Anything that stains
Blind Date 1
‘He’s a free agent and he’s very good looking. He has a good job, he’s charming, isn’t full of himself and he’s happy to go on a blind date with you, even though he’s never been on one before either. Come on Petra, give the guy a chance. What more could you ask? We’re talking Amici’s here, not the local burger bar.’
Stella was getting frustrated. Half an hour of gentle persuasion had got her nowhere. She moved on to cajoling.
‘Honestly, Petra. What have you got to lose? Aren’t you fed up with the TV for company seven nights a week?’
‘Let me think about it, Stella. I’ll let you know by the weekend.’
‘No dice sister.’ Stella had her on the ropes and she wasn’t going to settle for a draw now. ‘I’m not leaving until you agree.’
Petra threw up her hands. ‘Oh alright, you win, but it’s your fault if it’s a disaster. Tell him I’m okay for Saturday.’
Stella whooped and threw her arms around her best friend. He’s a gentleman, it’s Amici’s. What could possibly go wrong?’
Petra looked at her watch for the twentieth time. Where was he? He was half an hour late, and counting. She snatched a quick look towards the door. Nothing! She could sense that people were beginning to take an interest in her. A woman on her own at a table for two? They must think I've been stood up. One or two of the women looked at her sympathetically. That made it worse.
Petra made up her mind to face the humiliation head on. As she picked up her bag she heard the door crash open and a gasping male voice ask where table nine was. Thirty seconds later he was at the table, red faced, blurting out apologies.
‘I’m so, so sorry Petra, please forgive me. There was an accident, the traffic, I parked up and caught the bus, got off at the wrong stop and had to run back here. I feel terrible. If I had your mobile...’
Petra held up her hand. ‘It’s fine Martin, honestly. I haven’t been here that long myself.’
Martin began another volley of apologies, but Petra stopped him in mid flow and almost begged him to sit down. She could feel the eyes of the whole restaurant on them. This was worse than sitting here alone.
She took him in as he removed his overcoat. He was about thirty five, and as Stella had promised, very good looking. He was tall, of medium build with a strong jaw and beautiful soft blue eyes. When he spoke his voice was deep, smooth, with a maybe a hint of Irish in there somewhere.
‘I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance, Petra. Stella's told me so much about you.’ Martin offered his hand across the table, caught the cut glass vase and emptied its contents over the table cloth.
Petra groaned inwardly. Martin tried to mop up some of the water with his napkin.
‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ he stuttered. ‘I’m so clumsy when I’m nervous.’
Petra looked on silently and breathed a huge sigh of relief as the waiter took control of the situation. Martin leant back in his chair, shamefaced, as the waiter cleared up the mess.
They were offered a new table but Petra refused in an instant. She was embarrassed enough already, moving tables would only make them the centre of attention again. She decided to take the initiative. Martin was obviously nervous and trying too hard to make a success of the evening.
‘What do you do, Martin?’ She asked, although she knew the answer before it came. Stella had primed her with all the details.
‘I’m a garage manager,’ he said, glad not to be taking the lead. ‘The same one Stella works at. She’s in sales.’
Petra refrained from saying that she knew exactly what her best friend did for a living. ‘Do you enjoy it? Been there long?’
Martin spent the next ten minutes telling her about how he had started as a mechanic and worked his way through the company. He was just about to relive his job interview for the manager’s post when the wine waiter arrived at their side. Petra looked at him gratefully.
‘Red, white or pink?’ asked Martin, feeling more confident.
Petra decided on the house Red and the waiter disappeared to see to the request.
Martin looked across the table. 'Sorry about that. I always prattle on when I’m nervous. I’m not like this normally, promise.’
Petra smiled. 'Prattle away,' she said.
The waiter returned and showed the label to Martin before pouring a small amount into his glass. Martin sipped it, nodded, then held up his hand as the waiter began to fill their glasses. ‘I’ll see to that. Thanks.’
Martin stood up, grabbed the bottle and made his way around the table in what he obviously hoped was a sophisticated manner.
‘Wine, Madame?’ he cooed.
Petra laughed, eager to lighten the mood. ‘Thank you, kind Sir.’
