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Love Burns. Act 2.

Don feels the burn

Chapter 7

While walking home from the bus stop, Jessie could hear her heels on the worn tarmac of the country lane. The silence was disturbed by the distant rumble of an approaching vehicle. She pressed her back into the hedgerow, causing the thorns to grab onto her coat. A police car, quickly followed by a recovery truck, whizzed past her on the narrow country lane.

~

Openmouthed, Jessie stood outside her house observing her mother’s car. Half a gorse bush hung from the front grill of the black hatchback car. She stood still and surveyed the crumpled bonnet and could see her reflection was criss-crossed by silver scratches on the paint work. With every passing second, she felt more distressed.

Running through the open gate then racing up the pebble path, she was finally met at the open door by Estin… her father.

“There you are, Jessie.”

“Pa, what happened? Is mam ok?”

“Mam’s fine, thank God. She’s resting in bed.”

“Can I go and see her?”

“Wait a moment before you disturb her. She’s finally sleeping.” Estin’s voice was muffled by Jessie’s coat as he embraced his daughter. “Three times over the limit, she was.”

“How? She was in work.”

“Her boss sent her home this morning.”

“But... I saw her at breakfast. She was fine.”

“It’s so hard to tell these days.”

Jessie followed her father into the living room, then brushed her dress down as she sat on the armchair. “Why did her boss allow her to drive home?”

“Called her a taxi, apparently. But she left before it arrived.”

“Christ. Sometimes you’d think she has a death wish.”

“It was that bastard who phoned the police, too. It was them who found her car in the hedge.”

“I just saw the police leaving. Has mam lost her licence, then?”

“Of course. Have been told to expect a heavy fine, too.”

Jessie rested back into her chair and chewed her fingernail. “Lucky she never hit anyone.”

“This can’t go on, Jessie. I’m getting fed up. I just don’t know what to do? She’s driving me mad.”

“Pa, she’s your wife. In sickness and in health, remember?”

“It’s not like it’s cancer or something. It’s self-inflicted.”

Jessie leaned forward then barked, “Of course it’s a sickness.”

“It’s addiction, Jess. I gave up smoking. Why can’t she give up drinking?”

“I can’t believe you sometimes.” Jessie picked at the worn leather on the armrest. “What about rehab? Dr White has brought it up several times.”

“I phoned a few places from the office. But even the cheaper ones will cost us a fortune.”

Jessie slapped her hand on the armrest. “It’s Mam we’re talking about here. A few months ago bloody Chewy swallowed a sponge, and you paid over a grand for his op.”

“Hey, that was because of you.” Estin pointed into his chest. “If it were down to me, I would have had the smelly bastard put down. It would have been bloody cheaper and the house wouldn’t stink.” He glanced at the ceiling. “It’s one thing after a fucking other with you lot.”

“You bring your own set of problems, don’t worry about that.”

“Work drives me mad, but it’s a comparative paradise to this fucking circus.”

“Circus..? You must be the main bloody act then.”

“I probably am... but I’m well supported by you two clowns.”

“Clowns!”

“Sorry.” Estin glanced at the dog’s bowls the sat on the corner of the kitchen floor. “But the fucking dog though. A grand… a fucking grand because it was stupid enough to eat a cleaning sponge.” He scratched the back of his head. “OK, putting Chewy down might have been harsh… But we could have just used the little bastard as a pan scrub.”

Jessie stood from her chair. She afforded a brief smile as she imagined Estin dunking chewy in soapy water, before rubbing him around a large baking tray. “Anyway, mam is our responsibility. We have to help her no matter how much it costs.”

“I know, but there is only so much we can do. I’ve heard too many broken promises over the years. I’m not making any decisions now, Jess, but divorce has crossed my mind a few times recently.”

“Divorce? Where would that leave me?”

“If I move out, you can come and live with me. At least we can concentrate on fattening you up a bit. I’ve bet on winning greyhounds that carried more weight than you.”

“Don’t pretend that you worry about me. You just want someone to clean your house. What a selfish and bitter old bastard you are.”

“I do care. It’s not me ripping this family apart.” Estin pointed his hand towards the ceiling. “It’s that bloody mess up there.”

Jessie couldn’t digest what she just heard. Through hate filled eyes she glared her father. “Mess? Bloody mess? Is that what you just called your wife? My mother?” She watched the man who she believed to fear nothing, suddenly cower back into his chair as she leaned over him. “God Damn you straight to hell.”

“Jessie. I didn’t mean to. It’s just, I have become frustrated with how things have fallen apart.” Estin broke from Jessie’s ferocious stare. “She’s killing me. I used to love her, but... I don’t see the woman I married anymore.”

“You’re going to pay for that rehab, whether you like it or not.”

“Where am I going to get the money from, anyway?” Estin stood, then nodded towards the kitchen. “I ploughed all our savings into renovating this house from top to bloody bottom. And I did that just to keep your mam happy.”

“I know you did, Pa. In truth, you wouldn’t recognise this place as the one nan and gramps used to live in.”

“Yeah, shame neither of them knew the difference between a Phillips screwdriver and a bastard paint brush. It would have been cheaper and less stressful to knock the place down.” Estin reached up and touched an ancient wooden beam. “All the rules and regulations from those interfering fuckers at CADW made the job drag on years longer than it needed to. Almost bankrupted us twice you know?”

“How could I forget? You remind me every chance you get.”

