by Paul Jamison

Chapter 1

Liam's viewpoint

We'd just arrived back from the holiday on the canal boat and were busy sorting all the bags and gear in the kitchen when the doorbell rang. I went along the hallway to see who it was to find Mr Clarke, Darren's father, the builder who's working on Will's dad's home improvements next door.

"Hi, Mr Clarke."

"Hello, young man," he replied. "Are Mr Frost or Mr Masters at home?" he asked.

"Yeah, sure, they're both here. Come in please."

Mr Clarke came in and after I'd closed the door I led him down the hall into the kitchen where Paul, Rick, Will and Jus were all busy sorting out our luggage and stuff from our trip.

Paul looked up from where he was emptying out a bag of clothes to say

"Mr Clarke, how goes it next door? Is the job done?"

Everyone stopped what they were doing and Mr Clarke paused before replying

"Yes, in fact we're clearing up today and the decorator will be in from Monday. It's all gone along just fine," he replied. "But it's another matter I wanted to talk to you about," he went on.

"Oh, right, what's happened?" Paul asked, as he straightened up and gave Mr Clarke his full attention.

"Yes, it was just after you lot set off last Saturday," Mr Clarke explained. "A woman and some reverend bloke were banging away and ringing on your door like they was trying to rouse the dead."

"My bloody mother," I burst in. "I just knew she wouldn't leave me alone," I said agitatedly.

"What exactly happened?" Rick said keenly, looking right at Mr Clarke.

"Well, as I said, it was them two banging and ringing away. Young Darren told me. He's been 'ere all week working for me a paying off 'is debt for that sillyness last term," Mr Clarke explained. "So I goes out to see what all the commotion's about like, and they comes up to me all annoyed like, wanting to know where's the folks from that house was. Your 'ouse I means," he explained.

"Yeah, got the drift," Rick said a little impatiently. "So what happened next?" he asked Mr Clarke.

"Well I asks 'em what business it might be of theirs, not being one to give information to all and sundry, despite one of 'em being a minister," he replied and continued with "But they didn't take too kindly to that and tries again a ringing and a knocking. So I goes back over to 'em and says 'Look it's a no good you doing that since they've all gone on holiday,' and I leaves it at that. I've not seen no sign of 'em since, but, we kept a good eye on the house for you and you've got your alarm so no problem there," Mr Clarke finished.

"So they didn't return after you sent them packing last Saturday then?" Paul asked Mr Clarke.

"Yes, that's right, no sign of 'em."

"Okay, many thanks for that. We'll just have to see what transpires," Paul replied. "So, may Will have a look next door?" he added smiling at Will who'd been listening to all that'd been going on.

"Yes, sure no problem. He can come and look now we've just done clearing up."

Will followed by Jus went with Mr Clarke out of the kitchen door and over to his place to go look around. I sat down at the kitchen table, stuck my elbows down and stared at everyone through my hands that I'd buried my face in.

"Why can't she just go away and leave me alone?" I moaned desperately.

"I can't answer that, I'm afraid," Paul replied, as he came round the table and sat down beside me. "Perhaps she thought they might persuade you to go on that course she had planned for you and were very annoyed when they found out you'd gone away for the half-term holidays."

"Yeah!" I smiled weakly back. "I bet that so put her nose out, too!" I managed to raise my head and grinned at Paul and Rick.

"I think that's highly likely," Rick grinned at me. "Lucky we pushed off reasonably early last Saturday by the sounds of it. I wouldn't have wanted a confrontation as we were trying to go away on holiday."

"That'd've been just too embarrassing. I wouldn't have known what to do," I admitted. "I mean with Jus and Craig and you all here it would've been too much," I said.

"Not too pleasant at all from what I've heard about your mother. I'm glad we managed to avoid anything like that. But I think we need to do something about it. I'll call Adrian and say we're home and thank him a lot for the use of the boat and just mention that we're still having some problems regarding your mother. How's that sound?"

"Um... okay, thanks, if you would," I replied gratefully. I carried on sorting out my washing into piles while Paul went off to call Adrian. A few minutes later after Rick and I had got the first wash load going Paul came back into the kitchen and announced.

