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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Never Too Late To Believe - 13. Guests

Food, parties, and guests...

The following day, Emily Standish took a break from hanging curtains and washed up instead. Normally the dirty things didn't add up to much, given they had yet to move in, but there were all the containers and a flask from her picnic. Taking them back home the previous day had escaped her mind. A frank appraisal with a removal company concerning their quote had been swiftly followed by the carpet suppliers now reporting her second-choice pattern for the living room out of stock. The two unsatisfactory phone calls had rounded off a thoroughly frustrating day.

She delved into the cool bag that doubled as a picnic basket. A frown appeared. What had happened to the arrangement with Felicity? Slipping into automatic, she got on with the rinsing, leaving her mind free.

Wednesday's mixed weather had made the prospect of an outing uninviting. In her experience, there was little pleasure to be gained from sitting on damp grass, even in the most picturesque surroundings. Even so, a reluctance to cancel first meant she kept her phone close. Whatever decision Felicity made, she would've agreed with.

Instead, there'd been complete silence. No 'Looking forward to later' or 'Don't forget a waterproof sheet' or simply a smiley. Emily scrubbed at a dried-on scrap of something. In the absence of any response either way, she'd continued preparing the salad.

“She didn't even want us to arrive at the river together.”

Felicity's plan was to park in the town centre and walk the rest of the way – a distance of something over a mile and a half. One text sent late at night said 'I need the exercise!' with a sweating emoji followed by laughter. Which was fine, but her route passed by the house.

“So why didn't she want to meet-up here?”

Concern was soon compounded with disappointment when on arrival at the beauty spot, her picnic guest was nowhere to be seen. Fortunately the sun shone as Emily ate her solitary meal. After an hour spent watching ducks and an equally solitary heron, she'd packed up and returned.

Still no communication. What should she do now? Emptying out the dishwater, she left the crockery and containers to dry of their own accord. Any action would have to be set against the backdrop of the other woman's presumed domestic difficulties.

Text or email? Mindful of her illicit affair analogy, it appeared leaving a short voice message would be easier to pass off as coming from a wrong number, should it reach unintended ears. Emily believed her own number wouldn't be stored complete anywhere on Felicity's device. The composition of an anodyne couple of sentences which also managed to convey what she needed, was going to be interesting.

She stared into space for several minutes, trying to temper annoyance with diplomacy. Then with a nod of apparent satisfaction, Emily picked up her phone and after a short delay, spoke.

Sat at the kitchen table in a pair of shorts and a sleeveless tee, Andy rubbed his eyes. “Sodding guest list.” He let his head fall forward briefly before sitting upright once more.

Delightful as the prospect might be to have them all at their reception, an afternoon spent finessing, then signing off the list of lucky recipients was doing his head in. He and Adam had finally sat down the previous evening – Adam on pain of being denied sex – to get it done. Andy smirked. The threat had produced an instant result. One hour's concentrated throughput was all it needed to distil days' worth of chat.

A notification distracted him. Ten minutes then passed before the diversionary glare of a messy divorce being played out in public lessened. Andy shook his head. What was it about social media which encouraged people to leave off every and any filter? Fortunately the individuals involved were only friends of friends. He got up to grab another cup of coffee. Adam would've looked at the whole string with a lawyer's perspective. Even he realised the exchanges added grist to any divorce solicitor's bill.

The wretched list drew him back. When they decided on a maximum of seventy guests for the reception, it had sounded more than enough. He eyed various names which hadn't made the cut. None had any right to expect an invitation, but… His own mum warned him. 'That's the dilemma,' she said. 'Where do you stop?' And something neither he nor Adam had factored in at the start was the 'plus one'. Andy rolled his eyes. How basic could it get? They'd decided on forty invites, knowing at least some wouldn't respond or they'd appear on their own.

Another query followed on. He spent no more than a few seconds chewing it over before deciding the answer lay elsewhere.

“Hello, tiger. Settle a question for me.”

It'll have to be quick. Adam's voice had that focussed, tight tone which signalled work pressures.

“Isn't the legal world on holiday?”

Yeah. No-one thought to tell this particular client though. Pompous prick that he is. Adam sighed. Don't tell me it's another wedding-related issue.

Andy smirked to himself. “A thought – were family included in the total of seventy?”

For the reception? No – because they'll already be there. No point in sending a second invitation.

