Monday, February 15, 2010

Going Home

Title: Going Home
Authors: Rolf and Ranger

The hospital car park was busy, as always, with the comings and goings of cars, taxis and ambulances around the front entrance. I dodged several cars in the jog across the tarmac, out of breath and with my heart thumping, but not from the run. The A&E sign stood over a door near the main entrance and a small queue was lined up outside the glassed receptionist’s office. Beyond, the waiting room was filled with adults and children, all variously pale faced, tearful, bored, sleeping, or staring at the two tv sets bolted high up on the walls. Hands on my hips, trying to regain my breath and keep my patience, I checked each face at maniac speed, waiting with difficulty while the three people in front of me were booked in. None were the face I was looking for. As soon as the desk cleared I dropped a hand on it and did my best to keep the bite out of my voice.
“I had a call, my partner was brought here. Finn. He came in with the policeman injured on Bexley Road-“
The woman didn’t look up, tapping into a computer to her left. ”Name?”
“Finn.” I took a breath, well aware that here they would have demanded Finn’s extremely loathed Christian name from him- information that he never gave willingly, and a question which wouldn’t have endeared them any to him- still less if anyone actually tried using it.
“Darren Finn.”
”And you are?”
“Craig Turner.”
“And you’re no relative?”
I was actually about all he had, but without one single legal piece of evidence to prove it. The question alone infuriated me.
“Friend.” I said in the end, trying not to snap and thinking just how totally an inadequate word that is.
“I can’t actually release information other than to a relative.” The woman said crisply.
I leaned both hands on the desk, hanging onto my temper with difficulty since I was seriously scared and in no mood to wait or argue.
“Then I’d like someone to tell Finn that I’m here please, and see what he wants to do.”
The woman finally looked up with an expression of clear dislike that implied that I was messing with her orderly routine.
“Please take a seat Mr Turner.”
It took five minutes of trying to sit and stay calm before two men in policemen’s uniforms came into the waiting area, one with his arm in a sling. I got up and waylaid them without conscience.
“Excuse me? Did you come in with Finn? From the attack in Bexley Road?”
“You’re Craig?” the uninjured policeman demanded. “Yeah, it was me that rang you. Haven’t you seen him yet?”
“I’m waiting.” I gave a pointed nod at the receptionist and the policeman snorted.
”What a load of- this way mate. Gaz, go and get in the car, you look shattered.”
The injured policeman caught the keys and gave me a nod, and I followed the other man down the line of curtained cubicles to one near the end where the policeman tugged the blue curtain aside.
“Got someone here to see you.”
Finn was sitting on an exam table, shirtless and with one arm resting on his knee, palm up, with a large cotton pad over his forearm. His hair was in his eyes, he looked hot, fed up and his expression shifted sideways into ‘hello’ and ‘oh God WHAT a day’ as he saw me. I edged past the curtain, managed to thank the policeman, and once the curtain dropped back, grabbed Finn and hugged him tightly, dropping my face into the reassuring warmth and solidity of his bare neck with sheer relief. He was warm, resilient and he hugged me back for a moment before he pushed me back, impatiently shrugging off the contact. Which is typical of him in public.
“Relax, I’m fine.”
I hung on long enough to snatch a quick kiss and look at him under the electric light. Annoyed more than hurt. His eyes were exasperated but he reached up for a second and slightly gentler kiss.
“Stop panicking.”
“You scared the living hell out of me.” I pointed out.
”I’m fine, the bastard had a knife.” Finn moved the cotton pad to let me see, and I caught a nasty glimpse of a still sluggishly bleeding gash. I looked skyward for a minute, swearing, then cupped a hand around his head and dropped another, hard kiss on his forehead.
“Bloody hell Finn-“
“He got me and he got the policeman too,” Finn said impatiently. “In the hand and the upper arm. I’d have been out of here by now, but the police wanted blood samples and photographs and fingerprints and all the rest of it for evidence.”
”So what happened?” I demanded. “The police said you got involved in an arrest?”
“I was walking down the street, minding my own business, and these two coppers jumped on this guy coming out of a shop.” Finn shifted with a grunt of discomfort, easing the arm into a slightly more comfortable position. “They must have been waiting for him. He pulled a knife and I saw him get the one copper in the arm, and I was practically right behind them, so I grabbed. I didn’t even think what it was I was bloody doing it happened so fast. So take that look off your face.”
“I’ll swing for you.” I promised him.
He glared back at me, but I’ve known him long enough to see through his scowls and his moods. As much as he shrugs off and rejects being fussed over, there is a sneaking part of him that loves, needs and craves it. I knew too that anyone tangling with Finn would have got a hell of a surprise- his slight build under his clothes hides one hell of a lot of muscle and a surprising amount of strength, reinforced with an equal amount of what I might call from experience, sheer bloody mindedness. I have half a head over him in height and an easy thirty pounds, and I still don’t always win when we tussle.
“You do realise he might have put that knife in your heart or your stomach or-“
”Look, I didn’t exactly stand and risk assess it. I saw his hand go up and grabbed it, so leave it.” Finn interrupted. “They’re only going to dress this and we can get out of here. If I’d had the cash on me to get home I wouldn’t have let the police call and freak you out by bringing you in here.”
I gave him a Look in return for that, and a minute later Finn’s head butted against my shoulder, the apology somewhat muted but there.
I defy anyone to resist that. I never have been able to.
I met Finn five years ago, at a practical seminar he was teaching on cardiac fitness training approaches. There were ten physiotherapists and sports coaches in my group, all of whom played sport to a high level, and he ran the legs off the lot of us. Lean, dark, with a ferocious scowl and a habit of standing with his hands on his hips and his weight balanced as though he was only standing still as an extreme personal favour, and with dark eyes every bit as gorgeous as selected other parts of his anatomy under his tracksuit - I don’t think I heard two words of his lecture. At the end of the session I waited until everyone else left and propositioned him. He told me in words of one syllable to get lost. Four months later, we rented a flat together.
Initially we had a lot of blazing, incendiary rows. Finn has stormed out of restaurants, pubs, even my car one night while it was still moving when I refused to stop, but gradually the walls came down. I’ve heard him called aggressive by people who don’t know him. His temper slips its chain fast and he tends to go straight for the jugular when someone annoys him, verbally if not physically- he has a biting tongue and a vocabulary about as razor sharp as his mind. Which, considering he had an extremely patchy education, is no mean achievement. Finn had to fight for everything in life that he wanted or needed from an early age and it shows. There isn’t however one drop of spite in him. The tempers blow out quickly, the scowls are mostly defensive habit, when you get right down to it, he is actually an incredibly gentle person.
He sat in silence in the cubicle that day while they injected, stitched and dressed his hand, pulled his shirt on one handed as soon as they were done, and let me help him into his jacket with a gruff mutter of being fine. Once we got home, climbing the four flights of stairs that lead to our top floor flat on the edge of the town centre, he threw the keys at the table that houses keys, wallets, small change and junk, threw his jacket after it and wandered across to the windows, stretching his shoulders until they cracked. Most of the flat is open plan. The buildings are new- we’re the first people to rent this flat, and they’re aggressively modern. And the stretch of windows along the front look down on the park and the river, with the theatres and the start of the office blocks just around the corner. I picked up his jacket, hung it up with mine and went to join him, folding my arms around his neck and waist. He didn’t look round, but he leaned back against me, lifting a hand to cover mine. It was pretty rare for him to tolerate this kind of contact, and we stood like that for a long time before he twisted around, gave me a dark eyed look and kissed me.
“What do you want to eat?”
“I’ll worry about that.” I pushed his hair back off his forehead and gently swatted the tight curves under his tracksuit pants as I went into the kitchen area. “Get yourself a drink and sit down, rest that hand.”
I heard the clink of a bottle as I searched the fridge and a moment later he put a scotch within my reach, leaning back against the windowsill to drink his own. This floor is too high to be overlooked by anyone else- one of the reasons Finn fell in love with it. We love the windows and the light, and the fact there’s never any need to draw the blinds no matter what we do. I gave the mostly empty fridge one last look and shut it, deciding that the phone and a takeaway was a better option. Neither of us are very domesticated. Finn is rigidly tidy- the flat stays as crisply immaculate as his spotless and pristine sports wear and since I know my being untidy is one of the quickest ways to get on his nerves, I make an effort to keep pace with him. But we neither of us have much interest or talent in cooking. There was no need to ask Finn what to order: we both have the menus of both places pretty much memorised and I know what he likes. When I put the phone down he rinsed out his glass at the sink and put it away, heading past me for the door.
“If I’ve got half an hour I’m going for a run-“
”You are not.” I remonstrated.
“Just round the park.”
He looked at me, almost reluctantly. Usually once I can get eye contact, he’ll listen. I took his good hand, towed him with me across to the sofa and sat down, tugging until he finally dropped down beside me. And when I pulled him down to me, he tucked his legs under him and lay against me, his dark head on my chest. I ran my fingers through his hair, combing it straight, and picked up the remote control for the hi fi. Finn has surprisingly sober tastes in music, mostly semi classical film soundtracks, and I could feel him finally relax bone by bone to whatever CD he’d put in last night. Something quiet, with soaring violins and far away, deep drums. After a while he turned over, resting his head face up on my stomach, and put his hand up to touch my face, stroking over the lines of my mouth. Then he closed his fingers on my collar and firmly pulled me down into his reach. Like I said, he’s surprisingly strong. It said to me that he knew the risk he’d taken today, how scared I’d been, the step he’d taken that might have ended in that knife going somewhere critical and ending our relationship permanently. His apology was in his hands and his kisses, but I knew too, he could no more have walked away from that situation and someone in danger than he could leave a towel lying on the floor. That’s just Finn.
We had an irate bang on the door half an hour later. We were still on the sofa, out of breath and dishevelled, and I took a moment to at least get my slacks back on before I answered. Our neighbour from the ground floor gave us a glare and a plastic takeaway bag.
“Apparently this is yours? The guy said he’d been ringing for five minutes, is your buzzer broken again?”
“Strange how often that happens.” Finn said behind me. He’d got up from the sofa still shirtless and I saw the woman’s eyes travel over his chest and down to his hips.
The expression on her face made me stifle a grin.
“Thank you Mrs Garvey.”
She still hadn’t quite got her eyes off Finn when I shut the door. Finn was getting plates out of the kitchen cupboard as I began to unpack the bag.
“What’s it like being fancied by half the building?”
“You tell me?” Finn said dryly. “Do we have any aspirin?”
“Paracetamol.” I watched him gulp two with sympathy. “That can’t have done your hand much good honey.”
He pulled a face at me, taking one plate into the lounge. “Didn’t half take my mind off it though.”
I live close enough to walk to work- a busy physiotherapy practice in an old Victorian house half a mile away. With six full time therapists on staff, two of which are old friends of mine, there’s a steady turn over of clients and enough people to make sure we work fairly standardised hours, unlike hospital work. Finn teaches in several health clubs in the district. He works for himself as an independent freelance and makes a good living out of it. He has the business sense and the independence of mind to do that very successfully, where I’d be far more dependent on a nine to five job with a secure office and familiar people around me.
My last patient on Friday afternoon was at five pm, a rugby player recovering from surgery and only able to handle working for fifteen to twenty minutes per session, which got me out of the building and headed home slightly earlier than usual. Finn gets home around six and we usually head straight back out again once we meet up, either to the gym or for a run, or to anything else we’re in the mood for, be it tennis, squash or five aside at one of the centres where Finn works. Plenty of his friends there are always willing to set up a game of whatever. When I got to the door of our building however, two uniformed policemen got out of the squad car parked in the car park and came over. I stopped, key in the lock, since they were clearly headed my way. The one in the lead was an older man, in his mid fifties, well build with a comfortable stomach bulging under his uniform and greying hair under his hat. The boy following him was still dealing with the last of adolescent acne and long legs he hadn’t yet fully learned to steer.
“Mr Finn?” The older man said affably. I shook my head, wondering if we were about to hear the outcome of the Bexley arrest.
“He’s my partner. Can I help you?”
“Would you be Mr Turner?” The older man gave me a peaceable smile from under a blunt and greying moustache. “PC Waines said he spoke to you in casualty the other day. I’m Inspector Coulson, this is Police Constable Jones, Could we come in and wait for Mr Finn? I need a word with him.”
Well you can’t exactly say no to the police. Inspector Coulson wandered around our lounge while I made coffee, looking down from the windows.
“Very nice view you have from here. New these flats are they?”
“Two years old.” I hung up my jacket and went into the kitchen area, snapping the kettle on. “Finn shouldn’t be long, can I make you some coffee?”
“Thankyou, white, three sugars.” Coulson gave me another of his absent smiles. “Do you always call your partner by his surname Mr Turner?”
I lifted a mug in the teenaged boy’s direction and he gave me a weak smile and a nod. I began to make coffee for three.
“Finn always calls himself that, he hates his Christian name. It was a while before he’d even let me know what it was.”
“I got called Albert.” Inspector Coulson announced cheerfully. “Not a bad name in those days but not the most fashionable now. And PC Jones here, HE’S called Darcy, which I still think should be a criminal offence against the poor lad.”
I offered Police Constable Darcy Jones a coffee and he accepted it with a slightly red faced nod of appreciation, apparently accepting his superior’s teasing as his lot in life. Inspector Coulson took his coffee and took a seat on the sofa, almost immediately getting up again as Finn came in. Finn stopped in the doorway for a moment at the sight of the two uniformed officers, then came in and shut the door.
“Hello, what’s happening?”
“Inspector Coulson.” Coulson went to Finn, hand outstretched, and shook his firmly. “This is PC Jones, we were just having a chat with Mr Turner while we waited for you. No one’s in any trouble.”
”Is this about the Bexley arrest?” Finn came into the lounge. I poured a fourth coffee and brought it to him, catching his eye long enough for a very brief hello. Coulson sat down on the sofa once more.
“Yes. Yes, how is your hand? I heard it came to stitches. The man’s been charged, no bail, you might well be called to give evidence when it comes to trial, but there was something else I need to have a little chat to you about.”
Finn sat down in the armchair and I perched on the arm of it. Coulson looked from one to the other of us, still with that smile which seemed to me to be very kind when it focused on Finn. PC Jones sat on the windowsill and took a notebook and pen out of his pocket.
“So what is it?” Finn said somewhat warily. Coulson took a sip of his coffee and put it down on the table.
“Mr Finn, this is a rather delicate matter.”
Finn looked at me. I gave him a faint shrug back. They’d given me no clues.
“How can we help Inspector?”
“We’ve got a bit of a tricky situation here.” Coulson looked once more at Finn, clearing his throat and steepling his hands in front of him. “I don’t know if you know about all this, but we log all DNA samples whenever we take them. It’s a routine thing, national database, they all get filed away. But you see when we filed yours, the blood and fingerprints and the DNA taken for our evidence at the arrest you helped us with - the computer came up with some information we didn’t expect. It would appear that we have you registered as the victim of a previous crime.”
Finn gave him a blank look. I cradled my coffee mug between both hands, answering for him when Finn didn’t speak. I knew Finn had a somewhat chequered past, but to my knowledge it involved no crimes or any kind of violence.
“Which was what?”
The inspector’s voice was very gentle and addressed entirely to Finn.
”I understand you changed your name sir?”
”Yes,” Finn said slightly impatiently. “When I was eighteen. To Darren Finn – I was registered as Darren Green.”
Coulson nodded, still giving him that unsmiling but kind look, his eyes very steady.
”Do you have a birth certificate or any legal documentation of that identity sir?”
“No.” Finn gave me a brief glance for moral support. I’d heard him have to explain this before and I knew he didn’t like doing it.
“It’s a bit of a strange situation. I was in foster care as a kid and it wasn’t exactly well organised. My foster mother- she called me by her surname, Green, that was what she put on all the forms. I never saw any other documentation or any other names.”
Coulson nodded slowly. ”So you don’t have any documentation of your birth or your registered parents at birth?”
”Nothing.” Finn said bluntly “I don’t have any information about who they were or anything else. I don’t know what papers my foster mother might have had, we moved around a lot when I lived with her.”
“Do you know where Ms Green might be now sir?”
Finn shook his head. “She wandered off and I was taken back into social services care when I was around thirteen. Apparently there was no paperwork then and no record they could track down, no one even had an actual date of birth for me, although I knew roughly how old I was. The whole thing was a mess, but then social services WAS a complete mess in the seventies and early eighties.”
