The Cup Bearer
11 30 am. Friday 10th May. 1995
Sandy stood at the graveside, opposite the Gomez family, with Mam and Dad and the rest of the non-family mourners, and followed the proceedings with half his attention on the problems Rita Gomez's death had created. They were not impossible to overcome but worrying all the same. The O'Rileys were used to the peace and quiet of their Lancashire homestead with the occasional invasion of their grandchildren; but now there was a need for those grandchildren to be looked after. Sandy had been saddened at the thought of the family moving north, but then Mam had explained that there wasn't room at the farm for all of them on a permanent basis. That meant Mary and Paddy O'Riley would probably move down to Visick Street until more permanent arrangements could be made; with Mam offering to be a foster mum till the O'Riley's could make their move.
Mam and Dad and the O'Rileys had taken to each other the minute they had first met, and Paddy and Dad had spent quite a bit of time talking things over; Dad giving Paddy the benefit of his local knowledge. According to Dad, Paddy didn't like the Visick Street house, not after what Guido had done. Dad said Paddy had told him he had a gypsy's sixth sense that warned him about the place, that the troubles for the Gomez children weren't over as long as they lived there. Dad had assured Paddy of his support and had tried to lessen Paddy's fears but Paddy wasn't easily dissuaded. The minute Sandy had been able to ring his Mam, after Rita Gomez's death and Emilio's collapse, she had gone straight round to Visick Street to be with the children when they came home from school. Dad had followed as soon as he was able while Sandy looked after their own house; and Mam and Dad and had stayed on at Visick Street till the O'Rileys arrived.
The two older girls had wept openly from the start, thankful for a pair of motherly arms to comfort them. The two younger boys had not cried till Paddy had walked into the house, then they had broken down as well and he had taken them up to their own bedroom to shed their tears in private within his fatherly embrace. But from what Paddy had told Dad, Emilio had never cried once; staying calm throughout the week and assuming the father figure role and comforting his siblings when they needed it. He also dealt with the formalities of his mother's death in a very adult manner. Even when the Graftons arrived on the Wednesday, he had insisted on continuing his role as head of the household, with an expression on his face that gave no hint to the feelings he chose to hide from the world. He hadn't denied the presence of his grandparents or the Graftons as supporters and advisors, but neither had he allowed them to relieve him of the duties he considered to be his. Dad had taken Paddy aside and had let the man talk about his fears, and had filled in as many of the gaps as he could that Paddy didn't know about; things that saddened him and made him understand Emilio a bit better. Now they were just biding their time till a dam of grief burst. Then Emilio would find Sandy by his side, ready to give his mate all the support and comfort he could; but what about Guido? Unless Rita had made a will, he was the legal next of kin but Grafton had reminded them that Rita owned nothing that Guido could inherit. Everything was in Emilio's or Grafton's name. Sandy just hoped he wouldn't suddenly appear and cause trouble.
Now, as the priest uttered the final prayers, Sandy watched with overflowing emotions as Emilio stood with his arms tight round his weeping brothers; back straight, eyes fixed on the coffin being lowered into the grave. Perquita stood next to him with Maria sobbing against her. Sandy saw her look at Emilio, clearly wondering how he could be so composed, so cold, like nothing could break him. Little did she know, as Sandy did, that her brother was wound up like a clock, full of tension and God only knew which way he would go when the spring was released.
Sandy thought that moment had come when Don had stepped out of his Rover as the funeral party made their way up the church steps. The look on the guy's face, as his eyes met Emilio's, had been full of silent appeal; and Emilio's face had almost crumpled before he turned quickly away to walk into the church with Perquita, his face a frozen mask once more. Sandy had heard Paddy ask Dad who he was and Dad had explained about him being Emilio's ex-minder.
The priest brought the proceedings to a close and came to shake hands with Paddy and his wife, and turned at last to say a few words to the children. But Perquita was already ushering the younger children away from the grave while Emilio still stared coldly at it. Sandy walked round the grave to place his arm around Emilio's shoulders but got no reaction, and stepped away again, almost in tears. Paddy and Mary moved to stand on either side of Emilio, and Paddy said, "Come on, lad, time to go home." They took hold of his arms and turned him from the grave and towards the cars. As they did so a taxi pulled into the distant cemetery gates. A man got out of the rear and walked quickly towards them. He was slim, and neatly dressed, not too tall, and from his dark features and hair Sandy guessed he was foreign. As the man came closer it suddenly struck Sandy that the man looked familiar. When he was no more than twenty paces from them, he slowed to a stop and waited. And it dawned on Sandy who he was. Sandy pointed to the man. "Emmie, look!"
Emilio raised his head then stared, his mouth slowly opening and he started forward on unsteady legs. He stopped within arm's reach of the man, and they stared at each other for a long time before the man said something in Spanish before opening his arms. Emilio stepped slowly into his embrace and Sandy felt tears fill his eyes. He heard Mary O'Riley sob and saw her crying in Paddy's arms. Everyone in the small funeral party watched silently as Emilio and the man hugged each other. At last, Emilio's legs gave way and, seeing the man was having difficulty holding him up, Sandy reached them just in time to lift his mate up in his arms and carry him to the taxi ahead of Manuel Diaz.
