Hardly Ever Here
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Another in my series of middle-aged men beset by sex starved young women. Strange how my mind keeps going there.
This is for J, who helped it over the line, with thanks and apologies.
I finally made it home late on Friday, after a delayed flight and then murderous traffic on the way back from the airport. I’d been away from home for nearly a week, a combination of a trade exhibition and some customer visits, and the house, though clean, felt rather empty and unloved.
It was too big for me of course, but Josh liked it when he came to stay and I tried to keep everything the same for him. Anything to keep him coming home. Already I was sensing that his trips home were more out of duty than out of paternal affection. But then, he was eighteen now and the world was full of interesting places.
I had a beer and a frozen pizza and then crashed out, fully hoping and expecting to sleep for at least twelve hours. But at just after eight in the morning the doorbell rang.
I made my way somewhat wearily and irritably down the stairs, expecting to find a UPS delivery or – horrors – perhaps a Jehovah’s witness. But it was neither. It was a dark-haired teenage girl in jeans and a white t-shirt. She looked rather nervous and also vaguely familiar.
“Oh,” she said, when she saw me. “I’m so sorry. Did I wake you? I can come back later. I’m REALLY sorry.”
“No… it’s fine. I was up already.”
She looked doubtful. I was trying to remember who she was.
“It’s…er… Julie, isn’t it?” I said.
“Yes! Hello! It’s… nice to see you again.”
I remembered her now. She lived quite nearby. For a while she’d had a crush on Josh and had spent quite a lot of time at our house doing “homework” when they were both around fourteen or fifteen. She’d been quite a nice kid, a little on the skinny side… but she seemed to have filled out nicely in the last few years.
“Sorry… yes, of course. What can I do for you, Julie? Would you… like to come in?”
Even as I said that I felt it wasn’t appropriate. She blushed.
“Oh no… my mum said I wasn’t to bother you.” I could guess what her mum had actually said. And quite right too.
“Oh, ok… well do you want me to sponsor you for something?”
“Well… not exactly.”
She hesitated again.
“I was wondering… you see I play in a netball team. We call ourselves The Jets. And we need to practice somewhere. And they’ve closed down the sports centre where we used to practice, and we need somewhere new.”
“They’ve closed down the sports centre!” That was appalling. It hadn’t been much of a sports centre, to be honest, a rather run-down sports hall with a couple of squash and badminton courts attached, but it had been quite well used and Josh and I had spent a lot of time there when he was younger. I’d also done some basketball coaching for one of the local boys’ teams.
“Yes… they got offered loads of money for it. It’s going to be houses, apparently. So… anyway, we haven’t got anywhere to practice. The Jets, I mean.”
“And… you’ve always had this big yard with the basketball hoops and we’ve got some netball goals we could bring over, and it’s nearly the perfect size for us and quite close and… well, you don’t seem to be here very much so we could sort of, watch the place for you. If it wasn’t too much of a… imposition.”
She looked at me earnestly. Then she remembered something.
“Oh, sorry, my mum said I should give you time to think about it, and I should go now, and if you say no that’s like, totally OK, of course.” That came out in a breathless, almost continuous stream.
She was blushing again. It had taken quite a lot of courage to come and ask me. I remembered her being quite shy.
She started to back away. “Anyway… nice to see you, Mr Cooper. Say hi to Josh for me, will you? And Mrs Cooper, if that’s… well, if you speak to her.”
She turned and started to scurry away.
She stopped and looked around. I shook my head sorrowfully.
“I don’t need to think about it… I’m sorry, but… I just don’t think… “
Her face started to fall, but she nodded bravely.
“I understand… that’s quite OK. Mum said you probably wouldn’t…”
I rolled my eyes.
“I’m kidding,” I said. “Of course you can use the yard.”
Her whole face brightened and she beamed at me. “Really! That’s SO great. Thank you! Thank you!”
“Sure,” I said. “Like you said, I’m hardly ever here, and I don’t get home until late when I am… so sure, you’d be very welcome.”
She was so excited that she almost bounded forward to hug me. Then she remembered the twenty-year age difference and, possibly, the fact that I was only in pyjama bottoms and a robe. So she very charmingly stuck out her hand and I solemnly shook it, and then she thanked me several more times before skipping away back down the drive.
