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    Drew Payne
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Stories Written on Lined Paper - 20. “I Always Knew”

This story discusses the subject of child abuse.

 

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“All that Uncle Jelly Bean scandal leaves such a nasty taste in the mouth,” Aunt Marion announced to the room in front of her.

Dan wanted to let out a loud and sarcastic groan, but he didn’t. Instead, he changed his position on the sofa and glanced over at his mother who silently rolled her eyes. Only now had Aunt Marion got onto the subject of the Uncle Jelly Bean Scandal. She’d spent the whole of Sunday dinner ranting about one subject or another, shooting out her very black and white opinions at them, and when he didn’t agree with her, which was every time, she’d lash out at him with her sharp tongue. The only thing her age hadn’t seemed to affect was that tongue.

“We all know about it,” his mother replied to the old woman, more than a hint of tiredness in her voice. But Aunt Marion just ignored her.

“It was absolutely scandalous that that dirty, old pervert was allowed anywhere near little kiddies.”

Dan’s stomach would have sunk if it wasn’t so full of Sunday dinner. This was the last subject he wanted to discuss. Now he wanted their usual Sunday dinner conversation back.

It had quickly become a tradition after his parent’s divorce - Sunday dinner at his mother’s home. At first it had him and Ollie having Sunday dinner with his mother. Eighteen months ago, Steve had split up from his partner Amber and he’d joined them over Sunday dinner too. On alternative weekends he’d bring his daughter, Cassie, with him, when it was his turn to look after her. Dan had never been that found of little children but Cassie was bright as a button and he had found it easy to talk with her. Two months ago, Ollie had left him, but Dan still came here for Sunday dinner. He’d actually found the routine of it comforting.

His mother would always cook their meal and always, it would be a heavy roast dinner with all the trimmings - enough food to always fill his stomach and zap all his energy afterwards. But the entertainment would always make the meal. Since her divorce, his mother had flourished and with it had brought forward her sarcastic sense of humour: she would dominate the dinner table conversation with her favourite topics of family and celebrity gossip and her take on local and national politics, all cut through with her sharp and sarcastic sense of humour. It was always entertaining and he always found it so relaxing at the end of a busy week. That Sunday was different though.

Steve wasn’t looking after Cassie that weekend, so it should have just been the three of them for dinner, but they had been joined by a fourth guest - Aunt Marion. Technically, the old woman was his mother’s aunt, but they had always called her Aunt Marion. She had never been his favourite relative as a child, and as an adult he’d plainly avoided the woman.

The old woman had sat across the dinner table from him, eating her food and shooting them down with her opinions. Her white hair was set in a perm that seemed as solid as a helmet. Her make-up had been applied in thick and strong lines that emphasised her lips, cheek bones, eyes and eyebrows. But Dan remembered her having the same makeup from when he was a child. She was wearing a blue, high-necked dress and a small, pink cardigan over the top of it.

Now, they were sitting in the lounge after the meal. This was the time when they would have relaxed, digested their meal and often quietly watched television together. Aunt Marion had other ideas. As soon as they had sat down in there, she had started in on her rant about Uncle Jelly Bean.

“Jimbo Bean, as that awful Uncle Jelly Bean, was on your television screens for forty odd years with that pathetic brand of slapstick, all those custard pies and buckets of water. It was so childish,” Aunt Marion said, distaste dripping from her voice.

“It was a children’s program,” Dan added, trying to have a dig at her.

“Come on, we both watched it,” Steve said. “His shows were stupid, but funny.”

“And then he went and died on stage at the Watford Hippodrome,” Aunt Marion said.

“Not the first act that died on the Watford Hippodrome’s stage,” Steve added.

Dan felt himself smirk at Steve’s comment.

“He actually died on stage - his heart stopped,” Aunt Marion said, her voice taking on a patronising tone as if their interruptions were beneath her.

“He didn’t literally die on stage,” his mother said. “He staggered off stage, collapsed in the wings and died there. There is a difference. He had a massive heart attack. He was seventy-four, smoked like a chimney, drank like a fish and was God knows how many stone overweight. He was still touring that stage show of his all around the country, all year around. Is it any wonder he dropped down dead?”

“And he’d been a disgusting paedophile all his life. He should never have been let anywhere near little kiddies,” Aunt Marion said.

“We didn’t know that until that documentary came out about him and that was six months after he had died,” Dan said, though he was stating the obvious.

“Was it six months?” Steve asked him.

“Six months and one day. They made a big thing of it at the beginning of it,” Dan replied.

“I didn’t see it. I just read all about it afterwards,” Steve said. “Everyone at work was talking about it.”

“It was everywhere afterwards,” his mother said. “You couldn’t fail to miss the fallout. And God there was fallout.”

“And he abused hundreds and hundreds of poor little kiddies. He should have been hung,” Aunt Marion said.

“We didn’t know about that until after that documentary,” his mother said. “And it’s rather difficult to hang a dead man.”

“Yes. There were only three women in the original documentary. God they were brave women,” Dan added.

“It was only after that documentary aired that they all came forward and there were hundreds of them and it was disgusting,” his mother said. “It made me so nauseated.”

“Who would have guested that a rather creepy old clown was a paedo?” Steve said, sarcasm heavy in his voice.

“Who’d have thought a right-wing celebrity, who sucked up to royalty and Tory politicians, and who let everyone know how much charity work he was always doing was a serial child abuser,” Dan said, not bothering to hide his anger. It was the anger he’d felt since the truth came out.

