By Paul Jamison

Chapter 29

Marcus’s viewpoint…

I woke a little before nine on the Sunday by the sounds of someone using the shower in the adjoining room. I realised I’d never get back to sleep, so got out of bed and filled the electric kettle provided to make a brew. While it was coming to the boil I used the en suite bathroom, took care of business and returned to make a mug of tea with the complimentary packets of teabags and pretend milk sachets. I added two sugars to make it bearable and sipped the drink. After a few mouthfuls I gave up. I really hated the long life milk they provided in hotels, so poured it away down the sink and then turned on the shower to get freshened up and dressed.

Once I’d dressed, I went to my mother’s room and knocked. She opened the door and said,

“I’m ready to get some breakfast now, Marcus. Glad you’re up. We can go through together.”

“Okay, I got woken by the shower next door to me being used,” I said as we walked through to the café area of the Travel Inn.

“Did you sleep all right?” my mum asked.

“Yeah, I was dog tired, so fell asleep at once,” I replied.

“Not surprised. We did an awful lot yesterday. I’m half wishing we didn’t have to go to meet new people today, but I’ve a feeling that wouldn’t go down too well since Mr Machin’s gone to a lot of trouble to set it up and must think it’ll be worth our while,” Mum said.

“I guess so. I mean if they’re all at my new school it’ll be help if I know at least a couple of guys before I get there,” I commented.

“Yes, there’s that, of course, and anything that’ll make your transfer any easier is good. I’m still worried about what happened… you know before you got to the Grammar in Wakefield,” Mum said, looking anxiously at me.

“I’m older now, but yeah, I don’t ever want to face that sort of bullying again,” I said.

We’d reached the cafeteria and as it was a self-service breakfast we got trays and went down the line selecting what we wanted. As soon as we were seated, I took a drink of tea and said

“Thank goodness, proper milk at last. I hate that UHT stuff they put in the rooms.

“Yes, so do I. It’s so ‘plastic’ tasting, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, awful. So, do we just wait to be collected?”

“Yes, pretty much. I want to make some calls home. I’m going to talk to Uncle James and see if he’ll help us with the move,” Mum explained.

“Oh, how? What exactly do we have to move? I mean, it’s only clothes and stuff from the kitchen isn’t it?”

“Almost. We don’t own the carpets, curtains or main furniture items like the sofa, armchairs, beds or washing machine. The fridge-freezer, microwave, computer, the computer stand thingy, they’re all ours and, of course, clothes, yours and my room stuff. I think it’d all go into a van rather than a lorry. So we could do self-drive hire and Uncle James’d drive us down, help unload and then take the van back. That’d save a lot in removal costs.”

“Yes, okay. Do we start packing at once?” I asked.

“Just as soon as we’re home, yes. I’ve signed for the new house, seeing as we both liked it and it’s ours. So there’s no point wasting any more time. We must get sorted as fast as we can, get moved down here and try to get settled in before you’re back at school,” Mum said.

I nodded my reply as my mouth was full of toast and marmalade and as soon as we’d finished, I went for a wander round while Mum got on her mobile and made her calls.

After a while of kicking my heels in a lounge watching TV, Mum came and found me and we went and got a coffee in the cafeteria. Once we’d sat down she said

“Right, we need to go and pack, then check out. I’ve spoken to everyone and things are underway. Uncle James’s’ll hire a van for Wednesday. That gives us Monday and Tuesday to pack. It’ll take most of the day as I’m sure we’ve stuff to throw away, especially, in your room, Marcus. So, Tuesday, you can go into school and say goodbye to your friends. I’ll be carrying on with the arrangements with the gas, electric, phone companies and our landlord. I’ve already sent them the written notice on Friday. So they should have that first thing tomorrow. There’s an awful lot to do, but I think we’ll manage if all goes well, okay?”

“Are you going into work as well?”

“Yes, but not to work. I finished officially on Friday, but I’m paid till the end of the year and I’ve my redundancy payment to look forward to. We’ll be all right, I’m certain,” Mum assured me.

“Oh, right,” I said. We got up and went back to our rooms to pack our things, check out and then wait in the reception foyer to be collected by Mr Machin.

