Summer Season is now on Dreamspinner’s Coming Soon page
with a lovely new cover by Paul Richmond
A trip down to Cornwall is just what Ryan Penniford needs to recover from the daily grind of London life. Ryan and his amateur dramatics society, the Sarky Players, are traveling to Porthcurno to perform at the stunning Minack Theatre.
Stuart Box has returned to Cornwall after earning his PhD, and is killing time as he looks for a job back in London. Spending time with Ryan from the Sarky Players is a great way to take his mind off things.
During their first meeting, sparks fly, but not in a good way, and they must work to get past their initial hostilities to discover they have great off-stage chemistry. Stuart soon learns Ryan is not the superficial man people assume he is, and Stuart likes what he sees. The feeling is entirely mutual.
Pity Ryan is only visiting for two weeks, but both men want to see where this holiday romance might take them.
STUART SPLUTTERED as he took a deep breath of sea air. He must’ve been away from Cornwall for too long if the once restorative powers of the sea made him sound like he had bronchitis. He lifted his heavy rucksack into a more comfortable position and set off down the coastal path and away from where he’d asked his friend to drop him.
No one had thought to tell the weather it was meant to be high summer—the gray sky threatened rain. The strong, warm wind buffeted Stuart, despite him being weighed down with the possessions from his now ex-house share. July in Cornwall could be amazing, but not today. The weather gods must be suffering from a hangover and were taking out their annoyance on the inhabitants of Porthcurno. Stuart stepped to one side to let a family of five pass by, the little boy taking great delight in antagonizing his two older sisters with a constant barrage of whys.
He should have asked to be dropped closer to the service road to his mum’s cottage, but he’d been away from the sea for so long and jumped at the chance for a twenty-minute walk following the coast. He hadn’t factored in the heavy rucksack on his back or the way the straps might dig into his shoulders. When would he learn not to romanticize the mundaneness of daily life? Maybe if he’d got his head out of the clouds, he’d have a job rather than be slinking back home to do his job-hunting. His PhD in molecular developmental biology was all very well and good, but it didn’t help his temporary employment chances in the Cornish tourist industry while he looked farther afield for an academic position.
As he approached the bar gate across the path to a small collection of cottages, he saw Malcolm leaning against the gate. “Back again, I see. Big Smoke too smoky for you?”
Malcolm had been a fixture of the village for as long as Stuart could remember. The only thing that seemed to change was the extent of the gray hair on his head and in his beard.
“Not exactly. But it’s always nice to be back by the sea.”
“I dare say you couldn’t have picked a uni farther from the sea if you tried.”
“London’s not quite that bad, Malcolm.”
“Well, your mum’ll be glad to see you. Talks about you all the time.”
“She’s always been one to bore the neighbors.”
Malcolm patted him on the shoulder and opened the gate. Walking toward the cottage brought back a flood of memories from growing up there and playing with Malcolm’s cheeky Tibetan terrier. Shirley, Malcolm’s wife, used to spoil him rotten, making Stuart chocolate chip cookies during their frequent babysitting stints.
“Your mum’s not sent me deaf yet, lad. Even after living next to her for all these years. Speak of the devil, ’ere she comes.”
Moments later Stuart was engulfed, not really caring that some people would consider him too old to be hugged by his mum.
Malcolm chuckled. “Careful there, Fi. You’ll break the lad.”
Fiona pulled away, and Stuart was powerless to stop her pressing a wet kiss to his cheek. “Nonsense, my little man’s made of sterner stuff. He won’t break from a mama cuddle.”
Stuart wiped away the bright pink lipstick, knowing complaining would result in a matching smear on the other cheek. Malcolm waved a good-bye as he headed for his own cottage. Stuart let Fiona lead him inside.
“It’s so lovely to have you home, Stuart. Even the cat’s missed you.”
“If Sprocket’s missed me, then it’s only because she had one less minion to open her food.”
Stuart unbuckled his rucksack, shrugged it off his back, and set it down to rest against the kitchen table leg. The sense of nostalgia hit him hard as he saw nothing in the large kitchen had really changed from his last visit home; a mixture of cooking paraphernalia and the odds and sods that made up Fiona’s craft supplies still cluttered the surfaces. The only difference since his visit last Christmas was a new oil painting above the inglenook fireplace.
Fiona glanced over her shoulder as she filled the kettle at the sink. “Oh, that. It was an early birthday present from a friend.”
