I apologize for not being able to post yesterday, was in Toronto for a business trip. Here, as promised, is Chapter 3.
Brian groaned. “There’s one pub, The Hole in the Wall. It used to be a great place… I guess when all our friends were still in town, but in the last few years, it’s just a bunch of old biddies in there. Plus, it changed owner-ship. It’s just not the same.”
“Well, of course I’ve got my horses at my parents’ because I can’t afford a farm of my own yet. You know that.” Brian continued with a grin, “Josh, well, he works in Southampton, but he lives here because he simply cannot live without me being a five minute drive away. It’s quite sad, really.”
“You’ve never told him that, though,” Brian said. “You tell him you like Bredlam and that’s why you stay. If he knew that you were staying here for him… You know my parents are only just over the road. He would be fine—they’d keep their eye on him.”
Josh shrugged. It was sad to think that when his dad was not out welding for a living, he was at home, tinkering, just trying to stay busy enough to get through another day without losing his grip on things. His father hated to impose on people, even his best friends, and only went out upon invitation. If not for Josh’s frequent visits, he was sure that his father might have become a recluse by now.
“That’s very generous of you.” May offered him a compassionate smile and a wave of anxiety crashed over him. He shrugged again. He was generally calm and collected around women, but this one intimated him. She was too smart for him, far out of his league. He could feel her unwavering gaze boring through his skin.
The bar stool he sat on was digging into the back of his thighs, causing his legs to grow numb.
“What’s wrong?” May rose from her chair with worry.
Josh said, “I just… need––”
“Go out on the back patio, then,” May said, directing him towards the sliding door. “You need anything? Glass of water?”
“No, I’m all right. Thanks.”
When he opened the glass sliding door, a warm gust of wind made a futile attempt to resist him. Despite his being overheated, the warm, humid air felt nice on his skin. This was one of the first days this spring that he could predict summer being just around the corner at last.
Outside, he leaned against the damp red brick wall of the house. The stippled clay dug into the back of his skull, but the slight pain this caused did not bother him. He inhaled, and then exhaled the embarrassment and anxiety that had riddled his body over the past couple of hours.
The air was just stifling in there. Too much pressure, too much tension.
He gazed into the backyard. Despite being just forty feet by forty feet, it was large in terms of fenced yards in England. Located in the far right corner of the yard was a cluster of overgrown bushes and thorns that appeared not to have received a caring touch in years. In the centre of the yard, encircling a young oak was a small garden comprising mainly of tulip stems, a few dead, ineffectual petals still clinging to them. The hail had pounded the remainder of the petals into the soil.
Josh sighed. He was not drunk; in fact, the alcohol had not even given him a buzz yet. He owed this tolerance to too many evenings partying, celebrating victories, frequenting pubs with Brian or his teammates. He was easier with women when he was drunk. Now, May’s presence kept him uniquely sober, and knowing that he had just made an ass out of himself by requesting fresh air when he was not even inebriated made his stomach quiver. They were likely laughing at him as he stood here. He decided to return to the kitchen to ensure that they were not talking about him.
As his fingers touched the cool door handle, a loud rustle of leaves erupted from the unkempt bushes. Branches snapped. Josh whipped around and peered into the thick brush, his heart racing again. He was unable to see anything past the first row of wild thorns. Moments passed, but the noises did not continue. Maybe it was just the wind.
Josh crept inside with a watchful glance behind him.
“Doing all right now?” May asked from her bar stool.
Josh glanced at her for a moment, taking time to consider her question, and replied, “There might be an animal in your bushes back there. You shouldn’t go outside for a while. It could be rabid.”
She sat up, alert. “What is it?”
“I don’t know, but don’t go out there,” he said. “It sounds big… Just don’t. It might be a fox or something.”