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    Mawgrim
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Travelling On - 8. Shrovetide

He’d had worse weekends on emergency cover. He’d also had a lot better. Sunday had started off promising; no emergencies first thing, meaning he went along to one of his own sites and sorted out a few of the little jobs that weren’t worth setting aside a whole day for. The problem with weekends was the cinemas were open by ten-thirty, meaning there was even less time than usual to do any work. Still, he fixed the fire alarm macro issue, then had a coffee from the shop in the foyer while he updated all the paperwork he’d neglected while he’d been busy fixing things. At twelve, he decided to go home and start packing for his week’s holiday with James. If the rest of Sunday went as planned, he’d set off at about six, when, by his reckoning, it was too late to go out to a cinema with any hope of saving their last show. Tariq took over emergency cover from Monday and he played by the same rules, so if anything came in, Craig would pass over the information.

By three, he was all ready to go, feeling annoyed he couldn’t leave right now. It had been nearly a week since he’d last seen James. They’d phoned and messaged, which was fine for keeping in contact, but not the same. As always, when you are waiting, the time dragged. He cleaned the bathroom, then the kitchen sink. A couple of emails pinged in, but they were for the northern half of the country; not his patch. As it began to get dark, his phone rang. +46 prefix. The OC. And that was where his plans unravelled.

‘Could you pop in to Brighton?’ Rolf sounded bright and cheerful. ‘They have a sound issue in their screen two and they have an important event this evening.’

‘Sure.’ Craig’s heart sank. He knew what the roads were like at this time on a Sunday. People would be coming back from weekend visits. The M25 round London would be a car park. It would take him at least two and a half hours to get there, barring any serious delays.

On the way, he phoned the cinema. They’d been showing a documentary about a celebrity DJ. The performance on Saturday night had gone well, but the DJ had complained he didn’t like the way the sound was EQ’d. He wanted the same sort of thumping bass line people would experience in a club and he wanted it sorted by the next showing. Unfortunately, the duty manager had forgotten to ring it through to the OC until the afternoon.

‘You will get here in time, won’t you?’ she asked Craig worriedly.

‘I’ll try. But I’m not local to you, so I’ve a distance to drive.’

He got there by seven. The show wasn’t due to start until half past eight. He tweaked the EQ as much as he dared without blowing a driver, then made sure strict instructions were left with the cinema to re-load the normal cinema EQ before they opened the next day. He’d give Paul - their regular engineer - a call to make certain. The DJ came in with his entourage, listened to a couple of tracks and grudgingly pronounced it ‘OK, I suppose, if that’s the best you can do.’

He was back in the car by eight and home just after ten. James had sounded slightly disappointed on the phone, although Craig was even more so. He felt as if he was letting James down; breaking promises. His job was getting in the way of his personal life and he didn’t like it.

He fed Jerry, then crashed into bed. He’d been in the car for a few hours today and not really eaten a decent meal. His brain was still in emergency mode and refused to shut down to let him sleep. By all rights, he should be at the cottage now, lying next to James in that very comfortable bed. He tried imagining the utter darkness and quiet of the Derbyshire countryside, but the streetlights filtering in through the blinds didn’t support the illusion. Eventually, he dropped off into a fitful, dream laden sleep. In one of the dreams, Archie was driving a yellow digger, pursuing him through the woods. He ran up the hill, his legs refusing to work properly; that dream sensation of wading through treacle. Just before he woke, he saw the clay-laden digger bucket poised over his head and Archie’s gloating face as he pushed the lever which would bury him.

He woke early; a habit he couldn’t break. Monday morning traffic was always worse, so he set off at the same time as he normally did en route to a cinema, leaving Jerry in the care of Madge. As he drove north, the problems of the past week receded behind him and he began to feel optimistic again. The miles counted steadily down, until finally he turned the car up the now-familiar rutted and potholed track.

James had left a note on the door. Back soon. Let yourself in.

Craig knew by now where he left the spare key, so he followed the instructions, breathing in the unmistakeable scent of the old kitchen; burning logs, a residual aroma of coffee, bacon and toast. He filled the kettle and adjusted the levers on the stove so it would boil more quickly, then checked the firebox and threw another couple of logs inside. Finally, he settled down in the armchair and dozed off almost at once.

