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Never walk alone - 13. Chapter 13

The boys celebrate their first Christmas in their new home and their first anniversary.


Christmas morning dawned bright and sunny, with a slight, cooling breeze. Andrew lay in Ryan's arms, his back against Ryan's chest . He was very aware of his husbands morning glory, nestling in his butt crack and wiggled his butt with an impish grin on his face.

"If you keep doing that, there are going to be consequences", rumbled a sleepy voice in his ear. Andrew giggled and turned over to face Ryan, stroking his face and running a finger down through the golden blonde fur on his chest.

"Merry Christmas my love", and kissed him before pulling back abruptly when he tasted and smelled minty freshness. He punched Ryan's chest.

"No fair! When did you go to the bathroom ? You've already brushed your teeth and here's me with my bed breath".

Andrew huffed and rolled out of bed and stalked naked to the bathroom, Ryan's deep laugh following him. He emptied his bladder, washed his face and brushed his teeth and came back into the bedroom, glaring at Ryan.

"You must have sneaked out of bed, because I certainly did not feel you leave and normally I wake up the second you move."

Ryan threw off the covers, revealing similar nakedness and sat on the edge of the bed.

"After your antics last night, or should I say, this morning, I'm not surprised you were dead to the world". Andrew dissolved into giggles.

"It was pretty good, wasn't it. That was my first Christmas gift to you", moving forward to stand between Ryan's legs. He leaned down and kissed Ryan again.

"Can we start again? Merry Christmas, my love".

"A merry Christmas to you too babe. Thank you for the gift last night. I hope it will not be the only time of the year I will get it"

Andrew punched him again on the same spot, making him wince.

"Idiot, of course not. I got plenty more gifts where that one came from" waving his manhood at Ryan and wiggling his butt. Ryan reached for him and groaned when there was a knock on the door.

"Guys, it's after nine. Do you want breakfast" came Donna's voice. Rascal jumped off the bed and ran to the door.

"I have all the breakfast I need right here", grumbled Ryan softly, before saying louder. "We'll be down in a few, sis, Thanks" and walked to the door, carefully opening it to allow Rascal to run downstairs. Andrew giggled again, looking a their deflating cocks.

"That I think is what is commonly known as 'coitus interruptus. Come on, shower, dress, breakfast and prezzies" pulling Ryan up and dragging him to the bathroom. Thirty minutes later they walked down the stairs hand in hand, dressed in sweatpants and t-shirts.

"Morning all, sorry we are late. Merry Christmas! We somehow managed to over sleep", Ryan breezily greeted.
Donna looked at them over the glasses she was wearing.

"Remember what I said about fucked faces", and held up her hand as Ryan opened his mouth to retort.

"That's all I'm saying! Now, I hope you don't mind, but I took out some croissants and muffins for breakfast. There is yogurt, fruit, cheese, sliced ham and preserves as well. Oh, and some cream cheese as well. I remembered Andrew likes croissants with cream cheese and strawberry jam. And of course, coffee. And I fed the puppy"

"Thanks sis, just make yourself at home. We don't stand on ceremony in this house".

They loaded plates with breakfast, grabbed some coffee and joined the others in the lounge.

David offered to hand out the gifts which they opened with lots of exclamations and chatter. Andrew and Ryan had opted not to give each other anything too big or expensive as they felt the house was their big gift for Christmas. They all helped clean up the paper, cleared away breakfast and packed the dishwasher.
.
Janice and Donna vanished into their respective bathrooms for a long soak, while the guys all sat watching Sky news and the festivities in Bethlehem. When the ladies reappeared in their robes, David and Craig went to freshen up and Andrew and Ryan went to get dressed for lunch at the lodge.

They arrived at the lodge just after 12.30 after a short drive from the house. Thomas was at the door to greet them, dressed as Father Christmas.

"Mr Andrew, Mr Ryan, merry Christmas. Enjoy your lunch"

They all greeted him wished him a merry Christmas as well and they stepped into the cool lobby. Lunch was being held on the patio and in the restaurant, and Andrew had reserved a table for fourteen in the restaurant. It would the house party, Ben and Emma, Nicky and Beth, Marie and François. Paul and Claude would join them whenever there was a bit of time.

