It was gone two in the afternoon when Tim finally untangled himself from Krit’s limbs and made his way to their small kitchen to make some coffee. The smell of the brew must have woken Krit up, as he joined Tim shortly after.
“So,” Tim asked, “what have you decided?”
“I can’t decide about your grandfather; that’s up to you,” Krit responded.
“I was not talking about grandfather. I was on about what you said after you finished fucking me, about giving up on clinical practice. Why do you want to give up? I thought you liked being a doctor.”
“I do, but there is more to medicine than just treating the sick. There is a whole research side to it, and that is where my interest is. If I stick in clinical practice, I will need to do at least another four years in training and then would have to retrain to move into research. Going directly into research cuts that out.
“All right, this way I will not be able practice in a clinical environment without supervision but that is not where I see myself working, at least in the long term. If I can find a research position in medical imaging I would be very tempted to go for it and cut the clinical route.”
“So you are going to go for research, right?” Tim asked.
“Probably, if the option arises, though there is nothing on the cards at the moment,” Krit replied. “So now I’ve answered your question. What about the invitation from your grandfather, are we going to go?”
“I don’t know,” Tim responded. “I was always close to Granddad but after Dad threw us out it seemed as if he had cut us off. That upset me. I’m not sure that I have got over that yet.” He poured two cups of coffee and brought them over to the table where Krit was sitting, placing one in front of Krit.
“Tim, your grandfather’s explained that. It looks as if your father told the family a pile of lies. Don’t you think this might be a good time to try and build some bridges? The reception you get might surprise you from what Joan said. You know she told us how upset he was when he found out the truth.”
“I know, but if I am going to build bridges with my grandfather, you are going to have to be with me. Do you really want to go to Sheffield? It’s no tourist centre, just a northern industrial city.”
“Actually,” Krit commented, “I would not mind going to Sheffield later this year. There is a conference on medical imaging there. It would be a good excuse for me to go over.”
“All right,” Tim conceded without too much of an effort, “I’ll call him and tell him we will go over there.” With that he moved into the living room, switched on the computer and brought up Skype. He checked the time and worked out that it was about eight in the morning in England, so, confident he would get his grandfather, he dialled the number. It rang out until it was eventually answered by an answering machine. Tim left a message and wondered where his grandfather could be at eight on a Saturday morning.
* * * * *
Mark was just having breakfast over in Walsall at the O’Mally’s and looking out at the weather, wondering if it would hold. In contrast with the last few days Saturday was bright and sunny with no sign of the showers that had been so prevalent since Easter, which was a good job since Terry had planned a barbecue for the afternoon. Once Thomas had opened the pile of cards that had arrived in the morning's post, he and Connor had gone out to sweep the patio and tidy up the garden before any guests arrived.
Not that there were that many guests, as Thomas hardly knew anybody. There were a couple of boys from his school, but Mark got the distinct impression that they were more Connor’s friends than Thomas’s, and a couple of the neighbours’ kids plus their parents. Mark, of course, was there, profoundly apologising to both Thomas and the O’Mallys about Joan, who despite her assurances that she would be coming had still not arrived at two-thirty, although the party had started an hour earlier. Mark had received a text saying that she had been delayed, but it had given no explanation as to why the delay had occurred.
Thomas had received some nice presents. The O’Mallys had given him the book he had asked for and some Amazon gift vouchers as well as a Rotring Isographic pen set. Connor had given him a Rotring drawing board to go with the pen set, though Thomas kidded him that the only reason he had got that was so Connor could borrow it for doing his architectural drawings. Connor was already talking about becoming an architect.
Mark’s present to Thomas was a decent waterproof sports watch and a couple of BBC Boxed DVDs sets that he knew Thomas liked from watching his versions. Most of the other guests brought him gift vouchers of one sort or another.
The gifts had been given out and cake cut and consumed when the doorbell rang. Mary went to open it to find Joan standing on the step. “Sorry I’m late Mary. As usual, things took longer to sort out than one expects. Where’s the birthday boy?”
“Out back with Connor and his mates burning the last of the hamburgers on the grill. Why men think they can cook on a barbecue escapes me?”
