The other side of 50
By Rachel Roussell
The other side of 50
Best friends Annie and Arthur go their separate ways hoping for a better life on the other side of fifty. Arthur falls in love with France and Annie becomes a very loose and wealthy woman. Design and desire brings them back together again, always friends, never lovers but never say never, right?
It went downhill when Annie swallowed Arthur's baby carp...
I’m Arthur and the beautiful crazy woman choking in my pond right now is my best friend Annie. My wife is trying to drown her, I'm married to a psychotic vampire who has sucked every ounce of happiness out of my body. Annie is different, she isn't normal, she's loud and annoying but she's the first person I think of when I wake up and the last person I message at night. I'm on the other side of fifty and I've had enough of this drama in my life. The wife can keep the house I never wanted, the yacht we never use and I'm off to live where I can enjoy good wine, proper french bread and lots of brie.
I’m Annie and tonight I swallowed my best friend’s baby carp when I was pushed into his pond by his slut wife. I was drunk and told him what everyone else knew, that his wife was having an affair with his brother, I love Arthur and drunk me thought I was helping. The slut pushed me into the pond and tried to drown me but there was no way I was going to die in a pond so I throat jabbed her. Arthur just walked off and shouted something about France, bloody idiot. I’m on the other side of fifty and no man is worth fighting for in a pond. I'm a strong independent woman with duck shit-stained white jeans and digesting an expensive fish right now.
Chapter one: En Collioure with Arthur
It became obvious to me why famous artists visited the postcard-perfect charming fishing village of Collioure. Positioned on France's far western Mediterranean coast, blessed with history, beauty, fine weather and a caring community. Welcome to the place where I will grow older without women and drama in my life.
My new home is a large terraced property in the old part of the village, from my rooftop terrace I can look across to the Pyrenees mountains which sit close to the Spanish border. Grapevines are planted perfectly down the rolling hills, red and pink geraniums in terracotta pots look beautiful on people's terraces and in their gardens. Bobbing fishing boats are scattered in the harbour and the azure waters gently roll up to the shoreline and reluctantly roll back out again much like those who visit here, they don't want to go home but they have to. The village of Collioure is charming, calm and captivating, in the evening the residents switch on their lamps that glow like warm fires in the darkness of the night. Families gather in homes to share good meals, fun and laughter. You are never really alone in Collioure, there seems to always be someone there that cares about how you're feeling.
I walk the narrow cobbled streets stopping to eat at atmospheric restaurants where I enjoy the well respected local wines and Catalan cuisine. I drink espressos with new friends in the village square where I watch tourists enjoying everything Collioure has to offer. Decades ago famous artists like Henri Matisse would come to the village where the daylight is exquisite, most unusual, almost magical and he would paint - inspired by his surroundings.
I’m classed as a local here now, affectionately known as Artie because Arthur was too difficult for some of my Catalan friends to pronounce. The locals are curious about me but none more curious than Pierre, sharing a french stick and brie with my dog is much more enjoyable than sitting at a dinner party with my ex-wife and pretentious friends. Pierre is a friendly stray dog and we saved each other the first week I moved to Collioure. Whilst I sat on the stony beach drinking my second bottle of red wine questioning my sanity, the scrawny dog crept up to me and boldly stole a piece of my brie from my plate. Since then we’ve been inseparable, he sits with me by the fire at night sometimes resting his chin on my knee. Pierre proudly wears a red scarf around his neck and even though he is a big dog, he's gentle and fascinated with frogs. He likes to carry them in his mouth, not eating them, just playing with them like they were his favourite toys.
I don’t miss anything about England apart from Annie but I couldn’t ring her, she must hate me by now after I ignored the twenty-four calls that she made the day after she ate my fish. I have known Annie since I was four years old, when we first met, she stole my kitten and ate the last piece of chocolate cake. When we were eight she stole my best friend Jack and kissed him so much it was gross. I had to wait a year to get him back to myself to do boy stuff with.
I miss messaging her goodnight and good morning.
Chapter two - Lucky Annie! She tells all...
I was fifty-one when it happened and I'm still in shock. One day I was a shoemaker living in a two-bedroom flat, the next I was a Marketing Manager living in a lush four-bedroom house with a hot tub. I transitioned from a middle-aged, easy lay tart to a selective loose woman with class and good taste. Every month I banished the increasing amount of grey hairs on my head and noticed my boobs were getting bigger at the same time as my bum was. I wasn't happy being on the other side of fifty - I wasn't a spring chicken anymore, more like a waddling duck.
I'll explain what happened to me, it was a Sunday morning when I woke up with a hangover from hell next to my new neighbour Rodney. Returning drunk from a party I had bumped into him in the hallway, we snogged our way into his flat. His flat smelt of sardines, the only alcohol he had was sherry and his cat had thrown up a furball in my bra. When I was eventually able to lift my head off Rodney's pillow the next morning, I saw that I had three missed calls on my phone from my gorgeous mini-me daughter Lilly. Once back in my flat, I washed Rodney off my body then opened the front door to a very over-excited Lilly holding my lottery ticket I had left in her car. Can you imagine how overwhelming it was to win fifty-four million pounds?
