“DO YOU SEE THIS BRUISE?”
Josh leaned forwards on the thin steel railing to see the large mark on Brian’s biceps muscle, as black and blue as the pending storm clouds to the southwest. He could not recall having ever seen a bruise so large, despite working in a profession where injuries like this were a common occurrence. Josh would have expected Brian to flaunt it the moment they had met up that day.
“Blimey!” Josh exclaimed before downing a long and refreshing swig of water from the plastic bottle in his hand. “Did you fall down a well or something?”
He was tempted to poke the bruise with the same compulsion of which one is tempted to scratch a fresh mosquito bite. Brian, however, was a few good inches taller than he, being six-foot-three. Josh knew that if he wanted today to remain an injury-free day, he would be better to refrain from such an action.
“Right… No, Lilia took a chomp at me,” Brian replied with that familiar proud smile smeared across his face. “Love bite, I reckon.”
Josh scoffed at the stupidity of the concept and then laughed in spite of himself. “Love bite from a horse?” He wiped his brow with the back of his wrist and gulped some more water.
Forgetting that he was sitting on the narrow steel railing of the one-lane bridge, he leaned backwards. A blast of euphoria surged through his body as he began to fall, a sensation of weightlessness overwhelming him. Brian managed to snatch his right arm with a swift hand and then yanked him forwards. Josh’s heart thundered in his chest. When he had regained a modicum of balance, he let out a whooshing sigh and jumped down from the rail.
“Shit, thanks! I thought I was going into the river.”
Brian pulled down his tee shirt sleeve. “Yeah, well, I was ready to jump in there myself, anyway.” His face was still red, his forehead dripping sweat. The gray tee shirt he wore was drenched down the centre and under his armpits. “I don’t know how you flaming well do this every day.”
“This is nothing,” Josh said and slapped his friend on the arm. “We’ve gone, what, three kilometres? I run at least five a day, maybe ten. The hard part is the return home; it never seems to end sometimes.”
“Fantastic,” Brian muttered. “You might have to carry me home if we go any further.” After a moment’s pause, he said, “Do you think it looks like a heart?”
Josh stole a few deep breaths in the hopes of slowing his still rapid heartbeat. “Does what look like a heart?”
“The bruise.” Brian twisted his arm so that he had an entire panorama of his injury.
Josh shook his head but not without a hint of amusement. “The only thing I see is a bloke that’s lost his marbles,” he said. “Horses don’t give love bites.”
Brian smirked and opened his mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a deafening crack of thunder that made both men jump. They peered up at the darkening sky. The wind had picked up velocity and the ominous clouds that had been rolling in had at last settled over the small village of Bredlam, England.
“You know,” Josh muttered, “I’m beginning to think we’re about to be pissed on. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.”
No sooner had he spoken did the first raindrop of the storm land on the tip of his nose. Josh cursed and got moving again, but was unable to avoid the sudden onslaught of precipitation. The echo of the pounding rain on the metal frame of the structure followed them as they jogged up the gravel road, this time with more speed. When they had made it back to the outskirts of Bredlam, pea-sized hail began to plummet down on them. They made a quick decision to take cover on the closest porch.
The town was quiet for being almost noon, but he attributed this to the fact that there seemed to be no electricity to any of the homes. The only house that appeared to be buzzing with life was that of Sir Norton McCarty. Every room in his new, colonial style mansion was bright with light and dozens of vehicles lined the side of the road. A late model black Rolls Royce Phantom adorned the driveway. It had been a while since Josh had been down this street; he had forgotten how McCarty loved to display his wealth. The man might have done well to park the vehicle in his garage today, for the hail pellets were already growing larger, more damaging.
Being that this was the closest home for another quarter of a kilometre, Josh dashed towards the McCarty mansion and stood on the front porch, trying to appear as inconspicuous as possible in his shorts, tee shirt, and running shoes. Brian plodded behind and shook his head.
“What are you going to do if they see us?” Brian asked, panting.
Josh shrugged. He was cold, wet, battered, and he could not care less if the pompous jerk did find them standing out here. McCarty was unloved by many of the town residents, in chief because while the average person struggled to make ends meet, he organized parades, cleverly finding ways to make himself the main exhibition. People had grown sick of it and stopped attending. McCarty cut lines, expected free meals; it would be a far reach to say that he was the embodiment of modesty.
They stood there for almost five minutes, waiting with patience for the hail to abate. When all of a sudden the hinges on the front door squeaked, Josh wheeled around, heart thundering. What appeared to be thousands of watts of light escaped through the doorway, blinding him. When his eyes had recovered from their visual assault, he found standing before him a man with the shape of a pear dressed in a three-piece suit. He was holding a glass of white wine in his hand and appeared intoxicated.
Sir McCarty glared at them through glassy eyes. “Who are you?” he slurred in his unusual, deep voice.
Invisible hands snatching in frenzy at the random and somewhat useless ideas rushing through his mind, Josh opened his mouth to speak. Nothing escaped his lips but, “Uh…”
“Sorry, mate, we’re just taking cover from the hail,” Brian said with a jovial smile.
McCarty squinted and leaned forward. “What hail? I don’t see hail. What the hell are you doing here? I’ll have you arrested for trespassing.”
Josh glanced out towards the road. The hail was noisily bouncing off the guests’ vehicles, causing millions of pinging sounds. The grass was nearly white with the ice pellets. McCarty was beyond intoxicated if he thought he was looking at a beautiful, sunny spring day.