I watched her go and smiled. Perhaps I could give Josh another reason to come up more often. casino şirketleri She was lovely.
Her mother came by an hour later. She’d obviously come to check me over. Luckily I was dressed and shaved by then so hopefully I looked reasonably presentable. I invited her in for a coffee and she peered suspiciously around the house in what she probably thought was a discreet manner. It was also lucky for me that my weekly cleaner had been in the day before and everything was neat and tidy and all the surfaces gleamed.
“Are you sure those girls won’t be a nuisance?”
I think the subtext was probably “Are you sure you won’t be tempted to rape them?” I did my best to put her at ease.
“Not at all! As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not here very often. I should probably find something smaller, but the truth is I’m quite attached to it and Josh still has a room here with all his stuff… so I’ll probably stay here for another year or two. I’m away quite a lot, and I don’t usually get home until after dark anyway at this time of year. If the girls want to use it the yard for a couple of hours in the afternoon or evening, it’s really no problem for me.”
She softened slightly but I could tell she instinctively didn’t like the idea of her daughter and her friends at the house of a lone single adult male. If it had been my daughter I would have been completely the same, so I didn’t feel particularly insulted.
“Well, it seems an awful imposition,” she said doubtfully. I’d just said it wasn’t, but that’s the kind of thing that gets said in these conversations.
“It really wouldn’t be,” I said. “But of course, you have to be comfortable with the arrangement. How about each week I give you a call, and let you know when I’m going to be out of town, or back late, and you can help the girls organise their training around that?”
She considered this. As I’d hoped, she wasn’t actually that keen about the extra work involved in following that arrangement – but the fact I’d offered reassured her.
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to put you to any further bother. If you’re sure… and if the girls do the slightest thing wrong, you will tell me, won’t you?”
“I will,” I said. “But I’m sure they won’t.”
I don’t think I lied. But I suppose it all depends on your definition of wrong, doesn’t it?
A few weeks passed. There was no obvious sign of the girls ever being there other than the fact I now had two netball hoops, one at either end of the yard, and they’d chalked out very faintly the different zones of a netball court.
My work continued much as before – I had nothing much else going on so I didn’t mind staying late and doing whatever trips they asked me to make. It had been eighteen months since the divorce and I still felt rather raw. I got the occasional casual enquiry from women at work who wanted to set me up with friends who I’d “absolutely love” but I politely declined.
It was on my birthday that I heard from Julie again. I’d had a text from Josh earlier in the day, and one from my sister, and if I hadn’t had those then I think I would have forgotten the date altogether. Except for the fact that when I arrived home at about nine there was a plate containing a single slice of birthday cake on my doorstep.
I uncovered the clingfilm it was wrapped in and found a note.
“Happy Birthday Mr Cooper! From J and the rest of The Jets.”
I smiled. That was really sweet. I wondered where the rest of the cake was. Then something tugged at my memory, back from when she and Josh had spent time hanging out together. She and I shared the same birthday. She and Josh had thought this was some amazing coincidence, and I’d tried to explain that statistically it wasn’t actually as unlikely as all that, but I don’t think I’d convinced them.
This must be a slice of her birthday cake. So this was probably her eighteenth birthday, since she was just a little younger than Josh.
I had the cake with a bottle of beer. It wasn’t bad at all. I quietly toasted her in the silent kitchen and wondered if it would be inappropriate to get her a present. Yes, I decided it probably would be. I knew I was a bit lonely and it would be too easy to make too much of this imaginary bond between us, based on a common birthday and the fact she’d been thoughtful enough to leave me a slice of cake. Next time I saw her I would thank her, and that would be that.
Then I had a thought, and it wouldn’t go away.
I decided to sleep on it.
In the morning I still liked the idea. So I made some calls, got some quotes, and put it in action.
“THIS IS SO AMAZING!” I had to hold the phone a little way away from my ear. It was a few days later.
“Hi… Julie?” I hadn’t recognised the number, but I confess I had been expecting a call.
“We love it so much! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! All the girls want to thank you! Here they are!”
Wow… OK. In hurried succession I got garbled thanks from a series of female voices. Then Julie came back casino firmaları on the line.
