My face was lined up with his toes, or more precisely, his pristinely polished black patent Chukka boots. Palms down in the thick mud beneath me, I pushed up and sneaked a glance at the man in front of me. He looked none-too-pleased to see his clothes spattered with flecks of dirt from where I had landed and splashed him. I struggled to get to my feet as my boots slipped against the wet grass. Eventually I got to my knees and leant back, looking up at him. I forced a grin onto my mud-covered face, but he didn’t return it. Finally able to stand, I wiped my hands down the sides of my bare thighs.
His glare speared through the apology that I tried to splutter, words failing to come. In the distance I heard someone call my name. Looking over my shoulder I saw my teammates beckoning me to re-join the group.
“Sorry.” The word leapt forward.
A dark eyebrow flicked upwards. “Are you going to pay for the dry-cleaning?” he asked, enunciating each word as though he was talking to some insolent child.
“It’s a muddy field, you’re watching a rugby match,” I countered, my eyes narrowing. “Try stepping away from the lines.”
“You’ve got a mouth on you.” A smile twitched at the corners of his lips.
I’ve got a mouth on me? What the hell was that supposed to mean? I was about to make some comment about him being arrogant and conceited, but the captain of the team had already reached my heel.
“You coming?” Lou tugged on my elbow, throwing a smile towards the man who loomed over me.
“Yeah,” I said, racing back into the game.
“Who’s your friend?” Lou asked, nodding towards Tall, Dark, and Smouldering.
“I haven’t got a clue, but he wasn’t impressed by my skidding halt!” I laughed, tossing her the ball.
We finished practice at two o’clock, as we did every Saturday afternoon. I listened to the laughter and loud chattering of my teammates and friends as I scrubbed at the mud that caked my arms, legs, and face. Warm water pummelled at my aching muscles. I rubbed away the dirt and sweat with a floral shower gel. I made a point of using feminine scented products, since I lived in such a masculine world.
Not only did I play rugby—a game that my mother always told me was unbecoming for a woman of my standing—I lived with two men, and worked in an office where I was the only female. I was also incredibly single. My exes were exes because they found my lifestyle impossible to deal with, and non-conquests refused to believe that I wasn’t a lesbian. Saying that, it had been over a year since I’d even tried to get anyone into my bed…
After the game, I decided to forego the usual routine of drinks at the local pub, and instead headed home to nurse the scrapes and scratches that marked my elbows, knees and chin.
Walking back to my Volkswagen Golf, I saw Tall, Dark, and Smouldering leaning against a tree. His arms were folded tightly in front of him, and he had a foot resting on one of the many boulders that separated the car park from the fields.
I threw a nod and a smile towards him as I rummaged in my jean pockets for my keys, dumping the battered and muddied holdall next to the wheel.
“Good game?” he asked, but when I looked up I realised he wasn’t pointing the question in my direction. A stick-thin, terribly young blonde had appeared by his side and kissed him on the cheek. She clutched a hockey stick in her right hand, and handed him a pink rucksack with the other.
Part of me felt almost embarrassed that I had wanted him to be talking to me. I hurriedly bundled into the car and went home.
Home was an old farmhouse at the edge of a well-to-do village, nestled in the heart of Hampshire, shared with two men; and no, neither of them were gay. I’d occasionally questioned the sexuality of my brother Mark, what with his flair for style, and his love of shopping and spas. Then again, I’d also been introduced to the many girls that had graced our home for a single night.
The other man to reside with us was Daniel Turnbull. Danny was gorgeous in every sense of the word, but may as well have been my other brother. I’d known him all my life, since he and Mark were best friends. He was also ultra-macho to the point of being a Neanderthal. It would not surprise me if one day I caught him dragging the lifeless body of some poor girl he’d clonked over the head, taking her back to his cave.
When I arrived home, both men sat in the living room, feet resting on the coffee table, beer bottle in one hand, Xbox controller in the other.
“Jeez,” I muttered, as I tried to resist sniffing the air in fear of my gag reflex reacting to the scent of primal male. Unfortunately, when you live with two men under the age of thirty, it is impossible to avoid the stench of sweaty socks, stale beer, and cheesy nachos. Combined with the fact that it was the height of summer, and you have one highly stink-filled house.
