For disclaimer see part one.
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The following day I went to visit Susie. Her flat was indeed directly above the Chinese take-away. Susie greeted me enthusiastically and immediately told me what happened after I had left Misty’s with Toni the night before.
“Shona! You won’t believe it! Eddie walked me home…” Susie paused for effect, so I knew there was more. “We said goodnight at the bottom of the stairs, and then he kissed me!” Susie proceeded to drag me by the arm into her sitting room and guide me to one of the sofas. “And guess what?” I knew not to answer, but smiled reflexively at her excitement. “We are going out on Monday night.” She flopped onto the other sofa with a goofy grin on her face. It was great to see her looking so happy.
“That’s great news, Susie. Eddie is a really nice guy.”
“And, so good looking!” She stopped, “Oops, where are my manners, would you like a cup of tea?”
I nodded, “That would be lovely.”
Susie’s kitchen was actually recessed within her living room, so she didn’t have far to go and continued to chat as she made the tea.
“It’s a shame you left so soon, last night. That guy Sean was really into you.”
Susie was reaching into a cupboard as she said this. I had never got the chance to finish my sentence the previous evening, so she still had no idea that Toni was my girlfriend. I had to tell her now otherwise there would be no point in even looking at the room she had for rent. I felt somewhat nervous at the prospect of telling Susie that I was a lesbian. I wasn’t ashamed, but I did fear her censure. What if she thought homosexuality was wrong? This was a potential barrier to friendship, acceptance of me as a person. It suddenly struck me as being so very wrong. I would tell Susie out of necessity, but a part of me felt resentment, not at Susie, but at society and the sudden dilemma I had been presented with simply because I chose to love a woman. My head was beginning to hurt.
“Shona? Is everything alright?”
I looked into the kitchen area to find Susie regarding me with concern. I had been so tied up in my thoughts I had forgotten to answer her enquiry about Sean.
Susie hurried over to me and set the mugs of tea on the coffee table. “Did something happen last night? I was so busy making eyes at Eddie I didn’t take the time to make sure you were doing okay. I’m sorry, Shona, when I saw you dancing with Toni I assumed you were fine.”
I licked my lips nervously before answering. “I was fine, more than fine in fact. There’s something I didn’t get the chance to tell you last night.” At Susie’s concerned nod I continued, “You see, Toni…that is Toni and me, we go out together.”
“Great, I assumed you were friends.” Susie picked up her mug and took a sip of the hot brew. “So like, do you two usually go to pubs or what?”
I took a deep breath, realising that my explanation hadn’t been enough for Susie; I was going to have to work on that aspect of communication. “We, ah, we date, like you and Eddie.” There I had said it, the words were out there hanging in the air between us. I watched as the realisation dawned on Susie, her eyes went round and she looked positively speechless.
“Oh…I had never considered that a possibility, I mean I know that women sleep together, but I…”
She shook her head as if trying to clear it. This wasn’t going well, I didn’t know what to expect when I told Susie, but I had hoped she would be fine with the information, now I wasn’t so sure. “Look, I know not everyone is comfortable with homosexuality, I understand if you want to change your mind about renting your spare room to me.”
Susie blinked, as she took in that information. “What…no, no! Not at all.” She paused, “I have no problem with you and Toni being gay, none whatsoever. I knew Toni was gay; she dated one of the girls from the bank last year. I just had never considered that you and her were a couple.”
I heaved a huge sigh of relief and picked up my cup of now cooling tea to wet my dry mouth. Maybe this could work out after all. I was about to ask Susie if she would show me the room, when something entirely different slipped out of my mouth without warning.
Susie nodded, “Yeah, Amanda. It didn’t last long, as far as I can remember. They went out a few times then it fizzled out. Well, it did for Toni at least. Poor Amanda was quite upset at the time, she really liked her.”
“Hey, not to worry, that was months ago, Amanda has a new girlfriend now and is very happy. At least she was the last time I spoke to her. Look, Shona, it wasn’t a serious thing they had. Like I said just a few dates towards the end of last year.”
That sounded better. I really needed to address these feelings of jealousy I had whenever I thought about Toni with another woman. It was quite a startling revelation to me. I had no idea this trait was even part of me until I met Toni.
“I’m glad to hear Amanda has found someone new.”
Susie smiled. “Come on, I’ll show you the room.”
The room was going to be perfect, well not quite. I wouldn’t have a sea view, despite the fact that my bedroom window would face the sea. Unfortunately there was another tenement block immediately behind Susie’s. On the plus side the room was a decent size, just a little smaller than the one I had at Mrs. Ramsay’s. It was already furnished in a nice modern style, in mostly creams and some rose pink. It had a much more feminine feel to it than anything I had ever been used to and I liked the change. The room had one single divan bed with a lovely floral bedspread and quilted headboard, along with a wardrobe and chest of drawers. Susie had no problem with me adding a small bookcase, but a desk might be difficult due to the lack of space. Fortunately the library was almost directly across the road; that was one big benefit to this small town within the city, it had a little bit of everything almost on your doorstep. I could make good use of the local library for study when I needed some extra space.
After arranging to move into the flat the following Saturday all that remained for me to do was inform Toni of this new development. Knowing she was working at this moment, I would wait until teatime to tell her. That decision made, I decided to cook her favourite meal, spaghetti bolognaise.
“So what’s the occasion?”
Toni smiled, “I’m just teasing, Shona. You have gone to so much effort to cook my favourite meal and set the table, I thought you might have some news for me.”
I wondered if Susie had mentioned something to Eddie, who in turn had already told Toni about the room at Susie’s flat.
“Has Eddie already told you?”
Toni stopped, her fork wrapped expertly with spaghetti, suspended in mid air. The inquisitive look she offered me told me she had no idea what I was referring to.
“Told me what?”
I fidgeted nervously with the edge of my napkin while biting my bottom lip, it suddenly struck me that telling Toni was not going to be easy.
She carefully placed her forkful of spaghetti back onto her plate. Stilling my fidgeting fingers she said, “Whatever it is, Shona, you can tell me.”
I licked my lips nervously. “Susie has a spare room in her flat that she is looking to rent.”
I felt Toni’s hand grip mine a little tighter, before easing up again.
I carried on in a rush, not wanting to prolong this moment any longer than necessary. “I went to look at it today and arranged to move in next weekend.”
Toni released my hand and sat back in her seat, a slightly stunned look on her face.
I thought perhaps that I had just made a mistake. When Toni had so generously offered for me to stay at her flat, the agreement was that I would be there until I could find a place to rent. Things had of course changed since my return to Edinburgh. Toni and I were now a couple and in this last week, our relationship had moved to a physical level. I had spent an uncertain week in the flat. Not knowing where Toni had wanted or expected me to sleep each night. Toni had said to me that I could share her bed and that didn’t mean we had to make love every night. I had been left wondering if that meant she didn’t want me every night, but whenever I touched her she responded immediately.
“I’ve done the wrong thing?” I asked, the uncertainty of my actions more than apparent in my voice.
Toni smiled, though it looked a little forced to me. “No, Shona, you have done exactly what you said you would.”
I felt tears begin prick my eyes,
“So, I can help you move in if you like. I’m sure the Nova would be up to it.”
I appreciated Toni’s attempts to change the mood, but I was really going to miss being here.
With my move imminent from Toni’s I had only a few days to organise myself. In truth there wasn’t too much for me to pack, it wouldn’t be that difficult, especially with Toni driving. My books were already stacked in a box, so it was just a case of packing up my clothes, which were currently sharing Toni’s wardrobe and drawers. I looked forlornly around the sitting room. I was really going to miss this place, especially the beautiful view of the harbour and being surrounded by Toni’s things. I glanced at the coffee table where the current edition of Melody Maker sat. Toni always got a copy. When I once picked up a copy of Smash Hits, she threatened to throw it in the bin, claiming it was commercial trash. I know she was kidding about throwing it in the bin, but she was very serious about the magazine, but I liked getting the song lyrics to all the latest hits.
More than anything, I was going to miss the time I spent here with Toni. Whether it was sitting late at night drinking tea and eating biscuits after she finished work, or just watching her move around her flat, getting ready for work. I think both Toni and myself were sad about my stay at the flat coming to an end, but I believed it was the right thing to do. I had accepted Toni’s generosity with the promise that I would find somewhere to stay. I had fulfilled that promise and despite the change in the nature of my relationship with Toni, I didn’t believe it would be right to continue to live with her.
