Andy is back home, and tells his partner about his day. Adam's response is not quite what he expects.
Later the same day, Andy returned home before his fiancé. That wasn't surprising as Adam commuted to the city for his job as a lawyer. It was one out of many reasons why he himself was self-employed. A daily commute was his idea of hell, though it didn't seem to bother his partner.
Andy sat at the kitchen table, nursing a mug of freshly-brewed coffee. He was brooding over his encounter with Eric. Although he knew he could've handled it better, Andy thought the old man might have been more appreciative. He hadn't exactly been welcoming right from the start.
That was time he could have been paid for.
Andy couldn't help feeling aggrieved, although he recognised it reflected badly on him. The more he went over what had happened, the more his sense of being unappreciated increased, almost in spite of himself. He tried to ignore a small voice in the back of his mind which was telling him to grow up, and make allowances for a lonely old man.
He'd already texted Adam about his day but hadn't had a reply, probably because he was with a client. Andy looked at his phone and saw it was later than he'd thought.
Too late to start preparing what was needed for supper. He'd order something in for both of them. He grabbed one of the menus from its place next to the fridge, and opened up their usual ordering app.
When Adam walked in a little later, he was surprised to be greeted by the unmistakable aroma of Chinese food. He'd been looking forward to eating the ham hocks which he knew were in the fridge.
“Hi, hun.” He kissed his partner. “Why the takeout?”
Andy sighed. “I've had a bad day. I got back too late to start the ham off. Sorry.” Which wasn't strictly true.
Adam grimaced sympathetically. “Wasn't this your first visit to your new client?”
“New client? First client. It didn't go as I wanted it to. He was quite rude and ungrateful.” Andy pouted slightly, expecting to garner more sympathy.
Instead, Adam raised his eyebrows and looked rather surprised. “OK … You’re well used to dealing with ungrateful, demanding clients, I’d have thought. Right now, I'm starving. When we've eaten, you can tell me all the gory details.”
Andy had expected his fiancé to back him up unconditionally. Now, he wasn't so sure and that added to the sense of conflict going on in his head. They chatted about Adam's day, and things in general while they were eating. Then, when they'd finished, Andy started on his well-rehearsed version of events. He thought he was giving a reasonably balanced account of the afternoon. It wouldn't matter if he talked up some elements, and not others.
Adam let his partner talk himself out. His lawyer's brain analysed what was said, and not said, and he wasn't particularly impressed by what he'd heard. As Andy finished, he took a short time to gather his thoughts, and decide how best to make his partner look critically at how he'd acted.
Andy watched with some anxiety, as Adam processed what he'd said. He could see the legal mind at work, and Andy wondered what would result. Earlier, he’d assumed that Adam would agree with most things that he'd done, but now he didn’t think it so likely. He already accepted he'd made a number of errors.
Adam looked at him quizzically. “You've written up your case notes already, have you?”
Andy's mouth opened. Fuck! How could he have forgotten something so basic? Even though it had only been a short visit, he still needed to do it. His abrupt departure had precluded the necessary question and answer session, but there were still impressions, observations to be noted. Like the state of the cottage, and the lack of heating. That took some of the wind out of his sails, and added to his inner turmoil.
Nonplussed, he said the first thing that came into his head. “Ehm … well, no … as it was a preliminary meeting, I thought it wasn't necessary.”
One of Adam's eyebrows shot up. “Well, in my experience, a preliminary meeting with a client is when you find out basic information. What they need, what the problems are, what I might be able to offer … Generally looking at the possibilities and potential pitfalls. All things that need to be taken note of. Andy, just because you're doing this as a volunteer doesn't mean you can't act professionally.”
“We didn't actually get that far …” Andy wouldn't meet his fiancé's eye. “But I still should've done it, I know.”
Having made that point, Adam changed tack. “I imagine this sort of adult social care needs empathy, lots and lots of it. Not sympathy or pity, but a practical, caring attitude to the clients and their lives.”
Now, Andy was indignant. “Empathy? It's difficult to have much empathy with someone who was so rude.”
Adam snorted. Although he apologised immediately, it didn't stop him from then making his point.
“Rude as in what? Calling you 'laddie' because you sat there making frankly ridiculous assumptions about someone you'd never met before? Yes, online ordering is part of our day-to-day life, but it isn't for a very large number of people. Even I know computer usage is much lower amongst the elderly. … You'll need to grow a thicker skin, love.”
Andy flushed red as his partner continued.
“Look, how much social interaction do you think this man's had lately? He probably spends virtually all his time on his own. So he got frustrated. It happens all the time. Maybe he just needs more practice with someone who doesn't judge him. … Have you tried replaying this afternoon from Eric's point of view?”
Andy shook his head. The small voice at the back of his mind suddenly increased in volume. It was sounding as though he'd do well to listen to it more.
“Think about it, love. Eric is an individual with his own hopes, fears, desires, worries, and on a more prosaic level, his own likes and dislikes. What would you think if someone came in and tried to feed you an omelette? I know they make you feel sick.”
Andy mentally replayed the food episode from earlier. It looked more like a slow motion car crash than anything else. Why did he think Eric would enjoy the curry when he himself had never eaten a pre-prepared one? He swallowed hard, and tried to concentrate on what Adam was saying as he continued.
“Another thing you'll have to bear in mind is his sexuality. Perhaps it wouldn't normally be much of an issue, but from what you said at the weekend, he sounds like a deeply closeted gay man who has decided to come out. Only a little way so far, but still … my thought would be, why now? What is he hoping for?”
Andy had a sudden, off the wall thought, and smirked to himself. “Hope he doesn't expect me to give him a blow job or set him up on Grindr.”