~

Jessie walked into the kitchen and stared out at a garden under a cold dusky sky. The surrounding trees were mostly bare except for a few stubborn leaves left clinging to the skeletal branches. A the foot of a large beech, Chewy rummaged in a carpet of fallen leaves, ploughing his nose through the golds and browns. The dog stopped as it spotted Jessie looking through the window, then bounded towards her. Jessie smiled as she opened the door. “Don’t Worry, Chews. Even if Pa doesn’t think you were worth a grand… To me, you’re worth every penny.”

Estin could hear Chewy’s paws scampering on the tiles, and walked in the kitchen to inspect the muddy prints. “I suppose I’ll have to mop up after him.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll do it.”

“Make sure you do a good job, then.”

“Pa.”

“I mopped it first thing this morning, that’s all.” Estin scratched his grey beard while he mulled over his daughter. “Look.. about mam. I’ll ask my boss in the morning if he can advance me some money. But it’s far from a dead cert, Jess. Don’t build your hopes up.”

“Whatever you’re short on, I’ll pay the rest.”

“No. You’re saving for your own place. If the company lands the Smitz deal, then I’m in line for a hefty bonus. If I get it, then maybe things will be a little easier for the three of us.”

“It’s not money, Pa. You’re hardly home anymore. It’s as if the three of us are living separate lives. You don’t talk to mam, and I can’t remember the last time you told mam that you love her... or me for that matter.”

“I’m not an emotional man. I never was.” Estin went to place a hand on Jessie’s shoulder but she took a step back. “But I do love you, Jess. You must know that, surely.”

“Try being around to help out.”

“I’ll try to hang around more... If that’s what you want.”

“By hanging around, I don’t mean watching the news, playing your guitar, or creating a racket on your drums. I want you to start loving us again. Mam drinks to escape her sadness, and she’s sad because you’re cold. It’s up to you to break the cycle.”

Estin shook his head. “Don’t you think the fact I agreed to move up here and renovate this place should have shown her that I loved her? We used to live in a nice four bedroom new build, surrounded by friends... Now it’s as though we live in Middle fucking Earth. Honestly, its sheep, shit and hobbits.”

“Pa? You couldn’t wait to move here. I remember you getting straight to work the first day we arrived.”

“I had to. Besides the one room your nan lived in, everywhere was damp and cold. Two of the bedrooms had no pissing roof for God’s sake.”

Jessie folded her arms as she leaned against the marble counter. “Slight exaggeration, there.”

“You know what it was like the first few years. It was horrible. I didn’t have a weekend off for three years. One year I even ate my Christmas turkey sitting in the attic.”

“You’d do anything to avoid talking to us.”

“What are you on about, Jessie? Sometimes you forget too easy. I’ll have you remember that the bloody wind toppled the chimney breast on Christmas Eve. I sat up there laying fucking bricks in gale force winds while being pelted by hailstones bigger than Chewy’s testicles.”

Jessie cracked a wry smile. “So, you mean it wasn’t actually Santa who crashed into the chimney?”

“Aye, I forgot I told you that.”

“If you don’t get the money for mam... will you please take what you need from me?”

“I’d sell my arse before I’d even think of taking a penny from you, Jess.”

“Don’t be so crude, Pa... You left the army when I was in primary school. No excuse talking like a soldier now.” Jessie pushed Estin’s hand away as he went to stroke her hair. “I mean it, Pa. My coursework is on hold because I’m too stressed thinking about mam. I want her back. I need her back”

“So do I, Jess. So do I.”

~

Maud sat in bed. Her husband and daughter’s shouts had filtered through the floorboards. Through tear filled eyes, she stared at family pictures on the wall. The laughter and smiles had never felt so far away.

 

Chapter 8

 

Slumped on the bench in the lecture theatre, Don could only offer a wry smile as Jessie dropped her bag on the seat next to him. For him, the events of their disastrous date still festered like an open wound. Jessie sighed as she unbuttoned her coat. “You OK?”

“So-so.”

“What’s up?”

“Nothing much… I suppose.

Jessie slipped her coat off her shoulders. “No matter how early I set out, I always end up late.”

“Don’t worry, Borewood forgot his file and just left to get it. So you haven’t missed anything.”

“That’s a relief… Good weekend?”

“Nowt special.” Don frowned as he fiddled with his pen. “You?”

“Always hectic at the mad house.” Jessie slumped onto the bench beside Don. “I’m already falling behind with this coursework. I just can’t work at home.”

“Oh...” Don bit his lip to stop himself asking why. “It’s never easy working at home.”

“I don’t know how I’ll cope when things really kick off over the next few weeks.”

“Don’t worry. I’m also behind.”

“You don’t look like a guy with too many issues.”

“You obviously don’t know how demanding a Labrador can be.”

“A Lab can’t be any worse than a Patterdale terrier.” Jessie sighed as she glanced at Don. “I’m so late that I’ve left myself with no choice but to do an all-nighter in the library. It’s going to proper drag, though.”

“I don’t mind joining you.”

“Seriously?”

“Yes.”

“Great” Jessie raised a smile. “It would be nice to see a familiar face. I’ll be working though… not pubs or buffet restaurants.”

“I don’t mind not going home. It’s about time my brother took over the dog walking duties.”

“I can’t imagine Chewy getting walked without me, unfortunately.”

“Hey, I have a free day tomorrow. So I can do tonight if you want?”

“Erm...” Don’s heart froze as he waited for Jessie’s answer. “What the hell, let’s do tonight.