The shrill of the whistling kettle wrenched him back to wakefulness. He made a quick mug of tea and drank half of it, then dozed again. This time, he was woken by the sound of the door opening and James pulling off his muddy boots in the hall.

Craig got up from the chair and hugged him, smelling that fresh, outdoor aroma mingled with James’s own unique scent. He relaxed another notch, if that was possible. He was home again.

James talked enthusiastically about the clearance they’d started, chopping back some of the branches to give enough space which to work. ‘You’ll have to come up this afternoon. If you’re feeling up to it?’

‘I could do with some walking after the last four days. I was starting to feel as if I was welded to the car seat.’ His back was twinging, as it always did after spending a lot of time in the car. Maybe James could give him a massage later? Craig was sure he’d be willing enough.

‘Now, you can help me order the log cabin.’ He opened up his laptop on the kitchen table. They spent the next hour or so viewing the size and specifications of a number of potential buildings, finally narrowing it down to a shortlist of three.

‘It has to have a good overhang at the front, so people can sit outside and enjoy the sunset,’ James said. ‘The choice is between styles, really. I don’t want it to look too modern.’

‘No,’ Craig agreed. ‘They’ll want rustic charm, not something that looks like a home office built in their back garden.’

James laughed. ‘You have such a good turn of phrase sometimes.’

Eventually they made a choice and James paid a frighteningly large sum of money for what looked to Craig like a big shed. Delivery was four to six weeks, so there’d be plenty of time to complete the groundwork.

‘With a bit of luck and the weather on our side, we’ll be able to take the first bookings for May.’

Craig liked the way he said ‘we’, as if he expected they’d both be around to see it.

‘How long does it take to put one of those together?’

‘That’s the easy part. With two or three people working, it can be done in a day. Then it’s just the finishing touches inside; plumbing, electrics and such. Luckily the water main isn’t too far away, although the waste will go into a septic tank. I’ve already ordered one and Archie knows all about installation.’

Archie again. ‘What’s he getting out of this?’

‘He just likes to help.’ James gave him a teasing look. ‘Not jealous, are you?’

‘Of course not.’ Craig tried to make it look as if he really didn’t care.

‘I feel a bit sorry for him, to be honest. Farming’s in his blood. His family have lived around here for centuries. He’s married with two kids, but I don’t think it’s what he’d have chosen.’

‘Ah.’ James’s explanation sort of made sense. ‘It’s a bit nineteenth century, isn’t it?’

‘Still happens. Anyway, he’d not be happy doing anything else but farming, so either way, he’d lose out. When I first moved in and he found out I was gay, he was round here all the time. I had to make it very clear I wasn’t a marriage breaker before he finally got the message nothing was going to happen.’

Craig was glad to hear it. ‘Looks to me as if he’s still trying.’

‘I think he envies me. And you, probably. We’re living the life he can’t.’

After a quick lunch of cheese and pickle sandwiches, they walked up through the wood again. It was obvious work had started. A pile of branches burned merrily and the area where the cabin would go was in the process of being levelled. Craig wasn’t sure what he could do to help, but he was handed a saw and shown what to cut, while Archie, in the digger, began cutting channels for the various pipes that would need to be run.

Craig kept the fire burning and helped fetch and carry whenever he was asked. It was hard, physical work and despite the chill of the February day, he’d soon worked up a sweat.

‘Looks like we’re going to have a similar day tomorrow, weather-wise,’ Archie said, when they stopped for coffee from a large flask. ‘Should be a good day out.’

Shrovetide. Of course. He’d put it to the back of his mind. As it had drawn closer the idea of jumping into a river in winter seemed ever less appealing. He’d looked it up online and had a slightly clearer idea of the rules, which included no murder or unnecessary violence, no carrying the ball in a motorised vehicle and no playing after 10pm. ‘I’m looking forward to it,’ he said. ‘It’s good to see old traditions carrying on in this day and age.’

‘You know it can get a bit rough.’ Archie’s expression seemed to convey exactly what he felt about a townie playing the local game.

‘I’ve seen a few video clips, so yes, I do.’ He wondered if he could get away with shoving Archie in the Henmore Brook. Or was that going a bit too far? After what James had said earlier, he didn’t really think of Archie as a serious threat any more. But he wanted to prove he could hold his own, if that was what it took to be accepted in the village.

