Robbie was stunned - James was yelling at him. In his own home!
“I can’t go as your plus-one! You’re the Father of the Bride! The station gossips’ll have a field day!”
James was mortified Robbie had even suggested it and Robbie had never seen James’ eyes as panicked as they were right now. “
Robbie hadn’t anticipated such a passionate reaction from James, though, God knows the lad had it in him, and, startled by it, his voice was harsher than he would have liked.
“Settle down lad! It’s not like I’m asking you to marry me.”
Well that was obviously the wrong thing to say, thought Robbie, as James went ash-grey and dropped into the kitchen chair with a crack.
With a sigh Robbie sat down opposite him and continued more gently, “Yeah, I am the Father of the Bride. It’s Lyn’s big day an’ she wants me to bring someone who, her words mind, ‘who’s important to you’.”
“I’m sure I never entered her mind as a possibility Sir.” James voice was almost a whisper.
“An’ I’m just as sure you’re the only one.”
The quiet certainty in Robbie’s voice drew James gaze upwards; what he saw in Robbie’s face was the complete conviction of the rightness of his choice.
Quietly, his voice faltering, Robbie began to talk.
Until now Robbie had always been thankful that James never asked about his visits with Lyn. He knew it wasn’t because the lad didn’t care; James always went out of his way to ensure Robbie could get away early when he was going to see Lyn. Robbie also knew, though nothing had been asked or offered, that James, using his “for emergencies” key, checked on his flat while he was away. He found out by chance after one visit when he was met by his neighbour who asked him to thank the younger man for replacing a blown bulb. The detective in him took over and he basically interviewed her, gently and politely, on his doorstep. He was a little embarrassed when he realised she thought he and James lived together – “these are lovely flats for working couples” were the words she had used.
Apart from the occasional conversation with Laura and Innocent, Lyn was the only person he ever really talked to about James and only when he visited, never on the phone; the lad would have been horrified if he’d been a fly on the wall. It was usually work stories, and Lyn enjoyed listening to her Dad tell them. He’d told her the good and the bad; having fun at the expense of a puffed-up Academic, hauling James out of a burning building and as he spoke Lyn could hear the emotions he’d gone through – laughter, panic, pain. He was animated, engaged as he talked; Lyn liked seeing him like this.
It had been a little different on his last visit though; there were no work stories then. They’d been talking about the wedding plans and the conversation gradually turned to Robbie and Val’s wedding. Lyn had watched her Dad carefully and saw nothing to worry her; it had taken nearly ten years but it looked like he was coming through the last of his grief. Taking a deep breath, she’d asked the questions she’d not dared to before – did he think he would ever remarry, was there anyone special? She’d waited for any sign that he was going to close down.
Lyn wasn’t sure what to think or do when he started talking about James again; she hadn’t expected that. Lyn had only met James once, briefly, when she and her Dad had arrived home from Italy and so really had little to go on. If asked she would have said he was ‘nice, quite handsome’. When Robbie started talking he found he couldn’t stop – the relief in telling someone what was going on in his head was visible to Lyn. She became increasingly alarmed; a small part of her feared he was going to tell her he was ‘involved’ with James and she struggled to not interrupt him, to stop him.
As Lyn listened her fears were calmed. This wasn’t a mid-life crisis, it wasn’t an over-reaction. He loved James, it was that simple. Not like he’d loved her Mum, not like he loved her and her brother. ‘Soul mate’ was the term she would have used. Sitting in front of her, speaking quietly and passionately, open, honest, raw, she saw a part of her Dad she thought had died with her Mum; as he talked about James she saw the man he had been before Oxford Street. If knowing James had brought this part of her Dad back to her who was she to deny him a chance at happiness again? She could handle any gossip and she was fairly confident Dean would support them both.
Robbie had watched Lyn carefully, knowing how hard it would have been for her to listen. He wanted her to understand that no-one could replace her mother, that he wasn’t seeking to do that. Lyn reached across taking his hands in hers. She raised her head to meet his gaze and he saw in her eyes her understanding, her acceptance. And he wept.
“God, James, I’m not look ... hell, I don’t ... I don’t want a wife, I’m not looking for a wife, there’ll only ever be Val for me. Nobody, woman or man, no-one could ever ... but I’m tired of being alone, living alone, I need someone, but ...”
Robbie’s voice faltered, he covered his face with his hands, resting his elbows on the table. James waited, his heart racing. He knew Robbie needed a little time, hell, he need time . It wasn’t his turn to speak. There were no rules or conventions here; he simply knew. Robbie rubbed fiercely at his eyes, took a deep breath and, focussing on his hands where they now rested on the table, continued.
