by The Composer

Chapter 16

Charles arranged for a small wedding in Southampton. There wouldn't be many guests; Charles didn't want to invite anyone, which I thought was slightly sad. There was no one from college who I would invite – I was friendly enough with lots of people, but no great chums. I thought perhaps the chaplain, but he smiled, and declined.

I asked Charles about the Pendleburys. I saw his face cloud over.

"I should have told you, but I didn't want to disturb you during term. Eleanor – she started going downhill with dementia quite quickly. Confused, that sort of thing. She went into hospital for a few days to give Ian a rest. She picked up some sort of infection, and it turned into pneumonia. The funeral was a couple of weeks ago."

"You didn't tell me?"

He shook his head. "I'm sorry, but I knew you had exams coming up."

"You should have told me." Charles could be overprotective at times. Something like this he should have told me about. I picked up my coat. "I'm going over there."

I walked, which gave me a little time to clear my head. I rang the bell, and Ian Pendlebury came out. He looked older, more frail, but took me inside.

I gazed at him, not knowing quite how to put this, and in the end, I just said, "I'm sorry."

He gave a twisted sort of smile. "Sometimes they talk about it as a merciful release, and in Eleanor's case, it was."

"Charles didn't tell me, because it was during exam time. If I'd have known …"

He took my arm, and led me outside to that flowerbed which I had worked on. The plants and shrubs had settled in, and it looked neat and tidy. "She's in there," he told me. I wasn't quite sure what he meant. "After the cremation, they gave me this box, which were supposed to be her ashes. I had no idea what to do with them, and it was Charles who suggested scattering them in the garden. I chose this flowerbed. So, you see, she's in there."

I put my arm around him. I was taller than him now; he had shrunk, and I had grown. "There's something else I would like to talk to you about." He looked up at me. "You see, Charles isn't really my uncle."

"I think I guessed that."

"Was it that obvious?"

He considered that. "No. But there were times when you didn't behave like uncle and nephew."

"We're getting married."

He looked amused. "The two of you?" I nodded. "I suppose you can do that sort of thing these days. You certainly wouldn't have been allowed to do that when I was young."

"I'd like you to come to the wedding."

He looked even more amused. "Of course I will. Although it will be a new experience for me."

There were two or three other people who I intended inviting, but I would have to do some groundwork first.

Terms in Oxford ended early; Parklands School was still operating, although a lot of people had done their exams and left. I went to find Mrs Cox.

"James. What a pleasant surprise."

She was looking at me slightly expectantly. I haven't made out any invitations on a card – it hardly seemed worth it. "I'd like to invite you to my wedding," I told her.

That took her aback a bit. "I'd be delighted. Who is she? Do I know her?"

I shook my head. "Sorry, wrong gender."

It took her a moment to work that one out, then she tilted her head on one side. "You've no idea how much speculation there used to be about you."

"Well, now you know."

"Right. So, do I know him?"

I nodded, and she looked at me expectantly again. "Charles Forsyth."

Again it took a moment for it to register, then she said, in a tone of surprise, "Your uncle?"

I shook my head. "He's not really my uncle."

"Oh." She blinked. "And you're getting married." I nodded. She regarded me curiously. "So that was all a cover story?" I nodded again. "When you first came to see me," she said very cautiously, "were you …?" I nodded for a third time.

"He didn't seduce me, you know," I told her. "You might find this odd – you will find it odd – but it was really the other way round. And to me, he's the best thing in the world."

"There were times when the dynamic between you wasn't really like uncle and nephew, but I would never have guessed this."

"Are you still prepared to come? To the wedding, that is?"

"It's not the most unusual invitation I've ever had, but it comes close. And I would be delighted to come. Are you inviting anyone else from the school?"

"I thought of Helen Summers and Alan Hood."

"Helen Summers is going to be a very disappointed girl."

I smiled. "One thing I tried never to do was to lead girls on."

She smiled back. "The party?"

I grinned. "I was an equal opportunities kisser at that party, if you remember."

"I certainly remember the pictures. And that's why no one could work you out."

"When you're sixteen, kissing anyone is fun. Well, up to a point."

I could hear a bell ring, the familiar bell for the end of lessons. She stood up. "I'd better be going," she said briskly.

I paid a visit to Helen Summers. She was now at Cambridge, studying English. Our conversation with very much along the same lines as that Mrs Cox. Again, the revelation about Charles came as a complete surprise. This was slightly flattering in one way, since our act had obviously been a success. But she said she would be delighted to come, and was looking forward to it.

I called on Alan. I wasn't quite sure what I would be meeting, but he had grown; he was nearly as tall as me now, and that shaven head look had gone. I couldn't see any tattoos. When I told him about our plans, he gave a gentle smile.

"I know you used to tell me about how you were already committed, and I could never understand it, since you lived with your uncle, and didn't go away at weekends. I would never have guessed that."

"It's true."

"You never know how much I fancied you. I mean, really really fancied you."

"Well, at least that's flattering. So how's the boyfriend?"

He shrugged. "I'm between boyfriends at the moment."

"So it'll be just you?"

He nodded.

The most embarrassing thing about the whole episode was going into a jeweller to find rings for ourselves. I don't think they got many gay couples about to be married. But Charles insisted on rings, and we had to try them on to see if they would fit. Eventually, we found what we wanted, and I'm not sure who was the most embarrassed, the sales staff, or ourselves. But in the end, it didn't matter.

