Monster Fest

A Dreamwidth community I belong to (ushobwri) has a Monster Fest during October when members are prompted to write about various ‘monsters’ and link to things they have written in the past as well as reccing work they have enjoyed by others. At the end of October they are encouraged to upload their offerings to a collection on AO3.

(At this point they go into support mode for members who are doing nanowrimo in November. The group’s name is a condensation of ‘you should be writing’.)

Not all the work is fanfic. AO3 is happy to host original work if it is part of a fannish collection or uses obvious fannish tropes. Members of the group are mostly interested in fanfic but write original stuff too.

One or two of the things I posted are already on this site in among other ‘free stuff’ and poetry, but most of the ficlets apart from the first one are new. The shifter ficlet is mm romance (nothing explicit) but otherwise the fics are gen. I have still used ‘not rated’ and ‘chose not to warn’ because my volunteer work for AO3 showed me you can never second guess what will trigger readers.

They are, inevitably, very short, because there were only a couple of days between prompts. But taken as a whole I’m quite pleased with them. I hope you will be too!

https://archiveofourown.org/works/27267490

The picture was made for the community as an icon and we were told we could share it. I have no idea who made it.

A choice of tropes: my preferences in fiction.

I was going to write about what appeals to me in the books I give four and five stars then I saw this meme. It’s one a few of my friends have done. I think it was originally conceived for the world of fanfiction but it works for original fiction tastes too, although it doesn’t cover crime stories which I also like. If you want to play, copy and paste the whole thing then post substituting your choices.


Slow burn OR love at first sight

Slow, please. Love at first sight always seems more like lust at first sight and either unrealistic or realistic but doomed. It can be fun, but not for longer stories or novels. Besides, I like following the details of decisions made over time.

Fake dating OR secret dating

Fake dating, because it’s fun to read as it gradually turns into not-so-fake. Secret dating – if that means people are in the closet about their attraction to each other and don’t want to be seen together – no, not for me. Again, if it means one or the other is already in a relationship, it’s a no-no. Not that I don’t think it can happen, and might make a good topic for a novel, but it isn’t a trope I go for.

Enemies to lovers OR best friends to lovers

I like both. If I have to choose I’ll have best friends to lovers because, as with the previous tropes, I like the slow realisation. With the enemies trope it sort of depends why they’re enemies in the first place.

Oh no there’s only one bed OR long distance with correspondence

I like long distance correspondence fic. I find it amusing and it’s usually a nice slow burn. I’m not keen on the one bed trope – it’s been done to death, and I don’t find it all that realistic.  

Fantasy AU OR modern AU

I write fantasy… So I’ll say fantasy but I prefer urban or sci fi fantasy and don’t go much for the heroic kind unless it happens to be Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. Modern AUs are fine in their own way – I assume this mostly refers to fanfiction. I can’t be bothered with many coffee shop fics, and college fics are a turn-off, but sticking the characters of e.g. SGA in an urban American setting can be interesting. I’ve personally written modern police characters in a mediaeval setting and find using a different period/location is a good way of exploring the core character. I do think quite often the writer ends up with an original story, merely hung on the names and character traits of the originals.

Smut OR fluff

I don’t really like smut if that means erotica. I tend to skim long sex scenes to get to the next bit of plot. I don’t really like fluff, either, since I like stories to have something serious about them as well as the romance element. Above all, I’m there for the story, not the details of the sex or romance. If I have to choose, I suppose fluff. I have read some very sweet short stories but I would quickly lose interest if they were longer.

Mutual pining OR domestic bliss

Mutual pining can be interesting. Domestic bliss rarely is. The details of other people’s domestic trivia simply don’t appeal. Having said that, I do like domestic details – if the characters don’t seem to shop, cook or eat I start to suspend disbelief.

Alternate universe OR future fic

Both please. In fanfiction I’m very happy with AUs in which canon characters don’t die, or make irrevocable bad decisions. I’ll even write it/have written it. I like future fic – I think good sci fi lets us explore our own society in a new context, and the same goes for any story set in a future, near or distant.

