The Cup Bearer
Perquita watched Gypsy pick at his supper, silently preoccupied about something that shut out the rest of the family. She knew he had been crying, his eyes were red and puffy. On their return from church, he had gone into his room and locked the door. Don had asked her if Gypsy had mentioned anything about a supposed visit from angels and she was curious enough to want to ask Gypsy about it as soon as possible, but not while Gypsy was so upset about something. Don had persuaded Gypsy to let him into his room and had spent the afternoon comforting him in a gentle voice while he sobbed his heart out. Perquita had listened at the door but couldn't make out what was said. Now, she looked questioningly at Don across the table, and the man shrugged his shoulders in reply.
Towards the end of supper, while Maria and Perquita washed the dishes and Don gave the boys some help with preparing their bags and books for school, Gypsy wandered out into the back garden and settled down on one of the garden chairs out on the lawn. Once the schoolwork was finished to Don's satisfaction, the boys shot out into the garden for some last minute fun before bed. Gypsy walked back into the house with a look on frustration on his face. He marched into his bedroom and slammed the door. Perquita exchanged curious glances with Maria before turning to Don for an answer.
"He's got a lot of things to think about; best leave him be." Don grabbed a tea towel to help dry the dishes. "Who's on toilet roll duty today?"
"Ramon," Maria said with glee, knowing what was going to happen.
"Right." Don rapped on the window. Out in the back garden two faces turned to look at him. He pointed to Ramon then jerked his thumb over his shoulder. The boys looked at one another before Ramon scampered towards the house. While Manuel was absent, Don was Top Cat. Ramon bounced into the kitchen, his face glowing with expectancy. He adored Don and did whatever he said without question, loving to do anything for him no matter what, and fully expecting Don to play the macho man. It was a game Don played with all the Gomez kids and it kept them in line without him having to raise his voice too many times, and they loved it.
"Toilets, please." Don pointed towards the hall. Ramon looked guilty and dived for the cupboard under the sink. Don winked at Perquita but she wished it were just as easy with Gypsy. He was so moody these days, and seemed to only want to interact with Don, preferring Big Bro's company to that of his siblings. Too close, Perquita thought unhappily, having watched them spend hours alone together with their Bibles open between them. Even when Manuel was here, Gypsy never left Don's side. She felt a chill as a new understanding came to her, and she almost dropped the cup she was drying.
That night, she was the last to go to bed after making sure all the new school uniforms were ready for the morning. Sitting in her bedroom with just the bedside light on, she wrote a letter to Edward Grafton; a letter to Manuel would take too long to find him. She needed help now, not next week, and she was glad Gypsy was going back to school at last. He could only stand or walk for short periods of time because of his feet, and he was still self-conscious about the fact that the fingers of his right hand would not straighten, and also about the facial scars; but those were fading slowly to fine off-white lines. The surgeons had done an excellent job on him, with a promise of more work to be done in the future.
It took her almost two hours and several crumpled sheets of paper before she was satisfied that she had said all she wanted to, and was about to put her writing things away when she saw the landing light come on under her door.
In case it was one of the children wandering about, she opened her door a crack and saw Don, clad in his dressing gown going downstairs. Thinking he was probably going to get a drink, Perquita closed her door and got into bed. Switching off the light she settled down and tried to sleep. After a while she realised the landing light was still on and she hadn't heard Don come back upstairs. His bedroom was above hers and it had a floorboard that groaned when stepped on. Don always tried to avoid it, saying he'd fix it when they decorated the attic bedrooms next month, but now and again he forgot. Perquita found herself watching the landing light shining beneath her door and listening for that floorboard. After a long period of waiting, she looked at her alarm clock and was shocked to find it was almost three o'clock.
Getting out of bed, she went out onto the landing to switch the light off. She heard a sound, and listened more carefully, there it was again, coming from down below. Creeping down the stairs she saw that the music room light was on. Peeping in she saw a sight that made her heart hammer. Don was sitting, cross-legged on the practice board with Gypsy lying in his lap with his arms round Don's neck. His face was buried against Don's chest while Don held him in a loving embrace as he rocked him gently. Horrified, Perquita jerked away from the door and sped silently up to her room. Closing her door she tore up the letter and began to write another one.
In the morning, there was the usual fight to get all four siblings fed and off to school, and Perquita was glad of Don's help, even if she did feel cool towards him. Gypsy hardly said a word, probably wondering what kind of reaction he would get from his school friends and more so from the blatantly curious. Don was unusually quiet too, after reading a letter that came in the early post. An hour later, as she brought Lucia out of the bathroom after fun and games in the bath, she spotted him going downstairs carrying a large holdall. While she dressed Lucia, she heard Don's new car starting up, and she wondered where he was off to. On the way home from Lucia's play school, Perquita went to post the letter, hoping desperately that she was doing the right thing. She stared at the letter and debated whether to post it or not. In the end she tore the letter up and as soon as she got home she rang Edward.
Monday 2nd September 1995
A strange weariness filled Manuel as he wrote the cheque and handed it to Don. The man put it into his wallet and dropped it into one of the flight bags already bulging with clothes and personal items. He watched Don take a last look around the lounge of the garage flat which had been his home for the last fifteen years and which now belonged to Manuel. "I really appreciate this. I'm sorry it turned out this way but I didn't know what else to do."
"I'm sorry too, I'm glad you had the sense to phone Edward. Where will you go?"
"I don't know. It all depends on how long it takes to find Cissy."