“Makes sense. So we'll need to add an extra ten or fifteen people onto the catering total, won't we?”

He heard a groan. Jesus. Remind me never to get married ever again. Yes, it'll affect the food and drink. Glad one of us is on top of things.


Roll on November, I say.

“Hey! That's our nuptials you're dissing.”

And don't I know it.

The familiar refrain made them both chuckle.

“I'll get the list finalised this afternoon. Once you've given it the OK, off it'll go to the printers. Mum's already complaining we're late getting the invites dispatched.”

Andy imagined the other man's weary expression. Adam would enjoy the day – they both would – but the unceasing demands beforehand were something else. He smiled ruefully. And this was a modest occasion, frugal in some regards.

I still think a feather quill and inkstand should be employed. You know, being traditional.

Andy snorted. “Yeah? Neither of us has the time or patience. Our guests might want to be sure it's they who are invited. My handwriting's a scrawl; yours is just as bad but more showy.”


“You know what I mean. All those loops and curlicues don't exactly aid legibility.”

You make me sound Dickensian.

Andy snorted. “Yeah, I can just see you as a downtrodden legal clerk, perched on a high seat. Anyway, that handwriting font the printers demonstrated is fine and it means they can do the whole thing from start to the invites being sent out. And there'll be the added bonus of having the right people turn up to party the night away.”

No romance, some people.

“You've a strange concept of romance, tiger.” A brief feline snarl in reply made him grin. “OK – with the totals cleared up, I'll do the necessary tidying.” Various lines in their wedding budget would need alteration. “After we send off the invites, that'll be another hurdle cleared.”

How many more left? And who'd have thought I'd be marrying an events organiser in disguise?

A silence during which he performed a full-on, though unseen eye roll was all the answer necessary.

Sniggers followed. Thanks, love! See you later.


Summer Fridays on the M5 were guaranteed hell. One finger drummed on the steering wheel of a borrowed van. Rob stared at three, almost stationary lines of traffic ahead. Many vehicles bore luggage racks or carried two plus cycles hanging above their back bumper. And of course, there was the inevitable sprinkling of caravans – bane of all other road users.

That day's chore was to deliver a newly-completed set of garden furniture to one of Birmingham's many satellite towns. Travelling north, it appeared most traffic was returning from holidays in the balmy South West.

“Lucky for them.”

He whistled Hey Jude through his teeth. Beatles songs formed one part of his personal soundtrack. Queen and Freddy Mercury were another. Football mates took the piss at his decidedly retro choices. Rob wondered about Eric's taste in music briefly before focusing on the possibilities for his own holiday. He deserved a couple of weeks away somewhere. Scotland? Or Norfolk? Early September would be good time, after the schools had gone back. And he'd save some money.

For some reason that brought him back to Eric. They finished their chat in the cafe on much better terms than they'd started. The defensiveness was still there – Rob assumed it was part of the other man's armour – but as he showed Eric his phone, there followed a couple of wryly amused comments on his love of gadgets.

He inched the van forward, narrowly avoiding stalling the engine.

Eric was most animated talking about plants. Rob visualised the barely-controlled jungle that constituted his own garden. There was always something better to do than mowing the patch of lawn or navigating the array of unknown species that populated the flower beds. Most things seemed to survive. When they got too large or straggly, he took a pair of shears to them. He imagined the other man shaking his head at the neglect. Occasionally a neighbour left a plant outside the front door. That too constituted neglect. Or a hint maybe? He had to be notorious for not contributing to the village's Britain in Bloom effort.

It would certainly give them enough to talk about initially. Which was just as well. In many other ways, it felt like they were fifty years apart, not fifteen or thereabouts. From what he could glean, Eric's life had been constrained to a degree most people would've found insufferable. Maybe Eric had also found it difficult but lacked the wherewithal to escape. Unlike him. Music, football, or TV shows were possibilities but he suspected they wouldn't last long. As for his experience of the gay scene… Rob paused. There might be a hunger to know. However, details of his sex encounters would definitely remain his own.

Traffic moved, gaining speed, raising everyone's hopes until they crawled to a halt again. He applied the handbrake. Time for a courtesy text to the client explaining his delay in arriving. It had been a larger commission than most, hence the borrowed van. A chance to work with reclaimed teak proved the pull; that and FSC larch made for a striking combination.

