She readily accepted, and he went through most of the week looking forward to having her round. Then, that Thursday, when he came into the copy room he overheard her joking about him to another colleague. She described the way he had behaved on their evening out. He had been an awkward bumpkin, she said, and she mentioned their forthcoming dinner date as an immense joke. She wasn't sure how to back out yet, but she wasn't going, of course. Then he heard nothing any more but the sound of kissing and mortified to his soul he left the room. So that was that.

When he saw her later that day he said he was sorry, but he couldn't make it that weekend. She didn't seem too sad about it, and he didn't try to find another date. His altercations with Heather came back to his mind with a vengeance. Women. No thanks.

Lillian had made a few half-hearted attempts at finding a different job. The main problem was her CV. She did have the right papers; but how to explain the years of inactivity after her graduation? She could hardly be honest about them. She hadn't even been invited for an interview once. It seemed she was really stuck in the porn industry unless she could think up some very convincing lies.

She felt so dissatisfied with everything that she had put herself on a rigorous work scheme redoing her home. When there were no shoots she'd be stripping off old wallpaper - it was amazing how many layers had amassed over the years - and sandpapering doors and door frames, and painting them a pleasant off-white. She bought a lot of new wallpaper and glue and a special table.

She didn't succeed in getting the papering right. She'd tried a couple of times; but she either got blisters in the paper when it dried up or she didn't get the paper straight; once it even fell off. She wished she had someone to lend a hand.

She shot another movie at the building Jim worked in. It was rather ridiculous. She ended up covered in washing up liquid; it would probably be labelled buck cake or something equally disgusting. She'd wondered lately how on earth people could fall for the improbable amounts of artificial come - the studs she worked with were rather average as a rule. A fisheye lens would change sizes out of proportion. Some fun, she thought.

When she'd collected her pay she walked to the lift to go home. It took some time before it came, and then she saw with a mixture of pleasure and embarrassment that that man, Jim, was going down, too.

"Er, hello," he said. "Lillian?"

"Hello Jim," she said. To her surprise she felt almost shy; he seemed to feel the same for she saw him blush.

"How's life?" he said.

"Oh," she said, "I'm fine." She didn't feel too happy, really, and this unexpected and, as far as she was concerned, unhoped-for meeting didn't lift her spirits at all. It rather drove home the fact that she was surrounded by too many impossible men.

Jim looked at her with raised eyebrows. "You don't sound it," he said. "Look, could I buy you a drink somewhere around? I er, I have been thinking about you from time to time, and I never expected to see you again."

Lillian sighed. "Alright," she said unenthusiastically. "At the bar on the ground floor?"

Jim nodded. That way they'd be close to the parking place; and there weren't any really pleasant pubs nearby, so this one was as good as the next.

They went in. "What'll you have?" he said, and then went and collected their drinks at the bar.

He took them over to their table, handed Lillian her glass and sat down.

The conversation was rather strained at first, but when Lillian found Jim didn't make any allusions to what had happened some months ago and that he neither made ambiguous remarks nor tried to stare down her cleavage she thawed a little.

She asked him about his job, and he told her a little about it, in a way that was funny and unassuming, and then she asked him where lived and he explained about his situation there.

She kept hoping he wouldn't touch on her work in return, without realising he wouldn't dare. When she found he didn't she inwardly heaved a sigh of relief. He told one or two funny stories and then she decided to tell him about her papering antics.

He grinned. "It's better to have one of your friends come over to help out," he said. "I have never managed alone. They say it will help you in finding out if you really get on well together, too. If you don't, you'll end up quarrelling long before the wall's done!"

She nodded. "I think I'd better," she said. Fat chance of that, she thought. Her colleagues were definitely not into wallpapering, and the few friends she had weren't really anything more than chance acquaintances - rather like Facebook friends. She grinned bitterly.

Jim saw the look on her face. He wasn't quite sure why it was there but he thought he could guess. He asked her her family name, and told her his.

When they'd finished their drinks he thanked her.

She said, "I'm afraid I haven't been too good company."

"You really don't seem too happy," he said. "Is there anything wrong?"

