Kate has had it with men – all men – until, that is, a certain someone turns up at the party…
I made the decision at 2.33am precisely, which is a stupid time to make any decision because nothing is working properly at that time.
My mind was, of course, but my brain was strangely dormant, and common sense definitely in a coma.
Most normal people are asleep at 2.33 in the morning, but if you can’t sleep you might as well plan the rest of your life. Forty is a sort of crossroads moment. I may not be about to become forty myself, but my big sister is, and her life is definitely sorted.
As for me, I’ve spent the last twenty silent minutes in bed considering whether “boyfriend” or “man friend” is the appropriate term to use when you are in your late thirties. Whatever, I have decided I definitely do not need one in my life any more.
I feel swamped by my sister’s thoughtful, perfect husband of four years, and all my friends who seem to have a knack of picking the right one.
Me – I have Text Man. That’s what I call him since the final message he sent me. Hi Kate. Thanks for last night. See you around sometime.
I was actually hopeful of this one, and annoyingly growing quite fond of him.
Hence the decision at 2.33am precisely to forget men altogether and concentrate on other things.
“Other things” didn’t take long to make an appearance in my new life. Thoughtful husband of four years was planning a party for my sister Sara, and like all perfect husbands had even arranged a babysitter for their two-year-old twins.
“Can you do some plates of sandwiches for me, Kate?” Sara asked me. “And one of your quiches? Two maybe, if you have time.”
“Yes, that’s fine.”
“And could you possibly help decorate the hall, Kate? That would be great.”
I smile and nod. I have plenty of time now to cook, decorate and do anything required for Sara’s big day.
I have no ties. I am free.
Silently I repeat this to myself, determined to see the positive in this new situation.
“It’s no good getting upset, Kate. These things happen. Plenty more fish in the sea.”
I roll my eyes at my happily settled, well-meaning sister.
“Oh, I haven’t heard that one before.”
“You know what I mean. Anyone who finishes a relationship by text isn’t worth the worry.”
She smiles at me then. The sort of smile married women smile at single ones.
“And I’ve got a rather dishy man coming to the party. Just your type – intelligent, good looking, funny…”
“Of course not! He’s like you, just hasn’t found the right person.”
Great. Two losers. I push my initial thoughts away and smile back.
“Well, we’ll see.”
“We will indeed.” She’s grinning a bit too much now.
“Right Sara, let’s just get one thing straight. I’m not looking for a man of any description. OK? So please don’t start trying to fix me up with all your desperate unmarried friends.
“I absolutely don’t need a man. I am perfectly happy as I am.”
“Of course you are.”
I’m not sure what’s worse. Her smile, or the placating voice she uses for the twins now being directed at me.
I decide to treat myself to a new dress for the party.
Naturally, as I have no one to look nice for, I find the perfect dress in the first shop I look in. Clingy, without being too clingy. Red, but not too red. A statement dress that screams, Look what you’ve missed out on, Mr Text Man!
I have a wry giggle to myself then. Text Man actually wasn’t keen on the colour red. He said it was cheap-looking.
Well, I can assure you Mr Text Man, this dress isn’t cheap. In fact I probably shouldn’t be spending so much money on something I’ll hardly ever wear. But being dispatched by text message does that sort of thing to a girl. I pay, leave the shop, and am furious with myself for checking my phone. Just in case.
The following Saturday morning I cut and fill a mountain of assorted sandwiches. I also make three quiches, a dozen fairy cakes and a fruit crumble.
“You used to bake when you were a little girl if you were upset,” my mum says.
“Mum, I am not upset. I’m just in the mood for baking.”
The twins are screaming and running round the hall as we hang banners and balloons, while Sara, in jeans and sweater looks fresh and pretty and not forty at all.
Glancing down at my joggers and old tee shirt, I suddenly feel like the older sister instead of being only thirty-six. Thank goodness I invested in the red dress.
By the time we leave, the hall looks amazing and everything is ready.
For some reason I take extra care with my hair, curling the dead straightness into soft waves. I wear my highest heels and spray a bit of sparkle on my neck and arms.
I practise taking smaller steps because the dress is a bit tight – I have a brief worry about whether I will be able to dance – then off I go to the Ball!
Who needs a fairy godmother when you are enjoying being single and free?
His name is Charles, and why Sara thought we would be so suited is totally beyond me.
She introduces us within ten minutes of my arrival and now I’m stuck with the most boring man in the universe.
To be fair, if I was interested in politics, the state of the environment, and why we hold council elections, I might find him terribly interesting.
Unfortunately I’m not, and surely most girls would agree these are not the greatest chat up lines or topics to discuss at a party.
He’s quite good looking, has nice teeth, and is wearing a quality suit. All good on the surface, but I really need to be rescued from this one-way tedious conversation.
“Could you get me another drink please?” I ask him, smiling my best smile.
