Saturday, December 30, 2017

To Be Sure #RainbowSnippets #LGBT

To Be Sure

I haven’t posted a Rainbow Snippet in such a long time, but I’m going to do my best to change that in the coming year and get back to posting regularly.

About Rainbow Snippets
Rainbow Snippets is a group for LGBTQ+ authors, readers, and bloggers to gather once a week to share six sentences from a work of fiction–a WIP or a finished work or even a 6-sentence book recommendation (no spoilers please!).

In this group you'll find anything from romance and historical fiction to mystery and YA. The common thread is that every story's main character identifies as LGBTQ+. The snippets could range from zero flames to full-on sexytimes, anything goes content-wise. The only rule is snippets will be 6 sentences long–one for each color in the Pride flag.

Today’s Rainbow Snippet
I’m posting from To Be Sure, which is contemporary LGBT+ fiction with romantic elements, featuring two older women (aged 70+): Saorla Tierney, a bisexual woman from Derry, The North of Ireland, and her long-term friend/lover, Aileen Cullen, lesbian and also from Derry. In today’s snippet, Saorla and Aileen are on a plane heading for England and Saorla’s grandson’s baptism.

The story is part of the Never Too Late collection - nine stories about friendship, family and love featuring LGBTQIA 50+ characters, which was released earlier in December.

You can download the story for free in the Smashwords Christmas sale (and get the full collection for half-price). A lot of my other stories are also free on Smashwords until January 1st.

* * * * *
The Snippet:
Aileen’s mouth opened and closed in a couple of false starts before she said, “May I ask you something? It’s a wee bit delicate.”

“Go on,” Saorla agreed warily and sipped her coffee for distraction.

“If it had come to the worst in January, would you have moved to England?”

Saorla lifted her drink away from her mouth and rubbed her chest to relieve the sudden reflux brought on by Aileen’s question. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have her son at death’s door the once, the fool had to go and do it all over again. In those long, silent hours at the hospital, waiting for Finn to speak, to explain himself or put their minds at ease, the thought had flitted like an alluring, uncatchable butterfly amid the awful mess of their lives: move away, start anew, enjoy her retirement before she was too old.

The Blurb:
Saorla Tierney's sons are conspiring against her, and at their age, they should know better. After all, she's nearly seventy-one herself, and, quite frankly, whether she still 'has needs' is none of their business.

OK, so, maybe she was a bit harsh with Sean when all he did was ask if she and Aileen wanted a double hotel room. And of course she feels bad for biting Finn's head off when he was only having a wee joke.

Between her grandson's unconventional baptism and the decades-long feud between her sons, even with Aileen at her side it's not as easy a decision as they seem to think. Or maybe it is. Saorla doesn't know anymore, and until she's sure...

To Be Sure is a stand-alone, novella-length character special. Part of Hiding Behind The Couch series. This story follows chronologically from Reunions (Season Seven) and continues in Alumni (Season Eight - WIP).

* * * * *

Thanks for reading,
Deb x

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

#WIPpet Wednesday - Goth of Christmas Past + Cover Reveal #amwriting #lgbtqia



Before I forget…you can download my books for FREE or at 50% discount in the Smashwords Christmas sale (ends 1st January):

* * * * *

WIPpet numbers for 27th December, 2017:
12 x 27 = 324 words from Goth of Christmas Past


WIPpet Context:
I’m still snipping Goth of Christmas Past, and I decided, seeing as ’tis the season, I’d reveal the real cover. The artwork is by Emma Pickering and it’s so perfectly Krissi and Jay. I could hardly believe it when Emma showed me what she’d come up with.

The novel won’t be out until next Christmas, but I’m getting quite a bit of it written now. I also successfully persuaded Nige to alpha-read the first 11k to make sure the structure works. He says so! Plus, he bought me a Goth of Christmas Past t-shirt (black with black print) for Christmas. Cheers, dude. :D

This snippet is the continuation from last week’s snippet. Krissi has decided she wants to find out who her biological father is, and she’s started asking questions of her mum and stepdad (Kris).

It’s a long-ish excerpt, but it seemed a good place to move on from, as I’ll probably focus on Jay (the other MC) next time, which will be in 2018, so I’m sending you all love and best wishes for a prosperous New Year.

* * * * *

Here’s the cover:

Goth of Christmas Past cover


And here’s this week’s WIPpet:
[Kris] “…She knows it’s important to you, but you’re asking her some really difficult personal questions.”

[Krissi] “I’m sorry. I didn’t realise.”

“It’s OK,” Kris comforted. “You weren’t to know.”

“I wish she’d be honest with me.”

“About what happened?”

“Not even that. She could just say she doesn’t want to tell me.”

“It’s not that she doesn’t want to.”

“She can’t. Seriously, how can she have no memory of it? Like, how drunk was she?”

“Very,” Kris said. He seemed incredibly interested in his tea all of a sudden, and she should’ve taken it as a cue to stop probing, but he’d invited her to sit and talk.

“So she doesn’t even know if it was her boyfriend or a one-night stand, or…?”

Kris shook his head. “She didn’t have a boyfriend at the time.”

“I don’t care if it was someone really horrible.”

“I don’t think it was. She thinks…we think it happened at a party. We were all really drunk.”

“No way. You don’t even drink glögg on Lucia.”

“OK, I wasn’t, but everyone else was.”

“Who was at the party?” Krissi asked.

“Well, I couldn’t give you a comprehensive list. It wasn’t my party.”

“Were any of them ugly?”

Kris laughed. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

“Yeah, but…were any of them mingers?”

“Were they what?” That wasn’t a request for a definition.

“Forget it. So…I was a total accident. A drunk accident.”

“Well, you weren’t planned.”

“Duh, obviously. Who plans to have a baby when they’re still in school?” She hadn’t meant it to come out like that, and now she felt bad, especially as Kris was watching her and trying not to show he was annoyed, except his fingers lightly drummed on his cup—a dead giveaway. He’d always been the stricter parent but he rarely raised his voice, and in return, she tried not to give him reason. “Sorry,” she said again. This time, he didn’t tell her it was OK.

“Krissi…” He sighed deeply. “I’ll tell you what I know, and then it’s up to you.”

* * * * *

What is WIPpet Wednesday?

WIPpet Wednesday is a blog hop where authors share from their current works in progress - expertly organised/hosted by Emily Wrayburn - and the excerpt has to relate to the date in some way. For links to other fabulous authors' WIPpets, visit: http://www.inlinkz.com/wpview.php?id=355404


Thanks for reading
Deb x

Monday, December 25, 2017

Character Spotlight: Josh Sandison (Hiding Behind The Couch)


Another CV / character profile from the Hiding Behind The Couch series. This is the last of the ‘main’ characters…well, he is the main character!

Before I get to Josh’s profile…

ALL of the Hiding Behind The Couch stories are available in the Smashwords Christmas sale—either for free of for half-price. The sale begins today (25th December) and ends on 1st January.



Profiles posted so far:

Hiding Behind The Couch is an ongoing series about a group of friends—‘The Circle’ (the original main characters in the series), which has expanded and changed over time to include the ‘extended circle’ (additional main characters, below the circle on the right).



You can find both the writing and suggested reading order for the series on this page: deb248211.blogspot.co.uk/p/hiding-behind-couch.html

NOTE: this contains spoilers—unless you’re up to date with the series, in which case it contains one teaser.

Josh Sandison
Name: Joshua (Josh) Sandison-Morley
Eyes: Blue
Hair: Sandy Blonde
Complexion: Very Fair
Height: 5’ 9”
Weight: 10 stone
Build: Slim
Tattoos/Piercings: None
Education: BSc (Hons) Psychology, MA (Distinction) Counselling and Psychotherapy, PG Diploma in Counselling
Accent: Uni RP/Northwest English
Languages: English, French

Quickfire Questions:
Place of Birth: Egalieres, France.
Siblings: None.
Children: Libby (adopted daughter).
Places lived: France, Northwest England.
Jobs: Psychotherapist, psychology lecturer.
Interests: Reading, research, computer games.
Pets: Blue (GSD), Jinja (ginger tabby cat).
Greatest Success: To be continued...
Worst thing you've ever done to someone: Hiding from George.
Biggest Trauma: Acute depression.
Do you have a secret: So many!
Favourite Book: I'll get back to you.
Favourite Food: Chicken and chips.
Favourite Drink: Coffee.
Strength: People-reading.
Weakness: Accidentally being rude to people.
Best way to spend a weekend: At home.
Closest Friends: Sean, Eleanor.
Love of your life: George.

