An English Teen,
Circumcised in the USA

by Riley Jericho

Ball Game

Extract from Luke’s Notes:

By lunch on the Friday of that same week, the fact that guys were 'giving a shit' and didn't care who knew it was beginning to spread like a bushfire. Whatever we had started, it was quickly spiraling.

Who’d have figured it?

On top of that, if you'd have asked me during the few days Ryan had gone AWOL if we'd still all be heading down town to Turner Field on Saturday afternoon, I wouldn't have given it good odds! Yet there we were, six of us squeezed into Lemar Quince’s Suburban, expecting to meet up with more at the gate because Todd had the tickets for everyone to get in.

Every so often—maybe a couple or three times a season —we would just get a mad idea and plan something. Almost everyone liked baseball, and an outing was open for whomever could get there. On this occasion plenty had signed up, though with the end-of-year exams now only nine days away, I had to be a complete idiot to be there myself. It had been a lot easier to buy into several weeks earlier when we'd ordered the tickets! Still, I’d had more than enough of practice questions by that time of the day, so there I was.

The only one who'd backed out had been Landon. No surprise really. I suspected his father was all over his sorry ass! However, it did mean we had a spare ticket, and somehow Si had managed to talk Toby into getting into the Suburban, too. Then again, it took very few guesses to work out what would be in the oversized backpack he lugged with him. The guy was a walking Picasso!

The afternoon’s game was the Braves vs Cincinnati. And if the previous day's result against the Reds was anything to go by, their guys would soon be stuffing Mr. Redlegs into the overhead lockers of the Delta flight, wishing they'd stayed home!

Listen to me. Talking like a pro!

The truth is, I never cared much for the game, I mean not like the many who hollered and chanted and waved their foam tomahawks! Jeez...

Actually, it was quite fun and when the thing that sounded like a Wurlitzer organ started up, everyone got into it. Even me!

So we piled into the big car and set off in plenty of time; well into the mood, singing, 'Take me out to the Ball Game', even before we hit the perimeter!

* * *

"Here we go!" Lemar Quince said at last.

Todd and Mason’s dad pulled onto Hank Aaron drive and passed the already-filling parking lots on either side, ignoring the attendants waving flags to show them where spots were still available. They were headed to a better place.

Even though game time was a ways off, there was already a long stream of cars angling for the best parking lots, and fans were lining up to get into the stadium. It was a good job they already had tickets!

Simon checked his watch. Traffic had moved well down through the city and they’d arrived in good time. It had been a fun journey, and not just because he was squashed up tight again Toby on the back seat! 

Quince bypassed all the outer parking lots and pulled right into the main stadium block. Mason—and even Todd—couldn’t avoid looking smug as they edged towards the Delta Medallion lot. Their dad might not be a million miler, but he was high enough up the corporate airline ladder that it really didn't matter. Quince flashed a card and got out his wallet to pay the ten dollar parking fee.

“I’ve got it.” From behind the driver’s seat, Ryan offered up a bill. Simon smiled to himself. It was typical of Ryan.

Mr. Quince twisted in his seat and peered at the proffered cash. He smiled and shook his head. “It’s fine son. I got it covered. You can use that to buy me a hot dog!”

He paid the fee and found an easy spot not far from the gates.

"This will do us just fine!" he grinned, looking satisfied. Popping his seatbelt, he leaned his bulk over the back again and beamed towards the rear seats. "And I'm hungry already!"

Simon smiled. With Lemar's portly belly, more food wasn't what Quince senior needed. But without his wife to put her foot down, nobody was complaining.

Simon liked the Quinces and knew them quite well having been across at their place many times over the years. Lemar worked at Delta, and his wife, Alicia, was a big lady with a big heart and an even bigger bark if you pissed her off!

Luke tumbled out the back first as they bailed into the warm mid-afternoon.

"So where is it we're meeting them?" Luke asked, peering around. Todd had the rest of the tickets and they needed to find the others before going through the gates.

“I told them to meet us over on the west side,” Todd replied, jumping out of the front. “Ry...give me a hand, can you?”

Simon slid out of the back and stretched his legs. Bemused, he waited while Todd opened the trunk and started to lift out a bundle of tomahawks. Of course they weren't heavy, but Todd liked to give orders!

"We can take a few," Toby offered unexpectedly. He had his pack slung over his shoulders and was in a good mood.  "Si, pass me some, will you?"

