The Only Way to Fly
The next morning, during a rather subdued breakfast minus Ken, and Billy who wasn't feeling too well, we heard the first sounds of a heavy engine. The sound grew louder and I realised what it was. I gulped the last of my coffee and followed the rest of the guys into the front lounge where we drew back the curtains. The sound was loud now but we still couldn't see anything despite the fact that the snowdrift outside the window was only half its original height. Someone knocked on the front door, or rather banged something heavy against it, and I ran to open it. The snowdrift was still there but on top of it was a pair of feet in heavy boots. I screwed my head to look up between the open door and the drift and saw Mr Watson smiling down at me. He shoved a spade down at me and said, "You start at your side and me and my boys will attack it from out here."
"Right, I know just the man for the job." I ran upstairs to find Ken. He was lounging on his bed, eating some scrounged food. I dragged him off the bed, and said, "You want to get going?"
"I can't wait," he replied. "This is a loser outfit anyway."
"Right; come with me." I dragged him downstairs. We were on the first floor landing when Billy staggered out of his bedroom in his shorts, with his hand to his head. He stared at us with his eyebrows raised.
Before I could stop him, Ken lunged at him and snarled, "One of these days someone is going to shove those drum sticks of yours right up your arse, you little Bitch."
As I dragged him away, Ken said, "Watch that kid, he's trouble." Billy stared at us, shocked at Ken outburst and he looked so vulnerable and childlike, I wanted to hug him and tell him everything was going to be okay, but I had to get rid of this first rate jerk fast. I almost threw Ken down the last flight of stairs; I was so ready to do him an injury he would never forget. We reached the hall where the others were waiting and I shoved the spade at him. He stared at the spade then at me. "And just what am I supposed to with this?"
I pointed to the wall of snow. "You want to leave? Get digging." We didn't bother telling him about Mr Watson and his sons doing the bulk of the work, and let him think he was doing the job on his own. We had great satisfaction watching the nerd attack the drift till he was sweating as he dropped the loosened snow into a pile of waiting buckets to prevent a pile of muss in the hallway. Mr Watson's boys attacked the top of the drift, and had forced a narrow path to our door. After a few minutes, Daley brought us more spades and four of us worked with Ken to hasten the work. Then I called a halt to the digging and sent Ken up for his gear with Rob as his guard in case he tried to get to Billy again. While he was away, I told Mr Watson of my plan to give Ken one more shock before sending him on his way. Mr Watson was happy to co-operate.
On Ken's return, the boys grabbed his gear and threw it up over the drift before he could anything to stop them. Then Rob and Indian grabbed him and pushed him up through the gap as well. We heard him yell as he landed on the other side, then his angry protests as Mr Watson offered him a lift down to town to catch a train, if there were any trains still running. What made his departure so funny was that Mr Watson's own makeshift snowplough was attached to the front of his slurry spreader, the most powerful engine on his farm, and you know how they can stink; and there was nowhere for Ken to sit except… yes you've guessed it. Well, we couldn't give him a lift could we? Our own precious chariots being trapped at the back of the house by further snowdrifts?
As soon as I could, I went upstairs to see Billy. He had gone back to bed and looked quite pale, and I felt quite disappointed that I had missed the chance to give him a hug. "Hey, sport. What's up?" Billy shook his head and made a shaking motion with his hands. "Bad?" Billy nodded, tapped his forehead and closed his eyes. "Sick?" Billy nodded. "Have you got anything for the pain?" He pointed to the bedside cabinet. There was nothing on the top so I opened the drawer and saw a packet of tablets. I tapped Billy's right hand with it, and he opened his eyes long enough to look at it and nod his head. I went to the bathroom and filled a glass with water, and took it back to him. I helped him sit up and handed him the glass; he had to hold it with both hands, they shook that much. I read the dose and gave him two tablets. He washed them down with the water and handed me the glass then lay down again. I reached over to pull the duvet further over him and he caught hold of my hand. The surge of affection, just from that simple touch sent a sock wave through me. I let him hold my hand till he dropped off to sleep then went downstairs to find Daley.
As luck would have it, he was in the study, on the phone to the doctor. He put his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered,
"How is he?"
"Not good." I replied, and told him how Billy was feeling.
Daley listened to what the doctor was saying then relayed my message to him. "Yes, I understand, Doctor…. Yes, I'll be here… as soon as you can, please. Thanks." Daley put the phone down and looked up at me. "It's more serious than we thought, Mags. That last appointment was for a CT scan. The doctor's going to try and contact the consultant's secretary to see if he can get him another appointment for tomorrow. I said I'd stay by the phone. Can you tell Trilby to get the band together to work on those new arrangements for me?"
