The White Horse Hotel, where I’m to meet Miss Dazzle, is on the outskirts of town. It has rooms, and a reputation for decent food. ‘Reassuringly expensive,’ says Biggles.
I’ve taken a ridiculous time getting ready, changing in and out of clothes, staring at myself in the mirror, before getting a grip. Does it matter what I wear? Why not just be myself? Like I said I would be. And just what am I expecting – hoping? – to happen? In truth, I’ve stopped pining for her. Barely give her a thought.
And yet…over the past few days…
How often have I fantasized about undressing her, item-by-item, delighting in every bit of revealed skin, kissing, pent up years letting off steam, bit by bit? Or daydreamed about exploring each other, eyes wide, Clive in full uniform, to attention, present and correct. Imagined slipping together, inch by inch, gasping with pleasure, our musk everywhere, losing ourselves in the best climax known to man and woman. Is that what might happen?
Yet I’m over her. Aren’t I?
When I arrive on the Saturday, heart barely playing ball, gurgling innards and sweaty palms, it’s busy, a burble of conversation. Piped music. “…It’s been ages since I left you babe, let me tell you ‘bout what’s gone down…” Harry Chapin?
Miss Dazzle’s sat in one corner; looks older. There’s a trace of a heart quickening. Does she flush as she gets up to hug me? Do I?
‘Rob. Thanks for coming. I wondered if you might not.’
‘Why?’ We’re still hugging, rocking. I can smell her perfume.
‘Oh. I don’t know.’ She pulls away and I see her face brighten. ‘I’ve got a nice room here. Let me get you a drink. Beer?’ She disappears to the bar, wearing white jeans, and a navy blue polo top. Still fit.
“…I am the morning DJ at W.O.L.D…”
I sit and consider the people in the bar. Make up stories about them, wondering what they might be thinking looking over at Miss Dazzle and me. Do they think we’re a couple? Do I wish we were?
We catch up with news, comparing notes on our schools. She’s keen to hear about my drama productions. ‘I came to see “The Mikado” you know.’ She gushes. ‘So clever. And the music was fantastic.’
Then a change comes over her face. ‘You’re both so talented. You’re so lucky.’
‘You’re talented too. Look at you, the successful teacher, fun to be with, great at sport. Everyone loves you.’ I want to say; Chisel Face, he’s a lucky git.
‘You know Kit and I have split don’t you?’
Haltingly she goes through the catalogue of events that have led to her conclusion. ‘He was always working late. Going away to conferences. Whispers round the corridors. The wrong perfume on his jacket.’ The case for the prosecution.
Why do I defend him? ‘Perhaps he was just throwing himself into work.’
‘I know who it is.’ She hesitates, glancing away. ‘He said something odd to me, actually; just after we split.’
‘He asked if I’d spoken to you.’
‘Really?’ I sip my beer.
‘Yes.’ And she turns eyes like searchlights on me. ‘Did you know? About them?’ I’m caught. ‘And didn’t tell me?’
How long can a sip take?
‘Yes. I’m sorry.’
In the background the piped music has changed; playing The Moody Blues. “…I’ve been thinking about our fortune and I‘ve decided that we’re really not to blame…”
‘You’ve never liked Kit have you, Rob?’
Hated him. ‘I was just jealous really.’
‘Really? Yes. You said something funny about that when I left.’ She frowns slightly. ‘But you’re a good judge of character aren’t you?’
There’s a lengthening silence.
“…for the love that’s deep inside us now is still the same…”
“…and the sunshine we’ve been waiting for will turn to rain…”
‘Shall I get us another drink?’ I rise from the table.
‘Lovely. G and T please. No ice. I need the loo.’
At the bar I have time to wonder what it is that helps me judge character. Whether watching people, through their movements, their faces, their eyes in particular, works. The eyes are the windows to the soul, right? Like with Glad Eyes and Venus all that time ago.
Or Fizz. She’s so obviously artless; so blatantly honest and open; there’s nothing to hide in her eyes, and in return, it makes me feel honest and open with her. Even though she’s a pupil. I’ve nothing to hide from her. Feel absolutely at ease with her. Quite a contrast from those early days with Miss Dazzle, tongue-tied and blushing. Or is it merely that I don’t feel threatened by Fizz? Can be myself?
And then there’s how people use their mouths. The type of smile or frown. Is it tight set? Like Rasputin or Mrs Undercarpet. Or open and fresh, guileless. Like Venus.
Or Miss Dazzle. Or Fizz.
I’m not sure about judging a book by its cover, but on the other hand, there’s those all-important first impressions to consider. Obviously, Miss Dazzle didn’t like – read? - my first impressions; my eyes, she said. Or my demeanour; cocksure she said. How wrong could she be? Or was I playing a part then without even recognising it myself? A role that gave the impression of being something – someone – to others that I wasn’t? Not being myself?
As for Chisel Face; I didn’t like him from the moment I met him, looking down on me, judging me to be his inferior as of right. Birthright. And subsequent meetings only reinforced that view, his sneering superiority always evident. Yet Miss Dazzle obviously saw nothing of that in him. Loved him enough to marry him. Did she read him wrong as well? Or did he act another part with her? Or me?
I consider pupils in my classes; run through some in my head. Like Balls. I mean it was obvious from the outset that his name was going to cause problems, but it was surely how others dealt with it that would affect him. With me he’s smiles, attentive, willing. Eyes bright. Interested. Listening to others on the staff he’s the Devil Incarnate. But that’s not in his face. It darkens only when he’s stressed or angry; irritated or frustrated; but for the most part his face is alive, expressive. Positive.
