Saturday, February 13, 2010

Clink


Title: Clink
Author: Ranger

“Howzat!”

Cheers. Mostly from the wives, who were sitting talking in deckchairs around the sandwiches, not paying that much attention.

It was Dave who was heading back towards the line of spectators and waiting batsmen in the afternoon sunshine. Damien, his cricket bat shouldered and the other hand shading his eyes, was waiting cheerfully for the next batsman to join him in a way I could see was thoroughly demoralising the opposition. He was at eighty-two not out, one of his best scores of the season, and our village club was slaughtering the Sandford first eleven.

I looked up from my book long enough to see Mike, another of Damien’s cricket club friends and a confirmed cricket nut stride out to take his place opposite Damien and the two of them settle down into their wickets with a comfortable purpose that indicated they intended to be there for some time.

It was a hot Sunday afternoon, approaching four o’clock , and the shadows of the willow trees were lengthening and increasing my shade where I lay full length on the grass at the edge of the cricket field, buried in an EM Forster novel. Forster should always be read outdoors on hot sunny days. The gentle eroticism of his prose was washing over me in pleasant waves, accompanied by the steady clack of ball on bat and the thwipping sounds as Damien and Mike ran in shinpads up and down the pitch. Periodically interrupted as I looked up to watch my tall, dark-haired lover in his whites, his shirt open at the neck, his sleeves rolled above his forearms, happily knocking the ball all over the pitch.

Sandford would have done better to surrender before the first innings.

He and Mike headed up comfortably in twos and fours to ninety-six, at which point I sat up to watch Damien complete his first century of the season. His hair was in his eyes, he was having to shake his head at intervals to toss it back, he looked hot and tired and I could see he was thoroughly enjoying himself. Normal people on hot days want to do anything except run up and down for several hours in the sun. I clapped when he scored his century and he turned to grin at me for a moment, but he had no intention of stopping there. His score actually stood at 114 when I heard the Umpire call time, and I laid the book down, watching Damien tuck his bat under one arm and peel his gloves off as he and Mike walked slowly off the pitch. The pavilion was offering tea as it always did, several wives were very good at cricket teas, and the opposition were settling there on the pavilion steps. Damien paused to chat with one or two of them but I didn’t bother getting up to join him, knowing he was knackered. I was right. A few minutes later he dropped on the grass beside me, unbuckled his shinpads and stretched out full length. I leaned over and kissed his nose, leaving my book facedown to take the thermos out of the bag.

“Well done.”

“Good game.” Damien lowered the arm over his face to accept the cup of tea I poured him. His hair was damp and his face looked scorched despite the already weathered tan he always has by midsummer. “How are we doing for time?”

“Only four twenty , there’s no rush.”

”I’m ready for a shower.” Damien twisted my wrist over to check my watch for himself, then flopped back onto the grass, closing his eyes.

”We ought to celebrate your century,” I pointed out, stretching out beside him.

”Mmn?” Damien said without opening his eyes. I ran a hand from his chest down to his stomach and patted.

“I’ll take you out to dinner? Special occasion.”

”Nice try.” Damien opened one eye to look at me.

“We can cancel?” I suggested casually. “How often do you score-“

”It’ll be fun,” Damien said firmly.

Uh huh. Barbecuing with Robin. BOUND to be a laugh.


We got home shortly after five and Damien headed for the shower, trailed by Anastasia who loves him most when he’s hot and least wants to pet her. I put the kettle on and began to wash out the thermos, interrupted by the phone ringing. It was Allen and he sounded harassed.

“Nick? Hi, it’s me. I’m going to need to cancel this evening, I’m sorry. Something’s come up.”

”Are you ok?” I said, alarmed by his tone. I could hear him realise and make a deliberate effort to lighten it.

“Yes, don’t worry. Tell Damien I’m sorry, we’ll reschedule soon. Goodnight, Nick.”

”Bye,” I said, somewhat surprised by the abruptness and put the phone down. Damien was towelling off in our room, and he definitely had burned his forehead. I made a mental note to tick him off about that later and enjoy myself doing it.

“That was Allen.”

Damien gave me an inquiring look, scrubbing across his chest. I sat down on the bed to watch.

“He and Robin are cancelling, he didn’t say why.”

”Nick…….” Damien said, looking hard at me. I shook my head, sticking my tongue out at him.

“No, honestly! THEY cancelled.”

“Maybe family problems.” Damien hung the towel over the radiator and dug a clean t-shirt out of the wardrobe. I watched him shoulder into it, liking the view.

“That does leave us free this evening…..?”

“How about The Swan?” Damien suggested.

One of our favourite steak houses, AND overlooking the lake, where on an evening like this there would be no end of people sailing and windsurfing. I got up to make the phone call and we spent that evening eating outside in view of the lake.


The following day was a Monday, and I work half days on Monday according to the law of St. Damien. I left work at twelve since he has a nasty habit of phoning the office attwelve ten and getting unnecessarily firm if I’m still there, considered for a moment and then drove towards Allen’s house instead of home.

It’s not unusual. Working from home as Allen does, he’s often very glad of some company around lunchtime and I often drop in for a chat, to swap books and to read through his current projects if any are on interesting subjects. When I arrived today, the curtains were drawn in the window upstairs and Allen answered the door quickly, looking tired and hassled. He’s usually very tidy, not someone you see in very casual clothes or yesterday’s shirt, but he’d clearly dressed without a lot of thought this morning and it showed.

“Shhh,” Was the first thing he said to me, keeping his voice low. “Robin’s asleep; I don’t want to disturb him.”

Robin? His car wasn’t on the drive. I had a quick look around to check, following his soft tone.

“Is he ok? Are YOU ok?”

Allen hesitated. Then leaned over and took my hand, drawing me into the hall and shutting the front door. He took me into the kitchen, again shutting the door behind us.

