A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER
It’s that time of year again when for reasons defying all logic colleagues and co-workers throughout the length and breadth of the country unite for the traditional works Christmas party. That’s right folks for one drunken evening people who ordinarily despise one another are herded into a confined space and subjected to loud music, a vomit inducing buffet featuring lukewarm prawn vol-au-vents and copious amounts of alcohol. I mean what could possibly go wrong.
Quite a bit if previous experience was anything to go by. It wasn’t as if I hadn’t had to suffer Vera from marketing repeatedly telling me what she was and wasn’t going to say to “that bitch Lucy” when she got chance. The reality of that statement would doubtless involve Vera greeting Lucy as if she were her long lost best friend and telling her how nice she looked. Either that or some similar two-faced nicety.
Then there’s the alcohol aspect to take into account. When normal rational people who for 364 days of the year either don’t drink, or drink in moderation, pour it down their throats like there’s no tomorrow. If only we humans came with a list of instructions or side effect warnings similar to those which come with prescription drugs. If we did we might heed the warning which said instant arsehole just add beer. Whether we would or wouldn’t is immaterial as once again I find myself making the annual pilgrimage from my flat to the Golden Fleece Hotel.
The Golden Fleece is an eclectic mix of old and new with the original buildings pseudo-Tudor style architecture being sharply contrasted by an ugly squat brick annex. Every time I see it I think it wouldn’t look out of place if it was surrounded by row upon row of barbed wire. Even the front door, a heavy wooden affair reinforced with cast iron fittings, looks like it’s come straight from the set of Cell Block H.
With a fatalistic inevitability I draw in a deep breath, ask God to take pity on me and open the door. My senses are immediately overwhelmed by a mixture of sights and sounds which I wished I had neither seen nor heard. First there is the music, if you could call some tone death twat monosyllabically chanting his version of White Christmas music. As if that wasn’t enough I’m treated to the sight of a sixteen stone sequined elf with her tongue halfway down Rudolf the red nosed reindeer’s throat.
Behind loves young dream Frosty the snowman lolls semi-conscious in a chair having apparently forsaken Scotland’s favorite soft drink in favor of Vodka and Coke. I glance around hoping upon hope nobody has seen me and I can slip unobtrusively back through the door and escape this Christmas themed bacchanalian madness.
No such luck, I’ve barely taken half a step back when the “music” drops off and a familiar voice announces to one and all Joe’s arrived. You bastard… I look beyond the fifty or sixty pairs of drink laden eyes to see Mark smirking at me from behind a mish mash of speakers and turntables.
“Come on Joe it’s supposed to be fancy dress,” Mark continues in mock exasperation referencing the fact I’d chosen not to debase myself in front of my peers. “Somebody make Joe more Christmassy please.” A very ropy looking fairy with a hairy chest and the sequined elf immediately rush to accost me with tinsel and glitter. I put on a brave face and even manage something approaching a smile before whispering a not so thinly veiled threat into the fairy’s ear.
In the background I see Mark pissing himself as the Elf; which bears a passing resemblance to Moira from accounts, although it’s difficult to tell seen as she’s wearing more war paint than your average Apache brave, grabs me in a vice like grip and propels me toward the dance floor. Thirty seconds ago, I was going to at least have the decency to flush the toilet before thrusting Mark’s festive haircut as far around the U bend as it would go.
Suddenly much to my horror the music changes to a slow smoochy number. Ha very fucking funny thinks I narrowly avoiding the elf’s ham-fisted attempt to get me in a clinch. Weaving my way around one of the three wise men who appeared to be in the process of trying to dry hump the virgin Mary, which is just plain wrong on so many levels, I set my sights firmly On DJ Marky fucking Mark. Our eyes meet and the smug look on his face is replaced with one of trepidation. Oh yes, you’re so fucking dead son. Or at least he would be if somebody didn’t stop me in my tracks.
“Joe, my boy,” a voice belonging to Jim Slater booms in my ear. “Come over here and sit with us.” Once again I feel myself being tugged across the dance floor. At least this time it’s not by a deviant middle-aged elf. Jim is one half of the Slater and Webb who own the company I work for. He’s much more than just my boss though, and I would even go as far as to say over the last four years he’s very much become the father figure I never had.
“Here we go,” he says directing me to a corner table. Sat around the table are two Shepherds who look like they’ve just escaped from an obscure senior citizens nativity along with a smartly dressed lady of a certain age who’s face lights up as soon as she sets eyes on me.
