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Authors: Anna Martin

Cricket (7 page)

BOOK: Cricket
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They stood in the kitchen for a beat too long, causing an awkward atmosphere to settle heavily around them.

“So, um,” Ryan said and pushed his hair back from his forehead. “Do you know the pub in town? The Dog and Duck?”

Henry shook his head. “No.”

“My sister runs it. They do pretty good food, if you’re looking for somewhere to eat until you get settled into your new place. And Monday nights are quiz nights. And Thursdays is usually a pool tournament.”

“Okay,” Henry said, trying not to smile. “Sounds good.”

“I’ll be there later. If you stop by, I’ll get a round in. To seal the deal, you know.”

“Thanks. I’ll try and be there.”


fussed and argued with himself and eventually had to stand in front of a mirror and give himself a good talking to before deciding to take Ryan up on his offer and go to the pub. He hadn’t gone out drinking since he was in New York, and that hadn’t exactly ended well for him.

The only thing was, as he stood in the tiny room that would be his until he got settled into the manor, he didn’t have any idea what people from rural England wore when they went to a pub on a Saturday night. If he were in New York and he was about to head to a bar, he’d wear his favorite Dsquared2 jeans and a pressed shirt, maybe a Ralph Lauren polo or a T-shirt that he’d paid at least eighty bucks for.

But Ryan didn’t look like he knew what Dsquared2 was, let alone own any of their clothing. He was nervous about looking out of place, and it was raining. These factors combined meant that Henry was wearing a pair of black Calvin Klein’s and nothing else.

To be fair, he’d worn this out on a Saturday night in New York too.

Time was ticking on, and he didn’t want to be late, even though he hadn’t been given a specified time to be there. Closing his eyes, Henry reached into his duffel and pulled out a pair of jeans (the plain Gap variety), a T-shirt, and a red zipped hoodie. It was casual but fairly stylish, and, on reflection, Henry decided that it wasn’t a bad choice for someone aiming to not look like an idiot.

The pub was within walking distance, only ten minutes away, according to Judith on the desk (
does she ever move?
he wondered). Henry checked his wallet and his phone, pocketed them both, and locked his door securely before leaving the little hotel.

It really wasn’t that far, he didn’t get lost at all, and from the moment he rounded the corner, the bright light and noise from the pub spilled out onto the street.

Henry’s first impression was that the building was gorgeous. The brickwork had been painted white, and the windows were dark wood. There were a few picnic benches out front where people sat smoking under bright red umbrellas that hadn’t been taken down yet. Clearly, Britain had an indoor smoking ban in place too. Baskets of flowers were hung around the building at various points, bright blooms spilling over the edges.

As he ventured inside, the sound of the band hit him at the same time as the warmth and chatter of many people. In one corner there was a small raised platform where five people played—a singer with a guitar, a man with a keyboard, a girl on double bass and another on violin, and a male drummer. Their style, from what Henry could tell, was floor-thumping folk music that invited people to dance, not that he would. Not to this sort of music, anyway. On the floor at the front of the stage was what he recognized as a bottle of whiskey and five short glasses. Despite his apprehension, Henry smiled.

Making his way to the long bar—polished mahogany that wrapped around the center of the building—was a challenge, and getting served when he arrived took time as well, not that he minded overmuch. Eventually, a woman with a ponytail of curls leaned toward him to take his order.

“Gin and tonic?”

He said it as a question. The woman looked at him, then smiled.

“Are you Henry?” she shouted as the band finished their number and the pub erupted in cheers.

“Yeah,” he said, nodding.

“Ryan told me you’d be coming. He’s out back having a smoke. I’m Stella.”

She reached over the bar, and he took her hand to shake. “Nice to meet you.”

“He also told me to get you to try something local.”

Henry winced. “Really? Like what?”

“Well.” Stella gave him another beaming smile that lit up her gray eyes. “We have a range of local ales and ciders. If you’re not used to them, I’d go with a cider first, and you can’t go far wrong with Thatchers.”

