The Bigger Picture (Part 2)

He woke up as his head flopped down onto his chest. He rubbed his neck as he adjusted in his seat, accidentally kicking the pizza on the floor. The clock said two in the morning, and he checked his phone and multiple messages stared back at him. His phone rang.

‘Hello mate, hey congratulations and all that,’ Robert said as he answered.

‘Thanks, mate. You didn’t answer any of our messages before. You usually respond quickly. I was getting worried. You, okay?’

‘Yeah, mate. Well…’ Robert hesitated as he searched for the right words in the dark. He stood up and walked towards the lines of moonlight that stretched across his carpet before moving closer to the window and staring out through the blinds. ‘That date from Friday didn’t work out.’

‘Ah. No worries, mate. They’ll be more where that came from. What was the reason this time? You know what, who cares—her loss. You’re a good guy. Her loss.’

‘Thanks, mate. And Happy Birthday, by the way. Forgot to tell you last week,’ Robert said, standing up a little straighter.

‘Not a problem. You’ve wished me the best for other years. I don’t think much of turning thirty-five anyway. You did a few months ago, how was it?’

‘Average at best.’

‘See? Anyway, I’m off to bed. I’ve only had one drink mate but, I love you. I’ll speak to you later.’

‘You too, mate. See you later,’ Robert said, putting the phone down. He looked at the dark screen in his hand before looking back out at the moon. He glanced around his front room before throwing his phone onto the settee, closing the blinds, and going to bed. (282 Words – Part 2)

*

The next day he came downstairs and frowned at his phone on the settee. He pocketed it and went into the kitchen.

Later that day, he was working on his laptop when a ringing tone came out of it. He flinched before realising it was a video call. He answered and adjusted his laptop and the camera as he did so.

‘Hello son, how’s Sunday treating you?’

‘I’m good, Dad. Since when did you learn how to use video calling?’

‘Since your brother taught me a few weeks ago. Can you hear me, okay?’

‘I can, Dad. Coming through loud and clear.’

Robert chatted with his father, struggling to know where he should look (at my face? at his face? somewhere in between?) before his Mum joined in. Closely followed by his brother. The conversation settled into a rhythm that brought a small smile to Robert’s face.

‘We should do this every week. What do you think, Rob?’ his brother said.

Robert stuttered. ‘Why? I’m only a few miles away from you all?’

‘So? We don’t get to see you that often anymore.’

‘Sure. Weekly video calls sound good. Or even just conversations via massager would be fine. What do you think, Mum and Dad?’

‘Sounds great. I…,’ said Dad.

‘No. I can never get those things to work,’ interrupted his Mum. Thus began a long conversation about how she thought video calls work against how everyone else knew they did. At times Robert just sat back and smiled. (546 words)

The rest of Robert’s day moved along at a smooth pace. Leaving his phone in his bedroom to charge, he cleaned his flat from top to bottom and did all his washing and ironing to cover the coming week.

Later that evening, he sat down at his dinner table to eat his reheated takeaway. As he got halfway through, he remembered his phone was upstairs. After retrieving it and sitting back down at his table, it buzzed and buzzed for around ten seconds. Several messages greeted him, all referencing a night out from his friends. Robert hovered his thumb over the keyboard and began to type.

“Just us five. Not been on a night out like that in ages,” one message read. Robert hesitated and then continued typing.

“No other halves then?” He sent the message and then quickly started to type a second message, “Because I’m not that bothered if” but did not have time to send it as more messages came through.

“Just us five. Like it was in the beginning?” read another message.

“Really? Okay. Great. I’m looking forward to it. I mean, I look forward to our usual nights out with other halves included,” Robert sent. He smiled as they ignored it, and the buzzing kept on going as a plan began to form.