Lillian said there wasn't, but Jim saw a couple of big tears form in her eyes. She wiped them away with her hand. "I'm sorry," she said.

"Would you mind if I saw you again some time?" Jim asked. He expected to be told off - but to his surprise she said no.

"If I can have your number I'll call you some time next week," he said.

She nodded and they exchanged numbers. Then she fled.

She went straight home. The place was a big mess; apart from the spare room, which she hadn't started on yet all the rooms were innocent of wallpaper and the furniture stood in the middle waiting for the walls to be done. The kitchen seemed the only place where she could sit in relatively normal surroundings. She decided she should go and get a painter to do her stuff for her, and she opened the yellow pages and called one.

A couple of days later a man duly arrived around noon to survey the work to be done, measure things and make an offer. She opened the door for him and he stepped into hall. She expected him to start asking questions; instead he looked at her with a bearish grin.

"You're the missie I saw in the movies," he said. "The sweet slut. My God, I've always wanted to get my hands on your T&A." He stepped her way.

Lillian didn't hesitate for a moment; she ran and locked herself into the toilet.

"Come on, bitch, don't be a spoilsport," the man said. "You're not the woman to be bashful! Open up and give us some head!" He gripped the door handle and tried to force the door open.

Lillian had her cell phone on her and called 112. She stayed where she was until she heard the police arrive; when she came out of the toilet the man had gone. She gave the particulars to the officer.

When the police had left she went to the living room, took the sheet off her favourite chair, sat down and cried her heart out with huge, painful sobs. When she had calmed down enough she thought about things long and hard. She called off all engagements for the coming period. Then she found Jim's number in her list.

Jim was about to have a short break when he heard his ringtone, a couple of bars from "When the spell is broken," which he'd put on after the debacle with Heather. He picked up his phone. Lillian, it said. He answered the call, and got a hysterical account of a painter and an attempted rape, and he couldn't make head or tail of it. He let her go on for some time and then he said, "Look, you'd better tell me in person. Do you think you'll be alright?"

She said she would and he asked her address.

"I'll pick you up at your place straight away," he said. "Then we can have coffee somewhere and you can tell me all about it. Alright?"

"Yes. Please, you will come?" She was almost inaudible now.

"Of course I will," Jim said. He rang off.

He kept wondering what exactly could be the matter with the woman, and he dropped the work on hand. It wasn't pressing, fortunately. He went to his car as fast as he could and drove to Lillian's place.

When he rang he saw her look through the small window in her front door before she opened it.

"Please," she said, "Come in quickly."

Lillian had spent all afternoon worrying. She'd always loved her home, and now it felt all wrong, and she was red-eyed with crying and her face was tear-stained.

Jim wasn't good at tears.

"Look," he said, "hadn't you better wash your face first? You really look a sight. My, you do want to get the place papered. What a mess."

It wasn't the most diplomatic thing he could have said, and it elicited a fresh torrent of tears.

"Oh dear," he said and put an arm around her. That was much better, even though it really opened the sluice gates, and he instinctively sensed he'd better let her cry. She felt so miserable she couldn't stop, and Jim's shirt front got quite wet in the process.

When she stopped crying at last he produced his handkerchief and patted her eyes. She smiled somewhat self-consciously at him.

"Just excuse me for a moment," she said, and went to the bathroom to wash her face.

Her make-up was ruined, and she just washed it off. Better no make-up than such a mess, she thought.

Then she went back to Jim.

"You'd better tell me all about it," he said. "Er, if you'd rather not -"

"No, I will," she said. "Can we go somewhere else? I have to get out of here for the moment."

He nodded. "Some pub or restaurant?" he asked. "Or shall I take you over to my flat?"

Lillian considered for a moment. She didn't think Jim would make free with her, but she didn't feel at all at ease either.

"I'd like to go somewhere safe," she said. "And quiet."

Jim nodded. They went to the car together and he drove her to a small restaurant that was usually reasonable quiet. They were only just open and they were the only customers as yet; they sat down in a far corner. Without her make-up and with all the sadness on her face he thought she was hardly recognisable as the woman he'd met in the lift - but she took on a rather more human aspect for him now.

