Read The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook Online

Authors: Matt Dunn

Tags: #Fiction, #General

The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook

Copyright

Copyright © 2010 by Matt Dunn

Cover and internal design © 2010 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

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Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

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Originally published in Great Britain by Pocket Books, 2006.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Dunn, Matt

The ex-boyfriend’s handbook / Matt Dunn.

p. cm.

1. Men--Conduct of life--Fiction. 2. Self-actualization (Psychology)--Fiction. 3. Dating (Social customs)--Fiction. I. Title.

PR6104.U5449E9 2010

823’.92--dc22

2010032550

Table of Contents

Front Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Sunday 16th January

Monday 17th January

Tuesday 18th January

Wednesday 19th January

Thursday 20th January

Friday 21st January

Saturday 22nd January

Sunday 23rd January

Wednesday 26th January

Thursday 27th January

Saturday 29th January

Saturday 5th February

Monday 7th February

Wednesday 9th February

Thursday 10th February

Monday 14th February

Wednesday 16th February

Friday 18th February

Saturday 19th February

Tuesday 22nd February

Monday 28th February

Tuesday 1st March

Wednesday 2nd March

Friday 4th March

Monday 7th March

Wednesday 9th March

Thursday 10th March

Friday 11th March

Tuesday 15th March

Saturday 19th March

Tuesday 22nd March

Wednesday 30th March

Thursday 31st March

Friday 1st April

Saturday 2nd April

Wednesday 6th April

Thursday 7th April

Friday 8th April

Saturday 9th April

Sunday 10th April

Tuesday 12th April

Wednesday 13th April

Thursday 14th April

Friday 15th April

Saturday 16th April

About the Author

Back Cover

For Tina. For everything.
Acknowledgements

Thanks: to Patrick Walsh and the Conville & Walsh team, and Kate Lyall Grant, Digby Halsby, and everyone else at Simon & Schuster, without whom my ramblings wouldn’t see the light of day. To the delightful Chris Manby, and the wonderful Freya North, for their selflessness and generosity. To my family and friends for their continued support. To Tony Heywood, whom I can never thank enough. To John and Nuala, Carlos and Africa, Ann and Jim—
gracias, amigos
. To the Pavilion and Avenue Tennis Club social players—mine’s a Nastro. To Dr Debs for the technical input. And lastly, to the Board, who have ensured I’m anything but. Thanks, Mike, for inviting me to the party.

Sunday 16th January

7 p.m.

‘Edward. Let me get this straight. You’ve called me right in the middle of
Antiques Roadshow
just to tell me your girlfriend’s gone to bed?’


Tibet
, Dan. Jane’s gone to Tibet. She’s left me.’

It’s the first time I’ve said those words out loud, and my voice cracks a little down the phone line. My girlfriend of ten years, the woman who I’ve been sharing my bed, my flat, my
life
with, has gone. Vanished. Departed. Cleared out. And, by the looks of things, cleared me out as well.

‘What do you mean, “she’s left you”?’

‘Dan, there’s no clearer way of saying it. Jane’s. Left. Me.’

I can almost hear the cogs turning in Dan’s head as what I’ve just said sinks in. ‘Stay where you are,’ he says. ‘I’ll be right over. And don’t do anything stupid.’

Don’t do anything stupid? I put the receiver down, wondering what Dan’s idea of doing something stupid would actually be. Wearing socks with sandals, possibly.

I stare disbelievingly around my flat, which appears to be almost as empty as I’m feeling inside. The place looks like it’s been ransacked: wardrobe doors still ajar; drawers left open as if they’ve been rifled through in a hurry; and the CD rack empty except for a couple of dodgy rock compilations and my collection of digitally re-mastered Queen albums.

