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The Interview: Chapter 7


“Aunt Doreen!” The brass letterbox rattles as I push the door.

“In here, dear,” she calls from the kitchen.

I make my way through the slightly musty hallway into the bright kitchen where Aunt Doreen, dressed in a terry cloth robe and head full of pink spongey hair curlers, is pushing her fat tabby cat from the kitchen table. “Bloody moggy.” She scoots it away from an earthenware teapot, patting her silver-blond hair. “Oh, pretty!” she coos as her gaze snags on the flowers in my hand.

“I’m glad you like them because they’re for you.” Her eyes sparkle as I present her with the modest bunch.

“For me?” she repeats with genuine pleasure as she brings them to her nose and inhales. “Oh, how lovely! I don’t remember the last time someone bought me flowers. Thank you, Mimi, love.”

“None of your harem buy you flowers?” I press my hand to my chest with mock affront before sliding off my jacket and draping it over the wooden chair back. “Sounds like you didn’t train them right.”

“My date tonight would probably just pilfer a bunch from the local cemetery.”

“He sounds like a charmer,” I say as I pull out the chair.

“He really isn’t.” She gives a little laugh. “I picked him up during my bad-boy phase.”

At seventy-nine, Aunt Doreen, who isn’t really my aunt, lives life at full tilt. From mornings spent volunteering at the local food bank and soup kitchen, to coffee dates with her friends, onto a diary that’s just bursting with actual dates.

“So Wednesday night is Alan?” I hazard.

“No, love. Alan is Thursday.” She turns and opens a cabinet door before banging it shut again. “Wednesday is my reformed bad-boy Frank. Well, boy might be stretching it, but he is younger than me.”

“You cougar!”

“He keeps me on my toes,” she trills.

“Does that mean he tries to get fresh with you?”

“One can only hope, dear. One can only hope!”

Aunt Doreen has a different man every night of the week (except Sunday night when she puts her feet up) because, in her own words, she’s “grabbing what’s left of life by the short and curlies.” Which I think means she’s grabbing life by the balls. She’s certainly ballsy and doesn’t give a “flying fig” for what anyone thinks. Personally, I think she’s got the right idea. I also think my family might not have been so calm about me staying here if they knew what kind of crazy she is.

We might not be related but she’s my kind of woman, and I’ve decided I’m taking a page out of her book. Not that I intend to date a different man every night. I might have considered it prior to what I’ve come to refer to in my head as “the interview.” But now I’m only interested in Whit.

“Frank is a good little mover,” Aunt Doreen says, snapping me out of my thoughts. “And tonight is salsa night.” She does a little shimmy that belies a recent hip replacement. “I’ll be as stiff as a board tomorrow. If I’m lucky, Frank will reach that point a little sooner, eh?” Turning her head over her shoulder, she sends me a bawdy wink.

“What time were you thinking?”

“Of coming back for a nightcap? Oh, I shouldn’t think I’ll be home before eleven 0’clock tonight.”

I make a mental note to be in bed and fast asleep way before then as, from under the sink, she pulls out a vase much too big for this modest bunch. She begins to fill it with water from the faucet. “These are beautiful. You really shouldn’t have.”

“They’re just a little thing to say thanks for putting up with me.”

“None of your nonsense,” she scoffs. “You’re not a bother. You brighten the place up.”

I eye the orange-painted walls, pink fridge, electric kettle and toaster. Who knew my energy was so… vivid. “How long has Frank been part of your rotation?”

Aunt Doreen pauses, a yellow tulip in hand. “Maybe two months?”

“A new boy.” Pressing my elbow to the table, I brace my chin on my palm. “Did you meet him at your salsa class?”

“No. At the little supermarket on the corner. My friend Betty was popping ’round for lunch, and I needed salad stuff. Would you believe he accosted me in the veg aisle? I was holding a cucumber, and he said, ‘ah, a lonely lady’s favorite companion.’”

I almost choke on my tongue. “And you let him take you out after that introduction?”

“At first, I thought about hitting him with it. Only, I hadn’t paid, and it seemed a bit unfair. After all, Ravi, the owner, didn’t deserve a bruised cucumber. And I’m not sure his wife would’ve liked it.”

Cue choke number two. “Aunt Doreen!”

“What? It’s true. I would’ve kicked Frank in the wotsits if I was a few years younger, only this new hip gives me some jip when I lift my leg too high. Anyway, I gave him the once-over and decided he wasn’t bad looking. He still has most of his own hair and not many men do at that age. Anyway, there he was, standing in the veg aisle, like the cock of the walk, a box of teabags under his arm when I realized he’d come out in his house slippers. So I said to him, ‘nice slippers,’ you know, all unimpressed, thinking I’d take the wind out of his sails. But do you know what the cheeky devil said? ‘How would you like to find them under your bed in the morning?’”

“Oh, my gosh!” I say with a laugh, partly at her storytelling and partly at her wiggling eyebrows.

“But I do like the bold ones. That’s why I decided I would like to see what they looked like. Those slippers. Under my bed. Or at least, to see if he was all mouth and no trousers. Maybe you’d call that all hat and no cattle.

