include_once("common_lab_header.php");
Excerpt for The Return of Trudy McKendrick - Book One by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.



The Return of Trudy McKendrick

Book One

CJ Daniels





Dedicated to all of my wonderful, beautiful Trudy’s, past and present.

You know who you are, and I Iove you all very, very lots.



And to my Jonas – you know who you are too.

I think.

Husband…it’s you…I mean you.

I love you quite a very lot too.

xxx



1)

If only I’d known this was how I would die.

I really should have worn better underwear, my mother would never forgive me for dying in period week knickers. Squatting repeatedly like a fat chicken on crack, holding in a fart that had wanted to come out for twenty-five minutes, while some kind of exercise dominatrix called Finn (pretend name, definitely a Trevor) held his hands on my waist to make sure I ‘stayed aligned’. The reality was that I was not remotely aligned and his hands had drifted suspiciously from my waist. To all intents and purposes we were having really quite energetic sex, fully clothed and without the penetration, closely observed by a lot of spectators on hill climbers not even pretending not to watch.

Recommended by my (soon to be ex) friend Lou, I’d signed up for personal trainer time at the gym, regretting it the instant I realised they actually made you workout. I could see why she liked it, mind you, as 1) she was all bendy and limber like the gymbot cyborgs I detested and dreamed about hurting, and 2) her personal trainer was Jonas, who was muscled and tall, looked like Jamie Dornan and spoke like George Clooney. He held the door for me once and I couldn’t thank him because I forgot what you’re meant to do with your tongue when you talk - so I just kind of blew a strange raspberry and pretty much came in my pants. I suspected there might be some actual penetration when his cyborgs are squatting. They’re probably really well aligned too, I should imagine.

‘Quick break’, Finn/Trevor barked at me, ’30 seconds, go get a drink’. I would swear he also slapped my backside but since I had no feeling from the neck down it was honestly quite difficult to tell. Thirty seconds does not constitute a break when it takes you that long to turn your broken body in the direction of the water cooler. I picked up my towel in the stunted style of an unbending Thunderbird, silently let my fart out and sidled off. Brewing for twenty five minutes…really nasty…let that be a lesson to you, Trevor, you pervy little fucker.

Waiting in line at the water cooler I cast my eyes around the gym. It was only just coming to my attention how much I stood out in this place. I was dressed in an old vest and leggings with a greying sports bra from 1997 strapping the girls down - gym attire, in my tiny mind. Everyone else appeared to be preparing to go out to a bar or club. Full make up, hair styled, expensive looking sports bras and layered tops over fitted, flattering knee length running trousers with funky looking footwear that my school issue trainers from 5th year PE didn’t really stand up to. Plus various electronic gadgets – watches and straps and wiring - that appeared to direct them to go faster/higher/longer until absolute perfection was achieved. I was going to die in a place where I simply didn’t belong, taken down by a well-groomed army of fitness freaks. Wearing period week knickers.

Having left enough time to clear the air, I wandered back to the mats to find Finn/Trevor had vanished. Perhaps the potency of my highly fermented pump gas had disintegrated him, I fantasised grimly.

‘Hi’!

Oh shit.

‘Finn’s had to step out and deal with another client for a moment, so he’s asked me to finish up your session if that’s ok’? Jonas asked me, smiling, in his gorgeous ‘I’m trying to shag Carol from ER’ voice, while a little bit of dribble slid out the corner of my mouth.

‘Plllllbbbbbrrrrr’, (sound of me blowing a raspberry), I replied, smiling manically while contemplating my panic exit options, gingerly sniffing to see if my fart smell had dissipated and wondering who our children would look like.

‘Smiling’! he said, ‘That’s good’!

Smiling stopped.

‘Where were you up to in your plan’?

‘Pppffffbbrrrrr’, I responded, looking and sounding like I was having a stroke while pointing at the unticked boxes on my sheet with shaking hands and surreptitiously sucking the dribble back up into my mouth.

‘Right, lunges. How’s your balance? Do you want to brace against me’?

I’m sorry?!

I tried to forget that I had already been at this for half an hour which meant my hair was frizzy, my face had mutated into a beetroot and there was probably a little sweat patch on my arse that made it look like I’d widdled. I adopted the lunge position confidently, while pondering internally what the lunge position actually was. Jonas stepped forward, so my outstretched hands rested on his chest.

On his pecs.

His pecs.

Then he put his hand over mine and said (in the George Clooney voice), ‘ready’?

Oh. Holy. Jesus.

Suddenly the sweaty widdle patch was the least of my wet knicker worries.

I lunged (I think) repeatedly. He quietly told me I could do more, and because I didn’t want him to ever stop talking to me or touching me, I carried on until my leg muscles detached from my knees, collapsed down into my ankle area, and died. Which might have actually made the whole thing that much easier, who knows.

‘Well done’, he glanced down at my sheet, ‘Trudy’. God, I hated my parents for lumbering me with that name. Not even Jonas could make it sound anywhere close to sexy.

‘Next is sit ups, shall we crack on’?

Really? We weren’t done? But…but…but…

I collapsed (no leg muscles), in as ladylike a fashion as I could muster (like a dead walrus dropping from a very great height), to the mat to do some sit ups.

‘Ok, lie flat on your back, widen your legs and bend your knees’.

I pushed all inappropriate interpretations of that sentence to the back of my mind and lay flat on my back. But sadly, as I had no thigh muscles now, the leg moving bits of those instructions had no hope of being followed. He laughed quietly, ‘A few too many lunges maybe? You have to say when you need to stop, or you’ll get an injury’.

‘I will’, I whispered.

Oh. Progress. Sounds that could be words came out.

‘Ok’, he slid his legs under mine so we were facing each other, each with our legs stretched out quite widely, though he was sitting up and his legs had raised mine higher. I tensed and watched him warily, silently panicking about the visibility of the widdle patch. I recalled this in ‘position of the fortnight’ in More magazine when I was fourteen. And they weren’t doing sit ups.

‘Don’t worry’, he smiled, ‘It’s just to watch your positioning and check your abdominals while you work’.

