All mine, no taking without permission – superficial resemblances to certain characters in a much-loved tv show, but that’s all.
It’s two women. They haven’t told me yet if they’ll do anything that needs a warning – but just in case they do – you’d better take it for granted that you shouldn’t read it if you’re under 16 or live in an intolerant society.
Grateful thanks to Tamara & Mike for the brilliant beta work.
Thanks are also due to Lori L Lake, because although I’m this story’s parent, she’s its god-parent. It was her suggestions regarding kick-starting my muse on my other stories that planted the seed for this one.
All the usual comments, insults, praise and phone numbers should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once in a Blue Moon
It started out as just another ordinary day really. Not that any day in the past month had been anything approaching ‘ordinary’. Not since the Saturday evening four weeks and three days ago when I sat in front of the TV to watch the Lotto draw. Ticket in hand as usual. Hoping for that once-in-a-blue-moon slice of luck, as usual. Waiting to tear it up and throw it in the bin, as usual.
It stopped being usual.
I watched each number as it was drawn; sitting in a fog of disbelief as, one by one, all six of my numbers were called. The only thing that had snapped me out of my stupor was my girlfriend Julia throwing herself into my lap and screeching in my left ear.
“Fifteen million pounds, fifteen million fucking pounds! We’re millionaires!”
She was right, we were. To the tune of fifteen million, three hundred and twenty-two thousand to be precise.
Life had been a bit of a whirlwind since then, rushing to and fro, getting all the paperwork settled, finally (just yesterday in fact) culminating in the cheque being deposited in my bank account. I’d thought my bank manager was going to give birth to triplets, he was that hyper.
Julia had been brilliant since we’d won. In fact she’d been so loving and thoughtful that I’d begun thinking again about opening a joint account. We’d talked about getting one three years ago, but after the glow wore off and the arguments started, we stopped discussing such things. I just handed over whatever money she said she needed. I guess I work pretty well on guilt. She’d do her ‘look what I’ve given up to be with you, I could have been a great actress by now if you hadn’t asked me to move to this dead end part of no-where with you’ routine and I’d do whatever she asked.
The funny thing was, I never could remember asking her to move in with me. I remember getting the phone call at 4am telling me she’d had a quarrel with her parents; she’d told them she was sleeping with me and they’d informed her they would no longer be supporting her through drama school. Then she said she was about to get on the train and could I be at the station to meet her at 7. I met it of course, and she cried all over my shoulder when she arrived and said if she hadn’t known I wanted her to live with me she wouldn’t have known what to do. In fact (or so she told me) she’d probably have gone under the train instead of on it. Well, I ask you, what’s a gentleman butch to do?
I don’t recall thinking of her as more than a diversion before that. I mean, she was good, don’t get me wrong on that. She must have been for me to have driven a 400 mile round trip to London every other weekend for two months just to hop into her bed. But living together?
It was wonderful for about four months. She cooked for me. God only knows, that was a joy; food that didn’t have to be scraped free of charcoal before eating. Let’s face it, put a chisel in my hand and I’m a genius – replace that with a spatula and I’m a disaster zone of mammoth proportions. On top of having decent meals I’d come home to find all my shirts ironed. Hell – she even ironed my boxers. That had felt weird, believe me, ironed underwear.
Then things had gone sour. I’d started thinking of her as ‘psycho bitch from hell’, she’d started calling me the uncouth guttersnipe and begun finding fault with everything; from the way I walked; spoke; dressed; right down to the fact that struggling artists (sculptors to be precise) didn’t earn enough to live on; even if they worked in a warehouse by day as well. We argued so much.
She took to spending some nights each week away from home, staying with her brother and his wife regularly for the past six months. We shelved the idea of joint bank accounts. And as for our sex life... well, I think I’d forgotten what that was. I’d long ago decided that this whole thing was a giant mistake. I didn’t love her, I never had and she didn’t love me. I had allowed my decisions to be made by a part of my anatomy well south of my neck... and Julia? Well, I owned a very nice house in a very posh part of town, and she thought that indicated I had money. When all it really meant was I had an aunt who loved me who once had money and who’d remembered me in her will
We weren’t really a couple, not in the way most people consider being a couple. Apart from the wild sex in the early months we had nothing in common. If I could have just rented a backbone from somewhere I would have ended it; provided I was thinking with my brain at the time of course.
