Being Shelley, page 1
For Liam & Jesse
Be honest. Do I make you horny, baby? Do I?
Do I make you randy?
Say what? I smelled him before I registered what the voice from somewhere to my left was saying, before I realised that the voice was speaking to me. I’ve always been a sucker for a good waft of something, but, damn, this smell was something else. It was the exact smell of the last December holiday I wanted but never had. Soft coconut mixed with island pina colada. Tucked in was the smell of something not on my eating plan, something sweet I couldn’t place. Not that I ever stick to an eating plan, but it reminded me of those vanilla-scented soy candles I’d sourced for the shop for Valentine’s Day – even the candle boxes smelled good enough to eat. Di hated them. I wasn’t surprised; she and I are as different as night and day, not just to look at but in every other way you could think. As friends, I thought we’d found the magical space of dusk.
Yes, that’s right, I thought – as in the past. Now that we have the shop together, I’m not so sure any more. We each used to bring something that didn’t exist elsewhere in our lives, so we annoyed and enjoyed each other in equal measure. Now it’s more annoying than enjoying. If we are the unlikeliest of friends, we are also the most unexpected co-owners of a coffee and décor shop. ‘Coffee & Cream’, we named it. The whole thing was my idea and, so far, it’s been working. Mostly. She’s the Coffee part (bitter, trained as a barista), the part everyone needs to make their days work. I’m the Cream (full fat, not trained for anything). But I am used to working hard (I worked hard when I was younger), and I know how to make a space look good.
I also know how to shop. I buy things you don’t need and you don’t know you want until you see them on our shelves. Things like vanilla-scented soy candles that melt down into warm oil to massage onto your skin. Di said warm wax anywhere on her body was too closely associated with ripping hair from its happy places; she couldn’t imagine why that would make anyone feel sexy. I’d rebelled – ‘Keep your nose in your own cappuccino,’ I’d said – and ordered twenty candles since they came in rose-gold glass containers and matched my Valentine’s store window. Di and I are not equal partners in the store – I had more money and she was going to put in more time to balance it out – but we treat each other as equals.
She’ll give me grief if she finds out that we’ve sold only three candles. ‘You waste money,’ is what she usually says. But my rebellion will be worth her moan since I used the candles to make the store window I wanted. It was based on a Harrods window I saw online. Everyone raved about it.
That’s what this guy smelled of.
Pina Colada Coconut Vanilla Dessert, with a hint of sugar and massage. And a touch of Rebellion.
‘Sorry, what?’ I turned towards him. I almost laughed – he was so hot it was ridiculous. The smell might have reminded me of those candles, but the packaging was infinitely rougher than rose gold. Think young Pirate of the Caribbean meets Zigzag surfer. Straight, even white teeth in his caramel-coloured skin. What was he? Coloured? Mixed race? Biracial? Trevor Noah? I don’t know. I don’t even know what words won’t piss off my friends any more.
Doesn’t matter to me. Fine, it matters in the way that I notice it, in the way that young people apparently don’t in the New South Africa. Do they not notice? It only mattered to me in that I would’ve found it disappointing to know that his skin became a pale shadow of itself without the sun. Didn’t matter to me in any other way. His skin was beautiful, edible almost. He had dark brown, beachy hair that straggled into a shag on his neck, skimming his shoulders, the long pieces in front hanging halfway into his face. I would give my hairdresser a complicated brief – lobbed with layers framing the face, styled with Sea Salt Spray for a beach look that bordered on dirty. He had probably just let his hair go wild and let actual sea water dry in it. But, like the devil, the hotness of him was all in the detail. Eyebrows so thick you’d swear they were microbladed on. Eyelashes I would pay good money for. Lips plumped out like the perfect swollen Cupid’s bow of a Botox ‘after’ picture. One of those barely-there beards cropped close to his face. Full tattoo sleeves of blackwork art on strong arms; I spotted a flower and an old-fashioned stopwatch in complicated swirls that ended in straight lines at his wrists. I could see the tattoos creep around his collarbone like a mayoral chain and the sleeveless grey muscle top he wore was loose enough that I could see abs through the armholes. They’d not been inked yet – negative space, maybe? Board shorts, with Billabong blazed down one side, were slung low on his hips. Strong legs, bare feet in Sanuk slops.
He was young.
Twenty years old? Twenty-four? God have mercy. It felt wrong thinking it, but he was hot. I’ll confess to it in a way that gets a woman cougar-shamed if she says anything out loud – he was reeediculously hot.
Obviously – that much detail – I’d stared far too long.
‘Nice boards,’ he said again, pointing at the two bodyboards I was clutching to my chest. My newly refilled C-cups were mashed up against the top of the boards, causing some not-unattractive spillage from my tank top when I looked down at them.
‘Oh … thanks,’ I said, as if I hadn’t noticed my own boobs. The cheek of the boy, I thought, but couldn’t help a little smile. Since I turned forty, being invisible was the new normal. I’d gawked at him in return, after all. I didn’t have a clue if the bodyboards were nice or not; I’d just grabbed a purple one and a green one from the stack close to the front as I’d walked into the surf shop. It was too confusing to look anywhere else – the place was piled to the ceiling with gear. I tried to release the boards from my chest while still keeping my grip. Too late, they started sliding down to the floor.