One shot OR multi-chapter

I have read lots of short stories I’ve enjoyed, but if I have to choose, the longer the better. And I do like people to break their work into discrete chapters, preferably with chapter headings. I actually seek out trilogies, too. I have a horror of unfinished WIPs, though, so each book has to stand reasonably alone. Think Robert Jordan… until Brad Sanderson took over there were a lot of angst-ridden fans, and at the moment the same applies to George RR Martin

Kid fic OR road trip fic

Kid fic if it’s well written. But I suppose that goes for anything, really. Road trips are OK as part of a longer story but I wouldn’t choose to read something with a road trip as the focus unless it was written by a friend and I felt obliged…

Reincarnation OR character death

Neither if it can be helped. I am very wary about reincarnation or anything similar that presupposes religious premises. And I dislike major character death quite intensely though I don’t mind if someone is recovering from losing a loved one who died before the story starts.

Arranged marriage OR accidental marriage

I think arranged marriage is interesting as a concept. In fact, I’ve just written a novel based around it. I find accidental marriage unlikely and can be irritated by the trope. It almost has to be a comedy and I don’t choose comedies often.

Time travel OR isolated together

Isolated together stories (e.g. snowed in cabin) can lead to some good character exploration. I don’t like time travel much.

Neighbours OR roommates

I think I prefer neighbours. Room mates tend to be college fic or very young adult fic which is not really my scene. Neighbours demand some serious world building which I enjoy.


Sci-fi AU OR magic AU

I like sci fi – as I’ve mentioned once or twice already. I also like magical universes and write them… So both, please! If I have to choose I’ll go with the magic but be sad about abandoning the space. Having said that, I don’t much like space opera any more than I like earth-based military fiction. So it rather depends on the context.

Bodyswap OR genderbend

I’m not particularly keen on either of these. Bodyswap is difficult for authors to present in a way that lets me suspend disbelief. Genderbend can be interesting, but frankly, I’d sooner read a story about someone who was trans, or cross dressing, or something more seriously in need of fictional exploration.

Angst OR crack

What a strange pair of tropes to set against each other. I’ve read brilliant versions of both and can’t choose.

Apocalyptic OR mundane

I quite like post apocalypse future fic but am rarely keen on zombies. Mundane modern stories have to be extremely good to hold my interest over a whole novel but some authors do a fantastic job.

Enemy Mine: another fanfiction story

https://archiveofourown.org/works/26286616

I’m telling you about my fanfiction again because I spent a great deal of time this year writing for the Fandom Trumps Hate and Fandom For Australia auctions in which someone bids for your work. The highest bidder gets a fic and pays to a specified charity. I foolishly agreed to write another fic for my second highest bidder in FTH and am still working on that.

My highest bidder wanted Stargate Atlantis, which is one of my fandoms, and requested an unusual human/alien pairing. I had great fun researching and writing the story and so far, people seem to like it.

Writing fanfiction is interesting and in no way do I regard it as less valuable than my original work. It does require slightly different skills with regard to plot, location and character, but it demands the same attention to language and story structure.

I explored the breakdown of team dynamics in the face of one member moving in a different direction, and possible aspects of the culture of an alien race who were only ever depicted in the show as a stereotypical enemy.

The story is very loosely based on canon, with an alternative perspective on some events, until near the end when it veers off into an alternative universe altogether with a happy ending. I think if you know the show at all you will probably find it all makes sense, but I also think anyone who doesn’t know the show and characters might find the story confusing at times because I condensed various references to canon in order not to spend ages writing about things fans already know.

Readers might notice that all the chapter headings are based on quotations from various books, shows and songs. The graphics are by me. The title is the title of a film I like which also has a human/alien romance though nothing else in common with my story.

Anyway, some of you might like sci-fi and some of you might like the human/alien romance. If so, give it a try and I hope you enjoy it!

The ballad of o guerreiro

Just a brief post to let you know what I’ve been doing. The first of my fandom auction fics is posted. My winner in the Fandom For |Australia auction is a close friend and when she asked for this particular pairing I had to watch the show rapidly! My story has spoilers for Season 1 so unless you’ve either watched or don’t intend to watch, don’t read! It was hard work turning ten minutes of screen time into ten thousand words but I thoroughly enjoyed the process. I hope some of you will enjoy it too. I especially hope my giftee likes it!

