By Paul Jamison

Chapter 28

Adrian’s viewpoint…

I had just driven away from Rick and Paul’s place when my mobile went off. So I pulled to the side of the road and answered.

“Adrian Machin.”

“Mr Machin, Caroline Ashton here. We’re finished at the school…”

“Oh, good,” I interrupted. “How’d it go?”

Marcus loves it. The Head’s just told me he’s accepted for next term and they’re looking to see what kind of bursaries they can come up with for him. I’ve spent an hour filling out applications. Thank you, by the way, for doing those income statements. They were definitely required, but I’ve decided that we’ll just have to make some sacrifices, if necessary. This is definitely the right choice of school for Marcus.”

“That’s excellent news. I’m delighted it’s all gone so well for you both. I’ll be with you in fifteen minutes. I’ve been seeing some friends while you were at the school and I’ve a couple of ideas to suggest to you. I’ll discuss them further when I get there,” Adrian replied.

Thank you, Mr Machin, we’ll be by the main gate entrance,” Caroline said.

“That’s fine. See you shortly,” Adrian replied and rang off.

I pulled back into the traffic and made my way across town to the Royal Grammar. As soon as I approached the lay-by in front of the gates I saw Mrs Ashton and Marcus standing by there. I pulled in and they approached the car.

I got out, opening the door for Mrs Ashton while Marcus slipped into the back of the car and fastened his seat belt. As soon as Mrs Ashton was seated I closed the door and returned to the driver’s seat, fastened my seat belt and pulled out again into the traffic.

“So, Marcus, the school’s just fine, I believe your mother said?”

“Yes, sir. I like it very much. It’s every bit as good as my school in Wakefield,” he replied.

“Less of the sir. I’m not your Headmaster, okay?” I replied. “Just Adrian will do out of the office, same for you too, please, Caroline. With my previous PA, Marylyn, we always used forenames when not in formal meetings and I’d like that to continue, if that’s all right with you of course,” I added, smiling across at Caroline.

“Yes, of course. It was the same in my old office, if no clients were present, although I never used Mr Edgington’s forename. It was just Mr E,” she explained.

“Don’t think I fancy Mr M. So we’ll stick to Adrian, I think,” I smiled.

Marcus giggled from the back seat and Caroline said “Certainly, I’m sure I’ll get used to it all very quickly.”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll fit in just fine. Right, here we are at your hotel, there’re reservations in the firm’s name, and I’ll just go and sign the slips. Then, your time’s your own. I’ve one suggestion now that Marcus is going to the Royal Grammar…”

“Oh?” Marcus said from the back seat.

“Yes, I’ve some friends and all of their charges go to the Royal Grammar, as do their friends and they’re roughly Marcus’s age within a year or so. Some would definitely be in his year. One’s the lad whose mother died, my previous PA. He’s being looked after by them too. It’s quite a remarkable household and all very recent too. But, I really think it’d be helpful for you to meet them and for Marcus to have met at least a few potential friends before school starts in the new year.”

“That sounds very nice… but are you sure? I mean they don’t know us at all and I wouldn’t wish to intrude on anyone this close to Christmas. They must be rushed off their feet with plans and activity,” Caroline replied.

“I saw them just before I came over to pick you up and they’d be delighted to have you over for lunch tomorrow at twelve thirty. I believe you said your return train was at five something?”

“Yes, five seventeen,” Caroline replied. “Well if you’re absolutely sure? But how should we get to them?”

I pulled into the hotel car park and stopped. Turning to Caroline I continued.

“Oh, no problem. I’ll be coming over to take you there at twelve fifteen, okay? I’ll introduce you, but I can’t stay for lunch as I’ve already got other arrangements. Take a taxi back to your hotel after lunch. Use this firm, please,” I answered, as I handed Caroline a card with a taxi firm’s number. Just put it on our account. Our account number’s on the card. I’ll let them know you’ve authority to charge it.  Keep that card as you’ll be using it a bit when you’re working with us, too,” I explained. “I’ll introduce you to my friends Paul Frost and his partner Rick. They’ll introduce you to the rest of their mad household.” I turned around to face Marcus in the back seat. “Marcus, you should try to be friends with this crowd. They’ll certainly look out for you at your new school,” I suggested.