While I wait for Dan to arrive, I walk from room to room, compiling a mental check list of what Jane’s taken. The chairs and dining table set she bought from IKEA: gone. The red imitation leather sofa her mother gave us which made obscene noises whenever you sat down too quickly: missing. The breadmaker that she won in a competition and then used just the once: well, I won’t miss that, I suppose. Even the Picasso poster she bought as a souvenir from that exhibition we saw five years ago in Barcelona has been neatly removed, leaving just the faintest outline on the kitchen wall where it used to hang. At least she’s left me the bed, although most of the rest of the furniture seems to be missing. All
her
things, now I come to think of it.

I’m amazed at how clinical Jane’s been; how effectively she’s managed to excise herself from this flat, and my life, without leaving so much as a trace of the ten years we’ve been together. The only hint of anyone else ever having lived here is the photograph I find on the floor in front of the bookshelf of the two of us, taken at college, when we first met. Jane and I always used to smile when we looked at it, remembering the time it was taken, and just how happy and carefree we were back then. She’d even bought a special frame, and given it pride of place above the fireplace. But as I prop it up on the mantelpiece I realize she’s taken the frame but left the picture, and I’m not smiling any more.

I retrieve Jane’s note from where I’ve screwed it up and thrown it into the fireplace, smooth it out, and read it through one more time, even though I can already remember it word for word.

Dear Edward,

By the time you get this letter, I’ll be on a plane to Tibet. I’m going away for a while because I need to sort some things out, and while I’m gone, I suggest you do the same.

Let’s face it, Teddy, you’ve let yourself go, so I’m letting you go too.

I’d tell you not to think about following me, but I know that a romantic gesture like that would never even occur to you. And that’s part of our problem.

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I’ve taken my things, although I’ve left you the bathroom scales—you might want to use them for something other than stacking your old newspapers on.

I’ll be back on April 16th, so perhaps we’ll talk again then. Meanwhile I suggest you use this opportunity to take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror.

Jane

P.S. I realize at this point I’m supposed to say something like ‘it’s not you, it’s me’, but in actual fact, it is you.

As I finish reading, my hands are shaking. I fold the note carefully and place it in my pocket, then light a cigarette and inhale deeply, longing for the calming buzz of the nicotine, hoping it will take the edge off the pain I’m feeling.

It doesn’t.

7.59 p.m.

I’m smoking my fourth cigarette, and wondering where on earth Dan’s got to, as he only lives in the next street, when he finally rings my doorbell. I buzz him in impatiently; a swirl of cold Brighton air follows him in through the door, adding to the chilly atmosphere already in my flat.

Dan takes one look at my miserable expression. ‘How are you?’ he asks.

When I can’t seem to answer, he doesn’t know how to react. We stand there for a second, and then begin an awkward dance as he tries to give me one of those male hugs where you touch at the shoulders while ensuring no body contact below the nipples, but I don’t know what he’s trying to do and instead lean forward to try and shake his hand. We end up accidentally bumping heads, which digs my glasses painfully into the bridge of my nose.

As he lets me go, I jab a finger at my watch.

‘That’s what you call “I’ll be right over”, is it?’

Dan’s my best friend, although there are times I could gladly punch him in the face. He’s one of those annoyingly good-looking guys, with almost model features, and a smile that could get him off a murder charge. Trouble is, he knows this.

‘Sorry, mate,’ he says, grinning sheepishly. ‘Had to get ready. Make sure I looked OK.’

‘Looked OK? Just to come round and see me?’

Dan shrugs. ‘Never know who you might bump into. Paparazzi and all that.’

‘Dan, you’re a daytime television presenter on a rubbish antiques programme. I hardly think you’re going to have photographers camping outside your front door.’

Dan doesn’t reply, but just taps the side of his nose in that annoying way. I sigh with exasperation and show him through into the front room.

‘Jesus, Edward. It looks like you’ve been done over,’ are his first sensitive words.

‘At first I thought I had been,’ I say, wistfully. ‘And then I wished I had.’

