Eleventh Night

Alix had been through enough men to become highly cynical. She’d had enough six-week relationships to kill her belief in love as a male emotion. When she met Mal she promised herself she wouldn’t fall in love…especially with a man who was writing a book called The Guide To Advanced Bastardry and had turned bonk-em-and-leave-em into an art form! Warning: this story contains sex and bad language. 18+

Mal Jackson was proud of his status as a bastard. Not meaning a person born out of wedlock, but his ability to be a total shit, particularly in the love ‘em and leave ‘em field. He was even writing a book about it: The Guide To Advanced Bastardry. Initially he had started it as a kind of memoir just for himself, then thought that perhaps other people would like to read it. After all, it was humorous, people could relate to it and it explained the difference between the sexes a lot better than Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Undoubtedly he’d cop a lawsuit or two if it was ever published, but it would mean that men everywhere could revel in their bastardry. Many did anyway, he knew, but this was one self-help book that might make them feel a lot better about their behaviour.
Chapter One stated clearly that men thought only with their dicks, which probably wasn’t news to anyone.
Chapter Two covered the teenage years, those awful times when all boys wanted was a bonk and all girls wanted was a steady boyfriend. Mal had thought long and hard about this and had penned a how-to guide for boys who wanted to get out of being anyone’s steady boyfriend. This included how many weeks of carefree shagging you could get before the girl started getting too attached, precisely when to dump her (which was usually when you started seeing diamonds shining in her eyes, not just stars…about six to eight weeks was the norm), a plethora of mindless excuses to counteract what was bound to be a screaming match, and how to say “I don’t love you” with a straight face and make a quick getaway before the tears started. It was, in Mal’s view, a triumph in the study of human behaviour. And of course the how-to guide was not just applicable to teenagers, but to blokes of any age who wanted out. But in Mal’s view it was best to teach ‘em early.
Chapter Three was harder. By the time teenage girls became women in their twenties, they knew a lot more about men, sexually transmitted diseases, and how to fix their own cars or computers. They’d gone from being easy prey to creatures who were more difficult to attract to the delights of a one-to-several night stand.
Mal put the difficulties of Chapter Three aside and concentrated on the traffic. He drove what he considered to be a penis extender, a growling BMW M3 with a sunroof. He’d eschewed the traditional two seater sports car in favour of the executive rocket, as they didn’t have a back seat you could put to good use. Stuck at a red light, he made the following notation in his filofax: “Ch 3 – an expensive and/or European car will impress a certain sector of the female market. Expand.”
The lights changed and the Bimmer jumped forward like a racehorse out of the barriers. It was Friday afternoon and the exodus out of Sydney had begun with a vengeance. Mal was heading north, to have a relaxing weekend at a mate’s beach house on the Central Coast. He had lots of mates with beach houses; working in the finance and managed funds industry he met people with buckets of money, and was well on the way to having buckets of his own. But for the moment he was content to borrow other people’s weekenders. It was less traceable if irate females tried to track him down.
Mal groaned as another green light changed to amber and then red. But it gave him another minute for another editing note: “How to use e-mail in r’ship and for dumping. New ch E-mail and the Female?”
One more set of lights at Turramurra and then the highway was his! Mal grinned and gunned it off the lights again. He made it through the next set, turned right and cruised onto the F3, settling deeper into the soft leather seats.
“Start spreading the news,” he carolled, to the tune of New York, New York. “The news is legs…”
Abruptly he stopped, trying to think of something that would rhyme with legs and stay in context. Christ, songwriting was hard! How had Lennon and McCartney done it? The speedo needle crept surreptitiously to the right as he concentrated. Legs…dregs…begs….
Mal’s mobile phone burst into life, trilling out a hideous melody. Mal jumped and took his right foot off the go pedal when he saw he’d be in line for a massive speeding fine. He picked up the phone; no display for the caller’s number. Probably work phoning him in that case.
“Mal Jackson,” he said warmly.
An hysterical shriek battered his eardrums in reply, the only word of which he could understand was “Bastard!”. Ah, Jessica had logged on to her e-mail.
“Sorry,” said Mal when Jessica had paused for breath before another tirade, “I’m driving.” He switched the phone off and chucked it onto the back seat. She’d been okay while she lasted. Nice flat in Elizabeth Bay; pity he fancied her flatmate more than her though! Although a fling with the lady in question was probably a non-starter now, even though Mal had two- and even three-timed more than once (covered in Chapter Four). Jessica’s friends would, tonight, get the full run down on what a bastard Mal was and would possibly get shown the offending e-mail (which was the same one he’d used on her predecessor so he had nothing to hide there). Certainly Jessica would have memorised it to the point where she could quote from it. They’d commiserate with her, agree Mal was a prick and all men were bastards, get her drunk with several toasts to how good it was to be single, and try and set her up with the most boring git they knew at the earliest possible social occasion. That’s how it usually worked. That would be covered in Chapter Five.
Mal’s thoughts drifted to the next conquest. There was a new starter at work, and while work constituted shitting in your own backyard, it was also a good place to conduct the odd casual affair providing both sexes knew it was only a fling. Mal was usually remiss at pointing this out; mention “sex without strings” and women wouldn’t touch you because they always wanted something more. The new starter was Alix someone; he’d passed her in the corridor and had hastily stopped at the water cooler to get a better look. She was chatting to someone else and when terms like “imputation credits” rolled off her tongue in her rather husky voice his dick nearly stood to attention on the spot.
Yes, Alix might be a worthy successor to Jessica, if she was single. She wasn’t the best looker he’d ever seen, which meant singledom was a possibility. She’d have enough brains to be interesting, but hopefully not enough to see through him and his nefarious plans for casual sex. Really brainy women could eat him for breakfast. Which could, on reflection, be rather nice. Mal grinned.
***
Alix Chambers turned off her PC with a sigh of relief. God, what a first week it had been at her new job! Now it was past six thirty on Friday night and she was last but one to leave in her workgroup.
Alix tiredly fixed herself a ham salad when she got home, and ran the bath while she found an old trashy paperback, with Fabio on the cover and a promise of happy ever after within, that she’d bought at a local fete.
Half an hour later she’d drunk two glasses of white, had begun to turn into a rapidly cooling prune, and had thrown the book down in disgust.
“Load of crap!” Alix snorted, chucking the book against the bathroom wall so pages dislodged themselves and flew in all directions. “Lady Eleanor should have more bloody sense than to fall for an overbearing shit like Flagstaff!”
Fidget, the cat who never seemed to stay still for very long, even when he was asleep, inspected the book and then attacked it, finishing what the wall had started. Alix watched while her evil little feline pal shredded paper with machine-like efficiency. Finally he squatted over the tattered remains, a satisfied look on his aqua-eyed face.
Alix squealed: “No, Fidge!” But it was too late. Fidget had literally turned the book into a load of crap. It got Alix out of the bath quicker than a ringing telephone when she’d just met the man of her dreams.
Sighing, she cleaned up the mess and shooed an indignant Fidget off the bathroom cabinet, where he’d decided to have an after-crap wash.
Alix dried her face and hair and sucked her tummy in. She wished she could suck her hips, thighs and bum in too. Another week of bloody salads, though, and she’d fit into last year’s summer clothes. “Lookin’ good, Ms Average,” she told her reflection.
Alix was certainly far from ugly, but the genes that gave her eyes, ears, nose and mouth in the right places hadn’t exactly thrown in major enhancements as part of the package. Her just-too-long nose had a bump halfway down from being whacked in the face with a tennis racquet as a teenager and she had slightly buck teeth. She had vivid, intelligent green eyes, greener than grass, but they were just a bit too close together under her overlong chestnut fringe to be her best feature, even though they lit up like a Christmas tree when she smiled. She was nudging the outer limits of what the correct weight was for her height, and would never be mistaken for Ally McBeal’s twin sister.
