Going Forward – Chapter Thirty-Two

…..Previously

“Oh, my God!” Susie said. She said it slowly, one syllable at a time. Her hands were to her mouth, her eyes wide open. “I’m so sorry, Paddy. I heard two plus two and made five out of it. I can see it all now. Come and sit with me in the living room.

We can talk business sometime else. I have some further questions.”

“I still don’t understand what you’ve heard that made you think that I was saying anything bad about you behind your back,” I said.

“All in good time,” she answered.

Continued…….

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Reconciliation

She walked across to me, took my hand and led me through. She got me to sit on an easy chair while she sat on the sofa where she could see me.

She raised her hands to her head and let her lovely red hair fall over her shoulders. I’d only ever seen it swept up. . She looked beautiful beyond words. That simple gesture made my heart beat faster.

“Question One,” she said, “Were you jealous?”

I told her that I had been, even though I had no right to be. She said that I was not to worry about that, but confirmed that Jake wasn’t a threat.

“Question Two,” was next, “How old do you think I am?”

I told her that I thought twenty-nine or thirty – especially since I’d seen her in her running gear. She screeched with laughter and told me that I was her friend for life. She then told me that yesterday had been her thirty-fourth birthday. She asked how old I was. I told her that I was now thirty-six. “Only two years between us you see,” she said.

She moved on to the dating business. She had been on dating sites for a year, perhaps less, after her divorce, but had stopped because most of the men she’d dated had been impossible. Some had sent misleading photographs of themselves, others just wanted a one-night stand or were total bores. Some of her friends still did it for a laugh. No one took it seriously. She then stunned me by telling me that, while there were one or two other men who’d asked her out, she wasn’t serious about any of them.

‘God!’ I thought, ‘The men round here must be blind. Only one or two?’

I asked her about her Valentine’s cards.

“I can’t believe you,” she said, “You noticed those? Forget them. Old flames!”

She sat for a moment looking at me. It was as if she were trying to make up her mind about something.

“There are two things you mentioned that I want to come back to,” she continued, “Before I do, can I check something – for completeness, as you put it?”

I nodded, eager to assist her: I was beginning to think that I might have been forgiven.

“I don’t want to jump to another mistaken conclusion,” she said, “Can I take it that you’d like us to be an item?”

I told her that I’d like that very much.

“Then why on earth didn’t you ask me?” she said.

I started to list again my reasons, but she stopped me dead.

“No, not why you didn’t think you had anything to offer – most of that’s irrelevant. Why didn’t you simply ask me? The worst I could have said was ‘No’”.

“Well,” I said, “because that’s the exact answer I would have expected.”

She pouted and my heart melted.

“You may be a marketing specialist, Paddy, but you’re really not much of a salesman are you? Don’t you people get trained to believe that ‘No’ usually means the client isn’t persuaded yet?”

I put my head in my hands.

“Don’t you think that I’m worth a little effort?” she asked, “’Faint heart never won fair lady’ and all that? It’s not very flattering to think that you’d give up on me at the first hurdle.”

I was lost for words. She was right. I’d been stupid. Again. I held my hands up in submission.

“Let me ask you something else,” she said.

“Go ahead,” I said, “I surrender.”

“No, seriously for a minute,” she said, “Just to satisfy my curiosity. When did you start to fancy me? Give me a date or some indication.”

I told her that she wouldn’t believe me, but I admitted that I’d found her really fanciable when we’d met that time in London. I told her that, at the time, I’d felt guilty being so attracted to her because I was happily married.

“This is crazy,” she said, “ I can’t believe that we, two adults, can both have been so wrong about so much all this time.”

I asked her what she meant.

“Come and sit with me,” she said. I did and she leaned towards me and asked me to put my arm around her. Her hair was brushing my face. Her light, citrussy scent was making me feel giddy. She moved her hand and locked its fingers into mine. I couldn’t believe what was happening or the reason she had turned around from one extreme to another since my arrival.

“Have a think about what you’ve been telling me while I tell you something.”

She paused and looked up at me.

“Right!” she said, “Listen carefully, Paddy Davenport, going back to that time in London, I fancied you, but I saw your wedding ring and said nothing.” She looked at the disbelief on my face and nodded.

“When we were talking, you were looking into my eyes and not at my chest, and I liked that in you.”

“Your eyes,” I said, “are the most gorgeous shade of green. I was mesmerised by them that morning. Your eyes and your lovely red hair.”

“I wish you’d told me that weeks ago, Paddy. We could have saved so much time.”

“It’s weird,” I said, “but do you remember that meeting we all had at my house?”

She nodded,

“Afterwards,” I said, “ Helen and I had a tiff. She said to me that you and I looked to be too close to be just colleagues and that I wasn’t to take her for a fool.”

“It’s true that I was watching you in your home,” she said, “a happily married man, a nice man who loved his family – and it just made me fancy you more. I’ve been listening to you putting together  business cases and realised how intelligent you are – intelligent, but on tonight’s evidence, lacking common sense.”

She asked me if I was listening and told me that I must stop worrying. The way Helen left you has obviously damaged your belief in yourself badly. By the way, I won’t let you get away with neglecting me – or looking at other women – as you’ve probably gathered.” She snorted with laughter.

“Well,” I said, “Helen said before we split up that you wouldn’t.”

“She was right,” she said.

“Anyway, I’ve seen you with your son,” she said, “you were obviously a loving father. How is Paul by the way?”

I assured her that he was a lot better.

“Listen Paddy,” she said, “speaking of Paul reminds me that you’ll need to be leaving to collect him soon if he’s fit enough to come to the Parkrun tomorrow.”

I agreed.

“We still have a lot to talk about,” she said, “but I wouldn’t want you to keep him waiting. Can I come to your house tomorrow afternoon?”

“Of course,” I said, “Would you like a lift straight after Parkrun?”

She said it would be a great idea.