She said it was strain caused by financial problems. Lord knows we never seemed to have much money, even with me working two jobs, and it looked like she was right. Now our money worries were gone, our relationship had improved. In fact, it was starting to be the way it had been when we first met. Right down to the seduction scene I’d found last night when I got home. Candles, soft music, her wearing a basque and suspenders and damn’ all else. Hoo boy!
Perhaps we could make something of it. Perhaps we could even learn to love each other. What the hell, we could have fun trying. Money doesn’t buy happiness I know, but it sure doesn’t hurt. We’d agreed to try.
Anyway... so there I was... heading to work on my motorcycle just like any normal day.
As I tootled along I was thinking, partly about the previous night (which was why I was grinning) and partly about changing my will. At the moment everything I owned, my house, my bike, etc. went to Julia. I’d never had enough possessions to leave to anyone else. But now we had enough I decided I should leave a little bit to my sister; after all, she’d get the lot if Julia didn’t outlive me anyway. Even though she hated me; she was my only living relative.
I recalled the argument we had the day I came out to her. She called me a sinner, evil, told me to stay away from her family. She said I was going to hell. I’d been hurt by that but not entirely surprised. And in my oh-so-very mature fashion I retorted that I’d be glad to go there for several reasons. Firstly all my friends would be there, secondly because I’d always preferred hot places to cold ones and lastly because Da would be there. That upset her. She didn’t like to be reminded that Da hadn’t shared the religious devotion bordering on total obsession that she and Mam did.
Da always did say to us kids that he was going to hell willingly. He built telephone exchanges for a living and said God didn’t need him as he already had a good communications network but the devil sure did and he would go where the work was. Damn I missed my Da; he had a great sense of humour.
I’d just about finished deciding exactly how much to give Susie when it happened. And none of my days would ever be ordinary again.
That had hurt.
As I climbed to my feet I was amazed to find myself in one piece. There was no blood and I didn’t appear to have broken any bones, but blimey it had really, really hurt.
I looked around for my bike. It was crushed against the wall, a total write-off by the looks of it. God, I was lucky to walk away from that. The car that had rammed into me was a complete wreck too. The driver had done a runner and was no-where to be seen. It was a bit early for drunk drivers to be out and about but I guessed that he (or she of course) could have had no other reason to disappear. The Volvo had run the red light, speeding, going so fast that I hadn’t a ghost of a chance to get out of its way. It smacked into the side of me and I was positive it had crushed every bone in that leg by the pain I’d felt. Then, not slowing down at all, it had pushed me sideways on to the pavement and into the brick wall of the multi-storey car park. I was convinced that my ribs had caved in and I could have sworn I felt my shoulder go.
I rotated it experimentally. Nope. It was fine. In fact everything was fine. I was incredibly lucky. I was willing to bet I’d be covered in bruises tomorrow but for now I was as right as ninepence.
I looked over towards my poor motorcycle again. My pride and joy, crushed beyond all recognition. Ok, I know it was only a second-hand Kawasaki and I was now rich enough to buy one of every single model if I chose, but she was mine and she had carried me faithfully for years.
There was a small crowd gathering now, about five or six people clustered around the car, staring at my bike. I couldn’t think why they were bothering. I wasn’t hurt, the driver was long gone. Then it struck me that in a minute someone would spot me and call an ambulance or something and I’d have to go to hospital. There was no way I was going there. I don’t like hospitals. I really don’t like hospitals. I’d been known to pass out just trying to visit friends never mind actually being a patient. You’d think I’d love them wouldn’t you? All those cute nurses in uniform. Tell I don’t. I hate them. Yeah, I know, very funny, the big tough butch has a phobia about hospitals.