“Oh, Joe thank God. Please sit next to me.”
I nod my head and slip in next to Sandra Slater who without further ado dispatches her husband to the bar. Across from me are Harry and Louise Webb who I’m already detecting are well imbued with the Christmas spirit.
“You Ok Joe?” Harry slurs as if to confirm my suspicions.
“Yes, and you?” I reply emphasizing the point with a thumbs up.
“I think we might have had a bit too much to drink,” Louise says with a sheepish grin.
“Think? More like bloody know,” a voice whispers by my side.
“I thought the party only started an hour ago?”
Sandra scoffs sarcastically at the naivety of my remark. “In here you mean. Half of these have been drinking since dinner time. I mean look at him…”
I follow the direction of Sandra’s gaze just in time to see frosty the snowman face plant the floor. He’s immediately surrounded by a multitude of elves, reindeers and a singularly obese Santa who struggle to help him back to his feet. If snowmen ever have feet... They nearly succeeded too, only for Frosty to totter off to one side and crash back down taking Santa and Rudolph with him. This time Santa gets back to his feet, dusts himself off, says something which is definitely not in the Christmas spirit, and lands Frosty a swift dig in the ribs.
Wiping the smile from my face and replacing it with a suitably abhorrent expression I turn back to Sandra.
“And the night is but young…”
“Don’t remind me. Honestly, I don’t know why Jim thinks he has to put us through this.”
“Tradition I suppose.”
“Well as far as I’m concerned this is the last time.”
I can feel a smirk crossing my face as our eyes meet.
“No, I mean it this time Joe. I really do.”
“Yeah, you said that last year, and the year before. Besides if you don’t come who’s going to keep me right?
Sandra’s expression softens a little and she reaches across and squeezes my hand which will no doubt give the company gossips plenty to talk about come Monday morning. Mark had told me a while ago there was a scurrilous rumour circulating the office about my relationship with the boss’s wife. Which is purely platonic. Yes, Sandra might be one classy lady, a pure English rose matured to perfection with whom I share a close affinity. She’s also happily married to a man for whom I have the utmost respect.
“You’re a good guy Joe. Both Jim and I think a lot of you,” Sandra says suddenly becoming very serious.
“I know and I think a lot of you too.”
In my peripheral vision I’m aware both Harry and Louise have their eyes transfixed on us. I think Sandra must have realised too as she moves closer so no one can overhear what’s being said between us.
“I haven’t told you, but there’s going to be an important announcement about the new offices on Monday.”
“Oh right,” I say as my mind starts to race. In the new year Slater and Webb are opening an office in the city and I’ve made no secret of the fact I want to be involved at the highest level.
“That’s on Monday,” Sandra continues. “Later in the week Jim and I want to talk to you about something more personal.” She squeezes my hand and let’s go as her husband returns with a tray full of drinks.
“And what were you pair whispering about?”
“Sandra was just telling me about your Christmas present,” I reply in all innocence.
“Hmm why do I doubt that?” Jim says placing a pint of cold beer on the table in front of me. I was about to make a facetious remark when a sudden cold draft announces the arrival of yet more revelers. With little more than a passive interest I glance across the room toward the open door and there she is…Melody Carpenter as stunning as ever.
My mind is immediately flooded with a tidal wave of conflicting emotions; part of me wants to nonchalantly look away as if she’s nothing special. Only as much as I want to my basest of natural instincts overrides all and I can’t tear my eyes off her. Nor can anyone else which is hardly surprising really given the outfit she’s wearing. Never in the history of Christmas’s past or present has Santa looked so damned hot and she knows it.
Melody circulates the room greeting everyone in turn as if she’s bloody royalty which in here she very nearly is. I must admit the dress maker who tailored her dress has done a fantastic job; the lush red velvet like material accentuating her svelte curves to perfection. They’d got the length bang on as well; long enough to retain a decorum of class whilst at the same time being short enough to show a tantalizing glimpse of stocking top as she glides around the room. The dress is accessorized with a pair of shiny red ankle boots and a ridiculously cute Santa hat from under which her luxurious brunette hair flows in waves halfway down her back. Much as I hate to admit it Miss Carpenter has stolen the show again.
It isn’t long before she arrives at our table making a big show of hugging everybody but me. It’s all right though she doesn’t like me, and I don’t like her. Or at least that’s what we keep telling ourselves…
Why we hate each other I don’t know. Four years ago, when I first started working for Slater and Webb I was glad to see a familiar face when I walked through the door. Sadly, the sentiment wasn’t reciprocated, and Melody blanked me on the spot. She’s been blanking me ever since and we only communicate when work dictates it necessary.
