A Swing at Love will be out next week (on Friday 3 August 2018). Here’s a preview. Enjoy!
A Swing at Love
© Harper & Caroline Bliss
Diane’s ankle twisted as the heel of her shoe caught in between two cobbles. She steadied herself on a parked car and gave her foot a tentative turn to determine if there was any serious damage. A light pain jabbed her but it was nothing unbearable.
She continued her walk to the clubhouse at a more careful pace. She was already late, but being one minute less late wasn’t worth ending up in a wheelchair for. The bloody high heels were a couple of inches taller than Diane was used to wearing . But they matched her maroon evening gown so well, or so the lady in the shop had told her, rightly seeing her as easy prey.
She climbed the steps to the main entrance and hurried towards the cloakroom.
“Good evening, Mrs Thompson,” the attendant greeted her.
“Has the presentation started yet?” Diane asked as she took off her coat and handed it over.
“I’m afraid it has.” The girl smiled apologetically.
Diane made her way to the clubhouse’s main function area. She could already hear the booming voice of the club’s president. She reached the room and slipped in at the back.
The sofas and armchairs that usually clustered around the elegant coffee tables had been pushed to the side. Behind them the large bay windows overlooked the putting green and eighteenth hole, now shrouded in dusk. Several elaborate flower arrangements adorned the ledge in front of the windows. The decorating committee had obviously spared no expense for the event.
Diane craned her neck to try and see the front of the room, where Stephen, the Royal Tynebury Golf Club’s president, was giving his speech to open the new season and introduce the new members, but even her higher heels didn’t make Diane tall enough to see above the heads in front of her.
“In conclusion, I wish you all the best season you’ve ever had,” Stephen’s voice came over the speakers, “and without further ado, please enjoy the wonderful food and drinks we have lined up for you tonight.”
The crowd erupted in applause and, on cue, waiters brought out trays of champagne from the large oak bar.
Diane made her way through the crowd, greeting people and making small talk as she progressed. She kept her eyes peeled for her ex-husband and spotted him towards the front of the room, his arm around the shoulders of Debbie. In Diane’s mind that name always came out in a childish tone, probably because Debbie was about the same age as Diane’s own son.
“I think her boobs look bigger, she must have had them done over the winter,” a familiar voice whispered in Diane’s ear from behind.
Diane smiled as she turned around to face her friend, Isabelle. “Not what I was looking at, but now that you mention it.” Diane opened her arms and embraced Isabelle. “It’s so good to see you. When did you get back from Florida?”
“Two days ago,” Isabelle replied. “I would have called you, but the transition from Floridian sunshine to British drizzle was rough.” She shivered. “Anyway, catch me up on the gossip. Did anything juicy happen while I was away?”
Diane laughed. “I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. I haven’t been here much, what with the course being closed a lot because of the weather.”
Isabelle squinted at Diane. “Your absence wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that young Debbie there has been taking lessons and visiting the driving range more often—probably to prove she’s worthy of her new member status?”
“Let’s say that didn’t help my motivation to spend time at the driving range.”
A waiter stopped in front of them. “Mrs Thompson, Mrs Ardery, can I offer you a glass of champagne?”
Both women eagerly grabbed a glass.
“Speaking of new members,” Diane said, “where are Rob and Matthew? I only got here at the end of the speech so didn’t get to see Matthew being introduced.”
Isabelle shook her head. “He wasn’t accepted. They’re not here tonight.”
“What?” Diane exclaimed. “Why? What happened?”
Isabelle sighed. “They weren’t given a reason. I haven’t been able to corner our dear president yet to grill him about it, but trust me, I’ll get to him before the night is over.”
“Would you like me to make some enquiries?” Diane asked. “I know at least one other person on the admissions committee.”
“No, not yet,” Isabelle answered. “I want to see what pretext he gives me first. Of course, he won’t tell me openly that this place is still so stuck in the fifties that the same-sex spouse of one of their lifelong members is less acceptable than the classless bimbo your ex now calls his wife. No offence.”
“Oh, none taken.” Diane smiled at her friend. She knew Isabelle was probably much more affected by her son-in-law’s rejection than she was willing to let on tonight. “It’s so good to have you back. Let’s set up a date this week to play a round. I need to get back in shape before the Ladies’ trip next month. You can show me again how wintering in the Florida sun does wonders for your game.”
“Diane.” A male voice came from behind her.
Diane cringed and turned around to face her ex-husband. “Lawrence.” She offered a cheek for him to peck, grateful at least that he’d had the courtesy to come and greet her alone. “How are you?” She had to admit he still looked quite dashing, especially in his tuxedo.
“Jolly good, my dear. And yourself?”
Diane tried to keep her tone neutral as she replied, “I’m very well, thanks.”
An awkward silence followed. Diane and Lawrence’s divorce had been finalised five years ago, but they had not yet reached the stage where small talk came easily.
Diane hoped Isabelle would say something to break the tension, but when she turned her head to give her a pointed look, she found her friend had scarpered off somewhere, abandoning her to face Lawrence alone.
