Charlie Fairburn froze where he stood, and then inch by inch allowed his arm, outstretched where he had been about to cut a bramble with his secateurs, to drop back to a relaxed position against his side without disturbing the little bird that had caught his attention. Right in front of him, no more than two metres away, hopping around in the hanging branches of a pine tree looking for the tasty seeds between the bracts of the ripe cones, was a Goldcrest, smallest of all British birds, a tiny golf-ball-sized bundle of feathers with a short upturned tail and a head that seemed squashed into the top of the body, resplendent in yellows and creams, with a rakish dark eyebrow stripe and, of course, a prominent gold crest on top. Charlie watched fascinated, and a smile spread across his face. Sometimes his work brought perks like this, which helped him to feel less dissatisfied with his lot.
The little bird completed its investigation of the pine tree's branches and flew off to find another source of food, and Charlie relaxed and went back to work. His foreman had set him to work that morning clearing brambles from one of the overgrown and unfrequented sections of the vast cemetery and he had been working steadily through the morning, with apparently little to show for his efforts, but as is the way with such things, his labour eventually began to show results and by lunchtime he had cleared an area which brought a big old mausoleum into view, an ornate stone structure that had been inaccessible within the bramble thicket for decades. Charlie wondered who was buried in it, but didn't take the time to find and read the inscription that would likely be carved into the stonework somewhere.
Checking his watch and finding that the morning had flown by as it so often did when he got absorbed in work, he put his secateurs in one pocket and his thorn-proof gloves in another and trudged back to the groundsman's shed which was actually a sturdy Victorian stone building with a kitchen, toilets and even a rest-room with comfortable chairs and a radio, as well as a separate workshop and store area where all the tools were kept and maintained. The foreman Mr Peters was there ahead of him and the kettle was already well on the way to boiling, so Charlie sat at the kitchen table and pulled his sandwich box and his study book out of his shoulder bag and began to read while eating.
A mug of steaming tea appeared under his nose and Mr Peters sat down across the table from him.
“What for are you always reading, boy? Every lunch break, you've got your nose in some book. You'll get eye-strain, reading all the time like that!”
“It's study, Mr Peters, I have to read this by Monday, to answer questions on it.” It was a conversation they had not had before, but Charlie had been expecting it, the older man's curiosity being what it was. He would have preferred to have kept his private life to himself, but in this case he judged that resistance would be futile. Sure enough, Mr Peters went on the offensive:
“Study? But you'll have been out of school these five years and more I'm thinking? What for do you want to be doing study at your age? Didn't you get enough of that stuff as a young 'un?”
Charlie closed his book. “I'm studying for a degree. It's the Open University. I want to get a qualification so that I can get a better job.”
The older man's neck began to turn red and Charlie recognised the early warning signs that Mr Peters was about to fire up into one of his rants about 'the younger generation'. It would, no doubt, include complaints about young people never being satisfied with their lot in life, and expecting things handed to them on a plate, and comparison with 'his day' when youngsters were respectful of their elders, worked hard for what they got, and never expected anything to come easy. He decided to try to nip it in the bud.
“No offence, you understand, Mr Peters – I like working here, really I do, but it's what my parents expected of me, they always thought I would get a degree and I don't want to disappoint them, they hoped I'd follow in Dad's footsteps.”
“And what does your Da do?”
“He's retired now, but he was a lawyer.”
“A lawyer? I've got a budding lawyer working for me? Well, blimey O'Riley, I'll go to the foot of our stairs!”
- and Mr Peters walked off with their two mugs to swill them under the tap, chuckling to himself as he went. Charlie breathed a sigh of relief and went back to his reading. He hadn't actually lied, but the truth was very much more complicated, starting with the fact that nothing would persuade him to follow in his father's footsteps in choice of career or almost anything else. It was true that his parents had intended him to pursue further education; they might even have had hopes of a masters degree or doctorate since his school grades were consistently high, but it was their action that had prevented him from going on from school to university at the age of eighteen, when he had finally plucked up the courage to tell them about Kieran and they'd thrown him out. He'd had immediately to find somewhere to live and a job to pay the rent, and his dreams of university had had to be abandoned. It was Kieran who had encouraged him, supported him, when it became clear that a conventional University degree course wouldn't be possible, to investigate an Open University course – and the flexibility of doing most of his study at home in his own time was so far working well for him and he was approaching the end of his first year's study towards a degree in Journalism. No way was he going to study law after the way his parents had treated him, but even so it had been difficult for him to bring himself to agree to apply for a job advertised at the Job Centre as 'Gravedigger and associated duties'.
