It was something of a standing joke that when Steve Beech said he was going to be somewhere at 8 o’clock, he would be there at half past. When he said he would be couple of minutes late, it meant he would be ten minutes late, and when the estimate was more than ten minutes late there was a realistic possibility that he wouldn’t in fact turn up at all. It had cost him his job on more than a few occasions.


Now, it seemed it may cost him his girlfriend.


They sat in the park, the sky above threatening rain, both hunched on a graffiti covered bench with a distance between them that was measured in more than just the few obvious uncomfortable inches.


“I can’t take it any more.” Amy said in a flat voice that cut through Steve like a surgeon’s scalpel. “It’s been two years now, and I swear to God you haven’t been at my house, or met me somewhere, or been ready when I’ve come to yours, on one single occasion. No, don’t interrupt. Let me finish. It’s just not on, Steve. And it’s not like this is the first time I’ve told you I felt like this.”


He guessed her pause was his cue, and leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees he turned to her and managed a thin, apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, Ame. I don’t know what to say. It’s not like I mean to be late all the time. It’s like… I dunno. It’s like it’s part of who I am.”


She cut him off with an exasperated sigh. “But that’s such a rubbish excuse, Steve. You’ve lost two great jobs because you can’t get in on time in a morning. You were late to your brother’s wedding. And what was your excuse that time? That you forgot the rings and had to go back for them! It’s not just about you always being late, it’s the excuses. What about when we were going to Alton Towers and you said you had to stop to see that UFO?”


Steve sat upright. “Well I thought it was. It was barely daylight and those lights looked odd.”


Amy gasped. “Steve! You were driving under East Midlands Airport’s flight path. What did you honestly think you’d see other than a plane?” She paused, glaring at him to dare answer that. “It’s just no good. I love you to bits, but you’re going nowhere in life, and when you do go somewhere in life it’s always on your terms, in your timeframe, and at your leisure. I just can’t take it any more.”


He saw for the first time that she had tears on her cheeks, and that those cheeks were flushed with the intensity of the emotion. With her head tilted forwards her long, curly brown hair hung like a veil as the wind blew strong from behind them, cooling the autumn air further. He saw her shiver, and tentatively put his arm around her shoulder, grateful that she didn’t pull away.


“I am going somewhere.” He said, but with little confidence. “That first aid course I did at work, that’s just a start. I’m really proving myself there, and I reckon I could make supervisor if-”


“If you can just be a little more reliable.” Amy interrupted, wiping her cheek and giving him a wry smile.


He dropped his chin to his chest and bit his bottom lip. “I was going to say ‘if they expand our department’, but you’re right. But I can prove it to them that I can be reliable. I mean I work hard, and I get good results. All the pieces are there, but you’re right. I’m totally aware I need to prove my reliability.”


“It will be so good for you if you do,” Amy agreed. “You’re better than those idiots you work with.”


Steve placed his hand firmly on her knee. “Amy, I’m going to ask you now: will you give me one last chance to prove myself reliable? If I can prove it at work, then I can prove it to you. I know this isn’t like a ‘please give me a chance’ plea, because I’ve let you down before. I’m asking you just to give me an opportunity to in some way prove to you that you can rely on me. Some big way. Some important way. If I’m dumped, I’m dumped. But if you love me, let me have that chance. I won’t let you down.”


Amy stood up, hugging her hands across her chest against the growing cold. She leant down, without smiling, and kissed him delicately on the forehead.


“I’ll think about it.”


Then she walked away.




Steve hadn’t seen Amy, or had a reply from any of his text messages, emails, or calls, for three days, when out of the blue he got a text in the middle of his shift:




His heart leapt. He’d heard rumour that Amy’s sister Shannon was going to marry her long-term partner, but guessed that since there was to be an engagement party the coming Saturday that it may well have been something planned some time beforehand. Since his older sister was going, Steve felt right away that this might be his chance to prove he could be somewhere on time that Amy would be at. The fact the message was punctuated with a smiley cheered him up no end.