Martin poured the wine with a flourish and theatrically pulled back the bottle. A large gush of wine shot from its neck, splashed over the white table cloth and the front of Petra’s cream dress.
Petra shrieked and stood up. Martin dabbed ineffectively at the front of her dress with a napkin. ‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ he stammered again. ‘I’m so sorry. What a clumsy fool.’
Petra grabbed her bag and almost ran to the ladies room. No chance of a dignified exit now. She tried to ignore the chatter as she made her way across the room.
Just wait until I catch up with you, Stella.
After doing her best to repair the damage, Petra slunk out of the ladies room, retrieved her coat, and sneaked out of the door. Martin was waiting outside.
He began to apologise again but Petra interrupted.
‘Some things are just not meant to be, Martin. Go and find your car.’
Petra turned away quickly before he could reply. After walking five yards she almost fell headlong as the heel of her shoe caught in the pavement and snapped. She shook her head in disbelief and limped off towards the taxi rank half a mile across town. She wasn’t at all surprised when the heavens opened up before she had gone a hundred yards.
Blind Date 2
‘No, never, not again, not ever! And this time I won’t let you talk me round.’ Petra stuck out her jaw and put on what she hoped was a, ‘final answer,’ face.
Stella, shrugged. ‘Oh, come on Petra. I know there were a few teething troubles but...’
‘Teething troubles?' Petra was aghast. 'It was a disaster. I still can’t get those wine stains out of my best dress and I can never go into that restaurant again. I’m having nightmares about it.’
Stella made sympathetic noises. ‘I know,’ she soothed. ‘But let’s not be too hasty, you could be onto a good thing here. He’s desperate to make it up to you.’
Petra began to waver. ‘If, I were to agree, there will be no restaurants, no best clothes, no wine and definitely no audience.’
Stella cheered silently. 'This time it will all be perfect. Trust me.'
Petra cursed as she turned the key in the ignition for the umpteenth time. The engine made a short whirring noise, then went quiet. Battery’s dead now, it had to happen today of all days.
Spots of rain appeared on the windscreen, heavy rain was forecast. Typical, just typical.
The rain was teaming down by the time the rescue services reached her. They had promised to be there in thirty minutes but had taken well over an hour.
Petra watched the mechanic as he worked on the engine, anxiety increasing with every, ‘tut,’ or shake of his blond head. Eventually he came out from under the bonnet. ‘Electrics have gone,’ he announced.
‘That sounds expensive,’ Petra said.
‘Can be,’ he said. ‘It depends where the fault lies. It could just be a bad earth.’
Forty minutes later Petra was back home, her broken down car parked outside on the road. She checked the wall clock. Christ, he'll be here in thirty minutes.
Petra ran upstairs, undressed quickly and had a shower. After a rubdown with the towel she slipped into her dressing gown and plugged in her styling wand. Soft curls tonight, nothing formal.
She had managed to do one side of her head and half of the front when the power cut struck. Seconds later there was a knock at the door.
Petra pushed her hair back from her eyes, grimaced and opened the door just as Martin was about to knock again. ‘Hi Martin, sorry, err, I’m a bit behind.’ The attempted smile froze on her lips as a mass of hair flopped in front of her eyes. ‘Bad hair day,’ she quipped.
Petra led Martin through to the kitchen. ‘I can’t even offer you coffee,’ she complained. ‘We’re in the middle of a power cut and I'm all electric.
‘Look on the bright side,' said Martin. 'The power might be on again by the time we get back from the theatre. Your hair looks, err, will look, nice,' he ended, lamely.
Petra headed for the stairs. ‘Back in a few minutes, Martin. I just need to do something with this. Make yourself at home.’
Petra hurried to the bathroom, soaked her hair in the tepid water, then rubbed it vigorously with a towel. She looked at the results in the mirror. Soaking wet, but at least it hangs evenly, now.
Petra wrapped the towel around her head and walked through to her bedroom. She opened the wardrobe and studied its contents.
