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Authors: Monica Porter

Raven (9 page)

BOOK: Raven
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‘Yes! How do you know?'

‘He messaged me not long ago. But I didn't respond.' I threw her a curious look. ‘Tell you about it later, darling!' she said as she splashed off through the churning water.

Reconvening in the steam room after class, Vanessa told me that she had felt there was something dubious about Charles, which was why she ignored his attempt to establish contact with her.

‘Dubious in what way?'

‘Dunno. Maybe it's just me, maybe he's really fine. But he's not my type. Anyway, you like him, so go for it.'

‘Yes I do like him.
And
he's great in bed.' I added in a more weighty tone, ‘He's the first guy I've met on that site who is proper relationship material.'

She tilted her head at me. ‘I thought you were only after a good time?'

I turned to Vanessa and shrugged. ‘Hmm. Not sure.' It was true that according to my profile I wasn't in search of a long-term relationship (the oft-cited yet elusive LTR), but would any woman turn one away, should a promising prospect unexpectedly crop up?

Then with a guffaw she regaled me with her own latest dating antics. She had been naughty and broken her own rules. ‘That guy Dennis who'd been messaging me for ages – I told you about him, right? He's the nice-looking 50-year-old sales manager – well I finally gave in and said he could take me out. We had four bottles of champagne and were getting on like a house on fire, so I let him take me home and he came in and we started snogging. He was a great kisser. And I thought, he's bloody sexy, so when he said he wanted to have sex, I said yeah why not, and off we went to the bedroom.' She took a breather for effect, and as the sweat dripped off our heads, I wondered what the others in the steam room – a muscular young man and two dumpy middle-aged Indian women – were making of her story.

‘So anyway,' she went on, ‘he took off all his clothes and his body was completely covered in
grey hair
…and I took one look and said “Ugh! Put your clothes back on, I'm not having
that
in my bed!” It was disgusting. I made him get dressed again and sent him packing. I mean –
what the fuck
– I'm not going to bed with a werewolf!'

Vanessa was such a scream.

Returning to the subject of Charles, she offered to play the little game that she sometimes indulged in with another friend of hers, who also subscribed to our dating site, whenever one of them started seeing a man they liked. They would ‘put him to the test'.

If it looked as though a relationship might be forming for either of them, the other would send a wink or message to the man involved, to see how he responded to temptation. Did he express an interest or politely refuse because he had “already found someone”? Now Vanessa said: ‘If you like I can test your Yank to find out if he's still interested in me. And I'll ask him if he's met anyone special on the site, see what he says.'

But I said no. I didn't think I wanted to know how he would respond to temptation. Following my fiasco with SuperA, I knew I mustn't mind how much time any man was spending on the site, winking and flirting, or how many dates he was going on with others. But with Charles I suspected I
would
mind, too much.

Besides Charles there was only one other I cared about and that was Pup. I was very fond of him and believed it to be reciprocated. There was a bond between us. But of course that was different. That was never going to be a ‘proper relationship'. That (as Nick Hornby would have said) was about a boy.

CHAPTER TEN

While getting ready for my second date with Charles (we were dining out at a hip Vietnamese restaurant near me), I imagined introducing him to my sons and considered how they would get on. They could hardly fail to be impressed by his many attributes. I pictured us all sitting around a dinner table, bantering, growing familiar, forming bonds. And I knew Charles would just love my smart, funny, attractive sons. He didn't have children of his own. Perhaps mine would add a valuable dimension to his life which was missing.

Of course I realised I was jumping the gun – this was only our second date, after all – but I had spent a lifetime being impetuous and I wasn't about to change now.

As I watched him amble across the street from the tube station to my car, I was struck all over again by his classic American good looks, and felt a little stab of gratification that he should be attracted to
me
. It was a warm, sunny evening in early June, he wore an open-necked shirt and I wore a fetching silk frock, we both had our shades on, and as we roared off in the direction of West Hampstead I thought we made a fine-looking pair.

Over dinner our relaxed conversation flowed effortlessly, as we were surrounded by tablefuls of animated Londoners, mostly young, enjoying the weather outside, the ambience inside, the exotic fare. This was unassuming West Hampstead at its most seductive and we were part of it all, and if I had thought about it – which I didn't – I would have realised that it was one of ‘those moments' when you are blissfully, stupidly, totally happy.

Back at my place afterwards he handed me the stiff paper bag he'd brought with him from town. ‘Something for you,' he said.

It contained a bottle of Limoncello, with a card which read: ‘Thank you for accelerating matters between us by making your true intentions known during the course of our first date…and thank you to the makers of Limoncello, for their part in the acceleration!'

I laughed and stood on my toes to give him a kiss.

That night in bed we had the ‘orgasm conversation'. (I had been through this a few times already, with others.) Charles had been applying himself with expertise and much careful attention to the chief erogenous area, but as I'd been expecting, sensuous and highly pleasurable though it all was, ‘it' didn't happen. That was because, for me, orgasms had become a very tricky number. Since splitting up with my partner, no one else seemed capable of making it happen for me. Not even dear Little Pup, who, for one so young, was surprisingly adept at the orals. Possibly it was all to do with what was inside my head…or
not
inside my head, as the case may be.

