Second Thoughts (Temperance, the Major Arcana Series) by Francesca Astraea

white on purple text reading 'Major Arcana Series Temperance Francesca Burke'

  ‘In conclusion… what should I do?’ Ava put her fancy drink back on its tiny paper mat, winced at the moisture ring left on the bar by the dude next to her and looked up at the rest of the customers. In the light of the neon ‘COCKTAILS’ sign, everyone looked a little washed out. Or maybe that was her storytelling skills.

  ‘In conclusion?’ someone muttered. ‘Who finishes a story like that with in conclusion?’

  Ava picked the man out of the crowd—animal print shirt, khaki shorts, very original—and shrugged. ‘My husband of three days might have stolen my life savings, handed me divorce papers as I was about to board the flight to our honeymoon and announced on Facebook that he’s been having an affair with my sister, whose forthcoming baby is his and not her sperm donor’s, but I haven’t lost my manners.’

  The guy thought for a moment. ‘Fair.’

  ‘I think you should go down the peaceful, forgiving route.’ Ava looked toward the voice and found one of those ladies who’d started her holiday on the paler end of white and was now on the cancerous end of lobster red. It matched her dress brilliantly. ‘My husband ran off with my hairdresser. They met when Sherise did my hair for our wedding! Beggars belief. Anyway, when it first happened I was ready to murder Joe! I’m glad that I eventually found it in my heart to forgive him.’

  ‘Really? You fully forgave him? I’m not sure I could ever completely forgive Jeremy and Arabella.’

  ‘Well, it took a while to get to that point. Twelve years, a brief stint of alcoholism and several meditation retreats.’ She stirred her Shirly Temple with a paper straw. ‘I thought I was going to carry my hatred until I died. I even sent anonymous letters to the local press, claiming that Sherise’s hairdryers were faulty and that she cut corners using kitchen bleach. But I got there eventually. Of course, Bobby helped.’ She patted the hand of the man sitting next to her, who was wearing a plaited beard and yoga pants. ‘Bobby helped me through all of it! We met on a commune, you know. We had a wonderful leader, a really fantastic man. Newly sober, war veteran… he really got what it felt like to know pain. Bobby and I bonded during a meditation session and I’ve never looked back. I even sent Sherise and Joe a wedding present.’

  Ava fished the umbrella out of her glass while she digested this. ‘I’m probably not going to join a commune or send them any baby gifts. Now Jeremy’s wiped our joint accounts and my bloody ISA, I’m stuck paying for the honeymoon, the wedding, the house, the house repairs and the repayments on a mattress we never really put to good use. Also, I sort of want to burn the bastard’s face off with matchsticks.’

  ‘My sister persuaded my dad to write me out of his will,’ another tourist volunteered. He reminded Ava enormously of that athlete. The tall one. The… boxer? That had always been Jeremy’s domain. (He liked to think of himself as a ‘man’s man,’ as he put it, although Ava had watched him baulk at Peaky Blinders.) ‘It shouldn’t have been allowed, but I couldn’t prove she’d done anything wrong.’

  ‘What did you do?’ Ava asked. She motioned to the barman, Nicolai, for another drink. His was the first bar she stumbled into, inconsolable, on her first evening in the resort, and he’d spent the next fortnight serving her three different cocktails each evening and offering sage advice about the resort’s best restaurants. She did not need to tell him she required a fourth… whatever this was.

  ‘I stole her cat,’ the tourist said. He sipped his beer contemplatively. ‘Felt a lot better for it.’

  ‘Oh. Taking a cat doesn’t sound so—’

  ‘I filmed it being fed it to a starving dog. Then I sent her the video and arranged for a year’s subscription of dog food to be delivered to her house.’

  ‘Oh.’ Ava gulped her drink. ‘I don’t… Jeremy and I don’t have any pets.’

  ‘I could help you burn his face off with matchsticks?’ he offered. ‘I used to be in the army, so I’m good with blood.’