I don’t often mention my fanfic here but thought I would since it occupied a huge chunk of my time and was also for a very worthwhile cause. I think between us my winner and I contributed a great deal more than buying the odd bracelet!

So, if you’d like to read the result, see https://archiveofourown.org/works/26159467

The River: final volume in my elf detective series.

Finally!

The last volume in my Skilled Investigator series is live on Amazon and Smashwords and will be distributed to Smashwords’ varied retailers. (I use Smashwords as well as Amazon to let people choose which e-reader they prefer.)

This time around I’ve had a battle with formatting because Word, which both sites prefer, chose to hide formatting from me and the mess only showed up when Smashwords tried converting to EPub. I think Word hates me. I certainly hate it back! It really shouldn’t be necessary to convert to EPub to see hidden formatting. I know all about pilcrows etc. but this really was hidden – different font sizes appearing in other formats when they were perfect in the source document. As Smashwords said, the only answer was to ‘nuke’ the formatting via Notepad and start again.

It seems like forever since I started this series, and indeed the first volume was already a chaos of plans and notes before I published anything else. I’ve lived with the characters and world in my mind for about ten years now, longer than some relationships last. Genef has, I hope, grown during the series and is now a fully fledged Investigator, mentoring Scratch, who is nearing the end of his own training. There will soon be a dragon Investigator in the Guild after this final case, which takes place in Stoneyhill, Genef’s childhood home, and closely concerns both her friends and the mine where she found Scratch hatching from his egg. There’s the usual gay romance sub-plot for Fel, who finds a happy ending, and there’s romantic hope for Genef too. In case that sounds too sweet and sickly, let me add that there is plenty of death, disappearance and detection for Genef and her dragon companion to solve. I’ll miss them but it was perhaps time we parted company.

Now that this series, and the Living Fae one, are finished, I’m wondering whether to try creating boxed sets. Any thoughts?

I’ve also written a short story in the Living Fae ‘verse, and that’s with my editor; I expect to post it as a ‘freebie’ round about Christmas. Besides that I’ve been working on the rewrites for my stories written for the fandom auctions.

Anyway, all that, especially the formatting fiasco, explains why I’ve been fairly absent this month. I haven’t even managed my monthly in-depth review. All I can say is that I was away on holiday for a week then plunged into formatting which stole my brain.

Meanwhile, buy links:
Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1039364
Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B08GGC7M32

Serendipity

(A free flashfic for Easter)

It started in a shared taxi. The rain was bucketing down and they both seized the door handle, each asserting themselves and their right to a ride, to get out of the weather.

No, wait, it started at the concert, when their eyes met across the auditorium, quite by accident.

But it started before that.

*****

James was walking up from the beach, musing on the wonder of rocks and patches of thrift, when he saw the discarded wrapper. He picked it up automatically, intending to find the nearest bin. Green was both his surname and his nature. As he was about to drop it in, muttering about litter louts and the environment, something made him look at it properly. It was the outside paper strip from a foil wrapped chocolate bar; as well as advertising the name of the product, it claimed in loud letters: YOU MAY BE A WINNER. James shrugged, but something, the weather, serendipity, environmental gnomes, made him put it in his pocket and continue homewards. He phoned the number, amused at himself and faintly guilty at the cost; these prize numbers were all about making money through the phone charges. It seemed he had won a ticket to a concert at the huge new arena. A pianist was performing a varied programme and he was free on Saturday evening – as usual. A serious (and unattached), gay environmentalist who didn’t enjoy ‘the scene’ was rarely out at weekends.

Even then, at the last moment he almost didn’t go. The sky was stormy and he had a new DVD to watch. But his sister phoned and told him he ought to get out more, so, although he didn’t think this was quite what she meant, he set off.

The young man at the ticket office appreciated the dark gold curls and the honed physique of the prize winner but didn’t even dare flutter his eyelashes at the aloof expression on the conventionally handsome face. He told James to enjoy himself and watched him head for the stairs, then turned his attention to the next in line.