“And you had no further contact with Ms Green? What can you tell me about her sir?” Inspector Coulson went on. I was aware of his tone. Low, quiet, hypnotically calm. It was the professional voice that meant storm cones ahead, but what, I had no idea. Finn didn’t look any more comfortable, I could see the fingers of one hand starting to push at the skin on the side of the fingernails of his other hand, always a sure sign he was getting edgy.
“I knew her as Molly Green, I don’t know if that was even her real name. I did try searching through social services and applying for a birth certificate when I was eighteen, mostly because it’s been hell trying to prove who I am to be employed or get a passport or anything else. No one could find anything. I don’t think Molly was my actual mother- that did occur to me. She always told me she was fostering me. If the original fostering was carried out through social services, either she did it under different names or the paperwork’s been lost. It may not even have been a legal fostering, she might just have taken me in for a friend or relative at some point, I don’t know. She never told me anything about it, she wasn’t good at details.”
The inspector was listening, hands clasped. The constable was writing, swiftly and in shorthand across his notebook.
“I see. Did she ever mention to you what happened to your- er - biological mother?”
“Just that I didn’t have a family, some kids didn’t, and they had foster mothers.” Finn shrugged. “At that age it doesn’t occur to you to ask detailed questions, you tend to just take people’s word for it. Look what is this? Is Molly under arrest or something? I lived with her for a few years, but it was nearly twenty years ago now and I hardly knew the woman even at the time, I haven’t seen her since.”
”When we uploaded your DNA details to the data base Mr Finn, a match came up.” The inspector said very steadily in that low, gentle voice. “We did have several samples of your blood from the assailant’s clothing, so just to be sure we hadn’t made any mistakes, we had it checked again and we got the same result. We had a dead match logged under the name of ‘Samuel Curtis’.” The inspector said quietly. “Does that name mean anything to you sir?”
“No, I’ve never heard it.” Finn said blankly.
“From the DNA evidence there is no doubt sir.” The inspector was watching Finn with a gentleness that was making my alarm bells scream. “We had on file finger prints, and blood and hair samples from Samuel Curtis which had been translated to DNA evidence and entered into the data base some years ago when it became standard police practice. We did also then check the fingerprint evidence. It would appear that you are Samuel Curtis, born and registered in Nottingham in 1971.”
Finn glanced back to me, looking somewhat stunned. “Well that’s more information than I’ve had in years-“
I put a hand on his shoulder, aware of his shock, and not sure right now whether this to him would be a relief or unwanted information. Finn has a general policy of live for today, he never wants to talk or to think about the past; in particular the first twenty years of his life. I’ve often thought a lot of his strategy of survival was the force with which he put them behind him. This, finally, was real, traceable information.
There was a few seconds of silence, and then Finn’s shoulder moved under my hand and I felt the implications hit him, his eyes narrowed fractionally.
“What was Samuel Curtis’s DNA doing on a police data base?”
“As I said, we had you registered as a victim of a previous crime.” Coulson cleared his throat. His tone was still that very quiet, gentle one.
“Samuel Curtis was kidnapped from the Nottingham area in July 1978. There was a manhunt for him lasting several months, and he’s been missing, presumed dead since that date. The evidence we had was what the police collected in 1978 to help them search for and hopefully identify Samuel Curtis if they found him.”
“What?” Finn said reflexively and extremely irritably. “That’s rubbish-“
”We have the DNA evidence sir, and we have the facts on file.” Coulson said quietly, unshaken. “You are Samuel Curtis, and Samuel Curtis was abducted in 1978 by person or persons unknown. That would have made you seven at the time.”
Finn stared at his hands. I squeezed the shoulder I was holding, wishing that the Inspector would give us a few moments alone, I could only imagine the shock Finn was dealing with.
“Do you have any memory,” Inspector Coulson went on, leaning forward on his knees towards Finn. “Of where you were or what was happening before the age of seven? Do you remember when you first came into the care of Ms Green?”
“No…..” Finn lifted his head and I saw a somewhat helpless expression on his face. He looked trapped. “Understand Inspector, I – I don’t really remember very much at all, or very clearly, before around the age of thirteen when I went into the children’s home. I don’t really have a very clear memory of events or anything else other than fragments before that- I never have done. I’m told it’s not that uncommon in – kids who were messed around-” he trailed off, sounding increasingly uncomfortable.
”So you couldn’t be sure that you were not in Ms Green’s care until the age of seven?” Coulson said softly. Finn shook his head.
“No- are you saying SHE abducted me?”
“We have no way of knowing that sir. The only people who could confirm it are you and Ms Green.”
”I don’t know a thing. I really don’t.” Finn looked down into his coffee cup, then gulped coffee. I was fairly sure he needed something stronger. If I’d had him to myself he would have had it.
“Is this still an open investigation Inspector?” I asked over his head. Coulson nodded.
“Mr and Mrs Curtis, Samuel’s parents, declared him legally dead in 1992- when Samuel would have been twenty one. It is a decision that parents and family in that situation often take, where the belief is that their family member has been the victim of a murder. It’s an attempt to try and find some peace and – closure I believe is the pop psychology term for it. I never much liked pop psychology myself. But the police file on the case is still open as Samuel was never found, or anyone formally charged with his murder.”
”Well it’s clear I’m not murdered.” Finn said grimly. “If I am Samuel Curtis.”
“That’s partly why I’m here.” Coulson went on. “I’m afraid as we have strong evidence that you are Samuel Curtis, we have to ask you to co operate with us to gain conclusive proof. Or rather to double check our proof as a formality. The DNA chances are, I checked, over six million to one against you not being Samuel Curtis.”
”Check how?” I demanded. Coulson gave me a calming look.
“Only blood samples sir. A separate, independent blood sample that will be run not against our filed samples, but against samples from Mr and Mrs Curtis. That will give conclusive, legal proof as to whether or not you are their son.”
”They’re alive?” Finn said shortly. Coulson nodded, giving him that steady, compassionate look.
“Alive, well and still living in Nottingham. There also will now be an investigation into Ms Green, I’m going to need to ask you for some information regarding what you can remember of her.”
”Does that have to be now?” I asked. Coulson shook his head.
“No. I can come back tomorrow morning for that, give you some time to talk and to take this in. I’m going to have to ask that you come to the station tomorrow and give that blood sample to the police surgeon. The results should be back within a few days. This is still technically an investigation of assumed homicide, which speeds everything up a bit; all the evidence gets processed as a priority.”
“Thank you.” I said, getting up. Coulson got up too, jerking his head at the teenaged constable.
“About ten tomorrow. This way Jones. Thank you Mr Turner, Mr Finn.”
I let the inspector and the constable out and went back to the chair where Finn was still sitting, staring at his hands. He didn’t move when I put my hands on his shoulders. Then finally he flopped back in the chair, shaking his head.
“What a load of rubbish.”
”It sounds fairly conclusive.” I said gently. Finn didn’t respond for a moment, then shrugged, blank faced.
”It’s a bit late to make any kind of difference now.”
It would have helped if I'd have had the faintest idea what to do. We sat in silence for some time together, Finn with his face blankly expressionless. Eventually he got up, went to change and went out of the front door in a tracksuit. I knew he was planning to run. That's his main anaesthesia for any serious problem.
Left alone I wandered for a while, tried to find something edible in the fridge and finally ordered another takeaway. While waiting on the delivery, I watched as the sun dipped below the horizon. The darkness signalled an end to a very bizarre day, but it was only the beginning of what promised to be a very long evening of trying to come to terms with what we'd found out. The length of Finn's run made it abundantly clear how shocked he was, not to mention my own feelings. I couldn't begin to imagine how he must feel. I knew very little of his past, it wasn't something he ever really spoke of. I knew he'd lived in care, been fostered, spent time in a children's home, but no more than that. To find out now he had a name and an identity he didn't even remember - how could someone take away a child? How was it possible to erase the first seven years of someone's life?
My musings were interrupted by the door and I admit I opened pretty swiftly in the hopes that it would be Finn. It wasn't. I accepted the bag from the delivery person, handing over the cash with a sigh and went to put Finn's dinner in the microwave to keep warm. I settled at the table and only managed to pick at a few vegetables. When we had first met he'd vanished on a lone run no few times. If we had a row, if he was confused, angry, unhappy, there was no talking to him. Sometimes I could run with him. Mostly he wanted leaving alone.
It was in fact nearly eleven pm when I heard his key in the lock. He looked cold and exhausted and his eyes met mine for a second as he passed through the lounge. I followed him into the bathroom, leaned on the doorframe and watched him strip, taking his long, lean frame under the shower. He must have been freezing. His skin was a pinched white and he turned the hot water on as high as it would go.
All I wanted to demand was in various forms "Are you all right?" the most stupid question in the world. What I meant was, please tell me what hurts most. Let me help. I knew if I asked that I wouldn't get the answer I wanted. He'd steadfastly deny that anything was wrong and refuse to discuss it further. I'd have to try gently to go around the question and see if it answered itself.
"Have you eaten?"
He didn't look round, but I saw him shake his head. I folded my arms, propping my weight as casually as I could. He wouldn't stand for interrogation either. He's a prickly bastard when he's upset.
"See many people out tonight?"
"Just a few," he muttered, washing his hair as if he wanted to scour it from his head. He took the flannel from the rack and after soaping it, ran it over his body, leaving behind a blush slightly darker than the hot water was leaving in its wake. Before he could rinse out the flannel, I took it and ran it gently across his back, hissing when the water from the tap blasted my arm.
"You're going to scald yourself hon," I muttered, leaning to turn the dial down a little. He didn't try to stop me and this time I caught the very brief glance he gave me. He's never been too comfortable with pet names or endearments - at times I've been frankly told to shut up - but he doesn't exactly dislike it either. He didn't move while I washed his back, massaging far more than any kind of efficient cleaning, until I pulled my shirt off over my head, unbuttoned my pants and got under the water with him.
As I expected, his arms wrapped around me and his lips were hungry. The water, colder now, did nothing to quell either of us. A passion borne of shock, of needing to reconnect after the bombshell of earlier. I was shivering slightly when we finally turned the water off. He didn't bother grabbing a towel. Just stepped out of the shower, towed me with him into our room and tackled me like a scrum half.
We're good at this. We put in a lot of practice, and I suppose it is the strongest possible way to comfort and reassure when neither of us are much good at talking. We didn't take much notice of anything for a while. It was a lot, lot later when I felt his arm slacken a little where it lay over my chest, and ran my fingers through his still damp hair. We were lying tangled side by side, the curtains were open and the room was pitched dark.
"You ought to eat." I said softly, but he shook his head.
"Not hungry."
Pressing that question at this time of night wouldn't usually be an option, but I knew there was a lot that needed to be said tonight. Burying this news at this point in time wasn't going to help either one of us. I gripped a hand gently in his dark hair and shook, just enough to make him turn his head towards me.
"What do you remember?" I asked frankly. "Who was this Green woman?"
Finn lay back and looked at the ceiling for a moment, then I heard him sigh.
"Not much."
"Try something easy." I prompted quietly. "Where were you living right before you went into foster care?"
His shrug was helpless. "I don't know. I've been trying to think all evening. I don't know. When I was in the kids' home - like I said to Coulson, social workers told me it's not unusual for kids in care not to remember much. I don't really have THAT much clear before I was thirteen and went into the home."
"Remember anything about school? A classmate or a particular friend at the time?"
Finn shook his head again, slowly. "We lived in several houses. I know it was around Salford and Oldham – Manchester - but I'm not even sure of addresses. I remember one house in a terrace, red brick with an old kitchen in it. I walked to school from there, Molly never came, but she didn't go out of the house much."
"Was Molly a good cook? Is that why you remember the kitchen?" I was grasping at straws, but if anything helped it would be worth it.
"She never cooked. Sometimes we had bacon from the shop - I could fry that. Sometimes I boiled potatoes. Bread and butter mostly. And Charlie used to give me money for fish and chips."
"Who was Charlie," I asked, intrigued.
Finn looked slightly startled for a moment. Then he shook his head. "I'd forgotten Charlie. I don't know who he was. I think he was only there when I was very young - must have been a boyfriend of Molly's. Sometimes he slept on the sofa in the lounge. I remember walking past him a few times and smelling alcohol of some type. I don't know what but I can still smell how disgusting it was."
"I heard somewhere once that smells are a sometimes powerful way to remember things."
I could see him thinking with that, but nothing more seemed to come. After a few moments he turned over, resting his chin on his arms beside me.
"I don't even know what happened to Molly. I don't remember her leaving, but I suppose she must have done. I remember being driven to the children's home in Oldham."
I rubbed what I could reach of his arm and ignored the clock as it stood near to midnight. "You had kids to play with there."
"It was a safe place." Finn agreed, and he sounded fairly relaxed about it. "Other kids my age. I went to school properly - enjoyed that. They got me into organised sport too. Football."
I knew there had been a time when he had seriously considered taking up footballing as a career.
"And you were a star player," I said, as a way to keep him talking. I wasn't going to push or harass, but I did want to know what he did to determine what could or could not help in the interview tomorrow with the police.
"I liked it." Finn said bluntly and I knew then I'd lost him. "It was a safe place, that was all. I got through a couple of years of school, cleared out of there and went to college, it was over with. Didn't really think about it again, and once I got shot of the social workers I was glad to see the back of them. It's done. I got through it. Over with."
"You did alright for yourself," I said in sympathy, pulling gently at his arm. "Let's get under the covers? I'm getting chilled."
Finn moved without comment, settling next to me with his arms behind his head. I leaned over on one elbow as I settled under the quilt and kissed him, a brief and gentle kiss that was about as much sympathy as I knew he'd allow. I felt him settle against the pillows but the deep, even breathing of sleep didn't come for either of us for a while.
Inspector Coulson was back the following day at ten, and I sat listening while Finn went through what he remembered of addresses and names. It wasn’t much.
“I know it was Manchester.” He said at one point. “We lived in Salford for a while. And Oldham. And in Cheshire for while. Warrington. We moved around a lot. There were other people, one man who came back a few times and slept on the sofa. Charlie. I don’t really remember much at all.”
“What we can start doing now,” Coulson said, scribbling in his notebook, “Is start checking the schools and GPs and hospital records in those areas. DHSS records. This Ms Green must have got her income from somewhere, we should track some details down. Some addresses. As soon as we hear anything we’ll get back to you.”
”Can I ask what involvement the Curtis family have here?” I asked. I’d been thinking about that one all night, while Finn had made it clear he didn’t want to talk about anything to do with the entire subject. Coulson looked up at me.
“They’ve been notified that we think we’ve located their son.”
“They know he’s alive?”
“At the moment all they know is that we need to carry out some identification.” Coulson said slowly. “It’s a delicate situation Mr Turner. If we’d found Samuel Curtis as a minor- or we’d found the body of Samuel Curtis as a minor- there’d be no doubt of Mr and Mrs Curtis’s primary rights to information. But Mr Finn is not a minor. We have a responsibility to protect his right to privacy. We’re not at liberty to share with them Mr Finn’s name, address or any other details. If the blood test results are conclusive – and I must say we fully expect they will be- then as two of the victims of this abduction they will be told that yes, Mr Finn is Samuel Curtis, and that he is alive. Any other information or contact they may be given is entirely in the hands of Mr Finn. Although I think I should warn you, Mr Finn. I can pretty much assure you that the Curtises will do everything in their power to contact you as soon as they have the news.”
"There isn't a point to that," Finn said, standing up. "Thank you," he managed by way of goodbye, stopping only to grab his keys on the way out the door for yet another marathon run, followed by work no doubt.
"It's been quite a shock," I said to the rather speechless officer. "And he lost time this morning going for the blood test."
As a matter of fact so had I, I'd taken the morning from work, cancelled my appointments and gone with him. Not that he needed me, but I wasn't about to leave him to do this alone.
"Can I - what do we know about the Curtises?"
"Tara and David Curtis." Inspector Coulson said, giving me one of his blunt smiles. "Two other kids. Both older."
"So he was the baby of the family," I said quietly.
"Yes. It's the mark of a good marriage that the family was able to stay together through the entire mess. They were suspects at one time, but were cleared of course," Coulson said, standing up. "I'm not one to give unwanted advice," he said seriously, "but that family has been through hell. I don't think they'll be able not to try and see him and I'm not sure it's fair to ask them to."
