This is my first attempt at a story. I'd love to hear some feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons alive or dead are purely coincidental. All the usual disclaimers apply.
Chapter 5: Shopping Trip
Dad was crouched in front of one of the cupboards as I walked into the kitchen and uttered a triumphant "A-ha!" accompanied by a clatter of pans as he stood and turned towards me wielding a large iron skillet.
"Oh, 'morning kiddo. How'd you sleep?" He asked as we both approached the central island. Dad placed the skillet on the stove top and walked to the fridge.
"OK I guess." I shrugged. "My room got a bit hot last night so I turned the radiators down a little bit. How about you?" There were a couple of tall wooden stools in the corner of the kitchen so I pulled them both over to the island and sat on one. Dad returned with the bacon and eggs.
"Well it was a bit strange sleeping in what used to be my parents' bedroom but I actually slept like a log. The room you're in used to my old bedroom, by the way. We haven't got any juice at the moment, will milk be OK?" He went back over to the fridge and retrieved the carton of milk and then found a glass for me and a mug for his coffee. "We'll have to do some serious grocery shopping later on this morning, maybe we can construct a list between us. In the meantime what do you say to some bacon and eggs? I forgot to get any cereal at the services last night, sorry."
"Sure Dad, and milk is fine." I shrugged again. We didn't often have a hot breakfast, not because of Dad's lack of cooking skills but because I just preferred cereal. "Dad? Where's the rest of our stuff?" I asked, thinking about all the packing we'd done before Christmas.
"I wondered that myself last night and found all the boxes stacked in the main reception room. I suppose it was easier for the movers to put them all in one place instead of trying to second guess where we wanted them put. Why don't you go and check that your boxes are all there while I rustle us up a bite to eat. You remember where the main reception room is?" He asked, pouring a little oil into the skillet and turning on the gas burner.
"Yeah I think so." I said turning towards the kitchen door. "Up the steps and on the right, opposite the front door and next to that big clock, right?"
"You got it. I'll give you a shout when the food's ready, it shouldn't be too long. Sunny side up or over-easy?" He asked, placing strips of bacon in the pan.
I expected the yolks to be broken regardless. "Either way is fine Dad." I said as I left the kitchen and headed up the steps to the entrance hall.
The brass handle felt a bit stiff as I opened the door and the room itself was in darkness. I found a light switch to my left and flicked the lights on. I noted that I had to flick the switch down for on instead of the usual up, which felt a little peculiar and I wondered if all the switches would be like that. With ample light now provided by a small crystal chandelier style light fitting in the ceiling and two wall mounted candle-style lamps, positioned high up on either side of the large open hearth, I could see that our boxes had been stacked haphazardly wherever there was enough floor space. There were 23 boxes in total and all looked to be present and correct. Dad had numbered each box on the top and sides so I was quickly able to identify all six of my boxes. Having our initials as a prefix made it relatively easy. My priority, when I had chance to shift my boxes upstairs, was to check that the contents of boxes 'J5' and 'J6' had survived the journey intact. These boxes contained my computer equipment and, whilst each piece had been surrounded by lots of bubble wrap, I wanted to make sure everything still worked.
I heard Dad calling me from the kitchen so I didn't make a start shifting the boxes, there'd be plenty of time for that later. I turned the light off and made my way back to the kitchen and the appetizing smell of bacon and eggs. As I took my seat at the island Dad placed a plate before me and I was pleasantly surprised to see that he hadn't broken the yolks and that he'd also made some hot buttered toast.
Thinking about my computer I had a question for him. "Do we have Internet access yet Dad?" I asked around my first mouthful.
"Not yet." Was his response. "It's one of the many things I've got to sort out this afternoon. It might take a few days to get a connection organized but the real estate people should have had the telephone lines activated for us already." He twisted in his seat and, spying a wall-mounted phone, got up and placed the handset to his ear. He nodded and replaced the handset. "Yup, got a dial tone."
I nodded as he returned to his seat. "All the boxes seem to be here. At least all of mine are." I said taking a gulp of milk. "I'll take them up to my room after breakfast."
"OK, I'll work on a shopping list while you're doing that and then we can go over it together in case I've missed something." He said. "We should probably try to get as much as we can today though as I'm not sure what shops will be open tomorrow. I remember that some shops don't open at all on Sundays, or at least they never used to."
I scarfed down what was left of my bacon and eggs and used a slice of toast to mop up any remaining yolk. Excusing myself, I returned to the main reception room and started separating my boxes from Dad's. Some of my boxes were quite heavy and thought I might need some help to get them upstairs. The heaviest were the boxes containing my computer stuff and my books. The others mostly just had clothes in. Thankfully, the boxes had hand-holds cut into the sides to aid lifting. I dragged each of the three lightest boxes out of the room and down the hallway to the base of the stairs before manhandling them up to my room. I found it easier to take hold of just one of the hand-holds and then slide each box up the stairs behind me rather than try to carry each of them. I still had to pause for breath on the landing halfway up. I must be really out of condition.
