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Rachel held the wine glass up to the old cottage window; the winter sun highlighted the one fingerprint that was in danger of spoiling the whole dinner table. For her husband, Simon, that would not have been an issue, but for Rachel, it was critical. She wiped it with a clean towel and smiled as the rays of light created a purity of shine that completed the table laid out for three.
The oven was on low and Simon was due home with Richard, his colleague, at around 6 PM. She had met Richard before, so this was not one of those, “I hope he likes our food, home, chat, and general worldview.”
They had all only met a few times, whenever Richard was coming over from Geneva on a two-day work trip. They had also had a brief weekend in Skiathos, again Richard was passing through, and it was on that trip that they all really hit it off.
Prior to their friendship, he had stayed in those soulless hotels that now house a vast army of lonely men on any given night of the week, the places where breakfast is devoid of staff, and one must microwave their own bacon (Richard was vegan, and they never did tofu), toast their own rubbery slice of pre-fingered bread, and generally do the job of previously paid staff. It was her idea to offer a room, kind of a money spinner on the side, a high-grade couch surf for senior management. Though to be honest, Richard was in fact the only one they had ever asked, and because he always greeted them with wine, this was not an investment to take to Dragon's Den.
They had all got on so well last time they met, playing Jenga, watching movies, and drinking Pinot Grigio from the Trentino region, that they were more than happy to meet as often as possible. Rachel found Richard both charming and engaging, and very handsome. Not that the handsome bit went any further than simple appreciation for a good man.
She had, at one point, wondered why he was single. It was only at their last meet that Richard had explained he had been in a long-term relationship with Jennifer. Only Simon had met Jennifer, at a corporate event in Richmond, and he had told Rachel that although she was lovely, “she was the most driven person he had ever met.” Richard and Jennifer had split up a year ago, and by all accounts, the end was mutual. Rachel had intuition, though, and she knew that Richard was still hurting, and probably had nowhere and nobody to share the pain with.
Since then he had been dedicated to his work but hinted that he was not scared of another long-term relationship if things worked out that way.
The crunching of gravel on the drive woke her from her late afternoon musing, first their car, followed immediately by Richard. She jumped up and headed for the fridge—nothing better than a cold glass of wine to come home to—and she wanted tonight to be special for Simon.
She had been hoping to be alone with Simon this weekend, but Richard had an early morning walk planned in the Cotswolds with a friend, so she was going to get the very best of both, and that made her very happy.
She placed the spotlessly pristine glasses on the old oak table, placing each one directly over one of the many knots in the rustic table that had restored so lovingly. She turned to greet them as the door on their creaky old 18th century farmhouse swung open.
“Hi, Rach,” shouted Simon. His deep voice was good to hear again. It had only been a few days, but it always felt so empty in the house without him. Simon had been in Geneva as well and a week alone had left her longing for her man to be home. Simon was often in the habit of sending her short self-penned erotic stories when away, and this week's had been particularly hot. She had saved herself for him, of course (well, one little indiscretion in the shower did not really count, did it?), and normally the first night home would be a full satisfaction guaranteed event. With Richard here though, it could wait one more night. The old farmhouse and its many creaky floorboards had a way of making any intimacy a less than private thing.
“Hey, Rachel,” said Simon. “Oh, it’s so good to be home. Hey, Richard, just drop your stuff by the table and come through.” Simon reached out to Rachel and they kissed briefly.
“Hello, Rachel,” said Richard. Simon stepped aside, and Richard leaned towards her, kissing her left cheek and then right, the smell of his Chanel aftershave always welcome.
“Hello, Richard, my friend,” said Rachel warmly.
“Ah, my lovely Rachel, so wonderful to see you again, and already with the wine for us most undeserving men.” From behind his back he pulled out a 2007 Mezzacorona’s Pinot Grigio Riserva from the Trentino region.
“Oh, Richard, that is very kind of you. Have we tried this before?” she asked.
“Well, not together I am sure, but if you like it then you can have the other five bottles that are in the car,” he replied smiling.
“I like it,” Rachel responded immediately.
They all laughed.
“Do you guys need showers before food?”
“No, we had showers at work after the gym. Let’s go straight to wine,” said Simon rubbing his hands in anticipation of the new bottle being opened.