Marie was already seated with François and the Davidsons when they arrived, with baby Jonathan in a carrier on a chair next to the window. Paul and Claude came over when they saw the party arrive and after everyone had wished everyone else merry Christmas, they settled down to wait for Nicky and Beth.
They arrived soon after, both beaming, Nicky in a short green dress with a red scarf around her waist and a pixie hat on her head. Beth wore a skirt in the Cameron tartan and a white blouse. Andrew and Ryan stood up to greet them and when they were done Beth handed them each an envelope.

"Just a little something for you guys", she said impishly. Andrew bent forward to thank them and there was a loud whoop from Ryan who rushed over to them.

"Is this what I think it is", waving a long narrow sheet of paper. Beth grinned at him and nodded. Ryan grabbed Beth and took off on a very undignified jig around the table, much to the amusement of the other guests. Andrew was opening his envelope and stared at the contents which he pulled out. And started crying. Silent tears rolled down his face as he stared at the pictures of a baby scan. Ryan came back with Beth and grabbed Andrew, yelling

"We've got babies! We're gonna be dads" and swept Andrew up to do a jig with him. Pandemonium broke out as they celebrated and the rest of the table joined them followed by applause from the other guests.

When relative calm had been restored - Ryan was still practically bouncing off the walls in excitement - Beth told them all that she had been for the scan on Christmas eve and that it had been confirmed. Both babies were viable with beating hearts. They were pregnant. There was laughter and tears and the lunch was one that they would never forget. They had been told they were to be fathers on Christmas Day. It was the best gift they could have ever dreamed of receiving. Champagne and sparkling grape juice was ordered and everyone toasted Beth and the babies, as well as the two, still somewhat thunderstruck, fathers. To say it was the most joyous Christmas they had ever had would be an understatement. The joy and excitement radiating from the big table at the window was infectious and encompassed the entire room, which positively buzzed.

Ryan and Andrew sat on either side of Beth and Nicky, ensuring that Nicky was not left out and did not stop grinning like two village idiots the entire afternoon. They were the last table to leave, having been politely requested to do so by the incoming duty manager, to allow the late shift to clean the restaurant and prepare for dinner. Paul and Claude were off duty and left with them to spend some time alone with their own loved ones, and the Davidsons returned home. Nicky and Beth were going to spend the night at the house and the plan was to take 'Belle Catherine' out on Boxing Day and sail her round to Clifton for the day.

As he had done last year, Andrew asked Paul to arrange a big platter of cold cuts and cheeses left over from lunch, and they took that home to snack on for dinner. Not that anyone would eat much, they were all still too stuffed after the enormous lunch.

When they arrived home, Nicky and Beth were shown to their room and by unspoken consent, everyone headed for their rooms for a nap, except David and Craig, who sprawled on the couches in front of the TV to watch some sport. Needless to say, they fell asleep as well.

Andrew and Ryan came down just before 7pm in bathing shorts and fell into the pool, letting the cool water refresh them, and both were surprised when Rascal jumped in as well, his little legs pumping as he paddled towards them. Nicky and Beth joined them soon after, followed by Donna and Craig. The six young people splashed around for thirty minutes with Rascal running around the pool, barking excitedly, then climbed out of the pool to dry off and have sundowners.

The south - easter had picked up through the day, so sitting on the patio was not going to work as it faced almost directly into the wind. Andrew and Ryan made a mental note to look into solving that problem.

They went to their rooms to change into dry clothes and gathered in the lounge for their drinks. No one wanted any alcohol, so Andrew made up a large fruit punch with lots of soda water to cut the sweetness, with a bottle of white Mauritian rum they had brought back on the side if anyone decided they did need a kick after all. Andrew and Janice laid out some seed bread, rolls and croissants from breakfast with the platter and everyone was encouraged to just help themselves if they felt peckish. The happy and contented group just relaxed and watched a movie on TV, with many of them nodding off.

They were all in bed fairly early and were all bright eyed and bushy tailed when they arrived at the Marina at 8.30 on Boxing Day morning. The wind of the previous night had dropped to the point where there was almost no wind at all, so they would have to motor around to Clifton. Hopefully, there would be enough wind in the afternoon to allow them to use the sails coming back. I

t was the first time that David and Janice had been on board and they very impressed with what they saw. David sat with Ryan at thd helm, having to share the seat with Rascal as well, from the moment they cast off until they were anchored off Clifton 4th beach, where the yacht attracted a great deal of attention. Then it was just a case of putting out sun loungers or laying on the trampolines, soaking up the sun, plunging into the icy water to cool off, and soaking up some more sun.

