Chapter 1: Bad Memories
Aaron woke with a start. With the thick curtains pulled tight across the window, plus the blackout curtains beneath them, it took a while for his eyes to adjust to the pitch darkness. But he didn't need to see to know that Robert was no longer in bed. Aaron sat up straight and slid his hand under the sheets and blankets on Rob's side of the bed. The mattress was slightly warm. Good, he thought. He's not gone far.
Aaron slid out of bed and quietly opened the bedroom door a small crack. Not the first time he thought how ridiculous it was that they had to sneak around like this. It was Robert's own home for crying out loud! But right now his concern was on checking Robert was alright. There was only one thing that made him get out of a warm bed and walking down the draughty corridors of the Manor House at night. Bad memories.
Aaron peeked out the door, a little nervously. At this time of night, he knew he wouldn't be the only one who was not in his allocated bedroom. Despite the efforts of Mrs King, the area supervisor for the Land Girls, you couldn't keep some of them away from the young miners in the other part of the house. Not if that's where they wanted to be. No more could he have been kept away from Robert.
Nor could have anyone have kept Adam and Robert's sister apart. Anyway, that was different. Victoria wasn't a Land Girl. This was her home too. And besides, they were engaged.
Aaron squinted, he thought he could just make out a figure at the end of the corridor. It was Rob's usual spot after all. And Aaron knew what had made him come out here. It would have been a plane. Perhaps one of ours. Perhaps one of theirs going back from a raid to distant Leeds or Sheffield. Aaron didn't notice the noise. Why would anyone? This far deep in the country as they were. But Robert did. Rob always did. Or at least, he thought he did and that was when Aaron knew Robert needed him the most.
Aaron padded gently down the corridor. As he drew close, it was clear that the figure was Rob. That blonde tousled hair. The blue and white striped pyjamas that still made Aaron laugh. Why didn't he sleep in his underwear? The rest of the boys all did. It must be from being a toff! Or at least being married to one. Not that she was a proper toff. She had money, but it wasn't the same thing. Anyway, Aaron didn't want to think about her right now. Or indeed, ever.
“Robert?” Aaron whispered, keeping his voice soft so as not to startle him.
Robert turned. He took his hand slowly away from the heavy curtain covering the window. He looked a million miles away.
“Come here” Aaron said gently. He took a slow step forward and wrapped his arms around Robert, pulling him close.
“It's alright Robert” Aaron said soothingly
Robert was silent. He buried his head into Aaron neck and wrapped his own arms around him.
At that moment, Aaron didn't care if anyone spotted them. Not that they would have seen anything. Everyone knew the drill backwards. You didn't put the lights on in the house after dark. You just didn't. However far away the War may seem at times.
“Come on” said Aaron, moving so he was standing at Robert's side and supporting him, “Let's go back to bed” he added in a quiet voice.
Robert nodded. He was about to start walking when his face twisted into the smallest of frowns. But Aaron had seen it. Aaron had spotted it so many times. Even all those months ago, when he had been so shy around Robert that he could barely get a handful of words out, he had seen that occasional sadness. It was the sadness that came from suddenly remembering. Not that he had spotted it from any great powers of observation. But he doubted there was anyone who looked at Robert as much he did. Really looked he meant.
Oh they all saw the hero. No longer fighting but still doing his bit. The gorgeous young master of the house who could make the knees of all the Land Girls go to jelly with just a flash of his winning smile.
Robert reached to the corner next to the window and grabbed his walking stick. Resentfully, he pushed it forward and started to walk to his room. He kept his arm around Aaron. Not that he needed him to hold him up, but he still needed him.
- - - - - - -
Robert lay quietly in bed, feeling calmer. Aaron was curled up next to him, his head laying gently on his chest and his strong arms curled around him. This was what he needed right now. He smiled when he thought back to what the Doctor had told him months ago. “Keep yourself busy Mr Sugden, you'll soon snap out of it! Plenty of cold baths and long walks. That's the ticket!”. It had taken a moment before the Doctor spotted the walking stick. But he recovered quickly from this setback. “Well, plenty of cold baths in any case!”
Robert arched himself forward, just to plant a gentle kiss on the top of Aaron's head. He lay back in his pillow again and moved his hand up to softly stroke the side of Aaron's clean shaven face.
Yes, at times like this, the War seemed very far away.
But Robert and Aaron's story didn't start here............
Chapter 2: Stargazing
We won't go back to the beginning. Not just yet. But we can take a couple of steps back at least......
The next day
Aaron loved looking up at the night sky, he had ever since he was little. Not that you could see much as the moment, he thought, as he sat on a low stone wall in the yard behind the Manor House kitchens. The moon was barely visible and the sky full of dark clouds. But that was a good thing, in a way. That meant there was a better chance of a quiet night. That meant that he and Robert could just concentrate on being close. On being together.
Of course, you needed a telescope to really appreciate the night sky. What was the name of that teacher who had stayed at his Nan's guesthouse in Blackpool? Allerdyce, that was it. Aaron must have been about six or seven at the time......
A guesthouse in Blackpool, a good few years before the War
"And that is Ursa Minor" said Mr Allerdyce, stepping aside so Aaron could press his eye eagerly against the telescope.
"That's Latin, for little bear" the young man explained as he looked up through the attic window
"What's Latin?" Aaron asked as he stared into the dark sky
"It's what the Roman's spoke. Not something my pupils have to think about"
"Can you tell me all about the stars?" Aaron asked
"If you like" the teacher replied, "I've got some books that...."
He was interrupted by a knock on the door. Without waiting for an answer, Aaron's Nan walked in, a mug of cocoa in her hand.
"I thought you'd like something hot before retiring, Mr Allerdyce" she drawled, handing over the mug
"Thank you Faith" the young man replied, "I mean, Mrs Dingle" he added hurriedly.
Aaron looked across from the window at his Grandmother. She suddenly seemed to realise that her dressing gown was half open and that her low cut negligee was on display.
"Now our Aaron" she said as she rearranged her clothing, "What have have I said to you about bothering my guests? Off to your own room. It's past your bedtime"
"He's no bother Mrs Dingle, really" said the young teacher
"You're very kind" said Faith as Aaron came over to her and clamped himself to her side.
"It's so refreshing to have a gentleman staying here" Faith went on. With one hand she ruffled her small grandson's hair. The other was demurely clasping her dressing gown tightly around her neck.
"You're my first teacher" she added with a suggestive smile.
Faith opened the attic bedroom door and gently steered young Aaron into the stairwell. She turned before leaving.
"Oh" she said casually, "Will you be wanting your usual hot water bottle? It's such a cold night tonight, Gerald "
"That", Gerald replied with a big smile, "Would be very welcome"
Faith took hold of her grandson's hand and walked him down the stairs to his own room.
"It's not cold tonight Nan" said Aaron, puzzled
"It's cold in the attic sweetheart" Faith offered as an explanation, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.
Aaron was still confused. His Nan's conversation with Mr Allerdyce had gone right over his head. Literally. But he knew one thing, he wanted to look at the stars again.
Back to the present......
"Stargazing again are ya?" Adam said cheerfully
Aaron looked up at his friend who was standing in front of him with two metal mugs of cocoa. He smiled as he took his mug.
Adam flopped down onto the wall next to him, his hands clasped around his own drink. They didn't need to talk, they were both at ease in each other company. Their friendship hadn't been that long. Not really. But it was deep and that was what mattered.
"I heard you come in about five" Adam said eventually, "You with Robert I suppose?"
"Uh huh" said Aaron, sipping his cocoa. He wondered why Adam had asked. He knew he didn't object. Not Adam.
"Weren't you with Victoria?" Aaron asked tentatively
"No" Adam snapped, a bit quickly Aaron thought. He could tell something was up.
"I've only stayed a couple of times" said Adam, "She is a decent girl you know!"
"I never said she wasn't" said Aaron, keeping his voice measured. Knowing Adam as he did, he wondered if someone had said something. One of the other young miners billeted in the Manor House. That would have upset him. Despite his usual cheerful nature and ready grin, if someone had said anything nasty, Adam would have hit back, verbally or physically. But underneath he'd have been hurt.
And Aaron was probably the only person he'd let know. After all, Aaron would always be on his side. The way Adam had always been on his side since they'd first met. Despite everything.
"Anyway" said Adam, staring down into his cocoa mug, "We've only had a cuddle"
"Yeah, course" said Aaron sarcastically. But when he saw that Adam was still staring down sadly, he regretted it.
Aaron decided to try again.
"You don't have to worry about what people might say" he started, "I mean. You are engaged after all"
Adam gave a small nod
"And I'm not saying anything about Victoria. You know I wouldn't. But I know she'd be, uh, sensible about things. She was married before" Aaron offered
"Yeah" said Adam sharply, looking up at his friend, "But I haven't been married have I!"
Adam wiped a tear from his eye and looked away. He felt ashamed at breaking down like this, but he had no reason to be. Not with Aaron.
Aaron thought he'd worked out what was wrong. And he was now convinced that one of the other lads had said something. And knowing the boys, it was probably somebody far more innocent than Adam. Some liar that anyone with real experience would see through in a moment. He even had a good idea who. But that didn't matter, it was his friend that concerned him right now. Aaron hooked his arm around Adam's shoulders.
Perhaps growing up on an isolated farm with just your widowed mother and your sisters meant you could miss out on picking up some essential facts you may need for later life. Aaron had just had his Nan, but then she wasn't exactly like other people's Nans. If anything, Aaron felt he'd picked up too many facts. Essential and otherwise.
"Listen" he started, "You love Victoria right?"
"Course I do" said Adam
"And she's mad about you. Anyone can see it. And that's all that matters. So don't worry about that side of things"
"But should we wait?" Adam asked, "Until we're married I mean. What if we do and then..."
"It'll be fine. Whenever" said Aaron, giving his friend's shoulder a squeeze, "If it's the right time for you two, you'll know. I promise ya"
Adam was quiet. Aaron looked down at his own half-empty cocoa mug and decided to try and lift his pal's mood.
"I've had enough of this. Couldn't finish it for me could you mate?" he said, "Shame to waste it. After all..."
"Remember there's a War on!" Adam and Aaron said in unison. Aaron was pleased to see his friend smiling again as he took his mug from him.
Sometimes, you just knew it was the right time.
And with that thought in mind, let's go back a few months......
The Manor House, the stairs to the roof - a few months ago
"Of course" said Robert as he walked awkwardly up the spiral wooden staircase, "Hardly anyone comes up here these days"
Rob paused for a moment. He was having to grab tightly to the rope bannister to keep himself from falling over.
"Just need to get my breath back a minute" he said.
Aaron felt a little guilty. But then it had been Robert's idea to go up on the roof. But then again, Aaron had kept going on about how fantastic the view must be.
Up until that moment, Aaron has been slyly enjoying the view as he followed Rob to the rooftop, carrying his walking stick for him. Robert was only wearing an old jumper and slacks, but still managed to look gorgeous from where Aaron was standing. He always did.
"You don't have to worry about falling Mr Sugden. I'll catch ya" said Aaron
Robert turned to Aaron on the staircase and gave him an intense look.
"Aaron" Rob said sharply, 'We agreed now, didn't we?"
"Sorry, 'Robert' " replied Aaron
Rob shot him a smile. When he smiled like that, a warm glow spread over Aaron and he remembered just why he had felt so shy the first time he had met 'Mr Sugden".
Robert pushed open the door to the rooftop and stepped out. Aaron handed him his stick and followed him.
"Wow. You can see for miles!" said Aaron. It was just starting to get dark and Aaron walked over to the edge of the roof to drink the view in.
"Only countryside" said Rob leaning on his stick, "It would be different if we were nearer the towns. But then if we were nearer the towns it wouldn't be safe to come up here. We'd need fire watchers and......"
Aaron turned as Robert fell silent. He'd seen this happen before and knew a quick change of topic was needed.
"Come and point things out to me, before it gets too dark" said Aaron, sitting down on a small partition wall away from the roof
"Oh" said Rob, recovering from his distracted mood, "Well I don't know it all that well. I didn't grow up around here after all"
"Where you from then?' said Aaron as Robert sat down next to him
"Emmerdale" said Rob, "It's a village in Yorkshire, North Riding"
"I was born in Yorkshire" said Aaron "Haven't been there in years though"
"I thought you were from Blackpool" said Rob
"Been there since I was five. My Nan took me in when my parents split up"
"Do you still see them?" asked Robert
"No" snapped Aaron. He instantly wished he hadn't. He had been enjoying this so much. He didn't want to ruin it. Even if it was just a nice chat with a very nice man. Even if that was all he could hope for, it still felt special.
So Aaron kept his voice light and tried to recapture the mood, "She' s my guardian. Runs a guest house on the front. That's how I got into this star gazing. One of my Nan's, uh, gentlemen friends who was staying with us"
"She has a lot of gentleman friends" said Aaron, giving Robert a conspiratorial smile.
"Oh, ok" said Robert and grinned back. Again, Aaron could feel the smile going right through him.
And then Aaron just started to talk....
- - - - - - - -
It was the longest he'd ever talked to Robert. He told him about Mr Allerdyce at his Nan's. He told him about the books he'd given him when he'd left and how Aaron had made sure the attic room was then his. Moving sharply in before the next 'gentlemen friend' arrived. He told him about the telescope his Nan had given him when he passed his engineering apprenticeship, just because she'd been 'so proud'. He told him about the stars and Robert just sat, listened and smiled.
And then it happened. It was not something he had expected. But it was something he had hoped for, even if he hadn't dared tell anyone out loud. Not even Adam, who he knew he could tell anything.
Just as Aaron turned from looking up at the now dark sky, Robert leaned over and kissed him. Despite the fact that he had wanted him too, more than anything, Aaron could not keep the look of surprise off his face. Which went a long way to explaining what Robert did next.
Rob shot back from Aaron, now looking just as surprised.
"Oh my God!" he started, "I am so sorry. I...I just don't know what came over me. Oh God!"
If he hadn't needed his walking stick, Aaron thought Robert would have run as far away as he could right then. He knew what Robert must have been expecting. He must have thought Aaron would lurch away in disgust, or lash out at him in anger.
But Aaron just put his hand gently on Robert's forearm and spoke soothingly, "It's alright Robert. Everything is alright"
"You're not going to tell anyone are you Aaron? Please, you can't.." Rob implored
"Everything is fine" Aaron insisted. as he gently stroked Robert's forearm
"I...I don't make a habit of this!" Rob insisted. "I've never kissed a man before"
"Neither have I" said Aaron truthfully.
Robert looked down at Aaron, he was obviously struggling to find his words.
"But I've wanted to do that to you for so long"
"That's alright" said Aaron softly, "I've wanted you to do it for ages too". He reached over and ran his fingers through Rob's blonde hair.
Robert smiled as if a huge weight had been lifted from him. He let out a deep breath and looked at the young man next to him. Then he leaned over and kissed Aaron again, this time more passionately. As he broke away he wrapped his arms around Aaron's shoulders and pulled him close, burying his head in the younger man's neck. Aaron closed his eyes and held Rob tightly.
Sometimes you just knew it was the right time.
- - - - - - -
But, you know, that still isn't the start of Robert and Aaron's story. Not this Robert and Aaron. Not the proper start. For that, we'll have to go back to different times and places.
We'll have to go back to a dormitory hut at a training camp in the Midlands, where a young man from Blackpool has just been called up and is about to meet for the first time the best friend he will ever have.
And we'll have to go back earlier than that. To the backroom of the Woolpack public house in Emmerdale, North Riding. Where a young trainee airman is coming back home for the first time since he enlisted, hoping that this time, his father will be proud of him. And as so often with the Sugden family, that story starts with an argument.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 3: The narrow-minded Father and the broad-minded Nan
Outside the Woolpack Public House, Emmerdale - North Riding, Yorkshire
For this Robert, his story really starts here. And if you're wondering why it has to start exactly here, well that's because of a decision Robert is about to make. It turns out to be a very bad decision. The results of it are, not too far in the future, going to cause him a lot of unhappiness. And what is this bad decision? Robert Jacob Sugden is going to make one last, massive, effort to please his father.
We're much closer to the start of the War than we are now. And if you're looking for the stereotype of the grumpy, bad tempered farmer, then look no further than Rob's father, Jack.
"Your Dad's under a lot of pressure" Robert's step-mother Diane had tried to explain on several occasions, "There's twice of much for him to do on the farm these days. You have to make allowances for him pet"
"He was like this with me long before the War started!" Robert had replied truthfully.
But this time, surely, it was going to be different. He'd done what Dad had wanted hadn't he? He'd enlisted without waiting to be called up. But even that had meant criticism. Why couldn't he have hung on and helped his Dad on the farm? Didn't he know how difficult it was to get able bodied men to work the land?
But as he stepped off the back of the truck that had carried him and about half a dozen other trainee airmen from the nearby RAF base into his village, he was feeling confident. He knew he looked impressive in his neat, blue uniform. The smiles from the girls in the cafe at the base appeared very quickly whenever he walked into the room.
"Right lads" Robert said to the rest of the group, "This is my step-Mum's pub, so behave, right!"
"Just let us see where are all the pretty ladies" said Pavel Kempinski, one of the other airmen
"Pavel, you're doing it again!" said Robert to his friend
"What is this that you are saying?" Pavel asked, feigning surprise
"That phoney way of talking. Come on mate, I know you're Polish but you speak English better than most of the British guys on the base! You only do it to impress the girls"
Pavel stood up straight and looked indignant, "It's what they expect" he said with a shrug. His accent was still there, but the exaggeration had gone.
