Saturday, February 13, 2010

Exactly What Happened

Title: Exactly What Happened
Author: Ranger

Having to write OUT what happened when you just explained it at least three times, is totally unreasonable. And 3000 words is way too much. NONE of this was in any way my fault.
How DO you fill 3000 words anyway? I can summarize it. We Went Christmas Shopping, and it was your idea! I didn’t even want to go!
Start at the beginning Nicholas. Yes Damien :P They ought to have emoticons in Word, it’s so outdated to just have the typeface. And yes, I KNOW none of this counts towards the 3000 words, and it’s not fair to read over people’s shoulders. 3000 starting now.

I HATE going to London .
I especially hate it in the winter when virtually everyone in the South East HAS to go to London Christmas shopping. The trains are packed and everyone has to stand the whole way from Flitwick into London , the Tube stations are like walking through the middle of a football match, and the shops are crammed. It’s not a whole lot better at our local shopping centres, but even the main streets in Londonare hell at this time of year. If you like pushing, shoving, shouting and elbows jabbed in your ribs, it’s probably your kind of thing. I think the whole reason Damien likes it is that it probably brings back happy memories of playing Rugby . 
He suggested it on Wednesday night when we were in bed, having ………….
Do dots count in the word total?
I was mostly asleep, and he was lying there stroking my hair so I was virtually purring and he whispers this particular sweet nothing into my ear.
“How about I take Friday off and we go Christmas shopping in London ?”
That is mean for a start. He might as well have put a handful of ice cubes down my neck.
“Damien I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” I said when I got my breath back. “This is the busiest time of year after all.“

”It’s not that bad.” Damien said serenely, as if he’d never heard of the Christmas rush. “Don’t exaggerate. Come on, we can spend a morning in Covent Garden and go and see a show in the afternoon- take the early train home. It’ll be fun. And on a weekday it won’t be so busy.”
“I’d prefer not to if you really don’t mind,” I told him kindly, with dignity. “Allen would probably love to go with you, he said he was meaning to go into London soon anyway-“

“No, you need to come.” Damien said, unmoved, in his best Hail the Master Race voice. “I’ve decided and that’s final, we’ll go on Friday. Nicholas, pout once more and I’ll swat you.”
Someone should report him to the Geneva convention, this kind of suppression really can’t be legal.
 It’s morally justifiable and that was NOT what I said.
I’d been watching him think about this for days, and I knew he did want to go.
 I did NOT.
We’d seen the London Christmas lights switched on in Regents street in the evening news, while the village council organised the winding of the lights around our small high street row of banks and shops. Three flashing reindeer, two stars, three Christmas trees and a doubtfully charactered Father Christmas who was leering down from above the bakers. It’s a yearly tradition with us: we always at this time of year go to London and Covent Garden, which is a beautiful place anyway, but especially when decorated for Christmas. If possible and weather permitting, we also love Camden Market, but the shops at Covent Garden are specialised enough to guarantee that we can enjoy ourselves and cover at least three quarters of our Christmas shopping in one morning. The problem is that Nick loves London once he gets there but he loathes the journey, especially amongst crowds. 
So I deliberately left things until he was relaxed and in a settled frame of mind on Wednesday evening, and then suggested,
“How about I take Friday off and we go Christmas shopping in London?”
I swear, he levitated about three foot in the air.
“No!” he said, struggling free of the duvet and taking most of it with him. “No, absolutely not! It’s always crowded at this time of year, there’s pick pockets everywhere, the trains are standing room only and you can hardly get IN the shops-“

”It’s not that bad.” I told him calmly, “We can spend a morning in Covent Garden and go and see a show in the afternoon- take the early train home so we’ll miss the commuter rush. It’ll be fun. And on a weekday it won’t be so busy.”
“NO way.” Nick said flatly, heading into the bathroom in a way that meant he’d quite like to slam the door. I followed before he got any ideas, leaned against the door to pin it back and watched him brush his teeth.
“Why? You love it once we get there.”

”Take Allen. Take Robin. Take ANYONE.”
“I want to go with you.” I pointed out. “Come on Nicky, it’ll be fun once we get there. Covent Garden ……..the music. The shops there. You’ve been wanting to get back into that candle shop for months…”

”If I buy any candles you’ll say I’m into the black arts again and throw them away.” Nick said darkly. I laughed, caught him as he came past me and gave him a hug.
“One morning. It’s not even December yet, it won’t be that frantic, and you’ll love it when you get there.”