"Suspects?" I said, confused. Coulson gave me a gentle look.
"Standard practice. In a child murder hunt the first people we investigate are the parents. Especially the father."
That gave me serious pause for thought. After they left I sat for some time in the living room, less thinking of anything than trying to imagine. What could it possibly be like to lose a child aged just seven? To have to believe he was dead. To go through the police investigation that you or your partner killed him. I didn't know; but just imagining it haunted me.
We seemed to sleepwalk around the subject for the next two days. We worked. Came home. Went out. Played our usual round of sports which was how we liked to fill our evenings. Ate. Slept. Talked as usual. Finn carried on as though nothing had happened. I honestly don't know how upset he really was. I think in his head, all this had happened to someone else, and it was someone else he didn't even know. As he had said to me that first night: 'it's done. I got through it. It's over with'.
The only problem with that was, that I wasn't done. Those few short sentences that the officer said after Finn left stayed with me. It made the people far more real. They weren't just Finn's birth parents, although I was damned grateful to them for that alone; but they were also real people, with real feelings about a child that they had loved. Even if Finn wasn't didn't know them and didn't care to know them, they had strong memories and images that they'd been nursing for years. It wasn't just about Finn, as much as I'd like it to be. Finn was a part of a bigger picture and while it was his right to not want to be a part of that picture, I couldn't talk myself into believing it was his right or his place to write himself out of it without taking them into account.
But it wasn't up to me either. It wasn't exactly something I could demand of him - this wasn't my problem, I had no right to interfere here. After all I couldn't imagine what he'd been through either.
The Nottingham police came two days later. Finn opened the door to them, greeted them with resignation more than anything and we sat and looked at the file they brought. This was the police team that had been on the Curtis kidnapping case for twenty six years, and they had a pile of information. They were led by a retired inspector with white hair and an extremely broad Liverpool accent, who shook Finn's hand and gave him an extremely wry smile.
"Well Samuel Curtis. I never thought I'd see you like this. I always thought I'd end up meeting you in a forensic tent somewhere."
"I go by 'Finn'," my partner corrected quickly, leaving out the 'Darren' part as usual. I wondered actually if his hatred of it had anything to do with having known at some level that it wasn't his name.
The inspector didn't seem at all shaken; just tugged up his trousers and sat down on the sofa, propping his elbows on threadbare knees. All the inspectors appeared to go about in suits that looked fresh from Oxfam.
"After you've dug up sixteen fields and three woodlands looking for a kid you get quite used to expecting bones, not faces. It's been a long time son. No one seriously expected to find you alive after the first two weeks."
"Did they find any information out yet about Ms. Green?" I asked to break the silence.
The inspector turned his casual smile on me. "Not a thing. That may not have been the name she used, but we'll keep looking. The information's there. I brought pretty much everything we had." he added to Finn, opening the bulging, buff coloured folder he'd placed on the table.
I was shocked at the amount inside. Piles of paper. Scribbled notes, typed reports. Transcripts. Photographs. Polaroids of woods. Fields. Dug ground. Police with spades. Rough ground beside a canal. And underneath those several pictures which the inspector took out and offered to Finn. The top picture showed a family - dressed up and grouped together. The next few showed an adult couple with two children, a boy and a girl. It was clear where Finn's slimness came from as both the man and boy were of the same build. The girl had the same brown hair as her mother and was a very pretty child of about ten, with the boy older and at the leggy stage of early adolescence. The last two pictures were of just Samuel - Finn. It was hard to reconcile the child with the man I had sitting on the sofa beside me. One was taken at Christmas or on a birthday, and in the old photograph the little boy's eyes were wide and bright with wonder at the drum he'd just taken out of a brightly wrapped box.
"That's David and Tara," the inspector said, looking over as Finn sorted through the pictures. "That's their older two kids. The boy's Steven, the girl's Melissa. I've seen Steven in the last year or two, you look very like him."
Finn grunted and put the pictures down without really looking at them. It was still someone else's family that he was looking at. I picked them up and immediately saw the strong family resemblance. Both father and brother had the same wide shoulders and strong face that Finn had. I was wondering if Steven had ever played football when I looked up and caught a tiny glimpse of something in Finn's eyes before he shut it down again. The picture he was looking at was of himself - a small boy looking with delight at a newly unwrapped drum.
"We've had those on file since the start." the inspector said mildly. "We like to have a few pictures tacked up on the walls to remind us who it is we're talking about. Tara found us these the week you disappeared. That one of the drum - that was only three months old at the time, your seventh birthday. That was the most recent one they had."
"Thanks." Finn said matter of factly. "Is there anything I need to see? Or do? We're waiting for the DNA results but Inspector Coulson didn't mention anything else that had to be done."
"The DNA results should be released within another day or so. As soon as we have that last piece of evidence, our missing persons case for Samuel Curtis will be closed. Your parents will be notified of that, after that, it's up to you if you'd like to re-establish contact. There will be a criminal file opened up on Ms. Green, but there's nothing you'll need to do unless and until we can find and prosecute her. We may need a statement at that time. You know, I remember...."
I watched as Finn's face settled into the look I know means 'you can talk but I'm not listening'. To the casual observer he appears interested but after living with him as I had, I knew not a thing was getting in. The small group of police had worked long and hard hours, days and weeks on the case and they were understandably excited to get to talk to him about it. More often than not as the lead inspector said, they ended up with a body rather than a person. I let the inspectors talk for a short while and when they were finished, ushered them out and closed the door. Finn got up and wandered into the kitchen, snapping the kettle on.
"Want some tea?"
"Yes, thanks," I said, going into the kitchen and taking him into my arms from behind, kissing his neck and then resting my chin on his shoulder.
"They were glad to see you, weren't they?"
He wriggled, giving me one of his looks over his shoulder. "Gerroff, don't flop on me. I suppose it's a good end for them. Better than a body."
The letter arrived on Wednesday morning. Finn picked up the mail and brought it back to the table. We don't exactly set it for breakfast - he was eating cereal, I was having a few pieces of toast and we were both gulping back coffee while I glanced through the papers. Finn sat opposite me and flicked a few envelopes in my direction, handled a few more without looking at them, and dropped the junk mail by the recycling bin as he went to shave. I picked it up with the two pieces of junk mail I had and would have disposed of them, save a handwritten sheet caught my eye. It was on blue paper, the writing neat and stilted as though the writer had thought for some time and drafted and re drafted what to say, and it was heartbreakingly tentative.
Dear Mr. Finn,
It seems strange to address you as such as we only ever knew you as our dearest Sam. A lot has happened in the years since we last saw you, and we understand from Albert Coulson - the police Inspector - that you like to be called Finn. He was kind enough to visit us and to let us know a little about you.
We understand too from Inspector Coulson that this has come as a shock and you had no memory of us or the kidnapping. That seems almost as awful to us as having tried to convince ourselves for so long that you had to be dead.
We worked hard with the police to find you, answering questions, visiting various crime scenes and worst of all, having to try and identify a couple of children as you. We're only able to try to imagine now what your life has been like and to wish desperately that we'd been able to be a part of it. While we know you're a grown man now with a life of your own, we want you to know that you have always had a family that loves you, and wants nothing more now than the chance to get to know you again.
We enclose our phone number, email and address. We would be happy to meet you on neutral ground or to welcome you to our home here, whatever you would feel comfortable with, but we most want simply to hear from you.
With love always
David and Tara Curtis
I had to take a couple of steadying breaths by the time I finished the letter. The years of hope that were emanating from the words were almost palpable, yet Finn hadn't even acknowledged that the letter had arrived. It was set to go into the recycle bin like so much trash. It was painfully obvious the effort it had taken the Curtises to write, and it was equally apparent that they were desperate not to spook him- their own pain was visible in it but suppressed as much as I suspected was at all possible. It was more than I could stand. I folded the letter, stuck it in my pocket and glanced at the clock. It was too late to talk now – we both needed leave for work in a few minutes. But this evening we needed to talk about this, fully and properly, and I was done putting up with Finn stalling.
I handled a range of patients that day, and I didn't particularly remember any of them. Several times, in between patients, I took the letter out of my pocket and re read it. Eventually I got through my scheduled appointments, put away paperwork uncompleted and went home. It was nearly six before Finn came home, and when he did it was with his usual noisy bang at the front door and a call.
"Going for a run. Want to come?"
I came in from the kitchen with a couple of mugs of tea, setting them down on the table in front of the couch. "The run can wait, we need to talk."
Ever seen a man look trapped? Finn virtually showed the whites of his eyes. In the belief I might as well make it clear where we were headed, I pulled the letter from my pocket and held it up.
"I found this. You can't just bin it Finn. It isn't right or fair."
"You're talking about a piece of paper from a group of people I don't know - just like the junk mail that I intended for that to go out with. It was addressed to me - I get to make that choice."
Finn was sounding tough and we both knew it wasn't washing. I shook my head.
"This affects both of us and them too. We can't just write this off without even thinking about it."
"Why not?" Finn dropped down on the couch, looking and sounding furious. "It was a freak occurrence that I got into that fight and my blood ended up on police files. It's not like I went looking for them. I did what I thought I needed to at the time, and now this?"
"Because they're involved too." I sat down at the table, giving him some distance. "You can't get away from that. Whether you want to be involved with them or not is entirely your right, but what about them Finn?"
"What ABOUT them?" Finn snapped back.
I looked at him. Hard and steadily. Finn looked away but I saw the wince.
"They know I'm alive now, that should settle it."
"You think that EVER settles it?" I demanded.
“It’s too late. It doesn’t matter any more. Twenty years ago yes, but what the hell can it help now? I don’t know them, they don’t know me, I was seven years old when I last saw them according to all this – crap-“ Finn’s wave took in the letter lying on the table. “I don’t even bloody REMEMBER them. They haven’t got their kid back, they’ve got a 34 year old with his own life who doesn’t know them, HOW is that supposed to help?”
“I think they have a right to see you.” I said again quietly. “The police told you, they can’t insist. Tara and David Curtis don’t even have the right to know your name and phone number, but they lost their child, they’ve been through the same hell you have -“
”I haven't been through any kind of hell, I did ok.” Finn interrupted me shortly, getting up. “I can’t give them a sob story to feel any better about, I can’t do a damn thing except make the damage done to them still worse.”
”They can see you. They can see who their child became.” I followed him into the kitchen, watching him turn the cold tap on full blast and lean over the sink, rinsing his hands and then his face. “They can know your name and that you’re healthy, happy, you have your own life. They can know for themselves that you’re ok.”
”They don’t even know me, what the hell difference can it make knowing I’M ok?” Finn grabbed a towel from the side, dried his face and flung the towel back on to the counter. “I’m not Sam. I don’t even know who Sam was, I have nothing to do with their Sam. It’s been too long.”
It was the utter dismissiveness of his tone that made my stomach tighten, partly with anger- not entirely with Finn either- and partly with determination.
“There’s something I want you to look at.”
”What.” Finn said shortly, without interest.
“A website David Curtis runs.”
”Why?” Finn demanded. “What good are you hoping to do here? We are not going to do the finale from ‘Annie’, this is NOT going to work out. This is just going to make everything worse and more difficult for everyone concerned.”
“You’re going to see.” I shouldered past Finn’s shrug away and took his upper arm in a grip of steel, pushing him towards the bedroom we use as a study. Finn fought briefly, one short and fierce attempt to break my grip- he hates any form of restraint even in play, he fights back furiously if pinned or wrestled with- but when I held on he swore under his breath and stalked where I took him. I pushed him into the small study, putting him down in the chair in front of the computer. There I pulled up the bookmark menu and clicked on a site I’d saved a few hours ago, then put the mouse in Finn’s hand.
”Why?” Finn said just as bitterly.
“Read.” I repeated.
I was aware how much it meant that he actually would take that order from me, and stay sitting in that chair. For a moment Finn’s dark blue eyes glared at me, unreadable and hard, then he swung the chair around and began to scroll down through the text under a blue, stylised heading. I knew what it said. I’d read it hours ago, and it had chewed through my stomach like acid. I wish I knew what it was making him feel now.
Our Story.
Our youngest child, Sam, was the only member of our family who liked marmite in his sandwiches. He was musical, like me, and athletic like his mother. He loved to swim with his brother and sister, to ride on his bike, to read Bobby Brewster and Mrs Pepperpot stories, and to tell ‘knock knock’ jokes. He had thick and very dark brown hair and blue eyes and half his baby teeth still in place. He was permanently hungry, interested in everything, beautiful, clever, loving, lively and utterly perfect.
Our precious Sam was abducted on the 14th of July 1978, from the shopping precinct near our home while he was shopping with his mother. She left him for five minutes, standing outside a shop window, watching a mechanical toy display while she went across the street to buy bread. In those days you did that kind of thing without thinking twice. He was seven years, three months and twenty three days old. The immediate police search lasted for five weeks, during which, Tara and I went through the unutterable hell of knowing that we were the primary suspects in what soon became an assumed murder case. The following investigation lasted for six months. The hole in our household has been open now for 26 years.
For 26 years, we have flinched every time the phone rang or someone came to the door in the faint, remaining hope and dread that it was news of Sam. Several police officers have become close personal friends from hours and months and years of contact and support, and their retirements came and went without our little boy’s case being closed. For 26 years my other two children have known, don’t ever forget to tell Dad where you are unless you want to see a grown man in a total panic. For 26 years we have been one child short to kiss goodnight, had one child we struggle not to buy Christmas gifts for- we don’t always succeed. Tara and I both over the years have guiltily hidden a wrapped package from the other to cover a moment of weakness- and every 21st of June we count the years, remember 1972 when we first met our beautiful son, and we wonder what he would look like at ten, at fourteen, at twenty, at thirty. Sam would have been thirty three this June.
On Sam’s 21st birthday we declared him legally dead. Something that police and family had gently encouraged us to consider for some time. We thought that it might give us all some sense of peace, finally. It didn’t. It never could.
Somewhere in the world is our Sam. We have no grave, no remains, not even a place or a date to remember him by. Suspects have come and gone, numerous people have been questioned in regard to Sam’s murder and each time we hoped and feared that we would finally know what happened and where Sam might be, but no evidence has ever come to light and suspects remain only suspects. Whatever happened to Sam, we have only the cold and awful hopes that it was quick, painless and that he knew nothing about it. And that he knew we loved him, even though at the moment in his life he most needed us, we weren't there. Of the many things you wish for your child, of the many things we wanted to give him, these are not what we ever would have dreamed of asking the fairy godmother for.
When he was seventeen my long suffering eldest son finally turned around to me and shouted “Why won’t you just accept it? Why do we ALL have to go on waiting like this? We KNOW Sam isn’t coming back!”
This year in May our first grandchild- his daughter- was born. Standing in the hospital with him, he looked at me and said “Dad, I get it now”. I knew exactly what he meant.
David Curtis. November 2005.
Finn wasn't moving, even after I knew he'd finished reading. There was nothing else I needed - or felt I ought to - say to him. I'd just wanted him to know what I'd seen on that webpage. His shoulders were rigid. I got up to put my hands on his shoulders, meaning just to squeeze them and to leave him alone, but he put his hand up and grasped mine, and his blue eyes were distraught and appealing. I sat down again on the arm of his chair and he held on to me with one hand, even as the other scanned the mouse down to David Curtis's name and clicked the email link.
It should have been an easy process. Click the mail link, type in a few words and press the send button. But for Finn it was far more than that. It was going to be the contact that he'd struggled to ignore since the first inspector starting talking with him. I sat in silence, wanting to be there if Finn wanted the company, but in no way pushing him any farther. It was ultimately his choice. I just needed to be sure he thought through it before dismissing anything.
