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    Mancunian
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
Charlie and Michael Baxter lost their father at a young age. They have been brought up by a hard-working mother who loved and treasured her boys. Unfortunately, she passed away before they finished college and through no fault of their own, they found themselves homeless. This is their story.

What Happened To The Baxter Boys - 15. Chapter 15

Andy and Christian sat opposite each other in the office at The New Boot with coffee mugs on the desk between them. Andy was smiling as he looked through the window that overlooked the communal lounge. He was watching the lively interactions between the guests. They were laughing and joking. The chatter between them was upbeat and mostly about the show from the night before.

Andy spoke quietly. “It's amazing, isn't it?”

“What is?” Christian asked.

“This.” Andy gestured with his hand toward the guests. “Look at them. A few weeks ago, it was quiet with an atmosphere you could almost cut. But today, they are happy, enjoying themselves as if they haven't got a care in the world.”

Christian raised an eyebrow. “Are you concerned?”

“No, definitely not. I'm happy for them. Last night's show has lifted their spirits, I mean, really lifted their spirits. A few of them are talking about Michael like he's a superstar.” Andy was smiling as he faced Christian.

“Well, to them, he is. Think about it. You told me that he visited them here less than two months ago. He sat with them, joked with them, laughed with them and spoke with them.” Christian licked his dry lips, then continued. “I'll bet he told them about himself, and if I'm right, when he came back to give them their own special show, it meant something to them. It shows them that he cares, and that gives them hope. We give them food and temporary respite from bad weather and the streets. We do what we can to help them. But last night's show gave them Christmas back, and that's special.”

“When you put it like that, it makes perfect sense. It's no wonder I fell in love with you.” Andy reached out and pulled Christian in for a kiss.

As their lips touched, they were interrupted by a knock on the partially open office door. “Oh, I'm sorry. We didn't mean...” Ryan and Amy, a young homeless couple, stood red-faced in the now open doorway.

Stepping back from Christian, Andy cleared his throat. “Erm...that's okay. It's Ryan...Ryan and Amy, isn't it?”

“Yes, sir,” Ryan answered nervously.

“Ryan, you should know by now we go by our names here. I'm Andy, and this is Christian.” Andy gestured to Christian. “Relax and tell me, what can we do for you?”

Amy smiled, blushing, and Ryan visibly relaxed. “We, we brought these.” Ryan handed over two handwritten letters. “We...well all of us, wanted to say thank you. There is a note there for the staff and volunteers. It's signed by everyone. There's a note there too, for Michael. He spoke to us when he visited a couple of months ago. He seems like a decent guy, and we wanted to say a special thank you to him too, but we don't know where to send it. Can you see that he gets it, please?”

Andy accepted the letters and sat down, his vision slightly blurred by watery eyes. “Thank you. Thank you very much. I promise Michael will get your letter. I'll give it to him myself.” As Ryan and Amy turned to leave, Andy spoke again. “Ryan, Amy.”

“Yes, Andy.” Amy sheepishly answered.

“Merry Christmas to you both. I hope we can help you enjoy it.”

“You already are, and Merry Christmas to you, Andy. And to you too Christian,” Amy said in a quiet voice, then she reached for Ryan's hand as they went back to the lounge.

Andy read the letter addressed to the staff and volunteers, then passed it to Christian and croaked, “This makes everything we do worthwhile.”

 

Harry's house was buzzing with activity. After letting Missy out to the back garden, Michael shooed Harry out of the kitchen so that he could make them a light breakfast. As Michael said, anything more would spoil their appetites for the Christmas dinner Stacy was preparing. After Charlie and Harry had showered and shaved, they sat at the table wearing dressing gowns, while Michael served them lightly toasted wholemeal bread covered in lightly scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. Orange juice and a pot of tea were already on the table.

After breakfast, Harry fed Missy and then insisted on helping Charlie tidy up before they got dressed, allowing Michael plenty of time to shower and dress. When Harry sat in his favourite chair in the lounge, Charlie handed him a gift-wrapped package. Harry opened it to find a high-quality bound folder filled with plastic inserts. Opening the folder, Harry saw a picture of his Mini on the drive before any work was done. As Harry looked further through the folder, he saw all of the Mini's documentation presented in chronological order, followed by pictures of the car stripped and all parts tagged. There it ended, leaving empty pockets. The empty pockets were for photographs Charlie intended to take to document the restoration project. With Michael's help, Charlie had worked hard to give Harry a visual record of the Mini's progress.

“Thank you, boys, that's a wonderful gift.” Harry was emotional as he thanked them.

