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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 - 8. Waiting Game

Action and inaction - we see both here.

On a drab, cool Friday, Andy turned off the High Street and strolled down a side lane he knew led to Eric's favourite stop-off. He chuckled under his breath. In the past, he'd frequented the cafe once in a while but not since he'd met Eric. It was somewhere to get a plain, freshly-made sandwich when he'd been in a hurry. That wasn't his destination. Instead he turned into the next-door pub, The Black Swan.

Felicity had declared herself tired of the various coffee franchises available so he suggested the pub. A cramped, characterful hostelry dating back several centuries, there were no end of places suitable for a private conversation. He spotted staff preparing for lunchtime service, even optimistically putting some tables out in the tiny courtyard on the far side.

“Hi. How are you today? Our lunch menu is here.” A young, pleasant-looking guy directed Andy's attention to the bar.

A small pile of folded, glossy cards awaited customers.

“Today's Specials are on the board over here.”

Out of courtesy, Andy turned to look.

“I'd recommend the steak myself. Nothing better than prime Herefordshire beef.”

He gave the guy full marks for the welcome. “Thanks – an enticing selection. I'm meeting a friend so I'll just have a half of your local cider for the present.”

“Coming up.”

Andy spotted Felicity in one of the brighter alcoves, next to the courtyard exit. A raised hand received one of her smiles in return.


Sitting opposite Felicity, Andy took an experimental drink from his glass. He also used the brief period to assess whether there was anything unusual about his companion – dark glasses, high-necked tops, or anything else which might conceal bruises. He tried not to make the examination too obvious by looking away regularly. For once, Adam's mother seemed fairly happy.

She smiled. “Good?”

“Yeah – quite sharp and tangy. I must ask which variety of apple they used.”

“They?”

“The landlord's got a micro-brewery a couple of streets away. They're very proud of the single-apple ciders.”

Felicity pushed her coffee cup away.

“Another?”

“Not just now. Thanks, darling.”

“How long have we got?” He reckoned they'd need more than a few snatched sessions to get everything under control.

There were only three months to go to the wedding. His body tingled with nervous energy. Andy shifted around in his seat, trying to dissipate some of the pent-up excitement.

His future mother-in-law snorted. “You OK there?”

“Yeah, just…” Andy shrugged.

“As in, it's not too long now?”

He nodded.

“We have quite a list.” She produced a pair of reading glasses and studied a small sheet of paper.

“Those are new.”

“The optician recommended them. Anyway, we have the luxury of close on an hour today.”

Both eyebrows shot up.

Felicity removed the glasses. “I'm on an errand to find a new dress. Oliver decided I needed something different.”

Behind a bland, listening expression, Andy wondered what such a remark covered over. An abusive husband would hardly invite his wife to refresh her wardrobe. Would there have been a row, or humiliation of some kind?

“Luckily, my usual dress shop, Glad Rags, has something suitable in stock. They know my measurements, so it'll be ready when I go there. Men always expect these things to take much longer than they do.”

“I can easily spend half an afternoon browsing. Ask Adam.”

Felicity rolled her eyes. “You boys can sort out what you're wearing on the great day. That's not in my brief.” She returned to the list. “Right, let's see if we can settle the catering together with the seating arrangements.”

“We're adamant in not wanting a formal served meal. They're tedious, the menus are limited, and we're not having the in-fighting that comes with fixed table seating.”

“I agree. Remind me of the proposed timings.”

“The ceremony's at three; the evening party starts six-ish with the food being served fairly soon on.”

“Something to ballast the alcohol?”

Andy grimaced. “Yeah – I suppose. We're not expecting people to get legless. Apart from anything else, there's nowhere to stay. There'll be plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives. Our guests deserve a good time. All the more reason to make the food special.”

Felicity sorted through a fistful of sample menus, removing several. “OK – the rest offer a more informal buffet setting. What did you both have in mind?”

“Adam's delegated the choice to me. When we stayed in Birmingham for Pride, we sampled proper Indian street food. Our friend, Ritchie, introduced us to it. Wow, it's delicious.” Andy's mouth watered at the memory of the spicy chicken pakora. “There's plenty of veggie options. We could add flatbreads and a few, more substantial curries for those with an appetite.”

“You, for example?”

The smirk opposite made him colour. “Possibly. I imagine getting married'll give me an appetite.”

“Hmm.” The tone wasn't encouraging. “Could get messy?”