“He was abuser on an industrial scale,” Steve added too.

“Who’d have thought he was hiding in plain sight? His powerful friends protecting him,” Dan said. It was something that had been repeated a lot since that documentary aired, but it still didn’t stop his anger.

“I’m so ashamed to say that we were all taken in by that monster,” his mother said, sadness pulling down at her words.

“I always knew he was a bad one, that Uncle Jelly Bean,” Aunt Marion said, her voice holding a heavy note of pride. “He was a dirty old pervert who should never have been allowed anywhere little kiddies.”

“What?” Dan spluttered, had he heard her correctly?

“You’re kidding,” Steve almost shouted.

“I’ve just told you,” Aunt Marion replied, as if they were naughty children who weren’t paying attention to her wisdom. “I knew he was a dirty, kiddie abuser decades and decades ago.”

“How do you know this?” His mother asked, staring intensely at Aunt Marion now.

“Your Uncle Don, God rest his soul, told me,” Aunt Marion said, referring to her long dead husband in the way she always did. “It was back in the early seventies. Your Uncle Don knew this theatrical agent, Henry Castle. He told Don that it was well known in show business circles that Jimbo Bean got his pleasures from messing with little children. Anyone who was anyone kept their children well away from him. I did the same. We might not have moved in the same circles, but I certainly put my foot down and would not let my Simon and Janice go to see those awful Uncle Jelly Bean stage shows, no matter how much they begged me.”

Aunt Marion arched her back, with obvious pride, as she finished her story.

“How did Uncle Don know a theatrical agent?” his mother pointedly asked.

“When he was on the Entertainment Committee for the Long Market Working Men’s Club, and that was for twenty years,” Aunt Marion replied with that still obvious pride in her voice

“And what did you do about it when you found out he was a paedophile?” Dan asked her.

“I told you,” Aunt Marion said, again in that tone of voice as if he was a naughty child who was deliberating not listening to her. “I kept my Simon and Janice well away from him, even his stage shows.”

“Why didn’t you go to the police or the press or both? Jimbo Bean was one of the worst paedophiles we’ve ever seen. He abused hundreds and hundreds of children and you knew that forty years ago!” Dan almost spat back at her.

“It was a different age back then in the seventies,” Aunt Marion replied. “We didn’t have all those fancy ideas about children all being innocent the way they do now. We had a realist view of childhood. For all his faults, Jimbo Bean only had a case of wondering hands with children. No more.”

“God, you didn’t just say that,” Steve said.

“My ex-boyfriend Ollie was abused as a kid and nobody believed him! It ruined his life and it ripped us apart. You could have stopped abuse like that and you refused to do so!” The heat of his anger was rushing up into his words, but Dan didn’t bother to stop it.

“Don’t speak to me like that!” Aunt Marion shot back at him, anger now plainly written across her face. “I had nothing to do with what happened to your friend.”

“Shits like you and Uncle Don and that theatrical agent and all the other bastards who knew about Jimbo Bean and did nothing about it are all to blame for the hurt and pain that shit caused. If you really did know about him and did nothing, then you’re fucking worse than him!”

His anger boiled over and pushed the words out of him and into her smug and glowering face. He wanted to hurt her in the way that her words were hurting others. He wanted to knock that smug expression off her face and make her eat her own words. He hated her in that moment, and that was so frightening too.

“How dare you speak to me like that!” Aunt Marion almost screamed back at him.

“Fuck off!” Dan shouted, jumping to his feet, the anger now pounding inside his head.

Before his anger pushed him to actually hitting the old woman, he rushed out of the room.

“Clare! Clare! Are you going to just sit there?” Aunt Marion complained loudly to his mother, but Dan ignored the old bitch as he slammed the sitting room door behind him.

He stormed through the kitchen, the anger rushing throw his body and making him almost blind to the room around him, and out through the first door he could find. There, after a few rushed steps, he found himself in the garden, stood on his mother’s decking, the wood slightly squeaking under his feet. There he stopped and stared out at the garden, though his eyes barely saw any of the things before him.

He’d wanted to punch the old bitch in the face, hurt her the way her words hurt others. How could she be so uncaring and arrogant? How could she have done nothing? God, he’d been so angry and… That anger scared him. He wasn’t violent or aggressive but he’d physically wanted to hurt that old woman. God, what was happening to him.

He looked out at his mother’s neatly tended garden. She spent many hours here, working in and tending to it, yet she always said it was her relaxation from work. Ollie always said he loved this garden. He missed Ollie.

Dan wrapped his arms around himself, as if he could comfort himself.

Ollie had told Dan that he’d been sexually abused by his stepfather when he was thirteen. When he tried to tell his mother, she’d called him a liar. His real father didn’t want to know either, but he was already distancing himself from Ollie because his mother had remarried. The abuse had only stopped when he was sixteen and his mother’s second marriage broke down.

Dan hadn’t known any of this until only a few months ago. He’d known Ollie was insecure and lacking confidence, but he’d seen it as so much of Ollie’s charm. Ollie wasn’t overconfident and cocky, as were so many men that Dan met: full of false bravado and self-belief with nothing special backing that up. Ollie was an introverted thinker, and that was what had first drawn Dan to him. He’d loved talking with Ollie.

