by Andrew Foote
Whilst my head was still in turmoil over what had gone down, I was better able to accept myself and my situation.
Yes, I loved Justin with every bone in my body but……. I had gone from being a twelve, almost thirteen year-old kid to being rocketed into a place totally alien to me.
Yes I was just a little bit frightened.
As we sat waiting for our meal to be served, Mum and Jus were deep in conversation and I wasn't really listening, just mulling thing over in my own mind but then Dad touched my hand, bringing me back to the 'there and then'.
"Something I want to ask you son."
"Okay, I guess?"
"The tree. You know? The 'family tree'. You did take Justin there deliberately, didn't you?"
"I gave it a lot of thought so yes, I know all about its special to you and everything, me too come to that so it was right for me, us, I mean……."
"That's all I needed to hear! All cool!"
"Dad there's more. I told him that no matter what, like if anything were to happen, I could never, not ever take anyone else there ever again. Only Jus and I, or you, Mum and I could ever………"
Dad fairly shot out of the restaurant, he just stood up and ran!
Mum looked at me, stood up apologising to Jus and followed Dad out into the car park.
"Alex for God's sake? What went down there?"
"I think I know but let's cool it until they come back."
"Alright but he looked upset, you dig?"
"Actually, believe it or not, I think he was very happy!"
"Yeah okay! You get all happy to the point where you burst………sorry. I know how that can be. I just don't need any shit between us, that's all."
"Yeah well……. Hang on, their coming back!"
They sat down, Dad looking a touch…… dishevelled, Mum just winked at me!
Dad was the first to speak up.
"Sorry about my behaviour there but you said everything I needed to hear and then some more.
I am now 100% sure of your feelings son, the sanctity of the tree, how much it is important to our love, Mum and I, our struggles and our life together has overflowed to you. I'm proud to have you as a son, and happy beyond words to welcome you Justin, into our family. We are very privileged to be a part of your love for each other."
Our meal arrived at table moments later so all conversation stopped bar a few aside comments.
Once eaten and the bill paid, we made our way outside.
"Right boys, we're off into Reading to Jill and Chris. You alright making your way back to the boat alone?"
"Yes Mum, we'll be fine. What time will you be back?"
"I would think somewhere around nine tomorrow morning so if we could shift lesson times around, say ten 'til one if that's alright 'cos in the afternoon Dad needs to take the boat down to Fry's Island and Justin? If you could maybe have a word with your Grandfather, we might well be in need of your help."
"Why do we have to go there by boat Mum? I mean we could walk it in about twenty minutes?"
"We've got to go and collect something and we'll need 'Casio' to bring it back. Now off you go!"
We walked back through Caversham, up Mapledurham Hill and back to the boat where I raided the fridge for a couple of bottles of pop which we took outside and sat out on the well deck.
"It's got to be pretty heavy."
"Whatever it is we're collecting from Fry's Island."
Jus thought for a moment.
"At Fry's? Just a couple of boat yards and a pleasure boat hire place. Why do you ask?"
"Just might give us a clue as to what it is. Got to be something for the boat, you recon?"
"Yeah could be. Either that or he's having work done on 'Casio'?"
"Yeah but then why would he need our help?"
"Oh right!" I laughed, "I'd forgotten about that!"
"What happened Alex?"
"When? What did when, I mean when did what happen."
"Like this afternoon. We split, the next thing your Dad is up at the house asking if I'd eaten, had a long talk with Grandfather, all very secretive and stuff, then your Dad asks me to come down to the boat, your Mum tells me you're having a rest and then, then you said all those beautiful things…….. and I want to cry!"
I leant over and gave Jus a cuddle.
"Please don't cry? Look I'll tell you, shall I?
You know I kissed you just before you went up to the house? Mum saw everything and I nearly shit myself. I mean I couldn't look her in the eye even!
She followed me on board and asked me……… asked me about us.
Jus I couldn't tell her! I wasn't ready! Even if I was, I was bawling my eyes out, my brain wouldn't let me speak, I've never been so scared in all my life!
Mum had a chat to me then told me to get some rest.
I didn't sleep much, just in fits and starts, you know? It did give me the chance to think things through though, and when I heard your voice, I knew what I had to do.
She was right you see? She said that that if we were just messing around then okay, no big deal but if I did have feelings for you and lied about them, well it would be like betraying you. Anyway I was kinda falling apart like into a trillion pieces so she knew well enough how I felt about you and so when I heard you back on the boat, my mind was made up. I had to tell you and what's more, I had to tell you in front of them."
Justin didn't say a word. He just clung on to me as if his life depended on it.
"Just wish it had been different."
