The Cup Bearer
The touch of something soft and furry tapping him on the face brought Gypsy awake. He blinked his eyes open and found a pair of large brown eyes watching him. Lucia had Grey Rabbit with her. She wore her favourite bunny pyjamas and smelled of baby bath. Was it that time already? Fresh tears sprang to his eyes. "Hello bright eyes. I'm sorry I shouted at you. Will you forgive me?"
Lucia gazed down at Grey Rabbit then put his snout to her ear. After listening quite seriously she looked up and nodded. "Grey Rabbit says to forgive you. Are you my brother again? Is your name really Gypsy?"
"I never stopped being your brother," Gypsy replied. Sitting up he scooped her up in his arms and hugged her close. "I was just being bad-tempered because I was upset about Don going away. I'll always be your big brother, no matter what. And my name really is Gypsy. Okay?"
"Okay. Now, read me a bedtime story."
"Okay, what story would you like me to read?"
"It's in my new book, it's in my room." Wriggling free, Lucia grabbed hold of his hand and pulled him off the bed. Keeping tight hold of him, she dragged him at breakneck speed down the attic stairs and into a bedroom bursting with toys and dolls, and books on shelves. A brightly coloured play mat lay on the floor and Gypsy wondered why he had never noticed before how cheerful this room was. A large book lay open on Lucia's bed. Dragging it to the floor, she struggled to carry it to the mat where she dropped it, and sat down beside it. "This is my new book, come and look, Gypsy."
He sat cross-legged on the mat and lifted the book onto his lap, and read the title. The Disney Book of Fairy Stories; Lucia was quite sure which story she wanted read. Slowly, and using various comic voices when the need arose, he worked his way through the story of Cinderella. By the time he had finished. Lucia was heavy eyed and leaning against him. Picking her up, he put her to bed, switched on the night-lights and turned off the main light. Sitting back down on the mat, he took up the book and turned the pages with growing wonder. He had seen one or two famous Disney feature cartoons and remembered enjoying them, but this book held all of them. He read on, transported into a land of make-believe.
Perquita came in at eight o'clock with a tray of sandwiches and coffee for him. He drank all the coffee and ate a couple of the sandwiches. At nine o'clock, Maria went in to check on Lucia as usual, and saw her brother sitting on the mat, engrossed in Lucia's new book. Feeling it was best to leave him, she crept out and ran downstairs to tell the rest of the family. At ten o'clock, Perquita looked in and found her brother curled up on the play mat still holding Lucia's new book. He was fast asleep with Grey Rabbit nestled within the curve of his body. She brought a duvet from the landing cupboard, spread it over him and switched out all but one night-light. That night she wept prayers of thanks.
Friday 6th September 1995
"Gypsy do you remember what day it is?" Perquita's hissed question pierced the music room.
Gypsy gave a sigh of exasperation. He was sitting on the floor, leaning back against Manuel's legs, listening to a particularly poignant section of the Adagio from Bruchner's Seventh, and Perquita had innocently broken the atmosphere with her untimely interruption. "It's Friday, so what?"
"And the date?"
"September sixth." Manuel reached over to switch off the CD player he had bought Gypsy. "Is it important?"
"Someone's birthday?" Perquita whispered loudly, and indicated someone in the hall who was hidden from view.
"Oh, no," Gypsy rolled away to scramble to his feet; "Lucy's birthday! Why didn't someone tell me?" He seemed rather confused as he stared at Perquita. "Is it so soon?"
"You should know. You delivered her." Perquita folded her arms and gave him a scolding look. "She's in your bedroom looking for her birthday presents."
Manuel was about to speak in Gypsy's defence when Gypsy shoved his fingers through his hair and said sadly, "I'm sorry. I honestly didn't remember the date; I've had things on my mind. What do I do?"
"Why don't you and I take Lucia out to a big toy store," Manuel suggested, "and let her choose whatever she likes? Is she having a party?"
Perquita shook her head. "I haven't had time to arrange anything and I'm not good at making parties. Mama used to do all that."
At that moment, Lucia forced her way in past Perquita and ran up to Gypsy with her bottom lip quivering. "Gypsy, I can't find my birthday presents. Where are they? I'm four today and I want some presents. You did get me some, didn't you?"
"Come here, little one." Manuel said, and when Lucia was close enough he picked her up and set her on his knee. "How would you like to go to a great big shop where they sell nothing but toys, and choose your own present?"
Lucia's eyes grew wide. "Can I have lots of presents?"
