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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. 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. 

Never Too Late To Change - 6. A Day's Exploring

Eric ventures into the city ...

Eric was flagging. His feet hurt, and he was so weary. Shopping, in the sense of trailing from place to place, looking for things, was something he hardly ever did. It had been worth it, though. All the getting ready in time, and trying to find his way around. His haul was two shirts, a couple of pairs of trousers, and a cardi. He'd been really lucky. A brief smile of satisfaction crossed over his face. The real prize had been two, two pairs of shoes. Nothing was new, but that didn't bother him. They were all in good condition.

Why did people gave away things like that? They must have more money than sense. Many of the clothes looked virtually unworn. He continued to wear his clothes until they fell apart, almost. Not that he was complaining, really – it was to his benefit. The amount of money he'd spent that morning wouldn't have bought anything much new.

Eric was on his way to Adam's workplace to meet Andy and his fiancé for lunch. Following Andy's directions, he found himself in the vicinity of the cathedral. He looked around. All the buildings in the cathedral close, and further out, were well-preserved, Georgian redbrick. To his eyes, they looked expensive, and likely to be occupied by the well-heeled.

Eric sighed. His appearance would be at fault again, he just knew it. The previous week's trip to the supermarket for washing powder had meant he'd been able to wash his clothes thoroughly for a change. But it didn't make them any newer. He briefly contemplated wearing one of his 'new' pairs of shoes. Not a good idea. He always had to spend time wearing-in his footwear, otherwise he'd have blisters.

This was the street. Eric looked at his piece of paper with Andy's directions, and reminded himself yet again of the firm's name. He peered at the various signs and nameplates until he reached the right building. Looking in through the window, he could see Andy, sitting in the reception area.

He half thought about waving to attract Andy's attention but, of course, his hands were full. He'd be bloody glad to put the bags down for a bit. He could do with a good rest before lunch. So instead, Eric took a deep breath and opened the door. As he entered, he could sense the receptionist giving him the once over. He avoided looking in her direction. It would be safer to keep his eyes firmly fixed on Andy.

Andy was dealing with some email correspondence on his tablet when he was distracted by the receptionist raising her voice.

“Excuse me? Excuse me! Do you have an appointment?”

He looked up, wondering what was going on. Ah … Of course, it was Eric. He hardly looked like one of the firm's regular clients. The old man was slowly walking towards him, ignoring the woman at the desk.

He decided to intervene. “Sarah? It's OK. Eric's with me. We're meeting Adam for lunch.”

“If you're sure.” She gave Eric one last, disparaging look before returning to her work.

Eric sank into one of the chairs, then dropped his bags and his stick onto the floor. He gave a sigh of relief.

Andy grinned at him. “Wow, you really have been successful, haven't you?”

Eric looked at the bags with satisfaction and pride. “They took a bit of finding, but yes, I've had a good hour or so buying things. My arms and my feet ache.”

He couldn't resist showing off his new shoes, although everything else stayed in the bags. It wasn't the right place to be doing that. He still had the feeling the receptionist was giving him the evil eye.

Andy duly admired both pairs of shoes. He was pleased to see the old man be so happy over something so simple.

“Adam should be here in a couple of minutes. He's just making a call to a client. What sort of thing would you like for lunch?”

Eric decided that he wanted something out of the ordinary, for him, at least.

“I wouldn't mind trying the sort of thing you ate the last time. As long as it's not spicy.”

“You mean, at the pub? So, vegetarian?” Andy sounded surprised.

Eric nodded. “It looked different, very different from my usual. You seemed to enjoy it.”

“Yeah. I like goat's cheese. It can be an acquired taste, though. OK … There's a place down on the riverside which does good veggie food. Nothing fancy – just really well prepared. We can walk there. It'll only take ten minutes or so.”

Eric groaned. More walking.

Andy chuckled. “I'll carry your bags, if you want?”

Eric raised an eyebrow, and gazed at Andy. “Now … can I trust you with them?”

Briefly, Andy looked mock insulted until Eric answered his own question. “I think I'll have to. I'm knackered.”

The old man closed his eyes for a short doze. Andy returned to his correspondence, determined to answer the one remaining email. He'd just managed to send it off when Adam appeared.

“Sorry to have kept you both waiting.” Adam leaned in and kissed his fiancé on the lips. He smiled at Eric who had surfaced from his nap. “And you must be Eric. Pleased to meet you.”

They shook hands. Eric was back to being his usual, socially awkward self and only muttered a brief reply.

