing’.”

“Then he says I’m sorry I’m taking Audrey for a romantic meal tonight. What then?”

“Well at least you know where you are with him but if he’s just going to play tennis with a mate or something like that then you’ll just have to extend the time frame, Sophie.”

“What?”

“Just say ‘I’m also at a loose end tomorrow night and the night after.’”

“Sarah, you are brilliant. That sounds well cool. And I don’t have to think where to take him if he is free one of those nights. We can discuss it together. I’ll try that tomorrow. Thanks.”

“Yes well let me know how you get on. And can we make another arrangement to go out somewhere again soon?”

“Of course. So long as it’s not to another meat market like last night. Maybe a quiet meal in a wine bar or something like that. We could just go to the pictures but you’d be unlikely to meet any men that way and I think that’s what you’re after, a bit of exposure.”

“Maybe I’ve learnt my lesson. OK I’ll give you a ring in a couple of days. Bye.”

Then I was on my own again but somehow I was more relaxed than the other night and was happy just slobbing in front of the box.

So next day at work I decided to try to follow Sarah’s advice. I was busy so it wasn’t easy and I didn’t want other members of staff to overhear. I kept peeping into the store and eventually saw him stacking shelves in the pet food section.

“Hi, Tim, could I have a quiet word?” was my opening gambit.

Unfortunately Tom, the shop manager, was close by. I hadn’t seen him in my eagerness to make contact with Tim. I guess he will have jumped to the obvious conclusion, put two and two together and made five. So it’ll be all over the store today and all over every branch by close of business tomorrow.

“Guess what, Sophie, the bosses daughter is having it off with a long-haired student.” Or some such line. Anyway I suppose that was unavoidable. I gestured towards an empty part of the store.

“Nothing serious. Personal, not business,” I began. “Sorry for the cloak and dagger stuff but… Anyway I just wondered if you were doing anything this evening as I’m at a bit of a loose end.”

“Well, Thursday is yoga evening, 7 till 9.30. Shame, because by the time I could be ready it would be after 10. I’m free most nights though, if you are.”

“OK, it’s just we seemed to get on so well at lunchtime the other day and I thought…” I seemed to be doing just what Sarah had advised against.

“I agree. In fact I’ve been plucking up the courage to ask you out myself. I was a bit worried that you might think I was a bit presumptuous, you being the bosses daughter and obviously in a different wealth bracket to me. Anyway you got there first so all my concerns were unfounded, obviously.”

“Ha, that’s great. I thought I felt friendly vibes, but you never know for sure. So what about some time this weekend?”

“Oh, S H 1 T – excuse my French. I’d arranged to see my parents this weekend. They live in rural Wales and it’s my younger brother’s birthday. I’d love you to come but I think that might be a bit much for a first date.”

I suppose I looked crestfallen. My face is like a message board, people know what I’m thinking just by looking at me.

“I could come back early on Sunday if you’re free then.”

Our quiet corner was invaded by several customers and I could see one of the sales staff about to join them and I didn’t want any more of our conversation overheard.

“Over here, Tim,” I said authoritatively in a loud voice, and beckoned to a different area. “Sorry about that, ordering you about.”

“Impressive,” said Tim.

“I’m just trying to keep too many noses out of my business. You’ve no idea what it’s like. It’s like being royalty or a celebrity. Everything I do or say is out there.”

“Yes I’ve seen a bit of what you’re talking about myself. I know, for instance, that you had a boyfriend called Rob and that you finished with him a few days ago. Other stuff too. You’d be surprised what I know about you.” He winked at me as he said this.

“Listen, I don’t want to cut you short but just seeing us together talking like this add fuel to the fire. Sunday would be great. How about you give me a ring sometime over the weekend and we’ll arrange something?” I took a card out of my bag and passed it to him as surreptitiously as I could. Then I went back to my post with Tom and Geoff in the back of the premises with a spring in my step. I felt like I was floating on air.