“It’s because we tell them they can, so we don’t have to deal with all the mess of cleaning up the barbecue,” Joan commented in a slightly conspiratorial tone. Mary laughed, then led her through to the patio.
“Hi, Thomas, and happy birthday,” she called as she stepped out onto the patio, the boy looked up from the barbeque, where a row of hamburgers were in the process of being turned to charcoal.
“Thanks, Joan, glad you could make it.”
“So am I, but I need you and Connor to help me.”
“To get your birthday present out of the back of my car.” Thomas looked at her, bemused for a moment, then turned to Connor.
“Come on, Connor, let’s see what she’s got me that needs two of us.” The trio, followed by Mark, Mary, and Terry plus a couple of Connor’s mates, went through the house to the front drive where Mary had parked her Range Rover next to Mark’s Eagle E-type. Mary went across and opened the tailgate. “Look, Thomas, it’s not new, but I thought you could do with this for getting to school.” Thomas stood in amazement looking into the rear of the Range Rover.
Connor gave him a shove, “Come on, Tommy, let’s get it out.” The two boys reached into the Range Rover and pulled out a Boardman Hybrid bike.
“Is it OK for you?” Joan asked.
“OK? It’s bloody fantastic; this is one of the best bikes around.” He left Connor holding the bike for a moment and gave Joan a hug.
“Good, but you better check it over well. It’s not new, it’s ex-demo, so I got it cheap.”
The boys wheeled the bike, with their mates following, round the side of the house to the garage, where Connor kept his bike and his tools. It was nearly an hour, during which the other guests, including Connor’s mates, had departed, before Thomas and Connor emerged and asked if it was OK for them to go for a ride. Terry said it was OK, but they had to be back before six.
“If you are going to ride, you will need this,” Joan said, reaching into the bag she had brought in with her and pulling out a cycling helmet.
“Oh, good,” Terry commented. “I was going to tell him to take mine but it might have been a bit big for him.”
“Bloody too big by a mile,” commented Mary. Terry ignored the implication of the comment.
After the boys had left for their ride, Mary stated that Joan really should not have bought Thomas the bike, they had been planning on getting him one in a few weeks.
“I know. Dad told me, but he really did need one for school, and I got a good deal on it. It’s surprising what firms will do if they think that they may get a mention in a leading author’s next book,” Joan stated with a smile. Mark was puzzled, Joan’s books were set in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; how someone involved with bikes could expect a mention in a book set in those periods escaped him.
* * * * *
It had gone six before Mark and Joan left the O’Mallys. Joan had insisted that she help Mary with the clear up. They both made it clear to Terry that cleaning the barbeque was a man’s job. The boys had both gone off for a bike ride, promising they would be back by eight, so Mark ended up assisting Terry with the cleaning and dismantling of the barbeque.
Once Mark and Joan had left, Mary collapsed into a chair in the living room and let out a sigh of relief.
“What’s up, luv?” Terry asked.
“Oh, nothing, just glad to sit down. It’s been a pretty busy couple of days, not to say stressful.”
“You’re not regretting taking Thomas in, are you?” Terry enquired, a note of concern in his voice.
“No,” Mary responded, “he’s a lovely boy and having him here has been so good for Connor; he’s stopped moping around all the time. Though I would feel a bit better if Thomas was more normal with us.”
“What do you mean, more normal?”
“If he’d ask for what he wants, like other boys his age do. We all knew he needed a bike but he would not ask for it. It’s as if he feels he is not part of the family and has no rights here.”
“I suppose, from his point of view, Mary, that is the case. He does feel something like an interloper. He’s only been here a few weeks, let the boy get his feet. He needs to realise that he is part of the family and that we care for him. That’s going to take time.”
“I know, luv, I just worry that with Mark Wainwright and his millions, not to mention Joan, they’re there to give him stuff he might never feel like asking for from us. And how is Connor going to feel with Thomas getting all the good stuff? They’re so happy together. I do not want anything getting between them, and Thomas being spoilt by Mark is the sort of thing that could build up envy in Connor. I just don’t know what to do about it, Terry.”
