The Cup Bearer
Emilio sat down on his bed and stared at the new bolt, and wondered how he could resolve his problems. Somehow he had to stop the rot and get back to the Rink. He had to bring his schoolwork and his music up to date, and ring Brian before he lost out with 'High Street'. And he had to talk to someone or explode. Don was too close to the Graftons and his loyalty would obviously be to his group. Bryn Adams was out and he didn't like MacCaffrey, so that left Sandy.
After a while he went over to his flute case. He took the instrument out, put it together, gave it a quick polish and ran through some scales and arpeggios, slowly at first and increasing the speed until he was really flying, then he played Mozart's Concerto number 19, and thought about Sandy. Did he really want to get up close? He stopped playing and stared out of the attic window, then drew the curtains against the dark night. Slowly it came to him, what he had to do. He had to tell Sandy everything that was going on, but first he had three days homework to get through. He placed the flute back in its case and lifted his school bag onto his desk. Taking out his books he set the bag on the floor and began to sort the work into a reasonable order, the subjects he hated on top of the ones he enjoyed. He found the plain white, un-addressed, envelope between Geography and English Grammar. Puzzled, he opened it and pulled out a single sheet of paper. On it was written a poem, the handwriting instantly recognisable.
I want to share the hurts you feel, and take the blows for you.
I want to be your champion, and fight your battles too.
I want to be your overcoat to shield you from the cold.
I want to be the strongest hand you'll ever need to hold.
My strength is yours to lean upon, my shoulder on which to cry.
My heart is yours, my friend, my love, until the day I die.
"Oh, no! Sandy, you idiot; sweet but still an idiot." He sat for a long time with the poem in his hands, his fears for his friend made all the heavier because he could have stopped this before it got out of hand. With a sigh, he folded the poem and put it back in his bag, then went downstairs to secure the house for the night.
Everyone had gone to bed except Guido who was sitting at the kitchen table with a small bottle of rum in front of him. It was already half empty and the smell of rum was strong on Guido's breath. He shoved a mug of hot chocolate across the table, saying, "I made supper for everyone. I thought you'd like some."
Angry at the thought of accepting anything from him, Emilio thought of chucking the contents over the man, then thought why should he miss out on supper just because this overweight bastard made it? In any case he'd have to clear up the mess. He warmed the chocolate up in the microwave, carried it up to his room, and drank it while he worked through his homework schedule. Finally, his work done, and his eyes tired, he stripped off his clothes and crawled into bed. The last thought in his head was whether or not he'd bolted the door.
He dragged his eyes open to semi darkness and a hand clamped over his mouth. Shocked he tried to lash out but something was wrong with his arms. He felt light-headed and there was a strange metallic taste in his mouth. Then a voice whispered in his ear, calling him Ganymede. Slowly the urge to fight left him.
The next day, Emilio vaguely remembered Guido's visit in the early hours, but couldn't understand why he hadn't stopped him. He had a prize headache and it hurt to think. He felt bruised as well but couldn't remember why. He avoided Guido as much as possible, even going to school early. He hardly noticed what went on in class and after school he even avoided Sandy's concerned attention. He rushed his tea and attended dance class and music lessons as planned and then he asked Don to pick him up at his tutor's house instead of at home, using the excuse that he wanted time to talk to Marge about trying for an ice show. When Don brought him home, he delayed getting out of the car and chatted until he was sure Guido had got tired of waiting for him.
The place was in darkness except for the night light on the first landing. Emilio decided against a hot drink and crept up to bed. He heard Guido snoring in the next bedroom. Even so he bolted his door. Around three o'clock, he woke to the sound of someone trying to open his door. After a few seconds it stopped and he heard the creaking of the attic stairs as Guido descended to the floor below. He listened to the closing of a door and guessed Guido had gone into the bathroom, and he turned over and fell asleep.
A little later his own need to use the bathroom roused him. Opening his bedroom door he heard the creak of the stairs again and got to the head of the stairs in time to see the shape of someone moving on the lower landing. As he went down the stairs he was aware of Jose and Ramon's bedroom door closing. After using the bathroom, brotherly concern won over prudence and he quietly opened the boys' door. Both boys seemed fast asleep and Emilio realised Ramon must have been sleep walking again, a common occurrence with his brother walking into people's bedrooms and being steered back to bed. He moved over to Jose's bed and saw Jose stir under his duvet.
"Has Ramon been out of bed again?"
"Yeah, I found him on the attic stairs, but I got him back to bed, okay?"
Emilio tucked Ramon's duvet closer round him and said good night to Jose. It was good to see Jose caring for his younger brother like that. All he had to do now was look after himself. He caught a whiff of something not quite nice and wrinkled his nose, "Have you just let off?"
"Sorry," Jose whispered back.