“Your birthday’s not until September.”
“It’s a good job he gave it me when he did, since we’re not that sort of friends anymore.”
Stuart groaned, opened a cupboard, and grabbed the biscuit barrel before sitting at the table. “He was one of those friends.”
“Yes, if you must know.” Fiona busied herself making a cup of tea. “Nice chap. Bit too clingy at the end.”
“Not another one mistaking a holiday fling for finding his true love?”
“It’s not my fault, Stuart. I can’t help being friendly.”
As long as she was careful, he didn’t mind her being a free spirit. He’d had a long line of “uncles” while growing up, and the majority of them had tried to bribe their way into his affections to get into his mum’s good books, as his extensive Lego collection could testify.
“I know, just be careful.”
“Anyone would think you were the parent, not the other way around.” She laughed as she placed a cup of tea on the table in front of him and ruffled his hair. “Y’know, I’m not exactly a mumsy mum.”
“Who said I wanted one of them?”
“Good job too.”
Stuart knew that Fiona Box had been accused of a lot of things in her time, several of them not so pleasant, but being mumsy wasn’t one of them. She tottered around the kitchen in her high-heeled slingbacks and tight jeans, wearing a long top cinched at the waist by a wide belt. They’d had a blazing row over her dress sense two days after his sixteenth birthday, Stuart embarrassed at having a mum younger than everyone else’s and dressing like it too. One very painful month of seeing her miserable in shapeless cardigans and sensible black trousers made him feel such an arse that he’d apologized. She’d cried, and never again would he ask her to change for his benefit.
Fiona pulled a saucepan out of a cupboard. “Right, what you want to eat? I could do orange dinner?”
“I see your cooking skills haven’t got any better?”
“Nothing wrong with fish fingers, chips, and baked beans… hardly stunted your growth, did it? I thought at one point if you were going to grow any taller, I’d have to have the doors altered.”
“That serves you right for bringing me up in a hobbit’s hole.”
Her mobile vibrated on the table, and she checked it and frowned. “Arse.”
“I was hoping to give my tickets for tonight to Mel, but she can’t go.”
Stuart fished around in the biscuit barrel in the hope of finding another chocolate digestive. “Why aren’t you going? I thought you went to see all the plays?”
“You’re home. I can’t leave you when you’ve just got back.”
“Bollocks to that.” He claimed the last chocolate biscuit hiding under a garibaldi. “I don’t need a babysitter. I’m sure whoever your date is will be disappointed if you cancel.”
“Cheeky bugger! So you know, I haven’t got a date. I bought those tickets months ago. I’d hate to see them both go to waste.”
“I could come with you… just as long as it’s not a Chekov.”
“Really? I thought you’d have better things to do than want to be seen with your old mum.”
Stuart shrugged. It wasn’t as if he minded going out with his mum, and he hardly knew anyone around Porthcurno anymore. Most of his friends had escaped Cornwall and not come back, except for obligatory family visits. “Since when’s forty-one old?”
“If you’re sure….”
“As I said, as long as it isn’t Chekov…. I couldn’t bear another bloody awful version of The Cherry Orchard.”
“Never fear. It’s Rebecca.”
“That settles it. I’m a good Cornish boy; I like a bit of Du Maurier. And it’ll give me the chance to speak to Mike. I’m hoping that while I’m here for the summer, I’ll be able to volunteer at the theater like I used to. I can’t spend every minute filling in application forms.”
“Lovely.” Fiona beamed. “Oh, will Tim be coming to visit?”
“Subtle, Mum. Real subtle. I told you we weren’t together together.”
“He sounded so nice on the phone.”
Stuart huffed. “He was nice, really sweet, but he was always planning to head off overseas with Médecins Sans Frontières and we were just killing time.”
“Oh. You all right about it, love?”
He’d also come to the conclusion years ago that he had a much more open relationship with his mum than anyone else he knew. She’d bought him his first pack of condoms and tube of lube when he’d told her he was gay. A little early for a fourteen-year-old, but still, her heart was in the right place. At least she waited until he was seventeen to buy him the Gay Kama Sutra.
“Yeah, fine. Tim was never going to be Mr. Forever. I’m happy enough being single for a while. He was probably a bit too nice for me.”
“No such thing as too nice a man.”
“If you say so. Let’s just leave it at he didn’t push my buttons, all right?”
