So a little about this one. Its a bit more of an examination of my family life. I think I have a very odd family (But then who doesn't) and when I went back to England there was so much going on that I had to write about it.
yep this story is finished, so postings should be regular.
Submitted for your approval.
As usual Comments or questions direct to email@example.com. Feed back is welcome.
The sun never sets on the British Empire.
"You sure you're not going on Safari?" Ben asked, looking down on Scott's battered Rover from the window of their office.
Scott looked up from a particularly stubborn computer that was sitting in pieces spread out across his workbench; he was holding a screwdriver and had a determined look on his face, "Huh?"
"Safari; you know, hunting dangerous animals on the savannah." He gave a broad grin as he let the blinds fall back to rattle against the window, "Though knowing you it's probably dangerous animals in Brighton."
Scott shook his head, setting the screwdriver down and removing the computer's defective hard drive, "I was going to kidnap you and turn you loose on the wilds of Milton Keynes." He gave Ben a grin, "A good old-fashioned manhunt."
Ben winced, "Yeah, if you don't kill me then a pack of wild Scousers will." He crossed back to his desk and flopped into his chair, "I think I'll pass on that one if you don't mind."
"What, not up to it?" Scott grinned.
"Oh it's not the Scousers I'm worried about, it's you." Ben shifted in his chair; it was nearing the end of the day on Friday and he had done the weekly books an hour ago and now he was just waiting for five o'clock. Boredom did funny things to Ben; invariably he would go back to his favourite game of seeking attention. Scott had come to learn that Ben thrived on it.
Scott looked across the desks at his colleague, "I could get a winch attached to the Rover and drag you out of the closet," he offered with a deadpan expression.
Ben winked back at him, "No thanks, I like it in here where it's warm and cosy."
Scott's phone rang and he reached out to scoop up the receiver as Ben returned to playing solitaire on the computer, "Ashley Gardens, Scott speaking."
"Can you skive off work early?" Serena asked breathlessly.
Scott cradled the receiver against his shoulder as he went back to fixing the computer, "I don't know, why?"
"Well, we're all waiting on you, babe; I just got off, Dickie is over at mine with Fleur and Darren's gone to pick up Luke." She sounded excited. If a holiday to Kent could have that effect, Scott wondered what would have happened if they had decided to go to Ibiza.
"I'll try," Scott said glancing up at the clock; it was three in the afternoon. Zulee would be down touring the residence floors making sure everyone was comfortable and happy.
"Great, see you soon, babe," she hung up the phone.
Scott sighed as he set the receiver back on the hook, setting his tools down again. Ben was grinning at him, "You're going to try to get off early, aren't you?" he asked. The way he said it left little doubt in Scott's mind that it was going to be a difficult feat indeed.
Scott shrugged as he set off into the maze of corridors that connected the administration officers to the actual nursing home. He disliked this part of the building; he always felt so out of place there, like he was too young. It always felt like a hospital, no matter how much care had gone into making it feel warm and inviting. It was sterile, too clean. There were no signs anywhere of areas actually being lived in. Zulee liked to keep everything neat and organized and the housekeeping staff worked extra hours to keep it that way.
He passed an old woman labouring to get up the hall on her walking frame. She looked at him with no recognition in her eyes, a kind of look that acknowledged he was there, but nothing more; none of the fire that made a person a person. He felt disheartened; Gran was getting on, would she end up like that? No, she was too vibrant, one of those powerhouses who would keep going till the day they died.
It was a frightening thought; when his grandfather had passed away he had been abroad and they had heard the news over the phone, the whole family curling up in each others' arms on his dad's bed sharing their grief. It was a stark shock that everyone was mortal, and Scott didn't want to think too much on it.
Zulee was standing in the doorway of one of the lounges asking old Mrs. Harris what she thought about the news. He never patronized his residents, treating them all with respect, asking their thoughts on current topics and making sure they knew he cared about them. It was strange; the man was an eccentric character, he never tried to over-think a situation, he kept things simple and he expected others to do the same.
When he saw Scott coming he was smiling.
"I was wondering when you were going to break and ask me," Zulee said after he excused himself.
Scott decided he should just spit it out, "I'm going away for the weekend..."
"I know," Zulee stated with a paternal smile. "You've been dropping hints all week."
"Yeah." Scott felt foolish, had he really been that eager? "My friends are ready to go, they're just waiting on me..."
Zulee thought about it, "Well, those computers aren't going to fix themselves."
"How about if I make up the extra hours next week?" Scott said, reasoning that Zulee was a businessman; he would respect an honest effort at a compromise.
Zulee smiled and took his hand, "Excellent, maybe you can finally get the fax modem working."