“Okay,” he agreed, albeit reluctantly.

“Good boy.” Stella laughed and reached down for a pint glass. After filling it and sending it across the bar to him, she took his note and exchanged it for a few little gold pound coins and some smaller change.

Henry turned back to watch the band and immediately noticed Ryan coming into the building via a back door.

“You made it,” Ryan said as he set himself down on a bar stool.

“Yeah,” Henry said.

“That stuff won’t kill you, you know.”

Tentatively, Henry took a sip. “It’s not bad.”

“Not bad? It’s bloody good. Stell!” he yelled at his sister. “Pint o’ gold, love?”

“Wait your bloody turn!” she called back good-naturedly.

“What’s ‘gold’?” Henry asked, more to further the conversation with Ryan than out of interest. Ryan laughed.

“That’s gold, mate. Thatchers Gold.”

“And this is cider, right?”

The next time he smiled, Henry watched three little dimples pop in Ryan’s cheeks. He thought the fuzz on the man’s jaw would have hidden any dimples, but no, there they were.

“Yeah, it’s cider.”

“Oh. See, in the states, cider isn’t alcoholic.”

Ryan laughed again. “That stuff definitely is. Thanks, love,” he said as Stella pushed another glass of gold liquid toward them.

“Three forty.”

“Oh, come on, Stell.”

“Three forty, or give me your card so I can start a tab. You’re not running my bar dry again, Ryan Burgess.”

Ryan dug change out of his pockets and slapped the right money down on the bar. When Stella turned away, Henry watched in fascination as Ryan took three deep pulls of his pint, draining nearly half of it in one go.

It was easy to turn back to the band. They were compelling to watch, performing what seemed to be a mix of covers and original songs. From the corner of his eye, Henry occasionally stole a look at Ryan, mostly to check that he hadn’t been abandoned, partly out of good-natured homosexual interest.

It didn’t look like Ryan had changed since that morning, not his jeans, at least. The hideous knitted sweater was gone, and he was wearing a very pale blue shirt made of what looked like incredibly soft cotton, and he’d rolled the sleeves up to his elbows. He wore no rings or bracelets or even a watch. His forearms were strangely compelling—strong, with thick muscles, prominent veins, and light-golden hairs.

The pint disappeared quickly and was replaced by another while Henry was still making his way through the first. It wasn’t that he disliked the cider; it was rich and sweet and crisp and strong. It was just very different to his usual vodka or gin with tonic. Occasionally, if he felt like splurging, Henry might drink a cocktail, but even then he didn’t go far past a Cosmo.

The band finished their set, bid everyone a good night, and headed promptly to the bar at around the time Henry finally finished his drink. Stella appeared again and nodded to the empty glass.

“Another?” she offered.

“It was good,” he said cautiously. “But I really will have that gin and tonic this time.”

“No problem,” she said with a little wink.

“Did you like the band?” Ryan asked, leaning with his back to the bar and his elbows propped on it.

“Yeah,” Henry said. “They’re awesome. They remind me a little bit of Mumford and Sons.”

He didn’t think his comment was out of place since he’d recognized a cover of theirs during the set, and Ryan smiled as if pleased.

“My cousin is the girl on the fiddle. Emma. She’s a good lass.”

“I’m still getting used to the way you all speak over here,” Henry admitted. “It’s the same language, but it sounds so different.”

“You’re in a part of the country that has a fairly thick accent too,” Ryan said, “and a lot of local slang. I’m sure you’ll pick it up soon enough. If you decide to stick around, anyway.”

“I’m going to stay,” Henry said as Stella delivered his glass, three cubes of ice and a wedge of lime in it. He would have asked for exactly that if he hadn't been afraid of making a fool of himself. The exchange of cash took a few moments again. Then he turned back to Ryan.

“I’m going to stay,” he repeated, “although I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do just yet.”

