Friday evening Terry brought Connor over, as Mark had agreed that he could stay with Thomas over the Easter holiday. Mark had intended to put Connor into one of the first-floor guest rooms where he normally stayed the weekends he had been over. However, Joan quickly re-arranged things stating that Connor should probably sleep in the ground floor guest room, observing that she did not think they would have a problem sharing a bed.
That evening, after the boys had gone to bed, quite early as it turned out, both saying they were very tired, Mark and Joan sat in the lounge enjoying a couple of single malts.
"They are very much in love, aren't they?" Joan asked.
"Umm…?" Mark responded, he thoughts being miles away, mainly with his Eagle E-type which was being returned in the morning, fully restored after its meeting with Thomas.
"Thomas and Connor of course; they are very much in love," Joan explained.
"You noticed, did you?"
"I would have had to be blind to miss that. Is that why you are doing this, to assuage guilt over Tim?"
"What about Tim? Why should this have anything to do with Tim and why should I have any guilt over Tim? Haven't heard from him in yonks, and Johnny says the boy has gone native somewhere in the Far East."
"You don't know about Tim?" Joan asked.
"What is there to know about Tim? All I know is that he went off on a gap year, what was it six, seven years ago, and did not come back. Johnny said he had decided he preferred life as a beach bum somewhere out there. Never got any details from Johnny."
"Fuck, I'm going to kill my brother someday!" Joan exclaimed.
"I would prefer it if you didn't, dear. Johnny may not be the best of sons, but he is my son, and I rather value my children and grandchildren for that matter. So, what is it I don't know about Tim and what has Tim got to do with Thomas and Connor?"
"You really don't know Dad?" Mark shook his head, and Joan shook her head "Shit, this is a bit of a mess, I thought you knew Tim was gay."
"I guessed he might be but was never told."
"Well, Dad, Tim did go on a gap year, and when he came back with a Thai boyfriend, a final year medical student, Johnny hit the roof. He was having problems with Tim being gay. Tim with a non-white lover was just too much for him. He told him to take his bloody wog back to the slum he had pulled him out of.
"Tim had wanted Krit, his boyfriend, to come to England to do his postgrad study so they could be together. However, to get Krit a visa they had to get sponsorship for Krit, and Tim wanted his father's help. So, as it was not possible for them to be together in England, Tim went back to Thailand with Krit. Krit has been studying at Chiang Mai University; he's just finished his postgrad training as a doctor
"Tim had got his TEFL qualification before starting his gap year, he had intended to get English teaching jobs whilst travelling to support himself. For the past five years he has been teaching English and helping to fund Krit through university and postgraduate studies while doing some distance learning modules himself. Now that Krit has some real income, Tim intends to go to university full time and finish his degree."
"Just when did all this happen?"
"Not sure, must have been just over six, maybe seven, years ago, when you were on that cruise with Mum. I thought you knew; Johnny said he had told you about it."
"Joan, he may have said something, but I had other things on my mind just then. Your mum was dying, and I wanted to give her the best possible time before she went. What I am bloody sure of is that he never told me about Krit or why Tim went back to Thailand.
"Sorry, Joan, I did not know about Tim. If I had I would have done something – Christ, it's not as if I'm short of cash. I've bailed Johnny out enough times. I could have covered Krit's fees and sorted out his visa. Actually, six years ago they could have had a civil partnership and Krit could have come in on that.
"You seem to know a lot about them, Joan, so I imagine you must be in touch with them."
"Yes, Dad, when Johnny threw them out they came and stayed with me until it was time to fly back to Thailand. I've visited them a couple of times when I have been out there, and we email and Skype each other most weeks."
"So, you have Tim's phone number?"
"Well give it me, and I'll phone him." Mark stood and walked over to the telephone table to get the phone.
"Dad, you can't phone him now, it is early hours of the morning over there. Wait till the morning."
"Right, I forgot the time difference. By the way, if you want to murder Johnny, you have my permission."
"Nah, I'll just leave him to realise how much he is going to miss because he has fucked up his relationship with his kids," Joan replied. "But if it is not about Tim, why are you helping Thomas so much? He's a nice boy, but the way you are going about things has the touch of a guilt trip."
