~ Once ~
by Fingersmith

Here I am again ? been a while, but finally I got the chance to finish this.

The characters do not resemble a couple of ladies from a very well known TV show; THEY are all mine. Took me a while to get away from those blue eyes, but I did it. Therapy helped. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of those fantastic writers out there that have filled my head with images, stories and fantastic plots for so long. I just hope you get a millionth of the joy I have received from them from reading my story. I would also like to thank all of the people who have supported me with their kind words of encouragement - making me carry on writing. You are bloody fantastic!

Thank you to my beta readers who were fantastic at spotting my many mistakes. Dec and Heike ? you are stars ? and I definitely owe you a drink.

Language: English! My kind of English. So, be prepared for some good old-fashioned 'effing' and 'jeffing'. My characters are the ones to blame ? they should have their mouths rinsed out with washing up liquid and scrubbed with a yard brush.

Violence: Depends what you mean by 'violence'. Does a punch up denote violence? What about a 'bit of a slap'? There are some sensitive issues though, so be warned. It is all not sweetness and light.
Sex: Do I have to fill in this box, Miss? I've gone all red. Ok. My fault, eh? Let's tick ? yes, just to be on the safe side. Therefore, if you are under the legal age to read such 'filth', or live in a place where this is illegal ? I'm sorry. Believe me ? I tried to avoid it, but my fingers slipped. Not like that ? tsk. All you have to do is wait until you are a little older. You could even move - but that is a bit extreme just to read this. You could go out of town for a while ? Fake ID ?

This story is set mainly in Norwich ? but I do flit about a little. If you find any spelling mistakes please put it down to one of three things. Firstly, I'm English. Secondly, I can't spell. Thirdly, I'm just too lazy - number three being the main reason. And for crying out loud, don't check my grammar - in through the head and out through the fingers. Good motto to have.

Please let me know what you think about this story ? try not to be too harsh, as I am really sensitive and will probably cry for weeks ? months ? are we talking years here?

Acknowledgements: I have quoted now and again, but not too much. All music, sayings and stuff quoted have been used without the permission of the artist. This is not an attempt at plagiarism: just a tribute to their great words.
Special thanks: To friendship. A true friend is one who, when I am worried, will tell me horrible stories about how much worse it could be until I stop whining. And by the way - my house is not haunted! Get over it!

L T Smith

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was a young woman ? ah ? fuck. I can't start my story like that. Let me think.

What about ?

It was a lovely day ?

What a load of bollocks. Here am I, waiting to spin you a tale and I can't even decide how to begin. Should I start at the beginning? The middle? Or even begin at the end and then go backwards? I think I'm digressing into some kind of literary cul de sac. Before you know it, I will be using tired old clichés and quoting Shakespeare. Like usual.

What about if I set the scene? You know, paint a picture with words (number one of the tired old cliché brigade). Setting is important though, isn't it? Gives the reader a feel for the story. Without it they will be visually bankrupt ? just like how verbally bankrupt I'm feeling now.

Ok. Here we go. Setting the scene. Readying my reader. Just a minute ? you are ready aren't you? I don't want to waste ink starting and you are still fiddling around in your handbag looking for a mint.

Consider this the beginning ? the setting ? the start.

Now ? to set the scene. Shall I set it with time or place ? or shall I go for the gold and set it with emotion?

The latter, I believe (metaphorical pushing of glasses up to the bridge of my nose ? gives a look of intelligence, even though I don't wear them).

Right. I'm ready.


On your marks ? get set ?

The Start (or formally known as The Introduction)

She said she'd love me forever. For e ver. Three syllables. Seven letters. Go on ? count them. And those three syllables and seven letters turned out to be a one syllabled, three-letter word.


If forever was to mean it was ok to treat me like pond life and then shag her work mate, then I'm sorry, I'm wrong ? it is forever. But in my dictionary, forever means something completely different. Let's just check ?

Forever / fôr evvar / adv 1. also for ever FOR ALL TIME for all future time. 2. also for ever FOR A VERY LONG TIME for a very long or seemingly endless time (informal).

See? 'FOR ALL TIME', and even a 'VERY LONG TIME', if you want to be informal.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not a pedant. I don't usually carry a dictionary around with me and contradict people on their use of the English language. But come on? when someone tells you they will love you forever, it usually means longer than three and a half years. Doesn't it?

In my own way I did love her, didn't like the way she treated me, but I did love her all the same. We had only lived together for just over three years when I came home to find her rolling around our bedroom floor with a woman I'd met briefly at her work's dinner two weeks previously. The only thought bouncing around my head was 'I hope I don't have to steam clean the carpet', before I turned, walked down the stairs and out of the door.

I'd barely grabbed the handle on my car when she was behind me, gripping my arm, throwing accusations. Words splattering on my face ? literally, words like 'cold',' heartless', and the blinding one that charged me with 'indifference'.

'Even when you catch me fucking someone else you just walk away.'

Yes. What else did she expect me to do?

'Why can't you show any emotion?'

Why? Will that change the fact you said you would love me forever?

In hindsight, I should have asked her that, but all I wanted to do was get out of there, flee the scene of the crime, and block it all out. I couldn't see the point in exposing all my shortcomings to all and sundry at something nearing a hundred shrill decibels. Loud enough to make dogs weep.

And that's truly where my story begins.

The True Beginning

Sue was the longest relationship I'd ever had. Forty months, to be precise. We met through a friend of a friend of a friend, nearly making it an urban myth. It was lust at first sight and we barely knew anything about each other before we were inside the other's underwear. We scarcely even made it inside my house before we were at it. The front door clicked and so did her bra strap.

Sex had always come easy to me - or used to. I wasn't the type of person to form long lasting relationships, and that suited me just fine. I preferred it to be just my little boy and me. When I say little boy, don't get me wrong. I'm not a single mother ? never slept with a man. My little boy had the most gorgeous brown eyes and wet nose any mother could wish for. Unlike most mothers, the 'child' in question had four legs instead of the customary two.

Dudley. Duds for short. Black and tan ? fuzzy ? with a tail that wagged liked crazy, taking his whole bum with it. His smile was the perfect over shot jaw of the classic Border terrier. We'd been a team long before Sue came on the scene, and I knew we would still be when Sue had gone.

It was weird how it all kicked off ? the relationship with Sue that is. Before I knew it, we were seeing each other every night, and if I said I didn't enjoy having sex with her, I'd be lying. It just grew. We became dependent on each other, a bit like smoking - you know it's bad for you, but you believe you need it to feel normal.

Duds was suspect from the first moment he clapped his beady eyes on her. The first time I introduced him he went to bite her tit. Well, we were in the hallway, and he was just protecting his property. I should've asked her to leave there and then, because dogs are never wrong. But at that moment in time I wanted to bite her tit too, so I kind of ignored the gesture. I can guarantee that kind of ignorance will not be repeated.

After four months, Sue began to apply the pressure. Why couldn't we move in together? It would be so much easier ? cheaper ? fun. And on and on and on ? and then ? on and on and on some more.

I can hear you saying 'Why didn't you just tell her to sling her hook?'

Ah ? easy for you to say, but you weren't the one receiving wonderful, mind-blowing sex were you? You weren't the one who steadily began to believe that actually you couldn't do all the things you used to do ?you had suddenly become dependent on another person. Even to washing up ? I couldn't even do that right. Systematically she broke me down until I thought I would even have difficulty trying not to drown in the bath.

When I agreed, she was in, unpacked, and settled in less than twelve hours. She must have been half packed and waiting for me to give her the go-ahead. Duds was not a happy boy, as she banished him from sleeping at the foot of my bed from the very first night, claiming it wasn't healthy.

I missed him. Missed the way I would wake up in the night and stretch my arm down to feel a warm wet tongue lavish my fingers with kisses. Missed the way I would inadvertently tickle his winkle because he was sprawled on his back snoring away.

Now the relationship wasn't easy from the start. You might have guessed this. But when she moved in, I began to see a different side to Sue than the one she had presented to me over the previous six months. At first I used to argue (especially when it came to Duds), but then it just became easier to go along with her, and that infuriated her even more. Arguments would start as soon as I got in from work. She didn't even wait for me to take my coat off before she was accusing me of the usual things ? not appreciating her ? not telling her I loved her all the time ? loving that damned mutt more than I loved her (erm ? well I ? nah ? you get the picture).

Eventually I didn't have the energy, or inclination, to argue back. Just took it on the chin, rolled up my sleeves and began to wash up. Badly. Sex went out of the window after the second year, and I spent more time in the sun room with Duds reading or just 'arsing about', as she so delicately phrased it.

I truly believed I did love her. Honestly. Thought it was a blip most couples went through when they eventually moved in together.

Because, you see, she had told me she'd love me forever. And I, like a fool, believed her. I didn't even know why I wanted her to.


Self-confidence was a thing of the past. I was beginning to believe I was a worthless piece of shit. I'm not saying Sue purposefully set out to make me feel this way, all I'm saying is I felt vacant. The only thing I believed was that she would always love me. The most sorrowful thing was I hoped she was lying.

I felt trapped ? caught like the poor fox in the woods ? legs stuck in a mantrap and waiting for the end to take it. The pain wasn't physical, more emotional rendering of the helpless, if you get my meaning. Vacancy developed into hollowness, and hollowness seeped into an abyss, trickling away and leaving me clutching at straws.

Then I came home one day and saw her. Saw her on the bedroom carpet with another woman. It was only after a few weeks she finally admitted she had wanted me to catch her ? wanted me to do something to prove to her I loved her like she loved me.

What could I say?

The only thing I thought that made any sense at the time.


The word conveyed an inner strength I thought had died, but it also sapped me of what little self-respect I had left. She had taken everything else. Most of the furniture was now stacked in her apartment - unused for the best part, and collecting dust.

When she demanded visiting rights for Duds, I knew she had gone too far. Duds hated her. At the time I didn't know why, because it isn't in a dog's nature to hate - only humans have that capability. But as time went on I began to get the whole picture.

Answer me this. Why would a dog that has been loved from the minute he wiggled his fat little arse into your arms until now, dodge when you lifted your hand up suddenly? And why would a dog hide when you slapped a newspaper on the side of the chair?

Mmmm ? is this rocket science? Methinks not.

This is the moment where things start becoming interesting. This is the moment when I thought I could choke the fucking life out of her.

But I didn't.

Nope. That wouldn't have been satisfying enough for me.

Imagine the look of surprise when she opened her front door and I smacked her right in the face. The satisfying crunch of her nose under my fist will live with me for the rest of my life. I revelled in the sight of the once straight feature leaning to one side and pissing blood like a soda siphon.

'Cold? Heartless? Fucking indifferent?' I grabbed her by the front of her shirt and felt the buttons tear away from the cloth. Then stopped. This wasn't me ? wasn't who I was. I didn't fight, for whatever reason.

Grey eyes looked into mine. One thing stood out above all others.


And I had put it there. Duds was going crazy in the car, howling and scratching the window in a vain attempt to join in. I was distracted for less than a blink of an eye and that's all she needed.


Knee up and meeting my crotch with the speed and precision of an all-in-wrestler. And down I went. Flat on top of her. Face to face. Smearing her blood onto my cheek.

'You haven't heard the last of this, Beth,' she spat into my face. 'I'll get you ? and your little dog too.'

What the fuck was this? A twisted version of The Wizard of Oz? Were munchkins going to clamber out of the flowerbeds and start singing as if they were spaced out on helium?

I tried to pull away, but she pulled me back so she could then push me away with force. I clattered onto the paving slabs trying to stop myself from skidding even further. Sue shakily stood up and wiped the back of her hand across her nose. And winced. I just sat there. Dudley howled. The neighbourhood had an eerie silence, well apart from the demented howling of my little wolf man.

Slowly she stepped forward, and I cowered, lifting my hands to my face believing she was going to hit me. Her shadow loomed over me and stayed ? and I stayed in my protective shell.

'You're not worth it.'

And then the shadow left, the sun warming the backs of my arms and drying off the tears that had trickled down my face after the introduction of my private parts to her kneecap.

I can't tell you how long I sat there, but when I struggled to my feet both my right leg and my backside were numb. I looked ancient as I hobbled back to the car to be greeted by a very concerned bundle of fur. Duds washed my cheeks of all the dried tears. He even cleaned all the new ones that raced down my face. Bless him.

Unconditional love. If only humans could do that, I'd be set for life.

But we can't. Can we?


Things went down hill from there really ? if they could get any lower than they already were. I stopped going into the office and did all my work from home. The only time I went out was to take Dudley for his walks, or to collect more work to do. My boss understood, as drawings and ideas came from within, not from your surroundings. His words.

He believed in me. More than I did. Told me to take some time to get my life in order, however long that would take.

Everyday I found it more difficult to get out of bed, and if it hadn't been for the necessity of taking care of someone else, I don't think I would have bothered. What was the point? My life had taken a swan dive off a cliff and hit concrete.

My mum was forever phoning and trying to get me to 'Get my backside' round to hers, as mums tend to do. So did my brother, Will. He wanted to come over ? take me out ? fix me up with a work mate ? do anything to take my mind off things. But I couldn't face them at the moment ? felt too fragile. Even friends came out of the woodwork after realising Sue was no longer on the scene, only to discover I was 'unavailable for comment'. I just wanted to be left on my own to simmer and stew ? and sink deeper into myself.

Wait a minute. I need to think.

Let's get the facts of the case on the table. A quick mime of me arranging my papers ? shuffle shuffle.


Firstly, she said she'd love me forever. Secondly ? she didn't. Shall I say thirdly? Nah ? I should bullet point.


Now all I needed to do was to make a similar list to counteract that one.

And this is when we get to the Development stage of my tale.

The Development

Earlham Park. Beautiful. The greenness of the lolling fields matched perfectly with the clear sky. I would say blue sky, but this is England. October. Therefore, we have a clear sky ? maybe greyish. Am I deviating? You bet I am. I am the epitome of a deviate: socially, sexually, and emotionally.

So now that I've been caught, I'll get on with it shall I?

It was cool, but not cold. Cold enough for a jumper, and the ground was wet enough to wear boots, but all in all, it was a crisp autumn day in Norwich. The field was filled with butterfly dogs and their owners, you know, people who only walk their dogs when the sun is shining.

Duds didn't know what to do first. Chase his ball or chase around yapping happily with the biggest dog he could find. I was lost in thought, smiling occasionally at his antics. I ignored the first rule of walking a dog ?

       Always be alert.