Manuel laughed at her. "I think we can stretch our money to quite a few. Now what about a party? Would you like one?" Lucia's eyes were like saucers as she gasped and nodded excitedly. Suddenly she kissed him on the mouth then shot off his knee to run about the hall yelling. "Party party party; I'm going to have a party!"
Half an hour after Manuel took Gypsy and Lucia into Manchester, to find a toyshop big enough to accommodate one excited young lady, Perquita heard someone ring the front door bell. When she opened the door, she found Mrs. Cole on the doorstep. "I heard you might need some help with a party today. Why don't you get your coat and we'll go shopping? We'll go in my car."
Once the store had finally closed and Gypsy had helped Manuel place all Lucia's new toys in the car boot, he turned to Manuel and gave him a hug. "Thanks Dad."
Manuel looked at him in surprise. "There's no need to thank me. I enjoyed this trip as much as you did. You did enjoy it, didn't you?"
"Yes, Dad, I did." Gypsy found the lump in his throat hard to swallow. "That's what I'm thanking you for."
"Gypsy, can we talk?" He looked up and saw Perquita standing beside him. The party over, he sat on the back garden bench, enjoying the warm night and full moon. Gypsy shrugged his shoulders and she came to sit down beside him. "It was a good party, wasn't it?"
"Yes it was. Luce enjoyed it."
"So did the others, thanks to you and your dad. And isn't Mrs. Cole a treasure? I don't know what I'd have done without her. How on earth did she know about the party?"
"That was Dad's idea. We called at her house on our way to the store. We hoped you wouldn't spot us and spoil the surprise."
"Well you certainly surprised me!" Perquita shook her head at him. "You shouldn't have bought Lucia so many presents. You'll spoil her."
Gypsy shrugged his shoulders. "So I spoil her. I enjoyed letting her rampage through that store we found. She had fun, and so did the assistants."
"She wasn't the only one who enjoyed trying out all the toys. Lucia told me what fun you had as well."
Gypsy smiled at the memory. "Yeah it was fun. Whose birthday is it next?"
"Maria's is next, she's fourteen in January."
"Oh. I see." Gypsy pulled a face. "I don't get one, is that it?"
Perquita laughed and threw her arms around his shoulders. Then she laid her head on his shoulder. "Gypsy, I want to apologise for what happened the other day. I thought you and Don were…"
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"Well, Don was right; we were getting too close. It wasn't Don's fault either. I thought it would help him sort himself out; my mistake. Edward warned me off but I was stupid and thought I knew better. And it's not your fault Don went. Don had been thinking about breaking things off for a while but Dad didn't how far things had progressed. He asked him to stay and take care of me. "
"Well, I'm sorry I slapped you."
"Don't be; I deserved it. I shouldn't have called you what I did; I'm sorry. By the way, how did you find out about Don and me?"
"Lots of clues really; you telling us about your past life, and what my father did. And you were always with Don, and I saw the look in your eyes every time you looked at him. You looked at him often enough, and Sunday night I saw you and Don in the music room."
Gypsy shook his head at her. "I was upset and he was just acting the big brother, that's all. Don is the only one who ever offered me any real comfort. I wanted a brother so badly; I just went about things the wrong way. I know, now, that Tony had the right idea when he refused to commit himself to a sexual relationship, and Don did the same thing. He was a comforter, a prop like Tony was a prop, and Mum, and Sandy. I'm just a kid, Sis, a kid who's never had a normal childhood thanks to Guido and people like him. Everybody's been expecting me to act like an adult. When I was with Tony, my time was taken up with learning to be an entertainer, and gaining black belts. Then Tony was killed and the Grafton brothers expected me to act like an adult because they didn't know how to handle a kid; they still don't. Then I came over here and had to act the big brother and eldest son again. I had no choice. I did it because you would have gone into care; and I don't know what would have become of me. Then Guido came back and I had to protect you all over again, the only way I knew. Don is a guy who understood what I was going through and he offered to be my big bro and give me a chance to be a fifteen-year-old kid again. So, you see, Sis, the mess I'm in is of my own doing and no one else's. It's me who's mixed up. I threw myself at Don and he couldn't resist. That's why he was right to go away. But now he's gone, I'm back at the starting gate. I was ready to go downhill; to end it all until George came and talked to me. Then Grey Rabbit paid a visit, and worked his charm. He may be shabby and one eyed but that rabbit knows a thing or two."
"Grey Rabbit?" Perquita looked puzzled.
"Yeah, didn't you know he talks? Only Lucia can hear him of course. That rabbit can make you do the most ridiculous things, like falling asleep on a play mat without a pillow. I woke up at four this morning with a prize crick in my neck. Who played mother with a duvet, you?"
