Authors: Clare London
By Clare London
JMS Books LLC
for more information.
Copyright 2012 Clare London
Cover Photo Credit:
Used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.
Written Ink Designs
All Rights Reserved
WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.
This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It contains substantial sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which may be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published in the United States of America.
NOTE: This story appears in the anthology,
Tea and Crumpet
, edited by UK MAT and published by JMS Books LLC.
* * * *
By Clare London
You see, I don’t do
. You know…the camping thing.
I never have done. I’m a London lad: I thrive on the aggressive noise of the city and the frantic haste of its people. I like to smell the dirt steaming off the pavements on a wet autumn day, to pass graffiti-decorated brickwork and peeling pub signs on my way home, to hear the hiss of buses and inhale their diesel-breath. What’s not to love in all that invigorating, infuriating, intoxicating glory?
Then came that Thursday morning.
“This is your chance,” said my friend, Em. She leaned over my desk, peering at me. Her whole demeanour wasn’t so much giving me friendly advice as threatening me with dire consequences if I didn’t obey. “Christ, Nick, you’ve been going on to me about Max for months. This is your chance to go out with him this weekend, to talk to him about something other than the feature on defragging in PC Geeks Monthly, or whatever it is he has rolled up in his back pocket. I’m sure he
you. You know. That way.” She leaned in even farther, now winking lecherously, rattling my pencils and my equilibrium in equal measure.
I glared back. “You do know where he’s going?”
She shrugged. “Somewhere in the West Country. Sun and scenery, just a short break.” She cleared her throat. “Not that I eavesdrop or anything.”
.” I frowned. “It’s to a campsite. He’s camping. In a tent.”
She rolled her eyes. “And he wants you to go with him. I heard him say so.” She smirked with indecent triumph. “He stood right here in front of your desk, turned his back on all of the girls in Cash Processing, and he invited
I blushed. I hadn’t done much of that since the new clerk in Underwriting touched me up at the Christmas party then protested he’d been looking in my pocket for a pencil sharpener. I’d been wary of mixing business with pleasure ever since and, some would say, understandably. “I can’t go.” Time for
eyes to roll. “It’s outdoors!”
“Nick, don’t be a jerk,” she snapped, and glanced over her shoulder. Max was in the next door office, right now, as I well knew. Stalking his online diary was a guilty secret of mine that I shared with Em alone. Unfortunately, that fuelled her matchmaking, which currently consisted of pulling the plug out of my hard drive and calling I.T. Support. Several times a week. Humiliating, but it had the desired effect, bringing Max to the rescue every time.
And I never complained.
In fact, I was a lost cause, lovesick from the day Max joined the company. All three departments on the first floor went to the pub after work to welcome him, where he told us he’d been transferred from a remote branch office that clung to the cliffs of the West Country coastline, where (he claimed) the strong wind could blow seagulls off course, and you only got a decent mobile signal on alternate Tuesdays. We all laughed, and so did he. He told a very good story. I made some Town/Country Mouse jokes and he joked back, warning me the green fields would probably make me hyperventilate. But I remember I gazed at his friendly grin, his natural tan and his bright eyes, and I knew I wanted more of him.
“Say yes,” Em hissed, her hands all over my keyboard. I tried to push her away but she was a woman on a mission. In just a few disruptive moments she’d creased up half the papers on my desk and moved everything out of place. “Say
“No,” I said, firmly. I snatched up my Routemaster novelty mug like a talisman. “And what happened to my coffee?”
“I’ve poured it over your keyboard and Max is on his way round.”
“Say yes to this weekend, Nick, or I swear, the graffiti about you in the Ladies’ won’t stop at the pencil sharpener incident.”
Graffiti? The pencil sharpener incident? “Who told you about—?”
But Em had darted back to her own desk with another wink, and Max was threading his way across the department towards me with that deliciously cheerful, downright healthy grin of his. He had a bold, sauntering walk and broad shoulders, with a head of curly hair that started each morning with a sensible parting, but invariably lost the battle by lunch. Add to that the sky-blue eyes, and fresh, freckled skin that crinkled at the corners of his generous mouth when he smiled, and it was a very tempting package.
If that’s what a country life does for you, I thought, it can’t be all bad.
And so, when he asked again about us going away Friday after work, I said yes.
* * * *
Saturday morning, I awoke to a trumpet call from Hades itself, or that’s how it sounded: a wailing scream, a shriek of hate and despair, ripping through the dawn.
Heart pounding with shock, I scrabbled out of my (borrowed) sleeping bag, cursing whoever had twisted the zip up between my arse cheeks while I slept. The traffic had been so bad the previous evening, we’d arrived really late at the campsite, and there’d been no time for anything except putting up the tents and crashing out. This morning, I barely remembered where I was, let alone why I wasn’t waking to decent rock music on my digital radio alarm. I blundered into the side of the (also borrowed) tent, breathing harshly, wondering if oxygen were available for those with an allergy to polyester. My elbow thumped the tent pole at the doorway and the whole structure shuddered around me.
When I lurched outside, the fresh air hit me like chemical warfare, my bare toes curling up with the shock of grass underneath them so early in the morning. There was a sudden flurry of black feathers as birds launched themselves from the nearby trees. I stared at the world through dilated pupils, panting, expecting to see the Four Horsemen charging in on some satanic version of a tractor.