I had a few shifts that week at The Fern, I wasn’t complaining I really needed to earn as much as I could. I would now be paying rent and bills and with university starting in less than three weeks, I needed to purchase books for my second year studies. I had managed to save a good amount of money over the summer but, when university started, I wouldn’t be able to work as much. Letting my studies suffer was not an option. Jimmy had already discussed set work evenings for me; they would be Monday, Friday and Saturday. That meant no more Monday evenings with Toni, I was really going to miss them, but I would welcome not working on a Sunday night. I had always found that difficult since I started my week on Monday mornings. I was very much looking forward to being able to relax on Sundays. All this meant that I would have very little time to see Toni. Tuesday and Thursday were her evenings off, but I also had to study during the week. This was going to be difficult for us.
Saturday morning saw both Toni and myself up bright and early. She had to be in work for 10.30am, so we had to start moving my belongings before 9am. It was only going to take one journey; that was the good news. The bad news was the stairs on either end of the journey. In no time we had the Nova loaded up and ready to go. The journey to Susie’s took a little over 10 minutes and before I knew it Toni had pulled up in front of the Chinese take-away with her hazards on. The stair door opened and out popped Eddie, Toni laughed when he appeared at the car, saying something about ‘guess who got lucky last night.’ Within minutes the two of them had all my belongings in Susie’s flat. Toni went off to park her car and then the four of us sat down to a late breakfast of sausage, bacon and eggs, cooked by Susie.
Toni headed off to work and I got down to the task of unpacking and generally settling in. I think I was going to enjoy staying at Susie’s.
After two weeks, Susie and I had settled into a comfortable routine. We both liked to cook, so if we were both going to be around for dinner, we took turns cooking it. Susie had introduced me to two of her weekly rituals, the first being Top of the Pops, which was on television every Thursday evening. I loved watching the bands play live in the studio and I also liked when they showed the videos. Susie’s second weekly ritual was to listen to the BBC Radio One Chart Show, where the week’s Top Forty singles would be played. This lasted between 4pm and 7pm, ending with the new top selling single in the UK. I was really enjoying the Sunday afternoons with Susie, relaxing, cooking and chatting about our week while we listened to all the songs on the radio. Susie had also introduced me to the wonder that was the Video recorder. It was simply amazing! She had shown me how to use it and given me a blank tape to record any TV shows that I liked. Now I would never have to miss any Eastenders ever again. It also played movies that could be rented from the local video shop. It turns out though that recording using the timer was a little more complex and I spent an entire afternoon with the instruction booklet working out how to set the video to record shows. Susie was very grateful, as it turns out she had yet to grasp the specifics of that feature and I was now setting the machine to record her shows along with my own.
Tomorrow would be my first day back at university and I could feel the anticipation building, my fingers itching to get at my books. It was hard to believe that it had only been a year since I first arrived in the city. So much had changed for me in those twelve months that it felt more like a lifetime ago. My mind went back to that Saturday a year ago when I first arrived on Mrs. Ramsay’s doorstep. I had been so naïve, so timid, completely overwhelmed by everything around me. Now I was independent, working, living in a flat and paying my own way. Everything changed for me that fateful afternoon after college when I decided to get off the bus a stop early. It took me to the Railway Club and eventually into the arms of a wonderful woman, who at this very moment I was missing like crazy. Now I had all the things I desired for the coming year, my one major regret was not being able to go home and visit my family for Christmas. It seemed that everything in life came at a price.
Still, I didn’t get too despondent, tomorrow I would be back doing what I loved most, studying history. I would also be catching up with friends I hadn’t seen in months. There was always a buzz around the university at the start of each term; a vibrancy and enthusiasm unparalleled throughout the rest of the weeks when the pressure of study and exams would mount.
The evening after my first full day back at university found me working in The Fern. My knowledge of history had unexpectedly put me in demand on Monday evenings. The Fern held a quiz every Monday night, when one of the regulars, Gerry, would organise and compose the questions, with the winning team being given £10.
The quiz was proving to be a success, particularly in terms of attracting more customers on what was normally the quietest night of the week. Though working, Jimmy had no objections to me taking part. I could serve and answer at the same time if need be. I was in a team with Susie, Eddie and a friend of Susie’s from work, Laura. I really wished Toni could be there, but Monday was always her night behind the bar of the Railwaymen’s Club.
Susie had joked that we would never be able to double date, as Eddie and Toni could never have the same night off. I had mentioned this to Toni and she said that she would come up with a solution. When I questioned how that was possible, she just winked and told me to leave it to her.
It transpired that Gerry had a bit of a passion for history, which meant that his questions leaned more frequently in that direction. Though Scottish history was my particular passion, I tended to absorb any historical information that came my way.
“In what year was the battle of Bannockburn?”
“Oh, that’s easy, 1066.”
I overheard this answer from the next table, as did Eddie who started to write it down. I stilled his hand, then took the pen from him and wrote 1314. Explaining quietly that it was common to mix up the date with the battle of Hastings, which was indeed 1066.
The quiz continued and I moved easily between the bar and our table, answering questions and serving customers in the breaks.
“What is the literal translation for the Gaelic phrase ‘uisge beatha’?”
This was the final question. Eddie, Susie and Laura looked hopefully towards me; I took the pen and wrote down the answer, ‘Water of life’. Explaining quietly that it was the Gaelic for whisky. We had been doing pretty well with the quiz. Eddie was great at the sport questions, while Susie and Laura were good with music, general knowledge and current affairs. When everyone was finished writing down their answers all the tables passed on their question sheet to the next for marking.
Gerry read out the answer to the final question.
“And finally, the Gaelic translation for ‘uisge beatha’ is whisky. Alright ladies and gentlemen if you can hand me the papers I’ll let you know who the winners are.”
All eyes at the table turned to me. I simply shrugged, I knew I had answered correctly, but Gerry had gotten his answers mixed up. Eddie said we would wait until the papers were returned and see what was what.
Gerry handed back all the papers and sure enough, our last answer was marked as being incorrect, our team wasn’t best pleased, but we still had no idea who had won the quiz.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen, settle down. Tonight we have a draw.”
There were a few groans as Gerry proceeded to read out the scores.
“And finally the winners with thirty eight points each are the Porty Polis and Eddie’s Hot Rod’s. All teams gave themselves a name and Eddie had chosen ours. It seemed we had tied with the team from the police station and that was fine with me, but not the rest of my team.
“Whoa, hang on there. Stewards enquiry.” All eyes looked at Eddie. “The last question is wrong, the answer should be ‘water of life’.”
“Naw, Eddie, its whisky. Surely a barman would know that.” Gerry joked.
“Shona, tell him.”
I felt my cheeks turn red under the sudden spotlight I had been thrust into. Who knew the quiz could be so competitive?
“Yes, Gerry. You asked for a literal translation – so the answer would be ‘water of life’. ‘Uisge beatha’, is indeed the name given to whisky, but the translation of the phrase from Gaelic to English is ‘water of life’. Uisge means water and beatha means life.”
Jimmy intervened at this point. “Ya bloody edjit, Gerry. If you’re going to ask fancy questions at least get the answer right! You’re lucky it’s Shona and the police, otherwise I could have a fight on my hands!”
I felt really bad for Gerry, the police were protesting that they had given the answer Gerry was looking for which was correct, so in the interest of fairness I suggested that the winnings be split between the two teams and the draw would stand. That seemed to appease everyone. Well there were a few grumbles from our team, but the police were happy and apparently as Jimmy told me later, that was always a very good thing.
Just before eleven, Toni walked into The Fern, instantly bringing a smile to my face. The club closed at 10.30am through the week and she had chased them all out to make it up here before closing. It was great to see her. I was behind the bar helping Jimmy start to clear up for closing. Toni said a quick hello then sat with Eddie, Susie and Laura. In between cleaning behind the bar and returning clean glasses to the shelves I noticed that one of the policewomen had taken a seat beside Toni. I didn’t think it was my imagination, they obviously knew each other, but I got the feeling it was more. I knew my jealous streak was rearing its ugly head again and I tried hard to dampen it down, but the woman was looking like she was all but crawling into Toni’s lap!
Toni waited to walk me home. I was tired after my first day back at university and then my night behind the bar.
“Would you like to come home with me? I promise to drop you off early in the morning, so you won’t be late for uni.”
An hour ago I would have welcomed the offer, but something about seeing Toni with that policewoman had soured my mood and sapped my energy.
“I’m tired, Toni, I think I will just go back to the flat.”
She looked despondent but she wasn’t put off continuing, “I should warn you that Eddie is spending the night with Susie.”
I hadn’t thought about that and after the last time he stayed over I wasn’t going to forget it anytime soon. It seemed that Eddie and Susie were not only noisy, but they had stamina. I remember Toni’s face when I told her about last Monday night. I relented and walked with her to the Nova.
We drove most of the way in silence. Toni seemed happy to leave me to my own thoughts while she concentrated on driving. When we got to the flat she decided to find out what was wrong with me.