With Ollie there had even been a sort of courtship. They hadn’t gone to bed on their first date. At first Dan had been taken aback: was Ollie even attracted to him? Then, he’d realised what was happening: Ollie was waiting and wanting them to get to know each other, and Dan was flattered.

He’d loved Ollie - he still did - and he’d been happy to make adjustments for Ollie’s issues around trust and commitment: how Ollie always needed time to make a big decision, to weigh all the options. Sometimes it could be frustrating, but he always reminded himself that it was just Ollie being Ollie. He certainly loved looking after Ollie and protecting him. He’d never been in a relationship where he was needed so much. Then Ollie’s grandmother died.

His grandmother was the only relative that Ollie had kept in touch with, the only relative that he’d liked. Ollie automatically wanted to attend her funeral, but Dan couldn’t get the time off work, so Ollie had travelled up to her funeral alone. Dan didn’t know what happened at the funeral, though later he guessed that Ollie must have had a run-in with his mother, but Ollie came home depressed and withdrawn, more so than just from a funeral.

Less than a week later Ollie had had a breakdown and took an overdose of his antidepressants. Dan had found him when he’d returned home from work that day. Ollie was curled up in a ball on the sofa with his pathetic note still clutched in his hand. With panic pounding in his head, Dan had rushed Ollie to hospital. There, Ollie was whisked away from him on a trolley and Dan was left to wait. They treated and assessed Ollie all while Dan had sat helplessly in the waiting room just waiting. He only knew what had happened to Ollie and that Ollie was going to be admitted to psychiatric ward when a nurse came up to him and quietly told him. She then took him to see Ollie who was lying in a foetal position in the middle of a hospital trolley, in a very white cubicle. Ollie looked so small and lost there - it was almost too painful to look at.

Ollie spent nearly four weeks as a patient on that psychiatric ward. It was during this time that Dan learnt about the abuse and how it had wrecked his life. Dan had almost been broken hearing about Ollie’s teenage years. He hadn’t been there to save Ollie even though he couldn’t have protected Ollie from it all. He promised himself that he would take care of and protect Ollie when he was discharged from hospital.

Ollie was discharged on a Friday afternoon. He’d met Ollie at the hospital. He’d intended to take him home.

Ollie insisted they go to the hospital’s coffee shop first. There, as they sat at one of the small round tables, Ollie said,

“I’m going to move into Toby’s spare room. He said I can stay there as long as I want.”

“What? Why?”

“I’m not coming home with you.”

“Why? What have I done?” Dan asked him. What was happening here?

“Nothing. You’ve been great. It really is me.”

“You? You haven’t done anything wrong?”

Ollie stared down at the table between them, not making eye contact with Dan.

“I’m too damaged. I’d only do you harm and drag you down. I’m not good for you. It’s best this way.”

“No it’s not!” Dan exclaimed, shock pushing out his words.

No matter how much he protested and tried to argue with him, Ollie persisted: he wasn’t coming home with Dan and Dan couldn’t change his mind. Eventually, Ollie left him there in the hospital coffee shop, to catch a bus to Toby’s flat. He’d sat there for over an hour, shocked by what Ollie had just done.

He’d been preparing himself for looking after Ollie. Knowing about the abuse just meant preparing more, but he hadn’t seen this coming. He’d lost Ollie over something he had no control over. He felt so useless.

He missed Ollie. He still woke up in the morning finding his bed too big and empty without Ollie there. He’d taken to checking out Ollie’s Facebook page just to see what Ollie was doing, though Ollie barely posted anything on it. He just wanted Ollie back with him but that seemed hopeless. How was Dan to show him that Ollie was good for him?

He pushed his hands into his trouser pockets. God, how long was that old bitch, Aunt Marion, going to be staying here anyway? She had made him so angry that he’d lost control. He hated it when someone got that much under his skin.

<><><><><>

Clare ran her hands down the hem of her cardigan and stared out of the kitchen’s window. Dan was stood on the edge of the decking, his back firmly to the house. He looked so lost and withdrawn stood there. He looked so thin in his black jeans and dark blue shirt. His clothes were tailored to fit his body but that body looked so thin. His brown, curly hair had been getting longer lately, its style growing out. He just tucked it behind his ears now, no longer bothering to style it. She knew it was best to keep quiet about her worries, especially how he seemed to be ignoring his appearance, but it didn’t stop those worries.

Dan and Steve were so obviously brothers - two peas in the same pod she had called them - the same features and the same brown hair. But some days now, they looked so different - they certainly did today. Steve was the older of them, and since his early teens he’d always played one sport or another, giving him the more solid and muscular body, and Steve had always kept his hair short at the sides and back, only allowing the curls to grow out on top.

Dan had always been the slim and “artistic” one of the brothers. He’s always taken a keen interest in his clothes and style, especially his hairstyle, but lately he had seemed more withdrawn, not caring about his appearance in the way he did. She knew it had all started with the end of his relationship with Ollie. She had liked Ollie: he was so handsome and polite, but he had quietly worried her too. She’d noticed how nervous and quiet he could become, often without any cause. Some days she’d see him and he’d be bright and chatty, talking with her about books and films and television dramas, their shared favourite things; other times, he’d be quiet and almost alone, even with Dan sat next to him, and she could never see any reason for the change.

