Unreal Magazine

I am pleased to announce the release of Vol. 1 of Unreal Magazine, a new publication from Longshot Press. Regular readers will know that I have had stories and articles published in another of their magazines, Longshot Island. Here is what they have to say about Unreal Magazine.

These stories don’t have an agenda. They aren’t preachy. They are just fun to read.

So let go. Get unreal for a moment.

Meanwhile, these stories might just enlighten you in ways only a fable can pull off.
Stories by Martha Wells, Tais Teng, Emily Devenport, Yoon Ha Lee, and more.

Here is a link to the magazine website, where you can read more, and buy a copy too.
http://www.thelandofwords.com/2019/03/25/unreal-vol-1-overture/

http://ecart.longshotpress.com/

If any of you would like to submit a story to the magazine, here is an easy link to do just that.
http://www.longshotisland.com/submissions/

Please share the news about this exciting new short-story venture, and feel free to contact me if you would like to know more.
My email address is on my ‘About’ page.

Tom’s Bench

This is a fictional short story, in just 608 words.

It was a very conventional wooden bench. Varnished slats, with wrought-iron frames at each end to support it. Arm-rests capped off each end, and the metal feet were set into a concrete base, so that it wouldn’t be stolen. The curve of the back was enough to allow someone to rest, but still be able to admire the view. It would seat four adults comfortably, if they didn’t mind sitting quite close together.

On the back at the top, fixed to the wood by four tiny screws, a small brass plaque carried an engraved message, for anyone who could be bothered to read it.
‘Dedicated to Thomas Arthur Wilkinson, 1931-2010. He loved this spot.’
The brass was already pitted, worn down by salty air, and blowing sand. There was nobody left to polish it anymore. It had been paid for and placed there by his wife, Edna. But she was gone now.

One of the wrought iron frames had been disfigured by garish purple paint. A squiggle with no meaning, other than to the young person who had sprayed it on there. Scuff marks on the front slats showed where some had raised their legs and rested their feet on the woodwork, wearing away varnish that would never be re-applied. The seagulls that walked around looking for food scraps had anointed parts of the bench with their droppings as they flew away, quarreling and squawking.

Determined plants had eventually forced their way up through the concrete base. Dandelions and scrub grass, finding the smallest cracks as they broke through into the sunlight. A milk-shake carton had survived since last season, rolling from one side to the other underneath, further progress halted by the stout iron sides. Cigarette butts congregated in the corners of the base too, next to chewing-gum wrappers and squashed plastic straws.

The dark wood-stain has fared badly against the elements. The rich brown now faded, little more than a light tan now.

But the view is unchanged. The view that Tom loved as a boy, and continued to cherish as an adult. The small pier to the right, with the pavilion of entertainments at the far end. Glance to the left, and there is the Beach Cafe; still the same, despite new management. Open even during winter, offering hot drinks and warm food to the hardiest walkers along the promenade. Look straight ahead down the sloping beach, and in come the endless, gently rolling waves. They rush onto the stones as if needing to be somewhere in a hurry, then slowly recede, when their strength expires. The sound of sea on stones, the lullaby that soothed Tom for decades.

As wonderful vistas go, it may not have counted for much. But for Tom, it was paradise.

A family approach the bench. Young mum, squeezed into leggings that seem like a second skin. Heels on shoes inappropriate for long walks at the seaside. She pushes a folding buggy containing a screaming baby, with an older boy hanging onto the handles, demanding ice cream from the Beach Cafe he has just spotted. Her partner is tall, with arms and neck heavily tattooed, ignoring the demands of his children as he stares into his mobile phone.

She sits down, removing the shoes, and rubbing her blistered feet. The baby has stopped screaming, but the toddler’s demand for the ice cream is relentless. The man perches on the edge, rolling a cigarette from the makings balanced on the legs of his jeans. Once he has finished, they give in to the tantrum, and walk in the direction of the beach cafe.

Neither of them even noticed the plaque.

A Natural Attraction: The Complete Story

This is all fifteen parts of my most recent fiction serial, in one post.
It is a long read, at 19,675 words.

*Some adult content later, and potential triggers.*

Roxanne.

Roxanne was going to try to do her make up for the second time. The floods of tears had ruined her first attempt, so she had cleaned it all off. Staring at her unadorned face in the mirror, eyes red and puffy, she had to wonder where all those years had gone. But there was little time to reflect this morning. The cars would be here soon, and there were people waiting quietly downstairs, their muffled muttering drifting up from the room below. She sniffed loudly, and reached for the foundation.

The teenage Roxanne McCarthy had been something of a catch. Her straw-coloured bob made her stand out from the crowd, and her curves caught the eye of all the young men of her acquaintance. Not for her the painfully-thin, dress-hanger look adopted by her peer group. She didn’t binge-eat, diet, or allow herself to approach the borders of anorexia. Instead, she embraced the body that had developed in her early teens, and walked through life with an unusual confidence for her age. The boys came to her and then went again, especially those she liked the most. It seemed there was something missing in her, the ability to give herself totally to any relationship. But it never really concerned her. The time would come, she was sure of that.

Anthony Mellor was older. A family friend, successful enough, with a small but respected car sales business that he had inherited. He was not much younger than Roxanne’s own father, so when he had asked her out on a date, eyebrows had been raised. She was barely twenty-one, and he was over forty. Her parents counselled her against forming a relationship with their friend. It seemed strange to them, to think of their daughter with that older man. But of course, that universal disapproval made the prospect all the more attractive, and Anthony’s easy manner and overwhelming confidence had seduced her rapidly. It certainly hadn’t been his physique or good looks, as he was lacking in both.

Her close friends had thought she was crazy. Fair enough, he had a reasonably nice house, a steady income, and had never been married. He came with no baggage. But really? She could do so much better. So much. When the date of the wedding was announced, Roxanne’s parents had wearily accepted the inevitable. No point trying to talk her out of the unequal match, as that would just make their daughter all the more determined to go through with it. They settled for a modest wedding, at a nice local hotel. Many of those invited came up with reasons why they couldn’t make it. Rather than tell the truth, which was that they disapproved strongly enough not to actually show up. As she finished getting ready on the morning of the ceremony, her paternal grandmother, Granny Margaret, came up to Roxanne’s room, and asked to speak with her in private.

“I am not going to say much, my darling. Just this. Remember the old saying, and take heed of it. Change your name, but not the letter, a change for worse, not for better”. She squeezed Roxanne’s hand, and went back downstairs. That had made her smile. An expression she had never heard. Something ancient, most definitely. But she had to concede that she had never thought of it. Her initials had always been RM, and after the wedding today, they still would be. She put the thought from her mind, as the photographer knocked on the door of her room.

The honeymoon was equally modest. Four lovely nights in Paris, a city that Anthony knew well, and delighted his new young wife. He had to get back to his business of course, but those few days had been as wonderful as she had hoped.

Settling into married life was easier than she had feared. Despite doing well at college, Roxanne had no idea what to pursue as a career. So a temporary job at the local Estate Agent had turned into a full time one, and she returned to her role straight after the wedding. She did well in that field, enjoying her job of valuing houses, like being paid to snoop around somebody’s home, with their permission. The buyers seemed to take to her too, and when she arranged a viewing, they always showed up. The boss decided she should become a mortgage arranger, which was a step up for her. After taking some courses, and a strangely nerve-wracking exam, she passed all the financial knowledge requirements, and became established as a valued member of staff. The next few years were settled, and it seemed that even her parents had got used to them being together.

Then she got pregnant. Just one night, a few drinks at the house of some friends, and a hurried moment when they got back, with Anthony not bothering to use a condom. He was very pleased, and boasted that he must be incredibly fertile. The news also mellowed her mother, who immediately prepared for the arrival of a grandchild, even though her daughter was only three months gone.

The weeks went by quickly, and when the scan showed it would be a boy, she immediately decided on the name Finn. Anthony was upset, as he had dreams of giving their son his name, to carry on the tradition in his family. But he couldn’t deny Roxanne anything, so agreed. Finn it would be. It was a mercifully routine labour, and Finn appeared on the scheduled day, weighing just under seven pounds. As soon as the midwife passed him into her arms, Roxanne was overwhelmed by a deep emotion, a love that would never end. Her perfect, healthy baby was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen in her life. She whispered into the tiny ear. “I will be a great mother. I promise you”. And as it turned out, she was.

Determined not to raise a spoiled child, she took great care to do the right thing by him. To love him unreservedly, but not to smother him. He had to be allowed to have a life, his own life. He should play outside, take risks, eat healthily, and have an active, inquiring mind. Anthony had some of his own ideas, including a private school later on, and perhaps even use a child-minder in the meantime. But Roxanne would have none of it. She would stay off work until he went to school, bring him up herself, and properly. She resigned from her job following maternity leave, and her boss said she could come back anytime. There would always be a place for her.

Roxanne set about raising young Finn the right way.

And she loved every minute of it.

Roland.

“What is about about your friend’s mums? How come we always fancy each other’s mum, but can’t see the attraction ourselves? Don’t you think that’s funny?” Finn smiled. His friend was right. “Well I don’t know, Roly, but we all do, don’t we? I mean, I think Mrs Pearce is gorgeous, really stunning. But Micky Pearce thought I was taking the piss when I told him that, and I thought he was going to punch me”. The two boys sat grinning at that. Little Micky Pearce, like he could fight anyone. Roland thought about his own mum for a moment. A woman who dedicated her life to physical hobbies, and sport. Rarely seen not wearing a tracksuit and trainers, her hair tied back in a tight pony tail. She coached the Netball team in town, and her claim to fame was that she once played for the English Netball Team. But only once. She was so thin, he could count the ribs through her clothes, and her leg muscles stuck out through anything she was wearing. He turned to his best friend again. “Well you fancy my mum, and I don’t get that. She’s skinny, and she looks old”.

When Finn was five years old, Roxanne took him along to the local school, for his first day. He had been well prepared. She had him up to speed with easy reading and numbers, and she had told him what to expect from his first day at proper school. She was starting back at work that day, only school-hours, and she didn’t want any tantrums to upset that. Outside the gate, she spotted a slim woman with another small boy. Slightly taller than Finn, and surprisingly good-looking, with his ice blue eyes, and almost white blonde hair. She went up to the woman and smiled. “Hi, I’m Roxanne. How about we take the boys in together, and let them settle in? They might become firm friends”. Although she must have been much the same age, the slim woman looked older. Her hard face didn’t really soften as she spoke. “Yeah, why not? I’m Hannah, and this is Roland”. Roxanne turned to Finn. “Say hello to Roland, darling. Why don’t you hold his hand? You could be good friends at school”.

By the time she collected him that afternoon, all Finn could talk about was Roland. He was the best friend ever, he told her.

Roland seemed to grow up faster than Finn. He was definitely taller and more muscular, by the time they both went to the secondary school in town. For six years, they had been inseparable. Although they had a wider group of friends, they still stuck together. Roland did well enough in his studies, but it was clear that Finn was more intelligent than any of the other boys. They had spent weekend and school holiday sleepovers at each other’s houses, and Roland had even gone on a summer holiday with them, a week away in a timber lodge in Scotland. But Roxanne and Hannah had never become friends, and seemed to tolerate each other merely for the sake of the boys.

At school, and when wandering around the park, or the shops in town, Roland looked out for his best friend. Older boys avoided the strong-looking protector, and left the quiet and more vulnerable Finn alone. In return, Roland got help with his homework, his understanding of French, and tips on good books to read to help his studies along. They were totally relaxed in their own company, and even started to guess what the other was thinking. Although neither of them mentioned it, they knew they were true friends, and would always be. Whatever else happened.

Always aware of his academic limitations, and the fact that his parents didn’t seem unduly concerned about that, Roland was happy enough. His mum had tried to get him interested in sport, but he lacked the competitive urge for team games. However, he was eager to use the weights she supplied, and worked out to a programme she devised for him. He also noticed his dad becoming more distant as he approached his teens. He had once been happy to play with him, racing toy cars around, or setting up train sets. But as his son got older, it felt as if he he was no longer able to communicate, unsure what to say. And dad had started to sleep in the spare room too. It was never mentioned, but with mum out most nights at various sports clubs, or spending hours running on her own, Roland longed for the nights he could stay over at Finn’s.

His mum was warm and friendly, and their home life felt happy and secure. Even though his dad was so much older, Mr Mellor was good fun. He loved to talk to the boys about cars, and would join in with the video games, or let them watch lots of repeats of Top Gear, laughing along with them. He was close to Finn in a way that Roland had never known with his own father.

There were many times when he wished he had been Finn’s brother, and lived there too.

By the time both boys had turned thirteen, only sixteen days apart, they spent most of their time talking about sex. Finn had no parental controls on his laptop, so could look at anything he wanted, whilst pretending to do school work. Mrs Mellor gave him that freedom. She wanted him to explore everything, and make up his own mind about life, with no preconceptions based on society and censorship. Finn told him what she had said when he got the new laptop. “No, there won’t be any codes, or parental controls. I know what you will look at, and you will do that somewhere, if not here. It is natural, and part of growing up. I would sooner you discover all that stuff in the comfort of your own room, rather than sneaking around with older boys, or spending all your time trying to hack the controls. Just don’t become obsessed with it. It’s not real life, as you will learn one day”. Finn had blushed as he thanked his mum. When he told Roland what she had said, all he could reply was, “Wow, I wish my mum was like yours”.

