THERE is a school of thought which says that being afraid of something is innate, natural, bred deep in the racial memory along with all our other bits of subconscious knowledge, like understanding that red means danger and that things with four eyes, eight legs and poisonous fangs are freakishly over-evolved and should be avoided.
But there is another view which claims that fear is something we pick up on our way through life: therefore that you don't fear falling until after you've fallen the first time, that you have to put your hand in the flame before you realise it burns, and need to bash yourself up a bit before you can learn how to look after yourself.
At just this moment in time - sitting here soon after dawn, safe at last in my own home but still shaking with a terror I don't understand - I couldn't tell you which is the more true. All I know is that there are things you just don't like and try not to do again, such as singeing your finger and skinning your knee, and then there's stuff that makes your spine melt into your shoes, your heart thrash against your ribcage and your internal monologue change from its normal, friendly natter into a drawn-out low scream of horror.
And all because I woke up with some guy. I mean, wha'thafu'?
The day had started so well. A lazy Sunday afternoon spent with friends, occupying a huge circular table in The Trafalgar pub overlooking the river in Greenwich while we drank over lunch and the Sunday papers in the winter sunshine pouring through the windows, all ease and merry jocularity and not a care in the world.
I had just about managed to forget the last time I'd been there, a couple of weeks earlier, meeting the guys from the cricket club for Bazzo's birthday drinks. It was their normal kind of do - drinking vast amounts of beer, leering at every passing girl and as intrigued as ever about their new, single-and-yet-to-shag-any-of-them journalist friend. It is something none of the boys seem to quite understand, and there is a definite jostling going on between them to be first to 'slot', as they so charmingly put it, little old Lilly. There's nothing special about me in this instance; most of them are already slotting several females, wives and girlfriends at the same time, and on the whole they have the same morals and charm as a squad of Premiership footballers and are proud to admit it. But it's always nice to be wanted, and their honest lechery amuses me.
Anyway at one point, intrigued by my admitting there was some guy I was interested in and no, he wasn't one of them, a steaming drunk Bazzo had snatched my phone to read the messages and find out who it was. Knowing full well that my inbox contained shots of his mate Cricket Boy in a state of thrilling undress I tried to grab it back, but Bazzo is 6ft 4ins and built like a brick shithouse and I barely come up to his elbow. He simply held it over his head and walked around the bar guffawing while I leapt ineffectually at him. Frustrated, eventually I jumped onto his back and virtually climbed up his spine to claw at the mobile, which he was holding at arm's length and on which he had managed by fluke to bring up the 'recent calls' list. He glanced at it, stopped dead in his tracks and said aloud: 'Oh, really?'
I responded by attempting to gouge out Bazzo's eyes, which he barely noticed of course, but finally reason - and the barmaid telling us to 'calm the fuck down' - reasserted itself and he handed back the phone with a self-satisfied smirk. He hadn't seen the messages but I knew that now the whole cricket club, in all its boyish glory, would know there was Something Going On. Even though there was nothing, not really, just me texting one of their mates who I had met a few months ago and who lived hundreds of miles away in Leeds and who was not, in any way, a likely boyfriend. But who I really didn't want to hear from his pals that I was talking and giggling about him down here in London. I mean, you have to pretend to be cool.
But that was a couple of weeks ago, and the hot flush of embarrassment had faded enough that I had almost forgotten it until this afternoon when a prickle on the back of my neck made me turn from my table of friends and look at the door.
There, walking into the pub, was Cricket Boy and the entirety of the Greenwich Eleven. My toes curled up like hedgehogs poked with a stick, and refused to come out.
I was staring bang at the door as he walked through it and his face was looking away from me, talking to his brother Raffles. As his head began to turn towards the bar I let my gaze slide over him as though he wasn't there, and felt his gaze fall and then stay on me while I studiously looked over his shoulder at Beamy, who was grinning hello. I called a few pleasantries back, but refused to make eye contact with Cricket Boy. All the guys were glancing between him and I, wiggling their eyebrows, and the thought occurred that maybe he'd told them about the sex texting. First knee-jerk response of a tabloid journalist - someone's turned you over.
But even if not, I still didn't want to look at or acknowledge the tall, handsome boy I fancied. Everyone's eyebrows were annoying me and if he'd heard about the mobile phone incident I wanted him to think I was completely uninterested in him. Completely. So I ignored him.
The guys stayed at the bar, holding their pint glasses in front of their crotches and shouting at each other about the current England squad and other things I have no interest in, and after an hour or so Bridget, Fifi and I decided we were too hammered to hang around and bailed, they to their fashionable riverside apartments and me to my crumbling money pit of a house which has developed more leaks in the past week than Chelsea Football Club. On the way out I waved at the guys, again like a child refusing to acknowledge the only one of them to whom I had been sending pictures of my tits. I'm so grown up.
Later, slumped on the sofa with the hangover kicking in, I felt like a fool. This was someone I'd been flirting with for ages, who'd supplied my first booty call in a decade and who was now finally within arm's reach. What was I going to do, sit and mope over my idiot ex-husband for the rest of my life? I put my hand over my eyes and said: "Oh, you arse, Lilly."