“Err… yeah, sure,” Marcus replied, sounding anything but sure.

We got out of the car and went on into the hotel and I took care of the bookings and I left Caroline with Marcus making their way to their rooms. I went back to my car and wondered if I should do anything more to make their arrival here any more comfortable. After a few moments thought I decided that further ‘interference’ might not be welcomed and left it at that. I drove back home.

* * *

Caroline’s viewpoint…

As soon as we were in our rooms I humped my case onto the stand and within seconds Marcus appeared round the door.

“Mum, I’ve nothing to wear to meet these guys and no way am I going in school uniform. That’s just so uncool,” he said vociferously.

“Marcus, calm down. What other clothes did you bring?” I asked.

“Only some jeans and a top to travel in. Nothing I’d be seen dead in with guys who might be friends. You should’ve said to bring something decent.” He almost shouted.

“Marcus, I simply had no idea… we’ll not go if it’s going to cause all this fuss. I’ll call and say we’re sorry, but we can’t manage it in the time, or something.”

“Couldn’t we go get something? I mean it’s a big town and there’s bound to be a shopping precinct or a high street?” he asked.

“What exactly have you brought with you?” I asked

“The school uniform I’m wearing. The jeans I came down in early this morning. They’re old but comfortable… um… a top, clean underwear, best shoes, trainers, something to wear in bed, washing stuff… that’s all. Nothing that’s suitable to make an impression with at all,” He moaned.

“Hmm… Oh, all right, what do you need? This might have to be part of a Christmas present if you go mad,” I relented, seeing the obvious distress on Marcus’s face. After all I was dragging him halfway down the country and well away from his friends and familiar haunts.

Marcus’s face lit up. “A shirt, jeans and trainers’d do fine,” he answered.

“How much?”

“I dunno, depends what shops there are,” Marcus mumbled back.

“Okay, go change into your comfortable clothes. Put your uniform on a hanger and let’s go into town. We’ll get something to eat, while we’re out,” I said.

“Great,” Marcus replied, as his face lit up and he quickly left the room to go and do as I’d suggested.

I too changed into something a lot less formal and once comfortable we both left the rooms and caught a bus into the town centre.

The best part of two and a half hours later with us both tired and foot sore, but with all the shopping done, including Marcus’s new school blazer badge, tie and pullover we walked towards an Italian restaurant, looking at the menu displayed outside we decided to go in and see if we could eat.

Ninety minutes later and having had the best Italian meal out that I can remember, I called a taxi to take us back to the Travel Lodge. Once there Marcus and I carried our bags through to our rooms and flopped out. He then picked up his stuff and said

“I’ll go hang this up in my room, okay? I don’t want it all creased up before I’ve had a chance to wear it.”

“Yes, what are you going to do for the rest of the evening?” I asked.

“Just chill, watch some telly, then sleep, since you dragged me out before the crack of dawn this morning. We’ve done an awful lot though, don’t you think?”

“Yes, we’ve accomplished what we needed to, a new home for us both and a new school for you. We’ve to hope that there’s good news about bursaries soon. Those tuition fees weren’t cheap,” I replied.

“Were they very expensive? I didn’t listen much to that, well you were with that other guy while I was being shown round after my interview,” Marcus said and continued “Can we manage for me to go there?”

“Yes, we can, I’ve savings, an excellent redundancy payment and a very generous package at the new job.  We’re better off than before, but we’ve to balance that against no full scholarship for you… So as the advert says ‘every little helps’. Let’s hope they come through with a decent bursary,” I smiled encouragingly.

“Do you think they will?” Marcus asked.