They had soon tired of constantly surfing hundreds of porn websites. Mrs Mellor had been right. It didn’t feel real. Instead, they became fixated on some of the local girls, mostly the older sisters of some of their school friends. When they had exhausted that, they began to confess to the attractions about each other’s mums. At first they laughed about that, then came to accept it. The reasoning behind it was solid enough. Mums were used to sons. They walked around in their underwear at home, didn’t bother about how they sat on the sofa, or sprawled in a chair. Changed their clothes in front of you without thinking, and even had a pee on the toilet, without closing the door. But when it was your mum, you thought nothing of it. You might have been looking in their direction, but you saw nothing unusual.

Then when your friends started to come round, and stay over, your mum got used to them too, and started to act in that same careless fashion. They forgot that those boys, hormones raging in their early teens, were not their sons. To them, you were an older attractive woman, and your casual habits were driving them to distraction, taking the accustomed frustration to a level never previously experienced.

After a long pause for thought, Roland and Finn continued the conversation they had started, sitting under the apple tree in the Mellor’s garden. Finn had considered what had been said, and was ready with an answer. “Your mum looks skinny and old to you, I see that. But my mum looks chubby and tired to me. I think your mum looks really good. She’s athletic, I like that”. Roland was equally ready with his reply. “But your mum is so curvy, and I love her hair. Remember that time you had the barbecue, and she wore a bikini? Wow! She looked so hot”. His friend smiled at the memory. “Yeah, her boobs were almost hanging out, and you were in a right state”.

The boys laughed, and then Roland asked a serious question, a frown contorting his features. “Why do you think they do that though? You know, mums. Why don’t they care that we are looking, when we are not their son?”

Finn thought for a while. “I think they just forget they are sexy”.

Finn.

Finn Mellor was a boy who led two distinctly different lives. In one, he was bright and intelligent. Outwardly happy and confident. He was a good son, and an even better friend. But the other life could not have been more different. In that life, he harboured secrets. He barely contained his doubts and fears, and suppressed those real terrors that he thought might one day tip him over into insanity.

He did it so well, nobody ever noticed. Not Roly, his closest friend. Not Roxanne, his devoted mother. And certainly not Anthony, his sometimes distracted father. A father who seemed more like the grandparents of other boys, and was regularly mistaken for being one of his. All except one. Roly’s mum, Hannah. She alone looked through his eyes, and spotted whatever was lurking behind them. He knew it. He had seen it in her gaze. The way she acted around him, her obvious discomfort. Finn was sure that she knew everything. The unspoken emotions, the pretence of normality. Staying over at Roland’s house became a trial to be feared. A trial by gaze, by glance, by casual insinuation. Always letting him know that she knew. Not suspected. Knew for certain.

For Rolys’ sake, he acted like it wasn’t happening. Roland was his rock, and although he would never tell him, he was also the love of his life. Carrying on without Roly was unthinkable, so Finn did whatever it took to make sure that never happened. He laughed and joked with Hannah, shutting away that cold, snake-eyed look she always gave him, whatever was being discussed. He was afraid of her. Not physically, not even psychologically. Just afraid of what she knew, and if she would ever tell. Nothing in her manner ever let on if she would reveal him to the world. Bring it all crashing down, perhaps just from spite. When Finn had read about the Sword of Damocles, he had understood completely. Roly’s mum was his own version, waiting to fall onto his head one day.

Spending time with his best friend made it all worthwhile. Roland was so good-looking, with those wonderful blue eyes, and a strong body that made him look older than his years. And he was a good person too, always protecting Finn, standing up for him, and never disloyal. Although they were just thirteen, it felt like they had always been together, and would never be parted. For Finn, that was enough. He would never confess his true feelings, those he had felt developing from a time when he was too young to understand them. That would shatter their friendship. Roly would never understand, of that he was convinced.

So Finn played along. He looked at the websites, giggled about the girls that Roly liked, and he pretended to like them too. He even went so far as to confess to fancying Hannah, just to be included in those teenage fantasies. But the thought of her hard muscular female body, the stone-set features, and those dead eyes made him shudder. If his friend wanted to believe it, then so be it.

In an old schoolbag hidden in the bottom of his wardrobe, Finn kept all his most treasured possessions. Photos of him and Roland over the years. Ticket stubs from trips together to the cinema, birthday cards sent to him by his friend, and a small penknife that he had given him one Christmas. It had been bought with his own pocket-money, not purchased by his parents, like most other gifts. And the notebook of course. The notebook.

There was nothing on the cover to betray what was inside, but on the first page was a name, written in capital letters, with red marker pen. ROLAND THALMANN. It was underlined many times, and surrounded by numerous red hearts, clumsily drawn by a young hand. At school, some boys had teased Roland for his German name. But only until he was big enough to make them scared to do that. Finn had asked him about it. Was his dad a German? How did they get that name? All Roland knew was that it was Swiss, not German. Well, maybe German-Swiss. A long time ago, one of his dad’s relatives had come over from Switzerland, and that was that. Nobody seemed to know any more, or be bothered to find out.

Finn loved the fact that his best friend had such an unusual name. On page two of his book, he had written another name, in the same red pen. FINN THALMANN. He always liked the way that looked, and sounded, when he said it out loud. So much nicer than Mellor. Other pages contained fantasy plans for their future. Trips to India, or far-flung deserts. Camping out under the stars, before a fire made from collected sticks. Riding together on a camel, or swimming in blue seas, looking back at beaches with sand like white flour. They headed off together to Australia, finding work on a sheep farm in the outback, or were spending the summer picking grapes in the Loire Valley, in France. All these fantasy lives gave Finn a much needed escape from the real world he inhabited. A world where only one person understood what was really going on. And he wished that she didn’t. There was no comfort in that knowledge, none at all.

Back in the kitchen, the boys were drinking ice cold Sprite. They had left their thirst for too long, and were now gulping the drink down, fighting against the rising belches. Roly put his empty glass by the sink, and turned to his friend. “So, do you reckon your mum might like me too, Flan? I haven’t got a clue. She just treats me like I’m your brother”. Finn smiled, hearing his now rarely-used nickname.

One day, it was a Sunday, Roly had been over for lunch. Mum had cooked a big roast dinner, and then appeared carrying a large peach flan. Without asking, she served Roly a big slice, and then turned to her son. “Flan, do you want some of this Finn?” Her mixing of the name and the word was even funnier, because she didn’t notice she had said it. The boys laughed so hard, they almost choked. When they explained it to her, Roxanne had squealed with laughter too. After everyone had calmed down, Roly had pointed at Finn, declaring, “From now on, that’s your name. Flan”.

Finishing the last dregs of his own drink, Finn burped loudly, before replying. He had been considering the right response. No point giving Roly the wrong idea, but a little encouragement might serve to keep him interested. Keep him coming round. No harm done.

“Yeah I reckon she really likes you. Naturally she’s going to act like you’re the same as me. But I’ve noticed her looking at you”. He saw the awkward grin spread over Roly’s face, and went with the clincher.

“I reckon she likes you more than even she knows. Certain of it”.

Hannah.

Choosing a husband with a German name wasn’t the brightest idea perhaps, she knew that. But at the time, he was as good an option as any, and his name was irrelevant. Later on, she had cause to regret it, when constantly asked to explain it, and endure listening to numerous questions and theories about how it had arrived in her husband’s family. In truth, Hannah had never wanted to get married. She was always happiest playing sport with her friends, especially Netball. But after being selected for that big game, then being dropped immediately after, her mood had descended into a dark place, and had never really recovered. So when Ian had asked her out on a date, she had agreed. He was too easy, she saw that immediately. Rather immature, and keen to please, she could control him like a puppet. So she did. The marriage was her idea, and he went along with it. Better to be married to someone as dry and boring as him, rather than a man who might try to dominate her, perhaps even ruin her life.

Having the baby seemed like the thing to do, and Ian went along with that too. Hannah wanted to be accepted in some sort of social circle at first, and being a mum provided an instant opportunity. The trouble was, she had felt nothing at all for Roland. He looked like one of the distant relations on Ian’s side, with his white-blonde hair and blue eyes. They named him Roland, but Hannah secretly thought of him as her ‘little Nazi’. Everyone talked about maternal instinct, and the bond of love between mother and baby. But all she could think about was getting no sleep, having to clear up his mess, and constantly keep an eye on him. She managed to maintain some kind of image to the outside world, but it wasn’t easy. Smiles came hard to her face.

But once she could dump the boy at school, life returned to some semblance of normality. Her coaching and team-training gave her not only purpose, but also some reputation in that part of town. Extreme exercise calmed her down too. It suppressed the black rage lurking just below the surface of her mind. Go through the motions. Feed the boy, and Ian. Get the boy to sleep, leave her husband slumped in front of the TV, then life could start, if only for a few hours. That social circle she had sought was soon abandoned. Pudgy women who had never lost the baby fat; droning on about milk pads, dress sizes, and what they were going to cook for dinner. Once the boy started school, she dropped them all at once. Hannah didn’t need anyone else in her life.

Roxanne Mellor was worth cultivating though. Her enthusiasm for children was obvious, and she was happy for Roland to spend as much time in her house as he liked. Hannah pretended to be nice to her, but could only just manage civility. Another saggy-breasted milk-cow, destined to adore her strange little boy until he grew up and abandoned her. She knew the type, instinctively. Still, it meant less work for her, and it kept Roland happy too. On the few occasions she had to return the favour, she watched both boys growing up fast. She sensed a weakness in Finn. He was certainly intelligent, much brighter than her own rather dull son. But he wasn’t right. Something in his eyes. Something dark. Hannah knew about dark. And when she looked at him, he looked back, lowering his eyes. He knew that she knew. Hannah liked to have that power over him. She preferred weak men, and weak boys too. They presented no challenge to someone like her, and could be used. In her case, she used Finn to occupy her son, along with Finn’s doting mum, and her strange older husband, who looked as if he should be her father.

Hannah knew that wasn’t right. That said something about Roxanne, and it said a lot about Anthony too. She understood though. He was a man past the age of playing football with his boy, or taking him on adventurous trips. As much as she used his son to look after the needs of Roland, he abandoned his fatherly role to her own boy, allowing him to be Finn’s protector and companion. It had worked out just right for both of them.

So Hannah would bide her time, until it suited her not to.

Anthony.

“Goodnight, Mr Mellor”. Anthony waved at the receptionist as she left for home. Young Kerry, always asking when she could move on to the role of sales. She was keen as mustard, and knew a lot about cars, but he didn’t have the heart to tell her that her main asset to his business was to serve as eye candy for the customers. Something to smile at when they walked in, and glance across at as they pretended to appraise the various vehicles parked inside the showroom. Keep them interested long enough for the two experienced salesmen to be able to pounce. He wandered out to the front, and bent to lock the double glass doors. He would leave by the back as usual, after setting the alarm. But not just yet.

Returning to his comfortable office, he relaxed in the padded leather chair. It wouldn’t take too much effort to think of an excuse to get home late. A difficult customer, some problem with a delivery, perhaps even breaking down on a test drive. He had used them all before, but was still sharp enough to shuffle the order around, so it never sounded too similar. Otherwise, it would be back home to his excitable wife, and an overcooked dinner. Having to say something suitably encouraging to Finn, and listening to Roxanne drone on about mortgages, house prices, and how things were picking up, after the long slump. He would have to put on a show just long enough, hoping that she would eventually retreat to one of her documentaries on the TV, and he could seek sanctuary with his laptop in the spare bedroom.

Anthony was tempted to fire up his work computer again, but couldn’t be bothered to wait for the length of time it took to load. Checking his watch, he decided to give it ten more minutes. Then he would ring home, and make his excuses. She could put his dinner in the oven to keep warm. It couldn’t taste any the worse for that. And Finn would be up in his room, doing homework, or messaging his friend. He changed his mind about the computer, and pushed the button. As it flickered around, and whirred interminably, he thought about the coming weekend. Hopefully, Roland would be over again. That would keep Finn preoccupied, as well as making Roxanne distracted.

As the screen came to life, he leaned forward and began typing a url into the top bar.

Roxanne and Finn.

Perhaps she had always known Finn was different to some of the other boys. Different to most of them, maybe. Possibly even different to all of them.

Roxanne had done her best. She kept her promise to be a good mother, to allow her son to grow and develop in his own time. She pushed a little when it came to learning, admittedly, but that was only for his own good. For his future. As she got older and watched him grow, she realised she might have made one mistake, and it was a big one. The age difference between her and Anthony was one thing. She had certainly underestimated how that would feel later on. But it pained her to see how it affected the relationship between father and son. Up until the boy was nine or ten, they had been very close. His dad played with him most evenings, and was good fun when other boys came round. He treated Roland like another son, and as she was preparing food in the kitchen, she loved to hear the three of them laughing together in the next room.