He replied: COOL. WOT TIME? :-D


Her reply: 8. N I MEAN 8 NOT 9 LOL


He found something very encouraging in the fact that she had added “lol”. His lateness had ended their relationship, yet he couldn’t help but feel there was some deeper meaning in how she’d phrased her message, so he rang her right back.


“Hi Steve.” She said.


Right away he could sense she was pleased to hear his voice, although it never occurred to him that she was pleased that he’d called her so quickly, rather than doing something else, forgetting about her, and then remembering some ridiculous length of time later.


“Hi babe!” He replied, trying not to sound too excited. “I can still call you ‘babe’, right? I mean, you’ll always be ‘babe’ to me, whether we’re together or not!”


She managed a laugh. “Yeah you can call me what you like right now, I’m just so excited!” The last word was an ecstatic squeal.


Steve laughed too. And in the moment, he decided he’d chance his arm. He had nothing to lose, and having endured three days of misery without her, now might be the best opportunity he could ask for.


“Listen, Ame. You can tell me a big fat ‘no’ on this, and you’d have every right to. But, umm, how about I pick you up for the party?”


The phone went quiet for a moment, and then when Amy spoke again it was no longer in the excitable tone of moments ago, but of the stern, serious voice she had used on him for reprimands and arguments. “Steve, I’d love to say that would be okay, but I don’t think so. We’ve got family coming up from Devon who I don’t get to see that much, and I mean no offence but, I want to be there at the start. You just come when you’re ready.”


His heart sank, but he pressed on. “I can do this, babe. I can get you there on time. I like your family, and it’ll be a chance to impress them too. Please, Ame. Let me take you.”




He used his most serious voice, what he thought of as his interview voice. “I’m serious Amy. Where’s the party at?”


She replied, her voice uncertain. “The community hall.”


“On College Street?”


“That’s the one.”


“I’m serious. I’ll be at your Mum’s to pick you up at 7.30.”


She quietly agreed. Steve’s colleagues laughed at him as he danced around the factory floor singing “I’m gonna get my girl back!”




At precisely seven o’clock Steve put the Xbox controller down, satisfied that he had managed to single-handedly guide Derby County to a third successive Premier League and Champions League double. He checked his watch, muttered a short curse, and rushed to the shower. It was fortunate that Amy only lived in a village ten minutes away, he considered.


At a little past twenty past seven Steve was racing along the narrow country lane to the village where Amy lived, his neck showing a cut from a rushed shave, and his hair still damp from the shower. It was as he rounded a bend just over a mile from his destination that he got the shock of his life.


He braked hard, his ancient Mini sliding to a halt just before he smashed into the back end of the car stopped in front of him.


He had never considered this to be a particularly dangerous road to drive fast on, as it was a fairly steep hill down into the village, making it easy to see if there were vehicles coming the other way despite the tall hedges on either side. However, if someone was stopped in the road at this bend, the hedges obscured them enough to make it nigh on impossible to know they were there.


In front of him was a small Rover; skewed in the road by the impact it had taken from the big Ford that had clearly hit it head on at quite a considerable speed. Steve jumped out of his car, his heart racing. The immediate thing going through his mind at that moment was how if he didn’t get out of here soon his girlfriend would never speak to him again, but once he saw the fact that all three people in the two cars were in a bad way his mind was immediately occupied by everything he had learnt at the three day first aid course.


The driver of the Ford was conscious, but clearly in some pain. Steve quickly looked him over and half-listened as the man babbled about not seeing them, of not being on his phone, and of not having driven fast. He turned to the Rover, shocked to see blood pouring from the face of the elderly driver, his silver-haired female companion in the passenger seat slumped forward, seemingly lifeless.


The old man was stirring, groaning. But Steve knew from the course that you deal with the quiet ones first. The old lady could be knocked out, or she could have a broken neck, or worse. He wrenched the passenger door open, noting right away that the car had airbags that had deployed and deflated just as they should do. He immediately hoped they had served their purpose as he took the old woman’s wrist and felt for a pulse.




