It turns out I like writing about the emotional ups and downs of Scottish women in their 40s. As I’m a Scottish woman in my 40s, then maybe that’s not surprising. Write about what you know, right?
Anyway, here is chapter one of what I’m writing now. It does contain some adult content and bad language, so if you don’t like that kind of thing, please don’t read any further.
Hey @Kelly1976! Just to let you know we can’t make ur 40th on Sat. Bit of an epic Christmas & New Year. Sorry! Sure it’ll be fab #Kelly40!
Wow. An “I’m not-coming” RSVP via Twitter. That had to be a first, setting a new lower-than-ever standard for etiquette. It was the day before her party, and the unwritten rules of politeness according to Kelly Thompson was that if you had to cancel at short notice you did it by phone.
A text or email was bad enough – but Twitter was public. Said friend had just revealed how (not) special she thought Kelly was and told millions of people at the same time.
Having a birthday on the 3rd of January had always put her at a disadvantage. As a child, most people had chosen to give her joint birthday and Christmas presents, and Kelly always suspected that the combined value did not add up to the same amount as two separate gifts. The same rule applied to birthday parties. Her younger and older sisters both had birthdays in the summer. Their celebrations felt quite distinct from Christmas.
Children and teenagers were quite happy to party any time – it didn’t matter to them that Christmas and New Year had only just taken place – though her mother often tried to move the party closer to New Year so she could see her friends at the same time. But at least in her youth, those Kelly invited always came to her parties.
Unlike now. She ought to be used to it. For the last 12 years or so, there had been a marked reluctance from friends and even family to throw themselves enthusiastically into any birthday celebrations precisely because of the proximity to the festive season. It hurt then, it still did.
It rankled all the more because she was single. If she had a partner, perhaps he would have booked her into a top hotel – the five-star Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire perhaps – for a weekend, spa appointment, taster menu and the finest selection of wines all included. Then, she supposed she wouldn’t give a flying fuck about organising a party or some kind of special celebration with friends to mark the passing years. Nope, she’d be too busy listening to the sommelier as he explained precisely why this particular white went so well with the amuse bouche she was about to eat, as her imaginary husband/partner toasted her, embarrassing her by telling the waiters they had to treat her very well, as the love of his life was 40 today.
Of course, in this little daydream, the waiters all protested vehemently. “Forty? No, no. That’s can’t be possible. Surely madam is celebrating her 30th birthday today?”
Sighing, Kelly stood up and stretched raising her arms high above her head. As a freelancer, she mostly worked from home and that meant spending long hours in front of her PC. Some years ago, she’d invested in one of those Swiss ball chairs which was meant to help with posture – forcing you to sit up straight instead of slouching forward. It was effective, but it didn’t make up for the hours she put in for her various clients. You just weren’t meant to sit for long periods of time.
Outside, it was your typical early January early evening in Glasgow. The rain had been falling steadily all day, and the skies hadn’t brightened from gun-metal grey. At this time of year, the days were short, but this one had felt particularly short because it had been so overcast. She’d had to switch on the lights in her Merchant City flat at three o’clock. The blinds were all firmly pulled down now, and the place felt cosy.
Despite its city centre location, Kelly’s flat was quiet. It was located at the back of the block in Wilson Street and thus not near to the main road. Her windows were triple glazed and the old building featured thick walls. The worst noise was often seagulls – who could start up early in the mornings, but not at this time of the year. She wasn’t on the side nearest to the area’s pubs either. The flat’s relative peace and quiet was an advantage she hadn’t fully appreciated until a few months into her move there. She’d befriended one of her neighbours – a gay guy, who lived on the same floor but whose flat faced the opposite direction. The noise difference was considerable. He had often knocked on the door at night, begging her to let him in so he could sleep in her spare room in the days before she’d turned it into her office, the noise at his side of the building too much for him. Kelly had agreed, secretly thrilled as it felt a bit like having a boyfriend or partner. She always hoped that other people coming down the stairs noticed them leaving her flat together in the morning and thought of them as a couple.
It helped that Josh was incredibly good looking. He wasn’t particularly tall, but he was at least taller than her and he had inherited some impeccable genes from his French mother – olive-skin that always tanned at the merest hint of sun, thick, dark hair, huge Bambi eyes and cheek bones to die for. He was a rower too, and it showed – his shoulders and arms muscular and his torso patterned with lines that defined the much sought after six-pack. He’d let Kelly touch it the first time she’d seen it, her jaw dropped in awe.
“Is that real?” she’d stuttered, and he’d smirked. “Too right. That’s what marks a gay man from a straight one – the care he takes of his body. Darling, I’m a slave to the gym.”
Naturally, his chest was hairless too. And yes, he also favoured the back, sack and crack wax. She hadn’t seen the evidence of that at the time, but some months later after a riotous night out, he’d happily showed her and her best friend Nell what a hairless backside and balls looked like.
“Weirdly naked,” Nell said, and then asked if she could touch them. Kelly protested, but Josh let her, saying it was the closest he’d been to a woman since the age of 14. The three of them watched in interest to see what his cock would do. It slowly stiffened, Josh shrugging apologetically and then glancing at the two of them speculatively.
