by Flaulus

Chapter 4

"We're not going to be good company today, so it's good of you to be here." Sebastian said.

"It's worth it because Mum's so happy." Alan said, "It's a real treat she doesn't have to cook tonight, and she loved morning coffee and cakes. She usually has to be so careful what she buys."

While Rick waited, Sebastian and Alan chatted about school, growing up in a castle, Alan's life; small talk to keep the atmosphere light while Rick waited until Sebastian said, "It's nearly four. Do you want to phone?"

Rick nodded, took his phone out but just stared at it.

Sebastian understood, and picked up the phone on his desk and dialled. The boys listened as he got switched through to a ward and said, "I'm a cousin, and I'm looking after her son, Richard."

"Thank you."

He hung up and turned to Rick, "They're still operating. She was expected down an hour ago, but they're still waiting."

"What does that mean?" Rick asked.

"Just about anything: the surgeon was delayed, the paperwork was wrong. It could mean they found something which had to be dealt with. That would be a good thing."

"Or it could be a lot more serious than they thought." Rick said.

"I knew that's what you'd think." Sebastian said, "We don't know. You might have to be ready for the worst but still hope for the best."

Without thinking, Alan held out his hand, just as he realised and tried to withdraw it, Rick grabbed it and squeezed. Alan nervously looked at Sebastian who smiled and nodded. Nobody felt like speaking until the receptionist ushered two youngsters in.

"They've come to see Rick."

"Both our Mum's had the same idea. It's for Rick's mum." the boy said, holding up a bag, "I'm Seb."

"That was for Richard's benefit, I assume. Don't be insulted, but he's still waiting for news and didn't take it in. I was flattered when your parents said they wanted to name you after me, but I suppose you're too old to need a godfather, now. Thank you and you too, Mary. Cheese and honey, it's almost biblical."

Alan looked puzzled.

"Seb's dad produces Bovaline cheese. Only two farms make it, so we say it's the rarest cheese in the world. It's probably not true, but we could have fun squabbling over it. Mary's mother is our beekeeper. Rick's not interested at the moment, but we've got granite cliffs to the north that protect us from Northerly storms, rich glacial soils sloping southwards to catch sun. The se a keeps us a degree or two warmer and the sea air is fresh and clean. It makes all our produce unique. Well, the sea air is probably an exaggeration, but we've got centuries of farming to exploit it."

"I am listening." Rick said irritably, "Not another lecture, please."

"We'll go." Mary said, tugging Seb's arm.

"No. I'm sorry." Rick said, "Alan. You know how it works. Find some cans or something."

"I know too." Seb said, "I like having Uncle Sebastian as my godfather."

They waited in a tense silence until Sebastian rang the hospital again then turned to Rick.

"The cancer has spread a lot further than they expected. There was a lot of bleeding, so she's very weak. They'll know more when she comes round, but she's still on the critical list."

"What is a critical list?" Alan asked.

"The most serious condition." Sebastian replied.

"You mean she could still die." Rick said.

"It's also the longest way to recovery." Sebastian said, "I'm sorry Rick. I'm not going to soften it and pretend it's going to be all right, but please accept, there's still hope."

Rick nodded, "I know, but I just can't think straight. I don't even know if I want to be alone."

"Yell, scream, roll on floor having a tantrum if you like." Sebastian said, "We'll understand. Hug someone, burst into tears; it's all OK too. Not knowing is harder because you can't start to deal with things."

" I thought s he w ould be fine and sitting up in bed when I see her tomorrow. Should I still go?"

" Why not? " Sebastian replied, "Even if she's heavily sedated, at least you'll see her."

Sebastian did not add it might be his last chance to see her alive, but added, "Do you want me to come with you?"

"Thanks. I wanted to go to the flat and look up my old friends. If I still feel like it tomorrow, you won't want to go traipsing around the estate, will you? How about you Alan?" Rick asked.

"If you really want me to. A helicopter ride would be cool. The thing is, Dad's trying to make up for things. He wants us all to do the cliff walk and get to know the place properly."

"That's cool." Rick said, "Go and ask Jeff for some tips."

"I could go with you." Seb said then frowned, "I'd have to get permission to skip school though."

"It is the last week of term. I'll make some calls."

"No." Rick interjected, "If Alan doesn't go with his father then I'll be the baddie, riding over everyone else's wishes. If Seb skips school for the earl , then I won't be an ordinary student when I start. I'll be all right. I wish Paul was here. I'd like him to stay tonight."