“Gramps, that's not your Christmas present. That was just a distraction. This is your present.” Charlie and Michael stepped away from each other to allow Harry to look past them.

Harry gasped at seeing a new large flat-screen TV and DVD player standing where his old one had been. Harry's being engrossed in the folder allowed Charlie and Michael to make the switch unnoticed.

Harry was ecstatic as he took the remote control to the new TV. “This is a surprise. What do these buttons do?” Harry asked, pointing to buttons that he did not recognise.

Michael explained that it was a SMART TV. The buttons Harry had pointed to meant that if Harry wanted to have broadband installed, he could connect the TV and access subscription channels to increase his choice of programs to watch. If he missed a program, he could watch it on one of the many catchup services available through broadband. This was new to Harry, and he said he would think about it.

“But where is my old TV? What do I do with that?” Harry asked.

“It's under the stairs. You can do with it whatever you want. You could put it in your bedroom and watch TV in bed.” Harry shook his head no. “You could sell it or give it away if you want to.”

“Well, I don't need the money. Maybe giving it to someone who hasn't got one is the best idea. Yes, that's what I think I'll do.” Harry stood and moved to the sideboard. Opening the drawer, he removed two square, slender boxes. Handing one each to Charlie and Michael, he smiled and said, “Merry Christmas, boys,” before sitting down.

The lads were stunned when they opened the boxes and momentarily left speechless. Each box held a nine-carat gold flat curb link chain, twenty-one inches in length. Weighing forty-two grams each, they were chunky enough to be masculine yet slim enough to be tasteful.

When they tried to protest that it was too much, Harry answered. “Nothing is too much for my boys.”

Charlie and Michael both choked up when they heard Harry calling them ‘my boys’. With misty eyes, they both moved forward to embrace Harry in a loving hug.

After they exchanged emotional and excited hugs, Harry took each chain and fastened them around the lads’ necks. Not wanting to be left out, Missy joined in the hugs and then sat patiently waiting before presenting her lead. It was her way of asking to be taken for a walk. Harry and Michael took Missy for her walk in the mild Christmas Day weather. Charlie took advantage and called Brad, who was spending the day with his sister. They planned to see each other on Boxing Day.

Harry and Michael's return with Missy prompted Charlie to load a bag of gifts in the boot of the car, ready for the short journey to Max and Stacy's house.

 

Stacy came downstairs and quietly opened the lounge door. His suspicions were right; Jason was sitting cross-legged on the floor in his boxer briefs, staring at the tree and the gifts that lay underneath it. He had done this every Christmas since he started living with Max and Stacy. The first year he told Stacy it was because he couldn't believe he was loved and that some gifts were there for him. In the following two years, he told Stacy that it was because it reminded him of how much his dads loved him.

Just as quietly, Stacy closed the door and, with a tear in his eye, went to the kitchen to make a pot of tea and pre-heat the ovens of the huge range cooker. He placed three mugs of the steaming hot drink on the table before he was joined by Max, who was followed by Jason.

Barefooted, Jason padded over to Stacy, giving his Pop a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Merry Christmas, Pop.” Turning to Max he hugged and kissed him too. “Merry Christmas, Dad.”

Both men hugged and kissed their son, wishing him a Merry Christmas. With what had become their Christmas ritual over, all three sat at the table chatting about the day ahead. It was their turn to host their friends this year. Steve, Danny and Liam were due to arrive at one o'clock. Kate, as usual, would arrive a couple of hours earlier to help Stacy prepare and cook dinner. This year, Harry, Charlie and Michael would also join them. They were expected to arrive at the same time as Steve and the boys.

After the early morning mug of tea, Stacy loaded up the ovens with the two ducks and the ham joint he had collected from Chorlton Meat Market a couple of days beforehand. All three then returned to the lounge to open their gifts before showering and dressing for the day.

The excitement in the Robins' house grew as the day progressed, and the welcome aroma of Christmas dinner cooking filled their home. The excitement reached its peak after guests arrived and they had eaten. Michael shared that Manchester College had accepted him for the January intake studying Performing Arts. After showering Michael with hugs and congratulations, the excitement continued as they exchanged gifts. When Charlie and Michael showed off their gifts from Harry, the adults immediately understood their significance and the bond they had formed with Harry.

As Michael and Charlie let Danny, Jason and Liam, who were in awe of such beautiful and expensive gifts, look more closely at their chains, Harry took Max to the side and told him about wanting to talk to the boys about staying with him permanently. Max told him to do it immediately so that Charlie and Michael wouldn’t worry about what to do when Michael started college.

