Step 2: Red Dress
“Thea! That’s preposterous! I’m not buying yet another dress!” Caitlin flails her left, unoccupied arm, and makes a few irritated puffy noises into her mobile. “If I buy anything else for the sole purpose of seducing a bloke, a shag with him will feel like hiring an escort. Once we’re done, I’ll know exactly how much it cost me!”
Caitlin climbs into her Prius, and smacks the door behind her.
“Cai, you asked for my help, may I remind you!” Thea is full of righteous indignation.
Caitlin’s phone beeps, and she sees she has another call.
“Thea, shush! He’s ringing me! What do I do?!”
“Remember that film with the yummy Scot we watched couple months ago?” Caitlin realizes Thea means The Ugly Truth with Gerard Butler.
“I’m not letting him go to voicemail! And even more so, I’m not picking up and calling him a wrong name. I can see his office number on my screen!”
“Suit yourself,” Thea answers in an haughty tone. “At least don’t agree on the day he proposes.”
“But… But… I don’t know what to say!” Caitlin thrashes in her car, not sure what to do; she drops the keys; her purse jumps under her feet from her lap; and finally she manages to swipe the screen, and choke out a ‘hello.’
“Dr. McGrath?” Oh god, how is he not assaulted on the everyday basis with a voice like that?!
“Uh-huh,” answers Dr. McGrath, PhD in Mediaeval French Lit, and Women Studies. You’d think a person with all these degrees would be more articulate. “Dr. Oakes?”
“Perhaps, we could use our first names, Caitlin?” Caitlin sags in her seat, and closes her eyes. Perhaps, they could – but how will she refrain from rubbing herself up and down all his glorious bod like a cat if he does it in public settings?
“Sure, John, I’d love to. What can I do for you?”
“I was hoping you were still interested in going to that exhibition next week. The photography one, by the American artist, August Anderson?”
Caitlin confirms she is. They set up day and time, and agree to meet in a coffee shop in front of the gallery. He’s talking; Caitlin’s wondering if it’s just her, or the students at his lectures also have out-of-body experiences at the sounds of his wonderful Northern accented speech? It’s like velvet, chocolate fondue, and the 16 year old Lagavulin.
She hangs up, and then realizes that she has the Master of One-Off, the magnificent Thea Martin still waiting on the other line. And Caitlin has just openly disobeyed an order and agreed on the day he offered. She’s also probably broken couple rules she doesn’t even know about. Caitlin exhales, and braces herself.
The same evening the two ladies are having a ladies’ night. And it doesn’t involve the activities, prohibited by the Equality and Human Rights Commission as unlawful gender discrimination. It involves a film, sweets, and a jar of Phenomé Blossom Therapeutic Face Mask.
While Matt Damon is industriously planting potatoes on the screen, Caitlin is chewing a macaron.
“I still think you should get a new dress. And it should be red,” Thea suddenly announces, and Caitlin ignores her, as if absorbed in the intricacies of Martian agriculture. “Cai…”
“Thea, I’m not buying a dress. I already bought one for your Step One. I’ll still wear it later, so that wasn’t a complete waste; but that’s the end of it. I’ll find something to wear to the photo exhibition.”
“But how are you going to execute Step 2. Red Dress, if you don’t have a red dress?” Thea asks pouting, and Caitlin finally turns to her.
“What exactly is Step 2?”
“Well, Caitlin, I’m glad you asked…” Thea grins widely. “It involves three simple sub-steps. Stun. Tease. Retreat.”
“Sounds complicated.” Catlin sighs and picks up another macaron. “Can I just spend an evening with him? Maybe he didn’t even get what it’s all about last time, you know…” She’s sad to admit that the thought has visited her before. What if he didn’t quite understand that she was asking him out with shag being the outing’s direct and sole consequence?
“Wow, McGrath! Wait a minute!” Thea exclaims, and pauses the film. “Are you saying me there’s a chance that he might be expecting something else out of it? Not a nice thorough one-off?” Thea looks suddenly mortified. “Goodness, Cai, are you saying you might have hinted it was a… date?” Thea spits out the last word like the worst of swearings.
“No! I mean, maybe… I don’t know… I hope not!” Caitlin mournfully ponders the purple almond beauty in her hand.
“What do you mean ‘maybe?’ It’s either shag, or… blagh… romance! What else is there?”
“Maybe, he thinks we’re just… mates. He had no one to go there with, and I offered. Maybe he’s spoken for. He’s officially single, I checked. But maybe he isn’t looking.”
“Who cares, Cai? If he has a doxy, or a girlfriend, it’s his business!” Thea scoffs. “You should only bother to understand where he’s taking it, and redirect him if the poor sod is lost.”
“Maybe he’s gay,” Caitlin offers another option, and Thea chokes on the tea she was drinking.
