Monday, 21 November 2016

The Thanksgiving Gift - A Coffee Time Read

I wrote this story a couple of years back. It was my first attempt at a full-on, all-out romance. Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate, and Peace and Goodwill to everyone else!




The Thanksgiving Gift


      ‘If you don’t want to help, why don’t you go visit Grandma,’ Eva’s mother said.  She was in the kitchen with her hand halfway up the backside of a large turkey and she looked harassed.  It was Wednesday evening, the day before Thanksgiving.  Eva had been living at home for the past few months and the novelty had worn off for both of them, but her grandmother was always pleased to see her.
      She kissed her mother’s cheek  and gratefully left the house, trying not to feel guilty even though she knew that as soon as she had gone, her mother would put on the radio, pour a glass of wine and be happy to continue preparing the gargantuan feast for the holiday.
      The leaves of the sugar maples surrounding her grandmother’s large house were still a luminous orange, casting a comforting glow as she parked in the driveway.  The air was cold and crisp, a bright moon already in the sky.  She could see her grandmother sitting by the fire, looking out the window.  She waved and slowly creaked to her feet to open the door.
      Eva loved her grandmother’s house.  In the winter it always smelled of the warm spiced apple drink she gave everyone when they came through the door.  She laced her ownwith a healthy slug of bourbon, but Eva was not allowed such indulgences.
     ‘Certainly not in your condition,’ she said, as she motioned Eva into a chair.  She pulled her Shaker sewing basket towards her and pulled out a large wad of material.
      ‘Ready?’  She said with a smile.
      ‘Ugh, his has to be the worst part of making a quilt,’ Eva groaned two hours later.  She had just pricked her finger for the third time in five minutes, her back was aching and her legs had gone numb.  She was sitting curled up in the big, cosy armchair by the open fire, with only the snap and hiss of the new log she had put on a few moments earlier, and the loud purring of her grandmother’s cat, Womble, stretched out like a black leopard along the back of Eva’s chair.
      Her grandmother looked at her over the top of her half-moon spectacles.  ‘The worst part?  Surely it’s the best of all?’
      ‘I don’t see how,’ Eva grumbled.  She fixed her work with three tight little stitches, just as her grandmother had taught her years before, stuck the needle in the fabric so it would not get lost, and stretched out her legs, yawning.
      Before her, the quilt was heavy on her knees.  They had spent the best part of the year making it, starting in early January to take advantage of the sales for their fabric.  She had driven her grandmother to the store, and they had spent an inordinate amount of time searching, choosing, comparing fabrics, looking for the “main event” as her grandmother called it.  That was the show fabric, the one that would determine the colours of the others. 
      They had ended up with twenty half meters of fabric, each one different, because neither of them could decide from the myriad rainbow colours displayed around the shop.  Quilts hung from every wall, alluringly simple yet striking, with Maple Leaves, Flying Geese, Log Cabin and any other number of different block patterns.  At the time they had no idea how big it was going to get.  It was just exciting to go home and play with all the different colours, putting different materials together, imagining the spectacular result at the end of the year.
      Each month they chose a block to do, and Eva would drive to her grandmother’s drafty
old Colonial house to spend the evening with her, stitching and talking.  There was no particular pattern.  Every block was different.
Now, ten months later, she had been staring at it so often she had forgotten what it looked like.  It was strange, how familiarity real did breed, not exactly contempt, blindness almost.          They had been concentrating on quilting the intricate daisy pattern, drawn on the back of the patchwork to guide their needles.  It had been especially comforting to sit next to her grandmother, basking in her warmth as they worked together.  The tempestuous summer had passed, leaving Fall to brighten the trees and give an illusion of cosiness when she had felt most desolate.