"What about Billy?"
"Oh, he'll be all right in a bit. According to Bill's journal these bouts of sickness and headaches happen mostly in the mornings. That's what the tablets are for. I think he missed taking them yesterday morning. I'll go and give him one in a minute if he's awake."
"I already did. He's gone back to sleep." I stood for a moment, gazing into space and wondering if I was the right one to stay with the kid but it was in the tone of Daley's his voice and in the faraway look in his eyes that said that he was the one that wouldn't be able to cope, not me. So, as much as I loved the idea of going on tour with these guys, if Billy wanted me to stay, I'd stay.
Trilby got us all together and I told the band the news about Billy. They were concerned and very supportive when Billy made an appearance. And wow, didn't he look different! Gone were the baggy jeans and sweatshirt in favour of a sleeveless black T-shirt and tight black jeans, with a heavy studded belt round his hips. He wore some fine gold chains round his neck, a chunky chrome and black wristwatch on his left wrist and a black sports sweatband on his right. Boy did he look confident, and sexy. Trilby was standing next to me as Billy settled himself behind the drums. "Somebody's back to normal already! Now you see the kid as he used to be."
Trilby smiled and shook his head at me, and left me to figure it out for myself. Then I remembered Daley's words and it hit me. A cat was on the hunt, and I was its prey. I didn't do too well during that rehearsal; all of a sudden I had ten thumbs.
During an extended lunch break, with Mr Watson's help we cleared the path from the back yard to the front of the house, and got my car out in case we had a call from the hospital. After that, we tried to get a second rehearsal going but nobody was in a mood to make good music. We were about to go through "Juke Joint" a third time when Daley hurried in. "Billy, we've got to move. The consultant's just phoned me. He had a cancellation and he can see you in an hour. Are you ready Mags? We'll just about make it."
"Crimpton's." I knew where that was, right in the middle of Manchester.
I couldn't believe the speed in which the hospital staff took charge of Billy the minute we arrived at the appropriate unit. They hardly gave us a chance to give his name at the desk before telling us to wait in the visitors' room and whisking him away from us. That made us even more worried than we were but we just had to sit tight and wait for someone to come and tell us what was happening. There was a large electric clock on the wall opposite where I sat with Daley and I couldn't help watching the long red hand tap out the seconds as if they were hours. Tick, tick, tick. It was such an annoying thing to watch but I couldn't tear my eyes from it. "Gets to you, doesn't it?" Daley said. He had been watching it too. He got to his feet, walked to the other side of the room, and took a chair under the clock. I followed him over and sat down beside him. At least the clock didn't act like a Svengali now. But I still couldn't settle. At least, before, I had something to fix my attention on, to keep me from thinking about what someone was doing to Billy. Now I had nothing, and my mind chewed over all the medical stories and documentaries I had watched on TV, showing every gory detail.
Daley nudged me. "He'll be all right; it's only a scan he's having. You lie on a bed thing and they move you through a tube while they photograph your brain. It's not as if he's having surgery. It takes roughly forty five minutes."
"As long as that?" I gazed at my watch. Another thirty-five minutes to go. "I need some fresh air." Anything rather than sit here, I thought. Daley decided to stay where he was in case he was called. I found my way out to the main entrance of the hospital and carried on walking, out of the gate and down the street, putting one foot in front of the other trying to sort out the turmoil in my heart. I wondered if this was how I would feel if it were a kid brother of mine, or my own son in there. No, I decided, it wasn't like that, even though I never had a brother or a son. So what was this strange feeling I was experiencing?
Ahead of me, a man and a woman were walking with their arms round each other's waists. The woman was obviously crying, I could see her shoulders shaking. Then the man stopped and turned to embrace the woman and she melted into his arms to sob on his shoulder. "It doesn't matter, darling," the man said as I passed them. "I'll be with you till the end, I promise." So that was it, she was dying of cancer and he was declaring his unending support for her. Now that was love. And I realised that was how I felt about Billy. My head suddenly clear of any doubts I turned round and walked back into the hospital.
Billy's scan took a bit longer than the usual forty-five minutes and when a nurse came for us, we found him in a small office with a tall grey haired doctor. He asked us to sit down and while he studied some pages in Billy's file I studied Billy. He looked tired and peaky but he tried to give me a smile, which didn't quite work. I took hold of his hand and gave it a squeeze, and he squeezed me back. The doctor looked up at last and said, "Well now, I'm Doctor Brent, Billy's consultant. We've done the scan and we have to wait for the photographs to find out where the tumour is and how big. Then we'll decide whether we need to do a biopsy to tell us tell us exactly the nature of the tumour, whether it's a fast or slow growing one, that sort of thing."