To start with, we only told Lilly's husband Robert, who was a successful solicitor. He dealt with everything so all I needed to do was to think about what I wanted from my life now. I knew I didn't want to sleep around so much anymore or keep damaging my kidneys and I wanted a house and hoped I wouldn't bump into Rodney again. I instructed Robert to buy the small shoe company that I worked for and gave him a list of things I wanted him to do, including promoting my always skint best friend Mary to supervisor with a pay increase and company car. Nobody knew that I owned the little shoe company, even Mary, I hated pretending but I wasn't ready for people to know my change in fortune. I will eventually share with you how I spent my money on my loved ones and friends. I can't tell you what a wonderful feeling it is when you can help people you love and make a positive difference in their lives.
I am now the Marketing Manager for 'Show Off Shoes'. I have become a much better version of Annie Arnaud, my parents would have been so proud of me. My french mother loved shoes and my grand pere used to call me 'ma petite grenouille', which means, my little frog because I was always bouncing around with too much energy.
I wanted to tell Arthur everything but when he ignored my calls after I swallowed his fish I presumed he didn't want to be friends anymore. To be perfectly honest, it hurts not having him in my life. We've been best friends since we were kids after he hid one of his kittens in my swimming bag and ate the last piece of chocolate cake. Or did I steal it? I can't remember.
I miss our Saturday morning coffee which would often end up being lunchtime cocktails and a trainwreck of an afternoon. His wife didn't care that he spent time with me she was too self-absorbed and obsessed with her looks.
I wondered if I would ever see him again.
Chapter three: Pierre, Patti and Arthur...
It was a warm and peaceful afternoon, the sea looked like liquid gold as the sun beamed down on the lovely little french harbour. My dog Pierre sighed content as he laid by my feet whilst I finished painting a picture of the Chateau Royal de Collioure. It is a massive french royal castle, once a prison, now a place for people to visit and learn of its history. Above the buzzing fishing village, it stood proud, perched next to the sea, glowing in the sunshine.
You can’t help but fall in love with Collioure, it’s full of love - romantic couples holding hands and sharing a passionate embrace. Something that is never frowned upon here, even my seventy-five-year-old housekeeper Mimi would share a lingering kiss on the lips of her husband Giovanni who would bring her to work every day. Love is all around me at the moment, I had lost faith in it in England but here it's a strong part of their culture, they live for love, creativity and good food.
Cupid’s arrow hit Pierre that afternoon and I went home with two dogs, not one. Patti, Pierre's new girlfriend had a long matted coat, she smelt like car oil but it didn’t deter Pierre who followed her around the house besotted by her. Patti wasn’t timid, she was sassy and confident until I put her in the bath and then she became a drama queen. I laughed because she reminded me of Annie and the last time I saw her flapping about in my pond. For a moment I felt bad that I didn’t help her that night but that was a long time ago and there’s no point in dwelling on it, the chances of me seeing her again were very slim.
Mimi my housekeeper was not happy with the mess we left in the bathroom and we were scalded like badly behaved children. She didn’t stay mad for long though, I was given a strong french coffee and a slice of her famous Tarte de pomme and the dogs who smelt wonderful got some cubes of pate. My expensive pate which Mimi thought was very funny. Mimi was a strong and well-respected woman in the community, she knew everyone and was always trying to match me up with single local ladies. I reluctantly agreed to go out to dinner with her daughter Hellen, it was awkward, Hellen told me that she was a lesbian but was afraid to tell her mother and father. Hellen and I drank a lot of wine that night, too much wine because she had gone home and told her parents that she liked women, not men. It was village gossip for a week but Hellen didn't care, she was just relieved that she didn't have to pretend anymore. I liked Hellen, she was very much like Mimi and I did not doubt that she would find the perfect woman for her.
I had to start working again and I converted one of the rooms in the house into an office with plenty of space to lay out my drawings. There was a need for a freelance architect in the village and surrounding areas and I enjoyed meeting people and helping them bring their visions to life. Mimi had recommended my services to her best friend Madame Bertrand who lived in a big house on the hillside. I decided to walk to her house for our first meeting and took Pierre and his girlfriend Patti with me. I was a bit jealous of my dogs, I didn’t get so much attention off Pierre anymore now he had a female in his life. I had forgotten how nice it was to have a partner, someone to do things with. It was ridiculous that I was envious of my dog’s life, mind you, Patti didn’t give him the grief my ex-wife gave me. Who, as it happened, came out as a lesbian once my brother dumped her. He decided to exchange her for a younger model, good for him.
Madame Bertrand’s house was impressive, a three-storey home tastefully decorated with well-tended gardens. The property was surrounded by pots of lavender plants where bees were hovering, collecting pollen and I had to tell Patti to leave them alone for fear she would get stung on her nose. I was greeted at the door by a tall elegant woman with swept up white hair and three dogs standing at her side. Madame Bertrand invited me in and told the dogs to go and play and off they went like five excited children.
I made eye contact with the elegant lady and knew exactly who she was, she had such a unique look and there was no mistaking it. It was Michelle, Annie’s godmother, but I thought she was living in Paris, however, Michelle had moved from Paris to Collioure last year. Annie used to share photos of her godmother every time she went to visit her in Paris and she would tell me the stories of their travels together. The eventful visit to the Moulin Rouge where they were asked to leave, apparently Annie was dressed inappropriately and both of them smelt of weed. Annie was a bad influence on her godmother, or was it the other way around?