I nodded, all my well-honed, professional communication skills coming out now. I’m not a journalist for nothing you know. Communication is my thing.

‘Ready for ten’? He asked, placing a hand gently on my lower abs.

‘Mmmmmff’. See. No probs.

He splayed his fingers gently on my tummy fat, patiently waited for my orgasm to subside, and nodded at me before he started counting….

‘One…’.



I left the gym by walking down the stairs backwards as my legs wouldn’t behave properly when I asked them to go down in the usual way. Then I collected Grace from the crèche, and Lou called me while I was strapping her into her car seat. Or trying to. She was currently adopting a helpful, rigid, ironing board position.

‘He was unbelievable’.

‘He’s good isn’t he, I think he’s one of the best they have’, Lou replied, totally seriously.

‘Yes, yes’, I agreed, realising she meant Jonas’ skills as a personal trainer, ‘Very good at..…motivating…..and stuff’.

‘Stella is good too, you know’, Lou said distractedly, ‘She can show you how kettle bells work best for women’.

‘Mmmm’, I replied, pretending I understood any of the words in that sentence, ‘I better go and get Grace’, I said her name through gritted teeth so with her 2 year old brain she could understand she was in bother and start to defer appropriately to my supreme parental authority, ‘in her car seat’. She took the hint, stopped doing the ironing board thing and dropped to the floor of the car like a dead body. Marvellous. ‘You coming out on Saturday with the girls’?

‘Yes, looking forward to it’, Lou replied, ‘See you about half seven’.

‘See you later’.

Gracie is my daughter. Light of my life, my reason for living, fills me with pride every second of every day. Currently pulling furry Haribo off the car floor and eating them.

We’re a team me and Grace, it’s just the two of us. Her father was never going to stick around when she accidentally got created after a brief liaison with a guitarist who didn’t see the merit in monogamy, never mind parenthood. Not my finest hour, and the last of any kind of action of that sort in my life. Entirely, entirely worth it because it gave me my Grace. Three years ago, that was. You can see why Jonas touching my muffin top was all it took these days.

‘Hi there’. Speak of the devil…

‘Hi’, I squeaked, in old jeans that hung too low and a tee shirt that was really quite tight now, hair still wet, no make-up on and daughter in a state of collapse, eating hairy, expired jellies.

‘Having car trouble’? He strolled over, smiling.

‘Well, if by car trouble you mean forcing a two year old into her seatbelt…then yes, a spot of car trouble’.

Hello? Get me, making funnies with Jonas. It was funny, right? It was meant to be a joke, I hope he…

‘Ha’! He laughed, all deep and rumbly (phew), ‘Do you want a hand? What’s her name’?

‘This is Grace’, I said, hauling her from the floor of the car at which point she appeared to dislocate both of her shoulders so she slid through my hands like a jellyfish, her t-shirt came up over her head and she started running round the car park looking like the half-naked back end of a very small pantomime horse – or something else which has legs but no head. I made a grab for her and yanked her t-shirt back down.

‘Hi Grace’, Jonas said, ruffling her already ruffled hair.

‘Hewwo’, she answered warily from behind my legs.

‘Have you been in the playroom with Annette’? He asked her kindly.

‘Yes’, Gracie nodded and wiped her snot on my jeans. Endearing. Still, I suppose if he saw the widdle patch earlier and/or smelled my 25 minute trump, this was small fry by comparison.

‘She’s great Annette isn’t she, I always have fun with her’.

I hate Annette.

Who is she?

‘Did you have fun’?

‘Yes’, she nodded again and started delving in her nostril for the bits that my trousers hadn’t dealt with.

‘Well’, I stopped her before she found something and either ate it or flicked it, ‘We’d better get going Grace, can you pop in the car for me please’?

I was such a good, patient mother.

In front of other people.

Grace looked militant for a second, and just at the point where I thought a rebellion was imminent, Jonas said, ‘Do you like treats? I can get one from my bag if you pop into the car for your Mum’?

She eyed him suspiciously as he walked to his car and pulled a snack bar from his rucksack.

‘Awight’, she nodded very seriously and climbed into the car. When I’d clicked her into place, Jonas reached past me and handed her the bar, ‘Now don’t open this until your Mum says you can, ok’.

‘Ooh! Pleeeeease!! Now, now, now’!

‘I think now is the time’, I laughed pathetically as I handed the opened bar back to Grace, who pulled a furry fried egg off her t-shirt and discarded it in favour of the new treat, ‘Thanks’, I said to Jonas.

‘No problem, Trudy’, he said, walking back to his car with a smile that, if he hadn’t completely obliterated them earlier, would certainly have made my leg muscles quiver, ‘See you soon’.

He remembered my (ridiculous) name, I swooned, limped to the driver’s door and just sort of fell in sideways. Well, that would probably earn some forgiveness for giving my two-year-old an energy bar an hour before bedtime. Just about. Now then, how does one operate a motor vehicle when one cannot lift one’s feet from the floor?

I did eventually get Gracie off to sleep, and settled (collapsed in total agony) onto the sofa with a large medicinal gin and my laptop to earn my keep. I mostly worked from home now which often required more discipline than I was capable of and today meant I’d be burning the midnight oil with a column to write and a deadline of eight o’clock tomorrow morning. I’d covered current affairs for the Journal until I had Grace, but was lucky enough to have an open-minded editor who signed up to my idea of a weekly column in one of our magazines, sharing real stories of a single parent getting back into adult life.

I smiled as I typed the column for this week. It was quite freeing to tell the world your little foibles and fumbles, and you wouldn’t believe the response the paper got. Clearly there were other Trudy McKendricks out there, struggling along like me and surviving by the skin of our arses, through good friends, good humour and bloody good gin.