But you know how it is ? thoughts pop into your head and you just go with them, and before you know it, you're thirty minutes down the line and have no idea how you got there. Scary how we can ignore time, considering how we dwell on it so much.

Obviously, I was thinking about Sue, and how things had deteriorated. I was trying to put it all in perspective, from how we met to the final punch out in front of her house. The blame was continually shifting from her to me, and then back to her again. It was so unlike me to be violent; I would do anything to avoid conflict ? well, since I lived with Sue that is, and physical contact of the bodily harm variety was not my style. Or hers, for that matter.

What had happened to both of us? Where had the chink in the veneer of our relationship started? I know what had triggered off my outburst, but why did I feel the need to punch her, especially with no concrete evidence?

The thought of Dudley being hurt brought me back to reality with a crack.

I couldn't see him.

Couldn't see him.

Panic raced through me and choked my throat. My heart was thumping into my ribcage in an attempt to help me search him out.

'DUDS! COME ON FELLA!' The shout broke the dam clotting inside me, and I felt the tears start to gather. 'DUD ? LEY!'

I was running ? my head was whipping round trying to spot his little black body. But, he wasn't there ? anywhere ? gone.

Sue's words rattled around my head, you know, the ones I laughed at, 'and your little dog too.' I can guarantee, I wasn't laughing now. She had him. As sure as I was racing down the hill screaming his name, I knew she had him. If she hurt him in any way, I would rip her apart. Limb from fucking limb. All the thoughts of physical violence not being my style were rapidly flying out of the window. But all the smacking in the world wouldn't bring him back would it?

Then I saw it. Can't believe I hadn't been on my guard. Can't believe I didn't follow the first rule of dog walking.

The river.


The river.

Duds loved the river, and in the summer I always took him to the shallow part so he could jump in a fetch sticks. I can't tell you how many balls he has dropped in there to sink to the murky depths and a watery grave. Now Duds had followed them. He would drown in there this time of the year, as the current would be too fast for him to get back to the bank.

The pain shot through me as I reached the river's edge. No sign. Then my knees gave way and I sank to the ground. The cry that came from within me felt like it had been ripped up with a coat hanger. I had lost everything ? everything ? he was my everything ? and he was dead.

A whimper. Distant, but definitely a whimper. I didn't think twice, just jumped up, and vaulted into the freezing water. It seeped through my jeans and jumper to meet rapidly cooling skin, and I found the weight of it pulling me under. The sheer force of the water made me realise that if Duds had whimpered a second ago, there was no way he would be whimpering now. It would be impossible for him to get back to the bank in this current.

It didn't stop me though. I had to find him, alive or ?

'Excuse me.' Someone was calling me from the side, but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the water. The sound of the water was nearly deafening, and it was taking me all of my time not to be whisked along with the rage of the water. He had to be here somewhere. 'Excuse me!' A little louder, a little more insistent.

'Can't you see I'm busy?' I didn't even look back ? didn't even ask the voice for help.

'Is this your dog?' The first thought in my mind was that his body had been washed to the side and the voice had found it. But then I heard the whimper again.

I steadied myself and turned to the bank. A woman stood there holding something black, wriggling and very dry in her arms. The bundle was whimpering around a bright red ball that was clamped inside his mouth.

Do you know what I did? I bet you're thinking I sloshed to the side, clambered up the muddy bank, and had a tearful reunion with my little man.


I stood there and cried. And cried. And cried. Relief? Maybe. Anger? A little bit. Shock? Almost guaranteed. But I think it was just everything pouring out at last. Everything I had bottled up since splitting with Sue, or even from before that.

Words seeped into my consciousness, but I couldn't respond. Words asking me if I was ok, did I need help ? to sit and stay. Sit and stay?

Noises of water splashing and splashing, and the feeling of arms enveloping me, pulling me into a solid chest. The closeness jolted me out of my misery-come-happiness for a brief moment, and I looked into the most glorious pair of brown eyes I had ever seen. A sob, which was in the process of being launched from my slackened mouth ? stopped ? mid ... way.

The woman just pulled me closer to her and held me for a split second before pulling me towards the side. Her arms left me briefly as she scrambled up, and then a hand extended and hovered in front of me, offering me safety.

It was a strange feeling. Tingling. Her fingertips seemed to trigger something deep inside, and I couldn't grasp the implication. My brain, as was the rest of my body, was frozen. Everything apart from my hand. One tug and I was on the bank, an excited Dudley licking my face, his ball rolling towards the edge. Shit. He would follow it.

But she was there again, catching the ball swiftly in her hand.

The funny thing was I hadn't really had a good look at her yet. I had only seen her close up and then the back of her head. One thing I knew though ? her eyes were brown ? such a mesmerising brown. I was flat on the ground, soaking wet, hair going all directions and completely covered in mud. Not to mention being thoroughly loved by my boy, which if you've ever seen a dog really excited by being reunited with his mum, you will know it is not a flattering sight. So, when she turned to look at me, ball in hand, I felt rather dishevelled to say the least.

'You must be freezing?'


She stood straight and I felt myself looking upwards so I could see her eyes again. The way she strolled over, totally controlled, her jeans flapping wetly against her legs, made my stomach tighten a little. Shock, I think. You know, about Dudley ?

'I said you must be freezing. You need to get out of those clothes.'


A smile flickered briefly over her face, and then disappeared. 'You're all wet ? erm ? the river ? erm ? water.'

I was surprised the heat emanating from my face didn't dry my clothes. Duds had decided to just lie across my chest and stare into my face, his breath cool against my glowing skin. All I could hear was his panting ? my panting ? and a rapid clattering inside my chest that I put down to exertion.

'Are you ok?' Her face came down towards mine, and I felt my focus moving from her eyes to her mouth, watching the words come out. 'Come on ? let's warm you up.'

Now there's an offer ?


We ended up in the café in the middle of the park, and the people who ran it gave us towels and a blanket to wrap around our legs as sodden jeans, underwear, and boots dried in the kitchen. Duds curled up in front of the fire and dozed, his ball between his legs.

'I'm Amy, by the way.' When I took her hand again, introducing myself, I still got the sensation I had before, but this time it seemed stronger. I just looked down at our intertwined fingers, maybe to try to rationalise what was happening, and before I knew it her hand was gone. 'Here ? drink this.' She passed me a steaming mug of hot chocolate, and I wrapped my hands around it willing the heat to travel through me.

The only sounds to be heard were the clattering of the workers in the café and the slurping of our mouths on hot drinks. Time seemed to drift along, and the warmth I felt from the fire, and the drink, made me want to just curl up and sleep.

'Are you feeling warmer now?' Amy's voice was filled with concern.

I nodded, not wanting to break the calmness I was feeling. It had been too long since I had just allowed myself to relax.

'Can I ask you a question?' My gaze shifted to her face, and I saw nothing threatening there. So I nodded. 'You don't have to answer if you don't want to.'

'Go on.' The words coming out of my mouth seemed crackly as if I hadn't used my voice box for ages. A quick cough and clearing of my throat ? 'What do you want to know?' I placed my empty mug on the table before turning to face her.

'I was just wondering ...' She looked embarrassed, and inside I was thinking 'shit', but I just stared at her and waited. 'Erm ? I was just wondering ? why on earth were you in the river at this time of year?' A nervous movement came next ? leg shifting and bum crunching on the plastic seat. 'I mean ? it's freezing in there.'

'Tell me about it. But I didn't have time to think, just wanted to save Dudley.'

'But he was with me.'

'I know that now ? but at the time?' and then I started to cry all over again.

'Hey ? come on. Everything's ok now.' I tried to smile and stop the flow of tears, but it just got out of hand. I felt so low ? so low ? so beaten. My head slumped forward into my waiting hands and I just let it all out ? let it all out.

Hands slipped around my shoulders and arms caught me, even though I wasn't falling. The warmth and smell of her flooded inside me, and the tender murmurs trickling over my hairline made me want to stay there indefinitely.

'Come on, Beth. He's safe. Look at him ? come on ?' I lifted my eyes to look at Duds, who by this stage was at my knee, one paw resting on the blanket, his eyes full of worry. 'I was having a cup of tea when he came in a while ago ? I think he was trying to get some treats.' Duds' eyes shifted guiltily for a split second. 'And then he wanted to play ball.' Did I see my dog lick his lips as if he was going to deny it? 'When I came out to find who he was with, I couldn't see anyone. But he went ballistic ? kept on racing ahead and then running back to me as if he wanted me to follow him.'

I lifted my hand and stroked his fuzzy head; tender licks covered my fingers. My dog is Lassie. Or Skippy the bush kangaroo.

'Next thing I knew, we were both at the river, and I had to hold him to stop him coming in after you. Didn't I fella?' Amy stroked Dudley's head and he loved the attention from the both of us. Then our fingers met, just briefly, but the feeling was there again.

'I'd better go.'

I stood up sharply, wanting to flee the scene, not even realising I was naked from the waist down. Well, until the blanket fell from me of course.

'Shit ? erm ? sorry ? and ? oh crap!' I clutched at the blanket, which made her laugh ? such a musical laugh. Her hand tried to grab the edge of it and preserve my innocence, but it inadvertently grabbed my crotch.

Amy fell backwards onto the floor, exposing herself in the process. What a pair of lemons. Both of us ? flashing our girly bits in the middle of a café in the centre of Earlham Park. Could things be anymore embarrassing?

Only time had the answer.


How do you follow that? You can either, run for you life (dressing quickly to save further humiliation), or you can laugh. Amy chose the latter as I was opting for a quick getaway. She sat on the floor, trying to pull the blanket over her, but the laughter was making her go weak. My blanket was FIRMLY in place by this stage and I was on a one-way trip to gather my belongings.

But I just stopped ? and looked at her ? laughing. She kept on throwing her head back, her brown hair flying backwards and then forwards as she was shaking. I felt the tickle of a chuckle rise up my throat and rest, patiently, on the tip of my tongue. Then she tried to get up and tangled her legs in the blanket, hitting the floor like a sack of potatoes. Unfortunately, I had tried to help her up at this stage and she willingly took me down with her. I landed awkwardly half on, half off her jiggling frame. An opportunity not to be missed by Dudley, who thought it was a game.

All four paws landed on the centre of my back at the same time, his ball thwacking me on the back of my head forcing my face forward. The crunch of her skull against mine stopped her laughing for a moment, and she opened her eyes to look into mine. Jesus. We were so close I could feel her breath. I knew my eyes had widened in shock, as had hers, but when a very wet nose poked itself around and licked my face ? then hers, she was guffawing with the best of them.

And so did I. Real hearty laughs, you know the ones good for the soul. I tried to get up, but I couldn't. My legs kept tangling with the blankets and bringing me back down on top of her. Buster Keaton springs to mind.

'Hold up ? hold up ? I ? I ? can't breathe.' Amy was trying to control herself, panting and laughing ? laughing then panting. 'If we just ? stop.' She froze and so did I. 'Then maybe we could do this properly, before we completely lose our dignity.'

Slowly, and gradually, we tore ourselves apart. The cool rush of air reminded me of where I was and what I was wearing.

'I'm so sorry.' What else could I say? 'God. I can't believe this.' Not the most coherent of gestures, but I wasn't feeling very coherent or rational. How do you apologise for making someone jump into icy water, sit half-naked in a café, and then be the perpetrator to her exposing herself for all and sundry? Yes ? like you, words failed me.

'What for? I haven't had this much fun in ages.' Her face was so open and honest, and so ? beautiful ? natural ? and waiting for a response.

'For ? for ? this.' My hand gestured wildly at her dishevelled frame and half-covered torso. 'For getting you all wet ?' she sniggered, 'erm ? and erm ? ah shit.' My face was beetroot. I wouldn't have thought twice about commenting on how wet I'd made her if she hadn't sniggered. 'I'd ? I'd better go.'

It was amazing how quickly and nimbly she got to her feet, kind of surprised me at her swiftness, sureness of foot. I shook my head and then turned to get my bottom half of my clothes.

We dressed in silence, as Duds watched patiently from the wings, red ball clamped in his mouth. His little eyes looked from me to Amy and then back, his head comically moving at the same time.

After thanking the owners and trying to pay for the drinks and help, we made our way back to the car park. Amy walked me to my car and stooped to ruffle Dudley's hair.


Two sets of brown eyes looked into mine.

'I don't know what I would've done without you. You're a lifesaver.'

'My pleasure.' The smile that she gave me radiated a truly genuine happiness and I felt my chest heave and relax. 'And you stick by your mum ? don't want her jumping in rivers too often do we?'

And then I left. Left her standing in the car park waving and laughing. Dudley stood on the parcel shelf of the car and wagged his tail until she was out of sight.

If I had a tail, I would have wagged it too.

But then it dawned on me. I didn't even know her surname ? didn't know anything except she was called Amy. No address. Phone number. Nothing.

So my imaginary tail stopped wagging and I drove away, taking one last look in the rear view mirror just in case ?


Where do I go from here? Should I move on and race ahead? Or should I drag it out?

Let me think?

In the middle sounds good. So we are still in the development stage.

I bet you're wondering, 'What happens now?' or even 'I don't give a shit? Where's the sex?' Patience ? patience. Like me, of course. I had to be patient too. I couldn't believe I hadn't asked her a little about herself, but at the time it just felt right to just sit and be. If more people just made time to sit and be ? Christ! I'm off on a tangent again.

Right. Where were we? Car? Okay ? Let me get you out of the car, get you sorted, and then take you back to the park again ? and again ? and again.

For about a week of this, actually. Park. Park. Park. Like a dog with a speech impediment. Every afternoon, about the same time as before, Duds and I trekked to the park in the off chance we would spot Amy and maybe just have a chat.

No such luck.

But I persevered, and Duds thought I was the bee's knees and the cat's pyjamas for taking him out for walks in his favourite place. It was funny, but I was beginning to make an effort to look half-human. You know, not wearing my scruffiest jeans and even combing my hair. It didn't matter though, because within five minutes of being with the exposed elements I always looked like something the cat had either dragged home or sicked up.

Obviously, I was definitely following the first rule of dog walking, and the one for bird watching ? always on the lookout for something ? or should I say someone?

It was exactly a week later when Duds decided it was high time he dropped his ball into the river and expected me to go in and get it. Thankfully, it was in the shallow part, although the string of non-biodegradable words coming from my mouth would have said otherwise. The stick I had found was huge ? almost a caber, and way too big to be fishing for a little ball with.