Robert laughed and headed for the side door that would take him to the Woolpack living quarters
"Just be careful!" he called, "Remember, they all know me around here"
With a smile, Robert opened the door as his friends headed off for the entrance to the bar.
The back room of the Woolpack
"For the last time" Jack said angrily, "I don't want our Victoria working behind the bar. Where's Katie?"
"I told you" Diane said with a sigh as she put her husband's meal on the table, "She's under the weather"
"Huh!" snorted Jack, "Under some squaddie more like. Well I'm not having my daughter going the same way. Why do all these lads in uniform have to come into your flaming pub?"
"Oh come on Jack!" said Diane, putting her own meal down as she sat opposite him, "Where else are they going to go around here?"
Jack knew his wife was right, but wasn't going to be put off so easily.
"You have a word with her later. Tell her she's not to mix with any lads"
"Why can't you tell her? As you're insisting she's your daughter all of a sudden"
"I've got Home Guard duty straight after this" Jack insisted
"Oh I know pet" Diane said with mock sympathy, "Tell us. Did any Germans try and steal the water tower last night?"
"It's War work!" Jack said indignantly
"War work!" Diane replied with a smile, "Six blokes playing cards all night"
"We don't just play cards" Jack replied, returning to his meal.
"One of the lads has brought in a gramophone" Jack said, smiling back at his wife.
If only Robert had walked in then, he would have caught his Dad in a relatively good mood.
- - - - - -
Robert closed the front door behind him and neatly pulled the blackout curtain back into place.
His smile soon faded as he heard his Dad in full flow. Confidence sinking, Rob waited at the closed door to the living room. He tried to listen to just what the problem was this time. It was not a surprise.
"Can't you stay a bit longer?" said Diane, "Just to see Robert. It's his first time home. Don't you want to see your only son in uniform?"
"RAF uniform!" said Jack, "Why couldn't he have joined the Army?"
"Just because you were in the army in the last lot, doesn't mean he has to" his wife replied, "Robert's a clever lad. Of course he wants to use his brains. Why shouldn't he be a pilot"
"He just doesn't want to get his hands dirty. He never has done. Have you seen them in the bar? You know what they call them don't you?" said Jack, "Brylcreem boys"
"Jack!" Diane said, exasperated
"Nancy boys, that what I'd call em" said her husband
"Well, they'll be no need to worry about our Victoria then will there?" Diane shot back
Jack slammed his knife and fork down on the table, but was silent. He linked his fingers together and leaned forward, resting his chin on his hands. Now that he had stopped complaining, finally, his wife could see the tiredness etched all over his face. He was doing too much.
Diane knew it didn't help that she had insisted on keeping the pub instead of becoming a farmer's wife. It meant nights apart when her husband had an early start. And it meant rows. But she had insisted and a widowed, stubborn farmer with two young children to bring up hadn't had many options.
Diane also knew Jack had wanted to put a proper farm manager in place and that he had wanted it to be Robert. The War had put a stop to that idea but, as far as Jack was concerned, it was all down to his disappointment of a son.
Diane walked around the table and put her arm around Jack's shoulders.
"Can't you at least be a bit proud of him?" she asked gently
"Of course I am" muttered Jack, "But it's just. You know. Robert!"
Outside in the hallway, everything that Jack had said had hurt his son. He could ignore his Dad's implied comments on his so-called lack of manliness. You weren't a proper man in Jack's book if you weren't up at five in the morning, fixing a dry stone wall in the middle of Winter.
And Rob knew that there was a side of him that was, well, different. But he buried it. Besides, there were always lots of pretty girls around who he was drawn to. And sometimes, if he was drawn elsewhere, he'd push those feelings down. Jack's anger was bad enough as it was. But he just couldn't think how he'd react to, something like that.
He could even, just ignore that fact that his Dad's admission of pride had almost had to be dragged out of him. But what hurt most was those final, casual words of dismissal, 'But it's just. You know. Robert!'. The older he had got, the more he had heard it. That accusation of “Well, what can I expect from you!”
But Rob kept listening.
"When I was his age" said Jack quietly, "I was already married. If he wanted to make me proud. Why can't he get himself a nice girl and settle down?"
"You're the one who broke him and Katie up" Diane reminded him
"That was different. She's just a barmaid!"
"So was I!" Diane reminded him, “Once upon a time”
"Ah, well you're special" said Jack with a smile, resting his strong hand on his wife's waist, "Anyway, you're right about one thing. Robert has got brains. When he can be bothered to use them. He doesn't have to stay round here. He could go off, find someone with a bit of class"
"It's difficult with the War on pet" said Diane kindly, "A lot of girls don't want a husband. They're too scared of losing him"
"Well the last time I looked, people are still getting married" said Jack, "And if our Robert could do that. Well, it'd be a good start in my opinion"
- - - - - - -
In the hallway, Robert wasn't interested in hearing any more about his Dad's plans for his future. He decided to head out into the street and into the bar. As far as he was concerned, this first trip home was a disaster.
But all that changed the moment he walked into the bar and he heard his little sister saying "Robert!" in genuine delight as she ran up and hugged him. And Victoria, she said all the right things.
"Look at you! I know it's only been a month but I've really missed you. Are they feeding you at that base, you're looking a bit thin to me? I've been chatting to some of your mates. That Pavel's nice isn't he? Real dishy too, bit like Errol Flynn! Without the moustashe of course. Doesn't he talk funny though? Let me look at you properly"
Robert smiled indulgently as his sister rattled away. Then she stopped talking and looked at him intently.
"You know" she started, "Mum would have been so proud"
Rob wrapped his arms back around his sister. This was worth coming home for.
- - - - - - -
But Robert shouldn't have listened to his father. He'll be rushing into a disastrous marriage soon as a result. But more of that later.
And Victoria shouldn't really have listened to Rob's friend Pavel. But more of that later as well.
- - - - - - - -
But what about Aaron Dingle?. Well, for a start, it's only thanks to his Nan, Faith that he is Aaron Dingle. And to find out why, we have to head back to Blackpool, right at the start of the War
Blackpool sea-front, The Golden Palm Tree Guest House
“Now I know it's in here somewhere” said Faith Dingle, as she rummaged in the old biscuit tin full of papers which was lying on her kitchen table. She looked up as the back door opened and closed again as her handsome young grandson walked in in his navy overalls, a loaf of bread tucked under his arm.
“You took your time” said Faith, as she continued to look through the tin
“Queue was long, wasn't it?” Aaron replied as he headed over to the larder
“I hope you washed your hands before you went out” Faith called from the table, not aware that Aaron was repeating and silently mouthing her words.
“I don't want oil all over my loaf” Faith continued
“What's it matter anyway?” Aaron asked sulkily. He thrust his offending hands into his overall pockets and walked back into the kitchen, leaning against the sink and watching his grandmother.
Faith picked up a letter from the table and brandished it in Aaron's direction
“I've got Mr and Mrs Bryce-Hamilton arriving tomorrow. They're double barreled Aaron! They'll be expecting quality”
“They're in for a disappointment then” Aaron muttered under his breath
“At least I think its Bryce” said Faith, squinting hard at the notepaper, “It could be Price”
Aaron sighed, “Nan, why don't you just wear your glasses?” he asked.
“They make me look like an old lady” Faith replied
“You are an old lady Nan” said Aaron
“Nonsense!” said his grandmother, giving him a sharp look. But she was never angry with Aaron for long. “I'm in my prime” she added with a smile, before returning to the biscuit tin.
“What you looking for anyway?” asked Aaron
“I'm trying to find something official that says you're a Dingle” Faith explained
“But I am a Dingle. I was a Dingle on the school register!” said Aaron with surprise
“I know love” said Faith, “It doesn't count I'm afraid. And unless you want to be Aaron Livesey on your identity card and your ration book I have to find something with your name on it”
“Why would I want to be Livesey?” asked Aaron, “I've not seen him since I was about five. I can't even remember him!” he added, hanging his head slightly.
“It's no good” Faith sighed, “The solicitor's letter only says I'm your guardian. Have you got anything?”
Aaron thought for a moment. His wages at the engineering works just came in a brown envelope, which a nice spinster lady handed over to him on a Friday night, his name written on the outside in her neat writing. That was no help.
“I've got my union card. It's typed up and everything” said Aaron
“That'll do” said Faith, “I just need to find my birth certificate now”
“It'll be in the museum in town won't it?” said Aaron with a cheeky grin. He laughed as he just caught the tea towel that his Nan had just thrown at his face.
“Cheek!” said Faith, but she was smiling as she did so.
Faith started to put her papers back into her biscuit tin (a prized possession commemorating the 1911 Coronation). Aaron's mood changed and he put his hands back into his overall pockets. There was something he wanted to ask his Nan. Something he needed to ask.
“Nan?” he started, not looking at her
“Yes love” answered Faith
“You know the two blokes up on the first floor?”
Faith paused for a moment. Deep down, she had been expecting something like this one day. She was determined she was going to get it right. Whatever it was.
“The boys from the variety theatre” she replied, “What about them?”
“Well” said Aaron, feeling too embarrassed to look directly at his Nan, “Some of the lads at the works went to the show on Saturday. And they were saying that they were both...... you know, that the pair of them were....” he just didn't know how to finish.
“A bit, different?” Faith offered in soft voice.
Aaron nodded, but still didn't look up. “And I was thinking...”
“Yes” said Faith encouragingly
“Are they, you know, like that just because they're in the theatre?”
Faith could see how hard Aaron was finding this so got up and stood next to him at the sink, her arms folded.
“Well love” she started, “I've had loads of actors staying here over the years. Some have been like that and some definitely weren't”
“Believe you me!” Faith added with a smile and a friendly nudge, hoping Aaron would not keep looking so downcast.
“Listen Aaron” said Faith, “I've had all sorts staying here since I opened this place. Actors, traveling salesmen, honeymooning couples, artists, even your mother once....”
Aaron looked up for the first time at this unexpected reference
“Sailors, lay-preachers, old maids, there was a fortune teller too, right after the Great War” Faith continued, “And the thing is, they were all welcome. Do you see what I'm saying?”
Aaron nodded slightly but his voice was still uncertain, “But some of the lads were saying....”
Faith put her arm around her grandson's shoulders.
“Some of the lads were saying!” she started dismissively, “We're Dingles love. When have we ever cared about what other people were saying?”
Faith was pleased when Aaron smiled.
- - - - - - - -
And talking of being a Dingle, let's jump a bit forward to where Aaron really enters our story. Let's got to that dormitory hut in a training centre, somewhere in the Midlands.
- - - - - - - -
Miners Training Centre, near the long disused Eastbrooke colliery, the Midlands
This may not be the Army, Aaron thought as he stood alone in the cold corridor, but they liked to keep things on military lines. The board outside the dormitory was plastered with small notes telling you what your life was going to be like for the foreseeable future.
Aaron looked at the list of “Do's and Don't s” typed neatly on white paper in one corner. Someone has a sense of humour, he thought, there wasn't a single “Do” on there! He carried on reading the notices, “Remember to hand in your ration book”, “How to request leave”, “For Medical and Family problems, report to Sergeant P. Seaton (RAMC) at the Welfare Officer's Hut”. Aaron even read the familiar, “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster.
But he knew what he was doing. He was avoiding looking at the list in the other corner. The one that told him where his bed was going to be in the dormitory. He knew. He just knew, that he was going to do something wrong. Or say something wrong. And then everyone would know. Everyone would know about him. And what if he got stuck next to the wrong sort of people. Unkind people. People as different as they could be from his Nan and her guests back home. Then, he thought, he'd be finished.
Nervously, he read the list from the bottom up. He knew a “Dingle” would end up near the top and was just putting it off that little bit longer. 'Robertson-Ash, Leonard ' he read. Wow, that was a mouthful. Still, double-barreled, that would have impressed Nan! He kept reading upwards. Funny, no 'Smiths'. There was always Smiths staying at the Golden Palm Tree. Nearly always couples too. Hardly ever a family. And usually, just for the one night.
Aaron couldn't resist looking where he would have been had he still been a Livesy. In between 'Feldman, Samuel' and 'McTaggert, Donald' it seemed. Still you couldn't tell all that much from that, he thought.
He was down to the last three. That was good. If they were nice blokes, maybe he could tuck himself away in the corner. Not get noticed. He was struggling with the name, “Evans, Dafydd”. How were you supposed to say that? It must be Welsh. Still, he'd soon find out.
And there on the top line was the man who was obviously going to be in the far corner and therefore sleeping in the bed next along from him, “Barton, Adam”.
Perhaps it won't make any difference, Aaron thought, whoever he was stuck next to. He was beginning to feel a little despondent.
But he needn't have been. Because he was wrong. It was going to make so much of a difference for him. A wonderful one.
Chapter 4: "I was thinking, that could be like me and you?"
Miners Training Centre, the Midlands – Dormitory Hut A
So let's see how Aaron got on when he met some of his fellow trainees.....
It didn't take Aaron long to put away his few possessions in the locker next to his bed. He'd brought just one of his astronomy books, worried that it might be something else that could single him out from the other young men at the centre. He tucked away his brand new shaving kit that his Nan had got him. “You shouldn't have Nan!” Aaron had smiled, it must have been expensive. “Mr Fosdyke on the second floor got it for me”, Faith had explained, “He's in the business and he owed me a favour”. Aaron had decided not to ask why!
Aaron sat down on the side of his bunk, staring quietly into the corner of the dormitory room. There was no sign of this “Barton, Adam”, or indeed of anyone. He was startled out of his contemplation when he heard a booming Welsh accent behind him.
“You, must be Aaron” the voice said. It sounded like an accusation.
Aaron got up from his bed and turned around to look the newcomer in the face. But all he could see was the buttons on his shirtfront. He looked up, until he could see the red haired man towering over him. He must have been over six foot three, and broad with it. Aaron felt a sinking sensation in his stomach. He just had to get on the right side of this guy.
“Hello mate” Aaron replied, trying to keep the nervousness out of his voice
“My name's Dafydd” the young giant replied, “But seeing as you're English, you can call me David”
“Uh, you sure you're not Goliath?” asked Aaron.
There was an uncomfortable pause, which was fortunately broken by Dafydd letting out a big laugh
“Ah, I see you're religious!” Dafydd replied with enthusiasm
“Well, I went to Sunday School” said Aaron, “A few times” he added very quietly as the other trainee started to put his own few belongings away.
“I live with my Nan” said Dafydd, “She is very religious”
“Do ya?” said Aaron, not sure of just what to say.
“Do you think there's something wrong, with living with your Nan?” asked Dafydd, again it sounded like an accusation.
“Course not” said Aaron, “I live with mine, in Blackpool” he added quickly, “She might, uh, be a bit different from yours though”
“I live in Merthyr” said Dafydd, “My Nan warned me that as soon as I got to the station I should beware of wickedness and sin, everywhere”
Definitely not like my Nan then, thought Aaron.
“She said there would be fallen women. Did you see any fallen women on your journey here?” Dafydd asked
“Uh, no. Can't say I did” said Aaron, not that he had been looking!
“Neither could I” said Dafydd, “And I was waiting for ages at that station!” he added wistfully.
His unpacking finished, Dafydd walked over and towered over Aaron again.
“It's a good Biblical name, Aaron” he said
“Uh, thank you” Aaron replied
“I think we will get on famously” said Dafydd, and he gave Aaron a friendly but quite hard slap on his right shoulder.
“I see we have an Adam in the corner” Dafydd added as he headed back to his bed, “Another strong Biblical name”
“Uh yeah” said Aaron, “I've not met him yet though”
But he would do, and very soon........
The Welfare Officer's Hut
Adam Barton closed the door of the administration office behind him and walked down the corridor a little. He leaned back against the wall for a moment and shut his eyes. How the hell had he managed to do it? How he can he have acted like that? To someone he didn't even know? He felt ashamed. But hopefully, he had managed to turn it around a little.
It was that women's fault though. Really. He had been standing on the platform on the railway station when she had just marched up to him. “Why aren't you in uniform?” she had demanded. “Where do you think I'm going missus!” Adam had shot back, indicating the small suitcase in his hand. All she had managed was a “Well I should hope so too!” before marching off just as quickly.
He had convinced himself that he had got a few accusing looks on the journey too. People thinking he must be a shirker, not doing his bit. Or worse, they might think he was a Conshie! It wasn't his fault he was going to be a miner. It wasn't as if his call up papers had given him a choice.
It was bad enough that they had turned up so late. The date on them was from week's ago. But, as people never tired of saying “Remember there's a War on”. And maybe if he hadn't felt like he was leaving his Mum in the lurch he would not have been looking for someone to lash out at. If he'd had just a bit more time at the farm, he was sure he could really helped her get over the next tough patch without him. That was important work. If he hadn't been on the farm, he was certain he would have been called up long before now.
So when he'd got off the van which had collected him and some other lads from the station, he'd immediately cornered the driver.
“Who do I see about leave?”
“You've only just got here!” the man had replied. He must have been about sixty and that was what Adam was expecting here. Men too old to fight, but able to train up him and the other lads to do their job.
“It's the farm. I've got to help my Mum...” Adam had started.