Alan was startled that Rick could be so open, but was shocked when Seb said, "I could still get to school tomorrow, or would Paul be annoyed?"

"No. He's probably made out with his friend Charles by now."

" Just my luck ." Mary said, "We've got a rich, handsome, prince on the island, and he's gay. I may as well go."

She looked at Alan, "You're handsome, so one out of three will do. Coming ?"

Alan glanced at Rick who nodded, leaving Alan to wonder why he was so disappointed. He had never been attracted by a boy before, but he could surrender completely to Rick. As he got up to follow Mary, his underwear suddenly seemed tighter, and the sudden change in interest confused him even more.

Seb, on the other hand, had no such doubts. It was going to be a night when he would not need to rely on his right hand and that was enough, but he would be partly disappointed. In a few short days, Rick had gone from being a loser on a housing estate with few opportunities to living an almost fairy tale life. He might not be the prince, Mary mentioned, but it was not far short. Add the stress of dealing with Cousin Robin, together with increasing worry about his mother then a reaction was not surprising, and it was Seb who had to deal with it.

While Seb readily stripped and leapt onto the bed, Rick just got undressed. Once on the bed he lay close to Seb, seeking comfort from the closeness of a warm body but just lay. Seb happily explored the muscular teenage body beside him but Rick did not seem to notice.

Finally, Seb penetrated his consciousness just enough for Rick to say, "I'm sorry, Seb. I'm just so tired."

Seb was a kind enough soul to understand but was only interested in the physical side of a relationship. Rick wanted a boyfriend, someone he could share with. They finished the night lying on their sides back to back, with Rick fast asleep while Seb also slept but dreaming of encounters on the pontoon and around the youth activity centre. They were friendly enough, but the night lacked the spark Rick had felt with Paul even when they were just chatting.

Rick was ready long before the helicopter arrived. A good nights sleep, and youthful excitement raised his spirits more than a night with Seb. Rick hadn't figured out how it worked, but domestic staff doubled up to cater for tourists in season, then ran the house for the family off season. It saved seasonal lay-offs even if meant they were overstaffed at times. However, as with the rest of the island, everyone knew his business and were anxious to help. He planned on wearing jeans and a hoodie. What he did not expect was the best of his clothes had been washed and ironed, cook had prepared lunch for him, and his backpack was laden with supplies for his trip and gifts for his mother.

As the island dropped away from him, so he saw the railway for the first time. A narrow g au ge track that disapeared into a tunnel under the path that led to the village. He had not seen it because the path was lined with covered stalls on either side. He caught a glimpse of a little steam locomotive, but the helicopter banked, and he lost sight of it.

Soon they were too high to pick out much detail but even watching a light aircraft pass below them was different. Holidays with his mother had consisted of day trips to the seaside on a crowded coach. His first flight was proving more exciting than he could have thought possible. At first, Gresham Park seemed impossibly small to land on but as they descended, slowly, almost imperceptibly Rick could pick out the football pitches, then two cars waiting for them, and even sunbathers. A good few people watched, curious as the helicopter made its approach while Rick realised one of the cars was a police car and one of the policeman was strolling back from a snack bar loaded with teas and buns.

The other policeman hurried over to greet them, looking surprised at Rick.

"I'm sorry." he grinned, "You seem to be a bit young for a VIP visiting this place."

"I keep getting told I'm too young." Rick said, "I reckon I'll grow out of it though. I live round here, or at least, I used to. I didn't expect the police to be here."

"The duty sergeant heard about some super important visitor, so he arranged for us to take our break about now. He's going to be so disappointed."

Rick smiled and took out his wallet and handed the policeman a couple of cards, "Give one to the sergeant, but don't mention my age."

The policeman read : Earl of Westmark, Bovaline. A phone number and website were added. He grinned.

"It'll make his day. Is there anything else you need, er …"

"Rick will do." Rick interrupted, "No. Thanks. I just want to get to the hospital. My mother had an operation yesterday, and I'm worried about her."

"What's her name?"

"Anne Blatcherfield."

The policeman took out his phone, "Sarge? Our visitor is the Earl of Westmark, and he's heading for the hospital to visit his mother. You'd better warn them."

The sergeant said something, and the policeman replied, "Anne Blatcherfield."

He listened again and hung up.

"You're lucky he's such a snob." he chuckled, "He's so upset he can't justify sending us as an escort, but the traffic is pretty light at the moment. Safe journey, and I hope your mother is all right."