“Cool. Meet at seven o’clock in the pub on Friday,”

“Looking forward to it,” Robert responded. He went back to his food before his phone buzzed again, and he glanced down mid-bite. Caroline’s name flashed up. He scanned her message, which was made up of several excuses and half compliments, before deleting it and messaging another friend to see if he was free for a call. As his friend replied, he rang him and smiled as he answered. 

The Bigger Picture (Part 1)

Robert just managed to get the last train home, and once he reached his stop, he jumped off and ran the mile to his house to get out of the rain. After throwing his sopping wet coat on the comfy chair opposite, he planted himself on his settee. He took a deep breath and looked at his phone. His thumb hovered over the send button. Is it too soon? Did I come across too desperate or needy? She seemed to enjoy the date, didn’t she? He thought. Before he could send anything, his phone buzzed in his hand. Two messages flashed up; one from a friend and the other from his date, Caroline.


‘Sorry, mate. I’ll look later,’ Robert said. He opened Caroline’s message, and almost as soon as he did, he sat back with a thud and let out a sigh.

‘You’ve met someone else? We just went out? Did you meet someone on the tram home?!’ he said. He messaged back and threw his phone onto the floor before putting his head in his hands. His phone buzzed again, and he almost flew out of his seat to pick it up.

‘Congratulations,’ he said, with an empty feeling hitting his stomach as he sat on the floor. He looked blankly at the picture he had been sent of his friends’ engagement. He flopped his head back against the settee and stared at the ceiling.

*

The following day, he woke up early but left his bed late. As he eventually rose for the day, the clothes from the previous night had dried where they lay on the edge of the bed. As he put the now dry clothes back on, wondered what the stale scent was before realising it was him, or rather, his clothes. He shrugged at that and the pile of work shirts on the floor before cleaning his teeth. He opened his front door and squinted at the sun light as he stepped outside to go for a walk.

The heat was light and calming on the back of his neck as he approached a small park and found a bench. He settled in and took out his phone and called his mother.

‘Sorry, Mum. I meant to call you a few days ago,’ he said. She accepted his reason, and they chatted for the next ten minutes.

‘So, how did your date go last night?’ his Mum said. Robert shifted in place as he contemplated the question.

‘Oh…it didn’t go so well. I don’t know what happened,’ he replied. He then went through what had happened the previous night. He took a deep breath partway through to stop his bottom lip from quivering. ‘That was my tenth date in three months, Mum. The reasons are getting numerous and off-putting.’

‘Never mind. I’m sure you’ll meet a nice girl one of these days. You’re a lovely boy.’

‘Thanks, Mother.’

They chatted for ten more minutes before she had to go. Robert could hear a door opening and a few voices in the background before the phone went dead. He slowly put his phone away and sat back on the bench. Over the next few hours, he rested his hand on his pocket over his phone. Several times he went to take it out but resisted. He people-watched and observed different couples out of the corner of his eye as they walked by. He smiled and turned away each time. The clouds over head started to darken and he stood up to head home.

‘Six o’clock? So be it,’ he said. He ordered a takeaway not long after getting home. He settled onto the settee and his eyes widened as he realised the data on his phone was not switched on. He smiled as he turned it back on, but the smile faded as his phone became quieter with each passing second.

He idly scrolled through his phone’s gallery until he frowned at a picture of a couple with one pushing their hand towards the camera. He gasped as he remembered. He sent a response to his friend, saying he was happy for him and them both. A few separate conversations started up across the messaging group, and his thumb hovered over the keyboard to respond. He glanced at it and could see his name in some of the messages, but he did not answer.

‘What am I watching? Where is the remote?’ he said. The doorbell rang, and he retrieved his pizza. He settled back down again and devoured one slice before putting the box of food on the floor.

