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Posts Tagged ‘Date’

Season 4: Epsiode 8

October 25, 2011

Willow stomped her foot and crossed her arms over her chest, a frown creasing her ordinarily cheerful face. Here she was again, knee deep in clothes strewn across the floor, not a thing to wear, her stomach a bundle of nerves, and potentially running late for another date with Robert Fortescue. She had reluctantly put on her only matching set of expensive lingerie again, thinking that it deserved another innings after the last rather short lived one.

Why do I do this to myself, she thought, sifting through dress after dress, trying to find the perfect one. She wanted her outfit to say ‘I’m gorgeous and glamorous and always dress like this, so don’t think that this outfit is for you. But it might be. So impress me.’

It wasn’t a big ask, was it?

As seemed to be her permanent countenance where this man was involved, she was irrationally cranky with Robert Fortescue. This time, it was residual annoyance from their last date. Why couldn’t he have just told her, straight off the bat, that the amazonian goddess who owned the bar where they had gone was a relative? Willow had become progressively jealous as the night wore on, getting very drunk and finally accusing Robert of flirting with another woman. He had laughed, telling that ‘the other woman’ was his cousin. He had bundled Willow into a cab and sent her off, as though she were a silly child incapable of looking after herself. The more she thought about it, the angrier she got.

Furious, she pulled open her dresser drawers and fished out her most plain underwear. She took off the lace set and replaced it with something Bridget Jones would have been proud of. She looked in the mirror and put her hands on her hips.

“Take that Robert Fortescue,” she said triumphantly to her dowdy reflection.

Her pleasure was only short lived. Take what, she thought. Some blue cotton knickers and a bra in a totally different hue? Yeah, that’d show him. No, what she needed to do was wear the good stuff, but not let him see it. Or, let him see it, but not let him near it. She grinned. Yep, that was the best plan. Definitely. Picking up the lacy number, she slipped it on once more.

Eventually, she was ready to go. Willow gave herself one last glance in the hall mirror as she headed towards the front door. Her hair was perfect, her makeup subtle, her dress flattering, and she knew that if a certain someone somehow managed to get past the outer layers they would be in for a very pleasant surprise. Until I cover it up again, she thought, and leave him wanting and sick with desire.

She paused.

Deja vu.

Hadn’t she been down this road before? Given prior experiences, her evening would end, not with him trying to passionately embrace her but rather, in a heated argument with her leaving, furious with him.

“Oh fuck this,” she said turning around, slamming the front door and storming back to her room. She pulled the dress roughly over her head and ripped off the underwear.

“You’re nothing but a cantankerous, self-righteous man,” she said between clenched teeth. She pulled her stockings off, “and you don’t deserve the good stuff.”

***

Four minutes and thirty-three seconds later she was back at the front door dressed casually in jeans and a long sleeved top. Underneath, her underwear was practical and droll. And it didn’t match. She smirked as she closed the door and wandered into the street to find a cab.

***

“Welcome,” Robert Fortescue said, as he opened the door to his apartment.

Willow stepped inside cautiously. “Is…?”

He pre-empted her. “Samuel is staying at a friend’s place tonight.”

Willow breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t particularly want to see one of her old students just as she was about to go on a date with his father.

“Can I get you something to drink,” he said, slipping her coat off her shoulders. “Champagne?”

“Won’t we be late for our dinner reservation?”

“Oh that,” said Robert. “I cancelled it. I thought we could eat here.”

Willow looked at him skeptically. “What, get takeaway or something?”

“Er, not exactly. I thought I would cook.”

Willow almost burst out laughing. She knew first hand that Robert knew nothing about cooking.

“I still owe you a homemade meal,” he continued, leading her into the kitchen. On the bench, the MoVida cookbook was lying open and bowls of pre-prepared ingredients were lined up neatly.

“You’re going to make something from that?” said Willow, pointing to the cookbook.

“I’ve adapted a few of the recipes,” said Robert slyly.

“Adapted?” said Willow incredulously. The recipes, as they were, required a certain amount of base knowledge. But adapting them…? For someone with Robert’s skill in the kitchen – or lack thereof – that could be a very dangerous thing. Particularly for those people who had to eat said creations. Namely, in this case, Willow.

He handed her a glass of champagne (real, of course). “Make yourself at home. I’ll do some squid for starters so we’ve got something to nibble on while the rest cooks.”

Willow groaned inwardly. There was nothing – literally nothing – worse than badly cooked squid. She sipped the glass of champagne and perused his book collection on the other side of the room, too terrified to watch as he undoubtedly butchered something that should have been a delicacy.

But when he served the seafood to her and she reluctantly bit into the flesh, she was amazed to find that it wasn’t rubbery at all. In fact, it was… perfect. The soft, delicate pieces of squid were coated in a rich sauce that tasted of sherry and saffron and had small flecks of – were they macadamias? – clinging to them.

“This is amazing,” she said, with more surprise than she had intended. “How did you get it so… succulent.”

“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” Robert chuckled. “I might have had a couple of cooking lessons.”

“With who?” said Willow. They must have been good if they taught him to cook like this.

“A buddy of mine. Frank.”

Willow nodded and put another piece of squid in her mouth. “Hang on a second,” she said suddenly, looking at the MoVida cookbook. “Not that Frank?” Frank Camorra was regarded as one of the top chefs in Australia.

“Yeah,” said Robert casually. “He owed me a favour.”

Willow did her best to try and not look too impressed. She didn’t want it to go to Robert’s head.

The rest of the evening was a culinary awakening as Robert produced a number of small and exquisite dishes, each one more wonderful and surprising than the last. When they had sopped up the last drop of sauce with light and tangy sourdough bread (“not homemade,” he had apologised) Willow sat back in her chair, a contented smile on her face.

“That was wonderful.”

“I’m so glad you liked it,” said Robert, his relief palpable. “I was terrified of cooking for you.”

“You’ve got friends who are famous chefs and you’re terrified of cooking for me?” she said incredulously.

“Frank thought it was hilarious that I wanted to learn to cook,” Robert said with a laugh. “But I told him that I needed to impress someone who was not easily impressed.”

Willow felt all warm and gooey inside. “You… you took cooking lessons to impress me?”

Robert nodded and looked down at his plate, embarrassed.

