Jesse lunged for the phone in the hope it might stop the ringing in her head.
'Yeah,' she answered sleepily.
'Hi babe, it's me! You said give you a call and I didn't want to wait. What're you up to this afternoon?' Jesse found herself distracted by Chloe, her three year old Rottweiler, who was happily chewing the solid dry skin off Dotty's feet. It was nauseating, but it made for strangely compelling viewing.
Babe? She pulled at her memory – who was this chirpy guy who had the audacity to call her babe? She opted for honesty.
'I have a hangover.’
'How about I come and pick you up at two o'clock and we go out?’
She was getting a vague memory of a nice-looking bloke with blond hair who had been talking to her in the nightclub. She couldn't remember much but found an excitement building in the pit of her stomach which could only mean he was worth a second visit. Trying to sound a bit more energised, Jesse said 'Sounds good, let me give you the address.’
'You told me last night, , I know where it is. See you at two, babe,' he said then hung up. Although she could remember he was good-looking, a PE instructor or something similar, therefore presumably with a good body, she was irritated by the babe remarks. Still, she could put a stop to that at two o'clock; she was a lot of things, but she was no man's babe.
'Dotty, do you have to let Chloe do that? It really turns my stomach. You really should go to a chiropodist and get your feet sorted, they're disgusting.’
With a look of pure pleasure on her face Dotty replied, 'My feet are too bad to go to a chiropodist. I'd have to sort them out myself first and I haven't actually seen my feet since 1986!’
Jesse giggled. 'You may not be able to see your feet but it doesn't stop you picking your manky toenails and flicking them on my bloody carpet. Chloe! Stop that now!’
Dotty pouted. 'Spoilsport. Make us a cup of Earl Grey, love.'
'On the provision that you tell me what you remember about that bloke I was with last night,' moaned Jesse. While Jesse was in the kitchen searching for a cup that wasn't chipped - Dotty was particular about some things - Dotty told her that her date's name was Richard and he was indeed a good catch - funny, good-looking, athletic, had lots of money and a great car.
Jesse was in high spirits as she sunk into her bath of Radox and Bergamot oil, sipping her tea followed by an aspirin chaser and a Berkeley Menthol cigarette. Dotty on the other hand was downstairs watching Hollyoaks with a look of pure glee on her face, not just because Chloe had returned to her feet and was now licking in between her toes, but because of the web of little white lies she had woven to Jesse.
'God forgive me,' she prayed under her breath while rolling a Cadbury Creme Egg around her lips, getting ready to dig her tongue into the delicious yellow and white goo. Had Jesse seen the smug look on Dotty's face she would have realised there was going to be a problem with her date.
Unfortunately, she hadn't.
Dotty raced into the kitchen when the doorbell rang at five to two, as she would never have been able to control herself if she’d seen the look on Jesse's face when she answered the door to Richard. Jesse had been sitting on the bed in her bedroom for ten minutes waiting for Richard to arrive. She wouldn't have it look as if she was ready and waiting for a man if he came calling, so she came skipping down the stairs at the sound of the bell, shouting 'Hang on!' She grabbed her leather jacket from behind the door and swung the front door open to reveal a rather chubby-looking, short, ginger-haired boy with a childish grin on his face. She took in his fluffy chin, lifeless eyes, wonky teeth, big ears and too-large gold necklace and still managed to smile politely and say, 'Hi Richard.’ The door closed heavily behind her, and she left her good spirits inside as she walked to his battered Suzuki Vitara jeep. When he got straight into the driver’s seat, instead of opening her door for her, Jesse erased the first of his performance brownie points from her mental checklist. Putting on her seatbelt, she asked, 'Where are we going, then?'
'I don't know. Where do you want to go?'
A look of irritation flicked across her face as she said, 'You were the one who asked me out. I thought you might've thought where you were going to take me before picking me up.’
Sensing her irritation Richard said 'Let's see where the car takes us!’ If Richard thought this act of spontaneity was going to impress her, he was wrong and she erased a couple more brownie points from her list. When he got on the M25, Jesse was curious - until he went only one junction and arrived on a road that led to . Jesse noted that he could have chopped ten minutes off the time if he’d gone through Staines Town Centre and across the bridge, but decided to keep quiet; she wasn't sure whether she was grumpy because of his inability to be original or because of her hangover.
It was a truly beautiful day. The air was crisp and the blue sky was clear of clouds, and being a Sunday there was little traffic on the roads. She was not at all surprised when Richard swung the jeep into the Harvester - it was the most unimaginative place he could possibly have taken her, and on a Sunday the place would be full of children. She ordered a Diet Coke and didn't offer to split the bill.