Simon shot Toby a grin and did as he was asked. It was nice that the two of them could be out with the others doing something together for a change. “So which way?" he asked.

"Over there," Todd pointed. "Have you all got your tickets?"

Holding an armful of battered foam red mascot gloves, Simon checked his pocket as they made their way around the parked cars and onto the pedestrian strip. In the distance, he could already see Gabe Larsson.

Gabe was standing by his older brother Nate, who'd squeezed four others into his car. Marco was with them, as well as Connor and Cole Delaney. With them were two others whom Simon hardly knew at all. Like Connor's older brother Cole, all Simon knew was that the other two were both in Nate's year.

They had to wait another ten minutes before the rest began to arrive, but before long the full contingent that had been ferried to the ballpark in a variety of cars and trucks was accounted for—a mixture of Simon’s and Luke's classmates and a bunch of juniors from Nate Larsson’s grade. It was them who had and provided the rest of the wheels.

Todd doled out the rest of the tickets and, in total, twenty-two excited teens plus an assortment of tomahawks and baseball caps made it through the entrance without a hitch.

With time to kill before the first pitch, they made themselves at home, and Simon squinted towards the mound. They weren’t in the best seats by any means, though they weren’t bad. They faced southwest so the sun was a bit in their eyes just then, but it would move.

"Toby...pass me the program, can you?" Connor called from along the row. He was sitting at one end of the block of three rows that the group had booked. Towards the other end, Toby had been leafing through one of the game programs they’d picked up, and he passed it along. It hadn't really been planned, but Simon's friends had taken the lower row, with Luke, Ryan and Todd and their friends taking the middle. The year above took the top.

On their row, seated right by the steps and next to Mason, Mason’s dad got to his feet. "Well, I'm famished," Mr. Quince declared. "Anyone coming for a burger?"

There appeared to be no takers, and Simon shook his head, too. Their dad had given him and Luke some cash, but he wasn’t hungry yet. Ryan lifted his ten-dollar bill again, and grinned as he waved it.

“You really don't have to," chuckled Quince.

"A deal's a deal, Lemar!"

“Keep it for a hotdog, son,” grinned Quince, as others who'd been in different cars watched the exchange a bit bemused. "I’ll go get it for you if you want."

"Well then, a hotdog would be great, thanks," returned Ryan. "With everything on it."

Mason surfaced from the program he was reading and piped up. "Me too."

His dad's eyes narrowed. "Unless I'm missing something, the good Lord gave you legs, Mason Quince. If you want something then come and help me."

"Nah..." Remarkably, Mason suddenly didn't seem that hungry and waved him off.  "Maybe later."

It was a pleasant afternoon and they chatted and passed the time. Toby already had a sketchpad out and Simon watched with interest as the different people Toby saw ended up as little caricatures on his paper.

Then, from the rows behind, he wasn’t surprised to hear something else come up in the conversation. Nate had leaned over in between Todd and Matt and they all picked up the soft timbre of his voice. “Respect, dude,” he murmured. “We heard what you did.”

Simon turned to where Luke and Todd had Ryan sandwiched between them.  With everyone's ears pricking, the whole of the front row twisted in their seats with him. Even Toby was drawn to leave his drawing pad to listen in as well. Ryan kept his head down, though it appeared to Simon that the top row were not really taking much notice of him. It was Matt that had the limelight.

“So it’s true then?” whispered Gabe, and his eyes widened. “You guys really like—" unable to contain them, his eyes darted around several pairs of cargoes "—buzzed them all off?”

Nate rolled his eyes. “Little bro! Bud! Where have you been? Everyone knows they did!”

"You bet they did!" interrupted Mason, a glint in his eyes. "Todd told me yesterday."

Simon knew it too. Yesterday it had been hard to miss the news, and after school, Luke had given him the details.

"Tell you what, squirt." Nate smirked down at his younger sibling with a teasing tone. "Once you grow a few, you can scrape too!" His friends snickered. Nate winked and showed the palm of his hand. “Scraped, because we give a shit too!” It was marked with an ‘S’. he turned toward where Todd was sitting. “You guys really started something!”

Simon studied the letter. He’d picked up on a conversation the previous day that guys were marking themselves, but hadn’t quite believed it.

"Nate! You buzzed 'em off too?" Gabe seemed quite taken aback by his older brother. "Freaking hell! You never did!"

