New story, Yay go me.
Wow, demands for me to release another story.
Ok here it is, same deal as with Carter, feed back is craved.
Submitted for your approval.
As usual Comments or questions direct to firstname.lastname@example.org. Feed back is welcome.
The sun never sets on the British Empire. Christopher North.
There are those that say the Devil chooses his servants; others say that they choose him. Scott Walker didn't know much about the Devil; after all he hardly felt as if he worked for him in any serious capacity. He was purely a victim of circumstances, the butt of some cosmic joke that had his existence as its punch line.
Scott could hardly say he believed in a Lord of Darkness, Prince of Lies and Master of the Underworld. He had heard all the stories in the church group he had been abandoned at every Sunday for the better part of his childhood. But to actually say that he believed in Satan would be the same as saying he believed in God, and he just wasn't ready to do that.
But as he stared out of the window of an airplane at 30,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean seeing the sunrise over the banks of clouds, it was hard to deny the possibility of God's existence. It was like the sky was bathed in radiance, turning everything golden, and there was a warmth, not from the tightly pressurized cabin with its climate control, but from within. It was like Scott realized that he wasn't on the ground; instead he was amidst the clouds, up in the heavens themselves.
Scott looked down at the letter, staring at the futile way of explaining his life to his father. An outpouring of emotions from a mind that hadn't slept in nearly forty-eight hours. He knew he should have tried to sleep, but Scott was in an airplane hurtling over the Atlantic and he was terrified that he might miss something. He couldn't understand the little old lady snoring from across the aisle; it was as if flying were something she took for granted.
Scott had flown once before, his first jump across the pond, dragged behind his father's lofty ideas that America was the place to start a bold new life. What a load of bull that had been; Scott was happily ending his time in Exile and he was going home. He had left as a child and was now returning as his own man.
The stewardess bent over the sleeping salesman beside Scott, and he looked up from his letter as she refilled his coffee cup. After stopping her virtually every ten minutes of the flight for a refill she had gained a pretty good idea of when his cup was empty, and without hesitation she always appeared to refill it. Scott appreciated her attentiveness; it made him feel special.
She gave him a warming smile as she nodded to the letter before him, "Do you need more paper, sir?"
Scott looked down and smiled again, "Probably," he admitted.
She nodded as she headed off again letting him focus on the letter once more. What was he trying to say to his father in that letter? He wasn't saying `I'm going home and you can't stop me!' though to be honest that was what Scott wanted to say to him. It was an eight-year bitterness welling up inside him; he had never wanted to leave in the first place, uproot his life for the promise of something better. That something had never appeared. He had been made to give up his family, friends, his entire culture on an empty promise. What had become of that promise after his father's new wife had divorced him? What had become of it after that great new job had turned out to be nothing more than a ticket to unemployment? Now his eldest son was abandoning the sinking ship, finally going home... after his own promise had failed to deliver.
Scott drank the coffee in a couple of swallows and bent back to the paper. It was nothing more than a summary of his life since he had moved out of his father's house and gone to university. Scott had felt so proud then, so accomplished; he had done it he had succeeded where his dad had failed. He had a chance for a better life... But he blew it. It wasn't that Scott lacked the intelligence to do well in university, but he had discovered life was more interesting to him than learning about things he felt he already knew and didn't care about. After the ninth week of not bothering to show up to class, Scott knew he was failing out, and promptly gave up entirely. He lived out the rest of his student loan and... and was now on a plane back to the only real home he had ever had: England.
Now, he had no idea what he was going to do once he got there. He was an unemployed: `uneducated loser on a one-way ticket to nowhere seeks room and board as well as a state-sanctioned food budget.' He had no plan, no money. The only thing he knew was that he had to get home, to get the hell away from the US of A and actually figure out what he wanted to do rather than what other people told him to do.
He liked that, so he wrote it down.
Well maybe he didn't phrase it quite so eloquently, but it was better than nothing.
The stewardess returned with more paper and Scott accepted it gratefully; she gave him a sympathetic smile as she glanced at all the sleeping people around him, "First time on a plane?"
"Nope," Scott replied as he scribbled more words on the paper, "going home actually."
"That's nice," she said in her rich English accent, "have you been abroad long?" She was being really sweet, flashing her teeth at him in a way that made Scott mildly uncertain of her attention. Was she hitting on him? If she was, he was in trouble; she was after all his lifeline to the coffee pot. Reject her and he would likely be cut off.
