Cleaner Christmas

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Cleaner Christmas
Cleaner Christmas

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It was a damp, cold late November, a Friday evening as our three-card brag school sat in the smoke-filled Public Bar. Simon, the newest member of our group, had kept trying to raise the stakes beyond our usual pennies. We played for enjoyment but took our competition seriously. An evening’s loss of five shillings, the price of a couple of pints of beer, was seen as massive. Simon would try to bid ten shillings when our agreed rules limited the maximum to two shillings. He didn’t seem to realise that although any of us could afford to pay more, the contest was more important to us than the money.

As closing time approached we discussed how we would continue the game as we did most Friday evenings. Usually one or other of us would be able to use a room in our parents’ houses but that night we were stymied. Simon offered his girlfriend’s flat a few hundred yards away. We were doubtful. What woman would want eight men playing cards all night? Simon went down the road to check. When he returned he said that she’d agreed if we were prepared to pay her a few pence each for the cost of coffee and biscuits.

We bought a few bottles of beer each from the Off-Sales counter and walked down the road. We were quieter than usual perhaps because we weren’t sure about using a stranger’s flat. When we arrived we were even more embarrassed. Monica was no stranger. She had been a contemporary at school and probably all of us had kissed her behind the bike sheds at least once. I was shocked by the change in her. She looked years older than us, grey-faced, without make-up, and obviously tired. She was wearing a grubby housecoat and was on her way to bed.

She showed us straight into the living room. It was tidy but seemed barely used with a musty smell of old furniture, stale cigarette smoke and unopened windows. She told us where the coffee, milk and biscuits were kept and left us to our card game. Her only request was that we keep the noise down and the living room door shut so we wouldn’t disturb the c***dren.

c***dren? Surely Monica wasn’t old enough to have c***dren. I noticed her bare fingers. Not only was there no wedding ring, there was no sign that she had ever worn one. For the late 1960s that wouldn’t have been unusual in big cities but in our small town unmarried mothers were still rare.

About four in the morning I decided to take a break from the game to make the coffee. The beer had run out. I was neither a winner nor a loser so no one objected when I announced that I would miss a few hands. I asked for quiet as I left the room, shutting the door carefully behind me. I walked into the kitchen.

It was a mess. There was a pile of washing up on the sink, another one on the work surface and dirty crockery on the kitchen table. There were piles of dirty clothes on the sticky floor. The cooker was stained with burnt food and congealed grease. I couldn’t find any clean mugs to use for the coffee. I would have to wash some mugs at least.

I cleared the sink and ran some hot water. There was a small amount of washing up liquid and no spare bottle. Half the liquid might do. As quietly as I could I washed enough mugs for all of us. The washing up water was still hot so I started on plates and dishes. By the time the water was too dirty to clean any more I had washed about a quarter of the accumulated heaps.

I made the coffee, found a tray that I had to wipe clean, and took the coffee in to the card game. They barely noticed as I distributed the mugs because three of them had strong hands. For our card school the atmosphere was tense. I saw who held what as I deposited the coffee. Simon, betting as high as we allowed, had the weakest hand. Peter’s hand was good but not as good as David’s, but David the player easiest to bluff. I sat down on the edge of an armchair to watch.

Simon pushed the other two hard but eventually had to fold. David immediately called Peter and won the hand, collecting nearly a pound in winnings. He looked at me and grinned. He hadn’t won that much all year.

“Here John,” he said, pushing a pile of pennies towards me, “that can go to our hostess. Anyone else giving?”

We all produced handfuls of small change which I piled on the tray.

“I’ll change it up,” I said.

“Don’t bother,” Simon suggested. “Monica prefers money in coins. She can manage it better like that.”

I wasn’t so sure. It didn’t fit with the Monica I had known yet the flat showed signs of desperate poverty.

I watched the next couple of hands then took the tray with the coins, the used cups and the empty beer bottles back to the kitchen. No one noticed that I hadn’t rejoined the game.

I was working as quietly as I could to avoid disturbing Monica and the c***dren. An hour later I had nearly finished washing all the accumulated crockery and pans when David joined me.

“What have you been doing?” He asked quietly. “I missed you, even if the others didn’t.”

“Washing up.” I pointed at the teetering heap awaiting drying.

“All that? We just had some mugs of coffee.”

“I know, David, but virtually everything was filthy. I had to scrub the mugs
before I could make the coffee. Once I’d started, I thought I’d finish. Look at the cooker.”

David looked and shuddered. “Yuck!”

“Exactly. And all this heap was like that.”

“Can’t we clean the cooker?”

“With what? I’ve used all the washing up liquid and there are no other cleaners of any sort. I’ve searched. There’s no detergent, no soap, no scouring powder – nothing. Even this dishcloth has had it.”

“We could buy some, John.”

“This early? The corner shop doesn’t open until eight.”

I looked at my watch. Six-thirty.

“What about Angela?”

“Of course! Why didn’t I think of her?”

Angela is my on/off girlfriend, a part-qualified nurse who works night shifts at the local Old People’s Home which is owned and run by a charitable trust. She is relieved at seven in the morning by the first of the day shift. She is always pleased if any of her friends drop in for coffee towards the end of her session when all her charges are asleep. We had been going out together for a couple of years, enjoying each other’s company, but looking for more – elsewhere.

“Thanks, David. I’ll try her. She might have something that could clean that cooker.”

I let myself out of the front door, leaving it on the latch. David could see it while he dried up the dishes.

Angela’s greeting was overwhelming. She hugged and kissed me as if I’d been away for months. Yet we had been out as a couple only three evenings ago. Almost before I’d got my breath back I had a cup of coffee in my hand and Angela snuggled in my lap. I couldn’t resist as she kissed me again and again, at least not without spilling the coffee.

“John, you’re just the person I wanted to see,” Angela said between kisses.

“I’ve been asked to decorate the common room for Christmas and I can’t reach, not even on a ladder. Will you?”

How could I refuse? Angela’s kisses didn’t give me time to do more than nod my head and transfer her next kiss to my forehead. Eventually she paused.

“But I’m forgetting,” she said. “You must have come today for a reason. I normally see you during the week, not on Saturday morning. Out with it. What do you want from me? I’m feeling generous now you’ve agreed to help with the decoration.”

I explained about the card school, about Monica, and my need for cleaning materials.

Angela kept asking about Monica, how she was, what she looked like, how she was coping with two small c***dren…

“Coping?” I snorted. “She’s not. Why? I don’t know. I only saw her for a few minutes and she looked dreadful. The state of her kitchen told me more about her than her own appearance. She’s lost it. I think she needs help and her so-called boyfriend Simon isn’t it.”

“We’ll have to be careful, John,” Angela suggested. “Monica may not appreciate help because it shows that we know what a state she’s in. You could justify the washing-up and cleaning because you’re repaying her for her hospitality. If I became involved? She could be offended.”

“All I wanted from you was some things to clean the cooker, perhaps the floor, and to replace the washing-up liquid I’d used…”

“Are you sure that’s all you wanted from me?” Angela asked archly.

“It’s all I expected. The reception you gave me was welcome, enjoyable and a great bonus.”

“You can have more of the same…” Angela kissed me again, “…but I might want more from you than help with the Christmas decorations. Would you give more?”

I was on the spot. I liked Angela. We’d kissed, often, but never as we had today. We had been boyfriend and girlfriend intermittently. We had drifted apart and had other relationships, come back together again, split again but always remained available for each other. Angela had fallen for someone else and I’d stood aside until she dumped him. I temporised.

“It depends what you want and whether you want what I can give.”

“We’ll see. For the moment, cleaning materials can be freely provided. Later, that is later this morning, I want you to come to my flat and talk about what you and I can do for Monica. You’ve still got a soft spot for her, haven’t you?”

“Yes. I hated to see her as she was last night.”

“OK. We’ll see what we can do for her, and for us. I’m off duty shortly and I’ll be up until about ten this morning. I want to see you before then. OK?”

“OK.”

I left the Old People’s Home with a collection of part-used cleaning materials that Angela had produced from a store cupboard.

Back at the flat, David had finished drying up and was trying to wipe some of the grease from the cooker.

“You took your time, John, didn’t you? You’d better start by cleaning the lipstick off. You look odd with Angela’s lips outlined on your forehead.”

With the industrial-strength cleaning products the two of us were able to produce a gleaming cooker after about twenty minutes work. The tiny work surfaces and cupboard doors took another five minutes. We had almost finished the floor, frequently moving the piles of dirty washing, when Monica shuffled in. She looked at her gleaming cooker, the empty draining board, the shining floor…

I stood up just in time to catch her as she slumped. She sobbed against my shoulder. David finished the floor and discreetly left the kitchen.

“Why, John, why?” Monica said between sobbing.

“Just to say thank you for putting up with us for the night.”

“But…”

I stroked her hair. It felt lank and greasy but I didn’t stop.

“I appreciate what you’ve done, John, but you shouldn’t have.”

“David helped,” I said.

“Then thank him for me. I don’t think I can face him. I’ve been meaning to clean for days, no, for weeks, but the babies are demanding…”

“…and Simon’s no help?” I suggested.

“He is, and he isn’t. He tries to keep me sane. He looks after the babies, takes them out for a walk, gives me a break from time to time, but he’s not domesticated. He could never have done this.” Monica looked around and started wetting my shoulder again.

“Do you want some help with the washing?” I asked.

“There’s no washing machine,” Monica sobbed. “I do it all by hand.”

“With what?” I asked. “There was no detergent. I looked.”

“I used the last of it on Thursday,” she replied. “I can’t afford any more until Wednesday.”

“Hasn’t Simon got money?” I asked, thinking of the amounts he had been betting.

“He has and he hasn’t. He has to support his wife and k**s, and me. He isn’t paid much and he has been getting extra by playing cards. He has a few pounds card money. He usually wins enough to buy something for me, but if he has been playing with you, he won’t have won enough. I know you play for pennies.”

“I don’t know how he’s done, but he won’t have lost much either. We had a collection for you, Monica.”

I gave her the money we had donated. It had been eight shillings and eleven pence in coins but I had rounded it up to a ten shilling note.

“I can’t take money from you, John.” Monica protested.

