Boy on the Towpath
by Andrew Foote
At the agreed time Tom and I walked to the pub only to be greeted by Maggi.
"Hey blokes! You all set then?"
"As set as we'll ever be I guess. Has the Doc arrived?"
"Yep. He called me last night to say he'd taken a tumble and didn't feel up to the drive so I'm his chauffeur for the day! He's a bit grumpy so treat him with kid gloves."
"You heard the lady Tom? Treat him gently if you want a result!"
Maggi looked mystified for a moment before the penny dropped.
"So Tom is……..Tom's doing the deal then is he?"
"His idea Maggs, not mine I can assure you."
"Yeah but it's brilliant! The old boy has a well big soft spot for kids and Tom is, don't mean to embarrass you or anything Tom but you're so polite and well mannered, he'll adore you! Yeah it just might work!"
In the pub Maggi introduced me.
"Doc? This is Stuart Mailing."
Doc looked at me over his glasses in a way only doctors can.
"Yes yes. Knew your father Mailing. Fine man, fine man don't y'know. Who's this whipper-snapper then?" Looking at Tom.
Tom didn't miss a beat and stepped forward, his hand outstretched.
"Doctor, my name is Tom Mailing. I'm Stuart's step-son. It's really good to meet a legend!"
"A legend by God! Ha! Never been called one of them before Ha-ha! Sit down boy! Mailing? Get some damned drinks in before we all die through lack of alcohol!"
Suitably chastened I went and ordered the drinks. Large scotch over ice for the Doc, Pimms for Maggi, two large red wines for me, the first I downed in one at the bar for Dutch courage and a coke for Tom.
When I returned to the table Maggi looked at me wide-eyed.
"Look at the two of them Stu? Shit! It's as if they've known each other years? They've been yapping non-stop since you went to the bar!"
She was right. There seemed no stopping them even when I did my best to interrupt. That didn't go down very well at all!
"What's up with you man! Can't you see this fine young man and I are in discussion? Damn it Mailing. Where are you manners! And one other thing. What the hell is that drink you've brought over for him."
"Er……..Coke actually. Is there a problem?"
"There most certainly is?"
The old boy poured the entire condense of his whiskey glass into Tom's coke before ordering me back to the bar for a refill for him. His passing shot,
"Damn it man. The boy deserves a proper drink! Not for him that nancy American rubbish!"
By the time I had been ordered to and fro the bar six or eight times, all bar me very much the worse for booze, were the discussions over.
"Time to get your chequebook out Mailing. Young Tom here is a bloody fine negotiator! Got me to knock ten grand off the asking price! Well worth it I have to say, breathed a breath of spring into my dull old life!"
I dutifully signed the cheque, the biggest one I've written in my life. The deal was done and 'Calypso Queen' was ours.
Having waved Maggi and the Doc off Tom and I walked back toward the boat. What little conversation was shared between us centred around our latest acquisition but I could sense a lack of enthusiasm.
"You okay Tom? You're really quiet you know?"
"Sorry but I just feel tired and yes alright, a bit low as well."
"Wanna talk about it?"
"Don't know, well not here anyway. Can we go back to 'Movin Home' Stu?"
I took a glance at him and realised that indeed right here would NOT be a good plan as unless I was very much mistaken, tears were forming in his beautiful eyes and Tom rarely did crying in public. I hastened the pace getting back to the boat just as his dam burst.
In all the time Tom and I had been together I'd only ever once seen him in such a mess, that on the day his Mum passed away so this was a biggie and no mistake but for the life of me I couldn't get my head around what the hell could he find so upsetting? His negotiating had been flawless in its execution, the old man had taken a real shine to him and our goal had been achieved so what was eating him up?
Probably the most upsetting for me was Tom's reluctance to allow me to comfort him, almost as if I was the problem but eventually he'd cried himself out and came to me for a cuddle.
"Oh God Stu? I've really fucked up this time and I'm sooooo sorry? I can't even forgive myself let alone expect you to. Oh shit this is such a mess and I hate myself!"
His crying trickled off to a gentle sob so I just held him close praying that he could bring himself to talk to me but ever mindful that he was at an age where rebellion and system-kicking was sometimes on his agenda. I opted to wait for him rather than force the issue.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, Tom calmed down, ready to talk.
"Thanks Stu. I'm really sorry about that but I needed to off-load."
"It's what I'm here for. Don't worry about it. Now. Do you feel like talking?"
"I'm not sure. It's all such a mess I don't know where to start and I'm frightened."
"Look I don't want it to appear that I'm talking down what you feel inside but honestly, nothing can be so bad and there is nothing we can't fix but you must try and explain things as you see them. Then we can go sort it all out, okay?"
"I'll try but it mightn't come out properly. Just help me here?"
"Always. Just in your own time. I'll get some tea on the go and you can sort things through in your head."
It took a while before Tom felt comfortable opening up to me but eventually he made a start.
"It's 'Calypso Queen'."
"What about her? You did a fine job on the Doc so what's bothering you?"
Tom let out a long awaited giggle.
"Yeah well I suppose I did okay there but that's not the problem. Look I know that in time she will be my boat and yeah I'm really excited about it but…….."
"But……..oh this is so difficult!!! Okay it's something Mae said the other day."
"Tom? This is akin to getting blood out of a stone mate! Come on please? Just say it huh?"
"Right. She's really excited about having the op and the way things are going it won't be that long before it happens. The problem is, she wants to go back to Japan as soon as she is able. She misses her friends and especially her Dad although why she should miss him beats the crap out of me."
"Mae has asked you to go with her then. Back to Japan."
"No not in so many words but anyhow I couldn't. No wouldn't couldn't. Oh hell!"
The way Tom's natural ability with words had been defeated made me resist the urge to playfully throttle him. I hated to see him struggling but I knew this was something he had to do for himself despite his awkwardness.
Still I had to say something.
"I thought you and Mae were……..sort of an item."
"What?! No! Not really?"
"But I saw you kissing and by the reaction of your one-eyed trouser snake you seemed to be enjoying it?!"
"Oh you bastard! You saw that?? That's horrible! That's sneaky!"
"Oh you utter, utter shit Stu! Look. I'll try and explain if you'll stop making me feel embarrassed just for a minute. OKAY??"
"Sorry. Please carry on."
"You told me that it was possible I'd question my sexuality at some point. Wonder if I was actually gay or not. Right?"
"What you didn't tell me was I'd do it twice!"
"You heard me! How long ago was it that you saw me……..you know……..like kissing Mae?"
"Quite a while back. Three, four months?"
"Well then? There you have it. You see I was kissing a boy back then and I thought that what I felt then would continue and maybe I was straight if not bi after all. You were right. I did question myself BUT, it didn't continue because as she developed I got more and more turned off like 'in that way'. Listen I still see her as my best mate and everything? She's fun to be around and stuff and we have a riot but…….."
"Not in 'that way'."
"Behind that stupid exterior lies a brain of sorts. Maybe pickled in red wine but still perceptive for all that!"
"And that's my point. That's all yours as well because now I realise just how much I not only love you but how much I'm IN love with you. Don't turn me away Stu. I'm begging you?"
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