With three of six boxes safely deposited on the floor next to my bed I went back downstairs to the kitchen.
"Dad, when you have a minute can you help me with the last two boxes?" I managed to say, although I was still a little winded from the exertion. "They're a bit heavy and I don't want to risk dropping them. Especially the ones with my computer stuff in." I plonked myself down on one of the stools and caught my breath.
"OK, let me just finish this list and I'll be right with you." Dad said frowning slightly at the piece of paper in front of him whilst unconsciously gnawing on the end of his pencil. "I think I've covered most of the food supplies that we'll need, at least for the next few days. But we've got to find a furniture store so that I can get you a computer desk and chair for your room. I've also decided that you need your own cell phone and I need to check whether I can use mine on the UK networks. Although maybe it'll be easier if I buy myself a new one too as I've had this one for nearly three years now." He added holding up his cell phone for me to see.
I never really had a need to have my own cell phone nor did I particularly want one. Most of friends had them of course and they were constantly fiddling with them; texting each other, browsing the web or whatever. I didn't see the point. I spent most of my time with Mike and Stace and would much rather talk to them face to face or via IM than by text message. Maybe it would be useful now though, especially if I have to wait a while before we get an Internet connection as I really wanted to send an email to Mike and Stace to let them know that we'd arrived in one piece.
"OK let's get those boxes upstairs." Dad said setting down his pencil. "I can't think of anything else for the list at the moment but I expect we'll spot a few things I've overlooked while we're out."
I followed him out of the kitchen and between us we heaved my last three boxes up to my room.
"It's just gone 9am and we should probably head out in about 30 minutes or so." He said glancing at his watch. "You've got time for a shower if you want one. I think I'll have one myself." He headed off in the direction of his bedroom and I thought I might as well have a shower as I did feel a little sweaty after shifting those boxes.
Closing the bedroom door I went over to my suitcase and took out my shower gel, shampoo, wash-cloth and a towel. I walked into my bathroom and checked out the shower stall, turning on the water and adjusting it to a comfortable temperature. I stripped off, leaving my clothes piled on top of the toilet seat and stepped into the shower, closing the frosted glass door behind me. Standing under the shower spray I soaked my hair then turned in a slow circle letting the water pour over the rest of my body. I quickly shampooed and washed myself before rinsing off thoroughly and stepping out onto the thick bathroom rug. Wrapping the towel around my waist I went back into the bedroom to fetch the toothbrush and toothpaste that I'd forgotten to take out of my suitcase. After brushing my teeth and fingering my hair into a reasonable shape I finished drying myself and put my underwear back on as they were clean on this morning. I chose a pair of jeans and a thick sweatshirt and quickly got myself dressed.
I could hear Dad's shower still running as I left my bedroom so I went downstairs to wait for him. Bypassing the kitchen I went back up the hallway to the main reception room. I skirted the pile of boxes and walked over to a full length set of heavy curtains and pulled one to the side to reveal a set of French doors. There were hooks set in the wall on either side of the curtains and each had a braided cord hanging from it. I assumed that these were to tie the curtains back and proceeded to loop each cord around a curtain and fix the loose ends back onto the hooks. The French doors looked out onto wide stone flagged terrace which led down in three broad steps to an expanse of lawn. Stone planters of various sizes and shapes were arrayed along the edge of each step. There was a key in the door's lock so I turned it and tried to open one of the doors but it wouldn't budge. Looking at the top and bottom of the door I could see that the doors were secured with long vertical bolts. Releasing the bolts on just one of the doors I was able to get it to open outward and so stepped out onto the terrace.
There was a definite chill in the air and I shivered despite my thick sweatshirt. The flagstones were still damp from last night's rain and there were a few puddles here and there. I walked to the edge of the first step which extended about 20 feet from the house and, stuffing my hands into my jeans pockets against the cold, looked out over the garden. The lawn stretched to about 150 feet from the terrace and breadth-wise was about twice as wide as the house. It was bordered on both sides by currently dormant flower beds and the skeletal forms of small trees. I thought that it would look very nice in the spring and summer months when everything would be in bloom. The high rough stone wall surrounding the garden must have been at least nine feet tall on the left and right sides but dropped to about six feet at the garden's end, confirming the impression I'd gotten from what I could see of it last night in the dark and through the rain. Beyond that wall there appeared to be a field and on the other side of that lay a densely wooded area. I assumed these were the woods that Dad had mentioned many times when recounting his boyhood exploits.
I turned around to look at the back of the house and spotted a white wood and glass conservatory which took up half the length of the house. I walked over and peered through one of the large panes. The floor was tiled in a similar checkerboard style to the entrance hallway and furnished with comfortable cane or wicker style sofas and easy chairs. Potted plants stood atop several small tables also made out of the same stuff.
