He was a bloke less ordinary, that was her initial opinion of him.
"Well Sall, it is three minutes past twelve, which makes it officially your birthday. I feel a dare coming on." Janet gazed at Sally through vodka clouded eyes.
"Hmmmm, just so long as it doesn't involve moving because my shoes are pissed and there's no way I could possibly trust them to hold me up in their present condition."
The three girls laughed. Jan, Jane and Sally had come out to celebrate Sall's birthday.
"Well as a matter of fact it does involve moving, but not very far you only have to stagger as far as the bar. You up for it?"
"Depends." said a doomed Sall "Go on."
"You see that bloke over there?" Jan grinned broadly. She knew her friend would not be able to resist the dare. Sall groaned loudly, already suspicious of what was coming.
"Which one? Big bloke on the left obviously very married and built like a brick out house?"
"Yep that's the fella. All you have to do is go and snog him. Simple!"
"Oh give that girl a medal for originality." cut in Jane. "Poor Sall."
"You can't make me do this." moaned Sall petulantly. "Please don't make me do this. I can't. I can't go up to a total stranger and just snog him. Come on you two. I'll buy the next round even though it isn't my turn. I'll treat us all to pizza on the way home. I'll I'll I'll do all the ironing for a month. Don't make me do this."
"But it's a dare." Said Janet and you can't back out of a dare.
"Worse." said Jane. "The stakes have just been raised to a double dog dare. You'd never live it down if you didn't do it." She grinned the evil grin of a Great Dane just before he shags a Yorkshire Terrier. "You go girl!" she added for good measure in a mock American accent.
"Okay. Okay. I'll do it." The other two cheered loudly, causing the eyes of every person in the relatively quiet pub to turn upon them. "I know when I'm beaten, but just think on this. I will have my revenge and it will be sweet."
Sall leaned forward and decisively drained the last of her vodka and coke. "Lipppy," she demanded holding her hand out to Jane who obligingly rooted in her handbag until she found the dark purple lipstick.
Janet and Jane knew what was coming, but they never tired of seeing it, and were already laughing in the hope that this time for the first time ever she would make a mess of it. Sally took the top off the lipstick and turned it upside down, holding it at arms length she peered into the dull black top as though it was a mirror and expertly applied her lipstick with the other hand. She had explained many times that it was a psychological illusion. The brain knows where the lips are. It is only lack of confidence that requires the use of a mirror. Fool the brain into thinking that you are looking into a mirror and voila the lipstick goes on smoothly and perfectly in place. Regardless of how much vodka has been consumed. Sall smacked her lips together and glared at her friends.
"Oh do I have to?" she wailed
"Go," shouted her friends in unison.
Sall walked in a remarkably straight line over to the group of men standing by the bar. Not for the first time she wished she was eight foot four tall. At five foot ten she told herself that she wasn't over weight, she was just under height. "Dear God," she thought "Please just give me a Barbie doll body for the next three minutes." The good lord remained unobliging.
The men parted like four-day-old milk as Sall homed in on her target. She tapped him gently on the shoulder and he turned from his pint to look at her. "Excuse me love?" She asked blushing furiously.
"Yes?" He looked puzzled.
"You see those two reprobates over there?" she pointed at Jan and Jane who were grinning like a pair of imbeciles and giving exaggerated thumbs-up signals in her direction. The man grinned and nodded. "Well as of about five minutes ago it is my birthday, and it's sort of a tradition that you have to do a dare on your birthday. And I'm really sorry to have to tell you this, but they've dared me to come over and snog you." At this point a great cheer went up from the assembled men and they began whooping and chanting. "Do you mind?" Sall adorned what she hoped was her best pleading expression and finished lamely. "I understand perfectly if you do."
The man turned full on to face Sall and spread his arms. His face cracked into a huge smile. "Well love that's the best offer I've had all night. I couldn't refuse a damsel in distress now could I? You go for it darlin`." At that moment Sall could have kissed him for real just for the fact that he was such a good sport and hadn't made even more of a fool of her than she was already making of herself. She moved into the circle of his arms and their lips met in a full on snog that lasted just long enough for Sall to win the bet. She was the first to break the bond of union that she had forced on the poor unsuspecting man. "Thank-you," she whispered with all sincerity.