Then Harry proudly showed off the folder that Charlie and Michael had given him, it started a conversation about car restoration. Stacy felt proud that the lads had done something so thoughtful.

The three younger lads then took Missy for a walk in the local park while Charlie and Michael helped Max and Steve clean up after dinner, leaving Kate, Stacy and Harry to relax in the lounge. Harry engaged Kate and Stacy in conversation, telling them about the new SMART TV that Charlie and Michael had given him. Harry learned a lot about the benefits of his new TV and its usefulness, which was more than the extra TV channels it could provide. Of course, it would need to be connected to the internet for many of the benefits and lead the conversation to the benefits of the internet. The benefits varied from being able to shop online, something that is used by many people with disabilities, to aiding students as it opened up so much research information that it would take a library to store.

Stacy offered to help Harry choose the best broadband deal. When Harry mentioned giving away his old TV but didn't know anyone to give it to, Kate suggested donating it to The Recycle Shop. There it would be available to a family at a low cost, and whatever money it raised would be used for a good cause. Harry liked that idea and planned to speak to Brad about it the following day.

In the kitchen, they chatted as they worked. When Max said that he, Stacy and the Boys would be working at The New Boot the following day, Michael immediately asked if he could join them. Charlie assured them that Harry would not be on his own for long as he and Brad had arranged to take Harry out for the afternoon. Harry had asked them to take him to the cemetery.

When the younger lads returned and the clean-up was complete, they engaged in a hilariously funny and active game of charades until Stacy and Kate laid out food buffet-style for them to enjoy. Kate's homemade Christmas cake and mince pies took the centre spot on the table. The evening was spent playing board games while nibbling on the buffet.

When Christmas Day came to an end, everyone declared it to be the best and looked forward to repeating it in the future. Kate and Steve made the short walk back to their house with full stomachs, a large wrap of leftovers and all three excitable young boys. Charlie drove back to Harry's with sleepy passengers, and even Missy was exhausted after a fun-filled day. They too, had a large wrap of leftovers to be enjoyed the following day.

After checking that the remainder of the leftovers were properly put away in the fridge and locking the house up for the night, Max and Stacy decided to make the most of having the house to themselves. What started as a few mildly passionate kisses in the kitchen soon progressed into kisses of sexual desperation as their excitement grew. Leaving a trail of clothes on the stairs, they reached their bedroom naked as the day they were born and engaged in ferociously passionate, animalistic sex. About forty minutes later, sexually satisfied and exhausted, both men were snoring away.

 

On Boxing Day, Brad and Charlie enjoyed some 'alone' time before they spent the remainder of the day with Harry. After a light lunch of cold cuts and salad made from the previous day's leftovers, Brad and Charlie took Harry to Southern Cemetery. Harry wanted to visit Doris and his son Michael. He wanted to talk to them and tell them about his new friends who welcomed him as family. They took hand tools to tidy the graves and bought flowers as a tribute to them. Although it was an emotional visit, Harry left feeling calm and at peace.

Michael spent the day with the Robins and Barton families working at The New Boot. When they arrived, Andy gave Michael the letter he had been asked to pass on.

After reading the letter, he asked, “Who are Amy and Ryan?”

Andy answered the question telling him, “They are the young couple in the office talking with Christian.” He then asked, “Do you want to meet them?”

Michael nodded. Andy left to speak with Christian and the young couple. He returned briefly to take Michael into the office. Michael and Andy entered the office at the end of their conversation.

“...so if you are interested, you just need to sign this form, and I can pass it on to the landlord.” Christian passed a form across the desk to Ryan and Amy.

“Do you think we have a chance?” Ryan asked.

“If you sign the form, you do. It's up to the landlord, obviously, but until you try, you won't know.” Christian wasn't letting on that he had recently bought a small row of terraced houses in Salford. He was keen to let them at a reasonable rent to young couples starting out, and he liked Amy and Ryan.

Amy and Ryan signed the form and passed it back. “When will we know?” Amy wanted to know.

Christian smiled. “I think you will know before the New Year.” With that, he acknowledged Michael. “Hi, Michael. I hope you're having a good Christmas.”

Michael stepped further into the office. “I'm having a great time, thank you. I'm sorry if I've disturbed you. I just wanted to say thank you to Amy and Ryan for the wonderful letter they wrote me.”

“We are done for now. I just need to get these where they need to go.” Christian waved the signed forms. “I'll leave you to talk.” Christian got up and left them chatting in the office.