Somewhere out there was someone looking for an average woman; she just had to find him. She didn’t necessarily want to jump into marriage or anything, all she wanted for now was a man who’d stick around longer than a couple of months.
So far she hadn’t had much luck. In fact, she’d become totally cynical over the last fifteen relationships and now viewed all men as guilty until proven innocent. What was the most you could expect out of a man? In Alix’s experience, she got six weeks of getting to know each other and actually liking the guy, even falling in love on a couple of occasions, before the bastard dumped her.
It was all so predictable she had written her own personal list of danger signs. Far smaller than Mal’s ambitious book on Bastardry, her pointers went along the lines of:
When a man said, “Let’s just live for the day and have fun and see how it works out,” that meant he only wanted sex without strings. That was a definite clincher for a six week relationship.

When a man said, “I wonder what you’d look like if you lost weight/dyed your hair blonde/wore shorter skirts/etc” it meant he was looking for Ms Perfect and she wasn’t it

When a man said, “Let’s keep seeing other people while we decide whether we really like each other” it meant Alix took a deep breath and tried to steel herself to say goodbye before he did

When Fidget said, “Meooooow” it meant “What a dickhead!” Fidget was an excellent judge of character.

She really did wonder how the hell other couples got together and made a go of it.
All around her friends and acquaintances were getting engaged or married or shacking up together, proof that at least some men weren’t scared of the word commitment and could possibly spell it, and were maybe even (gasp!) capable of falling in love. Although Alix snorted a bit at this – experience had shown her men said “I don’t love you” a hell of a lot more than the opposite. She was beginning to doubt that men ever experienced love as an emotion.
And here she was, Friday night, getting closer to thirty than twenty every day, on her own with the cat, stuffed after a week at work and the only invitation she’d had was to commiserate with one of her friends who’d just been dumped, and that was an even more miserable way to spend the night than with Fidge. She really HAD to get a life! Maybe the new company would be more socially active and she could meet a mature, intelligent man somewhere along the line. But wait, was that a pig flying past the window?
Alix poured herself another glass of wine and settled in front of the telly with Fidget turning around on her knees every few minutes. The only remotely decent thing on was the umpteenth repeat of When Harry Met Sally. Alix didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or hurl cushions at it. She ended up doing all three.
As she nestled into bed with Fidget, still sniffling after Harry and Sally decided they were made for each other after all (lucky bastards!), she thought fleetingly of the man who’d walked past her in the corridor at work, his eyes running over her body like she’d had train tracks all over her and he was a locomotive. She’d noticed him, too. Late twenties? Early thirties? Tall, good-looking in a James Bond way. No wedding ring, but bound to have a girlfriend. An impression of a silk tie and expensive mens’ cologne as he’d slowly passed her and fiddled around with the water cooler. That kind of guy would eat her for breakfast. Alix smiled sleepily and said out loud, “That might be rather nice.”
***
Mal spent the weekend working on his book, and had finished both Chapters Three and Four with the odd break for dipping his gym-toned bod into the cold surf. The mobile phone had been blessedly silent all weekend too; obviously Jessica was hobnobbing with her coven and had decided not to waste her breath on him. Always the best idea, Mal thought. He felt less guilty that way.
Now there was an idea to write into the book somewhere: Guilt and How To Deal With It. Or Guilt and How Not To Feel It.
When he finally stopped writing on Sunday night he turned his thoughts to the next conquest: Alix Whatshername. She was good looking enough to be shaggable, with a shiny chestnut bob that swung around when she moved her head. The body wasn’t the greatest, but certainly not the worst he’d seen. Or bonked for that matter. She’d glanced at him, too, if he wasn’t mistaken. He’d find out which department she worked in and see if there was anything they could help each other with. That was always a good opener. Then maybe a light lunch to discuss work, leading to a friendly drink… ah, it was all so easy he could write a book on it!
Mal packed his car and sped back to Sydney, arriving home near midnight to find a parcel waiting for him outside the door of his apartment. He was amazed nobody had stolen it.
Opening it up, he found some of his clothing and a note from Jessica. “Here are your clothes you left at my place. I was going to give them to charity but you have to wash them first and I couldn’t be bothered.” At first he was astonished that she hadn’t simply thrown them out, then he noticed that the buttons were missing off the polo shirts and she’d ripped the flies out of his jeans and written on the legs “Maybe your brain will function better if it’s not closed in.” Mal winced then chucked the clothes into the garbage. Maybe he needed a chapter on How To Deal With Revenge.
As usual, he easily slipped into the happy-dreams sleep of the guilt-free, and was whistling with anticipation as he rode in the elevator to the fifteenth floor on Monday morning.
His prayers were answered in the first fifteen minutes.
An e-mail from the Financial Analysis Manager to his own boss, copied to him, told him what he needed to know: “John, Mal, we’ve got a new starter here, Alix Chambers. She’ll be helping me on developing a new plan for your department. John, I realise you’re flat out right now with budgets. Are you able to spare Mal for a couple of meetings so he can brief Alix?”
Bingo! Mal grinned. “I think I can make it,” he typed in as a reply.
On the other side of the floor, where she could see the top of the Harbour Bridge if she climbed on her chair and craned her neck over several partitions, Alix gathered her thoughts and reports and headed for the meeting room. She’d been thrown in the deep end, but she was looking forward to it.
Three quarters of an hour later, Alix had written so many notes her hand was cramping. The good-looking guy, Mal someone, talked a blue streak and she had trouble keeping up with him and his suggestions.
“I think we’ve got enough for now,” Alix’s boss Graham said finally, looking at the scrawled notes on Alix’s pad. “Did you get some of that, Alix? Does it make sense?”
“Yes, and I think so. I’ll go off and write up some notes for all of us to review.” Alix massaged her aching hand.
“I’ll mail you these diagrams of mine if you think they’ll be useful,” Mal offered.
“Oh, thanks,” Alix glanced up from her notes at last and Mal looked straight into her bright green eyes. He deliberately held her gaze until Alix blinked and looked at the conference room clock. “No wonder I’m hungry,” she said, stretching her arms.
“Want to grab a sandwich?” said Mal casually. “I can give you a bit more detail on what we do and what we need if some of it didn’t sink in just now.”
“MORE detail?” Alix joked. “Okay, that’d be good. I need all the details I can get at the moment while I find my way around.”
It was as easy as that. A casual sandwich in the coffee shop on the ground floor of the building, with Mal keeping the conversation strictly on work but meeting Alix’s eyes at every opportunity.
Alix found herself being drawn to Mal. Even though they were talking work, he was funny and witty, and, if her built-in bloke detector wasn’t broken, he appeared to be attracted to her. When his hand brushed against hers twice while they were sugaring their coffees, Alix had the distinct feeling she was being flirted with. Which was great! Apparently the giant pimple that had sprung up on her chin that morning wasn’t glowing like a lighthouse after all.
Riding back up to the fifteenth floor of Megalomania House, as Mal referred to it, he told Alix that the social group often went to the movies on Friday nights if she was interested. He didn’t tell her he wasn’t part of the social group and that the social group were a bunch of boring losers who couldn’t get a shag if they paid for it. Or that it was Tuesday nights they went to the movies.
“Sounds fun,” said Alix, figuring it would be a good way to get to know her co-workers. She hoped Jen wasn’t part of the social group. Jen was the scrawny woman who sat in the next cubicle and her diet appeared to consist solely of lentils. The farts that came Alix’s way were astonishing in their ferocity.
“Well, do you want to go this Friday? We usually go to the early session and have a few drinks and a bite afterwards.”