She turned round to her friends, punching the air and doing a little victory dance. "Rack `em up girls. It is without a doubt your round." She took a step towards the girls who were still jumping up and down and cheering like idiots, but she was stopped by a warm hand on her wrist. She turned back round to the bar, to be confronted by the most intelligent, laughing eyes she had seen in a long time.
"Hey! Where's mine?" Asked the tall, good-looking man. Sall blushed bright red, but couldn't break the lock that his grey eyes had her held in. He was amused by her discomfort and grinned widely at her.
"Oh the dare only called for me to kiss one person. Sorry." She said trying desperately to regain some composure. She smiled coyly at him and gently pulled her arm from his grasp.
"Whoo what did HE want?" asked Jane as a red faced and much-flustered Sall took her seat.
"Oh you know just another man who wanted me to favour him with a kiss. Happens all the time when you're drop dead gorgeous like me." She dared a sneaky look at the man and he was still smiling over at her. He raised his glass in salute and Sall hastily turned back to listen to whatever it was Jan was saying.
"Well lasses one last drink and we'll head off home eh?" The beauty of the Brown Calf was that drinking time at the weekend came to a close when the last person left the bar. Half the town would congregate there for the lock-in. "I think Sall should go to the bar and get them though. I think someone wants to talk to her." said Jane slyly forcing a ten-pound note into Sall's hand. Sall was secretly glad to have an excuse to go back to the bar.
The bar area was crowded and she had to plead her way through. Although she felt the eyes of the tall man on her the whole time she made a point of not looking in his direction. She was just taking her change when she felt a hand on her hair. "C'mon, tell the truth. This is not for real is it?" It was him and she felt her heart rate shift up a gear.
"Oh you've sussed me out and of course you are quite right it's a wig." Sall grabbed a handful of her hair and held it out to the man. "Here have a pull, careful though or it'll be off in your hand." He took the offered hair, rubbed it through his fingers and then bent down to smell it.
"I have never seen hair like it, so soft and it smells beautiful." Sally gave immense thanks to the God of Pantene for giving her this moment. Her hair was jet black apart from the odd grey tendril round her ears that couldn't be seen and it fell to her waist in length. It was sall's pride and joy and all she felt that she had appearance wise to be proud of. She went to great trouble to make sure that her hair was always kept nice.
Suddenly it seemed the ice was well and truly broken between the two. He introduced himself as Paul and soon they were chatting animatedly oblivious to the fact that the dare twins were sitting back at the table without drinks.
"Can I be very forward?" he asked after about ten minutes of conversation. Oh Oh thought Sall this is it; I'm either going to like the next sentence or its going to be another of those 'another one bites the dust' moments.
"Go on," she answered frowning at him warily.
"Hey don't look so worried." He said softly taking one of her hands in both of his. "You know the bloke you kissed earlier?"
"No I don't know him, but go on." This was sounding iffy she thought.
"Well I do and he's getting married tomorrow. Thing is Sall, that lot are all paired off and going as couples and I'm stuck on my todd. I don't suppose you'd do me the honour of being my guest would you?"
Sally didn't know what to say. First dates were always awkward and to be going to a wedding with a pack of strangers was nerve wracking to say the least, but she'd have rocks in her head if she said no. He might not ask her out again. Her face must have been registering her doubts because Paul dragged her across the room to where his friends had congregated round the pool table. "Hey Gary mate. You don't mind if I bring Sally to the do tomorrow night do you?"
Gary winked at her "Well as long as she's not going to make a habit of snogging me every two minutes. Julie'll have me in the divorce courts before I get me conjugal shag." Everybody laughed and Sally blushed furiously.
"Oh don't you worry Gary love, you are perfectly safe, I couldn't go through that again." Gary played the part of being devastated.
"Hey whats wrong with snogging me? Women don't usually have any complaints." Any doubts Sall had about having a good night the following evening vanished. She liked Paul's friends very much.
When she finally went back to Jan and Jane Paul came too and asked if he could walk her home. She explained that the three of them lived together and always walked home together and he said that he would be happy to walk all three ladies home. It was obvious that Jan and Jane liked him too. They kept nudging her and giving out 'go for it' signals.
Jane put the key in the lock and Jan ushered everybody into the house, including Paul. "Right then." She said, "I'll put the kettle on." Amazingly as soon as they had finished their coffee, the Jays as Sall collectively called them began yawning exaggeratedly. Their 'I'm so tired' act would have been funny if it hadn't been so embarrassingly transparent. They bid Sall and Paul goodnight and went to bed.
