Sam Silver feels like a stray cat. At thirty-five, she looks like a teenaged boy, and not in a good way. The only men who want her are curiously desperate or desperately curious. She’d love to get laid just once by someone nice. When she meets Oash, she can’t believe her luck, but what would a beautiful sylvan want with a professional stray like Sam?
Sam clicked the second box in the online quiz while she waited for the barmaid to stop ignoring her. It was one of those pop quizzes designed to tell you your personality type, your ideal job, the best breed of dog to share your home or your past-life identity. This one purported to forecast her probable lifespan, and it seemed the questions had at least some scientific basis.
As such, it had held a morbid fascination for Sam, but she hesitated about putting in her answers. Did she really want to know the result? Who would care, anyway? She was single—the most single person she knew.
Current age. Thirty-five
Ages of parents at death—cause of death—or age if living
M. Living. Sixty
Ages of grandparents at death or age if still living
GM Ninety-six, and presumably still living. Well, no one’s invited us to a funeral.
Ages of great-grandparents at death or age if still living
Paternal great-grandparents –Unknown
Oh, it was hopeless. She didn’t have enough information. Sam clicked out of the site and pushed back her fine blonde hair, which she wore in a rumpled pixie-style she cut herself. She looked at the barmaid, who was polishing the already clean counter and giving her the occasional pointed glance. Time to order another glass of water? It couldn’t cost much if it came in the same glass, surely.
“Excuse me? I’d like a Fosters, please.” Oops. The silly things that came out of her mouth!
The woman looked at her. “You should be at school, kid.” Jodie was her name, according to the stitching on the pocket, and she’d used the dreaded kid as so many did when addressing Sam.
“Why would you think that?” Sam allowed her brow to crease. “I left school years ago.” Eighteen years ago, to be exact. “I can show you my ID.”
Jodie held out a damp and impassive hand.
Dammit. She was calling Sam’s bluff.
Sam pulled out her wallet. She flipped through the folder and selected her photo ID. “There.”
Frowning, Jodie surveyed the photo and read the information. “It says here you were born in eighty-two.”
“Pull the other one, kid. If you put ninety-five, I might—might—just believe it, but there’s no way you’re thirty-five.”
“I am though. And I’d like a Fosters.”
Jodie pushed the ID back across the bar, shaking her head. “In your dreams. My ten-year-old could do a fake this good.”
“You’re refusing to serve me?”
Oh well. A few dollars saved. Maybe it was enough to buy half a sandwich.
“Hey, Jodie.” A young couple hoisted themselves onto the neighbouring stools, still holding hands. The girl had dark hair in retro-pigtails, but Sam thought she must be at least twenty-four. She wore a dark-green business suit, so she should have looked ridiculous. She didn’t.
Jodie turned to them with relief. “What can I get for you, Chloe?”
“Lime spritzer please, and the junior partner will have a pear cider.” The girl disengaged from her boyfriend’s hand, got down from the stool and headed towards the door marked Ladies. “BRB,” she said over her shoulder.
“God, Chloe, must you use text-speak?” The boy’s gaze lingered adoringly on his girl as she retreated, even when she reached behind her and gave him the finger.
Sam bit her lip. She’d never meant as much to anyone as Ms Pigtails meant to her young man. She tried to work out if they were very new lovers, or merely very lucky. They were lovers. Friends, even with benefits, didn’t begin to describe this pair.
While Jodie turned to get their drinks, the boy grinned at Sam. “FYI, I’m no one’s junior partner. I’m about three years older than she is.”
“You don’t look it.”
“Coming up twenty-nine.” The boy sighed deeply. “Soon be middle-aged. Too old for text-speak.” He raised his voice. “Hear that Chloe?”
Sam looked him over. He appeared around eighteen. She felt a stirring of interest. No beard. Not that it meant anything, but his hair was so dark she’d have expected a jaw shadow at least if he was really the age he claimed. No lines, not even faint ones, feathered the corners of his eyes. His hands, resting on the bar, were smooth and hair-free. “How old are your parents?” she asked.
The boy didn’t blink. “Let’s see. Ma admits to forty-five, but she’s been doing that for the past five years. Pa was born the same year, so he’s whatever she is.”
“Grandparents still alive?”
“Sure. In their seventies and eighties and still got all their own teeth.”
“And do they look much younger than they are?”
“Grandma Grene does. The rest don’t look all that far from their actual ages, but they give the impression they’re in for a good long haul. Why?”
“You’re a genetic fluke then.”
He raised his brows over bright green eyes. “I guess so. Takes one to know one. Thirty-five, eh?”
“Mmm.” Sam turned back to her battered laptop which was feeding greedily at the free WIFI in the pub. Soon she’d have to plug it in. It chewed up battery power faster than a rat chewed cheese.
“How do you mean?”
Jodie put two drinks on the bar and the boy—man—Sam amended, paid.
“This kid tried to tell me um was thirty-five,” Jodie said, nodding at Sam and intentionally blurring the pronoun.
Sam leaned forward. “I showed her my ID. She thinks it’s a fake.”
“Didn’t you card me the first time you served me, Jodie? Even though Chloe vouched for me? Even though I’ve been fixing your car at Ike’s Motor Services for the past five years?”
“Will you serve my friend if she orders a lemon, lime and bitters? With a slice of lime?” He glanced at Sam, who nodded.
Jodie looked relieved. “I can do that.”