"Adrian and James are coming to dinner tomorrow, okay? Adrian will have a chat with you before dinner, so if you could get those messages saved on your computer printed off that would be good. I'll have to do a supermarket run this afternoon if we've guests tomorrow and all you lot'll need haircuts, won't you?" he asked me.

"Yeah," I replied. "We won't get away with scruff hair or appearance," I replied. "Um... I might need some new school trousers too," I added.

"You might indeed. Go and check now, okay? And if so, get a couple of pairs while you're all out getting hair cuts sorted," Paul replied.

I went up to my room and tried on my school trousers. They were as I suspected a good inch shorter than I remembered them being last half term. I changed back into jeans and went back down to the kitchen. Will and Jus had come back from Will's place and were busy explaining about the work done and what still needed doing as I entered.

"It's all going to be painted next week," Will said. "And then, when that's all dry, the carpet fitter's coming with the new carpets. We've never had any before at all. We kept the ones that were there when Dad bought the house years ago," he explained. "Then I'd like some furniture, same as I've got here," he finished with a grin.

"Oh, would you?" I laughed. "And your dad's going to buy you that as well?" I asked Will.

"Yeah, he said he would when he's back home again after this tour," Will replied.

"When's that?"

"Just before Christmas, I think," Will replied.

There was a knock on the backdoor and Craig appeared grinning away at us all.

"Hi," I said.

Hi, are you all going into town for haircuts?" he asked.

"Yes," Paul replied. "We're leaving in ten minutes for a supermarket run and town for haircuts and school uniform trousers for Liam."

"Is there room for Jamie as well?" Craig asked. "We both need haircuts you see."

"Yes, sure," Paul replied. "If you two get the roof box off the car and into the back of the garage we'll go. Tell Jamie to get round right now."

Craig and I went out of the kitchen onto the drive and started unfastening the roof box from Paul's Citroën.

"Can you stay tonight?"

"Yeah, Mum said no problem, but I've got to be home by three tomorrow afternoon so I've time to get stuff ready for school on Monday, okay."

"That's cool," I said as we lifted the roof box off and carried it into the garage. We'd just shut the garage doors when Paul, Will and Jus came out of the front door to go into town.

Craig flipped open his phone and made a quick call home. A couple of minutes later Jamie arrived and slipped into the back seat alongside Craig and we set off for town. Paul dropped us all off at the entrance to the precinct and Will with Jus in tow shot over towards the hair salon after giving Craig and me a quick wave. We'd all arranged to meet up at the food court in two hours' time.

Craig, Jamie and I headed over towards the outfitters to get my school trousers and half an hour later after trying on a couple of pairs I'd settled for some pleated front style in charcoal grey and took two pairs like Paul'd suggested. We then headed for the hair salon and there was one empty chair free. Craig turned to Jamie and said.

"You go ahead, we'll be back in twenty minutes, okay."

"Um... yeah, sure then," Jamie replied. "Where're you two going?"

"I need stationery and some shampoo," Craig answered.

"Get me an A4 loose leaf binder with refill pad and a pack of ink cartridges as well then, will you?" he asked Craig.

"Yeah, okay, any colour?" Craig replied.

"Not black, okay?" Jamie replied.

Craig nodded and then we both turned and left the salon leaving Jamie to get his hair cut while we bought the supplies.

We quickly found everything we needed in the stationer's supplies shop and on the way back to the hair salon we were passing Boots the Chemists when Craig nudged me and whispered into my ear,

"How about stern tube grease then?" he said, bursting out into giggles.

I looked at him a little shyly and then seeing his amusement giggled too and then said,

"Yeah, those two ratbags really got us with that one, didn't they?" I replied.

"You're sure about this?" I asked when we'd stopped giggling.

"Couldn't be surer," he replied, plainly looking me straight in the eye before colouring up furiously and looking down at his toes. I re-assuringly squeezed his arm and headed into the chemist's to get the supplies I thought we may need sometime soon. I paid for them at the checkout and having tucked the bag away inside the bag with my school trousers so the package wouldn't be obvious to prying eyes on the trip home, we headed back to the hair salon.