That night, more than anything, I wanted Charles to be able to perform magic. I wanted him to be the one to break through the barrier. But he couldn't. He was persistent and would have carried on, slaving away at the coalface, but I didn't want him to get bored. People in the 21
st
century didn't generally have much of an attention span.

‘Sorry,' I mumbled, as I held his shoulders and pulled him up towards me. I tried to explain. ‘The crazy thing is, it can only happen with my vibrator these days. Dunno why…' But the truth was that even my trusty vibrator had been taking an age to pull it off. Not five or ten minutes like in earlier times. But half an hour, forty-five minutes. Ridiculous! The batteries didn't last long, I can tell you.

What had caused this physiological change in me? I worried about it. If it went on like this, could I perhaps lose the ability to climax altogether?
Christ
, could I be developing the dreaded ‘Wendy syndrome'?

Wendy had been a friend of mine since our kids were in nursery school together, and over the decades we had had many a heartfelt chinwag about the great issues of life: love and relationships, marriage and divorce, sex and no sex. The usual things women talk about when their menfolk aren't there. And one of Wendy's defining characteristics was that she had never had an orgasm, and I mean
never
. She had absolutely no idea what an orgasm was like, and yet was utterly unbothered by the fact that this most basic of life's sensations had somehow passed her by.

She was with her husband Frank for more than thirty years, they had virtually been childhood sweethearts, and were in many ways a devoted couple. As Wendy often said: ‘We're best friends.' Frank was tall and well-built and attractive, with one of those craggy, lived-in faces. He gave Wendy a good life, two great kids, big house and annual holidays on the Med. But he could never give her an orgasm. She shrugged it off.

I was the reverse. I was twenty-one when I discovered this particular pleasure – a late start, but then there was no stopping me. In my early twenties I would sometimes even pop into the ladies' room at work for a quick DIY job during office hours. Five minutes and back to my desk, feeling well pleased with things. No problem.

But that was long, long ago. Now, at sixty, I was becoming orgasmically deprived. It was getting to be an ever rarer occurrence. And such hard work. I was even starting to wonder, Wendy-like, whether the orgasm wasn't perhaps an overrated biological function. Which was ironic in the extreme, because it was at precisely this time that Wendy, at long last, had her first orgasm, aged 61.

Poor Frank had been killed in a road accident and Wendy was comforted by an old family friend, who was himself single again following his break-up with his partner. Before too long Wendy and Richard had become inseparable, middle-aged lovebirds looking forward to a future together. I had never met Richard but Wendy told me all about him when she came over for supper one evening.

‘I finally get it,' she said, grinning. ‘God, I
finally
get what it's all about. I'm having the best sex of my life. Two,
three
orgasms a night.'

I gawped at her in awe. From plenty of nuthin' to Woody Allen's orgasmatron, virtually overnight. Even in my heyday I could never manage more than one per session. ‘How on earth did it happen?' I was dying to find out the secret recipe.

‘Richard is just incredible, the things he can do. He makes me feel things I'd never felt before and it's all so
exciting
.'

Naturally, I was keen to meet this genius of the bedroom arts. And a couple of weeks later I did, when he and Wendy held a barbecue party in her garden and invited me along.

I don't know what I had been subconsciously expecting – some kind of rugged Marlboro man, perhaps, with a sexy glint in his eye – but I could scarcely believe it when this diminutive, fusty-looking man came hobbling towards me bearing a jug of Pimm's. With his thick glasses, receding hairline and ill-shaven chops, he could have been a retired provincial librarian, or perhaps a member of the planning committee in some rundown seaside town. And what was with the funny walk?

But there you have it. This unlikely candidate was Wendy's love god. And while I wouldn't want a weaselly little fellow like that tampering with my own privates, thanks to him Wendy was at long last firing on all cylinders. And I was delighted for her.

*

Towards the end of my second date with Charles, in the morning, just before we got out of bed and returned to our respective day jobs, he said something I didn't want to hear: ‘I'm going to be really busy for a while. Colleagues coming from the States, lots of meetings, business dinners. Just give me a couple of weeks, okay? Then we can be together again.'

Uneasy echoes of SuperA. But I refused to let that concern me. Because Charles wasn't anything like SuperA. Charles actually seemed to care about me. He had thanked the makers of Limoncello for helping to accelerate matters between us, and by matters he clearly meant our
relationship
. Because that was what this felt like – the blossoming of what could be a real relationship. So I just tightened my arms around his neck and said it was a shame. Two weeks! But that was all right, and we would have to think of something really nice to do on our next date.

‘Do you like the theatre?' I asked.

‘Sure. We'll do something like that.'

Perhaps I imagined it, but I thought I caught a slightly hesitant note in his voice.

