Thank god its Friday I don’t always get to use this phrase and soon I probably won’t get to but this week I’m off after today. I plan to have as chilled a weekend as I can after doing something to my back earlier in the week. I’ve missed all my classes this week and I’m not happy about it but the hot water bottle is helping loads.
Today I am pleased to share a gorgeous snippet of Sweatpants at Tiffanie’s. I haven’t had the chance to read this yet but it’s definitely on that ever increasing TBR. Over my weekend I hope to get some organisation to my life some reading, TV and some work for my up and coming exercise course.
Not only do I have a bit of the novel to share I also have a brief explanation from Pernille on her inspiration for Sweatpants at Tiffanie’s.
So here is Pernille…..
It took me a while to find where my writing voice lay. I tried children’s novelty books, picture books, Teen books and Young Adult. Randomly I spotted a regular column in a Sunday paper of short holiday romances and spent a little while dissecting it. I thought I’d have a go and sent one off for the fun of it. They actually bought it. And then they bought thirty five more over the next two years. During that time I saw a tweet for a writing competition, which was offering three story slots in an anthology to sit alongside a raft of known romance writers’ holiday-themed short stories. I wrote one, entered and came runner-up. At that point, I realised that perhaps Romance was where my writing voice lay. (Yes, yes I know, I am slow…)
So I started thinking about writing a full length romance novel. But where do you start? I noticed many Women’s Fiction titles are film or song titles, or puns on film or song titles. I happened to see a trailer for Breakfast At Tiffanie’s on the TV and wondered what a pun on that could be. Sweatpants At Tiffanie’s popped into my head and then I sat thinking what that story might be about. After that there was much scribbling of notes and much much later I now have a book. I wanted to write a story with a modern woman, ordinary but eventually strong, who wasn’t clumsy or ditsy. And I wanted her to be in a scenario which wasn’t necessarily what the reader would be expecting given current trends; it’s not about cosy cottages, or baking or Cornish coves (which are all great, by the way, just not what I can write). Of course that meant that some publishers didn’t really know what to do with my story, and weren’t willing to take a chance on it, but Harper Impulse did– Hurrah!
In the book, Tiffanie gets dumped by Gavin her boyfriend on their 10th anniversary, and she finds herself both heartbroken and homeless. She holds onto the fact that she still has her job, bookkeeping at a vintage boxing gym. Only, Blackie, the owner, drops dead the next day. (He’s having a bad week too…) To top it all off, Mike ‘The Assassin’ Fellner, world-champion boxer and Tiff’s previous ex rocks up at the wake and they are sparring from the off, leaving Tiff properly rattled and highly annoyed she didn’t get her roots done, because the last thing you want is to look ropey when your famous first love is in town, looking all smart, successful and bulging biceppy.
To Tiff’s shock Blackie leaves her his gym in his will and Tiff, who is neither fit nor sports-inclined, has to decide whether she can take it on, especially when others are telling her she isn’t capable. She isn’t totally unsupported though, Tiff’s best friend Shelby is a powerhouse of positivity and tough love and merrily kicks her through any self-pity. (God bless sympathetic friends like that…)
As she grapples with the gym, Tiff gets to examine the life she’s been living in a safe but dependant relationship, and learns that she’s the one who decides what she’s capable of and what her limits are.
Here’s the first two chapters. I really hope you enjoy them!
It took balls to dump someone on your anniversary, but that was one of the things Tiffanie had always admired about Gavin: his single-mindedness and determination (not his balls as such, because he’d recently developed a thing for all-over waxing and she’d never been quite sure).
‘So today felt like the right day to draw it to a conclusion, Tiff,’ he said, scoping his eyes over his plate, the steak still steaming from the skillet. Usually she liked the smell of steak, tonight it made her want to hurl. ‘Closure, you know? Neat and tidy. So when you look back on it you’ll know it was ten years exactly.’ Tiff couldn’t quite work out why that would be relevant, but it seemed logical to Gavin.
‘What about when you look back on it?’ she asked, totally dazed and not a little confused. She’d been delighted when he told her they were going to Lorenzo’s; their usual table booked in the bay window. She’d bought herself a new dress to mark the occasion. Ten years. Many marriages didn’t last that long.
Marriage. That was where Tiff thought the night might head, as she’d given him a handmade card that morning and a new watch. He’d simply thanked her, kissed her forehead and deposited the box on the bedside table. She figured he’d wear it later to the restaurant where he’d give her Forever in return. That’s what she’d thought.
‘Me?’ he asked surprised, as if the notion of recalling their relationship after tonight hadn’t occurred to him. ‘I’ll think we had a decent innings. A neat ten-year package.’ He popped a chunk of steak into his mouth, and she watched as his delight at the taste crossed his face.
