The Butterfly Effect

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Match-making Alison thinks she knows exactly what Emily needs... but it's always dangerous to meddle in other peoples lives.

Submitted: July 18, 2012

A A A | A A A

Submitted: July 18, 2012

A A A

A A A


 

 

 

THE

 

BUTTERFLY EFFECT

 

 

 

by Craig Turner


 

 

 

 

 

She watched the guy parading his family in front of the steps of the palace or government mansion or parliament building or whatever it was. 24hr news TV. The picture changed to 3 men with strange hair and unflattering suits, sitting around a round table, and even though the sound was down, she could still hear the words – renewal, change of focus, strategy redefined, new direction. And the guy in the centre of the picture, who was the focus of all of this, smiled and waved at the nation in the manner of a man who had only recently learned that lips could be made to smile and hands to wave.

 

No doubt there was some bitter campaign behind him, mud-slinging, blowing up tiny points of difference to outrageous proportions until they simply exploded, like  bubbles bursting - the hot air rushing out, just a shimmer and then they were gone. But now this figure centre-stage had got what he wanted. A mandate for change, they called it. And what that really meant was  – OK, so now I get to tell all of you what to do…

 

It was 12.30. AM. She had a large glass of wine beside her. Her stockinged feet rested on a little elephant coffee table. A cigarette lay on the groove of the ashtray – idly she watched the sensuous curl of the smoke rising. Another thing they got to tell you not to do.

 

She had been on a date. It was something she was becoming used to. A blind date. Meaning that Alison had seen him and she hadn’t. Although really all dates are blind. By the time you really get to see someone, the real person, you have either decided not to see them again, or if you do it’s no longer a date but something subtly else - though we don’t really have a word for that. First date. Second date. Blind date. It’s a word which screams for a prefix. Every date was a starting point, but she was getting used to it being an end as well. Fucking Alison. Right now it felt like she was Alison’s pet project.

 

Alison was moderately rich and moderately successful. When she had met her husband Andre she had been moderately less rich and less successful, and he had been correspondingly more. Alison had 2 children and a 5 bedroom house and a partnership in a Law firm. She had rooms which looked like catalogues. She had a dumpy maid called Griselinia who came from some cold place that used to be called Russia. Alison was her best friend. She had always had a clear idea what she wanted from life. And she was one of those people who always got what she wanted – like the politician on the screen, only with a more intuitive, subtle approach. And Alison had recently granted herself a mandate to change her friend’s life. Which explained the date. And all the other dates. Fucking Alison.

 

She replayed the conversation –

 

‘But Emily, he’s perfect for you, I’m sure of it. He works in our International Law office, gets to travel all over the Far East. He collects original art – and, I know I’m not really much of a judge or anything, but I think he has an eye for it. Modern stuff – you would like it, I think. Strange collages and compositions. You know that kind of thing where there’s a piece of an ice cream maker or a washing board sticking out of it? He has one in his office that is painted on an old mangle. He’s interesting. I don’t know him that well. But I think there are lots of angles to him, lots of layers…’

 

‘But they all sound perfect when you describe them. Then I just don’t like them when I meet them.’

 

‘Em, I’m just trying to help. It’s been a long while since you and Erik.’

 

‘You make me sound like some spinster or born-again virgin who no one ever shows any interest in!’

 

‘Nonsense. I know you haven’t been living in a cave. You get to do so many great things. I envy you, I really do. The places you’ve been. The men you’ve fucked. Well, not all of them, obviously…’

 

Emily had allowed herself to laugh.

 

‘But sometimes I honestly think you need me to say what you’re thinking. Don’t make out you’re a free spirit and don’t want to be tied down. You and Erik were very happy for a while.’