*

One day I received a wink and message from Scotland. Andy was 28 and worked for a publishing company in Edinburgh. His pictures showed a studious-looking young man in glasses. Open, guileless face, pleasant smile.

ANDY: Hi. I know I'm a lot younger and far away. But I like the way you look. I hope my wink didn't offend?

ME: Not at all. You look rather sweet yourself. And I like younger men.

ANDY: And I like older women.

ME: Do you wear a kilt?

ANDY: Only if you want me to.

Andy was shy and inexperienced with women. He needed someone who had been around the block to take him in hand and give him a bit of self-confidence. ‘You're very nice,' he wrote, and a few messages later he wasn't too shy to suggest that he would make a good toy boy.

‘Ah, well that depends, Andy. Are you planning to vote for Scottish independence?'

‘No, but I have a cute Scottish accent.'

‘Can I hear it? Call me.'

But Andy was too bashful for that.

After some of my recent dating experiences, his boyishness was refreshing. He got straight to the point, though. ‘I think you could help me a lot. Do you think we would be good in bed together? I'll bet you could teach me a thing or two!'

I tried to explain that it was impossible to predict such a thing until we had actually met and seen whether we hit it off. ‘We'd have to have a drink and a bite to eat and chat about publishing and Robbie Burns and haggis for a while first. Then we'd know whether or not we fancied each other.'

Of course, his living 400 miles away was an obstacle to any such agenda, and that was fine with me.

‘Anyway Andy, I don't see you as a toy boy. That's just a plaything. It seems to me you are worth more than that.'

‘You are lovely.'

‘You mean for a Sassenach?'

He wanted to come down to London and spend a weekend with me, but I wasn't up for that. Not only because of what had begun with Charles. In any case, I would never commit myself to spending an entire weekend with some fellow I had never clapped eyes on, not even one as sweet and shy as Andy. So I rejected this idea.

‘Sorry, Andy. I assume you're not an axe-murderer, but even so!'

‘Okay.' And with that single crestfallen word he disappeared off the radar. I would have liked to help the guy out, honestly I would, but he'd started to make me feel as if I were some sort of unpaid social worker with a brief to assist the sexually disadvantaged.

*

After the Scotsman came the Irishman. (I know, it was beginning to sound like a comedy routine.) But while Andy had been a gentle naïf, Ryan was a flagrant Casanova, crude, over-heated and extraordinarily confident of his desirability as far as the opposite sex was concerned. He was 35, but despite stating on his profile that his ‘ideal date' was aged 25 to 35, he told me he much preferred ‘a mature woman who knows what she wants'. Ryan was tall and brawny, and admittedly highly appetising with his dark hair and bright blue eyes. His charms drew me in, as he must have guessed they would.

RYAN: Fancy some fun? How about a drink somewhere near yours and if we click we go back and explore each other in private. Lying in bed naked now, thinking about it.

ME (amused): You're in a hurry.

RYAN: Yes I am! What's your dress and cup size?

Me (slightly irritated but still enjoying the game): Now you're getting tacky. Listen, I'm slim, no huge boobs, so if you're looking for some blow-up doll you've come to the wrong place.

RYAN: No, not at all. Want a real woman who loves sex and has a brain.

ME: You can tick both boxes.

RYAN: When we go back to yours I will give you a sensual massage first.

ME: That sounds nice. And have you got a cute Irish accent?

RYAN: No, but I can turn it on. What turns you on, apart from the accent?

And so we played on. Ryan was a thrilling prospect, in the way that hang-gliding might be for someone who has never been. I didn't think I could turn him down. I didn't want to. He was dead sexy. So after a little persuasion I agreed to let him come over late that night, after the ‘gig' he was attending with a mate.

I could hardly believe it when during the intermission at whatever concert he was at, he texted to inquire whether I had a ‘clean ironed shirt' for him, as he needed it for work the following morning.

‘Yeah, sure,' I replied. ‘And should I polish your shoes as well?'

But he was insistent about the shirt and so, after a little further beefing about it, I went off to search for one and found an old striped shirt of my ex's, which I had occasionally worn while mooching about the house. It was clean but creased, so I grudgingly got out the iron and the board and ironed the damn shirt, wondering all the while what Vanessa would say about my performing this servile act, not to mention the entire feminist sisterhood. Then I sat down to watch some telly until Ryan arrived; he told me he would be at my place by 11 o'clock.

But the Irish stud, God's gift to the fairer sex, never showed up or got in touch. When I tried to call him, his mobile was on voicemail. I finally trudged off to bed just before midnight, tired, depressed, angry and humiliated. I promised myself I would never do anything like that again and I was
serious
.

The last thing I saw that night before switching off my bedside light was the striped shirt hanging, beautifully pressed, on my wardrobe door. Asshole, I thought.

*

I decided to consign Ryan to the dating dustbin. Rather than take issue with his inexcusable behaviour, I preferred simply to forget him. He wasn't worth the time it took to send a furious message. But he would not be forgotten. The following afternoon my mobile tinkled with the arrival of a contrite message.

BOOK: Raven
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