Chapter 7: His Best Friends’ Girls by Keith Kendrick

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, dear readers. Tune in on a regular basis and you can read my (as yet, unpublished) novel, His Best Friends’ Girls, for free. I’ll be putting up a chapter in pdf format every week.

Download Chapter 7 as a PDF

‘Flight 141 to Barcelona now boarding from Gate 51,’ the announcer announced.
‘That’s us,’ said Rich. ‘Drink up, boys.’
Jack and Sean raised themselves off their bar stools and necked the remaining quarter pints of fizzy liquid from their glasses and reached down for their travel bags.
It was only 9 in the morning, but the airport bar was full, brimming with men like them. Off the leash of responsibility, be it work or relationship, for a day and night of drinking and ogling, lairiness and lechery, dressed up in the not-very-cunning disguise of male bonding.
Jack was trying to get in the party spirit, but the upbeat mood was eluding him. Something about Sarah was gnawing at him. He felt she’d been distant, aloof, since he quit his job. Oh, she’d said she’d forgiven him after listening to his reasons and he thought he’d convinced her that just because he wanted a change of career didn’t mean he was lacking ambition.
‘Just think of the brilliant review I’ll be able to give your new restaurant on the opening night,’ he’d said, cajoling her  into a half-smile.
‘If it ever happens,’ she’d said.
‘It will. You know it will, because you will make it happen. You’re the most driven person I’ve ever met.’
‘But I thought we were going to give it a go together,’ she’d said.
‘You don’t need me, not in that way,’ Jack had replied. ‘Not in the kitchen. You need me out here, working contacts, generating PR for you. That’s what will make us a great team, and you a massive success.’
She seemed to grow weary of his lightheartedness but he’d managed to pacify her again, just like he always managed to do when Sarah’s hot temper reach volcanic temperatures. That’s what made them so good together: she was fiery and passionate; he was laid back and level-headed. What he didn’t quite get was that it was often his jokiness that caused Sarah to erupt.
He sent her a text from the queue at the boarding gate: ‘Just boarding. Text you on the other side.’
A reply came back in an instant. He smiled, feeling smug as he looked at his phone. She did care!
But his heart sank when he saw it was Helen!
‘Have a gr8 time. Remember our secret!’
Then another message, from Chloe! ‘Counting on you x’
Now what Jack should have done was tell his friends that their wives-to-be were texting him behind their backs. What he should have done was reply to Helen and Chloe that if they didn’t trust their husbands-to-be, then they shouldn’t be marrying them in the first place. At the very least, he should have pressed ‘delete’ instead of ‘reply’, and then write to them both (without the other knowing): ‘It’ll all be fine. Keep you posted.’ For once, he was in no mood for flirtation.
He reasoned that he felt loyal to all four of them and believed that being the hub for their spokes he would be able to keep the wheels of their relationships turning. By keeping them all in the dark, in their compartments, he would be able to control the outcome, and make it a happy one for all concerned. That’s what he reasoned, anyway!
The flight was smooth and uneventful, aside from the cock-waving, tit-flashing, antics of the other stag and hen parties on board. The friends stepped off the plane, instantly feeling overdressed as the heat from the Barcelona Airport tarmac hit them like a hot, wet blanket in stark contrast to the icy air conditioning they’d had on the plane.
Jack sent a round-robin text to Helen, Chloe and Sarah.
‘Landed,’ he wrote.
He still hadn’t heard anything from Sarah.
They breezed through Customs and found a taxi. After a 20-minute journey they pulled up outside their hotel, in a side street, just off the bustling La Ramblas. Its modern smoked glass front looked very corporate, but the friends didn’t expect any more for 80 Euros a night. It was called SleepEze because it was easy on the wallet. But, ‘we won’t be getting much sleep!’ Rich joked.
Inside, the hotel had more appeal. The lobby was bright and open with polished marble floors surrounded by soft leather settees and glass coffee tables, on which were placed copies of the morning newspaper.
A desk clerk with huge brown eyes and a smile as wide as the lobby beckoned them forward.
‘Inglese?’ she asked.
Jack felt disappointed. He had hoped they looked anything but!
‘Si!’ Rich said.
None of them spoke any Spanish and the clerk sensed it, so she moved seamlessly into perfect English.
‘Welcome to Barcelona,’ she said.
She was utterly stunning, Jack thought. Olive skinned, long, thick, jet-black hair, and a smile that made you feel like you were the only person in the room. She looked at each in turn, as if seeing the mischief inside them, and Jack swore that all three of them blushed.
Rich tried to take command, but this was Jack’s gig. He elbowed his taller, meatier friend out of the way and assumed control.  Smile and eyes on full beam.
‘Hi…’ He looked at her name badge on the lapel of her deep maroon uniform. ‘…Manuela. I’m a friend of Zoe Annunziata’s. She’s booked us in.’
He leant his chin on his hand and looked up at Manuela, batting his lashes in mock flirtation. If Sarah’s going to be all arsey, I might as well have a good time, he thought.
‘Ah, Zoe! Yes, yes. She has made all the arrangements. Please say ‘hello’ to her when you see her.’
She looked at a computer screen and with long brown fingers tapped in a few letters and numbers, then looked back up at Jack.
‘You’re sharing?’ she asked.
‘Yes. One big happy family room. We’re very close,’ Jack smiled.
‘And we won’t be there much, anyway,’ Rich chipped in.
Sean leaned across the desk. ‘Do you have internet access?’ he asked.
Manuela fixed her gaze on Sean. ‘Yes. Down the corridor, on the left. There’s free internet there.’
‘Back in a mo,’ Sean said, and left.
Jack and Rich looked at each other, knowingly. Jack turned back to Manuela.
‘I think we’ll need three keys,’ he said.
‘Yes, definitely,’ Rich added.
‘I’ll need your passports,’ Manuela said.
Jack and Rich handed over theirs.
‘And can you fill these in?’ She pushed three checking in forms towards them.
Sean came back, looked at his friends. ‘All good,’ he said.
‘Good,’ Jack said.
‘Good,’ Rich added.
‘Bueno,’ said Manuela, filing the forms and passports.
‘Yes, very bueno,’ Jack smiled and winked.
She laughed. She thought he was cute, he could tell.
Jack, Rich and Sean entered the cramped lift, with mirrors on every wall and, inexplicably, an ashtray by the door, and pressed the button for the fourth floor. The lift juddered into action, then slowly ground its way through the shaft of the building for what seemed like hours. The friends looked at each other in mock terror. ‘If we’re going to die, we might as well die together,’ Rich laughed.
Finally, the door clunked open and they spewed out onto a narrow lobby with sticky brown carpets lit by strip lights running down the middle of the ceiling. An arrow pointed them to room 409 to the left.
Rich opened the door with his swipe card, then kneed it open and swung his Samonsite case through and dropped it onto the polished conker-coloured wooden floor with a loud thwack.
‘Blimey!’ he said, his mouth open like a gormless Spaniel.
The huge room looked like a porn film set. Three double beds
faced into the room, covered with black satin bedspreads. Each headboard had a theme. Rich launched his case onto the bed with the tiger skin board; Sean claimed the leopard; Jack was happy with the zebra.
He texted Zoe: ‘Amazing room! Thanks.’
She replied immediately: ‘Thought you might like it J’
The friends took it in turns to shower, with Rich at the head of the queue, as always, followed by Sean, then Jack. They were dressed and ready to go within 15 minutes. They wore knee-length shorts, Ted Baker short-sleeved shirts with hiking sandals. Very English, but smart-casual. Jack draped a small backpack over his shoulder, containing a bottle of water and a walking map.
He texted Sarah – ‘All OK over there?’ – then put his mobile phone in the pocket of his shorts.
His phone beeped. Sarah – at last.
‘All fine,’ she wrote. ‘Enjoy yourselves.’
There was no sign-off kiss, but at least she’d been in touch.
‘Miss you x,’ he wrote back.
But she didn’t write back.
Busy in the kitchen, Jack thought.
Jack and Rich went down to the hotel bar, with Sean following on after a visit to the internet room.
He walked into the bar with a glum look on his face.
‘Murray’s out,’ he said.
‘Out of what?’ Jack asked.
‘The Open. Cost me a ton.’
‘You need to knock that on the head. Mug’s game,’ Rich offered, pointlessly.
‘Leave it out, Rich. I’m in no mood for lectures.’
‘Seriously, though, Sean,’ Jack added. ‘It changes your mood. When you’re up, you’re as happy as Larry, whoever Larry is.  But when you’ve lost, you’re a right miserable git. Look at you now.’
‘Yeah, look at you now,’ Rich chipped in.
‘Just give me a beer, will you. It’s on a ton.’
‘A hundred quid, just like that. Lost. And you just shrug it off?’ Jack said.
‘A hundred? Ha,’ said Rich. ‘That’s the bloody tip of the iceberg. You must be thousands down by now, eh, Sean?’
‘And the rest,’ he confessed.
‘No wonder Chloe’s always kicking off at you,’ said Rich.
They headed outside, and a few yards down the street turned into La Ramblas. It was like entering a circus. Street traders rubbed shoulders with fortune tellers; cages of live, colourful squawking birds sat alongside vibrant flowers stalls; human statues competed with jugglers and pavement artists for tourists’ attention. And wending their way through the crowds, barely noticed, were pickpockets and scam merchants. But the most eye-popping sights of all were the women: nut-brown, big-breasted; round-bottomed; long-limbed. They sat down at the first table they came to outside a pavement café, ordered beers and watched the world go by.
‘This is the life, eh?’ Rich said.
‘Indeed. Cheers,’ said Sean, raising his glass of lager. ‘I wonder what the girls are up to?’
‘Are they having their hen nights tonight?’ Jack asked.
‘Yes. Spa and a facial. Usual girlie stuff,’ Rich replied.  ‘Isn’t Sarah going?’
‘I don’t think she was invited. She’s not really part of their crowd.’
‘She’s best out of it,’ Rich said. ‘All they seem to do is gossip and whine.’
‘Yes. Mainly about you,’ Jack said.
Affronted, Rich said: ‘Helen does all right by me, matey, don’t you worry. Who do you think it was paid for big house, that blinding Beamer, those holidays to the Seychelles?’
‘Yes, Rich, we know you’re rich!’ Jack said.
‘Too bloody right we do,’ Sean added, sounding envious.
Sean had always felt in competition with his closest friend. He’d spent six years training as an architect, but the only job he managed to find was working in a town planning department out in Hertfordshire, for which he was paid a relative pittance, compared to Rich’s bonus-enhanced salary.
Rich, on the other hand, had left college with a bogus degree in business studies and immediately landed on his feet through his City broker father’s connections. He started on the ground floor at Europound Finance, but made £100,000 in his first year, and it just grew and grew from there.  By the time Sean got his job in the architects’ department, Rich was homing in on his first million.
‘Haven’t you got a bet to place?’ Rich snapped, ever the Alpha male.
As Rich and Sean bickered, Jack toyed with his mobile phone. He was going to text Sarah, but decided to leave things as they were. No point showing her his neediness with constant communication. If she wanted to know how he was getting on, she’d ask. Instead, he sent a joint message to Helen and Chloe, making sure the other didn’t see the other recipient.
‘Hi. How are you? Just to let you know your betrothed is snogging a Spanish flamenco dancer as we speak! Jack x’
He tuned out of Rich and Sean’s mutual character assassinations and stared at his mobile, willing a reply.

Chloe’s came first. ‘Seriously?’

She wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box, Jack thought.
He wrote back: ‘Of course not seriously. He’s behaving himself, aside from have a tattoo across his face with your name on it.’

Hopefully she’ll get that joke, he thought.

Helen replied next. ‘Nothing would surprise me!’

Jack replied: ‘Now he’s having sex with a parrot tamer.’

Chloe came back: ‘What abt gambling?’

Jack replied: ‘No. All clear. Nothing to worry about. Have a nice time tonight x’

Then Helen: ‘That sounds like Rich. Thanks for the update xx’

Jack replied: ‘Everything’s fine. Don’t worry. Have a great time tonight. I love you. I’ve always loved you xx’

Helen: ‘And I love you too, mickey-taker x’

He looked at his friends as he typed. They didn’t have a clue, did they?  There he was having intimate chats with their wives-to-be and they were oblivious. It gave him a strange feeling of power.  Don’t abuse it, he thought.

They finished their drinks and set off in the direction of the Sagrada Familia.
‘Yes, Rich, it’s a church,’ Jack said, answering Rich’s protests.  ‘I know you’re not a big fan of culture, but you’ll like this church. It is massive, over-the-top and grotesque. You’ll feel right at home.’
His phone beeped. He hoped it was Sarah and it was.
‘Nothing to worry about,’ she wrote. ‘but when you get home, we need to talk.’
Nothing to worry about? Now he was very worried.