Looking back, Charlie reckoned he wouldn't have done anything differently. It had been hard, certainly, to find himself cast adrift at the age of just eighteen, and he'd had a rough time of it in the early months, and some bad experiences, but Kieran had been great and before too long they'd been able to get their flat together and it had all worked out well. Of course he could regret losing a loving relationship with his parents, but he'd long had it worked out that if he wanted his parents to love and support him again they would have to change since he couldn't.
The afternoon dragged since he was expecting Kieran to pick him up from work after collecting Jason from school, and he had a tendency to clock-watch, looking forward to seeing him at the end of the day. He and Mr Peters spent the afternoon on the ride-on lawnmowers, weaving between the headstones and memorials, and then strimming the edges and awkward corners before using the big leaf vacuums to clear away the grass cuttings and make the whole thing look right. It was satisfying work, and when he shut off the motor of the vacuum for the last time and paused for a moment to look at his handiwork he was pleased with the neat groomed look of the lawn with the gravestones sticking up out of it. He was just coming out of the shed after putting the machinery away when he saw Kieran coming towards him along the gravel path, followed by Jason a few paces behind. His face broke into a smile and he waved, and waited until they caught up with him before holding his arms out for a group hug, which he got, and then a kiss from Kieran. The best kind of family reunion at the end of the working day. Charlie collected his backpack from the rest-room and then they walked together to Kieran's car, Charlie in the middle with his arm around Jason's shoulder and Jason's around his waist, and Kieran on his other side holding hands.
That evening they had a visit from Children's Services, checking up on Jason. It was Mrs Stephens again, and she remembered them from last time, which saved some of the awkwardness. She just explained that as Jason had been with them now for three months, Children's Services would be switching the fostering scheme from short term to long term, and they needed to ensure everything was running smoothly and that Jason was happy. Much to the relief of Charlie and Kieran, Jason spoke up for himself and explained that he couldn't be happier and he hoped to stay with the two men till he grew up. Mrs Stephens seemed satisfied and after asking a few probing questions (“Is there a lock on the bathroom door?”) she accepted their offer of a cup of tea before leaving. It had gone well, but they were all relieved it was over, and Kieran suggested they reward themselves with a take-away meal. After the obligatory argument about what kind of take-away to get (Jason wanted pizza, Kieran wanted fish and chips and Charlie wanted Indian) Charlie was delegated to get their pizzas. They broke the rule about eating at the table and sat in front of the TV with their meals on trays on their laps and enjoyed back-to-back episodes of Blackadder on DVD. Jason had parts of the script off by heart.
The next morning, once Jason had been despatched to school, Kieran delivered Charlie to the cemetery gates before returning home to tackle the housework, leaving Charlie to face another day of work with Mr Peters. Since the latest round of government cut-backs, the maintenance staff at the cemetery had been reduced to just the two of them, which meant that there was a limit to what they could do. The 'current' sections of the cemetery were treated as first priority, so those areas had to be kept looking at their best, with trees and shrubs pruned, bushes clipped into perfect shape, and lawns mown and edged to perfection. Flowerbeds must be weeded and regularly replanted, and paths weeded and cleared of litter and other detritus – which usually meant dog poo, not Charlie's favourite job.
According to Mr Peters, the staff had once numbered in double figures, and in those days, the same standard would have been applied to all areas of the cemetery, including those that contained bodies buried in Victorian times, when the cemetery had been an innovation. Apparently London in those days was growing so fast that the little churchyards dotted about the city no longer had room for all the people who were dying, and a solution to the problem was found by building a railway line out into the Surrey countryside and creating a cemetery there the size of a small town, so that coffins and funeral entourages would travel by train out from London to the new cemetery where there was plenty of space for the Victorians to indulge their love of ostentatious decorative stonework.
The cemetery was still in use, although coffins were now usually arriving by road rather than rail, but the network of rides and footpaths through the site, and all the landscaping and walling and fencing, took a lot of work to upkeep and the London councils that shared the cost had been cutting back the budget for years, so that it had become necessary to allow the older parts of the cemetery to go wild, and maintain only the sections currently in use.
Charlie spent the morning clearing more undergrowth around the mausoleum, which turned out to be home to the bodies of several members of the d'Aubrey family, whoever they were. The most recent family member to take up residence was one Charles d'Aubrey who had died in 1905. Charlie wondered what had happened to the family's fortunes since. The inscription said Charles was survived by no less than six children, who, presumably, had to fend for themselves in death.
