'If' by Rudyard Kipling. The short stories.

The First Verse

Carter waited, and cursed his luck. The group of people in the public house were poised somewhere between angry mutterers and lynch mob and just one thing could set them off. One of them walked towards him, angry intent in his eyes and posture. Threatening.

He cursed his luck again. Of all the pubs to walk into, he had to pick the one containing his ex-fiancee, her new boyfriend out to prove himself and five of their friends. Four of which had been his friends as well, but no doubt in the intervening three years had been poisoned against him. He'd always stayed silent when asked about the reason for the breakup, said nothing about her cheating and stealing.

Then her mother and father walked in. He was a big bloke. Eighteen-odd stone, shaved head, tattoos. But generally quite a sunny disposition.

Carter wondered whether to break the silence. In a way he was glad the older man had arrived, he was probably calmer than the other guys. He nodded at the father. "Alan," he acknowledged.

"What are you doing here?" was the reply. The mother was a little startled to see Carter and stayed silent. Pity the daughter never learned to.

Carter thought, then answered honestly. "Just passing through, came to meet a friend and chose this place as it was nearest."

"We were here first," she spoke for the first time to her father, "then HE turned up. After what he did....."

Carter looked puzzled and it must have looked genuine, which it was having not heard her side of the story, because then her father turned to tell her to be quiet. Knowing his ex-fiancee, she'd probably overdone the protestations of innocence and transferal of blame. Probably done them to death in fact.

Carter waited. His pint of Belgium's finest premium lager  untouched on the bar, the packet of salted nuts not even ordered yet. He reached over and took a sip.

The father turned back to the group and said "we're leaving."

No arguments from them, and none from Carter either.

Before leaving, he nodded back to Carter. Something in his eyes. Forgiveness? Probably not, but maybe understanding.

He said nothing and left.

Carter ordered his nuts and finished his beer.

The End

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