"Yes." Perquita sighed deeply. "I still think it's my fault Don's gone. I'm sorry."
"Look, will you stop blaming yourself? Don decided to go long before you phoned Edward. Don had already written to him, and Edward contacted my dad and advised him to come home because he knew how I'd react. You just let the cat out of the bag a bit too soon. You're such an open book, Perquita. Your face always gives you away. That's how honest you are. As soon as I arrived home from school I sensed something was wrong. I only had to look at you and your face said it all. Edward and Dad hoped Don would have flown away before I flipped. I've no idea where Don's gone or how to get in touch, so that's it. Don's gone."
"Will you tell me something?"
"How do you really feel about Don?"
Gypsy hesitated, wondering how to make her understand. "If things had been different, I could have loved him. I guess he was thinking about me being under age; he lectured me enough about it."
"But what if you were older?"
"Perhaps it would have made a difference."
"You mean you…"
"I guess you could say I'm at least bi-sexual if not gay." Gypsy wished he didn't have to say it this way. "For ninety nine percent of the time, being gay is not something you choose; it's in you from birth. I must be part of the one percent. When something happens to you often enough you get used to it. Sorry to shock you, sister dear, but that's how it is."
"What about Don?"
"He loves me; that's why he had to leave. Now I've had time to think about it, he did the right thing; he was right to leave. I just hope he finds Cissy." Gypsy gave his sister's hand a squeeze. "You did me a favour when you gave the game away or I wouldn't have chased him to the airport and heard him admit it."
"Well, if you want a prop, you've got me." Perquita said and hugged him closer.
"Thanks, Sis. I'm going to need you a lot. If I can't have a big Bro at least I've got a big Sister."
They hugged each other before Perquita left him, saying she was feeling cold. Gypsy remained in the garden feeling tired but not as sad as he had when he woke up that morning. Around ten o'clock, he went indoors and pinched the 'Loonie Tunes' video his dad had bought Ramon to stop him feeling out in the cold with Lucia having so many presents. He took it into his own room and played it on his video. He was still watching it when his Dad came into his bedroom with two mugs of hot milk, and couldn't understand why the man wore a silly grin on his face. Hadn't Dad ever watched a kids cartoon before?
The next morning, Gypsy was delighted when the boys insisted he went with them to the Saturday Cartoon club. He laughed louder than his brothers at the antics of Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, and beat them in the amount of sweets and popcorn they ate. On Saturdays, before their mother died, the younger members of the family usually went to the park to play ball games and for Lucia to have fun in the kiddies play area. Maria usually took charge so that Mum and Perquita could switch off for a while, and be their own private selves, whether going into Manchester to shop together or just relaxing for a few hours. When they got back to the house they would prepare tea so that Perquita didn't have it to come back to. Gypsy had never joined them on these occasions, always having some show or gig to do. This time, Maria went to town with Perquita and the rest of the kids dragged him and Manuel to the park, each child demanding their attention in the rough and tumble games or in pushing the roundabout into dizzy speeds. Gypsy joined in as much as his feet let him and eventually he had to sit down and rest. He pushed Lucia on the baby swings then took his turn on a bigger swing and raced Jose to see who could get the highest. Jose won of course, standing up on the seat; being more used to it than his brother. Then Lucia wanted to go on with Gypsy and he sat her on his knee, holding her securely with one arm round her waist while they swung gently back and forward with Lucia giggling.
Later, the two older girls joined them and the family had a ball game on the grass, which deteriorated into a free for all wrestling match when they realised Gypsy couldn't catch the ball properly; throughout the game Maria a kept note of the happy grin on Gypsy's face as the kids, including Lucia, bullied him mercilessly; charging him the moment the ball went his way. Manuel was the referee, but had to be careful not to give a wrong decision. If he did he was charged as well, and brought down with everyone piling on top of him. "Uncle George was right", Maria thought as they walked home at last. "This is the therapy Gypsy needs." and she would make sure he got it in abundance. She was sorry she hadn't done enough to make him feel wanted in the past. Before her dad's re-appearance, she had selfishly taken what she expected from a brother; it had never crossed her mind that he might need something in return.
When she had realised there was something wrong between her dad and Gypsy, she had tried not to leave them alone together, but only because she didn't want any rows or fights in what had once been a reasonably happy life with Mama. Uncle George had called a conference on Thursday afternoon while Gypsy was still sleeping on Don's bed; he had explained Gypsy's predicament in words even Lucia could understand. That night Maria called a private conference of her own with Jose, Ramon and Lucia, and they had worked out an intensive plan to help their brother, without him suspecting it was specially created. Jose and Ramon knew what they had to do, and so did Lucia.
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