A Heather Bay Short Story
“Alex,” Henry said, far too casually for my liking as I walked into our half-finished living room. “Do you think I’d make a good pirate?”
“That depends,” I said with a frown. Henry was sat with his back to me and I couldn’t see what he was looking at, but no good conversation ever started with do you think I’d make a good pirate.
“What sort of pirate and why you’re asking.”
“Oh, a pirate pirate,” Henry said happily, looking over his shoulder at me with a beaming smile. “In a bright red coat and an enormous hat. With feathers.”
“Right…” I said slowly. “And you’re asking this because?”
“Of this! Isn’t it cute?” I stared as Henry lifted a rather large wooden plinth into the air, which had a small, stuffed rabbit stood in the middle of it, dressed like fucking Tim Curry from Muppet Treasure Island, complete with a red frock coat, sword, and enormous fucking hat with enormous fucking feathers.
It had a small pink ribbon tied around its wrist, with a gift tag attached to it, and I knew without reading it who it was from. I’d seen the frog, the mouse, and the squirrel.
“Fucking Christ Theo,” I muttered, not sure whether to laugh or sigh in horror.
I walked over to the back of the sofa and lifted it out of Henry’s hands. It was heavier than I’d expected, but no less disturbing. Although I guessed it could have been a lot bloody worse.
“How did you know it was from Theo?” Henry asked as I turned the rabbit slowly in my hands.
“He gives them to everyone when they move in together. Lane and Oliver’ve got this terrifying frog in lingerie, Spencer and Noah have got a mouse if chef’s whites, and Will and Jamie got a squirrel on tractor. It’s wearing a bloody tweed flat cap and all.”
“Seriously?” Henry sounded far too delighted by that news and warning alarms immediately sounded in my head.
“Henry. No.” I glared at him. “Whatever you’re thinking, the answer is no.”
“Oh come on, you don’t even know what I was going to say.”
“I know it’s not good.” Henry made a ‘pah’ sound and waved his hand at me. “I was just going to suggest we get a photo of them all together.”
“Why?” I asked, handing him back the rabbit. Henry smiled at it fondly and put it on the slightly askew coffee table in front of him.
The living room currently had stuff everywhere because it’d become a bit of a dumping ground while the rest of the house was renovated and decorated, since it was one of the only rooms that had been deemed suitable for habitation when we’d first bought the place. But even though the rest of the house was nearly finished, the living room still served as the place we shoved everything while we found a place for it.
Henry shrugged. “For fun.” He pulled out his phone. “I need to take a photo of our new friend here though. She’s going on my Instagram.”
“Has she got a name?” I asked, giving up on trying to reason with Henry and instead sitting down next to him. I’d had a long fucking day and I wasn’t about to start shit over a stuffed rabbit.
Henry thought for a second. “I don’t know. I don’t think she came with one, so we’ll have to name her ourselves. Obviously she’s a captain, so it has to be suitably grand. I wonder if there are any famous female pirates we could name her after…”
He pulled out his phone and I grinned and leant across to kiss his cheek. I fucking loved this ridiculous man.
“How was your day?” Henry asked as he scrolled and over his shoulder I could see him clicking on various links to articles about female pirates.
“Long,” I said with a yawn. “And busy.” Now I’d sat down, I was absolutely fucking knackered. Today hadn’t been any worse than any of the other days recently, but I had a suspicion that the weeks of long hours and stress about staffing and security were finally catching up with me.
Henry glanced up and fixed me with a searching look. Then he put his phone on the table, next to the rabbit, and pulled me into his arms. We flopped back onto the sofa in a heap and I let out a tired laugh.
“You need a day off,” Henry said, kissing the top of my head. “You’re exhausted.”
“I was off on Monday,” I said.
“No, Novel Tea might have been closed, but you didn’t take a day off. You spent half the day on your laptop and the rest of it helping move shit around upstairs so we’d have a bedroom to sleep in.”
I tried to shrug, but it was hard when I was trapped in Henry’s arms. I wasn’t going to complain about that though. “It needed doing,” I said. “We’ve gotta be out of the flat by the end of the month, and it’s easier to sort everything in chunks that trying to do it all at once.”
“I know, but you know I can pay for people to move us and unpack everything.”
