By Paul Jamison
“No, Mr Machin, it’s here ready to go to the post office this afternoon,” one of the girls replied.
“I’ll take it please,”
“Stephen,” he said
“May I have a rental agreement; the usual part furnished shorthold tenancy
“Shouldn’t be a problem. We’ve already done an inventory and the decorators finish there today. Have you offered preferential terms?” Stephen asked.
“Yes, we have. Three months rent free, one month holding deposit, references from her previous employer all in order so no need to wait for anything from the agencies. No agency fees to pay for anyone, okay?”
“You’re being very fair,” Stephen remarked.
“I know, but I wanted this lady and as she’s relocating down from
“Yes, it’s a standard shorthold agreement. All I need to do is incorporate the figures you’ve just given me. They’ll be ready for you by the end of the afternoon.”
“Thanks, Stephen. I owe you one for this,”
I then placed the packet of paperwork into my briefcase and set about preparing a couple of other documents that I knew would be required immediately for Caroline to get her son established at school quickly. Once those had been printed off I signed them off, and added them to the others in my case and then returned to my other work.
* * *
With less than a week to go before Christmas was upon us I came down early on the Saturday with every intention of getting the cake baked and ready to decorate later in the week. The previous evening I had put all the dried fruit in to soak in the brandy and I’d been a good deal more generous with that than the recipe stated. I wanted the fruit to be very moist and succulent in the cake and to have a good brandy flavour as well. I set about preparing the rest of the mix when there was the usual clattering on the stairs and three, four, five, faces appeared around the kitchen door.
I looked up smiling and noticed that Craig as well as Justin had stayed over last night and I guessed were all hoping for some breakfast.
“Sorry, guys, you’re on your own this morning. I’ve this Christmas cake to get in the oven as it takes around four hours to bake.”
“Oh, anything need doing?” Will asked expectantly.
“Yes, there’re a number of things to be mixed or beaten up and you are welcome to get stuck in. Have your tea and toast, wash your hands well and I’ll have plenty you can help with,” I said.
They all busied themselves with the task of eating and as soon as they were done Liam and Craig put their used crocks into the dishwasher and took their leave. I knew that Liam would be working and I guessed Craig was returning home. That left Chris, Will and Justin.
“Right, you two can beat the sugar and butter together until it’s a light and fluffy mix, please.”
“Chris, beat these eggs up in this separate bowl till they are thoroughly mixed, okay?” That took them some minutes until I was satisfied that it was all done to the right consistency.
“Right, now Chris, slowly and I mean very slowly add the eggs to the sugar and butter beating all the time, okay, Will?” I instructed.
“Okay, you mean just pour it in?” Chris asked.
“NO!” I replied. “Add just a tablespoonful at a time, till it’s all beaten into the mix. If you just shove it all in at once, it’ll curdle and we want to avoid that at all costs, if we can.”
Justin held the bowl steady while Will whisked and Chris added the beaten eggs until it had all been absorbed into the mix. Once that had been done I took the bowl from them and folded in the flour and spices mix I had been preparing while they were working on their part.
“Right, Chris, go to the worktop in the utility room and bring in the covered bowl full of fruit that’s stood there, will you, please?” I asked.
Chris did as I asked and came back holding the bowl. I took off the cover and he said
“Wow, this is alcoholic!”
“It definitely is. All that fruit has been soaking overnight in a generous amount of brandy,” I explained. “Now, slowly add the fruit as I fold it into the whole mix now.”
Chris spooned the fruit into the mix gradually and as I mixed it in, it was decidedly harder to turn my spoon over in the mix. At this point Justin had a go and stirred the mix for a few moments. Chris by then had finished adding the fruit and I quickly finished off the folding in process.
All three lads helped to spoon the entire cake mix into an eight inch round cake tin and after smoothing down I added a circle of baking parchment to the top to prevent burning and put the cake in the oven on the bottom shelf at 140°C and set the timer for four hours.
“Four hours?” queried Will, in amazement.
“Yes, at least that. This is a very slow low temperature bake,” I explained and added “That’s just the minimum. It could well be another half hour or so on top of that, it just depends on how the oven behaves.”
We then tidied away and the boys returned to their rooms. Just after that Mr Clarke came down from Chris’s new room and said
“Right, Mr Frost, that’s all done and finished now. You can use the new bathroom from tomorrow and the paint’ll all be dry in the new bedroom by tomorrow morning too,” he explained.
“That’s just great. So we can press on and get it carpeted after tomorrow then?” I checked.
