April 13, 2024

Really Got Me (ch29)

      start of ***  REALLY  GOT  ME***
🌟✈ His cluttered head wasn't really getting the peace it needed after his exchange with Brian. He knew how his friend felt about this over-attachment with his daughter and the legal boundaries it crossed.  Of course, the advice given to him had been prudent, and he thought he at least owed Brian something since they more or less stopped socializing these days.
  He did conjure up the scenario of telling her that it may be in their best interest if they no longer saw each other and what that actuality would bring about.  But the pain of such a sudden and cruel act, and watching her crumble through it was unbearable to even think about. Not now. Not ever. They couldn't even manage being weaned from the other; seeing each other less, no keeping their contact to just public places, no calling less, no taxi's home after he'd cooked for her, no keeping to her own room. There was no lesser degree of impact for them, no damage limitation that would succeed.
   But he did promise Brian he'd think about the peccancy of his future; committing to such this very second via a long quiet walk, (mobile at home, iPod in his pocket) under glorious winter sun that oozed from an azure cloudless sky. A perfect setting for clear, serious, sensible thinking... who was he trying to kid? All it took was a distant aeroplane catching his eye to make any such thoughts moulder as it merely placed emphasis on their premeditated plan. Weighing up the odds, they may need a straight flight, across skies and outta here themselves some day. Plus he really wasn't being totally loyal to Brian by choosing the very park he and Saskia met up in to process these 'thoughts' - that wasn't doing anything other than confirming their fait-accompli carried —— and disregard. 

Within forty-eight hours of last hearing from her, she was back on the phone, back at his table, back in his bed. There was no need to expose the fact that he had thought - theoretically - of a future without her. Of how in the long run he knows she would be better off with a guy her age as he part-seriously, part- jokingly reminds her that she'll outlive him by at least 30 years anyhow. So they embrace the present, live in the moment. How these moments will eventually pan out is a different story; one they need not concern themselves with for now. Or do they?      
   This past while, since Beverly vacillated some possible suspicion during the time she legged it, Saskia had to reassure Neil that her mum had just been off on a nasty rant, and could be really vile when in a mood. She felt it necessary to mention too, that this had worsened since the death of her grandfather, and could exacerbate when she was on the blob (something she had to demystify the meaning of in none too delicate a term). Even so, Neil was beginning to feel more rattled at the mention of her these days. Saskia could be miles away at times and on inquiry of such moments, her mum was usually the reason but she brushes it off, jokes about home life. Maybe it was instinctive concern, but there was only so much recovering from cancer could be excused for. If anything, one would expect after having battled such a disease, that life would take on a more lucid and placating rationale. He could recall her fiery temper but it was never that bad to have left any enduring impression on him.

Spending a rather lengthy spell out on the balcony, on this cold wintery night, Saskia, in skimpy and  sleeveless night apparel, sneaked up on him and slipped arms around his middle from behind, resting the side of her head between his shoulder blades. 
     'What ya doing freezing your danglers out here, Raptor?'
     Feeling her warm, uncovered arms enclose him, he turned and berated her back. 
     'You'll catch your death, you daft mare!' Her short smock revealed bare legs, too.
     'I thought you'd slipped off without saying goodnight.. '
     'No... an aeroplane caught my eye and I kind of got drawn in by its tail lights. Took fifteen minutes to disappear from sight... I timed it!' He feigned amazement.
     'Well, I'm... ' she hauled him by the arm, 'drawn to get back inside. That show starts in ten and you're not even settled in your PJ's. Timing plane lights going across the sky...' she tutted,  'you blokes really don't ever grow up.'
    'Oi!' He gave her a playful push on the shoulder on their way through the glass doors, partaking in all this living for the moment stuff, when he would have been better off booking a plane ticket right there and then.
       end of ***REALLY  GOT  ME***

April 11, 2024

Secret (pt2) CH28

                   ***SECRET (pt 2)***

  🐦🐦 Just when Brian had thought he'd heard it all, the next apple of discord in this God-forsaken saga hurled incredulity straight back at him.  Still trying to incorporate sense obliquely to bring Neil back down from cloud cuckoo land, he asked what would happen if their affair did become common knowledge.
    'At the first sniff of anything like that we'd flee - to some place or other where nobody knows us.'
     Staring at him with an almighty frown, forcing the lines in his forehead to replicate a down pointing arrow, Brian was clearly taken aback.
   'What? And abandon her mum?'
   'Saskia's spent most of her life to pleasing her mum, helped with her grandfather too, besides Beverly's doing well, she's expecting the all-clear soon. But that's the decision we've made if the worst was to happen...'  he declared, walking back to his desk, after a like-it-or-not gesture at Brian's clear affront. And once he was sitting back down, he swept a hand right round his surrounds, then said, 'I'd give all this up for her. Right now.'
    The words totally confounded Brian. 'Are you serious?'
    'Oh, I'm serious. You know the old saying " if you don't sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice?"  Well, I can't have that. I won't...all of this,' he gestured around again, ' would be yours.'
     Brian let that thought take precedence for a moment. He'd be running Balfour Industries! 
     They'd already signed an indenture that sealed this future deal on Neil's retirement - he would be head honcho. He had managed the place for years whenever Neil was shooting off somewhere; for months at a time when he was married to Magrette.  
   Of course, nothing was fully signed over, but the disposition could see Brian comfortably off. Neil was planning on retiring at 60 anyhow, so it'd be no big deal bringing that forward a couple of years. Work was purely stringent familiarization, reaching an imperishable level of boredom by 10a.m. and felt even more intolerable since Saskia.  He'd be fucked if he would let this place be the premature death of him. With millions safely tucked away for retirement, he could bow out gracefully. Or perhaps disgracefully now it was known that if this whole sordid affair did leak, they would be pissing off out of the picture.  
      'Here's hoping it doesn't come to that,' Brian said.  And for Neil's sake at this moment in time, under such circumstances, he really meant it. 
   Back to the decanter for one last whisky, Brian stood quiescently watching night engulfing the daylight sky.  There would be no point in any more visceral objections.  As far as he managed to see things, his friend was caught up in a juncture, a case of hope and hopelessness, while his own feelings on the matter were suspended somewhere between horror and pity. Pity? There was a word he'd never thought he'd ever associate with mega-rich, uber-privileged Neil Balfour.  It was a shame, too, as he had stopped being morally bankrupt years ago. This disgusting love had blinded him enough to be ignoring the full backlash, of the consequences it could bring. What a bloody old fool. 
    'I'll have to be going soon, Neil, but can you answer me one last thing before I leave - just for my own curiosity?'
     He gave a curt nod.
    'If she hadn't initiated things, confessed to you, so to speak... would you have said or done anything?'
    'Probably not,' he answered, tapping a pen by it's nib on the desk, 'although it wouldn't have stopped me knowing, needing, or wanting her.  As I said, you can't legislate for the human heart. She's the sweetest, funniest and single-most mental little creature. It can hurt how much I love her - and she has me in which any way, shape or form she chooses.'  
    Jesus, thought Brian to himself (he'd never blaspheme out loud) this idiot has taken mollycoddling to a new extreme!  Worse still, he sounded like a lovesick puppy.
    'I know it's been a shock, Brian, but she's the best thing to have happened to me since Magrette left. Life was empty after her, you know that better than anyone.'
    Brian gave a rueful smile at that. Had Magrette still been his wife, this whole sorry event may never have occurred. Curiosity killed, it really was time to go, but he was leaving with a minute fragment of understanding.  Instances of this kind weren't totally unheard of and usually always had a reciprocal sympathy story to sell with it. So was it really wrong to be needed, to be comforted in bittersweet necessity?  Brian swirled the glass and in one fell swoop, the whiskey took the answer to that one down with it. 
   'Okay if I leave the report till Monday?'
   'Sure.' Neil answered, his friend's mind would probably be addled enough this weekend, let alone cope with audit trails. 'Thanks, Brian. For at least letting me vent. I wasn't quite expecting a Gregson from you, but I've appreciated you being there all the same.'
   'Well, nobody can wholeheartedly view a situation they're not directly involved in, but I'll not move from what I think would be best all round.'     
   'I'll see that your car gets to you in the morning.' Was all his reply contained.
   Again, Brian gave a little nod and headed out. Pausing in the door frame, he turned to add:
   'You know this'll go no further, Neil.'  That was never doubted for a second. 'Text me when Saskia returns. Daughters are stubborn little bastards, but it'll be sooner than you think.'
    Neil's revelation would feel tangible for days to come, like a sour taste on the tongue, and Brian prayed as he strode towards the exit that Neil really would come to his senses. But the man had, after all, simply felt compelled to fight hiscorner, spill his heart - just as Saskia was coaxed to do at Neil's request. But he sorely wished he hadn't popped up for that damned document tonight.  