~

The library slowly emptied as tea time came and went. A silence quickly descended on the large room meaning the lightest of footsteps echoed around the huge computer suite. Don noticed that Jessie’s hand rested on her flat stomach. “I’m off to the snack machine. You want me to bring you something back?”

“If you don’t mind... I’m starving, actually.”

Don watched as Jessie ducked under the desk to pick up her bag. “No, I’ll buy it.”

“I’ll give you some money when you get back then.”

“What would you like?”

“Surprise me.”

~

While Jessie browsed the internet to bide her time, she felt her stomach rumble “How long does it take to get a bar of chocolate?” Suddenly the beep of the card swipe made her smile. Turning on her chair she then saw Don walk into the computer suite. “Where have you been? I was beginning to think you had your hand stuck in the vendor?”

“No. But that actually happened to me when I was a kid in Tesco. The fire brigade had to rescue me. I got in the local paper... and a free packet of M&M’s.”

Jessie’s nose smelt a whiff of garlic. “Hang on. What’s in the plastic bag?”

“Well, you remember that twenty quid you sneaked into my pocket, last week. Well, I reinvested it by buying you a fresh pizza and a few side dishes.”

“Really? But you’ll get us thrown out. You’re not supposed to eat in here?”

Don glanced around the empty library. “The librarian is asleep, and I bribed the security guard with garlic bread.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.” Don took out a pizza box and slid it across to Jessie. “There you go.”

“You’re so kind… and very thoughtful.”

“Have you forgiven me now?”

“What do you possibly need forgiving for?” Jessie tried to dislodge a slice from the rest of the pizza but winced as she burned her finger on the molten cheese. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Last week in Yum’s.”

“Oh. That. Don’t worry about it. I’m a woman... I’m complicated.” Jessie heard the bleep of the card swipe. She glanced towards the lobby where she then spotted a dishevelled Wolfy dragging his feet into the library. “Don, that’s your mate Wolfy, isn’t it?”

“Wow, he looks rough. Even for Wolfy.”

“Do you think he’s OK?”

“He doesn’t look it.”

Wolfy stepped up to their desk. “No funny jokes about my appearance. It’s two in the morning and I’m one bad joke away from committing murder.”

“What are you doing up. Is it a full moon or something?”

“My flatmate’s boyfriend has just returned from a six month tour of duty. He’s been banging her like a stubborn ketchup bottle since eight last night.” Wolfy rubbed his face with his hairy hands. ”I think my bedroom wall is thinner than the crust on that gorgeous looking pizza... American Hot by the look of it?” He licked his lips. “Hardman’s Pizza... I presume?”

“Of course... Where else?”

Wolfy held his head back as he tasted the air with his nose. “You’ve asked for extra chilli… you slutty bastard.” He stared at Don with hungry eyes. “Can I have a piece?”

“Sure.”

“Tidy.” Wolfy then went about demolishing the slice of pizza quicker than a hungry street dog.

~

With the pizza finished, Don closed the box that contained only half eaten crusts. He glanced at Jessie then stood from his chair. “I better get rid of this before the librarian wakes up.”

Jessie took a paper napkin from the plastic bag. “Want me to take it to the bin?”

“No, it’s fine. I’ll find a bin on the street so we don’t attract attention with the smell.”

“Aw, thanks, again. I owe you one.” As Don took the pizza box to the bin Jessie swivelled her chair around to face Wolfy. “Do I detect a Welsh accent there, Wolfy?”

“Yes. I’m a product of Heaven like your good self.”

“I suppose that makes me an angel.”

“Yes. And me rather godlike.” Wolfy carefully picked cheese from his beard. “Don’t you think so?”

“Your beard certainly makes you look wise.”

“Indeed it does, with good reason too.”

“You certainly enjoyed the pizza.”

“It’s my weakness. It was the reason I ignored you earlier, I’m just single-minded.” Wolfy thumped his fist onto the table, alarming Jessie. “But don’t talk to me about pizza crusts.”

“Why, what’s wrong with the crusts?”

“Makes my beard curly.”

“My parent’s told me the same.” Jessie snorted a laugh. “Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s true.”

“No, it’s not.”

“It is,” Wofly spoke with wisdom. “One evening I was enjoying the delights of a stone baked margarita. It was one of those moments you just want to last that little bit longer.” He took a deep breath as he relieved bad memories. “In my one moment of weakness, I nibbled on a crust.”

“What happened?”

“I’ll tell you what happened… The next morning, I woke the with a face like a brillo pad”

“I’m not having that.”

“It’s true. I looked like sheep. As a Welsh girl, I’m comfortable making the Bovidae reference without fear of any puns.”

Jessie wanted to mention that Wolfy’s beard was still curly, but thought better of it. “You’re a real character Wolfy. Don’s told me all about your traits.”

“Has he? Well, I can tell you all about his… But I won’t as you’ll never talk to him again.”

“Oh dear.”

“But I wouldn’t betray Don, even if he is English. Don’s the closest thing I have to a brother. He’s part of my wolf pack.”

“That’s quite sweet.”

“No surprise though. Meeting Don is like standing in shit. No matter how many times you drag your foot across the grass, he finds a way of clinging on.”

Jessie giggled as she wiped the remaining grease from her hands on a tissue. “Sounds like I’m stuck with him then.”

“Jess, you may as well marry him now… Death is only way out.”

“Bloody hell.”

Wolfy slumped back onto his chair. He twitched his nose then sniffed his armpit. “I apologise if I smell like an Englishman’s arse. I would have had a wash, but my flat mate was being rattled over the bath tub.”

“Thanks for painting the picture for me.”