I was still euphoric when I got back home. It was an idyllic evening. The trees on the drive had grown bright green leaves and the lake looked lovely with swan families and ducks and geese dotted about on its silvery surface. I thought how lucky I was to have all this around me.

Surprisingly Dad was there and he offered to make me a cup of tea. He wanted to know how I was getting on at Crewe. I told him I was enjoying working with Tom and Geoff and was learning a lot. He wanted to know what I thought of the rest of the staff and the store layout. I said it was too early for me to have an opinion. I was bursting to change the subject so I could tell him about Rob and Tim.

“Yes you need to get on the shop floor and see how everything works before you join the management team. Next week I want you to work as a salesperson now you’ve a bit of product knowledge. You’ve been at Crewe this week haven’t you? I think a change of scenery wouldn’t hurt so I’ll let the manager at the Festival Park branch know to expect you on Monday morning. When it’s quiet just watch how the sales staff operate and listen and learn from them so that when it gets busy you’re confident on your own. Look at what we sell, go round all the shelves, pick stuff up, make sure you understand what it’s for, how it works. Think of what would sell with each item so that you can increase what each customer spends. Product knowledge, that’s the key!”

“Yes, Dad. Thanks for the lecture. I know what you expect of me. I’ll do my best, but you know I’m not sure my hearts in it. Actually I thought I was to be at Crewe a bit longer?”

I knew I was very fortunate, steady job, huge salary, lovely company car, prospect of a seat on the Board but I hated being steamrollered. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life but I hadn’t been given the opportunity or the time to think about it. My life was mapped out for me by my Dad. I know he was doing it because he thought it was for the best but sometimes I wanted to scream at him – stop bossing me around, stop controlling my life, let me decide – but I never did. I was the dutiful daughter.

“Anyway, Dad, what are you up to this weekend?”

“Well there’s the opening of our new Stafford branch tomorrow. In fact I asked Tracy if she’d see if you were prepared to come to that. I don’t suppose she has?”

“No Dad, I’ve not seen her today.”

“Oh yes, she’s got a lot on her mind.  She’s been away visiting her parents. Her Mum’s not well. In fact, not well at all.”

“Oh dear. I knew she had Dementia. Is she a lot worse?” I asked.

“Yes it’s so sad. They’ve been married for over 50 years and poor Joe, that’s her Dad, has lost his life-long partner and gained a blooming headache. Tracy says her own mother doesn’t know her anymore and spends most of her time, when she’s awake, terrified. She doesn’t know where she is, doesn’t recognise anybody.  She’s taken to spending most of the time in bed.”

“That’s awful. There should be some way of dealing with it. I don’t know, a pill you could take or something.”  I wasn’t very good at dealing with sickness or anything like that.

“Well she’s not in a fit state to do anything like that. She couldn’t decide to do herself in.”

“No Dad I suppose not. And the relatives couldn’t be given the responsibility. They might be just after her money. Only I wouldn’t want to live like that. It’s so undignified. I mean some of them are incontinent. It’s awful. I’d like to write a living will that allows doctors to sort me out if I get into that kind of state.”

“Well, love, it’s easy to say that whilst you’re young. You might look at it differently when you’re old.

“Anyway about tomorrow. We’re having a grand opening. Tracy has hired some models and she, and I hope, you are going to join them. Dressed up to the nines. Each of you will have a pedigree dog on a lead. You’ll be there to look glamorous and attract the crowds. I’ve tipped the Press off too so you might be in the local paper or on the box.”

My heart sank at the mention of Press, glamour, models. I hated putting myself on show. But I didn’t do much for Dad and having something to do would make the waiting till Sunday go quicker.

“OK Dad, I’ll come. Will you ask Tracy to tell me what sort of clothes I should wear please?”

“Well why don’t you eat with us tonight. We’d decided to have a night in and it would be lovely if you’d join us.”

It may have been because of my success earlier but I really enjoyed the meal in with Tracey and Dad. Tracey was an excellent hostess and cook and all three of us seemed to get on as we’d never done before. I think they were both pleased that I wasn’t my usual aggressive self and that I was joining in the event they’d planned for Saturday.

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