Alone in the darkening office, Neil heaved an almighty sigh, mixed with worry, fear and palliation. It had been strange to articulate the appeal and danger of taboo, but freeing at the same time. Right now, however, come what may, he just wanted to know Saskia was okay. It would be pointless to glance anymore at either his phone or out the window, and the greenhouse carpet had been subjected to the most-incessant pacing of its life. One more refill and he'd do one.

                                  *                                        *                                           *
Standing wearily on his balcony at 2 am, with a fifth coffee since returning home in hand, he looked out over the city, listening to the distant sighs of traffic, hoping that some car or taxi would glide her safe return here or her home. London lights were gradually saying goodnight; tower block illuminated windows blinking off into darkness, one after another.  This was useless. Telling himself that she would call by the end of his next overdose of caffeine, clearly wasn't happening.  All it was really doing was working up a bladder-full of trips to the toilet.  He tipped the remaining half mug of coffee down the sink and went to bed, leaving the curtains fully open. After one last check at his phone's battery life, he succumbed to sleep faster than expected.
It took him a minute to click on that there was an extra band of warmth around his middle.  Looking down under the sheet he was mightily relieved to see her hand resting on his tummy, and with a quick glance at her over his shoulder for extra reassurance, he turned and roused her.  
     'Saskia? Saskia... where have you been, your mother's been going nuts wondering where you are.'  Checking his phone, she'd called another twice through the night, but noted none from Saskia. Him and his deep slumber. What use would he have been had she called? 
     'Please just let me sleep, Dad!'  
     He supposed that was a reasonable enough request to barter his relief with.
     It was now half past seven, so he rose as he'd be getting up at eight anyhow; a long enough lie in for him at weekends.  While the kettle was on to boil, he went to the guest room to call Beverly.  Whether she'd answer or not, he wasn't sure.  In the end he had to leave a voicemail.    
     By 10 a.m. he'd been to the supermarket for essentials and Saskia still hadn't moved from her sleeping position.  No amount of deliberate activity stirred her, and just as he decided one more hour and she was up whether she liked it or not, she started to awaken. Neil loomed over her, arms crossed, until she focused on his rather peeved expression as she clambered to sit up.
     'This the bit where I get grounded for a month?'
     'Your mum and I had been going out of our mind's with worry.'  
     'Now there's a sentence I seriously thought I'd never ever hear.'
     He ignored the cynicism, simply stating: 'You could have texted.'  It was apparent now that by ignoring him too, she had indeed been getting at her mum, for calling Beverly would have been the obvious thing he'd do.  
     'Yeah, well, I didn't. Some things you have to just grin and bear - I can't be my mother's puppet forever...  ' She quickly whipped back the covers and stormed towards the bathroom. 
    'Despite any gripe you had with your mum, all it would have taken was a simple message letting us know you were all right.'
    'Well, it looks like both of you will have to suck it up, then, doesn't it?'
    'Oh, very mature, Saskia!' he called after her. A minute or two later, he heard the rush from the shower head.  
   Preparing a breakfast that he wasn't sure either were ready for, there was a disquiet knot in his tummy. He tried to dismiss it as being his profound talk with Brian last night, but this gut feeling said differently.
    Saskia dressed from the stack of clothes she kept here and sat across from Neil at the breakfast bar, thanking him briefly. They both spent an uncomfortable couple of minutes, forcing in small mouthfuls of mushroom omelette - Saskia tensing herself for an interrogative grilling she really wasn't up for.
     'Can I ask where you were?'
     Yup. She was right.
     'Yeah. Dan's.' Neil's forehead gave a puzzled furrow so she had to help out. 'The big bloke you met the night you came to that gig with me'.
      Now it clicked. 'The guy from your high school?'
     'Both nights?'
     'Both nights,' she confirmed.
     The protracted silence and refusal to look him in they eye concerned him, and the knot in his gut worsened enough to make him push his plate away. Saskia, in return, clanked her fork onto the plate and did the same.
     'He's decent, Dad. I didn't sleep with him in case that's bothering you.'
     'It's not,' he lied, for it flitted momentarily in his meantime, muddled mind. 'So, are you going to tell me what it w
as all about?'
     'You really don't wanna know.'
    The same troubled remark he made to Brian last night now exhausted him. 'For fuck's sake, Saskia...just tell me.'
    'I think she knows.'
     'What do you mean?' asked Neil, his heart banging like a demented dinner gong.
     'On my way out after a row she shouted something after me.'
     'Okay. What?'
     'That I'm returning home smelling more of you, than I am of myself.'