“That’s only half the picture, believe me. He had three fingers in her…”

“Wolfy!”

“Sorry.” Wolfy’s rested his head on his crossed arms. “I’m just going to sleep and shut up. If I snore just roll me on my left side. But if I start shouting obscenities roll me on to my right.”

“Will do.”

~

Wolfy’s snores resounded around the room. Don typed away on his keyboard as Jessie sat dictating from her file. She then snapped it shut. “Finally, that’s it.”

“Thank fuck for that... What time is it?”

“Quarter to six.”

“My eyes are watering.”

Jessie put her hand to her mouth and yawned. “Fancy a walk? We can get a coffee and a fresh croissant at a bakery.”

“Yeah, I’d be up for that.”

Jessie nodded towards Wolfy. “What about your mate?”

“Safer to let sleeping wolves lie.”

~

They walked through an autumnal park at dawn with a coffee in one hand and a croissant in the other. The dawn chorus echoed around the bare trees and soaked flower beds. A faint glow on the horizon was all the sun could muster as they sat on a bench amongst a ghostly mist. Don sipped from the cardboard cup. He pondered on his words for a moment, then forced them out. “So do you think you’ll ever want a boyfriend?”

“Why, are you interested?”

“Of course.”

“Well… When the time is right, yes.”

“Right well it’s nearly seven. So do you think by nine you’ll be ready?”

Jessie giggled as she briefly leant on Don. “What are you like, Don?”

“I just like you a lot... sorry.”

“I’m touched.” Feeling the cold air on her face, Jessie grasped the cup with both hands and held it just under her chin. “What are you doing when you get home?”

“Sleeping until the evening I think.”

“Well, give me your number and I’ll phone you from my house phone. Just make sure you’re awake before seven tonight.”

“Why? What happens at seven?”

“X-Factor starts.”

Don laughed. “Leave me in bed... please.”

“Come on. It gives us something else to chat about on the phone.”

“One min.” Don stuffed his hand into his pocket and pulled out his mobile. “Ready?”

“Let me just get my pen out of my bag.”

“Just put it into your dad’s phone.”

Jessie carefully placed her cup on the flagstones. “I will if you’re prepared to be hunted down and interrogated by a bitter Welshman.”

“Better get your pen and paper ready then.”

 

Chapter 9

 

The theme tune to the X Factor shouted out from the television as Don placed his cup of tea on the window ledge. Settling into the armchair he opened the packet of digestives and took out the top crumbly biscuit. “The things I do for love.” He dunked his biscuit into his tea while always keeping an eye on his phone. His head lunged forward as he felt a slap on the back of his head. He then saw his brother Damien frowning at him. “Hey careful, I’m holding a cup of hot tea here, you little bastard.”

“What the hell has happened to you?”

“What do you mean?”

“X Factor. You used to be my hero. But now I’m embarrassed to call you my older brother.”

“You know full well why I’m watching. When you get to my age, you’ll be just the same.”

“Don, I’m already pulling birds.”

Don shook his head while he chewed. “Whatever? You’re still at school?”

“Check out my albums on Facebook. There’s more fitties than in the magazines under Dad’s bed.”

“Oh... So you found Dad’s stash too.” Don wiped the crumbs off his shirt. “Hey, did you just say you’re on Facebook? Why did you never tell me? I’ll add you as a friend.”

“I was thinking about it until you started watching this shite on the TV... I have a reputation to uphold.”

“Call me embarrassing. But when I land this Jessie...” Don sipped his tea. “... You’ll be adding me in a flash.”

“Seeing as you’ve bored me to death talking about her for the last month. I’ve already checked her out.”

“What? You hunted Jessie down on Facebook?’

“In fact, she added me. We’ve been exchanging messages and pictures.”

Don rolled his eyes. “Whatever...”

“It’s the power of a good profile pic... Girls add me from all around the world.”

“You’re dreaming.”

“Look, if you don’t hurry up and seal the deal, I’ll just have to show her what a real Morphy is like.”

Don placed his tea on the window ledge. He then knelt on the chair and leaned over the back to throw a punch. However, he missed and only succeeded in tipping over his chair. Holding his chin, Don spat, “You’re full of shit.”

“I’m not.”

“You are, and you always have been.”

Damien shouted as he ran up the stairs. “If you don’t believe me, why don’t you ask her if we’ve been talking?”

Back on his feet, Don uprighted his chair and sat back down. As soon as the adverts came on, his mobile vibrated. “Hi, Jess.”

“Hey, Don. Can’t believe Miles got voted off. I’m sure this is fixed you know.”

“Yeah, terrible decision. I’m loving it, though. Best thing on the box. Even if my brother teases me nonstop about it.”

“Oh, yeah, I’ve met your brother online. He’s nothing like you.”

Don’s heart stopped. “Have you..? What do you mean, he’s nothing like me?”

“His name is Damien, right?”

Don couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He scowled while dunking his digestive biscuit. “Yeah, that’s his name. Although I call him Little Bastard.”

“Don, that’s not nice. And there’s nothing little about him.”

“What do you mean, nothing little about him?”

“He sent me a picture… of his willy.”

Don let the biscuit warp and bend, before it eventually fell into his cup. He didn’t flinch as the scalding tea splashed out and covered his face. A brown drop of tea dripped from his nose before he could conjure a reply. “H… How big is it?”

“Put it this way, I thought it was his leg.”

“His... his fucking leg?”

Jessie burst out laughing down the phone. “Damien is right, you’re so bloody gullible. He just sent me a message asking me to help him wind you up!”