Again Mason interrupted, though he didn’t speak, just held up the palm of his hand, a fierce pride in his face. Todd's eyes went wide as he studied the mark on his brother's hand. "You didn't!" He gathered himself quickly. "Well, good for you bud. I'm proud of you!"

"You did it too?" By the look on his face as he studied the mark on Mason's hand, Connor Delaney also gave the impression he was surrounded by a bunch of lunatics.

"Damn right I did!" Mason wasn't looking the slightest bit coy! "Cos I give a shit—and I hope you do, too!" As though to back him up, there was a flurry of hands on the middle row.

Simon blinked. Bloody hell...Luke as well?

Gabe pulled a face and blustered for a bit, but for Simon, even more than Luke, it was Toby that stole his attention. Alongside him, his boyfriend started to doodle again with his pencil, and then drew a faint arrow pointing towards himself. Next to the arrow he scribed a letter S.

It took him a while to get it before he finally mouthed, 'You?'

Toby smirked and nodded, then wrote 'This morning'. Once Simon had read it, Toby took an eraser and rubbed it away.

This morning. Toby had shaved himself? It was hard to get his head around it, and suddenly he was dying to know what he looked like. Then Toby took the pencil again and drew another arrow. There was no doubt where it was pointing. Next to it he wrote, Next is you – tomorrow – my place.' It sat there as Simon blinked at it. And then it too was gone.

Above him, Nate cut in again. "Good for you, Mase! You're not alone!" As if to back him up, three more hands came over from the row behind. All had been marked with an ‘S’.

Simon's eyes widened. Holy crap! They were all doing it!

Drew Millican, one of Nate's friends, stared at them and muttered, "Holy shit...You guys all shaved ‘em off?"

"Get with the program, Drew!" Camden Johns—also from the top row—smirked as he used the line all were familiar with. Simon grinned, too. The last time he'd 'got with the program', he'd ended up in bed with Toby!

“Fucking itchy though,” said Nate. “Though worth it if we put a stop to this stupid shit!” He bunched his fist and put it out. Still looking taken aback, Matt bumped it. “Like I said,” Nate added. “Respect…”

Nothing more was said, and before long the game started. With the first pitch came the return of Lemar Quince bearing a box stuffed with food. Simon grinned and was not surprised to see that not only did Ryan get his dog, but both Mason and Todd got one too. Their dad was a big softy at heart. It proved that you could be at the top of the corporate ladder, earn plenty of money and still be a nice person. From what Luke had told him, this was something Landon senior seemed to have missed out on!

Everyone was different, and he wondered what each of them would be like in twenty years time? Nice people, he hoped.

"Thanks, Dad!" In front, Mason seemed miraculously ravenous as he bit into the hotdog. With a quick thanks, Todd took his. Maybe he wasn't hungry as he broke it in half and passed a part across for Luke.

Ryan must have caught Simon’s hopeful gaze as he broke his own as well, and passed the piece forward. Taking the treat, Simon decided that being nice was a choice. It didn't matter how big a slice of the pie—or in this case, the dog—that you had, it was what you did with it that counted. He gave half of his to Toby.

* * *

The stadium slowly cleared, and they followed the steady mass of satisfied Braves fans out to the parking lot. It was still early, so nobody was in any particular rush as Luke ambled forward alongside Ryan.

Not far behind them, Simon, with the help of Gabe and Toby had an armful of tomahawks. It had been a fun afternoon, and their company parted briskly to make the journey home.

Luke wondered what he was going to do that evening. More study, probably. Though after working most of the morning and an hour after lunch, he'd had his fill of it for one day.

They opened the back of the Quince's Suburban and sat on the tailgate.  Ryan peered at him and smirked. "You caught the sun a bit today, you know."

He didn't even have to touch his face to feel the tightness let alone find a mirror to know Ry was right. He should have kept his cap on. Ryan on the other hand never looked anything but healthily tanned.

"Do you still want me to drop you off at the airport, Ryan?" asked Quince.

"Oh that's right—your grandparents are coming in!" said Luke. They were coming for his birthday, and Ryan was planning to meet them at the airport and then drive back up north with them in their rental car. The birthday celebration began tomorrow and he didn't expect to see Ryan 'til Monday.

Todd was still way over the other side of the parking lot where the others had left their cars in less premium spots, so they remained perched on the back of the Suburban to wait. There was something else he'd nearly forgotten and he reached into his backpack. His presents were neatly wrapped and there was a card too.

