A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times



He was the bride’s brother, come over from America to stay a while in London. She was the bridegroom’s sister, called in to keep him occupied while the newly married couple worked.

Currently she was occupying him with tea and biscuits. 

His hands, calloused and large, held the small cup as if it were a toy, afraid it was going to shatter into a thousand fragments.

She watched him trying to find a suitable place to drink from it.

“This isn’t working, is it?” she asked, smiling a little.

“Not used to such dainty things,” he admitted. “’Fraid I'm likely to crack the damn thing, then Lucy’d skin me alive.” He leaned forward. “It was a wedding gift.”

“I know. I bought it.”

He grinned. “So you did. Forgot all about that.”

“Well, I'm not exactly memorable,” she agreed.

“That wasn't what I meant,” he said quickly. “Remember you well enough.” He put the cup back in the saucer, centring it with care.

She coloured a little, the blush rising up her cheeks before receding to leave her paler than ever.

“Damn,” he said, sitting back and changing the subject. “I could do with a drink.”

“I'm sure …” She looked around, seeing the bottles on the side table. “What would you like?”

He licked his lips and she noticed that his tongue was long. “Got any bourbon?”

“Isn’t it a little early for that?” she chided gently.

“Hell, not sure I know. For three days now I’ve not known if it’s 8 am, 8 pm, or sometime on Sunday.”

“Jet lag?”

“With a vengeance.”

“In which case we’ll say the sun’s well over the yard arm and I’ll join you.”

“The sun’s what?” His blue eyes screwed up a little, unfamiliar with the saying.

“It just means … I think it’s nautical …” She smiled, the action lighting her face. “Never mind.”

He grinned. “You must think me an uneducated idiot.”

“No, no,” she assured him. “I don’t think any such thing.”

“You’re a good liar.”

“For that you don’t get a drink.”

“Aw, hell, I apologise.” He chuckled.

“Then I accept.” She got up. “Bourbon, did you say?”

“If you got it.”

She crossed to the table, turning the bottles so she could read the labels. “Ah, no bourbon. There’s Jack Daniels?”

He grinned. “Fine enough.”

She poured good measures into two glasses and brought them back. “Cheers,” she said, raising her own.

“May you be in heaven ten minutes before the devil knows you’re dead.”

“What?”

He squirmed a little, embarrassed. “Something my dad used to say when he took a drink on a Saturday night.” He shrugged. “His dad was Irish, so I guess it came from there.”

“Is that where you get your colouring?” she asked, looking at his dark, almost black hair and blue eyes, then dropping her gaze to her glass.

“I guess. ‘Though Lucy don’t look like me at all. Takes after our mother, God rest her.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean –“

“She’s been dead for nearly ten years. I’m not gonna get tearful now.” He raised his glass.

“So, we gonna drink to each other’s health?”

“Absolutely!”

They touched tumblers gently, and each took a mouthful. She felt it raw in the back of her throat, but was determined not to show it, even though her eyes began to tear up.

He peered at her. “You don’t exactly drink hard liquor, do you?” he asked. “Want me to get you a hankie or something?”

She waved at him. “I’m fine. And I do drink. Just not maybe this.”

His lips twitched. “Sorry about that. Turning you onto bad ways.”

“No, it’s not your fault.” She blinked hard a few times. “It’s nice.”

“And I take back what I said about you being a good liar.”

She sat back in her chair. “All right, it isn’t. But I'm being company.”

“Good company too,” he added, raising his glass to her.

“Thanks, Josh.” She smiled a little. “Joshua,” she corrected herself.

“Josh is fine. Most folks call me that, except my mom, and that was only when I did something real bad.”

“Like what?”

He laughed. “Well, that’s for me to know and you never to find out.”

“That bad?”

“Worse.” He smiled at her with his cobalt eyes.

“I like Bible names,” she said, blushing again.

He wondered how far down the pink went. “Really?”

“Mmn. I mean, there’s Ethan, Seth, Jethro …”

“Joshua?” he supplied.

“Mmn.”

“So you’d like me well enough if I were called Methuselah?”

She laughed, and the sound warmed him far more than the Jack had. “Old family name, is it?”

”It was either that or Nebuchadnezzar, only my dad put his foot down.”

“So you’ve been lying all this time about being a Joshua?”

“Sorry about that. But now you know, I have to kill you.”

“I’d really rather you didn’t,” she said, holding up a hand in mock surrender.

“Yeah, me too.” He took a deep breath. “You know, I like your name. Beth. Short for Elizabeth?”

“No,” she said quickly, surprising him. “My name’s Bethany. Only most people forget.”

“Really? I think that’s even nicer. Kinda rolls off the tongue. Exotic.”

“Most exotic thing about me.”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

She felt the breath catch in her throat, and her treacherous skin burned.

He took pity on her. “Got any cards?”

“What?”

“Cards. As in deck of.”

“Um, I think … probably.” She peered at him. “Why?”

“Well, always feel the need to play a hand or two when I've got a glass of sipping whisky by my side.” He scratched his face. “Do you … play?”

“Yes,” she said, surprising him once more. “Not for a long time, though. Our granddad taught us, and we used to play for pennies.”

“That explains a lot.” Josh shook his head sadly. “Your youth was sorely wasted.”

