Marking Your Card

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Dave doesn’t have friends, he has acquaintances. He sees the same people in the same pub every day, always betting on the horses. And for all the friends he doesn’t have he does have secrets, he’s unemployed, he likes men, and... well... he’s been on female hormones for over two years.

With Cheltenham, the biggest jumps racing festival of the year coming up, a string of bad luck means Dave might miss out on the week of gambling. That is until Chelsea—the only female gambler in the bar—makes an offer; a simple, honest offer, and one from her heart. No, she doesn’t want Dave in a dress, she doesn’t know his secret. It’s something far more direct than that.

A once off, self contained short story.

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I don’t have friends. Not really. I have people to talk to, in the pub. They’re there every day, like me. We bet on horses. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Some do better than most, others do worse. I do OK. At the moment I’m not doing OK.

“Do you have the week off for Cheltenham, Dave?” Chelsea asks. Chelsea is the only woman who drinks in the bar, at least on a daily basis. There’s female bar-staff, only female bar-staff, apart from the managers. And there’s women in the lounge; women who chat and drink and eat, but they’re not like Chelsea. They’re not in the bar betting on weekdays.

Chelsea is the closest I have to a friend. I don’t know much about her and she doesn’t know much about me. We talk. It’s easy. I don’t know things like where she lives, how she makes a living, even what her phone number is. She doesn’t know where I live, she doesn’t know I’m unemployed. She definitely doesn’t know I’ve been taking oestrogen and testosterone blockers for over two years.

“I have the week off,” I say. “Not that it’ll do much good. I’m down. A lot. I can’t afford four days of Festival gambling.”

“Want me to mark your card?” Chelsea asks. “You do the first few races, if you want my tips for the entire weekend that’s fine. If you win enough to actually enjoy the four days of Cheltenham you have to do something for me.”

I look at her and she sees the doubt in my eyes. I know she knows horses, she’ll sometimes give tips. They work a little better than most but not as well as the best guys. She’ll also take tips but I’ve never seen her bet more than a fiver.

She takes her phone from the counter and opens an app, a tracker app, lots of figures. It’s not a commercial one I’ve seen before, it looks custom. There’s a big number at the bottom. A very big number.

“That’s bullshit! You’re messing with me. What’s the trick?”

She opens another app. The same bank app I have. She keys in her passcode. At the top of the account is another big figure, not as big as the one in her tracker but it’s big. It’s more money than I inherited when my mother died, excluding the house. “That’s my fun money account. For whatever I want. I have separate gambling accounts, a savings account. An account for real expenses. I mainly have investments, by now. So, will I mark your card?”

Horse racing isn’t always the most honest of sports. It’s not outright dangerous, mostly, except for the jockeys and horses, but there’s a history of cheating and confidence men. “What do you want from me?” I ask.

“I’ll tell you tomorrow evening, if you take my tips. But you know how this works, gambling debts aren’t enforceable. There’s no binding contract. If you don’t do what I ask I simply won’t talk to you again. I’ll probably find somewhere else to drink. You might not even see me again, certainly not as often.”

Those are actually pretty high stakes. I don’t know what she wants from me and I won’t know until it’s too late. I might lose someone I mostly consider to be a friend, but, then, if she asks too much from me is she really a friend?

Nodding, I say, “OK. Deal.”

“1:20, Worcester, No. 7, win only. Middling sized bet.”

I go to the bookies to place the bet and am sitting up at the bar again in minutes.

Just before the off someone quietens the pub. Everyone ignores him bar those closest to the main racing TV. Most don’t care about this race but he’s shared a tip with a small group. He’s usually correct. It’s the second favourite. He says it’s a sure thing, which, of course, everyone knows is rubbish. But he has confidence. No. 4.

Watching the race I’m calmer than I’d normally be. Win or lose I’m closer to Chelsea.

No. 4 is doing well, tucked in behind the leaders, the jockey biding his time. My horse, No. 7, is on the outside of the group, looking like it’s flagging. All the runners look like they’re trying—late in the race—after an early front-runner sets too much pace.

With the second to last jump No. 4 makes its move, pulling ahead. They all try to keep up but coming up to the last only my horse is close.

A few strides after the last No. 4’s jockey looks over his shoulder seeing No. 7 just-about still there, still looking tired—more tired—sweating heavily, but keeping on.

