Where does life take us? Why is it that when you have settled on one course, fate comes knocking at your door and takes you off on a tangent? That's what happened to me, it seems to keep happening to me. I get used to my life, and then fate throws a surprise my way. Sometimes it is a little tap-tap on the door, at others it's a loud knock. Sometimes it blows the door open, and when it is really serious fate just takes the damn thing off its hinges.
I am Jack Hunter. My life to date had been particularly uneventful, although that would depend on your point of view. A wife, a daughter, an affair, and a couple of long term relationships after my divorce, which was twenty years ago. I will hold my hand up and acknowledge that I cheated on my wife. Not a good thing to do, but I will say in my defence that my wife was more concerned with her next drink rather than the welfare of her family. Gin and Tonic was her favourite so no one could be actually sure whether she was tippling or not. As a result our love life was virtually zero. It's no easy task to make love to someone who reeks of alcohol. Brenda, my wife didn't appear to be bothered by our lack of intimacy, her imbibing was of greater importance. I tried to get her to admit the problem, her Doctor tried, her mother tried, even our daughter, Libby, only three years old but she understood that something was wrong with mummy. Nothing worked. Despair and frustration were taking my self-esteem to new depths so when I had met a rather lovely lady called Deborah it quickly went from acquaintance to friendship to lovers. Our affair went on for three years. But when I called quits on my marriage, and as you would expect got taken to the cleaners in the resulting divorce, Deborah made it plain that we were not going to be an item. She came round for the sex but nothing else. Sounds like any man's dream, doesn't it? Sex on tap and no emotional baggage to go with it. But I was one of those men who wanted emotion in a relationship, so eventually I told her it was over.
The legal process in the UK was slow but exacting. It had however problems in making its judgments effective. I had visiting rights with my daughter, which were denied or delayed for spurious reasons. My solicitor would petition the court again and again to enforce the judgment. The court would confirm the judgment but never took action to ensure it was complied with. So slowly I lost touch with my daughter.
I met Jasmine in a supermarket; I actually helped her with the heavy bags. We had coffee, then dinner and eventually we started sleeping together on occasional nights. We went on like this for three years, until one day I got a fixed penalty speeding fine in the post. The location was not one I had driven through for months, so I queried the penalty. The bloody camera was right, it was my car, but at the time I had been away at a trade show, and I had travelled to the show by train. There was only one person who had access to my house, and the keys to the company car. Jasmine! After a lot of heated argument she admitted she had 'borrowed' the car. Problem was that she was not insured to drive it, a criminal offence in the UK. If she admitted the offence to the police, chances were that she would certainly be banned from driving, and get a hefty fine. There was also an outside chance of a prison sentence. I paid the fine, took the points on my licence, and Jasmine became history.
A few months after that lesson, I was invited to a party at a friend's house, which was where I met Bridget. We were under no illusions that we had been invited by well-meaning friends who thought that being single was an offence against nature. Well we did hit it off. Remaining friends for nearly three years, but the tingle was just not there. She was looking for a life-time partner. So was I really, but we knew that we were not the person who could fill that role for each other. The friendship continued for a while until Bridget found the right man for her. We made the usual comments; you know the ones about remaining friends and seeing each other from time to time. We all know that is just hot air. We would talk on the phone occasionally, but even that faded away. So I was again a single man at forty-nine. Probably for the rest of my life, judging from my track record. Perhaps I should have tried harder with my wife, but regrets are something we have to live with. You can't go back in time and correct your mistakes, although often you wish you could.
I worked as a salesman for a textile wholesaler. I had never considered myself a great salesman, but what I had going for me was a good knowledge of fabric technology and also how fabrics were woven, printed and used. I had literally gone through the mill, the real dark satanic mills. That was when the U.K. still produced textiles. Most of the stuff we sold was to bespoke curtain suppliers, and at one time I had my own business making curtains, I could cut the cloth, do the sewing and make up a good pair of curtains. My business was another casualty of my divorce. That talent though, served me well when talking to Interior Designers who mostly had absolutely no idea how to make the designs they created.
My area was quite large stretching from the North Sea coast of Lincolnshire, to the Irish Sea of North Wales, so I had to stay away regularly. Lincolnshire was a county of contrast, the flat lands of the Fens in the south and the rolling hills of the Wolds in the north. It was quite eerie driving the long straight roads back to my hotel over the Fens of a November evening. The gathering gloom cast a strange purple-grey miasma over the unending flat fields, only the solitary lights of a farmhouse away in the distance could convince you that there was at least some life here. The morning drive could be amazing. The roads were laid on embankments, as all the land was below sea level. When the temperatures were right a mist would cover all the fields, lapping gently at the road on its embankment. It was like driving on top of a cloud, fantastic! North Wales was a complete contrast, the mountains and sea pushed timelessly at each other, leaving just a thin strip of land upon which the seaside towns, the road and the railway had established themselves. There were a lot of Welsh-speakers there, who viewed the English with caution if not dislike. It took me many visits to gain their confidence. I did one thing that pleased them. I learned how the place names were pronounced, asking them if I was getting it right. They seemed to warm to me as I was at least trying.