As soon as they had gone Paul moved closer to her on the settee and snaked an arm around her shoulders. He drew her towards him and they kissed. Sall let all the barriers slip away from her and she gave herself to the moment. They kissed for a long time, interspersed with brief snatches of conversation. It felt good. Sall felt wanted for the first time in ages.
Paul's kisses became just slightly more demanding. His hand moved up on to her breast. "You've got gorgeous big breasts." he murmured into her ear. This was starting to go too fast. She pushed his arm down and her body stiffened. The barriers came down like re-enforced shutters and she pulled away from him.
He looked searchingly into her eyes confused by her reaction. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry I thought " His sentence tailed away.
"No. No it's my fault. I'm sorry. I just need you to know that before I get too carried away with you, that I'd like it to be more than just a drunken fumble. I want it to mean something. I just " Now it was her turn to let the sentence fade away. She had no idea what to say next. She felt wretched. Had she blown it? Would he think she was some kind of frigid neurotic?
"Hey it's okay. It's okay." He pulled her into him and buried his hands in her hair. She could hear his heartbeat as he kissed her forehead gently. "Listen Sall. I like you, I want to be with you, and yes I want to make love with you, but not until you are ready and the time is right. So I'll be a good boy and wait." He finished this with a look so pathetically 'little boy lost' and repentant that Sall laughed.
"You okay?" he asked. Sall smiled and nodded. "Right then sweetheart it's late and I really should be going. You get a good night's sleep and I'll see you tomorrow. We are all right for tomorrow aren't we? I haven't blown it?"
Sall smiled at him. "Of course we are and I'm really looking forward to it." She kissed him full and soft and long. Paul was the first one to break the kiss.
"Hmmm easy girl, you're sending me home to a cold lonely bed remember." He gazed down into her eyes, dropped a last kiss on her cheek and was gone. Sall smiled all the way up the stairs and was still smiling when sleep came to claim her.
And so they fell into a really good relationship based primarily on friendship. More than once over the next month Paul left Sall's house with an uncomfortable tightness in the front of his jeans. She loved the way he never pushed her, and she wanted it to be right before she took him to her bed. Both Paul and Sall led active lives both with their own set of friends. This meant that sometimes they would go several days without seeing each other and then out of the blue one of them would turn up on the other one's doorstep. This suited Sall, she would have preferred just a little bit more order to even out the randomness of it all, but as she reasoned it out to herself she was more or less happy and he seemed to be, so why rock the boat.
It was a Saturday night four weeks from the day they met that 'the time felt right.' The girls had been out for their usual Saturday night of fun and Paul had met up with Sall as arranged for last orders. Since that first night he had been very careful with his advances. Their petting had been welterweight rather than heavy in description and any 'moves' had come from Sally.
His hand rested gently on her shoulder as she kissed him hard. She closed her palm over the back of his fingers and gradually moved is hand down towards her breast. "Touch me," she whispered into his mouth. His hand cupped her breast and began to explore its softness as she lowered her fingers to his upper thigh. He squirmed making whichever part of him she wanted to touch available, and slowly her fingers traced their way up his inner thigh to rest lightly on his erection.
"I want you Sally. God I want you so much."
"I want you too." she murmured.
He took her hand and led her across the room. At the bottom of the stairs Sally stopped him. She stroked the back of his hand distractedly as she searched hard for the words that she had to say before they went any further.
"Paul I I haven't been with many men." She began hesitantly, but then the words started to tumble over themselves in her effort to make herself understood. "I'm terrified of waking up one day and not be able to remember the names or faces of all the men I've slept with. I don't want a long string of meaningless lovers. I want one man. One man that I can care about and who in turn will care about me. Look at me Paul, I'm not the type of person people fall in love with, and that's okay, really it is. But I want to know, I need to know that this isn't just a quick fling for you. That it means something more."
"Daft Sod," he said. "`Course I care about you. Let's just see how things work out eh? Let's just enjoy each other and see how it goes. I like you. You're funny and kind and sweet, but don't get too serious eh? Not yet, it'll just spoil things."
