HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for the Toys & Games Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website. Josie Allen is one of our regular contributors, so we felt her Toys & Games submission had earned its own page.
Keep an eye on our website for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release date of Toys & Games…
Most Likely To
What a relief! Kate had worried it would be awkward, because the two couples had never met each other before. She had even prepared a game in case conversation lulled. Yet they seemed to be getting on fine, so far. Ever the consummate hostess, she’d made sure everyone had a drink in their hand, before going back to the kitchen. Once everything was under control, she stuck her head around the door to check on them and saw Andrew and Liam talking enthusiastically about the rugby, whilst Caro and Helen were laughing. Great! They were bonding.
In the heat of the kitchen she felt herself beginning to get flustered. Taking a big gulp of her drink to steady herself, she laid the plates out and called everyone to come to the table. Tentatively, she opened her oven; a rich, spicy aroma wafted towards her on the wave of heat. Using oven mitts, she took out the tagine and placed it on the mat.
‘Do you need any help?’ a voice asked, almost making her jump out of her skin. Thank god she had put the stew down already or tonight’s meal would now be decorating her kitchen floor.
Slapping on a smile, she replied, ‘It’s alright, Andy. I’ve got it covered.’
Andy was one of her oldest friends. They had met at school and been close ever since. It meant he knew her too well. He gave her a searching look, but then shrugged and said, ‘If you’re sure.’
They all made appreciative noises when she carried out the first plates.
‘I’m looking forward to this,’ Andy said enthusiastically, ‘Kate is such a good cook!’
The compliment was well-meant, but she didn’t miss the dark look his girlfriend Helen shot him at the implied slight. Although she suspected Andy had no idea why Helen might be put out.
Once the food was served and everyone’s glass was topped up with ‘a lovely drop of red’, courtesy of Liam and Caro, they began to eat.
‘So how is work, Kate?’ Liam asked brusquely, between mouthfuls. ‘Don’t know how you do it. Can’t stand hospitals…all those sick people.’
She worked as a nurse on the Osteo ward, so the patients she dealt with were mainly little old ladies with broken hips. Many of them were widows who lived alone, which often also equalled lonely. She sympathised, but she usually had too much to do to provide the company they desired.
‘Oh, you know, busy,’ she said, determined to bypass a discussion on the state of the NHS, on which she and Liam were bound to disagree. Subtly, she changed the subject by asking him, ‘How about you? Didn’t Caro say your company might be being sold?’
The ploy worked and Liam spoke in dire terms about the company’s future and how that would affect him and ‘his guys’. As a warehouse manager, he had a whole team of people working under him. She knew this because Caro, who was fiercely proud of him, had told her repeatedly. Liam was not the man she would have chosen, but even Kate had to admit he was an improvement on the vocationally-challenged reprobates who had previously graced her friend’s love life. The fact that he obviously cared about his staff was also a mark in his favour.
‘That’s enough talk about work!’ Caro exclaimed, with exaggerated joviality even for her (might the situation actually be serious?). ‘We’re here to have fun… How’s your love life, Kate?’ she asked enthusiastically, clearly hoping for vicarious thrills.
Kate cringed inwardly, but stalwartly replied, ‘Pretty quiet.’ Shrugging her shoulders, as if she couldn’t care less.
‘I can’t understand how you have been single so long!’ Andy chimed in.
Embarrassed at being labelled a loser in love by her oldest friend, Kate felt a blush start to creep up her neck. Fantastic, just what she needed after the heat of the kitchen.
Undeterred by the elbow in the ribs from Helen, Andy continued. ‘I mean you’re kind, sort of attractive and a good cook,’ he said, looking at her as though he was about to check her teeth.
‘Sort of attractive! I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me’, she joked, but then added seriously, ‘I’m single because I choose to be. I don’t need a man to be happy.’
‘No dishy doctors on the scene then? That’s a shame,’ Caro said, missing the point; a faraway look in her eye, as though she was imagining some David Gandy look-a-like in a white coat gracing their next dinner party.
‘No.’ Kate sighed exasperatedly. She didn’t date doctors. Despite the fifties stereotype, she had not become a nurse to meet a man. She had, somewhat naively perhaps, wanted to help people. Done playing, she pushed a big forkful of food into her mouth to underline that the ‘discuss Kate’s romantic failings’ portion of the evening was over.