Wrestling with the barked beast was no easy feet, especially when you have a very excited dog spurring you on with high peeled yaps of encouragement. I was in mid flow, and the ball seemed to be laughing at me, when I heard a familiar voice behind me.

'You're not jumping in again are you?'

I spun around, nearly losing the battle between woman and stick and going arse over tit into the water again. Amy grabbed my arm to stop me, and the branch escaped.

'Thank you ? again.' I could feel the blush overtake my face and hoped she hadn't noticed.

'You've gone all red.' Shit. 'Do you think you should sit down? Maybe you over did it a little.' I nodded, taking on the role of 'She who is close to passing out' with gusto.

Amy helped me lower myself to the ground, and then plonked herself down next to me. Dudley looked at us both with disgust and then continued to stare at where his ball had fallen.

It was lovely just to sit there, taking in the surroundings, listening to the birds. The view was beautiful ? absolutely breathtaking. The park wasn't bad either. Amy was facing the river, profile in view, fingers draped over her raised knee. And I was mesmerised.

It was a good job that Dudley whimpered, because just as I was about to look away from her, she was turning to face me. A split second earlier and I would've been caught gawping.

But I didn't get up ? she did. Without a second's hesitation she kicked off her trainers, pulled off her socks, and waded into the water to get Dudley's ball. She bent down out of my view to suddenly appear with the errant ball clutched tightly, water splashing off her hand. My little man went mad, excited mewling noises clambering from his mouth.

'Here you go fella.' The ball whizzed by me, shortly followed by a black and tan streak. Her laugh was heart warming, and my face nearly tore in half with the smile that came from the place deep inside which is reserved for smiles for perfect occasions.

Before I knew it, she was beside me, trainers and socks in hand, her feet glistening and looking decidedly blue.

'How did you know?'

She turned to me, brown eyes so deep and enchanting I nearly missed the half smile on her lips. 'It didn't take a genius. You with a huge stick stabbing the water, and him,' her head nodding towards the returning hero, 'whinging at the side the whole time we were sat here.'

True. Simple when you look at it like that.

I watched her wiping the water off her feet, the moisture clinging to it and preventing her from putting her socks back on. Then I thought of the clean white handkerchief sitting idly in my coat pocket. 'Here. Use this.' I passed the linen to her, and nodded to her feet. 'The least I can do.'

Why did I feel like a teenager when she smiled at me? Full of self-consciousness and hormones. Then I said the only thing I could think of.

'He loves his ball.' Classic me. I wanted to tell her she had the most enchanting eyes I had ever seen, and her smile could warm the coldest hearts, but I was still in teenager mode. I was surprised I didn't shove her over, or worse, get her in a headlock.

She was finishing tying her laces and didn't see me silently slap my hand to my forehead.

'Fancy a coffee?'


Trust Dudley to get in there before me. Thinking about it, he was just as entranced as I was. His eyes were full of adoration, his ball almost forgotten. Almost.

'Well that settles it. Coffee it is. Isn't that right, Duds?' I chucked him under the chin, stood up, and offered her my hand. She paused before she took it. Or should I say hesitated? Then she grinned and slipped her fingers into mine, nearly pulling me over as she got up.

'Let's see if we can stay dressed this time, eh?'

Bugger. Blood red. The image of her sprawled on the floor with her bits and pieces exposed and then me, being me, ending up on top of her, was nearly my undoing.

'I'm sure you're coming down with something. You've gone all red again.'

Double buggeration.


One coffee turned into two. And it was bloody wonderful. Amy was so entertaining, so attentive ? so full of life. And for the hour we spent together I forgot how shit my life actually was. Unlike the previous visit I found myself asking questions about her and her life. For the first time in ages, I felt I had some semblance of control. And it felt good.

Thirty-four. Single. Full name Amy Marie Fletcher. Single. Part time lecturer of history at the University. Single. Originally from Stratford, or just outside of. Did I mention she was single?

And straight.

I didn't ask her that; I just knew. There was no way she was like me. She was just too ? too ? and I don't know how to finish that sentence. I can't typify the classic lezzie look, or even what they sound like. I have never had gaydar ? it always failed me. I usually waited until someone picked up the invisible rays I was sending out into the world unbeknownst to me. You know ? the gay juju vibes.

Therefore, I should change my statement to 'I think she was straight.' Although I hoped she wasn't.

Before we knew it I could see the owners of the café clearing their stuff away readying themselves to close up. Amy, Duds and I were the only people there by this stage, so I made a move to go, thanking the owners for letting Duds come in, as I knew it was usually against the rules.

Back at the car, I hovered half in and half out of the door. I wanted to ask her if she would like to meet again, but something held me back ? my confidence, or lack of confidence more than likely.

'Do you fancy meeting up again?' Thank God someone took the initiative. 'Maybe take Duds to the beach ? erm ? or something?'

'He'd love that.' Huh? 'I mean - we'd love that.' She just laughed and fished in her pocket to pull out a pen.

'Have you any paper?'

The only thing I had was a receipt from the local pet store, but it served a purpose. Within less than a minute she had given me her home number, work number and mobile, with a comment of me calling her when I had a spare minute to make arrangements.

I had too many spare minutes ? that was the problem, but I didn't let that phase me as I slipped the paper into my inside pocket.

The smile I sported on the way home could be described by some people as a 'shit-eating grin'.


I have realised something. I go on too much. I can sense you nodding your head in agreement, but you must remember, you can't rush a tale. I should be writing 'Climax or Dramatic Scene' by now, but instead I'll opt for ?

Extended Development

Me being me, looked at that slip of paper a thousand times. Me being me, slipped that same piece of paper into the side pocket of my purse, only to sit and stare at same side pocket of my purse for God knows how long before getting the same, slightly worn, piece of paper out to repeat the process all over again.

I wanted to just pick up the phone; sluice sexual vibes down the slim black container, and make a time to meet. But, truth be told, I was scared. Petrified even. I hadn't even gone out with old friends since the split, and somewhere deep inside me there was an element of fear ? fear of forgetting how to just 'be' with other people.

I know I had shared a few coffees, and even allowed her to grab my girly bits ? seen hers too, for that matter, but they were all circumstantial. They were spur of the moment gestures, however nice.

Yes. I remember I purposefully went out to see if I could spot her again, but it wasn't the same. She might never have turned up. This time it would be a definite meet.

And I still didn't know if she was gay. What if I went along and got the wrong message ? you know - ignored the little red flags that spout 'Back off!'? I would feel a right tit (when I was trying to feel the left one too).

She wouldn't be interested in me, anyway. What did I have to offer her? Even if she was on my team, it didn't necessarily mean she would fancy me.

I didn't feel strong enough for any of it. The waiting ? the deliberating ? the uncertainty ? the fact she may be another Sue in sheep's clothing. I think that was it. I wasn't ready for anything that needed an emotional attachment.

But I liked her. Liked her to talk to. Duds liked her too, and that had to be a sign, hadn't it? Dogs are never wrong. And I had promised myself I would never ignore the gestures from my little man again.

'I'm doing this for you, Dudley.'

Yeah right.


Saturday. Nine o'clock. Up. Showered. Dressed. Duds fed. Me fed. Picnic made. Stomach in knots.

I had done the deed. Called her. Put myself on the line for my child.

Amy had answered after the third ring, and sounded out of breath. What was initially supposed to be a quick call lasted fifty-six minutes ? I checked. We arranged to go to Wells Next the Sea, a huge beach that allowed dogs in both the winter and summer. And she was picking me up at eleven thirty.

I know it was only nine, but I was nervous, ok? Ask my bowels. Ask my stomach, if it stayed still long enough and wasn't practising a rolling hitch or a sheepshank. Though at times I believed it would be better serviced to get some time in on a noose ? my large intestine was free for training purposes.

By the time eleven fifteen had strolled around I was white and sweating. The carpet in my living room seemed to have lost its lustre, and footprints made by my boots had scuffed all the shag. Duds just lay next to the door, his harness on and ball wedged as far as he could get it in his mouth. For once he wasn't yapping and trying to open the door himself. He seemed calm ? serene even. Maybe because I was like someone who had attempted to OD on caffeine that everything seemed calm in comparison.

When the doorbell chimed, I nearly peed my pants. She was early. Fifteen minutes early. I wasn't ready. Didn't feel it. Felt exposed and naïve.

My fingers refused to act naturally, and the usual lifting off of the chain took longer because I couldn't seem to grip the bloody thing for long enough to slip it back out of its slot and then turn the handle.

She looked beautiful. Her long hair was tied into a loose ponytail, and stray bits came down and played at the side of her face. Or maybe it was the wind that was whistling past her. Her smile was stiff, and I wondered if she had second thoughts about meeting, but then I realised she was nervous too.

I'm not saying I thought of that straight away. It was her voice that exposed her. Slightly high pitched with a noticeable quaver at the end of her greeting. Call me old fashioned, but that made me feel more relaxed. Not by a lot, but decidedly more relaxed than I had been feeling a couple of minutes before. Even my stomach had opted for a simple bowline knot.

Things were looking up. It's a pity the English weather didn't think the same.


The beach was empty. Not surprising really considering the huge black cloud progressing at a steady pace towards us. Being on the beach at the end of October was not the best choice of venues to have a day out. We could barely hear each other above the din of the wind.

But we were there. And that's all that really mattered. That, and the fact Dudley was having the time of his life. There were so many holes all over the beach; people would begin to think there had been an invasion of moles. He looked so cute with his backside stuck in the air, his front paws going ten to the dozen, both accompanied by little snorting sounds. When he looked up, his face was covered in sand and he honestly looked as if he was grinning.

We walked for miles, or so it seemed. The car park was quite a trek away from the beach in the first place, but at least we were sheltered on the way in, but standing on the sand we were totally exposed. And in more ways than one.

I did feel a little out in the open, for some strange reason. Maybe because I wasn't too sure what I should call this outing. Was it a date? Or just an innocent walk along the beach? And why did it matter? Why couldn't I just accept things on face value and enjoy them? I'm asking too many questions again ?

Amy was fun, for what I could hear of her anyway. She really spent time with Duds, quality time ? ball throwing ? chasing him ? or letting him chase her. I joined in, and laughed, really laughed, at both their antics. In no time I was sweating inside all of my layers.

But fate decided it was time to move things on a little.

Black clouds gathered over us and it seemed like night. The wind dropped. Kaput. Gone. And the scene changed from a crappy English day, to something found in a Stephen King novel. Seagulls had buggered off, and their previous squawking was painfully missed. Air was full of tension, and if I had brought the proverbial knife with me, I can bet I could have spliced through the collecting pockets of electricity.

Splat. A huge drop of rain hit me right in the face. Ice cold and out to shock.

Splat. Splat. Splatter. More quickly now, and seeming to increase in size and weight.

'Shit.' Both Amy's and my word melted into the growing wetness. Duds just looked at us, as if to say 'What's the problem?'


And we did. Like greyhounds. Soaked greyhounds, in less than twenty seconds. The problem arose when we realised we didn't have anywhere to go. The beach was just that ? a beach. No cafes nearby. Not even a public toilet where we could shelter. But we kept on running, and the sky kept on pelting us with gobbets of water.

After a few minutes, Amy began to slow down ? then stopped. I caught up with her (ok ? she could run faster than me - she had longer legs. Got a problem with that?) and just stood in front of her, the rain running down my face in waves.

Then she did something that surprised even me. She took off her coat and covered our heads with it. I couldn't understand why because we were drenched already, so why didn't she just keep it on and keep warm? I know ? ungrateful.

But the thing is - have you ever been underneath a coat with someone ? especially when you have to huddle together closely to make sure you are both covered? If you have, you will understand how close we were. I could feel her breath on my face, warming my skin. And you will also know it is nearly impossible not to look at that person in the face, and at that close proximity it could be described as nothing short of intimate.

The sound of our breathing was deafening. More like panting. I don't know if it was the exertion of running or ?


That broke the spell.

Dudley was between our legs trying to stop himself getting blown about by the elements, and he did look a sorrowful sight.

'Here ? bend down.' Amy's words seeped into my head, but I couldn't quite grasp ? 'Like this.' Her left hand landed on my shoulder and I felt a gentle pressure pushing me downwards. Then the penny dropped. She was trying to get us closer to the floor so Duds would get more shelter, both underneath the coat and from our bodies.

It was like being inside a tent, and the sound of the rain on her coat was like we were being pelted with stones. But the atmosphere inside was quiet and expectant. Amy lowered her arms so the coat was draped over us, resting her forearms on her knees. I was holding onto Duds, rubbing along his wet back to try to warm him up. I was freezing. Soaked and freezing.

'You're shaking.' And I was. But I couldn't figure out if it was because of the cold, or because I was underneath a coat with Amy. Nerves are funny things at times, but I just couldn't shake off the feeling of being so close to her ? and feeling that I wanted to be closer.

It was hard. Hard because I had no idea if she felt the same way, and hard because I knew it was too soon to be wanting to become involved with someone else. Everything was still so raw. I didn't want this to be a reaction to what had happened with Sue. I was still in the stage of getting on with my life, and trying to cope being me again. I didn't have the strength to start it all over.

'Here.' She didn't wait for me to question her, just slipped her arms around me and pulled me close. Duds was stuck in between us, so I didn't get the full impact of her body next to mine, and I can honestly say I am glad I didn't. The feel of her arms around me was initially uncomfortable. Hey ? I'm being honest. It was. I wanted to pull back and run. But thankfully, I didn't, because within less than ten seconds I felt like I belonged there ? really belonged there. Nothing could hurt me whilst I was in her arms. It was a feeling of safety I had missed for so long ? not just the warmth of her, the essence ? it was the every thing.

It was just her, me ? and Duds. Nothing else mattered. Being stuck on a beach in the middle of a storm was nothing. Being underneath a coat, in her arms ? was everything.

And believe me, the smell of wet dog had never smelled so sweet.


The storm lasted all of fifteen minutes. Rain petered away to drizzle, and then to a memory. Wind lashed against our frozen legs and made jeans truly uncomfortable. All I wanted to do was strip off and climb into a vat of steaming, bubbly bath water ... soak and relax. But that was at least an hour and a half away, as we had to get back to the car and then drive back to Norwich.

We were all chilled to the bone, and Wells being anal about health and hygiene saw us being refused entry to cafes to get a much needed coffee and warm. Not because we were wet ? this is England remember. It was on account of Duds: 'No dogs allowed'.