"Will you get in touch when you're settled?"
"Would that be wise?"
"I was hoping the problem will resolve itself with time."
"Okay, I'll get in touch someday."
Manuel checked his watch. "Edward should be here with the papers in half an hour. I'll drive you to the airport myself so you should have plenty of time for your flight."
"You know you're going to have a fight on your hands with Gypsy, don't you? Will you be able to handle him?"
"I don't know. George Sherbourne was due to come over by next weekend. Edward's asked him to move his visit forward if he can. If necessary, I'll have Gypsy taken to the Rosscroft for a few days."
Don nodded, and went into the bedroom to check he'd not missed anything. There was a lot of stuff here that he was unable to take with him. Manuel had promised to pack everything and put it into storage; the furniture went with the flat. Manuel had doubts about Don's decision to leave so abruptly, which was why Edward had contacted George, but Don was determined and there was nothing Manuel could do to persuade him otherwise.
Manuel sighed at the thought of the struggle he was going to have convincing Gypsy that Don was doing the right thing, when he didn't even believe it himself. He went into the kitchen to make some strong coffee.
Perquita was so tense that the sudden noisy entrance of the kids coming in from school made her jump. Ramon was already home, his school being just down the road from the house, and he added his own noise as he welcomed his brothers and sister and demanded to know how their first day at school had gone even before they had taken their jackets off. Maria and Jose were happy enough with the welcome, but Gypsy just walked solemnly into the kitchen, looked around then walked out again. Perquita's heart sank knowing, the way he stared at her; he was looking for Don. Just for once, she wished the man were here; she was worried about coping with her brother alone.
She listened to him go into his bedroom to change out of his school uniform, and to keep herself occupied she made the kids a pile of sandwiches and a big pot of tea. From where she sat at the table, in her mother's place, she watched Gypsy emerge from his room, in jeans, T-shirt and trainers, and struggle upstairs. She rose from the table and reached for a bowl to fill with water and soothing medicated formula for Gypsy to soak his feet in. A minute later, he was running downstairs again, and Perquita's heart began to thud in anticipation of the volcano about to erupt.
Gypsy walked into the kitchen and stared straight at her, accusation written on his face. "Why is Don's room empty?" Perquita opened her mouth to say she didn't know when the front door opened and Manuel walked in followed by Edward Grafton. Gypsy stared at them then turned his surprised eyes on Perquita. She looked away, guiltily, and he said softly, "Where is he?"
The rest of the kids fell silent, their worried eyes flashing between their sister and brother. Suddenly Gypsy turned and ran past Edward and his father and out of the front door.
Don's new Rover was still there. Gypsy ran out of the garden and up to the car and felt the bonnet. It was still warm. The car had been used in the last few minutes so where was the guy? And why were Edward and Dad here? Something was going on. He turned to run back into the house and found Edward watching him from the doorstep. "Where is he?" Gypsy yelled angrily at him. "What have you done with him?"
"If you want to shout at me," Edwards said sternly, "please have the good manners to do it inside the house and not out here in public,"
Gypsy followed him back into the house but had no intention of standing meekly by while Edward used his courtroom tactics on him. Gypsy slammed the door closed and stood with clenched hands while his father came towards him.
"Gypsy, please calm down, let's talk about this."
As soon as Manuel took hold of his arm, Gypsy exploded. Smacking at his father's hands he thrust him away. "Don't touch me! Just tell me where Don is. You've sent him away and I want to know why."
"No one sent Don away," Manuel replied. "It was his own idea, and he did it for your sake."
"I don't believe you. He wouldn't go anywhere without saying goodbye. In any case, why would he want to go anywhere?"
"I think you know why."
Edward came forward. "I did warn you. I did tell you not to interfere."
Confused, Gypsy stared at Edward. "What are you talking about?" Then it dawned on him what these guys were thinking. Someone had said something. Then he spotted Perquita and read the signs, the way she half hid behind Edward and twisted a tea towel round her hands. That was raw guilt on her face or he was a frog prince. "You bitch! What have you been saying?" Of all the family, Perquita was the only one who resented Don being there. Pushing past his father he marched up to her and yelled in her face. "I might have known it would be you, you unhappy, lonely little woman! You can't find yourself a man so you ruin it for other people, right?" Perquita slapped him hard across the mouth and fled up the stairs in tears.
Gypsy put a hand to his smarting mouth and felt hot tears of his own spring to his eyes. His safe little world was breaking apart, yet again. He'd had a bad day at school with Sandy not there to keep the troublemakers away. Some of the younger kids had chanted, "Scar-face" at him till one of the teachers stopped it, and he'd had to weather all the stares. He felt a hand on his shoulder. Jerking away from his father, he screamed, "He wouldn't just leave. Not Don. Not my bro." He ran for the front door. He had to get to Don, had to find him. He got the door open and was about to run out of the house when Edward grabbed him. The place spun and he couldn't breathe. A panic attack was beginning, the first in months. Someone tried to support him. No! He wasn't going to let it take hold. He fought off the hands and backed up hard against the door, cracking his head against it. Fight, hit, kick, it was all he thought of.
When his head cleared he was still struggling to breathe but he was backed into a corner and the Victorian coat stand was on the floor. His feet throbbed and his hands hurt. His father was rubbing a bruised chest and Edward a sore thigh. "Tell me where Don is, or so help me I'll do some damage, and I don't care who to. Now where's Don Clooney?"
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