The day at The New Boot passed with Kate and Stacy creating some tasty dishes from Christmas Day's untouched leftovers, which were enjoyed by the guests. Max and the boys laughed and joked with everybody, keeping the Christmas spirit going for a while longer with the boy's amusing antics. Michael felt like he had made friends with Amy and Ryan, spent time with more of the guests, and granted the occasional request by singing a few songs.

When the night shift took over, and Max, Stacy and the boys left with Andy and Christian, the guests were sorry to see them go. One young couple gave Andy, Christian and Michael extra tight hugs.

 

As New Year approached Charlie and Michael returned to work and were kept busy. They occasionally talked about what the New Year would mean to them and the changes to their lives. There was some uncertainty about making college travel arrangements with Danny and Jason, which did not go unnoticed. Steve picked up on it when he heard Danny and Jason talking about it. Concerned, Steve spoke to Max and Stacy about it, and they promised to keep an eye on things and intervene if necessary.

 

Stacy decided to delay retiring from drag; he would just scale back on engagements, allowing him time to give it more thought. Maybe less drastic action would be better. Stacy and Kate talked about what Stacy would do to fill in the time freed up by scaling back the engagements. Stacy had enjoyed coaching the lads for the Christmas show and was considering some form of training to allow him to teach performing arts. Stacy was not someone who would just sit back and lounge just because he had free time.

 

During the extra time that Max had spent at The New Boot over the Christmas period, he felt he had met a few who could be a good fit in his team at work. He had been thinking for a while he needed to expand his operations if he wanted to keep his clients with smaller jobs since he was getting more large contracts now. If he was right, it would mean he could send Billy or George, two of his trusted staff, with a small team on jobs while he headed the main team, allowing him to take on more work and training and maintaining a good staff.

When he spoke to two older men at The New Boot, Peter, a brickie and general builder and Rick, a plumber, he offered them employment and help to find accommodations. In return, he received firm shakes and promises of hard work. They were appreciative of the offer and both men held off their tears of relief until they were alone and in private.

Ryan was one of the guests that Max had also decided to approach about a job. He expected a positive response when he approached Ryan. While the young man had no experience, it was clear that he was prepared to work hard and learn. His determination to provide for his girlfriend and the children they hoped to have in the future was his driving force. On the Friday before New Year, Max went to The New Boot to find Ryan. Max found him talking with Amy about the two-bedroom terraced house they were due to move into.

“Ryan, can I speak with you, please?” Max asked.

“Yes, Yes, of course,” Ryan answered as he got a chair for Max to join them at their table.

“Thank you.” Max took the offered chair and sat down. “Excited about getting the house?” Max enquired.

“Yes, it's going to be hard getting everything we need until one of us finds a job, but we're determined to make it work.” Relief, hope, pride and determination were all evident in Ryan's reply.

“That sounds like the New Year is getting off to a good start for you,” Max observed. “I'm looking for a new labourer, not just any old labourer, mind you. I want someone who is ambitious and wants to learn. Someone who wants to be a brickie or a chippy, or both.” Ryan and Amy looked at Max, wondering what this had to do with them. “What do you think?”

Ryan didn't fully understand the question. “I don't know. Does it matter what I think?”

Max didn’t expect that response but decided he’d reword his approach. “Well, it could. But that depends on you.” Max smiled as he asked. “Can you be that labourer? Are you that labourer?”

Shocked and surprised, Ryan struggled to speak until Amy nudged him in the ribs. Even then, he barely managed to squeak out, “Yes.”

Tearfully, Amy shrieked, “Thank you,” and dived off her chair toward Max, hugging him so hard around his neck he thought he would be strangled.

When Amy allowed Max to breathe again and Ryan found his voice, Max and Ryan sorted out the details. Now more than half of his workforce had been sourced from The Old and New Boot or other night shelters. Driving home, Max felt good knowing he had made the right decision. Now he was looking forward to the New Year celebrations at Kate and Steve's.

 

The next morning, Max contacted one of his smaller clients, who was happy to have his job brought forward, and re-organising work plans for the following week. The client was a private landlord who wanted a large house in Withington converted to four one-bedroom self-contained flats. He was happy to agree to let the first two completed flats to Max's employees. To Max's client, it was further assurance that the conversion would be completed within the agreed timescale and done to a high standard.

 

Stacy spent the morning helping Kate prepare for the celebrations that night while Steve took Jason, Danny and Liam shopping for school and college supplies. With Brad and Michael working, Charlie spent time at the garage working on Harry's Mini. Harry spent the day at home with Missy, pottering about the house and doing light housework.