“It’s not from me, it’s from all of us for letting us play cards here.”

“Oh. I hope Simon won’t mind.”

“He knows. He was there when we gave it.”

“Then thank you all. It will make a difference.”

Monica looked around her kitchen again. It was still gleaming. Everything was clean, put away inside clean cupboards, perhaps not where she would have put it but tidily. She opened the cupboard under the sink. Lined up were the items donated by Angela, washing-up liquid, disinfectant, several types of cleaners, cloths, even a pack of toilet rolls.

“Where did these come from, John?” Monica asked. “The shops aren’t open so you couldn’t have bought them.”

“I got them from Angela,” I admitted.

“And what does she want in return?”

“Probably me,” I laughed.

Monica looked serious.

“Is that a price worth paying for someone you barely know? We were friends once but never more than friends. I think I kissed you once or twice but it didn’t mean anything.”

“I know it didn’t, Monica. We were friends, no more. You had boyfriends, I had girlfriends but we were never an item.”

“Then why? Why do so much for me?”

“Because you were a friend. I hope you still are a friend. I’d do as much for one of my mates if I found his kitchen in such a state. I hope he’d do it for me.”

“And Angela? Is she just a friend?”

“I thought so. I knew she’d help. But my welcome was as more than a friend. I’m going back to her soon and we’ll find out whether we are just kissing friends or something more.”

“I hope you are more. You deserve someone like her, not like me. Please thank her for me, and give her this.”

Monica kissed me on the lips.

“At least my kiss doesn’t show, unlike hers.”

She pointed to my neck. I looked in the now-clean mirror. Angela’s lipstick imprint was clear on my neck.

“What about the washing?” I asked. “I could take it to the laundrette.”

“I couldn’t pay for it,” Monica admitted. “This…” She waved the ten shilling note, “…and a few coppers, are all I have until Wednesday.”

“OK. I’ll take all the washing. I’ll pay for it, as a friend. I’ll bring it back about five o’clock, clean and dry. Will that do?”

“I can’t pay for it – ever. I can’t give you anything, nor promise you anything, and I can’t betray Simon by offering you myself…”

Monica started to cry again.

“Damn it, Monica! I’m not asking for anything! I don’t want anything except to help a friend! I don’t want to buy you for the price of some clean washing! You’re worth far more than that, so is your pride. This…”

I waved my hand around the kitchen.

“…is nothing. It’s clean. The washing will be clean. You will still be my friend and no more than a friend no matter how much you let me help. Once you are your own person again, you can choose other friends and forget me. You might want to because my existence will remind you of a bad time in your life. If so, I’ll walk away happy that you are again the Monica I knew and liked.”

That was a long speech for me. Monica looked at me as if she had never seen me before.

“You really mean it, don’t you? You’ll help in exchange for nothing? Nothing at all?”

“Nothing except the pleasure of seeing Monica out of this mess. That would be really worthwhile.”

“I’ll have to tell Simon. He’ll notice the cleaned kitchen and the missing washing.”

“Of course you’ll have to tell him. I’m not his rival. He’s helping you. If I do too, we might achieve more together than on our own.”

“OK. I’ll have told Simon before you return at five. He might be here. I hope you won’t argue…”

“Why should we? He seems a reasonable enough bloke who is helping you in his own way.”

We left it at that. I crammed all the dirty washing into a laundry bag and took it around the corner to the Laundrette. I paid for a service wash of two loads and apologised for the state of the washing.

“That’s OK,” the assistant said, “we’ve seen worse. You’ll collect at four-thirty?”

“Yes. Thank you.”

I walked to Angela’s staff flat. She let me in, made yet more coffee and she asked about Monica. I told her what had happened, almost word for word. I gave her Monica’s kiss. That started a long necking session during which our coffee got cold. After fresh mugs Angela admitted that she needed me at the home over Christmas. She wanted me to be Father Christmas to the old people.

“Father Christmas, Angela?” I asked incredulously. “Aren’t they too old for Father Christmas?”

She laughed.

“It’s not for them, silly. They make presents for their grandc***dren or great-grandc***dren and Father Christmas gives them out at a c***dren’s Christmas Party the week before Christmas. It isn’t at Christmas itself because most of them spend that with relations. The home is usually empty or almost empty then.”

“Why me?”

“The old man who has done it for years died last month. I could have asked one of the other old boys but they are really too frail for it. Several of them are worried that they might have to be Father Christmas. They’d be relieved if I had found someone else. Will you do it, John?”

“Of course, and help with the decorations, if that’s what you want. Is that all?”

“No. Monica was right. I want you.”

“I’m flattered. Why me, now? Not that I’m objecting…”

My mouth was stopped with another kiss.

“Maybe because my last boyfriend turned out to be an arsehole, using me for money and sex, but really because you are the nicest bloke I know. What you are doing for Monica is typical.”

“I haven’t done much for her. I’ll help if I can. How much I can depends not just on me but on Simon and her. Will they let me help?”

“I’m sure they will. I know Simon better than you do. He’s been here several times as a plumber’s assistant. He was great with the old people. They like him and most of them have lived long enough to see through appearances to the person underneath. They could see, long before I did, that my boyfriend was a bastard. They kept hinting. I didn’t want to believe them but they were right. They like you.”

“They’ve barely seen me, Angela,” I objected.

“They’ve seen the effect your visits have had on me. That was enough for them.”

“I’m no saint, Angela.”

“You’re closer to a saint than anyone of our generation I know. That’s good enough for me.”

She hugged me fiercely.

“I don’t think you know that much about me. We could remedy that. How about a date for this evening after I’ve been to Monica’s? The cinema? A meal out?”

“Neither, John. I want to talk to you. How about a meal here?”

“Agreed. What time?”

“Seven thirty or eight? Is that enough time for you to talk to Monica and Simon?”

“Probably, Angela. I don’t think it should take long. But in the meantime?”

“We should both go to bed, John. I’ve been up all night. So have you. I want you bright-eyed and bushy tailed this evening.”

I left after another session of kissing. I went back to my flat, appreciating the contrast between its state and Monica’s, and went to bed, setting the alarm for three o’clock.

When it went off I was in the middle of a dream apparently sharing a bed with Angela. I was reluctant to end it, but the prospect of seeing the real Angela this evening was better than any dream. I showered, had a snack, and took a suitcase to collect the washing from the Laundrette. It was neatly stacked and ironed. Most of it seemed to be small boys’ clothing. Monica’s clothes were less than a third of the total.

In daylight, the entrance to Monica’s flat seemed even more depressing than it had been last night. The whole building showed signs of neglect and obvious maintenance failings. As Monica opened the door the inside of the flat was equally neglected. She stood aside and let me in. Simon greeted me with outstretched hand.

“We need to talk, John,” he announced.

“I think we do,” I replied cautiously.

He was smiling so I didn’t think our talk would be antagonistic. I put the suitcase down in the kitchen.

“Madam’s laundry,” I said.

“Thank you, John. You two can talk in the living room if you want. The twins are still having their afternoon sleep.”

“I think we could talk better if we go for a walk,” Simon suggested. “That way we won’t disturb the twins, nor will they disturb us if we wake up.”

“OK, if you think that’s better,” I answered.

We left the flat. Monica kissed both of us on the cheek as we left.

“You can have coffee when you return,” she said as we walked away.

“I don’t think we will,” Simon said as soon as we were far away enough to be beyond Monica’s hearing, “she hasn’t got enough coffee.”

“Is it that bad?” I asked.

“Yes. She’s barely got enough food for herself and the twins. I’m trying to help but I haven’t got much either.”

“So what is the real situation?” I asked.

“It’s difficult to explain,” he started. “Like you, I’m just a friend. Despite what you might have thought, I’m not her boyfriend, nor her lover. I’m married but temporarily separated. My wife isn’t well and has gone back to her mother’s after she was discharged from hospital. She’s recovering but won’t be able to look after herself, let alone me, for several weeks yet. Her mother and father are looking after our k**s too. I owe them a lot for what they’re doing for us.

When my wife does return she might not understand about Monica. Monica knows that I’m only around temporarily and is worried sick about what will happen when I’ve gone.”

“How did you become involved, Simon?”

“While my wife was in hospital I was visiting her. After one visit I bought some fish and chips and was eating it on a bench in this park…”

We had just walked into the local park.

“Monica was at the other end of the bench. The twins were asleep in the pushchair. She was looking at my food as if she hadn’t eaten for days. I asked if she wanted some. She said ‘yes’ almost inaudibly. I passed her the rest of the fish and chips and she ate it very, very, slowly with tears running down her face. I asked what was wrong. She said it was the first food she’d had that week. It was a Thursday.”

“Ouch!” I said.

“Exactly. I didn’t have much money on me but I took her to the corner shop and spent all I had on food for her and the twins. She had been feeding them but not herself.”

“But why? She’s on benefits?”

“She was and is but her grasping landlord charges the earth for that flat. He doesn’t leave her enough for food. She can’t claim the full cost of the rent because the official rent and what he actually charges are different. She can’t claim for the twins.”

“Why not?”

“They’re not hers. They are her sister’s c***dren. Mary. Mary is in Holloway, awaiting trial for stabbing her abusive husband. The sister thrust the twins into Monica’s hands as she was arrested.”

“But surely, Simon…”

“I know, John. But her husband Tony is trying to claim custody. If he gets them who knows what he might do? If he has official custody it could jeopardise Monica’s sister’s trial. Monica is hiding the twins from him. Unfortunately her landlord knows that. His price for silence is the high rent.”

“What a fucking mess!”

“There’s more. The landlord has hinted, often, that he’d accept sex as part payment of the rent. So far Monica has managed to pay in cash. The landlord thinks I’m Monica’s boyfriend and that I’m there overnight. Except for last night when we were all there, I’m not.”

“Can’t her parents help?”

“Monica’s Dad is in the Navy. He’s ‘somewhere East of Suez’. He doesn’t even know that his daughter Mary has been arrested. Her Mum has lost it. She’s a gibbering wreck and has been since the arrest. Monica thinks that her Mum might need to be admitted to a mental hospital.”