Madame Bertrand insisted that I call her Michelle and two bottles of wine later we began to discuss her requirements. Michelle explained that Annie had sent her some money. I was confused because Annie never had two pennies to rub together and if she did, they were most probably mine, she always stole my loose change from my pockets when it came to the end of a day or evening out with her. It became a standing joke, at times, when I knew she was struggling with her finances I would deliberately have a twenty-pound note with the change in my pocket and she would take it telling me I could afford it.
Annie would run off like a naughty child laughing and blowing me kisses sometimes dropping the coins and desperately trying to pick them up again. I would watch her and call her a nutter or fruit loop and walk away with a smile on my face. Annie was the only woman that made me laugh to the point that we couldn't talk, I would snort like an overweight pig and she would hold on to her wee for dear life, apparently.
Michelle explained that it was money from Annie’s mother who had passed away a few years ago and she would like to make some changes in the house with that money. I was shocked when Michelle told me that Annie was to be visiting later that week to give her a cheque. I felt mixed emotions, the thought of seeing Annie was exciting but then I remembered what a dick I was last time I saw her and I didn’t return her calls so I felt embarrassed. How could I face her now?
I told myself off for dwelling on the past as I walked home with Pierre and Patti who were sniffing the vines and bringing me sticks. I think they could sense that I was a little bit sad because they included me in their little love story and both slept on my bed that night, Pierre snored and Patti farted but I didn't care I was glad for the company.
Chapter four: Annie en Collioure...
My sex drive is so high since I turned 50, I’m a rich horny middle-aged woman who is having hot sex with her PT. I struggle to keep up with him, he’s a thirty-something enthusiastic lover who makes my legs shake because he has me squatting up and down on him, normally in three sets of ten. I have to confess that I struggle with my flexibility and when I climaxed the last time we were together, I farted from my bum and fanny flaps. I was so embarrassed, I'm angry with mother nature who has decided to weaken my bladder so I wee when I sneeze, fart when I orgasm and she has given me grey pubic hairs.
I’m so rich now, it scares me, it would have been easier if I had won a million pounds, not fifty-four. With Lilly and Robert’s expert guidance, I’ve donated to charities, the local school, the pet rescue centre and I have given Lenny the Lucozade tramp who sits outside the shop down the road a job. He is now our nighttime security guard at Shoe Off Shoes, he has an outhouse with a bed and little kitchen where he and his shaggy dog Beano now live. Beano was very well cared for and would always be pleased to see me and the box of treats I would buy him, more pleased than any man I've been in a relationship with. We did not need nighttime security but Lenny and Beano needed a second chance.
I desperately wanted to tell my best friend Mary about the money and take her away on a wild holiday to Ibiza. It would give me a great opportunity to show off my new strong thighs from bonking my PT.
Even though I work out really hard, my body had started to reshape itself a week after I was fifty, it was like God decided it was my time for me to spread out, giving me bigger love handles and fatter ankles.
People at work started to ask questions about Show Off Shoes, they were curious as to why they hadn’t seen the new owners yet. As Marketing Manager I invited a creative agency into work on a rebranding campaign and told everyone they were the new owners, they’ve believed me for now. I also informed everyone that they were to receive a bonus because we had made record sales, which was a lie.
Mary’s excitement about her five hundred pound bonus was cut short by the news that her husband had died in a car crash that afternoon. Was it my fault? I was wishing him dead so I could go to Ibiza with Mary. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m a good person, I can’t forgive myself for swallowing Arthur’s baby carp at his party. Who does that? Have you ever heard about that happening before? I haven't. The poor mother fish must have been swimming high and low searching for her baby when it was being digested by me, the fish killer.
For the next two weeks, I was there for Mary until after the funeral then I pretended I had to go away on business to see some french shoe designers. It wasn’t a complete lie, I was going to France but it was to take my Godmother whom I call Auntie Michelle a cheque for a substantial amount of money that I was giving her. I had lied and said I had sold an item of jewellery that she had given my mother years ago, a bracelet, but I hadn’t sold it, I loved it and I wore it a lot. When my mother died I kept all her jewellery and the big thick pink dressing gown that I wear every day.
I hadn’t been back to France for a year and was excited to see the new house that Auntie Michelle had bought when she moved away from Paris. I didn’t know anything about Collioure but it looked beautiful online when I searched for images. It made me think about Arthur, mutual friends had told me that he had moved to France but I was so drunk when I found out, I can’t for the life of me remember where it was that he had moved to.
I decided to go shopping for my visit to France and I went mad in the shops, all my size 12 clothes in my wardrobe were getting snug, especially on my sexy thighs so I kitted myself out with new clothes for seven days and seven nights in Collioure. I was living every woman’s dream but I was lonely, money can’t buy you happiness or true love. It can however buy me a bottle of Pinot in the airport restaurant and three more glasses on the plane.
When I arrived at Auntie Michelle’s house I was exhausted and slightly overwhelmed by the smell of lavender and three very excited dogs. It was a beautiful house, so tastefully decorated and spacious. I felt at home, I felt like I meant something to someone, I was so happy to be there with her and her affectionate dogs.
