The Cup Bearer
After parking the estate, she guided Gypsy to the front door of one of the houses, unlocked it and drew him into the narrow hall beyond.
"Is that you, Sis?" a voice floated down the stairs.
"Yes, Jo," Shana called back. "Is there any coffee left or have you and that man of yours drunk it all?"
"It'll be cold by now, put the kettle on and make some fresh; I could do with another cup myself. Supper's in the oven, it should be ready by now. I'll be down in a minute,"
"Well, come down decent, I've got company," was Shana's parting shot as she led Gypsy into a spacious living kitchen at the end of the hall. "Normally she dashes about the house in just her birthday suit and a towel. It's most embarrassing when your friends decide to drop in. Come on in and make yourself at home."
While Shana went round to the cooking area on the far side of a grey speckled breakfast bar, Gypsy drew out a stool from beneath it and sat down. Gazing round the room he liked what he saw. It wasn't elaborate but it was clean and brightly painted in red and white; and sufficiently untidy to make it look lived in without it being a shambles. On a long 'forties' style sideboard stood a collection of photographs, mostly of the coloured guy he had seen at the kiosk, displaying his muscles in various poses and showing his prowess with various gymnastic equipment. The centre-most picture was of him in the pristine white uniform of a sergeant of the United States Navy. Above the sideboard, a shelf held a display of cups and shields. So, the guy was a champion was he?
"Well, hi, there!" The low voice startled him and he saw Shana leaning provocatively against the hall doorway in a long blue bathrobe, with her hair wrapped in a towel. No, it wasn't Shana but someone very much like her. Gypsy rose to his feet, and said, "Hi."
Jo eyed him from head to toe and back as she pulled the towel from her hair and began to rub at it. It was long and thick just like Shana's. "Where did you find this little dazzler, Sis?"
"I didn't find him," Shana replied as she brought three mugs of coffee to the bar, "meet Gypsy Diaz."
Jo's eyes widened, "The Gypsy Diaz?"
"There's only one and this is him!" Shana smiled proudly at him "So keep your mitts of him, sister dear, this one is mine."
"Don't worry; I've got all the pants I need," Jo's eyes flicked towards the pictures on the sideboard, "but isn't he a sight for sore eyes!" She giggled her way to the bar and perched on the stool next to Gypsy, who was by this time feeling quite embarrassed. "Now I know what all the fuss was about. My sister has been in the doldrums since she came back from that May tour with 'High Street."
"I have not!"
"Oh yes you have. I've never known you to be such a misery. And look at you now; smiling fit to break a camera." Turning back to Gypsy, she said, "Since May, she's been gleaning all the information she can about her gypsy boy." Jo's cheerful smile faded as she studied his face." We heard about your run in with some bad types; Shana bumped into Archie and he filled in what the papers didn't say. Was it really bad?"
"Yeah, it was bad," Gypsy was surprised how comfortable he felt talking about it to these two sisters, "but I'll survive."
Jo tipped her head on one side and studied him again. "With my Ed studying Physiotherapy I've seen some of the photographs in his medical books, and from where I'm sitting, I'd say your surgeon knew his job."
Shana suddenly reached over the worktop and gently traced the scar running diagonally from his left temple to his mouth. "Very neat, very manly," she said with approval; "very buccaneerish."
Gypsy smiled into her beautiful eyes. "Doesn't it put you off?"
"Are you kidding?" Shana exclaimed. "With that nice crooked smile too?"
Gypsy realised Jo was staring at him, and read the warning in her eyes. " I don't want my little sister hurt again. " Gypsy gave her a reassuring nod, indicating that he understood. He saw Jo's eyebrows lift a little before she quickly slipped off her stool and hurried to the oven to lift a large casserole dish out onto the bar. Noticing her confusion, Shana asked her what was wrong but Jo laughed it off and, while they devoured man-sized portions of Chicken Gumbo, she deftly turned the conversation round to family matters.
Gypsy was surprised to learn that their parents were American; Jo being born in Cincinnati before their father took up a secretarial post at the American Embassy in London. Shana had been born in London and considered herself British; and chose to remain in Britain on their parents return to the States. After a short break Jo had come back to be with her. "I had a good job as a secretary over here," Jo explained, "but I couldn't settle back in the States. All my friends were over here in London and I missed them as well as my sister. I didn't fancy having to start all over again somewhere else so I got in touch with my old boss. He was so pleased to have me back he gave me a pay rise as well."