No 4’s jockey smacks the horse’s rear with his whip. It moves into a higher gear, or so the group thinks. Everyone is cheering. Lots of “Go ons!” But it can’t keep it up.

My horse doesn’t seem to be going any faster but is now neck and neck with No. 4. Then ahead, then further ahead.

My horse, Chelsea’s horse, wins by two lengths. And the group by the TV is swearing and “never again’ing” the guy who gave the tip, jokingly. They know how it goes.

“What was the winner? Who the fuck would back that!?” Kev, who gave the tip, is shouting in desperation. Everyone’s laughing. Cursing him.

I turn to Chelsea, feeling nothing. She smiles. I smile back.

That’s mostly how the weekend goes. I don’t always win with Chelsea’s tips. Some are fallers, some don’t perform, others are just headed on the line, but I’m up, a lot. With the last of the weekend races I’m up a whole fucking lot. Far more than I need for Cheltenham. This will see me live well for weeks.

I turn to Chelsea, shook from how much money I won. “How..?” I just about manage.

“My turn,” Chelsea says. I feel cold. What could someone want after that? What does she have in store for me? I’m holding my breath when she says, “You have to be my friend.”

“I have to... Sorry?”

“I don’t have many, any friends, really. Acquaintances, sure... Colleagues? I’ve had a few boyfriends. They don’t stay. I’ve never had a friend. Not since school. We talk most days, don’t we?”

“Yeah,” I say.

“And we’re friendly?”

“Of course!”

“I officially want to be your friend, and you to be mine.”

I’m thinking that’s it? That’s all she wants? A friend? “Yeah, of course I’ll be your friend. Is that all you want from me?”

“Don’t insult me, Dave. This is hard. I told you I don’t have friends. Male or female.”

“Sorry, sorry, no... Yes, we’re friends. Officially. I’m your friend. I always was, I suppose. We just never... I just expected, I don’t know? I don’t know what I was expecting after all those wins. That amount of money? That’s stupid money!”

“OK, we exchange numbers, you tell me where you live. In the village, right? I’ll meet you there in the morning. We get the bus into town. Every year before the Cheltenham Festival I go for food and drinks, all day, to get ready for a week of a racing by not thinking about horses for a day. I’ve always done it, alone, even when I had boyfriends, but now I have a friend, right? This is what friends do?”

I guess me and Chelsea really are friends. “Yeah, of course, it sounds fun. And I can definitely afford it after your tips.”

She strokes my hand, and we exchange details, and she’s gone, with me sitting at the bar looking at myself in the mirror behind the whiskey bottles. I’m ashen.

“Bad weekend, Dave?” Kev asks. “You’re still OK for the week?”

“I’ll make do,” I say.

One of the girls behind the bar, Julia, places a pint and a whiskey in front of me. “On the house,” she says. “Well, on me. Chelsea is just lovely, isn’t she?”

“Yeah, a good friend,” I say. “Thanks.” I swallow the whiskey and put a fiver up on the bar for Julia’s pocket.

The next morning I’m at my kitchen table with a mug of tea, in my ankle-length dressing gown. There’s a knock at the front door. It must be Chelsea. I didn’t expect her this early. I’m not ready at all. I walk to the door while checking to make sure I don’t have painted toenails.

“Sorry, I’m not ready. I didn’t expect you this early. Come in...”

She’s dressed really nicely; expensive, close-hugging jeans leading straight into leather, knee high boots, a loose, coral blouse, long, tailored coat, and she’s wearing more makeup than I’ve ever seen her wear. Coral lips too.

She follows me into the kitchen with me looking at my feet, wondering if it really would be so bad if she knew. It’s what I was debating all night. I have to tell someone. My doctors are pressuring me and I even feel the hint of a threat to their words.

“Tea? Coffee?” I ask.

“Tea, one sugar, drop of milk.”

I pour the tea from the pot, putting her mug, sugar bowl, bottle of milk and spoon in front of her. I sit down opposite her. “I should tell you something,” I say.

“Please, please, please don’t say you want to be ‘more than friends!’ Please, Dave. Please!” She puts her hand to her forehead and looks crushed. “I didn’t mean—”

“I don’t really like women,” I say. “I never have. I like men.”