 

Erik – oh. Of all her friends, Alison was the one who most often mentioned him, reopened that old wound. Erik was her significant other. Tall and thin and Scandinavian, with that permanent suntan skiers have. They had lived together in Birmingham. They had lived together in London. They had lived together on one of the remote Shetland Isles. They had spent 6 months in Calgary. They had even lived in Iceland for a while. He loved extreme sports, the great outdoors. Not her thing, but she had loved to watch him from inside the cosy ski lodge, or the triple-insulated wooden chalet, or the old stone crofter’s cottage with the fire roaring in the grate. Still, even now, it sent her heart racing to think of him in his bulky padded ski jacket, the snow goggles, see the snow crunching under his size 12 boots, the snow board under his arm. Just something so big and solid and primal and protective about him. Sometimes she used to run out to meet him, and he would engulf her in that great jacket so that she almost felt like she was disappearing in his arms, and she had never been so warm.

 

‘It was love in cold climates, but I am warm-blooded’ she had once flippantly described it. And because she was quite proud of it, she had subsequently used it far too often, as a way of dismissing and parcelling up that whole period of her life. The residual emotions were harder to explain away. Erik had been devastated when she had initiated the break. It hadn’t made any sense to him. And if she was honest, the reasons were almost as mysterious to her. She wondered if she had simply been afraid. But that was just weak therapy talk. They had been completely in love but something had just persuaded her that they weren’t meant to be. And once the notion had formed in her mind, it just couldn’t be pushed away and ultimately couldn’t be denied. So she had broken them up. And that was 7 years ago. And each time she realised how long had passed, it gave her a jolt. How could it be 7 years?

 

Erik had moved to Finland. They still kept in irregular contact. There were occasional drink-fuddled rambling emails from him, sent in the early hours of the morning, particularly in the depths of the Arctic winter – those months where it never really gets light, just some strange grey twilight which she imagined as some dense viscous thing which sticks to you and clings to you as you try to battle through it. He would start off with updates on work – he was a geologist, life – not much doing there, family – his parents were wealthy Scandinavians who had retired to a condo in Florida. And then he would always return to badly disguised versions of ‘Whatever happened to us?’, ‘How did we get to this?’ But she didn’t like that. Too simple, movie dialogue. Life was what happened. There was no reason to expect it to go where you wanted it to, be what you expected it to be. Unless you were Alison, of course.

 

If he had a girlfriend, or had had a girlfriend then he never mentioned her. She suspected that he always made his life out to be several shades worse than it actually was, as if in implicit rebuke to her for leaving him and condemning him to the life he was forced to lead. But she didn’t like that either. It wasn’t attractive. He wasn’t forced to live there. He could go anywhere, do anything. He couldn’t hang it on her. And she had found it hard to believe that he had had no subsequent romance, or entanglements, or just thrillingly base and sexual infatuations anyway. He had been seeing someone else when they met, and technically cheated on his ex with her, so it all seemed unlikely. Even though there was a part of her which still loved him, and always would, the intervening years had only made her realise that the break up had been the only thing to do, even if she had not entirely understood the reasons at the time.

 

But she always replied with cheery updates on her life which were usually true but rarely honest, like corresponding with some penfriends you had first written to back in school and had doggedly refused to give up on – even though the prospect of ever meeting them receded with each passing year.

 

She wasn’t depressed or bitter. It would be entirely wrong to think that. Her life was full and busy and rewarding in so many ways. She did not pine for a partner. She was not some sad slave to a biological clock. She was not desperate.

 

But she had been happy with Erik. It was the best time of her life. And Alison realised that. She knew in her heart that Alison understood her better than she ever gave her credit for. Which was why she usually gave in to her. And which was really, really, fucking annoying.

 

So to the date tonight. He was called Hedly. It was a perfectly pleasant evening. He was generally quite good company. He did not mention any exes. He did not talk exclusively about work. He had talked a lot – a man used to having people listen intently to what he said. He had the self confidence of a frequent court room performer. He had the requisite number of anecdotes, funny stories about friends, ambitions, potted biogs of his nearest and dearest to show that he was a good son, good friend, decent well-rounded human being. It was an unusual name – but he was clearly proud of it, a point of difference, and she took his lead on that. He was not unattractive. Probably lots of people would describe him as attractive, but they were mostly seeing the expensive clothes, the good haircut, the air of confidence, the money and success which clung to him in a subtle but nevertheless tangible way.

