Nathan and Jaymes head home, where Polly is having a night in at Nathan's place.
Nathan noticed Jaymes glance at him from time to time on the drive back home. In the hallway, Nathan had witnessed a seriously pissed off Jaymes relax with relief at being handed an excuse to leave. And on their stroll to the Rover, he found out why. Jaymes’ told Nathan how two of Clifton’s actor guests—Jaymes didn’t remember their names—had poked their heads out of a small room across from the toilet and invited him into Clifton’s ‘recreation room’. One had tell-tale traces of white powder on his cheek. Whether Jaymes was looking for some kind of justification for his earlier scathing criticism of Clifton, Nathan had no idea. Right then, he had other things to worry about.
When Nathan apologised to Clifton and explained why they had to leave early, his old friend had been nothing short of magnanimous—probably used to getting urgent calls all times of the day and night—and told Nathan not to worry, to scoot off home but remember to text him about the following weekend. After a quick goodbye to the other guests, and especially Martin and Gallagher who insisted they stay in touch, they made their escape.
“Melbourne? That’s where my sister lives. Who do you know in Australia?” asked Jaymes, breaking the silence, a good five minutes into the drive.
“Nobody,” said Nathan, staring at the silhouette of hedgerows out the side window. Which was the truth. But if he had to hazard a guess at who would be calling from the other side of the world, from the furthest point a person could possibly get from Crumbington, then he could probably do so easily.
Jaymes took his eyes from the road a moment, to stare at Nathan. Incredible how they had only known each other a short while, and already Jaymes could read him.
“Just a feeling. But I think it might have something to do with my mother.”
“Your mother lives in Melbourne?”
“Actually, I have no idea where she lives. Could be living in Mayfield, for all I know. She walked out on my father and me eighteen years ago. I’m surprised Polly didn’t tell you.”
“No,” came Jaymes’ subdued voice. “Shit, Nate. I’m sorry.”
“Was a long time ago. We survived.”
“Yeah, but what kind of a mother deserts her young kid. How old were you?”
“Shit. How well do you remember her?”
Funny, but since his father’s death Nathan had often thought about his mother. She would have been around forty when she left. He remembered her great figure, her fun, carefree nature, and the hippy array of long flowing dresses that swirled and twirled when she danced around vacuuming the carpeted flat. As a small child, they laughed and played together all the time. Once, he overheard his grandfather grumbling to his father about her turning him into a ‘mummy’s boy’, as if that were a bad thing. She always dressed beautifully, colourfully, but with her own personal style, a penchant for deep purple and lavender combinations in winter, or cream and floral prints on spring or summer’s days, usually with a bright pink or gold wrap around her shoulders. And lots of bracelets, bangles, big earrings and necklaces—not expensive things, just colourful and complementary. Even in the shop, wearing the standard white uniform overcoat, she stood out with her array of accessories and brightly patterned headscarves.
She once told him she dressed to celebrate the seasons, so autumn would be shades of browns, greens, and oranges; earth colours. He also remembered the heady scent she wore called Patchouli, something even now, whenever he smelled the scent on someone in the shop, reminded him of her. But even as a ten-year-old, he sensed a distance in her, something internalised, a wildness and gypsy spirit caged by the mundanity of shop life. In his mind, he blamed her leaving on the dull routine created by the shared responsibilities of running the bakery and bringing up a son, even though he never once heard her complain. If anything, she brought her sunshine into an otherwise boring day when serving behind the counter. One thing he remembered vividly was the aftermath of her absence, when life became monochromatic, his father turning morose, and their routine shuttered of any sunlight.
“Pretty well. I was ten when she left, not a baby. We really enjoyed each other’s company. Or so I thought. My mum and Clifton’s mum were inseparable, so we hung out a lot. And then I got back from school one day and dad sat me down, told me she’d left. Mum was special and needed different things in life, he said. Had nothing to do with how much she loved me. Clifton’s mum came to the shop a number of times and talked to dad, and once told me how much my mother adored me, and that sometimes people need to follow a different path. But in my head, I argued that if you love someone, you take them with you. You don’t just up and leave them, or at least not without a word of explanation. Until, of course, Clifton did exactly the same thing.”
Beside him, Jaymes breathed out a sigh.
“She didn’t even leave you a note?”
“And there was no connection in her past life, between her and Australia? Family? Friends?”
“None that I know of,” said Nathan, before letting out a sigh of his own. “You know, it may not even be about her. I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.”
When Jaymes pulled his nearest hand from the steering wheel, gripped the back of Nathan’s neck and massaged, the strength and heat felt incredible, and he almost lost his composure. For all his joking around and flippant remarks, Nathan had begun to warm to Jaymes.