"I suppose in a way you're right, but it has nothing to do with Tim. It is about Ian."
"Ian? Who the hell is Ian?"
"A friend, a long time ago in a very different place. Things were different then and I did not do what I should have done." Over a couple more single malts Mark told his daughter about Ian, about events fifty-five years before and how the look on Thomas's face had reminded him of Ian.
Telling Joan about Ian left Mark feeling somewhat down. He was also feeling the effects of the single malts. Just after ten he excused himself and went off to bed, leaving Joan watching television. The Beeb was showing a rerun of the serialisation of her first novel. This time it was well past the watershed and some scenes that had been left out of the first showing were in this one.
It was about twenty past ten when the phone went. Joan answered it. "Craigh House."
"Is that you, Joan?" a somewhat slurred voice asked.
"Johnny," Joan responded, "have you been drinking?"
"Had a couple, what's going on up there. Why's dad got that boy staying?"
"By the sound of it you've had more than a couple," Joan stated.
"I've been celebrating. Just pulled off a land deal," Johnny replied.
"Right. So why are you calling?"
"Wanted to know what's going on. Heard that boy had moved in."
"Yes, Johnny, we collected Thomas — that's the boy's name — from the hospital yesterday. He'll be staying here till he moves to Walsall once the fostering is sorted out," Joan informed him.
"But why Sis? He's nothing to do with us. What bee has Dad got in his bonnet now? He's wasting his money on some no-good queer kid who's been kicked out by his dad."
"Johnny," Joan asked, "how do you know that Thomas is gay and that his dad kicked him out?"
"I've got my sources up there, you know."
"Well, if you have your sources you should know the kid needs help and Dad's providing it. Whether or not the kid is gay is immaterial. Anyway, it's doing Dad good. I've not seen him as alive and as interested in something as he is now since Mam died. If there was no other reason for him doing it, that is enough; it has given him something to do, looking after Thomas." With that Joan put down the receiver, not too gently.
The next couple of weeks were fairly hectic. First, Joan had decided to go for the divorce, and that meant finding a lawyer to deal with it all. Fortunately, Jack seemed pretty amicable to the divorce, and money was not an issue between them, so it looked as if it was not going to be that much of a problem. What did cause a problem was that Joan needed somewhere to do her writing. She asked if she could use one of the box rooms as a study.
"Gawd, no, Joan. You'd never get in them," Mark informed her. "I keep meaning to get them sorted out. Half the stuff in them is not needed, but I never get round to it. You better turn the small bedroom into a study for yourself."
"Thanks, Dad. I'm off down London tomorrow to pack up the stuff I want from the house. What's not going into storage I'll bring back here." Mark nodded in agreement.
Luckily, Thomas did not need that much attention, and Connor took it as his personal responsibility to look after the boy. Anyway, Thomas was a lot more mobile on his crutches, even with one leg still in plaster, than Mark had expected. Grudgingly, he admitted to himself that Jonathan was probably right, the boy could outrun him even on crutches.
In practice, most days, Mark and Joan only saw the boys at meal times or when they were out in the garden, where Thomas would be on the lounger directing Connor in some activity that neither of the adults could see the sense in.
There was still the matter of getting Thomas to the hospital for his follow up appointments, though, and to meetings with Social Services to discuss the arrangements for his move to Walsall. Mark found that having a couple of fourteen-year-olds who were nearly fifteen around did tend to be a bit wearing, even though it made life a lot more interesting.
He was grateful that Joan had decided to come up. Life was so much easier with her around to sort out all the little things that seemed to crop up, like the extra laundry that needed to be done. As Mrs Wright, his housekeeper, had commented, she did not have time to do three loads of washing on the one and a half days a week she came in, and at her age she was not keen on taking on any extra work.
Mary and Terry came over to see the boys regularly and made a long weekend of it over the Easter weekend since their daughter was away with her best friend at a riding camp. On the Easter Monday, Joan and Mary decided to go on a shopping expedition, because Thomas needed some clothes for when his cast came off and for school. They did hint at taking the boys with them but both boys had made it quite clear that they did not consider shopping as a purposeful activity – especially as Terry had brought Connor's PS2 over with him.
