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.
The time waiting for the passport seemed to pass quickly; when Friday night had rolled around Scott had learned that his cousin Darren was to be putting in an appearance. For Scott this was cheerful news; Aunt Christine's eldest boy was Scott's age, and although his mother generally regarded him as a black sheep, he was a good person. Scott had shared many a scraped knee from adventures with Darren when he was younger and it was good to see a face his own age for a change rather than the unending stream of adults.
Darren had shown up at the door with his hands in the pockets of a well-worn motorcycling jacket, his long greasy hair tied back out of his eyes and a grin on his face that was the first warm one Scott had received from one of his relatives.
"All right then, mate," he greeted with a nod as Scott answered the door. "Get yer coat, we're goin' for a pint."
Gran eyed her black-sheep grandson carefully, "You take care of him, mind," she said with her hands on her hips as if she knew all too well what Darren was all about, "and bring him back in one piece; I know what boys are like at your age."
Darren's face took on a look that reminded Scott of the blond-haired angel he had been when they had been children. "I'll look after him Nanny," he said in a voice filled with innocence. And Scott knew from experience that meant he was going to get into a whole heap of trouble.
Gran gave him a knowing look, and patted Scott on the shoulder, "Go have fun dear," she said, handing him a key.
Once they were walking to the curb, and to a large, battered, red monstrosity that Scott hoped to God wasn't Darren's car, his cousin grinned at him. "Whatcha doin' back here then?" he asked, opening the door to said monstrosity.
Scott shrugged on his jacket and piled into the passenger seat, "Right to the point huh?" Scott asked, as he struggled with a broken seatbelt that wouldn't pull free.
"Mum's all in a tiz about it," he said starting the car on his third turn of the key, "you know how she is; she likes to know everythin'."
"I'll tell you over a beer," Scott replied, giving up on the seat belt and holding onto the dashboard as the car rolled forward. "Where are we going, anyway?"
"Hellingly," Darren said. "Nice quiet pub up there and you're not likely to get yer head kicked in looking like a Yank."
"Great," Scott murmured darkly, "something to look forward to."
Darren chuckled at him as the car stalled, wheezed, then started again, "Well, have you looked in the mirror? You look like one of those guys from an American sitcom; talk about a walking stereotype, mate."
Scott glanced down at himself and shrugged, "It's all I got," he replied honestly. He liked what he was wearing, and felt a little offended about it being referred to so derogatorily as `American'. He had chosen a particularly smart-looking navy-blue long-sleeved Henley tee shirt, over top a clean white regular T, and a pair of new Levi jeans. He felt he looked fine.
Darren shrugged as he wrestled the car into second gear; it protested loudly and Scott was sure the clutch was somewhere back on the road behind them. He craned his head to make sure. He was amazed when, after a few minutes, the car actually made it into the parking lot of the low ramshackle building that was supposedly a pub.
Darren hopped out, "Look mate, I didn't mean to insult ya back there."
Scott shrugged, "Look, I'm getting used to it..."
Darren stared at him with a concerned look in his eyes as he rested his elbows on the roof of his car. He was a good four inches taller than Scott who was a modest 5'8", and had at least thirty pounds on him. It was surprising considering Scott was actually a few months older than Darren.
Darren sighed, "Just want you to remember that some people don't like Yanks around these parts, and dressed like that, and given your size, you might get some trouble for it."
"You saying I'm short?" he said, folding his arms resolutely.
Darren grinned, "You'd have to grow an inch or two to be short." He led the way into the pub where he was greeted with a round of hello's and friendly nods. Darren was a regular, his face well-known; suddenly Scott really missed the pool hall `The Broken Cue' that had been a second home to him. At least there he hadn't been given dismissive glances by tired old men cradling pints and trying to forget life for a while. Darren cheerfully waved Scott into a booth. Moments later he was back with two of Whitbread's finest lagers.
He lifted his glass, and in a near flawless impersonation of Inspector Morse said, "A pint Lewis!"
Scott lifted the glass, thankful to at last be back in a country that had a respectable drinking age of sixteen, not the ludicrous twenty-one. And he tilted the glass back, feeling the smooth-tasting lager slide down his throat and hit his system with a refreshing burst.
"Steady on," Darren said, looking shocked at how fast Scott downed the drink, "you'd think you hadn't had one in years."
Scott set the glass down on the table and breathed a relieved sigh, "You have no idea, bud. Thanks, I needed that."
Darren waved it off, "Don't worry about it mate, my pleasure. So are you going to tell me why you're here so I can get Mum off my back, or do I have to buy you another round?"
Scott licked his lips as he glanced at the pump, "Let me get this one," he said pulling out his wallet and thumbing through the bills.
"Bloody hell," Darren said pushing his hand down below the edge of the table, "Don't go flashing that round here, lest you give someone some ideas..."
Scott looked about in confusion; the bar was nearly empty, except for a few locals and some kids their own age playing the fruit machines in the saloon bar. He really didn't see the harm in thumbing through his wallet; it was only a hundred pounds...
Darren shook his head, "Shit, you are a Yank aren't you?" He stared in wonder at his cousin, "Anything left in there of that nippy little left-winger we loaned the States eight years ago?"
Scott grinned, "I'm still here, just picked up some bad habits that's all." He grinned and got up to buy the next round, nodding politely to the bartender who heard his accent and scowled, as if reluctant to give up his lager, too precious to be wasted you see...
He shook his head as he came and sat down at the table again, "I'm getting sick of this," he murmured, looking back at the bar. "Doesn't seem to matter to anyone who I am, just matters what I am."
