The following Thursday I was running late for judo so I took a short cut down Robinson St, where all the wine bars were. I normally avoided that road as there was always the possibility of a drunk stepping out in front of the car and I didn’t have a vast amount of confidence in my elderly Fiat’s equally elderly brakes. But tonight it was sobriety itself. I was nearing the end of the street when my eye was caught by a lovely pair of legs ahead of me, a very short skirt at the top of them, and very high heels at the bottom, walking quickly towards the corner. I passed the owner under a streetlight and of course snatched a look. What guy wouldn’t have? And it was Fiona! Her head was down and her body language wasn’t too happy so I quickly indicated and pulled in.
“Fiona!” I called, getting out.
I’d made her jump. She looked startled, then her face lit up with one of those gorgeous smiles of hers.
“Marcus! Hey! Fancy meeting you!”
She kissed me. Very French and very nice.
“I’m on my way to judo,” I explained. “Is everything OK?”
“Apart from being stood up!” She pulled a face.
Who in their right mind would stand Fiona up?
“Fi, the guy is clearly a brain dead moron if he didn’t want to go out with you,” I told her.
“He is, isn’t he?” grinned Fi. “I thought so too, but then, maybe I’m biased!”
“I’m sorry,” I sympathised, genuinely.
“Oh, don’t be,” shrugged Fi. “I wasn’t that keen on him. He goes to Hill Side. It’s just he kept on asking and asking, so I gave in eventually. I thought it would do me good to go out with a fella again. I haven’t been near one for nearly a year. But after all that, he doesn’t turn up.”
“Like I said – brain dead moron. You look fabulous Fi!” I’d only just realised. As well as stilettoes, short dress and jacket, her hair was up in a bun, or whatever the modern equivalent is. She looked really elegant.
“Thanks,” she smiled. “And you clean up nicely too!”
She’d only ever seen me in scruffy working clothes before. I wasn’t quite in her league in my collarless shirt, jacket and jeans, but I was presentable.
I smiled back. “Look, can I give you a lift somewhere?”
“Well,” she hesitated, clearly tempted. “But won’t that make you late?”
“Not very,” I lied. Then I thought of something. It was worth a shot. “Why don’t you come to judo with me? Newcomers always welcome!”
“Not like this, surely!” she exclaimed, looking down at her finery.
“We’ve got plenty of spare suits. We lend them out to beginners, you know, until they decide if they want to stick with judo or not,” I explained. “And it’s a sport you do barefoot, so you’ll be fine.”
She looked at me delighted.
“In that case, yes please! Brilliant!”
She ran round to the passenger seat of the car and got in.
“I like this band,” she said, settling into her seat. As usual I had music on. “Who are they?”
“Train, they’re great.”
Fi nodded approval.
We stopped at lights.
“Have you really not been out with a guy for a year?” I asked her. It was nosy of me, but it was so hard to believe.
“No,” she confirmed. “My last break up is in the running for worst one of the century. Kind of put me off the opposite sex.”
“That’s the burnt fishing gear one, I take it?”
“And you?” she asked. “Derek said something about you not being married any more, didn’t he?”
Fi was certainly direct. But I didn’t mind. She was interested in finding out about me. That was OK.
“No, I never actually got married,” I explained. “It came close. I went to my own wedding, but the other significant party didn’t.”
“Jeez, I’m sorry, Marcus.” Fi looked shocked.
“Don’t be, it’s OK. Honestly. It’s bit like you being stood up tonight. Not marrying Suzie was the best thing that could have happened to me. The public humiliation part was tough, true, but I soon realised I’d had a narrow escape. It did leave me a bit low for a while though.” That had been the cause of my second year-long depression.
The lights turned and we were off again.
“When was that?” was Fi’s next question.
“Nearly four years ago. I’ve been on a few of dates since then, and had one sort of relationship, but, like you, only because I thought I should. I’m a confirmed workaholic these days!” We could keep Chantelle out of the conversation.
“All work and no play makes Marcus a dull boy!” teased Fi.
“Well, I have judo and my fishing hols and music …” I trailed off. Hmm. Put like that, it was pretty dire. “Yep, I’m dull!” I admitted.
I pulled into the car park a little way down from the old church hall, which acted as our dojo. It was cold, damp and draughty, but cheap. We walked up together. I’d saved some time with my short cut and beaten the members. No-one was waiting impatiently on the doorstep. I let us into the hall and unlocked the cupboard where we kept the spare judo-gi.
“165 cm height I’m guessing?” I estimated.
“Near enough,” she nodded.
“Some of the suits are a bit battered, I’m afraid,” I apologised, sorting through. “We’ve had them a long time. Ah! But this one doesn’t look too bad.” I pulled out a crisply ironed set of baggy trousers and jacket. Then I got a white belt from the pile of coiled-up ones at the back of the cupboard.