Here is a selection of excerpts, and it’s a long selection (about 10k). Seeing as the entire series features Josh, these are organised a little differently to previous posts, which were key scenes with the characters. This time, the excerpts are pivotal moments when Josh found/accepted the love/friendship of others (in chronological order). Some of the covers are ‘randomly’ placed to avoid duplicates.

– George –


Beginnings


(Mrs. Kinkade’s primary school classroom. Age 7.)

“Well done, Joshua. That’s excellent. Would you like to finish it at lunchtime?”

“No, Miss. I can’t. I’m going to see Mr. O’Malley.”

“All right, dear. No matter,” she replied quietly, then to everyone, “Please put your chairs under the desks and queue up by the door.”

The children all did as they were told; George followed suit, bemused.

“You coming, George?” Dan asked, as they filed out of the classroom, heading for the playground.

“Err, yeah,” George said vaguely. He was watching to see where Josh went. He was walking very fast, and in the opposite direction to everyone else. “Why doesn’t he come out to play?”

“Dunno,” Dan said. “Come on.” He broke into a run, and George followed, off across the playground, to where the rest of the five-a-side team was already assembled. Soon after, they kicked off, with George playing in goal once again.

Ruminations


(Talking to Gabby at university. Age 17.)

“I was only three when my mum died, so I can’t really remember her, but I can remember my dad. He died when I was six, and I saw a counsellor at school for four years after. I was never sure what he wanted me to say. So I would just sit there in that big teacher’s chair all through lunchtime and answer his questions, and then go back to lessons.

“Eventually, George marched me down the corridor to the office where I had my sessions, and he went in with me, and Sir was so surprised to see this ruffian of a little boy, with dirty hands and his knees all scuffed up from football, and his big blonde bubble of hair. And George stood next to me, and said, ‘Sir. Josh is too shy to tell you that he doesn’t want to come and see you anymore.’

“Mr. O’Malley looked at me and asked, ‘Is that correct, Joshua?’ I told him yes, it was, and I never had to see him again. I felt so special, because George was prepared to take on a grown-up to help me. That moment created a connection between us that will never be broken.”

***

– Shaunna –


Chain of Secrets


(Primary school. Age 10.)

Back in their classroom, their teacher let Shaunna sit at Josh and George’s desk for their party, which wasn’t really a party. All of the children had brought in sweets and snacks, and the teacher had brought lemonade and a big cake wishing them ‘Good Luck’. The sweets George had brought were all stuck together, and he spent ages trying to prise them apart with his ruler. It didn’t work. When he went to the boys’ toilets to wash his hands, Josh took the opportunity to ask Shaunna a question that had been on his mind since lunchtime.

“Has anyone ever read your diary?”

“No.”

Josh considered her answer for a few minutes before saying anything further. “Mr. O’Malley used to read mine, but it’s different now, and I don’t want anyone to read it. I keep it hidden away, but what if someone discovered it?”

Shaunna shrugged. “Why don’t you get a diary with a lock?”

“It’s not a real diary. It’s a notebook. And I have four.”

“So ask your grandma if she’s got an old vanity case, or something like that, with a lock.”

Josh knew there were lots of old hat boxes and cases in the attic. Maybe his grandma would let him use one of those. “That’s a good idea,” he said. “Thank you.”

George came back from washing his hands and got waylaid by Dan, who asked him if he wanted to play football in the park in the summer holidays. George and Dan weren’t really friends; they just played football together, but Josh was worried by Dan’s question. If George was busy playing football, what would happen to their bike rides?

George didn’t make it back to their desk before the bell sounded for home time, and Josh and Shaunna left together. As they walked across the playground, Josh pointed to the parents waiting at the gate.

“Is that your mum?” he asked, his gaze still fixed on the woman, who had long red hair, just like Shaunna’s, although it wasn’t in plaits. It lifted in the summer breeze, the sun reflecting off the shiny curls.

“Yeah,” Shaunna confirmed airily. “Will we still be friends in high school?”

“I hope so,” Josh said, wondering why she thought they might not be. It was only six weeks away. Shaunna held out her hand, with her fingers in a fist, except for the little one. Josh’s tummy suddenly felt funny. He’d seen the other children do it, but no-one had ever done it to him. Though he was nervous, he lifted his hand and hooked his little finger with Shaunna’s, staying quiet while she made the vow.

Make friends, make friends,
Never ever break friends.
If you do, I’ll flush you down the loo,
And that will be the end of you.

She released him and grinned. “That’s it now. We’re friends forever. Have a good summer, Josh.” She skipped away to her mum.

In The Stars Part II


(Jess’s house. Age 38.)

“I remember when your grandma died,” Josh said, “and you came into school with your hair untied.”

She smiled. “Yeah. And you were so puzzled by it, like you thought it was completely different hair.”

Josh laughed, because it was kind of true. He’d never considered before that her hair could be anything other than two neat plaits trailing all the way down her back, each finished with a blue ribbon bow.

“Do you remember what you told me?” he asked.

“About?”

“Why you had no plaits.”

“No?”

“Remarkable, isn’t it? Something so important to me, so life-changing, and you don’t remember.”

“I might, if you give me a clue.”

“You said sometimes when grown-ups are sad they forget to plait your hair, but it doesn’t mean—”

“They don’t love you.” She finished the sentence and turned slowly so he didn’t lose his hold. She looked up at him and smiled. “I do remember.” He shooed her and waited until she had her back to him once more before he spoke again.

“After my mum died, even though I didn’t really understand what it meant, I knew everything was different. I thought it was because we’d moved to England. Everything was strange, as if we were marking time. Sometimes they’d forget to read to me at bedtime, or even to talk. They’d sit for hours in silence, and then all of a sudden try and make amends and over-indulge me, asking about school, and my friends, and what I’d been learning. And they kept buying me presents—books, games, a bike—I got everything I could have wanted, but it never felt like it belonged to me.

“When you said that, I tried to make sense of the words, but I couldn’t, not until my dad died, and one night, I was on my way up to bed and my grandma shouted me back, upset that I hadn’t given her a kiss good night. I went back down and climbed onto her knee, cuddling her tight and telling her how much I loved her, and I felt so guilty, because I’d been so caught up in my own little world of missing my dad, and wishing I was going up to wait for him to come and read to me, that I’d forgotten to give her a kiss.”

Josh became quiet.

“I’m still listening,” Shaunna said.

***

– Cordelia –


Beginnings


(Mrs. Cordelia Kinkade’s primary school classroom. Age 8.)

Mrs. Kinkade waited until the other children had left for their very last afternoon playtime of the year, before she approached.

“Your reading has come along beautifully this year, Joshua,” she said, helping him put the final few books back on the shelf.

“Thank you, Miss,” he replied, turning bright pink.

“And it is very kind of you to also help George with his reading. You get on very well.”

“Yes, Miss. I think he is my best friend.”

“I think you are probably right about that.” She turned and perched on the edge of a tiny table, arms folded, a sad smile settling on her face. “I need to explain something to you, Joshua. You’re not in trouble, or anything like that, but you need to understand that little boys holding hands…” She sighed. “I think it’s perfectly wonderful that you have a best friend to hold hands with, but lots of people would not.”

“Why not, Miss? Adele and Shaunna hold hands, and they are best friends.”

“Yes. And that is precisely my point. It’s all right for little girls to hold hands, yet it’s frowned upon for little boys to do the exact same thing.”

“Like the way girls aren’t allowed to wear trousers to school?”

“Yes, I suppose it is just like that.”

“It’s not fair, is it, Miss?”

“No, it isn’t, Joshua. It isn’t fair at all.”