The Rover rumbled up outside Serena's bungalow just off Western Road. To Scott it sounded like a truck, a loud pollution machine, but there was no denying the power behind that engine. He loved the feeling of being above everyone else on the road; it was a feeling of safety that came from driving something that big. He slid down and took off his suit jacket tossing it back into the cab onto the backseat. He hadn't had a chance to change yet, and hopefully he could use Serena's bathroom.
The Metro was decked out with roof racks piled high with baggage and a cooler. There was no denying the fact they were going away.
Serena came out of the house grinning at him; she was wearing a tank top and a pair of flood pants, and strangely, a trilby hat on her head to shield her from the sun; she looked ready for summer. She looked him up and down and shook her head.
"You're not going like that," she said, looking him over. "Dickie and Fleur are up at the corner shop picking some stuff up, and Darren should be back soon." She looked behind him at the Rover, her eyes lighting up, "Do you mind if we start loading some stuff into the boot of that?"
"Sure," he said, tossing her the keys, hefting his bag up and nodding at her house. "Do you mind if I get changed?"
"Yeah, the loo's upstairs on the right," she said, already opening the rear of the Rover and eyeing the space appreciatively.
Scott ducked through Serena's house, passing her mother wrestling with what looked like a couple of sleeping bags. Serena was going all out for this trip and it looked like she wanted to take as much as she could.
It didn't bother him that much. He found the bathroom right where Serena had told him it would be, and he changed into something a bit more typically American, and definitely more comfortable. A blue short-sleeved shirt with a dragon print on it, a pair of cargos and his trusty visor. He took the time to comb his hair so that it hung over the sides. Feeling better he put on his blue-tinted sunglasses he had picked up for the trip.
He made it outside to find Dickie and Fleur loading shopping bags into the rear of the Rover that was rapidly filling with stuff. They had flipped down the back seat to make more room and packed everything in tightly leaving only the front seats empty. He blew out a sigh as he walked around the back and looked in at the piled bags and a second cooler that suspiciously sounded like it contained beer bottles.
"Looking sharp, there," Dickie said, nodding in approval as he hefted a deflated air mattress into the back.
The ragged rattling of Darren's car pulling up made them all turn; it clattered a bit more before it finally came to a stop across the street. From the way the red rocket sounded, it wouldn't be joining them on the trip. Luke climbed out of the passenger's side shaking his head.
Scott grinned despite himself; Luke was dressed like a Boy Scout, with shorts and a safari shirt. All he needed to complete the look was the neck scarf and the hat.
"What are you giggling at?" Dickie asked, trying to contain his own chuckles, "You didn't know he's a Boy Scout leader?"
"That's right, laugh you wankers," Luke grumbled, unbuttoning his shirt. "You didn't have to babysit a bunch of Cub Scouts this afternoon."
Scott blinked, glad the sunglasses hid his eyes as he rested on the back of the Rover watching Luke begin to take his shirt off, appreciating the British summer weather, and the way the cotton slid off of...
Serena slapped a bag into his hands, "Don't just stand there being useless, get your thumb out and give us a hand."
He flushed, struggling with the last of the bags, slamming the trunk of the Rover closed at last, glad actually that Uncle Ron had thought of him with the mammoth vehicle. The way Serena had stuffed it, it looked like they were going for a full week rather than just a few days. He adjusted his shirt and turned back to a now completely changed Luke; he cursed Serena's bad timing.
"So how's this going to work?" Luke asked, tucking his white tee-shirt into a pair of jeans before slipping on his Adidas windbreaker over top.
Darren rested on the garden wall dressed as he always was, and he looked back at the red rocket, "Yeah, I don't think my car will survive the trip."
"Well, you can ride with me," Scott offered, patting the hood of the Rover.
Dickie shook his head, "No, neither of you know the way, and if we get separated on the way you'll never find it; I should ride with you..."
Fleur gave him a pouty look, one that said she didn't like that idea at all and to show her displeasure she tightened her grip on his arm. He winced at the pressure she was exerting, and slowly removed her hand from his arm, "On second thoughts I should ride with Serena; there's more room at the moment in the Metro..."
Scott winced at the oxymoron; an Austin Metro and more room just didn't belong in the same sentence. "Ok, so who's that leave?"
Luke rested a hand on the front brush bar that protected the front end of the Rover, "Me."
Stuck in weekend summer traffic, in a hot car with Luke. Suddenly Scott seriously wanted to be back at work. As pleasant as their short walk the other day had been, about as pleasant as pulling teeth out of a grizzly bear, he had no desire to be cooped up that long with Luke while he went through one of his erratic mood swings.
But Serena and her passengers were already piling into the metro, and Scott reluctantly climbed into the Rover. Luke hopped up beside him, strangely energetic despite his normally reserved nature.
"Figures you'd drive one of these," Luke said looking about the inside of the cab, shifting to get comfortable on the new seats, buckling himself in.