“Wow, that is gorgeous. The taste is just so fresh and fruity. So glad I waited for you guys to come home; I nearly opened a bottle of Barefoot in desperation.”
“Ah, Barefoot,” said Simon, “the Primark of global winery.”
The chat flowed instantly, the to and fro of stories about trips, about work, about life, filling the room with an energy that seems unique to human conversation. Rachel found these conversations inspirational and had been working on a project to try and capture the energy of human communication in an art form.
“How is your project going?” Richard asked.
She loved the way that Richard asked about her artwork and enthused at her tales, and this time she was staggered by his timing.
“No way, how does that happen,” she stated.
“What, how does what happen,” asked Simon, a little puzzled.
“You know, that moment when you are thinking of something, and somebody else says it? I was just thinking about the project when Richard asked me, amazing."
“I think the three of us have a connection, Rachel. You, me, and Simon, we are somehow all in the same space on a subconscious level I think?”
Simon offered a weird kind of spooky science fiction tune to add some weight to Richard's point. Sadly, it just sounded creepy, like something from a 1960s film featuring clowns or ventriloquist’s dummies.
They all laughed.
Rachel was a freelance artist working in the media industry, but always wished she could free herself from the confines of large corporate drudgery and find a platform to express the gifts she knew for sure that she had.
After a gorgeous vegan meal, the three of them sat in the lounge. Richard popped out to the car and more wine was opened, and the conversation turned to Richard and Jennifer.
Rachel and Simon had been vegan for a few years, and Richard was already vegetarian. They had chatted about it on every occasion and belonged to the same online media platforms that discussed it. They were not really activists in a stereotypical way, they never wore V for Vendetta masks or dressed like hippies, but they counted themselves as activists in their lifestyle. They all felt good with their choices, and agreed that the benefit to animals, the planet, and their own health was paramount in the choice they had made, but tonight was a vegan-free chat.
“The distance was, I think, the main problem for me and Jennifer,” said Richard. “We just saw less and less of each other."
“Could you not have moved to London, or could Jen have moved to Geneva?” asked Rachel.
“Possibly, but there was also the gap in world views as well,” Richard offered. “You see Jen was, at first, totally with me on saving the planet, helping people, living minimal and all that, but once she got the job in London, it all changed.”
“How did it change? I did notice how driven she was when we met," asked Simon. Rachel rested her long legs across Simon’s knees and gazed at the crackling flames in the open fire. The fire that the two men had taken huge pride in lighting, she had smiled to herself watching them; it must have been some primordial urge she thought for men to make fire.
“Well,” answered Richard, “she proved her worth as IT manager very quickly, and the company, recognising her potential, we all know how driven she was, just encouraged her to push further ahead. They offered her a new role as Head of IT for Western Europe, and she jumped at it, doubling her salary in a few months. That in turn led to even more travel and less time for us. I guess she was just happy and fulfilled being part of the system.”
"That’s a shame,” offered Rachel, “you must miss her.”
“I do, but I often think she is happy being plugged back into the Matrix!!”
Simon laughed, “Yep, that is sure how it can seem, hey. I want to say there are plenty more fish in the sea, but that metaphor is becoming less relevant now, hey.”
They all laughed.
“So,” enquired Rachel carefully, “to use Simon’s metaphor, have you done much fishing?”
“No, not really. I have not really missed the complexities of long distance relationships, and when in Geneva I am just so busy,” Richard sighed, “and to be honest, I am not one for dating sites. They have their place, but I don’t know, I am looking for spontaneity in a relationship, not just an agreed set of ideals.”
“You must miss being with someone though?” asked Simon. His own gregarious nature meant that he always wanted to be around people, with the occasional space for being alone.
“Well, I miss the intimacy if I am honest. That really does become a thing”
“You miss a good fuck, you mean,” said Simon, a little too loudly.
“Simon,” exclaimed Rachel, “don’t be so rude; that is very personal.”
“Thanks, Rachel, it’s OK,” replied Richard, acting appreciative but not really that shocked by Simon’s question. They had talked about sex in the past, in a kind of casual mates way.
His concentration was broken when Rachel boldly asked, “Well, do you?”
“Rachel!” retorted Simon. “So rude and personal.”