Childish as it may seem I do wonder if the root cause goes back to the when Melody went out with my cousin Martin. She was only fourteen at the time and like most playground romances it didn’t end well. Maybe in Melody’s eyes I’m guilty by association. I hope not as I’m nothing like my arsehole of a cousin.
I suppose my meteoric rise through the ranks didn’t help either. Prior to my arrival Melody was the company’s star performer who stood head and shoulders above everyone else. I’ll be the first to admit I pissed in her cornflakes from that point of view, but what does she think I’m going to do? I want to make something of myself every bit as much as she does.
I can’t help but smile as she moves around the table in a manner which avoids having to make direct eye contact with me. Suddenly she’s right beside me smelling every bit as good as she looks. Against my better judgement I look up straight into those sparkling baby blues and for the briefest of seconds I see something there I’ve never seen before. Stupidly, very stupidly, I think there’s a thawing of hostilities, a sort of Christmas truce and say “Hi” only for Melody to look away.
It’s about this time when Jason Roper appears. Jason is a marketing director for our IT partner with whom I interact on an almost daily basis. We are of a similar age and share many of the same interests and it’s fair to say we get along very well. Jason or Jase as he likes to be called, is one of those larger-than-life characters who are impossible not to like, which is why he does so well in his chosen field.
Jase sits down next to me whilst Melody squeezes herself in between Harry and Louise. For fifteen or twenty minutes we all engage in polite conversation; most of which centers on the plans for the new London office during which Sandra shoots me a cautionary glance reminding me our previous conversation never took place. Then as if on some pre-arranged signal Jase and Melody make their excuses and go and cosy up in a secluded corner on the other side of the room.
A strange cocktail of emotions begins to flow through my veins. Panic is there, along with an irrational fear of the unknown. The main ingredient however is jealousy in its rawest form. Why am I jealous I can’t stand the bitch…can I? Somewhere in the back of my mind a tape recorder is playing a long-forgotten conversation I overheard between Mark and a guy called Andrew who worked in marketing. Andrew had expressed a desire to have carnal knowledge of Melody only in cruder terms which amused Mark no end.
“Not a chance son. Not unless you drive a Porsche or Bentley.”
Andrew didn’t drive a Porsche unlike Jason Roper who’s shiny 911 is in the Hotel car park.
Mentally chastising myself for being so bloody stupid I get up and head across the dance floor toward the bar to the strains of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. The irony of which is not lost on me. Halfway across the dance floor Gaga is halted in mid-flight in favor of the musical aberration that is the Birdie Song which I positively despise. As if on cue I’m surrounded by my work colleagues waggling their arms and elbows and imploring me to do the same. Not for the first time my eyes seek out my soon to be former best friend who is doubled up with laughter behind the turntables. It’s the same scenario on the return journey and again when I pay a visit to the gents from which I gather there has been more than a little collusion prior to the event.
The one person who doesn’t get involved in the shenanigans is Melody who seems to be inching progressively closer to Jase as the night wears on. The funny thing is for two people who profess to dislike one another we always seem to be catching one another’s eye. Something which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the ever-perceptive Mrs Slater.
“Why don’t you go and talk to her?” she whispers out of nowhere.
“Why would I do that?” I stammer totally taken aback.
“I’m not blind Joe. I see the way you two keep looking at one another?”
I’m momentarily at a loss, Melody and I dislike one another intensely so how could Sandra possibly think…?
“We don’t get on Sandra. Besides she’s with Jase.” Even as I speak I realize how pathetic the words sound.
Sandra looks at me over the top of her glasses and slowly shakes her head in disbelief. “You can keep telling yourself that Joe if you want, or you can get up off your backside and go and talk to her before it’s too late.” She glances back across the dance-floor toward Melody and Jase as if to emphasize the point. Not that she needs to. Deep down I know she’s right. An awkward silence ensues during which I reassess my true feelings for Melody. The ones I keep hidden behind a facade of false truths.
“Oh, for God’s sake Joe,” Sandra utters in frustration. Before I can answer she’s on her feet and making a bee line for our esteemed DJ. I can only watch as she and Mark get their heads together, and then as quickly as she went she’s back. She flashes me a conspiratorial smile and sits back in her chair before innocently sipping away at her G&T. Why do I think I’ve just been set up?
