Chapter 3

SOPHIE

Next day on the way to work I was all keyed up wondering whether Tim would be there. When I arrived though there was a huge order to deal with so there was no chance of looking around for him. At lunch I sneaked up to the office and found out that it was his day off. Fortunately I was just as busy in the afternoon and I didn’t have the opportunity to agonise too much.  However I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself when I got home.  Fortunately Tracey was there and offered to make me a cup of tea.  I’d already got over my initial dislike of her and was pleased to have a diversion and 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 playing golf leaving her to kick her heels.  I wondered if he’d been seeing that woman I’d heard him on the phone to.  Fortunately Tracey met another golfing widow from the UK and they both got on famously.  They’d spent the days shopping, having long drunken lunches or sunbathing by the pool.  The men joined them in the evenings and 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 so I decided to phone Sarah and see what she was up to.  She had nothing arranged and suggested we go for a night out on the town and said she really wanted to go to the Superstar Club in Manchester as she’d heard good reports from a friend.  She sounded really pleased when I agreed to go but as soon as I put the phone down I regretted my decision.   I can be like that at times – desperate to do something until it’s arranged then get cold feet.  Anyway I was committed so I decided to go for it.  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 for me to drink and I offered to pick Sarah up.  When I hooted she appeared from her front door in a coat so I couldn’t really see what she was wearing apart from the high heels and bare legs.  I put Human League on at high volume in the car to get us in the mood on the way there.  The club in Manchester was three-quarters of an hour’s drive away and we arrived in high spirits at about 10, early enough to avoid the queue at the door. The bouncers leered at us as we went in but we ignored them and handed our coats over. I noticed then that Sarah was dressed equally as revealingly as I was. 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.  It was a while since I’d been in a nightclub and I was deafened by the music. It was so loud it was virtually impossible to carry on a conversation. As anticipated several lots of creeps, all tattoos and body piercings, came over and offered to buy us drinks.  We sent them on their way. Then two smartly dressed older men came and sat down on either side of us without saying anything. I looked at Sarah and gave her a wink, which she returned. I got up and indicated to her I wanted to dance. She complied and we had a great session before retiring back to our table. She was a good dancer and I felt exhilarated dancing with her.  I’d forgotten about the two men but they were still there in deep conversation as if they weren’t interested in us.  However I noticed we had new drinks waiting for us, a pint for Sarah and an orange juice for me. Before we sat down again I asked one of the men to take a picture of us standing up so we could show off our outfits and our figures. As they were now sitting in the centre of the semicircular table we were forced to sit with them between us. I tried to have a conversation with the man nearest me who was called Bob and 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 exchange pleasantries through the music. Sarah looked like she was having fun, really letting go. I was pleased for her although I felt a bit flat. This scene just wasn’t where I wanted to be. Bob pulled me to my feet and onto the dance floor. I squeezed through the other dancers until 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. She and I 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.  He’d put her in a taxi home afterwards.

“I was gagging for it, I know. But I didn’t enjoy it. When it came to it I just wanted him to do his bit and get off me. Maybe I’d sobered up a bit after 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. I’m back learning after a long break.  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 be just 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.

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’ll 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 all the other branches 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 it 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’m finished it would be after 10 – a bit late. 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 wondering whether to ask you out myself. I was a bit worried that you might think I was presumptuous, you being the bosses daughter and obviously in a different wealth bracket to me. Anyway you got there first so obviously all my concerns were unfounded.”

“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 ONE 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 will 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 one of my business cards 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 soft new green leaves and swans, ducks and geese dotted about on the glistening surface of the lake. The birds were singing and the ducks quacking.  I thought how lucky I was to live where I did.

Surprisingly Dad was in 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 Tracey 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. Her parents have been married for over 50 years and poor Joe, that’s her Dad, has lost his life-long partner and instead gained a constant worry. Tracey 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 or who you are or what might happen next.  She’s taken to spending most of the time in bed as she can’t face life outside it.”

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

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

“No Dad I suppose not. And the relatives couldn’t be given the responsibility either. They might be just after her money. Only I wouldn’t want to live like that. It’s so undignified. I mean I’ve heard some of them are incontinent. How awful is that? 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 at our Stafford branch. Tracey 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 might make the waiting till Sunday go quicker.

“OK Dad, I’ll come. Will you ask Tracey 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.”

Tim phoned that night just as I was cleaning my teeth so l asked him to phone back in ten minutes.  By then l was tucked up in bed with the light off. The wonderful phone call lasted for two hours. I told him about what I planned to do tomorrow dressed up in a mini skirt, high heels and a low-cut blouse, like a tart as he put it. I told him about the trip to the nightclub — also dressed like a tart. No different to all the other women. was my retort. I told him about Tracey’s Mum and he agreed something needed to be done. The National Health Service is struggling for money and is now spending half of it’s budget keeping half-corpses alive is how he put it. Yet no-one’s doing anything about it. We don’t even talk about it — might reek of euthanasia. the holocaust. I did let him get the odd word in and he told me more about his parent’s home. It sounded idyllic, if a trifle too rural and isolated for my taste.  And his family sounds nice. He’s a younger brother, still at school, and a maniac sister, who is pregnant.