Scott ignored him as he reached down and started the Rover, the engine roaring to life, startling his passenger. Scott looked over at him, "Engine's a bit loud," he said apologetically.
"Sounds like a freight lorry," Luke commented. "Okay, just stick behind Serena," he explained as the Rover lurched forward and began to rumble after the small Metro. A beast chasing a small animal, a funny sight to Serena's mother who was waving them off.
Luke leaned forward and flicked on the radio, switching the dial to Virgin Radio; satisfied when some decent music started to play he settled in for the trip. And Scott tried to maintain the silence as the Rover bounded along the back roads following the Metro down to the coast via Herstmonceaux. The beautiful summer sun shone through the green leaves of the old oak trees hanging over the roads.
He kept his eyes peeled for the castle, a famous landmark, especially to him, because his grandfather had worked in the Royal Observatory there most of his life. They should be coming out somewhere down by Pevensey, another castle, this one dating back to Roman times. The area was just so rich with history, and as the Rover swept around those ancient stone walls, Scott breathed a sharp breath.
"Wow, I'd forgotten that," he murmured.
"What?" Luke asked shaking himself awake from where he was snoozing, turning to look at the castle that was literally a few feet away. "Oh. You've never been to Pevensey Castle?" he asked in surprise.
"Only ever passed it when we were little," Scott said, still awed by its sheer majesty; there was nothing that old in America, everything was so new in comparison to a fortress that had stood for nearly two millennia.
"We should all go one day, re-educate you." Luke replied, settling back in to nap.
"Thanks," Scott said sincerely.
Luke opened one eye, "For what?"
"For not making fun of me just now." Scott replied, looking over the rims of his sunglasses.
Luke sat upright; reaching down to wind down the window and resting an arm on the door as he let the fresh sea breeze whip past him. "Leave it out," he said, becoming a bit embarrassed.
Scott smiled, "Yeah, well I felt like saying it." He looked down at the gas gauge, "We're going to have to stop for gas soon."
"Gas?" Luke inquired, trying to see what Scott was looking at.
"Petrol," Scott replied as he turned the indicator on and turned into the nearest garage, the Metro continuing its course, oblivious that they had lost the other half of their convoy. So much for them sticking together, Scott thought as he hopped down and started to fill the tank.
Luke got down from the Rover and wandered around to him, "I'm going to buy a pair of sunglasses, and a couple of drinks, do you want something?"
"Coke'll do," Scott fired back, watching the meter on the pump climb steadily higher towards his destitution. The Rover was a great vehicle, but it definitely wasn't the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the road. He'd have to thank Uncle Ron for that one.
He looked past the pump into the gas station to where Luke was paying the cashier; he looked good out of uniform, more relaxed when he wasn't staring at everyone with a look that said he knew they were up to no good. His short-cropped hair spiked out on top and with his soft features, you'd just assume he was another college student or something, hardly one of Hailsham's finest.
He withdrew the pump, looking with dismay at the price it registered, slotting in his bankcard to the pump and paying it directly. Let his overdraft worry about that; it was Friday, his paycheque from Ashley Gardens would be clearing soon.
Luke tossed Scott a bottle of coke as he climbed back into the cab, removing the price tag from his new sunglasses and slipping them on. "Think they make me look cool?" he asked, turning, and for the first time he actually smiled.
Scott smiled in return; it was a contagious smile and before he knew it he was grinning as he started the Rover up again and set out onto the street.
"What?" Luke asked, returning to lounging his arm on the window.
"Nothing," Scott replied, "just good to know there's a human being under there somewhere."
Luke looked at him, "I could make a comment, but it's just not worth it, mate; too nice of a day." He rested his head on the headrest and enjoyed the drive.
Scott flashed him another look and turned up the music, lowering his foot a little on the gas pedal.
Hearing the vehicle accelerate Luke sat upright, "I am a policeman," he warned still smiling.
"So give me a ticket," Scott replied with a daring grin.
"Bugger that," Luke replied. "I write you up and you won't speak to me the rest of the trip."
"That's `cause you're an asshole," Scott said with a grin as the Rover bounced and rattled along a rough section of road.
"And you're a prat." Luke countered. "And given the fact that you're short, you're a little prat."
"Okay then," Scott said, "since you seem to want to have a conversation, what do you want to talk about?"
Luke thought a moment and grinned, "Tell me about the States."
He had been expecting a small round camper caravan, the kind normally seen in holiday parks all over England at this time of the year. Instead he was looking at a stylish and quite modern Winnebago. It was tucked at the back end of a rustic field under a huge oak tree, spitting distance from a small river that had once been a part of the canal network.
The Rover bounded down the dirt track, handling the rough terrain easily; it was designed for this kind of off-roading, and Rovers like this one had competed in the Amazon Cup for years. It ground to a halt alongside the camper surprising Darren who was busily unloading the Metro and ferrying stuff inside.