Whatever devious scheme Mrs Slater has dreamed up is momentarily forgotten when her husband reappears with Keith and Margaret Noble, both of whom retired from the company long before I started. Once the usual pleasantries are observed Jim and Keith regale us with their war stories of days gone by. I find them fascinating and am totally absorbed in their conversation when I feel a tug on my right arm. Turning around I see Sandra standing over me with an outstretched finger beckoning me to follow her onto the dance floor.
Now panic really does set in. My sister once likened my dancing prowess to that of a club footed Giraffe on acid. Harsh, but not without foundation. Not that I have any choice the determined look on Sandra’s face telling me there is to be no escape. Reluctantly I get to my feet where upon I see Melody and Jase are already on the dance floor and reluctance is superseded by abject horror,
It’s too late now though. Sandra has a firm grip on my hand and is leading me like the proverbial lamb to the slaughter. Mercifully Mark doesn’t put the Birdie song on which is odd as I wouldn’t have expected him to pass up a chance to make me suffer what would be the ultimate humiliation. Before I know it we’re on the dance floor along with half a dozen other couples all of whom appear to be accomplished dancers. Unlike yours truly who staggers around in a series of uncoordinated fits and jerks. Unfortunately for me Sandra is an ex professional dancer and next to her I really am that club footed giraffe.
I struggle on fully aware my work colleagues are reveling in my discomfort, none more so than Mark who shoots me a wolfish grin. I was about to go back at him with a time honoured gesticulation of the right hand when I realized Sandra has artfully directed us across the dance-floor so that we are now dancing side by side with Melody and Jase. Jase who as well as driving a Porsche 911 took dancing lessons from John Travolta, or so it seems. I daren’t even look at Melody.
Then the music changes and Taylor Swift gives way to Billy Oceans Caribbean Queen which I know is one of Sandra’s favorite's. As soon as she hears the opening bar Sandra grabs Jase’s hand lifts it high in the air and does a neat little pirouette underneath, instantly reversing the status quo. She’s now dancing with Jase and I’m opposite a somewhat confused Melody. I see a look of uncertainty flash across her eyes which is no doubt mirrored in my own. She glances across at Sandra; Melody might be many things; stupid isn’t one of them. She knows Sandra Slater has just engineered a situation, the big question which must be burning through her mind is why?
I shrug my shoulder as if to say, “I don’t know what’s going on either,” and we continue going through the motions. Caribbean Queen isn’t the longest of songs, or at least I didn’t think it was, but tonight it seems to be going on forever. There comes a point however when our eyes meet and for the second time that night see something I didn’t expect to see. I’m not sure what it is, but my heart skips a thunderous beat. Once again, I go to say something, and Melody looks away only this time it’s more to hide her own blushes.
Caribbean Queen finally fades into the background, and I notice Jase makes a very deliberate point of putting his arm around Melody as he escorts her back to their seats. When we sit down, I shoot Sandra a quizzically raised eyebrow and ask her “what was that all about?”
“Just thought I would give you a helping hand.”
“But why? She’s with Jase.”
Sandra scoffs despairingly. “He’s not her type Joe.”
“How do you know?”
“Trust me. I just do.”
Two hours ago I would have asked why we were even having this conversation, as it is I find my eyes drawn back across the room toward Jason and Melody; a blind man on a flying horse can see her whole-body language has changed. Jase leans in and obviously asks her something. Melody retreats and shakes her head. Jase try’s again, but seemingly Melody isn’t having any of it, holding up her hands palms facing her erstwhile suitor in a gesture which has only one meaning. Jason sits bolt upright totally perplexed by this sudden turn of events, mutters something under his breath and leaves.
For what seems an age Melody sits there like little girl lost. It’s breaking my heart. I want to go to her and offer some words of comfort, anything… only Mrs Slater gives me an imperceptible shake of the head and mouths the word no. Presently Lucy and Jasmine two girls from HR who I know Melody is friendly with go and sit with her.
“Give her a little time then go across and talk to her,” my newfound relationship advisor whispers in my ear.
“What should I say?”
“I don’t bloody know,” Sandra replies whilst rolling her eyes. “Ask her if she’d like a drink or something. Honestly, Joe…”
Out of nowhere a pint magically appears in front of me as Aled Jones angelic voice announces he’s walking in the air. Without exception everyone’s eyes are magnetically drawn to Frosty the snowman who up until now has been lying flat on his back in a semi catatonic state. Sure enough Frosty props himself up on his elbows and treats his newfound audience to a drunken, lopsided grin. After a series of drunken lurches, he’s swaying before us in a manner reminiscent of a palm tree in the eye of a tropical storm.