      So much had happened in her life since that first visit to the quilting store.  She had bought a house, become pregnant, and broken up with the man she thought she would be with forever, all in the space of that time.  Sometimes she hated the quilt, because it reminded her of everything she had lost, but she had not shared those thoughts with her grandmother.  Instead she pretended everything was fine, and at when she was in her grandmother’s quiet company as they concentrated on the quilt, she almost believed it herself.
      ‘Let me tell you how,’ her grandmother said, breaking into her thoughts as she stared into the lapping flames.  She smoothed her end of the quilt over her skinny knees.  ‘At the beginning, we went to the shop.  It was all new.  We didn’t know what would be there, and what choices we would make, did we?’
      ‘No.  It was great fun though.’
 ‘Indeed.  You made me eat a McDonalds.’  The old woman smiled affectionately.  ‘I remember that day very well.  We made our choices.  Your colours were vivid and fresh, and mine were calmer, bringing peace to a work that would otherwise have been a little ... frantic.’
      Eva laughed.  For your taste perhaps.  We were a good team.’
     ‘We were.  We are.  So for the last eleven months we have sown our blocks.  Tiny pieces of fabric, blood and some tears, gradually forming patterns that made sense, yet no one is the same.   I look at yours and you look at mine, and each of us are thinking, “well, I wouldn’t have done it like that,” but somehow it works.’  She smiled gently.  ‘A bit like you and Tom, perhaps?’
      Eva’s smile faded. Five years she and Tom had been together.  The argument had been so stupid she could barely remember how it started, but neither one of them thought they were in the wrong.  Because of that stubbornness they had not spoken since. 
      ‘Tom isn’t part of my life anymore.  You know that.’  She tried to be polite but the sudden mention of his name hurt more than the needle in her thumb had done moments earlier.
    ‘Of course,’ her grandmother said smoothly.  ‘Where was I?  Oh yes, we made our blocks.  Then we put them together.  Remember all that negotiating and arguing over the dining room table? ‘
      Eva smiled again.  ‘Yes.  You were very cross.’
    ‘So were you, but we worked it out.  Neither of us were right, and neither of us were wrong.’  She gave Eva a sly look, which Eva ignored. 
     ‘So we sewed it together, me at one end, and you at the other.  I’m not sure we ever really looked at what we had made before we put the wadding and backing on.’
      ‘No.  You said we weren’t to look at it too early.  Not properly.’
     ‘I did, didn’t I?  It’s never a good idea to look back too much.  You always see mistakes you’ve made.  Corners you’ve cut.  What’s done is done.’  She sighed sadly.  ‘So then we basted.  Lord how we basted.  Surely you remember that?’
     ‘Now that was boring,’ Eva admitted. 
     ‘Ah, but necessary.  All those long stitches.  Stitch after stitch, every one holding the quilt together.  All that hard work, keeping all the layers close.  If we had been lazy, the quilting would not have looked half as good.  Maybe it would have held, maybe not, but there would always be the doubt that we could have done better.  That’s why it’s worth putting the work in, putting up with tedium.  Without the tedium, you can’t appreciate the result, can you?’
     ‘No.’  Eva eyed her grandmother’s disingenuous expression.  She was a cunning old bird under the fluffy grey hair and habitually sweet dimeanour.  ‘So we did the choosing, the placing, the stitching and basting, then the binding.’
    ‘You forgot the border.’  The old woman motioned to the strong border of embossed cream fabric running round the edge of the quilt.  It was soft with much handling, and indented with finely stitched daisy flowers.  ‘Doesn’t matter what colour it is, but it has to be good and strong, wide enough to frame what has been put inside and show it off, otherwise you can pass it by and not notice it, and for all that hard work, that would be a shame.  And then there’s the quilting itself.  All those tiny stitches we’ve put in over the past three months, night after night.’  She traced the long, sweeping lines with her finger, the tiny petals, the intricate leaves.  ‘Every stitch made with the same love, by both of us.  We’ve worked together all the way through.  Without you, I could not have made something so wonderful.  And without me ...’
      ‘Neither could I,’ Eva smiled, squeezing her grandmother’s tiny hand. 
   

