4.55 P.M. I have spent the day giving Dan one word responses to his texts. It has only taken 15 texts for him to work out something is wrong.
I love the power of the word ‘fine’.
5.05 P.M. I am on my way home from work. My bus is packed full of commuters. There are no spare seats and I am sat squashed up against my bus journey friend Mr Patel.
We have been using the same bus for years and after a few smiles we started sitting next to each other when it got busy. He is happily married with three angelic daughters and a wife who cannot stop cleaning. His home life sounds so different to mine.
My phone is ringing. It is Dan. All the regular commuters, like Mr Patel, are used to listening to my life dramas. I think I brighten up their journey on their way home from work.
Over the last two years they have all listened to my emotional calls about:
My painful split with Rob
Rob and the blonde barmaid.
My series of dating disasters.
Matilda’s love life
“Hello” I say quietly.
“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?” asks Dan.
“There is nothing wrong, I am fine” I say.
Mr Patel looks at me and shakes his head. Even he can tell there is something very wrong with me.
“Come on Roxy tell me what’s on your mind?” Dan sighs.
“I caught sight of a photo on Facebook of you and another woman…” my voice tails off, as Mr Patel puts his head into his hands and makes groaning sounds.
“Clara you mean” he interrupts me.
“Yes the pretty one with the glasses” I say.
“Do you think I am secretly seeing Clara?” he asks.
“I might do!” I say.
“Well I am not!” he laughs. “She’s a good friend of mine!”
I place my hand over my phone and say to Mr Patel “its ok she’s just a friend!”
Mr Patel has lifted his head and a look of relief is passing over his face.
“Roxy – are you still there?” asks Dan.
“Yes I am!” I say with a huge smile. In my head I am celebrating. Hurrah! He’s not having an affair with the attractive woman, wearing glasses, in the photo on Facebook.
“Phew!” says Dan. “Actually if you must know Clara is my best friend!”
“She’s your best friend” I repeat, sending Mr Patel’s head back into his hands.
My smile has evaporated. Mr Patel is fidgeting anxiously in his seat and loosening his tie.
“Listen Roxy I have to go” says Dan. “Call you later!” and he hangs up.
Feeling the need to talk to someone I turn to Mr Patel. “I’ve never dated anyone with a female best friend before” I mumble.
Mr Patel gives me a blank look. He opens his mouth and then closes it again.
“They must be close” I say aloud as the words ‘best friend’ ping around my brain.
“I am sure everything will be ok Roxy” says Mr Patel giving my hand a reassuring pat.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if Clara didn’t look like a model fresh from a glossy clothes magazines. I could cope with a rough looking female best friend.” I say, making Mr Patel give me a worrying frown.
I take out my phone and show him a photo.
“Mr Patel – how do I compete when Clara is pencil thin, beautiful, looks sane and knows my new boyfriend inside out?” I ask.
Mr Patel shakes his head. “I don’t know Roxy”
“Perhaps I give Dan the impression that I am totally cool with his attractive female best friend” I say, searching Mr Patel’s face for a glimmer of hope.
Someone taps me on the shoulder from the seat behind. Its Polly, the young receptionist who sometimes sits next to me when Mr Patel is on holiday.
“I know I am butting in here but in my experience acting chilled about stuff is the best way of handling any dating situation” she says. “They soon learn!” she snaps. Polly recently split up with her boyfriend after he started flirting with one of the girls at her work. She continues. “You want to watch this best friend of his!” she warns.
Frank, the postman, sat in the seat next to her, shakes his head with disapproval. “Naaa that is not a good approach. Just be honest with him Roxy!” Frank advises. “Ask him some questions about this…” he voice tails off.
“Clara!” interrupts Steve, the bar man from two seats behind.
“Oh yea Clara” says Frank.
My phone is ringing again. It is Dan.
“Its him!” I exclaim and everyone goes quiet.
“Hello Dan” I say.
“Roxy, I just want to say that we can make this work” he states. “We just need to have a bit of trust!”
I place my hand over the receiver and say “he says we just need some trust!”
Polly shrieks with laughter, Mr Patel shakes his head, Frank shrugs and Steve mumbles something I can’t hear.
“Get some info on this girl!” urges Frank.
I return to my call. “I am sure we can make this work Dan….so then how old is she?!”
I am going to try not to go overboard on the questions. Don’t want to give him the impression that I am interrogating him.
“Thirty five” replies Dan.
“How long have you known her?” I ask.
“All my life. Our parents are good friends.”