“Oh yes, you can carpet tomorrow if you’ve a mind,” he replied.
“I’ve got that arranged for Monday and the new bed on Tuesday,” I answered.
I saw Mr Clarke out after thanking him for his efforts to get it all done in time and returned to the kitchen to have a well earned cup of tea. The cake by then was beginning to emanate a beautiful aroma around the kitchen and I was just starting to get into the Christmas mood.
I next called the bed showroom and carpet shop to make sure that they were ready to deliver the bed and fit the carpet for Chris’s new room and then I went upstairs to have a look now that all the decoration was complete.
Chris was just coming out of his room as I turned the top of the stairs.
“Want to see it all now it’s decorated?” I asked.
“Oh yes, but after I’ve used the bathroom,” he grinned back and quickly went in to use the facility.
Chris came out of the bathroom grinning widely.
“That’s just so smart in there,” he said and added “It’s a lot easier than having to go upstairs and hope that Will or Liam aren’t using the other bathroom.”
“You’ve only had to do that for a little while, just during the build. But have a look at your new room and tell me what you think,” I asked Chris
“We all looked the other evening, but is it completely painted now then?” he asked.
“Yes. Mr Clarke’s just finished. It’ll all be dry by tomorrow and then next week we’ll have the carpet down first and your bed delivered. Then we can all set to and put your furniture together and get you shifted in, so we can get our guest room back to as it was.”
“What, in case anyone else turns up ‘out of the blue’?” Chris grinned.
“Well, you never know,” I laughed back. “But we’ve no further plans to enlarge the household,” I assured him.
We both entered Chris’s new bedroom and briefly looked around.
“Where’d you like your bed and wardrobe to be set up?” I asked.
“Oh… um… Bed just inside the door, head by the corner.” He indicated the left hand corner by the window as you entered the room. “And the wardrobe in the opposite corner from the door with my desk next it, possibly?” he suggested.
“Yes, that’ll be fine and very similar to how the others’ve laid theirs out too. That should work out just right for you,” I agreed.
Chris smiled, looked around again briefly and then we both left the room, gently closing the door so as not to disturb any dust to fly up onto the newly painted surfaces.
“What’re your plans today, Chris?” I asked.
“Nothing special. I did a load of shopping yesterday and I plan to get my stuff sorted ready to shift it over next week. That’s all really,” he replied.
“Seems sensible. It’ll all be a big rush as soon as your bed arrives and is set up,” I said and added as an afterthought “We can move you in straight after that.”
“Thanks, that’ll be great,” Chris said as he wandered off back to his room, while I went back to the kitchen to continue with Christmas preparations. Just as I reached the kitchen Rick came through the outside kitchen door.
“I wondered where you’d skived off to. We’ve just finished the cake and it’s in the oven now, three-and-a-half hours to go,” I grinned as I glanced at the timer on the oven. “So where’ve you been?”
“Ah… that’d be telling,” Rick replied, with an air of mystery.
“Oh… I get it. Present buying?”
“Maybe… maybe…” he grinned back and sat down at the table. “Do me an instant coffee, would you?” he asked.
I had already crossed to the worktop intending to do just that for myself. So I opened the cupboard, took down two mugs and made two coffees. Taking them both to the table I sat opposite Rick and asked
“Yes, I think so. I’ve bought all the presents for the boys just as we discussed in bed last night. So I’ve to get them up to our room for you to wrap this weekend and hide away. If you can manage to without them seeing anything, that’d be even better.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” I replied. “Liam’s out at work, Will’s gone over to Jus’s, Chris’s in his room tidying for the move to his new room. So we could slip the bags upstairs now and put them in the wardrobe,” I suggested.
“Good thought,” Rick replied, getting up from his seat and going outside again to his car. A moment later he returned through the kitchen door and I went ahead to make sure the coast was clear on the first landing. I signalled to Rick to come up quickly and he did. Our door had just closed behind him when Chris appeared from his room and said
“I’ve sorted my stuff. There’s just my dirty clothes and what I’m wearing to deal with now,” he explained.
“Bring your dirty stuff down to the utility room now. I was going to do a couple of washes this afternoon to clear the decks in time for Christmas,” I said, breathing an inward sigh of relief as I did so that he’d not seen Rick with the presents.
Chris went back into his room and as quickly came back out with his laundry basket and followed me back to the utility room where we sorted his clothes into loads with the other stuff already waiting to be done and set the first machine load going. We went back into the kitchen to find Rick sat at the table with his coffee as if he’d been there all along. I smiled quietly to myself and asked Chris if he wanted a drink.