She had seen how protective and caring Dan had been towards him. At the time, she’d been pleased: looking after someone else seemed to be good for Dan. He’d taken her divorce from John harder than Steve, though he never said it. She always wondered if he blamed himself for John leaving her: he had far less contact with John than Steve did afterwards. When he’d first introduced her to Ollie, she’d felt relieved. Dan had someone else in his life. She’d watched him come alive with Ollie, having someone to care for had brought him alive. Then, two months ago, their relationship had suddenly ended and he wouldn’t talk about why. Now she knew why, why Dan was dumped to be exact, but that didn’t seem to provide any comfort. She still didn’t know what she could say to him to ease his pain, but she wanted to. When he’d been little, she could ease his silent tears, whenever he’d been hurt, by holding him and telling him everything would be all right. Her children were adults now, but that didn’t stop her wanting to protect them from pain.

She pushed her hands into her cardigan’s pockets. She’d left Aunt Marion in the lounge, complaining and protesting as if Dan had actually slapped her in the face, rather than just shouting at her. Steve had just nodded his agreement as she’d left the room, as if he knew what she was going to do, but it must have been fairly obvious. Now, stood there and watching him through the kitchen window, she wasn’t sure what to do next. She wanted to wrap him up in a hug and tell him everything was going to be all right, but they were both too old for that now.

She’d never seen Dan react like that before, get so angry that he stormed out of a room. She’d seen him annoyed and assertive with people who preached black and white bigotry, but his response had always been a challenge of words, wits drawn at ten paces, with Dan always challenging their bigotry. She knew he got that from his father, that readiness to stand up for his believes, but John’s opinions had been far more to the right of the spectrum than Dan’s. As a teenager, Dan had spent so much of his time arguing with his father, often in response to John saying something blunt. She had watched Dan, back then, with a quiet sense of pleasure as he repeatedly tripped up John over his simplistic opinions. But she had never seen him so angry before, never seen Dan storm out of a room like that before.

She couldn’t leave him standing out there alone, but neither did she know what to say to him. That had never stopped her in the past though. She’d walked into many situations not knowing what to say, but she would find that the words came to her as she heard the situation. Long ago, she realised she wasn’t the meek little wife her own mother had told her she must be.

She opened the back door and stepped out onto the decking, which squeaked for a moment under her feet. It had been squeaking since last winter, but Dan didn’t turn around, even if he heard the noise.

She took the few steps until she was stood behind him, cleared her throat and said,

“You upset Aunt Marion with what you said and she’s sitting in the lounge fuming. She needs to be upset more often. It might do her some good.”

Dan turned around, a surprised expression on his face.

“You mean that?” he said, his voice soft and low in tone.

“Of course I do. Aunt Marion was always a nasty old bitch. I thought she might have mellowed with age, but she still has that awful mouth of hers. I regretted inviting her the moment she arrived and started complaining about the wallpaper in the hallway. She didn’t even bother being nice to me until she had sat down. She had to start the moment she was inside my home.”

“Why did you invite her?”

“I felt sorry for her. Raquel said that no one visits her in that care home. I now see why: she’s pissed off anyone who ever knew her. That’s the last time I let Raquel guilt trip me into doing anything. She keeps going on about us being family, but she’s only my cousin.” She stopped talking. Was her mouth running away from her again? She was saying too much, and he wouldn’t have a chance to say anything in return.

“Do you think Aunt Marion knew about Jimbo Bean, back then?” Dan asked her.

“Uncle Don was involved with that working men’s club for years and years. Aunt Marion made a big deal about him being on the entertainment committee. Maybe he did know some talent agents, but if he did, it would be well below Jimbo Bean’s level of fame. All Uncle Don ever booked were club singers, blue comedians, the odd magician and the poor strippers for their once-a-month Gentleman Only nights. Not exactly the same circles as Jimbo Bean moved in. There must have been rumours about him back then, but I’m sure none of them reached Uncle Don. If Aunt Marion had known back then, then she would have told everyone about it. She always thought she was above everyone else. She always looked down on us. If she’d known something like that, she would have made a big deal of it.”

“Then why did she go and say it now?”

“To make herself sound important. You challenged everything she said over dinner, you and Steve ran rings around her dusty old arguments. It was a pleasure to watch, by the way. I remember so many Sunday dinners with her and Uncle Don, when I was growing up, and she’d dominate the conversation with the most awful things she said, even back then. She’s always thought of herself as the most intelligent person in the room.”

“She’d have to be the only person in the room.”

“Isn’t that bitchy,” she said, smiling back at him.

“Aunt Marion brings that out in me,” Dan replied.

“She brings it out in all of us,” she replied. As a child, she’d so hated Aunt Marion’s visits because the woman seemed to take great delight in upsetting and hurting people. As a child, she’d always tried to remain as silent as possible so Aunt Marion wouldn’t notice her and turn her nasty mouth onto her. Sometimes it worked.

“She said things were different in the seventies, that children weren’t seen as innocents.

Was she right?” he asked her. His face wore that puzzled expression he’d had since he was a child, puzzlement making his eyes seem to grow wide and his teeth gently biting his bottom lip. It made his face seem so very young again.

“The old witch has to be right about something. God, it was so different back then.”

“How much more different?”

Clare ran her tongue over her top lip. It was a long time since she had told this story and never to Steve or Dan, but… She wasn’t ashamed of it. It had happened, and it hadn’t been her fault.

“Your Aunt Marion had a younger brother who could do no wrong in her eyes, my Uncle Patrick. He had what was called ‘Wandering Hands’.”

“What’s that?”