“Look, don’t call the police, that’s not necessary,” Josh said, holding his hands up in surrender. “We were just—”
Brian stepped forward. “We’re going door to door selling tickets!”
“Tickets for what?” McCarty demanded.
Josh gaped at Brian. “Yeah, tickets to what, Brian? You have to explain to the customer what they’re for if you expect anyone to shell out money for them.” He turned to McCarty. “He’s in training.”
Brian stood there now, mouth agape, visibly displeased.
“They’re tickets to a football match,” Josh answered for him. Brian had skill when it came to getting himself into mischief, but as he grew older, he was swiftly losing his touch in getting himself out of it again. “See, Southampton’s trying this new marketing strategy,” Josh continued. “The Football Club is trying to get more folk out to the matches, so they are asking their players to do a little community service work and go out to the small towns banging down doors. Hence my being here. Trust me; it’s not my idea of fun. Anyway, Brian here is just trying to get some sales experience for work.”
It amazed him that the lies spilled from his mouth with such easy grace. While Josh liked to point the finger at Brian, he had always been right alongside his friend in their childhood and teenage years, misbehaving as a team. Sometimes their minds seemed so in tune with one another’s that they could have been born twins and shared no better mental connection. Josh had learned in a hurry that if he did not excel at digging himself out of trouble as Brian did—it was that jovial smile—he would be left holding the blame.
“Do you think if I made an appearance, they’d announce I was there?” McCarty asked. He leaned forwards, unsteady on his feet. For a moment, Josh was worried that he might have to catch the man that was twice his size. Though he preferred to let McCarty fall, Josh was the nice lad among fans in the football world. He could not tarnish that reputation. He was the likeable one, the one that sold the tickets, the one that brought the women. This last thought made him smile.
Josh offered a grin to the drunken man, struggling to remain in character. “I’d certainly try to call in that favour! Depends on how many tickets you buy, of course! They’re for next season, mind, as we’ve just finished last week.”
McCarty nodded. “Yes, well, I’ll take two.”
Josh gulped. “Really? You will?”
Josh smiled. “Absolutely. Look, I don’t have them with me, but I’ll swing by next week when I receive them and we’ll discuss your options.”
“Right,” McCarty grumbled. “I have guests to get back to.”
“Thank you for your time, Sir.”
McCarty closed the door behind him and Josh felt a rush of simultaneous relief and dread.
Brian snorted. “How the hell are you going to get tickets, let alone options of tickets? I thought you said season tickets were sold out!”
Josh shook his head. “I don’t know. Let’s just get the hell out of here and pray he doesn’t see me around town any time soon. Maybe he’s too plastered to remember… You know, you really have to prepare me more for your sudden bursts of idiocy! He wouldn’t have phoned the flaming police, you know.”
Brian shrugged. They hurried back down to the road and trudged fur-ther. “I’m getting rusty,” he said with a smirk. “Got to practice once in a while, don’t I?”
“At my expense?” Josh demanded. Brian shrugged again and smiled.
Soon, large detached houses lined both sides of the street. He glanced at each porch, noting with jealousy how dry and welcoming they looked. He was sure that the rain had permeated his skin by now and was beginning to thin his blood. Why had he decided to go for a run when he had known that rain was imminent?
Josh ran a hand over his short brown hair. “Are we going to get under cover or what?”
Brian scoffed and peered around him. “Why bother? We certainly can’t get any wetter, can we?”
Out of the corner of his eye just then, he saw a woman, perhaps in her late twenties, sitting in a brown wicker chair on the porch of a newer two-story home. She was reading a thick hardcover novel, oblivious to the world around her. In his recent years, in particular since playing for Southampton, he had done a lot of partying and had been around a few blocks with women. He had never come across a woman, however, that appeared so pure, such a natural beauty.
“Hey, see that bird, there?” Josh whispered, feeling the blood begin to stir in his body.
“May,” Brian said.
Brian shook his head and spoke louder, misinterpreting his question. “Her name is May.”
Josh turned back to the beautiful brunette, whose long locks of curls were folded over her shoulders. She pursed her lips as she concentrated on her novel. Her cheekbones were well defined, but her features otherwise possessed a relative softness. She looked almost angelic.
“How do you know her name?” he asked. “I don’t remember going to school with a May.”
“I took her out once.”
Josh stopped in his tracks. “And you didn’t feel the need to tell me this? When was this?”
Brian laughed. “Right! Me go out with a babe like her? I bloody well tried, you know, but she’s marrying that McCarty Jr.—you know, Mark. He’s a lucky little shit, too.”
Josh released a hopeless sigh, one wrought with an edge of frustration. “There isn’t a woman in sight that’s not spoken for these days, not unless they’re just looking for a one-off. I’m getting old, I’m past my prime.”
“You’re twenty-seven, hardly fifty.”
“Might as well be fifty.”
Brian shrugged. “Don’t worry. There are plenty of women in the world, my friend. You just haven’t found the right one. Besides, you’re a celebrity! You’d have the women lined up at your doorstep if you didn’t live in this shit-hole town!”
Josh shook his head. “You know why I live here. I’d move if I knew things would—”
“Hey, you!” shouted a voice behind him. He turned back to see that May was beckoning them over.
© Lindsay Mawson 2010