Valentine’s Day ~ love, or obsession and lust?


I thought that since it was Valentine’s Day I would offer something about love. I’m so far from being romantic as to be almost anti-matter to romance’s matter. But I do understand a little about love and about the things that sometimes seem to pass for love.

Obsession is often mistaken for love, as is lust and desire. But neither come anywhere near the real experience of love. Sadly, many settle for those three, believing that a combination of them is surely a close enough match for the experience of being in love or of learning to love. Much of fiction seems to focus more closely on those because to be honest, the drama and emotion they generate is also more enticing in these high octane times than the quiet experience of deep love or the soaring brilliance of requited grand passion.

I thought I would share with you a chapter from my novel, The Bet. This is from chapter 16. The obsession and the lust and the desire are there in spades.

Jenny became increasingly frustrated and isolated as the weeks went by without results; frustrated because Ashurst refused to sleep with her, isolated because she had to be very careful of what she said to her friends. She had mixed feelings about talking to Judy, who did occasionally ask her how the hunt was going, and then simply looked superior when it became plain success was eluding her.

I don’t know why I don’t just lie to you,” she said to Judy in their usual bar corner.

Because I can spot a lie at fifty paces,” Judy said smugly. “You’d be looking like the cat that got the cream if you’d really screwed him. Oh, don’t worry; you’ve got a while yet. First of March was the deadline, I think we agreed. But I’ll make it a thousand if you get him by Christmas.”

Kay wasn’t much use; Jenny could tell her very little that would make her feel better. She only hung round Jenny in the hope of leftovers, and she was obviously delighted that Jenny was not getting what she wanted for the first time. But Kay was her only friend who wasn’t a gossip, who wouldn’t tell the others how often she sat in some bar or other waiting for him to come in, how often she had to play the part of the plain friend being taken out for the evening.

You should call him,” Kay said one evening when it was clear he wasn’t going to be there.

I don’t have his number,” Jenny said hopelessly.

Kay made herself not laugh out loud.

You’re kidding, you must have his mobile number by now,” she said.

He doesn’t have one. Can you believe it? He must be the only kid not to have one. When I asked, he just shrugged and said he didn’t need one. I was so put out; I didn’t get round to asking for his home number and he didn’t offer.”

She didn’t add that he’d left immediately after that, clearly unhappy about the way she was pushing him.

How am I supposed to contact you then?” she’d called as he left the busy pub.

He’d not answered, just shrugged as he walked away.

He’s got to be gay,” she said another evening to Judy.

Believe me, he is not gay,” Judy said. “It’s all there in good working order. Why do you think he starts shaking every time you touch him or even go near him, if he doesn’t find you sexy.” She thought about it for a moment. “I shouldn’t give you any hints, really; it’s not in my interest really, but I’m a softy at heart. Try being kind, you know, back off obviously trying to seduce him. Oh, and I would also suggest you find yourself an extra lover if that Paul isn’t cutting the mustard enough. It’s a well-fed cat that catches the most mice, if you know what I mean.”

She was reduced to ringing him at work, relieved to catch him without the old man around.

I was thinking, I’ve not seen you around for a while,” she said. “Why don’t you come over to mine tonight and I’ll cook us both dinner?”

Sorry, I can’t. It’s very kind of you but the boss has gone home early sick and I need to work late, and then I’m meeting my father this evening.”

Well, later on then?”

I’m not sure when I’ll finish,” he said, but she could hear the doubt in his voice.

OK. What if I pop round to you after I’ve finished at school and before you need to go out, and I’ll bring something. I’ve been missing you. It’s been tough at work, lately. You’re so soothing. I always feel much more chilled when I can talk to you. Look I’ll come over as soon as I’ve finished at school, bring some sandwiches or something.”

That’s very kind of you,” he said. “Look, I’ve got to go now, but if you come round to the back of the museum, I’ll leave the gate to the courtyard on the latch and you can ring the bell at the back door and I can let you in.”