Featured Photo

Today my featured photo is one I took in 2019, while walking my daughter’s dog along a woodland path near to where I live. I liked the grouping of the four men conversing around a green bench and the two dogs. I also thought that the winding stream, its banking and the path made an acceptable leading line.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-3ii 24 MP cropped sensor camera and 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens @ 35 mm and f/8 Shutter speed was 1/20 secs and the ISO 100. The shot was mounted on a tripod and post processed in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Thirty-One

…..Previously

Susie unfolded her arms, moved away from the wall and sat down again.

“Well,” she said, “Good for you. It does make sense now that you’ve explained it – and it might explain why I thought that you’d been gossiping about me.”

“Thank God for that,” I said, feeling that a weight was falling from my shoulders. ”What I don’t understand is why it would have mattered to you.”

“Can I come back to that?” she said.

Continued…….

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Rumour has it

She told me that she’d overheard something on Monday night that Jenny had said to Debbie.

“Okay,” I said, “What am I supposed to have said?”

“I can’t remember exactly what you’d said, but you’d obviously been gossiping about me to Jenny – something you’d said to her in the car about me – and that I was now history.”

“Look Susie,” I said, “I haven’t a clue what Jenny has said about me, but I will tell you what I’ve said to Jenny. In fact, I can tell you, almost word for word, what was said between us.”

She told me to go on. I reminded her that there had been just three, short trips when I’d given Jenny a lift home.

“The first time,” I said, “Jenny asked if there was any romantic attachment between you and me. I assured her that we were simply people working together – and, I hoped, that we were becoming friends.” Her eyes widened and her brow furrowed – I couldn’t imagine why.”

Susie looked at me.

“What?” she said, “Was that it?”

“Hang on. Remember that this was just that first night,” I said, “I told her that I was only recently separated from my wife, a single, unemployed dad and that you were much too young to be interested in a future with someone like me. I said that you’d told me about your Monday meetings talking about dating experiences, and that I imagined a lovely young woman like you, almost certainly had lots of more suitable boyfriends trailing after you.”

Susie buried her head in her hands, then lifted her face and burst out laughing.

“I can’t believe this,” she said, “You say this was the first time? Any more to tell me?”

I told Susie that Jenny had blown a raspberry and had asked whether I was fishing. I told Jenny that I had no idea what she meant and, by that time, we’d arrived at her house.

Susie nodded, I could see from the set of her face and shoulders that she’d relaxed from the tense stance she’d met me with. Her eyes were smiling now.

“The second time,” I said, “she asked again was I sure that you and I were just good friends, because that wasn’t how it appeared to her. I assured her that nothing was going on – or was likely to be.”

“Right!” Susie said, “This is starting to make sense.”

“Carry on,” she said.

“Okay, last Thursday, the final time,” I continued, “I walked with Jenny back to the car but I’d noticed that you were walking with Jake. Jenny had obviously noticed me looking because she mentioned it in the car soon after we started off.”

“Ah!” Susie said, “Go on.”

I continued, “Debbie asked ‘You’re not jealous are you?’ I asked her what on earth made her think that, but she just sneered as if she didn’t believe me. She then said, ‘Jake’s married. He’s no threat’. I didn’t say anything to that. I didn’t know what to say.”

I looked at Susie but couldn’t make out what she was thinking, but she looked as if she were frowning.

“For completeness,” I said, “Jenny asked me what I was getting you for your birthday. She told me it would be the eighteenth. Our birthdays are only a day apart. Mine’s on the seventeenth – St Patrick’s Day – Hence my name, Paddy.”

“And that’s it? That’s all you said?” she asked.

I nodded. “As I promised, pretty much word for word. I remember so well because I was puzzled by her questions.”

“Oh, my God!” Susie said. She said it slowly, one syllable at a time. Her hands were to her mouth, her eyes wide open. “I’m so sorry, Paddy. I heard two plus two and made five out of it. I can see it all now. Come and sit with me in the living room. We can talk business sometime else. I have some further questions.”

“I still don’t understand what you’ve heard that made you think that I was saying anything bad about you behind your back,” I said.

“All in good time,” she answered.

Featured Photo

Today my featured photo is one that I took on the beach at New Brighton, Merseyside

The Exif data are as follows: Samsung Galaxy A51 smartphone @1/4000 secs f/2 4.6 mm ISO 32 and post processed in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Thirty

…..Previously

Even when I was coming back from the Men’s Room, she managed to waylay me at the partition between the two room areas, leaning right into me. She said that if I was having any difficulty finding an employer, her Dad owned a catering company and she was sure that she could put in a good word for me. I told her that I’d now got a job offer that I’d be accepting.

When I got back to my chair Susie had gone.

Continued…….

CHAPTER THIRTY

A fine mess you got me into

Paul was fine by Tuesday, so I was feeling better myself when I phoned Susie to tell her that I’d had a couple of quotes back by email plus some other types of reply. When she answered her phone and heard my voice she was quiet. She said that she was unable to talk at that moment, but said she’d phone me back. She then said something that baffled me completely.

“I’d be grateful if from now on we simply stuck to the business in hand..”

She then closed the call.

I didn’t hear from her again until the Thursday morning. She thanked me for my card and asked me what I’d wanted when I’d phoned on the previous Tuesday. I told her that I’d just wanted to go through the replies from the online companies with her. I asked her if we could meet so that I could show them to her and agree what to do.

“All right,” she said, “Come round to mine about ten on Friday morning. I won’t be going to the park tonight.”

She rang-off again. I had no idea what had happened between us and was afraid to ask.

I didn’t go to the park and I didn’t go to watch netball either. I felt as if I was carrying a large, lead ball in my stomach.

Accusations, Questions and Answers

When I reached her house on the Friday, Susie let me in and led me straight to her dining Room. Her laptop was on the table. She sat down and invited me to sit down too. She was wearing a floaty, silky top over black jeggings.