Possible Perfectionist

I think I’m very close to being a perfectionist. About 100% as per the graph below:

I’ve known this for a while, but I don’t always apply the 100% to everything I do. Just the essential things in my life like my fiancé, family, and friends. And my writing

Anyway, I’m currently in the middle of an Assignment as part of the Short Story Writing Course I’m completing. This was purchased via The Writing Magazine (https://www.writers-online.co.uk/writing-courses). So far, I’ve worked my way through five sections of the eight that make up the course. Those are First Principles, Shaping Your Characters, Characters and Plotting, Narration and Dialogue, and Writing Style. Each has its own assignment, and you’ve got as much time as you need to complete them. Well, not all the time, but they are pretty casual about the timescales but recommend getting into a routine while doing the course to help you gain the most from it. 

The latest section, Writing Style, has set an assignment to write in 1,000 words a story that builds a strong sense of atmosphere and/or place. When I was given this assignment, I’ll admit it seemed a bit daunting to me and a little bit scary. I had a rough idea of how I would do it, but I wasn’t sure if I’d ever done it before. But I must’ve done. Right?

I’ve finished First Drafts for Novels and Short Stories so far in my Writing Career and created the atmosphere I needed to tell my story correctly. So, why am I scared now?

Not sure, really. I think it’s because I’ve never sat down and just written a piece that only focuses on creating a sense of anything. Let alone atmosphere and/or place. I knew that I had to come up with some ideas, but what to use?

In my previous assignments, I’ve used such scenarios as manager-team member conflict (Conflicting Characters – Characters and Plotting) Friends living together (Narration and Dialogue – Three-Way Conversation). Still, I didn’t want to just revisit these as that seemed too easy.

Then, it hit me. I really enjoy writing fight and battle scenes, so why not use this? The sense of atmosphere within a battle (I imagine) is strong and can change (again, I imagine) quickly. I settled on my scenario for my assignment, now to write it.

That went quite well. I crafted a piece about a soldier fighting demons as part of an army. Looking like they are on top, only to have the demons retreat as a bigger foe, one they are even petrified of, came into the picture. This allowed me to change the atmosphere from happy and carefree (Winning the battle) to fear and dread (Probably going to lose the battle) midday through the story.

I considered rewriting the story and focusing all 1,000 words on one sense of atmosphere. But I preferred the challenge of conveying the shift in atmosphere partway through—about halfway to be exact. Then I considered changing it. I always edit my assignments, even though I’m looking for feedback, so if I didn’t, it would be fine.

But, I’m a writer. I’m not wired like that at all.

And thus, began weeks and weeks of edits that have become never-ending. Now, I’m aware this is part of my writing life, and that’s fine but, how far should I go with an edit for a Writing Course Assignment? Or should I just send it off and see what happens?

This leads me to a question.

Whilst completing a short piece of writing for submission (1,000 to 2,000 words) to be submitted, would you send the first draft of your assignment or edit it before submission?

Creative Spark during Lockdown.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about how I can improve my writing. The lockdown has provided me with plenty of time to not write, but when I have found the time it has been fruitful but not as productive as I would have thought. I started thinking of how I could improve my situation, but I wasn’t sure how and hoped for something to spark my interest. Some kind of inspiration to jump out and slap me in the face. Well, maybe not that because that would hurt but perhaps a nudge or tap on the shoulder. Nothing was happening until I received an email from ‘Writers Online’ (https://www.writers-online.co.uk/writing-courses) which is linked to my ‘Writing Magazine’ subscription. They advertised several courses in different areas, publishing, novel writing, selling your work, but one caught my eye.

Short Story Writing Course.

Now, I’ve been writing short stories for years and reading all kinds of different articles and blog posts on the subject but never took the time to learn the basics. This ever so slightly annoyed me but I only have myself to blame. I consider myself a writer but, after starting this course, a writer that still has a lot to learn.

The course is broken up into 8 units and an assignment that links to each one. You are assigned a tutor to guide you along the way based on your level of experience and writing interests. Mine has provided some valuable feedback on the stories I have written for the first 2 assignments. These were to write a story dealing with conflict (Love conquers All or Man or Woman versus loneliness) and to write a story about an out of work character searching for employment. Each required me to use skills learnt from the accompanying unit. I have learned so much already including how vital a theme/message is to my stories and how-to layout out a short story beginning, middle, and end. Both of these points are things I have considered previously but not put nearly as much thought into as I believed. Though annoying, I am not dwelling on it (well, maybe a little) and aim to improve from here and most likely make more significant strides than I have before.

