A Devil of a Romance

“This is kinda romantic,” Alec said, nudging Emily with his shoulder. “A cabin. A lake. The leaves turning gold outside. You and me, cosy together…”

“Tied up. Waiting for a couple of Satanists to murder us.”

“Well, I did say kinda.”

They were sitting back to back on the floor; their wrists and feet bound, and a rope wrapped tightly around their waists.

 

It was supposed to be a routine haunting. Emily was called in to clear the spirit, and Alec, her too-brave-for-his-own-good paranormal investigator boyfriend, had decided to tag along as backup. Except there was no spirit. Just a couple of amateur devil worshipers out to sacrifice someone like Emily – someone with psychic powers – as a gift for their dark lord. Just one hiccup, they forgot the ritual candles, and in an act of infinite stupidity, decided to run into town to pick some up, leaving Emily and Alec in the cabin alone. “Idiots,” Emily thought. She’d laugh if she wasn’t so angry.

“You shouldn’t have come, Alec. They want me. Now we’re both going to die.”

“We’re not gunna die, Emily. We’ve been in worse fixes than this.”

She felt his pinky finger caress hers, causing a pleasant tingle to run the length of her spine.

He was right, of course, they’d been in worse fixes. Like the time they were stuck in the basement of an old house with a raging spirit, who managed to throw Alec across the room with such force, it broke his arm. Or when they had to exorcise a demon from a giant teddy bear, after a thirteen-year-old boy who just wanted a friend, got tricked into letting the evil presence in. Their life was weird. To say the least.

 

“Can you wiggle out of the rope?” Alec asked.

Emily tried to move. “No. But maybe if we drop to the side?”

They rocked back and forth, launching themselves sideways and falling onto a fluffy white rug that covered the cabin floor.

“What kinda Satanist gets a white rug,” Alec said, as he puffed the long pile away from his mouth. “I mean, blood sacrifices and white do not go.”

“Alec. Concentrate. Move around a bit. Maybe it’ll loosen the knot.”

They flipped and flopped like a couple of fish beached on the sand.

“This is embarrassing,” Emily moaned.

“Embarrassing. But… Ta-da!” Alec said, as he squirmed out of the rope. “Give me your hands.”

As Emily sat with her back to Alec, her hands tied behind her, something wet and warm ran along her wrist. “Alec, did you just lick me?”

“Maybe. No. Okay, maybe.”

“Alec. Focus!” she said, trying to ignore the goosebumps that had erupted along her arms.

“Couldn’t help it,” he mumbled, as he tugged on her ties with his teeth.

It only took a moment until Emily was free. She bent forward, quickly releasing her ankles before turning around to help Alec.

The second he was loose, they fell into each other’s arms, crushing their lips together, kissing hard and deep and wet, almost forgetting where they were. Danger always did that to them.

Emily forced herself to pull away. “Later,” she said, through heavy breaths. “We need to go.”

Alec stood and lifted Emily off the floor. “We need to stay. Kick their idiot asses.”

“I’ll kick their idiot asses another time,” she said, as she dragged him towards the door.

“Ooof.” he practically growled in her ear. “You know I love it when you talk tough.” Then with a, “Wait here,” he dashed back inside and returned brandishing a bottle of red wine.

Emily laughed. “Did you just steal their sacrificial wine?”

“Well, they ain’t gunna need it now.” He flashed her a dazzling smile. “Besides, they owe us,” he said. “We can grab a pizza to go with it on the way home.”

“You are unbelievable.”

“That’s why you love me.”

“That’s why you’re lucky I love you.” She hooked a finger in the neck of his t-shirt and pulled him towards her, kissing him tenderly on the lips.

“Told you this case was kinda romantic,” he said, after she’d pulled away. “Maybe when we come back to kick their asses, we should stay a few days. Do a bit of boating. Enjoy nature. Build a campfire or something.”

Emily laughed again. “Just get in the car,” she said.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, with a wink and a salute.

She started the engine and sped, wheels squealing, towards home and the passion that she knew would follow. Danger always did that to them.

© Amy Hutton 2020

Sibling Rivalry

The bunny slippers hit the floor with a cheery squeak. Long, fuzzy ears bouncing merrily.