"Alright then, slacker?" Scott called out of the window smirking at him.
"Finally," Darren replied, "Dickie and Fleur buggered off, and Serena is inside storing shit." He struggled with a particularly heavy bag that slipped from his hand spilling its contents on the ground. Darren cursed up a storm as Luke hurried to give him a hand.
Scott bent down to start repacking the bag, picking up makeup boxes, a hair drier and more combs than one person could ever use in a single lifetime. He looked up at Luke who was wrestling with a couple of sleeping bags; he furrowed his brow at the collection of beauty products.
"Trying to impress someone, Scott?" he asked, pushing the sunglasses down his nose to get a better look.
"I don't think..." Scott picked up a tube of lipstick and looked at the label, "Passion Red is my colour."
"You're more an ochre kind of bloke," Darren grinned as he walked out of the camper and opened the Rover's trunk to get at the bags loaded there.
Serena stepped down out of the Winnebago, talking into a cell phone, no doubt informing her mother that they had made it. She started when she saw her cosmetics spread all over the grass, and shot Scott an accusing look. "I have to go Mum, Scott's trying on my makeup."
Scott shook his head and grinned as he tossed the kits into the bag, "You know I was just trying to make myself look pretty." He laughed as he handed her the bag.
She looked at the mess; the spilled compacts and blush that had spilled out over the rest of it; and she looked at him, setting her jaw. "How am I supposed to attract a really fit guy now?"
"Don't worry," Scott said standing up and brushing off the dust from his pants, "I'll still love you."
"Fat lot of good that does me, you're queer." Serena sniffed, holding up a rather expensive looking makeup kit that had broken open.
Luke stopped dead in the doorway of the camper, and he looked at Scott in genuine surprise. Darren coming up behind him collided and stumbled backwards, "Don't just stand there gawking!" Darren complained, "Move your arse." They both clambered aboard and Scott shook his head at Serena as he fished in the back of the rover for his own bags.
"Where'd Dickie go?" he asked, walking with her.
"He said something about taking Fleur for a walk, but they're probably just shagging in the woods." Serena shook her head, "Not even here five minutes and they're at it, and I knew I should have brought a hose."
Scott glanced towards the trees and brush bordering the far end of the field and shuddered at the thought of what was going on in there. "That's gross," he commented.
Serena had insisted they take a trip into Royal Tunbridge Wells because she wanted to see the Pantiles shopping district. Unfortunately Scott had been the poor sod who had ended up going with her. Darren and Luke broke out their fishing rods, adamant that they were going to rough it for the weekend, and Fleur and Dickie hadn't returned from their `Nature' walk.
"It's a beautiful town," Scott commented, hands in his pockets looking about him. There were a lot of tourists about snapping pictures of the Georgian shopping precinct, or browsing through the multitude of antiques shops that seemed to be everywhere.
The sun was warm and Serena, still in her hat, was looking to and fro with a decided purpose. "Yes," she commented, looking about her again, "there's supposed to be an opera house around here somewhere."
"Opera?" Scott asked, suddenly wondering what he had been gotten himself into. Perhaps if he made a run for the Rover... if he reached it he could probably make Dover, from there the continent. One glance at Serena's long legs told him he wouldn't get five steps.
"Not actual opera," Serena replied in exasperation, "it's a restaurant; we could get something to eat before heading back to the caravan."
"Oh," Scott replied, as they passed a couple of restaurants in the Pantiles that looked just as appetizing to him. He tipped his sunglasses further down his nose and looked at the food realizing he was starving.
"Shouldn't we be getting back?" he asked, glancing at his watch to see it was getting closer to seven in the evening. They were really just browsing now anyway, and they had promised they would stop and pick up some drinks for the night.
Serena looked forlornly about her, obviously disappointed at not being able to have supper in an opera house; finally she agreed and they wandered back to the Rover to find a Sainsbury's supermarket.
They were making the return trip and Serena was holding on to the bag of marshmallows, turning them over in her hand. "You what?" she asked again.
Scott sighed; some things he had just grown accustomed to taking for granted growing up in the States. The great outdoors was just a stone's throw away, and if you wanted to travel you had to be prepared for long drives. But once you got out into the country there was an entire subculture to enjoy. Roasting marshmallows and wieners over a campfire was a part of the experience. And although he couldn't find wieners, or even graham crackers for s'mores, he was adamant that if he was camping at least one of his traditions would stay alive.
After that they had stopped for Chinese take-out which filled the cab of the Rover with mouth-watering smells. He felt his stomach rumble loudly and Serena grinned as she looked down at it.
"I told you we should have stopped at the Opera house," she quipped.
Scott turned the Rover off the road and they bounced along the dirt track into the field, "It's ok, we're nearly there."
Serena was giving him one of her looks; a look Scott had learned from experience meant she was about to tell him something, "What?" he asked, looking at her.