“Cai, how off is your sex-dar if you can’t tell?”
“Thea, I haven’t had sex in five years! How off do you think the poor gadget is?” Caitlin answers snappily, and jumps off her sofa to march to the kitchen to start the kettle.
“God, McGrath, I’d have died!” Thea hollers after her.
Caitlin rolls her eyes. Thea wouldn’t understand, so there is no point to explain – but Caitlin just didn’t feel like it. It wasn’t important. It wasn’t interesting. It is interesting now.
Caitlin is standing by the sink watching water run into the kettle.
She needs to make sure that Dr. Oakes – with his wide shoulders, mouth-watering jaw line under the exciting black and silver beard, and his large scorching hands – knows exactly what it’s all about, and where it’s going.
And perhaps for the first time in her life, Caitlin agrees with Thea wholeheartedly. Romance is out of the question! Caitlin doesn’t need a man! She needs a man after midnight – as in ‘gimme, gimme, gimme’ – and after that toodle-pips, and adios!
Caitlin loves her life. It’s fulfilling, rewarding, and exactly the way Caitlin wants it to be. She has her work, her students, her books, her paintings – her interests and habits. She doesn’t want to acclimatize to another set of those.
Also, Caitlin worries. She worries about her very, very old Nana, her only living relative. She worries about every single of her students: Are they satisfied with their studies? Are they feeling suffocated in the academia? Are their needs met? Are they developing as persons and scholars? Is there something she could do, or stop doing to allow them to better fulfill their potential?
She worries about her six goddaughters and five godsons; about Thea; about the world politics; about climate change; about each and every charity she participates in; about the decline of tiger population in the world; about polar bears in Canada.
Caitlin doesn’t need to worry about a man.
Having one and living with him seemed as a marginally attractive theoretical possibility when she was twenty. She isn’t anymore.
There’s only one way to ensure that after she rises out of the arms of Dr. Oakes, PhD, she isn’t required to cuddle and listen to his problems. And he surely has plenty, real, or imaginary – he’s male. She wants to say a polite and relaxed ‘goodbye,’ take a cab home, and then enjoy a long bath. After which she will go back to her life in all its perfection, with pleasant – hopefully – memories of consensual, adult, quality shag.
And the path to this – hopefully – satisfying ending lies through Step 2: Red Dress.
“Thea, I’m going to need more instructions on the whole ‘stun, tease, retreat,’” Caitlin shouts from the kitchen, and hears Thea’s ‘thank Odin and other creepy Norse deities’ over the noise of the boiling kettle.
Next Thursday, after her classes, Caitlin is running out of her building on campus, huffing and puffing, and panicking. A student fainted in Caitlin’s class. And then there was a long conversation with the nurse; and the student turned out to be pregnant. And then there was the drama with the student ringing up her boyfriend; and then the other bloke she’s shagging; and on and on. And somehow the student decided that letting go of Caitlin’s hand was out of the question.
And now, instead of her carefully chosen outfit – Thea participated, and the dress and the heels did receive her approval – Caitlin is clad in her usual assortment of cozy cotton and linen layers, all loose, and baggy. Caitlin buys most of her clothes on Etsy. She likes the idea of her money travelling all over the world supporting women, and the closeness she develops with some of her ‘dealers.’ Currently, she’s her usual ball of shawls, harem trousers, and oversized tunics by Aakasha. All grey and charcoal. The clobber is ace. It travelled all the way from Bulgaria – but unlike the slaggish and non-feminist outfit sadly abandoned on Caitlin’s bed – it doesn’t say ‘come hither, sailor.’
She’s also ten minutes late; and Thea said being late could be interpreted as romantic. Caitlin can’t allow anything remotely romantic to happen! She’s here to suss out if Dr. Oakes is up for a lovely one-off; with anything else being a no-no.
She pushes the door of the coffee shop, and smacks into his chest. He was standing by the entrance, reading a flier for some indie play he’d picked up from the cork board by the door.
Sadly, Caitlin’s libido doesn’t get a chance to enjoy the delicious shiver that runs through her body after the smack. She’s just starting to formulate her hungry thoughts and her randy assumptions on what’s underneath this black Burberry peacoat, when he ruins everything!
“Caitlin, evening!” Does he need to looks so happy to see her, and smile, and show his white teeth, and have these crow’s feet, and be so… nice?! “You look flourishing! Were today’s lectures inspiring? You look like a professor well listened to.”
He chuckles, offering her to share into how silly his joke was. Oh horror! She did like the joke! And she thought it was funny! And he didn’t say ‘you look lovely tonight,’ which only means either ‘I know I’m expected to say this,’ or ‘I’ve noticed you dressed up for me.’
The story will continue in Chapter 5. Stage 2: Red Dress (Execution Stage)