“On that point I do not think you need to worry. Mark spoke to me about the boys yesterday, whilst we were waiting for Thomas, after I had told him about Frank. He said that he intended to make sure he treated both boys the same, otherwise it would be unfair. I know he is giving Connor the same type of watch as he gave Thomas when it’s Connor’s birthday.”
“I hope he does, and if he does that is one problem out of the way,” Mary commented.
“So, there is something else then?” Mark observed.
“Yes. Paula Tonks, the Head of Mathematics at Millbank, phoned this morning.” Terry nodded. Millbank was the comprehensive school over by Lichfield where Mary had been doing some part-time supply teaching for the last few weeks. “She just heard the teacher I’m covering for is not coming back. There is a fulltime post going and Paula suggested I should apply for it.”
“Well,” Terry commented, “you’ve been saying that you wanted to get back into teaching and Shelly starts comp. in September so now is as good time as any. I’d say you should go for it.”
“The problem is that Millbank is in Staffordshire, not West Midlands. The school holidays will not be in line with what Shelly and the boys have.”
“Christ, Mary, is that all you’re worried about. What’s the difference going to be, a couple of days, worse case a week? The kids are old enough to look after themselves now, or should be by September. If it comes to a push, I can always take a few days’ leave. The way this job is going I should have plenty of time in lieu built up by then.”
“You know, with the promotion and transfer, I thought I would see more of you, but I think I’m seeing less,” Mary stated.
“It’s the old story: new boy gets dumped with the shit cases. Hopefully it should get easier over the next few months as I settle in.”
“I do hope so,” Mary replied.
* * * * *
Mark was surprised to find that Joan had got back to Sheffield before him. Yes, she had left the O’Mallys before him, but not by more than ten minutes. Yet by the signs of things, like the already empty coffee cup, she must have been home for at least half an hour.
“There’s still some coffee in the pot,” she stated as he walked into the kitchen, “and it should still be drinkable.”
“And there is a message on the answerphone,” she added.
“Dad, I don’t know. I didn’t play it; it’s your phone.” Mark went through to the lounge. The light on the phone was flashing red. He picked up the hand set and pressed the play button.”
“Hi, Grandad,” the voice on the recorded message announced. “Just calling to let you know, Krit and me will come over to see you but can’t give you a date yet. It will be sometime late in the year.” The message ended with an announcement that he could replay it, delete it or save it.
He walked back into the kitchen, smiling.
“I gather it was good news then,” Joan commented.
“Yes,” Mark replied, “Tim and Krit are coming over.”
“Don’t know, they’ve got to sort a date out, but they are coming.”
“Good,” Joan stated.
“There is one thing, Joan, I would like to know about today,” Mark stated.
“Just how did you manage to come across an almost brand new bike for Thomas?”
“Dad, I may be a successful author now but you forget that I used to work in advertising. Halfords were one of my clients, and I have kept in contact with a couple of people there. When I explained what I was looking for they were very helpful.”
“Wait a moment, Joan, just how used was used? That bike looked pretty new to me?”
“Oh, it had been used.”
“Yes but how much?”
“Well it had been ridden across the set a couple of times.”
“So, effectively it was a new bike,” Mark commented. “Don’t you think Thomas will realise that and then start to feel guilty about it?”
“No, he won’t. I got Jimmy to loosen a few things so it looks as if it has been ridden and not cared for.”
“That was a bit risky wasn’t it? Thomas could have gone off on it and had an accident.”
“Dad! That’s why I told him to check it over. Remember you told me that Thomas took good care of his bike according to Terry. Jimmy said that Thomas would be able to fix it in half an hour, I am impressed the boys took an hour. They must have gone over it at least twice.”
“Joan, don’t you think it was a bit much, spending that much money on Thomas?”
“Dad, what makes you think I spent that much money? Just how much did you spend on Thomas? Anyway, I might as well spoil Thomas and Connor – don’t think my pair of offspring are likely to give me grandchildren while I am still in a fit state to enjoy them, so, like you, I’ve decided to adopt a couple. Anyway, somehow Thomas feels like family.”