‘But why?’ she asked, at a loss. Gavin was her Everything. ‘Why does it need to be a package? Why can’t we carry on?’ While he saw some neat package, all she could see was her world unravelling and changing. In Tiff’s experience, change was rarely a good thing.
Gavin sighed deeply. He took his time chewing the meat. Gavin had always been a keen masticator.
‘We’ve been over this, Tiff.’ He’d been talking for some time, calmly and persuasively, but she’d zoned out approximately when, instead of saying ‘I love you and will you do me the stupendous honour of being my wife?’, he’d pronounced the words, ‘Tiff sweetheart, we’ve had a good run, I think we should call it a day.’ Everything thereafter was a foggy haze.
‘We’re going different places, Tiff. You’re happy where you are, but I’ve got ambitions I need to realise, and it’d be unfair to drag you through all the stress I’m going to face. You’ll be happier without all of that.’
‘You’re dumping me, so I can be happier?’ This did not make any sense. Despite a disrupted education, Tiff had always thought herself quite a bright, logical thinker and this sounded bonkers.
‘Not dumping, Tiff,’ he insisted, throwing an eye-roll in for her apparent crassness. ‘More like setting free.’
‘You’re setting me free like some orphaned animal?’ She pinched herself, in case it was a hallucination. Nope. Maybe if she stabbed her thigh with her fork…
‘Hmm, okay, no,’ Gavin conceded, ‘maybe more like protecting you from pain to come.’ He seemed happier with that analogy and took another mouthful of the steak. Tiff looked down at her lasagne. Never had comfort food looked so unappealing.
‘But Gav, I’m willing to support you through any stress. That’s what being a couple is about. Supporting each other, right?’ She needed to understand how he saw this as sensible, before she could suggest how nonsensical it truly was. Breaking this down to basics seemed the logical way to go. She wasn’t used to this, the disagreeing with Gavin. He was a born leader and she’d always considered it a blessed part of their relationship. She didn’t know where she’d be now – in life that is, not this bizarre conversation – if it hadn’t been for that.
‘’Course it is, and we’ve done that, haven’t we? I’ve supported you through all the stuff with your parents, but I couldn’t put you through more. I need to do this alone, for your sake.’
Honestly, Tiff couldn’t make head nor tail of it. She was fighting an awful lump in her throat and her eyes were rather stingy.
‘For my sake?’
‘Definitely,’ he nodded and attacked his food again.
She didn’t want hers anymore. Lorenzo’s lasagne was epic and she always chose it, even though she’d known it wasn’t the smartest idea. The dress she’d splashed out on was a snug fit. Shops had obviously started changing their sizing again.
‘After ten years together, Gav,’ she asked carefully, keen not to offend, ‘are you really choosing tonight and here, where we had our first date, to tell me you want to end it?’ Putting it as plainly as that, surely he’d see how ridiculous it was? And if not ridiculous, then at least appalling. Tiff was confused; he’d never been either of those two things before. In Tiff’s world Gavin was simply the best thing since sliced bread.
‘Start on our new paths,’ he corrected, underlining it with a gesticulation of his knife. Tiff watched the splat of horseradish sauce land on her wine glass.
‘New paths,’ Tiff repeated, ‘which are in opposite directions.’
‘Well, more like mine is moving forward,’ Gav said, giving it due consideration, ‘and you’ve already reached where you want it to be, I think. That’s probably quite lucky, you know. Reaching your point of equilibrium. I’m still searching. I may never find it, Tiff, all I know is I need to try.’ Tiff had never gone looking for her equilibrium before, least of all assessed its status. She looked down at her lap, where she’d twisted her napkin to the point of fully wrung-out. It matched the feeling in her chest. Lorenzo’s choice of melancholy violin music wasn’t helping.
‘Have you been watching those life coaching DVDs again, Gav?’ She didn’t know why he was so addicted to them. He’d brought more home this week, with some cap-toothed tosser in a sharp suit evangelising about ‘finding your path, pursuing it with tenacity and fortitude and casting off the deadwood from your life’. Not for a second had Tiffanie considered that she might be the deadwood.
Gavin abruptly stopped chewing. ‘They talk a lot of sense, Tiffanie,’ he said, affronted and treating her to a rare view of his semi-chewed food, ‘They teach you to focus. If I want to attain a state of contentment like you, then I need to focus, and not get distracted.’
‘You … you think I’m a distraction now?’ How had she gone from partner to distraction in the matter of fifteen minutes? At this rate she’d be rendered a fleeting acquaintance by dessert. The sense of her life evaporating before her made her sway.
‘Sweetheart,’ he smirked, ‘you have always been a distraction…’ Momentarily, Tiff’s heart fluttered. If he still desired her then …, ‘But I need to be stronger now. For both of us.’ He punctuated the sentence by wolfing his last morsel. Breaking up clearly wasn’t affecting his appetite.
