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Amateur

This is my entry for the “Love the One(s) You’re With” CV19 competition, May 2020. All characters above the age of consent — and sadly completely fictional. The subject matter is somewhat new territory for me, so fingers crossed. As ever — votes and comments are very welcome.

My divorce was finalised a few weeks before the lockdown.

Up until that moment my ex-wife had probably been congratulating herself on the outcome: she got the house in the city and I got the much more modest and rather run-down cottage in the countryside. But if you were looking at weeks in isolation, I was very happy with where I was. It was fairly remote, for one thing, with just a sprinkling of other dwellings around. I had plenty of land, so if things did turn really bad, I could at least grow a few vegetables and maybe even keep some chickens. And I could exercise relatively often with minimal risk to myself and those around me – long rambling walks or runs in the countryside, sometimes taking slightly more than the approved government “hour”, but I was pretty sure nobody was keeping tabs.

The few people I met when out and about nodded politely at me and occasionally we exchanged brief pleasantries. “Strange times” was the phrase I tended to hear most, and it was hard to disagree with that.

I’d been worried about food supplies, but soon found that a number of local farm shops had started offering delivery services. Once a week I received a box of fresh fruit and vegetables, some bread, some milk and a dozen eggs. Financially, although I was smarting from the divorce, I was in a better position than many. I was self-employed, able to work from almost anywhere, and most of my clients seemed to need my consultancy services at least as much as they did before the crisis hit. I had never minded being on my own, and I had already done my mourning for my marriage long before the paperwork had been finally finished. In a selfish way I relished the newness and strangeness of it all.

So, yes, I had nothing really to complain about. But as the days turned into weeks, and the weeks, amazingly, into a month, I realised I was more than a little tired of my own rather limited cooking. There was no chance of Deliveroo out here, for sure, but I thought perhaps I could find a local pub or restaurant within a short drive that was offering a takeaway service, even if from a limited menu.

I found several, but the one that was closest was a wedding caterer who said they were now offering a limited delivery service in my area. Their website was a bit sparse on details but I thought I’d try them.

The lady who answered the phone sounded rather harassed, but I liked her voice. Clear and well-spoken but with a hint of sensuality.

“Sorry to ask, but are you vulnerable or elderly? We’re putting them at the top of the list, you see.”

“Certainly not vulnerable,” I said. “I’m probably elderly compared to you, I suspect.”

She laughed at that. “Good job you can’t see me then! But flattery isn’t going to get you anywhere, I’m afraid.”

“I understand. Well… best of luck to you. I’m not far away, so if you ever expand your vulnerable list to include bad cooks living on their own who are tired of poached eggs, perhaps I could leave my number?”

She laughed again. “Yes, I think we could do that.”

After she took my number and rang off I found myself smiling. As limited and basic as it was, our very mild flirting had been enjoyable. But I didn’t expect I’d ever speak to her again. I found another restaurant in a local village who did a takeaway service, and I booked a meal that evening with them instead.

It was when I was returning with my food that my phone rang. I hastily pulled the car over and answered.

“Is that the bad cook who’s tired of poached eggs?”

“It is! Is that the nice lady with the very youthful voice?”

“Ha! No need to flatter me any more… we took pity on you and did a bit extra. We can deliver it sometime in the next hour, if that’s convenient?”

I glanced guiltily at the plastic bags beside me. No problem – I could put them in the fridge and have them tomorrow instead. And, I confess, I wanted to meet this lady. She’d probably be a disappointment compared to my fevered imagination, but still…

“That would be great,” I said. “That’s really kind of you.”

I gave her my address and credit card details and then hung up and hurried home. I thought I’d shave and tidy myself up before she arrived. Pathetic, I know, but there we are.

It was only as I was glancing at myself in the mirror and adjusting my shirt that I remembered she’d said “we can deliver”. Who was “we”, I wondered? Boyfriend? Husband? Lesbian partner? I found myself faintly down-hearted at the thought. And yes, I agree – I had clearly been on my own a little too long, and out of the dating scene for considerably longer.

The answer, I’m happy to say, was d) None of the above.