"I nearly forgot," he grinned. "Happy birthday!" He lifted the package for Ryan to accept.

"Me too!" Next to them, Simon rummaged in his bag. "It's only a card, but have a good one!"

Ryan seemed at a loss for words, so Luke filled in. "What time does their flight arrive?

"Not for another hour," Ryan replied, checking his watch. "I said I'd meet them at the luggage pickup. And thanks for these!" He slid the items away.

"Do you want me to wait with you?" asked Luke. "I guess they're renting a car?"

"Nah, it's fine. There's no point both of us sitting on our butts for an hour," Ryan replied, though he didn't sound enthused by the prospect of it either. In the distance, they could see that Todd was coming back, meandering at his own speed.

"Why not?" Luke pushed harder, as much as for an exit from a boring evening at home as anything else. And he'd definitely had it with any more study. "I've got nothing else to do. It'll be cool to see them again, and they can always drop me home on the way to your place."

It didn't take long for his friend to relent. "Well, sure—if you don't mind, that is. We'll probably grab a drive-through on the way home too."

Even better! There was plenty of almost everything on the road back up to Roswell. "That settles it!" Luke grinned. "I'm starving already!" He'd not spent the cash his dad had given him for a hot dog and had planned on saving it. But now he was getting hungry and he’d spend it instead! "Come on, Todd!" he bellowed, waving an arm. "Get a move on!"

It was the wrong direction to have to drive south of the stadium to the airport, but Lemar insisted. And since nobody seemed to mind, the decision was final. Soon, Luke and Ryan bundled out the back, curbside at the South Terminal, and the Suburban roared away to loop back onto the 85 north.

Slinging his backpack over his shoulder, Luke looked around. He hardly ever came to the airport, and it was rare enough that the place still evoked memories of that fateful day when he'd first arrived on the Delta flight from Gatwick on seat 23D. Then, it felt like his life was at an end. wrong he'd been!

Passing by carousels and the bustle of those just arriving, he followed Ryan to where they both peered up at one of the huge arrival displays.

"Cool!” Ryan pointed out the flight. "It looks like they're going to be in early!"

The time passed quickly enough, and before long an elderly couple came into sight up the escalator that fed passengers from the underground train that brought them from the multiple gates. Ryan burst out into a wide grin and Luke held back as his friend hurried forward to greet them.

Ry wasn’t usually the hugging type, but all that went out of the window with his grandparents, and the crowds melted past them as they put their arms around him.

Luke had met Brigadier and Mrs. Buford a number of times over the years when they had been visiting from their home near Charlottesville, Virginia. Silver haired and in their seventies, they were everything that grandparents should be, and the only part of Ryan's family that he was actually quite jealous of. He'd never been that close to his own grandparents, and the relationship had become effectively non-existent once they had emigrated. With a twinge of regret, he watched the couple embrace their grandson, their delight at holding him evident to any who were watching.

Before standing back and waiting became awkward for Luke, Ryan disengaged and pulled the old couple towards him.

"Luke! How lovely to see you again!" Alice Buford took him by the hands and didn't hesitate in drawing him into a hug too. She knew exactly how to do hugs just right, and he didn't feel the least bit self-conscious. As she released him, the brigadier grasped his hand with a firm grip.

He grinned at them. "Hello, sir. Nice to see you both, too!"

Buford's eyes twinkled. "An honor guard today! What did we do to deserve this?"

Brigadier Buford was, like Ryan’s father, an army man, though long retired now. That was where any similarity ended, for as far as Luke could see, he was everything that Alexis wasn't. He was a man of honor who—Luke suspected—would sink in the pool if he fell in wearing all his medals! The army connection, however, made sense of how their daughter had got caught up with Alexis. He also wondered if they knew about some of the things their grandson had endured at the hands of that bastard!

However, it was none of his business.

"We came into town for a Braves game, and Luke offered to keep me company while I waited for you," said Ryan. He steered them in the direction of the block of rental car counters. "So how was the flight?"

"Thankfully, short," replied his grandmother. "And it was kind of you to wait too, Luke. Thank you." Alice Buford was like her husband, holding herself with a graceful dignity. At the same time, he knew from previous occasions that she was quite a feisty old lady, and Luke knew exactly where Ry got his wicked humor!