‘What makes you think I’ve reached the end of my path?’ she suddenly asked. ‘What makes you think mine isn’t the same as yours?’
‘It isn’t,’ he stated as if it was the most obvious thing in the history of obvious things.
‘It might be,’ she said, hoping he’d reconsider. ‘How would you know?’
‘You’ve settled, Tiff,’ he said, looking at her intently. He came across, she had to admit, as utterly sure. ‘You’re comfortable, and you’ve stopped striving. And that’s great for you. It really is. I’m delighted for you.’ His benevolent smile supported every word he said. ‘But I need to go on. I haven’t found my place yet.’
‘You’re leaving?’ she whispered. Was this really what he was saying? Really really? ‘You don’t mean we have a break while you follow this path?’ Even the thought of a break left a wrecking ball-shaped dent in her lungs, but she was scrabbling around in damage-limitation mode. Everything was coming apart at the seams.
‘No, sweetheart. Never go backwards. You know that. I walk slowly but I never walk backwards, Tiff. Abe Lincoln.’ He took the moment to refill his wine glass. Tiff had hardly touched hers, but was suddenly overcome by the need to neck the entire glass in one. It still left her mouth feeling dry. ‘And,’ he added gently, ‘technically the flat is mine, so…’ It was enough to make her choke.
‘You want me to leave?’ she heard herself squeak. Her head was swimming now. Tiffanie felt she was a reasonable woman. She’d generally been realistic about life since she’d moved out of her mum’s at seventeen. All things considered, she could easily have gone off the rails. But she hadn’t; she’d found herself maths-tutoring jobs to fund herself through college, she’d got her bookkeeping qualifications, and she’d managed to build up her tiny but loyal roster of clients. That said, she’d only ever lived at home and then with Gavin. GQ-handsome estate agent Gavin, who had been her knight-in-shining-armour and saved her. He, their flat and work were her life. With such a focused world, how exactly had she missed it going pear-shaped?
‘I knew you’d understand,’ he nodded, mopping his plate with a tear of bread. ‘But look, I’m on that residential thing next week, so you’ve got time to find somewhere new or Shelby’ll have you, I’m sure.’
‘But Gavin,’ Tiff started, now utterly desperate, ‘I love you. Yes, I’m happy, because I’m where I want to be – with you.’
Gavin nodded gently along. ‘Sure.’
‘Sure, that’s the place where you’re at. Contentment. That’s what I’ve been saying.’
‘But then what’s to change, Gav? Isn’t that what people strive for? Happiness. Contentment. Being with the person they love?’
And then it hit her like a frying pan in the face.
‘Oh. So what you’re saying is, you don’t love me. All this stuff about setting me free, is you saying you don’t love me and you want me gone.’ Her voice had gone up a couple of decibels and octaves, as the full horror set in. If he didn’t want her, then where did that leave her? It wasn’t just the rug he was pulling out from under her, but the entire planet. Everything she now was, was down to him.
She was aware other diners were beginning to discuss them, their furtive looks not nearly as subtle as they thought. Lorenzo’s was one of those quiet intimate restaurants, all subdued lighting and discretion. Not the appropriate venue for a heart-wrenching meltdown.
‘Of course not, Tiffanie. Calm down. I’ve loved you for a long time – still do – and that’s why I can see we need to end. I haven’t fulfilled myself yet and I need to. I can’t take you on this journey.’
‘You can’t mean that, Gav,’ she gulped down with a sniffle, the tears now threatening to get the better of her. ‘That can’t be right.’
‘That’s the truth, Tiffanie, and being honest, I’m rather disappointed you aren’t wanting me to be happy and content like you.’
‘I’ve always wanted the best for you, Gav,’ she said, as one fat tear broke over the rim of her eye, rolling morosely down her cheek and into her Béchamel sauce.
He laid his hand on hers and gave it a brisk squeeze. ‘Then I know you’ll agree to do this calmly and rationally. We shouldn’t fight about this, we’re above that, aren’t we?’ It was true, they didn’t fight. Never had. She’d always followed his lead, confident he knew best. Which had her so conflicted now, on top of the abject misery and disappointment.
In the end, what depleted any resistance she might have had was the recognition that when you stripped it all down, he didn’t want to be with her, and given his presence of mind, he’d known this for some time. Essentially, Gavin had been clearing his path for a while, and she’d missed all the signs.
‘Is there someone else?’
‘No, there’s no one else, Tiff,’ he sighed wearily.
‘You simply don’t want me.’ Her shoulders wanted to let her head hang, but fear of being an embarrassment forced her to hold her chin up.
‘I simply know our journey has come to an end.’
Looking at him now across the table, she knew he was decided. After precisely ten years, everything she had depended on, gained security from, was over. And while he thought he was offering her closure, in fact she felt only loss, exposure and pain underlined by one key question; what would she do – what could she do – without Gavin?