“Yes, I believe that Headmaster when he says your application will go through with his full approval for funds to be allocated. It seems your old Head in Wakefield gave you a cracking good reference, which is something to be thankful for at least,” I finished.

“Oh right,” Marcus said smiling, as he picked up his bags and went through to his own room next door.

A few minutes later Marcus came back and we both watched TV for a while before turning in as we’d had such an early start that morning.

* * *

Paul’s viewpoint…

The gang were trickling back home from their various visits and activities from around five o’clock onwards and were gathering in the kitchen making brews and toast to tide them over till supper time.

“What’s for supper tonight?” Will asked.

“Sausage toad-in-the-hole, mash’n onion gravy,” I answered.

“Oh good,” Will said grinning widely. “I love that. What’ve you been doing today, Chris?” Will asked, turning to face Chris.

“I tidied my room, ready to move to my new one on Tuesday after the carpet and bed’s sorted… Oh, and we went out for a pub lunch with Adrian too,” he said.

“Really?” Will said with a surprised look. “How come?”

“My old house’s rented out to the lady who’s got my mum’s old job. So Adrian wanted to explain that, I think.”

“Ah, do you get all the rent then?” Will asked, grinning.

“Nah, well not directly. It pays for stuff I need, but I only get the same allowance as you lot.”

Will nodded and I thought as everyone had come home, I’d mention the guests for lunch on the Sunday.

“Guys, we’ve two extra for lunch tomorrow…”

“Yeah, me and Craig?” Justin interrupted.

“I thought your mum wanted you home in time for lunch, Justin? She said you were going out with them in the afternoon,” I said.

“Oh, yeah, sorry, I forgot. So it’s not me then,” he giggled.

“No, it’s not. It’s Mrs Ashton and her son Marcus from Wakefield. They’re moving down here to take up the job at Adrian’s firm and Marcus, who’s fourteen’ll be going to the Royal Grammar with you lot next term,” I explained.

“Why are they coming to lunch then?” Will asked.

Adrian thought and hoped that it might help Marcus with transferring schools, if he’d at least met a few boys his own age who go there beforehand, that’s all,” I said.

“Is he gay?” Liam asked.

“I don’t know, but know Adrian well enough to be sure that Mrs Ashton and Marcus wouldn’t have a problem with that.”

“Okay, so we play it by ear, or who’s got the best gaydar?” Liam grinned.

“Wish I was staying for lunch now too so I could suss this Marcus out,” Justin grinned wickedly at Will. “And, if he is gay, then we’ve another one to get fixed up.”

Will giggled and was about to say something when Craig butted in.

“How about we just give him a chance and don’t jump to conclusions?” he said and added “I mean my bro Jamie’s as straight as they come, but he’s not anti in anyway, is he?”

“That’s true. He taught one bully a lesson he’ll not forget too. Okay, as long as he doesn’t go anti on us, that’s fine by me,” Will said.

The others murmured in agreement and went about getting the table set for supper as I continued to prepare the meal.

“Who’s actually here for tomorrow’s lunch?” I asked.

“I’m not,” Justin said pointedly.

“Yeah, we know that,” Will said.

“I guess I am, if invited,” Craig said nervously.

“You’re always invited, muppet,” Liam grinned reassuringly at Craig.

“Hey, less of the ‘muppet’,” Craig shot back and added politely “Thanks Paul. I’d like to stay for lunch.”

“So it’s nine then, as I expect your dad’ll be here as usual?” I asked Will.

“Yeah, there’s no chance of him missing out on your Sunday dinner if he can help it,” Will laughed.

I opened the oven and pulled out the large tray of roasting sausages, added a bowlful of batter and put it straight back into the oven, set the timer and said “Who’s for a beer or coke?”

“Yes please,” Rick said as he came in through the kitchen door. “Who wants what?”

“Coke, please,” Chris, Will and Justin said.

“Beer, please,” Liam and Craig said.

“G&T?” Rick asked me and I nodded in response.

