Wednesday afternoon, and Nathan has two very different visitors.
Three in the afternoon on a quiet Wednesday, Nathan sat in the small office at the back of the bakers, nursing a mug of tea, logging invoices and paying bills from his laptop. The only personal items he kept in the office were his overcoat, scarf and an assortment of umbrellas, in case he needed to head out to the high street for anything. Over the weekend, an electric kettle, mugs and tea bags had found their way onto one side of his office desk. And now, the small fridge his father had installed there, many moons ago, placed atop a waist-high filing cabinet, contained not only chilled bottles of water but a tall carton of fresh milk. Fingal’s doing, according to Molly. Apparently, he had baulked on Friday at having to run upstairs to the flat every time he fancied a brew. Rather than being rattled, Nathan found the change endearing, reminded him so much of his father. Strangely, the weekend away from the shop had changed him, chilled him, and he suddenly imagined a world outside his own. Even the announcement of his cousin coming to see him hadn’t fazed him, something he had taken in his stride.
About to close down the laptop, he hesitated, then opened a browser and searched again for the Huffpost article on the calendar. In all fairness, the story had been well-written and provided excellent publicity for the upcoming event. The catchline ‘Crumbington Baker Bares All’ with the photo of him laid out on the wooden bench had initially filled him with cold dread, but had since begun to lose its potency. As had the couple of times he had been stared at or, on one occasion, wolf-whistled on the high street since Monday. More to the point, he wondered, would the title and picture entice anyone to read the actual article? He hoped so. Nevertheless, a smile tugged his face on seeing the photograph and remembering what exactly had been happening behind the camera.
After finally leaving her a message Saturday night, Jenny Gillespie called Sunday lunchtime as he and Jaymes stuffed their bags into the back of the Rover and began to bid farewell to Clifton and Raul. Apparently her contact had initially confirmed publishing the article mid to late April. When he saw the material, and having had a fairly quiet month on the news front, his editor had insisted on publishing early. Her apology sounded genuine and Nathan placated her with his tale of being hijacked by a woman at the party, which had Jaymes laughing in the background and seemed to mollify Jenny. Before she called off, Jaymes demanded to know the details of the website, which she promptly provided. Clifton became quiet and pensive, and gently shook his head at Nathan, while all the others either hooted with joy, whistled, or made largely positive noises. Nathan put Clifton’s reaction down to his own dubious online experience.
As they drove to the antiques store in Oxford, Nathan received a string of text messages from his teammates. Apparently, the site was now in the public domain. Two hours later, as they stood in the heart of Martin and Gallagher’s antiques shop, Arlene called. Although she sounded guarded at first—probably expecting to be blamed by Nathan—she didn’t seem overly bothered. Publicity, she put it assertively, being the key to a successful campaign and, ultimately, a profitable festival. Once she had finished her lecture, Nathan breathed out a sigh and then chuckled, and told her not to worry. That particular reaction, strangely, elicited a response from her, almost one of suspicion. But in a resigned voice, he told her the circus had already begun and that he simply would have liked to have been given a heads-up.
On Monday morning, Jaymes texted him a photograph of his desktop computer with naked Nathan as the new wallpaper. An hour later, without knowing about her cousin’s action, Polly sent him one exactly the same but hers now filled the home display of her smartphone. After rolling his eyes, he resigned himself to being in the spotlight for a few more weeks. Just as well, too, because several people came into the shop that week, immediately seeking out this famous baker. After giving them a smile and a nod, telling them the calendar would be on sale very soon, he often watched them leave, and wondered what they thought when they realised he really was just an ordinary person, a true to life boring baker.
“So this is where you hide yourself, is it?” came a baritone voice with a gentle Irish lilt. “Well, don’t just sit there. Make yourself useful and put the kettle on. Me and Molly here are parched.”
Fingal stood in the doorway, smiling, Molly grinning over his shoulder. Nathan rolled his eyes, but got up and went to fill the kettle from the sink in the restroom attached to the office. When he returned, Fingal had already installed himself in the old chair opposite. As Nathan plugged in the kettle and set about making tea, Fingal watched him good-humouredly.