"Do you feel like some food?" he asked.

Lillian realised she hadn't had anything since seven o'clock that morning. "Yes please," she said with a sigh. "I'm famished, actually."

"Good. I can't drink as I'm driving. But you could do with a stiff drink, I suppose."

"Yes please," she said again.

He ordered a double whiskey for her while they studied the menu. When they had ordered their food he said, "I suppose you'd better tell me your troubles now - if you trust me at all. If I can help you out..."

Lillian swallowed. She took a large swig from her glass, cleared her throat and then she haltingly told him about what had happened that morning, and about her job, and how she didn't know what to do next. She concluded, "You must think I'm an absolutely immoral person and a complete slut. But I'm really fed up with it all."

Jim shook his head. "I don't, really. I er -" He smiled a little sadly. "I don't think you are. I was a bit taken aback by your shock tactics at first, but I highly enjoyed it afterwards. I can imagine a person gets fed up with that kind of job, though, and being seen as easy meat by some painter just because you've done some steamy movies is absolutely horrible." He shook his head again.

Lillian took another swig of her drink. She started to cough violently, and Jim had to pat her on the back before she stopped.

"Watch out," he said. "I don't want you to die on me."

"I'll be careful. But I'd like another whisky, please."

"Right. So what do we do now - if there's anything I can do? I'm reasonably good at wallpapering, so I could lend you a hand with that. Do the police think there's any chance of that creep returning? I mean, should there be someone to look after you?"

Lillian shook her head. "They know him. He always listens to them; so he'll leave me alone. You've no idea how threatened I felt."

She thought for some time and then she said, "The problem is that I don't see how on earth I can get round the gap in my CV. I'd love to stop this way of life - I cancelled all my engagements. But they'll think I'm ill, or maybe that I've found one that pays better. If I want to I can always go back."

She consulted her glass again. "I don't. But it pays well. Another job would probably pay less - but maybe..." She didn't finish. A few tears ran slowly down her nose into the glass she held in her hand. She sniffed. "It's all my own mistake," she said.

Jim bent over an patted her hand a little clumsily.

"You'd better not start blaming yourself," he said. "It isn't fair and it doesn't help. I understand you want another job. I will try and think along and I can help with the mess at your place. And maybe you can think more clearly when that's off your mind. What kind of a job do you have in mind?"

She told him she'd been looking for secretarial work; she thought she'd be good at it. But oh, how to get past that one insurmountable hurdle...

Their meals were served.

"Another whisky?" Jim asked.

"I think I'd like one more," she said. "I don't usually drink this much."

She smiled a little at herself, and rolled the remains of her second drink around in her glass.

"Like the maelstrom I'm in."

"Yes. But it's not irrevocable. Er, I mean that you can change things if you like. Let's try and find some way out."

They did enjoy their food. Lillian was famished indeed, and Jim rather enjoyed sitting and looking at her. She was really beautiful, he thought, and without the make-up plastered all over her face or the provocative clothing she wasn't quite so daunting. He definitively preferred her like this.

They talked about other things during the meal. Jim asked her about her hobbies, and she told him she liked travelling, and music - her father had taught her a lot about it, and her brother after that. He used to have a lot of music, she said. But after he suddenly died her sister-in-law had sold the lot for near to nothing. She still knew most of it, and she had been very sad about it. She had no other siblings and her parents were not alive any more.

She watched TV now and then, but she wasn't a great fan. And he?

Jim told her he only watched TV when he was dead tired. He played the guitar, and he liked art. He had a couple of original paintings and he enjoyed going to museums.

Lillian nodded. Hmm. She'd gone there, too, in the past. Somehow she'd more or less forgotten.

As to family, Jim said, there were only two aunts and one aunt and uncle left. The old aunts were in their late eighties, the aunt and uncle getting on for seventy. That was all, though. They'd been a small family all along, just like Lillian's.

After their meal they decided that Jim would come and help her out that weekend. Jim footed the bill and then he drove Lillian home. He escorted her to her front door but there were no creeps around.

"Thank you very much," Lillian said.

"Not at all. I hope you're a little better now - And I hope you won't have a headache tomorrow. But that's a minor problem. I'll try and see if I can think of something."