The anger she felt – which had been slowly evaporating all evening anyway – was suddenly completely gone. She stood up and walked to the other side of the table where Robert was sitting and gently put her hands on either side of his face. She leant down and kissed him softly on the lips.

“Thank you,” she said, smiling into his face.

He put his hands on back and pulled her down, until she was sitting on top of him, her legs wrapped around either side of his body.

“My pleasure,” he said softly, pulling her closer and returning the kiss, slow at first but quickly intensifying until they were each clutching at the others body.  He slid his hands underneath her top and carefully ran them over her breasts. Willow groaned and lifted her arms so he could pull her shirt off.

“Dammit,” she murmured as his strong hands explored her torso.

“What?” he said, stopping and looking at her with a concerned expression.

“I should have put on nicer underwear,” said Willow apologetically.

Fortescue ran his gaze over her body. It was so intense she could almost feel its heat.

“No,” he said. “No, you don’t need any fancy wrapping. You’re perfect exactly as you are.” He kissed her again on the neck, murmuring into her ear, “but if it makes you more comfortable, we can just take it off?”

Willow uttered a throaty laugh and allowed him to unclasp her oldest and most sensible bra.

Season 4: Episode 7

October 18, 2011

Mia put the finishing touches to her make-up and stood back so she could get a look at her whole reflection in her bedroom mirror.

Wow, she thought. That can’t be me.

She wasn’t one to big note herself, but she looked good. Damn good. Her firm body was clad in tight fitting jeans and a black top that slung down low at the back. Her dark hair, which usually sat in a neat bob, was slicked back off her face and her full lips were painted crimson red.

A knock on her bedroom door startled her and she sprung back, embarrassed that some one might have seen her surveying her own reflection.

The door opened and Willow walked in. “Hey Mia, what do you….” She stopped mid sentence and her mouth dropped open. “Wow.”

“It’s too much, isn’t it,” said Mia, automatically grabbing a tissue and rubbing at the lipstick. “I look like an idiot.”

“No way!” said Willow breathlessly. “You look… amazing.”

In all the years that they had lived together, she had never seen Mia looking so outright sexy. She often looked elegant or pretty, but this was something else all together: This was cartoon super-hero hot.

“So what’s the occasion?” Willow asked, flopping down on the bed, the question she had come in to ask, forgotten.

“Going for a drink,” Mia mumbled self-consciously.

“Oh? And who is the lucky drinking partner?”

“Just John.”

“Just John?” Willow raised an eyebrow. “Poor guy isn’t going to know what to do.”

“What do you mean,” said Mia. “Do with what?”

“With you of course,” teased Willow. “He’s not going to be able to concentrate on a word you say, all he’ll be thinking about is getting you home and ripping your jeans off you so he can…”

“Willow!” Mia cut her off. “That’s ridiculous.”

When Mia thought about it though, most of the times they went out did end up with them together, him ripping her clothes off so that he could… you know….

She blushed a charming shade of fire-engine as Willow giggled at her.

“I should go,” she said, leaving Willow lying on her bed. “I’m running late.”

“Have fuuuuuun,” called Willow, her giggles following Mia down the hall.

***

Mia pushed open the door to the dimly lit bar and peered in. She couldn’t see John here yet so she slunk in to find a seat. As she settled at a small table towards the back of the bar, she felt as though every pair of eyes in the small establishment were on her. I must have something on my face, she groaned inwardly, shrinking into the chair and using the drinks menu to hide behind as she brushed her face off in case there was something there.

“Excuse me,” the barman was standing next to her. “Gin and chicken pate with maple pear.”

Mia looked at the plate that was being proffered: Small, delectable medallions of bread finely covered in creamy pate with a sliver of poached pear adorning each one.

“I didn’t order that,” stammered Mia, wishing she had.

“He ordered it for you,” said the barman, pointing towards a man sitting at the bar.

Mia peered across the room. It can’t be, she thought. Not again. The two dates I’ve been on in the last year and Johnny has to turn up to each of them?

She smiled and waved at him and he walked over to her table. Her hands started shaking and she clutched the edge of the table. God, he was gorgeous.

“May I?”

“Sure,” she said, her steady voice no indication of how she was really feeling.

“It’s really good to see you Mia,” Johnny said softly, gazing shyly at her. “You look… incredible. Beautiful. Incredibly beautiful.”

“Thank you,” she said, her heart hammering against her chest. “And thanks for these.” She indicated to the platter in front of them. She picked one up and bit into the chewy bread, allowing the sweet pear and spicy pate to surprise her taste buds.

“I’ve been wanting to call you since Ana’s wedding,” Johnny began, lowering his voice and leading in towards her. “But I didn’t know if you…”

He stopped as he saw Mia’s gaze shift to a man who had just walked in the door and was making a beeline for their table.

“Hi Mia.” John’s voice was cautious as he looked between Mia and Johnny.

“Hello John,” said Mia, wishing the ground could swallow her as she reluctantly did the introductions. She couldn’t think of a single situation that she would less rather be in that the one she was right now.

The two men eyed each other up and down, like lions circling prey. They could sense that the other was encroaching on their territory but neither wanted to be the one to start the war. John leant down and kissed Mia hard on the lips, for much longer than was necessary, straightening up and giving Johnny a look as if to say ‘Back off. I got here first.’

“Johnny was keeping me company,” she said quickly. “While I was waiting for you.”

“A beautiful woman like Mia shouldn’t have to wait alone,” said Johnny cooly.

“Lucky I’m here now then, isn’t it?” replied John, with equal iciness.

“I’m going to go to the bathroom,” Mia stammered, tipping her chair over as she stood up.

John and Johnny sat in silence for a couple of seconds.

“So how do you know Mia?” said Johnny finally.

“We met in Thailand.”

“Wasn’t Mia in Thailand… months ago?”

John nodded. “Yeah, it was a while ago I guess.”

“She never mentioned you,” said Johnny.

“She’s pretty secretive,” John retorted. “Likes to keep things to herself.”

No shit, thought Johnny angrily. What, he thinks he knows her now or something? Instead, he took a bit of pate and shrugged. “I don’t know, she’s been pretty open with me over the years I’ve known her.”

“You’ve known her for years?” smirked John. “Funny she never mentioned you.”

“I guess you don’t know each other that well,” shot back Johnny.