2)

I did make my deadline of 8am in the end, though it was 2am by the time I hit send on the submission. As much as Facebook, Twitter and the likes have progressed modern communication, I do think they need to take some responsibility for what I can only assume are plummeting productivity levels of the current working generation. It is all but impossible to do internet research for actual, real work, when Facebook strongarms you into clicking on articles showing what 1980s child stars look like now. They reel you in with a photo of someone like Kevin off the Wonder Years, but the other 7000 photos are all just ‘extra number 4 in episode 12 of the Cosby Show’ or the kid off the Werther’s original advert in 1989. But you can’t just give up half way through. You’re hooked, just in case it shows you a photo of Hoby from Baywatch or Zack from Saved By the Bell, old, fat, bald and leaving rehab/prison/a den of iniquity. Then when you eventually get into bed, you just have one last trawl through to make sure you haven’t missed anything critical that’s happened in the last fifteen minutes to people you knew twenty years ago and didn’t really like. But you get inexplicably pulled in by the ‘How much do you know about Harry Potter’ and ‘Only a Genius will get all of these right’ quizzes which take until 3am. Then you think you should offset your own childish gullibility and make yourself feel more grown up and well-adjusted by reading BBC news for at least a second or two to be very mature and informed about world politics and current affairs, but get quickly distracted by stories about dogs who sing along to Coronation Street and a Korean kid doing a rubix cube in under a minute, blindfolded.

So, when the phone alarm goes off, you want to throw it against the wall. But instead you look again at Facebook to see what unmissable, world changing events have taken place in the brief seconds while you slept, revoltingly but inevitably continuing to look while you sit on the loo, only realising when your feet start to go to sleep that you have been on there for half an hour. Next ensues a five minute inner conversation about whether you have the time to wash your hair, or more importantly, the mental capacity and personal commitment to dry and style it afterwards. It is generally at this point in my life, whilst holding onto the bathroom radiator to keep my balance until my feet wake up, sniffing my hair to assess how dirty it actually is, that Grace wanders in. And then the decision is taken out of my hands. It’s going to be another dirty hair day.

I always assumed that body issues stemmed entirely from women, and men, comparing themselves to unachievable, airbrushed photos in magazines, movie stars and what have you. Or from wanting to be like the popular girl at school, who you thought was the most beautiful creature you had ever beheld. Only now when you look back on photos, she looks fairly normal and you only found out later her popularity had more to do with going down on the majority of the boys in 5A than it did with perfectly symmetrical fringey bits.

Once you are a parent, however, body shaming starts to plumb new depths. Your self confidence deserts you somewhat once you’ve had a 15 month old squat down to toilet height so they can observe the poop exiting your body, then try to help you wipe afterwards. Or stare relentlessly and unblinkingly at your once pert boobs that now, having fed said child, resemble a modern art installation consisting of very long socks with oranges in the bottom. Or in my case, since I wasn’t short in that department, football socks with melons in the bottom.

And today was no different. As always I tucked Grace into my bed with my mobile phone, putting paid to any hopes I had of progression on Candy Crush, and as always, by the time the water had run warm, she was sat on the floor staring at me unapologetically.

And here our daily conversation began.

‘Why them there’? She asked, pointing at my boobs.

‘You need them to feed babies when you’re a mummy’, I said out loud. ‘And to get served faster at a bar when you’re 19’, I said inside my head.

She nodded sagely and, as always, I hoped this was the end of it. But, as always, it wasn’t.

‘Why they wobble’?

With little feeling in my feet; trying to work fast; attempting to turn slightly away from the judgemental gaze of my offspring; suffering a complete absence of thigh muscles from yesterday’s insanity at the gym, I managed to get a foot stuck in a leg of my onesie and an arm of it hooked around the radiator knob. So yes, the football sock melons were wobbling as I frantically tried to escape from my pyjama prison and hide in the somewhat more private area of the shower cubicle.

‘They didn’t wobble before you’, I said quietly under my breath and through gritted teeth. But not quietly enough.

‘My make wobble’? Gracie asked, doinging one with her hand to test the accuracy of that statement.

‘My do make wobble’, she reflected, quietly wondering at her abilities.

She pulled the neck of her Spiderman PJs out and looked down at her own front.

‘Where mine’?

‘Yours will come when you are older’, I shouted from the happy, happy sanctuary of the shower.

‘When my is free’? She hollered back.

‘More like thirteen’, I shouted again, wondering if anyone else in the entire universe conducted conversations like this every sodding day.

‘When that’?

‘Quite a long time’.

I sighed, pondering if elsewhere in my street, mothers were serenely reading The Times whilst drinking Fairtrade filter coffee and selecting a slice of wholemeal toast from their Habitat toast rack to spread with locally produced marmalade and cut into fingers for their well-behaved toddler sitting quietly in an eco-friendly driftwood high-chair in clothes made from hemp or seaweed or something.

Meanwhile, back in my life…clearly feeling like she’d had enough of this shit, the shower door was flung open, letting in cold air and putting Grace’s head directly in line with my front bum.

‘How many sleeps til my is furteen’? Said whilst staring, horrified, at my pubes.

‘Too many to count right now’, I turned away a little and tried to wash the creases and folds under the watchful eye of a disgusted toddler.

‘How many minutes til my is furteen’? she said quietly, as she looked quickly up at my face, then immediately back down to my pubes.

‘Even more to count right now……Gracie McKendrick, can I not even shower alone’?

She pouted and looked away from me, so I took the opportunity to step out and grab a towel. Almost instantly I felt a pat, pat, pat on my backside.

‘This wobble too Mummy’.



After unceremoniously dumping Grace at nursery, I rushed into work past a predictably unmanned reception desk. Jenna was our new, twenty year old receptionist, but her entire list of duties seemed to consist of avoiding both reception and Isabella (the boss), gaining a piercing and/or tattoo every day, but losing an item of clothing. My assumption was that eventually she would turn up naked looking like a human charm bracelet, but no one would notice because she wouldn’t actually be on reception. I ditched my bag under my desk, plopped my gym broken body into my chair and retrieved an old bottle of perfume from my bottom drawer, sniffing at a strand of my unwashed hair gingerly.

‘Morning’! This was Sally, digital editor, ‘Oooh, get you, who you trying to impress wearing perfume’?!

Seeing me spray it liberally around my scalp, she rolled her eyes and leaned her bum on the edge of my desk.

‘Woman, you have got to stop trying to Febreeze yourself and actually bloody wash’!

‘Shhhhh’, I peeked around the rest of the office, ‘You bloody try it with a pervert toddler on the loose, see how far you get’!

