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Jimmy the Love-Virus.
By John T. S. Teller.
Monday. 7th September. James Turner’s first day at College.
“Have you got everything, James?”
He glares at me. “You’re as bad as my mum, fussing. I’m in a bad mood as it is, without you making it worse. Just sod off!”
I do, and sit at my computer. When he’s ready, he has to come to me, which he does, and puts his arms around my neck. I look up at him, and smile. “Dare I ask if you’ve got your phone?”
He grins, and plants a long, passionate kiss on my lips. “Will you be ok?”
“Not really, but we’ve got to get used to this stuff. It’s a hard knock life. Text me as often as you can. Behave yourself, and don’t get head butting anyone. I love you more than anything in the world.”
I get another smiling kiss for that, and he turns and walks through the door. The house feels empty the moment the door closes behind him. I find that strange, because, normally, he comes and goes at his will, and it doesn’t bother me at all. But this is a defining moment in his life. My Jimmy is growing up, and the next five years will determine his future, and, hopefully, mine, too. So, the reason I’m feeling that the house without him is strange, isn’t because he’s walked through the door; it’s because he’s beginning a new chapter in his life: in our lives. I hope it’s more successful than those preceding it. Beep. Beep. Diddly dah do dah.
VIRUS: Just got on bus with Sam. XXX
That makes me laugh, and I don’t answer it. I can feel his sense of humour, and I know the rest of the day will be the same. I’m right. Thirty minutes later. Beep. Beep. Diddly dah do dah.
VIRUS: Just got off bus with Sam. XXX
And so it goes on throughout the day.
VIRUS: Just goin in. XXX
VIRUS: Goin 4 a pee. XXX
VIRUS: Dinner now. Fries haha and burger. XXX
VIRUS: U not spkng 2 me? XXX
Me: LOL. Listening. Carry on. XXX
VIRUS: Sam got date already. LOL XXX
VIRUS: Nuther pee. Getting hungry. XXX
Me: Wot u want 4 dinner? XXX
VIRUS: U. XXX
Me: LOL. U want go out? XXX
VIRUS: Nah. U then Pizza. In that order. XXX
VIRUS: Getting on bus now. XXX
Virus: Off bus now. XXX
And then I hear the front door open and close. I’m at the PC, and Jimmy comes directly to me, grabs my hand, and drags me to the sofa. His kiss is a hurtful one of breathless ardour and lust and murmured, hoarse whispers of love. I’ve got no chance, so I surrender to his urgency… and to my own needs. Only when we replete our pressing desires, does he fall back onto the sofa with a massive grin on his face. “Have you ordered the pizza? I’m bloody starving.”
After he’s spoken to his mother for half an hour, and after we’ve eaten, we sit on the sofa and pour through documents, and go over the criteria his next year demands of him. He teases me about the number of good-looking guys at college, and even suggests he might bring a couple home for dinner. I counter that by asking him to let me know when it’s happening, and I’ll make a date with David and stay overnight with him. He counters that by asking me to guess who’s at college with him. I beat him again by guessing that Ginger Bowler is there. He asks how I worked that out. I tell him: lateral thought. I suggest we play a game of word association. He’s intrigued. I go first. “Sex?”
“David. (I get a thump.) Money?”
“Rob. (Now we’re both giggling.) Dildo?”
“David. (Another thump… harder this time, and I’m laughing so much that I can hardly ask the question.) Berlin?”
“Fuck! Can I come to Berlin with you?”
“Nope. This is business, and we need to keep it apart from us. I go away, do my job, and come back to you. On this occasion, because I don’t want you fretting, and because I’ve then got to go and spend almost a week in Italy afterwards, we’re meeting in Kracow, and we’ll spend a few days there. One day, the shoe may be on the other foot, and then I’ll have to suck the mop.”
“I don’t need all them bloody idioms. Can I ask mum if she’ll come and stay with me until I come out to you?”
“Idioms! Mmmm, they are learning you well at College. It wasn’t so long ago that you couldn’t spell courage. Of course you can ask your mum to stay. Sam as well, if you want to.”
“No! Not my mum; our mum; your mum!”
That shocks me, and I stare at him. “Are you serious?”
“Of course I’m bloody serious. Are you thick? We share you. We both love you. It’s what we’ve got in common, and I want her to be part of us. Up to yet, she’s had her nose pushed out. I want to get to know her better, and I’m pretty sure she feels the same way. Well?”
“Do you want me to ask her?”
“No! I can ask her. I don’t need you to do my asking.”
I shrug my shoulders, pull a funny face, and nod.
“Right, I’ll do it now.”
The telephone conversation.
“Hi Mum. It’s Jimmy here. Rob is off to Europe on Sunday for almost a week, and then I go there and spend three days with him, and then he’s going to Italy for a week without me. I was wondering if you’d do me a favour and come and stay with me until I go out to him on Friday. Or you can stay for two weeks if you want, and then I’ll have you here when I get back from Poland. I’ll be at college in the daytime, but we can spend some time together in the evenings. I’d love it if you could come and stay.”
“That’s lovely of you James. Of course I will, but it will only be for the first week, because I’ve arranged to spend the second week with Aunt Susan. Is it ok with Robert? Have you asked him?”