The driver of the other car had listened in, and guided Rick into the back seat. Soon they were at the hospital. It was a typical large city hospital. Unable to spread outwards, it had grown upwards, car parking was limited, and the main entrance was hidden behind a cluster of temporary buildings which had been there for twenty years and would probably be there for another twenty. Rick was dropped off at the taxi rank just outside and headed for reception.

"Hi, I'm trying to find the Intensive Care Unit." He said to reception.

"It's closed to visitors." the receptionist snapped, already looking at the next person in the queue.

"I was told I could visit my mother." Rick replied, "Can I at least speak to a nurse, please?"

"I'll see." The receptionist replied, "Patient's name?"

"Anne Blatcherfield."

The receptionist spoke into the phone, but as she listened her eyes widened.

"May I have your full name please?"

"Richard Blatcherfield, Earl of Westmark. Could you just tell me the way, please?"

Rick heard some gasps in the queue behind him, and the receptionist replied, "I'll arrange for someone to show you the way, My Lord."

Rick was a little irritated by the encounter, so he replied, "No thank you. I'm sure they're far too busy so just tell me the way."

"Yes My Lord. Just follow the yellow line."

Finally reaching the unit he pressed the buzzer, explaining who he was over the intercom.

He was buzzed in and was met by a nurse.

"I didn't realise you were so young." she said, "I'm sorry, but I spoke to your cousin, and I assumed you were an adult like him. It can be difficult seeing a loved one with all the tubes and machines attached. Are you sure you can cope?"

"No, but I need to. It was an hour by helicopter, and the train takes four hours, so I'm not sure when I can get back. How is she?"

"How about a nice cup of tea? I'll tell you and if I explain what we're doing, it won't be so scary. Are you really an Earl?"

"Yep, complete with a castle."

"How wonderful. You grew up in a castle."

"No, I grew up around here. Mum thought my cousin ran a pub called The Castle. This week's been so weird."

"I guess it has. You sound calm enough, so I'll explain. Originally, your mother was going to have a part of her lung removed, but during the operation they found other damage. There was extensive bleeding during the operation, and her heart stopped twice. She's very weak because she's lost a lot of blood. She's on oxygen to take the strain off her heart and lungs. There's a blood transfusion, and a saline drip because her blood pressure is very low. There's a third tube for medication. She's heavily sedated, has pain killers, and she may need antibiotics. She also has a catheter and there are drains to her chest. She will probably be asleep and even if she's awake, she maybe too drowsy to respond."

"Isn't someone just sitting there supposed to help?" Rick asked.

"Yes, but in this case, we're trying to keep her brain sedated, we're not trying to stimulate it. She arranged for you to be looked after, and we don't need her worried about you. We don't want you to get stressed out and ending up in a bed beside her, either."

"You're saying, I shouldn't go in." Rick said.

"Give me a moment."

Rick waited patiently until the nurse returned.

"She's asleep." she said, "To be honest, we're a little concerned, and we've called the doctor. You can wait with her until he arrives, if you like."

"I've brought presents for her, food from Bovaline, a card and some pictures."

"It'll be a while before she's eating normally, so I wouldn't leave the food. The card and the pictures will be waiting for when she wakes up. Is there a lot of food?"

Rick opened his backpack and took out the cheese, honey, and a couple of bottles of grape juice, all bearing the Bovaline crest. The nurse looked duly impressed.

"We didn't think wine would be a good idea." Rick smiled, "How about sharing it between the staff in here. Mum would like it."

"Bovaline cheese. I've heard of it. Are you sure, it's very expensive."

"Just don't give any to that snooty cow in reception." Rick chuckled.

"Don't blame her too much. We were expecting this top VIP who thought the sun shone out of his arse. I'm surprised the Chief Executive didn't come out to greet him."

"I passed a couple of suits at the entrance, but I wanted to see Mum."

"I'll take you in, and you can sit for a while."

As the nurse had said, his mother was fast asleep. All the tubes and wires looked alarming, but he picked out what each one did, and it was not so bad. The doctor arrived and Rick waited by the nurses station, until the doctor came out to speak to him.

"We may have to operate again, but she's very weak. What concerns us is her blood is not clotting well, and she is bleeding a lot. We knew her count was on the low side, but we had to balance it against stopping the cancer, and now we're concerned it may have spread to her spleen or liver."

"Is she going to die?" Rick asked.

"If we can control the bleeding then I'd be more hopeful. The operation we intended was a complete success, but we could not anticipate the extra problems. All the tests indicated her other organs were operating normally."

