SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
There were no more visits to the hospital, not because the boys did not want to see Damien again, but because other visitors were appearing at his bedside whom they did not want to meet. They were alerted to this when the local paper mentioned that Sir Andrew Peacher and his partner were staying at the Regal.
Gus went and lurked in the Victoria Gardens opposite the Regal, hiding behind a pair of Danny’s shades. He reported that he had seen Matt White coming out of the hotel and had nearly wet himself, the man was so beautiful.
Danny laughed. ‘Little Damien may have the most glamorous granddad in existence.’
There were likely to be security men, lawyers and police all over the hospital, so they dared not go near it. Danny suggested they ring Terry to get an update on what was happening. Gus agreed. Terry had given them his priority number before he left, telling them to ring if he could help in any way.
‘Aha! How’re you two runaways doing, sweet babe? Sometimes I almost envy you, especially today when the accountants are in.’
‘We’re OK, apart from Gus blowing up the garage he was working at.’
‘No one was hurt, thank God, though the fire afterwards was spectacular. The reason I called is, we’re wondering what’s going on with Justin and Damien.’
‘Justin is on the phone to me, to Andy and to his lawyers for hours at a time. I’ve recalled him and put his deputy Brian in charge out in Japan. There’s no chance Justy can concentrate at the moment. I’ve given him till September to sort things out.’
‘That seems fair.’
‘I thought so too,’ Terry laughed. ‘DNA tests have already confirmed paternity. Your Damien Gardiner is indeed the son of Justin Macavoy alias Justin Peacher-White. Justin’s lawyers have petitioned for custody. Andy has put up the money for fees and is willing to fund a big pay-off to the mother if necessary. She’d be nuts not to take it, even if most of it would probably go up her nose. She is a problem though. She’s still not properly come round after the assault, they say it’s more post-traumatic stress than concussion. The little girl has been fostered temporarily.
‘The petition for permanent custody is in chambers with a judge at the moment pending reports from social services. It’ll probably take a few weeks to sort things out, although Justy has already been granted provisional access and custody. He’s leaving Tokyo tonight. I imagine he’ll be in Walbrough in two days’ time, that’ll be Thursday. I may even drive the boy up. Can I see you while I’m there?’
‘Sure. We’d love that, Terry. But we don’t want anyone else to know we’re here.’
‘Understood, sweet babe. Give me your mobile number and I’ll be in touch when I know more.’
Danny smiled at Gus. ‘I’m glad we rang up Terry. He is so cool. Somehow I feel safer knowing that he knows we’re here.’
Gus smiled back. ‘You don’t think he’ll tell on us?’
‘Terry? No. He gives me the feeling he knows exactly what we’re going through. He won’t betray us, I’m sure.’
Terry was waiting at Heathrow early Thursday morning for the British Airways flight carrying Justin Peacher-White. When Justin staggered on to the concourse of Terminal Four, Terry gave him a cheerful ‘Hiya, sweetness!’ as he took one of Justin’s shoulder bags.
‘I can’t believe this. Look, the lawyer’s e-mailed his picture to me. I gotta kid!’
‘And he’s the spitting image of you too, Justy. Come on. The car’s waiting for you. I’ve booked you a suite at the Regal Hotel in Walbrough. Andy and Matt are already there.’
‘Have they seen the kid?’
‘No. They think you should be the first. Look, Justy. Stop here, can you?’ Terry pulled his friend to a halt. ‘I’ve got to tell you that this kid of yours is pretty much fucked up, literally. Did the lawyers give you any details about his case history?’
Justin frowned. ‘Yeah. Sustained abuse and neglect since he was a baby, and a vicious rape and beating by his so-called stepfather before the police got to him.’
‘Then you know this ain’t gonna be easy.’
Justin’s frown deepened. ‘Look, Terry. You don’t know my history as well as you think you do. I don’t dwell on this and I don’t want you to repeat it, but one of me stepfathers spent a year sexually abusing me when I was ten. I’ve only been able to talk about it with Nathan and my dads. If anyone knows how this kid feels, it’s me. If anyone can show him that there’s an end to the black tunnel, then I can.’
Terry’s eyes had widened. ‘I didn’t know. I’m sorry, Justy. Maybe you are better able to imagine the state this kid is in than me. Just don’t expect to find him in any way normal. He’ll be a major challenge to anyone he comes near.’