              End of ***SECRET***               


April 07, 2024

Secret (pt2)ch28

             Start of  ***SECRET***(pt 1)
🐦 She was a no show at the train station.  Friday night tumbled along the roads and pavements and Saskia still wasn't answering her phone.  People looked minute from the 18th floor, but he strained his eyes hoping to catch a glimpse of a platinum-blonde head bobbing among the multi-shades walking past below.
   It was 8.20pm and Brian, Neil's oldest friend from work - up for a document to take home - was surprised to see him through his glass box office, still fully suited and sitting perched on the corner of his desk looking miles away. He knocked once and entered. 
    'Alright there, Neil?' he inquired, noticing the fancy decanter of whisky on the table.  At work this usually indicated a problem or a long night.
     Neil swung his head round, unaware that Brian had crept up on him.  'Yes, just been a long day - you know.'
     'When are they never.  You seem a bit preoccupied, sure you're okay?'
     Giving a shrug, he sighed and replied. 'Could be better.' 
     Something must really be bothering him, Brian thought, as he noticed his tumbler was pretty full. A sudden and horrifying thought rushed to Brian's head and he reeled from the possibility.  'Not another lawsuit?' 
    He made it sound as if this was episodic, but the previous court case was a bit of a scary bastard. Luck (not bribery as the rumours went) only just rules in their favour. Had it gone the claimant's way it could very well have busted the department that Brian worked for.
    Neil gave a jerky little smile. 'Wish it was as simple as that but it's personal... stuff. Drink?'
    Brian raised a hand as shook his head just as something even worse flew to mind. As troubled as he looked there was no way he was touching, not even looking at Neil's balls for conformation of any bump or lump. 
     'Is it health related?' he asked nervously.
     'No. Still over the hill but doing okay.' He gave a smile at the relief on Brian's face.
     'So, what is it then, bud?'
     'Nothing you, or anyone, can help me with. Trust me, you really don't wanna know.'
      Brian was usually his sole confidante on anything personal or any company fuck-up, but he didn't like the manner in which this seemed to be heading.; telling him  he really wouldn't want to know made him all the more adamant to find out.
     'Do I have to keep reminding you that my father's a vicar, therefore I'm thick skinned too? I've heard all sorts - there isn't anything you can't say to me, you know that.' 
    'Believe me, this is off the scale.'
     'Have you murdered someone?' he asked sarcastically, starting to feel ticked off with his friend's reluctance to open up. 'Look, whatever's bothering you wants to come out otherwise you wouldn't even have hinted something was up.'
     Neil suddenly felt thankful of the male presence. Saskia had been his main company, main focus for so long now that he didn't quite consider how much of an impact this caused, how much he'd actually missed him.  But even so he averted his eyes and turned his head as he thought, but said he didn't want to burden him with this one. The decision did not go down well with Brian.
    'At least give me a clue to what it's about, man!' 
    Neil took a measured breath. This would be a bastard to put the right wording to,  but he didn't want to piss Brian about any longer; the man was committed now. 
   'It's my daughter. She didn't come home last night and her mother's frantic. She's called round hospitals, her friends and stuff. No joy. But she's still not answering anyone's calls or messages, and I've left umpteen voicemails. I'm not too sure what going on, but Beverly thinks she's not contacting me to worry her more.'
     'Ah, that's not so good,' he replied, but wondered why Neil couldn't have just told him this to begin with. 'Has Beverly mentioned a falling out or anything?' 
     'I picked up a hint that something may be up a few days ago but Saskia wasn't up for talking about it.' 
    Brian pouted and nodded, relating to parental struggles empirically. He first felt he'd lost his daughter when she started to wear black lipstick and clothes in adulation of some college band named Servile Sanction. He lost her completely a few months later when she moved in with the drummer - giving up her studies for a menial job to spend more time with him. So he could understand why Neil may be pent up over a runaway, but she was a grown woman, not a teenager. What was more puzzling was the extent to which  Neil had drunk so far (he could tell by the eyes it was a lot) and disinclination to say more; their affiliation was usually gustier than that. 
    'I'll drive you around if you want to want to search anywhere?' he offered.
     'Good of you, but I honestly wouldn't know where to start.' 
     'Well, it sounds like it's been a row between mother and daughter. It's a nightmare when they rebel. Our Danielle used to take sod-you hissy-fits before pissing off.  They make their way home soon enough. To be honest I'm more concerned with what you're not telling me. I know you, mate.'
   'You really don't,' Neil said, sliding off the desk edge to refill his glass. Words formed in his mind, reluctant to leave the tongue yet. He'd either have to go for it, or never do. With his back still to Brian, he took one pot-valiant glug; those hesitant words no longer held hostage...
     'I reckon it's been found out that we're sleeping together.'
     Down went the rest of the whisky in glug number two. There. They were out.
     'What?' Brian's eyes bulged at the news, taken aback. 'No wonder she's taken off then, she's probably pissed at you both if she didn't see that one coming. I'm surprised she's even up for sex! Doesn't the chemo and whatnot leave her too tired?'
    Neil's allusive way of bringing his secret into the open left Brian surmising that he's sleeping with Beverly under some sort of ex-reunion. 
   'I wouldn't know,' he quietly stated, trying to picture the confusion on Brian's face. How long would it take for the coin to drop?
    He soon disentangled the facts and stared in mute horror, before approaching him slowly. Neil's wandering gaze didn't know where to settle once he stood by him. 'Tell me you're not serious, man.'
   This time Neil looked at him; the raised eyebrows, the inward curl of the lips and the slight tilt of the head  - all confirming he was indeed sleeping with his daughter.