In The Stars Part I


(Cordelia’s Aquarium. Age 37.)

“I still recall our chat as if it were only yesterday,” she said to Josh. “You thought I was spinning you a yarn when I told you that part of the brain was named after the seahorse.”

Josh nodded and smiled. “I thought seahorses were mythical, that’s why,” he justified, not for the first time. The conversation to which she was referring took place thirty years ago, and she’d mentioned it on almost every occasion they had seen each other since, for she was secretly very proud to have been an inspiration, perhaps the inspiration, for the academic path that Josh had chosen to pursue.

Sean sat back with his arms folded, looking both amused and smug. The rarity of hearing Josh admit he was wrong about something made it all the more enjoyable an experience, and Cordelia appreciated her audience.

“It was only when I brought the children to visit the aquarium that Joshua realised they were real aquatic creatures,” she explained. Sean chortled.

“Every year,” Josh groaned.

“I recall you being a very willing teacher’s helper,” Cordelia reminded him.

“That’s true. I’d do anything to get out of art lessons.”

“You weren’t so fond of the more creative subjects, were you, dear?” she said to Josh, who shook his head, and then to Sean, “Although it has to be said that some of the paintings Joshua completed as homework were outstanding.” She gave Sean a wink and turned her attention back to Josh. “And what is George Morley up to these days? Are you still in touch with him?

“Yes, you could say that.” Josh grinned. “He’s fine.”

“Is he still in the USA?” she asked.

“No. He’s been back a couple of years.”

“Gosh! It only seems that long since he emigrated.”

“That was over twelve years ago now.”

“Gracious me. Time really does march on.” She wandered back to her counter. “Do give him my regards next time you see him.”

“I will.”

Sean frowned, puzzled as to why Josh hadn’t told her.

“Any second now,” Josh whispered. “Just wait.”

“So, did George bring a fellow back with him?” Cordelia called, picking up her crocheting again.

Josh nodded a tacit ‘I told you so’ at Sean. “No,” he said, in answer to her question.

“You’re not telling me he’s stayed single all this time?”

“No,” Josh said again.

“Good. He deserves to have someone special in his life. Such a lovely boy. Of course, you both are.”

***

– Eleanor –


Chain of Secrets


(Josh’s house. Age 13.)

“Oh, I know what I needed to show you.” Josh grabbed George by the arm and pulled him into the house. “Won’t be a second,” he said to Ellie and Jess, shutting the door on them.

“Joshua, what are you doing?”

“Have you really got to go?”

“I don’t have enough money for milkshakes and shopping.”

“I’ll buy the milkshakes.”

“You can’t keep doing that.”

“Please?”

George scratched his head. He looked worried.

“I’ll tell them we can’t go,” Josh suggested, reaching for the door latch.

“No. Don’t do that. They’re your friends.”

“So? They turned up out of the blue. They can’t expect me to drop everything, just like that.” Josh opened the door and smiled at Ellie. “Thanks for the invitation, but we’re not coming. George and I have other things we prefer to do on a Saturday.”

Ellie looked at Jess, and they both burst out laughing.

“What’s funny?” Josh asked.

“I told you,” Ellie said to Jess.

“Yeah.” She grinned at Josh.

“What did she tell you?” he demanded.

“That you’re very abrupt.”

“Am I?” Behind him, Josh could see George nodding his head and turned to face him. “Am I?”

“Yep. Kind of rude, too.”

“I am not. I’m…I…I know my own mind, that’s all.” Josh folded his arms, which made the other three laugh even harder. Josh glared at George.

“Sorry,” he spluttered.

“I can’t believe you’re laughing at me, George. I thought you were my best friend.”

“I am!”

“Oh!” Jess said. The laughter stopped. “We thought you were…” She wagged her finger between Josh and George. “You know?”

“No?” Josh said, watching George to see if he knew what Jess was talking about. George was blushing vivid crimson. Josh shrugged in query.

“They thought we were together.”

“Together? Like…oh!” Josh nearly choked on his breath and started coughing. “No…we’re…just…friends.”

“OK.” Jess smiled. “We don’t care, by the way.”

“So, you coming into town, or not?” Ellie asked.

“Yes,” George answered on both their behalves. “Go and get your jacket, Joshua.”

Hiding Behind The Couch


(The Pizza Place. Age 35.)

“How do you do it, Josh?” Eleanor had wondered often. There were many times when he had confided in her about conflicts between his personal and professional life without revealing the issues behind them. If he, too, was angry with himself for keeping quiet, then he certainly didn’t show it, and in the same circumstance she wouldn’t have been able to maintain that professional stance. It wasn’t as if he were a priest receiving confession. Shaunna was his friend. But then, so were Dan and Andy. “I wouldn’t even know what to do in a situation like this,” she thought aloud.

“Which is why a code of ethical conduct comes in handy,” Josh said, “although it hasn’t really been a problem until today. As far as I was concerned, Andy, possibly, had got drunk, done something he shouldn’t and lost the memory to alcoholic amnesia. Either that, or he didn’t do anything to forget and Dan’s paranoia fuelled it all. But I had no reason to suspect he had any more recollection of that night than Shaunna. Now there’s the possibility he may have been hiding something all this time.”

“But what if he’s a—” Eleanor stopped and waited until Karen had walked past their table. “Shit. I’ve just realised how busy it is. I’ll have to get back to work.” She leaned in close as she rose from her seat. “What if Andy really is a rapist?”

“Then we cross that bridge when we come to it.” Josh sighed. “I’ll leave you to get on. Apologise to your people for me, for keeping you away from your duties.” He stood and put his arms around her.

“I love you,” she said, hugging him back. “You’re fantastic. I hope you know that.”

“And I love you, too, Ellie,” he replied and kissed the top of her head.

She watched as he walked out of the restaurant, for the first time since she’d known him looking like the weight was too much for him to carry.

***

– Jess –


Ruminations


(Students’ Union bar. Age 17.)

“Hey!” He grabbed her arm, and she spun to face him, already defensive.

“What? I’m with people, in case you didn’t notice.”

“Barely.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“They only just pass for human. Never mind abandoning them being rude―what you just did to Sean and me―”

“I came over and said hello. That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? To prove you’d made a friend so I’d leave you alone?”

“Oh, I see. You think I’m lying? I thought you’d be pleased for me. But―you know what? Forget it. Go back to your friends.” Josh started to walk away, seething with anger.

“Oh no!” Jess yelled. “No, you don’t get to walk away from this.”

Josh turned back. “Walk away from you? Tell you what. When you realise what a bunch of low-down, exploitative, silver-spoon-sucking inbreds you’ve aligned yourself with, you can come and tell me that I told you so. Because that’s what they are, Jess. They don’t give a damn about you. They’re not real friends―”

“Just because you don’t like Gabby and Xander―”

“Gabby and Xander are better than the rest of them put together, but you didn’t see them that way, did you? You went skin-deep only.”

“That’s the thanks I get for trying to help you?”

“You were trying to make yourself feel less guilty, because you abandoned me on the first day.”

By this point, other people were taking notice of the slanging match.

“I did not abandon you. I invited you to join us at dinner, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did. Just like I invited you to come and have a drink with us then, and you shunned us, for them.” Josh pointed accusingly at the law students, who had tired of the argument and were back to guffawing joylessly at each other’s witticisms.

Jess was blinking hard and fast, flinching at Josh’s words.

“But as I say,” he continued, “it doesn’t matter. I’ll still be here when they cast you aside, or you see sense, hopefully the latter.”

The wind had definitely left Jess’s sails. “Is that what you think?” she said, her voice suddenly much quieter. “That I abandoned you?”

Josh shrugged. “It’s how I felt, yes.”

“Oh.”

Josh could see she was on the brink of tears, and she wasn’t the sort of person to cry for effect. He took a couple of deep breaths, bringing himself down from his rage before he spoke again. “Look. I understand that you need to do this. Law is about knowing the right people and making professional contacts. And that’s OK. But don’t give up us for them, please?”

“I’d never do that. I promise.”

“Good,” Josh said, fighting back a smile. “You can hug me now.”

In The Stars Part I


(A coffee shop. Age 37.)

