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Free Short Story - the Jolly Lodger. Inspired by a tale I heard...
22 June 2017

This is a short story I began when on a writing holiday. One of the ladies there told me about something that had happened to her friend, which, whilst not identical, inspired this tale.

Enjoy - and see if you can guess the ending!

Debs

x

 

The Jolly Lodger - copyright Debbie Flint 23rd June 2017

 

‘How’s Roger the jolly lodger?’ Andrea asked me, her eyes sparkling as brightly as her latest diamond rings. She loved a bit of bling. ‘Any new developments after his last visit?’

‘No, none,’ I replied. ‘Just the long chat I told you about. And it’s Robert, not Roger.’

‘Well next time Bobby boy is back in town, occupying your pied a terre at the bottom of your garden, you should take the plunge. Man up. Tell him you’ve got a crush on him,’ she added as she finished washing her hands and pouted into the mirror then fluffed up her hair, accidentally elbowing the woman next to her. The ladies was busy tonight – full of women all putting on their war paint the same as us. ‘You never know, Dawn, he might just be one of those shy retiring types – just needs a little encouragement. And anyway, we’re not getting any younger.’

‘Don’t be daft. And why would Robert fancy me?’ I asked, feeling a flutter of butterflies in my tummy at the thought of it. ‘He’s hardly a good bet, is he? He only books the first weekend of every month and he’s usually out or he’s locked away with the curtains drawn and Frank Sinatra playing full blast. And before you say anything, merely having a coffee with him in my kitchen…’

‘Twice…’

‘… twice – isn’t enough to justify a crush. I hardly know the guy.’ Although it was enough, if I was being honest. It really was. And after the second chat, a proper heart to heart when he’d lingered even longer after coming to collect his key, I’d begun to feel like I’d known him all my life. I’d already chastised myself for thinking how good he looked in my kitchen, sat on my diner stool, all at home and comfortable, like he belonged there. Even the evil cat liked him. And I liked him, a lot. With his big brown eyes and dark eyelashes and salt and pepper hair and beefy arms… His style of dress even fit perfectly - my fifties style décor would work well with his vintage taste. And I would work well with him, too, I knew it. I realised Andrea was staring at me. I tutted at myself getting  all carried away and topped up my red lipstick, then looked at my own pencil skirt and stilettos and for an instant the picture of us together in a clinch re-entered my mind for the fiftieth time that week. Dammit.

‘What are you thinking about, Dawn,’ Andrea said, ‘you’ve got that look in your eye.’

‘Nothing, it’s just a bit of mascara gloop,’ I laughed. ‘Now come on or we’ll miss the start.’ And we shuffled past the queue and went back out to the Retro Singles Night at the local bar, knowing it would most likely be déjà vu.

None of the men there were a patch on my once a month lodger. I paused at the top of the short flight of stairs down into the main area and sighed. It made my heart sink. The same faces were here as usual – the same collection of neatly made-up older women, vying for the attention of the same collection of neatly turned-out, even older men. ‘Why do we bother coming back month after month?’ I asked.

‘Because if we didn’t, we’d miss out on all the gossip,’ Andrea whispered. ‘Dawn, I keep telling you – quit moping about. It’s been four years. You’re allowed to start a new life you know.’

‘But Neil was a one-off,’ I moaned.

‘He was a one-off all right,’ she agreed.

I tugged her sleeve. ‘Tell you what, let’s go home and watch Outlander.’

‘For the tenth time?’ Andrea quipped, then grabbed my arm and looked at me. ‘Listen to me, Dawn Jackson, be positive. Who knows, maybe if you just put it out there a bit more, you’ll find someone who’s a two-off,’ she stated flatly, then she ushered me through the throng.

As we checked in at the desk, the speed dating segment was announced, and eager hopefuls began taking their places opposite each other. However, the women were outnumbering the men so much that there was a small queue forming in front of nearly every table that had an eager looking man waiting there. ‘Oh my god.’ Andrea groaned. ‘This lot would even make me think about giving Duncan another chance.’