As the light faded, they trudged back down to the cottage, muddy and weary. James’s first job was to get the stove blazing again. He’d shut it right down so it only burned slowly while they were out. ‘We’ll need plenty of hot water. Do you want to shower first while I get some dinner going.’

‘You don’t have to cook all the time.’ Not that Craig minded, but it just seemed unfair after working hard all afternoon.

‘Don’t worry. I won’t be doing anything fancy tonight. I took some bolognese out of the freezer earlier, so it’s only a matter of cooking pasta and putting garlic bread in to heat.’

‘That’s all right, then.’

‘You go on up.’ James reached across and pulled him close for a kiss. ‘Hmm, I like you all dirty.’

‘Be even dirtier tomorrow.’ He remembered the pictures of the mud-covered players he’d seen online.

‘Let’s hope so.’

The food was good as ever. A couple of glasses of red wine and Craig found his eyes closing. Absurd. It was only seven in the evening. ‘Why do I always feel so sleepy here?’

‘The country air. Hard work. It’s good. Shows you’re relaxed. I imagine you didn’t relax much over the weekend.’

‘No. Bloody Sunday evening really annoyed me. All because a manager forgot to phone earlier.’ He sighed. ‘Still, it is what it is.’

James paused for a while. ‘You know, if you like being here so much, you could always move in. If you want to, that is,’ he added hastily.

‘Of course I like being here.’ He’d never been more certain of anything. But this wasn’t a film with a happy-ever-after ending. It was real life. ‘It’s just, I don’t see how it would work.’

James’s face fell. ‘Oh, sorry. I thought you felt the same way…’ he trailed off.

Craig realised what he must be thinking. ‘No! If I could spend every day with you it would be wonderful.’ He put down his glass and leaned closer to James. ‘You’re wonderful. You’ve made me realise what living is about. But with my job the way it is, if I moved in here with you, we’d probably only see each other a couple of days a week anyway. That’s what I meant by saying it wouldn’t work.’

James took his hands. ‘You told me last week you don’t even like your job much any more. Maybe it’s time to move on?’

Craig shook his head slowly. ‘I couldn’t just come and live here and not contribute. It wouldn’t be fair.’

‘I don’t mind. There’s work around here, if you know the right people. So, you might not find anything for a few months, but that wouldn’t be a problem.’

‘I’ve never sponged off anyone in my life.’ Craig had to make him understand.

‘It wouldn’t be sponging. Look, I care about you. If we’re being really honest, I love you…’

Craig’s heart felt as if it had just taken flight off a cinema roof. ‘I… I love you too.’ It was the truest thing he’d ever said. When he wasn’t with James, he was only half a person. Somehow, James made him complete in a way he’d never been before.

‘Then there’s no issue, is there?’

Somehow they were both standing, although Craig didn’t remember getting up from the chair. All that mattered was the closeness. The feeling nothing could pull them apart, ever. Kissing reached a new level of intensity; something he’d never thought possible.

He wasn’t sure who led who up the stairs to the bedroom. In fact, he couldn’t be sure if they’d walked or somehow floated. Maybe it was because he was so relaxed, but the whole experience had a certain dream-like quality to it. Sex with James had always been special, but that night it reached a whole new level; as if admitting how they both felt had led to an even closer connection.

They had a lie in the next morning. Well, Craig did. He woke as James got out of bed at around seven-thirty, trying his best to be quiet as he went downstairs to stoke the stove. He came back around ten minutes later and got underneath the duvet again.

‘Morning,’ Craig said sleepily.

‘I didn’t wake you up, did I?’

‘No,’ he lied. ‘I woke about five minutes ago and realised something was missing. You.’ He got closer to James. ‘When do we need to get up?’

‘No hurry. We don’t have to get to the pub until eleven-thirty, but I was going to do a proper breakfast. We might not get a chance to eat again until late.’

‘I’m not really tired now. I always wake up early.’ Craig wrapped his arms around James’s bum and pulled him closer.

‘That part of you is certainly eager.’