“What kaçak iddaa can we do to help? I know you’ve been giving Monica money…”

“I haven’t. She won’t accept it, unless it seems to be winnings from card games. I had been winning but I play too well. The card schools I used to frequent have banned me for winning too much. I thought your friends might be suitable targets. You’re not. You and your friends play nearly as well as I do, and for pennies. Even if I won from you it wouldn’t be enough to make a difference. What I have been doing is buying her food. She’ll accept that as long as I don’t overdo it. Her real problem is her landlord.”

“So really she needs somewhere else to go, Simon?”

“Yes. Somewhere she can afford. Somewhere where she can hide the twins from Tony until after Mary’s trial. If Mary were to be convicted…”

“Is that likely?”

“It depends on the witnesses. Several people had seen Tony punching Mary. If they give evidence, Mary might be found not guilty, or guilty but provoked. When arrested Mary still had old bruises from Tony’s abuse. It all depends on the judge, and the jury.”

“Oh shit! Monica’s really in a mess, isn’t she?”

“Yes. And it’s all because she’s helping her sister. Apart from the strain of looking after the twins, Monica is worried stiff about Mary, and their Mum.”

I thought for a few minutes as we continued to walk.

“I’m not sure what I can do but I have friends who knew Monica. Between us we might help with money. Not a lot, perhaps enough to keep her and the twins from real want. We could say you had ‘won’ it from us. Even a few pounds a week would make a difference, wouldn’t it?”

“It would, John. Even a pound a week could help.”

“OK, Simon. I’ll talk to people tomorrow. I’ll start with David. He helped clean the kitchen so he knows that things aren’t right with Monica. Here’s a couple of pounds from your ‘win’ last night.”

“I shouldn’t take it but Monica really needs it.”

“I’ll try to get some more over the next few days. Is there anywhere I can meet you apart from at Monica’s flat?”

“Yes.”

Simon gave me his address, a flat on a local council estate a few hundred yards away. I wrote down my address for him.

“You can post messages through the door,” Simon said. “I’ll be there every night from about nine in the evening. I leave at seven and go to Monica’s on the way to work so the landlord can see me apparently leaving.”

“Thank you, Simon.”

“Thank you too, John. Cleaning that kitchen really brightened Monica’s day. I wish I had thought of it, or was as good at it as you and David obviously were. Between my work, overtime, card games, and pretending to be Monica’s live-in boyfriend I have so little free time for anything.”

We agreed that I would see him at his flat at nine o’clock on Wednesday evening if I hadn’t left a message for him before then. I walked off, towards Angela’s flat. How could I really help Monica? Perhaps talking to Angela might produce some ideas?

When I approached Angela’s flat I was confused. I needed her advice and possibly her help to sort out Monica’s problems but I was seriously considering Angela as a potential girlfriend. I didn’t want to spend our first evening together talking about another woman, but I ought to. How would Angela take that?

Her welcome was as enthusiastic as it had been earlier in the day. We had to stop kissing to draw breath and I hadn’t even crossed the threshold. Angela made it easy for me. She pulled me by the hand into her kitchen, thrust a cup of coffee in my hand and asked:

“How was Monica? And Simon? I want to know.”

“I didn’t see much of Monica. I gave her the clean washing. Simon and I went for a walk in the park so he could tell me what was really happening about Monica.”

“And that is?”

I explained, all of it. Angela became almost as angry as I felt.

“The bastards!” she said suddenly.

“Which bastards, Angela? Her sister’s husband? The Police?”

“Not the Police. The husband and her landlord.”

“Why not the Police?”

“They don’t decide who is remanded in custody. That’s a court decision. Mary could be safer in Holloway than on the street where her husband could attack her again. But her c***dren deserve better. So does Monica. Let me think about the situation while I finish the cooking. Just sit there, and we’ll talk about something else.”

“OK,” I replied, “What I really wanted to talk about is us. I was worried that we’d spend so much of this evening discussing Monica and her problems that there wouldn’t be time to talk about you and me…”

“There’s time, John. There’s not much to talk about. I want you. You haven’t objected, have you?”

“No. I like the idea.”

“Good. You’re claimed. That’s settled. You’re mine, no matter how much you do to help Monica. You will be helping her with my approval and support. Got that clear?”

“You make it sound so simple, Angela.”

“It is. I trust you. I know you won’t take advantage of my approval. You won’t take advantage of Monica, just as Simon hasn’t. I told you he was a good bloke, didn’t I?”

“You did. He is.”

“That’s settled too. But we haven’t changed the subject.”

“OK, Angela. I’ll try. What do you mean by saying I’m yours?”

“Just that. You are now my boyfriend. I’m your girlfriend. We are a couple. We haven’t been a couple very long. Less than twenty-four hours. We need to find out what being a couple means. We have known and liked each other for years.”

“I see,” I said, as Angela moved dishes around.

I didn’t really. What did Angela mean by a couple? Am I a fiancé? It was too soon for that, surely?

“I don’t think you do see, John, not yet. You’ll find out later. After we have eaten.”

She came over to me and hugged me.

“Another twenty minutes before the meal. How about a glass of wine?”

We moved back to the settee with the wine. I had barely sipped it before Angela was on my lap. I put the wine down carefully. Angela’s hands cupped her clothed breasts.

“You like these, don’t you, John?”

I nodded. They were almost in my face. Angela’s hands moved down, grabbed the hem of her top and pulled it up and off. Her bra covered breasts were inches from me. I started to lean forward.

“Wait!” Angela ordered. Her hands unclipped her bra clasp. She threw it on the floor. Her hands swung behind my head and pulled my face into her naked cleavage. I kissed her soft skin. She writhed around. I had a mouthful of breast, then just a nipple, or breasts pressing down from above. After a few minutes I was back in her cleavage. I heard her sigh.

“That’ll do for now. Nearly time to eat. That was just the taster…”

She kissed me, stood up, retrieved her bra and top and dressed.

“Back to the kitchen, John.”

We sat at the kitchen table to eat the meal. It was great, whatever it was. I don’t remember. I was too busy contemplating the enormity of having Angela as a girlfriend and what she meant by that. Why hadn’t I considered Angela before?

“I think we should talk to Lady Agnes,” Angela suddenly said.

“Lady Agnes? Who’s she?” I asked.

“You know. She was, and is, Chairman of Governors at our old school. She’s one of the trustees for the Old People’s Home, one of the local magistrates and many other things…”

“Oh. Her. I only knew her as Lady Smith, and the jokes about the relief of Lady Smith.”

“She’s heard all those jokes. That’s why she prefers being called Lady Agnes. She knows everyone and has contacts everywhere. If anyone can give good advice about what we should do about Monica, Mary and the c***dren, she could.”

“But Angela, wouldn’t she have been the one who sent Mary to Holloway?”

“I don’t know, John. She might have done. If she did, I’m sure she had a good reason for doing it. I trust her.”

“So how do we get to talk to her?

“That’s easy. She has an office at the Home. She’s there at weekends and I can make an appointment for us to see her. The Home’s secretary won’t ask why. So many people come to see Lady Agnes about almost anything.”

We agreed that we would try to see Lady Agnes next weekend. Angela would let me know the time of the appointment.

I told Angela that in the meantime I would contact my card school members and see whether we could find a few more pounds for Monica. I and Angela knew that Monica needed a more permanent solution than the small amounts of money I could raise, but something now was better than nothing.

“OK, John,” Angela said. “We can’t do any more for Monica now. We need to talk about us.”

She didn’t let me talk. She kissed me. She pulled me to the settee and sat on my lap for a prolonged session of kissing and fondling. Her hands wandered everywhere. So did mine. My fingers slid under and up the folds of her ankle length skirt. Her legs parted to allow me access. Soon we were too excited to talk. Her hands were inside my trousers gently massaging my erection. My fingers were thrusting inside her. We were both panting as we reached a mutual climax.

I tried to remove my hand. She clamped her legs around it. I left my fingers buried in her warmth. Both her hands continued to slowly stroke my recumbent cock until it started to respond again.

“This time, John, you can be the passive one,” Angela said.

She pulled my hand out from between her legs before removing my trousers and boxers. She knelt on the floor before her hand guided my erection into her mouth. I nearly came instantly as her lips slid over the tip. She stopped, turned her eyes up towards me, and just held my erection in her mouth until I was less excited. I slumped back against the settee.

Her mouth took more of me inside her and began to suck. She was incredibly sensitive to my arousal, taking me nearly to the brink, slowing, stopping and starting again just before it was too late. I might have pleaded with her to stop teasing me, to finish it, but I was enjoying myself too much.

Eventually she opened her mouth and released me. A few seconds later she had lifted her skirt and impaled herself on me. I had barely realised that I was inside her before I ejaculated. I closed my eyes.

“Wake up, John!” Angela said quietly. “It’s time for a coffee break. And then I want to see what you can do for me.”

Could I do as much as Angela had done? I wasn’t sure. She had been playing me as if she could feel everything I was experiencing. I didn’t want to disappoint her and I said so.

“You’ll find a way,” she said. “I’ll tell you what to do, when and where. Just let me direct you and you’ll know next time.”

We went into the kitchen and sat facing each other across the kitchen table while we drank the coffee. I was still worried that I couldn’t match her skill. What she had done for me had been an incredible experience. While I thought I knew how to make love so that my partner enjoyed herself, no woman had produced the effect that Angela had on me.

Angela lowered her coffee mug.

“You still look worried, John. Why?”

“I don’t know that I can be as good as you were. I’ve never had such…”

“You want to please me, don’t you?”

“Of course.”

“That’s what matters. My last boyfriend only wanted me to please him. I did what he wanted. He never asked or cared what I might want. I’m worried too.”

“You’re worried? Why, Angela? What have you got to worry about?”

“Losing you. We’ve only had a few hours together and I want to keep you.”

“Why should you lose me? After that, I’d want more,” I laughed.

“That’s not what I meant. I want a long term relationship, not just great sex. I know I can give you sexual satisfaction but I want more of you than that.”

I put my coffee mug down, moved around the table, lifted Angela into my arms and sat down with her on my lap.

“We have known each other a long time, Angela. Years. We’ve been friends all that time, haven’t we?”

She nodded.

“Have we ever had a serious argument? The only argument I can remember was about that movie we went to. Can you think of any other?”

