A Long Read just for you…
It looks as if Jill’s triumph might turn out to be an own goal…
Author Jo Styles
“Oh no, Auntie Clara – I couldn’t!” Jill protested down the phone. “I’ve had enough of sulking young men about the place with Jason. Besides, isn’t it all a bit demeaning?”
“He won’t be a sulking young man. He’ll be a six-foot-tall, grinning, half-naked young man wearing a dicky-bow, who’ll do whatever you ask for the whole afternoon… within reason, of course.”
Jill should have known that arguing with Clara would be a waste of time. She’d organised the charity fundraiser with the same no-nonsense attitude.
“And of course it’s not demeaning,” Clara added. “It’s just a bit of fun.”
“Who’s that?” Jill’s boyfriend Jason skulked by. He’d been skulking a lot lately – ever since he’d lost his job, in fact.
Jill placed her hand over the receiver. “It’s Auntie Clara. I won the raffle last weekend. The Man-For-A-Day one.”
Jason gawped. “The… the what?” he stuttered. “Tell her to forget it.”
She glared at him, recalling his latest declaration of undying love for her. “We’ll have to put the wedding back. We’ll never be able to afford it now,” he’d said with what she was sure had been relief after his fourteenth job rejection.
“You know what? It’s fine,” she said to Clara. “When will my man be here? Saturday afternoon? And he can do anything I like? Wonderful. Jason will be at the football. He never misses a game.” She smiled into Jason’s frown.
“I’d go mad if I didn’t have the football to look forward to,” he always said as if his sanity depended solely on the fourth division team he worshipped. It certainly had nothing to do with her endless patience with his mood swings.
Later, as he moped around the garden, she heard him whispering to one of his friends on his mobile. “So, do you know anything about this idiot who raffled himself off at the fundraiser? He works for what agency? They pay him how much?”
Jill smiled to herself. This was one football match he was going to regret going to, she’d make sure of it.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
On Saturday afternoon she fished out the original flyer advertising the fundraiser and left it on the kitchen table. She’d barely glanced at it before, but now she saw that the man in the photo looked all muscles, smile and fake tan.
“Isn’t he stunning?” she said to Jason. “I’d forgotten men can smile.” She’d plastered on some make-up and squeezed herself into her skimpiest party dress.
“What are you all dressed up for?”
“There’s a photographer coming round from the local paper. Auntie Clara’s drumming up the publicity It’s not too tight, is it?” She spun around, catwalk-style.
Jason started to look flustered.
“I think we need to have a talk when I get home from the match,” he said.
“A talk? What about?”
“Oh you know… Us.”
He left it at that. He collected up his things and headed out the door.
Was he going to cancel the wedding completely? She hurried in his wake, staring at him from the porch as he strode away.
She remembered the day they’d met. He’d been having a kick-around with his mates in the local park. The ball had spun right by her. She’d smiled. So had he. He’d forgotten all about the game. He’d been so funny and easy to talk to. It was the first and only time she could recall that he’d put her before The Beautiful Game.
Us? Why had he said that? Was this the end of the match?
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
“Sorry love, there was a mix-up at the agency,” said the man who appeared on her doorstep an hour later. “Young Ricky’s double-booked, so they sent me instead. I’m Sid.”
Sid was her stud?
He smiled a very wrinkled smile. He was at least seventy-five. He wore a pair of dress trousers and a dicky-bow, his bare pigeon chest a strange deep mahogany colour. Those wood stains really do exactly what they say on the tin, Jill found herself thinking.
She’d planned to have her stud peel her grapes, pour her wine and maybe even run out at lunchtime to buy fish and chips. Not highly ambitious things for her man-for-the-day but then she wasn’t quite sure what she was supposed to do with a spare man.
“Can I come in? My tan’s topped up enough,” Sid said.
“Don’t you have a shirt or something?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m only dressed like this for the press. Once the photos are done with I’m putty in your hands.” He winked at her. “Whatever you need doing, I’ll be at it like a shot.”
The press arrived. He was a photographer from the local rag called Gary. He saw Sid’s sunken chest and dicky-bow and winced.
Er, not your day is it, love?” he whispered as they all stood in the lounge. “Stand a bit closer, Sid. She won’t bite.”
Sid stank of garlic. It was good for his immune system, he insisted. He grabbed Jill round the waist and pulled her close while Gary clicked away.
“I need a drink,” Jill said as she slumped into a chair after it was all over. She pulled at her uncomfortable dress, wishing she didn’t feel like an overdressed idiot.
“Where’s the bar?” Sid asked.
“No… I mean a cup of tea.” She pointed towards the kitchen. “You’re putty, remember?”
He shuffled off. She sat alone, the word “us” buzzing round her head like a rabid wasp. Had Jason met somebody else? Had he rediscovered all his charm and wit and used it on another girl? Had he actually managed to smile?
How could anybody else love him the way I do – even when he looks like a basset hound with a stomach cramps? she thought miserably.
Sid returned with a tea tray, a rather beautifully laid out tea tray actually. He’d even added a rose plucked from the garden. It lay next to the teapot, cups and a plateful of chocolate biscuits.
