A Kind of Alchemy

by London Lampy

Chapter 16

"Are you absolutely sure you don't want any money for him?" Teddy was asking Ed.

"No, it's fine. Please just take him." Ed replied.

"Dirty sinner hello." The parrot said.

Teddy held the cage up to his face with a grin. "Hello to you too Bob."

Ed had finally decided that he was ready to clear out his grandmother's belongings so Sam, Fudge and Earnest, who Fudge had co-opted into coming along, were helping and when Fran had asked Teddy if he was interested in adopting the parrot the ex pirate had jumped at the offer.

Sam looked around the room, they'd boxed up most of the ornaments, statues and trinkets, the walls were stripped of the pinned up pictures and it was starting to resemble a normal house already.

Once Ed had let Teddy and a caged Bob out of the front door he came back into the room smiling. "No more bloody parrot chatting away sounding like Gran constantly, yes." His eyes were bright once again and Sam thought that he seemed almost back to his old self.

"I need to go, my mum's expecting me back for my supper." Earnest said, glancing at an old fashioned clock that had up to now been almost completely hidden by a large and rather ghoulish statue of the god of death. Much to Fran's barely hidden delight it had turned out that Earnest's mother was almost as protective of her son as he was of Fudge, and if Earnest didn't get home on time she gave him hell.

"I'll walk you to the tram stop." Fudge said, lacing the fingers of one hand between Earnest's and leading him out of the room.

While it seemed to Sam that Ed wasn't quite as relaxed in his company as he used to be things had been fine while they were busy clearing out the house with the other two around, however this was the first time they'd been alone together and everything now felt slightly awkward. They finished off packing up the last of the boxes then once they were done Ed sat back on his heels and looked around the room. "I don't want to do any more today, it's getting late." He said.

"Yeah." Sam agreed, glancing out of the window to the street beyond where the lamps had already come on to puncture the quickly growing gloom. "I'll go." He pushed down the cardboard flaps on his box to shut it then stood up.

"Wait." Ed looked up at him. "I wanted to say sorry, I shouldn't have punched you."

"No, you shouldn't have." Sam agreed, still not quite ready to forgive him for the bloody nose.

"It won't happen again."

"I know, I won't be stupid enough to try to kiss you again."

Ed frowned at him for a moment. "All right." He nodded. "I suppose that's fair."

"Is it weird being here without your grandmother?" Sam asked to change the subject.

Ed got to his feet and looked around the newly cleared room. "Yeah, it is. There used to be seven of us living here, now it's just me left. Gran owned the place so it's kind of mine now, I think."

"That's good though, you can make it look the way you want." Sam said this as cheerfully as he could, Ed sounded sad again.

"I guess." Ed sighed. "Thanks for helping, and thank Fudge and...what's his name again?"

"Earnest." Sam supplied. "Next time Fran gives us all the afternoon off we'll help you paint the walls if you like." Sam had been a little miffed that Fran had so easily consented to the three of them taking time off to help Ed, but it was a battle to let just him have time off to sit for Victor. "I'd really better go now." Sam inclined his head toward the door.

"Um...would you like to stay for supper?" Ed asked unexpectedly.

"Sorry." He shook his head. "I think Fran's cooking." In truth Fran had said that he'd put some potatoes in the oven and grate some cheese, and Sam doubted that Fran would care much if he missed a meal of baked potatoes. The problem was he still felt attracted to Ed, and staying with him alone wouldn't be much fun as he very well knew that Ed didn't feel the same way about him, so it was better to keep his distance.

"Oh." Ed looked disappointed, and it occurred to Sam that he was probably feeling lonely and that was what had prompted him into the supper invite. "I'll see you soon then."

"Yeah, see you soon." Sam replied as he headed for the door.

The next afternoon Fran was sitting at his desk sealing an envelope that contained a letter to Sam's mother. He had received a letter from her the day before asking him if he could send her news of her son and he was planning to write to her on a monthly basis keeping her up to date with Sam's well being until Sam felt ready to write to her regularly himself. As he put the letter onto his outgoing pile he sighed, he could see on the top of his incoming mail pile a note from Mother reminding him about the upcoming auction and telling him to make sure that the bars were fully stocked.

"Ozzy, we need to order extra drinks for this thing." He waved the note at the visk, making his distaste at the auction clear with his tone of voice.

"Look on the bright side, we'll most likely make some extra money." Ozzy replied.