“Oh, God no,” an exasperated voice says beside me. Only God isn’t listening. Frosty extends his arms as if they’re wings and staggers a step or two onto the dance floor. A cheer rings out from the assembled onlookers which is the wrong thing to do as Frosty starts to gather momentum furiously flapping his arms beside him as he does so. Suddenly he puts the brakes on and comes to a halt, taking a slight bow as more shouts and cheers ring out.
“This isn’t going to end well,” I say getting to my feet with the intention of bringing the proceedings to a halt before somebody gets hurt. Before |I have chance Frosty’s on the move again and this time he really means to fly. There’s nothing I can do other than watch with a sickening inevitability as Frosty reaches the edge of the dance floor and attempts to use a table as a springboard to launch himself into the heavens. He might have succeeded too. If indeed he was a magical cartoon animation and not an accountant called Dave.
There’s a very audible whump as he swan dives onto the floor followed by the sound of breaking glass as bottles and glasses rain down from the upturned table.
“Go and see if he’s alright Joe,” Jim Slater says once he’s slithered to a halt. “If he is get him a ride home.”
“It doesn’t matter whether he is or isn’t,” Sandra adds. “Just get him out of here.”
Somehow, I think it’s going to take Dave a while to put this one behind him. Taking charge I have Frosty placed in a chair in the foyer whilst I find him a taxi home. Finding a taxi isn’t hard; getting one to take our intoxicated friend is.
“He’s not fucking spewing up in here,” the first taxi driver says on seeing Frosty’s pissed as a rat demeanor. A sentiment echoed twenty minutes later by the second. I manage to convince the third to take him, but only after agreeing to the proviso I go along for the ride and make good any vomitus misdemeanors. Fortunately for me Dave falls into a deep sleep and keeps whatever remains in his stomach to himself. Unfortunately for me he lives miles away and once I’ve dropped him off in the tender care of a hard-faced harridan who looks less than pleased to see him there’s little or no point in going back to the party, and instead I opt for home.
Sunday morning dawns at somewhere around eight. I could quite happily continue lying in bed replaying the events of the previous night, but seen as that’s all that I’ve done since arriving home in the early hours I opt to jolt my system back to life with an overdose of caffeine,
Swinging my legs over the side of the bed I notice my phone flashing and quickly scroll through to my messages. There’s a total of five, two of which are work related and are put on the back burner for tomorrow. I read the other three in order starting with the one from my sister Leanne reminding me she and the kids are coming around for a visit this afternoon. I run a critical eye around my flat and wonder if it would pass muster in its present state. Nope not a chance.
Resigning myself to a morning of cleaning I move onto the second which is from Mark asking if I got Frosty home in one piece. A picture of a woman with a face so hard you could chop logs on it drifts into my still semi-conscious mind. I type out and send a quick one-liner. He was still in one piece when I dropped him off…wouldn’t give much for his chances though.
The third is from Sandra Slater and simply asks if I got home OK. I answer yes and tell her Frosty lived miles away out in the sticks hence why I didn’t get back to the party. Putting the phone back in its holder I think back to the night before and realize for the first time in four years I’ve told someone how I really feel about Melody. Fortunately that someone is Sandra, and her discretion is without question. Unless she mentions it to Jim… I feel a sudden wave of panic as my imagination starts to run away with me.
What I can’t understand is what happened between Melody and Jase. Prior to getting on the dance floor they were very much together. I can see them now cozied up in the corner enjoying one another’s company. So what went wrong? Why did Melody give him the knock back when he tried to progress things beyond the party? At least that’s what I assume happened. The truth is I don’t know what was said, all I can go on was the sudden change in Melody’s body language and the way she held her hands up and said no.
The catalyst could only have been Sandra’s little stunt on the dance-floor when she seamlessly changed dance partners and I ended up opposite Melody. No, surely not… Surely there had to have been something else. I mean if that was the reason why she had a sudden change of heart by default it meant the reason was me. Could it be behind the projected facade of mutual contempt we both secretly harbored feelings for one another? I do, so is it not conceivable Melody does too?
Then there is Jase for whom I feel desperately sorry. If you’d asked me prior to last night what I thought Melody’s idea of a perfect match would be the answer would have been tall, not necessarily dark, but handsome with the added bonus of a healthy bank account. Don’t forget the Porsche or Bentley Marks voice interjects from the back of my mind. Ha, yeah… The truth is Jase was all of those and more. He’s a thoroughly decent guy and the idea I might have inadvertently ruined things for him doesn’t sit well with me.