The platter from the lodge had hardly been touched the previous night, so Andrew just put everything into containers and brought them along, They had stopped at a store on the way and purchased some nice breads, rolls and some salad ingredients with which Janice and Andrew produced a huge mixed meat salad platter that they ate with the bread or rolls and an avocado dressing. They had ice cold watermelon, which Ryan had dropped overboard, secured in a net, for dessert.

They weighed anchor at 4pm with Ryan motoring close to the beach before pointing the bows out of the sheltered anchorage. As he felt the effect of the wind, he had his dad keep her on course, heading straight out to sea, while Craig helped him to fly the spinnaker. When the sail was up, he called to David,

"Okay dad, cut the engine and turn to starboard, your right, Good, well done, we'll make a sailor out of you yet".

He made his way back to the helm and sat beside David. When David made to hand the helm back to him he grinned at his dad who looked like a kid in a toy shop.

"No, it's fine. You can steer her. I'll just sit here and be close in case you need me. You're doing great".

The rest of the group relaxed behind the helm in the cockpit, drinking coffee and nibbling biscuits and fruit cake that Janice had brought with her. The shadows were starting to lengthen by the time they sailed back into the marina and tied up to the dock. The ladies helped Andrew clear up inside, while the guys helped Ryan get everything shipshape on deck. Then they gathered their gear, including Rascal, locked up and disembarked after setting the intruder alert. On the way to the parking area, Ryan stopped off at the security office to notify the guards that they were leaving and that the alarm on the yacht was armed. Nicky and Beth drove away headed for their home in the City Bowl, and the family drove to Blouberg.

It was a weary, slightly sunburned group who arrived home and dragged themselves up the stairs to the living area. They showered and changed into fresh clothes and as no one had the energy to get into the kitchen, they ordered pizza to be delivered. Janice collapsed onto the couch and sighed.

"I cannot believe that all we have done today is relax and eat and relax and eat, but I am exhausted"

Ryan grinned at his mother.

"It's all the fresh air and the sun. When we haven't been out for a while we always feel tired on the first day out when we do".

The rest of the evening was spent eating pizza and relaxing, Even Rascal had pizza for dinner. They were all in bed by 10pm., but they all knew that they had had a very good Christmas.

The days between Christmas and New Year were spent driving around the Peninsula and two days in the Winelands. On the first trip they drove out to Stellenbosch and Paarl, stopping off at several estates for wine tasting and lunch at one of them.

On the second foray into wine country, they drove to the Overberg, going to some of Andrew's favourite estates near the coastal town of Hermanus in the morning and then driving to Caledon to spend the afternoon at the hot springs. At the end of the second trip, Ryan maintained that Andrew now had enough wine to start his own winery.

The New Years eve party at the house was fairly low key and consisted of the same group who had been at Christmas lunch, with the addition, as promised, of Ivan, the estate agent and his wife, Samantha.

Andrew and Ryan once again chose to have the event catered and arranged for a spit-braai with lamb legs and a pork loin with all the trimmings and a Cape favourite, BBQ whole fresh snoek with an apricot and mustard glaze. A chef and two waiters came with the food, so everyone could just sit back, relax and enjoy the party.

Ivan and Samantha were introduced to everyone when they arrived and seemed to fit right in with the rest of the family. The patio table had been extended and the dining room table pushed against the wall to free up some space to dance. Andrew had the CD's they had done for the wedding playing in a loop on the sound system and for their first New Year in the house, they felt it was a perfect occasion, the only disappointment being the absence of Paul and Claude who were at the lodge. Andrew had suggested they try and slip away just before midnight and join them for the countdown, but it remained to be seen if it would be possible.

By 8.30 the enticing aroma of the meat and fish were whetting appetites, so when they were told everything was ready, they all hurried over to have the chef carve meat onto their plates and help themselves to baked potatoes and fire - roasted vegetables. A range of salads and extras was on the table in the dining room. Once plates were full, they all found a seat at the table, wine and grape juice poured and dinner was enjoyed by all. It was unhurried and very convivial and the table hummed with conversation.

Once the main course was done, Ryan turned up the volume on the sound system, and he and Andrew took to the dance floor with Nicky and Beth as partners before going back to their natural partners. Everyone joined them and soon the party was in full swing, as the catering staff cleared food away and cleared the table.