“All talk and no action? And he wasn’t?” Or else he wouldn’t be a fixture on her rotation.

“Well, there is a lot going on in the trouser department, if you know what I mean.”

I roll my lips inward to prevent something careless from falling out. Something like, ew, no, Aunt Doreen, I do not need to hear about elderly man penis and how it performs!

Thankfully, she’s not looking at me as she concentrates on her flower arrangement. But coy isn’t in her wheelhouse. “The wonders of modern medicine,” she murmurs with a secretive kind of smile.

I don’t think she’s talking about her hip replacement.

“Don’t these gentleman callers of yours mind that they have competition?”

“If they do, they know to keep it to themselves, or they can sling their hook elsewhere. I was married once before. I’m not doing that again. This keeps them on their toes, and it doesn’t land me dirty socks and underpants to wash.”

“Well, it’s clearly working for you.” Because a more vibrant senior citizen I’ve yet to meet. Maybe I should be sad that Aunt Doreen has a more active social life than I do, but I’m not. I love that she’s squeezing out every drop of this crazy journey. Not that my life has been crazy so far, but I have high hopes. Very high hopes.

“Variety, dear Mimi, is the spice of life. Maybe you can find that out for yourself when you make a couple of new friends. That’s all it’ll take before your social life becomes a whirl. A gorgeous girl like you will have the boys trotting after her like tom cats.”

“We’ll see.” I’m not planning on settling for a boy. I have my sights set on a man. A whole lot of man with eyes like a tiger and a bite I want to experience.

We fall quiet for a moment, lost in our own thoughts. Doreen continues to arrange her modest bouquet as my mind returns to musing about Whit. I’m beginning to wonder how he fits women into his schedule—never mind who.

The days Whit is in the office, he arrives before I do and leaves after I’m gone. According to his expense reports, he orders a lot of dinners to his desk. His calendar is jam-packed with meetings, in-house and remote, and one afternoon a week is blocked out for some NGO he’s on the board of. When he’s not in the building, he’s jetting between the European operations in Paris, Brussels, and Zurich. And then there are the requests for interviews from financial publications and the more tabloid ones. I’ve gone months ahead and back in his calendar driven by my curiosity and can see the vacations he occasionally takes are still of an extreme nature. Snowboarding in Verbier winter past. Free climbing in Greece coming up in the fall.

I’m beginning to wonder when I’ll get to seduce him, given the pace of his life.

“This was my mother’s vase,” Doreen murmurs absently, bringing me out of my dissatisfied musings.

“Varse,” I mouth the word silently, exaggerating the movement by dropping my chin when she looks up and catches me.

“I hope you’re not pulling faces like that at work.”

“Only when his door is closed.” Which isn’t very often, as it seems Whit likes me to be within bellowing distance.

“Your boss still being a pain?” she asks, not without sympathy.

“Eh.” I shrug. “Nothing I can’t handle.” I’ve had terrible bosses before, and a terrible boss he is not. He’s a little cranky, but who knows whether it’s because he’s stuck with me or because he thinks he needs to resist me? All I know is, one minute, I feel like he’s looking at me like he said he would, like he’s replaying my interview, and the next, he’s stomping around the place looking madder than a wet hen. I can’t stop thinking about the daddy version of him. Daddy Whit makes me feel all… ooh-hoo-hoo. Hot and kind of shivery and I know there’s no one on this earth I’d be more comfortable exploring this side of me.

“Are you cold? Do you need a cardi?”

I jolt back to myself and give a quick shake of my head.

“I have some of that cannabis oil if you want to slip some into his tea.”

“No!” Gosh, Aunt Doreen is a trip.

“It might mellow him out,” she reasons.

“He’s really not that bad.” And I’m not sure I want him mellow. Whit has been the object of my fantasies since before I knew what a fantasy was. Twelve-year-old me just knew he was the best man on earth. I’d assumed that when I grew up, we’d get married. After all, he treated me much better than my brother did. Of course, Connor was just trying to get me out of the house so they could have their wicked way with their harem of women.

But that’s fine. Women have always been drawn to Whit like hummingbirds to a fire bush. I remember when Connor and Whit would take me to the mall for ice cream, usually at Whit’s insistence. The looks he’d draw from women of all ages—some of them old enough to be his mom! The year I turned fourteen, I suddenly became very popular at school when Whit visited, but it was the girls his own age who annoyed me most. He was my fairy-tale prince, but I had to share him. He had such a way and an innate magnetism. And the girls who hung around the pool in the summer, the ones that led him into the pool house by the hand? Well, I’d decided back then that they were just placeholders until I got boobs. At that age, boobs seemed to be the pinnacle of adulthood. The other thing I learned about boobs was that, like watched pots, they take their time.

As for how he treats me now, it’s worth noting that people only treat you with as much (or as little) respect as you’ll allow. While Whit’s moods might be mercurial, he hasn’t once disrespected me, not even during my clumsy attempts at seduction. That’s just not him.

“You can always look for something else. No point staying in a job that makes you miserable. Life is too short.” Her hands suddenly still on the vase. “I’m sorry, love,” she says, her mouth turning down. “You don’t need me to tell you that, do you? Not after all you’ve been through.”