“You’re gay! Great! GREAT!! Thank you for telling me. That must have taken a lot. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.” She reaches out and takes my hand, giving it a squeeze. “And I’ll let you in on a secret, but you can’t tell anyone,” she says, looking around conspiratorially, which for some reason I join in on it too. “I kinda like men, too...” She laughs. “Wow! It’s good to be open with friends!” She laughs again.

I want to laugh too but I’m feeling sick. I have to tell her. “That’s not it,” I say. Say it! “I’m trans. I want to be a woman.” It’s out! My breathing quickens as I try to force myself to calmly inhale and exhale, watching for any reaction.

She nods a few times, seemingly thinking. “No... You don’t want to be a woman. If you’re trans you are a woman. I’ve read enough articles about this. Trans women are women, and you’re a woman. What’s your name?” Her voice is even more certain than usual.

“That’s not how it works. It’s not that simple, there’s a lot of—”

“What’s your name?” she asks, cutting me short.

“Davina.”

“OK, you’re my female friend Davina.”

“I guess... I—”

“Do you have clothes? Do you have a voice? Your hair is long so I assume you style it. Makeup? Have you been to a doctor about this? Do you want me to go to a doctor with you? I will!”

I cross my legs under the table, my foot bumping hers and say, “Yes, to all that. And I’ve been on hormones two years...”

“DO YOU HAVE TITS!?!” she screams. And when she screams she actually seems female. She was always female, of course, but she seems girly. A girlfriend. “Can I see!?”

“Yes, I have tits,” I say. “And no! You cannot see!”

“Has someone ever played with them?” she asks, getting giggly. Another thing I’ve never seen from her before. Then I notice I’m smiling.

Then I remember how it went. “Once... In a hotel. In another town, a few months ago. And he twisted them. Grabbed... For five seconds. He took his fun, I had nothing. He was gone ten minutes later. Then he blocked me on the app.”

Chelsea growls. “That’s awful. Men can be fuckers, can’t they? What did you do?”

“I went for a drink at the hotel bar. I drank. No-one cared. Then I passed out in the bed he took me on, in the hotel room he paid for. And came home the next day.”

“I’m sorry, babes,” she says. “But we’ll chat about everything over drinks, go get dressed. Properly dressed. As the real you. Time to be who you are because I’m not going out with my female friend pretending to be a man. Nicest clothes you own. Hair done. Makeup done. You need this.”

“I can’t!”

“You absolutely can! If anyone from here sees you I’ll tell them you lost a bet to me. Most of the bar has lost a bet to me, especially the staff. Anyway, you want to do this. I know you do. I can see it in your eyes. You’ve been waiting for it for years. Now go upstairs. I want to see my female friend, Davina, when she comes back down.” And I know she’s right.

Thirty minutes later I’m walking down the stairs, with my hair wavy from my iron, makeup done, in my nicest daytime dress and some heels.

“Fuck me!” Chelsea says. “Oh my god!”

“What?” I say, in my female voice.

“How old are you, Davina?”

“Thirty-two...”

“You’re not sixty-five? You’re not collecting a pension?”

“Please don’t say that,” I say. “There must be something good.”

“Your makeup is nice, your hair is nice. Your voice is entirely female. Lift up the skirt on your granny dress.” I lift the hem to mid-thigh. “Yeah, I thought so. Your boobs are average but you have the legs of a model and those heels make your calves, well, wow!”

“But I’m dressed like a granny...”

“Back upstairs, tie up your hair, off with your makeup, into your man clothes. We’re buying you a dress appropriate for a night out as young woman.” I open my mouth to protest. “We’re friends. No objections. Clean black bra! Clean knickers!”

I’m removing my makeup when I hear Chelsea talking to someone. I know she’s my friend. She has to be. This can’t be a trick. I was the one who told her my secret! And I tell myself that over and over until we’re walking into one of the fanciest department stores in town, where an older woman is waiting at the door.

“Hi Chelsea... Davina.. With me. Usual room Chelsea,” the woman says.

We get to a private room on the second floor and the place is filled with racks of clothing. Expensive clothing. “No problems, Jacinta?” Chelsea asks.

“We have your beers but we don’t know what Davina drinks. Your dress size guesstimate seems about right, though.”

“She drinks beer,” Chelsea says. “Whiskey...”

The older woman, Jacinta, looks at Chelsea like she’s stupid. “She’s trans and just came out to you. She might have hidden a lot, including that she likes champagne, or vodka, or cocktails. Were you born yesterday?”

