Quinta

Quinta is laying, half asleep still, in a narrow single bed in a room on someone else’s corridor. The bathroom door is closed, but she can hear the sound of the shower running and, faintly, of someone whistling.

She doesn’t know what he has to whistle about – he might have come all over her tits, but she didn’t come at all – he didn’t even try to make sure she got off, too.

In the future, she’ll grow tired of this – going out to clubs, getting drunk and dancing, letting men she recognises from lectures buy her a vodka and coke and then, at the end of the evening, take her back to their room for a fuck that, nine times out of ten, is deeply underwhelming.

It’s the chase part she prefers, or not really even the chase – the anticipation of the chase, the fuck twice removed, as she likes to think of it. The possibility, when she’s drawing her liner on so it flicks out perfectly catlike, or stashing a handful of Durex in her clutch, that whoever she attracts tonight might actually know to put his thumb on her clit.

The man in the shower now wouldn’t have known what to do with her clit even if she’d taken his hand and put it there directly, she’s pretty sure of it. That too though, is something that she won’t really start doing with guys she’s fucking for another five years or so. At this point, she’s lucky if they remember to use their fingers first.

Still, she has her way of punishing them. She waits until the shower has stopped and the sound has changed to tooth brushing – it makes her feel like the risk of getting caught is greater – then she takes the book on top of the pile on his bedside table – the same one she’s studying for an essay that’s due in two days, and rips the final chapter clean out.

He’s not the first guy she’s done this to. She’s hoping to get a reputation on campus. But she never does. It’s almost as if the boys don’t bother reading the books they’re assigned – they just base their opinions on nothing.

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Primrose

Primrose is a dream to date. She knows exactly how to make a guy feel special – knows to let him pay for her drinks, but not her dinner, will let him hold her hand across the table,  will ask him question after question about his job, and not even expect him to ask half as many in return.

She is excited to meet Peter. She is hoping for someone geeky but cute, kind but funny. She prides herself on not being one of those girls who cares about things like height, or the car a guy drives. She prides herself on not being that shallow.

However, if she did care about those things, she’d be in luck. Peter is 6″3 and he drives a BMW.

Fancy.

Plus, she fancies him. She likes the way he looks, the sound of his voice (that’s surprisingly important), the fact that he’s wearing button-fly jeans, which have never yet failed to turn her on.

He slides the wine list across the bar towards her, and she asks for a glass of chardonnay, just like she always does. She might usually have suggested that they share a bottle, but as he’s driving, she decides not to.

That’s where it all goes wrong.

He’ll never understand why there was no kiss at the end of the night. Nor why she ghosted him.

He’d never guess it was the pint of orange juice and lemonade.

Ottilie

Ottilie’s boyfriend, Jamie, has a new job stacking shelves in Tesco. This is a good thing – it means he has more money for petrol and more money for petrol means more opportunities to drive out into the countryside and fuck like rabbits on the backseat in some village where nobody knows either of them.

And so Ottilie cannot explain what it is inside her that’s pushing her to jeopardise this newfound freedom; she just knows that she wants to.

It is the Easter holidays when she does it. Jamie is working as often as he can, and Ottilie is supposed to be revising for her A-Levels. She’s probably still doing more work than most of her classmates – she’s always been a swot – but there’s something restless in her this year that hasn’t been there before – something that pulls her away from her desk and into town, where she loiters, trying to work up the courage to do it.

When she enters the store, Jamie is nowhere to be seen. She had planned to head for the beers, but her courage fails her – she’s scared she will drop the glass bottle and draw attention to herself; can’t imagine what her parents would say.

So she makes for the confectionery, which seems more manageable somehow, planning to slide a Mars Bar up her sleeve. Start small.

But when she sees the Easter eggs, she cannot help herself – there’s something so temptingly impossible about smuggling one of the bulky cardboard boxes out unseen.

There is nowhere to hide it – she’s not wearing a jacket she could wrap around it, so her only choice seems to be to look nonchalant, get as close to the door as possible, and then make a run for it.

She makes it as far as the library, sprinting, grinning madly, before Jamie’s weight is on her, forcing her against the brick, wrenching the egg from her grasp.

‘What the fuck are you doing?’ he pants.

She shrugs. ‘I wanted it.’

‘You can’t do that,’ he says, but she can feel that she is not the only one who wants it – his cock is bulging against her stomach and it only makes her want to steal again and again.

By summer, she’ll have got herself quite the little shoplifting habit.

Nina

It’s very quiet over here, like I am home alone, but I’m not. I am downstairs, on the sofa, under a blanket, and my husband is upstairs, asleep, with his girlfriend. He – they – are  asleep because he thinks I am fine, because I have told him I am fine, because I have told him that Pretty Woman is on TV and he knows that I always watch it when it’s on.