As he worked, Charlie gradually became aware of an elderly man pottering around one of the more recent graves about a hundred yards away from where he was working. Each time Charlie stood and stretched, to ease his sore back muscles, he looked across to where the old man was, wondering what he was doing. Several times he caught the other man's eye, and thought he could discern annoyance directed at him about something. He was intrigued, but not disturbed – the old man could think what he wanted, Charlie was just doing his job.
In the afternoon Mr Peters wanted them to work in another area of the cemetery, so it wasn't until the end of the day, walking back to the shed, that Charlie noticed the old man still where he'd seen him in the morning, and decided to go over and see what the old fellow was doing. It was not unusual for members of the public to spend time by a graveside, sometimes mourning, sometimes just arranging flowers or tidying a grave, but this man seemed to have spent the whole day and from a distance Charlie couldn't see that he'd actually done anything.
Up close, Charlie saw a neatly-dressed man of perhaps seventy years, wearing what looked like the clothes he might wear to tend his allotment or plant out the flowerbeds at the front of his thatched cottage. He was kneeling beside a grave and pulling rather ineffectually at a clump of nettles and brambles that were encroaching from the fence just behind towards the grave. Weeds like that should not have taken hold anywhere in the cemetery, of course, but short-handed as they were the peripheries did get missed.
“Hello,” said Charlie.
The old man turned with a start, perhaps he hadn't heard Charlie approach.
Charlie smiled, he hoped encouragingly. The old man's face clouded. “You're the groundsman, aren't you?”
“Well, one of them, yes.”
“I saw you earlier. Why...” - and his voice cracked a little as he spoke - “why is my wife's grave being allowed to go wild like this?”
Charlie didn't know what to say. “I'm sorry. We try very hard but it's an enormous site and there's only two of us now. Cut-backs.”
“It's a disgrace. Not your fault, I suppose. Sorry I barked.”
There was a silence, and the old man sat back on his haunches and braced himself with his hands on his thighs and his head hung low between his shoulders.
Charlie felt he should say something.
“I'm sorry for your loss. When did she die?”
The old man's head came up and he met Charlie's eye with something like gratitude.
“A year ago. A year ago yesterday. I miss her so.”
“How long were you married?”
“Thirty-five years, just a month short.”
“Do you have children?”
The old man shook his head. “It was always just me and her.”
“You clearly loved her very much.”
The nod in reply became a sob and the old man's shoulders shook. Charlie knelt on the grass beside the older man and held his hand. He didn't know what else to do.
Gradually the tears stopped and the man struggled to his feet – Charlie helped him – and fumbled in his trouser pocket, producing a handkerchief which he used to wipe the tears from his face and then to blow his nose noisily. Then he replaced the handkerchief back in his pocket and turned to Charlie with a wry smile.
“Thank you for your sympathy. My name's Edwards, by the way.” - and he held his hand out.
Pushing away the thought that he'd just blown his nose with that hand, Charlie took it and shook it.
“No, Edwards. George Edwards.”
“I'm sorry, Mr Edwards. Nice to meet you. I'm Charlie, Charlie Fairburn. And I'm truly sorry your wife's grave hasn't been tended as you'd like, I promise it's not what we would wish either, but there is no longer the money for such a massive upkeep operation. Look, I've finished work, why don't I bring some tools over and help you with this for an hour or two. Would you like that?”
He got another smile from George Edwards, this time a radiant one which lit up the old man's face.
“Well, I thank you, young man, for your offer, but I'll have to decline, I'm afraid. Your boyfriend will be here to pick you up very shortly, I think, and anyway I'm tired now, I'm going to call it a day and come back tomorrow. I do appreciate the thought, though.”
There was a mischievous glint in the old man's eye and Charlie couldn't believe he'd mis-heard.
“Well, if you're sure.” He hesitated, but decided to plough on. “What made you say I've got a boyfriend?”
The old man chuckled. “Saw you, yesterday, when you finished work. You kissed him, didn't you? I don't often see that. Don't mind telling you it warmed my heart.”
“Oh, Mr Edwards, what a nice thing to say. Thank you! I didn't even realise you were here yesterday. And if you're here tomorrow too that'll be three days in a row. Are you sure you're up to it?”