Rick nodded, "We were warned about possible complications when Mum agreed to it."

"OK! You're taking it extremely well. I've known mature adults to be almost hysterical in your situation."

Rick pointed at the cheese as he replied, "My stomach's screwed up, and I feel sick, but it's like Cousin Robin trying to take over the island; I've got to make rational decisions haven't I?"

"Yes of course. I'd forgotten you're the Earl of Westmark. My wife is going to be so thrilled."

"Ask the nurse to cut a slice of cheese for her. It's for anyone looking after Mum. I'll bring her fresh when she's better. I forgot, you're a surgeon. You can cut it yourself."

The surgeon laughed with him, and they shook hands. Rick felt guilty about not staying but there was nothing he could do. He liked the friendly atmosphere, and the nurse promised to phone with any news. The ITU unit had upset him, so he was glad to get away. He was more upset by his conflicting emotions, not understanding how he truly felt, but he was confident his mother was getting the best treatment.

Upset as he was, he nearly skipped finding his friend Will, but Rick had always been concerned for him and maybe now, there was something he could do.

Will stared in surprise as Rick walked into the library while Rick noticed Will grimace as he stood up.

"My fault." Will said, "I said I didn't care if someone was gay in front of his friends, so I embarrassed him. How's your Mum?"

"Not good. I'm heading back, but I just wanted to say 'hi'. Rick replied.

"To your cousin's place, not your flat." Will said looking disappointed.

"Yes. There's something I have to tell you. I'm gay."

Will grinned, "I knew it. It's why you hung out with me, wasn't it?"

Rick nodded, "I knew it too, but what happened to you scared me."

"I figured as much. I'll walk to the station with you."

Rick nodded, smiling. He was uncertain about how to explain the rest without making it sound like a fairy story, but he figured a hired car, and a helicopter might help.

"Have you got anything special at home?" Rick asked, "Because you could come back with me."

"I wish. Your cousin wouldn't want me and who'd pay for the train ticket?"

"Supposing it was possible. Would you come?"

"Fuck yes. I've managed to keep my phone, and it's got pictures of me and Mum. It's all I want."

"OK! I want to show you something. Shall we go?"

Will was surprised when they walked up to a smart limousine, and a driver opened the door for them. He settled back in the luxurious seats, waiting but all Rick said was, "This is the first part. Wait until you see the second."

The journey became even more surprising when the car drove into Gresham Park instead of the station, but he became more interested in the helicopter even if he was wondering what they were doing there. He followed Rick as he strolled over and spoke to the pilot.

"OK! You don't have to worry about fares. The helicopter and car are already booked and you don't need your own ticket." Rick said, grinning at Will's confusion.

"A helicopter. You fly around in a helicopter. How? Is your cousin rich? I thought he owned The Castle. Pub landlords aren't that rich."

"I've got a whole lot more to tell you if you come. It's pretty fantastic but would you have believed a helicopter ride?"

Will shook his head and tried to clamber in, but he gasped in pain, staggering back and Rick only just caught him before he fell. The pilot also stepped forward to help, looking worried, but Rick shook his head. The boys had been close friends, so they knew more about each other than anyone else. Rick was not the only person who knew Will's father beat him, but he was the only one who knew how Will tried to hide how bad they were.

"Sorry, my hand slipped." Will said, as he tried again, but Rick could see the pilot was uneasy, so he walked with the pilot as he did the pre-flight checks.

"His dad," Rick whispered, and the pilot nodded. Will was seated in the front seat with Rick thinking the view would distract Will. The pilot glanced at Will and reassured, started the engines while Rick was proved right as Will watched, fascinated.

They did not talk much during the flight, Will glanced round seeking reassurance but stared in amazement as the helicopter began its descent towards the island. He wondered about the helipad beside the castle, wondering how Rick had permission to use it. As soon as the pilot nodded, Rick leapt out and opened the door for Will, ready to help him out. It was a struggle and Rick realised Will could not lift his arms far. However, they managed and Rick led the way clear of the helicopter, watching it take off.

"Did you enjoy the flight?" Rick asked and Will nodded, overwhelmed.

"It's not far now. I'll take your bag." Rick said, but Will shook his head.

"Come on then." Rick commanded, "Let's show you a bit more."

Will nodded, wondering why they were going into the castle. He was not in the mood for sightseeing. He became worried as Rick tried to usher him past a No Admittance sign and almost panicked when he found himself in a plush sitting room where a man was seated.

