Authors: Michelle Cunnah
For Kevin, Rhiannon and Gareth
Sometimes, I wish I were a turtle.
Amongst their many other fine qualities, turtles can breathe through their asses, which would be a pretty handy fail-safe ability to possess, especially when facing death by asphyxiation…
On the downside, I would be hunted or accidentally killed to the point of species extinction, which is not great at all. But at least I wouldn’t have to sit through dinner with Jonathan’s godawful boss…
“This bloody country is going down the toilet,” Horrible Boss booms to the dinner table at large, his jowly face flushed with indignance and too much brandy.
Normally, I am Rosie the Calm, the Organized, the Mild-tempered, the Reliable, the Logical, but after two minutes in this man’s presence I am goaded beyond reason to change the habits of a lifetime.
I am sorely tempted to poke him with the heel of one of my shoes, which are too tight and are greatly adding to my general state of misery. It could be an interesting experiment to see if my pointy heel would deflate some of his pompous, self-righteous bigotry.
Trust me, I do not possess homicidal maniac tendencies, but deflation by shoe heel is a nice fantasy…. Can you imagine the mess Horrible Boss would make if he
explode? Tempting…but think of the cleanup job and additional work it would cause for the hotel staff. I’d
do that to them.
I push off my pinchy shoes under the dinner table just as my boyfriend, Jonathan, gives my free hand a friendly squeeze and smiles his charming smile at me.
My heart does a little skip, and this reminds me why I am here. To radiate the “right” company image for Jonathan. I squeeze Jonathan’s hand in response. It’s not as if he makes a habit of torturing me with Horrible Boss, after all, and now that my feet are liberated, I’m already feeling a million times better. My toes have blood circulating around them again, which is always a good thing.
Jonathan’s smile widens in a way that says “later,” because Friday night he always stays over at my place, and I shiver just a bit. Jonathan’s “later” is of the very, very good variety—not exactly earthquakes good, but let’s just say that the bedside table has been known to tremble….
I pin a vacuous smile on my face and reach for my wineglass. In the hope of creating the “right” image, I am practically channeling “perfect company wife” vibes. And although the company at the table might be awful, at least the wood-smoked Merlot has a lot of personality. So I decide to drink a little more.
As I raise my glass to my lips, I have this really odd feeling
that someone is watching me. I’ve been having this feeling all evening. I’m sure I’m not imagining it.
I glance furtively around the room. And freeze midsip as I nearly lock eyes with a man at the next table. As soon as he realizes I’ve caught him, he looks back to his companion. His exquisite, blond companion.
He’s to-die-for gorgeous, and I mean that in a very dangerous, endearing kind of way. The kind of gorgeous women line up for to get their hearts broken by. And although I am not immune to a bit of male flattery, I just don’t get why he’s staring at me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than okay with my body image. I know I don’t resemble the back end of a bus, but I would never get mistaken for a supermodel.
Not that I’m remotely interested in him: It’s just a way of passing time and phasing out Horrible Boss….
Of course, Horrible Boss isn’t really called Horrible Boss. He’s Sidney Smythe-Lawrence, CEO of Jonathan’s company. But I call him that in private, because he is one of the most obnoxious people I have ever met.
I clamp my mouth shut and fasten my attention firmly on the dessert course before I can say something rude, thereby ruining the evening for Jonathan and my fellow diners. Of course, I would never do anything like that…
Oh, great—profiteroles. I
profiteroles. All that lovely cream encapsulated in mouthwatering pastry, and dripping with chocolate. But they’re just so hard to eat. I mean, one profiterole is just too big to scoop up and push into your mouth. If I were at home, I’d do exactly that, but it’s not really the kind of thing you can do at a Christmas fund-raiser in a posh hotel ballroom full of posh people, is it?
you what’s wrong with this country,” Horrible Boss booms again.
Oh, please don’t,
I think but don’t say. Instead, I delicately
separate one profiterole from the pack and saw at it with the side of my dessert fork. This is not a top-quality profiterole, and it therefore resists my efforts. Cream squishes out of its sides, but the deflated pastry remains firmly in one piece. Inexplicably, the profiterole reminds me of Horrible Boss oozing his pompous pearls of bigotry on the world at large.