“No, John. And the argument about the movie wasn’t serious. I liked it. You didn’t. You thought it was rubbish and said so.”

“I can’t even remember what it was.”

“I can. It came round again as a second feature. You were right. It was and is rubbish, but at the time the plot seemed appropriate to the way I was feeling. But we didn’t really argue. We agreed that I liked it and you didn’t. That wasn’t a big deal.”

“So why do you think we should fall out now, Angela? We don’t argue. We like each other. We’ve known each other for years even if we hadn’t really been boyfriend and girlfriend until now. Except for that movie we really hadn’t been on a date just the two of us together, but so what? You want me. I want you. You want to please me. I want to please you. I’m worried that I might not be as good at pleasing you as you have shown you can be at pleasing me, but surely that’s good, isn’t it? I want you to enjoy our relationship, and I hope you’ll tell me what I should do to make it enjoyable…”

My long speech was cut short by a kiss.

“I’m sorry, John,” she said when our lips parted. “My confidence has taken a knock from my last boyfriend. I’m desperate for us to work as a pair, possibly too anxious.”

“You need time. We need time. You know who and what I am. I know you. We don’t know us – yet. We will. But now it’s up to you to tell me what to do to make the rest of this evening enjoyable for you…”

Her answer was to lift the hem of her skirt.

“You want me, down there?”

She nodded with a smile on her face.

I carried her to the settee and put her down. She spread her legs. I knelt down in front of her and lowered my head. She lifted her skirt and I moved between her legs, kissing the inside of her thighs as I moved slowly closer to her pussy. Her skirt dropped over me, leaving me in darkness. Her hands held my head through it. She guided me until my tongue was licking at her pussy.

I let her move my head around, directing me where to kiss, where to lick, where to nibble, where to penetrate as much of my tongue as I could. Under her skirt it became warmer and damper as she became excited. She knew exactly where she wanted me. All I had to do was let her hands guide me. I had no idea of time. My only concern was to please Angela.

Her hands tightened around my head clamping me hard against her. I gasped a quick breath before my face was buried deep between her thighs which scissored tightly. Her body shuddered around me. I wrenched my head back slightly to pant for breath but her hands dragged me closer again, and again. Gradually I learned how to breathe between her spasms of ecstasy which continued for several minutes. Finally her hands relaxed their grip, her thighs slumped apart and I could breathe as freely as was feasible inside her heavyweight skirt.

“You can come out now,” Angela’s voice said, muffled by the damp layers of fabric between her head and mine.

I blinked as I emerged from under Angela’s skirt, feeling hot and sweaty with my hair plastered to my scalp. Her skirt dropped down. Her hands lifted my head to her lap and began to stroke my head.

“Thank you, John,” she said.

“For what?” I asked. “I tried to please you.”

“And you did. Even when I was nearly smothering you, you kept going.”

“I thought that was what you wanted. You were guiding me.”

“I was. That was marvellous. Knowing that you were doing everything I wanted you to, because you wanted to, and you were letting me control you… I’ve never had a man let me do that.”

“All I wanted was what you wanted, Angela.”

Her body bent forward. Her breasts pressed my head down against her skirt.

“I was worried,” she said, “that I was asking too much from you, that I was asking you to surrender to me. But you weren’t surrendering, were you? You were cooperating and allowing me to choose what I wanted.”

“I said I would.” My voice was muffled again. “Like now, breathing might have been temporarily difficult, but otherwise giving you what you wanted was easy, and I enjoyed it because you were.”

Angela lifted her breasts from my head.

“Up you come,” she ordered. “Sit beside me.”

I sat.

“John,” Angela said, “We have two projects to work on together. Christmas at the old people’s home is the easy one. Monica, the twins and her sister Mary are the other project. That will be more difficult but we have friends who can help. In the short term that means you, me and Simon. Longer term, Lady Agnes and our wider group of friends. Agreed?”

“Yes, Angela, but I’m afraid that Simon will have to end his involvement very soon. His priorities should be his wife and c***dren. I’m not sure that a recovering wife will be that sympathetic if she finds out he’s been helping Angela.”

“You could be underestimating her. She must know what Simon is like.”

“Perhaps, but if she’s in pain, or worried…?”

“You might be right. She’ll have to know, sometime. Simon shouldn’t keep secrets from her, should he?”

“No. But there are situations when revealing a secret too early might be awkward. It would be better if Simon could tell his wife when Monica’s problems have been solved and he can minimise the tale of his involvement. But I’m blathering longwinded nonsense. What I mean is – not now.”

Angela hugged me.

“I know what you mean. Simon ought to stop now. Or as soon as he can, before his help becomes an issue with his wife.”

“The problem with that is Monica’s landlord. Simon’s early morning departures are keeping the landlord’s sexual demands away. If Simon stops…”

“Then we need to move Monica and the twins. As soon as possible. Our best ally for that would be Lady Agnes. She might be at the home tomorrow morning. If I make an appointment with her, could you come too?”

“Of course. But wouldn’t Lady Agnes want to see Monica too? Might that be awkward for her, as a magistrate?”

“We don’t know until we have spoken to her. But tonight? I think we need to catch up on our sleep. I’m on duty tomorrow afternoon and evening.”

My disappointment must have showed. Angela kissed me.

“We’ll have plenty of time in the future for more than talking about Monica. But you and I haven’t had enough sleep in the last twenty-four hours. Sunday will be a day of rest, and work for me. Sex can wait – a little while…”

She kissed me again and eventually our kisses and cuddles ended at her flat’s front door. Angela arranged to telephone me about ten o’clock tomorrow morning. She hoped that she would have made an appointment to see Lady Agnes by then.

***

Angela rang me Sunday morning exactly at ten o’clock. She couldn’t talk for long because she’s not supposed to make personal calls when working, but she said that she had explained ‘everything’ to Lady Agnes, and things were looking good. We had an appointment at six o’clock Monday evening in Lady Agnes’ office. Could I meet for coffee at five thirty?

It would be a rush to get there from work, but I could just do it.

I decided that I would see what else I could do for Monica. I looked around my flat. I opened my store cupboards. They were stuffed with food, more in some categories than I would use in a month. I sorted out a large cardboard box full. As I was sorting, David arrived.

“John,” he said. “You weren’t at the pub last night, but the card school had a whip-round. We decided that the minimum we should give was the cost of a pint. Most gave more than that, and some got their parents to contribute as well.”

“Thank you,” I said, “and them. How much did you raise?”

“I didn’t believe it until I counted it this morning. We donated thirty-two pounds eight shillings and fourpence.”

“So much! That will make a difference to Monica and the twins. Thank you David.”

“You’ll take it to Monica? Today? We are concerned that she should stop worrying about money, at least. If necessary there’ll be more next Saturday.”

“Monica needs a permanent solution, David. Angela is trying to see if Lady Smith, sorry, Lady Agnes, can help. She has far more clout with the authorities than any of us. Monica needs to leave that flat as soon as she can.”

“We know. If we knew of anywhere she could go…”

“But except for me in this rabbit hutch of a flat, you’re all living with your parents, aren’t you?”

“At the moment. Most of us are aiming to be independent, like you John, within the year. Helping Monica might delay some of us by a couple of weeks because we won’t be able to save as much.”

“Monica is a good cause, but I hope between all of us we can get a real solution soon. If Mary were free, and could take her twins back, Monica would be OK.”

“But when, John?”

“That might depend on Lady Agnes. There’s no one important in this town she doesn’t know. If she helps…”

“That’s a big if.”

“It isn’t. Angela has already told her all we know. We’re seeing her tomorrow evening.”

“OK, mate. One more thing.” He handed me a carrier bag labelled with a chemist’s name. “This is from my sister. It was a duplicate birthday present, from the bloke who is now her ex-boyfriend. She doesn’t want it and can’t give it back.”

“Thank her, from Monica, please.”

“Will do. I’ll let myself out. Give our love,” David emphasised the word ‘love’, “to Monica. She has many friends who want to help.”

“I think you should give her your ‘love’ in person, David. You love her, don’t you?”

“Yes,” David whispered, “But I can’t tell her now. She needs to be her own person again before I can think of her as more than a friend. Now is the wrong time.”

“You’re right. We’ll make that time come, sooner if we can. Hang in there.”

“I will, John. If there’s anything more I can do for her, let me know.”

“Yes, David, I will.”

He left. I loaded the foodstuff and my vacuum cleaner into my Dad’s car that I had borrowed for the morning. It wasn’t far to Monica’s flat but too far to carry all that stuff.

When I knocked on the door Monica looked better than she had done on Friday night or Saturday.

“Oh. It’s you John. I thought it might be Simon, but it couldn’t be. He’s visiting his wife.”

“I’ve brought you some things, mainly food items,” I said pointing at the car, “and my vacuum cleaner. Could you take the twins for a walk while I do some cleaning?”

“Cleaning, John? Didn’t you do enough of that on Saturday?”

“I only did the kitchen. I can’t turn this grot-hole into a palace, but I could make it slightly safer for crawling twins…”

“They’re asleep. Not for long. Could you unload quietly?”

“Of course.”

It didn’t take long to unload the car. Monica looked at the pile of food as if Christmas had come early.

“That lot is from me, spare food from my flat, Monica.” I stopped, embarrassed about how to give her the money. “I’m not sure how… It’s difficult…”

Monica kissed me on the cheek.

“Come on, John. We’re friends, aren’t we? That’s what we decided yesterday. You are Angela’s. What are you worried about?”

“Friends. Your other friends. They have…”

“My other friends?”

“Monica!” I blurted. “You don’t know how many friends you have. I didn’t know. I don’t think you can have kissed ALL of them behind the bike sheds…”

Monica giggled. That was the first time I had seen the Monica I remembered.

“There were a few. Not a lot, but most of your card school kissed me.”

“You must have made a real impression. They gave me this, to give to you, with their love.”

I held out an envelope. Despite my care, the coins chinked.

“Money? I can’t take money from you, John.”

“It’s not from me. It’s from the other friends. David brought this for me to give to you…”

“David? He’s sweet… But I can’t…”

“Please, Monica? They want you to have it. They want you to stop worrying about money. You have enough on your plate without that. Please?”

I was really pleading with her. I couldn’t take that money back.