* * *

Paul’s viewpoint…

I opened our front door to see Adrian accompanied by a lady in her mid to late thirties and a mid teenaged boy who was quite obviously her son.

Adrian, hi Um… Mrs Ashton and Marcus?”

“Hello,yes, that’s quite right,” the lady replied.

“Hi,” the lad said shyly.

“Come in please,” I replied and stood aside to let them pass. “Go through into the sitting room,” I added to Adrian as he led the way.

As soon as they were in and I’d shut the door I followed down the hall to the sitting room where Adrian was introducing our guests to Rick, Frank and the boys.

“And finally Paul, Rick’s partner, who you met at the front door,” Adrian was saying.

I shook hands with Mrs Ashton, who promptly said “It’s Caroline, please,” and with Marcus who was looking stunningly smart in a rainbow striped, open neck casual shirt, needlecord jeans, that fitted him perfectly and smart moccasin style shoes. He smiled shyly as we shook hands and his eyes darted around the assembled company as he was introduced to the others.

“Right guys, I’ve to go. I’m sorry. Me and James’re expected elsewhere, so I must rush. Caroline, please get a taxi from here, okay, and charge it as I said.”

“Okay, Mr… sorry Adrian, if you’re sure?”

Yes, I am and good luck with your move. Call me if there’s anything you need help with. Bye, all,” Adrian replied and was almost as quickly gone down the hall to the front door. I caught up with him just as he was going out and said

“I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Yes, please do, but after seven though. We won’t be in till at least then. Would you take their two cases, please? Get them a taxi to the station, would you when you’ve all done here? Their train’s late afternoon, after five, I think, but best to ask Caroline to be sure.”

“Oh, okay,” I said as I took the two cases from him.

I got to our door in time to see his back disappearing as he got into his car and shot off out of the drive. I went back inside and after closing the door tucked the cases neatly against the wall in our hallway and went into the kitchen to check the food before rejoining our guests in the sitting room where I found Rick and Frank busy making further introductions.

“So, Will’s your son and you both live next door? Have I got that right?” Mrs Ashton was saying.

“Almost, Will’s my lad, but he lives here. I live next door. It’s all a bit complicated, I’m afraid,” Frank said as he noticed the look of incomprehension on Mrs Ashton’s face.

“Yes, it’s quite complicated and all brought about by a series of accidents,” I cut in. “We’ll try and explain over lunch. This really isn’t a traditional household.”

“I’m beginning to see that and am getting an inkling of why Mr Machin… Adrian, thought we ought to meet you all, and it’s Caroline please, drop the ‘Mrs Ashton’,” Caroline replied with a smile.

“Yes, of course, Caroline. I get a pretty good idea too,” I smiled back and looked over to where Marcus was being introduced by Will to the others. Marcus’s choice of the rainbow shirt over a black tee was quite a bold statement and looked good against the black of his well fitting jeans and golden hair.

Mrs Ashton smiled too, followed my eyes to where her son stood comfortably with our gang in the window nursing a glass of Coke as Will was holding forth on who was who.

“We’d a bit of an argument in the shop over that shirt,” she explained. “Partly on cost, but as it was reduced from £69 to £30 I relented, but still an awful lot of money for a shirt. It’s a designer one. I also wondered if he wasn’t being a bit… um… too open wearing it… I see now that he didn’t have anything to worry about?”

“He certainly doesn’t. I’m sure Adrian explained that Rick and I are partners and, of course, he and James are,”

“Yes, it’s been made clear and I was asked a lot of questions at my interview regarding my attitudes to gay matters and, well, as you can see all was satisfactory. I take it that Commander Barnes and I are ‘the breeders’ here?”

I laughed. “Oh, you know that one. Yes, you’d be right,” I replied.

“Oh yes. It’s a term of endearment Marcus often uses to Dougie, his best friend from school. He gets called something as endearing back of course by Dougie,” she laughed.

“Amongst ‘best friends’ I think that’s completely acceptable, as there isn’t any malice involved. It’s best mates being just that, ‘mates’,” I said.

