Feb 2024, 2nd: Truth or Dare

‘Who was your first crush?’ Jeremy asked. He’d spun the bottle on the Truth or Dare segment of our monthly sesh. The mouth of the bottle pointed directly at me.

‘Paul,’ I admitted, thinking of his boyish good looks, floppy long hair and enchanting Merseyside accent. I’d have sacrificed my virginity on his altar in a heartbeat.

The four of us had all graduated from the School of Nursing together at the Base. We’d bonded through training and were the only ones on our intake to have stayed on at the Base, cementing our friendship even more tightly. After graduation, those of us who hadn’t fled town for something more prestigious, started meeting socially every month. Gradually we’d been whittled down to four RNs. A routine had been firmly established. First it was converging on a bar for far too much to drink, followed by dinner in a cheap restaurant. As our colleagues drifted away to distant climes or matrimony, we curbed our drinking habits and did away with the rubbishy restaurants. At this point, our monthly fixture had morphed into rotating a dinner; usually takeaway, a couple of games, and conversation at one another’s homes. It was always BYOG. After dwinkies, dinner and coffee, we had a round of Truth or Dare. Eventually sleepiness overtook us, and we’d have to call it a night.

‘Do tell!’ Gloria pried, spilling a bit of her Midori and soda. ‘How far’d you get?’

‘Oh, please! I only met him twice.’ I paused for a drink of my coffee. ‘He even told me he only dated petite blondes.’

‘Where’d you meet him?’ Ronda had popped open another can of mai tai. I mentally questioned her resolve to cut down.

‘He played left-handed guitar in a boy band. He had the loveliest singing voice…’ Feeling about sixteen, my mind wandered. ‘Once I was old enough to enter licensed premises, I spent a fortune going to his shows if he was playing when I was off duty. The second time we met, he told me flatly that he didn’t fancy me. He had the nerve to tell me to dye my hair blonde. Then he might consider seeing me again! I never had a single date with him.’

‘Oh, never mind, Patty.’ Jeremy was always the soul of kindness. I’d never heard him rubbish any of his fellow nurses. Occasionally I attempted to emulate his empathy. In eight years, however, I’d never even come close. ‘We still love ya, mousey hair and all. Right, girls?’ The others readily agreed.

‘So what happened to Lover Boy?’ Ronda asked, digging in her insulated bag for another mai tai. ‘Who’d he marry?’

‘You know, I completely lost interest after he complained about my hair,’ I lied. ‘I suppose he left town, like everyone else seems to do.’ Actually, I’d read bits about him and his band playing down south somewhere. In one article, an acquaintance referred to him as a ‘sexual gladiator’. I assumed that the acquaintance was just being spiteful and jealous of Paul’s obvious success with girls. But who knows?!

I had a vague thought: Perhaps I should Google search him. That always seemed like stalking to me, but I’d just do it out of innocent curiosity. Paul would never know, and I’d never tell.

After a round of Trivial Pursuit, we decided to call it a night. It was my turn to drive the others home. After my one modest glass of Shiraz, I’d be right. We thanked Jeremy and piled into my beat-up Suzuki.

Eventually I rolled into the off-street parking and entered my unit. Once the door was locked and I’d turned on a couple of lights, I was wide awake. Something on TV would put me in the mood for sleep, I reasoned, flipping through the paper.

Nothing much except for the next instalment in a series of crime documentaries that I’d watched before. Tonight’s feature revolved around a court case that took place back when I was a student nurse and never had time to catch the news. It was about to begin. I decided to switch on the TV and have a second drink.

I spilled a few drops of Shiraz on my new cream-coloured sofa as I caught a bit of the voiceover: Something about Inspector Someone and his team reveal how they’d relentlessly and painstakingly pieced together even the most tenuous scraps of evidence. After several years of years of false leads and ambiguous inquiries, they eventually had enough to arrest Paul McIlroy; Sexual Gladiator of Holland Park, who had raped and killed at least eight young women. I stared at the TV screen in disbelief. It showed eight blurry black-and-white photos of cute young blondes, followed by a sharp colour photo of Paul, looking decidedly haggard.

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