Driving back to Sheffield the thought hit Mark that, whilst Thomas would be back in contact with Connor tomorrow, there was no way for them to stay in contact until the next time that Connor could visit. Somehow, he thought that it would be unlikely that the teenagers would be familiar with the idea of writing letters.
Fortunately, he knew a source for the supply of cheap Android phones, and before going into visit Thomas in the morning he called called in there and got a phone. It only took him a couple of minutes to get the phone set up and registered on GiffGaff. Luckily, he had a couple of spare SIMs, though he did have to set up yet another email address to add the phone account to. Once that was done he put on a fifteen-pound GoodyBag, which gave the lad a thousand minutes and unlimited texts and four GB of data. He just had to hope that was enough for the boys to stay in contact. He also set the GoodyBag up to recur and charged to his account, less a year than it cost him for one visit to the garage for petrol.
He knew that it was irrational of him to spend his money on a boy he hardly knew, a boy who had wrecked his car and was from one of the more unsavoury families in the area. However, where Thomas was concerned Mark also knew that rationality had nothing to do with it. The boy needed help and Mark intended to supply it.
Thomas looked at Mark in surprise as Mark placed the box containing the phone and the McDonald's bag down on the over-bed table. For a moment he seemed undecided which to open first, the box or the bag.
"What's that?" he queried looking at the phone box as he tore open the McDonald's bag, his desire for the hamburger getting the best of him.
"It's a phone, which, once you have eaten your hamburger, you can set up and charge," Mark informed him, amused as Thomas seemed to be trying to eat the hamburger faster than ever. "Just slow down a bit; there is plenty of time for you to finish your burger and sort the phone out before I leave."
Not that it took Thomas that long to finish the burger and take a couple of swigs from the cola that had come with it. As soon as he had he wiped his hands on the paper napkins that had come with the burger he opened the box.
"It's a smart phone!" he exclaimed as the lid came off the box revealing the contents.
"Yes, Thomas, it's a basic Android phone."
"Fine, but who am I going to phone?" Thomas asked.
"For a start you can phone me, even if it is just to ask me bring you a McDonald's". Mark pulled a business card out of his pocket and pushed it across the table to Thomas. "Then you can always phone Connor."
"Connor," a look of anguish passed over Thomas's face, and for a moment Mark thought he was about to start crying. "I don't have his bloody number."
"You will have this afternoon when he visits."
"What! Connor is coming this afternoon?" Mark nodded in affirmation. "But how? How did he know I was here?"
"I found his family and I went over to Birmingham, actually they live in Walsall, and spoke to them last night. They've been worried about you, Connor especially. They are coming to visit you this afternoon."
"That's fucking brill…" Thomas paused a look of concern appearing on his face a hint of a tear in his eye.
"Don't worry, they know Connor's gay and that you're his boyfriend."
"They know? How? You didn't tell them, did you?" Thomas asked accusingly.
"No, Thomas, that was yours and Connor's to tell. It seems that Connor decided to tell, but they had guessed some time ago."
"And they are still letting him come to see me?"
"Yes, and they also want you to go and live with them, but they can tell you the rest themselves. They should be here about two."
"Why're you doing this?" Thomas asked.
"Why am I doing what?"
"You know, sorting things out for me. Nobody else has bothered with me."
"I am not sure that is quite true, Thomas. Mary and Terry were worried about you. If I had not contacted them yesterday, they were coming to Sheffield today anyway to try and find you. So, they were certainly bothered about you." Mark paused for a moment, thinking to himself why was he doing this? His solicitor had told him to keep out of things, yet here he was, not just visiting Thomas but helping him, as Thomas had worded it, to sort his life out. "But you asked a question, Thomas, and I am not sure I can give an answer. In some ways, I suppose it is about guilt."
"What've you got to be guilty over, it was me that rode my bike into your car," Thomas observed.