In the end I sat for over an hour while he wrote an email of three lines, of which every single word was changed at least four times. It was terse, if not downright stilted, but it was his: saying nothing more than he'd received their letter and he accepted their right to meet him. It took him another twenty minutes before he pressed send. In my usually decisive Finn it was an uncertainty that hurt to watch. When at last the mail was gone, he checked the inbox reflexively and I knew he was going to sweat blood from now until the mail was answered.
I took his hand from the keyboard. "They won't respond instantaneously. How about that run you asked about earlier?"
We ran. Maybe five or six miles, a little longer than our usual average, but I could see it helping. On the way back we stopped off at a Chinese takeaway, ordered food and took it home with us. As we unlocked the door Finn slipped past me and I knew he'd gone to check the computer.
I set the food by the couch and got plates and drinks. If Finn was going to eat he'd do better on the couch than at the table. When he didn't emerge I went back into the room, finding him staring at the screen.
"Did they answer?"
He sat back, letting me look over his shoulder. He looked frankly terrified. The mail was short and I could see the effort within it on the part of the Curtises to be calm. It was simply a warm, kind mail that thanked him sincerely and invited him - and anyone else he cared to bring - to meet with them at their home.
"I said Saturday." Finn said to my surprise and I realised he had already answered. "Saturday morning."
In a way it made sense. Finn never wanted to wait, particularly over anything that scared him. He wanted to get this over with as fast as possible. I looked at the mail again, signed simply 'David and Tara', and their invitation to bring someone, and for the first time felt a faint qualm.
"We might need to break it to them first about us, love-"
"They know I'm gay and in a committed relationship." Finn shut the computer down with an effort. "Inspector Coulson told them. Bloody tactful of him too. If they'd been going to freak about it better they did it then than now."
"I suppose there is still the issue of the blood test," I said as Finn got up. Finn shook his head.
"There isn't. The results were in the post with their letter this morning, they both came from the police together. It's me. I'm him. Q.E.D."
We were less than five miles from the little market town a few miles from Nottingham on Saturday morning when I saw Finn really start to sweat. I'd had nothing out of him all morning; he hadn't been in bed when I had woken at six, and he'd already been dressed and shaved. We had directions emailed to us - Tara and David had invited Finn to call them but he hadn't managed to pick up the phone. We neither of us knew what to expect but I could feel his fear.
He was chewing his nails now - not something I'd seen him do before. I cast him a brief glance as we moved into yet another street where the houses were getting bigger, with arched Victorian style windows: perhaps forty years old and set well back from the road behind sloping drives. Somewhere along the road that led out of the town and into the open countryside, we found Canberra Road, and I glanced at the gate post numbers until we reached 138. The drive was steep like all the others in the area, it was gravelled, and three cars stood on it - a Jeep, a red Rover and a small, blue Vauxhall. The house itself reared up over two stories, wide with large windows and a mock Georgian frontage. A garden gate was to the side, and a lush lawn visible beyond. The plants around the drive were large, well established and well kept. Clearly a well maintained family home. Finn hadn't moved since I switched off the engine and I rested a hand on his knee and shook gently.
It took a moment for Finn's eyes to leave the house and I couldn't tell what he was thinking. I could tell a lot more clearly that he was struggling hard to find something familiar about it.
"Yes. Let's go," he said shortly, opening the car door. The short moment of vulnerability was gone. It was perfectly apparent to me that he now just wanted to get inside, get the meeting and lunch over with and leave as fast as possible. I stepped out, leaving the car windows down to catch the light breeze blowing and followed him up to the front door. This was not going to be easy. I know Finn's shoulders. As a matter of fact I know every inch of him and I could see the tension everywhere - in his fingers, in his jaw, in his tense stride as he moved ahead of me. He was holding it together, but he was utterly terrified.
They'd seen us coming of course. I didn't seriously expect that the Curtises would have been able to wait inside for the doorbell to ring. They couldn't have slept the previous night and they must have been waiting hours to see the car turn into the driveway.
I suppose I should have taken more notice of the drama of the moment - Finn walking up the path that he had last walked down when he was seven - but those few seconds rushed past without registering. So pass most major moments in life. Then the door was pulled open and there on the doorstep were the two people we had seen in the photograph, the man and the woman, dressed up for the occasion, and painfully, horribly distressed.
Finn had been standing close to me, but I felt him brace himself and step forward towards the woman who was smiling although tears were streaming down her face. The man beside her was not much better. I could only watch in sympathy as with amazing restraint and incredible awkwardness, the three of them kept a polite distance and shook hands.
Finn was business-like and introduced me as I've heard him introduce clients. David and Tara took a moment to say hello, but their eyes were riveted on Finn and while they were managing not to touch, neither of them could move away from him. We were quickly ushered in where two other adults about our age waited, standing close together in the hall way with equally stiff and awkward expressions. The brother and the sister I presumed - and I could feel an immediate chill in the air.
It seemed entirely ridiculous that we should just stand here being politely introduced. They led us through a hall and into a large sitting room with a wooden floor and the large windows, where a piano and several chairs and sofas stood, and there, Tara, who was a small, slight woman with short chestnut hair and very red eyes, took the hand of the man I had recognised from the photographs as Steven. Finn's brother.
"Finn - this is Steven - do you remember Steven?"
Finn took only a moment to look, offering his hand to shake. "No, I'm sorry. Steven, this is my partner Craig."
Again, he was clipped and polite, all business. I shook hands. Steven's handshake was not just strong but almost testingly tight. I looked up into his face and wasn't at all sure what I saw there - his eyes were rather grim and his face was quite expressionless.
"And this is Melissa," Tara went on in a slightly higher voice. She was trembling; I could see it. David was standing at a distance and looking no better.
"Nice to meet you Melissa."
I tried to inject warmth into my greeting but it didn't seem to be returned. I couldn't remember a more awkward moment in my life and I've had a few. I couldn't tell if Finn was feeling the same way I was, or if it was because I was observing this and to me it was the most odd and stilted and suppressedly emotional experience I had ever been part of.
Tara put her hand into David's and he clasped it without taking his eyes off Finn. And then we all stood there. They couldn't stop looking at him. Finn looked back for a moment, and then he looked at the carpet, and then out of sheer sympathy I reached for his hand and there we stood: two couples, flanked by Steven and Melissa.
"Tea." Tara said after a minute, very unsteadily. "Tea. Or coffee of course. Which would you-"
"Tea please." I said as gently as I could. She left the room and David cleared his throat as I drew Finn with me to sit down on the sofa at something of a safe distance.
"Did...was your drive a good one this morning?" David asked once he'd seated himself in one of the chairs.
I left a silence for Finn to fill if he wanted to, and when he didn't, cleared my throat and tried to tap through the ice filling the room.
"Yes- you gave us good directions. Thank you."
Silence again. David leaned over and pushed towards us some photographs in an album on a polished glass table.
"I - er - you might like to see those? The police gave them to us."
I was startled to see pictures of what must have been a teenaged Finn.
"The police - they aged Finn to try finding him?" I asked, looking with interest at the photographs. The ones the police gave to me were the first I'd seen of Finn when he was younger. Even if it wasn't an actual photo of him at that age, you could tell that's what he would have looked like.
"Actually, no -" David cleared his throat and gave Finn another anxious glance. "These came from the -"
"The children's home." Finn said bluntly, looking over my shoulder. Even I couldn't tell what he felt from his tone: David must have been stumped.
"Yes." he said rather apologetically. "They uh – collected them from your social services file last week when they tracked down the children's home. They thought it might be a breach of your privacy but, well. This hasn't happened before. They had no policy to follow so they did what they felt was - well, most important I suppose."
"Do you remember your time at this children's home place?" Steven asked bluntly.
"Yes." Finn sat back, leaving the pictures in my hands. "I went there when I was about thirteen."
"What about before?" Steven persisted.
"Steve." David said mildly. "The police told us that Finn didn't remember much and they said it wasn't uncommon - not in this kind of case. In a minute I'll show you around the house, Finn. Maybe that will help you feel more oriented?"
"Maybe," Finn replied noncommitally. We were saved by Tara's entry with a very full tea tray. Melissa stood up to help, passing out a mug to everyone except Steven, who refused.
Tara paused by us, offering a plate rather timidly to Finn. Sausage rolls, clearly still hot from the oven. Finn doesn't usually touch anything with pastry, it's just not a favourite of his, but he put out a hand and picked one up and Tara's eyes promptly filled.
"I don't know if you remember - but I did - you loved these as a little boy, you wanted me to make them every afternoon."
"Thank you," Finn said rather awkwardly, popping the roll into his mouth.
"We had them quite often," Melissa added, sipping her tea. "I never liked them at all."
"I know you didn't, but I never could resist those eyes." Tara put out a finger as if to touch Finn's cheek and then stopped herself just before I saw Finn forcibly brace himself not to flinch. It was more than I could stand. I put a hand discreetly behind his back and slipped it into his back pocket, close enough for him to feel my warmth.
Tara sat down and sipped tea, flushing slightly. "What do you like to eat now Finn?"
It took a long moment for Finn to reply. "Chinese, mostly. Neither of us cook and that's the easiest thing to get on the way home or delivered." He immediately took another sip of tea to cover the silence.
This one lasted another few minutes and I could feel the desperation rising in the room. I reached out and turned the photograph album around.
"This was a nice idea of the police's."
"We-" Tara looked at her husband for help. "We wanted some idea of what we had missed. They were very kind. We saw that one - "
She pointed to a picture of Finn - who looked only seven or eight - in a garden with swings. "- and we wanted to know where it came from. They told us it was taken the first few weeks you were at the children's home, Finn? They told us about the doctor's records - that you were very small, no one believed at first that you could be thirteen at all. They said it was a give away, a known sign."
"A sign?" I said when Finn didn't respond. Tara put her cup down and I saw her take her husband's hand.
"Of imprisoned children. A- apparently it happens where a child has been in an abnormal environment, abducted, imprisoned, somewhere they feel unsafe or un -"
She broke off and David spoke for her, subdued. "Unhappy."
I could feel Finn tensing. He had been sensitive about his size when I first met him and now I understood why. When Finn didn't speak, I tried to push it.
"You have decent, if not fond memories of the children's home, don't you Finn? That's where you learned to play football."
"It was ok." Finn said very shortly.
"They said you had a serious growth spurt soon after you arrived," Tara said, looking at him in a way that told me she had realised her mistake. "Another sign they said - when a child grows that suddenly and that much after being moved to a new placement. These days someone would have noticed and said something, school would have picked up on it-"
"You don't seem overly short now," Steven added helpfully. I looked at him, trying to gauge his intentions.
"Come and look at the house." David said abruptly, putting his cup down. "It's changed a bit since you- but..."
He trailed off and couldn't hide the need in his voice.
So he showed us over the house. It was a standard, nice, spacious, middle class home. The dining room table gleamed. The kitchen was bright and very clean. Flowers stood in the small study and music was scattered on the desk. Photographs lined the stairs and I stopped, looking at several.
David stood on the landing and I could see he was trying to give Finn no clues. Finn looked back at him and then without expression at the closed doors.
"Do you remember?" David said at last. "Anything? You were nearest to us, remember that?"
"No, sorry," Finn said shortly.
David tried to smile, but turned away and opened the nearest door. "This was Steven's room - he and his wife use it when they stay sometimes - and this was Melissa's."
They were bedrooms with some glimpses of the teenager still left, but mostly guestrooms with personal touches. The next room was the master bedroom, large and comfortable, and David looked again at Finn with almost painful waiting, but didn't say anything. That left one last room and David didn't try to open that door, simply waving Finn ahead of him.
I followed David into the room and felt the almost palpable question "Do you remember?" hanging in the air.
"We changed things around," David said as Finn looked around. "We had to put the room to good use, so it's now our grandchild's room when my son comes to visit.
My eyes stopped on the drum that had been in the first police photograph we'd seen. It was a little worse for wear, but it was definitely the same drum. I looked at Finn, wondering if he had seen it, but his face was still expressionless. I took his hand as David went back onto the landing, drew him against me and took the privacy to give him a swift, tight hug. I was getting more anxious about him by the minute.
"Are you ok?"
"I don't know any of it." Finn said to me under his breath, ducking his head into my shoulder for a minute. "Nothing. I've never been here before."
"It's all right," I said forcefully, letting Finn decide when to let go. "We're just here to meet them, that's all. It's ok."
I got a quick nod before he turned and I followed him back down the stairs.
"It's a lovely home Mr. Curtis," I said as we entered the lounge again.
"David, please." David said to me, watching Finn walk across to the window. He followed and I heard him trying to sound casual.
"The play house is still there Finn- do you remember? You loved to play in there, you helped me build it."
"How long have you and him been together?" Steven said to Finn from the chair nearest mine.
"I see it," Finn said to David as if he hadn't heard Steven, standing with his hands twisted in front of him.
"You begged and begged to stay out there one night, but you didn't even make it to midnight before you came running back inside," Steven said into the silence.
"He was only six." David said in the same mild tone.
"Liss, I could really use your help in the kitchen," Tara said, getting up. "We'll have lunch ready in a short while."
"How long HAVE you and him been together?" Steven repeated, looking at me.
"About five years." I said easily, not quite sure of his tone. I wasn't comfortable with it.
"And you're a physiotherapist? What does he do?"
"Finn would probably rather explain that to you himself." David said before I could answer, looking at Steven.
"I'm a freelance fitness consultant," Finn said shortly.
"What, you tell people what -"
"I set up fitness routines for those that are interested in taking better care of their bodies," Finn said bitingly.
Since Steven had a distinctly comfortable roll around what was otherwise a fairly flat stomach, I stifled a smile at that. Finn walked past the piano and cast a quick look at David.
"What is it you do?"
"I write music for advertisers," David said, coming with him and running his fingers over the keys. He seemed to be hovering over Finn, I was aware of him doing it, and I knew better than anyone that Finn- while he actually is a very affectionate man on the quiet- doesn't easily do closeness, particularly with people he doesn't know well. We have old friends he isn't comfortable being touched by and wouldn't consider anything more than a brief handshake with.
"Anything I would know?" Finn asked, moving around to the other side of the piano.
"If you shopped for a Dyson anytime in the last six months or so, my jingle is on that. Mostly played by Tescos when they advertise."
"I know that one." Finn gave me the ghost of a smile. "From the office tv. We don't own one."
"Mostly we run. Or work out in the evenings. Or walk." I said to Steven, seeing his expression. "Two sports freaks together."
He didn't look impressed. I glanced back to Finn, wondering if we'd happened upon a homophobe here. That was likely to be awkward if true.
"A lot of kids could do a lot better if their parents promoted more of that, rather than the television as babysitter," David said, coming back to sit down. Finn stood looking outside a moment longer before heading back to the couch. The atmosphere was getting distinctly more strained.
"So you want to tell us what happened at the children's home?" Steven said bluntly into the hush.
David looked perturbed and opened his mouth, but Finn looked round at Steven, one eyebrow raised. I knew the expression. I saw a sarcastic doorman get a fat lip once after Finn looked at him like that.
"What happened? What do you mean?"
"You learned to play football it seems. Did you stay there until you were eighteen or did you leave on your own before that?"
"I left at sixteen." Finn said shortly. "Got a job. Paid my way through college."
"And you didn't remember anything at all?" Steven said in the same tone.
I saw Finn's jaw tighten but before either he or I could speak, Melissa entered the room with news that lunch was served. I stood up and followed Finn closely, ensuring that he and Steven didn't get too close. Steven was starting to worry me.
It was a classic Sunday lunch, despite it being a Saturday - the typical family get-together meal, and I couldn't help but see Tara's eyes on Finn, or the way she took the chair nearest to him and took his plate, serving him with the meat sliced on the plate.
"There - help yourself. Craig?"
She held out her hand and I passed her my plate with a smile of thanks, appreciating her warmth. She was by far the best of the family at hiding her anxiety.