"Ain't it always?" Darren responded, finishing his first pint and immediately swapping it for the second. "So you gonna tell me now?"
Scott chuckled, sprawling back into his seat, "Ok, well it's a classic story; I got to university and I worked hard, but..." he shrugged, "it just wasn't my thing. It was my dad's dream you know, not mine. And that got me thinking about a lot of things...and then I just decided I wanted to come home. And I did."
"Mum thinks you got some girl pregnant," Darren said in his usual forthright manner, "but then Mum thinks that about any lad our age." He laughed, "You should have seen her when I brought Emma home; it took me three months to get her to believe me that Emma was already pregnant when I started to date her."
"Bet she loved you for that," Scott said with a wink. He liked Darren; the roguish young man had grown up into someone who had a healthy respect for life. He was more realistic than some of the other members of the family, less idealistic and more...streetwise, if you could be that way in England.
"Oh, I got free of her the moment I was sixteen. I got out of school, into the garage and I've been happy ever since." He smiled, "My own flat, my own car, and no more nagging."
Scott could appreciate that, "I felt the same way when I left home, Dad was getting too much, so I decided to move into residence and he didn't like that." He squinted into his rapidly emptying glass to see if there was a hole at the bottom of it; there wasn't.
"You and Uncle John have a falling out?" Darren asked; seeming relaxed now that he was getting to know his cousin again.
Scott nodded, "He saw Doctor or Lawyer... I saw Grade A Loser, and so he disowned me. Actually its more like he's disappointed..."
"Yeah, Mum was like that when I didn't go to sixth form." He nodded to himself thoughtfully, "But I got apprenticed at my dad's old garage and its been great ever since. We're working on a banger for the Darlington track, you should stop by and take a look." There was an excitement in his eyes.
Scott grinned; it was the one thing his Uncle Ron and his Cousin Darren shared, a love for speed, especially in the local demolition derby. His father had always forbidden Ron from taking him, but he wasn't a little boy anymore...
"Yeah, I'd love that."
"You drive yet?" Darren asked slyly.
"I can," Scott said. "Some buddies took me to get my licence my first week in the residence... Dad said no, but I did it anyway."
"Oh you do have a rebellious streak in you." Darren looked like he had just discovered gold, "That's good, and you need a car. Come see me and I'll hook you up for a couple of hundred."
Scott winced, "I don't have it, bud."
Darren huffed, "You will eventually, right? So come, find one you like and I'll spot you till you get a job. Besides, Mum will go ape-shit."
Scott shrugged, "I'd like to, but I can't afford one right now. I need to get a job and get set up..."
Both heads turned to the familiar female voice; Serena walked across the bar floor from the door and she bent down to give him a hug, which he returned in surprise. She stepped away from him, "Good to see you, didn't know you came here." She looked over at her friend, a rather mousey-looking girl with thick round glasses, "Mind if we join you after we get some drinks?"
"Sure." Scott said as he scooted over to the wall.
Serena nodded as she went to the bar to order and Darren shot him a shocked look, "How the hell do you know Serena Chapman?" It sounded a lot like an accusation, especially when he hissed it in a feeble attempt at a whisper.
"I used to go to school with her," Scott explained, trying to hurry before she got back. "We rode the same train down from Gatwick."
Darren cocked his head to get a better look of her in her tight jeans, "I underestimated you, Scotty."
Scott grinned into his glass, "Everyone does that."
They waited quietly as Serena and her friend joined them at the table. Scott was prepared to introduce Darren but the way Darren looked at Serena, and she back at him, they obviously knew each other. So instead he stuck a hand out to the mousey girl, "Hi, I'm Scott."
"Fleur," the mousey girl replied, blushing bright red as she shook his hand. Inwardly he rolled his eyes, knowing full well that he had another girl problem on his hands. The way she was looking at him, with instant adoration, made him want to shrivel up into a ball. Nothing makes a person more self-conscious about themselves than a girl so scared of you that you'd have to pry a conversation out of her with a crowbar.
He decided to play nice, warm and friendly, and let her come out of her shell on her own once she realized he wasn't interested. Maybe he'd get lucky and she'd notice Darren sitting next to her. He was cute; lanky with blond hair and a grin that made him... Scott realized that Darren was attractive. He just didn't bother with his appearance; he was too relaxed about it. Introduce him to soap, cut his hair and get him into something other than torn jeans and he would be a lady-killer.
"I like your shirt," Serena said, tracing her hand lightly down the line of buttons on his Henley, "Where'd you get it?"
"Wal-Mart," Scott replied honestly, "It was on sale so I grabbed a couple..."
Fleur's eyes suddenly looked past his shoulder, widening as her smile became more dreamy, and Scott wondered if it was something he had done, but he glanced over his shoulder to see the two young men who had walked in. He recognized Dickie from the grocery store immediately.
"Your boyfriend's here," Serena said, tensing slightly beside Scott, and he saw her quickly hide a look of distaste with her glass. She saw that he had seen it and gave him a look that said she would explain `later'.
Fleur was already up from her bench and bounding over to throw her arms around Dickie, who swept her up into them and planted a soft kiss on her cheek before he set her down. The other young man, dark-haired and vaguely familiar to Scott just scowled as he stalked over to the bar, ordering a couple of pints of Guinness. The three of them joined the table.
"Griff," the dark-haired man said to Darren as he slid into the booth beside him. Darren tilted his head back in greeting, moving to let him in.
Dickie pulled up his own chair, capping the table, Fleur draped over his arm, and surveyed the troops like an old general. His intense grey eyes stopped when they recognized Scott and he leaned across the table to offer his hand again. "You were with Rita Walker in the Sainsbury's the other day."
