Enjoy this entertaining collection of flash fiction stories, each a short but sweet expression of what it means to be queer in Britain, past and present. All these stories reflect the iconic sights and national character of the British Isles: a taste of our idiosyncrasies and eccentricities, but also an unashamed representation of the love, loyalty, and laughter of our people.
Follow the British way of life from historic villages to modern cities, from the countryside to the sea, through history and with a fantasy twist, in gardens, shops, campus, and the familiar, much-loved local pub.
The stories cover universal themes of romance, desire, remembrance and reconciliation. The authors range from multi-published to up-and-coming, and they all share a passion for their characters, whether through great drama, erotic excitement, humour -- or a combination of all three!
Contributors include: Alex Beecroft, Victoria Blisse, Stevie Carroll, Charlie Cochrane, Sophia Deri-Bowen, Erastes, Lucy Felthouse, Elin Gregory, Mara Ismine, Sandra Lindsey, Clare London, JL Merrow, Josephine Myles, Zahra Owens, Jay Rookwood, Caroline Stephens, Stevie Woods, Lisa Worrall, and Serena Yates. Edited by: UK MAT (UK Meet Acquisitions Team).
This anthology is a souvenir of the 2011 UK Meet, an occasion for GLBTQ supporters to get together in a relaxed setting to celebrate and chat about the fiction community they love. Please visit the website at http://ukmeet.weebly.com/ for details, or contact UK MAT through the publisher.
The Worst Pub in London by JL Merrow
Josh flicked a beer towel at an imaginary cockroach then did it again, harder for good measure. It made a nice slapping sound on the bar. “This is probably the worst ...” snap “... pub ...” snap “... in London,” he sang aloud to the tune from Sweeney Todd, doing a little twirl behind the bar.
“Nice voice, but if you want to get mistaken for Helena Bonham Carter you’re going to need bigger tits,” a gravelly voice commented, making Josh drop the Bacardi Breezer he’d been using as a microphone.
“Shit! Ouch!” The bottle survived the fall, but Josh wasn’t sure his foot had. “Sorry,” he said, face burning as he tried not to hop too obviously. “I didn’t hear you come in. What can I get you?”
The stranger was tall, dark-skinned and way too heavy-set to have moved so silently. He looked Josh up and down with soft brown eyes that crinkled up readily at the corners. “I’m starting to wonder if it’d be safe to have anything here. You don’t serve pies, do you?”
Josh grinned back at him, feeling a tiny flutter in the region of his midriff at the sight of that smile. “Wondering what’s happened to all the customers, are you? No, it’s always like this here. They don’t call it the Forlorn Hop for nothing -- all the old customers have died or moved away, and the new lot want something more trendy. We get a couple of old fogies in for a pint most nights -- and I mean a pint -- but during the day it’s as dead as the filling in one of Mrs Lovett’s finest. Don’t know how the old man keeps it open, to tell the truth.”
“Maybe it’s just a front. Drug deals in the tap room, prostitution in the lounge. Money-laundering on the side.” The stranger leered. “Maybe it wasn’t just beer you were offering me there?”
Josh allowed his eyelashes just a hint of a flutter. “We do have a comprehensive range of spirits and mixers,” he said coyly. “Perhaps if you told me what you like?”
“Well, I know it when I see it.” That dark smile was suggestion itself. “I’m Devlin, by the way.”
“Devlin? Sounds kind of naughty. I like that in a man. I’m Josh. So that’ll be ...?”
“Scotch and soda. And one for yourself,” Devlin added, leaning a well-muscled forearm on the bar. “I hate drinking alone.”
“There’s a lot of things that are more fun with two,” Josh purred seductively, turning smartly on his heel and stepping towards the spirits. As he did so, he felt something under his foot. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just the lino. Whatever it was rolled away from him, taking his foot with it. Oh, yes. Should have picked up that Bacardi Breezer, was Josh’s last thought as the room tilted up and his head crashed into the edge of the bar.
* * * *
When Josh woke up he had a hard time at first deciding whether he was hallucinating from concussion or just plain dead and gone to heaven. There obviously couldn’t be any other explanation for the fact that he was flat on his back with Tall, Dark and Insinuating bending over him, his full lips only inches from Josh’s own. “Wha’ ...”
“You all right there, Josh? Caught that head a nasty knock. I was just about to call 999.”
Josh blinked, and rallied. “Oh? It looked more like you were about to give me the kiss of life.”
Devlin sat back on his heels, smirking. “Wishful thinking, was it? Now, do you think you can sit up? Or do you want that doctor?”
“I’ll be all right,” Josh muttered, starting to push himself up. Strong hands reached out to help him, and Josh leaned into their support possibly just a little more than he really needed to. Devlin’s warm body seemed very close as he reached a sitting position, and Josh swallowed.
“Sure about that?”
Josh reached up gingerly to feel the back of his head. “Ow. Yeah, I’ll be okay.” He held up his palm to Devlin. “See? No blood.”
“Just because your brains aren’t actually spilling out of your skull doesn’t mean there might not be a serious injury there. Come on, I’m taking you upstairs for a lie down, at least.”
“But I can’t leave the bar!” Josh protested.
Devlin raised an eyebrow and cast a slow look around the pub. The only sign of life was a lost ladybird on a lampshade. A few dust motes twinkled lazily in a sunbeam whilst, in the distance, the slow rumble of traffic underlined the fact that there was a whole city out there teeming with people, none of whom wanted a pint at the Forlorn Hop.
“All right. So maybe it’d be okay if I took an hour or two off. But don’t you have a job to go to?”
Devlin answered with a grin that made Josh’s stomach flip over. “Nah. I just got a new job. Manager of this pub, as it happens. I’m your boss’s grandson. He wants me to take this place and turn it around -- make it appeal to a younger crowd. Grab the pink pound.”
“You can grab my pink pound any time you like -- well, more like a pound and a half, in fact,” Josh added modestly, if less than truthfully.
Devlin’s eyes gleamed. “Oh, yeah? I might just hold you to that. Course, any staff who want to carry on working under me are going to have to be flexible. Think you can handle that?”
The ache in Josh’s head seemed to have magically receded, and even the faded velvet on the barstools was looking brighter. “Oh, I’m pretty good at handling things,” he said, clutching onto Devlin for support as he stood up. “Why don’t I take you up on that offer of a lie down upstairs, Boss?” He smiled coquettishly, and very carefully didn’t let go of his new manager. “And then I’ll show you just how flexible I can be when I’m under you.”