New Prose challenge:
An attempted seduction.
‘Are you sure you can afford this, Frank? It’s the third time in just a couple of weeks.’
Well, what else was he to do with his earnings? Apartment almost paid for, reasonably good job; now all he needed was someone to take care of him. A pretty good use of his salary in his opinion. Also, after their last meal they’d had sex and he thought that had gone quite well. He’d remembered all the things that Maureen had liked and found that Hannah seemed to like them too. Except that once he’d gotten a little carried away and bitten her nipple quite hard which had halted the momentum for a little while. She’d been very good about it even though it had drawn a little blood which Frank could taste in his mouth.
‘Of course I can afford it. Besides I like it here too and the service is really good.’
Well better than in the Barley Mow, which was his regular choice of dinner venue. Here they didn’t give you a numbered wooden spoon to put on your table. This was high-class and with George’s help he knew what most of the things on the menu were now, not that he ever ordered anything other than prawn cocktail and fillet steak followed by cheesecake. But today, to prove he wasn’t boring, he’d allowed Hannah to order Lyonnaise potatoes instead of his favoured French fries on the side.
‘You’re staring, Frank,’ said Hannah. Normally she wouldn’t mind but Frank wasn’t George Clooney and there was something creepy about this stare she didn’t like.
‘Oh, sorry. Daydreaming.’
‘It must be a pretty good daydream when you have such a beautiful girl here in person to entertain.’
‘Just a joke, Frank.’
The prawn cocktail arrived but today there was an especially large whole specimen hanging off the side of the goblet. How Frank hated change! – especially if that change meant that he had to deal with a large unpeeled prawn. The very reason he ordered the prawn cocktail and not the garlic prawns was because the prawns were hidden from view; a prawn dish for those people who don’t much like prawns but who do like mayonnaise and tomato ketchup… but this prawn wasn’t hidden, it was completely brazen in its substantial nakedness.
Frank used his fork to tip the prawn off the goblet and onto the plate. Hannah, meanwhile, had allowed the waiter to pour a little more white wine and she was holding her glass, waiting for Frank to acknowledge it with his own.
Frank, still eyeing his unwanted prawn, reacted suddenly to Hannah’s gesture and in his haste rather too vigorously clinked his glass against hers.
‘Oh sorry. Um…’
Hannah calmly recalled the waiter, who brought another glass.
‘I’ll take this away in case there is some glass in your wine, Madam.’
Hannah acknowledged him with a smile which Frank found a little over-friendly for his liking. He was vaguely surprised he minded.
Frank fished suspiciously around in his prawn cocktail in case the chef had taken it upon himself to instigate any other changes whilst Hannah took her spoon to her crab thermidor.
‘This is delicious, Frank. Try some.’
‘What is it?’
‘Crab thermidor. Crab in a béchamel – butter, flour and milk – sauce with potato and also some herb I can’t quite get.’
‘No thanks, I have my prawn cocktail.’
‘Chervil, I think.’
Frank watched Hannah finish her starter. Only on two occasions did her attention wander from her plate, and then only to take slurps of her wine. Not once did her gaze wander to Frank. Did she like him? Well they’d had sex and she hadn’t exactly fought him off. But then maybe that was what happened these days: it’s been years since I last dated.
It had taken weeks and considerable persuasion and expense to get Maureen into bed, and that had proved something of a disappointment as neither really had much idea what to do… Watching those pornographic videos had given Frank lots of ideas that his body really wasn’t up to performing and his mind didn’t really have the appetite for. His first attempt at cunnilingus was stopped in its tracks when Maureen grabbed his head and gave a firm, ‘I don’t like that’ – which somewhat relieved Frank. He’d always found the clitoris tricky to find in daylight under medical examination, to find it with his tongue in the dark was mission impossible. With previous girlfriends – not that there had been many – he had just let his tongue flop around for a while, akin to a Dalmatian licking a Cornetto, in the faint hope of hitting the bull’s-eye before his arm had gone to sleep, or his girlfriend had gone to sleep, whichever happened first. He had wondered why, given all he’d read, Maureen hadn’t even wanted him to explore, but he was happy enough to spend more time on the left nipple as it was something he could find without a torch…
The waiter arrived to collect their plates.
‘Are you finished, sir?’
‘Yes, I’m just not that hungry. Thanks.’
‘If you’re not hungry why did you want to eat here, Frank? –It’s so expensive.’
Because I want to get in your pants again.
‘Because you like it.’
That explanation held no sway with Hannah. She would rather eat alone than eat with someone who was clearly not enjoying their food. It was like eating with vegetarians, who always disapprovingly pick at their food, as if suspicious someone had deliberately slipped some goose liver underneath their aubergine bake.
Actually Hannah had never met a vegetarian who enjoyed life, let alone their food. Food nourishes the soul, she thought, but these people have no souls to nurture. Now she seemed to have picked another one with no soul – and to make matters worse he let good food go to waste.
Hannah’s lemon sole arrived, as did Frank’s steak. Is he always going to order steak, wherever we go? She scolded herself: Stop moaning! He’s nice enough and setting your standards too high has got you where you are now, with no friends and no lovers. He can change and perhaps with practice the sex might actually become mildly interesting. Maybe the other night had been her fault anyway. She hadn’t really been in the mood but hadn’t had the patience to make coffee and conversation. And anyway after the last disaster – never again would she go with ‘dangerous’ as a species of boyfriend – Frank was safe, pleasant and nice. And the restaurant was nice as well.
‘How’s your steak?’
‘Good. They do a good steak here.’
‘What were you saying about George?’