     At  a loss for words while processing the enormity of such a revelation, Brian stood stunned; a man of faith and patience, the reality of what had just occurred was almost beyond his belief.  All Neil's previous post-Magrette escapades: the clubs: the bragging of detailed sexual antics with classy escorts: the selfish slinging of emotions on young women: the drugs and threats of violence from husbands (all which, granted, he curbed years ago) had been unsavoury enough; this was mind-blowingly, jaw-droppingly, downright obscene. A grave quietness filled the office for what felt like forever, Neil dreaded his friend's next words, as he gave him a sideways stare, a damning pallor  took over his complexion. 
Brian hit himself with a huge glass of JD, draining the decanter empty.  'I've got this right now, haven't I, you mean Saskia?' he asked, in case this was some nightmare he was in, and had not just been told that his best friend was sexually involved with his own daughter.
   He nodded in assent.
   'For fuck's sake, Neil.' There it was, the rarity-swear from the most reasonable man he knew. 'I don't know what to think, let alone say!'
    'I don't expect anyone would.' 
     Pacing off, Brian was reluctant to even look at him now. He'd been supportive to Neil over the years,  opening that offer, where he could, to others; the go-to man for advice and remittal. It was a bit of a burden being religious, but no amount of hail Mary's would sort this one out. He reckoned even God would struggle with this dilemma. 
   'Brian, it's not something we asked for.'
    Watching his friend strutting about in a confused silence, Neil felt like shit. Putting himself in his friend's place, he most likely would have kicked him in the nuts by now to bring him to his senses. After two large gulps from the glass, Brian turned and let loose. 
     'I'm appalled Neil, utterly appalled.  You know what it's called, don't you?' The word stuck like a stone lodged in his throat. Respectable people have difficulty in even saying the word incest.
     Neil gave a nod and a semi-shameful smile. 'In too deep before we knew it.'
     'Too deep before we knew it,' he mimicked. 'It should never have gotten anywhere near that!'
     'It's not about allowing things reaching a certain point when it's near- impossible to fight, it was never going to be that simple.'
    'I don't think a judge would see it like that... '
    'Fuck's sake, Brian, would you really take this that far?'
    'Wouldn't like to have to but I'm struggling here... '
     Letting Brian wander about to quietly apperceive, Neil wondered which of his thoughts would crystallize into his next words, for he knew there was a choice looming; to side with the law and daub his oldest friend and his daughter in, or disown him altogether but keep shtum.  But it wasn't going to be easy, not for himself nor for his friend, to decide what the outcome of this conversation would hold.                'Any more of this stuff?' He held up his empty glass in front of Neil, who retrieved another bottle from a filing cabinet, refilling their glasses. It looked like he was, at least, sticking around for now. 'No gory details please, but how on earth did this come about, present itself?'
   'Well,' he sighed, gearing himself up for one hell of an explanation. 'Out of the blue at the at work's Christmas do...'
   Brian gave an incredulous sigh and rolled his eyes. 'Isn't it bloody always... '
   Ignoring the nippy comment, he continued. ' At the end of the night she told me how she felt and it totally threw me. The more we talked, the more we... well, let's just say the gory details followed.  I mentally fought it, fought it like fuck, but the urge got too strong.'
     'Or you were too weak?' Brian scratched his head, shaking it at the same time. This sounded very much like the Neil of old; the former one always had a twitch in his pants at a pretty face. Surely it had nothing to do with that? 'Your kid is an astoundingly eye-catching young woman, but I thought you gave up all that malarkey yonks ago - learned your lesson?' Brian knew that was an unfair comment to make, as he surely wouldn't have only seen his own daughter as a wretched old man's conquest, plus he knew Neil was reluctant to see her at all at the beginning.
     'Mate, it was never anything of that nature, more to do with need. Hers, mainly.'
     'I can't understand needing a father to that extent.'
     Neil sighed mightily and went for another peroxide-head check out the window, sitting back down at his desk with no flash of blonde about.
     'It's not all about sex. It's about something you don't feel or understand at first until it  hits you - she just got brave enough to be honest about it.' It was hard sharing what was inside his head, the vividness of his luscious sin. 'She fell in love just as people do and you can't legislate for loving someone, you've no choice in the matter.'
   Brian followed Neil's action and sat himself down at Jacqueline's desk. 'Fuck, Neil, do you really believe that shit?' he asked without rancour, but Neil took it rather testily.
     'Who are we hurting? Go on, answer me that! If two people are consenting and nobody is in danger, why should they worry if it's right or wrong for anyone but them?' 
    Was it too hard to understand that they cherished what private life was theirs? Outside they were still them, only a more sanitized version. 
     'What you're basically saying is that it's nobody else's business?'
     'Well, we weren't planning on announcing it.'
Standing abruptly, Brian - a stout man, whose large square glasses were misting up - had to remove his jacket as notch three of the desk fan wasn't dealing with the temperature as good now the air conditioning timer had stopped.  As he offloaded some more, Neil could intuitively tell that his friend still wasn't digesting matters well, so he hoped by Brian allowing the Jack Daniels to find it's way into his glass for a third over-filled time may help; although there was still that module of fear in his throat no matter how much the spirit washed over it. 
     'I'm doing my damnedest to process all of this, Neil.  I mean some would probably say fair play to you for banging a cracking looking bird half your age, but it's so unsettling knowing that she's your...  your child.' 