She opened her mouth, as if working up the courage, but faltered and looked away, embarrassed. He frowned at her as they drew up at the camper; she had been doing that all evening, working up to telling him something but dancing away from it whenever he gave her a chance to tell him. He sighed and grabbed the bags of Chinese before hopping down.
Fleur was sitting on the steps of the Winnebago, and she smiled at Serena. Well, Scott thought it was a smile, with Fleur you could never be sure. Wednesday from the Addam's Family, all in black with pale skin and dark rings around her eyes; Scott had to get inside before he burst into giggles at that thought.
"Where are Dickie and the other boys?" Serena asked as she began to put six-packs in the battery-operated fridge alongside the bottles they had brought with them.
"They're still fishing," Fleur replied in her timid voice.
"Are they still going to rough it?" Scott said, opening cartons of Chinese food and bending down to smell the roast duck.
Serena grinned, "You're evil," she said, watching as he began to dish out three plates.
Fleur looked hesitant as Scott handed her a plate, but after a moment she accepted it and began to tuck in. She acted like a squirrel munching on an acorn, taking quick small bites while cradling the plate against her and looking about in case a larger animal tried to take it from her.
Serena accepted her plate and sat down on one of the bench seats, "Reckon they are going to catch anything?" she asked as she expertly wielded chopsticks and sampled some of the duck.
"I doubt it," Scott replied, hopping up to sit on the countertop, holding his plate in front of him, also preferring chopsticks. Too many years of good Chinese food in Brooklyn had forced him to learn. His friend Yin had shown him one lunch hour at school and since then he had become adept at it.
The camper door rattled open as the triumphant hunter-gatherers returned from their expedition. Darren was in the lead, holding up the fruits of their labours: a tiny perch no bigger than Scott's hand. They seemed entirely too pleased with themselves till they noticed the three others holding plates of cooked food.
Dickie, obviously the makeshift ringleader, looked at his men. "Remember to be strong, men," he said, even though his eyes were locked on the chicken ball Serena was lifting to her mouth.
"Bugger that," Luke said, abandoning his fellow men and grabbing a plate that he began to load with food.
"But what about the pact?" Darren protested, looking hopelessly at his fish.
Luke turned and held up his plate, "I'm the gatherer," he replied, skewering a piece of duck with a chopstick and tasting it. He sighed in relief as he leaned back on the counter; his arm gently brushed Scott's leg, and Scott relaxed just enjoying the presence.
"Sleeping arrangements," Serena said, as Dickie abandoned Darren's fish and joined the others in the Chinese.
"Bagsey on the bedroom," Dickie said, turning.
Serena looked through to the double-bed sitting at the back of the camper, and she sighed, "So much for comfort, I call the bench here in the lounge. I am a girl after all."
Darren's face fell a little, "Does this mean I have to pitch the tent?"
Scott sighed reluctantly, "I'll do it, but if I put it up, I get to sleep in it. It'll barely fit two as it is."
Scott and Darren exchanged looks, Scott lifting his balled fist, "Rock, paper, or scissors..."
Cramped into the backseat of the Rover wrapped in a borrowed sleeping bag, Scott tossed, trying desperately to get some sleep. He sat up sleepily pushing his hair out of his eyes, picking up the balled-up jacket he was using as a pillow and thumping it a few times before he collapsed back to try to sleep again.
He had been tossing and turning all night trying to get comfortable. It was proving to be an impossible feat, and dawn was beginning to tinge the sky a light shade of blue; he was going to hate the day, especially since he knew there was no real coffee within a five-mile radius of them. He would give his right arm at that point for a decent Starbucks or something close by.
He blew out a sigh, realizing he had to pee. Reluctantly sitting upright again and pulling the sleeping bag around his shoulders like a cloak, he thrust his bare feet into his sneakers and opened the door, stamping out into the cold morning air.
There was a ground fog curling around the field, rising up amidst the grass, and a cow was happily munching on it, casting him a big-eyed glare and snorting before bending back to its grazing. He returned the stare, rubbing his jaw and eyes to clear the sleep that lingered there, trying to remember why he had gotten out of the warm Rover. That's right, he needed to pee.
He debated slipping into the camper, but he would probably disturb the sleeping occupants. He looked around, and decided ducking behind the tree line would be the best thing for him. And so he crept past the tent where Darren's feet were sticking out of one end and loud snoring emanating from within.
Scott took another few steps coming around the tent and seeing a sleeping bag tucked outside of it; obviously there had been even less room in the tent than they had assumed and Luke had wrapped himself up outside. There was a stirring in the sleeping bag as Luke opened a bleary-eyed head out of the flap and looked at him; he yawned and the eye closed again, followed by rhythmic breathing as he fell back asleep.