There was a short, shocked silence.
Fuck. He hadn't meant to say it out loud. It had just been one of those idiotic, passing thoughts, coming from god only knew where. Andy flushed again. “Sorry, I didn't mean that. It was stupid of me.”
Adam looked both puzzled and annoyed. “Yes, it was stupid of you. Hun, he's a client, someone who deserves respect. If he was one of your paying clients, would you talk about him in that way?”
Andy thought this was a little unfair. “We both make comments about your clients sometimes.”
“Yes, OK … occasionally, but nothing like that.”
Andy was feeling somewhat bruised by the rough handling his fiancé was giving him. He would have been thoroughly indignant by now if he hadn't accepted, ruefully, that Adam was doing this for his own good. And his own conscience was now making itself heard, loud and clear.
A thought, which had been lurking in the background of Adam's mind, came to the fore. “That training course you went on, just what did it teach you? It was spread over three days, wasn't it?”
Andy's sense of guilt increased even more. Everybody who wanted to be a field worker for the charity, had to go on an intensive training course. Only, he hadn't paid any real attention. He'd thought it was the sort of stuff that was common sense and didn't need teaching. The theory was boring, and the roleplay excruciating. He wasn't the only one who hadn't taken the roleplay seriously.
Then one of his proper, paying clients had called him, demanding immediate attention. A problem with a recently completed pond area. Andy hadn't felt able to put him off, even though it had meant missing most of one of the days. He'd only gained his certificate because he'd turned on his charm and sweet talked the course organiser into letting him pass.
Andy took a deep breath and confessed as much, although he gave Adam an edited version of the truth.
His fiancé stared at him hard. “All I can say is, you'd bloody well better get yourself on the next available course and pay attention this time. Your course supervisor is damn lucky that I'm not reporting them for professional misconduct. What if something ever went wrong, and it was something you should've known from the course?”
Adam took a moment or two to calm down. Andy was looking very pink, and distinctly crestfallen and uncomfortable. Adam felt sorry for him but equally, he felt that both the cross examination, and his annoyance, had been necessary. He knew that Andy’s heart was in the right place. He could be impulsive; sometimes this was good, sometimes not … his own more analytical approach was usually a complement, but not always.
He sighed to himself before continuing. “I think it's great that you want to give something back to society, love, but you have to be professional about it. I think you'll agree that needs some work … What you shouldn't be doing is acting like some latter-day, Victorian do-gooder. If you approach the job in the right spirit, I think you'll be able to really help Eric.”
Adam got up from the table, smiled with affectionate exasperation at his partner, then started clearing away the empty containers. As he reached over to Andy's side of the table, he kissed him on the cheek. Andy smiled ruefully back, still looking flushed, embarrassed and contrite.
“I think you'd both benefit from continuing to meet. How do you feel about it?”
Andy had just assumed that Eric wouldn't want to see him ever again. He considered the idea of returning, and helping the old man properly. It would be tricky to start out with.
“Yeah, I think I could do that. Depends very much on what Eric wants, though. Don't think I made a good impression, did I?”
“'No' is the short answer. But that can be changed. Eric certainly needs someone to help him. And if you want that somone to be you …? You'd better start devising a convincing and sincere apology which hopefully, he'll accept. In the meantime, would you like my take on what you could do for him?”
Andy nodded gratefully.
They moved into the other room and settled together on the sofa. Andy reached out, and dragged his tablet closer. “Time to start my case notes …”
“OK. This is off the top of my head. And don't forget that it's not about your priorities. It's Eric's life. … Housing. I imagine Eric rents that cottage. Why isn't his landlord maintaining the building properly? You'll have to chase them. I've a friend who could help you with enforcement action, if it comes to it.”
Andy was tapping away on his tablet, trying to keep up as his partner really got going. The list grew longer as Eric's health, his sources of income, his ability to live safely in his own home, and the state of his garden, together with other things, were added to it.
He knew he was going to have his work cut out, and never mind his proper, fee-earning occupation.
Adam saw the look on his fiancé's face as he realised what he was letting himself in for. “Oh, love, don't worry. This is where setting priorities comes in. There's only a set amount of time you can devote to Eric, so you'll have to make it work. At the start, you'll be spending a lot of time on the phone or sending emails, chasing people and so on.”
“Won't I just.”
Adam grinned at him. “What've you got on tomorrow?”
“I've arranged to meet a client in town, first thing, to discuss some thoughts he's had. Otherwise, it's a clear day. It's a quiet time. Things will start picking up again in the New Year.”
“I suggest you phone Eric before you have breakfast …”
“And give him your apology. If Eric accepts it, how about you take him out for lunch later? One of the pubs out of town, perhaps? Talk to him about anything other than yesterday's debacle, and see how it goes. OK?” Adam stroked Andy's cheek, gently. “Love, I'm sorry I gave you a hard time earlier. I think you really could be good news for Eric.”
Andy grimaced. “I think I probably deserved most of it. One apology coming up, then bed. It's going to be an early start.”
“No playtime?” His partner appeared hopeful.
“Why on Earth should there be, after the way you've treated me …”
Adam could hear the pout. Andy was only mock-angry, though he had given him a rough time earlier. Adam was used to this and kissed Andy anyway. After some initial reluctance, Andy returned his kisses with interest. Then they ended up laying on the sofa with Adam on top, still kissing, and fondling each other wherever they could reach a hand.
When they came up for air, Adam whispered in his fiancé's ear. “And if I said I'd treat you right from now on?”
“I'll think about it.”
More pouting. More feigned reluctance on display.
“Like this … ?”
More persuasive kisses in just the right places.
“Oh yes … That'll do very nicely.”
With thanks to my beta-readers and editor.
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