"Oh there you are." Said Dad poking his head out thought the French doors. "Are You ready to go?"
Startled, I nearly banged my head on the window I was looking through.
"Hehehe, oops sorry Jon." Dad chuckled. "Didn't mean to spook you. I see you found the conservatory. It's a really nice place to sit in the summer and there are doors inside leading to both the study and family rooms."
"Won't it get really hot? Like in a greenhouse?" I asked.
"Not really, there are blinds built into the glass roof and fans to circulate the air." He'd walked over to stand beside me and was pointing to one of two ceiling fans that I hadn't noticed earlier. "So are you ready for a shopping expedition?" He asked waggling his eyebrows at me.
I rolled my eyes and shrugged. "I guess so." I said without much enthusiasm.
"OK, well I think we should leave the food shopping till last so that we don't leave anything frozen in the trunk for too long. Don't want want to risk having stuff thawing out while were still shopping." He said as we walked back into the house. Dad closed and bolted shut the French doors as I walked out into the main hallway and onwards to the entrance hallway to retrieve my coat from the small cloakroom there. I fetched Dad's coat whilst I was there and handed it to him as he approached. I opened the front door and walked out to the car and waited whilst Dad locked up. He used the remote to open the car door for me and I was about to slip into the passenger seat when I realized that I was on the wrong side of the car, the steering wheel was a big clue. I tutted to myself and scooted around the front of the car to the other side and got in.
As I waited for Dad to get in I noticed that the driveway didn't just loop around the small fountain and head back to the gate. The drive also continued past the front of the house before turning left and disappearing around the corner. When Dad was fixing his seatbelt I asked him where it went.
"There's a large garage and some outbuildings at the end of the drive. If it's not raining when we get back I'll drive us down there so you can see for yourself." He started the car then paused, his brow creased slightly as it always did when he was recalling a dim memory or obscure fact. "I think that the garage was originally a stable block but was converted years ago, well before I was born. I think my Grandfather must have done that. The field at the end of the garden was supposedly a paddock for the horses. There's a five bar gate just past the garage that opens into the field."
Curiosity satisfied I just nodded and we set off down the drive. The gates were still in their locked-open position so Dad didn't have to get out of the car again to let us out.
"So where exactly are we going Dad?" I asked, realizing at the same time that any answer he gave would be meaningless. I didn't know one place from another in this country.
"We're going to have to head in towards the center of Cambridge. I had a skim through the yellow pages earlier and have a rough idea where we need to get to. We should be there in about 30 minutes, depending on the traffic. I expect we'll have lunch while were in town so have a think about what you might fancy."
"I'm still full from breakfast, so maybe ask me again later OK?" I said. My stomach felt a little uncomfortable actually, so maybe the bacon and eggs were a mistake.
As he drove I checked out the scenery. Not that there was much to see really. Once you've seen one field or hedgerow you've seen them all. When I could see into the fields the land did appear to be quite flat and I could see for quite a ways into the distance.
Dad decided not to drive all the way into the center of Cambridge. He was able to find a place to park the car close enough so that walking wouldn't be a pain. As it turned out we were just around the corner from a large stationers and office supplies company so walking wasn't an issue.
We spent around 45 minutes there and by the time we left I had a new computer desk and chair. I chose a desk with one built-in drawer unit and one free standing drawer unit on castors. I decided on that arrangement so that I could have the mobile drawer unit at the side of the desk rather than under it. That way I could put my printer and scanner on top of it and free up some desk space. We also bought some printer paper and ink cartridges and Dad arranged for everything apart from the ink cartridges to be delivered on Monday afternoon as that was the last weekday that we'd both be at home. Before we left Dad asked the sales guy where we could find a cell phone shop and then we set off following his directions.
We found the place easily enough started browsing what seemed like and endless variety of phones. I was overloaded very quickly and told Dad to just choose one for me and I went outside the shop to wait for him. About 10 minutes later Dad emerged with a shopping bag and a grin on his face so I asked him what he was happy about.
"I just got a very good deal for us." He said still smiling. "Not quite a bargain but still very reasonable. I'll show you what I've got for us over lunch, how about a pizza?" He added inclining his head in the direction of a Pizza restaurant across the street.
"I could eat a slice or two." I admitted as we crossed the street. My stomach had settled down after our breakfast and I was very fond of pizza.
We went in and took a table by the window. They apparently didn't serve individual slices so I just ordered a small pepperoni pizza and a side salad whilst Dad opted for a medium Four Seasons. I'm really surprised he's not fat given the amount that he eats. While we waited for our orders to arrive Dad took a small black box out of his shopping bag.
