Chapter 1: So This is Christmas
In which we visit the gang during their University days on Holiday, we meet their families and discover some very serious emotional baggage.
Author's Notes: This shows the formation of the Magnificent Seven minus one. (Because it's set during the gang's university days unfortunately, Scarlett is only briefly mentioned in this story and none of their future spouses, like Carrie, Deirdre, Serena at al. are in this. Too bad, I do like them. ) I love the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, mostly for the tight knit group of friends, so I thought I'd explore them as youngsters and find out how that bond began.
BTW, they never said any of their last names so I borrowed them from various literary sources. Oh and because I am not familiar with British Sign Language, all of Charles', David's , and their dad's conversations will be written like spoken conversations just with italics.
The Best and Worst Holiday
By Auburn Red
A Four Weddings and a Funeral Fanfic
I do not own these characters, except their parents, Marianne, Will's colleagues and Mr. Alexander. The others are the proud creations of Richard Curtis.
Chapter One: So This is Christmas
Years later they would describe that Christmas season as the worst any of them ever had, but privately they would think of it as the best too.
Charles Carton, Matthew Breck Stewart, and Fiona and Tom Earnshaw waited by the Waterloo Station to see Matthew off. School had been called off for the holidays, and the friends drove Matthew to the train station. The station was a bustle of travelers who were armed with packages, sobbing relatives, and screaming children. Christmas music played over the loud speaker and the walls were festooned with decorations.
"How does 'Mum, Dad I'm gay' sound to you?" Matthew asked his friends. He rehearsed potential ways of telling his parents that he was gay. Matthew had been uncertain about his homosexuality, but a secret affair with a professor convinced the 18-year-old Scotsman of the truth that he had long kept from himself.
Charles and the Earnshaw twins exchanged amused, but helpful glances. "Well seeing as how you are coming home for the holidays, you may want to cute it up a little," Fiona dryly suggested as she lit a cigarette.
"Sorry, it's my first time coming out," Matthew remarked. "I'm a little new at this."
"As opposed to us who are experts on the subject," Charles sarcastically remarked.
"Don't worry, Matt," Tom said. "I'm sure it will be alright and if not there are worse things like getting your tongue cut out and your entrails removed and your nails torn from your toes and fingers."
"Bugger off Tom," Fiona said annoyed at her brother.
Matthew rolled his eyes, but grinned at the others' comments. Fiona, Tom, Charles, and Matthew had known each other since the beginning of the semester, when Charles arrived late for class and Professor Wotton sat him next to Fiona, Tom, and Matthew. The four became casual friends and study partners. They attended the same group of parties and had similar interests, so they had begun to hang out together.
"Are all of you planning on enjoying this commercialized holiday that is nothing more for people to cling together like lemmings because they share a last name?" a jovial bombastic voice interrupted them. Fiona, Tom, Charles, and Matthew turned to see their professor, Gareth Wotton greet them. Tom and Charles pretended to cover their eyes at the brightness of Gareth's bright red and orange waistcoat.
The friends grinned. "No, they're just here to see me off," Matthew said hoping that his friends wouldn't see the creeping blush that he could already feel forming on his face. "You?"
"Just saying goodbye to the love of my life," the professor replied. The others nodded and smiled. "No, forever. We parted ways." The gang sighed and offered condolences. The older professor turned to Matthew. "And you off to explore new heights then?" Gareth asked.
Matthew shook his head. "Just up North to visit my family."
"Have big news to share?" Gareth leaned closer to the younger Scotsman and kissed the top of his ears.
Fiona, Tom, and Charles sighed romantically. "Awww!," they said and made retching noises.
"Of course we could do without the Greek Chorus," Gareth said. Matthew nodded, slightly embarrassed and pulled away.
"I'm nervous," Matthew fidgeted with his suitcase.
"Now when I told my parents, they were very proud of me, well after they recovered from the initial shock," Gareth replied.
"Yeah, but my folks especially my Dad will probably throw a fit, "Matthew said.
"If they do, you can ring me," Gareth said. He slipped the student a piece of paper. "My home will be tacky ornament and Christmas card free. Of course I will spend the holidays with my friends, particularly Dom Perignon.
Matthew grinned. "Thank you, Professor Wotton."
Gareth grinned. "Please after what we have been through especially you and me, I think we can call each other on a first name basis."
Matthew nodded as the train pulled up. "Alright, Gareth. There it is. Holiday in the trenches." He picked up his suitcase and waved goodbye to his friends. He leaned over to Gareth and wanted to kiss him again, but instead pulled away and walked up to the train waving again.
The others waved back as the train pulled away. Gareth sighed. "The newly outed are always the shyest," he said more to himself than to the others. He then cleared his throat and turned to his other students. "And you what are the three of you doing?"
Tom nodded at Fiona. "Well we're going to spend our Christmas with our parents. First with the four of us together in awhile."
"Yay hooray," Fiona said unenthusiastically. "We go off to University and now suddenly they decide to have the urge for all of us to be together."
"It won't be that bad," Tom reassured his sister touching her by the shoulder.
"Yeah listening to them fight about one thing or another, won't it be fun," Fiona said blandly. She turned to Charles. "You don't know how you fortunate you are to only have one parent to deal with."
Charles smirked. "Yes seeing as how I haven't seen our mother in nine years and my brother has never even known her, it's so much better."
"Sorry," Fiona said.
Charles waved his hand disdainfully. "Old news. Dad and my brother, David, will be there it won't be too bad."
Gareth smiled. "Aww depression, neurosis, and time with people you barely tolerate. It's what the holidays are all about." He looked at his watch. "I must be off, I hear fine wine and champagne calling me and they get very lonely when I am not around." He waved at the three students.
"Charles," Tom called. "You said your dad doesn't live too far from here. Would you like us to give you a ride?"
Charles smiled. "No, thank you. I brought my car, I will drive it."
Fiona laughed thinly. "You needn't be polite, Charlie. After the last time I rode in that bumpy thing of yours, Tom, I couldn't stand for days. I'm never riding in that again."
"Fifi, your license was revoked," Tom reminded her. "Either I drive you or you walk."
"Well then I guess I will be crippled through all university, then," Fiona said amidst the guy's laughter.
"I'm sure that won't be a problem with some of your dates," Charles riffed. Fiona playfully slugged her friend.
Charles grinned. "Well, I'm off. If I don't show up soon, Dad will be combing the city for a search party. Bye, Fiona; Tom."
"Bye, Charlie," Tom said.
"Charles, wait," Fiona said. She then ran over to her friend, then slipped him a piece of paper. "Ring me during the holiday, if you want to. "
"Sure, Fiona," Charles replied. "Of course." He gave her a friendly kiss on the cheek. "Bye now."
Fiona waved. "Right, bye now." She then turned to her brother. "Let's go, Tom."
"Do you like him?" Tom asked as Charles disappeared in the holiday crowd.
"Bugger off Tom," Fiona glared as they walked to Tom's car.
Charles and David strung popcorn on their tree, which was already crowded with several colorful decorations, while their Dad messed with some of the lights trying to untie the big knot. After awhile, he gave up and put the lights down. "Charlie, I thought Veronica was coming for the holidays." As always, Charles and his father signed all of their conversations. Deaf since birth, David could read lips and had some functional hearing with his hearing aids but his verbal skills never caught up. Dr. Carton had always insisted that he and his oldest son communicate in sign language to further include David in conversations.
Charles made a face as he recalled his former girlfriend. "We broke up, Dad," he said. "Since we got back from our trip to India, she hadn't had much of a sense of humor."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Will said.
"Is it because you shirt isn't buttoned and your socks are mismatched?," David asked mischievously. Charles looked down at his clothes and found he was right. His shirt buttons were askew and he had one on black and one gray sock. He was about to re-button his shirt, when David spoke again. "Or is it because you made fun of her when she was vomiting on curry?"
"How would you know that, you little-"Charles glared.
"Last time she was here and you said good-bye, I read your lips," the 9-year-old said snidely. "Even though he couldn't speak, David held his hands to his mouth as if he were giggling and emphasized the sign for retching.
Charles blushed embarrassed, but saw that David continued to laugh. Charles dropped his end of the string and ran after his younger brother. "You little brat!" he signed and yelled at the same time.
David ran through down the hallway, until he collided smack with the wall. Charles seized the opportunity to tackle his still laughing brother. The two tumbled near the Christmas tree. Before he could to too much real damage to his younger brother, Will stood up and clapped his hands. "Alright enough," he said, making a huge emphatic 'enough' sign and slamming his fist into the palm of his hand. Whenever Will made the slamming gesture, Charles and David called it their father's "angry sign" and knew that he had enough. "I would like the tree to remain up for this holiday season if you two don't mind!"
Charles and David pulled away sheepishly and returned to their previous activity, but not before David stuck his tongue out at his older brother, and Charles clipped him on the back of the head. Will was about to say something else, when his pager beeped. Charles glanced over at his father's direction. David followed his older brother's glance to their father. Will held up a finger as if to say "wait a minute" then walked into the kitchen to return the pager.
David rolled his eyes. "Dad's got to go into surgery again?" Charles asked.
David nodded. "Fourth time in the past two weeks. Sometimes, he's the only surgeon they call."
"Budget cuts?" Charles guessed. He had heard in his classes and in the news that budget cuts were cutting back on many services including in the large city hospital where their father worked as a Chief Trauma Surgeon in the Intensive Care Unit
The younger brother shrugged. "They let go quite a few doctors and nurses and reduced the salaries of the ones who stayed, including Dad's. Last week, Dad was one of the few surgeons who operated on a 10-car pile up."
"My God," Charles said. "I knew things were bad, but I didn't think they were that bad. No wonder Dad's been sounding so tired lately."
Will returned to the sitting room. "Sorry, boys. I have to go. A little girl needs a surgery."
Charles and David sighed. "How long you going to be gone this time, Dad?" David asked.
Will shook his head. "I don't know, David. But, hopefully I'll be back in plenty of time. We'll still have a lot to do, go to the Carole and the Panto. It will be fun."
David gave a sad smile. "Okay, I guess."
"We'll just have our Christmas dinner a little later, I promise," Will said. He gently hugged both his sons across the shoulder and waved good-bye.
Matthew glanced outside of the car window at the modest home he had grown up in. His father and brother had removed some of the rubbish from the front lawn, but otherwise the house was the same as all the others in the neighborhood, threadbare, gray, worn and joined to the other buildings that looked just like it.
Tommy opened the car door, while Matthew waited patiently. "What's the matter?" Tommy sarcastically asked. "Expecting the chauffeur to open the passenger seat for you?"
Matthew rolled his eyes and walked out of the car door, pulling his bags from the boot of the car. The snow fell on his dark hair that cut to near his shoulders. His older brother, Tommy hadn't said much on the trip from the train station, but that didn't surprise Matthew. He was usually taciturn, unless he had something rude and abrasive to say. Matthew just didn't expect the comments to start so quickly. He shrugged and followed his brother into the house.
Matthew opened the door to see the withered gray couple that he knew as his parents. They were standing by the tree, which had very few ornaments mostly wood, and devoid of color or character. A few plants hung on the windows here and there to demonstrate some Christmas spirit. Tommy and Matthew were born when their mum and dad were in their forties, so they always seemed old to Matthew. His mother stood up with the same colorless face. She walked up to her youngest son and hugged him. "Welcome, home, Matthew," she said.