“I’d thought about things, me, Val, you – probably more than I should’ve – got meself knotted up. I want to ... I – need – to find someone who’ll let me be me, set in me ways, faults an’ all, someone who’ll know to leave me in my misery when I’m missin’ Val, who’ll know when I’ve gone on too long, kick me in the arse and drag me out of it. I don’t want someone to ‘talk things through’ wi’, and I’m done with people who tell me I need to.”
“You’re the only one who’s given me that James, you don’t pry, you’re the one who’s been at my side, through the worst and the best. You once said ‘thank heavens we found each other’, and I ...”
“I know I’ve been on at you to find someone your own age, think about a family, an’ I’m sorry. I just ... you spend so much time wi’ me, I wanted you to have a chance at what Val and I ... I didn’t want to be the reason you never ... but it isn’t going to happen, is it? Never was, eh?”
Robbie felt that, whatever happened now, he could now stand a little straighter. He was very aware that James was now carefully processing what he’d said, turning every word over. On one hand Robbie was afraid James would simply stand up, walk out the door and out of his life, unable or unwilling to give Robbie any response. On the other, he was quietly confident that James would give him an answer, maybe not now, but he wouldn’t make Robbie wait too long. And it would be considered and honest; he couldn’t ask the lad for anything more.
As James looked up, Robbie gave him a small smile; it was now his turn to wait.
James had also been staring at Robbie’s hands as he spoke, afraid to look up, afraid of himself. As Robbie fell silent he risked a glance up. The man before him now looked the same as always, yet James knew he had changed. He must have because James knew he had been changed by hearing Robbie’s admission.
Robbie had never really talked much about his visits to Lyn and James never asked. He always felt a bit awkward with family gatherings and discussions, anyone’s family, and did his best to steer clear. He was a one-on-one person, most comfortable with himself, though he had never liked being alone. He thanked the heavens daily that he’d met Robbie when he had. He didn’t like to think about where he might be now had Innocent not sent him to the airport that fateful day.
“Are you for me?”
He hears those words in his head every day. A simple query from a tired and heart-sick man, returning to the city where his world fell apart, to a man who was beginning to question every choice he’d ever made. Are you for me? Are you, Robert Lewis?
“I ... I’m sorry I yelled at you. I panicked. You see, I know your neighbour thinks we’re a couple and if someone who rarely sees us together believes that, then there has to be someone, maybe more than one someone, at the station who thinks the same. If I were go to Lyn’s wedding as your ‘partner’ ... shit, that would only fire up any gossip and rumour. I’m not worried about me, that’s not important,” he raised a hand to stop Robbie interrupting, “you have family to consider, Sir, a grandchild, your reputation and career. If things got too uncomfortable I could always find something else, and there’s no-one else I have to be concerned about.”
James slowly exhaled. “No, Sir, you’re right, there isn’t going to be a Mrs Hathaway, or even a Mr. There never was. I made that decision a very long time ago, before Will and Feardorcha, before the Seminary. Even my friendships don’t really last. I was let down often when I was younger and learnt to rely only on myself, taught myself I was the only person I could trust.”
“I want ... what do I want? I like being by myself and I hate it. I need to make my own decisions, my own mistakes, but sometimes I want there to be someone who’ll at least try and stop me if I’m off the mark, even though they know I won’t heed them. And I want that same person to pick up the pieces when I’ve completely cocked-up.”
James fell silent, his eyes downcast. Neither man moved or made any sound.
“You, Sir – Robbie. You’ve been, you are that person, though God knows it took me long enough to see it clearly. But even when I was sure ... how could I ... I was afraid if I ... I’m not gay – I’m not really anything ... I don’t want anyone physically ... but I’m ... I didn’t want to be the person who compromised you, who stopped you finding happiness. I’ve always been afraid I’d get too drunk one night and confess all. I really didn’t know just how you’d ... If I’d known ... no, if I’d been sure ... but it is, and you are, and I...”
As everything clarified itself in James’ mind, he looked up at Robbie, grinning, “What a right bloody pair we make! So, Sir, what do we do from here?" And am I your better half or you mine?”
“Oh, don’t you start wi’ that – gonna eventually get enough of it from Laura and Innocent I dare say.”
Later, after a takeaway was delivered and eaten and another beer drunk, as they sat side-by-side on the couch, Robbie told James what Lyn had actually said.
“Tell James I want him at the wedding. Your plus-one, your partner, should be some who’s important to you. Tell James I want the man who has given my Dad back to me, cos that’s what he’s done; somehow he’s picked up the pieces and ... there’ll always be a little bit missing, but from what you’ve said, James is greater than that piece. I hope you work things out Dad, I really do.”
For the first time since Val died Robbie felt at peace. He’d always known he could never recapture what he had with Val; here now with James, feelings laid bare, he had found his new beginning, he had finally ‘come home’.
As for James, this was the place he had sought since childhood; Robbie was his home.