“I’ll get him back, and you.”

“Anyway, you ok? Not too jealous I hope?”

“Yeah I’m fine.” Don wiped the tea from his face. “So he isn’t a tripod then?”

“No, there was no leg sized penis. Anyway, I wanted to ask you something tonight.”

“Oh, right. Go on.”

“So, it’s the final show next week. Fancy coming to mine for the weekend? We can have our own mini X factor party.”

Don choked on his biscuit. “You’re inviting... me?”

“Yes, and only you. Fancy it?”

“God, yeah. I’d love to come.”

“Mam is away for a few weeks.”

Don felt lightheaded, as though he was dreaming. “I remember you said she went to see her sister in Ireland.”

“Yeah, she has gone to her sister’s, that’s right. But also, Pa has had to go to Germany for four nights because of work. I hate being alone in this big house. I’m sure it’s haunted you know?”

“Let me just clear my diary.” Don climbed from his chair, then walked out into the hallway. “Hey, Day, you’re walking the dog next week.”

“Fuck off, why?”

“I’m off to Jessie’s for a few days.”

“How big did she say I was?”

“Said every time you get an erection the television picks up foreign stations.”

“I’ll have to use that as my Facebook status.”

Don returned to the phone. “It’s done.”

“Great. Well, I’ll put a plan together to make it an entertaining visit.”

“You don’t have to try very hard, Jessie.”

“Sweet. Anyway, it’s back on. I’ll phone you in the next break.”

Don felt stunned as he put the phone down. But after a moment he exploded into screams of euphoria. “Fuck me, I got a bird.” Jumping from the chair he faced the mirror. “Christ... she must have worse taste than a panel of X-Factor judges.” He glanced upwards as Damien banged on the floor upstairs. “What’s up, Day?”

“Keep it down will yeh? Anyone would think you’re still a virgin.”

Don studied himself in the mirror. “Shit, yeah... I finally might get to use that lucky condom my dad passed down to me... Better check if it’s still in date first.”

 

Chapter 10

 

Don steadied himself as the train jolted to a stop. The second the doors slid open he jumped off the step and landed ankle deep on a soft carpet of snow. He dragged his case along the platform while shielding his eyes from the blinding blizzard. With no Jessie in sight he decided to seek refuge in the waiting room, but a padlocked door kept him out in the cold. Feeling sorry for himself, he sat on his luggage and waited for Jessie to rescue him.

 

Falling snow mounded up on Don’s shoulders, before avalanching towards the earth as he turned to face a car pulling into the station car park. His spirits lifted as Jessie stuck her head out of the car window. “Jessie!”

“Don?”

“Yeah, it’s me.”

“I thought you were a snowman for a second. You okay?”

“I’m alright.” Don left a trail of boot prints in the snow as he tugged his case towards his rescuer. “But I’m colder than a penguin’s chuff.”

~

The blizzard worsened as they drove up the dark and narrow country lane. Don held on to his seat as Jessie battled her way through one snow drift after another. She glanced at him while she changed to a lower gear. “What’s wrong? You’ve not spoken since we left the car park.”

“You’re fearless. Considered a career in motorsport? Rallying or something?”

“Believe me, if it wasn’t for the fact I had to pick you up, I would never have dreamt of coming out in these conditions.”

“Sorry, you should have said something.”

“How else would you have got here?”

Don stared at the wipers as they batted away the snow. “I’m sure I would have got here one way or another...” He felt the car’s wheels skid on the icy surface, then closed his eyes and muttered a silent prayer. “… Although I would probably turn up in the back of a Hearse.”

~

The beams from the car’s headlights shone on white sheets of falling snow. Jessie revved the engine but the car’s wheels only spun on the icy tarmac. She tapped the steering wheel with her open palms before applying the handbrake. Resting her head back on her seat, she glanced at Don. “We’re stuck.”

“How far have we left to go?”

“A mile and a half, maybe two.”

“Think we can walk?”

“No... better stay put and keep the heater on.”

Don pulled his phone out his pocket and glanced at the screen. “No signal.”

“Welcome to Wales.”

~

The snow continued to settle on the windows of the car, transforming it into an igloo. Jessie giggled as she leaned over Don’s lap. “Don’t get excited.” She opened the glove compartment and took out a handful of CDs. Under the pale glow of the interior light she fingered her way through her mother’s music collection. “Oh dear, you’re going to find this worse than a professor Borewood lecture.” Wearing a smile, she slid a CD into the car’s stereo. “Seems that mam only listens to Welsh folk music.”

“I suppose it will be a culture experience... I might even learn a few words.”

“That would be great if you did.”

Don felt he needed to change the conversation before his impromptu Welsh lesson began. “Hey, your friend added me on Facebook.”

“Was her name Chloe, by any chance?”

“Yeah, that’s her.”

“What’s she like..? You can tell she’s working nights at the hospital. Got nothing to do but stalk people on my friend list.”

Don felt relieved when Jessie lowered the volume on the stereo. “Is Chloe a good friend?”

“My best friend, really. It’s actually choir practice tonight. I was supposed to drop by on the way back, and introduce you to her.”

“So she told me.”

“Oh, you’ve been chatting?”

Don could sense the worry in Jessie’s voice. “Chloe just told me to make sure that I persuade you to go on a double date.”

“A double date, is that what she said?”

“Her words… not mine.”