”I won’t.” Nick promised, scowling. “But if you’re going to MAKE me go with you-“

”Definitely.” I said, getting back into bed. “I’m going to take you Christmas shopping in your favourite shops, by brute force. Pull that face at me once more sunshine and you’ll regret it…..”
You were NOT that nice about it.
You definitely DID have a tantrum about it
 So on Friday morning I got up, found appropriate clothing and went down to the kitchen where His Majesty was making breakfast, took one look at me and put the butter knife down as though he was making some kind of proclamation.
I was. That you were NOT going out looking like that.

“You are NOT wearing that.”

”I LIKE this shirt.” I pointed out, wondering why he’d woken in such a difficult mood this morning. Possibly he had a headache, or it was the early start. We had a train due at 8.30 that we were planning to catch. He’d been seriously grumpy ever since we woke up.
I wonder why??!
He took the shirt off me by brute force, swatted me and took it away with him, telling me very shortly to sit down and eat breakfast.
There really WAS nothing that I wanted to eat. I looked in the fridge and the cupboards without finding anything that seemed appropriate this morning, I wasn’t in a toast or cereal mood, we had no yoghurt- in the end I found the biscuit tin and had a couple of the little iced ring biscuits I’d spotted in Tescos and liked the look of, then cleared the table while Damien brought down what he deemed acceptable clothing and stood over me while I put it on. Then he grabbed his keys, grabbed my hand and towed me out of the door.
“Have you got all your meds?” he demanded as he was locking up.
“No,” I pointed out, “I haven’t had time to do so, since you’ve been hassling to get up and get gone!”
He looked at me for a minute, then he unlocked the door and I got swatted again, most of the way upstairs.
We did catch the train, easily. He still grabbed my arm and hustled me all the way over the footbridge and down the stairs, pushed me ahead of him into a carriage which was already bulging at the seams with commuters behind mobile phones and newspapers, and plonked me down in the seat between him and the window, with an extremely unfriendly expression for Damien on a Friday morning.
He then vanished behind a newspaper in the manner of what he’d call in me, ‘sulking’.
He is usually up and going long before me in the mornings, Nick is a born morning person. That morning he did not just ‘get up’. He used every single stalling tactic known to man. He read books. He played with the cat. It took nearly half an hour to do medications that should take ten minutes at most. He lost everything, including his watch. He shaved at a speed that would enable a snail to win the grand national and still get a swift half in at the local pub afterwards, and all with that sweet, vague face that’s meant to imply he really can’t help it, and which makes me long to swat him.
You did, several times.
I chased him back into the bathroom three times to finish the job, and finally stood over him. We had a train to catch at 8.30, we WERE going to make it.
I made breakfast while he finished dressing, and was eating toast when he wandered into the kitchen wearing a shirt which looked like he’d slept in it and we’d never heard of an iron in this house. It really was not worth arguing with him, or making him re iron it: not with a train leaving in half an hour. I got up, taking the last half of toast off my plate with me, unfastened the top few buttons and pulled the shirt off over his head.
“Give me that, you’re not walking around looking like nobody loves you. Get yourself something to eat, you’ve got ten minutes before we leave, ready or not.”

I got a brown eyed, bewildered stare and a blank look at the table which was set and ready for breakfast. That was the end of my patience. I swatted him hard enough to shake the look of ‘what planet am I on?’ and took the shirt upstairs to iron. That did appear to wake his ideas up a little. By the time I came back down he’d got the table cleared, the cat fed, and once he’d put his shirt and jacket on, we did actually make it out of the house on time.
“Got all your meds with you?” I asked on the doorstep. Nick didn’t answer for a minute. I paused, key still in the lock.
“Nicholas. Meds. ALL of them. Have you got them?”
“Uh—“ Nick began carefully.

I unlocked the door, took his arm and swatted him very soundly towards the stairs.
“ALL of them, right now, MOVE.”
I followed him this time and checked every single item he put into his pocket. We only caught the train, which was standing in the station when we bought our tickets, essentially because I grabbed his arm on the foot bridge and made him run.
So I sat in dignified silence until St Albans where three men the size of gorillas stormed into the carriage and trampled all over our feet putting their briefcases on the shelf. They then sat down without taking off their overcoats, which meant it was like being surrounded by a team of Michelin men, and talked in LOUD, penetrating, hearty voices that made me want to run for cover. Men like that, I swear, leave you feeling as though there’s insufficient oxygen being left in the area for everyone else to breathe. THEN their cellphones started going off. There is NOTHING more pointless than saying to someone else over a phone, “Yes, I’m on the train… we’re just going past some fields now-“
Teeth gritted, I turned to Damien and excused myself, planning to escape to the loo for a few minutes peace and quiet.
He said no.
The man opposite me crossed his legs which planted his foot firmly against my leg. I shifted as much as I could, and he clearly took that as an invitation to sprawl even further and settled with his foot against my leg.
This IS totally unacceptable! No one can be expected to stay in that situation, it’s beyond the bounds of reasonability.
I got up, excused myself politely, stepped over everyone’s legs and escaped to the open section of the carriage between the two doors. Damien came after me a minute later with the slow, measured pace that makes him look distinctly sinister.
“It was not my fault,” I told him, “You SAW what that man did-“