Not all was lost though, as The Ark Royal Public House let us all in without complaint. Thirty minutes after getting off the beach, Amy and I were tucking into a hearty lunch, drinking coffee and toasting next to the fire. The landlord even made Duds some meat in gravy ? which was devoured in less than two minutes. I didn't care that I had prepared a picnic ? I was getting warm.

After our plates were clean, we sat in silence ? totally at peace with the world. Life seemed perfect. The day seemed perfect. All was well and good in the Bethany Chambers world once again.

'So tell me about you. I hardly know anything apart from you've just split up with someone.' Fuck. 'What was his name?' Double fuck ? even a fuckity fuck fuck fuck. 'If it's still painful ...' she must have seen my reaction. You know, the one where all the colour drains from your face and you squirm like you've just messed your pants.

'No ? it's ?erm ?'

'Hey. No problem. You can tell me when you're ready.' She sounded so sincere, so honest and open.

Should I come clean? Should I come out? Should I run?

'It's a little more complicated than that.'

'Was he married?'


'Never mind ? Look, it doesn't matter. Fancy another coffee?'

I nodded. And she was up and at the bar ordering whilst I sat a stewed. Would she be disgusted? Shocked? It's amazing how we respond to people finding out whom we sleep with. I mean - does it change the person they liked as a friend? Unfortunately, yes. Some people can't accept the fact that when you leave them, you have a life different to their own.

She was barely back in her seat when I began.


'Excuse me?'

'Her name was Sue. My ex. Sue.' I tried not to look at her face ? tried not to spot if she reacted in a way I would add to the growing list of insecurities I was collecting. But I couldn't. I had to know.


A nod.

'Like as in a female Sue?'

Another nod. 'And the fact I said 'her'.'

Amy sat back on her chair, her lips in consternation, until they broke apart to reveal a brilliant white smile. 'Good. We're not that different after all.'

The relief was overwhelming. I didn't want to lose this budding friendship, and I didn't want to lie to her either. Then it dawned on me. She was gay. Amy was gay. The woman sat in front of me was gay. Gay. Relief was replaced by ? erm ? relief? I want to say joy ? happiness ? euphoria ? but I won't. Not that I didn't feel those things, but because relief was still the most overpowering emotion racing through me.

'I can't tell you how much better I feel by telling you that.' I grinned at her and picked up my cup. 'You too, huh? I would never have guessed.'

'Why? Don't I look like the average lesbian?' It's amazing how a room suddenly goes quiet just as a word like lesbian appears. I could feel the stares from a couple of people in the pub, and I wanted to say 'Why don't you pull a chair up ? you'd be able to hear everything then.'

'I'm gaydar retarded.' Then took a sip of my coffee.

'We're not that different after all.' The coffee I had in my mouth decided it preferred being catapulted in the air and landing all over Amy, who just sat there, coffee clinging to her face because it didn't want to fall onto the floor. And that made me laugh again. 'Go on ? laugh at my expense.'

So I did. Head back, and emitting throaty laughs, until she had to join in. It felt so good ? so good. Amy made me feel so bloody fantastically good.

After we had allowed the relief to come out in the form of a good old laugh, yes ? about something that in the light of day could not be seen as that funny, we settled down into comfortable silence.

Amy decided that ten minutes were enough to sit and stare into the fire.

'Do you want to tell me what happened?'

I turned and looked straight into her face, and I knew I would be safe.

So I told her. No elaboration, just the facts. Clinical. Removed. And she sat and listened, sipping her drink and nodding at all the right places. It felt good getting things off my chest, as I had bottled them up for so long ... not told a soul about what had happened ? really happened. I usually said that Sue and I just drifted apart, thought it was for the best. I didn't believe people needed to know the nitty gritty ? or that they would be interested in my shortcomings for that matter.

'You know what you need, don't you?'

I shook my head. A spine?

'Fun. Something totally distracting. Do things you would never usually do.' Her face became animated and I was definite I saw a gleam of the devil dancing behind those gorgeous eyes of hers. 'And you know something, Bethany Chambers?' I shook my head again. 'I'm good at fun.'

I bet you are.

And I couldn't wait to find out.


I know what I'll do now. I'll introduce a chapter heading, although there's no point calling it chapter one, as I've bypassed that long ago.

Chapter Two (ish)

After the day on the beach, Amy and I spent some quality time together ? Duds was included on most excursions, but you don't see many dogs at the flicks. Well, except on the screen, that is.

It's redundant to say that the more time I spent in her company, the more I liked her. We 'got on' as friends, but nothing more. I was relieved that 'nothing more' had developed, as I didn't feel capable of beginning a new relationship so soon after the breakdown of the pseudo relationship I had shared with Sue. I know I shouldn't make comparisons between the two, but until you have been as badly burned as I had, you won't know how totally mind fucking it can be. The sorry thing was when I was with Sue, I didn't even realise I was becoming fucked up - just lost a sense of self.

I knew my self confidence was on an all time low - even off on vacation without the sniff of a postcard, but the more I tried to lift myself out of it? ah ? you know the drill. I'd catch myself looking at her, absorbing her, her laugh, her smile, the twinkle in her eyes, and I would feel myself melting and nearly believing I was whole. But then I would remember. Remember that I wasn't worthy of her.

Utter crap. I know. It should come with the slogan 'I can't believe it's not utterly butterly crap' - or I should come with the slogan? Considering I come out with the most imaginative crap conceivable. Even though it had been a couple of months since Sue had physically left the picture, I was still acting as if she would suddenly crawl out of the woodwork and demand to know why I was doing anything that she had not given me full permission to do. Now and again, I would catch myself looking over my shoulder and then feel confused when there was no one there. I had lived this way for three and a half years, and in retrospect, it seemed like a lifetime.

Yes. Once again, I have gone off on a tangent. I was supposed to be telling you about fun, but as usual, I veered off down Self Pity Street, this time on a skateboard with three wheels. Why a skateboard with three wheels? I hear you ask. Well, if it had four it would make things a hell of a lot easier wouldn't it?

So. Skateboard aside, and on with the skates.

Fun. With a capital F.

I won't bore you with all the details of our days out, or evenings at the pub with impressions of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett that sounded more like Andy and Lou from Little Britain. I'll just tell you about the biggy. The weekend away. A trip to Blackpool and its Pleasure Beach - the last weekend of the season. A place that can evoke vomit just by the smell of the beef burgers. A place where I went with the beautiful Ms Amy Fletcher sans Dudley. I know we hadn't known each other for very long, just a few weeks, but when Amy had suggested a fun trip to the seaside, I hadn't even given it a thought. Just said yes ? which, as you know, is so unlike me. My way was to deliberate for days, weeks; even months over something like that. So when the answer came out, I think I surprised us both.

But not as much as it surprised Duds.

Let's start with the look of absolute rejection on his face shall we? Set the scene once again. God. That dog can twist my heartstrings around his paw with just a look from his adorable brown eyes. I mean, it's not as if I left him to find for himself ? a slowly dripping tap for water and a sack of dry biscuits. He went to my parents for the three days, totally kitted out with his overnight bag, bed, toys and every other conceivable thing a spoiled pooch would ever need. My parents doted on him too, and treated him as their furry grandchild, as they had come to terms with the fact they were never getting a real one from me. And I knew Duds would be walked extremely well, as my Dad had the knack of knackering anyone who said they would go for a walk with him. He was like a speed walker, and my mum said she felt as if he didn't want to be seen with her as she was always left half a mile behind.

So, no calling the RSPCA. Dudley had it made.

But when I said goodbye to him for the thousandth time and then went back for the thousandth and oneth kiss, my Dad hoisted me under the armpit and nearly threw me out of the door. Charming.

Amy picked me up on the Friday at two o' clock, and to tell you the truth we both must have been mad to go to Blackpool in the middle of November. I mean, in the middle of the summer it was usually pissing down and freezing. And we had the added disadvantage of it being the last weekend before everything began to close up for the winter. But ? Amy had said we were on a fun quest - so Blackpool it was.

It wasn't just the fact we were going to the epitome of British Garishness in all its glory that put me on edge. It was the fact Amy had made all the arrangements for the accommodation, and I didn't know where we would be sleeping, double - single - twin. I didn't know her expectations for the visit. What if she wanted to share a bed? Was I ready for that? Even if it meant just sleeping? What if she thought this was the ideal time to make a move. Hark at me and my animal magnetism. As if she would be interested in someone who was as screwed up as I was.

That didn't stop me wondering and worrying all the way to Blackpool, though. And even when we played 'Who could spot the tower first and win 10p', my heart was not in it. All the way along the M55 Amy strained to glimpse the mini Eiffel tower that symbolised the seaside town. I began saying 'Pylon ? pylon ? nope, pylon' without even looking at what she was claiming to be it. It was the usual mistake everyone makes when searching for it, but when you actually see it ? it doesn't look like a pylon at all, and usually appears from nowhere, like Brigadoon.

And there it was ? surrounded majestically by gathering grey clouds against the blackening sky with a fake orange glow that comes with urban life. What an image. I swear, if I'd have rolled the window down I could guarantee I would have smelled the grease from the fish and chip vendors ? even at five miles away. My stomach was in a dilemma too ? whether to come up through my throat, or slip through my bowels. Decisions ? decisions.

When we entered Blackpool, we had the interminable job of searching out our guesthouse. No easy feat, as everywhere you looked boasted 'The Best Guest House in the North West', and sported bill of fare as 'Full English'. Nearly an hour after entering the town, we stumbled on the place we would be calling home for the next three days, so eloquently named 'The Beachcomber'. I mean, if you have ever visited Blackpool you would know that if you combed the beach all you would find are turds, used condoms and tampons ? usually in that order. It played out like a Scooby Doo chase ? you know, when they are running and keep passing the same things over and over again ? 'Turd ? condom ? tampon ? turd ? condom ? tampon'. Now and again you would spot a broken bottle or an empty beer can, but other than that there was no sign of buried treasure.

The next thing you have to look out for < a little bit of advice for anyone visiting> is the Blackpool Landlady. A law unto themselves, honestly. They always made out they were doing you a huge favour by letting you stay in their house, and charged you through the teeth to be a guest with them. They all looked the same too. They always looked like they were getting ready for a night out on the town ? hair in curlers, but faces completely decorated like extras from the Mikado. Footwear came in the shape of fluffy mules - pink, usually, and the torso sported an ample bosom that pushed and shoved its way out of a top that was two sizes too small.

The usual greeting was 'You all right, my lovely? Come far?' as they were stitching you up like a kipper for your stay.

I didn't even listen to the convoluted gibber as I was worrying myself stupid about what I would see when we opened the door to our room. I can't even tell you honestly what I wanted to see, but when Amy pushed the door back and I saw twin beds, a feeling of disappointment tore through me.

'It's all right, isn't it?' The question she has asked was merely rhetorical, as she threw her holdall on the nearest bed, only for it to bounce in the air and land with a thud on the floor. 'Good, springy mattress.' I laughed the laugh of the relieved, and nodded.

'It's a bit small isn't it?' 'Bit' was an understatement. Swinging a cat would be murder.

'I prefer cosy.'

We decided it would be best if we left the Pleasure Beach until the morning, and just went for a stroll up the Golden Mile. I should explain what the Golden Mile is, really, shouldn't I? No. It's not like a Golden Shower ? at least that would be warm. The Golden Mile was the three quarters of a mile of shops, arcades, and lights that ran along the seafront. I know it wasn't a mile, but the Golden Three Quarters of a Mile doesn't have the same ring to it.

Shower time was fun, to say the least. At least the box room we had got was en suite, so there would be no ducking down the hallways flashing bits and pieces to all the other tourists doing exactly the same thing. Amy let me use the bathroom first, and I was in and out before she had gathered her toiletries. Her face showed her surprise on my quickness. 'I'm not one for messing about,' I grinned, water still trickling down my face.

I sat on the edge of the bed and continued to dry myself off and Amy went to have a shower, leaving the door partially open. I know I shouldn't have peeked, but come on ? blood does run though these veins after all. And it's not as if I was leering at her when she was in the shower ? erm ? well ? not exactly. I didn't look at her directly, I ? erm ?well, I could see her in the reflection of the mirror, which, thankful to the crap heating systems in crappy guestrooms, didn't steam up.

The bathrobe she had been wearing when she went into the bathroom was slowly peeled off and my eyes followed each movement of the material. She had her back to me, and it was flawless ? flawless. My mouth began to water with the expectation of the taste of her. My eyes were glued to the spot wishing for her to turn around so I could see more. I watched her hang the robe on the hook at the side of the door, and then as if in slow motion, she turned.

Fuck me.

I felt my jaw grow limp and sag. The vision in front of me was nothing short of perfection. Per - fec - tion. Her breasts were full and round and the nipples were slightly erect from the coolness in the bathroom. The skin was creamy and smooth, the same as her back, and I could feel all my sense of reason leaving me ? could feel myself standing up and being drawn to where she was. Then she stretched her arms up to pull her hair back and those wonderful breasts did her bidding and raised themselves to her command, her stomach flattening and becoming taut, the line of her muscles taking my eyes lower ? and lower and lower ? until ? I could see the top of her innocence. Black and inviting. Beckoning. I could almost taste her.



'Beth! Are you there?'

Double shit. I looked down at my feet and they were one in front of the other in the stance of making their way towards her, my towel had fallen and I was naked.

Amy's head poked around the door at that very moment of realisation. I watched her eyes leave my face and glide down my body ? hesitate slightly before making their way back. It must have taken a second, but I felt as if I'd been fully digested.

'Could ?' she cleared her throat. 'Could you pass me my towel from the bed?' I just stood there. Staring. 'Beth?'



In my jumbled thoughts I thought of towel ? thought of me and my nakedness and swooped down to claim it back, wrapping it tightly around myself.

'My towel. Oh, never mind.' And she came out of the bathroom in all her feminine glory, breezed passed me and picked up her towel, which was about two feet away from me, and then waltzed back in.

In all the time she had been outside, I hadn't moved once, well, except for my eyes, which had followed her progress intensely, devouring everything and anything, even down to the small gold pendant hanging around her neck.

It wasn't until I heard the click of the bathroom door that I realised what I had done, or hadn't done, for that matter. The colour raced to my face and I felt light headed. Stumbling to the bed, I fell face first onto the candlewick covers, burying my glowing face in the indentations of the fabric. I felt like a right twat. Gawping at her like she was a prize heifer or a slab of meat, and not even hiding the fact that I was doing it. Aw, fuck. What would she think when she emerged?

