Julian has taken his time walking back from the pub, having declined Stephanie’s advances hasn’t he? It must be about 8 months by my reckoning! They are about to be reunited however as the new Westley Writers are due to hold their first proper meeting to elect officers and hear what they have all been doing since the split.
If you want to read yourself in or catch up with what has happened so far go to Westley Writers
‘Morning Julian, how are you?’
‘I’m well, thanks June. And yourself?’
‘Oh you know, hanging on.’
‘Sounds a bit grim. Things getting on top of you?’
June sighed and stopped unpacking her bag. ‘You know the Readers section are getting uppity about this place?’
Julian took off his coat and hung it over the back of the chair at the other end of the table from where June was unpacking.
‘No. I haven’t really heard anything from them since the split. What’s the matter with them?’
‘Oh some of them think they should have three weeks out of four here as they are bigger than the Writers group.’
Straker pulled a face of discontent at this news.
‘We sorted all that out the meeting and told the library didn’t we?’
‘Well yes, of course but…’
‘What do the library say about it?’
‘Well they’ve just apportioned the bookings 50-50, alternate weeks but they don’t want any trouble or too much attention, so we must be careful.’
‘Attention? I can understand them wanting to avoid trouble, but surely they want the attention. The council are always saying nobody uses the place and here are two local community groups fighting for access.’
‘For a service we don’t pay for.’
Straker’s mouth creased open in a wry smile. ‘Ah of course. An empty conference room not making cash. The horror!’
June looked around the room. ‘Hardly a conference room. It seats about 20 people at pinch. But I suppose that’s what some councillor will call it when he’s asking why the library isn’t making maximum commercial use of the facility.’
‘They used to teach night school classes in here’
‘Yes, languages wasn’t it? Nobody does that any more.’ June looked over at Straker.’ You used to teach some didn’t you?’
Straker dipped his head in acknowledgement.
‘For my sins.’
‘What was it again?’ June asked.
‘Bloody Russian. Who wants to learn that?’ Ashby walked in
‘Quite a few before austerity. False economy if you ask me.’
‘Why? Who needs to speak Russian round here? Not going to have Putin coming round on a bear wrestling expedition are we?’ He peered at Straker, ‘Are we?’
‘Don’t look at me John, but I think learning about other cultures through their language has its own reward.’
‘Bloody hell. Sorry June. When did you become a hippy?’
‘There are no hippies left John. I just think it’s interesting.’
Ashby laughed. ‘Depends what you do with that interest.’ He raised an eyebrow in Straker’s direction, ‘Doesn’t it Julian?’
June had heard this sparring contest many times and John Ashby never got anything out of Straker about his facility with the Russian language.
‘Are we expecting the others?’ she asked.
‘I hope so. I emailed everybody as agreed. Well not Sarah or Alan obviously.’
‘Are they still not online? I can’t see the point of having a computer if you aren’t online.’ Ashby said.
June looked at her watch. ‘Well it looks like it’s just us. Stephanie normally turns up though. Shall we wait or make a start?’ She voted with her feet and went to make a cup of coffee.
Ashby put his bag on the table and shed his coat.
‘We’re supposed to be electing officers and agreeing a constitution today.’ Straker said. ‘Not sure we can go ahead with three of us.’
‘Course we can.’ Ashby said. ‘Three best writers are here anyway.’
‘Not sure we should be judging people like that John.’ June replied, but the pride in her tone was evident. ‘I really think we need Steph here as well though, she’s always so practical.’
‘If people were online and paid more attention’ Ashby murmured, ‘they’d maybe realise why Stephanie wasn’t here.’
Straker paused on his way to the hot water jugs and coffee.
‘Still not bothering with Social Media then Julian?’
‘Not particularly. I’ve never seen the need to listen to speculations about lizard people or watch cats falling into wastepaper bins myself.’
‘Well forewarned is forearmed is all I’ll say.’
The day when John Ashby kept quiet about anything would be a day of miracles and wonders, Straker knew, so he kept quiet and moved off to make a coffee.
As June finished making hers and went to sit down Ashby bustled over.