Surprisingly, it was Helen who came to her rescue, by asking if anyone had seen the mini-series about the serial killer who strangled their victims with a silk stocking. Apparently they all had, and conversation flowed. She didn’t know the other woman all that well – Helen and Andy had only been going out a few months – but she seemed really…well…nice.
Once they had finished the food, the conversation started to falter and Kate suggested they play the game.
‘Parlour games? What is this, Victorian times?’ Andy teased.
‘Nothing wrong with a bit of old-fashioned fun. Besides, you love games,’ she asserted, grabbing the black hat full of folded-up pieces of paper from the sideboard.
‘God, do you remember that six hour game of Monopoly we had when I came to visit you at uni?’ he asked.
‘Of course I do,’ she replied, smiling. ‘There was a power cut and we played by the light of my housemate’s scented candles.’ It’d been such a fun night! They’d drank warm, cheap beer and eaten almost an entire block of cheese – well they couldn’t let it spoil, could they?
‘It was like playing in a Middle Eastern brothel’ he joked.
‘Much experience of those, have you?’ asked Helen archly, but her eyes sparkled with humour. She knew Andy well enough to know that the closest he had gotten to a Middle Eastern brothel was a kebab after a night out.
‘So what’s this game?’ Liam interjected, bored by their reminiscing.
‘It’s pretty simple. In this hat are bits of paper that say most likely to and an activity. You pick one, read it silently and then hand it to the person you think is most likely to do or have done that thing. They then read it out.’
‘How is that a game?’ muttered Liam, who probably would have preferred something more competitive.
Improvising, Kate said, ‘The person with the most pieces of paper at the end wins a prize.’ Thinking hopefully that would mollify him. She had a box of chocolates in the cupboard that would do as a reward. He looked like he might argue, but Caro put her hand on his.
‘Alright,’ he agreed reluctantly.
‘Who goes first?’ Andy asked eagerly.
‘In my family, the youngest starts,’ Kate replied.
‘I think that’s Helen. She’s only twenty-nine,’ Andy responded, making Kate feel as though, at thirty-two, she was approaching old crone territory. However, smile nailed in place, she offered the younger woman the hat. Helen put her hand in and pulled one out, unfolded it and read what was written. As she did so, a smile began to play on the corners of her lips and she silently passed the paper to her boyfriend. Andy read aloud:
‘Most likely to say something they will regret… Well, I’m not sure that’s right.’
Kate burst into a fit of giggles and Helen joined her.
‘It’s not that funny, surely?’ Andy said taking a piece of paper himself, whilst they pulled themselves back together. After reading it, he barely took a moment’s hesitation before passing it to Liam.
‘Most likely to go to jail,’ the other man read out. There was a silence around the table. Then Liam demanded angrily, ‘What the hell do you mean by that?’
Kate’s heart sunk. She had only meant it as a bit of fun. She would have thought even Andy would have been smart enough to give it to her or Helen, who would take it as a joke.
‘Well, I couldn’t give it to one of the girls and I thought it would be appropriate, as I am the one most likely to say something I’d regret,’ Andy said. To which Liam gave a curt nod, but prompted Caro to say,
‘Hey! That’s sexist. You don’t know – I could have been out strangling someone with my tights last night, just as easily as the next man.’
‘Yeah,’ Kate chimed in, giddy with relief. ’Caro is perfectly capable of causing bodily harm with her hosiery!’
‘Sorry, give it to Caro then!’ said Andy, holding his hands up in surrender.
‘No way!’ Liam replied. ‘It’s mine.’ His anger at being deemed a likely criminal subsumed by his will to win.
‘Oh, he can keep it. Kate, you have your go,’ Caro instructed, glass of wine in hand.
They all had a couple of pulls from the hat and things settled down (no one was offended by being most likely to be a stand-up comedian – Andy – and most likely to dye their hair pink – Caro).
Soon the red wine had gone and they moved on to the white. Liam was unfolding his piece of paper, whilst Caro topped up his glass. He glanced around the room, his gaze falling on each of the women in turn, before finally handing the paper to Kate.
Squinting, she tried to read what was written; perhaps she needed to slow the wine drinking down.
‘Most likely to become…a stripper?’ she finally deciphered.
‘Well, you already have the naughty nurse outfit.’ Liam smirked.
‘It would be one way to pay back your student loan…’ pondered Andy, as though he was really considering it.
‘So I’m ‘sort of attractive’ enough to make thousands taking my clothes off, am I,’ she said wryly, recalling his earlier comment.
‘Oh yes,’ said Andy, who had also had more wine than he would usually. ‘After all, they won’t be looking at your face anyway.’