"Only because Jo was the only one who could make sense of his notes," Shana chipped in. "He had four secretaries after she left, and she'd only been gone six months."
"What happened to change things?" Gypsy asked, and noticed the way the sisters frowned at each other.
Jo suddenly smiled and slid off her stool. "I'm off back to the kiosk or Sally will never get her bus home." With a flutter of her fingers Jo swept out of the kitchen with a parting, "Have fun!"
After clearing the dishes into the sink, Shana made fresh coffee and invited Gypsy to move over to an old but comfortable settee. She pulled a tiny drop leaf table in front of it and set the coffee, milk and two mugs on it. Opening a sideboard cupboard she took out a large photograph album. Sitting down beside him she rested it on her lap, poured milk into her coffee and took a long drink of it before opening the album. "This is something very few people have seen outside the family. Even Brian hasn't seen it. I'm not really a singer, I'm a dancer, or I was till my accident." Gypsy watched, fascinated, as he drank his coffee and Shana's life appeared through pictures taken from when she was three years old and wore her very first pair of ballet shoes, to the most recent of her in a fabulous sequinned affair, on stage with nine other girls and showing a very shapely pair of legs. She pointed to it. "This was taken at a Casino in Monte Carlo. Shortly after that was taken, I was knocked down by a car and in a wheelchair for months. I was told I would never walk again let alone dance; then Ed Thompson walked into my life." She glanced at the photographs on the sideboard.
"He was a PE instructor in the US Navy, visiting a friend in the same hospital I was in, and we became good friends. He left the Navy about the same time as I left hospital, so he brought me home and taught me to walk again. Everyone expected us to marry, but he fell in love with Jo instead and, well, that's how life goes. He's studying Physiotherapy, here in the UK, and takes his final exams next year. He'll make a fine therapist. He certainly got me on my feet when everyone else gave up on me. Jo still feels guilty about pinching Ed off me and this book reminds her too much of that, so it doesn't see daylight too often. That's why Jo left the kitchen just now. I keep on telling her I don't blame her; after all Ed wasn't in love with me like he is with her, and all I want now is for Jo and Ed to be happy. That's the only reason I'm still hanging around here now. I help them run their kiosk so Ed can stay in College. They're getting married soon so that Ed can stay in the UK instead of applying for work visas every year. Perhaps, when he's passed his exams and he can start his career, and we can sell the kiosk. Then I'll think about singing again. I'll even go back to High Street if it means getting back on stage, but it'll be purely on my terms; you taught me that."
"What about dancing?" Gypsy asked her as she closed the album and placed it on the floor beside her feet. "Wouldn't you like to tread the boards again?"
"Oh, I think about it all the time." Shana smiled wistfully. "In a way I do dance. When I watch you dancing, you bring it all back to me." Her eyes sought Gypsy's and held them. "That's what I miss most of all, watching you."
"You can always come and watch me." I can let you know when there's a show on, but not Brian's gigs."
"It's my pleasure." He looked into her eyes and sensed she wanted to kiss him, and he found himself wishing she would, but wondered how he was going to tell her she was in for a disappointment? How could he tell her he couldn't physically please her, if that was what she wanted? Slowly, they leaned towards each other till their lips were less than an inch apart. Angling their heads, they moved closer, till they exchanged a gentle kiss. Then, drawing back, Shana said, "I know this is wrong but -."
"Yeah, I know," Gypsy said. "What happened at the flat just happened. It was nice, but I guess things are different now; so maybe we shouldn't take it any further." They heard Jo run noisily down the stairs and slam the front door after a cheery "So long!" and Gypsy had the feeling of panic.
"What's the problem?"
"How much did Archie tell you?"
"That they cut your face, and assaulted you, that they kicked you and beat you."
Gypsy stared down at his clasped hands. "They kicked me all right. They made real sure I can't have kids, can't do anything in fact. Nothing works anymore."
"Oh, I see." Shana tried to keep her face straight. "Well, all is not lost. I'm not looking for a physical relationship yet, if that's what's worrying you. Let's just talk and get cosy. My bedroom's a lot more comfortable than this kitchen, and there's no reason why we can't cuddle up for a couple of hours."