“Street food's portable. Admittedly, curries are different, but even then they can be quite dry.” A fleeting image of Eric and a certain supermarket curry evoked fond memories.

“I don't doubt you. Clothing stains are my chief concern – turmeric is a spice which is used a lot, I believe. It's a complete pain to wash out.”

“Don't forget the dress code's smart casual. We did put that on the invites, didn't we?”

“Yes, I believe so.” Felicity hesitated. “Adam's father disapproves…”

“Well, if anyone wears a ballgown or their best lamé suit, that's their funeral. It's a party with friends, a celebration.” And one which Oliver Partington had zero chance of attending, regardless of his views on what people chose to wear.

Potential caterers were quickly whittled down to one, with another as back-up. That decided, Felicity excused herself.


Andy swirled cider around in his glass. He replayed an earlier, brief phone conversation with Eric. The older man had snapped at him almost before he'd had time to say 'hi'. It became obvious Eric suspected the phone call was to check on his progress in making contact with Rob Bairstow. Andy sighed. There hadn't been any such contact. It would be a shame if whatever held Eric back meant he missed the opportunity to make another friend.

This sort of people management was out of his depth. Getting the best out of a bunch of horticulturalists had nothing on one man's personal agony. Andy resolved to ask his fiancé's advice. Hoping the situation would resolve itself didn't appear to be working. He swallowed a mouthful of the cider, allowing its sharpness to break his mood.


Felicity returned. She gave 'Food' and 'Seating arrangements' decisive ticks. “Before we move on, there's something I want to share.”

“Hmm?” His grip on the glass tightened.

“Yeah. I met someone new the weekend before last. You know these tenuous connections – a friend of a friend. Anyway, her name's Emily Standish and she's new to the area.”

“Ah.” He swallowed unused tension. “Talk about small worlds. The house they're moving to is opposite Eric's – he's my social work guy.”

“Yes, she'd seen the Herefordshire Times article about you both.” Felicity smiled at him. “You looked very handsome in the photos.”

“What?” Andy's jaw dropped. He snorted. “I don't think so. Windblown, hair everywhere, old gardening clothes to clean up – hardly a look a model might sport.” A little colour warmed his cheeks

“I'm only trying to say my son's a very lucky man.”

The heat increased. He didn't know where to look.

“Anyway, Emily's asked to meet up again.” Felicity's expression clouded over somewhat. “Not sure I can spare the time. The wedding arrangements are enough of a demand.”

Andy suspected lacking opportunities to escape her husband's control was a more likely reason. Still it appeared too important a connection to not comment on. “Don't leave it too long. In my experience, people lose interest if they feel ignored or rebuffed.”

“It's only been a couple of weeks, but you're right. I ought to make an effort. Finding appropriate topics to chat about can be trying with new people.” She fiddled with her wedding ring. “Maybe we'll hit it off?”

“Hope so. I get it can be awkward.” Andy grimaced. “One of Eric's old work mates contacted us out of the blue, prompted by the same wretched photo. Eric had himself expressed an interest in reaching out to exactly the same guy.”

“Another coincidence.”

“Yeah – world's full of them. He's proved reluctant to restart the connection. I gave Eric the details on Tuesday. When I phoned earlier, there hadn't been any progress.”

Felicity frowned. “How's it your business, darling? These things can take time.”

“I've got to give our enquirer an answer. If Eric turns down his chance, then it's only fair I tell the other guy the bad news.”

“True.” His companion's eyes flickered to the sheets of paper. “So what's you're trying to say is 'seize the day'.

“Pretty much.”

“Good advice, though not always easy to follow. Let's hope your client-cum-friend takes the plunge.”

“So do I.” Andy speculated on the chances. In his own mind, he'd press Eric for a preliminary decision by the close of the weekend. It wasn't fair to keep Rob Bairstow hanging.

“Enough chatter. Time's slipping away.” Felicity brought their conversation back on track, “Entertainment next, I think, Then I'll go through what I need you both to do to finalise the guest list.”

He let out a long breath. “Bring it on.”


Unpacking that morning's food shopping, Rob Bairstow stared ruefully at his purchases. He hadn't bothered compiling a list therefore he shouldn't be surprised by what had happened. His mind was on other things. One hand fished in a bag and produced the third bumper pack of breakfast cereals he'd bought in as many weeks. It wasn't even as if he ate them every day.

