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    northie
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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.

Never Too Late To Believe - 11. Suited

Trips out should be enjoyable.

Rounding the corner off one of the main shopping streets in Hereford, Andy spotted their destination – a small, exclusive men's outfitters. It nestled amongst a number of bright, specialist shops on a narrow street leading down to the cathedral.

He turned to smile at his fiancé as they kept walking. “I've never really noticed them before.”

“Not quite what you usually wear?”

“Hardly. Jeans and a tee is more my style.”

“I'd never have noticed.”

Andy frowned. His companion was dressed in a business suit, though no tie. Though not suited-up, even he wore chinos and a long-sleeved shirt for the occasion.

Adam smirked. “You do clean up well. … Sorry I couldn't make it any earlier – something came up.”

“It's fine. I sat in the sun gazing at Elgar and his bike.”

“I love that statue.”

A modern representation of the composer and his beloved bicycle stood in the cathedral grounds.

“This is how all late Friday mornings should be spent. Yeah?”

Adam rolled his eyes. “If you mean the chance to offload a small fortune, I beg to differ.”

“But it's for our wedding.” Mock outrage made Andy pout.

“You think I've forgotten?” Laughing, Adam pulled him close and snatched a kiss.

The atmosphere in the narrow street changed.

One smartly-dressed guy with the build of a rugby player strode past. He clipped Andy's shoulder with his own on the way through. “Faggots.”

“Owh!” Andy whipped round to stare at the man. A taunt followed. “Ooh – I'd offer you my arse any day, darling. You big boys are such fun.”

His swift retort made Adam snort and splutter.

The other guy turned to give Andy the finger and a glare before marching towards the main thoroughfare.

“Bye, bye.” Andy waved the hater off. “Next time maybe,” he called to the other guy's broad back.

Adam shook his head. “You're incorrigible.”

Rugby player or not, the pair refused to be intimidated by some ignorant prick.

“For fuck's sake.” Adam's humour soured. “Can't we be ourselves for two minutes?”

“Deep breaths, tiger.”


They paused outside the shop, admiring a window display of lightweight, colourful suits. A dour, middle-aged couple, conservatively dressed, emerged from a gift shop a little further up. They turned down the street in the direction of the cathedral, talking loudly.

“Really. I think it's disgusting. Don't you agree, Henry?”

Andy noticed Adam's jaw muscles twitch. The couple strolled past.

“Quite right, Margaret. We may have to put up with queers nowadays but there's no reason for such flagrant behaviour out on the street.”

“Yes, indeed. What if a child witnessed it?”

Adam stepped out in front of them, like someone demanding they take a survey or subscribe to a charity. Andy kept to the side. He watched closely, phone at the ready. From experience, it was better to let Adam get on with it.

“Excuse me.” Adam's tone was polite but firm.

The couple came to a halt.

“I couldn't help overhearing you just.” A tight smile appeared on Adam's face. “People showing their love for each other is so disgusting. You're quite right.” He indicated two teens sitting on a wooden bench, making out. “It shouldn't be allowed.”

The girl pulled away from her companion. She stared back, then fished out her phone and apparently started to video the encounter.

“Or how about them?” Adam turned to point at a couple in their twenties, walking away from the cathedral, hand in hand.

The middle-aged pair being confronted stared at Adam with their mouths open. A curious mixture of affront and bewilderment played out across their faces.

“How is it so disgusting–” Adam moved closer but still kept out of their personal space. “That when my fiancé and I exchange a single kiss, it gives you palpitations? Yet, I imagine, you're fine with others doing so. Those who fit your bigoted, narrow-minded view of the world. Am I right?”

Andy noted the girl closing in, still recording.

Adam didn't wait for an answer. “Of course, no-one wants bedroom activities out in the open. I'd agree with that.” He paused, considering. “But there again, maybe watching some fucking would give you two dried-up, loveless homophobes something to get you going.” Another pause. “If that's possible.”

Two statues regarded him aghast.

“OK, I'm done.” Adam stepped aside.

A smatter of applause filled the silence. Andy joined in.

Without saying a word, the woman jerked her husband's elbow. Both were bright red with annoyance and embarrassment. They stalked down the narrow thoroughfare, not looking to either side. More than one phone camera tracked their course.