*****

Iain stared petulantly at the computer screen. He was so tired of trying to conform. His wife had worked out his ‘secret’ so his ‘good’ behaviour counted for nothing, and their acrimonious divorce had left him struggling to make ends meet, so ‘bad’ behaviour was unlikely to occur with any regularity. He surfed the net and ended up on eBay, bidding without much hope for a ticket to see his favourite pianist at a local venue. To his surprise, he won the bid at his lowest, rather than his highest figure, and hurried to pay the seller and wait for the post. Meanwhile, he continued to work at the programming assignment he’d accepted.

On the day of the concert he did grocery shopping in the afternoon and got drenched in one of the sudden downpours that seemed the norm for the month. By the time he’d showered, changed and dried his long black hair, scrunching it back tightly into a pony tail, he thought he might be too late for the concert, but public transport was on his side for once.

He gave a quick glance at the people in the queue, glad he had his ticket already, and didn’t need to wait for fate to be kind, then followed a group of people up to the doors that led to the stands of seating.

*****

During the interval, James looked round, wondering why this particular concert had attracted such a huge audience. It was good, but not, he thought, good enough to merit such a turnout; it wasn’t as if they could all be prize winners. He noticed the rapt expression on the face of the dark haired man directly across the aisle. He must have been looking hard, because their eyes met, in a sort of recognition, although they had never seen each other before. He was sure of that.

*****

Iain was still in a music-induced reverie when he felt eyes on him, and looked up to meet the gaze of a blond stranger. He turned away, flushing slightly and cross with himself at his automatic response. He was free to look, now, but when he did, the other man had turned his head and the moment had gone.

*****

Except that when they left, it was raining.

The entire crowd was trying to find taxis, which are as rare as jewels, especially when the weather makes them desirable.

If they hadn’t, if it hadn’t, and so on. But they had, and it did, all by happy accident. Their hands met and they shared the taxi.

*****

Yesterday.

Yesterday he had been solitary, slightly sad and somewhat serious.

Yesterday the most important thing in his life had been his job as a park ranger.

Yesterday he had been accustomed to living alone, to having to rely on fantasy for fulfilment.

Yesterday he had expected to continue in his self-imposed isolation, withdrawn from the social whirl that had sickened him with its superficial pleasures.

Yesterday his greatest loves had been the red squirrels and the quarrelsome gulls of the coastline he guarded.

Yesterday he had sighed when his sister told him to ‘get a life’.

Yesterday it had rained.

Today, there was Iain, and the sun was shining.

*****

A whirlwind spring and summer were followed by a whirlwind wedding and a hastily organised honeymoon.

The hotel was perfect, golden stone dreaming in the sun, and a room with a view of the mountains, snow-capped as he’d hoped. The place was run by a gay couple who made the atmosphere as comfortable as the rooms. Iain was pleased with their choice and hoped James was too. After freshening up and a few hugs (they’d keep the main course till later), they decided on a walk before dinner and went out to explore the village.

*****

The steep, narrow, stone stairs that stood in for streets started from the hotel’s back courtyard. Strings of onions and garlic hung from wooden balconies and pots of geraniums and chrysanthemums straggled up the smaller steps at each entrance. One doorway boasted a smart rose with striped petals and an air of modernity at odds with its surroundings. Further up a woman was washing her steps, and the rest of the street by default as the water gushed then trickled down the hill. Ian wondered if the rose looked forward to a daily deluge. James thought it was merely being brave and bold in the face of adversity as roses should always be.

There were people about. A couple of builders stood by their open-backed trucks blocking the cobbled main street (mercifully not stepped), chatting and exchanging news with passers-by. Iain was bemused by the strong similarity of all the men he saw. The younger ones, from tradesmen to homeward-bound clerks, were all short, dark-haired and stocky, quite handsome despite a decided lack of sophistication in their manner and clothing. At about sixty they turned inexplicably into replicas of garden gnomes, gnarled and stooped, prone to wearing outlandish caps and scarves. Despite the cloudless sky they all, young and old, carried umbrellas slung across their shoulders or hung from the back of their collars. He felt like a giant and even James, shorter than him by a good few inches, towered over the locals. He felt feckless, too, unencumbered by any protection from the unlikely rain.

