‘Was that all right?’ he said, panting anxious. ‘Did you like it?’ Angie plumped her pillow as he eased away.
‘Oh, it was fine.’ She breathed in and out. ‘I just need to lie here for a bit, I think.’ He smiled, pleased with himself on the king size bed, yards of carpet away from the dressing room and the chaise longue. Through the doorway was an en-suite bigger than the lounge at his parents’ house, a big claw-footed bath in the middle and a separate wet room the size of the bathroom at home. Andy had never been anywhere like this. He lay looking at the moulded ceiling, heard the breeze push and pull the curtains through the open windows, felt sweat trickle behind his right ear. Beside him Angie lay still, saw him glance across her tanned body, hoping he didn’t see its flaws as she did. Held his hand. He was twenty, bless him. Any younger and he’d be half her age. She was already old enough to be his mother, which after a fashion was why they were here.
Last Friday night she’d been out with three of the girls in Belper. They were celebrating Tanya’s new job, but Angie had also been looking for a likely young man. She spotted him on the way to the Ladies in the Rifleman’s Arms and knocked against his elbow on the way back, spilling his drink a little. Apologised and insisted on buying him another, got him over to the bar, away from both sets of friends, bought him a pint of Marston’s Pedigree. He was on his summer break before the last year of university and kept her chatting, not making her feel stupid. She hated it when they did that. Asked was he staying till last orders and he said probably. Said she’d see him later and went back to the girls, kept glancing over from their table. He was looking back each time. By half past ten the others were ready to go home, but Angie said she’d finish her drink and call for a taxi, having further to go. Instead she went to the bar and waited. A couple of minutes later the lad was at her side, offering to buy her one back while his mates played pool. She accepted, dry white for her and more Pedigree for Andy, now she knew his name. They stood at the bar talking again, and she did a bit more looking. He was taller than her, slim not skinny, shy around the eyes and hair a bit too long, but he’d do. She touched his hand and looked into his eyes, knew it was going to work.
‘Would you walk me up to the Market Place after?’ she said. ‘I live just out of town, you see. Need to get a taxi.’ Did the eyelashes too, it couldn’t hurt. Before the first lad, Jamie, she’d worried about being obvious, but that didn’t seem to worry the men. She’d been planning to try and look a bit classier once she turned forty, but now she was nearly there it seemed forty five might be soon enough, if not fifty. Classy could wait, at least till she got what she wanted.
She kissed him twenty paces along the footpath between Field Lane and the railway station, that way being more private than the car park. Just stopped and turned to him, would have pushed him up to the fence had he not held her against the wall, keen and strong as their mouths came together. She’d made sure he wasn’t a smoker, but he tasted of beer until their tongues had been at work for a minute, then it was lost in the wine and her lipstick. She could feel the gritstone against her shoulder blades as he pressed against her and she moved her thighs apart as much as her skirt would allow. His breathing made it hard to hear anyone coming down the path, but she was nearly done. He rubbed himself against her hip, full of rush and hurry, and the rest.
‘Not now,’ she said. ‘Not tonight, I can’t.’ He understood, except of course he didn’t. She wanted him sober. Kissed him again, straightened herself up and gave him her telephone number, told him to ring at half past nine on Tuesday morning, when she’d receive him at home. He’d have noticed her left hand already, but she made sure now, held the rings between their faces.
‘You’ve seen these, right? You’re a sexy lad, but you’re no use to me if you can’t keep your mouth shut. So if anyone asks, any of your friends, you walked me to my taxi and got nothing, which is how it’s going to look now, if anyone sees.’ Fixed her lipstick in the compact mirror under the next light and they walked on. At the Market Place she made him stand and watch as she got into the taxi, said a friend lived nearby and she couldn’t be seen with him. Blew a kiss through the back window though. Andy stayed leaning against the corner of the White Swan.
She thought he might not call – two of the others hadn’t – but on Tuesday morning the phone went and she told him to come here, the big house in its own grounds a little way along Jackson’s Lane. Did he know where that was? He said yes, but then had to look it up, felt sudden guilt about asking his mother. On the bus he paid all the way to Heage, not sure how far it was. Got off at the stop before the lane-end and walked the rest of the way on tenterhooks. He looked at the house, checking over what Angie had told him on the phone, felt a suspicion he was being had. Go through the gate, she’d said, come to the door and knock. In his imagination over the weekend, Angie had answered the door of a more modest house in less modest attire. He looked as he had on Friday night, but she stood smiling in a clinging black dress with bare feet and red painted toenails. She turned away, figure distorted by no visible underwear.
‘Close the door,’ she said, ‘and follow me.’
She couldn’t help comparing them. Andy was sweet, thin and wiry, wisps of hair starting at his chest. Nothing like the size of the last one, but more caring and unselfish. Of course none of them could compare to Adam for selfishness generally, but then he was also a great, exhausting lover. Anything he did now, with her or anyone else, wouldn’t teach him anything new. Except fathering a child. That would be a novel experience, and not one he wanted. He never said at the start, but every time it was mentioned later on, even in passing, he said he didn’t want them, couldn’t bear the thought of children. A lot of men said that, she told herself, he’d change his mind once she was pregnant. Only she wasn’t. She wasn’t on the pill either, hadn’t been for ages, but Adam didn’t know that. She played it straight and tried to trick him fairly, first. Made sure they did it every ovulation day, sometimes either side as well, to be sure, for over a year without success. She knew how to arouse him, would do what she just did to young Andy, who couldn’t believe his eyes, nothing under her dress, waiting for him to notice. It didn’t take much to get Adam so keen that he’d ask no questions, just wanted her there and then. He was a shallow man really, for all his pretence. There was hardly a room in this house where they hadn’t done it, she really could have him whenever she wanted. Ensuring he came where she wanted was trickier – he liked variety, you might say. That was the advantage of a young lad. Andy felt lucky enough to be in there at all, same as the rest had been.