John raised an eyebrow. “Oh, we know each other pretty well. I came to Melbourne to be with her and she seems pretty keen for me to stick around…” he trailed off with a shrug. “I’d say that she’s the most serious girlfriend I’ve ever had.”

Girlfriend? Johnny nearly choked on his pate. What the fuck? A date was one thing, but a serious partner? How did he not know about this?

“I’m back,” said Mia brightly. She had taken some deep breaths and given herself a pep talk in the bathroom. We’re all grown-ups, she’d reasoned. I’m sure that we can have a very pleasant evening. The thunderous looks on the boys faces indicated that this might not be the case.

The barman broke the stony silence as he came to the table and smiled congenially. “What can I get you folks to drink?” He looked from Johnny to John a number of times and scratched his head. “Are you guys related?”

John and Johnny looked at each other.

I’m way better looking than him, thought Johnny.

This clown isn’t a patch on me, thought John.

“No way,” they said in horrified unison.

The bartender, shook his head, bemused. “I’m sure you get that all the time,” he said chuckling, “because you could be twins.”

Now, thought Mia. The ground can open up and swallow me now.

Season 4: Episode 4

September 27, 2011

 

Willow stood in the centre of her room looking around at the piles of clothes strewn around her. Absolutely nothing was working. Everything she owned was too dressy, too casual, too slutty, too vintage or too conservative.

She glanced at the bedside clock. Shit. It was already seven. She was supposed to meet Robert Fortescue in less than an hour.

At least my underwear is OK, she thought, annoyed now that she hadn’t got anything new to actually go over the top of it. Still, she probably wouldn’t have been able to afford it: Willow had spent a whole week’s pay on a new lingerie set. She turned this way and that, looking at her curves nestled firmly in the delicate lace packaging, pleased with what she saw. Elegant and refined, with the slightest hint of burlesque, the cream and black set looked incredible – like it had been expertly crafted just with her in mind.

Exactly why she bought it she still didn’t know. The jury was still out on Robert Fortescue.

She had eventually called him back last week and agreed to go on a date with him – a proper date, not just dinner at his house. He’d pushed for a meal, but Willow had erred on the side of caution. She’d suggested a drink. If all went well, they could take it from there.

***

Willow sat on a leather sofa at the back of the vast bar, a half finished dirty martini in one hand, drumming her fingers absently on the furniture. Being a Sunday night, the place was relatively quiet with only a handful of glamorous types adorning the luxurious surroundings. Equally well-known for its exceptional cocktails and constant stream of Melbourne personalities, the newly opened bar was not exactly the type of place Willow frequented. But Robert had insisted and here she was.

Willow tugged at her top. She had decided on a beautiful black silk singlet and heavy, woolen wide leg trousers. She thought the outfit looked understated and stylish, but the Amazonian female behind the bar – cheekbones that could cut glass – kept looking at her as though she had got lost in the back alleys of Melbourne and ended up at the wrong place.

Willow pulled out her phone to check the time, again. She had been a fashionable ten minutes late, but Robert was really pushing the trend. In no way was it OK to keep a girl waiting for forty minutes without so much as a message.

Especially in a place like this.

Just as she drained the final drop from her drink – which, she had to admit, was one of the best martinis she’d ever had – the door to the bar swung open and Robert burst in. He waved at Willow apologetically, but instead of coming straight over and begging forgiveness for being inexcusably late, he walked up to the Amazonian goddess, leant over the bar and kissed her tenderly on both cheeks. They chatted for a few minutes, the jungle woman tossing her hair (or rather, throwing her head around in a hair-tossing manner. Her short, asymmetrical haircut made the actual tossing of hair impossible).

“I’m so sorry,” he said, when he finally walked over. “I was caught up with meetings…”

“…And you couldn’t get to a phone,” finished Willow sharply. The martini had hit her empty stomach and made her feisty.

He grinned ruefully.

“I really couldn’t get to a phone,” he said, running a hand through his thick, chestnut hair. Willow could just see the start of some grey peeking through at the temples. He looked distinguished.

Willow caught herself staring and remembered she was annoyed. She was not going to be treated like she was a secondary character in a weekly blog, no matter how good-looking he was.

“So how do you know her?” Willow asked nodding towards the woman behind the bar.

“Misty? I’ve known her forever,” he said casually.

Probably been fucking her for years, thought Willow, channeling her inner petulant teenager.

The glamazon herself broke the tense silence by delivering more drinks to the table; another martini for Willow and a scotch for Robert.

“This is my friend Willow,” said Robert, doing the introductions. “And this is Misty, who makes the meanest cocktail in the world.”

“You should have told me you were waiting for Robert,” she accused Willow.

“Um, right,” said Willow. “Of course I should.” Instead, she was thinking, errrr….as if!

Robert handed over his black Amex, but Misty waved it away, as if the titanium card were repulsive.

“Don’t be silly,” she said, stalking away again.

They both watched her go.

“Isn’t she great?” said Robert.

Willow took a large slug of her martini and rolled her eyes. Men.

***

The night did actually manage to get better.

For a while.

They chatted for hours about anything and everything, until at 1am Misty had to come over and, apologetically, tell them she was closing up. She hadn’t let them pay for a drink all night.

“Isn’t that such a great bar,” he said enthusiastically as they walked outside into the chilly night air. “Misty has really done an amazing job.”

“It’s a bit pretentious” Willow said. She’d meant it to be a light hearted comment – an indication that she didn’t want to go to places like that all the time – but Robert seemed to take it to heart.

“You didn’t seem to have a problem throwing back the martinis,” he countered, crossly. “They obviously weren’t too pretentious for you.”

“At least I wasn’t flirting with the bar staff all night,” retorted Willow.

“Who, Misty?” Robert threw back his head and laughed.

“What?” said Willow, sulkily.

“You were jealous of Misty?”

“No,” Willow mumbled, her face turning red.

Robert grabbed her arm and spun her around so she was facing him. He cupped her face in his hands and pushed his lips firmly onto hers. She tried to push him away, but resistance was futile so Willow closed her eyes and melted into his body, wrapping her arms around his torso. Fireworks were exploding in her head and her entire body felt as though it were alive for the very first time.

They kissed for what felt like forever, but no time at all. When he finally pulled away she felt her body yearning for more. Having all of him was going to be the only cure.