“We had a very late night; we didn’t get home until nearly four this morning. I left a message with Robin’s office that he wouldn’t be in today.”

”Is he ill?” I was starting to get concerned, Allen looked awful. He pulled out a chair and sat at the scrubbed wooden kitchen table, and I did the same, aware that there was none of his work spread out there- usually by this hour of the day he had folders and books piled high across it. He shook his head, running a finger along the table grain.

“No. No, he’s ok. He got arrested last night, it just took a long time before we got bail organised and he was released.”

Bail? I looked blankly at Allen. Then put a hand on his shoulder, got up and started to make him a cup of tea. Worse still, he sat there and let me.

“What happened?” I said when I put the tea down in front of him. “Allen?”

What did he do?

Allen gave me a tired smile of thanks for the tea. “He went to the bank yesterday evening, parked at the parking metres up by the china shop on the high street and only paid for about ten minutes on the parking metre since he didn’t expect to be long. Except there was a queue and he was late and he got back to the car to find a traffic warden there giving him a ticket. Which he argued, and which she wouldn’t give ground on.”

Allen picked up the cup and drank tea. He sounded ridiculously calm.

“Robin lost his temper, started the car and rammed the parking metre.”

”Oh God!” I said in shock. Allen shook his head.

“Unfortunately he didn’t see who was coming up beside him and he ended up also ramming a woman walking past on the pavement.”

Oh God. I looked at Allen, aghast. He sighed.

“She’s all right thank God. Well. Concussion and a broken leg, poor woman, but nothing dangerous.”

“Oh, Allen,” I said in total horror. Allen drank tea again. He looked unusually vague for Allen, and white as though he was about to be sick.

“I was getting worried, by eight pm he hadn’t come back and his phone was off, and then I got a phone call from the police station. I went down there and sat more or less all night, sorted out a solicitor for him, but they wouldn’t let me see him. Poor Robin, he was absolutely terrified. He spent several hours in a cell. Although that poor woman and her family had what must have been a horrific evening in casualty.”

I couldn’t imagine it. Being locked alone in a cell, with no access to Damien, no means of talking to him. And knowing I’d done something that terrible.

“How’s Robin?” I demanded. Allen gave me a mute look of appreciation and cupped a hand around my neck for a moment, squeezing gently.

“Very shocked. It was an act of pure impulse, just a few seconds in anger and an incredibly bad decision; he never meant to hurt anyone. If he’d done as he intended and just knocked over the parking metre he’d have been reported and fined- and probably he’d be doing a few hours community service. But this………..”

”Is it that bad?” I said tentatively. “Allen? It was an accident, he had a witness-“

”He was breaking the law; it was an act of temper and resisting just consequences for his actions- to quote his solicitor.” Allen said heavily. “Using his car dangerously to cause damage. And it was through that that he hurt someone. The police made it very clear to him they thought he deserved everything he got, and his solicitor advised us, this is likely to be taken very seriously in court.”

”It’s going to court?” I said in shock. Allen nodded slowly.

“He was released on bail, we had a lot of advice from the solicitor and we’ll need to talk to another one as soon as possible, but this man warned us that no few judges would throw the book at Robin for this.”


”What does THAT mean?” I demanded of Damien about an hour later. “No one could doubt that was an accident, he had no intention of hurting anyone-“

”It just means the top end of the recommended penalties in those categories.” Damien, sitting back in his chair behind his desk, looked sad more than shocked, although he’d been staggered enough when I first told him. I’d come straight to his office from Allen’s house, this was not something to discuss over the phone.

“Try not to worry too much, Nicky. The solicitor will sort all this out with Allen and Robin.”

”But it was an accident,” I said again. I didn’t know who I was trying to convince, I certainly wasn’t convincing me, and Damien tactfully didn’t try to help.

“Is there anything we can do? Anything they need?” he said instead. I shook my head.

“At the moment I think they most need to be left alone, I didn’t stay long. Apparently they talked all morning, Robin was so shattered, Allen got him to go to bed and he was asleep when I was there. Allen said he was in an awful state.”

I could well imagine. I didn’t want to think where I’d be in his situation. I went hot and cold at the thought of it. Robin was so young. And stupid, and annoying, yes, but not criminal. This should NOT be happening to him, it was too awful to contemplate.

“What are you going to do this afternoon?” Damien said gently. “You need to get your mind off this-“

”How?” I demanded. “That’s ridiculous.”

”Nicky.” Damien leaned over the desk, drew me around it and pulled me down into his lap. Despite myself and the risk of one of the secretaries coming in, I turned and put my arms around his neck and he hugged me hard.

“This kind of thing IS so unpredictable, there’s a lot of background information taken into account, the solicitors do a lot of arguing beforehand, it depends a lot on the judge- there’s no sense in worrying yourself sick about it-“

“What IS likely to happen?”

Damien sighed. “I don’t know. I’d think it’s very likely he’ll lose his license. Come on darling, what ARE you going to do with your afternoon? Go and take your mind off it.”

”Shop I suppose.” I pulled back to see his face, not at all happy. “Are you going to call Allen? He’ll know the first thing I did was tell you.”

”I’ll call this evening,” Damien said quietly, “See if there’s anything we can do then.”

Once I left him I headed straight to the library, commandeered a computer and did a little research.


”Nicky!”

I heard Damien shut the front door and Anastasia chirrup as she ran downstairs to say hello to him. And the familiar crash of his keys in the dish and the rustle of his jacket on the peg. He ran upstairs, I heard him check our room, then put his head around the door of the bathroom.

“Hi. Too hot?”

I nodded from the depths of the bath. Damien yanked his tie loose and disappeared. His voice floated back to me from the bedroom.

“We all left on the dot of five tonight, the office was stifling. Where did you go this afternoon?”

“Just the shopping centre.”

”Anything interesting.”

”No.”

Damien reappeared in jeans, pulling on a t-shirt, and perched on the edge of the bath to push my hair back off my forehead.