“Has something happened, Shona?”
“No, I’m just tired.” It wasn’t the whole truth and I knew Toni deserved better.
“Who was that woman tonight?”
“Ah, Siobhan. She’s a policewoman.”
“She seemed very friendly.”
Toni nodded. “We used to date.”
“It looked like she still wanted to.”
“She does, but we only went on a few dates and I decided to stop seeing her.”
“Just like Amanda?”
My words seemed to sting Toni. She sat back a bit from me. “Yes, I suppose, just like Amanda,” she answered quietly.
“And what about me? Am I just like Amanda?”
“What? Of course not!”
Toni seemed genuinely shocked at my question.
“Is that what you think?” She added.
“I don’t know, I see these woman all around that you have dated a few times and I wonder what makes me different?”
“Shona, you are the first woman I have fallen in love with, that’s what makes you different.” She moved closer before continuing. “I miss you so much since you have left this place. I was happy here before you came, but now that you have gone, it feels so different. Like something is missing.”
“I love you too, and I’m so sorry for my jealousy. It’s something I have to learn to control.”
“I know it’s difficult for you. You’ve never been in this situation before; it’s all new to you. But I promise, Shona, what I feel for you is so much more than I have ever felt before for anyone”
Toni held out her hand. “You look tired, will you come to bed?”
I nodded and put my hand in hers. We went to bed and held each other for the rest of the night.
The following Wednesday Toni turned up at the flat just before 5pm. She asked if I was up for a little company, until her shift started at 6.30pm. It was obvious to me that she had things on her mind but having Toni around for any amount of time these days was appealing to me and I readily agreed to her staying. I would happily listen to her troubles and if I could in any way help with what was troubling her, I would gladly do so.
“Don’t cook. I’ll pop downstairs and get us some Chinese.”
I had yet to try Chinese food and Toni easily read my hesitancy.
“Don’t worry, Shona, I will get something you will like. I promise.”
Fifteen minutes later I was sampling my very first mouthful of Chinese food. It was heavenly; the smells that wafted from the premises didn’t do this culinary delight justice. Toni had selected three dishes. King prawn chow mein, chicken and pineapple, and beef and black bean. There were side dishes of boiled rice, fried rice and prawn crackers. I started off with a hesitant taste of each dish, but within moments I was hooked. Even the black bean sauce, which I initially found overwhelming on my taste buds, turned out to be delightful and I loved the way the prawn crackers seemed to melt on my tongue. I was hooked on Chinese food instantly.
“How are things at work?”
Toni sat back in her chair, rubbing her full stomach as she considered my question.
“Same as always. I run the bar, but the committee are always trying to pull the strings.”
She rested her head on the back of the sofa, closing her eyes. “I had an argument with them today because they don’t like one of the brewery reps who came to see me.”
“He’s from a small family brewery that operates down on the east coast. They are offering much more favourable rates for what is in my opinion a better product than the beer we are currently selling, but they flat out refuse to change.”
“Why wouldn’t they want to change the beer supplier?”
Toni sighed. “I assume because they are getting a back hander from the current brewery we use.”
“Cha reiceadh leid a chearcsan la fhluich!”
“What did you just say?” Toni enquired, a surprised smile on her face.
“They wouldn’t sell a hen on a wet day!”
She burst out laughing at my words. “Thanks, Shona, I needed that.”
She motioned for me to join her on the sofa. I happily complied with her request. I treasured these precious moments that we manage to steal in amongst our hectic schedules. In less than thirty minutes, Toni would be back behind the bar and I would be studying.
“How are you and Susie getting along?”
I smiled, “Really well.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“We were chatting the other day about you and Eddie.”
“I bet that happens a lot,” Toni replied knowingly.
I decided not to rise to the bait. “We were discussing again, how we never get to have a night out with either of you at the weekends.”
“It’s one of the biggest drawbacks of bar work, little or no nightlife. You work when everyone else gets to play.”
I nodded, I was more aware of that than Susie was, since I worked weekends too. It affected her more though because she was the only one out of all of us free at the weekends.
“Maybe we could arrange something for after work sometime?” Susie had pointed out this possibility to me, adding that many nightclubs stayed open until 3am.
Toni didn’t take long to consider this. “Sure, leave it with me. I’ll talk to Eddie.”
“Thanks, Susie will be pleased.”
We spent the last few minutes snuggling together on the sofa. Toni gave me a long lingering kiss, which left me wanting more, but she left with a promise of continuing tomorrow evening.
True to her word, Toni had spoken to Eddie and arranged for the four of us to have a night out that Saturday. I was working at The Fern till 11pm, so the plan was for Shona to meet me there and we would walk down to the club to meet Toni and Eddie.
“Where do you think they will take us?” I asked Susie.
“I don’t know, but I mentioned Cinderella’s to Eddie a couple of times, so I’m hoping he has taken the hint.”
“Is that a night club?”
“Yeah, it’s a big place down in Stockbridge. One of the main night clubs.”
“So, it’s bigger than Mistys?”
“Oh, aye, Shona, much bigger. It’s really plush, has great lighting. It’s also one of the places where you might see someone famous.”
Susie had definitely dressed in hope. She had on a new dress she had purchased that afternoon from Topshop. I really liked it, and Susie had promised to go shopping with me sometime soon to Princes Street. That would be a new experience.
We entered the Railwaymen’s Club just after 11pm and popped behind the bar, the shutters already down signifying the end of the night. Eddie told us that Toni was dropping Cath off. I offered to help Eddie with the clearing up, but he just waved it off.
“Henry and I will manage. You two want a drink?”
Susie thought that sounded like a good idea while we waited on Eddie to finish clearing up and Toni to return. We had to stand in the cupboard inside the bar with our drinks, out of the way of the regulars and Committee members still on the premises, finishing up their last drink of the night.
Henry, the glass washer walked past and saw us. He looked a bit more presentable than the last time I had caught sight of him. He still needed a haircut and a shave though.
“What are they doing behind the bar, Eddie?”
“Waiting on me and Toni to finish our shift.”
“Nobody is supposed to be served after 11pm.”
“Nobody was served after 11pm, Henry. I gave them the drinks from the ones I’ve been bought tonight.”
Susie and I stood quietly in the cupboard listening to the verbal exchange between Eddie and Henry.
“I’ll have to tell my brother about it.”
“You do that, Henry, but in the mean time, you want to finish collecting the glasses? That’s what you’re paid for after all.”
We heard the bar door slam shut then Eddie ducked his head into the cupboard.
“Don’t mind him. He has been acting like this for weeks. Because his brother is on the committee, he is under the false impression that he is the boss around here.”
I suddenly got a glimpse of what Eddie and Toni must be going through. I knew it was difficult enough dealing with the committee as they prevented any change or progress, but now they had to deal with the added stress of having Henry working there weekends. He was clearly making the job more difficult.
“You two can grab a seat in the big hall, it’s empty now,” Eddie said as he opened the shutters to start removing all the glasses that had been left on the bar as folk were leaving.
A few minutes later, Toni returned and they made quick work of clearing out the remaining customers and cleaning up.
“Do you want me to phone you a cab, Henry?” Toni enquired.
“No, if you just give me the money I’ll walk out and get one.”
“Remember to get a receipt.”
“I will. What are you lot up to then?”
Toni looked at him and simply raised an eyebrow.
“Fine, be like that! Where’s my drink, we usually get one at the end of the night?”
“Not tonight you don’t.”
“But I’m entitled to one.”
“No, you’re not. And just so as you know, I pay for the drinks we all have at the end of the night and tonight, I don’t have time to hang around while you drink a pint of export and a whisky.”
I couldn’t believe the way he was talking to Toni, I really didn’t like this man one bit. Toni stood and waited him out. After a few seconds he got his jacket and left the bar. Toni followed him to lock the main doors.
Eddie popped his head over the bar to talk to us.
“Do you need a refill, girls?”
Susie glanced at her watch and mouthed, ‘no’ to me. I agreed.
“No thanks, Eddie, we’re fine.”
Toni walked back behind the bar.
“Be with you two in a few minutes,” she said and with that she pulled the shutter back down, leaving Susie and me alone in the big hall.
We waited a few minutes and still they hadn’t come to get us. We could hear them walking back and forth and I did begin to wonder what could be taking them so long.
Susie glanced at her watch again. “This is ridiculous, it’s getting on for midnight.”
I was about to answer when Eddie popped his head in the door.
“Okay, you can come through now.”