“Do you…do you want to come back to my house?” she said. She had spent a fortune on lace underwear, after all.

He kissed her again lightly on the forehead. “Go home Willow,” he said softly, still holding her face in her hands. “You’re drunk.”

He flagged a cab – of course one stopped immediately – and bundled her in.

“Oh and Willow,” he said, leaning in, a smile playing at the corners of his eyes. “Misty is my cousin.”

He slammed the door and tapped the top of the cab before it spun off into the night.

 

 

 

Season 3: Episode 10

August 9, 2011

On paper, it should have been a perfect day.

It started with a trip to the Victoria Markets, followed by a spectacular coffee and a warm, flaky croissant at Di Bella in North Melbourne; then home to bake sourdough bread and potter around the house, reading the paper and snacking on the delicious morsels that she had procured from the market – chillies stuffed with cream cheese, smoked trout and fresh cherries (which probably had a carbon footprint larger than that of most small countries given that it was the middle of winter, but she couldn’t resist the plump, red, fruity kisses on display).

Willow, however, was preoccupied and wasn’t enjoying one minute of it. The coffee had made her even more jittery than she already was and the pastry, through no fault of its own, had tasted like cardboard. The snacking was undertaken for something to do, rather than a need for sustenance. Even the beautiful cherries had been consumed without properly savouring the taste.

Willow had to do something this evening that she had been dreading all week. Tonight, Robert Fortescue was coming over and she was cooking him dinner.

She recalled the awful phone conversation that she had with him earlier in the week. He had been surprised to hear from her and had initially been genuinely lovely, much to Willow’s amazement. But then the arrogance kicked in again. He started rattling off the names of Melbourne’s top restaurants, telling her to pick any of them because he would get a reservation, no problem. He reeled off places that you needed to book weeks in advance to get a sitting on a Saturday evening and some that you couldn’t even make reservations. He assured her he could pull some strings. Willow didn’t doubt him for a second. You didn’t get to be like Robert Fortescue without trampling over a few people on the way to the top, but once you were there, there were plenty of people willing to kiss your arse. Some women would have found this display of testosterone and egotism exciting, but to Willow it was just plain patronising. If she’d wanted to go to any of these places, she would have taken herself there. She didn’t need a guy to take her out for a nice meal. The clincher had come when he was recommending a small, recently opened French restaurant, tucked away in Carlton.

“It’s quite phenomenal,” he had said. “The chef spent years living in provincial France learning culinary secrets that are hundreds of years old.”

Willow snorted into the phone. “That is such crap!”

“No, I assure you…”

Willow cut him off. “The chef is a mate of mine called Rob and he learnt everything from his wife’s grandmother, who has been living in Toorak for the last 25 odd years. The whole provincial thing was thought up by some spin doctor, who is apparently very good at their job.”

The silence on the other end of the phone had been stony.

“If it makes you feel any better, the grandmother did live in Paris for a number of years,” she said sweetly.

“Well, seeing as you’re not easily impressed, where would you like to go for dinner,” he had snapped back.

Now it was Willow’s turn to be haughty. “Quite frankly, I’d rather just stay home and eat a bowl of spag bol than go…”

She didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence.

“You’re on.”

“Pardon?”

“You just offered to cook me spaghetti bolognaise at your house and I accepted,” Robert said, laughter twinkling in his voice. “Shall we say eight pm on Saturday?”

He hung up before she even had a chance to respond.

So, here she was, counting down the hours with dread until Robert Fortescue would come knocking on her door.

***

When it came, the knock was about an hour earlier than she’d expected it.

“It took less time to get here than I thought it would,” he said when she opened the door to him just before seven, although his eyes didn’t convey the apology.

He was resplendent in dark blue jeans and a checked white and blue shirt. His hair had been freshly washed and she could smell his shampoo when he leant forward and kissed her on the cheek. Although Willow wasn’t a wine connoisseur like Johnny, she knew the 2006 Penfolds Grange he handed her wasn’t you’re average coiffable red that generally accompanied spaghetti bolognaise.

“You may as well come in a make yourself useful then,” she mumbled, suddenly very conscious of her daggy black jeans and too-large jumper.

She led him into the kitchen where she had only just begun preparing dinner. He rolled up his sleeves and grinned at her, enjoying seeing the flush that spread across her perfect cheeks and nose.

“What can I do, chef?”

Willow clenched her jaw and took a deep breath. Only one night, she said to herself before directing him towards a board set up for chopping garlic.

He lifted the knife up and whacked it down on the chopping board, sending cloves of garlic flying in every direction.

“What the hell are you doing?” she yelled.

He looked at her, surprised. “I’m chopping garlic. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

“Yes, but not like that!”

She grabbed the large chef’s knife from him and showed him how to shear wafer thin slices of garlic that would melt as soon as they hit the oil warming in the pan. He addressed the task with the concentration of a school child learning how to write. It took him five minutes to make it through one clove, but when he did, he looked as proud as punch. She couldn’t suppress the little smile that crept onto her lips.

“I think you might be able to graduate to onion,” she said, which caused him to flush bright red and puff his chest out a bit.

***

The cooking took about twice as long as it normally would, and they didn’t eat until about 11:00pm. Not that it mattered. Robert, despite his false start with the garlic, had proven a worthy and noble kitchen apprentice. He knew absolutely nothing about cooking – citing hotel living as the reason – but took to it like a duck to water. He wanted everything explained to him; from why carrots were chopped a certain way to how Willow made her own passata. Willow had bought some fresh linguine for the meal, but as soon as Robert found out she often made her own, he made her promise to teach him one day. She laughingly agreed, wondering how someone could have made it so far through their life without being able to dice a vegetable.

***

This has been a really fun night, thought Willow, surprised, as they cleaned up from the feast. Probably the most fun she’d ever had on a first date. The kitchen clock chimed one am and they both looked up, astonished that the time had passed so quickly. They locked eyes and Willow felt a tremor go through her body. He’s going to kiss me, she thought, her heart pounding wildly. What astonished her most was that she really wanted him to kiss her. She closed her eyes and leant towards him, terrified and excited at the same time. She felt his face draw closer and could feel his breath, feathery on her face. But just as she should have felt their lips together in a passionate embrace, he seemed to change his trajectory and she instead felt a soft brush on her cheek.

“Thanks for a lovely evening Willow. I should head off. I’ll show myself out,” he said gently.