‘No way – you are so better off without him,’ I shouted, over the tannoy announcement.

‘Everyone’s better off without the narcissistic psychopath,’ she spat. A shadow passed over her features then it was gone as she spotted something. ‘Oh-oh. Archie’s back,’ she added. ‘Don’t look now.’ She jerked her head conspicuously over my right shoulder. But I looked round immediately and she elbowed me. Sure enough, there was Archie, a seventy-something in a blue velvet jacket and bow tie, grinning broadly, his teeth suspiciously bright. He noticed us looking, and stopped grinning, then put his nose in the air and looked away.

‘He’s had his veneers redone, I see,’ Andrea observed, narrowing her eyes. ‘Bet it won’t stop his groping hands under the table though. Should we warn Diane?’ The buxom blonde taking her place in front of him shimmied her rounded backside into the wooden chair with its red velvet cover and beamed at us with a ‘wish me luck’ face. We just beamed back and I pulled Andrea briskly past them before she could say something and cause another scene. I couldn’t risk a repeat of last month.

‘Nope – let her find out for herself – she might like it. And anyway,’ I said in my best headmistress voice, ‘It takes all sorts and we should never assume everyone has the same proclivities as us.’

‘Ooer madam, get you! Another new word from your scrabble evenings?’

‘Yup – scrabble, speed dating, binge-watching box sets, ogling the lodgers. I know how to live.’ We giggled and collected our numbers from the man by the bar, together with a little envelope each. ‘What have you got this time?’ I asked as I opened mine. ‘I’ve got Juliet.’

‘Mine’s Bonnie. Now let’s go find Clyde and Romeo. At least I can give you the full blow by blow about what happened when I was summonsed to see the club chairman after last month’s little rum do.’

And she did, too.

 

That night I got back home and dumped my vintage fifties bag next to the ancient ginger cat luxuriating in front of the Aga. Raymond jumped, and swished his tail at me, before stretching languorously and wrapping himself round my legs as I went to make myself a bedtime cuppa. He’d been Neil’s cat really, I’m more of a dog person. But I’d come to appreciate his furry foibles.

‘At least when you go off with other women, you always come back to me at the end of the night,’ I told him. He made that weird cat noise he makes when I talk to him, that sounded like ‘prrthyouw’ and I said ‘prrthyouw’ back to him, giving his ear a wiggle as he repaid me with a loud purr. He didn’t take to everyone who came here – he positively hated Andrea. But Robert had idly stroked him whilst chatting to me, nonchalantly rubbing under his chin without realising that extending a hand towards Raymond was the feline equivalent of Russian roulette. But no sudden swipes that night – my occasional lodger had quite a way with animals, it seemed. Shame he wasn’t back for another few weeks.

I took down the calendar on the wall whilst I waited for the tea to brew. First I added the date of the next singles night in a month’s time. Then I crossed it out again. Then I bit my pen, shook my head and added the date again with a big TBC next to it. Then I opened my tablet and clicked on the lodgings app. To my surprise, amongst the new Air B&B bookings were several more from Mr R Broomfield. Ooh goodie. Strange, though – it looked like he’d be here every weekend for the foreseeable future. Wow, perhaps his business had really started taking off in this area. That night I went to sleep with a smile on my face.

Pretty soon, Robert’s next visit had come around and I waited in my kitchen, holding the key ring for the annexe, kettle on, lippy touched up, cat standing by for petting, both of us awaiting his knock. I fondly recalled that last heart to heart with him, when he’d sat on the very stool I was now perching myself upon. His work took him away from home regularly, he’d told me, and since it was a start-up, he wanted to put a lot of effort into it. He said his business partner had given him the third degree about spending too much time away but… Suddenly an awful thought struck me. Had he said business partner? Or partner? I was so wrapped up with admiring his smile I’d not been listening properly. Oh god, what if I’d got it all wrong and was once again barking up the wrong tree …

A loud knock shook me out of my stupor, and I rushed to open the door. Sure enough, there he stood, his enormous leather overnight bag looking even more stuffed than usual and his packed suit- bag similarly fit to burst, the zip just about holding its contents inside.