At least someone was getting some sleep, Scott thought, mildly annoyed that he couldn't do that. But then Luke was a Scout leader, he was probably used to sleeping outdoors. Give him a knife and drop him in the middle of the Amazon and he would survive; Scott felt a little jealous of that. Luke was a survivor.
He sighed, hugging as he found a tree and began to relieve himself, licking his lips and looking up at the ancient oak tree he was watering. He had enjoyed the night sitting around talking with his friends; they were all going out of their way to make him feel part of their circle, strangely fitting into the odd mixture of very different people.
A low moan caused him to look about him puzzled. Had he really heard something, or was he just imagining it. He leaned around the tree, zipping himself up and stopped, his jaw hanging open. Dickie, as naked as the day he was born, rising and falling in a particular rhythm that was unmistakable. The gasps from his partner confirmed it.
Scott went red as he gaped for a second, not exactly sure what he should do. They had obviously not heard him, so if he could just slip away and leave Dickie and Fleur alone to their morning liaison, no one would ever have to mention the fact that he had...
Dickie dropped and the pair rolled over and she lifted her head, curving her back, the long curly black hair and face twisting in ecstasy. And for the second time that morning Scott was shocked: Serena.
He slipped back to the camp site as quietly as he could; it was far too early, and he was certain all he wanted to do was climb back into the Rover and not think about what he had just seen, and what it meant.
They had travelled into Canterbury; it had been Luke's suggestion that they do something cultural. Scott suspected that it was mainly done for his re-education benefit. And as much as he wanted to enjoy himself, he was distracted. He at least had an idea now what Serena had been trying to tell him the day before, but finding sometime to actually talk to her alone was problematic. Especially with Luke dragging them all over the Cathedral precincts and pointing out pieces of history.
It was a simply stunning building, steeped in the history of a nation. The ancient stones almost sang, and there was a feeling of sheer awe looking up at the high vaunted ceiling that made a person feel so small and insignificant beneath it. It had a way of putting things into perspective for Scott. His own problems were petty in the grand scheme of things and he knew it; he was on the right road though, a decent job and the start of some good friendships.
He just didn't know what to do about what he had seen.
They had eventually managed to break up into smaller groups, Dickie adamant that he had enough culture for one day and wanted to find a pub. Typical Dickie, he was never happy unless he had a pint in this hand and a cigarette. Luke had gone with Darren trying to find Thomas the Beckett's tomb, and Serena had dragged Fleur away in an effort to go souvenir shopping. Despite everything the two seemed to be friends, adding to the complicated situation.
"Just you and me then," Dickie stated as the two started off to find a quiet pub, and Scott immediately felt uncomfortable. He didn't want to be alone with Dickie, at least not until he had a chance to find out what was going on from Serena. But he was stuck now and found himself swept along by the charismatic man.
They settled into a pub booth and Dickie affixed those searching eyes on him, "What's wrong?" he asked, taking a long draught from a pint of bitter.
"Nothing," Scott replied barely touching his own, "I just didn't sleep well last night."
Dickie laughed, "Ah, rough night in a car; we've all been there, mate."
Scott nodded looking out of the warped glass window at a troop of tourists being shepherded around by a harried-looking tour guide who didn't look that happy about her job. She kept trying to wave her arms and get everyone to move along, but a group of rebellious vacationers were adamant that they wanted to photograph everything in sight.
Scott sighed tiredly and slouched in the seat enjoying the sunshine; he could close his eyes right there and fall asleep. Even though it was only about midday it had been a long morning, running about all over the place. Luke had set a hectic pace, and it was just good to take a load off and rest.
Dickie watched him a moment. "What were you studying in university?" he inquired jovially.
Scott turned back at the unexpected question; normally people didn't go into his abortive university days, and he shrugged. "A bit of philosophy, English, the usual."
"Ever want to go back?" Dickie pressed, "You know, over here at a real school."
Scott rolled his eyes at the not-so-subtle patriotism; he was used to his friends firmly believing England was the only place on earth worth living. The best way was to ignore it; to call any of them on something they said would only earn him a lengthy lecture about how England was the mother country and how it founded the world, and no little tea party would change that fact.
"I've thought about it," Scott replied taking another drink, "but honestly I don't know if I want to; I didn't get much out of it the first time round."
"It's a matter of finding something you love and doing that," Dickie replied.
"Why theology?" Scott asked, turning the tables. "It's not... well I just can't picture you as a priest." Especially not after that morning.
Dickie scratched his head, those blue eyes boring holes into Scott as if trying to read what he saw in Scott's eyes. His eyes seemed to tighten slightly, but Dickie chose to keep his smile on his face, "I wanted to do something meaningful; I think my mum wanted it more than I did, but I am going back after Fleur has the baby."
"Right," Scott said, "because you're getting something out of it, which is good. I just don't think university is my thing; I want to be out there, doing something with myself."