Will got three cokes from the fridge for him, Jus and Chris, while Rick made me a G&T and then went back to the garage returning with three bottles of Frog Island beer, which he opened and handed round to Liam and Craig before sitting down with the last one himself.”

“Cheers,” I said raising my glass.

“Cheers,” came the rather ragged reply, as most were already drinking by then.

“Do we tell um… Marcus that we’re all gay?” Will asked.

“No, not, or unless he or they let us know that he’s gay, or he’s totally comfortable being around gay people. I can’t help thinking though that there’s no other reason Adrian’s asked us to meet these people. I mean it’s just a bit odd,” I said.

“I’m sure Adrian knows something and he can’t just come out and say it. So let’s just be open-minded and see what happens. It’s no good trying to guess. So we might as well forget about it till tomorrow lunchtime, okay?” Rick said.

Heads nodded around the table and drinks were consumed. Then Chris said

“It might be as they’re renting my old house we ought to know them a bit as it’d be just so weird to meet Marcus at school and to suddenly find he’s living at my old place, that’s all.”

“Yeah, that’d be freaky,” Justin admitted, then grinned and added “So,  Chris, you’ll end up with a boy in your bed after all?”

“Justin!” I said sharply, over the general laughter. “That wasn’t very pleasant. In fact it’s in rather bad taste. Please apologise to Chris”

“Sorry, Chris, I didn’t mean to er… be…”

“’S okay, Jus. It was funny. I’m not upset,” Chris replied and asked “Are you looking for a boyfriend for me?”

“Not the point. Chris could’ve been upset… think a little, Justin, please. Engage brain before opening mouth,” I said.

“He would if he had one,” Will squeaked.

More laughter broke out round the table and Jus, a little red in the face, soon joined in and eventually added “If I stopped to think they’d never be funny… they just come into my head and I’ve gotta say ’em.”

“Okay, okay… let’s leave it there,” I said, just as the cooker timer sounded and the welcome distraction of feeding time took over completely and the conversation turned towards Christmas.

“I’ve had another email from my dad,” Liam said between mouthfuls.

“Oh, what’s he said?” Will asked.

“He’s gone off on his summer holiday with Michael his boyfriend. He wishes us all a Happy Christmas um… and he said he’s sent me a present. Has it arrived, Paul?” Liam asked.

“It has and you’ll get it on Christmas Day, not before,” I laughed.

“Oh, what is it? Do you know?”

“It’s a cardboard box and no, I’ve no idea what’s in it,” I fibbed, and continued “It’s wrapped and hidden away. So don’t even think of trying to suss it out,” I said.

“I won’t. It’s just amazing to get presents from him. It’s been about five years since I last got something from my dad. It wasn’t his fault though, as my mum wasn’t exactly being co-operative, after all.”

“Er… no, you could say that,” Justin grinned.

“Why, what happened?” Chris asked.

“Long story, Chris. I’ll tell you if you really want to know, but ask me privately, okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” Chris replied and carried on with his supper.

“Oh, the new bathroom on ours and Chris’s floor is now useable,” I announced to no-one in particular.

“Yeah, it’s really smart,” Chris enthused.

“That’s good,” Will said, and when confronted with enquiring looks added. “If we’re all watching telly and someone’s in the downstairs one, it’s a long trek to our floor if you’re busting, that’s all,” he explained.

Heads nodded in agreement and we finished supper. After clearing away and loading the dishwasher, we congregated in the sitting room for an hour or so watching TV, before first Will and Jus and then Craig and Liam, said goodnight and drifted off to their rooms, leaving Chris, Rick and me in the sitting room.

“All okay, Chris?” I asked.

“Yeah, pretty much now. I’m looking forward to getting settled in my new room and to Christmas too…” Chris drifted off into thought.

“Did you have all the trimmings and stuff with your mum?” I asked.

“Well, some of them. We had a turkey breast roast as a whole one would have kept us going for a month and I hate the same thing day after day and Mum did too.”

