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Authors: Sarah Tucker

The Younger Man

BOOK: The Younger Man
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SARAH TUCKER

is a travel journalist, broadcaster and author. A presenter and reporter for
BBC Holiday Programme
and travel writer for the
Guardian
newspaper and the
Times,
she is also the author of the bestselling books
Have Toddler Will Travel
and
Have Baby Will Travel.
She has presented award-winning documentaries for the Discovery Channel. Formerly a travel correspondent for Classic FM and a presenter and deviser of the award-winning weekly travel show
The Jazz FM Travel Guide,
she lives in England and France with her son.

Also by the author:

The Last Year of Being Single

The Last Year of Being Married

Praise for Sarah Tucker’s debut novel,
The Last Year of Being Single:

“A fine debut novel that is quirky and steamy, while it rings true for single women everywhere. Fun, passionate, and honest…”


Romance Reviews Today

“Tucker’s lively debut will appeal to young women experiencing their own confusing times.”


Booklist

“Tucker’s debut novel is much more than your standard chick-lit tale…this is a much darker tale and all the more satisfying for that—Bridget Jones with real problems.”


Press Association

“Tucker tackles infidelity, abortion and sexual repression with aplomb…”


The Mirror

“A painfully honest and emotionally raw diary telling the story of Sarah Giles as she struggles with a faded relationship, abortion and infidelity…”


Irish Examiner

“An amusing but at times serious look at modern day relationships.”


The Book Review

THE YOUNGER MAN
Sarah Tucker
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Big thank you to Sam, who is wonderful. I owe you so much. And Kathryn—thank you for looking after me in Toronto so beautifully. To my friends Caroline, Helen, Jo (to whom I sent a text in error and gave me an idea in this book—it can and does happen…); Kim, Linda, Nim, Amanda, Claire, Carron, Clare, Coline and Sarah, all of whom are extremely special to me. I am lucky to call you friends. To Will, who’s given me so much support; I will be eternally grateful. And Jude, who’s the best neighbour anyone could hope for. To Aimee and Mike, who have been angels in my life. To Julia and Nicola, for their support in the real world. And Dad, who’s always there when I need you. Thank you. And to Jeremy.

And to the younger men who I think would probably prefer not to be named and who have in part inspired this story. Thank you for your energy, enthusiasm, sense of romance, humour and imagination. In some small way, I couldn’t have done it without you.

To Tom, who is and will always be my sunshine and inspiration and the only true love of my life. I love you more each moment of each second of each day, Tom. And to Doreen and Hazel, who are my guardian angels in so many ways.

Contents
Chapter One
The Importance of Being a Sarah

‘O
uch!’

Angie, forty-five, pretty in a hard sort of way, is taking care of business. She is, she unashamedly admits, the neatest bikini waxer in the world. I’ve been visiting Angie for years at my local gym. The GoForIt Fitness Club is an extortionately priced black-and-shiny-chrome ego centre for professionals, heavy on self-absorption, light on self-awareness. The purposely heavy-glassed building tries to be desperately welcoming with the Jane Packer flower arrangements at fifty quid a twig in reception, and the blinding white waffle towels in the changing rooms which everyone, whether they can afford to buy their own or not, nicks. The overly air-conditioned studios have lights that make members look far more blotchy and fat than they are—or as they are—I can’t work out which. And the nurs
ery is equipped with everything money can buy except carers who like children. Sit and listen in this place for ten minutes and you need not buy the Sunday papers. There are the wives and mistresses who twitter to acquaintances they need to know rather than want to know, believing friends are to be kept close, enemies kept closer. Their spindly manicured fingers swooping like swifts over tasteless, indigestible salads, furtively nibbling at the organic cucumber when no one is looking. There are the husbands who hide behind broadsheet papers or mumble into hands-free phones and window-shop at the aerobicized twenty- and thirty-somethings in their sweaty White Stuff gear. Then you have the tanned and toned tennis coaches in their whites, calf and thigh muscles deliciously defined, who strut like peacocks, their every word treated like a grain of worldly wisdom by emaciated Traceys who live in Barnes and Wimbledon Village who want to improve their stroke, on the court. The supersized eighty-degree heated swimming pools are full of noisy children watched neatly on the side by pained mothers who’ve just had their nails, toes, noses, eyes done and look ridiculous in the plastic blue bags they have to wear around their latest Manolos or Jimmy Choos. No working class here of course, but then that’s not what GoForIt is all about. It’s about professionals and professional accessories looking good and being watched. And it remains, despite the happy clappy attempts of the earnest club manager to squeeze soul into the place, as anaemic and false as the smiles on the ladies who Pilates through the pain. I go there for one reason only. I go there because of Angie.