It didn’t take long for James to be in a similar state. Craig wriggled into a position where he could take James into his mouth and James was able to do the same. There was no hurry, so Craig took his time, bringing James close to the edge a few times before he finally finished the job. James brought him off just a couple of seconds later.

While he waited for his heart to stop racing, and his breathing to slow, he realised every morning could start this way, if he only took that one step.

Almost as if he’d read Craig’s thoughts, James propped himself up on an elbow and said, ‘I wouldn’t mind being woken up like that every morning.’

‘Hmm.’ He crawled back round again so they were face to face. ‘Neither would I.’ It was hard to believe just a week ago he’d been being annoyed by Greg at Pine Hills. It seemed so trivial and distant, as if it had happened in another world entirely. Which, he supposed was a fitting analogy as his life currently felt as if it was split into two distinct parts.

He must have looked serious, as James asked, ‘What’s up?’

‘Just wondering. What would happen if I gave up my job?’

‘Well, you’d have to hand in your notice first. How long do you need to give?’

‘A month.’

‘Then once you’re free, you’d come and live here.’

Craig mused about that. ‘I’d have to buy a car. I’ve not had my own car in years.’

‘Make sure you get one that handles potholes. Although I’m going to have to get that track filled in a bit once we start taking in guests. Don’t want them breaking their suspension.’

‘I’d need to bring my cat.’ What if James had a cat allergy?

‘I’m sure we’d find space for him. Cat flaps are easy to install.’

No allergy, then. ‘And what would I do with my house?’

‘You own it?’

‘Well, I’ve got a mortgage, but yes.’

‘Why not rent it out, then?’

It wasn’t a bad idea. The mortgage was fairly small by today’s standards and it would bring in some income to tide him over until he found a job up here. ‘Quite a few of the houses on my estate are rented. They’re modern, easy to look after.’

‘There you go, then. Problem solved. Now you just need to take that first step.’

‘You make it sound so easy.’

‘I’ve already done it, remember? And I know how uncertain it feels, setting yourself adrift from the corporate environment.’

‘I’d never be able to go back.’

‘Would you want to?’

Craig knew the answer to that one. ‘Not the way it's going. The cinema business I started in doesn’t exist any more.’ He recalled Phil’s dramatic speech. Get out while you can, before it destroys you.

‘You have your answer, then. You just need to make up your mind to do it.’

When James went downstairs to start on the breakfast, Craig had a wash, still mulling it over. He didn't enjoy the business the way he’d used to. So why did he feel so attached to it? Probably because it was where he’d spent his whole career. It was familiar, even with all the changes that had happened. Yes, he’d love to live here with James and help him get his business going. But not being able to pay his own way still made him feel uneasy.

The smell of frying bacon began to drift up the stairs, luring him down to the kitchen. He’d put on an old rugby shirt that was slightly tatty around the sleeves and his hiking trousers.

‘Very sensible,’ James said. ‘I was warned to avoid wearing jeans at all costs. If you do end up in the water, they’ll never dry out. Apparently the real professionals wear lycra and running shoes.’

‘That’ll be a sight.’

‘Hmm. I was thinking that too.’

‘For the same reason, don’t wear wellies. They’ll rub your ankles raw when you’re running.’

Craig chewed a piece of toast. ‘Just how serious is this pub team? I don’t want to let anyone down.’

‘One or two of the lads are really into it. Everyone else goes along for a laugh and to drink a lot. It’s just a day out.’

‘That’s a relief.’

‘Just enjoy it. No one’s out to prove anything.’

They drove to the pub in a fine drizzle. Thankfully, it wasn’t too cold; around eight degrees celsius. As T-shirts printed with the pub’s name were handed out, Archie cheerfully told stories about playing through a blizzard and chunks of ice floating down the river some years. A few of the team were drinking already, presumably hoping it would insulate them.

‘You’ll get cold standing around in the car park waiting for the ball to be turned up, but after that it’ll be fine,’ George told him. ‘Are you an Up’Ard or a Down’Ard?’

If he’d not already looked up facts about the game online, Craig might have thought it a personal question. ‘Well, I was born in Hertford and that’s definitely well south of Henmore Brook, so I guess I’m a Down’Ard.’