When I first read about a message driving my story, I immediately thought back to a short story I had completed 6 months ago. Although I like it, it has no theme. It’s just…something that happened. When I thought about it, I didn’t really care about either of the main characters. After the first unit, First Principles of Writing a Short Story, I made plenty of notes about potential improvements. Mainly, what the theme will be and how the characters will develop along with their conflicts. I did all this after reading only the first few pages of the course.

It may seem obvious to learn the basics before tackling anything in life, but it is something I have overlooked. From here, things can only get better for me as a writer. Hopefully.

Have a good day, and thanks for reading!

The Hunt: Part 3.

https://johnrsermon.com/2020/01/27/the-hunt-part-1/

https://johnrsermon.com/2020/01/30/the-hunt-part-2/

The hunters scaled the car wall and onto the road. Their target moved at high speed down the middle as cars calmly drove to the sides. Sam and John smiled as they received cheers from the crowd. The lizard screeched back at them before jumping down from the road and into trees nearby losing the helicopters in the process. The hunters warned off the people with their cameras on the ground from following them as they kept chase.

“You talk to me about putting the public in danger? Oh, my days! Your aim is all over the place, and you fire bullets like they’re going out of fashion.” Said Sam.

“I’m firing the bullets to keep the target in my sights. It keeps feigning to go up a tree, and I keep stopping it. Unlike you and your archaic bow and arrow. Your arrows aren’t even sticking into the trees.” Replied John. Sam elbow barged John out of the way and smiled as he fell to the ground. John glared at Sam as he ran off. The lizard had now climbed a nearby tree and was moving quickly between the branches to stop Sam from getting a clear shot. Sam withdrew an arrow, but before he was able to fire, John speared him in the back with his shoulder and knocked the arrow out of his hand. Sam rose quickly and flew at John with carefully placed punches and kicks, which John was able to parry, but when he tried to retaliate each attack did not land and was pushed away. Each hunter was equal to the other, and as they fought, the lizard slowed down and stopped still in his tree and watched for a while. It slowly descended and continued to watch from the forest floor with its head twitching in different directions before stopping still again and calmly watching the fighting hunters.

“You really are predictable.” Said John as he kicked at Sam’s head only to miss as Sam spun on the ground and tried to land his kick, which John swiped away with a stiff forearm.

“How can you say that? The same person trained us. That makes no sense.” Sam said as he pushed John away and jumped into the air to try and land a punch from above. He missed as John took two steps backwards. “You are basically a blonde version of me.”

“You wish. You’re a brunette version of me.” John said. “And I didn’t say anything.”

“Don’t you lie to me.” Sam said.

“He’s not lying.” Said a smooth voice from next to them. They stopped fighting and watched open-mouthed as the lizard morphed into a twelve-foot-tall man-lizard and stood on its back legs.

“Did you know they could do that?” Said Sam.

“No. Not at all.” Said John.

The man-lizard grabbed both men by the back of their heads and smashed them together. He recoiled and squinted as the crunching sound filled the trees and scattered some nearby birds. He then grabbed Sam’s hands and closed his eyes. Two huge black and green limbs changed into human arms and hands matching Sam’s. He carefully grabbed Sam’s bow and an arrow and fired one through John’s eye. He then took John’s hands and waited for the change to happen again. Once complete, he grabbed one of John’s guns and shot Sam through an eye. He placed the relevant weapons in Sam and John’s hands before looking carefully in John’s bag. The man-lizard found John’s spare bullets before searching Sam and locating all of his remaining arrows.