"I hope you two are hungry," said the brigadier, bypassing the straggling line and heading straight for the Hertz preferred customer desk. He showed a card and the staff moved with alacrity.

Luke perked up and Ryan winked. "Sounds great. We hoped we might pick up something on the way up."

"Oh, I think we can do better than just ‘something’, don't you think, Andrew?" Alice smiled playfully. "It's not everyday our favorite grandson turns sixteen!"

Ryan laughed. "I'm your only grandson! And I'm not sixteen 'til tomorrow!"

"All the more reason we should get started celebrating today!" With a word of thanks, Buford signed some papers and swept up the keys.

"Thank you for your business, sir," beamed the Hertz representative. "Have a safe onwards journey!"

“That we shall, young man!” Buford replied. "And anyway," he continued speaking again to the two of them as they headed to pick up their bags from the carousels, "we already booked a table! I hope you like seafood Luke?"

It wasn't what he expected and he felt suddenly awkward at gate-crashing their meal. Alice must have seen it in his face and was quick to address it. "And of course we want you to come, Luke! Four is so much better than three and you'll bring down the average age!"

He laughed. "Well, if you're sure..." He wasn't doing anything else, and he loved seafood! "I better just ring home and let Mum and Dad know where I am."

"And rightly so, young man!" Her tone was approving. She took his arm as they walked through to the right belt to wait for their luggage. It didn't take long for a couple of orderly looking cases to arrive. An army ribbon was tied on each to help identify them, and Ryan lifted them off as Luke took a moment to phone home. That done, they crossed the street to where the rental cars were parked and stashed the cases into a trunk the size of a London one-roomed flat. That done, they settled into the plush, leather-seated sedan, and the Brigadier negotiated through the barriers out to the highway.

Luke settled back into the comfortable leather. Very nice. Budget rental it was not!

"So where are we going?" piped up Ryan. "Chops?"

"You bet we are!" His grandfather sounded as enthusiastic as him. “We reserved a table for seven forty-five.”

Chops? "We're going to Chops Lobster Bar?" Luke's eyes widened. Holy crap, that was big bucks eating! What happened to Maccy D?

"If you don't like seafood, they do amazing steaks, too!" grinned Ryan, who somehow didn't seem that surprised at the change of venue from what he and Luke had discussed earlier.

Chops Lobster Bar was not far off the 85 north as you passed through Buckhead. He'd never eaten there before, but he certainly knew of it. As the brigadier drove them smoothly through the early evening traffic, Luke chewed his lip and glanced down at his casual tee and shorts. He was hardly dressed for such a place. He shrugged. Ryan wasn't much better and he seemed comfortable enough.

"So how is your family, Luke?"

"We're all good, thanks, Mrs. Buford." Luke narrowly avoiding calling her Mrs. Brigadier.

"You can call me Alice, dear," she returned. She leaned around her front passenger seat and patted him on the knee. "Andrew and I would love to meet your parents one of these days. We hear so much about them from Ryan."

"I'm sure they would love to meet you, too." He flicked a glance at Ryan, intrigued by what he might have said. He leaned forward on the tanned leather. "How often do you get down here?"

"Not often enough," she said, her tone wistful. "We come when we can."

"Or I go up there," added Ryan, leaning forward too.

"And how's school, Luke?" she asked.

"Oh, it's good." There was nothing in her enquiry that wasn't just a genuine interest. "We have exams soon, though."

"Don't remind me!" Ryan grumbled. "It's the eighty-five north, Papa..."

Through the rear mirror, Luke spotted the brigadier roll his eyes.

Alice smothered a grim. "Well, you are an old man, dear..."

Luke smiled at the relaxed banter. He was liking the old couple more by the minute.

They had half an hour to spare by the time they got there, and what an amazing evening it was turning out to be. He was so glad he was hungry! First off, the staff didn't even blink as a booking for three apparently metamorphosed into four, and before they got to their table, it was already laid up. Then they stacked up with drinks, settled around the crisp linen-clothed table, and we're soon tucking into warm bread rolls as they waited for their first course.

It had felt a little awkward at first, not knowing what he might be 'allowed' to order from a menu that made Longhorn seem a little drab! However, Ryan had quickly dealt with that, suggesting starters for him that were no way near the cheap end! Ryan called them ‘Appetizers’ and he sure as hell had an appetite! Once the order was made, the company relaxed even more as Alice Buford began to rummage through a rather large personal bag she'd brought in with her.

