The Only Way to Fly
I only had to look into Daley's eyes to know this Bill was someone really important to him. The problem was who was going to run the band while he was away? The band went into a huddle, leaving me out of things while they discussed the problem. Finally Daley turned to me. "Would you take me to the train station, Mags? Ours cars are short on petrol." He glanced at his watch. "I should just catch the Manchester train if we hurry."
"Sure; I'll go and get the car started and bring it round to the front door."
"Thanks. I'll pack a bag and meet you down there. Trilby, you're in charge. You've got the Stafford Club in two days' time, then Frazzles in Burslem the day after that. The wedding booking can wait till I get back, okay?"
"Don't you worry about us," Trilby gave Daley a push towards the bedroom they had been sharing. "The bus should be fixed by tomorrow night. If not we'll hire one. Now go on or you'll miss that train."
I hurried downstairs and soon had the Peugeot humming softly outside the alley. Daley hurried up the steps, and scuttled the short distance to the car, threw a duffle bag in the back seat and jumped in beside me. It took us five minutes to get to the station, four minutes more than it should have due to a traffic snarl-up in the middle of town. We got to the station and saw the train already standing at the northern platform. Daley ran up the steps, over the footbridge and down the far steps only to see the train pull out. He came back a lot slower, his shoulders slumped with misery. He opened the passenger door and looked in. "I'll have to wait for the next one. Thanks for trying anyway."
"Where does this friend of yours live?"
"Out in Flixton."
"Get in, I'll drive you there."
Daley shook his head. "That's okay, Mags. I'll wait."
"Don't be daft; we can be there in an hour. Come on." Just then, spots of rain hit the windscreen. Daley looked up at the sky, thought for a moment then got in the car. "I think we ought to head straight for the hospital; Withington you said? I know it." As we eased onto the M6, I said, "I hope you don't mind my asking but this guy Bill must be something special. Tell me to mind own business but -."
"That's okay, Mags, the other guys know the story so why shouldn't you? Bill and I were in the MCM together; we fell in love and vowed to spend as much time together as we could when college came to an end. We played as a duo then, me on keyboards and him on drums. I tell you, apart from the greats I've never heard anyone play like he does. He can mimic any drummer and that's what gave me the idea of a cover band. But he had problems to sort out. He'd foolishly taken a young wife to please his parents, who were very anti-homo. He settled down and I went my own way and formed a small band. We wrote now and then, and he told me he had a son, Billy Junior, but it turned out that his lovely wife was playing around behind his back. She also had a violent temper. Finally he couldn't stand living with her any longer and he came looking for me.
"That was about thirteen years ago. We bought the house in Flixton, a big one on a plot of land with no neighbours to complain about the noise. He invited my band to use it as somewhere to live between jobs, and he seemed okay at the start. We were happy enough and I thought we would stay together and eventually I would persuade him to go on tour. I had a European tour planned but then someone killed his wife; beat her to death, and the police contacted Bill. His son was six years old then; he must have witnessed the murder and the shock had a bad effect on him. He was in a mental hospital for a few months, and Bill went to see him almost every day. The kid couldn't talk and didn't remember anything about the attack. The doctors said that he would remember someday, and recover his speech, but they told Bill it would take the kid a long time to heal. He said he was going to have the boy live with him. We knew we couldn't carry on our relationship in front of the boy; it would have been too much for him. He needed a lot of love and care and I thought it best for me to leave and only go visit on the odd occasion so that as the boy grew older he would look on me as a sort of favourite uncle.
"Then I got a call from Trilby, my Dad's friend. He was back from a tour of Canada and at a loose end, no job, itchy feet and a load of musical talent to use up despite his years. Did you know he's eighty next month? Anyway, I asked my dad if he would sponsor us and help us get a band together, and that's when I left Bill for good. It was a wrench but I couldn't stand between Bill and his boy. That kid needed him after what he'd been through. The last time I heard from Bill, the kid was hoping to go to college. He'll be about sixteen now. He has his birthday in February. In that letter Bill wrote to me, he said he'd written it as soon as he took ill four months ago, wrote it in case he didn't pull through the treatment and only had it mailed to me when he knew…" Daley fell silent and I noticed him put a hand to his eyes. I told him to help himself to some tissues a kept in the glove compartment.
He wiped his eyes and blew his nose, took a deep breath and said, "In the letter, Bill asked me to be the kid's guardian if anything happened to him, to see him through college, and…well…Bill said he didn't want to die till he'd found him someone special. He didn't want any bastard getting hold of him and doing what had been done to him when… he was a little boy. Must have been one of his wife's boyfriends from what Bill told me. Maybe we'll never know if the boy will talk. Bill hasn't said as much in the letter but I think he was hinting that the boy is like his dad and me, and he's asked me to carry on for him, you now? Look for that someone special. Now how the hell can I do that? I can't go around vetting every guy the kid takes a shine to."
"You think he's gay?"
"Must be; the police heard from a neighbour that the boy was scared of his mother and didn't like being with women. When young Billy first arrived at the farmhouse, Bill found a lady to live in the house and care for him so Bill could go on tour with me, but the kid clung to him and sobbed his heart out. He was so frightened of being left with her. It happens like that sometimes. A kid is scared of his mother, has no father around and tries to find affection from whoever's there, hence a boyfriend abusing him. The police said they had nothing concrete to go on except for the neighbour's statement so I suppose they will never know what really happened."