"What's the point?" Gypsy asked her.
"It's warmer upstairs for a start, till we get the central heating put in. These concrete floors can really cool the temperature!" Shana rose to her feet and reached down to take hold of his hands. "Come on; I'm not going to let you slip out of my fingers a second time, and I need a shower." Once she had him on his feet she kept a firm grip on his right hand and led him from the kitchen. At the foot of the stairs he held back and she turned to face him. "It's okay, trust me. There's more to having fun than sex."
"I don't think we should."
"It isn't right. We shouldn't."
Shana gave him a lovely smile. "Are you a virgin too?"
Gypsy frowned. "It depends on what you mean by a virgin."
Shana suddenly looked unsure of the situation. "Don't tell me you're gay after all."
"I don't know; maybe. I'm just not into anything physical."
"I'm glad you feel like that," Shana gave him a smile of relief. "I'm a Christian and, like I said, trust me."
Reluctantly, Gypsy followed her up the stairs and, on reaching the landing, she pushed him gently into a lilac painted bedroom and told him to make himself comfortable. He stared at the bed with its very feminine lilac and white silk and lace pillowslips and matching drapes. Realising he was playing with fire by placing Shana in the same position as Don, he took off his shoes and jacket, and lay down on top of the duvet.
When Shana came out of the bathroom a few minute later, wrapped in a white terry bathrobe, she felt like a shy teenager on her first date. After smiling timidly at Gypsy, she turned to the dressing table to dry her hair till it floated about her shoulders in voluminous waves. Moving to the bed she avoided looking at Gypsy whose eyes were fastened on her with youthful interest. Keeping the bathrobe firmly tied, she got under her half of the duvet and turned on her side to face him. They exchanged shy smiles before Shana said softly, "Well now, Gypsy Diaz, why don't you break the ice by telling me all about yourself?"
Gypsy's smile disappeared. "You wouldn't want to know." He looked as if he would spring off of bed at her slightest touch.
"Is it so bad?" Shana watched him look away and, seeing the tightness round his eyes and mouth, she realised she was treading on delicate ground, but she wanted to know so much about him. Not waiting for him to speak, she began telling him about herself. "I was brought up a Christian and I made a vow that I would be a virgin when I married, so my first two boyfriends quickly ditched me. Then Ed came along and respected my vow for the whole of our short time together. Then Jo came back from the States and just swept him off his feet. She was treated very badly while still in the States, so I was happy to see them fall in love."
"And she's worried about you being hurt! Does Ed live here?"
"Heavens no! Jo made the same vow as I did, and they're prepared to wait till they get married next month."
"So, how did you come to be going out with a creep like Brian?"
"I joined the band first, and I wanted a shoulder to cry on. Brian was just handy, that's all. After that I swore I would know all about my partner before I committed myself. With Ed, there was no time to get to know each other before he and Jo fell in love. Now, here's this gorgeous boy, not even sixteen and he's making me feel like a teenager again. I think it's great."
She saw him smile with relief and waited patiently for him to tell her what was on his mind. Eventually he said, "I glad you feel that way. I've been stressed out lately, and not just because of what those thugs did. It's to do with my early years, or lack of them. I guess I did a stupid thing. My minder, Don Clooney, tried to help me be a kid again but I relied on him too much and he thought it best that he move on. He left a fortnight ago and I'm not kidding you, Shana, I miss my Big Bro. I was suicidal. My guardian even had my psychiatrist come over from the States to straighten me out; I was that bad. Then I spoke to someone at Sandy's church. Maybe I'm wrong but I've felt so much more at peace since then."
At last, Shana reached out for him, and he rolled towards her. Once they were comfortable, with their heads close, she said, "I had a lovely childhood. We weren't rich but we were comfortable and there was a lot of love in our home, at least till Dad had a stroke. It changed him. He wasn't the loving dad we knew anymore, and I was glad I had Jo to keep me company. There's only four years between us and we always liked the same things, the same toys and games. We shared everything and I don't recall us ever fighting. Do your brothers and sisters fight?"