"Now then, young man." She was matter of fact as she drew out a pot of some kind of face cream. "You've really caught the sun today! You're going to be as pink as that lobster over there if we don't get some cream on you."

"Gramma!" Ryan burst out laughing. Even Luke blinked in surprise.

"Now hush." Alice gave her wrist a dismissive flick. "I was rubbing cream on your face when you were a toddler running around naked in our back yard! This stuff works miracles!"

The Brigadier pulled a sly grin and sounded amused too. "She makes it herself in a big cauldron, Luke. Try not to swallow any!"

She rolled her eyes. "You see what I have to put up with?"

He and Ryan were sitting on one side of a wide oblong table and from the other side, she slid out from her seat. Bemused, he was a little self-conscious in the setting, but still took it on the chin...actually mostly forehead and nose as he turned up his face to allow her to tend to him. In fact his skin had become tight with the sun, so he didn't mind the soothing balm. It was a small price to pay for dinner at Chops!

He flicked Ryan a teasing grin as she took her seat again. "So was he a cute kid?"

"Of goodness yes!" Alice replied immediately. "Do you want to see some photos?"

"Nooooo...!" Ryan sounded horrified.

"You have some here?” He sat up immediately. “I'd love to!" Damn right he wanted to see what a cute little Ryan Alexis looked like!

* * *

Extract from Luke's notes:

It was a completely riotous evening! Who could have believed two old people could be so much fun?

We went through all the photos that Alice had stashed in her bag. Poor Ry resorted to burying his hands in his arms, moaning as I sniggered at the cute little toddler that grinned out of almost every photo. And there were a lot!

Soon after that, the starters arrived, followed by a main course. By the end of the evening, both Ry and I had managed to stuff a desert in there somewhere, too!

Nothing seemed too much trouble and the waiters were attentive to the slightest request that the brigadier made. And most of all, the food was utterly fabulous!

I’d never had snails before, so took a risk and shared a dozen escargot with Ryan for our first course, swapping for some of his crab cakes in lemon and mustard. I wasn't sure if swapping food was proper etiquette or not, but then the brigadier joined in and wanted to try one too. Dishes got passed around, and none of it seemed to matter whose plate it started on!

I have to confess, I was a bit nervous as I put the first of the squidgy-looking garlicy beasts in my mouth, and they were all watching me in bemusement to see what would happen. But, after that first mouthful, I was hooked!

After that, I just had to have the lobster!

It was one of those restaurants where sides, even fries, were counted as an extra, but Andrew and Alice didn’t hesitate in packing the white clothes table with almost everything going. I knew they were well off but never got the impression that they were spending their money to try to impress. Rather, they just wanted you to enjoy what was in front of you. And they got pleasure from it too. It was another thing that I could see that Ryan had learned from them.

We talked about everything and anything, and both his grandparents were an endless source of hilarious stories…mostly involving their grandson! I laughed till my sides ached!

By 9:30 we were still only at the end of the main course. We were talking so much, I hardly noticed the time it took to bring dishes to the table. Now if it had been mum, she would have been getting irritated that it wasn’t there in ten minutes!

However, time was passing and I thought I’d better ring her and let her know I hadn’t been abducted. Alice took the mobile off me, and before I knew it, she and mum were chatting away like old friends. They seemed good like that – the Bufords I mean – able to put people at ease. I could see where Ryan got it from.

* * *

As they paused for breath and waited for the waiter to return once the main course had been cleared, Alice Buford reached into her bag again. Both she and her husband had satisfied smiles on their faces as she drew out a wrapped gift and said, “Papa thought you might like this one tonight.” She placed what was clearly a birthday gift on the table in front Ryan.

Luke studied it, and them, in surprise. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more it seemed that their birthday celebration with their grandson was happening that evening; even though Ryan’s birthday wasn’t until the next day, and his parents were not there. Perhaps that was how they wanted it? A time to celebrate without being burdened by the uncomfortable trappings of a dysfunctional family.

Ryan picked up the gift and fingered it like everyone always did. Luke suspected he had more than enough money to buy whatever he wanted, yet he treated the gift with eager anticipation. “Did you get me one?” He turned the wrapped oblong box over in his hands.

One what?

His grandfather shrugged, giving nothing away, and said, “You’ll have to see.”

Without hesitating further, Ryan stripped off the paper.

Holy moly! An iPhone!