The women were shorter still, dark-haired and pretty, calling to each other across the narrow lanes from one balcony to another. The sixties rule seemed to apply to them too. James said he thought the origins of northern European witches might have started here in these mountain villages. A crone whose nose almost met her chin shouted a cheerful greeting to them. James thought his Portuguese good enough to reply with a cheerful ‘bom dia’ but the woman cackled and repeated her ‘boa noite’ just as the church bells rang a dolorous seven, echoed thirty seconds later by a slower church clock, further down the valley.

*****

Iain laughed at James’s mortified blush and pulled him down yet another street stair. Perhaps they could return to the hotel a different way. The small post office was still open but the only postcards on offer were tired views of the last skiing season in the mountain. It was a good job not many of their friends would expect postcards from a honeymoon couple. Their parents were a different matter and they would have to look further afield. A few of the gnomes were gossiping on stone seats around the bandstand that evidently served as a village centre. Faded posters advertised delights that by the pictorial content included grape harvests, new wine and dancing.

The lane narrowed further, taking them between gardens full of glowing flowers and ripening grapes. A dog suggested they were trespassing and was shouted into silence by its owner. A cat watched them pass and merely licked its tail, settling more firmly on the gatepost. They came out at the front of the hotel again, seeing the late summer reds and oranges of the vines on the slopes beneath them and hearing the clink of glasses in the outdoor dining area.

It was, Iain reflected, like a film-set, perhaps for a fairy tale or fantasy, and yet he’d never felt so real, so alive. He turned to his partner and found an answering smile. Yes, he concluded, they’d chosen the perfect place. And the perfect person to share it with.

As they entered the hotel they heard music over the loudspeakers in the dining room. It was piano music and was, Iain realised, ‘their’ piece, the one played just before the interval in which their eyes had met. He looked at James and knew he’d recognised it too. And so they went in to dinner accompanied by the sound that had brought them together in the first place, and brought them here.

Happy Valentine’s Day 2020

It’s almost Valentine’s Day and I intended to write a story for you. However, the plot bunny grew to stupid proportions and necessitated quite a bit of research so will not be ready for publication for some time. By the time I realised that, it was getting too late to write anything else. So, as I was about to add pdf versions of some of my work to my free fiction page I decided that would have to be my Valentine gift to you this year. People who have been following my posts for some time will be familiar with the works but at least can now download to read at their convenience and on any device. So I’ll post now for the sake of my Australian friends. Click on the free stuff tab and download anything you want to read, re-read or share! Enjoy!

Of ties and lawn mowers: a free fic for Friday.

The grass was covered in frost, slivers of white delicately outlining each blade. He could hear the crunch of steps on the gravel drive and the murmur of voices from the bar. It was early, but nobody would care to play until the sun broke through. Better to remain snug and dry indoors with a stiff drink as medicine against the cold. That created problems.

He’d asked Johnson to step into his office this morning. He’d intended to try a little innuendo, see how the fellow reacted. But if he showed interest, today wouldn’t be any good at all. The club would be full of members, all over the place, dammit. And what was he going to say to the man, after all? He could hardly pretend to give instructions about cutting the greens in this weather. The young groundsman would know quite well there was something up. Trouble was, he should never have taken him on. Should have realised at the interview that the man’s robust physique and black curls would just prey on his mind. Maybe not his mind. Prey on him, anyway.

Should have employed that older applicant with the stooped back and wall eye. Nothing for it, he’d have to leave a message postponing their intended chat. Say he’d had to go out unexpectedly. But then he’d have to go. Look bad if he was seen lurking in the bar with a drink rather than in his office where he’d said he’d be. He sighed and picked up his car keys. Perhaps no message after all. Just leave, and pretend he’d forgotten, later. Such a lot of fuss and deception.