Nothing. That's what she thought. She came out of the bathroom thirty minutes later glowing and full of beans ready for our walk up the prom. I was decently dressed by now, you know, clothes on - fixed firmly in place. I tried to act normal, but the underlying current racing through me was one of foolishness. Well, more like exposure. I had shown her in those few seconds what I had wanted. I wanted her. It was so obvious, yet so bloody out of reach.


Now that's a loaded question.


Hustle and bustle, bustle and hustle. That's what the seafront was like. Gangs of youngsters stalked the streets omitting the signals that they ruled the world. Smells of beer, candyfloss, and onions clung to the air and finished the ensemble. It was freezing cold and the wind was whistling in from the exposed coastline. Amy grabbed my arm and nearly frogmarched me passed all the street vendors who were toting deals on all the latest crazes ? all at knock down prices, mainly because they were mainly knocked off.

After nearly an hour, and fifteen quid later, Amy had 'won' me a teddy from the grabbing machines. Honestly, she could have bought it five times over for the amount of twenty pences she had slotted into its greedy money grabbing mouth. But it was the thought that counted. She had purposefully set out to win it for me, and I hate to seem ungrateful ?

I looked down at the fluffy shape of the puppy in my hands, the black and tan cuddly toy, and knew she had wanted me to have it because it looked like Duds. Well ? the beady eyes were the same, especially when he wanted to go for a walk.

'What are you going to call him?'

I looked at the fake fur and a myriad of names sprang forth, but one kept on coming back over and over again.


'Charlie? Why on earth Charlie?' She laughed as she said it, and I felt a little foolish. But when I looked back at her, I could see no malice in her face, only a kind of wonder. It was such a simple expression, so innocent and curious.

'He just looks like a Charlie, don't you think?' I lifted the toy up to her face and wiggled its head, making it seem animated. The laugh she omitted rang through the arcade and people began to look. It's amazing how something so simple can embolden you and make you begin to act the fool. 'Give us a kiss, lady.' Fuck. Where did that come from? It wouldn't be so bad, but I insisted she kissed him by jamming the whole thing in her face. She grabbed the toy and yanked it from my hands.

'Mwah!' The slap of her lips on the toy made me halt in my tracks. Then she crushed it to her, sounds of deep throat emerging beyond the black and tan tuff made my southern regions wish they were made of material. 'Satisfied?' She held Charlie out to me, and I swear to God that dog was smiling. I think if I'd been in his position I would have been laughing my pants off.

'It'll do,' I think I mumbled it, but knowing my luck I probably bellowed it so everyone in the vicinity of two miles would have heard it.

'You've gone red.'

Is that all the woman ever noticed about me?



The evening ended early, as we were both tired from the journey and the smell of the sea air. We ended up having a nightcap at the guesthouse, and then sloping off to bed under the scrutiny of the landlady and a few other guests. I knew we would be the talk of the evening even though we were in a twin room. People always have to have something to talk about. I was once again worried about taking my kit off in front of her, and her getting hers off in front of me. Two things should have calmed me down. One. I could use the bathroom - or she could. Two. Hadn't we already seen each other's bits and pieces? In the café? Not the usual place, I know, but hadn't we? And earlier when we had showered. Too bloody right we had, but it still didn't stop the anticipation did it? I mean, we were getting undressed and staying like that all night - well, apart from sleepwear.

Did she wear something in bed? Aw, crap. More things to worry about.

I worried about it all the way up the stairs - even as I was staring at her arse. There was even an essence of worry as I stood behind her as she wiggled the key in the lock to get the door open. I even worried as I grabbed the key off her, tugged, and shouldered the door whilst wiggling the key like crazy. It wasn't until the door shot violently inwards taking both her and me with it did I stop worrying. I was too busy trying to get up off the floor, which isn't an easy feat when you have someone on your back. Why is it that when I'm around her I always end up sprawled on the floor? Her too, for that matter.

To add insult to injury, as we were huffing and puffing trying to disentangle ourselves, a voice drifted into the room. 'You would have thought they could have waited until they shut the door.' The voice sounded put out, and as I looked between my legs, and Amy's too for that matter, I could see the disgruntled faces of a middle-aged couple standing in the doorway.

'Instead of standing there, you could help us,' Amy choked out, maybe because my elbow was in her throat.

'How dare you!' And the door slammed back into place making us both jump and fall into a heap again. We lay there for a couple of minutes, the sound of our ragged breathing the only noise in the now dark room. She was on my back still, the whole length of her body against mine, and to tell you the truth, it felt wonderful.

The coldness that greeted me was agony as she slowly but surely lifted herself up from me and sat back on her haunches. Still quiet. Then a snigger. One from her, then one from me. Then another ? and another ? until we were both in stitches on the floor.

'Did you ? did you see the ? the look on that woman's face? "How dare you!"' Amy laughed loudly, 'It was worth the ? the carpet burns.' I could see her silhouette moving upwards and towards the door. The room pulsated with light, and my eyes burned with the impact. I swear the landlady had put the brightest bulb that she could lay her hands on ? maybe surplus from old lighthouse stock.

I struggled to my feet, ignoring her extended hand, and began brushing the front of my clothes, ridding them of imaginary dust and fluff.

'Don't you think?'

'Eh? Think what?'

'It was worth the burns. Look.' She lifted her sleeve and there it was. A huge red welt running up her forearm. Now. I don't know if you know this, but I have a thing about forearms ? not a fetish ? a thing. I love the shape of a woman's forearms - the strength, the contours of the muscle, but also the femininity.

Therefore, it was no surprise that my hand reached out to stroke it. Trail my fingers alongside the mark and gingerly caress the skin surrounding the burn.

'It's a cracker, isn't it?'

I carried on touching her skin.


Reality came crashing back down, you know, like it does, and my finger inadvertently slipped and poked the sore part. 'Jesus, Beth! Are you trying to kill me?'

My hand shot away from her, even more scorched than her skin.

'You've ?'

'Gone all red. I know.' I turned away from her and rummaged around in my bag. 'Here. Put some of this on.'

And that was that. She went into the bathroom; I changed into my nightwear like an athlete and dived under the covers. I don't know why, because as soon as she came out I had to go and brush my teeth.

When I emerged, she was under the covers to her bed, on her side, facing my direction. Bugger. I thought I was quick getting my kit off, but that woman took gold.

Then it was lights off and a muffled goodnight. Sleep was an age coming, but I was soothed by the steady rhythm of Amy's breathing, and before I knew it, morning was smiling through the thin curtains, announcing another day of fun.


Chapter Two was rather long, don't you think? I should really break this up ? maybe this could be the overly anticipated development stage, because the way I was feeling there was definitely something developing. But then, it would be all one sided, wouldn't it? I was no nearer to finding out if Amy liked me in that way. She had given no indication ? just friendship. And in the beginning that is all I had wanted. Someone who I could just be 'me' with. You know, the Beth I used to be without someone thinking I was acting weird. Thoughts of Sue were becoming less frequent, less intimidating, although she was still there lurking on the sidelines waiting to send another jolt to my self-esteem.

You may be wondering why I haven't mentioned her much since Amy came on the scene. But that's the whole point, isn't it? Amy made me forget to a degree what had transpired in those months I had spent being with Sue. Amy made me want to move forward and become a whole person once again. At times, just recently, I've wanted the same thing. To I'll begin that sentence over. I wanted to step into the light and feel the sun on my face once again.

So, yes.

This is now The Overly Anticipated Extended Development Stage of my story.

The Overly Anticipated Extended Development Stage (Or Chapter Three)

After breakfast , we piled on more layers and ventured out into the brisk November air. First port of call was the South Beach ? or the Pleasure Beach.

What a day. I screamed so much on most of the rides I was nearly hoarse by lunchtime. The worse one was the Big One. Fuck. That was BIG. And fast ? and pant fillingly frightening. I tried to act cool, but come on! I thought the bastard thing was going to derail. It was the highest rollercoaster in Europe, and I was on it ? screaming like a girl, waiting for death in a very loud way. It was the thunking sound as it attached itself onto the rail that first alerted me that things smelled rank in the State of Denmark, and my underwear for that matter. Have you ever been on a roller coaster and when it reaches the top began to scream in a culminating way? It starts like a low moan then increases rapidly into a shrill banshee wail, tears pissing from your eyes and spit drooling from your mouth. Then they have the audacity to try to sell you a photo of you looking at your absolute worst.

And then the woman who you fancy buys it as a memento. And she looks relaxed and happy, like she's reading a book on the picture whilst you look like death is chasing you. She even looked cool and collected although I was gripping her carpet burned arm. Tightly. Like a parrot on a perch. A squawking parrot that is faced by next-door's cat wearing a bib.

Let's put it this way, it was a while before I went on another ride, and then they were tame ones.

On the way out of the funfair I spotted a new attraction. Wish I hadn't bothered. It was called the Paseje del Terror, and the word 'Terror' should have triggered warning bells. But no. I think all my screaming from the Big One had deafened me to the jingling that should have been increasing like wildfire as I paid the bloke on the counter. I didn't even know what entailed, and if I had, I can guarantee it would have been a brisk walk along the seafront for me.

We had to wait for a few more people to join us as we were going to be in groups, and I distinctly remember thinking 'I want a wee', but by the time I had registered the imminent bladder problem, we were being ushered inside.

And I heard the guide , lock the door. There were about ten of us in a room that was the size of an air raid shelter. There were three groups of people ? a group of four, a three, Amy and I ? and the Dracula fetish bloke .

'You are now locked in. You can only go forward ?' As he was speaking, I heard someone fart and hoped it didn't smell. No such luck. I could feel myself gagging and I lifted my scarf up to cover my nose and mouth whilst watching others do the same. Apart from Drac and a very tall lad standing to the left of me ? glowing with embarrassment. 'You will encounter some very unpleasant sights ?' and smells, mate ? don't forget smells ? 'But you must keep going forward. No running or hitting the people you encounter.' Huh? There were people in there? 'If you don't touch them, they won't touch you.' Dramatic pause. 'Good luck on your journey, and I hope to see you on the other side.' The other side of what? Was he being spiritual? I was hoping literal was more his scene, but looking at his garb I was in two minds. A door to the right of us opened with a creak ? how quaint ? and people rushed through, mainly to get away from the smell of the lad's bowel emission.

In retrospect, I should have stayed with the fart.


There was a corridor leading downwards slightly, and Amy grabbed my arm and pulled me along. Screams were heard in the distance ? and I knew they were from the people who were recently standing next to us.

Black. The bastards turned the lights out on us and I was frozen to the spot wishing for the light bulb from the guesthouse. Or a match, although that would have been a bad idea with the smell of methane still lingering in the air.

'Come on ? let's catch them up.' Amy's arm was tightening around mine and I could feel the pee begging to get out. We stumbled along the corridor, feeling the walls with our hands.

Click. Blue light shone on Pinhead. Yes, Pinhead from Hellraiser, who was standing right in front of me, his face mere inches away and fucking leering. The scream shot out of my mouth and a little bit of pee shot into my drawers. I tried to back up but Amy was behind me, screaming just as loudly in my ear, her arm was now around me pulling me closer and into her, and if I hadn't been so terrified I would have loved it. But that wasn't on my list of priorities at that moment in time. Click again ? lights off. I grabbed her hand and ran, dragging her with me, bumping into the wall but using it as a guide too.

I won't tell you everything about the experience ? you have to experience it for yourself, but I will say that when Reagan out of the Exorcist screamed at me, I screamed louder. Laughing and screaming ? or should I say, laughing, screaming and peeing. I ended up on the floor, as did Amy, with sheer laughter, so many times ? you know, when your legs are so weak they can't hold your weight any longer. We held each other so tightly when things got a little too much, and even when it wasn't that scary ? but I think that might have been the aftershocks.

But there was a time when we were in the dark and she had me in her grip and I felt so safe ? so contented just to be in her arms, even under the pretext of being frightened ? although I was frightened for most part of the experience. I knew, as she held me, that her mouth was mere inches from mine. I could feel her breath skip along my face - ragged and hot, and I just wanted to lean in and kiss her mouth ? softly ?kiss her soundly, yet softly. And if it hadn't been for the lights clicking on again and someone looming over her shoulder, there were no doubts that I would have. Instead, I broke away from her and almost fell backwards, the wall stopping me hitting the floor.

She looked startled, whether it was the figure's presence or she knew what I had intended to do. The ache in my chest was agony, and it had nothing to do with what was going on around me. No. It had everything to do with the woman standing with her shoulders slightly stooped and her hands dangling by her sides that had brought it on. I didn't know how to react. I didn't know if this was the moment I should tell her that I wanted more than just her friendship. So I did what I thought I should do. I pretended nothing had happened.

I knew she was expectant. I knew she was holding something behind those eyes ? some kind of question. And then it faded. Snubbed itself out as I was standing there, as the actor was standing there waiting for us to scream or run or just to react in some kind of way. But I just felt despondent. I think we would have just kept standing there, like a stale mate, if the lights hadn't clicked back off again.

I felt her hand tentatively search out mine and grip my fingers. 'Come on. Let's go.' Her voice was quiet, resolved. A short tug and we were on our way through the blackness once again.

Although the attraction became even scarier, I don't think either Amy's or my heart was in it. Don't get me wrong, we screamed and laughed like before, but it seemed hollow somehow.

A masked Jason blocked our exit. Or should I say Jason with a chainsaw? The bloke in front of us calmly said 'That's a hand held Hoover, that is.' But he still stayed there, just in case, I think, but then him and his wife made a run for it.

Then it was our turn. Both of us standing there, dodging the battery powered suction device like it would suck the very soul from within us. Amy slipped in front of me and curled her arms around me, edging me towards the door and into the light. I know I said I wanted to step into the light once again, but I meant it metaphorically, not the dingy lights of a pub.

I nearly pushed Amy over and raced across the pub looking for the toilet ? although I think most of it was now in my underwear. But the sense of relief when I sat down was tantamount to an orgasm. I would have died with embarrassment if I had come out of the experience steaming at the vee juncture of my jeans.

Not that I wasn't feeling something along the lines of embarrassment already. I mean - I had nearly kissed her. Nearly crossed the line. Nearly made a fool of myself. Again.

I lifted my hands to cover my face and could feel the skin burning the palms. How could I have even thought she would want me to kiss her? I relived the scene over again in my head and I felt worse. My stomach was rolling by this stage, and I could hear Amy flush the chain to her toilet and then begin to wash her hands in the basin just outside my door. Then the hand dryer. Then nothing. Quiet. Still.

I just sat there. I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout 'I'm sorry!' I wanted to curl up and die.