I asked had she had a nice birthday, but she said, “Let’s stick to business, Paddy so there’s no misunderstanding.”

I looked at her. There was no smile on her face, I noticed that her hands were squeezed into fists, her eyes were narrowed and they looked moist with tears.

“Susie,” I said and reached to touch her arm.

“Get off me!” she yelled.

I jerked away from her holding up my hands to show that I meant no harm.

“I’m sorry Susie,” I said, “You looked distressed, angry – I don’t know which. I just wanted to offer comfort.” She burst into tears. I waited for her sobs to subside. I moved my chair back and to one side so that I could see her better.

“I have no idea, Susie,” I said, “what I’m supposed to have done that you are being like this. I feel like I did when Helen left me without a chance to talk things through. I won’t bother you again.”

I stood to leave. My chest was tight and I was fighting back tears myself. I still had my laptop in my hand, so I started to walk to the door to leave.

From behind me she called out, “Wait!”

I turned around.

“Wait,” she said again, “I don’t know whether you deserve a chance to explain, but I was upset by how you acted on Sunday night  and I feel I deserve to know why you felt free to gossip about me behind my back.”

I walked around to the other side of the table and sat down. I didn’t want to be accused of molesting her.

“Susie,” I said, placing my laptop on the table in front of me, “We either sort this out now or I may as well go home. Tell me what you think that I did wrong on Sunday and explain what this nonsense about gossip is. What am I supposed to have said and who did I say it to?”

“Okay, she said. She stood and faced me, arms folded across her chest. “Sunday. You’d only just arrived and you were staring at Jenny’s tits. She had to tell you to put your tongue back in. Then you had to make that stupid gross comment about not recognising her with her clothes on. Remember?”

“This is what’s stupid Susie,” I said. “When Jenny said that, I hadn’t even noticed her approaching because I was too busy staring at you. It was you that she’d seen me staring at. You looked amazing in that black and red dress with your hair done like that. I was awestruck. As for that comment, Yes, it was a daft thing to say, but she looked daft in that top and skirt – mutton dressed as lamb. She’s not a teenager anymore. It was intended as a joke. I should have kept my mouth shut.”

“It didn’t stop you fooling around with her when she was sitting on your knee,” she said, pulling a sarcastic looking face with her mouth.

“Look,” I said, “I never asked her to sit on my knee, I didn’t want her to sit there and I did not enjoy it at all. I was absolutely embarrassed. I didn’t fool around with her Susie, whatever it may have looked like. I didn’t know where to put my hands without appearing to grope her. I made an excuse to get away from her as soon as I could”

“Well, it certainly didn’t look that way to me,” she argued. “And what about you two whispering sweet nothings to each other when you were standing near that wall; you couldn’t have squeezed a credit card between the two of you. Everyone was watching.”

I laughed. “Well, Susie, that tops it all. Jenny waylaid me on my way back from the Gents. I can’t remember much of what she said, but she did offer to ask her dad to give me a job.”

“She didn’t,” Susie said. She looked shocked. “What did you say back?”

“I told her that I had received a job offer that I was accepting. I thought that it would have been bad manners to have told her that I wouldn’t have accepted anyway.”

“How do you mean?” she asked.

“Listen,” I said, “If I’d accepted, I’d have been in hock to her and her dad for as long as it pleased them. I’m sorry to have to say this about one of your friends Susie, but she looked like, and was acting like a tart. She’d clearly set her cap at me – as my mum would have said. I wasn’t interested and I certainly couldn’t be bought that way – by the chance of a job, or by whatever chance she was offering by the way she was dressed.”

Susie unfolded her arms, moved away from the wall and sat down again.

“Well,” she said, “Good for you. It does make sense now that you’ve explained it – and it might explain why I thought that you’d been gossiping about me.”

“Thank God for that,” I said, feeling that a weight was falling from my shoulders. ”What I don’t understand is why it would have mattered to you.”

“Can I come back to that?” she said.

Featured Photo

Today my featured photo is an opportunistic shot that I took while walking around Liverpool photographing graffiti. I just liked the juxtaposition of the gigantic warrior soldier, maybe, in my imagination, he’d been beamed there from another time, appearing to be looking over the shoulder of the young woman – perhaps trying to see what she was looking at on her phone.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-3ii 24 MP cropped sensor camera and 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens @ 35 mm and f/19. Shutter speed was 1/100 secs and the ISO 560. The shot was mounted on a tripod and post processed in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Twenty-Nine

…..Previously

“Jake’s married,” she said, “He’s no threat.”

I thought it better to say nothing. Whatever I said I was likely to dig a hole for myself.

“What are you getting her for her birthday?” was her next question.

I asked whose birthday she was talking about.

She told me that it would be Susie’s birthday the following Wednesday.

Continued…….

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Parkrun again

Paul wasn’t feeling very well on the Friday. Helen phoned me that morning. She was keeping him off school. He had a sore throat and a temperature. Her mum was going to look after him and she’d try to get him an appointment with the doctor. We agreed that it wouldn’t be a good idea to take him to the Parkrun, but she’d phone me on Saturday night if he looked likely to be okay for Sunday. I thanked her for letting me know.

That night, she phoned me again. Paul had been worse during the day. His ears and neck had been sore and he’d been very drowsy during the day. Helen had spoken to the doctor on the phone. She’d agreed that it was probably his tonsils, but that it would probably get better naturally in a few days to a week. There would be no need for antibiotics.

Helen seemed worried nevertheless. I asked if there was anything that I could do, but she said that she’d manage with her mum’s help but would keep me informed.

Before I got to the park on Saturday morning, I’d phoned Helen. Paul was looking a bit better and his temperature had decreased. She’d given him some painkilling liquid and throat lozenges.

When I reached the Altrincham park, several people, as well as those in my regular group, asked about Paul and wished him well. Susie said that I looked worried. I told her that I was a lot less worried now than I had been the previous day.