Brandon smirked. “What’s the matter, Alex? You’re always complaining your feet get cold. Happy birthday, baby bro.”  He watched as his little brother squirmed in his seat as his eyes flicked across the room towards his date

“Ha-ha, Brandon. You’re hilarious. And stop with the baby bit. I’m 24.”

Brandon picked up the offending gift and tugged on the whiskers, “I may be hilarious, but I’m also older and wiser, and I think they’re adorable. The colour matches your eyes, perfectly.”

“They’re pink.”

“I know.”

Alex sighed. “Can we go? We’re going to be late.”

Brandon tossed the slippers across the room with an exaggerated pout, “You’re not even going to try them on?” He turned to Alex’s date. “What do you think, Kristy?”

“I think they’re adorable, Alex” she said. “They’ll look cute on you!”

“There you go Alex. They’ll look cute on you.”

Alex glared. “Maybe later. Can we just leave? Please?”

Brandon shrugged, and gave the slippers one last squeak before heading out the door.

 

Brandon flopped in a drunken heap onto the sofa. “She’s nice,” he said, not being able to cover the slur in his voice. “I like her.”

“Yeah, she’s great,” Alex said. “Thanks for nearly blowing it for me by the way. Making me look like an idiot. With the slippers.”

“What are you talking about? She loved them. Chicks dig sensitive guys, and what says sensitive more than a pair of fluffy bunny slippers?”

“Well, maybe you should wear them.”

“Well, maybe I should. I’d make them look good.” He stretched out, trying to reach the slippers with his toes, instead losing his balance and rolling sideways onto the cushions.

“You’re drunk. Go to bed.”

Brandon staggered to his feet, “I’m drunk. I’m going to bed.” He waved over his shoulder as he swayed up the hall. “Happy birthday baby bro.”

 

The alarm jerked Brandon awake. He moaned, flashing to hazy memories of tequila shots and whiskey chasers. Reaching for a glass on his nightstand, he guzzled back some water, before lifting himself gingerly from the mattress, and slowly swinging his legs out of bed. His feet hit the floor with a surprising squeak. Puzzled, Brandon looked down and saw Alex’s bunny slippers looking merrily back at him. He wiggled his toes, and the ears flopped. He stared at them as his foggy brain took a moment to catch up. Why was he wearing Alex’s slippers? He rolled his eyes as he suddenly realised the gag. “Hilarious,” he said, as he reached down and grabbed the ears, giving them a good yank. Pain shot through his toes. “Ow. Shit! What the hell?” He gave it another try. “Motherffff…” Panicking, he grabbed the ears on the other foot and gave them a tug. “Ow! Man!” What’s going on? Why aren’t they coming off? It feels like…

 

He looked at his watch, it was just before ten, Alex would be at work. Grabbing his phone, he called his brother. It went straight to voicemail. He hung up and tried again.

“Hey, you’ve reached Alex, please leave your name and num…”

 Brandon hung up again and furiously texted one word. DEAD. His phone rang almost immediately.

“Good morning,” Alex’s voice said.

“Dude. Did you glue them to my feet?”

“I’m sorry, Brandon, what are we talking about?”

“The bunny slippers Alex. The Goddam bunny slippers.”

“Oh right. The slippers. Well you seemed to like them…so”

“So, you glued them? TO MY FEET?”

“They’ll come off. Just give them a good tug.”

“I tried that. If I want to keep any skin, that ain’t happening. What kind of glue did you use?”

“Um. Super glue.”

“Super glue? Alex.”

Alex was silent for a moment. “Maybe I didn’t think it through.”

“Maybe? Dude. I have a meeting in an hour. And I have rabbits glued to my feet!” The phone went quiet again, but this time Brandon could hear muffled laughter. “This isn’t funny.”

“It’s kinda funny.”

“No. It really isn’t.”

“Brandon, you’ve been playing gags on me my whole life, and you embarrassed the hell out of me last night. I figured I owe you.”

Brandon bit his lip. He’d thump him later, but right now… “How do I get them off?”

“I guess you’ll have to go to the hardware store and get some acetone or something. You’ll figure it out,” Alex said, adding before hanging up, “You’re older and wiser, remember?”