 

It could have been much worse. Recently so many of them had been. They had breezed past the bare minimum 1½ hours for politeness’ sake. But promptly after 2 ½ hours, at 10.30, he had drawn the meeting to a close – and that really was exactly what it felt like. Then he had walked her to a taxi rank, and put her in the cab, leant in to give her a glancing kiss on the lips, and said ‘Night Emily. Very nice meeting you. I’ll call you soon.’

 

And watched her go. And followed up with a text which said pretty much the same thing. And she knew that he would call. He had the air of a man going for an interview who already knew he had got the job.

 

Alison, of course, wouldn’t understand. She would no doubt have to see Hedly again for a few dates. And already she knew that they would fizzle out after the 3rd or so date. ‘Fucking Alison’ she said out loud. She would have called her, but there was no point because she would surely be in bed by now. But maybe not. Maybe she lay awake too, wondering, picturing it all in her mind. Who knew?

 

So she sat there brooding. And of course the problem is that dates do set your heart racing, excite you, intrigue you. You build up your hopes. Set an absurd amount of stock by them. Invest yourself in them. It’s not just 2 ½ hours of your life. With every first date its as if everything you have ever owned or will ever own is sitting there in a big swag bag which you nervously clutch at your feet, and you know that you will hand it over, give it up, risk it all, chance everything, if the feeling seems right. That’s what it means to steal someone’s heart. You are each other’s co-conspirators. Standing aside and watching whilst they take everything and wishing only that they could take more.

 

She glanced back across at the TV. The new leader had been installed, inaugurated, taken the oath of office, whatever. And every new leader is like a first date too – at the beginning you are prepared to believe anything if they say the right things. You are filled with hope for the future. The potential for making the world a better place. But like first dates, they nearly always disappoint. What begins with such optimism nearly always ends badly.

 

‘That’s just too depressing, Emily’ she thought. She broke herself out of it. She finished the latest cigarette, downed the wine, flicked off the TV and went to bed.

 

 

 

‘So…???’

 

‘He was quite good company.’

 

‘And so…!’ there was a touch of impatience in her voice. ‘You can do better than that. You know you have to tell me more than that. So are you going to see him again?’

 

‘I’ll probably meet him again. I don’t know if there’s anything there. But it could have been worse.’

 

‘But do you like him? You know what I’m trying to say, Emily. Do you think he’s attractive?’

 

‘Mmm, well… I don’t really know. I’m not sure. It’s not always so cut and dried.’

 

‘But I can definitely picture the two of you together, I really can. He can come across as kind of rich and successful – I see that – and I know that’s not really your type –‘

 

‘Yeah, thanks!’

 

‘You know… But he’s more rounded than that really. You can’t dismiss him just because of that. Even Bill Gates developed a character eventually –‘

 

‘You mean he downloaded one!’

 

Alison laughed. ‘Yes, but he has become a more interesting person than one might perhaps have expected him to be.’

 

‘I suppose. If you say so.’

 

‘Well, anyway, I shall be looking forward with interest to the next instalment.’ Alison’s tone suggested that she was generally quite pleased with the outcome. Compared to Emily’s usual reaction, this was almost a glowing commendation. ‘Hmmm…’

 

 

 

Hedly called her on the second day, and invited her out to dinner. It was quite a smart restaurant. The conversation progressed as smoothly as it had before. There were no awkward silences, there seemed to be plenty they wanted to say to each other. They talked about Alison. Talked about families, holidays, ambitions, plans. They shared a couple of bottles of wine. He insisted on picking up the bill. She realised that he was from a background where that was the only thing one could possibly do, and he could not even imagine anyone having a problem with that.

 

At the end of the evening, he took her to another taxi rank, put her in another taxi. Again there was a glancing kiss on the lips as she got in the cab, although she had drunk rather a lot of wine and might have acquiesced in something more.