"Thanks mum," Matthew said. He turned to his father though in his sixties, no one would ever make the mistake of calling John Breck Stewart frail, his skin was tanned from continuous exposure to the elements during his long days as a dockyard worker. He also had a face that Matthew always felt was chiseled in marble, because it constantly glared imperiously and almost never showed a smile. "Hello, Stranger," John said to his youngest son. "You're well."
Matthew nodded. "Fine, Dad."
"They teaching you at that school anything useful?" John asked snidely.
Matthew bit back an urge to say something snide to his father, when his mother stepped in. "John, don't start," she said. "I'm sure Matthew will answer your questions later. Right now let him put his things away." John sighed, but waved his hand as if the boy wasn't worth the trouble to argue with.
Taking the hint, Matthew gathered his bags and walked back to his old room. "Thanks mum," he whispered. Mary Breck Stewart kissed her younger son on the cheek and whispered. "Welcome home, Matty," Matthew blushed at the childhood nickname she gave him, but somehow felt comforted by it. He walked into the bedroom that really hadn't shown much difference than when he had been there before. Nope, the Monty Python and Fry and Laurie posters still hung on his wall. The bookshelf still teemed with the books that Matthew either forgot or were too large to bring with him to university.
Matthew plopped his suitcase on the bed and slowly removed his clothing. He gingerly opened the bedroom door and glanced back and forth to see if anyone was watching. Then, he reached into the bottom of his suitcase and pulled out a small framed picture of Gareth. The man had an impish smile on his face and that was about all he wore. Matthew laughed when he remembered when it was taken; a month after the two of them accidentally kissed during a study session and their affair began. "If you wish to be gay, the least that I can do is give you a visual aid to either enchant you or turn you to women faster than you can blink." Matthew laughed and placed the photograph by his bedside making sure that it was far from interfering eyes, but close to his vision.
Fiona and Tom waited in the sitting room accepting drinks from Mrs. Staples, the family housekeeper facing their mother. The house was decorated with fine Victorian patterns on the antique glass ornaments. Green and red decorations shone around the kitchen with their cold and glowing brilliance. Emilia Earnshaw quizzically glanced at each child, then at her watch. "Well, your father had better get here so we can get this blasted holiday over with." She glanced over at Tom. "Really, Tom don't slouch. If you are going to inherit anything, how can you look like a ruffian?" The fact that Tom would mostly be inheriting the Earnshaw family estates in the country and would have to be somewhat scruffy looking missed his mother by, but Tom figured that his mother was not in the mood to be corrected so he wisely held his tongue. Instead, his mother turned to Fiona. "And Fiona, you should really cut your hair. It's treated so much, it's starting to dry up." Fiona ran her fingers through her permed hair and up her sprayed bangs. She actually was thinking about getting it cut, but she didn't want to give her mother the satisfaction of knowing that. Instead her mother held up her teenage daughter's hands noting the singe marks on her fingernails. "Smoking again? You know that behavior is improper, not to mention filthy. Why must you do it?"
Fiona's face broke into an impish grin. "Sorry, mum, you told me that I needed to lose some weight before I left for university. I heard that cigarettes were an appetite suppressant."
Tom glanced down at his shoes so his mother wouldn't see the amused grin forming on his face, but he couldn't resist letting out a chuckle.
"That will do, Tom," Emilia corrected her son, then she turned to Fiona. "Far be it from me, Fiona to encourage my children to achieve some level of perfection in their lives. It appears that I cannot do anything about your mouth. "
Fiona ran her fingers along her mouth. "What's wrong with my mouth, mum?" she asked.
"It's always open and there is always something rude coming out of it," her mother shot back. Fiona rolled her eyes and fixed her brother a look that clearly said 'you see why I didn't want to come?'
The front door opened and a man with salt and pepper hair and a winning smile appeared. "Hello, Fifi, Tom," Fiona and Tom walked up to their father giving him a hug, though Fiona with less conviction. He glanced at his ex-wife. "Hello Emilia."
"Stephen," Emilia nodded curtly.
"How is university, you two," Stephen asked his son and daughter.
"Fine dad," Fiona said not offering more comment.
"Great, Dad," Tom said. "You won't believe what we are studying this term. All of these great works about the country and I am reading some things by Pargeter about-"
Stephen Earnshaw nodded. "Yes, I'm sure that's nice son." He said barely listening. He approached the door. "Children, there's someone I want you to meet. " He opened the door and waved the person inside. She was a petite woman, girl really no more than 20, with soft blond hair and large blue eyes. Her light pink knee-length dress made her look younger. Already, Fiona had a bad feeling about this. Stephen took the girl's hand and held over to them. "Tom, Fiona, Emilia, I would like you to meet Marianne Silversleeves. She is to be part of our family."
"It's nice to meet all of you," Marianne said with a soft Cockney accent. "Stevie has told me all about you, I'm sure we'll all be great friends."
Tom and Fiona exchanged surprised glances. Tom was just as upset as his sister, but he covered it up by shaking the girl's and his father's hand. "Uh, congratulations Marianne; Dad, it's nice to meet you. I wish he told us more about you, I mean, oh bugger."
Fiona shook the girl's hand very cool and detached. "Yes, that is so typically generous of Dad. He is always thinking of others. Imagining him opening his home and heart to a foundling girl and wanting to adopt her."
Marianne and her father offered a tense laugh. "That's not what I meant, Fiona," Stephen said to his daughter his voice tightening. "I mean we are to be married."
Emilia's face was nonchalant, but she shook the other woman's hand. "Welcome, I'm sure that my former husband will do his part to make your marriage as fortunate and happy as ours was."
"Thank you," Marianne said not missing the irony in the older woman's voice.
"Yeah, congratulations, Dad, Marianne," Tom said. "I'm happy for you, really." His flat voice betrayed his real feelings.
"Thank you, Tom," Stephen said. "Fiona." He prompted.
Fiona stared at her father for a long time, pale and silent. She managed to choke out a "Congratulations, dad," before she turned on her heels and walked out of the large house.
Chapter 2: Send Me an Angel
In which Matthew's family learns of his sexuality and he runs to the arms of the man that he loves, Fiona and Tom have an uncomfortable scene with their dad, mum, and future stepmum, and Charles experiences a loss in his family.
Chapter Two: Send Me an Angel
Matthew sat in silence while his family talked around him. His mother tried to uphold a cheerful conversation easing her older son and his wife out of their many arguments. Matthew could feel his father's eyes boring on to him. His mother passed the soup to her daughter-in-law. Tom and his wife, Eileen hit each other sniping looks still caught in their earlier fight. Eileen had argued with her husband about the bills that were piling up.
"Stuff it Eileen," Tom glowered.
Eileen rolled her eyes. "Maybe if you didn't waste your time drinking at that pub and more time actually working, maybe we wouldn't be still living with your folks."
"I said shove it!" Tom shouted.
"Don't tell me to-"Eileen began.
"Eileen, that is enough," John said. "Don't contradict your husband!"
"But-"Eileen looked around finding no support from either her husband or her mother-in-law; she sat back down in silence.
Matthew gently tapped his sister-in-law on the shoulder. Though only ten years older than he, Eileen looked about 20 years older with premature lines and extra weight that she put on. Her chestnut hair had dulled over the years into a mousy brown. "Don't worry, "Matthew joked. "Not-so-great minds think alike." Eileen grinned at her younger brother-in-law's comment.
"Oh I suppose everyone should go to uni like you, my lord, "Tommy taunted. "Pretending to gallivant with the rich folks, pretending like yer one of them and humble yourself with us peasants!"
"Tommy, Matthew stop!" Mary asked.
"That's okay, mum," Matthew quipped. "He missed his chance so he gets to take it out on the rest of us!"
Matthew stopped. He knew he had gone too far, but he couldn't help himself. Tommy had turned down an engineering position to work with his father and marry Eileen and had regretted it ever since. Tommy stood up and grabbed his younger brother by the shoulder ready to punch him. "En you talk about that again- I will hit you so hard your rich friends won't recognize you!"
Matthew pushed away from him. "Matthew, you are to apologize to your brother at once!" John commanded.
Matthew turned to his father. "But Dad, he threatened to hit me!"
"And you antagonized him, now apologize," John commanded. Matthew winced as though he could picture his father's belt strap on his back, like when he was younger.
He turned to Tommy. "I'm sorry, Tommy. I shouldn't have said that."
"It's alright," Tommy replied. They ate again in silence, but Matthew couldn't ignore the flat way that his brother responded or the suspicious way that he looked at him.
The Earnshaw family and Marianne sat in the parlor as though they were assassins staring each other down waiting for the other to make the first move. Not one of them wanted to speak first. Tom smiled politely at his future stepmother. "How did you and Dad meet, Marianne?" he asked.
"I work at the main branch of your father's stores," Marianne replied.
"Oh a shop girl," Emilia laughed bitterly as she tossed back another Chablis that the housekeeper gave her.
"Umm no," Marianne corrected. "I'm actually an assistant merchandise buyer for Earnshaw's."
"She'll be senior within a year's time," Stephen said proudly holding his fiancée's hand.
"So she's a head shop girl," Emilia quipped as she dowsed her fifth Chablis. "It's always good to move ahead on the backs of other's. In your case I suppose literally."
Marianne bristled at the older woman's comment, and then turned to Fiona. "So, Fiona, your father tells me that you're interested in fashion as well. Are you interested in working in retail later?"
"My daughter doesn't need to work in such a profession," Emilia glowered.
Fiona glared at both her mother and future stepmother. "No, more of fashion periodicals. Actually, I will be interning at Vogue during the next term."
Marianne nodded. "Oh, parlez-vous francais?"
Fiona smiled snidely. "Oui je parle francais. J'etudie pours quatorze ans. En fait, j'ais mieux que tois au parler francais."
Marianne laughed. "I have a feeling that you and I will get along very well."
"I highly doubt it," Fiona muttered loud enough for the family to hear.
Stephen grinned. "Yes, you see both of my children have inherited my various loves. Tom prefers the landholdings in the country, while, Fiona prefers the sophisticated urbane life of my fashion boutiques."
"Yes, your children are wonderful," Marianne said.
Tom waved his hand. "Thanks ma'am. When is the wedding?"
"We're planning for a spring wedding," Stephen said. "You are both invited of course."
Tom was about to nod when his mother interjected. "I'm sure they will be too busy to celebrate your nuptials with your child-wife!"
Stephen glared at his former wife. "You mean, too busy spending every holiday at one of their many schools or behind closed doors while their mother drinks her holidays away on the Continent."
Emilia laughed. "Yes, I'm sure that's what you think of me. My money wasn't good enough for you and your little wife. "
"Well it wasn't enough to keep me married to you," Stephen said sarcastically.
"I'm sure you two were happy once," Tom offered.
"Yes, our wedding day was wonderful," Emilia said. "Charming, lovely, made all of the society pages."
"It's every day since then that has been horrible," Stephen muttered.
"Of course the second most wonderful day was when we signed our papers," Emilia said.
"For once we agree," Stephen said.
Fiona had an urge for a cigarette. She dropped her napkin. "May I be excused, I'm not very hungry." Her parents glared at each other, neither responding to her request. So, Fiona excused herself and retreated to her old bedroom.
Matthew wandered back to his bedroom. He was surprised to see that the door was slightly ajar. He gingerly widened the door to see his older brother sprawled on his bed. "What are you doing in here?"
"Ain't your room anymore," Tommy mocked. Matthew could tell that his older brother was drunk. "Mum and Dad talked about turning it into a spare room, so technically everything in here belongs to the family. "
Matthew moved closer to see what his brother was holding onto. "That doesn't give you the right to go through my stuff!" He grabbed the black journal that Matthew had been writing in.