Don watched as Jessie glanced out of the driver’s window. She had nothing to look at other than a white curtain of snow. After a few seconds she turned back to face Don. “Chloe’s getting married, and I think she is just looking for another couple to go out with.”

“She’s not into swinging is she?”

“Don!”

“Sorry, just trying to keep my mind off the cold.” Don felt the car jolt. “What’s that..? No!”

“The engine has cut.” The starter motor screamed as Jessie turned the ignition, but the engine would only splutter. “We’ve ran out of petrol.” She held her hand in front of the dashboard vent. “And heat.”

“Shit.”

“I’m so sorry, Don. This is turning into a disaster.”

“Of course it isn’t. I can think of worse people to be stuck with.”

“Thanks... I’ll do my best not to drive you mad.”

Don felt an emergency of a different kind. “I know it’s not a good time...”

“What?”

“I need the toilet.”

“Number one or two?”

“Luckily I just need to turn some snow yellow.” Don put his hand on the door handle. “I’ll just be a minute.”

“No, you’ll let all the heat out.”

“What do you want me to do, Jess?”

Hang on, this is my mum’s car.” Jessie undid her belt. “One second.” Struggling in the dark, Jessie climbed over the front seats into the back. Patting around in the dark she searched the back of the car. “Success.”

“What?”

“Here. Wee into this.”

Don took the glass bottle from Jessie. “Are you sure? I mean, I have a habit of splashing the toilet seat. This is going to get messy. Please, let me just go outside.”

“Do you want to hear the truth?”

“What’s wrong?”

“I’m... I’m scared of the dark. More so in strange places.”

Don glanced over his shoulder and saw the pale outline of Jessie’s face. “Are you sure it’s not because you want a hot water bottle?”

“Eee, go away.”

“Alright, I’ll do my best.” Don placed the bottle between his legs, and began to fidget with his trousers. “This isn’t going to work.”

“I’m not looking, just take your time and think of waterfalls... Or that stream you dunked me in on the field trip.”

“I haven’t got stage fright.”

“What is it then?”

”It might sound like I’m boasting, but there is no way I can fit it down the neck of the bottle.”

“Can you not shoot it in from distance?”

“No” Don sighed as he zipped himself up. “I’m not a sharpshooter. I’m more of a scattergun.”

“Can you not wee out the window then?”

“Not unless I stand on my hands and dangle my legs out the window.”

“Don’t be silly. Just kneel on the seat and hang out. I promise not to watch.”

“Erm… I suppose I could try.” Don climbed up on to his seat, but had to lean forward because of the roof of car. “OK, here goes.”

“Open the window first.”

“Christ... yeah.” As the window dropped Don felt a burst of cold air on his manhood, and then yelped as a dollop of snow fell on his privates. But he suddenly let out a sigh as he relieved himself. “That’s heaven that is. Ohhh. Baby, yeah.”

“Bloody hell, Don.”

“What?”

“I don’t need a running commentary.”

“Sorry... Just, feels awesome. I really thought that I was about burst.”

Jessie was still sat on the back seat as Don wound up his window. “I’ve found a blanket. Do you want to share it, Don?”

“Good idea.”

“Here are some wipes first, clean your hands. Better give the inside of the door a wipe too.”

“Alright.” Don wiped his hands before running it across the frame of the door.

“I also found a bottle of whisky back here, too.”

“Really? Your mum works in an off-licence or something?”

Jessie unscrewed the bottle. “Yes, that’s right... an off-licence.” Taking a swig from the bottle, she scowled as the whisky burned her tongue. She waited until Don climbed over the front seats and got under the blanket before passing the bottle. “So, if you weren’t stuck here with me in the snow, what would you usually be doing on a Friday night?”

“Usually in a pub with my friends, boasting about women we have supposedly been with... but we all know we’re bullshitting each other. If I’m not doing that, then I’ll be playing on my console with my brother... Not very cool, if I think about it. How about you?”

“Probably with Chloe, drinking at her local. Every now and then we’ll venture to the clubs in Wrexham or Chester.”

“Any good?”

“Not bad. We always have a laugh together”

“I won’t ask what you mean by that.”

“She’s fun.”

Don took a gulp of whisky and immediately regretted it. “Fuck me.”

“Don... Here’s me thinking that you were a gentleman.”

“No... It’s the whisky.”

Jessie laughed as she rubbed his shoulder. “I know.”

“Ever met anyone special while you’re out?”

“Not really. Well, I attract idiots or wannabes most of the time. All the men in Chester think they’re God’s gift. And in Wrexham...well, the least I say the better, really.”

“I suppose that’s why you’re still single then.”

“Yes, doesn’t help for sure.” Jessie watched Don crack the window down just enough to let a small amount of snow fall into his hand. “What are you doing, Don? It’s freezing in here.” He didn’t answer Jessie as he shoved the snow into his mouth, then quickly chased it with a mouthful whisky. “Don?”

“Sorry, I just like my whisky on the rocks.”

“You’re so...”

“Strange?”

Jessie smiled as she shrugged her shoulders. “I was looking for a better word, but yeah.”

“It’s much nicer, just as long as I avoid the stuff I weed on.”

“What’ya like?” Leaning into Don Jessie could feel his warmth. “But I’m also single up to now… because I want to be.”

“Obviously that will change when you meet the right guy, right?”

“I hope so.” Jessie took the bottle from Don. “What about yourself? Why aren’t you with a girl? You seem pretty desperate.” She then supped from the bottle.

“Jess!”

Jessie covered her mouth to stop from spitting out the whisky.“ Sorry... I didn’t mean... Wow. That sounded awful didn’t it?”