I’m crap at keeping secrets and I was going to burst if I didn’t tell someone about the ridiculous amount of money I had won. I told my Auntie Michelle to sit down, she instantly presumed I was going to tell her I was pregnant, at age 52! I explained my belly was sticking out because I was drinking far too much and eating whatever I liked not because I was pregnant.
Her face was a picture when I told her how much money I had won. I swore her to secrecy but goodness knows how long that would stay a secret. My Auntie Michelle and I were like two peas in a pod, secrets were never kept for long. Her shock about the situation was nowhere near as big as my shock when I found out that Arthur was living in Collioure.
I smiled, at least I don't need to put my hand in his pocket and steal his change any more.
Chapter five: Reunited - Arthur's delight...
I could smell Annie before I entered the room at Michelle’s house, she always wore too much perfume that would linger on my clothes after she hugged me. I heard her contagious laughter before I saw her and when I saw her, she hadn’t changed. She still had her long curly hair that bounced around her face and she was wearing her signature red lipstick that I would often find on my shirts. Most wives would be worried if they found another women's lipstick on their husband's shirt, not mine.
Annie was like the sun, she shone, she was warm and brightened up my day whenever I saw her. She always made me feel like I was needed, mostly because she was always asking for favours but I guess that’s what friends do for each other.
Our sibling relationship grew due to our mothers being best friends and when Annie’s mum died none of us coped well because she was like the sun too. Annie’s father died the same year and her divorce happened the year after. It was a very difficult time and Annie would cry herself to sleep in my arms and I would enjoy her silence. Annie is undeniably beautiful, very loud and a sensitive wild child, any man would be lucky to have her although she is a handful at times. Her ex-husband was an arrogant and selfish person, very similar to my ex-wife. I sometimes think that they would have been an excellent match.
It was Pierre and Patti that Annie fussed over first that night at Michelle’s house, she hadn’t seen me until she stood up having been slobbered on by the over-excited dogs. Annie loved dogs and her grandad bought her a puppy when she was a child and she called it 'little frog', a bizarre name but typical of Annie.
It felt different when Annie hugged me that night, a little awkward, sensible and reserved. She had changed a little bit, I got to see a different Annie, she spoke about business, property development and life goals. I was pleased to see she hadn’t changed totally - she managed to get drunk and fall asleep on me on the sofa with Pierre and Patti at her feet.
When I walked home that night the moon shone on the sea and the boats rocked gently side to side like bobbing corks. Homeless dogs lay sleeping around the foot of the castle and a young couple sat on the beach enjoying the romance of the harbour. Fairy lights and lanterns lit up pathways and it was so quiet, calm and peaceful that you could have heard a pin drop. Even Pierre and Patti walked quietly, respecting their surroundings.
I was surprised to see Annie on my doorstep early the next morning. Mimi had answered the door and knew exactly who she was, news travels fast in Collioure. Of course, Mimi warmed to Annie and Annie was very pleased to have a slice of Mimi’s famous Tarte de Pomme.
Surprisingly Annie wanted to talk about potentially purchasing a few properties in Collioure. She never used to be a business person, she worked in a shoe factory and struggled to pay her bills every month apart from one time when she won a thousand pounds on the lottery. She was always getting little wins and I never won anything, I would describe her as being the unluckiest lucky person I know.
Our discussion was cut short when my new client Allan came for his appointment so Annie was going to have to leave. Allan was fascinated by Annie when they entered into a conversation about shoes, my client had commented on Annie’s shoes and I thought I heard her say she owned a shoe business but I must have misheard. I watched a new relationship blossom in front of my very eyes when the pair of them exchanged phone numbers and later that morning confirmed a dinner date. Annie had a skill in finding men but they never stayed and if they did, it was for the wrong reasons, she had never been lucky in love.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about her meeting Allan for dinner, I didn’t get a good vibe from him. I didn’t see much of Annie for the rest of her stay because she had thrown herself into a brief holiday romance. By brief I mean she slept with Allan who was a swinger unbeknown to Annie.
Annie met with me once before she left to return to England and explained that she did in fact own the shoe company where she had been working and she had come into some money. When she told me how much I choked on my coffee. It’s astounding how someone’s life can change so much in a year. The last time I saw her, drunk, just before she ate my fish, she was depressed because she was on the other side of fifty with nothing to show for it.
Having told me she was a multi-millionaire, she left my house leaving a trail of her perfume, a pang in my heart and two sad dogs who had instantly warmed to my ex-best friend or was she still my best friend? When I looked at Pierre and Patti intertwined on their dog bed, I suddenly realised something and it took me by surprise. I loved Annie, not just like a brother, I realised having seen her again that I didn't just love her, I was in love with her. I think Pierre knew it before I did, Mimi said she could see it before I saw it and now I didn't know what to do about it.
Collioure was a place where love was in abundance but the woman I loved was going back to England. I started to feel anxious, I had left England to remove drama from my life and forget women, why the hell would I want to enter into another relationship when Annie was one of the most dramatic women I knew.
Chapter six: We are best friends again...