‘Hi,’ I said.

‘Hi,’ he replied, ‘Nice to see you again.’ I loved his gentle Welsh accent. His eyes twinkled, and for just an instant, as I looked up at him, we locked looks. Then I reached for his hand, in the same instant that he swooped down to kiss me on both cheeks. He smelled lovely. I recovered my composure as best I could and we got the usual niceties over whilst I made some fresh coffee from my machine.

‘So that’s it really,’ he said, stroking the cat who was twirling himself in and out of Robert’s caress and ‘talking’ loudly. Rob made a funny cat noise back at him and the cat purred even louder. I laughed out loud. ‘What?’ he said.

‘Nothing,’ I smiled. ‘So you just wanted to check out my annexe before booking my place regularly?’

‘Yes, I just wanted to give you a try first,’ he relied.

‘Give me a try?’ I laughed.

‘Oh, you know what I mean, Sassenach,’ he said, with a twinkle in his eye. He was teasing me by using that name, proving he’d remembered our chat about my favourite TV show featuring Jamie Fraser, a Scottish highlander from the 1700s. ‘I had to check that you’d live up to my expectations, didn’t I?’

‘And did I? Do I?’ I stumbled. ‘Live up to your expectations, I mean. I mean the annexe – does it?’ I could feel myself going red.

‘Staying here is definitely up to scratch yes, definitely up to scratch,’ he said, rubbing the cat’s chin with his finger, as he sipped his drink.

‘I’m glad you’ll be here a lot more,’ I said, realising too late that I’d said it in a really flirty way.

‘I intend to. After all, this place seems perfect. Just perfect,’ he said. Now was he flirting back? I couldn’t tell. Talk about out of practice. But his next sentence put paid to anymore thoughts about spending time with him. ‘Sadly though I’m going to be really busy this visit,’ he explained, then told me he had a lot on and was looking forward to the peace and quiet of the annexe. ‘It makes such a change from back home to be able to just get on with things undisturbed,’ he said and my bubble full of hopes and dreams deflated a little. When he went, hulking his huge bag down the garden path to the pine-clad one-bedroomed annexe, I watched him till he disappeared from view and then again as he went back to his 1950s motor on the driveway for his other suit bags, until he finally closed the door. And then my heart begin to pine, just a little.

I complained to Andrea later that night as I glimpsed the glow of the annexe lights from the comfort of my sitting room.

‘So now I feel like I want to go down there, to make sure everything’s ok, but I think he meant hhe didn’t want to be disturbed by anybody, me included,’ I said, picking at a thread on the curtain as I watched for any movement from down the garden.

‘Well maybe you should concoct some sort of emergency?’ she suggested. ‘Can you block up the sink or make a fuse blow or something?’

‘Well the utility room used to have a leaky pipe joint that Neil was always having to tighten?’

‘Well if that fails, bake him a cake,’ she added, ‘you’re always doing that.’ And then she said goodbye and left me to it.

I went into the utility room and poked around a bit, but no matter how hard I tried to loosen the joint on the old pipe, it was stuck fast. Neil’s last attempt over four years ago had obviously done it good and proper. Back to the drawing board. I looked around the kitchen and got out my mixer and recipe folder, then realised I was missing a couple of the crucial ingredients so gave up and went to watch the telly for the night.

The next day or so was excruciating, seeing him go out to his lovely old car, then come back later with a dry cleaning bag or with some boxes. Were they shoe boxes? I told myself off for stalking him, and decided that if he was remotely interested he’d have been up to see me again by now. Then I made myself a list of things I needed from the supermarket and nipped up the road to get them.