He decided the safest thing to do was play oblivious, always a good tactic in a situation like that. "Yeah," he gave her his warmest smile, "I've been away from home for about eight years."
"Were you at school?" she asked, adamant on starting a conversation with him.
He continued to smile patiently, wondering how she would react if he just came out and said he was gay, "Yeah, I was studying classics in Brooklyn."
She gave him a grin that showed all thirty-two of her perfectly polished white teeth, "Hi, I'm Stacey," she said, as she offered Scott her hand.
"Scott," he replied, setting his pen down so that he could shake her hand. He didn't want to get drawn into a conversation with her, that would imply incorrectly that he was interested, and he really wasn't. Sure she was pretty, but not what he was looking for. The trick was how to convince her of that without seeming like he was rejecting her. He never liked to just shoot a person down, that was cruel.
"So you're going home then?" she asked, continuing her conversation. "What part of England?"
"London," he lied effortlessly, really without thinking about it. It was instinct, especially when he didn't want to upset someone. Give them just enough of what they wanted so that they would leave happy.
She opened her mouth to continue, but the other stewardess at the front of the plane flashed her a dirty look for fraternizing with the passengers and she made her apologies and dashed away.
By the time the plane finally landed sometime the next morning, Scott had her telephone number in his pocket and an empty promise to call her. But that really didn't matter after he passed the first garbage can on his way towards the baggage claim area after an excruciating wait in line to have his passport stared at. He threw the number away in it along with the letter he had written his dad.
Scott was home, whatever that meant.
Now, Gatwick Airport is one of those places where the world connects to everywhere else. It is an intersection of cultures, lives, families and commerce. Scott, however, was simply looking for a way out of there as soon as possible. He had cash in his pocket, enough to get him to Eastbourne, but from there it was anyone's guess. Realistically he couldn't afford to take a cab home from the airport, and bussing would just take too long. And he wandered his way down to the train station at that point and reintroduced himself to the wonder that is British Rail. Connex South Central to be precise.
Scott had been subjected to the travesty of public transportation in England before he left, and hadn't experienced the blessed gift of privatization. He was shocked to discover that instead of making things better, it had made an already bad system even worse. The trains were still made up of the ancient carriages that had been around since his father's childhood, just a little worse for the wear after so many years. The reliability of the trains actually arriving on time was non-existent, and the hope that you would actually get to where you wanted to go, well that was left squarely in the hands of God. He sat in a first-class compartment; he shouldn't have done it, spent the extra money on train fare for the luxury of a door to his seating area, but he did. Scott was going home, though he hadn't had a shower yet, or a chance to change his clothes. He needed the chance to relax.
Scott realized quickly that his illusion of peace on the trip down to the coast was broken when a young woman about his own age wrestled her luggage into the same compartment. She gave him an apologetic smile as she fought to stow it above her. Ever the gentleman, Scott helped her, and as the train began to roll, they were soon engaged in a discussion.
She gave him the once-over as they sat across from each other. Scott didn't feel like anything remarkable, short dark-haired and dark-eyed with a goofy-looking grin that everyone thought was too cute. It only made him self-conscious, and he had to keep remembering not to grin every time he blushed. It only encouraged more cute comments. His clothes were rumpled and he had on his high school varsity jacket that he had earned playing soccer. It marked him like a giant neon sign saying "American" but he really didn't care. He'd earned his jacket through blood, sweat and tears and he wasn't about to get rid of it because he was back in England.
Scott didn't remember which of them had started the conversation, her or him, but they were soon conversing like old friends. Scott told her of his travels abroad, and Serena apparently was on her way home from Canada. She had been visiting her aunt. Her first real trip away from home on her own.
Scott had asked her where she was going, and when she had told him Halisham, Scott had been shocked, replying that was where he was from. She of course asked him what school, and when he countered with Grovelands Elementary, she naturally replied that she had gone there.
They sat in quiet awe at the way life plays out sometimes. Scott had travelled across the ocean twice, spent eight years in a country he had never wanted to go to in the first place, and there he was sitting on a train with someone he had been to elementary school with. The world was a shockingly small place.
Scott had apologized for his appearance; he felt like death reheated and he knew that he probably smelled like it too. Serena took it in her stride and countered that she wasn't too much better. Had Scott been straight he might have taken it as a sign from the Almighty to ask her out at that point. And he knew she had to be wondering why he hadn't, but Scott kept his head about him and steered the conversation back to school and how the country had changed since the last time he had been there.