"Ach, I wasn't reading that anyway," Tommy said as Matthew pulled it away from his brother. "I was more interested in the pictures."
"What pictures," Matthew asked warily.
Tommy dangled a photograph in front of his brother's face. He had taken care to hide the framed photo but forgot about a smaller one that he used as a bookmark."Like this one, why would you have a picture of some old codger naked?"
"I mean it! Give it back!" Matthew commanded jumping on the brother.
"Our little scholar is now a queer," Tommy said. Though Tommy was stockier and more muscular, Matthew was taller and more agile. Matthew was able to grab the photograph from his brother's hands. Tommy yowled as Matthew scratched his older brother's hand. Tommy then pushed him off the bed. Surprised Matthew drew back. The two brothers wrestled on the ground until Matthew punched his brother good and hard on the nose.
"What the blazes is going on in here!" John's voice thundered through the small room. Both boys glanced up at their father, mother, and Eileen watching them. "Is it necessary for you to be fighting like two babes?"
"I saw Tommy going through my things," Matthew said.
"Well I have to if he's breaking the law," Tommy said.
"I am not, it's legal now," Matthew retorted. He then rubbed his head with his hands realizing that he inadvertently outed himself.
"What is legal now," John said slowly in growling menacing tone. There was a tense moment of silence as Tommy returned Gareth's picture with a sly smirk as if his work was done. Matthew glared at his older brother and handed his father the picture.
John's eyes widened, but said nothing. He handed it over to his wife who gasped. "Does this mean what I think it does?" John asked.
Matthew sighed. "If it means if I slept with a well-read, intelligent, sweet older person who just so happens to be another man, then yes!"
Mary began hyperventilating. "Matty-how could you-fornicating, sodomy!"
"Is this what they teach you at that school," John almost screamed. "I knew you taking that scholarship was a mistake!"
"Well you told me that I wouldn't have been any good as a docker," Matthew retorted. "I had to do something."
"But to be recruited, in this filth," John sputtered. "Was this man, this older man, the one who recruited you?"
Matthew shook his head and laughed. "Yes, Dad, he recruited me to join their club. We wear pink army uniforms and sashay in formation."
The back of his father's rough hand scrubbed across his face was the only answer from that comment. Matthew glanced over at his mother hoping that she will stand up for him, but instead tears filled her eyes. His father continued. "If that is all they teach you at that school, then you needn't go back there!"
Matthew gasped. "Like hell I'm not!" His father slapped him again.
"You will obey your father at once," John said. "If you go back to that school and that old invert, you don't ever return here!"
Matthew glanced from his father, to his mother, to his brother. He knew that he never agreed with the rest of his family. When he was younger, he used to look outside his bedroom window and just imagine his life passing him by the way it had for his family and about everyone else he knew. When he received the scholarship to attend the University of London, he was thrilled. A new world had opened up for him, one he wouldn't have traded for anything. He looked down at the photo of the curly haired man who had helped him so much in this rocky first term. He nodded knowing what he had to do and what choice he had to make.
Charles and David sat on the couch watching an old version of A Christmas Carol on the television. As usual, the closed captioning was turned on so David could watch, but neither was really paying attention to the action on the TV. The two brothers had already finished decorating the tree and the sitting room. Charles glanced at his watch. Are you watching this? Charles asked.
No, David answered. I wished he would come already. He sometimes doesn't come home until late at night.
Well, he's on call, Charles reminded him getting a little nervous himself. He glanced out the window. Snow was starting to pile down from the sky. You want to go by the hospital? If Dad's finished, we can take him home and he can pick up his car tomorrow. He can sleep in and you and I can do some shopping.
David glanced at his older brother warily. You forgot to get Dad's Christmas present didn't you?
Charles glared at his younger brother, slightly embarrassed at the obvious truth. That's not important! It's about doing something nice for our father. David's eyebrows widened, skeptically. Anyway, you probably forgot too!
I bought Dad's present at the beginning of December, David replied pointing upstairs where the gifts were usually hidden.
I bought Dad's present at the beginning of December, Charles mimicked his brother signing and verbally. You want to come or not?
Charles and David arrived at the hospital and greeted a gray haired black woman. "Hi, Madge," Charles called.
"Hi, Charlie," Madge Nielson called squeezing the young man in a tight hug. Madge Nielson was the resident head nurse of the hospital and Will's oldest friend on staff. Since their mother's absence, Madge often helped her boss and boss' sons. Even though she was married and had four children and two grandchildren, Madge sort of became a surrogate aunt or second mother to the boys.
"Is my father finished?" he asked.
"Just about," Madge replied. "Working too hard as usual. It wouldn't kill him to take a break once in awhile. But you know him, he has to be the Superman of the ICU. He's talking to the girl's mother right now. How's school?"
"The usual," Charles replied.
"Any girlfriends?" Madge asked.
"Not currently," Charles answered.
"Well what have you been doing to them?" Madge asked. "You're young, you're attractive. You're smart. Have you been saying things you shouldn't have?"
"Madge," Charles covered his face embarrassed. He glanced down the hallway just as Dr. Carton approached them. "Thanks for Dad." He whispered as his father waved and turned back to a young red-haired woman. She had crimped hair that trailed down to her shoulders and wore a hot fuchsia sweater and acid jeans. Big pink hoop earrings hung from her ears and bangle bracelets jangled on her wrists. Charles thought she was kind of pretty even though she was easily a few years older than him.
Will finished explaining to the woman the procedure that they performed on her daughter. "She passed the crisis point, Miss Bennett, and she should be resting now."
The woman squealed with delight and hugged the surgeon who laughed good-naturedly. "Thank you, sir," she said.
"I'm glad to help," Will replied. "She is a sweet little girl."
Miss Bennett laughed. "She must have been under quite a bit of that anesthesier' then," the woman joked good naturedly relieved that her daughter was well. "She can be quite a handful."
Will chuckled. "Well I have only seen the movie once but as I recall, her namesake was a bit of trouble herself. It sounds like you named her well."
Miss Bennett nodded. "Umm doc," she said. "This is kind of a funny question, but she wanted to know if since she was in the hospital Father Christmas wouldn't forget her. I think she was more worried about that than the surgery. "
Will smiled. "You tell Scarlett that Father Christmas won't forget her and she will be out in plenty of time for Christmas Eve tomorrow."
"Thank you sir," Miss Bennett said approaching the elevator.
Will grinned at the retreating woman. He waved his sons forward. What's this all about? he asked.
Charles grabbed his father by the shoulder as though he were making a business proposition. It has come to our attention that you have been working too hard- Before their father could continue, Charles spoke again- so we have decided in light of your health and the customary cheer of the season that we are dropping you off at home. You are getting some sleep and David and I are having dinner and going out for the evening.
Well that's very thoughtful of you, Charlie, Will remarked to his son. He turned to David. Whose present did he forget to buy? David pointed at his father.
Well you don't have to, Charles said rather testily. But the only proviso is that you turn off the pager and let the hospital know that you are unavailable.
Will glanced at his pager. He was described as handsome with his slightly graying fair hair and narrow good looks but lately both Charles and David noticed their father had been looking older. He had dark circles around his eyes and he looked ashen. It actually would be nice in light of last week. He said. He placed the pager in his pocket. Very well, you're on. Let me get my coat.
"Dr. Carton," a voice called. The father and two sons turned to see a small balding man in a dark brown overcoat. He fidgeted with the buttons on his coat. He glanced around the hallway, his clear blue eyes having a widened dead look in them. "I don't know if you remember me or not- I'm Mr. Jim Alexander and-"
Will nodded. Charles noticed that his father looked more serious and a little concerned. "Yes, of course, I remember. Can I help you, Mr. Alexander?"
Alexander shifted again. "I want to talk to you about my wife. " He spoke quietly then his voice heightened. "How could you-"
Will held up his hand. "Mr. Alexander, would you feel better discussing this in private? My office is over there." He pointed at the glass doorway with his name printed on the front. Alexander nodded, then Will turned to his sons. Sorry boys, this will take a few minutes. I'll be right back. He waved Jim Alexander inside his office and closed the door behind him.
Charles sat next to his brother and glanced again at his watch. If they waited too much longer, the store would be closed. He tapped David on the shoulder. I have to get to the shop. Can you wait here? When Dad comes out tell him that I will be back in about 15 minutes or a half-hour. David shrugged and took out a pair of headphones. Charles shook his head. It was a trick that David used, when he was going to be alone with strangers. He didn't like strange people trying to strike up a conversation with him and then realizing that he was deaf, so he pretended that he was too wrapped up in music to notice. Charles shrugged, technically, their father always said that David heard music his own way anyway. Maybe that was a part of it.
Charles waved at his younger brother and ordered him to stay where he was while he snuck out the elevator and downstairs.
"Would you like a drink, Mr. Alexander?" Will asked as he invited the middle-aged man to sit in the chair across from him.
"No, thank you," Alexander replied.
"Well can I take your coat?" the surgeon asked this man who seemed nervous. He reached over to take the other man's coat but he resisted.
"NO!" Alexander said in such fury that the doctor held back. "I mean not yet. I want to talk first. "
"Alright," Will began. "I'm sorry about your wife."
"She was a wonderful woman, my Bess," Jim said. "How could you take her from me?"Jim sunk down on the chair across from Will's desk. He fingered a photograph of Charles and David that sat on Will's desk. "Your boys?" Will nodded as Jim continued. "Handsome lads. I have three of me own that will never see their mum again. Your boys at least have a mum."
Will smiled thinly. "Actually, they don't. Their mother walked out on them nine years ago. Mr. Alexander, I am truly sorry. I treated her as best as I could but as I explained, by the time, she got to me, it was too late. She had lost an enormous amount of blood."
"You could have saved her, you could have done more to help her."
"Yes, and 9 other people would have died!," Will almost shouted. "Mr. Alexander, your wife's injuries were awful, but too extensive. I was one of the few surgeons on duty. She had a less than 10% chance to live. It wasn't an easy decision, but I had to treat other people-"
"IT WAS ENOUGH OF A CHANCE FOR ME!" Mr. Alexander shouted so loudly that Will drew back. "Do you know how often I think of that night? How often I see her in my mind before I go to sleep? How I had to tell my children that their mother was dead because the doctor didn't think that she had a chance to live? Do you ever think about that?"
"More than you realize," Will said slowly.
Matthew waited outside the phone booth as the snow began to flow harder down the London sky. He wrapped his coat around his body and shivered as it got colder. It seemed to drop at least thirty degrees from the moment the train dropped him off. He didn't feel as confident as when he stared down his father. In fact, he felt cold, exhausted, hungry, and discouraged. He considered whether he should call Gareth or not. Would he come for him? Would he laugh at Matthew or worse not show up at all? Was he behaving worse than a silly love sick teenager expecting to be rescued? His father's words echoed in his mind, If you return to that school and that old invert, then you don't ever return home!
I really don't have much of a choice, Matthew thought. The remainder of his money was spent on a one-way ticket back to London. He had very little change left and he needed a place at least for the night. His fingers shivered, from the cold and fear, as he picked up the phone and placed the change inside. He dialed the number on the paper.
The phone on the other end rang several times as Matthew silently cursed himself. Idiot, he thought, you don't know anything about Gareth Wotton really! He might be at a party or with his family! True he said those things about Christmas, but maybe he isn't always like that. For all you know, he may have a wife and kids somewhere. You might just be some twink that he just wanted to bonk for the night! What would someone as bright, charming, worldly and sophisticated as him want with a scruffy lower- class naff like you?