“I wish it had been,” she said quietly. Then she quickly got up so he couldn’t see how embarrassed she was, and went to the dresser. “I think the cards are in here. What do you want to play? Poker?”

“Sounds good.” He glanced at her as she bent over, her skirt tightening across her buttocks, then looked away. “’N’ don’t worry. I won’t take you for more cash than you can afford.”

She laughed. “What makes you think you’re going to win? And I never said I’d be playing for money.” She turned back with an unopened deck in her hand.

“But you said you played for pennies –“

“That was a long time ago.”

“Then what?”

“I don’t know …” She bit her lip, looking younger than her years. “I think there might be some poker chips somewhere …”

“Look, it has to be interesting, otherwise I just can’t get my game going.” He looked at her, his mouth pursed. “How about truth or dare?”

“What?” She stared at him.

“Got some paper? We each have, oh, I don’t know, five of each, and we bet. Player with the most at the end wins.” He grinned and his blue eyes lit up. “Come on. Be fun.”

“I don’t know …”

“Seriously, I won’t make you do anything you don’t want,” he promised.

Her eyebrows raised. “You still think you’re going to win?”

“I've been playing a long while, and you … how long’s it been since you dealt a hand?”

“Years, but that doesn’t mean –“

“Look, if it’s too much for you, forget I suggested it.”

“It isn’t!” she insisted. “I mean …” She giggled.

“You get like this when you drink whisky?” he asked.

She forced herself to calm down. “Let’s play,” she said.

Neither of them wanted to lose. Each had been betting on the first hand as if their lives depended on it, and they’d had to write more markers, all of which lay in the centre of the table.

Josh looked at his hand, then at Beth. “This is it,” he said. “All on this.”

She nodded, her face flushed. “All on this,” she repeated.

“I called, so you lay down your cards.”

Beth stared at her hand again, then very carefully laid them in front of her in a fan. “Straight.”

He nodded approvingly. “Good hand.” She reached out to grab the slips, but he stopped her. “But not good enough.” He put his own cards down. “Two pair,” he said. “Unfortunately for you, it’s two kings,” he placed them down, “and another two.”

“Damn,” she breathed.

“Guess that means I win,” he said triumphantly, sitting back in his chair. “So, now we get to the interesting part. What do you want to take? Truth or dare?”

“Truth,” she said quickly, as if the word might get stuck behind her teeth.

“Truth,” he repeated, smiling a little. “Fine.” He sat forward. “How do you feel about me?” he asked, his eyes like a summer sky fixed on hers.

Her mouth dropped open, then she remembered her manners and closed it again, her teeth coming together audibly. “I meant dare,” she said, breathless.

“Often get those words mixed up, do you?”

“Dare.”

His lips curved. “Okay. Kiss me.”

“What?”

“Kiss me. You said dare, so that’s what I'm daring you to do. Kiss me. On the mouth.”

This time the blush was bright red and consumed her like a fire. “No,” she said finally.

“You lost,” he pointed out. “I'm just expecting you to honour your bet. Kiss me.”

“Josh, please,” she pleaded.

He sat back. “Okay,” he agreed, and watched the red tide diminish. “But that means you gotta pay a forfeit.”

“A … no, no, we didn’t say anything about a forfeit,” she said, holding up her hands.

“Beth, we’re playing truth or dare here. You said truth but wouldn’t tell, took a dare and backed out. There’s only one way to go with this.”

“What sort of forfeit?” she asked, feeling a tremble begin in her body.

He smiled at her and stood up. “Come here,” he said. When she didn’t move, he beckoned to her with his finger. “Come here.”

Slowly, as if she were struggling through treacle, she got to her feet, feeling the trembling become stronger, her heart pounding so hard that she was sure he could hear it. She took a step towards him, then another. “Now what?” she asked, her voice betraying her.

Still smiling he closed the gap and leaned down, placing his lips carefully on hers. He held them there for a moment, feeling the initial tightness relax into fullness and begin to part, then he lifted his head. “That’s it,” he said quietly, blue eyes gazing into brown. Funny, he hadn’t noticed their colour before.

“Oh,” she said, stumbling backwards and sitting down hard. She grabbed the tumbler of whisky and downed it in one.

“You okay?” he asked, concerned.

“Fine!” she managed to say before a coughing fit overtook her.

He patted her on the back, waiting for it to subside. “Look, I'm sorry,” he said. “I just … I've been wanting to kiss you ever since … well, ever since the wedding. ‘N’ I figured this might be the only way.”

“You have?” she asked, wiping at her streaming eyes. “Why?”

“Oh, Beth,” he said, going down onto his haunches next to her. “You’re beautiful. Funny. Talented. And I like you.”

“Really?” A slow smile spread across her features, and illuminated them. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Oh. In that case …” She glanced at the slips of paper on the table, and the cards still laying face up. “Can we play again? I’d like to get my own back.”

He grinned. “Sure. But I might win again,” he pointed out.

“You might. But don’t be too sure.” She pulled her chair into the table, licking her lips in anticipation.

He sat down opposite her, watching her as she gathered the cards, stacking them neatly, before redistributing the truth or dare papers. It didn’t matter if he won or lost the bet, he considered. He’d already won the game.





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