When the train reluctantly wheezed its way into Polegate Station and they both debarked, Scott hefted his bags to catch a bus for the last leg of his journey. But Serena was having none of that; her mother had driven out to meet her, and Serena filled her in on Scott's situation and who he was. Her mother also gave him a once-over.
"Are you related to Rita Walker?" she asked in a matter-of-fact kind of tone.
Scott nodded, "I'm her grandson."
And that was that, Scott was being driven home. It turned out Serena's mother attended the same church as his gran and they knew each other well. Scott didn't argue; it saved him the money of a bus fare and a hefty hike with his bags on his back. So a few minutes later he was standing at the curb looking up at the brown brick semi-detached house he had spent his childhood living in. It was about halfway down Meadow Road, across from a large square patch of grass everyone called `the green.'
He was still thinking like an American, he chided himself as he hefted his backpack to his shoulders and gathered up his suitcase. He wasn't expected; he hadn't called ahead to let anyone know he was coming. Why he hadn't done that he didn't know; if he had been thinking... but the decision to leave university and come home had been a sudden one.
Scott took a deep, anxious breath as he rang the doorbell and set his bags down. Well that was it, the end of his journey. He was terrified, his heart beating in his chest as the door slowly cracked open.
"Yes?" the old woman asked as she stared at him through thick bifocals.
Scott felt jarred, there was the woman who had raised him from diapers, been a mother to him his entire life until his father had transplanted him. And she looked so old, the lines on her face were so deep now, and her hair that had once been a rich chestnut-brown was completely silver, but those eyes were still very much the same.
"Can I help you?" she asked in a voice that reminded Scott of when he was a little boy.
He worked his jaw a few times, before he finally managed, despite the emotions in his words, "It's me, Gran..."
She looked again, harder, as she tried to place who the short dark-haired young man was on her doorstep. Was there nothing in his face of the little boy she had hugged good-bye to before he had gotten on a plane eight years ago?
"Scott?" her voice was faint, and filled with emotion of her own, and Scott dropped his backpack to rush into her arms.
Scott leapt awake, retreating up the bed as fast as he could, recoiling from the light touch. He must have made it halfway up the wall before he realized where he was and what was happening. And as he blinked away the sleep, he looked around him at the small room and the old woman who was looking as shocked as he was.
"I'm sorry..." she began, setting the mug of tea down beside him on the bedside table.
Scott took a deep breath and steadied his heart as he sat down cross-legged on the pillow. How long had he been asleep? He could barely remember how he had gotten to the bedroom. He was still fully clothed, and feeling slightly the worse for wear.
"Wha-?" Scott asked, as he struggled for that last ounce of consciousness.
"I thought I should probably wake you up," Gran said with a smile as she pulled open the curtains on the bright sunlight sweeping in from outside. "You slept all day yesterday and last night as well. You must have been really tired."
Scott worked at rubbing his eyes as he looked about him at the tiny room with all its fifties-style furniture, painted wallpaper and his bags laid out with care on a rickety-looking wooden chair in the corner. Everything was real, but subtly wrong from his perspective. He had been away from England for too long to acclimatize in a few minutes.
"Thanks," he said as he picked up the cup of tea, wishing that it was a cup of coffee. But real coffee was a luxury in a nation that prided itself on its instant-coffee consumption and its broad selection of teas.
"Did you sleep well?" she asked, choosing not to mention the fact that when he had awoken he had tried to literally climb a wall.
Scott nodded as he wrapped his hands around the mug of tea and sipped at it graciously, "Yeah, look I'm sorry we didn't have much time to talk yesterday..."
"You were exhausted," Gran said as she picked up the suitcase and opened it, already sorting out the dirty clothes from the clean ones and hanging the latter in the old-styled wardrobe. "I have a shower in the bathroom, I know you are probably more used to taking one than having a bath. I set some towels out for you on the side, and when you're done I should have some breakfast waiting for you."
"I... don't eat breakfast," Scott admitted after a pause, almost hesitantly. He usually skipped the most important meal of the day, preferring a cup of coffee from the campus coffee shop to anything else.
"Nonsense," she sniffed as she continued to putter, "I'll have sausage and eggs waiting for you."
Scott knew better than to try to argue with her, you just couldn't do that with Gran, she had a way that simplified things, and a voice that made you feel like an idiot if you tried to complicate them. It was an effective way of currying obedience.
The shower was a totally new experience. The gadget on the wall was plugged into an electrical socket, had a pull-cord and was connected to the pipes by an intricate system of bendy hoses. He stared at it, with its big dial threatening to electrocute him. Who put an electrical device in a shower anyway, let alone turned the shower into one. It was needlessly complicated, and any decent North American plumber would make a mint with just a couple of strategically placed pipes and water pressure.