‘Do it when she’s asleep, you dirty bitch’. She smiled and leaned in, though not too close, I noticed, ‘Loved the article on gym cyborgs, it’s already on the online edition and getting some hits’.

‘Ah cool’, I replied happily, wondering if Sally ever actually left this office, ‘If I’m going to mortify myself publicly then it’s nice to know people can relate to it, I suppose’.

‘For sure’, she stood up again, ‘Coffee’?

‘I’ll come with you’, I said, ‘I need to forage for some breakfast’.

She rolled her eyes at that, ‘You need to get organised, Trude, and get some proper food in the house for you and that girl of yours. You’ll fade away’!

‘Yes mother’, I chuntered, ‘I’ll get right on that. And believe me, no fading, my daughter conducts a daily physical to confirm it’.

I slid to the end of the chair and put my hands on the desk.

‘You ok’? Sally asked, watching me struggle to get up, groaning when every single inch of me objected, ‘You’re making sex noises’.

‘I’m old and broken’, I replied sadly, mentally calculating how many steps it was to the coffee pot.



While Sally made coffee, I pulled some ancient, dried out mascara out of my bag and used the stainless steel of the microwave as a mirror to try and make myself look less like a dead body.

‘McKendrick’! Isabella barked as she marched in, ‘Most people dress before they get to work you know’.

I grimaced at her and carried on. She was only really terrifying in the middle quartiles, a newly divorced cougar who dressed like her teenaged daughter in ripped jeans and off the shoulder tops, and went clubbing til all hours with the students and younger staff. Rumour was that she was sleeping with Jamie from the sports section but any comment I had about that would be born of pure envy. I’d be happy to have a spark of interest from hot, sporty Jamie with his tanned, strong arms and a backside born of the number of lunges I could only dream of. Depressingly, at work, indeed anywhere on planet Earth, the only opposite sex interest I had recently achieved was to be asked out by hairy Phil from the politics section. Repeatedly.

And on that note…

‘Morning Phil’! Isabella always yelled as if you were in another room. Or country.

I slid my chair back as quietly as I could and tried to pretend I was part of the wall.

‘Morning all’, Phil said cheerily, the hairs on his gorilla arms waving gently in the breeze of the air con like some kind of weird man-beast shampoo advert. His eyes swept around the room brightly then landed on me, changing his expression in an instant to the one Grace gives me when I won’t let her push her fork into a live plug socket.

‘Trudy’, he said darkly, flaring his nostrils and pursing his lips, I suspect trying to look intimidating but failing really, quite spectacularly.

‘Phil’, I responded with a professional, mature nod of the head.

‘Get over it Phil’, Isabella patted him on the back, just about knocking him through the cupboards as she walked out with her soy chai glitter sparkle hoopla latte, ‘It’s been a year, man’!

I backed out of the kitchen while Phil muttered under his breath and slammed the cabinet doors looking for his Earl Grey that he kept in a padlocked box with his name and next of kin contact details on.

In my defence, he asked me out and I gently and politely said no at least twenty times before he pretty much cried and asked me what was wrong with him, so I gave in. Then he took me to an old mans pub where it smelled like old mans ale and old mans wee and old men stared at me while hairy Phil talked at me about his mother and why the Green Party was in with a shot in the local election. There was, of course, no second date and after a suitable amount of time to soften the blow, I wrote an article called ‘Don’t Dip Your Nib’ about dating people from work. It went down a storm with Isabella, but like a ton of shit with Phil who, correctly, assumed it was mostly about him.



Anyway, I wasn’t physically in the office much these days, but today was a staff meeting, which takes place once a week and is generally a waste of time but a good excuse for Isabella to physically caress the majority of the young hotties and then plan an impromptu night out. This usually meant the office would be deserted from about two o’clock and they would all be on their beer scooters heading home by half five. With the likely exception of Isabella and Jamie from the sports section, who had other motivations.

The boardroom was rammed as all the interns and students piled in with the contracted staff who sat round the table. Again, it suddenly dawned on me that I was not a cool kid anymore. Here, just like the gym, everyone looked as if they were about to enter the after party of…someone who was currently hip. Ladies in full make up with significant, majorly attended to eyebrows that seemed to be the thing these days and thick, curled lashes that I doubt they had cultivated themselves. Cool, cropped haircuts with shaved bits and long bits and coloured bits, either straightened or curled into waves that consistently fell exactly where they were meant to. Skinny designer jeans that I couldn’t fit one leg inside, heels that added at least 3 inches to their height and probably cut off the circulation to their toes, tight shirts, crisply ironed with not a single crease. Chunky statement jewellery and, of course, the latest fitbit. And the men, I reflected with more than a little alarm, were not so different. Eyebrows that could not be the shape God gifted them with, eyelashes that exhibited a hint of something that might have been clear mascara, well-trimmed beards and fingernails that did not spend their weekends fixing up old cars or riding dirt bikes. Skinny designer jeans that, again, I couldn’t fit one leg inside and which were probably ending any hopes they had of producing offspring. And tight fitted tops which showcased impressively large biceps and impressively flat abdominals. Massive designer watches and, of course, the latest fitbit. There were also a large number of fancy protein shakers with a variety of weird coloured blended contents, presumably because the majority of the room were elite Olympic athletes who needed their electrolytes and major vitamin groups replacing after their five a.m. training session with Mo Farrah.

I fidgeted nervously with my messy bun that I had tried to make look carelessly done, but which in reality took 20 minutes, in order to ensure a superglued bit of Grace’s breakfast flapjack was safely tucked away in the centre section. My hair was auburn and mega long, for no other reason than I never had any bloody time to get it cut, but it was always tucked up for health and safety reasons following the stickle bricks incident of 2017. Looking down, I gingerly assessed my flat ballet pumps and jeggings, oversized white shirt over a vest, small ish plain silver hoops in my ears that had probably been in there since Grace was born and a watch from Argos that was reluctant to maintain the accurate time. Plus dead or dying bottom-of-the-handbag mascara, hastily applied in the microwave mirror. Not, not good. I let my body sink a little lower in my chair and hoped no one would pay any attention to me. Sally caught my eye and looked at me quizzically, so I straightened a little, but crossed my internal fingers that this meeting would not involve me one little bit. I really needed to get myself sorted. There was a time when I could look half decent, but I genuinely couldn’t remember how I had ever achieved it.