“I was going to berate you about not publicising your damn fine produce enough. But seems you’ve gone above and beyond in that respect. I’d never have considered getting me togs off back in Ireland. An advert in a local paper holding a loaf maybe, but I’d never have considered appearing in the buff.”
“Oh, my lord,” said Nathan, putting his face in his hands. “Who told you?”
“Nobody needed to. After the third time being asked by a customer where the naked baker was, I kind of guessed they weren’t talking about Arthur—although I did wonder about his son. And then, before we closed up Friday, Molly’s daughter came in and showed us the photo on her phone. You do know takings were up by about a third for both days, don’t you?”
“And I apologise for the trouble it caused. I want to truly thank you for coping, and especially taking the team out for a drink on Friday. But the calendar was never meant to be about me or the shop. It’s for charity—”
“I know all that, Nathan. But a little bit of publicity for the shop can’t do any harm, can it?”
Nathan finished off preparing the teas, and took one out to Molly, telling her to call him if things got busy. When he returned, he took his seat while Fingal folded his arms and observed him.
“Now, son. Are you happy to hear some advice from an old timer?”
“I’m all ears.”
“Are you? It’s just, some people don’t want to hear from those they consider outsiders. And if you knew me well, you’d know that I’m not one to pull any punches.”
“I’m a big boy.”
“To be sure. Even Molly knows that. She saw the photo,” said Fingal, chuckling, while Nathan groaned and looked away.
“What I mean is, please go on,” said Nathan, braving Fingal again. “Tell me what you think.”
“Okay then. Like I said to you before, you’re missing a lot of tricks, so I’m going to start gently. To begin with, every morning you deliver fresh rolls and mini baguettes to seven cafes and convenience stores dotted about town. Once delivered, each store spends time filling them to sell as breakfasts, or lunches, or in readiness for their lunchtime trade. So I’m thinking, why don’t you do everything here instead, find out what fillings are popular and do the work for them? Price them accordingly, but I bet they’d love you for that. Molly’s more than capable. Although you might want to consider getting extra help. You could sell them here, out of the shop, too. And did you know her girl Janette has her own business making organic pies, salads and soups for schools, clubs and local cafes? How about you let her sell through the bakery? That way people can get freshly baked, freshly filled rolls or baguettes as well as pies, soups or salads for their lunches. Could get yourself a smart little side business going, if you wanted.”
“Nice idea. But I’d need to find space if we’re going to prepare fresh food. And wouldn’t the health department need to approve us preparing fresh food on the premises?”
“Your food prep licence might already cover you, but anyway, it’d be nothing more than a technicality. And as for space? You’ve got four ovens out back, Nathan. And you only ever use two. Sure, they’re a few years old, but they’re still in good nick. I bet you could sell them fairly easily, which is what I would do.”
“Sell two? But I keep two as a back-up, in case—”
“In case of what? According to Arthur, those ovens have rarely even needed any maintenance. They’re just sitting there, taking up valuable space, space that Molly could use to prepare rolls and baguettes. My advice would be to sell the whole lot, two at a time, and install a new Duvall Grande Deluxe at the back, which would take up a fraction of the current space and still easily cope with your current demand.”
“I—I’d never thought of that. Should I talk to Arthur?”
“Look, I really like Arthur, I do. He’s a professional, an artisan—and, man, can he down a pint—but he’s not a businessman. Whatever you say to him, he’ll agree. This ultimate decision would be yours.”
Nathan sat back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. Two days under his roof and Fingal had identified so much, while Nathan had simply let the business drift. Was this what Jaymes meant about having a passion for what you do?
“I googled your place, by the way,” continued Fingal. “Did you know you used to have a shop logo and a slogan in each of your front windows and on the glass in the door? Must have been back in the eighties.”
“Before I was born. Probably my grandma.”
“Cute little sign that read: Buy Local, Buy Fresher, with a smiling cartoon baker with his thumb up while cradling a cottage loaf. A subtle but kind of cute way of flipping off the supermarkets. Your shop front could do with a makeover, how about resurrecting the old sign. Kind of thing speaks to today’s consumer.”