“That’s why you get all the commissions from me, Jacinta, honesty! What do you drink, really, Davina?” Chelsea asks.

“Really beer,” I say. “Genuinely.”

“Amazing voice! You’ve been practising. Now, down to knickers and bra, we have to find you some clothes,” Jacinta says.

“What?”

“You can use the curtained area when you’re getting your bra fitting, if you really want. I don’t know why you would though. You’re young and perky. What bra size are you? 34C-ish?”

“34B,” I say.

“Yeah! Not too sure about that.”

“I thought you just wanted me to get a dress for tonight?” I ask.

“That’s what we’re doing,” Chelsea says. “And playing dress up. I’ve never had a girlfriend to do this with, not since I’ve had money.”

“Have a beer if you’re nervous, Davina, and yack. I’ll get the other women we need now you’re here, then we’ll get to it. You’re safe.”

Hours and hours later, long after the store has closed, after I, yes, enjoyed playing dress up in outfits I’ll never be able to afford, maybe gaining confidence from the laughing, we’re leaving through a side door where a taxi is waiting. And my dress is sparkling. I’m in killer, well fitting heels. My bra and undies feels make me feel like I’m the world’s tallest fly-trap for men. And oh my god do I want to trap a man! Even the loaned jewellery makes me feel like I could win The Nobel Prize for Sluts!

I look phenomenal!

Then we get into the taxi and the driver begins to drive. “Where are we going?” I ask.

“Cherry Tree,” Chelsea says.

“Oh no! Anywhere but there!”

“OK, the racing bar.”

“No! Nowhere in the village!”

“Did I buy you a pretty dress?”

“Yes, but—”

“Am I your friend?” I nod. “This is who you are. Just for tonight, if you want. Please be you. I’ll look after you.”

I close my eyes tight and focus on the feeling of the beers I drank. “OK, fine, but this is the bet I lost to you. That’s what we tell people.”

Next thing I know we’re walking into The Cherry Tree, bouncer holding the door and offering a polite, “Ladies.”

The Cherry Tree is the only bar in the village where people dress up, every night, so I mostly fit the level of glam. And there’s more women than men, the stodgy bar bores of the other places refusing to come here.

Chelsea takes my arm and leads me to the ridiculously expensive reclaimed hardwood bar counter everyone in the village knows the price of. “You used your female voice all day. Be careful if you don’t want people to know.”

At the bar we stand, waiting to be served, and I notice Julia from the racing bar next to us, also waiting. “Hi Chelsea, who’s your friend?” she asks. She looks me up and down, then it clicks. “Jesus, Dave! You’re a stunning woman! That was the bet you lost?”

“Davina,” Chelsea says. “And yeah, she took me on.”

“She..? OK... We’re taking this seriously,” Julia says. “You looked ghostly after Chelsea told you what you had to do. You needed more than the whiskey but good man for seeing it through.” Then she turns to Chelsea. “I ask, every time, mostly out of hope, but will you join us? Most of the female staff from the bar are steadying themselves for Cheltenham. This time I ask with more hope because of Davina.”

“We’d love to,” Chelsea says. I hang my head in resignation. Chelsea’s in charge.

As we approach the girls someone yells, “Out of the way, Chelsea!” A flash goes off and Gloria is furiously typing on her phone. Everyone knows now. Fucking everyone.

I raise my arms like I’m being crucified and give a slow spin. It’s over. Then space is made for us to sit down.

“How long were you planning this?” Megan asks.

“Spur of the moment, really. I spent the day at her place making her walk around in heels. Luckily she just about fits into the biggest size.”

“Great eye,” Grace says. “I never would have spotted Dave could look so beautiful. His features are so soft with makeup.”

After a couple of minutes of gushing, Gloria, who was on her phone sending everyone pictures of me checks it again then looks up. “All the staff are in,” she says. “Literally everyone. Not one objection.”

“We know you’re generally broke, Davina,” Julia says. “And even then you still tip when there’s no need.” I shrug. “But you can drink for free, as much beer as you want, every day of Cheltenham if you come into the bar.”

“What?” I say.

“If Davina comes into the bar! We already have people rustling up clothes for her. The bar-staff have all agreed to pool their staff drinks for Davina each day she’s in.”

“I like this and so does Davina,” Chelsea says.

“I am kind of broke,” I say, lying. “But one condition... If I’m in frills so is Chelsea. If I’m in a skirt so is Chelsea.”