Richard guided her to a table at the back of the restaurant. Jesse decided she would sit near the wall on a bench, thinking Richard would sit opposite.
He didn’t. As he snuggled in next to her she could smell garlic on his breath and she tried to turn her grimace into a smile.
'So, tell me about yourself, Richard.’ Jesse hadn’t been on a date for eighteen months and had no idea of dating etiquette, so she decided to let him bore her about his cricket, the pupils to whom he taught PE, the rugby club of which he was a member and his golf handicap. She managed to look interested while tuning out completely and saying, 'Oh really, mmm, uh hu, right' whenever he paused for garlic breath. Jesse was wishing she had never answered the phone that morning and imagined herself now curled up on the sofa with Dotty eating HobNobs and watching Hollyoaks instead of being tortured with boredom by Tricky Dicky. He had been saying something about how close he was to his family, his father especially, when Jesse tuned back in.
'What about your mum and dad?’ Richard asked - his first question to her since sitting down. She seized her moment to frighten him off.
'My mum and dad have been divorced for five years, actually. Dad's a drug smuggler and is serving year two of a six-year stretch. He was caught in with two million pounds' worth of cocaine. Can you believe that? My dad! Anyway, obviously Mum left him. She's out of hospital now but still has to go to AA meetings every week. I've been taking rage counselling ever since but I've nearly got it under control now.'
Richard looked shocked and his next question was to be expected.
'So, what do you do for a living?' A complete change of subject.
'Actually I’m a singer.’ This wasn't exactly the truth. It was what she hoped she could earn a living doing whenever her CD fell into the lap of an A&R man who actually had some vision. 'I've just cut my demo CD and am in the process of sending it out.’ This did get a reaction.
'Wow, that's great! Bloody hell, you make me feel really boring compared to you.’
'Mmm,' was all Jesse could manage.
'So you're going to be famous, then. Wow!'
'Hopefully. Who knows?'
'I'll have a famous girlfriend, then, wow!'
You wish, you bloody bore, fuck off and die. Jesse smiled sweetly and kept her lips tightly closed.
'What do you want to do now, then?'
Jesse wanted to go straight home, but felt it wasn't fair. She couldn't have lived with herself if she’d made him feel bad. They had been out for less than an hour so she said 'Fancy a quick walk down the river?'
'Sounds romantic!' said Richard with a rather toothy leer, downing his Coke in one mouthful he said, 'I'll be back in a minute, I need to use the shitter,' and got up, leaving Jesse choking on her lemon. As they crossed the road to the riverbank, Jesse realised she had made a mistake in suggesting a walk, not only because he had grabbed her hand and was swinging it wildly backwards and forwards but also because there were very few people around and lots of bushes. Jesse didn't pause for breath for a full fifteen minutes, striding purposefully down the riverbank, hoping the chat would distract him from his quest, which was very obviously trying to find a quiet moment for a quick snog. Every time someone walked past and got a decent distance behind them, Richard would stop and look both ways as if checking the coast was clear. One thing Jesse made transparent as soon as they reached the riverbank was she absolutely hated public shows of affection. Every time he stopped, Jesse would exclaim, 'Oh, look at that swan...boat....flower...’ while violently removing her hand from his and striding on at speed. Jesse was quite pleased with herself for managing the whole half hour round trip with only having to hold his hand, and was pleasantly surprised when Richard came to her door first rather than his own when they returned to the jeep.
As he opened her door with one hand, he grabbed her breast with the other and lunged at her face, his tongue visibly protruding out before making contact with Jesse's clenched lips. Pushing him away with disgust, she ranted.
'I'm sorry Richard, I don't know what kind of tart you think I am but I'm not the sort of woman that goes in for kissing on a first date!’ This of course was a lie - had he been anywhere near good-looking she would have been incredibly disappointed had they not ended the afternoon with a passionate grope.
'God! I'm really sorry babe, I didn't mean to overstep the mark. After last night I didn't think you'd mind me kissing you.'
'Last night I was pissed as a fart, as I'm sure you were aware. I'm not like that normally, really. I'm sorry to have shouted but you took me by surprise and I like to take things slowly. All right?'
'Good. Shall we go, then?'
Jesse flashed him an innocent smile before turning around and stepping up into the jeep. As much as she couldn't stand the guy, it was not possible for her to be openly rude to him. Apart from the fact that she hated any kind of confrontation, she was at least five miles from home in the middle of nowhere and needed the lift - she tried her utmost never to walk anywhere. They drove back to Jesse's two-bedroomed semi in silence. He walked her to her door, gave her a peck on the cheek and said he'd call in the morning.
That was the last Richard ever saw of Jesse.
I hope you are enjoying Three Fat Singletons. The novel has been published and you can get it now on Amazon.