This is the fourth part of a fiction serial, in 751 words.
Before Becky, there were a couple of others. We flashed our money around back then, and could often take our pick of the Essex girls who were also hanging around after work, or sometimes the posh birds looking for a bit of rough. I got regular with a girl named Charly who it turned out lived quite close to me. I thought her name was short for Charlotte at first, but it turned out her parents had actually called her Charly.
She was big on fake tan and tattoos, and spent over half her salary on beauty treatments and clothes. Her parents treated her like an Essex princess, and she acted like one too. I had learned to drive in college, and finally had enough money to get a car. But it sat on the driveway of the house all week, as it was no good even thinking about driving into work. So I used it at weekends to take Charly around, and her destination of choice was usually Lakeside shopping centre, or the snazzy one called Bluewater, across the river in Kent.
It seemed perfectly normal for her to want to spend every date in a shopping mall, as we could also see a film, and have a meal there. But getting together for sex was tricky. No chance in her house, and awkard in mine, even though I knew they wouldn’t say anything if she stopped over. So it had to be a quickie in the car, mostly in the sports ground car park near where I lived. Then after six months, her dad had a word with me about where we were going to live when we got married. He was thinking about an extension over the garage, he told me, and said it was ours if we wanted it.
I ran a mile after that. Well not literally, I worked out a plan for her to chuck me. Started by saying I wasn’t well and missing two dates. Then forgetting to ring her when I said I would. I waited to deliver the killer blow one night when I left her at home waiting for me to pick her up. When I was half an hour late, she rang me, and I said I had to meet an old mate. Well, a princess like her isn’t going to be messed about, so she told me. And at least I gave her the satisfaction of being able to convince herself she broke up with me.
That did make me realise something though. I needed my own place. I earned enough to get a mortgage, and I had the ten percent deposit saved, as my mum never took anything off me for living at home. She said she wouldn’t, as long as I saved it up for something sensible. Well a one-bedroom starter home in Beckton was sensible enough, and that was what I bought. My own dedicated parking space, open-plan ground floor with a small patio garden, and a bedroom with en-suite upstairs. Then I could get the DLR into work, and have an extra twenty minutes in bed.
My parents helped with furniture and stuff, and my dad took a week off to paint all the walls and ceilings for me. My first night alone in my own house felt really weird. I sat out on the patio and ate a pizza from its box, washed down with two beers. Beckton was a soulless development, with little going for it. But it would do me for now.
I found out that fending for myself was bloody expensive. Electric bills, council tax, water rates, all on top of the mortgage. I stopped eating out after work, and started to be careful with money for the first time in my life. The guys in the office ribbed me about not going out for beers, but I knew that would end up with a meal, maybe a club, then a taxi home. I might be able to do that once a month, but not four nights a week, like those guys. Of course, they did most of it on credit cards, but if I used a card to buy anything, the debt started to play on my mind.
I settled for lonely nights in front of the telly, and Sunday dinners at my parents’ house. They praised me up for being sensible, but I felt like I had already given up, and got old before my time.
Then I met Justina.