When the dining room table was clear, they carried out the dessert. Trifle, chocolate mousse, profiteroles with pastry cream and fresh fruit salad and ice cream. Andrew spoke to the chef and suggested he and his staff relax and have some dinner as well,
while everyone was dancing, which they appreciated.

After about thirty minutes of boogeying and jiving, Andrew slowed the music and most of them took a breather, heading for the dessert table. As the catering staff would only be there until 11pm, Andrew had then leave all the remaining food on the breakfast counter for everyone to pick at and there were some snacks in the oven ready to be reheated later. The catering staff left soon after 11pm after clearing the dessert and storing it in the refrigerator and freezer.

Approaching the witching hour, Paul and Claude arrived in Paul's SUV. They would not be able to stay long, just for the count-down to the New Year. They turned on the TV for the official countdown, shouting the numbers as they wound down, sang Auld Lang Syne and wished one another for the year ahead. Sparkling wine and grape juice was poured and they all toasted the arrival of the New Year while watching the fireworks display across the bay at the Waterfront.

When Paul and Claude returned to the lodge, they took Marie, Jonathan and François with them to spend some time with their partners. The music was slow and soft and the couples swayed to the music each one contemplating what the coming year had in store.

Ivan and Samantha left just after 1am and by then everyone was starting to flag. The ladies cleared all the food into containers that were then stored in the refrigerator, while the guys packed the bar way and did a general tidy up, then locked up, turned off the lights and dragged themselves to their bedrooms. This time it was Ryan who gave Andrew a present!

When Andrew and Ryan woke up, they could tell it was already well into the morning and the bedside clock revealed it was just after 10am. And they could feel the day was going to be a scorcher! Ryan opened the sliding doors to their little garden and stepped out, with Rascal hot on his heels.

The sun beat down from a blue, cloudless sky and the bay was as smooth as glass with not even a hint of wind to ruffle the
surface. Andrew joined him, wrapping his arms around his waist and laying his head on Ryan's back. They were both shirtless, wearing just boxer briefs. Andrew took Ryan by the hand and pulled him down the short fight of stairs to the pool deck. He opened a cupboard tucked into a corner and pulled out two towels, then turned and fell into the pool with a huge splash. Ryan grinned and followed him.

They splashed around for a while, then just sat on the bottom step, chest deep in the water, with Rascal licking their heads and ears, enjoying the cool water and their closeness and sharing deep kisses. That was how Janice found them, when she came out with two mugs of coffee.

"Morning boys, happy new year again. I should actually get you two some cold water, but as you already seem to be in it, it won't make any difference. Coffee?"

Ryan laughed.

"Morning mom, happy's to you too. Coffee sounds really good right now" reaching out to take the mugs from her. And that set the tone for the day. They just chilled, splashed in the pool, lay in the sun, splashed some more. Everyone was told to help themselves to whatever they wanted to eat in the refrigerator and they just kicked back. It became really hot in the afternoon so they all retreated into the house, turned the air conditioning on full and napped. For dinner, Janice cooked spaghetti bolognaise with garlic bread and salad and they all had another early night, the heat of the day and the previous late night catching up with them.

The following morning, while the family went shopping, Andrew and Ryan drove to the lodge to go and wish the staff a happy new year. On the way there, they passed a well-known restaurant situated right on the rocks of the bay. Andrew gl
anced at Ryan and asked "How about we reserve a table here for tomorrow night to celebrate our first anniversary?"
Andrew looked at him, slightly puzzled,

"What, just you and me?"

Ryan smiled, almost wistfully.

"I wish it was just you and me. But I feel we cannot exclude everyone else. It just somehow doesn't seem the right thing to do".

Andrew put his hand on Ryan's.
"I know exactly how you feel. That's why I was a bit puzzled. I think we invite them all and when we are alone we go out again, just us. Do we invite Nicky and Beth as well?

Ryan stared thoughtfully ahead for a moment.