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Chapter 6: His Best Friends’ Girls by Keith Kendrick

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, dear readers. Tune in on a regular basis and you can read my (as yet, unpublished) novel, His Best Friends’ Girls, for free. I’ll be putting up a chapter in pdf format every week.

Download Chapter 6 as a PDF

It had been a long day at Chalkie’s. Longer than usual. A delivery of fish had failed to show up in the morning and Jack had had to leave work, get a bus and collect enough cod, monkfish, sea bass and tiger prawns for that evening’s menu.  The round-trip took a stressful, difficult hour of waiting for a bus, jostling to get on the bus, queuing at the fishmonger’s, queuing to get the bus back, then having a row with the driver who wasn’t going to let him on with his haul until Jack fished a cod from the bag and bribed the driver to let him on, then spent the journey describing how he should clean it and cook it (‘bake, fry or poach it and serve with a parsley sauce and lemon wedges’).
When he got back, his boss, head chef Ian, told him that two of the staff had come down with some virus or other and wouldn’t be in.
‘I need you on veg,’ Ian had told him.
‘As well as fish?’
‘Aye. All hands to the pump.’
Ian was a hard taskmaster, in the ranting, foaming maniac mould of other chefs Jack had seen in action (mainly on the TV). Jack had learned a lot from him, but the constant barking, shouting, temper tantrums, pot-throwing and ‘oh-fer-fuck-sakes’ just seemed so unnecessary.  And it was doing Jack’s head in, taking him to breaking point.
He’d mentioned it to Sarah many times, but she was unsympathetic, shut down the argument with a ‘this is the business we’re in’ reply, adding what she thought was a pep talk: ‘This is what we’ve got to put up with if we’re going to be successful.’
Jack loved food, and cooking, more than anything in the world. And in a strange Stockholm Syndrome-kind of way, he loved Ian, too. But not the hours. The hours! The hours were a killer. He had known what to expect before he even went to catering college, because he would do work experience at his mum’s café during his school holidays. He’d walk to work with her, chatting about menus and techniques on the way. A bit of mother-son bonding time, which was a rare thing because of so much competition from his three sisters. But for all his skill at spatchcocking a guinea fowl, or shredding a cabbage, or pin-boning a salmon, or de-glazing a pan, and for all the dedication and determination he showed getting up at 5 each morning and finishing his shift at 11, he just didn’t have the stamina. Chalkie’s was a brilliant employer – unlike his last place, which seemed to be run by a man who had learned his trade as a gangmaster – and allowed him Sundays and Mondays off, and any other time he needed, come to that, but Jack increasingly found himself using his spare time to sleep. Just to sleep and recover. So he needed a way out, which was where dipping his toe in the waters of freelance writing came in.
Each night, when his shift ended, he summoned up the stamina to start writing. First it was adding some colourful descriptions to the menus of local takeaways to make the dishes sound more exotic or professional. (‘What do you mean by “pan-fried”,’ one leaflet designer had asked him. ‘Isn’t everything fried in a pan? And what does “seared” mean? Isn’t that fried, too? Any why do you cook things “off”? Don’t you just “cook” them?). Then he pitched a couple of unsolicited restaurant reviews to his local paper and, to his amazement, they asked him to write one. He didn’t get paid, but the paper happily met his expenses.  It meant that on the rare occasions he and Sarah got to go out together, they could go somewhere special.
He built up a scrapbook of his reviews, which gave him enough under his belt to show to features editors on the plethora of cookery magazines and websites that existed, which led to more work, either writing recipes from scratch or pontificating about food trends. This got his foot in the door to bashing out the occasional – and quite lucrative – press release for the dozens of specialist food PR agencies, who were always hungry for contributors who could both cook and write.
Tonight, he had a deadline for a lovely posh girl called Henrietta from Fourchette PR agency to write a press release about the different types of mustards – English, French, Dijon, Wholegrain, German, American – but after 10 hours of chopping onions, skinning tomatoes, crushing garlic, de-veining prawns, gutting fish, French-trimming lamb cutlets and jointing chickens – Jack just couldn’t be bothered.
Still in his chef’s whites, he closed his eyes. Sean’s doe-eyed, handsome face appeared like a movie on the back of his eyelids. He was sitting at a computer, clicking and sweating; then he was at a roulette table, eyes bulging, tugging at his tightening collar; then at a fruit machine, banging the buttons, harder and harder each time, until the palms of his hands were bleeding. Two huge hands punched through the glass of the machine frontage, sending shards flying, then the hands grabbed Sean, one by the head, one by the waist, and ripped his head from his body, then turned the body upside down and shook it, until a waterfall of coins came tumbling out, covered in blood, gushing over the carpet.
Jack woke with a start. ‘Sean,’ he said aloud. He rubbed his eyes, looked at the clock. It wasn’t midnight yet. He’d still be awake. He stretched his legs out to make it easier to get his mobile phone from his pocket, then typed a message.
‘Hope everything’s OK?’
He scrolled down the address book, came to Chloe’s name first, and for some reason, decided to text her instead.
A couple of moment later, a message came.
‘Wr fine Seans fine thnx Jack x’
The wedding’s back on then, Jack thought. Nice of Sean to tell me.
Part of him had hoped it would be called off. Organising the stag do, organising the catering, trying to write that bloody mustard press release…it was all getting on top of him, especially after a day like today.
He closed his eyes again – Just five minutes, he thought. And this time, his mind went blank.
His phone rang in what seemed about a second later. Jack could hardly open his eyes, he was so tired, so he blindly fumbled for his mobile.  He pressed a random button, which happened to answer it. ‘Yeah, what…yeah, go on. What…what time..Jesus…who is this?’
‘Jack? It’s Ian. Where are you?’
‘What…what…Ian…what? Christ. What do you want at this time, Ian?’
‘This time? Mate, it’s fucking 10 o’clock. I’m already two staff down. I can’t have you out of action, too.’
Jack rubbed his face with the palm of his hand. The bedroom light was still on and he felt like he was being interrogated.
‘I need you in NOW!’ Ian shouted.
Something inside Jack had been waiting for this moment for a long time, and now the time had arrived, Jack didn’t know what to do. Should he tell Ian to stuff his job? Or go in and tell him to his face? Or just not go in? Or go in and carry on as if nothing had happened, apologise for being late, and get on with it?
No, this was the moment.
‘I can’t do it, Ian. I can’t do it any more. I’m really, really sorry.’
‘What do you mean, you can’t do it? Can’t do what?’
‘The job. I’m knackered, spent, buggered, fucked, wiped out.’
‘No, Jack, not today. Not to-fucking-day, please. It’s fucking Friday.’
‘I know,’ Jack said. ‘I’m really sorry, Ian, but yesterday fucked me up. I would be no use to you. I’m no use to anyone at the moment.’
He pressed the red button to end the call before Ian had a chance to reply, then fell back onto his bed and pulled the white duvet over his head. He felt his body sink into the memory foam mattress Sarah had bought him to help him sleep (despite his protests that his sleep deprivation was caused by anxiety rather than posture problems).
Half an hour later, his phone rang. He checked the I.D. Not Ian. Good. But he didn’t recognise the number so let it go to voicemail.
A few moments later, he accessed it to hear the plummy tones of Henrietta.
‘Hi Jack. It’s Hettie from Fourchette. Awfully sorry to bother you, but would it be possible to send over the mustards release? The client is waiting to approve it.’
He had no choice now. He’d put his eggs in this basket and he’d better make sure they didn’t get broken. He walked into the living room, unshaven, unshowered, still in last night’s clothes, and slumped onto the office chair in front of the desk on which his computer sat in his sparsely furnished living room.
He opened a new page and started to type…
‘Heading: How to…CUT THE MUSTARD
Known as the ‘King of the Condiments’, mustard has its own celebration day in August. It comes from the seeds of the mustard plant which belongs to the same vegetable family as cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale, and is related to watercress….’
His flow was interrupted by the ping of his InBox.
From: Richard.Southwold@europoundfinance.co.uk
Subject: Stag progress
‘Christ, this bloody stag,’ Jack said under his breath, ‘Wish I’d never agreed to it.’
He clicked on the message.
‘How’s it hanging, big boy? Decided where we’re going yet? You know the brief: museums, art galleries, cathedrals, that kind of thing J J J’
Jack quickly typed back. ‘Hey Rich. On the case. Get back to you by end of the week.’
‘….there are 5 main types of mustard.
1. ENGLISH
These are made with both white and brown mustard seeds producing a condiment which is both pungent and hot.
2. FRENCH
These are made with brown mustard seeds and wine vinegar or grape juice which produces a sharp pungent mustard. Popular examples include Dijon and Bordeaux….’
His phone rang. Sarah. He pressed silent. ‘Sorry love. Mustard comes first,’ he said at his phone.  ‘Got to get this done.’
He rattled through strong German, sweet American, vinegary Wholegrain, then added a few lines on how to cook with the stuff (‘always late on in cooking as heat destroys much of the flavour’.)
‘That’s enough mustard – Ed!’ he said, triumphantly, before sending over to Henrietta.  Now I’d better get on with this bloody stag weekend.
He ripped off his chef’s whites like Superman getting changed in a phone box. But first I need a shower.
As he went into the bathroom, he peeled off his boxer shorts and caught a glimpse of himself in the full-length mirror. From the front, he didn’t look too bad. His shoulders were broad, his chest wide with good size pectorals. An apparently trim waist tapered down to slim hips and skinny legs. But turn to the side and it was a different picture: his shoulders were sloped and rounded, his chest concave and his belly was round and protruding.
‘What a catch’, he laughed. ‘What the hell does she see in me?’
He truly had no idea. Sarah was a beauty to his beast, but there was no question she not only loved him, but fancied him, too. It was his kind eyes, the way his mouth was lopsided even when not smiling, his quiet intensity when he wasn’t acting like a clown.
He stepped in the shower and lathered his hands and started to work on cleaning the sweat, grime and stale smells from his body. He thought about Sarah, her perfectly proportioned limbs, her taut bottom, her small, shapely breasts, closed his eyes, and groaned. He missed her, and developing a freelance writing career would give him more time to be with her. They could move in together and he could be there for her when she got home from work to cook for her, run her a bath, give her a massage. It would be great, this new life. He felt free.
Refreshed and alert, Jack went back to his computer with renewed energy.
‘Right-a!’ he said, stretching his arms before him. ‘Let’s get this stag weekend sorted.’
His phone beeped in the pocket of his discarded clothes. There was a message waiting, but he didn’t hear it.
He started a new message:

To: Helen_Myserscough@mediaessence.co.uk
Subject: Embarrassing
‘Hi gorgeous. I’ve been thinking: leave Rich and move in with me? No? Why not? Flat not big enough? Oh come on, you know you want to J. Ah well. I gave you your chance. Your loss. An-y-wayyyyyyy…I’ve got a favour to ask. I want to put something together for Rich’s stag weekend. Have you got any embarrassing pictures of him from when he was a baby, or when he was a kid?’
He pressed send.

To: csmith@modelbookers.co.uk
Subject: Embarrassing
‘Hi Chloe, hope’s all’s well with you. Don’t forget what I told you the other day: if you want to give my mobile number to any of those models you work with, feel free. Sarah will understand. I’m a man – I have needs J. An-y-wayyyyyyyy…I’ve got a favour to ask. I want to put something together for Rich’s stag weekend. Have you got any embarrassing pictures of him from when he was a baby, or when he was a kid?’

‘Right, ball’s rolling,’ Jack said. ‘Now: travel plans…’
He’d been to Barcelona before, with an ex-girlfriend, Zoe, who he’d met at catering college. They’d had a wonderfully romantic experience, wandering up and down the Ramblas, tasting tapas, exploring Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral.
Their relationship hadn’t lasted long – they were young and wanted different things. She was lovely in a Bohemian way, but Jack found her a bit earnest, and she found his constant mickey-taking a bit wearing.  But they’d stayed in touch, sporadically, keeping tabs on her career, working her way up the ladder of the hotels and leisure industry.
But she was always on the move and he’d lost her email address so he needed to track her down.
Facebook! he thought.
He’d never used the networking site before, so he set up an account using his catering college nickname ‘Jack Spratt’ and keyed ‘Zoe Annunziata, into the search field.
Good job she’s not called Smith, Jack thought, when her picture and profile popped up, with a list of her friends, some who he recognised from college days. He had no urge to find out what happened to them or what they were up to. If he’d wanted to keep in touch, he’d have kept in touch. He didn’t need Facebook, or MySpace, or Friends Reunited, or Twitter or whatever other cyberspace phenomena was the current plat du jour to do that.

‘Hi Zee,’ he wrote. ‘Missing me? Missing you? Can’t live without you. I’m standing on a bridge, about to jump – which is no mean feat typing this at the same time, believe me. Please get in touch. Save me. I neeeeeeeeeeeed you. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrggghhhhhhhh! Too late Jaaaaaaaaaaccccccccck  xxxx’

His phone beeped again. This time he heard it, but couldn’t locate its position. At the same time, an email arrived. Helen.