She settled on a calf length, black lace dress with a short red jacket. After applying the minimum of makeup and patching up her nails, she felt more or less ready to take on the public. Her hair was still damp so she pulled on a woollen crocheted hat. In the end she was pleasantly surprised with the results.
Martin was standing where she had left him. ‘Ready at last, she said. 'Sorry about the delay.’
Martin walked her to the front door and stood gallantly aside to allow her through, then stepped out himself and pulled it shut.
'Bugger, I've left my bag in the kitchen,' said Petra.
‘Is it such a disaster?’ Martin asked.
Petra sighed. ‘My house keys are in it.’
As if on cue the power came back on and the burglar alarm went off.
One broken rear window later, Petra and Martin were once again sat in the kitchen. Petra made coffee while Martin cut a piece of board to temporarily fix the window square he had just smashed.
‘I think the fates are against us, Martin,' said Petra.
‘Martin nodded sadly. ‘We haven’t had the easiest of starts have we? Do you still want to go? We still have time to get there.’
Petra thought for a while then nodded. ‘Okay, let’s see what else the fates can throw our way. It's beginning to look like a quest from a Sinbad movie.’
Martin laughed and led her down the drive to his car. ‘Our luck must turn soon,’ he said. He looked up to the leaden skies in mock prayer. ‘I wish this rain would stop, it’s been coming down all afternoon.’
He opened the passenger door and Petra climbed hurriedly into the car. The rain became heavier. Martin slammed the door quickly, leaving two feet of lace hanging out of it. Oblivious, he scampered round to the driver’s side and threw himself into his seat. Thirty seconds later the car pulled away from the kerb dragging the bottom of Petra’s lace dress along the puddle strewn road.
Blind Date 3
‘My best two dresses ruined and you want me to try again? I may as well let him loose in my wardrobe with a pair of scissors and a barrel of hot tar.’ Petra held her face in her hands and looked at Stella pleadingly. ‘No, Stella, you can’t be serious. Tell me you’re just playing games.’
Stella put on her best sad face. ‘Pretty please?’
‘Petra shuddered. ‘No, and this time I mean it. He’s a very likable chap, he has no major personality faults, he’s good looking, he’s charming, he’s...I’m sure we’ve had this conversation before. He’s a Jonah, Stella. Bad luck follows him round like a faithful hound.’
‘It wasn’t really his fault your dress got stuck in the car door, Petra. You were both in a hurry to get out of the rain.’ Stella held out her hands, palms up. ‘It could have happened to anyone.’
Petra glowered, ‘It happened to me. You should have seen the state of my dress when we finally got to the theatre. Cinderella would have thrown it out.’
Stella busied herself making coffee. ‘He offered to buy you a new one. He was so looking forward to spending time with you. He was heartbroken at work on Thursday.’ As she poured hot water into the mugs she took a furtive look over her shoulder.
‘Was he really? The poor man. What did he say?’
Stella clenched her fist and whispered, ‘yes,’ then turned to face her friend. Using all her amateur dramatics skills she put on her tragic face and relayed the conversation she’d had with Martin in the office.
‘He said that he felt totally and utterly devastated. He said he wouldn’t hurt you for the world. He said he thought you were the most wonderful person he had ever met, and he doubted he would ever get a chance to be with anyone like you again. He said he had ruined his undeserved extra chance and he thinks he’ll become a monk.’
Petra’s eyes brimmed with tears. ‘Oh the poor man, tell him not to be so hard on himself, it was only a dress...Okay, two dresses. He’s a lovely person; it’s just that poltergeist that follows him everywhere.’
‘Stella patted Petra’s knee. ‘Tell him yourself, love. I said I’d try to get him an opportunity to apologise in the flesh. Shall I tell him Saturday night? You two were made for each other.’
Petra cursed and hit the steering wheel hard. 'Stupid bloody car.'
She took her mobile phone from her bag , pressed 9 on the speed dial and spoke to the RAC helpdesk. If it were anyone but me it would be funny. Who else has the RAC on their speed dial?
The girl on the desk promised that the van would be with her in twenty minutes. An hour later, the now familiar orange van pulled up in front of her. The mechanic opened her door and stuck his head inside. ‘Hi Petra, long time no see.’
