By Paul Jamison


Chapter - 9

The following morning Rick and I were at the breakfast table enjoying for me a leisurely breakfast as it was one of my days off for that week, the final one being Friday, the day of the funeral. Rick was hurrying as usual when he turned to me and said

“We’re okay with those two having fun here in our home aren’t we?”

“Yes, I’ve no problem, they’re both fifteen, well almost for Will and definitely for Justin and I’m sure they’re not beyond the heavy petting stage yet anyway.”

“Yes, that’s what I thought too. I just wanted to make sure you agreed though,” Rick finished.

“Yes I do, I think we’ll get asked ‘hypothetical questions’ on behalf of a ‘friend’ when they want to know more.” I grinned back at Rick.

“You think so?”

“Oh yes more than likely,” I laughed. “Didn’t you?”

“P’raps, yes,” he smiled back. “Well let’s just wait and see.”

“I’m going to call Frank today to let him know that the swimming course ends tomorrow at four and the certificate presentations are at four-thirty. I’m sure he’ll want to be there for Will if he can get down in time,” I said.

“Good thought,” Rick replied. “Will you be there? I’m sure I can be as I’ve no appointments for Thursday afternoon at all and I’ve taken Friday off for the funeral too.”

“As it stands now … no, I can’t. I’m covering for the ill colleague and I was supposed to have all this week off too,” I moaned. “I might just call in later and see if something can be arranged as I could do with being here really,” I said.

“Right, I’m off, see you tonight, okay?” Rick said as he bent towards me giving a brief kiss goodbye and grabbing his keys and left through the kitchen to the garage.

I returned the kiss and watched him leave from the window. Then turning away I picked up the phone and called the office. After a brief discussion pleading my case, my line manager agreed to find someone else to fill in for the Thursday’s schedule. He accepted that I should be on leave anyway and had done a fair bit of filling in that week so far… someone else’s turn now. So with the next three days clear I looked up Frank’s hotel number again and waited to be put through.

Frank and I had a thorough discussion, the upshot of which was mainly that the hospital was pleased with Mr Barnes senior’s progress and had told him of the loss of his wife. Mr Barnes senior was not at all happy that he was not fit enough to even consider travelling down for the funeral and was agitating to be moved at the earliest opportunity. He seemed to take the loss of his wife quite well, at least on the surface, but Frank knew he was deeply upset, by the amount of fuss he was making about being moved nearer home. That was causing Frank a real headache. There were no suitable homes or facilities nearby that currently had any room for his dad. I reached for our local phone book and gave him a few more options for trying. He thanked me and commented he would get onto those as soon as the conversation was over.

We moved on to arrangements for the funeral. Frank would be home on Thursday afternoon. He would head straight for the leisure centre so as to see Will get his silver award. Then we agreed that we would all eat out and I suggested that Mario’s Italian restaurant would be a good option. Frank agreed and I made a note to book a table for us all. Frank then said that he’d had great difficulty finding a boarding school for Will and had not found one that could take him before the Easter term starting in January. It took a few moments for that to sink in before I then said.

“Frank, it’s okay, we’ll continue as long as is needed. Please stop worrying. Rick and I’ve really enjoyed the time so far. Will’s not a problem. We hardly know he’s here most of the time he’s so quiet.”

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly impose on you to that length,” Frank replied. “I mean you stepped in when it was a crisis, and I’ll be eternally grateful. I’ve no option long term but a boarding school really. I’m only home on leave once every 90 days. It’s too big a commitment for you and he’s not eighteen for three years. No, that’s much too much. I couldn’t possibly let you in for that long,” he finished.

“Well, I think we need to talk more when you’re here, but we feel differently and there’re some other newer factors that’ve come into play while he’s been with us that we’ll discuss also tomorrow evening if that’s okay,” I said.

“Well, okay then, till tomorrow. I look forward to seeing him get that award. I’m quite strong on boys being good swimmers being a diver, you know!” Frank finished.

“Yes we gathered that, boats too, by the way you agreed to the canal narrow boat trip also,” I laughed.

Frank laughed in return and we said our goodbyes and hung up. Just at that moment Will appeared round the kitchen door grinning away to himself.

“Hi!” he said,

“Hello, you okay for today?” I asked back.

“Yeah thanks. Can I get breakfast?” he asked.

“Of course, help yourself. You know where things are now,” I replied.

Will began to make toast and tea while I mulled over the discussion I’d just had with his dad. I wondered whether to tell Will the outcome so far regarding his immediate future. I decided to say nothing yet as matters were still very much ‘in the air’ and far from finalised. Best to leave upsets till they were unavoidable, I thought to myself.