‘HI Jack,  I’ll leave him one day, but I have to get married so I can get the divorce settlement first. Then we can be together XXXX I’ve attached some Rich pics. Some great ones here. Don’t embarrass him too much, will you J.’

She had attached three jpegs of Rich as a little boy, dressed in a Spiderman costume, dressed as a cowboy, and best of all, sitting on a potty.

He typed back: ‘Pure gold. Thanks x’

She replied: ‘Don’t let him know where they came from. He’ll kill me.’

Jack: ‘Don’t worry. Our secret.’

Helen: ‘Yes. Our secret xx’

Now where’s that phone? Jack stood up and scanned the room. He could hear the beeps, spaced a couple of minutes apart. But then his InBox pinged again and he returned to it like a ball-bearing to a magnet.  It was a message from Facebook, saying he had a message from Zoe, and he was able to read that message from Zoe without having to go back onto Facebook, which seemed about as long-winded to Jack as walking across the road and climbing to the top of a tall building to say ‘Hi’ to the person you were already standing next to.

‘Hey Jack!!!’ Zoe wrote.  ‘Great to hear from you. Been too long. How are you? Married yet? I’m engaged, to Ben, though no date set yet. I’m sure you’d like him – he’s a chef (VERY hot tempered but VERY passionate J).’

Jack wrote back: ‘Long time, no speak. Hope you’re well. I’m still cheffing. Actually, no I’m not, because I resigned this morning, so I’m writing. Freelance.  I’ve got a favour to ask. I’m going to Barcelona with a couple of friends and I can’t remember where we stayed. It was pretty good – and cheap – I seem to remember. Any ideas?
Cheers
Jack’

Almost in real time, Zoe replied: ‘Yes, I can definitely help. I remember the hotel but I can do better than that. I’m Eurozone manager for SleepEze Hotels. We’ve got places in all the major cities. The one in Barcelona is just off the Ramblas. Perfect for you and your friends. I’ll book it and get you a ‘mates’ rate’ if you like? Lemme know.’

Jack clicked back onto Facebook and typed. ‘Brilliant news. Thanks Zoe. You’re a star. And congratulations – be careful with that chef, though, won’t. All that passion and all those knives don’t mix!’

Zoe: ‘Oh, I hide the knives, don’t you worry. He’s a VERY jealous guy, especially of my exes. Don’t go down any dark alleys from now on J’

Jack: ‘Are you serious?’ He was actually worried. ‘How do you know he’s not reading this?’

Zoe: ‘Don’t worry! We’re having a one-to-one. No-one can read what we’re saying.’

Jack: ‘Thank God for that. I could do without a mad chef with a machete turning up at my flat. I’ve got enough on my plate.’

Zoe: ‘He’s not THAT bad!’

Jack sent her the dates and his friends’ details, then logged off. He decided Facebook wasn’t for him. Too public, too many people knowing your business, too high a risk of the worlds from his different compartments colliding.  Too big a chance of harmless flirting being misconstrued as evidence of infidelity.

He narrowed down the location of the beeping phone to somewhere on the floor, amongst the pile of work clothes he’d chucked off on his way to the shower. He searched through the pockets and found it in his grease-and-fish-guts-stained trousers.
‘2 missed calls,’ he read.
He keyed the ‘last number called’ function and saw that he had 1 Voicemail and a call from Sarah.
Sarah! He’d got so wrapped up in tiredness and organising that he’d barely had time to think about her.
He pressed 192 and waited for the Voicemail message to go through its robotic steps while he idly sat at his computer, blankly staring at the screen. Chloe’s name flashed up.
‘Hi Jack. Sorry, I don’t have any pictures of Sean. Threw them all out after our last row but one L’
Sarah’s voice came into his ears as he prepared to type his reply to Chloe.
‘I am really furious with you, Jack. It’s all over town. You quitting and telling Ian where to get off. I can’t believe you’ve been so stupid. I thought we had plans…’
And then he typed: ‘It’ll all be fine. Don’t worry. Shit happens. People have rows. No-one dies and everyone gets over it. You and Sean were made for each other.’
Just like me and Sarah, no matter how angry she is right now.

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Chapter 5: His Best Friends’ Girls by Keith Kendrick

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, dear readers. Tune in on a regular basis and you can read my (as yet, unpublished) novel, His Best Friends’ Girls, for free. I’ll be putting up a chapter a week in pdf format every week.

Download Chapter 5 as a PDF

Chapter 5

Still in his bedtime T-shirt and pyjama bottoms, Jack sat down at the desk in his living room, powered up his laptop and opened a new page in Word. The long hours in the restaurant kitchen were killing him so he’d been trying to branch out into freelance food writing and a small producers’ magazine had commissioned him to write an article about the different types of strawberries in time for the forthcoming summer season. He started by writing down different types: Elasanta, the most common, then Ava, Florence, Alice, Rhapsody, and wild frais des bois from France.
‘France?’ he asked himself.  ‘What about France?’
It had great food, culture, museums, art galleries…Then he laughed. ‘So quite possibly the worse place in Europe for Rich and Sean’s stag weekend,’ he muttered.  ‘Anyway, strawberries…’
He couldn’t focus. There was nothing intrinsically boring about strawberries – in fact, they could be a very exciting fruit, dipped in chocolate in the company of the right female! – but he just couldn’t get excited about them.
Bored, he typed Yahoo into the address field on his Safari home page and logged into his email account.  He browsed through his address book. Who did he want to email? No-one really. Then he saw Helen’s name, under the ‘M’s. He hadn’t congratulated her yet.
He brought up a new message page and typed Helen_Myserscough@mediaessence.co.uk into the header, then ‘Congrats’ in the Subject bar.
‘Hi Helen, just wanted to say congratulations for you know what! It should have been me. Sob! Jack x’
He pressed Send and went back to his page on strawberries.
‘Even though you can get strawberries all-year round because of imports from warmer countries, these tend to be less tender and have a blander flavour than UK seasonal berries because they are grown to withstand the rigours of transport,’ he typed.
His InBox alert beeped. A welcome distraction. It was Helen.
‘Told me what? OMIG he’s not gay is he? J’
Jack wrote back: ‘You mean you didn’t know? Why do you think he hangs around with men like me? He’s VERY in touch with his feminine side too, y’know!!!’
Helen: ‘Are we talking about the same Rich???? The farting, snorting, ball-scratching man who is about to become my husband?????’
Jack: ‘Haaaaaaaaaaa…he HAS told you!!!! And you said YES???? You are about to becomes Mrs Helen Fart-Snort-Ball-Scratch and you’ll have lots of little Fart-Snort-Ball-Scratchers running around the house J’
Helen: ‘Unless they’re girls.’
Jack: ‘In which case, they’ll be lovely! Ahhh, aren’t I sweet. Anyway, congrats. Can’t wait for the wedding. Hope I do you both proud. Jack x’
Helen: ‘I’m sure you will. Just keep him out of trouble on the stag. You know he can’t handle his drink. And I don’t want to catch anything nasty on my wedding night J’
Did she know about Rich and his wandering loins? Jack wondered. He was there the night they met in the equivalent of a cattle market. How long ago now? he thought. Three years? He’d spotted her first, statuesque, striking, and went over, flashed his smile, batted his lashes, bought her a drink. She found him charming – that was the intention – but then Rich bounded over, elbowed Jack aside, and Jack gave in to his pushier friend. He’d often thought that if he’d tried harder that night, then things might be very different now. He asked her later what she saw in Rich: she said he was a bit of a chancer and she felt flattered. It was one of the few times Jack’s charm had been trumped by his friend’s bumptiousness, and he often regretted it. Helen was gorgeous, and he looked back on the night she and Rich had met and felt he’d lost out. Did she know what her husband-to-be was like now? He wrote back: ‘Don’t you worry about that. I’ll text you with updates.’
Helen: ‘Keep him on his toes and out of trouble.’
Jack: ‘Yep. Spk soon x’
He pressed send and went back to his strawberries.
‘To enjoy strawberries at their absolute best, hold out for the British season from May to early September.  Better still, pick or grow your own, either in the garden or in a pot on the windowsill.
His InBox pinged again.
Helen again. ‘Have you decided where you’re going yet?’
Jack: ‘Not yet. Somewhere with pubs, I imagine.’
Helen: ‘Seriously, though, Jack. Look after him, won’t you?’
Jack: ‘Rich doesn’t need looking after.’
Helen: ‘Then look after me, then. My interests. I trust you.’
Jack: ‘V. cryptic. Don’t worry. It’ll be alright on the night. Now haven’t you got table plans to sort out!! Spk soon. Take care. Jack x’
Right, he cracked his knuckles, back to these lovely juicy strawberries.
He was about to start typing when the name Chloe pinged into his mind.
Better email Chloe, too, he thought.
He typed csmith@modelbookers.co.uk, ‘congrats’, then cut and pasted the first message he’d sent to Helen, but started it ‘Hi Chloe’.
Back to the fruit…
‘When buying, look for plump, shiny, tender berries. Avoid mushy or mouldy berries.  Large strawberries tend to have a higher water content, so have less – go for small to medium-sized ones.’
His InBox beeped.  Chloe, this time.
‘Thanks Jack. Save your congratulations for now. I’m sure Sean has told you.’
What?
Jack: ‘Not seen Sean for a week. What’s up?’
The strawberries would have to wait. This was far juicier.
Chloe: ‘He’s in the doghouse.’
Jack: ‘Again?’
Chloe: ‘Again. Same thing.’
Fucking idiot, Jack thought. ‘How much this time?’
Chloe: ‘I don’t know. Won’t tell me. Enough, though – and I’ve told him I’ve had enough.’
Jack: ‘I’ll talk to him.’
Chloe: ‘Won’t do any good.’
Jack: ‘It might.’
Chloe: ‘Hasn’t worked before.’
Jack: ‘I’ll give him a call.’
Chloe: ‘His phone’s off.’
Jack: ‘Well I’ll see him soon. Whenever. Look Chloe: he really loves you, you know. He never stops going on about it. Mad about you. He just got that one problem, that’s all.’
Chloe: ‘Just one problem, but a big problem.’
Jack: ‘I know. But you can’t call the wedding off over it.’
Chloe: ‘I don’t want to call the wedding off. He’s the one who walked out this time. Hasn’t even called me.’
Jack: I’ll get hold of him. Make the peace. I really care about you guys. You’re made for each other. Love will find a way and all that J’
Chloe: ‘You are sweet Jack. Sean doesn’t deserve you.’
Jack: ‘I know ;)’
Chloe: ‘If you do get hold of him, tell him he needs to get this sorted. It’s killing us.’
Jack: ‘I know. And I will. Take care Chloe x’
Chloe: ‘x’
Jack’s mobile phone was on his desk, by his laptop. He picked it up, scrolled down to Sean’s name and dialled. It went to voicemail.
‘Hi Sean, it’s Jack. Half eleven. Friday. Call me back. And if not, call Chloe. Or go home. She loves you, mate. Stop fucking it up.’
Jack went back to his article. ‘Strawberries get damaged quite easily…’
Like relationships, he thought.
He picked up his mobile, scrolled down to Sarah’s number, punched in a text. ‘Love you x’
‘…they soon become mushy,’ his article concluded.

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Chapter 4: His Best Friends’ Girls by Keith Kendrick

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, dear readers. Tune in on a regular basis and you can read my (as yet, unpublished) novel, His Best Friends’ Girls, for free. I’ll be putting up a chapter a week in pdf format every week.