 

 

 

But the third date was a lunch date. Which was clearly a violation of the rules. The first meet is something simple, a few drinks, a coffee. Second date something longer, preferably a restaurant. If you make it to the third date then it’s up to you. But it has to be an open-ended date, with the potential to go further. But this, this however was a step backwards. A daytime date. Constrained time frame. Work clothes. And there would of course be no fourth date.

 

Just something missing. That thing which can make even the most incongruous of couples right, and the most perfect of couples wrong.

 

 

 

‘But you must know someone!’ said Alison. ‘All my friends have made an effort – and they are all women. You must know more men than any of us. Seeing as you are one.’

 

‘Darling, you already know everyone I know’ said Andre. ‘Who would you suggest? Robin? He’s separated now.’

 

‘Ugh!’ Alison grimaced, then giggled. ‘I don’t think I could do that to Emily. But something awful in me does like the idea.’

 

Everything was right about Robin, up until the moment he stepped out of his Porsche…

 

‘But you must have some connections at work. Or how about the gym? There must be loads of men at the gym.’

 

‘Darling, I don’t think Emily’s really one for the gym, do you? Surely it must be someone we think has at least a chance of success?’

 

‘Well I do think you could try harder. There’s a guy Karen has come up with – Brendan, I think his name is, but frankly I don’t hold out much hopes for that.’

 

‘But Ali – we have all been on high alert for months in case a suitable partner for Emily should suddenly appear. Everyone is doing their best. Though I’m not entirely convinced she even appreciates our efforts. Don’t you think we should lay off a little? Don’t you worry she’s going to think we see something wrong in her?’

 

‘She knows we don’t think that.’

 

‘She might. Maybe she thinks we see her as incomplete without a partner, that she can’t join our club if she’s on her own. Like when you go to one of those terribly old-fashioned restaurants and the waiter comes running out with a jacket and tie because you’re violating the dress code.’

 

‘Trust me. I have known Emily longer than anyone. She would never dream of admitting to anyone that she wants this. I would love her anyway – you know that – no matter what she did or who she’s with. If she decides tomorrow that she’s a lesbian and brings round a 250lb Negro Momma with a huge afro as her new love, then I’ll accept it. But I know this is what she wants. We have been friends for long enough. She could just tell me to stop.’

 

‘Alright. Alright. You’re probably right. I just think you should be careful. She could take it the wrong way.’

 

‘Leave her to me. Your job is to find me some fresh victims.’ She slipped her arms around his chest and gave him a little bite on the neck.

 

 

 

‘So, okay, there’s this guy called Brendan. He’s a friend of Karen – who works for me. He’s 35. He has a child – a girl of 7. Apparently he’s devoted to her. She lives with his ex, but he has her every other weekend. He’s a web designer. He has a flat in the city centre. Quite attractive. Shaved head, but in a nice way.’

 

‘A nice way???’ said Emily.

 

‘You know… He’s probably just receding. He’s not threatening or anything. Not a bit of rough. Though you haven’t always been so fussy…’

 

‘Ooh, you bitch!’ said Emily, and Alison laughed. ‘A bald head can be sexy though. I like running my fingers over a man’s scalp. Sometimes it can make a man look sensitive. Though some guys have such ugly heads – you know, kind of misshapen, all lumpy and bumpy. You have to have the right shape head to carry it off.’

 

‘I have always particularly liked the tattooed back of the head look.’

 

‘You are such a fucking snob Ali!’

 

‘I know. I know. But you love me anyway.’

 

‘If you say so. But what about Andre? Is he going to lose it? It is looking a little… Thin.’

 

‘You must never tell him that! He’s paranoid. He has even started combing it in a different way – though he thinks I haven’t noticed.’

 

Alison giggled again. They were drinking wine on her patio. The garden had recently been expensively made over – there was mood lighting everywhere, water gently bubbling from several hidden locations, an electronic bug zapper, an outdoor wine chiller – though even Ali accepted that was a pain in the ass, because it took longer to chill in there than the fridge, and required an element of foreplanning which was unusual even for Alison.