“Thanks for the chase and the fun, gentleman. And for the ammunition.” He said nodding in appreciation to the prizes he had just collected. With both eyes closed, he changed back into a lizard and disappeared into the night.

The Hunt: Part 2.

https://johnrsermon.com/2020/01/27/the-hunt-part-1/

The lizard’s arms and legs flailed up and down as it struggled to run away, knocking people into the road and to the ground as it tried to flee. Cars screeched around it and ploughed into signposts and buildings and people. John bounded over the vehicles and quickly helped as many people as he could. He bounced across the vehicle roofs with some people cheering him on as he did so. John stopped for a moment and removed and launched a dagger. He punched the air and gestured to the growing crowd as the blade grazed the side and split some of the scaly skin from the lizard’s tail. The lizard threw up its head and howled as it kept moving.

“Stop showing off. It’s making its way to the tunnel. You know it can escape to the sewers that way, right?” Said Sam as he finished moving down the building and jumped onto the pavement.

“Really? I did not know that. Thank you so much, big Sam, for pointing out the most obvious thing known to any hunter worth anything at all.” John said as he continued and jumped on top of a recently crashed car. The lizard moved fast now, hitting its stride between people and vehicles and towards the tunnel.

Both hunters pushed their way through the panicked or mesmerised crowd and made sure to thank those who actively moved out of their way. The helicopters above followed them with spotlights. Cameras big and small followed them on the ground. Some more heroic passers-by tried to slow their target down but were dealt with efficiently by a powerful lizard limb. The tunnel approached, and Sam stopped on top of a post box. John looked back and groaned through his teeth. Sam took off his coat and aimed his arrow carefully.

A Land Rover coming through the tunnel suddenly started to swerve as the driver let the fear overcome him as the giant lizard hissed closer. Sam aimed and fired an arrow into one of the car wheels that burst and the car jolted and flipped over in front of the tunnel entrance. The crash caused several other vehicles to crash, and in no time, they began to pile up and block the tunnel.

“Dam, you Sam. Don’t put the public in danger like that.” Said John as he watched the lizard scale the cars and scurry up and onto the road running over the top of the tunnel.

“It stopped the demon going through the tunnel did it not?” Sam shouted back. He put his bow away and grabbed his coat before joining John again on the chase.

The hunters scaled the car wall and onto the road. Their target moved at high speed down the middle as cars calmly drove to the sides. Sam and John smiled as they received cheers from the crowd. The lizard screeched back at them before jumping down from the road and into trees nearby losing the helicopters in the process. The hunters warned off the people with their cameras on the ground from following them as they kept chase.

The Hunt: Part 1.

The monster slithered up the side of the building. One hunter climbed after, and another pursued on the ground. As it moved swiftly between the windows and ledges, the grounded hunter fired his gun, shattering concrete and glass around the target. The climbing hunter stopped and fired arrows from a balcony but did no better and shook his head as the monster disappeared onto the top of the roof.

“Watch your aim, Sam. Stick to the roof and push it towards me. I’m going to try and gain some distance on the target from the ground and catch it as it comes down. Keep it in your sights.” Shouted the grounded hunter.

“Oh, well done. Tell me to run across the roofs instead of on the ground. The harder option and one better for you, John, so you get all the attention. As usual. And keep it in my sights? Such a hard task to do, given that the target is twelve feet long and half that wide.” Bellowed Sam as he planted his feet on the roof and caught sight of the lizard. He quickly fired an arrow, which shaved the side of its head. The lizard stopped on the edge of the rooftop and hissed down at the ground below. Its head bent right around, and it roared at the hunter before leaping across to the next building and landing awkwardly.

“Wind your neck in, Sam. You know I’m not much of a jumper. You excel at such things. We need to catch him.”

“Him? IT more like. And wind my…wind your neck in Johnny boy. And get rid of that smegging bag. It only slows you down.”

