The Cup Bearer
As Emilio shoved the boys out of the back door, he turned to where Perquita and Maria stood by the kitchen table, about to pour tea into a variety of mugs and cups they had found. "Perquita, I want a witness. Will you come outside, please?" He steered the boys into the centre of the lawn and stood in front of them, calm but stern. "Now get this in your heads. Your mother's name may be on the documents for this house but it will be me who pays for it whether we rent or buy, so I'll make a bargain with you. You can stop acting like a couple of selfish jerks and remember how sick your mother is and stop getting in Perquita's hair, and I'll let you live here. If you don't, I'll let the authorities take you into care. And here's a second bargain. You see that green-house over there, Jose, and that shed down the side of the house? They will be your territory. You were saying last night you like growing things. Maria says you've got green fingers. So have I, but I don't have the time. Let's see you put your hands where your mouths are. I want flowers for the gardens and vegetables for the kitchen. There's plenty of space for a mini-allotment in the side garden. Ramon, you were complaining, last night, about not being able to bring your friends home to play. Look at the size of this back garden. You can bring your friends here any time you want but you've got to help Jose keep it tidy and keep the grass cut." By this time the boys wore happy smiles, but Emilio was ready to cut short their delight. "In return, I won't tell your mother how you used to watch your father beat me up for something you did and never owned up to. I took those bruises for you while you laughed your heads off, because I was stupid enough to love you."
He heard Perquita gasp. "Jose, is this true?" Frowning, Jose looked down at his feet and Ramon's lower lip started quivering. "How could you? Wait till mum hears about this."
"No, I made a bargain and hold you as witness. Mum doesn't get to know about this. We have a family to keep together, and a mother who needs a lot of care. I'll provide you with a home and make it as comfortable as possible but you two have got to do your bit. If you'd rather go and live in a kids' home, or be farmed out to foster parents, fine. I'll go back to the States and forget about you. What I do care about is what's best for our mother. So, why don't we go back inside, have a cup of tea, and ask her if she'd like one of the back living rooms as a bedroom so she has no stairs to climb?"
Perquita shook her head. "She'll still need to go upstairs to use the bathroom."
"No she won't." Emilio started pushing the boys towards the house. "I can fix her up with her own en-suite shower and there's a toilet in the hall cloakroom."
While the boys walked on ahead, Perquita held Emilio back. "You don't want to stay do you?"
"Why? Don't you like us?"
Emilio sighed and stared round at the unkempt garden before replying. "It's not that. Did Don tell you what happened to Tony Grafton?"
"Well, it should have been me who was killed and I don't think the killer is finished with me. He tried again a couple of days later and shot me in the head. If I'm in danger, so are you. I'll just make sure you are set up here then I'll leave. It's safer that way."
"But Mum is so pleased to have you here, it will break her heart if you go away. And you said yourself you think the house is right for you."
Emilio put his arm round her shoulders and turned her towards the door. "It'll break her heart even more if one of you is harmed, or even killed."
NOTE for non-British readers. In British schools, male pupils tend to be addressed by their last name. Only close acquaintances use first names, so for these school scenes, Emilio is addressed as Gomez. Also, among Welsh people, there is a tendency to drop their 'H's when speaking.
Monday 9th January 1995, Trentham, Cheshire .
Sandy Roberts shifted his six-foot bulk into a more comfortable position behind a desk far too small for him and listened to the babble of conversation around him. He watched Miss Wayne, 5B's form mistress, close the register and look round the battle-scarred classroom, checking empty seats and familiar faces. Sandy did the same. Half the class had already made up their minds that they were no longer interested in working for the mock 'O' level exams in June, which meant the other half would suffer as a result of their disruptive behaviour. Unlike them, he wanted to get good grades so he could go to Music College, and he wasn't going to let the nerds upset his plans
The classroom door opened and the head teacher, James MacCaffrey, walked in followed by a new boy. Eyes turned and widened with interest. Jaws dropped and there was a collective intake of breath. He was a stunner all right. The class rose politely to their feet as Sandy studied him. He looked Spanish or possibly Middle Eastern. Put a pair of gypsy earrings on him and, well! The Beak smiled at the class from his lofty height. "Good morning, 5B; as you were."
Chairs clattered and scraped as 5B sat down again, and urgent whispering broke out while the Beak talked to Miss Wayne. Sandy watched the new boy return all stares with startling eyes that glowered at them under the longest eyelashes Sandy had ever seen on a boy, his message quite clear. "Keep your distance, I don't need you." He caught Sandy's eye and stared hard at him. Half hypnotised, Sandy found himself unable to break contact. What will this lot make of him? Most of them will pass 'im off as a Nancy boy with all that long 'air, and leave it at that. Gaskin and 'is cronies will lick their lips, anticipatin' another easy victim for their nasty little pranks. The new boy broke eye contact and Sandy felt he'd been dropped from a great height. Talk about photogenic! Sandy started calculating apertures and exposures, photography buff that he was. Neat with good posture, 'olds 'is 'ead 'igh on well-squared shoulders. 'Is legs are sturdy too; a physical animal but what sort? Footballer? Sandy hoped so. He played in goal for the school first team; ten games played last term and twenty-one saves made, not bad. But whatever six-foot plank this new boy's carryin' on 'is shoulder, 'e'll have to get rid of it fast or'ee won't get a moment's peace with this lot. Folk in this class don't tolerate surly strangers, especially those who're conceited about their looks. All the Latinos Sandy had met were like that.