It would beat listening to her friend moan about her ex-boyfriend, American sitcoms or the rampant cybersex of the Internet chat rooms, which was the nearest Alix ever got to sex these days, and which usually had her in stitches they were so outrageous. “Okay, just let me know when and where.”
It took Alix just half an hour to realise she’d been set up, but she was rather amused. Maybe he was too shy to actually ask her out directly.
Jen of the Vegetarian Curries set her straight. “Yeah, a bunch of us go to the movies, but on Tuesdays. It’s half price then. Who told you Friday?”
“Mal Thingy.”
“Mal Jackson. Watch him, Alix.” Jen fidgeted in her chair and Alix smelt yet another lentilly aroma waft across. “I went out with him and he dumped me.”
If you fart like that all the time I’m not surprised, Alix thought. “Forewarned is forearmed,” she said. “Thanks for the warning.”
The working week passed in a whirl. Alix had meetings left, right and centre, and was relieved to get an e-mail from her boss on Friday morning: “Alix, you’re doing great so far. Well done on the Funds Dept report – it was clear and concise and made good sense.” Alix beamed. The Funds Dept report was written as a result of her meeting and lunch with Mal. It was all one big good omen.
She also got an e-mail from Mal: “Are you set for tonight? BTW I like your outfit.”
Alix was wearing her favourite black crepe pantsuit that mysteriously made the fat bits look smaller. She typed in: “What time and where?”
Five minutes later a voice said from behind her: “Six o’clock at Café Café.”
She spun around to find Mal leaning on the next cubicle. “Oh, hi.” Which was one of the all time great Alix Chambers conversation openers. Jesus, why couldn’t she come back with something witty? She couldn’t resist saying, “How many others are coming, do you know?”
Mal didn’t turn a hair – which should have warned her. “No idea,” he said blandly, meeting her eyes. “Some weeks we get lots of people, some weeks not many at all.”
Jen thumped back to her cubicle, glaring daggers at Mal.
“Er, well,” said Mal. “See you later, Alix.”
“See you,” Alix called brightly. Another great Alix Chambers line of repartee.
Alix pretended to be surprised when she rolled up to Café Café at six and found only Mal there.
“It must be one of the quiet weeks,” she suggested.
“Yup, looks like it’s just the two of us. Well, which movie do you want to see? D’you like comedies?”
They sat through a rather indifferent movie in which Hugh Grant played Hugh Grant. The closeness of the cinema seats meant that Mal’s arm kept brushing Alix’s elbow, giving her little electric shocks of warmth.
They both sighed with relief when the movie finished.
“Bloody awful, wasn’t it?” said Mal, steering Alix in the direction of the nearest Italian restaurant.
They munched a gourmet pizza, drank a bottle of red and chatted. Mal learned that Alix had one older sister and that her parents lived in the country. Her parents had wanted a boy and her sister had wanted a dog; but the resulting Alix seemed to please them anyway.
“So I live in a flat with my cat, Fidget.”
“No boyfriend?” Mal asked casually.
Alix shook her head. “Not at the moment. Fidget tried to shred the last one. He came over once in his boating clothes smelling of fish. Fidge thought it was Christmas.” Alix grinned.
Mal wondered idly why single women always seemed to have cats. He quite liked cats; they were independent and intelligent and you could go away for a dirty weekend and leave them happily at home with a huge bowl of dry biscuits. Unlike dogs they didn’t persist in slobbering all over your face; the only slobbering Mal liked was from adult female homo sapiens.
Alix learned that Mal was currently single, the eldest of four, and that his parents had been Shakespeare devotees, and had named their children after Shakespearian characters.
“The others were lucky – Sebastian, Viola and Olivia. I wound up with such a bad name I ended up changing it when I turned 21.”
“What was it?”
“Not telling.”
“That’s not fair. You can’t tell half and not all.” Alix’s direct emerald gaze made Mal think that she’d succeed where nobody else had and get it out of him sooner or later.
Mal drove Alix home when the restaurant began putting chairs on top of tables. If she was impressed by the bonkmobile she didn’t let on. He pulled up in front of her flat and they looked at each other awkwardly.
Alix thought: Should I invite him in for coffee? Oh shit, is the place CLEAN?
Mal thought: Take it easy. She’s interested. Rule one – don’t kiss on the first date. At least give the impression you’re a gentleman, even if it’s bullshit.
“That was fun,” Alix said finally, wishing she could think of something more interesting and funny to say.
“I enjoyed it too,” agreed Mal. “Can we go out again sometime?”
Alix nodded. “I’d like that.” She hesitated. “D’you want coffee?” And please, Fidget, don’t have destroyed anything!
Mal’s prick pricked up. She was DEFINITELY interested! But not yet…. “I’ll take a raincheck if that’s OK. It’s been a busy week and I’m stuffed.”
Alix realised she was tired, too. “Next time, then. Goodnight.”
Mal touched the back of her hand. “Goodnight.”
As he roared off Alix correctly identified the first stirrings of lust. Even opening the door and finding Fidget had knocked over a pot plant and strewn dirt all over the carpet didn’t upset her. Things were definitely looking up!
***
Alix got into work on Monday to find an e-mail waiting for her from Mal: “Are you busy this Friday night? Would you like to go out?”
She held off replying for all of five minutes, then, unable to wait any longer, sent back: “Lucky you, I’m currently free and yes, I would like to go out.”
Alix found herself doing the silly little things she usually did when she’d met someone who might be interesting – trying on perfumes and new clothes in her lunchbreak, buying makeup, eating next to nothing in the hope she’d drop a dress size in a week. It was fun and exciting. Even Fidget benefited. In her extravagant mood Alix bought him a slab of fresh liver from the butcher’s.
Mal noticed the increased makeup and perfume during a meeting on Wednesday. A good sign… it wouldn’t take many dates to get her in the sack. He found he was actually beginning to like her as a person, and didn’t know if that was good or bad. Heaven forbid he should like her too much and get saddled with a girlfriend and lose his freedom! Now THAT was something he definitely had to cover in The Guide to Advanced Bastardry.
He took her to a wanky new restaurant, which had polished floorboards and no window coverings. It was so noisy they could barely hear each other. The bonus was, as far as Mal was concerned, that the restaurant was running opening specials. He decided he’d pay for Alix, as he’d asked her out, and because it would make her think more of him – always a good idea if you wanted to get a woman on side or, even better, into bed. Getting one of the main courses for half price was worth the clatter of cutlery and thumping feet on the floor. And if the company hadn’t been cracking down on personal expenses, he probably would have written the entire meal off as entertaining customers.
Alix was impressed that Mal wouldn’t accept her offer to pay for half the meal. She’d gone out with some right tight-arses in the past, who’d divided every bill to the nearest cent.
By the time the black Bimmer was parked back in front of Alix’s flat, she’d decided she was definitely in lust. She’d had a bit to drink, Mal was putting out signals that he was keen, and it had been several months since she’d had as much as a decent kiss. She invited him in for coffee.
Alix unlocked the flat with trepidation, but Fidget had decided to behave himself for once. Nothing was broken and all the potplants were intact. Fidget himself sat on the coffee table, his turquoise Burmese eyes assessing Mal. Alix noted he didn’t run into the bedroom with his tail stuck up like an antenna, but jumped onto the sofa and nestled into his sleeping position. A good sign.
Fifteen minutes later Fidget was almost flattened as Alix and Mal, coffee forgotten, wound up groping each other like mad on the sofa.
Alix thought fleetingly: Should I do this on the second date?
Then she thought: Well, it’s been six months since the last one!
Then: But he’ll probably only hang around for six weeks…
Then: Ah, stuff it! I’ll just have to NOT fall in love this time!
Mal noticed the increased intensity of her kisses and thought: Bingo!