It was after six when she got to the museum; she’d gone home to change, and then had had trouble finding somewhere to buy sandwiches. All the lunchtime places were closed and she’d been obliged to go to the supermarket. The gate was unlocked, but when she rang the bell at the back door, the place seemed empty and deserted. Damn it, had he stood her up? She rang and rang again, and eventually she heard the door being unlocked.

He was in shirtsleeves, tie askew; his face and hands filthy, his hair full of dust, and a cobweb was draped from his ear.

Sorry, I was in the basement. I didn’t hear the bell at first, so I was hoping you’d still be here when I got up the stairs,” he said.

How did you get so filthy?” she asked as he let her slip past him.

Oh, am I? So I am. Sorry. The records said there was something we need for this new gallery down in one particular box, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be at all, and I sort of got distracted. Come upstairs and I’ll try to get clean.”

He showed her into an office similar to that of the old man, but there were no stuffed animals, just more boxes and cartons.

Please make yourself at home,” he said, and then grinned. “Well, as much as is possible in this shoebox.”

How come you don’t have any of those dead things your boss has got?” she asked.

I put the owl and the badger in Greville’s office just to see how long it would take for him to notice, but it was weeks before he said anything. I think he assumed one of the cleaners had put them there. He just stuck the owl on his shelf and left the badger on the chair. Once I’ve got an idea what I can do with them, I’ll get them back. Look, I must wash. I didn’t realise what a mess I was in. There’s a kitchenette thing just up the hall if you’d put the kettle on for me. I won’t be long and then I’ll make us some tea.”

She followed him out along the corridor and when he had shown her the tiny kitchen, he vanished into another small room, from which, after a moment she heard the sounds of running water. She filled the kettle, then sat down at the small table and waited. The kettle had boiled by the time he came back, hair damp and rumpled but clean, face and arms clean, though his shirt was still grimy and damp.

You should keep a spare shirt here if this happens often,” she remarked.

I do; this is it. You should have seen the other one. I had a box fall on me this morning. Twenty minutes before I had a class coming in, it had something, well, organic and probably mammalian in it, but it had decayed rather spectacularly. There are some areas of the basement that are damp, and things are not in a good state in some of the boxes. So when I went to look for something, first I got all the dust from the lid, because I reached up just to see if I could check what was in it without having to go and get the steps, then I slipped and pulled it down and got the rest of the contents over my head. Greville was furious when I got back upstairs looking like, well, I don’t know what I looked like, with about five minutes to go before the class arrived. I did get clean in time though.”

He made tea as if he were in a hurry, and then they ate sandwiches in silence. She wanted to reach across the table and touch his wet untidy hair, but she stopped herself.

You seem ever so tense,” she said.

Do I? Sorry,” he said, and then hesitated. “I’m supposed to be meeting my father later this evening, and I do get a bit nervous. I never know quite what’s going to happen, there’s so much we never talked about and now… I think he’s trying to make up for lost time.”

She got up, to put the wrappers in the bin, then stood behind him, and decisively put her hands on his shoulders. He jumped a little as she’d expected but didn’t try to move away.

God, you’re tense,” she said, kneading at his shoulders. “Relax, I’m only trying to help.” After a minute, when she could feel him beginning to relax with the neutral touch, she said, “It’d help if you took this shirt off. I can’t massage so well through cloth.”

There was a moment when she thought he’d refuse, but her strong fingers were clearly easing some of the knots, and he surprised her by pulling the shirt off over his head, not bothering with buttons except the top two.

That’s better,” she said, leaning closer and digging her fingers firmly into the muscles, enjoying the chance to see him properly. He was slender but well-muscled, and his skin was very smooth, like a child’s, and as she leaned closer to him to concentrate on kneading his shoulders and back, she could smell his skin, sweet like a child’s with that primrose-like odour, overlaid by a deeper muskier scent. She could feel her own breathing quicken slightly. If she tried anything now, he’d never let her get this close again, at least not soon, so she simply rubbed and kneaded his shoulders and back and was gratified by his closed eyes and occasional small noises of appreciation.

There you go, that’ll feel better,” she said finally, and watched him pull his shirt back on.