“Gotta remind myself how lucky I am sometimes.”

When would he and Eric next meet? Somehow, in Eric's rush for the bus, they'd parted without making any arrangements. Leominster would be another neutral backdrop before they got onto inviting each other into a home setting. Eric's touchiness about the cafe and its offerings might signal trouble for later. Rob flicked through the calendar screen on his phone. The following Friday looked clear. Instead of making the call at once, he wound down both windows in an attempt to get a breeze. Air drifted past, apparently cooler but reeking of cars and lorries. His eyelids drooped.

A Highways Agency patrol car sped along the hard shoulder, amber lights flashing. Trouble? He listened out for sirens, then turned the engine off and settled back into the unfamiliar seat, one hand reaching across for a chocolate bar. Sucking on caramel, gooey chocolate, and wafer, he got lost in thoughts of the most recent redhead and his impressive, manscaped tackle.

The other guy's imaginary cock was swelling in his mouth, getting ready to let loose. Rob dreamily reached out to cup and caress his own jean-covered package. His hand made contact when a blast of car horns jerked him back to reality.

“Shit!” A gap between his van and moving traffic ahead was rapidly widening. “Stupid fucker!” Face flaming, Rob stalled the engine twice before he – and the queue behind – got back on the move.

In Eric's kitchen, Andy unpacked a carrier bag while listening to the Saturday football results through one Bluetooth earbud. His dad never failed to complain the modern mishmash was a feeble parody, nothing to compare with the solemn reading through of every league's matches. He smiled. There was no doubt love of football ran through the Harper veins. Supporting rather than playing, but that didn't matter.

As an escape from more marriage admin, he'd persuaded Eric to take another few steps towards becoming a self-reliant cook. Recipe selected, Eric had made a special trip to the shops, grumbling about the crowds and the short notice. From his own bag, Andy placed a medium-sized roasting tin on the countertop. He opened a cupboard or two, nodded, then turned to the fridge.

He straightened up. “Looks as though we've got everything.” As an afterthought, he shoved both phone and earbuds into a back pocket.

“I should hope so.” Eric stood by his chair in the living room. “I lost count of the aisles I had to traipse along in search of whatever it was.”

“Worth it, I'd say.”

“Hnh – wait until the 'cooking' starts.”

The implied quotation marks elicited a grin. “We'll be fine. You chose a good recipe. It doesn't need any real process – once the ingredients are ready, you dump them into the tin.”

“Says the experienced cook.”

“We all have to learn.” Andy held out an arm. “Let's start. We won't want to keep Adam waiting. He's out cycling.”

Eric's lips thinned. “You've invited a guest?”

“Adam's hardly a guest. Come here.” He gave his friend a side-on hug and a kiss on the cheek. “We're gonna have fun. The bonus will be good food at the end of it.”

The other man passed over the recipe book with an amused shrug. “Let the miracle begin.”

Trying to stay back, Andy let Eric assemble all the necessary components. Seals or packaging were unbroken on a number of items.

He looked everything over. “Something's missing, I think.”

Eric grimaced. One thumb tracked down the page as his eyes flickered between list and what was on the countertop. “Damned if I can see what it is.”



“Aren't they still in the fridge?”

Eric produced the package. Andy noted he'd spent more than usual to get a brand that promised recognisable meat. As a team, they worked through the veg. Eric carefully sliced florets from the cauliflower while he tackled the onions – the harder task. When it came to the cans, Eric wielded an opener with some skill.

“Doing a good job.”

“I'm finding it easier than last winter, if that's what you mean.”

“You're eating better and the cottage is warmer and less damp.”

Into the roasting tin went veg, chopped tomatoes, butter beans, and the sausages balanced on top.

Andy noted his friend eyeing the quantity of food. “If you wanted to make it for yourself, or maybe for two–” He paused to no effect. “Don't forget the butcher will sell you as few sausages as you need.”

Eric nodded, his attention fixed on the recipe. “Oil and balsamic vinegar?”

“Here.” Two unopened bottles sat ready.

“What am I meant to do with the oil? Says something about 'tossing' the ingredients.”

Andy demonstrated. Adding vinegar and dried thyme, the dish was ready to be cooked.

Sitting down with a mug of tea each, Andy offered encouragement. “See – that went well. Don't forget if you're cooking smaller quantities, you'll need less time.”