“That can join the other one in the store cupboard.”

A large head of broccoli sat on the countertop when he knew there was another, hardly used, occupying a shelf in the fridge. Yet he'd forgotten to buy spuds. Spuds were vital.

The whole week had been difficult to navigate. Waiting for a phone call that never came sapped his concentration, despite telling himself it didn't matter that much. “One of them's gotta phone. Know which one I'd prefer.”

Lunch on the hoof in Leominster meant a cup of coffee was all he required before getting back to work – paid and unpaid. He sat down, reaching out for the Confidential manilla folder which seemed to reside on his table. The first meeting with his youthful client was the following Tuesday. Their first encounter would be short – introductions, a setting of boundaries, expectations on both sides, and an attempt to fathom his client's interests. The caseworker would be present – assessing both of them and their interactions.

Rob picked up an additional sheet of paper. Apparently a rumour had reached the school social worker that his client-to-be had been involved in vandalism. A nod. Nothing proven but it would fit with the frustration, anger, desire for attention, understanding, and surprisingly, control such actions demonstrated.

His mind wandered back to Eric Whitehouse and the older man's troubles.

He gave himself a shake. “Must get that gazebo design finished.” He'd lost count of the variations it'd been through.

If the client signed it off, a buying expedition for suitable lengths of timber would follow. Cedar was a favourite for outdoor pieces. He only bought wood with a genuine audit trail and produced under proper environmental controls.

The phone rang. Every single call that week had set his heart racing. He grabbed the handset off the table.

“Hi, Rob–”

Robbie, mate!

The over-enthusiastic greeting made him wince. Another false alarm. “Hi, Barry.”

You sound ever-so-slightly disappointed it's me and not someone else.

Rob didn't grace that with a reply.

Anyway, since we're well into July, the rest of the team thought they'd get together for a pre-season exercise session. What d'you reckon?

They both played for an over-fifties football team. Rob regarded it mostly as a means to keep vaguely fit; he lacked the competitive edge some of the other players displayed.

“Yeah – I've spent too much time tied to the workshop recently.”

Busy?

“Couple of tight deadlines and some other jobs.” He didn't advertise his voluntary social work.

Good time for some light cardio or leg work. See you next Wednesday at the football ground?

“When?” The Welshman always omitted some vital piece of information.

Oh… seven? Time for tea to settle.

Rob made a metal note to eat early the following Wednesday. “Yep – see everyone then.”

He killed the call, not wanting to get caught up in chatting. The football team spent more time walking on the pitch than running, not that anyone hearing Barry's 'trainer' talk would believe that. He found it fun to do.

And it meant a group of mates. None were gay, but they made for good enough company in the pub, discussing life beyond the confines of their respective sexualities. Rob hesitated to put the phone down in case it miraculously sprang back into life. The silence expanded steadily. With a shrug, he slipped the handset into his pocket before heading out the back door towards work.


Upstairs in her bedroom following lunch, Felicity shrugged and wriggled her way out of that day's new dress. The bedroom was something of a haven, though Oliver's room was only a connecting door away. At least it meant privacy at night. She shuddered at the thought of sharing a bed with her husband. The menopause had few benefits – one was his loss of interest in having sex with her. Or maybe she was simply getting old. Stooping to pick up the dress, she placed it on a hanger before carefully inserting it into a space in her wardrobe. The soft yellow fabric was beautiful. Fingers traced a subtle pattern in the garment's weave which formed part of its attractiveness.

Disconsolate, she sat on the edge of the mattress. Oliver, having insisted her current evening wear was a disgrace, ignored her new purchase. When she pressed him for an opinion, his expression said anything necessary. Without bothering to reply, he returned to something on his tablet as if she no longer existed.

Her gaze returned to the springtime yellow. “Well, I like it. Makes me feel special.”

She flushed a little, recalling compliments received at the dress shop earlier. The praise had been far away from Oliver's ears. Just as well. One evening at a party several years ago, a man about Oliver's age remarked too favourably on what she wore. Felicity's eyes stung. Almost immediately, her husband had dragged her away, fury radiating out of him in waves. She recalled the drive home, feeling cold and sick, knowing what would transpire when they got indoors.

Her left arm ached, reminding her of the subsequent damage. The local urgent care unit had to be involved; her memory left blank whichever excuse she'd proffered.

Getting dressed in her usual clothes, Felicity mulled over parts of the chat with Andy. Would she contact Emily Standish?