“That I can understand,” Rick said. “I’m okay with roast dinner on Christmas Day, and one, perhaps two cold meals from the leftovers, but as for cold, then curried or interminable turkey sandwiches… forget that. I hate it.”

“Yes, I do too,” I added. “I try hard to get the right size bird so there’s not tons of it left over. I somehow think we won’t have that problem this year, though,” I said knowingly.

“Oh, why?” Chris asked.

I quickly replied “Have you ever seen leftovers from any meal in this house, except perhaps a portion of pie that I kept back for someone not here, but who’d want to eat as soon as they came home?”

Chris grinned widely and said “Er… no, it all goes in seconds.”

“Exactly. So I’m not too worried that there’d be tons of leftovers after Christmas dinner. A bit of cold for the odd sandwich or salad on Boxing Day, but that’s about it. How about a tree and decorations, though?” I asked.

“An imitation tree with lights, that’s all. We chucked it out when we did the clearout, remember?” Chris said.

“Oh yes. We’ll be getting a tree, a real one. That’s something I’d intended to do tomorrow, but with guests coming for lunch and that means using the dining room, we’d better put that off till Monday, I guess,” I said looking at Rick.

“No, I’ll go out first thing with your car and Liam ’n Craig and we’ll get one at the farm shop. We’ll be back here by eleven and they aren’t due till twelve thirty,” Rick said.

“Yes, that’d work. Everyone else can help with the dining room and we can set up and decorate the tree after the Ashtons go,” I suggested.

“That’d be great,” Chris enthused. “I’m quite interested in meeting Marcus. He’s closest to my age, I think, from what Adrian said today.”

“Yes, I think he is…  we’ll have to see what sort of a lad he turns out to be.”

“Yes, I guess so. I think I’ll go to my room now and read. Good night,”

“Goodnight, Chris,” Rick and I replied.

Rick got up and picked up the coffee mugs and was heading to the kitchen with them when he turned and said

“I’ll just go ask Liam and Craig to come with me in the morning, okay?

“Mmmm… knock first, they may be ‘busy’,” I grinned.

“Yeah, that’d occurred to me. I’ll be discreet.” Rick smiled back as he dumped the coffee mugs in the kitchen and made his way up to the boys’ room.

A few minutes later he returned said “It’s all sorted. They’ll both come and be down in the kitchen by nine tomorrow.”

“Good,” I said yawning. “Let’s go to bed.”

* * *

Rick’s viewpoint…

The following morning I slipped out of bed and padded over to the shower. As soon as I started the water Paul stirred and sat up.

“Urghhhh… you going to get the tree?” he managed to get out.

“Yes. If you’d not had that second G&T you’d be all bright eyed now. We had enough sleep,” I grinned stepping into the shower and closing the door. As soon as I was done, Paul slipped out of bed and into the shower himself. I was towelled and dressed before he came out and said

“I’ll give the lads a knock and then go put the kettle on. I want coffee and I know you need tea before getting going on the lunch preparations,” I said.

“Yes, please, if you would. Oh, I only had one G&T, by the way. I was just a bit tired. I had a drink at lunch time after all.”

Yes, true,” I replied and left Paul dressing while I went up and knocked on Liam’s door.

“Hey, guys, time to get up if we’re going for a tree,” I called out.

There was a few seconds pause and I knocked again, more loudly, to be greeted with

“’S’okay, we’re up, won’t be long,” Liam called through the closed door.

“Okay, guys. Breakfast is on,” I said, as I headed back to see Paul coming out of our room and heading down to the kitchen. I followed and busied myself with the kettle while he started toasting some bread. Just as the kettle boiled and as I made a cafetiere of coffee and a pot of tea, both Liam and Craig appeared at the door, yawned and got themselves mugs from the cupboard and loaded the toaster with more bread.

As soon as we’d finished we were all a little surprised when a clatter on the stairs produced three more heads around the door looking expectantly at the table.