Friday, 11 November 2016

A poem for Remembrance Day





No Birds Sang

Through the smoke the wire coiled,
snagged with the remnants of humanity.
Fighting paused for a single moment.
In the forests, no birds sang.

~*~

A creeping menace, sulphurous, deadly,
seared the lungs and ignited fear.
Shouted warnings through the trenches.
In creeping silence, no birds sang.

~*~ 

Men waiting, huddled together,
for their turn to head over the top.
Bonds formed and friendships destroyed.
Before the signal, no birds sang.

~*~ 

The trenches slick with mud and blood.
Dark humour from those who survived.
Glory is not a prize worth having.
In hell on earth, no birds sang.

~*~ 

The cold grind of metal machines,
a huge, deadly crushing force;
the ground torn in staccato bursts.
Amidst the chaos, no birds sang.

~*~ 

Heat and dust, hidden faces
Who to trust, no-one knows
A IED shatters the silence.
 In the cold of night, no birds sang.
~*~

In quiet graveyards we remember.
Ghosts crowding around the tombs.
Poppies show past sacrifices.
For one brief moment, birds will sing.





Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Download books for FREE until Midnight 10/11/16

Okay, I think a lot of us are reeling from the election result. I have just heard that KU reads have spiked as people want some escapism away from all the post-election hysteria.

And that gave me an idea. So until Midnight Tonight (12pm Pacific time, Thursday 10th November) I have made ALL the following ebooks FREE on Smashwords. If you want to leave a review, that's great, but this is really my way of saying, I get it, it's rough, so here's a bit of escapism for you. It makes me feel a little less useless in an uncertain world. 

Please note: All the books contain adult themes.

Love to you all, wherever you are on the planet. Click on the book titles below to get to the relevant link.

XXX

The Cloud Seeker  (125,000 words romantic suspense, ghosts, Chilterns setting)


Cat Cartwright's sixth sense tells her there are storms brewing in her peaceful English village. A stranger is in town, one that she does not trust despite her attraction to him. He is also the estranged father of Luca, the young boy she looks after for one of her closest friends and his spiteful wife. As the handsome, irritable New Yorker is gradually accepted into the community, Cat has no choice but to watch the strengthening bond between father and son, knowing that Max O'Donnell is not all he seems. 

Meanwhile, Max is being harassed by a persistent ghost, imploring him to face the lie he has been living since September 11th. When the spirit infiltrates Cat and Luca's dreams as well, it is only a matter of time before Max's carefully reconstructed persona is destroyed. He has to choose between drowning his problem in drink, as he has so often before, or face the truth and risk losing everyone he cares for.


And Cat has to learn how to accept her losses and past mistakes in order to move on with her life. Finding love was not part of the plan. 


Closer Than Blood (150,000 words, suspense, romance, adult themes)

Forbidden passion, blackmail and murderous intent in the cold, glittering heart of Manhattan. 

Against his better judgement, slick hitman Frank Mancini falls for the sultry sister of his latest client. He is hiding a dark secret, and intends to seduce her before his past is revealed. 

Tony Freemantle is diseased, dying and desperate. His last wish is to seek vengeance on the half-brother he blames for his misfortunes. He’s never met him. He doesn’t even know what he looks like. All he knows is that he wants him dead. 

Pagan Freemantle is the innocent woman unwillingly caught up in her sibling's deadly plan.When she discovers she has to pay for the hit, her attempts to make a deal throws her headlong into a dangerous attraction with a man who is patently bad news. 

And can she trust Richard Mason, the elusive millionaire half-brother who is just a seductive voice at the end of a telephone? When a road trip to California ends with shocking revelations, it seems she can trust no-one but herself.

Lexington Black (50,000 words, MM erotica, romance, explicit)

A one night stand between Rob, a reserved English bookkeeper, and Lex, a slick New York businessman, blossoms into love after Lex invites Rob to Manhattan for a month to work on his novel. 

Rob is thrown into an unfamiliar world, of drag queens and luxurious rooftop parties. Manhattan gradually beguiles him, but Lex has a secret, a passionate encounter he had years earlier with Rob's father, just a few days before he committed suicide. 

Will their newfound love survive when Rob inevitably finds out? 



Docklands Diamond (40,000 words, MM erotica, romance, explicit)

Warning: This is a 58,000 word story containing graphic sexual scenes between two consenting male adults. Please do not read this book if you find such content objectionable.

