How it all began...
“Twenty-six different men in fifty-two weeks? Is that even possible unless you happen to do it for a living?” asked Dawn.
Barbara chewed her lip. She’d had a lifetime of meaningless New Year’s Resolutions, and this one was certainly out there.
“At least twenty-six” said Jade, “and they don’t all have to be men!”
“According to Benjamin Franklin, we should be at war with our vices, at peace with our neighbours, and we should let New Year find us a better man or, in this case, men, or women, or heaven knows what” said Barbara brightly although, in truth, she was feeling anything but bright inside, and beginning to regret the fourth glass of champagne, or the bravado that had crept, unnoticed, into their group of three, chatting, away from prying ears, in the corner of Barbara’s lounge.
New Year’s Eve was much the same as every other year, Barbara’s turn to host their group of friends from the village, and nearby, at her house, and the usual simple formula of gentle eating, less gentle drinking, conversations and promises to keep more in touch next year and then, as midnight approached, so did deeper and more meaningful discussions about personal fulfilment and the meaning of life, fuelled by the alcohol and the energy in the air, as the stale old year was about to give way to the fresh New Year.
Barbara had known Dawn and Jade for ages. They were close confidants and, despite the age difference between them, all three were attractive women, likable, financially comfortable, successful and, to any outside observer, they all had much to be envied.
The view from the inside of their group wasn’t much different - three girls, smart, successful, sassy and sorted - great friends with a lot in common, and not much that they bothered to hide from each other.
At fifty, Barbara was the oldest of the three. She had chosen to take early retirement from a successful career in human resources, married to Gerald, an accountant, two adult children and a very comfortable stone cottage in the Lincolnshire village that had been home for well over a decade. Village life in England offered a very different perspective to her childhood and early adult life in Hartford, Connecticut, or her brief stay in New York after meeting (the VERY English) Gerald, who was working there at the time after stage-managing the merger of two international businesses. Barbara had made a conscious decision to support Gerald’s career, moving to the UK offices of her company as soon as Gerald’s role pulled him back to England. She had worked full time, then reduced her days, working part time and eventually retiring completely from corporate life. Not that she minded life in the village. Truth be told, she rather liked the slower pace of rural life, even if the height of excitement was seeing a few pigs being herded down their lane in the chilly twilight.
Barbara stood, tonight, wearing a dark green cocktail dress, at 5’ 7” tall and a little over 140lbs in weight, she curved in all the right places and her long, auburn, hair shone next to the green of her dress. She had been described as both demure and alluring and, whilst not necessarily the brightest star in the firmament, she was certainly not an unattractive woman by any means, although her self-confidence usually ebbed well below reality and, now, with two younger women throwing down the gauntlet, she’d dearly like to be anywhere else but here, committed, and wondering how the hell she’d extricate herself when she woke, with a headache, a few hours later.
Jade’s cocktail dress was red, figure hugging, shorter and more aggressive, which pretty much described Jade herself. Blonde, 5’ 4” tall and a little over 110lbs, she came across as dainty and delicate. To rely on first impressions, though, would be a mistake. She hadn’t got to be the youngest Senior Partner in a legal practice without plenty of front, and her confidence combined with her looks made her both attractive, and terrifying, to most suitors.
“The way I see it” said Jade “is that we each need to have some form of liaison with someone, each fortnight, that pushes our boundaries a bit, adds a bit of colour to our lives, and gives us something damn good to be talking about when we’re doing this again, at Dawn’s house, three hundred and sixty-five days from now!”
“Some form of liaison?” said Dawn, subconsciously tightening the neckline on her linen jacket. “That means physical, right?”
“Yes, physical, sexual of some nature, romantic is optional but do it if you must, paid for or free, or earned, but nothing that ties you down for the next two week period and prevents you getting to the next letter of the alphabet. No getting hooked-up!” Jade replied.
Barbara was thinking ahead. “This letter thing – working through the alphabet – I can see that A is reasonably easy to think up – auditor, acrobat etc - but what the hell do we do if and when we get to X? There surely can’t be three xylophone repairers in the county, so do we have to share?”
Dawn chuckled. “I think that’d be what golfers call a four-ball, although you’d have to hope he only had two!” They all laughed, and Dawn continued “I guess we need the ground rules to be reasonably solid so, yes, the letter ought to be their occupation, and no stretching the point, so policeman is a P, and it isn’t B for Bobby or F for Fuzz, and it isn’t C for Cop either, Barbara, no lapsing into American when it suits you!” and then she thought on that and added “but I do think that we should each be able to play a joker at some time so, for example, if I can get Peter and Richard from the hardware store then I might play my joker and go for T is for Twins. They look as though they’d be worth playing my joker for, even if they are a bit rough round the edges!”
“OK” laughed Jade, “one joker each, and you have to make it a good one, with a decent explanation, and no copping out!”
“And physical liaison – meaning something, but not necessarily all the way, not what we Americans call fourth base?” asked Barbara.
“No. If, by ‘all the way’ you mean ‘getting laid’ then that shouldn’t be a pre-requisite, but it does mean a damn sight more than a peck on the cheek, and I have a feeling that if we do this properly, ‘all the way’ will mean something very different a year from now” giggled Jade. “Very different, especially for three village girls like us.”
Gerald was deep in conversation with Roger, Dawn’s husband, separated from their wives by a few other party-goers, but they both heard Jade giggling, and then both Dawn and Barbara following suit, with Barbara covering her mouth in embarrassment.
“I love to hear her laugh, Roger, she doesn’t do that often enough.” Said Gerald.
“Yes” said Roger, “laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone… but three women laughing like that isn’t a good sign… they’re up to something, you mark my words! That Jade is a charming woman, but I reckon she’s also a dark horse. It looks to me like she has just thrown down the gauntlet for the other two, judging by their body language.”
“Thrown down the gauntlet? I love the way you academics think,” chuckled Gerald. “Somehow I struggle to compare the view we have, now, of these three charming ladies with a mental picture of a bunch of medieval knights preparing to joust!”
Roger just raised an eyebrow, and took another long pull at his tankard. Strong, dark beer served at room temperature, drunk through clenched teeth to filter out the bits of hop and twig. One of the true pleasures of winter, until the next morning, at least.
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