Double Take

By S. Faith, © 2010

Words: 50,993
This chapter: 5,795
Rating: T / PG-13
Summary: First Impressions can be wrong.
Disclaimer: Those characters and situations easily identifiable as Helen Fielding's are Helen Fielding's. The others are mine, mine, mine.
Notes: The most meta 'What if?' I've ever done.


Chapter 1: We Meet Again

It was a double-take that started it all, after catching a glimpse of a woman that looked vaguely familiar to me. I needed that second look to be sure my mind wasn't playing tricks on me. I studied her features, her blonde hair swept up into a twist, her blue eyes and bright smile; I would have been without a pulse not to have noticed her figure, which was very feminine and curvy and sheathed in a little black dress. Yes; despite the differences compared to what I'd seen upon our first meeting back on New Year's Day, it was the same woman, and I felt compelled to approach her, even as I dreaded speaking to her given the insults I'd delivered to her during that first meeting.

I was just about to say her name—Bridget—when at just that moment she turned, glass of wine aloft, definitely surprised to see me.

"What are you doing here?" she asked.

"I've been asking myself the same question. I came with a colleague," I said, looking her over as subtly as I could. "So how are you?" With some irritation I realised I could not keep my eyes from slipping to her bosom; I had certainly not noticed it at our first and last meeting, as it had been too well-camouflaged by upholstery fabric.

"Well, apart from being very disappointed not to see my favourite reindeer jumper again… I'm well."

There was a distinctly teasing edge to her voice, a challenging glint in her eyes, neither of which I was expecting. Instead I had expected cool vitriol, subtle barbs or outright hatred. Not that I would have blamed her; I'd been kind of a jerk and had insulted her quite dreadfully.

At that moment, a plump Caucasian woman with a whiny, nasal voice interrupted us, demanding to be introduced. I gathered from said introduction that this was someone Bridget worked with, and from her own introduction to her colleague she reiterated that I was someone from the town she grew up in, though I still cannot for the life of me recollect her from my youth; not that I was especially close with her parents the Joneses, but I can't even recall their having a daughter.

For her part, she seemed equally surprised to hear my pedigree was as her mother likely promised: that I was a top barrister in the field of human rights law, that people know this of me and respected me for it.

The colleague who had accompanied me to this party, this book launch, was now taking Bridget's co-worker off for a sidebar, but I didn't hear their subsequent conversation because my eyes were then drawn away by a familiar face: my former best mate, Daniel, a man I had no desire to see or talk to. Daniel was the first to look away, ducking into the toilets.

It was only after I returned my attention to my immediate surroundings that I realised while my eyes had been locked with Daniel's, Bridget had wandered away. I looked around myself, but she'd gone. I then caught her threading through the crowd towards the stage, and I could only help but wonder what was about to transpire.

I went into the room with the stage as did others. She took her place in front of the microphone, cleared her throat and began to speak.

To call it a train wreck would have been a kindness. She had obviously not prepared a speech in advance, did not think to switch on the power to amplify her voice. She concluded what she had been invited to say and was rewarded by polite, embarrassed silence. When she was shunted off the stage by someone who was clearly her superior, she disappeared into the crowd.

I thought it might be nice to find her and let her know we weren't all cut out to be public speakers (myself included; my ability to orate in court came from slipping on that particular persona), but my colleague, Natasha, hooked me into a dull conversation with a group of equally pretentious sycophants and a couple of well-known authors.

I saw Bridget again by the drinks table, standing on her own and looking lost in thought, almost vulnerable, probably going over in her head the awful speech she'd just given. It occurred to me that despite not having on much makeup, no jewellery save her silver necklace, and the black satin dress that Natasha had confided to me was not from a couture line she'd ever seen (meaning: it wasn't from one), strangely she was somehow more radiant, more beautiful, than any other woman there.

I cannot say I was not touched. I decided to hell with it, and made a move towards her when I was suddenly intercepted by, once again, Daniel.

I heard him say, presumably referring to her speech, "Jones. Sod 'em all. It was a brilliant post-modernist masterpiece of oratorical fireworks, really."

She made a slight groaning sound. I had to agree with her, in all honesty.

"You're looking very sexy, Jones. I think I'm gonna have to take you out to dinner now whether you like it or not, okay?" I could discern a small smile come from her. "Come on, get your stuff."

With that he whisked her away. It obviously concerned me, given what I knew of Daniel: he was relentless in his pursuit of women and was not satisfied until he slept with the one he'd pursued. When his goal had been achieved, he would drop her like a hot rock. I knew his methods firsthand. It's what he had done to my wife, now ex, devastating my friendship with him in the process.

