We talked about the interview as we waited for the food. "The woman on the panel seemed to know you," said Andrew. "I saw her give a start when you came in."

I didn't want to be giving away too much at this stage, so I just replied casually "I've been for an interview at that place myself, that's why. Not at the level you're applying at, just a technician's job. But I didn't get it. They kept asking why I had dropped out of my degree course."

This led on to discussions about the work I was doing, and I felt embarrassed talking about working in an electronics store. I was expecting Andrew to tell me how disappointed he was, or how I could do better. My mother kept reminding me of this every time we met.

Instead he nodded. "Times are hard," he said. "We all have to take what we can get. I'm sure you would be an asset to the store, you have always been genuinely friendly and a hard worker. I haven't been able to get a teaching position myself, though I must modestly say I am very good at it. It appears as if game playing among managers and massaging corporate egos are more important than teaching. That's why I was trying to get that consultancy job. But if what you say about my failing to make a good impression on that pompous old fart in the suit is true, then I don't fancy my chances much."

"You were a very good teacher." I cringed. I could hear myself gushing. "You would be wasted at that place."

"I didn't do a very good job with you. I hoped you would stay and finish your degree. Just after I had made the deal with management for the golden handshake, I got messages from so many of my students wanting me to stay. I felt I had let you all down. If I had known a few days before instead of a few days after signing the deal, I would have stayed. It would have meant facing disciplinary proceedings, but the management didn't really have anything on me - I realise that now."

"We all make decisions we regret. The thing to do is move on." As soon as I had said this I realised how trite it sounded. Here I was giving advice to someone old enough to be my... well let's not go there - and who was I to preach about bad decisions anyway. My own decision to drop out of my degree, start a dead end job on minimum wage and estrange myself from the only family I had was not one that even the most tactful life coach would comment favourably on.
Andrew refrained from making any sarcastic or even mildly remonstrative remarks. He just smiled and changed the subject. I take back what I thought about him having no sensitivity. In his own way he could be very perceptive, just not to nuances of power. "So have you been in touch with any of your classmates?" he asked.

We spend a pleasant half hour talking about people we knew in common, some of whom had gone on to get top jobs; others like both Andrew and myself had been less fortunate. The waiter brought the menu and leered at my cleavage. I would like to have chosen a beef kebab, but in deference to Andrew, who was after all paying for the meal, I chose a vegetarian option. It went through my mind that a strict vegetarian like Andrew would not like the smell of meat on someone he is kissing.

I waited for Andrew to order wine, but it never came. Whatever he had in mind for me, it appeared seduction was not part of it. If there was any seducing to be done I would be the one initiating it. Just as I thought of this, Andrew's phone rang.

"I'd better take this," he said, looking at the number display on his antiquated device. "It's Stonkins, calling me back. Probably to say I haven't got the job."

Andrew put his mobile on speaker phone so I could hear. It was the woman, Jenny, who was talking. "We have been discussing the role, and we can't make up our mind between you and another candidate. We wondered if you might be able to come in again tomorrow to meet our chief executive, so he can make the final decision. We will of course pay for your accommodation in Opotane to make up for the inconvenience."

I gave a toothy grin and signalled the thumbs up sign. If they were still interested in Andrew after his disastrous performance with the balding man in the suit, then he was in with a good chance. Jenny at least seemed to be backing him up.

"I can make it tomorrow. Would you need Maxine to be present as well?"

"I should think Maxine would need to be back at work." Jenny seemed too certain for my liking. "Though it would certainly be to your advantage for her to be present. To be honest, she has far more tact in dealing with the management here than you do. You are by far the best candidate in terms of analytical ability and in my mind that is the most important consideration, but you must understand not everyone on the interview panel agrees with me.

"Unfortunately," she went on, "our CEO has no interest in seeing her. I have however arranged to be present myself, and I hope I can be of some support in your application."

Andrew muttered something vaguely thankful, and Jenny continued.

"One more thing - get some decent clothes. It's quite obvious to me you have no fashion sense at all, and personally I don't care if you come to work in boxer shorts as long as you can do the job, but again not everyone sees things the same way."