"I bought one each for us." He said as he passed the box to me. "Apparently the Galaxy S II is a very popular model and I was able to get a good deal on an unlimited tariff as I was buying two of them. Both will be charged to my account naturally. All you have to do is charge the battery fully and you'll be good to go as the sales guy has already fitted the battery and SIM card."
I'd opened the box while he was talking and had taken the phone out of its plastic sleeve. It felt comfortable in my hand and looked sleek and stylish. As long as I could make and receive calls and I could access the Internet with it, at least until our home connection was sorted out, then it would do. I expect it was expensive so I thought I should show my appreciation.
"Thanks Dad. I'll charge it up as soon as we get home." I said returning the phone to its box and handing it back to him.
Our pizzas arrived shortly after that and they were pretty good. Between bites I watched people in the street as they went about their business. I noticed a few small groups of kids my age laughing and joking as they walked by and I started to feel a bit down. I didn't have any friends here and doubted that I would make any. Who would want to be my friend anyway when they found out about what happened? No, I was better off on my own. I turned away from the window and concentrated on just finishing my food.
When we finished Dad paid and we left. We just had the food shopping to do now and then we could go home. Dad said there was a Tesco supermarket nearby so we walked the short distance back to the car then drove to the store. As we walked up and down the aisles Dad said to let him know if I spotted something I fancied or thought we might need. I wasn't a fan of food shopping so just followed him around the store for the most part. I did see something that might be useful as we passed the electrical section and pointed it out to Dad. I don't think we brought any power socket adapters with us from the states and was sure we'd need them, as anything electrical we brought with us would have a US style plug fitted. I was right and Dad said that we should get 10 of them just to make sure we had enough.
After Dad had loaded our shopping cart with ready meals, frozen pizzas and various other items we headed for the checkouts. Passing a magazine rack Dad
stopped briefly and selected an Internet magazine from one of the shelves. As he place it in the shopping cart he said it would come in handy for selecting a home Internet service.
Dad and I bagged up our shopping and put the bags back in the shopping cart so we could wheel it out to where he'd parked the car. We loaded the bags into the trunk, returned the shopping cart and in no time were heading back towards Howeton. It didn't seem to take as long returning home as it did to drive to Cambridge and soon enough we were driving through the gates and up the drive to the house.
"Jon help me unload the car then I'll drive us around to the garage." He said as he pulled up in front of the house. We unloaded the bags from the trunk and carried them through the house to the kitchen where Dad emptied them into the fridge and various cupboards. The adapters and his magazine he left on the island before we went back out to the car.
The drive down to where the garage was only took about 30 seconds. Once we turned the corner I could see the low buildings directly ahead of us, the garage and outbuildings facing each other across a paved courtyard. Dad stopped in front of the garage and we got out of the car. He opened one of the two sets of double doors and getting back in the car reversed it slowly in. There was still plenty of space to spare all around it. He got out and closed the garage doors and slid a bolt into place to secure them. The building itself did look quite old but I couldn't really picture it as a stable. The other buildings opposite looked equally as old and all had plain wooden doors and small windows.
"What are they used for?" I asked him.
"One is a wood store for the fireplaces and that one used to be my Dad's workshop." He said indicating the furthest building. "Dad used to like to tinker around with this and that and was quite good at fixing things. There's all sorts of tools and equipment in there. Be careful though if you go poking around, Dad wasn't the most organized person and I wouldn't want a box of hammers or something falling on your head."
I noticed the five bar gate that Dad had mentioned and walked over to it. The field beyond it looked quite overgrown. Dad came up beside me and leaned on the top bar.
"When I was your age there was a path straight across from here to the woods but I suppose that disappeared from lack of use years ago." There was a wistful tone to his voice and I assumed he was recalling one of his childhood memories. We stood there for a few minutes just looking out over the field before walking back up towards the house. There was high stone wall on either side of the driveway. On the right was the wall that surrounded our garden and on the left I assumed it enclosed the garden of the house whose upper floor and roof I could see.
"Who lives there Dad?" I asked.
"I don't know who lives there now but my best friend Paul used to live there until we grew up and each went off to college. I know his parents sold the place quite a few years ago when they retired." He said as we walked.
As we drew alongside the house I glanced up at the other house opposite and was startled to see a boy staring back at me from one of the upper floor windows. He looked to be about 11 or 12 years old and had a mop of red hair. I looked at him for a few seconds as we approached the corner of the drive but turned away when he suddenly started to pull faces at me. He'd put both thumbs against his ears and was waggling his fingers and contorting his face and even sticking his tongue out at me.
"Oh great." I muttered to myself. At least there was a big-assed wall separating our houses.
"Huh?" Dad said, obviously overhearing me.
"Oh, nothing." I said, "I was just thinking it was great to be back as I'm feeling a bit tired. I think I'll go have a nap for an hour or so." I mentally patted myself on my back for my quick thinking.