‘Most of us are, too. Not that it really matters. You’re only considered a proper player if you was born in Ashbourne. They sort it out among themselves who’ll be allowed the chance to score. It’s a bit of an honour. You know Archie’s grandad got picked to goal the ball one year?’

‘I didn’t, no.’

‘Gonna have a drink before we get off? It’ll probably be your last chance for a couple of hours.’

‘Might as well.’

‘Peddy?’

‘Please.’

They piled onto the minibus just after twelve. It was a noisy journey. Craig realised he and James were probably the oldest people on board. A few wives and girlfriends had joined them, plus Col, with his leg in plaster. He’d been assigned to look after phones and valuables for those who were playing and seemed to be looking forward to spending most of the day in a cosy pub.

It wasn’t a long journey, although the minibus driver had to search a while for a space to drop them off. The traffic was building up already and lots of people were walking purposefully towards the town centre.

‘Some of ‘em will be spectators,’ Eddie explained. ‘Or at least, that’s what they intend. Sometimes the game can move really fast in an unexpected direction and anyone who’s in the way gets sucked in whether they want to or not.’

‘Sounds dangerous.’

Eddie shrugged. ‘If people don’t want to get involved they should keep a good distance. Hanging around on the edges is asking for trouble, especially if you can’t run fast.’

After a couple of minutes walk, they found themselves in a large car park. Even with an hour to go before it all started, everyone was packed tight. Eddie pointed out the plinth from which the ball would be turned up. ‘When it gets near to the time everyone will be trying to get as close as they can.’

‘Except us,’ one of the women said. ‘We’ll stand over on the bridge so we don’t get in the way.’

‘Me too,’ Col said. ‘Anyone got anything they’d rather not get wet or smashed?’ he held up a rucksack. A few of the pub team dropped their phones in. Craig thought he’d hang on to his for a bit longer. While he was waiting he checked his notifications. He’d got a new voicemail and a missed call from Mike. As he knew Mike wasn’t on emergency cover this week, he thought it unlikely to be urgent; probably just a bit of gossip he was dying to tell someone. He’d call him back later. To prevent any further temptation, he dropped it in the bag.

By the time the officials arrived, he was getting a bit chilly, although the rain had stopped. Some of the crowd were stretching or doing warm-up exercises. Craig didn’t consider himself a lightweight by any means, but a lot of these guys were built like rugby players.

James sidled up to him. ‘Ready for the off?’

‘I reckon so.’

‘As we don’t have phones, if we get split up then the plan is to meet at the Dragon in the market square about five-thirty. Or if you get fed up, go there before. Col will try to save a few seats if he can, but it gets busy.’

The traditional songs were sung; Auld Lang Syne followed by God Save the Queen, then the ball was held up ceremoniously as people surged forward, trying to guess where it would be thrown. Craig found himself shoving just to keep his position. He saw the ball flying through the air, to the right of where he stood, then was carried along in the flow of the crowd. Almost immediately he realised you just had to go with it and try not to trip over anything on the way. Every now and then he caught a glimpse of the ball above a sea of reaching hands, only to have it disappear again. There seemed very little chance of getting anywhere near it.

For the first twenty minutes or so, it went to and fro across the car park, not really making any ground. Every now and then he spotted one of the white T shirts their ‘team’ was wearing. George had managed to get far closer than he had, but then he’d done this a few times before.

All of a sudden someone broke away and there was a sudden, frantic rush toward the road. Players and spectators alike streamed onto the tarmac. Someone vaulted over a stationary car. Another man ran straight across the bonnet. How would you explain that in your insurance claim?

There was a struggle, with the ball being passed backwards and forwards, people following along. Spectators held their phones high to try and capture the action, then had to leap back as the hug surged towards them. Someone trod on Craig’s foot, not deliberately of course, but it still hurt. He was glad he’d chosen to wear hiking boots.

Eventually, they got off the road, into a muddy field. Everyone started running for no apparent reason, so Craig ran in the same direction. He spotted James, over to his left and Archie, moving surprisingly swiftly for a man of his size. Then he saw the ball, being carried by a young man with the build of a runner rather than a rugby player. Others equally as swift caught up with him and he was tackled to the ground, giving the main pack a chance to catch up again.

Craig felt a bit winded after the exertion and paused to catch his breath. More players had bundled in and it looked as if they would be stuck there for some time again. He began to understand why this game lasted for eight hours.