Imagine my surprise when down the toiletries aisle, there was Robert, an array of goodies in his basket.

‘Dawn! Fancy seeing you here,’ he said, looking pleasantly surprised. I think.

My astonishment at seeing him was probably clear on my face, because he frowned a little, so I made myself come over all warm and hail fellow well met, and swivelled my trolley round towards him. Before I could get close enough to see what he was buying, several small packages it looked like, he placed a newspaper on top of his basket. ‘So are you preparing for another night of debauchery – I mean hard work? Haha!’ I asked him and there was a fleeting look of curiosity on his face before he replied.

‘Yes, all debauchery, me. I heard this town was good for it. And AirB&B did give your place five stars in the “perversions” category.’ He stopped as he and I both realised what he’d just said, and I could feel myself flush brilliant red. Robert’s broad beam dissolved. ‘Goodness me, I didn’t mean to embarrass you.’

‘You didn’t,’ I answered, choking a little on my reply. ‘Nothing phases me, believe me.’ I said, quick as a flash, putting on a wide grin to reassure him. Which was partly true. ‘I’m just looking for the handcuffs aisle as it happens.’

‘Well in that case,’ he said, leaning a little closer to me, so close I could smell his citrussy after shave, ‘we’ll have to compare notes one evening.’ He laughed and so I laughed too, a beat later, wondering if he meant it. I remembered Andrea’s advice, and took a deep breath.

‘Well actually I was thinking of bringing you some of my muffins later on,’ I chirped. His jovial grin froze. Oh-oh. ‘I mean, I bake lots; all the time I bake, you see. Andrea’s always chiding me for over-baking and I could … I could give you some if you like? They’re really rather good. My muffins. Or so I’m told. Honestly… ‘

‘I’m sure they are,’ he said, after swallowing heavily. ‘But I’d hate to put you to any trouble. I’m really tied up at the moment. Plus I’m watching my waistline. I will pop by for a final coffee with you though, if that’s ok? When I drop the key off tomorrow?’ he added, changing the subject with a bright sunshiney tone. 

It was as much as I could do to say of course you can, sure you can, any time no problem, and other such ramblings, as he bid me goodbye and made me realise once and for all that he really didn’t want to be disturbed.

But I baked the cakes anyway and they went down very well when I went to visit my parents on the Sunday afternoon. When I returned after being caught in traffic, there was a note in the letterbox. He was gone. It said he had had to leave unexpectedly early and would see me as usual next week. All that night I re-ran the conversation in the supermarket over and over in my head, trying to work out if I’d said anything to scare him off. I really did have it bad.

I had another booking midweek, and when I went down to do the changeover for the next guests, there was still an aroma of Robert in the bathroom. He’d left an empty can of deodorant in the bin there and I found myself mentally noting the fragrance of the body spray. God I was turning into a stalker. Then I remade the bed, white Egyptian cotton bedsheets as usual, and tucked the throw into place at the bottom of the bed. As I finished dusting the bedroom, I noticed something under the bed and reached down to retrieve it. It was a ticket for the cinema, dated the night he’d seen me in the supermarket. So much for being busy. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I finished the tidying and cleaning and couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But I still made a new batch of muffins and left some there on arrival day. But he didn’t come on the Friday night and there was no voicemail or email or any other message to say why he didn’t turn up. He’d paid for the weekend anyway, and I found myself worrying and hoping he was all right and nothing was seriously wrong. But I refused to call him and make myself look silly. He was probably at the cinema again.    

 ‘Maybe this is all there is, puss,’ I said, stroking along Raymond’s furry back all the way to the tip of his tail. ‘Maybe you’re my man of the house now. I think I’d better put paid to any thoughts of Robert the jolly lodger, don’t you? Perhaps there’ll never be anyone to replace Neil.’ And that night, for the first night in over two years, I found myself crying myself to sleep.