"Well, thank goodness I don't have to share a bedroom with you!" Emilio replied and got out of the room fast. Back on the top floor, he made sure his door was bolted and fell asleep with some relief.
He was even more relieved, the next morning, when Guido announced he was going up to Liverpool for a few days to see some old friends. Then he whispered a warning to Emilio, to keep his mouth shut, but it wasn't Guido's words that gained his silence. It was the happy faces of the three younger children, and his mother, enjoying Guido's attentions while ignorant of his darker side. Surprisingly he found an ally in Maria. It was obvious she sensed something wasn't quite right, and she never left him and Guido alone in the house now, often dragging him up to her own bedroom with the excuse that she wanted to learn Latin Dance. In her own way, while not understanding fully what was going on, she was shielding him and he was grateful for that.
Guido had still not left the house when Emilio arrived home from school, but his grandparents were there on a surprise visit. They offered to take the whole family up to West Houghton for the weekend. Unfortunately, Emilio had a full schedule with rehearsals that night for a dance-school charity show, and the show itself on Saturday. He also had rehearsals with 'High Street' on Sunday, and Marge Buchannan had persuaded him to continue his skating lessons.
Guido set off for Liverpool straight after tea and the family drove off around seven o'clock, leaving Emilio to spend a busy night at rehearsals and at the ice rink. On arriving back at the house just after one thirty, Emilio sat in the car, chatting to Don. The rehearsal for the show had gone well; it was going to be a good show; and Marge was confident he would make next year's British Open Skating Championship. Right now he had the house to himself. No squabbling brothers to pull apart for a whole weekend, and no reason to bolt his bedroom door. He invited Don in for a coffee but the man had the garage petrol sheets to finish, and he went home. Emilio went into the house, locked up, had a shower and took his supper up to his room. He got into bed, drank half his chocolate, felt his eyes closing and put the mug on the bedside table and never knew another thing till he heard a voice whispering in his ear.
When he woke, hours later, bright sunshine streamed in through the opened curtains. He had a prize headache again and the tinny taste was back in his mouth. His thirst was back as well, which made him feel doubly wretched. The aroma of coffee drifted under his nose. He opened his eyes and saw Guido standing by his bed holding out a cup of coffee in one hand and the bolt off the door in the other. He tossed the bolt onto the bed; the pin had been cut in half. With a shake of his head, Guido said, "Naughty boy."
11, 15 pm Saturday 16th March, 1995
Sandy felt a buzz of self-importance as he locked up the house. With Mam and Dad up in Urmston at someone's Golden Wedding party and staying the night, they had left him in charge of the place, on his own for the first time in his life. After checking the back door, he strutted through the ground floor and whistled softly as he made sure all the power points were switched off. He did the same in the kitchen, picked up his supper tray and headed for the stairs. He almost dropped it when someone knocked on the front door. The rain was coming down in torrents outside. Whoever was out in this weather must be mad. He placed the tray on the hall table and slipped the safety chain in place before calling out, "Who is it?"
Beyond the door a faint voice said, "Sandy, it's me."
Shocked, Sandy slipped the chain off and unlocked the door as fast as he could, and yanked it open. Gomez stood on the doorstep with rain dripping into his eyes off his anorak hood. "Emmie, what's wrong?"
"Can we talk?"
"Sure." Sandy beckoned him into the hall. "You must be mad comin' out in this rain, you know it's past eleven, don't you?"
"So?" Emilio turned to step off the porch. "If you don't want me here, I'll go."
"Don't be daft, man, it's okay." Sandy pulled him further into the hall and shut and locked the door. "You're soaked man. Come into the back room, it's warm in there. How did the show go?"
"Okay, I guess. Where are your parents?"
"Gone to a party. On my own, I am. King of the castle." Sandy steered Emilio ahead of him into the cosy living room. He switched the gas fire back on then turned to help Emilio remove his anorak. He took it into the kitchen and draped it over a chair to drip onto an old newspaper. The kettle was still hot and took only seconds to brew a second mug of chocolate. "Here, get this down you." He walked back into the living room. "You'll soon be warm and dry in no time." Then, retrieving his tray from the hall he sat down on the settee beside Emilio who was staring into his mug. He offered Emilio a sandwich. Emilio shook his head and took a sip of chocolate.
Sandy studied him over the rim of his own mug. He wants to talk, and about time too! His mug was soon empty but Emilio had hardly touched his, when Emilio said, "I read your poem. It isn't good what you're feeling."
Sandy's face grew hot with embarrassment. "I meant what I said. Somethin's 'urtin' you, and I want to 'elp."
"But not that way."
"Because you're not gay."
"How would you know?"
Emilio shot him a brief glance.
"You mean you are?" he asked in surprise.
"Would it bother you if I was?"