“I hadn't visited her grave all year, not since a month after she died, and then yesterday I came and it was all overgrown, and it's taking me so long with my arthritis, I'm so slow, but I promised myself I'll not rest until the grave is all smart the way she would like. So I'll be back tomorrow, and Sunday and the day after that if needs be but I'll get it all ship-shape and Bristol fashion if it's the last thing I do.”
Charlie saw the determination in his face and responded with the biggest smile he could manage.
“Mr Edwards I applaud your courage and your loyalty to your wife. I think she was a very lucky woman.”
“Well, I don't know about that. I always reckoned myself pretty lucky to have her.”
“Well, maybe you were a very well-matched couple. May I say it's been a privilege to meet you?” - and he held out his hand to shake. Mr Edwards took it, shook it and they parted. Right on cue, as Charlie arrived back at the shed, Kieran was there waiting for him. He bounded up to him, swung him into a hug and kissed him roughly, until his momentum nearly overbalanced them and they had to separate to avoid toppling onto the gravel. Charlie remembered to look around to see whether Mr Edwards had watched this but there was no sign of him.
The encounter with the old man was on his mind, and he told Kieran and Jason all about it while they prepared their meal.
It happened in stages: first Jason announced that Saturday soccer was cancelled for tomorrow so he had no plans for the day. Then Kieran mentioned that the weather forecast was good for the weekend and suggested they all do something outdoors together, and after each of them had made a suggestion that the others shot down in flames it was Kieran again who suggested they all go over to the cemetery and see what they could do to help out Charlie's old man. The room went quiet, but nobody shot the idea down, so that's what they did.
Saturday morning, all three of them dressed in jeans and black figure-hugging t-shirts like a uniform, they pulled into the staff parking area at the cemetery at about half past nine and raided the shed for wheelbarrow, strimmer, secateurs, thorn-proof gloves and a pile of empty sacks, and headed down the paths to Mrs Edwards' grave, where they found George already working, but making slow progress.
Not wishing to alarm the old man, Charlie had Kieran and Jason hang back while he went on and called out a bright 'Hello' to Mr Edwards. The old man turned in surprise, which increased when Charlie explained why he was there and that he'd brought his husband and son to help too.
The morning passed quickly, with Charlie directing operations and Kieran doing much of the heavy work. Jason helped out, filling sacks with the cut-down vegetation, alternating his time between that and sitting chatting to Mr Edwards, whose bemused expression only slowly dissolved as the morning wore on.
Charlie and Kieran worked steadily, enjoying the sun on their backs, the t-shirts long since removed to keep cool, and Charlie, as ever, revelled in the sight of Kieran's naked torso, all six feet of him, the fine blond hairs on his chest glistening with sweat and the muscles of his broad shoulders and upper arms rippling as he swung his arms to ease their aching. Mr Edwards, too, was clearly enjoying watching the two young men at work, perhaps he appreciated their fine physical shape or the pleasing aesthetic contrasts between the two of them, Charlie a good three inches shorter than Kieran and as dark as the other was blond, with Mediterranean swarthy looks to contrast with Kieran's Nordic fairness. They took a breather break mid-morning and in the relative quiet they heard a snippet of the conversation going on under a nearby yew tree between Jason and Mr Edwards.
“So, Jason, are you , er, gay, too?”
“Me? No way! I'm into chicks, uh, girls. It's just the way things are. You gotta just accept, if you like girls, you like girls, if you like boys, you like boys. It's cool either way. But it's girls for me. Defo.”
“I see. So, you don't mind that Charlie and, er, his boyfriend, are gay?”
“It's Kieran. And no, of course not. They're great. I've only been with them three months, but they're way better at fostering than the people I was with last. I hope I can stay.”
“Well, I'm glad. I hope it works out for you, Jason.”
The men went back to work and although Jason's conversation with Mr Edwards continued, they couldn't hear what was said over the noise they were making with the petrol powered strimmer.
By lunchtime the whole area was looking much better. The thicket of brambles and nettles had been fought back to the other side of the fence and the grass cut to a uniform two inches. The edging where the grass met the grave was cut to a sharp line and the trench around the grave itself had a fresh layer of sparkly white quartz chippings. The headstone itself had been given a scrubbing by Jason, removing the lichen and moss and bringing the original colour of the stone out, and the grass within the stone rectangle which marked the grave, and which had become overrun with moss, had been replaced with fresh turf which looked wonderful in its intense green shimmer. Jason had given it a thorough soaking from a watering can to ensure the new turf would root successfully and Mr Edwards pronounced himself delighted.