“Deal,” Chelsea says, then turns to the rest of the table. “And don’t worry about clothes. You’ve all noticed my weight fluctuations, I have plenty in Davina’s size. She can stay with me for the week and I’ll suitably dress her each day. I have a spare room.”

All the bar-staff look gleeful.

I lean into Chelsea and whisper into her ear, “Your weight has never fluctuated.” She smiles at me, an evil smile I hope I adore.

The next morning I hear rustling around Chelsea’s duplex and roll over in bed, groaning. Before I know it the door to my temporary room bursts open and Jacinta, followed by a flock of girls, is walking in.

The flock are carrying then hanging item after item of clothing in the wardrobes. “Out of bed, Davina, it takes time to be beautiful even if we’re as blessed as you.” She turns to the girls. “Makeup on the dressing table, unpacked please. Leave all the bags!” She turns to some other girls. “Bras, knickers, and assorted undergarments in the drawers. If you see a vibrator or toys you are discreet, we all have them, don’t lie.” Other girls place shoe after shoe on the rack.

Then Jacinta’s looking at me sitting up in my nightgown, me shocked. “With a little luck they might become 34Ds.... Today through Friday is labelled on each garment bag! After that you have more than enough to see you through. Enjoy!” And they’re gone as quickly as they arrived.

I open today’s garment bag and it’s nice. It’s something I would wear. It’s something I said I liked yesterday, a casual shirt-dress, with thin, vertical stripes in grey-ish blue and white. I look at the shoe rack and I spot the shoes I’ll wear. I go digging in the drawers and find the underwear I want. On the dressing table is everything I need for makeup, and for a shower, there’s even a hairdryer and GHD.

By 11am we’re standing at the door to the bar. “You ready? Remember, free drinks,” Chelsea says.

“You’re not wearing frills,” I say. Chelsea laughs.

It’s always busier during Cheltenham but when we walk in the place is packed and the entire bar turns, like I assume they’ve done every time the door opened, ready, waiting. A cheer goes up, louder than the Cheltenham Roar. There’s a few wolf whistles and I notice banknotes being passed back and forth. They were obviously betting on me.

Julia yells from behind the bar and points to a somehow empty table. When we get to it some paper is taped on top, ‘Reserved: Women Only’ printed on it.

I sit, and can only groan as people come up and doff mostly imaginary caps, saying, “Ladies!”

Then Julia is coming to us with a lager for Chelsea and a stout for me. She places the beers down, smiles at me, and leans closer. “You two conned us.”

“What?” Chelsea says.

“A bet? With her voice? Not a chance! Focus this week. Please, Davina. Not all the men here are slow.”

And that’s how the week goes. Every morning I walk in wearing a dress, or skirt, and there’s a cheer, quieter by the Friday. Money is paid out each day and rounds bought once they see me.

Thursday, Alex, the manager-cum-owner takes a drunk Gary off me, off the premises, barring him indefinitely for demanding a quick, dirty fuck in the car park.

But mostly I had fun, and was myself.

By Friday evening Cheltenham is over and all my new clothes are back in my house. So am I.

Saturday morning, before the first race, I’m standing outside the bar door, in jeans and a hoodie, female versions, but it’s 90% dude mode. I walk in, heart racing. It’s quiet. No-one turns, no bets are settled, no-one says anything. I sit next to Chelsea at our table. She hugs me.

Julia is down with a beer. “One last free stout for Dave, from me. But we’ll see Davina again?”

“Next Cheltenham, I promise.”

“Davina is coming to our next staff night out!” She glares at me. “The bar pays.” Then smiles. Then she turns to Chelsea. “Your New Year’s Resolution paid out?” Chelsea nods.

I turn to Chelsea, stomach flipping. “You planned—”

“I told you I have no friends. My resolution was I had to have one friend by March or I couldn’t bet on Cheltenham. Friends are hard! I finally took my chance two days before off. I almost left it too late, didn’t I?”

“So I—”

“What I’d do for a friend. And I only ever wanted you as a friend. You! I never knew about Davina but you’re my friend, a friend who immediately trusted me, who didn’t ask for anything and probably won’t without reason. You are my friend, right?”

My face is scrunching when Alex interrupts, steely-eyed, saying, “My office!”