We often got requests from new businesses wanting to establish account facilities with us, and one such request was from Rebecca Cannon. She was working from home in a town not too far from where I lived so I phoned and made an appointment to call and see her. It was usual with new accounts to show as much of the range as possible, so my car, a Ford Mondeo was loaded to the gunwales with pattern books, all of which I carried in for her to make selections and they were heavy. No need to go to the gym, weight lifting came with the job. I had explained to her that it would take some time to go through the range and to allow at least two hours. She was good and didn't hurry me so I got to know her quite well, particularly as she provided good coffee. Becky, as she preferred to be called took a good selection of the range and we discussed the terms. I filled in the application and we were up and running. She was a very pleasant woman, friendly with a rather earthy sense of humour; she was pretty, but well built. Her husband's name was Tom and he worked shifts, so he was there for some of the time. I got on well with him, although I did detect some acidity in things they said to each other. Not my problem, I did my job and eventually took off to my next call.
For the next couple years I would see Becky about four times a year. Two of the calls were to show her new ranges and the other calls were purely customer courtesy calls. Over this time we became quite good friends and the call time became longer, and more frequent. With the business over we would sit and chat. I learned quite a lot about her, and she about me. Again over that time I noticed that Becky who had been a well rounded girl was losing weight. I mentioned this and she told me that she had started going to the Gym, and had taken up riding again. I knew from previous conversations that she had once rode frequently, going to gymkhanas and even taking part in national trials. As she once said to me.
"Riding a horse is not just about sitting on top of it. You work all the muscles and you sweat, almost as much as the horse. You are knackered when you get off." I also gathered that she and Tom were not getting along too well. Now coming on to customers is not a sensible thing to do. So I never, ever gave Becky any reason to think that I was interested in her sexually, a fact she noticed. As she had lost weight, the great figure that had been hidden for years re-emerged, and she got come-ons from quite a few men. She mentioned this one day, and then went on to say. "That's why I like you, Jack. I think we are good friends, and one reason for that is that you have never done or said anything that could be suggestive. I don't have to be on my guard with you, and that's great. We can just talk about anything." Which we did.
Now don't get the idea that I didn't find Becky attractive. She was. However as I said she was a customer, and secondly married. I knew the marriage was shaky, but that is absolutely the worst time to make moves on a woman. So our friendly customer relationship went on. My calls with her got longer and I learned more about her background.
The relationship changed when on one call I told Becky of my determination to learn how to Ballroom Dance. I was one of those who got bitten by the bug after the first season of 'Strictly come Dancing', the programme is called 'Dancing with the Stars' in the States. All those gorgeous girls set the pulse racing. She asked me if I had a partner.
"No. But the bloke who runs the classes said that there were plenty of single women there, and getting a partner would be no trouble, he said I may get killed in the rush!" Becky laughed. Then floored me.
"Jack, would you consider me to partner you?" I was stuck for a reply for a while.
"Well I would be happy, but what about Tom. Wouldn't he mind?" Becky was shaking her head.
"No, not at all, but let's ask him. He's in his workshop out the back." Becky went out. Then called from the kitchen. "Do you want another coffee while I'm here?"
"Thanks, Becky." Five minutes later Tom came in.
"Hello Mate." He clapped me on the shoulder. "Becky told me about your going to dancing lessons, and that you're worried that I would be iffy about her going with you. No, mate. No trouble. Get her out a bit more. It'll be good for her." I did get the idea that it could be good for him as well.
We discussed what evenings would be best. Tom had gone back to his workshop by then, and it did strike me oddly that Becky didn't want to go to the classes nearest to her. They were only three miles away and I thought would be convenient, but Becky insisted that the evenings they held the classes would not be right for her, so we arranged to go to the school about fifteen miles away. It was no problem to me as I lived closer to the second school. We left it like that, and I arranged for us to join at the next date they started a beginner's class. That was three weeks away.
Becky drove to my house that first evening of dance, and we went on together. I must say the lessons were a lot of fun. I had been concerned that I could be the oldest there and was re-assured when quite a few couples were older. Now we didn't exactly start twirling around the floor that first evening, in fact there was no music to dance to until right at the end. The Instructors were more concerned with us learning the basic Waltz steps with one variation, the Spin Turn. When we got back to my place, Becky accepted the offer of coffee, and we sat and chatted for a least an hour, before she decided that she should go home.