During the afternoon, with Janice as company, Harry took Missy for a walk. It was then that Janice asked, “Have you spoken to the boys about staying yet?”

“No, not yet. I keep trying to, but I never seem to find the right time. But I'm planning on speaking to them tonight. Kate and Steve have invited us to a New Year's Dinner Party. I was thinking of telling them before midnight. I think that would be a good time.” Harry's anxiety came to the surface.

“I hope you're right, Harry. I hope you're right.” Janice shook her head in despair. She was ready to step in and push Harry if he didn't act soon.

 

By eight o'clock on New Year's Eve, everyone had arrived at Kate and Steve's for dinner. The party included those who were at Max and Stacy's Christmas Day, plus Brad. Kate served pre-dinner appetisers of crab cakes, stuffed mushrooms and garlic bruschetta. This was followed by a main course of poached salmon fillets laid on a bed of sweet chilli-flavoured rice with asparagus, tender-stem broccoli and rainbow carrots. Lemon sorbet was served as dessert. A choice of fruit juices, water, sparkling grape juice or Prosecco was available throughout the meal. A cheeseboard with crackers and other nibbles was available throughout the rest of the evening, with a wide selection of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.

The conversation was light, easy and often humorous as hosts and guests mingled. Several times Harry tried to speak to Charlie and Michael and broach the subject of their living arrangements, but each time they were sidetracked by other guests.

It was approaching midnight when everyone went out to the garden to watch the numerous fireworks displays from the surrounding neighbourhood that would start at midnight. Max nodded to Harry as he walked out with Charlie and Michael and ran interference when anyone approached them.

“Boys, I think it's high time we talked. It's about you moving out.” Harry sounded both nervous and serious, which worried Charlie and Michael. They expected this conversation would happen, but not now, not tonight. “I've been thinking, no, not thinking, worrying. Worrying about you moving out.”

“It's okay Gramps, there's no need to worry. We will find somewhere as soon as we can, and we'll leave everything as we found it.” Michael started to turn away, with tears forming.

Harry went to reach out, but Michael pulled away sharply and walked straight into Max who enveloped him in a hug.

Charlie looked at Harry through tear-filled eyes. “Gramps, when do you want us to move out?”

Max overheard Charlie and spoke up. “Harry, is everything okay? Do you need any help?”

“Yes, please, Max.” Harry almost pleaded, “I’m really messing this up.”

Max had a good idea of what Harry wanted to say to the boys. He and Harry had a private conversation the day before. He also knew that Harry was worried and stressed that the boys might want to leave him.

“Harry. Take a few deep breaths. Relax, then just tell the boys what you want,” Max said.

“Damn it, boys. That came out all wrong.” Harry paused and took a few more deep breaths. “What I'm trying to say is this. I don't want you to move out. You have made my house feel like home again, my home and your home. It's like you're my boys and family, and I don't want you to leave. Ever!”

Slowly the penny dropped. Both of the lads looked at Harry, and Michael asked, “Really?”

“Yes, really.” Harry sounded hopeful.

As Max released Michael, both lads hugged Harry saying, “Thank you.”

Suddenly, bells could be heard ringing in the New Year from the local church, and the sky was filled with multicoloured fireworks to welcome the New Year.

2012 may not have started exactly as the lads would have liked, but now it looked like it was going to be the best year. Ever!

Well, it looks like Christmas and the New Year have been a good time for more than Charlie and Michael, and the celebrations have been enjoyed by many.
I hope you have all enjoyed this chapter, leave a comment and let me know. I promise to read and acknowledge your comments, it's my favourite part.
Unfortunately, this is the last chapter in this story, although an epilogue will be posted in about a week or less. But don't get too upset, I promise there are more stories to come later in the year.
Thank you to @raven1 for all of your hard work editing and beta reading helping and supporting me in the writing of this story, I hope we can do this again soon. :hug:
Copyright © 2023 Mancunian; All Rights Reserved.
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I hope that all readers will enjoy this story and will leave reactions and comments to let me know what they think of the story along with any other comments they wish to make.
This story would not have been possible without the invaluable help and support of @raven1 who has worked hard as the editor and beta reader and deserves a lot of the credit for the end result. 
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

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Welcome to The Boot World discussion forum. This includes all of the stories from The Boot Series and the Lost Soul Series. The Boot was the first story posted in this collection of stories, it was originally intended as a one-off story. Like many one-off stories, it grew and The Boot Three Years On was written as a follow-up. Some readers asked about the back story of some of the characters, which led to the Lost Soul Series. Together they form The Boot World. Both Series have grown and in
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