In a room full of cupboards and storage cabinets Alex sits behind a desk with a dusty laptop, me on a rickety, short barstool.

“If this is about me using the ladies the bar-staff—”

“The law is clear, I can’t discriminate based on gender identity, nor would I want to.”

“You only hire female bar-staff,” I say. “That’s probably discrimination.”

“That’s why I wanted to talk to you, Davina. You’ve worked in bars before?”

“Dave,” I say. “And yes, years ago.”

“And you’re unemployed? And you know we’re currently looking for full-time bar-staff?”

“I know you only hire women,” I insist.

“Is that a problem, Davina?”

“Dave! And I’m comfortable with my life, I’m happy being unemployed, I get by.”

“You know I run bars, don’t you?” I nod. “All my life?” I nod again. “And I still run and advise multiple bars?”

“Yes, but—”

“Do you think I don’t run gay bars, or want bars to be welcoming? Do you seriously think we’re that?” He stands and walks to a corner opening cabinets. “What size are you?”

“Medium-ish,” I say.

“Dress size!”

“10,” I say. He pulls new, packaged clothing off shelving.

“Shoe size?”

“Nine!” I say, louder.

“That’s OK, just about...” He pokes around, placing everything into some hessian shopping bags. Then he sits again.

“You should have enough for a full weekly roster. The blouses have the bar name and logo embroidered on them. If you forget your washing any plain, white blouse will do. The skirt is short but not salacious. Black tights. Your legs will sell quiet beers. Please wear a bra, if you don’t you’ll have loud beers. We don’t care about tattoos or piercings, however you style your hair is fine. Tips are yours, and occasional, but we’ll be starting you in the section you drink in, tips might be good if the men win big. Flirting specifically for tips will get you fired. Playful flirting! The shoes are expensive. ‘Extremely comfortable and actually quite pretty’ I’m told. Only wear them here. Makeup isn’t required but encouraged.

We will not bar your ex-boyfriends or hook-ups just because you cry! Deal with it!

One meal included per full shift—anything but the steak—along with two, standard, alcoholic drinks. Barmaid wages are €1.50 above minimum wage, assuming you’re not useless... Questions?”

“Can I still drink here?”

“Not before or on a shift. Yes, if you can still stand the place. Anything else the other girls will fill you in on. Take time. If you want it then 9am Monday someone will train you on the registers.”

“Maybe...” I say.

Then I’m standing at the bar with Alex. “Would you store these bags here, Julia. Don’t let Dave go home without them.” Julia peeks in the bags and her eyes are wide as her head snaps around. “Yes, you can train Davina in. Monday, 9am. Lounge door.” Then Alex walks away, sighing.

“I haven’t decided,” I say to Julia.

But 9am, Monday morning, I’m wearing my uniform and walking into the lounge. The shoes really are comfortable, and quite pretty.

“Excited for your first day?” Julia asks.

“Yes,” I say, hanging up my coat.

“What about for your first day working here?” And she laughs. We’re both laughing as I’m trained in.

I unlock the bar door at 10.30am, and by 11am we have our, and my, first customers. It’s Albert, he must be hitting ninety now, with Robert, his kind-of carer, who’s in his sixties.

“Is she new?” Albert asks. “If she’s no good we’re leaving.”

“Guinness in a plain glass, Albert?” I say. Albert grumbles. “Pot of tea Rob?”

“Thanks, Davina.”

“I’ll drop them down to you.”

As I’m crouching, placing their drinks on their table, giving Rob a photocopied crossword from the newspaper, Albert says, “We’ll stay. She knows what she’s doing.”

I smile as I stand and Rob says, “You look great, Davina. Congratulations.”

It’s another few quiet minutes until Ian walks in with a Racing Post under his arm. “Brandy and port, please, Davina,” he says, assuredly.

As I put his drink down on the counter he pokes a banknote towards me and says, “The change is for you. For brightening my day.”

“Flirting? Already? On my first morning?” I say.

“At my age you take any chance you get to flirt. Especially with a pretty girl,” he says, groaning as he rests into his usual spot. “It’s all we can manage.” Then he winks at me.

My phone goes off by the till and it’s a message from Chelsea. “I’ll be in at twelve to see my friend, and the racing, of course.”

I turn with a smile and spot Ian beckoning me from the other end of the counter.

I lean in as he seems to want to whisper. Rather gently he says, “Good tip for the 3:30, No. 12. ‘She’s Alright.’ Fine mare!”