“Yes. It’s not a problem to him, and he’d be in big trouble if it were. I’d love to spend some time with you, without him pushing his snout in stuff.”
Mum laughs. “I said you were special. I was right. What time does he leave?”
“He flies out Sunday afternoon. How about you come down Sunday morning, and then we can get rid of him together. Then we can go out for an Italian on Sunday night. There’s a smashing place in town. You’ll love it.”
“Right, I’ll drive down Sunday morning, and we’ll get rid of him together. That should be fun.”
“Super. Do you want a word with him now, before he gets on that computer again?”
“Yes, please, James. If he’s got time, that is.”
“He’ll make time for his mum, or he’ll be in trouble with me. I’ll speak to you later in the week, mum. You take care now. Love you.”
“Love you, too, James. Bye now.”
End of the telephone conversation.
Jimmy hands me the phone with a smug grin on his face. I take it, and speak to mum. “Hi, mum, how are you?”
Mum laughs. “I feel a lot better now James has phoned me. What a wonderful young man he is.”
I laugh. “I’m saying nothing. I daren’t. He’s got quite a temper on him, so I have to be careful what I say. What time will you be here?”
“Well, if I set off at about nine, I should be with you somewhere between eleven and eleven thirty. Will that be ok? It’s not too early?”
“No, mum. That’s fine. We’ll have lunch together, and then Akhtar can take me to the airport. The flight is at six from Birmingham, so I’ll need to leave here about three’ish. Can I get you anything in?”
“No. James and I will be eating out Sunday evening, so we’ll manage. You run along and do your business, and James and I will do our own thing. I’ll let you get on with it now. Goodnight, son. Love you.”
“Goodnight, mum. Love you, too. See you Sunday.”
Jimmy’s in the kitchen with his back to me, making coffee, when I go to him, put my arms around his shoulders, and rub the side of his face with mine. He turns, puts his arms around my neck, and pulls me down to him. While we stare into each other’s eyes, our lips craft their own duet of love, gentle and spiritual, and so wonderful that I switch off the percolator without breaking the kiss, because I know we both want it to be never-ending. This is what we are. Coffee can wait.
Gianno takes our coats and leads us to a reserved table for two. I’ve come to love this place: the ambience, the great personal service, and soft lights and easy background music. Evanescence singing ‘You’ is playing now. Rob’s mum, Helen, looks at me and smiles. I smile back. During the meal, we share a number of intimate moments. Some are unspoken: simple meetings of our eyes. Our deep love of her son is the catalyst of our affection for each other; that, and the certain knowledge that we have clicked since the first time we met; and, during the meal, we chat and smile and laugh and giggle. Helen is special to me now, not only because she’s a lovely person, but because I can see in her many of the traits of the man I love so deeply. Talk is easy. Very few questions: mostly both of us revealing things about each other, and when we get back home, she selects and plays some gentle music from Rob’s collection, and we retire to the sofa to talk some more. Eventually, we’re both tired, and go to bed. I set my own ground rules. No sex while Mum is in the house. And no Debbie either: she’s having a few days off.
I’m ready for college. Helen comes to the door, fusses that I’ve got everything, gives me a hug, tells me to do my best, and waves me away. When I come home, she’s listening to the radio, and crocheting. Dinner will be ready in an hour, she says. I shower and change, and when I come down, a wonderful smell is coming from the kitchen. Lobby, she calls it – an old Staffordshire recipe for stew that is very similar to Lancashire Hotpot – and which she got from her grandmother. And crusty bread. This is home-made at its best. I can’t help it; I pig myself, and she laughs a twinkling laugh when I sit back, full to overflowing, and thank her.
Rob rings at eight, and we spend a full hour talking to him. I have some research to do on the computer, so she gets out the crocheting again, and sits silently and patiently, weaving her colours into the fabric. When I’ve finished and printed out my work, she asks if she could meet my mum. That sets me back slightly. Mum and Helen are chalk and cheese. I’d chatted to mum about Helen while I was at college, and she’d not mentioned wanting to meet her. I wasn’t sure whether she was jealous, or just didn’t want to poke her nose in. The matter is taken out of my hands when Helen insists I give her mum’s mobile number so she can ‘have a chat tomorrow’.
I get off the bus and give Sam a thump. He grins, and we part, and I saunter along Willow Row and go into the house, dump my bag by the PC, and go into the kitchen. Helen and mum are sitting at the dining table, enjoying a cup of tea. I grin at both of them. “Now I know why my ears have been burning.”
Mum grins. “It’s a wonder they’re not on fire. Helen and I have sorted you out big style.”
I’m not at ease during the meal we share, and then mum leaves at seven-thirty to do a late shift at Tesco’s. I’m just about to switch on the PC, when Helen tells me to sit on the sofa with her. This is embarrassing, and I’m cursing mum inwardly for intruding. I do as Helen asks, and she takes my hand.