“Why don’t we pack up some sandwiches and go sailing this evening? We’ve got plenty of time; we could be on the water by seven.”

“It’s too hot,” I said unpromisingly. Damien heartlessly pulled the plug out of the bath.

“It’ll be a lot cooler on the water. Come on, put something light on.”

”It’s too hot to do anything.”

Damien held out a towel. Scowling, I got up and wrapped myself in it, trailing him into our room.

“We’ll only get burnt anyway. YOU got burnt yesterday and I frazzle like a chip-“

“You’ll wheeze a lot less in fresh air and out on the water,” Damien said, hunting for a pair of my jeans.

“I am NOT wheezing,” I said irritably.

Damien twisted around to look at me, one eyebrow raised. In the silence I could hear the steady rattle and grind of my lungs. Not at all happy I sat down on the bed and snatched the peak flow monitor out of the drawer. The results weren’t awful, but they weren’t great either. Damien dropped jeans and a shirt on the bed while I took two ill-tempered gulps from the relief inhaler, sat down beside me and reached for the second kit, the blood oxygen monitor. The bedside cabinet on my side looks like a portable intensive care unit. Fed up, I flopped down on my back and let him take one finger, clipping the monitor on for the moment it took to get a reading. Then he swatted my leg gently.

“Eighty-nine percent.”

”That’s not THAT bad.”

He leaned over for the tubes anyway, turning the dial on the oxygen cylinder. It HAS helped. To have it at home and use it when necessary, and to work on keeping my oxygen levels up- I’ve been fitter, had noticeably less of the minor attacks and been a lot more comfortable since we had it. It doesn’t make it less of a nuisance to have to stop whatever you’re doing and breathe the wretched stuff, anchored by tubes. I shook the nose tag whatzit into place, feeling the steady draught of the oxygen, and reached for the jeans. Damien leaned over and took them from me, tossed them out of my reach and pulled me down flat on the bed. I shut my eyes, aware of him stretching out beside me.

“What upset you in the shopping centre?”

“Nothing.”

“So what did you buy?”

He would go on and on and on until I gave up and told him. I rolled over, trying not to get tangled in the tubes, and rested my head on my arms.

“I went to the library.”

”And?”

Damien ran a hand down my back, rubbing in slow and heavy circles around my hips. My eyes started to sting in spite of myself. He put an arm around my shoulders and pulled me over onto his chest when he heard my breathing catch, stroking my hair.
It’s pitiful. No grown man should associate tears and stress the way that I do, I seem to have been brainwashed at some point in my life. Get uptight, turn on the waterworks. And freeze up the lungs while you do it. Pathetic.

“What?” Damien said soothingly in my ear. “What were you reading?”

“You do realise he’ll probably get a prison sentence?” I snapped, blinking until there was no more danger of tears. I wasn’t even upset. Just annoyed. Robin was stupid, he was a total prat, I was all for him doing community service until he was ninety. But he wasn’t very old and he WAS a prat, accidents were bound to happen and –

that shouldn’t be his fault. Not like this.

Damien nuzzled slowly at my hair, not answering for a moment. Then he said quietly,

“That’s what Allen said their solicitor had told them. Apparently where dangerous driving leads to hurting someone, it’s pretty much inevitable. Justice has to be seen to be done for that person.”

“It was a total accident!”

”They’ll say he made the decision to mount the pavement and ram the parking metre. It’s a toss-up as to whether they decide to call it dangerous driving or criminal damage, but since someone got hurt, the solicitor told them he thought the police would push for the driving charge.”

I didn’t answer, hating this. Absolutely hating this.

“There is no point in fretting,” Damien said gently. “We have no idea at all about what’s likely to happen, it’s very unpredictable. We just have to wait and-“

”Hope he survives in prison!” I said heatedly. “Can you imagine Robin in a prison?”

I could imagine me in a prison. Separated from Damien, alone and terrified, vulnerable to whatever maniac managed to get me alone-

”Nicky,” Damien said firmly. “It could be a suspended sentence, it could be anything. At the absolute worst he’d serve maybe six weeks, it wouldn’t kill him.”

I snorted, furiously.  “Again we’d just have to hope!”

”Hey.” Damien pulled back to see my face, making me look at him. “Listen to me. Allen rang me this afternoon, the solicitor wanted someone from work to give a character reference for him and they’ve asked me. Basically to point out that he’s never been in trouble before, he has a good job and a good relationship, and the court WILL want to preserve those things. Really. But he HAS broken the law and there ARE consequences.”


I’d heard that so many times. In a way safer context. We knew about rules and consequences, Robin and I. But justice around here was far, far gentler than the options I’d read about online this afternoon, and involved people who loved us. And saw to it that however stern, justice didn’t involve being scared or hurt.

Damien turned my chin back and kissed me, gently and thoroughly until he had my attention.

“He IS going to be all right. If he does get a prison sentence it’s not going to be the end of the world, it’s just going to be a few very difficult weeks. But that’s the absolute worst case and we have no way of knowing right now if that’s something we need to be worrying over.”

”Did Allen say how Robin was?” I said into Damien’s chest. Damien ran his fingers slowly through my hair, his chin heavy and very comforting on the top of my head.

“Not that good. He feels very bad about the woman being hurt, that’s the part Allen said he was really struggling with. The police have said they mustn’t try to contact her and Robin wants to know how she’s doing and to apologise to her, he’s finding that very difficult.”

Poor kid. Poor stupid kid. One moment of impulse, that was all. I’d done it a hundred times. One stupid act of temper that a moment later I regretted.

That reminded me of the other thing I’d read about, the other serious fear I’d been swallowing on this afternoon. I tipped my head back to find Damien’s hazel eyes. Reserved, which I knew meant he was pretty upset about this too.

“What about costs? She could sue Robin couldn’t she?”