It wasn’t exactly a spur-of-the-moment decision. He’d been working up to it for some time, although the decision had probably been made for him when he started the renovation work. He was committed to seeing it through.

“So, tell me what you were doing in New York,” Ryan said conversationally.

“I ran a party-planning business,” he said, then frowned at Ryan’s expression. “Don’t laugh. A few years ago I was doing really well, before the economic crash, and suddenly people didn’t want to be spending the money on having someone else arrange their weddings and bar mitzvahs for them.”

“Weddings? ’Cos Stella’s getting married at some point. She’s been engaged for the better part of five years. She’s just too bloody lazy to get off her arse and arrange the damn thing.”

Henry smiled reluctantly. “Yeah, I did weddings. Engagement parties too, birthdays, a couple of funerals, although they really drag you down. I organized a big family reunion up in the Hamptons once too. That was fun.”

“Was it your own company?”

“Yeah,” Henry said and tried not to let the squirmy feeling of shame twist in his stomach. “It went bankrupt, though. I got bought out by a bigger company. They took over my book of contacts. It was a good deal in the end. It was just hard to let it go.”

Ryan shook his head. “It’s tough, man. I know some months we hover on the edge. That’s one good thing about having the two businesses, though. When the pub needs propping up, I can help from the farm, and vice versa.”

“Do you both own both businesses, then?” Henry asked, starting to feel more comfortable with the conversation.

“Sort of,” Ryan said. “My parents used to own them both, up until about five years ago. Then they retired to Tenerife and left it all to the two of us. Stella had been managing the pub for a while at that point anyway, so she naturally took it over, and I was working the farm with my dad. Technically, they’re separate entities, but since she’s the sole owner of this place and I own the farm, we can do what we want with them. Up to a point.”

“That makes sense,” Henry said. “Do you see much of your parents now?”

“They come back every now and then to catch up,” Ryan said. “They’ve got their beach-front house, though, and a little yappy dog, and they’re content as you like.”

The bar seemed to be slowing down a little, and Henry watched as Stella poured herself a large glass of water with ice and ducked under the bar to come out and join them. Ryan immediately pulled her into a brief hug.

“Sorry I couldn’t stop and talk earlier,” she said to Henry. “It’s a bit mental around here when there’s live music on.”

“No problem,” Henry said. “They were really good.”

As Stella smiled, Henry started to notice the similarities between the siblings.

Although their hair colors were different—Stella’s was more strawberry blonde, whereas Ryan’s was light brown—they shared the gene that caused an explosion of freckles on their noses and thick, curly hair. Stella packed curves into her chest and hips, in a way that suited her. She wore jeans and a plain black T-shirt, like the rest of the people working the bar, but the neckline of her shirt skimmed low on her chest, showing off the tops of her breasts.

“Henry used to plan weddings,” Ryan supplied. “He could do yours, if you like.”

Both Stella and Henry objected to this.

“I’ll get married when I’m good and ready to,” she told him firmly.

“And it’s not quite as simple as ‘oh, Henry will plan it’,” Henry added. “There’s a lot more involved than that.”

“You sure? She turns up in a dress, someone remembers to book the church, wham, bam, thank you ma’am.”

“Ignore him,” Stella said to Henry, rather pointedly. “He doesn’t get it.”

“That Andy Perrin should make an honest woman of you,” Ryan said.

“What he means is, we’ve been living together for about six years now. We’ve got a son together—”

“You’ve got a son?” Henry said, interrupting.

“Yeah,” Stella said, beaming. “Jack. He’s two.”

“Awesome. I love kids. None of my friends have any, though—it’s what you get for hanging around gay men in their twenties.”

Stella laughed and shoved Ryan off his stool so she could rest her feet for a few minutes. “Have you met many people in town yet?” she asked.

“Not really,” Henry said, not wanting to admit that he had become something of a hermit. “Do you know Shenal Gupta? She’s Nell’s lawyer, and she seems nice. And Ryan, of course. And Judith and her daughter at the hotel.”

BOOK: Cricket
12.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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