“Yeah but, that feels weird. Like I’m not above using them for all the heavy stuff, but getting strangers to pack up our bedroom just feels…”
Henry chuckled. “Are you afraid you’ll scare them off with your sex toy collection?”
“You mean our sex toy collection,” I said, tilting my head to look up at him with a wry smile.
“Mmm, that’s true.” Henry leant down and kissed me, sighing as I leisurely ran my tongue across his bottom lip. “Maybe we should put them to good use now?”
“Maybe.” I wanted that to sound sexy, because the idea of taking Henry to bed was making my body hum with desire, but it came out sounding tired and uninterested.
Henry chuckled softly. “On second thought, how about dinner and bed? To sleep. And if you want to fuck in the morning, before the decorators arrive, we can.”
“That sounds good,” I said, giving him another kiss. “What do you want for dinner?”
The idea of cooking didn’t appeal but I didn’t fancy ordering a takeaway either. I just wanted to be able to magically summon food.
Then Henry said the most wonderful words I’d heard all day. “There’re dumplings in the freezer. I can just pan fry them if you want.”
“I fucking love you,” I said, looking up at him with utter adoration.
“I take it that’s a yes to the dumplings then?”
“How many do you want?”
“All of them.”
Henry laughed again, the sound warming me from the inside out and easing some of my stress. “I’ll cook them in batches and then we can just eat as many as we want without wasting them.”
He kissed the top of my head and gently pushed me upright so he could slide out from underneath me. “Do you want to stay here?”
“If you don’t mind,” I said as I flopped into an undignified heap on the cushions. “I can help if you want.”
“Nope, you stay here and name the bunny,” he said. “Remember it has to be fit for a captain.”
I sighed. “I’m not naming…” But it was too late, Henry had already wandered off towards the kitchen.
I looked at the rabbit on the table. From the angle I was lying at, her glass eyes seemed to peer straight into my soul. Lane had once said his frog, Bernard, did the same and he found it disturbing as fuck.
I wasn’t sure if I’d go as far as disturbing, but it was definitely creepy.
My phone was still in the pocket of my jeans, so I pulled it out and began searching for female pirates. I’d vaguely known about a couple, but I hadn’t been sure of their names. It was a nice distraction from my tiredness, although I kept getting thrown off by Henry loudly singing explicit, gay country music as he fried dumplings.
I smiled to myself, remembering the first time Henry and I had made dumplings together. That afternoon had been a turning point for us in a lot of ways, and there’d been something amazing about seeing a side of Henry I’d doubted many people knew existed.
Watching him make dumplings with such care and attention had made my heart sing, and the way he’d patiently tried to teach me had made me realise how much more there was to Henry than the sexy movie star most people saw.
Ever since we’d moved in together, we’d always made time to make dumplings together and we were slowly working our way through a huge list of recipes his mum had given us.
I’d only met Henry’s parents once, in between all their holidays, Henry’s packed schedule, my work, and sorting the house, but they’d been so fucking sweet and welcoming that I’d almost cried. His mum had playfully berated Henry for not introducing us sooner, and when she’d found out about my parents not giving a shit, she’d turned around and told me not to worry because they were my family now.
I’d definitely cried then, and Henry had been nice enough never to bring it up again.
“Did you think of something?” Henry asked, sticking his head around the door.
“How about Bonnie? After Anne Bonny, she was an Irish pirate in the Caribbean, and worked alongside Mary Read.”
“Captain Bonnie Bunny…” Henry thought for a second, then grinned. “Perfect! See I knew you’d pick a good one.”
He disappeared back into the kitchen and I smiled. I opened my camera and snapped a couple of quick pictures to put in our group chat before Henry reappeared with a huge plate of dumplings and a small vat of his homemade dipping sauce.
“Do you think Celeste would find me a role as a pirate if I asked? I still think I’d make a good one. And I’d fucking love a pirate hat like Bonnie’s.”
“You can ask,” I said, moving Bonnie across the table slightly so Henry had room to put the plate down. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
“Very true! I’ll email her tomorrow and just ask. You never know, there might be the perfect pirate script in her inbox just waiting for me!” I smiled and reached for a dumpling with the chopsticks Henry handed me. If anyone could summon the perfect pirate role into being, it would be Henry.
Two years later, when we were attending the premiere of Henry’s new pirate themed romantic fantasy adventure film, I remembered our conversation and smiled to myself.
It really was Henry’s world. And I was very happy to be part of it.