I was disappointed not to get the chance to renew my own friendship with this supposed childhood friend, one with whom I had allegedly bonded in a paddling pool.

I would also be lying if I said I wasn't a little bit jealous at being thwarted in my efforts. I didn't know what about her interested Daniel; she was definitely not his usual type. I half-wondered if he was doing it because he'd seen something akin to interest light my own eyes.

I was determined to keep myself informed as to what was developing between them. Hurriedly I returned to where Natasha was and pulled her away, asking her to have supper. I knew she'd want to; she had been after me for some time, and while I knew this would send the wrong message, we had arrived to the party together (I didn't want to strand her there) and bringing someone with me to the restaurant would look less suspicious.

As they settled into a taxi I heard Daniel's voice bark the name of a very swanky restaurant near to where I knew he lived. We were behind them shortly in my own car, Natasha none the wiser to my ulterior motives. Unfortunately the table at which we were seated was a good distance away from theirs, so I couldn't hear precisely what was being said, but they certainly looked like they were having a good time. He had certainly seemed to cheer her from her sombre mood.

Natasha had a tendency to talk without needing much response from me, so it hardly appeared she noticed how distracted I was. We ordered and ate our food, enjoyed some coffee afterwards, and honestly, it was better than eating takeaway alone in front of the telly or with a stack of papers to read. I saw them prepare to leave, so suggested we leave as well. I wasn't about to follow them to Daniel's doorstep, but if they got into the taxi together, I… well, I didn't know what I'd do, to be honest. Pull him from the car and punch him? I wasn't sure what had sparked these protective feelings in me. I guess I didn't want her to get hurt, and I knew what kind of hurt he was capable of delivering.

I emerged from the restaurant with Natasha close behind to see Bridget backing away from Daniel with a smile. "Goodnight," she said, then climbed into the taxi… and closed the door on him.

I smirked a little, particularly at seeing Daniel's unmitigated disappointment. I suppose I needn't have worried, after all.

I had managed to avoid being seen by Daniel, so before he could do so I escorted Natasha back to my car then drove her home. She was herself clearly disappointed, but I had been willing to take the charade only so far.

I had given the evening considerable thought since Tuesday night, thinking about what I had done wrong at the party and what I might have done differently to speak more than a few ill-chosen words to Bridget. I didn't know what brought my thoughts back to that evening again over dinner a couple of nights later, but I began to be convinced that my thoughts had made her manifest once more.

This time she was not with Daniel, but rather, a different man. He was older than she was, possibly older than me; very distinguished-looking in a suit and tie, salt and pepper hair, moderately physically fit from what I could see, and wore trendy squarish black spectacles perched on his nose. Oddly, my first thought was whether or not her mother knew she was perfectly capable of acquiring her own dates, and yet had still chosen to try to set her up with me.

During the course of dinner I caught her eyes raise up to look at me, and just as I would look up, hers would lower again. I couldn't begin to fathom what it all meant, so upon clearing the meal from my plate, as I waited for my bill, I decided to pay her table a visit.

"Hello," I said, looking to him then to her again. My appearance at her side seemed to have surprised her. She was herself dressed smartly in what I presumed was something she would wear for work; blouse, skirt, tights, heels, her hair pinned back in a barrette. "What a coincidence, seeing you here."

She smiled. "Hello, Mark. Nice to see you again. This is, um, Henry Shaw. He's someone I met—I know—" She stopped, seemingly at a loss.

"Professionally," supplied Henry.

Right, like I'd believe that, I thought.

"Yes, yes," she said, laughing a little. "Henry, this is Mark Darcy. We evidently played together as children."

"Oh," said Henry. "Right. Nice to meet you."

"Likewise," I said to him. "Since I never got to say so the other night," I began, looking at Bridget again, "I just wanted to tell you that…" I didn't want to embarrass her in front of her date. "Your speech was certainly not what I was expecting at an affair like that."

"Thank you. Thanks very much indeed." She smiled at me just then, such a genuine smile I had to wonder what she was thinking, smiling at me like that with a date just across the table. Surely she had to know I was laying it on. "So," she went on, peering around me, "are you here with your girlfriend?"

"Pardon?" I asked before my thoughts had a chance to coordinate with my mouth. She obviously meant Natasha, and said so as I thought it. "Oh, she's not my girlfriend."

She raised a brow, smirked at me. I would have sworn she was flirting a little. "She was certainly leading everyone to that conclusion."