Rick looked over towards me questioningly. I glanced at my watch and as the oven timer sounded at exactly the same moment I excused myself and disappeared into the kitchen.

The soup was warmed through nicely and after stirring briefly I turned it right down to keep it hot, but not boil. Then I opened the oven and took out the roast, setting that quickly onto a big plate I poured off some of the beef fat into another roasting tin set it on the hob to sizzle to smoking and then quickly poured in the Yorkshire pudding batter I had prepared. Then I transferred the roasting potatoes to the middle shelf and put the yorkie in the top of the oven, reset the timer, took the soup dishes through to the dining room, putting them on my plate warmer on the sideboard. Then I returned to the kitchen, warmed my soup server with a kettle full of hot water quickly swished around, tipped it away down the sink and then gently poured the soup from the pan into the server and carried it through to the dining room and put it alongside the dishes on the hotplate. I returned to the kitchen covered the joint with foil and started preparing the gravy. Once that was nicely simmering I turned it right down to just keep warm, took off my apron headed across the hallway to the sitting room and joined in the chat. After about ten minutes or so I announced

“Would everyone please come through to the dining room? Lunch is ready.”

Liam and Craig being nearest passed me grinning away as they did and Craig whispered

“No doubt about Marcus, is there?” and grinned.

I smiled back, giving a knowing wink. Rick followed with Caroline and Will with Frank bringing up the rear with Chris and Marcus. I followed everyone into the dining room and went to my end place near the sideboard while Rick seated everyone around the table.

“Homemade leek and potato soup,” I announced and added “All right for everyone?” looking to our guests seated alongside Rick and Frank at the top of the table.

There was a general chorus of “Yes, please’,” with no demurring and so I served everyone. I noticed that I had forgotten the basket of sliced French bread that I’d intended to serve with the soup and asked Liam, who was next to me, if he’d go and get it from the kitchen. He quickly did so and it was rapidly passed around.

I sat down having placed the soup server back on the sideboard and we began the meal.

We were almost through the soup before Frank said “You were asking how I was living next door and why my son, Will, lives here.”

“Yes, I mean if it’s not intruding,” Caroline replied.

“No, it’s all quite remarkable, but sometimes life’s like that. I’m a naval officer, as you’ve gathered, and often at sea. My wife, Will’s mum, died some five years ago, when he was about ten. My parents’d come and stay with him during my sea times. But this last summer, they were in a serious car accident while on holiday in Scotland. My mother died and my father’s still severely incapacitated from his injuries. I turned to my neighbours Paul and Rick here to look after Will for a few days, perhaps as much as a week or two while I made all the arrangements in Scotland…”

“Oh, I begin to get the picture,” Caroline replied.

“Yes, but that’s just the beginning,” Frank continued. “When I returned and after all the things that had to be done were sorted out, I still had to arrange schooling and care for Will while I was away working. It became apparent that Will wouldn’t ‘fit in’ at a boarding school for military families. He decidedly didn’t want to go there at all. I couldn’t at the time see that there was any alternative. But it was also obvious that Will was very settled at the Royal Grammar school and had his friends and social life well arranged there. So, when Paul and Rick offered to continue the arrangement semi-permanently, by that I mean till he reaches eighteen or I’m not at sea anymore, he lives here maintained by me. Does that all make sense?” Frank asked.

“Perfectly,” Caroline said smiling.

“I bet you’re wondering who everyone else is though?” Will chipped in.

“Yeah, I was rather,” Marcus said.

“That’s easy,” Liam spoke up. “I’m here cos when I was ten my parents divorced.  My mum got custody of me and my dad emigrated to New Zealand to get a fresh start. I also go to the Royal Grammar and knew Will and his friends there. A few months ago I told my mum I was gay and there were some horrendous rows. Basically I walked out after she and her church threatened to send me to some ‘make me straight camp’ and came here to Rick and Paul for help. I’ve lived here since. I’ve just located my dad again and he’s supporting me from New Zealand. Oh, and this is my boyfriend Craig who goes to our school too and lives just down the road. But he can tell you about that himself,” Liam laughed.