“Sit down, John. Do perabet güvenilir mi you know you’re shaking?”

“They want you to have it.”

I sat down on a kitchen stool. Monica sat on another.

“OK. I’ll take it. I don’t want to, but I have to think of the twins. How much…?”

“Open it. Please?”

Monica opened the envelope. She poured out the coins. At first she didn’t realise that there were banknotes as well. As the first one came out her face blanched. I had to jump up to stop her slumping off the stool in a faint as the full amount became visible.

“I have that many friends?”

“Yes, Monica. And more than that many. If you need more money, there will be more next week, and the week after, and after…”

Monica cried on my shoulder. This time she was shaking. Finally she picked up the money, took the two pounds eight shillings and fourpence and put thirty pounds back in the envelope. She looked at me, still worried.

“John,” she said, “please look after this for me. I daren’t leave it around in the flat. The landlord has a key and I know he’s been in when I’ve taken the twins out. I don’t want to walk around with that much money on me. I wouldn’t feel safe.”

She sealed the envelope and pushed it into my hand.

“Me? You trust me with it?”

“Of course I do. Even if you weren’t my friend, John, you’re an accountant, aren’t you?”

“Technically not yet. An accountant I mean. You know I’m your friend, one of many. But although I have taken my finals, and the results have been announced, I haven’t got my certificate yet.”

“Exactly like an accountant, John,” Monica smiled. “So precise. You’ve passed your exams. With merit. Yet you won’t admit that you’re an accountant – yet!”

“How did you know that much?”

“David told me.”

“David? When? I didn’t think he spoke to you yesterday.”

“He didn’t. Not while you were here. He came back later that day bearing a food parcel, including coffee. Would you like a cup?”

“If you can spare it.”

“Silly John! What do David’s parents do?”

“Of course. They run a chain of coffee shops.”

“And David brought a catering size pack of coffee. I’ll make us some.”

David’s catering tin of coffee was enormous. It was excellent. While we sipped our coffee we talked about more normal things. I found out that the twin boys were nine months old and a handful. While Mary might have been able to cope with them, it had been a steep learning curve for Monica. The hardest part had been maintaining a turnover of nappies. The bathroom had several buckets filled with whatever is used to clean nappies. I had no idea how much work that was.

We did talk about money. Monica was up to date with the rent. She daren’t let that slip, but the money we and Simon had given her on Saturday had meant that she was able to feed the gas and electricity meters and buy some essentials. My food parcel, and David’s, would feed all three of them for a fortnight. With the change she already had, the two pounds eight shillings and fourpence would be a buffer until her next unemployment benefit payment. She wanted the thirty pounds to be her reserve for clothing the twins as they grew.

I said that I hoped we would be able to help Monica before the twins needed new clothes. Even if they did, we could visit church jumble sales…

Monica laughed outright. Her whole face brightened. This was the Monica I remembered, flashing through the tiredness and worry.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“The thought of the card school sorting through baby clothes at a jumble sale. They’d have to fight through the dedicated jumble-sale fanatics. The grannies would elbow them aside, dig them in the ribs with their umbrellas, tread on their toes…”

“Perhaps we could send our grannies to do it for us,” I said.

“That might work better, John. But I still like the picture of you lads trying to get the bargains. Not that I need clothes for the twins yet. When Mary thrust the twins’ buggy at me, all they had was the clothes they were wearing and a couple of spare nappies. I hired a taxi with the money I had in my purse and cleared everything necessary for the twins out of Mary’s flat while the taxi driver looked after them. I had money then. I was in work. But I can’t work and look after the twins.”

“What work did you do, Monica?”

“I’m a hairdresser. Don’t laugh. I know I got good exam results but I couldn’t afford to go to university. I had been training as a hairdresser during school holidays. That was easy because as a trainee I was cheap. I thought that I could work as a hairdresser even when at university. But I liked the work, found the City and Guilds easy, and qualified. I was earning real money, better than I might have done with a degree…”

“And you could again, once Mary is sorted out.”

“IF she is, John. It’s still doubtful what the court will decide. But eventually she can have the twins back, and I can work. I could get out of this grotty hole, away from this fucking landlord and perhaps even start my own hairdresser’s shop. But that’s a far away dream. Now I’m stuck…”

“…with more friends than you thought you had all trying to help.”

Monica’s face crumpled. I opened my arms and she cried quietly against my shoulder. I remembered the carrier bag from David’s sister.

“There’s another item,” I said as she stopped crying, “from David’s sister Sophie. That carrier bag. I don’t know what it is, but Sophie said it was an unwanted duplicate present from a now ex-boyfriend…”

“That must have been Jason. I tried to tell Sophie he was no good, but at the time she wouldn’t listen to any advice about him. I’m not surprised. Jason sounds and looks good. He doesn’t show his nasty side – at first.”

Monica opened the carrier bag. Inside was a parcel covered in ‘Happy Birthday’ paper. She unwrapped it carefully.

“I could re-use that,” she said. “It’s Mum’s birthday soon.”

Inside was a large pink gift pack. It looked like a starter set of cosmetics and personal care items.

“Wow!” Monica exclaimed. “That cost a lot. It was on offer months ago and sold out quickly. I had wanted one but couldn’t justify it because I had many of the items in it. I haven’t now. That bastard Tony smashed everything I had, because he thought they were Mary’s. They weren’t but I’d let Mary use mine after Tony had thrown all hers out. He thought she’d been spending his beer money on cosmetics.”

“He’s an arsehole.” I said.

“He is. I wish Mary had never…” Monica started to say, “…that doesn’t matter now. She needs protection from him, as do the twins. Please thank Sophie from me.”

Monica lifted herself and kissed me on the forehead.

“That’s for Sophie.”

She kissed me again. “That’s for David.”

“I think he would prefer to get that in person,” I protested.

“Then he’ll have one, or two, or…”

“You like David, don’t you?”

“Yes, John. I like David. I like you, too, but Angela has claimed you. Anyway I don’t like you the same way I like David. You are a friend, a great friend, but there’s no spark between us, is there?”

“No. Monica. I like you. If there was no one else, I’d like you as a partner for a dance, and evening or day out. I’d enjoy that, but it wouldn’t lead anywhere, would it?”

“No, John. As a friend, you’re great. I’d like to keep you as a friend.”

“David?”

“He might be a different proposition, John.”

“I shouldn’t tell you, but I know he would like to be more than a friend.”

“Would he?” Monica looked wistful. “But not now, not while I’m in this mess. Our problems need solving first.”

“He’ll wait for you.”

Monica suddenly hugged me.

“That’s for David. Tell him I wanted to hug him, please?”

“I will.”

One of the twins started to burble in his cot. The other one joined in seconds later. Monica got them up, checked and changed nappies, and prepared baby food. I helped feed one of the twins. I had forgotten what messy eaters small c***dren are. The twin, the high chair, the floor and I, were splattered with food. Monica laughed at my efforts to keep the food going into the mouth.

But the twins were enjoying having individual attention instead of sharing Monica.

“Well done, John,” Monica said as we started to clean the twins and their surroundings. “For a beginner that was a great start.”

“Thank you. You looked like an expert.”

“I’m not. I have had to learn, fast. But the twins seem to be satisfied with my efforts.”

She had one twin on each shoulder. One burped, both of them giggled. That was
an attractive sound.

“How about that walk, John?”

“I was going to do the cleaning while you were out.”

“Can you leave the vacuum cleaner? For a couple of days? I’d like to do some of my own cleaning. You showed me how much I’d let slip.”

“We didn’t mean to. We just wanted to help.”

“And you and our friends have. The biggest help is that I know I’m not facing this alone. I was tired, depressed, lacking any motivation and I couldn’t see beyond the next nappy. The cleaning, the food, the coffee, the money… I appreciate them. I’m grateful. But the love? That’s amazing and means so much…”

Monica looked as if she was going to cry again. I kissed her on the forehead. One of the twins grabbed my hair. I couldn’t pull away.

Monica turned her head and kissed me on the lips. I hadn’t expected that.

“I wish we meant more to each other, John,” she said before kissing me again, “but we don’t. If David…”

“If I were David, I’d kiss you back.” I interrupted. “But I’m not. Even if David were here, I doubt he would. He is very shy with women. You would need to be gentle with him, nearly as gentle as you are with the twins.”

“Is David worth being gentle with?”

“That’s for you to say. I like David. I think he will make someone a great husband, sometime, but his wife would have to be the strong one in the partnership, to support him, push him to be more assertive, but most of all to be there at his side, loving him.”

“And you think I could?”

“You know you could. You are your own woman, strong enough to be whatever you want, certainly strong enough for David.”

Monica kissed me again, harder.

“I’m no angel, John. I’m flattered that you think so much of me, but I have flaws…”

“I’m not flattering you. David doesn’t need an angel. He needs someone who can see things as they are and deal with them. Someone who has the worldly-wise experience to compensate for his innocence.”

“And you don’t need that?”

“Me!” I laughed. “No. I can stand up for myself, and do.”

“And Angela? What can she do for you?”

“Stand by my side fighting the world together and enjoying it.”

“I can see myself getting jealous of Angela.”

“Why? You don’t need someone like me. You need someone to love, protect, support, someone who will love you without reservation. You and I would be constantly fighting to prove which was the boss.”

The twin let go of my hair. That was a relief. I had been so close to Monica’s lips and so tempted…

We carried the twins and their pushchair downstairs. In the weak winter sunshine we walked to the park, past the bench where Simon had shared his fish and chips with Monica, and on to the lake. I produced a few slices of old bread out of my coat pocket and fed the greedy ducks. The twins appreciated the flapping, splashing, scurrying birds.

After an hour we went back to Monica’s flat. I had to return Dad’s car. Once the twins and pushchair were back upstairs and the twins were playing on the still clean kitchen floor I turned to leave.

Monica grabbed me, turned me round and kissed me again and again. I couldn’t help responding even as I felt guilty. I should be kissing Angela, not Monica.

“Don’t worry, John,” Monica said as we stopped. “Those kisses are an expression of my thanks to everyone, and the ones for you are for reminding me that I’m loved. By David.”

She grinned wickedly.

“But I think you love me too. I’m more than just a ‘friend’, aren’t I?”