It was when she spent time alone with her son that she started to notice the differences the most. He didn’t seem to be building muscle like his friends. He liked to keep his hair longer. He loved to talk about celebrities, and even enjoyed accompanying her on shopping trips, going as far as to suggest clothes that he thought would suit her. And his choices were always good ones. As his attachment to Roland grew, he spent less time with his father, until they hardly communicated at all. By the time the boys were due to start at secondary school, she had decided to talk to her husband about it. But Anthony saw nothing to be alarmed about. “He’s growing up, Rox. You have to let him do that. He has to find his place in the world, how to be a man. He can’t be your precious little boy forever, that wouldn’t be good for him”. She knew he was right, but it didn’t really ease her worries. At least she could count on Roland to look after him, out in that world where his place would be found.

Now he was thirteen, Anthony rarely spoke to him. They never did anything together anymore, and Roxanne couldn’t remember the last time they had. Maybe when Finn had been around nine, she wasn’t sure. There were the family holidays of course, but they were different. These days, her and Finn made the most of the breaks away, as Anthony sat glued to his laptop, complaining about not being at work, and worrying how his business was doing. Most nights at dinner, he might ask his son about how things were going at school, but that was about it. Roxanne would sometimes steal a glance at Anthony as he ate. She was thirty five now, and he was fifty-seven. There were times when it felt like she was eating dinner with her own father. And their own relationship was no more than platonic. She had put on a little weight after having Finn, but continued to get glances from passing men. She still had her curvy figure, and reasonably good looks. But as far as her husband was concerned, she might just as well have been a dowdy old lady. They lived like two people sharing a house, for the sake of the child living with them.

But that was fine with her, if it gave Finn a stable home life. Her feelings didn’t matter at all.

Dad was going to be home late, so Finn decided it was a good time to sow some seeds in his mum’s mind. As they sat eating dinner, he put down his fork, and smiled. “Wow, mum. I tell you, Roland thinks you’re really hot. He can’t stop talking about you, he really can’t. I bet if you weren’t married to dad, he would want to be your boyfriend”. Roxanne smiled, imagining she was being teased. “Oh yeah, right. I bet a good-looking teenage boy like Roland wants his girlfriend to be the thirty-five year old mum of his best friend. What brought that on? What are you up to? Besides, he’s your age, and too young to be talking about such things”. She had tried to sound firm, but couldn’t stop the corners of her mouth trying to form a smile. Finn picked up the fork and pointed it at her, as if to emphasise his point. “Well he thinks you’re really sexy, mum, and that’s the truth. Doesn’t matter he’s the same age as me, boys like us talk about sex all the time. And all he talks about all the time is you”.

She shook her head, buying time to think of a reply. She had always encouraged Finn to be open and honest with her. He had talked to her about erections, pregnancy, even asked her about periods. Nothing was off the agenda, as she wanted him to know the truth, not playground speculation. But this time, he was telling her what another boy was saying, not his own thoughts. And not just any boy. Roland. “You must be exaggerating, darling. Roland has known me since he was five. He would never think about me like that”. Finn ate the last bite, and put down the cutlery. “Remember when we had that barbecue? It was hot, and you wore a bikini, remember?” Roxanne did remember. “What about it? Lots of people were wearing bikinis or one-piece costumes that day”. Her son grinned. “Well Roly didn’t notice anyone else, but he did notice you. He thought your boobs were amazing, and he was in a terrible state, well-excited. He still talks about it”. As she felt her cheeks blush, Roxanne decided enough was enough. “I don’t think I need to hear about that. That’s a personal conversation. You shouldn’t tell on him. Now, do you want some of that raspberry ripple ice cream?”

She stood up, clearing the plates away. Her cheeks were still flushed, and the redness extended down to the front of her neck.

Finn smiled. “Two scoops please, mum”.

She had taken the bait.

Roland.

Next weekend was going to be different. Finn had messaged him, telling him how he had started by teasing his mum, and then hooked her by telling the supposed secret. She had apparently enjoyed the flattery, so now Finn was sure that Roland could try something.

The trouble was, that pretend secret was the truth.

And what did he mean by ‘try something’? How the hell could he try anything with Roxanne? The idea seemed unthinkable. Was he supposed to say something to her, maybe even touch her? He knew he could never do that. And not just because she might tell his parents, but because it might mean that he could never see her again. And that really was unthinkable. What had started as the fantasies of young boys, played as a game of words, had become something very real to him. Roland had always liked her. He loved to look at her, and to see the way she behaved like a mum should. The way his own mum never did. When she sat between them on the sofa, he enjoyed her warmth, and the occasional brush of her leg against his own. And when it was time to go home, he anticipated the all-too short hug. The feel of her soft body, and the smell of her perfume and warm skin.

He couldn’t remember the exact day when that had become something else. When he had begun to contrive getting a little too close to her, or watching her when she didn’t notice. It had gone from wishing she was his mum too, to a desire that he didn’t fully comprehend. And it had happened very quickly, not gradually. Roland had started the apparent game of talking about fancying each other’s mums. He had done that for reasons he didn’t really understand, because it gave him some relief to be able to talk to Finn about it. Then there had been the day of that barbecue. He hadn’t been able to concentrate on anything, even the burgers and sausages. And he couldn’t stop his eyes following Roxanne around the garden as she chatted to her guests, and served food and drinks. It was more than the heat that had got to his head that day. Something new filled his brain. Something very different. Visions that he was too young to deal with.

Finn had come looking for him, wondering why he had gone back inside the house. His friend seemed to be aware that something was going on. “What are you doing in here, Roly? It’s lovely outside, come back and make the most of it, while the weather’s good”. He turned to walk back through the French windows, but stopped when he realised Roland wasn’t following him. “Are you feeling ill? Too much sun, or stuffing down too much food? Do you want a cold drink?” Roland shook his head. “I’ll just sit here for a while, wait until it cools down, starts to get dark. Then I will come back”. Finn looked outside at the crowd of adults, who were laughing and joking. He spotted his mum, all happy and bubbly, noticing for the first time that her bikini top was struggling to do a proper job of covering her up. Walking back into the room, he smiled at his friend. “It’s my mum, isn’t it? You really do fancy her that much, don’t you?”

Roland swallowed hard, and nodded. Finn was just too bright, too perceptive. He had been caught. Red faced, if not red-handed. He managed a weak grin. “Sorry, Finn”.

The laugh came as a surprise, and what was said next was an even bigger one. “That’s great, it really is. I would love it if you and my mum got together. Imagine how much fun we could have, if you moved in here? It would be great for both of you, and dad would be happy to move away, I’m sure about that”. For such an intelligent boy, that comment from Finn seemed too silly and childish to take in. Roland stared up at him. “But I’m only thirteen. Are you crazy?” Finn carried on, ignoring him. “We start soon, get the idea into her head. She has always liked you, she’s unhappy with my dad, and feels lonely most of the time. We only have to get her thinking about you, make her realise that you are mad about her, and then just wait”. Roland was confused. “Wait for what?” His friend looked at him as if he was completely stupid. “Wait until you are sixteen of course, when it will all be legal. We are almost fourteen now, so it will only be two years to wait. They will go past like this”. He clicked his fingers, to illustrate how short that time period would feel.

Everything told him the idea was ridiculous. Even if Roxanne confessed her suppressed desire for him, she would never take that next step. Imagine the impact on her extended family, her job, the neighbours, and the local community. And how would they all live? She probably didn’t earn enough on her own, and it would be years before he and Finn could get jobs. Then there was his own mum. She would never allow that to happen, for him to move in with a woman the same age as her. Realising all that was something of a relief. It couldn’t happen, so wouldn’t happen. He would never have to deal with it, and it could just remain a delicious fantasy in his mind. But when he looked up at Finn, his heart sank. It was too late. The idea was now implanted in the brain of his clever friend, and he was already making plans.

Not much happened after that, so when Finn suddenly started to mention the barbecue again, Roland felt a coldness creep over his stomach. And he was talking to Roxanne about it, telling her how he felt, probably in minute detail. He wasn’t sure he could actually face her after that. How could he look her in the eye? Everything had changed, because of one conversation, and it would never be like it was before. Roland sat alone in his room, thinking up excuses not to go there for the weekend. Finn would never believe any of them, he knew that.

Besides, he wanted to see her.

Roxanne and Roland.

Anthony had a sales event at the showroom that Friday evening. Something they did occasionally, in the hope of attracting customers on their way home from work, when they didn’t have to get up early the next day. It ran until nine, so he wouldn’t be home until late. He had told her not to bother with dinner for him, as he would treat the staff to a curry, once they had closed up.

Roland was coming home from school with Finn, having taken a bag with changes of clothes into school with him. She would pick them both up when she finished work at three-thirty. For the first time ever, Roxanne was carefully choosing what to wear, based on how she would look later on. As a rule, she would just get changed once they got home, and think nothing of it. But the rules had changed, after what Finn had told her. She must be careful not to appear provocative, perhaps even tone down her make-up, wear something mumsy for a change.

If only the butterflies in her stomach would stop fluttering.

The day went by in a haze. Finn tracked him down between classes, and tried to tell him what to say, and how to behave around Roxanne later. “Be cool, maybe even act not bothered at all. I reckon that will make her even more interested, believe me”. Roland was feeling a bit sick, and threw away the chicken sandwich his mum had packed for lunch. He tried to eat the apple cake, but that tasted too sweet, so joined the sandwich in the litter bin. The biggest worry was that Roxanne would confront him. Tell him he was being silly, and that he was not allowed to think about her like that, much less discuss her body with her son. He had visions of being taken home after dinner, following a serious telling-off. Then having to come up with an explanation for his mum, as to why he was no longer welcome at the Mellor’s.

When Finn told him that his dad was going to be working late, that was some relief. At least he wouldn’t have to face his disapproval too, if it all kicked off. Perhaps he should just say he was ill, and then none of it could happen.

But he knew he wouldn’t do that.

Roxanne walked through the door into work as usual. But the reaction she got was far from usual. Young Lucy looked up from her desk, and smiled. “Wow, Rox, you look great today. Special occasion?” The door to the staff room opened, and Emmanuel emerged. He threw up his hands. “Mrs Roxanne Mellor, is it really you? Have you got a part in a film? He shook his fingers until they made a snapping noise. “You are one fine-looking ladeee!”

She had to admit she felt good, and looked pretty good too. It had taken just seconds for her to abandon the idea of looking mumsy, and she had gone for her best minor celebrity look instead. Party make-up, a nice dress, smart shoes, and everything matching. She would pop out and see her hairdresser Sandra in the lunch break, and get a quick wash and trim. With Anthony working, she was planning to take the boys to that burger place they liked, the one with an Uncle Sam statue outside.

And at no time would she allow herself to ask why. Why she had gone with the look that had startled her colleagues, or why she felt as if she was going on a date with her son, and his handsome friend. No, she wouldn’t allow herself to think about that at all.

It was just a normal Friday.

After lunch, there was just one mortgage appointment expected. She hoped it wouldn’t take too long, so she could be out at her usual time. But the young couple that arrived didn’t have a clue. They didn’t earn anywhere near enough money for the property they were interested in, and what they believed to be significant savings wouldn’t do as the deposit on the cheapest studio flat on the agency’s books. As a result, they reluctantly agreed to consider some other properties, then asked her to show them the paper details and photos of them. She would have preferred to hand them over to one of her colleagues, tell them to make another mortgage appointment when they had a definite place in mind. But everyone was busy, so she was stuck with the annoying pair.

It wasn’t like her to get so riled about difficult customers. She had a great deal of experience, and knew that at least half the customers were either unsuitable, or just blatant time wasters. As it got closer to three, she was unaware of constantly checking her watch. “Are we keeping you from something? Have you got something better to do?” The slobbery-sounding voice of the man made her jump. And she reacted, something she never did. “It’s just that I have to pick my son up from school. I only work until three-thirty you see, and I don’t think we are going to make any progress in the next thirty minutes”. As far as slobbery-voice man was concerned, that was the wrong answer. “Well you shouldn’t make appointments then, should you? Get us someone else, someone who doesn’t have to go home early”. He folded his arms, grinning at his dull wife.

For the first time in years, Roxanne allowed herself to get angry. As her voice raised in reply, she didn’t even notice her busy colleagues all turning to look at her in surprise. “There is no need to adopt that attitude, Mr Palmer. It is not my fault that you don’t earn enough to buy the house you want, and also not my fault that you haven’t saved up a big enough deposit”. Emmanuel stood up from his desk, and looked back at Roxanne, to check she was alright. He had never heard her raise her voice before. The man stood up, and turned to his wife. “Come on, we’re going. We will go to someone else, someone who appreciates our business”. He turned back to Roxanne. “And you, you can stick your mortgage up your arse, lady”. Once they had left, she got her things together, logged off the terminal, and started to leave to go home. Emmanuel left his customers for a second, and came back to talk to her.

“You alright, Rox? What happened there? is something wrong? She shook her head. “Just a stroppy customer with no money. See you Monday. I’m fine”.

Inside, she knew she was anything but fine.

Roxanne, Finn, Roland, and Anthony.