“One more day of training, then the tests?” I asked Will.

“Yeah, we all get tested on Thursday and then we get the certificates awarded,” he replied.

“Your dad’s hoping to be there for that,” I told him. “I’ve just come off the phone with him; he’s setting off for here tomorrow morning and should be here in time for your award. Okay?” I said.

“Great! That’s brilliant,” Will replied. “I’ve gotta go now or I’ll be late meeting the others at the leisure centre,” he said.

“No problem, I’ll run you there when you’ve done with breakfast. I’ve to go to the farm for stuff and other shopping too. I rather thought I’d put some homemade burgers together and freeze them for you guys, better than shop bought by far,” I remarked.

“Oh! Thanks, Paul. I don’t need to rush now.” Will replied.

I loaded the dishwasher while Will was finishing his breakfast. When he’d done he brought over the dirty plate, mug and cutlery and we added those to the machine which filled it. I set it going. Then turning to the table I collected my keys, headed for the garage, got the car out onto the driveway and locked down the garage. A few seconds later Will appeared at the front door with his backpack. He closed the door and hurried across to the car getting in the front with me. He belted up and we set off for the leisure centre.

On the way to the centre, Will began to chat about how he loved staying with us. I told him that we’d really enjoyed having him stay too. Nothing had been a problem so far and that he could turn to us anytime he needed help or advice. He seemed pleased at this information and looked like he had something else to say when my mobile went off and the car radio auto took the call.

“Hello Paul!” Adrian’s voice came through the system.

“Hi,” I called back. “We’re just on our way to the leisure centre to drop off Will for his swimming course,” I continued.

“Any news for me on the boat?” he asked.

“Yes, you’ll be pleased to know that we’ll definitely take it for that week,” I replied. “Oh, how do we deal with the costs?” I asked.

“To us, after your week when they’ve calculated your fuel and bottled gas use. Okay?” Adrian replied. “We get a statement after each trip and we settle within a month usually. It won’t be more than a hundred-ish. We used two-hundred and twenty-five quids * worth on a two week cruise,” he continued.

“Well, we’ve four crew members so far and looking for one other,” I said. “There’re six berths, aren’t there?” I asked.

“Yes, but don’t fill it all. It’s best if there’s a bit of spare room on board. Five tops I’d say,” he said.

“I agree five’s a perfect number for doing lock flights too; I remember that from when I’ve done it before,” I answered.

“Okay, then I’ll confirm it all today. So that’s now a done deal?” Adrian asked.

“Yes, certainly is and thanks a lot; it’s a really brilliant offer and we appreciate your generosity,” I said.

“Don’t talk nonsense. You’re always giving us superb dinners and well, we just like to give back a bit that’s all,” Adrian replied.

“Many thanks anyway,” I said. “We’ve to go now. See you both sometime soon, okay?”

“Okay, bye,” Adrian finished.

“Bye Adrian,” I said and finished the call.

“Well that’s all going according to plan,” I said, turning briefly to Will. “Looks like its going to be a good trip. All we need is bright weather; we can cope with cold easily with central heating on board. I just don’t want it wet, day after day though,” I finished.

“No that’d be pretty miserable!” Will agreed.

“How about plain ‘bloody awful’ more like!” I said with a laugh.

Will laughed and agreed with me nodding his head as we pulled into the drop- off point at the leisure centre. I saw Justin hovering around the doors scanning people entering.

“Looks like Justin’s here and waiting.” I pointed him out to Will as I drew up.
“I’ll be here to pick you both up say four-fifteen. Okay?” I said as we stopped.

“Yes, thanks. That’ll be great. We’ll be just inside the doors watching, okay?” Will replied as he unfastened his seat belt, grabbed his backpack and exited onto the pavement, quickly disappearing into the centre to meet up with Justin. I pulled away from the kerb and headed back into the traffic. I wanted to get to the farm shop for some supplies and have a pleasant afternoon listening to music and making food.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Inside the centre Justin quickly caught up with Will and the two boys made their way through reception to the changing rooms and got ready for their day’s training. Just as they were closing up their lockers they spotted Liam rushing to a locker and changing at lightning speed.

“Wow! He can do that quick!” Justin commented. “He just changed in about a minute.”

“It’s not that hard actually, plus he’d already got his Speedos on. We’ve to do it at school in two minutes for gym lessons, haven’t we? We can take our time here, there’s no hurry if we’re on time,” Will replied.

“I guess so,” Justin said. “Let’s go through… last day of training today,” he said with a big smile.