"OK kiddo." Dad said as we walked through the front door again and put our coats away. "I'm going to see if I can find out about getting us an Internet connection. I'll give you a knock if you're not up and about in a couple of hours. Don't forget to put your new phone on charge." He added handing me one of the boxed cell phones.
"OK Dad." I said before heading upstairs to my room.
I shut my bedroom door, kicked of my shoes and sat on my bed. I unpacked the phone and it's charger and looked around for a power socket. There was a double socket in the wall next to my bed that the lamp was plugged into so I plugged the charger into both the free socket and the phone and placed it on my bedside cabinet. I stood and walked over to the window overlooking the front entrance and pulled the curtains together. I always found it difficult to sleep in full daylight. Walking to the second window, overlooking the garden, I looked out curious to see if the garage was visible from here. It was. I could see both it and the other outbuildings clearly. Even the five bar gate was easy to make out. Unfortunately, the house opposite was also in my line of sight and the window that the kid had been looking out of was diagonally opposite mine. Still, it was about 30 feet away so it wasn't too close and he wasn't there now so maybe it wasn't even his room.
Drawing the curtains I returned to my bed and lay down after moving the phone box to the far side of the bed. Now that I was lying down I didn't feel all that tired so I thought I'd just relax for a little while. I didn't really want to sleep anyway, not if it meant dreaming again. So I just lay there in the darkened room for a while listening to the sound of my own breathing. Maybe it was the busy morning or the pizza that was sitting a bit heavy in my stomach but the next think I remember was Dad knocking on my bedroom door.
"Jon, are you awake?" He asked. "It's been two and a half hours. You might not be able to sleep tonight if you sleep too much. Jon?" I heard the rattle of the door handle as he opened the door and a shaft of light spilled in from the hallway silhouetting him in the doorway.
"Er, yeah Dad," I mumbled groggily and sat up rubbing my eyes. "I'm up, what time is it?"
"It's just after five o'clock. If you feel up to it maybe you could help me shift some of those remaining boxes." He said turning on the light before walking back downstairs.
"Sure Dad, just give me a few minutes to freshen up and I'll be down." I called after him, squinting my eyes against the sudden brightness.
I got off the bed and stretched, arching my back and finishing with a noisy yawn. I shook my head and ran my fingers through my hair to free myself from any residual drowsiness and walked into my bathroom to splash some cold water on my face. 'Two and a half hours', I thought as I toweled my face dry, well at least I didn't dream.
I went back into my bedroom and put my shoes on before heading downstairs, turning the light off as I left the room. I went into the kitchen but Dad wasn't there. Feeling thirsty I went to the fridge and took out the OJ. I was tempted to drink some straight from the carton but years of parental conditioning won out and I used a glass instead. After thirstily swallowing one glassful I poured myself some more and, returning the carton to the fridge, went in search of Dad.
First place to check was the main reception room as he did say he wanted some help shifting boxes. Well the door was open and the lights were on but no still no Dad. Hmmm, okaaay, where to look next? I hadn't been in any of the other rooms yet so I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone and explore while I tracked him down. I headed across the hall from the main reception room and opened the door into what I remember him saying was the dining room. I flicked the light on, down for on again I noted, and whistled softly in appreciation.
The room was dominated by a long highly polished dining table that had 10 seats around it, four on either side and one at each end. The table and chairs all stood on a large oriental style rug. There were also two similarly polished sideboards against the walls and a two tall cabinets containing fine china, at least it looked fine to me. I walked over to one of the cabinets for a closer look but didn't risk opening the cabinet door as, knowing my luck, it would collapse and everything would be smashed to smithereens. There was a variety of different shapes and sizes of plates and bowls, some with bright floral patterns and some with blue on white Chinese style scenes. I'd have to ask Dad about these, when I find him that is.
I left the dining room and walked back to the kitchen poking my head in just in case he'd materialized. He hadn't. I was just about to head upstairs to see if he was in his room when the door to the study opened and Dad walked out.
"Ah, Jon, there you are. I was starting to think you'd gone back to sleep. I was just making some room in my Dad's study for some of my books." He said gesturing through the open door behind him.
Peering past him I could see a large desk, a high backed leather chair and a set of French doors beyond. There were several tall bookshelf units which appeared to be full of books. I walked past Dad so that I could get a better look. There were full bookshelves all around the room giving the room the look of a mini library. Apart from the desk and chair there was also a comfortable looking leather easy chair and matching footstool in one corner. The contents of several shelves near the desk had been removed and stacked neatly on the floor next to one of Dad's boxes.
Dad came up behind me and put his hand on my shoulder. "I'll finish that later. Let's go sort out which boxes need to be taken upstairs."