“Yeah, please may I have a coffee?”
“Sure,” I said as I made him one and sat back down again at the table.
“Wow, that cake smells sooooo good,” Chris said, and added “What happens next?”
“When it’s cooked and had time to cool, we ‘feed’ it with more brandy and then marzipan it and decorate it sometime on Christmas Eve,” I explained.
“What d’you mean, ‘feed it’,” Chris asked.
“Prick the surface with a cocktail stick in many places and drizzle brandy over the surface so it soaks into the holes and swells the fruit up again,” I explained.
“Oh, I see,” Chris answered.
Just at that moment Rick’s mobile went off and he fished it out of
his pocket glanced at the screen, mouthed ‘
“Hey, how’s the gang?”
“The Gang, as you describe us, are all fine… well, me, Paul and Chris the one’s who’re here right now are anyway. So, what’s news?”
“I’ve got a new PA. She’s
just signed up to rent Chris’s old home, got a son same age too… he may well be
going to the Grammar next term. That’s if he gets through an interview today.
I’ve just left them at the school a few minutes ago. They’ve come down to find
somewhere to live and a school for the lad. They’re going back tomorrow. I’ve
put them in the local Travel Lodge by the station just for tonight, so it’s
convenient for them to have a look around town before they go home tomorrow… Do you guys fancy a light lunch at the pub?”
“Could do, and yes that sounds good news all round. Chris’ll be with us, okay?”
“Yes, sure James’s out shopping and I’ve had this minding job this morning… see you in say, fifteen minutes?”
“You will indeed. We’ll get ready at once,” Rick replied and added.
“Yes, he has news, a new PA and your old house is rented out too, Chris,” he replied.
“Wow, who to?” Chris asked.
“Don’t know. I’m sure
We got up from the table and put our coffee mugs into the
dishwasher. I noticed that it was almost full. So I quickly put liquid into the
dispenser and set it going. Then we went into to the hallway to get our coats
on, ready for
“Hello, Chris, hi Guys, ready to go?”
“Sure,” I replied, while the others nodded and we trooped out to
“What was that?” Chris asked.
“Oh, it’s a present from Liam’s dad for Liam. I was expecting it anytime,” I fibbed to all. It was in fact the laptop Rory Griffin had ordered after the funeral for Chris’s Christmas present, but I was not going to spill the beans on that if I could help it. “So not a word, okay, Chris?” I asked.
“No problem,” Chris turned in his seat and grinned. “Do you know what it is?” he asked
“Yes, I think I do, but I’m not saying, okay?” I replied “and no guessing games either,” I added grinning.
“Hmmm…” Chris began, then thought better of it and turning to
“Rick says my old house is rented now.”
“It is indeed. Hang on till we’re at the pub and I’ll explain,” Adrian replied, as he pulled into the pub’s car park and we all got out and made our way into the lounge and found a table.
“Right, who wants what?”
“Coke with a burger and chips,” Chris chirped up at once, handing back the menu card.
“Glass of dry white wine and a prawn mayo sandwich on granary,” Rick said as he put his menu down on the table.
I glanced down the menu and said “Glass of red wine with burger and chips, same as Chris,” I said, as I smiled and put down my menu on the table as well.
Chris giggled and Rick raised his eyebrows and looked quizzically at me.
“The burgers are home made… not nasty cheap commercial ones,” I explained. “Read the menu,” I laughed!
“Oh yes, so I see. I’ll have the same as Chris, as I’m driving,”
“12,” I replied, seeing the brass number roundel on the table top.
Chris looked expectantly towards Adrian who noticed the anxious
looks as he took the first drink from his Coke. He put his drink down and said
“Right, Chris, we’ve tenants for you in your old house. It’s a mother and son.
The boy’s the same age as you. He’ll almost certainly be transferring to the
Royal Grammar next term. They’re moving lock, stock and barrel down from
“I’m their landlord?” Chris asked.
“In effect, yes, you are, with us as administrators of your mother’s estate and your assets until such time as you reach your majority, which is eighteen as the law currently stands,” Adrian explained.
“It’s just so… um… weird that I could have a school mate who I’m landlord to… it’s just… um… a bit freaky, that’s all,” Chris said. “What’s ’is name?”
“I can tell you that your tenants will be Mrs Caroline Ashton and
her fourteen year old son, Marcus,” Adrian replied and added “They’re hoping to
be moved before Jan 2nd so that Mrs Ashton can begin work with our
firm and Marcus can enrol at the Royal Grammar along with you lot. So, please
look after him. He’s got a broad
“He might, unless he can hold his own in banter,” Chris replied.