Clothes flew in all directions and Fidget bolted for the bedroom, taking his chances under the bed and hoping the humans stayed in the living room and didn’t thump down on top of him.
It almost took more time for Mal to undo the condom packet than to do the act. Alix didn’t look half so chunky without clothes on; she’d almost pass for sexy. Five minutes later they were sweating, gasping and sated. Alix couldn’t remember the last time she’d been bonked to within an inch of her life; she saw stars before her eyes and finally remembered to breathe.
For his part Mal had intended to take things a little slower and really impress her with a virtuoso performance, but Alix’s eagerness got the better of him. It had been a while since he’d dated somebody who didn’t have the body of a supermodel, and he found it refreshing not to be battered by sticking-out ribs and feral hipbones. Mal gave a huge sigh, draped an arm over Alix’s boobs and promptly fell asleep. His last waking thought was a hazy: New chapter: does body size matter?
Alix lay awake for hours with Mal’s hot, heavy body against her. Had she done the right thing? Had she been the victim of a one-night stand? Would he wake up in the morning and run yelling from the flat (especially if Fidget had used the litterbox with the surfeit of liver he’d been eating)?
She looked at Mal’s sleeping face, long black eyelashes resting on his cheeks, his body draped partially over her own, and tentatively hugged him. Mal purred in his sleep like Fidget. Alix felt a fearful pang that usually meant lust was developing into something deeper.
“No way,” Alix whispered, “I won’t fall in love again.” Commonsense told her attractive rich men who drove expensive Eurocars didn’t settle for women who weren’t classically beautiful, no matter what their brains or personality were like. Listening to the ticking clock, and Fidget’s paws clicking on the kitchen tiles as he tentatively made his way over to explore the large creature lying on the sofa, Alix figured this would be another six-week relationship. He’d get her into bed, have fun and incredible sex with her, make her feel fantastic and desirable, but, just as she would start to fall in love with him, he’d put another notch on his laptop PC and move onto the next girl, presumably some leggy creature who’d look great unfolding herself from the front seat of that gorgy Bimmer. Sadly she held Mal tighter. She’d have to enjoy it while it lasted!
Mal surfaced slowly the next morning, wondering why he felt stiff all over and why the bed was so small. He opened one eye to discover he was lying awkwardly on somebody’s sofa, the somebody herself nestled against him and a rug thrown haphazardly over the top of them both. When he looked up he almost yelped as a pair of slanting aqua eyes stared unblinkingly at him at very close range, then remembered: Alix and her cat. The cat reached out a big brown paw and batted Mal’s cheek.
“Fuck off!” hissed Mal, and the cat yowled in his ear in reply.
Alix stirred. “Fidget, you’re hungry,” she murmured, then her eyes flew open as she registered Mal’s body cutting off the circulation in her left arm. He was still here – he hadn’t buggered off in the wee small hours after she’d finally dropped off to sleep! Alix looked into Mal’s unreadable eyes in disbelief, then Fidget ran for his life as Mal pounced on Alix and the rug flew into the air.
Fidget watched the human coupling impassively and impatiently, pacing back and forth from the door to his dish, throwing in the occasional howl that meant he wanted breakfast NOW. He skithered into the bedroom as Mal and Alix rolled from the sofa to the floor with a thump and groans that were half ecstasy, half lower back pain.
“Ever done it on a coffee table before?” grunted Mal, thrusting happily
“No,” gasped Alix, wrapping her legs around him.
Mal tried to lift her up onto it.
“Mal, you can’t!” protested Alix. “It’s glass!”
Mal glanced at the table. “Bugger! Your rug’s nice, though!” He almost gave her carpet burns, shuffling onto the soft wool rug.
Fidget poked his nose out of the bedroom to see a potplant fall off the coffee table, cushions get thrown to the ceiling and the rug, over which he’d been slapped many times for sharpening his claws on, get rucked up into a concertina. If you’d have asked him he would have told you cats do it with far less fuss and a lot less moans and yesses. He’d have also told you that next time he trashed the place, he didn’t expect to get smacked for it, not with the humans setting such a bad example.
By the time Mal and Alix had taken a shower together, Fidget had prised open the fridge door and eaten every scrap of bacon.
***
Alix fell swiftly into the pattern that she despised in her girlfriends. When they had a new man they disappeared off the face of the earth. They didn’t return phone calls, or not for weeks anyway, they forgot to phone their friends or show up at pre-arranged events. If, somehow, contact was established with them, they’d drop the man’s name into every second sentence.
Alix had promised weeks ago that she’d drop in to see Carla and her flatmate Jessica this weekend. Poor old Jessica, whom Alix knew through Carla, had broken up with her boyfriend, whatever his name was, a couple of weeks ago. Alix had been dreading spending time with Jessica as she knew from experience it would be a morbid, All Men Are Bastards affair, with Jessica cursing men to the end of the earth until she found a new boyfriend, which was usually in no time at all. Spending a blissful weekend with Mal totally eradicated the promise from her mind.
Mal finally dropped her back at her flat on Sunday night after a lazy, suntanned, salty day at the beach. They kissed each other for ages in the car, until the Bimmer almost overheated from being stationery with the airconditioning turned on full. Alix regretfully licked the last taste of fish and chips from Mal’s lips and said she couldn’t wait to see him at work tomorrow.
Her answering machine was flashing angrily when she let herself back into the flat. She ignored Fidget’s complaints of starvation and played back her message with a guilty conscience.
“Alix, this is Carla. Where ARE you? Your mobile’s off, you’re not home. We were supposed to go to the markets today, remember? If you’re home before Sunday night give me and Jess a ring and we’ll go for a drink.”
Alix glanced at her watch and saw that it could conveniently be construed as night time. She was still floating on air after a great day and had no intention of hearing Jessica moan about whatshisname. Instead she flicked on the TV. There was a Hugh Grant movie playing and Alix found herself watching it if only for the dumb reason that it reminded her of the first time she’d gone out with Mal.
“God!” she exclaimed to herself when she realised why she was glued to the screen, “I’m turning into one of my friends!”
But she watched it anyway.
***
It was a wonder that the e-mail server on the fifteenth floor of Megalomania House didn’t catch fire with the intense blue messages that flew between Mal and Alix in the next week. Completely ignoring the company rules that e-mail was not to be used for personal messages, they proceeded to tell each other exactly what they’d like to do to each other’s bodies, and put it into practice on Wednesday and Friday night. They would have put it into practice the other nights of the week as well, but they were both too knackered on Monday, Alix got kidnapped by the Social Club for the Tuesday night movie (which Jen farted through), and Mal had dinner with his boss on Thursday.
Keeping the affair quiet in the office went without saying, but they had surreptitious meetings over the water cooler, or went innocently off to get a sandwich together, chattering away down the corridor about work then groping each other anxiously in the lift if it happened to be empty. Alix had to rearrange her cubicle so Jen couldn’t see her PC monitor unless she cricked her neck; Mal’s graphic e-mails had her blushing scarlet. Because they had been assigned to work on a project together, they had the best excuse possible to drop around at each other’s desk.
Alix found herself writing in her diary, something she only did when she had a man around or life was interesting enough to record. She’d spent four sex-studded nights with Mal now and was hovering in that dizzy state between lust and falling in love. They’d exchanged childhood experiences and confidences; Mal had even told her his real name, something he’d never told another girlfriend (and something, really, he regretted doing the instant the word had left his mouth).
That weekend Mal borrowed yet another secluded beach house from yet another friend, and whisked Alix away up the coast. Mal’s repertoire of sexual ideas and positions went into overdrive, beginning with a languorous session at night on the beach. The little beach was deserted, and Mal and Alix swam naked in the salty surf, gasping as the cold water hit their skin in the warmth of the summer night. They sank to the sand at the very edge of the water, lapped by waves, and Alix reckoned she had sand in every orifice of her body after five minutes.