The woman's voice carried. “Why didn't you challenge him, Henry?” If he replied, it wasn't audible. His wife continued her complaint. “You stood there as usual, letting that vile man make fools of us.”

One of the teens yelled a parting response instead. “He didn't say nothing cos he knew the other guy was walking all over you. Haters.”

Andy ignored the continuing street theatre to focus on Adam. “You OK?”

“Yeah.” He took a couple of deep breaths. “God… I shouldn't allow myself to get so riled.”

“You were fucking ace. Though blocking someone's way isn't a tactic I'd usually recommend.”

“Hmm?”

“Leads to trouble? You were lucky the husband didn't retaliate.”

“Says the guy who yelled out an invitation to fuck his arse at some random queerbaiter.”

Andy laughed, easing the tension. “Yeah – we're as bad as each other.”

“At least we have the option of resisting. Plenty of us don't and the abuse keeps coming.”

The mood darkened again. Andy grimaced before making a determined effort to get things back on track. “Shall we go and get some food before venturing in?”

“Cool off, you mean.”

He let his hands reply.

Adam consulted his phone. “There's nothing much else today. What there is can wait. The courts go into summer recess next week.”

“You gonna play truant?”

A roll of the eyes followed. “If you want to put it that way. It'd give us more time to choose.”

“And we don't want some sartorial faux pas to follow us down the years.” Andy turned and nodded at a sandwich shop on the opposite side of the street. “That do you?”

“What?” Adam looked across. “Yeah. They've quite an eclectic selection of fillings. Order me a rare roast beef and horseradish on a white cob. I'll join you in a minute.”

“Signing out?”

“Something like that.”

“I'll get us a window seat.”


Coffee and sensible sandwiches gave way to ice creams from another era. Their levity and playfulness attracted both men. Like two love-struck teens, they watched each other commence the demolition of artfully constructed desserts.

Adam regarded his banana split as being quite modest compared to Andy's choice. “A knickerbocker glory?” He received a repeat of the grin that greeted the server when she delivered his order. “A weekend spent on the bike for you.”

Andy continued his exploration of the upper layers, all whipped cream, flaked nuts, and fruit sauces before plunging the long-handled spoon as far as it would go into the mixed scoops of ice cream. He licked the shaft clean, eyes flicking up to meet Adam's.

Adam tore his gaze away to manoeuvre a mound of cream, banana, and chocolate sauce past his suit jacket. It was not one he wanted to spoil. “Have we time-travelled without me noticing?”

“Call it my hommage to the seventies, though the ice cream's infinitely better.”

A snort of disgust was inevitable. “About the only good thing to come out of that wretched decade.”

“Hmm. We were barely–” Andy frowned, searching for a word.

“Legal?”

“Tolerated, perhaps. We are who we are, regardless of–”

“Careful!”

Strawberry sauce dangled perilously. Andy caught it in time.

“We don't want to look as though we've had a food fight.”

“This'll play havoc with our vital statistics.” The knickerbocker glory was vanishing by the second.

“I imagine tailors are used to it. You'll get the dry-cleaning bill though if this suit gets messed up.”

“You only had to say 'no'.”

Their eyes met. Adam's trousers felt tighter in places other than his waistline. He made a wish that Andy would never lose his boyishness. At the start of their relationship, when he was tired or overworked, Andy bounding up with a demand they go out could be a source of irritation. Now, he accepted it as part of the man he was going to marry. And it stopped him from becoming too wrapped up in things. He sketched a kiss.

The tail-end of a look from one departing customer dissuaded Andy from doing the same. Both men returned their attention to eating.

Andy's spoon clattered onto the table. “That's Eric!” He squashed himself up against the window pane to get a better look. “I'd know that cap anywhere.”

“What's he doing in Hereford?”

“No idea. Let's ask him.” Abandoning the final third of his dessert, Andy dived out of the door.

Adam caught a glimpse of him shouting and waving to attract Eric's attention before both men passed out of view.


Andy ushered Eric, laden with several bags, into the sandwich shop. Adam sprang up to take the bags before finding a seat for the older man.

Eric sank into it with a sigh of relief. “This lunatic nearly gave me heart failure with his carrying-on.”