“You’ll always be a friend, Monica, but yes, I love you,” I admitted.

The rest of my sentence was stopped by another kiss, a gentle one.

“But you love Angela more,” Monica said.

“I love Angela in a different way,” I explained heavily. “I want to make love to her, live with her, grow with her. I love Monica enough to wish her well, to hope that she finds someone of her own, someone better than me…”

“And that’s David?”

“You know whether he is or not. It’s your choice.”

“And you won’t be just a little bit jealous?”

I hugged Monica.

“Of course I’ll be jealous. But if Monica is happy, the jealousy will pass. I’ll always be there if you need me, even if I’m a married man.”

“What would Angela say?” Monica was mocking me.

“She’d be helping you too, and watching that you didn’t get your claws into her man.”

“Good for her. I won’t – I’ll keep my claws sheathed and love you as a friend.”

She gave me a last kiss and pushed me out of the door.

I climbed into Dad’s car and drove slowly away. Monica had shaken me. I did love her but hadn’t admitted it until today. What I felt for Angela was totally different. That was fierce, passionate and demanding. My love for Monica was gentler, kinder, warm but not that for a potential partner. I could never forget Monica but I would have to be very careful to keep thinking of her as a friend.

For the rest of that Sunday and all day at work on Monday I was feeling guilty. Until Angela and Monica I hadn’t kissed, nor been kissed, by a woman for what? It had been at least three months ago when I had taken David’s sister Sophie to a play. She had bought the tickets when she had been with Jason, didn’t want to go on her own, so asked me to take her.

I had. At the end of the evening after I dropped her at their house, Sophie had kissed me goodnight. That had been a brief brush on my lips, a thank you.

But on Saturday I had been kissed and more by Angela. Monica had kissed me more than she should have, more than I should have accepted. I was feeling that I had betrayed Angela and our new relationship.

That Monday, as I walked in to Angela’s cubbyhole, too small to be called an office, I was still worried. Angela’s enthusiastic welcome blew all that away.

“Monica rang me,” Angela said. “She asked me to forgive her, for kissing you.”

Any response I might have made was stopped by her lips.

“She’s forgiven.” Angela said. “So are you. You can kiss Monica any time SHE wants you to. But not when you want to. Save them for me.”

I might have protested. I was too busy kissing and being kissed. Even through the kissing I noticed that Angela was wearing her full nurse uniform dress instead of the uniform trousers and top she normally wore at work. I wondered why. She wasn’t on duty tonight, and if she was the dress wasn’t practical for what she had to do. Was it for Lady Agnes? The kissing distracted me. I forgot to ask.

“I think Lady Agnes is Monica’s best hope…” Angela said after we had stopped kissing and cuddling each other and had sat down for the coffee.

“Why?”

“I did say I had explained ‘everything’ to her, didn’t I, John?”

“Yes, but what does ‘everything’ include?” I asked.

“Monica, Simon, Mary and her twins, Tony her bastard husband, the fucking landlord,” Angela paused, “and you and me.”

“That sounds like almost everything – except the card school.”

“I mentioned them as well, and the help they and particularly David had given and were giving.”

“Oh. So I won’t need to say much to Lady Agnes?”

“She’ll probably ask a couple of questions but she was going to make some enquiries, as she called them, today, to find out exactly what Mary’s legal status is, and Tony’s…”

“That sounds promising. Monica and Simon were vague about why Mary was in Holloway.”

“I don’t think she is. Lady Agnes hinted that something was going on that Tony doesn’t know about. But we’ll find out soon. Until then…”

Angela put down her coffee, climbed on my lap and we kissed and cuddled. Our coffee was left to cool.

A few minutes before six o’clock Angela climbed off me, tidied her hair in the tiny mirror and took my hand as we walked through the Old People’s Home to Lady Agnes’ office. Angela knocked on the door and we went in.

Lady Agnes didn’t look any older than she had when visiting my school years ago. She seemed timeless. She asked us to sit down. We did.

“I have found out a lot since you, Angela, called me yesterday morning. And I have arranged a couple of things with the authorities. For the next few minutes I want you two to listen to me. Then ask questions. OK?”

Lady Agnes is the sort of person who tells others what to do – forcefully if required. We nodded. She consulted a legal pad covered in her scrawling writing.

“Right. First things first. Let’s get some facts straight.

One. Mary isn’t in Holloway. She never was. That story was just for Tony so that he wouldn’t try to find her. Mary is in a hostel – by court order for contempt of court because she wouldn’t tell the Magistrates where her twins were.

Two. Now that I know that the twins are with Monica, and being looked after by a close relation, I have arranged for the c***d care order to be revoked. If it hadn’t been, the twins would have been taken into foster care as soon as Social Services found them, despite Monica’s protests. They were considered to be at risk…”

I was about to interrupt by Lady Agnes held up her hand. I shut up.

“…from their father Tony.

Three. Tony has been issued with an injunction forbidding him from contacting or approaching Mary, the twins, or any members of Mary’s family. That includes Monica.

Four. Because I am a Magistrate, even if I wasn’t on the bench when Mary was brought before them, and I now know where the twins are, Mary is no longer in contempt of court. Technically she should be, because SHE didn’t say where they were, but we bent that rule a bit.

Five. Mary has agreed to give evidence against Tony for attacking her. The prosecution are arranging for Tony to be arrested within the next couple of days.

Six. The case against Mary for stabbing Tony has been dropped. Tony’s testimony, Mary’s, and the physical evidence has been considered in a review. The prosecution has decided that she has no case to answer because she was acting in self-defence against a real threat to her life and the twins.

Seven. Monica’s landlord is well known both to the Police and Social Services. Until now they have been unable to get enough evidence to prosecute him. IF Monica were to complain, that might tip the balance in favour of prosecution but I don’t think she should complain. What she needs is to get out – now.”

This time Angela wanted to interrupt. Lady Agnes stopped her.

“I’ve only reached point seven. There are more. Just listen – please.

Eight. Obviously Monica, Mary and the twins need somewhere safe to stay, that they can afford. It would be best if it was a place that Tony couldn’t get into if he is on bail. I don’t trust him to respect a restraining order. There is such a place – here.”

“Here?” Angela couldn’t stop herself.

“Yes. Here. I have had a word with the other trustees of the Home. You know that we have a couple of cottages in the grounds that were the original Almshouses. They aren’t suitable for our old people now because they are on two storeys with a steep, narrow staircase. We can’t normally rent them out because the only access is through the Home, which has locked doors. But we could use them for people who are known to us – for a short time, say a year or so. The rent would be affordable…”

Lady Agnes laughed.

“The terms of the Almshouses’ charity prevent us from charging a commercial rent. We can only let them to local people ‘in distress’. Who decides who is ‘in distress’? The Honorary Warden. Who is the Honorary Warden? I am. I have set the rent for Mary and the twins in the larger cottage at the maximum allowed by the charity. I don’t think they considered inflation in the 18th Century. It is sixpence a week. Monica can have the other smaller cottage. She would pay threepence a week. Do you think they will accept?”

“I’m sure they will, Lady Agnes,” I said. “You seem to have a solution to all their problems, except Mary and Monica’s mother.”

“Yes. Someone lied to Simon about their mother. I don’t know, and don’t really care whether it was Monica, or whether Mary lied to Monica. The truth about Mary’s mother is the catalyst for the prosecution ending Mary’s ordeal by law and building a case against Tony. Their mother was in hospital, badly beaten by Tony. Mary stabbed Tony to stop the v******e. The mother has given a statement to the Police, now that she is able to. She was so badly punched in the face that she couldn’t speak for a week.”

“So it’s possibly all’s well that ends well?” I suggested.

“IF Monica and Mary accept the charity’s offer, then perhaps,” Lady Agnes said. “But there’s more yet. I haven’t talked about Simon, or you two love-birds.”

She looked pointedly at our hands, linked together.

“Us?” Angela asked quietly.

“Yes. You two. I understand, John, that Angela has persuaded you to help with the Christmas decorations and act as Father Christmas for our c***dren’s party?”

“Yes, Lady Agnes.”

“I won’t ask HOW Angela persuaded you. But I want something else from you.”

I looked at her. What could she mean?

“I’ve only covered point eight on my list. You are later. Point nine. I contacted the Ministry of Defence (Navy). Mary and Monica’s father will be coming home on compassionate leave. He should be here by Wednesday.

Ten. I might have to justify letting the cottages to the rest of the Trustees. I had an idea. Monica is a trained and qualified hairdresser, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” I said.

“That probably settles ten. And you have just qualified as an accountant, John?”

“Nearly, but…”

“You’re qualified. Listen to eleven. Do you know that your office will be moving to London shortly?”

“I have heard some rumours, Lady Agnes, but the staff haven’t been told – officially. I’ve been too busy taking examinations to worry about what might happen.”

“The office IS moving. All the staff will either be retiring, or already have been snapped up by other firms, or are moving to London – except you, John. The owner hasn’t been able to find anyone with a vacancy for a newly qualified accountant. That’s why I know. He asked me for help – for you.”

“That’s good of him,” I couldn’t help myself from saying, even though what Lady Agnes had told me was a real worry. I would be redundant – shortly.

“There is a vacancy, or will be. Here. Our accountant is retiring. His wife is a hairdresser who does the residents hair. So there are two vacancies – for an accountant and for a hairdresser. The trustees have agreed to offer the posts to you and Monica.”

“But we haven’t applied!” I protested.

“Yes you have. I had a copy of your CV from the accountancy firm’s owner. He had updated it with your new qualification. As for Monica? We asked for recommendations from her customers and were swamped with them. The Trustees met this afternoon, and subject to the agreement of you two, you will start next Monday, shadowing the current job-holders. All you have to do is say ‘Yes’.”

Angela’s hand squeezed mine.

“Yes, Lady Agnes, thank you.” I said, thinking that my problem had been solved before I really knew I had one.

“Good.”

Lady Agnes lifted her notepad, extracted a couple of typed sheets, signed them and passed them to me. They were two copies of a contract of employment for me. I gasped as I saw the salary. It was more than double my current pay.