Scott clasped the hand firmly, "Scott Walker; you're Jan's son, right?"
"We both are," Dickie said gesturing to the dark-haired young man who was staring at Scott with a dark look on his face, one that measured him, and from the sudden flash in them, found him wanting. "This is my brother, Luke."
Scott began to extend his hand but Luke ignored it as he stood up, "I'm gonna go set up the pool table; Griff, you game?" His voice was tight, like he just wanted to get away from the group; Scott had been around long enough to know when someone didn't want to belong.
Scott pulled his hand back; Luke wasn't even going to give him the time of day. So much for that then, he turned back to Dickie who had glanced at his brother in annoyance. Darren just shrugged and followed Luke to the pool table, hoping it was enough to show he didn't understand Luke's rudeness either.
"I'm sorry," Dickie said, compensating by sliding into the bench across from Scott, and affixing him with a pair or intense eyes that searched his soul. It was like being peeled back and exposed; they didn't blink, but stayed locked on his own, and Scott got the impression he was having his mind read.
Scott shrugged, "I'm getting used to it, trust me. Comes with the territory it seems..."
Dickie wagged his finger, not breaking his gaze, "I remember who you are now; you were the little dark-haired kid that used to go with your dad to the football club to watch them play."
Scott frowned, "Yeah, the club on the recreation ground; my dad used to take me there every Sunday afternoon..."
Dickie relaxed back, satisfied that he hadn't forgotten a face, "Yeah, my dad used to take me as well; Rita used to talk about her grandsons in the United States." His voice pronounced the words flawlessly, an edge of education behind them that said he knew what he was saying, and there was no denying the self-confidence the man projected; a sheer force of will, that let you know he was there, "Glad to finally put a face with the name."
Scott shrugged, "It's good to be here. I'm meeting a lot of," he glanced at Serena who was doing her best not to seem like she was inching ever closer to him, "old friends," he said, looking back.
Dickie chuckled as he looped a hand around Fleur's shoulders; she curled against him and sighed peacefully, like an addict getting a fix. From his angle, Scott could see the faint resemblance to a junkie. She had dark lines under her eyes, pale-ish skin and was entirely too thin, it was a cruel thought and he stuffed it deep down and promptly forgot it, embarrassed with himself for having it.
Dickie absently stroked her hair, as he looked over at Serena, "You're working in the stationary store down on the High Street this summer aren't you," he said flatly, as if he already knew the answer.
Serena bobbed her head, her curls rustling, "Yes, I'm off of university after the summer and my mom set me up with the job." She grinned, "Stocking shelves isn't glamorous but it gives me some play money. How about you, are you working this summer?"
His eyes met hers considering her before he spoke. Scott noticed he did this every time he spoke, as if he was deliberately careful about each word he chose. "I'm taking care of Jasper this summer; hopefully next year he will be old enough to join the Leisure Centre's play group."
Scott zoned out of the conversation, as Serena and Dickie talked about people and events he had no knowledge of. He was watching his cousin get beaten at pool by an emotionless Luke. Darren was cursing up a storm, but Luke didn't so much as crack a smile, he just made his shot, hit or miss.
Luke glanced up from the table and noticed Scott watching him, and he narrowed his eyes before he bent back to his shot, sinking the ball. It was the closest he had come to any kind of emotion the entire game.
Scott turned back to Dickie, who was asking him something, "I'm sorry?"
Dickie shrugged, "We're going into Eastbourne tomorrow night, I was wondering if you would like to join us. You probably haven't had a chance to meet anyone yet, Serena just offered to bring you along."
He realized he was being set up on a date, and he was thrown for a second, "But I'm gay..." he said, looking shocked at the fact he had just blurted it out like that.
Dickie shrugged, "Ok," he said in a manner that said he really didn't care one way or the other. Fleur had sat up in surprise, and Serena was looking at him blankly.
"So that's why you didn't..." she began and swallowed it before she said too much.
He gritted his teeth; he hated it when he was caught off guard like that. "I'm sorry," he started to apologize, "I-"
"No need to explain," Dickie replied, waving off his apology, "I don't care. Though I wouldn't recommend yelling it too loudly in a pub again." He lifted a hand to cheerfully wave at a couple of the regulars who were staring in shock in their general direction.
"How come the cute ones are always gay," Serena pouted a smile on her pretty face, "You sure?"
"Been out for a year now," Scott confirmed, glad that it was finally out in the open, "I'm sorry, I thought that..." he looked at Serena, "I didn't want to give anyone the wrong idea that's all."
She gave him a petulant look before she broke into a broad grin; "You could come shopping with us next weekend!" she looked delighted, "help me pick out clothes..."
Scott coughed, "Umm, I'm not really the kind of guy who knows about... women's clothing..."
Dickie gave him a disgusted look, "You're right, you in stockings and a bra is a nasty thought..."
"...are you sure you're gay?" Serena said looking at him closely, "You look like a short football player to me..."
Scott scratched his temple, "Sorry..."
The next two weeks seemed to drag by, those first days back home where Scott was still trying to find his footing. His grandmother had been overjoyed that he was making friends; she seemed especially pleased to meet Serena who had picked him up the next night to drive him into Eastbourne to join them at Bar Copa on the end of the pier.
Scott was starting to relax; he enjoyed spending time with Serena, who had developed rather quickly into a stereotypical fag-hag. Or more aptly he had become her fag-bangle, that gay fashion accessory all the popular girls wanted to have with them. A status symbol signifying that she was cool.