“I must say it’s lovely to have the old Josh back.”

“The what now?”

“You know, the gushy clever clogs I went to school with?”

“I was never gushy!”

“Yes, you were. Or have you conveniently forgotten crying over Ophelia’s sorrow at Hamlet’s rebuttal?”

“Ah, hm. You got me.” Josh laughed. Jess laughed, too.

“It is very sad, I’ll admit,” she said.

“You know what’s sadder than that? I can still remember most of it!”

“Not surprising! How many times did you make us read through Act Three, Scene One?”

“And weren’t you glad I did?”

“Ha-ha, yeah! That exam question was a gift. O heavenly powers, restore him!” Jess put her hand to her forehead and flopped back dramatically against the sofa.

Josh turned to her with a troubled frown, also hammed, and took up the role of the Prince of Denmark. “I have heard of your paintings too, well enough. God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another. You jig, you amble, and you lisp; you nickname God’s creatures and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I'll no more on’t! It hath made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages. Those that are married already—all but one—shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go.”

Jess’s mouth dropped open. “Oh my word! How on earth do you remember all of that?”

“It’s an affliction,” Josh said ruefully.

“You’d make an amazing lawyer.”

“Maybe you’re right,” he said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully and with an entirely faked arrogance. She elbowed him, and he grinned. “But nowhere near as amazing as you.”

“Thanks. And I suppose if you’re saying it, then it must be true.”

“Absolutely.” He picked up his cappuccino and scooped out some of the foam with his finger. “Here’s an idea,” he said. He put his finger in his mouth. She turned and placed a knee up on the sofa, creating a barrier between them. He glanced down and then looked her in the eye again. “I’m still going to suggest it.”

She shrugged. She wasn’t going to agree to anything until she knew what it was, but she kept the eye contact.

He went on, “I’ll answer your question, truthfully, and you pay me the same courtesy. How about that?”

Jess shrugged again, this time by way of consent.

***

– Sean –


Ruminations


(University town centre. Age 17.)

“Hold on,” Josh said, already at the ATM and keying in his number. He withdrew a wad of notes and held it out to Sean. “Pay me back when your grant arrives.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Yes. You can.” Josh kept his arm extended. Sean shook his head.

“You’ve only just met me. Who’s to say I won’t do a runner at any second?”

Josh shrugged. Sean still refused to take the money.

“Look,” Josh reasoned, “I’ve been here three days and you’re the first person I’ve had a proper conversation with, although I’m not very sociable, so it’s my own fault, probably.”

“You can’t be that antisocial. You talked to me.”

“Asocial, and I think you’ll find that it was you who talked to me.”

Sean conceded both points. Josh sensed he could win him round.

“OK. How about this? You borrow this money and in return you can be my friend.”

“Are you serious?”

“Yes.”

“You don’t buy friends, Josh. People are either your friend, or they’re not. Money has nothing to do with it.”

“Maybe, but I’m prepared to buy this one. Take the money, Sean. Please? I’ve got it to lend, and you’re going to freeze to death without a duvet. It’s bloody cold in those halls, believe me!”

Sean took the money. “Thanks,” he said. “Thank you very much indeed. For your friendship and your trust.”

“Likewise.”

The Harder They Fall


(Students’ Union bar. Age 37.)

“Can I ask you something?” Josh waited for Sean to give him the go ahead before went any further. “Did you tell George what happened?”

“I told him some of it, like your thing for trashing the place, and that I let you down.”

“But you didn’t tell him about—you know.”

“No. That’s still our secret, Joshy. I haven’t told a soul.”

“I do wish you wouldn’t call me that.”

“It suits you.”

“It’s very patronising. Perhaps I should start calling you Seany?”

“I wouldn’t care a jot if you did.”

“Hmm, I don’t suppose you would.”

“Well, as I say, I made a promise not to whisper a word about it, and I’ve stayed true to it.” Sean took another gulp of beer. “Although, if you ever…”

“No. I made a promise, too, remember?” Josh held eye contact a second or so more, but then had to look away.

“You’re letting me in again,” Sean acknowledged. “After all this time.”

“Yes, I guess I am.”

***

– Xander –


Ruminations


(Students’ Union hall. Age 17.)

“Would you be interested in joining the philosophy society?”

Bugger.

Josh stopped mid-step and spun a few degrees in the direction of the newly forming philosophy society. Gabby’s silent cousin Xander stared back at him, unblinking, his enormous eyes magnified by thick, tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses, framing irises like willow-pattern saucers.

“Erm.” The word was there on the tip of Josh’s tongue. No? But it was difficult to justify refusing, since philosophy was something he knew a little about, from reading around his discipline in preparation for study, and because his grandma had told him of Sartre, and Baudrillard, and Pierre-François Moreau, who was a distant cousin of Josh’s grandfather, she said. Josh couldn’t decide if it were true, but even if it was, did being the grandson of a distant cousin of a lesser-known French philosopher grant sufficient reason to join the very small society desperate for members, especially when one of those members was a slightly scary looking member of the British aristocracy? Josh inhaled, opened his mouth…

Xander blinked.

Damn him.

He blinked again; twice this time.

“Have you read any Moreau?” Josh asked facetiously.

Blink. Xander’s eyes moved from side to side, the rest of his face still and emotionless. Blink. “Spinoza,” he said through a tiny porthole of a mouth.

Double damn him. Josh nodded. Yes, Moreau was a scholar of Spinoza, who also influenced many other philosophers and, to Josh’s ever-growing dismay, psychologists, ergo creating a sinew of connection between the odd boy standing before him, and the odd boy he knew himself to be. It could be worse, he tried to reason, though he strongly doubted it.

Alumni (WIP)


(Phone conversation. Age 40.)

“Hello, is that Joshua Sandison-Morley?”

Another posh Londoner. “Yes, it is.”

“Ah, good. My name is Jonathan Reardon, and I’m calling on behalf of Lord Etherington-Bowes.”

“Lord…Xander?”

“Yes, indeed.” The caller’s voice became quieter, directed at someone else. “He remembers you, my lord.”

“Of course he does.” No mistaking whose utterance that was. Josh wondered if the arrogance was intentional.

Jonathan addressed Josh again. “Xander’s cousin informed him that you wished to utilise his gift.”

“Erm…possibly. Could you put him on, please?”

“Oh, no. Sorry. He doesn’t use the telephone.”

“I see.” Sensible man. “I may wish to…utilise his gift, but I would need to discuss the situation with him in more detail, and forgive me, but I don’t know who you are in relation to Xander. His husband?”

“Gracious.” Jonathan laughed. “No, I’m his personal aide. Perhaps—”

“Ask him if he wants me to come to him,” Xander said.

“Lord Eth—”

“I heard,” Josh interrupted. He didn’t like the idea much, but he had little choice. He’d been through every plausible explanation and dismissed them all. At least with Xander, he wouldn’t be ridiculed for entertaining the possibility of a supernatural cause. “It’s a long way for him to come.”

“He’s visiting his cousins this coming weekend. He suggested that he could be with you on Sunday.”

“He’s an atheist,” Xander said.

Josh sighed heavily. This was exactly why Xander rubbed him up the wrong way, and what point was there to irritation? It wasn’t as if he did it on purpose. “Sunday is fine,” Josh confirmed. “Any time after ten.”

“Excellent. May I take your address, please, Joshua.”

“Certainly, it’s—” Josh stopped and listened to Xander state their address. “Yes, that’s it.”

“I’ll call Sunday morning to confirm the exact time, but it will be about eleven o’clock.”

“It will be eleven o’clock,” Xander stated—not echolalia but a statement of fact.

“I look forward to it,” Josh lied and ended the call before Xander said anything else.

***

– Gabby –


Reunions


(University café. Age 39.)

Gabby took his hand in hers and pressed their palms together. It wasn’t sudden; the whole motion had been slow, gentle, choreographed not to take him by surprise, but he hadn’t expected it, and for a while, he was stunned. When he could finally move again, he looked up to find she had her eyes closed. A tear ran down her cheek.

“Gabby? Are you all right?”

