Alan and Wendy sat in the shade watching the sheepdogs going through their paces in the field below them. “One of them might be Oscar’s collie. We really shouldn’t be sitting so far away Al.” Alan merely stared ahead, munching one of the sandwiches Wendy had made. She waved her hat to fan her face. “It’s very hot here.”
“Which is why we’re sitting in the shade, Wends.”
“I don’t understand you. It was such an arduous walk up here, with the picnic basket and all. We really would have been more comfortable down there where the benches are. Pass me some water please.”
Alan, who had helped himself to another sandwich, didn’t move. Wendy sighed and stretched across him to pull a bottle of water from the basket. She unscrewed the cap and had just taken a sip when Alan grabbed the bottle from her hand. “That’s not your bottle,” he growled and promptly downed the contents.
Wendy stared at him wide-eyed. “Alan, that wasn’t plain water – more like plain gin! How can you do that?”
“I need something to get me through this torturous day. Come,” he pulled on her hand. “Let’s get up to some meaningful mischief while we’re here. No-one can really see us. Besides, they’re all looking at those boring dogs.”
She squirmed out of his grip and stood up, breathing hard. “Alan Mansfield, this is not what I came here for. We’re meant to be supporting Oscar and his dog!”
“Agamemnon,” Alan burped. “We can tell him how wonderful his dog is later.” Both their cell phones beeped. Wendy was the first to read the message. “Oscar’s dog is about to commence.” She looked down at Alan’s sulky face staring up at her. “Come on, Alan. We can’t let him down.”
“I don’t see why we have to be right there. We can see the dogs from here.”
“The foundation of our friendship has always been caring for each other. Come and be sociable for a change!”
“You and your ‘standards’ and ‘maxims’,” he grunted while reaching for another sandwich.
“Stop that Alan or there won’t be anything left for our picnic later!” Wendy snapped the lid back onto the sandwich container and picked up the basket.
“What’s between you and Oscar anyway?” Alan had risen and was reluctantly accompanying Wendy down the grassy slope.
“It’s not what you think. We’ve had an epic journey together since primary school and so our personal history is inextricably entwined.”
“Personal history entwined? When did you start sleeping together?” Wendy did not miss the rough edge to his voice.
“Your thought process is so outmoded, Alan!” She retorted heatedly. “Forget about this and let’s head for the tea.”
Oscar met them at the tea table and hugged Wendy tightly. “Agamemnon is tired of being so constrained. I’m glad you’ve come down in time to see him going through his final paces.” He held her tea cup and led her by the hand to a bench under a tree. “You’ll see best from here.” He kissed her lightly on her cheek. “Wish us both luck,” he whispered and disappeared.
Wendy tried to cover her discomfort at what had occurred on the slope by sipping her tea, but realised her hand was visibly shaking. “Our elegant white swan has a dark tinge, I see.” Alan slumped down next to her. “Get me some tea, Wends.”
“Don’t be so indolent Alan. Has all that gin gone to your head already?” Her voice was quiet yet firm.
“Are you and Oscar sleeping together?”
“Let’s lay this to rest, Alan. Oscar has been a faithful friend –.”
“Since primary school, I know.” Alan moved quickly to grab another water bottle from the basket and downed it greedily.
Wendy moved away from him when she stood up to watch the dogs and focused on Oscar’s face flushed with both concentration and excitement. She listened to the whistles, the clicking of metal gates, and caught a glimpse of a small boy playing with a toy spear by repeatedly stabbing it into the ground. The applause from the small crowd muffled the sound of Alan moving in behind her. He held the nape of her neck in a firm grip and slid his other hand round to unbutton her blouse. She gave an ear-splitting shriek. “Stop that!”
Pandemonium broke loose. Silence blanketed the crowd for only a moment before Oscar came running forward – as did the little boy with his tiny spear held aloft, a menacing expression on his face. Wendy hardly had time to register any of this when a furry missile threw both her and Alan to the ground.
She rolled away to free herself and immediately felt Oscar’s firm embrace. Agamemnon was pinning Alan to the ground with two paws placed firmly on his chest. The crowd gathered round as Oscar led Wendy away towards his truck. “I’ll get you some tea,” he said gently as he pulled his jacket from behind the seat. “Put this on Wendy. When the shock sets in you’re going to feel cold.”
The remainder of the afternoon passed in a blur in between bouts of sobbing and dozing. Why had Alan deliberately got drunk? What had she done to make him like that? Some of these questions swam around in her head. Others, she realised, she had blurted out to an older woman who had opened the door of the truck and held her hand while she howled.
She had stroked Wendy’s hair and given her tissues. “Don’t blame yourself, lass,” she had repeated several times. “That bloke with you had it coming. We could all see he was as drunk as a coot. It’s the old triangle of love, I tell you. Oscar’s face just lit up when you arrived. I sensed then that trouble lay ahead.”
While sitting on the sofa in Oscar’s cottage that evening, Wendy fondled Agamemnon’s ears. “You’re the best boy I know. The very best.”
“Excuse me!” Oscar brought in bowls of hot pumpkin soup and sliced garlic bread. “What about me?”
“You’re different, Oscar. You’ve always been the best. You know that.” She bit into her garlic bread. “How will you ever forgive me for disrupting the finals of the trials? I am so, so sorry. I had no idea that Alan was going to -.”
“No worries. We’d actually finished anyway, which is why I could send Agamemnon off to you so quickly.” He reached behind him and dangled a gold medal above her head. “It’s like a gift from the Magi,” he grinned. “The pinnacle of our success: Agamemnon and I have reached our goals.”
Wendy shrieked, this time in delight. “I missed that! Oh Oscar, you’ve kept it to yourself all this time!” Impulsively, she reached nearer to kiss him. “What are you plans now?”
Oscar winked at her. “Agamemnon’s retiring from competition to work on old man Nolan’s farm. He’ll be happy there – it’s where he was born anyway.”
“Well,” he looked at her seriously. “I’ve clearly got a lot of catching up to do. It seems I’ve taken our friendship for granted for far too long. Now I need to find a way of convincing you that I would like to be your extra-very-special friend – forever!”
Wendy snuggled next to him on the sofa. “I think you always have been, only it took today’s events for me to understand that.”