Angie is sharp of chin and nose and wit. She has luxuriant long auburn hair and is permanently tanned, but genuinely so (no St. Tropez muck for her, she tells me) and is model thin. Long of leg, body and arm, she looks like a sexy spider, if there is such a thing. She’s had two husbands, numerous lovers and several abortions. I think she has Mafia connections because she’s always hinting at me should I ever want anyone ‘seen’ to, I should give her a call. I don’t think she means waxing. She talks in a posh cockney accent so she sounds Australian most of the time. She’s become my counsellor as well as my waxer. Over the years, she’s seen me at my most vulnerable, emotionally as well as physically. And well, to be honest, as every time I see her I’m naked from the waist down, my legs splayed dangling in midair, like some gigantic dead fly, I feel it’s a tad churlish not to open up lyrically as well as literally about baggage and stuff whilst she waxes away. She’s waxed through my marriage (painful), the birth of my child (painful but worth it), and my divorce (very painful and thanks to focused solicitors Hughes Fowler and Symth very worth it), but her waxing always causes me glazed eye distress. It’s okay pain. It’s positive pain. It distracts from other pain, alternating between the exquisite pain induced by my career, the men, the lack of men, the sex and the frustrations—the latter two are invariably interrelated. She’s given me pain. I’ve given her a few laughs. Luckily, she doesn’t charge for the listening, nor the advice, just the waxing.

Today, she’s giving me a ‘target’. An arrow pointing abruptly upward toward my belly button. I’m here with best
friend and soul mate Fran, who’s in the next cubicle getting her finger and toenails French polished and eyelashes permed for, I’ve worked out, £1 a lash.

‘Hazel, now put your hand on there. That’s it. And stretch that bit. Yep. That bit. Yep. All in the stretch. And pull that bit over there. That bit, and hold on tight…’

Rip. The green-pea-coloured tea tree wax, which is allegedly less aggressive than the powder-pink sludge variety, tears fire into crotch. The green sludge is supposed to soothe away all possible pain. It still fucking hurts.

‘Aghh, that hurts even more.’ I whimper, surveying red blotches blossoming all over my nether regions. ‘Are you sure the men won’t think I’ve got herpes?’

‘No, no, Hazel, this is quite normal. Quite normal. The blotches will disappear. Try not to sleep with any one tonight darling, or if you do, do it in the dark. But they might feel the bumps anyway and suspect something’s up. Plus, don’t have a bath, so they may not want to sleep with you anyway. Whatever, when the blotches are gone, you’ll love it. You just wait. They’ll love it. They’ll get all excited when they see it.’

I’m trying really hard to visualise any of my recent boyfriends getting excited by my arrow. Their faces grinning inanely like five-year-old schoolboys who’ve discovered the delight of the latest PlayStation game for the first time. I can’t. All I see are blotches. I imagine their faces contorted in astonishment and possible disgust as I seductively pull down the latest lacy almost-there pink number from Victoria’s Secret to reveal one of my own.

Really? I thought most men like something there.

Well, there is something there. An arrow. And it looks sexy. If I were a man, I’d sleep with you, Hazel. And men don’t like it messy. They’re lazy. They like a challenge only if they think it’s achievable. They don’t like to forage for anything too long, Hazel.

Some men like a challenge.

You just wait.

Angie winks at me, as though she knows I’m about to be pounced on, tigerlike, by a prospective date as soon as I leave the room. I’m not convinced but say, ‘Thank you, Angie. You’re sweet.’

‘So, what made you go all the way, love?’ Angie asks, gently rubbing cream into my crotch while I try desperately not to get turned on. I’m not gay, but at moments like this, I wish men could stroke women more like women stroke women, if you know what I mean.

Not realising what she’s referring to initially, I pause briefly and then realising she’s referring to my decision to have a Brazilian wax, I answer.

‘Oh, I wanted a tidy up. Something different. I’m the big Four-O this year, so I want to change a few things. Take a chance, I suppose, and I might as well start here,’ I say, pointing to my crotch.

I look down at myself. My almost forty-year-old crotch. Not bad. Doesn’t look its age considering what it’s been through, but I don’t know what an old woman’s crotch looks like. Not the sort of thing you stare at in the changing room. Not the women’s one anyway. I expect
men compare size but women don’t have that. I’ve occasionally asked boyfriends if women are ‘different’ down there. They’ve all said, they are. Shape, size and taste. Some hair is soft and downy, others, you could cut your chin on. Some taste, er, strong, others like strawberries. Yeah right. They’ve reassured me mine is lovely and soft and I taste wonderful, bless them. Not that I would believe any of it, of course. They would say anything to get good head.

‘A fine place to start the new decade as any, I suppose. Must say, you don’t look forty. You’re in good nick. You don’t have many grey hairs.’

‘I have highlights.’

‘I’m not talking about those on your head, Hazel.’

Oh, right.

‘Plus, you don’t have lines on your face.’ (Looks more closely at my eyes) ‘Well, not many anyway. Helps I suppose, you not being married.’

I smile. ‘No, happily divorced. Must be five years now, Angie.’

‘Yep, must be about five. Watched you go down two dress sizes, giving me a running commentary as it were. Spontaneously bursting into tears halfway through the facials. Angry one minute, sad the next, in mourning one day, full of excitement the day after. But now look at you. You’re constant, well, as constant as I think you’re ever going to be, Hazel, and you’re happy. You’re a right SARAH. Single and Rich And Happy.’

‘I’m not rich. I’m comfortable. Happy? Yes, I’m happy
and happily single. When I had the energy to make space for a man, they couldn’t handle a single mum with a young child. Now Sarah’s all grown up and off to university soon, I don’t know if I want someone else to care for.’