Jamie was already finished and waiting for us when we got back. So Craig went straight into the stylist's chair and they got started. About twenty minutes later he was finished and it was my turn. I just got a basic trim to satisfy school and then we all headed for the food court together. Craig turned and nudged me,

"Will'n Jus're already sitting over there," he remarked.

We went over to their table and I asked

"You guys ordered yet?"

"Nah, we were waiting for you three," Will replied, with Justin grinning away alongside him.

"You can get us burgers and cokes if you like," Jus laughingly added.

"Yeah, okay, we've got three quarters of an hour to spare before Paul picks us up again," I said. Then turning to Craig and Jamie asked,

"You guys want the same too?"

"Yeah, thanks," Jamie replied with a smile as he sat down next to Jus.

Craig turned and said "Um... thanks, I'll come and help carry."

We both joined the service queue and a few minutes later returned to the table with two trays loaded with the basic burgers, fries and small cokes. I put the trays down and said

"This is just a snack, guys. Paul'll be doing a decent meal soon and we don't want to be too stuffed to eat that, okay?"

"Yeah, guess so," they replied unconvincingly and with that we got the food consumed. About fifteen to twenty minutes later we gathered up our stuff and wandered back to the pick up point at the precinct entrance, to wait for Paul to pick us all up.

Paul arrived within a few minutes and we all headed home again. As soon as we were out of the car I went through the open back door into the kitchen with my bag of stuff. Rick was in the kitchen utility room sorting out more wash loads for the machine.

"Get everything okay?" he asked as I went through.

"Yeah, thanks, no problem at all," I called back to him as I put down my bag and put the kettle on for a brew. "Anyone else want a brew?" I called out, as I got two mugs down from the cupboard for Craig and me.

Will closely followed by Justin Craig and Jamie came through all carrying bags that Paul'd given them to bring in from the car full of groceries and food.

"Yeah, deffo," Will replied, "tea please."

The others all added their orders so I got another five mugs down and set about making tea for all. I'd just finished when Paul came in from putting the car away and I handed him a mug of tea.

"How many of you lot are here for supper?" he asked, looking round the table as he spoke.

"What's for supper, Paul?" Justin asked.

"How long is it since you stuffed your face with burgers in the precinct?" Paul jokingly asked him.

"Oh, less than an hour ago!" I replied, grinning away at Jus.

"I was only asking," Justin protested.

"It doesn't matter what I'm cooking as I know you're here anyway. So are Craig and Jamie here for supper?"

"I'm staying, please," Craig replied.

"Yes, it was more Jamie I was wondering about?" Paul responded.

"Um... I'm not sure. Mum didn't say. May I stay if it's okay?" he asked shyly.

"Call Mum now," Craig told Jamie. "See what her plans are? If that's okay?" Craig asked, turning to Paul.

"Sure thing, no problem, just need to know if it's six or seven for tonight that's all," Paul replied.

Jamie called home and a few moments later turned back to us. "Mum says, I may stay if you'll have me, but I've to be home for ten," he shyly announced.

"Right, so, that's seven for supper then?" Paul said between sips of his tea.

"Yeah," we all chorused back grinning.

"Okay, skidaddle the lot of you. Give me some room in my own kitchen, but be back down at seven fifteen to lay the table, all right?"

"Yeah, will do," we all said as we cleared away our mugs into the dishwasher and made our way up to our rooms. Jamie went with Will and Jus to see Will's CD collection and his computer set up and Craig came with me to my room.

As soon as I'd got the door closed he came forward and put his arms around me and burying his face in my shoulder mumbled

"I thought we'd never get some time alone. I've been waiting for this for ages now."

"Well you'll have to wait till after Jamie goes home and the terrible two go to bed as well, as I'm not giving them a chance to gawp or anything," I said back.

"Are they really that bad?" Craig asked looking me in the eye.

"No, not really, but they never miss a trick either and they whisper and giggle to each other all the time. I might be paranoid, but I always think they're talking about you and me, but they prolly aren't at all really," I replied. "It's just I've not had a boyfriend before and it's all new and stuff," I admitted shyly.

"Um... my experience level is a plain zilch... zero... totally non-existent!" Craig replied grinning back at me.

"Oh well, that's something. We can make idiots of ourselves to each other without worrying too much then?" I hesitantly asked him.