“Are you all gay?” Marcus asked incredulously.

I looked around the table and seeing the grins and nods from the boys said “Well, not quite everyone. Will’s dad, no…”

“Add me to that list,” Caroline laughed.

“So, not Will’s dad and your mum, but all the rest of us are, yes.”

Marcus looked around the table and simply gulped.

“I don’t think I’ve been with as many gay people at one time before, ever. I’m gay too. I was determined to sorta let you all know with my shirt and see what happened… seems like I didn’t need to bother,” he laughed.

“I rather thought you were doing that. It was a pretty big hint,” Rick laughed.

“We’ve spent since Saturday trying to suss out precisely why Adrian was so keen that we met you guys. I mean, apart from the obvious, it’d be good for Marcus to meet some boys who were already at his new school. It’s just we were certain he’d another reason… now we know… Welcome to the gang, Marcus” I said.

“Marcus, when are you moving into my old place?” Chris asked.

“Dunno exactly, very soon though,” he replied.

“We hope to move down on Christmas Eve, in fact,” Caroline interrupted and continued “My brother’ll hire a self drive van. We don’t have any furniture as such, just a few bits and bobs. So it’ll be only clothes and possessions. They’ll easily fit into a box van. We’ll have the van overnight, load it on the afternoon before and set off in the early hours, unload here and then my brother’ll return to Wakefield with the van and we’ll spend Christmas unpacking and settling in.”

“Sounds as if you’ve got a very busy Christmas ahead of you,” Frank said and added “Could you use some help this end with the unloading? I’m sure a couple of the lads are available to help on Christmas Eve.”

“I’m free!” Craig chipped in, to much laughter around the table, in the very camp style of the star from Are You Being Served, an old sitcom, but still remembered for its famous strap line. “I live down the road with my younger bro Jamie, my mum and gran,” he explained. “I’m the gay one in our lot,” he added grinning. “Oh, and Liam’s my boyfriend, okay?”

“I’m the newest,” Chris said. “I’ve only been here a short while… since my birthday actually. I mean I guess you know what happened?”

“Only that your mother died in a car accident,” Caroline said softly.

“It was my birthday and we’d been to the theatre to see the The History Boys for my birthday treat. We were at the bus stop afterwards to come home and a car crashed into the bus shelter. A few of us got injured, but my mum didn’t make it through surgery,” he explained.

There was a total silence around the room. so to break the dead atmosphere Craig took up the story.

“Chris was really good friends with my younger bro, Jamie. My mum, who’s an AEU theatre sister saw Chris in the Casualty waiting room that night and found out what’d happened. So we brought him home after he’d been fixed up for his own injuries. His grandfather wasn’t able to have him live with him up in Scotland and Chris didn’t want to move schools and stuff either. So he’s living here too now.”

“Yeah, that’s about it really,” Chris added and continued. “I’ve only been here a while, but I’m really happy. Do you like my old house?” he asked Marcus.

“Yeah, it’s bigger than our flat is, but it’s really nice. You’ll have to come over when we’re properly moved in,” he said.

“I’ll come and help with the unloading too, if you like,” Chris offered.

“Are you sure you’re fully healed enough to shift boxes of stuff?” I asked.

“Yeah, no problem. I’m fine now,” Chris said smiling.

I nodded and as we had finished the soup I asked the lads to collect the dishes and bring them through to the kitchen while I excused myself to bring in the main course.

“You reckon Chris is okay to hump stuff about this soon?” I asked Rick who’d come though to give me a hand.

“Yes, he’s still got a few scars, but he’s healed up and it’s obvious he’s interested in being friends with Marcus. So let him go and help if he wants. Craig just offered to help as well which means Jamie’s likely to go along as he and Chris are best mates. There’ll be three of them to move stuff in and help. I always found it was the unloading that was the most tiresome bit of any move.”

“Yeah, I agree. I liked unpacking boxes and deciding where stuff’d go, but I hated unloading and the endless carrying… well who doesn’t?” I said as I got the veggies into the serving dishes for Rick to carry into the dining room.

“Where shall I put these dishes?” Craig asked as he came into the kitchen with the soup plates.