Before she even had a chance to open her eyes, he was gone.

Willow clenched her jaw and squeezed her eyes shut to stop the tears that threatened to escape. I knew it, she chastised herself silently, furious that she’d let herself fall for him. He’s nothing but a selfish, conceited asshole.

Season 2: Episode 12

May 17, 2011

Willow cupped her gloved hands and blew on them to keep warm as she waited for her breakfast. It wasn’t even winter yet but Melbourne was already experiencing what felt like arctic temperatures. It had been the wettest summer on record and now it was the coldest start to autumn the city had ever seen. Of course, Willow was no climate change specialist, but surely that meant something? She peered in through the small window of her favourite hole-in-the-wall café, looking expectantly for her coffee.

It was the end of another long week and Willow was excited about the prospect of a relaxing weekend of doing not much at all: cooking, eating and curling up on the sofa with a good book. Bliss! Her job as a music teacher at an exclusive private school in Melbourne’s inner south was rewarding, but did take a lot out of her. The last couple of weeks had been particularly difficult as she started to prepare the final year students for their exams. It was only May, but before they knew it the end of the school year would be upon them. She had learned the hard way that the more she pushed them now the fewer irritated teenagers and nagging parents she’d have to deal with later. This was, of course, on top of the ‘Carlo Incident’, as it was now referred to, and the weird fight that Mia and Johnny seemed to be having that neither of them would admit to, but was affecting everyone.

Yep, she definitely needed a low-key weekend.

Willow rubbed her hands together again and stamped her feet, dreaming of the steaming hot caffè latte that would soon be coming her way. The café owner waved to her as he hauled a crate of milk to the side entrance, his breath forming thick clouds in the bitter morning air.

“Cold enough for you?” He called out, grinning.

Willow laughed and nodded. She came here every morning before work to grab a quick breakfast that she ate on her walk to school. The tiny café produced sensational coffee and it was not unusual to see a queue, sometimes fifteen people deep, waiting anxiously for their caffeine fix. They also served wonderful food, which was a lovely blend of Japanese and Australian culinary traditions, the owner having lived in Japan for many years when he was younger. This morning, Willow had succumbed to the delicious-looking okonomiyaki to accompany her usual, strong caffè latte. Her mouth watered as she watched the sweet miso and mayonnaise being drizzled over the savoury pancake.

***

She walked briskly towards the school, nibbling on the corner of her breakfast, conscious that she had a meeting in a few minutes with the principal. She was about to cross the small side street behind the secondary school when a dark green Aston Martin screamed around the corner, nearly hitting her. She fell backwards onto the nature strip as the car’s horn blared and tyres screeched. Shaking from the near-miss, she staggered to her feet and noticed the car reversing. It drew level with her and the window silently opened a couple of inches.

“You’re OK?” a voice enquired. Whoever it was, they didn’t sound particularly concerned.

“You should watch where you’re going,” Willow said irritably. She could feel a bruise forming on her elbow as she tenderly rubbed her arm.

“Well, you should learn to look both ways before you cross the road,” the driver responded, his voice retaining the same casual nonchalance.

Fuming, Willow peered inside, but couldn’t see the driver’s face. “You shouldn’t be driving like a maniac. There is a school around here. What if you hit one of the kids?”

This silenced him momentarily. “Point taken.  I’ll drive more carefully and you can head over to that school and perhaps get some lessons in how to cross the road. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m late.”

Before she could reply, he had screeched off again. Willow shook her head in frustration.

It really just confirms what I already know, she thought to herself. All men are complete and utter idiots!

She surveyed the carnage around her. Coffee was dripping down the front of her coat and the okonomiyaki – that she had been so looking forward to finishing – had sailed gracefully though the air, landing face-down on the footpath. Her bag had upended and sheet music was fluttering gently along the street. Brushing the grass off her tailored trousers, Willow glanced at her watch.

“Shit!”

She was already late. She scooped up her bag and started chasing runaway papers down the road.

* * *

Willow burst into the principal’s office, still trying to rub the coffee stain off the front of her winter coat. “Gail, I’m so sorry that I’m late but…” She stopped mid-sentence when she saw they had company.

“Willow. This is Mr Fortescue.”

Willow took in the gentleman before her. He was tall, well-dressed and certainly not unattractive. Not her type, of course. He had a sharp, arrogant look about him. Even though she’d never met him before, the name was well known to her. Around the school, some spoke of him with hallowed reverence because he’d donated a lot of money for various buildings over the years. Most recently his philanthropy extended to the new music conservatory. Other teachers had told Willow to be wary of him. Apparently he was over-protective of his son, Samuel, and liked to contribute more than his two cents’ worth when it came to his offspring’s education.

Mr Fortescue held out his hand, a bemused expression on his face. “Call me Robert.”

Willow started. She’d recognise that voice anywhere.

Green Aston Martin!

“Mr Fortescue would like to speak to you about his son’s performance last term,” said Gail warily, fully aware that keeping the peace between these two might not be the easiest task.

Robert Fortescue cleared his throat. “Samuel didn’t do particularly well in your subject.”

Willow regarded him cautiously. Samuel was a good kid but, unfortunately, tone deaf and far more interested in science and maths than music.

“Sam doesn’t seem to be particularly keen…”

He interrupted her. “He’ll be taking music as an elective next year and I’m expecting him to do a lot better.”

Here we go, thought Willow, puffing her chest out angrily. The bullying begins.

Gail, who had got far in life with her ability to nip tension in the bud before it erupted, stepped between the pair. “Perhaps, Robert, if that is the case then you might consider a tutor for Samuel. I have some excellent recommendations.”

Robert held up his hand, a twinkle in his eye. “That won’t be necessary, Gail. I’m sure that Willow would be happy to tutor him a few afternoons a week. For an additional fee, of course.”

First, he’d ruined her breakfast and now he was demanding she give up her spare time for his son? Willow exploded. “I absolutely would not be happy to do that, you arrogant bastard!”

There was a tense silence in the room. Willow cursed herself inwardly, not so much for the yelling but for potentially causing Gail any trouble. She suspected that no one ever spoke that way to Robert Fortescue.

You couldn’t just have said ‘no thank-you’? she chided herself silently.