Why did it have to be so difficult? Why couldn’t he just wink at the fellow and buy him a drink, put a hand on his shoulder, or even his thigh? He’d do that like a shot if he was a woman. If Johnson was a woman, rather. And he knew all about modern manners – no harassing the women staff, no harassing the staff altogether. But then how did a chap get to know if there was a possibility of anything? And he was old school, dammit, and wanted to make it all clear from the start. Straight. Well, not straight. Even the language was against him. Johnson crossed the car park in front of the windows and was heading towards the door that led to the offices. The manager fled, precipitately, muttering as he did, and passed the groundsman with his face averted.

*****

Johnson watched Harris get into his car and roar off into the cold morning. Funny, he could have sworn he’d been due to see him in the office. Odd guy. Good-looking. As in really really good looking. But cold rather than hot. Not old, but so old-fashioned and stiff. And never even a word for him as they passed in the doorway. Oh well, there was nothing that could usefully be done outside today. Whatever the manager wanted could wait till he came back and deigned to tell him about it.

Meanwhile, he’d been told he could use the bar as if he was a member. He’d have a look. You never knew, there might be some talent. Unlikely, but worth checking out. Most of the members were middle-aged and dull; probably straight as ramrods, too – like the manager. But it might be fun to drop a hint here and there, raise some of those middle -class eyebrows. Probably more than his job was worth though. So just a drink. Then he’d get on with stripping down, oiling and sharpening the mower. Dammit, he could have done with some entertainment today. He stripped off his heavy work gloves and headed further into the clubhouse.

*****

When Harris got back, he still felt out of sorts. He had driven around aimlessly, stopped at a pub with an odd name he couldn’t remember for a kind of ploughman’s lunch that wasn’t a patch on what they served at the club, and then decided he would have to return after all. There was a lot of office work to do. He sighed as he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Then he glanced out of the window and felt rewarded, excited even. Johnson was doing things to the mower. Esoteric things like taking it to pieces and putting it together again. Harris had no idea about mowers other than that they were expensive and were needed to cut grass. He did, however, have plenty of ideas about the groundsman.

Whatever he was doing, the task necessitated Johnson bending over the machine, his taut arse, splendid in its denim coating, directly visible to Harris, almost like an invitation. But it couldn’t be. Could it? The man must know the direction of the manager’s office window. But if he was concentrating on his work… Of course, he bloody well ought to be concentrating on his work. That’s why he was employed in the first place.

Except that if that was all that had been required, the older man might have been a better choice. Harris swallowed convulsively.

*****

That was the moment Johnson straightened and looked over his shoulder. He usually dealt with the machine just here, hoping against hope. But not really hoping, just daydreaming. Building castles in the air populated by older guys who were good looking. And he shouldn’t daydream. Not with the functionality of the club machinery at stake. He always wondered whether Harris ever saw him.

He’d obviously seen him today. Was staring at him, a kind of hunger on his face. Surely not? Surely the man was straight? He’d never heard any rumours to the contrary. Still, that meant very little. The man could be bi. Or he could be in denial, even to himself.

Johnson considered. There was every reason to ask to see the manager. The aborted meeting this morning – maybe there was something he should know before he went home. No need to allude to that strange moment when he’d caught Harris looking at him. No need at all. But if there was anything, well, perhaps this was the day to find out.

He finished dealing with the mower, then stood up, his back objecting to the straightening after so long bent over. His hands, cold even in the gloves, welcomed the idea of indoors.

*****

Harris didn’t have a secretary. Didn’t see the need. Karen on reception fielded visitors and members who wanted to see him, answered phone calls and did the odd spot of typing. Pretty girl, if you were that way inclined, which he wasn’t.
Staff mostly knew they could just knock on his door any time. He tried to be accessible. But when the knock came so closely after his glimpse of Johnson bending over the mower, he was almost panic stricken. He hastily adjusted himself and then sat down abruptly behind his desk. Wonderful what a lot a stretch of oak could hide.

‘Come in.’ Did his voice sound normal? He had no idea. And then he gulped as he realised who had just knocked and entered.

‘I just wondered, sir, whether there was anything important. Since you had to cancel our meeting this morning.’ Johnson’s voice was a sexy growl that had Harris half hard again in a second.