"Hi Sebastian." Rick said, "I'm back and this is Will. Sorry, but Will isn't feeling well and needs to sit down."

"Yes of course, Richard." Sebastian replied, "Is it just the journey?"

"Let Will tell you when he's ready. We're disturbing your evening though."

"Not at all. How's your mother?"

Rick told him about his trip before turning to Will, "Are you ready for the rest of my story?"

"I think so. What's going on?"

"Welcome to Castle Bovaline, the home of the Earl Westmark. That's me, I'm Richard Blatcherfield twelfth Earl of Westmark."

Will stared in disbelief, then nodded, "It's amazing. It all makes sense now, and it's just like you. You love to add drama, don't you?"

"I guess it's the gay in me." Rick chuckled, but stopped as Will looked worriedly at Sebastian.

"Don't worry. It's no secret here. I'm gay and no-one cares."

"Indeed not." Sebastian said, "What about you, Will. You're in pain, what is that all about?"

"Nothing." Will mumbled.

"Richard is the Lord of the Manor here, and he's responsible for everyone. Now, if he's just brought you here, and your father complains, he could be in a lot of trouble. He's normally too polite not to ask your father first, so something is going on."

"It's nothing really. I'm just being a woose for worrying about a few knocks."

"Will, you're not talking about the odd slap, are you?" Sebastian said.

Will turned helplessly to Rick, "Please, you understand, don't you. I should be more of a man and not go crying about it."

"I understand, but I don't agree, Will." Rick replied, "Why did it hurt so much getting into the helicopter?"

"I've got a bit of a bruise, that's all."

Speaking as gently as he could, Sebastian said, "Will you show us, please? We need to know what we're dealing with."

Grimacing with pain, Will lifted his shirt. He could not take it off because he could not lift his arm far enough, leaving Rick to wonder how long he had been wearing it. However, it was enough to reveal a dark purple patch the length of his rib-cage, disappearing behind his back and spreading almost to his nipple.

Sebastian picked up the phone, "Mrs Wilson. We need a doctor, do we have an ex-police or an ex-military one on the island?"

Thanking Mrs Wilson when she replied, Sebastian hung up and said, "Will, that's a lot more than a bit of a bruise. I can see others as well. I'm worried about internal damage. You can refuse our help, but nobody should have to put up with that sort of treatment."

"Please, I'm not a baby, it's not that bad. I'll only annoy you if I make a fuss." Will wailed.

Rick cautiously put his arm round Will.

"Are you going to skip gym and sport this week?" he asked.

Will nodded.

"Why?" Rick asked.

Will looked puzzled, "I don't want people to see how much I wind my Dad up. Would you?"

Rick was not sure how to answer, but Sebastian interjected, "Whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, we need to make sure there's no serious damage. It's called duty-of-care, and we need to show we're looking after you. Richard is hoping for a night of passionate raunchy sex with you tonight, but he'll listen to a doctor if he says you should rest."

A look of sheer terror crossed Will's face, "I'll be good. I won't do that sort of stuff."

"Richard will. He's managed three boys, since Friday but I don't think it's gone too well except with Paul. By the way, I've had a phone call from a Mr. Villiers. Apparently, you're inviting his son, Charles, for the summer. I got the impression, if you said yes, Charles would be coming whether he wanted to or not."

"It's Paul's boyfriend. The son of a pub landlord isn't good enough for Charles' dad, so I said I would invite him."

"Why are you all talking like this?" Will exclaimed, "It's all wrong to be like it, especially in a place like this."

"So being gay is a dirty little secret that you need to hide away, and your father is so angry when you let something slip. Am I anywhere near?" Sebastian asked.

"Yeah, it's why everyone will understand he's trying to knock it out of me. Aren't you going to do the same to Rick?"

"I'm more concerned he hasn't bought any condoms yet and is expecting his partners to supply them."

"Can't I have at least one secret?" Rick asked, exasperated.

"No, but what's the big deal? We have a small chemist shop and Mrs Dale has her own particular version of sex-education though I don't suppose it will interest you boys for now. Jimmy was a keen student for a couple of years but now, a college student comes across the mainland every weekend."

Rick shook his head, "Is everyone at it on the island?"

"Richard, everyone is at it everywhere. We're just more honest about it. That's all."

"I suppose you're going to tell me you and Mrs Wilson are as well." Rick exclaimed, sarcastically.

"You've noticed. Mrs Wilson and her husband are separated, and he moved to Manchester."

Rick should have guessed, but he was still more concerned about Will. They sat quietly waiting for the doctor

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