 

Brandon stormed through the apartment, a chorus of squeaks accompanying him. He tossed everything out of the kitchen cupboards, hoping there might be something, anything that would shift the slippers. But there wasn’t. He went to the bathroom, put his feet in the tub and thought about soaking them off. But knowing his luck he’d just wind up with soggy slippers that squelched as well as squeaked. He tried one more time to heave them off his feet, but it hurt too damn much. Defeated, he threw himself on the sofa and fumed. Sure, he’d pulled some pretty bad jokes on his brother over the years. There was the Nair in his shampoo, the itching powder in his gym shorts, that time he sent him on a date with the old lady down the road. But this? Even he thought this was a gag too far.

He called his client to postpone their meeting, stating a family emergency. His brother had done something stupid, and Brandon had to sort it out. It wasn’t a lie.

He glared at his feet and moved his toes watching the whiskers move along with them. The way he saw it, he had two options, wait for Alex to get home and suffer the indignity of having his little brother rescue him, or drive into town and get something that will do the job, and suffer the indignity of wearing bunny slippers to a hardware store. Brandon decided on door number two.

 

Getting his jeans on over the slippers was far more difficult than he anticipated. “Damn these skinny jeans,” he growled, as he shimmied the tight denim over the fluffy noses. He pulled on a black t-shirt and plaid over-shirt, trying to maintain a least some level of cool. He squeaked down the hall and out the door onto the street, sliding into his car as quickly as humanly possible. He started the engine and gently put his fuzzy foot down, slowly navigating the short trip into town. The last thing he needed was to be pulled over.

Of course, there wasn’t a car space right outside the hardware store, that would be too much to ask, so he parked in the lot on the corner, took a deep breath and squeaked his way down the footpath.

“Look at his feet!” a little girl yelled. “Bunnies!”

“Don’t point at the strange man, darling,” Brandon heard the mother hiss as she rushed her daughter past.

He swung the door to the hardware store open and winced as a loud ding-dong ricocheted off the walls.

Mr. Jackson, who owned the store, looked up. “Brandon,” he said from behind the counter. “What can I do for you?”

“Hi Mr. Jackson. I had a bit of an, um, accident.”

The old man looked confused, “An accident?”

“In the shape of an idiot brother who glued these to my feet,” Brandon wiggled his toes. Bunny ears bouncing.

Mr. Jackson chortled. “From what I remember of you two growing up, you might have had it coming.”

“Yeah, yeah. He owed me. Blah blah.”

“I’d say this makes you square for the Nair in his shampoo, wouldn’t you? Come on, I’ve got something that’ll shift that glue.”

Brandon followed him up the aisle. Squeaking all the way.

 

He was sitting on the sofa, feet wrapped in soft, cotton socks, when Alex came home.

“I see you got it sorted,” Alex said, pointing at Brandon’s bunny-less feet.

“Yeah, no dramas,” Brandon lied. “Didn’t take much to get them off.” No way he was letting his brother know the day he really had, or that his feet were going to take a couple of weeks to fully recover. “You want a beer?” he asked, limping towards the kitchen.

“No thanks. I’ve got another date with Kristy. I just came home to change.”

 

Brandon was back on the sofa when his brother came out of his bedroom, buttoning up a crisp, white shirt.

“Anyway,” Alex said. “I was thinking. How about we call a truce? On the pranks, I mean.”

“Probably a good idea,” Brandon said, standing up. “Let’s put a stop to it here and now.” He saw Alex’s face break into a relieved smile.

“Great. Thanks Brandon.”

“You got it, little bro,” he said, slapping his brother hard on the back. “You go and enjoy your date. Tell Kristy I said, hi.”

 

As Alex walked out the door, Brandon wondered what the chances were that the kick me sign he just stuck to his brother’s back, would make it all the way to the restaurant. He figured he’d find out later. He grinned to himself and opened another beer.

@ Amy Hutton 2020

Meet Cute Puppy

A panicky voice yelled out “Grab him!” just as Julia saw a blur of black and white fur dash past her legs. Without thinking, she lunged for the escaping dog and missed, tripping instead on a rise in the pavement and falling heavily to the ground with an “Ooof” and a thud. She was lying sprawled inelegantly across the concrete, half frozen with embarrassment, half too scared to move in case she was hurt, when something warm slurped her cheek. Gingerly rolling over, Julia saw a ridiculously fluffy puppy and reached out, drawing it onto her chest.

“Are you okay?” a man’s voice called. She saw a pair of bare feet come to a stop beside her and heard puffing like someone was trying to catch their breath.