Diane turned back towards him. “Have you seen Timothy recently?” At least their son should be a safe topic.
“He and Lucy came over for dinner the other night. Debbie made shepherd’s pie. You know that’s still his favourite.”
Diane fought to suppress an eye-roll. “How lovely.” No way did Debbie cook a shepherd’s pie as good as hers. “I hear Debbie is now a full member of the club. You must be delighted.”
“Ah, yes,” Lawrence beamed. “Very happy, quite right. She’s been working hard, trying to get certified so she can start playing on the course.”
Diane could see Debbie moving through the crowd, making her way towards Lawrence. “Excuse me, would you? I need to powder my nose before we get ushered into the dining room.” She turned around and walked towards the exit into the hall. Attempting a civil conversation with her ex was one thing, but having to be polite to his new wife was not on the cards yet.
On her way out, Diane deposited her empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter and grabbed a new one. More bubbles were required to fight back against the bad taste she got in her mouth every time she saw Lawrence and Debbie together.
She took her glass into the ladies’ changing room, hoping to find a quiet spot to gather herself before having to sit down for the dinner, which was bound to last too long. It was the same thing every year.
She sat on a stool in front of a vanity and checked her make-up in the mirror. She ruffled through her small evening purse to find her lipstick.
The door to the dressing room opened. A short-haired woman Diane didn’t know walked in and looked around uncertainly. She must be one of the new members.
“Are you looking for the bathroom?” Diane asked. “It’s past those lockers on the right, then through the first door.”
“Thank you,” the woman replied with a smile. “I haven’t quite got the lay of the land yet.” She walked in the direction Diane had indicated and disappeared into the bathroom.
Diane turned back to face her image in the mirror. She applied a new coat of lipstick, checked her eyeliner was still as it should be, and stood. The pain in her ankle had all but disappeared—probably thanks to the two glasses of champagne she’d had. She took one last look in the full-length mirror—her shoes did indeed match her gown perfectly, she couldn’t take issue with the salesgirl’s taste. Debbie might have almost thirty years on her, but youth could never make up for elegance. At least that was the mantra Diane was going to stick to tonight.
She pulled back her shoulders and headed out towards the function room as the bell was rung to call people to dinner.
Tamsin hurried out of the ladies’ room and into the grand dining room. Long tables were set with folded name cards next to the plates. Good. She didn’t have to scour for a seat—all she had to manage was find her assigned spot. A wooden lectern displayed the seating plan. A crowd huddled around it, so Tamsin waited and cast her glance over her new place of employ. This evening might be just a dinner, but to Tamsin it was as nerve-racking as the first day on a new job. So many unknown people, so many names and faces to put together and remember.
The crowd at the lectern had dispersed and Tamsin scanned the large piece of paper for her name. Now all she had to do was locate the table. A few people were already sitting there. They probably all knew each other—but mingling with the members was part of her job.
She walked over to her table and spotted the friendly lady who had shown her where the bathroom was earlier. She smiled and found her seat, right next to her.
“Hi,” the woman said, extending her hand, “Diane Thompson.”
“Tamsin Foxley.” Tamsin shook the woman’s hand. Her grip was firm. Her blue-eyed gaze on Tamsin unwavering.
“Lovely to meet you, Tamsin,” Diane said. “You must be one of the new members.” She smiled apologetically. “I arrived late so I missed the introductions.”
“I’m the new pro, actually,” Tamsin said. “I’ll be replacing Darren when he leaves in a few weeks.”
“Oh, how wonderful,” Diane said, turning towards her more. “My game’s always a bit rusty after the winter break. I must book some lessons.” Diane pushed her glasses up her nose.
Tamsin felt a little under-dressed next to her, but she’d never really been one to dress up.
“Of course. That would be lovely,” Tamsin said.
“Diane, how are you?” An elderly man had approached and put his hands briefly on Diane’s shoulders. “I believe you’re stuck with me for the evening.” He pulled back the chair on the other side of Diane.
“Have you met our new pro, Reg?” Diane said.
Tamsin repeated the motions she’d gone through many a time since she’d arrived at the club: shaking hands, smiling broadly, and replying to chit-chat.
Reg kept Diane engaged in conversation for a while. Tamsin was relieved she’d been seated next to someone as welcoming as Diane. If the opening dinners of her previous club were anything to go by, they’d be stuck with each other for a few hours.
Tamsin picked up the menu card that stood in front of her plate. Smoked salmon as a starter and steak for mains. The number of times she’d had a similar meal at a golf club. She smiled inwardly. Golfs clubs were not known for grand innovations and any change—even to the menu—was always slow.
“Which club were you with before?” Diane had turned to her again. She gave Tamsin a warm smile.
“Chalstone,” Tamsin said, a pang of regret shooting through her.
“Any particular reason you left?” Diane inquired.
“I was in dire need of a change of scenery.” She sent Diane a wide smile. Tamsin was eager to keep the real reason she left—or rather, had been forced to leave—under wraps.
Diane nodded thoughtfully. “Do you live nearby?” She took a sip of the white wine that had just been poured.