Scott grinned and bore it well; he usually just stuck his hands in his pockets and hung back a little bit as she bounced through introducing him as her "Obligatory gay friend" feeling painfully self conscious and wishing he were anywhere else at the time. It was after one such morning of being dragged unwillingly around the Arndale mall in Eastbourne, that he had blessedly been saved by his appointment with English bureaucracy.
Serena had made him promise to meet her at the train station café when he was done, before she had swept off to check out the latest fashions at Debbenham's department store; apparently Fleur worked there during the day down on the home accessories floor.
Scott had ambled across the road, heading headlong into the most tangled example of government red tape he had ever been exposed to. He was armed though; he had a shiny new British passport in his pocket as well as all his other papers, he was ready to actually start getting up on his own two feet again. Though the blow to his ego would have to be tended after he had received his first welfare check.
Only in England it wasn't called that, they had found a politically-correct term called `Job Seekers Allowance' which supposedly was to make it a proactive social contract. Welfare was seen by many as subsisting off of the backs of others, while `Job Seekers' conjured an image of sharp young men in business suits moving from job interview to job interview ready to rejoin society in a productive role.
It was essentially exactly that; an allotment of money that he would use to feed himself and ensure he could travel to and from interviews. There was even a budget for him to buy a new suit. Rent, however, was something else entirely; apparently he would have to go and wait in another line to get that.
As was typical of bureaucracy the world over, Scott's first exposure to the job centre was of a long line-up as desperate people of varying ages waited in order to plead their case to overworked, underpaid, apathetic caseworkers who were coldly uncaring to the plights of the people who came before them with outstretched hands. It reminded Scott of summary justice, where in medieval times a King would sit on a throne as people came before him to beg for leniency on crimes, or to beg for a scrap of food, and depending on the King's mood, a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down would decide their fate, before they were swept off and another would step forward.
Scott had been lucky enough to grab a chair as he waited for his number to be called, and he sat fiddling with the sleeve of his jacket and staring listlessly at the floor as he did so. He didn't want to be there, his pride was taking the kind of world-class beating that came from going five rounds with Ali. He was reduced to begging for a handout; it was stupid but he didn't really have a choice. He couldn't exactly go on staying at his gran's house in Hailsham. Scott needed to feel like he was moving forward with his life, doing anything rather than just wasting away doing nothing at all.
"Seat taken?" the heavyset young man asked as he flopped down beside Scott. Scott looked up past the leather pants, the thick black trenchcoat and the pale white face...and make up?
Scott started in shock, "Travis?"
He looked at Scott in puzzlement, wondering who the young guy with the accent was who knew his name and actually used it. "Yeah?" he responded setting a leather-bound book across his lap.
Scott was surprised; again the world was proving it was really a small place. He looked at Travis for a moment; the Goth get-up, the faint hint of his original hair colouring poking out from under the bad black dye job. There was no mistaking Travis Woodard; he simply hadn't changed, only grown taller.
"Hi!" Scott said enthusiastically as he stuck out his hand.
Travis took the hand, a faint glimmer of recognition in his eyes as he did so, "Scotty?" he inquired cautiously, "Wow, that is you!"
And just like that Scott was reacquainted with his best friend from school. A guy who Scott had shared his lunch with in the lunchroom. The same guy who Scott had goofed off with in class when they were both supposed to be paying attention. It was amazing, and despite the fact that they were in a place shrouded in a stigma of gloomy depression, they talked about the good old days. Scott filled Travis in on his life, and what had happened to the scrawny little striker who had one day simply not shown up for class again.
Travis in turn told Scott about the slightly podgy kid who had grown up into a full-fledged Goth.
Once Scott had completed his begging, and he had completed the endless mountain of paperwork that would allow him to start claiming Job Seekers and actually move out of his Gran's house and into his own place, he walked with Travis back to the train station.
Serena had been overjoyed to meet Travis again; true, `overjoyed' may have been an optimistic overstatement on Scott's part. She seemed mildly intrigued to meet the longhaired gothic man. She was sitting at her own table with what vaguely resembled a cup of coffee in her hands. In fact when Scott looked at it closely it was a real cup.
He gave her one of his patented stupid grins before he darted over to the counter to order one... returning to the table holding the liquid gold that he had been craving for over two solid weeks. Real coffee, not instant, real... fresh, with cream, a little sugar... but it was definitely real coffee.
"Did you get it?" Serena asked as Scott sat down again. She was surrounded by shopping bags suspiciously filled with clothes. No doubt making use of Fleur's store discount at Debenhams.
Scott nodded, "Yeah, rather painless once I showed them I was really English. Though one girl wanted me to sit a HRT."
"HRT?" Travis asked. He had just returned to the table with a cup of tea, the teabag sitting in tepid water which for some strange reason he found appetizing.
"Habitual Residency Test," Scott replied. "I answer a bunch of questions about England in an effort to prove I live here." He grinned, "Piece'o'cake."
"Alright, Einstein," Serena said, "Name three English political parties."
Scott looked at her blankly, "Did I forget to mention how lovely your eyes are today?"
Travis chuckled, and Serena blushed before shaking her head to refocus, "That was a bloody good try Scott, but charming me isn't going to work."
"Worked on the girl in the Job Center," Scott replied candidly, stirring his coffee and savouring the first mouthful. "Impressed her so much she just filled all the answers in for me."
Serena gave him a scandalized look, "You chatted up the woman at the Job Centre?"
Scott turned his head, not meeting her gaze; "Look, a bird," he pointed out of the window.
"Nice one!" Travis grinned slapping him on the shoulder. "That never works for me."
"Great, I'm helping you to take advantage of vulnerable women," Serena finally grinned at him, "so maybe you're not as gay as you thought..." she caught herself a moment too late as she flushed red at the fact she had just let slip.