“He was a groper. When I was seven, he touched me up… Oh, what I am saying. He groped my bottom. I was scared and repulsed all at once. I ran straight to my mother and told her what had happened, and she smacked me across the face.”

“What? That’s disgusting. I remember nana could be strict but that’s crazy.”

“She smacked me because she said it was my fault, he groped me because I should have known he had ‘wandering hands’ and I shouldn’t have let him do it.”

“That’s disgusting,” Dan’s face creased up with the anger in his voice.

“That was the attitude back then. So many women were blamed for men’s bad behaviour, as if men were too weak and couldn’t resist ‘temptation’. When I was twelve or thirteen, there was a young woman who was raped, but the judge gave her rapist a much-reduced sentence because she had been wearing a mini-skirt and was hitchhiking when he attacked her.”

“That’s disgusting too.”

“That was the attitude. Men were excused their bad behaviour back then because they were men. He had wandering hands, not he was a groper. He was the office Lothario, not a serial adulterer and cheat. He liked the company of young girls, not that he was a sex pest or child abuser.” The words tumbled out of her mouth so quickly. She meant what she’d said. She had felt it for so long, ever since she had been a girl. She’d watched the inequality all around her growing up, though back then it hadn’t been called inequality, and she’d just thought of it as unfair. “My first job, after school, was working in an office,” she continued. “There was a manager there, a middle-aged man with paunch and a comb-over that fooled no one. But he thought he was God’s gift to women. On my first day there the Office Manager took me aside and warned me about him. She told me not to be alone with him. In my first week there he cornered me in the stationary cupboard and tried to grope me, so I stamped on his foot. I kept stamping on his foot until he left me alone.”

“Good for you,” he said, his face smiling back at her.

“He complained about me and I got disciplined for it. I got a formal warning. He received nothing. His behaviour was seen as ‘normal’. I was so angry. I cried alone in my bedroom that evening, cried with frustration. I remembered it as clear as day, even though it had been over forty years ago.”

“That’s… That’s terrible.”

“It was the time. I mean, the police didn’t take the Yorkshire Ripper seriously when he was killing prostitutes. They only took him seriously when he started killing ‘normal’ women, ‘good decent’ women. They actually said that during press conferences, in front of TV cameras.”

“But people must have known what Jimbo Bean was doing, even at the time,” Dan said.

“I’m sure they did, and people covered up. He was a huge star back in the day, and back then, being a celebrity really was something. Not many people got to be celebrities. There were only three, and then four, TV channels, and Jimbo Bean was a huge star, and he did so much charity work. It was all a clever smokescreen and God, we fell for it. It doesn’t excuse what happened but it does explain it. Powerful men got away with a lot then and he was powerful at the height of his career. He was friends with Royalty and members of the Government. At one point, the Prime Minister had him on her committee to improve children’s hospital care, if you can believe it.”

“Hopefully, that couldn’t happen now. Could it?” Dan asked.

“I like to hope things have really changed. The Me-Too movement has caused a lot of change,” she replied. “It has brought down some really powerful men. I know it hasn’t stopped all abuse, I’m not that naïve, but now a forty-year-old man who chases after fourteen-year-old girls is seen as the creepy predator he is and not just as someone who ‘likes them young’ and nothing more.”

“Yes… yes…” he replied. She could see he was thinking.

She did know when not to speak, to read a moment and not jump in with words when the other person needed silence. That ability had served her well at work, to hold back for a moment. This was one of those moments. Dan was staring off down the garden, a fixed expression on his face, his lips closed and his eyes fixed on something off on the horizon. He’d had that expression since he was a child. She’d called it his “thinking expression”, the expression his face always wore when his mind was thinking over something serious.

A few moments later his face turned back to her and he quietly said, “Did I cause you and dad to split up?”

“God, no. Why would you think that?” she replied, the words almost automatically falling out of her mouth.

“Well, I came out to you and Dad and Dad didn’t take it well, and then a few months later you two had split-up.”

“Your father being a prick over you coming out to us was the final straw. I had been hanging on, telling myself that things would get better. Then he behaved like that over you just saying you’re gay. It wasn’t as if that was anything surprising, and I knew things weren’t going to change - they were just going to get worse - and I knew I couldn’t stay living like that. That’s why our marriage ended.”

“Oh, but when did things start to go wrong?” he asked. He’d never asked her this before. Steve had, after her divorce was finalised, but Dan had never done so. Somewhere, at the back of her mind, she had been waiting for this moment. She knew very well when and why her marriage had first started to end.

“It was when you were eighteen. You’d just started your first job and Steve had moved in with Michaela,” she said.

“There’s a name from the past,” Dan replied.

“She was. Well both of you had your own lives and I knew it was my chance to finally study psychology. When I told your father of my plans, we ended up having this huge row over it. He kept going on about who would iron his shirts and cook his evening meal. It was if he was still in the same mindset as when we got married. We had the row on the Saturday morning, and I didn’t speak to him until Sunday evening, I was so angry at him.”

“I don’t remember that,” Dan said.

“You had gone away for the weekend. You’d gone off to Brighton with your friend Anthony.”

“He was my first boyfriend, actually.”

“I know,” Clare replied, giving him a gentle smile.

“But you did study psychology.”