She pulled her car into the only gap, and watched as the boys ran down. They both got into the back, something they had always done, and Roxanne put the car into gear, spinning the steering- wheel to pull out. “Are you going out somewhere, mum? You look really nice, well dressy”. Finn had spotted her outfit immediately, and the effort she had gone to with her hair and make-up. “I’m going to take you two to that burger place you like, so no harm in trying to look nice, is there?” Finn beamed. “The Texan Ribs and Grill? Wow. I love that place. Can we go home and get changed first though? I don’t want to go in school uniform”. She had forgotten about that. “OK, but be quick, I will wait in the car”. Roland hadn’t said a word. he was enjoying the smell of her perfume, and watching her eyes reflected in the rear-view mirror.

In the bedroom, Finn wouldn’t stop talking as they changed into something smarter. “Did you notice? See how dressed up she is? She’s had her hair done too. I’m telling you, Roly, that’s all for your benefit, believe me. Don’t you think she looks gorgeous? She never bothers to look like that, unless she is going somewhere really special”. When Roland didn’t reply, he changed the subject. “I’m going to have those sticky pork ribs. You know, the ones where you have to wear a bib, and get a bowl of water to wash your hands in. What do you fancy eating?” Roland seemed to be deep in thought for a moment, as he slipped on his boat shoes. “Maybe the three-cheese burger. That one with cheddar, halloumi, and montery jack”. He declined to comment about Roxanne, still unable to believe it had anything to do with him at all.

“Order anything you want boys”. Roxanne was a little too loud, bordering on being gushing. She needed to calm herself down. Finn asked for the huge rack of ribs, and she nodded. “OK, what about you, Roland?” He stayed looking at the menu, not lifting his eyes. “The three cheese burger please, if that’s OK, Mrs Mellor”. He felt guilty asking for it, as it was more expensive than most of the others. Finn sat back in his chair, grinning and looking very confident. “Why doesn’t Roly call you Roxanne from now on, mum? We are getting a bit too old for Mrs this and Mrs that, don’t you think?” She looked over at Roland, who had finally put down the menu. “Would you like that, Roland? Mrs Mellor makes me feel a bit old. But it’s entirely up to you.” Roland smiled. “Yes, if that’s OK with you?” She smiled back, avoiding his gaze. “Roxanne it is then”.

It was a quiet day at the showroom. Even with a new model coming soon, interest was slack. Anthony checked his watch. Still almost two hours to go before they closed up. He hoped nothing happened at home which would make his wife have to telephone. There was no special event, but it had seemed like a good excuse not to have to go home until very late. If it stayed this quiet, at least he could lock up on time. He had plans to go somewhere, and the thought of that distracted him, and excited him too. All being well, he could avoid going home until close to midnight, as tonight’s excuse was one of the best. Even if he could only use it now and again. Finn’s friend Roland was coming over to stay, so that would keep Roxanne occupied. She wouldn’t bother about him being out late, he could be sure of that. Well at least he hoped so.

“You don’t want any dessert?” Roxanne leaned across the table, and placed a hand on her son’s neck. “Just checking that you are still alive”. Roland smiled at her joke, and Finn shook his head. “I’m really full mum. Those ribs were top”. She looked back at Roland. “What about you? Full up as well?” He patted his belly. “Yes thanks, Roxanne. It was very nice”. Finn laughed. They both knew it was because Roland had used Roxanne’s name, for the first time ever. She waved a hand at the waiter, indicating that he should bring the bill. “What do you say we watch a film when we get home boys? You can choose, I don’t mind. Anything you like”. They both nodded, and stood up from the table as she entered her pin number into the machine the waiter was holding.

Back at Finn’s house, it was still quite early. The long night stretched out ahead of them, as they were allowed to stay up really late on a Friday. Finn scrolled through the menu of the streaming service, and selected a horror film, one of many sequels to something they had seen the original of. Both boys kicked off their shoes, and slumped at either end of the big sofa. When Roxanne came in, she was carrying a bottle of white wine, and a big glass. As she poured some wine, she looked at the opening credits. “Oh, it’s horror. I might have known”. She sat between them, asking random questions about who starred in the film, and what it was about. Finn raised his eyebrows, and Roxanne turned to him. “I know, but it’s all very well for you two, I haven’t seen the first one”. She eased herself back against the cushion, cradling the full glass in both hands.

As the film started in his house, Anthony Mellor was locking the back door of his showroom. Done and dusted ten minutes early, he turned and walked quickly to his parked car.

Less than fifteen minutes after the film had started, Finn suddenly stood up. “I forgot, I’ve already seen this. I think I will go and play Call of Duty upstairs instead”. Roland moved to stand too, and Finn waved a palm at him. “No, you stay here and watch it Roly, you haven’t seen it. Keep mum company, so she won’t be too scared. You can come up and try to kill me when the film’s finished”. Roland turned to Roxanne. “Is that alright?” She looked puzzled. “Of course, why wouldn’t it be?” Once Finn had left the room, Roland fully expected Roxanne to move to the other end of the sofa. But she didn’t budge. As the murderer in the film plunged a knife into his first screaming victim, she slipped off her shoes, and put both her legs up on the coffee table, carefully sliding the wine bottle to the side with her foot, so it didn’t obscure the screen. With only two inches or so between them, Roland could feel the heat coming off of her body, and smell the wine on her breath as she breathed out heavily. They both stared at the screen, but neither of them were watching the film.

Roxanne couldn’t keep still. She tried not to keep fidgeting, and even counted down thirty seconds in her head, determined not to move until she got to zero. But she couldn’t even make it down to fifteen, before the overwhelming desire to uncross and recross her legs took hold again. Roland was trying hard not to turn to his right and look at Roxanne. He couldn’t concentrate on the film, so he watched her feet moving around on the coffee table instead. Even underneath the dark nylon covering of her tights, he could see the pearlescent pink of her polished toenails, glinting in the light flickering from the TV screen. She kept crossing her ankles, creating a sound like someone quietly sanding wood, as the nylon rubbed on nylon. And her toes clenched and relaxed constantly, like tiny fists. As he watched those rather square-looking feet doing their sinuous dance, he felt like a small mammal, hypnotized by the swaying head of a snake as it waited for the right moment to strike.

Roxanne could hear the boy breathing heavily next to her. And the rise and fall of her own chest was visible at the periphery of her vision. She was starting to feel too hot, and the heating wasn’t even on. The sound coming from the TV was merging into a background buzz, and the atmosphere in the room was thick enough to cut with a knife. She knew she should move.

But she didn’t want to.

Roxanne and Roland.

“Do you think she’s the next to get killed?” Roxanne was surprised by how raspy her voice sounded, and quickly sipped more wine. She had just had to say something to break the heavy mood, and when a young woman stupidly opened the door to a dark cellar in the film, she got her chance. She had glanced briefly at Roland ten minutes earlier, and he seemed to be staring at her feet, transfixed by them. She tried to stop moving them, but it was as if something else had possessed her body, and she was unable to do that. He looked like he might suddenly stop breathing, such was the tension in his body. She had to do something. She thought about moving to the far end of the sofa, but that same thing inside her body wouldn’t allow her to. So she talked about the film instead.

He seemed to respond in slow motion, as if he hadn’t fully understood her, or heard her clearly. Before speaking, he let out a breath that sounded like a diver expelling compressed air. Turning to face her, he smiled. “Probably. They always go into those cellars in these films, don’t they? Every time.” His eyes were so piercing, they seemed to be looking inside her brain, seeing the most secret thoughts. Roxanne felt herself blushing, the heat rolling down from both cheeks, onto her neck. Then his head turned, and his eyes returned to her feet. Even as she watched them do that, she immediately rubbed her feet together. It felt like she was a puppet in one of those old TV shows, controlled by strings that could obviously be seen. Swallowing the last drop in her glass, she tried to remember when she had ever felt like she did at the moment. The answer was easy. Never. Her chest muscles ached from holding herself taut, and the quivering feeling in the small of her back was growing in intensity. It was like a torture. But one you never wanted to stop.

When he saw her tip the glass to finish the wine, Roland moved at last. He had sat rigid for so long, that moving actually felt a strange thing to do. His hips were aching as he stood up and reached over Roxanne’s legs for the wine bottle. He unscrewed the cap, and waited until she got the glass into position. It took all of his concentration to make sure he looked at the glass, rather than accidentally pour the wine over her dress. When it was two-thirds full, Roxanne intervened, in case he carried on pouring. “Thank you, Roland. You are quite the gentleman”. As she spoke, her toes clenched and relaxed three or four times. They were beginning to ache, and she wished she could just stop doing it. It suddenly occurred to her to move her legs, and she drew them up onto the sofa, bending her knees. It didn’t help that much. Everything was still as tingly and twitchy. She wondered how much longer the film would last. Perhaps Finn would tire of his game, and come back.

Anything to stop something happening. Something that shouldn’t happen. Something she had no doubt she wanted to happen.

Roland couldn’t ever remember feeling so stressed. Although he had wanted the exact situation he now found himself in, he had no idea how to deal with it. Every time Roxanne moved even slightly, he thought ‘it’s going to happen now’. But not only had nothing happened, he wasn’t too sure what that ‘it’ was going to be in the first place. The film was getting to the climax, and he couldn’t wait for it to end, to give him an excuse to leave the room. He felt silly, sure he should have said something, perhaps reached over and touched her. She had obviously been waiting for him to make a move, and he had let her down. It felt like a chance missed. He almost wanted to apologise to Roxanne, confess that he had never made a move, and wasn’t sure how to. He was sure she would never want to be in this situation with him again, and must be thinking he was more childish than she had imagined. But behind all that was also sheer relief. He hadn’t embarrassed himself, and she hadn’t had to see his inexperience or awkwardness at first hand.

Perhaps Finn had just been teasing after all. Roxanne also felt relieved. She hadn’t had to make the decision to do something there would never be any going back from. The tingling in her back reminded her just how close she had got. As the film played out unnoticed by both of them, she had run through various possibilities in her head. Maybe she could just stretch out casually and place her head in his lap? That wouldn’t be too provocative, but if he really felt the way Finn said, then it would give him the chance to at least put his arm around her, perhaps even stroke her leg. Anything to confirm how he was feeling inside. Once some contact had been made, then she would take it from there. She knew that for sure. She was ready. But other than the palpable tension that was undeniable, he hadn’t said or done anything different. In many ways, it could have been any of many previous occasions, when they had all watched a film together, cuddled up on the sofa.

But thinking that was just kidding herself.

As the closing credits rolled up the screen, she exhaled a breath that felt as if it had been held in for far too long. Roland stretched his legs out, hoping to calm the tremendous ache in his thighs. He wanted to break the silence, say something. Anything. “Well, that wasn’t very good. No wonder Finn didn’t watch it, it was very predictable. I don’t know why they keep making so many sequels, but the first one was good”. Roxanne finally smiled, feeling the effort it took. “It’s not something I would usually watch, but thanks for staying to watch it with me, I appreciated the company”. She gulped down the wine in her glass, and reached over for the bottle, quickly refilling it.
She had the sudden desire to get very drunk.

After watching her down the fresh glass of wine in record time, Roland finally stood up. “I’d better go and see how Finn’s getting on with the game. It must be time for me to go up and kill him now”. He didn’t sound in the least convincing, not even to himself. Roxanne barely managed a nod. “OK love, whatever you want”. Once he was upstairs, she went through into the kitchen to get a second bottle of white. Back in the living room, she stretched out on the sofa with her fourth glass of the evening. Hopefully, by the time she had drunk that one, the tingling might even stop.

It had been close. Very close.

Finn, Roland, and Roxanne.

“You have to be joking!” Finn seemed very angry, as he shook his head in disbelief. “You didn’t do anything? Mum didn’t do anything? Unbelievable! I could see she was totally up for it. What’s wrong with you? That was your big chance, Roly. I am disappointed in you, after everything I did to set you up. I really am. And you let Mum down too, I bet she was gagging for it”. Roland wished he would lower his voice. He was sure Roxanne would be able to hear everything, just adding to the feeling of humiliation that had left him completely exhausted. His friend kept on and on, and he felt that if he didn’t stop soon, he might just start hitting him until he shut up. Why did Finn care about it so much anyway? That question had never really occurred to him before, and now it began to sprout in his mind like a spring bulb. In an effort to silence him, Roland raised his own voice, and asked it.

“Why do you care so much anyway? What difference does it make to you if me and your mum have sex? Don’t you think it might just spoil everything? It’s no big deal, it just didn’t happen”. When Finn looked as if he might actually cry, Roland threw him some crumbs. “There will be other times. Maybe your house isn’t the right place. It might have seemed just too weird, on her own sofa, with you upstairs. I can try again another time, if you like”. Finn wanted to smile, but didn’t. He often felt he could play people like instruments, especially his mum, and his best friend. It never even occurred to him to wonder why he did that. It was just his nature.

“The thing is Roly, I really just wanted you and mum to be happy. I think you would be really happy if that happened, and I know she would. It might not seem like it, but she is a very unhappy woman, under the surface. I know how you feel about her, and I have seen how she changes when you come around. It didn’t take much to work out that you two have something there, believe me. So it does matter to me, but only because I want the best for the two most important people in my life. That’s all”. Roland had to concede that his friend made a convincing argument. He sounded unbelievably mature too, and that made him seem older and wiser. But everything had been arranged, laid on for both him and Roxanne exactly as Finn had promised. Then nothing had happened. So there was a chance that Finn was wrong, but Roland still hoped that what he said was true. Once he had calmed down, Finn started talking again.