”Come AWAY from those doors!” Damien said, apparently not caring at all what that man did. I came away from the door I was leaning on, the train lurched and I crashed into the partition instead.
 He settled down on the forty minute journey into London Kings Cross. Largely because he was between the window and me, so there was no one beside him other than me who was annoying him. And me, he was just going to have to put up with. Fleece zipped up to the top, collar turned up, he sank low in his seat and vanished inside his collar to the nose, leaned his head against my arm and watched the scenery roll by. I picked up a newspaper which was abandoned on the seat on my other side, and read all about the horrors and iniquities of ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’, which appeared to be obsessing most of Britain . Since Nick vanishes from the room quicker than snow off a hot stove if this sort of thing comes on tv, and it irritates the living daylights out of me, neither he nor I had seen so much as five minutes of the current series, and reading about it, I had a good idea that we’d missed nothing.
I’d reached the weather reports when we stopped at St Albans station and three commuters joined us, put their briefcases in the rack over our heads and took the seat next to me and the two seats facing us. They were obviously together, probably from the same office, all overcoated and engaged in a conversation which carried on as they sat down and ranged from their children to office affairs. I carried on reading. I was aware of Nick stiffening beside me as one of the men answered his cellphone- it is somewhat annoying taking part in other people’s conversations, willing or not, but we all carry the things and we all do this to other people at times.
 NOT at that volume
I wasn’t prepared for Nick’s sudden hiss to me that he was going to the loo.
Toilets in trains are few and far between, involve a lot of walking and are far from safe or hygienic when you do get there. I folded the paper and looked at my watch.
“We’re only twelve minutes from King’s Cross, there’ll be proper bathrooms there.”

”I’d rather go now.” Nick informed me in a tone that made it very clear why he wanted to go at all.

”And I’d rather you waited.” I said firmly.
“This close to the station I don’t want to take any chances on us getting separated.”

That didn’t go down well. Nick didn’t argue any further, but he vanished deeper inside his collar. The men continued to talk. I was aware when the man opposite Nick crossed his legs, as Nick promptly drew as far away from him as possible. The man was admittedly taking up just slightly more than his fair share of leg room, out of thoughtlessness rather than any deliberate malice. I moved my own legs, put a hand on Nick’s knee and drew him into the space I’d made. The man noticed, and was clearly about to apologise, he moved at once and I think just barely brushed Nick as he did so. Nick erupted to his feet like a jack in a box and said sweetly, with perfect clarity,
“If I’m in your way do push.”
And was gone into the aisle before I’d fully processed what he’d just said.
I really was going to have to stop getting him wet and feeding him after midnight .
I got up and followed him, leaving the three businessmen somewhere between stunned and amused behind me. Nick was fuming in the doorway area.
“That was TOTALLY necessary.” He told me as soon as he saw me. “That man was lolloping everywhere-“

”He barely touched you, come away from the doors.”