“Yes, because I told your father I was going to do it and, in the end, he couldn’t stop me. But it opened my eyes to what was happening. Your father was so stuck in his ways, but he also had a sense of entitlement. He believed he was the head of the family and, therefore, always right because he’s a white, straight man. The more I studied and learnt, the more I saw this and the more frustrated I became with my marriage. Then you came out to us and your father behaved like it was a total surprise. You’d been dropping enough hints to us. But your father goes off the deep end, claiming that no son of his was gay and the shame of it all. I couldn’t believe he was behaving like that, and then I knew my marriage was over. That’s when I asked him to leave, and he did. And thank God, he didn’t make a fuss.”

“But in a way, I did cause it,” Dan quietly said.

“No but you showed me that everything was over,” she told him.

“I see.”

“Your father believed he was right just because of who he was. He believed he was entitled to respect and authority just because he was a straight, white man. He couldn’t see that that was wrong. When I wanted to do something that he didn’t agree with, he couldn’t cope with it. He couldn’t just step back and talk with me about it. All he could do was say that I couldn’t do it. He couldn’t even see that you were gay, and when you came out to him, you stopped being his image of what a son should be. After we divorced, I was able to put some space between him and me, and realised how entitled he was acting and how he couldn’t see he needed to change. What am I saying - he couldn’t change. I felt so sorry for him.”

“Jimbo Bean had that same entitlement. He felt entitled to abuse those kids because he wanted to. He didn’t think about those kids, what harm he was doing.”

“Your father isn’t like that. Jimbo Bean was deeply corrupt and used his fame and power to hide his abuse. Your father was like all those people, mostly men, who didn’t believe Jimbo Bean could possibly do anything like that because he was one of them.”

“Yes, I see.”

“Don’t blame your father for Jimbo Bean’s crimes. Blame the attitude that straight white men are always right because they’re straight white men, for allowing Jimbo Bean to escape.”

“Yes, yes, I really see that.”

“Why didn’t you tell me Ollie had been abused. I could have helped you. God I’m a clinical psychologist.”

“I didn’t know until he had that breakdown. Fuck, I wish he’d never gone to that fucking funeral. He broke up with me when he left hospital. He said he was too damaged and I deserved a better boyfriend than him. I never said that, and I don’t believe it for one minute.” She could see the pain oozing around the edges of his expression. In moments like this she saw how deeply hurt Dan had been.

“People who have been abused can suffer with low self-esteem. Being confronted by an abuser or someone who enabled that abuser can be really traumatic and… Oh God, I’m sounding far too like a psychologist. What I’m trying to say is, it doesn’t sound like it’s your fault.”

“Thanks, but he still left me, and I really worry about him. I want to take care of him, and he doesn’t want me around.”

“I could speak to him, if you want? I could make sure he’s okay, help him get some help. You know, do what I do at work.”

“Yes please, but he doesn’t reply to any of my texts. I don’t send them very often. I haven’t sent one for nearly a week. I’m not stalking him.” She could see a moment of nervousness flash across his face. He obviously didn’t want her to think he was doing anything wrong, but she could also tell how much he was still in love with Ollie. Maybe he’d even been Facebook-stalking Ollie, but she wasn’t going to ask that. It was too cruel.

“I don’t know if Ollie will come back to you, but I’ll make sure he’s safe.”

“Thanks. That’s what I want, to know if he’s safe.”

Ollie had obviously had a crisis and maybe he’d pushed Dan away for fear of hurting him, fear of Dan seeing him weak and ill. She’d seen it happen with patients, cutting themselves off from friends and loved ones out of fear of those people seeing them ill or broken. God, some days she just couldn’t stop being a psychologist.

“I think we should go inside now,” she said. “I’m getting cold out here and I’m sure you are too.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere near Aunt Marion. She’ll say something to me and… Well, you know.”

“Don’t worry. We’ll sit in the kitchen until I can get rid of her. She’ll never come into my kitchen - that’s far too near to being working class for her tastes. We’ll be safe there.”

“Thank you,” he smiled back at her. It wasn’t his normal strong and welcoming smile, but it was a smile, and she was taking that as something positive.

She held her hand out towards him, and without a word, he’d reached out and took hold of it. His hand was cold, his fingers and palm chilled by the autumn weather, but his grip was tight, his fingers enfolding around her own hand and holding it tight.

She turned back towards the house and led him towards the kitchen door. For one moment, it was as if they were both much younger, he was a child again and she was holding his hand and walking with him as a quiet act of comfort, to reassure him after something unpleasant or untoward had happened. She smiled at the realisation. They had both changed and grown up so much, but she still could be his mother, especially when he needed it.

<><><><><>

“I have never been spoken to like that before,” Aunt Marion said, her voice holding a loud tone of her own victimhood. “Your brother has no manners or respect. It is absolutely disgusting. I expected more from your parents. They should have raised him properly. Though, your mother divorcing her husband, when she’s the wrong side of forty, sets a terrible precedent.”

Steve was slouched down in his armchair and just stared back at the woman. Was there any point in arguing with her? Her very red lips were pursed together in a tight, closed pout. She sat perched on the edge of the sofa, her back held upright, her body held in a tight position, her arms folded together under her breasts, her knees pressed tightly together. If she hadn’t repeatedly been telling him how angry she was, he could easily tell that from uptight body language.