What am I thinking? Did I really want to see him walk out with Melody? No, I bloody didn’t so maybe it’s about time I gave my head a shake man up and tell Melody how I really feel before it’s too late. Sandra was right. Last night was a close call and somebody nearly put Melody out of reach. Just for a moment I consider picking up my phone and calling her. And saying what you idiot? It’s a good point. I’m assuming an awful lot based on very little. What if I’m wrong and she really does hate me? If that were the case I would be making a first-class dick of myself calling out of the blue and professing my undying love. Why does life have to be so complicated I wonder heading for the shower?
One revitalizing shower and some seriously black coffee later it doesn’t feel any the less complicated. On the positive side the buzzing headache I woke up with has lifted and I set about the mammoth task of tidying up my flat. Two hours later and I’m starting to discover the kitchen work surfaces are in fact granite, and the rug in the front room is a shade of blue and not black as I had come to believe.
On the way back from depositing six black bags full of accumulated detritus in the bin I hear my phone buzzing away in the front room. It stops before I get there, and I scroll through to see who’s been calling. Rosemary? And so, life gets just that little bit more complicated…
Rosemary is a friend. A good friend, what you would call a friend with benefits. Two years ago, Rose came out of a toxic marriage swearing she would never again enter into a long-term relationship with a man. At the same time I was totally focused on my career and didn’t want any romantic distractions getting in the way. We first got together after a night out with a group of friends. At the end of the evening, I gave Rosemary a lift home and she invited me in for coffee. That was on a Friday night, we were still “drinking coffee” the following Sunday morning.
Ever since then we have seen to one another’s needs as and when they arise and I think it’s fair to say it’s been a win, win situation for both of us. It certainly has for me. Rosemary is a beautiful woman with a fit, lithe body to die for. She’s also very imaginative and we’ve had a lot of fun over the years. So why was I hesitating? Normally it would have been a no brainer. With a heavy sigh I thumb the green button on my phone only it’s not Rosemary’s face I see in my head whilst it ringing out.
“Hi Joe, how are you?” she says in that expensively educated voice which in itself sounds so damned sexy.
“Recovering from last night’s office party.”
“Oh, not so good then.”
“I’m not so bad to be honest Rose. How are you?”
“Feeling lonely. I was wondering if you’d like to come around and keep me company.”
We both knew what Rosemary meant when she said she was feeling lonely; just as we both knew I didn’t normally need asking twice and I can’t remember a time in the last two years when I’ve declined the offer. I suppose there’s a first time for everything though.
“I’m sorry Rosie I’ve got family commitments today.” Which was true.
“Oh, that’s a pity,” Rose says in a voice laden with disappointment. “I had something rather special planned.”
I close my eyes and swallow hard. When it comes to the bedroom Rosemary’s imagination knows no bounds. “I’m sorry Rose my sisters coming around with her kids. I can’t disappoint them.”
“No, no of course not. I suppose I’ll have to rely on good old Roger.”
Who the ….? “Roger? Who’s Roger?”
There’s a barely audible girly giggle on the other end of the phone. “Roger Rabbit you idiot.”
A mile wide grin spreads across my face and I come within a whisker of saying I could see her later in the evening; only as soon as the thought crosses my mind, so does an image of Melody and I falter. “Well, if it helps, I’ll be there in spirit,” I say instead, tongue in cheek.
“Hmm, I think I’ll hold that thought. You have a nice day.”
“And you Rose.”
The line goes dead and I’m left reflecting on what might have been. I’m still reflecting two hours later when Leanne and her brood arrive and I’m surrounded by what seems like a hundred kids all excitedly screaming “Uncle Joe.”
“We brought you a Christmas present,” little Annie my four-year-old niece proudly announces.
“Did you? Is it Christmas? Oh no I forgot,” I tease.”
“No you didn’t,” both Annie and Reece, her six year old brother, echo in unison.”
“I don’ think Uncle Joe realizes you’ve already spotted the presents on the kitchen table,” Leanne laughs. It’s good to see them. I don’t see them enough, something which I need to address in the new year. For half an hour the flat is total chaos as Annie and Reece run riot then comes the moment when Reece asks me if he can use my PlayStation.
“I don’t have one Reece.” The look on the young boy’s face is priceless as his small mind tries to compute what sort of person his uncle is when he doesn’t possess any sort of computer game.