The flat felt odd as soon as she walked in. Nothing tangible was different and yet everything had changed. It was no longer their home. Everything would be divvied up as either his or hers. While she currently moved like a shell-shocked automaton, soon they’d be tiptoeing around each other, being cordial. Only it wouldn’t even be that, seeing as he wouldn’t be there. His course started in the morning.
Smoothly sliding off his jacket, Gavin headed straight for the bedroom. Tiffanie stood in the lounge unsure what to do. She urgently needed to bury herself under her duvet, armadillo into a ball and sob her heart out. She figured she’d wait while he got his pillow from their bed. There was a chenille throw over the sofa-arm he could use; surely, as the injured party she got first dibs on the duvet?
‘Look, we’re both grown-ups, we’ll share the bed tonight, won’t we?’ Gavin called from the bedroom. ‘I’m up early tomorrow, so I’ll need the sleep and the sofa won’t cut it.’ He stuck his head back around the door. ‘Unless you want the sofa tonight? The bed’s all yours for the rest of the week.’
Tiffanie eyed the sofa. It was Gavin’s pride and joy; a long black leather monstrosity, all cubey and no comfort. He believed it made the space look like a loft, but it was the pits for curling up and watching telly. Even Newsnight wasn’t meant to be watched sitting bolt upright.
‘One night,’ Tiff told herself. ‘You can do this.’ One night next to the man she loved who apparently didn’t want her anymore. One night holding back the sobs racking around inside her body. She could manage that, she reckoned. Silently she walked into the bedroom, grabbed her PJs and changed in the bathroom.
Normally they’d lie sprawled loosely around each other. She liked it best when he had an arm or a leg thrown over her. It made her feel safe; anchored in life. Until now he’d been her point of stability. Tonight Gavin lay on his back, arms draped easily across his chest, having fallen asleep with insulting ease.
Tiff itched to have some contact with him, but felt she couldn’t when his mind was so made up. She could see the silhouette of his suitcase. He’d obviously packed it knowing when he left the following morning, he’d be walking away from their shared life.
Mind churning in the dark, she suspected she hadn’t put up much of a fight. She’d instinctively recognised his persuasive It’s a done deal frame of mind. She’d seen it so many times; furniture, restaurants, brands, and essentially, if it was important to him, then it was important to her. After all he’d done for her, she valued his happiness above all else, so what did one swanky venue matter over another? One snazzy chair was probably as good as the next. (Except for the sofa. That bloody thing had always been a mistake.) The conclusion she came to, as she lay staring at the ceiling at 02.42, was she hadn’t sufficiently defended their relationship.
Show him what he’ll be missing, she thought, knowing he wouldn’t be budged by any argument. Show him how good we are together.
Slowly, veeery slowly, she began to wiggle her PJ bottoms off. Getting the long-sleeved T over her head wasn’t hard, given how stretched out of shape it was. She froze as Gavin emitted a low snore, but used the next one to cover her rustling as she shimmied down the bed to his feet.
She kissed the ball of his ankle. Feeling emotionally frail already, his toes felt beyond her capabilities tonight. There were limits.
Gavin didn’t flinch as she continued with fairy kisses around his ankle, then up his calf to his knee, where she noted his skin, if not his mind, was beginning to sense something was afoot. Emboldened by this, she continued in an enthusiastic upward projection.
Sex had never been one of the areas in which Tiff felt particularly proficient. She’d met Gavin having only had one partner, which had primarily been teenage fumblings culminating in a highly-orchestrated and disproportionately-brief losing of virginities. At the time, she’d thought this one-off event was a sound base on which to build what could become an epic repertoire. Circumstances had altered that course.
Gavin, in contrast, was experienced; he knew what to do and what he liked. Feeling she wasn’t in any position to critique, Tiff had embraced the positive opinion that by following his lead she’d side-step a lot of awkward experimenting and possible faux pas. Over the last decade, their moves had been firmly cemented. Surely that was a good thing, knowing what worked? ‘Dull routine,’ Shelby called it, but then her best friend had dated, bedded and graded most of Kingsley.
Tonight though, Tiff was going to have to give Gavin something to think about while he was away. She was going to give him the proverbial ride of his life.
God, she wished she’d had more to drink.
She woke to the front door shutting. Nothing dramatic, but hardly closed with any worry of disturbance. A note lay on the other pillow. She smiled dozily. He wasn’t sliding out without a goodbye. Her efforts hadn’t been in vain. The smirk stretched across her face as she recalled snippets of the night; how she’d reached his groin to find that clearly the idea of sex with her was still a point of interest on his supposed path. When she’d felt his fingers threading through her hair encouraging her on, something in her had flipped, sending her into overdrive, as she employed every move she could remember him ever requesting.