Sometime later, having successfully stayed under the radar…

‘Facebook’s dead’, Eli (uber cool newbie, well inside Isabella’s inner circle) told us, waving a hand casually, ‘No one cares anymore, it’s just for women over thirty to talk about their kids and their pets’.

I bristled inwardly at the ‘women over thirty’ comment, painful to the extreme because it was most likely true and because I fell comfortably into that age bracket. Plus, we’ve already established my Facebook addiction was still a very current affair.

‘We’ve got to get ahead of the game’, he went on in obscure-speak, with something that could have resembled enthusiasm, if enthusiasm was still something cool kids were allowed to show, ‘Think outside of the box, we could sprinkle some major magic dust around here, but it has to be really now, you know’.

I almost let a pig snort laugh out. Was I in a staff meeting at work, or the Great Hall at Hogwarts? I slid a smile behind my hand and looked up, expecting to catch a knowing look on one of my more experienced colleague’s faces. My smile vanished swiftly when I realised they were all listening intently, nodding and taking notes….whaaaaaat???

‘It’s an interesting thought to end on’, Isabella said standing up and squeezing Eli’s shoulder, ‘Shall we sort out our loose ends and continue this line of thought over drinks at Bedlam’?

‘Not Bedlam’, Sasha from advertising piped up, swooshing her long blonde hair out of her jacket as she stood, nearly decapitating a quivering intern behind her, ‘It’s had its day. Maybe Homestead’?

‘Marley’s’, a voice from the back of the room, ‘Hot in there on a Friday’.

A rumble of consensus went round the room, and even gorilla Phil nodded and got up to get his coat. I’d never heard of any of these places and the last time I went drinking in town I ended up with a Grace growing in my girl parts. I glanced at my attire, fiddled with the flapjacky bit again and checked my timepiece. I had to be on the bus to nursery in 50 minutes, assuming Argos wasn’t steering me wrong. Time for one very quick drink. If they let dirty old Facebook users in these places, that is.

‘One more thing’! Isabella raised her hand and people sat down again and went quiet, ‘Tonight is the Media Ball at The Harvey’.

Rumbles and murmurs around the room and the keen bean arse kissers were sitting up a little straighter in their chairs.

‘We only have the one ticket as the number of publications in this region has grown so much this year, fucking digital age, so not fucking journalism’, she ranted, conveniently forgetting we had our own digital section and ignoring Sally’s pouty frown.

There was a general height reduction in the room as people slumped back down to their usual slouchy levels.

‘But I can’t go’.

Ping! Little meercats sprang back up to attention immediately. It was quite funny, really, like a boardroom version of splat the rat. There was only me who remained motionless and uninterested. Media Ball? My idea of hell with no homework, probably naked with my teeth falling out too.

‘I need someone to go and show their face, network a bit, keep us up there in the sector with colleagues and competitors’. She was looking right at me with focus and intent, so I drew a picture of stick man being hanged on my notebook and pretended it was Pulitzer prize winning writing that I simply couldn’t keep inside any longer.

‘Trudy’! she shouted, and I know I didn’t imagine the aftershock which rippled around the room at my name being announced.

Trudy? Ancient, unwashed, flapjack haired, flat shoe wearing, normal eyebrowed, Facebooker Trudy???

‘Noooooo’, I answered slowly and carefully, ‘Let a young one go, good experience’, I nodded wisely with an intelligent, thoughtful tap of my pen on my forehead.

‘No. You’re going’, Isabella was packing her stuff up…panic, panic!

‘No really, I can’t, I need more notice than that’, I babbled and stood, trying to work my way past the eyebrows to her, ‘I don’t have a babysitter’.

‘I’ll babysit’!

Fucking Jenkins, I was going to kill her.

‘Last time you babysat for me, Grace ate a bar of soap’.

‘I’ve learned’, Sally said serenely while nodding like a Jedi Master, ‘Won’t happen again’.

‘Go for an hour’, Isabella put in, standing right next to me now.

‘No’.

‘It’ll be full of young cock’, she flashed her mega white teeth at me and winked.

‘You go then’.

‘Ohhhh if I could….’, followed by quite a few moments of silent contemplation on her part and the bitter mutterings of the slighted eyebrows in the room.

‘You must be gagging for it by now, it’s been for-frigging-ever since you got some’, Isabella said not at all quietly.

‘I do ok’, I mumblingly lied and turned the colour of a tomato.

‘Like fuck you do’, she answered decisively, ‘You didn’t even do Phil. You’re going. Starts at seven. Wear something that makes you look like a girl’.

I played with the flapjack in my hair and tried to remember my happy place whilst my brain went into complete crisis mode.

‘Try and get an article out of it’, Isabella went on not caring that she was by now on the other side of the room to me and all of the eyebrows were staring and listening. She looked at me and wagged her finger, ‘An article and a shag or don’t come back to work’.

Shit.

Shit, shit, shit.



3)


Wear something that makes you look like a girl, i.e. make sure your boobs are out.

‘Just wear the black one’, Sally Judas Jenkins said from the floor where she and Grace were attempting to build a mega blocks princess castle.

‘The black one has a bleach line on it’, I yelled from the living room.

‘What, from all the cleaning you do?’ she asked drily, ‘In dresses’?!!

‘Last minute panic last Christmas before my mother came over’, I grimaced as I entered the bedroom, ‘Was a bit too liberal with it’.

I was sporting a purple maxi dress that I forgot I had, ‘See if you can do the zip, Sal, I don’t think it’s going to go’.

Sally got up and tried to pull the sides of material together. Tried again. And tried again.

‘Breath in’.

‘I already am’!

‘Have you got duck tape’? she asked seriously.

‘Are you going to fix my guttering’? I eyeballed her sceptically.

‘Tape the girls in a bit, up goes the zip’.