She couldn't leave it at that. "I just want to know that it's more than just sex. If that's all you want Paul you can do so much better than me. I've been hurt by men who have pretended to want me and then, when they haven't got what they wanted from me have turned nasty and just dumped me. And worse than that, even the couple who have got what they wanted have rejected me afterwards too. I'm not just an easy Saturday night shag. I won't be that for anybody." She finished lamely, but with determination battling for space in her eyes against prickly unshed tears.
"Hey Sall c'mon this isn't like you. What's with the third degree? I know you've been hurt before. I can't promise you my heart and soul forever and ever okay, but I can promise not to hurt you. You hear me I won't hurt you. I promise." He looked at her with open sincerity shining through his eyes. And that was all that Sally wanted to know. She was ready.
Their lovemaking was good. They made love hard and long all that night and late into the following morning. Jan knocked on Sally's bedroom door saying that she'd made coffee. Sall told her to come in and grinned at the shocked look on Jan's face when she saw Paul in bed beside her.
"Well it's about time you two got it together, you've been messing about for weeks." she said recovering her composure. Sall grinned like a chimp with a packet of crisps. "Thank God for insulated walls," said Jan as she left the room to make another cup of coffee for Paul. Sall couldn't help but notice the way Paul admired her shapely legs, legs far better than Sall's own . He'd also let the sheet slip to reveal far more of his naked body than was decent. Sall felt a stab of jealousy and another of unease.
Although the intimacy they shared had been good, it hadn't been tender. Sall had no complaints, she liked hard energetic sex and yet there was still a need in her to be kissed softly and stroked all over with light gentle fingers. After the previous night's passion her body now ached to be loved again, but this time slowly and gently. Sally wanted to feel precious.
As Paul sipped at his coffee, Sall lowered her head to his chest and began to kiss his nipple so, so gently. Her fingers made swirling circles in his chest hair and her breath rippled along his skin in warm currents as her breathing began to harden.
"Hey, hey, hey. Give a guy a break. How many times do you think I can perform without a rest? And anyway sweetheart I've got to go. Things to do. People to see."
And then he was gone.
Sall walked round smiling for the rest of the day. She firmly pushed those niggling doubts to the back of her mind, telling herself that they could all be ironed out with time. After all Paul hadn't been with a woman for quite a while. Of course he was going to be a little bit eager. She grinned as she reminded herself that her part in the proceedings could hardly be described as reticent. As for him rushing off like that, well she already knew that he played golf every Sunday afternoon with the lads. Perfectly understandable, she wouldn't break a date with the lasses for him would she?
She changed the bed that afternoon, putting crisp, clean bedding on just in case he came that night. She felt sure that he'd be back for more, it had been so good. This was the start of something special. She had a new boyfriend. Sall tried out the word a few times and it felt good. Nothing had ever been said about the terms of their relationship, but now that they had slept together, well of course he was her boyfriend. It felt right. Every thought she had that day was in some way connected with Paul. Every song she listened to was played for him and every breath she took was one less that she'd have to take before she saw him again. For Sally everything had changed. She had slept with Paul and that meant that she had given of her whole self to him. Before that act she could have walked away from him with barely a tear, but now they were connected and Sally had fallen hard.
Much to the two J's disgust she spent over two hours in the bathroom that evening. She soaked in the bath for ages daydreaming of the night to come. She dressed in her prettiest underwear. Paul was going to learn a lesson or two in the sensual art of seduction when he arrived. She had put a casserole in the oven earlier at the same time as she had bribed the J's to make themselves scarce that night. If she and Paul weren't immediately hungry for casserole, then it could be eaten much, much later without anything spoiling.
At eleven thirty just before the J's were due back from the pub, Sally turned the oven off and went to be alone. "Silly cow," she told herself. "It's not as though he said he was coming tonight is it?"
He didn't come the next night or the one after that. In fact it was almost a whole week before she saw him again, and he never seemed to be in when she called. The following Saturday night he came over from the bar with a drink for her and plonked himself down at their table. She made a sarcastic remark about it being a wonder that he could remember what she liked to drink. He was full of apologies and explained that he had been busy and had spent a couple of days away from home with work. He turned up the charm to the max and Sall couldn't stay mad with him for long.