Dan examines the space where the hi-fi used to sit, then inspects the near-empty CD rack. He walks into the kitchen, then through to the bedroom, silently taking in the scene, then turns to look at me, a puzzled expression on his face.

‘At the risk of asking a stupid question…’

‘That’s never stopped you before.’

‘You are sure you haven’t been? Burgled, I mean.’

I nod. ‘Pretty sure. Burglars don’t normally only take half your stuff. Especially not just your girlfriend’s half—’

‘Or your girlfriend,’ says Dan, peering inside the near-empty wardrobe.

‘Thanks for reminding me.’

‘Sorry,’ he says, following me back into the front room. ‘Shame, though. At least then your insurance would have replaced everything. And with some decent furniture.’

‘Yes, well.’ I remove Jane’s letter from my pocket and wave it in front of him. ‘Things kind of fell into place when I found the note. Burglars don’t usually leave a note.’

Dan stares at it for a second or two, as if it might be infected.

‘What does it say?’

‘What do you think it says? The usual “Dear John” stuff.’

Dan looks a little confused. ‘Er…Which is?’

‘Sorry, Dan. I forgot the concept of the woman actually doing the dumping would be alien to you.’ I unfold the piece of paper and speed-read it in front of him. ‘“Dear Edward, you’ve let yourself go, it’s over, I’m off.’’ That about sums it up.’

Dan takes it from me and reads it through slowly, his lips moving as he does so. Eventually, he hands it back to me with a grimace.

‘That’s terrible.’

‘I know. How could she do it? Just end it like this?’

‘No. I mean the fact that she calls you “Teddy”. Yuk.’

Dan takes his jacket off and looks around for a place to throw it, a task made somewhat difficult by Jane’s recent removals. Eventually, he just puts it back on.

‘Well, look on the bright side,’ he says. ‘At least you don’t have to go through that painful “sorting out who gets what” time.’

‘Thanks, Dan. That really makes me feel better.’

He punches me playfully on the shoulder. ‘Don’t mention it. Anytime.’

‘I was being sarcastic.’

‘So was I. Anyway, how on earth did she manage to get it all out without you knowing?’

‘Yeah, well, I’d been away visiting my parents for the weekend—my mum’s birthday—it’d been planned for months, and then at the last minute Jane hadn’t been able to come. Emergency at work, she said.’

Dan sticks his lower lip out and nods appreciatively. ‘Ah, the old “emergency at work” line.’

‘She said that she might be out when I got back. I didn’t realize that she meant out of the country.’

‘And out of your life, by the looks of it,’ he says, taking Jane’s note back from me and reading it once more. ‘What are you going to do?’

I take my glasses off and rub my eyes wearily. ‘I don’t know. I just…She…I mean…’

Worried that I might start crying, a look of panic crosses Dan’s face. He puts a reassuring hand on my shoulder.

‘Edward—before you go any further, we need to sit down and talk about this. And we can’t do that here.’

‘Why ever not?’

Dan points to the space where the sofa used to be. ‘Well, mainly because there’s nowhere to sit.’

‘Ah.’

I look up at him, and he smiles, and utters those immortal words, his cure-all for any situation.

‘Come on. Drink.’

Dan slips Jane’s note into his jacket pocket and marches off down the hallway. I stare at him for a moment, then pick the photo up off the mantelpiece, slide it into my wallet, and follow him out of the door.

8.15 p.m.

Our local, the Admiral Jim, is perched on the border between Brighton and Hove in a quiet mews that runs between our respective streets. It’s typical of the new wave of Brighton pubs: beer-stained carpets replaced with bare wooden floorboards; traditional ales swapped for the latest Czechoslovakian lagers; and brightly coloured alcoholic mixers with names like ‘Psst’ and ‘Rekd’ lining the shelves behind the bar. We like it not only because it is extremely local, but also because it’s one of the few places around here that doesn’t need a bouncer on the door, which is mainly due to the fact that it’s off the usual Brighton stag and hen party routes. Most weekday evenings, it is full of office workers sniggering, ‘I’m just at the Jim’ into their mobiles. As is customary on a Sunday evening, however, the place is a little quieter.