   'That's just it though... she was never my child, I never knew any child.' He remembered Saskia's prior rationale on the matter with her. 'We met as adults, and not responsible for all those lost years, and I guess that's how the complexities kick in.  Us having met was overwhelming and drew out all these other reactions and were swept along with the rush.  I mean it's not like this was something we thought we'd look into, she's not been in my bed from day one, it took time to manifest.  Sure, it would have been far better to have known her as a baby, but when we met she was a bit too big to bounce on my knee.'
     'But not off your hips though, eh?' 
     Neil scoffed at Brian's continued contempt, sucking-in his lips with slow acknowledgement nods which usually translated as good one, mate  or I deserved that.  If anyone was to say as he saw fit, this theistic man was, never holding back in the slightest in letting you know exactly what you needed to hear; all those years of Sunday Sermons, no doubt. 
   'You're making it sound vulgar, Brian, and it's not.'
    And just in case he wasn't getting it, Brian upped his tone.  'You're dipping  your dick in your daughter, Neil, how else would others see it? People can't reason, lawfully or morally, outwith the bounds of decency.'
     'Decency?' Neil scoffed. 'Fuck, I can remember not so long ago every cunt here was patting John Gregson on the back when he bragged about screwing his step-daughter.'
     'Who?' Brian asked muzzily, until the incident became fresh in his mind again. 'Oh, her that went on to star in those pop-up adverts online... I don't think that constitutes much of a similarity, I mean it's down to actual flesh and blood in your case.'
 'Jesus... state the ruddy obvious... '  Neil muttered under his breath. In-depth understanding wasn't on the cards here, and he was getting weary from the backlash - but he appreciated he was lingering on with him nonetheless; with their long friendship to consider it earned him, at least, some tolerance; he could be on the floor nursing a bloody nose, or on his way to a cop shop.
    'Look, I see supposable fathers and daughters every bloody where, acting with as much social decorum as us, and that does intensify that what we're doing is wrong... ' he admitted, but I don't look at the bloke and think, och, you don't know what you're missing , mate... I can be swallowed up by iniquity at times, I'm not totally carefree.'
   'Yet your illegal indulgence carries on... '
   'Yup - the second I see her again. It's too complex for anyone to understand how she needs me... '
 Thrusting himself free from the desk, the room felt air-stifled, extra intense. Neil removed his jacket and threw it haughtily over the opposing chair, striding across to the window again.  Brian noticed the huge damp patches from his armpits, something he never thought he'd witness ever; that Neil sweated at all was scarcely credible. Fuck, he must be really frazzled. '...and near impossible to understand that this doesn't feel perverted.'
    'And it's as simple as that... ' Brian concluded on Neil's behalf as he watched him glower into his glass of amber; the drink stare.  If only the melioration to all this mess floated about with the soda. The grip this girl had on him must be ferocious; this was some fucked up fait-accompli.  
   He didn't quite know where to go from here. In years gone by he'd been the only one brave enough to challenge Neil, often enjoying rubbing his nose in his wrongdoings. But he felt the initial disgust and anger ebbing as concern started to squeeze a way through. What the fuck has his friend done? He felt a direct plea might be his only hope, which he made as Neil continued his window-stare.
     'Please do the right thing and end this.'
     'How? By never seeing her again?'
     'May be for the best.'
     'What?' Neil answered jarringly, turning from the window to face him. 'I'm standing here worried to fuck, aching for her safe return, and you want me to tell her to fuck off before she's even back?
    'It's not what I meant.' Brian sighed. It was an inopportune moment for the plea; Neil was too hot and emotionally fraught.
   'Too late for that anyhow, it would be disastrous, hurt even more.'
   It was already fucking disastrous. It was distressing to see the twisted torture going on in that twisted mind under those twisted grey waves. Concluding that there would be no cogency in painting him a sick bastard anymore, and despite the situation, he thought it best to go easier on him, feeling the need to at least highlight some basic acumens;
   'You don't think she'd ever blab, do you - get drunk and spill the beans or something?'
   'She's 27, not some hormonal teenager. Mind you,' he raised a little smirk, 'she's about as exhausting as one at times. She's adult enough to keep shtum.'
     'Adult enough, but just done a runner.' Brian reminded him, 'I'm not being— '
     Neil sighed heavily. 'I know it appears that way, and of course there's worry as to where the fuck she is, but Beverly does think she's not contacting me, to worry her  more, I just need to  fathom out why.' 
      A horrifying possible cause tore itself through Brian's mind. 'She couldn't be pregnant could she?'              Neil was surprised he hadn't mentioned that before now.  'No, that's well taken care of.' 
     'Fuck, that would be horrendous.' Jail for you, and a kid in care... he refrained from sarkily adding.
     'Really, it's fine.' Neil replied assuredly, and 
Brian sorely hoped that that was true. Every birthday Neil's father would joke that he was getting him a vasectomy for it. Fingers crossed he'd taken him up that offer. 
     'So... what happens if her mother does know?' Brian asked the superseding question in all this fatuity. 
     Neil remained silent for a moment.  'That's what puzzling me. If she has blabbed to her mum...' he shrugged, palms upturned, 'why isn't she ripping me to bits over the phone, and why would Saskia not warn me?'
    'True.' Brian's insides were starting to twist again, anger bubbling back with all this shit his friend had bestowed on himself. But he'd promised himself to keep as calm as he could; a swear would need to suffice. 'This is some bastard of a mess, Neil. You gotta be scared as fuck... '
      'Something's up, that I'm sure of. It's the not knowing what that's worse. I need Saskia here to find out what, but I need her to be okay more than anything.'
     'She wouldn't do anything stupid, would she?'
    'Beverly doubted that too. But the more time passes, the more I'm inclined  to start considering that.' 
     They stood side by side, staring at nothing and everything out the window.  