“I think he can. He’s very quick witted and came out with a few quick fire one liners this morning as we were looking over your place. I’m sure his mother said he was hoping for a stage or acting career at some point.”
“Really? He does drama?” Chris looked up and asked very interested all of a sudden.
“Oh yes. I was asked endless questions about the school and drama facilities. I was sadly not prepared with such detail and said he should make a list of what he wanted to know, to ask at his interview. He managed to get seen today because his old Headmaster knows yours and as there’s some meeting at the school today, they’ve fitted him in. We’ll soon see if he’s been successful later on.”
Chris nodded, but I saw a decided spark of interest in his eyes that had not been there since that awful night of the accident. Just then two servers brought our food order and we all settled to eating.
“Does your new PA have a car or transport?” I asked.
“I believe not. She’s been using trains to come down for interview
and for this recce visit,”
“Just wondering if we could help with the school run, that’s all,” I replied.
“Oh, I never thought of that. I’ll mention it to them when I go to
take them back to the hotel. They’re staying over tonight and checking out more
of the town and surrounding area tomorrow before going back on a late train to
“Yeah, you said earlier on the phone,” Rick chipped in and looked over to me. “Can we manage two more for Sunday lunch?”
“We can. I’ve a decent bit of beef topside to roast,” I replied. “Want to invite them?”
“It might help um… Marcus, if he met this gang before he got to school. He could start with at least knowing some other boys rather than being a total newbie,” Rick suggested.
“Would you suggest that to Mrs Ashton when you collect them both later?” I asked.
“I will, if you’re sure about this?” I mean how many’ve you got for lunch tomorrow?
“Us five and Frank. Jus isn’t staying tonight, I don’t think. Not sure about Craig, but even then it’d only be nine. No problem really, just a few more veggies to prepare and I’ve slaves for that,” I laughed looking at Chris who’d gone wide-eyed at the suggestion.
“I’ll leave you to work out how to explain a houseful of gay guys to
Mrs Ashton.” I laughed at
“Somehow, I don’t believe that will be as much of a problem as you
seem to imagine… anyway, we shall see, we shall see,”
I nodded and grinned at Rick. Chris did not catch on, being busy with his food.
“Will they need collecting?” I asked.
“No, I really should bring them over and introduce them to you all. Leave that with me, and no, James and I can’t stay for lunch tomorrow. We’ve already got arrangements.”
“Too bad. You’ll just have to miss out on SOAP,” I laughed back.
Chris giggled and said “I remember that from that dinner… it’s Sex-On-A-Plate, isn’t it?” he asked.
“It is indeed Chris, although I’d appreciate it if you lot didn’t do that tomorrow lunchtime. It’s fine with old friends but not with someone we meet for the first time, please.”
“I got it first time… well sorta, I’d had other meals with you before that happened, I guess. So I s’pose I did know you all…” he tailed off.
“Exactly,” I said, as I finished my wine and put my glass back on the table.
“Are we all done?”
“Yeah, I’m stuffed,” Chris announced. “Thanks,
“Yes and no… not directly. Some will go to Rick and Paul for your needs, upkeep, food and living necessities. You’ll get an allowance of course and any balance’ll go back into your accounts that we hold in trust until you’re eighteen.”
“Oh, I see. Thanks for explaining.” Chris replied.
“We’re done too,” Rick added, and I nodded in acquiescence.
We all got up and Chris and I made our way to the gents’ while Adrian and Rick made their way to the entrance chatting together and grinning.
“I’ve still the Ashtons to collect and brief them about tomorrow. I’ll call you later to let you know if they’ve accepted Paul’s kind offer of lunch,” he said. There was altogether too much smirking from Rick that didn’t go un-noticed by me.
I turned to go back into the house and as soon as I was back in the kitchen and thought Chris’d gone upstairs to his room I grabbed Rick and asked “So what was the big joke between you and Adrian, then?”
“No joke at all, it’s just… it’s just you’re so predictable and well, not taken for a ride by any means, but definitely manipulated just a little bit today, that’s all.”
“You mean Sunday lunch… you reckon
Yeah, that’s about the size of it…” Rick replied and added “but
there’s no harm done. I bet we’ll soon find out what
“If I get your drift and I think I do, then one of those is gay… and I bet it isn’t the mother?”
Just at that moment Chris came out of the downstairs toilet and into the kitchen catching all of the last few words of what we’d been saying.
“Who’s gay?” he asked… then after a lightning’s thought added… “You mean the boy who’s going to live in my old house is G A Y ?”