Adam grinned. “We were pretty surprised to see you in the city. I think this one's suffering a sugar high.”

A narrowed pair of eyes glowered at him over the tall knickerbocker glass.

Eric blinked. “Was that full up?”

The other two nodded.

“Blimey – that's more ice cream than I've eaten in many years.”

Adam indicated the menu boards. “Can we get you anything?”

“I went down to the river to eat my sandwich in peace.”

“A cup of tea? Something sweet.” Adam tried to stifle a snort.

Eric mopped his face with a hankie. “Err–”

“They do offer sensible quantities of ice cream.” He located the special menu. “It's all locally made.”


Waiting for Eric's single scoop of vanilla and a glass of water to arrive, Adam looked sideways at the plain, reused plastic bags. “You've beaten us to the clothes shopping, Eric. Successful trip?”

The older man fidgeted. “Thought I needed some thinner stuff to wear.”

“It has been hot over the past couple of weeks. Lighter materials do help.”

Andy leaned forward. “You heard anything more from Rob Bairstow, Eric? From what you said, your first chat went well.”

The fidgeting continued. “Ah… he and I have agreed to meet Wednesday next week at my usual cafe.”

A fond smile appeared on Adam's face. He used one hand to obscure it. Wanting to look good to meet someone new wasn't solely the property of the young.

“I offered him this Saturday but he said he was travelling to Birmingham.”

Andy shrugged. “Gives you enough time to get used to the idea.”

“Or to go off it.”

Yet their friend had gone out of his way to spend time and money in anticipation. Adam moved their crockery onto another table. “I'm sure you'll do fine.”


From a window in the upstairs front bedroom, Emily Standish surveyed nearly all of the garden. She held up a scuffed tablet borrowed from her husband and compared the image on screen to present reality. Andy Harper had been as good as his word. Less than forty-eight hours after their initial meeting, she possessed several preliminary sketches. Even in their impressionistic state, the images conveyed a comforting level of competence. New flower beds, a restored tennis lawn, and reined-in shrubs were an excellent start. She wondered about a few decorative saplings to replace mature limes in the patch against the farthest wall. The main lawn would shrink to allow for the additional beds.

She nodded. “Who needs that much grass anyway?” Particularly as she would be the one doing the mowing and other maintenance. Nigel's interest in gardening extended to supervising a barbecue.

Detailed drawings wouldn't appear until after another couple of consultations. Emily shut off the device. She'd have to learn more about plants and flowers. In their current house, a couple of enthusiastic neighbours were only too pleased to help out. Andy Harper had recommended she speak to Eric Whitehouse.

“Why didn't I think to ask him?”

The older man never volunteered anything during their brief conversations. A barrier remained, even following on from the graffiti incident. Greetings and weather observations aside, he confined himself to answering only the most basic of questions. Emily took in a long, slow breath. Next time they met, she'd invite him to have a proper look around the garden. His interest had been plain while he waited for her to run off the photos for Andy.

Returning downstairs to send an email to the young man, she wondered if 'You're hired' would suffice. There were still questions about money and a start date. A random glimpse of her phone on the kitchen table reminded her unexpectedly of Felicity.

“She never did get back to me about lunch.”

Emily's thoughts turned to their one meeting. The abrupt conclusion to the chat had been due to the other woman's husband and his demands for a prompt meal. A wide smile appeared on her face. Nigel regularly produced lunch at the weekends; delays rarely bothered him. If she'd been in Felicity's position, a quick text or call would have fixed everything. Partnership made marriage work.

The smile faded. Was the husband old-school or something else? Radio 4's 'Woman's Hour' was required daily listening and she kept up with as much current affairs as interested her. A shrug followed. Meeting Felicity for thirty minutes hardly made her an expert in the other woman's life. But there'd been a nervousness she'd found jarring. Shyness or fear from another quarter? Emily reached for the phone. A text or two would settle the matter of lunch.

She found her reading glasses and typed. Hi, Felicity! Emily Standish here. How are you fixed for lunch? I'm up for it if you are. Next week maybe?

After pressing 'Send', it occurred to her that suggesting a couple of likely places would act as encouragement. Did she even know two establishments to recommend? With most of the kitchen in and working, any meals were eaten at the house. Changing back to the larger tablet, Emily set out to discover what was close by.