An hour later the kids are happily plugged into the TV whilst Leanne and I are sat in the kitchen conversating over a couple of mugs of steaming hot coffee. Inevitably my sister starts running a critical eye over the fixtures and fittings. There’s a very audible tut…
“You know what this place needs don’t you Joe?”
Here we go… “No what?”
“A woman’s touch. I mean look at the state of the place.”
“Really? Bloody hell Leanne I’ve spent all morning tidying this place up in your honor.”
She looks at me and slowly shakes her head. “I don’t mean you need a housekeeper Joe. I mean you need someone you can share your life with. Look how you are with Annie and Reece. You’d be a fantastic dad.”
Normally this is the point in the conversation when I expunge on the benefits of bachelorhood only this time I hesitate, something which my darling sister latches onto faster than a tramp does an errant plate of fish and chips.
“Is there someone Joe? Have you been keeping secrets?”
“No, there isn’t, but there might be.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well, there’s this girl…”
“That’s a start,” Leanne says in the same deadpan manner which has cracked me up since I was about eight. “Does this girl know?” she continues.
“I’m not sure Leanne,” I reply trying and failing to keep a straight face. “To be honest it’s a sort of love hate relationship.” I pause whilst Leanne rolls her eyes in frustration. “For four years we’ve hated one another, or at least I thought we did. Something seems to have changed and I’m not so sure now.”
“Nothing’s simple with you Joe is it?” Leanne says as the cogs whir away behind her eyes. Then the cogs stop whirring and her eyes narrow. “We’re not talking about Melody Carpenter, are we?”
The answer must have been written across my face as Leanne starts to shake her head in sheer disbelief. “Seriously Joe. Melody Carpenter?”
“Because she can’t stand the sight of you. That’s why not.”
“I’m not so sure you’re right. Somethings changed I saw it in her eyes last night.”
“For God’s sake Joe. Please tell me you haven’t been reading mum's romance novels.”
“Very funny, but would it be so bad if it was true?”
“I don’t know. Are you sure it’s not all in your head?”
“No, I’m not. But I’m going to find out.”
“I just hope you don’t end up getting hurt.” She pauses and shoots me a quizzical look. “What’s wrong with Rosemary? She seems nice. Why don’t you two get together on a more permanent basis?”
“Rosemary?” I ask trying to recall when I mentioned Rosemary to Leanne.
“Yes, Rosemary. I bumped into her in Sainsburys a couple of weeks ago. What a really nice lady.”
“You never said.”
“I must have forgot. Anyway, in answer to my question…?”
“It’s not that sort of relationship. It’s purely casual.”
Not for the first time Leanne looks at me as if she doesn’t believe a word. “I just hope you know what you’re doing that’s all.”
Yeah, you and me both.
Its half past eight in the evening. Leanne and her kids are long gone along with the two sacks of Christmas presents I’d had hidden away in the kitchen cupboard they didn’t know about.
“I think you’ve gone a bit over the top there,” Leanne chided when I brought them out.
“Maybe, but who else do I have to spoil?”
“I suppose that’s true, and the kids do adore you. There’s nobody like Uncle Joe.”
“Hmm, you might not be saying that when they find the recorder and drum kit.”
“You better not have Joe,” Leanne answers with a look of trepidation as she knows only too well how my sense of humor can run away with me.
I just smiled knowingly and handed her a smaller sack with her name on it. “Happy Christmas Leanne.”
Now it’s two hours later and I’m idly flicking my way through YouTube channels and regretting my decision to blow Rosemary off. I nearly give her a call and ask her if she’s still in the mood for some “company” when I see the empty Carling six pack on my coffee table and realize driving is no longer an option. I go back to the black hole that is YouTube and settle on a video featuring the alleged North American Bigfoot.
I have a simple rule when watching YouTube involving the words wicked and awesome. If I hear them in the opening lines or see some wanker making a hand horn salute of the type which was once the sole preserve of rock concerts they are instantly red buttoned. Mercifully, this wasn’t the case and I listen with a passive interest as a Canadian hunter recounts his Bigfoot encounter. Then my phone rings. Is there no escape?
“How’s it going?” Marks voice booms out loud and clear.
“I’m watching a video about Bigfoot does that answer your question.”
“Fuck, that’s pretty niche even for you.”
“I was watching one about railway snowplows ten minutes ago.”
“I think you need to get a life, either that or a very special sort of anorak.”