“Perhaps you two need to be alone together somewhere else. Maybe in mum’s car, or a trip to somewhere when I am not around. I reckon I could ask her to take us somewhere quiet, like for a picnic, or a day at the seaside. Then at the last minute I could pretend to be ill, and not go. I would just tell her not to let you down, and take you on the trip anyway. Once you were out in the countryside, or found a place on a deserted beach, something must happen. But you have to have the guts to talk to her. Tell her how you feel, or even just tell her she looks pretty or something. Can you do that?” Roland looked at his friends eyes. What was that he saw in them? He got it. Desperation. He nodded. “I could try, I’m sure. I could say something nice about what she was wearing, or her hair, see how she reacts”.

But even as his friend smiled at him, he wasn’t in the least convinced he would be able to do that.

After almost two bottles, Roxanne gave up on the idea of getting drunk. It seemed that the alcohol was having no effect on her whatsoever, so she left the last third in the bottle, and screwed the cap back on. The tingling hadn’t stopped at all. If anything, it was worse, and had started to move around too. Her thighs ached, and her toes were sore. The agitation in her legs was something new, something she had never experienced before. The sound of voices from Finn’s room made her think about what was being said up there. She couldn’t make out any words, but the raised voice of Finn was distinctive. Poor Roland, she was sure he was being told off by her son. What had she been thinking? How would it have ended up, if she had made that move? Maybe slipped an arm around the boy, or squeezed his leg, pretending to be scared of something in the film. So much had run through her mind, during those ninety-six minutes.

She raised both hands to her face, and let out a suppressed growl. Whether that came from a sense of failure, or just sexual frustration, she couldn’t tell.
But she knew how it would have ended up. The way she had hoped it would.

Finn was on a roll. He liked nothing more than to get to work on a new plan.
“I tell you what, we are both fourteen soon, me first of course. I have told mum I don’t want any party, and I am too old to have everyone round playing games, or listening to music and eating sausage rolls. How about I ask her to take us away somewhere instead? I reckon she could afford a decent hotel, and get two rooms. Dad won’t want to come, I’m sure. But if he does mention it, I will just tell him he will be bored. He might even pay for it. He never knows what to get me for my birthday. Then when we got there, I would pretend to feel sick. I could ask mum if I could just stay quiet in our room for a bit, and suggest you could sit in her room with her to watch TV, until I feel better. How about that? A double bed, a strange place where nobody knows us, and you two alone for ages. Something would have to happen then, I’m certain. And if it worked out, you could even stay with her all night. Imagine that!”

He could imagine that. He imagined a repeat of what had happened earlier downstairs. Hours of tension, both too scared to say or do anything, followed by a night of overwhelming frustration, and more aching muscles. But still, you never knew. Finn’s plan sounded plausible, and very exciting too. He turned to his friend, trying to look serious and to sound grown up.

“That could work”.

Roxanne and Finn.

Her son always had a knack of getting round her, but this time she was going to resist. Roxanne listened to Finn asking about the hotel trip, and began to realise it was all complete manipulation. Of course, the idea sounded very appealing to her. Getting away from the house, she had no doubt that the relaxed atmosphere would lead to the inevitable happening between her and Roland. But the way he had worked it all out so carefully concerned her. This wasn’t in the least random, she could tell. Those boys were working together to get her into a situation where she ended up having sex with an underage boy, that was obvious. So, what was their motive?. Roland’s motive was obvious. He got to do it. But why was Finn so worried about her getting off with his friend? What could possibly be in it for him?

As she listened to him chattering away, detailing his demands, and suggesting potential towns or villages they could stay in, she became increasingly angry. By the time he sat back, and concluded with, “So will you book it up today, Mum?”, she was ready. “No, I won’t be booking any hotels, Finn. I don’t think it’s something to do for a birthday celebration. Besides, why does Roland have to be involved in everything? And why is he always round here? You put a film on the other night and then left him stuck with me on the sofa. He’s your friend, and you should involve him in what you do, not just leave him sat next to your mum. I don’t know what to say to him, he’s too young for me to have a conversation with, and I could tell he felt really awkward and uncomfortable”.

Finn was surprised. Down, but far from out. He was used to getting agreement from his mum. He never made unreasonable demands, asked for expensive things, or money to buy stuff. He may not have done much to help around the house, but he had always been kind and friendly to his mum, and done pretty much anything he was told to. He worked hard at school, and she seemed to respect him as a person, not just as a son. They had long had a very open relationship, able to talk about virtually anything, even very personal stuff. So whenever he did ask for something, she never refused. This time, she had unexpectedly said no to him, and he had to quickly think up a Plan B.

“I thought you really liked him, mum. I saw how you seemed to be happier when he was here, and the way you looked at him. You told me he was very good-looking, with his fair hair and blue eyes. You said about him looking older and stronger than me, more like a man than a boy. I thought that was what you wanted, to see more of him, and to be alone with him more often. I’m not stupid, mum. I know you and dad are not happy. I thought Roland could make you happy. And he is really crazy about you, that’s true. He just doesn’t know what to do. You could show him. You two are the most important people to me, and I just want the three of us to be happy together, that’s all. But I don’t ever want to upset you, so forget about the hotel. And I will tell Roland not to come round our house ever again, and I’ll go to his place instead”.

He had given in too easy. Roxanne heard the alarm bells going off inside her head. She had the overwhelming feeling that she had actually seen what her son was really like, for the first time. His threat to stop Roland coming round had immediately made her feel a pang of loss. That must have come across in her expression, and she had seen her son grin. No, not grin, smirk. It was calculated for effect, she saw that now, as plain as the nose on her face. She took a moment, deciding that she would talk to him as an adult, and forget for now that he was her son. “So let me get this straight. You want me to have sex with your friend, based on the notion that it will make me feel better because I am unhappy with your dad. And because it will make Roland feel better to have sex with anyone, because he really wants to. For the moment at least, he fancies me enough to have sex with me, based on what you tell me. So you set up a situation where we are alone all evening, fully expecting me to provide him with a night of sexual satisfaction on our sofa, while you sit upstairs playing on your games console. When that doesn’t go as you planned, you come up with the idea of us three going away to a hotel for two nights. No doubt you would have dreamed up some excuse for me and him to be alone, then hoped that we did it that time. Is that about the size of it?”

Mum wasn’t angry, but she was cold. That was worse. He was totally rumbled. Finn had to go to Plan C, and fast.

When he couldn’t get his way by manipulation, Finn had another winning combination. He would tell the truth, but act childish at the same time. That had worked more times than he cared to remember, appealing to that instinctive mother love, together with the spirit of the Catholic confessional. He looked down at the table, and allowed the colour to drain from his face. Here goes nothing.

“OK, mum I will tell you the truth”. He allowed his eyes to mist up, hoping that real emotion didn’t get the better of him. Roxanne tapped the table. “Come on then”. He jerked his head up, and held her gaze. “I love him, mum. I don’t like girls, I just pretended to. I like him, always have. I feel the same way about him as he does about you. But he doesn’t know, and if I told him, he might go away, and never see me again. I thought that if you and him got together, it would mean he would always come round, so I would see him all the time. I wouldn’t be jealous you see, because I love you both. And he is mad about you, mum, that is true. Honestly. He thinks you’re beautiful, and very sexy. He has told me that for a long time”. Finn couldn’t stop a couple of real tears from rolling down his cheeks.

Roxanne took a deep breath. That was some speech. And despite her previous anger, she couldn’t help but believe every word. Lots of things made sense now. Finn asking for a double bed for more comfortable sleepovers. The way he never spent time with any other friend except Roland. The way he looked at his friend and laughed, whenever he said anything even remotely amusing. His interest in fashion, celebrities, and terrible TV shows. Only she knew about most of that side of him. He would never discuss anything like that with Roland, and certainly not with Anthony. But once riled, she found it hard to let go. “So it was all about you. About you having Roland close. Not about me being happy, or Roland really getting what you say he wants, as in me. All that was just some sort of window-dressing for the real reason. Yes?”

His face was still as white as chalk, but his eyes looked red and puffy now, and his voice was croaky. “Sorry mum, but I love him. And I’m sure you could love him too”. She shook her head, and reached across the table to take his hand. It felt as cold as ice. “What if he said something to his parents, or to someone at school? Don’t you realise I could be arrested, even go to prison? Whatever I did with Roland, anything at all, that would be a crime. It would destroy my life, and the lives of you and your dad into the bargain. You’re not stupid, darling. You must be able to see that it could never be possible. There’s no need to stop him coming round. But you have to stop trying to fix it so that we have sex, do you understand that? It can never happen”. Finn tried to go back on the offensive. “But mum, he would never say anything to anyone, I swear. I know him, and he just wouldn’t. And I am not stupid, as you say, which means that I know how much you want him too. I have seen it with my own eyes. It could work, it really could”.

There was some truth in what her son said of course. Roxanne blushed at the memory of looking at Roland in his swimming trunks, admiring his unusually grown-up frame, and muscular body. She had been careless with the way she sat, knowingly showing too much leg. And sometimes her dresses or tops were inappropriately low, usually on the occasions when Roland was coming round. But had that been intentional, calculated? She had to admit to herself that it had. His obvious reaction had excited her, made her feel alive again. She had given all the right signals, to the wrong person. But it had to stop, and now was the time to stop it.

“For your birthday, we will take you to that really nice Italian place in the city centre. I will get us a taxi both ways, and we can have three courses. I will tell them it’s your birthday, and arrange a cake. But your dad will be coming too. You’re his son, and it’s your fourteenth birthday. And Roland can come, so you have your friend with you. But no funny business, you have to promise. That’s the deal, no alternatives. Now go up and wash your face and dry your eyes”.

As Finn skulked upstairs, apparently defeated, Roxanne felt that she had cleared the air. She went to the fridge, and poured herself a glass of wine, hoping that would be the end of it.

But as she took the first sip, she wondered what Roland would be wearing, when they went to the restaurant.

She was sure he would look nice.

The Birthday Meal.

In the days leading up to the night out, Finn had deliberately avoided asking Roland to come round. He made excuses about needing to catch up with school-work, said his mum wasn’t feeling good, anything he could think up. He had been embarrassed to admit to Roland that his plan had failed, and told him that the Italian meal was already booked and arranged. To make his mum pay for her stubbornness, he deprived her of his friend. Even though that meant depriving himself.

She had noticed of course, but refused to allow herself to ask Finn why Roland hadn’t been round at all, since they had that chat. She also tried not to miss the presence of the cheerful, good-looking boy. But some of the evenings seemed to last far too long. Finn stayed in his room after dinner, and Anthony retreated to his laptop. At times, she felt like someone living alone.

That Saturday was actually the day after Finn’s birthday, but the best night for them all to celebrate. The Friday had been pleasant enough. A few cards arrived, and there were some phone calls from distant relatives. Finn enjoyed receiving his presents, and he placed a card Roland had given him right next to the TV. But he had gone up to bed almost as soon as dinner was over, soon followed by Anthony shutting himself up in the spare room. Roxanne spent the rest of the night of her son’s birthday sitting alone with a bottle of wine, wondering where her nice life had disappeared to.

The Italian place in the city was popular, and expensive. One of those old-school places where people dressed smartly, and elderly waiters wandered around with pepper-mills the size of cudgels. Anthony had decided that the grey suit he had worn for work yesterday was good enough, and Finn insisted on wearing a new polo shirt and black trousers that he had asked for as presents. Roxanne was dressing to impress. A black cocktail dress with see-through sleeves, decent size heels, and high-gloss tights that Finn joked would have everyone needing to wear sunglasses. She had luxuriated in a bath for far too long, and shaved off any hair still remotely visible on her body. By the time Roland arrived thirty minutes before the taxi was due, she had enough slap on to pass as a nightclub entertainer. Anthony thought she had overdone it, for an Italian meal with two boys, but he said nothing. Roxanne had already drunk two large glasses of wine before six, and she seemed to be in a funny mood, best left alone.

When they got near the taxi, Finn shouted “Shotgun!”, and leapt into the front, next to the driver. His dad looked miffed, but tolerated the birthday boy on this occasion. That left Roland having to squeeze into the back, with Roxanne perched between him and Mr Mellor. He tried not to look at her, but couldn’t avoid it. Besides, her leg was jammed up against his for the whole journey, and the feel of that was making him uncomfortably hot. She also seemed to be acting strangely. When he got into the car, she had winked at him, and put her arm along the back of the seat, so it was around him as he shuffled across. He could smell that her perfume was mixed with the aroma of white wine, and he wondered if she might be a bit drunk.

The taxi had to drop them off a couple of hundred yards away, and as they started to walk the short distance to the restaurant, Roxanne held Roland’s arm, seeming taller with her high-heeled shoes on. Before they got to the door, she spoke in a voice that was deliberately too loud. “Well Roland, I hope that when these two disappear upstairs later, I can at least count on you to keep me company?” She turned with a smile, and planted a big kiss on his cheek, far too close to the corner of his mouth. She seemed to be waiting for a reply before walking in, so he said the first thing he could think of. “Of course”.