The two boys followed others poolside, got into their training groups and waited for the session to begin. The day followed a similar pattern, but with one major difference. It was individual practice with instructors acting as if they were taking the tests, with corrective training if there were errors. Both Justin and Will got through with little or no corrections made to their techniques or execution of the exercises. Feeling pretty pleased with himself, Will took time out whilst others were taking their turns and scanned round the poolside. He noticed Justin being put through his paces and saw no corrections at all. ‘He’ll piss through this,’ Will thought to himself. ‘Bronze is way too easy for Jus.’ He carried on scanning round and noticed Liam chatting quietly to another boy from their school, the same one as he was talking to the day before at the lockers, Will recalled to himself. ‘Just friends probably,’ he mused. Then his attention was brought back to his group and it was his turn on the next set procedure. ‘Into the water and on with the fun,’ he thought as he slipped over the side and waited instruction.

A little after four found both boys back in the foyer wandering slowly towards the swing doors. They heard a call behind them and turned to see Liam hurrying towards them both. They returned his ‘Hey theres’ and waited for him to come up to them.

“Hi.” He said once more. “You guys not eating today?” He queried.

“Nope,” Justin responded. “We’re eating at Will’s. I’m staying over tonight, so didn’t seem much point eating here,” he finished.

“We’re waiting for Paul,” Will said.

“Um… about fixing my computer…” Liam began.

“Oh shit!... I’m sorry,” Will said. “I was s’posed to say can you bring it over Sunday afternoon. Paul’s doing mine then and he said he’d look. He thought it was your psu by the sound of what you told me yesterday,” Will finished.

“Oh! Bloody, bloody Hell!” exclaimed Liam. “I can’t do Sunday afternoon. I’ve got some arrangements Sunday. Is there any other time?” he asked.

“Hang on here a few minutes. Paul’s coming to pick us up. You can ask him then,” Will suggested.

“Yeah, okay. I’ll do that,” Liam replied.

The boys chatted amiably for a few more minutes, mostly about the swimming and the course that was all over bar the tests now. They were all confident of success on the tests and the awarding of the certificates the next day a total certainty. Justin turned and saw Paul’s Citroen turning into the set down lane.

“Hey guys, Paul’s here,” he said.
All three boys bent down to pick up their packs and head off through the doors to the car which had drawn up at the kerb. At the car Will opened the front passenger door and stuck his head in.

“Hi there, guys,” I said. “Everyone need a lift?”

Will considered that for a second, then turning back to Liam said.

“Get in, we’ll give you a lift and sort something out on the way okay?”

All three boys got in and Will introduced Liam to me and explained that Sunday wasn’t any good for Liam to bring his machine over and might there be another time.

“Hi Liam, it’s good to meet you,” I responded. “Where do you live?” I asked.

“Eighteen Cranbrook Avenue,” Liam answered. “It’s off Sherringham Road,” he continued.

“Yes I know it; we looked at a house there before we bought ours on Sherbourne Drive,” Paul answered.

“How about we drop by there, pick up your machine, you come back to ours, have some food and then we’ll see what’s wrong with it?” Paul said.

“Are you sure?” Liam asked. “It’s really good of you; I’m a bit lost without it, y’know?”

“I can imagine,” Paul replied with a smile. “What was so hot on the screen that it fizzled out then?” He asked Liam.

“…Um… n…nothing special,” Liam managed to say colouring up as he replied.

We all arrived at Liam’s house and I suggested he slipped out and collected his computer. After about five minutes he re-appeared from the side door, locked up and carried the box towards the car. I got out and opened the rear hatch. We slid the computer into the back and wedged it in. We then set off to our home and pulled onto the driveway.

In the back meantime, Will and Justin had been chattering away about the swimming and had now come onto the canal trip due to take place at half-term. They both wanted to know where the boat was, what it looked like and where we were proposing to go. I turned round from my seat and said

“We’ll have a look at some of the pictures that Adrian has sent me and some of the information too perhaps later when we’ve sorted food and Liam’s computer, Okay?” I said.

“Yeah, sure thing,” came in a chorus from the back seats.

We pulled onto our driveway and all got out. Will ran up to the front door and opened up. Justin carried both his and Liam’s backpack inside. Liam waited by the rear door for me to unlock so he could get his computer out. Once done we all entered the kitchen.

“Put it down over there,” I said to Liam, indicating a space by the window. “Let’s get some food on the way first.”

Liam did as indicated while Justin and Will got their swimming stuff out and were going through to the utility room to start a wash.

“Add Liam’s stuff to that,” I called out to them from the kitchen. “Might as well get it all done in one go,” I said.