On other occasions she’d woken up feeling self-conscious, but not this morning. Emotional rollercoaster as the previous evening had been, with the sun now streaming in through the window onto the mussed bed, Tiffanie felt brave and vindicated, slightly slutty and bloody good about herself.
‘You were a vixen, Tiff, a sex minx,’ she told herself. She’d fought her corner, she’d shown her man what he’d seriously considered passing up. She’d excelled herself. She didn’t quite know where it’d come from, but more importantly, though the whole event had happened without a single word, Tiff knew they’d understood one another implicitly.
Intrigued, she slid her hand up to snag the note with her fingertips. Obviously he wouldn’t be apologising, that wasn’t his style at all – shows weakness, Tiff, weakness gives others opportunity. He’d most likely gloss gracefully over the whole thing, tell her when he’d be home, and she could return to life before dinner last night. Flopping over onto her back, she unfolded it.
Didn’t we go out with a bang?!
That was the perfect closure.
Thanks and all the best.
‘He’s an arsehat, Tiff,’ Shelby stormed down the phone when Tiff, through snot-bubbling tears, explained why she wasn’t heading to work. They usually chatted on their respective ways in, insisting it was multi-tasking. But chatting had been dropped this morning, in lieu of Tiff’s keening account of what had occurred at Lorenzo’s, followed by Shelby’s barked orders to get up, get dressed and get moving. Tiff and Shelby were ardent advocates of tough-love. Judging people on reality TV had taught them that. Which was fine when each of them was comfortable in their own lives. Right now though, huddled under the duvet, phone clutched limply in hand, Tiff wasn’t feeling the benefits.
‘I … I can’t,’ Tiff sobbed, proper ugly-crying. She felt like an empty shell. An empty shell covered in lashings of humiliation.
‘You can and you will, babes,’ Shelby insisted, and hung up. Next thing Tiff knew, there was an insistent banging on the front door, which revealed a mission-set Shelby, work-ready in her beautician’s uniform. Brooking no argument, Shelby frog-marched her through the dressing process until Tiff was vaguely presentable and moving along the street. ‘No man, especially that one, is going to bring your life to a halt. It’s a principle thing.’
Shelby had always thought Gavin was a tosser. She had, in fact, been very concise and consistent about this since Tiff had first introduced them. Tiff put it down to an extreme personality clash. Shelby, with her magenta hair, had a fairly extreme personality.
‘I hate to say I told you so, babes…’ Shelby started, as she pulled Tiff along.
‘Then don’t. You’d be one of those mean, small-minded people.’
‘Fair enough,’ Shelby agreed. ‘Some things don’t need actual saying.’
‘That’s just as bad, Shelb,’ she sniffed. Perhaps telling Shelby had been a mistake. Not talking about it at all – bottling it up to fester inside her and make her bitter and twisted until years of expensive therapy finally released it – suddenly held more appeal. ‘Best mates do sympathy.’
‘You don’t need sympathy, Tiff. You can’t see it yet, but this is the best thing that’s happened to you in ages. Since you met me, probably. You need support. That’s what I’m here for.’
‘Gavin was my support,’ Tiff moaned, the tears starting again. ‘He’s been my rock.’
‘Still an arsehat,’ Shelby stated. ‘I don’t know why you can’t see it, Tiff. It’s like you have a blind spot where he’s concerned.’
‘No, Shelby. You just don’t like him. You never have and you refused to try. You see him through mean hole-picky glasses. He loved me. He sorted my life out, made it stable,’ Tiff insisted. ‘He saved me, Shelbs.’
‘Pff, he fancied you and you were a trophy.’
Had she had any spirit left in her, and had they not already been swimming in salty tears, Tiff would have rolled her eyes at that. It was years since she’d felt like any kind of trophy. The local lads had been interested in her looks in Year Eleven, but she’d been devoted to her sixth-former boyfriend at that point, so they didn’t stand a chance. Then, that summer, everything had turned to crap and she’d gone from queen bee to hitting rock bottom. Miraculously, Gavin had swept her off her feet, helped her escape, shaped and nurtured her and the rest was history. Right until now when, as it turned out, it was Tiff who was history.
She couldn’t cope with this. The tough-love was proving too much. ‘Shelby. Shelby, please. Be nice.’ It was a truly pathetic, but heartfelt plea, which nature chose to dramatise by turning on the rain.
That was typical weather for the town though. Kingsley was one of those forgotten towns, wedged between hills, bypassed by newer roads and shielded from the buzz and prosperity of bigger neighbours. Although within visual range of the coast on a fair day, it lay beyond the thrill of the seaside; too far to smell the salty air, but close enough for seagulls to come a-crapping when the sea got choppy. Looking in either direction there was an air of ‘Look what you could have had’ for the residents.