They were interrupted by a yappy little terrier out for his evening ramble on the beach,
“Caninus interruptus,” grumbled Mal, hearing a voice in the near distance calling out for the dog. He picked up Alix and carried her into the surf, washing away the sand and waiting until the doddery old man followed his dog to the end of the beach and beyond.
The beach house was luxurious; whatever sand the surf didn’t wash away the huge outdoor jacuzzi did. Alix and Mal spent ages being buffeted by the jets and making love in the bubbles, almost drowning at one point and surfacing with astonished giggles.
Mal also had the use of a small aluminium boat used for fishing. After a few hours out in it, Alix had discovered you could bonk in a small boat without overturning it. They didn’t catch any fish. They managed to have sex in every room in the house, even the laundry (and managed to break the ironing board in the process).
Returning to Sydney and an indignant Fidget on Sunday night, Alix discovered another phone message from Carla and felt a big stab of guilt. Sighing, she returned the call.
“Hi Alix. Bloody men,” grumbled Jessica, Carla’s flatmate, when she answered the phone.
“Er…you haven’t got back with …um..”
“Jacko,” spat Jessica acidly. “No, I haven’t. I hope he dies a horrible death. I don’t want to talk about him, anyway.”
Alix heaved a sigh of relief. Jessica was onto Stage 2: Forget About Him And Pretend He Never Existed.
“So when are we going out?” Jess said.
“Um…soon, I suppose. What about Thursday night?” Alix suggested. “I’ve got good news,” she went on, a little nervously, as the unspoken rule with girlfriends was not to brag when you had a man and they’d just broken up with one. “I’ve got a boyfriend.”
“Well done,” said Jessica heartily, but Alix heard the underlying “lucky bitch!” in her voice.
“I can tell you all about him when I see you,” gushed Alix unthinkingly. There was silence from Jessica. Alix quickly recovered. “Er…why don’t we see a movie on Thursday?”
“Good idea. Anything but Hugh bloody Grant. And NO bloody romances,” grumbled Jessica.
As she hung up the phone she wished heartily Jessica would get quickly to Stage 3: On The Hunt For Someone New.
***
“I want to pour Drambuie over every crevice in your body and lick it off,” Alix read, a grin spreading over her face. What a great way to start the morning! It wasn’t even 8.30 and Mal already had her sliding in her seat.
Over the other side of the fifteenth floor Mal was hastily scrolling through e-mails he’d written to women in the past and copying the best bits.
“Elizabeth, when I wake up beside you it’s hard to not take you there and then, whether you’re asleep or awake or somewhere in between. You look so beautiful with your long blonde hair tumbled around your face. Waking up by myself on Monday morning was lonely, as if a part of my life was missing.”
That was a good one! Hastily Mal changed Elizabeth to Alix and long blonde to brown. He added a line about seeing her face every time he heard the pounding surf in the future, and sent it off. Funnily enough he found himself thinking of her quite a lot. Usually he was able to keep his conquests to out-of-working hours. He shrugged; working in the same environment and on the same project, of course she’d be on his mind.
Alix herself was glowing with the attention of regular sex with an attractive man. She was still battening down the feeling of falling in love, which came creeping up on her at odd moments when she looked at Mal doing mundane things like reading the menu. Had it really only been a bit over two weeks and – counting on fingers – seven great nights in the sack?
“What’s so great?” wondered Jen sourly, emitting a garlic odour from her mouth and a pungent blast of lentils from the other end.
“Life,” said Alix simply. “Want a coffee?”
“I only drink herbal tea,” sniffed Jen, waving her mug under Alix’s nose. The tea smelt almost as revolting as the farts. Alix fled for the sanctity of the staff kitchen.
On Thursday morning she received a phone call from Jessica.
“Hi Alix, can we call off tonight? I’ve got the flu and I feel dreadful.”
Alix was simultaneously reading another blue e-mail from Mal and listening to Jessica. “Every time I see your name come up in my inbox I get a hard-on. Do you realise you’re making it impossible for me to ever leave my desk?” Alix giggled.
“Alix!” snapped Jessica.
“Sorry, Jess, it’s just…er… my e-mail. Shall we make it next week then?”
“I suppose you’re too busy with your boyfriend to see us at the weekend,” grumbled Jessica.
Alix immediately felt guilty. “Course not. What about we go to the markets on Sunday morning? Will you be better by then?”
“I’m sure I will,” said Jessica sniffily. “Come around at ten, then.”
“Eleven,” suggested Alix. “I might be awake by then.”
“Hhmmphh,” said Jessica, remembering quite well what it was like to having rampant sex most of Saturday night and sleep most of Sunday morning. “Eleven it is. See you then. Bye.”
The following night Mal picked Alix up in the Bimmer and took her to his apartment. The rent cost an arm and a leg and his right ball, Mal said, but the view was worth it. Alix stepped onto the balcony and caught her breath, looking across from the north shore to the sweeping view of the city, the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the gently rocking waves of the harbour itself. She stood spellbound for several minutes watching the ferries chug back and forth in the pale gold sunshine of the early evening, and the sails of the yachts flap in the north east breeze.
Mal stood behind her, his chin resting on her head and his arms around her waist. “You’re leaning so far forward I thought you were going to jump.”
Alix leaned back against him; Mal’s apartment was on the seventh floor. “Do you ever get used to this view?” she said, gazing in all directions. The most she saw from her own balcony was Mrs Yu’s kitchen in the block of flats opposite, with her childrens’ clothing waving like flags on the illegal washing line.
“Not really,” Mal admitted. “There are some days I walk out here and can’t believe I live here.”
Suddenly, with a squawk and a frantic flapping of wings, a high-flying myna bird tried to brake but flew into the plate glass window. It fell to the ground, cheeping dizzily.
“Oh,” Alix cried, “Poor little thing!”
Carefully Mal picked it up and nursed it in his hands, smoothing the feathers and calming the bird until it had recovered. Then he opened his hands and let it fly away; it shot like an arrow to a tree below, shrieking. Alix looked at Mal, impressed. She wasn’t to know it was the only genuinely compassionate thing he’d ever done in his life and that if she hadn’t been there he’d have probably chucked it over the balcony in its dizzy state and told it to try its luck.
Mal drew her inside. His living room was very modern – white walls, polished floorboards, downlighting highlighting a Dali print, TV and sound system hidden away in a built in blond wood cabinet. It was rather stark except for the lounge chairs and sofa, which were big and squashy and creamy white.
Alix picked up her overnight bag and took it to Mal’s bedroom, which was painted a shiny, deep, rich, womb-like crimson. She burst into laughter when she saw the huge king sized bed taking up most of the room. It had a massive shiny black bedhead with its own lighting, a built in sound system and what looked to be a massage facility. She wouldn’t have been surprised to find an integrated coffee maker or condom dispenser as well. Snuggled against the opposite wall was a built in wardrobe with mirrored doors. When she turned on the downlights she noticed they had a dimmer switch. On close inspection the bed was firnished with black satin sheets.
“Did you get this all by mail order out of Playboy?” Alix shook her head. “Or was it a job lot you got from a brothel?”
Mal was surprised. Most women were impressed as hell, especially by the satin sheets and the automatic massage mattress. “I chose it all myself,” he said rather huffily.
“Yes, well, I can imagine no woman would put her name to this lot,” Alix sniggered, switching the massage button to ON and watching the bed vibrate; God, she’d wobble like jelly lying on that!