The old man had sighed, “Go and see Sgt. Seaton” he said, “He's the welfare officer. Hut on the end. Oh, and he's the MO” he added, “He's only a nurse mind, not a Doctor. Well, they're not going to waste a Doctor on a bunch of lads are they?” he added.
That final comment got under Adam's skin. If he could have expressed his feelings out loud, he'd have said that what he wanted right now was a real shirker. Some he could tell that yes, him, Adam Barton was doing his bit, whatever the other man might say.
Adam walked into the hut at the end of the camp and then along to a door that said “Sgt. P Seaton (RAMC)” on the door. It was a young male voice that answered him, which was a surprise. He was expecting another old man.
The office was cramped, with a warm stove stuck in one corner and a small desk squeezed between a couple of wooden filing cabinets. And the man standing behind one cabinet, the top drawer wide open was young. Too young to be hiding away in an office well away from any real work. Not that much older that Adam himself!
It didn't help that his army shirt and tie were ridiculously smart too. This guy obviously couldn't be further away from the War if he tried. The sergeant's right arm was leaning on the open top draw of the cabinet and he was slowly filing folders from the top of the cabinet. Like's he's got all the time in the World, thought Adam.
“Won't keep you”, said Patrick, “Everything takes twice as long these days”
Adam put his case on the floor and ignored this comment. If this shirker wanted sympathy, he'd picked the wrong person.
“Is it medical or family?” Patrick asked, as he slowly put another file away
“What do you mean?” Adam asked, confused.
“What you're here for. If it's medical, I'll have to get my orderly.” Patrick explained.
'And lazy too!' Adam fumed to himself.
“Look mate” Adam started rudely, “I just want a bit of leave so I can help my Mum on our farm. I've got to help her. We don't all want to hide away in some cosy little billet till the War's over”
Patrick looked up from his filing, surprised. Adam could see his comment must have hit home and, pleased with himself, headed over to the corner of the room to warm his hands on that fire.
“So, what's your name then?” Patrick asked.
Adam wasn't looking at him now. He didn't want to. “Barton. Adam Baron” Adam replied, “with a 'B'” he added sarcastically.
“Other drawer” said Patrick
“Been here since the start have ya?” Adam asked, not turning around.
“I was in France. Just for a while” Patrick replied distractedly.
Adam heard the heavy wooden filing cabinet being closed and the so-called sergeant sitting down in his desk chair.
“Can't have been all bad” said Adam, “Lots of pretty girls in France I've heard. Least you got out in one piece. I know plenty didn't”
The welfare officer was quiet for a moment.
“Right” Patrick said briskly, “We've got you down as living at Pear-tree farm. In your mother's name and there's just you and your two sisters at home”
“Well I know that don't I?” Adam said rudely, “Now look mate..” he started as he turned around.
And then he saw it. On its own, it was not so very shocking. It was just the sleeve of an Army shirt, after all. But when Adam looked, he wished he'd not opened his mouth since he'd stepped foot in the room.
That sleeve had obviously been ironed within an inch of its life. And it was folded very neatly in the middle, with the empty cuff fixed to the shoulder with two safety pins. They were holding it tight at the top of the left arm. Or, as Adam now realised, where the top of the left arm normally would have been.
Adam looked at the young sergeant's face. Properly. That long scar along the side hadn't just happened by itself. Then Adam saw the welfare officer shifting uncomfortably in his chair. He had moved so that the right side of his face and his right arm were more prominent. And that just made Adam feel much worse.
He then realised that he was staring, so sat quickly down in the chair in front of the desk. Of course this guy was going to have a neat uniform. Wouldn't you, if you thought everyone was going to be looking at you? Wouldn't you try to put on your best front? Adam felt wretched and didn't know what to say. Luckily, Patrick took over the conversation for him.
“Well it says we did send your letter in good time” the sergeant explained, not sounding very sympathetic.
All the nastiness has gone from Adam's voice as he started, “We didn't get it till last week. It came in the same post as the letter telling me to come here” he explained, “If I could just get home for the weekend I can help my mum get set up. In a month or so she might be able to sort some proper help, some Land Girls or something. I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important”
“Everything's important these days” said Patrick.
Adam let out a sigh and nodded. He knew he'd blown his chances of leave. And all because he came in guns blazing. If only he hadn't been so quick to judge, he thought. His gloomy thoughts were interrupted by the young man opposite who, he now realised, had been talking to him.
“So you can catch the train on Friday evening but you have to be back here on Monday night. It would be Sunday but, well, you wouldn't get a train here on a Sunday before the War, let alone now”
“But you have to promise me it'll be Monday night. No later or you'll miss lectures and I'll get it in the neck”
Adam realised he'd actually got what he wanted. “Oh, I'll be back” he said gratefully “It's a promise”
“Good, because I have been let down before. Was that your lot Mr Barton?”
Adam thought for a moment. “People call me Adam” he said. It was a small peace offering, but he couldn't think of anything else to say.
“I mean we're not in the Army are we?” said Adam, “I mean, I know you are but....”, he cursed as he seemed to be tying himself up in knots again.
“Are we supposed to call you Sergeant?” Adam asked changing tack.
The young man thought for a moment, “Um, call me Sarge” he decided, “I think that would be alright”
Patrick then leaned forward slightly and lowered his voice as if entering into a conspiracy, “But if there's anyone important around, call me Sgt. Seaton. I've already been hauled over the coals for being too soft on you lot. If the higher-ups had their way, you wouldn't even have a welfare officer. There'd just be a monthly visit from the Padre up at the Army Camp”
“Ay, careless talk!” said Adam with a smile, really trying hard to turn this encounter around
“Hardly” said Patrick, “It's only at the top of the next hill”.
“You can see it from the cookhouse window” he added
“Anyway” said Patrick, being more serious, “You come along Thursday, I'll have a cover letter for you. You don't need a formal pass. But that doesn't mean you won't get asked so...”
Adam nodded. “I better go an meet the rest of the lads then” he said. He picked up his case and turned in the doorway before leaving.
“Thanks Sarge” he said, hoping that would help.
- - - - - - - - -
So as he stood in the corridor, just gathering his thoughts for a moment, he came to a decision. The next person he met, he was going to give a fair chance to. A real chance with no judging. He'd take him as he found him.
- - - - - - -
Dormitory Hut A
The waiting was getting to Aaron. There were twenty three other beds in this hut and, at the moment, he was the only person there. In a way, that was a relief. It meant there would be a crowd. Maybe he could lose himself in a large group. Dafydd had gone off in search of the welfare officer. He'd said something about Sundays and visiting Chapel, so it had been clear his priorities were different from Aaron's.
Adam has just got to the entrance of the hut when he stepped back, mouth gaping, to let a red-haired colossus go past without a word. He peered through the open doorway and noticed a dark-haired young man, just a little on the short side, quietly sitting on one of the beds. Adam made a quick check of the noticeboard in the hall to find his berth. He ran his fingers down and read 'Dingle, Aaron'. Right then, Aaron Dingle, he said to himself. You're going to be my new best mate!
And he was good as his word. Aaron was a bit bowled over at first when this tall, handsome young man with dark curly hair bounded over to him from the doorway and introduced himself. He'd given Aaron a matey handshake and then hit him with a load of questions while he packed his belongings away. All the time, this warm grin was plastered over his face.
Finally Adam put his gas mask holder into the locker and sat down on the bunk opposite Aaron.
“So, who's the giant?” Adam asked
“That's David” Aaron replied, “He's the only one I've met so far”
“More like Goliath!” Adam joked. Aaron smiled. Well , that was a start. At least they had something in common, however small.
- - - - - -
Over the next few days, Aaron got to know more of the lads in the hut. There had been so many delays with lost letters and transport hitches that new people kept arriving every day. They had barely managed to start the training lectures.
Leonard Robertson-Ash had turned out to be as posh as Aaron has expected, with a clear cut voice that would have got Faith reaching for the best china. But he was friendly and the only lad in the hut who was actually engaged. To a girl called Clarissa, which seemed appropriate.
Sammy Feldman may not have been engaged, but women seemed to be his full-time hobby. Any women. Nobody could call him fussy in that respect.
Dafydd however seemed to regard women as evil temptresses, steeped in sin. Aaron had found him friendly too, though not as talkative as Adam. But then, who was! Despite his huge size and strength, Dafydd didn't throw his weight around. He did not come across as a bully. This was a relief, as he could have flattened anyone in the room with a single punch. He also got respect from the other lads for being the only one of them who had ever been down a coal mine. Even if it had only been for a short time.
Don McTaggert. He was a bully. He seemed to arrive looking for a fight. We'll hear more about him later.
But it was Adam that Aaron spent most of his time with over those first few days. He had suggested they fill the time by playing football against Hut B. The Camp Supervisor, a fussy, white-haired man called Mr Pollard hadn't approved, but they didn't let that stop them. ”Hey, we should become footballers, after the War!” Adam had enthused as they just beat their rivals by three to nil. “Nah, don't be daft” Aaron had laughed, “The pay's rubbish!”
But he hadn't just been drawn to Adam's outgoing nature and enthusiasm. Every so often, Adam would let his guard down, just a little. And then Aaron could see the vulnerability of his new-found friend. It made him go up in his opinion, not down. And it made him feel better about his own feelings and insecurities bubbling away under the surface. But if Aaron had to say when their friendship had really started, he'd have said on that first Thursday night. The weekend before Adam made a quick visit back to the farm.
- - - - - - - - -
It was freezing in the hut and a small group of the lads were huddled around the stove heater in the corner of the room. They'd darted over from the training centre canteen, where the matronly women from the WVS had been dishing out some cocoa.
“Did you see that new little blonde?” said Sammy, as he sat cross-legged down on the floor
“What?” said Aaron in surprise, “She must have been about forty!”
“And the rest!” Adam added with a laugh
“You boys are too fussy” Sammy replied, “You can't be too picky these days. There's a War on”
“Which is why” said Leonard, in well drawn out tones as he walked into the room, “It is so hard to get a hold of this” he added as he held up a small silver flask.
“I hope that is not strong drink” Dafydd boomed
“Come on” said Leonard as he poured a little from the flask into Sammy's mug “It's just to keep the cold out. It's medicinal "
“Oh, if it's medicinal” Dafydd said eagerly, thrusting out his tin mug
Leonard leaned over a gave a little to Adam and Aaron, keeping the flask to himself.
“Gentleman, a toast”, Leonard said, “To Hut A!”
“Hut A” the other boys said in unison. Aaron swallowed his now alcoholic cocoa and pulled a face.
The lads started to chat. Not about anything in particular. And Aaron felt fine, he really felt fine. But, sometimes, when you have been worrying about something for so long, it can still affect you even when it doesn't happen. Aaron has expected a disaster and a part of himself was telling him that just because he was fine now, he wouldn't be fine forever.
He didn't think anyone could see the agitation that was now on his face. He mumbled something about stretching his legs and, tin mug in hand, he walked out of the door and down the corridor to the door to the washrooms. He sat down on the wooden floor outside, closed his eyes and breathed in deeply.
But he was wrong about not being noticed. He heard Adam asking him if he was alright. He opened his eyes and his friend dropped down onto the floor next to him.
“Are you worried about next week, you know going down the mine?” Adam asked kindly, “It's just for a few hours this first time”
Aaron just shook his head. He looked at Adam, now frowning at him in concern. If only he could tell him what was on his mind. He turned his face away.
Adam gathered his thoughts for a moment. He tried to put himself in Aaron's shoes, tried to think about what he would have liked to have heard.
“Listen right” he started, as Aaron looked downcast.
“My Dad was in the last lot. Only at the end and he was just a lad like us. And he didn't say much about it. He just said it was terrible”
“But he told me that the mates he made then, well, they were the best he ever had”
“And I was thinking” said Adam carefully, “I was thinking, that could be like me and you?”
Aaron looked back at Adam and took in the sincere look on his face.
“Yeah” Aaron smiled “I think that could be me and you”
Adam smiled back and held his tin mug out.
“Cheers, mate” he said
“Cheers, mate” Aaron replied
That's when their friendship started. And it never stopped.
- - - - - - - - - - -
But mates can get you into trouble as well. If we cut back a year or so, to an RAF base in the North Riding, Robert Sugden, bachelor, is about to find that out.
“Suggers” said the well-spoken trainee airman now looming over Robert's bunk, “You couldn't do a chap a favour could you?”
Robert just put down his copy of Movies and Moviegoer onto his chest and stared at Lewis. There was only ever one thing his friend ever wanted.
“I'm not giving you any money, get lost” said Rob, lifting his magazine back up.
“It's not that!” said Lewis, plonking himself down at the end of the bunk, “Daddy's coughed up this month”
“So what is it then?” Robert asked suspiciously
“You couldn't make up a four could you?” Lewis pleaded, “Jennifer is bringing one of her ghastly friends along tonight”
“Ghastly? Really? “said Rob sarcastically, “You're not building her up too much are you do you think?”
“Oh be fair! The last time wasn't so bad was it?” said Lewis
“Last time?” said Robert in disbelief, “You said she'd be like Fay Wray in King Kong!”
Lewis paused for a moment, “I said she was like King Kong, actually” he insisted
“And you weren't far wrong!” said Rob with a laugh. He found it hard to be annoyed with Lewis
“Look Suggers” Lewis pleaded, “You're the best of the bunch here. You scrub up well and you can keep the old conversation going, considering you're an oik”. He smiled after he said it, he was trying to tease Robert into helping and Rob knew it.
“Just for that, you can pay for dinner!” said Robert
“Of course!” said Lewis, “Wouldn't dream of asking you otherwise. You'll come then, I take it?”
Rob nodded, put down his magazine and swung his legs over the side of the bed.
“Good man!” said Lewis approvingly. Robert opened his locker and took out a towel and a small leather bag.
“Just do my ablutions” he said, heading to the door out of the room
“Not so heavy on the cologne!” Lewis called, “Wouldn't want to give these girls the wrong idea, would we?”
Rob just shook his head in disbelief. Lewis was living proof that wealth and brains didn't always go together.
Although he didn't know it, Robert Sugden was about to meet his wife for the first time.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Chapter 5: Secret kisses and hidden affection
The Manor House, Mr Sugden's study – late evening
Robert is looking at a picture of his wife now. Of course, with this story being laid out the way it is, I ought to say when exactly now is. Well, this is what for Rob was a very happy period. It was a just few days after he had kissed Aaron on the rooftop of the Manor House. But that kiss had had the shadow of fear hanging over it. Worry that Aaron would have rejected him. Worry about what people would say if they knew. The second kiss. That was the best one, but that hasn't happened. Not quite yet.
The younger Robert Sugden in the picture looked happy and, to be fair, he was at that time. Or at least, he thought he was. There wasn't much to show for Robert's wedding now. A gold ring he wore, just for the sake of appearances. A marriage certificate. A telegram from Christine's only living relative, an eccentric, arty sister who was squatting in their London flat and that was it. There may be this Manor House, but that wasn't his. There certainly wasn't a wife. Not here in any case.
It was a small wedding. Other than Christine, there was only Lewis as best man and Jennifer as bridesmaid. Officially though, they had been the witnesses. The steps of Leeds registry office didn't provide that much of an appealing background but the boys looked smart in their RAF uniforms and the girls were dressed to the nines. Christine always dressed well, and she turned heads wherever she went. He'd grant her that. Not that it was much consolation given what was to follow.
His Dad had been furious that Robert had got married in such a rush. But then, he was always furious, so what did that matter? Rob had taken Christine to see his family after the wedding, the first chance she'd got to come up from the Manor House. Diane had gone to town and laid on the best spread in the parlour that rationing could manage, with a little help from the farm of course. His Dad's latest bugbear wasn't him for a change. It was that smooth talking Polish airman, Pavel, who was spending far too much time with Victoria. But even then his Dad had managed to twist that round and say that it was Robert's fault, as he was his friend and had brought him to the village.
But Jack had done his best and been as polite and welcoming to Christine as he could manage. A damn sight more welcoming that he was to his own son, Robert had thought bitterly. But as Rob and his wife were leaving, he overheard his father talking to Diane. “Well, at least she's not showing yet. That's a blessing”. Robert had just shook his head. There was nothing to show! But that was typical of his Dad. Thinking that the only reason his son would have got married was because that he had to.
But right now, Robert had decided that the wedding photo belonged in the desk drawer, not standing on top of it. He was waiting for a knock on the study door. Eagerly.
- - - - - - -
Unlike Robert, the young miners did not have the full run of the Manor House. They had their rooms, tucked away in groups of two lads sharing on the first floor. With the Land Girls in the servants quarters in the attic, it seemed best to at least try and keep them apart. But other than that they were restricted to the kitchen and the other rooms in the basement.
It was funny how many times in the last few days that Rob had found himself wandering down to the kitchen. Just as the lads were finishing breakfast and heading for work, or just coming back from a long shift. The first time, he had just been walking in from the yard as Aaron was walking out. They didn't speak. Their eyes met for a moment and they both exchanged a smile. No one noticed, only them. Just that brief smile from Aaron was enough to give Robert a warm glow for the rest of the day and keep him distracted from his mountain of paper work. And as the War dragged on, that mountain seemed to just get bigger and bigger.
- - - - - - -
Robert had walked into the kitchen not ten minutes ago. He leaned on his walking stick and stood as casually as he could near the lads sitting around the large wooden table.
“Could one of you boys bring some coal up to my study?” Rob had asked, making sure he was as close to Aaron as possible.