‘I think you’re stupid’, I said with no humour.

‘Well I think you’re stupid’, she shot back huffily and unimaginatively, dropping back to the floor.

‘I’m ringing Lou’.


Half an hour later and Louisa, my hero, arrived at the door. Sally was persevering with the princess castle while Grace tried on my shoes and bras.

‘Hiya’, Lou breezed in, almost lost under a mountain of clothes, ‘You guys ok’?

Sally gave a thumbs up but didn’t break her concentration, determined, at the age of thirty nine, not to be outdone by a toy created for the 18 to 36 months age bracket.

‘Look! My pretty’, Grace told Lou happily, wearing my only pair of fuck me boots, a skanky purple bra she had found somewhere and the matching thong which she thought was a hairband and was sporting as such.

And the stupendous mother award goes to….


So anyway, having tried on a few of the options…

‘I actually think the black one might be too sexy’, Lou said thoughtfully, scratching her head through her cool, blonde pixie cut, ‘You need to keep something for date two, not put it all out there straight away’.

‘Uhuh’, Sally nodded, ‘But you also need to be confident of achieving date one in the first place’.

‘Right’, Lou agreed, both of them apparently forgetting that I was even in the room, or involved with this at all.

‘My like this’, Grace helped, holding up the skeleton onesie I had bought for trick or treating with her last year, then bottled out of wearing because I had yet to meet a skeleton with tits and ass like mine.

‘Me too, Gracie’, I agreed, taking off the black dress to hand to Lou and putting the skeleton onesie on.

Satisfied, she shuffled off in my FMBs and porn star lingerie to peep round the living room door, assessing progress on Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and seeing if the child catcher bit was over.

‘It’s probably all a colossal waste of time anyway’, I huffed, ‘All of this trying to make me look shaggable’.

They looked somewhat perplexed.

I elaborated.

‘Let’s say you get me looking presentable and someone finds it within themselves to consider it. I’m like….like…false advertising, or something’.

Lou and Sally had not had children. They both screwed their faces up and made a joint, ‘Meh?’ kind of noise.

‘I mean, do I have to tell them?’ I explained, ‘Like customs? Is there a sex customs, like ‘anything to declare’’?

‘Declare what, crazy lady’? Sally asked, still foraging in the pile of clothes Lou had brought over.

I sighed and picked at a thread on the cuff of my skeleton onesie.

‘Like the fact that my boobs look ok when scaffolded up, but they drop dramatically when they’re free to roam. That my belly button is now a good sized pocket in my stomach where I could genuinely carry my car keys. That I’ve got stretch marks on my hips that look like Grace has drawn on me with purple Sharpies while I slept. That my foof pushed a gigantic baby out of it and that it might well feel like shagging a welly top these days. I mean, unless he is completely ginormous I might not even know he’s in there. Unless of course he hits the gap in my foofal muscles, also knackered by the gigantic baby, and I have to stop him to change angle because it feels like he’s poking in my poo hole’.

Horrified, horrified silence.

Tumbleweed blew slowly across my bedroom and Sally looked discreetly away while she tried to get the better of her gag reflex.

Lou turned to her, looking slightly pale and nauseous herself. ‘Lock it down woman, quick’, she shouty whispered in panic, ‘This is serious shit. Retrieve the hot black dress, retrieve the hot black dress!!’


An hour later my taxi pulled up at the hotel. I was sporting the black dress, deemed absolutely necessary now, hair and make-up both courtesy of the super patient and talented Louisa. I fiddled with the up do, hoping the pins did the job with my militant mane and took a quick peek in the driver’s rear-view mirror to make sure my face hadn’t slid off in the ten minute journey. This felt very weird, going to a party full of strangers dressed like Cinderella, and I was more nervous than I cared to admit.

‘Thank you’, I said, remembering my manners as I got out of the taxi, only to have it roar away the second the door was closed without so much as a nod or a smile. I stood conspicuously for a moment, noticing that most other people seemed to be arriving in groups, already chatting away like the old friends they probably were. I really wanted to be back in my skeleton onesie at home with Grace, watching the Disney Channel and pretending I could sing like Elsa.

This was so not my scene anymore.

Actually, I’m not sure that this was ever my scene.

‘Good evening’, a conundrum of a voice called to me from the steps of the hotel. Tiny and squeaky, yet inexplicably loud. ‘Are you here for the media ball’?

She was some kind of chief elf welcomer woman, about the size of an 11 year old and carrying a clipboard, plus what looked like a stopwatch that was almost the same size as her head. And she appeared to be addressing me and me alone. In the manner of a Carry On film, I tried to casually look over my shoulder just to be sure there wasn’t a more likely candidate for her attention coming up behind me. Best to be sure before I made a nob of myself.

‘Yes you! I mean you’! She tiny shouted and started barrelling towards me, helping me make a nob of myself with very little effort on my part, in the end.

‘Hello’, I stammered, ‘I’m from…..’.

‘Invitation’? She squeaked/barked rudely.

‘Yes, yes’, I delved into my tiny bag and produced it, dogeared and squished.

‘Humpff’, she exhaled with feeling as she tried to smooth the card out on her clipboard, looking at me with disdain as someone who clearly had no respect for the overpriced stationery she’d probably spent a disproportionate amount of time deciding on, ‘Go up the steps on the left and hand this in, you’ll see the seating chart there. We start in…’, she glanced at the stopwatch, ‘…three minutes! Three minutes! Go, go, go’!

I honestly expected marines to drop down rope lines from silent helicopters with the way she instructed me like a drill sergeant. I wondered why the rest, of what must have been at least fifty other late arrivers, didn’t get that kind of attention. I must have looked like I desperately needed the guidance, I thought moodily, further confirming my assertion that I really didn’t fit in here.

Taking my somewhat straightened out invitation back from her, I headed into the hotel and up the left-hand staircase as instructed, standing alone and silent in the line while people around me all chatted and laughed happily.

Well, I grumped inwardly, reminding myself of my objectives, ‘an article and a shag or don’t come back to work’.

Splendid.