Suddenly, he laughed. “I certainly didn’t expect to elicit that response! Gail, you’ve got a fiery one here.” He glanced at his limited edition Breitling wristwatch. “I have to go. I won’t forget this though, Willow.”

He shook hands with Gail and let his gaze fall on Willow momentarily, savouring her like one would a fine work of art, before letting himself out of the room.

Willow turned to face Gail, apologetic.  “I’m sorry I shouldn’t have said that. But you can’t expect me to…”

Gail shook her head. “I know, Willow, I know. But his wife was a musician before she died. I suspect he wants to keep that alive through Sam.” She sighed. “Don’t worry, I’ll talk to him and sort it out.”

* * *

Willow carefully checked the road for oncoming Aston Martins before crossing. She noticed a miso-coloured stain on the pavement where her breakfast had come to its unfortunate end. She had been annoyed – and hungry – all day thinking about her interaction with Robert Fortescue. Just the mention of his name made her blood boil!

“Willow.”

She turned and was horrified to see the green Aston Martin again. It stopped and Robert got out. She was once again astonished by his commanding presence. She stood up straight and put her hands in her pockets so he wouldn’t see them shaking.

“Mr Fortescue…”

“Call me Robert.” He smiled, engagingly.

She glared at him. “Mr Fortescue. If you would like to make an appointment to discuss this further, then please do so through the school. Although, I can tell you now there is no way that…”

He interrupted her. “Have dinner with me.”

Willow was startled – certainly not what she had expected him to say. Her mouth opened and closed a few times, trying to get words of protest out, but none came. She looked like a goldfish gasping for air.

“I’m heading out of town for a while. When I get back, I’ll call you.”

Before she could even respond he was back in his car and had driven off. Willow clenched her fists inside her jacket. What unbelievable… arrogance! Muttering aloud in the direction of the retreating vehicle she said, “I can promise you this, Robert Fortescue. I will never, ever go on a date with you.”

Season 2: Episode 8

April 19, 2011

At exactly 6:30pm the doorbell rang.

Regardless of the fact everyone else had gone out for the evening – Ana to Tom’s and Willow with some work friends – Mia knew the door was for her. He said he’d pick her up at 6:30 and here he was, right on time. Mia usually appreciated punctuality. She thought it was a forgotten courtesy, lost thanks to mobile phones. But tonight, the promptness of the doorbell frustrated her.

Tonight, Nick was taking her out on a ‘surprise’ date.

Mia wasn’t sure she liked surprises. A surprise was something you couldn’t plan for, couldn’t control. And if there was one thing Mia couldn’t tolerate, it was feeling out of control. This was compounded by the fact that she would rather have been going out with Johnny and resented the fact that Nick had got in first. She wondered, if Johnny had planned the surprise, whether she would be as grumpy. She suspected not.

I’m a bitch, Mia thought as she took a deep breath, plastered a fake smile on her face and opened the door.

“You look beautiful,” Nick exclaimed, sounding as though he really meant it.

Yep. Total bitch, Mia thought to herself guiltily. Heartless and cold.

***

Mia pulled her lightweight trench coat around her tightly. The evening air was crisp and perfectly autumnal and she could smell a wood fire burning somewhere in the vicinity.

“You won’t tell me where we’re going?” she asked again.

Nick laughed. “The point of it being a surprise, Mia, is precisely that I don’t tell you where we are going.”

She smiled thinly. They walked together, at first in silence but then Nick started chatting about the weather, work, and life in general. Mia started to relax. She’d been so caught up in the whole Johnny thing that she’d forgotten what good company Nick actually was. Sure, he didn’t send her heart racing every time she looked at him any more, but he was funny and smart and could carry a conversation.

They were locked in an animated discussion about whether couscous or quinoa was the more delicious grain (Mia was on the side of quinoa and Nick was rallying support for – in Mia’s opinion – its inferior cousin. “It’s so good they named it twice!” was the basis of his argument) when Nick announced:

“We’re here!”

Mia looked up to see where ‘here’ was. She panicked. It could have been anywhere in Melbourne, but Nick had chosen the last place on Earth she wanted to be.

Medina.

Johnny’s restaurant.

Nick talked excitedly. “…I was so lucky they had a cancellation, it’s impossible to get a reservation…”

He held the door open for her. Mia glanced around cautiously as she stepped into the beautifully lit and atmospheric bar. No sign of Johnny. Then she remembered – Johnny had asked her out tonight as well, which meant he probably wasn’t working. But the relief was short-lived when she saw him appear from behind the bar. He faltered for only a second.

“This is where you chose to come for your date?”

“It was a surprise,” Mia said quickly. “I didn’t know.”

Poor Nick looked puzzled. “You two know each other?”

“Yes,” they said in unison. Neither of them elaborated.

***

They had to wait for their table, so Nick pulled up a stool at the bar for Mia to sit on. Johnny took their drink orders silently and then wandered to the other end of the bar to clean glasses. Mia could see the muscles in his jaw working overtime. He looked up and they locked eyes. Mia’s pulse raced and she quickly dropped her gaze, taking a large sip of her wine, hoping that Nick didn’t notice her flushed cheeks.

“Johnny!”

Both Mia and Johnny looked towards the voice.

Johnny recognised the girl, but couldn’t place her. Where did he know her from? Or, worse, where didn’t he remember her from? She was young – much younger than he generally allowed himself to get involved with – but she had that twinkle in her eye, as though they shared a naughty secret…

We couldn’t have, Johnny thought to himself. Could we?

Mia’s eyes travelled over the shapely body of the girl who had just walked in and she couldn’t suppress the pang of envy. This girl was young and beautiful. She didn’t need to worry yet about that extra glass of wine or piece of chocolate, or getting up early to make sure she had time to go for a run to work off said wine and chocolate. Surely she was way too young for Johnny? It would be practically illegal!

They can’t have, Mia thought to herself. Could they?

The girl laughed, tossing her chestnut brown hair around as though she were the star of a Pantene commercial. “Cecelia,” she said, leaning across the bar to Johnny. “Remember? From Flinders.”

Johnny’s smile was a little forced. Of course, Claude’s niece. Or, as he remembered her, the mango girl. He’d done his best to avoid giving her his number but, now, here she was in his restaurant. With Mia sitting just a few metres away.

Cecelia had turned to her companion and was explaining – loudly enough for the whole restaurant to hear – about the “special connection” that she and Johnny had.