 

The next morning, a loud knocking set my pulse racing. It was early. Really early. Shit. When I peered quickly in the mirror I realised I looked as though I’d slept on my face. Double Shit. Too late now, I thought as the knocking got even more insistent.

‘Dawn, it’s me!’ Robert!

Well one thing certain to put him off me for good would be to see my face first thing in the morning, so, in for a penny…

‘Morning Dawn,’ Robert said, as I opened the door, squinting at the morning sunlight. He was standing there drenched, looking every inch like bloody Mark Darcy coming out of the lake. He even had a white shirt on. ‘Sodding downpour, anyone would think it was February not June. ‘Sorry it’s so early. Can I come in? And before I go, I need to ask you something,’ he said. ‘Dawn?’

For just a minute or so I was stunned into stony silence, staring at his torso and his muscles on his arms, showing through his wet material – for all the world looking like a wet shirt competition winner for over-forties. ‘Sorry,’ I said, but still didn’t move or open the door further.

‘I’ve… I’ve disturbed you, haven’t I?’ he added, his nose turning up slightly. Dammit I must look a right state, I thought. ‘Were you…’ he looked past me, ‘… were you – with someone?’

‘Me? No! God no! How funny. Never, me, never with someone. Just me.’ I tailed off as I realised I was burbling and shrugged, grinning sheepishly. He grinned back.

‘So can I…?’ and he gestured into the hallway.

‘Oh of course,’ I said, and opened the door to let him in past me. Jesus even his drainpipe jeans were wet around the seat and I could see his rounded…

‘Dawn?’ he asked, catching me looking, and I could feel myself blush. ‘Shall we go through? I could use one of your super strong cappuccinos from that machine this morning, boy have I had a night of it…’

And over the next ten minutes he perched his perfect posterior on the wooden stool once more and told me about how his lovely vintage car had broken down late last night in an area with no mobile signal or street lights and that he’d had to stay with it, dozing on and off until the first bus came along to a bus stop nearby, then he’d had to walk all the way here in the rain with his mobile battery completely dead. ‘Sorry, am I keeping you from going back to bed?’ he asked, and I realised I was yawning. ‘Did I wake you? Oh damn, I bet I woke you – you’re not an early bird are you,’ he said, ‘sorry. Again.’

‘Seriously, it’s ok,’ I replied, trying to stifle a yawn and knowing for all the world I looked like I needed a facelift let alone a good night’s sleep. ‘I’m a night owl, not an early bird, but I’m glad you made it here ok. Do you want to use the phone so you can ring the AA or someone? To get the car?’

‘Actually what I wanted to ask you was…’ he said, putting his cup back down on the table and taking on a serious look. ‘Whether you’d be able to come with me to collect it. There are some things in it that I really need to retrieve and I don’t think I can trust the … er … RAC to rescue the contents as well as the car.’ His face was so sincere, I nearly laughed. But feeling relief at what he’d asked, I immediately agreed.

I raced upstairs to get ready as fast as I could, feeling elated. Why? Because he trusted me. Me. With something in his car that was precious. I wondered what on earth it could be, as we drove towards the location of his broken down motor. In the end, amidst tales of times we’d both been stranded in our cars, I blurted out, ‘So what’s in it that you don’t want the RAC to see?’

He stopped short, opened his mouth, then closed it again. ‘You’ll see,’ he said.

 

Soon we arrived at his car and he got out and opened the boot. He transferred the usual stuffed bags into my boot, and then opened the back door. The sight that met my eyes floored me. Dresses. Hanging on the back seat on the handrail, two slinky dresses. With encrusted glittery rhinestones on them. And shoes. Metallic sandals, and a couple of boxes of jewellery. As he opened one of them to check, I noticed a gold band ring inside it. Oh dear.

‘Can you give me a hand?’ He asked. ‘I want to get these all out of here before the RAC arrive.’