Next morning I had a long luxurious bath. did my nails. spent ages applying my make-up and chose my clothes carefully. If I was going to be parading around next to professional models and Tracey, an ex- model herself, I didn’t want them showing me up. i was enough of a girlie girl to know 90% of a girl’s attraction was skin deep – red Iippy, heavy eye make-up, short skirts or skin-tight trousers. a bit of cleavage, long blond hair – all tricks to tum men on. They’re such suckers – with the odd exception of course.

Dad drove Tracey and me there in his Roller. Tracy looked the part.  She knew what she was doing. short skirt, plenty of cleavage, yet somehow she managed to look classy, not at all tarty. She complimented me, which was nice. but I wasn’t sure I’d achieved the same effect. The two models were already there, inside the shop. coming to grips with the dogs they were trying to control. They were both very young and looked plain tarty. Apparently we were working in pairs. one model each for me and Tracy. They had a dog each, nice looking Old English Sheepdogs, apparently brothers. so they didn’t have issues with one another; we were giving out leaflets with money off coupons inside and chatting to the punters.  We all stood outside the entrance doors in the warm sunshine so customers couldn’t avoid coming into contact with one or other pair.  It was busy and people generally went into the store once we’d showed them the coupons.  A photographer from the Sentinel, the local paper, turned up and I gave him a short interview.  He wanted a photo as well and I managed to persuade him to take the two models plus dogs with the store entrance in the background.  Tracey and I escaped Scott free.

At about 12.30 Tracey and her model took a half-hour break for lunch. We were swamped with customers and I couldn’t wait for them to come back. l was starving too. My model.

Veronique, was inclined to be a bit forward with the young lads and I had to tell her that this was a job, not a chance to pull. At last it was our break time. The staff room was very nice, by far the nicest of any I’d seen in any of the other branches and there was a good choice of sandwiches

and crisps to eat, provided by the management. Veronique wanted to know what it was like being famous. I told her I wasn’t but that I hated the small amount of attention I did get.

“Do ya?” she asked. “I really wanna be famous. I wanna mix wiv all the celebrities I read

about in OK magazine. I fink that’d be great.  Fanks for letting the photographer take pictures of us.  Do you fink we’ll be in the paper tommora?”

“Maybe and good luck to you if you want fame. You’ve got the looks but are you ambitious

enough? There’s lots of competition out there.  The Press is interested in me because of my Dad so l’ve a head’s start. Same for all the film stars’ sons and daughters. It’s not so easy for the likes of you. You’ll have to do something really special to get noticed. That’s why people volunteer to do shows like Big Brother. gives them a leg up.”

“Yeah, I can see vat.”

“And once you’ve made it you have to fight to stay there. It’s a cut-throat world. That’s

why celebrities go into the jungle and eat maggots. or whatever else they’re made to do. They

don’t like eating maggots they just want the exposure so they can keep their celebrity status.” I

was on a  roll. This was one of my pet subjects. “I’m only telling you so you can decide if

that kind of life is what you really want. l mean have you seen how all the celebrities keep

changing partners? It may seem glamorous to date some famous good-looking man but

he’s probably only with you for your looks or your fame and he’d go off with somebody else at a drop of a hat. You must see that if you read OK magazine. I don’t want that kind of life. I want

something more normal, out of the public eye.”

Veronique looked a little crestfallen after my tirade.  “I ’adn’t fort of vat.”

Dad appeared and suggested if we’d finished our break we should get back outside. He handed the dog back to Veronique and out we went. It quietened down a bit later and Tracey managed to persuade Dad to take us home. I wanted to take one of dogs with me.  They were beautiful, so friendly and well behaved but Dad said they were on loan from a firm that specialised in pet hire and anyway that he wouldn’t share a house with a dog at any price.  Other than that he seemed pleased as apparently the takings were way above his most optimistic estimate. He was on a high and wanted to take us all out for a posh meal but both Tracey and l were bushed so we ended up eating fish and chips together in front of the telly. Dad didn’t stop for long as he wasn’t keen on the sort of programme they dished out on a Saturday evening. He thought it was for the brain dead.  We were watching Pop Idol and there were some great singers and Tracey really liked Simon Cowell.

Tracey and I chatted amicably until bedtime while half watching this and that.  I warmed to her that evening. I suppose because of the shared experience.  I seemed to have found a new friend.

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