She's been doing it for years. And until Beloved left I was just an amused spectator, arriving at Libby's for some social event and another round of spot the odd socks. It was easy. They'd be the two uncomfortable people forced to sit far too close to each other on the smallest two seater sofa.
But now I, too, am an odd sock, and with a new girl in the drawer Libby got very excited about all the possible combinations. So over the course of the last few months I have been crammed on to that little sofa, large and rather too strong G & T in hand, with a selection of completely unsuitable men: the openly gay, the obviously dysfunctional and the probably married. I admit that as a result I have had some very interesting conversations: the incidence of cottage-ing in the lavatories of large department stores; the causes of e-mail message loss, and whether or not I've ever worn a scarlet basque. But to Libby's great disappointment none of these little tete-a-tetes have led to anything even remotely romantic.
It was all getting uncomfortable: Libby feeling that she had somehow failed me in my hour of need, and me feeling that I was going to have to at least snog one of Libby's choices, just out of politeness.
Until a week last Saturday, when she rang me, beside herself with excitement. Could I come to an impromptu dinner party that very night, because an old friend of her husband's was arriving quite unexpectedly. James's mate was a Very Nice Chap and Libby felt that I really must meet him. Her description made him sound like some sort of Cary Grant/Einstein hybrid. But I'm used to that; she can make a patched purple M & S nylon sock sound like Paul Smith silk and cashmere in charcoal grey with black trim. The last man she dragged out of the sock pile was sold to me as Tom Cruise with decent length legs and a PhD in biochemistry. He turned out to be an unemployed pharmacist and a dead ringer for Frank Spencer.
I put the phone down, realising that my friendship was on the line: Flirt with "Frank" or forget about having shared everything from orange Smarties upwards with Libby. I did contemplate turning up for dinner in the same clothes I'd worn to clean out the chickens, and a few teeth blacked up. But that would have been cheating. So for Libby I did the decent thing: I washed my hair, I put on make-up and nice clothes, and went to dinner grimly determined to drink myself into oblivion so that the entire Tory Party could ravish me and I wouldn't even know about it.
But when I walked into her kitchen, boy was I glad I hadn't gone for the overalls and Eau de Poulet option. Waiting for me was not a Cary Grant/ Einstein crossbreed, but something infinitely better. James's mate, the Very Nice Chap (VNC), was the person I should always have been with. I knew it the moment I saw him. It was like looking at one of those 3-D pictures and suddenly seeing the image jump out at you. I'd been looking at the dots and squiggles of my life, dimly struggling to make out what I thought was the right picture, and here it was standing in Libby's kitchen, easy as breathing: Oh yes, silly me, so that's what it was all along.
Now I have to explain here that I have not been hitherto a believer in romantic Damascus "A" road experiences. I came out of Four Weddings and a Funeral dry eyed and predicting divorce within the year for Hugh Grant and Andy McDowell. I'm a "marry in haste regret at leisure" girl. Usually. But Beloved and I were courting for seven years before we got married, and look where that got us.
So VNC and I looked at each other in a gobsmacked sort of way for a few moments, as if we were visiting aliens surprised to find another member of our species standing next to a green Raeburn and pots of simmering soup. Then we grabbed our too strong G & Ts and crammed ourselves happily on to the sofa without Libby having to say a word.Reuse content