The new boy turned to stare at him again and Sandy had the feeling he was being picked out, chosen for something the way those eyes glittered at him, and he felt as if something was boring through the centre of his forehead. Sandy wanted to tear his eyes away, but found he couldn't. Once again it was the new boy who broke eye contact first. Sandy's heart landed back in his chest with a dull thud. This was one strange creature joining 5B. The whispers continued but now there was only one topic of conversation. Sandy didn't see anything wrong with long hair if it was neat and clean, and there was nothing wrong with this boy's hair. In fact everything about him was neat. Someone remarked that maybe he was a puff.
"He's never fifteen!"
"Looks like something out of the Jungle Book."
"Bet his name's Mowgli." This brought a ripple of stifled laughter.
"Isn't he a dish though?" a female voice joined in. If the new boy heard it he gave no sign as he stared at the Beak. Sandy wondered what he would make of James MacCaffrey, who tipped Sandy's height by a good three inches and whose booming laugh acted as a homing beacon throughout the school. Everybody liked him, parents included, and his handsome features had all the female pupils in love with him.
The Beak introduced the new boy to Miss Wayne then left the room, and the ageing deputy head teacher drew the new boy towards the desks. "5B, this is Emilio Gomez. You may already know his sister and two brothers He hasn't been in this country very long so it's up to us to help him settle down." So that was it! Sandy thought. The guy had a sister in a lower class who looked just like him. Miss Wayne asked who was going to look after him and, show him the ropes. Sharon Dent offered and everybody laughed, such was her reputation. 'Haywain' knew this and waited for one of the boys to offer. Gomez fixed his gaze on Sandy, and like someone under a spell, Sandy raise his hand. What made him do it he didn't know? Beetroot red, he was. Dafydd Sanderson Roberts, born fifteen years ago in Cardiff; the class clown except when playing the piano or keeping goal. The feeling he had was not that he offered to shepherd this new kid around, but that the new boy had chosen him for the job. He felt like a giant when Gomez sat down beside him. Miss Wayne went back to her desk to enter his name in the register. "Assembly will be late today. The school has had a rather high intake of new pupils this term so you have an extra few minutes chat time before the bell goes."
As if a radio had been switched on, 5B erupted into a frenzy of chatter - a ploy of Miss Wayne's to allow free talk before assembly in response to the head master's rule. 'Talk now and not during lessons!' Again, there was only one topic, the new boy. "What's his name again? Sabu or something?" someone tittered. Sandy's anger boiled but Gomez folded his arms across his chest and pretended he was deaf.
"Did you see his fingernails?"
"Yeah, they're longer on his right hand."
"He plays a guitar, stupid."
"So what? Most Latinos do."
"Looks like a puff."
"It takes one to know one, sunshine."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Whatever you want it to."
Sandy glanced down at Gomez as the boy's head came up for a second to flick his hair back off his face. His eyes glittered with anger and his jaws were clenched tight. Someone, or some event, had snatched Gomez from somewhere and dumped him here against his will. I wonder who kicked you in the guts? Instantly those dark eyes flashed towards him again and it was as if he understood what Sandy was thinking. Sandy's heart thudded as he forced himself to look to the front. It looked like this guy had him hooked, but what for? The school bell rang and 5B filed out into the corridor. The class bullies Gaskin, Vetch and Ball, were ahead of Sandy and his new charge. As they approached the door where Miss Wayne was standing, Sandy watched Gaskin look at the other two and pucker his lips. Ball sniggered, and Vetch placed a hand on his hip and minced a few paces. Miss Wayne glared at the three of them. Ball caught her eye and coloured then looked down at the floor, trying to hide the smirk on his face. Gaskin was the tallest of the three, untidy hair, and a pleasant enough face when it wasn't clouded by a scowl which Sandy sensed was a forced mask. He remembered him as a nice guy till about two years ago, now he was just a nondescript bully. Vetch was the thin one, a tow haired scarecrow stuffed into a rumpled school uniform. Ball was the punk of the trio. Any hairstyle in fashion, he'd tried it, from dying it purple to shaving it into a Mohiquan. That one resulted in a suspension from school till he grew it out. The first in the school to have his nose pierced, rumour had it he had something else pierced as well but Sandy was certainly not going find out if it was true. On their own, Vetch and Ball were harmless, but put them together with Gaskin? Watch out!
Sandy leaned down and said in Gomez's ear, "I smell big trouble." Gomez just shrugged his shoulders and walked on.
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