“Are you sure?” Liam asked.

“Certainly am,” I replied. “It’s got to be done and we are running a small load with just those two’s kit,” I said.

“Okay, thanks,” he said and went through to add his kit to the wash load.

While the boys attended to that I got out the griddle pan and put it on the hob. Then opening the fridge, I took out tomatoes, cheese, bacon, two little gem lettuce and a covered plate of freshly made beef patties <http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/database/homemadebeefburger_83644.shtml>. I prepared the salad while the pan reached griddle temperature. The boys re-appeared and I gave instructions for plates and cutlery to be got out and set on the table, together with condiments and a large tomato ketchup squeezy bottle. I set the grill going with bacon rashers and added the first three burgers to the griddle after lightly brushing with oil. They sizzled away nicely while I completed the salad. Then slicing up some burger buns I lightly toasted them, turned the burgers and the bacon and set the buns on the plates with salad, drizzled a little oil and mustard dressing lightly over the salad. I turned back, added the now griddled patties, a slice of cheddar cheese and a rasher of bacon to each, popped on the top of the bun and served to three ravenous boys eagerly awaiting the outcome of my efforts. There was about three minutes of total silence punctuated only by sounds of cutlery on plates and munching. I set the next three patties to griddle and waited for requests for a refill. They came as soon as the boys saw me do a second one. It took a few minutes to griddle them through while I toasted three more buns. They were as quickly devoured in the same silence as the first ones.

“I take it they were satisfactory then?” I said looking at three totally clean plates.

“Yeah! Thanks, they were brilliant,” all three lads said.

“Better then the leisure centre café?” I asked with a grin.

“Oh yes, lots,” they said.

“Right, clear this lot away to the dishwasher, will you, while I get sorted to look at this computer?” I asked them.

Once the table had been cleared, I got out a table protector thick mat and covered the surface, and then opening the cupboard to the side of the fireplace. The boys saw shelves of computer gear. I took out a monitor, keyboard, mouse, trailing power cable, a couple of earth clips with wrist bands and my tool box. Liam went to get his computer from under the window and set it on the table.

“Right, let’s see what we have here,” I began.

I could see from the amount of dust collected around the outlet fan of the psu that my original diagnosis was almost certainly going to be correct. I clipped on an earth wrist band and handed one to Liam who followed suit. Then unfastened the case sides and took them off, setting them down away from the main box. The amount of dust that fell from the inside was a bit of a giveaway. I turned to Liam and asked.

“Does the main unit live on the floor in your room?” I said.

“Yeah, it does. Why is that wrong?” he replied.
“It’s about the worst place for a CPU,” I said. “You’ve carpet dust, clothing dust, dead skin from your bedding and dust from your bedding; do I need to go on? It all gets sucked in by the air intake fan at the front of the case, dragged through the system, spread about inside and then sucked up into the air extractors and in this case it’s just the two fans on your psu. They suck all that dust into the psu, clog it up and then it goes into overheat, fizzles and fails. Hopefully that’s all that happened and it shut down without damaging the ram strips, processor or motherboard. We shall see in a few minutes. If you’ve got to have it in your room, how about putting it on the desk as far away from the carpet as possible? It probably makes it easier to use if its there anyway,” I finished.

Liam listened as I spoke, looking on in amazement at the amount of dust inside the computer case. I turned to Will and asked him to get a small dust buster vac cleaner from out of the cupboard under the stairs for me. He came back in a moment with the small hand held vac.

“Right, let’s get this all cleaned up to begin with,” I said, connecting the small cleaner as I spoke.

I gave the inside of the case a thorough clean out and one could then see the entire layout clearly. At this point Justin, who had been nudging Will, moved towards his backpack. Will turned to me and said.

“We’re just going up to get Justin sorted, okay?” he said. “We’ll be back down shortly.”

“Yes, okay,” I said and continued with what I was doing.

The two of them picked up their kit and scuttled out of the kitchen and up the stairs. I heard to door close to Will’s room a few moments later. I’d finished the cleaning and then connected up the computer to monitor, mouse and keyboard. Going to the cupboard I selected a new psu from the shelf. I always kept one or two in stock. I turned to Liam and said

“We’ll change your power supply unit and see what happens, okay? I’m hoping we’re lucky and that’s all that went,” I said.

