This is it! Over and Out is the third outing for Arthur and Gabriel. And it’s likely to be their final, at least for now. Are you keen to see where they end up? Grab a copy of Over and Out now on Amazon Kindle: 🇬🇧 🇺🇸 🇦🇺 🇨🇦 🇩🇪 🇫🇷 🇪🇸 🇮🇹 🇳🇱 🇯🇵 🇧🇷 🇲🇽 🇮🇳
A gay romantic comedy novella about coming out, coming apart, and coming together.
Arthur and Gabriel both lead busy lives, and now they’ve got a shotgun wedding to attend. Their first event as a couple – that is, if they last that long.
Arthur’s adopted grandparents have dragged him out on their mystery day trip. But the mischievous oldies are more interested in meddling with his love life.
Meanwhile, Gabriel is living the big city life. Scrambling to cram in study, work shifts, and a social life, now he’s determined to pursue something else: his new man.
With a baffling series of events conspiring to keep them apart, can they make it work?
Over and Out is the sequel to Slip and Slide, but this time, we’re not only in Arthur or Gabriel’s head, we’re flip-flopping between the two! Everyone gets a turn. Such a versatile arrangement – it’s only fair.
I had great fun writing Arthur and Gabriel’s third instalment. After spending two books throwing out random story threads without a thought, it was a satisfying challenge bringing it all back together. But I was determined to give the boys the send-off they deserved, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
- Need to catch up? Grab a copy of Duck and Dive and Slip and Slide.
- All caught up and after a taster? Scroll down for the first chapter of Over and Out.
- Or you want to dive straight in? Grab a copy of Over and Out on Amazon to read on your Kindle, or the free Kindle phone app: 🇬🇧 🇺🇸 🇦🇺 🇨🇦 🇩🇪 🇫🇷 🇪🇸 🇮🇹 🇳🇱 🇯🇵 🇧🇷 🇲🇽 🇮🇳
Chapter 1 – Who’s to say this won’t be the same?
Desmond sprung up, sending his collapsible chair flying backwards. The abrupt manoeuvre set off a chorus of alarm from the dabbers behind him. He ignored the protests in his eager shuffle to the front of the makeshift bingo hall which belied his advanced years.
‘I knew it – could feel it in these old bones, you see. Here it is, Mr Wonka,’ he said, waving the card in the air before slamming it down on my table, ‘the golden ticket.’
‘And how sure are we today?’ I said, well aware of Desmond’s tendency to stir up trouble when he’d decided a game had dragged on too long. On occasions I caught him fabricating a win, he would brush it off, blaming the error on senility. Though, we all knew he was still in complete control of his full set of marbles. He didn’t help his case when he coupled these announcements with a mischievous wink.
‘I trust you’ll find everything’s in order,’ the old man said with a look of mock indignation. Then when I didn’t respond right away he added, ‘You doubt my sincerity, young man?’
‘I would never,’ I said, smiling at Desmond’s theatrics.
‘And while you’re busy validating my honour – unimpeachable, I assure you – I thought I may take this opportunity to remind my fellow geriatrics of tomorrow’s outing?’
I waved him on as I checked his numbers. Though nominally in charge of bingo night – calling the numbers, checking tickets, distributing prizes – I still saw myself as a guest. Sunset Villas was their home and my weekly appearances didn’t give me the clout to refuse a resident, especially one such as Desmond – he’d do as he pleased. And, considering my attendance was expected for tomorrow’s outing, I was intrigued to see what was planned. I hadn’t had the heart to turn down the invite. Besides, Desmond assured everyone it would be an entertaining day out, and I had plenty of leave owing at work.
‘All right, quiet down you old coots,’ Desmond said to the seated bingo players. ‘I know you’re all dying to know what tomorrow’s outing will entail. Now, I won the right to organise this outing and I’ve put a fair bit of planning into it, so don’t you go knocking boots with old Mr Reaper in your dreams tonight – you’ll be no good to us on the slab.’
This comment was met with huffs of disapproval and superstitious hand movements from around his audience.
‘Besides,’ Desmond continued, ‘it might be rather dispiriting for those of us with one foot still soundly out of the grave. So, if you’re feeling anxious, perhaps you can borrow a couple of Maud’s heavy-duty pills to get you through the heightened anticipation.’