With that, he sat up, his eyes a little misted over but he wasn't in tears at least.
"What? You have regrets? Look tell me. It isn't too late to back down? I'll understand?"
"Hey, hey! I've no regrets! I meant everything I said! I do love you Jus! There is just one thing I wish had been different and that is, I wish that I'd had the courage to tell them without being put on the spot.
See I should've known they'd be supportive but it was just a step too far."
Justin gave me a big hug then pulled away from me and grinned.
"I knew it but I needed to be sure. I love you too Alex, I really, really do!"
We hadn't heard him coming, nor had we seen him but Sir George appeared out of the dusk, as if from out of nowhere.
"And if you mean it and keep telling each other precisely that at least every day, then you two will have wonderful future together.
Now. Permission to come aboard Captain?"
Justin looked as if he was going to have a seizure. Fortunately I was slightly more composed although not by a lot!
"Permission, umm, granted sir. Mind the step though."
Sir George took a grip on the deck house with his right hand whist I took his left and helped him over the gunwales, grabbed a cushion and helped to get him seated.
"Can I offer you a drink sir?"
"Well I'm not sure. What have you on offer."
"We've beer, gin, whiskey, port and I think, some sherry."
"Not beer! Plays havoc with my digestion. The memsahib doesn't take too kindly to my drinking the strong stuff so a glass of port perhaps?"
I went below, poured the drink before returning to the well deck, handing it to Sir George.
He raised his glass in the time-honoured fashion.
"Very good health to the pair of you!"
He took a sip, then looked at Justin.
"What's the matter with him? Looks as if he's seen a ghost!"
"I think he's in shock sir."
"Oh, I see."
He leant over and touched Justin's arm.
"Come over here lad. Come and sit with your Gramps, huh?"
Jus first looked at me, then at his Grandfather before shuffling over next to him.
"Now look boys, I never intended to eavesdrop on your conversation, I honestly believed you'd hear me coming but it's alright, I want you to know that neither am I angry or upset. Do you understand?"
I nodded, Justin didn't move.
Sir George put his arm around him and gave his shoulders a squeeze.
"Let me try and explain.
Now you may well think and, I might just agree with you, that I'm just an old fuddy-duddy, a tired old war-horse fit only for the knacker's yard or the glue factory, right? Please don't answer that!! But the thing is you see, getting old brings with it its own gifts and by that I mean, knowledge, wisdom, patience and the ability to analyse situations for what they really are rather than just prejudging them for what they appear to be.
Justin my boy? I know that since that unfortunate episode at school, you have had to engineer a means by which you were able to cope and while I believe the mechanism which you chose wasn't perhaps the right one, it has served its purpose.
Please note I used the term 'engineer'. You chose to protect yourself by completely altering your personality. I know, your Grandmother knows, your parents know and what is more, the school knew that this wasn't 'Justin'? It was just a façade, a mask, a shield with which to hide behind and to everyone's shame, none of us lifted so much as a finger to help you and that is something I am personally, deeply ashamed of. All the time you were acting like a spoilt little rich brat, a complete and utter little shit,.."
Justin giggled at this remark!
"That's my boy! Look we none of us came to your side, we didn't rally the troupes in your support. No. It took young Alexis here. He saw straight through you and it was by his efforts and his alone we now have you back. The nice, charming, considerate, caring and all round 'nice to be around' chap you always used to be!
Alexis? We owe you a debt of thanks and I mean that from the bottom of my heart. Thank you."
"Umm, I mean……."
"Hang on my boy. Let me finish.
It could be said that perhaps it was because he liked what he saw and yes, maybe that has to be taken into consideration but when faced with a tirade of abusive language, that first impression would melt away like snow in springtime and knowing him as I now do, Alexis here would've just shrugged his shoulders and carried on regardless.
Y'see, there had to be more to it than that. Now Tim and Kaz might believe in some strange mind-reading practice, I don't know, but I have a belief that sometimes we none of us can recognise the symptoms of love but somehow, subconsciously, it drives us to do things we otherwise wouldn't.
In this instance, Alexis persevered with you. Something, some unrecognisable force in his head perhaps? Who can tell, but none the less he saw something inside you that he wanted and so stayed around and did battle against your shield until he emerged victorious.
For you Justin? Well there was no going back, was there! Your defences were in tatters and no amount of camouflage would be of any use to you and anyway, you didn't want to go back. Am I right?"
Justin looked up at his Grandfather not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Instead he just threw his arms around him and whispered "Thank you Granddad."
"I like that my boy. Yes 'Granddad' sounds really nice!
He held up his now empty glass.
"I wouldn't refuse another snifter if one is forthcoming?"
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