“There we are. I’ll show you how to tie the belt once you’ve got the suit on. Now, the ladies’ changing room is here.” I unlocked another door. This led to a small room with benches round the edge and hooks on the wall. “The judo hall, the dojo, is through the door up there. You’d better be quick changing as we have quite a lot of ladies in the class and it gets crowded in there!”
Fi laughed and hurried in. I went into the men’s changing room. Jordan, who helped with the training too, arrived about a minute later.
“Possible new member,” I told him.
“And a female one too – even better!” Jordan rubbed his hands.
I took my shirt off and dug around in my bag for my jacket. The door to our changing room opened. Jordan and I looked round – and saw Fiona standing at the door, looking surprised – but pleasantly so.
“Whoops, wrong door, sorry! I was looking for the hall.” But before she went out, she paused for a moment and I felt her eyes sliding appreciatively down me. It was a nice feeling.
“She was totally checking you out, man!” exclaimed Jordan, after she’d gone.
“Yeah?” I felt chuffed. I was what you’d call solid. “Built like a brick shit-house,” my Dad would say. Mesomorph was the term I preferred. I was 176 cm and broad chested, with the right amount of chest hair to look manly, but not like a gorilla. And I was muscly. I’d started working out at about 14 for Paul’s sake, and I’d carried on since then. My work was very physical too, and judo kept me strong. Even aggressive drunks with impaired judgement didn’t tend to start fights with me.
I finished getting ready and hurried out.
“Marcus, I’m sorry …” Fi began, not looking very sorry, but I waved her apology aside.
“Let’s get your belt tied,” I organised her. “It’s quite straightforward.” I demonstrated with mine.
“Yep, I get it.” Fi knotted hers firmly. “Your belt is so cool. Do those two gold bars show that you’re a second dan?”
“Thanks, yes they do. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get them!” I owned up. “Mainly blood.”
There was a sudden rush of activity. As usual most of the members left it to the very last minute to arrive. Fi put herself at the back of the hall.
We did a warm-up then divided up the class. Orange belts and below went with Max, the chief coach, and Jordan to one end of the hall for half an hour while I took the more advanced students. I sneaked glances towards Fi and saw that she was enthusiastically joining in. She was never short of a partner, that was for sure. Jordan got her and the other white belts practising falls. That’s something that seems terrifying to start with, as you’re convinced you’ll get hurt until you learn the techniques to break your fall. But Fi threw herself around from the start. She was a natural. I hoped I’d be able to persuade to join the club.
The whole group got back together for the last part of the session to learn a new throw. Tonight we were teaching them the sasae tsuri komi ashi, the lifting pulling foot block. Max talked the students through while I demonstrated with Jordan as my partner. We threw each other a few times to show, and then broke it down into its component parts. Then everyone paired off to try it out. Fi and a few others were struggling, not surprisingly since it was a fairly tricky throw. So I nipped in to go over it with them before Jordan could.
“I’ll show you again,” I suggested. “I need a volunteer. Fi?”
She was the lightest amongst them. Well, that was my excuse. I just wanted to get up close to her and get my hands, if not on her body, then on her judo gi. Which was next to her body. And I wanted to show her how strong I was. I couldn’t help it. Men are born show-offs and I was no exception.
“OK?” I smiled at her.
She nodded, frowning slightly in concentration. I grabbed one sleeve and her jacket. As she’d seen in training, she took several large steps forward and I went backwards, but on the third step I moved to the side and turned. This offbalanced Fi. I blocked her advancing foot and I threw her. I kept a firm hold to make sure she didn’t smack down hard, but on her way over, I accidently pulled her jacket open. As she came to rest, very elegantly, on her back on the floor, to my astonishment – I couldn’t say horror because it was a treat – her left breast tumbled out of her entrancing emerald green, lacy bra. Every male head in the room whipped round in – each of them could sense an exposed boob a mile away. But Fi was calm, cool and collected. She quickly pulled her jacket across her chest and discreetly pushed her breast back into its mooring, then scrambled up.
I thought it was probably best to pretend nothing had happened so I went on with the teaching. Fi tucked her jacket around her and did up her belt energetically. She wouldn’t catch my eye at first and she was slightly less ebullient than before for a few moments, but she soon livened up and by the time we did the closing bows she was smiling again.
The topic of conversation in the men’s changing room that night was no surprise. There were a lot of appreciative remarks and a general, fervent hope that Fi would come more often. I changed quickly and waited for Fi in the hall. She soon appeared, looking as hot as hell in that fabulous outfit.
“We usually go for a drink afterwards,” I told her, “but I’ll run you home now, no problem if you’d rather.”
“I’m a bit overdressed for a pub,” she worried. “Your friends will think I’m a right tart.”
“Don’t be silly. You look smashing,” I assured her. In my opinion, no women could ever look tarty. I had no problem with women who didn’t wear much.
