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Novella: Slip and Slide

You thought Duck and Dive was the end of the story? So did I! But after readers said they were looking forward to seeing what happened next, I realised I wanted to find out too.

So here we are. This time though, it’s Gabriel’s turn…

Slip and Slide
Rise and Shine – Book Two
Published: September 2020

Buy on Amazon Kindle: UK, US, AU, CA, etc.

A gay romantic comedy novella about wading through the noise to discover what you really want.

Caught in the crossfire of his chaotic flatmates’ one-sided romance, and a landlady on a rampage, Gabriel is just trying to get to work on time and avoid burning dinner.

Throw in a plumbing emergency, overstaying cats, a public and painful proclamation of love, and a trip to the hospital – even the laid-back Gabriel is frazzling.

Then there’s Arthur. Sweet, adorable, and eager to please – all qualities that had so charmed Gabriel. Though, that’s also how you might describe a puppy. And puppies are a lot of work.

Gabriel has his man – now he must decide if Arthur is worth it…

Slip and Slide is the sequel to Duck and Dive, but this time Gabriel’s calling the shots.

At around 35,000 words, there’s 60% more story than Duck and Dive, but it’s still comfortably within quick read novella territory. I hope you enjoy revisiting these characters as well as meeting a whole cast of new faces!

To ease yourself in, I’ve included a preview of the first chapter below. Or, if you’d prefer to slide straight in, you can pick up the full book on Amazon (UK, US, AU, CA, etc) to read on your Kindle, or the free Kindle phone app.

Chapter 1 – We love him though, don’t we?

‘Come on, Theo! What are you doing in there?’ I said, knocking on the bathroom door.

‘I am trying to have a nice, relaxing bath,’ he said through the door. ‘And your banging is devastating to my chill, so beat it.’

Claire wandered past, taking a bite from her toast. ‘What’s the bet that skinny, white boy is beating something else in there,’ she said, winking as she headed from the kitchen into the living room. ‘He’ll be luxuriating in a nice, long wan—’

‘Yes, got it. Ew,’ I said. ‘But… you’re probably right.’

‘I’m right, Gabriel,’ Claire said as she stepped over the neighbour’s cat – Betty – and skirted around the easel and half-formed sculptures. The moment she dropped onto the couch, Betty hopped up next to her.

‘First: why must he do it in our shared bathroom? And second: why right now? I’ve got my shift this morning,’ I said, then turned to cast my voice through the closed door, ‘like I do every week.’

‘You know our Theo – our resident whirlwind of obliviousness – do you really think he’s aware what day it is?’ Claire said, idly patting the cat. After sipping her tea, she cleared her throat and raised her voice. ‘Theo. Stop jerking off and let Gramps in, he’s got work.’

The reaction was immediate. ‘Sorry, Claire! I’ll be out in a minute,’ he said, coupled with sounds of water sloshing about and things crashing to the floor.

‘Why does he listen to you?’

‘He may be too wrapped up in his own world to consider most anyone else… but he’s infatuated with me,’ she said, ‘obviously.’

‘What? No, he’s not.’ I turned from the bathroom to focus on Claire, serene as ever, eating her breakfast under Betty’s watchful eye. We never fed the cats, only put out water for them, but they were ever hopeful.

I noticed Basil then too, the neighbour’s other cat. The lump of ginger fur napping in his usual corner spot, high on the couch back. From his perch, Basil could survey the room – like a king on his throne, deigning to grant his subjects an audience with their monarch. Provided the peasants remained at arm’s length with no undignified touching.

‘Look at Theo’s paintings and sculptures,’ Claire said, gesturing to the numerous pieces of art scattered around our living room. The works were at varying stages of incompleteness, the product of frantic and feverish all-nighters. Jugs of instant coffee, microwave pizza, and pot noodles sustained his efforts, inevitably followed by two days crashed on his bed.

‘So,’ she said, ‘do you notice anything?’

‘They’re all half-baked and making a mess of our living room?’ The only time I ever looked was when I needed to shuffle something aside to clear a path, or adjust a drop-cloth to catch any paint splotches. ‘I’ve never considered Theo’s art, not properly.’

‘Well, not really your favoured subject matter, is it?’ Claire said.

I looked now, really looked. ‘There are a lot of breasts, aren’t there?’

‘Yes, well, he is a rather sexually repressed straight boy, so…’

‘And his subjects, they all have dark skin. Dark, curly hair…’ I looked to Claire, to Theo’s art, then back to my flatmate again. ‘They’re all you.’

Claire clapped, though it was more sarcastic than triumphant.

I scowled. ‘I hadn’t noticed.’

‘Age really doesn’t equal wisdom, does it?’

‘Hey, I’m only a few years older than you two.’

‘More like six or seven years, old man.’

Unlike Theo, Claire was smart, focused, organised. A science student, majoring in geology – a solid degree. And mature beyond her years, Claire was unnervingly perceptive. Without me saying a word, she knew I was struggling in this new city, away from everyone and everything I knew.