As the waiter brought the menus, Roxanne immediately ordered a bottle of Soave. She had pulled Roland around to sit next to her on the banquette, leaving Finn next to his dad on the chairs opposite. Mr Mellor looked very uncomfortable, and studied the menu extensively, so as not to have to look up. Finn waited until the waiter had brought the drinks and poured her wine, then smiled. “You alright, mum? You seem to be in a funny mood”. He looked very nervous, most unlike him. Roxanne grinned back, and flamboyantly draped an arm around Roland as she replied. “Funny mood? Not at all. I have never been in a better mood. Here I am, out with my loving husband and devoted son, sitting next to the most handsome boy in town, admiring his lovely blue shirt and matching trousers. I couldn’t be happier. Then when you two are not around later, we can watch a film or something”. She turned to Roland, her mouth so close to his, he couldn’t focus. “That will be nice, won’t it? That OK with you, Roland love? Still having no idea what to say, he just nodded.

Finn nudged his dad, hoping to prompt him into saying something. If felt as if his mum was having a nervous breakdown. But Anthony didn’t look up from his menu. All he did say was, “No starter for me this time, I think I will have the Veal Milanese”.

Roxanne was finally having some real fun, after all those years. Under the red and white checked tablecloth, she had grabbed Roland’s hand by the wrist and was sliding it up and down her thigh, even sneaking it under the hem of her dress. She knew it would get him in a terrible state, but she didn’t care. Time for some payback. She had ignored the menu, and when the waiter arrived, she said, “We are not having starters apparently. I will have the Chicken Parmigiana, with a side of garlic bread. Oh, and another bottle of Soave. They will tell you what they want”. After mumbling his order, Roland actually thought he might pass out. Roxanne had pushed his hand all the way up to what Finn euphemistically called ‘the forbidden territory’, and her husband was sitting right opposite him. He would loved to have just got up, excused himself to the toilet, anything to get away from the table. But he sensed something about Roxanne’s mood, and he thought it best to stay put.

At least the arrival of the food gave him a chance to move his hand out from under Roxanne’s dress. He ate slowly, watching Finn get more withdrawn as the evening went on. Mr Mellor avoided eye contact with anyone, looking for all the world like a stranger who had joined them at their table. When the plates were being cleared away, Roxanne grabbed his hand again placing it back where it had been earlier. Then she squeezed her legs together, trapping it there. She grinned at the waiter. “No desserts thanks, we have a birthday cake arranged” He nodded, and turned to speak to a colleague walking past.

The lights were dimmed briefly as the cake arrived, with its fourteen candles flickering. Three waiters stood around singing ‘Happy Birthday To You’, but nobody had told them Finn’s name. So when they got to that part, they substituted ‘Young Man’ instead. As the oldest waiter produced a huge knife to cut the cake, Roxanne called out, her voice too loud. “No that’s OK. Just put it back in the box, and we will take it home”. Nodding at her husband and son, she added with a sneer. “Seems these two are keen to get back and look at their computers”.

Mr Mellor had a red face, and he didn’t wait for the staff to bring the bill. He went to the bar to pay, and returned with the cake, standing by the table. Roxanne poured some more of the wine into her glass. “Why don’t you two go home, Anthony dear? You can take the booked taxi, and Roland will look after me. We will get one from the rank when I am ready”. He didn’t reply to her, instead turning to his son. “Come on Finn, I think it’s best if we leave mum to it”. Finn was outraged at his weakness, but stood up to leave with him, giving Roland a look that could cut glass. When they had gone, Roxanne put her hand onto Roland’s thigh, and gave it a hard squeeze. “Well now it’s just me and you, honey. As it should be, according to Finn. Pour me some more wine will you?” Roland was overwhelmed by the whole evening. He should have left with the others, but could hardly leave Roxanne in that condition. She had been so obvious, he was sure both Finn and Mr Mellor had seen what she had been doing with his hand. As much as he wanted her, he had never wanted it to be like this. It was all wrong.

On the way to the taxi rank, she hardly looked at him, and didn’t say a word. She had made him stay for almost another hour, but it still wasn’t that late. He didn’t know why she was behaving like it, and was worried she was going to turn nasty.

Roxanne didn’t know what to say, and that was why she hadn’t spoken. She had no idea what had come over her. Although not as drunk as she was acting, she felt a strange sense of freedom. To hell with all of them. Boring Anthony with his working late, and computers. Her calculating son and his devious plans. Even this good-looking boy who apparently talked the talk, but couldn’t do what he boasted about. She would show them all. In the taxi, she sat in the back, close to him. Close enough to feel his discomfort and confusion.

Back at the house, both Finn and Mr Mellor were upstairs, as predicted. Roxanne took Roland’s hand, and marched him into the living room, kicking off her high heels in the hallway as she walked along. Once in the room, she switched on a side-lamp, and closed the door. Roland stood awkwardly, his hands by his sides. He was supposed to sleep over that night, but he was trying to think of a good reason not to. “I should go upstairs, be with Finn”. She shook her head, a wicked smile spreading over her attractive face. “Oh no you don’t. Not tonight”, She pulled him toward her and kissed him passionately. Despite everything telling him to pull away and run for the door, Roland didn’t want to move. He didn’t really know how to kiss properly, but was happy to let her show him.

Then she leaned back, bending an arm behind her. Roland stood fascinated, as he heard the sound of the zip sliding. Roxanne pulled the front of her dress down, displaying an overflowing half-cup bra, in matching black. Her large breasts bulged out of the top, like huge white marshmallows “This is what you want, isn’t it?” She reached a hand forward, and slid it between his legs. “Oh yes, something tells me you do”. Roland stared at what she had revealed, like some ancient tribesman watching a miracle happen before his eyes.
He wondered if it was possible for the human body to just explode.

Then the doorbell rang.

Everything changes.

The doorbell went again, and still Roxanne hadn’t moved. Roland wanted to ask if he should answer it, but he was transfixed on the scene in front of him, watching as Roxanne’s heavy breathing made her chest rise and fall. Someone had opened the door, and he could hear loud voices from the hallway, unable to take in any words.

As Finn walked into the living room, he could immediately see that his mum’s dress was unzipped, and pulled down. Roly was stood stock still, like a shop-window dummy. His mum didn’t even bother to turn as he opened the door, acting as if she was in her own world. He spoke in a frantic whisper, his voice sounding like steam escaping from a fissure. “Mum, it’s the police. They are asking for dad, and say they have a warrant to come in”. She slowly turned to him, her face blank. “Well then why are you telling me? Go upstairs and get your dad. He can deal with them”. As his friend left the room in a hurry, Roland took his chance to retreat, and sat down heavily on the sofa. Roxanne sighed, and pulled her dress back up, struggling with the sleeves. She didn’t bother to zip up the back, or ask Roland to do it for her. She presumed there was a problem with the car dealership, and that Anthony had managed to ruin her night by default.

As Roxanne turned to open the door to the hallway, Roland could feel himself trembling. It wasn’t because the police were at the door. It was the sudden realisation of what Roxanne had been about to do, and the way she had placed her hand between his legs, and grabbed him. He couldn’t stop his legs as they started to judder, as if he was jogging whilst sitting down.

The door opened again, and a stern-looking policewoman entered. She was in scruffy plain clothes, and had a black stab vest on. As he looked at her, she snapped at him. “Who are you, son? What are you doing here?” He swallowed hard. “I’m Finn’s best friend. We’ve just been out for his birthday, and I’m stopping over”. He had never had any dealings with the police, and was surprised by how grumpy she was. “Not tonight you’re not. There is going to be a full search of these premises, and you need to go home. Can your mum or dad come and collect you? Give them a ring.” She pulled a phone from a band on her arm and walked over to give it to him. He did exactly as he was told, and it was his mum who answered. “Mum, there is something happening at Finn’s. The police are here, and say that you need to pick me up. But I can walk home if you want”. Her voice sounded strangely happy, almost joyous. “The police? No, don’t walk, love. We will be over to get you soon”. He handed back the phone, and the policewoman sounded less grumpy. “OK, stay in this room, and don’t leave it. When your parents come, I will take you out to the car”.

There was a lot of noise in the hallway. People coming and going, walking up and down the stairs. Radios crackling and beeping, and unfamiliar voices calling out to each other. Roland couldn’t hear the voices of Finn, Mr Mellor, or Roxanne, and he started to wonder if they were even still in the house. Ten minutes later, the policewoman came back in. “Your mum’s outside, I will take you out. Come on”. He followed her out, completely forgetting about his overnight bag upstairs. They had to stop in the hallway as a very tall policeman walked by, carrying Mr Mellor’s laptop, sealed in a big plastic bag. In his other hand, he had Finn’s smaller laptop, also sealed in a bag.

Out in the street, Roland could see three police cars. In the back of the nearest one, Mr Mellor was sitting next to a policeman, staring blankly out of the window. Across the street, he saw Roxanne by another police car. Her dress was still undone at the back, and she had no shoes on. She was standing next to the open door of the car, holding Finn’s neck.

He was bent forward, vomiting uncontrollably all over the road.

Then he saw his mum appear from the left, walking diagonally across to where Roxanne was standing. As she got closer, Roxanne lifted a hand and raised the palm. “Not now, Hannah. I will ring you tomorrow”. He looked across again, and caught her eyes. He wanted to stay with her, protect her. She just nodded. “Go with your mum, Roland”.

Dad was in the driver’s seat, and when Roland got into the back, he started the car. Hannah jumped into the front, turning to her husband. “Did you see the state of her? Made up like some tart, and her dress all undone at the back. Finn’s throwing up all over the place, and Tony’s in the back of a police car. Looks to me like he’s been arrested”. Roland’s dad did’t reply. He turned in his seat, and leaned into the back. “You alright, son?” Roland nodded. He wished his mum would just stop talking.

When they got home, Hannah began what sounded like an interrogation, as Ian looked on with a worried frown on his face. They were all sat around the dining table, and Roland was just wishing he could be left alone, and go up to bed. His mum was on a roll. “I always knew this day would come. That Tony Mellor was always a creepy bastard, and his son wasn’t much better. Weird, the pair of them. I reckon he’s been interfering with the boy, and I can’t believe that Roxanne didn’t know, even though she lives in a bloody dream world”. She looked across the table at her son, the small eyes like tiny dark camera lenses. “You can tell me, love. Has he been fiddling with you too? Is that why you’re round there all the time? Does he give you stuff, you know, money or presents? ” Her husband cleared his throat, about to tell her to leave their son alone. But she gave him a look that silenced him. “Come on, Roland, you might as well tell me. It’s all going to come out anyway. We need to know. We have a right to know. I bet the police will be round here at some stage. They took my name and address. You will have to tell them, so you might as well tell us now”.

Roland thought about what she had said. Could any of that be true? Why was Finn throwing up by the car? And why hadn’t Mr Mellor looked at his son, or said anything? Roxanne had certainly not looked even remotely guilty, just concerned for her boy. He raised his head and looked directly at his mum.

“No mum, nothing like that ever happened. Never”.

The Unravelling.

When the phone rang, it was Roxanne. She didn’t ask to talk to Roland, instead she apologised to Hannah for all the fuss, and told her the outline of what she knew so far. Despite always claiming to know what had been going on, Hannah soon realised that wasn’t the half of it. Anthony had been named by another man who had been arrested. Implicated in a wider ring of sexual abusers of children. He had been charged with possessing thousands of indecent images and videos of young boys; stored on his laptop at home, and even in secret files on the computers at his place of work. Even more upsetting for her, many of the images and videos showed him together with Finn, usually in their own house.

Further charges involved Anthony going to other houses in the town, to take part in what the police called ‘illegal sexual acts’ with young boys, and other men. She had made a statement, and had also had to sit in when Finn told his story to the police. There had been some implication that Roxanne may have known about this, and been complicit by default, as she hadn’t intervened. Fortunately for her, Finn’s version seemed to absolve her of any knowledge or involvement. Anthony would be detained to appear in court on Monday, when a trial date for Crown Court would be set. He would not be released meanwhile, for the fear that he might be attacked and injured, or try to affect witness testimony.

Hannah let her talk without interruption. She went on to say that she would be going to stay at her mother’s house with Finn, and would be away until the trial, at the very least. When she paused for breath, Hannah asked the inevitable question. “And what about Roland? Was my son involved in any of this?” There was a long pause. “I promise you, Hannah, nothing ever happened to Roland. He didn’t even know about Finn, as he never told anyone. And Finn swears that Anthony never touched Roland. I’m so sorry about all this. I have no idea when the boys can see each other again. Once he goes to court and the story gets out, our lives will be impossible here. We will have to move away, I’m certain of that. I shouldn’t even be speaking to you, as the police told me not to. But I thought it was only fair to let you know”.

After waiting for a few seconds, Hannah offered no sympathy or help. Her tone was formal, as if she was speaking to a company, or an organisation. “OK. Thanks for letting me know. Bye”.
After hanging up the house phone, she went back into the room, and relayed the whole story to her husband and son. She was talking about the Mellors as if she didn’t know them, like she had watched a news report. Roland felt a terrible coldness in his belly. Poor Finn, to have kept that secret for so long. Small wonder he wanted to escape his father, and thought that setting his best friend up with his mum was the only option. And poor Roxanne, as everyone would always believe that she knew, and did nothing. His mum was sounding triumphant again. “I told you, didn’t I tell you? Something wrong there, always was. Marrying a man so much older, and a weirdo at that. What did she expect? Something strange was always going to happen. I tell you, Roland, you are better off out of it, they’re a bunch of perverts”.