“The vast numbers of the unemployed!” Sidney tells us, wisely. “It’s scandalous! To refuse work because a job offer pays less than unemployment benefits is no bloody excuse in my book,” he waxes lyrical.
Resisting the strange desire to stab Sidney with my dessert fork, I stab the mutilated, deflated pastry instead and slide it into my mouth. This is the secret of my success. This is my great plan for getting through the evening—every time Sidney says something awful and solicits agreement, I simply fill up my mouth, thereby removing the need to talk.
I chew and glance surreptitiously at my fellow diners. They are all nodding sagely, hanging onto every utterance as if he were revealing the meaning of life, God and the universe. Including Jonathan.
Jonathan turns and smiles at me again. Not the charming smile, but the apologetic thanks-for-putting-up-with-this-jerk smile. Of course I can put up with it for him. After all, it is the holiday season. The season of goodwill…and besides, Jonathan is
His lovely, angelic smile makes me feel instantly better. He’s so kind and considerate—especially just recently. The least I can do is smile and nod for a couple of hours. How hard can that be? Actually, strike that…
I’ve only met Jonathan’s boss twice before. The first time, shortly after Jonathan and I started dating six months ago, at the company’s Summer Fête, when I “accidentally” tipped my Bucks Fizz down his cricket whites…Sidney and his wandering hands had cornered me by the refreshments tent,
and I could barely catch my breath. He was all big jowls and yellow teeth right in my face, as he expounded on the problems of mothers in the workplace, and did I know how much money it cost the country in maternity benefits and parental time off for sick children? And wasn’t I a lovely girl, he blathered on, getting even closer to me, and how lucky was Jonathan, nudge nudge, wink wink. It was either spill the Bucks Fizz or have his elbow casually brush against my chest again.
And the second time, at the Halloween Ball, when he insisted on giving me a whirl around the dance floor. I actually
mean to poke him in the eye with my false witchy nose…. Let’s be reasonable, if his eye was that close to my nose in the first place, then that was too close for comfort, wasn’t it? Euch. But it put a stop to his hand, which was wandering altogether too close to my bottom than was polite.
“Hit ’em where it hurts…”
As Sidney continues his tirade, I take a deep breath. And quickly fill my mouth with Merlot. Drinking more wine to stop myself from talking is not really a good plan—I can barely walk in my tight shoes as it is. Soused and even more unsteady on my feet will hardly help with the “right” image, will it?
But before I can stop the diligent wine waiter from refilling my glass, I get that spooky “you’re being watched” sensation again.
I glance across at the neighboring table…
And nearly fall off my chair as the handsome, dark-haired man flashes me a sympathetic smile and raises a rather sardonic eyebrow à la Sean Connery. And
What? What is it? Has my dress slipped down too low? Do I have food stuck to my cheek? Or is he winking at someone behind me?
Before I can turn around to check the table behind me to
test the mistaken identity theory, Jonathan gives my free hand another encouraging squeeze.
I will phase out Horrible Boss and dangerous strangers with killer eyes and sardonic eyebrows. I will think only
thoughts. Like nice walks in Holland Park with Jonathan. Nice, cozy dinners with Jonathan. Movies with Jonathan. That lovely minibreak we took in Paris in September…
Okay, so it was a bit uncomfortable when Jonathan constantly vented at length, in public, that the French really do speak English but pretend that they don’t on purpose as a kind of punishment for our beating them at Waterloo…and after all, he
trying to learn their bloody language, so they could at least give him a bit of credit. Personally, I think it was his attitude that got up their noses, rather than his beginner’s French. They were all charming to
But that’s just an itty-bitty flaw. Everyone has them, don’t they? Look at me—I have a tendency, but only a teeny one, to overplan. I like to be organized. And personally, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I
knowing what I’m doing, and when I’m doing it.
I think it irritates Jonathan sometimes when I say, “No, I can’t meet you on Sunday night, because I have to deal with bills, and file paperwork, and do other admin stuff,” just like his flaws irritate me. But you see, we just have so much in common that we can work
it. We like a lot of the same things, and that’s good, isn’t it? Shared interests are vitally important to make a relationship work.
“Bloody begging for work…”
That’s what Granny Elsie says. Not about cleaners bloody begging for work—I mean about relationships. A good, solid relationship is like a pair of comfy shoes.