Subsequently Becky would make her own way to the class and I would meet her there. We seemed to be compatible when dancing, although once or twice she tried to lead. I had to repeat to her what the instructor had said. "In the Ballroom, the man leads and the woman follows." Now Becky was an independent woman, but she did subdue her natural instinct and allowed me to lead. After a few weeks of classes we were getting reasonably proficient, having gained a good knowledge of the steps in Waltz, Quickstep and Foxtrot. In addition we were able to get around the floor without falling over our own feet. It was good to hold Becky close at times, particularly in the quick turns, when in order to do them I had to hold her quite tightly. Her weight loss had revealed a very impressive bust. I told her on one of the first occasions that I had to hold her body against me. "I am going to hold you tight now. I shan't enjoy it, but it has to be done for the dance."
"Of course you won't enjoy it." Becky laughed. Then proceeded to press herself against me even harder than needed for the dance.
It was about this time that I noticed something odd. When the class was finished we said goodbye and Becky would give me a kiss on the cheek. I had always driven out of the car park first, as Becky seemed to take an age getting sorted. One thing I did note was that the first thing she would do upon getting back into her car was switch on her mobile phone. She had one of those with a flip top and quite a bright illumination. She never made a call, just looked at the screen. I got the impression she could have been reading a text message. Usually we would take different roads home, but one time I went a different way, coincidentally it was the road that Becky would use. Again I had been out of the car park before her; she never seemed in a hurry to get going. I was travelling north, doing about seventy, when suddenly she passed me like I was standing still. My thought was that she must have an emergency at home. That is until I asked her the next week if there had been a problem.
"No, Jack. Why would you think that?" I decided not to pursue this and took her through a new step we had been taught the last week. But my mind was wondering.
A week or two later, Becky made a strange request, that if Tom phoned when I got home, not to answer. OK I could do that as her home number was in the memory, and I had caller ID. It was that request that convinced me of something that I had suspected. Becky was seeing another bloke, and using our dancing lessons as a cover. I was not jealous, but I was upset that she should use me this way. On my next business call I tackled her, making certain that Tom was on shift first.
"You are seeing someone, aren't you?" Becky had that guilty look on her face that told the truth whatever she said.
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"Becky you don't have to say sorry to me, I just wished that as your friend you could have told me earlier. I thought you just wanted to learn to dance; now it appears that you are using that as an excuse to get out of the house."
"I shouldn't have used you like that, Jack." She was contrite. "When you said you were going to dancing lessons, I jumped at the chance. Tom knows you and wouldn't have a problem, although he thinks the lessons go on much later than they actually do. If it's any consolation, I am enjoying the lessons immensely." I was somewhat mollified by her words. But they didn't resolve the problem I perceived.
"Becky. I realise that you and Tom were not getting on too well. Is it getting close to break-up time?"
"I think it is." Becky admitted unhappily.
"Well I'm sorry about that, but under the circumstances I think we should call it a day on the dancing lessons."
"If you and Tom break up, I don't want my name mentioned as a probable reason, and Tom could think that a possibility. If he did and complained to my employers, I could be out of a job." She was shocked. She hadn't thought it through.
"I am sure he wouldn't do that."
"Can you guarantee that?" The pause was long enough to convince me that she couldn't. "Sorry, Becky, but I can't take the chance."
I was a little pissed off about this. First it had spoiled a friendship, second a good customer relationship, and thirdly I didn't have a partner for dancing. This far into the class schedule it would be difficult to pick up with another partner. You are supposed to be able to dance with any partner, once you know how to dance. But in the learning stages it is better to be at the same stage as your partner in the process.
My calls now did not have the frequency as before. We were still friendly, but the topics we could talk about were censored. The business she did with us dropped severely. I tried to find out from my competitors if they were picking up business from her. It's a strange thing in this trade, that although we all competed for business, you got to know your colleagues of the competition, quite well, and would often pass on information to each other over a friendly coffee. Becky wasn't pushing her business to others, so I assumed that she wasn't doing as well now. The consensus opinion amongst my competitors was that she wasn't actively pushing for work now.
Two years after we had that conversation my life changed. For years I had held some National Savings and Investment Premium Bonds. These went into a draw every month for a top prize of a million quid. I had never had any luck. Then I got the letter. No, it wasn't the top prize but it was significant. Half a million! With that money invested sensibly, and taking my pension early, I would be slightly better off than if I continued working. I didn't have to think long. I enjoyed working, but not to the extent that I would continue if I didn't have to. I put my notice in to my employers, and became an official lay about in the UK.