Eric shrugged. Andy's experienced eye told him the suggestion had gone home, following on from his earlier hint. The recipe would make as good a hearty meal for two.

“While we're waiting, I'm going to run through a list of things my boss, Claire, reminded me about.” He produced a notebook from the bag he'd used earlier.

“Writing things down? Whatever will you think of next?”

Andy rolled his eyes. “Given the speed Claire talks at, scribbling in this is a lot easier than the phone. We've rather neglected basic things recently with everything else going on.”

Eric blew on his tea. “I can think of some but let's hear yours first.”

“Some? A quick brainstorm with Claire produced plenty.” The last catch-up meeting at A Helping Hand's dingy offices had been a salutary experience. His manager pulled him (and so his client) firmly back down to Earth after all the media attention.

“She's a determined woman. I remember that much from the meal we all had together.”

“And the phone calls. OK… here's the list. Debit card–”

“I went to the bank the day we met in that ice cream place.” Eric sat up, looking pleased to be ticking one item off.

“Did you?” Andy blinked. “Has the card arrived?”

“Ah.” The older man turned to the battered table he used for the computer. He brandished a cheap plastic card holder. The debit card was the sole occupant.

“Great.” He paused. “Used it yet?”

“No. I was in such a rush this morning, that was too much.”

“OK – a practical demonstration or two'll help. Next time we're in the supermarket together, I'll show you how.” Andy refocused on the notebook. “Back to the list. Dentist, optician, new glasses, work on the bathroom, and getting a mobile phone.”

Eric's nose crinkled. “A mobile phone? You must think I'm made of money.”

“Don't forget you currently have some.”

“As you keep reminding me. Isn't a mobile phone an ongoing charge?”

“Depends. You could buy a cheapish handset and then top-up the data allowances whenever you need to.”

“Hmm. Brian mentioned a phone as well.” A lack of conviction was clear. “Are the two of you ganging up on me? There's one thing missing from your list.”



Andy's mouth gaped. “Shit! How could I forget?” One more scribble joined the rest. Noises outside made him glance up at the clock on the wall. “Food should be done by now. I think our intrepid cyclist has just arrived as well.”

On cue, Adam opened the front door after first knocking. He looked stunning, all flushed and pumped up from the exercise. “Wow, something smells good. Eric, do you mind if I use your bathroom?” He held a bike pannier in one hand. “A quick wash and change is needed.”

“You know the way. There's a clean towel in the airing cupboard.”

“Thank you.”

Andy made sure to snatch a quick kiss or two as Adam passed and whispered, “You're one hell of a sexy man, tiger.”

After Sunday lunch at home, the soon-to-be old home, Emily took out her phone to check for a message she'd almost given up on. Still nothing from Felicity. Sitting out in the sun, she turned to speak to her husband about what to do next. The phone rang, making her jump.


Hi, Emily. It's Andy Harper. Is it convenient?

“Yes – it's fine.”

Excellent. I've just finished revising the detailed plans for your garden. Would you like me to send them through now?

“Working on a Sunday? Nigel would approve.”

Now semi-retired, her husband snored gently next to her.

I don't really have a fixed week. Work gets done as it comes.

“Good point. While I've got you, we've decided on a date for the house-warming.”

I'm not sure–

“Don't worry about the garden. Maybe we'll hold another party when all the plants have settled in. No, we'd like to invite you and your partner. And indeed, Eric Whitehouse. D'you think he'd come?”

Wow – thanks and yes, from us. Eric? I'm not sure. He's not exactly a party kind of guy.

“How about if we both promised to give him a proper tour of the garden? He's only seen it fleetingly.”

That might work. It'd certainly act as a tempting inducement. We'll see. If Eric does agree, he has a friend who might want to come as well.

“All invitations are open to 'plus ones'. I'll make a note to myself so I'll remember to add the tour to Eric's invite.”

Awesome. I'll send the plans through now.

“Thanks, Andy. Speak to you soon.”

There was someone else Emily wished to have as a guest. Would Felicity be able to come though? It didn't seem likely. She leant over. “Nigel! I need to talk to you about something.”

If you're enjoying Eric's story, why not recommend it to other GA users? There are new additional recommendation categories available.

Copyright © 2021 northie; All Rights Reserved.
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Parker Owens has accompanied me throughout the writing of this story. He has my heartfelt thanks.