“Try it out,” Mal suggested, managing to kick off his shoes, drop his trousers and unbutton his polo shirt in the space of 2.5 seconds. He pushed a giggling Alix onto the bed but she was laughing too hard to get undressed. She laughed even harder when he opened a hidden drawer in the bedhead and pulled out a condom, but then his mouth came down on hers and they slithered around the vibrating bed. Alix forgot about the bordello surroundings and enjoyed herself. She hoped the neighbours couldn’t hear the noise when they came and the bed bucked like a bronco. Alix dozed off afterwards in Mal’s arms but woke when the vibrating bed and the satin sheets combined to juggle her to the edge of the bed and deposit her with a thump on the floor. Sleepily she climbed back into the bed, turned the wretched massager off, and nestled to sleep again. Mal slept the sleep of the shagged, undisturbed.
She woke early the next morning feeling desperately hungry, because they’d forgotten about dinner. Mal’s kitchen was typical of a single guy’s. The fridge contained a bit of milk – just enough for coffee – a full litre of orange juice that never seemed to get used because it was almost out of date, eggs, butter and beer. She found a loaf of bread in the freezer squeezed in between two dozen frozen dinners, and unearthed a toaster in one of the cupboards.
Mal surfaced later and reached out to find the bed empty. His first thought was, “Don’t say she’s gone home!”. He found he actually enjoyed Alix’s company a lot more than the women he’d dated in the recent past, almost disturbingly so. His second thought was, “Oh, fuck, what if she’s found The Book?!” The Guide to Advanced Bastardry was printed out in its scribbled-on draft form in the second bedroom, which Mal used as his study. He jumped out of bed with a erection that suddenly, in total fear, drooped like a limp balloon, and breathed a sigh of relief as he found Alix, showered and fresh, sitting calmly on the balcony with a steaming cup of coffee and yesterday’s Herald.
Mal hurriedly hid The Guide under a pile of books on his desk and headed for the bathroom. For safety’s sake, he’d take Alix out all day. They could do something cheap like window shopping at Double Bay – women loved looking in the expensive shops and she wouldn’t expect him to buy her anything after only a couple of weeks – and then have a late lunch at the pub at Watson’s Bay, which was a fraction of the price of Doyle’s.
Alix spent blissful hours looking at clothing she’d have to take out a second mortgage to buy, and was astonished when Mal bought her a tight white top which must have had an 800% markup on it. Mal was rather astonished too to find himself reaching for his Gold Visa, but the top looked great on her. He heaved a silent sigh of relief when she walked straight past the most expensive jeweller’s in town.
Alix suggested they stop at the supermarket where she loaded up on fresh food, determined to make dinner at Mal’s apartment and surprise him with her cooking.
Mal was definitely surprised. He’d never tasted anything so awful in his life as Alix’s spag bog.
“Sorry,” Alix blushed. “I’m not used to cooking on a gas stove.” She pushed the burnt bolognaise sauce around her plate and toyed with the overcooked pasta, embarrassed to her toenails. She’d almost burned a hole in one of Mal’s pots and had just managed NOT to set fire to a teatowel.
Because the food was almost inedible they drank a lot of red wine instead and wound up on the squashy sofa, drunk, hungry and happy.
“Your sofa’s much nicer than your bed,” Alix sighed happily, nuzzling Mal’s chest and working her way down.
“Sofa, so good,” said Mal, and even though it was pathetic they still got the giggles.
After, Mal said sleepily, “What do you want to do tomorrow?”
Alix thought hazily she’d promised to do something with someone, then she remembered. “Oh, no! I said I’d go to the markets with my girlfriends.”
Mal didn’t particularly fancy being dragged around market stalls, dodging screaming anklebiters and sweaty fat people and getting laden with all the parcels because that’s what men were for. He didn’t offer to go with her, but said, “You mustn’t let them down, then. I’ve got to catch up on some work, anyway.” He thought The Guide was getting a little bit behind and deserved a bit more attention. He should really write a chapter on Cheap Days Out, and suggest NOT going to Double Bay windowshopping.
***
Alix drove to Carla’s flat with Mal’s kisses still burning on her lips. They’d lasted from his place to her own flat, survived the wreckage of potplants and Fidget’s full litter tray that awaited her when she opened the door, and also survived trying to find a parking place in Elizabeth Bay. Alix, grinning from ear to ear, was in the process of taking the step from Cloud 8 to Cloud 9.
“You look good,” Jessica grumbled admiringly, noticing the tight white top that was obviously new and equally obviously expensive.
Carla was pulling a comb through her tangled black hair and peered at Alix through hungover eyes. “Alix is in love,” she observed.
“I’m not,” Alix denied. “This time I’m determined not to unless he falls in love with me first.” She thought wryly that in that case she’d just sentenced herself to a life of singledom with Fidget.
“Yeah, right,” Carla drawled. “We’ve all heard that one before. Let’s see, there was Tubby Toby, then Jeff the Jerk, then Trent The Tight-Arse, then Bill the Boatie and that’s only in the last two years…it’s lucky you never got a tattoo for every man you fell in love with, Alix. You’d be covered in them.”
“Are we going to the markets or not?” Alix rattled her car keys. Carla was probably still drunk and Jessica in a black mood which meant she’d be capable of running the car into a tree.
Half an hour later they were tramping through Paddy’s Markets, Carla still wearing her sunglasses to cover up her red eyes.
Jessica had spent the entire drive berating her ex-boyfriend Jacko, saying what a prick he’d been for leading her on, giving her great sex, and dumping her when she started to fall for him. Alix thought wryly Jess was getting in the mood for finding a replacement though. Jessica was on the prowl, wearing a top so skimpy she couldn’t lift her arms up or she’d be showing bra-less nipples.
“So tell us about your new man, Al.” Carla inspected her face in a bank of make-up mirrors on sale. “Oh God, a pimple. At my age.”
“It’s a spot on the glass,” Alix pointed out. “My new man is called Mal and he’s quite lovely. He lives in a flat in Neutral Bay and I met him at my new job.”
Jessica stopped in her tracks and dropped the leather handbag she’d been looking at. “Not Mal Jackson at Megalomania House?” she said hollowly.
Alix looked at Jessica’s blanched face. “Yes. You mean…Jacko…your boyfriend… the one I never met?”
“One and the same,” Jessica hissed. “Total bloody BASTARD!”
Shopkeepers and customers swivelled their heads at Jessica’s shout.
“Oh, shit!” muttered Alix. She didn’t know what to think. About Jessica. About Mal. About her own relationship with him.
“Well I just hope the bloody pig treats you a lot better than he treated me!” Jessica wailed, tears flooding her eyes.
I hope so too, Alix thought glumly. She worked it out. Jessica had been going with Jacko – Mal, HER Mal – for six weeks when he dumped her. She herself was now on her third week with him. Her instincts of him being a six-week relationship man were obviously well-founded. Well, if he showed signs of dumping, she’d get in first and give him his marching orders! Alix patted herself on the back: how right she’d been not to fall in love this time!
Alix and Carla led Jessica to the nearest coffee shop and filled her up with latte and cakes.
“So when are you next seeing Bastard?” Jessica said finally.
“Er…tomorrow at work, I suppose,” Alix said, stirring her cappuccino intently.
“I suppose he sends you red-hot e-mails,” Jessica hissed.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Alix said uncomfortably, and she didn’t, either. Maybe Mal had broken it off with Jess because her bitter side had shown once too often.
“Leave it out, Jess,” suggested Carla. “I’m sure you’ll find someone soon who’ll love you. I mean look, those guys at the next table are eyeing you off.”
Jess’ head spun like Linda Blair’s in The Exorcist to check out the talent. Alix was surprised green stuff didn’t fly out of her mouth. The guys at the next table grinned at Jessica, their eyes flickering over the skimpy top. They were extraordinarily good looking; well groomed, well dressed. The kind of guy you don’t know whether to take home to mother or take to bed.