On the morning after his 35th birthday, Alex Logan is left with two unwanted gifts; the hazy memory of a sensual encounter with a handsome Scottish stockbroker, and a new, opinionated, best friend.


Docklands Diamond is the story of one man, one talking dick and one very sexed-up City executive who will stop at nothing to get Alex into bed. He has a sultry sister, Willow, an amateur witch whose love potion has left Alex in this sticky situation. The problem is, Alex is straight, or wants to be, so it is up to Broadsword, his new best pal, to persuade him that Leith is Mr. Right.... 


The Family Tree - a coffee time read


Along the A40, between Stokenchurch and Studley Green, is an ash tree covered in shoes. There are plenty of theories as to why it is there, but no-one really knows for sure. Some say it's a pagan ritual for fertility, or a Romany hex, or just youthful high spirits that have continued down the years. So far there have been three such trees, as one is cut down or taken by the wind, another appears. We may never know why, but against the odds the shoe tree remains, destined to live on in legend, each pair of shoes holding on to its own story. This is one of them.


The Family Tree


‘You’ll never get them up there,’ Tim said.  ‘It’s too high.’
‘It’ll be fine,’ Rob replied, although privately, he wasn’t so sure.
He was standing with Tim under an old ash tree on the A40. It was past midnight and the moon was bright. No-one was around. They weren’t likely to be at that time of night. It was just them, a bottle of Strongbow cider, their bikes chucked to one side on the pavement, and a pair of old work boots belonging to Rob’s dad.
Alfie had died a few weeks earlier, and it had hit Rob hard. He was close to his old man, and had been working for him as an apprentice at his builder’s firm since his 16th birthday. Alfie had set up the firm after coming out of the army, and he’d done very well, working constantly to give his four boys a decent living after he had gone. But he was out of shape, and refused to give up the ciggies or the full English breakfasts. After a lifetime of hard work and unhealthy habits, it was inevitable that his heart would give out at some point.
When he died, Rob’s eldest brother immediately took over the business. An hour after they buried Alfie, he told Rob he had to “grow some balls.” It was then it hit Rob that all his protection had gone. He felt as naked as an unwilling streaker on the pitch on Cup Final day; terrified, exposed, thrown into the spotlight as people waited for him to fall on his face.
Rob took the cider from Tim and swigged at it. The bottle had been left over from the wake and had been hidden under Rob’s bed for the past few weeks. He knew his mum wouldn’t find it, and probably wouldn’t say anything even if she had. She was good like that. Both his parents were. They had supported him through all the bullying at school, all the crap he had been given by his older brothers. They didn’t understand why he was like he was, and didn’t much like it, but they accepted it, and loved him all the same.
He felt a stab of guilt. She didn’t want him to leave, but had accepted that he wanted to go to college. His life was being made a misery by his eldest brother, now his boss, and he wasn’t cut out for the building trade. The next morning, he and Tim would be on the bus to London. They had found digs and would be living together, out in the big wide world. He had recently got into college, against all the odds. He was the first one to do so in the family, which only made him stand out even more.
‘You’re a queer one,’ his mother used to say when he was younger. And she had been right.
Shivering, he pulled his bomber jacket closer around him. Tim’s David Bowie tee-shirt gleamed in the moonlight, under his sheepskin coat. He looked like Marc Bolan with his curly black hair and dark, kohl-ringed eyes. Tim had far more courage than Rob did, walking around the village like that. He didn’t care what people said and knew how to throw a punch when it was needed. Rob wished he had half his courage, but right then, he sounded like his mother.
‘Why are we buggering about out here? I’m bloody freezing,’ Tim moaned. ‘If we miss that train tomorrow…’
‘We won’t. Stop whinging. You didn’t have to come out here.’
‘You knew I would, you rotten sod.’ Tim shoved him and Rob shoved back. They tussled until the beam from an approaching car appeared around the corner, and hid in the ditch until it had gone.
‘Get on with it then,’ Tim sighed.
Rob picked up the boots. They felt heavy, tied together by the laces and bearing the hallmarks of Alfie’s trade; brick dust, cement, scuffs and scrapes. The leather was hard, the toes steel-capped. Years before, Rob had painted “Dad’s Boots” on them in white emulsion so they were clearly identifiable in the jumble of shoes and boots that regularly adorned the back porch. Rob’s three strapping brothers were all labourers, so the fight to find two matching boots was a daily ritual.
At the time, Alfie had been as mad as a bull, threatening to tan Rob’s hide, but he couldn’t stay angry with his youngest son for long. Although he never admitted Rob’s idea had been a good one, he let him refresh the paint whenever it began to fade, and he never wore any others.
All the men in his family had feet way bigger than Rob’s. It was something else he was teased about every day. They’d called him Fairy Foot for years, abbreviated to Fairy once they knew what he was. His mum said they didn’t mean anything by it, but Rob knew better. Apart from his mum and dad, everyone else in the family treated him as if he was a freak.