Well I would have felt totally crushed if someone had spoken to me so bluntly. But it didn't seem to bother Andrew at all. Again, strange lack of feeling. His mind was on practical considerations.

"It will be hard to get a decent wardrobe by tomorrow," he was saying. "And anyway, aren't decent clothes expensive?"

"Maybe Maxine could help you. She seems to have very good fashion sense. Perhaps she has some men's clothing that would fit you. Anyway, I'll see you tomorrow at 11 o'clock. In the meantime I'll make a booking for you at the Central Hotel. You can make your way there at your own convenience."

Jenny hung up, and Andrew turned to me. "I wonder what made her think you had some clothes that could fit?"

"I don't know," I said. "But as it happens I do." I knew where I could get some at any rate. My mother's new boyfriend was about the same size as Andrew, and I knew he had an extensive wardrobe. It was a pity I couldn't get Andrew to stay at my place. But maybe there was another way.

"I'll get the clothing and meet you at your hotel later," I said. A hotel would actually be better than my untidy flat, and we would be less inhibited without my nosy flatmate around. Though what excuse would I be able to offer for staying with Andrew and not going back to my drab, cheerless room.

We left the restaurant and I drove to my mother's lifestyle block just out of town. I had moved out of her place soon after I had left tech, after a flaming row over father. My father had left mum for another woman while I was away studying, and then not long afterwards - and quite conveniently as far as I was concerned - he had died in a car accident. My mother had blamed herself, indulging in a theatrical display of wounded despair; a self-pitying whining session that I couldn't bear, the more so because her behaviour reminded me so strongly of my own. My refusal to go to his funeral in Auckland had been another bone of contention between us.

"Pull yourself together mum," I had screamed at her one day. "It's been three years. He's not worth it. Dad was a creepy sleaze ball and we're both better off without him."

My mother could not have looked so shocked if I had smacked her in the mouth. "How dare you say that about your father!" she yelled. "He was always very good to you. It was the money he left you that supported you through that tech course that you dropped out of. I can't understand why you didn't go to his funeral. He was far better to you than you deserved, you good for nothing loser!"

Now it was my turn with the stunned mullet look. "Dad was a monster!" I screamed. "He was a raging creep, always looking at me with his beady eyes, smirking behind my back." Even I could sense how pathetic that sounded. But there was something about him that made my hair stand on end, that make me think of garlic, mirrors and crucifixes. I wish I knew what it was.

The next day, with my typical impulsiveness, I moved straight out of my mother's house. Thereafter the series of damp flats, sullen flatmates, flatulent boyfriends and corpulent bosses with wandering hands. Until I secured my present job five months ago, which reached the level of being tolerable - just.

I had not returned to my mother's place after that outburst, though our initial frosty relationship did thaw sufficiently for us to meet in town for coffee sometimes and to talk to each other on the phone. So it was with some trepidation that I entered her large open plan home, helloing nervously. I realised that Andrew had never called me a loser, in fact he seemed to have believed in me. Maybe I would finish my degree and show them all; my mother, my sarcastic boss, the pimply boyfriends - who needed them? The words of a song filled my head as I searched the house for my mum, 'a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.'

The thought of a snapper saddling a ten speed brought me out in the giggles, and it was in this undignified pose that my mother found me.

"Glad to see you find some things funny," was her greeting. She tossed back her blonde hair. "I suppose you want to borrow the clothes for your new boyfriend."

"He's not really my boyfriend," I protested. "He's my ex-tutor. He was the only one of the tutors who believed in me and I'm returning the favour."

"Whatever," my mother sniffed. "Your love life doesn't concern me in the slightest. Though I must say your tutor, for all his lack of dress sense, is a far better proposition than the detritus you usually end up with. He's a bit old for you, but not so much to be indecent, and he's all right in the looks department.

"I might take a fancy to him myself if you don't want him." She raised an eyebrow at me as she said this. "Rodney is hot enough in the sack, but his company is starting to bore me somewhat."

I wondered whether she realised how jealous that last statement made me feel. I covered my feelings with spite. "Well even an empty headed twit like Rodney is better than the one you spent the best years of your life with. Mind you that's not saying much."

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