Except it’s not on.

I am trying to be chill about the fact that his girlfriend is staying over, but the truth is, I was more chill when our fourteen year old asked if his girlfriend could stay over, because at least then I knew that what I was feeling was horror. But the way I feel now is a confusing mix of fear, envy and desire – goosebumps prickle all up my arms, but my cunt is slick.

I’d like to pretend that I said I was okay with this because I love my husband, and because I want him to be happy, but that’s not really true. I pretended to be okay with it because that’s the kind of woman I’d like to be. I dream of being flat – flat stomach, flat temperament, flat emotions – when in fact I am tempestuous, uneven. Polyamory, it seemed to me, was like a diet – just a question of mind over matter. I wanted to prove I could resist envy the same way I can resist chocolate mousse.

But, just as I have cracked over chocolate mousse before – have woken in the middle in the middle of the night craving it, and snuck downstairs to feed spoonful after spoonful into my mouth by the light of the fridge, so it is with jealousy.

If he’s lucky, I won’t crack until she’s gone.

But I might not last that long.

Mia

Mia dreads bank holidays. There is a rhythm to corporate life that suits her – truth be told, she prefers the bustle of the commute, the men in suits, the being shoved into the fug of someone’s armpit to the teeth-gritting boredom of a lazy, missionary 9:30am fuck with the boyfriend she stays with largely because it’s easier than disentangling the ropes of five years of entwined life.

And yet, lately she’s had the desire to implode everything. That desire only grows stronger when, after the dutiful shag and a breakfast where she wonders if they ever had anything to say to one another, Alexander retreats to his home office to put in some hours on a work project that apparently can’t wait another twenty-four hours.

While he’s working, Mia stays glued to her phone. There is one man out there that she knows can’t resist her and while she’s not even sure she’s that into him either, she likes to be reminded that she still has the power to turn men on, even from a distance.

‘Send me a photo of your dick?’ she messages to Bryan, knowing he’ll oblige within minutes. He’s a colleague; another reason she prefers work to holidays.

Until now, she’s kept his nudes in a private folder on her phone, but her desire to shake up her life has coincided with her remembering that her phone is hooked up to the wireless printer in Alexander’s office.

She waits till she can hear him on a call. Then she hits print and imagines his face as an A4 Technicolor image of some other guy’s dick comes chugging out of the printer just as he’s trying to tie up a complicated negotiation with the team in Europe.

Lily

Lily has been nannying for Ben and Izzy for six months. The job is pretty good – their children are well-behaved, the pay is okay, she has access to the family car when she needs it, and there are plenty of other perks, too.

All this to say: it isn’t clear why she cracks.

On the day it happens, everything has panned out pretty much as it always does. She’s taken the kids to the park, texted Ben to ask him a question, not heard back, wondered, while aimlessly pushing the youngest on the swings, whether it’s time for her to download Tinder again, dismissed the idea, taken the kids home, served up fishfingers, chips and alphabetti spaghetti for supper and then supervised bath time. She has not loaded the dishwasher because it’s still running from when she put it on earlier, but she has cleared the table and stacked up all the dirty plates by the sink.

There are subtler ways she could have let Izzy know what’s going on, perhaps, but they’re all so clichéd. She might have sent him nudes when Izzy would likely be around to see the messages on his phone, she might have left a used condom in the bathroom bin, rather than wrapping it in several carrier bags and disposing of in it the outside bins where Izzy is unlikely to ever discover it. But she prefers her way because it’s more fun, more playful.

That’s why, with the leftover spaghetti letters from the children’s supper, she’s spelt out ‘I’m fucking your husband.’

Kitty

She has only fucked him a handful of times, but he has asked her to feed his rabbit while he’s away for Easter. She’s not sure if that’s just a friend with benefits level commitment, or whether it indicates that he wants something more. After all, it’s not like he’s asked her to look after his cat, or his houseplants, or anything that would require the keys to his house and therefore the opportunity to snoop through his stuff, which disappoints her. She would totally do that, if she could.

But no, the only thing she has the opportunity to root around in is the vegetable seeds and garden tools he keeps in the shed alongside the rabbit food and hay. It doesn’t give her much insight – what meaningful conclusions can you draw about a man who plants carrots, runner beans and cabbages, really?

The one conclusion she can draw is that it means he’s grown up, responsible – what sort of man lives alone but grows his own vegetables and has a pet rabbit. Not any of the other guys she’s slept with, that’s for sure.