Mark had intended to spend the afternoon in the garden planting lily bulbs, but a light drizzle put an end to that, so he and Terry ended up in the lounge half-heartedly watching some rowing event on TV.
"Mark," Terry asked, "has Thomas said anything more to you about what happened that night?"
"No, why?" Mark replied.
"It just doesn't seem right. I know Frank Donnal, and he's a violent, mean bastard. I can say I am not surprised he would throw a gay kid out on the street and probably knock him about a bit before doing so. But going for the boy with a hammer? That is something else — it shows an intent to do serious damage or to kill, not something I would expect from Frank just because his son is gay."
"All I have got from Thomas was that he was on the phone to Connor talking about going camping and having sex when his father walked in. They had been planning to go camping at Thomas's father's place on the moors over Easter…"
"What?" Terry exclaimed.
"His father walked in on him while he was speaking with Connor on the phone."
"No, about their camping Mark, where did Thomas say they were going?"
"Oh, to his father's place on the moors."
"Excuse me, Mark, I need to have a word with Thomas." Terry stood up and went off in the direction of the ground floor guest bedroom. Mark decided he might as well make a start on dinner.
About half an hour later Terry walked into the kitchen, clearly finishing off a call on his mobile. "Well, it appears that Frank Donnal has an old farm cottage and barn up on the moors. He's managed to keep that quiet, and there is no record for it that we have found, and I can assure you that in the last few years when I was with the local police we were looking into Mr Donnal's affairs quite a bit."
"I gather it's important," Mark commented.
"Yes, we've known Donnal has been involved in some fairly unpleasant stuff but have never been able to get the evidence to link him to it. Now we may have the lead we need. It also explains the nature of the attack on Thomas. I don't think Thomas was supposed to know about that place and I think Donnal would have killed to keep the knowledge secret."
Mark remembered Ms Henley's warning. "Do you think he might still come after Thomas?"
"Probably not," Terry replied, "but it might be best to make sure that the boys are never on their own, especially for the next few days."
Connor stayed with Mark and Thomas for the following week, but on Sunday Mary and Terry came over to pick him up as he had school on the Monday.
"We've got some news," Mary announced as soon as they arrived at the house.
"Good news I gather," Mark observed, seeing the smile on her face.
"Yes, Ms Henley called on Friday, and it's all approved. We just have to go in and sign the paperwork. They are sending it to our local Social Services department, so we are going in on Wednesday to sign it all. Then Thomas can come over as soon as he has his cast off."
"That," commented Mark, "is due a week on Thursday."
"So, should we come and collect him on the Friday?" Terry asked.
"Would you mind if I brought him over? I would like to do that; I'm going to miss him when he's moved out."
"Not at all; in fact, that will make things easier for us."
The process was not quite as simple as they thought. Apparently, one way or another, there was quite a bit of paperwork to sort out. The formal procedure was for the social worker to pick Thomas up from one placement and take him to his new placement. Fortunately, Terry was off duty on Wednesday, so the situation was solved by Terry driving over in the afternoon after signing the papers and Ms Henley officially handing Thomas over Terry at Mark's house. Then Terry asked Mark to look after Thomas for a few days and to take him to the hospital to get his cast off.
That also turned out to be a problem because, although everything had been arranged for the removal of the cast on the Thursday, after the final check with the doctor it did not take place. Thomas's three-thirty appointment was so delayed it was gone five by time he saw the doctor, who gave him the required paperwork to get the cast removed and to be discharged from treatment with follow-ups in Walsall. Unfortunately, the technician who would have done the cast removal had already left and it was not possible to get it done till Friday morning.
Given that the first thing Thomas wanted once he had the cast off was to have a good soak in a bath, which he needed given the stench from inside the casts, it was mid-afternoon before they set off for Walsall.