When I saw the car pull up outside my gate I hurried downstairs and opened the door. canlı bahis I ventured to within the permitted two meters of my entrance and watched as a very attractive brunette lady of about forty got out of the car and then extracted a cardboard box from the back seat. Sitting in the passenger seat was a young blonde girl, not out of her teens yet, also very pretty.

“There’s a table just there you can leave it on,” I said, gesturing rather pointlessly at the enormous wooden table I’d positioned for deliveries, which she couldn’t possibly have failed to spot.

“Perfect,” she said, smiling at me.

“I was wrong about your voice.”

She cocked her head inquisitively, amused.

“You’re clearly even younger than I thought. That must be your sister in the car.”

She snorted, but I think she was pleased. “Now you’re really over-doing it! That’s Stella, my daughter.”

“I’m David,” I said.

“Helen,” she said, and our eyes met briefly. They were friendly but challenging eyes.

“Nice to meet you.” I really wanted to prolong the conversation, but the girl seemed to be staring at me a little aggressively from the car and I imagined they still had a number of deliveries to make.

She smiled again. “Enjoy your meal.”

“I will,” I said, and watched as she got back in and drove off. I thought I heard them giggling as they bumped off down my track, but perhaps that was my imagination. I did feel strangely lifted by having met them, and deflated by their departure. But, as I said, I’d be alone on my own too long. You can read too much into things.

**

The food — a chicken and mushroom pie, with some assorted vegetables — was delicious. I left them a five-star review on Google saying as much, and made reference to the fact that they were a “lifesaver for a bad cook like me.”

A few days later, I got a text from her.

Thanks for the review. Very kind of you, and glad you liked it. Helen.

I texted back almost immediately:

Hope it gets you some extra business. If you ever have any left overs, I’ll take whatever you can spare! All the best. David.

A few minutes later:

Sadly we’re having some car trouble today otherwise you’d be welcome to some Roast Chicken. Might be a few days before we’re back in action — so frustrating! H.

Few things appeal more to the male ego than a damsel in distress. And this was TWO damsels in distress.

Can I help? I could do deliveries for you? Happy to. D.

It seemed like a long wait for her reply. At least a minute.

That’s kind of you, but I couldn’t impose on you like that. And there’s all this social distancing and it’s all such a palaver. Shame. Thanks anyway!

I didn’t think this was an entirely convincing rejection, so I persevered.

I’ve been in isolation for five weeks and not so much as a sniffle. You could hose me down beforehand if you want! Really, I’d be glad of the distraction. Tell me what time you want me?

(“Want me” sounded a bit forward, but “need me” sounded even worse.)

Well… OK. Thank you. I hate letting our customers down. 4.30pm?

**

I drove up their drive a few minutes early, freshly shaved, in blue jeans and a checked shirt that my wife had always said she found attractive. Their home was a modest cottage with a garage attached, surrounded by farmland. It was even more isolated and remote than my own place.

The door opened as I parked the car and Stella came out. She was wearing a skirt that showcased some admirably toned and tanned legs and a simple green t-shirt that hugged her figure very agreeably. When I’d seen her in the car previously I’d thought she was pretty, now I realised she was actually stunning.

“Hello,” she said. “Thanks for helping.”

“Not at all,” I said. “Happy to. Glad to have something different to do, if I’m honest.”

Helen appeared behind her. “I’m afraid we’ve got a few more orders than usual today… we’re up to twelve now. I can probably cancel a few if that’s too many?”

I shook my head. “Not a problem… ready to start whenever you are.”

They’d split their orders into two delivery runs. I was to do the first five deliveries while they were cooking the second batch, then I’d come back and collect and deliver them. There was some hesitancy over whether I should come into the house or not to help them load everything up, but Helen eventually decided it was fine.

“There’s hardly any cases in this area anyway,” she said. “And you’ve been on your own all this time, haven’t you… I think we have to just assume we can do this safely. Just wear your gloves while touching all the food boxes.”

Their house was rather sweet, if cramped. Most of their living space had been given over to boxes of catering supplies, and every surface in the kitchen was covered with either cooked food or food that was about to be cooked or ingredients of some sort. But it was a kind of controlled chaos, Helen and Stella knew where everything was and worked together with a determined, bahis siteleri good-humoured efficiency that was impressive and rather touching.