‘Need some help?’ The Pina Colada Coconut Vanilla Dessert came closer just as both boards slipped out of my hands. My palms were sweaty on the plastic board wrapping. Note to self: make an appointment with Lily to redo my hand Botox.
‘Fu— Flowers!’ I said, as he caught the purple board before it hit one of the clothing rails wedged around us. Why are surf shops always so full of stock that you can’t move properly? I felt stupid and proud of myself at the same time. Stupid for being teenager-sweaty around this ridiculous man-boy-child. Proud because I’d finally transformed ‘fuck’ into ‘flowers’ as Kari had been begging me to. I used to say she looks like Pocahontas, but Lily said that’s now considered racist so I don’t say it any more. Still, hell’s bells, she does look like Pocahontas, even if I can’t say it. Kari used to have a potty mouth, like no-one I’d ever met. Then she had Adam and became proper and restrained. I’d kicked against it, saying we were becoming too PC, until I heard my Stacey tell my sweet Harley to ‘fuck off’ when he tried to steal a fishfinger off her plate. MomLife. It flowers you up in so many unexpected ways.
What was that?
The Pina Colada Coconut Vanilla Dessert was speaking to me and I’d nearly missed it, carried away in my own head. I’ve got used to talking to myself.
‘Are you a bodyboarder?’ he asked again, holding the purple board under his arm and smiling as if he knew I’d dropped the boards because of him. Brown eyes, dark like the colour of those raspberry-filled Lindt dark chocolate balls, if you must know.
‘Me?’ I laughed, making the kids in the surf shop look up at one another from under their flat peaks. I never think my laugh is that loud
‘How rude, your mother never tell you not to ask a lady’s age?’ I tilted my head at him, stomach-in chest-out, daring him to say something. My age is not to be spoken about out loud, least of all with a ridiculously hot and cheeky man-child who is likely young enough to be my child.
The Cupid’s bow started twitching on the left in a not unattractive way. You can’t do that when you have Botox. He was trying not to laugh. He meant the kids. I didn’t blink, pretended I hadn’t said anything.
‘Twins, three years old. Four in December. A girl and a boy. They are desperate to surf, but I’m thinking to start them off on bodyboards – they’re too young for surf lessons.’ I tried to recover myself.
‘Cool, but these boards are for adults. You need to get that size over there.’ More movement from the Cupid’s bow, before he started picking his way through clothing rails and wetsuits hanging like empty skins on the walls. I watched him sort unhurriedly through a stack of boards on the other side of the shop. I hoped he would find what I needed and quickly too, remembering Di’s tight-lipped nod when I left Coffee & Cream to get the boards. I’d ignored her. I had to.
After this morning, I could no longer ignore the intense nagging and emotional blackmail that the twins (mostly Stacey) had subjected me to for my lack of taking them bodyboarding. They wanted to surf, but apart from them being too little, that idea was too far out of my comfort zone, so we’d settled on them bodyboarding in the shallows. I still avoided doing it with them, using my work at the shop as a reason I couldn’t take them. Jerry was no help. He told them that his big toe had arthritis and hurt too much in the cold water, and then he gave them ice cream after supper so they forgot to nag him and were (more) psychopathic by the time I got home. I wish I were the dad, especially one close to fifty – you can get away with anything. No such luck for a mom on any day.
But today I needed those boards, and preferably someone else to take them into the water while I watched. It was a guilt buy. I don’t deny it. This morning they gave me the cutest Valentine’s cards they’d made with their teacher at playgroup. I told them it was the best Valentine’s I’d ever received – which was true – but clearly words were not appreciation enough. They’d waited expectantly; Kari’s Adam was at the same school and he’d told them that Kari gave him a card and a box of chocolates (sugar-free) for Valentine’s. How was I to know that’s what moms were doing? Goody-two-shoes Kari could’ve tipped me off, saved me from yet another MomLife fail.
Why was he taking so long? I halfway across the shop towards he-who-had-the-smell, when he came back, smaller pink and blue boards under his arm. Stereotyped. But admittedly they were the exact colours the twins would want.
‘Thanks, service is good in this shop,’ I said, scratching in my bag for my purse when we were done and standing at the till. He’d helped me pick out surf booties for the twins. They had wetsuits, but he said they’d last longer in the water if their feet weren’t frozen. I tried to keep my eyes focused on his eyes, tried not to look at any other part of him or breathe in too much Pina Colada Coconut Vanilla Dessert.
Couldn’t stop myself. I took a deep breath in.