Susie and I shared a curious glance before getting up and following Eddie to the small hall. Neither of us was expecting what greeted us inside. Gone was the harsh glare of the overhead lighting. Instead the top half of the hall was bathed in soft light from lots of candles. Two of the tables had been covered with white linen tablecloths. One set for four, with lovely jade green placemats and coasters, complete with champagne flutes. The other had a finger buffet and plates. To one side stood a stainless steel champagne bucket and stand, complete with a bottle of champagne on ice. To say we were speechless was an understatement.
Susie found her voice first. “Oh my God,” she whispered.
Toni and Eddie stood smiling at us, each holding a bouquet of flowers and knowing they had done well. I wanted to cry, I was so overwhelmed by the effort they had made.
After flowers, hugs and kisses were exchanged, Toni put on some music and Eddie opened the champagne. We toasted to lasting friendships and a good evening ahead.
“Who knew they could be so romantic?” said Susie. “Honestly, Shona, I think I’m in big trouble here.”
I looked at Susie curiously, not quite following her meaning. “Trouble?”
“Yes, with Eddie. I’ve never fallen for a guy so quickly.”
“Ah, I see.”
“What about you and Toni?”
“Yes, I love her.”
“Does she know?”
“Does she feel the same way?”
I got a big smile on my face. “Yes, she does.”
We sat and watched the pair of them play pool while taunting each other.
“Toni has a cute butt.”
“Oh, I know. Not long after I started working here, I noticed it and often got the urge to touch it, especially when she was leaning over the bar.”
“How long have you been together?”
“Three months. Although we both knew we liked each other, but it took me a little time to accept and understand my feelings. I never even knew that I liked women till I met Toni.”
“I understand. You know, when I seemed shocked that day in the flat when you told me the two of you were together, it was simply because I just didn’t expect the news. Not because I have any problem with you and Toni being a couple.”
“I know, but I have to admit, it was a little difficult telling you. It’s not something I ever expected to be doing. I’m not ashamed of who I am, or of being with Toni, but I do have concerns over how others will react.”
“There will always be people who will never accept it and some will let you know that, but remember, it’s their problem, not yours. If they want to be judgmental and homophobic, let them. You would just be wasting your breath trying to change their minds. People will either accept you or they won’t and that will be tough sometimes, but you will always have your friends to help you through.”
I gave Susie a big hug of thanks; she really was turning out to be a great friend, then whistles from the pool table interrupted us.
“Hey, Toni, our girlfriends are getting it on.”
Toni looked up from her shot just as our embrace finished.
“Oh, don’t stop on my account. People would pay good money to see that.”
Susie pulled me in closer and we sat with an arm around each other and continued to watch them.
“They are just like brother and sister aren’t they?” Susie observed.
I nodded, that summed up their relationship pretty well. I supposed that Toni must really miss her brother and in Eddie, she had a very good friend.
“Oh, your fiver is toast, you are never going to pot that black.”
Eddie was heckling Toni over their latest game. It did look a very tough shot.
Toni looked intently at the table. “I’ll bet you an additional fiver I can pot the black with this shot.”
Eddie shook his head. “You’re on, no way will you pot that unless it’s a fluke.”
“Watch and learn.”
The black ball was tight on the bottom cushion, about a foot from the pocket, with the cue ball in the middle of the table. Toni sized up the shot then bent down to the table, aiming the cue ball towards the opposite pocket from where the black was.
We all watched in rapt attention as she hit the white and sent it towards the pocket, where it bounced off the outer, then inner jaw, rolled along the bottom cushion where it connected solidly with the black ball and sent it into the pocket. Susie and I clapped wildly, as Toni thrust her pool cue into the air while sporting a cocky grin.
“Aww, that is unbelievable. What a shot.” He put his hand into his pocket and peeled a crisp ten-pound note from a bundle, then handed it to Toni.
“As much as I hate to take your money from you…” she pocketed the tenner. “Thanks very much.”
“One more game, double or quits?”
They racked the balls for the final game.
“Is Eddie sure he wants to gamble again?” I mentioned to Susie. “What if Toni wins?”
“Don’t worry, Shona, after their good luck on the horses, they can both afford it.”
She nodded, “Yeah, Toni picked an outsider and it romped home at 33-1. They had ten pounds each on it.”
“I had no idea.”
“How else do you think the pair of them can afford all this? That champagne is expensive; it’s not the stuff from the supermarket shelf. The buffet was lovely; they will have paid to have that made too. And the flowers? Shona, they must have spent well over a hundred pounds.”
I looked around at everything. Of course it would have taken money to do what they had done for us this evening. I just hadn’t considered it. Something was troubling me. I had no idea that Toni bet the horses. Is that something I should have known? Susie did, Eddie obviously told her. Why didn’t Toni tell me?
“I’m going to the toilet, be right back.”
When I came out of the toilet, Toni was waiting for me in the foyer.
“Are you okay?”
I nodded, and smiled weakly.
Toni pulled me into a warm embrace and she kissed the top of my head, a gesture that was becoming very familiar to me.
“I’m sorry I didn’t mention the betting.”
“It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me everything you do.”
“No, I should have told you.”
“Why didn’t you?” That was the crux of the matter; I was more bothered about why Toni chose not to tell me, than the gambling itself.
“I think I chose not to tell you because I was a little ashamed.”
I frowned and looked at her. “Why would you be ashamed? It’s not illegal.”
“I know, but you go to church every Sunday, I thought that maybe you wouldn’t approve. I don’t know, I suppose I just didn’t want you to think badly of me.”
I nodded. I could see why Toni withheld the information.
“I don’t have a problem with you gambling. I assume you’re not addicted?” I added hastily.
Toni smiled. “Lots of people can gamble without feeling the urge to bet everything they have. I’m not addicted or a compulsive gambler. It’s a hobby and every so often I get lucky.”
I thought about something that occasionally nagged in the back of my brain, but I had never given voice to it.
“Remember when you asked me to pour the Queen Anne whisky into the Bell’s bottle?”
Toni nodded. “I do.”
“Someone was making money from that. Was it the committee?”
She looked down at the floor. “No, I make money from that.”
“I see.” I tried not to sound disapproving, but I couldn’t help but feel it was wrong.
“Look, Shona, I know I have spoken of the distaste I have for certain practices around here and I genuinely do enjoy the fact that you are nothing like that. I must seem like a hypocrite to you right now. I’m not perfect, Shona. For a good while now I’ve known my future was in bar work. It’s not an easy game to be in, especially in this town. It’s big business and I’m guilty of a little skimming.”
“These are practices that go on all the time in bars.” I said more to myself, getting what Toni was putting across to me. “I understand.”
“Do you really?”
“Yes, I really do.”
“Is that something that you can accept?”
I considered that for a moment before replying. “It’s something that I can tolerate.”
“That’s good enough for me.”
We hugged a little longer before returning to the hall where Eddie and Susie were dancing slowly. We joined them and spent the rest of the night dancing, drinking and chatting into the wee hours of the morning. It wasn’t until almost 5am, that we staggered out of the club and all walked back up to the flat.
“And I read in the local newspaper this week, we are being asked, ladies and gentlemen, to accept impurities. There are murmurs again that we should not only tolerate homosexuality, but indeed accept it. I say never!” The reverend slammed his fist down so heavily on the solid wooden pulpit, I observed the woman in front of me jump. I was attending the regular 10am Sunday service at St Philip’s.
“The Bible is our only rule of faith and manners. It condemns homosexuality unreservedly. Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed for this heinous sin. When the Apostle Paul looked for a sin to demonstrate God’s judgment on mankind, it was this very sin that he set upon: ‘For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly…’ (Romans 1:26-27) The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ has the power to change lives. In the Lord Jesus Christ, our sins are forgiven.”
I could see the spittle flying from his mouth with the pure force behind each word.
“When God says we are sinners and guilty, he means we are guilty whether we feel it or not. We have broken his law. We have not acted in love. We have marred his world. We have caused untold hurt and misery. We have rebelled against him and broken relationship with him. As a result we are estranged and alienated from him. The wages of sin is death - not just physical death, but spiritual and eternal death.”
He finished in a harsh whisper, then paused to let his intense gaze drift over the congregation,
“If you feel the weight of guilt at this moment, perhaps of old sins, perhaps of current ones, come to Jesus and find forgiveness and peace with God. There is no sin too great, no stain too deep, and no burden too heavy for Jesus to remove. The Apostle John said, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin’.”
The reverend allowed his gaze to settle directly on me,
“I urge anyone amongst you who may feel temptation, who has acted immorally, to seek forgiveness. You can be saved; it’s never too late.”
I could feel my cheeks burn as he continued to look at me. It was an extremely uncomfortable moment, which felt like it lasted minutes instead of the mere seconds it took until I bowed my head, no longer able to tolerate his piercing stare.