“I feel a fraud – I've done nothing all morning but sit and watch you fine young people work so hard. I'm really very grateful. I propose we find a nice pub and get ourselves some lunch, my treat.” So they all piled into Kieran's little car and drove the couple of miles to the village green where they pulled into the car park of the Cricketers' Arms across the road from the village green and in full view of the duck pond and the children's play area with the village hall just beyond. There was no cricket match in progress, they'd have needed to visit on a Sunday for that, or they could have completed the chocolate box image of English village life by sitting on deck chairs to watch the cricket. Instead they went inside and enjoyed a beautifully cooked lunch and talked.
Mr Edwards seemed just as curious to get to know the three young people as they were to get to know him, but they were three to his one, so he bowed to pressure with a good grace and told them a little of his life. He and Jason seemed to have struck up quite a friendship and he didn't take offence when the boy asked him how old he was, but answered that most of him was seventy-seven, but his teeth were a bit younger. That emboldened Charlie to ask him about his view of homosexuality.
“Mr Edwards, forgive me for asking, but it's a surprise to me that you seem not to be prejudiced against homosexuals. I realise I'm stereotyping, but I've generally found older people have a problem with us.”
While Charlie was speaking, George Edwards' eyebrows rose on his forehead, but his smile didn't waver, so Charlie felt reasonably confident that he wasn't offending his new friend. He wasn't quite prepared for the reply, though. It was a little while coming.
“Ah, well, I realise my views on the subject are not the same as those of many of my contemporaries. My wife, for instance, was never able to think of gay people without a shudder. She was told that gay people were disgusting, and she knew no better so accepted what she heard. It was a great sadness to me but there was nothing I could do about it.”
He paused and Charlie was for a moment unsure that he would continue. He seemed reluctant, but after a moment he took a deep breath and said: “To answer your question, the reason I don't have a problem with gay people is that I'm just like you. I'm gay.”
The old man was visibly shaken by the effort of saying this, and the three others at the table with him didn't doubt the sincerity of what he said, but they were certainly surprised and it showed on their faces. It was Jason who spoke, with the confidence and tactlessness that seems the special preserve of the twelve year old.
“But you were married, all those years!”
“I was, Jason, yes. I need to explain that, don't I? Well, the world has changed a lot in my lifetime. A very great deal. When I was your age, and even when I was Charlie's age I think, homosexual acts, as they so coyly put it, were illegal. It was against the law to be gay, and although there must have been just about as many gay people then as there are now, almost everybody who was gay kept it secret.”
“That's just stupid!”
“Well, no, it was self-preservation. Being gay meant getting beaten, persecuted, and in some cases going to prison. It made sense to keep quiet about it!”
“Sorry, I didn't mean it was stupid to keep it secret, I meant it was stupid to make it illegal. How can you make something like that illegal? It must have been like saying you weren't allowed to breathe!”
Well, yes, good point young man. And it seems the government has come round to your point of view because it isn't illegal any more, I'm glad to say. But in those dark days, many, and I'm afraid this includes me, convinced themselves they couldn't be gay, that it was a phase they'd grow out of, or an aberration that they would be able to put right. We did everything we could to make ourselves straight and we got married. For most of my married life I really believed I was straight. “
Despite Kieran's winked hints not to pursue the subject, tactless Jason ploughed on.
“Wouldn't your wife know? Couldn't she tell you liked men?”
“It's hard to explain. I suppressed my feelings. It meant I was a bit cold towards my wife but the alternative would have ended our marriage and put both of us in financial trouble since we'd have had to find separate places to live. I couldn't do that to her. I did care for her, very much, we were a good partnership. But I loved her as a friend, not as a wife. She knew there was something missing but accepted it. If she'd known I was gay, though...” he tailed off and looked down into his beer glass.
Charlie, much affected by this revelation, asked “Did you never tell your wife?”
“Never. Actually I've never told anyone, until now.”
Charlie exchanged a glance with Kieran. “We're the first you've told? You've come out to us first?”
“Uh-huh.” This accompanied by a rueful smile.
“Gosh, Mr Edwards, I'm touched. We are honoured to be the first to hear about it. Thank you for telling us.”
The conversation died and nobody felt the need to break the silence for a while, each of the young people taking in what they'd heard, while Mr Edwards was perhaps wondering what would happen next.
Actually nothing much happened next, the waitress arrived to clear their plates, they ordered sweets and a fresh conversation started about making ice cream at home. Later, after Mr Edwards had paid the bill against Charlie's protests, and they were back in the car heading homewards, it was Kieran who returned to the earlier subject.