"To be honest, I don't know. Although I think Nicky is back at the hospital already, so she may be on shift and I know Beth only goes back next week. Let's find out. If Beth is alone, maybe we invite her. One of us can fetch her and take her home. I wouldn't want her driving alone late at night. And if Claude is there we will have to invite François as well"

At the lodge, they walked through all the departments, chatting to the staff and wishing them a happy new year. Then they chatted to Paul and Claude about dinner, so that the Duty Manager could hold the fort at the lodge. Paul phoned Marie, who said she would get her mom to watch Jonathan and Ryan also contacted Ben and Emma who said they would not be able to attend as they were leaving for Australia to visit their son and his family, and would be flying to Johannesburg in the morning for their flight to Melbourne via Singapore. They were planning on being away for about six months. Ryan wished them a good trip, telling them they would be missed. On the way home, they stopped at the restaurant and reserved a table for eleven. They could not accommodate them at the windows, but could give them a table against the wall with an excellent view of the bay and the mountain. The maitre d' was advised that it was their 1st wedding anniversary and that they would be bringing the top tier of their wedding cake to be served with coffee at the end of the meal.

Then they drove to the mall to pick out gifts for one another. They browsed through the mall, not seeing anything that really caught the eye. Eventually the ambled back to where all the jewellery stores were located. They window shopped at each store before going in to examine the display cases. While exiting one of the stores, Andrew glanced across the plaza to the other side and stopped, noticing for the first time a name that was very familiar to him. An idea was forming in his head so he dragged Ryan across the plaza.

"Drew, what in the world are you doing? Where are we going?". They stopped outside the store and Andrew said,

"This is the place I found on line that made our wedding rings. I had no idea he actually had a store outlet. I may have an idea! Come on!"

The doorway was barred by a security gate, and Andrew pressed the buzzer. After a short wait a middle aged man appeared from the back room wearing a thick apron.He released the gate and they stepped into the store, closing the gate behind them and approached the man with Andrew asking,

"Are you Mr Ramazzotti".
He gazed at Andrew and smiled,

"Si, I am Luigi Ramazzotti. What can I do for you?"

Andrew held out his hand in greeting.

"Good afternoon, Mr Ramazzotti. It is good to finally meet you" shaking his hand.
"Do you recognise the ring I am wearing?" displaying his wedding ring. The jeweler examined the ring and looked up at him, smiling.

"Si, I know the ring. I made it. There should be another one exactly the same", glancing at Ryan who held out his hand.

'"Ah yes, identical rings, nearly a year ago, I think. Ah, for Mr Devlin if I recall correctly".

Andrew grinned at him.

"Yes, exactly right. I ordered them on your website for my wedding in January last year. I'm Andrew Devlin-Major now. And this is my husband, Ryan"

"Si, I remember. What can I do for you?"

"Well, I haven't discussed with my husband, but when I saw your name on the store, I had an idea. Tomorrow is our 1st anniversary. And we cannot find anything that either of us want. We have just been told we are to become parents to twins in August or September." Andrew took off his ring and handed it to the jeweler. "Would it be possible to mount two more stones on either side of our birthstones " turning to Ryan with a questioning look.

Ryan had realised what Andrew was getting at and he nodded enthusiastically.

"I think that's a great idea".

Mr Ramazzotti reached for his loupe and studied the ring.

"Si, it can be done, no problem. What do you have in mind".

Andrew grimaced slightly and answered,

"I first thought of their birthstone, but then we will have to wait until they are born to know which stone it has to be. So what about two small diamonds on either side", glancing again at Ryan, who nodded again.

"Si, I can do that for you. If you can choose your diamonds, and you leave the rings with me, I can have them done by tomorrow afternoon, about this time. I will have to remove the existing stones and smelt the platinum and the reset the stones with the new diamonds."

"Ry, are you okay with this? If you're not happy, we can the idea."

"No, I think it's a great idea. Can we just leave the selection of the stones to Mr Ramazzotti?".

"Yeah, I have no objection to that. His original selections were perfect. Two more diamonds for each ring, smaller than the central diamond, on either side of the birthstones"

The jeweler turned to a counter behind him, withdrew a key from beneath his shirt and opened a drawer from which he withdrew a small black bag. He opened the bag and poured some diamonds into his hand, before flattening the bag and carefully pouring them onto the black fabric. There were two dozen. He separated them into rows, then using his loupe he examined them, eventually separating out ten stones which he then took a longer look at, finally leaving four, to Andrew and Ryan's eyes, very similar stones in size. He lowered his loupe and looked at them.

"I would suggest these for stones. They are flawless, very similar in colour and size and if I am correct, weight as well"

"Could you give us a price right now. Then we can pay you immediately", Ryan requested.