“Does she have a husband or a boyfriend?” I ask, noticing that Frank has crossed his fingers and is holding them aloft.
7.45 P.M. Dan’s answers to my twenty two questions sent me and the commuters on my bus into a spin.
I was forced to get off a stop early, dash into supermarket and buy emergency bottle of cheap wine.
I am holding a ‘Female Council of War Meeting’ with Shaz, and Matilda, in my kitchen.
“This is Clara” I say, flashing them the photo from Dan’s Facebook profile.
Shaz’s immediate reaction to Clara is “OMG SHE IS STUNNING!” – if I am honest that is not what I was looking for.
“Pretty lady” remarks Matilda. Again not what I am looking for.
7.46 P.M. “So what do you know about this Clara?” asks Shaz, unwrapping her sixth Snickers Bar of the day.
“I have asked some questions” I reply.
Matilda groans. “Please tell me you didn’t go OTT when questioning him Mam!…that is not cool!”
“I didnt go into too much detail” I say, “I am not the clingy, paranoid type of girlfriend”.
Shaz turns to Matilda. She places a hand on her arm. “it’s important for us women of a certain age to know what we are dealing with when it comes to new relationships!”
Matilda groans for a second time and rolls her eyes.
“Come on Roxy, tell us what you know!” says Shazm before biting a huge chunk out of her chocolate bar.
I reveal Dan’s answers:
Dan and Clara have been best friends since birth. Their parents know each other.
He dated her in Sixth Form college, but they split after she went to university.
She finished it.
They live near each other and meet up every week for food.
Apparently Clara ‘gets’ him. (His quote).
Clara knew his ex-wife but they didn’t get on.
Clara does not have kids or a boyfriend.
Clara works in advertising.
Her star sign is Scorpio.
She owns her house.
She likes listening to Adele.
She hates cucumber.
Shaz and Matilda’s mouths have fallen open and they are both staring at me.
“I think I was quire restrained” I say.
Shaz shakes her head. “I am not sure I like the sound of her!” I love my best friend’s loyalty.
“Wow she has her own place and works in advertising” coos Matilda. My daughter’s loyalty has been questionable since she became a teenager.
“So do you think I can have a long distance relationship with someone who has an attractive female best friend called Clara?” I ask them both. Both remain silent and avoid eye contact with me.
Shaz breaks the silence. “You know the postman is now seeing the blonde woman at no.67 on my street. The blonde woman is ten years older than him”. I can’t help but wonder whether Shaz is avoiding giving me a reply.
“I have my house party on Saturday and you promised to go out and leave me alone” says Matilda. She is also avoiding giving me a reply.
Brian, my land lord, has just come into help unblock my smelly loo. We inform him that the smell was making Shaz wretch earlier. She tells him she nearly lost her 4th Snicker bar of the day. He sighs and grabs his bucket.
As he is about to go upstairs I say, “can I get your opinion on something?”
At sixty seven Brian is like a father figure to me, he knows how to calm me down and I know he will make me see sense.
“You know the man I am seeing, Dan, well he has a female best friend” I say showing him the photo of Clara. “I don’t have anything to worry about do I?” I ask.
Brian takes one look at her and quickly turns away.
Sensing trouble Shaz suggests we all have a nice cup of tea.
“Mam, Dan likes you for your bubbly personality and Clara is probably really dull” says Matilda.
“He says she has a great sense of humour” I reply.
“Looks are not everything Roxy!” says Shaz.
“Except when you are competing with model wannabe Clara!” I say.
“Red heads have more fun brunettes!” says Matilda.
Shaz pipes “men prefer women with wobbly bits and not stick insects!” I lean across and ‘high five’ her for such an amazing statement. Yes Dan has said he likes my wobbly bits…a lot.
Shaz places a mug of hot tea by me at the same time as Dan phones.
“How are you feeling now?” he asks.
“Yea great!” I say, trying to sound enthusiastic. He is unaware the ‘Female Council of War Meeting’ is still in progress and that he is the main subject.
“Listen I have been thinking” says Dan. “Why don’t you and the kids come to Manchester at the weekend to meet Clara. Plus my boys are home with me so we can all get together!”
“Oh that sounds….nice” I mumble.
Shaz and Matilda both cast me worrying looks.
“Clara is desperate to meet you!” says Dan.
I place my hand over my phone and say to Shaz and Matilda. “He’s invited us all to Manchester. Clara is desperate to meet me!”
Shaz leaps up and swaps my mug of tea for an emergency large glass of wine.