Read Almost Perfect Online

Authors: James Goss

Tags: #Fiction - Science Fiction, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Space Opera, #General, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #Harkness; Jack (Fictitious character), #Science Fiction - Space Opera, #Sagas, #Human-alien encounters - Wales - Cardiff, #Cardiff (Wales), #Intelligence officers - Wales - Cardiff, #Radio and television novels

Almost Perfect (8 page)

‘Quite,’ said Jack. ‘Just like those skeletons. Now, Tosh,’ he said, tapping away at his wrist pad, as a couple of elementary maps popped up, ‘Tosh would have loved this. I’ve managed to track the energy cloud. It built up between 2am and 3am, concentrating on this car park in Bute Park. Curious, huh?’

‘CCTV?’ asked Ianto.

Jack shook his head. ‘The cameras are powder.’

Gwen chuckled. ‘Well, there’ll be witnesses. Bute car park? Dogging central! Some couple making out will have seen something happen.’

‘Ah,’ said Jack, shaking his head indicating several more cars marked off with Police Incident tape. ‘That’s why I brought you balloons. Something nice first.’

Sadly, they headed over to the cars.

EMMA WEBSTER IS WITH HER
PERFECT MAN

The doorbell rang, and Emma tried not to let her heart sink. She threw open the door, and there was Joe – tall, tanned and lithe in a very expensive suit and a nice, crisp shirt. He smelled of vanilla and sandalwood, he was clean-shaven and, as he smiled, neat teeth gleaming.

She grinned, despite herself, and let him kiss her. ‘You make me feel so good,’ he breathed in her ear. ‘I’ve booked us a table,’ he said. ‘In your favourite restaurant.’

‘In our favourite restaurant,’ she said, with a note of challenge.

‘Of course,’ he said, squeezing her tighter. ‘Our favourite restaurant.’

She looked round the flat, almost desperately, until she caught a glimpse of their reflections in the mirror. They made, she had to admit, quite the perfect couple. They both looked stunning and successful, and the kind of people that others were just the tiniest bit jealous of.

She knew that when she met Joe’s friends they would love her. Of course, she’d make them love her. But she liked to think that they would love her anyway.

They walked down the stairs to the taxi, Joe wrapping a protective arm around her. The taxi driver smiled at them both, proud to have such nice people in his cab. His smile was only beaten by the manager of the restaurant, so clearly happy to have them both dining that he gave them the best table, one which put them broadly on display.

Emma knew that people walking past would see such people, such a magical, loving couple, and they would think, ‘Oh, I’d like to eat there.’

Joe helped her take off her coat and slid her chair in for her as she sat down. He bent over and kissed her, before sitting down and grasping her hand over the table. He sat and smiled at her.

‘What are you thinking about?’ she asked him.

‘Nothing,’ he replied and she believed him. He continued to gaze at her.

She opened the menu. He did the same.

A waitress appeared and asked what they’d like to drink.

Joe demurred. ‘What would you like, Emma?’

‘I don’t know. Red or white. I really don’t mind. You decide.’

Joe shook his head. ‘No, you decide. I’m happy with what you want.’

Emma frowned, just slightly. ‘A bottle of house pink, then.’

‘That’ll be lovely,’ agreed Joe.

The waitress smiled, and went away.

They looked at the menu, Emma delighted to see that there was squid as a starter, and giant yorkshires as a main. Joe was equally happy.

‘Seen anything you like?’ she asked.

‘Yeah. So much to choose from,’ he sighed. ‘I’m trying to decide between the salmon or the soup, and maybe the duck. Or a steak. I dunno.’

‘Have whatever you fancy,’ she assured him.

The waiter came over. Emma ordered squid and the yorkshire pudding. And Joe did the same.

When the wine came, she poured herself a large glass, and went out onto the balcony to smoke.

He got up to follow her out but she shook her head, and he stayed at the table, smiling peacefully at her, staring into the candle.

Oh my god. This is a disaster! What have I done?

You’re not happy, I can tell
.

Not happy? This is like hell.
What? What have I done wrong?

He’s like a bloody zombie.

But haven’t I done everything you wanted? I changed everything about him that you didn’t like
.

I know. I know. But it’s like you’ve gone too far. Changed too much. Made him too pliant. It’s not like he likes me, or loves me – he literally worships me. It’s no fun.

Not even a little?

Well, it’s great in bed, I’ll give you that. But it’s just not much fun the rest of the time. It feels wrong – like I haven’t done anything to earn his love. It makes me… hate myself. He just sits there, looking at me, holding me, smiling at me, and I feel horrible. I don’t deserve it. Every time he kisses me, I shrink away. I just… I don’t know what to do. Is it something wrong with me, or him? Can you change the bit in me that doesn’t like him?