"Oh, it's not about that, it's about something that happened fifty-five years ago. Seeing you, or to be more precise your face just before you hit the car, brought it all back."
"Don't be. It is something from long ago. You can't let the past rule your life; you can only allow it to make you live better today."
If Mark had thought that finding a place for Thomas to live would be the end of his involvement with the boy, he was badly mistaken. More and more things seemed to need sorting out, and it just seemed right to Mark that he should be the one doing the sorting out. The first arose that afternoon, or to be more precise, early evening after the O'Mallys had visited Thomas. Mark had invited them to drop in on him after their visit to have some refreshment before they went back to Walsall and to let him know how things had gone. It was quite clear when they arrived that something had gone wrong. Connor was very moody.
"Sorry, Mark," Mary stated, "he's upset because he can't go back and see Thomas tonight." That had led to a general discussion about the problem of visiting and staying in touch, especially as Terry had to work every other weekend and Mary did not like driving in the dark. The outcome was Mark found himself offering to let Connor stay the night and he would take him back to Walsall after Sunday afternoon visiting. That led to Connor staying every weekend with Mark so that he could visit Thomas. Either Terry would drop him over on the Friday night, collecting him Sunday evening, or Mark would drive over and pick him up on the Friday and drop him back after the last visit on Sunday.
There were other matters, though, which kept Mark involved with Thomas, not the least being where he would live. Although Mary and Terry were quite willing to have Thomas live with them, it turned out that things were not quite so easy. First of all, there was the problem that they were out of the county, so things had to be sorted out between two different Social Services departments; that was never an easy matter. Although housing Thomas was something of a priority for Sheffield Social Services, such was not the case for Walsall Social Services, which had far more urgent matters on its hands than approving a foster family for a boy from outside its area.
Then there was the question of ongoing medical treatment: he had needed a second operation on his leg to reset one of the fractures, which had put him back in traction. Although Thomas was due to come off traction soon, he would still require fairly frequent medical checks for the next few weeks until the last cast was finally removed, and then perhaps months of physiotherapy. Ms Henley, the social working dealing with Thomas's case, argued that he should stay with the same medical team until fully discharged. She would not approve the placement with a foster family in Walsall until at least four to six weeks after his discharge from hospital, so Thomas would end up, for a while at least, in Stanford House.
Stanford House though was an option that Mary, Terry, and Mark very much opposed. So, it was that some fifteen weeks after the accident that Mark found himself picking Thomas up from the hospital and taking him to his house, where Thomas would be his foster child until the move to Walsall could be completed.
This turn of events had come about one afternoon when Mark had visited Thomas to find Ms Henley at his bedside. During a short conversation about how things were going she had commented on the fact that Walsall Social Services were very slow in getting the approval of the O'Mallys done. Mark had mentioned that he appreciated the problem, as it had taken ages when he and his wife were approved as foster parents.
"You were approved as foster parents?" Ms Henley asked. "When was that?"
"Must have been twenty or so years ago. A friend of my wife was dying and wanted us to care for her daughter when she had to go into the hospice. After that we took the odd emergency placement until my wife got ill."
Ms Henley's face lit up. "I wonder?" she said. "I wonder if the approval in principle is still valid? Or if not, how quickly could we reactivate it? This could be the solution we've been trying to find! Would you consider taking Thomas on a temporary placement until things are sorted out and he can move to Walsall?"
Mark turned to Thomas, who had been following the conversation between the two them. "Would you mind staying with an old man for a bit?"
"Wouldn't it be too much trouble? I don't mind going to Stanford House for a few weeks; it's not like it will be forever."
"Thomas, you have not answered my question. Would you mind staying with me?"
"No, not if you'll have me, but won't it be too much trouble? I'll still have my leg in a cast when I get out. Won't be able to do much."