 

‘Men are so vain’ she said. Then Emily gave her a look, and she looked down at her own clothes, at the little jewelled rings around the stem of the wine glasses, at the whole garden shebang that she had expensively created. ‘Well, not as vain as us, obviously. But still… VERY vain.’ She laughed again.

 

 

 

So the arrangements were made. Alison lived for organising. She didn’t just give Emily and Brendan each other’s numbers. She insisted on setting up the first meet, possibly even an element of coaching for the participants – of course she wouldn’t dare with Emily, but with the guys… Who knew?

 

 

 

Emily met Brendan in a trendy bar in the city. It was one of those occasions when everything was wrong, and she knew it right from the start. The picture she had built up of him was so very different from the guy sitting opposite her. He was bald, but it wasn’t the kind of baldness anyone might have chosen. And there was something strange about the way he talked. Not exactly an accent. Just a mannerism. A way of speaking - ‘And I said to her, I did’, ‘It leaves at 7, it does’ – which struck her as very strange. Very odd. It was so obviously a no. Although he was entirely oblivious to the signs she was sending - ‘early start in the morning’, fiddling with her watch, taking several phone calls during the date, breaking off to reply to a couple of texts – none of which seemed to make him question whether she might actually have any intention of seeing him again.

 

Without being rude – and she did always at least try not to be – the date dragged out for most of the evening. Either he was wilfully ignoring the signs, or was so socially oblivious that he didn’t even see them. But finally she escaped. She got in first with a ‘Thanks for a lovely evening, I’ll call you’ before he had a chance. Even then he sent her a hopeful text as she took the taxi home alone - ‘I really enjoyed meeting you. I hope we can do something again soon’, but she deleted it immediately and had no intention of replying.

 

 

 

‘So Brendan didn’t work out then?’

 

‘Really not one of your better efforts, Ali!’

 

‘Well… If at first you don’t succeed and all that.’

 

‘But that’s about No.11!’

 

‘I’m sorry! Probably I shouldn’t have put the two of you together. I don’t know Karen that well and I guess Brendan was something of a long shot.’

 

‘Anyway your grand match-making scheme has to go on hold for a while. I’m off to India in a couple of days.’

 

‘Oh, but that’s so exciting. Where are you going?’

 

‘Somewhere just outside Calcutta. Some new factories we have recently taken on. It’s the first time I’ve been there. It’s not SO exciting. But I’m looking forward to it. Beats working in the office here.’

 

‘You’ll have a wonderful time, I’m sure. And are you going to go off exploring again?’

 

‘I’ll wangle something, you know that. And don’t worry - you’ll be the first to hear about it - in all its brutal and beautiful detail.’

 

‘And meanwhile, back in the real world, the task of finding you the man of your dreams goes on!’

 

‘Yeah, Ali, of course, whatever… But I think it’s you who’s dreaming of me with all these men.’

 

 

 

Emily was a buyer for a national chain of fashion stores. Of course everything was made in Bangladesh or China, India or Vietnam – but that was obviously the least important part of the chain. The British designers, the focus groups, the photographers, the models, the publicists, the catalogues – even Emily herself – they were all a much more important part of the production process than the actual production process – the workers. And she knew it was wrong, knew it was a topsy-turvy state of affairs, a topsy-turvy world, but her company was better than most. Not because of any inherent scruples or ethics but purely because it was so large, and such an easy target for campaigners against sweat-shops and the whole global exploitation train, that it was forced to operate to the highest standards. It proudly trumpeted its commitment to ethical trading on huge posters in-store, extensive spiel on the website, leaflets by the tills. It pledged to maintain above average working conditions in the sector – which last was the kicker – for of course the standards in the sector were generally so low that to strive to be only ‘above average’ might exercise some particularly avaricious shareholders but in reality was hardly challenging.

 

There was even a new range in store, entirely accredited from ethical sources, a Fairtrade for clothes, with the inevitable celebrity endorsements from campaigning rock stars, models and their somewhat confused boyfriends. But it was priced higher because of all that, and so far customers weren’t suggesting that the whole sweat-shop angle was such a big deal for them. Or maybe they just didn’t like the gear.