No. That’s you. I’m fairly stuck with that
.

What about him?

Umph. No. That’s kind of what you’ll get – I’ve had to make some fairly drastic changes to him. If I unpick that, he’ll… well, fall apart
.

Oh god. Well, then maybe I’ll just have to put up with it.

Not necessarily
.

Really?

I can take care of him. You’ll never have to see him again
.

You can?

Yeah, no worries. Let’s chalk this one up as a practice go. I went a bit far – I can ease back on the next one
.

You’re sure? And you’re not cross with me?

Not a bit. This is my job, remember? I want you to be perfectly happy. And, just as we brought him into your life, so we can send him away again
.

Will he be OK?

Absolutely. He’ll vanish from your life like a bad dream
.

And we’ll find another one, someone who’ll love me for me?

Of course we can. With just a couple of teensy-weensy little tweaks. But nothing big
.

Promise?

Oh yeah. Don’t forget – you’re gorgeous. Who wouldn’t want a slice of the Emma pie?

Cool. That’s making me feel a whole lot better.

I can tell. But babe, you’ve got to keep up your side. Don’t get freaked out just cos someone loves you. You’re no longer a bit dumpy, a bit plain and a bit dull. You are fabulous, girl. You deserve happiness and success. You are loved because you are lovely
.

To know me is to love me is to know me? Oh, Cheryl.

OK. Maybe I went a little far there. But you know what I mean. You are worth it, girlfriend, so work it. Now get back inside, you’re squid’s turned up. And enjoy your last meal with Joe
.

Emma stubbed out her cigarette and opened the door. She paused for a second, cold in the wind from the Bay.

‘Sorry, Joe,’ she said.

RHYS WILLIAMS IS COOKING
UP A STORM

‘Can I do anything to help?’ Gwen shouted over the endless clattering of pans. A tea towel landed in her face.

‘Just dry those, would you, love?’ Rhys’s voice came from inside the oven.

The doorbell rang, making Rhys bang his head.

‘I’ll go and get that,’ said Gwen brightly, nipping off to get Ianto. She opened the door. Ianto stood there in the dress they’d picked out. Looking amazing.

Rhys came bounding up behind. ‘Hello, Ianto, mate,’ he said, his false bonhomie louder than Brian Blessed falling off Snowdon. Ianto stepped into the room, and Rhys saw him for the first time. ‘Holy crap you really are a woman! And, oh, Christ, you’re stunning!’

‘Isn’t he just?’ said Gwen, laughing. ‘I’ve not even changed yet. Showing me up, you are!’

‘I wasn’t complaining!’ protested Rhys. ‘It looks cracking on her. Doesn’t it, Gwen?’ Sensing the temperature plummet, he quickly added, ‘Not, er, not that you don’t look nice, too, love. When you make an effort.’

‘Er,’ said Ianto. He took another step into the room, wobbly on his heels. ‘… I brought a bottle.’

‘Oh, that’s lovely and you shouldn’t have. Why don’t I open this, and you sit down, and Gwen can get changed and that?’

‘Sure,’ said Gwen.

She smiled at Ianto and ran off to the bedroom, thinking ‘This is a terrible, terrible mistake.’

Rhys poured the wine out into two glasses, and then quickly stirred the saucepans.

‘So, ah, you’re a woman now, then?’

‘Yes.’

‘Been one long?’

‘No. Just this week.’

‘Oh. Is it permanent?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Well, it’s a change, I suppose.’

‘Yes, I suppose it is.’

‘Does it feel much different?’

‘Yes. A bit.’

‘I suppose it would. But you’re OK?’

‘As far as I can tell.’

‘Good. Good. I, ah, made risotto.’

‘Nice.’

‘You do still eat risotto, don’t you?’

‘Why wouldn’t I?’

‘No, sorry. You’re right. I just meant now that you’re, er—’

‘Rhys, I’m a woman, not an alien.’

‘No, no, of course not. And a very lovely woman at that.’

‘Um. Thank you.’

‘I mean, mate, no offence, but I’ve been dying to say – you’ve got a smashing pair of – ah, Gwen, love, wine?’

‘Yes please.’ Gwen entered the room, her voice as crisp as lettuce. ‘Oh, you got Pinot Grigio! How lovely.’

Gwen poured as much wine as the glass would take, and settled down to look at Ianto, who glanced away immediately, embarrassed. He mouthed ‘sorry’ to her, and she smiled back, tightly. Behind them, all Gwen could hear was Rhys loudly stirring a saucepan.

‘Nice flat,’ said Ianto, after a while.

‘You’ve been here before,’ said Gwen, more icily than she intended, but Ianto didn’t seem abashed.

‘I know, but normally in a crisis. You know – alien baby, dead body, or temporal paradox. Never really had a chance to take in the décor. It’s very nice.’