As soon as the sermon was over I headed straight for the shore. There was a strong wind whipping off the sea this Sunday morning and I appreciated the sobering sting it brought to my cheeks. I felt tears begin to form, a combination of the salty wind and my emotional state. Today’s sermon had brought to the surface the ambivalence I was currently feeling towards my faith. It was ironic, I continued to attend church faithfully every Sunday, playing the good Christian, but the reality was so very different. I no longer felt a part of the congregation. I now felt like an outsider. I thought back to the concern the Reverend Halliday had continually expressed the summer before I came to Edinburgh. The constant warnings he had issued about the temptations that lay in wait. I had indulged in all of them – okay the smoking was passive, but the others, sex and alcohol to name but two. On the plus side I wasn’t a heroin addict and, after all, I had been told many times that Edinburgh was the ‘drugs capital of Europe’. I sometimes wondered if we were so insular that we failed to see beyond ourselves, and the limitations that our religion was putting on us. I knew for a fact that being a heroin addict would be better received back home than my homosexuality. I swiped angrily at my tears as they began to run down my cold cheeks.
“Oh, it’s wee, Shona. We miss you at the club, hen.”
I looked up to see two members from the Railwaymen’s Club looking over at me. I was sitting on one of the many benches that were located along the promenade. I didn’t recall exactly when I had sat down.
“Morning, Mr. and Mrs. Duncan.” I smiled at them; they were a lovely couple, always chatty, and never a bad word to say about anyone.
“What’s up lass? You’re looking a bit peaky.” Mr. Duncan asked sincerely.
I tried to cover my current distress, but failed miserably. “I’m fine, I just fancied a walk.”
“Are you homesick, is that it, Shona?”
Mrs. Duncan took a seat beside me on the bench and took my chilled hand in her warm ones. It was my undoing and I sniffled loudly.
“There, there lass you’ll be alright. Why don’t we walk you to the club to see Toni?”
“That’s a good idea, Libby. Toni will cheer her up.” Mr. Duncan agreed cheerily.
Before I could form a protest I was being guided to my feet and walking arm in arm with the Duncans towards the club.
The Duncans walked me into the club. I assured them I would be fine, but they insisted on making sure I was safely with Toni before they left me. Mr. Duncan tapped on the bar door and Eddie answered; he took one look at me and immediately turned to get Toni.
“Are you alright?” Toni’s concern for me was evident.
I nodded, but it was Mrs. Duncan who answered. “We were taking our usual walk along the prom when we came across Shona, looking upset. I think the poor lassie is homesick.”
Toni assured the Duncans that I was in good hands and I thanked them for walking me to the club. With a final squeeze of my arm Mr. and Mrs. Duncan said goodbye and told Toni they would see her that evening.
“Come on.” Toni gently led me into the main hall, which wouldn’t be in use until that evening. We took a seat just inside the doors. It was dim inside, the only light coming in through the small windows set high up in the walls.
“What has you so troubled?”
“I was at church this morning.” Toni nodded, she knew I attended every Sunday.
“Toni, I think the Reverend knows!”
She frowned, not sure what I was referring to.
“About us,” I clarified.
“What did he say to you?”
“It was during his sermon. He started talking about homosexuality, how it’s a sin. He was using quotes from the bible and talking about how God can forgive you. Then when he addressed the congregation directly, he looked straight at me and said any of us could be saved, it was never too late.” My lip started to quiver I was so upset by what had happened.
Toni wrapped me up in her strong arms. “I thought the Church of Scotland were adopting a more lenient approach?”
“They are,” I mumbled into her shoulder. “But I’m a member of the Free Church of Scotland.”
Toni leaned back to look at me. “You’re a ‘wee free’?” The surprise in her voice was evident.
I nodded; it was something I had never discussed with her.
She frowned, “I had no idea.”
“It just never came up.”
“What’s the difference? I know you were all Church of Scotland at one time.”
“Yes, that’s right. The split happened in 1843, when many ministers broke away from the Church of Scotland because of its relationship with the state. Basically the ministers who left disagreed over the way the state was able to have a say in how the church governed itself. So they broke away and became the Free Church of Scotland and maintained the right to govern their own spiritual affairs.”
Toni considered that information. “Then why do they have the reputation of being…”
She searched for a word, probably a diplomatic one. “Puritanical?” I offered.
“It’s okay, because it’s true.” I offered a little smile, “Basically the Free Church has adhered more strictly to the bible. It doesn’t move with the times.”
“Then why keep going to worship there?”
I sighed, “That’s a very good question. I believe in God, Toni. I could try to find a new church, one that is a little more liberal.”
“What if there was one that was very liberal?”
I wasn’t entirely certain what that would entail, or if it were even possible. “How do you mean?”
“There are other people in this city who are homosexual and believe in God. They have their own congregation.”
I had never even considered that such a thing could exist. I can honestly say I was shocked. “Really? There is a gay church?”
Toni smiled, “Yes, really. Though I don’t think that’s its advertising slogan.” We shared a smile at her joke. “You could go along and see if you liked it.”
I nodded, “When and where do they congregate?”
“It’s in the centre of town, I’m not exactly sure when and where, well it’s definitely a Sunday. I’ll find out for you. – And, maybe, the first time you go anyway, I could accompany you – until you get settled.”
I threw my arms around Toni and hugged her for all I was worth.
Getting off the bus after finishing uni the following Wednesday, I decided to walk down to the club and meet Toni. Her afternoon shift would just be coming to an end. She had been coming up to Susie’s flat between her shifts on Wednesdays so that we could share some time together. I would cook for her and then she would go back to the club for her evening shift.
The weather was really starting to change with autumn quickly morphing into winter. The second I turned the corner off the high street, I was hit by a stiff easterly wind that was blowing right off the sea, funnelling up the street leading down the to the club and seafront. Closing the top button of my jacket, I picked up my pace.
Though just after four, the door remained unlocked, that meant Toni still had customers finishing up their drinks.
I knocked lightly on the bar door. Toni answered it with a look of mild exasperation on her face, which much to my delight, quickly turned into a full-blown smile upon seeing me.
“Well this is a pleasant surprise. Come on in.”
She ushered me behind the bar where she was obviously in the middle of clearing up the remainder of the dirty glasses from that afternoon.
“I thought I would pop in to see you.” I added coyly. “I miss you.”
“I miss you too.” Toni gave me a quick peck on the lips. “You’re cold, go pop the kettle on, get some hot tea in you.”
I did as instructed, putting my jacket and bag into the cupboard on the way. I made us both a cup of tea, no sugar, Toni always joked that I was sweet enough. I heard Toni saying goodbye to her last customers, before following them to lock the front doors. I was waiting for her, tea in hand when she returned to the bar.
I took a grateful sip of my hot drink; it served to heat both my hands at the same time as causing a shiver of approval to course through my body. I watched as Toni finished washing the last two glasses, and then set them on the drip tray.
She took a sip of her tea, adding a “Thanks,” as she sighed contentedly, able to fully relax now that everything was done. I knew that she usually stayed a little later on Wednesday afternoons, but today she seemed content to spend this time with me.
“Fancy a game of play pool?”
I was momentarily surprised by the request, but found myself readily agreeing.
We took our mugs of tea to the small hall, where Toni popped a couple of coins in the slots of the pool table and racked the balls.
We leisurely made our way through a game, with Toni assisting and guiding me, while making the game fun for herself by attempting and making some satisfying pots. Finally it was a black ball game, I wasn’t fool enough to believe I merited being so close, but it was fun regardless.
“Mmm, come here you.” Toni put her arms around my waist and pulled me back towards her as I was bending over the table, lining up my shot. She nuzzled my neck, and then sucked on my earlobe. I could feel her slowly grind her pelvis into my backside. She had such an effect on me I was already wet. Dropping the pool cue, I put my hands back to caress her thighs. I could feel the strong muscles move under my fingers as she moved against me.
“You want to take your shot?” she whispered huskily in my ear.
It wasn’t what I expected to hear. I pulled out of Toni’s embrace and looked at her curiously. She raised her eyebrow in question, a wicked smile gracing her beautiful face. She pulled me to her and kissed me passionately. I was breathless when she ended the kiss and certainly in no condition to play pool!
“Stay right there,” she pointed to the spot I was standing in. “I’ll be right back.” She headed behind the bar and left me standing next to the pool table, very aroused and very confused. Toni came back into the hall, a travel blanket in her hand and before I could even ask, she had promptly spread it out on top of the pool table. I realised that I was finally catching on.
“I have wanted you all day.” Toni said as she pulled me to her again. “Now where were we?” Oh yes, we were right here, I thought as she captured my lips again.