*****

Johnson wasn’t sure exactly what to say. The manager was looking nervous, or possibly annoyed. But his question, he thought, was perfectly legitimate. He enjoyed his job, and wanted to make sure there was nothing outstanding to be seen to urgently.
Harris was staring at him, his mouth opening and closing, but without any sound coming out. He was blushing slightly, too, as if caught in some secret activity. As if staring out of the window had been in some way reprehensible. Johnson could soon disabuse him of that notion. But he couldn’t risk open flirtation. He valued the job too much.

The silence continued.

‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ He used his most sultry voice, and hoped against hope that if he was wrong, Harris would just take the words at their straightforward value.

*****

Harris looked helplessly out of the window, hoping for some kind of rescue. The light was fading. It was still early January and the evenings started early. He could barely see the mower now. There was a dull glow across the course, where the street lights were coming on.

Johnson’s query couldn’t be real, could it? Could he, dull-as-dishwater Phil Harris, golf club manager, be arousing interest in this glorious twenty-something who stood in his office?

He cleared his throat.‘I’m sorry about this morning,’ he said. ‘Something came up.’
Well, that was a bit of innuendo he hadn’t intended. But the groundsman didn’t seem concerned. There was a small smile on his face. A knowing look in his eye.

*****

‘I was just servicing the mower,’ Johnson said now. ‘I wondered if anything else needed servicing.’ Then he muttered under his breath, ‘or anyone.’ It was so mumbled that if necessary he could say he’d said, ‘or something,’ and it would be hard for anyone to contradict him.

He waited. He didn’t dare say anything else. It would be so easy if they could only say exactly what they thought without any repercussions. But to begin with, although there could be no overt homophobia in his employment, a golf club was not the most progressive of workplaces, and to add to that, although Harris wasn’t his employer, he was his manager, so things could get awkward quickly.

Harris was moving towards him. That blush was deepening.

‘I was watching you with the mower,’ Harris said.

‘I know.’ Let him make the first move, for goodness’ sake. And yet, maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he was too constrained by his managerial role.

*****

‘I was thinking,’ Harris said, hoping his voice wasn’t betraying his nerves, ‘that I might have a drink in the bar. Would you like to join me?’ There. That couldn’t be too threatening, could it? It wasn’t his custom to drink with staff, but he could, if necessary, justify it as some relaxation while they discussed aspects of Johnson’s work.

‘I’d like that,’ came the reply.

*****

They were staring at each other, neither of them quite daring to speak. Dan Johnson, the young groundsman, and Phil Harris the manager. Who’d have thought it? Mark Leigh, the barman, smiled to himself. He’d have thought it, had thought it the moment Dan had reported for work that first day. They were made for each other in so many ways. Looks – both had them in spades. Shyness, too and old-fashioned manners. Neither of them had ever shown the slightest interest in women, members, members’ wives, members’ daughters, kitchen staff, or Karen on reception. And if a guy wasn’t interested in Karen, then he wasn’t interested in women.

He served them a pint of beer each, and handed out coasters. He’d already cleaned the tables and was enjoying the lull between the daytime crowd and the evening lot. So Mark could watch this pair from his position behind the bar without them realising they were being scrutinised. It would, he thought, be as entertaining as any of the soaps on the telly.

*****

Harris loosened his tie. It was a few years since the club had abandoned its insistence on ties as the appropriate and mandatory wear in the bar. But Harris still felt somehow obliged to wear one. He knew it appealed to the older members, and he didn’t care whether it appealed to the women or not. Somehow, at the moment, the thing felt more like a noose.

‘Nice tie,’ he heard Johnson say. He’d chosen one of his favourites today, thinking of the appointment he’d made (and then broken) in the morning. It was dark grey with a tiny pattern of penguins wielding golf clubs and its fun element contradicted its formality, making him laugh inside.

‘Thank you,’ was all he managed.

Johnson was very slowly moving his hands, circling each wrist in turn. ‘Of course, ties are such useful things,’ he said. ‘Not just decorative.’

Useful? Harris tried to think of a use for a tie. Well, he supposed he could make a makeshift tourniquet if someone had a small wound. Anything else? No, he was stumped. He looked enquiringly at his companion.

‘For tying things up,’ the groundsman said. ‘They can be used to keep a wandering branch in place, or provide a quick mend on a machine. Though I’d never use one as good as yours, of course.’

