SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
Leeds Station was rather different from what Justin was expecting. But then, everything on this trip was different from what he had expected. When the train had passed the River Trent and officially entered the North of England, Justin had been surprised not to find the landscape giving way to tundra and bare slate. There were lots of trees, and not a polar bear to be seen. Wakefield and Doncaster had looked like ordinary towns, no mineshafts and few chimneys. No women in clogs and shawls. Someone had been lying to him. Leeds had the most hi-tech railway station he had ever seen apart from Hannover, which had an excuse, being in Germany.
Justin joined the exit queue and crossed the concourse looking for the taxi rank. A shouted and mutually incomprehensible conversation with an Asian driver finally got him to the five-star hotel his new secretary at O’Brien Associates had booked for him. He looked down on the great northern city from the twelfth floor, and got busy on his mobile calling a list of contacts supplied by Terry O’Brien. He had booked the hotel’s conference suite for the long weekend.
Money was no object. He was going to be spending a lot of it over the next few weeks, and his adoptive parents, Andy and Matt, had insisted on contributing heavily. ‘Justy,’ Andy had told him, ‘you’re about to make us grandparents in our thirties. We either help you or take a contract out on you.’ He had grinned and agreed. It was all he could do to stop his parents from accompanying him.
‘What do you do if you actually find him?’ Nathan had asked.
Justin had shrugged. ‘Let’s get the finding done first.’
By Friday evening he had interviewed half a dozen local agencies. The size of the potential fee had brought them running. He would be seeing half a dozen more from the TransPennine Corridor on Saturday. On Monday he would make his decision and set the agents to work. Justin did not envy them. He had no clues beyond what vague information Sammy Jo could give – and she, as he reminded himself, was three fruit short of a basket.
Justin flicked on the widescreen TV before ringing his Nathan with an update.
Danny’s home life had turned into a nightmare overnight. His father had booked him into a psychiatric clinic with the doctor’s help and without his permission. His mother never stopped crying, and his big brother cut him dead. His sisters, the only members of his family he could talk to, just wanted to know what sex with another boy had been like. He told them they were sick. He rarely came out of his room apart from meals, when he sat at his end of the table glowering.
Work and Nathan were his only refuge. He and Nathan would talk for a long time in Nate’s kitchen after the centre closed. Danny began having his dinner there once home became intolerable. He was grateful to find in his boss both uncompromising friendship and the sort of support he had once taken for granted from his parents.
The silence from Gus continued. When he asked Nathan, his friend told him that Lady Underwood had taken Gus’s mobile off him, and denied him access to the phone. The poor kid was more or less under house arrest until the Underwoods could decide what to do with him.
The crisis finally came that same Friday on which Justin had gone to Leeds. Danny had refused point blank to get in the car to go to the psychiatrist.
‘I’m not nuts. I am not stressed, other than the stress you are putting me under,’ he snarled at his father. ‘So I will not go to the bleeding shrink!’
His father made the mistake of ordering him. Danny had gone past the stage of caring what either of his parents thought or said, and laughed in his father’s angry face. Then, unable to tolerate the pressure another second, he snapped. Turning his back on his father he stomped up to his room. He filled his shoulder pack with clothes and whatever else he thought he might need, swept up his money, cards and building-society passbook.
He was about to storm down the stairs when the ringing of his mobile brought him up short. He pulled it out of his pocket and stared at it for a moment without flipping it open. It was his former friend Alex, out to gloat no doubt. He was already thinking like a fugitive. Could his phone be used by the police to find him? He rather thought that might be possible, if he could believe television shows he’d seen where the villains had been tracked down through their mobiles. He put the device in the drawer of his bedside table. Then he dashed out of the house and rode away on his bike without a further word.
He abandoned his bike behind the garden centre with regret, and slipped into Haddesley Hall’s park. He crept through the grounds and round to the back of the Hall without being seen. He knew the kitchen door would be open. He sneaked up the backstairs and tapped on Gus’s door. A muffled exclamation came from the other side, so Danny went in.
Gus was under the duvet. He looked up with incredulity on seeing Danny, before leaping out of bed in only his briefs to sweep Danny against his warm, nearly naked body. Gus hugged his lover hard, crying all the while.
‘Oh Danny, I have missed you so much … how did you get in here?’
Danny kissed his boyfriend on the lips, decided he liked it, and did it some more. Finally he surfaced. ‘Gus, I’m leaving this dump. I’m going into Ipswich. I’ll take all my savings out, and then I’m going to run away. Anything will be better than the shit I’m wading through at the moment.’
Gus looked at him wonderingly. ‘Where will you go, Danny?’
‘I dunno. I’ll get the first train and see where it takes me.’
‘How much money have you got?’
‘Excuse me saying, but that is not very much to live on.’
‘I’ll get a job and earn more.’
‘I’ve got a better idea. I’ll come with you.’
Danny’s heart beat high. He hadn’t expected this reaction from Gus, but he wasn’t going to fight it. Running away in company was far less scary. ‘How much have you got?’
Gus gave a smile and went to a drawer. He took out a false bottom and removed bundles of banknotes.
‘Christ, Gus, where did you get all that?’
‘Oh, presents, tips from relatives, odd jobs. I’ve never spent any of it, and it mounts up over ten years. There must be £1,000 here.’
‘We’re rich! Or at least, there’s a chance we won’t starve, my … my babe!’
‘Can I be your babe?’
‘As long as you don’t think it’s silly.’
Gus’s eyes sparkled. ‘I don’t think it’s silly at all!’