Theo burst from the bathroom then, towel wrapped around his skinny waist, and wet hair covering half of his face like a raggedy old mop. At least he’d washed it for once. ‘Sorry, Claire. Didn’t realise you were up already.’

‘Free cardio class at the Rec Centre this morning, isn’t it?’ Claire said. She too had a lot of hair, but it always looked good – Claire made everything look effortless.

‘Oh, yeah. Right, of course,’ Theo said, still standing in the doorway in his towel. Was he… was he posing? Claire was so right.

‘What am I, chopped liver?’ I said, still waiting for the bathroom.

‘Uh? What are you talking about?’ Theo said, turning to face me with his habitual look of incomprehension.

‘Never mind, get out,’ I said, shooing him away.

‘All right, Gramps,’ Theo said, relaxing his pose and stepping aside. These two really made me feel like a grumpy old prick sometimes.

I’d finally made it into the bathroom and slammed the door behind me. It’d have to be a quick turnaround if I wasn’t going to be late. In my haste to get the shower going, I slipped on the puddles of water Theo had left. I grabbed a hold of the tap, saving myself from crashing to the floor.

I took a breath, pulled myself to vertical and turned on the shower. There was a wobble in the tap I’m sure wasn’t there before, but it was working fine now – I’d have to keep an eye on it.

I shed my clothes and stepped under the stream of hot water over the bath tub.

They were all right, really – my flatmates. It was good to have people around when I got home.

Having worked straight out of school and now starting university at 26 years old, I was considered a ‘mature student’. Surrounded by teens and early twenty-somethings every day, I was an oddity, a curiosity, but one that most seemed unwilling to investigate too closely. I’d had trouble meeting people my own age because they were all working, living their adult lives, like I should be. I was stuck in some kind of social limbo. To be fair, I had met some people, but the friendships didn’t extend beyond class. And I’d even met a guy – that went well… until it didn’t. But we don’t talk about that.

Anyway… Claire, Theo and I were an odd trio, but we’d met at the flat viewing and seemed willing to take a punt on each other and the flat. We signed up on the spot. The cheap rent was the clincher – it meant I only had to pick up a few shifts at the driving range each week. And working there doubled as an opportunity to meet people too – I was ever hopeful.

I finished my shower and changed into my uniform. This was cutting it fine, but I still ought to make it to work on time. I threw my book, drink bottle and lunch into my backpack, and headed for the front door.

I almost had it open when I caught a whiff of the mat.

‘Fuck’s sake, Basil!’

‘What? What’s happened?’ Claire said, stalking out of her bedroom. ‘He’s asleep on his perch.’

‘Pissed on the door mat again, hasn’t he?’ I said.

‘Sneaky little bastard,’ Claire said.

I considered leaving it to the others to sort out, but decided against it. Picking up the soiled mat by the corners, I carried it through the flat – trying to avoid inhaling the acrid stench – dropped it into the bathtub and rinsed it off.

‘When you gotta go, you gotta go,’ Theo said.

I turned to see my flatmate nodding sagely from the bathroom doorway, wearing the same Pikachu top as yesterday. ‘Theo… did you change back into the same clothes?’

‘Yeah, I didn’t spill anything on myself all day yesterday,’ Theo said, pulling the hem of his top to show me, looking rather proud of himself. ‘So, he’s good for another round.’

‘You – No. No, I don’t have time,’ I said, deciding it wasn’t worth it.

‘Basil is getting on, you know…’ Claire said, joining Theo outside the bathroom to watch me wash the mat. ‘At least he did it on the mat, right?’

I sighed. ‘Yeah. But we’d better watch him when he’s in the house.’ It was the third time he’d done it this month, but none of us could bring ourselves to lock the little piss-bag out – he was too adorable.

I turned off the water and hung the mat over the towel rail to dry.

‘Gabriel, are you off soon?’ Claire said.

‘Yeah, now. Why?’

‘Can you take the rubbish out?’

‘I’ve really got to go, Claire,’ I said, trying to get past my flatmates loitering in the doorway.

‘It’ll only take a sec. It’s ready to go – I’ve tied up the bag in the kitchen.’

‘Sure. Yes, OK.’ It would be quicker to just do it. I dashed into the kitchen, grabbed the black bag and—

Exposed a pool of sticky liquid on the floor. It reeked almost as bad as the door mat.

‘Bin juice!’ I investigated the bottom of the black bag to find a neat claw mark with food scraps hanging out, but no cat in sight.

Claire appeared in the kitchen. ‘Basil’s on form this morning…’

‘He’s not even our bloody cat.’

‘We love him though, don’t we? Don’t worry Gabriel, I’ll clean it up, you go,’ she said, waving me out of the flat.

I didn’t need any more encouragement so made my escape before I was interrupted again, careful to hold up the bag by the tear to avoid more drippage.