"I never have liked swede. Or pork." Melissa said rather petulantly across the table, watching the meat being lifted from the dish.
"Which is why there are a few slices of turkey here," Tara said smoothly, giving Craig his plate back and taking Melissa's. She finished serving the meat and immediately started passing the dish of roast potatoes and the several dishes of vegetables and a jug of gravy.
"Pork was YOUR favourite." Steven said, spooning potatoes onto his plate and looking at Finn. "But I suppose you don't remember that either."
"Steve." David said quietly.
"What?" Steven asked him. "I'm curious. Aren't you?"
"The police explained." David told him, but I caught the rather anxious look he cast at Finn and then his wife. "This is hard enough for Finn and it's to be expected that he shouldn't-"
"Remember one damned thing." Steven finished for him. "Yes."
"Steven!" Tara said sharply enough to get his attention.
I admit, I was relieved to see him at least drop his eyes in deference to his mother.
"We've heard about your jobs." Tara said with determined warmth to Finn. "Did you know David does advertising jingles?"
"Yes, he was telling us." I said when Finn didn't answer, apparently deeply absorbed in cutting a slice of pork. "Must be interesting work."
"The turkey's too cold." Melissa said to her mother in a tone that reminded me of a little girl, whining in a restaurant. Tara held out a hand for her plate.
"I'll put it in the microwave for a moment." She got up and David cleared his throat, looking back to Finn.
"You two have a flat, I remember the police inspector telling me?"
"Yes." I said when Finn didn't respond. "We're on the fourth floor with nice views out the large windows. Very open. I wouldn't mind having the lovely landscaping you do though."
"Thank you," Tara said graciously as she brought Melissa's plate back. "It was something we could do instead of worry. Most of it doesn't need daily care now -"
"As it did when we lived here," Melissa interrupted. "We used to help mow what seemed like every other day."
"But that's what you do for family, isn't it?" Steven commented through a forkful of food. Finn said nothing and looked at no one, continuing to eat slowly. I didn't know how he was managing it: the meal smelt wonderful and it was turning to ashes in my mouth. I'd never realised how very true that cliché actually was.
"How did you come to choose the flat?" David asked with despairing brightness. Finn continued to eat. I gave up and put my fork down.
"It was a new block overlooking the park. We couldn't find anything else we wanted. Finn likes open spaces, plenty of places to run."
"Yes, he's good at running." Steven murmured.
I didn't know how to respond to that at all. I could see how upset David and Tara were: Finn, eating in total silence and Steven and Melissa behaving - well. If I was honest, like a pair of spoiled children.
"I don't like the potatoes, Mum." Melissa announced pushing them away across her plate. The pettiness of the gesture surprised me.
"Have some more vegetables then," Tara told her, passing her the tureen. "Help yourself darling. Finn, have some more potatoes?"
"No, thank you," Finn said, his first words at the table.
"You can have more," Steven said. "Might as well take as much as possible."
My jaw was tightening with the effort of not telling Steven what I thought of him, but Finn had finally had enough. He set down his knife and looked directly at Steven, his head very slightly ducked so that he was looking up under his eyebrows.
Steven put his fork down and sipped water, giving Finn a careless shrug.
"Well you're clearly here for what you can get, aren't you? We haven't seen hide nor hair of you for years, you don't 'remember' until the year that Dad retires and his pensions kick in and he and mum are worth something-"
"Steven!" David said sharply.
"And now here you are," Steven went on with brittle false cheer, "Don't remember a thing, but here you are, with your boyfriend-"
"Leave Craig out of it." Finn ground out, standing up quickly enough that his chair fell over backwards. "I didn't ask myself to dinner."
"No, it was all coincidental wasn't it?" Steven snarled back, pushing his plate out of the way. "How stupid do you think we are? If you don't want what you can get out of us now, what the fuck DO you want?"
"To be left alone." Finn snapped back, and stormed out of the dining room. David and Tara sat frozen. I knew Finn was heading for the door and I got straight up and followed, doing what I could to keep up with his stride. Steven erupted after us with a crash that hurled the dining room door into the wall. The bang shook the house.
"You've got no bloody right to set foot in this house! How dare you!"
"I was asked!" Finn spat back, although he'd stopped, at bay just inside the front door. I was standing between them and sweating, and I seriously wondered now if I was going to find myself in the middle of a fight.
"Steven, please!" Tara said from behind us, her voice breaking. Steven didn't appear to have even heard her.
"How could you forget seven YEARS of life here? We went through HELL for those years after you disappeared. We went through hell and you just forgot about us!"
"I don't give a damn what you think!"
The front door was slammed open and Finn stormed out onto the porch and down the steps. As much as I felt badly for Tara and David, my loyalty was to Finn and he needed me far more than they did. I saw David with his arm around Melissa, Tara leaning against the wall, tears in her eyes, and Steven, face a bright red. I barely registered that I heard Tara say Finn's name, breaking into tears as he slammed the door shut on the car, rolling up the window for more privacy.
Oh God this was ugly. This defined ugly. I was half way across the lawn when Steven barrelled past me, ripping the car door open. If he'd had the car keys I knew Finn would have gone - with or without me, the whites of his eyes were showing like a bolting horse. Steven's face was still scarlet and I broke into a jog, seriously expecting Finn to throw a punch. Steven's yell hurt the ears.
"Don't you bloody DARE run away from this! Have you got ANY idea what you've done, you bastard? Have you got any idea at all what it was like?"
"Stop it." I ordered, getting between them. I didn't touch Steven, I knew he would have taken a swing at me, but he raised his hands and stepped back, still looking at Finn.
"Every bloody Christmas and birthday was terrible. We were never allowed to enjoy them, they were always days of mourning for you. Tears and silences, we used to flaming DREAD them. Do you know what that was like? We were never allowed to go anywhere alone because of you, because we were the only ones left - and we weren't even good enough to fill the hole you left. WE weren't the kid they wanted. Nothing could replace Sam. Saint fucking Sam was gone and the world had ended and Liss and I just had to make do with what was left over! YOU caused that you sod! YOU went off with some fucking stranger and now here you are, not a mark on you, and you say you don't remember? You were SEVEN YEARS OLD! Seven's old enough to use a phone! It's old enough to post a bloody letter! It's old enough to TELL SOMEONE! And you want us to believe you did NOTHING? You liar! You bloody hypocrite!"
Finn flew out of the car, pushing me roughly aside and grabbed two handfuls of Steven's shirt, the buttons popping loose under the stress. He has an appallingly efficient left hook when he's really lost it, but he only shoved Steven backwards with all his strength.
Steven tripped and landed hard on his backside and Finn took off down the driveway at a dead run. I barely spared Steven a look as I shut the passenger door and made my way around to the driver's side. Finn was fast, he was already at the street, choosing to run away from town rather than run down the road in front of the house. I backed into the turn around and headed out of the driveway, feeling at once both sorry for Steven and furious with him for attacking Finn. As I left I caught a glimpse of Tara and Melissa clinging together in the doorway and David pulling Steven to his feet. It was only a split second that I saw them, but it was long enough to see that David had pulled Steven into his arms and was holding him tightly, cradling him, and although Steven was as big as he was, he was clinging to David with all his strength.
I followed Finn's progress with my stomach churning and my mouth and throat dry. Finn was running at a pace that he'd tire of quickly, rather than the steady run he could keep up for miles. I bided my time, having to stop once and losing sight of him over a hill while a farmer trotted a small herd of sheep across the road. I was afraid to stay too close to him as oncoming traffic would avoid me and potentially run him over in the process. I crested the hill and looked down the road, panicked for a second when I couldn't see him. Then at the side of the road, I caught sight of him bent over next to a tree. I pulled as far off the road as I could, leaving the warning lights blinking.
I've seen him run himself to the point of throwing up once or twice. Running is his answer to the worst stresses in his life, when he doesn't know what else to do to contain emotion. I put a hand on his back and he flung it straight off, not looking around at me. A moment later his shoulders spasmed again and he leaned over, retching again into the grass. I stood near him, not trying to touch until at last he straightened. Then I took his arm, pulled him around and hung on when he would have shoved me away. It took a lot of strength to keep the grasp and I could feel every muscle rigid and corded. He was whiter than a ghost and he was breathing quickly, I could see his chest rising and falling. He was just about letting me hold on, I wasn't going to get much closer. All I could do was put all the concern into my voice that I could.
"Finn? Honey are you all right?"
He raised his arms - gently, but it made me release my grasp. I've never seen such a clear indication of 'back off'.
"I'm fine," he said gruffly, smoothing his shirt out.
This was the weirdest definition of fine I'd heard. I'd never seen Finn lose it in the way he'd lost it with Steven. I'd never seen him scream and shout. Fight, yes: I've seen him go silently for someone's throat, but he isn't a screamer. When he's upset he vanishes. And I could see him vanishing now, even as he stood before me. I put out a hand and tried to touch his cheek, about ready to die of guilt. This was my fault. I'd talked him into this. I'd caused that appalling scene of devastation back there. Finn stepped back, away from my hand, piercing me with a look that cut straight to the heart. If I couldn't remember the last few years we'd spent together, I'd have sworn that it was a stranger staring back at me. If I'd damaged him - if I'd added to the horrific damage that had already been done to him twenty years ago - then he wouldn't have to hate me. I'd be doing that all by myself. He was whiter than a sheet and he looked cold. Shock. I wouldn't have been at all surprised if he'd been in shock. As gently as I could, not trying to touch, I put a hand out, ushering him towards the car.
"Come on baby. It's all right. Let's get to the hotel, get you something to drink."
I wondered if he'd refuse to move, but to my relief Finn moved automatically to the car, getting in and buckling up. He was as close to the car door as was possible, every muscle taunt. I glanced at his family home as we passed it, the porch empty of everyone, then looked at Finn. His eyes were facing straight ahead, as if what had taken place in their front yard had never happened.
I turned onto the drive of the hotel a few minutes later and we walked silently together into reception where I signed us in, then up narrow stairs to the room we'd been allocated. It was fairly big- this was an old Victorian house, no more than twelve rooms in the entire hotel - and at this time of year we were quite likely the only guests on this floor. There was a small kettle and milk carton with teabags and coffee set out on a tray on the dresser. I put the kettle on, laid out two mugs and watched Finn walk across to the window, his arms tightly folded. His face was blank. No hint of anger, nor terror, nor sadness. There was nothing and he was working very hard at it. And the longer he managed to remain that way, the less I expected to ever see again. It was making me as nervous as hell. The kettle boiled and I poured two mugs of tea, sugared his and took it across to him, keeping my voice quiet.
"Here honey."
"No thanks."
I put it on the windowsill within his reach and tried to sip mine. "Why don't you try a shower?"
"No," Finn said, stepping away.
"You're cold."
"I'm fine." Finn settled, arms still crossed, in front of a picture on the wall, apparently deeply absorbed in it.
Ok. I put my tea down and sat down on the bed, looking up at him.
"No, you're not. There's no way you could be. That was a horrible, awful scene and I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry I talked you into going."
If Finn heard me, he gave no indication. I was at a loss as to what to do. It sometimes took a lot of work to get to the bottom of what was going on with Finn, but he wasn't giving me an inch. My over riding fear was that the more he clammed up now, it couldn't be long – maybe weeks, maybe months, or maybe just days - before we were two complete strangers occupying the same house. This truly had the potential to be the beginning of the end and I knew it.
"Finn." I said more clearly.
"I think I'll take that shower now," Finn said, turning away from the painting.
I put out a hand to catch his, evading his twist away to grab his wrist and hold it too firmly to let him pull free. "Finn. We need to talk."
"There's nothing to talk about. It's over and done with," Finn said, working harder on pulling free.
"Is it?" I held on, not letting him go. He hates the fact but I outweigh him by enough to be able to manhandle him. Which I have known to make him extremely annoyed in bed, even if we're playing. He didn't like it, but I could win if I tried.
Finn stopped struggling and looked at me.
"What are we doing about tomorrow?" I asked him quietly. "What are you going to do about Tara? Finn will you please just talk to me?"
"We're going home."
"You can just walk away from them?"
"From people I don't know?"
"I don't care about them, I care about you." I said shortly, not letting him move. "Can YOU just block this out? I saw how Steven upset you-"
"I'm FINE."
"Listen to me." I said again. "Finn."
"There's nothing to talk about," Finn said entirely too calmly while at the same time, jerking his hand from my grip.
"Nothing? Honey -" I reached over again, caught him before he could escape and made him turn back to me. "FINN. You're not going to blank me. I was there too -"
He had an expression of polite disinterest, as if he was listening to a particularly boring insurance salesman.
I stopped, trying to swallow my rising anger. Here we were, in the midst of one of the worst days of our adult lives- although by Finn's standards this had to be one of many 'worst days' - and he was just refusing to be here. Refusing to think, to feel, to hear, to connect to any of it. It wasn't deliberate either: Finn doesn't sulk, he doesn't do passive aggression, he wouldn't get the concept. But under enough pressure he shuts down, closes off. This must have saved him time after time when he went through the desperately hurtful and frightening events I knew he'd endured, but that was before us.
And if I was honest what scared the hell out of me right now was that I knew when he'd reached this stage before, he'd ended up running. I was seriously afraid that the coping mechanism would kick in without him thinking, and he'd bolt from me as well as the family.
"Finn, TALK to me," I implored, still holding one arm.
"About what?" Finn said politely.
"What do you mean about what?" I demanded, trying not to let my temper get the better of me. His calmness was eating into me like acid. "If you don't know what to say then try telling me how you feel. Or what you want to do. Because I don't want you to walk away with this all undone and have years of trying to -"
Finn raised his arm again, trying gently to slip my hand. That was it. I was seriously het up, that blank look of his was killing me and I knew he'd keep this up indefinitely. I wouldn't get near him. At some point during that realisation, frustration and emotion got the better of me and instead of letting go I did something I'd done only once, years ago, the first few weeks after we'd met when he'd been showing me that blank face and that infuriatingly detached, rigid calm.
I yanked, pulling Finn sharply to me and off balance, using my greater strength and weight to pull him over my lap like a teenager in a tantrum, holding him there in an embrace that all his struggling couldn't evade, and I brought the flat of my hand down across the seat of his jeans.
My grandfather had hauled me over his knee once or twice in my teens, an old man I had loved dearly and who had a hand like cast iron when he wanted to get through to my thick head. With memories of him, with memories of five years ago when I had demanded that Finn listened to me and let me tell him that casual sex and the occasional phone call had no place alongside what I felt for him, I slapped his tight, jeaned backside hard. Very hard. And I kept swatting, my hand aching more with each swat. I was vaguely aware of Finn struggling and tense, although I had a grip around his narrow waist that he wasn't getting out of, and his first few sounds were of shock. It made no difference. Even through denim and briefs, the outline of which I could feel through my smarting palm, he was starting to jump a little with each impact of my hand, and when I moved my hand down to cup the lowest curves of his backside and the top of his thighs, his legs began to jerk and his hips began to twist over my lap with anything but disinterest or detachment. He was here, he was feeling this, he was definitely now connected to me and what I was trying to explain to him.
It took only a few swats more. His twisting became frantic rather than furious, and then under my arm I felt his chest heave, his body shudder all over and all the stress rush up and out of his body like a seizure. I loosened my grip, scared out of my wits for him, and Finn slid to his knees on the floor, his hands locking on to my shirt. I was holding on to him so tightly that I slid too, off balance and clutching for him, pulling him hard against my chest. His dark hair was beneath my chin and against my chest, scattered against the white cotton of my shirt, and he shuddered all over. In five years I had never, never seen Finn cry. Tears were streaming down my face too and I hadn't even noticed them start. For a few moments we clung there together, him and me, all awkward legs and hard bones as we tried desperately to get close enough together. Finn twisted around and his arms clenched around my neck. He sat on the floor and clung to me until the two of us rocked with the sheer strength of our grip. I kissed what I could of his hair, saying things that barely made sense but which seemed to quiet him down. I rained kisses on his face, his eyes, his cheek and eventually he turned so that the next one was square on his lips. He bit at me more than kissed. He grabbed for me as if he was starving, and I wasn't much better. We hadn't been this rough with each other since very early on when emotion was new and raw and stronger than caring about bite bruises in the morning. His hands were on my face now, both of us wiping away tears that were filling our mouths with salt. His hands were the first to let go, nearly tearing the buttons of my shirt as he worked to remove it.