“The salary is set for a newly qualified accountant,” Lady Agnes said quietly. “It will rise by annual increments listed on page two…”

I looked at page two. The contract shook as I realised what tipobet giriş I was being offered.

“Do you want to think about it, John?”

I looked at her.

“No, Lady Agnes. This is very generous. I will do my best for the Home and the Trustees.”

“I’m sure you will, John. Just sign a copy and give it to me.”

She pushed a pen towards me. As I signed my signature was less clear than normal because the pen was shaking. I handed the copy to her.

“Thank you, John. You are now one of the team, along with Angela and possibly Monica. When Mary and Monica’s affairs are settled… But we still have to do that. On to number twelve. We want Mary, Monica and the twins to move in as soon as possible. You can drive, can’t you, John?”

“Yes.”

“Now you are an employee you are covered by our insurance. You can borrow the Home’s van to move Mary and Monica – tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? But I should be at work, with my current employers, tomorrow…”

“You didn’t read all your contract. You started with us five minutes ago. You are on termination leave from your present employers from now to the end of your official notice period. You can go there any time you want to pick up your belongings. Your former boss will be delighted because he will have sorted out a future for all his staff. I’ll tell him tomorrow morning why you won’t be in.”

“You seem to have sorted out everything, Lady Agnes. Thank you.” I said.

“Not everything. Oh, while I remember. While you are under notice from your previous post, John, you’ll still be paid by them – and by us. You might need to advise the taxman.”

My brain was whirling. I had a new job, better pay and if I made a good start, wonderful prospects. I could get a mortgage, buy a house, get married…

“John, as one of our staff, could you take this job offer to Monica?”

“Of course, Lady Agnes.”

I accepted a sealed envelope she pushed at me.

“Thirteen. This one’s for you, Angela. Like John, you’ve just taken your finals, haven’t you?”

“Yes, Lady Agnes, but the results aren’t out yet.”

“They’re in the post. You’ve passed. With distinction. You know what that means?”

“No. I’m delighted to have passed, of course. I knew I would – sometime.”

“That sometime is now, Angela. You are, or will be tomorrow morning, a fully qualified nurse. That solves another problem for the Trustees.”

Angela looked blank. I squeezed her hand.

“We need a fully qualified nurse to cover the day, or we will need one in two months time. Julia who does it at present, wants to change to nights for family reasons. If you’ll swap with her, you would be in sole charge during weekdays, looking after the part-qualified nurses and care assistants, just as you do now, but for more money. Interested?”

“Yes, Lady Agnes.”

“I thought you might be. You will have to work with that young man beside you. That cause any problems?”

Angela looked at me and a smile spread across her face.

“No, Lady Agnes.”

“Great. Now for f******n. The card school.”

“The card school?” I blurted.

“Yes. You need somewhere to play on Friday nights, don’t you? And your parents are getting slightly irritated at the invasions?”

I nodded.

“Then number f******n is the solution. IF the members of the card school are willing to spend some time playing cards with our residents, they can meet in the board room here. For some obscure reason the Trustees equipped it with a bar, with draught beer…”

“That sounds ideal, Lady Agnes,” I replied, “but won’t it disturb the residents?”

“No. The board room is beyond the offices and has its own entrance, separate toilets and even its own car park. If I give a key to our newest employee – you, John, you could let the card school in and out every Friday night.”

“Thank you, Lady Agnes. I’ll consult them. I’m sure they would welcome a quiet, beer-equipped venue.”

“Don’t forget the condition – cards with the residents sometimes.”

“I won’t.”

“Then I think that’s the end of my list. We have actions to do. You two need to see if Monica will accept the offer of accommodation and a job. I’ll speak to Mary myself. I can get into the hostel. You can’t. You, John, should come here tomorrow after you two have got Monica’s decision. If she’s willing to move I suggest you move her tomorrow. The landlord might object, or try to charge extra rent if we give him a chance. If Monica needs to pay him off, I’ll go to see him myself and put the fear of God into him.”

“I have one question, Lady Agnes.” I said.

“Yes, John?”

“Are the cottages ready to be occupied? Do they need cleaning?”

“Yes they’re ready. No they don’t need cleaning. I asked the cleaners to do a special clean this morning. They didn’t need much because they were cleaned after the builders left.”

“The builders?” Angela queried. “I knew some contractors were going in and out a few months ago but not what they were doing.”

“The Trustees had decided that the cottages needed modernising. They have been rewired, replumbed, had new double-glazed windows installed, new kitchens, new bathrooms, and repainted inside and out. All that came out of the charity fund specifically for the Almshouses they were. I didn’t agree because at the time I couldn’t see a use for the cottages without stair lifts at least. I was outvoted. But Monica, Mary and the twins shouldn’t need stair lifts.

Any more questions? No? Then off you go. Remember what you have to do tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Lady Agnes,” I said.

“Lady Agnes,” Angela said, “I knew you could do things we couldn’t do, but I never expected a solution to so many problems in such a short time. You are brilliant!”

“Nonsense! I enjoy sorting people out. Don’t forget that the Home, the Trustees, and John’s former employer benefit as well as you two, Mary, Monica and the twins. It should be good for all of us – except that shit Tony. I’ll have to excuse myself if he comes before the bench again. If he does it will just be to be remanded for trial at the Crown Court. I can slip out for the few seconds that will take. I’d like to give that young man the rough side of my tongue but I have to be impartial. Off you go, and enjoy yourselves.”

All three of us stood up, but Angela rushed around the desk, dragging me by the hand. She hugged Lady Agnes. So did I.

When we left we went straight back to Angela’s staff flat. As she opened the door I could smell cooking.

“It’s a casserole,” Angela explained. “It will be ready in an hour, or two, or whenever we’re ready for it. Until then, I’m going to play at being a nurse. You’re the patient. Come on!”

Angela dragged me into her bedroom.

“Strip to your boxers and lie on the bed,” she ordered.

It took a long time for me to comply because Angela was helping. Her hands were wandering everywhere and I was frequently stopped by kisses. Eventually I was lying on the bed.

“Time for your restraint,” she said, grinning.

She tied my wrists to the bed head with pantyhose. She unpinned and removed her starched white apron, replacing her silver-buckled belt. She climbed on to the bed with me, straddled me, and slowly lowered herself, hitching up the skirt of her uniform dress. I pretended to struggle as she moved up my body until her raised skirt was at my chin. She dropped the hem over my mouth and held it in place.

“Shh!” she ordered.

She lifted the hem again so that I could see she was bare underneath. Her pussy lowered itself over my face. I extended my tongue and slid it between her lower lips. Angela sighed in satisfaction as I began to arouse her. Her uniform dress was much less dark than it had been under her heavy skirt. I could see what I was doing. I could breathe easier than I had done on Saturday night. Even as I tongued her I could sense that she was undoing buttons above her waist. Her belt was thrown aside and a hand reached down from above.

She guided my head with one hand inside her dress and one outside. I concentrated on pleasing her, doing exactly what she wanted, where she wanted it. Slowly her movements became more intense, her hands pressing harder, more insistent.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Angela shouted above me as the first orgasm hit her. I kept licking as her body writhed above me. Again she wriggled through another orgasm and a third.

She slumped slightly and then began to turn around. I had to hurriedly reposition my mouth to keep in the right place. She pushed my boxers down and her hands gently cradled my stiff erection. I shuddered as her warm mouth closed around it. We were in a great sixty-nine position and I had lost any sense that I was trying to please her. We were pleasing each other, lost in each other’s bodies. Her breasts slid over my naked chest as she moved up and down, pushing her pussy hard into my face, lifting, before thrusting again.

I had lost count of time, of anything except Angela’s lips around me erection and pushing onto my tongue. She shuddered again and as she did I came into her mouth. She slumped on top of me. I had to move my head slightly to avoid being suffocated under her.

She lifted herself, pulled my boxer shorts up again, and eased herself off me. She stood beside the bed, looking at me. I’m sure I must have had an inane grin on my face. She wiped it with the hem of her dress.

“Stay there, John, while I check the meal,” she said. “Not that you have an option, do you?”

My wrists were firmly held. Our struggles had tightened the knots in her pantyhose bonds. Once Angela had left I pulled gently on one of the restraints. I was tied securely to Angela’s bed and would have to stay there until she decided to release me.

She came back carrying two glasses of red wine. She held one to my lips and let me sip before putting them both down beside the bed.

“Well, John, can you imagine doing this with Monica?”

I shook my head.

“No. I don’t think of her this way.”

“I didn’t think you did. What would you like to do now?”

“Tie you up like this…”

“Not now, John. Maybe another time. Our meal is ready but you’re not.”

Angela took a craft knife out of her skirt pocket and sliced through the pantyhose bonds. I rubbed my wrists where they had been marked.

“Get dressed. See you in the kitchen.”

Angela left. It took me longer to dress than I expected. My hands were still numb and I had pins and needles as the circulation returned. Nylon pantyhose bonds can restrict blood flow. I wouldn’t want to have been restrained with them for much longer.

In the kitchen Angela was putting her white apron back on. She twirled around, splaying her skirt.

“You like me in uniform, don’t you?”

“Yes,” I said. “You were dressed like that when I first asked you out. But that’s your full dress uniform, not what you wear at the Home. Those clothes aren’t so sexy.”

Angela smoothed down her apron.

“No. This isn’t practical for every day. And I won’t ever wear this again, except for you.”

“Never?”

I must have sounded disappointed.

“Never! I’m a fully qualified nurse according to Lady Agnes. The next time I wear the formal uniform it will be a different colour. We can keep this for playing around.”

“That sounds like a good idea. But I still want revenge for being tied up.”

“That’ll have to wait. Dinner is ready.”

While we ate we discussed what Lady Agnes had arranged. We were still coming to terms with the enormity of what she had achieved in a couple of days. No wonder organisations wanted her to be involved. A couple of hours of her attention made more things happen than most people could do in a month.

I didn’t get the opportunity to tie Angela up. I didn’t get home either, until early next morning. I woke up naked with a bare Angela resting her head on my shoulder. We were too exhausted after an energetic night for more than a kiss and cuddle before I rushed back to my flat for a shower and a change.

I was back to collect Angela at nine o’clock. We walked hand in hand to see Monica. She opened the door to see us standing hand in hand.