‘I don’t work here. I was just visiting my friend James.’ He did an up-chin move to the curly blond guy who was scanning the barcodes on the boards. ‘You looked like you needed help.’ He leaned forward over the glass-top box counter, looking at the racks on the wall as I took my credit card out of my purse. ‘Get her some of that Sex Wax,’ he said to the curly blond. ‘She’ll need that too.’ He looked at me with a little wink, a tiny tuck of dimple showing itself in his left cheek. I almost choked. Was the man-child flirting? I looked down and saw that the square brown box was labelled Mr Zog’s Sex Wax. ‘Makes the boards less slippery.’ He smiled as he saw me check it out. Quick Humps. The best for your stick was printed on the packaging. Well, flower me sideways, why don’t you?
‘Check you later, bruh,’ he said to James. ‘And if you need me for anything …’ he said to me, the pause just long enough to perhaps mean something ‘… to, like, help your kids in the water. Doesn’t matter if they’re little – if they’re amped, then get them used to the sea with someone who knows what they’re doing. They could learn to bodyboard, maybe even surf. You never know,’ he said, redeeming himself for the casual listener when I was sure he’d started off meaning something else. ‘My man James here will give you my number.’ And with a last Lindt look at me and a fist bump to the curly blond James, the tall (yes, he was also ridiculously tall), sweet-smelling man-child left me with a mouth full of veneers, a heart thumping like flowers, and a platinum credit card stuck in my sweaty fingers. The chutzpah of him! I waited while James dutifully scrawled in blue Wayde Surf Coach, together with an ‘072’ number on the back of my copy of the till slip, folding the paper carefully before handing it to me with a mumbled something I didn’t catch.
His name was Wayde.
And the Sex Wax?
I opened the box while I waited, breathed in the smell of the round wax cake.
Pina Colada Coconut Vanilla.
I tucked him into my bag.
I forgot about my surfshop-scapade until I got home and unloaded the bodyboards from the back of the Range Rover in the double garage. I left the boards propped against the kitchen island, booties next to them so that they would be the first thing the twins saw in the morning. Harley would love it, but Stacey was my wild card, older by two minutes and infinitely harder to please. I surveyed the evidence of my thrill of the day, remembering the wax and the till slip still in my bag. It was past nine. I hadn’t meant to be so late, but there was a problem with the cashing-up system that took me an age to sort out, and I wanted to un-Valentine the store window, which I could do only after we closed at seven. It was Di’s afternoon and evening with her girls, but I’d forgotten, and Di wasn’t impressed when I was late after getting the boards. Nowadays Di was nearly as hard to please as Stacey.
‘How was it at the shop this afternoon?’ she’d messaged me exactly at seven. ‘Okay, but no coffee,’ I’d replied, meaning that it was average-to-disaster. A few women browsing, the odd husband looking for last-minute Valentine’s gifts. The main drama was that the girl who should’ve come – the one who could be barista in Di’s place – didn’t pitch. I haven’t been able to master a decent cup of coffee out of the machine, so there was no coffee for the afternoon, which is about as crap as you can get in a shop that sells only cake and coffee and gifts. I also had Jerry spamming me with the afternoon’s updates on Zuma’s rumoured presidential resignation. I never reply to any of his political stuff or have any ‘state of this country’ conversations with him, as they usually end up with him wanting to pack us up for Israel. I’m so not up for that. I’m not a Jew – would they even let me in? I did reply with a smiley-face heart-eyes emoji to his pic of the red roses standing in a glass vase on the marble top of the kitchen island. I know he wanted the special home-cooked dinner I usually did for Valentine’s. It isn’t a thing for us; it’s not special like it is for Lily and Owen, or heartsore like for Kari and Di. It’s just a day; and I think Jerry sends flowers because NetFlorist keeps reminding him. I make a special dinner because I know Jerry likes it. But this year, I didn
Another thing to add to the list of things about me that I imagine Jerry is currently unimpressed with. Based on his complaints, I think it would look like this, possibly in order of importance:
One: Not a Jew
Two: No sex
Three: Hardly home
Four: Shouts at husband and children
Five: Ageing rapidly
Six: Drinks too much
Seven: Always late
Eight: No Valentine’s dinner
There’re a few more I could add in if I wanted to.
I went upstairs and peeked in at the kids’ door on the way to our room. I was relieved to see them sleeping. Why is it that I feel the most love towards them when they are warm and soft and I can snuggle them without their knowing it? I thought it would be easier after the terrible twos, but the tantrummy threes everyone warned me about have been diabolical. Jerry says it’s because I’m dealing with my own flowering forty-fours. That caused a lively exchange followed by a loud and extended bout of screaming flower yous to each other in the passage outside our bedroom. It rattles Kari, Lily and Di the times they’ve seen it, but Jerry and I get over that kind of thing pretty quickly. Never any hard feelings. We call it our version of Marital Passage Sex. The kids don’t even blink an eye.
I imagined Jerry snoring in front of the TV in our bedroom. He is an early-to-bed and an annoyingly-happy-morning guy. I’m a night owl and extremely-grumpy-morning gal. For a while last year, I tried going to bed at the same time as him – eight-thirty, for crying in a bucket – to see if it would help us connect a bit more, but I just couldn’t do it. Middle of the day is our best time to cross paths. Before the twins, we would make the most of it and sneak home for lunch-time sex. These days, just sneaking lunch together would be a big deal.