Roland stood up. He was too drained to be bothered to argue with his mum, and the look he gave her finally shut her up. “But do you have to be so pleased about it, mum? Do you really?”
He walked slowly upstairs, leaving his dad tutting, and shaking his head. Hannah shouted after him, before he opened his bedroom door. “Why are you angry at me? I didn’t do anything”.

Her mum wasn’t any help. All she would do was to keep droning on about the same thing. “We said you shouldn’t marry someone so old, and a bachelor at that. Didn’t we tell you? Now look what’s happened. I’m just thankful your dad isn’t around to see this. If he wasn’t already dead, it would kill him”. Roxanne almost smiled at the stupidity of her mum’s last remark. But she didn’t have many smiles left in her these days.

To save any torture for his son in the witness box, or by video link, Anthony had entered a guilty plea. He was due to be sentenced in a few days, and the police had suggested he might get more than ten years, due to both the high number and sheer depravity of his offences. All those weeks at her mum’s had been awful. The business would have to be sold, as well as the house. They would never go back, Roxanne had made up her mind about that. Unable to cope with any of it, she had put both sales into the hands of agents, telling them to accept any reasonable offers. And although her boss had been sympathetic and told her to take her time, she had resigned anyway, assuring him she would never return to the town.

But nothing could be done with Finn. He was almost catatonic. He hardly spoke more than a mumble, and spent every day in the spare room at mum’s, refusing to eat anything but a small portion of breakfast cereal. The school had been understanding, but she had to supply medical certificates to placate the authorities, as he had lost a lot of time out of his education. They had been given an appointment with a counsellor, and she had almost had to physically drag him to that. He refused to speak to the woman, or answer any of her questions, other than to keep saying “Mum didn’t know. She never knew anything”. After the session the woman walked her out, patted her shoulder, and said. “It will take time. Lots of time”. Roxanne could have told her that herself, and saved all the grief.

She needed to get more cereal, and some shopping for mum. The press and TV occasionally still tried to doorstep her, but the coast was clear that morning. She backed her car out of the garage, got out, and closed the up and over door. The drive to the supermarket was quite long, and every time she caught sight of her own face in the mirror, she looked away at the ghastly reflection. It didn’t look like her anymore. At the checkout, she kept her head down, and muttered answers to the friendly routine questions the lady asked her. Certain that everyone would know she was the wife of the child-sex criminal, she was terrified of any confrontation. But nothing happened, and she drove home feeling relieved. Pulling up a short distance from the house, she couldn’t see any journalists around, so drove into the driveway, got out the car, and lifted the garage door.

The sound was not something you might ever hear. Not a scream, not a yell, not even a howl. But once you heard it, you would never forget it. It was loud enough to startle her mother’s next-door neighbours, the Bellinghams, and to send a shiver up both their spines. And it was obviously heard by Roxanne’s mother in the house, causing her to run downstairs, with her heart racing.
George Bellingham heard the sound again, like some special effect from a film, a demonic cry. He decided to investigate. Something was terribly wrong. George met his neighbour as she rushed out the door of her house, her face as white as chalk. When the eerie bellow sounded again, they both headed into the open door of the garage.

Roxanne was on her knees. She had dropped to them so heavily, the rough floor had broken the skin on both of them, and blood could be seen on the concrete. Her mouth was open so wide, it didn’t seem possible that a human could do that, without dislocating their jaw. One hand was ripping at her clothing, like some kind of robotic claw, and the other was stretched out, pointing at the back wall of the garage. George wrapped his arms around her, to stop her tearing more clothes off, and his eyes followed the direction of her pointing finger.

The dead body of her son was hanging from a tool hook, suspended by a short length of nylon rope, cut from a washing line.

Roland and Roxanne.

Once her make up was done again, Roxanne pulled herself together and walked downstairs. The few relatives who had been invited looked at their shoes as she appeared, and her mother continued to cry uncontrollably. Uncle Matthew spoke quietly. “The cars are outside, Roxanne. If you’re ready”. She nodded, and followed him out.

It was a strange funeral. No young people, no friends or neighbours, just a handful of elderly people who had no idea what to say. Once the Humanist lady had said a few appropriate words, the coffin disappeared behind the curtain, and that was that. No music, no wake to follow. Nothing seemed appropriate to celebrate the tragic death of a boy who had lived in the shadows of lies.

Once the car got her and her mum back to the house, Roxanne would leave. Her cases were already packed.

Anthony hadn’t even bothered to apply for permission to attend, which was just as well, as she would have refused it. He had got fourteen years, so would serve around half of those, with good behaviour. The irony hadn’t been lost on Roxanne. Finn was fourteen, and Anthony had got fourteen years. Not enough for what he had done, in her opinion. The judge had condemned him in his closing speech, talking of ‘despicable crimes’, and an ‘unnatural attraction’ for young boys. When asked if there was anything he wanted to say, an unrepentant Anthony had replied.

“Yes. You speak of an unnatural attraction. But you miss the point. For me, it is a natural attraction”.

The house had gone at a bargain price, but there was still lots of profit, based on what it had cost. The solicitors had suggested that Roxanne would get sixty-six percent of everything from the house, the business, and the savings. That allowed for what might have been Finn’s share, and left Anthony something to try to salvage his life with, after prison. She hadn’t argued. She just felt empty. The money was a lot more than she had expected, and had meant she could buy a small cottage over a hundred miles away, and probably allow for at least five years without having to rush to find a job. She had no tears left now, and wondered if she would ever be capable of crying again. There was nothing she really cared about anymore.

Well, maybe one thing.

His fourteenth birthday had passed in a blur. He didn’t want to celebrate, and couldn’t even be bothered to open his cards. Mum and dad had given him a hundred pounds, still feeling guilty about the way they had handled everything. When the news had leaked about Finn’s suicide, Hannah had spoken without thinking, genuine malice in her voice. “He’s probably best out of it. You never know who Roxanne might take up with next time”. Roland had given her a look that had really scared her. For a split-second, she had thought he might injure her, perhaps even kill her. After that, he hardly spoke to her, except to answer questions. He threw himself into his school work as best he could, ignoring the whispers and jibes circulating around the school. Nobody would ask him anything directly, scared he might attack them.

His fifteenth birthday also passed with little or no celebration. Roxanne had never contacted them again, and he hadn’t even been allowed to go to Finn’s funeral. But not a day passed when he didn’t think about her. Finn had been right about one thing. He loved Roxanne more than he had ever suspected. When he thought of her, he ached for the loss, as if she was dead too. He didn’t blame her. His mum had been horrible, and he would only remind her of Finn. And everyone who talked about it claimed that she must have known, and done nothing. No wonder she never came back to the town, and got the removal company to pack up her house.

One day, he had summoned up the courage to go into the Estate Agent where she used to work. He said he was her son’s best friend, and needed to speak to her. But a young woman said they had no address for her, and she had changed her mobile number. After that, he gave up trying. He grew taller and stronger, looking older than his years. That, together with his cropped fair hair and blue eyes, attracted the attention of girls, and women too. But he wasn’t interested.

Roland wasn’t looking forward to the summer holidays. It gave him too much time to think. Lying on his bed, he jumped at the alert sound on his phone. It was a text message, and the name above it read Finn. It made him shiver to see that, and he opened the message wondering what was going on. What he read made his heart leap. ‘Hi Roland, it’s Roxanne. Sorry to spook you out with this, but I am using Finn’s phone to get your contact number. I was wondering if you would like to come and stay for a while, help me do some decorating. Make some excuse to your mum, I’m not going to talk to her. R. xx’
He sent a one word reply. ‘Yes’. The next message gave him the postcode, house address, and the nearest station, adding that if he sent her the time of the train, she would pick him up.

When his mum came home from work, he told her he was going to help out at a summer camp for underprivileged kids, further north. “I will probably be gone for the whole of the holidays, but I will let you know”. Hannah looked at him sideways. “First I’ve heard of it. How did you arrange that? Where is it? Do I have to pay anything?” But he gave her that look again, making her hands feel cold. “It has just come up, something through the sports teacher at school. Someone dropped out, and they asked me. I won’t need any money, I will take some from my savings. All I want you to do is pack me a case, and give me a lift to the station tomorrow”. Hannah was naturally suspicious, but after the last year they had gone through, she decided to allow it. Might do him some good to go somewhere different, and he was old enough to look after himself now.

Her car was outside the station when he got off the train. She smiled as he walked across the forecourt. She looked older, but still lovely. He threw the case onto the back seat, and climbed into the front. She put the car into gear, and spoke softly. “It’s not too far, about twenty minutes. I got some pizzas in for later”. She didn’t ask how he had managed to get away, or what his mum had said. She didn’t care. It was a small cottage, standing on its own at the end of a country lane. Not picture postcard stuff, and in need of some work. Inside, the small main room served as both lounge and dining room, and there was a tiny kitchen, leading to a bathroom built on the back. The garden was no more than a courtyard, with just room for a metal table, and four chairs. “She smiled warmly at him. “I’ll show you upstairs, bring your case”.

There were just two bedrooms. The main one was nice enough, with a large double bed, two small wardrobes, and a dressing table. The other one was just about big enough for a single bed, but the room was completely empty. “This is the one that needs decorating, as you can see”. Roland dropped his case on the floorboards of the bare room. “Alright if I use the toilet? ” Roxanne smiled again. “Of course, you know where it is”.

As he walked back downstairs, Roxanne wandered next door, and stood by the dressing table. She took off the summer dress she was wearing, and reached round to unhook her bra, dropping it on the floor. Then she slipped off her panties, and lay down naked on top of the bed. When she heard Roland walking back upstairs, she smiled. Raising her voice just enough, she called out to him.

“Come into my room, Roland. I’ve got something to show you”.

The End.

The Recent Serial: The Absence Of A Twist

As most of you know, my fifteen-part serial ‘A Natural Attraction’ has now concluded. I always like to reflect on such long works of fiction, in the hope that it might interest those of you who may be considering doing something similar.

This time, I chose a darker theme, with adult overtones. I attempted to look behind one of those closed doors we are never privy to, and in the process to consider one outcome of something we see widely reported in the media these days. It was not a comfortable subject to read, or for that matter to write. But I hope you will agree that stories like those need to be told. Not only to enhance awareness, but also in part to promote understanding of how and why some tragic events happen.

I also deliberately avoided the use of a ‘twist’ ending. I made that clear from the start, but I still apologise to the many of you who might have been hoping for one. That decision may well have cost me some drop in readership numbers, but I didn’t think a twist was appropriate for this subject.

It is a big ask to expect readers to stick with so many episodes, and so many words in each one. In this case, it still attracted around 70+ views a day, totalling just under 1200 views so far. Comments were fewer this time, which might have had something to do with the dark theme of the story.

But as usual, I would like to thank everyone who stuck with it until the end, and of course all of you who left comments, reblogged, and shared on Twitter.

For those of you who like to read the whole thing in one long story, that will be available by the end of this week.

Thanks again, and best wishes to you all. Pete.

Photo Prompt Story: The Down Line

This is a fictional short story, in 1360 words. It was prompted by this photo, taken by Sue Judd, and featured on her blog. https://suejudd.com/

Sue suggested it might be something I could write about.

George was excited. He had bought a new suit for the interview, and checked out his travel plans. One train to the necessary station, around forty minutes. Say fifteen minutes to walk to the industrial estate, and that was fifty-five minutes. He would allow ninety-five minutes from home, just to make sure. Caroline was very excited. The prospect of a new job for her husband was a joy. After George had been made redundant late last year, things were manageable, but tough. She was so supportive, and he really appreciated her bringing in the money from her job at the local Council. She had been the driving force. Finding jobs online, helping him update his CV, and constantly boosting him up. Always so positive.

They just about managed the mortgage and bills, but holiday plans had been put on hold, and so had the decision to start a family. Caroline wanted nothing more than to have a baby, and George was totally on board with that too. But the unexpected news had put a hold on so many things in their life. He had been upset when they told his mother-in-law. She wanted nothing more than to be a grandmother, and George had felt personally responsible for the delay. Working in such a niche market was always going to be an issue. But Caroline had found the perfect job, even though it would mean a commute he wasn’t used to. She had helped with the updated CV, and even checked over his online application, suggesting various bullet points he should include.

The end result was success. His first interview since he lost his last job. They were both so happy, Caroline bought in a takeaway curry, to celebrate.

It seemed that the best idea was to book the train ticket online. They accepted lots of payment options, and they could send it to your email, or phone. George was impressed. He might even print out the ticket, just in case. Wouldn’t hurt to take a paper copy along. Just as well though, considering the local station no longer had any staff. The company had decided that there were not enough passengers to justify any station staff, let alone a ticket office. Besides, the tickets were either checked on the train, or at the destination. The prospect of random checks put off all but the most determined fare-dodgers. George was always going to buy a ticket. He would never even think to avoid paying the fare.