                    end of ***SECRET*** (pt 1)

March 15, 2024

Positivity (ch26)

           start of  ***POSITIVITY***

👴Something was on his mind again. She sensed it shortly after the day had begun as they were planting seasonal flowers into pots on the balcony. Their time spent together was on the increase now her woodwork course had finished, and he had cut his work into a three-day week.  Not that she needed that extra time to get to know him better, she was pretty much an expert of his soul now.  Yet, she had seen him urgently scraping dirt out from under his fingernails with a file and hurrying it back into his pocket. That obsession had lessened and disappeared over the months, and it bothered her to see its return. The indication that all wasn't well was slowly turning into concern, but she wouldn't push it - them 'ickle flowers needed her meantime. 

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Snuggling against him - wrapped in post-sexual unity - Saskia always enjoyed the repose afterwards as Neil usually delivered some drollery as to how breathless he could be after their energetic stints. But instead he lay holding her in silence; very unlike him. She moved down a bit, taking her head from his shoulder to rest on his chest, and pressed down firm. 
   'What are you doing, Saskia?'  
  She attempted to start the light-hearted stuff off by mentioning the pace of his heart. 'God, that's galloping!' she said, using her ear as a stethoscope. 'We must have gave it some oomph.'
    He gave no riposte, and took a bit longer to reply. 'In a guy my age, I guess it's a blessing that it's still beating afterwards,' he said, well bereft of the teasing tone she expected. 
    'What? Bit of an odd thing for you to say.'
    'Is it?'
    'Of course it is. You know I'm just teasing, don't you?'
    'I know.'
   She suddenly froze. 'There isn't anything I should know about, is there?' she asked, not brave enough to look at him for his answer.
    'No. Why?' 
    'Because you sound as if you're writing yourself off here.' she said with a nervous laugh. 'Are you sure you're okay?'
    'Aye... aye, I'm okay, sweetheart, a little out of sorts, perhaps.'
    'What like, feeling under par or something... and that's not a golfing joke, I'm serious!'
    'Ill? No, not that. I just feel I'm, well, not much cop at times.'
    The comfort-fingertip she was tracing round the very few hairs between his nipples and up and around his thorax halted its course. 'Sorry, I'm lost. I don't know what you mean.'
    'I wasn't very...' he sighed, a bit fazed at how to express himself properly.  'You would let me know if you weren't happy with... anything, wouldn't you?'
    She upped herself on an elbow to look at him. 'What in God's name would I be unhappy about?' 
    He fell quiet for a bit again.
    'Just tell me... '
    'Saskia, you're thirty years younger than me, and I'm not quite as red-blooded as I once was.' 
    'And?' she demurred, with the slightest fear he may be trying to call it quits; some conscience or other finally getting to him. 'What do you mean, that I'm not satisfied... or think you're past it... or what?'
    He didn't address the question but came out with; 'You're so beautiful.'
  Now it was her own heartbeat's turn to wallop. Dreading his next words would start with a but, she gave them no chance to formulate. Sitting fully upright, arms hugging knees, she made her demand: 'Right, Raptor - spill! You've been unusually quiet and distant today - what's on your mind?'
    Sighing, he sat upright. 'I've had quite a rough night, struggled to get to sleep. Got a late call saying a friend I often played golf with was rushed to hospital. He died early this morning.'
    The words, thank fuck formed ashamedly in her head, putting any menacing fear she had to instant rest. 'Aw, Dad. I'm so sorry. Why didn't you say?'
    'Och, you never knew the man, Saskia. I've been trying not to let it spoil our day, but it was a bit of a shock.'
    'What happened?' she asked tentatively.
    'Heart attack. Hit the deck like a ton of bricks. Fifty-five.'
    'Bloody hell,' she said - rather unhelpfully.
    Attending funerals was something that increased with age, but losing this friend gave him sudden grounds to question his own longevity, how his own demise would come about. Choosing the right roads into old age is important, has a bigger bearing than simply what the milometer reads. Neil knew all this, and took rather good care of himself.  Dodging death long enough to get really wrinkly is fuelled on a made it to another day celebration for simply waking up of a morning. So while thoughts of his time coming to an end weren't quite giving him the screaming abdabs, he now had Saskia and their obfuscated tangle to consider in these latter years.
    'I'd dread to think where it would leave you now if the same happened to me, ' he openly admitted, imagining the fear Beverly must have felt at the worst point of her illness.
    His words splintered inside her at the thought. 'Oh, Dad...' she said in a strangled whisper, 'please don't think like that, we've all the time in the world yet.'
    'Have we?' 
    It was harder for someone of advanced years to really feel the same - especially with friends or family dropping like flies. To the young, a man in his late fifties was ancient anyway. While they had their whole lives ahead of them, he had retirement looming.
    'Look,' she sighed, 'you know mum's doing really well now, she's expecting the all clear soon. And we both are always using the gym and the pool here - you're as fit as a fiddle, got first-class medical care, so as long as the pair of you don't peg it on the same day, I'll still have the ruddy other!' She gave him a shoulder bump. 'Okay?'
    'Sure', he gave her a wistful smile.
   'I know your friend's death must be playing on your mind, but it's the other stuff that's a puzzler. Where's all this insecure bollocks coming from?' 
   Part embarrassed, he flung his head back onto the pillow and rubbed his hands over his face. 'I do feel my age with you sometimes, Saskia, plus I kind of pushed you into it there, came onto you.'
   Throwing herself back on the pillow Saskia roared to the ceiling, fingers grasping her hair frustration. Then with a laugh, she rolled on top of him, hands clasped over his chest, chin resting on them. Neil could feel his penis press against her belly. Ten, maybe even just five years ago, he'd be ready for another session this soon. While he probably had had his weekly fill, he worried she may not have.
  'You really are on a roll with this age thing today, aren't you?' she looked him solidly in the eyes. 'Listen to me now, Raptor. You're gonna change as the years pass, of course you are, we all do, but that didn't stop me getting the hots for you.  And so what if you get a few more crinkles, or fingers get a little more crooked, and things head south. Regardless of that, you still feel as warm and protective and alert. It doesn't matter what the packaging's like, or how old and battered the box may be as long as the gift inside pleases you. 
    'And... ' she added - poking him in the chest to make sure he was getting this before rolling off him again to lay straight, 'as for Miss Foo-Foo down there... ' She lifted the duvet and pointed towards her crotch, '... she don't know the difference between old wood and young, but she ain't got no complaints, and she's had some wood in her short time... '
    'Aye, an Amazon Forest's worth... '  
    'Oi!,' she protested, and dug him playfully in the ribs, delighted that his sanguine side seemed to have made a return. 'Cheeky sod!... Actually, you may be right... but, you don't necessarily need skin like suede, or be ripe for the picking to make someone happy. For fuck's sake, stop giving yourself all this hairless hassle, man!'
   'You have a peerless way of putting things, lady, 'cause I've got a full head of hair,' he told her, but still got the loopy gist of what she meant, 'c'mere.' And just when he enfolded her back into his arms for some silent warmth, the garrulous one piped up again;
    'And don't be scared to come onto me, or tell me if you're not up for it. I mean, we're not by any means a typical couple, but you're still my lover and it works both ways.'
    He gave a sigh, 'I know, but I don't want you to ever feel I'm pushing it. I always wanted to take things at your own pace, at your call. That's why I prefer to— '
   'To let me initiate, spark things up, I get it.' She realised this a while ago, and hadn't fully concluded why. Maybe it was the age thing, or just his preferred thing, or maybe it helped to assuage any guilt that she shouldn't be in his bed at all.  'Please don't feel bad just because you needed me today. Adults finds solace in sex, it's what our bits are there for.'
    Neil clasped her to him even tighter. Sometimes her piffle could make ridiculous sense to him. 'I love you,' he needlessly reminded her. 
    'I love me too,' she reminded him. Snuggling even cosier onto his chest, living in this ageless moment, she listened to the contented pound from under his ribs. 'Your heart's beating away as happy as Larry - whoever that bloke is!' She gave a sharp intake of breath and suddenly sat up and looked up at him. 'Your friend wasn't called Larry, was he?' 
    Giving a short laugh, he clarified he wasn't.
    'Good.' She rested her head back down again. 'I could lie like this forever - no cock's included.'
   'Ah, that's good to know!' he said in mock agreement at her inept way of clearing up the shit in his head.
So Neil had had a near-tears day. The death of his friend had brought the synapses of his brain into  sentimental overdrive which his sweet, young, near-constant companion helped him through; essentially his tube of nonsensical solvent.
   What he never broached when with her, and always stopped himself from facing though, was all those tucked away fears and facts. And if any tried to surface, all he had to do was remind himself that they were made of skin, bone and feelings just as everyone else. Wasn't that what always she said? And under the guise of a safe and sane father and daughter, all they had to do was live their lives on the outside world's terms, so what did it matter if  they shared concerns and a bloodline indoors? It was strictly their business. Wasn't it?

           end of  ***POSITIVITY***

March 12, 2024

Horizontal Twist

      start of  ***HORIZONTAL  TWIST***

🍜The last thing he needed to come home to was disarray. His mind was already cluttered by the goings-on of an awkward client backing out of a deal that he knew could make a reasonable profit. The loss, of course, not paramount to the company, but he hated being messed with. Even after a fine dining  meal (often used in the business as a softening tool), he waited until during dessert to politely tell Neil to stick it. Neil told him back that he hoped he choked on the fucker as he angrily left the table; the bastard client had no intention of signing  a deal half an hour into discussions.