“Yeah. I'll do it Mr Sugden!” said Aaron, quickly jumping out of his chair like a scalded cat.
As Aaron headed out to the coal store, Robert headed back upstairs. The rooms next to the kitchen had large windows looking into the corridor. As he passed one, he could see Victoria, catching up with some ironing. Adam was sitting at a chair nearby talking to her, the look on his face showing just how besotted he was. Rob smiled as he continued walking. Well, his sister deserved something better this second time around, didn't she?
- - - - - - - -
Aaron walked back through the kitchen, a small bucket of coal in one hand. Donald McTaggert waited until he was safely out of earshot before he spoke,
“I'll do it Mr Sugden” he mimicked. “The little crawler!”
The other lads ignored him. It was usually best.
“We're not here to fetch and carry for the likes of him” he added
Still no-one said anything. Dafydd kept reading his book, Leonard remained flicking through the Movie magazine that he'd borrowed from Robert.
“I nearly told him where to go!” Donald added, not deterred by the others disinterest
“Oh yeah, you could tell” said Sammy sarcastically as he walked into the kitchen
“Very nice” he added with a leer, looking over Leonard's shoulder at some Hollywood starlet or other.
“It's not even his house” Donald went on, “It's his wife's. Not that she ever shows her face round here. If you ask me....”
“Do be quiet Donald. There's a good chap” said Leonard
Donald stood up angrily, his right hand clenching into a fist.
“You want to make me?” he asked threateningly
“ I'll make you” Dafydd suddenly boomed from the end of the table.
Donald glared at the enormous Welshman, but sat down.
“I'm trying to read about this missionary” said Dafydd, “He spent years working in very uncivilised places”
“Oh yeah?” said Sammy cheekily, “Where was that then? Glasgow?”
- - - - - - - - - -
Mr Sugden's Study
It had only been ten minutes but it had seemed like ages until Robert heard the knock on his door.
“C- Come in” said Rob, clearing his throat.
And there he was, Aaron. Not dressed to the nines, not by any measure. He had a pair of rough, black trousers on and a striped shirt with no collar. And he looked gorgeous. Those eyes, that smile. That dark black hair. Robert leaned back onto the front of his desk and drank him in.
“Blimey, he's an ugly looking bugger” said Aaron, breaking the romantic mood in an instant.
Aaron was looking up at the portrait of the scowling man above the fire as he started to fill the coal scuttle from the bucket he'd brought in.
“That's Mr White. My late, not so lamented father-in-law” Robert explained. But he didn't want to talk about him. Not now.
Aaron seemed to be unloading the coal as slowly as possible. All the time, looking over at Rob as he did so with a smile on his face. But he finished quickly all the same.
“That scuttle was nearly full anyway” Aaron said, feeling a little nervous under Rob's gaze
“I must have misjudged it” Rob replied with a grin
“Is there anything else you wanted done?” Aaron asked, “I mean, if you wanted me to stay a bit longer...” he tailed off, suddenly looking a bit shy
“Well, you can put some cushions down on the floor for us for a start” said Robert
Aaron reached up to the comfy red chair near the fire. He grabbed a couple of cushions and laid them out in front of the seat. Robert eased himself a bit awkwardly down onto the floor, so that he was sitting next to the young man. He stared at him intently.
“Now what?” Aaron asked, just a little nervously.
“Oh, I''ll think of something” Robert said softly, a warm smile on his features as he leaned forward and gently brushed his hand down the side of Aaron's face.
This time it wasn't rushed. This time there was no worry about rejection. Rob pressed his lips lightly against Aaron's and curled his hand around his waist, just to pull him a little bit closer. This second kiss. This was the best.
Aaron smiled as Robert broke away from him. He was enjoying the feeling. Just of being with this handsome man and being wanted by him. It didn't feel wrong, or sinful or anything. It didn't even feel full of lust. It felt, warm, and affectionate and safe.
But he knew it had to be kept behind closed doors. This situation was going to be difficult. But he knew that he and Robert were not alone.
And we can see just how he knew that by taking another step back in time. Just back to when Aaron had not long arrived at the training camp.
Miners Training Centre, Welfare Office- The Midlands
The infirmary was a constant disappointment to Sergeant Seaton. When the War Office said that no expense had been spared they meant it literally! Just a small room with four bunks, which was ridiculous with three huts of trainees plus the centre staff, and a consulting room next to it. There was Dr Capaldi over at the Army Base of course, but he had made it clear that as far as he was concerned, he'd only be involved in the centre if it was something major or an emergency.
So Patrick was relieved that his latest case was neither. Aaron Dingle had badly twisted his ankle. Not while down in the mine, but during a boisterous game of football against the lads in Hut C. The camp supervisor did not approve of football. And he was making this perfectly clear as he marched into the Welfare Office without knocking.
“I want a word with you Mr Seaton!” Mr Pollard said angrily.
Patrick sighed and looked up from his type-writer. It was bad enough trying to update all the records for the lads at the centre typing with one hand. The last thing he needed was this old fusspot.
“I suppose you know those young hooligans have broken the window of my office!” Eric fumed
“I'm sure it wasn't deliberate” said Patrick, slowly typing as he spoke.
“It'll need a whole new pane” replied the older man
“Well we're not short of pains around here are we?” Patrick replied, sarcastically
“What do you mean?” said Eric, his face flushing in anger
“There's plenty of glass in the stores” said Patrick, “They haven't started rationing it. Yet”
“You're the Welfare Officer” said Eric, “Can't you organise something else for them to do?”
“There's the cinema trip tonight” offered Patrick
“Well, organise more of those then!” said Eric, as if he was stunned the young man had not thought of it.
“You get me the petrol coupons and I will, Mr Pollard” said Patrick
“No, petrol is a problem, I can see that” said Eric begrudgingly, as he stroked his white moustache
“Except for your flaming car” Patrick muttered under his breath
“How bad is that lad that hurt his ankle?” Eric asked, changing the subject
“He'll be fine. I'll keep him in the infirmary a couple of days”
“Well as long as it's no more. There is a War on Mr Seaton!” Eric said pompously as he headed for the office door.
This comment rankled with Patrick on several levels. For a start it was up to him to decide when his patients were ready to go back to duty. Secondly, he certainly didn't need to be reminded it was Wartime. And not just because he was the only person in the entire camp who was in the services.
“Yes. I read about that somewhere” Patrick said angrily.
Eric turned around this and looked at the young man. His gaze fell on the empty shirt sleeve, pinned up at the shoulder. Even Mr Pollard wasn't so much of a fool as to realise he'd said the wrong thing. But the best he could add was a sort of “hmph” sound and a quick jerk of the head.
“Oh and Mr Pollard” Patrick added as Eric opened the office door.
“It's Sergeant Seaton. Not Mr “ said Patrick as Mr Pollard turned
“I mean, we must keep up standards, mustn't we? Even if there is a War on” he added. And with that, he went back to his typing and an annoyed Mr Pollard marched briskly off.
Aaron was lying on one the bunks while the orderly, Sam, very slowly bandaged his ankle. But then, Sam did everything slowly. Aaron wasn't even sure who he was really. He wasn't one of the trainees, he'd only ever seen him sweeping up in the yard, or clearing up tables in the canteen.
“Right, I'll have to stop there” said Sam, “Boss will want a look”.
As Sam sloped off towards the sink in the corner, Adam poked his head around the infirmary door. Flashing a big smile, he made a beeline for Aaron.
“You alright mate?” he asked as he reached the bedside
“Got to stay here for next two days” Aaron replied sulkily.
“Aw, you'll miss the pictures tonight” said Adam looking at the chair next to bed, wanting to sit down.
“Ey, what's these?” he said picking up a pair of red and white striped pyjamas that was resting on the seat.
“Got to wear them” said Sam as he wandered back over and stared as his handiwork on Aaron's ankle, “It's the rules”
Adam moved the clothes onto the next bed and sat down.
“You won't be on your own will ya?” Adam asked with concern, “I can stay if you like...”
“Boss'll be staying here “ said Sam slowly, “Shame really. He loves the pictures”
With that Sam wandered off again.
“See, I'll be fine” said Aaron.
“I can bring you your stargazing book. And some of Leo's movie magazines if you like?” Adam suggested.
Aaron appreciated Adam's concern. His presence had made all the difference in the last few weeks. No more so than that the first time they went down the local mine. Before, Aaron had convinced himself he was going to be alright. But the instructor had made everything worse. Talking about how old the mine was. How it had been closed down for safety reasons. How greedy the mine owners were so that must tell you how bad it was that even they had closed it.
All of this was said in a cheerful voice that aggravated how Aaron was feeling. As the lift to the mine-shaft descended, Aaron could feel the sweat suddenly dripping down his head from underneath his metal helmet. At that moment he was glad for the darkness. Glad that no-one could see. But Adam standing next to him didn't need to see. Without a word, he'd reached over and patted his friend on his back a couple of times. “We'll be fine mate”, he'd mumbled. And that just seemed to help.
Aaron snapped back to the present as the Welfare Officer marched over to the bed.
“Right, let's see how you've done then Sam. Good, good” Patrick said approvingly
“Evening Sarge” said Adam
“Evening Adam” Patrick replied, “Oh. Do me a favour would you?”
“Course” said Adam
“Keep the football away from Mr Pollard's office if you can”
“Will do” said Adam with a laugh
“Could you look at the door when you have a minute Sam?” said Patrick, “The one to the consulting room next door. It won't stay shut”
“Right” Sam drawled
“Oh Sam here's a Dingle as well” Patrick said to Aaron, “You two could be related”
“My Uncle says if you poke a pile of dung in Yorkshire a Dingle will fall out of it” said Sam
Patrick looked up from examining Aaron's angle with a distasteful expression
“He says it all the time” added Sam
“Poke a pile of dung? Couldn't you get him to say manure?” asked Patrick, as he gently checked the bandage around Aaron's ankle
“It's taken me Aunty years to get him to say dung!” Sam replied
“I was born in Yorkshire” said Aaron, “So was my Nan. She's Faith Dingle. Oh and my Mum was too. I think” he added, tailing off.
“I'll ask about a Faith when I go home. Could be ages yet though” said Sam
“You could send a letter” said Adam
“Nah. I can't write” said Sam
“I could write it for you” offered Patrick
“No thanks boss. None of 'em can read” said Sam, before strolling away.
“His hearts in the right place”, Patrick said to the boys, for want of anything else to say.
- - - - - - - - - -
Later that evening.....
Aaron had woken with a start. It was pitch black in the infirmary and he felt a shiver as he realised a draft was coming from somewhere. The consulting room door had worked itself open again. He pulled back the blankets and swung his legs onto the floor. He looked down at this bandage on his bad ankle, poking out from the leg of his striped pyjama bottoms and gave his foot an experimental wiggle. Not too bad. He decided he'd go and close the door himself rather than wait for Sergeant Seaton to come round. He could manage it, he thought, if he held onto the metal grills at the end of the beds.
It was a bit harder than he thought. So he down on the side of the bunk nearest the door, just to get his breath back a little. Then he chided himself for complaining about an ankle. Poor Patrick had had to work his socks off when Aaron had turned up earlier. He'd start helping Aaron then, every so often, he'd had to ask Sam to do something for him To be that extra pair of hands.
Adam had warned him when he helped him limp over to the Welfare Hut. “Look, just saying. Don't stare when you see him”. “Why not? Has he got two heads of something?” Aaron had joked. But Adam had looked away silently for a moment and said nothing. He then mumbled, “Just don't stare, alright” and they left it at that.
And the Welfare Officer stroke Medical Officer had been alright. He had come across as very sympathetic to Aaron. As Patrick was in the Army, Aaron had expected someone who'd bark at him to 'pull himself together' or 'stop cluttering up my surgery!”. Especially considering that here he was, in the middle of the War, laid up with a football injury!
Aaron was glad his expectations had been wrong on that score, but he wasn't prepared for the surprise that was to come.
As he sat on the bunk he had a clear view of the consulting room and the raised examination couch which was lined up against the wall. He heard two male voices talking quietly and then the desk light in the room was switched on. First Patrick sat on the couch, closely followed by another man.
From his seat in the dark, Aaron could just make him out. He was tall, very handsome, with dark curly hair. He looked a little like Adam from this angle. He was obviously a good friend of Patrick's as he had hooked his arm around his shoulders. More importantly, he had his hand on the young man's left shoulder. He obviously wasn't phased by or uncomfortable with Patrick's disability.
It was when they started talking that Aaron began to feel like he was eavesdropping. But he couldn't move away. He'd never heard two men speaking to each other like that before. Not that it seemed wrong to him. It seemed natural. And as they kept talking, Aaron felt that he was a little bit less isolated than before. That the World was just a bit less of an unfriendly place.
“I do worry about you Danny” Patrick was saying “I know people think its safer as sea, but I know you're being brave”
“I worry about you too” said Daniel, taking Patrick's right hand in his and holding it tight, “And anyway, you've already been brave, haven't ya?”
The accent was Northern. He sounded like he was from Manchester to Aaron.
“Oh I'm alright” said Patrick bitterly, “We're miles from anything here. It's my poor lads I feel sorry for. They're in more danger going doing that bloody mine! They never should have re-opened it”
“They don't care about them. The War Office” Patrick went on, “If they did, they'd have given them a proper nurse, not me!”
“Hey” said Daniel gently, “You are a proper nurse Pat. You know you are”
“Do you know what the area inspector said?” Patrick continued, “Bit of a freak show in the welfare block! He meant Sam and me”
“Hey, come on. Don't start crying” said Daniel gently
“And he couldn't find a thing wrong. Not a thing!” Patrick insisted.
“Sounds like a right idiot to me” said Daniel, “The Worlds full of 'em. We know that, don't we?” he added, gently wiping a tear away from Patrick's face.
“Did you get my letter?” Daniel asked softly
“Yeah. I did” Patrick replied with a smile
“I'm sorry it was just the one”, Daniel added, “But you don't get any privacy on board. I had to write that in the signal room as it was. I mean, I wouldn't want to risk one of the lads seeing it and....”
“It's alright Danny. Just that one letter, it made a real difference. To me”
“I...I meant it all” Daniel added
Aaron was now beginning to think he really was intruding on their privacy and decided to sneak back to his bed. But as he stood up, he was hit with a shock.
Daniel had leaned over and started kissing Patrick. Just like that. As if it was the most natural thing in the World. And Patrick was obviously kissing him back.
Aaron edged himself back to his bed and sat down on the top end with a bump. He quickly swung his legs up from the floor and, as he did so, he accidentally kicked the metal chamber pot under the bunk over and one of the blankets slid off his bed. The loud rattle rang of the tin pot on the wooden floor shot through the infirmary and must have been heard in the consulting room.
Aaron shut his eyes tight and pretended to be asleep. He didn't hear Patrick come into the room. But he heard the tin pot being quietly slid back under the bunk. And he felt that blanket being put back onto him. Awkwardly at first, but then moved around till it was square. It was that awkwardness that told Aaron it must have been Patrick.
Aaron lay there as he heard the other young man walk away. Looking back, he wished he had said something to him right then. But he couldn't, it was still too difficult. If he had, he could have spared Patrick some anguish later.
And to be fair to himself he was still trying to process what he had seen. He knew there were people like that in the World. He wasn't that ignorant. But it was a surprise to see two men being so close and supporting each other. Obviously caring about each other. People, snatching a bit of happiness in very difficult circumstances. It was a good surprise, to see men like that.
To see men like him.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 6: No one want a telegram these days
Friendship works both ways of course. Aaron knew that the first few weeks at the training centre would have been so much harder for him if Adam hadn't decided to basically adopt him as the brother he never had. And Aaron liked to think that he would be there if Adam needed someone. And a little while after his short stint in the infirmary, he got the chance to prove it. The circumstance behind why Adam needed someone were terrible. And even though he was only trying to do his best, Aaron still managed to make a bad mistake that almost led to a tragic outcome.
So lets go back to when Aaron had not long been back from the infirmary and was in Hut A with the lads. It was Friday evening.
Miners Training Centre, the Midlands – Dormitory Hut A
After seeing Patrick with his friend Daniel that night, Aaron had been plucking up the courage to speak to Adam. He wasn't about to declare he was in love with him or anything. Despite Adam's charm and good looks, Aaron was relieved that they had just become firm friends. It was because of that, that Aaron had just started to think that perhaps he could open up to Adam. Perhaps telling him what he had seen that night in the infirmary and seeing how his young friend would react. But an incident in the hut one evening put a stop to that.
It was Donald McTaggert who caused the trouble. It usually was. Aaron had taken an instant dislike to this loud-mouthed and aggressive Scotsman. His attitudes and behavior since he had arrived in the hut only convinced him that he had been right to do so.
Samuel had hurt his hand in the latest football match against Hut C. Another window pane had been smashed, fortunately not one of Mr Pollard's, and Sammy had managed to cut his hand open on the broken glass.
“See, no trouble!” the young man said with a grin, showing off his bandaged hand as he walked into the hut.
“You want to watch yourself there, with that MO”, Donald said aggressively
Aaron looked up from his bunk, a little concerned about how this conservation was going to develop.
“What you mean with Patricia ? No thanks. I'll stick to real women !” Sammy replied jokingly.
Aaron had heard this sort of thing before, from the lads in the engineering works before the War. He knew they didn't know the actual truth about Patrick, they were just mocking someone because he was a bit different and labeling him. They didn't actually know anything.