She looked at me, then smiled. “OK, that would be nice, thanks.”
I felt very proud as Fi stuck close to me all night. It was a total morale boost to have a girl like her by my side for once. She was chatty and funny and made quite an impression on all the group. She knew plenty of jokes and didn’t hesitate to offer to buy drinks but I covered her round. She was my guest after all.
We dispersed about half past ten. Fi and I walked in companionable silence to the car. I opened up and we got in. To my amazement, Fi immediately leant forward and thunked her head on the dashboard.
“Marcus, I am so, SO sorry for my boob falling out!” she exclaimed. She sounded on the verge of tears but in the dark I couldn’t be sure. “I could die of shame! What your friends must think of me!”
“They think you’re brilliant!” I assured her. “And Fi, it was my fault. A, cos I was showing off throwing you like that, and B cos it didn’t occur to me to tell you to leave your top on under your judo gi. Blokes don’t wear anything, but ladies do for, um, well, obvious reasons now. But don’t worry about it. We get fairly regular exposures at judo. Usually butts when pants and trousers get pulled down by accident. But I’m fairly sure there have been bosoms appearing before.”
“Wow, judo is much racier than I ever imagined!” she giggled.
That was better.
“But you were so cool at the time, Fi. I hadn’t realised you were upset. I should have apologised sooner.”
“Don’t be silly. I’m being oversensitive. I just hadn’t expected to lose control of them!” She chuckled. And I had to join in. “Mind you,” she went on, “I don’t think my top would have kept me covered up either. Note to self – don’t wear skimpy clothes if you’re doing martial arts.”
“And I will shove a couple of tee-shirts in the uniform cupboard for this very situation,” I promised her, starting the engine.
“Weren’t you wearing something under your jacket?” Fi asked me a moment later. I was surprised she’d noticed.
“Yeah, I wear a padded kidney belt,” I told her.
“I suppose you have to when you get to your level,” she guessed. “It must get pretty violent!”
“Actually, it’s not that,” I answered. “Although, yes, it does pretty rough. I wear the belt because I only have one kidney.”
“Omigod! What happened?” she was all ears. “Were you ill?”
“No, but Paul, my twin, was. He suffered double kidney failure when he was nineteen so I gave him one of mine. My left one, to be precise.”
Fi stared at me. “That’s really brave.”
“I don’t know, Fi. I didn’t think about it. He was my brother. It was the only thing to do. He’d have done the same for me,” I shrugged.
“Weren’t you scared about it?” she wondered.
“Afterwards, yes, cos I had a bad reaction to the antibiotics they gave me and I ended up in hospital for weeks. But I got over it.” It had left me in the depths of depression for a year but Fi didn’t need to know that.
“Wow.” Fi took it all in. “So I suppose you need that belt to make sure your remaining kidney doesn’t get bashed during judo.”
“Yeah, when you only have one kidney, it grows bigger because it has to do extra work, so it’s more vulnerable. The doctors advised me to give judo up altogether, but when you’re nineteen, you know better than anyone else! I was trying to prove a point too, I guess. But they insisted on the belt, and so did the judo club for insurance reasons. And so far, so good.”
Fi laid her hand on my arm.
“That was such a cool thing to do for your brother. It’s such a huge thing too. Wow, Marcus!”
I glowed happily.
“He’s not getting the other one though!” I joked. “No matter how much he begs!”
“I’d like to meet your twin brother,” announced Fi. “Are you identical?”
“Paul’s the handsome one,” I replied. “He’s slimmer than and fairer than me.”
“That’s not necessarily better looking,” observed Fi loyally.
“He’s got cheekbones and poise,” I smiled. “I’ve got muscle.”
“Yes, I’ve noticed,” remarked Fi, I think appreciatively.
Sadly we were outside her flat now. Damn. I should have driven slower to make this journey last longer.
“Thanks so much for a great evening,” she said, getting out of the car. She turned to look back at me and I was pretty sure she was about to ask me in for a coffee. I had a moment of panic, wondering if I should go or not and if I should hit on her so soon, but at that precise moment my mobile rang. It was in the door pocket. I glanced at its display.
I swore under my breath.
“It’s Adam,” I told Fi. “I’ll have to phone him back. I’ll see you to your door first though.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I’ll really, really try to make it to your workshop, Tom!”
“Counting on it!” I smiled at her.
She blew me a kiss and hurried up the path to her door. I watched her let herself in and waved a last time. Then I picked up the phone to call Adam. What did he want at this time of night? As it turned out, nothing much. He’d gone back to the fishery to pick up his wallet, which he’d left there by mistake, and the burglar alarm wouldn’t co-operate.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” I told him and snapped the phone shut.