He springs into action. “Of course. White wine, isn’t it?”
“Gin and tonic actually.” If you’d been at all interested in me, instead of all that boring waffle, you may have noticed.
As soon as he leaves, I slip across the crowded dance floor and attach myself to a group of friends. Soon I’m laughing and chatting with them. This is what I need.
This is who I am. I absolutely do not need a boyfriend or man friend or whatever term is appropriate.
“Going well, is it?” Sara rushes up. Her face is flushed and bright and she looks as happy as I have ever seen her. “With Charles? Going well is it?”
I can’t spoil her night. I smile and nod at her.
Someone grabs her then and we all follow her on to the dance floor.
I was right about the dress, it’s not the easiest to dance in, but I shuffle around in the crush of people and gradually find myself beginning to relax.
“Good job you’re wearing red! I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
Charles is back, gin and tonic in hand.
Without asking he takes my arm and leads me off the floor. I’m afraid the gin will slop and spill, so follow him to a table.
“Thank you Charles. I think I’ll carry on dancing now if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, I rather like a dance. My grandfather was a champion ballroom dancer in… let me see what year was it? I can’t be completely sure but it was in the forties I believe. He met my grandmother at a dance hall and then they both joined the local debating society and hey presto! “
“They got married.”
“Funny how things work out, isn’t it?” he adds, smiling at me. I smile faintly back. It certainly is.
I turn quickly. What’s that voice doing here? What is Text Man doing at my sister’s fortieth birthday party?
“What are you doing here?”
Charles is looking at him too.
“Is this man bothering you?”
I didn’t know men actually said things like that in this century.
Text Man – aka Richard – pushes him to one side.
“Don’t be so ridiculous. She’s my girlfriend. Who are you anyway?”
“This is Charles.” I say grandly. “And I am not your girlfriend. You dumped me if you remember.”
“That was a mistake.”
“Yes, it was.” Goodness, it must be the small gin inside me that is finding a voice. “Your biggest mistake probably. Shall we have that dance now, Charles?”
“I need to talk to you, Kate. Let’s go outside for a minute.”
Charles is looking at me. Richard is looking at me. It’s a no brainer really. After all, Charles and I are never going to be an item.
“OK.” I finally say. “But just for a minute.”
The cold hits me as soon as I step outside and I shiver in my flimsy red dress. Richard offers me his jacket but I refuse, of course.
“Nice dress,” he says.
“You don’t like red.”
“Well, I don’t like the colour. But it’s still a nice dress.”
“What do you want anyway?”
“Kate – listen to me. I only realised what had happened when you didn’t turn up. Then I rang your mother and she told me where you were.”
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Did you really think I didn’t want to see you any more?”
I fold my arms tightly against both him and the chill.
“Your message was quite clear, Richard. See you around sometime. That’s pretty clear to me.”
“No, it wasn’t. That’s the point. Look.” He scrolls down his phone and holds it up to me. “Read it.”
Hi Kate. Thanks for last night. See you around sometime after 7 – depending on when I can get off work. Got a surprise for you! Xxx
“My phone’s rubbish. The whole message didn’t go for some reason. I can’t believe you thought I was ending it – and like that!”
He pulls me towards him then, and for some reason I don’t stop him. Maybe it’s because I’m cold, or maybe it’s because it feels sort of right.
“I’m crazy about you, Kate, why else would I book a table to celebrate our six month anniversary?”
“You booked a table?”
“Italian. Your favourite.”
“It’s my sister’s birthday, so I couldn’t have gone anyway.”
“I’ve already re-booked for next week. If you’re not busy with uptight man Charles, that is.”
He’s grinning down at me now.
“Charles is very nice.” I say. “I’ve learned a lot tonight about politics and global warming. He’s very intelligent.”
“Yeah, he looks it.”
The music suddenly stops and loud shouts and cheers come from the hall. Darren, my brother-in-law, calls from a window.
“Hey you two, get inside! Sara’s about to blow her candles out!”
“We’d better rejoin the party.” Richard says. “Do you think it would matter if I gatecrashed?”
“I daresay no one would mind.”
He smiles and takes my hand. “Come on, let’s go and sing Happy Birthday.”
Charles looks up as we walk hand-in-hand through the door, and I’m pleased to see he’s standing next to a girl in a black dress who appears enthralled by his every
I smile apologetically at him and he nods politely back.
Darren grabs the microphone to lead the singing, someone shouts, “three cheers for Sara!” and it all goes a bit mad and crazy for a moment or two.
Richard slips his arm around me and joins in a raucous rendition of Happy Birthday To Sara.
I laugh then, knowing finally that the decision I made at 2.33am precisely was right. I most definitely do not need a boyfriend or man friend in my life.
Not now I’ve got Richard, anyway.
Our My Weekly Favourites series of short fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.