Adam was sitting on his own bunk and laughed at Sammy's comment. But he stopped when he saw the look that Aaron was giving him. As if he was massively disappointed in him. Adam was about to say something to his friend, but Donald was warming to his theme and dominating the room.
“I mean it. You should look out. That sort. Can't control themselves!” he said loudly
“Oh I think I could defend myself” said Sammy, still grinning, “Against Long John Silver!”
Sammy laughed at his own remark. Donald joined in, though there was a nasty undertone to his laughter. Adam was silent this time, he was looking over at Aaron, who was staring down at the floor and ignoring his friend's gaze.
But the laughter came to a sudden halt when there was a mighty 'thump' as Dafydd slammed his thick Bible down on the small wooden table next to to his bed. He hauled his huge frame up from his bunk and walked slowly over to the laughing pair.
“I don't think it's funny!” he boomed angrily, “Laughing at someone for being injured! My Uncle got injured down the mine. I don't think it's funny at all ”
Sammy looked a bit sheepish, “We we're only having a bit of a fun Taffy” he said . Donald was silent and looked defiant. But he wasn't brave enough to say anything to the young man towering over the two of them.
“Well I think this 'bit of fun' is over” said Dafydd. And with that, he walked slowly back over to his bed and said nothing. But he was right. Now he had spoken, the 'fun' was finished.
Adam leaned over a little towards Aaron, who was still sitting on the side of his bed and looking downcast.
“Aaron?” Adam asked quietly, looking nervously around the hut before he continued, “What's wrong mate?” he added in a soft voice
Sammy had sloped over and plonked himself on the end of Leonard's bunk.
“It was only a bit of fun. I wasn't being nasty or anything” he said.
Leonard looked up from his movie magazine and over to the now-scowling Donald.
“No. You weren't being nasty” Leonard said pointedly.
“Anyway” said Leonard, looking back at his magazine , “Long John Silver was missing a leg. Not an arm you fool” he added.
“He had a hook didn't he?” Sammy offered
“Idiot!” Leonard replied, this time not bothering to look up.
The hut fell quiet again, until Sam Dingle walked in a few minutes later. He sloped over to Adam's bunk in the far corner.
“Boss needs to see you” he explained, “Says it's important”
At this mention of Patrick, Dafydd looked up from his Bible study and stared at first Don and then Sammy. But no-one said anything.
Looking puzzled, Adam headed for the door.
Sam didn't follow the young man out but turned to Aaron once Adam had left the hut.
“It's bad news” Sam said quietly, before turning and leaving as well.
Aaron started to worry about what it could be. When 10 minutes had gone by and Adam had not returned, he decided he was going to go and find out.
Don however was still fuming at his loss of face. Moments after Aaron had gone, he stomped angrily out of the hut too, to the rest of the lad's relief.
The Welfare Office
Aaron found his friend sitting at the desk in the Welfare Office, hunched over with his head buried in his arms, sobbing quietly.
“Adam? What's happened?” Aaron said softly. He reached over and put a hand gently on the back of Adam's shoulders but Adam said nothing. In front of him on the desk was a telegram, which had been scrunched up.
“Come on mate. You know you can tell me” said Aaron, keeping his hand on his distraught friend. But Adam just kept crying.
Seeing his friend like this was unbearable. Aaron was determined to find out what had happened and marched out of the room in search of Sergeant Seaton.
- - - - - -
Before the War, Aaron used to get excited when a telegram was delivered to his Nan's Guest House. Then, it usually only meant one thing. That his Uncle Cain's ship had docked in Liverpool and he'd be making a rare visit the next day. That always gave Faith enough time to get one of the rooms ready and also prepare herself for the argument that she'd inevitably have with her son. As he got older, Aaron also began to notice just how good looking the young man from the Post Office who delivered the telegrams was.
But these days, telegrams just meant one thing. As Sam had said, bad news. It was an much older man who did the deliveries now and people were not pleased to see him coming to the door. It was the fear of reading those dread words, “We regret to inform you”.
- - - - - - -
“His sister Holly, how did it happen?” Aaron asked, shocked
There was an open box of medicine bottles on the table in the consulting room. Patrick was taking them out one at a time and updating a ledger Life went on it seemed. Well, for some people anyway. He'd seemed a bit nervous when Aaron came in the room, this was the first time they'd seen each other since Aaron had been in the infirmary. But Patrick looked relieved when he knew he was here for Adam.
“A barn fire apparently” said Patrick as he carried on working
“But that's, that's ridiculous!” said Aaron. And it felt ridiculous. Here they all were in the middle of a War. You expected something to happen at the front, or when there was an air raid but it seemed so pointless. For Adam to lose his sister because of a fire, in a barn on their farm. It seemed such an ordinary thing to happen. And these were far from ordinary times.
Aaron gathered his thoughts. He knew there wasn't a single thing he could do about this accident but he could at least try and help his friend. He ran his fingers through his hair for a moment and then turned to the young man behind the desk.
“Can you keep him in the infirmary Sarge? I mean, I've seen him. He's in a right state and..”
Patrick stopped writing and looked up. Neither of the two men realised it, but out in the corridor someone was listening to their conversation.
“I'm not allowed to” Patrick said sympathetically, “You see I have to register everyone who's in the infirmary. Dr Capaldi comes over from the base for his inspection on Sunday and he'll...”
But Aaron was determined to help his friend. There was no way Adam should have to go back to Hut A that night as far as he was concerned.
“Couldn't you just make something up? Bend the rules a little. You've seen how this has hit him!” Aaron insisted
“I can't. I'm sorry” said Patrick, who was genuinely sorry. He did wish he could help, but the War Office didn't think much of grief. Oh, they'd let Adam have leave from the centre to go to the funeral but that was the limit.
If Aaron had not been so worried about his friend, so determined to pay him back for how he had helped him, then he would never had said what he did next. If only Adam had not seemed so broken.
“Yeah? Well you don't always stick to the rules do you?” he said angrily
“What do you mean?” Patrick asked in surprise.
“Well maybe you wouldn't like the Doctor finding about other things you do, Patrick”
The young man's face changed in an instant and Aaron could the flash fear in his eyes. The Sergeant stopped writing and nervously rubbed his forehead with his hand. After a moment he recovered himself.
Aaron had turned away from the desk, trying to get a grip on his anger. He wished he hadn't said it, but it was too late now.
“I....I'll let him stay here for the weekend. I'll make something up” he said, not looking up at Aaron
“I'll come back in an hour or so” said Aaron, “I want to sit with him, if that alright?” he asked, the anger gone from his voice.
“Can't say no, can I?” said Patrick, still not looking up.
“I'll just check on him before I go” said Aaron. But the Sergeant said nothing.
Aaron felt guilty. He was about to say something but instead turned on his heel to head back to the office. As he walked into the corridor he just heard the sound of the door to the Welfare Hut slamming shut as someone left in a hurry.
Adam was silent now, but still sitting with his head in his hands. Aaron crouched down next to his friend and put his arm over his shoulders.
“Listen mate” he started, "I know about your Holly. Sarge says you can stay in the infirmary for the weekend. Get a bit of peace and quiet, eh? Away from the rest of the lads”
Adam finally spoke, his voice cracking with emotion, “I should have been there Aaron!” he said, “Not here, working in some flaming mine! I should have been at home”
“Don't blame yourself mate” said Aaron, “It was just an accident. You have a rest here. They'll look after you”
Adam sat up straight and sniffed. He wiped at his red-raw eyes with his hand.
“They'll look after you” Aaron repeated softly
- - - - - - - - - -
Welfare officer's hut - The Infirmary, early Sunday evening
Aaron was making the last of the several visits to his friend that he'd made over the weekend. Sam Dingle had told him he had to wait in the corridor as the “Doctor from the base” was over for his inspection.
Five minutes later, Adam was sitting up in bed in the regulation red and white striped pyjamas talking to his friend. He seemed calmer, which was relief to Aaron.
“I..I've let my Mum know I can go to the funeral” he said. ”I didn't want to send a telegram so Sarge rang the Pub in the village for me and they'll tell her. They're the only one's with a phone round our way”
“He's been great these last two days” Adam started, “Sarge I mean. Really looked after me. And you have been too, coming round”. Then Adam paused for a moment, as if he was not sure whether to continue.
“Aaron” he started, “You know when the lads were joking about on Friday....”
But Adam's never got to finish that sentence due to the sounds of shouting from the consulting next door. An angry, mature man with a Scottish accent was bellowing.
“Suspected appendicitis? Good grief man. Are you a complete imbecile!”
Aaron knew that Patrick must be getting it in the neck and felt guilty. All he had wanted to do was to make sure that Adam had got the support he needed. He already felt bad enough about his 'threat', even though he had never had the intention of carrying it out. Not for one second. He just wouldn't do that. He wouldn't blackmail someone.
But unfortunately, someone else on the camp had been in that corridor when Aaron had been angry......
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 7: Aaron Dingle, blackmailer?
Of course, Aaron's threat to Patrick had consequences. Even if Aaron had no intention of carrying it out. Adam had been his rock since they both came to the camp and to see him broken had just been too much to bear. So let's have at look at what those consequences were. And it is worth remembering that, although the War may seem far away, it doesn't mean that violence is.
The Miners Training Camp, The Midlands
Aaron was in a rage. The more he thought about what had been happening the more angry he got. It didn't help that he blamed himself for unwittingly setting off a cause of events. But he had decided. This was going to stop.
None of the lads in Hut A noticed Aaron or his angry mood as he stormed into the dormitory. Not until he marched up to Don Taggert and smashed him in the face, knocking him clean off his chair in the process.
“You bastard !” Aaron raged at the Scotsman as he got up off the floor. Aaron drew his fist back and punched him again. But he was stopped in his tracks when a powerful hand had his arm in its grip. Don was ready to punch back, right until Adam grabbed him from behind.
“Leave it” Adam insisted He knew that Aaron wouldn't have come and punched Don for no reason.
Dafydd said nothing, just effortlessly held onto Aaron who was struggling to get free.
“Come on chaps, what's this about?” said Leonard, walking over and trying to act as peacemaker.
“He knows” Aaron snared.
“He's just mad! The little thug” Donald snapped back.
But neither men said anything else.
“All right” Leonard drawled slowly, “Let's try and calm things down shall we”. Don and Aaron just glared at each other in silence.
“Yeah. Don't be selfish boys. Any fighting the whole hut gets confined to camp. It's the trip to the pictures on Friday. I'm not missing my usherette cause of you two!” Sammy piped up
“Yes, that's right, we'd all miss the film” said Leonard
“And my usherette!” said Sammy
“Yes, and your usherette” Leonard acknowledged
“Don't blame me! This scunner started it” said Donald, “For no good reason” he insisted.
Leonard looked at the Scotsman, “Hmm. Well best if we don't dwell on that I think”
“He knows the reason” said Aaron angrily. From the look on Don's face, Aaron knew that that was true.
“Right” said Leonard, “Well I think you've made you point now Aaron, let's just draw a line under it eh?” he suggested.
Aaron and Don said nothing but they both stopped struggling. Dafydd let go of Aaron and headed silently back to his bunk. Donald sat back at the table as his assailant walked over to the corner bunk.
Aaron leaned over as he passed, “You've had your little fun, it's over now. Or else” he said in a low, hard voice.
Adam looked concerned as his friend sat on his bed and gave him a friendly pat on his upper arm. But Aaron said nothing. Leonard was right, he had made his point.
But to find out what caused all this, we have to go back a few weeks and another evening in Hut A.
Miner Training Camp- Hut A
Aaron was perched on the end of his bed looking out of the window. He wanted to catch Adam before he left the Welfare Office and headed home for his sister's funeral. The hut was warm, even if he did only have the obnoxious Donald for company. Fortunately he was writing at the table in the middle of the room and ignoring him too.
“Hey what's this, writing to a girl are ya?” said Samuel cheekily as he marched into the room with Laurence in tow. Aaron looked over his shoulder at the new arrivals.
“Mind your own business!” Don snapped back angrily grabbing the top page from the notepad as he got up and stormed out of the dormitory.
Laurence picked up the pad, “That's not the kind of notepaper that would impress a gal. Looks like a grocer's bill to me!”
“Wouldn't know mate” laughed Sammy, “We have to pay cash round my way. Anyway, he's just nicked that pad from the stores. Typical of him, the tight fisted git”
Aaron looked back out of the window and had just spotted Adam and Patrick coming out from the Welfare Officer's hut. He grabbed his thick dark jacket from the bed and headed quickly outside.
Outside the Welfare Officer's Hut
Adam had his own long black coat on and was standing with his battered case in one hand and his gas mask holder slung over his shoulder.
“Here's your cover letter. And here's your ration book. A lot of lads forget when they go away” said Patrick, “I mean I know you live on a farm but...”
“Thanks Sarge” said Adam, taking the documents from him, “I did forget”
“Oh and your Mother knows you're coming, the landlady at the pub rang me earlier” Patrick went on
“That'll be Mrs Walker” said Adam with a nod. He took his flat cap out from his pocket and pulled it on top of his curls.
“The delivery truck's here” said Patrick as he noted the Army vehicle that had pulled up outside the gate, “It'll mean a bit of wait at the station but at least its a lift” he added, as Aaron walked over to the pair.
“No. That's ok” said Adam, looking down at the ground for a moment. “Listen Sarge” he started, “Thanks for, you know, everything. And I'm sorry you got into trouble with the Doctor. Don't think the lads don't appreciate what you do cause...”
“No. It's fine” Patrick replied, cutting him off
“We do though, don't we Aaron” said Adam, turning to his friend.
Aaron was about to reply when Patrick turned away abruptly and said “I have to go. I hope it's all, well, alright “. He then started marching over to the Camp Supervisor's Office.
“Is he alright?” Adam asked as the sergeant walked away
“It's something....” Aaron started to say, “I'll sort it. It's not important right now” he added.
Adam nodded and started to look downcast again
“Come here mate”said Aaron, wrapping his friend up in a hug.
Adam hugged him back. He mumbled a quick “Thanks Aaron” before breaking away and heading for his lift.
Aaron stood outside the entrance to the Welfare Officer's Hut as he watched the Army truck drive away. He looked over towards Mr Pollard's Office and just saw Patrick looking over at him before he went in. Aaron sighed, feeling guilty. He knew he was going to have to do something about this situation.
- - - - - - - -
An hour later Patrick opened the door to his own room in the hut. He saw the overturned mattress, the opened locker and the small dresser with the drawers now open and suddenly felt sick. He paused in the doorway and tried to get his breath back. His first thought was to quickly check the other rooms. But the infirmary and the consulting rooms looked normal, as did the Welfare Office. Luckily, he thought, anything dangerous or valuable was always locked away.
Nervously rubbing his hand over his forehead, he went back to his room. He then quickly put his hand up to the buttoned-down pocket on the breast of his Army shirt. With relief he realised it was still there. Daniel's letter. Not everything valuable had been locked away.
He just started to straighten his bed again and then he saw it. A note had been left lying on top of his bed. Patrick picked it up and started reading it. Suddenly, he started to feel sick again.
- - - - - - -
Two days later Adam was back in the camp. Aaron could see his friend was putting on a brave face as he tried to get back into the routine, so decided to keep a watchful eye on him.
Aaron had also decided he was going to speak to Patrick and try and put things right. But over the next few weeks the Sergeant seemed to be seen less and less around the camp. He had stopped eating in the canteen with the boys for one. Also, there had been fewer reasons to head to the infirmary as accidents seemed to be less. To the surprise of the middle aged instructors, the lads actually seemed to be getting good at their jobs. True, they hadn't done a full shift yet but Aaron had already lost that nauseous feeling he used to get when they climbed into the cage at the top of the mine shaft.
Aaron had bumped into Patrick a couple of times, but each time the young man had made a quick exit. One lunchtime though, the Army truck dropped a box of medical supplies at the gate and Aaron decided to carry them over to the infirmary.
Patrick look surprised when Aaron walked into the consulting room and looked down quickly as he walked in.
“Look Sarge” Aaron insisted, “I've got to talk to you and you know why”
“Don't you think you've said it all already?” Patrick said without looking up. He looked miserable and completely shattered.
“What?” asked Aaron, confused, “No. Listen....” he started.
Patrick looked through the doorway into the infirmary, which was empty except for Sam Dingle sweeping the floor, very slowly.
“Not now” said Patrick, “I...I'll see you in my office. At 13 hundred. I mean, at 1” he said, correcting himself.
“Right” said Aaron, still a little confused.
The Welfare Office, 1pm (13 hundred hours)
Aaron knew he wasn't good with words. But he had something sort of prepared for when he spoke to Patrick. He wanted to say how he'd spoken in the heat of the moment. How he'd been worried about Adam and how he'd never betray his secret.
But as he closed the office door behind him, he didn't get a chance. Patrick voice was quiet and insistent, but he kept his head down from Aaron as he spoke.
“You've had your say. I'm going to have mine first” he started. Aaron was still confused at this.
“I... I can't believe it of you” he started, “I thought you were bluffing. I thought it was just because you were angry”
“It was” Aaron started, but Patrick kept talking
“I know you were upset about Adam and, well that just makes it worse. I saw how you looked out for him when his sister was killed. How could you be like that, be so kind with someone and then be so cruel at the same time?”