My time was off that morning. I’d had a rubbish run. Susie came up to me and told me not to worry. She’d been talking about Paul to some of the women as she’d gone round. They’d all assured her that he’d be fine in no time.  Before I left for home, Susie called me back. The people from the Thursday training group were all going out for a meal on the Sunday evening and, if I could make it, I’d be welcome to come. I said  that I’d definitely go.

I made a note of where to go and at what time. I thanked her for asking and said that I’d see her on the Sunday.

My spirits were lifted when I got back home and found a letter offering me the job with the NHS supplier – subject to a couple of conditions relating to avoiding conflict of interest between the salaried job and the website business.

During the afternoon, I bought a ‘Special Friend’ birthday card and posted it. I knew that it wouldn’t be collected until the Monday. I thought that it was weird. Our birthdays were only a day apart – mine on the 17th March, hers on the 18th. I wondered how old she would be. I had no idea whether it would be proper to buy her a present – or what to choose if it were. I was especially worried that I shouldn’t do anything that could be construed as inappropriate. I’d hate her to think that I was stalking her.

Dinner and afters

I rang Susie that afternoon, just to confirm that it wasn’t going to be a black-tie affair on the Sunday. She said that, if I had to ask that, I must be the only man she knew who actually owned a dinner jacket.

I still wasn’t sure what to wear when it got to Sunday. Helen always used to advise me, but I didn’t think it’d be a good idea to consult her. I turned up, fingers crossed, in an open-necked shirt under a black pullover with black jeans and black moccasins.

Susie and her friends were already at a table near the bar. They invited me to join them. I offered to buy drinks, but everyone was already drinking. I stood at the bar waiting for my drink and watched Susie as she chatted to Debbie and Jake. In her red and black floral-patterned wrap-over dress she looked jaw-droppingly beautiful. She must have been to the hairdresser because her hair looked particularly amazing.

“Put your tongue back in,” came a voice from my side, “and stop drooling.” It was Jenny, just arriving.

As she passed me, I noticed how she was dressed.

“Hi, Jenny,” I said, “I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on.” I know. It must have sounded corny.

Susie shot a sharp look in my direction.

“Nearly on,” I heard her mutter.

I saw what she meant. Jenny’s low-cut top and short skirt left little to the imagination.

Jenny turned to me and fingered the material of my pullover.

“You smarten up pretty well Paddy,” she said, “especially with those clothes on.”

Out of the corner of my eye I could see that Susie was glaring at us.

When we reached the long, rectangular table in the dining area that had been reserved for us, I was disappointed that Susie seemed to be seated almost as far away from me as she could get. Just my luck I thought. I was sat between Debbie and Jenny. They both seemed determined to interrogate me about my divorce and family life. I answered as best I could.

Later, as we were sat near the bar and I was talking to Jake, Jenny came and sat on my knee, putting an arm around my shoulders. I didn’t know where to look or put my hands. I hadn’t seen, or been as close to, so much bare flesh since I’d been married. She seemed determined to provoke me. She started to tell me how she liked my aftershave. I thanked her but apologised and told her that I needed to take a leak.

Even when I was coming back from the Men’s Room, she managed to waylay me at the partition between the two room areas, leaning right into me. She said that if I was having any difficulty finding an employer, her Dad owned a catering company and she was sure that she could put in a good word for me. I thanked her for her suggestion but told her that I’d now got a job offer that I’d be accepting.

When I got back to my chair Susie had gone.

Featured Photo

Today my featured photo is one that I took, with permission from station staff, at the underground station at Liverpool Lime Street because I wanted to capture the reflections of the lights as a train entered the platform.

he Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-3ii 24 MP cropped sensor camera and 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens @ 60 mm and f/8. Shutter speed was 1/100 secs and the ISO 800. The shot was mounted on a tripod and post processed in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Twenty-Eight Part Three

NOTE

The story is now entering its final week and the relationships between Susie and Paddy reach new highs and lows. If you’ve been reading this story for a while, don’t stop now.

…..Previously

Susie had pre-prepared a salad for our tea and some home-baked apple pie for afters. She said that she’d kept the pie portions small so that we wouldn’t be jogging on full stomachs. My mouth was watering already and the food fully lived up to my expectations. The salad was fresh, crisp and colourful. The pie pastry was light and the apple pieces had softened beautifully. Just to make it perfect, she’d made some delicious golden-yellow custard. I told her that I was well and truly impressed.

Continued…….

Learning new steps

After our meal, while Susie went upstairs to get changed ready for going to the park, she left me downstairs watching the news on the living room television. By the time the weather came on she was ready and it was my turn to get my running kit on. She directed me to her bathroom upstairs. Everything looked modern for an older house like hers. As I changed, I heard music being played downstairs. I couldn’t make out what it was but it had a Latin-American rhythm. I put my street clothes into a carrier bag that I’d brought for the purpose and made my way back downstairs.

The door into the living room was open and I could see, as I approached, that Susie seemed to be dancing to a routine that was being demonstrated on her TV screen. It looked like some kind of line dance to a salsa or mambo tune. A few years previously, Helen and I had signed up for salsa lessons, but we’d quit after a few weeks because I had evening work commitments. The lessons we’d missed were too difficult to make up. I guess that was one of the things that Helen had complained about. I recognised some of the basic moves – a kind of box step with chasses, change steps and cross steps with toes pointed outwards– but all done with a lot of slow, exaggerated hip sways. I stood in the doorway and clapped.

Susie turned around blushing from her face down to her neck when she heard me above the soft music.

“That looked amazing,” I said, “I take it that you go line-dancing?”

She shook her head.

“No, it’s a dance fitness video that I found online.”

“I like the music,” I said, “Who is it? What’s it called?”

She said that it was Camila Cabello and the track was called “Havana”.