Download Chapter 4 as a PDF

PART 2
SARAH: 6 MONTHS EARLIER

The White Horse was busy as usual this freezing February  Friday night. Jack had clocked off work early and was still in his chef’s whites, nursing a pint and studying the pub menu, looking for ideas he could steal for Chalkie’s. It was all the same old stuff – steak & kidney pie, chicken pie, shepherd’s pie, cottage pie. Pies, pies, pies! Thai food was the big thing in town – red curry, green curry, Pad Thai, weeping tiger beef – something with a bit of a kick. But the pub trade was very slow to catch on.
No imagination, he thought, ignoring the fact that everyone around him was tucking into one pie or another, and seemed quite happy with their lot.
He looked at his watch. 8 o’clock. Rich and Sean had many faults, but timekeeping wasn’t one of them. They were always first to the bar, competing to flash their cash and buy the first round.
The door at the far end of the pub burst open and Jack could see Rich and Sean at the entrance, swaying.
‘Wa-hey!’ Rich cheered, sauntering to the bar. Jack waved over, but they hadn’t seen him yet. They were both clearly hammered.
‘Champagne, my dear chap,’ Sean waved his hand in the air, with a flourish. ‘Three glasses.’
Now it made sense to Jack. He’s had a win, he thought. This’ll be a cheap night for me!
Rich staggered over to Jack’s table, by the unlit fireplace.
‘Good day at the gee-gees, boys?’ Jack asked.
Sean, a little unsteady on his feet, twisted the metal wire on the side of the champagne cork, tossed it aside, then with strong thumbs, eased the cork out of the bottle, with a gentle plop, without spilling a drop. He handed a glass to Rich, one to Jack, then flopped down onto the wooden bucket chair. Rich reached for his glass, and held it high.
‘A toast,’ he said.
Jack was taking this all in, amused and bemused.
‘A toast? What are we toasting?’ Jack asked. ‘Big win?’ ‘Pretty big.’
‘Pretty big?’ Rich interrupted. ‘Fucking massive, more like. Enough to pay for a boys’ weekend.’
‘A stag weekend!’ Sean added.
Jack was losing patience now. ‘Will you two stop talking in pissed up riddles and just tell me.’
Rich and Sean looked at each other, clasped each other’s hand’s in mocking affection, then said together: ‘We’re getting married!’
Jack raised his glass. ‘To Helen and Chloe?’
‘Yes, to Helen and Chloe. Who did you think?’ Sean said.
‘Well, then…cheers!’ Jack said. ‘That’s brilliant news.’
‘Yes. And I want you to be my best man,’ Sean said.
‘No – we want you to be our best man…’
‘…?’
‘…because we’ve decided we’re going to have a double wedding. It’ll be brilliant. And it’ll be cheaper, too. We can split the costs down the middle,’ said Rich.
‘And the stag weekend. That’s coming out of today’s winnings. The horses. Two and a half grand.
Blimey! They were being serious. A variety of emotions rushed through Jack, confusing him. He was delighted for his friends, of course he was, but he felt envious, too. Left out, because Rich and Sean were doing it together, typically, but envious that they clearly felt so certain about their futures with Helen and Chloe that they wanted to make the ultimate commitment.  He felt the same way about Sarah. Sadly, she didn’t feel the same way about him. Not yet. ‘It’s still early days,’ she said, when they went out to celebrate their first anniversary last week.
He didn’t want to throw a dampener on their joy, but…’Are you absolutely sure about this?’ he said. ‘I mean, you are really, very pissed. Have you told the girls? Are you sure they’ll be up for it?’
‘Oh don’t worry about them, you miserable bastard,’ Rich said. ‘They’ll go along with whatever. You know that. Putty in our hands.’
Which was true, though Jack could never fathom it.
‘So whaddya say?’ Rich asked.
‘Yeah. It’s a no brainer, isn’t it?’ Sean said.
‘Well, I’m flattered, honoured, privileged, but….’  He paused for dramatic effect. ‘….yes, of course I’ll do it. It’ll be amazing.’
‘It’s a lot of pressure, a lot of responsibility,’ Rich said.
‘Yes, especially organising the stag weekend,’ Sean laughed
‘I won’t let you down,’ Jack replied.
‘We want to do it quickly, too,’ Rich said.  ‘In a month. A lovely spring wedding.’
‘Yeah. Pressure’s on now, Jackie Boy,’ Sean added.
‘Like I said, I won’t let you down.’
The friends smiled and raised their glasses. ‘Cheers,’ they said in unison.
Another bottle of fizz later, the trio left the pub, bear-hugged for what seemed like forever, declared their undying drunken love for each other, then went their separate ways.
Must tell Sarah, Jack thought, reaching into his jeans pocket for his mobile.
He heard the ringing tone, then it went to voicemail. She’s working. I’ll go and see her.
Mussel Beach was only a few minutes walk from the pub, so Jack wandered along the tree-lined street of three-storey houses, most of which had been knocked into flats. He had a spring in his step. He couldn’t wait to tell Sarah. She’ll be chuffed!
Ever since he’d set eyes on her, across the table of the late-night café where local chefs hung out after their shifts, he thought she was the one.  She was an Aussie, all passion and fire and opinions. She was intense and driven, bossy and strong-willed. Quite the opposite to him, in fact. He watched her holding court with fellow chefs, hands and arms waving, eyes blazing, straight blonde hair fronds slashing at the air as she made her point about something or other to the three men sitting with her, who seemed to sit in silent awe. She was gorgeous. And he had to have her.
He’d gazed at her with such intensity from across the room she could almost sense his azure eyes pleading to be noticed, and when she had looked his way, she smiled. He had a nice face, a kind face, an unthreatening face, she’d told him later, so when he had asked her where she worked, and then if he could buy her a drink, and then if he could walk her home, and then if he could take her out on a date, she happily, almost passively, went along.
Jack had that way with him. He was easy company, effortless to be with. One minute you would barely notice him in the room; the next, he was part and parcel of the fabric of your existence. That’s how it had always been. At school, her never got into fights, never fell out with the teachers. He wasn’t particularly brilliant at anything, but he wasn’t especially bad, either. Boys liked him, girls liked him. And when he grew up, men loved him and women loved him. Because quite simply, there was nothing to dislike.  He would go with whatever flow was flowing to wherever it was headed, using his disarming charm, flahbulb smile and George Clooney eyes to ease his passage. For Jack, the journey was more important than the destination. Except where Sarah was concerned.
He’d never met anyone like Sarah. The various flings he’d had over the years were just that: flings. Women quickly fell in love with him – he was ‘a catch’, the ideal man to take home to their mothers – but he quickly tired of their doting. He wanted a woman with fire and feist to inspire him, keep him on his toes.
In Sarah, he thought he’d found his soulmate.
A mad crush quickly turned to soulful love for Jack, and he planned the various stages of their relationship on a map of love which he kept very securely under lock and key in his own head.
Stage 1: A month of dating: make love.
Stage 2: Three months: talk about a future together.
Stage 3: Six months: ask her to move in.
Stage 4: One year: propose.
Stage 5: Two years: get married.
Stage 6: Have kids.
Stage 7: Live happily ever after.  Just like his Mum and Dad.
Unfortunately, he was still stuck at Stage 3. He’d virtually begged Sarah to move into his one-bedroom flat, but she either changed the subject, or flatly refused.
‘It’s early days,’ she’d say. ‘We’ve got our whole lives ahead of us,’ she’d argue. ‘We barely know each other,’ she’d reason. ‘We need to establish our careers,’ she’d state. Until finally: ‘No, Jack, Just drop it. Please, You’re giving me a headache.’
But this news about Rich and Sean might chivvy things along a little. She didn’t really know the guys – she thought they were ‘dickheads’, if Jack was honest – but she knew how close he was to them, so she tolerated them and made an extra effort for them and their girlfriends if ever they showed up in the restaurant.
When Jack entered Mussel Beach, his eyes immediately locked on to Sarah, through the porthole of the kitchen door, her face flushed, her brow beaded with sweat. This was when he fancied her most, not all dolled up and ready for a night out, but like this – working, buzzing. She wanted to have a restaurant of her own one day, and he had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that she would do it.
He ordered a bottle of lager and sat on a stool at the bar.
‘Hi Jack. Waiting for Sarah? Want me to go and get her?’ Steve, the waiter asked.
‘No. Don’t bother her. I’ll just wait.’ And watch!
At 11pm, the kitchen door swung open and Sarah emerged, taking a red and white checked bandana off her head and wiping her forehead with her sleeve.
‘Busy night?’ Jack asked.
Sarah looked startled, then smiled, a huge beaming smile.
‘Wotcha, love! How long you been here?’
‘Half an hour, not long.’
He stood up and towered over her petite frame, put his arms around her, brought her close and kissed her on the lips. She responded in kind, put her arms around his neck, looked into his eyes.
‘I’m starving. Whaddya say he go and grab something to eat?’
‘Or I cook you something at mine? I’ve got some exciting news to tell you.’
‘Ooh, goody, I love surprises,’ she clapped her hands together, a sarcastic little girl gesture.
They left the restaurant hand-in-hand, chatting about the service and the various obnoxious customers that had been in that night, including one who complained about being allergic to seafood. ‘It’s a bloody seafood restaurant,’ Sarah laughed.
They caught a bus the six stops to Jack’s place, walked through the communal  car park and up the three flights of stairs, and into Jack’s flat.  An after-smell of cooking always lingered in the air. Last night he’d brought home some leftovers – lamb meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce – from Chalkie’s and had enough to put in the microwave and serve up with leftover rice and a couple of warmed-through naans. After a hard day slaving over hot hobs, chefs loved nothing more than a convenient ready-meal!
Sarah took off her coat, left it in heap in the hall and headed straight for the fridge. She retrieved a three-quarters’ full bottle of Chardonnay from the door and filled them each a glass as Jack waited for the microwave to ping.
‘So what’s the exciting news then,’ he stroked his back, reached up on tip-toe, lifted his thick hair overflowing onto his collar to kiss the back of his neck.
‘Mmm, that’s nice,’ he said. He turned to kiss her, tasting the wine on her lips and breathing in the scent of her day of toil.  ‘You smell gorgeous,’ he said, meaning it.
‘I smell disgusting. I should have a shower.’
‘No. Not yet. Let’s eat first. You’re hungry.’
Sarah reached up onto the top of the fridge-freezer to get a couple of lap trays while Jack piled the piping hot food onto plates.  Sarah tore a couple of paper towels from a roll to serve as napkins. Jack put knives, forks, a teaspoon and a jar of mango chutney on a tray. Unthinking, effortless teamwork.
They went through to the living room, with its re-upholstered sofa and faded volour armchair, sat opposite each other, smiled, air-kissed, tucked in.
‘So, this news?’
‘You know Rich and Sean?’
‘Yerrssss? You mean, like, your best friends? Yes, Jack, I know them,’ she said, sarcastically.
‘They’re getting married. And they’ve asked me to be their best man.’
‘…!’
‘It’s great news, don’t you think?’
‘Is that it? Is that the big surprise?’
Jack’s face fell.
‘Well, you don’t have to be so rude about it.’
‘I’m not being rude. Sorry. I was expecting something…’
‘Something what?’
‘Well, something more interesting.’
‘Like what?’
‘I don’t know. Something surprising.’
‘This is surprising,’ Jack said.
‘Not really. They’ve been with Helen and Chloe forever.’
‘Yes, but they’re getting married together on the same day. And they want me to be the best man.’
Sarah wiped the sauce from the plate with her naan and shovelled it into her mouth, then washed it down with a gulp of wine.
‘Look love, you’re very sweet, and I can see you’re excited, and yes, it is lovely news for you, and for them. But they’re your friends. I hardly know them. I’ve only met them three times, and I was always working at the time. I’ve hardly even said hello to their girlfriends,’ Sarah said.
‘Still….I thought you’d be pleased.’
‘I am pleased. I’m just not ecstatic.’
She put her tray down, left her seat and dropped to her knees on the carpet with a soft thud. She walked over to Jack on her knees, removed the tray from his lap, and squeezed her slight body in between his thick, trousered thighs. She caressed his leg with one hand, touched his face with the other.
‘You know what makes me ecstatic, don’t you?’ She leant forward, brushed his lips with hers.
‘I just thought it might make you think…’
‘Think…’
‘Think about us.’
‘And what about us?’ She was cupping his face with her hands, blowing softly on his face, tugging at his lower lip with hers.
‘You know, the stuff we’ve talked about before. The future. Marriage, babies and all that. We could make it a triple wedding.’
She pulled his head towards hers, kissed him passionately, pulled back.
‘The future can wait, babe. We’ve had this conversation before. Too many times. It’s getting boring. It’ll happen. When the time is right. When things are more sorted. Just not yet.’
She raised her left finger to his lips. ‘Now, sssh.’ And kissed him passionately on the lips.
I can wait, Jack thought. She’s worth waiting for.
Chapter 5 coming soon…

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Chapter 3: His Best Friends’ Girls by Keith Kendrick

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, dear readers. Tune in on a regular basis and you can read my (as yet, unpublished) novel, His Best Friends’ Girls, for free.

I’ll be putting up a chapter a week in pdf format over the next few days. If anyone says it’s rubbish well, then I’ll know not to waste my time writing more books. But if any agent or publisher out there sees a spark of genius, please do get in touch.