“It’s OK, guys,” said Richard, wanting to break the friendly banter about his sex life. “Look of course I miss it, who wouldn’t? It is not on my mind every second of the day, it’s not like I am obsessed or something, just every two seconds!”
They all laughed this time, and Richard reached over, grasped the wine bottle and topped everyone’s wine up.
“Anyway, you spend long periods away, Simon, so you guys know what it is like, right?”
Richard was referring to a month-long trip they had recently taken to Dubai. They both worked for the same petrol giant on a new contract supplying gas to western Europe. It was where Richard had really formed a stronger relationship with Simon; they were friends and not just work colleagues. They had both really disliked the sprawl of Dubai and the demand it placed on global resources, and they had made a pact over dinner one night in the Sheraton. Without spilling blood in some weird brotherhood ritual, they had committed to finding work that helped people and the planet within five years, but for now, they resigned to being part of the system. As Richard had put it, “We are just maintenance engineers on the Matrix, we don’t sleep there.”
“We understand you loud and clear,” replied Rachel, breaking Richard from his thoughts.
“I guess you just find a way, don’t you,” added Simon.
“What do you mean, find a way?” asked Richard, his hands doing that cheesy inverted comma type thing.
“He writes me stories,” said Rachel boldly.
“Rach!!” exclaimed Simon, almost spitting his wine out.
“Stories, what stories, tell me more,” asked Richard, intrigued.
“Sometimes I write erotic stories for Rachel, not many, just some, now and again," replied Simon.
“So that’s why you are always typing furiously in the hotel then,” joked Richard.
“No, it’s not like that,” said Simon, a little too defensively.
“He is really good as well,” added Rachel, stoking the fire-like look of embarrassment on Simon’s increasingly reddening face. “The one he wrote from Geneva was really good!”
“Ah, so you wrote it in my house, and you never even let me read it. What kind of friend is that?” quipped Richard playfully.
“No way, that would be way too embarrassing,” the redness in Simon's face showing no signs of dissipating.
“Read it to him now,” teased Rachel, “I told you they should be published, and Richard can give you a review, and it was such a short story that it won’t take long.”
“I can’t read that story to another guy, it’s just weird.” Simon looked over to Richard for male approval but was shocked to see Richard's eyebrows raised inquisitively.
“Yes, thank you, Rachel, I would like that, and come on, Simon, you know we have chatted about stuff like that, so no big deal.”
“What!” questioned Rachel. “Guys talk about sex as well?” The rhetoric in her voice declined the need for either of them to respond, and Rachel pushed Simon further. “OK, can I read it? I don’t mind.”
“Can I have a cushion to hide my face then?” said Simon. His ability to hold his false modesty in check served him well. He was quite proud of his stories. Not this short one necessarily, it was OK, but it was in the longer stories, where plots and settings could be grown, that he truly found release for his inner author. Rach was already accessing her phone for the story, and Simon realised she was going to do it. Too much wine, he thought as he glanced across at Richard.
To his surprise Richard seemed quite eager, but hey, who wouldn’t, a few glasses of wine, great food, great company and now a beautifully endearing woman was going to read an erotic story.
“Found it. Are you ready, guys?” a little mischievous edge to her voice.
“Go for it,” said Richard, his slight French accent making him sound like a sophisticated Parisienne Rocky Balboa.
“OK, I will just read it as it is.” Rachel took a deep breath and began,
Elle noticed the young man in the car park as she arrived, his binoculars indicated his passion for birdwatching. She watched him set off west on the circular route of the remote woodlands.
“Too fast, a bit slower Rach,” said Simon.
“Pardon, sounds OK to me,” responded Rachel, perturbed as she was just getting her flow, but she was a bit fast. She felt nervous.
“When I wrote it, I imagined a warm sunny day and a slow movement to all the story,” Simon carefully explained, not wanting to put Rach off.
“Maybe you should read it, Simon,” proclaimed Richard, his voice at once supporting Rachel, whilst simultaneously affirming Simon.
“What do you think? I will if that is OK, Rach,” Simon tactfully enquired.
“Yes, please, then I can lay back, close my eyes, and imagine the scene.” A little smile crept across her face as she winked at Richard.
OK, here we go. Sit back and enjoy, folks, but not too much,” added Simon.
They all laughed again.
(Story continues in "Sexy Vegans Part 2")