I began to disconnect the internal connectors from the psu and then unscrewed the four retaining screws from the case. The old psu slipped out of its mount and out of the case easily. I took the new one and screwed that into the mounting. Then re-connecting the internal components and double checking they’re all pushed home into the sockets, I brought the box back upright and connected a power cable. I then connected a lan cable to our router, to be able to check connectivity, should that be the only fault with the computer. With everything in place I pressed the switch on the psu and then the main ‘on’ switch on the front of the computer. It sprang into life and went straight into p.o.s.t. After a few more seconds, Windows started and loaded Liam’s desktop. I turned to Liam and said.

“Hey, looks like we’ve done it, okay?” I smiled at him. His face lit up and he turned to me and began to speak.

“Thanks so much, I just didn’t know what to do. I’m so pleased. Thanks again,” he said.

“It’s a pleasure. It’s been an easy one too. So keep it off the floor and away from the dust, once a month give it a clean out with the vac nozzle, okay? Then there’s a chance it won’t happen again. Okay, that’s a total of twelve quid for a basic psu,” I finished.

Liam fished in his pocket for his wallet and drew out a tenner and two pound coins and handed them to me. I took the money and put it in my pocket.

“Are you sure that’s all it is?” he asked. “I was expecting … I don’t know… something like fifty quid,” he said.

“That’s all a psu costs,” I said. “Shops charge on labour and parts or rather they charge labour and full retail on parts, that’s why it’s more,” I replied.

“Just check you can get on the net and stuff before I take you back with it,” I said.

Liam sat at the table and clicked away for a moment or two. Everything seemed to be working well and he was just about to shut down when he turned to me and said

“I was reading stories on the Nifty Archive,” he said colouring up as he did.

“I wondered if something like that was the reason it couldn’t go to a shop and you didn’t want your mum to know,” I said quietly.

Liam nodded and turned towards me tears trickling down his face as he managed to sniffle out.

“I’m gay. I’ve not told anyone else at all; I’ve been so very lonely,” he said. “My mum’s very keen on church and I’m not sure how she’d take it if she knew,” he continued.

“Well, you’ve friends here you can count on now,” I told him. “Please feel free to call, or come and ask for help or advice anytime. We’ll be here for you, okay? It’s not the end of the world, though at times it might seem that way if you’re feeling all alone,” I said.

“Thanks so much,” he said. “You don’t know just how much that all means to me,” Liam said.

“Practicalities now,” I said. “Who knows and who do you want to know?”

“No-one. You’re the first I’ve told. I don’t really want to tell anyone. I don’t want it getting back to my mum at all,” he said.

“May I tell Rick, my partner?” I asked.

“Yes of course. I didn’t mean not to tell you guys,” he said.

“Oh, there are better stories to be found than on Nifty,” I said. “Try these sites…”

I sat at the table and Googled a couple of sites and put them into Liam’s private bookmarks folder. Have a look at those when you’re home,” I said, “especially IOMFATS. Look at stories by ‘Grasshopper’, the ‘Henry’ stories from ‘Michael Arram’, and the ‘Westpoint’ saga from ‘Kiwi’ too.” I added. “That should keep you going for a weekend or two.”

“Thank you so much,” Liam replied.

“Hey,” I said, “you’re not alone anymore, remember?”

Liam smiled, grabbed a tissue from his pocket and tidied up his face. I suggested he went to the cloakroom and freshened up, then I’d run him back home again. He did as suggested. A few minutes later he re-appeared and we reassembled the case sides and turned off his machine. I tidied away the working kit and restored the kitchen table back again. We carried his computer to the car, and set it in the back. I suggested we said goodbyes to the younger lads and I run him home. He nodded agreement and we went back into the kitchen. I stood in the hallway and called up the stairs. There was no reply. I tried again, again no response.

“Oh go up and give ’em a knock,” I said to Liam. “It’s the top floor room on the right of the landing, okay?”

Liam nodded and began to climb the stairs passing along the second floor landing to the next flight he climbed to the top floor. He heard giggling coming from the room and knocked loudly saying

“Hey guys! I’m off home now.”

There was a scurrying of activity behind the door and then two sheepish faces appeared, both lads dishevelled and red faced as if caught at something clandestine.

Liam grinned at them both, said his goodbyes and headed off back downstairs. As he did so, all sorts of things were going through his mind as to what that pair had been up to just then. ‘Barnes and Naylor too?’ he thought to himself as he descended to the kitchen where I was waiting.

Once downstairs, we collected Liam’s swimming kit from the utility room, stuffing it into his backpack as we continued to the car and set off for his home. I dropped him off a few minutes later and he again thanked me profusely for my help. I waved him off as he entered his home with his computer and wondered just how much more we would see of him over the coming months.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

End of Chapter Nine

Quid :- British slang for pound cash.