“I don’t think I know anyone, but I could ask Polly—”
“Don’t worry about that. I got plenty of contacts,” said Fingal, putting down his mug of tea, and leaning forward. “Now, another thing. Don’t be surprised if, over the next couple of weeks, you get a call from an agent interested in buying the shop on behalf of a third party. Between you and me, they’ll likely be a representative of Upper Crust, that big outfit on the outskirts of town. From what I heard, they’ll offer you a substantial amount not only for the business and premises, but also for the goodwill. They’ll want to keep your family name but the shop will be run independently by Upper Crust.”
Nathan sat staring disbelieving at Fingal, biting his bottom lip. Selling out to Upper Crust could be the answer to everything, would allow him to follow his dreams. And yet a part of him felt a stab of betrayal at even considering letting some faceless corporation stamp all over the family business.
“I’ll let that sink in while I move onto the tough love. I mean no disrespect, Nathan, but I’ve a feeling you’ve got your head up your ar—I mean, in the sand—right now. Gonna put my cards on the table, so you know the kind of man you’ve been dealing with. The reason I agreed to come and help out over the weekend is because I owed Bob, Arlene’s husband, a favour. But when his wife called me up and asked that I help you out only because she wanted me to get intel on your operation, I almost told her to go to hell. But I agreed anyway, and I’m glad I did but for a very different reason. Not sure if you’re aware, but Mrs Killjoy is doing freelance marketing work for the big boys who run the chain of hypermarkets all along the south of England, the ones who also own Upper Crust. I’m telling you all this because I’m in favour of local businesses. Hell, I ran one myself for forty years. I think there’s been a trend away from the mass market style of selling goods and services, and—okay, there is also online shopping for some goods—but these days people in communities want to actively support local businesses, especially those generating fresh and organic produce. That’s why this town needs you, but if you’re going to do this, you need to grow a pair and fight back, Nathan.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Well, you’re clearly going to need help. And seeing as I’ve got time on my hands—”
Nathan sat bolt upright.
“You’d come and work for me?”
“Part time. The missus would never forgive me if I agreed to do full time. But honestly, I’m climbing the walls at home at the moment. My wife just told me she had the best weekend in months doing spas and whatnot, without having to keep me entertained. And I thought you could do with some support, and give you a chance to take a few days off. Win-win, I think they call it. So I wondered if I offer to do a shift every fortnight, alternating Wednesday through Saturday when you’re at your busiest, and then Sunday through Wednesday when you’re quieter—”
“We don’t open Sundays.”
“Not yet, we don’t.”
Nathan suddenly felt a weight lifting from his shoulders, and his eyes began to tear up. With Fingal on board, he could finally take time off, might even be able to schedule a holiday if they could work out schedules between them. He would also have someone he could trust working alongside, who’d be happy to speak his own mind.
“Yes, Fingal. Hell, yes. I’d love to have you working here,” he said, until a thought came to him. “But what do we do about Arlene?”
This time Fingal leant back in his chair, and nursed his tea mug, a smug grin on his face.
“Bob’s a great guy, you know? He really is. But I have no idea what he sees in his wife. She is one ruthless bitch—or at least she likes to think she is. But you don’t need to worry yourself about Arlene Killjoy, Nathan. You’ve got me in your corner now. And, between me, your friend Polly—she’s a little firecracker, isn’t she?—and some very influential friends of hers, well, let’s just say, when the time is right, Arlene Killjoy is going to find out the true meaning of the word payback.”
“What have you done—?”
“You know, Nathan, as a member of the fête committee, I think the less you know, the better. So now you know I’m as devious as your committee organiser, do you still want me on board?”
Nathan put down his mug, stood and leant across the table, his hand outstretched.
“Absolutely, yes,” said Nathan, shaking Fingal’s hand. “It would be my honour to have you work alongside me.”
“Good then. My wife has just become your new best friend.”
Just then, Nathan heard Molly’s voice calling from inside the shop.
“Nathan, can you come out, please. There’s a gentleman to see you.”