I put on my best ‘this kind of thing happens to me every day,’ face and duly complied with his request. Pretty soon everything was in my back seat and he was standing next to the driver’s window, seeing me off.

‘Thanks so much, Dawn,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what I’d have done without your help. You’re a true friend.’

‘Well, a friend in need,’ I chimed, slapping on a bright smile, whilst my heart refused to pick itself up from rock bottom. He leaned in and gave me a little kiss. I felt a bit confused – was that my lips he was aiming for? Don’t be stupid, I told myself. You’ve done it again girl, misreading signals. And these were blatant ones. The dresses, the shoes, the ring.

He’s married.

And my car was now full of his wife’s outfits.

I drove back to my house and locked the car in desolation, feeling once again like I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. I felt very low about it all, considering how I’d been so wide of the mark, misreading the signals from him. So I took myself off to bed again. He’d be hours yet, he’d told me, as he had to get his replacement car sorted out, and I felt suddenly very weary. I left a  message for Andrea, and then fell into a fitful doze. I dreamed about wet white knights and evil cats and when I arose a couple of hours later, Andrea was there, waiting to hear all the news.

 

‘The lying git,’ she said. ‘I told you men are all gits, and it’s true.’

‘You did,’ I acknowledged, whilst she served up some of my muffins and a cuppa each. ‘But he didn’t strictly flirt with me, it’s all my fault – again.’

‘Oh shut up and let me rant,’ she said, and she did. Then she had a bright idea. ‘Hey! Why don’t we get everything out of the car into his place?’ she said. ‘It’d be like we’re being good Samaritans, won’t it?’

‘No, he asked me to leave it all for when he gets back,’ I replied. ‘Clearly doesn’t want me touching any of his wife’s stuff.’

‘But aren’t you curious?’ she said. ‘Just a teensy tiny bit? About her size? Her taste? Or lack of it?’

‘There were quite a lot of rhinestones,’ I nodded. ‘But, no,’ he trusts me and that’s enough. We’ll just be friends. It’s ok, I didn’t really fancy him anyway.’

‘Liar!’ she said. ‘I’ve never seen you this smitten. Not since we were in year twelve. Listen, I’m taking you out on the town this evening. Make sure you get your glad-rags on, I’ll be back around seven. And make sure you happen by his place all dolled-up before we leave, make him see what he’s missing.’

‘He’s not missing anything, Andrea,’ I moaned. ‘He’s already getting it!’

‘Do it anyway,’ she said, ‘make yourself feel better. And make him feel worse.’ She was joking and sure enough it made me laugh, helping me feel a little bit better already. Then I began smartening myself up in readiness for when he arrived back. Andrea had gone by then, not trusting herself to be in close proximity to the latest man to ‘break my heart’ even though I’d pretty much wielded the hammer myself. Then he was here. My stupid pulse speeded up as usual as I opened the door and he stepped in. Sheepishly. More sheepishly than I’d expected, which was a bit weird. He had a funny air about him and I wondered why.

‘Dawn,’ he said. ‘Let me get all this stuff back down the annexe. Then come join me at four o’clock ish. I have something to tell you…’

 

I re-did my lipstick, and tottered down the garden path in my stilettos and trusty pencil skirt. My waist was still holding up to scrutiny and the little cashmere cardigan still did up. They’d been my mum’s all those years before. I stepped onto the lowest step up to the annexe door and noticed it was ajar. And music was playing inside. Fifties music. What in hell’s name was he playing at? Did he expect me to just go in? Assuming so, I pushed open the door and walked into the little lobby. The bedroom, bathroom and kitchen/diner doors all came off it and the music was coming from the bedroom. I knocked and a voice said ‘come in’. A different voice. I opened the door a crack and couldn’t believe my eyes. A woman was standing there with her back to me, swaying to the music, wearing the same dress I’d brought back in my car that morning.

