Taking a hot meal to Wallis’s younger brother Lucas, who’s working as a night watchman, is on the surface a good deed but there’s lasagne involved, a break-in and some unresolved sexual tension.
Warning: the lasagne is cheesy and so is the humour.
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This sure wasn’t my idea of the perfect Saturday night, but you work with what you’ve got. At least my flatmate Wallis (yes, named after the most famous scarlet woman in recent history but nobody had yet abdicated for the love of her) had the good grace to feel bad about it all being her fault.
No, she couldn’t help being ill so that was as mad as I could get. She’d been dealing with some horrific stomach bug for a good few hours now, hoping it was a twenty-four hour thing, and once she’d settled down in bed with some magazines, her fully-charged tablet, Netflix and a glass of watery fruit juice, Wallis had insisted I honour my prior engagement.
At first, I’d assumed she didn’t want me to miss out on having a social life while nursing an ill flatmate. Her “Besides, you’d just annoy me with your grumbling if you didn’t,” soon disabused me of that notion.
The bar’s music thumped, making conversation only possible with raised voices. I supposed it was part of their marketing strategy. You yell at someone to get their attention, which makes you thirsty, and you drink more.
Not that I was doing any drinking at all, well, not the hard stuff anyway. My first night out in ages, a week at least, and I couldn’t touch alcohol as I’d be driving later as part of a favour to Wallis. I knew I could get away with one drink, but that line was so easy to cross if you didn’t pay attention to measures or units or glass sizes, so for simplicity’s sake when I had plans to get on the road, I abstained completely.
At first, when I’d confirmed arrangements for this evening with my mates (or passengers, if anyone wanted me to drive them home when I called an early halt to my own personal festivities) I’d thought it wouldn’t make for a fun night out, knowing I couldn’t lose myself in Dutch courage. Soon, though, I realised this made me sound like an alcoholic party animal. I wasn’t; I just liked to have a few drinks to loosen up and get into the music.
Still, I thought, as the unfamiliar hand tightened on my thigh, I don’t seem to be doing too badly so far.
I honestly couldn’t for the life of me remember his name. Something like Darren or David. He and a couple of his pals had asked if they could share our booth due to lack of space, using basic sign language, i.e. pointing, due to the volume of music in our latest port of call. Dean, that was it. No. Daniel. I knew it was a D-name and the fact his monicker proved so elusive showed it wasn’t alcohol that made me careless – I’d had none after all – but rather, a lack of caring. I’d likely never see him again after this evening so what did it matter what his name was? Information didn’t stick when it was ultimately unimportant.
One of my friends was dancing with one of his so he likely assumed we’d all be pairing off by the end of the night. Three of them, three of us, why not?
I say dancing; they were kind of wrapped around each other and thrashing like they were in the throes of ecstasy and simultaneously having a strobe seizure brought on by bright lights and copious amounts of alcohol.
“What did you say your name was again?” my ‘companion’ of sorts yelled in my ear. He wasn’t bad looking. He definitely stood up to my scrutiny and my stone-cold-sober eyes and fresh-out-their-packet contact lenses. With a bit of booze inside me he’d…well, he’d have been inside me.
“Jemima,” I said.
He sat back, cocked his head, clearly questioning whether or not he’d heard me right. “Jemima? What sort of a name is that?”
“My mother was into Beatrix Potter when she was pregnant with me.”
God, I’m really good at this bullshit lark. “Yeah. Still,” I added with a shrug. “Coulda been worse. She might have named me Twinkleberry if I’d been a boy.”
D-for-Whatever sat back and continued to stare at me, though of course his hand didn’t leave my thigh. It – his hand, that is – was warm, and I recalled what they said about men with big hands. I glanced down, wondered if we’d have time for…anything…before I had to leave. Nope. Probably not. Shame.
“Your name’s really Jemima?”
“My name is really Jemima,” I said, with a straight face, and reached for my orange juice, wishing not for the first time that it were something stronger. I wasn’t wearing a watch, so if I wanted to know the time I’d have to sneak a glance at my mobile phone which might appear rude while we were ‘getting to know each other’.
Or at least, while he was getting to know someone he thought was named after Jemima Puddle-Duck.
“Excuse me; I need to check the time,” I said, figuring my first two words showed I was at least making an attempt to be polite, even if I was interrupting his valiant attempts to feel me up in the middle of a club.
“I have something on later,” I replied, trying to sound casual, but it was difficult to do so with raised voices and having to lean in close every time we wanted to exchange words.
“Later? Tonight? What could you possibly have on after going to a nightclub?” D-for-Whatever frowned. “Ah, wait, is that why you’re not drinking? You’re working? Night shift can be a right bugger sometimes. What is it you do?”
“I’m an electrician for the NHS; I build defibrillators.”
