SON OF THE CHAV PRINCE
Something changed that day. Nathan came home to find Damien sitting on Justin’s lap watching children’s TV, while Justin hugged his little boy. It was ‘Dad this’ and ‘Daddy that’ now.
‘You were there for him,’ Nathan said with a smile that night after it had all been explained. ‘You didn’t let him down like other adults have. He’s been desperate for someone to trust and love. He’s found you. He’s found his dad.’
‘Iss a bit awesome. It was easier when we were at war. Now there’s a terrible risk I’ll let him down without meaning to.’
‘Deep inside he’s a loving boy, just like you were. But you at least had your poor old mum to stick up for you. He’s not had anyone to count on, least of all Jade. I feel a bit weepy.’
‘I wish he’d treat you better.’
‘Let’s not cry for the moon. This is real progress. Any news of his mum?’
‘I had a call from the Walbrough police. They were just checking in, but they let it out that Jade had been sectioned. She was self-harming in between going catatonic and depressed. She had to be put away for her own good.’
‘Oh dear. And the little girl?’
‘She’s been fostered in the medium term, but if Jade don’t improve, it’ll be adoption. The police want to know about Danny. They need his evidence all the more now that Jade is out of things.’
‘You told Damien?’
‘Not yet, but I’d better say something soon.’
Justin put Damien to bed that night. There was a row about the earliness of the hour, but somehow it was not so bitter. When the boy had finally been dragged from telly and toys and wrestled into bed, Justin put his head down and for the first time kissed Damien’s cheek. Small arms came up and hugged him hard.
‘Night, yer little terror.’
‘Night, Dad … oh, and kiss Dr Ted.’ The teddy Gus had given Damien still had pride of place in his bed. Justin smiled and did as he was told.
‘When am I gonna see Gussie?’
‘When he gets back from wherever he is wiv Danny.’
‘And when can I see me mam and Sunni May?’
‘I dunno, but not soon, I’m afraid. Yer mam is in a special hospital cos she’s not at all well. I promise I’ll get you up there as soon as can be.’
‘What about my sister? I wanna see if they’re alright.’
‘I know that, our kid. I’m proud that you feel responsible for them. Jade’s still in Walbrough, though. Maybe when she’s sorted and got herself a little house I can take you up to see her so you can stay for a few days and check if she’s okay. That do you?’
‘As if you’d let me, terror tot.’
Damien gurgled with laughter, snuggled and was asleep in ten minutes. Justin lightly kissed his boy’s thick black hair before going down to Nathan.
Life went on in that way for three weeks. Broken sleep, urine-soaked beds, tantrums, dental appointments and battles over food and bedtime became normality for both Justin and Nathan. But the bitterness seemed to have gone out of the struggle. Damien was giving now, as well as taking.
Damien’s friendship with Mattie Oscott developed quickly. Damien’s behavior had soon improved to the point that he was often at Castringham House, where the Oscotts were staying with Andy Peacher. When Damien was there, Andy was contented. He had quite taken to his adopted grandson, and they seemed to chat very easily – probably because of Andy’s experience with disadvantaged kids.
A long campaign introduced the concepts of please and thank you. It was helped by the friendship with Mattie. When Damien was at Castringham Hall with Andy, Paul and Rachel, he was on his best behaviour. He wanted to please, and even his swearing subsided there. At Haddesley Cottage, however, his speech continued to be rough. That was, as Nathan said, partly his dad’s fault. Justin’s own language was ripe, and when he forgot himself, he was not much of an example to his son, though he found himself trying to do better.
Damien’s relationship with Nathan remained distant. Justin was not sure whether it was because Damien was jealous of Nathan, or just resented him. But at least the boy stopped being deliberately rude to him.
In exchange, Nathan did his best to accommodate Damien’s faddy taste in food, offering the old favourites of chips, fish fingers and beans, but slowly working to widening the menu. Curry turned out to be a new favourite, as was the traditional roast on Sunday. Damien would eat a mouthful of green stuff in return for extra roast potatoes. The boy filled out and looked healthy. His dental treatment ended its painful course and he had a mouthful of sound teeth behind his gap-toothed grin.
‘Looks cute, Son,’ said Justin as they gazed in a mirror.
‘Fook off, Dad,’ was the reply, but Damien laughed as he said it, getting a playful slap on the backside.
Nathan had gone to the Hall to create merry hell with his relatives after the day when Justin had found James tormenting the boys. Nathan rarely lost it, but that was the last straw for him about James. Yet despite all the hard words, he got nothing more from Lady Rosalind than assertions that her James would never do such a thing, and that small children were often mistaken.