She tugged the blouse into shape. “Yes, I shall.” Butterflies started up in her stomach.

The dressing table clock caught her eye. She gulped.

“Where are you, woman?”

The bellow from downstairs galvanised her into action.


Two minutes later, she stood in the library, hoping her hasty final touches wouldn't be noticed. Oliver prowled around, a clean shirt and fresh cravat in place.

“You're never bloody here when I want you.” He gathered up his phone, car keys, and wallet.

Felicity stared. “You never said–”

“What I do with my time is my business.” His lip curled. “I'll be back for dinner.”

Another evening to be spent worrying whether the food would be ready for his return. She swallowed a sigh. His only concession was to phone from the garage. In the few minutes it took him to get ready, she was expected to have the table laid out. There were no casual meals eaten in front of the TV in their household.

“And make sure the place is clean.” His head moved from side to side. “It looks a complete shithole in here.”

“Elaine cleaned downstairs only yesterday morning.”

A deepening shade of red opposite curtailed whatever else she was going to add.

“If I say it's a shithole, it's a fucking shithole.”

In silence, Felicity nodded her agreement. She watched her husband leave. He took no more notice of her than if she were the carpet.


Eric let one of his watercolour pencils wander across a sheet of Andy's heavy art paper. The lemon yellow trail partially obscured an unfinished study of the house opposite. He wasn't used to sketching buildings close to – the brickwork lacked detail and shading. It didn't matter though. Art was only one of many reasons to avoid picking up the phone. How had he managed to get through another twenty-four hours without doing what was needed?

He scowled and put the pencil down – they weren't cheap enough for him to waste on scribbling. A glance at the clock told him it was genuinely too late to make contact. That was pretty much how the day had passed: he would leave phoning until after lunch, once he'd come back from his walk, or when he felt brighter. Other times he imagined it would inconvenience Rob Bairstow, get him into the other man's bad books before he opened his mouth. Or maybe it was simple cowardice.

There was a two sentence email sitting on his computer, waiting for him to continue. If he imagined himself as tongue-tied on the phone, it was nothing compared to the dried-up formality of the email stub. It would have to be the spoken word or nothing.

Eric levered himself out of the armchair. “Bed. Maybe you'll find your balls in the morning.” He sensed opportunity slipping away – a week was a long time. “Breakfast, then phone. Nothing else until you phone.”


With stentorian, drunken snores coming from the other bedroom, Felicity dared to read a message on her phone. Fresh from the shower, she sat on the bed. One shaded lamp made the screen appear dazzlingly bright. She silenced everything she could before opening up the text from Emily Standish. Modern communications – her phone call had been met by voicemail; that verbal message led to the written message she was about to read.

As she scanned the few sentences detailing a proposal for lunch or coffee, Felicity's ears listened for any change in the room next door. She froze. A gap in the snoring made her hands tremble. The silence seemed to extend forever before dissolving into a rapid series of snorts, followed by familiar sounds. She breathed again. Committing the message to memory, she deleted the text, scrubbed the app, and allowed hope to blossom.

Feel free to add your comment or speculation. I enjoy reading them all.

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

It is not easy to read about Felicity's terror. Especially when I think about the hints and all that is not told.

 

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5 hours ago, quttzik said:

And I have a feeling if Eric doesn’t make contact soon tat they will meet anyway because of Rob’s new client.

Yes, but. Imagine if Eric doesn't make contact. It would make any future contact tricky. Rob might decide to keep things formal and only for the necessary time.

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3 hours ago, mayday said:

It is not easy to read about Felicity's terror.

No. It is a necessary part of this tale. I hope it doesn't bleed through to colour your thoughts about the entire story.

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Some insightful thoughts from our regular email contributor:

Quote

Felicity is a little unusual since she knows she can always escape to Adam & Andy’s place. Many other victims of abuse have been isolated and lost contact with all of their friends and family. The tyrannical abuser wants his (or less commonly, her) victim to rely on them instead of allowing the freedom and liberty promised in Western democracies – a kind of miniature authoritarian dictatorship.


Eric’s situation is somewhat parallel, but in his case, it’s all internal. His past has him so trapped with fear and hesitancy that he’s afraid to contact Rob even though, if he thought it through more carefully, he’d realize that Rob contacted him because he’s interested too! Even if Rob’s interest were merely friendly, it’s more than just a casual acquaintance would likely do.