Matthew's inner worries were silenced when after the 10th ring, a slurred voice called. " 'Ello?"
Matthew inwardly sighed. "Professor Wot- uh Gareth, it's Matthew Breck Stewart, you gave me your number and told me to ring you anytime-"
"Umh, yes of course," Gareth's voice became a little more understandable as though the call from the younger Scotsman may have sobered him up. "I mean, I wanted you to ring me but I didn't think that it would be so quickly. Your holiday was that bad?"
"Um pretty bad actually," Matthew tried to make a joke of it. "In fact it was so bad that I'm here in London, instead of there and I have nowhere to go-"There was a deep silence as Matthew held the lump in his throat to keep from crying. He realized how pathetic he sounded. Gareth was probably hanging up on him right now.
The silence continued until Gareth spoke again. "Sorry, I had to put my trousers on and get a pencil. Where are you?"
Matthew leaned against the phone booth. He had long finished his conversation with Gareth and now waited, either for the older man to get him or to think of another plan whichever came first. He had many friends in university, but none that he knew their numbers or if they would put him up for the night. All of the emotions that he had been feeling that day, the rage at his family, the sadness of being alone, even the cold had drained away from him until he was lost in a blank numbness and exhaustion. He sank down next to the booth as sleep overpowered him. His eyes slowly closed. They weren't even closed for a few minutes, when he could see lights shining through them. He opened his eyes to see a white car pull over across from the phone booth and a man emerge from the driver's seat. Matthew stood warily as Gareth approached him.
"Well it seems I have come all this way to be a cliché, your knight on a shining white charger," Gareth pompously said.
Normally Matthew would have laughed or rolled his eyes at the joke, but this time his eyes filled. Before he could stop them, he burst into a fit of sobbing. Gareth pulled the other man closer to him and embraced him. Matthew instantly felt the warmth in the professor's hug. "It was awful," Matthew's voice was almost muffled by leaning his face against Gareth's shoulder.
"Well I admit that joke was weak, but-"Gareth tried to make light of the situation.
"Not that," Matthew replied. "Going home was awful." He pulled away and wiped his eyes. "I'm sorry," he tried to regain some of his usual calm. "I shouldn't bother you with this."
Gareth wrapped one arm around the younger man's shoulders and led him to the car. "Yes, you should. Now, you are going to tell me what happened and I am going to see what I can do to bring that lovely smile back to your face." Without another word of protest, Matthew carried his bags and followed Gareth to the car.
David waited for his father or his brother impatiently tapping his foot on the chair. Lately, his father had been looking tired and somber. Whenever David asked what was wrong, Will smiled and said it was nothing, which was odd, because he was usually so honest with his feelings. David guessed that man must have something to do with it.
An older woman smiled and waved at him, but David ignored her. He wondered what that man wanted. His lips said something about a wife. Did his dad treat her and she died? His father didn't like talking about the patients that he lost, but sometimes his drawn tired face would tell David the truth. He remembered last year, he once asked how his dad felt when a patient died. He smiled and said, We get upset of course, but the best thing that we can do is think about how we can learn from that to help the next patient. Nevertheless, his father was glad that neither Charles nor David wanted to be doctors. He joked that he would never have wished that on anyone. He was even supportive over the fact that Charles wanted to be a writer and David wanted to be a musician. He believed in the best in everyone and their abilities. David knew whatever the problem was with the man, his father would fix it.
Will stood next to Alexander, looking him closely in the eye. He touched him by the shoulder. The smaller man drew back as if bitten by a snake. Something about his nervous posturing and his dead look made Will uncomfortable and he knew why. When he was a boy, living in various third world countries while his father attended to patients, Will had seen that dead look in many people who joined terrorist groups or soldiers of fortune. They were driven by hatred at those who wronged them so much, that they were devoid of any other emotion and they no longer cared who they hurt even themselves. He decided for now to tell him the truth unsure of what Alexander would do.
"I know that I should have done more," he said. "I do think of what I could have done differently. I could have called in another specialist. Someone else could have taken care of her. I have regretted it ever since. Sometimes I have seen her in my other patients that I have treated. I failed and I am sorry."
Mr. Alexander nodded. "That's all," Will asked.
The other man shook his head and slowly unbuttoned his coat. "The Bible speaks of a life for a life. You took my wife's life, so it's only right that I should take yours." He removed his coat to show a small device with wires and buttons. It looked haphazardly put together, but Will had no doubt what it was: a bomb! "I work in electronics, did you know that?"
Will shook his head, his breath caught in his throat. He wanted to panic, scream at the man, pull the bomb from his hand, anything. He reached over to the call button. "Don't touch that," Alexander said through gritted teeth. Will removed his hand from the buzzer.
"Do you think that will solve anything?" Will said trying to remain calm. Alexander offered no reply so Will continued. "Think about it, this will accomplish nothing. Besides, it will kill you too."
"You think that matters," Alexander screamed. "I'll be with my Bess."
Will glanced over at the photograph of his sons. Let me live through this for them, he prayed silently. "But your children will be without a father and so will mine."
Alexander slowly removed his finger from the button. "My children-?"
Will lay his hand on the other man's hand trying to gently remove the bomb from him, but Alexander still had a firm grip on it. "Yes, they already lost their mother, do you think they want to lose their father too?"
There was a tense silent, when Will's office door opened to a loud knock. Both Will and Alexander jumped with surprise to see David standing by the door. "DAVID GET BACK!" Will signed frantically. Alexander confused pushed the button on the bomb and the air shook with an ear-shattering noise as the explosion surrounded the office and the hallway.
Charles waited at the counter as he explained to the sales associate what he wanted, a gold watch. He grinned at the dark-haired girl standing behind him. "I want it engraved in the back with the word, 'Baba.' "
"Papa?" the associate asked.
"No," Charles replied. "B-A-B-A." At the associate's confused glance, Charles corrected. "It's Swahili for father."
As the associate engraved the words, the girl smiled. She had a very unique face, Charles thought. "Is your father from Swahili-land, then?" She asked unsure of the country.
Charles laughed. "Also known as Kenya? No, not originally. My father grew up there. Well and some other places all over the world, mostly in Africa and Asia. He traveled a lot as a boy, but Kenya was his favorite place. I hope it reminds him of it."
The girl smiled. "That's nice, very thoughtful. I'm never imaginative when it comes to gifts for my father. I usually get him a tie with his initials monogrammed." She held up the box as if to prove it.
"That's thoughtful," Charles reassured her. "It's practical and if he ever loses it, he knows he'll get another one next year."The girl laughed. "I'm Charles," Charles said.
"I'm Henrietta," the girl replied.
The associate motioned to Charles, finished with the watch. "That will be 75.00 pounds, ten extra for the engraving." Charles reached in his wallet for the money, when another associate called the other one. "Turn up the telly, Miss Ryan." Miss Ryan leaned over to turn up the television.
Charles caught the image out of the corner of his eye, but as he handed the associate the money his eyes widened in shock. A newscaster stood in front of a building filled with smoke and fire, a very familiar building. Charles read on the screen: Explosion at Local Hospital! 2 Deaths confirmed! Injuries unknown! Charles grabbed the shopping bag and ran. "OH FUCK!," Charles yelled.
The young man ran out of line and out of the shop bag in hand. "Sir your change," the associate called.
"Keep it," Charles called back as he ran out the door.
Charles parked the car as the hospital parking lot was a sea of confusion with various emergency vehicles, police officers barking orders, or emergency workers leading people or carrying others on stretchers. Charles ran closer to the police barricade.
"Excuse me young man, you can't go in there," a middle-aged police officer held Charles by the shoulder. Charles glanced at the debris and smoke around the hospital wall. He closed his eyes hoping that when they were opened, this would go away but it didn't.
Charles tried to move forward again, but the police officer held him back. "My father works there," Charles answered breathing hard. "My brother's in there. I want to see if they're alright."
"I understand, lad," the police officer said in a tone that indicated he really didn't, but we have to do our jobs."
Charles looked around, frantic, worried. What could he do? He hoped that his father and David were somewhere in the crowd. He briefly overheard one of the police officers tell the other one who grabbed Charles that "the good news is the explosion was only contained to this wing of the hospital."
Yes, I'm leaping for joy, Charles thought sarcastically. He then saw two emergency workers carry a small body on a stretcher. Charles ran approaching the stretcher, his heart skipping several beats. "That's my brother. Is he alright?" He asked. David's face was dirty and he looked pale and small. He was unconscious. Charles placed a hand on his brother's, but one of the EMT's pushed his hand away.
"Young man, we have to work on him," he said.
"What's wrong with him?" Charles said.
"We don't know yet, we're doing everything that we can," the worker tried to assure him.
"His name is David," Charles said quietly.
"We'll do everything that we can for David," the worker replied.
That's one down, Charles thought, where's Dad? He glanced around and saw two stretchers being carried with white sheets over them. The bodies weren't moving. Please don't let one of them be Dad, Charles begged as he approached them. He tried to remove one of the sheets when a police officer, a woman, tried to hold onto him. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm trying to look for my father," Charles said.
"Young man, we're taking these to the morgue," the officer replied.
Charles glared at the officer. He was getting tired of these officials treating him like a child. "My name is not Young Man, mum, now let me see if one of them is my father!"
The police officer rolled her eyes and nodded to her assistant as he pulled back one sheet. A balding middle-aged man lay on the stretcher. Charles shook his head. He overheard the assistant tell his superior that judging by the man's position that he was the one who caused the explosion. Charles tensed as the assistant pulled back the other sheet. Charles felt what remained of his lunch filling his throat. He struggled to keep his breath, but the whole earth seemed to be spinning. "That's him," Charles said as he sank to the ground the shopping bag fallen beside him.
Chapter 3: An Ornament Lost Inside the Night
In which David encounters the spirit of their father, Tom and Fiona form a closer bond, Matthew ponders his future with Gareth, and Charles comes to terms with their father's death and watches over his brother's bedside.
Author's Note: This chapter takes on a supernatural bent, so if you get confused that's why. :D Also, I don't know if Helen Keller is widely talked about in Britain, but I thought referring to her was effective for this chapter.
Chapter Three: An Ornament Lost Inside the Night
The street seemed endless. David didn't know how he got there, but he was compelled to move forward. He was confused. How did he get here? Where was he before? He searched his mind, but couldn't remember. He felt cold and disconnected from the world around him. A loud honk disturbed his thoughts. He covered his ears and raised his hand to adjust his hearing aids. He touched the back of his ears, but felt nothing but skin! He wasn't wearing his hearing aids!
He only had a second to overcome his shock, when the car horn grew louder. David ran to the nearby sidewalk avoiding the line of cars that headed towards him. He sighed with relief. He leaned against a building to collect his thoughts. A loud crash broke him from his reverie! He looked to the left and heard a drill banging against the sidewalk! The sound was loud and gave David a headache. He stepped away, but the loud honking from the cars, crashing, drilling, and yelling overwhelmed his senses! The noise overfilled the air, threatening David. It was too loud. He covered his ears, feeling alone and frightened. He closed his eyes as his forehead throbbed in pain. He often wondered what it would be like to wake up one morning just to hear like everyone else, but never wished or expected that to come. Now he wished it hadn't! These sounds were threatening, frightening, chaotic! He begged to be taken away from there.