So that's what we did. Thankfully, Dad had made a basic inventory of each numbered box so we didn't have to open each one to figure out what was inside. Seven of them were for Dad's bedroom and contained most of his clothes. There were two really heavy boxes full of more of his books and papers. Four boxes were earmarked for the kitchen and some of this must have held pots and pans because they clanked when we moved them. The remaining four boxes were of miscellaneous items like spare bedding and towels, photo albums and other stuff with sentimental value. I knew that some of Mom's things were in one of those boxes but I didn't really want to think about that just yet, there'd be plenty of time for that when we have to find a place for them.
It took us a couple of hours to shift everything and unpack the kitchen boxes. As the kitchen here was already pretty well equipped we ended up with a surplus amounting to about two boxes worth. Dad suggested we should store them in the attic for future use, so we re-packed what we didn't need and carried them upstairs. Dad opened the door to the attic stairs and flicked the light on, or he would have if the light had been working. We ended up leaving the boxes outside the door until Dad had had chance to find a replacement light bulb. He said that he didn't want to risk either of us falling over some of the other stuff that's already stored up there. I was feeling a bit weary by now so I was happy to leave them for another day. My arms and legs were aching in protest over the unaccustomed exercise. Dad was content that we'd made a significant dent in the unpacking chore and said that we could deal with what's left over tomorrow.
On the way back downstairs Dad asked me what I wanted for dinner and I told him that I didn't mind and would have whatever he wanted to make but not to make me too much as I wasn't all that hungry. We ended up having a couple of microwaved pasta dishes which, while quite tasty, were a little too salty for my taste. I know that Dad was a poor cook and microwave meals are quick and convenient but I couldn't help but wonder what they were doing to our insides. Maybe I should learn to cook, I mused. I can't do any worse than Dad, as long as I don't burn the place down. Hmmm, I'd have to think about that.
After we'd finished eating Dad suggested that we should relax in the family room for a while. Apart from the conservatory this was the only room on the ground floor that I hadn't been in. Like the main reception room, the family room was dominated by a large open hearth fireplace but where the main reception room was elegantly formal, this room was all about comfort. There were three large soft fabric covered sofas surrounding a glass topped coffee table in the center of the room and there were more display cabinets against the walls. They contained a variety of knick-knacks, porcelain figures and a few silver pieces that Gramps must have accumulated over the years. The most impressive feature was the arrangement of dozens of framed photographs of all sizes which adorned the wall into which the hearth was built. I walked over to check them out and could immediately see that they all family photos. They weren't organized in an pattern that I could discern, it certainly wasn't a chronological order as old photos, like Gran and Gramps' wedding photo, could be found amongst much new pictures; in this case right next to one of my school photos.
"Picture framing was another of my Dad's hobbies." Dad said smiling at the display. "He was quite good at it don't you think?" He took a seat on one of the sofas and patted the seat beside him, indicating that I should also sit.
"So how are you doing so far son? All this must be quite a lot to get used to." He said as I settled myself onto the sofa next to him.
"I'm OK thanks Dad." I said after a moment or two. "I'm sure I'll get used to the place soon enough. It is pretty big though, you know, just for the two of us."
He nodded thoughtfully. "It is a big house and you're right, maybe it is too big for just you and me but this place has been in my family for generations and I don't think I could sell it. I did think about it briefly when Dad died but discounted the notion almost immediately. There's just too much family history wrapped up in the place and selling it would be like turning my back on the past. That's not to say that it was all good of course, every family has skeletons in the closet, ours included. We've had our fair share of dramas over the years. You grandfather even started compiling a family tree when he was younger, complete with photos, press cuttings and other snippets of information. If you're interested in that I should be able to dig it out for you from wherever he put it. He hardly ever threw anything out so I expect it's in the attic somewhere."
"Let's see how things go for a while, huh?" He continued. "Once you're settled in school and have some friends over to visit, the place might not seem so empty. Believe it or not this house has a lot to offer for a boy your age. I know I had loads of fun here with my friends."
I nodded and forced a smile for him. He'd just reminded me that I'd be starting school in a few days. Not something I was looking forward to at all.
I glanced around the room, partly to avoid eye contact with Dad and partly because I was suddenly aware that there was something missing. There was no TV and I hadn't seen one in any of the other rooms either.
"Er, Dad? Where's the TV?" I asked looking around again.
"Hehehe, I wondered how long it would take you to ask." Dad chuckled. "There isn't one. Your grandfather never liked them and was fond of saying things like 'Television kills imagination' whenever I asked him to buy one. I must say I agree to a certain extent now that I'm older, I'd much rather read a good novel than sit in front of a TV for hours on end. However, if you want me to get one I will. I do appreciate that times change and each generation sees things things from a slightly different perspective. Before you decide though, have a good look at the books in the study as there are some great classic stories to be found on those dusty shelves. Speaking of dust, I must remember to call the real estate people to thank them for giving the house a thorough airing and spring clean before we got here."