* * * * *
The following day Thomas phoned Mark to thank him again for the watch and asked to speak to Joan to thank her again for the bike. That was followed up by a letter of thanks to both of them. It was nearly a fortnight before Mark heard from him again, though, which in itself was worrying as Thomas normally phoned Mark quite regularly. This time the boy sounded a bit down and they spent nearly an hour on the phone talking about a lot of things in general but nothing in particular.
In the end Thomas admitted he was feeling a bit low and they agreed to meet up at the Arboretum in Walsall the following Saturday. Thomas said he would prefer not to worry Mary or Terry and that Connor now had a Saturday job so would not be around during the day.
Saturday morning Mark arrived at the Arboretum a good half hour before the time he had arranged to meet up with Thomas. He was, therefore, a bit surprised to find the boy waiting at the agreed meeting place. They sat and talked for a better part of an hour, as Thomas explained how he felt. He said he had always suspected that his father was not telling the truth when he said his mother had run off with another bloke. Now that he knew the truth, he was feeling guilty that he had not done anything about it. Maybe if he had, they could have found his mother in time.
“Look, Thomas, how old were you when your mother went missing?” Mark asked.
“I’d just turned eight.”
“When did you learn about your father’s place on the moors?”
“That was when I was twelve.”
“So, Thomas, you could not have told anybody about it when it would have made any difference because you hadn’t known about the place then, so there was nothing you could have done for your mother.”
“I know that, but I still feel that I should have done something,” Thomas stated.
“I know the feeling, but there was nothing you could have done. What you need to think about is that your mother did not desert you. She loved you and would, if it had been possible, have been there for you. I know she was planning on taking you away with her.”
“So it’s true she was planning to leave Dad?”
“Yes, she was, but that’s not why your father killed her. It seemed she had found out about his business activities up on the moors, and he was afraid she might go to the police, which she probably would have done.
“That’s why he attacked you—not because you’re gay, though that probably didn’t help, but because you knew about the place on the moors. He saw you as a threat to his activities. Just because you’re gay does not mean that any attack on you is because you are gay.
“By the way, how did you know about the place?”
“Oh, Dad had taken me to Blackpool for my birthday. I think he thought I was asleep, because we stopped there. Actually I had been asleep but I woke up when he slowed the car down. He got out and went into the barn, and whilst he was in there I looked around and saw the sign post for the village. That’s how I knew where it was. When I saw Dad coming back, I pretended to be asleep. He had a whole wad of money and sat in the car counting it for a bit before he drove off. I must have fallen back to sleep because the next thing we were home.
“A couple of times after that, when he had visitors, I heard people mention his place on the moors, so put two and two together. When Dad referred to it he always called it the camp site. That’s why I thought Connor and I could go camping there.”
“That,” Mark commented, “explains a lot. It also shows there was no reason for you to connect that place with your mother. Though I know you still feel bad about it, don’t you?”
“Yes, I do, and I can’t stop feeling what I said, that I should have done something.”
“It’s called survivor syndrome. That’s when those left behind feel guilty because they survived. I know what it feels like,” Mark stated.
“Because you felt it over Ian?” Thomas asked.
“Not just felt I still feel it from time to time. It is something I have had to learn to live with. You don’t need to learn how to cope with it by yourself. You can get help, you know.”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Would you mind if I tell Terry and Mary how you’re feeling and suggest to them that they get you into counselling?”
“If you think it would help, yes, tell them. I don’t like feeling like this and I know Connor is worried about me, and I hate worrying him.”
“OK, I’ll drive over there now. If they say anything I’ll say that I was in Birmingham on business so had agreed to meet up with you. Don’t want them thinking I came all the way over just to meet you. They might not like that — they might think I’m interfering in things.
“What are you going to do now?”
“Oh, I’m going to go to the library to do some work for a science project.”
Mark drove up the Broadway to the O’Mallys’, finding both Terry and Mary in. He explained briefly that Thomas had called him and they had met up and spoken.
“Oh, good,” Mary stated, “I was getting worried about him. He’s not opened up to any of us.”
“I don’t think he wants to worry you. He thinks he’s putting enough burden on you without his problems,” Mark said.