Andy had to restrain himself from answering on Eric's behalf. Yes, he wanted them to get on, but Eric was perfectly capable of speaking for himself. He just needed a little time to adjust to Adam. Hopefully, eating lunch together would help. He picked up Eric's bags and gave the old man his stick.

As the three of them passed the receptionist's desk on their way out, Eric couldn't help noticing that … Sarah, was it? had a look of veiled disapproval on her face. It didn't appear to be aimed at just him, though. That thought made Eric feel a little happier. Perhaps, because it made him feel as though he belonged, the same as Andy and his fiancé belonged. All gay men, together.

Adam ignored any possible provocation and acknowledged her, coolly. “Sarah? I may be back late. My assistant has my number in case there's anything urgent.”

They headed off towards the riverside.


Eric remained sat at the table in the café while his two companions ordered all their food at the counter. They made a handsome pair.

The café was laid back by the usual city standards, so both men felt relaxed enough to be themselves. Eric was watching them as they touched hands, laughed together, and kept on glancing in the other's direction. It was plain they were a couple and here, no-one gave them a second look.

Seeing their closeness, he couldn't help feeling jealous. The barrenness of his own life was in such stark contrast. And whose fault was that? … His, of course. Completely lacking the courage, the wherewithal, to do anything about it. Eric sighed deeply. He was happy for them as well, but the envy kept on rearing its ugly head. Of course, he knew its source – that's what he'd just been thinking about. But still, he didn't like the feeling one bit. He gave himself a quick talking to.

It was clear Andy wanted him to like Adam. He was happy to give it a go because Andy loved his man. But Eric also knew that Adam represented a number of things which usually riled him. He was privileged, monied, socially unflappable, and a real clothes horse. He was going to have to watch his tongue. Eric smiled grimly. There he was, an older gay man, now more than ever conscious of other people's prejudices, and he'd just named a whole host of his own. At least he'd work on getting the better of them, unlike most other people.

Adam came back to the table, having left his partner to order the drinks. He sensed that the old man was ill at ease. He started the conversation in what he hoped was going to be neutral territory.

“Andy told me you'd come into town for some shopping, Looks as though you've been successful?”

Eric grunted. He looked up at Adam briefly before staring back down at the tablecloth

After a short pause, Adam tried again. “Where'd you go? There's a good range of shops here.”

Eric felt put on the spot. “Nowhere you'd dream of going, I'd imagine …” He tried to rein himself in. “My pension doesn't stretch very far. I've not got much to spend on clothes. As you can see.”

Eric couldn't help coming out with the last sentence. Adam was dressed in full work mode, and Eric knew he looked even more shabby than usual in comparison. Adam didn't react to the comment.

Instead he smiled at the old man, disarmingly. “If I had to survive on the amount of money you're currently receiving, I would also be spending a lot of time in charity shops. I'm told you can get some good quality stuff there, if you're lucky.”

Andy came back to the table just in time to catch the end of Adam's remark. “Yes. Eric had some good luck this morning. He bought two pairs of shoes, virtually unworn.”

Even Eric knew a cue when he heard one, but he wasn't about to oblige. It was OK for him to show off his purchases to Andy, but not Adam. Not until he'd made his mind up about him.

Fortunately, the food arrived at that point. Eric had let Andy order for him and he hoped that hadn't been a rash move. He was presented with a heaped plate of pasta parcels in a chunky tomato sauce.

Andy elaborated. “Spinach and ricotta ravioli. Err … Ricotta is an Italian crumbly soft cheese.”

Eric poked at the food gingerly with his fork. He was hungry, starving, so he took a forkful of the pasta, dipped it in the sauce and ate it. He chewed slowly, experiencing the new flavours and textures. It was good. He looked up and nodded in approval at Andy. At once, the atmosphere lightened, and the other two men set about their own food.


Eric was finishing his lemon fool when the conversation got going again.

“Are you interested in cooking, Eric?” Adam had noted his curiosity about everything that they'd eaten.

“I watch the programmes on the telly, if that's what you mean. Me, I don't cook. First, how am I meant to afford the sort of ingredients used here? Second, look at these …” Eric held out his hands. They were hands that had seen a lifetime's hard work, out in all weathers, and they were deformed by arthritis. Andy could see several swollen, inflamed joints on both hands.

“They're not too bad at the moment because today, I've been in the warm mostly. At home, it's cold and damp, so my hands seize up. Your other half can tell you what can happen with hot food when I'm like that.”

Andy winced at the reference to the wretched, completely inappropriate curry. He'd helped clean it up when he'd brought Eric back from the pub.