  ‘I’m a nurse,’ Ava replied. ‘I’m great with blood. Anyway… to be honest I don’t know if I’d want to waste all the good work that surgeon did on his nose.’

  ‘If violence isn’t an option,’ someone else said, ‘why don’t you play him at his own game?’

  ‘Get a nose job?’ Ava frowned. ‘I don’t have any issues with my breathing, though. And I was never in an accident with a cricket bat.’

  ‘Not the nose! Why don’t you steal his money? You’re just taking what you’re owed.’ The woman who’d spoken was petite, with the most spectacular afro Ava had ever seen. A small boy was curled in her lap, sound asleep. Her name was Emily and she was an English ex-patriot; Ava had seen her several times over the course of her holiday, usually wearing an aquamarine polo shirt and corralling tourists towards a minibus. ‘Robbie’s dad never paid child support. Ever. Claimed… claimed all sorts. I spent a lot of nights where you are, except instead of a nice bar on a resort I was in my bedroom crying to my mum. Then one day I got a letter from his bank. He had so many bullshit bank accounts he’d forgotten to redirect all his post. Turned out the account was in my name, although to be fair he was actually using it for money laundering.’ To be fair wasn’t the phrase Ava would have used, but she nodded anyway.

  ‘What did you do?’

  ‘Gave notice on my flat, emptied the account, got my ducks in a row and brought Robbie out here for a better life. We still lived in Wokingham, he’d be glued to his computer. I’d be scared to let him play in the garden in case something happened to him. Instead he speaks four languages, gets my mum all to himself when she visits and swims like a fish. I spend my summers meeting tourists and my winters making bobble hats to sell on Etsy. Best decision I ever made.’

  ‘What about your ex? Did he ever come after you?’

  ‘Oh, he tried. I accidentally-on-purpose paid my mate to hack his computer and plant links to a paedophile ring, though, so he’s currently having a really nice time in prison. It’s what he deserves,’ Emily added at the look on Ava’s face. ‘He used to use Robbie’s crib to store drugs and take him on business trips to the park because no one suspects a man with a baby. God, I have terrible taste in men.’

  ‘I think you possibly do.’ Ava watched Emily stroke her son’s hair and wondered if she had it in her to stitch Jeremy up for something awful. He was terrible—how had she not realised how terrible he was before she married him?—but she wasn’t sure he deserved jail time. She did want her money back, though.

  ‘I think you should go for the forgiveness route,’ said Nicolai. He’d polished glasses as Ava told her story, quite loudly, to the other customers. She hadn’t meant to hold court over the entire bar, but two weeks of watching Jeremy and Arabella post baby updates to their social media had done their damage. The dam broke when her aunt Frieda had posted a heart emoji in response to their latest post (an ultrasound and some ugly as hell baby booties). Aunt Frieda never bloody liked Jeremy! And she always said Ava was the nicer of the two sisters! Really, getting pissed and retelling her shit life to strangers at full volume had been the only possible course of action.

  ‘Would you really?’ Ava was surprised. Nicolai looked like the sort of man who attached pliers to people’s extremities to persuade them to tell him where the money was. Ava had assumed they would enjoy a brief liaison before her flight home, but also assumed that most of the cash he took went straight into a duffel bag at the end of each evening. No one could deal with drunk stag night lads the way he could without a history in violent crime.

  ‘Yes. When I was twenty-four, my boyfriend left me. I was distraught—’

  ‘Boyfriend?’ Ava nearly put an umbrella up her nose.

  ‘Yes yes. Get with the century.’ Nicolai waved a hand impatiently. ‘I was devastated. He left me for an accountant. Said he wanted a stable life. He stole cars for a living! So I shot the accountant eight times while he watched. One time for each of the weeks they were together before he told me about them. Then I shot him. Sixteen times, for the number of times he said we should move to Australia to work on a farm.’