“The solicitor thought the court would make a compensation award to her.” Damien said calmly. “Which means she couldn’t make another one outside of that. But yes, Robin’s probably going to have to pay a fair amount in fines and compensation.”

”Several thousand.” I said quietly, thinking of the figures I’ve read. “He’s so STUPID- they could end up having to sell the house to pay this off-“

”It won’t come to that,” Damien interrupted. “Nicky, it really won’t. This is not going to involve bankruptcy. Most likely he’ll have to pay a percentage of his wages until it’s paid off, that isn’t going to kill him. I promise you this isn’t going to be anywhere near as bad as it sounds.”

Ha.

Damien turned my chin up and kissed me again. One of his hard, firm kisses like a banker’s stamp, that said clearly Mine.

“Get those jeans on and let’s go and sail. Come on.”
************************************

He wouldn’t let me go and see Allen or Robin that week. I think he met Allen once, and Robin apparently did a couple of days at work, but Damien wouldn’t talk to me in much detail about how he was. I knew why he was censoring the information: I was aware I was giving away that I was pretty upset by all this, but that didn’t make me appreciate it. Mostly, gently, he said this was up to Allen and Robin to handle how they wanted to, and for them to come to us when they chose to.

Yes, I totally respected their right to choose to come to me. I just wanted to be chosen now, and to make sure they hadn’t forgotten I was an option.

“NO,” Damien said very firmly around Thursday when I’d gone from hinting to outright pestering. Something I wasn’t proud of but couldn’t actually stop myself from doing.

“I mean it, Nick. If you go over to Allen without him inviting you first, I’ll spank you. You do not need to know what’s going on, you’d just like to. It’s not the same thing at all.”

“Then I want to come to court with you on Monday,” I said defiantly.

 “Absolutely not.”

Damien’s answer was immediate and unequivocal. And he dragged me out with him to cricket practice that evening where he kept me busy with bowling to various people in the nets. He’d been keeping me busy all week, the house and garden were immaculate.


Sunday afternoon we spent again sailing on our local reservoir lake, taking out one of the two man yachts kept for hire. We tacked lazily across the nearly still water, mooring out near the far side where the water was shaded by a huge cluster of ash trees, and we took the sail down, lay in the boat and read, talked and discreetly made out, at a comfortable distance from the other lake users. It was nearly dusk when we pulled the little yacht up onto the trailer on the slipway, lashed her down and handed her back to the bored teenaged boy in charge of the boat lock up. Swans were sailing regally around the bottom of the slip way and hopeful ducks were trotting around the path in between the families and couples strolling past on evening walks around the lake. A small boy, anchored by his father holding the back of his trousers, was throwing bread with great effort about three inches away from him and shrieking with excitement when the ducks squabbled for it. Damien put an arm around my waist and steered me towards the restaurant and sailing club house.

“Come on, let’s get a drink.”

He was planning to keep me out and distracted until I’d be tired enough to go home and sleep, and I knew it:  usually at nine pm on a work night he’s hopping up and down to get us home and ready for an on-time bed. It was a lovely evening though and I wasn’t really that keen to go home. The clubhouse was busy and I stood back, letting Damien make his way forward to be served. Bigger, with a lot more presence, barmen serve him weeks before they deign to stop ignoring me. He was halfway forward in the queue when I spotted the girl sitting at a table in the window. About our age, pretty, and looking increasingly nervous. I didn’t recognise the two boys bothering her. In their late teens, both of them clearly well oiled, I could hear the remarks being passed and I could see the girl’s cheeks getting increasingly red as she stared at the table, then suddenly got up, clearly intending to go outside. When one of the lads shifted to block her way I could see the fear flash in her face.

Damien always looks around if I stare hard enough at him- it works over amazing distances sometimes, and it worked now. He felt my eyes and glanced around- and caught my look of appeal at the girl.

I swear at school they must have run classes on the proper way to handle all kinds of difficulties likely to hinder the smooth running of the British Empire ; I’ve not yet run across one that stumps him. He stepped straight out of the queue and shouldered rapidly across to the girl, dropping a casual arm around her and taking no notice whatever of the two boys.

“Darling, I’ve forgotten, did you want tonic with that?”

She looked terrified, but had enough sense to nod and not to pull away. I could see the two boys automatically fall back, looking embarrassed. And somewhat nervous as they took in Damien’s height. They lost themselves in the crowd and I fought my way across to join Damien, hearing his voice above the racket.

“Are you all right? Are you waiting for someone?”

“My boyfriend. Thankyou.” She looked about ready to break into tears but she managed to keep her voice steady. “So stupid-“

”Come outside, we’ll wait with you until your boyfriend gets back.”

Damien was already steering her back onto the dock front. It was cooler out there, and a lot less crowded. She ran both hands over her face, shook her hair back and took a deep breath, looking around as a tall, thickset man came back from the boat lock-up and started to jog at the sight of her.

“That’s him. I’m fine now, thankyou.”

“No problem.” Damien gripped my hand and we started back towards the car park as she buried herself in her boyfriend’s arms. Without comparing notes, we both knew we’d gone off the idea of a drink.


Damien tried a few times to get me to talk to him on the way home. I ignored every conversational gambit, aware of my teeth getting tighter and tighter clenched together. And admittedly hugging the feeling to myself, nursing it. We got home, I fed the cat, stalked upstairs and showered, shutting the bathroom door loudly on him. We never usually shut doors. He was barefoot and shirtless, wearing only jeans and sitting on the bed when I came back to the bedroom, showered, pyjamaed, damp and still tight-lipped. He didn’t look impressed.

“Do you want to tell me what that was about?”

“What was WHAT about?” I snapped back at him, yanking my side of the covers down. He snagged my wrist without difficulty and pulled me down on the side of the bed, giving me a look I had no problem interpreting.

“That slammed door.”

BOOM.