Shelby stopped in her tracks.
‘Oh babes. I’m sorry.’ She enveloped Tiff in a hug. ‘I really am. It kills me to see you like this.’ Tiff realised how in need of a hug she was. Could they spend the whole day like this? ‘You’re like some ghostly, wraithy shadow of your true self.’ That was exactly how she felt. Wraithy. Shelby stepped back but held onto Tiff’s arms to look at her. ‘And now, having totally repressed you, Gavin drops this bullshit on you, to top it off. It sucks. But I promise we’ll get you through it and bring back the real Tiff.’
‘Enough Shelby!’ Tiff snapped, pulling away to start walking again. Why couldn’t Shelby see Gavin had been good for her? Ten years of good.
‘You can stay at mine, obvs,’ Shelb offered, catching her. Tiff pulled her hood over her head so Shelb couldn’t see her almost break down anew. Shelby’s studio flat was the size of a stamp and the thought of living away from Gavin threatened to bring her to her knees.
‘Thanks Shelbs,’ she said, trying to control her emotions and look less deranged to passers-by, ‘but I can’t share a bed with you. You talk dirty in your sleep.’ She wasn’t joking. Humour was way beyond her.
‘The futon?’ Shelby suggested, neither insulted, nor denying it.
‘Yes, if I can’t find somewhere before he’s back.’ Tiff knew that futon. It was a back breaker. Maybe with copious wine to numb her senses…
‘Why didn’t you come straight over last night? Arsehat. Him. Not you. Obvs.’
‘It was late. I thought perhaps I could convince him.’ Tiff cringed at the memory.
‘So long as it was just talking,’ Shelby said. ‘Remember my cousin Simon? Ditches his girlfriend on a regular basis cos he reckons she ups her game in bed to claw him back. Works every time. She’s such a sap.’ Tiff knew cousin Simon, the guy was a douche.
Turning out of Grange Road she saw her destination with relief. If she wasn’t allowed to nurse her devastation in bed, then at least she might be able to hide in her numbers. Numbers were stable. You knew where you stood with them. That’s why she loved her work, which was a good thing, as currently it was all she had.
‘Laters Shelbs.’ Feeling every inch the sap, Tiff kissed her goodbye before Shelby could say more about cousin Simon. She had put it all out there for Gavin and he’d put it firmly back in its box. Argh, thinking about it made her want to curl up and die. She was going to look up ‘humiliated’ and ‘mortified’, to see which best applied. What must he think now? Sweat bloomed at the thought; on her league table of fears, ridicule was securely in the medal spots.
Blackie’s Gym was Tiffanie’s favourite client, by virtue of being her first client and because of Blackie himself. Knocking eighty now, he’d been a friend of her late grandparents. He’d given her a break when she needed one, and she’d always be grateful for that. Plus, they genuinely got on well for the three days a week where she did his books in the office above the gym.
Blackie’s wasn’t your modern kind of gym, with treadmills and MTV on monitors. Blackie’s was a vintage-throwback boxing gymnasium, out on the Eastcote Road. Firmly in the rougher edge of town, the gym sat on a small commercial estate, most of which was rundown and scheduled for development. Not Blackie’s though. Local nostalgic sentiment, underpinned by Blackie’s obstinance, meant the place was as good as listed. The three-storey building, which could only be described as an ugly black block, had been getting scallies off the streets and into the sport for generations. Blackie’s view was if lads were going to fight they might as well do it with rules and dignity. There wasn’t a grandad or dad in town who hadn’t set foot in Blackie’s ring at least once in their youth.
‘Morning B,’ she sighed as she passed his desk, pausing only to drop him a kiss on his bald pate. Crying exhausted her. This marathon of tears had her depleted.
‘Morning love,’ he answered in his rasping voice, the result of shouting at errant youths since his thirties. ‘What’s making you sigh this morning? Weather?’
‘Hardly,’ she mumbled. ‘Takes more than a little rain to get to me.’ She’d hoped she could deflect him, but he was having none of it.
‘That man of yours?’ Blackie wasn’t a fan of Gavin; another one who wasn’t, but then no-one else knew him like she did, knew what he’d done for her. Loyalty aside, she couldn’t help but let her shoulders sag. Her entire body wanted to follow suit.
‘He’s not my man anymore, Blackie. He ended it last night. Said we had different paths in life.’
Blackie fixed her across the small office with a long stare, assessing the situation. ‘What a prat,’ he finally pronounced.
Tiff turned away, busying herself at her desk, thankful it faced the wall. Blackie wouldn’t see the wave of panic as she felt the need to weep again.
‘How long’s that been?’
‘Ten years. Exactly.’ She plumped into her seat and with shaky fingertips touched all her things on the desk, checking them, owning them, showing herself some things at least, were constant. Soon this would be the only space she belonged to.