 

But the truth was she loved the job. Whatever – someone would have to do her job – and she didn’t want that someone to be anyone else but her. She loved the travel, she loved the adventure, the onslaught of experiences – she loved it all. And to get paid for it – not that it wasn’t often hard work and stressful and all the other things you might expect. The early starts. The red eyes. The jet lag. Sleeping unwashed in airplane seats. But still. To get paid for it.

 

 

 

Even in the airport in Calcutta, when you first arrive, you know you are in India. In most of the world airports are the same. The endless concrete corridors, the disembodied voices repeating the same announcements over and over in several different languages, the uniformity of the seating, the impersonality of the cafes… But here she was overwhelmed by the bustle, the queues, the sheer volume of baggage everyone seemed to have. People milling around in all directions, the incredible slowness of everything, the way people would wait in queues forever rolling their eyes at the length of time the person at the head of the queue was taking, and then - when they finally got there themselves - would proceed as if they had all the time in the world, following up with question after question, whilst those behind them in the queue continued the eye-rolling, sighing, foot-tapping, tongue-clicking charade.

 

There was someone waiting for her in the airport, just past customs, holding up a sign saying ‘Emily Francis’, and she felt a strange sense of pride seeing it there. It made her feel important. The driver led her out to the car, and as soon as the airport door opened it was as if India rushed into her lungs and her heart. The heat, the smells, the noise, the traffic, the hum and thrum of a billion people. They drove into the city and she watched the huge billboards for Bollywood films, the giant advertising signs, the sky filled with colour and neon like the finale of some grand firework display. She had never seen so much advertising, India must lead the world – the top of every building, the side of every building, signs competing with signs, jostling for attention, shouting ever louder – buy me, no – me!, no – me!, buy more more, ever more. And the driver inevitably drove like he had been especially schooled to impress the tourists with the whole gamut of near-death experiences. And maybe that was fair. After all, what tourist doesn’t want to go back filled with stories of appalling drivers, terrible extremes, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God scenarios?

 

Inevitably she had been booked into a luxury hotel. This was a very important account for the company she was doing business with. Plus of course there was the whole issue of ‘face’ on the subcontinent, the need to make a good impression. She was shown to her room. Everything was beautiful, all surfaces gleamed. A smiling Indian man was sat outside her room on a little stool with a pile of towels folded beside him – though she could not fathom the reason, as there were approximately 12 towels in the room already. It was 6 o’clock. She showered and changed. And then she quietly closed the door behind her, skipped by the towel wallah, and stole out into the city. ‘Stole’ sounded melodramatic, but that was what it felt like. There was no reason why she should not go out, of course, but it felt like she wasn’t supposed to. Probably she should have just gone down to the luxury restaurant and dined there, then watched StarTV in her luxury room, but that wasn’t why she had come. She wanted to see something. She wanted to see everything.

 

Of course she was prepared for the attention she would get. All over Asia it was the same. She was a short blonde girl. She had long since taken to dressing dowdily, to try to deflect attention – no heels, covered up, baggy trousers. But pale skin and blonde hair – it was almost like having her own neon sign bouncing up and down on her head. In Bangladesh people had been so desperate to touch her, as if barely believing that anything so… so white could possibly be walking among them.

 

But she ignored the looks, the attention, just focused on the sights and sounds. And so many of the signs and slogans were in English anyway – the universal language of signs. Maybe it was meant to portray a certain ambition, a certain sense of sophistication. It was unbearably hot, of course. She felt damp with sweat almost immediately.  She was not surprised, but still. It took time to adjust, to get used to it.

 

She went to buy something that looked like a samosa in the street, and accompanied it with a bottle of Indian cola that tasted of sugar and licorice. She wandered happily though the streets, drinking in all the sensations. The air buzzed with India, heaved with all the new wealth and old poverty living crazily side by side, two parallel universes which frequently intersected, yet there was no possibility of passage between. A small blonde English girl, losing herself in the maelstrom of India, far away from the schemings and plottings – but in a good way, she told herself – of Alison…!!!