"Si, no problem. Give me a few minutes to work it out for you. Sit down, I go to the office.", indicating to two armchairs in the corner of the store. He was back within ten minutes, handing Andrew an invoice. He handed over his credit card and they gave the jeweller their rings.
The card was run through the machine and after confirming a pickup time, they left the store. Ryan was bubbling with excitement.

"I cannot wait to see what they look like. You are brilliant", grabbing Andrew's hand in his and swinging them back and forth. They stopped in at a coffee shop for cheesecake, carrot cake and coffee and headedfor home where they found their guests had not returned yet.

They were greeted by an ecstatic Rascal who waited, tail wagging, on the bottom step as they opened the door, and then proceeded to scamper up and down the staircase as they walked up it. Andrew looked around the room and sighed,

"Oh, thank god. The cleaning service have been in", referring to the company they had contracted to come in three times a week to clean. All the surfaces were dust free, the tiles had been polished and everything just generally neatened up.

"I think we need to get a permanent housekeeper before the babies are born".

The sound of gravel crunching and Rascal disappearing down the stairs alerted them to their guests returning from their foray to the malls and they appeared shortly thereafter laden down with bags of every description. Janice had also been into the supermarket and purchased what she needed to make her signature Chicken and Prawn Curry with Basmati Rice and sambals, followed by, apparently, Ryan's favourite Passionfruit Cheesecake. Andrew breathed a quiet sigh of relief that he did not have to cook dinner.

The end result, Andrew had to admit, was stupendous and he asked Janice to please jot down the recipes for him before they left. The meal would be perfect for the yacht.

But even better, the next morning, breakfast was delivered to their bedroom on bed trays. Janice brought them fresh strawberries, yogurt and muesli topped with strawberry compote, creamy scrambled eggs on toast with chives and smoked salmon, grilled cherry tomatoes, a arge pot of freshly brewed coffee with a selection of mini Danish pastries, and a jug with orange juice and champagne.
She breezed in, after knocking and getting no reply.

"Morning my darlings. Happy anniversary " and deposited the trays on the dressing table.

"I'll give you boys five minutes to be decent and then I'll be back with your present" and she breezed out again, closing the door behind her. Still groggy with sleep, they rolled out of bed and just slipped into their bathrobes, brushed their teeth and sat back on the bed. True to her word, exactly five minutes later, there came a knock on the door and she walked in with David, both carrying wrapped objects, which they both guessed were framed pictures of some sort. They carried the gifts to the bed and handed them over, hugging and kissing them both. When they opened the wrapping, they both were suddenly very teary.
Ryan gave his mom a loving look.

"Oh wow, mom! These are amazing"

Andrew just stared at the pictures with his hand over his mouth. It was a triptyche of charcoal sketches, drawn by Janice from photographs David had taken at the wedding. The largest, the middle one, was of the two of them looking directly into the camera, faces touching and smiling happily. The other two were of them individually, both looking inward toward the centre picture. But what made the sketches were their eyes. She had managed to capture the life and excitement in them perfectly! They were signed JM.

They both got off the bed and wrapped their arms around her, drawing David in as well.

"Thank you so much. They are beautiful", Andrew sniffed. "Will you do one of us with the babies when the are born?"

Janice sniffed as well, wiping away a tear. "I wouldn't miss it for the world Drew".

She broke away from them and carried over one of the trays, while David brought the other.

"Now you two eat your breakfast and we will see you later. We are going to have breakfast at the lodge. Enjoy! "

She displayed the pictures on the dresser and left the room, closing the door with a soft click.They propped themselves up against the headboard and ate their breakfast while admiring the sketches. When they were done, they just lay facing each other, caressing and kissing, which turned into passionate lovemaking.

Afterwards, sweaty and sticky, the showered together, each one gently and lovingly washing the other and drying him off. They stepped back into the bedroom to hear Rascal scratching at the door. Ryan opened it and he came charging into the room, before launching himself onto the bed and wriggling his little body around them. They scratched his ears and he rolled over onto his back so that his tummy could be scratched as well. When they started getting dressed, he stretched himself out full length, with this head on his front paws and his back legs stretched out behind him and watched them. Ryan looked at Andre
w and asked,

"How about we take this little monkey and take a walk on the beach. Then we can go have some lunch and by then, our rings should be ready and we can pick them up".

"Sounds good to me. Let me just grab his leash, a cap and some water and we can get going".