Dickie nodded around his glass draining his first pint and getting up to order himself another.
Seven pints later Dickie was drunk, Scott was on his third and feeling a little light-headed. They had covered a wide array of topics from the Peloponnesian Wars through to the stark differences between `Yanks' and `Limeys', the latter being a chance for Scott to give as good as he got for a change. He had managed to get a few good shots in, and was feeling rather proud of himself, sitting back, beginning to wonder what had happened to the others.
Dickie leaned forward in his seat, "I wanted to say something to you," he said beckoning Scott in closer to him.
Scott humoured him and leaned in, setting his drink down, "Yeah?"
"The other night in Brighton, that really hurt," Dickie said, having trouble expressing himself. He sat back a bit, a confused look on his face before he leaned in again, "When you said `I can't give you what you need' that upset me."
Scott blinked, "I don't understand."
"Well, I'm not gay... I tried it once in university but it wasn't for me." Dickie struggled again, "What I mean is, I like you as a friend, you're a great friend and a decent bloke, I just...I'm not gay and I'm sorry about that."
Scott squinted, trying to make sense of what Dickie was saying; did Dickie think he was coming on to him? That hadn't been what he meant, he had said it as a joke, he knew full well Dickie was straight. But Dickie seemed to be having a problem with it, so Scott tried to explain.
Dickie looked at him blankly and shook his head, "It's okay, to like me, it's just I'm not gay; I feel bad about it. You know you make people jealous, right?" He settled back smugly in his seat, obviously happy he knew something Scott didn't, "It's true. You're handsome, you've travelled, it's like you're everything they're not."
Scott nodded his head, his mind dismissing most of what Dickie was babbling about. He was smashed and it was high time they tried to find the rest of them and went back to the camper. As luck would have it, Serena was walking past the pub windows with Fleur and Scott tapped on the glass and beckoned them inside. Serena recognized him, smiled and waved at someone further up the street, pointing into the pub.
A few minutes after Serena joined them, Luke and Darren pushed their way inside.
"We've been looking all over for you two!" Serena accused, her hands on her hips.
"We've been right here," Dickie chuckled as he slid a little in his seat; there was no denying how toasted he was.
Serena rolled her eyes and extended her hand to Scott, "Gimmie the keys," she said exasperatedly, "there's no way I'm letting you drive us back."
Scott stood and fumbled through his pockets, pulling out the keys and giving her his lopsided grin, "Sorry..."
"It's okay," Serena said, "Do you remember where you parked?"
"I'll take you there." Scott offered.
"How about we wait here for you both?" Darren suggested eyeing the bar and licking his lips.
"That's a good idea," Scott agreed a little too readily, finally glad to get Serena alone for the chat he needed to have with her. There were the obligatory nods all round and they left leaving the four to sit around the table. Dickie leaning forward in his seat again, "Hey, guess what..."
He was glad to be out in the fresh air; the wind was picking up a little and they both walked in silence down towards the car park where they had left the Rover. It had been big enough to ferry all of them so fortunately they had just brought the one vehicle.
He stopped and bought an ice-cream cone from a vendor and they walked, finally breaking the silence that had descended on them, "Something on your mind?" he asked.
She glanced at him, "I..."
Scott decided to take the direct approach, "I was peeing this morning, saw a bit more of nature than I wanted to, as well."
Serena flushed bright red, "You...you saw?"
"I saw," he confirmed as they crossed a cobbled street under a gate that had to date back seven hundred years.
She looked at him, mortified, "Oh."
He nodded, "Yeah, big oh."
They continued on in silence, as she seemed to consider how much she should tell him, her eyes thoughtfully staring at the pavement in front of her feet. And Scott kept quiet himself, thinking back to his own garbled conversation with Dickie.
Dickie had a powerful draw about him; there was no question there. Scott had watched people gravitate towards him. Those powerful eyes held your attention and made you listen to what he had to say. And ordinarily, Scott might have been attracted to him but there was something else about Dickie that just made Scott want to keep him at arm's length.
It wasn't something he could accurately put his finger on, it was this thin vein of arrogance that made Scott cringe. Like the assumption that Scott had feelings for him; that was just plain wrong. Scott liked him, respected him, but loved him? No chance of that, Scott wasn't Fleur; he at least had enough self-confidence to avoid that trap.
"We've been seeing each other for the last week," Serena admitted finally. "I don't know... it wasn't as if we were trying to do anything, we just ended up... it just happened." She looked at him as if she needed him to understand that. Some kind of validation that she wasn't the evil monster she felt like she was. It had to be tearing her up inside.
"It's okay," he said reaching out to squeeze her shoulder, "you don't need to explain it, sometimes these things just happen." He smiled in a way he hoped would reassure her he was being sincere.
"Yeah, well..." Serena said still not sounding convinced.