 

 

 

Ever since she had started the job, she would dutifully record all her impressions, her feelings, experiences, in a daily travelogue - and whenever she logged on she would send the latest instalment downline to all the key people in her mailbox and of course, especially, to Alison. She was, after all, her best friend. She always wrote it in the third person – it was a little like casting yourself as the hero of your own story. She had vague ideas that she might at some point do something with the writing. A few years back she had laboriously edited one trip’s worth of blogs into an article that she was stupidly proud of. Then she had submitted it hopefully to a couple of holiday magazines and a women’s monthly. But she had just got back a ‘Thank you for showing interest’ form letter. But she was not disheartened. It was mostly for herself after all. Maybe people didn’t read magazines now anyway. Maybe she should create a daily blog, post it up on her Facebook wall, but to her that smacked of vanity publishing – I don’t care if everyone has rejected it, I’m going to put it out there anyway! And also the web was a little like all those advertising slogans in India – people clambering over each other, fighting for attention, shouting to be heard above the white noise. 

 

 

 

Alison was hugely frustrated by Emily, and hugely frustrated by the potential boyfriends who had been paraded before her, and hugely frustrated by all the friends and family who were supposed to be helping with this mission. She did not know why this was so important to her. Obsession? Well, it was close. And it was not as if her own life was not full – fortunately Griselinia the maid took care of most of the looking after the children required. But there was work – and after work she would often barely make it home in time to read the children their bedtime stories and give them their bath. That was the one unbreakable rule. And of course there was Andre and the busy life they led, the network of couples who were their friends, and the several sets of families, and of course the few single friends like Emily too. But Alison had an enviable ability to fit everything she wanted to into her life and never feel stressed, never show the strain. She thrived on being busy, on organising things. Not doing things which she knew needed doing was infinitely more stressful. She was indefatiguable. She had immense inner strength and belief in her own potential. And the fact that none of the dates she had arranged for Emily had worked out was exercising her. It seemed almost a challenge. As if this was a problem her organisational skills could not solve. But she would of course have to rise to it. She would not admit defeat. All problems have solutions. She would merely have to revise her strategy.

 

And of course Emily was a slightly strange girl. The Emily who wrote the blogs sometimes seemed an entirely different person to the Emily who smoked too much and drank too much on her patio, and who sometimes seemed unfulfilled in all parts of her life except when she was travelling. She concluded that Emily needed a boyfriend. She needed some love interest in her life. She needed to realise that life wasn’t only to be found in some dirty dusty

Third World street

, it was here, all around her, if she would only look for it. She didn’t need to take a long haul flight to find it.

 

 

 

It was the early hours of a midweek night. Andre was snoring softly in their bedroom. The children’s bedroom was open and she stood briefly outside the door and listened for their soft breathing. Griselinia slept soundly in the next room. She had told Andre she had to work on a case for a deadline, but that was only partly true. She had resolved to move the mission onto its next phase. She was going to register Emily on an internet dating site. She hadn’t told Andre – she wasn’t entirely sure he was in her corner on this. He needed to get with the program. But secretly the fact that the whole mission had fallen on her actually pleased her. She did not accept the help of others lightly anyway.

 

And, of course, she had not told Emily.

 

She did the research, she was nothing if not thorough. She was amazed at how many sites there were – the obvious market leaders, who she had seen advertise on buses, heard on the radio, found the sponsored links. And then all other shades of dating site. There were awful presumably dogging sites. Sites of sexual specialism. A considerable number of the ‘You can get laid tonight!’ variety which were really quite tawdry. And then a whole raft of other sites of varying degrees of sophistication. Each of them allowed you to browse through various members. All had various parameters. Alison swiftly devised a grading system, and began to narrow them down. Emily was educated and a professional, so that was clearly a good starting point. She was finally left with two sites which seemed to have a similar number of members, similar type of members, similar cost of membership (Not cheap!) But the final decision she made purely on instinct. The site was called ‘TheRight14U.com’ and when she hit the search button, she just liked the look of several of the guys. So that was that.