Kate’s mouth dropped open and Helen looked mortified. Caro, however, found it hilarious.
‘What’s so funny?’ Liam demanded.
‘Have you…ever seen Kate…d-dance?’ Caro managed through tears of laughter.
‘Well, thank you very much. You’re not exactly Darcey Bussell yourself,’ Kate said with mock indignance, smiling despite herself.
‘Who’s Darcey Bussell? Is she one of those burlesque dancers?’ asked Liam, confused.
At which the rest of the table erupted into paroxysms. By the time they managed to pull themselves together, Liam was looking decidedly put out. Caro explained about her being a famous ballerina and he chuntered something that sounded like bloody hilarious. Kate selected another category to distract them all. Without hesitating, she handed it to Andy.
‘Most likely to overthrow the government,’ he read out.
‘Andy? Why Andy?’ asked Helen curiously.
‘Oh, he was quite the rebel in his younger days; always going to protests and doing petitions.’
‘Do you remember that march we went on against student fees being raised? Brilliant,’ Andy said fondly.
‘I remember walking miles, in the rain, with a dead arm, holding up that banner you insisted on bringing,’ she said derisively.
‘Pah! You loved it!’ he said, dismissing her objections.
‘Oh sure, nothing says “fun” like blisters and being chatted up by a guy in a Che Guevara t-shirt who smells of roll ups and B.O,’ Kate joked.
‘But…he couldn’t have been that bad… You gave him your phone number,’ Andy said knowingly, gloating as though he’d won.
‘I gave him a fake number so he’d leave me alone.’ she retorted.
‘Oh,’ he said, visibly reassessing his recollection of the whole situation.
‘I didn’t know you used to be so militant. It’s kind of sexy,’ Helen interjected playfully. The two shared an intimate smile. He leaned in and kissed her as Kate watched. It seemed he really liked this one.
‘Get a room,’ quipped Caro and they broke apart.
‘It’s my turn anyway,’ Helen claimed, and chose one from the hat. She paused then handed the piece of paper to Liam.
‘Most likely to get married first,’ Liam read out.
‘Not bloody likely,’ said Caro.
Kate smiled at her friend.
‘You wish I’d marry you,’ joked Liam.
‘I don’t believe in marriage,’ said Caro. She sounded serious.
‘Really?’ asked Kate, startled by her vehemence.
‘Really. You know about my mum and dad, how are you even surprised?’
Kate thought about it. Caro’s parents had spent years sniping and screaming at each other, but had stayed together, because they were staunch Christians. When Caro had left home for university, she left for good; refusing to go back even in the holidays. Given that was her model of marriage, Kate understood why Caro might be reluctant.
Liam, however, seemed genuinely upset. ‘You never told me you didn’t want to get married,’ he said. He looked genuinely hurt.
‘It never came up,’ Caro replied, looking shifty.
‘But what if I want to?’ asked Liam, his voice gruff with emotion. Kate felt as though she should look away, but seeing a man like him vulnerable was oddly mesmerising.
‘It’s not like you have a ring in your pocket,’ said Caro defensively.
‘We’ll talk about it later,’ Liam said curtly, glancing over at Kate as though just becoming aware of all the eyes watching.
Kate had never been a believer of in vino veritas. Working in A&E during her training, she had heard drunks tell a lot of lies, but in combination with this game the wine seemed to be bringing a lot of truths out tonight, albeit uncomfortable ones. Perhaps it was time to end this and sober everyone up for their taxi rides home, she thought, noticing Andy’s hand on Helen’s thigh. It just wasn’t feeling so fun anymore.
‘Who wants coffee?’ she asked, and escaped into the kitchen to fill the kettle.
It had clearly been the wrong game to play tonight. She had thought it would be a good way to bring people out of themselves, which it had…perhaps a little too well. Coffee ready, she went back in. After handing out the drinks, she noticed a piece of paper near her plate. She picked it up and read it, curiously. Someone had crossed out the original message and written:
Most likely to throw a great party.
‘Oh, guys!’ she said, touched.
‘Right, count up. I think I’ve won!’ exclaimed Liam, competitive to the last.
Josephine Allen is a Writer and Poet from Nuneaton, Warwickshire, UK. Her short stories and poems have appeared in literary magazines including Here Comes Everyone, Paper & Ink and Pour Vida. She is currently working on her first novel. In her spare time she performs and sings at open mic nights and watches too much YouTube.