“Cutlery in blue bowl, dishes in the grey one,” I replied. “Oh, would you take these through, please. Use this cloth, as the dish’s very hot. Rick’ll show you where to put them,” I added as I handed Craig a dish of roast potatoes.

“Yeah, no probs,” Craig replied smiling as he took the dish from me and added “Wow they look soooo good.”

“I don’t expect there’ll be any left over then?” I said as Craig headed to the dining room with the dish.

“No way,” he laughed.

I was quickly cutting the Yorkshire pudding into portions when Will arrived with the soup dish and placed it on the worktop before saying

“Anything else to go in?”

“Just this now, thanks,” I said handing him the dish.

Will disappeared back with the Yorkshire puds and I reheated the gravy, transferred it to the boat just as Rick reappeared to take that in.

“That’s the lot now then?”

“Yes. You take this,” I said handing him the gravy “and I’ll bring the beef after I’ve just put the crumble in to cook. Right let’s go.”

I put the apple crumble into the oven and set the timer, then quickly glanced round to make sure nothing was forgotten and followed Rick back into the dining room, put the joint down at my place and started to carve, serving our guests first. Once done I set the meagre remains of the joint on the sideboard and we all helped ourselves to the veggies. Rick did the rounds with the wine and we all set to in almost total silence except for the normal accompaniment of cutlery on plates.

“Do you like the Harry Potter films?” Chris asked Marcus.

“Oh,” Will interrupted “Chris’s got them all and we’re having a Harry Potterthon on Boxing Day here… just us… the oldies are all next door with my dad.”

“What on earth’s a Harry Potter…um thon?” Caroline asked.

“Easy one. They start at the first film at about seven in the morning and carry on back to back until it’s bed time,” I explained laughing. “Hence, why we ‘oldies’ are retiring to next door for Boxing Day at Frank’s kind invitation,” I laughed.

“And we eat crisps and drink Coke all day too,” Will added grinning.

“Yes, I love those films. I’ve been to them all except the latest one. Have you ever done microwave popcorn?” Marcus asked grinning.

“Nah, never seen that. Is it good?” Will replied.

“Brilliant, it makes amazing noises too when it explodes,” Marcus explained.

“Who’s coming so far?” I asked.

“Justin, Jamie and the twins, but I guess all of us’ll be here too,” Chris said looking across towards Will, Craig and Liam.

“Yeah, we’ll prolly be in the house, but don’t think we’ll watch every film,” Liam replied.

“Even if you aren’t, we’re only going next door anyway,” I said smiling at Rick.

“I think we’ll be too busy unpacking for Marcus to come,” Caroline said.

“Mum, you’ve always said you’d rather do that on your own without me under your feet all the time,” Marcus said with a feigned expression of innocence.

“Mmmm… perhaps so in the past, but you’re mid teens now and I’d hoped you’d be lending a hand.”

“Mum!” Marcus replied with obvious chagrin and quickly added “It’d help me get to know people more though before school starts.”

“If, and it’s a big if, you’ve got your room completely sorted and you’re invited, I’ll decide then if you may,” Caroline said firmly, but barely concealing a smile as she’d never seen Marcus take so quickly to any group of boys as fast as he appeared to be doing that day, and inwardly she was very relieved.

“Oh, he’s invited all right,” Chris grinned between mouthfuls.

Marcus looked up from his plate and shot Chris a winning smile across the table and smiling to himself, continued with his meal. Will looked over at Chris and gave him a big grin before turning his attention back to eating.

“How’re your moving plans progressing, Caroline?” Frank asked.

“Very well after yesterday. We’ve got the house and school all organised now. I’ve given notice back home on our flat and have all the usual utilities to sort out on Monday. I don’t think there’ll be any problems with them. Adrian’s given me all the details of the previous utility suppliers at Chris’s old home. So for now we’ll just take those over and see how it goes.”

“Seems sensible, as there’ll be no interruption in service that way,” Frank replied.

“Yes, that’s what we thought. Adrian took final readings when we were there and turned everything off except for the central heating boiler so the house wouldn’t freeze up. The phone’s been disconnected, but it shouldn’t take too long to get that back on. Did you have an internet connection at home, Chris?” Caroline asked.