“But....” Aaron tried to cut in again
“I know you don't think much of me. And I don't care. I haven't hurt anyone. But that won't make any difference will it? Not when I'm in prison”
“I mean, look at me!” Patrick said, finally looking up at Aaron, “How long do you think I'd last, even if I wasn't like this ”. There was anger in his voice as he pointed to the empty sleeve neatly pinned to his left shoulder.
“They'll kill me!” Patrick started, now almost hysterical, “So if you had any guts...” he added, reaching down for his desk drawer, “You'd do it yourself!”
Aaron was stunned as Patrick slammed a service revolver down on the desk.
“Patrick ! What the hell are you doing?” Aaron asked, now starting to panic
“I'll even load it for you!” the sergeant continued, reaching down to a lower drawer and taking out a small box of ammunition.
Aaron just stared, too shocked to speak. Patrick tried to open the cylinder but was struggling. It was obviously the first time he had tried to load this gun since he'd lost his arm. The more he failed to do it, the more agitated he got. In the end, he slammed the empty pistol back down on the table.
Patrick put his hand up to his face. “I can't even load a bloody gun!” he said quietly, as tears started to flow.
Aaron walked nervously around the desk, and tried to keep calm. “Listen Patrick, mate” he said softly, but the young man didn't reply.
“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry” he tried, “But this is all just some really bad mistake. I haven't told anyone, anything. I'm not going to tell anyone. I swear it to ya!”
Aaron crouched down and leaned on the side of the desk.
“Please, you've got to believe me” Aaron pleaded.
“Then...then, why did you go through my room?” Patrick asked with a sniff, “Why've you've been sending me all these notes”
“I didn't go through your room!” Aaron insisted, “I didn't. And what notes? I've not sent you any notes”
Patrick tried to recover himself a little. He looked at Aaron's face intently. He could see the same concern on Aaron's face that he had had when Adam had been overcome with grief.
“I haven't” Aaron said. He hated to think that one comment, said in anger had caused so much anxiety for someone else. But as Patrick reached back down to the drawer, he began to realise that although he may have been the start of this unfortunate train of events, someone else had been eagerly pushing it along.
Aaron just read the first few notes that Patrick had handed him. They were deliberately vague, as if someone had got hold of half a tale. “remember I know what you did”, “I'm still watching you” “you'll be caught out one day”. There was plenty of other remarks too, “you make me sick”, “wait till I report you”.
Whoever had written them had known that Patrick had a secret he wanted to keep hidden, and that had been a chance for that person to grind him down, just out of spite. Looking down at the notes, Aaron even had an idea who it was. But right now, he just wanted to reassure Patrick.
“I got the first one right after Adam went home for his sister's funeral” Patrick said quietly, “I've been waiting for the one that asks for money. That's....that's what usually happens with this sort of thing”
Aaron put his arm around Patrick's shoulders and was pleased when the young man didn't flinch. He kept his voice as soft as possible, despite the anger he was feeling. He looked around the room. This time he knew they were completely alone.
“Listen right” he started, quietly “I do know about you and your, uh, feller” he started, “But I promise you, I will never tell anyone. This wasn't me, it really wasn't”
“Then how do they know?” asked Patrick, “I've been so careful. You have to be careful and..”
“No-one knows” said Aaron, “I reckon someone heard me when I was angry”. He thought back to when Adam had been distraught, trying to think exactly what he had said, “I mean, I only said I knew you had a secret or something didn't I? This is just some bastard guessing a bit and twisting the knife”
“So...so what am I going to do?” asked Patrick, “That person's still out there. I can't go to the Camp Supervisor with something like this. They'll start rooting around and....”
“Hey” said Aaron, “I'll sort it. This is the end of all this. I promise ya”
Patrick still seemed unsure. So Aaron decided it was time he made a big gesture. However hard it was for him. And besides, it felt right.
“I don't want you to go to prison” said Aaron. “Because if you went there, just for being who you are. Well, then I'd be right there next to ya”
Patrick looked at Aaron in surprise
“And I'm telling this because I know. I know that you won't tell anyone. It's not your secret now is. It's our secret ok?”
Patrick nodded, in relief. Aaron gave him a squeeze on his shoulder, then took his arm away and stood up.
“And let's get that gun safely away. No more daft ideas!” said Aaron.
“I've never fired it anyway” said Patrick, “Except on the range in training. I didn't join the Medical Corps so I could shoot people”
“Good lad” said Aaron with a smile, “You leave all this with me”. Taking the notes in his hand, Aaron headed out of the room.
- - - - - - - - - - -
In the corridor, Aaron leaned back on the wall, closed his eyes and let out a sigh of relief. Part of him felt elated. He had finally told someone about that part of himself he'd kept hidden for so long. And the World had not crashed in on him. Not this time.
But he felt guilty too. Patrick had obviously been going through Hell for the last few weeks and that wouldn't have happened if Aaron hadn't lost his temper.
Aaron walked into the empty infirmary and headed for the heater in the corner and opened the grating at the front. He re-read all the notes, each time getting angrier at the viciousness that had gone into them. He took just one, folded it and tucked it inside the pocket in his trousers. There was nothing to tie it to Patrick but, he thought, he might need to confront the culprit with it one day. The rest he thrust into the heater and watched them burn.
Aaron knew, he absolutely knew who was behind this. He had a suspect in mind as soon as Patrick showed them to him. But the final proof was the notes themselves. They were on the back of what looked like a grocer's bill. The kind of notepad someone could steal from the stores.
Which was why minutes later a furious Aaron marched over to his hut in search of one Donald Taggert. It is why when Aaron got there he drew back an angry fist. It may have been a guess. But Aaron had been right.
Which, for this part of our story is where we came in. But Aaron isn't the only person prone to throw out a punch in anger.
Let's go back a bit to shortly after Robert was married and making a visit to his home village....
The Woolpack Public house, bar area one Saturday night
Robert didn't mind visiting the pub when he got the chance. More often than not his father would be on Home Guard duty in the evening, which made catching up with Victoria and Diane more of a pleasure.
It helped that he was feeling more at ease with himself too. He may be a disappointment to his father, but he at least he wasn't to the RAF. Nor to his friends and nor to his wife. Or so he thought at the time.
The latest fly in the ointment was his father-in-law, who had made it clear that he resented him in the last few months since the wedding. Robert was sitting in the corner, enjoying a pint and pouring out his troubles to Lewis and Pavel. Not that Pavel was listening, he couldn't keep his eyes off the local women in the bar. Rob still hadn't forgiven the young Pole for discarding his sister. But then, the more he knew Pavel the less he liked him. So perhaps it was a blessing that they had not got more serious.
“The thing is” said Rob, putting his pint glass down on the table, “He just doesn't think I'm good enough for her”
“Well if you ask me he's got a damn cheek” said Lewis, “I mean, he's only in trade you know. It's just new money. And not much of that”
“Come off it” said Robert, “What about the Manor House?”
“That place?” said Lewis, “He got that on the cheap. Everyone knows that!”
Robert shook his head. By 'everyone' Lewis meant that this was gossip among the exclusive upper class circles that he mixed in.
“Old man Peterson topped himself when he lost everything in the crash in '29. They had to sell up. And that White chap robbed them blind over the price”
“And how do you know all this?” asked Rob
“I mix with the right people Suggers” said Lewis, casually tapping his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray
“Good, well you can get the next round in. Seeing as you're such a wealthy aristocrat” said Robert
“Well actually....“ Lewis drawled. He was famous for having short arms and long pockets.
“What, have you left your wallet with your butler again?” Robert asked with a cheeky grin
But Robert's good mood was ruined by the sound of an all too familiar voice bellowing across the bar.
“Where is he?” demanded Jack Sugden.
“Excuse me gentleman” said Pavel quickly as he stood up to make a break for it.
But it was too late. Jack was marching across the bar, with Diane in tow, “Jack, please” she pleaded
Her husband floored the young airman with a single punch.
“Dad!” said Robert standing up, “What the hell are you doing?”
But his father ignored him, “Do you think you can get away with it?” Jack demanded as he towered over Pavel who was getting back up off the floor, “Getting my daughter pregnant!”
“Tell the whole village why don't you!” said Diane with a sigh.
Robert was shocked. His father then turned on him with a glare, “I blame you for this!” he barked.
That remark, that was far less of a shock.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 8: The unwilling Bridegroom and the shocked best friend
The backroom of the Woolpack Public House, Emmerdale
They had all gone into the living quarters to have a 'sensible talk' as Lewis had put it. Robert's friend had an easy, superior manner and was well used to barging in to places uninvited and unchallenged. He stood, leaning against the kitchen sink.
Robert was standing behind Pavel, who was sitting at the kitchen table looking like a condemned man, Diane was sitting opposite him, trying to keep the situation as calm as possible. Her efforts were not helped by her husband who was marching angrily up and down the room.
“You ! “ said Jack, pointing angrily at the Polish airman, “are marrying my daughter so get used to the idea”
“How do you know it is even mine?” asked Pavel. This comment earned him a resounding slap across the back of his brylcreemed head from Robert.
“Oh come on Pavel” said Lewis, putting a cigarette into his mouth and fumbling for his lighter, “At least try and act like a gentleman” he added, lighting up
“I am not getting married!” Pavel insisted
“You can't leave the poor girl in the lurch” said Lewis, “It's. Well, it's just not the done thing is it? You don't want to get hauled up in front of the CO now do you?”
“You are going to do the decent thing if I have to drag you to the church myself!” Jack bellowed
“Registry office pet” said Diane
“What's that?” Jack demanded
“It'll have to be the registry office. Quicker the better all round” explained Diane.
Jack just shook his head in disbelief. He grabbed the back of the chair where his wife was sitting. He spoke quietly this time, “I just don't know what her poor mother would have said”.
It was this comment that prompted Robert to walk out of the room in search of his sister. There they all were, discussing her future and she wasn't even there. He didn't have far to go. He headed up the staircase from the front hall and found Victoria sitting on the top step, her eyes red from crying. Rob said nothing at first, he just sat next to her and hooked a protective arm around her shoulders.
“Suppose I'll have to get leave now for the wedding “ Robert said, forcing a smile. He was only trying to lift his sister's spirits a little.
“It's been decided then” said Victoria
“Well, Dad's decided, which counts as the same thing” her brother replied
“He was furious when I told him “ said Victoria, “Thought he was going to smash the place up he was that angry”
“You know Dad. Nothing by halves” Rob commiserated
“I don't even like Pavel!”
“Well you did before. Maybe he'll grow on you?” said Robert. For his sister's sake, he hoped that was going to be true. He had his own doubts.
“Listen sis” Robert started, “Just remember. However bad things are, you've always got me, alright?”
“You better not go anywhere then “ said Vic, “I mean. You've not exactly got a safe job have ya?”
“Hey. Don't tempt fate. I'll be fine” said Robert, giving his sister a squeeze
- - - - - - - - -
Later than evening a small group of airmen were clustered in the cold outside the pub, waiting for the truck that was going to take them back to base.
“I could always just run away” said Pavel, with a hint of defiance in his voice
“Don't be such an ass. Desertion?” scoffed Lewis
“Listen” said Robert, turning on the other young man angrily, “They call it a 'shotgun' wedding for a reason. And my Dad's got a shotgun!”
Pavel seemed to deflate completely at this comment and looked totally downcast.
“Look” said Robert, “You'll get used to married life. It worked out for me didn't it?”
“You hardly see your wife though do you?” said Lewis.
Rob turned to his friend in annoyance, “I'm trying to stress the bright side Lewis!” he said
“Oh. Are you?” asked his friend, “Sorry” he added, just as the truck from the base trundled noisily into view.
- - - - - -
We'll leave Robert there for now. Reluctantly welcoming someone new into the family. Let's move a little forward again to Aaron, who is hoping against hope that he won't have to be saying goodbye to someone.
Miners Training Centre, The Midlands
Since he had opened up about himself to Patrick, Aaron found himself making excuses to visit the Welfare Office over the following two months. He'd often be there in his free time, saying that he was helping with various errands. None of the lads in the hut had commented on this. They all found their own ways of coping with the boredom that was part and parcel of camp life. Don McTaggert had labeled Aaron a crawler but, significantly for him, he did not dare say that to the young man's face. The two men had barely spoken a word to each other since Aaron had punched the angry Scotsman. Significantly, since that altercation, the threatening letters that Patrick had been receiving had stopped and the Sergeant was now back to his old self.
The Welfare Office
Aaron poked his head around the door of the office, “Have you heard yet?” he asked, the anxiety showing in his voice.
“No, not yet” said Patrick indulgently as he looked up from his typewriter.
“Oh” said Aaron, the disappointment clear in his voice. He frowned and thrust his hands into his trouser pockets and stood aimlessly in the centre of the office.
Sergeant Seaton knew that Aaron was not going to go away on his own accord.
“Look” he said with a sigh, “Why don't you go and get Sam to rustle us up a couple of mugs of tea?” he suggested.
Aaron smiled and gave a quiet nod.
- - - - - - - - -
“I don't see why they have to transfer us anyway” Aaron complained, taking a swig of tea from his mug
“There's nothing left to mine” said Patrick, “They got almost all they could out of that place when Queen Victoria was still alive”
“It's far to dangerous to go any deeper” the Sergeant continued, “And they're not completely stupid at the War Office”
“Aren't they?” asked Aaron with a grin
“No. Not completely “ Patrick replied with a smile
“Are you being transferred too?” Aaron asked
“No. This'll still be a training centre, They'll be another hut of lads along once you lot have been transferred”
Aaron frowned and they sat there quietly for a moment.
“Have you heard from your friend at all?” Aaron asked, choosing his words carefully as Sam was lurking around the area.
“I do know he's alright. Or least he was last week” the Sergeant said happily, “He managed to ring me when he docked in Liverpool”
“There's not a lot you can say, not over the telephone” Patrick added wistfully, “But just hearing his voice for a while it's well, you know” he added.
Aaron smiled. Patrick had been able to open up to Aaron too over the last two months. It was obvious that he relished the chance to finally tell someone else a little about Daniel. And you could just see the affection he had for him shining in his eyes.
Aaron's thoughts were interrupted by Sam slowly walking in and handing Patrick a large buff envelope.
“Something for you Boss. From Fanny Fusspot” said Samuel, using the nickname he'd adopted for Mr Pollard, “Caught me in the yard” he added.
“Is that it?” Aaron asked nervously.
Patrick opened the envelope and pulled out the contents. The notices were all the same, one for records and one for each of the huts. The top line showed that they were what Aaron was anxiously waiting for, “Transfer Groupings, Notifications of”.
“Go on. You read it” Patrick said, handing over one copy to the young man.
There were the names of two collieries on the list and Aaron quickly tried to find his own name. But it wasn't where he was going that concerned him, it was who with. With a sigh of relief he saw that his name was listed under Adam's. 'Thank God” he thought.
Almost as an afterthought he read some of the information above the list of names. It read “Peterson Mining Company (DU)”, with a line underneath that said “Billeting address, Hadleigh Manor House”. A Manor House, he thought, his Nan would be impressed.
“Well, that must be a relief” said Patrick
“Yeah” said Aaron smiling. He took a brief look at the ten other names under his. He spotted Leonard, Dafydd, Samuel and Donald but that wasn't important.
“What does DU mean?” Aaron asked
Patrick looked serious as he answered, “It means it's a dis-used colliery. One that has been closed for a while”
“Because it's not safe?” Aaron asked, concerned
“Not always” said Patrick, “Sometimes it was just too expensive for the owners to run”. He couldn't guarantee that that was the reason in this case, but he didn't want to think about the riskier alternatives.
Aaron decided he'd worry about the mine later. Right now he knew he wasn't going to be separated from his best friend. He couldn't have coped with that. Not after last week.
So, with that thought in mind, let's take a step back to last week......
The Royal Oak Public House, a village not far the Training Centre
“Good grief” said Leonard as he lowered himself onto the bench next to where Aaron was sitting, “I thought the lavatories were bad enough at the base, but really!”
“You're still not used to slumming it are ya Leo?” Aaron asked with a grin.
“Where's Sammy got to?” Leonard asked
“Where do you think?” Adam asked, nodding over his shoulder to the bar.
Samuel was chatting up the landlady, who was fifty if she was a day.
“I thought Dafydd was joining us too” said Leo
“He went to look at the Church” explained Aaron, “Probably telling the Vicar where he's going wrong”
“Why's this place called the Royal Oak?” asked Adam
“Because” said Leonard, “This pub is opposite the very oak tree that Charles the Second hid in to escape from the Roundheads”
“Is it?” said Adam, his eyes widening a little
“Yes” said Leo, “Either that or it was outside one of the hundred other pubs in England with the same name” he added a little sarcastically.
Sammy then joined the other boys at the table, “I'm in there” he said with a big smile.
It was after that point that the evening started to go downhill.
- - - - - - - - -
If they had been locals, farmers from nearby who just took a dim view of outsiders then perhaps it would not have been so bad.. But the fact that it was lads from the Army base, people like themselves from all over the Country, that was what had made it worse somehow.
But it was their ringleader that really got under Aaron's skin. If Don McTaggert had had a long-lost twin brother from Birmingham, then this would have been him. He seemed determined to start a fight. The lads from the training camp had been loudly referred to as anything his limited brainpower could come up with. Conshies, prisoners of war, deserters. He was ready to throw over a barbed comment, safe in the knowledge that he had three of his mates with him. But he seemed reluctant to throw the first punch.