“Oh wow…thank you!” Bright eyed with excitement, Ryan bubbled like a little kid. Across from him the elderly couple glowed with the enjoyment of the moment too.

“Papa charged it up, so it’s ready to go,” said Alice. “You just have to swap out the sim card.”

Now there was something, Luke mused. A seventy-year-old lady who understood technology. She needed a word with his mum!

Quickly, Ryan pulled out his own mobile phone, and skillfully stripped it down in front of them to retrieve the sim card, which quickly went into the hidden slot on the iPhone. He grinned as the phone fired up. “Cool! How did you know I wanted one of these?”

“Other than you’ve mentioned it around a hundred times, you mean?” replied his grandfather with a smirk, glancing at his wife. “I’ve no idea!” Just then, the waiter returned for the dessert order. The brigadier chuckled and shook his head. “Just coffee for us, young man. But I think you can tempt these youngsters.”

Dessert? Luke's eyes locked onto the menu. Oh yes!

It took a few moments for him and Ryan to order, and they agreed on separate dishes with the plan of swapping half again. As the waiter departed, Ryan pushed over his old phone. Quietly he murmured, “If you want it, you can have it.”

Luke picked it up. It might not be an iPhone but it beat the hell out of his own. “Really? Are you sure?”

“Course I’m sure. I mean what am I going to do with it?" Ryan grinned happily.

Luke turned the almost pristine device in his hand. Other than sell it on Ebay, you mean!

“You can give that Motorola to Simon now," Ryan continued. "I’ll bring the charger in on Monday. It should last ‘til then." He cracked a knowing grin. “But I think I should get to open your present now. I’ve got it here.” Reaching to the floor to where he had brought in this backpack, Ryan pulled out Luke’s gift and added, “Can I open it?”

Luke was taken aback. It was nothing even close to an iPhone, but what could he say other than, “Sure, if you want to…it’s not much, I’m afraid.” He eyed the now rather creased package remembering how much time he’d spent deciding what he could buy for Ryan.

It was always a problem getting something for Ryan’s birthday when the guy already had everything. This year had been no easier. In fact, with the week they'd had, he'd almost forgotten, and had hurried to the mall the previous evening to find something worthy. It had taken a while, and he'd ended up buying several things, both because he was indecisive and more than one present padded things out a bit. The card was easy enough, but then he'd ended up with a trio of presents.

The first was something for the car he had little doubt Ryan would soon be getting. It was a little trinket he had stashed away at home for a rainy day. He was going to keep the small metal die cast of Nelson's Column for his own car, but Ryan was a worthy cause. It had the name 'London' stamped on a small flat at the base, and he’d purchased a simple chain for it to hang off the mirror. It was cute!

The second gift was a CD. He'd noticed Ryan's ears perk up at Eva Cassidy the previous week, and hoped he hadn't already gone out and bought the album. When Ryan opened it, the grin of appreciation was satisfying.

His final offering was a tee shirt.

There had been a couple that had caught his eye at the Mall; both of them were in Ryan's colors and designed with a slogan. The first said, ' One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.' It was tempting, but maybe too close to the bone, and so he went for the second. A tee with an arrow point to the right with the slogan, 'I'm with stupid!'

At the time, it was funny, but had also felt right; an attempt to say sorry. Now, with his grandparents watching, it felt awkward.

And what apology could ever match an iPhone?

As Ryan lifted it up, the Bufords seemed bemused, though they kept their own counsel. Ryan, however, put the tee against himself and grinned. "Now this is a classic!" He pulled a face and laughed. "True, but you're forgiven!" Then he moved on, turning the simple die cast sculpture in his hands. "For the car I guess?" he hazarded.

Luke nodded. "I guess you're getting one soon?"

“Ryan's never travelled to England. Perhaps he should go?" murmured Alice as they watched from across the other side of the table.

"What...and meet the Queen?" Ryan chuckled. "Sounds good! You could take me," he suggested to Luke.

“And why not?” replied his grandmother. She looked thoughtful and you could almost see the planning already going on behind her eyes. "Andrew will look into it. Maybe for next year, or the year after?"

Luke was taken by surprise. London? Wow – that would be amazing!

He hadn’t been back to the UK for years, but the idea of a holiday together, showing Ry around all his old haunts had him as pumped as his friend! Maybe even travel a bit to a few other places?

Now wouldn't that just be so cool!

It wasn’t long before the dessert arrived and they tucked in.