Then, to Jessica’s disappointment they walked off hand in hand out of the café. Alix and Carla howled with laughter. Even Jess managed to grin and return almost to normal.
But Alix was never so relieved as when she dropped them at their flat clutching armsful of goodies. She drove home to Fidget wondering just who the real Mal Jackson was.
***
After a fruitful Sunday writing another chapter of The Guide, Mal breezed into work Monday morning. He was looking forward to seeing Alix again. He’d actually missed her company last night, but had held off ringing her as he liked to keep them guessing.
“My big bed felt empty without you,” he copied from an e-mail he’d sent to Jessica. “I’m so glad you liked it.” Oh shit, he couldn’t put that in! Alix thought his bedroom was a joke. He thought for a moment then wrote: “Are you wearing that white top? You look beautiful in it – it makes your eyes even greener it’s so bright and white. On the other hand, if you are wearing it, I’ll long to get you in a closed office and take it off.” Feeling a little uncomfortable, because his compliments were usually along the non-specific you-look-gorgeous throwaway line, he sent the e-mail flying across the room to Alix.
Five seconds later Alix opened the e-mail with trepidation. Ever since talking with Jessica yesterday she was expecting the “it’s over” phone call or e-mail. She heaved a sigh of relief when she read the contents, then wondered if he’d sent similar e-mails to Jess. “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” she told herself, “You’re not Jessica, Alix!” She cheered herself up by imagining an e-mail from Mal to Jessica: “Are you in a good mood today? I really enjoyed the way you bit my head off last night after throwing every plate in the place at me. Your tendency towards manic depression is SO sexy!”
Alix pondered over her reply. Should she mention she’d spent yesterday with her old friend Jessica Plumpton? No, that would really send Mal into orbit and she’d get dropped quicker than Mal’s trousers. Finally she wrote, “No, I’m not wearing it today, it’s in the wash. I’m wearing a miniskirt I picked up at the markets yesterday and if you can find a quiet office you obviously know the right people in this company!”
Within thirty seconds she got a reply. “Seems all the meeting rooms are booked. Can I come to your place tonight?”
“I’ll cook something and I promise it’ll be edible,” Alix typed back.
Mal arrived that night with a change of clothes and a present for her. “They’re definitely edible,” he said, and Alix unwrapped it to find strawberry-flavoured edible undies.
“Entrée or dessert?” she asked, when she’d stopped laughing.
“Main course!” Mal tumbled her onto the sofa and Fidget gave an indignant yowl.
He slunk away with a feline glare that said: Dammit, that means my dinner’ll be late AGAIN! Fidget amused himself by sharpening his claws on the curtains in Alix’s bedroom.
Mal stayed the night and it was a mad rush the next morning to get to work on time because they both woke up feeling horny and had to do something about it. Alix discovered Mal never ate breakfast during the week. Mal discovered Alix was addicted to orange marmalade. They both discovered Fidget had tipped over all the milk and drunk it when Mal left the carton on the sink unattended for thirty seconds.
The week flew by. Alix went out with the Social Club again on Tuesday night, and found herself wishing passionately she was with Mal instead, especially when she wound up sitting next to Jen through an extremely long romantic movie.
On Wednesday she discovered her favourite outfit was getting tight and when she stood on the scales she wailed louder than Fidget, so she spent Wednesday night at the gym and was so stiff on Thursday she could barely walk.
“Never mind,” Mal said, “I’ll give you a massage tomorrow night.” He was taking out an important client Thursday night.
Alix collected Fidget and drove over to Mal’s apartment on Friday night to spend the weekend. Mal’s bathroom was almost as bordello-like as his bedroom. The bath was studded with spa jets and the shower, big enough for three people, had a hand-held shower nozzle that doubled as a sex toy. Alix soaked her aching muscles in the spa then Mal gave her a massage that was so good it almost sent her to sleep. During the athletic lovemaking that followed Alix forget how sore her thigh muscles were. The last thing she noticed, before curling up with Mal’s arms around her, was that the satin sheets had been replaced by cotton.
An indignant Fidget was banished to the second bedroom, where he amused himself pulling knots into the curtains before knocking over a pile of books and shredding the first three chapters of The Guide.
Mal groaned the next morning when he looked into his study and saw a contented Fidget curled into a tiny brown ball on the bed. Books had been tumbled from the bookcase, his curtains had a new pattern on the bottom, and, ominously, some very familiar pieces of paper appeared to be reduced to ticker tape. “Fucking cat!” he hissed.
Fidget opened one lazy eye and purred. Mal felt like smacking him but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Animals have short memories and unless you catch them at it, they don’t remember being naughty. On the other hand, he was impressed by the cat’s ability to get into mischief. At least it showed personality. He rubbed Fidget’s head and the cat pushed against him delightedly.
“Well, you bloody little pest, at least I’ve got it all saved on the PC. I’ll just have to reprint it.” Mal gathered up the useless trails of paper and chucked them in the bin. Alix was in the shower. He booted up his PC and left the printer chugging out paper while he fixed coffee. Fidget followed him hopefully to the kitchen and sat like a statue on the bench, watching Mal’s every move impassively through slitted eyes.
Alix came out of the bathroom wearing one of Mal’s robes and drying her hair with a towel. Mal thought she looked delectable and so did his dick. He fought temptation and said, “Look, I’ve even got orange marmalade for you, and I’ve made some coffee.”
Alix was touched. Her favourite brand of marmalade, too. She kissed him, tasting of toothpaste.
“I’ll run down to the shop and get the paper, and we can have a lazy morning in,” Mal suggested.
“Great idea,” Alix agreed, thinking how good it would be to sit on the balcony and watch the boats. She gave Mal one last kiss and pushed him out the door.
Alix made some toast and then remembered Fidget, who’d gone to sleep on the sofa. She wondered what kind of mess he’d made in the second bedroom and, fingers crossed, went to find out.
“Jesus!” she groaned, looking at the books and the curtains and the pile of paper overflowing the bin. She noticed the printer busily churning something out and temptation got the better of her. Had Mal got up early and decided to do some work?
She couldn’t believe what she was reading and checked the title again: The Guide To Advanced Bastardry by Mal Jackson. Chapter One. A Man’s Cock-Eyed View of the World.
She read on. “It’s not a myth that we men think with our dicks. It’s a fact.”
Dumbfounded, Alix sat on the bed, because her legs were shaking so much she could hardly stand up. She was a fast reader, and skimmed through chapter one in no time. With trembling fingers she plucked Chapter Two, Why Must I Be A Teenager In Lust, off the printer and exclaimed in horror at the black and white proof that Mal was a six-week relationship guy.
Chapter Three was no better, with its advice on fast cars and being computer literate and the right things to say to impress a woman into a one-night stand.
Alix looked at the PC screen and clicked onto Mal’s Bastardry directory. There were the other chapters he was working on: E-Mail and the Female, Your Office Or Mine (How to Have a Satisfactory Workplace Relationship), Three’s A Crowd and Four’s Even Better, How To Entertain Women on the Cheap, LOVE Is A Four Letter Word, When She Wants Diamonds and You Want Out… God, he’d even named names! Lucy, Alison, Julie, Sharon, Amanda,Elizabeth….
“Bastard!” hissed Alix, furious.
She threw Mal’s robe to the floor and tugged on her jeans and t-shirt, throwing the rest of her possessions into her overnight bag.
Alix pushed a protesting Fidget into his cat carrier and emptied his smelly litter tray into Mal’s toilet. She didn’t bother flushing. Shit for a shit, she thought acidly. Praying she wouldn’t meet Mal in the lift, she grabbed Fidget and bolted for the car.
Mal came back ten minutes later, whistling happily. He was carrying every newspaper he could find and had even stopped at the supermarket and bought a kilo of prawns for lunch (knowing Fidget would probably pinch half of them).