Saskia had let herself in at half past one - two hours earlier than she said she'd planned - with a whole new deal-for-the-day that smelled of PJ's, (her mini heart-stamped ones) snacks, and whatever else alcohol brought about. No longer did she desire to go see that boring new film with him (she let him have his way sometimes!) and instead put another slant on its cancellation by staying home. She got a sudden shock when she heard his key in the door.
   'No, no, no!' she squawked at him. 'What are you doing home now?'
   He rooted himself as he noticed her there in the kitchen-space, a metal tray on the worktop with marshmallows capped in brown aboard, with a trail of melted chocolate travelling back and forth from a bowl; over the hob, the counter, and her mouth. He was - gradually - getting used to the general clutter that came with her - something rectified fairly easily - but burnt in stains and opened drawers, jars and packets, and the shamble just tipped him over the pissed-about weariness edge. 
   'What's all this?'
   'Chocolate mallows... ' she said, slowly raising the spoon and licking off a big drip that was forming. For the first time she could almost physically feel how irked he'd become. 'You're always telling me I should learn to cook.'
   Disparagingly he shook a slow, unhappy head.  'I'm going for a shower, please sort out this mess by the time I'm out.' 
   Saskia fought the urge to tell him to piss off, it was no big deal; a rub with a Brillo pad and ta-da...  there you go!'
   Hoping that the foamy promises of his stress-relief shower gel lived up to its claim, she waited until she heard the water turn off, then the zip of the shower curtain being pulled back, before her head appeared round the bathroom door (as if it were on a stick), startling him a little. Seeking a truce, she laid his folded shorts and tee-shirt nightwear on top of the towel rack.
   'Just thought you might need these,' she said in a small voice, and left him be - thinking it wise to perhaps make an attempt at tidying, at least, the kitchen.
   Appearing from the bathroom doing that wet hair and towel thing, she hoped any irascibleness wasn't still lurking under that wet mop. He looked disgruntled yet, but was wearing his PJ's nonetheless, and came to join her in the kitchen.
   'Put that scrubber, down,' he told her, taking it from her and throwing it into the sink. 'Sorry for the grumpiness, I've had a shit day.'
   'S'alright,' she sighed, drying her hands. 'It would have been all cleaned away had you come home when you were supposed to and you'd have been none the wiser... want one?' She turned and held out a sticky glob of pink and brown with her fingers and he accepted it. 'Good?'
    'Ah... eaten worse,' he opined as he chewed away. Saskia  punched him playfully in the stomach, and it felt good to see his smile slotting back into place. 'Not had any lunch yet, suppose I could teach you to cook food properly - or in your case, cook proper food!' 
    'Could do,' she agreed, holding out a bottle of beer to him. 'What were you thinking?'
    'That I'm in for a hard time.'
    And he more or less was. Despite working in the food industry, the furthest the little tea shop that she worked in went to, by way of hot food, was toasties and soup of the day; provided by outside caterers or from her mum's friend's kitchen. Saskia mostly served or thrown-together sandwiches, if need be. And she'd mentioned that it was her grampa and mother who cooked at home. If left to her, she'd happily survive on cereal and sandwiches, so trying to get her into some easy recipe that included one uncomplicated wok was proving to be challenging; even the preparation.
   'Bloody Nora!' she exclaimed (a saying of her Grampa's that still carried with her), as she struggled to get a lid off a jar of paste. 
   'Can't you manage?'   
   'No. You'd need a ruddy degree from Oxford to learn how to open that!' 
  'Give it here..' Neil twisted it open first time.  Heedless of instructions, it wasn't too long before she was sucking on a burnt fingertip and he decided to take the wok from her but encouraged her to observe.  However, any tutoring was being rudely snubbed as she hummed and assented behind him, trying to fool him into thinking she was paying attention, when in reality she was swiping away on her phone. On discovering this, he nabbed it from her and tossed it quite a fair distance onto the settee, under a huge gasp from her. 
    'What are you doing!' she protested.
    'Jesus Christ, lady, you're supposed to be learning something here.'  As endearing as taking an interest in one of his passions would have pleased him, deep down he knew the quest to ever see her beside some simmering pot was overestimating her desire to ever want to. Chocolate mallow-making was perhaps the extent her abilities wanted to go. No one can truly shake off childhood, he concluded. Gourmet was a thing strictly for adulthood. 'Look, this is almost ready. Get out two bowls and two wine glasses, we can eat at the bar... I'll not book you in for any more classes.'
   'Got out of that one, Scotsman free,' she cheekily quipped, crackling with energy like the wok she'd managed to sunder from.
   'And don't think for one second of picking that bloody phone back up,' he ordered as he faced the hob again, 'we're about to eat.'
   'I won't... I love it when you're all daddy-like with me... '
   He turned and gave her a look.

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Needless to say - or for him to inquire - that their cinema outing was now was a no-goer, instead she'd planned an in-bed movie at some point. If they'd be focused enough to enjoy it was a different matter.
    Bowls pushed aside, playing cards taking up the space, she shuffled the pack and dealt while giving instructions for booze-based Pontoon.    
    'So, it's the loser that necks the shot, then?' Neil queried. 'Seems a bit au contraire.'
    'Speak English, Dad.'
    'Different, off beat. Usually winners get rewarded.'
    She sighed. 'Are you sticking or twisting?'  
    Three times in a row Saskia lost before his own first defeat, and near gagged the second he'd downed his shot. 'Ugh! The chuffing stuff tastes like bloody Benylin!' he said, slamming the mini-glass down with a clunk.
    'Like what?' she frowned.
    'Oh, just this chesty cough syrup my mother used to pour down my throat every winter as a boy.' 
    Saskia gave a tender smile at hearing this as his mother didn't feature in his narrative too often. As for the Jagerbombs  - which she'd pre-bought - he wished her the win with every hand, but refused to cheat and kept swigging the chuffing stuff nonetheless. An hour and a half later he called it a day as her losing streak tripped into alcohol-induced profanities; thank God she was never this lavatorial elsewhere. So far.
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Despite the buzz in his ears, Neil reckoned he was sober enough for some laptop work. With this taken care of, he might even take tomorrow morning off. The bored and petulant child in Saskia, however, had other ideas. Not satisfied with eyes glued to her phone for a miraculous change, and rain keeping her from the balcony, her impatience grew to attention-intervention; starting with aimlessly bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet, humming random tunes while hitting him constantly with are-you-finished-yets. Pillows and cushions went everywhere, hairbands pinged at him, and so far he seemed to be impressively unbothered by her antics. But she was, by temperament, designed for fun and upped her game to bouncing right next to him; knees bent and arse stuck out, as he tried to type. That did the trick. 
   Snapping his laptop shut and pushing it to the middle of the table, he made a grab for her which she dodged by flying off the settee with him in chase. Despite his insatiable love for her, she'd still ruined his castle and Neil Balfour didn't like it one bit. He nabbed her flat on the bed, holding her by the wrists above her head and looked down at her with disdain, feeling more than hacked off.
    Raising her hips, she brushed her genitals across his, unchaste by his impulsive response.  This wasn't her usual signal when she required him, not the gentle lead up to it he'd come to recognise. Held in such dominant form turned Saskia on, so she thought she'd try to make him play harder, struggle free, but his full weight dropped on her, keeping her there. She responded eagerly. 