Mark assured Thomas that he would not be too much trouble, for he was fairly certain that when Thomas came to his home Connor would be there to help look after him. The Easter holidays were a couple of weeks away, and Mary and Terry had agreed that Connor could come over for the holidays, so he could visit Thomas every day. That was before the doctors had said that Thomas could go home as soon as he came out of traction, which they expected to be in about another ten days. The question had become which home he would be going to, Stanford House or Mark's place, because the O'Mallys seemed out of the question.
Ms Henley phoned Mark and told him that, given his age and even though he was an approved foster parent, they would not normally place a boy of Thomas's age with him as an initial placement. However, she went on to state that she had discussed this with her supervisor. Given that Thomas would need specific assistance that Stanford House would have difficulty in supplying and that this was a temporary placement till the situation with the O'Mallys was sorted out, they would allow it for this case. The tone of the call annoyed Mark a bit, as it seemed to be implying that they were doing him a favour rather than him helping them out. Despite that, it was arranged that Thomas would come and stay with him until he could move over to Walsall.
Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems. Over the last few weeks he had given his children a brief outline of events. He had told them about buying the Eagle E-type and about Thomas riding into it. What he had not told them was exactly how involved with Thomas's life he had now become. The fact that Thomas would be coming to live with him and would be occupying the downstairs guest bedroom was something they had to be informed about. He wanted to ensure they did not suddenly plan to come and visit, with their whole brood of children, banking on the surfeit of bedrooms that his house had. Not that any of them, except Joan, had been that frequent visitors.
His children of course were somewhat unsympathetic to Thomas or to their father giving him a home, albeit for only a few weeks.
"Dammit, Dad," Jonathan, his eldest, informed him, "the kid wrecked your car and you're giving him handouts. He'll probably grab half the stuff you have and run off downtown and flog it."
"Not very likely, Jonny; his leg will still be in plaster and he will be on crutches. I can't see him running far."
"Dad, you're seventy, with arthritis. A fourteen-year-old on crutches could leave you standing."
The other children gave him very similar responses, though Joan surprised him. Once she had gone through the arguments as to why he should not have Thomas coming to stay with him she stated, "Well, in that case I better come up to keep house."
"What about Jack and the children?" Mark asked.
"Dad, in case you have forgotten, Susan is eighteen and not so little. She just finished eight months in Japan studying Shotokan and is now relaxing on the Australian Gold Coast. I believe she is trying to work her way down the length of it, man by man—at least I think it's men she is working her way through. She'll be back in September to take up her place at Oxford.
"As for that son of mine, the last I heard from Robert, he was about to board a plane for Brazil—something to do with his PhD studies. That was four months ago, and we have not heard a peep out of him since. No, that is a lie. He sent us a postcard from Rio, but put insufficient stamps on it. I suppose we will hear when he runs out of money."
"That still leaves your husband."
"Well, he can move in with his mistress for a few weeks. She might as well have the pain of him; she gets enough of the pleasure."
"Jack's got a mistress!" Mark exclaimed, wondering how someone as insignificant as his daughter's husband could have a mistress.
"Yes, surely you knew. I thought everyone did. Margery Southern, his secretary at one time; now she runs a recruitment agency. I meet her for lunch a couple of times a week; it's the only way we can sort out his schedule."
Joan arrived in Sheffield on the following Tuesday with rather more bags than Mark thought were required for a short stay. That evening sitting by the fire in the lounge, having partaken of a decent single malt and both well into their second glass, Mark asked, "So just how long are you staying? You seem to have brought quite a few bags."
"You noticed, did you?"
"Well, Dad, to be honest, I am not sure. I'm going to ask Jack for a divorce."
"That bad, is it?"
"No actually, it's not bad at all. In fact, Jack and I have quite a decent arrangement. We've not had a marriage since before Susan was born. In fact, the incident that resulted in her conception was probably our last attempt to revive the spark there had once been.
"However, although the marriage was dead, we had a good working relationship that sufficed for both of us. Jack's position in the family firm has assured us of a comfortable living, and I have been able to supply the required wife to host business functions when necessary, whilst doing my studies and writing.