After releasing Fingal’s firm handshake, Nathan walked into the shop, smiling. Molly stood frozen at the till, staring open-mouthed at the stranger. The man standing self-consciously in the centre of the empty shop, wrapped in warm garb, may have been a few years older than Nathan but the resemblance was uncanny. Same dark hair in almost the same style, same complexion, same shape and shade of eyes—even though Nathan couldn’t tell the exact colour—same shaped eyebrows, lips and mouth. If Nathan believed in doppelgängers, in having a mirror image, he would have called this person his. Before he had a chance to speak, the double, who appeared extremely nervous, spoke first.
“Hello Nathan. My name’s Grant—”
“Yes, I know who you are,” said Nathan, a little more abruptly than he’d meant. To soften the remark, he smiled and pointed to Grant’s face. “Family resemblance. And I’ve been expecting you.”
“You know what,” said Fingal, his voice sounding over Nathan’s right shoulder. “It’s almost closing time. Why don’t I stay and help Molly shut up shop, and then you can take this young fellow-me-lad out for a coffee or something stronger.”
“How about that, Grant? Fancy a coffee or—?”
“A pint. Down the local. Would be perfect. My treat,” said Grant, appearing to relax slightly. Maybe he needed a drink to help calm his nerves even more.
“Let me get my coat and scarf, and I’ll join you out front.”
When Nathan returned, Molly and Fingal stood together laughing at a shared joke.
“So, Mr Finnegan.” Nathan’s relieved mood had not been dampened by the arrival of Grant. No matter what his news might be, Nathan felt prepared for anything. He now had a fearless Irishman on his side. “When do you think you might be able to start?”
“Well, I’m here now, aren’t I? So I may as well work until Saturday, if that’s okay by you? I’ve still got the spare set of keys, so I’ll keep hold of them.”
“Fine by me,” said Nathan, grinning. “And at some point, I’ll need to get you officially onto our payroll.”
“I’ll sort that out,” said Fingal. “You go and talk to your—cousin, is it?”
Nathan peered out through the shop window, watching his cousin standing nervously, peering off down the road. Something resonated in that moment. Grant looked like Nathan’s father—or at least photographs of him when he was younger, when he was happy with Nathan’s mother. A tiny wave of affection hit him then, which he quickly batted away. What if Grant had come to claim his business from him? The thing was, even though they had just met, Nathan felt a connection. Maybe he should keep an open mind.
“Be nice to him,” came Fingal’s voice. “He’s scared to death, poor chap. And by the sound of that accent, he’s a long way from home.”
Without another word, Nathan sighed deeply, before walking out and joining his cousin. At first, they strolled unspeaking towards the pub. Grant was the first to break the silence.
“You know, it’s autumn in Melbourne. Temperatures hover around twenty to twenty five during the day. Here feels like the middle of winter.”
“Officially, spring has already started. But I know what you mean.”
“But your history in England is incredible. The woman in the newsagent said this village dates back as far as the twelfth century. Even walking down the high street, with the black and white fronted Victorian buildings, feels like I’m in a Dickens novel.”
Nathan laughed aloud. Some things he had learnt to take for granted.
“Never really think about it.”
“You should, it’s amazing. And not only authentic, but somebody’s spent a lot of time and money making sure they’re maintained. You can’t buy heritage. Well, you can—didn’t someone in Arizona buy London Bridge in the sixties and reassemble the whole thing on the Colorado River?”
“Lake Havasu City. And rumour has it the guy thought he was getting Tower Bridge.”
“Yeah, I think that’s a myth. But I wonder how the bridge looks now. Hundreds of years, Londoners walked or rode across, and now it’s plonked in the middle of Arizona. Yes, I know people are still crossing the bridge, but if Disney had built a replica instead, would anyone have noticed or cared? I walked across Westminster Bridge on Saturday. I know it’s not the same one Wordsworth refers to in his poem Upon Westminster Bridge—his poem was written in 1803 and the bridge was rebuilt later in the century—but standing there, staring at the River Thames and the skyline of London, and you can almost feel ghosts walking past.”
Nathan turned to his cousin and raised an eyebrow, an expression not lost on Grant.