“Oh yes, it was with the phone company, I think,” Chris replied.

“Oh good, that’s what we had back home, so shouldn’t be a problem either,” Caroline said.

“So, it’s just a question of wrapping things up in Wakefield and making the move before Christmas Eve?” Frank said.

“That’s it, really, yes. Sounds simple when you put it like that,” Caroline laughed and added “The only annoying bit is having to pay January’s rent back home as they’re insisting on a full calendar month’s notice, but that’s the only hassle so far and, to be honest, I rather expected it,” she explained.

“So you’re doing your packing on Monday and Tuesday and moving on Wednesday?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s the plan. We don’t have any heavy furniture to worry about. So we should be able to get packed up quite quickly in two days.”

“Are you looking forward to your move then, Marcus?” I asked.

“I am now,” he replied grinning widely at us all.

“Have you done much drama, Marcus? We’ve got a good drama club and it’s a full programme at school. Craig and I were in the production this term,” Chris said.

“Oh, yes, so was I. What did you do? We did Guys and Dolls,” Marcus replied.

“So did we,” Craig said grinning. “I reckon schools do the rounds of the popular shows,” he added.

“We always had something musical and a play every year. The school orchestra joined in for the musical,” Marcus explained.

“It’s the same at the Royal Grammar too. You won’t notice much difference I don’t think… well except we don’t speak quite the same as you… Have you done anything especially in your local accent?” Craig asked.

“Not really, I’ve a bit of a party piece that I started doing when I was um… thirteen?” Marcus queried turning towards his mum.

“Yes, you did it around then… have you still got the kit for that Marcus?” Caroline said.

“Kit?” Craig asked.

“Yeah, it’s an old dialect poem about hiding in the cellar when the rent man calls… I dressed as a scruffy kid in 1950s gear and recited a poem sitting on a beer crate in a mucky coal cellar. It always gets a good laugh,” Marcus explained.

“Sounds brilliant. Can you still do it?”

“Oh yes, I know the words okay. I reckon I could still get into the stuff as well. I’ve not got that much bigger, just grown taller,” he laughed.

“May we hear it?” I asked. “That’s if you don’t mind,” I hastily added not wanting to embarrass Marcus.

“Yeah, but I’d rather do it in the costume. Then you’ll get the effect better,” he replied.

“Oh, we can wait till you’ve moved, I’m sure,” Rick said smiling.

“What props do you need?” Craig asked.

“Some old wooden beer crates, not plastic ones, if possible, and a couple of old sacks supposed to be coal sacks with some spray cobwebs and grime for a corner backdrop of a grimy cellar wall with a small window. I got that painted up on two small scenery flats. They just clipped together with scene clamps and it worked fine last time I did it,” he explained.

“How did you do the scene then?” Will asked.

“I sorta hid down behind the crates and the stage was blacked out. Then with one dim light shining through winder I come oopp, sat on’t craight an’ sed me piece.”

We all laughed as Marcus slipped right into the vernacular halfway through his explanation.

“How many lines?” Chris asked.

“It’s only eight, but it’s so traditional and does look and sound with the costume and set brilliant, I think,” he said, grinning appreciatively at us all.

“Still got your scene flats?” Craig asked.

“I think they’re in our basement store. Um… each of our flats has a small storeroom down in the basement where all the electric and gas meters are,” Caroline explained and added. “I was rather hoping we could lose those in the move, but it seems not,” she laughed.

“Please bring them Mum. They can go in the garage at the new house as we’ve not got a car,” Marcus said.

“If, there’s room in the van, yes, all right we’ll bring them down. Though when you’re going to get a chance to use them, I’ve no idea,” Caroline replied.

“You don’t drive, Caroline?” Frank asked.

“I’ve a licence, but no car. Never really needed one in the city, you see. What’s the bus network like here?” she asked.

“Pretty good if you want to go in and out of the town centre, but if you want to go across town or around it, it’s hopeless. You’ve to go into the central bus station and then back out to where you want to be. It doubles journey times. I found a car was essential,” Frank explained.