Toni manoeuvred me until my bottom was pressed against the edge of the pool table. She grasped my buttocks and massaged them firmly with her long fingers. She had great hands. I gasped when I was suddenly lifted onto the edge of the pool table. Toni stood between my parted legs and continued to kiss me long and hard. I felt her hands move over the silk of my blouse to cup my breasts. I was happy to let Toni take me wherever she wanted to go. She moved her mouth to my neck as she started to slide the buttons of my blouse open, gradually exposing more of my flesh to her eager mouth.
“I love front fastening bras,” she mumbled while nuzzling between my breasts, and then proceeded to demonstrate just why she loved the garment. I felt the cool air on my bare skin and then Toni’s mouth was covering one of my breasts, I gasped at the sensation. I really enjoyed having Toni’s mouth on my breasts, sucking on my nipples. I pulled her head closer, offering more encouragement. She switched to the other breast and whilst continuing to squeeze the neglected nipple between her fingers.
“I love the way you feel,” Toni whispered as she lifted me to a standing position. Moving her hands down to the waistband of my trousers, she deftly opened the top button, sliding the zip down slowly. I felt her warm hands move inside the waistband and she slowly slid my trousers and panties down my legs. She then effortlessly lifted me back on top of the pool table, now covered with the blanket, and continued to remove my shoes and socks along with the trousers and panties that had bunched at my knees. Toni ran her hands over my calves and up the outside of my thighs repeatedly. It was the most exquisite torture. I loved the way she could take her time with me, she seemed to know what my body needed before I did. As Toni moved her mouth down over my stomach, I felt myself sink back onto the blanket. Toni’s hands moved to caress the inside of my thighs and my hips jerked towards her. I reached blindly for her head, hoping to encourage her to move more quickly to where I needed her most. I couldn’t wait any longer.
“Please, Toni,” I heard myself rasp. “Ohhh!” Then she was there, her lips and tongue on me, in me. Taking me to a place I knew I would never get enough of. I could hear Toni’s moans of pleasure mingle with my own. She removed her tongue from inside me and started to lick and suck my clitoris. I would never have believed until recently that anything could feel this good. Toni increased the pressure of her tongue and I felt myself slipping over the edge, screaming out my release, which echoed in the empty hall. I lay there my legs dangling limply over the side of the pool table, my hand carelessly playing with Toni’s hair, as her head remained on my thigh. I could feel her breath, each exhale caressing my skin and leaving a tingling sensation.
We never did finish the game. It was almost six when Toni checked her watch. She began hastily tucking in her shirt and instructing me to do likewise.
“What’s the rush, Toni?”
“I forgot the committee are arriving tonight at 6pm. They are having a meeting about something or other.”
She began to fold the travel blanket. “Sorry to rush you. I was having so much fun it completely slipped my mind.” She offered me a quick smile.
I hastily dressed, then grabbed our empty teacups and followed Toni behind the bar.
“You haven’t had anything to eat.”
“I’ll manage. I think I put on a little weight during the summer anyway, with all the good meals you cooked for me.”
“I don’t think so, Toni Martin.” I pinched her butt for effect and she gave a little yelp. “I’m going to pop to the chip shop and get you something. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
I grabbed my jacket and purse and Toni followed me to open the door, telling me it would be left open for me to return.
When I got back, Toni was nowhere to be seen, but I could hear voices coming from the committee room. I went behind the bar and put the kettle on. Putting Toni’s chips onto a plate, I readied a mug for tea.
Five minutes later I watched Toni storm out of the committee room, the raised voices had brought me out into the main foyer. Mr. Bain came out of the room after her, shouting that ‘she would do as she was damn well told’. Red in the face, he struggled to make up the ground between them as Toni’s long strides brought her closer to me at the bar door. I looked on in horror as Mr. Bain clutched at his chest and slumped to the floor.
“Toni!” I screamed and pointed behind her. She briefly gave me a puzzled look before spinning round to see the man lying unmoving on the floor of the foyer. She quickly sprang into action as chaos ensued around her. My scream had brought the rest of the committee out of their hidey-hole.
Toni crouched down beside Mr. Bain putting her fingers to his neck to feel for a pulse.
“Christ! Shona, call an ambulance, he’s not breathing,” Toni instructed as she barked orders at the others to move back and give her some room to work.
I grabbed the phone from its cradle on the wall and dialled 999 as quickly as I could.
“Operator, which service do you require?” said the calm voice on the other end of the line.
“Ambulance!” I practically screamed into the receiver. “He’s not breathing.”
“What’s the address?”
I told her the club’s address then proceeded to beg her to hurry, while I looked on in horror as Toni breathed air into Mr. Bain’s lungs.
I hung up the phone as the operator informed me that the ambulance was on its way. The next few minutes were the longest in my life to date. I watched on numbly as Toni continued to work tirelessly at trying to keep Mr. Bain alive. She was counting out as she compressed his chest, then she would breathe more air into his lungs. It seemed to go on for hours, but in truth, it was only minutes. I could hear a siren approaching, thank goodness help was almost here. Before the ambulance got to the club Toni looked up at me, her blue eyes intense and focussed, her hair mussed and sweat running down from her forehead.
“He’s breathing,” she rasped, as she manoeuvred Mr. Bain into the recovery position. She looked back down at the prone pale figure and continued to monitor him until the ambulance crew arrived, less than a minute later.
Toni moved back wearily from the scene as the paramedics worked on Mr. Bain. Sitting on one of the chairs in the foyer and looking at the floor, she seemed to be in a daze. I rubbed her shoulder and she barely responded to my touch.
Heading behind the bar, I poured a glass of water before taking it back to Toni, who was in the exact same position I had left her in just moments ago. She barely nodded her thanks as I put the glass down on the small table in front of her. I watched her hands tremble as she lifted the glass towards her mouth; she took a few sips then leaned her head back against the wall closing her eyes. I stood beside her silently watching, unsure what to do next. Nobody was saying much as the paramedics wheeled Mr. Bain towards the exit.
One of the committee, Mr. Peters, broke the silence.
“Aye, I don’t know about the rest of ye’, but a’ could do with a good stiff drink to settle the nerves.”
There were a few murmurs of approval, which were quickly silenced when Toni spoke aloud for the first time, her voice as cold and harsh as the snow-capped peak of Ben Nevis.
“Don’t you gentlemen think it would be appropriate to call his wife first?”
“Oh, aye, of course we’ll phone Ella. Let her know that Fred is on his way to the hospital after taking a wee turn.”
“A wee turn! Jesus Christ, the man wasn’t breathing!” Toni stared icily at the remaining committee members, “You are nothing but a bunch of piranhas whose sole interest is to swallow as much free alcohol as you can get and line your own pockets in the process. You don’t even care that your colleague, a man that you all spend more time with than your own wives, might not live to see tomorrow.”
Toni stood up so fast that the chair she had been sitting on hit the wall. Before it settled back into place, she was out the front door, leaving everyone gaping in the direction she had just exited.
“I’ll make that phone call then, eh?” Said Mr. Peters.
The rest of them shuffled through to the small hall. I had no idea what to do. Toni had stormed off to goodness knows where. I decided to grab my jacket from behind the bar and head home to the flat to await news of her.
“Ah, Shona, lass, I wonder if you could help us out a little. We seem to be in a bit of a spot, what with Toni running off. We don’t have anyone to serve behind the bar until Eddie gets here.”
In that moment I really wanted to tell Mr. Auld to go…somewhere! I was so mad. Unfortunately my manners got the better of me so I took a deep breath, smiled politely and asked him what the round was.
Eddie arrived a few minutes later, but before I had a chance to tell him what had happened, Mr. Auld decided to get there first. Eddie gave me a strangely curious look then, proceeded to listen to Mr. Auld describe the events of less than thirty minutes earlier.
“…So you see, Edward. We don’t know where she is, or if she is coming back tonight. I think it might be guilt that drove her off. I mean she had just argued with Bill moments before he collapsed.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The man was actually saying that it was all Toni’s fault, not even mentioning how she resuscitated him! I was so mad in that moment I felt like I would explode. Toni was right, these people didn’t even care about each other, I felt sick.
“I know it’s a busy night, perhaps young Shona, could stick around and help you out till Toni gets back?”
“Oh, no, Mr. Auld, Shona works at The Fern, so she won’t be able to do that.”
I wondered why Eddie was refusing my help without asking me first. I continued to listen as Mr. Auld said that Henry could probably help out tonight, he would be coming in anyway for a drink. I watched as the ladies started to arrive for their bingo, I decided I couldn’t just let them queue up at the bar and was about to start serving them when Eddie took hold of my arm and guided me into the cupboard.
“Be with you in a moment ladies.”
There were a few moans and groans but Eddie didn’t respond.
“What he told you Eddie isn’t exactly what happened.” I began to explain.