Travis choked on his tea, "No, not you..." he said looking at Scott suspiciously.
"Well I was hoping to avoid taking the full page ad out in the Daily Telegraph." Scott murmured darkly, "but I see the town crier got to it first... thanks for that."
"I'm so sorry..." Serena said covering her mouth, still in shock over how careless she had been.
"Meh," Scott replied shrugging his shoulders, "it's not like I'm trying to hide anything... just watch yourself around my family." He gave her a meaningful look, "I'd rather my gran not find out from someone else."
Serena dropped them off close to Travis's flat in the Town Farm area of Hailsham. The housing estate was considered one of the unsavoury neighbourhoods of the small town. It was a place where the lowest classes lived in homes, or apartments, and to Scott's middle-class English family, a place that was beneath contempt. In fact he had been warned several times to stay out of Town Farm. Scott had spent the last eight years in Brooklyn; Town Farm was an idyllic suburb compared to that, so he resolutely ignored those warnings. Plus he never could wrap his mind around social discrimination; to him it was just as bad as discrimination against someone who was black, Jewish, or gay...
The apartment building, or block of flats as Travis kept referring to it, was sitting in the middle of various different track housing, a squat three-story building with a decided nineteen-eighties feel to the architecture. The local diocese of the Anglican Church, as a way to provide housing to the younger generation, ran St. Georges. It was watched over by a retired nun. Apparently she considered it more like a dormitory rather than an apartment building.
It reminded Scott of a university dorm. The flats were small bachelors with a kitchen and a bathroom and little else. More like shoeboxes than dwellings. And Travis's was remarkably spartan having only a large double bed and a pile of clothes in his. Scott could tell it wasn't really lived in. Travis was one of those people who perpetually spent his time at other people's houses. But for the moment, as Scott sipped a cup of cheap tea that tasted more like hot water than anything else, he really didn't care.
Scott had cleared a space for himself from the crumpled magazines and books, and had his back to the gaudy canary-yellow wall as he looked over at his old friend. It was the realization that he wasn't the only one who had fallen down on his luck that made him feel better about his journey home. He wasn't crazy; he was just searching for something he simply hadn't found yet.
"So what do you do with yourself now?" Scott asked as he gingerly set the cup down on a well-read copy of Maxim magazine.
"Nothing really," Travis admitted, "I spend most of my time with Mia."
"Mia?" Scott asked, tasting the unfamiliar name as he said it, "She your girlfriend?"
"Her real name is Kerry," Travis replied, as he shifted on the end of his unmade bed. "We've been seeing each other for a while now."
Scott smiled at this, "Great, what's she like?"
Bad question; Scott was one of those people who asked questions that invariably forced him to learn too much information. So, in asking Travis what his girlfriend was like, well, he wasn't fully prepared to learn that Kerry was in her early forties, married with two children. And that she and Travis had been having an affair ever since they had met at a pub two years before. Scott was stunned into silence, sitting there, wondering what on earth possessed Travis to date a woman that old; he was the same age as Scott, nineteen, literally half her age. Not to mention the fact that she was a married woman.
Scott decided not to say anything, who was he to judge Travis? Scott hadn't really been in a relationship before. No real time for it, and Brian was nothing more than a few clumsy casual encounters that resulted in a prolonged one-night stand. Not that he minded, it was all he had been looking for at the time. But to actually be in an affair, and an affair with a woman that old, she had to be a unique woman that was for sure.
And as afternoon wore on to become evening and darkness began to set in, Scott realized he would have to head home soon. Meadow Road was a good hike away from Town Farm, and he knew that Gran would be waiting with his dinner in the oven. He said a warm goodbye to Travis, and made arrangements to get together and spend a good evening down the pub.
Without much fanfare, Scott set out into Town Farm heading for home. It wouldn't take him that long, a short walk till he found George Street and from there out onto South Road. He gave himself about twenty minutes and he would be home.
It was getting dark, the blue sky deepening towards twilight, a warm breeze in the air, and the various houses around him were lit up with the flickering televisions watching their prime time, or what should have passed for prime time, programs. It wasn't particularly late, in fact it was still relatively early to Scott, but then he was still slightly jet-lagged and adjusting to English time would take him awhile.
It was quiet though, the orange streetlights that were the same the world over, lit everything around him in a surreal orange glow, and he shivered involuntarily as he thrust his hands deeper into his pockets and began to hurry. He was just letting all those worried comments about Town Farm get to him, he'd just make it up past the market and he'd be fine.
The footsteps behind him made him tense up a bit as he glanced behind him at the pair of young men walking behind him. If there was a typical type he had been warned about, it was the ones that dressed like soccer hooligans. Shaven heads, one was even wearing a Liverpool jersey. And the way they nudged each other and nodded to him, Scott knew this wasn't going to be a friendly encounter.
"Oi Mate," one called out, obviously directed to him, "got a fag?"
He tensed, feeling for sure he was in trouble. He turned, "What?"
"Got a fag...you know," the guy put two fingers to his lips and tapped them a couple of times... A cigarette, that's what they wanted. He almost collapsed in relief.
"No, I don't smoke," he said apologetically, turning to keep walking, they were almost up with him.
"Hey, slow down," the other one called out, the tone of his voice, and Scott knew immediately he was in trouble again, "You a fucking Yank?"
Scott braced his shoulders; he was easily dwarfed by these two broad-shouldered guys and if he ran where would he run to? He didn't know the area, one wrong turn and he would be in a dead end street. Short of booking it up the middle of the road screaming like a little girl, he was fresh out of ideas.