“What about school journeys?” Caroline asked.

“We operate a car share. Justin, Will’s friend’s mum, Mary Naylor, and I do most of it with our seven seaters. Craig and Jamie’s mum Mrs Sutherland, has a seven seater now too. She bought that just after half term, got a good deal on a three year old one. You won’t be too far out of our route to include Marcus,” I explained.

“Are you sure? I’d have to contribute something to the costs as I wouldn’t be able to take my share of the load, not having a suitable vehicle, or rather, none at all,” she laughed.

“Oh, we can sort something out. Please don’t worry about that. We’ll just let you know what time Marcus’s to be ready for, okay?”

“Well, if you’re quite sure. It’ll be a relief to know Marcus has safe transport to and from school,” Caroline admitted.

“Yes, that’s why we’ve done it. We had an upset after the summer with a bike accident that we’ll not bore you with details of now. Suffice it to say we’re much happier with the present arrangements,” Frank explained.

“Perhaps I’d better look to getting a car here?” Caroline voiced enquiringly.

“Not until you’ve been here a few months and can see properly your real needs,” Frank chipped in quickly. “I advise not rushing into large purchases like that until you can be sure it’s really necessary. Give yourself time to make a proper assessment.”

“Oh yes, I’d agree completely with you there. What supermarkets are there and are they easy to get to?” Caroline asked.

“Which do you like?” I asked.

Oh, we’ve Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Asda in Wakefield. I use Morrison’s in the city centre,” she replied.

“We’ve Waitrose and Sainbury’s in the centre. Tescos are spread around all over, Asda and Morrison’s have a couple of stores. Pretty much all except the city centre two you’d need a car for,” I explained.

“Sainsbury’s’d be just fine,” she replied.

“Anything else?” I asked grinning.

“Sorry to plug you for info, but it’s good to get the lowdown before we get here. Then we’ve some idea what’s available,” she said apologetically.

“Don’t apologise. We’re glad to help. If you like one of us can run you to one of the bigger supermarkets when you’ve arrived to stock up for Christmas. It’ll be a madhouse at them all to be honest. After all it’ll be Christmas Eve,” I said. “Or,” I added “leave me a list of what you need and we’ll get it all on Tuesday for you and bring it over with the boys when they come to help you unload?”

“I can’t impose…”Caroline started.

“It’s not an imposition. I’m going anyway for our big shop. So an extra box or two’ll be no problem. I’m sure you can’t think now of what you want. So email me your list by Tuesday lunchtime and I’ll get it all for you,” I said.

“If you’re really sure. It’d be quite a godsend actually with all that needs doing,” she admitted.

“Exactly. So don’t worry about it, okay?” I said and turning to Craig asked “Would you lot collect the plates while I go and see too dessert?”

I noticed with some satisfaction that all the plates were clean and all the serving dishes empty and satisfied that the meal had gone down rather well, I went over to the oven and pulled out the large apple crumble that I’d put in just as we’d gone into lunch. It was just ready. So I took that in while Craig followed with the dishes that’d been warming in the top oven from the heat of the lower one while we’d been eating.

As soon as we’d had the apple crumble I said “Guys, would you like to show Marcus around the house while we have coffee with Caroline in the sitting room? “What time’s your train home, Caroline?” I asked.

“Five seventeen,” she replied.

Adrian said to order a taxi. We’ve a charge account for that,” she explained.

“Oh, that’s easy then. Call them from the sitting room for a quarter to five. You’ll have plenty of time to get into the station and down to your platform for that train, no worries,” I suggested.

The boys cleared away the lunch things to the kitchen and took Marcus off with them to show him their rooms upstairs. I went to the kitchen and put the kettle on for the coffee and went through to the sitting room to sit down to chat with Frank and Caroline while. Rick took care of making the coffee and came through with a tray a few minutes later and we all relaxed and chatted for a while.

“I really must compliment you on such a fabulous meal. I don’t think I’ve had beef as tender as that for years,” Caroline began.

“We’re lucky. There’s a local farm shop and the beef’s their own home bred and slaughtered. It’s also properly butchered and hung,” I explained.

