tagLoving WivesThat's What Friends Are For

That's What Friends Are For


Iain exhaled slowly. His eyes were focussed at some random point in the middle distance and his hands gripped the steering wheel of the stationary car. It was done. It was over. Ended. He tried to analyse his feelings before he set off on the twenty minute journey to his home, and his wife. They didn't make a great deal of sense.

The main feeling was one of relief, then sadness, then optimism, regret and an overwhelming sense of having been a complete idiot - coming back to relief: relief that it was over. Had he loved her? God knows! I've been alive for well over fifty years and I'm buggered if I know what being in love is. But that wasn't quite true was it? Iain knew that there was something different about his feelings towards Jill, his wife. Something that hadn't been there in the few months he'd been seeing Eileen. Then again, there was something in his relationship with Eileen that isn't there with Jill. He smiled to himself and shrugged. He'd really miss that. No, REALLY miss that.

His eyes refocused on the dashboard and he started the Audi A4. As he pulled away from the car park in Eileen's block of flats, he thought that it would probably be for the last time. The car park had become so familiar to him. It was where he'd first kissed her. Christ! It was like being a teenager again - snogging in the car after I'd given her a lift home. He turned on the radio, wanting to get Eileen, and that image of their first kiss, out of his head. It was over.

The next thing he knew he was sitting on his drive, turning off the car ignition. Iain shook his head as he opened the door, grabbed his laptop from the back seat and headed into the house. How many times have I driven home from work on autopilot? One day it'll get me! He let himself in, closely followed by the cat, and called out to Jill that he was home.

He contrasted the silent reception with what it would have been like walking in fifteen or twenty years ago, when he would have been bombarded by his son and daughter, anxious to tell him what they'd done at school. Long gone, with careers of their own, Iain still thought of this as their home -- even if they didn't.

Then in the silence, he heard Jill's voice, and realised she was on the 'phone. He dropped his bag as he walked into the study, and she looked at him and smiled -- mouthing that she was talking to her mum. He waggled his wrist by his mouth, asking in sign language if she wanted a drink. She nodded a yes, her eyes indicating that a G&T would probably be more welcome than the "C for coffee" shape she made with her hand.

He made them both some coffee and dropped Jill's on the desk. As he did so, she raised her eyes to heaven and shook her head. Iain could hear her mother droning on through the earpiece. He just smiled and went to watch the news. He was halfway through the usual Channel 4 doom and gloom by the time she came and sat beside him.

"That sounded even more one sided than your mum's usual conversations."

He gave her a hug and a peck on the cheek.

"It wouldn't be so bad if it was something new, but it's just the same old stuff."

Iain squeezed her hand in a gesture of support and asked what was for dinner. Jill just said that as he'd mentioned he'd be a bit late, she'd just get something out of the freezer.

"Ah sod that, let's go out to the Italian." Although going to the local Italian restaurant was nothing unusual for them, Iain had changed his life in the past hour and wanted to mark it.

After a second or so, she nodded and agreed that it was a good idea, so they both finished their coffee and went to change. Iain sat on the bed watching his wife faff around with makeup and lipstick, and talking about her mum's call. Their conversation was easy, certainly easier than the conversation he'd had with Eileen a couple of hours ago. Then again, when you've lived with someone for over twenty years, conversation should be easy. He looked at Jill, and despite every effort, his mind couldn't resist contrasting her with Eileen. The two women were within months of being the same age, Jill was definitely the better looking of the two; he loved his wife's hair. Short, blonde and really well cut and styled. But the better body belonged to Eileen. Though both women's bodies had suffered the ravages of having kids, for whatever reason: genetics, exercise, diet or just good luck -- Eileen's body was more like that of a thirty something, rather than a fifty something. But it didn't matter to Iain, as she concentrated on eye makeup and talked about her mother (why ARE women so much better at multi-tasking?), he loved her to bits.

On impulse he jumped up and put his arms around her, looking over her shoulder at themselves in the mirror. She put down the eye liner, sighed heavily and looked at him in the way she had looked at the kids when they were five and had done something wrong. He kissed her neck.

"Hmm, maybe we should forget the Italian and just go to bed..."

The disapproving look intensified and Jill shook her head:

"Please don't..."