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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

Story Discussion Topic

This started out in late 2016 as my first attempt at a multi-part story. I remember pestering @Parker Owens for his agreement for me to start posting after I'd produced ... four chapters or thereabouts.   His wise counsel prevailed, and I've spent a long time both completing this part, and refining the writing so it comes up to my current standards.   The reception of the first two chapters has been such that I've ventured to start this story topic.   Feel free to discuss or
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I remain concerned for Felicity's health and well being...something has to give. I can only hope it wasn't because of visible bruises she couldn't make it!

Eric with a debit card and possibly getting a phone, which he seems to be considering and learning how to cook better meals!!!

Glad to see his overall health is picking up!! 

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8 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

Eric with a debit card and possibly getting a phone

I wouldn't hold your breath about the phone. 🤨 Eric's going to need more convincing. A lot more.

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I work in retail in the American Midwest and see the full range of technological efficiency (or deficiency) amongst older persons.  While Eric is certainly on the edge of the range, he is not alone!  I'm so proud of him for trying new things.  It seems we are heading towards a convergence of characters and intertwined storylines, either at the open house and/or the wedding.  I feel like we need Andy and Emily to compare stories in order for Felicity to get the help she so desperately needs.

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10 hours ago, CincyKris said:

It seems we are heading towards a convergence of characters and intertwined storylines, either at the open house and/or the wedding. 

Yes. This isn't the most exciting of chapters but it sets up a number of things which are important later on. Well spotted. 

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More insights courtesy of my email inbox...


Alternatively, the monster might have come suspicious of Felicity’s activities and clamped down on her access to her phone. She’d be too afraid of leaving the house in case he decided to check up on her.

I’m wondering how long you’ll be able to keep the connections to Felicity and to the vandal secret from the various characters. So far, we readers know, but there isn’t any logical reason for the characters to find out yet. But as the story progresses, it seems inevitable that there will be near misses and coincidences that could expose the secrets. As part of reconciliation, the vandal might be required to personally apologize to his victim, Eric.


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1 minute ago, northie said:

the monster might have come suspicious of Felicity’s activities and clamped down on her access to her phone.

The ways of a domineering partner are many and varied. 🤨 Unfortunately.

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16 minutes ago, northie said:

So far, we readers know, but there isn’t any logical reason for the characters to find out yet. But as the story progresses, it seems inevitable that there will be near misses and coincidences that could expose the secrets.

As I say in another comment, nothing much happens in this chapter. What it does however, is set up various situations which will drive the plot forward.

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I beg to disagree. Plenty of stuff happened, it may not be dramatic, but making a home cooked meal is a big deal for Eric, and i really like Adam for immediately mentioning the nice smell. Eric didn't dismiss the comment, and i'm hoping he'll enjoy his first meal with friends at home. Having a neglected garden is the perfect topic for Rob to bring up next time he sees Eric. Maybe he can bring his laptop and show pictures in a better size than the phone. 

I doubt Eric would be up to bringing Rob with him to a party, but it may depend on how it was sold to him. But if all the other guests are coming as couples or singles, then bringing a friend would be strange. And it would certainly be a lot to expect from Rob unless he had met Andy, Adam and Emily beforehand.

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1 hour ago, Timothy M. said:

but making a home cooked meal is a big deal for Eric,

It is, but in a way, it's incidental to much of what else is going on.

1 hour ago, Timothy M. said:

it would certainly be a lot to expect from Rob unless he had met Andy, Adam and Emily beforehand.

Yes, but Rob is socially experienced and given the nature of his work, new contacts are something he'd probably be keen to pursue.

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On 12/20/2021 at 7:32 PM, northie said:

Yes, but Rob is socially experienced and given the nature of his work, new contacts are something he'd probably be keen to pursue.

Oh, I'm sure he could cope with the social stuff, but being scrutinized as or assumed to be a potential partner of Eric might be detrimental to their friendship, and anything else which might develop. Nosy matchmakers can destroy budding relationships of all kinds.

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On 12/21/2021 at 8:05 PM, Timothy M. said:

but being scrutinized as or assumed to be a potential partner of Eric might be detrimental to their friendship

Given both Eric and Rob would be strangers to the rest of the likely guest list, they'd be either politely ignored until they engaged or curiosity would be more of who are they and why are they here? 

Edited by northie
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