Lillian went inside and Jim gave her a wave of his hand.

"See you on Saturday, then. Bye!"

Lillian looked at all the furniture in the middle of the rooms. "Oh my God," she said aloud, "I hope he can knows how to get this done."

She went to bed straight away and slept like a log. The next morning she went all over the house, and cleared away what little evidence of her involvement in the sex industry there was. She didn't want any visitors to get the wrong idea ever again, not if she could help it, and she didn't want to remind Jim too much of their talk that afternoon. But he had guessed anyway, she thought. Oh well, he didn't seem to reject her offhand. It wasn't too bad to have a friend around. She hoped it would not just be this one thing, him coming over to paper her walls.

That Saturday morning Jim duly arrived, armed with an iron ruler, a roll-up tape measure - "I bought one of those, too," Lillian said - a large pair of scissors, a sharp knife and a common big brush with bristles of the kind you use with a dust pan. But it was new and clean. He showed Lillian how to prepare the starch, and how to apply it, and they used her brush for the glue and his to apply pressure on the paper once it was in its place. They only talked shop: measurements and new starch, and could they pass the scissors, please? Together they work fast and methodically, and when they'd ended their first day they had finished the living room, the bedroom, the study and part of the corridor.

"We should be able to finish the lot tomorrow," Jim said. "Come on, let's go out for dinner. Any suggestions?"

They went to an Italian restaurant. Jim had a pizza and Lillian a lasagne dish with mushrooms. Lillian had a few glasses of Chianti and Jim stuck to water like a few days before.

"Are you feeling any better?" Jim asked. "Oh, and by the way, how was your head that morning?"

"Yes I do, and no, no problems. I think I just needed it, really. Working like this is good, too."

"It boost the morale," Jim said. "Silly expression, but absolutely true."

They grinned at each other.

"I'll be round at seven tomorrow if you like," Jim said. "Then we can finish everything, including replacing you furniture. Ok?"

Lillian nodded. "Yes," she said. "That would be wonderful."

He dropped her off at her place and drove home. He turned in at then but sleep came hard. He wondered how on earth he could help her find a job, and the things she'd told him about her modelling and the encounter in the lift were a muddle in his mind. He tried to envisage her face when she'd blown him that evening and then decided against it. What if he - No, he wouldn't. He went to the bathroom and masturbated, thinking strictly of Heather in their good days. Lillian didn't need him to brew more trouble.

Then he went back to bed. He kept mulling the past few days in his head - and suddenly he got a flash of inspiration. His uncle would be retiring in three months' time; he had his own firm and employed a couple of girls to do the typing. He decided to call on him that Monday and see if he could help out. Better keep mum about it, he thought - no false expectations, please. He fell asleep with a grin on his face.

They duly finished the task. The furniture was returned to its proper place, and the whole house looked shiny and inhabitable again.

"Wonderful," Lillian said. "Thanks an awful lot!"

They had a simple spaghetti dish at her place. Lillian was a competent cook, and Jim was employed to cut some tomatoes, cucumber and goat's cheese for a salad.

Jim left at about eight and promised to call again in a few days.

That Monday he visited his uncle's firm in his lunch break. To his relief he was in, and they sat talking for quite some time. Jim asked him to employ Lillian in a secretarial capacity for the final months of his working life, and to agree to tell possible future employers that she had indeed spent the last six years or so in his firm. His uncle, Brendan Barnes, raised his eyebrows. It wasn't that he didn't trust his nephew, but he found it a rather tall order.

"She is not trying to cover up any criminal behaviour, is she?" he said.

"No. She has a gap in her CV she couldn't possibly explain away without great embarrassment. I think you can trust her; I do, for one. She is going through an emotional bad patch to say the least, and - oh well, I think she deserves better of life."

"Could you tell me about this gap?"

Jim considered. "I could, I suppose, although I'd rather not. I certainly could not tell Aunt Marge."

"I see. Well, I want to meet her first. You will understand that if she seems unsuitable in any way I cannot employ her. If not, I'm willing to help you out. Her wages will lower your inheritance; but I don't think you'll mind."

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