The door opened and closed. I knew she had left. So I sat there even longer. It must have been fifteen minutes I sat there, with my jeans round my knees and my head in my hands, but I knew I had to get up sometime ? or else I would get piles.

When I walked back into the pub, Amy was sitting near the exit of the Passage del Terror with two drinks on the table.

'I was just about to come and look for you.' She looked worried. 'Are you ok? You look pale.'

I nodded and sat down in front of her. 'I knew it was scary, but I didn't think it would frighten the shit out of you.' The half smile was there and I saw the twinkle in her eyes.

'You cheeky bugger.' She threw her head back and laughed, and suddenly what had happened before seemed to fade and fizzle. I had to remind myself that Amy was not Sue. She wasn't the kind of person who would drag out a situation and feed from misery. Amy was the kind of person who moved on, harbouring on mistakes was not her scene.

We had a couple more drinks before we moved on. Needed them, I can tell you. The next few hours were spent messing about on the seafront ? daring each other to take our shoes off and allow the brown seawater to touch bare skin, even staring at the bungee jump on the pier because we didn't have the balls to actually get on it.

It seemed like an age before I realised we hadn't eaten since the candyfloss, burgers and toffee apples from the funfair, and then I felt starving. So we decided to grab something to eat.

It was half way through the meal that I thought of kissing her again. Not the one from earlier, but right there and then. She was in the middle of telling me about one of her lectures and she was laughing and talking, looking so animated and beautiful, and all I could concentrate on was her mouth. The attraction I had for her was so strong I thought it was going to choke me. I had to know how she felt. Had to ask her if I ever had a chance with her. It was at the precise moment I opened my mouth that her mobile started singing from somewhere at the side of us.

She dived down to the side of her and reached and rummaged inside her bag, mouthing 'I'm sorry' before clicking to accept it. I watched her expression turn from concentration to happiness in the matter of a split second. 'Jane! How the devil are you?' The smile broke her face, and I felt disappointment clutch at me. I had been so wrapped up in the way I had been feeling that I never stopped to think she might be seeing someone by now. I know she had been single when I had first met her, but with her looks and personality there would be no way she would have stayed long like that. She was the ultimate catch. The perfect woman. And I had been so fucking self-absorbed I hadn't thought about it.

I realised I had missed most of the conversation by the time I came back to the land of the living, and I only heard her making arrangements for the following evening. That put party to that. The growing attraction had been definitely one sided. The look inside the terror ride had been in my imagination. It wasn't expectation of her thinking I was going to kiss her; it was expectation of her having to tell me she didn't think of me that way. She was already taken.

'Sorry about that.' She grinned at me. 'Are you going to eat that?' I shook my head and forced the smile on my face. Her fork came over and nabbed the last roast potato on my plate and she lifted it to her mouth and shovelled it all inside making noises of the contented. When she had finished chewing, and was trying to swallow, she tried to splutter out something about dessert ? then coffee as I shook my head.

'To tell you the truth, I'm knackered.' Her head tilted to the side and she looked at me inquiringly. 'Must have been all that screaming and sea air.' A nod. 'Think I might ring Duds and then grab an early night.'

'Erm ? ok.' She tipped her wine glass up and drained the last drops of her drink. 'You can use my mobile if you want?' I shook my head and then got my own from my pocket.

'I'll ring him when we get back to the hotel. Or should I say I'll ring my parents?' I grinned, and Jesus it hurt to pretend that everything was ok.

Bedtime was the same as the night before except for the worrying about seeing each other naked. What was the point? She was already involved with someone; it wasn't as if she would be interested in staring at my body, was it? Amy still undressed in the bathroom, and I was in bed by the time she returned, but there wasn't the anxiety as there had been when I thought there might have been a chance.

A muffled goodnight crept up from the duvet of both our beds, but I knew in the darkness she was staring at me. So I turned over and faced the window, hearing her bed creak as she turned too. And that's the way the morning found us, lying with our backs to each other.

Before dinnertime we were on the M55 and heading back to Norfolk. Don't get me wrong, we didn't say or do anything different to make us leave early. It was because I knew she had to get back to meet 'Jane'.

And it was also because I knew I couldn't keep up the masquerade of being happy for very much longer.


Chapter Four (Regression Stage. Bugger)

That was the beginning of The Overly Anticipated Extended Development Stage. I should really call it The Anti Development Stage or even The Two Steps Forward and Three Back Stage. Could even stretch to The Feeling Like a Total Twat Stage, as the only thing that had developed was my attraction for Amy, but as you can see, that was going nowhere. Furthermore, I don't think I was emotionally ready for anything to happen anyway, but I can only say that because there was no chance of it actually happening. So it is the Regression Stage. Unfortunately.

Amy dropped me off at my house with the promise to call, and I threw my bag inside the doorway, turned around, got in my car, and went to get the man in my life. At least Duds was pleased to see me. Bless. I honestly thought he would pee all over my feet when I walked through the door to my parents' house, just like he used to do when he was a pup.

I was in the midst of tickling his belly as he lay flat on his back groaning around the bright red ball clamped in his mouth, when my mum finished the day off.

'Sue called.' Two words. Short. Simple. To the point. Two words that made my stomach clench and heave. I opted to ignore the statement. 'Oi. Luggy. I said Sue called.'

I turned and looked at my mum, who was by now trying to unstick the newspaper from the table as it was glued to the surface with something my dad had spilt. Like usual. 'And?' I hoped I sounded neutral, indifferent. But mums know, don't they? They know when you are trying to hide something from them, and they act one of two ways. Firstly, they could give you a break and go with the flow. Or they could be like my mum when Sue was concerned ?

'Told her to sling her hook. That was the best thing you have ever done getting rid of her.' I knew it was coming, the lecture, and I knew it wouldn't be long before my dad came through and gave his two pence worth. 'She was no good for you, and you know it.' I could see her preparing to sit and arrange herself for sermon mode, and I just couldn't handle it.

'Did she say what she wanted?' I turned my attention to the now still Duds, who was splayed on his back waiting for me to continue to tickle him. Which, of course, I did. Just another way to stop the churning of my intestines.

'Said she needed to get hold of you. Tried your place but there was no answer.' Mum stopped there, and I sensed there was something else. I could hear her fidgeting in her chair, and I could also hear my dad making his way through the kitchen, his wellied feet clomping mud on the floor. Still nothing coming from my mum.

'Hiya, sweetheart.' Dad leaned over, kissed my cheek, and then rubbed his stubble over my skin because he knew it irritated me. His laugh was nothing short of evil. 'Did your mum tell you the wicked witch has been on the phone?' I nodded, still rubbing my face and scowling. 'Bet she didn't tell you she told her you were away on a dirty weekend though, did she?'

'You are joking?' My head snapped over to where mum was sitting, sitting and glowing by this stage. 'Mum. Please tell me you didn't say that.'

Still nothing. A lot of wriggling, but no sound.

'Of course she did. And called her a slapper too.' Dad was yanking his wellies off by this stage and didn't even notice the thickness of the air and the absence of the proverbial knife that usually accompanies these kinds of situations.


'She deserved it. And you were.'

'Whatever went on between Sue and me ? was exactly that. Between Sue and me.' The quickness of my movements from floor to standing jostled Duds from his euphoric haze of mummy love. Pity I couldn't say the same thing at that moment. 'And for your information, there isn't, and never will be anything going on between Amy and me.' It was at the moment that the full weight of my unrequited feelings for Amy crashed down on me and I didn't know whether to run or cry. So I did both, calling Dudley to follow.

I could hear both of my parents trying to catch up, even the staggering movement of my Dad trying to put his wellies back on ? hear my mum's voice breaking as she was trying to apologise. Hiccupped breaths telling me she loved me. But there was no way I could have stayed. And it wasn't just about the Sue scenario. I felt fragile all of a sudden, and being with my parents and all the sympathy they would flood all over me would send me definitely over the brink.

Duds was in the back of the car, ball ensconced, and pacing along the backseat when I slammed the engine into gear and performed a perfect screech out of my parents' road. I saw him hit the back of the seat and guilt engulfed me. What was I doing? I could have an accident and lose him. Lose the only person who loved me as much as I loved him.

Slowly, I eased my foot on the brake and slowed the car down until I stopped. 'Come here, fella.' And he was over the gap between the seats and on my lap, kissing my face with licks and nuzzles. 'You still love me, don't you?' I was crying by this stage, big fat salty tears that he lapped away as I stroked the rough fur on his sides and back. We just sat there; the only sound was my sniffling and his snuffling, until I thought I couldn't cry any more.

'Do you want to go to the park?' His ears shot up making his face seem comical. 'Come on then. In the back.' And over he popped, nestling down in the blanket I kept on the back seat.

As I placed the car in gear, I knew one thing for certain.

I loved my dog and he loved me. And at that moment in time, that's all I needed.


Walks, as walks tend to do, distract you to a degree about how utterly shit your life is. I opted to avoid Earlham and took Duds to Mousehold Heath instead. He loved racing through the trees and up and down the embankments. Squirrels fled the scene as he yapped and chased them into hiding. The sun was going down rapidly, and I knew it wouldn't be long before the familiar paths would appear like something from the Blair Witch Project.

Images of Amy poked and prodded into my conscious thought; images of her laughing and joking; images of her screaming on the Big One. But worst of all, images of her doing the exact same thing with her girlfriend, Jane. A mixture of happiness and sadness whirled around me, and I couldn't decide which one was the strongest. I just knew that I missed her, and for once in my life, I felt lonely. I hadn't even felt lonely when Sue had moved out, even though, truth be known, in my screwed up mind I'd had doubts whether I was doing the right thing.

Duds was absolutely knackered by the time we got back to the car, and his panting kept me company on the journey home. Strange thing was that when I indicated to turn into my road, he bolted up and started growling. I couldn't even see what could have made him react that way, but it steadily increased to a more deep throated and threatening sound.

As I stopped the car and turned the engine off, he was over the gap and standing protectively on my knee, his eyes fixed to the alleyway that separated me from my neighbour's house. There was nothing there. But it didn't stop him becoming more agitated and pressing against me as if to stop me leaving the car.

'Come on, Duds. There's nothing there, mate. Look.' He was looking. Eyes staring into the gap between houses, and the heckles at the back of his neck making an unusual appearance. I didn't know what to do, as I had left his spare lead at my parents. What if it was next door checking something and then Duds went all macho on them? Or it could be Mrs Foster's cat trying to catch birds in my garden? If I opened the door he would be out and at them before I could blink, and at this moment in time aggravation was something I didn't need.

So, I popped him in the back with the order to stay and took my chances out on my own. I did feel unnerved because it could just as well have been a burglar trying to get in - or coming out. But if it was, I doubt Duds would have made much difference, although he would think otherwise, and he could get kicked ? And there was no way I was going to let him get hurt on account of a DVD player or computer. Those kinds of things were replaceable: Dudley wasn't.

I didn't skulk around the side, as I wanted whoever to have the opportunity to piss off and take what they needed. I know I could have called the police, but what would I say? 'Erm ? excuse me officer, but my dog is growling at an alleyway. Could you send a squad car ?and maybe the SWAT team?' Nah. I decided to do it alone. Well ? for now anyway.

There I was, marching towards my fate, covered in mud and determination. But when I turned the corner, I can honestly say the clichéd 'blood turning to ice' came about.

'What the fuck do you want?'


I should have guessed by Dudley's reaction it was her. He could sniff her out anywhere, and as you already know, there was no love lost between them.

'And why are you hiding behind my bins?' I stood with my hands on my hips in the stance of the warrior. There was no way I was going to let her intimidate me again; after all, it was her that was hiding behind bins.

'I'm not hiding ? I was just writing you a note and needed something to lean on.' I looked at her hands and there was no sign of paper, or a pen for that matter. So, I gave her the raised eyebrow look as if to say 'Yeah, right.'

'I haven't got time for games, Sue. What do you want?'

She came towards me raising her hands in submission and trying to charm me with her tilted head smile, but there was no way that was going to work. I'd fallen for that before and look where that had got me.

'Can't I just come and see how you are once in a while?' My face said it all, but she didn't get the message. 'Just a coffee and a chat ? that's all I'm asking.'

I don't know what made me agree to it. I should have done what my mum did and told her to sling her hook. But ? I can't explain it. Just one of those things I guess. I had to physically restrain Duds and put him in the spare room before Sue could even come into the house. He wasn't happy. Neither was I, for that matter.

When she came in she acted as if she had never left, even offered to put the kettle on whilst I put my feet up. Obviously, I said no and told her to go into the living room and wait. I should have also known that that woman never did anything I ever asked her to do, as I found out when I was checking my messages on my answer phone. The first two were from her, purring in that breathy way down the phone about her just wanting to touch base. But it was the third one that got both her attention and mine.

'Hey, Beth. Amy. Just wanted to say I had a fantastic time this weekend, and that you don't snore ? too much.' Then her laugh. 'We'll have to do it again soon. I'll ring you in the week. Take care ? bye.' Then the sound of silence. Then the sound of Sue right behind me.

'Amy, eh? New conquest?'

I turned to face her, and I was glowing, for what reason I don't know. It's not as if anything had happened between Amy and me. Even if it had, it had fuck all to do with Sue.

'Seems like you're getting over me better than I thought.'

'There's nothing going on between Amy and me. We're just friends.' But I could tell she didn't believe me. Her whole countenance became smarmy. I could feel the flirt vibes radiating from her in waves and I had to conjure up the anti Sue force field that lurked under the surface.

'Coffee?' And I turned and shot into the kitchen, shutting the door behind me.

Five minutes later, I was walking back into the front room with two coffees and a deep-seated resolve to tell her to fuck off, and she could take her coffee with her. But what I didn't expect was to see her sitting on the sofa, head in hands and crying.

I experienced a mixture of emotions, as you can guess. I mean, so many things had happened between us, so many shit things, but I still didn't want to see her upset. My hands began to shake as I placed the mugs on the table, and then I sat on the other end of the sofa, totally at a loss as what to do. I didn't want to touch her: didn't want to give her the wrong impression. So I said the lamest thing you can say.

'Are you ok?' Why is it that when you see someone sobbing you ask them if they were ok? If they were ok, they wouldn't be sobbing would they? They'd be grinning, or rolling around laughing, or smiling, even a little bit. I clutched a few tissues from the box on the coffee table and shoved them underneath her chin. A shaking hand came out and tentatively took them, folding them into a mass and covering her face.