“I don’t suppose…?”
Nell had looked on the verge of agreeing to whatever, but Kelly stepped in. “Absolutely not! One, you’re gay Josh, and two, Nell’s married.” She held her hand up as Nell murmured that giving a gay man a hand job wasn’t technically infidelity, surely.
“Yes, it is! What do you think Daniel would say if you explained to him that you’d just jerked off another man? Want me to throw a bucket of ice water over that Josh?”
Both of them looked suitably chastened, the change in mood backed up by Josh’s rapidly deflating erection.
Kelly supposed it was his fault she was so fussy these days. He’d set the standard for how a man should look if she were to fancy him, and his image often popped up in her mind when a man stripped off in front of her for the first time. Much as she tried not to, Josh’s torso would float enticingly in front of her, obscuring the view of saggy man boobs, and a stomach that rounded outwards.
At least she could count on him to be there tomorrow night. Josh had moved out a few years ago – his BBC Scotland job allowing him to upgrade and buy a house in the west end of Glasgow. He’d also met someone, marrying the guy last year when the laws had changed to allow marriage and not just civil partnership.
Moving into the kitchen, Kelly opened the door of the cupboard – the high-up one where she deliberately kept her stash of chocolate in order that it was out of reach. The little psychological trick – out of sight, out of mind – had its limits, and inside that cupboard was several blocks of Dairy Milk, truffles and boxes of wraps that clients had given her at the start of the holidays.
There was another disadvantage of the January birthday thing, especially when you were approaching the big 4-0. Didn’t most women embark on a fevered diet before their fortieth – vowing that the old saying, fair, fat and 40 would not apply?
If your birthday was in early January, though, you had weeks of festive feasting just behind you snapping at your heels. All those Christmas parties and huge meals that marked out December – rich, luxurious foods people didn’t usually eat. Mince pies, sausage rolls, stuffing, cakes and puddings galore. This year, Kelly’s mother Rose had gone completely over the top. Her oldest daughter Louisa had come to hers for Christmas, having spent all of the Christmases since she’d been married with her in-laws. Louise had decided early on that her in-laws were far worthier of attention and attendance than her own family.
Conscious of the honour, Rose went all out, anxious to create a feast so magnificent her fussy oldest daughter would never go anywhere else again. Once the attendance had been confirmed, she had rushed off to the shops and bought every food magazine she could get her hands on, flicking through them feverishly in the search for the best menu she could find. The resultant Christmas meal had included canapes, a first course, a fish course, the main course, pudding and cheese and biscuits. Kelly had thought she might pop afterwards. Josh would have told her, “Well, you can always say no, can’t you?”. As if it was that simple. Rose was a feeder. She took refusals to eat her food personally. A person had to say “no” at least three or four times before she stopped offering you second helpings. Most of the time, it was easier to wearily accept.
There had been lots of leftovers and everyone had been sent away with foil-wrapped packages. As Kelly was the family’s only vegetarian, the goat’s cheese and mushroom pie hadn’t been touched by anyone else, so off she went with enough food to feed eight people. Her mother had perfect hands for pastry and what she’d made for this pie was flaky and light. Kelly had also ended up the recipient of 12 mince pies, lots of cheese straws and a white chocolate cheesecake that only had a quarter missing from it.
She had left the food in her fridge from a few days, in which time she had made some serious dents in the cheesecake, but eventually she threw it all out, covering the lot with washing-up liquid to deter any bin raids late at night.
In the kitchen now, she took out one of the unopened boxes of chocolate wraps and set it on the counter. Laura’s text had upset her. Even when you expected friends to cancel, it still came as a blow. She opened the box and tipped its contents out onto the kitchen counter. An untouched box of wraps was a glorious thing. There were all your favourites, the little piles of orange foil-wrapped chocolate fudges, and the mini purple foiled chocolate bars, waiting to be opened.
She had planned to be a whole ten pounds lighter for her 40th – well, a stone and half would have been wonderful, but Kelly had aimed for realism. She stroked her stomach, the tell-tale belly bulge signalling that her efforts were unlikely to have worked, was there. A five-pound loss was beginning to look optimistic.
Just to be on the safe side, she sent Josh a quick text asking him to confirm he and his husband Martin would be attending. Seconds later, he rang her.
“Darling – we’ll be there of course. What did you do for Hogmanay?”
Kelly couldn’t possibly tell him. Josh was a few years younger than her, and he still believed it was his duty to party hard on New Year’s Eve. Admittedly, the parties were rather more grow up these days. He wasn’t in a club till four in the morning, but he and Martin moved in an artsy, well-off set and they often went from house to house, raucous dinner parties, drink and often drugs included.
She could hardly admit to having done nothing. It wasn’t that unusual these days, not to do anything on New Year’s Eve. Nell hadn’t gone out either, saying she and Daniel had invited Luke and his wife and kids to their house for the evening. She had extended the invite to Kelly, and Kelly knew she would have been made very welcome by everyone. She knew Nell and Daniel well, and by extension, Daniel’s brother Luke and family, but she turned the invite down pretending another invite. She had reasons of her own for doing so.
