The Cup Bearer
"Okay, okay! I'm coming!" The voice shouted from somewhere behind the door that Sandy had knocked on for the third time; this time with a force that made his knuckles hurt. "Blood and thunder, you don't have to break the door down!" Sandy heard the door being unlocked and watched it being forced open, the rain of the last three days having swollen the wood. Don glared angrily at him; he looked dishevelled and red eyed, and in need of a shave and a haircut. Sandy wondered if he'd disturbed his efforts to sleep off a skinful.
Gathering what courage he had left, he said. "I need to talk to you, can I come in?"
Don shook his head and started to shut the door. "Get lost."
Sandy planted a hand against it and by using all his weight he managed to stop it closing too far, the swollen wood helping. "This is important, man; 'e's in trouble and 'e needs 'elp."
"Oh yeah; since when did the budding star need my help?"
"If you'll give me a chance I'll tell you."
Don stopped pushing and glowered at him then pulled the door open enough for Sandy to step through. "This is my hibernation day so you've got five minutes."
Sandy followed him into the lounge and noticed the mess the place was in. Dirty dishes, clothes and newspapers strewn around the floor, and the rumpled state of his shirt and trousers told their own tale. Don pulled a blanket off the settee and motioned for Sandy to sit down then sank into an armchair. "Well?"
"You're the guy, aren't you?"
"The guy Gypsy told me about."
"What guy he told you what about? Come on, kid, quit the cryptic."
Sandy felt the colour rising up his neck and into his cheeks. "'E told me there was this guy 'e might be able to 'elp and who might be willing' to 'elp 'im in return, like."
"What kind of problem?"
By now, Sandy's face was bright red as he watched Don's face take on an expression of awareness and knew he had guessed right. "You know what I'm talkin' about. 'E's not been the same since you ditched 'im."
"I didn't ditch him."
"Yes you did, just when 'e needed you; just when 'e was worried about his mam and after what 'appened to 'im, you ditched 'im."
"Sandy." Don voice was suddenly gentle. "I didn't ditch him. I made the break for his sake. I was getting too close; you know what I'm saying? You two, that's fine, you would only be kids doing what a lot of kids do but me and him spells trouble.'
Sandy's jaw dropped, as he suddenly understood what Don was saying. "You're wrong about Gypsy and me. I've been put right about that but I didn't know you felt like that about 'im."
Don shook his head then he wiped his face with his hands and stared into the unlit fireplace. "Temptation is a real curse for guys like me. You can go for years being cool, keeping your nose clean and feeling good about yourself because you're in control; or you think you are. Then out of the blue it hits you in the face and everything goes down the garbage shoot. So I did the only thing I could. I got out. I've got someone interested in buying this place. If the deal goes through I'll drive on out into the proverbial sunset and you'll never see me again; either will he."
Sandy felt a bit foolish, his intentions of laying into the guy rapidly fading. "Oh. I'm sorry, I didn't realise. It's just that, well, I know Emmie's been feelin' low since the funeral; missin' 'is mam, more than 'e's lettin' on like, and his dad 'avin' to go back to 'Chicago. That was 'ard on 'im, as well as his grandparents going back 'ome. Mr. Grafton's found a lady to live in as 'ousemother, else they would 'ave 'ad to go into care, Gypsy included. Mrs. Sykes isn't havin' much luck with the boys. Actin' up they are; and Gypsy doesn't like 'er for some reason. 'E says 'e 'as a feelin' that somethin's not quite right about her, but 'e's prepared to give 'er a month's trial. The O'Rileys 'ave taken the rest of the kids up to the farm for a few days and Gypsy's makin' a show of been' okay; back at school, like, and doing his dancin', and singin' with 'High Street.' 'E's giving 'is family all the comfort they need but the problem is 'e's gettin' nothin' in return, because they don't realise 'e needs comfortin' too. Mrs. Sykes seems to be a good 'housekeeper but she does everythin' by the book and isn't too good at showin' much affection where the kids are concerned. Perquita's got her 'ands full with Maria and the little one, and work; and Emmie doesn't want to pile anythin' else onto 'er so 'e's leavin' things till the end of the trial period before 'e says anythin'. Myself, I think 'e's been too good 'earted. What I really want to say is that, underneath it all, 'e's 'urtin' and I know 'e's missin' you a lot, as well. 'E 'asn't said as much but I know 'e is; per'aps not as a lover but an older brother, like. I thought maybe if you two got together again it might 'elp 'im; but now I see that wouldn't be a good idea." And the state this place is in. you need help too, mate, he thought . No matter what it took, he had to get them back together. Emmie had done it for him, setting him up with Trish; even though he only saw her on Saturdays and in school, and this was the only way he knew to pay his mate back. "There's somethin' else too, somethin' bad 'appened when 'e came to our church youth group today." Sandy told Don what had happened, leaving nothing out, and watched Don's jaw gradually tighten till his teeth were clamped together with fury.
