we are a little different this year:
some contributions are exclusive stories, others are excerpts
from the authors' novels,
but all have our traditional format of...
Read the Story - Guess the Song
Here's a clue to the song title
My suit isn’t military. My father watches on, dripping with gold braid and clanking with medals, unable to hide the disappointment. There are many ways to serve your country, and fighting for it in person is the oldest and most traditional. Mine is covert—necessarily so—and so I can’t show off at my own wedding in an outfit that dazzles more brightly than anything my bride will wear. She’ll wear something proper, something elegant and very, very expensive. My suit is hand-made by an accomplished tailor on Savile Row, one my age who is also a friend. I paid for it, despite Simon’s insistence that I didn’t need to.
The image in the mirror is perfect. It doesn’t show the fool beneath the woollen coat, the silk waistcoat, the blue tie with the antique ruby pin and the right amount of fold above it. It doesn’t show my shattered heart.
Oh, you say, you HAVE a heart? A good question, because I’m not supposed to have. How can I do what I do, in my work and in my life, and have a heart that functions like yours? Well, if it suits you, I don’t anymore. Happy? I have money, position—I’m going to be king— and I am miserable.
‘I didn’t love you; how could I have done?’
One sentence to destroy a life. And I thought what we heard at GCHQ was damaging. Oh, no. Not like this. Not like her.
She ripped out my heart, stamped on it, broke it into tiny pieces, losing some on the way to sweeping it back up and dumping it in my empty chest.
‘I never felt that way,’ she said, gospel truth. She even looked me in the eye when she said it.
We’d met in the same place we parted forever, a stupid place—the roof of Rochester castle keep. I was a long way from throwing myself from the top this time, if only because the effort to climb up when I had been flattened was too much.
‘I thought I meant something to you. All those times you said—’
I heard words all day, translated them, interpreted them, made sense of them. But not these.
I’d loved her; no, I STILL love her. She was normal, down to earth, didn’t own a single thing that hadn’t come from Chatham High Street, the only finery those things I had bought her—jewellery, clothes, the little Steif teddy bear. She was devoid of any paranoia, any idiotic fancies that are the lot of those with too much money—only able to prove they exist in their selfish world by making more and more ludicrous demands on those around them. She was bright, pretty, open and honest. And I love her.
We’d laid on the grass on the Esplanade when she’d coaxed me down the steep steps of the keep and she’d listened to me whine on about how awful life was, how I was forced to hear of atrocities at work and have no influence to be able to stop them. GCHQ serves a valiant purpose, but it can be heartbreaking. I told her how trapped I was, surrounded by those who always expected great things—their hope and pride, as the song says. The pressures of being poor little me.
And she had taken me back to her council house on a council estate called Warren Wood—some attempt to make it sound less like a concrete and brick wasteland—and introduced me to her parents as plain ‘Ed’, and she fed me tea and a dry scone from a supermarket. Her mum asked me what I did and I said I was a civil servant. Solid enough to be secure; dull enough to avoid further enquiries.
She hadn’t given me away, had kept what she knew to herself and treated me as she treated everyone—with kindness and fun.
A trip to Margate to enjoy all that Dreamland had to offer had sent Sidney, my protection officer, into a spin as wild as the rides. I had dressed as casually as I could, a borrowed pair of trainers from her father on my feet, and we’d attracted no more attention than any other young couple. Even Sidney had enjoyed himself and had joined us as a friend rather than a servant. She’d bought him candy floss and teased him gently, drawing him in with her innate warmth.
The beach next, stoney and noisy beneath our feet. We’d skimmed stones across the rippling surface of the sea, admiring Sidney’s technique while ours fell short, stealing our first kiss while he went for Mr Whippy ice-cream cones, his plaits let loose. She’d tasted sweeter, and I was hooked. I hadn’t even known people like her existed.
We both knew it couldn’t last despite our hopes, however much we ignored it, and we both knew it would be my fault.
‘They’re announcing it on Wednesday.’
I felt sick just saying it. I couldn’t imagine her pain at hearing it. She knew it was coming, but the confirmation…
I had tried. I had waited until my parents were in a good mood and I told them there was someone.
I had been met with silence and exchanged looks of guilt.
‘We both knew,’ she said then stumbled to a halt. Her chin lifted and she looked me in the eye. ‘At least I never loved you. I’m spared that.’
I hadn’t wanted her tears, but the utter lack of them was unexpected.
‘But I thought—’
‘I didn’t love you; how could I have done?’