Suddenly, the noise stopped. David slowly removed his hands. He wasn't on the city streets anymore. He was now in a green forest. Instead of the cold disturbed feelings he had earlier, he felt an instant warmth and peace surrounding him. He again felt his ear and still couldn't feel his hearing aid, but sounds were still around. He could hear birds and other animals chirping and squealing. The nearby swooshing of the water trickled down. David slowly spun around feeling the warmth around. The smells of flowers made him feel light headed. Everything moved in time almost feeling like its own music.
David could never explain to most people what he felt whenever music played. Some songs just felt differently. Some felt warm and loving, some felt cold. Others felt instantly threatening. Sometimes out of the corner of his eye, David thought he could see faint little wisps of light that changed color depending on the music. One of his teachers once told him that he didn't hear music the way most people did, he felt and saw music and because of that he felt music everywhere, which was why he had taken piano lessons and why he felt so mesmerized whenever he played. The feelings and wisps of light did for him what sound did for most hearing people. This forest was like that only better. He could see bright colors forming from the river, the animals, and the plants around him. They surrounded him with love. David felt that if he wanted to, he could fly. He danced moving along with it, feeling a part of the world around him.
He felt his feet land on the earth. He jumped as someone tapped him on the shoulder. David turned around and came face to face with a man who looked younger than he had ever seen him. "Dad!" he yelled, wrapping his arms around his father's neck. He gasped. He heard a voice sounding high and young. It took a half-second before he realized that it was his own voice! "I can hear and I can talk," he said.
Will grinned. "I have always wanted to hear that voice."
David's face fell. He remembered the explosion, the hospital. "You're dead aren't you?"
Will nodded and smiled. "It was my time."
"Is this Heaven?" David asked. "I'm dead too?"
Will shook his head. "You're still hovering between life and death. You have plenty of time to make your decision. As for your other question, this is the part of the world where the living don't see. We are in the world, but we float along it. Sometimes seeing or sensing what is around us and sometimes we are in Heaven."
David looked around. "Is Charles here too?"
Will looked down and shook his head. "No." David looked down sad until his father tilted his chin. "Want me to show you around?" He held out his hand. David hesitated, but took his father's hand and his father led him to the river and a small wooden boat.
Fiona stood outside her family home sitting under a willow tree flicking the ashes from the tip of her cigarette. Her ruby red thumbnail tapped the end of the cigarette. Their father and Marianne had left that morning, actually stormed out was the more appropriate verb, after yet another argument between him and her mother. She rolled her eyes wondering what possessed her to come to her mother's house for the holidays.
"I thought you might be out here," Tom's voice made the young woman jump in surprise. Tom was going to call his friend, Bernard to wish him a happy holidays but he remembered that he was with his family celebrating Christmas in the country, so Tom looked for Fiona instead.
"How did you guess that?" Fiona asked.
"I remember whenever mum punished you, you always ran out here," her brother said. "Didn't think I knew about it did you?"
Fiona smiled and invited her brother to sit. "Why did they even do it in the first place? Why on earth did Mum and Dad think that all of a sudden we could stand to be in the same room?"
Tom shrugged. "Maybe they felt guilty about all the time that we spent apart. Maybe they thought now that we're getting older they are realizing all of the things that they were missing. Don't they deserve the benefit of the doubt?"
Fiona stood up in disbelief. "What do we owe Dad or Mum? What did they ever do for us except make us ammunition in their continuous war with each other? What do I even owe you?" Tom looked down and Fiona instantly regretted it. "I'm sorry, Tom, I didn't mean anything like that. I just-do you realize that the longest time that you and I have spent together has been at university? Think about it, we went to public all-boys or all-girls schools. Either I was with Mum or you with Dad on vacations or vice versa. Even most of our holidays weren't together. Why all of a sudden we should start playing happy family now?" This time Tom had no answer for her. The young woman turned away from her brother not wanting to look him in the eyes. "I'm trying to remember a single time when we were had fun or played or even showed some remote sign that we were ever close and I can't come up with one!"
Tom smiled. "I can. Remember, when we saw The Carpenters on Top of the Pops and you and I were determined to be the next brother-sister act and we performed in front of Mum's friends?"
Fiona thought but her face broke into a happy smile. "I remember we had everything, except the talent."
Tom nodded and laughed. "I think Gilly's howling was the best part of our short-lived career."
"Ah yes, Gilly," Fiona smiled remembering Tom's labrador. "Our staunchest critic."
"She had a good heart," Tom reminded her. "I remember one time when she was just a puppy and you got so irritated when she used to loo in your bedroom."
"I'm convinced she did that on purpose," Fiona said. "So I locked her in the lav."
"And you tried to convince me that she ran away," Tom said. "I think I was halfway down the street before you let her out."
The brother and sister laughed. "See, it wasn't all bad," Tom reminded her.
Fiona was about to say another sardonic comment, but she touched her brother on the shoulder. "Sometimes, Tom."
After a few minutes, Tom and Fiona walked back into the house. Mrs. Staples walked up to them. "Miss Fiona, there's a Charles Carton on the phone for you."
Fiona fixed a confused look at her brother and walked to the phone. "Charles, its Fiona, you wanted to speak to me."
"Hi, Fiona, I just wanted to wish you a Happy Christmas Eve," Charles said. Despite the forced cheerfulness, she could sense the exhaustion in his voice.
"Thanks you too," she said confused.
"How is your holiday going," Charles asked. There was a catch in his voice. Is he fighting tears? Fiona thought.
"Alright, I suppose," Fiona said exchanging glances with Tom. From behind Charles she could hear someone call for a doctor. "Charles, where are you?"
"Oh, um, I'm at the hospital," Charles said. His voice definitely sounded strained. "I've actually been here since yesterday."
He's at the hospital, Fiona mouthed to Tom, she turned back to Charles. "What happened?"
"My father died ….a madman fired a bomb and he, my father, well the mad man too, but they were both killed by it," Charles said. "My brother's also hurt too."
"Oh Charles I'm sorry," Fiona said. "How badly is he hurt?"
"I don't know," Charles said. "He's in critical condition, they were operating on him, but they haven't told me anything yet. I'm going between finding out how he's doing to making funeral arrangements for my father. I don't even know why I'm here on the phone talking to you."
"No, Charles it's alright," Fiona assured him. "You can tell me."
"It's just, if my mother were here, or I had any other relatives, I'd talk to them," he said. "Or even if I had a girlfriend-I'm beginning to wish that Veronica and I hadn't broken up." He tried to make a joke of it. "But, I'm here all alone and I'm-"He stopped talking for a few minutes. Fiona sensed he was overcome.
"Charles where are you?" Fiona asked taking out a pen and paper.
"No, no," Charles said. "I'm sorry for bothering you. I didn't mean to interrupt your Christmas."
"Charles," Fiona said more clearly. "Where are you?"
Charles told her and she hung up promising to be there as soon as she could. After a few minutes of silence, Fiona told her brother the news. "Can you drop me off at the hospital?"
Tom held out his car keys. "We're both going."
"What about Mum?" Fiona asked.
"We'll write a note," Tom said. "We'll come back later. Let's go."
Tom and Fiona walked briskly through the hospital hallway. They walked past the police banners and coverings that blocked the now-closed hospital wing. They found Charles seated in a waiting room. A gray-haired nurse put her hand on his shoulder and spoke gently to them. "Charles," Fiona said. Charles looked up at his friends. His hair was shaggier than usual, which said a lot, and his clothes were rumpled. He tried to smile at Tom and Fiona but his red-rimmed eyes and ashen face betrayed his real feelings.
"Hi," he said. He motioned to Madge. "Madge, these are my friends, Fiona and Tom; Fiona and Tom, this is my –was my father's friend, Madge. I mean she's still my father's friend-"
"-I think we get the idea Charles," Fiona smiled. Charles gripped the glass of ice water that Madge handed to him and swallowed some more water.
"My shift starts Charles," Madge said. Charles nodded. "Remember if you ever need anything don't hesitate to ring me." Charles nodded as Madge wrapped her arms around the young man. "You'll be in my prayers."
"Thanks, Madge," Charles said. Madge left. Tom and Fiona sat in the nearby chairs.
"How are you doing?" Tom asked.
"Well as can be expected, I guess," Charles replied. "I'm not the one who's in the emergency room or- I mean, under the circumstances I could be worse."
"Have you eaten or slept?" Fiona asked.
Charles shook his head. "I haven't even left the hospital, after I finished talking to the police."
"The police," Tom asked. "Are you in trouble?"
Charles waved his hand. "No, they just wanted statements from everyone to see if I knew anything or saw anything suspicious."
"And your brother?" Fiona asked.
"They haven't told me yet," Charles replied. "I keep asking but they don't have any answers for me."
They sat in silence, while Charles fingered the rim of the glass. "I'm sitting here thinking of my father and David, my brother, and all I can think is the Carole."
Tom looked confused. "Because it reminds you of the way Christmas carolers wait in the hospital?"
"No," Charles said. "It's Christmas Eve, every year, Dad, David, and I go to a church near our place and watch the Christmas carol concert. I mean the kids could never really sing and the vicar had a really soft voice, so his sermon always put me to sleep. But it was always quiet, and there were all of these stained glass windows of various Biblical scenes. My father was never overtly religious, I mean my grandfather was a missionary doctor so I guess he kind of crammed religion down Dad's throat, but we had our Sundays, Easter, Christmas. But it's so quiet and you could sort of imagine angels or someone looking down on us. Some years, we still go to see the pantomime. It's naff. They always told the worst jokes. Usually the man playing the panto horse would be pissed and the horse would come apart, but you know it was kind of fun too. I'm supposed to be there and I'm here and it doesn't make any sense at all!" Charles put his hands to his face and ran his fingers through his hair as though the talking wore him out. Fiona held Charles' hand and Tom put his hand on his shoulder. "Dad wanted to take us to Kenya someday. We always talked about visiting there; always thought there would be time. I guess there isn't now."
A doctor walked up to the three teenagers. "Charles," Charles looked up as Fiona and Tom let go of him.
"Yes," Charles asked. "How is he?"
The doctor looked passive showing no emotion as he approached the younger man. Charles felt his whole body tense as the doctor spoke. "We were able to bring down the swelling and repair the fractures in your brother's head, but he is still in a coma."
Charles caught his breath feeling relieved, but also worried. "Is he- I mean, he'll be alright, won't he?"
The doctor nodded. "Right now, his condition is stable, well as stable as it could be under the circumstances. There is hope he will awaken from it. Right now, it's a waiting game and his condition could go either way."
"May I see him?" Charles asked.
"He's in the emergency room," the doctor said. "He's non-responsive, but you can go to him."
"Thank you," Charles said. He held up his finger to say wait a minute leaving his friends alone to find his brother.
David was tied to many tubes. The respirator gave a continuous beep. The boy lay on the bed, thin and pallid; his face still showing some bruises and cuts from the explosion. Somehow he looked younger than his 9 years. Charles held his little brother's hand, praying that the last family he had would be spared. The young man squeezed his brother's hand a little tighter. The hearing aid had broken during the explosion. Charles vowed to buy his brother another one when he woke up. Many coma patients could hear when family members talked or sang to them. But what if the patient was deaf? Charles tried to think of some way to let his brother know that he was there.
He then remembered Helen Keller. When they first learned that David was deaf, Will took Charles to the library to check out The Story of My Life. Later that year, they saw the play, The Miracle Worker. Besides knowing how David and he would learn to communicate with each other, the story was always particular to the brothers' hearts, because as their father put it, they were very similar to Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan: two very obstinate troublemakers who fought in a continuous battle of wills never wanting the other to gain the upper hand.