‘Thank you, mate!’ bellowed Rhys. ‘I did most of the work, you know. And the cleaning.’

‘It’s true,’ said Gwen, as Rhys started to spoon out food onto plates. ‘I’m all over the place with housework – but I blame it on the hours.’

‘And truth to tell,’ said Rhys, bringing over the plates, ‘it’s no hardship.’ He put Ianto’s food down in front of him. ‘But there’s no doubting who wears the trousers in this marriage.’

Gwen lashed out with her foot, but just missed Rhys’s shin. Ianto gazed emptily at his risotto.

‘Lovely,’ he said, quietly. ‘Thank you for going to so much trouble.’

‘Don’t mention it,’ said Rhys, settling down. ‘It’s a pleasure. We’re here for you. Really, mate. It must be a tough time for you.’

Gwen picked at her food. ‘What does that mean? It’s not so bad being a girl, you know.’

Rhys was starting to wear the stricken look of a hunted animal. ‘No. Ah. No, of course not. I just meant that it must be a shock. A bit of a change. You know – when you’ve got used to… well. You know.’ He then began a really ill-advised mime.

‘Bits,’ said Ianto quietly. Gwen dropped her fork. Rhys carried on digging. ‘Yes. Tackle. An inside leg.’

‘My father was a tailor,’ said Ianto.

‘Really? What does he think of your, ah, new outfit, eh?’ asked Rhys, helplessly.

‘I haven’t spoken to him,’ said Ianto. ‘He’s dead, really.’ He smiled a little.

Two hours later, Gwen closed the door with relief and sank down against it. Rhys came up behind her and wrapped his arms round her. She could feel him shaking with laughter.

She turned round and kissed him.

‘You’re in such deep, deep trouble, Mr Williams,’ she said.

‘Was that not the worst dinner party of all time?’ he asked.

‘Probably. We are never cooking for any of my work colleagues ever again.’

‘But you have to admit, my risotto was pretty bloody spectacular.’

‘It was. Oh, Rhys, never change.’

‘There’s precious little danger of that.’

JOE STERLING IS DUMPED

Out in Penarth is an old Victorian pier that stretches out into the Bay. In summer it’s crowded with ice cream and hot dogs and fishermen and laughing children thundering up and down the old planks. But in winter it is a desolate iron ghost. Especially at night, creaking and cracking like a wrecked galleon.

No one was on the pier that night. The rain was too heavy even for walking the dog. So, no one passed by the last little shelter on the pier. No one noticed the figure in the natty suit sat on the bench, staring out to sea, a sad expression on his still face, the tracks of tears frozen on his cheeks.

The figure didn’t move, didn’t feel the cold, didn’t feel the rain which coiled up and down the pier.

Gradually, the fine suit became wetter and wetter, soaked through to the skin, the bone and the bench beneath. And, as the storm poured on, the figure just washed away, a sodden ash that spread out across the boards, trickling down through the cracks and into the sea.

Emma Webster is no longer listed as being in a relationship

SERGEANT PEPPER IS A
LONELY HEART’S CLUB BAND

Jack swept into the Hub’s boardroom, eyes shining. ‘Ladies! Tonight we’re going speed-dating!’

Ianto will bloody love this, thought Gwen. She looked across at him, all shining in his smart little woman’s business suit, the skirt stopping well above the knee. ‘Marvellous!’ she mouthed, while at the same time thinking, ‘Bit trampy, Ianto.’

Jack coughed. ‘As I was saying. Tonight, according to Patrick Matthew’s Facebook group, his speed-dating group meets. Little Miss Death may well be there. Tonight might even be the night she meets him. So we should be there too.’

Gwen snorted. ‘Come off it, Jack. Have you seen the kind of people who go on these things?’ She pointed towards the list of people who ‘may be attending’. ‘They’re not exactly conventionally attractive are they? I mean, there’s a few I wouldn’t kick out of bed, but you know, they all look a bit… normal.’

Jack leaned over. ‘What are you saying,
Mrs Williams
?’

‘Well, I hate to admit it…’ Gwen really hated to admit it. ‘But you and Ianto aren’t exactly speed-dating material. Ianto’s drop dead gorgeous, and you’re—’

‘Too good to be true?’ Jack smiled broadly. ‘It’s the twinkle in my eye.’

‘Not exactly, no,’ said Gwen, carefully. ‘I just don’t think you’d do your best work.’

Other books

Smells Like Dog by Selfors, Suzanne
Twelve Across by Barbara Delinsky
The Problem with Forever by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Wishful Thinking by Jemma Harvey
ExtraNormal by Suze Reese
The Palace Library by Steven Loveridge
Love's Fortune by Laura Frantz