“Sorry, guys, too much to prepare before our guests arrive for lunch to do full English today,” Paul said.

“Oh, so it’s just toast and tea as usual?” Will asked.

“Yes, but it’s a full roast dinner for lunch and I’d like some help preparing the dining room, okay?”

“Yeah, okay,” Chris and Will replied while Justin just grinned.

Liam, Craig and I finished our breakfast and I picked up Paul’s keys and said

“Right, we’re off to buy a Christmas tree. Should be about an hour, okay?”

“Yeah, sure, see you soon. We’ll get lunch organised,” Paul replied. 

I headed out of the kitchen door followed by Craig and Liam. A few moments later we set off for the farm shop.

* * *

Paul’s viewpoint…

With Rick, Liam and Craig off shopping for a Christmas tree, I turned my attention to the forthcoming lunch and the expected guests.

“Dining room to sort out,” I said to Will, Jus and Chris.

“Oh, Will,” replied. “I was going to see Jus home.”

“No time, Will. Sorry, Justin, but we need to use the dining room for this lunch with the numbers and it won’t all happen on its own,” I explained.

“Yeah, okay, do you want me to stay a bit and help?”

“That’d be appreciated, but don’t feel you’ve got to, especially as there’s no lunch for you at the end of it,” I said.

“Tha’ss okay,” Justin replied. “I don’t want to go home till I have to. Dad’s about and he’ll just get annoyed at me.”

“Really? Are you having problems at home then? Your mum’s not said anything,” I asked.

“Nah, Dad’s always on my case over schoolwork when he’s home. It’s not my fault I’m not as good at stuff as he was… according to him of course,” Justin explained.

“Your father did very well at school and university, hence his quite high flying job now,” I remarked and added “It’s kept you in nice things, good clothes, a super bike, holidays and a decent school where you have at least the opportunity to do as well. It’s always going to be down to you in the end, Justin, as to what you make of these chances.”

“I s’pose so,” Justin sighed wearily and asked “So what needs doing then?”

“Dining table set for nine, four down each side and one end, please. If you and Will could get cracking on that, I’ll get other things underway in here.”

Justin followed by Will, left to set up the dining room. A few minutes later Will appeared again and asked “Does the table need extending?”

“Oh yes, it will do for four down each side. I’ll be through in a second to help you with that. Chris, would you top and tail, then peel and slice, this bunch of carrots,” I asked.

“Yeah, okay,” Chris replied and came towards the sink to begin that task as I followed Will back to the dining room and between us we extended the table and laid out the nine place mats. I then opened the canteen of the best cutlery and said soup starter, main course and dessert, okay?”

“Side plates and butter knives?” Will asked.

“Yes. Put the butter knife outside the main course knife, like this,” I explained as I quickly set up one place setting.

“Yes, I remember now,” Will said and I left them to get on with the task.

Back in the kitchen Chris had almost finished preparing the carrots and so I got out the big two layer steamer and said

“Put them all into this steamer section when you’ve finished, please.”

“All right. What’s to do next?” he asked.

“Peel a dozen large potatoes and cut them into quarters, not everyone’ll want four or five but you lads always do,” I grinned.

“Yeah, roasties are the best… except for…”

“Chips?” I interrupted.

“Yeah!” Chris admitted, grinning widely.

He got on with the potatoes while I prepared a cauliflower and four parsnips. Once all that was done I got the joint out of the fridge, cut two large onions into thick slices and placed them in the bottom of a roasting tin with a good dollop of fat from my jar of saved fat and sat the joint nicely on the bed of onion to relax before going into a very hot (200C) oven for 25 minutes before being turned down for the remainder of the cooking time.

Just then Will and Jus returned to the kitchen and asked

“What about glasses? Are we having wine?”

“Yes, we’re having red wine, so glasses and water tumblers all round. Do you and Chris want wine or Cokes?” I asked.

“Cokes, please,” Will replied.