Instead, only Max was there, crouched outside his own tent, his back to me. He was dressed in just his shorts and he looked completely at home, stirring away at something in a pan, its surface bubbling and the sharp tang of its sauce catching in the back of my throat. I peered over at the pan, suspiciously. Was he going to eat that? From what I could see, it looked like it’d been vomited up by the Beast of Exmoor.
As I groaned and grasped the tent pole for extra support, his head whipped around. “What is it?” He looked concerned. “The crows wake you up?”
I never got time to reply with something witty and face-saving because we were both distracted by a strange creaking sound. Max stood up, abruptly, still clutching the spoon, globules of sauce dripping from its end. His eyes widened. The only other warning I got was the flapping sound of a loosened flysheet, and then the heavy rustle of canvas crumpling down on itself.
I stood there, staring resolutely and helplessly forward, listening to the dull twang of the poles springing free behind me, bouncing against each other, scraping down the seams of the tent. Then the muffled clang of them hitting the ground.
I thought I’d knocked each peg securely into the field the night before, but…maybe I hadn’t.
There was a final thump and everything went quiet again. I didn’t dare turn around. I coughed from a light mist of grass seed in my throat. A stray acorn rolled past my foot. Max’s gaze shifted from over my shoulder and down to a point barely six inches from the ground.
“Shit,” he said, thoughtfully. “Looks like the guy-ropes weren’t tightened properly.”
“I know nothing about tents,” I said, defensively, but I knew the music had to be faced. Turning slowly, I surveyed the damage, my face hot with embarrassment. The whole structure was a tumbled mess on the ground, like someone had pulled the plug on it and let it fall where it liked. One of the metal posts had ripped a jagged hole through the fabric and was the only thing still propped upright, saluting the sky like a raised fist, claiming revenge against all camping virgins. To me, it was nothing more than a smashed jigsaw puzzle and I had no idea what piece went where.
Max started laughing. I sighed and turned back to face him, but now his gaze was fixed on my waist region.
“You buy those in town?” he asked, grinning. “You don’t get that sort of thing down here, you see.”
I didn’t dare look down at myself. I felt that sick lurch in the gut that you get when you know your life is about to end, and in great and glorious humiliation. My hand hovered protectively in front of my groin, but the damage was done. I was standing in the middle of a field in broad—if early—daylight, with the rude reminder I was dressed in nothing but the Pokemon boxers that Em had bought me last year.
“I couldn’t look more of an arse, could I?” I said, hoarsely. I knew what graffiti joy this would bring Em, if she ever heard about it. “Can I start the day again?”
Max shook his head, slowly. “Don’t see how. But who cares?” He was still smiling, and his eyes were brighter than before. Was that only because of the absence of carbon monoxide fumes down here? “Come and eat, we’ll sort your tent out later.” He reached out a hand and touched my bare shoulder, as if consoling me. “You can share mine tonight, no problem.”
“I can change—”
“You look pretty good to me,” he interrupted. His cheeks were flushed. I’d assumed that was from the cooking.
I sat beside him on the blanket and helped serve up the breakfast. No beast’s bile, but sausages and spicy beans, combined in a handy can, or so the label said. It smelled a hell of a sight better than it looked. Tasted good, too. After a while, it didn’t feel so bad, sitting around outside in my underwear. Max was dressed just as sparingly, and he looked great. His chest was tanned like his face and arms, and he was just muscular enough for my liking. We looked at each other, looking at each other: then we smiled at ourselves and relaxed.
The sun was still pale, and the air was crisp, but neither of us seemed to feel the cold. He kept serving me more food, his hand brushing against mine. The sliced bread tasted like fresh-baked, the coffee had a rich hit I never got in my daily, franchised cappuccino. I laughed about my disaster and he laughed about some of his own. Time passed, comfortably enough.
He said I looked pretty good
. My mind kept returning to that, and my stomach knotted with excitement.
And he said I could share his tent. Didn’t he?
Maybe I didn’t want to start this day again, after all.
* * * *
Fresh air is really tiring, you know? I never realised how much. A stroll over the hills, a pub lunch and a game of one-on-one football, and I was in bed by nine. That is, in Max’s bed. Well, sleeping bag, actually. They have that design nowadays, you know, where you can zip two of them together and make a double. It’s very efficient.
Listen to me, the field and trek salesman. I’d never imagined this day ending up the way it did. Or let’s say, I hadn’t dared to hope.
At the end of the astonishingly tiring day, we had an al fresco supper of cold meat, bread and fruit at the camping site. We sat comfortably on the blanket at the tent’s opening, munching slowly, drinking a couple of beers, chatting about what we’d seen and where we’d been. Nothing serious, nothing tense. But we were watching each other all the time, just like at breakfast, and just as coyly. Max said he hoped I was having a good time and I nodded back. He might have been asking me to prostrate myself on a local burial mound dressed in cow shit and brambles for all I cared. By then, I just liked nodding to him. His cheeks were shiny after the day’s outdoor activity and his conversation much more relaxed than the technical troubleshooting sessions at work. And he hadn’t teased me about the collapsed tent more than half a dozen times. I was in seriously besotted mood.