Eric continued. “When I heat soup, I can only have it warm because I can't risk spilling it over me. Food for me is largely cold – sandwiches, mostly. It can get so boring, that sometimes I have to force myself to eat.”

Adam had been listening intently to Eric's woes. He glanced at his partner, and raised his eyebrows in a question.

Andy sighed inwardly. “I've been trying to schedule a meeting with the estate manager. He manages the employees' tied cottages, and this one is a leftover from a time when it was lived in by an estate worker. He's either very busy or he's trying to avoid me.”

“Remind me whose estate it is.” Andy named the owner. Adam looked thoughtful. “I'm pretty sure he's a client of ours. We've got a promotional 'meet and greet' coming up. I wonder if I could manage to speak to him for a few minutes. It might persuade him to take a personal interest. Hmm … I'll spend some time on it this afternoon.”

Eric was torn between being impressed that Adam was now helping him, and being bloody annoyed that it looked as though it was going to be another case of 'who you know'. He managed not to say anything.

Andy had kept one eye on the old man as Adam was talking. He saw Eric's expression change to one of irritation, although it didn't last long before it was replaced by something more neutral. He decided to change the course of the conversation slightly.

“Eric? One of the things I did this morning was to talk to a mate of mine who teaches horticulture at the local college. He thinks a couple of students could make a project out of reclaiming your garden and re-laying the path. What do you think?”

Eric dragged his thoughts away from the advantages of knowing people, important people. The sort who used to employ him and barely gave him the time of day, even though he'd worked for them for years … Sulking wasn't going to help – he should be glad he had people to fight his corner.

“I know it's not the most urgent problem on the list but it looked to be the easiest to deal with.” Andy was looking at him, anxiously.

Food, company and warmth had, once again, been working their magic on Eric. He mentally shook himself, cleared his mind of its grievances and smiled at both of his companions, not just at Andy.

“I am very grateful for what you're doing on my behalf. I know I'm not the easiest chap to get on with, but I am trying. Honestly …”

Andy flashed him a grin. Adam got up from his seat, obviously needing to get back to work. He was halfway through putting his coat on, when he remembered something.

“Eric? I haven't forgotten about the books. One of my older friends has a few and he thinks he knows someone else who has more.”

He leaned over and kissed Andy, then moved round the table to Eric's side. He shook hands with old man again. “It's been great to meet you, Eric. With Andy on your side, I'm sure you'll find that things will quickly improve. Just you wait and see.”

Andy rolled his eyes and shook his head disbelievingly. “Yeah, yeah.”

His fiancé saw him out of the corner of his eye. “I'm not joking. Eric, with him as your champion, you'll do OK.”

With a broad smile, Adam turned back to Andy. He was leaning back in his seat, regarding Adam with affectionate amusement. They looked into each others' eyes with love, humour and friendship.

“Haven't you got a job to get back to?” Andy was only teasing.

Adam grinned. “I'm going, now.”

Eric had been quietly watching the exchange. He was surprised in one way – he'd expected to feel excluded, but he wasn't. The jealousy was still there, of course. It would be for a long time, he imagined. There was a faint stinging in his eyes which hinted at other feelings he didn't want look at too closely. Crying? What use was that? But, he did feel in some way part of their life – only as a spectator, perhaps, and he'd probably stay that way. Still, it had to be better than what he had before, at least for the moment.

With thanks to Parker Owens.

Please leave a comment if you wish - I love reading them, whatever you have to say.

There's a story topic. Feel free to drop in.

Copyright © 2018 northie; All Rights Reserved.
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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. 

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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I think that Sarah’s problem might be that Eric reminds her of what she might be like, who she’s working hard not to be. She’s making sure that ‘undesirables’ don’t start using her office as a warm and dry shelter from the weather outside. She’s protecting her territory and attempting to maintain the proper standards of the neighborhood.  ;-)

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32 minutes ago, droughtquake said:

Does Adam know a lonely aging actor?  ;-)

For anyone who's baffled by drought's comment, see a separate short of mine, Acted Out and his comment there.  ;)

Edited by northie
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2 minutes ago, northie said:

For anyone who's baffled by drought's comment, see a separate short, Acted Out and his comment there.  ;)

I’m sure that this wasn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time, that someone might be baffled by one on my comments!  ;-)

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My heart still aches for Eric. There is much missing from his life. Andy and Adam are bringing new experiences to his life. Fortunately Eric is trusting of Andy and unlike many older folks open to trying new things. It seems too that Eric has felt the sting of being judged a lesser being by the self-important. Of course he realizes his own guilt in this. We all need to look to the person before we judge.