The sex that night followed pretty much the same pattern as the time before. The following morning Paul got up and left early. Sall no longer thought of it as lovemaking, after just two nights of sharing a bed together, what was happening between them had been demoted to just sex. She wasn't going to give up though. She would talk to him. Most of their time together was great. They still laughed a lot and had fun. It would be all right. She just had to make him more aware of her needs.
He did turn up that night. He'd rung to say he'd be round at about six. He turned up at nine thirty stinking of beer. She fed him. He ate. She fixed coffee. He drank. She sat on the settee. He sat on the chair at the other side of the room. She knew what was coming. He didn't need to say it. She didn't want him to say it. Couldn't bear to hear it. But she knew.
He coughed clearing his throat nervously. The atmosphere was thick. Any voice would find it difficult against the fog of tension.
'Don't speak. Please don't speak, don't say anything at all,' she thought pleading against what she knew was coming. She locked her eyes into the image on the television screen. She was engrossed. It would be rude to interrupt. 'Don't say anything please.'
"Sall. I "
'This is it. Oh God this is it. Nothing is going to stop it happening. Even if I throw up right here and now all over the carpet, it won't stop what's coming.' She wanted to throw up, her stomach was tightening and contracting with every second that passed.
He began again. "Sall," and then he just blurted it out. "Sall can we go back to just being friends?"
'He said it. The Bastard.'
Sall turned in her seat and looked at him for a fraction of a second before she had to turn away from him, away from those eyes.
"Okay," she said nonchalantly as though he'd asked if she'd like another cup of coffee.
"I'd prefer it." he finished.
'Don't ask. You don't need to know. Let it go Sall. Don't humiliate yourself any further, you already know the answer don't ask don't ask.'
"Why?" asked a tiny voice from the huddled, pathetic form at the far end of the settee.
"I'm sorry Sall, but I need to be honest with you. I really like you, and you deserve so much more than being with a man who's ashamed to be seen with you."
"What do you mean?" she asked knowing all to well exactly what he meant.
"I've been taking a lot of stick from my friends and my brothers. It's hard Sall, I've tried not to let it bother me "
She cut in on him. This time she did want to know why, but it was a different why from before. Her voice was hard. The bitter edge already pronounced in every carefully enunciated vowel.
"If I'm so ugly, why go to bed with me? I told you Paul. I told you I don't sleep around, that you were special to me. That it meant something. That you meant something dammit. Why did you do that Paul? You promised you wouldn't hurt me." Her voice held a whining note now and she hated herself for it.
"If I'm so fucking ugly why did you sleep with me?" She yelled this at him across the room, each spat word coated with anger and hurt.
"I'm so sorry Sall. I know I shouldn't have done. I knew at the time I shouldn't have done it. But Christ Sall, I'm a weak man. When I've had a drink my dick wants sex. Any man will tell you Sall when you get horny after a pint it's so hard to think straight and be sensible "
Again she cut in on his next words. "Your dick wants sex? Is that all it was? Hell, not even you the person wanted sex, just your dick? Is that all I was to you?"
"Yes." he said in a small voice. "I want to be honest. I'm sorry."
"Honest? Fucking Bastard, honest? I think it's a bit late in the day for honesty don't you? Get out! You make me sick."
He looked at her once on his way to the door. It could have been a look of apology, but Sally saw it as a look of disgust mixed perhaps with a bit of pity.
"Get out!" she screamed and he went gratefully. He couldn't get out of the house fast enough.
She cried for a long time, and maybe if the J's had been in things would have been different. As the tears fell she battled with herself not to do it, but the pull was too strong. The feelings too raw, the pressure too great, the need too much.
She walked up the stairs in a daze. Words going round and round in her head. Feelings swelling and pulsing, threatening to suffocate her.
She looked at the razor blade in her hand for a long time.
It had been so long. So damned long since she had felt the thin flat piece of steel between her fingers. Fifteen years since the last time and nearly all of the scars had faded away to nothing. She didn't need to cry anymore, she was going to have the satisfaction of getting rid of the evil, tainted, ugly blood.
She winced and it felt good as she drew the blade across the flesh of her thighs, her belly, her breasts. Not deep enough to do any serious damage, if she was very lucky not even deep enough to leave permanent scars but, deep enough to allow the dirty trapped blood its freedom.
As she drew the blade over her skin, parting her flesh again and again in her need for release, she repeated the same phrase, very softly over and over.
"Ugly girl. Ugly girl. Ugly girl."