I must have been in shock or something because I made my mind up there was no way on God’s green earth they were putting me in an ambulance. I was going to walk home. The fact that it was five miles and I was in head to foot leather, on a day that was due to be the hottest for several years according to Darth the weather forecaster, (Julia dubbed her that on account of an unfortunate habit she had of taking a hissing breath in through her teeth after every sentence), didn’t seem to strike me.
Oh, well... at least I didn’t decide on walking the twenty-five miles remaining in order to get to work. But then, it was my last week. As soon as I was certain the money was coming I quit, intending to sculpt full time. I was only working out my notice. I guess my accident befuddled brain felt that work wasn’t important any more but getting back home was.
I turned and started in the direction of my house, just as an extremely cute little blonde stepped out in front of me and flapped her hands in my direction rather agitatedly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I’m so very sorry. I was late. I should have been here but I wasn’t. I had a fall you see and I wasn’t supposed to... well... actually I was supposed to fall but not where I did, I was supposed to fall just there...” She gestured over my shoulder in the rough direction of the traffic lights. “... and you should have stopped to pick me up, but I didn’t, I fell into a pothole down the road that way and that made me late.”
She indicated behind her while I wondered if she’d actually drawn breath at all, as I hadn’t heard a place for a full stop anywhere in her speech. Then she began again.
“I was supposed to be here, this wasn’t supposed to be like this, it was my first solo assignment, I don’t know what will happen now, I haven’t a clue what they’ll do with you, or what will become of me, oh, I’m so dreadfully sorry, it’s all my fault.”
Just my luck, the best looking woman I’d seen in years speaks to me and she’s a raving nutter. Oh well. I stepped past her and carried on walking. Damned if she didn’t follow me, all the while apologising for being late.
“Where are you going, you can’t leave, we have to report, I don’t know what we’re expected to do now, but I do know there will be paperwork to complete. Hey, wait...”
I turned to face her. “Look, I’m not having a good day so far. I’ve just been the victim of a hit and run lunatic who’s totally destroyed my beloved motorcycle. I do not want to wait around for the police so that I can file a report; they can find my address from the bike and come to see me there. I’m not going to hospital, I hate hospitals. I now have to walk – walk – five miles home, in leathers, in a heat wave. As if that wasn’t enough I’m being followed by a demented pixie, who is beginning to sound like the white rabbit. Is there any chance you could go and find a pack of cards and take off their heads or something, Alice?”
She glared at me. “I’m not a pixie. I’m a perfectly acceptable height for a woman, well within normal range. Just because I’m not a giant like some people....” She looked me up and down. ”And I’m not demented, I’m just not explaining myself very well. Furthermore my name is Josie”
“Josie... right. Well look, Josie, I don’t want you to explain yourself at all. I just want you to go away. Please”.
Holding up both hands in supplication I span on my heel and continued my journey home. Which was when I realised I hadn’t got my crash helmet. I must have left it at the accident scene, although I couldn’t actually recall removing it. Never mind, when I put in an insurance claim for the bike I’d claim for a new helmet as well.
Some time later, I wasn’t sure exactly how long because my watch had stopped, I turned into my street, still with the pixie following me. She was almost jogging to keep up. To be honest I was trying to lose her. I was striding along, moving fast. I thought she’d be worn to a frazzle long before then. But she wasn’t even breathing hard. She hadn’t so much as worked up a sweat; nor had I, come to think of it. I still had my jacket on.
A few metres ahead of us, moving in the same direction, was a man, limping slightly as he went. He looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place him. I was surprised when he turned into my front garden. Damn, he must be a cop; I couldn’t believe they’d moved so quickly. I hadn’t wanted Julia to be told about the accident before I could speak to her; didn’t want her worried about me. I sped up slightly hoping to catch him before he reached the door.
I wasn’t quite quick enough. I’d only just arrived at the gate by the time he reached for the bell. He didn’t get a chance to ring it though, as the door flew open. Then I got the shock of my life.
Julia leapt into his arms with a squeal and planted the biggest smacker on his lips that I’d ever seen. I couldn’t remember the last time she’d kissed me like that. In fact, I didn’t recall her ever kissing me quite like that.