“Oh Sid,” she said. “That’s lovely.”
“I do this kind of thing all the time,” He admitted as he put everything down on the coffee table. “Make tea… strip.”
He laughed. “Just pulling your leg, love. I do DIY and gardening mostly. I’m very popular with ladies my age. I do all the heavy lifting they can’t manage.”
“That’s good. Stripping’s all a bit demeaning, isn’t it?”
He looked shocked. “The young lads I know would argue with you there. It’s all good, clean fun. Or near enough anyway. Signing up with the agency was the best thing I ever did. I also do some acting work.” He puffed up his chest.
“I’ve been in EastEnders. Well, the back of my head has.” He smiled a huge glowing smile. “You ought to think about signing up yourself. You’re a pretty girl – you’d get plenty of kissogram work.”
“Oh no!” Jill laughed. “It’s not for me. I’m far too shy.”
“Oh, it’s good for that too,” Sid said. “I had no confidence at all when I started, now look at me.” He rubbed his hands together. “Right then, what do you want me to do next?”
“Oh… a bit of dusting, polish the furniture, vacuum the cat.”
He laughed. “Just point me in the direction of your polish, your Hoover and your cat then, and I’ll get started.”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
She watched Sid shuffle about dusting the bookcase. He was still half naked. He looked so happy in his dicky-bow, she didn’t want to spoil it for him.
I want to be just like him when I get old, she thought, only without the sunken chest.
Just then he knocked something from the bookcase. It fluttered like confetti to her feet.
Sid peered down at it. So did she.
It was a ticket. A ticket to a football match. She gasped.
Jason’s forgotten his ticket. He won’t be able to get into the ground. He’ll miss the match. His head will explode. He’ll have kittens.”
“Who’s Jason?” Sid asked.
She explained about Jason at the speed of a freight train charging down a hill while Sid blinked and tried to keep up. How Jason used to laugh, how he used to make silly jokes and smile. She told him about the plans they’d made, the kids they’d have.
Sid didn’t say a word, not even when she reached the part about how Jason had left in a huff with the words “We need to talk about us.”
He stood examining the ticket with eyes full of sorrow.
“This ticket’s for next week’s game, love. There’s isn’t a United game this week. Your boyfriend’s gone somewhere – but not to a football match.”
“He… he’s what?” Jill checked the date on the ticket herself then she collapsed into a chair and covered her face with her hands. “He’s… he’s seeing somebody else, isn’t he? It really is over.”
“Now, now,” Sid said. “Calm down. The game’s not over until the final whistle.”
That was all she needed – a football analogy. This was all stupid football’s fault in the first place. It had always come between them. Why was Jason’s team called United when all it did was tear them apart?
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Jason walked through the door that night just as Sid walked out. Sid pressed his card into Jill’s hand. “Call me if you need me,” he whispered, giving Jason a venomous glance. It seemed her Man-for-a-Day had turned into a friend for life.
Jason frowned as the door closed. “That was your stud?”
“His name’s Sid and he’s lovely. A real gentleman.”
Did Jason look relieved? No, she was imagining it. The same way she’d imagined he loved her and they’d get married some day soon.
“I need a shower,” Jason said, skirting by her before she could say another word. He stank like a perfume factory. He all but had a vapour trail. His arms looked oddly oily too.
She tried to stop him but he ran up the stairs like a scolded whippet.
“What’s going on, Jason?” she asked through the bathroom door as the shower started to run.
“What do you mean?” came his echoing reply. “I went to the game.”
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Five minutes later he reappeared, looking sheepish, a towel wrapped round his middle. He might well look sheepish. A very soggy dicky bow was tied about his throat. She pointed at it and slapped a hand over her mouth.
“Oh,” he said awkwardly. “I… I forgot that was there.”
“You didn’t! You haven’t!”
She knew where he’d been. She remembered his amazed tone when he’d called his friend. “They pay him how much?”
“I… I was at the football. Like I told you,” he stuttered lamely.
Of course you were, Jason. It was the dicky-bow championship final. So who won?”
I did, she thought. He didn’t want to put the wedding back, so he’d gone out and landed himself a job, a job that, according to Sid, will boost his sagging ego. A job… her face fell… Stripping?
She gulped. “We need to talk,” she said. “We need to have a very, very long talk… about us.”
“I was going to do that anyway,” he blurted. “I knew you wouldn’t like it – but I didn’t do anything stark naked, honest.”
She held up her hands “Don’t… don’t tell me. I don’t even want to think about it right now. For now I just want to remember that whatever you did, you did it for us.”
A sudden relieved grin transformed his face and he whispered into her ear.
“So I’m your hero now, the man of the match? There was five minutes of extra time left, it was one-all, and I needed to score the winning goal?”
It was odd how he made that sound sexy. Very sexy.
“I might need you to explain the off-side rule,” she told him.
Maybe football wasn’t such a bad old game, she thought, as she grabbed him by his soggy bow-tie and kissed him.
It might even be a beautiful game if you played it with love.
A Word From The Author…
“Football’s my inspiration. We love it, don’t we? No? We all like to support the ones we love, though, I’m sure of it. We might even have bought them a scarf!”