And THAT was the huge difference between the two women.

He hugged her:

"Okay, I just wish you'd tell me why." He smiled again to show that whilst it was an issue, she was off the hook for an answer.

She decided her make up was done, and turned to him. She gave him a hug, accompanied by a sigh and then a short kiss.

"I keep telling you, I don't know. I'm sorry." Another sigh, "Come on, let's go and eat."

They set off on the short walk to the restaurant and Iain instinctively picked up Jill's hand. He thought back to one of the first times he'd gone out with Eileen. As they had set off walking he had grabbed hand. She giggled and said that you could always tell who were the married couples and who was having an affair, because the lovers always held hands, and talked all the time. Iain hadn't replied at the time but reflected that that certainly didn't apply to him and Jill. They had always held hands, and certainly were never short of conversation. Maybe it was just a reflection on Eileen's marriage and its break up.

The restaurant was quiet and Jill and Iain got a table in the corner. Jill loved it, with her back to the wall she could people watch to her heart's content. They ordered and as they sipped their drinks he stroked he hand. Just as he had done for over 20 years.

"You know I looked up your... OUR ... problem on the internet yesterday."

She gave him a concerned look:

"What did you Google? 'Why isn't my wife obsessed by sex like me?'"

He ignored the implication that it was him that was the problem.

"It's actually really common. It affects a lot of women and some men too. And I Googled 'Loss of libido in 50s'"

Before she could make a sarcastic comment he went on, still stroking her hand and smiling at her:

"Surprise surprise, it's a complicated issue -- partly physical, partly psychological -- and cases differ."

"So you think I'm a basket case?" Her eyes smiled at him.

"Of course you're a basket case. Why else would you have put up with me for twenty odd years?"

He opened his mouth to continue, but she interrupted:

"Please don't do this. I don't want to see a counsellor. I don't know why I just don't want to do it anymore." She paused and smiled at him. "I keep telling you to go and find someone else."

"And I keep telling you I don't want anyone else."

But before he could continue with the conversation they had repeated more times than he cared to remember, the waiter brought a foursome and sat them at the next table. Iain smiled and winked:

"Saved by the bell ..."

Iain had left for work and Jill had a pretty full, if not particularly strenuous or exciting last day of half term. Next Monday she'd be back at school -- though she only did four days a week since the cuts, and that suited her. Money wasn't a problem for them, and she liked the long weekends that Friday's off gave her. She was just thinking about getting herself showered and dressed when her mobile chirped an incoming message. Anne's request that she meet for coffee was most welcome -- it would break up the day nicely and would fit in with shopping she had to do. She texted back a time and place, and set about getting ready with a lot more enthusiasm. She really enjoyed Anne's company, and was looking forward a good natter with her best friend.

As Jill arrived at the coffee shop, Anne was in the short queue so she took Jill's order and Jill found two comfortable seats at the back of the shop. They sat and caught up for a few minutes, but almost immediately Jill sensed something was worrying Anne. Jill looked at her friend, who'd probably kept in better shape than Jill had, but she just looked a bit worried. Jill decided to take the bull by the horns:

"So, when are you going to tell me?"

Anne looked puzzled:

"Tell you what?"

"Tell me what the hell is worrying you?"

Anne asked if she was really that transparent, but Jill said nothing and just raised her eyebrows.

"It's Paul."

"Oh my God, he's not having an affair is he? Or is he ill?"

"No, no -- nothing like that. At least I'm pretty sure it's nothing like that. I ... erm ... he just doesn't seem to be interested in me anymore?"

"What? You two are great together. He adores you."

"Oh I know, we enjoy each others company, we laugh and joke but ... he's just not interested in me."

Jill just looked at her friend, letting the silence prompt her.

"We haven't done it for ages. And the last time I practically had to force myself on him. I was so desperate I even looked up the problem on the internet."

Oh God, you as well? Jill's thought was so loud she wondered if she'd actually said it out loud. But Anne went on:

"It's actually quite common apparently."

You don't say!

"I know this is a really personal question but, how often do you and Iain .... you know ..." Anne let the question tail off.

Now it was Anne that was using the silence to get information.

Jill just started to burble "Umms", "errs" and in the end settled for "I don't really know."