Three separate texts, all containing a single link, plus an explanation followed. That task complete, she returned to the email and other redevelopment chores. Two fingers tapped out the opening lines to Andy Harper. Her phone bleeped. Remaining focused on the tablet screen, her left hand fumbled around for the phone. She spared it a glance. The message was blunt. NO MORE TEXTS!!!

Her eyes opened wide. “OK.” Five texts in succession might be a source of irritation but it didn't warrant shouting. “Maybe I caught her at a bad time.”

Emily returned to the email, dispatching it and several others with her usual efficiency. Another bleep broke the silence. She read the short message twice. I'll phone when I can. DO NOT phone me. F.

Anyone looking on might think they were embarking on a clandestine affair. The secrecy and raised emotions fitted that scenario, yet all she'd asked about was lunch with someone she hoped for a friend. For the rest of the afternoon she kept the phone close, waiting for the call.


Eric unpacked his bags in the bedroom. He blew dust off several hangers unearthed at the far end of his clothes rail. For the first time since he retired (or perhaps, longer), it wasn't merely a question of replacing worn-out garments with something a little newer. Three short-sleeved, checked shirts were joined by the first non-corduroy trousers he could remember possessing.

He fingered the smooth green cotton. Trying the trousers on in the charity shop had felt as though his legs were still uncovered. A grunt escaped. “These'll need twice as much washing and ironing.”

The shirts sported razor-sharp creases. Someone at the shop fancied their ironing skills. “Probably one of those steam-producing things.” His own iron was old and solid. It was as much as he could do to keep control of it. Many of his clothes never got to feel its weight.

He made a mental note to keep at least one of the new shirts back until the following Wednesday. Going back to the bags, he balled up several new pairs of socks. Opening the underwear drawer, Eric removed the worst specimens to throw in the bin. His socks always wore badly at the toe seam. He couldn't reach to cut his toe nails. Appointments for the podiatrist cost money and he always left it too late. “Better ask at the surgery next time I'm there.”

The phone rang. Eric straightened up, glad the bags were empty. Weary, he took his time on the stairs, placing each foot with care. There was no sense in rushing for what was probably a scam call.

Hi, Eric!

In the brief pause after Andy's greeting, he heard other voices in the background and a faint sound of rustling which puzzled him.

The young man didn't wait for him to reply. I need your help in making a decision.

“Yes?” Eric settled at his desk, pushing the laptop out of the way.

I can't decide on a colour for my suit. Adam's being no help whatsoever.

The old man didn't reply. What were colours to him? He'd dressed the same muddy hues for decades.

There are three possibilities. I'll show you. Ah… bollocks, I can't. Sorry, Eric. One of those automatic things. Ehm–

The sigh of frustration raised a smile. Eric pushed aside his desire for tea. “You could try describing them.”

Maybe. OK. Let's give it a go. I'll be wearing a white, collarless shirt and a new waistcoat – that one I told you about from York.

It was Eric's turn to hesitate. As ever, his slowness hampered things.

It's silk brocade. A patchwork of jewel colours. I'd like the suit to reflect one of those.

Eric nodded to himself. Mostly what he recalled was his friend's joy and delight that Adam had offered to make him a gift of the waistcoat. He wondered how much it cost.

Yours isn't the only vote. My parents each chose different materials. Neither was the one I want.

“If you know what you'd like, why're you asking me?”

Andy laughed. Means I have someone else to blame when it all goes wrong.

“What are the choices?”

A short, whispered conversation followed at Andy's end.

Eric, I'm an idiot. My brain's completely fried.

Adam's voice broke in. We all know it's too much ice cream. Laughter followed.

Go away!

Still listening in, Andy's indignation made Eric smile.

Haven't you got things to pay for? … Sorry, Eric. I'll send an email with photos attached. Ten minutes enough? I'll phone back then.

“OK.”


Eric turned on the laptop, watching it go through the now familiar routine. He still thought of it as magic, something mysterious and unknowable. The email was waiting for him. He studied the three fabric swatches as far as the screen allowed him to. A mid-blue was pleasant. Deep, dark red struck him as a strange colour for a suit. The final fabric held his gaze. A shadowed dark green, it was more black than anything else. Brief bursts of intense emerald shone throughout the weave. He'd never seen anything like it. How would it look? He had no idea but green was a colour that linked him to his friend.