I dared not ask what had been said. "Yes, well," I said, figuring it would be best to extricate myself from their date, "she's not. Anyway. I must be off. Goodbye." I knew as I was saying it that I was fumbling with words big time.

"Goodbye," she said.

As I walked away, I heard Henry say, rather puzzlingly to my ear, "Well done."

I really began to wonder about the power of thought when I made a routine jog the following afternoon, a Saturday, to Borough Market and back as I was considering Bridget and Henry from the night before. I always liked browsing the fresh fruits and vegetables before jogging back home; I thought it made a nice round trip, I hated jogging somewhere without a destination, and I did not know anyone in this neighbourhood, so it was unlikely I would bump into anyone I knew or who knew me.

I would be wrong.

I rounded a corner and collided into a woman wearing headphones, clearly in her own world and not paying attention to her surroundings. I caught her before she had a chance to fall. "Watch where—oh," she began, then corrected herself when she saw it was me. "Hi again."

I could hardly believe it. Three chance encounters in five days when we had both been living in London, no paths crossing, in all that time prior. "Hello," I said. I was sure I looked a wreck, sweaty and dishevelled from my exertion.

"You're the last person I expected to run into," she quipped. "Do you live 'round here?"

"Not exactly," I said. "I just like to run here and home. Yourself?"

She turned and pointed towards a building that had a pub on the lower level. "Right there, top flat," she said, then turned back to me. She narrowed her eyes, but was smiling a little. "Are you sure you're not stalking me?"

"Quite sure," I said. I hoped she didn't truly think so. "I'm sorry."

"Why?"

"Well, I'm not stalking you," I said.

"You're sorry you are," she said, "or you're sorry you're not?"

I couldn't help but chuckle a bit. "I'm sorry if it seems I might be. And for my appearance."

"What's wrong with your appearance?"

She had to be kidding. "I've been jogging," I said, sure it would be sufficient explanation. It wasn't as if that wasn't obvious.

"True," she said, "but you haven't been in the company of people with sticks up their bums, strapped into a suit and tie and on your best behaviour. It's not a bad look for you."

I had to wonder if she wasn't taking the piss out of me. I also wondered if my expression accused as much, because she added, "No, really. I'm not being facetious." I watched her skin visibly tint pink. "Well. Have to get back upstairs. See you around."

"Bye," I called after a moment of being utterly dumbfounded.

I don't know why I was thinking about Bridget so much. She was attractive, if not necessarily in a conventional way, then certainly in a way that was unique. She didn't seem to feel the need to filter her thoughts through an internal editor before they came burbling out, particularly when compared to most everyone else I dealt with on a daily basis. She was irreverent in her way, and there was also a certain assurance that I couldn't quite pin down, one she almost seemed reluctant to show.

Part of the reason my thoughts kept going back to Bridget was that I had somehow managed find myself alone, at a theatre, with Natasha. I hadn't wanted to go anywhere else even semi-privately with Natasha, particularly as I did not want to encourage her in thinking I was interested, but she happened to snag a pair of tickets to the sold out opening night of a highly anticipated new play, ones for which I had missed a window of opportunity to buy due to a court appearance, and I admit I am not above a bit of subterfuge for good theatre.

Imagine my surprise when across the lobby I spotted a familiar head of blonde hair upswept into a glamorous twist; Bridget turned to look at me just as my eyes travelled down to her bare shoulders, to a wrap that encircled them over her strapless dress. She had her arm linked through Henry's, that older friend of hers. They were clearly there together. I smiled and nodded acknowledgement, but with sounding of the bell warned us we should all take our seats.

The play certainly was worth the price of admission. At the intermission, as I went to the bar for a glass of wine each for myself and my companion, I heard a voice from behind me. "I thought she wasn't your girlfriend."

I turned to see Bridget, and I must say the ensemble, the hair, the makeup, the singular silver necklace, was very striking.

"She isn't," I said. "She had tickets."

"And you were willing to do anything for them?" she asked, a glint in her eye.

"Not anything," I said.

With a sense of someone's gaze upon me, I lifted my eyes lifted and saw Henry looking pointedly in our direction.

"Well, next time don't compromise your virtue," she went on with a wink and a smile, "and just come see me first."

I could not figure out what she meant. Was this another flirtation? But she was there with Henry, and they had certainly seemed very friendly earlier. The barman impatiently (and not for the first time, it would seem) called for my attention at that moment, however, and I took my wine, leaving enough to cover the drinks. I offered a small smile and wandered away; my mind was still reeling.