“That was Lucy… and Amelia… and Jeannie… and Nicole… and Sabby. And Izzy would thank you too, if she was here, but she couldn’t make it tonight. It’s SO AWESOME. You’re so AWESOME. That is, like, the NICEST THING EVER.”
“You’re welcome,” I said. And she was. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to do a nice thing. And the fact that Julie was eighteen and beautiful didn’t come into it. I would have done the same if she’d been approaching sixty and weighed three hundred pounds. Well, I like to think I would.
“We could even have matches here now… it’s just perfect. It’s the right measurements and everything.”
“I got them the measurements off the web… I hope they got them right. Better than the chalk lines you had anyway.”
“A million times better… I can’t tell you how much this is going to help us practice.”
“I’m glad,” I said. “And thank you for the cake. I’d forgotten we shared birthdays.”
“I know! It’s so cool. Listen, Mr Cooper, I’ve got to go practice now, but won’t you come and watch us some time? I mean, you’ve given us this amazing court, it’s like you’re one of the team now.”
“Maybe,” I said doubtfully. I didn’t think turning up to watch a match which involved a dozen or so teenage girls running around in sports kit was going to make that good an impression on the parents and officials.
“No, I’m going to totally make you come”.
Then there was an appalled silence as the double entendre sank in.
“Oh god… Gotta go. Thanks again Mr C. You’re… the best! Oh god!”
And she rang off without waiting for me to say goodbye.
I puffed my cheeks and blew out some air. I felt myself blushing in sympathy. Probably best I made a special effort to keep avoiding them for another few weeks – she would have been mortified at that slip, innocent though it had undoubtedly been.
Still, it was a pleasant thought, and it wasn’t as easy to push it away as perhaps I would have liked.
It was about ten days after that I first saw the Jets in action.
I was home early for once. I needed to pack in preparation for yet another overnight trip and my flight was just before 9pm. So late afternoon I drove into my driveway to find a number of bicycles lying around and the sound of a lot of shouting come from the back of the house.
I felt a little shy about confronting a gang of teenage girls – that kind of boyhood fear never quite leaves you, I don’t think – but I told myself to man up and I made my way around the side of the house.
They didn’t see me at first. They were engrossed in their practice session, attack v defence, a kind of netball equivalent of one on one in basketball, I supposed. Julie was playing but also coaching, calling out commands and suggestions and encouraging both sides. They were working hard, all the girls looked a little red-faced and sweaty, and I admired the speed and dexterity with which they handled the ball.
It was a red-haired girl who saw me first. Later I learned she was Izzy, the one who hadn’t been there to thank me on the phone. She called across to Julie, who caught the ball and turned and looked at me. She was already quite red faced, but I detected perhaps a slightly deeper shade spreading up from her neck.
“Don’t mind me,” I said. “I just need to pick up a few things – I’ll be gone in an hour.”
“This is Mr Cooper everybody,” said Julie. “This is his house.”
“Oh hey! The famous and mysterious Mr Cooper!” This was Nicole, as I also learned later. She eyed me speculatively, thought about saying something, looked at Julie, smirked, and then muttered something to one of the other girls.
“Thanks Mr C… this court is great!” This was from the red-haired girl. Several of the other girls also joined in a chorus of thanks. I held up a hand.
“Don’t mention it,” I said. “I’m glad this place is being used.”
Somewhat self-consciously I made my way to the back door and unlocked it. I was quite relieved to get indoors and away from the probing eyes of seven – or was it eight? – young women.
“Josh,” I said to myself. “You have no idea what you’re missing out on.”
I gathered my clothes together and packed myself an overnight bag. This was a drill I had down pretty well and it didn’t take long. The practice match was continuing, though the shouts and yelling seemed to have been taken down a few decibels. I thought about going out to watch but felt that would be creepy and probably unwelcome. So instead I headed for the living room and turned on the TV and tried to get interested in something that would kill half an hour or so.
About twenty minutes later there was a timid knock on the back door. I got up and opened it. A very hot and sweaty Julie looked at me.
“We’re finished now. Just wanted to say… you know… thanks again.”
“No problem at all,” I said. “Would you like a drink? Looks like you’ve been working pretty hard.”
“Oh no… güvenilir casino oh, ok then, actually, anything with some ice would be great.”
“What about for the others?” I could still see a few of the girls standing around outside.