She herself is not there yet. She rarely does the washing up, lives on Super noodles, would like a pet but isn’t allowed one in her rented flat. And, truth be told, she’s not sure how good she’ be at looking after animals on a permanent basis, isn’t sure how good she is at looking after them full stop, in fact, although he didn’t ask how well-qualified she was, just sent her a couple of text messages with hasty instructions.

The rabbit is cute. She strokes its floppy ears a bit, fills its food bowl, tops up its water, puts everything she’s used away neatly.

She’s feeling pretty pleased with herself, right up until 3am. At 3am, she wakes, and remembers, in the moonlight, that she forgot to lock the hutch.

Jessica

The day she finds out, Jessica has to work. Her heart is broken, but she still showers, dresses and is at the shop, ready to open up, by 9am.

It is hard to make it through – everything, from the heartfelt words on funeral flowers sent to commemorate a marriage that’s lasted for decades to the kindness of a get well soon message to the cheesiness of the words accompanying a flashy gesture to an obviously new lover – makes her eyes sting with unshed tears.

She is glad that her colleague is off sick. She needs some time alone.

She runs her finger down the stem of a rose, grateful for the sharp prick of its thorns that causes blood to bead, crimson and sudden. She shreds tissue paper anxiously, ties raffia in pointless, fidgety bows. She does all that to stop herself from checking her phone, because she doesn’t want to hear that he’s sorry; that it means nothing. She’s not ready to hear that yet. She wants it to mean something, in a way, because it would be doubly gutting, somehow, to feel this shit because of something that was meaningless to him.

But the routine of the day – the orders, the queries, the deliveries – it’s not enough to take her mind off things. By 3pm, she’s itching for revenge. And she has the weapons for revenge right at her fingertips.

The bouquet she makes is beautiful. She wants it to be hard to throw it straight in the trash. It’s all springlike – tulips and snowdrops and hyacinths – the promise of new beginnings. She wants it to contrast with the message she writes on the card.

‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake. I can’t do this to Jess. I don’t want to see you anymore.’

India

India is twenty-three and she’s been telling the same story for five years now.

The story goes like this – she might be sensible and settled now, but she hasn’t always been, don’t you know – once upon a time India was on her gap yah and during that year she met a man, and that man taught her everything she knows about sex. When she talks about him, she varies the focus – sometimes it’s his rippling abs she mentions, other times his piercing green eyes, occasionally the fact that my god, the guy was hung. The amount of details she gives might vary according to how much wine she’s drunk, but regardless, she never, ever mentions his name.

After these evenings of drinks with the girls, India goes home to her boyfriend who fucks her – missionary position, obviously – as he does twice a week, three if his libido is demanding more attention than the consultancy projects he gets paid a small fortune to work on. India doesn’t come. Nothing unusual about that, either.

After, he gets in the shower. And that’s when India comes.

She comes to the thought of the man she talks about. The man she met in Thailand, who did have, sure, rippling abs, because he spent more time in the gym than he did studying for his A-levels, who did have nice green eyes, although piercing might be over-stating it, and who, yes, had a nicely proportioned dick.

She comes to the thought of the thing he taught her that she’s never had the chance to try again since: he taught her that sometimes it might be fun if she went on top.

Holly

Holly hates Christmas. She hates it because she’s named for it, obviously, and because her birthday comes so hot on the heels of it, but she also hates it because all the sparkle and glitter of it – all that light in the darkness – it just makes her feel more, well, dark inside.

And so at Christmas, she fucks. Anyone, anywhere. Which makes tonight unusual. Tonight she picked a guy up in the pub, but rather than fucking him in the loos, or in the street, as would be typical for her, she lets him take her home.

There’s a reason for that, though, a good one. The guy – Pete – has a kid, a kid who lives with him, and a babysitter who won’t stay later than midnight.

‘I wouldn’t normally do this,’ he says, ‘I don’t like to introduce him to people until I’ve been seeing them for a while. But, y’know, it is Christmas.’

‘Oh, don’t worry,’ Holly says. ‘I’ll sneak out long before he wakes up.’

‘You don’t have to do that,’ Pete replies.

She laughs. ‘Maybe not. But I will.’

She keeps her word. When they fuck, she keeps her screams to a minimum, so as not to wake the kid. When she creeps to the bathroom down the hall to pee, she puts her dress back on, so as not to be accidentally caught in the nude. And then, in the early hours, once Pete is sleeping, she creeps down the stairs.

In order to get out, she needs to find the keys. That would be her excuse, if he ever asked her why she did it (although he won’t; he doesn’t have her number) – that she was searching for the keys and she saw it, and she was what … starving?

But that isn’t why she did it.

That isn’t why she ate the chocolates in his son’s advent calendar.

Every. Single. One.

She did it because she hates Christmas.