"You're a thousand miles away, Mark," cooed Natasha as she took the glass. "Is it the play?"

"What?" I asked, snapping back to the present.

"It's a bit dense and pretentious," she said, clearly feeling I agreed with her somehow. "I'm not completely attached to seeing the second half if you're not."

"I have no intention of missing it," I said crossly. I thought the first half was brilliant. She probably thought I simply wanted to stay so I could say I'd stayed until the end.

Before heading back to our seats, Natasha decided she needed to powder her nose. I decided to take the opportunity to use the gents. On my way back to the theatre proper, I happened upon a very odd scene: Bridget was with Henry near the bar; she had her brows furrowed, and a few pound coins in her hand.

"No, it's just not done," he said in a lowered voice. "Trust me."

"But it seems wrong," she replied, equally hushed.

"No," he said. "Besides, that's roughly half of what you spent."

She pursed her lips, turned, met my eyes. Then she looked away quickly and shoved her hand into her clutch purse before she and Henry headed back towards their seats. Natasha then appeared looking slightly annoyed, which seemed the norm, and we went to our own seats.

The rest of the play was just as good if not better than the first half. Natasha was bored; frankly, I thought she probably didn't understand it. When it was over, I found myself craning to scan the crowd for Bridget and her date leaving, but I did not find them. Natasha claimed my arm, clasped it so tight I could feel her nails digging in through my suit jacket. "Let's go back to your house for a nightcap," she said in what I supposed she thought was a seductive tone.

"I'll take you home," I said, which in retrospect sounded like I wanted to go to her place. She seemed surprised when I didn't get out of the car. I imagined she was very annoyed when I sped off, leaving her at the kerb.

As if that additional encounter wasn't enough to make me start seriously considering consulting the horoscopes on a regular basis, I then went on the weekend to a charity polo match with a group of us from chambers. It was not that I didn't want to attend the event itself, not that I had anything against supporting charities, but amongst our group was Natasha, who interpreted my accompanying them that day as tacit invitation to hang on my arm; she still fancied herself as having a chance with me, and by not pushing her away or abusing her verbally I supposed I was sort of sending mixed signals. It was a good cause, which I thought was probably the only antidote to a weekend afternoon (and into early evening) of Natasha clinging to me as if she were an overanxious howler monkey.

The weather was absolutely delightful. In all honesty I didn't care much about watching the match myself. Before it began we were all engaged in stimulating conversation as Natasha stood glowering somewhat resentfully as she did not have my full attention. She was holding her Pimm's, dressed in her seersucker shirt and khaki trousers, which I doubt she realised made her appear somewhat mannish.

"Mark, isn't that that little publicity girl who gave the speech at the Kafka's Motorbike launch?"

Natasha had spoken up just as there was a lull in a conversation Giles and I were having. I followed her gaze and saw a girl who did very closely resemble Bridget, dressed in a cap-sleeved pale yellow dress that came just to her knees, fitted at the waist and flared out from there. It was obviously well tailored and probably very expensive. With it she wore a wide-brimmed hat in the same colour and sunglasses with pink lenses and frames alike. From beneath the hat, her blonde hair was in loose curls on her shoulders. When I saw Henry at this girl's side I realised that Natasha was correct, though I don't know how she'd recognised someone she had only met once. I then further realised that it must have been because she saw Bridget as a threat, and had memorised every feature to add to her mental database.

Bridget was smiling fairly happily, turning to speak to the people who were around her as if addressing a flock of admirers, her lips nearly the same shade as her specs.

"Yes," I said at last. "I believe it is." I looked to Natasha, whose face revealed the undisguised jealousy she felt. "I don't think even you could find fault with her attire today."

"Not the dress inherently; it's even from this season," she said with a snooty sniff. "But that dress probably costs more than she'd make in a year. Bet I can guess though who paid for that dress and her ticket into this match."

Obviously the comment on the cost of the dress was exaggeration (or at least I hoped it was), but it did rather underscore a point: that her dress and her presence here was rather outside the means of a low-ranking member of a publicity department at a well-to-do publishing house. The whole thing annoyed me in a way I could not clearly define. It would seem Natasha was right, but I just couldn't believe it to be true, not from what I knew about her, and not what I had observed directly. She seemed far too genuine a person, too emotionally honest (I thought back to New Year's Day and her nattering on about resolutions), to be using someone for material gain in this way.

"Or rather," she added dramatically, "what she'll have to do to repay him."