Having nothing more to say Sandy rose to his feet. Pulling the note pad he always carried in his jacket pocket. Sandy scribbled down the bible passages his dad had given him, and a few more he had found himself. Ripping the page from the pad he dropped it on the coffee table. "I don't know if you 'ave a bible but maybe these will 'elp you find the answers you're lookin' for, and by the way, they found out what's wrong with Gypsy. 'E's got a form of Diabetes." Don's head shot up and he stared at Sandy, eyes wide with shock. Sandy backed to the hall door. "I'll go now. Mam will kill me if I'm late for tea; Sunday routine and all that, you know?" Don returned his gaze to the table and looked, unseeing, at the piece of paper and waved a vague hand on farewell.
Sandy let himself out of the flat and he let out a sigh of relief, glad to have that task over with. It was all in Don's hands now, and the Lord's. Sandy could only watch and support his mate, and pray for him.
Gypsy slammed the front door of eight Visick Street closed and let his guitar case drop onto the tiled floor with a clatter. Leaning on the door he slid down it till he reached the floor, trying to calm his still raging anger, directed not at another person but at himself. He was so jumpy these days it didn't take much to set him off. He knew what was wrong with him. Not the physical stuff; that was sorted thanks to Monclare. No, this was purely mental. He was desperately lonely and missed his mum like crazy. He tried to put the afternoon's events at the back of his mind but the house was too quiet with nothing to distract him. Perquita and the kids wouldn't be back for a whole week. He gazed up the stairs at the kids' attempts at stripping wallpaper; at least nine layers of it. The result was very patchy but he'd used the ploy as a kind of therapy to get them over losing Mum. It was a depressing sight and he shouldn't be looking at it. What a mess! He should never have sounded off at Sandy like that; now there was one less prop to lean on. The big glunk had taken all the insults like the dependable brick wall he was. He probably wouldn't want to speak to him again after today; just when he needed someone to lean on. Wanting to cry, but determined not to, he rose to his feet. Unzipping his case to check he hadn't damaged his guitar; he carried it into the music room. He stripped off his jacket and hung it up in the hall and ran upstairs to his bedroom to change into singlet, shorts and trainers. He had to loosen up, exercise, run; do something or go mad.
Putting on his latest Quincy Jones Album, he tried to concentrate on his loosening up routine. He kept it up for about five minutes, finding at the end that he was no calmer than when he started. Switching off the hi-fi he slammed his bedroom door closed and stumped down the hall; he'd go for a run instead. Fishing his keys out of his jacket pocket, he opened the front door and stepped out onto the porch. He got ready to lock the door and happened to glance up the street towards the town centre. Two youths were messing about on skateboards. He recognised them as friends of Dave Leigh; that meant trouble. They spotted him and stopped to watch him. Down the street in the other direction, four more youths were circling round and round on bikes. A trap! Three he could put down, no problem, but not six. Going back inside, he locked the door and found he was trembling. How did they know he was home? Dave Leigh of course. Once more he sank down to the floor and fought the panic growing inside him.
He couldn't believe how lonely and miserable he felt. He missed his dad, he missed the kids, and here he was, trapped in his own house with no one to talk to; no one to love or be loved by. Suddenly he felt a tear forming and pressed his head hard against the door. "God, if you're real, please help." He didn't how long he sat there, a prayer for help going round and round in his brain, but the sudden ringing of the front door bell made him jump. They've come to the door! A large shadow fell across the leaded glass panel. He got ready to scuttle away from the door in case they pushed something obnoxious through the letterbox.