I was helping my Auntie Michelle to lay out the delicious traditional French buffet when two very excited dogs stood by my feet and begged for my attention and pieces of cheese. I looked up and saw Arthur who was calling the dogs away from the food. Arthur smiled his Arthur smile at me, I had forgotten how big his nose was and how white his teeth were. We hugged and for a moment I didn’t want to let go, I had missed him so much and my eyes started to well up. That had never happened before, it must have been the strong smell of the cheese that was making my eyes water.
We were separated by his dogs Pierre and Patti as they tried to push between us looking for attention from me, not Arthur and he declared them traitors. Arthur and I sat next to each other whilst we enjoyed good food, good company and plenty of wine. I apologised for swallowing his fish and he apologised for not helping me out of the pond or answering my telephone calls. We looked at photographs in an album that Auntie Michelle had left out for me to look at pictures of my parents. I felt mixed emotions as we talked about when we were children growing up and our mothers being best friends and there was a photo of me and my dog 'little frog', I missed owning a dog, they are so much easier than men.
I drank too much that night and I remember telling Arthur I loved him but I always said that when I was drunk. I sat on the balcony and looked down at the heart of Collioure when Arthur left Auntie Michelle's house, the fishing village looked whimsical. Fairy lights and lanterns lit up the pathways and I could see Arthur and his dogs walk into the distance until they were the size of a pinhead and then they disappeared. I looked over to the mountains and could see little lights coming from the homes of the caring community. The smell of lavender wafted up from the large pots around the house outside and I waved to the remaining guests who loudly said their goodbyes and fell into taxis drunk on life and wine.
The next morning I got up early and walked down to the village to see Arthur. I met Mimi, his housekeeper and a gorgeous man called Allan, a new customer of Arthur’s. I instantly took a shine to Allan, we exchanged numbers and arranged a meal together that night. I told Arthur that I would speak to him later because I wanted to talk to him about something but I forgot to call because Allan was crazily gorgeous.
I promised myself and Auntie Michelle that I wouldn't sleep with Allan on our first date but when I returned the next morning having stayed over at his stunning sea view villa I met her on the driveway. She gave me a disapproving look and even her dogs looked disappointed at me. I washed the hot passionate Allan sex off me and reflected on our night of lovemaking, it was great, I hadn't farted when I climaxed multiple times. There was no getting away from it, I was still a fifty-two-year-old easy lay.
I spoke to my daughter Lilly that morning and she was very excited to hear about Collioure and Auntie Michelle. She had also spent some of the money I gave her on a holiday with her friends, she was off to Bali and told her friends that her husband Robert had bid for the holiday in a charity auction. It gave me so much joy seeing other people benefit from the money that I had won.
There was a message on my phone from Arthur who was asking me if he'd heard correctly when I told Allan that I owned a shoe factory. I was about to call him back when a call came through from the sexy Allan who was inviting me out on his yacht with friends. I jumped at the chance and an hour later he picked me up in his sexy sports car and off we went. Allan held my hand as we drove to the harbour and as we walked down the pontoon to the yacht. I always rush in with relationships and I honestly thought I was getting the feels for him, I could imagine myself falling in love and living in his stunning villa and having a huge wedding.
Once we were out to sea, anchored up and sipping champagne, Allan took his shirt off, he was ripped - like a Greek god. I, however, kept my sarong securely wrapped around me hiding my new muffin top and varicose veins on my thigh. As the champagne flowed I became aware of excessive flirting between some of the other ladies on the boat and Allan. My mood went from that of ecstatic sexually satisfied new love to disgust when I was asked to join Allan and a slutty blonde down below in the cabin. I realised that Allan was a man whore and when we got back to the port, I and my raging sunburn told Allan where he could stick his yacht and sports car and went back to my Auntie Michelle's house.
I saw Arthur on the morning that I was leaving to go to the airport. I explained that I did own the shoe company that I worked at and I had come into some money. He choked on his coffee when I told him exactly how much I had won in the lottery and explained that I wanted to purchase some properties in Collioure to rent out, I had fallen in love with the beautiful fishing village and everything it had to offer.
We agreed that I would come back again soon and he would start looking at potential properties for me.
I said goodbye to Pierre and Patti with sadness in my heart, I hugged Arthur and as I walked away I told him that Allan was a swinging tosser and I wouldn’t be seeing him again, he smiled his Arthur smile.
He was my best friend and I think I had got my best friend back again.
I drank a bottle of Pinot before I got on my flight and sent Arthur a message asking him to be my best friend again just like a teenager would. He replied yes but he wasn't going to give me his pocket change anymore.
Chapter seven: My Annie...
Collioure is called the St.Tropez of the Languedoc Roussillon, jewel of the crown of Cote Vermeille. It stretches from Argeles-sur-Mer to the border town of Cerbere. Known as the city of painters and so popular that it’s difficult to find properties for sale now. However, I managed to find one four-bedroom house ten minutes from Collioure that looked like it would suit Annie and excellent letting property. My best find was a plot of land that perched over the small fishing village. The only thing on the piece of land was a very old stone cottage that could most probably tell a lot of stories about previous owners, beautiful summers and excited children running around the gardens. The land would be perfect for Annie to build on and I had some design ideas to show her already. I wanted to keep the property in Catalan style with a huge kitchen because I knew Annie loves cooking. I also had in mind a small wine cave with empty bottles hanging from the ceiling and clever lighting.