‘She posted quite a witty piece about being stood up in a country pub the other day.’ He spooned coffee. ‘Sounded as if it were from the life.’ He raised an eyebrow in Straker’s direction. ‘You know, like it had really happened.’
‘Thanks John, I know what “from the life” means.’
‘Wonder where she got the idea from?’
‘It’s called creative writing John. You make it up from the imagination.’
‘Oh aye. If you say so.’
They pumped hot water from the flasks provided by the library.
‘So why did you think that meant Steph wouldn’t be coming today?’
‘Couple of things in it suggested maybe she, excuse me Julian,’ he interrupted himself, ‘I mean the protagonist of the story, had fallen out of love with the idea of writing for the time being. Emotional conflicts and all that.’ He raised an eyebrow in Straker’s direction and displayed the subject matter on his phone.
Straker let a little smile play on his lips.
‘She really can capture a feeling of moment can’t she?’ he said and dropped the used spoon into a spare mug. ‘Almost like one were in the room at the time.’
Ashby followed Straker back to the table and they busied themselves with notepads and pens.
June asked if they were ready to start but before either of them could respond the door opened and a gaggle of latecomers pushed their way into the room.
Straker looked at Ashby, expressionless as they both noted Stephanie Williams was among the group.
The noise levels rose as people exchanged greetings and comments about the weather, the library and of course the momentous events of their last meeting. Straker remembered that this was the first time many of them had been together since the split.
‘Thanks for the email Julian.’ Diane Eaton said. ‘Sorry I missed the other week, I was so worried about poor old Bill here.’ She pulled Parker into view. ‘I missed everything that was said after that.’
‘That’s okay, good to see you.’ Straker turned to Parker. ‘You okay now Bill?’
Parker nodded and prodded at a strip of plaster on his head where the skin surrounding it was still discoloured by bruising.
‘Rather sore still but the doc says I’ll live.’ He smiled at June. ‘And I’ve decided not to sue.’
Diane punched him gently on the arm while June blushed.
‘Leave her alone Bill. You know how upset she was.’
‘Only joking ladies. Smiling through the pain and all that you know.’
Diane raised an eyebrow.
‘I’ll give you some pain if you don’t leave it. Tea is it Bill?’
‘Aye, one sugar please.’
Parker sat while Diane went to get the drinks.
Veronica Goodman offered a tight smile and slid round the table to sit opposite Ashby. Straker offered a flash of teeth in return and Ron ducked her head.
‘Julian.’ Steph said and sat next to him.
‘Stephanie.’ He responded. ‘Can I get you a coffee?’
‘Thank you, but Diane’s getting me one.’
Stephanie turned round to face him.
‘Seriously Jules, she offered as we came in.’
‘It’s okay. I believe you.
‘Me too. My feet were killing me by the end.’
‘Serves you right.’
‘There you are Steph.’ Diane said. ‘What serves him right?’
‘Walking for miles at his age.’
‘Only about four miles.’ Straker answered.
‘Nothing for a man of your years.’
‘That’s what I thought when I started.’ Straker grimaced. ‘Anyway Steph, I read your Facebook piece. Very good.’
‘Yes, thanks. I was inspired. I didn’t know you were on Facebook?’
‘I’m not. John was kind enough to show me this morning.’
Stephanie leaned back and beamed at Ashby.
‘Thanks John, it’s appreciated.’
‘No problem Steph. Glad to be of service.’
Straker listened to that exchange. That was, he decided, an odd bit of phrasing. He’d remember that and use it in a story somewhere. He couldn’t make his mind up whether it was a deliberate tell of a conspiracy, an accidental giveaway, a meaningless exchange of pleasantries between two acquaintances or a piece of deliberate misdirection. He blinked. That way lay indecision and inaction. But then he didn’t need to decide right now did he. There was time for a longer game yet. He smiled.
‘Shall we get this meeting started then June?’ he said. ‘With any luck we can read some of the things we’ve been writing as well. I’m sure people will have made good use of the period since we last met.’
June put her coffee down and raised her whistle to her lips.