Julia pushed a strand of her auburn hair out of her eyes and gaze upwards following the direction of the voice. She squinted into the glare of the clear blue sky until a handsome man’s face came into view and blocked out the sun.

“I am so sorry,” he said, “Are you okay? Can you move?”

Julia wasn’t exactly sure, but she nodded anyway.

“I opened the door and whoosh, he was gone,” he continued as he bent down and helped her to her feet. “Thank you so much for grabbing him.”

She nodded again; feeling slightly dazed and still clinging to the pup.

“Ooo, ouch,” the man said, wincing as he pointed to her leg. “Can I sort that out for you? I’m just around the corner.”

She followed his eyes to an angry, bloodied graze on her knee. Until that moment, she hadn’t even noticed that she was injured, but now that she had seen the wound, her knee began to sting and throb.

“You can trust me,” he added. “I’m a nurse.”

And as he smiled, she saw an adorable set of dimples appear in his cheeks.

Julia wasn’t sure if it was the shock of the fall or his dimples, but she suddenly felt woozy and rocked back on her heels.

“Whoa,” he said, reaching out with a steadying hand. “Let’s get you sat down and patched up.” He slipped his arm around her waist. “I’m Luke.”

She leaned into the security of his body. “Julia,” she said.

“Nice to meet you Julia. That troublemaker you’re holding is Wilbur.”

“Hi Wilbur,” she said, and she nuzzled his soft fur.

 

Julia was sitting on a chair in Luke’s kitchen with Wilbur on her lap looking up at her like he knew it was all his fault. She watched as a trickle of blood dribbled down her shin towards her sock. She was thankful she didn’t put on the skirt she was thinking about wearing that day, instead choosing a pair of shorts. At least as she lay spreadeagle on the footpath, she thought, she hadn’t been accidentally flashing anyone.

“Okay, let’s take a look at that knee,” Luke said as he walked into the room, squatted in front of her and opened-up his first aid kit.

While Luke checked out Julia’s wound, Julia checked out Luke. He was a bit of a knockout. Tall and pretty, with sparkling blue eyes and lashes Julia would kill for. His brown hair was short and spiky, and he was wearing a chest hugging, white t-shirt and what Julia suddenly realised was his underwear; tight, black boxer-briefs that left absolutely nothing to the imagination. She blushed and looked away, but not before Luke noticed and glanced down.

“Oh my god. I’m sorry. I didn’t even…”

Julia shook her head.  “No. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

“I ran out the door without…”

“No, really. I shouldn’t have…”

They stared at each other in silence for a moment, then started to laugh.

 

Luke stuck the final strip of tape to the gauze on Julia’s knee. “I think you’ll live,” he said, as he stood and smoothed out the front of his jeans. “So… Wilbur was thinking he’d like to make it up to you, and… um…buy you a coffee.”

“I would love that, Wilbur,” Julia said, looking at Luke.

“Wilbur also hopes you don’t think he’s an idiot.” Luke said, looking a Julia.

“No. Not at all. In fact, I think we could become…good friends,” she said, as she ruffled Wilbur’s fur.

“Man, I sure hope so,” Luke said, and flashed her another dimply smile.

Julia felt woozy again, but this time, she knew exactly why.

© Amy Hutton 2020

Tidal Flow

A kaleidoscope of colours swirled before her. Vibrant streaks of red and daubs of yellow. Azure splashes reminded her of the sea; flecks of shimmering white, the foam of the surf. Her head swam with the dizzying image, and she rocked back and forth as cool ocean memories washed over her.

“Is everything okay?” a voice said, as if from far away.

Julia blinked at the intrusion as glaring down-lights and clinking glasses leaked into her solitude.

“Do you need to sit down?” the voice came again.

She pulled her gaze from the painting and turned towards the interruption. “Huh?” she said, as she slowly focused on the man standing in front of her. He was tall, and fair, with concern etched into his rather handsome face

“You were swaying.”

Heat rushed to Julia’s cheeks, and she unintentionally fussed with her hair, pushing a ginger strand behind one ear “Oh. No,” she said. “I’m fine. I just… I got kind of lost in this piece.”

The man lit up. “Really? That’s pretty cool. I’m the artist,” and he reached out his hand. “Alec Masters.”

Julia shook Alec’s hand, their grasp lingering a little longer than it should, as a squeak of something almost intangible passed between them.