It was the landlady that Sammy that had been chatting up that took exception in the end. She started giving the squaddies an angry lecture on how 'everyone was doing their bit'. She explained that the lads were 'Bevin Boys' just as Aaron was at the bar. When the ringleader muttered “Bum boys more like” Aaron had had enough. The squaddie didn't fall to the ground under Aaron's punch, but was knocked back hard all the same.
It was difficult to keep track of what happened next. Adam and Sammy had darted over to the bar almost as fast as the rest of the squaddies had headed for Aaron. Even Leonard had come over after expressing a weary, “Not again!”
And despite the ringleader towering over him, Aaron had held his own until he slipped on the sawdust strewn floor. His opponent seized his chance and grabbed a bar stool, which turned out to be a big mistake. Almost the last thing he remembered of the fight was the giant that was suddenly standing in front of him who pulled the stool from his hands as if it weighed nothing. Then the loud Welsh voice booming in his ear as he pinned him to the wall by the throat, “What's this then?” Dafydd asked, “Army, is it? Hero are you?” he demanded as the man started to gag.
The rest of the pub was silent as Leonard walked over to the Welshman, tidying himself up as he did so. “Alright Dafydd,”, said Leonard quietly, “Point made. No need to choke the idiot now is there?”
“Anyway, these boys were just leaving, weren't they?” Leo asked the struggling squaddie.
The man nodded, with great difficulty and Dafydd let him go.
As the army boys beat a hasty retreat, Dafydd lifted back up a table that had been knocked over and put the stool back at the bar.
“A half-pint of ginger ale please” he boomed to the landlady
“Don't you want something else? After all that?” asked Sammy
“Oh, alright” said Dafydd reluctantly, “Make it a pint of ginger ale”
Sammy turned to the landlady with his best apologetic grin. She didn't ask the young miners to leave. All the same, Adam saw Aaron dart out of a side door, looking agitated.
- - - - - - - - -
There was a small yard, behind the pub, with very little in it except for some empty barrels and the locked door down to the coal cellar. Aaron was sitting on the floor in front of that door, his knees pulled up to his face and his hands wrapped around his legs.
“Hey, mate” said Adam walking over to his friend, “You alright?”
“You don't want to let those lads bother you” said Adam as he lowered himself to the floor, “It's only because we're not army. They'd have been the same if we were in the air-force or something”
Aaron said nothing, so Adam tried a different tack
“And don't worry about being called a 'bum boy'. I know you're not like that”
Aaron felt his heart sink just a little. He took a deep breath, looked up at his friend and told him.
- - - - - - - - -
Aaron could have handled angry. He'd have understood angry, however much of a disappointment that would have been. But Adam just seemed bewildered.
His young friend had stood up and nervously run his fingers through his curly hair.
“I mean, do you know, for sure I mean?” Adam stammered, “Couldn't you ask the MO to give you something or, or...?”
By MO he meant Patrick, which sounded cruelly ironic to Aaron as he knew the Sergeant was the same as him!
“I never should have told ya!” said Aaron, the tears starting to trickle down his face, “I knew you'd hate me!” he added, burying his head against his knees.
Adam did not know what to do. He was literally lost. It wasn't the first time either. Ever since his Dad had passed away he'd felt the adult world pressing down on his shoulders. Each time he felt that any moment he would buckle. He'd thought that was going to happen when his sister Holly died, but Aaron had been there for him. He knew he wouldn't have got through that without his mate. His mate who was now sitting on the floor, clutching his legs to himself and crying.
Adam looked away. To the locked door that would take him away from this horrible situation. He could pretend it hadn't happened. He could turn his back on his friend. Only he knew, he couldn't do that. He pushed both of his hands up, covering his nose and mouth and took a deep breath. He didn't know what he wanted to say, not quite, but he'd made a decision.
He crouched down in front of Aaron and spoke carefully.
“I don't hate you mate” Adam started, “I don't. It's just, I don't understand this. It's, well, it's new. And it's a surprise”
Aaron said nothing, just kept his head buried. He wasn't sobbing anymore, thankfully.
“Listen Aaron” Adam started, “You are who you are. I'd never had got through being in this place without you”
Aaron looked up at the young man
“You're my best mate” said Adam, his face still a mess of confusion
“Still?” asked Aaron anxiously
“Yeah, still” Adam answered with a smile.
“You can't tell anyone” Aaron said quickly.
“Course not mate” Adam said, giving Aaron a supportive pat on the arm “I promise”
And he was true to his word.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 9: Still best friends?
Hadleigh Halt Railway Station
Aaron hated waiting. He always had done. He hated it as a child when his Nan had told him that his Uncle Cain had docked in Liverpool and would be coming for a visit to the guest house tomorrow. He used to just close his eyes and wish he could make the time go away.
But this wait was full of anxiety. The lads had all been given a short period of leave before being transferred. Some had stayed at the centre for the few days. Sammy had joked that there was “plenty of what he wanted in the canteen”. “No need to go back to the smoke for just that” he had insisted.
But Aaron knew why he had stayed. He had already made one short trip, right after there was that big air raid down South. Right after that telegram had arrived at the base. A few rooms above a tailors shop in the East End may not have been much. Certainly not much of a military target. But they were someone's family home. Or at least, they had been.
But despite what he may have been feeling underneath, Sammy's cheerful attitude was on display as the lads sat in the station waiting room. It was a one-sided conversation and on Samuel's favourite topic, women. Dafydd didn't say much in reply, just adding the occasional “Oh. Disgusting!” to the dialogue. But he listened all the same.
But not all the dozen lads who were heading to the Manor House were here yet. Leonard had just had to go and visit Clarissa. And Adam had of course gone home to the farm.
And that was why Aaron was worried. His friend had insisted that nothing had changed since he had opened up to him and, to be fair, his behavior before they briefly went their separate ways had been the same as it always had been. But what if he had been hanging around with his mates in the village? What if in their laddish company he had decided he didn't want a gay best mate after all? And their departure from the training centre had been such a rush in the end. Not much chance for a proper talk. Not with Adam or anyone.
Miners Training Centre, Welfare Office – The Midlands – a few days ago
Patrick had been rushed off his feet since the transfer details had been posted. After the last batch of trainees, including Aaron and his friends, had arrived late and in small groups the War Office had overcompensated in the opposite direction. The new trainees had turned up even before the last lads had gone. So the infirmary was full for a change, just not of sick people. Even Mr Pollard 's car had been commandeered to ferry people to the station. He was livid about that, which was a bonus.
A truck was due to arrive soon to take the lads going on leave before being transferred to the station. But despite all this rush, Aaron was determined for one last word with Patrick. After all, this could be the last time he saw him.
Aaron still found it difficult to express himself as well as he wanted to. It helped that the Sergeant was busy, trying to sort out a pile of ration books.
“Hello. Truck not here yet?” asked Patrick, looking up from his desk as Aaron closed the office door behind him.
“Couldn't go without saying goodbye, could I?” said Aaron
“I'll miss you boys. All of you” said Patrick, “Well, nearly all of you” he corrected himself.
Aaron nodded and thrust his hands into his jacket pockets.
“I'll, uh, drop you a line when we get to this Manor House. Let you know how we're getting on. If you like?” Aaron suggested.
“Yes. If you could” Patrick said with a smile.
“Manor House eh?” said Aaron, “Suppose that means we'll be in the servants quarters up in the attic. Be just like home!”
“Well, actually.....” Patrick began, “I did bend the rules. Just a little. I rang up to find out the arrangements. I'm supposed to just forget about you lot as soon that truck takes you away but, well, that's not going to happen is it?” he added
“So what's it like?” asked Aaron, smiling
“You'll be sharing, two to a room in the main part of the house” said Patrick as he got up and walked around to the front of his desk. “I spoke to the housekeeper. Nice young lady. A Mrs Kempinski. She sounds likes she's from Yorkshire. Probably married a Pole. It's actually her brother's house. I have got his name written down somewhere. Anyway, there's already a load of Land Girls billeted in the attic rooms”
“Sammy will be happy then” said Aaron
“Any what about you?” Patrick asked gently, “Do you think you'll be happy”
“I'll do my best” said Aaron with a small shrug. He stared down at his feet before continuing speaking, “Listen Patrick, I just wanted to say thanks. You know, for all our talks and everything. It...it means a lot to me, knowing I'm not alone”
“One thing I do know” said Patrick, “Is there are a lot more men like me and you out there than people think”
Aaron nodded and leaned forward to give the other young man a hug.
“You look after yourself” said Aaron quietly
“And you” said Patrick as Aaron broke away
“I was thinking” said Aaron, “You've got my Nan's address in Blackpool haven't ya?”
“Yes” the Sergeant replied
“Well, once all this lot's over, if you wanted to visit anytime you can. Or if you get leave” said Aaron
“I'd like that”
“And, they'd be no problem about, you know. I mean, she's very broad minded my Nan. Even if you had your Daniel with you, that'd be ok”
“Thank you” said Patrick
“So, I hope he's alright too” said Aaron quietly, “I did see him, that night. He seemed. Well, he seemed like a nice bloke to me”
“Yes, he is” said Patrick
Their conversation was interrupted by a knock on the door and Adam quickly barging in, “Come on Aaron mate, truck's here!” he said.
Aaron thrust his hand out towards the Sergeant, “Thanks sarge he said” as Patrick shook his hand.
“Yeah, thanks Sarge” said Adam, pushing his own hand forward, “Don't worry. I'll look after him”
And then, just like that, they were gone.
Patrick opened the filing cabinet and rummaged to find the file with the transfer details in it. Thanks to his tidy mind he just had to check that name of the owner of the Manor House. That was it. Robert Sugden.
Hadleigh Halt Railway Station
Leonard and two of the other boys had arrived, but still no Adam. Aaron's anxiety started to shift. Instead of worrying about his friends attitude, he was now worried that something might have happened to him. But then Aaron had always prone to worrying. Ever since he had found out that his favourite Uncle worked at sea. After all, that wasn't always safe even before the War.
The Golden Palm Tree Guest House, Blackpool – about 10 years before the start of the War
Young Aaron was sitting on the bottom step of the stairs, his arms wrapped around his knees which were pulled close to him.
“You staring at that door won't make him come any sooner” said Faith as she headed past to the dining room with a teapot and some cups on a tray.
But Aaron wouldn't shift. There was some brief excitement when a large shadow appeared, silhouetted in the glass of the front door. But the letters that were then thrust into the hallway made it clear that it was not his Uncle.
But then the doorbell rang and Aaron darted to open the door before his Nan had time to get into the hallway.
The dark haired man on the doorstep grinned down at his nephew and ruffled his hair, “Hey, there's my little skipper” he said happily.
He dumped his kit-bag in the corner and scooped the young man up off the floor and held him up.
“I was expecting you hours ago” said Faith, leaning in the doorway to the dining room
“I went and had a pint in the Royal Oak” said Cain, “Or two” he added
“You're getting more and more like your father” said Faith
“What, have you remembered who he is?” said Cain sarcastically
Faith didn't rise to the bait. “I'll put the kettle on” she said with a smile and headed for the kitchen
- - - - - - - - -
“So, you still doing your stargazing?” Cain asked
“Yeah” Aaron replied
“Good, cause I've got you something” his Uncle said, rummaging in his bag and taking out a pair of binoculars
“Aw thanks!” said Aaron eagerly, “Can I try them now?”
“Course you can” said Cain, as his young nephew darted out of the room.
“You spoil him” said Faith
“Well someone's got to” Cain insisted
“I bet those were stolen” said Faith
“Yeah?” replied Cain angrily, “Well I bet your bed's not cold at night”
“You seen that sister of yours?” Faith asked
“No” Cain replied, “But I've knocked around with a few sailors who have” he added, “Perhaps she's getting more like you”
- - - - - - - - -
Hadleigh Halt Railway Station
There was still no sign of Adam. Aaron had passed the time by listening to Leonard telling him just how boring it had been discussing the wedding plans with Clarissa and her mother. After half an hour of this, Aaron would have agreed with him. Yes it was boring.
This was getting too much. He needed Adam to be there. How would he cope in this Manor House in the middle of no-where without his best mate? Especially when he was one of only two people in the World who knew the real him. No, he corrected himself. There weren't two. Now, there were three.
The Golden Palm Tree Guest House, Blackpool – two days ago
“Well you look like you enjoyed that” said Faith as Aaron pushed his now empty plate across the kitchen table
“It was great Nan” replied Aaron
“I should hope so”, said Faith, “I practically had to make love to the butcher on the floor of the shop to get it”
“Aw. Nan!” said Aaron
“I only said practically” said Faith with a smile as got up and headed to the sink, “Now come on, make yourself useful. There's a mountain of washing up in that sink”
Aaron sighed. He was definitely home it seemed.
“I'll wash you dry” said Faith as she started on the dirty dishes
“You must be busy then” said Aaron, as he started to dry a mug.
“Too right” said Faith “It's been like the League of Nations since you went off training. Lots of service people in and out, from all over. Oh, I had a Canadian staying, a pilot he was” she went on
“I've not had a Canadian before” said Faith with a suggestive look, “Staying here I mean” she added.
Aaron seemed to be taking a very long time to dry that one mug, Faith noticed.
“So, what are the boys in your unit like then? You didn't say much in your letters. Nice lads are they?”
Aaron nodded, but didn't say anything. Suddenly, Faith remember something and had an inspiration, “Oh, I'll tell you who was here last week, do you remember Barry?”
“Barry who?” said Aaron, puzzled . He finally started to dry a second mug.
“You know. He was one of the lads on at the variety theatre that time. Working for ENSA now. Entertaining the troops all over”
Aaron was still quiet.
“Says he loves it. All those boys in uniform!” said Faith, turning to look at her grandson.
Aaron took a deep breath, “Listen, Nan...” he started
“Yes love” said Faith quietly. She turned back to the sink, knowing that would make it easier for him.
And then he told her
- - - - - - - -
At this rate Aaron was going to miss his train. He was standing in the hallway, ready to go when Faith marched up from the kitchen.
“Here you are love. Two bars of chocolate” she said as she handed them over.
“Thanks Nan!” said Aaron
“Don't thank me. Thanks the Canadian Air Force” said Faith with a smile, “Now have you got your identity card?”
“Yes Nan” replied Aaron
“And your ration book?” his Nan asked
“Nan!” Aaron replied, exasperated
“Oh come here” said Faith, wrapping her arms around her grandson.
She looked him in the face as she broke away, “And you know what we talked about, you be careful, alright?” she said, concerned.
“Nan...” Aaron started
“I've said my piece love” said Faith, “I just want you to be happy. And if you are that's fine by me. The rules aren't fair, I know that. But don't blame me love, I didn't even get to vote till I was forty”
“What's so funny?” Faith asked as Aaron laughed
“That's the first time I've heard you say you were forty!”
“I never said I looked forty now did I?” said Faith with a smile.
Aaron hugged his Nan again and then headed for his train.
Hadleigh Halt Railway Station
Aaron has discovered that there was something more boring than Leonard and Clarissa's wedding plans. That had turned out to be Dafydd's less than riveting description of the Glamorganshire inter-Chapel Choir competition from before the War. If it had not been so deadly dull, Aaron may have even noticed that a train had recently pulled into the station.
He felt a friendly pat on his arm and looked up at a smiling face, “Alright mate!” said Adam, “Bet you thought I deserted” he added as he plonked himself down on the bench next to his friend. Just the warm, open look on Adam's face was enough for Aaron's anxieties to drain away.
“We had to do this massive diversion” Adam explained, “Part of the track had been bombed out”
He was interrupted by the sound of a truck pulling up in the road outside the waiting room.
“Come on boys. Show a leg” said Leonard as he headed out of the door, the rest of the lads in tow.
“Adam?” Aaron asked a bit nervously
“Yes mate?” Adam replied
“We're not in a dorm this time” Aaron started, “The Sarge told me he'd checked and they're putting us in rooms of two and.....”
“Well then” said Adam with a big smile, “That's fine then isn't it? Me and you will share. Now come on mate, we'll miss our lift”
Aaron let out a sigh of relief, smiled, and followed his friend to the truck.
Next stop Hadleigh Manor House.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 10: The not so Happy Anniversary
Hadleigh Manor House
Back to the present......
It was a dark and cloudy night which, thankfully for Robert, meant is was highly likely to be a quiet one.
“It's still freezing in here” said Aaron, as he stripped down to his white undershirt and loose trunks.
“Get into bed quickly then” said Robert with a smile, peeling back the heavy blankets from what was now definitely Aaron's side of the bed.
Aaron grinned back and darted under the covers. The pair both rolled onto their sides so they could look at each other for a while. Rob idly ran his fingers down the short row of buttons running down from the neck of Aaron's top.
“I was talking to Adam” said Aaron
“Uh huh” said Rob, moving his hand down and resting it on Aaron's hip
“I think he's a bit worried. About Victoria being married before. You know, filling another bloke's shoes” said Aaron, choosing his words carefully. This was Robert, but he didn't want to betray his friend's confidence. Just do a little bit of digging, to see if he could help Adam feel more confident.
“Oh” said Rob, a bit surprised, “Well he's no need to worry on that score. Anyone would be better than Pavel”
“Wasn't he a mate of yours?” asked Aaron
“Well, yes” Robert replied, “And I shouldn't, you know, speak ill of the dead. And he was brave..”