He didn’t realise how much time had passed until the light began to fade. Checking his watch, he saw it was near four-thirty and on a dull afternoon such as this one, dusk was falling. He knew they’d gone a fair way across the fields. The hardcore players had been in and out of the river a few times. His legs hurt and the foot which had been trodden on was beginning to ache. A couple of the pub team were still keeping close to the action although their white T shirts were now mud spattered and grass stained. He’d not seen James for about an hour. Even though he’d liked to have followed along and maybe even seen someone score a goal, he’d had enough for the day. He’d not done so much exercise since he left the projection box.

Quite a few people seemed to be making their way back towards the town as darkness fell. The car park, so packed earlier, was deserted. Cars had reclaimed the main road as their own.

He found the market square mostly by following people who looked as if they knew where they were going. Every pub he passed was packed, people spilling out through the doors. Getting in to the George and Dragon proved nearly as difficult as getting anywhere near the ball in the football game. Seeing his T-shirt and muddy state, strangers patted him on the back, as if he’d done something worthy of praise rather than just running aimlessly round a field for most of the afternoon.

Eventually, he spotted Col, together with a couple of the women and two other members of the pub team who’d obviously felt in need of liquid refreshment. It was oddly satisfying to note they were a lot less dishevelled than he was.

‘Ay up,’ one of them said. ‘If you can get near the bar, can you get the drinks in for us?’

‘Sure.’ He glance around the pub. ‘Anyone seen James?’

‘Not for a couple of hours,’ one of the blokes said. ‘He’ll probably be back soon now it’s getting dark.’

There wasn’t anything else to be done. Craig waited for almost twenty minutes to fetch beers, then made his way back over. George had returned as well by then, bringing news the play was only about a mile away from the Sturston goal when he’d left.

One of the women leaned over. ‘It’s Craig, isn’t it?’

‘That’s right.’

‘I’m Julie. Eddie’s other half.’

It was good to learn a few more names. ‘Nice to meet you.’

‘Eddie says you’re with James.’ She emphasised ‘with’.

‘Yes.’

‘So, he’s your boyfriend?’

He hoped she wouldn’t start asking the kind of personal and inappropriate questions people sometimes did. ‘That’s right.’

‘I’m glad he’s found someone. He always seemed so lonely. Have you known him long?’

‘Not really. Just a few weeks.’ He took a good gulp of beer. He hadn’t realised how thirsty he was until then.

‘Did you meet at work?’

‘No. Although it was work related. We both got stuck in the snow on a motorway and were evacuated to a village. Had to sleep in the church hall. We got talking and found out we had a lot in common. I suppose you could say we just clicked. Then he asked me to stay for a weekend in his cottage and, well, things worked out.’

‘That’s romantic,’ she said. ‘Me and Eddie got together after a New Year’s party. I was so drunk I fell over and broke the heel off my shoe. He carried me home.’

‘That’s pretty romantic too. How long ago was it?’

‘Just over two years.’

Craig was about to reply when he felt hands on his shoulders and turned to see a very muddy James. ‘I forgot which pub we were meeting at. Not having a phone is a pain.’

‘I know. I was wondering if you’d got lost somewhere out in the fields.’

‘Well, I was for a while. Then I found a group of people with a torch. Archie’s still out there, with Eddie. He’s determined to see them goal the ball.’

‘Was Eddie okay?’ Julie asked.

‘Last time I saw him he was a bit wet. Slipped into the river when they had to cross over.’ He glanced over at the bar. ‘I expect it’s going to be impossible to get any food in here.’

Craig agreed . The staff were hard pressed to keep on serving beer and there wasn’t much room to eat even if you did get food. ‘You want to go out and get something?’

‘There’s a fish and chip shop up the road,’ Julie said. ‘I’ll come with you. I could do with a bite to eat to soak up some of this alcohol. Col will keep our seats.’

‘Eh?’ he asked, having heard his name spoken.

‘We’re gonna get food. Want any chips?’

‘Ta, yes.’

They went out into the night. It had started raining again and the wet pavements reflected the colours from illuminated signs and traffic lights. As might have been expected, there was a long queue at the chip shop. While they waited, Craig checked his phone again, remembering Mike’s message.