Picking up his mobile, he noticed he had a missed call and a message. Opening the message page, he saw that it was from Beth and listened to it.

"That was Beth, confirming that Nicky is on shift tonight, and that she would not join us for dinner as she is suffering with morning sickness and feels a little tired, so she is going to get into bed early".

"Hmmm, shame, that's a pity. I better just amend out table reservation" which he immediately did. As he picked up the car keys, Rascal was suddenly all ears and ready for action. He loved driving in the car, head in the slipstream and his long ears flowing back. He ran down the stairs ahead of them, waiting at the door with his tail whipping back and forth.

While Ryan pulled the car out of the garage, Andrew took two bottles of water out of the refrigerator, put on Rascals leash, then gathered him in his arms and got into the car. He immediately squirmed out of Andrew's arms and perched on his leg, with his front paws on the window ledge. Andrew opened the window and he stuck his head over the ledge, and that's where he stayed for the short drive to the beach.

Leaving their shoes in the car, the walked along the beach, just where the icy water ran up onto the sand. There were no other dogs in the immediate area, so Andrew let Rascal off his leash and allowed him to run and play in the water, snapping at it when it came close and shaking his head when he tasted the salty water. When they saw some other walkers with dogs nearing them, Andrew put his leash back on and held him in his arms, with Rascal growling softly as they passed. More than an hour later, they returned to the car, washed off their feet, and Rascal, at a convenient water point and drove to one of the beachside eateries for lunch choosing to go Chinese as it was unlike anything they would be eating that night.

They had a leisurely lunch and then drove to the mall to pick up their rings, which were ready as promised and had been redesigned slightly. Mr Ramazotti explained.

"I had to take the rings apart to melt the platinum and I added a bit more. You can see the platinum is slightly wider and thicker. To help hold the stones better. Then I have made each band so they are no longer fused together, but interlock, so each band can be separate.". He looked at them with an impish gleam,"In case you want more babies, it will be easier to add stones".

They both laughed at his humour. He showed them how the bands interlock and apart from the slightly thicker platinum and the new stones, they were no different to the originals . He handed back the rings and they slipped them onto one another's fingers with Ryan whispering,

"With this ring, I thee wed", echoing the words they had spoken almost exactly one year ago on a tropical beach. Mr Ramazzotti smiled softly at them, his eyes misty.

"You have much love, you two. My rings have found good hearts".

They thanked him, picked up Rascal and drove back home admiring their rings all the way. Once home, they took down the Christmas tree, storing all the lights and baubles in their boxes, and hauled the tree out back to dry out and eventually be c
ut up for firewood. After vacuuming up the pine needles on the floor, they each grabbed a beer and sprawled on the couch, chilling and looking down at the beach and the water below them.

"Looks like the weather is going to change" said Ryan, noticing dark clouds on the horizon.

"Front coming in". Andrew nodded in agreement. "I noticed when we left the beach, that the wind was starting to shift round more westerly than south. We might get some rain before we get home tonight".

"Hmm, you're probably right. It has been so hot, we may even have some lightning activity Those clouds look very ominous".

The Majors and Craig arrived back soon after, having taken a short drive up the West Coast. The rest of the afternoon, they just chatted and reminisced about the wedding and watched the video of the ceremony, which made them all slightly emotional again. Then the all freshened up, got dressed and went out to celebrate Andrew and Ryan's 1st anniversary.

Dinner was a very happy event and ended with coffee and slices of the top tier of their wedding cake, which was still amazingly moist and tasty.

It had started raining about an hour into the meal and they had to make a dash for the cars. Within minutes after arriving home, there was a huge flash lightning and boom of thunder and the heavens opened in a massive downpour. For almost thirty minutes, lightning flashed over the bay and thunder rumbled across the water in one of the most intense thunderstorms Andrew could remember. They had put out the lights in the lounge, to better observe the impromptu light show. Just as it seemed the storm was abating, there was another dull boom to their left and the sky lit up with an orange glow. Looking towards the city, they could clearly see a fiery mushroom cloud rise up and then settle in a dull glow.

"Wow", Craig muttered, "What the he'll is that?"

Ryan fetched his binoculars and focused on the flames.

"It looks like it is quite close to the road past the harbour. Could be a tank at the oil farm got hit my lightning or something. Looks like emergency vehicles are starting to arrive, but it's too far and too rainy to see clearly"

"It won't affect the marina, will it, babe?" asked Andrew anxiously, concerned about the yacht.