“Yes. I’m fine.” She remained quiet and still apart from the tear, which trickled down to her mouth and she caught it with the tip of her tongue. She opened her eyes again and smiled. “Sorry. I didn’t wish to imply I wouldn’t want you as a client.”

Josh frowned, a little puzzled by her reaction. Was she really so upset by her own words? “I took it as a tongue-in-cheek remark,” he said.

“That’s how I intended it.” Her frown matched his. “I’m so used to having to explain to Xander—”

“I’m not Xander,” Josh snapped, cursing himself for immediately reverting to his adolescent defensiveness. He had never been intentionally cruel, and it had taken time and effort to learn how to moderate his honesty. These days, he didn’t offend anywhere near as many people as he used to, more was the pity. Some of them would have benefitted from hearing it how it was. However, Gabby was not one of them. It wasn’t her fault Xander was her cousin.

Gabby’s emotional sidetrack had eased the intensity and given Josh much-needed thinking space, within which he’d undergone a slight thought adjustment that followed the premise of ‘no pain, no gain’. “I need to tell you what happened after university, Gabby, before you meet George. It’s one of the triggers of his attacks.”

Gabby shook her head. “Then don’t tell me. Let George do it in his own time.”

“There’s no guarantee he’ll agree to see you.”

“Is he as stubborn as his husband?”

Josh grinned. “More so.”

“Oh, good. I do like a challenge.” Gabby laughed and settled back in her chair. “Are you willing to trust me, Josh?”

“I already do.”

“That’s not how it seems to me.”

“It’s the truth, but if he has a seizure…”

“Surely that’s the point.”

“But—”

“Josh.” Gabby raised both index fingers, framing her coffee and shushing him.

“OK.” He relented, bowing to her judgement. “Tell me what you need from me.”

“Introduce me to George, and we’ll take it from there.”

***

– Kris –


In The Stars Part I


(Walking in the woods. Age 38.)

“I saw an email he sent you which I assumed was about this, trying to blackmail you into going on James’s stag night.”

“Yeah. It didn’t work.”

“No, although it did prompt us into talking. Actually, that’s not strictly true. The reunion—” Josh paused, because what happened before and during the reunion was responsible for forcing them to finally own up to their feelings, but Kris had made George’s evening very difficult by kissing him in front of everyone, and Josh didn’t want to get into a row over it, particularly as, on this occasion, he was more on Kris’s side than he was on George’s.

“By the way,” Kris said, “I must also apologise for my behaviour at the reunion. It was all in a good cause.”

“I’ve seriously got to get out of these woods,” Josh muttered. “You’re blessed with some kind of supernatural power here, I swear.”

“Don’t like getting a taste of your own medicine, hey?” Kris teased. Josh raised an eyebrow. Kris grinned. “As I say, I’m sorry. It didn’t mean anything.”

Josh patted his arm. “Don’t worry about it. You probably know already that you upset George, although I understand why you did it—trying to prove no-one really cares these days.”

“Erm, I think he may have slightly misquoted me there.” Kris rose to his feet, and Josh followed suit.

The dogs were done grazing now, and the two men headed back the way they had come. A rabbit ran across the path in front of them. Casper momentarily thought about chasing it but quickly changed his mind, exhausted from his extended play in the spring. Blue was back at Josh’s side and clearly considered himself a cut above anything as undignified as running after rabbits. They continued on in silence for a while before Kris spoke again.

“What I actually said was, ‘Let’s see if anyone cares.’”

Josh stopped walking, and Kris turned back to face him.

“You meant me,” Josh realised.

“I did mean you. I saw you standing outside the loos, then you were gone, and when you came back again I thought, sod it. I’ve kept quiet long enough. So I kissed him to provoke a reaction. And I got one. Oh boy, did I get one! He went ballistic!”

“Suzie Tyler upset him.”

“No, I mean after he found out you saw us. He was livid. He phoned me on his way home from the jazz club and bawled me out.”

“Ah. That was most likely my fault. I told him I didn’t care that the two of you kissed.”

Kris nodded to signify his understanding, although he was looking a little confused. Josh caught up with him again.

“I don’t care, incidentally,” he said. “Though I did at the time, so don’t go trying it again, will you?”

Kris smiled. “I wouldn’t dare.”

***

– Dan –


In The Stars Part I


(A pub. Age 38.)

“Surely there must be something that makes you angry?”

Josh thought about it and smiled. “Yes. You.”

Dan laughed. “That’s only when we’ve had a drink.”

“And it’s not angry really, it’s stroppy, although you’re just as bad! No, what makes me really angry is dishonesty.”

Dan picked up his glass and looked away.

“What was that for?” Josh asked.

“I didn’t say a word.”

“You didn’t need to.”

“It’s—” Dan frowned. “Well, it’s a bit hypocritical. I mean, all those years, pretending you weren’t interested in George.”

“All those years?” Josh repeated. Dan coughed nervously. “Just how many years are we talking?”

“Err…” Dan was trying to come up with a change of subject, but he wasn’t a quick thinker.

“Go on, Dan. The truth,” Josh demanded. Dan shifted in his seat. Josh forced a change of posture, to give him a way out. “You’re right, of course. I’ve loved George for a long time, and you don’t have to answer, but I’m still interested to know how long you think it’s been.”

“I can tell you when I first saw it,” Dan offered. Josh shrugged by way of giving consent. “That first time, coming back on the plane from the ranch. You looked just how I felt after Adele left me for Gavin.”

“Oh, good God. Gavin. He was a complete—”

“Turd.”

“Not the word I’d have used, but accurate, nonetheless.”

“I thought me and Adele were done for when he came on the scene.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.” Dan became wistful. “He was like me in many respects—an astute businessman, he really knew his stuff when it came to technology—could be very charming, too, and he was—”

“A beefcake,” Josh interjected.

Dan turned and looked at him. “I’d never have guessed you were into guys,” he said. “Not in a million years. Didn’t give it any thought, if I’m honest, until the trip to the ranch.”

“Hmm. Now that is interesting.”

“Why?”

“You don’t remember calling me queer at school?”

“Can’t say I do. You sure it wasn’t someone else? Or aimed at someone else?”

“No. It was definitely you, and definitely aimed at me.”

“Ah, well. Sorry about that. You know what the banter was like. It could’ve been anybody. It only took one of the lads to say something a bit soppy and we’d have been calling them that. Always something or nothing.”

“Yes,” Josh agreed vaguely.

“Anyway,” Dan continued, “that was kind of when I knew, on the plane and then for a while after. The others said it was because you blamed yourself for him going OS, but I thought, no. There’s more to it. You were really down in the dumps, not eating, hardly talking, and I figured—well, yeah.”

In The Stars Part II


(A beach-side bar. Age 38.)

Dan fell silent for a couple of minutes, alternating between being artificially absorbed in studying the label on his beer bottle and glancing out to sea. “I realise this is a bit out of the blue, but I want to ask you a favour.”

“OK.”

Dan paused and picked up his beer. “It’s a biggie.”

Josh nodded to encourage him, but he didn’t speak for a while.

Keeping his eyes downturned, Dan frowned and swigged at the bottle. “I know you don’t go in for all that marriage guidance malarkey, but I wondered if you fancied making an exception?”

“Erm…”

Josh didn’t know what to say. He really, really hated working with couples. Granted, in the past, it had been due to not feeling qualified to do so, given that he had no personal experience of relationships. There again, he didn’t have experience of most of what he treated people for, so it had always been a poor justification. He also didn’t see the support he offered his friends as work—not even with Dan, although that was how they’d dealt with it in the past.

“Are things that bad between you?” he asked.

“No. They’re all right, as it goes.”

“So what do you need me for?”

“Well, it’s like this. I want another baby. Adele wants to go back to college. God knows where that idea came from.”

“Presumably, it’s because Shaunna’s been talking about doing it?”

Dan shook his head. “When Shaunna told her she was enrolling on a course, Adele started up on the whole ‘I wish I could’ routine, but she had no intention of pursuing it—said she wasn’t clever enough. Then all of a sudden, she changed her mind.”