“Chris,” Rick said. “We don’t actually know that. But we do know
“Gay,” Chris answered simply.
“Yes, so he’s engineered for us to meet, with exactly what purpose in mind, I’m not sure… lawyers can be a bit devious when they’ve a need to be… But I’m certain it’s nothing untoward in any way,” Rick explained.
“How old’s this Marcus?”
“Fourteen, same as you?”
“Yay… there’s hope for me yet,” he shouted and ran upstairs laughing.
“You’ll have to brush up on your
“What… you mean he doesn’t speak normal English?” Chris asked, as he stopped dead at the top of the stairs.
“Err… yes, he won’t speak like that, will he?”
“No, he won’t, you’re being wound up Chris… Ignore him. I do when he’s like this,” Rick interrupted.
“Oh, spoilsport. I was just having a bit of fun with Chris, that’s all. You didn’t believe all that Chris, did you?” I asked.
“Err… no, not really,” Chris said not too convincingly.
“Well, don’t take it too seriously, or be over hopeful either. He
might be a super lad or an obnoxious tyke… but knowing
“Oh good,” said Chris, seemingly reassured as he turned and carried on to his room.
Rick and I turned and went into the sitting room and sat down on the sofa.
“What’re you thinking?” Rick asked.
“That I’ve been a bit easily had today, that’s all.”
“I don’t think so.
“I’m sure you’re right. How many for lunch tomorrow then?” I asked.
“Its us normal five plus Frank, makes six, and two guests, so eight all told, possibly nine if Craig’s here overnight,” Rick counted.
“Yeah, that’s okay. The beef’s plenty big enough. I’d thought to get a shepherds’ pie out of it for Monday, but I’ll get some minced lamb for that, so no worries,” I said, stretching out on the sofa. We dozed off until the timer on the cooker brought me back with a jerk and I realised that the cake might be done. I heard a clattering on the stairs as I roused myself up and headed to the kitchen.
Chris was at the bottom by the time I got to the sitting room door and said “is the cake done?”
“I think it might be. We’ve to test it with a skewer. It might need up to another half hour, just depends,” I explained, as I went through into the kitchen and picked up the oven cloth. Opening the oven door with one hand while holding a thin skewer with the other, I pulled out the shelf and tested the cake surface with my finger. It bounced back nicely. So I pricked it with the skewer to a two inch depth. The skewer came out clean, so I deduced that the cake was baked. I lifted it out onto a cooling rack and turned off the oven.
“Now we wait for it to cool, then we can feed it with some more brandy as I explained earlier. Tomorrow or Monday we can do the marzipan and then Christmas Eve we can decorate it.”
“Wow, brilliant. I’ve only had shop bought Christmas cake before,” Chris said.
“So’ve most of us. It’s just Paul likes to do the real thing if he can,” Rick said.
We made ourselves a pot of tea and waited for the rest of the boys to arrive home from their various activities.
* * *
I was just putting the last few items of holiday luggage into my case when the door intercom sounded. I pressed the button to let Michael in and within a minute I was waiting door open for him to come up the stairs.
As soon as I saw him tugging a case behind him similar to my own I smiled and called out
“Can you manage?”
“Sure, I packed it so I’ll hump it,” he replied grimacing.
“Did you really need the kitchen sink?” I queried laughing
“I’ve not packed anything I won’t need, believe me,” Michael said between exertions and finally reached the landing and we went into the flat. “We’re away for three whole weeks after all,” he added.
“I know, it’s the longest holiday I’ve had since coming to
“It was lucky I’d only taken a few days of my leave allowance,” Michael said and added “or I’d not have been able to come away with you and I’d have been really gutted.”
“Yes, I can think of one or two ways we could relax before we set off,” Michael hinted with a wicked smile.
“I knew you’d say that and I think we’ve plenty of time to relax before we go. I must just send a Christmas email to Liam before we leave. I want to wish him Happy Christmas and say that I’ve arranged that he’ll get a present from me on Christmas Day.”
“Oh, the laptop. Did you get that sorted out with the guys he’s living with?” Michael asked.
“Yes, it wasn’t problem at all. I got a message from Paul to say it’d arrived a day or so ago.”
“That’s good. So let’s go and relax then,” Michael smiled.
I nodded in reply and we both headed into the bedroom for an hour or so’s fun before we set off on our summer holiday.
End of Chapter 27
Thank you guys for a bumper crop of emails after chapter 26 was posted. I believe I've replied to you all. I do very much like to know what you think.