I could hear the virtual explosion as well as feel it; it was like a switch being hit. Damien ducked my alarm clock as it whizzed over his head.

“You can’t go smashing into situations like that, you could have been hit, you could have been beaten up- why do you have to have this ‘save the bloody world’ complex, here by the power of FUCKING Greyskull-“

He was surprised. It was clear in his face he was surprised, but he still caught the TV remote as I lobbed it – rather a spectacular save actually - and advanced on me.

“You NEVER think about that! You and your sodding white charger! GET OFF ME!”

I was in the process of storming towards the stairs and he got ahead of me, blocking my way and holding out a hand for the lamp I’d snatched up on the way. He was going from surprised to determined now, he was filling the landing and I knew I wasn’t going to get past him. He saw me shift my weight and shook his head, not moving.

“Kick me, Nicholas, and you’re going to regret it.”

I did actually kick him anyway.

I was barefoot, but I did hack him hard on the shins, trying to throw myself past him like a badly planned rugby tackle.

He plays rugby.

The lamp went west in the struggle, Damien jerked me off balance and I found myself across his knees at the top of the stairs, pinned under one powerful arm with my pyjama trousers yanked down, being soundly spanked.

I fought him with my entire strength for about five seconds. Then surrendered and admittedly wailed, pleaded and squirmed for the next fifteen or twenty. Neither had any noticeable effect on Damien at all. At which point I stopped taking very much notice of what he was doing as I burst into tears, and I mean tears.

When the initial flood eased off a bit it dawned on me I was still over his lap in an extremely undignified and vulnerable position, and he was still holding me too firmly to move, although his right hand was now rubbing my back in a soothing, if somewhat pointless gesture of sympathy considering what he’d just done to my blazing backside. I wriggled, trying to get up, and he wouldn’t let me move an inch.

“Do you want to tell me what that performance was about?”

He sounded mildly exasperated, neither surprised, nor cross.

“No,” I said honestly, and yelped as he swatted me, not gently either.

“Try again.”

“You DO go crashing in!” I said pitifully, aware I was getting perilously close to whining, “It IS dangerous, you’d kill me if I did that-“

”Nicholas, YOU asked me to get involved in the first place!” Damien pointed out. I squirmed, still not moving an inch over his lap.

“I HATE it when you do that!”

”I know,” Damien said simply. “But you knew what I was going to do and you wanted me to do it, apart from which it was a busy and crowded bar and very little danger.”

”They could have hit you! You tell me NEVER challenge people like that, they might have had knives-“

”What I tell you and what I decide to do are two different things,” Damien said unfairly and firmly. “That wasn’t a mugging, that was two kids tanked up and mild sexual harassment. And you know it. So what’s the stamping and screaming in aid of?”

I didn’t remember stamping. Although that was no guarantee that I hadn’t. Damien swatted me again when I didn’t answer, making me yelp.

“Nicholas.”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, gulping. And aware that in this ridiculous position I should have been quaking. In a way I was, but I also felt incredibly safe. And a lot calmer.

“Then you need to give it some thought, because ‘I don’t know’ won’t do,” Damien observed, putting me on my feet. I wasn’t in the least surprised when he planted me in the landing corner. Straightening my pyjama trousers, gulping and wiping the last drying salt tracks on my face, I was aware of him returning to his seat at the top of the stairs. Close by, a calm and unhurried presence. We were still there when the phone rang.

Sometimes in this kind of situation he’ll ignore it, very clear that everyone else in the world can wait until we’re ready to talk with them. At this time of night however, it was unlikely anyone would call unless it was necessary, and he collected me from the corner, taking my hand before he went into our room and picked up the phone.

“Hello?”

I leaned against him, sniffling, and he wrapped an arm around me, pulling me tight against him.

”No, he- ok. Yes. Don’t worry yet. Let me try there, we’ll cover the ground quicker if there’re two of us.”

That couldn’t be good. I twisted to see his face and picked up on the frown, something cross and sad as well as anxious.

“Ok. I’ll try there first, and I’ll have my mobile on.”

”Robin,” I said as Damien put the phone down. He turned me towards him, rubbing both hands down my arms as if I was a cat.

“Yes. Put a sweater and some socks on, darling, you don’t need to get dressed.”

“For what?” I demanded. Damien pulled socks out of the drawer and handed them to me, once more dressing himself.

“Robin’s wandered off; Allen wants a hand to look for him.”

”You mean he’s run away!” I froze, halfway into a sweater. “He’s got court in the morning!“

”He’s probably just gone off in a strop.” Damien pulled his own sweater on and pushed me gently ahead of him down the stairs.

“If he misses his court appearance he’ll-“

”He won’t, and he knows that,” Damien said firmly, collecting his car keys as we went out of the front door.

I curled up in the passenger seat of the car as much as I could without being ticked off for trying to sit with my legs tucked under me, still feeling distinctly shaky and tearful and not too comfortable sitting, and distinctly unthrilled with Robin and his timing. Although aware too that usually Damien would not have considered letting me come with him in this situation. Which told me he was well aware of how I felt and that I would definitely not want to be left alone. Which made me long all the more for a cuddle, quietly, at home, without bloody Robin screwing everything up as usual. Damien snapped the car headlights on and turned out into the street, heading towards Marston Mortaine and his office.

“When did he go?” I said softly, trying to distract myself. Damien glanced at me and spared a hand from the wheel for a moment to push my hair out of my eyes, a brief and infinitely comforting gesture.

“Allen’s been watching him pretty closely; he was answering the door to a neighbour when Robin slipped out. He’s on foot; he isn’t going to go very far.”

In his situation, knowing what I might face in the morning- I shivered, very well able to understand the overwhelming urge to run. Get away, hide, do anything to avoid having to stand and face being forcibly separated from Damien and taken God knows where.

“What if he DOES miss his court appearance tomorrow?”

“He really won’t, Nicky.” Damien was taking his time down the main road, hedged on either side by cornfields- it would be very easy to spot a walking figure here.