He eventually figured it out after his Gran had shown him how to work it, and while showering he could actually take a moment to think about where he was. Scott was home, more or less. Gran's house had been quiet since Granddad had passed away; it had a large garden that was in need of some care, and there were various other odd jobs he could do here and there to say thank you to her. But that didn't change the fact that he was nearly broke; he had about a hundred pounds to his name, and that wouldn't get him very far.
The overwhelming instinct to go home had overpowered every other rational thought he had. Scott hadn't been able to give real thought to what he was going to do once he got there; it was about the journey, about retaking a piece of his life; and yet as the water ran down through his hair and he stared at the strange water heater/shower device he knew that he had to come up with a plan.
When he emerged from the shower, towelling off his hair, the house was filled with the smells of a good old-fashioned English breakfast, that bacon smell that just made the mouth water. And he realized that all he had eaten in the last few days was airline chicken, never the most wholesome of eating. So he slipped into a pair of battered khaki Dockers and threw a cotton shirt over his Yankee's tee-shirt, before he darted down into the kitchen in time to find his Gran piling a plate high with an assortment of greasy delights.
She gave him a knowing look as he sat down at the breakfast bar, and she set the plate down in front of him. "I suspected you were hungry so I made a little extra," she offered as she set about washing the pan in the sink while he began to attack the food with the ferocity of a ravenous nineteen-year-old.
"I have to make a short run into town," she said, methodically cleaning everything and setting it to dry in the rack, "I wasn't expecting you and I need to buy some extra food for you." There were no questions about how long he was going to stay, as if she just knew he needed to be there with her. There would be plenty of time for him to get himself sorted out; for the time being he was welcome home.
Scott felt a pressure leave him, which was his chief worry right now, and she had just eased it with understanding. He was going to have to face some tough decisions, but for the moment Scott could just be the little seven-year-old who had sat at the same stool he now sat in, with a cut knee needing her to kiss him better.
She had been happy when he had volunteered to walk with her into town. Gran refused to drive; that was a man's job in her mind, and having lived with Granddad for so many years she had never had to learn. So when he had passed away, instead of learning, she had just decided to walk. It was healthier, she thought; men were too fond of their cars anyway.
It was a beautiful July day, sunshine beaming down upon them when they left to walk to the town centre. It gave Scott a chance to see the little town he had spent the first few years of his life growing up in, before moving with his Dad. He had spent so much of his life there, playing on the recreation ground when he was little.
They passed the same swing set he had played on when he was three. They walked past the soccer goal posts where he had scored his first goal, and past the public library where his gran had taken him to read his first book. Places he had taken for granted when he was little now held such significance to him. It was all so familiar, but in between the familiar buildings were new ones. It was a sign that once again, Scott had been away too long.
Downtown was no different. The stores had all changed, or had new signs on them. It was like being suddenly thrust into the past, but a different past. Scott didn't say much as he walked, instead he chose to just listen to his Gran ramble on about Halisham and all the modernization it had gone through. She had to know he wasn't really listening to her, and yet again, she didn't seem to mind it. She seemed to realize that he was suffering culture shock and just left him to sort it through on his own.
To Scott, even the grocery stores were different. It was like walking into something typically American and finding nothing he recognized. Where was the Kraft Dinner? The hot dog wieners? The bologna? Instead there were real sausages, pre-prepared macaroni and cheese made with real cheddar and fresh-cut meats. The concept of anything other than `student food' was frightening to him. Back stateside he could never afford this stuff, a student loan only stretched so far. And he felt guilty for her footing the bill when she was a pensioner.
That was until he actually looked at the prices; 7p for a loaf of bread... that was like 14 cents American. It had cost Scott a buck for the same loaf of bread back in the US. Wasn't that backwards? Wasn't the cost-of-living supposed to be higher in England? Scott had to admit, he was impressed that everything in the grocery store was so cheap.
It was when he was in the freezer aisle of the food store that Scott first realized how much he had changed since leaving. He had been fishing for something Gran had specifically requested in the freezer, when he heard an all-too-familiar shrill voice that even after all those years, still made him cringe."
Aunt Christine. She had a voice that belonged on a school bus, and still would drown out all the kids. It wouldn't have been so bad, in moderation, but Aunt Christine was unaware of moderation when it came to expressing herself. It was an unending torrent of consciousness that left a person cross-eyed and bleeding from the eardrums as she switched topics so fast that you could barely keep up with her. Just when you had a grasp on one subject she was on to a whole new one."