"Only in fun, and over silly things like whose turn it is to put new loo rolls out. We all have jobs to do round the house. We have to with six of us and Dad, and now there's Barry my new minder. It's been like that since Mum was ill. They're good kids and they've helped me a lot since Don left, especially little Lucia. She had her fourth birthday last week and thinks she's the boss of the house. But I think I'm going to have trouble with Jose. He's almost fourteen and halfway between being a kid and a man, and he's ended up pretty confused about certain things. I suspect he blames me for his dad's disappearance. I've tried to get him to talk about it but he always makes an excuse to hurry off and do something else. I've caught him looking at me a time or two with a load of hate in his eyes."
"Poor Jose; I'd love to meet your family."
"I'd like that too, but it wouldn't be wise just now."
"Why not; we're just friends."
"Are we just friends?"
Shana saw the tension tighten his lips. "You want us to be more than friends?"
"Yes, but promise me something."
"Promise you won't grow up too soon? I prefer you as you are."
Gypsy smiled softly. "I'll try not to. Who knows? Perhaps those thugs did me a favour and I'll stay forever young. At least I'm still able to hit the high notes. It seems my family don't want me to grow up either. I don't know what they're up to but, since Don left, they've been making me do all sorts of crazy childish things with them. Lucia's the worst; she invents games all the time; often very painful ones. Jose joins in with all this stuff because he doesn't want to miss anything, but when Jose and I are on our own, it's 'hate your brother' time."
"And how do you feel about all this child play? Has it helped you?"
"It doesn't really make any difference how I feel; but if it makes the family believe I'm getting over things, I'll put on an act that says things are okay. That way they're satisfied, Dad and George are satisfied, and they leave me alone."
Shana shook her head at him. "That's not a good thing to do."
"I know it isn't, but it's the only way I can cope. At least, now, there's something else going on in our house for the family to give their attention to. Perquita and my new minder have taken a shine to each other and he's only been here a week. Talk about love at first sight! It's about time too. I was afraid she'd end up an old maid, having to be mum to five kids and not getting out and making friends as much as she should. Perhaps you'd like to take one of them off her hands."
For an answer she kissed him. "Maybe, but being branded a cradle snatcher wouldn't do either of us any good."
"We're not gonna do anything so who cares?"
"Your dad, your sister, your headmaster; we only have to let them think something's going on and I'm in big trouble."
"Not after November twelfth."
"Well, until then we'll just have to be the masters of discretion. I've got a favour to ask you."
"No. I'd like you to take me skating?"
"Skating? Sure, if I can get my feet into my boots, why not? It's easy."
"I know it is. I did it when I was a kid. I'm sure I'll pick it up again. When can we go?"
"How about coming down to Altrincham next Saturday afternoon? Can you get the day off?"
Shana laughed and hugged him. "Just watch the sparks fly if I can't. What do I do for skates?"
"We'll hire them at the rink for now, then I'll see about buying you some. Let's see how you get on first. In the meantime I'd like to see you dance."
"No way," Shana replied with a nervous laugh. "I couldn't."
"Why not?" Gypsy insisted. "You're prepared to go skating, so why not dance. In fact I've got a great idea. I'm on the lookout for a dance partner as well as a skating partner. If you can do one you can do the other."
Shana shook her head and said sadly, "I couldn't. I wouldn't be good enough. It's been a long time since I danced, although I'd love to."
"Well, I don't want anyone else as my partner, and dancing with a partner to hold on to will be easier for me to get on the boards again." Shana watched as Gypsy stared happily at the ceiling, obviously picturing them performing together. They talked together for another hour, between lots of cuddling and kissing. And Shana managed to steer Gypsy's thoughts away from what might be in the future, and encouraged him to talk about his past. By the time he finished she wished she hadn't, and found it difficult not to weep.
"So there you have the complete saga." Gypsy turned his head to look at her. "I'm sorry if I've shocked you, but you did ask."
Shana raised her head from where it rested on Gypsy's shoulder and read the sincerity in his eyes. She raise a hand, to gently touch Gypsy's left earlobe, still slightly pink from the implanting of the heaviest sleeper she had ever seen. "I wish I could take the hurt away. Won't you let me?"
"Maybe someday." Gypsy sat up and swung his legs off the bed, and Shana knew the evening was over when she so wished it would go on and on.
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