"Okay, well, when was the last time you did it?"

Jill couldn't remember a time when she had felt so uncomfortable, but Anne was her friend, her confidante. She took a deep breath, and in a barely audible voice, said:

"I think it was about three years ago ..."

The third bout of silence in the short conversation was not one where someone was waiting for an answer. It was a stunned silence on one part, and a feeling of shame on Jill's behalf. Jill's thoughts raced: Why should I feel ashamed? Inadequate? It's not my fault .. my body just doesn't want to do it. Why should I force it? Then she took another deep breath:

"You're right, it is quite common. And actually, more common in women than men. I think Iain googled the same stuff as you."

"Oh you poor thing ..."

Jill half smiled:

"You don't get it do you? Don't feel sorry for me -- it really doesn't worry me -- and that's the problem."

"So Iain is like me?"

Jill nodded.

The two women talked on, gradually feeling more comfortable with the difficult conversation -- but each one finding it hard to understand the other.

A few days later, Iain got to the end of a chapter in his book, turned off the bedside light, and turned over putting his arm around Jill as he did so. She snuggled up with her back towards him -- feeling his warm body and arms envelop her. Whilst in no way a fitness fanatic, Iain had looked after himself and she could feel his muscular biceps and forearms.

"That feels nice."

"I'm glad." No matter how long he thought about, Iain couldn't rationalise the obviously warm, affectionate feelings she felt for him with a complete lack of any desire for sex. He knew what would happen if he pushed it -- they would end up sleeping as far away from each other as it's possible to get in one bed. He was just thinking about moving his hand to caress her breast when she spoke:

"I was thinking it's such great weather at the moment; can you swing Friday afternoon off. We can meet at a pub for lunch and go for a walk or something."

"Yeah, I've not got a lot on at the moment. Yeah, great idea, let's do that."

"Good. I'll think of somewhere to eat."

Iain glanced at his watch. Five to twelve -- time to go and meet Jill for a lazy afternoon. He shut down his laptop and left work feeling really good. He was looking forward to a light lunch and a leisurely stroll in the sunshine. The fifteen minute drive to The Hunter's Rest was done with the windows down and wind in (what was left of) his hair. He looked around for Jill's car in the Car Park, but he'd obviously beaten her.

He walked into the pub's garden and looked around. He did a double take -- Jill's friend Anne was sitting at a table idly flicking through a magazine.

"Do you come here often?"

She jumped -- he'd obviously startled her. Then she looked up and smiled:

"What are you doing here?"

"Meeting Jill for lunch. What about you?"

"Ditto -- well, meeting Paul. He's got the afternoon off."

Iain was just about to remark on the coincidence, and when his phone chirped a message. He was smelling a rat before he'd even read it.

Sry. Got called into work. Enjoy your afternoon of freedom. Love you always, Jill x.

Iain's mind raced -- that message was one of the strangest he'd ever got. 'Afternoon of freedom?' What's that all about? And Love you always was a bit OTT for Jill (it was normally just 'Love, Jill x'.

He was just about to tell Anne that Jill wasn't coming when her phone buzzed. Before she even read it, Iain said:

"Paul's not coming!"

Anne read the message.

"How did you know?"

"We've been set up! Jill's cried off too."

Iain felt a tightness in his chest, as what was happening got clearer in his mind. As he watched Anne, he saw her face change as the situation dawned on her.

Iain sat down on the picnic table bench next to her.

"Did Paul say anything odd in his message?"

She looked at him, nodding her head slowly:

"He said for me to 'make the most of the afternoon and do anything I want.'"

Iain felt nauseous with tension. Is Jill really giving me a free pass with her best friend? Is Paul doing the same for Anne?

Jill looked at Iain, trying to read his expression:

"I take it that Jill has mentioned to you that you and I have a similar ... err ... situation?"

Iain's face broke into a half smile:

"I gather we both googled the same thing -- with the same results. A big fat 'tough' -- or see if you can persuade your partner into counselling, or into a course of pills. And Jill's way too private to discuss something like this -- and I don't want her on any hormone pills."

Anne smiled at him and nodded. She'd known Iain for years, and he was just as much a friend as Jill was. She watched him as he talked, fair hair now more grey than blonde. He'd put on a bit of weight, but was probably in better shape than Paul. She was brought out of her thoughts by a question, and by the fact that Paul had stood up.