I glanced up from checking Desmond’s ticket to see Maud looking her usual serene self, hands clasped on the designer handbag resting on her knees and nodding along vacantly to Desmond’s spiel. She didn’t play bingo, but enjoyed being amongst the action – that’s what I presumed anyway, seeing as she was here week after week.
‘Come now, Dez.’ That was Nora, our resident heckler. ‘Just tell us, you old tease.’ She was as bad as Desmond when it came to stirring, and a shameless flirt to boot. I’d have to supervise her, determined as the old girl was to have her way with me. She might try her luck tomorrow, fuelled by the day’s adventures and unfamiliar surroundings.
‘Calm yourself, Nora – you’ll find out on the coach. Which – everyone listening? – will leave from out the front at nine on the dot. So, fire up those walking frames nice and early because latecomers will be left—’
‘Will Arthur be joining us?’ Nora said, cutting across Desmond.
‘Yes, I believe he will,’ he said, turning to me for confirmation.
I paused, then nodded – if I wasn’t committed before, I was now. Nora smiled in return. She was plotting something and wasn’t concerned if I knew.
‘And what about this secret lover, hmm?’ Nora wasn’t even pretending to direct her query to Desmond anymore. ‘Will we be introduced tomorrow, too? Or do you plan to keep this mystery beauty squirrelled away forever?’
‘I – uh – no,’ I said. ‘It’s just, you know, much too short notice. University and work commitments – another shift at the driving range – all that. And we hardly know each other, not ready to go introducing h—’
‘What’s it been, my boy – a fortnight?’ Gerry said, cutting off my rambling in his warm, deep voice. I was grateful for the interruption.
‘Uh, yeah.’ Two weeks… was that all? It felt like a lot longer since we’d first run into each other – literally.
‘There you have it, Nora. The kids are still getting acquainted with each other. When I was a young buck courting my Ava, I certainly wasn’t willing to share her with my grandmother’s friends on a geriatric day trip. We had other, more youthful ideas about how we wanted to spend our time together.’ A few titters from the listening players met this remark. ‘So, Nora, you let the boy take his time. We’ll get to meet young Arthur’s special someone soon enough.’ He winked at me, and I smiled my cautious gratitude in return.
Gerry always had my back, though I remember being terrified of him as a child. Even now I could understand why, at first glance, you might write him off as a grumpy old prick. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was Gerry dressed as Santa Claus the year I flat out refused to hop on Santa’s lap. I’d been rehearsing my proclamation of impeccable virtue and preparing to recite my well-rehearsed Christmas wish list. But the moment I saw Santa, I lost it – throwing a tantrum and refusing to make my in-person request. Instead, I remember crossing my fingers extra hard on the journey home and hoping my letter to the North Pole would be enough to convince Big Red I deserved to be well rewarded.
Momentarily put out, Nora was quick to recover. ‘Well then, looks like I have you all to myself tomorrow, young Mr Fenwick.’ She paused, as if a thought had just come to her. ‘Probably best to keep your lovers separate, anyway. I hate to think what might happen if we had to compete for your affections. I am perhaps a little more mature than your other paramour. In general, I am averse to admitting such a thing, but in this instance I think it’s an asset. I expect I am somewhat more cool-headed as an experienced woman of the world, so can share a man without being overwhelmed by the green-eyed monster. It would be hypocritical of me to have such counterproductive feelings when I also do not restrict myself to one suitor.’
It seemed Nora’s campaign to lure me to her bed was far from over. And neither had her determination to rid herself of any love-rivals diminished, despite her words to the contrary. I maintained a polite grimace, not trusting myself to respond.
‘Anything else, Nora?’ Desmond said, staring down my unabashed admirer with impatience. ‘Or are you quite done?’
Nora quirked a cheeky smirk and shrugged – she would speak whenever she pleased and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
Desmond must have realised this was as good as he’d get, so he continued. ‘Our esteemed Dictator – hah, slip of the old tongue.’ He chuckled to himself. ‘Our esteemed Director took some convincing in approving this outing. We all know how hard-nosed our dear Ms Myles can be, but even she could not help but succumb to my faultless reasoning and relentless charm.’
Desmond spoke louder, ‘She did, however, insist I pass on this.’ He reached into his trousers—
Nora wailed. ‘Nobody wants to see that wrinkled old thing!’