Download Chapter 3 as a PDF

PART 2: SIX MONTHS EARLIER

CHAPTER 3

The White Horse was busy as usual this freezing February Friday night. Jack had clocked off work early and was still in his chef’s whites, nursing a pint and studying the pub menu, looking for ideas he could steal for Chalkie’s. It was all the same old stuff – steak & kidney pie, chicken pie, shepherd’s pie, cottage pie. Pies, pies, pies! Thai food was the big thing in town – red curry, green curry, Pad Thai, weeping tiger beef – something with a bit of a kick. But the pub trade was very slow to catch on.
No imagination, he thought, ignoring the fact that everyone around him was tucking into one pie or another, and seemed quite happy with their lot.
He looked at his watch. 8 o’clock. Rich and Sean had many faults, but timekeeping wasn’t one of them. They were always first to the bar, competing to flash their cash and buy the first round.
The door at the far end of the pub burst open and Jack could see Rich and Sean at the entrance, swaying.
‘Wa-hey!’ Rich cheered, sauntering to the bar. Jack waved over, but they hadn’t seen him yet. They were both clearly hammered.
‘Champagne, my dear chap,’ Sean waved his hand in the air, with a flourish. ‘Three glasses.’
Now it made sense to Jack. He’s had a win, he thought. This’ll be a cheap night for me!
Rich staggered over to Jack’s table, by the unlit fireplace.
‘Good day at the gee-gees, boys?’ Jack asked.
Sean, a little unsteady on his feet, twisted the metal wire on the side of the champagne cork, tossed it aside, then with strong thumbs, eased the cork out of the bottle, with a gentle plop, without spilling a drop. He handed a glass to Rich, one to Jack, then flopped down onto the wooden bucket chair. Rich reached for his glass, and held it high.
‘A toast,’ he said.
Jack was taking this all in, amused and bemused.
‘A toast? What are we toasting?’ Jack asked. ‘Big win?’ ‘Pretty big.’
‘Pretty big?’ Rich interrupted. ‘Fucking massive, more like. Enough to pay for a boys’ weekend.’
‘A stag weekend!’ Sean added.
Jack was losing patience now. ‘Will you two stop talking in pissed up riddles and just tell me.’
Rich and Sean looked at each other, clasped each other’s hand’s in mocking affection, then said together: ‘We’re getting married!’
Jack raised his glass. ‘To Helen and Chloe?’
‘Yes, to Helen and Chloe. Who did you think?’ Sean said.
‘Well, then…cheers!’ Jack said. ‘That’s brilliant news.’
‘Yes. And I want you to be my best man,’ Sean said.
‘No – we want you to be our best man…’
‘…?’
‘…because we’ve decided we’re going to have a double wedding. It’ll be brilliant. And it’ll be cheaper, too. We can split the costs down the middle,’ said Rich.
‘And the stag weekend. That’s coming out of today’s winnings. The horses. Two and a half grand.
Blimey! They were being serious. A variety of emotions rushed through Jack, confusing him. He was delighted for his friends, of course he was, but he felt envious, too. Left out, because Rich and Sean were doing it together, typically, but envious that they clearly felt so certain about their futures with Helen and Chloe that they wanted to make the ultimate commitment.  He felt the same way about Sarah. Sadly, she didn’t feel the same way about him. Not yet. ‘It’s still early days,’ she said, when they went out to celebrate their first anniversary last week.
He didn’t want to throw a dampener on their joy, but…’Are you absolutely sure about this?’ he said. ‘I mean, you are really, very pissed. Have you told the girls? Are you sure they’ll be up for it?’
‘Oh don’t worry about them, you miserable bastard,’ Rich said. ‘They’ll go along with whatever. You know that. Putty in our hands.’
Which was true, though Jack could never fathom it.
‘So whaddya say?’ Rich asked.
‘Yeah. It’s a no brainer, isn’t it?’ Sean said.
‘Well, I’m flattered, honoured, privileged, but….’  He paused for dramatic effect. ‘….yes, of course I’ll do it. It’ll be amazing.’
‘It’s a lot of pressure, a lot of responsibility,’ Rich said.
‘Yes, especially organising the stag weekend,’ Sean laughed
‘I won’t let you down,’ Jack replied.
‘We want to do it quickly, too,’ Rich said.  ‘In a month. A lovely spring wedding.’
‘Yeah. Pressure’s on now, Jackie Boy,’ Sean added.
‘Like I said, I won’t let you down.’
The friends smiled and raised their glasses. ‘Cheers,’ they said in unison.
Another bottle of fizz later, the trio left the pub, bear-hugged for what seemed like forever, declared their undying drunken love for each other, then went their separate ways.
Must tell Sarah, Jack thought, reaching into his jeans pocket for his mobile.
He heard the ringing tone, then it went to voicemail. She’s working. I’ll go and see her.
Mussel Beach was only a few minutes walk from the pub, so Jack wandered along the tree-lined street of three-storey houses, most of which had been knocked into flats. He had a spring in his step. He couldn’t wait to tell Sarah. She’ll be chuffed!
Ever since he’d set eyes on her, across the table of the late-night café where local chefs hung out after their shifts, he thought she was the one.  She was an Aussie, all passion and fire and opinions. She was intense and driven, bossy and strong-willed. Quite the opposite to him, in fact. He watched her holding court with fellow chefs, hands and arms waving, eyes blazing, straight blonde hair fronds slashing at the air as she made her point about something or other to the three men sitting with her, who seemed to sit in silent awe. She was gorgeous. And he had to have her.
He’d gazed at her with such intensity from across the room she could almost sense his azure eyes pleading to be noticed, and when she had looked his way, she smiled. He had a nice face, a kind face, an unthreatening face, she’d told him later, so when he had asked her where she worked, and then if he could buy her a drink, and then if he could walk her home, and then if he could take her out on a date, she happily, almost passively, went along.
Jack had that way with him. He was easy company, effortless to be with. One minute you would barely notice him in the room; the next, he was part and parcel of the fabric of your existence. That’s how it had always been. At school, he never got into fights, never fell out with the teachers. He wasn’t particularly brilliant at anything, but he wasn’t especially bad, either. Boys liked him, girls liked him. And when he grew up, men loved him and women loved him. Because quite simply, there was nothing to dislike.  He would go with whatever flow was flowing to wherever it was headed, using his disarming charm, flashbulb smile and crinkly eyes to ease his passage. For Jack, the journey was more important than the destination. Except where Sarah was concerned.
He’d never met anyone like Sarah. The various flings he’d had over the years were just that: flings. Women quickly fell in love with him – he was ‘a catch’, the ideal man to take home to their mothers – but he quickly tired of their doting. He wanted a woman with fire and feist to inspire him, keep him on his toes.
In Sarah, he thought he’d found his soulmate.
A mad crush quickly turned to soulful love for Jack, and he planned the various stages of their relationship on a map of love which he kept very securely under lock and key in his own head.
Stage 1: A month of dating: make love.
Stage 2: Three months: talk about a future together.
Stage 3: Six months: ask her to move in.
Stage 4: One year: propose.
Stage 5: Two years: get married.
Stage 6: Have kids.
Stage 7: Live happily ever after.  Just like his Mum and Dad.
Unfortunately, he was still stuck at Stage 3. He’d virtually begged Sarah to move into his one-bedroom flat, but she either changed the subject, or flatly refused.
‘It’s early days,’ she’d say. ‘We’ve got our whole lives ahead of us,’ she’d argue. ‘We barely know each other,’ she’d reason. ‘We need to establish our careers,’ she’d state. Until finally: ‘No, Jack, Just drop it. Please, You’re giving me a headache.’
But this news about Rich and Sean might chivvy things along a little. She didn’t really know the guys – she thought they were ‘dickheads’, if Jack was honest – but she knew how close he was to them, so she tolerated them and made an extra effort for them and their girlfriends if ever they showed up in the restaurant.
When Jack entered Mussel Beach, his eyes immediately locked on to Sarah, through the porthole of the kitchen door, her face flushed, her brow beaded with sweat. This was when he fancied her most, not all dolled up and ready for a night out, but like this – working, buzzing. She wanted to have a restaurant of her own one day, and he had absolutely no doubt whatsoever that she would do it.
He ordered a bottle of lager and sat on a stool at the bar.
‘Hi Jack. Waiting for Sarah? Want me to go and get her?’ Steve, the waiter asked.
‘No. Don’t bother her. I’ll just wait.’ And watch!
At 11pm, the kitchen door swung open and Sarah emerged, taking a red and white checked bandana off her head and wiping her forehead with her sleeve.
‘Busy night?’ Jack asked.
Sarah looked startled, then smiled, a huge beaming smile.
‘Wotcha, love! How long you been here?’
‘Half an hour, not long.’
He stood up and towered over her petite frame, put his arms around her, brought her close and kissed her on the lips. She responded in kind, put her arms around his neck, looked into his eyes.
‘I’m starving. Whaddya say he go and grab something to eat?’
‘Or I cook you something at mine? I’ve got some exciting news to tell you.’
‘Ooh, goody, I love surprises,’ she clapped her hands together, a sarcastic little girl gesture.
They left the restaurant hand-in-hand, chatting about the service and the various obnoxious customers that had been in that night, including one who complained about being allergic to seafood. ‘It’s a bloody seafood restaurant,’ Sarah laughed.
They caught a bus the six stops to Jack’s place, walked through the communal  car park and up the three flights of stairs, and into Jack’s flat.  An after-smell of cooking always lingered in the air. Last night he’d brought home some leftovers – lamb meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce – from Chalkie’s and had enough to put in the microwave and serve up with leftover rice and a couple of warmed-through naans. After a hard day slaving over hot hobs, chefs loved nothing more than a convenient ready-meal!
Sarah took off her coat, left it in heap in the hall and headed straight for the fridge. She retrieved a three-quarters’ full bottle of Chardonnay from the door and filled them each a glass as Jack waited for the microwave to ping.
‘So what’s the exciting news then,’ he stroked his back, reached up on tip-toe, lifted his thick hair overflowing onto his collar to kiss the back of his neck.
‘Mmm, that’s nice,’ he said. He turned to kiss her, tasting the wine on her lips and breathing in the scent of her day of toil.  ‘You smell gorgeous,’ he said, meaning it.
‘I smell disgusting. I should have a shower.’
‘No. Not yet. Let’s eat first. You’re hungry.’
Sarah reached up onto the top of the fridge-freezer to get a couple of lap trays while Jack piled the piping hot food onto plates.  Sarah tore a couple of paper towels from a roll to serve as napkins. Jack put knives, forks, a teaspoon and a jar of mango chutney on a tray. Unthinking, effortless teamwork.
They went through to the living room, with its re-upholstered sofa and faded volour armchair, sat opposite each other, smiled, air-kissed, tucked in.
‘So, this news?’
‘You know Rich and Sean?’
‘Yerrssss? You mean, like, your best friends? Yes, Jack, I know them,’ she said, sarcastically.
‘They’re getting married. And they’ve asked me to be their best man.’
‘…!’
‘It’s great news, don’t you think?’
‘Is that it? Is that the big surprise?’
Jack’s face fell.
‘Well, you don’t have to be so rude about it.’
‘I’m not being rude. Sorry. I was expecting something…’
‘Something what?’
‘Well, something more interesting.’
‘Like what?’
‘I don’t know. Something surprising.’
‘This is surprising,’ Jack said.
‘Not really. They’ve been with Helen and Chloe forever.’
‘Yes, but they’re getting married together on the same day. And they want me to be the best man.’
Sarah wiped the sauce from the plate with her naan and shovelled it into her mouth, then washed it down with a gulp of wine.
‘Look love, you’re very sweet, and I can see you’re excited, and yes, it is lovely news for you, and for them. But they’re your friends. I hardly know them. I’ve only met them three times, and I was always working at the time. I’ve hardly even said hello to their girlfriends,’ Sarah said.
‘Still….I thought you’d be pleased.’
‘I am pleased. I’m just not ecstatic.’
She put her tray down, left her seat and dropped to her knees on the carpet with a soft thud. She walked over to Jack on her knees, removed the tray from his lap, and squeezed her slight body in between his thick, trousered thighs. She caressed his leg with one hand, touched his face with the other.
‘You know what makes me ecstatic, don’t you?’ She leant forward, brushed his lips with hers.
‘I just thought it might make you think…’
‘Think…’
‘Think about us.’
‘And what about us?’ She was cupping his face with her hands, blowing softly on his face, tugging at his lower lip with hers.
‘You know, the stuff we’ve talked about before. The future. Marriage, babies and all that. We could make it a triple wedding.’
She pulled his head towards hers, kissed him passionately, pulled back.
‘The future can wait, babe. We’ve had this conversation before. Too many times. It’s getting boring. It’ll happen. When the time is right. When things are more sorted. Just not yet.’
She raised her left finger to his lips. ‘Now, sssh.’ And kissed him passionately on the lips.
I can wait, Jack thought. She’s worth waiting for.

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Chapter 2: His Best Friends’ Girls by Keith Kendrick

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, dear readers. Tune in on a regular basis and you can read my (as yet, unpublished) novel, His Best Friends’ Girls, for free.

I’ll be putting up a chapter a week in pdf format over the next few days. If anyone says it’s rubbish well, then I’ll know not to waste my time writing more books. But if any agent or publisher out there sees a spark of genius, please do get in touch.