‘Hello Colin. It’s been two whole days now, hasn’t it?’
Colin laughed, pulled the lever to open the bonnet and busied himself with the engine. After trying a couple of starts he gave her the bad news. ‘Your alternator’s had it.’
Petra groaned. ‘That must be the only original part of the car left. Is it going to be expensive?’
‘Define expensive. It could be worse I suppose. It could have been the gearbox.’
‘Been there, done that,’ Petra replied. ‘Can you get me going? I’ll get the local garage to pick it up again. They are talking about fitting a homing device.’
Martin was waiting at his gate as she pulled up. ‘Not the car again?’
Petra nodded sadly. ‘It’s always the bloody car. My life revolves around the RAC man and the mechanic, people are beginning to talk.’
‘Martin laughed quietly. ‘Why don’t you let me have a look at it for you? I’m still a dab hand with the spanners.’
Petra shook her head quickly. If he can ruin dresses like that, what could he do to a car?
‘It’s okay, Martin,' she said. 'The garage I use have had it so many times now, I get mate’s rates.'
Martin led her into the house. ‘I thought we might have a quiet dinner then watch a DVD. Nothing messy, just prawn salad then fish and veg. No gravy to spill all over you.’
Petra grinned. 'Jeans and jumper tonight, spill away.’
Martin led her outside onto his patio and handed her a glass of Merlot. Petra sipped the wine and wandered down the garden past rows of neat flower beds. At the bottom was a large shed. Parked outside, on a small lawn, was a gleaming motocross bike.
‘I didn’t know you were into motocross, Martin.’ Petra turned, wide eyed, as he strolled down towards her.
‘I’ve been into it since I could first ride a bike,’ he said. ‘I got my first one at sixteen.’
‘Both my brothers had trial bikes,’ she said happily. 'They used to let me ride them sometimes. I got quite good.’
Martin seemed delighted.
At last, something they had in common?
‘Would you like to have a go on this one?' he offered. 'There’s a track on the waste ground over the back. We could go after dinner.’
Petra grinned. ‘Fabulous,’ she enthused. ‘I’m so excited. It’s been years since I rode a bike.’
Over dinner Martin asked Petra to bring her car round to his garage. ‘Let my lads have a look at it,' he pleaded. 'We have a fully computerised testing system. I think it’s high time someone sorted that thing out for you once and for all. I’ll throw in mate’s rates too.’
Petra thought about it for a moment, then agreed. 'Thank you Martin. Between them, that bloody car and my wardrobe are bankrupting me.'
After dinner Martin and Petra walked the bike round to the wasteland behind his house. ‘What do you think?’ asked Martin. ‘Pretty cool, hey?’
Petra was amazed. Laid out before them was a vast expanse of grass and mud. Here and there were small hillocks, old piles of earth that had been left behind when the estate was built. A greasy muddy track ran through the whole area. She turned to Martin, opening her eyes wide. ‘They couldn’t have built a better track if they’d planned it.’
Martin grinned. ‘Me first. I’ll show you the best way round. Hang on, she takes a bit of kicking up.’
Petra stood aside while Martin tried to start the bike. It took four attempts before the engine burst into life. Martin lifted the front wheel, revved the engine and pulled away with a roar. Mud, grass, and worse, flew out from under the back wheel, covering Petra from head to foot in greasy, clinging slime.
Oblivious, Martin raced off. He was clearly in his element. After a hundred yards he planted his foot, skidded, and bought the bike round to face her. The rebel yell froze in his throat as he stared at her. She looked a picture of misery.
Martin closed his eyes and cursed. I must have broken a hundred mirrors to get luck like this.
Slowly he made his way back across the muddy ground. As he got closer he relaised that Petra wasn’t crying. The tremors that racked her body were not brought on by tears, but laughter. Martin dropped the bike and walked over to her.
Petra scraped a handful of mud from her jeans and threw it at him. ‘Okay, Martin,’ she laughed, hardly able to get her breath. ‘I give up. Let’s take on this poltergeist together.’
TRACY'S HOT MAIL! Release date 20th January 2012. Published by Crooked Cat Publishing
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