 

She began to create a profile for Emily:

 

 

 

Username: Jewel of the Ganges (That amused her!)

 

Sex – F Age – 33

 

Looking For – M Age 30-40

 

Build – Average

 

Hair – Blonde Eyes – Grey

 

Chat-up Line – ‘What’s a nice girl like me doing in a place like this?’

 

Hobbies & Interests – Travel to exciting places. Reading. Theatre. Musicals. Concerts. Cycling. Archaeology. Charity work. Music – Jazz/ Classical/ Modern. Black & White Movies.

 

Perfect Date – ‘My perfect date would be for someone to whisk me away to a small town in Italy for a weekend of pasta, wine and romance. Not necessarily in that order.

 

Instrument I Play – Piano. Badly.

 

Description – ‘Well, my friend wrote this for me. I can’t promise that she’s a good judge of character. (Alison was loving this, layers within layers, like one of her cases, where the further into it you looked, the more angles you saw.) … ‘Emily is one of the best friends anyone could hope to have. She is interesting, articulate, has strange and crazy theories about everything and anything – especially after a few glasses of vino. She loves travel and broadening her horizons. She has a successful job in the fashion industry. She has a wide circle of friends but most of us have let the side down badly by being all babied-up now, so we can’t all do the things we used to. Admittedly she does smoke, but she just hasn’t met the right person to give it up for. She is warm, friendly and attractive, and frankly if I was a man I would be first in the queue!’

 

 

 

Then she uploaded a picture she had taken of Emily, at a recent garden party. She had looked good, in a little black and white sundress that had been rejected by her company as being just too way out. Which of course sold it to Emily, who wouldn’t normally be seen dead in any of the clothes she peddled – not that they were bad, just too ubiquitous, too blandly designed to appeal to the target demographic.

 

Alison also didn’t shop there, but for another reason. They were just too cheap.

 

 

 

She clicked on the button to send Emily’s profile live. She felt a strange kind of excitement. Some small part of her was suggesting that maybe she shouldn’t be doing this, but she brushed it aside. Apparently Emily’s profile had to be approved – but her trawl through the various sites had made it obvious there was no human approving these profiles – just a computer program assessing the content for profanity, possible illegal acts, forbidden use of members personal email addresses, whether the picture was in focus and in the appropriate position on the screen. Considering that she had seen pictures of a pet dog, a butterfly, a plant and a horse, she suspected the software was not that smart.

 

So now to the fun part. She had to almost physically stop herself from clapping her hands together. As a fully paid up member, she could now explore the site far and wide. She set the search parameters, specifying an age range, minimum level of education, minimum acceptable income, the maximum distance from the target – she smiled at the thought.

 

 

 

The site pulled out 6 profiles, and at the bottom an icon informed her that this was Page 1 of 64. ‘My God’ she thought. She checked the time. 1.50AM. And it was true, she did have an important client meeting in the morning. She had put in a lot of work for it. It would be foolish to have invested all that time and then turn up for it spent and groggy – and no doubt the kids would wake her at 6 – before Griselinia, who slept deeply, could wake up and attend to them.

 

But she was engrossed reading the profiles. She just couldn’t tear herself away. They didn’t have names, just login IDs, so she couldn’t use that. But really names were so important! Suppose someone turned out to be called Duncan, or Ralph, or Bernard, or Mick, or something awful like that? All she had to go on was the pictures and profiles. The list was ordered according to most recent activity, so that cut the options significantly. Presumably the further one trawled through, the less likely one was to get a reply.

 

She drew up another ranking system. It was the way she approached Law, and life. When she took on a new case, she would rank the various factors, and weight them, and assess with uncanny precision how the judge would filter them – and on that basis decide her strategy. She rarely allowed clients much say in their own defence – well, strictly speaking, since her specialism was divorce law, there was no defence. It was about taking a realistic position, and setting a reserve price which was the least you would accept. The ranking system would determine the reserve price, and any client she took on had to first agree to that.

 


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