“Oh crap. You think I’m a dork?”
“No, I think you like history. Clearly.”
“I love it. And especially when I see old buildings still being lived in, built centuries ago. To me, cousin, that is seriously mind-blowing.”
“You’ll find the interiors have mod cons now. How else could we get through these bleak winters?”
“I know. I’m staying at Uppingham Manor Hotel near Five Ashes right now. Old stately home converted into a hotel. And at some point I’d like to stay at Claridges in London—built 1865—before heading up country.”
“Heavens. Someone has a few bob stashed away?”
Grant looked away then, appeared a little embarrassed. Nathan figured his father had been as generous to him upon his death as he had been to Nathan, even more so. He immediately changed tack.
“Might want to consider investing in a thicker jacket, if you’re thinking about doing any travelling. Weather’s even colder up north.”
“Good advice. And if you ever need to escape this weather, you should come visit me when I get back to Oz. Bet you’d like Melbourne.”
Nathan fell silent. Almost on impulse, he had been about to cite all the usual reasons why leaving the shop was impossible—except he no longer believed his own overused argument. Having Fingal on board would give him more freedom now. And he had still not forgotten Fingal’s words about Upper Crust making an offer for his shop. As they passed the small charity shop, a familiar woman whose name he couldn’t recall stopped in the shop doorway and called out to him.
“Hey there, Mr Fresher. Nice photo. Keep up the good work.”
As they continued on, Grant peered at him quizzically.
“I’ll explain later,” said Nathan, without turning. “Once I’ve got a pint in my hand.”
“Would that be the reason I got stared at so much on the street Saturday? Did they mistake me for you? I’m sure someone even whistled.”
“Could very well be.”
Nathan said no more, and Grant grunted with laughter but didn’t push.
“So what do friends and family call you? Nathan or Nate?” said Grant, as they reached the door of the pub. “You know us Aussies. We like to shorten everything.”
“Well, I used to prefer Nathan.” Nathan smirked when he thought of Jaymes. He held the door open while Grant walked inside. “But Nate is beginning to grow on me. So how long are you over here for?”
Inside, the warmth soon had his cheeks tingling. They both approached the bar, but Grant stopped him when he reached inside his coat for his wallet.
“My treat, remember. Pint of lager?” Nathan nodded and then smiled when Grant ordered two pints of the same brand, Nathan’s favourite. As soon as the girl moved away to fetch their drinks, he turned back to Nathan. “To answer your question about how long I aim to stay, at least a month, but I’ve got no set plan. Tourist visa is for six months. Main objective was to come here and get to know you. Then I thought I’d spend time visiting historic places like York—which I did over the past couple of days—as well as Cornwall, Windsor and Edinburgh. But I really want to get to know Crumbington while I get my UK passport sorted, which might take some time.”
“Are you changing your name?”
Grant eyed Nathan carefully before speaking.
“That’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about. Would you be freaked out if I did?”
“No. I mean, why would I?”
“Well, all these years you’ve been an only child with no other living relative. Now suddenly—”
“Why would that be a bad thing?”
“Not bad, perhaps. Just might take some getting used to.”
“I’d be honoured if you took the Fresher family name.”
Either someone opened the pub door wide right at that moment, or a cold wave of premonition swept through Nathan. Fortunately, at that moment, the girl behind the bar returned with two pint glasses full of golden beer and Grant had turned away to pay. They took their drinks to a small nook at the back of the pub. As Grant put his wallet away, he smiled and brought something out of his pocket.
“When I visited the shop with my father—years ago—your father gave me this.”
Grant produced a small keyring which had an old fashioned silver half crown inside a perspex shell. Nathan chuckled and then drew out his own set of keys with an identical coin. When he held the token up next to Grant’s, his cousin’s smile drained away.
“Do you think he knew?”
Nathan’s own smile slipped then. He put the keyring together with his phone down on the table.
“No. How could he? Even my grandfather didn’t know.”
After staring at Grant for a full minute, Nathan took a gulp of his beer. Grant was right, of course. Had his grandfather and father known about the orphaned brother? And even if they had, what good could it do now? Nathan shook his head and downed a little more of the pint.
