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  1. It was too late to cancel. Every time footsteps approached my room I checked in the mirror, tweaked my hair, took a deep breath, fixed a smile in place and faced the door. I'd been ready for an hour, tried on three outfits, nothing was suitable. Waiting on death row must be something like this, I thought. Then I heard a gentle knock. I almost missed it. I opened the door and there he was.
    Be casual, don't panic, I told myself. Oh, my God, he was so young, and so good looking! A stud, that's what the young ones would say.
    "Hi!" he said, "I'm Nathan."
    "My name's Monnie, short for Monica, Monica Meerschaum, same as the pipe." I laughed, it sounded like a screech. Then I saw the puzzled expression. Oh, Lord, he's that young.
    "You know, the pipe. It was an upmarket accessory in the 1700's. The Aristocrat of smoking substances! Not that I - - never mind."
    Not the best start to the evening.
    "Well," he said, as he offered his arm, "shall we go?"
    Manners, that's the most important thing. He's a gentleman. As we walked through the hall, doors opened slightly, eyes peered through the cracks. Number 217 opened wide and Noeleen stepped out. Nothing discreet about her.
    "Monnie, you look all glammed up. Going somewhere special? Who's this? Let me guess, a grandson. Hi! My name's Noeleen. Hey, Monnie, he's so good looking, he can't come from your side of the family."
    "We're in a hurry, Noeleen. This is my nephew, Nathan. We've got an appointment to keep. 'Bye."
    Nathan withdrew his arm from mine, took Noeleen's hand and kissed it! Good manners are fine, but there's no need to go that far. Noeleen simpered, smirked, wriggled and giggled, "Oh, my!"
    I didn't wait for more, grabbed Nathan's arm and left. This was my night out. No-one was going to spoil it. I had Nathan almost trotting beside me. As we entered the car park, he slowed down.
    "Monnie, what's the hurry? Let's take time to enjoy the evening."
    "I just want to get away from here," I panted, "too many people watching."
    "Let them, you've done nothing wrong. Now take your time and let me help you into the car."
    He held my elbow, opened the car door and leaned across to adjust the belt when I was seated. His after-shave tingled my nostrils.
    I closed my eyes. Was I mad? How did I get into this mess? No-one to blame but myself. One week ago I was your regular, lonely, forgotten wrinkly, living in claustrophobic rooms in a claustrophobic retirement home, ruled and regimented by staff who couldn't wait to finish each shift and get out. I envied them, they could get out. I made the move three months earlier, thinking it was the sensible thing to do, before I got so as I couldn't make my own decisions about where to live. Now I regretted every minute of every day: too afraid to make another move, too insecure to go back to living on my own.
    I was almost resigned to this slow, living death when an ad in the local newspaper caught my eye. It was in the Personal column, something I've never read before. "Looking for a special night? One to remember the rest of your life? Phone Perfect Escorts. You won't be sorry. Reasonable rates."
    One night to remember the rest of your life. I thought about my life to date. There was nothing remarkable in all the years past: a few romances, one or two heart-breaking moments from which I recovered with little pain, no excitement, just boring regular security. It was a family trait and now none of the family were around to join me in my final dull trip into obscurity, otherwise known as death. Do it girl, I shouted - silently of course, mustn't make a fuss.
    And so I did. Phoned Perfect Escorts, I mean. I stuttered and stammered my questions. The replies from the girl were gentle, encouraging and convinced me it was okay to book an escort for the evening. What would I get for my money? An evening meal at a venue of my choice in the company of an escort.
    "The program for the evening is entirely in your hands," she said. She was silent for a heartbeat or two. "Our escorts are completely reliable, discreet and have been police checked. You will be in safe hands."
    For a split second my imagination went wild about 'safe hands'. I pulled myself together and confirmed the booking.
    So here I was, with Nathan and heading for a plush hotel in the city where I'd booked a table for two, "in a quiet spot". With a background of romantic music he held polite conversation during the drive. I was stage-struck, unable to converse at all, just nodded now and then and murmured h-mm every so often. The candle-lit table we were shown to was in a corner. The gentle tinkling of a piano provided the final touch to the atmosphere.
    "What would you like to drink, Monnie?"
    "I'll leave that to you," I said.
    "Well, how about a glass of champagne to start with? Then we'll see what you would like later on."
    Good beginning. The last time I had champagne was when I graduated as an accountant God knows how many years ago.
    When it arrived I took a gulp, put the glass down, grabbed a tissue because the bubbles made me want to sneeze and unbelievably blurted out,
    "What's a good looking young man like you, doing in a job like this?"
    Nathan smiled, twirled his glass and was about to reply when I stopped him.
    "I am so sorry, that's very rude. I didn't mean to ask that question, it just popped out. I don't know how I could be so stupid."
    "No, no, don't worry about it. How about we take our time to enjoy the meal and each other's company before we start exchanging personal histories? I'm very curious about you also."
    How about that? He was too good to be true. What the hell, I did just as he said. The meal was delicious, the wine was smooth and went to my head, but I didn't care. I was a woman who was being feted by a good looking man. Forget your inhibitions I told myself, just enjoy. We shared jokes, and he laughed aloud at mine. I think it was genuine, he wasn't feeling sorry for me.
    "Well," he said during a lull in our conversation, "to get back to your question, I need the money, I'm still a student, doing post-grad studies. But, more importantly, what's nice lady like you - you know?"
    "Ever heard of the end of the line? Well, this is it for me. I wanted a make-believe night out, to help me forget that I'm over the hill, passed the limit, beyond the use-by date and so on and so on."
    "Rubbish!" He took my hands in his and massaged my fingers one by one.
    I became aware of the presence of those juices I thought had long ago dried-up. My blood pressure was rising by the second. I was blinking
    rapidly, a sure sign of nerves. With a soft touch he pushed the forefinger of my left hand up.
    "You're fit."
    He rubbed the middle finger gently and straightened it. My breathing had become very shallow.
    "You are a very attractive woman – older, yes, but attractive."
    The ring finger received the treatment next.
    "Intelligent."
    He wiggled the pinky.
    "Witty, and very funny."
    By this time all I could do was tremble and continue to blink, rapidly. The end of the evening was drawing close. What lay ahead? Then he pulled both my thumbs up, the worldwide approval gesture.
    "You have so much going for you. Lose the attitude. Let's look at what you can do with your life."
    Two hours later we were going at it hammer and tongs, talking that is. There was an interlude after that, in another section of the hotel, which lifted me into realms of satisfaction I had not known existed or maybe had forgotten.
    He drove me home, and at my door I kissed him on the cheek.
    He kissed my hand.
    Two weeks later I moved out of the retirement home, found a unit which catered well for me and my new business.
    It's called One Last Fling, and the appointments are whizzing in. Nathan is, of course, the most popular name on my list.

    THE END