She didn’t seem to be breathing either. The rush of the panic almost overwhelmed Steve, but everything seemed to come to him automatically. He remembered that the elderly didn’t always have a strong pulse in their wrist, but he was no more encouraged to find no pulse in the neck. This woman’s heart had stopped, he realized. There was no other option but to perform CPR.


Steve called out to the old man. “Are you okay? Can you hear me?”


The pensioner cried out, trying to focus on the young man who seemed to be lifting his wife out of his car. “My leg! I think it’s broken! Is she okay? Please God let her be okay!”


Steve thought it strange that the man didn’t even seem to be aware that blood was pouring from his nose, but then he had already guessed that the woman was his wife, that they had probably been together forever, and he was now shocked to see her limp and lifeless in the arms of a total stranger.


Steve remembered the course: Be positive. Reassure the patient.


He looked at the old man as calmly as he could. “It’s going to be alright mate. Trust me. Do you know how long you’ve been here?”


The old man didn’t know, but he now seemed to be swinging from the shock of pain to the madness of anger. “That bloody idiot. He didn’t even see us, he was using one of them damn phones!”


Steve looked up to see the driver of the other car staggering from his own car and collapsing onto the grass verge clutching his shoulder.


“I think I’ve broke my collar bone! Help me!” The Ford driver said, his voice cracked and reedier than his broad masculine frame and shaved head would suggest.


“I’ll be with you in a minute,” Steve called out. “I need to concentrate on this lady first.”


He ignored the guttural shouts of the old man as he alternated between the pain of his injuries and the anger at the other driver.


The process of dealing with the old woman was a blur. It seemed to Steve that one minute he was clearing her airway and tilting her head back, and the next he was feeling an overwhelming sense of amazement, surprise, and ecstasy that her chest was rising and falling of its own accord, while a faint but healthy pulse emanated from her neck.


She was alive.


“Call 999,” Steve ordered to the Ford driver.


“I can’t. My phone got broke in the crash,” came the reply. “My shoulder! Aaaagh!”


Steve’s heart leapt into his mouth.


Oh my God… Amy!


He glanced at his watch. It was almost a quarter to eight. Even if she had waited for him, her journey to the party would be out of the village the other way, so she would not even know he was here, dealing with this accident all by himself.


Feeling strangely detached from the situation he rushed to his car, thankful that he’d had the foresight to buy a first aid kit when he did the course, and set about tending to the old man. Once he was satisfied that the bleeding from the man’s nose was nothing more than a broken nose from the airbag going off, and that the leg injury wasn’t life threatening, he made a sling for the Ford driver, and headed back to his car to get his own phone to call the emergency services.


His screen flashed: 2 New Messages


The first read: WERE R U???


The second almost destroyed him: ITS OVA. I NEVA WANA C U AGEN


How could he explain? He knew she wouldn’t believe him. What if she did? He had made a promise, and that promise had been broken. He had toyed with the idea of actually getting there early and really surprising her. He cursed himself. You had to finish that damn game, he thought. Now it’s lost you the thing that mattered most.


He dialled 999.


“I’m on Back Lane near Kegworth. There’s been a terrible accident!”




He travelled behind the police car to the hospital, his heart numb and his mind empty of all thought except that Amy’s phone went straight to the answering service. His misery was compounded by the fact that he’d had to explain his circumstances to the police and admit he’d almost joined the collision due to the rush he was in himself. Yes, they had seen his own skidmarks and determined he too must have been travelling at an inappropriate speed for the road he was on.


But he had almost certainly saved the old woman’s life. There was little encouragement in that, because in doing so he had lost his own woman. His life.


They arrived at the hospital, and in a daze he had joined the police, listening to the protests from the Ford driver that he hadn’t been using his phone as he hit the corner, that he had definitely not been doing in excess of sixty miles per hour before having to brake sharply once he saw the other car, and that the older driver must have not reacted quickly enough to the situation because he was, well, let’s face it: old.