"Tumour?" Daley asked, looking from the doctor to Billy and back to the doctor. "I saw Billy's dad had written something in his journal, I thought it was a mistake."
"Oh." The doctor frowned at Billy, then at Daley. "I see you haven't been told everything. You're his new guardian?"
"And this other gentleman?"
"He's a very good friend," Billy signed quickly, then hung his head.
"Oh, I see." The doctor's face indicated he had guessed what Billy meant, and I felt a burning in my cheeks. The doctor looked down at his notes for a moment then said, "We diagnosed a tumour a month ago when Billy started having mild seizures. He should have had this scan last week, but no matter; it's been done now. I'll make an appointment for him to come back in four days' time; that's the earliest I can see him, I'm afraid. Meanwhile, Billy, I suggest you get back to your schoolwork. Your headmaster is an old friend of mine and he was saying the other day it would be a shame for you to miss taking your GCSEs this June. He was saying you are one of his star pupils with a lot going for you. I gave him a few details about your condition and he promised to keep an eye on you. And no matter what treatment you need, we'll liaise with Mr Stevens and make sure you can carry on with your studies. We have an excellent education team at this hospital for patients just like you, should you have to stay with us for any length of time. Meanwhile, I want you to live your life as normal as you can, and enjoy yourself as well. Best treatment I can offer." He smiled cheerfully as he shook Billy's hand then ours, and he winked at me. Damn! Was it so obvious? "Just make sure he takes his tablets every morning, and no missing them, Billy. Do you understand me young man?"
Back at the house, the guys wanted to know how things went, and I left Daley to tell them while I followed Billy upstairs, as I had noticed his signal that he wanted to talk. Once in his bedroom, he locked the door and turned to me. We were standing close, and I saw the fear in his eyes as he looked up at me. "I'm scared," he signed to me, and his chin started to quiver.
I took him in my arms and held him close, remembering the couple at the hospital. "I know you are, kid. But I'm going to be with you all the way. I promise." I felt his arms go round waist and I tightened my embrace, feeling his bury his face against my shoulder. I kissed the top of his head and felt him give me an answering squeeze. Then he pulled back a little to look up at me again, his eyes moist. He was only five inches shorter than me, and it was so easy for him to lift his lips to mine in a gentle kiss, and I met him halfway. I couldn't believe this was happening to me, that another male wanted to kiss me; that I wanted to respond so willingly. Was this was what I wanted? What we both wanted? I broke the kiss and stared down at him, amazed that this was actually happening. He smiled at me and pulled away to remove his coat and the studded belt. He went to the bed and, slipping off his boots, he lay down on it, patting the place beside him. My heart beat faster as I took off my padded anorak and my shoes, and joined him on the bed. He held out his arms to me and I gathered him in a warm embrace and he seemed content just to lay against me with his head on my chest and one arm across my waist. We lay there for a few minutes, in peaceful contentment; then I felt his hand move, working slowly to the hem of my T-shirt. I felt the tips of his fingers against the skin of my waist, and I felt the urge to do the same. I was once told that the first touch is the most precious. And it was. The skin I touched was as smooth as silk, and I wanted more. I rolled over till he was almost under me and I could gaze down at his beautiful face. Both his hands were under my shirt, caressing my back. His eyes sparkled with tears as he smiled and mouthed, "I love you".
Too soon! How could he know? But the invitation was there and I accepted. I lowered my mouth to his in a long kiss, and I felt his mouth press up to mine. His arms tightened about my waist as he pulled me down to crush him seeming to love my weight pressing down on him. For a moment I worried that what I wanted to happen would be illegal, but then I remembered, the laws had recently been changed. Billy was sixteen, and old enough, by British Law to do what he wanted. We were safe. We were free. We were…we were in love!
I felt Billy's lips part and I explored his flicking tongue and his mouth while he explored mine. But suddenly he went limp, and I raised my head to look at him. His eyes were still open but I couldn't tell if he was breathing or not. "Billy?" I freed my right hand from under him and patted his cheek. "Billy?" I placed my hand flat on his chest and felt a slow heartbeat. I shook him gently and his head rolled to one side, his eyes slowly closing. In a panic I dived off the bed and unlocked the door. Running to the top of the stairs I bellowed for Daley. I kept up the racket till I heard Rob shout from somewhere down below. I yelled for him to get Daley and ran back into the bedroom. What was I to do? I knew nothing about fits. I was kneeling on the bed, rubbing Billy's hands when Daley ran into the room followed by Rob.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]