Mark intended to go down the M1 to the A42-M42 and take the turn off for Tamworth so that he could go down the A5 and approach Walsall from the Lichfield side, avoiding the jams that normally built up on the M6 on Friday afternoons. But, as they approached the A42, signs announced that the junction was closed. As a result, he had to drive down to the M69 junction and take the M69 to the M6 with its inevitable Friday afternoon traffic jams, which they hit the moment they joined the M6.
As they crawled forward slowly Thomas asked, "Mark, who was Ian?"
"Ian! Why are you asking about Ian?"
"I told Joan I didn't know why you're doing all this for me and I felt bad about it. She told me not to worry ― it was because of Ian, but she wouldn't tell me anything else."
"Well, she was right to tell you not to worry. I suppose I'd better explain, though I am not too sure it will make much sense.
"Ian was my best friend at school. I had known him from primary school and we went to grammar school together. As we got older we drifted apart a bit; I was more into science and sports, Ian was more into the humanities and art. We were still best friends, though, and spent a lot of time together.
"When we were fifteen, Ian told me he was gay, though we called it queer in those days. I told him I wasn't, though we had played around with each other, as boys do. After that we stopped our mutual wanking sessions. No, to be honest, I stopped them. Ian would have liked to go on with them.
"I don't know how it happened, but somehow his father found out that he was queer. I was on my way round to his house, so we could go to Scouts together; we were both patrol leaders. As I got to his house I heard his father shouting at him, telling him to get out, that he did not want a fucking queer in his house.
"Ian ran out the house, right past me, his eyes streaming with tears. I don't know if he saw me or not. I called him, but he did not stop, just kept on running. So, I set off after him, but he was a lot faster than me. The only sport he really enjoyed was running, and he was good at it. By time I caught up with him he was at the bridge and had already climbed over the balustrade.
"I called to him and he turned to look me. We held each other's eyes for I don't know how long, and I wanted to tell him…. It doesn't matter, because I did not tell him; I just looked at him and he let go of the balustrade and fell."
"So, he died jumping off a bridge?"
"No, he died a couple of years later. The fall from the bridge smashed him up pretty badly. They had to amputate his legs and he had a broken back ― paralysed from the waist down. He was in a bad way. I never saw him alive again. They put him in a mental hospital because he had tried to kill himself and because he was homosexual. I heard they gave him aversion therapy to cure of him of his abnormal desires. He developed double pneumonia―it's a common complication for bedbound paraplegics―and died just before his eighteenth birthday. So, I was never able to tell him what I should have told him at the bridge."
"What was that?"
"It doesn't matter now; it was all a long long time ago."
Just then they got to the Spaghetti Junction, and Mark took the turn off deciding that it would be quicker to drive through town rather than stay on the motorway. At least that gave him an excuse for not answering any more of Thomas's questions.
"Do you think he fancies you?" Connor asked later that evening as he lay beside Thomas on the bed in what was now to be Thomas's room. Although his parents knew about his relationship with Thomas and had no objections to it, they had insisted that they have separate rooms. "You need to get some bloody sleep sometimes," his father had responded when asked why.
"Mr Wainwright," Connor replied.
Thomas was silent for a moment, thinking about how much he should tell Connor. Then he made up his mind.
"Why'd you think that?" Thomas asked.
"Well, he's been doing all these things for you. He came over and found Mam and Dad. He got you that phone and the laptop and he let you stay with him. All that after you smashed up his car. I just wonder why he is going to the trouble if he doesn't fancy you."
"Don't think he's like that," Thomas responded, then had a thought. "He didn't try anything on with you, did he?"
"Good. He hasn't with me either."
"Good," stated Connor, "but why, if he doesn't fancy you, is he doing it all?"
"It about Ian," Thomas responded.
"Who is Ian?" Connor asked. Thomas then explained what he had learnt in car coming over, not all of it but enough to give Connor an outline of events. "So," Connor commented, "you remind him of this Ian."
"I don't think I remind him of Ian. OK, maybe I do, but there is more to it than that. He seems to think it is his duty to make sure that the same thing does not happen to me as happened to Ian."
"It better bloody not; if it does I'll kill you." There was a moment of silence before both boys broke into laughter at the stupidity of Connor's comment.
Comments, questions are always welcome at Nigel Gordon