He leans back and taps the side of his nose. I zip my mouth shut.

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Comments

Enchanting

"You just call out my name
And you know, wherever I am
I'll come runnin'
To see you again.
Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you have to do is call
And I'll be there.
You've got a friend
."

Jill

Angela Rasch (Jill M I)

friends are a vital ingredient for a good life

shared joy is increased, and shared pain is lessened. and who can you share either with, except your friends?

lovely story, hon. huggles.

DogSig.png

Absolutely Loved This

joannebarbarella's picture

As a former horse owner and racing enthusiast your background had me hooked from word one. I used to frequent the bar at The Hong Kong Jockey Club and do all the usual things with the other hopefuls.

But what really got me about your story was the friendship and conviviality of the people around Dave/Davina. I've never been to Cheltenham but I've experienced those same atmospheres.

Thank you so much for this lovely piece, Ms. Woolly.

Horsey Bars

I'm so glad it resonated. I've known a few places like this, never quite this welcoming but along similar lines. There's nothing serious in them on the surface but when you dip into things a little you'll find a lot of people who care very deeply for each other.

Heaven forbid you ask someone if they care for the other people, though! Which was the fuel of this story. Two women finally breaking that barrier.

I know next to zilch about racing, and even less about betting!

But I do like to think I can recognise a good story when I read it -- and here is one I found to be just such!
I suppose my previous experience of your writing should have led me to expect tis to be as good, but it shows you can manage a "short story" as effecively as an ongoing narrative.
Best wishes for more!
Dave

This Makes Me Feel Good

I didn't realise it but deep down I've been saving my reply to you for when I really needed it. So first off, thank you, your comment made me feel a million bucks.

It's really lovely to know someone read both this and my Toni work and feel like it's worthy of their time, and enough to make a comment. I write to engage people while speaking what I feel is a truth, at least to the characters and situations they find themselves. With comments like this it makes it all worthwhile. It warms the cockles of my heart, so it does.

Thank you, Dave!

Friends

Friends are necessary for personal growth and help keep us grounded. I'm so glad Chelsea had a goal to make it friend. Perhaps I'll find one like her, though I doubt it.

>>> Kay

Who are our friends?

I'd love a friend like Chelsea as well, but I think an important part of the story came early, once Chelsea revealed what she wanted from Davina. Dave—as Davina was at time—said it without really thinking, through confusion, but he realised they already were friends. They just hadn't formalised it or done what typical friends would do. But there's few enough "typical" people. They saw each other most days, chatted about the things that interested them, and obviously cared for each other. The same goes for most of the people in the bar.

Friendships come in all manners of ways. As we get older it becomes difficult to ask a question that seems very childlike, "Will you be my friend?" But Chelsea did, and Davina knew it was something she was open to. And wonderful things came from it. Not just for Davina and Chelsea but for the whole bar. Chelsea has the friend she wanted. Davina has the life she was afraid to live. The barstaff have another woman to go on staff nights out with (and to cover shifts.) And the old men have another pretty woman to flirt with, seeing as that's all they can manage given their ages and energy levels (or so they claim. They certainly have the energy to drink heavily and yell at horses.)

Nothing ventured...

Erisian's picture

...nothing gained.

This was a fun read, Ms. Wooly. Thank you!

Thanks.. I'm Working On A New Short Story in...

Thanks. It was nice to work on a short story. And the New Year's Resolution Competition pushed me towards it.

I'm working on something now, with a potential title Not Strong Enough to Run. It's in my own Light Avenue universe. Set about ten-ish years years before Toni With An i, with a couple of the same characters from that LGBTQ+ bar, earlier in their careers/lives. I've been thinking about working in that city, and with Light Avenue, since just after Christmas, around when the New Year's Competition came up (for me.) It is a short story, so no commitment from a reader, which is why I'm mentioning it.

I think it's good. It's definitely different to what I've done before; playing with perspective/protagonist, and more skipping of time than would be normal in my stories; among other things.

If there was another New Year's Resolution, or even a Spring Competition *knock wood* I'd hope I'd at least match the standard of this coming story. Familiar, but different. (*Everyone groans*) Better than Marking Your Card, which may have been too celebratory. Honestly, it was too celebratory. I'd like to feel I've grown. But I'll always fall back on happiness. I don't want to bask. Writing is exciting.