Halfway through the main course (which was delicious, perfectly cooked, thinly sliced steak with crushed potatoes and mixed roast veg), I looked around at the people generating a happy buzz of noise and wondered if every single one of their conversations was better than mine.

Mine and Eric’s.

Eric Gene Singleton of the something or other Times, twice winner of the snooty self-important award and a million other things he had spent the evening telling me that he really, rather liked about himself.

I envied the possible chit chat occurring in the room. About the current heat wave, the Royal baby, the end of summer sales and whether this whole new President thing was just a massive episode of ‘Punked’.

‘I could show you the statistics if you’d like to see the evidence’, Eric was nodding seriously and enthusiastically at me, making the quiff at the front of his hair bounce manically up and down, almost hitting his glasses.

I moved a hand to my wrist to check my pulse. I hadn’t entirely died, which was pretty good news. Only some small, precious parts inside of me, that had curled up and withered away in the worst and longest forty minutes of my entire life.

The other people at my table peeped sideways at us, clearly amused at my predicament of being saddled with the Eric-type-person that must curse every party. But they were all unwilling to take the chance of interjecting and helping me out, lest it should impact on their currently pleasant and/or productive evening.

Eric-The-Magnificent’s attention was firmly focused on my cleavage, so I assumed the evidence he spoke of must be in there somewhere, nestled between my trussed up football socks.

Dirty, mind numbing man with the social skills of a long dead halibut.

Was I interested in the evidence?

Was I buggery.

I’d spent the last twenty minutes mentally:

  • drafting my letter of resignation

  • updating my CV with creative half truths

  • rerunning episodes of Silent Witness in my head to carefully and methodically plan how I would kill Isabella and Sally and get away with it


‘Maybe another time’, I replied to Eric a bit huskily, my voice rusty from not having projected any words during his relentless self-promotion for the last half an hour.

‘Right’, he dropped his voice lower, completely misinterpreting my tone and sliding his hand along the back of my chair, ‘We can talk about that later’.

His finger touched my shoulder blade and I think a little bit of vomit actually popped up for a second. I silently panicked and wondered if I was going to achieve either of my objectives, thus securing my employment for the future. I didn’t think Isabella really and truly meant it when she said I would be sacked if I didn’t 1) get some gossip for an article, and 2) copulate, but I reckoned she would want some kind of return on her sending me here.

This was bad. I needed an exit strategy.

‘Trudy’? I heard someone say my name and sat quickly and excitedly to attention, keen to identify the potential escape route.

‘Trudy’?! The voice got more enthusiastic and came closer so I could see who it was attached to.

‘Jenny’! I practically launched myself across the table and into her unextended arms for the hug she hadn’t actually offered, immeasurably grateful for the excuse to exit the Eric dilemma., ‘Jenny, how the bloody hell are you’?!

Calm down Mckendrick, I scolded myself. Don’t frighten away your saviour.

I literally hadn’t seen Jenny since Uni, we did the same journalism degree but never kept in touch after that, it being stone age pre-social media times back then.

‘I’m good, I’m good’ she took a careful step back, held me at arm’s length and smiled cautiously at me, ‘How are you’?

‘Happy to escape that conversation’, I said through gritted teeth, indiscreetly identifying Eric with a jerk of my head in his direction.

She looked and narrowed her eyes, ‘You mean my fiancé’?

Gulp.

‘Errr, ummm…no…’.

‘Ha! Just kidding, come on’, she laughed as she walked me away from my table, smoothly linking my arm through hers, ‘we’ve got a no show at our table, you can join us’.

Angels started singing somewhere in my imagination and I almost did a little happy dance alongside her.

‘Have you not been to one of these before’? Jenny asked, ‘That’s Eric. Same every time, total con artist, latches onto a newbie every year to try and bullshit them and get into their pants. He’s the agony uncle for the Gazette, and not particularly good, even at that’.

‘What’?! I had politely sat through all of that dribbling on, and it was total and utter rubbish!

‘Afraid so m’dear’, she winced apologetically at me, ‘Come and meet my lot, they’ll cheer you up’.

I looked over my shoulder and gave a bewildered looking Eric my most evil stare, while Jenny led me on to a table at the other side of the large ballroom.

‘Right people, this is Trudy, I’m rescuing her from Eric and she’s coming to join us’, she addressed a table of four people, all of whom grimaced sympathetically at the mention of Eric’s name. Pretty sure Isabella could have tipped me the wink about him, I thought to myself crossly, if he was as well known as this for his bullshit.

‘This is Maggie’, I shook hands with a smiling Maggie, ‘Anna’, I waved at Anna who was at the other side of the table, ‘Tony’, who nodded but was enthusiastically digging into his crème brulee, though from the leftovers here, he was clearly the only one ingesting any carbs, ‘And Mike. Don’t talk to him, he’ll try and shag you in the toilets’.

‘Hey’! the admittedly attractive Mike replied with mock offense, ‘She’s just jealous because I refuse to shag her in the toilets, Trudy. You and I can proceed to the water closet any time you like’.

Jenny laughed, sat down and indicated for me to do the same while she poured me a glass of champagne.

‘Behave yourself’, she wagged her finger affectionately at Mike, and I spotted the signs of an undercurrent between the two of them, mentally directing myself not to shag him in the toilets, in the unlikely event that the opportunity actually presented itself.

‘So’, Jenny sat back in her seat and appraised me, ‘What’s up with you Trudy, how are things? Married, kids, older, wiser’?

‘Older, but never wiser’, I grinned, ‘Still McKendrick, never married but I have a little girl, Grace. She’s two’.

I resisted the urge to get my phone out and subject them all to a twenty minute slideshow of the glory of Grace.

‘McKendrick’? Anna sat forwards and leaned her arms on the table, ‘Trudy McKendrick? Do you write that single woman column’?

I nodded nervously and waited for her response.

‘Oh my God, I love it! You’re so funny, I’ve cried laughing at that before’!

‘Well, thanks, glad you enjoy it’, I answered, pleased, but noting the rest of the table clearly had no idea what she was on about.

‘So hilarious’, she continued, ‘I loved the one about stretch marks and dangly bits, just fabulous’!