"So you're getting some, no big deal." He gave her a roguish grin, "Looked like you were having fun." He twisted his face in an imitation of ecstasy, "Ohhhh..." he moaned.
A passing nun flashed him a scandalized look and sped up to get away from the lurid American. Her aged features took on a look of horror as she hiked up her skirts. The two friends giggled.
"Ok, stop that," she said. "You realize this means I get to see you starkers; it's only fair."
"No chance of that," Scott replied as they rounded the last corner and came upon the Rover. "I don't drop my drawers and go at it in the middle of the countryside."
"You don't go at it at all," she stated. "Come on, I mean you haven't even so much as snogged anyone since you got here."
"I'm saving myself," Scott replied climbing into the passenger seat. "You know, Mister Right and all that."
"I think you're just too timid." She adjusted the seat and the mirrors before starting the Rover with a roar, startled by the sound of the engine rumbling like a rhinoceros about to charge. She popped it into gear and they began to drive back to the pub.
"There is this guy at work," Scott said with a grin, "but he's married."
She screwed up her nose, "Ewww, you don't want to do that."
He looked at her in genuine surprise, "You're a fine one to talk, look at you."
She shook her head, "That's different. Dickie's not married."
He shifted in his seat and gave her a serious look, "He's about to have a kid, just be careful okay?"
She nodded as they drew up, the others standing in a quiet group on the side of the street. As they climbed sombrely into the Rover Scott wondered what had happened to the high spirits. He glanced back at them; Luke was staring hard-eyed out of the window, his jaw set in that classic `I'm pissed' pose he carried so well. Fleur was clinging onto Dickie for dear life, and surprisingly she shot Scott a look before snuggling into the crook of her boyfriend's arm possessively. Darren just looked like someone had died.
"Well, aren't we a cheerful bunch," Serena murmured as she put the Rover back into gear and drove back to the camper. The atmosphere inside the car was so strained that Scott turned on the radio to break the uncomfortable silence that had settled over them. He rested his head against the window and watched the world flow past.
As if by some divine cue, it began to rain.
It was as if life had suddenly become infinitely more complex in the space of a few short hours. They were all wrestling with mature problems on a trip that was supposed to let them feel like kids again. They were supposed to leave all that behind and have fun; instead life had stalked them down like a ravenous lion, pouncing on each of them and killing the last vestige of enjoyment.
Scott wanted to go home.
It turned out when they returned to the Camper that he wasn't the only one. Fleur had unanimously decided that she didn't want to be there anymore. A loud argument with Dickie had resulted in everyone agreeing to head back a day early. And Scott rubbed his forehead resting in the bench seat of the Winnebago watching as everything was packed away again.
Serena had no idea what was going on either, she sat across from him wide-eyed holding onto a cup of tea she had insisted on having. Since it was Serena's Metro she was being forced to leave as well.
"I'm going to find out what's going on," Scott decided, getting to his feet and pulling on his jacket and walking out to where Darren was piling bags into the back of the Rover.
Darren sighed, pushing back his wet hair and looked at Scott. "Hey," he said, his eyes still desperately sad, almost disappointed.
"What's up?" Scott asked, bending to help him lift bags up into the back of the car.
Darren shook his head, "It's not my place mate," he said tiredly. "Just we'll go out for a drink tomorrow okay?" He met Scott's eyes and made it clear he meant it.
Scott frowned, scrubbing the side of his head as he stepped back to let Darren shut the trunk. Dickie and Fleur had come back from wherever it was they had gone to continue their argument, neither acknowledging anyone else as they climbed into the back seat.
Darren cupped Scott's shoulder with his hand, walking over to get into the passenger seat of the Metro. Serena came out of the Camper a few minutes later pulling on her own coat and looking up at the rain-soaked sky. She gave him a light brush on his arm as she went around and got into the driver's side of the car, giving one last glance at the caravan as she did so. So much for the vacation.
Dickie's head turned and his eyes met Scott's a second before he wrapped a hand around Fleur protectively. Scott lifted a hand as the Metro rolled away, letting it fall to his side as the rain started to hammer down.
"We're leaving," Luke ordered, walking around to the driver's side of the Rover, the cold hard look back in his eyes, making it clear that Scott wasn't driving. He pulled open the door forcibly and climbed inside and slammed it shut.
"Great," Scott murmured to himself, "this is going to be fun." He opened the door and got in closing it behind him and buckling his seat belt.
Luke was gripping the steering wheel tightly staring ahead; he finally wrestled with whatever he was wrestling with and reached down to start the Rover. The stuttered choking of the engine caused both of them to look at the dashboard. Of all the moments it would pick.
Luke tried it again. The Rover made a valiant effort to start, spluttering and fading into clicking. He turned the key again, and was rewarded with more clicks. He slammed his hands down on the steering wheel in frustration, "Shit!"