I send her a bright smile and shake off her concerns. I won’t feel sorry for myself. “What are you taking the oil for, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“My dodgy hip. Just when it’s acting up.”

“Well, I don’t think he needs it.” I’m sure his hips work just fine. In fact, I’m counting on it. I find myself smiling as I trace my finger over an old scar on the tabletop. Whit’s temper is fleeting, and I keep expecting him to burst out of his shirt like the Incredible Hulk. A girl can hope. “I kind of like him the way he is.” It’s a new side to him, and I kind of like it on him. I think a lot of the time I might goad him to it because while I’ve had crankier bosses, I’ve never had one I wanted to bend me over his desk in punishment.


My smile shrinks as I glance up.

“You like him. Your boss. You like like him.” It’s not an observation. More like an accusation.

“No. I told you, he was Connor’s friend. We have a history.” It’s not as torrid as I’d like it, but I live in hope. “But if I did like him…” Urgh, this is crazy. I cannot confide in my elderly relation. This wouldn’t be happening if I’d stood up to my parents. I should be living in semi-squalor with girls my own age! But then again, Doreen does have years of experience…

“But if you did like him like that?” Doreen hesitantly repeats.

“What would I do about it?” Not in a fatalistic, woe-is-me way. More like give me a hint, naughty Doreen. Show me your temptress ways!

“Well, if you did,” she says, looking at me over the top of her pink-framed spectacles, “I’d suggest you write down all the things you want to happen between you and him. What you’d like to do to him and what you’d like him to do to you.”

“Yes?” Better buy a new notepad because it sounds like I’m making a list. A long list!

“Jot it all down. Get all the dirty details down on the paper.”

“And then?” How do we action this plan?

“Then you take the paper outside with a box of matches and set it on fire—”

“Like a pagan ritual?” I sit straight in my chair. I like it, even if my Baptist parents would have a fit.

“—and never think about him that way again.”

“Oh.” I slump back in my seat. That’s not what I was expecting. “What happened to being bold?”

“I’m an old lady, love. No one is going to be talking about me around the water cooler. And if they did, I wouldn’t hear them on account of my deafness.”

“You’re not going deaf.”


“I said—never mind.” I fell for it again. I don’t bother hiding my smile. “Does that go for your neighbors, too? You don’t mind if they gossip?”

“They’re all upwardly mobile types around here. Dinks,” she says as though the word tastes bad. “Double income, no kids,” she adds when I look confused. “No one to fight over in a divorce if you discount the dog. They already look at me as though I’m cheapening the street when I’ve been here since I was three years old. Quite frankly, Mimi love, they can kiss my Irish arse if they do mind.”

As well as not being deaf, Doreen isn’t Irish.

“You know, that’s kind of how I feel. I’m done living my life by other people’s rules.” I’d gone to the college my parents wanted me to, an all-girls Christian college just an hour from home. They said it would be for the best, but the best for who? Not me. It was the best they could do short of wrapping me in cotton and never letting me out of the house again. I’d done it because they were all so changed after Connor died, and I would’ve done anything to ease their pain. I’d toed the line, and I’d taken all the precautions, given Connor’s cardiac arrest. He was so fit and healthy—such a gym junkie—that we couldn’t believe it.

In the aftermath, I stayed close to home. I rarely drank, ate healthy meals, and promised I’d avoid strenuous activities. Including sex. I attended doctor appointments when I was supposed to—monitoring cardiology appointments, too. His death made me want to squeeze as much life in as I could. I wanted to travel and explore, but instead, I chose their needs over mine. But in the end, it made no difference. It makes me so sad when I think of all the time I’ve wasted, time I will never get again.

So I’m here, in London, with a list of experiences where I’ve wanted to live for years. Even staying with Doreen is a compromise to help my parents sleep at night. Someone to check on me and make sure I’m tucked safe in bed, not—

I cut off the internal noise, closing the door on a mind of crowded thoughts and recriminations.

“Screw what anyone else thinks,” I announce. “None of us are here forever, so we should make the most of it while we are.”

“You’re right. Of course you’re right. I just wouldn’t want to see you hurt.”

“Whit isn’t like that. He’s one of the good guys.”

“I hope so,” she adds with a sad-looking smile. “Anyway, it’s not like you’ll be here long.”

“Ouch, Aunt Doreen. You never know when your number is up, but that was brutal!” This conversation might’ve turned a little dark, but perky is more my style.

“I meant here in London, you silly mare! It’s not as though you’re looking to make a life here, is it?”

Are we talking horses, or am I a nightmare? And what constitutes a life? Twenty-five years? Thirty-six? Fifty? All I know is I’m going to squeeze as much enjoyment into the time right in front of me because who knows what’s just over the next hill.

“Is Frank taking you to dinner?” I ask, segueing a change of topic.

“No, I bought a nice quiche from the bakery. I thought you and I could have that with a bit of salad.”

“Great.” But not as great as ordering in sushi. I guess my people-pleasing days aren’t exactly over because that’s how my day ends, eating cold quiche and salad with my elderly relation who, despite being more than three times my age, is definitely getting more bedroom action.


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