*****

There didn’t really seem to be anything for either of them to say. Both men sipped their beer in silence.

‘I just wanted…’ Harris began, and Johnson waited for some kind of guillotine to fall. He had no idea whether the manager had wanted to praise or scold him or merely give instructions. It seemed he was about to find out.

‘…to tell you how pleased we are with your work,’ said Harris. The royal we? Hardly. The marital we? But Harris wasn’t married. The managerial we, then. But Johnson would take it, anyway.

He smiled, tentatively. And Harris smiled back.

He thought he’d said some kind of thank you. Then they made some desultory small talk about the grounds, the machines, the weather. If cross examined, Johnson would not have been able to remember what they had talked about. He was drowning in that smile. It lit up the manager’s face and brightened the dull grey evening.

Harris fidgeted with his tie again, and Johnson couldn’t help fidgeting with his fingers as he imagined tying it round the other man’s wrists.

Another smile. Why was it all so difficult? There was supposed to be equality nowadays. And he didn’t imagine teenagers had any problem making suggestions, proffering invitations, and so on. But adult men in the workplace were at a distinct disadvantage. Of course, so were women, and for that matter the men who wanted those same women, but acknowledging that didn’t make his own situation any easier.

‘Your day off’s a Monday, isn’t it?’ Harris knew perfectly well that it was. He made out the rotas for staff time off, and had probably checked in any case.

‘Yes?’ Johnson turned it into a query. Did Harris want to change something, or ask him to work overtime?

‘I wondered.’ Harris stopped.

Time to bite the bullet and offer some encouragement. ‘What did you wonder?’ Johnson spoke softly.

‘Whether you might like to go out for a meal some time. I checked which restaurants around here were open on a Monday.’ Harris was blushing again and looking extremely nervous.

‘I’d love to.’ That had to be clear enough.

‘Next Monday, then?’

‘It’s a date. That is, I’m assuming it’s a date. Is it a date?’ Johnson thought he might be blushing too.

‘Definitely a date.’ The tone was suddenly all efficient manager, confidence returning now that the invitation had been accepted.

‘And you’ll wear that tie?’

‘If you like it so much.’

‘It gives me ideas.’

‘About penguins? Or golf clubs?’

‘About the uses of strips of silk.’ There. That was definite, too.

‘By the way, my name’s Phil. Not at work, of course, but when we go out.’

‘And mine’s Dan.’ Stupid thing to say. Harris, Phil, was his manager; of course he knew his full name.

‘Till Monday then, Dan,’ said Phil.

They looked straight at each other, promise in both sets of eyes. Then Phil retreated to his office, pleading work to be done, things to sign, people to phone. And Dan got up with a thought about working but knew it was so dark and so cold that all he could reasonably be expected to do would be to put the mower away.

‘Leaving?’ The barman grinned.

‘Just need to tidy up.’ Dan knew his voice was gruffer than usual and that he had a stupid smile plastered all over his face.

‘Doing anything special tonight? You look as if you’re looking forward to something.’

‘Not tonight, but it’s Friday already. And I do have a date, but for Monday.’

‘Ah. Well, enjoy your evening anyway. See you tomorrow.’

‘See you.’ Saturdays and Sundays were their busiest days. Too busy to hope for any more unscheduled meetings with the manager. Monday, however…

He put the mower away in the outbuildings in a kind of dream, glanced at the manager’s window and saw Phil putting on his coat, presumably getting ready to go home. Though he’d probably be back later to oversee a Friday night in the club. Monday had to be his day off, too. Very few people played golf on Mondays and Karen could cope with them.

But the tiny penguins with their golf clubs would, he hoped, get the perfect round on Monday. Meanwhile, he could just enjoy the anticipation. He was soon astride his motorbike, bombing down the road to his future.

*****

Phil went home and fed his cat, Mogg, then went back to socialise and supervise in the bar. He had changed his tie for a light blue one with dark blue diagonal stripes. The penguins were now too precious to risk in the booze laden atmosphere of Friday night at the club.

He was smiling broadly. Let people wonder. It was almost Monday.