I told her that I’d heard it before being played in a shop as background music  and that I liked it; that it was catchy.

The music had ended by this time.

“Now that you’ve seen me,” she said, “you have to try it with me.”

I protested that I had two left feet but she pulled me towards her and instructed me to stand by her side, hold her hand and to follow the steps on the screen. A couple of times she had to stop, laughing at my clumsiness, then demonstrating as she pulled and pushed me, to the music. I found that watching her feet and copying helped, but I had difficulty following exactly to the music’s insistent beat.

After a couple of times of restarting the video I was beginning to manage to her satisfaction. She stopped the video and turned to me.

“Mmm!” she said, “You’re not a completely hopeless case, but I think that more practice is called for. You’ll have to book another lesson, soon. Anyway, you’re warmed up now ready for our training session.”

On our way to the park, I put my laptop, papers and bag of clothes into the boot of my car. The image of her hips swaying to that seductive rhythm was to stay with me for days.

Crossing the park, she asked how I was getting on with Jenny. I said that she seemed to be okay, but that she was never in the car long before I had to drop her off. Susie asked if I’d mind giving her a lift again. I promised that I’d oblige.

The cloud had thickened during the afternoon, but I drove us to the park to be ready for later anyway. Susie said that she’d jog back home as usual or ask Jake for a lift if it started raining.

The training seemed to be working for me. I didn’t have as much difficulty in keeping up and I wasn’t as breathless afterwards.

By the time we’d finished, the rain had started. I walked with Jenny back to the car and noticed that Susie was walking with Jake to his car. Jenny had obviously seen me looking because she mentioned it in the car soon after we started off.

“You’re not jealous are you?” she asked. I could see that she was watching me closely.

“What on earth makes you think that?” I asked, perhaps too quickly.

She just smirked.

“Jake’s married,” she said, “He’s no threat.”

I thought it better to say nothing. Whatever I said I was likely to dig a hole for myself.

“What are you getting her for her birthday?” was her next question.

I asked whose birthday she was talking about.

She told me that it would be Susie’s birthday the following Wednesday.

Featured Photo

I saw this spiral staircase – presumably a fire escape at the side of a hotel – and its afternoon shadows one day when I’d stopped at traffic lights in Widnes, Merseyside. I resolved to return at a similar time the next time it was sunny, which I did and captured this image.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera and 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens @ 45 mm and f/13 Shutter speed was 1/60 secs and the ISO 100. The shot was taken handheld and post-processed in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Twenty-Eight Part Two

…..Previously

In the email, he argued that I was jobless and almost broke; Helen, on the other hand did, at least, have a regular part-time job. He noted that I’d been scrupulous in making childcare payments and that it would be wrong for me to face the risk of having to sell the house if that were necessary in order to divide our assets. He justified this conclusion on the grounds that Paul would need somewhere suitable to stay with me whenever it should become necessary, preferably close to my present home. He added that the current custody arrangements did not provide for emergencies. He pointed out that if I were forced to sell my house, I’d have to rent somewhere to live, with no guarantee that I’d be able to afford accommodation nearby or suitable for Paul to stay. He cautioned that I’d, almost certainly, be unable to afford  a mortgage to buy another property in my present circumstances. He further stated that there was not much equity in the house, substantial card debt from the marriage and considerable legal bills still to come. He concluded that, given the state of my finances, and that Helen, had already taken with her half of the savings account balance, the division of assets as it stands should stand unchanged so as to enable both parties to move on without undue debt.

I had no idea whether his letter would persuade Helen, but I agreed that it was worth a try and I emailed him by return to give my approval.

Continued…….

Time with Susie

Thursday came as a relief. I looked forward both to talking through software options with Susie and to the training session that evening. I’d done a bit of jogging locally since the weekend so as to prepare. I parked on the road in front of her house. Getting out of the car, I noticed, for the first time, the forsythia bush in her front garden. It was in full golden yellow bloom in a border and was underplanted with grape hyacinths, tulips and daffodils. Altogether, it was a beautiful display. Susie must have noticed my car at the front, because she opened her front door, came out and joined me. I congratulated her on her green fingers. She thanked me and led me into her living room.

I declined her offer of a drink: it wasn’t long since I’d had one. We sat for a while, talking again about the last group meeting. She said that she’d been really upset and had been quite depressed the whole of that day. She thanked me for remaining committed. I assured her that I’d turn jobs down rather than stop working with her on the project. I didn’t say why.

I opened my laptop and showed her the letter that my solicitor would be sending. She pulled a face, crinkling her nose and twisting her mouth to one side.

“I don’t think that your wife will be too swayed by that from what you’ve told me of her,” she said, “Nice try! Can’t do any harm, and I think he’s doing his best. I doubt though that it has any weight in law.”

I agreed. She went to switch on the gas fire. It was getting chilly.

“My God!” she said, “Your finances sound as if you’re a real basket-case.”

I sighed. I told her about my latest job application and interview. I explained that it was for a Business Development Manager post at a major supply company to the NHS. I added that I’d told the interviewer about the website project. She’d said that, were I to be offered the job, it would be with caveats about conflict of interest and data protection. She hadn’t said that it would be against the terms and conditions of employment if I carried on with our venture though.

“If I do get this job, it’ll tide me over until we start seeing some payback from what we’re doing. I’ve still got a reasonable sum in the bank to keep my head above water for a few months.”

“That all sounds promising,” she said.

“The legal bills will be the real problem,” I continued, “I bet they won’t accept a credit card: they haven’t so far.”

She got up to fetch her laptop. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, “They’ll be used to clients in your situation.”

We rose and went into her dining room. I took my laptop with me together with a sheaf of printouts.

Our conversation shifted to what I’d learned about software options. The various websites had useful information, but the reviews were even more valuable. There were diagrams, flowcharts, comparison tables and arguments about relative merits. It took us a good ninety minutes to whittle the choice down to two of each type of software house to approach for quotes. I showed her some break-even charts I’d prepared.