“That’s okay, Shona. I take what they say with a pinch of salt and wait till I get the truth from Toni. Forget about them. Do you know the Daisy Park?”
“Huh?” I was completely confused by his question.
“It’s probably where Toni is.” He explained. “It’s not far from here. You know the swimming baths?”
I nodded, “Yes, I swim there.”
“Right, go straight along the prom, walk past the baths then, take the first right. It will take you straight up to the Daisy Park, it will be on your left.”
“And that’s where I will find Toni?”
“I’m 99% sure of it. Look, I have to serve the vultures, don’t worry about anything here, it isn’t your concern, Toni is.” Eddie smiled at me and gave me a quick hug. “I’ll see you later.”
He went off to serve the customers and I once again reached for my jacket. I noticed Toni’s denim one still hanging in the cupboard, so I took it with me. I made my way hurriedly down to the prom, the cold wind from earlier now spattered through with rain. I’m sure I could have cut along behind the promenade, but with my terrible sense of direction I thought it was safest to follow Eddie’s directions to the letter. The wind was picking up and coming in off the sea, driving the rain against me. I shivered a little as I burrowed into my jacket trying to find some extra warmth. It was now dark, the nights drawing in fast. I picked up my pace to jog and hoped that I would find Toni where Eddie said.
I saw a lone figure in the park, sitting silently and still amongst the greenery, looking serene and oblivious to the winter weather. I slowly approached her.
“Ahh, Shona, you found my secret place – Eddie tell you?”
I nodded. She was sitting on one of the park benches, her dark hair plastered against her face, her white cotton shirt soaked through.
“Toni, you must be cold, come on, put on your jacket?” I held the faded denim out to her, but she refused.
Shrugging she said, “I can’t feel a thing.” Holding up an almost empty half bottle of whisky she continued, “Good for all that ails you, keeps you warm too – go on have a taste, you’re shivering.” She took her denim jacket from me and laid it on the bench beside her, then motioned for me to sit.
Taking a seat I accepted the offered bottle, figuring if I could drink the remainder of the whisky that meant no more for Toni. I took the remaining liquid into my mouth and swallowed in one gulp. I instantly felt the trail of fire burn all the way down to my belly, my eyes watering in sympathy.
Toni laughed and slapped my back. “Breathe, Shona, you’ll be fine in a moment.”
“Tha…” I could hardly find my voice, so I swallowed and tried again. “That’s what whisky tastes like?” I husked. “I can’t believe it’s so popular.”
Toni smiled, “You get used to it after a few swigs, it kind of numbs the tongue. I enjoy the sensation and there is nothing better for a day like today.”
She took the bottle from me and drained the very last dregs from the bottom of it.
“This was my favourite place to come with my mum. I always come visit when I’m missing her most.”
Her eyes shimmered with unshed tears. She looked so forlorn and fragile in that moment, I was at a loss as to how to help her, but getting us both out of this bad weather was a priority.
“Will you come home with me to Susie’s flat?”
Toni looked at me, her eyes glassy and unfocussed. “I would go anywhere with you, Shona.”
She stood on slightly wobbly legs, swaying a little until she got her balance. Screwing the lid back onto the empty whisky bottle, Toni took her time to focus on carefully depositing the bottle into the bin.
“I don’t like litter.” She muttered distastefully.
I took her hand and we made our way along the prom. The wind and rain not letting up, I stopped to insist that Toni put on her denim jacket. I held it out while she put her arms into the jacket sleeves, not bothering to look at what she was doing, trusting that they would get there somehow. She looked out to sea, there was nothing but inky black all the way across to Fife, where a smattering of lights dotted the next chunk of land.
“At times like this I fucking hate this place.” She turned around and motioned to all of Portobello. “Look at it – it’s so fake, run down, tainted.”
She shook her head, then looked at me, “but then there is you, so pure, so true, so trusting. You are my little ray of sunshine on these dark bleak days.” She ran a warm hand through my wet curls.
Toni’s words were heartfelt and I knew she wasn’t simply referring to the weather.
“I think I’m out of a job.” She sniggered, “Those bastards are probably telling everyone who will listen that I tried to kill Bill Bain, the daft old bugger shouldn’t have been trying to run after me while he was so worked up.”
I couldn’t disagree with Toni’s observations. From what I had seen already, I wouldn’t be surprised if they claimed Toni was attempting to suck the very life out of Mr. Bain, when she was keeping him alive with her own breath.
“What was the argument about?”
“They want me to reduce Cath’s hours so Henry can work more.”
“That’s terrible!” I proclaimed. No wonder Toni had refused. “What will you do if they sack you?”
Toni smiled. “Don’t worry about me, Shona, I was never intending to be behind that bar indefinitely. I will just have to move my plans forward a bit.”
We were almost at the flat now and I was frozen. Toni was right; the whisky did seem to have rendered her immune to the cold, for now anyway.
“My goodness, look at the pair of you?” Susie exclaimed. “You’re both soaked through!”
“Hiya, Susie. I’ve just lost my job,” Toni informed her, as though chatting about the weather.
Clearly picking up on Toni’s inebriated state, Susie looked to me for confirmation.
“Well, not officially, yet anyway. There was an incident at the club this evening. I’ll tell you all about it later. Right now I have to get the both of us out of these wet clothes.”
“Of course, Shona. I’ll pop the kettle on, leave all the wet clothing outside in the hall and I’ll put it in the machine.”
“Thanks, Susie,” I called over my shoulder, as I led Toni to my bedroom. Once there I started to remove Toni’s clothing. She was extremely compliant, if a little subdued. As she stepped out of her wet jeans I handed her a large fluffy bath towel. I had myself stripped in under a minute and grabbed all our wet clothing to leave in the hall before leading Toni to the bathroom.
The hot water from the shower felt wonderful on my chilled skin. Toni didn’t seem to notice or react to the change as she docilely allowed me to wash her hair and body.
After drying us off with a little help from Toni, she left the bathroom and promptly padded stark naked past a startled Susie. I chased behind her wrapped in my towel and offered an apologetic smile to her.
“I left two mugs of tea in your bedroom.”
“Ahem, does Toni have anything to wear?”
“I was going to rummage around, but I doubt I have anything that will cover her up.”
“I have a tee-shirt and boxers belonging to Eddie, I’ll go get them.”
I entered my bedroom to find Toni spread-eagled and gloriously naked on my single bed, her feet dangling off the bottom. She was sound asleep on top of the duvet. I grabbed a blanket to cover her, dropping on a kiss on her forehead. “Dean cadalan samhach, a chuilean mo ruin.” Sleep softly my darling beloved.
I put on my robe and made my way through to the sitting room.
“That woman has no modesty.” Susie stated.
“I know, she is very comfortable with her own body.”
“Can’t say I blame her. I mean don’t get me wrong, Shona, I’m a straight woman, but that is one gorgeous hunk of female you have there.”
I giggled, a little embarrassed, but I couldn’t disagree.
“So what happened?”
“Like I said there was an incident at the club this evening. Toni had an argument with a member of the committee; he then chased after her and collapsed. He stopped breathing, Susie, and Toni resuscitated him while I called for an ambulance. She has probably saved his life, but it seems more likely she will be blamed for the incident.”
“So will she be sacked?”
“I’m not sure, but Toni seems to think so.”
“My God. I can’t believe it.”
“I know. She stormed off in disgust after Mr. Bain was taken away in the ambulance and the rest of the committee members seemed more interested in getting a drink than in even letting Mr. Bain’s wife know what had happened to him. Eddie told me where I could find her.”
“Where was she?”
“Sitting in the Daisy Park drinking whisky in the pouring rain.”
“What is she going to do?”
“She says not to worry about her.”
“Well, it’s not difficult to get bar work in this town, that’s for sure.”
I nodded as I sipped my hot drink, finally beginning to feel some warmth seeping back into my chilled bones.
After finishing my drink, I took the boxers and tee shirt that Susie had given me and returned to my bedroom. Toni was still sprawled across my bed and I briefly wondered where I would sleep tonight. There was currently no room for me. I sat down in my chair and attempted to fit in some study time.
I looked over to see Toni awake. She sat up in bed revealing her naked torso. Frowning at her state of undress, she looked at me accusingly.
“I have no clothes on?”
I think she was still a little drunk. I picked up Eddie’s clothing and took it over to her.
“Here, put these on.”
“Are these Eddie’s?” she asked while sniffing gingerly at the garments.
“Yes, Susie assures me they are clean.”
She put the clothes. “What time is it?” Toni was rubbing her head and I wondered if she was suffering from a hangover.
“A little after ten. Would you like some coffee?”
She continued to rub her head while frowning. “If you wouldn’t mind, I would love a cup.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Susie was still awake in the living room.