He grumbled as he pulled a slip of paper from his pocket and cleared his throat with more fanfare than I expected was strictly necessary. ‘Ms Myles requests attendees wear comfortable shoes and a jacket, bring a bottle of water and a travel mug or coffee flask—’
‘What about lunch?’ Nora said.
‘—but there’s no need to bring food as the kitchens will prepare lunch,’ Desmond said, pointedly ignoring Nora as he shoved the paper back into his pocket, then smiled. ‘Don’t forget to eat your porridge tomorrow morning – you’ll be needing the energy. And I promise you’ll be getting some real bang for your buck.’
Desmond grinned like the cat that got the cream and headed for his seat, apparently having forgotten why he’d come up in the first place.
‘Desmond,’ I said, calling after him. ‘Don’t forget your prize.’ Turns out the old scoundrel’s win was legitimate – this time, anyway. I handed over his winnings: a selection of biscuits in a round tin with pastoral scenes shown on the sides and the lid.
He looked at his prize, appearing reluctant. I could understand the reaction. It was the kind of gift a parent might buy on behalf of their child to gift their grandfather on Father’s Day, along with the card lovingly crafted at kindergarten. One could appreciate the effort put into making the card – ‘Such interesting colour choices, my boy. And you’ve certainly used a substantial amount of glue – this painted macaroni won’t be coming off anytime soon, will it? Well done.’ But no one actually enjoyed those nasty, dry biscuits – did they? Not when you could buy a far superior biscuit from the supermarket for a fraction of the price. And what was one to do with yet another tacky biscuit tin? There were only so many sewing kits one household could contain. Most likely it’d be stacked on the ever-growing pile under the stairs or in the garage… It’s the thought that counts though, right? But let’s be honest, they could’ve thought of something else.
That’s when I saw Desmond’s expression slowly shift from dubious to delighted. He reached to claim his prize and said, ‘This will do perfectly, I think. I have just the job in mind for this handsome tin.’
Suspicious… I almost tried to take it back, knowing he couldn’t possibly be up to any good with a reaction like that. I returned the balls to the cage as Desmond returned to his seat and tried not to worry about his scheming.
Perhaps I could see Maud about one of those pills to calm myself for tomorrow? No, better not – they were potent little beasts. I couldn’t be falling asleep on the coach – who knows what might become of me.
‘OK,’ I said, cutting across the hushed conversations which had broken out around the room. ‘Next up we have a game of Two Lines – you know the rules. And the prize for this round is a lovely bottle of port.’
A flurry of excitement met this news, and I noticed Charles and Nora were now looking particularly determined. ‘All right, folks’ – I clapped my hands once – ‘eyes down.’
The roomful of pensioners hunched over their tables, laser-focused as I opened the cage to grab the first ball.
‘13, unlucky for some. 13.’ Gladys gave her ticket a triumphant yet vicious dab – seems she wanted the tipple too and was off to a good start. Otherwise, the room was filled with frustrated murmurs, everyone else disappointed to miss that auspicious first call. Though, it was a rather ominous ball to pull at the outset.
‘32, buckle my shoe. 32.’ Dabbers remained hovering over tickets to a susurration of tuts – another uncommon number this round it seemed.
‘25, duck and dive. 25.’ I saw several satisfied jabs – redemption! Perhaps this game might go their way after all.
‘17, dancing queen. 17.’ At this I heard a few cheers, an ‘Oh, yeah!’ and a ‘Mamma Mia!’ Sounds like we were back on track.
Then I pulled out the next ball… and winced.
Perhaps the punters would be too wrapped up in ABBA and wouldn’t notice if I sneaked this ball back in? It was absolutely against the rules, but I think I would be forgiven in this instance… thanked, even. About to make my move, Charles – always the gentlemen, but much too observant – innocently enquired about the next number. There was nothing for it, I had to do it…
‘85, staying alive. 85.’
Right on cue, Desmond was back out of his seat for the second time tonight – and tap-tap-tapping a rhythm on Gerry’s near-bald head. The gruff old softy was trying to bat his fellow resident away when Desmond slid into the aisle and swaggered towards me at the front. He crooned in falsetto the opening lines to the Bee Gees hit as he strutted – as much as an octogenarian can – around the punters, blowing air-kisses to the ladies and nodding to the gents. Desmond described the way he used his walk, how he was a woman’s man, and how he didn’t have any time to talk. He hit the chorus with even more gusto – nobody on the Sunset Villas grounds in any doubt about Desmond’s intention to be staying alive.