I grabbed for this jeans, loosening the belt as he pulled his shirt over his head. He stumbled up and I pulled his pants down as he pushed his shorts free before helping me to stand. I had started to work on my pants button but was pushed forcibly down onto the bed as Finn's hands made quick work of my button and fly. My pants were yanked down and I found myself rolled onto my stomach, pants now in a knot around my ankles.
Neither of us were thinking at all by this point. This was a routine we'd practiced until we were extremely good at it, and all I wanted to do was to touch him, be close to him, feel him as close to me as he could get; and if he wanted me, I needed him utterly convinced that I was, without doubt, his. We virtually ground together, and even after we were both spent the first time we went on, and on, moving from position to position, together, coordinated. It must have taken hours, but gradually it got gentler and gentler, involving more and more time spent pausing to kiss, to touch, until finally Finn subsided on top of me, rolled over and laid his head on my chest, out of breath and wet with sweat. My lips felt crushed and my ribs ached, but I couldn't have cared less. The weight of him against me raised tenderness almost too painful to bear. I lifted a leaded hand and ran it down his spine, which was damp with sweat. We'd long since abandoned all clothes and made hay of the bed.
"I love you, do you know that?" I asked between a few last, deep breaths.
Finn lifted his head to look at me, and then grabbed my chin and leaned to kiss me.
"Yes. Me too."
That is usually as close as he gets, but today I held his head between my hands to make him look.
"You listen. You belong to me. Whatever else, whoever else, it doesn't matter. I belong to you and you belong to me and none of the rest of it matters."
"Even if I am one hell of a disappointment?" he said wryly but softly enough to prove how much it hurt.
"Finn." I kissed him again, his eyes, his forehead, his mouth. "No one's disappointed in you. How can you blame yourself honey? How was any of this your fault?"
"I didn't get help." He said it helplessly, sounding bewildered like a little boy. "Steven's right. I was old enough to tell someone. Or do something. Anything."
"Do you know why?"
Finn shook his head no, wiping the back of his hand across his forehead.
"You were a child." I said softly. "You were only seven. You must have been terrified. God alone knows what the kidnappers told you or where you were taken or if you were threatened."
"Who knows? It's not like I remember, is it?" Finn said bitterly, laying his head down again.
I stroked his hair, not hearing the immediate question but all the things underneath it.
"You still feel like it wasn't you. Like there's been some kind of mistake."
"If it was me – if I WAS Sam – surely I'd know SOMETHING." Finn said softly and bitterly. "You'd think I'd know something. Anything at all."
How do you explain something you don't even understand yourself?
"The mind is -" I began, and Finn cut me off, impatient.
"A powerful thing. I GET that, what I DON'T get is why I can't remember a damned thing about it! I was there, I lived it, day by day. Why is it just gone and when did it go?"
"Shock." I said softly. "Trauma. You couldn't do anything about the situation you were in. Finn, God only knows what they said to you."
"Why does it matter what they said? Who said it? It means I must have given up wanting to get home at some point. Or maybe my home life was really bad and it was better wherever I was taken? Maybe it's all a mistake and I was never Sam at all. Who's ever going to know if I don't?"
I lay back, running a hand over his hair. It was damp, and I could feel the heat and the tension in his scalp below.
"Maybe 'gave up' is right, Finn. Maybe kids do eventually give up hope. Tara and David didn't strike me as bad people."
"No, they didn't," Finn said wearily. "Who knows, Craig? Why did I have to get involved in the assault in the first place? Why did the police have to reopen the case, why couldn't they just leave me the fuck alone? It's too late for this."
"We're kind of past that stage." I rolled over, resting my chin on my arms beside him. "You liked Tara. Steven was a bastard and he was clearly as jealous as hell."
"He was and Melissa wasn't much nicer."
"I liked Tara." I said honestly. "I didn't think there was anything false about her, or David. I liked David too. And I hate to admit it but I could understand a lot of what Steven was saying. They were damaged as much as you were."
Finn took a few breaths, and I could see his eyes, open and fixed on the ceiling.
"I do have to go back." he said eventually, heavily. "I don't bloody want to, but it's not fair. I at least need to make a decent goodbye to David and Tara."
I raised up on an elbow so I could touch his face. "I think that would be the right thing to do. Let them know there are no hard feelings and leave on a good note."
He didn't answer, but after a moment he lifted his head to kiss me and I pulled him closer, holding him. I don't think either of us slept until almost dawn, and unusually for us, we didn't let go either.
The house looked exactly the same as it had last night, but for less cars on the drive. Tara came out of the house as soon as Finn pulled into the drive way, almost running across the lawn towards us. I knew Finn had contact with barely any women, he just doesn't get on well with them - I suppose I should have thought more about why - but to my surprise he swung out of the car and took Tara's shoulders gently, allowing her to clutch at him. She sounded out of breath and very near tears.
"Oh Finn… Are you all right? We didn't know which hotel to look in or if you'd even talk to us - Steven isn't here, neither's Melissa. I'm so sorry-"
"I'm sorry too."
Finn put her gently back, evading what I suspect would have become a hug without much prompting on his part. David had followed Tara across the lawn and held out a hand to Finn, which Finn accepted and shook.
"I don't think" David said, putting an arm around Tara who looked very tearful, "Either of us thought about how difficult things were going to be all round. It must have given you a very bad impression of your brother, Finn. I'm sorry for that. Steven's usually a very gentle lad."
"It's all right, really," Finn said, moving over to let me shake hands with David.
"Please let Steven know we understand," I said, giving Tara a brief hug which she accepted with alacrity. I suspected I was something of a substitute for her struggling with her self control not to grab at Finn.
"He went to pieces after you were taken." Tara said unsteadily. "He felt responsible, you see? He was the eldest, he felt he was supposed to look after you - the fact it was me that lost you didn't make any difference. He had nightmares for years afterwards, all through the inquiries with the police and that was almost two years in itself. And Melissa just regressed straight back - she slept in our bed for months, one of the police women told me she thought Melissa was trying to fill the gap you'd left by being the baby. I should have thought why she was being such a madam yesterday – I don't think either she or Steven could help it, I really don't. We just never thought how hard this was going to be for them. I suppose we never did really understand how hard it was for them, because we were just trying to cope ourselves."
I looked at Finn, wondering what he was thinking, and almost in shadow of David, put my arm around Finn's waist. Tara gave me a shaky smile.
"Come on in. If you'd like to that is. I promise no screaming, no shouting, no dramatics."
We walked up the garden and sat at the wrought iron patio table in the sun, amongst well cut shrubs and flowers and drank coffee. Tara quickly established that we had not had breakfast and went to warm rolls, and David went with her. Left alone I took Finn's hand and squeezed.
Finn nodded. "Unreal."
I knew what he meant. An hour or two, politeness, then we could go home. Our lives were quite simple and we'd re-established that last night. Him and me, nothing else much mattered. Finn must have read my mind. He has an uncanny knack for it sometimes. He suddenly put out a hand towards me and his fingers brushed my chin, half a nudge, half a caress.
"I love you."
It was muttered, but oh God it was sincere. I'd never before heard him say it, openly, in daylight, straight out like that. My eyes stung and I grasped his hand, letting my fingers tangle with his.
We were still holding hands and Finn was sipping coffee when I heard him make an odd sound and looked across. He was staring over the tall, ash hedge at something, and when I started to ask, he put a hand out to grab at my shoulder.
"Am I going mad?
I looked with him, standing up to see better. The house opposite Tara and David's was a standard, urban middle class house, I hadn't given it a second glance, but the house name was clear in a brightly coloured tile, set in to the bricks at the front.
'Finn Uisce' was the house name, and below the writing leapt a blue dolphin. Finn has never been much into houses or names and I put my cup down, wondering what had bothered him.
"What's the matter?"
"You know which window that's opposite?" Finn said shortly. I glanced up. The window of what had been Finn's room as a child did look directly down at the house. Tara brought a plate of rolls across to the table and stopped, seeing Finn's expression.
"Finn? What's the matter?"
"The house," Finn said, indicating. "The dolphin sign."
"Do you remember it?" Tara said with her face lighting up in what I could see was pure hope. "Apparently it means 'fair waters' in Gaelic- or that's what our neighbours always told us when they lived there. You loved that dolphin picture when you were little. You spent hours staring out of your bedroom window at that sign and drawing the dolphins, you begged for us to have one the same on our house. In the end we got you a whole school of toy dolphins - rubber ones - and you wouldn't go anywhere without them."
Finn said nothing more but I could see the shock in his face. Finn. Had something stayed in his memory long enough that he had chosen his own name from something that he'd kept buried and his, that had been a means of secretly holding on to who at some level he knew he was? There was almost a defiance in the gesture.
It seemed incredible. And yet so very, very simple.
"I think I've got a few of them left," Tara began, "I could -"
"No, no," Finn said quickly. "I don't need to see them. Thank you, I was hungry," he said, taking one of the warm rolls and effectively ending the conversation.
I sat back, aware his hand was shaking slightly. He ate mechanically and Tara put out a hand, brushing it against his hair before she sat down. I hadn't realised, but her hair was almost exactly the same colour as Finn's. It was quite eerie to watch.
I steered the conversation back to safer ground, commenting on the beautiful land around them. Tara talked about the animals that were raised close by and the neighbours they saw on an infrequent basis. I kept an eye on Finn, seeing his eyes stray back to the sign several times though he was working hard to not look. David and Tara seemed to be making a very determined effort to be casual that morning. They'd clearly spent a lot of time plotting how to make this as easy for Finn as they possibly could, I could see the care and the effort behind it as they did their best to more or less take no notice of us, and all credit to them, they'd read Finn right: it did help. David puttered around in the garden near us for a while, then took a bucket and the hose and went further down to the drive to wash the cars, and after a bit Finn got up and went slowly down the garden to join him. I don't think they said very much to each other, but Finn's jacket came off within a minute or two and with his shirtsleeves rolled up he started on the second car while David worked on the first.
"Was he terribly upset?" Tara asked me anxiously, sitting across from me at the table. "I recognise that tight look you know? He gets that from David."
"He was for a while," I said slowly, looking back towards Tara as I tried to imagine someone else with Finn's characteristics first. "Mostly he's upset that he can't remember."
"I think that was what shattered Steven the most, that Sa- Finn just couldn't tell him anything at all." Tara turned her coffee around in her hands, looking in to it. "He used to get so angry about what he wanted to do to the people that took Sam - what he'd do to them, he had so many fantasies about being able to rescue Sam. And it did badly affect him and Melissa for the rest of their childhoods, how could it not? Five of us. All damaged because of what - this woman in Manchester who had him?"
"That's what Finn remembered. A woman, and a male guest that hung around for a while, but nothing much more until he was in school. He never talked about it, and now that we're forced to think about it, it scares the hell out of me what could have happened to him during that time." I looked up quickly. "I'm sorry - I didn't mean.."
"Oh you can't think of one thing we haven't already imagined." Tara said bleakly. "You don't want to know what we've imagined. I blamed myself for a long time. It was only a few minutes he was alone and I had felt perfectly comfortable leaving him there. It all changed when he disappeared..." Tara trailed off, looking back over to where her husband and youngest son were washing cars.
"Male guest?" she said after a moment with studied casualness that didn't take me in at all. "I didn't hear about him."
I could hear the anxiety in her voice.
"Some man who slept on the sofa?" I said, struggling for what Finn had told me. "Charlie. Used to give him money for fish and chips sometimes - this woman, Molly Green, didn't cook."
"Charlie?" Tara repeated.
I nodded slowly. "I'm sure that's what Finn thought his name was."
"There," Tara said very slowly, "was a gangling, red headed man, mid thirties, who used to walk the streets round here looking for gardening work when the children were small. He was called Charlie. He mended the garage roof for us and did the hedges, I took cups of tea out to him and chatted a few times - I always thought he was homeless, definitely no fixed abode."
"That was never mentioned to police?" I asked, wondering if Tara was thinking what I was thinking. She shook her head, looking rather white.
"No, not then. He seemed harmless and I don't remember him paying any particular attention to the children." Tara looked at me, eyes distraught. "Why would he have taken Sam? For this woman? If she was some girl friend of his?"
"Finn thought she was mentally ill." I said, racking my brains for exactly what he'd told me. "She didn't try very much in the way of parenting from what he remembers - she pretty much abandoned him in the end."
"But Charlie wasn't around the whole time?"
"I don't know," I said, putting my cup down. It wasn't going to do anyone good to contemplate what we didn't, and couldn't know at the moment. "Let me help you clean up."
Tara had tears in her eyes which she was doing her best not to let me see and I took care not to look as we took the cups and plates inside. We were washing up - something novel to me since I grew up with my grandparents and hadn't done this since my early teens in a domestic way - when another car pulled up and Steven walked across the grass towards the kitchen.
"It'll be all right." Tara said firmly to me. "I gave him a piece and a half of my mind last night - although he was distraught himself. He doesn't actually mean Finn any harm. Hello love."
Steven kissed her, stooping to return her rather tight hug which said a good deal more than his mother had, and then gave me a distinctly awkward look. This morning he didn't look nasty at all – just tired and anxious, with shadowed eyed as though he hadn't slept.
"Hello. Sorry I'm back. I didn't mean to turn up again but I kind of -" he glanced out of the window at the drive where David and Finn were still working. "Couldn't keep away. I'm sorry Mum."
"It's all right," Tara touched his cheek and turned back towards the sink. "Put the kettle back on if you'd like, it's still hot."
"I'm fine," Steven said, pulling out a chair at the kitchen table. "I wanted to apologise for yesterday, to you and Finn both," he said carefully, looking at me.
"Thank you," I said as calmly as I could, putting down the mug I'd been drying. "Don't think we don't understand. It was a hard day all around."
"No kidding," Steven agreed. "Is he ... is Finn feeling better?"
That wasn't what he'd started to ask and I could hear the genuine anxiety in his voice which warmed me towards him in spite of myself.
"Ask him yourself," I said as Finn and David came into the house. I turned back to get another dish to dry, hoping Finn's hackles wouldn't raise at the first good look at Steven since yesterday.
Finn did stop in the doorway with David behind him and without thinking David put a hand up on Finn's shoulder. I wondered if Finn knew he was there or felt the protectiveness I saw in the gesture. He and Steven looked at each other silently for a moment. Then Finn came into the kitchen and held out a hand and Steven gripped it.
"I'm sorry." Steven said still more gruffly. "No excuses. Just a hell of a shock."
Finn didn't say anything in return, but he didn't pull his hand away either. Tara took no notice at all and asked Steven to get her something out of the freezer. David went to wash his hands, and although it must have been a serious effort they again carefully left us to do as we pleased, taking no more notice of us as though we'd been an accepted part of the furniture. With the attention off him I was aware that Finn was visibly relaxing.
A few minutes later the kitchen door was opened and Melissa rather tentatively looked around it. Steven met her at the door and after a hurried few words in voices too low to hear, they both came back to join us.
"Hi Mum, Dad...Finn." Melissa looked down quickly, then back to her mother. "I saw these at the market today and thought you'd like them."
"Thank you," Tara said, accepting a bouquet of spring flowers. "I'll put those in water."
Steven didn't say anything at all, but as his sister passed him I saw him hook an arm around her neck, pull her head over and kiss her cheek.
Finn got up and wandered across to the kitchen door without meeting Melissa's eye. In the lounge I heard a piano start to play. Melissa, looking thoroughly awkward, gave me a forced smile, digging her hands in her pockets.
"That's Dad. He always plays when he's nervous."
It was a shame she'd said it: her parents were trying so hard to be relaxed. With Steven and Melissa in the house, I was starting to look at my watch and wonder how soon it was before we could leave. David’s voice, a curiously gentle and husky baritone could be heard singing over the piano in the lounge,
“…down by the quay
The winds of night so softly are sighing
Soon they will fly your troubles to sea.”
I glanced at Finn to catch his eye and indicate we could start manoeuvring towards a polite goodbye - and found that his face was absolutely colourless. I put my hand on his shoulder, alarmed, and he was rigid. Barely breathing. Then he slipped out from under my hand and went into the lounge like a sleepwalker. It was a simple waltz tune in a minor key, sad and sweet, and I caught sight of Steven leaning against the kitchen doorpost, his eyes on Finn, his face white and his arms tightly folded.