”I’m NOT twelve.” Nick informed me, moving away from the doors which he was terrifying me by leaning against. The train lurched and I grabbed him just in time to stop his head colliding with the heavy hand rail. Not however in time to stop him grazing his hand badly on the partition wall as he caught at it for support. By this time I could see clearly, it was going to be one of those days.
Damien made a three act drama out of the slight scratch on my hand that resulted from that fall- which was entirely his fault, I’d HAD a good grip before he made me move –
Darling, you were leaning against the door of a train moving at about fifty miles per hour.
and hauled me out of the station and straight into the nearest chemists where he bullied the pharmacist into dressing it as if I’d lost several fingers.
Then and only then, we finally went down into the tube to catch a train to Covent Garden . We only had to wait a minute or two, although I did spot the sign that said we were going to have to walk to another station to get BACK from Covent Garden- it’s a tiny station and one of the oldest, they were using it as an exit station only for the Christmas rush.
The train arrived, everyone on the platform charged forward as though there was a fire behind them, and I found myself pinned just inside the carriage door, being pushed steadily backwards by forty people trying to fit themselves in a space that might have accommodated twenty five. I could see Damien ahead of me, gripping one of the ceiling straps since he’s tall enough to do so, and looking around for me. I was trying to push through to reach him when someone elbowed me particularly hard in the ribs, moved forwards, and in sheer self defence, rather than be pushed out of the carriage and onto the line, I stepped back onto the platform. The train doors shut, and the train whisked away before I could even bang on the glass and attract Damien’s attention.
THIS was a flaming nuisance.
I glanced at the sign over head which explained that the next train would be along in three minutes. Damien’s usual advice in the case of us getting separated, is that I stay put and he retraces his steps. On the other hand, that would be ridiculous. I knew where he was going, I knew how to get there, I was only going to be three minutes behind him. I waited, scratching at my bandaged hand which was driving me nuts, and got on the next train to Covent Garden .
Damien wasn’t there.
I wonder why?!
I stood for a minute, somewhat alarmed now, and tried to work out what to do. Maybe to take the next train back to Kings Cross and catch him that way? He must have gone back to look for me. I checked the notices for the platform going back to Kings Cross and saw the sign again-
Covent Garden is an exit station only at this time.
In Kings Cross station we found a public bathroom and Nick washed his hand, which in no way slowed the bleeding. Thankfully there was a chemists just outside the station and the pharmacist was very helpful in cleaning and covering the graze. After which I sat Nicholas down on a bench in the square outside the station and had a short but meaningful heart to heart with him about what was appropriate to say to strangers on a train, and whether or not leaning against doors in a moving train was ever a good idea. And summarizing what I thought about his current mood and state of mind. That did break through the sulk. By the end of it I had eye contact, he was subdued and apologetic and he slipped his hand into mine as we headed for the tube station.
There is something beautiful about the age of the London underground. The tiled walk ways, the wrought iron, the few ancient advertisements mixed in with the modern. Nick stayed close to me as we found the Piccadilly line and platform to Covent Garden .
“This is going to be a ghastly mistake.” He warned me as we made our way through the several hundred commuters on the platform.
And I was SO right
I held onto him, keeping him well back from the edge of the platform. Several rats were visible, nosing casually around in the dark well between the rails.
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it. We’re only going three stops, and Covent Garden itself won’t be too busy, it’s not long after nine.”

” Covent Garden station is now exit only.” Nick read aloud from the poster on the wall ahead of us. “That must be a Christmas congestion measure- customers are advised to walk to Charing Cross , Leicester Square or –“

The train arrived in a rush of hot air and the scrimmage started of people flooding forwards en masse to the open doors. I put a hand on Nick’s arm, steering him through the crowd, and saw him step up into the train. Several people pushed between us at that point, the carriage was jammed full and I couldn’t move past them while the doors closed. As the train jerked into motion the flow of people around me settled and I looked across the carriage for Nick. Who was nowhere in sight. Shaken, I ducked as much as I could and peered through the window, in time to see Nick standing looking thunderstruck on the platform as the train thundered into the tunnel.
HOW he managed that I have no idea, he was AHEAD of me the whole time.
 I was PUSHED.
I dug in my pocket for my cell phone and swore quietly as I remembered we’d only brought mine- one day I would catch on and have one permanently welded around his neck.
We do have a cast iron rule in travelling though, which I knew he’d adhere to- if we get separated, he stays exactly where he is and I do the re tracing of steps. Which stops both of us making the whole situation more complicated and missing each other entirely. I got out at Russell square, which was the next stop, and caught the next train straight back to Kings Cross. It took less than five minutes to do so.
When I arrived back on the platform, there was no sign of Mr Hayes. He’d obviously decided it was quicker just to follow me to Covent Garden .
There would be little point in trying to find a guard here and get a tannoy message put out at Covent Garden- guards are few and far between, and by the time I found one and got them to contact Covent Garden station, Nick would long since have arrived and probably moved on in his own search. The best thing I could do was try and follow him ASAP and hope to God he hadn’t left Covent Gardenstation.
The next train took me the three stops to Covent Garden . There was no Nicholas Hayes on the platform there. Trying to see through the crowd, I headed up the steep stairs to the street and checked the entrance and the street outside. No Nicholas Hayes. He HAD to be here. I looked again, checking carefully for a slight, brown haired figure in a green fleece jacket.
No sign.
I got into the highly rickety old lift back up to the street. Damien wasn’t up there either. He worked in London for a couple of years after he left University. He knows it pretty well. I don’t at all. I know VAGUELY that Charing Cross and Leicester Square and Covent Garden are all sort of in a group, but I have no clue how to navigate from one to the other. Maybe the best thing to do would be just to go and look for a taxi. If I walked far enough, I’d be bound to eventually hit a main road and then it was just a case of flagging down a taxi and asking for Kings Cross station. I could do that.
You were SERIOUSLY about to just wander off into the backstreets of London in the vague hope of finding a taxi??               
“Are you lost love?” someone said kindly. I looked around and found an elderly woman looking sympathetic. I took a deep breath.
“I need to get back to Kings Cross station, so I need to find a taxi-“