"I don't want it to make any extra money, I don't fucking care if we make a weeks bar takings in one night, I don't want it happening in my theatre." He slammed his hand down on his desk to make his point then instantly regretted it, it hurt. Mother had told him that for the auction he expected the bars to be open, and that Fran was free to keep all the profits for himself. Mother had also told him that he wanted him to be on the premises for the entire duration of the auction, rather than just come in to lock up at the end. Fran knew that there was no practical reason for this, it was just the odious man's way of making him uncomfortable and showing him who was in charge. What Fran had managed to negotiate though was for none of his staff to be present, he didn't feel that any of them should be subjected to the sordid event and Mother had enough people working for him that he could staff the place for the night. Fran planned to tell his employees that The Empress had been hired out for a private party, it would be impossible for them not to know that something was going on, but none of them needed to know exactly what.

The date had been set for the end of the week, after that night's show had finished and the regular audience had gone home. Dark, illegal deeds done late at night, it wasn't right, it wasn't what The Empress was meant for. "She's not going to be happy." Fran muttered.

"Who?" Ozzy looked up from his work.

"The theatre." Fran elaborated.

"Oh...right." Ozzy sounded both amused and sceptical. "What, you think that the building is going to take revenge on you and drop a bit of plasterwork on your head or something?"

"Never mind." Fran sighed, he knew what he meant. The place had moods, it picked up on the emotions of the people in it, it loved to be full of audiences laughing at a comedian or spellbound by a beautiful singing voice, and he damn well knew that all the misery and wrongness associated with Mother's auction wasn't going to make it happy.

A knock at his office door pulled him back from his gloomy thoughts, and before he could say "come in" it was flung open.

"I'm home!" A throaty voice announced, and the office was filled the heady mixed scents of rose water, cigarette smoke and gin.

"Ava!" He exclaimed as his sister strode in. Five foot nothing in her bare feet a pair of extremely high heels added several inches to her height and that along with her head of platinum blond teased and curled hair put them at equal statures. As he got to his feet she crushed him into her not inconsiderable bosom, her thick and no doubt very expensive fur coat tickling his nose. "What are you doing here?" He asked when she let him go.

"An engagement got cancelled." She explained as she lit a long, slim cigarette with a silver lighter. "The Majestic down in Longtree had a fire, whole auditorium went up apparently."

"Poor them." Fran said sympathetically, he knew how that felt.

"So I thought as I had a week to spare I'd come home and see my brother." She blew out a plume of smoke.

"And daughter." Fran added.

"Yes, of course." She added slightly too hurriedly. "Where is she?" Ava peered around the office as if she expected Fudge to be hiding behind a filing cabinet.

"Fixing some broken seats I think, I'll go and get her."

"No, don't distract her while she's working." Ava put a hand on his arm to stop him leaving the office. "I'll see her back at the house later. I need to freshen up, I came straight here from the station."

"All right." Fran agreed. Perhaps it was best that way, once Fudge knew that her mother was home he'd get no more work out of her that day. "Just to let you know so you won't be surprised if you see him around the house before I have a chance to introduce you, I've got a lodger now, a young lad called Sam."

"A young lad?" She raised her eyebrows suggestively, and Fran could swear that he heard Ozzy smother a laugh behind them. He gritted his teeth, he was getting utterly sick of having to defend himself where Sam was concerned. "He's my lodger, nothing more, he's the same age as Fudge."

Ava laughed a deep husky laugh. "Ah...my brother, the white sheep of the family. No, I doubt you'd have it in you to seduce a fifteen year old."

"Sixteen Ava, he's sixteen, I said he was the same age as Fudge."

"Fudge isn't sixteen." She frowned. "Is she?"

"Yes, and for your information you bought her a butterfly shaped crystal barrette for her sixteenth birthday."

"Oh." She took a deep drag on her cigarette as she absorbed this piece of information, then exhaled a cloud of blue smoke. "Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"...when he turned around I could see that he had his trousers open, and he waved his thing at me." Ava laughed long and hard. "So I screamed for help and this darling troop of boy dancers dragged him out of my dressing room. It was sad really, he only wanted to be close to me."

Fudge was sitting on the sofa watching her mother with wide brown eyes, it was very late at night but with Ava in full flow and Fudge overexcited by her mother's presence there wasn't much chance of anyone going to bed. While Fran chided his sister for telling a story that he deemed inappropriate for his niece's ears Sam watched Ava. It had been something of a shock to come home after work and find her there, Fudge's squeals of delight were almost high pitched enough to break glass but for some reason Fran hadn't seemed particularly surprised at his sister being in the house.

Although Ava herself was tiny, smaller in stature than even her daughter, she somehow managed to fill the room. She hadn't stopped smoking her long cigarettes, drinking tumblers of gin or talking, mostly about herself, since they had arrived home. Ava had obviously changed outfits since she had got to the house and was now wearing a pair of black silk pyjamas under a red patterned silk robe with gold and green beaded slippers on her feet. She had explained that the robe was a gift from a wealthy admirer, and the way she had said "admirer" suggested that she meant lover, and Sam had seen Fran briefly frown at her for this.