Inside I was groaning, but I played along, pretending to be amused. He’d made a full lap of the room – treating each and every attendee to a little personal boogie and a line or two of the classic disco tune – before he settled back down in his seat.
‘Thank you, Dez. That was a treat, as always.’ I could’ve changed the call – there’s plenty that rhymes with ‘five’ – but Desmond was liable to launch a one-man riot if he missed his moment in the spotlight.
‘My pleasure, young man,’ he said, breathless from exertion as he eased himself back into his seat. ‘I’m not as spry as I once was, but I couldn’t let down my fans.’ His so-called fans were quick to shush the old troublemaker – they had a game to get on with.
I drew the next ball from the cage. ‘63, tickle me. 63.’ Nora pursed her lips and gave me a wink. That woman was something else, any chance she got.
The next series of calls passed without incident – tension building and hands shaking with anticipation as dabbers marked out more numbers. A few contenders squirmed in their seats now – I suspected each were a single call away from victory.
‘29, rise and shine. 29.’
Sure enough. Charles beamed as he rose, gracious in his acknowledgement of his fellow residents’ polite applause. Gladys joined in the civilised round of congratulations, even though it was clear she’d had her heart set on that bottle of port. Nora, though – never shy to let her feelings be known – sat back with her arms crossed and a scowl plastered across her wrinkled face.
‘Come now, Nora.’ I wasn’t willing to let her get away without a little ribbing, considering how much she dished out. ‘I’m sure Charles will share a glass if you ask nicely.’
At that, she remembered herself, rearranging her face into her signature look of mischievous delight, which she turned on me. ‘Such a cheeky young man. Were you not taught to respect your elders?’ she said with eyebrows raised. ‘What a naughty boy, I think I must discipline you myself. It would be irresponsible of me not to address this transgression. No, that would not do… I’ll expect you in my apartment after bingo for your first lesson.’
I should’ve known better than to try and wind up Nora – that wily old girl could turn any situation to her advantage. Though fortune shone on me then in the form of Charles arriving with his alarmingly comical moustache to present his ticket and claim his prize. And so I was saved from concocting yet another excuse to escape Nora’s proposition.
‘This will do nicely, I think,’ Charles said as he picked up his bottle of port and returned to his seat.
Our third and final game was uncharacteristically civilised, with Elspeth taking it out, announcing her triumph with somewhat more restraint and decorum than today’s first two winners.
‘Young Mr Fenwick, I do believe I have “bingo”,’ she said, making it clear she was only uttering such a foolish word as she was obliged to do so. She took her time raising herself from her seat, patting down her floral blouse and adjusting her already perfectly positioned pearls before making her way to the front.
Our highest-nosed resident placed her ticket on the table before clasping her hands together on her skirt to await my inspection.
‘Mrs Abbington, you do indeed hold the winning ticket.’ She nodded in affirmation, her blue rinse bouffant hair moving not an inch as she accepted her voucher. ‘Your prize is a double pass to any of the local theatre company’s matinee performances this season. I saw somewhere their next production is Macbeth, a modern interpretation set in the world of property investment.’
‘Out, damned spot! Out, I say!’ Nora projected her voice as she wrung her hands.
‘That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold,’ Desmond said, up and out of his seat once more, flailing an arm theatrically. ‘What hath quenched them hath given me fire.’
‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair,’ Nora said, continuing to pluck random lines from the play to throw at her opponent.
‘Knock, knock, knock!’ Desmond rapped on the table. ‘Who’s there, in the name of Beelzebub?’
‘There’s daggers in men’s smiles,’ Nora said. Neither were making any sense, but both refused to concede defeat by being the first to miss coming back with a quote.
Elspeth, having had enough of such nonsense, attempted to return to her seat and distance herself from this faux intellectual exchange. Desmond threw up his arms in alarm as he stepped to block her path. ‘Something wicked this way comes,’ he said, pleased with himself for remembering a line with any relevance to the situation.
Elspeth stopped dead, pursed her lips and responded in a slow and measured manner, ‘Blood will have blood.’