When Damien was away at Castringham, Nathan and Justin could have sex, and they did so vigorously.
‘It’s quite recaptured our early times for me,’ observed Nathan after giving Justin a very thorough pounding. ‘We had to take it when we could get it in those days.’
‘Iss funny, but I juss can’t get it up when Damien’s around. He’s like some sort of walking, talking and cursing contraceptive about the house. An’ he still comes in our bed. He likes that too bloody much, if you ask me. I have to wear me boxers.’
‘Put up with it for a bit, chavvy babe. He’ll settle down.’
‘What about when I go back to work in September?’
‘He’ll be in school then. I can cope.’
‘I’ll do my best, honest, cross my heart.’
Despite the coolness between Haddesley Hall and Haddesley Cottage, the news that Gus Underwood and Daniel Hackness had been found in France was brought personally by Uncle Phil. ‘Yes,’ he told them over a coffee in the kitchen that Saturday, ‘Peter Peacher found those two working on his estate in France. They refuse to say how they got there. My feeling is that Gus must have made the acquaintance of one of the Peacher people at Castringham and was given a lift across the Channel.’
‘I thought the police had tracked them north,’ mused Nathan.
Sir Philip nodded wisely. ‘Ah yes. I imagine they did it to put us off the track, and then doubled back.’
Justin was unimpressed. ‘I hope you’re going to go easy on young Gus. He’s a good kid; the best.’
Sir Philip shrugged. ‘Augustus will soon be back in Medwardine School and away from that Hackness boy.’
Nathan looked displeased. ‘Are you still going to try to keep them apart? I would have thought you’d have learned better by now.’
‘Now Nathan, Gus is just sixteen. He’s always been a little on the simple side, and easily led. This infatuation is just a phase he’s going through. Part of … yes, part of his process of self-discovery. A year from now he will be entirely different. More grown up, I’ll be bound.’
Justin sniffed. ‘But in the meantime, how are you gonna keep ‘em apart? Iss not illegal what they’re doing.’
‘Maybe not, but it is objectionable for many reasons.’
Justin growled in reply, ‘Iss not perhaps about the fact that Danny’s parents live in Castringham Crescent, is it?’
‘Certainly not, dear boy. After all, we are very happy that you and Nathan are living together.’
‘Yeah, but common as muck though I am, me parents could buy Suffolk and still have enough to throw in half of Norfolk too.’
‘Now Justin, that is hardly the point.’ But Justin thought it was very much the point.
In the meantime, Gus and Daniel were being driven personally to St-Malo by Peter Peacher. Mme Cirier had hugged and kissed them goodbye, and had been quite caustic to Peter, as Gus reported to Danny when he translated her remarks. Danny was rather cherishing her description of ‘leur amour réel et tendre’. Peter had the grace to look embarrassed when she called him a Philistine trampling all over their sincere young love.
‘But Madame, they have homes and parents who are worried about them.’
‘Monsieur Peshay … if their unworthy parents had cared more about them, they would not have been here in the first place. They are two very fine boys, and I will miss them so.’
Peter was quiet until they reached Nantes, then started questioning them. Danny, sitting in the front, told their story.
Peter was gripped despite himself. When Danny finished, Peter said, ‘I rang Castringham from the house, so by now your parents will know you’re on the way back. I suppose you had better think of a way to deal with them.’
Danny snorted. ‘Easier said than done. You think it’s easy to go back?’
‘No,’ Peter quietly replied. ‘Look, you two. The reason I’m sure it’s the right thing for you to go back home and face your families is because I ran away from home at fourteen, and for a not dissimilar reason. I fell for a boy in my school, Jordan his name was. He died in a car pile-up last year in San Francisco. I went to the funeral. He was a beautiful kid, if flighty and moody. But my mom walked in on us naked on a bed, sucking each other. She was pretty damned vile about it, and threw Jordan out of the house. The only alternative we could think of was to run away. It was the high-security Peacher compound in Santa Barbara, so I was quite pleased with the way we pulled it off. We were just two teenagers after all.
‘My idea was to get to Los Angeles, look up my brother Andy – who is also gay – and take refuge there with Jordan. I don’t really think I had any other plan. Relations between Andy and me had not been good, so it was a pretty desperate move. Yet I arrived there and was discovered by Terry O’Brien, who was Andy’s chauffeur at the time. He was totally brilliant. He contacted Andy and got him to come back to Los Angeles. Then he arranged the reconciliation with Andy that changed my life for good.