Download Chapter 2 as a PDF

CHAPTER 2

‘Bitter?’
‘Very,’ Jack smiled.
The barmaid smiled back. He made the same joke every time he was in there.
He waited for the groan, then said: ‘Yes please. A pint. And a bag of nuts. Salted.’
The bar staff at the White Horse knew Jack and his friends well. Jack graduated from lager-top when he turned 30 and started drinking bitter.  At the same time, Rich moved on to red wine – big beefy Australian 14% Cab Savs. Sean stuck to lager, with occasional forays into the new breed of strong ciders.
Jack took his pint, slurped a lipful of froth from the top, and looked round the dark wood-pannelled room for his friends, half – well, more than half – wishing they’d gone home.
The place was busy as usual. Same old faces. Like Jack and his friends, all regulars. After-work frequenters; one-before-I-go-home quaffers, and men like Jack, Rich and Sean, who’d been coming here ever since they started drinking. Doctors and nurses from the nearby hospital filled a bank of tables next to the huge picture windows; three middle-aged women shared a bottle of white wine; a postman, a binman and a PE teacher, all in uniform, propped up the bar.
Jack knew none of them by name, neither the regulars nor bar staff. He didn’t care to know. He was happy in his compartment and wanted them to stay in theirs. Nodding terms was enough.
‘My friends been in tonight?’ he asked Michaela, the chestnut-haired Romanian barmaid.
He smiled his big open smile. ‘Friendly’ was the way women had described him – he had a ‘friendly face’. Jack liked the description. It made him sound harmless, guileless, when he was anything but. He could smile himself into the affections of anyone. That’s how he’d charmed Helen and Chloe when he’d first met them three years ago, and that’s how he’d charmed Sarah. It was how he was charming the barmaid now. Even now, as he prepared to meet his Nemeses, he always found time to flirt.
‘In the smoking area,’ the barmaid replied, smiling back, then added: ‘You look happy tonight.’
‘I’m always happy when I see you,’ he replied.
It was cheese-o-rama, but Jack had a way of pulling it off. The barmaid flushed a little and pulled the pint. She handed it to Jack and Jack paid. He downed his pint in a couple of glugs, placed the glass back on the bar and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He smiled across the bar to the barmaid, who was immediately attentive.
‘Another, please. And a Jack Daniel’s,’ he said.
His trembling legs were trying to manoeuvre him out of the door, back home. He needed Dutch courage to propel him into the lions’ den.
He knocked back the JD and swigged a quarter of his pint. Stood up straight, steeled himself. His pint shook in his right hand, splashing his sweater. He grabbed his forearm to steady it.
Calm down, lad, they’re your friends, not gangsters.
He reached into his pocket to check his phone one last time. Still no sign of Chloe. He switched it off. The last thing he needed was an awkward text from Chloe – or Helen – while he was sitting chatting with, or having his head caved in, by their husbands.
The door to the outside smoking area was always stiff so Jack put his pint down on a table to free both hands to twist the brushed steel knob to open it. He could see his friends through the window, deep in conversation. Sean’s round boyish face looked puffy and red. He was holding a cigarette between two fingers, nodding at Rich, who was gesticulating, his hands curled in front of him, as if around someone’s neck, throttling them.
Jack freed the door and burst through. Rich and Sean, the only people in the smoking area, stopped and turned.
‘Jack!’ they exclaimed together.
Jack turned on his flashbulb smile and made a drinking gesture. ‘Top up?’ he inquired.
‘No. Just get yourself in here. Loads to catch up on,’ Rich replied.
Rich was the leader of the group, the dominant Alpha male. He decided what they did and when they did it: nights’ out, weekends away, what time to meet, what time to leave. It had always been the case and Jack and Sean were happy to go along with it. It saved them the mental energy of having to think for themselves.
Jack retrieved his pint from the inside table, took a large gulp, and went to join his friends, though how much longer they would be in the ‘friends’ category, he had no idea. They were sat at a square, 3ft by 3ft wooden-slatted table, perched on flimsy collapsible chairs. It was like stepping into a brothel, the orange-glow from the lighting making the concreted yard look radioactive. Jack blinked to adjust his vision, closed the door behind him and walked the two or three steps to Rich and Sean.
‘Cheers!’ he nodded, lifting his pint towards them.
‘Yeah, cheers,’ Rich said, taking a sip from his wine glass.
‘Cheers.’ But Sean didn’t look up, just took another drag from his fag and leant back on the feeble chair.
Jack thought it was going to collapse, prayed for it to happen. A touch of slapstick would have at least brought some levity to the heavy atmosphere.
Sean leant over to pull a neighbouring chair across to their table. He still didn’t say anything, just gestured to Jack to sit down.
Jack accepted, his upper thighs trembling as he sat. He felt like he was about to be interviewed by a Mafia don over an unpaid debt.
Let’s get this over with, he thought.
‘So, what’s happening? What’s all this about?’ he asked.
Pause. The air temperature seem to drop a degree or so. Rich had both hands wrapped around his wine glass, as if it was warming them; Sean leant forward to take his lager.
‘It’s Chloe,’ Rich said, looking over to Sean.
Sean swallowed hard, trying to stifle a sob. His eyes welled up. Jack’s heart was beating so hard he thought his friends must have been able to hear it. His mouth was as dry as sandpaper in a drought, so he took a gulp of beer, then another, then drained his glass.
‘Another?’ he said, half getting up.
‘She’s cheating,’ Sean said.
Jack looked blank. His face frozen and wide-eyed, like a rabbit in a floodlit stadium.
Rich saw this look, misinterpreted it.
‘I know. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Chloe,’ he said.
Every fibre, every molecule in Jack’s body was as tense as steel, ready and willing for what he thought was an inevitable beating, if not physically, then certainly verbally. But – hang on – it wasn’t happening. They’d have said something by now; they’d have pointed the finger at him.
‘C-chloe! Ch-cheating! A-are you sure?’ he asked.
‘Yep. Definitely.’
Sean wasn’t looking at Jack, but at Rich. There were no accusatory stares, but perhaps he was looking at Rich to give him a signal to jump Jack?
‘H-how d-do you know?’ Jack asked.
‘Text. He found a text,’ Rich interjected.
‘Text?’ Fuck. ‘What did it say?’
‘Tell him, Sean.’ Then Rich continued to explain. ‘Gist of it: seems to have been going on for a while.’
‘Really? Sean? Are you OK?’ Jack put a trembling hand on Sean’s shoulder. ‘But how do you know?’
He was desperate to find out more, needed details to come up with something, anything, to make sure he really was in the clear.
‘It was just the way it was written,’ Sean said. ‘Really familiar, like they knew each other really well.’
‘Yes, but what exactly?’
‘Thinking about you,’ Sean said.
‘Is that it? “Thinking about you”. I think about you guys, all the time, but that doesn’t mean we’re having an affair does it? It’s just a misunderstanding, Sean. It could be from anyone.’
Rich butted in, unhelpfully: ‘Didn’t you recognise the number?’
‘I don’t think so…I…’ Sean hesitated.
Shee-it! Jack jumped in. ‘Oh come off it, Rich. Who remembers mobile numbers these days? I don’t even know yours, or Sean’s.’ Or Helen’s. Or Chloe’s, come to think of it. ‘I can barely remember his own number, let alone anyone else’s.’
‘So why didn’t you phone it back? Or text it? I would!’ Rich said.
Jack spluttered. A mouthful of beer splattered over his sweater.
‘I..I…just didn’t think to,’ Sean said.
‘Too angry, I guess,’ Jack said, re-composed. ‘Anyway, how do you even know it’s from a man?’
Rich butted in: ‘Yeah, how do you know this AA is a man?’
‘Because I think I know who it is,’ Sean said.
Oh Jesus, here it comes. Ten, nine, eight….
‘…she’s mentioned him a few times…’
…seven, six, five….
‘…and I’ve heard her talking to him on the phone, late at night, while she thinks I’m asleep…’
…four, three, two…
‘…so I looked at her company website and found someone in their with the initials A.A. Aaron Andrews.’
…blast off aborted!
‘Aaron Andrews! Who’s that then?’
‘A photographer.’
‘A photographer?’ said Rich. ‘So you think she’s sleeping with one of the photographers used by Model Bookers?’
‘Maybe I’m wrong,’ said Sean. ‘Maybe it’s Andrea Arculus. She works there too.’
He turned to Jack. ‘Thanks mate.’
They were silent for a moment, then Sean spoke again.
‘Anyway, you know what, I wouldn’t blame her if she did have an affair?’
‘What!’ Rich burst in. ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’
‘She puts up with a lot from me, Chloe,’ Sean said. ‘But I think she’s at the end of her tether.’
‘Why’s that?’
‘My gambling. We’ve been rowing for ages about it. That’s why I hit the roof, probably over-reacted. Trying to pass the blame onto her. Guilt.  Anyway, I need to get back home and see her. Try to limit the damage, if it’s not too late.’
Sean drained his glass, set it down on the table and left by the gate at the back of the smoking area.
Rich and Jack looked at each other, lost for words. Jack could barely contain his glee at getting away with it.
‘What are you smiling about?’ Rich asked.
‘Just glad to have helped a friend in need,’ Jack replied. ‘I’m going to say goodnight. It’s been a long one.’
‘Yeah. Speak soon.’
They left together, then went in opposite directions to go home. Jack was swaying. The cold night air hit him with a blast and he suddenly felt very, very drunk.
He switched his phone back on. Two messages, both from Chloe.
He read the last one to be sent first.
‘Back home now. Speak soon x’
Then the first one to be sent.
‘N8mare. Got stuck in lift. Shd have taken stairs J Yr neighbr rescued me. Where r u?’
Jack could only think of one thing. ‘Delete AA from yr phone.’
He half-fell, half stumbled up the stairs to his flat. It was like climbing Everest. Without mountaineering gear. Without oxygen. Pissed! By the time he reached the fifth floor landing, he was about ready to puke. Perhaps getting stuck in the lift wouldn’t have been such a bad option, after all! At least he could have slept.
He clattered through the fire door that separated the stairwell with an almighty crash. The door of number 502 opened, very slowly, just a crack. An eye peered out, startled, afraid, but annoyed, too.
‘Sssssshhhh!,’ Jack said. ‘I’m sorry. Really sorry. Ssssssssshhh!’
Jack’s next-door neighbour emerged, pulling the cord of her navy blue silk dressing gown tightly around her. She had her arms folded across her chest, causing a swell of milky cleavage to bubble over.
‘Ah, it’s the lift man,’ she said, sarcastically.