“Allen’s gone over and over with him about staying and facing up to it; he knows how much worse things can get.”

That wouldn’t stop me if I was panicked enough.

Damien turned into the industrial estate where his office stood and we did a slow tour of the car park. Well lit and security patrolled, there was nowhere Robin could have hidden without us seeing him here and there was no sign of him. Which I could tell Damien was relieved by.

“Would he have gone to his parents?” I said quietly as Damien pulled back onto the road.

Damien shook his head. “No. He won’t try them.”

“He often stays with them, they’re not that far away.”

“They’re his grandparents, darling, not his real parents. They’re very elderly and they spoil him rotten, they can’t really do much else for him.”

”He calls them his parents,” I said, startled. Damien nodded, pausing at the cross roads, then turning towards Allen and Robin’s home. 

“That’s how he thinks of them.”

”And they brought him up?” It wasn’t the time or place but I couldn’t help the curiosity.

“Well,” I saw Damien grimace. “They were his guardians.”

“You never told me.”

”You always showed a huge lack of interest in the subject of Robin.” Damien gave me a brief glance, turning his gaze from the road, and smiled faintly at my expression. “You did.”

”Where are his parents?”

“He was born in Zimbabwe and his father was in the armed forces. I don’t know what happened to his mother but his father died out there when he was about three and the army sent Robin back to his next of kin which is his grandparents. They were too old to be given sole legal custody and they couldn’t manage him by the time he got to four or five, so social services insisted he went to a boarding school and he went back to his grandparents for holidays.”

”From the age of FIVE?” I said, shocked. Damien nodded, somewhat soberly.

“A prep school from five to eleven, then a public school up to eighteen.”

”You started your school at eleven didn’t you?”

“Yes. And I was at a prep school from the age of seven, but it was a day school, no one in my family ever boarded before the age of eleven.”

“Poor kid.”

“Explains a bit, doesn’t it?” Damien said wryly.

There was no sign of Robin on the streets near his home and Allen was on the drive as we pulled up, arms folded and grim faced.

“I’ve tried everywhere in the village I can think of,” he said before we were out of the car. “It’s been nearly two hours now- Nick you’ll freeze-“

”It’s summer.” I gave him a hug, careless about anyone in his street seeing me in pyjamas and socks on his driveway. He hugged me back tightly.

“I’m so sorry to get you two out of bed. I wouldn’t have bothered you except I thought he might try coming to you-“

“It’s fine,” I said gently. “Where have you tried?”

“I’ve rung most of the people he goes out with, no one’s seen him.” Allen looked tired, strained and worried as he thought, turning slowly on the drive to scan the street again. “The park, most of the main roads- he’s walking, he can’t have gone THAT far but if he doesn’t want to be seen he won’t be.”

”I really don’t think he’ll stay out long.” Damien came around the car to join us. “He knows what’ll happen.”

”He’s starting to panic,” Allen said heavily. “I’ve been so careful the last two days not to leave him on his own but some bloody double glazing idiot wouldn’t let me off the doorstep and the temptation must have been too much.”

”And he’ll come back,” Damien said again, calmly. “I’ll have another drive around the village, why don’t you get yourself something to eat?”

“I can’t.” Allen pulled out his own car keys. “If you really don’t mind having one more look around I’ll drive up towards the woods and see if he’s walked up that way. “

“Do you want me to stay here?” I offered. Damien gave me a quick look but I held his eyes. I was past feeling wobbly on my own account, right now I was more upset for Allen and if it helped to have someone in the house then that was the most useful thing I could do.

“Thanks,” Allen said briefly but sincerely. “Help yourself to tea or anything else you want Nick, my mobile number’s on the pad by the phone if you need it.”

I watched both cars move off in different directions under the street lights, then went slowly up the doorstep and into the house. I’d spent a fair amount of time here, I knew where everything was. I made myself tea slowly, half my mind on Robin.

If I was panicked, scared, wanting only to get away from this awful situation and the threats of tomorrow- where would I go?

Nowhere, was the answer that came right back, because Damien would hunt me down and then throttle me. He and Allen were right, Robin’s only option here was to stand and face court and take whatever happened- any other option just made things worse. I wondered briefly just what Robin’s bail had been set at and just what Allen would have to pay tomorrow if he didn’t appear.


Damien and Allen came back an hour later with no further information on Robin’s whereabouts. Allen clearly had no intention of going to bed- and there honestly was no way we could have left Allen to wait on his own. As it was he paced and drank endless cups of tea. Damien sat on the sofa, held out a hand to me and insisted I lay down under the blanket Allen immediately offered. My head in Damien’s lap, his fingers combing through my hair I dozed in the semi-darkness of the lounge and Damien and Allen tried to talk while we waited. And waited. I remember vaguely Allen sitting on the edge of a chair, a cup cradled in both his hands, his face agonised, and his voice, very soft.

“- there IS nothing more I can do, I can’t do it for him, Damien. I just have to trust now that’ll he’ll do the right thing. It has to be his decision.”

At a quarter to one Allen’s phone rang and he virtually leapt on it, snatching it up.

“Rob?”

I roused fully, propping myself on one elbow to watch. Allen’s eyes were shut but his voice was calm, gentle.

“All right. All right, sweetheart, it’s ok. No, I’m going to come and get you, just stay put. Yes, it’s fine, I’ll be two minutes.”

“He’s ok?” Damien said quietly as Allen pocketed the phone. He paused to look at us, mind clearly elsewhere, and clearly, too, itching to get in the car and go.

“Yes- he walked down through the park, he’s by the castle. I’ll go and get him- why don’t you two go upstairs and go to bed? Please. We’ve kept you up half the night and Nick’s mostly asleep anyway.”

“I think we’re better going home,” Damien said gently. “Thanks, Allen, I’m glad he’s all right. I’ll meet you here in the morning.”