He wondered if he could speak to David how Annie and Helen talked to each other: signing words and letters onto one another's hands. He held up his brother's hand and signed, "David, its Charles. Everything is going to be alright," he said. Was it going to be ever? He couldn't think about that now. "I'm here, it will be alright, I promise."
Matthew and Gareth lay intertwined into each other. Matthew was the first to wake up, gently removing himself from the older man's bear-like arms. Matthew kissed his own fingertips and ran them across Gareth's lips. He put on a pair of trousers and tucked in the button shirt that he borrowed from Gareth. He wanted to do something nice for his lover, so he decided to surprise him by getting breakfast. He quietly reached into Gareth's trousers and pulled out the key to his flat. Matthew didn't have a key of his own.
As Matthew stepped out in the morning, he thought of his and Gareth's relationship now. He was glad that Gareth had put him up for the holidays, but he wasn't about to harbor any illusions about going any further. He needed to buy a newspaper to check flat listings. He wasn't about to impose on the older man any longer than he had to. Living with Gareth was beautiful, romantic, and Gareth proved to be a very sweet and passionate companion. The fears and worries of when his father threw him out were gone, but there were still the questions: could Matthew stay? What if the university learned that Gareth had invited a young male student to live with him? Was this temporary? Matthew didn't want to think about any of that. For now, he just preferred to live in the moment.
Matthew had a small bag with two croissants, a jar of strawberry jam, a tub of butter, and a newspaper under one arm. He opened the door to a small florist's shop finding just the perfect finishing touch to Gareth's breakfast. He bought a bouquet of lilies and one of lilacs. He gathered the flowers in two bunches and walked up to the check-out counter.
"Matthew," Matthew looked behind him to see Tom waving at him.
"Hi Tom," Matthew said. "Good to see you."
"You too," Tom said. "I thought you were in Scotland."
"I was," Matthew replied. ""But I'm not now."
"How's your holiday been going," Tom asked.
"I'm here in London," Matthew dryly answered. "That's how it's going."
"Ah," Tom said realizing that he said the wrong thing. "Sorry."
Matthew shook his head. "It's okay. Yours?"
"Not well either," Tom answered. He accepted the wreath from the woman after she personalized the ribbon.
Matthew took a close look at the wreath, but couldn't read the name. "Who's that for?"
Tom held up the wreath. "It's a funeral wreath for Charles. His father died the other day."
"Oh no," Matthew said. "That's terrible! How is he doing?"
Tom shook his head. "Well as can be expected. His brother's in the hospital."
"When's the funeral?" Matthew asked.
"This afternoon," Tom replied. "At St. Julian's."
"Thanks," Matthew smiled.
Charles sat in his father's lawyer's office. He didn't want to do this now, but Mr. Carstone was going to be leaving soon and didn't leave Charles a lot of choice. Charles nodded half-listening. Most of the contents of the will didn't surprise him. Some of his dad's money were divided among charities, particularly medical and human rights organizations, donated to a scholarship for promising medical students, given to various friends and colleagues such as Madge, and naturally divided in trust funds for Charles and David. It was the last part of the will that made Charles start in confusion. "Excuse me could you run that last bit by me again?"
Mr. Carstone's eyes raised and read again. "'In the event that my younger son, David George, is still of minor age, he will be placed in the care and custody of my elder son, Charles Arthur based upon mutual consent by both parties.' "
Charles tried to control his stunned reaction, with a clenched grin. "I see, "he said. "That's what I thought you said. I understand completely. I will certainly strive to do my best." In his mind he was screaming, What the hell were you thinking, Old Man? But he felt that would be inappropriate at this juncture so he remained as silent as possible.
Fiona checked her reflection in the hall mirror as she put on her black hat. "Where are you going?" her mother asked.
Fiona turned around to see Emilia dressed in a smart Christian Dior red dress suit. Her beige overcoat was unbuttoned, but she put on a pair of white gloves and her suitcases were packed. Fiona noted that her mother's steps were shaky so she was still hung over from her binge drinking the night before. "I'm going to the funeral of the father of a friend."
"You're certainly dressed for it," Emilia smirked.
Fiona chose not to counter. "Where are you going?"
"You remember my friend, Desiree Montague?" Emilia said.
Fiona nodded. "I remember."
Her mother continued. "-The Queen's third cousin, Duchess of Devonshire. One of my oldest and dearest friends?"
"I remember, mum," Fiona said testily.
"Well she invited me to attend a soiree in Milan, probably through New Years," Emilia replied. Something about her expression made her sound more wistful than Fiona would have originally thought.
"Have a good time, Mum, "Fiona said.
Emilia fingered her suitcase. "It's bound to be better than this. Your father and I tried to make an effort. We missed so much, but we -it's too bad we're still the same people. "
Fiona fingered one earring. She hated when Tom was right. "I'm sorry mum."
"You can't change the past dear," Emilia said. "Such as life, I suppose."
Fiona leaned closer to her mother and touched her on the shoulder. "Mum, would you like me to stay? We can do something together if you like."
Emilia smiled and cleared her throat as though she recovered from a spell. "No, dear heart, I have a flight to catch. I must be off."
Fiona nodded. She understood. "Of course, mum."
"It was a considerate thought though," Emilia replied. Then she touched her daughter's hair. "Your hair-"
"I might get it cut soon," Fiona said.
"I just wanted to say it's lovely," Emilia replied. Fiona smiled and thanked her.
Charles walked into the church as people were gathered already to sit. He mentally went over the eulogy for his father one more time. He hoped that he could capture his father's spirit in his words. Charles knew that he had a gift for expressing himself through words and humor. He remembered when he was little he used to ease his mum out of her depressive moods. He would sometimes imitate his teachers or other kids in school, or tell her stories about what happened that day. Sometimes Mum would laugh so hard that she cried. Since then, he recognized that talent. He hoped that it would help honor his Dad and assuage his own grief. He was still trying to overcome the surprise of David being placed in his custody. What kind of person was he to adopt his kid brother? An untidy, disorganized, absentminded imbecile who spent more time with women and at parties than studying and making something useful with his life, that's who.
Charles waved at a tall man with dark curly hair. "Hi, um, Angus right?" Charles asked. Angus nodded. "I remember you because we were lab partners in chemistry."
"That's right," Angus recalled. "I studied anatomy under your father," Angus said. "He had something of a dark humor when it came to teaching us about cadavers. He would teach us about those old games like the Hearse Song and Dead Man's Brains and show us how they were early ways to get children used to learning about death. He always did have a fun way of teaching."
Charles smiled thinly. "He did."
Angus moved a short plump blond woman with an innocent face forward. "This is my girlfriend, Laura."
"Nice to meet you," Laura said. "I'm sorry."
"Thanks," Charles replied. He pointed that Angus and Laura could sit anywhere.
Charles looked near the door and saw Tom, Fiona, Gareth, and Matthew. He walked up to greet them. "Thanks, I'm glad you all are here," he shrugged. "A little surprised, none of you knew my father."
"We know you," Gareth said. "We're here to help you, lad."
"Thank you," Charles said. He invited his friends to be seated then he moved to the front.
Charles waited until the vicar to call Charles forward. The young man shifted the papers of his eulogy then faced the audience. He could see the sea of faces around him some people that he knew from school and uni. Some were his father's colleagues, such as Madge. He could also see Miss Bennett and her daughter, the little girl that his father treated, his final patient, Charles thought sadly. What was her name? It seemed so long ago, he remembered his father mentioning her being named for a movie character-Rebecca? Sabrina? She was a small tomboyish girl with short red-hair who shifted uncomfortably in her seat until her mum held her up and held her finger to her lips. Then Miss Bennet hugged the girl tightly and patted her flaming red hair. Suddenly, Charles remembered: Scarlett! Poor girl, Charles thought, having to spend a holiday at a funeral for someone she doesn't know. Of course it could be worse, she could be in the family giving the funeral.
He cleared his throat and smiled at the vicar, an old friend of his dad's."Thank you, vicar." His mouth felt dry and he felt nervous. "And thank you all for coming. My father would be very pleased at this reception, a little confused too. There were many things that I learned from him. How to swear in various languages." The crowd gave a small laugh as Charles continued. "The lyrics to just about every Beatles song, even the solo efforts, Ringo too. The best way to wake a sleeping lazy child who is late for school was to throw drops of ice cold water on him. If the aforementioned lazy child got arrested for exceeding the speed limit or committing any act of vandalism, the statistical probability of borrowing the car for the next month would be zero."
Charles waited until the laughter subsided before he continued. "Above all, he believed that life should be its own teacher and every experience was a learning one. I remember once my brother and I were running up and down causing quite a spot of trouble on his boat. Without going to exact details, the results were less than pleasant. After stitching what I felt remained of my leg, my dad's only comment was 'You won't do that again now will you?' Probably among the reasons that we never went sailing again. Well that and the fact that the boat got rust which my father colorfully described as "cancer for ships," and it turned out my brother and I had the nautical expertise of tube worms.
Charles felt his eyes fill at the last bit of his speech. "The most important thing that I will always remember about my father is how much he gave of himself to others. His patients, students, colleagues, and of course to his sons," Charles allowed the tears to fall. "In his life, he saw many horrible things, violence, accidents, domestic abuse, plagues, wars; things that would make most people cynical and pessimistic about life. With him, I believe it was the opposite. It made him more hopeful that if he could do a small part to help someone and change their lives for the better, then this world could be a better place. There's so much I want to thank him for I can't even say, but if I ever become half the man, half the friend, half the employee, half the father that he was, then I hope that is thank you enough." Charles gently stepped down from the podium and returned to his seat.
After the funeral was over and Charles said good-bye to the guests and go some last minute paperwork over his father's estate, Charles returned to the hospital. He entered the waiting room surprised to see Tom, Fiona, and Gareth waiting for him. "Hi, what are all of you doing here?" he asked.
Fiona held him by the arm. "We told you, we're here to help and we are going to. We're all here, well Matthew went to go get drinks but we're all here."
Charles looked around the three faces. "I guess that I should know better than to argue with any of you." He waved them to his brother's room.
A severe looking nurse glanced over at Charles and his friends. "Excuse me, but only family are allowed in the emergency rooms."
Charles glanced at the others. If the nurse had been Madge, she would have made an exception but he didn't know this nurse well and she certainly didn't know him. "They are family," Charles replied. He pointed at Tom and Fiona. "They are my cousins." He then pointed at Gareth. "And he is my uncle, and-and-"
Gareth pointed at Matthew who arrived his hands full of bottled drinks. "This is my sexy as hell younger second wife!"
Matthew looked confused as Tom approached him with a mischievous grin. "We'll never call you mum!"
Fiona bit her lip to keep from laughing as she joined the act. "You gold digger, you are only after Daddy's money!"
Matthew glanced from one to the other, but knew enough to play along. "Now, kids let's not dirty the family linen in front of everyone else. We are here to support your-"he glanced at the others "-cousin?" Their quick looks of confirmation let him know that he was on the right track.
"Thank you Uncle Gareth; Aunt Matthew," Charles added. The nurse allowed them to go into the emergency room.
Gareth closed the door behind him as he, Matthew, Tom, and Fiona burst out laughing. "Sexy as hell second wife?" Matthew asked.
"Well you couldn't very well be their mother could you?" Gareth said. "Good improvisation though."