“You know those things with pads they put on people’s chests to deal with heart trouble?” I motioned with both palms facing down and jerked them as if they’d been electrically shocked. “Defibrillators? I check them to make sure they’re in working order.”
“Huh. And that’s done at night?”
“Saturday night, innit? I pointed out. “I need to make sure they’re all fit for purpose before the ambulances get sent out. The weekends are the paramedics’ busiest time. All those drunks tripping over their own feet, getting into fights, having heart attacks. Where would we be if the defibrillators weren’t in tip-top working order? See…” I leaned in even closer, conspiratorially, as if I were letting him in on a closely-guarded trade secret. “It’s a pretty dangerous job. I need to get regular sight checks.”
“Yeah, ‘cause these things. They’re full of electrics, right?” I wondered how far I could push it before this guy realised I was having him on. Watching him nod, I theorised, probably a bit further. Alcohol had clouded his judgement, although I had to still credit him for having excellent taste in women. Even if his bullshit detector had been rendered defunct by whatever he’d chucked down his neck, he could still spot a looker in a crowd, clearly.
“Yeah, I guess so. How else would they restart people’s hearts?”
“Precisely,” I said, neglecting to tell him that defibrillators actually did the exact opposite. But I didn’t want to confuse the poor blighter. Well, actually I did. It was fun. But I had other, funnier ways of doing it. “And it’s like rewiring a plug. You’ve got the blue wire, the brown wire, and the red and yellow wire.”
“I thought it was green and yellow?”
“Not in a defibrillator,” I shot back. “Red for danger. So anyway, I need to get regular sight checks to make sure I’m not developing colour-blindness, so I can tell which wire is which.” I swallowed back a snicker when I thought of what I was about to say. “Working with electricity can cause you to develop colour-blindness.”
D-for-Whatever’s eyes narrowed. Maybe I’d pushed him too far. Backed right up to the limits of his credulity, he was just about ready to call me on my monumental stream of bullcrap. Surely he was.
“It’s the sparks, you see. Plays merry hell with the rods and cones in your eye. Anyway, give me a moment; I want to check the time on my phone. My shift starts in the early hours; we need to get the ambulances ready to go by chucking out time; that’s when the paramedics get called out.”
I bit my lip to stop laughter escaping; not that he would hear it with the music pounding in the background, foreground and every inch of middle ground too, but any sort of smirk would be visible. Fishing around in my handbag on the bench beside me, I decided I was more than likely up to the limit on how far I could push it. The name thing was believable, as was the thought of me working night shifts in a hospital, but…electricity in heart defibrillators causing colour-blindness in paramedics? Hmm. Yeah, time to stop there, Sarah, I told myself.
Not Jemima at all.
“Jesus, I didn’t realise it was that late,” I blurted out, and turned back to…thingy. Whatever.
“Something wrong?” he asked with a raised voice. “I couldn’t hear exactly what you said, but it looks like something’s up.”
Sadly not you, I wanted to say. “Nearly half eleven,” I said. “My shift starts at midnight.” That’s if shift meant ‘I promised Wallis I’d be back by then’. She hadn’t texted me for a while, so that was probably a good sign. The last I’d heard from her was “Fuck me gently, I didn’t think I could be sick this many times and not be dead,” around half past nine. I assumed she was now asleep but knew beyond a shadow of a doubt she’d wake up bang on midnight if I wasn’t home on time.
“Maybe your name isn’t Jemima.”
“Oh?” I wondered if he were psychic.
“Yeah. Maybe it should be Cinderella.”
Oh. Phew. Thank goodness for that; thought he had me rumbled. “I need to go round up the pals I came here with, ask if they want a lift home.”
“Looks like your friend’s getting on well with Michael,” D-for-Whatever said, nodding in the general direction of his friend and mine who were by now making a pretty good impression of one of those documentaries about snakes. Where in mating season they all get together in a giant sex pit and end up fucking each other to death in a writhing snake orgy.
No, I’m not the next David Attenborough, with descriptive skills like that, but neither am I a defibrillator electrician. It didn’t stop me saying it, though.
“Hmm. I’ll have to interrupt them. Excuse me.” I patted him on the leg and stood, making it clear the excuse me wasn’t optional. Obediently, he shifted his legs out of the way so I could squeeze past. I wasn’t wearing a skirt this evening, just jeans and a vest, but he more than likely still grabbed himself an eyeful as I moved past him. The jeans were practically painted on and showed off my arse to its best advantage.
Fighting my way through the shifting crowds reminded me once more of that giant sex pit snake orgy and I actually shuddered as I shouldered my way to my target. Tapping Natalie on her shoulder, I plastered a grin on my face. “It me.”
