“Are these yours?”
The stranger who had knocked on my door had just the hint of a smile about his face. When I looked down I realised why. In his outstretched hand he held a pair of knickers.
Quick thinking was called for; not only were they my knickers, they were my most sensible cover-all pair. I studied them intently.
“Nooo, I don’t recognise them. Mine are much silkier ... and smaller of course.”
I looked up to see the hint of a smile getting dangerously close to a smirk. Quick thinking was never my strong point.
“Just as a matter of interest, where did you find them?”
“Your dog presented me with them as I came through your gate.”
“My dog. I see. Well, why don’t I take them and try and find out who they belong to?” I said, my sweet smile hiding my evil intent: I was going to murder that animal. He had a thing about knickers. Maybe he’d had an unhappy puppyhood and they represented security to him, I don’t know, and at that moment I didn’t really care. I grabbed the offending object from my visitor’s hand and was about to shut the door when he said “I did have a reason for coming through your gate.”
“Oh, yes, of course, sorry, silly me.”
The knickers resisted my attempts to stuff them in my pocket so I threw them, casually, into the hall behind me.
“I wonder if I could use your telephone? I’m moving in next door and the solicitor, who was supposed to be dropping the keys off, hasn’t turned up. I managed to pack my mobile and I have some removals men getting irate out there.”
On the road outside I could see a removals van and some very grumpy looking men.
“Of course, come on in.”
The phone was in the hall as were my knickers. Hoping he hadn’t noticed, I hastily kicked them under the stairs.
“I’ll put the kettle on, I’m sure a cuppa all round will calm the situation.”
As I backed into the kitchen, grinning maniacally, I wondered why I was sounding like a character in an Aga saga. It just wasn’t every day that a good-looking man came through my door. In fact there hadn’t been a single one since Adam had walked out. Not that I regretted him going. Charlie and I were better off without someone who couldn’t cope with a little slobber on his trousers.
I heard the phone click and my neighbour-to-be tapped on the kitchen door. He looked with some surprise at the tray I was carrying. I had made six mugs of tea and another six of coffee.
“Please take one. Do you take sugar? No? What about a biscuit? They’re homemade, well, I didn’t make them, you understand, but I bought them at the WI market which is the next best thing.”
I was just making a mental note to stop reading Joanna Trollope when Charlie came in. Charlie is my dog, the one currently under a death threat. He’d been playing ‘nosey neighbour’ in the front garden watching every move the removals men made, but now bored with the lack of movement, he’d come looking for other diversions. Charlie is very friendly; he is also very big.
“Charlie NO. GET DOWN. Oh, I’m sorry, let me get you a cloth to wipe your jacket. He doesn’t mean any harm, he just wants to say hello. He’s really very ... oh, I’m sorry, that cloth must have had milk on it ... But he’s really very ... helpful.”
Charlie, realising he’d made a blunder, had gone to fetch a peace offering — my knickers from under the stairs. At that moment there was a screech of brakes outside.
“That must be my solicitor with the keys. Thank you for the use of your telephone. I’ll make sure I always carry mine in future.” He’d made a bolt for the door and was through the gate before I could ask him what his name was.
Peering from behind the bedroom curtains as the removals men got to work, I noticed that all the furniture had that stark bachelor-flat appearance, with not a flounce or frill to be seen. This was a good sign. Now that might smack of desperation but eligible men round me are as rare as a happy storyline in Eastenders. And the few I do meet never seem to hang around very long.
Over the next few weeks, working at home, I was able to keep a close eye on the comings and goings of Whatsisname, as I called him when talking to Charlie, drawing up intricate plans to accidentally bump into him. Unfortunately it looked as if he were drawing up equally intricate plans to avoid me. So it was with a sense of inevitability that I decided I needed to concentrate on some deadlines that were closing in on me. Housework was the main casualty.
So it was, dressed in a three-day-old t-shirt and mud-bespattered jeans, with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s chocolate chip ice cream in my hand, that I answered the door one morning only to come face to face with Whatsisname.
“Why aren’t you in work?”
It was out before I could stop myself.
“I mean you’re usually in work at this time of day. No, wait, I mean ... I’m usually in work at this time of the day. Yes, that’s right. Well, of course, I am in work, I work here. Ah,” I took a deep breath, “would you like a cup of coffee?”
I thought I covered my slip of the tongue quite well; Whatsisname looked slightly apprehensive. He said, “No, I don’t think so, thank you.”
“Oh, I know, you’re worried about Charlie,” I said. “There’s no need, he’s in the garden. In fact, it’s a wonder he hasn’t come round to greet you.”
“That’s why I’m here actually; he’s round the back. His head appears to be stuck in the hedge.”
“Oh, that Charlie,” I hissed through the gritted teeth lurking behind my smile. “He’s always sticking his nose where he shouldn’t.”
We hurried around to the back garden and there was Charlie’s bottom sticking out from the bushes. He wagged his tail enthusiastically when he heard us coming.
“Come on Charlie, get out of there. You’re making a big hole in this nice gentleman’s hedge.”
Charlie wagged even more boisterously but stayed put.
“Come on Charlie, stop being silly. I’ve got a doggy treat here for you,” I lied. My face was beginning to ache with the strain of smiling for so long.
“I wonder if he’s stuck,” Whatsisname suggested. “I’ll go round to my side and see if there’s something in his way.”
The moment he’d gone the real me emerged.