‘Hold on,’ says Dan, nervously peering in through the window. ‘Just let me check the coast is clear.’

This is a necessary precaution at most of the venues we visit because Dan, King of the one-night stands, has an unfortunate habit of regularly bumping into his exes. Most of them are, shall we say, less than pleased to see him due to the abrupt manner of their dismissal, and aren’t afraid to tell him so, sometimes quite forcefully. With a last relieved look, Dan pushes open the door, and I follow him inside.

‘Tibet, eh?’ he says, as we head towards the bar.

I make a face. ‘Yup.’

Dan whistles in that ‘ohmigosh’ kind of way, and then his expression changes into a frown. ‘Where exactly is Tibet, anyway?’

‘You know, near India. Where Mount Everest is? In between China and Nepal.’ Sometimes he’s not the sharpest pencil in the box.

Dan starts to snigger. ‘Nepal?’

‘What’s so funny?’

‘Well, it’s just,
Nepal
…I’ve always thought it kind of sounds like “nipple”, doesn’t it?’

I give him a pitying look. ‘Dan—how old are you?’

‘Thirty. Same age as you. Why?’

‘Well act it, for God’s sake.’

He grins at me. ‘Just trying to lighten the mood a bit.’

I glare back at him. ‘Well, don’t. My girlfriend’s just dumped me. I’m allowed to feel depressed.’

As I heave myself awkwardly up onto a bar stool, Dan leaps nimbly onto the one next to me. He pulls Jane’s note out from his jacket and starts to study it.

‘Tibet. She certainly wanted to make herself scarce, didn’t she?’

‘Christ, Dan,’ I say, snatching it from him and stuffing it into my back pocket before he can read any further. ‘Don’t mind my feelings, will you?’

‘Sorry, mate. It’s just that, well, you don’t seem that upset.’

I stare forlornly at the bar in front of me. ‘I’m too stunned to be upset, Dan. I’m surprised, shocked, confused…’ I search for the right word.

‘Bitter?’ he asks.

‘A little. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.’

Dan shakes his head. ‘No, a pint of bitter? Or something stronger? What do you want to drink?’ He nods towards Wendy, the Admiral Jim’s regular barmaid, who’s just appeared in front of us. She’s pretty, in a flat-chested Meg Ryan kind of way.

‘Ah. Bitter, please. Sorry.’

Dan flashes a smile at Wendy. ‘Pint of bitter please, gorgeous, and my usual.’

Wendy glowers at him, still not having forgiven Dan for doing his normal sleep-with-once-and-never-call-again routine with her flatmate the other week.

‘Hi, Edward,’ she says cheerily, giving me a big smile while still ignoring Dan. ‘No Jane this evening? Left you has she?’

When I don’t answer, she flicks her eyes across at Dan, who mimes cutting his throat. Her expression rapidly changes.

‘Oh God, Edward. I’m so sorry,’ she says, blushing. ‘I had no idea. Really.’

I force a half-smile. ‘That’s okay.’

Wendy leans across the bar and rests a hand on my arm. ‘How are you feeling?’

As she says those words, I have to stop and think. It’s a very good question; how
am
I feeling? Numb, certainly, a bit like that soldier in the opening scene of
Saving Private Ryan
who’s lost his arm but walks around looking for it as though nothing’s wrong, as if he’s refused to admit to himself what’s just happened, and so doesn’t feel any pain. Though the trouble with that is eventually, when the shock wears off, he will.

I settle for the obvious. ‘Pretty rotten, actually.’

Wendy gives my arm a squeeze. ‘Well, if you want to talk about it, you know where I am.’

Dan clears his throat impatiently, obviously a little put out at having been ignored earlier.

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