Terry had driven out to Heathrow in Justin’s Jaguar, and they headed directly north. Justin slipped into jet-lagged unconsciousness before they reached the M25. He awoke when they hit the M62 and turned towards the coast. Reaching for his mobile, he called Nathan to chat for a while in a low voice.
When he finally rang off, he turned to Terry with a broad smile. ‘Do you know what Nate’s gone and done? He’s fixed up a boy’s bedroom in our cottage while I was away. What a great guy, eh?’
‘A great guy for sure,’ Terry agreed.
It was early in the afternoon when they pulled up outside the hotel. Justin found his adoptive fathers waiting in reception. There were hugs and kisses, despite the looks the group got.
‘Justy, you’re shaking,’ Andy exclaimed as he let his son go.
‘Wouldn’t you be, Dad?’
‘Yes, I guess I would. We’ve had lunch laid on in a private room. Come and get some food.’
Justin was preoccupied and sat listening absently to the gossip from Castringham Hall. Paul and Rachel Oscott had taken up residence for the summer with their little boy, Matthew Andrew, Andy and Matt’s godson.
‘Any more news of Danny Hackness?’ Justin finally asked.
Andy shrugged. ‘The boy’s disappeared without a trace, and there’s been no contact with him or Gus Underwood for a month now. They could be anywhere, and the worry is they’ve joined the invisible homeless in one of the big cities. I hope not. I met Sir Philip at a lord lieutenant’s reception last week. He wanted my advice as to how he could get access to homeless shelters in London. I told him he was on to a loser there. The charities are bound by confidentiality.
‘Phil’s other boy James was with him. He seemed curiously smug about his little brother’s disappearance. I don’t have any use for that boy, and I never have. He has the air of a child who enjoys pulling wings off butterflies.’
‘I liked Danny a lot,’ Justin observed. ‘I knew he wuz gay from the moment I first saw him. But running off with that charmless oaf, Gus? I couldn’t believe it.’
Matt broke in. ‘They’ll be ready for you at the hospital in half an hour, Justy. Andy and I’ll drive you there. Do you want to change into something more casual?’
‘What do you wear to meet your son for the first time in your life, Dad?’
‘Something absorbent, I’d guess,’ Matt laughed. ‘Off you go.’
Justin changed into jeans and a knitted top over a tee. He had a small wrapped present in his hand when he came down from his room. ‘Ready,’ was all he said when his parents took him to the waiting car, Andy’s big Mercedes.
He was completely silent as they drove to the outskirts of town. His fathers dropped him at the main hospital entrance and went to park. They told him they would wait till he asked them to come in.
Justin walked the corridors. He did not like hospitals, which only added to the discomfort of the moment. By the time he reached Paediatrics he was feeling rather ill.
Once through that door, and his life would change irrevocably. He would have a responsibility that would be with him all the rest of his days. But then he thought of his Nathan and how their relationship had transformed his life for the better. Squaring his shoulders like the courageous man he was, he walked into the wards.
Terry had changed into summer gear. It was a warm, slightly hazy seaside day and he was going to make the most of it. He strolled along Walbrough’s High Street and found a small Starbucks. While he was waiting for his strawberry frap, he rang Danny’s mobile.
‘Terry my hero! Sorry, but I’m in work. Can we meet later?’
‘Maybe, but Justy’s at the hospital now, and something tells me that tonight we will be involved in deep discussions about fatherhood and the law. Tell you what, give me Gus’s number. He’s free, is he?’
So a phone call brought Gus to the Walbrough Starbucks, smiling vaguely under his beanie.
‘How you doing, Gus?’
‘I’m feeling very well, thank you.’
‘Are you enjoying life on the run?’
‘Very much. I’m sleeping with Danny, whom I love dearly. I’m free of my horrible family, and I cannot remember when I’ve been happier. Of course, there is a certain instability and uncertainty to get used to, and our means are straitened. On balance, though, I feel that this is where I’m meant to be.’
‘That’s good. No, really. It’s especially good that you have someone to love and who loves you back, and so young too. But you’re a bright lad, Gus. You should be doing your A Levels and thinking about uni. It’d be criminal if all your talent was wasted.’
‘We have thought this through, Terry. It is possible to do A Levels in evening classes, and I have a feeling that I will gain the required grades at much the same time as my contemporaries. Then I shall proceed to university with my Danny, and we will still be together.’
‘You may find that more difficult than you kids think. The finances, even with student loans, will be very hard.’