We both agreed that both the set-up and running costs should be manageable. She asked whether I’d been able to do any kind of market research, sales or cash flow forecasts. I admitted that it was too early for that, but I showed her an outline promotional mailshot with a list of local companies in the Greater Manchester Area that fitted the client profile we’d talked about approaching. She agreed with my proposal. We needed to see how successful it turned out to be in opening doors for us. Susie had pre-prepared a salad for our tea and some home-baked apple pie for afters. She said that she’d kept the pie portions small so that we wouldn’t be jogging on full stomachs. My mouth was watering already and the food fully lived up to my expectations. The salad was fresh, crisp and colourful. The pie pastry was light and the apple pieces had softened beautifully. Just to make it perfect, she’d made some delicious golden-yellow custard. I told her that I was well and truly impressed.

Featured Photo

Today’s featured photo is a few years old, taken early one September morning at the Royal Albert Dock, Liverpool. In one of the walkways around the dock, I saw this waiter preparing for the day and took the shot.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-50 16 MP cropped sensor camera and 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens @ 18 mm and f/5.6. Shutter speed was 1/40 secs and the ISO 400. The shot was taken handheld and post processed in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Twenty-Eight Part One

…..Previously

“Why do we go to Altrincham, Daddy? Why can’t we do the Parkrun here?” he asked.

I was stumped for a moment, but eventually opted for honesty. I told him that it was Susie who’d persuaded me to begin jogging and that I liked training with her. I dreaded him asking me whether his mum and Cliff could jog with us, but his attention had moved to the ice cream man’s van.

When Helen picked him up that evening, I confirmed with her the arrangements for Paul’s sleepover on Friday.

Continued…….

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

More legal legwork

As promised, I did some online trawling to find best-fit, best-buy software companies who could provide the types of third-party software we needed. There were more than I’d expected. I made notes and compiled spreadsheets to compare the offerings. I read reviews and, once I’d whittled my list down to just three  of each type, I bookmarked them as favourites on my laptop to show Susie. I phoned her and she invited me to come to her house on Thursday afternoon and to bring my running gear so that we could look at the offerings together and then go to the park after tea. She said that she’d do something for us to eat.

Once I’d finished the online research and my phone call to Susie, it was lunchtime. I made myself a sandwich and added a banana which I ate while re-reading the interview invitation. Only an hour before I’d need to leave to get there on time.

I decided to go by train: it would save time finding a parking space in case there were no visitor parking slots at the company, and it would give me more time to prepare mentally. In the event, the interview seemed to go quite well. The interviewer was the Director of Finance, a woman who was still probably in her twenties. Her probing was friendly but thorough and testing. Nevertheless,  I felt that I’d answered all her questions fully, and she appeared to be someone whom I could be happy to work for and with. She promised that she’d write within the next few days to let me know how I’d got on. From what I gathered there were only six of us being interviewed – I didn’t meet any of them.

The following morning, I had another email from my solicitor. He was still getting correspondence from Helen’s solicitor about the financial agreement. He attached a draft of a reply he was proposing to send and asked for my approval. His letter seemed to be a plea for sense.

In the email, he argued that I was jobless and almost broke; Helen, on the other hand did, at least, have a regular part-time job. He noted that I’d been scrupulous in making childcare payments and that it would be wrong for me to face the risk of having to sell the house if that were necessary in order to divide our assets. He justified this conclusion on the grounds that Paul would need somewhere suitable to stay with me whenever it should become necessary, preferably close to my present home. He added that the current custody arrangements did not provide for emergencies. He pointed out that if I were forced to sell my house, I’d have to rent somewhere to live, with no guarantee that I’d be able to afford accommodation nearby or suitable for Paul to stay. He cautioned that I’d, almost certainly, be unable to afford  a mortgage to buy another property in my present circumstances. He further stated that there was not much equity in the house, substantial card debt from the marriage and considerable legal bills still to come. He concluded that, given the state of my finances, and that Helen had already taken with her half of the savings account balance, the division of assets as it stands should stand unchanged so as to enable both parties to move on without undue debt.

I had no idea whether his letter would persuade Helen, but I agreed that it was worth a try and I emailed him by return to give my approval.

Featured Photo

Today my featured photo is another from Sefton Park Liverpool, this time showing the bandstand.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera and 15-30 mm f/2.8 lens @ 30 mm and f/11. Shutter speed was 1/50 secs and the ISO 400. The shot was taken handheld and post processed in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Twenty-Seven Part Two

…..Previously

We arrived in good time to find a parking slot. I advised Paul to keep his fleece on until we were ready for the run to begin. He was amazed how many people were there, and the way that some runners were dressed had him creased with laughter. We made our way to the bandstand. I’d registered and had a barcode printed for him during the week. I asked him to take it and look after it to have it read at the Finish point. This made him even more excited. He was showing a competitive streak but I explained that I couldn’t run as fast as many of the people there, that he’d have to stay with me, and that the only person that he was competing with was himself.

Continued…….

As we were talking, Susie, Jenny and Debbie joined us. I introduced Paul to them. They bent down to his level and made a fuss of him, telling him to look after his aged father and that he was not to leave me too far behind. They made me sound like an ambulance case. Leaving our fleeces at the bandstand, we walked together to the Start point, where they were joined by Jake. He admired Paul’s running gear and made an instant friend.

My time that day was about the same as the previous week though my position had slipped a little. I was out of breath and Paul was showing the advantage of youth. When we were on the way home, Paul was saying how much he’d enjoyed it, asking to do it again and saying how much he liked my friends. He was going to tell all his friends at school about it. I asked him not to invite them because there wasn’t room in the car and they might hold us up if they weren’t ready in time. Debbie had given Jenny a lift home.