At first, they squeeze and pinch, because your feet have to get used to them. You just have to be patient and break them in. And after all, the sex doesn’t last forever, and what’s left
then? Affection, shared interests and a comfortable, predictable routine.
Oh, shoes…Now that I know that my toes are not gangrenous, better slide my shoes back on before my feet swell.
Shit. Where the hell are they? I panic as I grope for them with my toes. Thinking quickly, I accidentally drop my dessert fork on the floor. Yes, an old trick. But effective…
“Oops, sorry,” I murmur to the table at large, but no one notices because, of course, Sidney is holding court, and they are all caught in his rapture.
I casually duck under the table. And then even further under the table. How did the bloody things get so far away from my feet? I grab for them and wrestle on the hated things.
“What are you doing?” Jonathan hisses under his breath.
Quickly. Quickly…In my fumbling haste, it takes an age to reunite them with my feet.
“Rosie,” Jonathan hisses again, and I notice that the table has gone quiet.
“I say,” Horrible Boss booms. “What on earth are you doing under there, Rosie?”
“Um—” I grab the dessert fork.
“I’ve heard all about what young ladies get up to when they duck under tables at dinner,” Sidney says suggestively, and the table laughs along with him.
“Got it.” I hold up the dessert fork. All eyes are on me, and I know that my face is burning with embarrassment.
“That’s what they all say.” Horrible Boss laughs his horrible laugh, and I flush even more as the waiter takes the dirty fork from me and hands me another.
I wish for the ground to open up and swallow me, but fortunately Sidney, aided by the brandy he has consumed, moves on to another diatribe.
Oh, why did I lie when Jonathan casually asked me my
shoe size? There was just no way I was going to admit that I took the same size as him. So I told him two sizes smaller.
I didn’t think there was any harm in that—no woman wants to admit to having big clodhoppers (as Granny Elsie so charmingly refers to my feet), does she? Especially as I am only five feet two inches tall….
It never occurred to me that Jonathan would bring me back these lovely Jimmy Choo black satin slingbacks from his business trip to Manhattan, size nine. I mean, they’re gorgeous and divine, but it was a surprise, because things were cooling off between us. I was even thinking of breaking up with him….
But I couldn’t break up with him after that, could I? As best friend Jess says, you really have to give someone a chance. You can’t just ditch them after a few dates because you haven’t given the relationship time to fully develop. Especially after such a lovely gesture. And I’m glad I didn’t. Jonathan and I really have become a lot closer since then.
The shoes were a bit of a problem, though. I couldn’t return them, because I would have had to ask Jonathan for the receipt. But, thanks to the marvel that is the World Wide Web, I ordered the exact same pair online in my real size. They’re still a bit too narrow, because they didn’t come in a wide fitting, but at least I can wear them without fear of crippling myself for life.
Unfortunately, the shoes that nearly fit are currently with the cobbler because the underneath part of the heels needed to be replaced and, amidst the utter chaos that has been my day, I ran out of time to collect them. And Jonathan asked me to wear them tonight, especially…
“Ça va bien, chérie?”
Jonathan mutters for my ears only. He’s such a sweetie.
As I glance around at Jonathan, I can’t help but catch sight of the handsome stranger again. He really is, well, handsome.
In a dangerous, Hugh-Jackman-being-James-Bond kind of way. He looks like the kind of man who dates gorgeous, exciting women, rather than unexciting, okay-looking women like me. As he lowers his head to listen to his partner, he laughs, and something in my stomach contracts. His date really is breathtaking—slim, blond, straight out of James Bond….
Jonathan nudges me, and I try to forget the handsome stranger and focus on my own very handsome boyfriend. Jonathan is handsome in a kind, trustworthy kind of way, and I’m very lucky to have him.
“I’m fine. I mean,
je vais bien
,” I lie, crossing my fingers.
It’s sweet that he talks to me in French, it really is. And if it weren’t for a shared interest in French, we’d never have met. We fell for each other over conversational phrases at night school, which is romantic, isn’t it?
I was there because it seemed like a good plan to, you know, expand my boundaries. Also, because I quite fancied going to France on vacation, and it’s nice to be able to at least say the basics in the language of the country you’re visiting. It’s good to make a bit of an effort, isn’t it?