"My dear, could you top this up?" She waved her empty glass at Fudge who happily opened the now almost empty gin bottle and refilled Ava's glass. "Did I hear Fran say something about you having a little boyfriend?" She questioned her daughter after she had swallowed a large mouthful of the clear liquid.

"Yes, Earnest, he works at The Empress." She replied happily.

"Well, we must have him over for a late supper one night while I'm staying so I can meet him. Is he terribly handsome?"

"Yes, he is." Fudge replied with a grin. Pleasant enough looking though Earnest was Sam would never describe him as terribly handsome, but he kept him mouth shut, this was none of his business.

"And what about you?" Ava suddenly fixed her eyes onto Sam. Her eyes were the same shade of brown as her brother's, but where Fran's were soft hers somehow reminded him of the stage lights at the theatre and they seemed to be burning into him. "Where do you fit in here?"

"I..." Before he could attempt to explain Fran cut him off.

"I told you Ava, he's my lodger, and he works for me."

"I know that." She batted her brother's words aside. "But you've never had a lodger before, and your staff generally have their own homes."

"He just needed a place to stay." Fran's voice suggested that the matter was closed, but Fudge didn't pick up on it.

"Uncle Fran rescued him, didn't you?" She said brightly, and Sam inwardly groaned, there was something about Ava that reminded him a little of the Dovedale village women digging for gossip.

Over the next ten minutes Ava slowly and painfully dragged the details of how Sam came to be living with her family out of him and Fran, not seeming to care how uncomfortable it made him or how many deeply personal questions she asked. Once she was done Sam felt extremely annoyed by the intrusion, he didn't want to be in Ava's presence any longer so he made his excuses and left the room. He felt too wound up to go to bed, he hadn't enjoyed having to rake over all those painful memories again, so he slipped on his coat and let himself out of the front door to spend a few minutes calming down on the steps. As he stood breathing out clouds of white into the cold night air he noticed that the curtains of the next door house were wide open, the lights in the front room were all on and he could see the top of Ed's head, strangely it looked like he was sat on the floor. Out of curiosity he made his way up the steps to Ed's house to see what he was doing. Peering through the window he saw Ed seated cross legged on the carpet surrounded by dozens of photographs and what looked like a half empty bottle of something alcoholic beside him. The whole scene seemed to be personal and something that he shouldn't be spying on, and Sam was about to make his way back to his own house when Ed looked up and noticed him. He didn't seem in the least annoyed at Sam observing him like that, in fact he waved, got slightly unsteadily to his feet, and a few seconds later the door opened and he joined Sam on the steps.

"What are you doing?" Sam asked him.

"Look...looking at some old photos...you know family stuff." He sounded slightly drunk and Sam decided that he had been right about the contents of the bottle. When he looked at Ed's face he noticed that his eyes were red rimmed and Sam wondered if he had been crying. "What you doin' out here?" He quizzed Sam.

"Just getting some air. Ava, you know, Fudge's mother? She's here, and she's a bit...much." A bit of a bitch he'd considered saying, but it seemed unfair, he'd only just met the woman.

"My mother...she always boasted that we lived next door to a big star." Ed sniffed. "Not any more...not my mother...and not me soon."

"You're moving out?" Sam was surprised at how disappointed this possibility made him feel.

"I got...I got a letter, from my parents. They wan' to sell it." He pointed up at the house. "Said no point in me living in such a big place all alone...said they wan' the money."

"Where are you going to go?"

"Dunno." He shrugged. "I lived here all my life." Ed sniffed again and wiped his eyes with his hands, and he looked so sad that Sam risked another punch by wrapping his arms around him, he was relived when all Ed did was hug him back very tightly. They stayed like that for a while, Sam stroked Ed's back, he didn't seem to be crying any more but Sam assumed that he wanted some comfort as he buried his face in Sam's neck.

"You smell nice." Ed said quietly into his ear.

"Soap I guess." Sam replied, wondering if he should stop hugging Ed before he started to enjoy it a bit too much. Before he could end the hug Ed did the last thing Sam would have expected him to do, he moved his head slightly and kissed Sam full on the lips. At first Sam was much too surprised at this sudden turn of events to respond, but then he felt Ed's tongue touch his lips, and he swiftly found himself kissing Ed back. Ed's tongue soon ended up all the way in his mouth and Sam mirrored his actions, kissing him deeply and passionately. Even through his coat Sam could feel that Ed was hardening against him, they were almost exactly the same hight so Ed's growing erection was pushed against his and he moved his hips instinctively to rub against Ed. Then just as suddenly as Ed had kissed him the other boy stopped, unwrapped his arms from around Sam and stepped as far away as he could on the small area at the top of the stairs.

"I..." Ed shook his head, his eyes wide. "No...goodnight." And with that he retreated back into his house and slammed the door behind him, leaving one very confused Sam standing on the doorstep.

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