“James, I’m sorry if I’ve upset you by inviting your mum to dinner, but it was something that needed to be done, just as it was important that you and I were honest with each other. And I’m going to be honest with you and tell you that Paula has told me everything about you. Nothing she’s told me has changed the way I feel about you. As a matter of fact, I’m immensely proud of you. It’s not been easy for you, and yet you’ve overcome everything that life has thrown at you. You really are a very special young man, and I think my Rob is the lucky one. Are you angry with me?”
I shake my head, and smile. “No. I’m a bit embarrassed, though. My past isn’t anything to brag about, and my family aren’t the ideal family to get involved with.”
“Well, I must admit that I have no time for your father, but I think your mum is wonderful, and a very special lady. She and I are going to get along fine. When she’s settled into her new house, I’ll be popping over to spend some time with her, and she can come and spend some time at my place. You won’t mind that, will you?”
I shake my head again. “No. I’m relieved that you two get on so well. I didn’t think you would.”
“Why is that James?”
“You’re from two different worlds.”
“And you and Robert are not?”
I grin. The logic hits home. “I see your point. I’m pleased, really. It’s another hurdle over. Has Rob telephoned?”
“Not yet. But he will. You can have him first tonight.”
We speak to Rob, and when it’s done, I’m very reflective. Helen asks why. I’m nervous as hell when I answer her, because I’m intending to betray the person I love most in the world. While mum was here with us, and all the time since, and because I can see my extended family growing, and because I now know that nothing of what I was or am is now a secret from Helen, I’m thinking it’s terribly unfair for this beautiful, understanding woman, who I now love very much, to be denied something that could be so precious to her, and help make her life so much better. I don’t have the right to do that, and I don’t think anyone else does either, and I take her hand and look deeply into her eyes when I speak, as we sit on the sofa together.
“Have you ever wanted grandchildren, mum?”
She smiles. “Of course I have, but if you think I’m going to be sorry for myself, because it’s very probably out the question now, then you’d be wrong.”
“What if I was to tell you that you’ve already got one? (She looks at me, puzzled by my comment.) Please, whatever you do, don’t ever tell Robert that I’ve told you, because I can pretty much be sure that will be the end of us. But I’ve been thinking. Nobody, not even Rob, can deny you something so important. I know why he hasn’t told you before, but I think it’s important that you know. He had a child by a woman when he was twenty, and he’s your grandson.”
I tell Helen everything I know, and even about the will Rob has made, and then, with my head down, I wait, ashamed that I’ve betrayed Rob.
Helen puts her arms around me, and hugs me tightly. “Thank you, James. I promise you faithfully that I’ll never reveal a word you’ve said. I understand the consequences as well as you, but what you’ve done is the most beautiful thing anyone could ever do. I can’t thank you enough for your honesty. Can I ask you a question? (I nod.) Why did you tell me?”
I look at her. “Because nobody has the right to keep that from you. Not even Rob; and if he does find out and chucks me out, I’ll accept that; but I know I won’t have been wrong to tell you. Are you angry with Rob for not telling you?”
She shakes her head. “Not at all. I don’t own Robert. He’s my son, and he has a life of his own. I’m sure there are many more secrets he hasn’t told me about; you, too, no matter how close you are. I know why he hasn’t told me; it’s because he thought I would have wanted to be involved with my grandson. But Robert would have been wrong. I’d have felt very sad that I wasn’t involved in my own grandchild’s life, but, like you, I would have accepted it, and respected Robert’s right to keep things as they are. I happen to think he’s right: Benjamin’s happiness is more important than ours. So, although I know you’re going to feel guilt all your life for breaking a confidence, this is one of those very rare occasions where you were right to do so. But only you and I know you’ve broken it, and I think we can live with that, don’t you?”
“I can live with it as long as I’ve done right by you. How are you feeling now I’ve told you?”
Helen smiles at me. “I’m feeling on top of the world, not only because I’ve discovered I’ve got a grandson, but also because I’ve got someone in my life that I’ve come to love very much. If Robert had searched all his life, he couldn’t have found a partner, man or woman, whom I could have such deep feelings for. I really do love you, James.”
I smile at her. “And I love you. I really do. Would you like to see some photos of Benjamin?”
Helen looks at me, astounded. “We’ve got photos?”
I laugh. “Yes. He’s beautiful. Shall I get them?”
Helen laughs. “Go and get them! Quick.”
I run upstairs and bring down Rob’s secret folder, and we pour over the photographs of Benjamin. Helen refuses to read the letters because ‘Those are none of my business’. I’m glad she did that, because the letters were part of my guilt. And after we’ve spent an hour looking at the photos and talking about Benjamin, I copy every single one of them on the scanner/printer, and she tucks them into her crochet bag: her secret hiding place that nobody goes into.
When I go to bed, I hold Rob’s pillow to me and sob deeply into it. The pillow is Rob. “Rob, I’m so sorry for betraying you. You know I wouldn’t have done it if wasn’t important, and I can’t think of anything more important than to leave your mum for the rest of her life feeling that she would have no grandchildren. It isn’t just you and I who matter in this world. When you changed your will, you spelled out my responsibilities to others. Well, my love, as you can see, I do take them seriously. Please forgive me, Rob. I will carry my betrayal to the grave, and that in itself is a burden I will happily bear, because I know I’ve done right.”
To be continued…
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