“I found a place on the outskirts of the village,” Tamsin said. She looked at the glass in front of her but left it alone for now. She’d had two glasses of champagne already and, unlike most of the other guests, she wasn’t here to relax tonight. “Very quiet and green.” Tamsin had fallen in love with the small cottage, which was modest, but stretched her rental budget considerably nonetheless. Even though Tynebury was a good number of miles from London, it was still a commutable distance to the capital.
“Welcome to the club and the village, then.” Diane lifted her glass.
Tamsin mirrored her action. They clinked rims. “Are you joining the Ladies’ trip to Portugal next month?” Tamsin asked.
“Oh, yes.” The skin around Diane’s eyes crinkled when she smiled. “I’m looking forward to it greatly. Winter has been long. I need a good dose of vitamin D.”
“And an equally good dose of golf, I hope.” Tamsin attempted a joke.
“That goes without saying.” Diane drank again, then set her glass down. “I do miss playing during the off season.” Her gaze on Tamsin was kind. “I should book those lessons before the trip, by the way. I hope your calendar’s not too full yet.”
“I’m sure I can squeeze you in.” Tamsin’s calendar was still very empty. She wanted—needed—to teach as many classes as she possibly could.
Diane’s eyes locked on a woman strutting past their table. When she glanced back at Tamsin, the kindness in her eyes had disappeared.
“That woman,” Diane said with utter contempt in her voice. She straightened her spine. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”
“Debbie?” Tamsin inquired. She’d been introduced to Debbie earlier, who had promptly also inquired about lessons.
“It’s just so unfair.” Diane leaned in Tamsin’s direction. Tamsin caught a whiff of her flowery perfume. “Since you’ll be working here, you might as well learn about the medieval politics of this club.” She shook her head. “My good friend Isabelle’s gay son-in-law has been refused membership, while my ex-husband’s trollop of a wife has been accepted,” she whispered. “This club has not yet entered the twenty-first century, I can assure you that.”
Tamsin momentarily stiffened at the mention of the word gay. She reached for her glass of wine so she had some time to regroup. “That’s simply appalling.”
“It is, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure Matthew gets accepted next year. What is this? The middle ages?”
“I sure hope not.” Tamsin was distracted by a bunch of waiting staff milling about. The starters were being served. With that, Reg engaged Diane in conversation again, and Tamsin was left in welcome silence to ponder the information she’d just received.
* * *
Tamsin scanned the improvised dance floor. She wasn’t much of a dancer and she preferred leaning against the bar, letting her gaze wander. Dinner had gone well, largely thanks to her welcoming neighbour. More people had come up to her after dinner to introduce themselves and enquire about lessons. She knew from experience, however, that members of these old, traditional golf clubs were always very welcoming at first, brimming with courtesy and warm smiles, but it was only the thinnest veneer that hid the true nature of some.
A man sidled up to her. “How are you holding up?” She recognised him as Lionel, who had sat at the far end of her table, which, Diane had revealed near the end of the meal, was dubbed the ‘singles’ table’.
“Just fine, thanks.”
Lionel had loosened his tie and his eyes were glazed over.
Tamsin took a small step away, not that she considered him in any condition to take a subtle hint.
“You’ll find us a lovely, civilised bunch.” He all but slurred his words.
Yeah right. Like the lot at my previous club.
“I’m sure you all are.” Tamsin had little choice but to oblige him.
“I hear you’re renting the Andersons’ cottage,” Lionel said. “Is it just you there or do you have a husband and some kids running around?”
How quickly word spread in villages—and clubs—like this. Of course, the Andersons were members here as well. Any newcomer would have tongues wagging. She knew how this worked.
“Just me and Bramble, my dog,” she said. Bramble had acclimatised to the cottage and its surroundings instantly. Tamsin adored the cottage but would need a bit more time with everything surrounding it.
Lionel took a step closer again. “We’ll have to make sure you don’t get too lonely over there then.” Lionel tried a smile but the corners of his mouth seemed too lazy to quirk up all the way
Tamsin thought it best to not dignify that with an answer. She looked at the dance floor again. Diane was chatting to a woman at the edge of the bopping crowd. She didn’t seem like much of a dancer either. Of all the people who had inquired about lessons tonight, Tamsin looked forward to teaching Diane the most. They’d spent the most time together, so it was only logical. She didn’t much look forward to teaching Debbie—what had Diane called her again. A trollop? Tamsin snickered inwardly, careful not to show any outward signs of her glee, lest Lionel believed she was actually enjoying their conversation.
Diane must have felt Tamsin’s gaze on her because she looked in her direction and gave her a wave. Her gaze lingered, then meandered to the person next to Tamsin. She rolled her eyes.
Emboldened by Diane’s small display of sympathy at being stuck with a drunken Lionel, Tamsin said, “Please excuse me.” She turned away from him, only to be accosted as soon as she rounded the corner of the bar by another member in dire need of golf lessons.
<<End of preview>>
A Swing at Love will be available on Friday 3 August 2018