“I’m not desperate. I’m cool.”

“You are.”

“You don’t sound too convinced.”

Resting against Don, she glanced up at his frowning face. “You’re not cool, Don.”

“I’m not?”

“No.”

Don laughed as he pushed Jessie away. “Talk about straight talking.”

“But you don’t have to be.”

“But I’d like to be cool.”

“And why would you want to be cool when you can be Don Morphy?”

“But Don Morphy is an idiot.”

Jessie tapped Don’s shoulder with the neck of the bottle. “No, he’s not. Don’s this caring, loving, and special man. Very funny, and pisses out of a window just because he knows a girl is scared of being left alone in the dark.”

“You can’t see because it’s dark… but I’m blushing.”

“I thought it warmed up in here a bit.” Jessie snuggled back into Don’s side. “So Jessie Jones, what is she to you?”

“Jessie Jones? Erm.... Well, she’s cool. Very good looking, incredibly so.”

“Steady on, Don.”

“Strong willed and staunchly independent, but at the same time possesses a warm and generous nature.”

“You spend too much time studying me.”

Don glanced down at Jessie’s smiling face. Her pearly white teeth glimmered in the pale moonlight. His heart froze in the winter air as he pondered on reaching down to kiss her lips. “I just feel like I’ve known you a lot longer than the few weeks I have.”

“I feel exactly the same about you.”

Don felt frustration as he slipped from Jessie’s gaze. But the fact she still gripped tightly to his arm warmed his heart. “You think we could die out here?”

“Don’t be daft, we just have to sleep it out. We’ll find help in the morning.”

“Just hope I don’t need a number two during the night. I wouldn't want to be sticking my bottom out of the window.”

“Talk about ruining the moment. I was getting quite fond of romantic Don... But now we’re back to the awkward one.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s just as well that I’m fond of both. But if you feel a sudden urge go... just wait until daybreak and we’ll find you a bush and few dock leaves. Jessie then smiled as she snuggled back into Don’s side. “Mind if I use you as a pillow?”

“Of course not.”

“Thought so.”

~

Don woke to a car filled with the pale light of dawn. He could see his breath in front of him. Feeling cold he wanted to sleep more, but a tap on the window caused his heart to skip. Through the snow covered window he could see a silhouette of a man. He turned to a sleeping Jessie who still rested her head on his shoulder. “There’s someone outside.”

“Huh?”

Don pulled the door handle, but the door wouldn’t budge. So he had to shoulder barge the door to break its icy seal. To his horror he spotted a plump middle aged man brandishing a shotgun. “Oh, shit.” Holding his hands in the air he stumbled out of the car. “We only have half a bottle of whisky, two student cards and a shit load of welsh folk music... It’s all yours, just leave me and the girl alone.”

“At ease, Boyo. I’m out hunting a pesky fox. Just followed its tracks in the snow and they led me here.”

“Sorry... I’m a city boy.”

“You don’t say… Anyway, you look pretty stranded. Thought I’d offer you a tow?”

Jessie leaned out of the car while wiping sleep from her eyes. “Rhys. It’s me, Jess.”

“Oh hello... Long time no see Miss Jones.”

“How are Kath and the kids?”

Rhys smiled as he slung his shotgun over his shoulder. “They’re all fine. I heard about your mother... Me and the family wish her all the best.”

“Thanks.”

“Ever need anything, you know where we are.”

“That’s good to know, Rhys. Thank you.”

“Right. Give me ten minutes and I’ll get my tractor to give you a tow up to the village.”

“Thanks again, Rhys.”

“Anything for you, Jess.” Rhys spotted the yellow snow outside the passenger door. “Look at that, the Fox has been here... Pissed all over your door, look.” Crouching, he sniffed the air above the contaminated snow. “Christ, almost smells human... it must have been living off my rubbish for bloody weeks.”

 

Chapter 11

 

Don felt the heat rising from the radiator as he hung the damp bath towel to dry. Staring out of Jessie’s bedroom window, he could see the deep tracks left in the snow by the tractor that had towed the car home. He then heard the bedroom door open before turning to face Jessie who walked into the room. An excitable Chewy followed, pawing at her legs. “It doesn’t matter what the breed of dog is, they all act the same when they want a walk.”

“I know. I feel rather guilty actually... You don’t fancy going back out?”

“I don’t mind. It’s a lovely winter’s morning. ”

“Great. We’ll only be out for ten minutes or so... it’s too cold to stay out any longer.”

“It’s fine. Knowing Wales, I’ve brought my all weather gear.”

Jessie giggled as she stood next to Don. “See, you’re not as big of an idiot as you think you are.”

“I forgot my boots, though.”

“I spoke too soon.” Jessie ruffled Don’s damp hair. She opened the cupboard, causing Chewy to start racing around the bedroom with excitement. “You can still come. I’ll dig out Pa’s wellies.”

“It’s fine.”

“Just, we might have just met… but I want to show you my special place.”

“Wow… Jess, I don’t know what to say?”

“What..?” Jessie paused, then recognised Don’s dirty smile. Feeling disgusted she pushed her open hand onto his chest. “You and your filthy mind.”

“Sorry, it was too good an opportunity to get a joke in... that’s all.”

Jessie glanced at her wrist watch. “Right, it’s ten thirty.” She wore an exaggerated frown. “No more bad jokes until after dinner ... you think you can manage?”

“I’ll do my best... But I thought that was rather witty.”