It was a few minutes before her staccato voice came bumbling out, 'I just miss you so much, Beth.' And then a minute more of crying, whilst I sat there feeling uncomfortable. What could I say? I don't miss you? Glad you're out of my life? So I kept silent and stared at the cup of coffee I had wanted her to take with her minutes before, wishing I had the spine to still tell her to do it. 'It was just a shock to hear you were with someone else ? and then to hear her.'

'But why, Sue? We're not an item anymore.' More tears. I really wanted to twiddle my thumbs and wait for her to stop, but it seemed out of place. It was only a few minutes later that I realised that I should have been feeling guilty; should have been apologising; should have been acting completely different to how I was. Because that would have been the way I'd have been feeling if we were still an item.

It felt good. I felt good. The whole situation, although uncomfortable, felt good. I held back the smile that was trying to creep onto my mouth, as there was no point rubbing it in. Or was there? Too right there was, and I was just about to tell her to take her pitiful, manipulative arse off my sofa and drag it as far away as possible when the phone rang. I should've ignored it, but it was instinctive. My hand was around the slim grey receiver, the button clicked, and I had said 'Hello' before I knew what I had done.

'Hi, sis.' Bollocks. It was my brother, Will. I know I haven't mentioned him much, but you know how it goes ? I was too wrapped up in self-pity to think about anyone but myself and my own misery. 'Can I come and see you?'

I looked at Sue, who was once again wiping her face dramatically on the crushed tissues and looking at me quizzically.

'Sure, Will. When?'

'Right now. I'm outside yours as we speak.'

'Now! But ?' Sue began shaking her head and gesturing frantically with her hand that she wanted us to be alone and talk. 'But ? that would be great. Sue was just leaving.' Honestly, talk about a turn around. She was like Lady Macbeth ? could have played the part with no primping. On one hand, she was the fragile, wronged party that quickly swapped that face for the face of a conniving little fu ?

'Great. I'm on my way up your path.'

And the phone clicked off to be replaced with the sound of the doorbell.

'Sorry, Sue. Family business.' She was in her feet and smoothing the front of her blouse with one hand whilst stroking a finger under one eye to remove smudged mascara. I didn't like to tell her it just rubbed it in more and made her look like a losing boxer. I smiled and turned to go and let my brother in and she followed me to the door.

As it opened and he stood there grinning like an idiot, Sue pushed in between us, blocked my view of my brother to whisper conspiratorially, 'I'll call you.' Then she pushed past him and flounced down the path.

'Bye, Sue! Lovely to see you!' Will called, and then turned to face me, finishing with, 'Not.'

After a bone-crushing hug, we were in the kitchen and I was making a fresh cuppa. I should have known there was a reason behind his visit, and I didn't have to wait long before I found out what it was.

'Been to mum and dad's tonight.' A pause. I didn't say anything. 'They were upset.' I still ignored him and heaped the four sugars into his cup. 'Beth? Are you listening to me?'

'Yep.' I stirred the milk in slowly.

'Aren't you going to say anything?'


A heard him release a deep sigh and then pull a chair out from the table. The squeal of the chair leg on the floor grated my teeth. 'Mum was crying, Beth.'


'Oh for fuck's sake ? can't you answer in more than one word?'

'Yes.' I tinked the spoon on the side of the cup. 'I can.'

When I turned, he was sitting with his arms dangling between his legs looking at me as if I had sprouted an extra head. 'I can't believe you. Mum was crying and you make jokes. Bad ones.'

I did feel bad, but I didn't want to give in just yet. Will knew me from old and saw the crack in my blank faced veneer. 'She's sorry for upsetting you. Said she didn't know where it came from. Before she knew it, it was out.'

Slam. His cup of tea was in front of him, a quarter of it now trickling over the tabletop. 'Look, Will. She shouldn't have said anything to Sue, or anybody else for that matter, about things that have nothing to do with her ? or dad.' I began to sloppily wipe up the mess. 'I think I'm old enough to look after myself.'

Then I remembered. 'Shit.' And I was gone. Out of the room and running.

'What's the matter?' I barely heard him. And the reason why was because I had forgotten something much more important than silly family squabbles. I'd forgotten I'd locked Duds in the spare room.

His little face lit up as I opened the door and he came skidding off the bed and charging to me, making a dramatic bounce just before. He was in my arms and licking my face, telling me off, I think. 'Sorry mate ? give mummy some kisses.'

Will had come behind me and ruffled Duds' head saying hello and making a fuss. The scene descended from there really. Duds always stole the show.

The subject about me upsetting my parents wasn't raised again until he was just about to leave, and by that time I had calmed down enough to agree that my behaviour was childish and silly. Even promised to call them as soon as he left. And I did. Like a good girl.

I knew why my mum had done and said what she did. She loved me. I loved her ? and my dad. But I did sometimes wish that they would treat me as an adult.

It wasn't what they had said about, and to, Sue ? in retrospect, which was funny. It was the fact they had made me look at me and my life, how crap it was ? the fact I had feelings for someone and I knew they were one-sided. The fact I never had, or ever would have a chance with Amy. And it stung.

Bedtime was a sombre affair, with me bathing for nearly an hour beforehand. I hadn't even unpacked my bag from my trip to Blackpool, as it would make me think of her. As if I needed reminding.

Thoughts of her haunted me when I closed my eyes, and when I opened them I had the strangest sensation that I could almost see her at the end of the bed. Fuck me. I must have been totally screwed up if I was beginning to hallucinate. Or was it just wishful thinking?

One thing I did know, and that I needed to get to sleep because I needed to get up early in the morning. But the odd thing was I didn't know why I had to be up early.

Unnerved? I was beginning to unnerve myself with my prophetic powers, so you're not on your own.


Chapter Five (Could this be the Climax Stage?)

I dreamed of her. Images of her poured into my subconscious even though I had tried to block them out. To say I woke myself up as dawn was breaking feeling horny would be an understatement. My lower half began to wriggle and I heard a grunt from the bottom of the bed. I couldn't do anything with Duds there, as I would feel embarrassed. I know. He was a dog and I should have just carried on and not bothered. I could have even lifted him off the bed and put him in his basket. But he looked so contented, his tongue slightly out of his mouth and emitting rasping little snores.

I couldn't shift him so I could fiddle with my lady bits, could I? That would be cruel, wouldn't it? Nope. You're right. I couldn't. But I could shift myself ?

Decision made, I was up and out of the door and into the spare room before Dudley could stretch out his paws.

As I lay on the bed I closed my eyes and thought of her face. Her smile. Her skin ? the softness of it. Thought about what it would taste like on the tip of my tongue ? feel like on the tips of my fingers, and I could feel the growing sensation of arousal build once again. There was a brief moment where I felt a pang of guilt about thinking of her that way, but just let's say it was momentary. She would never know, would she? I mean ? a girl has to do what a girl has to do ?

I slipped off my sleeping trousers and sprawled out, my fingers loitering just a few inches from where I needed them. My other hand snaked its way inside my top and began to swirl slow circles around my left breast. The cloth of the t-shirt was getting in the way, so I pulled it off.

Naked. Naked and wet. Naked and wet and horny ? with one person on my mind. Her eyes captivated me, even though they were definitely in my imagination. Brown. Rich. Moist. And if I had to imagine them as a smell, I would say they would smell like freshly ground-roasted coffee. Definitely a stimulant.

My left nipple perked and peaked, and I grasped it gently with my index finger and thumb, all the while believing it was her fingers. A shock of arousal raced from my gut to my groin, and I felt the moisture pool and collect. Gently I slipped a finger between my folds and pushed down. The gasp left my lungs and forced my body to spasm once. I pulled it up, grazing my clit as I went. Another gasp. Another spasm. My eyes fluttered closed and open with each movement of my finger, and I allowed a second finger to slide down the other side of my folds, trapping the engorged clit between them.

Tug. Pull. Tug. Pull ? push. Tug, pull ? push. Over and over again, the rhythm steady, yet increasing in tempo. The sensations were all-consuming, encompassing my need and feeding the desire raging throughout me. My other hand had cupped my breast by this stage and was pumping the skin and soft flesh with unrestrained motions. I was bordering on delirium. I was bordering on that deep-rooted ecstasy that growls beneath the surface impatiently waiting to be freed.

I lifted my knees and spread my legs further apart, releasing the hold on my breast to slither along damp skin and between my legs. I was open and exposed. I was ready to separate and indulge. The cheeks of my arse clenched the cover of the bed and I lifted my hips to open the bulging bud at my centre. One hand to divide and unlock the entrance to the burrow within me. Slow and sure. Sure and slow, one finger inside, prodding and poking and excavating. Then a second. I could feel the walls inside clasping and gripping, tugging the fingers deeper.

Then out.

Then in.

Out and in.

Out and in.

Over and over again ? steady thrusts. Wet thrusts. Squelching thrusts that were increasing to plunges. God. I needed more. Needed to feel pressure on top of me? around me ? at the sides ? everywhere.

Fingers still buried deep, I grabbed a spare pillow and placed it between my legs. Then another, which lay on my stomach.

It wasn't enough.

I moved the pillow from my stomach and put it between my legs with the first, and my thighs clutched as my fingers pumped. Hips were bouncing on the bed, making up the rhythm of the missing piece. The missing person. The missing ?


A gasp, as the flutter of orgasm announced its impending arrival. I worked harder. Plunged faster and deeper. Gripped the objects between my legs and rode my hand, her hand, till the lights appeared and the sound of my cries hit the walls and bounced onto my convulsing body. Reality was a blur. The room was distorted. The ache had subsided for now.

I dressed quickly, washed my hands, and then silently made my way back to my bedroom. Two beady eyes were staring at me from the middle of the bed. Dudley was sat bolt upright, glaring, as if to say 'Where the hell have you been?' his ball between his front paws. The embarrassing thing was that he gave me the impression that he knew. Must be the same as what your parents feel ?

Stop! I am NOT going down that road. Our parents do not do it. Only did it when you were conceived ? and other siblings. Artificial insemination? Jesus? now I'm thinking about ? forget it ? let's leave that train of thought, shall we? My dinner is swirling around in my stomach.

Where was I? Getting into bed. Right.


When I clambered under the duvet, Duds sprawled himself across my neck and rubbed his face against mine before falling back to sleep. And it wasn't long before I followed, his red ball jamming into my side. But I didn't mind. Felt right somehow.


As you may recall, I mentioned the getting up early part and why I didn't know why. Remember? Well, I found out ? very early indeed.

Duds got it into his head that he would bug the arse off me to get up and take him for a walk. This included whining little noises followed by a thudding on my chest where his ball hit me and rolled off. I can't tell you how many times he did this, and no matter how many times I told him 'In a minute', he insisted that my minutes were definitely a lot longer than his.

Eventually, I gave in. He didn't. Talk about being stalked! He followed me around the house, slipping and slouching onto every piece of furniture so he could keep his eye on me. When I came out of the bathroom, there he was. Waiting. I offered him breakfast. He refused. His eyes noted every movement until he heard the magic word 'walk' slip from my lips. He didn't even need the word, as the squirt from my deodorant was enough to send him into an excited frenzy.

He dived onto one of my slippers and re-enacted a kill, shaking the poor thing from side to side and then lying on his back kicking his legs in the air.

We went to Earlham. Don't know why. But that's where we ended up. As soon as I opened the car he was off and running down the green sloping hill leading to the river. I watched his bum jump up and down as he ran, and then watched as he did a detour to the left towards the café. Little bugger. No wonder he didn't want dry biscuits. He was hoping for a sausage or bit of bacon.

I grabbed what I needed and chased after him, huffing and puffing and swearing to take more exercise. When I arrived at the café the owner was there trying to distract Duds with titbits, but he was having none of it. All he wanted to do was sneak past the man in any which way he could, his little tufty head looking past him as if he was searching for something.

I offered him his ball. He ignored me. I tried to pull him away ? he tugged me back. I ended up putting him on his lead and dragging him. He only got distracted when he was out of sight of the café, but I knew he had it on him so I kept him firmly attached to me until I could be sure that he was more interested in his ball than running off to the café again.

We walked for miles, and although it was freezing, I didn't care. Even though it was Monday, I didn't have to go into the office to pick up any more work, as I was still working on the 'Promoting Positive Mental Health' campaign, which was quite apt, to say the least. My head was so full of crap I couldn't begin to wade through it all. Thoughts of Amy were plaguing me. So were thoughts of Sue, for that matter. They took on the roles of angels and demons, you know, like the ones you see in Bugs Bunny cartoons when they would hover over his shoulder and give him advice. Then you, as a viewer, would know he should listen to the angel, but want him to take the advice of the demon because it was more fun. And in cartoons it wasn't real ? everything turned out ok in the end.

I'm sure you can imagine who played what part. Amy looked so angelic in white ? so pure ? and fuck ? I was getting turned on by my hallucinations. Give me strength.

A feeling of unsettlement slithered through me, and not because I was thinking of my life in terms of a Warner Brothers cartoon. It was the feeling that everything was so unpredictable; life was so bloody unpredictable. It had been over two months since I had split with Sue 'I will love you forever' Granger, but it still felt as if she had a hold over me.

I know the last time I had seen her I had felt strong and been able to block everything out, but my frame of mind was like the English weather - it never knew what it wanted to do. I had spent the last two months living under the black cloud of a broken relationship, shying away from getting stuck out in the rain, and what for? Saving myself for another rainy day? But wasn't the majority of the three and a half years I'd spent with her one storm after another, until it constantly seemed I was windswept and half drowned?

There were good times ? there had to have been, or else I wouldn't have stayed, would I? But at that moment in time I couldn't think of one half decent sunny day, not even a gentle warming breeze.

But we can't predict our futures, can we? That would take all the 'fun' out of getting screwed over from the dealers of the fate cards. I think that was where my problem really lay ? I didn't know what my future held - what to expect, and I was feeling wary that I would get myself into the same situation as I had before. For the last three and a half years everything had been done for me. I was told exactly what to do, who to see, what to say ? even how to bloody wash up, and now I felt naïve ? felt I couldn't quite cope in the adult world.

Then it hit me. I was coping. Wasn't I? My bills were getting paid every month - I fed, washed and dressed myself every day - and took care of Duds ? But - it didn't feel real, somehow. It seemed as if my relationship very loosely> with Amy was like I was rebelling against something ? rebelling against everything, except I didn't know what. I know. Totally fucked up. And therein lies a load of bollocks. Rebelling? Frigging rebelling? Bollocks with a capital B. I wasn't rebelling - I was, until I found out about Jane, enjoying every single moment with Amy, and what I was trying to do now was qualify why she wasn't interested in me. Why she was interested in Jane and not me. And in the words of an Abba song ? 'the Gods may throw a dice ? the loser has to fall ? It's simple and it's plain'. And I was the loser. A loser. So I should just shut up and get used to it.