He wasn't a little girl... He turned and took off like a jackrabbit, bounding off of the curb and sprinting up the street for all he was worth, the two larger louts in hot pursuit.
He dodged and weaved around a car and propelled himself up onto a wall and used it to jump a hedgerow before he kept going, the two louts crashing and cursing through the bushes behind him.
He kept long strides, years of running on a pitch kept him in reasonably good shape, unlike two guys who spent the majority of their time on a couch with a six-pack. But he couldn't keep the pace up for long, he didn't know where he was running to, and he rounded a corner to pull up short.
The three apartment buildings closed the street off neatly, a dead end, and as he turned the two hooligans jogged around the corner to block his only way out. He was screwed, and from the looks on their faces, he was not going to escape this one by talking. He backed up slowly into the middle of the street, looking about vainly for anyone to see him. It was still early, there had to be someone about in the housing estate.
"Guys," he said holding up his hands and continuing to back up, "I'm not an American, I'm from Hailsham, I live here... I went to Grove..."
"You sound like a Yank, you look like a Yank." The one in the jersey stated balling his hands into fists, "This isn't your country..."
"Look, I don't have any money on me, I was just trying to go home," he knew he was trying to reason with two people who weren't about to listen to him. It was a futile gesture, but he had to try, it was either that or let them kick his head in.
The shrill whistle stopped them short in the dim light at the opening of the street; a uniformed man blew his whistle again, "Alright then, what's going on here?"
The two louts glared at him and turned to face the police officer, only the gleaming emblem on his bobby's helmet shone in the orange light, the rest of him was dark. He had his hands on his hips and looked dangerously threatening.
"Nothing, constable," the one in the jersey reassured. "Just out for a walk, that's all."
"A walk home I take it, Sam, how about you, Robert?" His head turned to the other lout, who appeared to shrink away from the police officer.
"Just going home, constable..."
The officer stood aside to let them past, still looking menacingly towards them until the rounded the corner out of sight. As he turned back to Scott, he removed his helmet and tucked it under his arm, "What the bloody hell do you think you're playing at?" Luke asked, stepping forward so that the light lit up his face.
Scott breathed his second sigh of relief for the evening, "I was just heading home..."
"Are you dense?" Luke accused. "You can't walk around Town Farm alone at night, you're asking for trouble like that."
Scott shrugged, "It's no big deal, I..."
"Could have been beaten within an inch of your life," Luke replied, obviously angry. He rubbed his brow as if to relieve some of the tension there and he picked up his mic, "Dispatch this is PC Allston, I have a bloody prat here who thought it was a good idea to take his evening constitutional through Town Farm. I'm going to see that he gets home with his head still attached. Over."
"Roger, Luke," the radio crackled back at him, "tell the idiot he owes you a drink when you get off duty, over."
Luke half-smiled, it was the closest Scott had seen him smile yet, "Roger that." And he clicked the mic off, setting his helmet back onto his head he looked at Scott, "You just going to stand there like a melon or are you coming?"
Scott raised an eyebrow amused by Luke's cracks about his mental capacity, "Yeah I'm coming, lead the way, Constable."
Scott looked at him again, "What?" Luke snapped, sounding irritable, and Scott guessed he was wondering what kind of twit would walk through Town Farm on their own. Sure there were probably a few that could pull it off, but they had to be twice Scott's size, and anyone would think twice about taking on a guy built like heavyweight boxer. But Scott was small, smaller than your average lightweight. Great.
Scott ambled alongside Luke, quite enjoying the stroll, and smirking over the fact that he had his own chaperone walking him home. After all, how many people got to do that? Upon reflection, he remembered that a pair of New York's finest had once escorted his sister home after she had been caught for shoplifting, not exactly something to be smirking about.
Suddenly the encroaching night didn't seem so threatening, and he felt a lot more comfortable walking through the housing estate, past the weathered terrace houses, garages and junk skips. He could see the lack of care in the housing estate. It was dirty and it felt that way, as if the residents simply didn't care about their neighbourhood. Why bother, they were looked down on anyway.
"When did you become a cop?" Scott asked, trying for the third time to start a conversation.
Luke rolled his eyes, as they crossed an empty street; there were virtually no cars out in Hailsham on a week night after dark, "After college, I applied, I got in, I got trained." He mumbled something under his breath, "And I'm a Police Constable, you're in England."
Scott continued to smile his dopey smile; he was actually highly entertained by Luke's dour attitude. Who would have thought the class delinquent would grow up to become a police officer? It was just one of those strange quirks of fate; ask him as a kid what he thought Luke would be doing when he grew up and Scott would have probably said `time'.
"It's just interesting that's all," Scott said keeping up with Luke's long strides, "you never seemed the type."
"And you didn't seem the type to grow up to be a dumb American," Luke shot back angrily. "What the hell were you playing at back there?"
Scott sighed, "Look, firstly I am not a dumb American, show me some fucking respect... Secondly I was just walking home, I didn't think..."
"Yeah, you didn't think." Luke shot back. "Imagine what Rita would say if I had to bring you back with your teeth in a bag."
It was Scott's turn to roll his eyes, "I was going to say thanks for that, but I'm starting to wonder if I wouldn't have been better off..."
"Look mate, I'm sorry," Luke said quietly, sounding genuinely apologetic. "I shouldn't have called you a dumb American."
Scott blew out a sigh, "It's okay, I am getting used to it. You'd think I was the scum of the earth though."
"Yeah," Luke admitted as they turned down George Street passing the recently renovated cinema and the courthouse, "It's because you're different, people don't like different." Scott dodged around a couple of old troughs that had become planters for flowers, a little bit of colour on the side of the street.