Giles, however, was stabbing his finger in the air. "You say you know her?" he asked. "I'd swear I recognise her from somewhere. A film or something."

Natasha did not appreciate it when her barbs go unrecognised, and as a result she snapped irritably, "What, in a porno?"

"Her parents and mine are friends," I answered, hoping to make Giles forget he'd just been insulted, hoping to make myself forget Bridget had been, too.

"And who's that she's with? Boyfriend?"

"Sugar daddy, more like," seethed Natasha.

Bridget finally turned far enough around to see me, and when she did her smile faded momentarily before brightening again. With a nod to those around her, she disengaged from them and came over to our little group.

"Hi," she said.

Natasha said nothing due to what I was certain was seething envy; Bridget looked even more gorgeous up close. Giles said nothing either. He was obviously gobsmacked. The duty of speaking apparently fell to me.

"Hello," I said. I was wearing a suit jacket and trousers, dress shirt and tie, and she was still making me feel distinctly underdressed.

I could see through the pink lenses her gaze moved to Giles, and I watched her lips slide into an easy, friendly smile. Her expression was devoid of guile as she held out her hand. "We haven't been introduced. I'm Bridget. Bridget Jones."

He didn't take her hand, didn't say a thing except his name: "Giles Benwick." I think he was too love-struck to do anything else. She lowered her hand smoothly, still smiling in a very friendly manner.

"We have to go. Come on," Natasha barked, then turned on her heel and stormed off. It was unforgivably rude, an obvious excuse. Because he was terrified of her, Giles immediately followed.

Since I did not want to make her look like a liar, I nodded in the general direction to indicate my group, then smiled apologetically and said, "Sorry, but I must… well. Go." I then made to follow.

"Mark," she called after me. I turned back to her. "May I please speak to you for a moment? Alone?"

I had no idea why she would need to speak to me in private, but I nodded. We walked away from the crowd a little, found a shady tree to stand beneath. She turned to me, reached up and pulled her sunglasses off before looking at me, her blue eyes wide and luminous. Even with the heels she wore, I still had height on her. "I need to ask you a favour," she said. "Please, don't say a word."

She had to have meant her relationship with Henry. I could only imagine what the old hens in Grafton Underwood would say about such a scandal. "You can count on my discretion," I told her.

She sighed with her relief. "Thank you so much," she said. "It's just… it's really great to be here. It's so upper-crust and fancy. I can't wait for the game to start."

I lowered my brows, confused by her terminology. "Have you ever been to a polo match before?"

"Well…" she began, demurring. "No."

I smiled, even laughed a little. "Couldn't tell." I went through and briefly explained polo to her, and she listened with great interest, occasionally politely interrupting me with relevant questions.

"Now I'll know what to watch for and when to cheer," she said with a smile.

At that moment a round of applause went up and I whipped around to see that the polo ponies had taken the field. I turned to see her slip her sunglasses back into place.

"I should go find Henry and our tent," she said with a smile.

"Of course," I said, thinking of my chair under our own marquee.

We walked back towards the cluster of covered tables, where Henry was waiting with a fond smile. He extended his elbow to her. She cast a look back at me and smiled. "Thanks again."

"My pleasure."

Their marquee was close to ours; subsequently my attention kept wandering to the wide-brimmed, pale lemon hat, to where she was watching attentively, leaning over to comment to Henry, and laughing at his comments. I must admit to a certain level of envy, as the person within closest proximity to me, Natasha, was offering her own commentary on how if this event had not been for charity she would have left as soon as she'd come. I wished she had.

As I looked from table to table, everyone, in traditional English style, looked as if they were bored, uninterested, and like Natasha wanted to be anywhere but there, but were too polite to leave. The only person in the place to show any life at all was the girl in the yellow hat.

The match concluded—and it was, in my opinion, not a bad match at all, but it was possible that I was amongst the minority of those who actually knew what was going on—and we all rose to gather our things to leave. I knew there would be more hobnobbing; I hoped that Natasha would leave and that Bridget would stay.

I stopped for a moment to consider my thoughts. I could hardly fault Giles for his sudden schoolboy behaviour when I myself was acting no differently; I was just better at keeping it hidden. I hadn't stopped thinking about her since I'd first seen her there, and I certainly couldn't stop looking at her. This was no longer possible to deny. I raised my eyes, scanned for that spot of yellow.

I found it. And by some miracle of God, Natasha swept up to me, took my hands, announced she had to go, then pecked a kiss on my cheek before sweeping away. I decided to further press my luck, and I strode over to where Bridget and Henry were standing.