It's amazing how you can change your thoughts without even noticing. I was thinking about Sue and my relationship and suddenly - bam ? Amy. I shook my head, called for Duds, and then made my way home. Away from all the elements.


The rest of the day went quickly with me wading through thumbnail after thumbnail of potential ideas and slogans, and before I knew it, Duds was in front of me, his harness hanging from his mouth.

Another walk. Another set of thoughts. Then back home again - shower - then bed. I drifted off with the image of Amy laughing ? and I felt the crease of a smile slip onto my mouth, then felt Duds curl up in the crook of my legs and release a contented sigh. And so did I.


Chapter Six (The Anti Climax - has to be, doesn't it)

I kept myself busy ? very busy. Even went into the office a couple of times that week. It felt strange at first talking to people I had worked with nearly everyday for the last seven years. I felt like a stranger ? almost an impostor. My work colleagues treated me in exactly the same way they always had - poked fun - took the piss - showed me the designs they were working on. It was good - eventually. The feeling of normalcy crept in ? I felt normal, whatever normal actually means.

Duds spent his time at my parents and I bugged the arse off them with phone calls to check he was ok. I knew I was obsessing, but in retrospect I think it was transference. I was only out of the house the matter of hours and I now believe he would have liked the time on his own - a bit of peace and quiet. He used to be perfectly happy staying at my parents when I used to go to work full time - and I didn't ring them ten times a day then.

I'm rattling on again, aren't I? Well spotted. And the reason I'm going off on my very own personal tangent is because Amy hadn't called. No more messages on my answering machine ? my mobile ? not even a text message. I was text free. I think I went out so I didn't have to sit waiting for the phone to get off his arse and do his job. Then when I came home I did everything I possibly could do to not look at the non-blinking light on the answer phone display.

It wasn't until Saturday morning that the musical sound of my muted friend thrummed through the house once again. I was making a coffee, or should I say, I was tipping coffee grinds all over my work surface when it announced her reappearance? There was a mixture of emotion whirling inside me - I was happy to hear her voice; but anger because it had been nearly a week since she'd said she'd call; and finally, an overwhelming sense of sadness and loss. She was with Jane. The same Jane who I'd taken an instant dislike to without even meeting.

My tone evened out to indifference.

When she asked whether I fancied doing anything, going anywhere ? did I fancy meeting up, as she was already in Norwich. I had to bite my tongue so I didn't spit out, 'Why don't you ask your girlfriend?' But I restrained myself ? told her I was working. I could feel Duds glaring at me as the lie slipped from between my lips and I mouthed 'What?' to him as if he understood.

She did sound disappointed, I give her that. Tried to talk me round ? tried to make arrangements for the evening - pictures - meal - her treat. But I stayed firm, and I'm buggered if I know why. The call ended with a promise to do something soon, but it felt strange, and I felt like a right cow.

As soon as I placed the receiver on the handset, regret washed over me. What was I doing? I was jeopardising the first real friendship I had had in years because I couldn't handle the fact she was with someone else. I was blaming her for finding someone other than me, even when I had never given her the indication I even thought of her that way.

I snatched the phone back up and called her back. Busy. So I left a message telling her work could wait and what did she fancy doing. Inside I felt like a weight had been lifted from me ? like I was actually doing something constructive instead of mooching around feeling sorry for myself.

Fifteen minutes later, she called back, her voice happier than the last time we had spoken. 'Glad you changed your mind, Chambers.' I grinned, but I felt it slip slightly as she continued. 'Is it ok if Jane comes with us?' Bollocks. 'She called just after I had spoken to you and as you said you were busy ?'

What could I do? Say 'Oops ? sorry. Just noticed a huge pile of paperwork I have to get done before tomorrow.' Or even 'Why don't you two just go out? You don't want me spoiling your fun.'

And I did. Said the last one ? told her to go out with Jane, as I didn't want to act like a gooseberry. The end of the line went extremely quiet for a few seconds, and I thought she was deliberating, but then she said she wouldn't hear of it and they would meet me at the Bar Tapas in town at one. No arguments.

After I had said goodbye with the promise to be on time, I dropped my head into my hands. It was ok to be all-accepting when you didn't have to face the 'other woman'; anyone can play the martyr from a distance. But I was meeting them as a couple for the first time, and I was regretting ever calling her back.

Duds was shipped off to my parents, who made more of a fuss of him than they did of me - like usual. They didn't even notice I was positively green about the gills. Dad was slipping on his wellies and promising my excited pal a long walk. So. I was ignored by all and sundry as I went to meet Amy and her bird. Yes. That does sound a tad bitter doesn't it?


They were both there when I entered. Amy was facing the door and stood up excitedly to wave dramatically as if she was on a buoy bobbing in the ocean waiting for a lifeguard to pick her up. Her grin was splitting her face and she left the table to come and give me a hug. The smell of her made me automatically close my eyes and just ? inhale. It was as if I was sucking her right in. I could hear her saying how good it was to see me and she was glad I could make it.

Slowly, I opened my eyes and saw Jane looking at us with a welcoming smile on her face. Unfortunately, she was gorgeous. Long dark hair and olive skin, and her eyes were brown and enveloped with long dark lashes. Her smile was so white, and she looked the picture of health and happiness. No wonder Amy preferred her to me. I certainly would.

'Beth. This is Jane. Jane - Beth.' Jane stood and held out her hand in greeting, and I knew my palms were all sweaty, but I couldn't avoid shaking her hand - that would be rude. So I quickly swiped my hand down the side of my jeans and prayed she wouldn't notice. Hers was cool, but not clammy. Just right. A firm, yet friendly, shake accompanied by a 'It's lovely to finally meet you.'

'Jane can't stay long. She's got to be gone by two.'

I felt the cheer well up inside me, and I knew it seemed childish - I had no chance with Amy whether Jane was here or not - so I gulped it down and said, 'Oh ... that's a shame,' as you do.

'Yes. I have to meet my future mother in law in Jarrolds' house ware department to pick out pan sets and other wedding presents from our list.' She turned to Amy. 'I can't see why you get out of this ? she's your mother after all.'

Fuck me. They were getting married. This was getting worse and worse. I was totally at a loss for words, I mean - they were getting married for Christ sakes. And there I was ? sitting playing gooseberry when they should be picking out pan sets and duvet covers together with mother. I didn't know how to react ? didn't know whether to join in the conversation and wish them luck, or pick up the menu and try to decipher the Spanish. So I just acted coy, or was it vacant? Maybe it was village idiot, because before I knew what was happening they were both staring at me waiting for me to say something.

But, I'd missed the question. I was too busy thinking of an excuse not to listen to anymore of their banter. I gave them the 'I'm sorry - could you repeat that?' face and Jane leaned over the table conspiratorially, but with a degree of humour.

'Do you think that Amy should get out of shopping with her mother ?' she glared at Amy, who lifted her hands in mock defence, 'and her future sister-in-law, because she hates being dragged around all the shops?'

My face said it all. Or maybe it said nothing. I can't even gauge the expression ? it felt stunned, like a wet fish had been slapped repeatedly across my cheeks ? fins and all.

'Huh?' Fuck. At this rate, they would both think I was dim, dumb or deaf. And then the classic line ? 'You're getting married?' No shit, Sherlock. 'To Amy's brother?' Elementary, my dear Watson.

'Well, I wouldn't be marrying her sister ? she hasn't got one. I'm marrying James, her little brother.' And they both laughed, and I just sat there, waiting for my face to melt. It was hot enough. The realisation dawned on Jane after nearly a minute. 'Did you ? me and Amy ?together?' She sounded like Yoda. Then she started laughing again, but Amy just sat back in her chair and smiled at her, one eyebrow raised.

By this stage I was feeling like a total dick head. Like usual. Both feet in - not even hitting the sides of my mouth. It was amazing how stupid you can feel without actually saying anything really stupid. As they say, actions speak louder than words, and lately I had been acting stupid. I had automatically assumed that Amy was dating Jane ? assumed she was with somebody and hadn't told me. And you know what they say about assuming don't you. You guessed it ? another cliché - to assume, you make an ass out of u and me. And I felt like an ass.

'Come on ? let's order.' Amy leaned forward and gave me the Special's List, followed by a wink and a smile. 'You've gone all red.'

You bet I had. Inside I was glowing ? and it wasn't from the heat of the place.


Lunch was good. It was stimulating to mix with people ? to socialise and have fun. It had been too long since I had been out with any of my friends ? months in fact. Come to think of it, it must have been over a year. It had been too much like aggravation to go out with them before, and it was just easier to not see them. Shallow, eh? Sometimes I couldn't quite believe how far I had let things slide ? how much of myself I had lost trying to keep the peace. And what for? So I could end up walking in one day and seeing her screwing someone else, that's why.

I know it takes two people to make a relationship work, and any relationship worth its salt needs attention ? needs nurturing ? both parties need to know they are loved. And I was as much to blame as anybody for allowing things to get as far as they did. Thinking about it, I believe that if I had put my foot down and actually grown a spine, things would have been a whole lot different. Maybe Sue and I would have had a chance ? maybe she would still be here loving me forever as we planned. Or she planned.

But it was too late for maybes or what ifs. Too much had happened, even the clichéd water under the bridge had flowed past.

Jane left at ten past two, saying she would be in the doghouse with the mother in law even before she had entered the family. And that left Amy and I. Alone. In a café full of people at lunchtime. Not quite the desolate setting I wanted, but it did feel like there was only her and me in the whole place. And it felt wonderful - especially now that I knew she wasn't with Jane.

There might be someone else, though. She might have a girlfriend - just because one has been taken off the 'other half' list, didn't mean there wasn't another waiting in the wings - or even centre stage. Bugger. All I wanted to do was ask her if she was seeing someone ? was interested in anyone ? if I had a chance. But I just couldn't pluck up the nerve. It would have been different if I didn't like her so bloody much, I would've just asked her and took her answer on the chin. However, if I asked her and she said she did have someone else, I would be back at square one again. And for the moment I just wanted to pretend that I did have a chance in hell.

After paying the bill we decided to have a walk around the market and then catch an early film. Amy's mother and Jane were staying at her house for a few more days, as they had come from Stratford to get some shopping in without men hanging about. I did tell her she didn't have to entertain me, and that she should get some quality time with her family under her belt. She wouldn't hear any of it. Kept insisting she'd seen enough of them, and Norwich shops, in the last week to last a lifetime.

'And I want to spend time with you.' A pause. 'Missed you.'

I stopped mauling the dog bed on the stall and just turned to look at her. She seemed so sincere and open. There was something just below the surface in her expression that made my heart giddy up and rear excitedly. I swallowed a couple of times just to try and clear the lump that had suddenly announced itself before mumbling I had missed her too.

'Well, that's ok then.' She tilted her head to the side and looked at me, the smile creeping out and easing the tension between us. It was a weird sensation. The tension, I mean. It wasn't like I was worried, more like expectant. I wanted to see more in the smile ? the expression ? the feeling, but I didn't dare to. So I just turned around and bought the dog bed for Duds without even giving it the thorough examination I usually did. Another multicoloured accessory that he would sniff before jumping onto the sofa. He had three already.

We skipped the film. Too much to carry, thanks to me and my aversion techniques. We went back to my parents to pick Dudley up and take him for a walk, and Amy came in my car as she had walked into town.

He went crazy when I walked into my parents' house. Gave me a quick lick and then was all over Amy like a rash. Had her pinned on the sofa in less than a minute. The funny thing was, she wasn't even sitting down, or even attempting to get on the sofa when it happened - the little bugger knocked her clean off her feet.

Have you ever noticed how your parents act when you take home a date? I know Amy wasn't a date ? and I'm sure you've taken someone home who wasn't, but your parents think they are the new love of your life. Talk about embarrassing. They keep grinning, winking and nodding at you every time the person looks away, mouthing 'She's nice' or 'keep this one'. And they suddenly stop when the person looks at them, making it really bloody obvious. This time was no exception.

It had the essence of the Spanish Inquisition: Mum asking questions with Dad adding detail. I expected them to ask to see her bank details at one point, and I was trying every trick in the book to steer Amy and Duds to the door, but to no avail. They were on a mission.

Eventually I gave up the idea and accepted another cup of tea and the invitation to look at Dad's garden. It was pretty, although most of the colour was gone. He was explaining how he was preparing for the onset of winter, and you could never be too early when Mum asked me to help pour the tea. I went in mumbling about how many people did it take to pick up a teapot and pour in a splash of milk.

'She's lovely, Beth.' Ah. She thought separating us would weaken us and I would spill the beans about how fantastically in love I was. 'She thinks the world of you.'

I looked at her with surprise, changing my expression to 'And how on earth do you make that out?' in an instant.

'Mum's just know.' Cryptic, and also annoying. Especially when she turned and made the tea herself, not even asking for me to pass wind never mind the milk. I just lounged against the kitchen work surface and watched with admiration sprinkled with laziness. I wanted her to continue, wanted her to explain what she actually meant by Amy thinking the world of me. Did she mean the 'thinking the world of' me like one friend feels for another? Or ?

'For God's sake. Don't let the girl see you looking like that. You look gormless.'

I straightened my face, and my shoulders for that matter, before rolling my eyes. Amazing how much you change as you get older. If I'd still been the stroppy teen, I would have rolled my eyes first.


It was too late to take Duds to the park. Well, too dark, as the evenings were upon us so early now. He didn't seem to mind a walk around Amy's neighbourhood. I think he enjoyed finding out who was about by sniffing every single lamppost and gate.

The walk was refreshing and comfortable. We chatted about what we had been up to in the week, and Amy said she had gone to Earlham early on the Monday to see if she could catch me. Had a coffee and waited for a while, but she had an early class and couldn't wait long. The rest of her week was spent working or playing tour host.

I couldn't concentrate on what she was telling me, because all I could think about was Duds' behaviour on Monday. Remember? When he raced off and tried to get in the café? Thought you would. It must have been a coincidence, as there was no way he would have known she had been there. Was there?

Just as the thought meandered around my head, Dudley turned and looked at me, and for all the world he looked as if he was laughing.

And they call them dumb animals. Makes me wonder who is the more intelligent species. Actually ? there is no comparison.




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