‘Jesus,’ he muttered. ‘That’s longer than my marriages.’
The first Mrs Black had been a decent woman, though a force to be reckoned with. She’d given Blackie the kick up the backside to establish the gym in the first place. Had a bus not felled her, she would have defied any illness life threw at her. His marriage to the second Mrs Black wasn’t a resounding success, but knowing the gym to be a lucrative business, she’d done her utmost to cling on.
‘Still, you’re young,’ he went on, ‘and you’ve no bairns, Tiff. You can move on, find someone who’ll appreciate you. Like I do,’ he added, with a chortle, which became a wheezing fit.
On auto-pilot, Tiff fired up the computer. While it churned itself on, she stared at the screen trying to contain the impending wail in her throat. It was way too early for the ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ speeches. It was also too soon to hear how everyone always considered Gavin a prat, though she’d been unable to prevent that too. For once it made her stand up for herself.
‘Gavin is a brilliant guy, Blackie,’ she said, without turning around. She couldn’t do this face to face. ‘He’s driven, hardworking and focused. He looked after me, gave me a home, loved me, and sorted my life when I needed it. I could depend on him. He helped me grow as a person, he was always suggesting ways I could improve myself. And while he might not believe in flowers, cards or Valentine’s Day,’ Tiff paused only to gain her breath, but it was long enough to catch Blackie’s audible gasp behind her, ‘he’s always remembered my birthday, which was more than Mum’s done for the last decade. So please Blackie, just for this week, could you not say anything about moving on or about how I can do better?’
The room was filled with silence and Tiff knew he’d taken her words on board. She could feel the contriteness behind her. Blackie didn’t offer an apology, but then she loved him and she didn’t require one. She felt better for having said her piece. He might not judge her so harshly for being with Gavin. After all she had Shelby for that.
They spent the next hours in silence, as Tiff stared at the subscription fees, trying to reconcile the figures and sort the tax, but failing in all of it. Nothing seemed to go in and the cogs had ground to a halt. Normally this was child’s play to her. Blackie was a stickler for his tax, insistent he’d pay his dues to the Queen, and never owe a penny. Tiff regularly wished others closer to her had shared the same principles. How different her life might have been…
At eleven o’clock she gave up. She figured the silence between them had gone on for long enough, and it was time for a truce.
‘Cuppa tea, Blackie?’ she asked, turning in her chair.
Blackie was staring at her, but there was no recognition in his eyes.
She was across the room in seconds. Holding his already cold hand as she knelt by his chair, she tried not to think about how long he’d been sat there, lifeless, behind her.
‘D’you think sunshine is technically possible at funerals?’ Tiff asked, distracting herself from Shelby’s outfit. It was more of a Friday night clubbing dress, but at least it was black.
‘Dunno. It’s always been this lame drizzle at the ones I’ve been to. How hard can it be to commit one way or the other?’ The dove-grey sky over the church perfectly complemented Tiff’s inner status: ‘bleak with a risk of downpour’.
Kingsley being a small town, Tiff knew the majority of the congregation. Shelby knew at least half of them intimately and enthusiastically greeted them all, even snapping selfies with a few. Everyone, it seemed, had wanted to give Blackie a good send off. Considering he had no blood relatives, Tiff felt Blackie would’ve been chuffed to bits with the turnout, although he wouldn’t have been convinced by Shelby’s Instagram and Twitter coverage.
Despite being barely inclined to pull a brush through her hair that week, Tiff had managed most of the arrangements herself. He’d left clear instructions with his solicitor and oldest mate Eric Leonards, who stood with them at the graveside. Blackie had pre-paid for everything, including the after-do at the Pig & Whistle down the street from the gym.
‘Well, he knew what he wanted and he got it, I think,’ said Leonards. They’d all sat together in the left-hand front pew. The second Mrs Black and her scowling son had taken residence in the front right. To all intents and purposes she’d acted as if there’d never been any divorce, let alone a screaming train-wreck such as theirs.
‘She looks like a mafia widow,’ Shelby had whispered for at least four rows to hear.
‘I doubt those tears are real,’ Tiff said more discretely out the side of her mouth. Personally, she wasn’t sure she herself had any left, such was the near-constant outpouring in the recent days. If she wasn’t weeping as she sorted Blackie’s arrangements, she was sobbing over Gavin. It was tear tag. Fake tears would’ve been handy.
‘Not a chance. Pure crocodile – to match her shoes.’ Tiff sneaked a glance. They looked expensive and spikey. Much like their owner.
Tiff had met her before when she appeared in the office demanding advances on her spousal allowance. Tiff failed to see what Blackie had been thinking getting involved with her, but then as Shelby had noted, he probably wasn’t thinking, at least not with his head. She was, whilst being bereft of any virtuous qualities, in possession of a mind-boggling set of boobs. Well, thought Tiff benevolently, Blackie was only human.