" ... drink?"

She asked for a spritzer, and watched him go. Hmm, nice bum.

Iain looked back out of the window as the guy behind the bar got their drinks. Anne looked good, not as naturally attractive as Jill, but Iain knew she was a bit of a gym freak. Her body looked good, and the blouse was tight against what Iain guessed were a very nice pair of ... what? 36C's?

He took the drinks out and asked her if she wanted anything to eat. She laughed and said she was starving, but right now, food was the last thing her churning stomach wanted.

"I know what you mean. So what shall we do?"

Jill looked at her watch -- 5:30. She had no idea what time Iain would get back. She had weeded the back garden on autopilot -- she hadn't really had to go into school of course. Her mind had raced all afternoon trying to work out if she'd done the right thing. She wanted to save her marriage, and she was almost certain Iain had had, and maybe even was still having, a fling with someone from work. She'd turned a blind eye to it because she knew it was her own fault. But even with that threat she couldn't bring herself to have sex with Iain.

It wasn't that sex had been bad with Iain -- in fact on occasions it had been spectacular. But that was someone else's life -- not hers. Another Jill -- not the overweight, saggy boobs, frumpy, old looking Jill sitting in the garden imagining her husband with her best friend's legs wrapped round his waist. Why won't that image go away? When it did go away, it was replaced by one of Iain plunging into Anne from behind, and Anne screaming "Yes, yes, yes!". Oh God, what have I done?

Her mobile rang and broke her mind out of its confusion of images and worries.

"Hi, how are you doing?"

Paul sounded as tense as she did.

"Don't ask. Did we do the right thing?"

"Well, like I told you; I was pretty sure Anne was going to have a fling with a bloke from the gym. And I'd much rather it were with Iain, and all above board and not sordid. And if it all goes wrong, then it was all going to go wrong anyway."

"Yeah! Why does that not make me feel better?"

At that point she heard the house phone ringing and was just about to tell Paul when he said had an incoming call and broke off. Jill knew who would be on the other end of the line ... and answered with a sheepish "hello".

"You scheming little minx!" Iain sounded quite jolly -- I suppose he should be, he's had his first guilt free shag in four years. "Anne and I are at the Hilton -- come on over and join us, Anne's getting your co conspirator to come too."

The Hilton! A hotel! Oh my God they did it! They've probably been at it like rabbits all afternoon. Jill suddenly felt like she wanted to throw up.

"Jill? Jill? You there?"

"What? Oh yeah, sorry. Okay, I'll be there in a while." She hung up wondering how she was ever going to face them.

Despite the fact that Paul had been at work when the call came in, and that he'd gone home and changed, he still arrived before Jill. If Jill was going to sit with her husband's lover, she wanted to look as good as she possibly could. Even if it was her best friend.

Paul saw his wife and friend in the corner as he entered the bar. They were all smiles -- both of them looked a bit flushed. Or is that just my imagination running riot? As he got nearer he saw his wife smile and she stood up to give him a huge hug and a kiss. As she pressed her body against his, he jumped back and looked at her. She wasn't wearing a bra. He started to say something but she just and kissed him, then stepped back and winked. Paul's throat was dry. He was suddenly absolutely terrified he might lose his wife. Then he saw that smile, and relived that kiss. A kiss that said "we're okay, don't worry."

Before Paul could say much more he saw Iain look up and wave. He turned to see Jill coming towards them. He'd always thought of her as "the pretty one" of the two women. She might be a bit overweight, but she still looked good. And she knew how to dress herself to look good too.

Iain almost rushed to meet her, held her close and kissed her.

"Come and join us. I think you know everyone." His smile was mischievous, and Anne giggled as he said it. The men went to the bar to order, and Jill looked at Anne. Christ! She's not wearing a bra!

Anne just smiled as she saw Jill notice her nipples against the thin material of the blouse. Jill couldn't contain it any longer:


"Well what?" Anne was enjoying watching Jill squirm.

"How did it go?"

"What go?"

Jill just gave Anne her "stern naughty 5 year old" look.

"Oh! This afternoon? Oh yeah, we had a good time."

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