“You’re the artist?” she said, trying to ignore the goosebumps that had erupted along her arms. “Well, I love it. What did you call it?”

“Summers at Freshie.”

“Like, Freshwater Beach?”

“Yeah. You know it?”

Julia nodded.

“I painted it from my memories as a kid,” Alec said. “Going to Freshie at Christmastime. The gentle waves. The scorching sand!”

“The smell of pies wafting from the canteen at the surf club. The chocolate paddle pops. Or Icy Poles!”

“Yes! The lemonade ones!”

They both laughed.

Silence rested easily between them, as reflections of their childhoods rippled through the air.

“You didn’t tell me your name,” Alec said, breaking the stillness, and shifting closer to her.

“It’s Julia.”

“Hi Julia,” and he turned towards his painting. “I dug those summers. The carefree, lazy days. Hanging with my mates. I even fell in love one year. Though, I don’t think she knew I existed.”

Julia watched him as he considered his work. “I get the yellows, blues and whites,” she said. “But what does the red represent?”

“That’s the love part. She wore the cutest red bikini and her hair was… like yours, actually. Ginger.”

A whole raft of butterflies started flapping inside Julia’s stomach. She studied Alec out the corner of her eye. His sandy locks, the freckles across the bridge of his nose, the familiar way he chewed on his lip.

“I fell in love too,” she said, her voice so soft it was barely audible. “With a boy in bright orange boardies.” She held her breath as Alec turned towards her.

“I wore bright orange boardies.”

“I wore a red bikini.”

“I never knew your name,” he said.

She smiled. “Now you do.”

Alec stepped up to the piece of card on the wall beside his painting and took a Sharpie from his pocket. “Now I do,” he said, and he crossed out the title, and in its place wrote a new one. Julia.

© Amy Hutton 2020

Serendipity

“You just have to have faith.”

“Faith in what?”

“Destiny.”

Beth spoke along with the characters on the screen. She couldn’t count how many times she’d watched Serendipity. It was her favourite movie and she threw in the DVD whenever she needed a pick me up. Like tonight.

It was New Year’s Eve and Beth was sulking on her couch as the rest of the world celebrated. “At least I have John Cusack,” she thought, smiling at his face on the TV. With his dreamy eyes and floppy hair. He had been her favourite actor ever since she was a teenager, swooning while she watched him shotgun beer in The Sure Thing.

“Can you keep a secret,” she whispered to her dog, Cassiopeia. The staffy’s tail wagged, thumping against the cushions. “I lost my virginity after shotgunning beer, with a guy named Greg, in the back of his van at the caravan park my parents used to take us to for the school holidays.” She laughed at the memory. She had never told anyone that. Not even her best mate Sharon. She always said her first time was with her first real boyfriend, when she was twenty. But it was at fifteen, with Greg, with his dreamy eyes and floppy hair.

Suddenly Beth had a brilliant idea. She peeled herself off the couch and padded barefoot across the tiled floor; Cassiopeia’s nails tapping behind her. Searching through a kitchen draw, she pulled out a biro pen. She opened the fridge, grabbed an Asahi beer and gripped it tightly in her hand. Raising the pen above her head, she swooped it down dramatically punching a hole in the side of the can. She quickly sealed her lips around the hole and pulled on the can’s open tab. Frothy liquid rushed down her throat, spilling from her mouth, and dribbling off her chin. When she finished, she wiped her palm across her face and let out a loud belch. “I still got it,” she said, grinning at the dog by her feet. Hesitating for a split second, she shrugged and pulled another beer from the fridge. It was New Year’s Eve, if she wanted to shotgun ten beers she would. But it turned out her limit was three.

Back on the couch feeling tipsy and a little bloated, Beth checked the time on her phone. It was almost midnight, so she stopped the movie and turned on the ABC. Charlie Pickering was already counting down to the fireworks, “Six, five, four…” When the clock struck twelve and the fireworks exploded, Beth leapt into the air, the dog excitedly joining in. The pair bounced around the room, Beth whooping “Happy New Year,” as Cassiopeia barked. Until breathless and sweaty, Beth dropped back on the couch in a heap. John.” She sighed wistfully and pressed play.

 “When did you get to be so unabashedly romantic?” Beth said, as she spoke along with the characters on the screen.

© Amy Hutton 2020