‘Oh god, I’m sorry, I… ’  I said, and stopped dead. As she turned around, I recognised the brown eyes, although heavily made up now.

‘Robert?’ I asked.

‘Can you call me Roberta?’ he said, in a softer voice than normal, more like Mrs Doubtfire.

My face must have been a picture, as my jaw fell, because he couldn’t stop himself smiling and a broad beam spread across his face. Then when I didn’t close my jaw, let alone say anything, the smile faded again. ‘Dawn?’ he asked. ‘This is my secret.’

‘You’re gay?’ I asked, my immediate reaction one of utter astonishment, followed by burning curiosity. ‘I’ve always wanted a gay friend and considering my background, it’s pretty much on a par... ’

‘No, no,’ he said, immediately, ‘nothing like that. I like to wear women’s clothing. And I have to come away from home to do it – it’s a secret,’ he said. ‘There’s a local club a couple of towns away and I can go there all dressed up and become Roberta for a night. We – me and the other “girls” …’ he hesitated when he saw me react to his statement … ‘I mean the other cross dressers, we just do normal things, you know, like go for a meal, the cinema, occasionally to a special dance. We just want to be seen, and accepted, in our alter egos.’

‘Oh,’ I said.

‘Is that all you can say? Oh?’ he asked, putting on a slightly feminine, petulant expression.

‘Oh god, no,’ I replied, ‘far from it! I have a million questions.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes! Like, where on earth did you get that vintage paste necklace from? It’s just like one my mum had. And where did you learn to do your eye makeup like that, and…’

‘Woah!’ Robert said, ‘Let me make you a cuppa and I can answer anything you want to ask me. I’ve even made some scones…’ he smiled at me from under long false lashes and swished away into the kitchen, and I followed.

Pretty soon we were talking like old girlfriends, having bonded more than I ever thought possible with a man I still fancied beyond all measure. And now it was my turn.

‘Robert – I mean Roberta,’ I said.

‘Yes,’ he replied, looking a bit worried at my tone of voice.

‘Since we’re in sharing mode, I have a confession to make. And you might not like what you hear.’

‘Dawn, let me go first,’ he said, quickly, turning to take my hand in his. His quite hairy, red-nail-varnish-manicured hand. This was weird. If anyone looked through the window now, lord knows what they’d think. But the path round the side of the annexe wasn’t accessible except through my side gate so we were pretty safe. He swallowed then looked at me. ‘I may be wrong but I think what we’ve got goes further than my just sharing this huge secret with you. I’ve felt for a while now that we have a special kind of connection,’ he said, and I smiled back in relief. ‘From the very first time I saw you, I felt you were someone I could talk to – show my true self to. My ex-wife didn’t really understand it all, and I haven’t been able to … share this with anyone special. I’ve felt quite lonelyl really. That’s why these trips have been so important. Finding a new territory for my business to develop which had one of the few clubs I could frequent. It was kind of freeing, you know?’ I nodded at him. ‘Do you know though?’ he asked. ‘Really?’

‘I do know,’ I said. ‘My ex-husband turned out to be gay, and went to live in Torremolinos with his partner four years ago,’ I added. ‘So I understand entirely.’

His shoulders went down and a huge exhalation escaped his body, then in his own Robert voice he asked, ‘So what did you want to tell me?’

‘Pretty much the same thing, about feeling like I knew you.’ I said. ‘In fact, I felt like I’d known you my whole life.’

‘You had me at hello, Sassenach,’ he smiled, his own deep voice reverberating out of his made-up face. Double weird. But kind of nice too.

‘Well you get twice the points for referencing both my favourite film and my favourite TV series,’ I laughed.

‘I have to own up and admit that I’ve been binge-watching Outlander all week,’ he said. ‘Jamie Fraser is very hot – I can see that. And so is Claire the heroine.’