She hugged and kissed us both. She seemed very happy to see us.

“I see that Angela has forgiven you,” she said, looking at our joined hands.

“I’ve forgiven him,” Angela said. “Should I forgive you, Monica? He’s mine.”

“I know he is. You should be proud of him. He could have kissed me more. He resisted the temptation. I had to kiss him.”

“And I’ve told him that you can kiss him whenever you want to. But he can only kiss you when YOU want him to.”

“You trust him that much, Angela?” Monica was startled.

“I trust him, and you.”

“Thank you. I’ll try to deserve your trust, but he is kissable…”

Angela and Monica demonstrated that.

“Where are the twins?” I managed to ask when I could breathe.

“Mary collected them half an hour ago,” was Monica’s surprising answer. She told me everything that Lady Agnes had arranged. The hostel is moving her belongings now. They’re coming back here,” She looked at her watch, “in half an hour, to collect all the twins’ stuff.”

“So we don’t need to tell you anything?” Angela asked.

“I’m not sure about that,” Monica replied. “Mary was so full of the details about her, the twins and me, that she didn’t say much about anything else. Come in and have some of David’s coffee.”

Mary had left a lot out. We told Monica about Tony, that we knew that her mother had been injured, the arrangements Lady Agnes had made for our employment, and even the card school.

“Did Mary say anything about what Lady Agnes was offering you?” I asked cautiously.

“Except for the small cottage next to Mary, no. Was there anything else?”

“She wants you,” Angela said.

“She wants me? For what?”

“To be the Home’s hairdresser. She’s offering you a job.” Angela added.

Monica slumped. She looked shocked.

“A job. On site? As a hairdresser?”

“Yes,” Angela and I said as one.

I reached into my jacket pocket.

“Here is the official job offer,” I said. “I don’t know the terms. Lady Agnes gave me this sealed envelope.”

Monica nearly dropped it. She looked at the typed name.

“It’s for me,” she said wonderingly.

“Open it!” Angela ordered.

Monica opened it as if it would bite. She slid the two pieces of paper out gingerly, spread it out and looked. Her face paled. Her hand shook. She pushed it at me.

“Read it, John, please. I can’t believe it. It can’t be true. I’m sure it can’t…”

I looked. It was a formal job offer to Monica to be the resident, the word resident underlined, hairdresser to the Trustees of the Home, with accommodation provided at a cost of threepence a week to include all rent, rates and service charges. The salary, to be paid monthly in advance, was more than I had been earning in yesterday’s job, but less than I was earning in today’s.

“It’s true, Monica. All you have to do is sign to accept the offer,” I said, reaching for a pen.

She laid the papers on the table, took my pen, looked at us with tears streaming down her cheeks, and signed both copies. I took back my pen and one of the copies and slid them back in my pocket.

“Welcome to the family, Monica,” Angela said. “You’re one of us now. All you have to do is move out of here. John will get the Home’s van while we start packing.”

“Packing? There isn’t much. Apart from the twins’ stuff which is going, there’s the food parcels and a couple of changes of clothes and bedding. This dump was called ‘furnished’.”

“Go get that van, John,” Angela ordered. “we’ll be ready as soon as you are back.”

“He’s not going without a kiss,” Monica protested.

“He can,” Angela said. “we can give him as many kisses as he deserves when you’re in your new home. Go, John, go!”

I went. The flat door was still open as I started down the stairs. I heard Monica’s voice.

“How can you order John around like that?”

I stopped to hear Angela’s reply.

“Because he loves me – unconditionally. I can tell him to do things and he will. He could order me around too. I would do what he wants because I love him just as much. He knows and I know that there will be a reward for doing what we want and that we won’t tell each other to do anything unreasonable.”

“That’s amazing, Angela. I wish someone loved me that much.”

“You’ll find someone, Monica. In the meantime, you too could tell John what to do. He’ll do it. Because he loves you and because he has my permission…”

At that point the door closed. I went down the rest of the stairs with a warm glow in my heart. It was great to be loved like that.

At the Home I met Julie, the manager. She welcomed me as a new employee but got straight to the point.

“Which van do you want, John? There’s the large box van, or the small car-sized one.”

“The small one, please Julie. Monica hasn’t got much to move and I’ve never driven anything large. I’d rather make two trips, if I have to, with a small van. Is that OK?”

“Of course.”

She lifted a set of keys from a rack and passed them to me.

“It’s parked in the road outside.”

She told me the registration number. I didn’t really need that. There were only two vehicles parked in the road, the large van and the small one. I got in and pushed the seat right back. Whoever had been driving before me had short legs. I checked the fuel gauge which showed nearly full and set off.

When I turned into the road by Monica’s flat I suppose I had been away for quarter of an hour. As I turned off the engine and got out I heard shouting. There was a male voice and Angela’s.

I ran towards the flat and up the stairs, hearing loud thuds and several more voices shouting as I came. I recognised Monica’s voice. She was shouting at Tony. As I turned the corner at the top of the stairs I saw Tony. He was punching Monica’s landlord who was between Tony and the shattered flat door.

For an overweight man in his fifties the landlord was doing a creditable job of keeping Tony away from the door. But as I arrived at the top of the stairs Tony hit him hard over the heart and the landlord’s face went grey. He slumped sideways as I grabbed Tony by a shoulder and swung him round. I was still one step below the landing.

“You!” Tony shouted. “What have you got to do with this? It’s a family matter!”

He was obviously drunk. His first punch went wide as I dodged it. My return was weak, glancing off his body. His second punch caught me on the left arm. That annoyed me. He shouldn’t have been able to make contact. I hit him hard in the centre of his chest. He didn’t seem to feel it. I hit again, lower down. That brought his head within reach. Without thinking I reacted. My straight right hit his nose with a satisfying crunch. I had broken it.

Tony’s hands flew up to his face. I pushed him backwards and stepped on to the landing. He rushed at me. I grabbed the railing and swivelled. His rush carried him on to the stairs. My foot helped him on the way down. He managed to stop himself half way down and turned to climb back up.

He reached into a pocket and produced a butterfly knife, flicking it open.

“Right, you bastard! You’re for it now!” He shouted.

I could hear women screeching behind me. I didn’t need them to tell me that Tony had a knife. He obviously didn’t know much about knife fighting. He was holding it above his head, point downwards, as if he was going to stab Colonel Mustard in the Library.

I blocked his downward stroke with my left arm, sweeping his arm aside. My right hand was gripping the railing, giving me leverage for a perfectly executed kick to Tony’s balls.

The knife clattered down the outside of the staircase as I brought my foot back and lifted my knee into his shattered nose. He fell backwards down the stairs, staggered upright but straight into David, who grabbed Tony and swung him to mash his shattered nose against the wall. I ran down stairs. David and I stood over Tony as he moaned on the ground.

I heard a stampede of women’s feet down the stairs. Angela flung her arms around me.

“Are you OK?” she yelled at me.

Monica was hugging and kissing David. She stopped for a second to swing a foot into Tony’s body. It was more of a gesture than a real blow.

In the distance I could hear approaching Police sirens. I kissed Monica and assured her I was uncut and whole. I might have a small bruise on my left arm, but I had repaid Tony in full.

The landlord came slowly down the stairs followed by Lady Agnes. What was she doing here?

The Police arrested Tony for assault, criminal damage and possession of an offensive weapon. We sat in the flat as we gave statements. The Police were shocked that Tony had actually swung a punch at Lady Agnes who had avoided it.

How had Tony found out where Monica was? Apparently one of his low-life mates had overheard Sophie, David’s sister, in a supermarket queue talking about Monica and the twins. She had shut up as soon as she realised someone was paying too much attention and had rung David at work to admit her indiscretion. David had tried ringing me at my old office, couldn’t contact me, so had rushed round to Monica’s flat. If Tony had been half an hour later he would have missed finding Monica.

David’s concern was well-rewarded. As soon as the Police had gone, Monica, ignoring the rest of us, jumped on David’s lap and kissed him breathless. In the next few weeks she sank her claws hard into David. He didn’t know what had hit him as he went around with a great smile on his face. Monica had claimed him.

The consequences of Tony’s actions were satisfactory for all of us. When he came to trial, Lady Agnes in the witness box was devastating for Tony’s defence. A domestic argument was one thing. Assaulting such a prominent member of the community, a magistrate no less, was heinous. He was sent to jail for five years with a recommendation that he should be carefully assessed for possible danger to the public if considered for early release.

The landlord gave evidence as well. Tony was required to pay compensation for the damage to the flat’s door. He went to prison with an empty bank account. Lady Agnes had a quiet word with the landlord after the trial, warning him that his actions were a matter of concern. Action would be taken unless he treated his tenants better.

Lady Agnes was pleased that she had sorted us youngsters out so satisfactorily and moved on to other community problems.

Mary and Monica’s father arrived, collected his wife from hospital, and was really delighted with his grandsons. The Ministry of Defence (Navy) appointed him to a shore-based post in London that he could commute to and from so he was able to enjoy being a grandfather at weekends.

One thing none of us except Mary and her family had known. Tony wasn’t the father of the twins. Mary’s former boyfriend Alex was. Mary had returned to him ‘for an old times’ sake’ one night stand when Tony was being really obnoxious. She hadn’t told Alex that she was married. When Mary divorced Tony, she contacted Alex. He was delighted to meet her again, slightly stunned to be told he was a father of twins, but he was very willing to marry Mary and be the father of a family.

Christmas at the Old People’s Home? As a new employee I was delighted to help Angela with the decorations, to be Father Christmas, including for Mary’s twins, and to spend many delightful evenings in Angela’s staff flat. The Christmas Party included the younger guests Monica and David, Mary, Alex and their twins, and Angela and me. Lady Agnes toasted each couple and hoped to hear wedding bells before next Christmas.

She did. She was a guest of honour at my wedding to Angela, at Monica and David’s and at Mary and Alex’s.

The card school at the Home wasn’t continued long. Although the card school members often played cards with some of the residents, they lost too often to people with forty or fifty years more card-playing experience. The main reason for the card school’s end was that so many of us were newly married men, and the delights of the marital bed were greater than playing cards.

Angela and I devised much more exciting games for each other than three-card brag.

The End

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