Of course teaching drama might help. To act is to observe and mimic. Body language; facial expression; weighing of words; intonation; choice of vocabulary. Even arrangement of hair, clothing choices, all these aspects add up to a judgment. Maybe I’m advantaged by this. Maybe it’s a gift I’ve taken for granted? Maybe I can judge a book by its cover.
Back in our seats we end up turned to each other, close. Billy Joel’s piped. ”…don’t go trying some new fashion, don’t change the colour of your hair…”
‘I used to think there was something a bit scarey about your eyes,’ she says, taking a sip from her drink.
‘But I think it was just getting used to them.’ She smiles. ‘Shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Actually, I think you’ve got nice eyes. Warm.’
”…I don’t want clever conversation…”
She laughs. ‘Haven’t had this much to drink for a while. Bit tipsy.’ She puts down her glass. ‘You’re sweet, Rob.’ She reaches out and touches my hand. The slightest of squeezes.
There’s a lengthening silence.
“…I want you just the way you are…”
‘Tell you what,’ she says, lowering eyes briefly before switching them back to me, ‘how about we take a drink up to my room?’
“…the same old someone that I knew…”
What? Where’s this going? ‘Sure.’ Keep breathing. Ball back in her court. There’s a net tightening over my chest. Try to ignore Clive, the hopeful devil in my ear.
‘Just for a few minutes,’ she adds.
“…I just want someone that I can talk to…”
Right. Heart suddenly slamming. ‘Onwards and upwards then.’
Her room’s on the second floor. On the stairs I consider what might be about to happen. If anything. But why else would she ask me to her room? Maybe it’s one in the eye for Chisel Face, the cheating bastard. Is that it? Or does Miss Dazzle want something else out of it? Or out of me? And what do I want? Or is she just drunk?
We’re on the bed; my lips are stinging with snogging. Her top’s on the floor, her jeans open at the zip. She’s in a lacy red bra. Clive’s hammering at the door of my trousers. Let me out.
But she’s pulled away. ‘Have you got any thingies with you?’
Er…no. ‘Do we need one?’
‘I’m not on the pill or anything.’
‘I’ll be careful.’ Yes. Come on. Clive’s all dressed up and ready to rock.
But I can see her shake her head.
‘I’d be scared. Besides, it’s that time of the month for me.’
What? Her Love Tunnel’s blocked? No! How to play it now? Withdraw gracefully? Wheedle? Try to ignore Clive’s insistent banging? Play the Gallant Gentleman? What Chisel Face wasn’t. Or just go for it. I mean, this is Miss Dazzle here, laying it on a plate. Get a grip.
Maybe she could get a grip?
But she’s having second thoughts. Sitting up. Reaching for her top. ‘Perhaps it’s for the best.’
‘Let me go downstairs,’ I wheedle.
‘There might be some in the toilets. You know. For sale.’
I leap up from the bed and button up my shirt; rearrange clothing. ‘Back in a jiffy.’
The toilets are occupied and I have to wait while someone finishes their business. On the wall’s a machine. ‘A quid?’ Bloody hell. Still, it’s a small price to pay isn’t it? I find change and press the knob just as the door opens and someone else walks in. Typical.
I run back upstairs, and fling myself through the door.
Miss Dazzle’s doing up a zip. Fully dressed. ‘Sorry, Rob. I’ve changed my mind.’
What? But I’ve got a packet. Black Mambo. Ribbed.
‘I’m not sure I’m in the right headspace. Too many G and T’s.’ She smoothes her trousers. ‘Besides, it’d be too messy. Really.’
But Clive’s present and correct.
‘Sorry, Rob. You’re sweet without being sugary.’ She glances at her watch. ‘Look. You don’t mind do you?’
‘Well. Finish your drink. And thanks again.’ Flashes me that smile. ‘For being there for me. A faithful friend.’ Pecks me on the cheek.
‘No problem.’ I down my glass. ‘Keep in touch. And good luck.’
Walking away I’m breathing deeply, in and out. What’s going on? She sees me like a loyal hound, that’s what. Or lap dog. How do I feel? If it was love, would I feel different?
And sex would have just complicated things. Right?
Yes. I am over her.
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
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W*O*L*D – Harry Chapin
A song about a DJ travelling the USA hoping to find some kind of fulfillment through love or music. The lyrics reveal that we can never change who we really are….a fitting start to this chapter! I first heard this on the radio in the early 70’s – it was released in 1973 – and it was one of those unusual songs that caught my attention so much that I had to somehow seek it out.
The Story In Your Eyes - Moody Blues
I’ve already confessed to being a Moody Blues fan ever since first hearing their original concept album “Days Of Future Passed” which included the seminal “Nights In White Satin.” This song comes from a later album, “Every Good Boy Deserves A Favour” from 1971…was I really only 17?? Ah the mess-up of youth! Needless to say this is another Moodies song written by Justin Hayward.
Just The Way You Are – Billy Joel
A classic love song from an excellent all round album “The Stranger” which also includes “Movin’ Out” dispelling for me any myth that Billy Joel is “middle of the road.” This album caught hold of me because of “Just The Way You are” but it’s got SOOO much more! Give it a spin!
About the Author: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!