"I wouldn't think so. The marina is way over on the other side". They stood watching the distant scene for a while and then retired to bed after a long day.

Andrew and Ryan were up early having been woken by Rascal wanting to go out. It was almost 7 am, so they decided to just get up and start the day. Their guests were flying out in the afternoon, so Andrew got busy with a slap-up breakfast. Hearing noises emanating from the kitchen, Janice and Donna appeared from their rooms, followed shortly thereafter by David and Craig.

They all got themselves some coffee as stood around the kitchen chatting. The TV was on, and Andrew noticed a report starting about what appeared to be the fire they had seen the previous night.

"Babe, turn up the TV, I think that's last night's fire". Ryan turned up the volume and they all watched the report.

An undisclosed number of people had been killed or injured when a small motor vehicle accident had turned into disaster during thd storm. A car had skidded on the slick highway into the city and spun across the full width of the highway causing a number of other vehicles to apply brakes to avoid the spinning car. A petrol tanker coming up to the scene, had then jackknifed and careered into the stationery vehicles before exploding in a ball of flame.

There was a crash of glass shattering on the kitchen floor and they all turned to look at Andrew, his face white, eyes staring. Ryan rushed to his side.

"Drew! Baby! Are you alright? What's wrong?"

Andrew pointed a shaking finger at the TV.

"Ry, that's exactly what happened to my parents. And if we had been driving Beth home last night, it might have been us caught in that mess. Oh, god, I need to sit down".

He was shaking like a leaf. Ryan crouched down next to him and held him in his arms, as Andrew burst out crying. They were all very subdued, thinking about what Andrew had said, and realising it he could very well be right. The timing was just about spot-on. If Beth had come to dinner last night, they could very well have been victims of the accident. Ryan shuddered at the thought.

"It's okay babe, we weren't involved. I know it's spooky that it was similar to your parents accident, but that's all it was. Just another accident", kissing his wet cheeks. "Dad, please turn off the TV".

He bent his head to look into Andrew's lowered eyes.

"Hey, you okay. We need to clean up this mess", looking at the pool of fruit juice they were in.

Andrew nodded, still quite pale and clearly shaken.

"I'll be fine. Just a little too close to home I guess".

Janice came bustling from the scullery with a squeegee and a bucket and started cleaning up the juice. Within minutes, the mess was cleared, Andrew was given some apple juice with a teaspoon of extra sugar to drink, which put some colour back into his cheeks and breakfast preparation resumed. By the time breakfast was ready, it looked like they were about to feed an
army.

There was bacon, sausages - beef and pork - grilled tomatoes, potato hash, sweetcorn fritters, sautéed mushrooms, baked beans and scrambled egg. It was a veritable feast and they all tucked in, knowing that the holidays were over and that it was back to work. The rest of the morning was spent packing and the family left for the airport at 1pm for their 3pm flight to Johannesburg.

Andrew and Ryan spent the weekend enjoying being alone in the house for the first time in almost two weeks and getting the yacht ready for their first charter of the year.

Copyright © 2020 Andre Delport; All Rights Reserved.

Any comments, good or bad, will be gratefully received.

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Awesome chapter. The Christmas and New Year celebrations were just amazing and the news of the baby on Christmas Day made the perfect present. I love the redesign of there rings.

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Awesome chapter, great Christmas and New year celebrations, with all important people,  shocking realisation that what could have happened, however what ifs don't really matter or count

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Great chapter André, with lots of good things happening for Andrew, Ryan and their extended 'family' including news of the 'twins', expected to arrive in June-ish? 

Hopefully the accident on the highway including the tanker truck doesn't trigger any PTSD for Andrew. (It would be worse if later news reveals it's the same trucking company that killed Drew's parents). 

As I recall, you indicated at the beginning that Never Walk Alone is Semi-Autobiographical in nature. I do hope there was no similar loss for you, and that the similarities are just T&T (Travel and Tourism) related.

In the 'real' world, headway is being made with likely C-19 vaccines in sufficient doses to treat the world in the New Year. Let's hope that comes to fruition.

Take Care, Stay Well, and perhaps make Masks both a medical necessity and a fashion statement to the world. Maybe then Social Media 'Influencers' can truly do some good. 

Tony

Edited by Anton_Cloche
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