Gus became meditative, which in his case meant that his entire face shut down and his eyes blanked. It was disconcerting for those unaccustomed to him.
Terry was a little creeped out by it. The prolonged silence began to make him uneasy. He needed to observe facial emotions to know what was going on in people’s heads, and Gus just presented a mask.
As Terry was about to suggest moving on, Gus resurfaced. ‘Terry, our families won’t accept that Danny and I are lovers. They would never let us sleep together and they hate us being gay. If we returned under their conditions, I would have a life so bleak that I really doubt I could survive. And even if by some miracle the Hacknesses and Underwoods realised this, in September I would still be off back to Medwardine, nearly three hundred miles from Danny. If you were building up to suggesting we return, I would think again. You mean well, I’m quite sure. You seem a very kind man. But we can be happy here, and nowhere else.’
‘I believe you, sweetness, I really do. But you’ve got be ready to move on. You’ve not been invisible here. While you were very brave saving little Damien, you were not exactly discreet. Justy has a file from Northern Security with a clipping of Danny’s heroism. He hasn’t read it yet, but he will. When he does, he’s bound to tell Nathan, and Nathan will be obliged to tell your father. Besides, the little kid took to you, Gus. He’ll want to talk to Justy about you. So tell Danny that you two had better have an exit strategy sorted dead quick, OK?’
‘I understand. Do you have any suggestions?’
‘Yes. When the shit hits the fan, ring me. I will help. I’m on your side.’
‘That means a lot, Terry. Thank you.’
The nurses were all crowded at their station, waiting for Justin’s arrival. Half a dozen pretty female faces beamed at him.
The sister shooed them away and turned to Justin. ‘Mr Peacher-White?’
‘That’s me,’ Justin croaked. His throat suddenly appeared to have forgotten how to utter speech. He was sweating and shaking.
‘Damien is through there. Now he knows you’re coming and is very excited. Please bear in mind, though, that however undamaged he may look, he is still in a good deal of pain. A lot of the damage, both mental and physical, you cannot see. So please don’t expect too much of this meeting.’
Justin nodded, then followed the sister into the side ward. His heart pounding, he focused on the big bed and the small body lying in it. Wide blue eyes were staring into his, and they were his own eyes. Tears briefly blurred his vision. Father and son looked at each other. The sister quickly checked Damien’s condition, and left. Still they were silent.
Finally Damien spoke. ‘You me dad?’
Justin cleared his treacherous throat and said huskily, ‘Yeah … yeah, I am.’
Damien looked at him again with grave accusation. ‘Well, where the fookin ‘ell have you bin all this time?’
Justin stabilised. He was pretty sure that children did not speak to fathers in such terms, but in the circumstances decided to let it pass. He sat on a bedside chair, moving a teddy bear in a doctor’s outfit. The kid reached out for it and cuddled it to himself when Justin handed it over.
‘Gussie gave me Dr Ted.’
‘He’s me friend, me best friend.’
‘Er … you wanted to know where I’d been.’
‘You a spy?’ Damien asked hopefully.
‘No … well, yes, sorta.’
Interest had now kindled in the boy’s eyes. This was more like it. ‘You gotta gun?’
‘Er … yeah, though I don’t use it much.’
‘Cool. Can I see it?’
‘It’s back home, locked in a box.’ Justin thought that maybe he should move the subject on a bit. ‘I brought you this, er … Son.’ He gave the small packet to Damien, who struggled up and tore the wrappings off.
Justin had scored. Damien grinned at his father. ‘Issa mobile … cool!’
Justin smiled across at his smiling son and felt very weird indeed. So this was parenthood. Scary and warm feelings all at the same time. ‘It’s gonna be a while yet before you can come home wiv me down to Suffolk, so we can use the mobile to talk if you want … oh, and you can use it to play games too.’
‘When you taking me and mam and Sunni May home wiv you?’
Justin did a double take. Who had suggested that to the kid? ‘Er … Damien. I want to take you home with me, I want to be your dad, but I already live with someone else. Your mum and Sunni May will see you sometimes, but we’re not going to live together.’
Damien looked sullen. This was not playing the way he wanted. ‘So you married then?’
‘No, but I live with … with Nathan.’
‘Nathan? Thass a boy’s name that is! You a poof?’
Justin coughed. ‘Er … er … yes I am.’
‘Fook, another one!’