”Your quickest way is Leicester Square station, it’s just down here-“ The woman nodded in the direction. “I’m walking that way, want me to show you love?”
Thank GOD for top type people wherever they are and whatever age they are.
Here here!
The woman took me right to the station entrance. I found the right platform, got on the train with my heart now really thumping, and went back to Kings Cross. There was no Damien. It struck me we might be doomed to keep ON with this circle, hunting for each other through the London tube for ever more- actually to get off yet another train and not find him there was a nasty shock. Cold, eyes stinging, stomach starting to gnaw, I stood and tried to work out what to do.
He’d probably come back to Kings Cross looking for me- and if I wasn’t here, he’d have to go back to Covent Garden , that was the other place he knew I’d be. Hopefully he was there by now, fed up but there, and that was all I wanted. I got on the next train and tried to concentrate on the belief I’d find him there waiting for me.
He wasn’t on the platform.
No. By that time I was jogging around Leicester Square getting an ulcer and a groin strain.
That was it. I couldn’t do that circuit again, I really couldn’t. Freezing and near tears I sat down on the platform and did what I should have done the first time. Stayed put and waited.
It was less than two minutes before the next train arrived and Damien was one of the first off it, looking quickly up and down the platform with an expression as if he wanted to bite someone. I knew who it was too. He pulled me to my feet before I could get up and hugged me hard, sending all the breath and any kind of rational excuse out of me in one rush.
I still haven’t heard this rational excuse
The posters all over the doors to the station read: No entrance to station, please use Leicester Square , Charing Cross , Holborn or Embankment.
I knew my partner’s grip on London geography:
 That’s defamatory and beside the point
he’s spent very little time in London and he’s very much a tourist when he’s here. I also knew Nick had no idea how to walk to those places from here. There was also a choice of four stations. IF he’d decided to walk to a station and go back to Kings Cross, I had absolutely no way of knowing which one he’d choose. I walked to the end of the street and looked both ways, hoping to see a brown head in the crowd. There were plenty, but none his. There was however a sign at the end of the street in white letters with a cheerfully energetic stick figure beside them, saying “ Leicester Square ”. As best I could in the crowds of shoppers moving through the street, I started to jog towards the square.                                    
It took maybe half an hour to make the complete round trip: the run from Covent Garden to Leicester Square station, back on a train to Kings Cross, then back across onto the Piccadilly line platform that would lead BACK to Covent Garden . No Nicholas. Starting to wonder now if we’d have to meet back up at home, and a sneaking worry too at how safe Nick was walking around London on his own, I got back on the train to Covent Garden .
Nick was sitting cross legged on the platform with his back against the wall when I got off the train. He looked so forlorn sitting there that the first thing I did as he got up was grab him and give him a tight hug.