‘It was Andy who talked sense into me about going back. The point was, he said, that time was on my side. I would soon grow up and be able to arrange my life to suit myself. All I needed was patience. And he was right. By the time I was fifteen I was living with Andy in Virginia, and life just kept getting better and better. It still is. Now I have my Oskar, the most perfect lover and partner I could ever have imagined. But if you’d told me all this when I was fourteen, I would never have believed it.’
Gus leaned forward from the back seat of the Audi. ‘It is a nice story, Peter, and I think I take your point, but it’s the discomfort of dealing with our families that preoccupies us at the moment. You at least had a loving brother who shared your homosexuality. Neither Danny’s family nor mine are in any way sympathetic. It may well be that our discomfort will be temporary, but it will nonetheless be acutely painful while it lasts.’
Danny agreed, although Peter still maintained that one day they would look on the decision differently.
It might have been guilt, but Peter put both the boys in a double berth on the ferry to Southampton. Despite the opportunity, they slept together chastely, holding each other as they dozed. They awoke when the tannoys announced their arrival and called drivers to their cars. They quickly dressed and found their way down to the Audi. Peter had provided an ample breakfast from a takeaway, so they silently sipped coffee from a carton and ate bacon baguettes from a paper bag as Peter drove them off the ramp and headed northeast towards London.
‘So why are we leaving the M25?’ Danny wondered when they passed Potters Bar.
‘I’m stopping off to see Matt … Matt White, Andy’s partner. He lives in Highgate.
‘Doesn’t seem to me that you’re in a hurry to get us to Haddesley.’
Peter shrugged. ‘Maybe not.’
Danny was impressed by Matt’s beautiful old town house. They were admitted by his PA, a rather fey London Welshman in his thirties called Dave. ‘He’s in his study, Pete. He’s in a mood.’ He gave Gus the eye as he showed them in.
Matt actually did not seem to be in a mood at all. He shook the boys’ hands warmly and thanked them for all they’d done for Justin and Damien.
‘You know about that then?’ asked Danny.
‘We all do. What’s more, the police want to talk to you again, Danny. That’s one reason I’m glad you’re back. Julio’s lawyers are contesting your statement and Jade is in no state to be a witness. I want that bastard sent down a long time for what he did to my grandson and his mum. If the Crown Prosecution Service makes a dog’s breakfast of it, I’ll take out a private prosecution, so help me. Anyway, Mrs Atkinson has made us a big lunch. We’ll have it on the patio in the sun.’
It was quite some lunch, and it was obvious that the boys had been expected. Peter and Matt chatted about acquaintances and friends. Danny looked quirkily at Gus. He felt rather too much like a small kid in an adult world. One piece of information particularly fascinated him. It seemed that Peter’s sister was about to get married, and suddenly what Danny had been reading in the celebrity rags he stacked on the racks of CostFayre in Walbrough clicked with him. Peter was the elder brother of the beautiful Harriet Peacher, who had been linked for some time with King Rudolf of Rothenia. She was about to become queen, it seemed.
‘Elaine is to be bridesmaid, along with the Princess Royal. She is impossible to be in the same room with at the moment. How Sylvia copes with her, I do not know. But she is to be given a genuine diamond tiara for the day. Dad had it made for her.’
Matt smiled. ‘And who is to be best man? Oskar? Ed Cornish?’
‘There’s the surprise, it’s little Henry Atwood.’
‘It’s not such a surprise. Rudi may be closer to Ed, but he owes so much to Henry. I do miss those boys. Henry was amazing as a production assistant, and he’s carving quite a career for himself as a news producer and personality for Eastnet. They’re planning on celebrating a civil partnership a few months after the royal wedding. I expect the king will return the favour and be Henry’s best man.’
‘I think you’re wrong there. I had the heads up that my brother Eddie will be Henry’s best man, and Fritz will support Ed. By the way, did you know that Henry and Ed are both Rothenian nationals now? Ed had to be when he joined the Rothenian army, and Henry followed on a few months ago.’
The two men smiled and paused. Matt suddenly remembered his other guests. He wiped his mouth with a napkin. ‘I’m sorry, you two lads, we’re forgetting ourselves. Terry has been telling me what you’ve been up to, though I have a feeling he’s left things out. But I really did appreciate what you did for Damien in Walbrough, and I know Justy does too. Pete told me you saved his corporation a bundle while you were in France. Everywhere you go, you seem to do people favours and you get nothing back. That doesn’t seem fair to me. So here’s one for you. If you want, Pete and I’ll pay for you to go through the sixth form at Medwardine, Danny, boarding fees and all. You can be with Gus for a whole two years. How about that?’