  ‘Right. So…’

  ‘So then I had to flee the country, I spent years on the run before I settled here and I’ve been serving cocktails to sunburnt idiots ever since. And do you think it brought me peace?’

  ‘Um. No?’

  ‘No! Because whenever I close my eyes, I see Sasha covered in blood, twitching as he dies. His corpse is leaking badly and ruining his mother’s carpet. We always got along very well, I feel terrible I destroyed her front room.’

  ‘You killed him at his—not important. That’s why you think I should forgive Jeremy? I hate his mother.’

  ‘No! Because I am tormented! I take pills to stay awake and pills to go to sleep. I went to a priest once and he told me my guilt was my punishment for embarking on a relationship with a man. So I shot the priest. And now I feel worse! It isn’t worth it.’

  ‘Hm. I need a wee. Don’t let my stool go.’

  Ava hopped—okay, fell—off her barstool and spent a happy ten minutes propping the loo door shut with her foot while she sat on the toilet, musing. At least she’d been right about Nicolai’s past in violent crime.

  When she walked—okay, stumbled—back to the bar, Sunburn Forgiveness Lady was leaning against it, chatting to Nicolai about organic snacks.

  ‘Have you decided what you’re going to do, dear?’ she asked. ‘I’ve written down the name of that commune, just in case.’


  ‘And I was thinking… we should have dinner tomorrow,’ Nicolai said. ‘I would love to show you this taverna on the other side of the resort. We can watch the sun set.’ Huh.

  ‘That would be wonderful.’ Ava hiccupped slightly. ‘Could I get a glass of water, please, Nicolai? I think I’ve had enough to drink.’

  ‘You want to sober up to rush back to England to burn off Jeremy’s face?’

  ‘Tempting, but no. I’m taking a leaf out of Emily’s book. I think I’m going to get even with Jeremy and Arabella. Not too even,’ she added hastily. ‘No gunshot deaths. But, well, I still have the keys to our house. Jeremy’s staying at my sister’s. I was thinking… the only thing Jeremy cares about as much as himself, and presumably his unborn devil spawn, is his collection of antique plates. Don’t ask. He nicked about ten grand off me, which is the value of a few of those plates. So I might sell a few and smash a few. Or sell them all and go on another holiday. I’m going to get a decent solicitor and divorce Jeremy on my terms. That might be where the plate money goes. Once it’s finalised, I’ll send them my wedding dress in a box laced with poison ivy. Jeremy’s badly allergic, but not enough to kill him. I just want him to have a couple of really shit days. That’ll be enough for me, because Arabella is an awful girlfriend. Everyone thinks she’s the fun one out of the two of us, but Jeremy’s excessively boring. Once he realises that she cleans the bathroom once every six months and never empties the dishwasher, he’s going to go bananas. I’m also pretty sure she thinks having a baby is a part time job and will want a nanny as soon as possible, which is going to infuriate Jeremy’s mum. Who will in turn infuriate Arabella. So I’m going to watch it all, smile sweetly for every family photograph and apply for a sabbatical from work to go to Australia to work on a farm for six months. Might come back with a deeply tanned surfer boyfriend.’

  ‘That’s all?’ Nicolai looked amused.

  ‘It’s not set in stone. Might do a bit of backpacking in Asia. I’ll see how much the plates are worth.’

  ‘That sounds very… moderate.’

  ‘I think so. Now, Nicolai… I’ve changed my mind. Please can I try one of those blue cocktails?’

Thanks for reading! Please consider sharing this with anyone you think might like it.

Did you know you can read my short stories before they’re public by joining my Patreon? When you join, I’ll name a character after you. Alternately, consider buying me a coffee – same fantastic impact on my career, less direct debits.

You can read more about what inspired the Major Arcana series on my website. Learn about where you can get my book, The Princess and the Dragon and Other Stories About Unlikely Heroes here.

Copyright © 2020 by Francesca Burke

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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