“And for the record, Jaymes, a five-week relationship is more than I’ve ever managed.”
When Jaymes pulled his hand away, concentrating once again on driving. Nathan wondered if he’d said something wrong. Cautious of pushing, he fell silent. Both trailed the Rover’s headlights through the windscreen, picking out the country lane ahead. Eventually, Jaymes spoke.
“Clifton’s a judgemental prick. What happened to me, happened a long time ago. To do with my housemate, my first serious relationship.” Jaymes peered sideways at Nathan, waiting for him to respond. “Go on, you can say it. Jaymes and the word serious shouldn’t be used in the same sentence. Kind of brings things to a head, though, when you come back from a field trip abroad a week early, arriving home in the early hours of the morning, gift in hand, hoping to surprise your other half. Only to find them in the bedroom, off their face on drugs and getting fucked by your neighbour.”
“Yes, ‘oh’. Although my vocabulary may have been a little more colourful at the time.”
“How old were you?”
“Twenty-two. And I don’t appreciate having a tableful of vacuous queens judging me, when they don’t have all the facts and, more importantly, don’t even know me.”
Nathan wanted to probe further, but based on Jaymes’ unusually frosty tone, thought maybe he should leave the topic along. Perhaps he would tell more at some later date, now he’d already opened the can.
“I’m sorry, Jaymes. Truly. Maybe I shouldn’t have brought you along tonight—”
“You didn’t, I invited myself.”
“Fair enough. But I didn’t realise there’d be silly games. So my apologies on their behalf. If it’s any consolation, of all people, I know exactly how it feels to have people you love let you down.”
Once again they fell into an uncomfortable silence. Nathan decided to try again.
“So…since then you’ve never—?”
“What? Shagged? Of course. Plenty of times.”
“Okay.” Nathan hadn’t been alluding to sex, but acknowledging Jaymes’ tone, he let the topic go. Clearly Jaymes’ love life was off limits. In the silence between them, Jaymes’ head swivelled once his way before returning to the road ahead. When he finally spoke again, his tone had softened.
“Since then, I’ve never been in anything you could call a relationship. If that’s what you’re asking.”
“I’m not— It’s none of my business, nobody’s business but your own.”
“You’ve got that right.”
For the last five minutes’ drive, they agreed to silence, until Nathan directed Jaymes to pull the Rover off the high street into the space between Polly’s car and his shop van. With the engine still rumbling, Nathan got out leaving Jaymes to lock up. Polly met them at the front door, rosy cheeked from drink.
“Hey, boys. Did you have a good time?”
“Define good,” came Jaymes’ voice, behind Nathan’s shoulder.
“Dinner was excellent. A celebrity chef—,” said Nathan, nudging Jaymes forward.
“Bullshit. I barely ate a thing. Dinner was all flair and no flavour. What was it grandma use to say? All fur coat and no knickers,“ countered Jaymes, as he pushed past Polly and headed up the stairs to the flat. Nathan admired the muscles of his firm backside as he ascended.
“He does have a lovely turn of phrase, my dear cousin.”
“Inherited,” came Jaymes’ voice from above. “You’d better have alcohol, Fresher, and plenty of it. You owe me big time. And before you say anything, Polly, we’re getting a cab home.”
Nathan stopped in front of a smiling Polly, watching Jaymes finally reach the top step. Folding his arms, he smiled back and shook his head. Once Jaymes had disappeared inside the flat, he leant in and pecked a kiss on her ruddy cheek.
“Did he behave himself?” she asked.
“Don’t ever tell him I said this, but he was a total stalwart tonight. I’m so pleased he invited himself along. Not his kind of thing at all—room full of gay actors mostly—and I thought he was going to be grumpy all night. Until we were introduced to Stanley Kimbleton—”
Polly’s eyes went wide, as he closed the door to punctuate her remark.
“Shut the fridge door!”
“Scout’s honour,” said Nathan, as he started to follow her up the stairs. “I think he was rather taken by our Jaymes, although nobody could compete with the Japanese guy on Stanley’s arm. Off the scale gorgeous. And during dinner, we were lucky enough to be seated next to a couple of normal people—”
“Grown-ups,” came Jaymes’ voice from above stairs.
Nathan heard Polly chuckling in front of him.
“Bionic hearing, too. So they sat my juvenile cousin next to grown-ups? How did that go down?”
“Oh my God, I can’t believe he’s raiding your fridge.”
Before they reached the top of the stairs, Polly stopped Nathan with a hand gently placed on his chest, before handing him a beautifully written note with a name and telephone number.