"Well sorry I didn't get the family history of this fabrication between the canteen and the waiting room," he handed the drinks to his friends.
"I think we have a good chance to be guest stars on a soap opera," Tom grinned.
"Next stop Coronation Street," Fiona agreed. They stopped laughing when they saw Charles sit next to his brother.
Charles held David's hand and signed "I'm here, I'm not leaving you until you wake up," onto his little brother's hand. Part of the struggle was over. His father was gone and he was slowly coming to terms with that. Now he had to deal with the other difficult part: the long wait for his brother to return to him and what would happen afterwards.
"You seem very quiet," Will observed to his son. The father and son had been traveling like other spirits, as quickly as the wind. The experience was overwhelming to David, seeing spirits moving so quickly that they were almost like streaks of color, hearing heavenly music coming from all around. Everything seemed brighter, fuller, and friendlier than ever. They were now in Hyde Park watching people take holiday walks. A man was walking with two children, a boy and girl. A woman, probably the children's mother, followed the family unseen by them. She waved at Will and David and continued to follow her family.
"It just seems so –"David couldn't find the words to say. "I just don't want to leave."
Will offered a thin smile, but didn't comment. "Do you want to stay here?"
David shrugged. "I don't know yet." David said. He looked at his hand. He felt a slight numbness as though someone was just touching his palm, but nothing was there. It was wonderful, but why did he not want to stay? Out of the corner of his eye, David saw the mother touch one of the children, the girl. The mother gave the girl's braid a gentle tug. The girl looked up smiling at the place where her mother's spirit watching her. She obviously sensed her mother's presence. David felt a slight stab of regret and envy at the scene.
"Is something on your mind, son?" Will asked.
David pursed his lips trying to figure out how to say it or even talk about it. He hardly ever thought about her or talked about her, partly because he couldn't miss someone he didn't remember and was never a part of his life. Also, because he didn't want to know whether his theory was true. "It's about mum," David said. "Did she leave because of me? I was five, six months old when she left. I never thought much about it, but I always thought she couldn't handle raising a kid like-"
Will tilted his son's chin up and looked directly into his eyes, his blue eyes clear and bright. "Would it interest you to know that your brother thought the same thing?"
"He thought Mum left because of me?" David asked.
Will shook his head. "No, he thought she left because of him." David looked confused, but his father continued. "Charlie was very close to your mother. He was completely devastated when she walked out. I will tell you what I told him: your mother was raised by parents who thought that the only thing that she was meant to be was a wife and mother. She was just out of secondary school and I was going through medical school when we married, so she never had any real prospects of a life for herself beyond marriage. We were happy for awhile, but shortly after your brother was born, she changed.
One minute she would fly off in many directions, cleaning the house, going to various organizations, volunteering at your brother's school. Then, the next minute she would lose her temper or just sit at home, crying. Sometimes those moods would last for days. She certainly tried her best to be the perfect wife and mother, but the more she tried the more miserable she became. I must admit that I wasn't as understanding as I should have been. I checked her into the hospital, prescribed her medicine, but I was more concerned with how she was physically than mentally or emotionally. We were all a mess, but didn't have the courage to say so. Instead we tried to act like we were happy, but we weren't fooling anyone least of all ourselves or Charles. Finally, she decided that she didn't want to put us through this charade any longer. She was miserable and she wanted to go somewhere where she could be herself."
"What did you say?" David asked.
"I told her that I wanted her to be happy, even if it wasn't with us," Will replied. "Do you know what?"
"What?" David asked.
"Since, I've been here, I've looked in on her and she is much happier than she could ever be," his father replied his voice catching. "Do you want to see her?" David nodded.
David and Will looked around the small ashram. Musicians played a bouncy energetic song in Hindustani as children danced in a circle. A small group of women sat on the porch of building, clapping joyfully to the rhythm. Will tapped his son on the shoulder and pointed to a woman leaning against a railing dressed in a red sari, one of the few Caucasian women in the group.
David grinned. He recognized his mother from photographs, but was surprised at how different she looked. In the photos, she had mousy brown hair that fell to her shoulders, and sad blue eyes that saw through her pale features. Here, her hair brightened into a lovely chestnut that hung in one braid down her back. Her face was ruddy with exuberance as she sang along and her eyes glowed brightly. David and Will watched as she and some of the other women jumped off the building and joined the children in a larger circle. David watched his mother dancing so gracefully and helping a little boy who had fallen out of step. The boy glanced over at his father, his eyes full of love and pride at his former wife. They watched as she moved from the circle and improvised a solo dance in front of the sitar player. She moved her arms in a circle and twirled around, her skirt flying around her ankles. She moved her body in a snake-like formation and sank down to sit next to the sitar player. He moved to let her sit and she gave him a passionate kiss on the lips.
David stifled a laugh as he saw his father make a fist and swing it wildly on top of the sitar player's head, a gesture unnoticed by the musician."I thought you said that you wanted mum to be happy," David said brightly.
"I do," Will objected. "But I'm only human-or was. That man was kissing your mother!" David covered his mouth with his hand but couldn't stop the laugh that came out. They watched the festival with delight. David impulsively leaned over and touched his mother on the shoulder. His mother glanced upwards as if she felt a chill, but shrugged like it was nothing and continued dancing. David was a little sad that his mother couldn't really see him, but was glad by that connection no matter how slight. "Thanks Dad," David said. "I wish Charles could be here to see-" The tingling on his hand grew stronger and he knew why: Even in this world he could feel Charles' touching his hand trying to communicate with him! "-Charles! I can't believe that I forgot all about him! Dad, may we see him?"
Will nodded. "Of course." The father and son left the joyous scene at the ashram.
Charles circled his fingers on the palm of his brother's hand. When he ran out of things to say to his brother, he just circled his fingers to give him a sign that he was still there. It had been three days since his father's funeral. Fiona, Tom, Matthew, and Gareth sometimes left to get food or to return to their homes, but Charles barely left his brother's side. There wasn't any change to his condition, he was still asleep. Charles sighed wearily. He felt drained of energy. He was getting to the point where he wanted David's condition to change for the worse, or the better. He was just tired of this holding pattern.
"Charles," Matthew called softly. Charles turned to see his friend standing by the door. "The others and I are going to get some food. Do you want to come?"
"No, that's alright," Charles said.
"Do you want us to get you anything?" Matthew asked.
"I'm not hungry," Charles almost whispered.
Matthew put his hand on his friend's shoulder. "I'm sure that he won't notice if you leave him alone for a bit."
"I will," Charles said determined.
"What's going to happen to him," Matthew asked.
"He'll wake up, I'm sure of it," Charles said.
"No, I meant after-"Matthew corrected. "He's a kid. Who's he going to live with?"
Charles sighed. "My father left him with me."
"Well that's good," Matthew tried to cheer his friend up.
"No it isn't," Charles objected. "You know me. I'd be terrible as an adopted father/brother whatever the hell I would be. A self-centered immature irresponsible-"
"-loving selfless man who hasn't left his little brother's side since he's been in the hospital," Matthew repeated. "If that's not a father, I don't know what is. One who is a better person than he realizes."
Charles couldn't find anything more to say, but glanced at Matthew hoping to change the subject. "Have you spoke to your father, yet?"
Matthew bristled. "Yes, I called him on Christmas Day trying to explain, I got past 'Hi, Dad its Matt-'before he hung up on me. I got a little better reaction from my mum when I tried to call later, but I got two or three sentences in, before Dad grabbed the phone and hung up again."
"So, what are you going to do now?" Charles asked.
Matthew fiddled with the bed sheet in front of him and hesitated before he spoke. "I've been checking flat listings for a place to move to after the holiday."
"Has Gareth said anything?" Charles asked.
"No," Matthew replied.
"Do you want to leave?" his friend asked. Matthew shook his head, so Charles continued. "Why are you going to move out then?"
"Do I have to spell it out?" Matthew declared. "I don't belong with him. He's a professor; I'm a student there could be serious trouble if we're caught. He knows all these cultured sophisticated people and I'm just some yokel kid who got lucky on a scholarship. I shouldn't be nothing more than a fly by night. He could get into trouble and it wouldn't be worth it." He turned away and Charles barely heard him say. "I wouldn't be worth it."
Charles touched his friend's shoulder. "It appears I'm not the only one who is a better person than they realize."
Matthew and Charles sat in silence as Tom called from the door. "Are you two coming?"
"I am," Matthew looked to Charles who shook his head thanking them.
Charles looked down at his brother alone. He was exhausted,worried, frustrated, and wanted his brother to wake up or at least give some sign that he was still on earth. He held his hand and spoke rather than signed. "You listen you little brat," he said. "You're not going to win this argument. You are going to wake up, and get out of that bed! Believe me; I can be just as obstinate as you are! You know, you are impossible to live with. You are spoiled, stubborn, and have always caused me no end of trouble!" Charles felt ashamed at speaking to him like this, but the constant wait and frustration poured out. He half-hoped that David would wake up just to spite him. "I'm sure you're up there somewhere listing my flaws as well! And no doubt, I am just as impossible to live with!" He sagged and lowered his head. "But the truth is, you are a wonderful, brilliant child and anyone would be happy to have you in their lives. I know that I would be, afraid too. Alright, I am scared to death of adopting you as much as I am of losing you. I don't have the first idea of what to do. I'd be confused, disorganized. Let's face it you'd do a better job of taking care of me, than I would of taking care of you. But, I don't want this to be the end of it. You need to wake up. You need to become an adult. You need to wake up for me too. You're the only one who knows the real me. Please don't leave me alone," Charles bent his head overcome with sobbing. He felt a chill on the back of his shoulders, but ignored it.
David pulled from the hug he gave Charles. He now knew even though he loved being with his father and living in this beautiful musical world, why he couldn't stay.He wiped away his tears and faced his father. He knew saying good-bye would be hard. "Dad-" he said.
Will's eyes misted over. "Say no more," he said. "I knew you would do the right thing, both of you.You tell your brother that I knew exactly what I was trhinking!"
David pulled closer to his father. He only had one last thing that he wanted to say with his own voice before he returned to his corporeal form. "I love you, Dad."
"I love you too, David," his father replied. They embraced "Now, go on get out of here. I'll be watching over you two."
"I know," David said.
Charles lay still with his head bowed feeling his eyes slowly close from exhaustion. His hand was draped across his brother's. Was it just him or were David's fingers curling around his fingers? Maybe it was just his imagination. Was there a breath tickling against his ear? Charles slowly raised his head, not wanting to give into false hope. He felt his heart stop as David's eyes opened and he looked at his older brother!
Charles covered his mouth surprised and delighted. David felt the back of his ear. "No," Charles said. "It's broken. I'll buy you a new one. I promise. How are you feeling?"
"Groggy," David answered feeling the effects of the drugs. "Hungry, too."
"I'll get you some food," Charles said happily. He stood up and yelled. "NURSE! NURSE!"
He waited a few seconds and turned to his brother. "There is something I need to tell you," he said. "If I don't tell you now, I never will." He paused. "Dad's dead."
David looked down. "I know."
Charles wondered how he knew, but just figured somehow he did. "We already had his funeral. He's buried in a really nice place overlooking the hospital. When you get out, I'll take you there. That is if you want me to- I mean want to live with me that is," he said. "We could try it on a temporary basis. But any parents would love to adopt you. Some of Dad's friends were talking about, Madge and her husband said they would take you in if I- I won't stand in your way."
David held out his hands pretending that they were two scales. "Hmm, live with you or total strangers," he said. "My older brother; total strangers. Big brother; total strangers. A very clear decision there. I think I'll live with you."