”What on EARTH were you doing following me?” I demanded into his ear. “You KNOW you’re supposed to stay put and I’ll come back to you for exactly this reason! If TWO of us are rushing around looking, neither are going to be available to be found!”
“The train was only three minutes behind you!” Nick argued, “You knew I knew where to come to find you! I got here and there was no sign of you!”
This was no time to go into it. Taking a firm hold on his uninjured hand, which felt extremely cold since he’d been sitting on the platform for goodness only knew how long, I walked him back up onto the street and down towards Covent Garden itself.
The market was beautifully decorated outside in swathes of greenery and as we walked down the street there were street entertainers, jugglers, a fire eater and several singers performing. Nick dug in his pocket and slipped a handful of small change into the hat of the singers as we passed them. Inside the market it was warmer. Brightly lit with Christmas decorations hanging and the shop fronts decorated, a group of acrobats were performing at one end in the middle of a small crowd, and two young girls at the other end were performing an unaccompanied and eerily beautiful version of the Flower Duet, their voices resonating in the building’s high vaulted ceilings. The whole market smelled strongly of spices, coffee and sugar. We walked slowly down the line of shop fronts, enjoying the view as much as the music, past the apple market where the barrows were lined up.
“How about coffee?” I said in Nick’s ear as we passed Thorntons . “You’re freezing, and I’m ready for some caffeine.”
“I’d rather have a hot chocolate.” Nick said, peering at the Thornton ’s menu in the window. “A vanilla? I’ll go into the soap shop while you’re there, come find me when you’re done?”
“Do NOT leave that shop without me.” I warned, heading into Thorntons . It was blessedly warm in there and the queue gave me plenty of time to look at the beauty of row upon row of chocolates laid out on the shelves. By the time I reached the counter I’d found one box of highly decorated ones for my cousin, and a set of large, chocolate Christmas tree decorations for my niece and nephew. Since Nick’s mother is as addicted to peculiar hand made soaps as Nick is, I had no doubt he’d have her catered for by the time we met up again. I bought a large cappuccino and an equally large vanilla hot chocolate with enough cream on it to sink a battleship, asked for caps on them both and strolled back into the market. Crabtree and Evelyn were next door to Thorntons and I paused to admire the window and wonder whether I could get away with inflicting bubble bath and various oils and creams on my sister for yet another year. Since she went off Barbie dolls she’s been increasingly difficult to shop for. I also noted with some interest that Crabtree and Evelyn had several extremely good wooden hairbrushes in their shop window. If Nick ever messed around on the tube again as he’d done this morning, I’d do a lot more than stand and admire them.
Over my DEAD body!
Coffee and chocolate in hand, I wandered across the market to the door of the soap shop, and the crowd in it. Nick was at the counter and smiled at me: from the looks of things he’d gone to town, there were numerous strange coloured bars of soap being wrapped up by the assistant. I leaned against the wall outside the door and sipped coffee, watching people go by until Nick emerged from the shop with a carrier bag in either hand.
“Done. My mother, your mother, and the soaps we like.”

”Can I give Laura another box of bath stuff?” I asked, waiting for him to juggle his bags and take his hot chocolate. The brightness of the electric light out here was making him look very pale between the darkness of his hair and his jacket. He gave me a glare.
“No, you can’t. Last year you and Miles both gave her boxes of the stuff, it’s the ultimate brother get-out clause.”

”You don’t have this problem,” I said reasonably, “You don’t know what it’s like.”

”What about sending her some flowers?” Nick seemed to be having a lot of trouble with the carrier bags. “That’s something SHE would like, it makes the house look nice for Christmas and it isn’t something she’ll end up giving to the kids-“

”Nicky you’re going a very strange colour.” I said sharply, putting the cups down on the ground. Nick was still trying to get the carrier bag off his wrist and shook his head, sounding thoroughly impatient.
“I’m fine, I’m just stuck in this damn-“

I knew it.
He trailed off, sounding very vague, his eyes rolled up and I caught him as his knees went.
That is a MAJOR exaggeration.
That is EXACTLY what happened from where I was standing.
He still hadn’t said much by the time we reached the warmth of Covent Garden . In there it was gorgeous. Busy, but bright, scented with all the different shops and foods, ringing with music.
“Do you want a coffee?” Damien said in my ear.
“I’d rather have a hot chocolate.” I decided as we were standing outside Thorntons .  “A vanilla? I’ll go into the soap shop while you’re there, come find me when you’re done?”
That was being kind: he hates that kind of shop and I knew it would be busy. Damien nodded, giving me a glare that could have had articles dropping right and left off brass monkeys.
“Do NOT leave that shop without me.”
I pulled a face at him and went across to what is one of my favourite shops here. Huge blocks of soaps in all kinds of herb and spice scents, enormous spheres of bath salts, every imaginable colour and scent. I picked through them, sniffing at several. The chocolate soap was going to be an ideal present for Robin, since Allen I knew from first hand witnessing, believed in soap and swearing having a close association. The smell of chocolate was very powerful, I didn’t want to vouch for the taste. Since Damien does not believe in soap it’s not something I have much experience in. Cod liver oil is truly vile, disgusting and repulsive stuff, and a lot harder to substitute in any more palatable form. I chose several bars for my mother and Damien’s mother before I found the lemon and thyme bars that Damien and I like. Or that I like and Damien puts up with in the shower. There HAVE been a few shouts of ‘Nicholas what the flaming heck am I washing with NOW?’ But mostly he’s pretty noble about it. I added a bright pink, rose and geranium one purely to keep him foxed, and went to join the huge queue at the counter. That took a while.