‘Gus, you need to get hold of your National Insurance card, and your passport too if you have one. Anything else that means something to you would be good to take. We won’t be coming back.’
Gus went through his drawers, selecting clothes and finding a pair of walking boots, as well as trainers. He remarked that it might be a long time before he could afford new shoes. Danny suddenly wished he had thought of that. Gus had a big backpack which he filled. He thrust several books inside, and finally, with a sheepish smile, a battered little teddy bear. ‘Now you may think I’m the silly one, but I can’t just leave Tedness for James to torment.’
Danny grinned fondly at his lover.
After half an hour, they were ready. Danny aimed to take the next bus to town, which would be in a quarter of an hour. They sneaked out the back unobserved and went over the park wall at its furthest point from the garden centre. There was a major road on to which the Haddesley bus turned after leaving the village. Danny couldn’t stop some people seeing the pair of them on the Ipswich bus, but at least they wouldn’t be observed by the whole village. As it happened, the bus was empty.
Once in Ipswich, Danny led Gus to his building-society branch. He closed his account, and pocketed the cash. Following that they had a McDonald’s, smiling at each other over the table, before heading to the station.
‘The next train is to York via Peterborough, Gus. OK for you?’
‘It’ll do, as long as you’re on it.’ They bought single tickets, wincing at the price, and then boarded the three-car train. They hefted their packs on to the baggage rack and sat next to it. Gus had a Times and Danny had his iPod. They looked at each other as the train pulled out, filled with a mixture of emotions, which at least included sincere love for the other boy.
They reached York early in the afternoon, having dozed most of the way, and drifted up and down the platforms wondering where to go next.
‘Thing is, babe,’ mused Danny, ‘we’ve gotta move on from here. I ‘spect that if they set the police on us, they’ll find out from security cameras and receipts at Ipswich that we got this far. But we gotta chance of losing them if we move on. Now then … Manchester? No? Harrogate? No, I don’t know where it is either. Oh hey! Seaside. How about Walbrough?’
‘We went there once to visit an aunt in a care home,’ Gus recalled. ‘It was quite pretty – the place I mean, not the care home – and I would imagine there might well be a lot of seasonal employment. You have my vote. Oh look! That’s the guard and he has a ticket machine. We can buy a ticket on board and avoid the security cameras.’
‘Sorted then, Gus my babe.’ So they boarded the train to the seaside, and disembarked in Walbrough at four-thirty.
They sat in the station forecourt for a while, their packs at their feet, watching people flood by and taxis load and unload. ‘What now, Danny?’ Gus was clearly happy to let the other boy make the decisions.
Danny looked around. He spied a tourist information centre and led the way across the road. He smiled winningly at a lady who smiled back. ‘Er … my mate and me are walking the coastal path, and we need somewhere to stay tonight. Is there a cheap hostel you can recommend?’
In a thick Yorkshire accent, she answered that there was the youth hostel, but it was three miles further up the coast. Otherwise, there were a couple of inexpensive travel lodges. ‘I can ring through to book for you from here.’
‘Oh, could you? We need to base ourselves here for three nights over the weekend. That would be brilliant. A double room would be cheapest, wouldn’t it?’
She smiled, put through the call, and then made marks on a small town map that indicated the lodge’s location.
Thanking the lady nicely, they shouldered their heavy packs. The map led them down through a small urban park with a duck pond, then inland along a road lined with big Victorian houses. After five minutes they reached the Walbrough Family Lodge ‘(Walbrough Tourist Association Guesthouse of the Year 2004)’. They rang the bell, which was answered by a cheerful woman who found their booking, issued them keys and took them out the back to a block of motel-style bedrooms. She told them breakfast was served from seven till nine-thirty, and left them at the foot of the stairs.
Gus looked at Danny and smiled. ‘Easy so far, don’t you think?’
‘The hard decisions begin now, babe.’
‘Such as what, Danny?’
‘Well, which of us will sleep on the floor, to begin with.’
Gus stared at him, thought a while and then it clicked. He guffawed with his sudden bark of humour. He looked straight into Danny’s eyes and said, ‘I love you, Daniel Hackness.’
‘I love you right back, Augustus Underwood.’
They organised their possessions in the bedroom with some deliberation. Gus took charge of neatness, as he was good at it. There was a small en-suite shower room and toilet. Danny disappeared inside while Gus sorted out the storage. Danny undressed and returned naked after the necessary ablutions. Gus turned, saw him and gasped.
Danny gave a coy smile. ‘Clothes aren’t necessary here, y’know, Gussie babe.’ He had his boyfriend to himself now and he intended to make the most of his opportunities, since no one could stop them.
Gus undressed where he stood and threw his clothes on to a chair. Without hesitation they moved into each other’s arms and began kissing. Danny sighed as they broke off; thinking this was all so right. He seized Gus’s hand and led him to one of the twin beds. This time, with a bit more leisure to do it, Danny undertook a thorough exploration of Gus’s body. Danny’s excitement mounted as he moved fingers and lips over and inside his lover, fully satisfying his curiosity about his interior. They embraced and began moving against each other in a frenzy. As he was groaning his passion into Gus’s ear, Danny knew beyond question that he was gay, and gay was all he ever wanted to be.
‘Oh Danny! That was the best yet,’ Gus sighed as he lay on his back, holding his lover tight round the ribs.
Experimentation with each other’s body and the subsequent recuperation took the rest of the evening. They did not know what time it was when they eventually fell asleep, cuddled together in a tangle of arms and legs on one of the twin beds.