“Oh, right.” Josh quickly turned his attention back to the surfers. He’d evidently succeeded in persuading Adele she could go back to college if she really wanted to, so it was kind of his own fault he was in this predicament. George fell off again. “The two aren’t mutually exclusive,” Josh said. “Having a baby and going to college. She can do both.”

“Yeah. I know that. It’s an excuse.” Dan made eye contact. “I’m glad we’re on the same wavelength.”

Josh rolled his eyes. “And that is precisely why I don’t go in for ‘that marriage guidance malarkey’. It’s not nice being caught in the middle. But I’ll do it, because it’s you.”

“Blimey. If I’d known it was going to be that easy…”

“It won’t be, I assure you.”

“You know what Adele’s—”

Josh put up his hand and stopped Dan mid-flow. “That’s it now. No more talking about Adele. The first rule from here on is that you both have to be present whenever you want to talk to me about each other. Otherwise, it’ll head into the realm of tit-for-tat, and I’m the umpire, not the tennis ball.”

“Fair enough.”

***

– Andy –


Hiding Behind The Couch


(Josh’s therapy rooms. Age 35.)

“Do you think I did it?”

“I don’t think you did it knowingly, if that’s what you’re asking.”

It was the truth, Josh confirmed to himself, with relief. The Andy before him now was no different to who he was all those years ago—the little boy who couldn’t quite manage naughtiness, always holding back for fear of getting into trouble. Yes, he was reckless at times and did things that to Josh and the others seemed utterly ludicrous. No doubt if Andy had been having the waterslide dream, he’d have found a way to purge it from his unconscious, simply for being tedious. However, what he’d always wanted, more than adventure, was approval from those he loved. Intentionally having sex with Shaunna, consensual or otherwise, guaranteed the absolute opposite.

“But you think I might have forced her to…you know. Oh God, if I did, I’ll never forgive myself.”

“All right. Don’t panic. Ultimately, whatever we uncover in this session, or any other, I won’t share without your permission. OK?”

“Yeah. I guess.”

Andy wasn’t OK at all. Far from it. He trusted Josh. Even if Andy came right out and confessed that he had knowingly, deliberately raped Shaunna, without his say-so, it would not pass beyond these four walls. It would almost be easier for that to be the truth, instead of this awful weight in the pit of his stomach, in many ways like the build-up to being dropped on top of a mountain, only this was a sense of foreboding rather than anticipation.

In The Stars Part II


(A beach. Age 38.)

The silence returned, although Josh could sense that Andy was thinking, preparing to speak. After a couple of minutes, he found the words.

“I hope you’ve got that bucket at the ready,” he remarked lightly. He smiled, but his eyes were glassy.

Josh nodded. “I thought that last night.”

Andy swallowed hard, trying to dam the tears. He and Josh had reached the foot of the steps to the hotel, but Andy strode off along the base of the cliffs.

Josh followed and watched from a few feet away, as Andy balanced on the edge of a fallen rock, gripping his surfboard and taking long, deep breaths. He was trying to regain control and let out a low growl, like a strong man lifting a tremendous weight.

“I still love her,” he confessed. He sighed and scuffed at the sand, burying his feet and pushing hard until his toes reappeared.

Andy was shaking—with rage? With anguish? Josh couldn’t tell, but here he was, yet again, smack-bang in the middle of an emotional minefield. To his credit, Andy had tried not to involve him, but with their friendship group, that was just the way it happened. Maybe it’s to do with there being an odd number of people, although…Josh didn’t want to take that thought any further and pushed it away.

“Sorry,” Andy said eventually.

“Don’t apologise.”

“You told me, didn’t you? You said it wouldn’t work in the long-term.”

“That’s right, I did. But we can do it again if you want, or try something else?”

Andy shook his head, disappointed with himself. “What’s the use? I love her, and there’s nothing I can do.”

Josh propped himself on the next rock along.

Andy studied his surfboard, rubbing at the wax smears. “Seeing her every day is f**king torture.” He stopped rubbing and gazed out to sea, trying to make sense of his feelings. “It’s like an addiction. The more I see her, the more I need her.”

Josh nodded. “That’s the problem with suppression. You know that saying, ‘don’t think of an elephant’? As soon as the thought’s in there, that’s all you can think about.”

Andy laughed, but not in joy. “Some awful bloody elephant this is.”

***

– Adele –


In The Stars Part I


(The Red Lion pub. Age 38.)

Josh and Adele exited the adjacent toilets at the same time and Adele smiled awkwardly, trying to avoid eye contact. It was a reaction Josh was used to getting from her, although not usually to this extreme, and he immediately tried to ease her discomfort.

“Have you enjoyed tonight?” he asked.

“I have. I didn’t think I would.”

“Why not?”

“Because I’m not that bright.”

“You’re much more clever than you think you are.”

“I’m really not.” She turned and made fleeting eye contact. “Can I tell you a secret?”

“Of course.”

“I, err…” She giggled nervously, but then became serious and looked down at the floor.

“Is it about reading?” Josh prompted. She nodded. “You struggle with it, don’t you?”

“Yes,” she confessed. “I can read and write, just…”

“Not as well as you’d like to be able to.”

She nodded again. “That’s why I messed about at school, and why I left without sitting most of the exams. It was so difficult for me. And sometimes, when I’m trying to understand stuff, Dan makes fun of me. He doesn’t know how hard I try, but it makes me feel so stupid. I’d love to go back to college, like Shaunna, and…” She sighed and turned away, biting her lip. She looked ready to cry.

“Hey,” Josh said gently, putting his arm around her. “Firstly, you are not stupid. Think how many of those questions you knew the answer to when no-one else did.”

“It’s just a silly pub quiz,” Adele dismissed.

“Perhaps, but most of the people in here only know the answers because they look them up on the internet. You had the answers in your head.”

“See, that’s what I mean. I wish I could write them down. And I’ve always wanted to read books, but all those tiny words—it makes me feel dizzy trying to concentrate.”

“But that doesn’t mean you’re stupid. The other thing I was going to say is that school and college isn’t like when we went. There’s tons of support for students who find reading and writing hard. One of the students who just passed the counselling course is dyslexic, and the university loaned him an audio recorder to make his notes. If he’d had to sit written exams, they’d have arranged for someone to be his scribe and write his answers for him.”

“So I could go back to college?”

“Of course you could! You’ll have to be honest about the problems you have, but I’m sure they’d give you lots of help. What do you want to study?”

“Oh, I’m not sure. I haven’t really thought about it properly. The gym job’s great and everything, but—I don’t know. What if I mess up?”

“You won’t. Just go for it, Adele.”

She looked at him and nodded.

“You’ve got nothing to lose. And if I can help you, I will.”

“Thanks,” she said. She gave him a quick hug and kissed his cheek, then looped her arm through his as they returned to their respective tables…

Reunions


(A limousine. Age 39.)

The very idea of counselling Suzie Tyler. Good grief. It was only when he emerged from the sheer infuriating hilarity of the thought that he realised Dan had been winding him up, and in the process had safely shifted the conversation away from himself. Adele patted Josh’s hand to get his attention.

“I saw Suzie at the gym yesterday. She’s been in every day for the past two weeks.”

“Has she?”

“Yep. I think someone might not be coping too well with going up a dress size. Or three.” Adele gave Josh an overplayed innocent pout.

“Oh, Adele,” he gasped. “You are outrageous!”

And she’s had her hair cut.” Adele’s perfect nose turned up, and she blinked her huge false eyelashes. “Doesn’t she know she’s far too old for a pixie cut?”

“Oh my god, she has not?” Josh asked, hamming up a campness he had never possessed. George leaned forward and studied him with a frown. Josh pushed his face away.

Adele nodded very slowly. “It must be so hard for her to see me every day, doing fabulous forty for real.” She gave Josh a wink to imply she was joking.

“You do do fabulous forty for real, Adele,” he said earnestly.

***

– Iris –


In The Stars Part II


(Josh and George’s back garden. Age 38.)

“I’ll go to the chemist in a minute, see if your prescription’s ready.”

“Ta, love.” She put out her cigarette in the ashtray Josh had bought especially for when she and Pauline visited. “I’m gonna have another while I’m here.”