"Of course not. I know what I feel for you."
"It's a schoolboy crush, you'll get over it. You have to."
"Because I don't want…" Emilio put his mug on Sandy's tray and got to his feet. "I'd better go."
Sandy stood up and grabbed him by the shoulders, feeling him stiffen at his touch. "I still want to 'elp. Dad always says it 'elps to share a problem; I want to share yours, right?"
"You wouldn't like it."
A look of pain crossed Emilio's face. "How much do you remember about your life before you were twelve?"
"All of it, why?"
"Now what kind of question is that? Of course they were good. Well, most of them, any'ow."
"I remember most of mine and I wish I didn't. I remember being on board a big ship and then living beside a river, and being beaten and ... going hungry, and…. other things. Except for my guitar and a grey cuddly rabbit toy, I'd rather forget everything. Now Guido's back in my life."
Sandy was stunned. "Are you sayin' Guido…? And 'e's started again? Emmie, you've got to tell someone."
"That's what I'm trying to do if you'll only listen," Emilio said, and told Sandy about Guido's threats.
"'Ee's talkin' rubbish, man. He wouldn't get away with it."
"Wouldn't he? He's already threatened me with Jose. You don't know him."
"You don't believe the creep, do you?"
I don't know what I believe any more. I just know I don't want the same from you. No more writing poems or cosy evenings in your bedroom. You have to promise me you'll talk to someone, anyone, your dad or the preacher at your church. If you don't, our friendship will have to stop. I'm sorry, but that's how it has to be. I can't handle it any other way."
Sandy raised his hands in defeat. "Okay, so made a fool of myself. But 'ow do you know it's wrong to feel the way I do - did?"
Emilio turned away with a sigh. "There was a guy once, for a short time."
Sandy guessed and said, "Tony! Did you…you know?"
"Yeah, just the once, the night before he died. He gave me a new life and the chance to make something of myself. I was with him for three years. Towards the end I realised he was in love with me but he didn't know it. I helped him sort himself out and we just talked for most of the night. The next day someone shot him." Suddenly his eyes glistened with tears and he turned his face away, swallowing hard as he fought them back. Sandy put his arm round his mate's shoulders, wanting to comfort him. Emilio froze for a moment, and then slowly he relaxed and let Sandy's arm remain where it was.
'You don't 'ave to go 'ome."
"I have to."
"They're up in West Houghton."
"Guido said he was going to Liverpool but he didn't go."
"Well, this is one night 'e's not going to get 'is filthy mitts on you," Sandy stood up, put the tray on the table then pulled Emilio to his feet. "Does Don know you're 'ere?"
Emilio nodded. "I lied to him. I told him your mother invited me to stay the weekend."
"Well then; nothin' to worry about, is there?" Switching off the fire, Sandy pushed Emilio towards the door. Opening it, he guided him into the hall and up the stairs.
While Emilio used the bathroom, Sandy went into his bedroom and turned down the duvet on the spare bed, and then raided the landing airing cupboard for a pair of pyjamas, long ago discarded as too small but kept in case one of his younger cousins came to stay. He offered them to Emilio when he came into the bedroom, but Emilio froze in the doorway. "I can't do this, I'll sleep downstairs."
"Don't be daft." Sandy pointed to the spare bed. "That's yours, okay?" He dropped the pyjamas on it and went to use the bathroom himself, taking his own pyjamas with him. Once he was washed and changed, he returned to the bedroom to find Emilio already in bed, with the pyjamas left on a bedroom chair. Sandy tried not to look at the occupant of the spare bed as he climbed into his own. He switched off the bedside light, plunging the room into darkness, and lay on his back. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep, but worrying about his mate made sleep impossible. There had to be a way to help him. There just had to be. He sighed, rolled over with his back to the other bed, and punched the pillow.
He came awake to the sound of Emilio moaning in his sleep. He turned over to face the spare bed and watched as a moonbeam lit up the sweat on his mate's face. He was lying rigid on his back, crying out in Spanish. Suddenly he screamed and sat up. He opened his mouth to scream again and Sandy sprang out of bed. Kneeling quickly, he gathered Emilio in his arms. "Okay, mate, I've got you. It's just a bad dream you've 'ad. It's all over now, it's okay." At last Emilio opened his eyes and trembled violently against him, his breathing ragged. Sandy caught the sound of a choked sob as Emilio suddenly pushed him away with such a force that he fell backwards onto the carpet. By the time he had scrambled back to his knees, Emilio was no longer in the bed. Sandy reached over to switch his bedside lamp on and found Emilio cowering in a corner on the far side of the bed, trembling and breathing hard, his eyes wide and full of torment. His teeth were clamped together and, as Sandy went to him, he curled up even smaller and snarled, "Don't touch me. Don't…touch…me."
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