Damien was outside when I finally got out of the shop- he is the ONE person I shop with who does not wander off into the distance the minute your back is turned- gave me a frosty glare and demanded to know why I was pale.

Good question.
He never pitches forward like normal people do when they faint. He just GOES in a split second, straight down like there isn’t a bone in his body. I lowered him the rest of the way to the ground, feeling my heart start to pound for the second time that morning. His colour was awful but his breathing was good, quiet and even. He does this very occasionally: when he’s really overtired and he’s been on his feet too long, or when he’s too hot; maybe two or three times I’ve seen this happen, and his mother had told me of others – apparently as a child he specialised in fainting during school assemblies.
 They were long and incredibly boring.
Even knowing he’s ok and this isn’t anything to panic about, it still terrifies the living daylights out of me. There were no seats or benches anywhere in sight where I could take him: there were only cafes in fenced off areas with plenty of interested spectators now peering at us. I pulled my own coat off, folded it up and laid it under his head, turning him onto his side and kneeling so I sheltered as much of him as I could from the general public. And stroked his hair, trying not to let my hand shake. He had fresh air out here: the shop had been hot and crowded, he’d stood a long time in the queue- most likely that had been too much for him.
“Can I call an ambulance for you?” a woman from the shop asked, coming to the doorway and looking concerned. I shook my head, trying to sound calm.
“No, thank you. He’ll be fine, just a bit hot and busy in the shop I think.”
She gave me an understanding smile but didn’t go away. I gave my watch another surreptitious glance. We were up to about a minute and he was still out cold, although his colour was improving. Theoretically, I needed to raise his legs higher than his head, improve the blood flow back north, but considering he was lying on the pavement of one of the busiest shopping centres in the country, I really didn’t want to move from where I was, protecting his head from bystanders and the people still walking by. Thank God then he stirred, opened his eyes and a few seconds later tried to sit up, looking extremely confused. Encouraging him to lie down on a pavement really wasn’t a good idea, but it was the best one I had right now. I held him flat and shifted as much as I could to block the view of the fairly tactful crowds shopping around us.
“Stay put Nicky, it’s all right. You just fainted.”

”I’m fine.” Nick said fairly convincingly. He was still that ghastly white, which convinced me if he stood up now he’d probably pass right out again.  I leaned over and picked up his hot chocolate which was now cool enough to drink, and he sat up and rested against me, sipping cautiously as if he was afraid of being sick. I slipped a couple of fingers inside his collar and found him cold, but not worryingly so. Still holding onto him I found my own coffee, which was now semi cold, but I needed the caffeine badly enough now not to care. We sat together, both somewhat shaky, under the soap shop window and got our breath back.
“How do you feel?” I asked when he finished his drink. His colour was coming back rapidly, he looked a little shaken up but he sounded nothing more than embarrassed.
“Fine. I’m sorry, must have been the standing around in that shop, it was freezing out here and boiling hot in there.”

”Don’t worry.” I put the two cups one inside each other, and stood them against the wall with a silent apology to the Covent Garden maintenance team.
“Do you think you can walk? We’ll find a café, sit down in the warm and get something to eat.”

”I’m fine really.” Nick protested. I pulled him to his feet and kept firm hold of him, putting an arm around his waist. He was steady enough by the time we reached the nearest café with seats free- most were packed, even at this early hour. I sent him to sit down, ordered coffee and a couple of Cornish pasties as the quickest hot and substantial thing available. He was sitting at a table re examining the soaps he’d brought when I carried the tray across to him and sat down, seeing the flinch he gave at the sight of the food.
“I’m not that hungry.”

”I want you to eat.” I put one of the plates and a knife in front of him. “It’s the quickest way to get warm and boost your blood sugar. What did you have for breakfast?” 

Nick gave me a quick look, picking up the knife.  
“I wasn’t hungry then either.”
I stopped, halfway through taking the lids off the steaming coffees.
“Are you telling me you didn’t HAVE breakfast?”
“I did!” Nick said defensively, cutting up pasty. I took the knife away from him.
“What was it?”
Nick gave me a vaguely hopeful look.

