I was happy to hear the familiar sound of a new email arriving. Hoping it wasn't just more spam, I checked and it was Greg's folder that was highlighted. I clicked my brother's message open and settled back to read the letter. They were always long and chatty.
I was only twelve and he was twenty when he left home, I was too young to recognise his qualities as a man and there was too much of an age gap for us to be friends – he had always just been my big brother. My parents would never tell me why Greg left home so suddenly but he sent them letters every few months – they both read the letters but I think only Mummy answered them. He went to London looking for streets paved with gold. They weren't, of course.
He did manage to get a decent job eventually. He settled down and married but didn't tell us until afterwards. They never had children and Ethel would never come north, among the savages, as she said so Greg never came north. Or so my parents led me to believe. His marriage just kind of fizzled out a few years ago. They sold the house and split the proceeds. Greg now had another mortgage round his neck, it was on a dreary house on a dreary estate in a dreary suburb. And he was stuck in a dead-end job he didn't really like. He still didn't come north.
Then Mum and Dad died under the wheels of one of those huge trans-continental trucks and Greg came north. He got here as soon as he could and was a big help to me with all the endless phone calls and papers to collect and sign. Why does death have to be so complicated and so darned expensive?
He asked if he could stay in the spare room – his old room – and of course I agreed but we were strangers in the same house. He stayed on for just a couple of days after the funeral then went home again but we swapped email addresses before he left. I didn't expect to hear from him very much but there was a message from him nestled amongst the 'forwarded' stuff from some of my American friends in my inbox next morning. He didn't say much, just that he got home safe etc. I responded rather perfunctorily but got another message from him next day, a bit longer and on a tasteful stationery which he had designed himself. Again I replied fairly briefly. He wrote to me every day after that, usually with a lovely background picture, and soon we were chatting by friendly email on a daily basis. Over several weeks we caught up on each others' lives.
Not that mine was an exciting life. I've always been a quiet person and as a teenager I was shy and retiring – bookish without being a swot and a little overweight – so I missed out on the excesses of my generation. I made a few friends but they didn't last much beyond school except for Janice until she moved away when her husband got promoted to the Cardiff office and we lost contact.
I never married: just never met the right man, not that I ever really felt the need to go looking for him, especially after Sebastian. I've never considered myself attractive, which is why I'm shy, so when he asked me out I nearly died. In retrospect I supposed it was my bust that attracted him. I've always been ashamed of the top heavy figure and generous flesh I inherited from my mother and tried to hide it in loose frumpy garments.
All the girls talked and drooled about him. Trouble was, Sebastian knew it. So we went out together a few times in his car. He would usually want to kiss me but to be honest, I didn't really enjoy it. Soon, of course, he wanted to go further and paw at my breasts. I reluctantly allowed that and even more reluctantly allowed him to touch me 'down there', through my panties but I refused to go any further. "Not yet," I told him, "Give me time." He seemed to accept that but in my heart I knew this arrogant, selfish boy, for all his film star looks, would never have my virginity.
We had arranged to go to a night club so the next night Sebastian collected me and I had made my mind up to finish with him that night. Maybe I dressed up a little for the club but certainly not provocatively, I just don't have that kind of wardrobe, but Sebastian seemed to be more attentive to me that evening, and he tried to get me to drink more than I wanted but I knew the dangers of that. He had several beers and wanted to slobber his kisses on me all the time. I felt quite uncomfortable when he held me close the couple of times we danced; he pressed his chest into the cushion of my bosom and he kept clutching at my bum in public.
I was relieved when it was time for me to get my taxi home. I told him 'goodbye' and that I wouldn't be seeing him again but he escorted me out of the club and suddenly pulled me into the dark corner of a car park. He fumbled at his trousers then pulled out his thing, muttering something about a fucking cock-teaser. It was visibly growing as I stared in horror at the dimly-lit pink shape advancing on me.
We often get posters advertising various women's groups at the library. One of them had offered a free one-day seminar on women's basic self-defence. I remembered the rather forceful woman who led the course and the savage triumph in her eyes as she acted out her strategy with the battle cry, "Stomp his Foot, Kick his Balls!" She was a real man-hater, that one, but she had been raped as a teenager and later gang raped by a half-drunken football team so I suppose it's understandable. I even felt sorry for the man-shaped punch bag she used for practice.
Anyway, I was well armed with my four inch spikes so, with my bloodthirsty instructor's mantra ringing in my mind and putting all my ample weight to good effect, I stomped. Hard! I stepped back and I kicked as hard as I could using that pink thing as my target. Maybe the kick was overkill because the stomp alone caused him to squeal like a stuck pig. Which seemed appropriate as I had well and truly stuck that pig's trotter.
I stepped round him as he puked up his beer, smoothed my dress and marched to the taxi rank, heels striking to the rhythm, "Stomp his Foot, Kick his Balls!" Next time we met he was wearing a plaster cast on his left ankle. Well, we didn't quite meet: as soon as he saw me he hobbled away rapidly in the opposite direction. Since then I've never been bothered about men so if Mr Right ever does appear, then he shall have my virginity.
I've been a librarian all my life and now I drive the fifteen miles to the Central Library in town each day. I suppose I'm lucky still to be working after the savage cuts in the library service. Back home, my evenings are spent mainly maintaining my internet contacts and surfing the net. I had to learn 'computers and the internet' when they started getting introduced in the branches and that's when I got the surfing bug.
Wednesdays are a little different. I stay on in town for the literary society meeting, have some supper in the same cheap and cheerful café each week then drive the fifteen miles home to a glass of wine or cup of cocoa while I check my emails, maybe responding to one or two of them before snuggling into bed. As I say, not an exciting 42 years.
In their wills, our parents had left me the cottage and the bulk of their modest estate apart from a few small bequests to charities and Mum wanted Greg to have some family keepsakes. There turned out to be some 'slight legal problem' with the wills, according to their solicitor, so the wills were all in limbo for a few months until it was sorted out.
Once everything had been cleared Greg asked if he could come and collect the items Mum had left him. Would I mind if he spent Christmas with me in the cottage? We had got very friendly in our emails so I readily agreed. I quite liked the thought of having him around and the house had seemed so empty without my parents so I hadn't been looking forward to spending the holiday alone.
It was late on Friday evening when he arrived. He had driven here to the Yorkshire Dales after work and was grateful for the warm, welcoming log fire burning in the grate, the bowl of home made soup with wedges of fresh bread and butter and the beer I placed at his elbow. I sat opposite him enjoying the wry wit and self-deprecating humour as this entertaining raconteur told me about his day and the horrendous traffic the start of the holiday brought. I sipped at my wine and kept his beer supplied and could have listened to him all night but he pleaded exhaustion and went off to bed. I wasn't far behind him: the library had been tiring today as we prepared for the Christmas close-down.
Next morning I had to get my groceries in for the holidays and asked if he would be OK for a couple of hours? No problem, he'd go for a walk around the village but could he use my computer to catch up on his emails? "Sure, help yourself," I told him as I started my car.
When I returned he helped me unload and put away my shopping then invited me out to lunch. I agreed and drove us up to the moors to a remote pub set in the bleak high moors landscape. He had phoned around and managed to get a cancellation. We were lucky because everywhere was fully booked so close to Christmas.
.... There is more of this story ...