It seemed like a good idea at the time. I had recently returned to England after 20 years working abroad and a relationship that hadn’t worked out. Most of my friends were scattered to the four winds and I really didn’t know too many people that well in London. I arranged to meet a couple of friends I had kept in touch with long distance but none of us were the same people we had been when we last met. The connection was no longer there. We had all moved on. They had husbands, families and a frenetic social life. I didn’t. And I didn’t much fancy trying to join in. It all seemed somehow superficial, unreal. In some ways I was a foreigner in a strange land – one who didn’t understand the local mores.
I managed to get a job assisting the CEO of a small charity. General Dogsbody really but I liked that. Suse, (Susannah) the CEO was a no-nonsense, efficient woman with a cut-glass accent and the kind of clothes that were clearly expensive but looked lived-in. Cords, cashmere jumper, silk scarf, slightly scuffed loafers. She had that quality of being able to put people at their ease, so often found among the higher echelons of British society.
Her office was quite small and I occupied a space little bigger than a cupboard immediately outside. At the beginning, we had meetings every morning when she would go through the tasks for the day and explain what she wanted me to do. She was very patient and kind with me so that I quickly learned the ropes and how the organisation worked. I was soon able to shoulder a certain amount of responsibility and Suze often came to my little cubby hole to talk over things she found difficult. It seemed natural for her to stand close to me while we looked at various financial forecasts or papers relating to possible refurbishment. It was after all a tiny space. Frequently her fingers brushed mine as she turned over a page. She seemed very friendly and open always making eye contact and smiling.
One day in July, out of the blue, she invited me to supper. It turned out she lived alone in a small cottage that had belonged to the former family estate, which had been given to the National Trust when the money ran out on the death of her father.
“No need to dress up,” she said, “it’ll just be you and me and the dogs. Shall we say 7.30? We can have a simple supper “and you can tell me all about your travels.”
The cottage was quite tiny and furnished with good pieces that had seen better days. “A little aperitif? “, she asked. I have a lovely dry white from the local vineyard – it’s very good or maybe you would prefer gin or a martini?”
We sat opposite each other at the oak refectory table in the kitchen eating trout and salad with buttered, cracked, new potatoes. The pudding was a lemon posset tart with fresh cream followed by cheese and coffee.
Suze asked about my experiences abroad and listened intently her eyes smiling all the time as I told her all about my life in foreign climes.
“I really should be going,” I said “it’s after 9.30.”
“Must you? I can’t tempt you to a little digestif? Brandy? A liqueur?”
“No, I couldn’t thank you. I have to drive home. Don’t want to be over the limit. It has been a lovely evening. Thank you so much for the lovely supper.”
“Well, if you’re sure. You must come again. I have so enjoyed your company. You could always stay over if you’re worried about driving”
And opening the door she put her hands on my shoulders pulling me towards her as she kissed me on both cheeks.
A day or two later at the office, I was chatting to one of the young men in the accounts department about an invoice that appeared to be incorrect.
“Suze invited you to her cottage yet?” he asked grinning “I bet she will. She likes women like you – intelligent, attractive, sexy. She got a bit much for your predecessor – that’s why she left.”
I was stunned “Really? I said. I don’t think I need to worry.”
Back at my desk I replayed the last few months in my head. Had I really missed some connections? She did stand very close to me, leaning over my shoulder, and often she touched my hand or my arm unnecessarily. Then there was last night. She had been very solicitous and rather over effusive saying goodbye. But that could just be her nature couldn’t it?