"Don't worry about a TV for now Dad, I can live without one. Besides, once we have Internet access I can watch pretty much anything I want to online." I said shrugging my shoulders. I'd never been much of a TV addict anyway. Sure, I'd sit and watch it if it was on but would I miss it? Probably not.
"Well we should be connected quite soon actually," Dad said shining his knuckles on his shirt as if especially proud of himself. "I placed an order for a DSL connection while you were asleep earlier. They said it could take up to a week to provision the line but were optimistic that it might be completed in just four days. They're also going to be providing a free WiFi DSL router so you should be able to access the Internet from any WiFi enabled device, the same way you did back in the US. There was a secondary phone line in the study so I thought it would be better to use that as a dedicated Internet line. It does mean that that's where the router will have to go but that won't be a problem for you will it?"
Dad knew I was a bit geeky when it came to computers. "No. I'll have to reconfigure my wireless switch to use the new DSL router's WiFi settings but that's easy enough. Do you want me to set the router up for you again?" His tech skills were just a bit better than his cooking so I hoped he'd say yes.
"Sure, if you like." He smiled. We both knew the score.
"Dad, I think I'm going to get an early night, do you mind? I'm feeling pretty worn out and I really need to send emails to Mike and Stacy too before I go to sleep." I asked faking a yawn.
He smiled again and patted me on the leg. "No of course I don't mind. I probably won't be that far behind you actually. Say hello to Mike and Stacy for me will you?"
"Will do Dad, thanks." I said as we both got up. He gave me a big hug and I said 'goodnight' to him as I trotted up the stairs to my room.
The room temperature was comfortable, unlike last night. I'd left the curtains drawn together earlier and pulled one back slightly from the window overlooking the garden and peered out. It was fully dark, as you'd expect at nearly 9pm in January, and I couldn't see very much. Now that I was more familiar with where things were I could just make out the garage and outbuildings and even a hint of the low wall at the end of the garden. I also noticed that there was a light on in the upper window of the house next door where I'd seen that kid this afternoon. I squinted a little but couldn't really see any detail or movement in the room. Not that I was hoping to see anything but I suppose I couldn't help but be a little curious. I closed the curtain and sat on my bed.
The phone had finished charging so I disconnected the cable and connected to the Internet. Accessing my Gmail account was straightforward and I was pleased to find a couple of emails waiting in my In-box dated yesterday, one each from Mike and Stace. They were both very similar in content. Both of them said how much they missed me already and that it wouldn't be the same with me not around any more. Mike asked me again to please stay in touch while Stace promised to keep me up to date on all the gossip. I couldn't help but get a little upset reading them, especially as they both finished their emails with 'Lots of Love'. They were so far away. It's only been a couple of days since I'd left but it sort of felt like it was a lifetime ago. It was a strange feeling. Wiping my eyes I sighed deeply to myself.
I replied to both emails saying that I was sorry about the delay and explaining about the lack of Internet access. I said that I missed them both too and I promised to keep in touch and that as soon as we had a DSL connection I could chat with them using IM, although we'd have to plan it because of the five hour time difference. I promised I'd send them some pics of the house and surrounding area when I had the chance. I finished both emails with the same 'Lots of Love, Jon.' sentiment and remembering to pass on my Dad's regards to them both as a P.S.
I don't know if it was home sickness or writing those emails to friends who were so far away but I started to feel pretty lonely all of a sudden and more than a little sorry for myself. I sat there for a little while just wallowing in self-pity and shedding the odd tear. I was able to drag myself out of it by reminding myself that I was doing this partly for my friends, so that they wouldn't have to worry about me and could be happy.
Setting the alarm clock on my phone for 9am I placed it back on the bedside cabinet. I pushed myself off the bed and went to the bathroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. When I finished I stood and gazed into the mirror for a little while. What did I feel about the boy staring back at me? Was it contempt? Maybe pity? Possibly disgust? How about hate? I finally turned away, shaking my head slowly. I didn't know what I felt about him. Maybe I didn't feel anything.
I stripped down to my boxers and turned off the bedroom light then crawled under the covers, drawing them tightly around me. I tried to empty my mind, to escape from these feelings that I instinctively knew were harmful. I concentrated on the sound of my breathing, making myself breath more deeply and slowly as I tried to summon sleep to take me. The last thing I remember thinking was 'Please don't let me dream'.
I was slowly becoming aware again and tossed and turned restlessly, straining weakly against entangling bed sheets.
I resisted, irritated at this intrusion that was dragging me out of that warm dark place, as I tried not to wake up. But the noise was persistent, its sharp staccato notes worsened somehow by the pauses between repetitions.
Finally my subconscious gave in and released me fully and my eyes snapped open. Silence. I lay on my back, the covers over me in disarray, and tried to work out what had woken me.
I turned my head quickly in the direction of the sound while scooting back away from it at the same time. I propped myself up on one elbow and tried to make sense of it.