"Hello?" A deep voice bellowed through the front door. "Is anyone at home?"
Gypsy scrambled to his feet with a startled gasp. "Don?" If it had been God Himself, he couldn't have been more surprised. Don was here? Jerking open the door he stared in disbelief at the familiar figure standing on the doorstep clad in singlet and shorts. He needed a haircut and a shave, but his muscles were bronzed and shiny as if he had just come from a weightlifting tournament. "Don!"
"That's me. Can I come in?" Gypsy moved back to let him step into the hall. "Anyone else around?" Don eyed the sorry efforts at paper stripping.
"Just me; they're all up at Grandpa's place." He could never call it 'the farm' again."
"I see you had company. I just sent them off with a sharp warning. I heard you've got a housemother too; where is she?"
"Off for a couple of days."
"Oh, right!" Don made his way into the kitchen, pausing to look up the stairs. "You need a steamer on that job."
Gypsy noticed the quick check Don gave the passably clean kitchen before reaching for the kettle and filling it at the sink uninvited. Nothing else was said till a pot of tea and two mugs stood on the kitchen table. Gypsy was still dealing with his amazement at Don's sudden appearance and Don seemed to be thinking about what he was going to say. He didn't care if the guy never said a word; he just wanted the guy to put those muscular arms round him and hug him close. They sat down at the table and Gypsy stirred the tea then poured milk into the mugs. Don followed with the tea and they sat in silence for a few moments, nursing the steaming mugs before Don said hesitantly. 'I … er… want to apologise for being heavy handed the last time we spoke. I'm sorry."
Gypsy shrugged his shoulders. "You had to put me straight. I still don't understand it all yet. I've had too much on my mind to think about it."
"Yeah, sorry about that too' It must have been a big shock your mother dying like that."
"Not really. I knew she was going to die."
Don nodded and took a sip of his tea. "The psychic stuff?"
"You miss her?"
"Daft question." Gypsy felt a lump in his throat and swallowed to get rid of it, but it refused to move.
"When's your dad coming back?"
"Not for another four weeks."
"And the kids?"
"Back next weekend."
Don took another drink of his tea, eyeing Gypsy over the rim of the mug. "Got things on your mind?"
Gypsy dropped his eyes to his own untasted tea. "Lots of things; this house mostly. It gets to me when no one's here. We've changed things round a bit; the boys and me have swapped bedrooms; stuff like that, but it still has bad memories. Grandpa says he still feels the evil here. Maybe Edward's right, we should move."
"Got any rehearsals this week?"
"Only one with the band on Tuesday afternoon, then we've got gigs to do on Thursday through to Sunday, but I'm not in the mood for anything right now, why?"
"A guy in need of some fast cash wants to sell a camper, but I never buy anything unless I try it out first. If you're on your own, maybe you'd like to give me a hand with it. It's parked outside."
Gypsy looked up at him. "I thought you didn't want me around anymore."
"Go pack a bag and we'll talk about it while we drive, okay? The weather forecast's good so you won't need much."
"Where are we going?"
"Have you ever seen the mountains of Snowdonia?"
"Only a quick scan of them when we went to Llandudno; why?"
"Well, they're beautiful. A friend of mine lives there and when he's away I have the use of his cottage. If he's out, we'll use the cottage. If he's home we've always got a home the size of a wardrobe to fall back on and we can park in his yard."
Suddenly Gypsy felt the black cloud lifting but a new uneasiness replaced it. Was Don taking advantage of his vulnerable situation? For one fleeting moment he wanted to be taken advantage of; to have those strong arms hold him so tight he couldn't break away. He shook his head. "I need some guitar practice."
"You serenade, I'll drive; but all the other chores we split down the middle including emptying the john, right?"
As he left the kitchen, Gypsy thought of something. He looked over his shoulder at Don. "What made you change your mind?"
"Let's say I had a visit from your guardian angel today and he chewed my ear till it hurt."
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