Caroline helped him to chose the suit. Smart, modern, but not excessively flash. Just the right look, for that sort of company. She put it on her credit card. A month before they had to pay, and he would have his first salary by then. They were sure of that. The night before, they went through his references, as well as all of his qualification certificates, and packed them in a very sensible business case. It would look like a shoulder bag, but nothing too casual. He slipped in his notebook computer, fully charged, just in case he needed to check anything on the way.

The weather forecast was for a sunny and bright day. Not cold, not too warm. So no coat would be required, and his transition lenses in the spectacles would cope. No need to consider separate sunglasses. One less thing to worry about. That night, he cuddled Caroline close to him in bed. George had to confess that he was quite excited about taking a train. For the last twelve years, he had driven to work. But losing the company car had made that impossible. They could only run one car on what they had to spend, and Caroline needed that for her job, as well as getting the shopping, and going to see her mum. He wouldn’t mind at all. He would be a commuter. A happy commuter too.

He didn’t get much sleep. Long before the alarm was due to go off, he was already in the shower, his clothes laid out in the spare room, so as not to disturb his wife too early. George shaved carefully, then did his hair just so. The crisp new shirt felt stiff as he dressed, but in a good way. By the time Caroline had stirred, he was dressed and ready, with two coffees already drunk. He was far too nervous to eat, so would save his appetite for the celebration meal later. Caroline was still in her dressing gown, when she kissed him goodbye. As he walked along the path smiling back at her, she called out. “Love you, honey. Text me with the good news”.

The station was a lot quieter than he had expected. There were only five other people on the platform, and George sat down on a metal bench. He leaned forward, more perching than sitting, unwilling to crease that immaculate new suit more than necessary. After five minutes, he took out his phone, and sent Caroline a text message. ‘Here in plenty of time. Far too early for my train. Better early than late! Love you, my darling xx’.

The next train came in, and he let it go without getting on it. No point being ridiculously early. He would just end up wandering around a soulless industrial estate, with nothing to do. He checked the time on his phone, and decided to wait for the next one. That would still leave him with more than enough time. If anything, he would still be too early. It seemed to be a long time coming. The platform opposite was filling up with people. He had no idea where they were going, but after a while, he started to get worried about his own train. Twenty-five minutes later, and he was getting genuinely concerned. Trains came and went on the other side, but there was nothing arriving where George sat, and as he got nearer to the time of his interview, he started to panic. There was nobody around to ask, and now there wasn’t even anyone across the tracks, waiting on the opposite platform. He decided to ring the company, and explain.

The girl was rather formal, but ready to accept his excuse that there was a problem with the trains. “I haven’t heard about any rail difficulties this morning, Mr Collier, but if you can get here by eleven-thirty, someone will see you. Later than that, and you will be too late, I’m afraid”. George thanked her profusely, and assured her he must surely be there by then. But that was less than an hour later, and allowing for the journey, even if he got a taxi at the other end, it was cutting it fine. Tired of pacing, he sat down on the bench again. Ten minutes went by, and he started to feel hot and uncomfortable in his new suit. He was relieved when two men walked onto the platform, one carrying a large paper cup of coffee. He stood up, and approached the man holding the cup. “Excuse me, do you have any idea when the next train to Swindon is due? I have been waiting ages since the last one”. He tried to subdue the panic in his voice.

The man looked surprised. “Swindon?” You are on the westbound platform, the Down Line. You need to go over there and get an eastbound train, on the Up Line”. George looked confused. Had he really been standing on the wrong side all this time? The coffee man seemed to know his stuff, so George pressed him. “I don’t suppose you know when the next Swindon train is due in over that side, do you? The man checked his watch. “Not for another twenty minutes. That will get you there just before twelve”. George nodded his thanks. He was starting to feel sick. Sitting back down on the bench, he took out his phone again, selecting Text Message from the menu.

But he had no idea what to say to Caroline in that text.

A Natural Attraction: Part Fifteen

This is the final part of a fiction serial, in 1400 words.

Roland and Roxanne.

Once her make up was done again, Roxanne pulled herself together and walked downstairs. The few relatives who had been invited looked at their shoes as she appeared, and her mother continued to cry uncontrollably. Uncle Matthew spoke quietly. “The cars are outside, Roxanne. If you’re ready”. She nodded, and followed him out.

It was a strange funeral. No young people, no friends or neighbours, just a handful of elderly people who had no idea what to say. Once the Humanist lady had said a few appropriate words, the coffin disappeared behind the curtain, and that was that. No music, no wake to follow. Nothing seemed appropriate to celebrate the tragic death of a boy who had lived in the shadows of lies.

Once the car got her and her mum back to the house, Roxanne would leave. Her cases were already packed.

Anthony hadn’t even bothered to apply for permission to attend, which was just as well, as she would have refused it. He had got fourteen years, so would serve around half of those, with good behaviour. The irony hadn’t been lost on Roxanne. Finn was fourteen, and Anthony had got fourteen years. Not enough for what he had done, in her opinion. The judge had condemned him in his closing speech, talking of ‘despicable crimes’, and an ‘unnatural attraction’ for young boys. When asked if there was anything he wanted to say, an unrepentant Anthony had replied.

“Yes. You speak of an unnatural attraction. But you miss the point. For me, it is a natural attraction”.

The house had gone at a bargain price, but there was still lots of profit, based on what it had cost. The solicitors had suggested that Roxanne would get sixty-six percent of everything from the house, the business, and the savings. That allowed for what might have been Finn’s share, and left Anthony something to try to salvage his life with, after prison. She hadn’t argued. She just felt empty. The money was a lot more than she had expected, and had meant she could buy a small cottage over a hundred miles away, and probably allow for at least five years without having to rush to find a job. She had no tears left now, and wondered if she would ever be capable of crying again. There was nothing she really cared about anymore.

Well, maybe one thing.

His fourteenth birthday had passed in a blur. He didn’t want to celebrate, and couldn’t even be bothered to open his cards. Mum and dad had given him a hundred pounds, still feeling guilty about the way they had handled everything. When the news had leaked about Finn’s suicide, Hannah had spoken without thinking, genuine malice in her voice. “He’s probably best out of it. You never know who Roxanne might take up with next time”. Roland had given her a look that had really scared her. For a split-second, she had thought he might injure her, perhaps even kill her. After that, he hardly spoke to her, except to answer questions. He threw himself into his school work as best he could, ignoring the whispers and jibes circulating around the school. Nobody would ask him anything directly, scared he might attack them.

His fifteenth birthday also passed with little or no celebration. Roxanne had never contacted them again, and he hadn’t even been allowed to go to Finn’s funeral. But not a day passed when he didn’t think about her. Finn had been right about one thing. He loved Roxanne more than he had ever suspected. When he thought of her, he ached for the loss, as if she was dead too. He didn’t blame her. His mum had been horrible, and he would only remind her of Finn. And everyone who talked about it claimed that she must have known, and done nothing. No wonder she never came back to the town, and got the removal company to pack up her house.

One day, he had summoned up the courage to go into the Estate Agent where she used to work. He said he was her son’s best friend, and needed to speak to her. But a young woman said they had no address for her, and she had changed her mobile number. After that, he gave up trying. He grew taller and stronger, looking older than his years. That, together with his cropped fair hair and blue eyes, attracted the attention of girls, and women too. But he wasn’t interested.

Roland wasn’t looking forward to the summer holidays. It gave him too much time to think. Lying on his bed, he jumped at the alert sound on his phone. It was a text message, and the name above it read Finn. It made him shiver to see that, and he opened the message wondering what was going on. What he read made his heart leap. ‘Hi Roland, it’s Roxanne. Sorry to spook you out with this, but I am using Finn’s phone to get your contact number. I was wondering if you would like to come and stay for a while, help me do some decorating. Make some excuse to your mum, I’m not going to talk to her. R. xx’
He sent a one word reply. ‘Yes’. The next message gave him the postcode, house address, and the nearest station, adding that if he sent her the time of the train, she would pick him up.

When his mum came home from work, he told her he was going to help out at a summer camp for underprivileged kids, further north. “I will probably be gone for the whole of the holidays, but I will let you know”. Hannah looked at him sideways. “First I’ve heard of it. How did you arrange that? Where is it? Do I have to pay anything?” But he gave her that look again, making her hands feel cold. “It has just come up, something through the sports teacher at school. Someone dropped out, and they asked me. I won’t need any money, I will take some from my savings. All I want you to do is pack me a case, and give me a lift to the station tomorrow”. Hannah was naturally suspicious, but after the last year they had gone through, she decided to allow it. Might do him some good to go somewhere different, and he was old enough to look after himself now.

Her car was outside the station when he got off the train. She smiled as he walked across the forecourt. She looked older, but still lovely. He threw the case onto the back seat, and climbed into the front. She put the car into gear, and spoke softly. “It’s not too far, about twenty minutes. I got some pizzas in for later”. She didn’t ask how he had managed to get away, or what his mum had said. She didn’t care. It was a small cottage, standing on its own at the end of a country lane. Not picture postcard stuff, and in need of some work. Inside, the small main room served as both lounge and dining room, and there was a tiny kitchen, leading to a bathroom built on the back. The garden was no more than a courtyard, with just room for a metal table, and four chairs. “She smiled warmly at him. “I’ll show you upstairs, bring your case”.

There were just two bedrooms. The main one was nice enough, with a large double bed, two small wardrobes, and a dressing table. The other one was just about big enough for a single bed, but the room was completely empty. “This is the one that needs decorating, as you can see”. Roland dropped his case on the floorboards of the bare room. “Alright if I use the toilet? ” Roxanne smiled again. “Of course, you know where it is”.

As he walked back downstairs, Roxanne wandered next door, and stood by the dressing table. She took off the summer dress she was wearing, and reached round to unhook her bra, dropping it on the floor. Then she slipped off her panties, and lay down naked on top of the bed. When she heard Roland walking back upstairs, she smiled. Raising her voice just enough, she called out to him.

“Come into my room, Roland. I’ve got something to show you”.

The End.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Is truth stranger than fiction?

Given that I am currently writing a serial based around what is best described as a ‘delicate’ subject, I woke up thinking about how people often refuse to believe things, because they appear to be unbelievable. When you read a horror or fantasy novel, you know that vampires and werewolves don’t exist, and you suspend belief so that you can just enjoy it. Much the same can be said for traditional romantic fiction, where serving maids or tavern wenches end up married to princes or dukes. We know it doesn’t happen very often (if at all) in real life, but we seek a diversion, and a happy ending.

But what about books (or films) dealing with the bad things that really happen? Serial-killers, child molesters, other sexual deviants, or unrelenting psychopaths who leave a trail of carnage in their wake? Such things sadly happen all too often in the real world. But unlike most popular novels or films in those genres, they usually don’t end up tied up neatly, with the perpetrator behind bars, following the dedicated work of an ace detective. There are currently 212 ‘official’ unsolved murders in Britain, one dating back to the 16th century. Add to that more than 3,000 unsolved sectarian murders reported during the Northern Ireland troubles, and real life shows us that it is all too possible to kill someone, and get away with it.

What about those stories where someone goes missing? Because they like to have a neat ending, they are usually found, again by a detective, or perhaps a dedicated friend. If not, then we might read about the discovery of their body instead. But few books or films conclude with the ending ‘never found’. It is known that that almost 275,000 people are reported missing every year, just in the UK. The majority of those eventually return, contact the authorities, or turn up somewhere else. But at least 18,000 are never seen or heard of again. Read that number again. 18,000. In the USA, the number is far greater, with around 2,000 people reported missing every day. Yes, every day. That’s 730,000 a year. At least ten of those reported daily are never seen or heard of again, leaving a missing total of 3,650, not accounting for the many thousands who are found dead soon after, or much later.

If I read those numbers in a novel, I might have decided that it stretched my credibility.

If any of you have ever read any of my ambulance stories, you may well agree that many of them sound far-fetched, almost unbelievable. In fictional medical dramas, people who suffer terrible injuries almost always recover, thanks to the dedication of the familiar staff. Should someone suffer a cardiac arrest, a few pumps on the chest or two zaps from a defibrillator will see them up and about in no time. They are usually leaving for home with a smile, as the closing credits roll. In reality, that rarely happens. If you ask anyone who served alongside me in the London Ambulance Service at the time, they will confirm that, I am sure. We had a saying, ‘Dead is Dead’.
And surely nobody ever calls an emergency paramedic team because they are having trouble passing a hard stool? Oh yes they do.

So to my current serial, and its dark themes of child abuse, and consensual sex between statutory ‘minors’ and adults. We know that happens, but obviously don’t like to dwell on it. Few of us know a family or families where that sort of thing goes on. That is something that happens ‘somewhere else’, and you look on in disbelief as you watch it on news reports, unable to comprehend how the other parent could not have been aware. Hardly anyone has ever personally known an outwardly respectable man, living a seemingly blameless life whilst secretly sexually abusing his eight-year-old daughter or son, after all.

But I have. And I had no idea, until it was exposed. I saw the effects on the confused wife and strangely sexualised young girl first hand. And it was far more disturbing than anything I had ever read in a book, or seen on a film.

So I have to conclude that the old saying is correct.
Truth is stranger than fiction

You couldn’t make it up.