The shocks kept coming.
He swung her round and kissed her again before setting her on her feet and stepping back. I noticed that she kept her arms around this neck.
“All done?” she asked, tilting her head to one side and smiling in a manner I once considered sexy. Now it looked downright predatory.
“Yep,” he replied. “I stole a car and ran her off the road, just like we planned. Bike was smashed to smithereens. There’s no way anyone could have survived that.”
“Did you check?” Julia sounded a bit sharp now, and she dropped her hands to her sides.
“Well, not thoroughly, the crash drew a crowd. I couldn’t afford to hang around. But trust me she was a mess: blood everywhere; bits of bones poking up. She was dead as a doornail.”
Julia smiled again. It wasn’t a nice smile.
“So it’s over, baby. It’s all clear for you and me now. No more sneaking around two or three times a week. Now we can be a family. A really rich family. You, me and little junior.” He grinned and placed both of his hands on her stomach as he spoke.
I was reeling. Little junior? Julia was pregnant? She was seeing a man? They’d tried to kill me? I’d been frozen to the spot since the first kiss between them, but that revelation spurred me into action and I leapt forward. They hadn’t seen me yet but boy, were they in for a surprise. I was looking forward to telling that two-timing trollop exactly what I thought of her... but first I was going to knock that murdering s-o-b into next week. I reached out to grab his shoulder to pull him around.
My hand went straight through him.
I opened my eyes slowly. I was lying somewhere warm and soft and I didn’t want to get up yet. I was looking at a lot of blue – bright blue. It dawned on me that the ‘bright blue’ was the sky and the ‘soft’ my front lawn. Why was I lying on my front lawn? Memory rushed back and I leapt to my feet in a single motion. I opened my mouth to speak but paused, looking round instead, astonished at my feat of gymnastics. I’d never done that before. The demented pixie was still by my side so I wasn’t dreaming, damn! But there was no sight of Julia or the man.
“I passed out!” Even to myself I sounded sulky. “My hand went through him – or was I imagining it? He said ....” I couldn’t continue.
“I’m so sorry,” the dement... no...Josie... said. “I was trying to explain, this wasn’t meant to happen.”
“You weren’t supposed to die. I was supposed to prevent you moving when the light turned green so that you wouldn’t get hit.”
I was lying on the soft green stuff looking up at the blue again when my eyes opened. Josie was sitting beside me, giggling.
“You know, for a big bad butch you certainly faint a lot.”
“I do NOT faint!” I was indignant.
“I’m in shock is all. You would be too, if you thought you narrowly escaped injury in a bad road accident, came home to find your girlfriend was cheating on you and was pregnant, had arranged to have you killed.” I had to pause, I needed take a very deep breath.
And then... and then discovered you hadn’t escaped the accident after all, that she’d succeeded and you were dead.”
“Well...when you put it like that...”
“Exactly. See – I didn’t faint. I just ....reacted to my shock. God, I need a coffee.”
Josie giggled again. “You don’t, you just think you do. You don’t need to eat or drink anymore.”
“I guess that it’s no use asking if there’s somewhere we can go for a cuppa while you explain what happens now, is there?”
“Oh, we can find a cafe, and you can have a coffee, or at least it will seem that way. Absolutely anything is possible in this afterlife... as long as the chief okays it.”
“The chief? No, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. I’ve little enough sanity left thank you, without going there.”
A short walk found us turning into a road I’d never seen before. I decided not to ask any questions, certain that I wouldn’t care for the answers; especially as the pavement looked considerably harder than my front lawn. That sent my mind off on a tangent. If I was dead was it still my front lawn?
As that thought roamed through the otherwise vacant space between my ears, I realised that if Julia had had me murdered for the lottery money then I didn’t want her getting it, I’d rather the whole damned lot went to my ultra-religious, pompous, self-righteous, sister. Even if she used it to fund bible classes in China, or missionaries in Africa it would be better that the bitch succeeding.