He picked up the phone as soon as it rang. “Andy?”

Hi. Made a choice?

“Yes – the greenish black or however you describe it.”

We agree! Excellent. Yes, it's a one-off. Strange how a single fabric can be both restrained and standout gorgeous. A buttonhole with glossy foliage will look great against it.

Eric pondered the suit's cost. Twenty-odd quid spent on his own clothes was paltry by comparison. He gave himself a shake. It had been a good haul. “I put my own new stuff away earlier.”

You've a good eye for a bargain, Eric. Don't think this is normal. Our joint account is taking a hammering.

“Can you see yourself wearing the suit afterwards?”

Yes. Both of us are determined on that point. It's wrong to spend a ridiculous amount of money on something created for a single use. Adam's suit is a soft mid-grey. His accessories will add strong pops of colour. He'll look amazing.

Andy's happiness and enthusiasm stirred the usual pool of regrets. Eric brushed aside thoughts of his own dull, featureless life.

You'll get to see us both in our finery, of course.

“Yes?”

Yeah! Andy snorted. I've said this before. Our wedding won't be complete without you being there. I mean it.

Eric contemplated another trip to buy clothes – special ones this time. “I'll be there.”

Good.


Emily stowed her stuff in the car for the trip back home. It wouldn't be long before the new house supplanted it. With the main work complete, it was a question of getting the smaller things like soft furnishings finished off. With August round the corner, she hoped the school holidays wouldn't cause too much delay.

Getting into the driver's seat, her phone buzzed. She grabbed the handset without looking to see who was calling. “Yes?”

It's Felicity. The voice spoke in an undertone.

Emily rammed the phone up against her ear. “Hi. Sorry, I'm tired and hungry.”

The whispering continued. Is next Wednesday OK? I've perm… I thought a picnic by the river would be nice.

“Yes – sounds great. Let's keep an eye on the forecast though. Text me the details and we'll decide who's providing what.”

I assumed we'd each bring our own.

“OK. That works too.” She narrowed her eyes before shaking off the puzzlement. “Should be fun. Hear from you soon.”

Yes. Remember, don't contact me.

“I won't. Bye, Felicity.”

The line clicked off.

Emily frowned. Why all the secrecy and whispering? What was the issue with the other woman's husband? She and Nigel had no time for manipulative bastards. Or abusers. Her lips thinned.

It was all curiouser and curiouser.

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Copyright © 2021 northie; All Rights Reserved.
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Parker Owens has accompanied me throughout the writing of this story. He has my heartfelt thanks.

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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.

Story Discussion Topic

This started out in late 2016 as my first attempt at a multi-part story. I remember pestering @Parker Owens for his agreement for me to start posting after I'd produced ... four chapters or thereabouts.   His wise counsel prevailed, and I've spent a long time both completing this part, and refining the writing so it comes up to my current standards.   The reception of the first two chapters has been such that I've ventured to start this story topic.   Feel free to discuss or
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Chapter Comments

5 minutes ago, Mawgrim said:

Hopefully Emily will be able to help Felicity to at least acknowledge her controlling marriage isn't right.

If Emily's allowed inside Felicity's defences, she might be able to help. She's sympathetic, reasonably clued-up, and not otherwise entangled in Felicity's affairs.

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This chapter was a joy excepting one or two bits. I'll just pass the bigots by because they don't deserve anymore mention. Felicity's situation though seems even more dire then first portrayed. I thought at first mention it was simply a loveless marriage but now grow ever more fearful for her physical safety. Will she receive the help she so obviously needs before something horrible happens? I must admit it makes me uncomfortable. 

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3 hours ago, dughlas said:

I must admit it makes me uncomfortable. 

This story has never really sugared the pill and Felicity's current life is one example of that. I don't set out to upset readers. Instead I'm turning a story into some semblance of life as we know it. There are good bits as well, as you noted. Expect a continuing mixture...

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6 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

Eric going clothes shopping (even in a charity shop) is another step forward for him.