I was excited for Annie’s arrival from England, when I went to pick her up, her best friend Mary was perched on her suitcase holding an opened bottle of wine and eating a croissant. Annie was smiling like a Cheshire cat which was an obvious sign that she’d had more than a few drinks. They had been celebrating on the flight because Annie had finally told Mary about winning the lottery and the fact that she owned Show Off Shoes. I just about managed to fit two drunk women, two suitcases and two dogs into the car but it was a squeeze. When I dropped off Annie and Mary at Michelle’s house, I invited them all to dinner. Mimi, Giovanni and their daughter Hellen were to be at the meal too.
Annie looked great when she turned up at the house with the other two ladies giggling like teenagers because they had been pre-drinking. Something that Annie introduced me to when she was trying to save money on our nights out. I noticed so much more about Annie that night, her hair wasn’t just brown, it had gold high-lights in it and she tucked one side behind her ear every time she turned to talk to someone. Her face looked fuller, which of course I would never tell her, but it suited her. There was a great vibe in the room, laughter, loud talking and an obvious display of new and very special friendships.
Mimi’s husband Giovanni charmed the ladies and poured wine generously whilst laughing and making jokes in pigeon English. Mimi loved her husband so much, they did everything together and even though he flirted with other women, he always kept Mimi close to his side giving her a sneaky gentle slap on her bottom now and then. It was a natural, easy love between them and her good cooking reflected on the size of Giovanni's stomach that hung over his belt.
I was taken aback when Annie began conversing with everyone at the table in fluent french, I had forgotten about the years she had spent in France growing up. Annie’s french was better than mine but Mary’s was worse. Mary had Hellen in stitches whilst she tried hard to string sentences together in french, thankfully Hellen was well educated, spoke perfect English. The pair of them seemed to hit it off which was great because it gave me more time to speak to Annie about the land I had found and my design ideas.
Earlier that day, Annie and Mary had been walking in the harbour and they had seen how many stray dogs roamed around the castle and sat patiently near the restaurant kitchens waiting for scraps. Annie decided that she wanted to build a dog rescue centre, taking the stray dogs off the streets of Collioure and finding them a forever home.
That night, Mimi, Giovanni and Michelle left the party, tipsy and happy as usual. I could hear their laughter as they stumbled home down the little streets. Mary and Hellen had gone up to my rooftop terrace and I found Annie sitting on the floor with the dogs, wine in one hand and a plate of brie in the other.
It was at that exact moment when there was a life-changing knock at the door, it was my ex-wife, heavily pregnant and in floods of tears. On seeing Annie, she accused us of having an affair whilst they were married, which a very angry Annie denied. Annie refrained herself when she realised the thorn in my side was pregnant. Pierre and Patti started to bark and Mary and Hellen came down to see what all the noise was about. I was in shock and stupidly I said nothing, I just welcomed the energy-sucking ex into my home not knowing quite what to say or do.
We all looked at each other, even Pierre and Patti stopped barking then my heart sank as Annie calmly walked out the front door with Mary and Hellen. Again, I stupidly said nothing to Annie which I regretted because when she looked at me as she left, it was a look of great disappointment. What had started as a fun and wonderful evening ended up being like a dramatic soap opera, the exact reason I left the UK to get away from drama and women.
I was very sad the next day, it was my birthday and Annie hadn’t answered any of my calls. I couldn’t leave the house because I had a lot to sort out, for starters, Pierre, Patti and Mimi instantly took a dislike to the pregnant ex. It turned out that she was carrying my brother’s child and he had refused to have anything to do with it. As much as I despise the woman, she was carrying a human being, a family member and I couldn’t just throw her out. Her lesbian relationship had ended because she had decided to keep the baby, something I knew she would regret and she would hire a nanny neglecting the child and pursuing selfish desires.
Two days later whilst out jogging I saw a sold sign by the plot of land I had recommended to Annie. Life had been so simple and now it was complicated and sad, I’d had so many design ideas that would be wasted. The worse thing was, I didn’t even want to go back to my house that day, I didn’t want to face the huge problem that I, unfortunately, had to sort out. My brother said he didn’t believe it was his child and didn’t want anything to do with, in his words, the scheming bitch.
Once again, I feared that I had lost Annie, the only woman who made me feel real and that I mattered when she hugged me.
Chapter eight: A familiar voice to me...
I had decided that Arthur was a wet, pathetic and stupid man as I sat with Mary in the only bar left open by the harbour. The bar was owned by Giovanni’s brother and he joined us for a drink as did Hellen when Mary told her where we were. Mary and Hellen were getting on very well and I was sensing a lesbian vibe which I’d not seen in Mary before.
I got distracted by the very handsome bar owner, he was a bit old for me but life was too short and age was just a number. So, I just did what I normally do, I had sex with the bar owner, it was good sex, it wasn't lovemaking. I’ve never actually made love, I’ve never managed to be in love with someone I was having sex with. The next day I woke up with a terrible hangover and for a moment I couldn’t work out where I was. Then I remembered what had happened and so did my lady bits.