‘In the car. You said he had some problem at work but then that idiot on the motorcycle cut us up and you didn’t finish what you were saying, as you chose to have a conversation with yourself.’
‘Oh, that. It actually happened a couple of weeks ago. George decided to take on our CEO at a company meeting – basically told him he didn’t know what he was doing.’
‘And does he?’
‘Does he what?’
‘Know what he’s doing.’
‘That’s not the point,’ said Frank, picking his way through his Lyonnaise potatoes. ‘What are these bits?’
‘They’re onions, Frank.’
‘Onions? Hmm… Well, you don’t tell the CEO he isn’t doing his job right in front of the whole department. Or anywhere, for that matter.’
‘So what happened?’
‘Well I’m not directly involved as I’m not his immediate manager but he was given a talking-to by HR and I think an official warning.’
‘Was he rude?’
‘Actually no. He just questioned some redundancies that are going to happen when we are actually still making profits.’
‘That seems reasonable to me.’
It was. Frank knew, but added, ‘It’s only going to be 25 or so from the development and test engineers, out of about 190.’
‘Well, you know what I mean, 10% or so. It could’ve been much worse.’
‘Why don’t they get rid of some managers? I bet they earn five times what the engineers earn so you’d only need to get rid of five of them. Or maybe half a CEO.’
‘You and George should get together.’
We should. Trouble was Hannah didn’t fancy George as much as she fancied Matthew – though she did like George. But neither Matthew nor George had Frank’s stability and she felt she needed that in her life at this moment. What a shame there was no pick-n-mix on offer. Frank’s stability and choice of restaurant, George’s sparky peculiarities and sense of humour; Matt’s body. She smiled to herself. I guess I’ll have to try them all out to choose whose dick I want…
‘Don’t you see the injustice, Frank?’
‘Of course, but don’t forget that I’m one of those managers you want to cull. That would be a snappy end to evenings like this.’
Good, thought Hannah, immediately feeling guilty.
Good, thought Frank. Steak and ale pie at the Barley Mow with real chips… He beckoned the waiter over. ‘Can I have a side order of chips, please?’
‘Well, sir, we do have rosemary-scented sauté potatoes.’
‘No chips? OK, I’ll try them… Sorry, Hannah.’
‘You go ahead and order what you want to.’
Frank picked at his steak, not wanting to finish it before the chips arrived. ‘How’s your job going?’
‘It’s OK. We’re just finishing a new product launch presentation. We have to present it to management first and then release it to the press if we get approval. It could mean a bit of travel, which might be nice.’
‘It won’t be nice if your company’s like ours. Because we’re supposed to save money anyone who wants to travel is lucky if he can get upgraded to economy class Aeroflot. In fact, I think they choose the airlines based on who has the worst safety record because they can get refunds for the unused return leg.’
‘It can’t be that bad!’
‘It’s pretty bad, all right. They sent George to a conference in the US and he was supposed to transit twice, once with a thirteen-hour stopover and once with a five-hour stopover. The total travel time was 27 hours door-to-door for a direct flight time of eight hours.’
‘You say he is a very good engineer – but then you treat him like cattle!’
‘I don’t treat him like cattle, the company does.’
‘But why don’t you complain about it? If you all complained maybe something would get done.’
‘No it wouldn’t. Well, if anything was done it would be me finding myself another job.’
‘They can’t just sack people anymore, Frank.’
‘No, maybe not. But they can close down departments.’
‘But surely then they don’t get the new products and they don’t make the profit!’
‘You’re too idealistic, Hannah. Big companies like Hunter don’t notice a small department being lost. They close down whole country sales departments and then just farm the work out to some agent. There’s generally enough inertia to ensure that things carry on and managers aren’t in it for the long haul anyway. They’ll go into some semi-retirement post when they’re 40-something with enough share options and alternate business interests to keep them for the rest of their lives in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed… If Hunter did nothing for the next twenty years it would probably still make money, because of patents and licenses and stuff that only need a fresh coat of paint and a new advertising campaign to keep chugging along for ages. There’s not much new under the sun, you know. Most of the products in the consumer market are only recycling old ideas in shiny new plastic boxes.’
‘Tell me then, why do you fight George so much when you believe so many of the same things?’
‘That’s an easy one. Because he is always fighting the things you can’t change and that makes problems for everyone else. If you start to believe what you do is important or let something like principles get in the way of your work you’ll very quickly find yourself side-lined – or worse. You need to go with the flow.’
‘Isn’t that a waste of your life?’
‘Why? Besides, what do you suggest I do? There are 66,000 employees in Hunter…’
‘Minus the twenty or thirty losing their jobs soon.’
‘– in 45 countries. I’m just a lowly manager. I doubt I could even get my immediate manager to listen; he’s one of the young fast-track MBA crowd they like to employ now. He’ll be gone in a couple of years into some higher position where he’ll be capable of causing much more damage, sliming his way up the management pole.’
‘So, why don’t you follow him then?’
‘I can’t bring myself to do it. To be honest, I’d like to get back into engineering but that’s seen as a retrograde step of huge proportions… I’ve been out of it for a while now and anyway companies can employ five graduates for my salary. I know, I know: we do it too. Quantity not quality.’
‘Maybe we should run something together: you, me and George.’
‘Ha ha. Maybe. Do you want dessert?’
‘I’ve got my eye on the crème caramel, they make it here. Are you having anything?’
‘No, those extra potatoes have filled me up.’
‘Let’s just go then.’
Frank and Hannah had sex again that night, during which Frank bit Hannah’s other nipple.