Jack wasn’t listening. He was transfixed, drinking in the sight of his new neighbour, all tumbling brown locks and black, bottomless eyes.
Gorgeous! he thought.
He tried to assume his best flirt-face, but it just came out as a soppy grin. His neighbour didn’t seem to notice either way.
‘Did she get home OK?’ his neighbour said.
She was about 28-29. Tall, but not imposing; athletic but not sturdy. Her face was bare – not a scrap of make-up on it, which was hardly surprising, given it was well past bedtime.  Her skin was fresh and taut, with high, pink cheekbones.
‘Who?’ Jack asked.
‘Your girlfriend. Did she get home alright? She was stuck in the lift for more than an hour.’
‘Oh, yes, yes,’ he said, remembering Chloe. ‘She got home fine. She’s not my girlfriend, though.’
Keep all options open, he thought. He didn’t exactly want to sleep with every woman he met, but he certainly wanted them to want to sleep with him!
‘Whatever. Just as long as she’s OK.’
She was about go back inside, when Jack stood up straight, composed himself.
‘Yes, I was about to knock on your door and thank you,’ he lied. ‘I’m Jack.’
Flash! He switched on his smile and offered her his hand to shake.
‘Oh it was no trouble. Poor thing. She was shouting so loud, I thought a cat was being murdered. I’m Maggie.’
She shook Jack’s hand, assertively.
‘Are you sure? I’d definitely remember,’ he said.
‘Yes, I’m sure. You were on all fours looking for your keys, remember?’
‘Ah, yes,’ Jack blushed. ‘I remember now. Anyway, if it’s not too cheeky a question, you wouldn’t happen to have any coffee would you?’
‘Yes. And I’m one day old.’
‘…?’
‘I was born yesterday,’ Maggie laughed.
‘Oh, gotcha. As in, ‘you weren’t born yesterday? Sorry. I didn’t mean to…’
‘I’m pretty sure what you meant, but it’s OK. I’ve heard your, er, comings and goings, shall we say. You’re a popular chap!’
Jack blushed, felt like a little boy, scolded. He shuffled his feet, diverted his eyes from hers.
‘Erm, yes. Sorry about that,’ he said.
‘You don’t need to apologise. It’s none of my business. You obviously lead a complicated life.’
‘You have no idea.’
Maggie’s body language relaxed, softened. She’d drawn the line in the sand over which Jack was forbidden to cross. She felt safe now – secure that she’d rejected him without having to hurt his feelings.
‘Look,’ she smiled. ‘It’s late, and I’m up early for work tomorrow, but if you really fancy a coffee. Just don’t get the wrong idea.’
‘No worries,’ Jack said. And he meant it. He knew where he stood. Maggie had made that very transparent.
He followed her inside, watching her figure beneath her silky gown. It clung to her hips as she walked down the corridor and into the small, square kitchen at the back of the flat.  Maggie flicked the kettle on at the same time as pulling out a chair from the MDF breakfast table. Jack was now facing the wall, with Maggie behind him. He looked down at his clasped hands, closed his eyes and breathed deeply. He suddenly felt drunk again.
‘Hope instant’s OK.’
‘Yes. ‘Course. Fine.’
‘Milk?’
‘Sure.’
‘Sugar?’
‘One.’
‘You OK? You’ve gone quiet,’ Maggie inquired.
Jack jolted upright and shook his head to shake off the weariness.  Maggie put a brown mug in front of him.
‘You should be in bed, really,’ she said. ‘You look exhausted.’
‘It’s been an exhausting day,’ Jack whispered.
Maggie sat down on the chair at a right angle to him, addressing his profile.
‘I’m a good listener,’ she said, and took a sip from her cup. ‘You’ve got to be, doing what I do.’
‘What’s that then?’ Jack asked.
‘I work in a care home. Mainly old ladies with dementia. There’s not a lot you can do for them except sit and listen. They’re quite fascinating, really.’
‘A care home, really?’ Jack said, suddenly alert. ‘Which one? My mum’s in a care home.’
‘Oh really? Ours is Blakemore Hall, not far from here.’
Jack shook his head, disappointed that the coincidence didn’t go further. ‘Mum’s in a place called Ellesmere Lodge, north London. Or was. She’s in hospital at the moment. She had a fall.’
‘Really? What happened?’ Maggie asked.
‘Just one of those things, I think. Part and parcel of her condition.’
His mood seemed to collapse again, a combination of the late hour and an early hangover establishing itself. He tried to find his smile again, but his face folded with the effort.
Maggie said chirpily: ‘Drink your coffee. Come on, time to go. Time for bed.’
But Jack wasn’t ready. ‘No,’ he said, perking up. He fixed her with his ice-blue eyes, and blinked slowly, accentuating the length of his eyelashes. If his smile ever failed, and his charm wasn’t working, his eyelashes were his secret weapon. Women said they’d kill to have eyelashes like Jack’s!
‘I’ll have a top up, if you don’t mind.’
He held the half-empty mug towards Maggie, who took it and rolled her eyes, in a ‘men: what-are-you-like?’ kind of way.
She re-boiled the kettle and stood with her back to the sink, arms folded. Talking to the back of Jack’s head, she said: ‘So, what’s your story, then?’
It was small-talk and Jack knew it, but he wanted to tell her. So few people ever asked him about himself. Jack was a ‘great listener’; you could tell Jack ‘anything’. But nobody ever asked Jack about Jack.
He didn’t actually mind: in fact, preferred it that way. It meant he could live his double, triple, ultra-complicated life without having to worry about being caught out. If no-one ever asked him anything, he never had to lie. Right now, though, he wanted to talk. Talk to Maggie.
‘You really want to know?’ he asked.
‘If you keep it short!’ Maggie said, mocking.
‘Well, I left school, went to catering college, got a job as a chef in pub, then became head chef at Chalkie’s – do you know it?’
Maggie shook her head.
‘Well, anyway…that lasted a couple of years. I loved it. Hated the hours, but loved the buzz. Great people. Like being in the army, I imagine. All for one, one for all, and all that. Then I got involved with someone and the hours weren’t quite conducive to domestic bliss, so I left Chalkie’s and thought, ‘What can I do now?’ so I wrote a few press releases for a food PR company and they askd me to do more so now – voila! – I’m a freelance food writer.’
Maggie stared at him blankly. ‘I didn’t ask you for your CV. It’s a bit late to be conducting job interviews. And besides, I’m already a pretty good cook myself, so there isn’t a vacancy.’
Jack shrunk back into himself. He hadn’t been trying to impress her. He drained his cup and stood to go. Maggie put an arm on his shoulder and pushed him back onto the chair.
‘Your life story. Your real life story.  All these women. What’s all that about?’
Maggie really was interested in this. A bit of gossip, a smidgeon of scandal. Jack rocked on the back legs of the chair, using his hands to steady himself on the edge of the table,
‘Who was the girl in the lift?’ Maggie asked.
‘Chloe, she’s called.’
‘You guys close?’
‘Quite close.’
‘But not your ‘girlfriend’?’ Maggie asked, making quotation marks in the air.
‘No. Not my ‘girlfriend’.’ Jack made the same gesture back.
‘But she’s obviously fond of you. Very fond of you, judging by the way she was talking about you after the fire brigade had left.’
‘You had to call the fire brigade? Jesus. I’ll never live this down. What the hell was she doing in the lift in the first place? Did she say? I told her to wait on the bloody stairs.’
‘She had heels on. Big ones, too. Didn’t want to cripple herself,’ Maggie explained.  ‘Anyway, you’re getting off the subject. You’re close but she’s not your girlfriend! I’m intrigued.’
Jack looked Maggie up and down, weighing her up, deciding whether or not he could trust her. His blue eyes met her black pearls and he said: ‘She’s my best friend’s wife.’
Maggie almost dropped her cup. She laughed out loud, slapped her thigh.
‘My God, you said it was complicated. You weren’t kidding, were you?’
Jack was in full confessional mode. ‘That’s not the half of it. Well, actually that is precisely the half of it.’
He paused.
‘Go on, then, don’t stop there,’ Maggie said. ‘You’ve got me hooked now, Spit it out.’
He looked her up and down again, stroked his chin. He was enjoying the attention, and enjoying the confession. Most of all, he was enjoying unburdening himself.
‘Well, the other woman– look, I’m not proud of this: it just happened..’
‘Yes, yes..get on with it,’ Maggie cajoled.
‘..the other woman is called Helen…’
Maggie was on the tips of her toes. She looked like she was about to bounce into the air. She could sense there was more. ‘Aaaaandd…?’
‘She’s my other best friend’s wife!’
Maggie shrieked out loud. It was so loud she had to clamp her hand to her mouth. She then burst into fits of giggles.
‘This is priceless. Pure gold,’ she said.
Jack rocked back on his chair.
‘Yes, well! I didn’t expect you to find it quite so funny.’
‘Funny? It’s sodding hilarious. I’ve never heard anything like it. Oh, you must keep me updated on the episodes.’
‘Episodes?’
‘Yes. Of the soap opera. This is the most entertaining thing I’ve heard in years.’
‘Well, I’m glad you think so,’ Jack said. He was just about coming round to appreciating the funny side.
Maggie calmed down, and sat down next to Jack. ‘Let’s open a bottle of wine. I want details. Details, Jack!’
‘It’s a long story.’
‘I’ve got all night.’
Jack rocked back on the chair, but this time too far. Ker-assh! The legs went from under him and he fell backwards onto the hard kitchen floor with an almighty thump. A piercing, shrill cry came from somewhere else in the flat, and for a moment, Jack thought it might have been coming from his own mouth. But as Maggie knelt down to help him up, she said: ‘Josh!’
Jack got to his knees, then his feet, dusted himself down with the palms of his hands.
‘Who’s Josh?’
‘My son.’
‘Ma-maaaaaaaaaaa,’ came the cry from the next room. ‘Ma-maaaaaaaaa.’
‘I didn’t know you had a son,’ said Jack.
He looked like a cornered rat, eyes darting, looking for a way out. ‘Look I’ll leave you to your baby. I’ll let myself out,’ he said.
‘OK.’ Maggie became all serious. ‘It was nice talking to you, Jack.’ She shook his hand, held it for a moment longer than was necessary. ‘Look, it’s none of my business, but as a neighbour and new friend: sort yourself out. Someone is going to get seriously hurt. And it’s probably going to be you.’
‘Aye, I know,’ Jack replied.
He closed the door behind him, fumbled for his keys, and let himself back into his flat. He was dog-tired, so he undressed as he walked towards his bedroom, leaving his sweater, trousers, shirt, pants and socks in a trail behind him.  He half-climbed into bed, then remembered his phone and retrieved it from his trousers.
Need to set the alarm, he thought.
He switched it on, and was immediately met by the message: ‘2 new messages.’
Chloe: ‘Sean back. All calm. Yr a miracle worker. Spk sn x’
Helen: ‘Miss you. Night, babe x’
God, what a mess. What a fucking awful mess! How did I get into this fucking awful mess?
He rolled over, looked at the space in the bed next to him, and suddenly felt very, very lonely.
He cuddled his pillow, and whispered into the darkness as he drifted off to sleep: ‘Sarah. I miss you. Sarah.