Strong coffee and a croissant were on the bedside table and I grabbed the bedsheets to cover my fifty-plus cellulite body whilst I took time to get to know the man I had slept with. A shower later I walked up to Auntie Michelle’s house only to discover that my best friend Mary hadn’t gone back to the house that night either and she had spent the night with Hellen. I didn’t see that one coming but it was good for Mary, it was lovely to see my friend smiling again.
After my auntie judged me for sleeping with Giovanni’s brother, Mary and I explained to her what had happened after she left Arthur’s house. We were all of the same opinions, the ex-wife was going to use Arthur because she had no one else to turn to. She was a selfish, horrible putain!
The day before had gone so well, Arthur had picked us up from the airport with Pierre and Patti. He had told me about some land that was up for sale and that it would be ideal for me to build on. Of course, he was right so without him knowing, Mary, my auntie and I went to look at the land and I put an offer in straight away which the seller accepted. I wanted to tell Arthur but I was ignoring his calls because he was a pathetic twat.
One of my intentions was to build a dog rescue home in Collioure because it had upset me seeing so many homeless dogs roaming the small cobbled streets. Hellen was very interested in getting involved with the project and Mary and I discussed it over lunch with her. Our conversation then diverted to a shop that was for sale by the harbour and I had a great idea, Show Off Shoes! Tourists would love them and the locals would find something like that exciting, something new and different. Three bottles of wine and a huge cheese board later Mary and I returned to Auntie Michelle’s house where she was preparing the car for our trip to the Pyrenees mountains.
Hellen had agreed to stay at Auntie Michelle's house to look after her dogs and Auntie Michelle picked up on the lesbian vibe after Mary and Hellen shared a quick peck on the lips. Her face was a picture and Mary told us about her wild lesbian night of passion with Hellen as we drove through the mountains.
It was wonderful that I could treat my favourite auntie and best friend to a very expensive stay at a chateau in the Pyrenees. The scenery was spectacular, there were waterfalls and hiking trails, we did pony trekking and went on a guided tour which took us to some charming villages, shops and little bars. Mary spent a fair bit of time messaging Hellen, I ignored Arthur’s messages and Auntie Michelle came up with the bizarre idea that Arthur was in love with me. I laughed it off, if he was in love with me he would have helped me out of his pond when I swallowed his fish and told his wife at the time to leave me alone.
Our stay in the mountains went quickly and I was gaining extra weight daily, my food and wine consumption had gone through the roof. My PT was going to have his work cut out for him when I returned home. Auntie Michelle dropped Mary and me off at the airport because we had to get back to England, we’d been gone for far too long and I had a business to run.
My daughter Lilly and Robert picked us up from the airport and told me that word had gotten out about me winning the money and I couldn’t return to the house and had to stay at theirs. I was confused about how it had gotten out and a very guilty looking Mary told me she had mentioned it to her mum, even though Mary was sworn to secrecy, and, it turned out that her mum had told her hairdresser.
The next day I had electric gates and security cameras fitted at my house. I employed an admin lady to read through all the post that I was getting so she could spare me from seeing the begging letters that upset me so much. I was getting fed up with the hassle the money came with but was excited when the purchase had gone through on the land in France. I was so tempted to pack up and move there but I wanted to be near my daughter Lilly so Collioure was to be a holiday home.
One good thing about having the money was the choices that it gave me. I was able to make quick decisions and could afford to deal with them if they hadn’t been good choices. I didn’t want to own Shoe Off Shoes anymore so I gave the business to Lilly to run. Mary was desperate to see Hellen so I sent her to Collioure to take a look at the shop by the harbour to see if she thought it was a good location for a shoe shop. I was going to buy it anyway but I wanted Mary to be happy and make her feel part of something and she had fallen in love with Hellen.
With everything settled down, I decided that I needed to get away on my own to make some decisions because life was becoming uncomfortable. I couldn’t even go into my local shop without people asking too many questions and I had an increased interest from men and I know it wasn’t for my body.
The day after my birthday I packed a suitcase and went to the airport. I didn’t know where I wanted to go so I just sat at the airport looking at the different flights on the departures board. I felt sad, I had all that money, I could go anywhere in the world but I had no one to go with me.
My sadness changed to happiness when I heard someone familiar call out my name, it was Arthur’s mother Betty. She was flying to France to see Arthur who had sent his ex-wife packing after she confessed that the baby she was carrying wasn’t his brother's. Betty was so pleased to see me, she had been like a second mum to me and she missed my mum so much. That’s why I wanted to make sure that Mary was happy, best friends are so important and valuable.
Chapter nine: My mum knows best...
I was very surprised to see my mum with Annie at the airport, I was confused as to why Annie was there and still annoyed with her for not answering my phone calls. I was hurt that she hadn’t told me that she had bought the piece of land in Collioure and disappointed that she had slept with that idiot Franc. Of course, Franc took great pleasure telling me he had shared a night of passion with Annie when I went to the harbour for a drink with Giovanni. I wanted to punch Franc for talking about Annie in that way but the last thing I needed was more drama.
Annie jumps into bed with a man when she has a low opinion of herself, when she gets upset she thinks sleeping with a man will make it better and it never does. I hated when she did that, I never said anything to her about it, I didn’t have to, she could tell that I disapproved of that sort of thing by the look on my face.