"Maybe he'll talk someday."
"Maybe; although I don't hold out much hope of that happening too soon. If his dad dies and he thinks he's going to be on his own again, heaven knows how it will affect him. That's why I have to be up there with him, to see him through this. The kid has no other family now; Bill's parents are dead and his in-laws don't want to know."
"Won't they want to take Billy Junior to live with them?"
"Thankfully no; they've expressed no wish to be saddled with the product of their daughter's liaisons. They washed their hands of her years ago and they live in Australia now."
"But if Bill was married to -."
"I said they were married to make it simpler than trying to explain things to the band. It was a common law marriage. The only reason the authorities allowed Bill to have the kid live with him is because he worked mostly from home and could be with the lad 24/7."
Daley fell silent after that and I decided not to push him to talk. We drove through the gathering storm, each with our own thoughts. As we approached Withington Hospital, Daley began to fidget restlessly. I reached over and patted his shoulder. "You'll be okay, Daley. You'll cope."
"I certainly hope so," he said, and sniffed loudly." I've never looked after a kid before."
We had no trouble finding our way to the ward Bill was in, but Daley was shocked when he realised it was in the cancer unit. Bill was in a side ward and as we approached, I noticed a lad sitting on a chair by the door. He was leaning forward with his head resting in his hands; his long black hair hid his face. Daley slowed down and signalled for me to hold back, and he went forward to speak to the boy. The lad looked up then stood up to face Daley who said something to him. The boy shook his head and signed something with his hands. Daley reached out his arms and took the boy into a loving embrace. They stood there holding each other for a few moments before Daley held the boy away from him, talking gently, and it was then that I first saw a beautiful Latin face with startling eyes that were this moment full of anguish, and I knew I wanted to help him, to let him know he would never be alone. What was I saying to myself? I wasn't gay – or was I? But he was so gorgeous I felt my heart lurch in my chest.
I was about to approach them when the door to the ward opened and two doctors came out. One shook hands with Daley then turned to the boy and said something with a sad shake of his head. The boy's head dropped. Daley put a hand on his shoulder and turned him towards the door. He steered the boy into the ward and one of the doctors closed the door before they walked away. I went to the ward window and looked in. Daley sat on the right side of a narrow bed with the boy on the left side. The man whose hand Daley held to his face was a greyed out version of the boy. At one time he must have looked the image of his son, but now the ravages of Cancer had turned him into an old man. Bill had opened his eyes to look at Daley, and he smiled through his pain, recognising his ex-lover and welcoming him with a squeeze of his hand.
He turned his head to look at young Billy, his lips moved and the boy shook his head vigorously, obviously denying what was going to happen, and gripped his father's left hand as if he could stop the inevitable. Then the man turned his head to look at Daley again, and noticed me at the window. He must have asked Daley who I was because Daley glanced in my direction and said something to Bill. The dying man's face filled with a peaceful smile, and he said something to Daley who glanced at me with a shocked expression, then at Bill. The man turned his head to look at his son, mouthed something then closed his eyes. The boy raised his father's hand to his face and kissed it, then reached out to gather his father in his arms as best he could.
Daley got to his feet and came out of the ward to give the boy and his father some time alone. His eyes brimming with tears, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "That's it, Mags. All we can do is wait."
"What was it?"
"Pelvic Cancer; it spread to the spine and the Lymph glands." He nodded to a nurse approaching from the duty desk. "Can you leave them alone for a bit? The boy's taking things pretty bad." The nurse nodded and went back to the desk, and Daley sat down on the chair to wait for the boy.
On a nearby trolley, there were various medical materials and a few boxes of tissues. I grabbed one, pulled out a few and handed them to Daley. "Bill said something about me, what was it?"
Daley looked up as he wiped his face. "What? Oh, nothing, he just wanted to know who you were."
I didn't press further on the matter, sensing his reticence to talk, but it made me more curious than ever about young Billy.
Bill died two hours later with his son and Daley at his side, with the nurses checking on him every ten minutes. I didn't see the point; there was nothing more they could do except keep him comfortable. Afterwards, Daley and young Billy came out of the ward and I noticed how tired and pale the kid looked. In fact he seemed out on his feet and proved my thoughts to be correct when he swayed and Daley had to grab him and sit him on the chair. I called a nurse and she hurried from the duty desk, shaking her head in disapproval. She handed Billy a glass of water. "I thought this would happen. He's been here for the last forty-eight hours, refusing to eat or sleep. I think you ought to take him home. You can come back tomorrow to collect Mr D'Marco's things and do any admin needed. There's an undertaker close by if you'd like us to arrange anything on your behalf."
Daley just nodded his thanks and lifted Billy to his feet. "Come on, lad, it's home and bed for you."
Billy noticed me for the first time, his luminous eyes looked straight into mine and a deep frown crossed his face; I understood his mistrust. How could a kid know, just by looking at a person, that I could be trusted? Those eyes drew me in and held me spellbound, my stomach churning with new sensations. Daley introduced me and we shook hands, then the boy forgot about me and turned to walk down the corridor with Daley, leaving me to follow with my own mind twisted this way and that as I tried to work out why this boy should have such an effect on me. One way or the other I was determined to find out or go mad in the process.
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