Edge says in Five Six Pick Up Sticks that she met her second husband through an introduction agency, and that they only had eight years together, she was always glad they never wasted any of that time. One reader said it was out of character—that Edge wasn’t the type to take a man home on a first date. It wasn’t quite like that. . . it’s a slightly soppy story, and it started in August 1998.
Join one of those computer dating agencies. Not to date people, if you don’t feel ready for that, just to meet other single people, with some shared interests. I know you said you’re quite liking being independent but it sounds to me as if all you do is sit and write all day, that’s not a life. Forty two is far too young to be a widow and James would never have expected you to sit around doing a Queen Victoria for the next forty or so years!
Anyway, think about it. They do computer profiling, you list all the things you think are important, and what you want from people, and they match you up, Gordon’s secretary is getting engaged to a man she met that way. If you go through a proper service you pay, she paid quite a lot, but you do meet people also prepared to pay!
Edge re-read that part of Vivian’s long email, and looked back at the leaflet that had come through her door that morning, promising a select introduction service. Straws in the wind . . . taking a deep breath, she picked up the phone and made an appointment for later the same afternoon.
By the time she’d been there half an hour, she was wishing she could escape. She’d had photos taken, her interests—a short and alarmingly dull list—recorded, and just wanted to escape Jolene, the efficient and slightly scornful interviewer.
‘I don’t really want a match as such.’ She clasped her hands slightly nervously and tried to concentrate. ‘I was widowed about a year ago, and most of my friends are married or living abroad. My best friend’s in Africa, she suggested this might be a way of meeting other people in the same position, who just want a friend to go to films with, the occasional meal, and if I do have to go to formal events with a partner, someone reasonably presentable. I’m not looking to fall in love, being on my own for the first time in my life hasn’t been all bad, I’d like to explore it a bit more. What I’d really like is a man friend, not involved with anyone, who just wants to be friends. Do you set up friendships?’
‘So you like going to films, eating out. What kind of films?’ Jolene shifted her gum to the other side of her mouth and typed Edge’s halting answers straight into the form. She escaped finally with relief and not very high expectations. Her list had sounded boring even to her own ears, Jolene hadn’t bothered to acknowledge her request for a male friend other than with a roll of her eyes, but had marked her file as someone looking to expand her horizons rather than settle down. Very grandiose, but true enough. She let herself into the apartment and switched on her computer, making coffee while it booted up. The phone rang as she sat down to work. Jolene, from the consultancy.
‘Gunny, do you remember talking to a man in the waiting room here today?’
‘No, I didn’t talk to anyone. I did see a man I thought I knew, he looked very familiar, but I couldn’t think why.’
‘You might have seen him on TV. He’s an ex-rugby international, he’s been on a couple of talk shows. Anyway, Gunny, he asked specifically to meet you. The woman in the waiting room, he said. He doesn’t match your profile at all, but he was really persistent, may I fax through his details, and if you really aren’t interested you can let me know? If you are, I’ll give him your details, but to be honest you don’t match his profile either.’
He’s way too young Edge emailed Vivian but that was a bit of an ego-pat, that he wanted to meet me, wasn’t it? But apart from anything else he was listed as wanting to start a family. Well, I wish. I might go for lunch as an ice-breaker, could be good to have a first date where I know nothing can come of it. If he asks, of course, after he sees my file!
‘I really hope you aren’t called Gunny because you’re an Arsenal supporter?’ Alistair’s eyes laughed at her and she laughed back, enjoying herself. When he’d entered the restaurant and looked around for her she had felt the same little shock of recognition she’d experienced in the waiting room, and didn’t think it was from TV; within minutes they’d been teasing and joking like old friends.
‘I’m not really called Gunny at all. My real name’s Beulah Bentwood, and my husband called me Gunny because of my initials. I had to give a computer name to the agency, so I thought it was as good as any.’
‘Bentwood?’ He looked surprised. ‘Any relation to the actress?’
‘She’s James’ daughter. Do you know her?’
‘Not really; we’ve dated a couple of times, nothing serious. No interests in common.’
‘You and I don’t have any interests in common either.’ Edge pointed out slightly reluctantly, and he laughed aloud.
‘I know, your file was disastrous. No rugby, no bridge, no desire to go flying all over Europe for spot weekends away, and you don’t want to start a family. The only good thing was that you were open to new interests and new experiences. I like to live life on the edge.’
She choked on her wine, and he had to pat her on the back. ‘What did I say?’
‘No, nothing.’ No point, this was a once-off lunch—then to her own surprise she blurted out, ‘my middle name is Edgington. Since I was a little girl everyone but James has called me Edge.’
His face lit with laughter, and he covered her hand on the table. ‘Excellent. There you are. Can’t have more in common than that.’ The lunch had flown by and he’d left reluctantly, already late for a meeting, and promised to call her. She phoned Vivian as soon as she got home.
‘He’s so completely wrong in every way – he’s nearly eight years younger than me, he wants a family, he lives half the year in Malta, he has his own four-seater plane and likes to go away nearly every weekend, he’s a bridge fanatic and you know how useless I am at the game, but Vivian, we laughed so much. It was as though we were best friends who had lost touch and we were catching up after a long absence, it was so comfortable, so easy. I can’t imagine meeting anyone I could ever like as well. I’m sitting here wondering what to do with myself until I can see him again.’
Vivian’s voice down the phone was amused. ‘You’ve got it badly. Will you see him again?’
‘I hope so,’ Edge said fervently, then smiled into the phone. ‘I think so, though. I hope so. We were so completely in synch, we were practically ending each other’s sentences by the end of the meal. I felt quite taken aback when he had to go, as though nothing could be more important than what we were saying. Quite ridiculous, I know. Hang on, there’s someone at the main door.’ She went to the intercom and pressed the speaker. ‘Hello?’
‘Edge? Alistair. Alistair Cameron.’
‘It’s him. At the door,’ Edge said slightly breathlessly down the phone. ‘I didn’t give him my address! What do I do?’
‘Let him in, but keep me on the phone. If he’s drunk or scary I’ll phone the police for you. Go on, Edge—you said it yourself, you really like this guy.’ Edge nodded and buzzed the door release, then opened her front door and waited .
Alistair smiled slightly tentatively as he mounted the stairs and saw her waiting. ‘This is going to look a bit stalkerish. I sat in that stupid meeting wondering why I had thought it was important. As soon as I could escape I tracked down Jamey Bentwood and made him give me your address. I just felt—we barely scratched the surface at lunch. May I come in?’
She studied him, trying to suppress the smile on her own face, then nodded. ‘Yes, of course.’ She held the door wide. ‘I’m on the phone. Vivian, I’m going to have to go. Everything’s fine. More than fine.’