“Get out of there this minute, you stupid animal,” I whispered angrily. “I’m going to count to three and you’d better be out then or else. One......two......three. That does it; it’s bread and water for you.”
“Thank you very much but I’ve already had breakfast,” I could hear the smirk on his face even through the thick bushes. “I could do with a pair of shears though,” he continued.
“There’s a branch sticking into his chest,” he spoke through the hedge slowly and clearly. “If he tries to move, it could do some serious damage. We’ll have to cut it. I haven’t got round to buying garden tools yet so do you have any?”
“Oh yes, hang on a minute, I’ll go and find some.”
I said this with more optimism than I felt. I did have some shears, it was just that they were in the shed and my storage system was based on the ‘throw it in and close the door quickly’ school of thought. Ten minutes later I emerged triumphant if not slightly tattered and oiled. As I opened the shed door, two muddy paws were placed on my shoulders and I was covered in big sloppy kisses.
“It’s all right, Charlie, did you think I’d left home? CHARLIE! How did you get out?”
“I thought you’d left home so I broke the branch and freed him,” Whatsisname said. The smirk on his face was starting to get boring.
“Thank you so much for rescuing Charlie,” I said, sounding rather like Princess Anne on a bad day, “I don’t know how we can ever repay you.”
I did think about offering him coffee but decided to quit while I was ahead, or at least before I fell behind anymore.
One of our favourite walks is along the river path through the woods. In springtime it’s especially beautiful with the bluebells and primroses in full bloom but at any time of year it’s likely to be muddy. Charlie loves to swim in the river which washes off a lot of the mud but he still ends up bedraggled looking. In spite of what you’ve heard about him so far he’s quite well behaved, no, really, he is, so as we walk up the final stretch of road leading to our house I let him off his lead. There’s not much traffic and, as I said, he’s well-behaved. Except when he gets excited. And he gets excited if he sees someone he knows or he might know or if they’re just there really. So when he saw this female coming out of Whatsisname’s gate he had to go and say hello.
I was wasting my breath. He was determined and nothing was going to stop him giving his own distinctive greeting. Thoughts rushed through my mind. Was it too late to turn and run? What happens if you put your head in an electric oven? Is there a Society for the Protection of Dog Owners? And is this Whatsisname’s girlfriend?
For once luck seemed to be on our side — she appeared to like dogs.
“You must be Charlie,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot about you!”
“I’m terribly sorry,” I babbled “He’s usually so well-behaved. I don’t know what’s come over him. You must smell very nice to dogs.”
“Thank you, I think,” she smiled. “And you must be the girl with the knickers.”
At that I grabbed Charlie, put him on his lead and started to drag him away. Perhaps I’d put Charlie’s head in the oven first. Then just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse she called to me, “You must come in for coffee when I’ve moved in properly.”
“Thank you, yes, that would be lovely,” I shouted back, adding under my breath, “oh, no, no, no.”
That evening I needed comfort food. I made myself the biggest bowl of porridge you’ve ever seen. All my hopes for a future with Whatsisname were squashed. I admit there wasn’t a lot going for it but things can change. He might have grown to love Charlie and me. A girl has to dream. As they say in the song my mother used to sing to me when I was little, “You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream ...”
So that’s how I came to be waltzing round with Charlie and my bowl of porridge, singing at the top of my voice, when there was a knock at the door. I cha-cha-ed out to open it to find, inevitably, Whatsisname on the doorstep.
I was past caring. Everything he’d seen up till now must have convinced him that I was the biggest brazilnut in town. It was too late to remedy the situation so I gave it my all and a bit extra.
“Then you’ll never have a dream come truuuuuuuuuue.”
I threw out my chest, spread open my arms and spilled my porridge over his shoes. When it comes to food Charlie’s reactions are faster than Lewis Hamilton’s. One slurp and it was gone. Whatsisname and I raised our heads slowly and simultaneously and then he burst out laughing.
“Why didn’t the estate agent didn’t warn me about you!”
“I’m not usually like this” I said indignantly. “You just seem to bring out the worst in ... us.” I’d just realised Charlie had stuck his nose where well-mannered dogs aren’t supposed to stick their noses. Etiquette was never his strong point.
“Charlie, please, don’t do that.”
Whatsisname bent over and started to stroke Charlie’s head.
“My sister phoned,” he said. “She was worried that she might have upset you this afternoon. I said that seemed unlikely but she insisted that I come around and tell you she’s sorry she mentioned the knickers, sorry, I mean, the you-know-whats.” I was looking at him blankly. “You met her this afternoon, if you remember” he enunciated.
“Met her?” I said doubtfully, “Your sister?”
“Yeees. The one Charlie liked the smell of?”
“That was you sister? You mean the girl who was here this afternoon? She’s your sister? The one who’s moving in with you? She’s your sister?”
“Yes, her company has moved down here so it seemed sensible that she should stay with me for a while until she finds a place of her own.”
I was still saying “Your sister, well, well” and the grin was spreading all over my porridge-encrusted mouth when he said, “Look, we haven’t had the best of beginnings. What about us going out for a meal and starting again?”
“Go out for a meal? You and me?”
He laughed and said, “Well I’d prefer not to take Charlie!”
We arranged to go out the very next evening. Just as he was going through the gate I remembered “Oh, I don’t know your name.”
He turned, grinned and said hang-doggishly, “I’m afraid it’s Charles.”