A few steps later Scott felt his stomach rumble threateningly and he glanced up on the corner where Hailsham's Fish and Chip Shop was located. "You hungry?" he asked.
Luke looked up, "You mean the chippy? No, I ate earlier but we can stop if you want." He seemed reluctant about the idea, no doubt wanting to get back to walking his beat.
"You don't have to wait," Scott offered.
"I do," Luke said. "If I don't and something happens to you, I'd have to explain to the superintendent, and if he didn't kill me, your gran would."
Scott smiled as they both walked through the door into the small fish and chip shop, Scott quickly placing an order and handing over the two pound in payment. The fish was handed back to him wrapped in the traditional newspaper, a cornucopia of grease and batter drenched in malt vinegar, salt and ketchup. He was even pleased to find the small wooden fork he remembered from when he was young.
Luke shook his head, "I don't know how you can eat that stuff," he said as they were once again walking, he seemed to have relaxed from his earlier aggression.
Scott held it up, "After years of pizza slices, hotdogs and crap, fish and chips are a welcome break. You know you can't get it over there? You can, but it never tastes the same..." he happily began chewing on his chips.
"Yeah, I suppose." Luke said, as they crossed the old railway bridge and turned for the last long walk up South Road, finally reaching out a hand to steal a couple of chips when his dispassionate asshole routine finally gave way to the power of junk food.
Scott smirked again, holding the bag between them as he walked, glad that Luke was finally beginning to relax, both young men reaching in to help themselves.
It was a chance for Scott to actually look at Luke; the young man had a small nose and his ears stuck out a little more due to the strange helmet so many Bobbies wore, but the dark blue, modern uniform suited him. It seemed to add a purpose, and the severe gaze he always affixed on people seemed to make sense while he wore it. He had a pair of the deepest brown eyes that were a direct clue to his emotions, if you could actually get him to stop squinting at you suspiciously. And Scott realized that Luke was actually very cute, not hot, not handsome, just cute. He still had a little bit of baby fat to his cheeks, and so they dimpled when he smiled. Wait... he was smiling... Scott blinked and looked up again, but the smile was gone.
"Why'd you join the force?" Emboldened by the smile Scott decided to try again. He was insatiably curious, it was so contrary to the Luke he had known so many years ago.
"I wanted to do something with myself," Luke said. "I didn't have the marks to go to university, and I didn't want to get a trade so it was join the army or this." He looked down at his dark-coloured uniform, and up at Scott, "So it's your turn, why'd you come back and don't bother telling me the horseshit you told Griff."
Scott winced, "I flunked out," he admitted truthfully. "I went there, realized I didn't have what it takes, stopped going and failed. Not exactly something I'm proud of..."
Luke nodded, "Least your honest about it, some people just lie and make up excuses for dropping out."
Scott wondered what Luke meant by that, but there was that dispassionate look creeping back into his young face, those eyes looking suddenly very far away, hard and cold. He had withdrawn into his shell again, and they were once again walking in silence.
Scott considered doing something, anything, to engage him in conversation again, but Luke had given him a glimmer of the man beneath the hard exterior, his apology for being an asshole. But that didn't change who Luke was, and Scott got the impression that Luke didn't particularly want to change. He was after all his own person.
When they stood on the doorstep, Luke politely rang the bell, his helmet once again tucked under his arm. Gran answered the door, immediately looking concerned when she saw Luke in uniform.
"Evening Ma'am," Luke said formally, "I believe I found something that belongs to you," he said, sounding so much older than his nineteen years.
"Scott?" she asked looking at the smiling young man beside the police officer.
"Yes ma'am," Luke replied rolling his shoulders back a little as he puffed himself up, "Found him wandering around Town Farm by himself."
"Scott!" Gran's voice climbed a strangled octave.
"I'm fine," Scott replied barely containing his amusement at the bizarre situation; here he was being escorted home by a police officer who had stabbed him with a pencil in elementary school because he didn't want to share poster paints.
"Well, I felt I should walk him home, make sure he got back and all." Luke took a step back to go.
Gran gave him a proud smile, "Thank you Luke, I will deal with this rapscallion," she gave Scott a teasing smile. "Are you sure you don't want to come in for a cup of tea?"
"No Ma'am," Luke bowed his head, putting the helmet back on, "I'm on duty tonight and need to get back to my beat."
"Well, you look very smart." Gran replied returning his nod, "as for you..." she said putting her hands on her hips and turning to Scott, who, still smiling, offered her a chip.
He had finally explained everything to Gran, who was still mightily amused by the fact he had been brought home by a police officer. She was ecstatic that he had sorted out the Job Seekers as well; it was a step in the right direction.
So finally, being a boy raised on American TV, Scott decided that was the way to end his night, but to his dismay he was solidly reminded of the abysmal state of English Television. And it was far too late to change his mind and stay in Brooklyn.
England had four terrestrial channels, each progressively more dull than the one before it. Except channel four; that had a passable sense of humour and tried not to take itself too seriously. And he was perched on the edge of his grandmother's couch, a rickety Victorian antique that had seen better days in its previous occupation as a medieval torture device, watching some nonsensical show that was supposedly a sitcom. It was entirely too witty for its own good; relying on innuendo and sarcasm, it was just dull.
Gran, however, loved every minute of it, chuckling along and pointing out, trying to explain the plot to him. He nodded, a confused look on his face wondering for the umpteenth time if emigrating home had really been worth sacrificing his prime time television.
The doorbell ringing caused both of them too look at each other, his gran's brow furrowing as Scott reluctantly got to his feet to answer it, his gran, in slippers and a night gown, padding along behind him.