“I’ll get you for that Sam. Or should I say, Samwise.” John shouted as he disappeared from Sam’s view. Sam gritted his teeth, and one hand moved naturally onto his stomach. When he realised, he removed it and extended his spear. After five significant steps, he vaulted across to continue the pursuit.

The wind began to make his eyes water as Sam moved between the various obstacles on top of the building. A head followed by a long, greenish-black tail whipped up and down not far in front of him. The lizard slipped and favoured his back-right leg, and Sam saw his chance. He vaulted forward and as he landed the tail of the beast flew across his face, narrowly missing his nose but catching his spear and snapping it in half. Sam was now within a few feet and leapt to grab hold of the creature’s tail, which whip-like smacked him on the head. The lizard spun around and head-butted him in the chest, sending Sam thudding down onto his back. The lizard hesitated for a moment before moving towards the edge of the roof. Sam dragged himself across and watched as it scurried down the side of the building and weaved between ledges and windows. Debris started to fly in all directions and began to rain down onto the people below who rapidly started to scream and run. He glanced to the side to see John running to keep the chase alive.

Some Kind of Monster. This monster lives.

Hello,

I take inspiration from many things. Usually, it’s during my day job (The odd comment I ‘accidentally’ overhear mostly) or when I’m out running. But mainly it comes from when I’m watching movies. I’ve always enjoyed watching sci-fi and western movies with the occasional monster movie in-between. Like everyone who enjoys films, I have watched plenty of the awesome as well as plenty of the abysmal. But I keep watching them. Even bad movies inspire me with how not to do something.

Like I said, having watched my fair share of monster movies (such as Godzilla, Clash of the Titans, Attack on Titan, and many others) I have always wanted to write a monster story of my own. But, for whatever reason, I have put it off. Until now.

Most recently, I have been focusing on a short story for a competition. I managed to get it finished before the deadline. That story is about two hunters, more concerned with getting plaudits than actually doing their job efficiently, and the giant lizard they are pursuing. When I clicked ‘submit’ and then wondered what to work on next, that lizard started to slither its way through my thoughts. But that lizard kept growing and went from twelve feet long by six feet wide (In the short story) and got a lot bigger. MUCH bigger.

UC5Ms46

Guess what influenced my story. You’ll never get it.

Anyway, in most of my other stories, I have included demons and dragons but never have I ever written a story with a big monster at its centre. I have my idea, and I’ve started to write. The beast is mid-rampage through Manchester City Centre, and I have one man who wants to get up close and see and another who is too close and has no idea what to do. I have started to write, and the story is moving along well enough. Each man is learning, and each is getting closer to the monster and who they are. However, I am beginning to wonder, should I work on the history of the monster first before starting to write a story about it? As in, should I create a full profile of the monster before I continue?

I know the origin of the monster, and I think I’m going to link it to other attacks from different countries. Or possibly keep it contained to the United Kingdom.

All this leads me to my question, have you written a monster-centric story, and how did you go about preparing for it?

Thank you and have a good day.

 

The Meeting

Hello,

This story was meant to be my entry into a recently closed competition. A combination of fear and lack of planning found me missing the deadline. Nevermind.

So, here is the latest draft. It concerns a man who is going to meet his new girlfriend’s parents for the first time. And when I say new, she is almost brand new, and he is not sure if he should go through with it or wait a bit longer.

Is she looking at me? Darren thought as he waited at the bar. His hands began to shake as he straightened his shirt and watched her approach.

“You dancing?” she said.

He shook his head.

“Fair enough. Would you like a drink?” She said with a smile. They talked for a while and bought each other drinks before exchanging numbers.

“What’s your name?” Darren said.

“Lucy.” She kissed him on the cheek and his stomach jumped as he watched her leave the bar.

“That’s new.” He said.

*

Over the next six days, they met three times and texted nonstop. Every morning he woke up more alert than the last as he eagerly checked his phone.

Exactly a week later they met again on Saturday for drinks. He suggested the same bar and the quickness of her accepting text confused and excited him. After an hour he was really enjoying the night, he went to the bar and when he came back two women were sat opposite Lucy.