And all of Rob’s workmates called him “Fairy” as well, teasing him about his fear of heights, telling him to use his invisible wings. They were always pulling his leg, sending him to the yard for “sky hooks” or a “long weight.” He fell for it every time, and the blokes at the yard would grinningly put him right. Rob gritted his teeth and got on with it. He knew his dad had his back when it got too much. Alfie would tell them all to ease off a bit, and he never forced him to go up a ladder, but that was as far as his pandering went.  He never showed it, but Rob knew he was disappointed in him. You couldn’t be a good builder if you couldn’t climb a bloody ladder, after all.
Now his life was a daily trial of ribald comments and insults. Without Alfie to keep a lid on it, it was only going to get worse. He missed his dad with an ache that physically hurt; the shuffle of him taking off his boots when he came home, the smacking kiss on his mum’s cheek, the smell of Old Leather soap in the bathroom. Visiting a stone in a graveyard just wasn’t enough.
He stood at the bottom of the ash tree, staring up at the long-reaching branches. Then he bunched himself up and threw the boots.
He and Tim dived out the way as they hurtled back down towards them. They had drunk enough to find it funny.
‘I’ll do it,’ Tim said, reaching for them.
‘Nah. I have to.’ Rob picked up the boots and threw them again.
Not even close. There was only one thing for it.
‘I’m going up there.’
‘Don’t be daft. You hate heights.’
‘Yeah. That’s why I’ve gotta do it.’ It made perfect sense. It was the only tribute he could think of that would mean anything to him or his dad. He couldn’t bear to think of the boots going in the skip, where they were destined. He wanted them up there for all to see, to remember a good man and know that his queer son, who hated heights had put them there.
‘It’s a crazy idea,’ Tim persisted.
Ignoring Tim’s protests, Rob scrambled through the hedge until he reached the bottom of the old ash. It stretched up, high above him. Tim followed.
‘Give me a leg up,’ Rob said. ‘I can make it to that branch at least.’
‘If you break your neck, I’ll have no-one to share digs with,’ Tim grumbled.
‘I’m not going to break my neck.’ Rob took the cider from him and drank some. Dutch Courage.
‘Daft bugger,’ Tim chided, swatting him. He was annoyed at Rob’s recklessness, but knew better than to stop him. He leaned down and made a stirrup for Rob’s foot, then propelled Rob up to the first sturdy branch.
The thick trunk was covered in ropes of ivy root, which helped Rob gain purchase as he made his way up.
‘Don’t look down,’ Tim called up.
‘It’s dark anyway, you moron,’ Rob called back. It was easier than he thought to get up to the branch he was aiming for. The boots were strung around his neck. He hoped they wouldn’t get caught and hang him by accident. His dad wouldn’t want to see him so soon in the afterlife.  
‘Careful!’ Tim yelled as Rob stood up on a thick branch and inched his way along. He wanted to put the boots somewhere obvious, so people could see them from the road, but not be able to get them. He didn’t want some little gobshite nicking them.
The branch bounced as he moved gingerly along it, turning his legs to jelly.
‘That’s enough, lad,’ he heard his dad say. Wind blew through the leaves, making them flutter and rattle.
Reaching up, he hooked the boots firmly over another sturdy bough, round and around so they couldn’t be blown off or knocked down.
Just before he made his way back, he paused to stare out over the fields. The silver moonlight washed the surrounding countryside with a cleansing glow. Above, the stars travelled across the sky. One star was particularly large and bright, a planet no doubt, but Rob couldn’t help thinking it was his dad, beaming down at him.
‘Well done, boy,’ he heard him say. Rob knew that after this, he would never be afraid of anything again.
Finally, he carefully inched his way back along the branch, and steadily made his way down. Tim had spread their coats on the ground underneath the tree and was waiting with a celebratory smoke. Rob could see his dad’s boots, dangling for all to see, “Dad’s Boots” in white letters, knocked around and worn in, the perfect tribute to his old man.
He took the cigarette from Tim and they smoked for a while.