I was so wrapped in my thoughts that I almost ploughed into Josie. She’d stopped in front of a door and turned her head to look at me. The look she gave me was slightly un-nerving. It gave me the impression that every secret I ever kept, every dream I ever dreamt was laid bare to her. Then she smiled; it felt like the sun coming out on a rainy day. I was startled to find that death appeared to have transformed me from sarcastic cynic to poet. I cleared my throat to cover my confusion.
“Why did you stop?”
“We’re here. I was just checking to see what you would like here to be like.”
That threw me.
“Sorry? Come again? And here I was thinking English was my native language.”
“I meant I was looking at you to see if this needed to be a Michelin five star restaurant or a smoke-filled pub. You know, to see where you’d be most comfortable.”
“What! Hang about. Leaving aside the mildly disturbing premise that whatever is behind that door isn’t real until you say so, are you telling me you’re reading my mind?”
She giggled again. Damn! I was starting to like that sound. Even through my churning emotions, I was pleased it was me who was causing it.
“Butch, I doubt anybody has ever looked at your face and not been able to read your mind. You don’t exactly hide what you’re feeling.” She was right. Julia had always said I was an open book and generally a pornographic one, at that. “But no, I wasn’t reading your thoughts. I was feeling your...no that’s not it either. I was trying to ... wait... you read a lot of science fiction novels, don’t you?”
“Well then, you understand telempathy.”
I nodded again, though it hadn’t been a question. “Yeah, like telepathy except with emotions and feelings not thoughts.”
She grinned. “Well this is similar, we... that is...” She paused as if she couldn’t find the words to describe herself.
“Let’s call you a trainee guardian and leave it at that, shall we? Anything more will fry my brain. Or what’s left of it.” That got the giggle I was hoping for.
“OK. Well, what we do is almost feel the kind of person you are. What things you like... how you’re... oh I’m not explaining this very well. I mean...umph.”
I put my hand over her mouth.
“I get the picture. It’s people-radar. So let’s go in and see what type your peepdar thinks I am.”
I pulled open the door and stood back to allow Josie to enter first and then followed her in. The smell of strong coffee and frying food hit me. It was a cafe. No, it was a ‘caff’; a transport caff. Right up my alley. Cheap and cheerful and common as muck. Julia had hated such ‘low class’ places, insisting that, as ‘artists’, we should be above such places. I loved them; I wasn’t ‘quality’, I was common as muck too.
The woman behind the counter reminded me of my auntie Edie; carrying a few extra kilos. I’d been aware of every one of them as a kid as she’d a habit of crushing you in a hug at the drop of a hat. She smiled as we walked towards her and asked, “What can I get you, ducks?” She even sounded like auntie Edie.
“The full English and a tall black, please luv. Josie?”
“I’ll have the full English too but a mug of sweet tea please.”
“Coming right up, darlin’. Take a seat.”
I reached for my wallet to pay her but, giggling yet again, Josie grabbed my arm.
“You don’t need money here.”
“Ah...right... of course... can’t take it with you, etc.”
Taking our drinks with us we picked a table and sat down. It was a standard transport caff type of table—fake formica in a rather nauseating shade of blue, chipped and with cigarette burns on the edge. Clean but scruffy; to me it looked like paradise.
The food was ready far quicker than I expected. Silly really, I should have realised by now that nothing would ever be as expected anymore. I walked up to the counter to collect it; gesturing as I did so to let Josie know I’d bring hers too.
“Here you go, ducks, get stuck in.”
“Ta, luv.” I grabbed us both a set of cutlery and picked up the plates.
I sat down and reached for the sauce bottle. “I bet this is real HP too and not a cheap imitation.”
Josie smiled back at me and nodded, too busy tucking in to be able to speak.
Damn and I thought I could eat! The way that little lass tucked in made me look like an amateur. You’d have thought she hadn’t eaten a solid meal for weeks. Then I considered that point – maybe she hadn’t. But then she didn’t need to eat, did she? My head was hurting now and it was interfering with breakfast; I gave up on thinking and concentrated on eating.