JOSH FELT HIS MOUTH dry up at once; his production of saliva had suddenly ceased. May smiled and called to them again. Brian obeyed without the slightest hesitation while Josh followed a few paces behind, confused by this turn of events. Heart pounding as he stepped onto the front porch, Josh felt his nervous gaze shift to the ground, though all he wanted to do was breathe in her beauty.
May laughed. “Lift your head,” she said. Josh heeded her command and he caught her warm, green-eyed gaze. She must have known how gorgeous she was for how confidently she behaved. “Now, sit down! You both look like drowned rats.” She stood to offer them her chair and the one next to it. Josh and Brian sat.
“So,” she began, leaning against the porch rail with her arms crossed, “please tell me you’re not criminals or anything?”
Puzzled by her phrasing, Josh shook his head in haste. “No! Course not! Why—why do you ask?”
“I hardly want to let criminals on my porch, do I?” May posed with a smirk. “What a dreary day!”
Josh stared at her. She had rendered his mind an empty void, a blank canvass.
“What’s your name?”
This, he must be capable of answering. “Uh… Josh. Josh Edwards…”
She turned to Brian. “And you?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. Sexy raised eyebrow.
Brian knelt down to one knee and grabbed her hand. Josh observed the scene with a cry of shock caught in his throat. What in the hell was this crazy bastard doing?
Brian kissed the back of her hand and said, “You may call me what you wish, though my mates call me Brian. Might I add that I have never looked on such a beautiful wonder in all my years, and to be in your graceful presence is truly an honour?”
“Why, thank you, Brian,” May gushed with a crooked smile. “You would make a lovely poet, you would!”
Unsure of why he was sitting here, what day it was, or even what uni-verse he currently occupied, Josh watched in complete bewilderment. Amidst the nothingness, though, a bolt of insight skittered across his mind. “So, just wait one minute, now,” he piped in. “Brian, you said you tried to take her out. Why doesn’t she recognize you?”
“Uh… see, I saw her… from a distance, that is,” Brian said with a few darting glances at May, “and I wanted to ask her out… but then I saw her fiancé, so… she’s actually never really met me, see.”
Josh regarded May with suspicion and watched her nod her head with great self-assuredness. It dawned on him just then… He would show them who was playing games. Josh sat back in the chair now, confidence brewing. His gaze pierced May’s. “What’s his name?”
“Who’s name?” she asked with a simple smile.
“F—Fiancé?” May stammered. “Oh, uh… Mar…ty––?”
“Mark––” Brian grumbled under his breath.
May froze and turned a guilty gaze towards him. “Yes, yes. That is what I meant: Mark.”
Josh was now positive that he was being conned. “Mark’s French,” he lied. “You know he was born in Marseilles?” He caught a twitch of a smirk beginning to form on Brian’s face.
“Yes, yes, of course,” May said, sending an awkward gaze Brian’s way. She was seeking redemption; their plan was backfiring. They had not ex-pected Josh to catch on with such speed.
“May?” he asked, attempting to conceal his amusement at the vacant expression that had overcome her face. He believed they called that the deer in the headlights look.
May stifled a growing smirk. “Um-hum?”
“Why don’t you know your own fiancé’s name?” he asked. “Or where he was really born?” He crossed his arms over his chest now, far from amused.
“Well, uh,” May said, “I get names mixed up quite easily. In fact, Brian, I––oh… I mean John––”
“Yes, right. Josh.” May flipped her hand through the air in dismissal of his name. “See what I mean? I have a dreadful memory!” She offered Brian an all but imperceptible wink and then smiled at Josh. Her smile was calculating and there was no doubt in Josh’s mind that they were playing him.
“So,” he continued, maintaining his calm exterior, though her smile made his heart dance in his chest, “where is Monsieur Mark on this fine and dandy day?”
“Okay, okay! You’ve caught us!” Brian exclaimed. “You don’t trust a soul, do you, mate?”
“So, I was right! This was all just a windup, huh?” Josh demanded. Enormous embarrassment and self-consciousness besieged him despite having caught on to their prank early. Unable to look into May’s eyes, he stared at his thumbs and murmured, “So, who are you, really?”
With an amiable smile, May held out her hand to shake. “My name is May Elizabeth Montrose. I was born in a little town outside of Manchester that you’ll never have heard of, and I just moved to Bredlam about two weeks ago. Didn’t Brian tell you I was moving to the area? My parents have been here for two months!”
She had not answered his question. “No, he did not. So, how do you know Brian?” He gazed out at the road, his hands now beginning to trem-ble with chills. The hail had stopped falling, pounding rain now following in its wake.
Brian stood and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “Don’t you see the resemblance?” He squished his face close to hers and she struggled to push him away. “She’s my cousin!”
“And you just decided to keep this secret from me?” Josh asked.
“Well, mate, that was kind of the point,” Brian laughed.
“I didn’t know you even had a cousin May.” Josh attempted a smile for her sake. She was watching him with an intent and curious gaze.
“Sure you did! You know how I used to visit my cousin Frizzy now and again?” Brian asked, bursting into laugher. “That’s May!”
“What are you doing telling him that?” May exclaimed with a swat at Brian’s arm. “It’s not my fault I didn’t know about styling products when I was five years old! I was traumatized by you!”
Josh snickered in spite of himself. He had never questioned the name Frizzy, perhaps because they were so young when Brian had first men-tioned her.
“You boys reek like sweat,” May said, wrinkling her nose. Josh lifted the collar of his tee shirt to his own nose but only smelled drenched cotton. “Where have you both been, anyway? I have been waiting here for an hour!” She plopped down into Brian’s chair and set her book on the side table.
Brian gazed at his watch. “Ah, shit, it must have quit on me. I’m trying to get in better shape,” he replied. “He didn’t think I could keep up to him, but I managed, what? Five kilometres?”
“You were dragging ass,” Josh muttered.
Brian shot him a sarcastic glare.
“Well, you are right, Brian. He is quite dapper,” May said with a smirk.
Josh whipped his gaze at Brian. “You said that I was dapper? What is this, the eighteen hundreds?”
Brian scowled at May. “You know I didn’t say it like that!” He turned to Josh, whose look of disbelief sent him into a frenzy. “Honestly! What I said was I think you’ll like him! I’m not a bloody fairy, you know!”
Josh felt his cheeks burning as May peered at him. “So this was all a setup?” he demanded, attempting to ignore her gaze. “Just for us to meet?”
Brian held up his hands in defence. “Whoa, mate! I didn’t think you’d get all uptight about it, all right! You’re always moaning about how you want to find a decent woman… Here she is!”
Josh took a deep breath, mortified, and sat down in the chair next to May. “Well, you didn’t have to… you know, embarrass me like that, try to make me sound all daft-like.”
May smiled and patted his knee. “Cheer up! You make a good first im-pression!” She winked at him.
His stomach fluttered. An insane worry that she could see the butterflies erupt in his stomach caused his anger to flare, embarrassment to grow. “Well, I’m n—not some… monkey you can just toy with!” he said to Brian. “I have feelings, too, you know!”
Brian sat down on the porch step with a sneer. “Quit while you’re ahead, mate.” He looked at May. “So, what? Can’t afford electricity?”
May rolled her eyes with a smirk. “They say it’s storming out or some-thing.” She stood up. “Anyway, want to come in? I just made some cookies before the lecky up and quit but the lagers are still nice and cold.”
“Perfect,” Brian stated with a smile. “I could murder a few pints.”
© Lindsay Mawson 2010