“Dad couldn’t play that for years without crying.” Steven said softly, seeing me looking. “He used to sing it for Sam; it was one of Sammy's favourite songs.”
Finn wasn’t looking at the piano or at David, but through the glass of the window without seeing anything, his eyes unfocused. David saw him and the music stumbled for a few seconds, he nearly stopped, then I saw him change the pattern of the chords and begin the waltz again from the beginning, singing in a far more hesitant tone.
“A gentle breeze from Hushabye Mountain
Softly blows o'er lullaby bay.
It fills the sails of boats that are waiting--
Waiting to sail your worries away.”
Finn didn’t move, I didn’t even see him breathing, then he suddenly took a convulsive gasp and I saw the tears spill down his face, not one or two but a silent wash that kept flowing. I took half a step towards him, then made myself stop, folding my arms tightly as Steven was doing. David was watching him intently, and his own face was wet, although somehow he kept on singing, managing the words despite that he was sounding increasingly choked.
“So close your eyes on Hushabye Mountain.
Wave good-bye to cares of the day.
And watch your boat from Hushabye Mountain
Sail far away from lullaby bay.”
Finn was still standing stock still, his eyes staring at nothing and still flooding with tears as David stumbled up from the piano. He moved very tentatively, but when he put his hands out to take Finn’s arms, Finn stepped blindly towards him. Very awkwardly David folded both arms around him and Finn slowly bent his head down to rest on David’s shoulder, the two of them absolutely silent.
I stood where I was for a moment, aware my own face was wet, and when I turned, Steven was crying, a hand over his mouth to silence himself. I touched his arm as I went past him, walked softly through the hall and let myself out into the garden, leaving the Curtis family alone together.
It was a long time before Finn came out. He was very pale still, his eyes red, and he looked disoriented. Shocky. I got up from the bench and went to him, and Finn buried himself gratefully in my offered hug. He was shaky and cold, despite the sunshine. I cupped his head in both hands, tipped it back to see his face, and then kissed him, with all the tenderness and sympathy I could put into the gesture.
“Are you all right?”
Finn nodded, sniffing slightly, and managed something approximating a smile. “Yeah. God, that was the weirdest experience.”
It was so HARD, not to say as the Curtises had been saying all yesterday, “Do you remember? WHAT do you remember?”
“What was?” I said gently. Finn sat down on the grass and I took a seat beside him, wrapping one arm around his denimed knee.
“I don’t know his face. But I KNEW his voice and that song. Not just knew it, I’d seen it, I’d been there. I used to sit on the wooden piano stool beside him, I remember the music piled up on top of the piano, I remember the sweater he was wearing, I knew that was my dad. I’ve always HAD that memory, I don’t know why it didn’t connect.” Finn shook his head as if he was trying to clear it, and rubbed at his nose. “It’s the weirdest sensation. I never had forgotten, it was just- not connected up, like it was misfiled.”
”David singing?”
Finn gave me a shaky, somewhat disbelieving smile. “I know. I know that it was David I can remember.”
There was nothing I could do but sit there and hug him and watch him, shaking a little, still tearful, but not anything like in a bad way. Two days ago I had never seen Finn cry, and in the last twenty four hours I'd seen him reduced to terrible tears and these not-so-terrible tears. It was an odd experience, and like last night, it was a struggle not to let my own eyes prickle to the point where I ran a serious risk of joining in.
Melissa crossed the lawn towards us and I straightened up, discreetly nudging Finn. She looked odd -- determined, something hugged in her arms, and Steven was trailing her at a distance, his hands dug in his pockets. Melissa knelt down in front of Finn and sat on her heels, and I looked with him at the very battered old lunch box she laid down on the grass. It was incredibly seventies, I remembered that kind of thing from a kid, and it was filthy, cobwebbed and battered.
"What's this?" Finn asked, and I heard the slight cough first to make sure the words came out normally rather than squeaked.
"Open it," Melissa said, sitting back. "It's a little worse for wear. It's been stuck under the floorboard in my old room."
"Liss....." Steven said in an odd tone, and I realised he was hanging back, his hands in his pockets, the peculiarly sullen, defensive expression from yesterday on his face again.
"It's ok." Melissa said, pushing her hair back over her shoulders.
"No it isn't," Steven muttered. "I told you, we don't-"
"Yes we DO." Melissa flung herself up to her feet and for a moment I could see the little girl she must have been, the brown hair swinging, the fierce face under the fringe.
"You saw him with Dad just now. And Mum told me."
"Told you what?" Steven said blankly.
Melissa grabbed him by the arm and turned him around, pointing across the road to the house where the blue dolphin sign hung.
"Finn. FINN. You remember. He called himself FINN. How the HELL can you not believe now?"
Steven looked at her in shock and I saw the connection dawn on him.
I stopped watching their interactions when I heard my partner's sharp intake of breath. He'd snapped the lunchbox open and pulled out two, worn dolphins. They were both a blueish-gray color, one being stuffed and the other a rubber toy that was probably made to go in the bathtub.
"I told you." Melissa said quietly, letting Steven go. She sank back down onto her knees, watching Finn stare at the two battered toys. "I kept them. Mum and Dad - they got rid of everything in the end, all of it, so I took these away and hid them, years ago. I kept them hidden, I couldn't bear to see them go. They're yours."
There were a couple of other things under the dolphins. Something red, an item of clothing. A battered large marble. A tin car with a wheel missing. Finn pushed aside the clothing and pulled a card out of the bottom of the box. It was yellowed with age and had obviously been opened and closed a lot. When Finn opened it, he could see signatures in bold felt tip: 'mum' and 'dad' with lines of x's, 'Melissa' in an uneven and childish hand, and 'Steve' in Steven's slightly more mature child's handwriting. Under Steven's name, in the green pen he had chosen, there was a note that once Sam was good enough on the drum, they might let him join the family band.
"We used to play a lot." Melissa said, a little unsteadily, trying to smile as she read over Finn's shoulder. "Do you -" She stopped herself and put her hands on her knees, hunching her shoulders. "Dad breathes music, it's in the house all the time, we all played instruments. We always teased that you had to do percussion because you were the youngest and no one else would. It was why Steve gave you the drum."
Finn was still staring down at the box and the rubber dolphin that he hadn't yet let go of. Steven slowly crouched down on Finn's other side, until the four of us were making a small circle on the grass.
I don't know how long we sat there. Finn was against my shoulder, but looking around the circle, Steven's face, Melissa's face, Finn's face - I had the oddest sensation of seeing kids' faces on the adult bodies. The same coloured hair on each sibling. The similarities between each face. I didn't know if I was seeing what I wanted to see, but I could recognise the connection between each of the three.
It was Tara who called to them, and she sounded somewhat hesitant, as though she was reluctant to interfere.
"Kids? Tea."
It was a habit: I could hear the automatic collective word which two of the siblings around me knew well, and which to one was a new - or a very long ago - call. Finn was the last to stand up, and it was Steven who absently put a hand out to pull him up, with a slight nudge at his shoulder once he reached his feet. It was anything but aggressive, and I saw Finn look over with something faint, approaching a smile.
I hung back as the three of them walked up the lawn towards the house, Finn carrying the dolphins, Melissa gathering up the box. It didn't seem right to interfere. Tara and David were in the kitchen, I could see David watching from the doorway. This was a private moment. Steven had chosen not to bring his wife here, this was for the Curtis family alone. It was not a sense of being unwanted - more a sense of this being something too precious to step into. I had no place here. I moved quietly away down the lawn, intending to take myself away for a walk.
I had no idea how this was going to pan out. We would go home tonight - and I could see that it would not be long before Tara and David needed to visit our apartment, they were not going to be ready to let Finn far from their sight for a while. The phone and the email would be busy. Finn and I had never been domestic people: this was going to be a new and interesting experience for both of us. And Steven intrigued me too. His aggression yesterday and his inability to stay away today said too much to me: there was a huge amount of emotion in Steven for Finn. We were going to see a good deal of him too.
It was going to take a long time, and a lot of work on everyone's part to draw this shattered family together. I could see that Tara and David had nothing but love for Finn, but they were going to need time to learn about the person their son had become. Steven and Melissa would need time to sort through their feelings, both of love for their brother as well as the anger at him for disappearing and wrecking the happy childhood they'd had. Finn was going to have the toughest job of all. He was going to be fighting to remember what he'd lost, with the very real possibility of remembering too the intervening years and whatever bad things may have happened to him, and that scared the hell out of me. He also had to learn how to be a family again, how to accept there were more people out there than just me who cared very deeply for him. I didn't think Tara would put up with a standoffish attitude for long.
My musings were interrupted by a tug on my hand. I looked up in surprise, not having heard Finn approaching.
"This is a family tea. That means you too."
"You go play on your own," I told him, starting to detach my hand, and Finn hung on, walking backwards to get in front of me.
"Hey. You got me into this. You can come do the domestic thing too."
"I'm not doing the scene from Annie." I told him, letting him pull me around. He laughed, and I paused to kiss him, a brief and gentle exchange. The stress was gone from his body: he looked young, and at ease, and calm; and that in itself made my eyes sting.
In the doorway of the kitchen, I saw Tara watching. She smiled when I caught her eye, and it was Finn's smile, I felt the jump of recognition in my chest. It is the most bizarre thing in the world to see someone you love in the face of a stranger.
Hand in hand with her son, I walked with him, slowly up the lawn towards the house.
~ The End ~