When we got home, we both had showers and changed before having a bite to eat. We arrived at his new home with Helen at eleven-forty-five, fifteen minutes to spare. He said that he’d see me the following morning and would bring his PlayStation.

On the Sunday, Helen brought Paul to the door: a first since The Split. He raced past me into the house with his PlayStation with just a, “Hi, Dad”. She thanked me for getting him back on time and asked whether I’d want to take him again next time I went to the Parkrun. I asked her would she object. She laughed and said it would be fine. I hadn’t seen her laugh since Christmas. She said that Paul had been full of it when he got back and had told her all about my women friends making a fuss of him. I told her that her dress looked nice: apparently Cliff had bought it for her on her birthday. I hadn’t sent her a card: it hadn’t seemed appropriate in the circumstances.

The day was fairly uneventful. The weather was fine and dry and I was able to persuade him to come to the local park with me before he started with his virtual games. He played on the swings and climbing equipment as usual, but I noticed him looking at the people jogging around the lake.

He asked me if they were people who did the Parkrun as we had. I explained to him that there are hundreds of Parkrun groups around the country and that there was probably one each week in the park that we were in near his home. His curiosity was piqued and he started with a child’s inexhaustible list of questions. I had to explain why the joggers were doing it when there was no Parkrun taking place that morning. I told him that people, older people in particular, need to train in order to get their bodies used to that type of exercise.

He then wanted to know if I ever went training to get ready for Saturday mornings and I told him about the Thursday night group. He asked if I was fit now because of the training and I had to tell him that I’d only been training a couple of times.

“Is that why we didn’t win?” he asked.

I admitted that I was much too unfit yet.

“But you will be, won’t you Daddy if you train more?”

I said that I was probably too old to get back to that level of fitness. He was disappointed. I told him that if he trained regularly, he could win one day.

“Why do we go to Altrincham, Daddy? Why can’t we do the Parkrun here?” he asked.

I was stumped for a moment, but eventually opted for honesty. I told him that it was Susie who’d persuaded me to begin jogging and that I liked training with her. I dreaded him asking me whether his mum and Cliff could jog with us, but his attention had moved to the ice cream man’s van.

When Helen picked him up that evening, I confirmed with her the arrangements for Paul’s sleepover on Friday.

Featured Photo

Today my featured photo was taken at my home. This was my first attempt at doing an ‘open-book’ photo. I took the photograph at night with the curtains closed and the only lighting was provided by the two candles. The Bible is open at Psalm 56 – ‘Salvation for the Gentiles’ and the page is marked by a rosary and a card bookmark. Other props are the cross and the books – a different version of the Bible together with missals for Sundays and Weekdays. I’ve posted a colour version of this photograph before in my blog but I thought that it would be nice to show it in black and white.

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera and 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens @ 31 mm and f/8. Shutter speed was 30 secs and the ISO 100. The shot was mounted on a tripod and post processed in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Twenty-Seven Part One

…..Previously

I asked her was this her night for going out with the girls to discuss dating exploits. She looked sharply at me and asked why I asked. I told her that I remembered what she’d said when we’d met at her house, the day after Valentine’s Day.

“Oh, my God,” she said, “Fancy you remembering that.”

She told me that she would be meeting her friends as usual, but that they didn’t only talk about dating site experiences.

As, she got out of the car at her house, she thanked me for the lift, smiled and told me to ‘keep the faith’.

Continued…….

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Training and Parkrun

The nights were drawing out nicely now and the weather was slowly improving. It was a fine dry night with little wind. Looking at the clouds, we’d get a lovely sunset. More and more trees were coming into bud. Walking across the park, I looked down at my wrist device that I’d bought since the most recent Parkrun to check the settings. I still wasn’t properly used to it. I didn’t understand how it could tell me how well I’d slept.

I joined Jake and Jenny who were slowly jogging their way around. They asked whether Susie was coming. I told them that I hadn’t seen her since Monday but that she’d been intending to come. They picked up their pace and I slowly found a rhythm to manage to keep up with them. Jenny shouted something, encouraging me on and, as we reached the far side of the park from where I’d left the car, Susie joined us. She ran alongside me and acted as a pacemaker for me. By the time we all finished, I was sweating, breathing hard and I could feel my heart racing.

Susie said that I’d have to work harder than that to keep pace with Paul. Jenny asked who Paul was. I explained between gulps for breath. Jake and Jenny were in stitches laughing at me. There was no point in me trying to look dignified. Susie put an arm round me and told me to take no notice. I knew that I’d be remembering that gesture of solidarity all the way home.

In the car, as I took Jenny home, at one point she referred back to our conversation of the previous week, asking was I sure that Susie and I were just good friends because that was not how it appeared to her. I assured her that nothing was going on – or was likely to be.

On the Friday evening, Helen dropped Paul off about seven. He had his pyjamas and teddy bear in his bag plus some clothes for when I dropped him off the following day. I checked her new address with her and she gave me directions. She reminded him of her noon deadline for him to be back with her after the Parkrun. There was no mention of Susie and I didn’t ask after Cliff.

Paul was excited about having a sleepover in his own bed. After he’d told me all about school that week, we watched some television together before his bedtime.

We were both awake bright and early on the Saturday morning. The Sun was shining, the birds were singing and there was only a slight breeze as we set off to Altrincham. Paul had never been out that way before and had lots of questions about places and things that we passed.

The journey was pleasant in the sunshine and the early morning Sun, strobing through the roadside trees cast long shadows of them across the road ahead. At one point, a fox ran across in front of us. It was the first one Paul had ever seen.

We arrived in good time to find a parking slot. I advised Paul to keep his fleece on until we were ready for the run to begin. He was amazed how many people were there, and the way that some runners were dressed had him creased with laughter. We made our way to the bandstand. I’d registered and had a barcode printed for him during the week. I asked him to take it and look after it to have it read at the Finish point. This made him even more excited. He was showing a competitive streak but I explained that I couldn’t run as fast as many of the people there, that he’d have to stay with me, and that the only person that he was competing with was himself.