He made his statement to the police. He accepted the thanks from the old man as he was wheeled into the casualty department with his neck in a brace and his legs both splinted. He let a nurse quickly check him over, listening dispassionately as she commented on his quick thinking and level-headedness in such horrible circumstances. Eventually he left, to return to his flat at quite some considerable time after he knew the celebration of Shannon’s engagement would have ended.


As he got into his car, he had one message on his phone. It was from his sister, telling him what an idiot he was for ruining his relationship with as lovely a girl as Amy. He didn’t reply. There was nothing to say. He was Unreliable Steve.




His phone rang at barely seven o’clock in the morning. Under normal circumstances he would ignore it, check who it was when he finally woke up, and then probably ring whoever it was back later, if he remembered. But the ringtone he was hearing was the pounding rhythm of Pendulum’s song, Slam. It was Amy’s favourite, and the tone that rang out specifically when she called.


“Hello, babe.” He said, sleepily.


Her voice sounded weak and tired. “Steve. I’ve just got in. Literally just.”


Alert, and a little worried he was about to get the ‘I met someone else’ statement, he said nothing.


She was almost sobbing now. “It was horrible. My grandparents were in a car accident on the way to ours last night. We’ve been at the hospital all night. We had to cancel the party.”


In that moment, Steve knew exactly what had happened. It could be no coincidence. Yet he said nothing to reveal what he knew.


“Oh babe, I’m so sorry. Are they both okay?”


She sniffed. “Grandad’s broken both his legs and his nose is broken. Granny’s cracked her pelvis and has severe bruising. They say she had a heart attack at the scene.”


“But she’s okay now? I mean, her heart’s gonna be okay?” He sat up, hoping above all hope that he’d done nothing detrimental in his attempts to save the woman’s life. The woman who he had no idea at all was his at-that-moment ex-girlfriend’s grandmother.


“She is, Steve. They say that if you hadn’t got there so quickly, she’d have died.”


His heart jumped. “Eh?”


She almost cried out now, with a strange tone of relief and happiness. “I know, Steve. I know! I know it was you. The police told Dad the name of the man that called the ambulance. And they told him you saved Granny’s life. You saved my Granny’s life Steve!” She started to cry, deeply and uncontrollably.


Steve didn’t so much feel pride in hearing what she was saying, nor real relief. What he felt right now was another burst of hope. “It was all I could do. I had to do it.”


Tearfully, Amy interrupted. “And I sent you that horrible text! I sent you that horrible text and you were saving my Granny’s life! Oh Steve, I’m so sorry!”


He smiled to himself, wishing that he could be there right now to hold her and stroke her hair and tell her everything was going to be alright.


“You weren’t to know,” He said, kindly. “How could you know? I was late. After all, I am Unreliable Steve.”


He heard the little exasperated laugh. Then Amy’s voice sounded a little more cheerful. “You always have been, haven’t you? But in a moment when I would never have know you could be reliable, you proved yourself more reliable than any of us could ever have guessed. And my family are all so proud of you, you have no idea. We just can’t thank you enough, Steve. Will you come around at lunch time, at one o’clock? Dad wants to thank you.”


Smiling, and getting an idea as he did so, he agreed, adding, “But you’ve got to promise me that when I finally get there, it’s you and you only that answers the door!”


She promised.


Steve lay back, dropping the phone onto the bedside table. But he didn’t go back to sleep.



It was exactly half past twelve when Amy heard the knock at the door. She hadn’t been awake for more than a few minutes, but knowing her parents were both at the hospital still, she climbed out of bed, put on her dressing gown, and ventured downstairs. Despite it being a Saturday, she imagined it would probably be a parcel being delivered, so she didn’t bother to comb her hair or in any way make herself look presentable. Certainly it wouldn’t be Steve. He wouldn’t be turning up for another hour, she was sure. Not that she cared. He was her hero!


She opened the door, and for a moment it didn’t look like anyone was there because no one was present at eye level.


Steve was down on one knee. Held up in front of him was a box with a diamond ring in it.


“Amy, will you marry me?”

© Ian "Ed" Henderson, 2009