"Had a nice time, I trust?" I asked, just as I realised she was looking a bit despondent. My happy spirits, my very belief in miracles, deflated as she spoke.

"I was," she said, "but we have to leave."

"I'm sorry to hear it."

Henry spoke up. "Bridget, I can't leave you here."

"He's my ride," she explained.

"Oh," I said, struck by the best idea ever to strike a human being. "Why don't I bring you back to town?"

Henry looked disapproving, but Bridget said, "Henry, he told me he won't say anything."

Arching a single brow, Henry regarded me with a bit more openness. "Well," he said. "So long as you don't stay too long, I suppose."

Rather short lead, I thought with some annoyance.

"Oh, thank you. I'll call you later, then?" She grinned at him, then turned to me. "And thank you for offering. I really am having a grand time."

"I'm happy to do it."

Henry and Bridget said their goodbyes—a little coolly, I thought, but perhaps they were just being discreet—and she slipped her hand through my elbow; me, her new escort for the rest of the day. "Shall we have a drink?"

I thought it best not to have another, but we walked towards the bar and ordered a glass of wine for her. "I noticed you seemed to prefer white," I said at her look of slight astonishment.

"I do," she said.

"Then what is it?"

"I just can't believe you noticed."

I felt a bit of heat creep over my cheek, hoped in the bright light of the sun and her pink-tinted lenses she couldn't tell.

I sipped my water with lemon while she drank her wine; she asked me a little more about my work, listened intently to my responses and asked thoughtful follow-up questions leading to a bit of debate. Before I knew it the event was ending and we had not had a chance to mingle with anyone else. I didn't mind at all.

The drive back to London did not take much time. It was mostly spent in silence; Bridget seemed in her own world. I remained exceedingly confused by the paradox before me: a nice, warm, down-to-earth, funny girl in opposition to a materialistic kept woman seeing a man I felt was far too old for her.

"You remembered this too."

I snapped back to reality. "Pardon?"

"Where my flat is."

I realised quite without conscious thought my car had gone straight to her building. "I jog to the neighbourhood quite frequently."

"Oh, yes," she said. "You did mention that." She smiled. Again without thinking I got up and out of the vehicle in order to help her up and out of the passenger side seat. She seemed startled, but accepted my assistance (and my hand). "Well. Thank you again for the lift home. I had a really nice time chatting with you."

I realised just then how off New Year's really had been. "I enjoyed it too." I walked her to the door, thought about asking her for supper, but remembered she had planned on contacting Henry. "Well. Good night."

Since the sun was arcing ever downward through the sky, she had removed the sunglasses, and of course the low overhead within the auto itself had precluded the wearing of the hat, so she stood there on the stoop looking more like the girl I had come to know; her head was tilted slightly, her eyes a little wide and unblinking. "Good night," she said suddenly, coming out of her own trance, before digging for her key in her handbag, then turning it and entering the building, flashing another, more restrained smile my way as she did.

I turned for home, and it occurred to me that I had done nothing to plan or prepare for supper once I'd returned. I immediately went to the kitchen and put a fillet steak on to fry, then cut up some lettuce and tomato for a bit of greens with red wine vinegar and olive oil. My thoughts as I ate went back to the afternoon, of the blue sky, green grass, and that butter yellow hat and dress of Bridget's. I was fooling no one. I was thinking of her. This was evident when I looked down to my plate and saw I had cut my steak into centimetre-sized cubes.

Inevitably I thought of Henry too, her—well, I wasn't sure what to call him. I hated to think of him as 'lover' because I really hated thinking of her sharing his bed, but 'boyfriend' seemed all wrong, and 'sugar daddy' didn't speak very highly of her… when I thought very highly of her, indeed.

I considered not only her, but her situation, of what seemed to be versus what I observed. Perhaps there was an alternative explanation. Perhaps her mother had purchased the dress for her? But thinking of her parents' abode, knowing that Mr Jones was retired, I didn't think it reasonable to assume the Joneses could to afford a dress that costly. There was also the aspect to consider that Mrs Jones had not displayed taste that good in clothing over the New Year. Maybe the dress was a loan? I dismissed that too. What were the odds that she had a friend whose dresses happened to be so well tailored to her own figure… or would allow her to tailor such expensive couture to her own form?

No matter how much turned it over in my head, I could not reconcile the two. It was stupid, anyway, to continue to think of her so much, not when she was already involved. I resolved to put this schoolboy crush out of my head.