I was soon on my way with the first of the deliveries. They were scattered over an area of several square miles. I thought I’d got to know the vicinity quite well but these houses were often down tiny lanes and rough tracks that I had never noticed before. Without the SatNav on my phone I’d never have found half of them. I have to say I rather enjoyed dropping the food off — several elderly people who were clearly rather lonely chatted to me for several minutes over their fences and hedges or from their front door steps. It was good to be doing something that made a tangible, if brief, difference to their lives.

That first run took me the best part of an hour, and then it was back to Helen and Stella’s little cottage to get the second load. Everything was ready for me — each order neatly labelled and packaged up with clear handwritten notes summarising what was in each order, who it was for and their address.

“You guys are brilliant,” I said, quite sincerely. “Seriously brilliant.”

Helen smiled at me. She looked a little weary, but still lovely.

“Thanks,” she said. “It’s always such a relief when it’s done. And thank you again for helping.”

“Yes,” said Stella, a little more shyly. “Thank you.”

Helen looked at her daughter. “Why don’t you go with David? You’ve not been out of the house today.”

She blushed slightly. “Oh no… I’ll stay with you and help clean up.”

“Nonsense. I can do all that. Go on… I’ll see you in about an hour.”

We set off, Stella a little timid and awkward in the passenger seat beside me. I chatted rather inconsequentially about the beauty of the countryside and some of the conversations I’d had with their customers earlier, and slowly she relaxed a little.

“You’re quite new up here, aren’t you?” she said.

“Yes… I suppose so. My wife — ex-wife — and I bought the cottage a couple of years ago, but we only used it for weekends really. We explored a little — but I know it a lot better now.”

“Will you go back to London when it’s all over?”

“I don’t know,” I said thoughtfully. “I’ve realised recently… I don’t really want to. I like it here, though I don’t know many people. I thought I liked the bustle of the city, and the cinemas and the restaurants… but actually these last few weeks have made me think about things differently. So… maybe I’ll stay up here.”

It was quite a long speech, and it was almost as much to myself as it was to her. I think she recognised this, and it seemed to encourage her to share a little more herself.

“Mummy likes it here too, and I love it, but she thinks I need to be somewhere where there are more people. She wants me to have a… social life, whatever that is.”

She said this with such intense contempt that I laughed.

“What? I don’t see what all the fuss is about. I hate parties and… all that and… pretending to be interested in people.”

“You’re not interested in people?”

“Well… some people. People I like. You’re nice. Well, you seem nice. And a few others. But… a lot of it seems so false.”

I was flattered by this.

“I know what you mean,” I said carefully. “But I suppose your mum wants you to be with people your own age. To enjoy yourself while you’re young. It goes pretty fast, you know.”

She stared ahead. “Yes. Mum keeps going on about making the most of being young.” She seemed about to say something else, then stopped.

**

We chatted a little more as we drove around, and I found myself liking her more and more. She was intelligent, witty, thoughtful and utterly devoted to her mother. I gathered there had been a particularly unpleasant and bitter divorce, and she rarely saw her father now. She asked a few insightful questions about my own marriage break-up, and I answered them as honestly as I could. I think she was glad to learn that her own experience wasn’t that uncommon, and to be able to compare notes with someone who’d gone through something similar.

At one house she refused to come out to help with the unloading.

“The man who lives here…. He’s so creepy. Always looking at us, making smutty little jokes. Mummy doesn’t like him either, but he’s on his own and he’s quite old… so we feel like we have to.”

“OK,” I said. “No problem. Leave him to me.”

I left his tray on his doorstep, rang the doorbell and retreated a respectful distance.

The door opened and a thin, balding man in his sixties peered out. He was wearing a dressing gown and, I strongly suspected, nothing underneath it. He peered at me suspiciously.

“Oh. Where are the lovely ladies tonight?”

“Sorry,” I said. “They’re a little busy. I’m doing the deliveries for them now.”

He regarded me for a long moment. “Hot little bitches, aren’t they?”

I didn’t quite know what to say to that. I wanted to punch him, but that would have contravened bahis şirketleri social distancing guidelines.

“Enjoy your meal,” I said, starting to walk away. “It might be your last one for a while, I’m afraid.”