Copyright Rolf and Ranger 2010


Anonymous said...

wow... such a powerful story! well done :)

Kitten said...

I have not stopped crying for way over half of this story..

Brilliant!.. powerful!..

Anonymous said...

Very well written, thank you for sharing

papergirl said...

Powerful is not enough to describe it.

The recent case here in the US of a girl held captive for years - herself having two children fathered by her capture who are now older then she was when kidnapped - these tradgedies just rip your heart out to think of.

We never used to believe it was possible but now we only can wonder how many many have suffered this way.

You made it soooo real in Finn.

I've read your stories(re read many times)for years now and I have to say you do have a talent
for getting to a persons heart strings.

Anonymous said...

This story is very powerful,I agree. I found Damien and Nick stories years ago and enjoyed them alot. Keep re reading them too. I just found these and I have to say you are one of the best on-line writers I have found. You are more than good enough to write main stream! (and if you have how does one find you?) :))

Ranger said...

Thank you very much. No, we're not main stream writers - not the time! But we're very glad you're enjoying reading.

Ranger said...

Papergirl - thank you. We read several accounts by people this had happened to which started out the story this became. Heart breaking stuff. As you say, we can only wonder.

Ranger said...

Kitten- awww, thank you.

Anonynmous - you're welcome, we're glad you enjoyed it!

DPreader said...

I discovered your stories this week and have been reading them at an alarming rate. I had to stop and comment after this one, however, as it's so well done. Difficult, and beautiful, and very real. Thank you.

Ranger said...

Thank you DPreader. This was an emotional story to write and I think one of our collaborations that I'm proudest of. It's lovely to hear you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

This story caught me off guard. I can relate so much to Finn..and the emotion. I loved it! Thank you so much for sharing.

Ranger said...

Thank you Anonymous, so glad you enjoyed it :)

Sarah Anderson said...

The warning on this story should read: Will make you cry, make sure you don't read it on the bus!
Thank you R&R! Great story, you really brought the emotion... I am absolutely addicted to your stories, thank you so much for sharing them with us.

Lady in Red said...

Beautiful, powerful and so real.
Thanks for these.

jen vieira pinto said...

What an amazingly heart-rending story. I'm glad it had a good ending, but the journey to get there was tough. My heart broke for Finn and I kept hoping he would remember who took him and the years he'd lost while with them. I wanted to see someone arrested for the pain they caused that poor family.

Thank you for another wonderfully written story with such in depth characters. You guys are amazing, R&R! Keep up the great work! ^_^

Anonymous said...

Such a fantastic story
No amount of words can give it justice :)
Thank you so much for writing and sharing :)

Always reading said...

Wow, brilliant, heartfelt, emotion oozing from this story. Thank you for writing it.

Anonymous said...

My God, this was so gut wrenching. It was sad but it was beautiful too. Nothing short of brilliant.

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.

Do you want to read the FCR Books
and Short Stories on your E-Reader?
Well, lucky for you, e-book files can be found in
both the Yahoo Group and the Discussion Forum.