By the start of the second year, Ruby seemed keen to get back to her studies, and I suspected she was also keen to get back to Edinburgh itself. In the New Year, I had to go to Bristol for a trade convention, and I tentatively asked Mary if she wanted to join me. We talked it over, but she decided that it would be too big of a risk, too many stories would have to mesh together to make sure that no one found out. In any case, I would be at the convention most of the day, and our only real time together would have been in the evenings. I understood and appreciated her caution, but I was unhappy none the less.
I decided to make the best I could of the trip and booked myself into a five-star hotel in the center of Bristol. Brightstone Beds was just one of almost 100 retail outlets who were going to be represented at the convention, and I was looking forward to the networking opportunities. As it turned out, the speakers I found quite uninteresting, with nothing much new to say. I got to talk to some fascinating people, however, many of whom were staying at the same place as me, so we carried on networking in the hotel bar.
Although most of the people at the convention were men, there were a few women as well. I ideally wondered if any sort of pursuit was appropriate but decided that a one night stand at a trade convention was just too much of a cliche. I had decided I would be a good married man and turn my eyes away from any female attraction, at least for the days at the convention.
It was getting late, and slowly the crowd at the bar dispersed until it was just me and Joe, who came from a clothing retailer based in Swindon. I had not had this much to drink for a while, and I was feeling the effect as I stood to go to bed, and found it hard to get my balance. Joe grabbed my arm to steady me, and I thanked him, saying it seemed I’d had one too many. He smiled and told me not to worry, and he offered to come to my room to make sure I was OK.
I said it wasn’t necessary, but he insisted, and I decided that it was OK to take help. He held my arm as we walked to my room, which I thought was unnecessary, as I wasn’t that drunk. Getting to my door, I fumbled to find my key and turned to thank Joe for his help. To my surprise, he was close behind me, and before I could say anything he was grabbing me and trying to kiss me. It took me a second to put it all together, but once I did I pushed him away. I think I asked him what he thought he was doing, and he said that I’d been giving him the go ahead all evening. “I saw how you ignored the women in the bar,” he said. I wasn’t prepared to have this conversation, so I told him to leave. He mumbled something about giving out the wrong signals and hurried off down the corridor.
I shut and locked the door behind me, then went to the bathroom and showered for a long time. I was shocked and suddenly feeling insecure. Memories of finding Judy and Jenny together that fateful night came to mind, and then of Mary with Pete and who knows how many other men. Then I started to think about Ruby, all those miles away in Edinburgh. I trusted her with my life, but even so, a woman alone in the middle of a strange city…
The shock had sobered me up, and the shower made me feel alive and wide awake. I suddenly made a decision, packed my bag and called down to the desk to say I was checking out. It was 1 am when I hit the road, and by just before 9 am I was opening the door to Ruby’s apartment.
Ruby was astounded to see me and went from panic when she heard the door opening to concern about my wellbeing. When I recounted my encounter with Joe, she, at first, looked shocked, and then started to laugh. I wanted to be offended by this, but I just couldn’t be, and soon I was laughing with her.
“Well I’ll tell you one thing Tony,” she said, tears of laughter rolling down her cheeks. “I do sometimes worry about other girls hitting on you, but I never thought I’d have to worry about men too!”
She had a lecture at 10.30, so we had time for a nice time on her bed, before she had to run to the University. I took a leisurely shower and slept for a while until Ruby returned. “I’m invited to lunch with some of the other mature students,” she said. “Do you want to come? Or we could just eat something simple here if you like?”
I said I’d be happy to join them, and I was keen to meet some of her fellow students. They turned out to be a mixed bunch, mainly Scottish, but a few people from other parts of the world. We had a pleasant lunch, and then Ruby asked if I was staying overnight. I hadn’t really thought about it either way. I was supposed to be in Bristol today, and so no one would miss me, but I was due back in the office tomorrow. The prospect of a night with Ruby was too alluring, however, and I decided to stay the night and head back home early in the morning. Even though it meant taking an extra days’ vacation, it was worth it.
Ruby had another lecture in the afternoon, but after that, we just chilled around Edinburgh until it was time for bed. I was beginning to see the attraction of this way of life, and even though I missed the Norfolk countryside, I was getting used to Edinburgh too.