“This is Keeley and Lindsey.” Lucy introduced. Darren smiled and greeted them warmly. Shortly after, the two friends went to the bar.

“Don’t be angry. They’re my sisters. If you like me, you have to like them.” Lucy said. Darren noted the subtle sharp tone in her voice.

“Okay.” He said. They kissed and resumed their night out.

*

“Every time I asked them something, they dodged the question. It was weird.” Darren said as he sat down. His mate went to the bar and brought over the drinks.

“You’re over thinking it, mate. You’ve done this so many times before.”

“But Ed, they barely spoke and only did so when Lucy was there. Without her, they were pretty much just glued to their phones.”

“Just relax mate. She’s nice, right?”

“Yeah, she’s really pretty and has a great smile. I get along with her really well.”

“Your eyes just lit up.” Ed said and patted him on the shoulder. Darren looked across the pub at a couple kissing and sharing a private moment. They looked about his age and the blonde woman reminded him of Lucy and the man’s short brown hair acted like a mirror for him. He smiled and drank his beer.

*

“Will you meet my parents on Friday?” Lucy said as they held hands and walked through the park the following Monday evening. Darren looked up a tree and around the park a few times before answering.

“Okay. But, isn’t it a bit…soon?” He said. Her grip tightened on his hand.

“You can’t put a time on true love.” She replied. His stomach jumped again as she kissed him.

*

“True love?” Ed Said as they rested after their Thursday evening run.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that in real life.” Darren said. They laughed as Darren unmuted his phone and raised his eyebrows as he registered the number of texts and missed calls.

“Is that what true love looks like?” Ed said.

“Maybe.” Darren replied. He smiled as he read the messages of encouragement about his run and their upcoming meeting with her parents.

Darren spent all of Friday thinking about the meeting. That dinner time much like the others during the week he visited different shops looking for a new outfit but never bought anything. He finished work and registered that it was Friday evening. We meet tonight then. His palms became sweaty as did the back of his neck as he looked through his wardrobe. He sat on the edge of his bed and stared back and forth between his wardrobe and his phone. He flinched as a text came through.

“My parents just wanted to confirm that you were still coming tonight and are REALLY looking forward to it. What takeaway you would like? I vote for pizza. Can’t Wait! xxx”

Then, Darren’s stomach jumped.

“Sorry Lucy, I don’t think I can make it tonight. You know that food my boss brought in today as a thank you for all our hard work? It’s been doing backflips in my gut and I’ve been to the toilet more times than I would like. Could it be moved to next week? Sorry again.” He paused before hitting send. He exhaled and instantly relaxed. Later, as he got in bed, he kept checking his phone.

*

Darren awoke with his phone still in his hand. He turned it off and lay in bed until midday. She’s angry with me. He got up and then settled into his settee and turned on the TV. After a few hours of watching nothing in particular, he remembered to switch his WiFi on. As soon as he did, a few messages came through from Ed and they all mentioned Lucy and the news. He checked his news app and immediately sat up straight.

“Are you joking?!” Darren said loudly. He slowly scrolled through the article about a huge police arrest made in the early hours of the morning. “That’s Lucy’s house!” His phone rang and Ed’s face came up on the screen.

“Darren! Are you alright, mate? I’ve been trying to get hold of you all morning.”

“Yes, mate. I didn’t go to meet her parents. Got cold feet. Faked food poisoning. I’ve just read an article about it. The police received a tip-off from one of the guests at her parents’ house that a man and woman were going to be killed as part of some ritual. Apparently, the ‘sacrifice’ of the new girlfriend and boyfriend of the leaders of the ‘The Greater Good’ group was to appease their god. Lucy was a leader!” Darren could hear his heart thump faster in his ears as he spoke.

“Will you be okay?” Ed said.

“I’ll be fine. I just need…a minute.” Darren said and ended the call. He sat back and exhaled. “That was a close call.”