Forgot to say earlier, don't forget we saw Eric shopping in Part 1, though that was entirely utilitarian. Here he's doing it because he wants to.

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I enjoyed the back and forth between the boys and their victorious encounters with the bigots.  I'm concerned for Felicity, was the "stop texting" text from her or her husband?  If it was the abuser, did Felicity suffer from it?  I'm hoping that Emily knowing will help more than her son in law suspecting.  Still, unless she is ready to take the plunge, no amount of "help" will really matter.  It's similar to an addict or alcoholic quitting, you have to be in the right mental state to accept that it needs to end.  I think she will get there, but hopefully in one piece.

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There's much to digress with this chapter, the boys need to be careful with the situations where they need to confront bigotry, some may react badly. 

Delighted to see Eric opening up a bit and agreeing to go to the wedding.

I remain concerned with Felicity, I fear the abuse is getting worse per the last conversation...will she remain unscathed until the wedding...at this point, I fear not!

“OK. That works too.” She narrowed her eyes before shaking off the puzzlement. “Should be fun. Hear from you soon.”

Yes. Remember, don't contact me.

“I won't. Bye, Felicity.”

The line clicked off.

Emily frowned. Why all the secrecy and whispering? What was the issue with the other woman's husband? She and Nigel had no time for manipulative bastards. Or abusers. Her lips thinned.

It was all curiouser and curiouser.

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17 hours ago, CincyKris said:

was the "stop texting" text from her or her husband? 

It was from Felicity. If her husband had discovered the messages, I doubt whether Felicity would have had a phone still to reply with.

17 hours ago, CincyKris said:

Still, unless she is ready to take the plunge, no amount of "help" will really matter. 

 True. Felicity doesn't seem to have reached that point yet.

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17 hours ago, drsawzall said:

Delighted to see Eric opening up a bit and agreeing to go to the wedding.

It's not the first time Eric's been told he'll be invited. It's almost as though he can't believe it as so puts it out of his mind. It's the first time he's thinking about something concrete like clothes.

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More thoughts from our email correspondent.

Quote

Even if Eric was getting new clothes to impress Rob, it will do wonders for his self-image and self-esteem! His life has been guided by necessity for so long, it’s good for him to do something for pleasure. My own budget seems to have a higher percentage of disposable income than Eric’s. I do waste money on things that make me happy, if only for a brief span of time (like ice cream!). 😉

and...

Quote

I have to laugh. I was imagining Andy ambushing Eric, rushing out of the ice cream shop, soon after they’d first met! Andy’s sugar-fueled enthusiasm would have been even more off-putting to Eric. At least these days, he knows what Andy is like is and has developed some tolerance for understanding of his behavior. 😉

 

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1 minute ago, northie said:

Even if Eric was getting new clothes to impress Rob,

I'm not sure 'impress' is quite the right word. Eric's getting new clothes primarily so he doesn't feel so shabby or disreputable in comparison with Rob. A rather different dynamic.

4 minutes ago, northie said:

I have to laugh. I was imagining Andy ambushing Eric, rushing out of the ice cream shop, soon after they’d first met!

👀😄 Err... I imagine Eric would've backed off, never to return.

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This is one of those chapters when I wish I could have been present - perhaps at an adjacent table - to watch Eric eat ice cream, and to observe Andy and Adam together with him. Then again, you do a lovely job of including us in their conversations, it feels like eavesdropping, nosey Parker that I am. 

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58 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

Then again, you do a lovely job of including us in their conversations,

That you find their conversations so real is in part due to you, dear friend. This story would be the worse for not having you at my side. 😘

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I'm hoping the teen got a great video and that it will make the rounds on social media to the everlasting embarassment of the bigoted couple. I don't have much use for FB (or Mega or whatever) otherwise, but for showing good and bad behavior it's priceless.

I hope the clothes Eric bought will make him feel comfortable as well as smarter. But if Rob can't see past the clothes to the person, he's not the right friend for Eric.

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17 minutes ago, Timothy M. said:

I'm hoping the teen got a great video and that it will make the rounds on social media to the everlasting embarassment of the bigoted couple.

Yep. 👍👍 It is one area where social media can help. Sometimes. That same video could also be hijacked by those wanting to support the couple. 😕

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