Gus looked surprised and then very pleased. But Danny was not quite so happy. ‘I dunno, Matt. That’s very kind and all, but I don’t see my parents agreeing to it. They’ll know why you’re doing it, and my dad has a very stubborn proud streak. He’ll look at it as charity. Also he dislikes public schools. Besides, how long will the Underwoods let Gussie stay at Medwardine when they know I’m there?’
Matt shrugged. ‘The offer’s on the table all the same. You may yet find a way to take it up. Now give me a hug, and you’d better be on your way.’
All too soon, Peter’s car reached the familiar lanes that led from Ipswich to Haddesley and Castringham. It was no joy to Gus or Danny to return home. The past six weeks had changed them both irrevocably. They had got used to independent living and found that as long as they had each other, it had suited them. They had faced the greatest challenge in life and surmounted it. They had left as boys and were returning now as young men.
A grinning Peter pulled into Haddesley Hall Garden Centre. ‘I’m bringing you here first because there’s someone who’s desperate to see you.’ They were barely out of the Audi when the front door of the cottage burst open and a small dark-headed boy raced out and cannoned into Gus. Delightedly, Gus lifted up Damien, who was shouting ‘Gussie! Gussie!’ He clung around Gus’s neck and kissed the blushing young man. Danny was grinning too.
When he put Damien down, Gus was astonished at the change in the boy. ‘My word, Damien, you’ve put on weight. Nice clothes too.’
The boy was indeed magically transformed. He was clean, beautifully turned out and obviously very happy. ‘You gotta come and see me toys. Dad got me a PSP! Mattie’s not got one. We plays on it. Oh, and I eats the green crap nowadays so I can kick Nathan’s arse one day.’
Danny was in stitches. Gus meanwhile was being tugged into the cottage, to be met with a huge hug from Justin. Danny and Peter followed on behind.
They settled around the lounge table. Damien sat on Gus’s lap and began an elaborate explanation of a game involving ninjas that he had mastered. To Gus’s credit, he focused entirely and seriously on what the little boy was saying, smiling to himself.
While that was going on, Justin gave Danny an update on Haddesley and Castringham. ‘It’s a bit dispiriting. The Underwoods don’t seem to have learned anyfing. They blame it all on you, Danny, when they’re not blaming it on me and Nate. We haven’t seen your lot, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. I saw your brother Wesley the other day when I was taking Damien for a walk in Castringham Village. I only got a nod from him, and a shifty look.’
‘I’m not expecting too much, Justy, believe me. Have I still got the job here?’
‘You certainly have. Nate wants to see you tomorrow at eight. Your bike’s still here, too. Nate’s got it across in the centre.’
‘Cheers. I’ll go fetch it and ride it over to Castringham, if Peter’ll bring the bags along in his car later. Sorry Gussie. I gotta go face the firing squad. I’ll see you here tomorrow maybe, okay?’
Gus put down Damien, and melted into Danny’s arms in a long hug, followed by a kiss. Then Danny turned and left, pausing as he reached the car park to gulp in air. A sudden feeling of loss had welled up inside him and left him desolate. He had not been separated from Gus for weeks, and it felt very weird to all at once be without him. It looked as though he might be apart from his lover for quite some while now.
Nathan was waiting in the centre with a hug and kiss. Danny nestled into the big and loving man, and when they broke apart he was assured that the job was still his and he was expected at eight the next morning.
‘How’s life with Damien?’
Nathan laughed. ‘We’re working on it. He’s a right little individual, but he’s decided he loves his dad and that’s half the battle won.’
‘And you? Is he OK with you?’
‘He seems to accept me as part of the package. There’s no reason for him to love me, I suppose, and I don’t think he ever will, but we put up with each other. He lets me carry him up to bed as a great favour. He even eats some of my cooking. “Chips are fookin okay,” he said the other day, though I’m sure it was because he thought his dad had made them.’
‘You’re a saint, Nate.’
Nathan laughed. ‘Saints don’t have the sort of thoughts I have when Damien trails into our bedroom at two in the morning, whining because his tummy hurts or because his bed’s soaking again.’ He looked serious. ‘But I love my Justy, and Damien is so much his son, I have to love him too.’
Danny reluctantly broke away. Getting on his bike, he kicked off and headed back through the familiar lanes to Castringham.