I suspected this desire to go home had a lot to do with me not seeing Robin- and, just possibly, me lobbing alarm clocks. That I wasn’t looking forward to discussing. Anastasia met us on the doorstep in high dudgeon that we’d gone out at such an hour and without feeding her, Damien took her into the kitchen and sent me up to bed, and I suspect I more or less passed out where I lay down.


The alarm went off WAY too early.

Damien showered while I came around more gradually, feeling the effects of a disturbed night. Anastasia, somewhat shocked that I wasn’t the first up as usual, walked up and down me for a while, then sat on the floor and complained, loudly, until I pushed the covers back and sat up. Damien reappeared, towelling off his hair, and I watched him take one of his more formal suits out of the cupboard. He saw my face and dropped a kiss on my lips as he passed.

“Don’t look so worried, this isn’t going to be a funeral.”

”I want to go with you,” I said fairly firmly as he pulled his shirt on. He shook his head.

“Absolutely not.”

”Why not?”

“Because I said so.” Damien said matter-of-factly.

I scowled. I suspected the real reasons wandered between not wanting me upset, not wanting me upset to upset Robin any more, to be free to concentrate on Robin without worrying about me, and not wanting me to bear witness if anything awful happened. Which pretty much confirmed he did think something awful was likely to happen.

“What if I just came anyway?” I said grimly. Damien paused, halfway through fastening his tie, and gave me a Look that held absolutely no kidding at all.

“What if I spank you right now and eliminate that possibility?”

I looked down, flushing. He finished the tie, sat down beside me and I hugged him tightly, curling up into his arms. He rocked, stroking my back, and I knew he was taking the same comfort from the contact that I was.

“He WILL be ok. Whatever happens, we’ll make the best of it, the important thing is helping him and Allen get through it as quickly and easily as possible.”

“Will you call me and let me know what happens?” I said into his shoulder.

“As soon as I know anything.” Damien kissed the top of my head and got up. “I’m going to have to go, darling, make sure you eat breakfast and come straight home at lunchtime. I’ll be home when I’m home; I’ll try and let you know what I’m doing as soon as I can.”

I knew he’d taken the full day off work. Planning in case he was needed- I had a few awful visions of Damien needing to support Allen if Robin was taken straight from the dock to Bedford Prison. And a few still more awful visions of various newscasters I’d heard over the years.

“The defendant was silent as the verdict was read out and was helped from the dock by two policemen-“

In my case that would be ‘the defendant had hysterics as the verdict was read out and was dragged, kicking and screaming from the box’.

”STOP torturing yourself,” Damien said firmly. “Go and be with Beth, she’ll keep you busy.

“I love you,” I said somewhat desperately. Damien gave me one last tight hug as he got up.

“I love you too. I’ll see you this evening, baby, DON ’T worry yourself sick. And do a nebuliser at lunchtime as well as now, I’ll check.”

The plan for a high stress day.

I somehow got through that morning. Beth DID help, she always does. I’d told her about the situation and we talked it through again while she painted and I sketched, a whole set of dolphin styles and designs for a long term client looking for a logo makeover. And Damien didn’t call.

I honestly had no idea how to visualise what was happening to them. I imagined a fair amount of standing around in corridors, and I could imagine too it would need Allen and Damien combined to keep Robin calm if there was much waiting involved. I dreaded to think how Robin must be feeling.

“Honey, why don’t you come out for lunch with me?” Beth coaxed at twelve as I tidied my desk, ready to leave. “Damien can call your mobile, he won’t want you to go home and worry on your own-“

”I’d rather be there in case he comes home.”

I pulled my jacket on and glanced at my watch. How long did these things take? Robin would plead guilty, it shouldn’t be THAT time consuming once his case was called. Beth got up and gave me a hug, keeping her paint stained hands lifted.

“I hope it goes ok. I’ll see you tomorrow, try and keep your mind off it?”

Ha.

I went home, checked the answer phone, no messages there either. For want of something better to do I texted Damien, but from the lack of response his phone was off. I supposed you couldn’t have your phone beeping in court, and his plays Chariots of Fire anyway which is downright embarrassing in the wrong company.

I changed out of work clothes, picked at a couple of rice crackers in the cupboard as the only edible thing I fancied and took the nebuliser into the lounge where I lay on the carpet with Anastasia and ransacked the video shelf. Everything we owned seemed to involve police and crime busting at some level, none of which I wanted to think about this afternoon. Miss Marple. Sherlock Holmes. Speed. A Few Good Men. I settled on Memphis Belle as safe if tearjerking, and breathed green fog while Billy Zane strode about looking gorgeous in a flight suit. Anastasia who has long got used to me looking like a dalek lay down with her head heavily on my arm and fell asleep. Damien’s key in the lock brought me upright so fast she fled, pausing in the hall to give me an indignant look.

Damien was shutting the door when I reached him and he didn’t look traumatised nor prepared to break bad news.

“He’s home,” he said at once, “It’s ok, he and Allen have gone home. It could have been a lot worse.”

”What happened?” I demanded. Damien went through to the kitchen and put the kettle on, propping his hips against the counter to hold his arms out to me. I went to him and he linked his hands in the small of my back where he could see my face.

“He did lose his licence. For a year, and he’ll have to take an extended driving test before he gets it back. That was a foregone conclusion with a dangerous driving conviction. And he was ordered to pay £3000 compensation and costs to the woman who was injured. She was there in court, thank goodness she wasn’t badly hurt but she thoroughly deserves to be compensated.”

”And?”

Damien pulled me closer, looking at my hands which were tangling in his tie.

“The solicitor put forward that Robin had a good job, a good relationship and that this was a one off bad decision- I was asked to confirm that he did a good job at work and that he was of good character.“

I snorted and Damien swatted me gently, stifling a smile.