"Oh, I think it'll be fun learning our way... don't you?"

"Yes, with you, I know it'll be...!" I said, as I pulled him by his arms onto the bed and locked lips. We rolled around deep kissing for several minutes until disturbed by a knock on the door and Jamie's voice calling,

"Craig, Liam, can I come in?"

We hurriedly straightened our clothing and I shot across to my computer chair leaving Craig sat on the bed and called out,

"Okay, yeah, come in then."

The door opened and Jamie came into the room looking around as he did. Craig smiled at him and patting the bed next to him indicated that he should come and sit beside him.

"So how're you getting on with the terrible two?" he asked Jamie smiling.

Jamie giggled and sat down beside his brother before replying.

"Is that what they're called?" he asked us both, looking from one to other of us as he spoke.

"Well, no, not really but we sometimes call them that. It's just they never miss a trick and are so quick witted when they see a chance of a joke, usually aimed at us." Craig explained.

"They were at it all week while we were away," I added.

"The trip sounds like it was awesome?" Jamie said.

"It was," I replied. "Probably the best holiday I have ever had, despite those bloody ducks!"

"Oh, yes, those!" Craig echoed. "Every morning, crack of dawn. Quack... quack... bloody quack!"

Jamie and I laughed at Craig's description of the dawn chorus we'd suffered every morning and went on to tell him more about the holiday when, just as we'd finished, there was a brief tap at the door and Will called out

"We're needed downstairs to get supper laid up, okay?" he said through the closed door.

"Okay, thanks," I called out back and we all got up to head off down to the kitchen again.

*** ***

Paul's viewpoint

"Do you think we should let the social worker chap know about all these phone calls and texts that Liam has been getting these last few weeks?" I asked Rick.

"Possibly, yes, but let's wait and see what Adrian has to say at dinner tomorrow, okay?"

"Yeah, good thought," I replied and we continued to sort out the piles of washing and I gave some thought to Saturday's supper.

"I got some good Lincolnshire sausages in town," I remarked to Rick. "I thought we'd have a toad in the hole, some carrots, peas and onion gravy. What do you think?"

"Sounds good to me. You spoil those lads you know."

"Perhaps, but I like seeing clean plates after I've served up, I guess?" I grinned back.

"No danger of that not happening with those food hoovers," he laughed back and then turned to the sink unit to fill the kettle. "Tea?" he asked, as he took two mugs down from the cupboard.

"Yes please. You don't really need to ask," I replied, smiling back at him.

Rick quickly made the tea and we took a short break to drink it while we sat at the kitchen table. I was musing to myself when he said

"You're worrying about these messages and Mrs Russell coming round aren't you?" he asked quizzically.

"Um... Yes, I guess I am a little. It's just I've not been in these circumstances before and I s'pose I'm worried about possible outcomes and all that," I replied a little anxiously.

"Neither of us have, but we've a great lawyer with Adrian. So, we tell him all and take his advice, okay?"

"Sounds so simple when you put it like that?" I smiled back, somewhat re-assured.

Rick slid his hands across the table between us and grasping both mine took them and looked me right in the eyes, before saying,

"Now don't get upset and always remember we are in this together for the long haul here, and we're not alone. We've good supportive friends. I mean, look how James dropped everything to come and help Will with his equations that night last half term?" he reminded me.

I smiled back into his eyes remembering all the things that caused me to fall so deeply for this man that truly was my friend and soul mate, before replying,

"Yes, as usual you put it in perspective for me before I let my imagination run off with fanciful 'what ifs' and other rubbish," I smiled back.

"Well one of us needs to keep things clear," he laughed, and continued "Why don't you start the meal? I'll carry on with sorting this washing out, okay?"

"Yeah, right," I replied, as I drained my mug, set it back down on the table, got up, headed to the utility room returning a few moments later to the sink with the vegetables and began to prepare the carrots. A few minutes later I set the prepared carrots into the steamer until needed. I then sliced and chopped two onions for the gravy before getting out the scales to weigh out flour for the batter mix. I prepared the batter and getting out an oven dish poured in some oil and put it into the oven to heat right up.

