Winter Collection 2000/1

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Faye had never been a big fan of autumn. She didn't like rain. She didn't like dark evenings. And she certainly didn't like going to work and back with a carriage full of damp - smelling, snuffling commuters. In fact the only aspect of autumn she liked was that it offered the perfect excuse to go shopping. First buy of the season had been a grey suit with embroidered sleeves and a matching handbag. And pretty cheerful it had made her feel too. Under the glow of her bright pink umbrella she could almost persuade herself that the falling leaves and chilly breezes weren't an absolute bar to happiness. Other reasons for chirpiness included a forthcoming trip to Paris with Patrick and her flourishing friendship with James who, in spite of the regularly dropped hints that he might like a little more from Faye than she was giving, was always good company, dependable and easy to chat to on any subject from the World Bank to the mysterious behaviour of his arch rival for Faye's affections. She didn't like to feel she was using him - she'd made it quite clear from the start that her attachments lay elsewhere - but whenever Patrick didn't do as he said he would James was always there to put forward a placating theory about the harmless vagaries of masculine conduct. Faye

hadn't had such a good friendship with a man since Adrian Barber when she was eleven years old. Adrian had failed to surprise everyone by coming out at the age of fourteen. James, in spite of his heterosexuality, had the same unthreatening manner and intuitive understanding of her needs. He knew when to tease her and when not to, and when to listen and when to dole out his invariably sensible advice. Office politics were another of his specialities and Faye all but credited him with her recent promotion until he forced her to recognise she might have had something to do with it herself. With Patrick off on another of his Highland mystery tours she had chosen to celebrate the happy occasion with her new friend. Halfway through the evening he had surprised her by clamming up for no apparent reason before presenting her with a small parcel. 'Just to say well done,' he explained shyly. Inside was a beautiful, soft velvet scarf whose pattern looked oddly familiar. 'How did you know?' asked Faye, amazed. 'Know what?' James was puzzled. The scarf was from Faye's favourite shop and, in an uncharacteristic moment of frugality, she had banned herself from buying it only a week

earlier. James's understanding was beginning to seem almost uncanny.