“So what do you want to know?” he asked, putting down his glass and wiping his upper lip.
“Come on, Grant. Help me here.”
“Look, I know my dad’s my birth dad. But it’s been odd finding out my grandfather—his father—is not actually family. And to be honest, I think I knew. In all the photos of my grandfather and his brothers as kids, they had golden hair. And grandma was a natural red head. But somehow, my dad ended up with dark hair like me.”
“It’s been known to happen, family genes skipping generations.”
“But the point is, they didn’t, did they?”
“Did you ever say anything to your father?”
“Once. He laughed it off. Asked if I thought grandma had been moonlighting. But now I know my real grandparents were different people, living their lives on the other side of the planet. Did you ever meet him, your great grandfather?”
“Not really. I vaguely remember his funeral. I’d have been around eight when he died.”
“How about my uncle, your grandfather? What was he like?”
“Serious. Hard-working. Not particularly warm, and not much of a sense of humour. His whole life revolved around the bakery. My dad stepped straight into his shoes when he retired.”
“But not you?”
“For a time I wanted other things. But what choice did I have? How old are you, by the way?”
Nathan snorted. He liked Grant. Even though they looked the same, they were different in some ways, but Grant had the same humble air about him, the same as his father and grandfather. Even if he hadn’t been given the letter, he might have suspected a family connection somewhere.
“You’re very lucky, Nathan.”
“Lucky? How so?”
“To have a job where you not only create something, but you feed people. There’s something really noble about that. Must feel really satisfying.”
“You want it? It’s all yours.”
“No, I’m good,” laughed Grant, before sipping on his beer. “But, you know, I wouldn’t mind seeing the place in action, a working bakery, if you’d be okay with that?”
Nathan smiled and nodded. A dose of realism never hurt anyone. He wondered why people romanticised his job, something he’d never found either worthy or fulfilling.
“What do you do?” he asked. “For a living?”
“Very little now. Don’t really need to. My dad’s partner, Dan, runs the real estate business. I’m a director—which is more of an honorary title—and I show up whenever there’s a board meeting or if there’s an emergency, which is never. Dan prefers it if I stay well out of the way. And to be perfectly honest, dad left me so much I don’t really need to work. He knew the business inside out, worked there every day up until the day he died.”
“How old was he?”
“He had you late in life?”
“Guess you could say that. Forty-four. Met my mum the year before. So maybe there’s hope for me yet.”
While Grant had been speaking, a message beeped on Nathan’s phone. Nathan leant forward and touched the screen to bring up the full message.
“Polly. Just stopped off at the shop to talk to me. Says she’s on her way.” Nathan peered up from his phone. “Hope that’s okay?”
“Is she your—uh—your girl?”
“Polly’s a friend. A good friend. She’s the one who tried to bar you from coming into the shop Saturday. Didn’t you two go for a drink—”
“Oh shit, mate. Her? She’s coming here?” said Grant, taking a swig of his beer, before putting the glass down. After wiping his hand on his jacket, he swiped at his fringe. An amusing blush had appeared on his cheeks.
“Calm down, Grant. She’s just—” said Nathan, before a sudden realisation dawned on him. “Oh my God. You fancy her. You fancy Polly.”
“Are you kidding me? She’s a beauty, a stone cold fox. Doubt she’d even look at me twice.”
“Wouldn’t be so sure about that. She has a thing for dark hair and green eyes. And she likes older guys. Reckon if I’d ever swung that way, she might have even had a thing for me.”
Oh shit, thought Nathan. What a way to come out to your cousin. Although Grant’s face didn’t appear to hold any disgust, just inquisitiveness.
“Is that a problem?”
“Uh, mate, we do have gay people in Melbourne. Billy Hughes is my best bud from school and he’s gay. We’re on the same soccer team.”
“You play football?”
“This just keeps getting better. I play for the local team. So, before Polly gets here, let me explain something the team’s been involved in recently for charity, the reason for the attention on the street.”
