I made my way down the hall passing a large double sitting room hung with framed posters depicting bands from the seventies and eighties. I spotted Paul Weller’s lean frame and distinctive haircut on an album cover suspended above the fireplace, but I only vaguely recognised some of the other faces. Twenty or so people were talking and drinking and listening to something cool and jazzy and syncopated that was playing. Many of them appeared to be contemporaries of Barney the landlord, but there were a handful who were much younger, and were clearly friends of Tim’s.
I continued past to the kitchen where even over the noise of half a dozen people talking, I could hear the sound of a blender running.
Tim, surrounded by bottles was alternately squeezing fresh limes and hulking strawberries. “Clarry,” he called catching sight of me as he switched off the blender. “Great you’re here. Do you fancy one of these? They’re heavy on the rum but I think I’ve got the sweetness to sharpness ratio right.”
He grinned and pushed back a strand of hair from his face. I’d been right to describe him to Ian as a puppy, I thought. In his six-foot rugby-playing frame there was something discernibly bouncy and playful, not only in his physique, but in his manner too. And I happen to like puppies. But then who doesn’t?
He handed me a drink. “Jerry,” he called to a stocky guy in a polo shirt. “Take over from me will you mate?” And he came and stood in front of me.
“You look good,” he said.
“So do you,” I said.
My black dress from last night I’d binned. It wasn’t just that the halter-neck ties had been ripped by Simon; I suppose I could have got it repaired, but I just didn’t want to wear it again. Even cleaned and re-stitched, something dark and menacing might yet linger in its folds and mar any future occasion on which I wore it, the way a bad dream can sometimes seep out and tarnish a new day. So, I’d gone for an old favourite. Clinging and with that secret support that makes you feel like you’re wearing a bandage, it was short and had a zip running down the front.
“I like the zip,” Tim said.
“It goes all the way down,” I said.
“I see that,” he said.
For a moment, the thought crossed my mind that having sex with a co-worker is never really a good idea, but then instantly I dismissed it. We were waiters for god’s sake, not running the country or even a company. And besides I was so in the mood. I took a sip of my drink and coughed.
“Too strong?” Tim asked.
“Absolutely not,” I said.
The option I’d taken proved to be a highly satisfying one. And the nickname Not-So-Tiny, I discovered, was bang on (Ian, I knew, would be delighted to hear that.) It wasn’t going to be anything serious between us; it was just sex. And that was alright with me. Tim was funny and sweet and very eager to please. Eager to please in a whole different way from a puppy.
Around midnight, as Tim lay quietly snoring sprawled upon his back across a bed that wasn’t quite wide enough to accommodate us both comfortably for sleep, I look a long breath out. I’d built up a lot of tension in the last week and now, thanks to Tim’s energy, stamina and surprisingly proficient touch, I’d just released it in the best way possible … four times. I ran a finger lightly down his spine. Let’s make that five I thought as Tim stirred and looked up at me.
Afterwards, as I padded down a flight of stairs to the bathroom, the realisation came to me that try as I might… and I had tried really really hard, the sound of that unknown woman’s sobbing in the club was still with me and that nothing that Tim and I had done and almost certainly would do again in the morning, could drown it out.
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