The expression on her face had almost been priceless when Dan had exploded at her, calling her out on all her bullshit. She had looked hurt and shocked in the same moment. Suddenly, someone was standing up to her and shouting her down louder than she could shout back. Suddenly, she wasn’t the most dominant person in the room. It had only lasted a moment before she had fired herself up with self-righteous indignation and she started shouting about Dan’s behaviour. When his mum had left the room, following after Dan, Aunt Marion’s self-righteousness had jumped up another level: his mum was ignoring her over Dan, and she hadn’t held back expressing that.

But that moment when she had been smacked down by Dan had been priceless. Steve smiled to himself at the memory.

“And what are you smirking at, young man? Respecting your elders and betters is the bedrock of this country, though you wouldn’t know it in this household by the disgustingly disrespectful way I have been treated.”

Steve pushed himself upright in the armchair, pushing his back as far back into the chair as he could, and smiled back at her, a smile he deliberately made overly broad.

“Oh come on, you’re used to being treated like that by now,” he said. “A big, fat liar like you.”

“How dare you speak to me like that! Who do you think you are?”

“I’m someone who doesn’t like liars, and you’re a liar.” She opened her mouth to protest but he continued speaking, deliberately stopping her reply. “Everything you said about knowing about Jimbo Bean was a lie.”

“No it was not,” she protested, but that edge of self-righteousness was slipping from her voice. He was right.

“Dan was right. If you had known about him at the time and did nothing, then you’re just another shit and guilty of covering up. And if you’re lying, then you’re just as bad, trying to make yourself sound big off the back of a monster like Jimbo Bean,” he calmly said. Don’t shout or rise your voice, use logic to win your argument. He learnt that a long time ago.

“I am nothing like that, how dare you,” she replied, but there was now a note of wariness to her voice.

“You were always like that. I remember when I was a child and you’d always have these elaborate stories about how wonderful and amazing you and Uncle Don were, stories that were too big to be real. And if someone questioned those stories, you’d be so nasty and vicious towards them,” he said. He was seven when she’d reduced him to tears. He’d questioned her story about how she and Uncle Don had met the actor Ralph Fiennes as a thirteen-year-old. She claimed to have seen him in a school play and, afterwards, she’d told him that he should be a professional actor. But he’d watched an interview with Ralph Fiennes on television, a week before, where he talked about growing up in Ireland. At thirteen he’d been still living in Ireland and Aunt Marion had certainly never visited there. When Steve had said this, contradicting the end of Aunt Marion’s latest story, she had turned on him, telling him how stupid and ungrateful he was. Her words had stung and hurt him, even after his mum had stepped in and tried to stop her, and he hadn’t been able to stop the tears. He’d never forgotten the way she had made him feel, how stupid and little she had made him feel just because he’d tried to challenge her with the truth.

“Nonsense. They’re just jealous of the wonderful life I had with your Uncle Don,” she replied, but now she wasn’t making eye contact with him. She certainly wasn’t trying to stare him down anymore.

“No, they don’t like dirty old liars like you,” he replied, and carried on talking, not giving her a chance to push her self-righteousness onto him again. “I’ve got a daughter, Cassie. She’s six and she’s my world. I’d do anything to protect her. If I found out someone had abused her, then I’d kill him, literally. Later, if I found out someone else knew that Cassie’s abuser was a dangerous abuser and told no one, kept silent and allowed that abuser to abuse my Cassie, well, I’d ring her scrawny, old neck. That’s why you shouldn’t lie.” She turned her head pointedly away from him, presenting him with her sharp profile. “Do you get my meaning?” She didn’t answer him, instead staring off into the middle distance. “I’ll take that as a yes. I’m going to order you an Uber. It’s time you went home.”

“I’m not paying for a taxi when your mother can drive me home. I’ll just wait here for when she’s ready,” Aunt Marion said, turning back to face him, a slightly pleased smile curling up the edges of her mouth.

“I’ll pay for it. Call it my treat because I don’t want you here a moment longer. You hurt people,” he said as he pulled out his phone from his jeans’ pocket.

“This whole household is the rudest on Earth,” Aunt Marion announced, again her face turned away from him. He plainly ignored her. What was the point of wasting any more time on her, and opened the Uber app on his phone. It only took him a few moments to request an Uber car for her and have his order confirmed. The app told him it would be there in fifteen minutes. He closed his phone and looked back at her. She was staring off into the distance, pointedly not looking at him.

“The Uber will be here at quarter-to,” he told her.

“I have never been spoken to like that before,” Aunt Marion repeated herself, though not turning to look at him.

“I’m going to join Mum and Dan in the kitchen. You can wait here,” he said, pushing himself up from his chair before she could answer him back again, and strode out of the room.

As the room’s door slammed close behind him, Steve felt a moment of relief. When he’d arrived here and saw Aunt Marion perched on the edge of the sofa, he’d felt his stomach sink with dread. He’d spent his adult life avoiding the old witch and there she was, ready to spoil his whole afternoon, which she’d quickly managed to do. Over their Sunday dinner, she had obviously seen that her opinions were winding up Dan and upsetting his mum, but that didn’t stop her. He had fallen back onto sarcasm to stop himself shouting and swearing at the old witch, but she had barely seemed to notice. When she had brought up the subject of Jimbo Bean, as they relaxed after dinner, he had wanted to swear at her. When she announced her outrageous lie about Jimbo Bean, he’d felt his stomach turnover with shock: she hadn’t just said that - she couldn’t be that stupid?

He’d been so glad when Dan exploded with anger and verbally slapped her down. The expression on Aunt Marion’s face had been a picture of shock and offence. But he hadn’t known that about Ollie, the poor bastard.