“Mostly. And Robin answered a few questions, there was no doubt he was very upset about having hurt the woman and about driving at the metre in the first place, and the police report confirmed he’d been very upset and remorseful about it when he was arrested.”

”And?”

“He got 20 weeks intermittent custody,” Damien said calmly. His meaning hit me like a sledgehammer.

“That’s prison!”

”Yes, within limits, listen to me,” Damien interrupted, holding me still. “He’s been assigned to an intermittent custody prison in Norfolk ; he has to serve 18 days during those 20 weeks. Basically he has to report by seven pm on Friday evening and he’ll be released at five pm on Sunday evening, which counts as three days served. It’s a scheme apparently designed for low risk, first time offenders who would have their lives badly disrupted by full time custody. Not to mention the damage done by putting them into a prison environment. Which means everyone else in this prison who turns up on a Friday night will be like him- employed, non violent people from settled homes. No maniacs.”

“That’s six weekends?” I said slowly, aware of my heart still thumping.

“Yes. The rest of the time, when he’s not there, he’ll be on licence. Which basically means he has to meet a parole officer once a week, he’s on a curfew to be at home by a certain time each evening and to an extent Allen’s responsible for him. Pretty much he’s officially grounded, and I’d think Allen will ground him the rest of the way himself.”

”That’s still prison.”

”Yes. But six weekends,” Damien said steadily. “And from what we were told by the custody officer at the court, it won’t be as if he’s spending three days locked in a cell. Apparently there are classes run all day, things like anger management, citizenship, that kind of thing, which each prisoner gets an individual schedule of, and they’re worked very hard- they pretty much only go back to their cells to sleep. He’s really not going to enjoy it but it isn’t going to do him any harm.”

It was better than I’d been dreading certainly.

“How is he?” I asked somewhat uncertainly. Damien pulled me closer and I leaned against him, breathing the last of his morning cologne and the wardrobe smell of his jacket.

“Very relieved, they both are. It could have been much, much worse. I don’t think the realities will sink in until the end of the week when he has to go to Norfolk , but he’s been lucky.”

*********************************************

We did discuss the chucking of alarm clocks and the evils thereof that evening. And of swearing, cursing and kicking your partner when he’s in your way and brassing you off. I did check his shins thoroughly for bruises that evening and apologised again- even that furious, I swear if I hadn’t have been barefoot I wouldn’t have done it. He did point out too that he was well aware that that scene had not been about me worrying over him getting beaten up in bars and had more to do with me not talking to him about what was bubbling away at the back of my head. He left it there and it didn’t save me anything, but I was glad not to go into that subject in any further detail. I preferred it all to bubble quietly without my having to pay much attention to it.

We didn’t see Allen or Robin for a couple of weeks after that. Robin with his curfew couldn’t go out in the evenings and Allen certainly wanted that first weekend to recover. I wondered a lot through that weekend how they were managing- Robin wasn’t likely to get to a phone in those three days and the parting wouldn’t be easy on either of them.

The fourth week Allen invited us over for the missed barbecue that had started all of this mess. On the Saturday evening, which meant no Robin, and which must mean too he was badly in need of company. It was strange to spend an evening just with Allen alone.

“How is he?” I said tentatively when Allen and I were washing up, leaving Damien the fun job of damping down the barbecue. Allen gave me a reassuring smile.

“It’s ok to ask, it’s not a bad subject. He’s all right. Still very upset about having hurt someone, he’s had a few nightmares about that and it’s on his mind a lot. And he’s very fed up with being grounded when he’s home, six weeks is a long time and he’ll be on licence for the full 20 weeks. But he’s doing fine at work and he’s sleeping ok.”

”What about-“ I trailed off, not sure how to put it. Allen put the last dish down on the draining board and shook off his hands.

“We have had tears every Friday morning. He finds it very hard when he actually has to go and it’s not pleasant- and he has a very strict list of what he’s allowed to take with him, it’s not much- but it’s not that terrible either. They keep him very busy with classes while he’s there and some of those classes are going to be useful to him.”

I hadn’t particularly enjoyed Fridays either recently. I couldn’t help trying to imagine what it would be like to have to leave Damien and go into a locked centre for the weekend- we weren’t capable of getting through a day without several phone calls on the rare occasions we were separated.

“Come here,” Allen said gently and pulled me over. I hugged him, not as tall as Damien, thicker set, older, but a sweet man who I was very fond of.

“You don’t need to worry, he’s managing. We’ll get through this.”

That was what Damien said about Robin at work- quiet, subdued, but himself. 

“I’m so sorry,” I said to Allen, and meant it.

Allen touched my face and went back to putting away dishes. I went back out of the back door to where Damien was standing on the patio, sipping a glass of wine and admiring Allen’s climbing roses. He hooked an arm around my waist as I joined him as if he knew my eyes were prickling, pulled me against him and hugged me hard.

“Ok?”

“He seems all right.” I leaned against him, sliding my fingers into his belt. “Odd being here without Robin.”

”Quiet.” Damien agreed.

Mm. That was one way of putting it. I could feel Allen’s missing him, it had an almost physical presence. Why Allen loved a twit like Robin I had no clue, but there was absolutely no doubt that he did.

“He’s still a prat,” I pointed out, quietly enough not to reach Allen in the kitchen. “I’d just a damn sight rather he was being a prat safely here instead of in Norfolk .”

Damien grinned but did nothing more than lean down to kiss me, briefly and hard. And that, as always, made things feel a lot more ok.

~ The End ~

Copyright Ranger 2010

1 comment:

Sierra said...

Very enyoyable read

Most of the artwork on the blog is by Canadian artist Steve Walker.

Rolf and Ranger’s Next Book will be called The Mary Ellen Carter. The Mary Ellen Carter and other works in progress can be read at either the Falls Chance Ranch Discussion Group or the Falls Chance Forum before they are posted here at the blog. So come and talk to the authors and be a part of a work in progress.





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