Charles said surprised. "Really, you will?"
David smiled impishly. "Yes, what are you deaf?," he joked ironically. "Of course, I want to live with you. By the way, Dad knew exactly what he was thinking."
" Huh?" Charles asked not wanting that information to process nor fully understanding what it would mean. "It won't be easy," Charles reminded him.
"We'll manage," David answered.
Happy tears filled the brothers' eyes. "I don't say this enough, but I love you," Charles said.
"I love you too," David answered. The two linked the tips of their fingers and then hugged tightly.
"Can we come in, we don't know what you're saying," Tom's emotional voice called from the door.
Charles looked up wiping away tears. "Come on in everyone, he's awake!" Fiona, Tom, Matthew, and Gareth came inside the hospital room joyfully. They offered their congratulations to the brothers.
David nodded thank you, but then turned to his brother. "Charles, who are these people?"
Charles translated amidst the other's laughter. "These are my friends. Get used to them. I think we're going to see an awful lot of them." He introduced each one as they waved at the young boy.
The nurse walked in checking David's stats and smiled. She turned to Gareth. "Ah, I see your nephew's fully recovered then. That's good to see."
"Indeed," Gareth said wiping an imaginary tear. "He does my late brother a good credit. We are proud to see this delightful young boy return to the land of the living."
David read the nurses' and older man's lips. He then turned to Charles. "Nephew?" he asked incredulously wondering who these people were and what kind of cult his brother had gotten them into.
"Long story," Charles replied. "I'll explain later," he said as the nurse closed the door and the friends let out gales of laughter.
Chapter 4: Another Auld Lang Syne
In which gifts are exchanged, lovers are united, siblings are closer than ever, and a new family is created from the ashes of the old ones.
Chapter Four: Another Auld Lang Syne
"Where do you want me to hang the streamers?" Matthew asked leaning against the ladder with a roll of streamers in his hands.
Gareth shook his head as though distracted. "Pardon? Oh, just over the foyer I suppose." Matthew nodded and laid the streamers across the foyer. He stapled one side and moved to another one. Since Matthew and Gareth and their friends had as Gareth described it, "the Christmas from Hell" they decided to invite Fiona, Tom, Charles, and David to Gareth's home to have a "post-Christmas and New Years' Party" to celebrate getting through this terrible time together. Matthew and Gareth had begun decorating in earnest, but Matthew noticed that his normally loquacious friend was quiet. Occasionally, he opened his mouth to say something but then shut it again as though he wanted to say something but surprisingly forgotten the words. Matthew cringed, he had a feeling that Gareth wanted him to leave, but he changed the subject to divert the conversation to other topics. He started talking about the events of the past couple of weeks, particularly Charles' father's funeral. "It was a grand ceremony," Matthew said. "You can really feel the affection that they had for him."
"I agree," Gareth said. "But then again funerals were always my favorite ceremony. In fact I prefer them to weddings."
Matthew leapt down from the ladder standing closer to the older man. "What an awful thing to say," Matthew admonished. "Very morbid."
"But true," Gareth replied. "It's easier to get enthusiastic about being a part of a ceremony that one has an outside chance of being involved in. I am quite the connoisseur of funerals. I could share some of my favorites with you."
Matthew smiled, but his expression had no warmth but uncertainty. "If you will be able to share them." He hoped that Gareth hadn't heard him.
"What makes you think that?" Gareth asked. "Are you in a hurry to leave?"
Matthew stammered his normally pale face a red from embarrassment and nerves. "No." Matthew sighed and held up the newspaper. "I've been looking for flat listings."
"That's odd," Gareth said. "I don't seem to recall having any conversation with you about throwing you out." Matthew shook his head. "But you still want to leave." Matthew nodded. "Why? Am I too old, too handsome?" Gareth asked. Even though his words had his usual grandiosity, they seemed somehow forced as though Gareth was actually worried about whether Matthew wanted to leave. "Why is it Matthew? Are you unhappy here?" This time Gareth's voice was softer retaining none of the usual bombast.
"No," Matthew replied. "It's easier for us! Why would you want to be with someone half your age?"
"Because my conversations with you wouldn't begin with 'oh he's been dead for five years,'"
Matthew looked down still not convinced. "I didn't have the posh background and education that you did. I am reading most of this literature for the first time. I feel a step behind everyone else-"
"-You are obviously confusing appearance with reality," Gareth corrected. "I'll have you know that my background was the same as yours."
"Right," Matthew snorted.
Gareth touched the younger man on the shoulder. "You mean working class, father who was a coal miner like everyone else. You had the feeling like if you didn't get away, you would die. You felt like somehow you were meant to be different. You got lost in a book or in the subtle qualities for the written word when everyone around you wondered if you were somehow switched at birth. Then when you finally reached your goal, a decent conversation among others with similar interests as yours at university, you wondered if you felt out of place with educated conformist zombies and despaired if you would ever belong in any world, so you just try to create your own world."
"Exactly," Matthew replied bemused that Gareth pulled section of Matthew's life from his recitation. "Except one thing, Dad's a dockyard worker."
Matthew turned away from his lover to look at the outside window, while Gareth continued leaning closer to Matthew hugging him around the shoulders. "Do you know what I was planning on doing this Christmas?"
"'Spending the holidays with a few friends particularly Dom Perignon'," Matthew repeated. "You told us."
"No, I was going to wallow in self-pity about my lonely existence," Gareth translated.
"You never seem lonely," Matthew remarked. "You always seem so-"
"-Gay in every meaning of the word," Gareth repeated. "The life of the party? The problem is when you're the life of the party it's hard to maintain an existence when there isn't one. I'm surrounded by people so often that they hear me, without listening to me. It's rather exhausting to be home and realize that you are in your mid-thirties without a soul whom you can really talk to and be yourself around, not the loud colored eloquent clown they expect you to be."
"I'm sorry," Matthew said and he held Gareth tightly until the two found each other's lips. They kissed for several minutes until the doorbell interrupted their thoughts. "That's probably Tom and Fiona." Matthew replied, he pulled away from Gareth who trapped the younger man once more in his arms.
"It's nothing that they hadn't seen before," Gareth grinned impishly.
"Wait until later," Matthew grinned slyly. "It will be worth it." He turned to the door to greet Tom and Fiona, their arms containing various gifts.
"Did you take your medicine?" Charles asked, for what David felt was the 10th time in an hour. "Are your new hearing aids working?"
David rolled his eyes. "Yes on both counts, mum," he said sarcastically. Just in case, he adjusted the hearing aids. David had been released from the hospital with a mostly clean bill of health, except for some remaining pain on his back and shoulders which he had to take pain medication every six hours. Charles watched his medicinal intake like a hawk making sure that he wasn't too late or forgot his dosage.
"I'm sorry, I know I worry too much," Charles said. After David had been released from the hospital, the two brothers with their new friends had spent a great deal of the week moving their things from the bigger house to Charles' smaller flat trying to adjust to living together. "I don't know what I would do without you."
David smiled touched. He averted tears falling from his eyes. The two had done enough crying to last a lifetime. He looked at his older brother up and down to see if he was properly dressed. His socks matched, his laces were tied. He even remembered to wear a hat and gloves. Will miracles never cease, but wait a minute- David pointed downward. "I don't know walk around with your flies undone?"
Charles looked down embarrassed and zipped them. "You could have told me at home!" A sly smile spread across his brother's face. "You little brat." Charles said his tone having no malice, but instead loving. They reached Gareth's door and Charles knocked rapidly.
Gareth opened the door to greet the two brothers. "Charles, almost on time I see. Is this a record for you?" Charles laughed as Gareth waved the two brothers to enter.
The six friends talked and laughed as they exchanged jokes and stories and opened their gifts from each other. Tom tapped Fiona on the shoulder. "Fifi, I know I got you a gift already, but I saw this at a rummage shop and I thought that you might like it."
Fiona glanced at her brother warily, wondering what he could find in a rummage shop that she might like. She opened her gift to see a small collector's box with The Carpenters logo and a picture of Karen and Richard Carpenter on the front. She smiled and opened the box as it played "Close to You" in a simple bell. Fiona noticed a piece of paper inside the box. She pulled out the paper and read, "We had fun once." She glanced at her brother with tears in her eyes. "Thank you, Tom," she said. She wiped the tears. "Such rubbish, I got you something else as well." She handed him a small box.
Tom glanced at his sister then at the gift as he opened the box. He smiled at the ceramic figure of a black lab. "Guaranteed not to run away from an angry sister or howl during a concert."
Tom laughed as the brother and sister hugged and whispered "Thank you," to each other.
Matthew smiled at the happy scene then turned to Gareth. "Gar, I also got you something. At first, I wanted to get you flowers, but I thought that this was more appropriate since it reminds me of when I- started to have feelings for you."
Gareth opened the gift to see a book, The Collected Poems of W.H. Auden. He flipped through the pages and saw lavender and lilac petals inside various pages. "I guess those late night study sessions paid off in more ways than one," Gareth quipped as he slyly kissed him on the ear and handed him a small gift.
Matthew glanced at his boyfriend confused, as he opened the small box to reveal a familiar looking key that resembled Gareth's."When I want you to leave, I will say so," Gareth said gently. "Of course you don't have to."
"Like you had to ask," Matthew said. "But what about the university, what if the word gets around?"
"We will deal with it when it comes," Gareth said determined. He leaned closer to the younger man and whispered in his ear. "I will regret nothing."
"Me neither," Matthew whispered back. The others made teasing retching sounds and laughed loudly as the lovers pulled away.
Charles felt his younger brother tap him on the shoulder. "That reminds me, Charles. We never got the chance to give each other presents."
"Whose fault is that?" Charles quipped sardonically as his brother slapped him lightly on the shoulder and handed him a rectangle shaped gift that felt like glass. Charles opened it to reveal a photograph in a painted frame.
"Do you remember it?" David asked. Charles nodded. "It was the first picture that Dad took of us after Mum left."
"I remember," Charles replied as Charles glanced at the photograph of their father looking fare younger than he had ever seen him. Charles stood at his side gangly with a mischievous grin and lopsided hair in front of his face. In the young boy's arms was David, as a six month old infant in a blue suit. Charles remembered how much his younger brother wiggled as he held him, but he liked the fact that his Dad trusted his son enough to hold the little fellow. The frame also interested him. It was painted orange and black with small animals painted in African style around the frame. "Madge helped me work on it in the hospital," David said. "Does it look alright?"
"It looks just fine," Charles answered. "Dad will be watching us at our new place." David nodded as Charles handed his younger brother what felt like pieces of paper. David opened the present to find two plane tickets to Kenya for the summer. "There's no reason why we can't visit anyway like we always wanted."
The two brothers embraced gently as Charles shivered. "What's wrong?" David asked.
"It's nothing," Charles replied. "I just felt a cold chill there for a minute. It's probably nothing."
David smiled knowingly. "What is it?" Charles asked.
The younger boy shook his head. "I'll tell you later."
Gareth cleared his throat as the friend's poured champagne (or cola in David's case). "I would like to propose a toast. It's been a hellish Christmas for all of us, a year we would all rather forget. But hopefully we emerged from it older, wiser, and better looking- at least I had. Well here's to the New Year, it's got to be a hell of a lot better than the last one."
"To the New Year," the friends clinked glasses and drank.
It was the worst holiday season for all of them for various reasons, they would always admit. But what they knew without saying was that it was the best because they got exactly what they needed: a new loving family.