“Ha yeah,” I snicker.” Anyway to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Just thought I would see what you thought about last night. I take it you heard about Dave?”
“Dave from accounts, the one you gave a lift home last night.”
“Frosty the fucking snowman you mean?”
“No, why what’s he done now?”
“It’s more what you did mate.”
I feel myself inwardly groan. “What do you mean?”
“Where you dropped him off wasn’t where he lives.”
“He gave me the address,” I reply once again remembering the twisty faced bitch who greeted us at the door.
“I don’t doubt it. See that was where he used to live. Two years ago with his ex-wife.”
My heart sinks and I slap my forehead with the palm of my right hand. “Please tell me you’re joking,”
“Err no. You haven’t heard the best bit yet.”
“Go on,” I say seriously not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
“According to Stevie who rescued him earlier this morning, Dave woke up butt naked face down on the bed with no recollection as to how he got there.”
A terrifying mental image flashes through my mind and my stomach starts to heave. “Seriously? That’s horrendous.”
“Yeah, apparently so was trying to explain his whereabouts to wife number two when Stevie got him home.”
There’s a moment or two of silence before Mark and I dissolve into a fits of laughter. Eventually we manage to recompose ourselves and we spend another ten minutes or so going over the finer points of the previous evening during which I tell Mark he’s going to pay dearly for his Birdie song related antics.
“Ha, you should have seen what I had lined up for the Grand finale. Frosty saved you from that one.”
“So, there is a God?” I say as I hear Mark’s wife in the background.
“There’s always next year. Anyway, I’ve got to go and let the dog out.”
“Alright see you tomorrow.”
I look at my frozen TV screen and wonder whether I can be bothered to watch the end of my video. After some deliberation I flick the TV off and head for the bedroom. I’ve barely got settled between the sheets when my phone rings again. “What the f…?” I mutter as I see Marks name flashing on the screen.
“Are you fucking lonely?”
“Err no, but I thought I’d better give you the heads up.”
“Aww what’s Frosty done now?”
“Not to sound repetitive old son, but it’s what you’ve done.”
“Jason just called me and he’s not a happy bunny.”
Oh, for fucks sake… “And what’s that got to do with me?”
“I don’t know. He wouldn’t say, but your name was pure shit.”
“Yeah, I’d steer clear of him if I were you.”
“What makes you say that Mark?”
Mark hesitates whilst trying to find the words for a suitably diplomatic answer.
“It doesn’t matter Mark. I’ll ask him myself.”
Without further ado I end the call and scroll through my contacts until I come to Jason Roper. Should I really do this? I wonder mentally counting to ten before making the call..
“Yes?” Jason answers in a voice with a very definite edge.
“Mark tells me you’ve got a problem with me. I’d like to know why?”
“As if you don’t know.”
“No, I don’t so tell me.”
There’s a scoff on the end of the phone followed by a whispered four-letter expletive which I really don’t like.
“Whoa, if you want to go down that route Jase you can say it to my face.”
There’s another sarcastic scoff and he mutters something unintelligible. The idea alcohol might be playing a part in the proceedings starts to ruminate in the back of my mind.
“Sorry, what was that?” I ask maintaining a modicum of politeness.
“I said fuck off Joe.” And the line goes dead…
I’m furious. So furious before I know what I’m doing I’m putting my clothes back on with the full intention of driving the thirty miles to Jason’s home and ripping him to shreds. Only I can’t do that can I? Or I can if I want to run the risk of being breathalyzed by the Police. Which I don’t.
Calm yourself down Joe, I tell myself over and over again. Only I can’t. I always thought Jason and I were friends and if there’s a problem between friends, they should be able to talk it out like responsible adults. What really leaves a bad taste is instead of calling me direct he’s bad mouthed me to Mark first. Yeah, and how many more did he call before Mark? The rage begins to build again. Across the room I see myself in the mirror, face contorted with anger. And breathe…
Surely this can’t be about one half-hearted dance with Melody. I didn’t even know she and Jase were an item. If indeed they were. I think it was more a case of he wanted them to be. Maybe she did too. Who knows, who cares? I shake my head knowing in my heart of hearts the answer is I do.
In my head I hear the whispered expletive. The last person to aim it in my direction with any intent was my cousin Martin. The same Martin who went out with Melody when we were kids. Martin and I don’t talk any more probably due to the fact I punched his face clean through the back of his head. Or I would have done if Leanne hadn’t intervened. Either way as far as I’m concerned friend, or no friend Jason has two choices. Apologize or suffer the consequences.
To be continued...