James tapped on his arm. ‘Thought you weren’t going to look at that on your days off?’

‘I wouldn’t usually. It’s just Mike left me a voicemail earlier and he tried calling me again at five. I’m intrigued.’ Maybe there were going to be redundancies, after all? He knew if they wanted volunteers, he’d be the first to put his hand up.

James and Julie chatted while he listened to the message. Mike must have been driving, as the signal kept breaking up, but he managed to pick out the words, ‘give us a call when you can.’

He did. Mike picked up almost immediately. ‘Where have you been?’

‘In muddy fields for most of the day. I didn’t have my phone in case it fell in the river. So, what’s up?’

‘You’re never going to believe this. They’ve got permission to take on more engineers and guess who’s going to be in charge.’

It didn’t take much thought. ‘Greg?’

‘Got it in one. Emlyn’s threatening to leave, Tariq’s already started looking for another job and I’m probably going to do the same. It’s bloody stupid.’

‘The whole company’s bloody stupid. Are you absolutely sure about this?’

‘Yeah. I heard it from Carol. There’ll be an official email tomorrow, but I thought I’d give you the heads up.’

‘I appreciate that.’

‘So what will you do?’

If it was true - and he had no reason to believe it wasn’t - it was the push he needed. The final straw and all that. ‘Once I see that email, I’ll let you know.’ He needed to talk to James. ‘Speak to you tomorrow, most probably.’ He hung up and slipped the phone back into his pocket.

‘Anything serious?’ James asked.

‘Sort of.’

Julie looked on expectantly.

‘They may just have given me the perfect reason to leave my job.’

James hugged him, then quickly broke off in case anyone was bothered. But it was Shrovetide in Ashbourne and quite a few drunk people were hugging, or had arms around each other, regardless of gender, so no one had batted an eye. ‘Tell me?’

Craig did. ‘And once it’s confirmed, I’m going to do it. No more waiting around. I’ve had enough this time.’

They stepped inside the shop doorway, out of the rain at last.The smell of fried food and vinegar filled the air, making Craig realise how long it had been since breakfast and how hungry he was.

‘Then the fish and chips are on me,’ James said with a smile.

Only one more chapter to go now and as it's comparatively short, I'll be posting it tomorrow.

Copyright © 2021 Mawgrim; All Rights Reserved.
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Sad to see the story coming to an end as it has given me hope that I might some day still find love.

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I'm very sad we only have one chapter to go, but I'm so happy that Craig and James are going to get their HEA.  My favorite line:  He’d looked it up online and had a slightly clearer idea of the rules, which included no murder or unnecessary violence, no carrying the ball in a motorised vehicle and no playing after 10pm.  Sounds like fun!

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Love the story and so glad you took the time to craft this wonderful tale, gonna miss the fellas, hopefully at some point we can check back in to see how they are doing and how badly, Greg stuffed up the works!!

Craig got up from the chair and hugged him, smelling that fresh, outdoor aroma mingled with James’s own unique scent. He relaxed another notch, if that was possible. He was home again.

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10 hours ago, mrbossmant said:

 

Sad to see the story coming to an end as it has given me hope that I might some day still find love.

 

Never give up!
Part of the reason I wrote this story is to deal with the problems of being older, having a few failed relationships behind you and not feeling attractive any more. Also that love can blossom in unexpected circumstances.

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7 hours ago, CincyKris said:

 

I'm very sad we only have one chapter to go, but I'm so happy that Craig and James are going to get their HEA.  My favorite line:  He’d looked it up online and had a slightly clearer idea of the rules, which included no murder or unnecessary violence, no carrying the ball in a motorised vehicle and no playing after 10pm.  Sounds like fun!

 

Shrovetide is mad. In one documentary I watched about it, there was an incident where two men attached an electric fence to some railings to stop the other team getting to the ball. It really is an experience you never forget.

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7 hours ago, drsawzall said:

Love the story and so glad you took the time to craft this wonderful tale, gonna miss the fellas, hopefully at some point we can check back in to see how they are doing and how badly, Greg stuffed up the works!!

You never know. When I wrote the original anthology story, I never thought there would be a sequel. Sometimes it’s good to revisit characters further down the line.

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