Featured Photo

Today my featured photo was taken at New Brighton beach on the Wirral Peninsula of Merseyside. The image is of the Perch Rock lighthouse, mid afternoon.

The Exif data are as follows: Samsung Galaxy A51 smartphone @ 4.6 mm and f/2 Shutter speed was 1/640secs and the ISO 32. The shot was mounted on a tripod and post processed in Lightroom Classic.

Going Forward – Chapter Twenty-Six Part Two

…..Previously

Susie and I looked at each other, eyes wide-open in shock, as we took in the news

I looked at Tony and asked him how he felt about soldiering on. He’d received an invitation to a job interview the previous Saturday. If he were successful, he’d be working for a large company that produced a well-known range of breakfast cereals. He’d also come to think that he wouldn’t have much to contribute and that Susie and I seemed to have got the development pretty well nailed, even if just the two of us continued.

Continued…….

There didn’t seem much more to say, so the meeting broke up, everybody wishing each other well in their futures. Susie and I collected our things together, thanked the others for their efforts to date, and left them to it. I left feeling totally deflated, totally frustrated. I asked Susie if she wanted a lift. She pointed out that I’d have to drive well out of my way home. I said that it would give us a chance to discuss what had been said. She agreed.

Once we were back in the street and in the car, we just sat there, speechless for a while, looking out of the windscreen at the street ahead, each with our own internal struggles to deal with that development. At last Susie turned to me.

“Is that it then?”

“Do you want it to be ‘it’?” I asked. I had a similar feeling in my insides to that I’d felt on the day that Helen had said that she’d be leaving me.

“I need to think,” she said, “Can you drive for a bit? Give me a bit longer?”

Once we were underway, Susie asked me for my impressions. I told her that it had seemed to me for a while that neither Ben nor Jason wanted to get too involved. I’d felt no real sense of enthusiasm or urgency from either of them. It had been as though they were distancing themselves from what we were trying to do. I was more surprised about Beverly’s announcement, but it did explain why she’d turned up unexpectedly at the meeting. Susie said that she’d felt exactly the same and was glad that she wasn’t the only one thinking that way. I asked her if she’d decided what she wanted to do now that there were just the two of us. Again, she said that she’d been wondering about that prospect too, as she’d listened to them. She put my question back to me. I told her that I still wanted to see the idea come to fruition but that I couldn’t do it alone.

She momentarily placed her hand over mine as it rested on the gearstick and said that she felt the same. I felt the almost erotic shock of her soft palm on the back of my hand and mentally willed her not to remove it too quickly.

Susie sighed and sat back, resting her neck on the headrest.

I told her that, unlike the others, I could see a definite role for myself in the venture, but that there wouldn’t, couldn’t be a business without her.

She asked how I’d see my role.

I said that I could help with the development of initial online promotion, together with advertising in local newspapers to get us up and running. I said that I saw myself having an ongoing role visiting any companies who’d expressed interest – to talk through with them things like the nature of their business, their expectations and their budget. I told Susie that, if I could get agreed specifications and prices from those visits, she’d then be able to produce something bespoke to fit their needs. I suggested that we could tailor a training programme to provide an after-sales support service. We’d make a great team.

“Do you really think that we could do it all on our own?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” I assured her.

She reached across, smiled at me, took my left hand and thanked me. She told me that she’d hoped that I would say that. I think that what had happened in the meeting had really shaken her confidence. She seemed relieved that what she’d done hadn’t been a waste of time. I was relieved for a much more selfish reason. The end of the group project was something I could cope with. I knew that I’d be able to get a job of some type. The thought of possibly never seeing Susie again was of a wholly different order. I had no claim on her – for me she would be forever unattainable, but simply being with her, seeing her smile and hearing her voice had come to have a value greater than I’d realised until only minutes before.

On the way back we discussed the third- party bits that Jason and Ben had mentioned and I said that I’d do some online checking.

A bit further along, she asked if I’d be going to the training session on Thursday. I told her that I would, stiff as I was.

I then told her that I’d be bringing Paul with me on the Saturday morning: that I’d noticed other youngsters running with their mums or dads. I’d even noticed one dad pushing a pram with a baby in it as he’d overtaken me. I said that I’d obviously take longer to complete the circuit: Paul’s six-years old legs were younger and fitter but not as long as mine. Susie said that his lungs were younger too though, so I might struggle to keep up with him. She said that she looked forward to meeting him.

I also learned a bit more about her. She told me that on Wednesday evenings, she often played netball. I said that it was no wonder she looked so trim with all that exercise. She looked at me, laughing, and said that flattery would get me nowhere, but she said that I could come and watch if I’d like. I said that I’d like to but she wasn’t going to persuade me to join in. She explained to me, in my ignorance, that netball was not a girls-only thing. There were increasing numbers of male teams internationally and some male friends, spouses, children and so forth often came to cheer her team on.

I asked her was this her night for going out with the girls to discuss dating exploits. She looked sharply at me and asked why I asked. I told her that I remembered what she’d said when we’d met at her house, the day after Valentine’s Day.

“Oh, my God,” she said, “Fancy you remembering that.”

She told me that, yes, she would be meeting her friends as usual, but that they didn’t only talk about dating site experiences.

As, she got out of the car at her house, she thanked me for the lift, smiled and told me to ‘keep the faith’.

Featured Photo

Today my featured photo was taken at Meols beach on the Wirral Peninsula of Merseyside. The image is of a boat on the beach, mid afternoon. The boat’s name “Womack” can be seen clearly at the rear of the boat.,

The Exif data are as follows: Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera with a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens @ 34 mm and f/8 Shutter speed was 1/1000 secs and the ISO 100. The shot was mounted on a tripod and post processed in Lightroom Classic.