“Look, I know you’ve got to make a call. If you’d rather we left you to it—”
“No way,” said Nathan, frowning. “I’d rather have you here. Let me get the call out of the way, and then at least we can kick back and relax together. Enjoy the remains of the evening. Besides, I owe Jaymes.”
Maybe Nathan should have been more irritated that Jaymes had already found his way around the kitchen—a can of stout in one hand, an empty pint glass in the other, and a bag of potato chips hanging from his mouth—but secretly he was pleased Jaymes had finally chilled.
Polly had clearly made herself at home that evening, a half-eaten pizza still sitting in its open box, a fresh bottle of white wine on his coffee table, and a blanket on the sofa where she had set up camp. On the flatscreen television, she had been watching what looked like a crime thriller where a car had been frozen mid-explosion. Although he liked his own space, he also enjoyed having company from time to time.
Polly sat between Jaymes and Nathan on the sofa, the movie still paused on the screen. Jaymes, his socked feet crossed at the ankles on the coffee table, gave his version of the night. Polly snorted loudly at the recount and leant forward to unscrew the wine bottle and pour Nathan and herself a glass, so they could all make a toast to the acting profession. In those few moments, he felt a hand tap his shoulder. Jaymes’ arm stretched along the back of the sofa behind Polly. Nathan turned to find Jaymes staring at him, his gaze unfathomable. In that brief moment, when Nathan grinned, Jaymes seemed to come to his senses, and winked back playfully, but not before a strange, fuzzy feeling had settled in Nathan’s stomach. Eventually they all sunk back into the sofa, and, after catching them up with the plot, Polly continued the movie. Five minutes into the action, Nathan became restless. He had something he needed to do.
“Don’t stop the movie.” Nathan whispered, standing and placing his glass down. “I’m going make this call from the bedroom. Be back in a few minutes.”
Without another word, he headed to his room and used the phone beside his bed. A heavily accented male voice answered after the third ring.
“So I’m speaking to Mr Nathan Uriel Faolan Fresher. Is that correct?”
Deeply accented, the man made a point of enunciating each of Nathan’s names. Nathan cringed, his eyes squeezed tight. Nobody ever used his name in full. Ever. Not surprisingly, his mother had chosen the middle names. The first meant ‘shining light’ in Hebrew, and the second something like ‘little wolf’ in Gaelic.
“That’s right. Is this about my mother?”
No response. Apparently, the man wasn’t taking questions yet. Nathan’s father might have been able to place the accent more accurately, to one of the Australian states or territories. A party trick, in the shop he could accurately guess the accents of those visiting from other English speaking nations, right the way down to their region, sometimes astounding customers, and something that became a source of amusement especially during the tourist season. Nathan could only discern an Australian twang.
“And am I right in saying you’re the last surviving member of the Fresher family? On your father’s side.”
“Yes, my father, John Fresher, passed away five years ago. He was only fifty four. Heart failure.”
“And your grandfather?”
“Goodness. My grandfather passed away around eleven years ago.”
At one point, growing up, the shop had been run by his father, mother, and grandfather. Granddad, a widower, had retired at sixty-five, but when Nathan’s mother walked out, he came back to work. Nathan officially started working at the age of eighteen, although he’d helped most weekends as well as doing odd jobs after school. Sadly, his grandfather died just before Nathan’s seventeenth birthday.
“George Conlon Fresher?”
“And are you aware that your grandfather had a brother, Nathaniel Collier—uh—Fresher?”
Nathan had never heard his grandfather talk of anyone in the family but himself and his parents. And his father had most certainly never talked about having an uncle.
“No, I wasn’t aware. Are you sure?”
At the end of the line, the man chuckled.
“It’s my job to be sure, Mr Fresher, that’s why I’m phoning. Look, I’ll need you to go to a local solicitors there, one we’ll appoint, just so they can verify your identify, but the long and the short of it is your great uncle passed away last month, and you are one of the beneficiaries in his will.”
“Me? Are you sure?”
“But…how come I didn’t know anything about him?”
“Probably more information than I should be giving you, but over here his official family name, the one on his Australian birth certificate and passport, was Brooks: Nathaniel Collier Brooks. Look, there’s a letter with the will, addressed to you. Maybe that will help explain things.”
Back in the living room, Polly paused the movie the instant she spotted Nathan. Both heads peered at him from across the back of the sofa. Finally, the family resemblance became plain.
“And?” she asked.
“Your mother?” asked Jaymes, which had Polly turning to him quizzically.
“Nope. Pour me a large glass of wine, and I’ll tell you everything.”
Thank you for reading. Another chapter in a week's time.
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