She turned to Johnny and clasped her hands together in delight, a final toss of the hair for good measure. “…and now I know where you work, we’ll get to see each other all the time!”

At the other end of the bar, Mia nearly choked on her wine.

***

The night just went from bad to worse. Even though she and Nick were now seated towards the back of the restaurant, Mia still had a front-row view of the “Cecelia show”. The girl was flirting like a pro – much more advanced than someone of her tender years. As a result, Mia found it difficult to concentrate on a word Nick was saying. Instead, she was focused on not leaping from her seat and killing the ridiculous child who was fawning all over Johnny with her inane giggling and hair tossing.

On the other side of the room, Johnny was doing his best not to stare towards their table. From here, he had a perfect view of their intimate conversation, of Nick feeding Mia morsels of food and looking like a love-sick puppy. Johnny noticed the guy couldn’t take his eyes off Mia; that he was oblivious to anything and everything else.

It’s disgusting, Johnny thought furiously, that a grown man would behave like that in public.

Nick and Cecelia – unwitting bit players in the unfolding drama – were completely oblivious to any of the tensions that were brewing across the dining room.

And the food? As always, it was excellent.

***

Mia declined dessert, saying that she had to get up early tomorrow morning for work. Nick had insisted on walking her home. At her front door, she gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and closed the door behind her, leaving him standing there, puzzled.

Officially the biggest bitch in the world, she thought to herself, as she walked upstairs to bed.

Mia tossed and turned all night , thinking of nothing but Johnny.

***

As it turned out, Johnny’s night ended much later. Cecelia had stayed until closing, refusing to take Johnny’s hints that he wanted to be alone. Johnny sighed. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want it at all. But he was tired, lonely and depressed. Mia wasn’t interested – she’d made that abundantly clear. He couldn’t be bothered having an altercation with Cecelia, and suspected it would be easier just to go with the flow in this situation. So he did, thinking of nothing but Mia the whole time.

Season 2: Episode 7

April 12, 2011

“Why hasn’t he called?” Willow demanded, for about the 700th time that day. She threw down the tea towel she’d been using to dry the dishes and stomped her foot on the ground. “He said he would call!”

Ana and Mia looked at each other. Whose turn was it to placate her? They’d never seen Willow so upset by a man before – she usually just brushed these things off with a laugh and some baked goods. After her “amazing” 24-hour date last weekend, Willow had been floating on cloud nine. But it had gradually downgraded to cloud eight by Tuesday, four by Thursday and today, Saturday, she had moved into negatives. Cloud minus-three. Carlo had said he would call, but he hadn’t.

“He’s probably been busy with, ahhh… work,” Ana was clutching at straws. It was hard when neither she nor Mia had met the man Willow had fallen for so hard, so fast. He sounded great, they couldn’t deny it, but perhaps a bit too good to be true?

Willow sighed. “You’re right. Of course, you’re right.”

Neither of them wanted to be the one to break it to her that, perhaps, Carlo was not good news.

For the first time in ages, the girls were all home together. They had invited Tom and Johnny over for dinner – or, rather, Ana had invited Tom and Johnny over – so they were preparing an easy meal. Although, Ana was beginning to regret the impromptu dinner party invitation. Neither of her co-hosts seemed to be in particularly good sprits, both of them undertaking preparation tasks with about as much enthusiasm as if readying for a trip to the dentist. Mia was doing her best impression of a mime, having barely said three words since she had got home from work. Willow – who had refused to go to the market for fear of seeing Carlo – was making a salad with the ingredients she had made Ana fetch, while she verbally dissected – again – every interaction she had ever had with Carlo.

“So Mia, are you going to see Nick again soon?” Ana said, trying to both move the topic away from Carlo and elicit some kind of conversation from her silent housemate.

“Dunno,” Mia mumbled before turning her attention back to shelling the prawns.

She can’t get hers to stop calling, and mine won’t call at all,” snapped Willow, uncharacteristically.

“Well, maybe you should swap!” Ana bit back, exasperated.

There was silence for a second before Willow gave a sheepish smile. “I sound like a broken record, don’t I?”

She went to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of chilled wine, opening it and pouring three glasses. She raised her glass. “I promise that I won’t mention the C word again. For tonight, at least.”

At that moment, Tom jogged into the kitchen. “Has he called?” he asked Willow, breathlessly.

***

“I’ll get dessert ready,” Mia said, after they had all had their fill of prawns and fresh salad.

She wandered into the kitchen, grateful to be away from the table. She’d felt Johnny’s eyes on her the whole night and was trying her best to be cool, calm and collected, but felt she was failing. Miserably.

She opened the fridge, closing her eyes and letting the cool air rush out and calm her crimson cheeks.

“Can I help?”

She turned abruptly.

Johnny.

Mia smiled shyly. “Sure. Wash these?”

She passed him punnets of fresh strawberries and raspberries, recoiling quickly as his hands brushed hers. They worked in silence for a little while, Johnny washing and hulling, and Mia chopping the berries into bite-size pieces, adding fresh ricotta, honey and mint.

Mia eventually broke the silence. “Sorry about the other night. I had a… work thing on. Couldn’t get out of it.”

Johnny shrugged with a nonchalance Mia recognised but then was thoughtful for a minute. When he spoke, his voice was tentative. “We could try again tomorrow?”

Mia couldn’t suppress her grin. “Yeah, that’d be…” She trailed off. Shit! She’d already agreed to go out with Nick tomorrow. He had a surprise planned, had phoned earlier to make sure she could still come. She couldn’t cancel on him at this short notice.

“Oh, actually, I’ve got another… work thing on tomorrow night. Next week, maybe?”

Just at that moment Tom and Willow strolled into the kitchen carrying a stack of plates each.

“Hey Mia, I keep forgetting to ask. How was your hot date last weekend?” Tom said.

Mia glanced at Johnny. He was holding a bowl of berries so tightly his knuckles had turned white.

“It was no big deal,” Mia said as casually as she could. “Not a date, really.”

Willow snorted and put down the plates. “No big deal?” She turned to Tom. “She has been in love with this guy for, like, ever! And they’re going out again tomorrow night.”

It was as if the bowl just disintegrated in his hands, because all of a sudden Johnny had dessert all over himself, the red berries staining his white T-shirt and trickling down his hands, landing with soft plops on the tiled floor. He held up the two broken halves of the bowl, looking at them in shock.