“How is everything?”
“I think Toni has a hangover, I’m just going to make some coffee, would you like some?”
“Sure, I’m staying up waiting for Eddie. I’m sure he will be able to give us an update from the club when he gets here.”
“I’ll let Toni know he’s coming.”
“Her clothes are dry and I ironed them so she has something to wear tomorrow.”
“Oh, thanks very much, Susie. I’m sure she will be grateful.”
“No need for thanks, it’s what friends are for.”
Eddie arrived within the hour and informed Toni that Fred Bain was in a stable condition in hospital. He also said that the remaining committee members were telling anyone who would listen that Toni was going to be sacked and would also be permanently banned from the premises. A fate reserved for only the worst of offenders apparently, though I don’t think that concerned Toni at all judging by the way she that mocked it.
“I’ll beat them to the punch. First thing tomorrow morning I will hand in my notice with immediate effect and rescind my membership. It’s not right that bar staff have to become members of the place anyway. Like I care about having that privilege taken away from me. I’ll accompany you there tomorrow morning, Eddie, and hand in my keys and written notice. I won’t give them the satisfaction of parading me through the club first, then sacking me for dramatic effect at one of their hearings.”
With that decision made we all headed off for bed. Toni and I arranged our bodies as best we could in my single bed. It was a tight fit, but I wasn’t complaining.
Monday was the day I least enjoyed out of my week. I started my college day with a busy schedule and barely had time to get home and have dinner before my shift at The Fern began. I wearily made my way up the winding stairwell to Susie’s flat, I could really do without work tonight, but I was sure after I had a bite to eat I would feel revived.
“Oh, my God, Shona, the news is all over Porty!” An anxious Susie informed me as soon as I opened the door. “I heard it several times in the bank and I still can’t believe it.”
I had no idea what she was talking about. “What news?”
“Toni and Eddie have been arrested.”
“What!” I exclaimed as my rucksack hit the floor with a resounding thud.
Susie nodded. “Last night sometime after the Railway Club closed, the safe was robbed, all the weekend takings gone. They are usually banked on a Monday morning.”
I was confused this just wasn’t making any sense. “But why would they arrest Toni and Eddie?”
“It was an inside job, no sign of any forced entry, so the person who robbed the safe had a full set of keys.”
I nodded beginning to understand a little more, but it still wasn’t making a whole lot of sense to me. “Toni doesn’t even have keys anymore, she handed hers in last Thursday.”
Susie nodded, “I know, but since it was common knowledge that she was about to be sacked it seems the finger of blame is being pointed at her.”
“So why has Eddie been arrested?”
“Well if Toni were to pull this off she would have needed a set of keys…”
Susie let that information sink in. “So they are claiming Eddie let her have his? I can’t believe this, Susie. They wouldn’t do that.”
“I’m sure they will be out later this evening, then we can hear all about it first hand, instead of the second hand information I’ve been receiving all day.”
I nodded, feeling numb. I didn’t think for one minute that Eddie and Toni had conspired to steal the money, but what if the police didn’t believe that? Back home on North Uist we had rarely had any need for a police officer, as there was little to no crime on the island. Most of the crimes were committed by tourists and usually involve offences under the wildlife and countryside act, usually for stealing rare bird’s eggs. A robbery? My goodness!
I attempted to eat a sandwich, but had lost my appetite. I gave up on food, instead getting ready for work. Before I left, Susie promised to pop into The Fern if there was any news.
When I arrived at The Fern, Jimmy was there, looking concerned.
“I wasn’t sure if you were going to make it in tonight. Are you up to a shift behind the bar?”
I nodded; Jimmy was a nice man, who had shown me nothing but kindness and respect since I started to work for him.
He motioned with his head towards the bar. “Go on then, but I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”
I nodded again, unable to find my voice; his concern for me was fast becoming my undoing.
“Yes?” I croaked.
“They will both be out before you know it. Nothing will come of this.”
I smiled tremulously. “Thanks, Jimmy.”
He gave me a pat on the shoulder. “Toni and Eddie are good people, we know that, right?”
I nodded once more, before heading behind the bar to start my shift. I really did appreciate his support. Toni really had chosen well when she suggested I work here.
As the evening wore on, I was sure I hadn’t been imagining the inquisitive looks that were being thrown my way. Though it was quiz night there was an underlying mood to the event. People seemed distracted. As the bar had filled up prior to the start of the quiz, you could sense the murmurs going around the place. I had witnessed this type of thing many times at the Railwaymen’s Club, particularly if there had been a death of a regular. I attempted to ignore the whispers and the looks, but it was becoming increasingly difficult, some comments were just impossible to miss.
“See Toni Martin and Eddie Robertson have been fingered for the safe job.”
“Aye, so I’ve been hearing. Mind you, as thick as thieves that pair. I’m no’ surprised.”
“Well, with Toni being sacked last week, seems obvious she helped herself.”
I was so mad, these men were sitting at the bar having this conversation, I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer.
“Toni was not sacked – she resigned and she handed in her keys last week.”
“It’s easy to get keys cut, hen, and from what I heard Toni was about to be sacked after she nearly killed Bill Bain.”
The way the men looked at me only served to infuriate me more. I knew what they thought; that I was young and naïve and had a lot to learn. Well all that may have been true, but I was not going to stand there and listen to them talking as though Toni and Eddie had already been found guilty.
“She saved his life!”
The bar went suddenly quiet. The two men who had been chatting developed an interest in what was in their glasses, but almost everyone else was looking my way.
Jimmy led me away from the bar.
“They aren’t interested in the facts, Shona, just the gossip. You get yourself home. You’ve had more than enough for one evening.”
Jimmy helped me with my coat, and walked me to the door. The looks he threw the way of those following my progress had them suddenly finding an interest in the pictures on the wall. Nathairs!
Instead of going straight home I walked past the stair door to the flat and along to the police station. There was a middle-aged man in uniform behind the glass partition.
“Hello there, what can I do for you?”
“My friend, Toni has been arrested and I would like to be a character witness.”
The man’s eyebrows raised and he attempted to hide a smile.
“What’s your name?” He asked, not unkindly.
“Shona MacLeod, Sir.”
This time he did smile fully. “Where are you from, Shona?”
“Not much crime there.”
I nodded, not sure where this was going.
“Toni Martin? That’s who your friend is?”
“Yes, Toni – and Eddie Robertson. I don’t believe they are guilty, Sir.”
“Call me Ron or officer. No need for sir.”
I nodded. I had never addressed a policeman before. I had no idea of the correct moniker.
“Shona, Toni and Eddie will be released very soon.”
“So they know they’re innocent?”
“I’ll let them tell you all about it. You get yourself home and don’t worry. Okay?”
“Thank you, si…I mean, Ron.”
He smiled again. “Good night, Shona.”
I left the police station feeling a lot better than when I went in.
When I returned to the flat Susie was there, looking anxious and worried.
“You’re home early, is everything okay?”
“Yes, Jimmy sent me home because the customers were gossiping about Toni and Eddie and I got fed up listening and spoke up.”
“Good for you. They still aren’t out, I’m worried, Shona.”
“It’s okay, they will be out soon.”
“How do you know?”
“Ron told me.”
“Who on earth is Ron?”
“A police officer. I went to the station and asked.”
Susie frowned. “And he told you this? I went earlier and was told to go home, they wouldn’t tell me anything.”
“Well, I may have been a little devious.”
“Huh? Shona, what did you do?” Susie asked with concern.
I was a little embarrassed by my own antics, but I had needed to know. So I told Susie what I did. “I said I was there to give a character reference.”
“You what? You can’t do that.”
“Oh, Shona.” Susie said knowingly.
I couldn’t hide the little smile that crept across my face.
“Let me guess, Officer Ron was charmed by your naivety and told you a little something.”
“That’s sort of what happened. He said they would be out soon and could tell us themselves what had happened. He told me not to worry.”
Susie smiled at me and gave me a hug. “Shall we make some tea and wait up for them?”
I nodded, that sounded like a plan.
It was less than an hour later when the two of them arrived at the flat. They explained that it was an inside job. All the committee members who had been interviewed had blamed Toni and said Eddie must have given her his keys. It seemed their arrests were simply the police having to follow up on all leads. There was no evidence to charge either of them. Toni said that this had happened before when the last bar manager left the job. They weren’t even sacked, so had no motive. But what that did was establish a pattern and pointed the blame elsewhere. Other than the pair of them being tired, they were both fine.
I asked who had been keeping bar at the club that evening and with complete distaste they both answered ‘Henry’ who it seemed was currently in possession of the keys that had been Toni’s. Toni told me that no one would be charged with the robbery, the culprit would have had to have been caught in the act. What a week!
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