I held on to the parapet next to me to stop me from sinking to the dusty stones beneath my feet. It hadn’t been real. None of it. Smoke and mirrors; nothing more. And I had been a fool.
If I were not who I am, would she have wanted me? Would she have spent these wonderful months with me? Or was it her plan all along to make the most of me? Was my status my only attraction? Was I that much of a fool to hope otherwise? I think I was.
She left before me, striding away and vanishing into the gloom of the stairwell. I stayed on the roof until I saw her walking along the pathway far below and again vanishing from sight down to the gate that would take her to the Esplanade. When she was completely gone, I made my slow way down the same stone steps to where Sidney waited.
A knock on the door heralds the arrival of said Sidney into the room. His shirt looks impossibly white against the smooth ebony of his skin. Even he looks magnificent for the occasion. It would soon be time to leave for the cathedral.
‘Her Majesty wishes to see you, Your Majesty.’ Sidney is always so precise and my father nods and leaves.
I give Sidney a wan smile. ‘No complications,’ I say. ‘No heart to break. No emotional investment. It’s easier.’ I swallow. ‘No one hurt but me.’
‘I have something for you, sir,’ he says more warmly. He holds out a small box. It’s cardboard, covered in a silvery foil. Cheap.
I take it with a shaking hand and lift the lid. Inside is a small stone, ground smooth by the action of the sea over centuries. It’s brownish surface is shiny, polished. I tip it out of the box into my palm. My initial is etched on one side, hers on the other.
‘She did care; she just didn’t want you to know.’
‘You tell me now?’
‘She didn’t want you to go into today thinking you weren’t loved.’
My eyes prick and for a moment I am overwhelmed. She loves me and I am not going to meet her at an altar because tradition and duty deem otherwise. I haven’t fought for her. I want to break something.
I roll the stone in my hand instead, my fingers probing the initials, the slight sharpness here and there. She is wiser than me. She has understood where I only saw the dream.
And then, with Sidney imploring me silently, I drop the stone in my pocket. Duty is what I am built for, and today I am doing my duty. I have compensations—castles, and helicopters in place of proper feelings; more fame than a Love Island contestant can handle. I’ll be the richest man in the world once my father’s dead.
And I will do all I can to ensure she is cared for, as quietly as I can manage. Will she accept what’s left that I can offer her? I hope so. I’m the fool, not her.
I’ll only ever see her in my dreams. She’ll see me on the news.
Song: Wicked Game
by: Chris Isaak
images via: Pixabay unless otherwise stated
Note: it is illegal to copy lyrics but there is no © for ideas!
our stories or excerpts to enjoy
1st Deborah Swift - an excerpt from Pleasing Mr Pepys
2nd Graham Brack - The Clock Struck One
3rd Cindy Vallar - Rumble the Dragon
4th Barbara Gaskell Denvil - The Great Forest
5th Nicky Galliers - Two Stories
6th Annie Whitehead - excerpt from To Be A Queen
7th Judith Arnopp - an excerpt from The Winchester Goose
8th Paul Marriner - First Love
9th Loretta Livingstone - Labour of Love
10th Marian L. Thorpe - excerpt from Empire’s Heir
11th J G Harlond - excerpt from A Turning Wind
12th Amy Maroney - excerpt from Island of Gold
13th Richard Tearle - excerpt from the North Finchley Writer's Group
14th Inge H Borg - Excerpt from After the Cataclysm
15th Juhi Ray - the movie Jodha Akbar
16th Clare Flynn - Excerpt from The Green Ribbons
17th Anna Belfrage - A Light So Bright
18th Elizabeth St John - excerpt from Written in Their Stars
19th Nicky Galliers - Duty
20th Erica Lainé - La Belle Russe
21st Anna Belfrage - Excerpt from A Rip In The Veil
22nd Kathryn Gauci - Excerpt from The Poseidon Network
23rd Cryssa Bazos - Excerpt from Rebel's Knot
24th Debbie Young - The Secret Ministry Of Frost
* * *
you might also enjoy books by Helen Hollick
or direct to an Amazon near you
The Jan Christopher Cosy Mysteries
set in the 1970s
~~ ~ ~ ~
The SEA WITCH VOYAGES
nautical adventures set during the Golden Age of Piracy
|If you liked Pirates Of The Caribbean?|
then you'll love the Sea Witch Voyages!
A prequel novella - how Jesamiah Acorne became a pirate
new edition with new additional scenes
and now in paperback and e-book