A collective gasp went up and Desmond was floored for a moment before he said, ‘How now, you secret, black, and midnight hag!’
The accused hag narrowed her eyes, drawing in a deep breath as she stepped right up in front of Desmond. Her voice low and menacing, she said, ‘Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble. Cool it with a baboon’s blood, then the charm is firm and good.’ Her emphasis on baboon made it clear to whom she was referring.
Desmond stood, slack-jawed, unable to form a response – as stunned as the rest of us. Nora started a clap, which was soon picked up by everyone else in the room. Our resident rascal recovered and soon was beaming as he turned to allow Elspeth past, nodding in acknowledgement of a worthy opponent.
Elspeth tried her best to mask her pleasure, but there were limits to even her composure, a small smirk of delight escaping as she took her seat.
‘Well, on that bombshell,’ I said once the room had calmed down a little, ‘that’s all for tonight, folks. And I guess I’ll be seeing you tomorrow bright and early for Desmond’s mystery outing.’
With tonight’s activity completed to everyone’s satisfaction, the Sunset Villas’ elderly residents packed up their personal dabbers and ambled out of the hall with the promise of tea, biscuits, and late-night news in the TV lounge.
Barry, my old mentor, paused a moment to give me a supportive thumbs up – always appreciated – then made his way out with the rest, his progress painfully slow.
Nora caught my eye with a wink and an air-kiss as I packed away the bingo balls. She was always good fun, but sometimes hard work too. I wouldn’t have her any other way, but I had some low-level anxiety about what she might try tomorrow.
Then I noticed another of my favourites making her way towards my table as I finished up.
‘I’m sorry I couldn’t rig the game to get you that nice bottle of port,’ I said, glad to have Gladys’ more stereotypical grandmotherly presence after such a turbulent bingo night.
‘Don’t you worry about that, my boy,’ she said, waving away the comment. ‘I was just coming over to say how pleased I am that you’ve found someone special. We all are, and I’m sure your grandmother would have been too.’
‘Oh, thanks Gladys,’ I said, after a moment of trouble getting the words out. ‘I’m… Yeah, I’m pretty excited—’
‘And we appreciate your wish to have your privacy respected,’ she said, steamrolling over what I had to say – not that I knew yet what it was I had to say. ‘But, you see… we haven’t got much time left, us oldies. We could drop off at any minute. I mean, I don’t like to say it, but Barry is practically on death’s door – you saw him tonight, I’m sure. You two spent a lot of time together when you were younger whenever you came to visit your Nana. Why, he’s the one who got you into calling the bingo for us, and he’s almost too frail to make it out of his room by himself anymore. Do you see?’
I sat in silence, astonished that Gladys could – or would! – guilt me so hard. Not the benign little old granny I’d always thought I’d known. She was really turning the screw here.
‘There’s no good holding anything back, my dear,’ she said, continuing when she found me unresponsive. ‘You wouldn’t want to regret not including us – giving us the joy of young love – would you? You’ve been holding out on us for two weeks now. Every day counts when you get to our age.’
She was right. These people were some of my oldest – in both meanings of the word – friends. And I would be introducing them to someone who was becoming increasingly important to me, even over such a short period. I mean, we’d already committed to attending Richard and Lucy’s wedding together – this was getting serious. It wasn’t just that, though. My friends at the Sunset Villas retirement home would be expecting me to turn up with a lovely lady on my arm – all very old-fashioned and traditional. To be fair to them, I’d done nothing to disabuse them of that notion. And I didn’t want to give them a heart attack turning up with Gabriel on my arm – gorgeous, but very much not a lady. I couldn’t jeopardise my relationship with these people—
Here I went – again! – making excuses for myself. Coming out to my mates hadn’t gone at all as I’d planned, but it had been so much better. Who’s to say this won’t be the same? And what had made me think coming out would be a one-time deal? I was quickly coming to realise it was an ongoing process, something I’d have to do over and over and over.
‘Perhaps another time, Gladys,’ I said, not mentally prepared to have this conversation right now.
I watched her wrinkled face fall.
‘All right, dear.’ She patted my hand before following the others out of the makeshift bingo hall.
I felt wretched, watching as the room emptied.
‘Wimp,’ I mumbled to myself.
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