“You don’t have to justify it to me, Iris.”

“No. I s’pose not.” She took a long draw on the virgin cigarette and blew the smoke away from him. “When I heard Jack was dead, I didn’t know what to do with meself. I’d always thought I’d be wantin’ to go and dance on the f**ker’s grave.”

Josh didn’t comment. It was only the second time he’d ever heard her mention George’s dad, and the first time she’d referred to him by name.

“It were months before I got the sound of his smarmy f**kin’ whinin’ out me ’ead. Like he’d come back to haunt me, it was, givin’ Georgie the ranch. I never asked about her—the one he married over there. I’m not f**kin’ interested, to tell you the truth, but I did wonder if he kept his kex on for her.”

Still Josh remained quiet, for Iris didn’t talk openly, and he was humbled by the love and trust she was extending to him. He shivered, and not just because of the chilly autumn evening.

“Georgie says he met her son. Joe, is it?”

Josh nodded.

“Aye. Said he was a good-lookin’ lad. His mam’s one of them red injuns.”

That broke the moment. Josh tried not to laugh and ended up snorting instead.

“What did I say now?” Iris asked innocently. Josh giggled.

“I think the term you’re looking for is Native American or American Indian, Iris.”

“Ee God. There’s no bloody ’ope for me, is there, lad?” She chuckled and carried on smoking in silence. “So anyhow, don’t you be frettin’ about what other people think. Do it your way and f**k the lot of ’em.” She stubbed out the cigarette and pulled herself forward, taking deep breaths in preparation. “I’m off for that piss.”

“I’ll follow you,” Josh said.

“You don’t need to do that, love.”

“Yes, Iris, I do.”

“Well, ta, love. I’m grateful.”

“Anytime.”

Two By Two


(Iris’s flat. Age 39.)

Iris returned with the two cups―both tea, but Josh liked it the way Iris made it―set them down and went back to the kitchen, this time returning with a packet of Jammy Dodgers. She offered the first one to Josh and took one herself, dunking it in her tea. Josh’s nose wrinkled in disgust.

“Eh! Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!” she said. Josh frowned dubiously, but mimicked her anyway, biting off the soggy edge of the biscuit.

“Mmm,” he groaned in pleasure, as the squishy, jammy deliciousness slid down his throat. He dunked the biscuit again and repeated the action, and a third time, although a little too enthusiastically. The biscuit fell apart and dropped with a plop into his tea. “Oh!” He peered into his cup. Iris shook her head.

“Honest to God, you’d think you’d never dipped a bicky in your brew before.”

“I haven’t, although I have scooped cappuccino foam with a biscotti.”

Iris mouthed the words back at him mockingly. He stuck out his tongue and they both laughed. She offered him another; he accepted, and went a little more carefully, succeeding in not losing any in his tea. He sat back and settled his cup in the folds of his sweater.

“Do you think that’s all it is?” he asked. “With Libby?

“Who knows, love? But it’ll sort itself out. Anyhow, you’re the expert on these things.”

“Teenagers?”

“People who’ve had a rough time,” Iris clarified.

“Hm,” Josh sounded doubtfully.

“If it was someone else’s kid come to see you, what would you do?”

“I’d ask them what was bothering them.”

“And have you asked Libby?”

“No. She won’t talk to me.”

“Right. And all them lot that come to see you, they just open up, do they?”

“Not always. Sometimes I have to gently encourage them. Just keep trying different ways to build a connection.” Josh closed his eyes as it all fell into place. “You’re a very wise woman, Iris Morley.” He opened his eyes again and smiled at her. She patted his knee.

“I have me moments,” she grinned.

***

– Libby –


A Midnight Clear


(Josh and George’s house. Age 38.)

“Does it have a happy ending?” she asked. “The Little Match Girl?”

“Sort of. She goes to heaven to be with her grandmother.”

“Do you believe in heaven?”

“No.”

“So why were you reading it? The happy ending only works if you believe in heaven.”

She was staring at him so intently, searching his face for understanding. He met her gaze.

“I was reminding myself of the story, so I could make the right decision.”

“About me?”

“Yes. About you.”

“I thought you wanted me to leave.”

“I don’t want you to end up like the little match girl.”

Libby sighed. She didn’t want to think about leaving, not yet. She shuffled closer to Josh and set the book down in his lap, leaning in so she could still see the delicate watercolour illustrations, her head resting against his shoulder. Instinctively, he put a protective arm around her and kissed the top of her head.

“It’s Christmas Day,” he whispered.

“I know,” she replied, also in a whisper. “Yes, please. I would like you to read it to me.”

“OK.” He repositioned the book so he could see it better and was about to start, when she covered the page with her hand and peered up at him.

“But only if it has a happy ending.”

Two By Two


(A field. Age 39.)

“Come on then,” Libby said, grabbing Josh’s hand. He stood his ground. “Josh! Come on.”

“I can’t.”

“You can.”

Josh shook his head. He could feel his heart thumping hard, his legs starting to wobble. He was breathing too fast. “I can’t, Lib.”

“How do you know if you’ve never tried?”

Josh closed his eyes and exhaled slowly and steadily. “I don’t, but I know I’m afraid of heights. I never used to be able to go up into the loft for that reason.”

“And now you can.”

“Yes, because George got the stairs put in for me, so I had to.”

“Was he proud of you?”

Josh smiled as he recalled George praising him for getting up and down those stairs all by himself, although they never did get around to dealing with the cow thing. “Yes, he was very proud.”

“It’s a really good feeling when someone’s proud of you,” Libby said philosophically, but Josh sensed she was getting set to play an ace.

“Yes, it is.”

“Miss Thompson said she was proud of me for being brave, and I was really scared, but when someone believes in you and you trust them, it makes you want to try harder, so you don’t let them down.”

Josh folded his arms and turned his face upwards so he could see the very top branches of the tree.

“Do you trust me yet?” Libby asked.

Tricky question. Did he? He didn’t think she’d steal from them or anything like that, or deliberately do anything to hurt them, and he believed what she had said about life at home. He had no reason not to trust her, but she was just a teenaged girl. Could he trust her to help him combat his fear of heights? Surprisingly, he realised that the answer was yes. First Farrar, now Libby; it was clearly time to give Eleanor a call and resharpen his cynical edge―if he didn’t break his neck first.

“Yes,” he said. “I trust you.”

She held out her hand to him and he took it.

***

– Rob –


In The Stars Part II


(Black Hole Studios. Age 38.)

Rob gave Josh a wink and a smile, and mouthed the words, “One minute.”

Josh leaned against the wall and rubbed his eyes, listening to the sound of people moving past him in both directions, voices asking questions and giving answers, all blurring into one muddled mass of noise that cyclically rose, peaked and fell away to nothing in the dead room. He had no idea how long he’d been standing there when he felt someone touch his arm and opened his eyes again to Rob’s concerned face.

“Alright?” he asked. Josh nodded. “I’ll explain everything once we’re out of here.”

“Undercover,” Josh uttered.

“Yeah. It’s been a, err…” Rob looked away, close to tears. “I’m sorry. I hope you understand.”

“How long?”

“This case? Three years.”

“Wow!”

“And before that, five years, and before that?” He shrugged in defeat. “I can’t even remember. But I’m done now. No more.” He turned back and smiled sadly. “No more.”

“I’m really glad,” Josh said. “Not that it’s over… Hold on.” He paused to give himself time to get the words in order. After months of nonstop thinking and surviving on virtually no sleep, his brain was finally shutting down. Worst timing ever. “Let me rephrase that. I’m glad it’s over, of course, but I’m also relieved to know this is what you’ve been doing. I thought I’d got you all wrong.”

“You mean you didn’t think I was a bad guy?” Rob tried to look disappointed.

“No.”

“Not even when you were threatening to push me down Jess’s stairs?”

“Ah,” Josh smiled. “I must admit, you had me questioning my conviction at that point. The others will be relieved, too.”

“Yeah. I’m not looking forward to telling them.”

“Do you want me to do it?”

“No. I want to tell them myself. I owe them that much.”