What does THAT mean?? You asked and I answered!
I asked and you looked like a puppy hoping it was going for a walk, I KNOW that look. 
 “A couple of those ring biscuits?” 
There was a moment’s pause while I took that on board. Then finished cutting up the pasty myself and passed it back to him.
“Two small and highly sugary biscuits, and then you wonder why you faint?”
“I DID eat?” Nick pleaded. I glared at him.
“Eat that. All of it. And NOT another word.”
Well how should I know why I was pale?
You knew exactly why you were pale!
All that happened then was that I had a slight dizzy spell and he acted like I’d just had a near death experience.
He dragged me across to the nearest café, told me to sit down at a table and not to move, and came back a moment later breathing fire, with a tray of coffee and some appalling lump of pastry that had clearly just been microwaved.
“WHAT did you have for breakfast?”
I swear he has radar.
After that things got ugly.
                                               ~ the end? ~
That is 2405 Nicholas, NOT 3000
Most of the time he says GET OFF the computer. :P

He knew where to go to get a taxi, and once he’d made me eat my own pasty and most of his, he dragged me to said taxi, back to Kings Cross station and on the next train home. The train was virtually empty going south at mid morning and he found a row of three seats, sat in the end one and made me lie down with my head on his lap and stay put through the whole journey. Since he was very clearly NOT happy, I kept quiet and didn’t argue.
“That was quick.” The ticket collector said as we handed our tickets in at Flitwick station. Damien made some polite comment that was not,
“Yes, I needed to come home and throttle my boyfriend.”
put a hand on my elbow and steered me out to the carpark.
I was so dead.
Well actually I wasn’t quite sure HOW dead. He was still acting like I was going to keel over without warning at any moment, I was pretty sure I was going to be lying down for most of the rest of the day, willing or not. But whether he’d consider me currently resilient enough for him to wring my neck, I was less certain. Not at all sure it wouldn’t be politic to be as quiet and look as wan as possible, I curled up in the passenger seat and stuck to monosyllables the whole way home. He didn’t ignore me: he never does. Even furious, he doesn’t go quiet. He made several, perfectly calm, kind, Damien like comments about the weather, the scenery, the shopping, just as if I wasn’t busy driving him around the twist, but I was very well aware that in no way meant he was losing sight of the issues at hand.
“Take your shoes off and go and lie down on the sofa.” He said as soon as we were through the front door. He headed into the kitchen and Anastasia followed, winding around his ankles, since if we were home it was clearly tea time. I heeled my shoes off, left them fairly tidily by the front door since I was not interested in annoying Damien any further, and slunk into the lounge. It was cold in there. I curled up on the sofa, folded my arms to conserve heat, and waited. He was making tea, I could hear the clink of cups and the bang of the cupboard. When he came into the lounge he was carrying two cups and a packet which he handed to me.
“What’s the nutritional content of those biscuits Nicholas?”
“I didn’t want anything else,” I pleaded. Damien put the mugs down on coasters on the coffee table and sat beside me on the sofa, with his ‘Have you noticed I’m waiting politely?’ face. I sighed and read the biscuits.
“Sugar. Carbohydrate. A lot of E numbers.”

”HUGE amounts of sugar and very little of anything else.” Damien said grimly. “There’s barely enough biscuit to support the amount of sugar! And since when have biscuits been breakfast food? You haven’t eaten for eight hours at breakfast time, your system needs energy to get it started and to keep you going through the day- we saw this morning exactly what happens when you give it a hit of sugar and nothing else!”

”I didn’t get dizzy because I was hungry,” I pointed out, “I got dizzy because it was hot and crowded in the shop-“

”Nicholas, you passed out cold.” Damien interrupted. “And without blood tests there is no way of proving EITHER of us right, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that low blood sugar certainly did NOT help you cope with heat or crowds. Apart from which you know exactly what I think about not eating at mealtimes and letting me think that you have.”
I had more sense of self preservation at this point than to explain that he hadn’t actually ASKED…..
“I make that,” Damien went on mildly, “A list that includes seriously messing about this morning and NOT eating anything even resembling breakfast; being very rude to people on the train who were NOT doing anything more annoying than being where you didn’t want them to be; and forgetting all about a rule we’ve gone over several times about staying PUT if we get separated.”

”I couldn’t HELP getting dizzy.” I said defensively. Damien shook his head at me, helping me to my feet and starting to work on the button of my jeans.
“I really shouldn’t worry darling. I’m about to make sure there’s an absolute RUSH of blood to your head.”

That’s 3196. I plead the right to remain silent.
~ Definitely The End ~
Copyright Ranger 2010


Valerie said...

I just love the Nick and Damien stories added to which I grew up around the Flitwick, Ampthill, Marston Moretaine area and never thought to see it in a story! If the train stopped at Flitwick, we'd got on the wrong one - so slow. Thank you for these and all your other stories


Ranger said...

I grew up around there too! How amazing to share this story with someone who knows Ampthill park and the villages there. I can find N&D's house in Woburn Sands, I know exactly where it is ;) Thanks Valerie!

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