When, an hour later I got a text off Fifi saying: 'Bird, I'm off to The Crown to meet Beamy and the guys. You coming?' I felt like I'd been thrown a rope, and decided the only thing to do with it was hang myself. I rushed to the bathroom, shaved everything that needed shaving, changed into a wonderbra and walked up the hill to Blackheath with my heart pounding in my mouth, fearful in that exciting, stimulated way which heightens all your senses and makes you feel alive and pleasantly dangerous.
When I got to The Crown there was Fifi, and Beamy, Bazzo, Raffles and Cricket Boy. I smiled hello at all of them, asked Beamy for a white wine then - feeling, ridiculously, that it required the same reserves of bravery as going over the top in the trenches - turned to Cricket Boy, smiled again and said: "Hello."
And that was all it took. He smiled back and squeezed my arm, stood and talked to me, we all circulated with one another and shared our stories while I necked white wine like prohibition was coming in the next day. At closing time Raffles, who had been flirting with the curvy barmaid, threw on his scarf, tossed his door key at his brother and went off into the night with her. Cricket Boy, who was sat next to me, put his hand on my thigh and this time I didn't take offence. When we all got turfed out to shiver on the pavement he put an arm around my waist and asked if I'd like to have a drink back at his brother's, and after I slurred coquettishly at him that it all depended on the wine (we both knew it really didn't) he took me by the hand and pulled me down the road. The others shouted some abuse at our giggling backs, and a few moments later I was through a front door, up several flights of stairs and inside a strange flat with a strange boy.
He opened a bottle of chardonnay while I perched on the edge of the tatty sofa, perspiring gently to find myself in such an alien situation. The wine was so cheap it tasted like piss, but he came and sat next to me and we chatted for an hour or so about who knows what, and I relaxed enough to put my head in his lap while he stroked my hair. I thought how odd his lap felt, hard muscly thighs compared to Twatface's well-cushioned form, that no-one had stroked my hair for quite a while and that he smelt - interesting. Masculine, different in some indefinable way.
Eventually he yawned and stretched and said: "Right, you, bed." He showed me which was his toothbrush and while he washed I stripped to wonderbra and pants and burrowed under the covers of his brother's bed and turned my back to the door. I quite hoped, in a stupid girly way, that we would just go to sleep because I was so drunk all I really wanted was to feel someone's arms around me for a hug.
Then Cricket Boy got in next to me, tucked in behind me for a cuddle, and began his assault. I turned towards him and we kissed, and while his hands roamed over me mine were finding out that proper, hard pectoral muscles are truly fascinating, the right amount of chest hair is one of my favourite things and that I don't need, any more, to feel anything more than mild interest in a guy to have sex with him. He lifted me up to sit above him, and I loved his strength. Even though the light was on and the last time I was in that situation I was embarrassed and horrified I could be seen, now I felt womanly and proud and not a moment's concern. Feeling his biceps flex under my hands I felt nothing but lust and a wish to explore and that everything was just marvellous, and then we fell asleep.
I woke with a start some time after 6am, shivering in the cold and squinting against the weak light that was starting to come through the window, and it took a moment to remember where I was. Turning my head on the pillow, I looked at Cricket Boy who was flat on his back and snoring like a cagefighter. I smiled to myself, thinking how great it was not to have to sleep with a snorer any more, and wondered idly what the etiquette was about getting someone to pack it in when they're not your husband and you can't legitimately kick them. My eyes trailed over his chest and then his shoulders, and I noted that the arm nearest to me was the same size as a massive joint of ham.
'Gosh, he's terribly strong,' I thought to myself. 'He wouldn't even need to use both hands if he wanted to kill me.'
And then the terror struck. Lying back on the pillow I stared at the ceiling and realised my mouth had gone dry. My heart was hammering and the hairs on my arms were stood to attention. My breathing came in painful gasps and my ribcage felt like someone was sitting on it. I began to sweat and then panic, wondering how I was going to get away, thinking that the door was locked and no-one knew where I was. What if he got angry with me? How would I defend myself? Without wanting to exaggerate, I was suddenly and more thoroughly afraid than I have ever been and all the thoughts in my head boiled down to one word: 'Run.'
It was madness, of course. I knew that. I tried to breathe more slowly, tell myself there was no reason to worry and other people sleep with strangers all the time without a spack-out panic attack. What the hell's wrong with me? I do kind of know him. Honestly, I wake up next to someone who's really fit and brick it. And my head was killing me, what the hell kind of wine had I been drinking?
I silently padded to the toilet, holding my banging head in my hands, and scrabbled around for some aspirin. Nothing. I filled a glass with water in the kitchen, and it was too cold to do anything but go back to bed. Cricket Boy was still snoring.
The fear had ebbed a little but it stayed, lapping at the edges of my thoughts while I told myself to settle down and go back to sleep. I was anxious and jittery, still feeling a terror I knew was just biding its time before it came back to swamp me again. I looked at the ceiling, looked at the window, looked at my watch. It was nearly 7am and after the night we'd had Cricket Boy was not going to be stirring any time soon. There was no way I was going to sleep and didn't fancy a couple of hours of lying there with my eyes darting about, like those of a mouse stuck in a humane trap waiting for someone to come and not knowing whether they would let it out or smack it over the head. I had to get away...
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