He’d felt his temper nearly snap when his mum left the room to follow after Dan and Aunt Marion had complained loudly about his mum abandoning her. The woman’s selfishness was breath taking. He was so glad Cassie wasn’t here to witness it all.

It took him only a moment to walk across the house’s hallway and step into the kitchen’s open doorway. The room before him was so familiar - he was no stranger to this room - and his eyes barely registered its features, he knew them so well. His attention was caught by the two people sitting together at the kitchen table, sitting across one corner of it. It was his mum and Dan. They were talking together. Dan was sitting back his in chair, his face was gently smiling. His mum was resting her folded arms on the table, her body leaning slightly towards Dan, her face wearing a relaxed expression. Both of them looked comfortable and calm, not stressed or agitated. Steve smiled to himself. This was good to see.

At the beginning of the previous week, he had run into Ollie. He’d had to go to the council headquarters for yet another progress meeting, or Death by Shit PowerPoint as he often called them. He’d felt a rush of relief to finally be out of that meeting and had hurried out of the building. As he strode across the building’s lobby, he’d almost physically run into Ollie. He’d almost forgotten that Ollie worked there. Instead of being embarrassed to see him or being awkward around him, as Amber’s friends were always around him whenever he ran them - Amber’s friends would be polite but would want to get away from him as soon as possible - Ollie was bright and happy to see him, chatty from the moment they almost collided.

He’d suggested that they have a coffee together - he’d wanted a decent coffee for nearly an hour and Ollie seemed so happy to see him, which added to his feeling that he fancied some company. The progress meeting had been so boring that he’d had trouble staying awake. He’d found his head nodding forward as sleep/boredom swept over him. He and Ollie had gone to the coffee shop that sat on the opposite side of the road to the headquarters, a place that Steve knew serviced good quality coffee. As they had sipped their coffees together, Ollie had quizzed him about Dan. What was Dan doing? How was Dan doing? Was Dan seeing anyone? Steve quickly picked up on Ollie’s motives: he wanted to get back with Dan. When they’d parted, after their coffees were drunk, Steve had offered that he, Ollie and Dan should meet for a drink. Ollie had blushed deeply and mumbled his reply, “That would be nice.”

Steve looked across the kitchen at Dan. He and Ollie had been so good together. Maybe Ollie was regretting ending their relationship. Maybe he should arrange for the three of them to have a drink? How would he explain it to Dan? Would Dan want to go? Was he overthinking all this? He smiled at Dan, though Dan wasn’t even looking at him.

His mum looked up and looked straight at him.

“Where’s Aunt Marion?” she asked him.

“Sitting in the sitting room and sulking. I called her an Uber,” he replied.

“She’s been called worse,” his mum said.

“How did you get her to pay for it?” Dan asked.

“It’s on me. It’s the fastest way to get rid of her,” he said.

“And worth every penny. Thanks, Steve,” Dan replied.

“Why did you invite her here?” he asked, trying not to make his voice sound accusatory.

“Your cousin Raquel guilt-tripped me into it,” his mum said.

“You’re a Clinical Psychologist!” he protested.

“And Raquel has a PhD in Emotional Blackmail. I didn’t stand a chance,” she replied.

“Next time, Raquel can listen to her pile of shit lies about Jimbo Been,” Steve said.

Another big thank you to @pvtguy for editing this story.

 

I have found that twenty stories are the right number for a collection, therefore I am closing this collection with this story, the twentieth one here. I will be creating a new general story collection soon.

If you have enjoyed this collection please leave a recommendation, and even a review if you can, it helps other readers find these stories.

Happy reading.

Copyright © 2018 Drew Payne; All Rights Reserved.
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You offer a slim ray of hope; but the overall story is so real and tragic. Too many adults now suffer because of what adults felt they could do as their natural right. 

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2 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

You offer a slim ray of hope; but the overall story is so real and tragic. Too many adults now suffer because of what adults felt they could do as their natural right. 

Thank you so much, this is a story I have worried whether it worked or not. @pvtguy gave me some wonderful feedback too.

The inspiration for this story was me shouting at the radio. It was after the Jimmy Savile scandal broke, here in England (The link is to Savile's Wikipedia page which gives so much more detail). There was an old journalist being interviewed on the radio and he said everyone, in the media, knew Savile was a paedophile and Savile should have been kept away from children. I lost my temper and screamed at the radio because that man had been silent while Savile was alive.

This story is my response to that journalist and all the others who claimed hindsight only after Savile was dead and exposed.

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I've enjoyed all of your stories in this collection.  Your writing keeps me entertained and thoughtful.  I notice that this is number twenty and the last of this series so that means I must have missed one 'cause the last I remember is "Boxing Day."  I'll have to catch up by reading "Another One of Those Family Photographs" now but I couldn't get to that before sending you my accolades for a series well written.  Thank you!

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13 hours ago, James Baxter said:

I've enjoyed all of your stories in this collection.  Your writing keeps me entertained and thoughtful.  I notice that this is number twenty and the last of this series so that means I must have missed one 'cause the last I remember is "Boxing Day."  I'll have to catch up by reading "Another One of Those Family Photographs" now but I couldn't get to that before sending you my accolades for a series well written.  Thank you!

James, thanks for your wonderful feedback. My stories keeping you "entertained and thoughtful" is the highest praise.

Thank you.

P.S. I am writing more.

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