She wrinkled her nose as if deciding whether to continue digging or not. Much to Stuart’s relief, on this occasion she seemed satisfied to leave it be. “Fine. Take your bag upstairs. We’ll head out after dinner… and don’t forget to bring a cushion.”
Stuart drained his mug—the tea was at the perfect temperature to be dealt with in a few gulps—got up, and grabbed his bag. “I’ve been going to the Minack every summer for as long as I can remember. Do you really think I’d pull a rookie mistake like not bringing a cushion?”
ORANGE DINNER always tasted better when cooked by his mum, and he had it as a welcome-home meal every time he returned from university, or when he was younger and having problems at school, or to celebrate the end of exams. True, it was one of the best things she could cook, as the rest of her edible repertoire was usually accompanied by the words “pierce film several times” and gave the time for an eight-hundred-watt model. As Stuart finished dinner, Fiona raced off to redo her makeup. By the time she returned downstairs, he’d washed and was waiting to go, cushion in hand.
“Ready?” she asked, threading hooped earrings into place.
Stuart spotted the stilettos. “You can’t wear those shoes—you’ll break your bloody neck.”
“They’ll be fine.”
“No. I’m not carrying you down the steps when you decide you’ve made a mistake. Put your flats on.”
She grumbled under her breath but didn’t argue, and finally, five minutes later, they were on their way to the theater, and Stuart felt more confident that they wouldn’t have a visit to A & E in their immediate future.
The weather had made a dramatic improvement, the clouds having given way to a clear blue sky. Turning off the path and crossing the car park made Stuart travel back in time to the rose-tinted summers of his childhood, when he was allowed to stay up late because he was going to the theater. Depending on the weather, he’d be decked out in shorts and a thin T-shirt or in full rain gear, but the excitement never waned. He’d tried to explain the Minack to people in London, his enthusiasm possibly more off-putting than inclusive. Only when he’d come across a theater buff or a lucky soul who’d experienced the place themselves did someone understand where he was coming from.
The audience began to file in, making him realize it was later than he’d thought. His mum dug through her huge handbag and handed over their tickets at the entrance. They moved to the left and waited to start the descent of the steep steps to the amphitheater carved out of the cliff face. Stuart was glad of the chance to enjoy the great view of the open-air theater and the Atlantic Ocean stretching out almost endlessly before them.
Fiona stopped dead. “Do you want a choc ice?”
“Don’t stop there, keep going.” He gave her a gentle shove. “I’ll get you an ice cream in the interval.”
People shuffled along the rows of seats, which were nothing more than blocks of stone with a grassy top. Stuart sniggered to himself as he spotted the first-timers, already squirming in their seats, who were ill prepared and would regret the lack of a cushion by the end of the evening. It’d be much worse in a couple of hours when they would have to climb back to the entrance with numb bottoms.
Their seats were quite close to the stage, thanks to Fiona being a Friend of the Minack. As she made small talk with a few people Stuart vaguely recognized, he flicked through the flimsy program, the blurb from an amateur dramatics group somehow hypnotically fascinating—especially as he didn’t want to get embroiled in a conversation about a local petition doing the rounds to complain to the council about the color the rubbish bins in the village had been painted.
Fiona elbowed him. “Are you listening to me?”
She shook her head. “I said Tanya here knows Mike needs a few extra people to help on Saturday and Sunday if you’re not busy.”
“Oh, sorry, Tanya. I didn’t see you there.” He gave Tanya—who was Mike the theater manager’s sister—his best sheepish smile. “Needs help with a bulky get-in?”
“You know this place too well, Stuart. Always good to have a few people who know their way around during the get-in, particularly for a group new to the Minack.”
“Fresh meat… now there’s a surprise.”
“Cheeky! I know it feels like the same groups come time after time, but we’ve a lot of new ones. The next lot are from Greenwich. Which explains the silly name, I suppose.”
“Oh come, it can’t be as bad as the Norfolk lot… something like the Singing Tractor Men and Women of the Broads.”
“True, but the Sarky Players is a daft name if you ask me.”
Fiona snorted. “After the Cutty Sark, I suppose.”
Her supposition was neither confirmed nor denied, as the rest of the audience fell silent at the cue that the play was about to start. Unfortunately the opening lines were lost on most of the playgoers as a pod of dolphins were spotted in the distance.