‘They could care for you, Hazel.’

‘No, it doesn’t work that way, Angie. You end up caring for the man. They’re all little boys—whatever their age. Frankly, I can only see the downsides to marriage these days. None of the upsides.’

Angie looks at me like a mother looking at her child whom she knows is fibbing. She knows me too well. She knows I’m a divorce lawyer and a very successful one at that. When it comes to talking to prospective clients about their relationships, I find a negative in every positive if I want to, and a positive in something negative. So perhaps I’ve started to believe my own bullshit over the years. She says my views are warped and harsh and cynical. I say they are realistic and based on observation and listening. A lot. But I have hope. And my colleagues tell me that hope I have, that single ingredient, makes me human. I think it just makes me weak.

‘No boyfriends then?’

‘No boyfriend, right. I don’t have boyfriends anymore. I think when you’re over thirty they become lovers. How can you call a forty- or fifty-something-year-old a
boyfriend.

Angie looks at me again, giving me a wry smile. She’s penetrated my façade of ambivalence. The one I’ve be
come so good at nurturing and practicing over the years. She knows, Angie knows, I would like to meet someone, but it sounds so pathetic. That phrase ‘Dear Agony Aunt, I want to meet someone.’ As though I don’t meet another human being in my daily life. Of course I meet men. I meet loads of eligible deeply unhappy men. They also happen to be deeply and overtly embittered and at that particular time of their life, usually openly misogynistic. And the wanting to meet people bit sounds strangely adolescent or alien or both. And it’s taken up so much of my thinking time in past years. A waste of thinking space when there is so much more to do and think about and care about in this world—bigger issues, like, well, like world peace and the cure for cancer, than ‘wanting to meet someone’. I’m thirty-nine, for Christ’s sake. Not nineteen. Yet I want that singular selfish rush to the brain—and be honest with yourself, Hazel—to other parts of my body as well. That buzz of electricity when you’re within three inches of the person’s arm that I always misguidedly diagnose as love, and is the more short-lived but no less potent virus known as chemistry.

Angie laughs. ‘Yep, men are boys, some behave like babies, like my first husband—I had to do absolutely everything for him. My second was more like a toddler, with his alternating tantrums and sulking when I didn’t wear black suspenders and thigh-high boots on Friday nights. Most men are happy with fish on Fridays.’

She stops and smiles, realising what she’s said.

‘And my last boyfriend was in an eternal state of ado
lescence, angry with life and himself. At the moment I think I’ve struck lucky because I’ve got one who’s about the emotional age of six—malleable, does as he’s told, cute as a button and happy with his lot. But you’re a youngster yourself, Hazel. Always think of you as a free spirit, I do.’

‘I try to be. I’ve found focus and financial freedom in work I find challenging and enjoy and a happiness I couldn’t have imagined in bringing up Sarah by myself.’

Sarah is my teenage daughter. She’s seventeen, has lived with me all her life and is leaving for university in September to study French and politics and life. I will miss her. Correction. I am weeping inside at the thought of her going. But it will pass eventually. She added to my life in a way I couldn’t have imagined. I felt I had one more person on this planet on my side when I gave birth to her. Whereas when I married I felt I dissolved as a person. I even lost my name. But perhaps it was just the man I chose. And what was true of him isn’t of all men. I hope. As for Sarah, we’ve been a good team; I love her more than anything in the known and yet to be discovered universe. My teenage daughter, with her bright blue eyes and long shiny brown hair, in her Gap jeans and Quiksilver sweat shirt is grinning at me in my mind’s eye. She’s gorgeous and smart, but I’m biased. Thankfully, the A level board agree with me and they gave her grades good enough to get her into Bristol, where she says all the talent is and she can still have fun and get a fine degree. I will miss her. I will miss her dreadfully. Sometimes when
I think about it, and I try not to too much, I get a heartache and feel it’s breaking. This sounds so dramatic but she’s been so much a part of my life, has Sarah. I’ve read to her over a thousand times at night, and cherished each bedtime kiss and hug in the morning. Her favourite was always the book
Big Rabbit and Little Rabbit,
about how Big Rabbit loved Little Rabbit to the moon and back. I’ve nursed her through chicken pox and measles and stitches when her granddad was chasing her round the table and she hit her head on the corner and blood was everywhere. And I came and scooped her up and went to the car, running into the casualty department, asking, well, demanding someone see her immediately. And bless the National Health then, they did. I’ve had the pooey bottoms and holding-breath-banging-head-on-floor tantrums (a technique some of my grown-up clients also use in court when they don’t get their own way), Teletubbies and Power Rangers (she always was a bit of a tomboy). I’ve met the boyfriends from hell and those from the local public school (usually the same). She’s seen a lot of her dad and that’s done her good and she’s made her own mind up about him. She’s meant I couldn’t go out with the other adults on so many occasions I can’t count, but I don’t begrudge missing a single one of them. She’s been wonderful company, both my right and left arm and I will miss her to the moon and back a zillion times over when she goes to college. And I mustn’t think of that now, because if I do, I will cry.

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