Out to dinner.

The restaurant around them hummed with conversation. The dark reds and blacks on the walls and the table cloths gave the restaurant a brooding feel. So much so that anyone who made a slight nose or spoke at a higher volume drew glances from their fellow patrons. Richard finished his meal and calmly placed the knife and fork on either side of the plate. He fought the overwhelming urge to lean back and grab his belly.

“Rude.” Said Rachael to his left. Her curly hair was almost in her food as she looked from his plate to his face a few times before exhaling loudly.

“What exactly is rude about me?” He asked. Rachael looked up quickly and her eyes widened.

“Well, …it’s not general restaurant etiquette to finish before everyone else.”

“That isn’t a rule of dining out. Or dining in. Or dining anywhere! And if it is, it’s ridiculous.” He replied. Rachael looked opposite to the woman sat to his right and back to her plate. The woman kept eating but paused before putting her fork down.

“Apologise.” Martha said. Richard exhaled and closed his eyes as his shoulders slumped slightly. He surveyed her ginger head as she continued to eat.

“My dear Martha. The apple of my eye. Do you remember that long conversation we had some six months ago? I want the exact opposite.”

Martha’s fork clangs down onto her plate and the sound lifts some heads from those close by. Her mouth drops slightly open.

“Can I ask you something, Donna?” He says to the girl opposite. Her short, silver hair shoots up from her plate. She nods.

“Throughout your long and I can only assume agonising relationship, has Rachael ever said that anybody was being rude for finishing their food before the others?”

Donna contemplates this and ignores Rachael’s glare.

“Yes. Plenty of times.” She replies in a small voice.

“Do you agree with her when she has done this?” Martha nudged him with her foot under the table. He moved his seat back slightly and crossed his legs so she could not repeat the action.

“No.” She replies instantly. “There is nothing in any etiquette manual or article that I have come across that says it is wrong to finish early.” A small smile crosses her lips. “And that is one of the many things that has annoyed me about being her girlfriend.”

Donna looks at Rachael and she looks down at her plate to avoid her eyes.

Richard takes out some money from his wallet and counts it a few times before placing three notes in the middle of the table. Donna begins to do the same but underneath the table. He leans back and groans with satisfaction while stretching his long arms towards the floor. He turns to look at Martha who crosses her arms. He blinks slowly taking a deep breath.

“I hope you find someone exactly like you and someone that possesses a forehead befitting of your thumb. And Donna, good luck and all the best in everything that you do.” He said glancing at Rachael. Donna smiles broadly and slips the money she has counted into the shoulder of her dress and finishes her meal.

Rachael slumps into her seat. He stands up and grabs his glass and downs what remains of its contents before leaving the table. He stops, turns, and retrieves the money he just counted and puts it into the inside pocket of his suit.

“You’re not going to pay for your part of the bill?” Martha asks looking up at him. Richard feels his hands shaking in his pocket.

“For two years, I have paid for every drink we have had whenever we have gone on a night or day out. With the only two exceptions being both my birthdays, which I had to convince you to do. And you stormed out of both of those parties. Consider this paying your debt.”

“How…dare you? You…enjoyed doing that for…me. Didn’t you?” Martha said. Richard looks into her eyes and the moment seems to last forever.

“…really?” Richard said. Martha looked for help where there was none before slumping back into her seat and wiping a tear from her eye.

Richard places one hand on her shoulder. She squeezed it before he leaves the table and the restaurant.

“Goodbye.” Martha whispers as Richard kisses her on the top of her head.

“Hold on.” Said Donna. She stands and grabs her bag to leave.

“Donna? Where are you going?” Rachel said as if to an insubordinate child.

“Away. From you. Finally.” Donna said rolling her eyes. Rachael looked back at the table and then to Martha.

“It’s still fairly early, fancy getting responsibly drunk?” asked Richard.

“Definitely.” Said Donna.