I looked at Chris. “Um… not sure…”

“The red wine we’re having is very fruity, but dry. It’s decidedly a wine to be drunk with food… To be honest, I’d have Coke if I were you. I’m not at all sure you’d like the taste. Tell you what. I’ll be opening it soon so it can breathe and I’ll pour it into the decanter for serving. So you can have a taste then and tell me which you’d prefer. We can easily change the glassware then.”

“Okay,” Chris replied, looking surer now he could try it first.

“I just don’t like the taste,” Will confessed.

“Neither do I,” Justin added.

“It’ll come in time if it’s meant to. Some of us never get the taste and some of us are better off without. All depends,” I said.

“Guess so,” the boys replied.

“You mean those who’re winos are better off without?” Chris asked.

“Yes. Some of us don’t have the metabolism to deal with alcohol and for those, it’s a poison, not a pleasure to be modestly enjoyed. For them it’s best avoided entirely,” I explained.

We had by then finished preparing the vegetables and I had the potatoes for roasting, in a large pan on the hob heating up for a short parboiling before they would go into the oven to roast at the appropriate time.

“Time, I went home, I guess,” Justin said.

“Thanks for your help, Justin. I’m sure we’ll see you again soon?”

“Oh yeah, we don’t go away till Christmas Eve. So I’ll be around till then,” he replied, grinning.

“Good,” I said and Will showed Justin out through the kitchen door and quickly returned after saying his goodbye.

“It’s really freezing out there,” he complained as he wrapped his arms around himself and shivered.

“It must be below zero,” I said, looking through the window at the bright but frosty lawn.

Just then Rick and the others returned from the garden centre with a six foot tree strapped to the roof bars of my car.

“They’re back with the tree,” I said.

Chris and Will came to the window and watched as they unloaded the car and brought the tree up to the back door. They all came into the kitchen, shivering despite their outside clothing.

“It’s really cold today,” Liam said through chattering teeth.

“So I see,” I grinned.

We’ll leave the tree till after lunch. I’ve put it into the garage to dry off. It’s a bit frosty. They all were as they’ve been outside all the time,” he explained.

“Seems sensible. I don’t really want it dripping everywhere, and it’ll give you all something to do later on,” I replied, adding “Did you get a stand or container for it?”

“It came in a pot. All we’ve to do is set it up on something and decorate it,” Rick explained.

“The small low coffee table in the corner will do fine for that. Cover it with plastic first, to protect it from water damage, then put a small cloth over it I think we’ve a bright red one that was intended for a round occasional table that’ll do fine,” I suggested.

“Yeah, I know the one you mean. We can get all that done after our guests leave. So, is there anything to be done?”

“Would you open some wine and decant and when it’s had a chance to breathe for a while, let Chris have a taste so he can decide between wine or Coke. I guess you two’d like some wine?” I said, smiling and turning to Liam and Craig.

“Yes, please,” they both grinned back as they sat down at the kitchen table.

“No time to sit about. Would you go tidy the sitting room, you know, any magazines books etc lying about.”

They both got up and went off to do just that. The timer on the hob went off and I turned out the potatoes into a colander and then back into the pan, put the lid back on and holding it tightly rolled it around to roughen up the parboiled spuds. I then set that aside for the time being.

The oven had reached temperature. So I slid the pan with the joint into the oven and set the timer.

“Right, shall we get a tray for pre-lunch drinks ready?” I suggested.

Just then the house phone rang. Rick, being nearest, answered

“Rick Masters…”

“Hi, Rick. Adrian. How’re you all?”

“Hi Adrian, we’re all fine. Is everything going well?”

“Yes, definitely. It’s all gone very much as I’d hoped. I’ll be with you with the Ashtons in about an hour, is that okay with you guys?”

Rick looked over towards me and said “Adrian’ll says be here with the Ashtons in an hour. Is that okay for your timings?”

I glanced at the kitchen clock and said “Mmm… can he make it ninety minutes? We’ll be ready by then.”