Andy has learned to appreciate things like two pair of virtually unworn shoes and what that means for someone on a meager budget. Then there is the possibilty of eager young people working "magic" on Eric's garden. Eric appears a curmudgeon at first but he knows it and tries to be otherwise. He'll warm to the kids and they to him. Imagine the things they could learn from him.

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18 hours ago, deville said:

Your telling of it makes the gamut of Eric’s  feelings tangible ,in fact  quite visceral! 

Andy and Adams relationship is solid and a good example for Eric . I’m glad he felt some measure of inclusion . 

I spend a lot of time in my characters' heads - I think that's part of what makes it seem so real.  ;)  

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18 hours ago, Wesley8890 said:

Omg I want to slap people like Sarah! I really like Adam. I just feel so bad for eric

But things are slowly looking up for Eric? Maybe you should allow a tinge of hope in there.  :) 

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17 hours ago, Ivor Slipper said:

They've got to get the garden reclaimed before they can get round to planting seeds CG :lol: 

But it seems some of the barriers Eric has built up over the years may be starting to crumble - perhaps more than just a little with vegetarian ravioli for lunch!

The soil may have been lying fallow for a very long time, but it doesn't mean it isn't fertile. :) Taking down your own barriers can be very daunting. Having other people to start you off is a great help.

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23 hours ago, Sweetlion said:

Yeah, even if he still doesn't feel comfortable with it, it will do Eric good to interact with the guys as a couple.

Yes, indeed. Social contact of any kind will be good for Eric.  :)

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23 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

In some ways, it hurts to read this through the lens of Eric’s experience. You show that beautifully and well. Yet seeing Andy and Adam as a loving couple does good not only for Eric, but for me, too. Thank you. 

Thank you, dear editor. Yes, reading of someone's loneliness and bitter regrets is never easy. I know you like our young couple.  :)

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23 hours ago, droughtquake said:

I think that Sarah’s problem might be that Eric reminds her of what she might be like, who she’s working hard not to be. She’s making sure that ‘undesirables’ don’t start using her office as a warm and dry shelter from the weather outside. She’s protecting her territory and attempting to maintain the proper standards of the neighborhood.  ;-)

Well, yes ... But isn't that part of the job of a receptionist? Frontline doorkeeping?  Probably doesn't make her a more attractive character, though.  ;)

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5 hours ago, Timothy M. said:

I feel very sorry for Eric not being able to enjoy hot food normally. Surely there must be a technical solution to this problem? A microwave with containers which can be handled wearing oven mitts?  Powdered soups which can be made ready at the table by pouring boiling water into the bowl ? Andy should get his clever mind working on this too. :) 

Powdered soup is probably more expensive than Eric can afford. Most convenience foods are much more expensive than making it yourself – unless they’re so full of artificial ingredients and sodium that you wouldn’t want to consume them. The easy-open packaging that most of us take for granted generally comes with a higher price too. It’s a shame that there probably isn’t a food bank in the area where Eric lives – maybe the agency Andy volunteers with can start one up!  ;-)

 

Maybe Adam can get Eric a small collapsable shopping cart so he doesn’t have to carry everything in his hands when he shops…  ;-)

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Being part of a flock, however small, is such a comfort to us humans. Eric has found himself on the outskirts of a small but friendly flock. I hope they can all build mutual friendships from here. 

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On 23/03/2018 at 7:36 PM, dughlas said:

Eric is trusting of Andy and unlike many older folks open to trying new things.

Only because circumstances force him to be, I think. Had he kept his homehelp, he may well have kept on going in his fixed, meaningless ways. Losing that and for once allowing his sexuality into play, have been powerful catalysts. As we've seen, Eric is not well educated, but he has been inquisitive. It's whether Andy can stir that back into life. Thanks, dugh. Your comments always make me think.  :) 

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22 hours ago, drsawzall said:

Again and at the risk of sounding like a broken record...well done and vitally important that we see stories in this subject. Life isn't simply led as some of the stories would have you believe. We all struggle with and hide what we don't want others to see. 

Please keep up the good work and thanks!

Thank you for your very kind remarks. This story wasn't started with the idea of making social commentary. Rather, Eric appeared in my head, and writing about him has led me in all kinds of interesting directions.  :)

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I really like Eric, and I feel badly for him. It must be tough to get older without any support. You do a good job portraying his emotions from happy to angry and back again. I like the way Andy is beginning to understand how Eric thinks and how to read him. Thank you.

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