I dumped the holdall next to the washing machine and looked around the kitchen. Bowls filled with the residue of the morning’s breakfasts, an empty milk carton, several empty booze bottles, used newspapers, and layers of shed clothes were scattered around the room.
“We seriously need to tidy up,” I yelled, knowing full well that the only reaction I’d get would be an annoyed grunt or two.
Opening the dishwasher, I peered in, sighing as I discovered that it was still full of dirty pots from two days ago. The stench of old food was unbelievable, and my head snapped backwards with such force I was surprised I still had neck bones. Ripping open a packet from under the sink, I aimed the blue and yellow tablet at the little box in the door, before slamming it shut and pressing the white button. It whirred and chugged noisily as I ran the water in what little space I could find in the sink and began to sort through the pots and rubbish, attempting to find a clean spot.
Peeling a pair of boxer shorts from the back of a chair, I grimaced and flung them towards the holdall by the washing machine. “Disgusting men,” I chuntered, even though I knew that our living arrangements were as much my fault as theirs.
But that didn’t stop me from blaming them.
“Stick the kettle on,” called a voice from the front room, grating on my final nerve.
A deep growl vibrated in the base of my throat as I stormed into the room and began yelling several obscenities at them.
“All right, chill Butch!” Mark laughed.
He knew I hated that school nickname. I wanted to throw something at my brother’s head, but knew that Mother would only chastise me for having put him in hospital with a split skull yet again. Golden Boy could do no wrong. Fortunately, our father always took my side when it came to arguments, so we were evenly defended.
Danny saw sense and ducked into the next room to make tea for everyone. That is the glorious, if not slightly annoying, thing about living in England. We are the country that truly believes, without any shadow of a doubt, that a simple hot beverage can solve all issues. Arguing kids? Cup of tea. Problems at work? Cup of tea. World war, mass hunger, poverty? Have a cup of bleeding Rosy Lee.
I marched after Danny, spitting my annoyances out as he busied himself by the kettle. Throwing dirty clothes towards the washing machine and chucking empty packets in the bin did nothing to soothe my frustrations.
“Bad game?” Danny asked in an attempt at small talk.
“Not really,” I grunted, sinking into the one chair that no longer had clothes, newspapers, and pots covering it.
“Go on then.”
“Go on then, what?” I asked, squinting to emphasise my annoyance.
“Go on then, tell us what your problem is.” By this time Mark had joined us, shoving everything off the chair opposite me to land on the floor. I glowered at him like an angry cat threatening to hiss and spit.
“Jesus H. Someone’s pissed you off,” Mark groaned.
“No,” I said, my eyebrows furrowing into a tight knot. Confusion settled in. Had someone pissed me off?
“Seriously Butch, we know you far too well. Spill it.”
“Nothing!” I snapped, perhaps too quickly.
“What’s his name, and what did he do?” Danny this time, his voice getting deeper as though ready to go into full-blown protective mode.
I rolled my eyes and tried to ignore him.
“Sis, you have to tell us now.” Mark leant forward and grabbed my hands. I pulled away and threw him a ‘What-the-hell?’ look. He laughed and fell backwards into the seat again.
Danny plonked a mug each in front of us. The liquid sloshed over the sides, giving me yet more to clean up.
“Okay, okay,” I relented, picking up the mug and sipping at the too-cool drink. Danny always added too much milk for my taste, but it was still welcomed, helping to massage away the aches and pains that plagued my muscles.
I proceeded to tell them all about Tall, Dark, and Smouldering—whom I’d already shortened to TDS—even though I wasn’t sure why he was the one in my head. I could have come up with a thousand excuses for my foul mood. Rough game, bad drivers, untidy house, but the truth was that he was still at the front of my thoughts.
He had riled me in a way that I had never been riled before.
“Sounds like you’re in L.O.V.E!” cooed Mark, ridiculing me.
I wanted to slap him, but couldn’t reach, and didn’t dare throw lukewarm tea across the room, so I settled for a scowl.
Downing the rest of my drink, I headed for the holdall and dirty clothes piled on top of it, shoving them all into the machine before filling it with powder and liquids to get rid of the muck and smells, and switching it on.
“You two can finish the kitchen,” I yelled as I went up to the sanctuary of my bedroom.