Bugger it. I looked at Fi’s flat as I put the car in gear. The light was on in the kitchen. I could have been in there having a coffee and, well, just been there. Bloody Adam. I drove home furious.
Fi did make the workshop, briefly. I had a lively bunch this time round, pretty hopeless but fun. One guy, Scott, got a hook through his finger in the morning while we were going through making basic flies.
“How the f…, um, heck did you do that?” I asked him, incredulously.
“It’s OK, you can say ‘fuck’ to me,” he grinned.
“Then I fucking well will!” I told him. “The fucking hook is held still in a fucking clamp so how the fuck did you get it stuck in your fucking finger?”
“Fucked if I know!” Scott shrugged.
“Jeez,” I sighed.
It was a microbarbed hook. The only way to get it out was to push it further round so the tip came out, snip the barb off with sharp pliers and then pull the hook back out the other way.
“You’re good at that,” he observed, watching in fascination and only wincing slightly.
“Well, my cat finds discarded hooks with bait still on them from time to time, which of course he eats, so I regularly have to remove them from his lips or tongue,” I explained. “Even his throat once. I’ve perfected the technique on him.”
“Lucky for me,” Scott nodded.
I drowned his finger in antiseptic and put a plaster over the wound. “Soon be good as new. But you’d better get an anti-tetanus jab.”
“I’m up to date with those,” he assured me.
Graham wrote the incident up in the accident book while I carried on teaching.
We’d just started up again after lunch when I heard that distinctive Hog rumble. Great! She’d made it. I’d rigged up a rod for her, just in case, so she grabbed that in the lodge and then joined us.
I got into my stride. “Right, the secret of good fly-fishing starts with a proper grip. Keep your thumb on top of the rod so you can make good strong, short casts. Now, you mustn’t have any slack in your line before you start casting. Here’s what I mean.” And I talked the group through the hows and whys of good casting, and demonstrated.
“Over to you now,” I told them after twenty minutes of intensive coaching. “Spread out in a line and cast away.”
Andy wandered round to join me as I watched my students enthusiastically casting in the field. They were facing away from us.
“You’re watching Fi’s butt, aren’t you?” He didn’t miss much, didn’t Andy.
“No,” I lied. “I’m watching everyone and making sure they’re all relaxed and casting correctly.”
“Yeah right,” nodded Andy. “Whatever.”
We carried on looking at Fi’s butt.
“She’s wearing a thong,” observed Andy.
“How can you tell?” I was intrigued.
“No visible knicker line. And those are tight shorts so it would show up.”
They were tight shorts. Over a tight ass. Heaven.
Scott was sidling towards Fi, so it was inevitable that their lines got tangled up during their next practice cast. Fortunately, they only had wool tied to the end of their leaders and not hooks – standard procedure for practising – so Scott didn’t get another one stuck in him.
“He’s moving in on her – you’d better watch it!” Andy nudged me.
“What do you mean?” I feigned ignorance.
“It’s obvious you fancy her. I mean, I do too, but I’ve got my Stella. And a bird in the hand …” He winked.
He was right. Scott was taking way too much interest in Fi. Time to break it up. I hurried over and helped sort out the lines, while I monopolised the conversation with a constant stream of helpful tips on better casting. Fi listened to me attentively while Scott watched her attentively.
We moved to the lake for more hookless practice. The guys were getting into the swing of it now. Fi looked happy and relaxed. But just as she was casting back, she gave a cry.
“I’ve got a fish!”
It was true. An opportunistic trout had sunk its teeth into the bobble of red wool at the end of her rod. She raised the rod and began to strip the line since she had too much slack to reel in. Two, three times she did that. She had a really light touch. The trout was about three metres out now. We were all watching her breathless. How close would she get the fish? Surely she wouldn’t land it? Unless, of course, the wool had tangled round its teeth. Fi was really focussed. She slowly raised the rod but the trout had seen us and decided it didn’t want to come any nearer. It spat the wool out and shot off.
“Aah!” cried Fi in frustration. But she was laughing. “That was brilliant! I’ve never caught one on wool before!”
“Way to go!” Scott applauded her warmly. Too warmly.
“Star student prize goes to you!” I announced.
Fi glowed. Then she glanced at her watch.
“Oops, time to be the party pooper,” she sighed. “Back to the grindstone.”
“Leave your rod here,” I told her. “I’ll take it back. Will you be here tomorrow?”
“No, sorry,” she sighed. “I’m working. It’ll be Friday I’m afraid.”
We left for France at seven on Friday evening.
She did the cheek kissing thing and smiled at me.
“Au revoir,” I replied, capturing the French moment.
It was a shame she had to leave so early but I felt much better for seeing her. Scott asked me if I minded giving him her phone number at the end of the session. So, although I could have pompously declined on grounds of client confidentiality or something like that, I simply smiled and gave him the last one I had for Suzie.
© Rorie Stevens