The ceremony was held in some anonymous office in Southampton. We had our four guests, and we all travelled in the same car. To the people in the registry office, we were just another routine couple. They didn't blink at finding two gay men together. We signed the register, and Helen and Alan acted as witnesses. It was all a bit anticlimactic.

We went back to our house. Our house. I suddenly realised that when we signed the register, this house was as much mine as it was Charles'. We invited our guests in, and gave them something to eat. It was all slightly surreal. Helen asked what we were going to do for our honeymoon. We hadn't actually planned anything.

We were told we had to.

Charles took my hand, and with a touch of mischief, said, "We are going to go sailing for a few weeks. I know how much James likes being on the boat."

I looked at our guests, all curious in their different ways. "I am going to give you a story. Edited story. But before I do that, I want your promise that you keep it to yourselves." I looked at the four of them, and they all nodded agreement. "It's because of that boat at Charles and I are here today. When we met, I was a kid in a care home in Gosport. I had found my way into that marina. And rather than go back to the care home each night, I preferred to sit there on the pontoons in the cold and the dark. And Charles found me, by accident, and took me in. And I abused his hospitality. And he trusted me. People never trust someone like me. A back street kid from a council home. But Charles put his trust in me, for which I am eternally grateful."

There was a long silence, then Alan said, "Let's toast the groom and the groom. Charles and James."

The four of them stood up, and held their glasses. "Charles and James."

"Aren't you going to kiss?" asked Alan.

We looked at each other, and then Charles pulled me to my feet. He wrapped his arms around me, and I wrapped my arms around him. He kissed me. Not a peck on the lips, but not a full-blown snog. There was a chorus of " Aaaah …"

I looked at our guests. "I used to tell you that I was already spoken for. Now you know why. Charles is the best thing that ever happened to me."

I got a squeeze. "And James, as you all know, is the most beautiful creature I have ever met."

We had our honeymoon. It was on the boat, as Charles wanted, but luckily, it was one of the worst summers ever. This meant we were stuck in harbours for days on end, and I could seize him round the neck, and drag him down below, into that bunk where we would take turns in ravishing each other.

Summer turned to autumn, and soon it was time for me to go back for another year. It would be only for eight weeks, but it felt as if we were being ripped apart. After he left me, I looked in my wardrobe and pulled out that suit. I had grown, but it had been made slightly too large, and so it still fitted me. Since it was the first night back, we had a formal Hall. I went in with all the rest, and found a place at a table with people who I knew. We had to stand to listen to that formal Latin grace, and then there was the sound of a hundred or more chairs scraping along the floor as we all sat down. About ten minutes into the dinner, the girl opposite me was staring at my hands.

"You're wearing a ring," she said. I looked across to her and raised an eyebrow. "That's the finger reserved for wedding rings."

I nodded. "That's right. I got married over the summer."

My voice must have carried, because I could see heads either side turning towards me.

"Married?" She asked cautiously. I nodded. "Is she anyone we know?"

"She?" I queried. "You should know me better than that by now."

"So it was a bloke."

I grinned at her. "Well done."

"So, is it anyone we know?"

"Probably not."

Philip looked at me from across the table. "Would it be that bloke I saw you with two or three times?" I nodded. "He looks quite a bit older than you."

"He's thirty-three," I told him.

The girl from across the table stared at me. "You've just married a man of thirty-three?"

I nodded. "That's right."

She looked at me in disbelief. "It would be like marrying your dad."

"To me, Charles is a daddy, a lover, and my husband."

Statements like that tend to bring the conversation to a halt.

"Oh, and he's also a former member of College."

They digested this, then Philip came back and asked, "Why didn't you get married in the chapel?" I stared at him, then comprehension flooded his face. "So that's why you told the Master to …"

"That's right."

Again there was silence whilst people digested this.

"She's allowed other marriages in chapel," said Philip cautiously. I nodded. "So why not this one?"

"Can't you guess?"

"She's on dodgy ground there," he said.

"Whatever. I gave her my opinion. We ended up being married in Southampton."

"So you're properly, legally, married?" asked that girl.

"Hence the ring," I said, holding up my left hand.

The whole business was something of a three day wonder. It did reinforce my reputation as someone more than a little unusual, but I could live with that.

I knew I would never get a First. There was one girl in our group who was formidably intelligent; she could see connections way before any of us, and way before me. If anyone was going to get a First, it would be her. My main worry was whether I could scrape a reasonable Second. My other worry was what I would do after I left university. I didn't want to leave Charles, and it would be unreasonable for him to uproot himself for any job that I might take. The problem resolved itself in a slightly unusual fashion.

I had kept in touch with Mrs Cox, and mentioned that I had no idea what I would do after university. She smiled. "I have a possible solution." I looked at her inquiringly. "Mrs Jones is about to have a baby, and I suspect that she won't want to come back again afterwards. The school will need a new history teacher." I didn't grasp what she was meaning for a moment or two, and then began laughing. She looked at me steadily. "Why not?"


"The best Bus Prefect we ever had."

"With the most colourful language."

"Which I'm sure you would never deploy in the classroom. And someone with a history degree from Oxford would be more than qualified."

And so it came to pass that in the first week of September, I walked into a classroom as a teacher for the first ever time. And for the first time in my life, I would be earning money, and not dependent on anyone else. It was wonderful.

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