My mum Betty is the best mother ever, so kind, forgiving and loving. She lives alone in a big empty house in England and I keep trying to persuade her to come and live in Collioure. I was so pleased when she agreed to visit me in France, to see if she liked the fishing village and my new life.
Pierre and Patti took an instant shine to my mum and were so happy to be sharing the back of the car with her and their other favourite person Annie. I kept looking at Annie in my rearview mirror, she was behaving out of character and looking out of the window whilst stroking Pierre. Mum knew us both very well and picked up on the awkwardness in the car. She insisted that we all went out to dinner once we got to the house and dropped the cases off. Annie loves my mum she would do anything for her, they always had a strong bond, especially when Annie's mum died.
As I suspected, Mimi and my mum became instant friends talking about baking and housework and how untidy I am sometimes. Giovanni popped in and was very respectful to mum, he didn’t do his normal flirting, he just made her feel very welcome. I had asked Mimi to help persuade my mum to move to Collioure and she was excited to accept the mission. When we were ready for our night out, Giovanni took us to his brother’s bar for drinks before awkward dinner. Franc was hanging all over Annie but she was shunning his advances and I could see the regret in her face. When we got up and went to walk out of the bar, Franc grabbed Annie’s arm and it startled her. I’m not a reactive person and don’t like confrontation but Franc was out of order touching Annie like that. I was more shocked than anyone when I pulled Franc away from Annie and punched him in the face and he fell back onto a bar stool. Thankfully Giovanni grabbed his brother before he had a chance to punch me back. Giovanni was well aware, as was the rest of Collioure about the fact his brother had slept with Annie.
My mum held my hand as we walked to the restaurant, the hand that didn't hurt from punching Franc. The altercation was brushed aside and mum smiled at me in her knowing way. She knew I loved Annie and had realised I was falling in love with Annie too.
The topic at the dinner table was the huge piece of land that Annie had bought, we talked about the design ideas and planning for the dog shelter. Annie told us about the shoe shop and she and I agreed we would meet up at the shop the next day to talk about different design options for when she bought it. By the end of the evening, I was so happy, things seemed to be back on track and mum was enjoying herself. Mimi and Giovanni took mum back to my house and mum told me to walk Annie back to Michelle’s house. Of course, she didn't need to tell me to, I would have done that anyway.
It was a moonlit walk, I had Annie all to myself and for the first time in my life, I felt nervous around her. I looked at her talking away, not listening to her just taking in her beauty, god she could talk. I stopped walking and she kept going for a moment not realising I wasn't by her side anymore. When she turned around I stepped forwards and kissed her I didn’t expect her to kiss me back but she did.
I had known Annie for forty-eight years and it was the first time that I was brave enough to kiss her. She would always be hanging on me and kissing me when we were growing up but I’d never kissed her for fear of how she would react. I could have kept kissing Annie that night but Mary and Hellen came running down from the house laughing, totally unaware of what was going on until they stopped dead in front of us and Annie were holding hands. They giggled like school children which was embarrassing for a fifty plus-year-old man. I bid them all good night and tried to walk away with a cool swagger but I'm sure I didn't look cool.
Mum was sipping tea when I got home and Pierre and Patti were laying by her feet. She proudly told me that she had always known that I was in love with Annie, I didn’t tell her about the kiss, she didn’t need anything else to fuel her mission to get Annie and me together. Pierre and Patti chose to sleep in mum’s room that night and I felt lonely but I couldn’t stop thinking about Annie and what had happened.
The next morning I woke up to the smell of fresh coffee and warm apple tarte de pomme. Mimi and Michelle had come to take my mum to the local market and they were having a coffee before they went. Pierre and Patti bought me their dog leads like they do every morning when I wake up. Mum had changed Pierre’s red scarf for a new clean one and Patti had a little pink flower charm hanging from her collar. Mum always wanted grandchildren and she knew this was the closest she was going to get. Mum had such a calm aura about her, if there was a crying baby my mum could soothe it within minutes. That was part of the reason that I was prepared to help my ex when she said she was pregnant with my brother’s baby. Mum was disappointed in my brother having an affair with her and said it was unforgivable but he was her son and she couldn’t disown him so we all just get on with it now.
I decided to take a walk up to Michelle’s house with Pierre and Patti to see if Annie was there. She was standing on the grass with Mary and Hellen doing some kind of yoga but when they saw me coming they ran inside leaving Annie standing alone trying to cover herself up with a tiny hand towel. I don’t know why she felt she had to cover her body up, she had a great body, she was on the other side of fifty and still hot in my eyes. I’ve never seen Annie blush before and she was very quiet, my heart sank but my attention turned to Mary and Hellen as they sped off the driveway in Hellen’s car. Annie ran towards the house telling me she was going to get changed so I followed her in. I didn’t stop in the hallway, I followed her up to her room where she had started to take off her clothes.
The thing about Annie Arnaud is that she encaptures people’s hearts, everyone she meets is captivated by her presence. People wanted to be her friend, men were always chatting her up and it appeared that everyone in Collioure loved Annie.
At that moment I felt the combustion of emotions in my body, my best friend was standing before me and I wanted her so much.
Chapter 10 coming soon.