“I’m sure they’d love it. We bought some drinks but they get pretty warm.”
“I’ll leave you a key,” I said. “You can put your drinks and stuff in the fridge then.”
“Really?” She seemed astonished at the very idea of this.
“Sure, as long as you don’t eat any of my leftover pizza, we’ll be fine.”
“We’ll try not to,” she said, smiling for the first time. “But we get pretty hungry.”
I put together a pitcher of orange and ice and some glasses and took it out to the table by the court. The girls all clustered around and helped themselves.
Most of the talk was about their forthcoming match against another local team. They seemed gloomy about their chances.
“We’re great in practice,” said Julie. “But we just can’t seem to get it together for the competitions. It almost feels like a different game, somehow.”
I nodded. “Well, I guess it is. You’re all friends here, and you enjoy being together and you probably don’t have quite the edge playing among yourselves that you need when playing against another team.”
“So we need to be less friendly?” This was Izzy.
“No… but maybe you just need to try a few different drills, think about things differently. I’m just speculating really.”
“Mr Cooper used to coach the basketball team,” said Julie. “They got to the regional semi-finals.”
“We did,” I said. “And we were a bit lucky to do that… but we had a good run and the team worked together well.”
Julie looked at me. Again, a faint blush was visible, perhaps as she remembered her last attempt to persuade me.
“Would you come and watch us? Just once. I bet you’d spot loads of things you could fix.”
I hesitated. “I don’t really know much about netball, really.”
“It’s still about teams working together, and getting the ball through a hoop… you could really help us.”
I cast around for another excuse. “Well… I don’t know… you know I’m not here much. When’s the next match?”
“Oh. OK.” Saturday afternoon I knew I would be here. Unless I wanted to hide away in a hotel out of town, I couldn’t see a way out of this.
“Sure… why not. But please don’t expect too much.”
“Great! Thank you!” Julie beamed. The other girls also seemed pleased. I gathered together the glasses and pitcher, took them back indoors, then came out to say goodbye to them as they packed their things away.
I produced a key and pointed to a large potted plant off to one side. “Spare key is under there if you do want to use the fridge. Or anything else, really. If I’m not there, just make yourselves at home.”
“Awesome!” This was Izzy.
“So… we can just… let ourselves in?” This was Nicole, looking at me with renewed and what seemed quite frank interest.
“We’ll just use the fridge,” said Julie firmly. “And we’ll stay in the kitchen. Thank you very much.” Izzy and Nicole looked a bit disappointed.
I did my trip, came back, and on Saturday I was sitting feeling rather awkward high in the stands watching the Jets take on the Falcons.
The Jets lost, but not for lack of effort on their part. I watched carefully, made a few notes, then slipped away. I turned around just before I went the door and saw that Julie was watching me leave. I waved, and she gave me a small wave back.
I texted her later.
When’s the next practice?
Her reply: Tuesday evening, around 4.30.
OK. I’ll be there. Got a couple of suggestions.
AWESOME! Thank you! I’ll tell all the girls and make sure EVERYBODY is there.
Tuesday I made a point of leaving early. If I was honest with myself, leaving early was always an option. The company loved me, I made a lot of sales and made the customers happy and as long as the numbers were good I could have worked out of a sail boat in the Caribbean as far as they were concerned. I knew I’d been staying late because it kept me occupied.
The girls were already there when I drove in. I waved, took my laptop bag into the house, changed into tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt, then went back out to join them.
“OK,” I said. “Gather round.”
I had eight earnest and expectant faces looking at me. Nicole was wearing lipstick, I noticed. Izzy seemed to have done something new with her hair, though please don’t ask me what. And Julie was looking particularly lovely in a very tight top and shorts that left little to the imagination. I remembered to focus on the job in hand.
“Listen,” I said. “You do this for fun. And that’s the most important part, right?”
Eight heads nodded.
“I think I can help you play better, but I don’t think you’re going to win the league any time soon. What I saw on Saturday, I’ll be honest – they had some girls with a lot more natural talent than you. And that’s going to be tough to overcome.”
Eight slightly disappointed faces.
“But… no question, there’s lots of good things in this squad. Really hard working, really committed, really supportive of each other. That’s a great foundation to build on.”
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