“Mr Edwards, may I ask, if it's not too personal, do you regret the way your life has gone?”
“Good question, young man, and no, it's not too personal, I'm glad you've asked. I'll need to think for a moment, though, of my answer.”
A full minute passed, during which Mr Edwards just stared at the passing landscape through the car's side window.
“I have to say the answer turns out to be No. There were points in my life at which my direction could have changed, but at each of these points the way it went was the right choice at the time. If I was living my life again in the modern world, though, it would have been very different.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, as a young adult, if I had met openly gay people, perhaps made friends with some of them, I would have been able to consider the possibility that I was gay. And once I worked out I was gay I would never have got married. But in those days you didn't meet gay people, and if you suspected you might have gay tendencies, you suppressed them firmly because you simply couldn't be gay. That's what I did and so successfully that at the time of my marriage I really believed I was straight.”
“When did you realise you weren't?”
“Gradually, only in the last ten years. Forgive me if I don't go into detail, but my faith in God is not as strong as it was, and I've allowed myself to question what I've been taught about it. I think it was my faith that kept me from questioning it before.”
“It must have been shattering for you to realise you're gay after living a straight life?”
“You're telling me! Nearly drove me doo-lally, I can tell you! Had to see a shrink. But I got through it, and I'm still sane – I think!” - and he pulled a comic face to make Jason smile.
“Did you tell the therapist you're gay?”
“No. Like I said, you're the first. When I went to the shrink I was still working it out. I didn't put it into words, even in my head until near the end of my time in therapy.”
“Well,” said Kieran, “I think you are a very brave man. It must take enormous courage to travel that path of, er, self discovery. Well done!”
They took him all the way home to save him the trouble of the train journey. He lived forty miles away, one reason why he hadn't been visiting his wife's grave regularly, and had given up driving a car on doctor's advice since his arthritis had got bad. They exchanged phone numbers and took turns giving the old man a goodbye hug. Kieran drove off with a real sense that something significant had happened in their lives.
The following Sunday, on Jason's suggestion, they invited Mr Edwards over for Sunday lunch, and they got into the habit over the next months of having him over the first Sunday of each month. They researched and found a social group for older gay men who held regular coffee mornings and occasional Sunday walks or theatre visits, and he joined in enthusiastically. It was a revelation to him that there were other gay men who'd married and lived a straight life. He made friends with several, and began to enjoy a new lease of life with his new friends. He got his car out and found that the medication he was on was working well enough to enable him to drive. His doctor after a little persuasion agreed.
George Edwards, it turned out, had no near relatives, his wife had been an only child and his brother had died leaving him a nephew and two nieces, none of whom lived near. George took to attending Jason's soccer games and cheering him on from the sidelines. After one such game, Jason was chatting with other players in the changing room, about history homework. One boy claimed that in the second world war women weren't allowed buttons on their dresses, and they had to fasten their clothes with velcro. Another said that was ridiculous because velcro wasn't invented then. The first boy named his older brother as authority, and Jason stepped in to forestall a possible argument.
“I'll ask my grandad. He knows everything!” - and he grabbed his sportsbag and headed out to the car park where Mr Edwards was waiting to give him a lift home.
“Grandad, is it true in the war women weren't allowed buttons and had to use velcro instead?”
A small group of boys gathered around to hear the answer. Mr Edwards took it all in, including the use of 'grandad' and smiled.
“Well, it's partly true. The government wanted to save material for the soldiers, so clothing manufacturers weren't allowed to make dresses with un-necessary extra decoration. Only as many buttons as strictly necessary, and no extra frills, ribbons, and such like. But velcro, no – that's a recent invention, I think.”
Honour satisfied, the group disbanded, and Jason got in Mr Edwards' car, happy. He wasn't completely unaware that he had called the man driving him home Grandad, although it had been an unconscious slip of the tongue at the time. As Mr Edwards pulled away out of the car park he glanced across at his passenger and found he met his eye. The two shared a smile and Jason settled back into his seat with a smile on his face.
Grandad Edwards settled comfortably into his new role. Charlie and Kieran took Jason's lead and began referring to him as such. He became a real asset to the family, filling in for the foster fathers when they needed help, such as the time both were prevented from attending Jason's school open day and he went in their place. Jason grew to love his ersatz grandad. Perhaps it reinforced his view that his family of two foster fathers and now an adoptive grandfather too, was just as valid as the family of any of his school friends. And who could disagree with him?
© Bruin Fisher January 2012