He was surprised to be shoulder-checked aside by the short woman as she tried to get to Gran, not even stopping to offer an apology to the stranger. Since she didn't recognize him, he was beneath her notice. Scott stood there a moment in complete shock, as Gran tried to get a word in edgewise around Christine's complaints about the price of milk, the firmness of her apples and the fact that Prime Minister Tony Blair had seen fit to make her pay for something called "New Deal".
Scott stared at her a moment as Gran looked? past her at him. It took a moment before Aunt Christine registered that the man she had pushed out of the way was still there, holding a bag of frozen peas and eyeing her warily.
When she finally paused, Gran took her chance, "Guess who that is."
It was cruel; Scott was sure his Gran must have done it to see Aunt Christine speechless, and even he had to admit that it was a blessing. Scott had forgotten how peaceful the last eight years had been not to have to deal with specific relatives.
"Is that one of your neighbours' sons?" Christine asked slowly.
"No," Gran said with an air of smug triumph, "it's one of John's boys."
"Scott?" Christine asked, turning back to regard him with a critical eye that said she remembered all too well who he was. It wasn't a good look; there was a deep-seated anger there. When he had been younger his gran had raised him with his brother when his dad had been divorced the first time. To Gran, Scott was more of a son than a grandson, the baby boy. That meant the other grandchildren would always come second, despite Gran's attempts to treat everyone fairly and the same. The resentment was evident on her face.
"Aunty Christine," Scott said with an incline of his head as he dropped the peas into the shopping cart and looked over at his gran. "Need anything else?"
Gran nodded her head, "Could you get me some chips, Scotty dear?"
Scott stared at her a moment and nodded, returning a few aisles to where they had the bags of chips and selected a nice plain bag; it looked vaguely like the variety he used to buy in school, and he hurried back with the bag tucked under his arm. Though he slowed when he heard Christine talking to Gran.
"What's he doing here?" she asked. With a voice like hers there wasn't a possibility of whispering.
"I don't know Christine," Gran replied as she rested on the shopping trolley. "He arrived yesterday morning, and we haven't had a chance to really talk about it."
"I thought he was in university or something," Christine sniffed. "Well, how long is he staying with you?"
Gran seemed thoughtful, "Probably not that long; however long he needs to take to get back on his feet."
"Does his father know he's here?"
"They had a falling out," Gran said in reply, "I'll telephone him tonight and talk to him about it."
Scott decided that it was probably an opportune time to walk up to the cart, "I hope these are the kind you like," he said as he held up the bag of chips.
Gran shook her head in bemusement, "No, no dear, chips." She walked to the freezer cupboard and pulled out a bag of thick-cut French fries. And Scott felt sheepish as he went off to return the bag of "Crisps" as they were called there.
Scott thought about Aunt Christine's words, what was he doing there? He couldn't exactly move forward with his life while he was staying in Halisham. It was a nice little town, but `little' was the opportune term for it. It was tiny, an afterthought on the A-22 to London. All the action happened in Eastbourne, and at that point he decided that he should consider moving there as soon as he could. It shouldn't be too hard, after all what could go wrong?
He stuck his hands in his pockets and trailed along behind the trolley, wondering if, in his rush to get home he had really thought all of it through. He was essentially a stranger, and even his own family didn't recognize him. It was going to be hard to try to find a niche for himself.
He glanced about the grocery store at all the local people, and he felt different. He was dressed differently, his hair was cut differently, even the way he slouched along behind the cart was different. Compared to everyone else, he just felt out of place.
"Get back here!" a booming voice rang out, as a small shape dodged past him, and Scott dodged back to allow the little monster who was now clinging to his pant leg to peer around him.
He looked down at the bespectacled face of an eight-year-old, who gave him an unruly grin before he tried to dash off again. Scott on instinct caught him before he could take two steps.
"Put me down mister...!" the lil'monster complained.
The tall blond man walked along the line of checkouts looking grateful, "Cheers, mate, you just saved me having to chase him all over the store." He flashed one of those smiles that sparkled, and he accepted the pre-offered monster graciously, "Alright sprog, no more running off."
Scott grinned, "I have a little sister, loved doing the same thing to me." He was enjoying just looking at the angular features of the blond young man; he was probably a year or two older, but certainly not old enough to have an eight-year-old.
The "sprog" was currently wriggling to escape the blond's arms, and he adjusted his grip to hold on. He turned and nodded to Scott's gran, "Mrs Walker."