“Oh, that explains the difference. You’re lucky there. We’ve just had supermarket meat for years now.”

“It’s a little dearer, but I think it’s worth it. But thank you for the compliment. I’m always pleased when my food’s been enjoyed.”

“We’ve about twelve for Christmas day,” Rick said.

“Really? How on earth do you cope with feeding this tribe all the time?”

“I don’t really know. It doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem. We’ve very little processed food. It’s almost all fresh. I even make burgers for the boys and have had no complaints so far,” I yawned. “Sorry,” I immediately apologised. “It’s been a busy week.”

“For us too. Don’t apologise on my account. I think I’ll be dozing on the train home, believe me, it’s been quite a week. New job, new home, new school for Marcus. It’s a lot to get through,” Caroline said.

“It is indeed. We wish you all the best with the move and settling in. Please ask if there’s anything this gang can help with.”

“We must do our bit too, as soon as we’re settled,” Caroline said.

I looked at the clock and noticed the time had fled by. I took out my mobile and sent a text to Will.

“The boy’s’ll be back down in a few moments,” I said.

“How do you know?” Caroline asked.

“Easy. Paul just sent a text. We long stopped running up two flights of stairs after that lot and I’m not going to shout up, either. They’d not hear with those MP3 player things in their ears all the time,” Rick explained.

“You’ve got it all sussed, haven’t you?” Caroline smiled.

“Oh, they have, believe me, in more ways than one. Will’s been a happier boy since he’s lived here and schoolwork too, well, except maths, has improved greatly. I’m well pleased,” Frank explained.

“Thank you, Frank, that makes it all so very much worth the running about we do. I mean we love the hassle and business of running the house, but it’s seeing the results of happy lads and their friendships that makes it worth the effort.”

“I can see this is a very happy home. I am so, so pleased that Marcus has met these boy’s. I’ve never seen him take as quickly to anyone before. He’s had some bad times with bullies in the past. Seems we might be able to put all of that behind us now with this new move.”

“Yes, I think so. Though no school’s perfect. As we can tell you, there was an incident just after the summer, but fortunately no serious harm came of it and the school backed us and dealt properly with the matter. All ended well. I think if Marcus’s able to make friends here, he’ll do well all told,” Frank said.

We were interrupted by the clatter of teen feet on the stairs and they all came into the room just as the doorbell went.

“That’s your taxi, I expect,” I said.

“Marcus, say your goodbyes, please. We must say thank you to our hosts for that magnificent meal and get off to the station now,” Caroline said.

Marcus said his goodbyes to the boys and then standing alongside his mother said

“Thank you so much for having us. The food was just fabulous.”

“Pleased you enjoyed it and do come and see us again as soon as you’re settled in. You’ll meet this lot again, before school, I expect.” I said grinning as we shook hands.

“Sure will,” Chris smiled wickedly at Marcus across the room.

Caroline and Marcus went into the hallway while Rick answered the door. We carried their bags to the taxi and saw them inside. Then the taxi drove out of the drive and we turned and hurried back into the house as the chill of the evening was too much for standing around outside.

We returned to the sitting room to find Craig, Will and Liam discussing Chris’s obvious attraction to Marcus.

“Hang on a minute,” I said. “Give Chris a break, will you? He’s just met the lad. I admit he’s a good looking boy and it does seem as if there’s some mutual attraction,” I said.

“Mutual attraction!” Will snorted. “They’ve both been making eyes all afternoon. Nothing left for me and Jus to organise at all,” he giggled.

“Since when were you the authority on relationships?” Frank asked.

“Since Jus and I got these two muppets together,” Will chortled pointing at Craig and Liam and hurriedly fled the room followed closely by Liam and Craig shouting

“We’ll give you a dose of muppet Will Barnes…” followed by several thumps and bumps as Will was deposited on the upstairs landing and followed be screams and laughter as he was tickle tortured.

Frank, Rick and I sank into the sofas tuning out from the commotion going on, on the landing above.

“That seems to have turned out most satisfactorily, all round, I’d say,” Frank observed dryly.


End of chapter 29