Adrian, ninety minutes would be better, okay?”

“Yes, I heard. I can just about do that and be where I need to be after dropping them off. All right… see you at twelve thirty then, bye… Oh, and thanks for all this.”

“Our pleasure… we’ll just send the usual bill…” Rick joked.

Adrian laughed and said “Yeah, sure thing… see you guys soon,” and rang off.

Rick replaced the receiver and looking to me said “Is that all okay?”

“Yes, that’s twelve thirty,” I replied adding “which is when I expected them anyway. So no problem.”

“Right, guys, please go and tidy yourselves up. We’ve guests coming for lunch and as they’re not yet friends of ours, let’s have you a bit smarter than your normal weekend scruffs, please,” I said.

“Oh, okay… so smart casual then?” Liam asked.

“Yes, please,” I said, “that’s exactly right.”

The boys left to go to their rooms to change. I looked at Rick and said

“Right, let’s just check the dining room, set out the pre-lunch drinks, get the dinner service out and go change ourselves.”

“Sure,” and Rick followed me into the dining room where we counted out the plates needed and between us finished setting up side plates, napkins and the glassware for the meal.

I took the soup and dinner plates back into the kitchen to warm in the top oven with the serving dishes and checking the timer we both went off to change into something more suitable to receive guests. Some fifteen minutes later we were both back downstairs and the boys began to trickle down just as Frank knocked on the back door and came in quickly closing it behind him to keep the heat in.

“Hi, Rick, Paul, Will,” he said as he rubbed his hands. “It’s somewhat fresh outside today.”

“It definitely is,” Rick agreed. “We’ve been to the garden centre for a tree this morning. Quite a heavy frost all round.”

“Oh, you’ve got one. I was wondering whether to bother. We always had an imitation one before and to be perfectly honest, I’m not really into trees and decorations,” he admitted.

“Get yourself a small ready done imitation one for the window, if you want, Frank. But we’ve the real thing here, so Will won’t really miss out on anything,” I suggested.

“Oh yes, I’ve seen those in the shops, small, quite decorative things for windowsills. Mmm… that might do just fine. Then I won’t have to bother with those bloody pine needles everywhere,” he smiled.

“The tree we’ve just bought is supposed to be a non needle drop variety… but we’ll see,” Rick grinned.

“If it dumps its needles everywhere, you lot’ll be vaccing them up, I can assure you,” I answered firmly.

“Okay, okay. So, Frank, we’re just waiting for Adrian to bring our guests over from their hotel. Seems it all went very well yesterday, but I’m sure they’ll be telling us all about that over lunch,” Rick said.

“Oh good. Wakefield did you say they were from?”

“Yes, that’s right. Do you know it?”

“Yes, a bit. Dad’s a Sheffield man, of course. I went to Wakefield when younger, but like so many of those northern towns, I expect it’s changed a lot since those days.”

“I guess so,” I said, glancing at the clock. It was approaching twenty past twelve.  I put on an apron and busied myself with basting the joint, adding the parsnips to the tray to roast and starting off the roast potatoes on the hob before adding them to the top shelf of the oven. I re-set the timer, and put a low heat under the pan of leek and potato soup I had prepared the previous day for a starter and sat back down just as Chris appeared.

“Oh, good everyone’s down,” I said smiling round. “Let’s go into the sitting room until our guests arrive?”

“Too late,” Rick grinned. “Adrian’s just pulled in now.”

“Go through guys, please. Rick, please answer the door and take them through to the sitting room, okay,” I said a little harassed.

The boys quickly left the kitchen with Frank. Rick waited with me for the doorbell to ring. I took off my apron just as the bell sounded. We both moved down the hall to answer the door.

End of Chapter 28

Many thanks for your emails and comments. I believe I have replied to you all. All the chapters are available at my Yahoo group for reading and downloading. Join the Yahoo group for  notifications of new chapter updates.

Paul Jamison

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