"Dickie," Gran said with a smile, "I see young Master Jasper is being a handful."
"When isn't he," Dickie stated as he switched the fuming "sprog" from one arm to the other, "Well I should..."
Gran gave him a smile, "Alright then, just make sure your brother Joel comes by to mow my lawn Saturday morning."
"I'll do that," Dickie stated, tucking the kicking boy under his arm, and offering a final nod to Scott, returned to his own checkout line.
Christine sniffed her disdain, "I don't know why you put up with them," she said in her most arrogant voice. Scott actually balked at that.
"Christine," Gran intoned her warning, "that family has been through a lot recently, and Jan was a friend of mine."
Scott furrowed his brow, wondering what that exchange meant, and he glanced across the store to the handsome guy unloading his cart. Noticing the look, Dickie tipped a salute back at him as he continued to unload.
He had never realized that it would become a quest. He hadn't thought that entering England on his American passport would make a difference, he hadn't had time to wait for his English one to be processed and a passport was a passport right?
He had quickly come to realize how wrong he was.
The line at the home office in Croydon was immense. The kind of line you would expect to see outside a rock concert if everyone tried to buy his or her tickets at the same time. There was easily a thousand people between him and the wicket. As it was he had been waiting eight hours and had only just entered the actual room with the wickets.
It was insane; he stood in line sandwiched between a Romanian family and a really nice elderly Chinese couple who kept offering him green tea from a thermos. At first he had politely refused their hospitality, but after hour two of standing there he had caved and accepted. The woman, who didn't speak a word of English pressed the cup into his hands and bowed repeatedly. He had blushed a little at the attention and thanked her in return.
He looked at the massive line that snaked back upon itself, separated by little lines of black nylon strung from little pillars that were just the right height to cause an injury to his grandchildren if he wasn't watching where he was going. It was hot; air-conditioning in public buildings wasn't considered a necessity and so no one had bothered to turn it on. So those throngs of humanity from across the globe sweltered in the heat of a British summer.
He had his jacket slung over his arm and a satchel filled full of his important papers sat on his shoulder, and he did the only thing he could do, move forward about a foot every time some one ahead of him made it to the wicket. It was a slow and painful process, all to get a stamp in his passport removed:
Leave to enter for six months: Employment and recourse to public funds prohibited.
It didn't sound like much, but it was binding. It didn't matter that he had a national insurance number, or that he had a British birth certificate, or even that he could produce his elementary school report cards if he had to. All that mattered was that single ink marking that said he was a foreigner in his own country.
The little Chinese woman touched his arm and he turned to her with a warm smile, as she offered him a refill on the tea; that thermos had to be getting pretty close to empty and he didn't want to drain it. But without a water fountain, or any way to get a drink of water or use the restroom facilities without losing his place in line, he was tempted.
Seeing his hesitation, the elderly gentleman reached into his bag and produced a second thermos. This was apparently his third attempt to reach the wicket, and he had come prepared. Will grinned in open gratitude and accepted again, touched by the display of kindness to a complete stranger.
"American?" the gentleman asked, pointing to the American passport sticking out of Scott's top pocket.
Scott decided that trying to explain that he was actually English would take too long so he just nodded, "From Brooklyn, New York," he said, and strangely for the first time he noticed that he actually spoke with the accent. His entire time in the States people had commented on him sounding British, and he had grown accustomed to it. He hadn't noticed how pervasive the American way of speaking had been to him. He chose to blame Mrs. Rossini, the robust Italian-American woman from next door who always insisted on yelling from the fire escape at her five kids.
"Scott Walker," he stuck out his hand.
"Lu Kai Hui," he shook the hand with a grip like iron, "My wife Li Shang Hui."
The wizened old woman bobbed her head, and started to rattle off something to her husband in Mandarin. Lui nodded his head a few times before turning back to him, "She say you are pretty, make good husband one day."
Scott felt the heat rising into his cheeks as Li tittered at him; blushing like a mad man he lifted the thermos, "Tell her thank you, and thanks for the tea."
Lui turned to his wife and spoke at a rapid pace. She responded to him and Lui turned back again, "She say your most welcome."
The line progressed slowly but steadily; the over-worked civil servants struggling to keep up with the flood of humanity that washed up against their wickets. But after hour after endless hour, day after endless day, the stress of their job had eroded them into apathy. And Scott was next. He would have been at a wicket, but he had let the Huis go ahead of him; after all their kindness to him, it was the least he could do in return.