She knew he’d tell his mates, no matter what he promised. It was up to Angie to make sure they didn’t believe him, make it seem like a fantasy. Life with Adam had made sure she blushed at nothing, and she’d do whatever the young lad liked, plus a lot of things he’d never have imagined, as long as he gave her what she wanted on the days when it mattered. That was all she needed, a bit of luck to give her that one thing, more than ever, now she was close to the end of the years. The idea came first, then the planning, and only after working it all out the thought of bringing up a stranger’s child, not Adam’s. What if she didn’t know who was the father? She had to keep screwing her husband, too. Didn’t want this to begin, but it started. She waited for weeks, persuading herself that the lineage didn’t matter, just the luck. Just the one bit of luck. And the child would still be hers, she’d really be a mother, no matter what.
Sometimes she wondered if Adam was really so bloody unkeen he’d had a secret vasectomy. Could even he manage that? Or, increasingly, if he just had no seed, no swimmers, couldn’t do it if he wanted to. Maybe not wanting children was a pose to cover his shortcomings. She didn’t like thinking that, on their bed, beside the young stranger. But how could Adam know, how could he be sure? The rest of the time she’d worry it was her, lay thinking of it at night, going round and round – in a cycle, appropriately enough – moving from his fault to hers, blaming him for resisting, herself for not insisting. When she saw how she circled, she wanted to break out of it, or at least test which one of them it was, if either. If it was her, fine. Not fine, she’d never be able to have children, not with anyone. But at least she’d know, as well as she’d ever know, since Adam wouldn’t go near a doctor for anything, let alone this. And nor could she. The doctor still thought she was taking the pills, too.
Adam found it easy to have other women, too easy to resist. At work all day, only in the office half the time, then out with clients, or at the gym. So he said. He kept himself fit, worked off all the drink at least, and he also met women, she knew, or suspected. But only this year she’d realised their house was perfect for daytime infidelity, a distance down the lane and standing by itself. Adam never came home until the evening and her friends always telephoned first, never just turned up. Mostly. Kate had once dropped by to show her some fabric samples when she had young Mick with the tattoo upstairs in bed. She’d told him to stay put, wrapped herself in a towel and wet her hair, told Kate she’d just been getting in the shower. Still took ten minutes to get rid of her, and all the time Angie was wondering if she could smell the sex and aftershave, see the red flush she felt in her cheeks and at her throat.
Andy was working behind the bar at the Nag’s Head for the summer – she’d been lucky to meet him on a night off – so he was free most weekdays, which suited her. In October he’d go back to University and it would all be over. She’d tell him it had been fun, but that he should find a girl his own age. Lucky little cow, he’d be streets ahead of anything else as young, by the time Angie was done with him. But if this worked, one time – and it only needed to work once – there she’d be, pregnant. It’d all come out then, if there was anything to come. Well, she’d cross that one when she got there. She wouldn’t be alone anymore. Besides, she was having a good time, feeling desirable and feeding her desires. Not that Adam didn’t pay her attention, he complimented her all the time, but it was always physical, never about the things she said or did, so it sometimes felt like an insult, especially when she’d heard him say the same to other women.
‘Me and Adam have an arrangement,’ she said. ‘Not that we’ve ever talked about it.’ Andy felt her hand on his abdomen. ‘He sees other women, I know he does, but he keeps it clean and says nothing, and nor do I.’ She stroked his thigh. ‘Don’t think he’d mind me going to bed with another bloke, but I’m going to keep it nice and quiet, same as him. He never got jealous before, and we used to get up to all sorts.’ Waited. ‘But that was open, not behind one another’s backs, like this.’ Waited again, but he didn’t ask. ‘Now he just likes to be out drinking with his clients and cronies – half of them are both – and only drags me along when he needs someone on his arm and there’s no chance of pulling something younger.’ He looked. ‘Oh, don’t say it. And don’t blame Adam. In a way, I can blame myself, because like I say, we used to get up to all sorts when we were younger.’ Emphasis on the sorts, this time. ‘Very free and easy, we were. You wouldn’t believe some of the things we did.’ Still no question. ‘But I grew up, wanted more stability. Not Adam. He’s never going to grow up.’ A car passed outside, the first they’d heard in over an hour. ‘Don’t get me wrong, it was fun back then, a lot of fun.’ Her fingers stirred his pubes. ‘So thank you for reminding me.’ Kissed above the hair now, hand below. ‘I hope I haven’t disappointed you.’ Knew she hadn’t, but she wanted to hear it. He shook his head, said no, no. She felt him firm again, ready. Kept him waiting. Considered telling one of the stories he didn’t dare ask about, wondering what he’d like to hear and how far to embellish, how much to hold back. But young men could be so moral, idealistic. She could tell him all those things later, show him most of them. Just kept stroking. It was doing the job. She’d give him something to remember now, keep him ready for next time. That would have to be sooner than she needed, but not sooner than she wanted. She couldn’t wait a month, didn’t want to keep him waiting that long, either. He was nice, this one, and she was going to treat him nicely. They wouldn’t have long together, after the summer she’d be looking for another. Although with any luck he’d be the last. With any luck.