Emilio struggled up from the depths of a great murk; his body weighted down with a fatigue that made him want to sink back into the blackness. The only thing that made him reach for the light above was the dream he'd just had. He dreamed his father had come and held him in his arms. It had to be a dream because he wouldn't allow himself to break down; not yet, not until the children were safe. Now Mum was gone, there was only him between them and Guido. He had to wake up; had to fight his way to the surface where the light was brighter; had to open his eyes and face reality. He tried to raise eyelids that were almost too heavy. His father's face floated above him. Puzzled, he forced his eyes further open and blinked up at the image of himself smiling down at him. No, it couldn't be real, it was only a dream; a dream he wanted to stay in. If he shut his eyes he could dream that his father lifted him in his arms again and hugged him.
He woke up at last and found himself in a bed with curtains round him, and he remembered the dream as if it were real. In the dream, he had buried his mother and his father had appeared and he had been safe; cradled in his father's arms and wanting it to be an exquisite reality. He turned his head and found someone sitting by the bed, someone who looked like…
Emilio's heart jumped around inside his chest. It was like looking in a mirror and seeing himself fifteen years on. "Dad?"
" Yes, Emilio, it is me, " Manuel said as he reached out to ruffle his hair.
Manuel smiled. "No, you're not dreaming. Feel my hand, it's real enough." He reached out a hand for Emilio to grasp.
The hand was real; his father was real, sitting beside him, gazing at him with genuine tears of love, and talking to him with such a lovely Spanish accent. He reached out and his father lifted him from the pillows in a bone-crushing hug and Emilio buried his face against his chest and cried, wishing he could stay like this forever. As if to make that happen he clung on tight, for as long as he could, till his arms ached. His father finally released him and laid him down against the pillows and he wiped his own tears away. His father handed him a tissue and he blew his nose. Between tearful sniffs, and with his voice trembling with emotion, he said, "How did you know where to find me? I mean I gave you my address when I wrote; but for you to turn up at the cemetery, that's no coincidence."
His Father smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "You have a very kind neighbour, Mrs Cole. You remember she was preparing the funeral lunch at your house. I had planned my appearance to be a big surprise for you and Rita and arrived on your doorstep with the biggest bouquet I could find. You can imagine how shocked I was when Mrs. Cole told me what had happened; she is a very nice lady. I had these clothes with me so I changed at your house. She has also offered me accommodation, as you seem to have a full house yourself. I am so sorry about Rita; even though she went back to England after her holiday, I never stopped loving her and vowed that one day I would look for her. I didn't realise how much I loved her until I took a few days off from my tour of the UK and visited your grandparents' farm some years ago. I was told your grandparents were away in Ireland; I was so disappointed. I pressed the farm hand for more information but he knew very little. My maestro and I tried several times to track you down but there were no clues to follow. I even wrote to your grandparents and when they realised my concern for your mother was genuine, they promised to write to her but warned me that all their letters to her had not been acknowledged. Edward told me today that Guido never gave them to her. You could have been anywhere and South America is a big area to search. As it was, most of our tours did not pass anywhere near enough for us to search for Rita again."
Emilio said bitterly, "Guido! It all goes back to Guido! Mum said some men were after him and made my grandparents swear they would never tell anyone where we were. That's why the farm hand never told you. He was told not to talk to anyone about us. It was all lies; Guido lied to us, the bastard."
"Well you can forget about Guido. I am here now." Manuel gently ruffled Emilio's hair again. "I started making arrangements to come as soon as I received your letter. Although I still perform with the maestro, I am no longer dependent upon him for work and was able to leave him for a short while as soon as we reached Chicago. One of your foster father's friends was very persistent in his search for me."
"A man called Hoss Linger?"
"Yea, I remember him." Still unable to believe Manuel was here, Emilio raised his hand to touch his father's face. "It's really you; I still don't believe it. I'm so sorry you didn't find us the first time you came; my life would have been a lot different." He began to cry again, the tears flooding down his cheeks.
"Yes. I know." Manuel leaned further over to put his face close to Emilio's as he dabbed at his eyes. "Life would have been different for me also. When I met Rita and fell in love, I should have run away and followed her to England, but I was just a penniless gypsy who spoke very little English and had a thirst for music in me that could not be quenched. Then I met Maestro Paul Claude; I went to Madrid to study music with him. My intention was to make enough money to come to England and whisk my little blackbird away from her unhappy nest. You see, I never stopped thinking about her. When I finally had the money and I came to England, my little blackbird had flown away." Emilio saw Manuel's eyes fill with fresh tears of his own. "I have come a second time and she has flown away again, this time forever. But now I have another little blackbird to love; a son to take her place in my heart. And I promise I will never let him fly away from me like I did the first one." Neither of them could control their emotions any longer and Emilio found himself in his father's arms again as they happily sobbed their hearts out together.
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