When he finally was beckoned forward, he was faced by a very bored and exhausted clerk who rolled his eyes, "Great, a Yank," he murmured, supposedly too low for Scott to hear him, but Scott had always had excellent hearing. However, calling the man on his comment wouldn't get him to help, so Scott bit his lip and slid his passport through the crack under the bulletproof plexi-glass.
"Hi there," he said, putting on his most charming smile and trying to be polite, "I was told I could get my passport re-stamped here."
The clerk flipped it open and squinted at the picture before squinting at Scott, "Well, Mister Walker, what proof do you have that you have the right to work in England?"
Scott nodded and fished out his birth certificate and his NIN card, he pushed these through the slot. Trying to keep the smile on his face, "Well, sir, I was born and raised here."
The clerk examined the documents carefully, scrutinizing them as if looking for a mistake; disappointed that there was none, he pushed them back through. "Well, you're in the wrong office. This office only deals with foreign nationals emigrating to England; you're a citizen so you need to go to Liverpool."
Scott's jaw dropped open and the smile was gone; the clerk's face held a momentary flash of delight, as Scott looked back at the impossibly long line he had made it through. "Liverpool?" he asked in utter defeat.
"Move along, sir, I must serve the next person." The clerk dismissed him.
Scott collected his papers helplessly as he stumbled towards the door; there was nothing he could say to that. He just had to accept it and go to Liverpool. And he looked at all the bitter and resentful faces of the people still waiting in line. Jealous of the fact that he had actually been served and they still had to wait. Even though the clock was coming dangerously close to the end of the workday, and they might have to go through the process all over again.
"Liverpool?" Gran sounded incredulous as she put the bangers and mash down in front of him, "They made you wait in that awful line like an immigrant?" She shook her head, "You're a citizen, I was there when you were born. You have as much right to be here as anyone else."
"True, Gran," Scott replied, half-heartedly pushing a sausage around the plate. "But I don't have much choice, if I need money I have to get that stamp changed. I can't work, can't collect unemployment, nothing."
"Well we just have to find a way around it." She said resolutely, "What about getting your English passport?"
"Huh?" Scott looked up at his Gran in confusion.
She sat down at the table with her own dinner, "Well you need to prove that you are a British citizen, why don't you just apply for your British passport, you can do that at the post office in the high street. All you need is your birth certificate."
Scott shifted in his chair and looked at his gran in surprise at how simple she made it sound. He hadn't even considered that loophole. He was prepared to go to Liverpool, stand in another long line and probably find out he was really supposed to be in Glasgow.
"I-" he was genuinely shocked.
His gran gave a resolute nod, "Good then, we'll get that sorted out for you in the morning, now eat up before your dinner gets cold."
A much-aged Doctor Hanratti stared through his glasses, "You look like an American," he said flatly as he circled the examination table Scott was perched on the edge of.
"You still look like an East Indian," Scott fired back, mildly annoyed at the reaction he kept getting from the people who had known him before he left.
Hanratti looked surprised for a second at the observation, "My father was from Calcutta," he said with a note of amusement in his voice, "but no one's ever noticed before." He got out a scope and jammed it into Scott's ear a little too roughly, "Let's see if all that American TV really does rot your brain."
Scott winced a little at the rough treatment, but remembered that Doctor Hanratti just had a unique way of doing his trade. He had been Scott's GP for years before Scott left, and when you bring someone into the world, you have a tendency to act familiar around them.
There was little Hanratti didn't know about Scott, from the fact that he had no tonsils down to the mole on his... Scott blushed.
Hanratti leaned back, "What? I haven't even asked you to turn your head and cough yet."
Scott laughed, "It's just I came in here to get you to sign papers for me to get my passport."
"Yes," Hanratti said, returning to stare through his scope into the deep recesses of Scott's ears, "I think I can see light..." he murmured.
Scott's jaw hung open, "That's just plain mean!" he complained.
Hanratti snorted, "Empty-headed just like your father was at your age, filled with thoughts of girls and fast cars no doubt." He leaned back to jot exactly that down in the medical record.
Scott laughed, "It's a wonder you haven't been sued for malpractice by now."
"Hmm, chronic sarcasm," Hanratti noted that as well, "I could prescribe a laxative for that you know..."
Scott slumped his shoulders, "Great."
Hanratti chuckled as he brushed his white hair with his fingers and leaned back to his chart, "You may be complaining now, but when I find something wrong with you, you'll thank me for this."
Scott crossed his arms, "You know, most doctors I've been to aren't this thorough."