‘You’ve done a sterling job, Miss Trent. He’d have been over the moon with all the people who’ve come,’ Leonards now said to Tiff, rubbing the remnants of grave soil off his hands.
‘Well, by his age he’d met enough,’ Shelby pointed out, ‘He’d had a decent innings.’ Tiff hated that phrase this week; Gavin’s words echoed constantly in her ears. ‘Right, who’s for the pub?’ Shelby said, clapping her hands together. ‘I am gagging for a drink.’ She headed towards the cars.
‘God, I hope there’s enough money behind the bar,’ she muttered. Leonards chuckled behind her.
‘It’s all taken care of. The landlord will pass on the bill if there’s a shortfall.’ He paused, then said gently, ‘You should relax now, Miss Trent. It’s been a difficult few days.’
Tiff nodded. It had indeed, on the grand scale of pants, been a steaming pile of a week. Aside from grieving for Blackie, lamenting Gavin, forcing herself to visit her two remaining clients and overseeing the funeral at super-fast speed under Blackie’s instruction of ‘get me sorted quick as billy-oh’, she’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to find somewhere to live.
All the rental properties she’d had details for looked shocking. Maybe she wasn’t desperate enough yet. A week on Shelby’s futon would sort that no doubt, but for now she allowed herself to procrastinate; crawling into her own bed for the final few nights and blubbing uncontrollably. She’d think about the future tomorrow.
Leonards squeezed her shoulder as they passed through the gate. ‘I need to see you, Miss Trent, regarding the will. Is Monday morning 9 a.m. convenient?’
‘Me?’ Tiff asked, surprised, but then she supposed it made sense; there’d be the financial records to hand over to whoever inherited the gym. Would it be very bad form to offer her continued services to the new owners? What was the etiquette on touting for business at will readings?
‘Miss Trent?’ Leonards interrupted her thinking, making her feel guilty. What sort of a person thought about scoring work out of their dead friend? A bad one, she answered herself. An imminently skint and homeless one, she countered herself back.
‘Yes, of course. I’ll be there,’ she said and tried not to groan. Pulling the paperwork together would easily consume the hours she’d allowed for flat-hunting. But handing over a decent report was the least she could do on Blackie’s behalf, and who knew, they might ask her to stay. She chided herself again for the profligate thoughts. This wasn’t who she was. She hoped she could attribute it to the lack of sleep; she was so tired she could hardly walk straight.
‘Yes,’ Leonards continued, ‘Blackie recognised the support you’ve given him. It shouldn’t be a surprise he’s left some words for you. Just look,’ he gestured at the dispersing crowd, ‘you did that. For him.’
Tiff’s eyes followed his hand. She’d only done what anyone would have done for an old man who didn’t have any family to speak of. Well, maybe not the second Mrs Black, but anyone else. For all her posturing in the church, she’d briskly detached herself from any organising when Tiff had called her, asking only to be informed of where and when. It sent a chill down Tiff’s spine how someone could behave like that. Pulling her jacket closer, her eyes came to rest on a figure standing to the side of the church porch.
Tall and broad-shouldered, the man stood with his hands clasped reverently in front of him. Next to him, on the most gravity-defying heels Tiff had ever seen, stood a younger blonde woman with her hair hanging loose, almost down to the hem of her skirt, which ended just under the curve of her bottom. It was safe to say Blackie was no longer the focus of the crowd’s attention.
But Tiff’s eyes were on the guy. The way his head was cocked slightly to one side, looking at her, appeared deliberate. At first, she hoped he’d remove his sunglasses to give her a better look at his face, work out why he was gazing so intently at her, but as she focused on his features; his shaved dark hair, his tawny brown skin, she realised he wasn’t in fact wearing any. He was simply sporting two shockingly-fresh black eyes. A couple of the other boxers wore a bruise or two from recent bouts, but nothing as severe as this. The way he stood, totally still, made an already exhausted Tiff anxious. It’d been a tough day already and now this.
Realising she was staring, Tiff dropped her gaze and started making her way beside Leonards.
‘Tiff! I’m dying here,’ Shelby shouted from the car, oblivious to the disapproval from other mourners. ‘My mouth’s as dry as a corpse.’
Much as she would’ve preferred to look away and disown Shelby at that precise moment, the alternative was to look back at the man. Something about him was bothering her, but the punched eyes convinced her she didn’t want to know what that was. Local economy being what it was, Kingsley wasn’t without a criminal element and Blackie’s Gym hadn’t always turned out the most upstanding characters. Some had, Blackie was sad to say, been beyond reformation and gone onto careers in less salubrious or legitimate fields. What with everything else, Tiff felt she had enough on her plate and scuttled on.
Thank you Pernille for joining me today I cannot wait to read this in full.