“You can get it over and done with now, if you like. They’re outside.”

“Will you vouch for me?”

“Didn’t I always?”

Rob nodded. “Yeah, you did. And I appreciate it.”

***

– Vincent –


In The Stars Part I


(Vincent’s jeweller’s shop. Age 38.)

“We can’t take these. We don’t even know your name!”

“Vincent,” the jeweller said quickly. “I believe that resolves your dilemma, sir?”

Josh looked him in the eye and established the gifts were non-returnable. “Thank you, Vincent. So you will come, then? To the wedding?”

“Absolutely, sir. I’m already planning an outfit.” Momentarily, he had dropped the façade and Josh seized the chance.

“Good. Just one other thing, while we’re at it,” he said. “He’s George. I’m Josh. We’d be delighted if you’d stop calling us ‘sir’.”

The jeweller nodded and smiled. “Consider it done—” he paused for effect “—sir.”

Josh pretended to glower at him, although there was no pretence from George, whose eyes were glowing greener than usual.

They said their goodbyes and Josh followed him out of the shop, aware that George was in a bad mood, but not of the reason for it.

“That’s so nice of him,” Josh said as they headed back to the car.

“Nice, yeah,” George grumped.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing at all.”

“Really?”

“If you discount the fact that you were flirting with someone else—again—and right in front of me.”

“Flirting with…?”

George didn’t respond.

“Well?” Josh prompted.

“The jeweller, obviously.”

“I was not flirting with the jeweller!”

“You were.” George walked on ahead and held the door open. Josh stepped past him.

“I really wasn’t.” He pushed the button to call the lift. “Was I?” He looked genuinely shocked.

“Don’t pretend you didn’t realise.”

“George. I didn’t realise,” Josh said sincerely. “That kind of, erm, oh God.”

George sighed. The lift arrived and they stepped inside. “You seriously didn’t know?”

“No. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. Actually, that’s a stupid thing to promise. How would I even know if it did?”

“When you get home from work, I’ll explain it to you. Flirting 101.”

In The Stars Part II


(Cordelia’s Aquarium. Age 38.)

“And how are your rings?” Vincent’s eyes twinkled with mischief. Josh giggled.

“They’re holding up well,” he responded.

“I’m delighted to hear it. Now, what would you like? Coffee?”

“Please. And also to ask you what you think of him.” Josh nodded in Graham Farrar’s direction. Vincent observed the detective whilst he prepared the coffee. “Well?” Josh prompted.

“I’m far too ancient to become embroiled in the rituals of courtship,” Vincent said.

“That answers my question nicely.” Josh smiled and took his coffee. “Good day to you, sir.” He gave Vincent a wink and returned to George’s side.

“Why don’t you just ask him yourself?” George suggested.

“Because he told me he has a wife. I can hardly go up to him and say, ‘Hey, Graham. I know you’re married to a woman, but are you gay?’, can I? Or maybe I could.” Josh looked thoughtful.

“No! Don’t!” George said, laughing, but not entirely sure that Josh was joking.

***

– Gray –


Note: Gray is also known as Graham Farrar

In The Stars Part II


(Cordelia’s Aquarium. Age 38.)

“You’re right,” he said. Josh turned to face him again. “About me? At first, I thought you’d singled me out.”

“Not at all. I do it to everyone, all the time. It’s why I became a psychologist.”

“Because you were already a psychologist.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s true.”

“You enjoy being an academic?”

“More than being a therapist.”

“Would you consider a change of career?”

“Like what?”

“Psychological assessment of targets’ characteristics.”

“Offender profiling?”

“Suspect profiling. So there is no confusion, though you’ve likely realised already, I’m headhunting you.”

“Erm…” Josh hadn’t realised and was taken aback. “Wow! I don’t know what to say. I’m flattered, but…I don’t know. It’s a high-pressure job. I’m not sure I’m up to it.”

“You are, believe me.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” Josh frowned. “You know that I have a long-term mental health condition?”

“As does most of the population these days.”

“A valid point.” He needed time to think about this conversation, even before he got to considering what was being asked of him.

“Look, Josh, this is between you and me, OK?”

“OK.”

“I’m putting together a team for another big case, and I really could do with someone like you on it. You wouldn’t be out in the field as such, so we could forego the in-depth screening—I doubt you’d agree to it anyway. You could also continue your work at the university, if you wished, and we would ensure that your employers were suitably supportive.”

Josh rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

“I don’t need an answer of any sort from you until the new year,” Graham assured him. “Not even a tentative maybe.”

“All right.” Josh nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

“Great. I have no problem with you discussing it with George or Doctor Tierney in general terms, however, the specifics—”

“George and I have no secrets. Our relationship depends on it, and we’ve promised that we will tell each other everything.”

“Yet you refused to confirm to him that your friends are having an affair?”

Josh flinched as if he had been physically struck.

“You did so for his own good. That much was clear and is no more than we would ask of you. We try not to put anyone in a situation where they have to lie to their family. Anyway, I will say no more on it and we’ll talk again in January.” Graham stepped away, but didn’t leave yet. “Just one more thing,” he said. “I’d prefer it if my colleagues didn’t know about me.”

“It’s none of my business, but I understand. The police service is a very traditional, masculine organisation.”

“No. You misunderstand. Graham Farrar is a straight detective sergeant from Newcastle. I am not.”

“I see,” Josh said. “But you are called Graham?”

“You may call me Graham, yes.”

Two By Two


(Graham’s house. Age 39.)

“I was in hospital with a coke addict,” he said.

“Were you?” Farrar responded without looking up. He was shaking violently and holding his head.

“If we got lucky we were both high at the same time and we’d keep each other company. She was fascinating. Inspiring, even.”

“I bet you never saw her like this.”

“Only once. She was dead a few hours later. Snorted something one of the other patients gave her. We never found out what it was, but she went quite quickly―heart failure. She was only twenty-one.”

“Why are you telling me? To guilt me into giving up?”

“No I’m telling you because it makes me so bloody mad. I appreciate better than most people the allure of the highs. From what she told me and what I’ve heard since, they’re worth suffering the dive into hell afterwards, but you’re choosing to live like this. That’s what I can’t quite comprehend. You choose to take something that could kill you, for a few hours of euphoric oblivion, followed by this.”

“And you could choose to take medication.”

Josh nodded. “I could, but I wouldn’t just lose the extreme moods. I’d lose my identity, my ability to think, to feel at all. I don’t get to choose whether to be bipolar.”

“Addiction is also an illness.”

“Addiction, my friend, is the least of your worries.”

Farrar covered his eyes, his breath leaving in spluttered gasps as he started to crack.

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Josh said coolly. He slid down to the floor so that he was on Farrar’s level. The next few days would be more of the same; sitting in silence, or screaming and shouting, beating down the initial physiological withdrawal.

“Sean’s going to come and stay with you later,” Josh said.

“You told him?”

“I need his help. I can’t get you through this on my own.”

“I didn’t ask you to.”

“Yes, you did. And if you’re very lucky, Aitch will think you were just having a breakdown.”

“F**k.”

“That sums it up aptly. So here’s the plan. We’re going to watch TV, talk, eat, talk some more, sleep, eat, talk, and so on, until the acute withdrawal passes, and then we’ll deal with the rest.”

“The rest of what?”

“Losing Jean.”

Farrar shook his head. It was an action born of defeat, not refusal. “I can’t,” he said.

“You can.”

“I don’t want to, Josh.” Farrar looked up, pleading.

“No. I know you don’t,” Josh said, softening a little, “but you have to. See, your job is just a place to hide, and the drugs are a way of escaping the job. It’s a downward spiral and you’ll never break free. And it’s a really shit job, Graham.”

Farrar nodded and winced sharply at the pain in his head. “I need a drink,” he said. He tried to get up, but he was too weak.

“Stay, Josh commanded. “You’ll only end up back here anyway.”

***

– Lastly –


Hiding Behind The Couch


(A Chinese restaurant, with The Circle. Age 35.)

Lastly, I am Josh. There is little I can add that you will not discover in time.

***

Thanks for reading!
Deb x