“I can understand why he would think that but hope he gets over it soon,” Terry commented.
Mark went on to explain what Thomas had told him and suggested that they should get him into counselling. Both the O’Mallys agreed, and Mary said she would get onto it right away. One of her friends from university was a child psychologist, and she was sure that she would be able to recommend somebody.
A few days later Thomas phoned Mark to tell him he had started counselling and he thought it would help him. “It’s just nice to talk to somebody who is outside it all,” he said. Mark could only agree with him. He just wished he could talk to somebody. Things he was hearing about the company were upsetting him.
After that, things settled into something of a routine. Thomas would phone Mark a couple of times a week and at least once a month Mark would go over to Walsall. He always had some excuse to be in the area and say he was just popping in on his way past, but he made sure he saw Thomas at least every three to four weeks. Mary and Terry also got into the habit of dropping Thomas off with Mark when they went to visits Terry’s parents. Thomas told Mark he found it a bit embarrassing to go to Connor’s grandparents as they did not seem to know how to treat him—a fact Mary confirmed.
“It was not helped,” she stated, “by the way Connor introduced him.”
“Why?” asked Mark, “What did he say?”
“Hi, Granddad, Grandma, this is Thomas, my boyfriend. He’s living with us now.”
“A perfectly accurate if somewhat blunt statement of things.”
“Yes, but they are an elderly pair and live in another age.”
“Mary,” Mark stated rather sharply, “Terry’s father is at least five years younger than me. He was one of the first apprentices who worked with me after I qualified.”
“You do surprise me. I would have thought he was a lot older than you, but then you never seem that old.”
One time when they had dropped Thomas off with Mark, the boy said he envied Connor having grandparents, that he missed his. Mark pointed out that Thomas had him.
“But you’re not as old as them; you’re more like an uncle.”
“A favourite one, I hope?”
“Definitely, since you’re the only one, at least the only one I have contact with. My real family don’t want anything to do with me.” Thomas stated.
“More fools them,” Mark responded.
Thomas also came to stay with Mark at the end of the August holidays. The O’Mallys had arranged to go to northern Spain for ten days. A friend of Terry’s had a villa in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Unfortunately, because the placement of Thomas with them was still technically a trial placement, it had not been possible to sort out a passport for Thomas, so he could not go with them. In the end they had talked about cancelling the holiday but Thomas phoned Mark and asked if he could stay with him for the ten days.
Even then things were not straightforward, for once it had been agreed that Thomas would stay with Mark for the ten days the O’Mallys were in Spain, Connor said if Thomas was not going, he did not want to go. This time Mary put her foot down and said he had to go, if only to keep an eye on his sister whilst they went clubbing at night. A statement which caused Connor to roll his eyes.
After officially moving back home once the divorce papers were served, Joan was now using Mark’s house as her base. Not that she was around much, going off for up to six weeks at a time to do book-signing tours in the States or lecture tours in Australasia, when she was not joining her friend Richard in some far-off location. Mark had finally got a first name out of her, but as yet no details as to who her new friend was. Although she was not home all that often, she made a point to ask about Thomas and a couple of times when she was near Walsall she had called in to see him.
That Joan was favourably disposed to Thomas in particular and to both the boys in general came in useful at the autumn half-term. With her youngest child Shelly having started secondary school in the September, Mary had taken the fulltime job at Millbank School. Unfortunately, that meant she was not going to be around in the day during the holiday because the district she taught in had different half term dates. For Shelly this was not a problem: she was booked in at the riding school all day and every day of the break. However, for Connor and Thomas, there was no one, and Mary was a bit loath to leave them alone for the whole break given that they still did not really know the area to which they had recently moved.It was Joan who came up with an answer. She had the use of a “writer’s cottage” down in Cornwall when she wanted it and decided that she might as well make use of it, and her father and the boys could come down with her. The four of them spent an enjoyable ten days touring Cornwall in a late Indian summer of glorious weather. The boys even managed to go surfing a couple of days, though they could not persuade Mark or Joan to go into the water.
Copyright © 2016 Nigel Gordon — All rights reserved.