Whatsisface, Michael, wasn’t it? He didn’t even let go of my pal while we conversed. He looked like he was glued to her. Mind, she didn’t look as if she objected. Natalie kept her arm wrapped around his neck as I spoke. Or rather, used our bastardised version of sign language.
I tapped the invisible watch on my wrist and indicated with my thumb over my shoulder that it was time for me to head out the door.
“Oh. Already?” Clearly Natalie’s hanging on to Loverboy meant she couldn’t use sign language and was forced to rely on her mouth to communicate. Judging by her body language right now, she’d be doing so in a far more profane way by the end of the night. After all, her favourite chat-up line was the claim she could suck a tennis ball through a hosepipe.
Which kinda put my claim to being named after a character from a child’s storybook to shame, not to mention the fact my fake occupation was the wrong kind of ‘heart-stopping’. Never mind; my talents were many and varied and I was sure I’d get to come up with a line more seductive in the near future.
Just not tonight.
“I’m gonna stay,” Natalie announced, pointing with her free hand at Michael, as if I could miss him. It would be difficult to get any air between them, the way they were standing, or should I say the way they were propping each other up. From barely-vertical to horizontal within the hour, I’d have lain money on it.
“Text me,” I mouthed, and moved on to look for Justine. She was around here somewhere, and knew I had to be home by midnight to avoid the wrath of Wallis. Maybe she’d headed upstairs to the ladies to freshen up, which wasn’t code for Colombian marching powder, I knew that much. Justine was dead set against drug use, as was I…apart from a little pot occasionally, and neither of us would be stupid enough to skin up in public. No, it was just that the lower regions – and damn, didn’t that sound either pornographic or Satanic – were stuffy, loud and packed with people. The mezzanine seating area and bathrooms upstairs were the go-to places in this establishment for anyone seeking respite from the fog of alcohol and depravity. There was also the exit, of course, which was where I planned to be heading very soon. If I didn’t find Justine before long, I’d have to rely on text messaging; she’d never hear her phone ring in this place and even if it were in her pocket set to vibrate, we’d have difficulty communicating clearly.
“Hey, wait.” A hand on my arm and I startled. There was always bodily contact in a place like this; one couldn’t avoid it, but this time there was a strange familiarity. It was a hand I’d felt before. Ah, of course. D-for-Whatever. “If you need to go…” He leaned in so close I could smell his aftershave. He licked his lips as I waited for him to continue and I considered what a shame it was that he wouldn’t be coming with me tonight. If he was thick enough to fall for the whole Jemima the Defibrillator Electrician nonsense, more fool him, but he looked fit enough to keep me entertained for an hour or two.
Damn it, I need some time alone with my vibrator tonight, I decided, then thought about the errand I was taking on, on Wallis’s behalf. Shit. This was going to be awkward.
“Why don’t you give me your number and I’ll call you later?”
With facial muscles as tight as a virgin’s foof, I grinned. More of a rictus than anything approaching a genuine smile. Let’s just say I wasn’t looking for anything permanent, semi-permanent, vaguely permanent or within spitting distance of permanent. And being called ‘later’ (as opposed to Jemima) wasn’t part of my plans.
But there was no reason I couldn’t have a bit of fun with him.
I’m probably going to hell for this, I thought. “Gimme your phone. Don’t worry; I’m not going to run anywhere with it.” He obeyed, and handed over a smartphone that wasn’t as up-to-date as my own, anyway. Not worth stealing. I nearly, nearly forgot what I was doing and typed in Sarah, but at the last moment remembered I was supposed to be Jemima. I tapped in a particular number that was still unfortunately burned into my memory and hit save. “There. Now you can call me.” I handed his phone back and smiled. “Actually.” I crooked my finger to beckon him closer and he leaned in. “Send me a photo of your cock.”
He spluttered with what I assumed to be amazement and looked me dead in the eye. “Are you…are you serious?”
“Sure. I’ve got to get off to work now, but I’ll need something to keep me entertained.”
“Oh come on, now; you’re how old? About my age? Twenty-seven, twenty-eight?”
Ah, an older man. “I dare you.”
“Well, I guess…”
“I’ll make it worth your while,” I added with a wink. “And…” I leaned in close, partly so I could get my message across without anyone else overhearing our conversation, partly to hide the fact I was trying not to burst out laughing.
Being overheard, while shouting? It might have seemed like an impossible thing to avoid; the music was turned up to eleven, people were too into their own conversational business, but I wanted to at least try to maintain a level of pseudo-privacy. And if I spoke with a raised voice leaning in to the side of to D-for-Whatever’s face, others would be less able to lipread.
“Make sure it’s hard for me.” I screwed my eyes shut and prayed I wouldn’t laugh, at least until I was out of his presence.
I nearly fell apart when I thought of the look on my ex-boyfriend’s face when a random stranger sent him a photo of his wang.