"Now I am financially independent. My last three books have all sold over the hundred thousand hardback and are constant sellers in paperback — for some reason the readers seem to like reading about the sex lives of our predecessors. An American competitor of Jack's firm has proposed a merger; in fact, it will essentially be a takeover. Let's face it, Jack is not the most brilliant business manager. He only has the job because of his family connections; he knows there will be no place for him in the new set up, but he will walk away with a nice cash bundle — a lot of it tax free.
"I have absolutely no interest in traipsing around the fashionable resorts of the Med and the Caribbean, though it appears Jack thinks that would be the height of achievement. If he wants to do that, he can do it with his mistress.
"Anyway, I have met somebody," she concluded. Mark knew better than to ask who, knowing that Joan would tell him when she was good and ready and not before.
The following afternoon Mark took Joan with him to the hospital to meet Thomas, only to be informed that Thomas would be discharged the next day. While Mark immediately set about making arrangements to transport the boy home, it was Joan who came up with a practical question.
"Dad, just what is Thomas going to wear?" Mark and Thomas both looked at her. "Well, I doubt Thomas wants to be paraded through Sheffield with his arse hanging out of a hospital gown." It had not occurred to Mark that Thomas had no clothes of his own. The ones he had been wearing on the day of the collision had been cut off him. So far as Mark knew, nobody had done anything about getting the boy anything to wear.
"Don't worry, Thomas, when we leave here we're going shopping. We need to get you something that you can wear with those on," she indicated the leg casts.
That afternoon, after visiting had finished, Joan dragged Mark to the Meadowhall Shopping Centre, knowing full well how much her father hated any form of shopping. She enjoyed the experience of directing him to a rack of tear away training pants, pointing out that they were a lot more practical for Thomas to wear with his cast than the alternatives. They could leave the fasteners undone on that part of the leg. She pointed out he would still be able to use them once the cast was off. She also insisted that Mark buy Thomas some sports shirts, jersey shorts, which would stretch over the cast, and trainers. Mary had thought to get Thomas's shoe size from him before they had left. Finally, she took Mark to Primark for underwear, socks, sweat shirts and a hoody, pointing out that if they took Thomas out anywhere he would need some form of coat.
Once they had finished shopping for clothes, Mark realised just how much he had not thought things through, exactly what the boy would need when he got out of hospital. So, it became his turn to drag someone round the shops making a beeline for an electrical distributor. There he purchased a mid-range laptop and a printer, together with printer supplies, explaining to Joan that Thomas would need them for his school work. Not that he would be going back to school soon — a tutor from the Hospital and Home Education Service had been seeing Thomas in hospital and Mark understood that they would continue to visit him until he moved to Walsall.
Once back at the car Mark realised that they would not have time to get back to his place, unload, and then get to the hospital for the start of evening visits, so he suggested some fast food and a run back to the hospital. That way they could also get Thomas a take away. Joan agreed but pointed out that she needed to sort out a set of clothing to leave with Thomas for the morning before then they set off.
Thursday morning Thomas was released from hospital, and Ms Henley was there to make sure all the necessary papers were signed, and all the protocols correctly applied. Just before they were about to leave, Ms Henley indicated to Mark that she would like a word in private.
"Mr Wainwright," she commenced, "may I suggest that now Thomas is with you, you do not take him out too often. In fact, with the exception of his visits to the hospital it might be best if Thomas did not go out at all, at least till he moves to the O'Mallys."
"You sound as if you think there could be some form of threat to the boy?"
"This might be an old woman's imagination but there is something not quite right about the story we have, and I don't trust that father." Mark nodded and commented that Thomas was going to have the cast on for at least another three weeks so there was not much chance of him going out in that period.
"I know, Mr Wainwright, but it is better to be safe than sorry."
Comments, questions are always welcome at Nigel Gordon