Dickie beamed at him from the doorstep, "Evening old chap. Mrs. Walker." He nodded to her, "I was wondering if I could borrow Scott here for about an hour or so, if you don't mind sparing him."
"You boys," Gran chuckled as she turned to head back to her programs; Scott looked confused for a moment before he reached for his jacket.
Dickie shook his head, "Leave that, you won't need it. Come on, time's a-wasting."
He rushed Scott through pulling on his shoes and all but pushed him out to Serena's waiting car. "What's going on?" he murmured tiredly in confusion; it was getting later in the evening and he really had no idea where he was being abducted to.
"You'll see," Dickie said hopping into the car and banging a hand on the roof through the open window. Serena gave him a big grin as she hit the gas to drive off. The little Austin Metro zipped up towards the Holt end of Meadow Road.
Scott, who was being tossed around the back seat, grumbled trying to find a seated position, finally buckling himself in, "What the hell?"
Dickie turned back to him, those ever-penetrating eyes gleaming excitedly, "You know how to play pool, right?" he asked still smiling.
Scott shrugged, "I know how to play... We had a pool hall a few doors down from our apartment building, I practiced quite a bit..."
"Yeah, but you know how to play the American version," Dickie pressed.
"There's another version?" Scott asked cautiously.
Dickie cast his head back and looked towards the sky, "Thank you!" he said thanking whatever deity had delivered him exactly what he needed.
The car squealed to a stop as it pulled into a pub parking lot, Scott didn't recognize it, but he thought it said Brick Layers on the sign. British pub signs were always difficult to read when you were being dragged as fast as possible through the doors by an excited Englishman, and an over-enthusiastic girl.
There was a large crowd of people sitting around whooping and pointing towards the pool table where Darren was getting his ass handed to him by a swaggering man wearing a Florida Marlins baseball hat. The way he and his buddies were laughing, there was no doubt they were Americans.
"He's playing next," Dickie stated, striding up and laying money on the edge of the table.
The one in the cap sneered, "Yeah, whatever, you're still going down." He sank the eight ball effortlessly.
"I'm not that good," Scott protested as he had a cue stuffed into his hands by an angry-looking Darren.
"Doesn't matter," Dickie replied, "You're one of us and you're the only one who knows how to play by their rules." He pushed Scott towards the table, "For Queen and Country!" he declared.
"Crap," Scott murmured looking up at the large guy, "Hi; Brooklyn."
The guy grinned, "Hey Brooklyn; Miami." He pointed, "Orlando and Cleveland," introducing the other two.
Scott grinned, "Your break." Chalking up the cue as if he had spent much of his free time when he wasn't in school at the `Broken Cue' pool hall. There were advantages to having nothing better to do with himself.
When it was his turn he called the shots cleanly, sinking three balls consecutively, much to Miami's dismay, and Orlando's shocked cries. The Brits in the pub went nuts.
"Show `em," came the cries, "Kick `is arse!"
Scott walked around the table keeping his eye on Miami, "That's how we do it in Brooklyn."
The guy pushed his hat higher on his head, clucking in amazement and missing his next shot, he had been so thrown by the sudden display of talent. "Hell!" he cursed, stepping back.
Scott glanced over at his friends, Dickie smiling like a proud father, Serena looking excited and Darren just looking amazed. He shrugged at them and sank another ball. He made it look easy, he knew it. Too much, though, and he would start to look like a prick so he deliberately missed the next shot, making sure he looked like he really tried for it.
Miami was up again, making a minor comeback as he cleared a few balls, but it wasn't enough, as Scott leaned back to sweep the table clean. He stepped back as the eight-ball teetered on the edge and finally fell home with a satisfying thud and roll.
Dickie was clapping him on the back in congratulations, "That... that was great."
"How'd you do that?" Darren asked him, looking back at the table.
"Lots and lots and lots of practice," Scott replied, setting the cue back into its rack, "Pool is about all there is to do when you're under twenty-one in the States and Friday night rolls around." He shook his head, "I'm really not that good at it; my brother now, he can play... he can do these trick shots..."
Dickie cupped a hand on his shoulder and guided him over to the bar, "This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship old chap; you keep showing townie pride like that and you'll be `In Like Flynn.'"
He held up two fingers and the bartender set down a couple of tall glasses, waving off his attempts to pay, "'Bout time some one beat them," the bartender explained, "This round is on the house." He toddled back to polishing glasses.
"He's right," Darren replied looking back over his shoulder at the now much quieter Americans in the corner, "They've been at it all night, bragging about their "skills"; glad you made it."
"Almost didn't," Scott responded, "I had to be rescued in Town Farm..."
Darren winced, "You were in Town Farm alone? You're a real nutter Scott."
"I didn't think..." Serena suddenly became apologetic, "When I dropped you off, I'm so sorry..."
Dickie looked over his glass, "He's ok, there's nothing to fuss over." He nodded as he confirmed that Scott still had everything attached. "Bloody oiks can't leave well enough alone..."
Scott wasn't sure what an oik was; whatever it was it sounded derogatory.
"Well your brother Luke had to come to the rescue," Scott said with a sigh. "Good thing too..."
"PC Allston?" Dickie said, obviously surprised, "Well, good for him," he nodded. "Well anyway, let's enjoy the round before last call. How's the job hunt coming Scott?"
Scott shrugged, "It's going but... I just haven't had much luck."
"Not much call for an Anal Crusader, eh?" Darren chived, playfully nudging him.
Scott looked at him totally unimpressed, "Yeah, remind me to kick your ass later..."