‘Promise you’ll do that for me,’ Tim said quietly.
‘Don’t be daft. We’ll be old and creaky by the time you pop your clogs,’ Rob laughed.
Tim looked serious. ‘Promise.’
‘No need. We’re going to live for ever.’
As he said it, a shiver ran down his spine.

******

Years later, Rob drove back along the A40 with his partner, Scott. They were on a mission, to add another pair of shoes to his special tree. Scott held them on his lap, a pair of worn purple Doc Martins, the thin laces tied together.
Rob and Tim’s time up in London had been wild and carefree, yet had extracted a terrible price. Over the years, Rob had seen many friends fall by the wayside. Tim had been last to succumb to HIV, after a battle that had lasted over a decade. Rob and Scott had looked after him in the last six months, and had been holding his hand when he died.
Now they were about to fulfil one of his last requests.
It was midnight, and the moon was bright, just as it had been years before. He drove slowly, looking for the tree. It wouldn’t be hard to find, because it stood on its own, majestic and wide-spreading, yet he could not find it.
Frost sparkled on the grass verges. The temperature said -1. The tree should have been easy to spot but it wasn’t. At the Radnage junction, Rob turned the car and slowly retraced his journey, Scott staring intently out of the window.
It wasn’t there. It had obviously been cut or had fallen down.  Rob felt a wave of grief. He pulled over to one side of the road and stopped the car. With his head resting on the steering wheel, he sobbed. Tim had made him promise to hang his shoes on the tree. What was he going to do now?
‘Look.’ Scott gently shook his shoulder. He handed Rob a tissue and pointed out of the windscreen.
And there it was.  Yet it was different. The original tree had been much bigger. This one still had some way to go before reaching true majesty, but it was still sturdy and high, with lots of branches, and they were all covered with boots and shoes
Rob hurriedly removed his seatbelt and ran out of the car.  He stared up at the tree with disbelief. His heart soared as he recognised his father’s boots, a little more weathered, the white writing on them faded to grey. Nearby were a pair of women’s walking shoes, the ones his late mother had always worn when walking the dog. With them were other pairs of shoes and boots of all sizes, all adorning the tree to serve as reminders of those lost. Children’s shoes, women’s shoes, men’s boots, sneakers and high heels, army boots, their stories unknown, all there as a form of remembrance for those lost.
‘You started something,’ Scott said, smiling,
Rob dashed the stupid tears away. There had been so many tears recently, and he needed to keep sharp so he didn’t break his neck. He took Tim’s DM’s from Scott and drew a deep breath. It was time to honour his friend.
He climbed, encumbered by the boots around his neck. As he inched his way along the branch, it creaked warningly. He wasn’t quite the slip of a thing he had been when he was 18, and these branches weren’t quite as supportive.
Carefully, he put Tim’s boots where they could be seen by passers-by, before making his way back to the trunk. As he did so, he could hear their distant laughter, and smell cigarette smoke drifting on the breeze. He held onto the branch and closed his eyes, remembering for a moment his grief for both of his parents, and the exciting dangerous days afterwards, exploring what it meant to be young and gay in the 1970’s before it all came crashing down.
‘You’ve come home,’ he whispered, his breath dissolving into the cold night air.
After a while, he descended, down into Scott’s warm arms and they looked up once more at the tree of strangers, become family.