'You do my head in, girl, d'you know that?' he said in between breaths, after the whole five-minute event was over.
    'Try my best,' she smirked, slipping the bottom half of her nightclothes back on.
    He gave her a wry smile and shook his head lightly, not sure if those kind of five minutes would ever happen again. Sometimes all it took was a slight stroke of his thigh for slow tension to build, not even making it to bed. Sometimes one would fall asleep before the other on the sofa, then feel the warmth of a body snuggling in at some point through the night. So he'd surprised himself to find a rampant side still left in him, although it was pretty much out of his comfort zone these days. Now he struggled with the fact that his bed felt empty on the nights she wasn't there, and the luxury of all that space he once enjoyed felt oppressive. 
   With sudden hoo-hah, Saskia leapt from the bed, and boosted back with the bottle of champagne she sneakily had hidden in the back of the fridge, two flutes and unnecessary snacks. 
   'Okay... what film should we watch?' she asked him, lolling across his bare chest, stretching fully for the controls in his bedside cabinet as he was trying his best to pour the drink into the glasses.
   'Have I got a say in it, then?' he said derisively as she pressed the button to raise the flat screen that built into the framework at the foot of the bed - something he rarely used but she was taken with. 
    'Sure!' she said with soundness that only lasted a few seconds. 'Actually, I fancy a horror film.'
    'Och!' Neil cast his eyes to the ceiling. 'Go on, then, just make sure it's more spooky than gory.'

After 15 minutes they agreed upon - with as much false enthusiasm as he could muster - some shit or other; she was so indecisive.  Curtains drawn (by button command) their faces patterned with the flickering actions of the TV screen. Necking sparkling after sparkling glass to help him watch along, he took delight in waiting for a tense bit before before grasping her thigh and shrieking. On reflex response, she slapped his shoulder and called him a bastard; giving him the glory of goading her for the name she'd just called him. 
   Unable to connect with this banal shit-flick, Neil started to throw peanuts towards an empty beer bottle (champagne now arsed) left on a nearby cabinet, and within a couple of minutes the film was forgotten; taking just over ten minutes for him to pop a nut down that glass neck, they both gave a huge drunken cheer at his success. Nut's everywhere, his place really was in an unrecognisable, shambolic state - about as bad as a party of people would leave. But for the moment the drunken old bum cared not a jot. Rather incredulous from this non-shifting, house-proud turgid.  
   Saskia didn't bother to reconnect with the film, instead her amorous side was starting to creep back. But Neil managed to put her advances on hold; intemperance having a meantime say in the matter. It was bliss just shutting out the world - no exits or entries other than them - and holding her as a welcomed sleep washed over them. But that bliss was about to be burst-in on by a forgotten regular.

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Valerie gave Martin at the concierge-desk the usual hello, as she made her way in. In the lift up to the top floor, she wondered what delights would be in Saskia's bedroom this time. Initially, she had questioned the age of her by the debris from her first ever visit there. No doubt there would be washing and ironing awaiting - often having her cause to sniff the garment to discern which was which.  It wasn't the sight of Saskia's bedroom that would cause the most alarm tonight though.
   After letting herself in with her set of keys, the portly charwoman gave an, 'Oi, Oi, Oi,' as her eyes scanned the flat. At first she didn't notice them as she pottered about sorting the mess, but further along the apartment, her eyes locked on a sight that totally threw her.  Father and grown daughter asleep together in the same bed was shocking enough, but the lack of clothes and position they'd glued themselves together in in their drunken slumber, had hands and heads resting in unseemly places. 
    In a panic, she retreated outside still not believing what she'd just witnessed. As much as she tried to convince herself this might be something she'd just mistakenly deduced, the amount of bare skin exposed suggested otherwise. More than simply watching a film had gone on there. Besides - why watch a smaller screen when there was a huge TV in a more than comfortable area for such? No, no. This was far too luculent for her to be wrong.
    Stuck in such a quandary was awful. Instinct wanted her to flee, pretend it never happened, but blind duty kept her there. She needed the wages, and hovering about outside the lift was getting her nowhere. She could knock loudly, or phone in the hope of waking them and pretend she'd simply forgotten her key; let them take it from there. Or she could leave it half an hour and try again in the hope that they'd both be awake by then. Either way, she wasn't sure she could even look them in the eye. Foda. She needed to leave the building. Concierge could notice her hanging about in the hallway at any second and intervene if they felt there may be a problem.
   Valerie marched straight past young Martin on the way out; he simply assumed that her service wasn't needed after all and she was miffed at it. Still not knowing what to do for the best, she knew she had to think fast and by the time she'd walked the length of her cigarette, she decided to leave a text message:
Good evening, Mr. Balfour.  I am sorry but I'm not going to manage my shift tonight as one of the grand-kids has taken ill and needs me.  I can manage the same time tomorrow night instead if that's okay with you? 

That would at least give her 24 hours before having to face anyone. She just thanked God that tonight she didn't bring company along; sometimes she had no choice but to bring a very well-behaved grandchild with her. Imaging having to explain that one.

                                        *                                    *                                *

A few short hours later they rose from bed, Saskia felt, by contrast, hungover the night before the morning after. Downing tons of water, she was trying to quell this sick feeling by making herself some dry toast. Asking if he needed the same, she looked up when he didn't answer.
    'Dad? Toast?' she asked again and watch him throw down his phone on the couch next to him.
    'Thank fuck!' he said.
    'What's up?' she queried, though not really caring as her head felt it was being knocked at by a bunch of hammers.
    'Just got a text from Valerie. Forgot she was supposed to be cleaning the flat tonight while we were at the cinema, didn't we?'
    She ceased the crunching on her butterless toast and felt her heart speed up a little. 'What's it say?'
    'She's just apologising for not being able to make it tonight, sick grandkid or something.'
    Both of them stared at the other, stunned into silence for the moment.  They thanked fate for now, but needed to return to bed. The full impact of this careless slip would most likely hit home harder come the clearer-headed morning.
    As they curled back together under the duvet, Neil hated the feeling of having been that lax, considering this a close one. He'd need to shave a little more thoroughly in future, though. Any closer and tonight's razor could have left one hell of a nasty nick.

     end of  ***HORIZONTAL  TWIST***