He grinned at the thought of Fidget’s nose twitching, and opened the door. “Honey I’m hooooome!” he couldn’t resist calling. But he knew the instant the door opened the apartment was empty. In fact, he could almost smell fury in the air.
Scattered on the floor of the living room were the first three chapters of The Guide. On a Post-It Note stuck to the first page was a scrawl from Alix: Hadn’t you better write a new chapter: When the Unexpected Happens, or When SHE Dumps YOU!!!!!!!
***
Alix spent a totally miserable weekend. She couldn’t call up Carla and Jessica for a shoulder to cry on, as Jess would certainly be unsympathetic. Or, maybe worse, want to TALK about what a bastard he was, and the last thing Alix wanted to do was compare notes on Mal Jackson. How many nights did YOU spend with him, Alix? Oh, only eleven. Eleven incredible nights. But we did it in the daytime as well. And you?
Even more horrifying, they would set her up at a dinner party with some prat whose personality had been removed at birth, and she’d have to be polite and interested so they didn’t get insulted.
Taking the phone off the hook, she crept into her bed Saturday afternoon, hugging Fidget close. Always happy to sleep, Fidget nestled against her with a delighted purr. Alix felt like she’d never sleep again. She lay under the covers icily shivering and shaking like a malaria sufferer in the hot summer air. She used an entire box of Kleenex on a crying fit and finally fell asleep at two am on Sunday after reading yet another crappy bodice-ripper to try and take her mind off Mal. She spent Sunday morning scrubbing the flat and found the pack of edible undies wedged behind the bed, which only produced another flood of tears. Finally she took herself off to Centennial Park in the afternoon, but the sight of happy couples walking hand in hand made her want to throw herself into the duck pond.
The worst had happened. She’d fallen in love.
***
Mal crept to work sheepishly on Monday morning. He’d had the most awful weekend he’d had in years. The last time he’d felt so miserable was when his dog died when he was fourteen. He’d tried phoning Alix but her phone number was unobtainable and her mobile switched off. He’d left sixteen messages on her mobile phone message bank and would have left more except he’d filled the message bank up. He’d pounded on her door Sunday afternoon but she was either out or wouldn’t answer.
He’d never felt quite like this before over a woman. It wasn’t just guilt or the oh-well, now-I’ll-have-to-find-someone-else-or-masturbate feeling. It was the awful wrench at waking up in the middle of the night and realising Alix wasn’t there and might never be there again. He hadn’t even wanted to go clubbing and pick up another girl. He didn’t WANT another girl, he realised. Mal groaned as he rode the lift to the fifteenth floor. He’d finally gone and done it. The L word. That stupid emotion that made him want to rescue every blasted bird that cannoned into his living room window if it would make Alix happy.
His boss grinned at him. “A bit late today, Malvolio?”
Mal blanched. Oh, shit! How the hell did John find THAT out?
He walked to his desk, pale-faced. One of the secretaries winked at him. “Hi, MALVOLIO.” Three other voices joined in: “Morning, Malvolio!” “How they hanging, Malvolio?” “Big weekend, Malvolio?”
“Fuck,” whispered Mal, and dashed to his PC, logging on with fumbling fingers. He fired up his e-mail and there it was in the inbox.
FROM: Alix Chambers
TO: All staff
SUBJECT: Team Trivia
MESSAGE: Here’s a little known fact to start off your Monday. Mal Jackson’s full name is Malvolio. Do we all think it sounds like a form of pasta (probably penis-shaped)?
Mal buried his head in his hands and considered either hiding under his desk all day or resigning on the spot. He’d lost her, well and truly! This was one form of revenge not covered anywhere in his book!
On the other side of the office Alix was getting a blasting from the IT people about sending irreverent, irrelevant, potentially offensive messages around the office. She apologised profusely and promised never to do it again. Not that she’d get the chance. She was busy typing up her resignation. No way could she work in the same company as Mal.
“I told you not to go out with him,” Jen said smugly, noting Alix’s white face and red eyes. She shifted in her chair ominously.
“Oh, shut up!” flashed Alix, losing it completely. “One more fart out of you and I’ll shove your herbal teabags so far up your bum you’ll never fart again!”
Alix’s inbox rapidly filled up with messages from Mal:
Alix, please can we talk? I can’t apologise enough. It’s not what it seems, the book is just a joke, ha ha.
Alix, it’s a misunderstanding. Can we meet for lunch and I’ll explain?
Alix, pleeeeeeeaaaassseeeeeeeee!!!!
Alix, I’ve had an awful weekend without you and I want to make it up to you.
She only read the first four and then deleted the rest without reading them. Even the last one, which said, simply, Alix, I love you, and which had been written with trembling fingers.
She fired back an e-mail to Mal after deleting another twenty new messages from him by lunchtime: Mal, is this covered in your E-Mail and the Female chapter? I’m so glad I provided you with some material for your book. At least do me a favour and change my name when you mention me in Chapter Sixteen. Have a nice life.
Alix slipped out on her lunch break but didn’t feel like eating anything. She wandered through the shopping malls with unseeing eyes and when she got back to her desk she found Mal sitting on it, drumming his fingers, worry lines etched at the sides of his extremely kissable mouth.
“Go away, Mal,” she said, her heart lurching at the sight of him. Part of her wanted to throw herself into his arms. The other part said, “Don’t be so fucking stupid!”
“I just want you to read this,” Mal said quietly, and handed her an envelope. He walked away and left her puzzling over Chapter Fifteen, Men Really Do Fall In Love.
“This chapter totally contradicts the rest of this book,” Alix read, “And in fact the author has eradicated all other chapters from his hard drive. I have only fallen in love once in my life, and that’s with a beautiful woman called Alix Chambers, who won’t talk to me because she thinks I’m a sex-crazed, heartless bastard.” Alix began to smile in spite of herself. Her heart thudding, she read the three tightly packed pages. It was the most incredible love letter she’d ever received, and something told her it was all true, every word of it. Anyone who’d written a book on how to be a bastard didn’t write a letter like this to a girl just to get her in the sack. She reached the final paragraph. “Alix, I love you. Can we start again? I promise I want a hell of a lot more than just six weeks. The rest of my life wouldn’t be enough.”
Alix burst into noisy tears.
Jen huffed. She was still smarting over Alix’s earlier outburst. “What’s the silly bastard done to you NOW?”
“N-nothing,” Alix gulped, “It’s just wonderful…” She scrabbled through her out tray and tore her resignation letter in two, thanking her lucky stars she hadn’t given it to her boss.
Her inbox beeped at her. There was a new message from Mal: “I guess you’ve read it by now. Do you want to sneak out for a coffee and we can talk about it? If not then I’ll accept we’re through.”
Alix’s fingers were on the keyboard and she was typing almost faster than the pentium processor could handle it: “I’ll meet you at the lift.”
***
Staff in the coffee shop nudged each other. The couple in the end booth were playing tonsil hockey so hard they looked like they’d suffocate. The cappuccinos had been sitting on the table undrunk for half an hour and the Italian proprietor shook his head at such a waste of good coffee. He snorted. Love!
Mal came up for air. “I’ll meet your friends. I’ll try to get on with Jessica. I’ll even put up with Fidget,” he promised, “It’ll be good training for when we have kids.”
Alix giggled. She was so happy she felt that if she stretched her arms wide enough, she could fly. She was totally oblivious to the rest of the world. “I can’t believe you deleted the whole book.”
“Not a scrap remains on my PC, not even in the Recycle Bin,” Mal said truthfully. He didn’t tell her he’d backed it up to a floppy. You never know, he thought, it might get published one day. As fiction.

The end.
© Copyright Caroline Sully, 1999. Reproduction without the author’s consent prohibited.

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