‘So what do you want from me?’ I asked. For the first time in a very long while I felt like I was able to just say what was on my mind, without editing it first. Nothing else could shock me. Surely.

‘Well, there is something, but I’m not sure you’ll want to do it,’ he said, coyly, slipping back briefly into Roberta.

‘What?’

‘Just look at me, in my outfit. That’s all any of us want, really. To be accepted as our alter egos in public, and in private.’

‘I can do that,’ I said, but I couldn’t help the note of disappointment in my voice.

‘And there is another thing,’ he said. His grip on my hand became stronger and he seemed to take on an altogether more masculine air.

‘What?’ I asked, not daring to hope what would happen next.

‘This,’ he whispered, and leaned towards me and took my face in his hands. For a moment he cupped my cheeks and gazed into my eyes and pangs of longing shot through my body. ‘May I?’ he asked. And I nodded, closing my eyes. His lips were upon me the next moment, and it felt very strange as lipstick met lipstick. ‘Oh bloody hell,’ he said, ‘hang on,’ and he wiped his mouth with a napkin vigorously. ‘Let’s try that again.’ This time it was tender, delicate and sensual, his tongue exploring mine in the most erotic way. ‘Let me go get out of this garb,’ he whispered when we finally parted, ‘And then maybe you’d do me the honour of allowing me to take you out to dinner. As Robert.’ Then he leaned forward and kissed me again.

‘Oh…My… God!’ said a voice from outside the window. ‘What the friggin’ hell are you…?’ Andrea’s voice tailed off as Robert and I parted and she could see his face more clearly. ‘Or rather, who the friggin’ hell are you?!’ she announced, then strutted round to the door and pushed her way inside.

We both stood up and I went over to her, a big smile on my face. The instant she realised, her angry mood evaporated and she looked from me to him and back again. ‘Andrea,’ I said, ‘I’d like you to meet Roberta, my lodger.’

Andrea opened her mouth but no words came out. She just shook his hand. That was a first.

‘And also Robert, my lodger,’ I added. And a dawning realisation came over her and her mouth quirked. ‘Not another Neil then?’ she asked.

‘Not another Neil,’ I replied. ‘Rob, this is my best mate, Andrea. Hates cats but loves gossip and a bit of bling. I think you two are going to get along very well indeed.’

‘Excuse me girls,’ Robert said, ‘Just wanted to go get changed so I can take you both out for a drink before this lovely lady here allows me to treat her to a slap-up meal for being an angel.’ He turned to me. ‘My angel,’ he said, and lifted my hand to kiss it.

Moments later Andrea and I were sharing everything that had happened and she slapped me on the back and hugged me so much my arms ached. ‘I’m so glad for you,’ she said, and she genuinely meant it. Then Robert came back out, back to normal. She chewed his ear off for half an hour about his passion for dressing up, and then a funny look came over her face.

‘Just before we leave for the pub,’ she said, ‘There’s a favour I’d like you to do for me…’

‘What’s that?’ Robert asked.

‘Would Roberta care to come on a Retro Singles Night in two weeks’ time?’

Robert looked at me, and indicated between me and him. ‘But I’m hoping that Dawn and I will …’

‘… get together, of course you will, you’re made for each other,’ she snapped. ‘No, I just want you to help deliver a little payback. Come as Roberta, and take part in the speed dating with a groping guy called Archie – I can’t wait to see the look on his face when his hand finds out what’s underneath the table …’

‘Oh Andrea! How could you?!’ I laughed. And Robert laughed too. But he did come, and Archie’s face was indeed a picture. And he never did it again. And I had a best friend and companion for the girlie films and box sets and a gorgeous hunk of a guy who could fix a fuse and share my love of all things classic – including him.

 

 

copyright Debbie Flint 2017

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1 comment

  • Comment Link Pam Merrifield 24 June 2017 posted by Pam Merrifield

    Great short read. Not the ending I expected but really enjoyed it. I do love your totally natural writing style.

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