The driving range wasn’t far away, but I’d really have to get moving to avoid being late. Not that I’d get my pay docked or anything like that – but my boss, Murray, would pass comment. Something passive aggressive about the clock being out because he’d expected me a few minutes ago. Or he’d feign ignorance of the roster, like he didn’t know precisely when I should be there. And then I’d have to endure low-key digs all morning about time management and reliability and ‘early is on time, on time is late’ and yadda yadda yadda. It was not worth it.

The apartment building door swung shut as I dropped the rubbish bag over the railing and stormed down the front steps.

I’d almost made it to the footpath when I heard a shrill call from behind me. ‘Mr Bedford!’

My step faltered. I briefly considered pretending I hadn’t heard – though, with no headphones on, and the volume and pitch of that screech, no one would believe such a feeble excuse. I’d pay for it later if I didn’t turn around.

‘Yes, Mrs Sheffield?’

May I introduce our landlady, Sharon Sheffield. She owned and lived in the apartment directly beneath the one we rented from her. We took a perverse pleasure in dropping our rubbish bags on the pile beneath her window – the building’s designated drop-off point. With such a sight and smell, Sharon was forced to keep her kitchen windows and blinds closed.

‘Ah, young man, I’m glad to have caught you. Are you heading out?’ she said, calling from her front patio around from the front steps.

‘Yes, Mrs Sheffield, I’m off to work,’ I said, trying to edge away.

‘You’re a good boy, aren’t you? So hard-working, and all while studying full time. Polite too, not like the young people in my other properties.’

I took a breath to halt the snide responses on the tip of my tongue. ‘Thank you, Mrs Sheffield—’

‘Now, you must call me Sharon, young man. I insist,’ she said, chuckling to herself. ‘“Mrs Sheffield” makes me sound so old, I’m no matron yet.’

Who was she kidding?

‘Now, that’s pronounced Sha-RON, mind you, emphasis on the second syllable. Have I told you about the origins of my name?’

‘Actually, yes—’

‘It’s Hebrew and means “the valley”. It’s also the name of the rose of Sharon that Jesus plucked on his way to Galilee. “I am the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley.” That’s from the King James translation of the Song of Solomon. Isn’t it wonderful?’

‘Indeed it is, Sharon. But I really must get to—’

‘Yes, yes, of course. I was just calling out because I wanted to remind you about the Residents Committee meeting this week. As Chairperson I highly encourage attendance by all residents – both property owners like me and tenants such as yourself – we haven’t had representation from you or the other two for months now.’

Our landlady took on the role of Residents Committee Chairperson a few years ago, having run unopposed. And so, emboldened by her victory, the first item on her agenda was relocating the rubbish pile.

‘Mm, yes, we’ve all been very busy,’ I said, attempting to edge away again.

‘Of course, of course. But the rubbish issue – front of mind for many residents – is on the agenda again this week. We last discussed it six months ago, and I believe it’s time to reconsider, especially with the warmer weather strengthening the uh… the aroma. It would be a real help to have your support at the meeting.’

That mound of stinking black bags wouldn’t be going anywhere – not when it was already so convenient for everyone else, and more importantly, not outside their windows.

I gave no response, so she continued, ‘It’s on Wednesday evening, 7pm.’

‘Oh, that’s unfortunate,’ I said, a blatant lie. ‘I have the evening shift at the driving range on Wednesday so won’t be able to attend.’ That was true. ‘I’ll send Theo or Claire in my stead.’ Another lie, there was zero chance they’d show.

Sharon pursed her lips at the suggestion. ‘Are you sure you won’t be available?’

‘No, sorry. I’ve already committed to the shift, can’t let my boss down,’ I said, playing the responsible young person card, then followed up with the fatal blow. ‘And I’ve got to keep the shifts up, make sure I can keep paying the rent on time.’

‘Yes, good boy. Very responsible,’ Sharon said, nodding. ‘Well, I’d better let you get to work.’

‘Have a good day, Mrs – Sharon,’ I said, careful to emphasise the second syllable, then turned to go.

‘Oh, Mr Bedford. One more thing: have you seen Betty or Basil? They’ve been going missing more often lately, and they didn’t come home at all last night.’

‘No idea, sorry. I’m sure they’ll turn up soon!’ I called back as I turned onto the footpath and out of sight. As much as those fur-bags annoyed us, we wouldn’t force the poor creatures back to that woman – we’re not monsters.

I powered down the street, risking a glance at the time – I was so late.

If you’re keen to read more, Slip and Slide can be found on Amazon (UK, US, AU, CA, etc) – I hope you enjoy the story. If you do, please tell your friends – personal recommendations are the best! Also please consider leaving reviews on Amazon (UK, US, AU, CA, etc) and Goodreads. Reviews are important for making my work more visible to other readers – each review gives the book a little boost in the charts, meaning others are more likely to stumble across it.

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