Shit! I thought to myself. What IS that? It was coming from the direction of the window and I thought that it might be the radiator beneath it cooling down or maybe some air trapped in the pipes.
No. It was definitely coming from the window. I slowly pulled the covers back fully and slid off the bed. Reaching out blindly I found the cold brass knob on the bedstead at the foot of the bed and stood there silently listening, waiting for the sound to come again. Seconds passed. Nothing. More seconds passed. Silence, apart from the sound of my own breathing. My heart was pounding with the tension of anticipation. But still the sound did not come.
Emboldened by its absence, I took a couple of hesitant steps towards the window and stopped to listen again. Nothing. I took another couple of steps until I was facing the curtains. Raising my hands, I took hold of the folds in curtain intending to yank them back but I stopped again, loosening my grip.
'What the hell am I afraid of?' I mentally chastised myself. 'For God's sake Jon get a grip.' Gritting my teeth in determination I gripped the curtain again.
The sound was louder, more insistent and totally scared the crap out of me as I shot back away from the window.
"Aaaah!" I tripped over my suitcase in my panic and let out a yell as I fell hard on my ass on the wooden floorboards. I sat there stunned and a little bewildered.
"Aaaah!" I yelled again as light suddenly flooded the room and then Dad was in the doorway.
"JON! What's wrong? What's the matter?" He was clearly anxious as he came over to me and helped me get up.
I clung to him and buried my face in his chest and shook my head.
"Jon? What's wrong? I heard you shout. Talk to me kiddo." He was smoothing my hair and rubbing my back to try to calm me and it must have worked because I did regain some of my composure.
"Th..There was something t..tapping on the window Dad." I said but my words were muffled as my face was still against his chest.
"What? What was that?" He asked leaning away from me slightly and taking my face in both his hands. "Say that again Jon."
"Th..There was a tapping n..noise coming from the window." I stammered and raised my arm to point towards the curtains. "It s..scared me and I fell over."
Dad looked past me to the curtains and strode towards them his arms raised to draw them back.
"NO!" I shouted. "DON'T!"
He paused and looked back at me over his shoulder for a second or two. "Jon, there's nothing to be worried about. Trust me." He said turning back to the window and drawing back the curtains with a flourish.
I had closed my eyes and covered my face with my hands when he turned back towards the window. I didn't want to see whatever it was that was making those noises.
A couple of seconds passed and nothing had happened so I risked a peek out through my fingers. Dad was standing beside the window looking at me.
"See? What did I say? Nothing to worry about. Come and look for yourself." He turned back to look out the window himself as I walked over to stand beside him. There was nothing there. Nothing but the night.
"But I heard it Dad, it was like somebody tapping or throwing stones at the window. I swear I heard it." I looked up at him willing him to believe me.
"It's OK son. I believe you heard something. Maybe it was a bird pecking at the glass? I've seen crows and magpies do that before. Or maybe it was a large moth trying to fly towards a reflection of the moon?" He said pointing up at the half-moon suspended in the night sky.
"It could have been a number of things." He continued, using a calm rational tone. "But none of them would be anything to get scared about, OK? There's nothing out there that could hurt you."
I nodded. "OK Dad. You're right and I'm sorry I woke you up." I wasn't totally convinced that what he said was true. The fright I had was a little too recent for me to totally accept a rational explanation.
"Hey, no don't apologize." He said putting his hand on my shoulder and smiling down at me. "It's my job to look out for you 24/7 okay kiddo?"
"Thanks Dad. I'll be OK now, you can go back to bed." I said and he walked to the doorway.
"You want me to leave the light on? Just in case?" He offered.
"Hehehe, no Dad. I'm not six you know. You can turn it off." I remembered being scared of the dark as a little kid but thankfully I soon grew out of that phase.
"OK Jon. See you in the morning." He said and turned out the light before closing my door and heading back to his room.
I sighed deeply and turned back to the window again. Looking up at the moon I wrapped my arms about myself.
After a few seconds I reached up to close the curtains and froze, holding my breath reflexively. Out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed a flicker of movement, or thought I did, coming from the direction of the outbuildings. I frowned and squinted my eyes slightly, trying to focus on the darkened area. There it was again! I couldn't make out any detail but I had a sense of something paler than the surrounding darkness moving quickly towards where I imagined the five bar gate would be. 'Probably that cat again.' I thought, nodding to myself. There was always a rational explanation for these things, just like Dad had said. Still, I shuddered a little despite that assertion and, quickly drawing the curtains together, scrambled back into my bed and under the covers.
I couldn't get back to sleep straight away. I lay there half expecting the tapping to start up again. Eventually I did fall into a mercifully dreamless sleep, comforted by the thought that there really was nothing out there to worry about.
To be continued...
Please leave any feedback at email@example.com