“I went out for a couple of drinks with some friends. Didn’t stay out that late,” she told Josh. “What about you?”
He and Martin, he said, had attended a party at Marcus Reilly’s house. He heard Kelly’s sharp intake of breath – Marcus Reilly was an old and not particularly liked boss of hers. “I know, Marcus Reilly! But I was dying to see his house – it’s in Giffnock you know.”
He named one of the more desirable areas just south of Glasgow, and went on to describe the party which had included a marquee, fireworks, outside catering and a great deal of champagne as befitted a flash git like Marcus.
“Anyway, who’s all coming along tomorrow? Good turn-out is it?” he said the words lightly, but Kelly could hear him probing her.
“A few call-offs,” she muttered, hating that her voice sounded needy.
Josh snorted. “Pah, who are these weaklings! And why be friends with them? I’ll be there, Martin will be there, you’ve got some of your old work colleagues coming, Cheryl is definitely coming as she said to me she was last night, and of course dear Nell and Daniel, and your family will all be in attendance!”
Did it count if it was your family – two of whom she wasn’t sure she liked all that much? And of course Nell and Daniel would be there. They were hosting the party in their home, a spacious three-bedroomed house on the south side of Glasgow.
“And…ah…dare I ask?”
She thought about making him spell it out, but decided against it, sighing instead, “I don’t know.”
Kelly had an on, but mostly off relationship with a man she had told few people about it – not even, or perhaps especially not, her best friend Nell. Nell would be horrified if she knew, having done her very best over the years to put Kelly off this particular man. She’d told her about his occasional jaunts to Amsterdam that had involved prostitutes, she’d spoken about tearful, heartbroken girls who had turned up regularly at his mother’s house over the years and she had never hidden the fact that she thought him lazy, utterly selfish and irresponsible.
“I don’t know,” she told Josh. “He didn’t seem all that keen.”
Kelly’s birthday party was taking the form of an upmarket tea party. It had been Nell’s idea. The two of them had established a tradition of going out for each other’s birthdays and Nell had wanted to make a particular effort for Kelly’s 40th, aware that her friend’s single status necessitated making the occasion as special as possible.
Nell had taken the time to visit charity shops – those in the more upmarket areas of Glasgow – over the last six months, stocking up on china sets which she said would mis-match, and then present to guests as they left as a grown-up party bag. Nell had asked her mother-in-law to help out as Tricia was an amazing baker, and she had been working like a demon the last few days according to Nell, making macaroons, sponge cakes, tray bakes and even eclairs. Nell promised that Tricia would be up at the crack of dawn tomorrow making batches of fresh scones specially. Kelly had stockpiled bottles of Prosecco and even some champagne. The party was scheduled to begin at 2pm, but she knew Nell and Daniel envisaged (and didn’t mind) that it would probably last a lot longer. Once obligatory family guests had drifted off home, the adults could kick back and relax. The Murrays were veteran party hosts – there was bound to be lots of food, drink and laughter.
She knew better than to ask Mark outright, so she’s mentioned it to him diffidently a few weeks ago when he’d turned up at her door late at night.
Lying in bed next to him, she raised the subject tentatively. “So, you going to come to my 40th?”
He leaned over her, reaching for his jacket and the cigarettes he kept in there. He was the only person she let smoke in her flat, and only because she thought he would never visit her if she forbade it.
“When is it?”
Oh, for God’s sake. He must have heard Nell talk about it. And this wasn’t the first time she had mentioned the party. She couldn’t be accused of dropping hints about it like mad – but he did know her 40th was coming up.
“Saturday – the third.”
Mark leaned back on her headboard, moving his head from side to side to iron out the kink in his neck. He took a cigarette out and lit it up, pulling the empty can of Stella on the bedside table closer so he could use it as an ashtray.
“It’s a tea party isn’t it?” His tone made it clear what he thought of that kind of party.
“Well, yes,” Kelly kept her tone casual. “But all the family lot will all be gone by about 6pm, and then it’ll be us adults. And you know what Nell and Daniel are like. There’s be lots of food and drink. One of my friend is bringing his decks. He deejays at the Sub Club from time to time.”
That was Martin, a regular fixture at the nightclub on Jamaica Street.
“Aye, mebbe,” he said. “Nae promises, though.”
And that was the best she could hope for.
“Well luvvie, I must go!” Josh said, and she heard laughter in the background. She wondered if Martin was making jokes about her. He was nice enough, but she sometimes detected a certain slyness to him. And he definitely felt threatened by her and Josh’s friendship. He wasn’t a believer in the single girl and her gay best friend scenario and when he called her a fag hag, it wasn’t said with fondness.
“But we’ll see you tomorrow. Can’t wait.”
Josh ended the call, and Kelly sighed once again. She gathered up the chocolates she had spilled out on the counter earlier and put them in a dish. Still holding her phone, she pulled up the list of favourite phone numbers.
If he answers, I won’t eat them. If he doesn’t answer…I’ll wait till he calls back. If he doesn’t, I’ll…