“Are you fucking them? Lucky sod. Two lovely, wet, fuckable pussies they’ve got. Tell them from me that if they want…”

But luckily for both of us, I never heard the message he wanted me to convey. I got back in the car and Stella stared at me.

“You’re all red,” she said.

“I can see why you don’t like him,” I said, and started the car.

“What did he say?”

“Nothing.”

“He did, didn’t he?”

“It doesn’t matter. But you’re not to make any more deliveries to him, OK? I’ll do all his deliveries from now on. Not that he deserves any.”

She nodded.

The atmosphere in the car for the remainder of the journey was a little less relaxed. I didn’t tell her what he’d said but she could obviously guess the approximate content and it infected the mood between us. There was an awareness now of more adult, more explicit overtones. I had been aware of her sexually beforehand, of course, but it had seemed rather charming and innocent. Now I felt cheap and sordid for even entertaining such thoughts.

When we returned to their house Stella exited the car quickly and scurried inside. I unloaded the empty plastic trays from the back of the car and walked a little wearily towards their kitchen door. Then I realised it had been blocked by Helen, and she looked furious. Murderous, even.

“What happened?” she asked icily. “What did you do to her?”

I was taken aback. “I didn’t do anything!”

“She went straight into her room without a word. I swear, if you so much touched a hair on her head… I trusted you!”

“I promise you, I didn’t touch her!”

“You expect me to believe that? I’m calling the police. You stay right there!”

“Mum! Don’t be stupid!”

Stella had appeared behind her. She looked pale but determined.

“He didn’t do anything! He’s… very nice. Just like you said.”

Even in these fraught circumstances, I was pleased by this revelation.

“So – what exactly happened? I want to know EXACTLY.”

“It was Mr Miller. He said… something.”

“What did he say?” Helen was slightly calmer but still clearly wanted to hit or attack something and I still seemed the most likely target.

“I don’t know. He wouldn’t tell me.”

Helen glared at me. “So – what did that horrible man say to you?”

I spread my hands appeasingly. “Nothing I want to repeat. But, as I said to Stella, I’d be happier if I did his deliveries from now on. If you’ll let me keep helping you.”

Helen considered this, chewing her lip. At that precise moment she had a very low opinion of men in general, and I couldn’t exactly blame her.

“Go inside, Stella,” she said.

“It wasn’t his fault, Mum!”

“Yes, I understand that now, but please go inside. I want to talk to Mr… I want to talk to David for a moment.”

Stella looked at her, then at me, then back to her mother. Then she shrugged and retreated back into the house.

Helen looked at me. “So – tell me what he said.”

“I’d really rather not.”

“I insist. If you want to keep helping us, I insist.”

I sighed. One thing I had observed over the years was that women, much more than men, seemed to hate things being kept from them, even if it wasn’t in their best interests.

“He said… he said you were a pair of… hot bitches.”

She coloured slightly.

“I see. Anything else?”

“No,” I said, hoping I looked convincing.

She looked at me for a few seconds.

“OK,” she said. “OK then.”

“I should be going,” I said, rather awkwardly. “You’ll want to have your own dinner, I expect.”

“I set the table for three,” she said. “You should stay, if you’d like to.”

**

It could have been a very awkward meal, and the first few minutes were a little stilted, but Helen and I both made an effort and it helped that I was ravenous, and was able to heap fulsome and entirely warranted praise on the food. Helen opened a bottle of wine and said Stella could have half a glass and that also helped to relax the mood. We carefully kept the conversational topics general and safe to start with, but both women seemed genuinely curious about me and my background and what I did and I gradually found myself sharing more about my personal history than I could remember doing for a long time.

After it was over, I helped to load the dishwasher and thanked them for a very pleasant evening.

“We’re going to watch a film now,” said Stella. “We always watch one after dinner. Mum’s trying to broaden my horizons. Lots of arthouse movies and dreary foreign films with subtitles.”

“Sounds great,” I said. “I’m going home to watch something mindless and probably violent that requires no thought whatsoever.”

She pouted. “Mum! Can I go to David’s house? His taste in films sounds much better than yours.” She was joking, of course, but I noticed she also blushed slightly, which was charming.

“Certainly not,” said Helen briskly. “But he’s welcome to stay and watch something with us, if he’d like.”

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