"Then they're idiots," Hanratti replied. "Now I have to ask you some questions, and if you're not honest with me on these I will have to send you for a full blood screening with the community nurse." He screwed up his nose, "Trust me, if you think I'm rough..."
"Okay," Scott held up his hands defensively, "Whatever, just ask, then sign..."
Hanratti beamed at his patients co-operation, "Ok, are you sexually active?"
Scott glanced over at the Doctor, "I'm nineteen, what do you think..."
"One round of blood tests coming up," he scrawled on his pad, "Would you like me to add a prostate exam to that?"
Scott winced, "Yes, yes I am."
"That's my boy." Hanratti replied satisfied with the co-operation, "You use protection? Remember to answer this one carefully, because the wrong answer will have you in the community sexual health course so fast..."
Scott sighed, "Yes, Doctor."
"Are you gay?"
The question hung between them for a moment, and Scott balked. "Wha-?"
Hanratti sighed and tapped his pen, "Legitimate question; I need to know so I can set you up with my daughter... or my nephew Billy if you are so inclined." He said it with such a deadpan expression that had Scott not known Hanratti; he could have assumed he was serious.
"I'm gay," Scott replied with a sigh. He'd known ever since he was sixteen, but his first year of college and a guy called Brian had confirmed it. But did that mean he wanted flyers printed up and distributed around Halisham? Not particularly.
"This is all covered by the doctor-patient privilege," Hanratti responded as if reading his thoughts, "I ask all the young men that same question when they come in for their yearly physical; I like to be prepared for any eventuality." He grew serious; "I am scheduling you for testing every six months, the standard block, and you might as well get used to them now rather than have to be skittish and nervous later."
He picked up the passport forms and signed them, handing them over to Scott, "Alright then Scott, I have taken the liberty of re-adding you to my patient list; it's either me or the young pup up the hall, and I think you'd enjoy that too much." He offered a wry grin, "Now get out of here while I am still feeling generous, I think we have vaccinations this afternoon and I could always..."
"No... No... that's fine." Scott said hopping down from the table and all but running to the door of the examination room. He flashed a relieved smile when he actually made it back out to the waiting room where his gran was sitting doing some knitting.
"That took a long time," she said looking over her glasses.
"Doctor Hanratti wanted to give me a checkup," Scott responded, pulling on his jacket. "Something about Yankee doctors, mint juleps, and leaches..." He shrugged.
Gran smiled at him, "Well that's good, did he sign the papers?"
Scott held them up for her inspection and the old woman nodded in relief; "We'll have that off this afternoon then." She started to leave when she stopped to let a middle-aged woman in a wheelchair go through the door ahead of her.
"Rita?" the dark haired woman asked, peering up at Gran.
"Jan, dear," Rita said, beaming at her, "let me give you a hand." She pushed the door Jan was struggling with open a little wider, and the woman rolled through it onto the ramp.
"Thank you," Jan replied with a smile, nodding to Scott, "I was starting to wonder if I'd be trapped in there with Hanratti all day."
Scott chuckled at the battery of tests anyone unlucky enough to be trapped inside the mad doctors office would be subjected to. He could just see old Hanratti, rubbing his hands and cackling maniacally about which lever to pull next.
"That's all right dear," Gran was saying as they navigated to the street. "Have you met my Grandson Scott?"
Jan turned in her chair, "One of the boys that went to America?" She smiled, "Nice to meet you."
Scott smiled and bobbed his head, "Same here."
"Yes Scott, Jan's son Luke was in your year at Grovelands," Gran said knowledgeably.
Scott shuddered at the memory; he remembered Luke all right, the strange bitter kid who had pulled the girls' hair and had generally gotten into all the mischief he could. Scott instinctively rubbed his hand where Luke had stabbed him with a pencil when he was little.
"Oh Rita, Joel will be over to do your garden on Saturday, Dickie passed on your message," Jan was saying as Gran took to pushing the chair, the two instinctively in agreement that they were heading into town. "Thank you."
Gran smiled down at her, "That's okay, it saves me having to get down on creaky knees to pull weeds, plus if it gives him a couple of pounds to buy himself something, so much the better."
"It's kind of you to give him a job like that." Jan continued, sounding genuinely pleased at the arrangement.
"Well, when Luke and Dickie were his age, I let them tend the garden, I'll do the same for Jasper when he is old enough." Gran glanced over at Scott, who was watching her with a little understanding. This was her way of helping Jan out, and from the sounds of it, Jan had her hands full with four boys.