She roared with laughter, simultaneously helping both my professional ego and any issue I might have had with Mike requesting a shag in the accessible lavatories later in the evening.

‘What are you guys working on at the moment’? I asked in return, polite but also genuinely curious.

‘I’m finance’, Anna replied, ‘I would bore the life out of you about interest rates and investments. Not a whisper of sex or intrigue in my professional life’, said with a wink, a swig of champagne and a pointed look at Jenny.

‘World news’, Tony said, raising his hand with a smile, ‘Bloody chaos, idiots everywhere’!

‘Sports’, Maggie smiled, ‘Just back from formula one world championships in Budapest, off to cover the football world cup qualifiers next’.

‘Lots of travel then’?

‘Loads’, she nodded, ‘But I love it, just another bonus of the job, getting to see the world’.

I smiled and then looked at Mike and Jenny.

‘Oh Mike and Jenny’, Maggie rolled her eyes, ‘They’re investigative. You don’t know what they’re working on until its printed, very hush hush’.

Jenny laughed, ‘Not quite as intriguing as that most of the time, but yes, that’s me and Mike’.

‘As a team’? I asked, trying not to raise my eyebrows like my mother does when she hides a trick question within another seemingly innocent one. For example, when she is babysitting, ‘will it be a late one’? Should actually be interpreted as, ‘are you going to get pregnant or contract herpes?’

‘Most of the time’, Mike answered me, but was looking at Jenny in a proprietal kind of way.

‘Yes, most of the time’, Jenny looked away from Mike’s gaze and over to me, ‘Sometimes we do our own thing though’.

‘Right’, I nodded, though I wasn’t sure if we were only talking about journalism now, or were Mike and Jenny in some kind of vague relationship that they couldn’t quite articulate. Something was afoot between them, but I just smiled politely, reached for more champagne and asked, ‘What was the latest thing I would have read by you guys, then’?


A couple of hours later and I was drunk. Really, really, really, shitfaced drunk. No real surprise, given the open bar champagne I’d been chugging all night.

But here’s the thing. Everyone else was so drunk, that by comparison I was really, quite sober. I sat back in my chair, feeling terribly grown up and sensible, and tried to focus my intoxicated eyes on the tomfoolery progressing all around me in this room full of successful, professional, middle aged people. Who with a very small sniff of a night of being ‘out, out’ were making very large tits of themselves as far as the eye could see.

Eric was prattling on to the welcomer elf woman at the bar. Probably lying about a huge house in the South of France and a huge penis in his trousers.

Fortunately for her, the welcomer elf woman was actually passed out. Or perhaps dead. Draped over the bar with her knickers somewhat on show and her stopwatch still running.

Tony was crying on the phone to someone I think was called Gertie or Bertie. Or Colin.

A weatherman I recognised was doing Gangnam Style perpetually, no matter which song the DJ put on.

Mike and Jenny thought they were snogging behind a sash curtain, but actually they had slid sideways on the window seat and were on open display with most of one of Jenny’s boobies now pretty much out.

The dance floor was like a mosh pit, and I wouldn’t have advised approaching the tables at the back of the room if you didn’t want to see something you would never be able to unsee.

It was like middle aged mob mentality. Total bloody chaos.

In a haze of alcohol induced inspiration, I started thinking about how a night out, and the activities around it, changed as you got older.

When you’re young, and nights out are at the very least a weekly occurrence, they are a chance to be cool. You had all the time in the world to get ready, probably ringing at least three of your friends to check you wouldn’t clash, since Top Shop only had so many outfit options. Outfits which were put together to show as much flesh as possible, for the most part. So, you wore what was on trend, danced to the current tunes, drank the hip drinks, leaned with faux nonchalance (all the while on high alert for that guy) in the cool bars and clubs at the correct point of the evening. You might meet someone, experience the pain of the ‘will they/wont they call’ for the next 72 hours. You might not, hey, whatever, it’s all cool. In my day, you spent a maximum of fifteen pounds, might have cadged a quick snog, drank enough to be really drunk, and still had enough money for a dodgy kebab and a shared taxi home.

You’d somehow wake up fairly fresh in the morning, meet your friends for a coffee (even though no one drank coffee yet) to rehash the events of the night before and get ready to do it all again that coming evening.

But when you’re over thirty, in some kind of career, likely to have dependants of some description even if it’s just your mother hounding you to fix her Wi-Fi because for some reason she thinks you’re an electrical engineer. Well by that stage, a night out – I mean ‘out, out’ - can be pretty rare. And it would seem this meant that when it did actually happen, it was no holds barred.

You have no cool clothes anymore, or if you do you’re too old to pull them off now, so you either rock up in your most casual work attire or something far too dressy that you had for a wedding three years earlier. Nothing quite fits these days, so sucky inny underwear becomes part of the ‘out, out’ dress code. Outfits are now built around hiding specific parts of your body from view. And you’ve got to perfect getting ready in 12 minute bursts (which is the length of an episode of Paw Patrol) and accept that you’re not going to reach the pinnacle of looking your absolute best, but manage your expectations down to looking better than you did three episodes ago.

Two large glasses of wine into the night and all respectability goes out of the window. By the end of the night you’ve ordered shots for people you’ve never met before who are your new best friends, demanded that the DJ find some 80s music, rallied the whole population of the bar to do ‘oops upside your head’, ground inappropriately against the now emotionally damaged seventeen year old glass collector, and tried to convince the bouncers that their watches were wrong at closing time.

In the morning, you wake to realise you are not twenty two any more. That you will now have to suffer a three day hangover, probably in the company of loud, small children who are not bothered that you are on the brink of death. And someone has clearly hacked your bank account because you couldn’t possibly have spent £250 in one night.


‘I have to go’! I stood up, inspired, and staggered around the table, ‘I did not get a shag’, stagger, stagger, stumble, ‘But I have my story’!

No one was even remotely aware of my existence but as the soberest at the table I took my responsibility very seriously. I leaned forwards and spoke very loudly and slowly, gesturing with my hands and trying to look concerned.

‘Are you all ok to get home?’

No one noticed a thing, continuing to cry, gibber, pretty much shag...


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-33 show above.)