The letter had come as a bit of a shock.
Of course he knew he had been there. It was the place where they’d stayed in that amazing old manor house. He’d been with a crowd of mates on a so-called cultural exchange to Poitou Charente in France, organised by the local council. The idea was to foster relations with the people of the area as part of the twinning of their two regions.
Jason worked in the Parks department and his older brother, Tom, worked in the electoral registration department.
‘There’s a whole crowd of us going, Jase,’ Tom had said. ‘You should come too. It’ll be a laugh.’
‘What, boring civic dinners and a load of OAP coach trips?’ Jason had laughed. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘One civic dinner,’ said Tom holding up a single finger, ‘followed by a trip to the local brewery, a prize winning vineyard and a newly opened flying school… Oh and the area is famous for its cognac.’
Jason could feel himself being reeled in. ‘But would they really want someone from the Parks department,’ he began.
‘Just give me the word and I’ll wangle it somehow.’
Yeah, that’s about right, Jason thought. You could wrangle just about anything.
He’d gone, and of course, Tom was right. It had been a blast. He’d loved every minute of it, the scenery, the hospitality and the locals. After his painful break-up with Tanya, it had been exactly what he’d needed. It was even better when he’d got back. She’d contacted him and they’d made it up. They were back together again now, and once they’d saved enough for a deposit, they’d get married.
Tom was getting married tomorrow. This was his stag night. Why did the letter have to come today of all days? Jason didn’t want to spoil anything but he had to know. He turned it over in his hands and looked at the name on the back of the envelope… Emilie Grosjean followed by the address. He had a hard job remembering her. Yet if what she was saying was true, he must have been there. How could he have forgotten doing a thing like that? And more importantly, how was he going to explain this to Tanya?
Bringing it up in the pub probably wasn’t the best idea, but Tom might know something. Jason glanced at his watch. The others would be here soon but there was still time to quiz his brother.
Tom came back from the bar with two brimming pints. ‘Get that down your neck,’ he said spilling one glass as he downed his own. ‘My last night of freedom and I intend to get plastered.’
‘Do you remember when we went to Niort last year?’ said Jason wading in.
‘Was the place with the Roman dungeons?’
‘I remember you getting legless.’
Jason cringed. He didn’t recall much about the evening in the morning they’d found him curled on the lap of big statue in the town’s square fast asleep.
Tom roared at his discomfort. ‘Wish we’d had the camera.’
Thank God you didn’t, thought Jason. If Tanya had seen… he frowned. Was that why he couldn’t remember being with Emilie? Was it because he’d been too drunk?
Tom leaned towards him. ‘Why do you ask? What’s up?’
‘I’ve had this letter,’ he began. ‘From a girl called Emilie.’
Tom sat back in his chair and took a long swig from his glass. ‘Emilie. Emilie who?’
‘Emilie Grosjean. Do you remember her?’
‘I might do,’ said Tom looking a bit shifty.
His brother was stalling and that’s when it struck him. He’d never been with Emilie had he? It was Tom. Tom must have spent the night with her. And afterwards, when she’d said, ‘Comment vous appellez-vous?’ Tom, suddenly remembering his fiancé back home, had said his name was Jason.
Jason’s eyes narrowed. ‘Tom this is important. Did you go with her?’
His brother shrugged again. ‘Dunno, might have done. Can’t remember.’
‘Come on Tom,’ Jason insisted. ‘It was only nine months ago.’
Even though the light in the pub was weird, he could see his brother had gone very pale.
‘Why do you want to know?’
‘Like I told you, I’ve had this letter,’ said Jason. ‘And…’
Tom leaned forward again. ‘Listen Jase,’ he interrupted, ‘this is my stag night. I’m getting married tomorrow. Whatever she says it’s nothing to do with me, Ok? It was just a bit of fun. Don’t mess up the rest of my life, please.’
The door burst open and the rest of the lads came in. There was a lot of shouting and plenty of distraction as they hustled their way to the back of the pub where Jason and Tom were sitting and from then on, the drinks flowed like water.
Tom was almost legless when they handcuffed him, just in his boxer shorts, to the lamppost outside the police station. As the rest of the lads made their way noisily down the high street, Jason came back.
Tom rattled his chains. ‘Don’t leave me here, Jase,’ he slurred helplessly. ‘They’ll come out and arrest me. If I end up spending the night in the cells, they’ll take me to court in the morning.’
‘Answer my question then,’ said Jason.
‘Did you tell Emilie your name was Jason?’
‘You’re a hard man, Jase,’ said Tom, his teeth chattering with the cold. ‘Yeah, all right. I was with her. Proper little goer she was and all.’
‘You had a good time with her then?’
‘Oh yeah, I should say so.’
‘So,’ said Jason, the relief sweeping over him. ‘You’ve had your fun and left me with the consequences.’
‘I don’t want to know and I don’t want anything to do with her.’
‘Are you sure about that?’
‘Just forget her, Jase,’ said Tom.
‘I’m afraid I can’t do that, Tom,’ said Jason unlocking the handcuffs. He threw his coat over his brother’s shivering body. ‘You see, you gave her such a good time, she entered my name in the town lottery. Apparently I’ve just won 50,000 Euros.’