Tom laughed. “Obviously don’t know your own strength!”

“I’m so sorry…” Johnny sounded as though he was almost in tears.

The others assured him it was OK – it was just an IKEA bowl, a remnant from their student days when the Swedish homewares seemed the pinnacle of affordable design.

Johnny looked down at his soiled clothes. “Guess I’d better get home and soak these.”

He picked up his jacket, said brief good byes and, before anyone could protest, hurried towards the front door.

“I’ll walk you out,” called Mia, following him down the hall. “Look, Johnny, I can explain…” She placed her hand on his arm when they were out of sight of the others, but he shook it off.

“Have fun at your work thing tomorrow,” he mumbled as he walked out the door.

Season 2: Episode 5

March 29, 2011

The front door slammed and Mia heard footsteps running through the hall, before Willow burst into the kitchen, carrying a large box of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“You…are…never…going…to…believe…what…happened!” She was so breathless she could barely get the words out.

Mia laughed. “Whoa, slow down!” She filled a glass of water for Willow and handed it to her. Willow downed it in three gulps.

“What am I never going to believe?” Mia was still in her pyjamas standing at the kitchen bench, the Saturday papers spread in front of her, a bowl of muesli balanced in one hand. She had been woken early by the smells of biscotti wafting through the house and although Willow hadn’t really spoken about it, she suspected that it had something to do with the mystery man from a few weeks ago.

“He asked me out!” Willow’s eyes were shining, her cheeks flushed.

Mia grinned, happy for her friend. She couldn’t help the small, gnawing feeling in her stomach, though. Jealousy? She glanced at her phone on the bench. She had kept it within reach for the entire week, but he hadn’t called. Not even a text.

Mia smiled brightly at Willow. The last thing she wanted was to rain on her friend’s parade.

Willow clasped her hands together and announced, “I have to bake!”

For Willow, baking was just about the most cathartic experience in the world. She baked to relieve stress, when she was excited, when she was feeling down – as far as Willow was concerned, there was a baked good for every occasion.

After many years of observation, Mia and Ana were able to tell what was going on in Willow’s life just by what she spontaneously baked. Labour-intensive pastries – cannoli or croissant – meant that she was stressed out by something; bread indicated a morose mood; savoury pies signified annoyance; sweet pies, satisfaction; biscuits for anticipation… the list went on.

“What’s it going to be today?” Mia asked, although she suspected she knew the answer already.

Willow looked pensive for a moment. “Cupcakes!”

Cupcakes represented the pinnacle of happiness in Willow’s hierarchy of baking.

That moment, Mia’s phone rang. She looked at the screen and frowned. Withheld number.

It couldn’t be… could it?

Her heart pounded as she pressed answer. “Hello?”

A male responded. “Mia?”

The voice was familiar but she couldn’t place it. “Yes?”

“This is Nick. You used to teach me Pilates….?” His voice trailed off, unsure if she would remember him.

Nick! Mia’s mouth dropped open. She hadn’t seen him for… months! He had been a client of hers for a long time and then one day he changed time-slots and she hadn’t seen him since. Mia had been devastated. Secretly, she had been in love with Nick from the moment she first set eyes on him, but had always been too shy to ask him out. Her inaction had spent a long time at number one on her extensive list of regrets.

Well, maybe not quite so high now, after the events of last weekend, she thought angrily. Mia shook her head, bringing herself back to the present.

“Of course. How are you?” She wondered why he was calling her – and more to the point, how he got her number…?

“You’re probably wondering how I got your number…”

What was he, a mind reader?

“I know it’s late notice, but I was wondering if you wanted to go out tonight?” His voice sounded vulnerable, expectant.

“Go out tonight?” Mia wasn’t sure she heard correctly.

“I’ve been meaning to call for weeks, but I’ve been away for work… it’s a long story. Can I fill you in over dinner?”

“Dinner tonight?” Mia the parrot.

His laughter tinkled down the phone. “Yes. With me.” He added quickly, “Unless you’ve got other plans…?”

Mia slowly shook her head. “No… no, I don’t.”

Her mind was reeling as Nick suggested when and where to meet. She hung up the phone, a bewildered expression on her face. She had dreamt about this happening for so long, so why wasn’t she more excited?

When she finally looked up, Willow was surveying her friend quizzically.

“I have a date tonight.” She spoke slowly. “With Nick.”

Willow’s eyes widened in surprise and she bounded over and gave Mia a quick hug, leaving a trail of self-raising flour in her wake. “What are the chances? Both going out with our dream men tonight!”

Nick. Her dream man. He had been for such a long time. So what had changed?

Her phone rang again. Same thing, number withheld. He probably needs to change the time, she thought. She answered more quickly this time, the butterflies gone. “Hello again.”

“Mia?” A different voice, still male, still familiar.

“Yeah?”

“Johnny.”

Mia knocked her empty bowl, the spoon falling to the floor with a loud clatter.

“You OK?” He sounded amused, like he was aware of the effect he had on her.

She cursed herself and took a breath, steadying her nerves. Be cool. “What’s up?”

“Just wondering if you wanted to grab a drink later. Say 7pm. In town somewhere?”

Her heart pounded. Maybe she could call Nick back, cancel? She groaned inwardly – she didn’t even have his number, it had been withheld and she hadn’t thought to ask for it. “I can’t.”

More than anything she wanted to see Johnny. She couldn’t stop thinking about him, dreaming about him. She wracked her brain, trying to think of another time to suggest. Tomorrow? Or during the week?

But before she could say anything, he spoke.

“Fair enough. Catch you later then.”

He hung up.

Willow was sifting flour into a large mixing bowl. “Nick again?”

Mia shook her head. “Umm… work. Needed a shift covered.”

She couldn’t look up at Willow for fear that she’d see the tears in her eyes.

***

In his kitchen, Johnny swore out loud. He had been trying to pick up the phone and call her all week, but nerves had got the better of him each time. Finally he’d mustered up the courage… to no avail. He thought there had been something between them, something unbelievable. But she obviously didn’t. Probably put it down to the Champagne, the celebratory mood. She clearly wanted to have nothing to do with him. He ran his hands through his hair, frustrated.

He just couldn’t stop thinking about her.