Poor Andy knows what he wants to happen in both cases, but he’s only allowed to try to be patient and let the two make their own decisions at their own glacially slow paces. 😞

 

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Just now, northie said:

Felicity is a little unusual since she knows she can always escape to Adam & Andy’s place.

Can she though? Yes, it might be a place of last resort but she wouldn't want to bring trouble to them. It would be the first place Oliver would go to. Both lads work full (or nearly full) time. Felicity would spend a lot of time on her own.

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4 minutes ago, northie said:

Poor Andy knows what he wants to happen in both cases, but he’s only allowed to try to be patient and let the two make their own decisions at their own glacially slow paces. 😞

Yes, he's not to be envied. Poor Andy indeed.

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I chose angry for my emoticon, I simply can't abide another person thinking it is ok to abuse another.

“And make sure the place is clean.” His head moved from side to side. “It looks a complete shithole in here.”

“Elaine cleaned downstairs only yesterday morning.”

A deepening shade of red opposite curtailed whatever else she was going to add.

“If I say it's a shithole, it's a fucking shithole.”

In silence, Felicity nodded her agreement. She watched her husband leave. He took no more notice of her than if she were the carpet.

To me the simple solution would be to neuter Oliver! it is clear to me at least, he's cheating on his wife as well. Felicity needs to leave now...ASAP...Pronto!!!

That Andy knows that his partners mother is being abused and not sharing that info could be problematic!

 

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I can understand Eric's procrastination all too well. He's been daydreaming about what might happen if they get in touch again for so long that he's become frightened the reality can’t match up to the fantasy.

Felicity needs help, but first of all she has to recognise her situation as intolerable. It's become so much a part of her life over the years, it feels 'normal' to her and she can't see a way out.

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I don't know what to say, I'm simply heartbroken ...

I feel for Eric, I too find it difficult at times to reach out for something I want/need for fear of being rebuffed or disappointed. Rational, no ... human, very.

Felicity needs to get away. The "Ogre" (oh that's not fair, it's unkind to ogres) has beaten her self-worth as surely as he's abused her physically, making it particularly difficult to find the wherewithal to leave. I think it fortunate that she has the planning for Adam & Andy's wedding to give her purpose. I'm curious, did the abuse only begin after Adam left home or is it longstanding, we're not likely to know.

Andy is caught between the proverbial rock and hard place in both cases. Should he push either Eric or Felicity in the direction we all think they should go it could breed resentment. 

You've done outstandingly well with this difficult chapter. Kudos.

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12 hours ago, drsawzall said:

That Andy knows that his partners mother is being abused and not sharing that info could be problematic!

It has been quite some time since Never Too Late To Explore. If you go to Chapter 15 https://gayauthors.org/story/northie/never-too-late-to-explore/15 you'll find Andy and Adam chewing over what to do. In many ways, Adam's too close to get involved. Even Andy is really. If Felicity were to confide in him then, yes, you'd have the issue of whether or not he should confide in Adam. Difficult times.

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3 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

He's been daydreaming about what might happen if they get in touch again for so long that he's become frightened the reality can’t match up to the fantasy.

Yes, and the day dream since Pride has always involved him making the first approach. Why should that be important? Logic doesn't always hold sway in these situations.

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2 hours ago, dughlas said:

I feel for Eric, I too find it difficult at times to reach out for something I want/need for fear of being rebuffed or disappointed. Rational, no ... human, very.

Yes, indeed. Another instance of Eric being a magnified image of me. 

2 hours ago, dughlas said:

Andy is caught between the proverbial rock and hard place in both cases. Should he push either Eric or Felicity in the direction we all think they should go it could breed resentment. 

He has more reason / need to push Eric. In some small respect he represents Rob. Felicity? As has been said many times before, she has to come to her own conclusions - right or wrong. 

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Oliver is a raging ogre, a travesty. How did she and that man manage to produce such a lovely man as Adam? It’s fun to watch Andy get a bit nervous as their big day nears. And Eric getting his own nerve up is even better. :) 

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23 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

And Eric getting his own nerve up is even better.

I suddenly wondered whether that was what he was like before he made that phone call right at the start of Book 1. 🤨😄 Probably.

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13 hours ago, Timothy M. said:

Poor Robbie, he's having an even worse time than Eric.

Hmm... maybe. He's certainly unsettled but I don't think he's assailed by the sort of angst Eric is.

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