Just as Nathan finished the story to a wide-eyed Grant, Polly turned up. Nathan spied her entering the pub from his vantage point, but she hadn’t seen them yet. With the pub relatively empty, she soon found them and Nathan smirked at Grant’s formality as he stood abruptly to greet her. When he offered to buy her a drink, she accepted immediately—a glass of white wine—and he almost fell over a chair to get to the bar.
“Someone has an admirer,” said Nathan, smirking, as Polly took a seat opposite.
Polly’s keen gaze after Grant told him everything he needed to know.
“Be nice,” said Nathan. “He’s a gentle soul.”
“When I am ever not nice?” asked Polly, a perfect pout in place trying hard to mask a smile. “I called Jaymes, by the way. He’s on his way, too.”
Nathan laughed. Polly appeared to be amassing the troops.
“Why? Did you think I needed saving?”
“I dropped by the shop.” Polly folded her arms and gave him her best stony expression. “Fingal said you were headed here. So I thought it might be nice for your cousin to meet a couple of your friends. Is that a problem?”
“No, not a problem. I appreciate the sentiment. But if you were worried about me, don’t be. From what I can tell in the short space of time I’ve known him, he’s a decent sort.”
“Which is what I told you.”
“Anyway, now I’ve got you alone, do you want to tell me what you’ve found out about Arlene?”
Polly stared at Nathan, but gave nothing away.
“Fingal says you’ve been digging,” Nathan added.
“All in good time, Nathan darling. All in good time,” said Polly, before something caught her eye through the side window. “Jaymes is here.”
Nathan turned, his interrogation instantly forgotten. Jaymes entered the pub with his usual confidence. He had come straight from work, still wore the clothes Nathan had watched him pull on that very morning; hugging jeans, thick black jumper beneath his warm parka jacket and solid work boots. Sex on legs. But even more, Nathan never tired of seeing Jaymes’ happy face. As always of late, his insides turned over a couple of times and he could not stop the smile stretching his face. Jaymes reciprocated as he made his way over. On autopilot, he made his way straight for Nathan, before stopping in front, a hand planted on either shoulder, about to place a kiss on Nathan’s lips. Except he froze at the last minute, when his gaze swung behind Nathan.
“Poll,” he said, patting Nathan’s shoulders and dropping his hands. “There you are. Gonna buy me a drink?”
Polly folded her arms and looked between the two of them.
“Honestly, you two must think I walk around with my eyes closed.”
“What—what do you mean?” asked Nathan.
“His clothes in your wardrobe; lube left out on the side of your bed; the unused spare bedroom. Doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure things out. How long’s it been going on? No, let me guess. Since he saw you naked? At the photographer’s studio?”
“Before then,” said Jaymes, calmly, surprising Nathan by putting his arm around his shoulders and fronting Polly. “But I knew as far back as January. The day I arrived., the day I walked in that door.”
“You did?” asked Nathan, turning to Jaymes.
This time, Nathan was rewarded with a peck on the cheek.
“Hook, line and sinker. You have no idea what you do to me. Sorry I took so long to get my shit together, Nate.”
They gave each other goofy grins, but Polly hadn’t finished.
“And has he told you he’s off again? In June?” she said, her tone serious and assertive.
Jaymes had been about to respond, but Nathan squeezed a hand on his forearm.
“Polly. Jaymes has been upfront about everything. I know he’s only here for a few months, but I’m prepared to take whatever he can give. How can I be annoyed by someone who has a job they love? If anything, he’s an inspiration. And, in case you’re going to ask, I asked him to move in with me. Not the other way around. Your cousin is the best thing that’s happened to me in as long as I can remember.”
“Oh, Nathan.” Polly’s gaze seemed almost maternal, pitiful. “What has he done to you?”
This time, Nathan couldn’t stop the grin spreading across his face, and he pulled Jaymes in for a tight hug.
“He’s made me happy.”
Even Polly couldn’t resist then, and joined in the group hug.
Just then a nervous cough sounded behind them.
“Did I miss something?” came Grant’s voice.
Thanks for reading.
Keep the comments, reactions, and plot ideas coming. This is still a work in progress and I am trying to decide how the story ought to end.