As soon as the oil was sizzling away I put in the sausages in groups of three and just managed to get twenty one of them into the dish. I set the dish back into the oven to pre-cook the sausages for about ten minutes. Just then a, I thought, slightly dishevelled Will appeared at the kitchen door grinning away and asked,

"I can smell supper, is it ready?"

"No, it's not, You rascal, but you can get the others down in ten minutes to lay up the table okay?" I replied, grinning back at him.

Will laughed and disappeared back up to his room. "Gosh, we've been so very lucky, you know," I remarked to Rick.

"Err... yes, perhaps, anyway in particular?"

"Well, he's never been any trouble,"

"Oh, no, none at all!" laughed Rick. "Just a bike crash and a tantrum over equations. Nothing out of the ordinary at all!" He laughed reminding me of the traumas to date.

"Oh! Yes, umm... I forgot about those."

"Easily done after the great week we've just had with them and their friends," Rick reminded me.

"Yeah, it did go quite well, didn't it?" I added.

"Quite well!" Rick squawked back. "It was bloody fantastic. You loved every minute of it, just as I did and you know it," he laughed.

"Do you think the boys enjoyed it as much?"

"Oh, Yes. None of them are slow at voicing opinions and they were very much into the whole canalling experience. They were loving it all, believe me," Rick replied. "Stop worrying about them. If anything's really wrong we'll see it, believe me. Will's hopeless at hiding his feelings. He's an open book. Liam thinks more, but he does come and ask when he's unsure. I mean, just look at how he's taken our advice since he came here,"

"Yeah, you're right... as ever," I smiled back at Rick.

I took the dish of sizzling sausages from the oven and poured over the batter mix and quickly returned it to the top shelf and turned up the heat a little. Setting the timer for another 20 minutes I turned back to Rick and asked,

"Wine or beer tonight?"

"Oh, beer with sausage toad, don't you think?"

"Yeah, do you want to get a few out of the garage?"

Rick went out and came back a few moments later with a handful of Cokes and a card carrier of six beers. He loaded them into the fridge and sat back down. Just then there was a clattering on the stairs and five lads appeared at the kitchen door grinning away and looking half starved in a way that only teens can.

"Right, table laid up, please. Will and Liam know where everything is, seven places okay?" I said. The lads quickly got organised as I took a large pan of potatoes that had been boiling away off the hob and draining them added milk and butter and with the hand mixer mashed them all up and set aside in a serving dish in the top oven to keep warm and turned the heat on under the vegetable steamer after pouring a kettle full of hot water over them.

"About ten minutes and it'll all be ready," I said. "Liam can you get everyone a drink. I'll have a beer and I expect Rick will too?" I said looking towards Rick as I did.

"Yeah, a Natterjack for me, please, Liam. I've just brought a few through from the garage, okay."

Liam and Craig organised drinks for all and when done and everyone was seated at the table I set out the dishes of mashed potatoes, carrots and peas, poured the gravy from the pan into a gravy boat and then got the sausage dish from the oven. It was just right and five sets of hungry teen eyes followed its progress to my end of the table where I set about serving up the portions onto the hot plates and passing them round for them to help themselves to the rest.

We enjoyed the good meal, the first one back at home for over a week and from some standpoints it was good to be home again. I supped my beer and looked round the table listening to the chatter as the lads animatedly described one incident or the other that had taken place over the last week. Will and Jus were trying to convince Jamie that there really was a ghost of a long lost girl in the tunnel. Craig was grinning away and then blew it by simply nudging his brother as he seemed to be taken in and a quiet smile later Jamie had sussed what was going down and played up to the two of them, rather amusingly I thought.

After supper was cleared away Jamie headed back home and Will and Justin went to Will's room. Craig and Liam headed with us to the sitting room and we enjoyed a cup of coffee while we watched the news on TV. Then as they were both yawning I suggested they turned in.

"Yeah, think you're right," Liam said as he smiled and got up from the sofa quickly followed by Craig. The two of them said their goodnights and headed off to Liam's room together.

"Mmm..." Rick intoned. "Two tired lads or two with plans for the bedroom?" Rick added after the door had closed behind the two lads.

"I don't know. If they have, then that's their affair. They're both of age," I replied.

"Yes, very much so. You ready for bed too? It's been quite a week!"

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