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Read My New Novel

It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, dear readers. Tune in on a regular basis and you can read my (as yet, unpublished) novel, His Best Friends’ Girls, for free.

I’ll be putting up a chapter a week in pdf format over the next few days. If anyone says it’s rubbish well, then I’ll know not to waste my time writing more books. But if any agent or publisher out there sees a spark of genius, please do get in touch.

Ch1_download pdf

HIS BEST FRIENDS’ GIRLS
PART ONE
CHAPTER 1
Buzzz buzzz buzzz.
Jack’s phone vibrated on his bedside table. Without waking Helen,
he deftly pulled his arm from beneath her and caught the phone
before it vibrated off the edge.
‘I need to see you,’ the message read.
Chloe!
Jack pressed delete. Adjusted the setting to silent, and put the
phone back on the table. He turned back to Helen and cuddled
her beneath the duvet. Pulled her close to him, smelled her hair,
stroked her soft, downy skin.
‘Please don’t go,’ he whispered. ‘Stay. Just this once.’
Helen stretched her arms up and then around Jack’s neck,
brought his head close to hers, kissed him, warm and wet,
on the lips.
‘What did you say?’ she yawned. Suddenly, the darkness was lit
by the glow from Jack’s phone display. There was no sound, but
an urgency emanated from the green light.
‘What the f—!’ Jack pulled away from Helen, spinning from his
right elbow to his left to grab the phone.
Not now, Chloe, he thought. Just. Not. Now.
‘Someone wants you in a hurry!’ Helen said.
‘It’s Karen,’ Jack lied. Not unreasonably. He’d had a lot of
contact with his sister these past few days.
‘Then don’t you think you should answer it? It might be about
your mum.’
‘No, it’ll be fine,’ Jack said. ‘She’ll call on the landline if it’s
urgent.’
He felt bad. Chloe would only be ringing to talk, to moan about
Sean. He’d tried to keep her at arm’s length. Helen was all he
wanted now.
He reached around Helen’s waist and pulled her towards him.
The room lit up again. Glowing green.
Helen sat up straight in bed as Jack once again cut Chloe off.
‘Oh for God’s sake, just answer it,’ Helen said, annoyed. She
looked around the room. ‘Anyway, what time is it?’
Jack looked at the digital numbers on his phone.
‘Eight thirty.’
The phone glowed again. Jack ignored it.
Something’s wrong, Jack thought again.
‘Half past eight? I have to go,’ Helen said.
She dressed, as quickly as she’d undressed. A clingy V-neck
sweater. Tight jeans. Everything touching, squeezing and
enhancing in the right places.
‘You have to go, or want to go?’ he said. He felt weak asking,
but he needed her right now. More than her husband did.
‘Have to. You know I do.’
Helen stepped towards Jack, put her arms around his neck, ran
her fingers through his thick brown hair. ‘I’d do anything to stay.
You know I would. I just…can’t.’
She took her blazer from the coat hook, opened the front door
and put a finger to Jack’s lips, made a soft ‘shusshing’ sound to
stop him saying any more.
Jack’s phone glowed again.
‘Why don’t you just answer it? Someone obviously needs to get
hold of you urgently,’ Helen said.
‘Not while I’m with you,’ Jack replied. ‘I don’t want to waste a
precious second. Our time together is short enough.’
Then Helen was gone. Down the five flights of stairs. Back to her
other life. Back to Rich. Back to Jack’s best friend.
Jack closed the door. Sighed. He felt like he loved her. Regardless
of the damage, the upset, the sheer wrongness of what he was
doing. This felt like the real deal. Or perhaps it was just his
vulnerability talking, which would hardly be surprising given what
had happened. Perhaps he was just projecting. Perhaps Helen was
just comfort. Perhaps he was just feeling lonely, needy. Or
perhaps it was real. He didn’t care. Right now, Helen felt like his
soulmate and if he felt in love, then, hell, he was in love!
He went for a shower, then made himself a cup of coffee. His
phone hadn’t rung again thank God! Then his doorbell went,
made him jump.
She’s back, he thought.
He pulled on a pair of pyjama bottoms, threw on a T-shirt and
went to the door, catching a glimpse of himself in the hallway
mirror. He looked knackered.
Is it any wonder? he thought.
The doorbell rang again. There was an urgency behind it.
‘Coming,’ Jack said.
He fixed his most seductive smile and twisted open the Yale lock.
‘Chloe!’ he said, startled.
‘Jack. Can I come in?’
‘I was just about to call you,’ Jack lied. ‘You’ve been ringing.’
‘I know. I fucking know, Jack. Now, can I come in?’
‘Come in. Come in. You look like you need a drink.’
Jack wrapped a strong arm around Chloe’s slight shoulder and
gently ushered her into the living room. He surreptitiously
scanned the room, looking for evidence of his past encounter.
Nothing. He thanked Helen under his breath. Fastidious as always!
he thought.
Chloe unbuttoned her coat. Jack stood behind her and took it off
her shoulders. He moved her soft brown hair to one side of her
neck.
Chloe shuddered and pulled away. She smiled a half smile and sat
down, not on the settee, where Jack might join her, but on the
faded blue velour armchair, in the corner of the room, below the
floor lamp. It shone down on her, like she was in an interrogation
chair.
She leant forward, clamped her knees together, pushed her hands
together, palm to palm, and squeezed them between her knees.
She looked stern, and for a moment Jack thought he must have
done something wrong. Shit! He had done something wrong! He
was sleeping with Chloe’s best friend – his best friend’s wife.
‘Here you go,’ he offered her a glass of chilled Sauvignon from
the half-drunk bottle in the fridge.
Chloe bowed her head down. Her slim shoulders began to shake
and Jack saw a huge tear plop into her wine, followed by another,
and another. A noise like a whimpering puppy came from her birdlike
body.
Jack knelt in front of her, took her hands in his, lifted her chin
with a crooked finger.
‘What’s up?’ he asked.
Chloe looked up with big pool eyes. Mascara was running down
her face. Jack wiped it away, then wiped his thumbs on his Tshirt.
‘He knows,’ she said.
Jack looked blank.
‘He knows!’ she said again.
‘Who knows?’
‘Who do you think? Sean. Sean!’
‘Knows what?’ Jack seemed mystified.
She hit him hard in the chest with the heel of her hand, knocking
him off balance. He fell on his back.
‘Are you taking this in, Jack? Sean…knows!’ Chloe hovered over
him and produced her Nokia mobile from a little pocket on her
dress. She pressed a couple of buttons, scrolled down, pressed
again, then showed the screen to Jack. ‘This is what Sean saw.’
Jack narrowed his eyes, focused, then picked himself up from the
floor and took the phone from Chloe’s hand. He read the
message aloud: ‘Thinking about you.’
So? Jack thought. It was an old message, something he’d sent
days, or was it weeks, ago? It didn’t mean anything; wasn’t
incriminating – surely?
‘Hey, calm down. It doesn’t mean he knows about us,’ Jack said.
‘It just means he thinks that you’re…’
He stopped himself before he finished the sentence, realising he
was about to have a foot-in-mouth moment.
‘He thinks that I’m what? Having an affair? Yes, Jack, that’s what
he thinks.’
‘Yes,’ Jack couldn’t stop himself saying what he was about to
say, ‘but not with me.’
Chloe’s jaw dropped. Disappointment crushed her pretty face.
‘No, no, I didn’t mean that,’ Jack spluttered. ‘What I meant
was…well, I mean, the sender isn’t my name, is it? He’ll have no
idea who AA is, will he?’
Chloe softened. The situation was retrieved. Jack moved closer
to Chloe, handed her phone back, stroked her hair.
‘Look,’ he showed her the message. ‘It’s not so incriminating, is
it? You can get round this, get round Sean, can’t you?’
‘I think it’s too late for that,’ Chloe replied. She let Jack carry on
stroking her hair.
‘I’m sure it will all be fine,’ Jack said.
He moved his face closer to hers.
‘No, I don’t think it will. He knows it’s you – I just know he does,’
she said.
Jack resisted the urge to ask Chloe what made her so certain,
but he didn’t want to sour the mood again.
‘’Course it will. You – we – just need to think of a good story.’
He kissed her forehead, then each pointed cheek.
‘He’s kicked me out,’ she whispered. ‘Can I stay here, with you?’
Fuck! Shit!
Jack pulled away, tried not to show his panic.
‘He’s kicked you out? What do you mean, he’s kicked you out?
All because of a fucking text message misunderstanding?’
‘Oh come on, Jack. You know how jealous he is. He threw the
phone at me and stormed out. Told me he didn’t want to see me
back there by the time he got back from the pub. And believe
me, I won’t be.’
Jack paused to take stock. He poured himself a glass of wine,
gulped it down, poured another, then topped up Chloe’s glass.
‘So he hasn’t actually kicked you out? He’s told you to move
out?’ Jack said.
‘Yes. I tried to phone you to tell you,’ she said, ‘but you wouldn’t
answer your phone. I can’t go back, definitely not tonight.’
‘But you can’t stay here. Jesus, Chloe.’
‘Where else can I go? Not to Helen’s, obviously. Rich is Sean’s
best friend.’
‘You’ve got to go back home, talk to Sean. Try to get this sorted
out. He’s not going to end his marriage because of a fucking silly
text message. He’s not an idiot.’
Jack flopped back onto the sofa and pressed the back of his hand
to his forehead. He stared at the ceiling. Jesus! What a mess. He
felt like the walls of his flat were closing in and as he looked at
Chloe, she just seemed to get bigger and bigger in the room. Got
to get out, get some air, he thought.
‘Let’s go and have a drink,’ he said. ‘Talk it through.’
He dressed quickly, pulled on a shirt, a pair of jeans and V-neck
sweater. As they were about to leave the flat, he thought Phone,
then went back to retrieve it from the pocket of his pyjamas.
It was still on silent mode and he saw that he had two missed
calls and one text. One from Rich. One from Sean.
The text was from Helen. ‘Missing an earring!!!!!! Must be at
yours. Coming back.’
Jack read Helen’s text and felt his insides turn to slush.
‘Fuck!’ The word came out of his mouth involuntarily.
‘What’s up?’ Chloe said.
Jack shook his head. ‘No, nothing. Just work. Nothing.’
He put his hand against the small of Chloe’s back and guided her
to the lift. ‘Let’s go, before we change our minds,’ he said,
petrified Chloe would want to stay put.
He covertly looked at the time of the text. 9.02pm. Fifteen
minutes ago. It was 20 minutes from Helen’s townhouse to his
flat. She could have called a cab, arrived home, discovered her
earring was missing, texted, and was now on her way back. She’d
be here any minute. Or she could have stroked her gemless lobe
in the cab on the way home, got the driver to turn around, and –
shit! – could be waiting for the lift at the bottom of the building
right now!
‘Er, let’s walk,’ Jack said to Chloe.
‘Walk? Why?’
‘The lift. I don’t trust it. Got stuck in there the other day. Freaked
me out.’
It was true. The lift was always breaking down.
Halfway down the stairs, Jack stopped, abruptly.
‘Just remembered something,’ he said. ‘Did I leave the oven on?’
‘What? You didn’t even have it on. You keep promising to cook
for me, but I’ve never tasted so much as beans and toast from
you yet, Mr Masterchef!’
‘Well, it’s not exactly been convenient, but I will one day. Look,
you wait here. I’ll go and check the oven. I’m sure I had it on.’
‘OK,’ Chloe said. ‘I’ll meet you at the front door.’
‘No! Here! Just wait here. I’ll only be a second.’
‘I’ll come back with you, then.’
‘No! Just. Wait. Here. Please!’
Jack had a mental image of Helen getting out of a taxi and
bumping into Chloe. The consequences really didn’t bear thinking
about. He stormed into his flat with the speed and aggression of
an SAS liberation, darted to the bedroom and grabbed handfuls
of pillow from the rumpled bed.
‘Nope! Nope! Nope!’ he muttered, as the missing earring failed to
reveal itself. Then he stopped in his tracks.
Fuck the earring! I’ve got to stop Helen.
He texted her: ‘Found it.’
She replied in a split second: ‘Nearly there x’
Now Jack had to find the bloody thing for real. He pulled back the
crumpled sheets. Nothing. Then he picked up the mattress and,
with strength he didn’t know he had, tossed it across the room,
scattering the framed photos, clock and CDs from the top of the
chest of drawers. He looked through the slats of the bed frame
to the beige carpet below. There, gleaming, was a small and
beautiful brilliant-cut diamond earring. He grabbed it, closed his
fist around it, and hurtled back to the stairwell.
Chloe had gone. Where the fuck has she gone?????
He raced downstairs, three at a time, flung the fire door open and
landed in the lobby like a gymnast springing off a pommel horse.
He stooped over to catch his breath, hands on knees, panting.
As he rose, he saw a black blazer wrapped around the voluptuous
figure of…
‘Helen!’
‘Hi.’
‘Helen. Helen. Helen.’ He started laughing hysterically. ‘Oh Helen
of Troy. Helen of Joy. Helen earth. Helen high water. Helen-ahand
cart. Oh Helen!’
‘What on earth…Jack! Are you OK? How much did you drink after
I left?’
‘Oh lots. You know me, Jack the Lad, Jack Daniels.’
He knew he wasn’t funny, or making any sense, but he couldn’t
stop babbling. Where the fuck was Chloe?
‘Look, babe, I’ve got to go. Rich’ll be home soon. Did you find it?’
Helen said.
‘Find what?’
‘My earring, Stoopid.’
Jack pulled up his fist, and brought it round, as if in slow motion,
to Helen’s jaw. At this moment in time, he wished he could knock
her unconscious to buy him some time.
Where the hell was Chloe?
‘Yoooooou!’ he said, through clenched teeth
‘You…silly…forgetful thing! You lost one once before, didn’t you?
You said you’d be extra careful in future, didn’t you?’
Helen took the jewellery and expertly threaded it back into her
ear.
‘I don’t know what on earth you’ve been drinking, but I’ll have
some. Next time we see each other. I’ve got to go. Taxi’s on the
meter.’
She kissed his forehead, stroked his face. ‘Soon,’ she said, then
turned, pushed open the communal door and got into the cab.
And then – thank the Heavenly Father!– she was gone.
Now, where the hell has Chloe gone?
Jack poked his head out of the front door and scanned the car
park. Through the blue haze of cigarette smoke, he saw a figure
sitting on the low wall. He knew Chloe smoked. Then the figure
coughed. A masculine cough. Not Chloe.
Where was she?
He wandered around the grounds, then onto the street, not
shouting her name, afraid Helen might return again. Then just as
the penny dropped that he should just call her mobile, his phone
rang. He didn’t even look at the caller’s I.D, just cracked open the
handset and said, breathlessly: ‘Where the fuck are you?’
‘The White Horse. Where we always are. The question is, where
the fuck are you?’
Jack dropped his phone as if it had just become white hot.
Jesus Christ! Rich!
He stared at the phone at his feet for what felt like minutes and
felt like jumping on it, smashing it to pieces. From the distance of
his body length, he could hear the buzz of the pub atmosphere
and Rich’s deep voice saying, ‘Hello, hello. Jack? You there?
Hello.’
He picked the phone up, as if handling dog shit in a plastic bag,
and mumbled into the mouthpiece.
‘Yep. Here.’
Something inside him fled – possibly terror. It was as if the fear of
what was about to happen had been worse than the reality. Like
a prisoner on Death Row after the failure of his final appeal, he
was resigned to his fate. Kill me now, but make it quick.
‘We’ve been trying to get hold of you all night. Didn’t you get my
message?’ Rich shouted, above the background din.
‘No. Sorry. My voicemail is useless. Keep meaning to change
networks,’ Jack replied.
‘No worries. Listen, I’m with Sean. He’s in bits, a right mess. I’ve
tried to cheer him up, but I reckon he needs you – you know what
a good listener you are!’
‘Why? What’s up?’
Jack walked over to the figure on the low wall. It was a homeless
guy, sucking on a roll-up. Jack could smell the cannabis. He
gestured to the man with ‘V’ fingers held to his lips that he
wanted a drag. The man looked up, surprised. Jack plucked a £1
coin from his pocket, gave it to the man, who gave Jack the
joint. Jack inhaled, felt the head-rush, coughed, and gave the
spliff back.
‘I don’t know,’ Rich said. ‘He won’t tell me. He’ll tell you – he tells
you everything. Just keeps going on and on to me about how his
life’s ruined. Better get down here. It’ll be last orders soon.’
All thoughts of Chloe had vanished. Jack wanted to run away and
hide, stick his fingers in his ears and go ‘la-la-la’ to drown out the
reality of his come-uppance. But, no, he had to face the music.
He flicked another coin to the homeless smoker, took another,
longer, deeper, puff, and set off on the half mile walk to the pub.
He rang Chloe. Straight to voicemail. Texted her. ‘Where are
you?’ No reply. Where the hell is she?

COMING SOON…CHAPTER 2…..

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