You’re very kind,” he said, wriggling his shoulders. “I hadn’t realised how tense I was. Thank you.”

You’ve been very kind to me, so it’s about time I returned the favour,” she said, sitting back at the table and taking hold of his hand. He’d relaxed enough not to pull away, but she wondered if he’d kiss her. He was smiling at her; that was good. He’d been unusually talkative this evening; it might be a good moment to try and get a few answers.

Look, I can’t help noticing that you don’t seem to like being touched,” she said. “You jump if I so much as touch your shoulder, and when I’ve hugged you, you just seem to shake.”

He flushed very slightly, and she could see him become very tense again, as if he was expecting her to ask him again to go to bed with her. Then he smiled nervously and said, rather evasively,

I’m just not used to it.”

She looked at him quizzically and waited. Maybe silence would work better than specific questions. After a moment he squeezed her hand and let go.

I don’t know if you know, but I grew up mostly with my aunt and uncle and their family. My aunt isn’t big on cuddles, not even for small children. You know the sort; she kisses the air rather than the cheek? Not exactly a tactile family,” he said, trying to smile. “So I’m really not used to it and…” He stopped, clearly panicking.

It’s OK,” she said grabbing his hand again. “What about your mum? Did she not cuddle you when you were tiny?”

There was real alarm on his face, but he managed to control it.

I don’t really remember,” he said. “I left when I was about six. I don’t know if you know any of this, don’t suppose there’s any reason why you would anyway, but my mother killed herself in April, and I really don’t like talking about it, so if you don’t think me rude, I’d like to change the subject.”

He was obviously upset, so she got up, went round behind him and leaned over and put her arms round him and just held him, feeling the heat of his body and the slight tremor, and just whispered to him, “I’m sorry.”

He let her hold him for a moment, then stood up and held her back, standing together in a wordless embrace, until she turned her head up to him and he kissed her. She had been about to kiss him, but this was much better. She kissed him hard, pushing her tongue through his lips, feeling his mouth open to hers. Oh, yes, this was working. She very carefully undid a button on his shirt, and slipped her hand inside, feeling the smooth hot skin, feeling him shudder as she touched his nipple. He broke away from the kiss.

No,” he said.

Why not?” she asked, not moving.

He just shook his head. She looked at his eyes; the pupils were dilated so far that his eyes looked black, but he was barely looking at her.

I’ve got to go,” he said. “I need to change and I’ll be late. Thanks for the sandwiches; it was very kind of you.”

He’d suddenly changed from being clearly, even passionately interested, to being polite, distant, cold even. But when she passed him to get to the door, she could see he was still shaking. 

You can see more about the book at the following links, and check out the reviews. There are 14 excellent reviews on the UK site, 3 of which are also on the US site. You can download a free sample, if you have a Kindle or use a Kindle app for pc or phone. The price has been lowered too, to bring it in line with the prices of my other books.

Love and Hate

“Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?

Nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.”

(I hate and I love. And if you ask me how, I do not know: I only feel it and I’m torn in two. Penguin Classics translation)

These are the words of Roman poet Catullus (c84-54 BC).

I first read this epigram when I was 14 and frankly at the time I didn’t have a clue what the poor sap meant. Surely love and hate are polar opposites, and it is impossible to feel both at the same time?

It wasn’t many years before I began to get the guy’s drift.

You see, love and hate are two sides to the same coin, if you like. The opposite of love is not hate but indiference. You know how you feel when someone treats you badly, that passionate flaring of pain and atavistic desire to get even, to right the wrongs and make them hurt? That’s Hate, ugly stepsister of Love. They’re closely related, because they both demand passion.

Indifference is the lukewarm emotion when you’re not even terribly interested what happens to the former recipient of your affections after you go your separate ways.

I’d rather be hated than have someone not care much one way or another. At least hate proves you are alive and capable of fire. If you can hate, then you can love. While your emotions are neither one nor the other, you’re in a No-man’s-land and living a half life. It may hurt less, but that’s because you feel nothing much at all.

The gold standard is to love and be loved, even if it’s just your cat…