“You are funny and you do make me laugh. I’m just asking… no, begging, for you to turn it down a few notches.”

“Jess?”

“Sorry.” Jessie witnessed the pain on Don’s face. “Maybe I should explain better.”

“Maybe you should.”

Jessie placed a sympathetic hand on Don’s shoulder. “You already put a smile on my face by just being yourself.” She warmly smiled as she rubbed his upper arm the same way a mother would to comfort her child. “There’s no need for you to bombard me with poorly constructed jokes.”

“I’ll try.”

“I’m sorry for sounding harsh. It’s just I sat next to a girl in school once. She had really bad hygiene problems... I suffered in silence because I was scared of offending her... Since then, I vowed never to do the same.”

“You’re saying my humour stinks?”

“I’m not saying it stinks... I just get a mild whiff from time to time.” Jessie raised her eyebrows as Don took out a pair of walking boots from his luggage. “I thought you told me you had forgotten them?” She watched Don wince before hanging his head. “Oh... that was another attempt at a joke, wasn’t it?”

“Sorry.”

~

Only the odd bleat from a sheep disturbed the silence of the crisp winter morning. The pair traipsed up the steep and narrow country lane towards the top of the hill. Virgin snow felt thick under their boots and blanketed the tall hedgerows creating the appearance of a bobsleigh luge. Jessie suddenly turned and climbed over a gate, causing the settled snow to fall like confetti from the aluminum crossbars. Don followed her over the gate, feeling the icy metal tubes through his gloves. Stepping onto the carpeted field, he smiled as he watched Chewy rolling in the tundra. Jessie glanced over her shoulder while walking across the frozen field “Nearly there now.”

Scraping the snow off the weather beaten stones, Don climbed upon an old stone wall. Sitting beside Jessie he stared down a wintery valley where a dark river cut through the white landscape. Grey smoke lazily lifted from chimney pots and brushed the bottom of the low clouds that had loomed above the distant small village. Don glanced across at Jessie. “This is your special place, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“It’s easy to see why. A breathtaking view.”

Jessie’s face broke into a wry smile. “I come here when I have to think.” She glanced at her snow covered boots. “Or when things get a bit too much for me.”

“I couldn’t think of a better place to rest your mind. It’s just so tranquil.”

“I find myself escaping here more and more recently. Sometimes I park the car at the gate, so I can bring my easel and paints.”

“The view must make for some beautiful paintings. I’ll buy one… when I have the money.”

“You see...” Jessie shyly smiled and glanced away. “Painting allows me to escape.”

“That’s good.” Don chewed the inside of his lip while feeling the urge to ask what was troubling Jessie so much. But he had learnt well from the last time he tried to pry into her life.

“My parents haven’t got along for a long time. But it’s got a lot worse over the last year.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I feel lousy moaning to you. I know I’m in my twenties and should be old enough to deal with it.”

“It wouldn’t be easy at any age, Jess.”

“It’s hard, you know? Watching the two people you love, ripping up everything you have ever known.”

Don put his hand on Jessie’s shoulder then rubbed her back. Despite feeling close to Jessie, he still didn’t quite possess the nerve to embrace her. “At least it’s out in the open now. You can tell me anything. I won’t tell a soul, Jess.”

“Mam hit the bottle in a big way when pa did one of his disappearing tricks last year... It’s got a lot worse since.”

“It’s more common than you think. I know I have a couple of relatives who take great pride in reaching the bottom of a pint glass… or a whisky bottle.”

“I keep making excuses for her, defending her in front of pa. But at the same time I’m growing bitter because she is forever letting me down.” Jessie covered her mouth trying to hold back the emotion. “I feel like I’m losing her.”

“Have you got some professional support for your mum? Has the doctor helped?”

“We’ve tried all kinds. She is in rehab now, not for the first time.”

Don watched as a tearful Jessie glanced skywards. “With your help and support I’m sure she’ll be fine.”

“I feel so, so weak... I get down and want to close myself off from the world. Just be by myself.”

“Jess, you should never do that. That’s crazy.”

“It’s stupid I know. But that’s all that seems to work for me, Don. It’s like I’m hibernating. I only want to wake when the world seems a warmer place. It’s easier for me to bear.”

“You think you’re suffering from depression?”

“I don’t know.” Jessie’s cheeks were moist with tears as she rested her head on Don’s shoulder. “Maybe... I don’t know.”

“Here’s me thinking the pretty people of this world had an easy life.”

“Me, pretty? Have you not got your contact lenses in?”

“You are more than pretty... you’re beautiful.”

Jessie cracked a brief smile. She rubbed her nose as she sniffled. “Listen to me telling you all my secrets.”

“It’s good to talk, Jess.”

“I don’t know. I bet you want to run a mile right now.”

“No.” Don finally put an arm around Jessie, and gave her a squeeze. “If anything, I want to be closer to you.”

“Thanks.” Jessie rubbed her wet cheek against his shoulder. “That’s really good to hear.”

A gust of wind raced across the white field, gathering snow and creating an icy mist. Don shivered as the temperature continued to drop. He jumped down from the dry stone wall. “Come on, Jess. Let’s get you back home. You look frozen up there.”

“Think you can catch me this time?”

“Of course.” Don opened his arms as Jessie jumped into his grasp. He took a step back as he recovered his balance, before gently lowering her to the ground. “See... I’m a safe pair of hands, after all.”

“I know you are, Don... That’s more than clear to me.”

 

To be continued... Again, feel free to let me know what you think of my writing, I would appreciate any constructive criticism.

 

 

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