“Brave like you?” asked Aaron
“I wasn't brave” replied Rob, lowering his eyes a moment
“Yeah you were” Aaron contradicted him. He leaned forward and pressed his lips softly against the other man's. Robert's face shone with a broad smile when Aaron broke away.
The older man then lay onto his back and pushed his head into the pillow. Aaron snuggled up against him and rested his head lightly on Robert's chest.
“Ok, he was brave” said Robert softly, “But he was a rotten husband. He proved that. Even if they didn't get to their first wedding anniversary”
“Aw, that's sad” said Aaron, lowering his voice too.
“Well, not all anniversaries are happy, Aaron. You're only saying that cause you're big-hearted”
“Shurrup” mumbled Aaron, embarrassed at the compliment.
Robert curled his right arm around Aaron and hugged him close. Everything he said had been true. As we can see..........
The Woolpack Public house , Emmerdale- a few weeks after Victoria & Pavel's wedding
Jack glared at his son across the kitchen table, “Don't they have married quarters at that base of yours or something? At least then I wouldn't have to listen to all this rowing!”
Diane walked into the room with a sigh, “It's no good pet” she said, resting her arm on her husband's shoulders. “She's locked herself in and he's gone off somewhere”
“Barely shows his face round here anyway!” said Jack angrily
“Perhaps he thinks you don't like him Dad” Robert said sarcastically
Jack ignored this and carried on, “I'm telling you that marriage is going nowhere”
Robert had had enough of this. Why did every trip home have to be one long shouting match? With his Dad doing most of the shouting while at the same time claiming to be the injured party.
“It's always the same with you isn't it Dad” said Rob angrily, “You're not happy unless you get your own way. Then when you do get your own way, you're still not happy!”
“You watch your mouth! This is still my house!” said Jack, lunging to his feet
“No!” said Diane sharply “This is my house. And will the pair of you keep it down. Do we want the whole of the bar out there to know our business?”
“What, do you think it's a secret?” said Robert as he strode over to the door, “The only person who goes round rubbishing the Sugdens is him”.
- - - - - - -
Angry though he was, Rob could not leave without checking on his sister. He knocked on her bedroom door but there was no reply.
“Victoria?” Robert asked, “Listen. I know things are bad and I know what Pavel's like. But, I'll have a talk with him”. And if that doesn't work, I'll damn well throttle him, he thought to himself.
“I'm going now sis. Thing's will get better, I promise” Rob added. And with that he left.
But he was wrong. Things did not get better. But they did resolve themselves.
- - - - - - -
The Woolpack Living Room, a Sunday evening four week's later
“Is my Dad around?” Robert asked his step-mother
“No pet” said Diane, looking up from the table, “Home Guard parade at the Church Hall. They're learning how to use a machine gun I think”
“What's the point of that?” asked Rob as he sat down opposite her, “They haven't even got one, have they?”
“It's helping keeping his busy” said Diane kindly, “He just doesn't know what to say to Victoria”
“Is she alright?” asked Robert
“I don't know. Oh your Commanding Officer came round, told her how brave Pavel had been and how she'd get a pension, but I don't think it's sunk in. Not properly. We have to just hope for the best”
Robert reached over and gave his step-mother's hand a gentle squeeze.
- - - - - - - -
Victoria had not reached her anniversary, through no fault of her own. But when Robert's second anniversary was coming up he decided he'd surprise his wife. She had been spending a lot of time in the London flat, telling Robert that her sister couldn't always cope on her own, being such a highly-strung, artistic person.
He'd rung her a week before from the admin office in the airbase, apologising loudly thanks to the poor quality of the connection. Yes, he had a weekend pass but he would not be able to come up to London because of a family emergency. He had sounded very convincing he knew as Lewis, who had been standing in the corridor, commiserated him afterwards, “Oh bad luck Suggers, and on your wedding anniversary too!”. Robert managed to put on a convincing face, radiating his apparent disappointment to his friend.
Perhaps it would have been better if he had not gone up to London. But then again, the truth had to come out sometime.
- - - - - - - - - -
London- a small block of flats behind the King's Road, Chelsea – Saturday evening
Robert thought he was alone when he let himself into the first floor flat. He casually tossed his overcoat and gas mask holder onto one of the living room chairs and headed over to the sideboard. There was no sign of Christine, or her sister. The only company, if you could call it that, was the portrait of Laurence White hanging over the fireplace in the living room.
Robert took off his cap and poured himself a small whiskey from the meagre rations available. He stared up the image of his late father-in-law. If he'd had his way, he'd have got rid of it. But as this was only the second time he'd ever been in the London fact he reminded himself that he hardly ever had to look at the thing.
His train of thought was broken when he heard a female laugh coming from the main bedroom. Perhaps the girls were getting ready to go out. This was a surprise visit after all. Smiling and with a confident step, he headed to the room and opened the door.
- - - - - - -
Very quickly afterwards he was back in the living room, his face locked in a picture of anger. He picked his glass back up from the sideboard, lifted it to his lips then, in a sudden rage, threw it with great force at the picture hanging on the wall.
Robert sat down on the sofa and ran his hand through his blonde hair. He looked up at the portrait, “Ah well. You said I wasn't good enough for her. Looks like she agrees with you!” he added bitterly.
Moments later Christine walked into the living room, a dressing gown hastily pulled over her frame, and sat opposite the young airman.
Robert just held his head in a hands for a while in silence. And then they talked.
- - - - - -
RAF Airbase, near Emmerdale, North Riding- the next evening
Lewis Holbrooke was not the best friend you could have asked for but, to give him credit, he was trying his best.
“So, is it a divorce then?” Lewis asked Robert quietly as they sat in the corner of the mess, out of earshot of the other airmen
“I...I don't know” said Rob, “She said she doesn't want to. But it's been going on for months and she's not giving him up”
“Huh, well that doesn't surprise me in the least!” snorted Lewis
“What do you mean?” asked Robert, confused
“Those White's have been trying to muscle into the top set for years. You can't just buy yourself in. And a divorce? That's going to put the tin hat on it for sure!”
“Ghastly people, the Whites” said Lewis “Especially that father. God rest his soul and all that” he added as he lit up a cigarette.
“ You introduced me to her, remember!” said Robert angrily
“Yes. Sorry Suggers” said Lewis, “Perhaps you'd have been better off with the sister”
“I'm steering clear of women, thank you” Rob replied bitterly.
The two men were silent for a moment. Robert leaned towards his friend, the pain now apparent on his face.
“If she only wants to get on in life” he said quietly, “Then why did she marry me?”
Lewis leaned forward too. Just for once, he managed to say the right thing.
“Really? I think she fell for you Robert. I do” said Lewis softly, “She probably thought, good looking chap like you on her arm and her father's money coming her way one day and that would be enough”
Rob didn't look convinced.
“Look” Lewis continued, “Maybe if there wasn't a War on, maybe then you'd have started you married life off in the usual way. Not all this grabbing the occasional weekend together when you can. Then you'd have had a proper chance”
“Maybe” Robert replied
“Well however dark things may seem” said Lewis, “At least we're both better off than old Pavel, eh?” and with that he gave his friend a supportive pat on the arm.
“So, what does Christine want?” Lewis asked
Robert shook his head, “She says she wants separate lives” he replied, “She'll stay in London and I can have the run of the Manor House whenever I want”
“Sounds generous” said Lewis
“Hardly” said Rob, “You can't call it your own. There's the Land Girls for a start. I thought that was the reason that she was avoiding the place”
Robert fell quiet again.
“Alright. Never mind what she wants” said Lewis, “What do you want?”
“I..I don't know” said Rob honestly.
Robert could not decide what to do. But then events can have a way of making your mind up for you. Especially in Wartime.
RAF Airbase, near Emmerdale, North Riding- a few week's later
Robert could hear Jack and Diane arguing. That wasn't new, but their voices were low and his father, for once, seemed to be controlling his temper somewhat
“You'd think she'd put in an appearance. When all's said and done she is still his wife” said Jack
“It is a long journey” said Diane
“Hadleigh's not that far away!” Jack insisted
“She spends most of her time in London, according to Robert”
Robert opened his eyes slowly and tried to work out what was happening. Why were his parents here anyway? Was something wrong? This wasn't his bunk, he was in the infirmary. How did he get here? He tried to remember the last thing that had happened to him, but it was a blank. Painfully, he pushed himself up off the bed and into a sitting position
“Back with us are you son?” asked Jack.
His father's voice wasn't sarcastic, he actually sounded concerned. So then Robert knew. Something must be wrong.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 11: Mr Robert
Hadleigh Manor House, a month or so after Robert was in the infirmary
Robert stared up at the front of the Manor House. Well this was home now. For the foreseeable future at least. Not that he could see much of a future right now.
His dark thoughts were broken by the welcome sight of Victoria coming down the small stone staircase towards him.
“Hey you” she said, wrapping her arms around her brother with a hug, “I thought you were going to ring us from the station”
“I got a lift from one of the farmers” Rob explained.
“Do you want us to help you in?” his sister asked kindly as she broke away.
“No. Got to get used to it haven't I?” said Robert, “You just take my case for now thanks”.
Victoria picked his case up as Rob started to slowly walk to the front door, putting his walking stick ahead of him as he crunched over the gravel drive.
“Well” said Victoria, forcing herself to keep her voice bright, “Mr Wesley is still here. He's going to hang on a week to go through all the estate stuff with you”
“Good. At least I'm useful for something eh?” said Robert bitterly
“Hey. Now come on Robert” Victoria admonished her brother, “You've already done your bit haven't ya?”
Robert nodded, “How about you, settled in alright?” he asked
“It's been fine” said Victoria, “Course we've no staff, except over on the farm. I'm managing with some women who come in from the village. I'm not surprised Christine can't stand it here”.
“Sorry” Victoria added quickly, but her brother didn't react to this mention of his wife.
“Oh” his sister went on, quickly changing the subject, “Mrs King will be around later”
“Mrs King?” asked Robert
“She's the area supervisor for all the Land Girls. And a right pain with it! She's got her knickers in a twist because there's talk of them reopening the mine”
“What, the Peterson's colliery, that's ours isn't it? Well Christine's. Well you know what I mean” said Rob
“Well, if they do” said Victoria, “Chances are they'll want to stick some of the miners here”
“Can't see we have any choice” said Robert, “Not with all the empty rooms we've got. If we hadn't taken the Land Girls in we'd have had a school evacuated here or something”
“What, here? The house isn't that big” said Victoria
“Alright, a small school then. Anyway, what's this Mrs King worried about?”
“Miners!” Victoria replied, “You know, they'll be men”
“Ha!” Robert replied, “Well right now I could use some male company. I'm right off women”
“Present company excluded of course” he added, putting his arm around Victoria's shoulders.
Robert's Bedroom – a few days later, the middle of the night
Robert woke with a start and sat up in bed. His chest felt tight and sweat was dripping from his forehead. He tried to calm himself down as he sat in the dark, listening. The house was quiet, but then it always was. He'd just started to get used to that. He'd also got used to being in the room on his own. It wasn't the empty other side of the bed that bothered him so much. He'd started to reconcile himself to that over the last couple of months. But after all that time in the airbase, a room of his own seem odd, lonely even.
It was the crash that haunted him though. He was reminded of it every single day as he walked slowly around the house. But the nightmares, when they came, that was the worst part. His memory was still hazy but he could remember the heat and the feeling of being trapped. He could remember the shouting as he was pulled from the wreckage. He could remember the pain.
The first floor landing- a week later, the middle of the night
“Robert, are you alright?” Victoria asked quietly
Robert turned around from the window at the end of the corridor. He looked confused.
“It's the middle of the night” his sister said, reaching over to pull the heavy curtain across
“I thought I heard something” said Rob
“Come on, let's get you back to bed” said Victoria, linking her arm in his
Robert nodded and pushed forward with his walking stick
“I didn't wake you, did I?” he asked
“I was awake anyway” said his sister
Rob just nodded.
Robert's study- a few month's later
“Nicola, I really don't see what the problem is?” said Robert calmly
“Mrs King if you don't mind” said the haughty woman in front of him, “I know there's a War on but we must keep up some standards”
“I think we all know there's a War on thanks” said Robert
“And I need my Land Girls to do their bit” Nicola replied, “So I don't want a load of miners forcing themselves upon them thank you”
“For a start, its not a load of miners” Robert corrected her, “It's a dozen Bevin Boys and they'll all be on the first floor. Most of the mine-workers will be billeted in the village”
“They may be Bevin boys. But they are still men” said Nicola, “And in my experience that means they'll only have one thing on their minds”
“I'll take your word for it” Rob grinned
“Just make sure these rules are followed” said Nicola, handing over a typed sheet
Robert started to read the rules. Someone had put a lot of thought into this. From staggered mealtimes to the walk from the Manor House to the local church on Sundays.
“Then we'll have no trouble” said Nicola marching over to the office door.
“Oh, if your Land Girls are all like you, I can't see any trouble” said Robert sarcastically.
Nicola turned, not sure if that was a compliment or an insult. So just satisfied herself with flashing Mr Sugden a sour look before leaving.
The next day
“Blimey, look at this place” said Adam as he stepped off the truck and onto the gravel and looked at the front of the Manor House
“What this place?” said Leonard, “It's not that big”
The boys were interrupted by the young woman with a clipboard who marched out of the front of the house.
“Right then lads” said Victoria “You follow me round the side to the kitchen. I'm sure you all want a cuppa before we get you settled in. Mr Sugden will be down to talk to you in a minute, he's the owner”
“And what do we call you sweetheart” said Sammy cheekily
“Mrs Kempinski” the young woman replied frostily.
Adam and Aaron were the last of the two boys to go into the house. Aaron had grabbed at Adam's arm and whispered
“You will ask won't you. About sharing?” Aaron asked.
Adam nodded and paused at the back entrance to the house.
“Excuse me, uh, Miss” he started
Victoria looked up from her board at the handsome face in front of her.
“We know we're in twos, so can me and my mate be together?” he said, nodding towards Aaron, “We have since the start. I mean, the other lads wouldn't mind swapping”
“What are you names?” said Victoria with a small sigh
“It's Barton and Dingle” Adam replied
Victoria checked her board, “Well that's fine. We've done it alphabetically. So you're together anyway” she said with a smile
“Great” said Adam, flashing her a grin in return
Adam turned to his friend as Victoria walked into the house.
“See, no need to worry” said Adam. Aaron smiled back, relieved.
Half an hour later
The dozen boys were all crowded around the large table in the kitchen, with a mug of tea each. There were appreciative smiles when a middle aged lady in a pinny put two plates of cakes down on the table.
“Thank you Florrie” said Victoria, “Which reminds me lads, I'll need your ration books off you later”
“Florrie eh? That's a nice name” said Sammy with a cheeky wink. The rest of the lads were more keen on the cakes, with one exception. Adam couldn't keep his eyes of the nice young lady with the clipboard. But with a sigh he helped himself to a cake. As she told Sammy, it was Mrs Kempinski.
“Right. Now Mr Sugden is going to come down in a minute. But before I go, I just want to remind you that we have a dozen Land Girls and there's only one thing you need to remember about them. 'Keep Away' , alright? “
- - - - - -
The boys began to chat among themselves as Victoria left the kitchen.
“Girls!” said Sammy, “Who's wants to bother with 'girls', did you see that cook giving me the eye?”
Leonard looked up from his movie magazine, “It's in your imagination” he said shaking his head
“Oh yeah?” said Sammy, bouncing up eagerly and heading for the pantry and after the cook.
“So the big bossman is coming down is he?” said Don McTaggert, “I suppose he's a ruddy Duke!”
“She said Mr Sugden, Donald” said Leonard, “So no, he's not a Duke, you idiot”
“Who you calling a idiot?” said Don, angrily getting up out of his chair until a massive hand pulled him down
“Sit down and shut up!” said Dafydd angrily, “Remember you're in someone else's home will you!”
Don sat down reluctantly.
“That's what my Nan said to me, when I told her where we were going. Just remember it's someone else's home she said” Dafydd added.
Aaron leaned over to Adam, sitting next to him and spoke quietly, “Adam, I forgot to ask. How was your Mum when you visited?”
Adam looked sad for a moment, “Not too bad. She's a tough lady, she has to be. You just have to do you best don't you?”
Aaron gave his friend a pat on the arm and nodded sympathetically.
And then, for Aaron, everything changed. He didn't realise it yet. But it had.
- - - - - -
Aaron saw him before he had walked into the kitchen. He had just paused outside the room. Just for a moment his face looked so drawn, so full of worry. But in a flash, that look had gone.
He was tall, blonde and was beaming with a smile that now lit up the room. He was walking uncomfortably, with a stick to prop himself up. And he charmed the room, with the exception of Donald who was charm-proof!
“Oh, the Marx Brothers. Are you a fan?” Robert asked Leonard, peering over his shoulder at his magazine.
“Absolutely” said Leonard, “Course, we were miles away from the flicks at out last place”
“Same here I'm afraid” said Rob, “We did get films at the airbase though. I've masses of film magazine upstairs, you're welcome to borrow them”
“I tell you what though. We definitely have a spare radio upstairs, I'll send it down for you boys”
He was just leaving the room when he turned around, “Oh, and in case my sister Victoria didn't tell you, stay away from the Land Girls!”
There were friendly laughs from some of the boys, but then he was gone.
- - - - - - - - - -
The Manor House, The Blue Room – Adam and Aaron's billet.
Adam was standing at the washbasin in his white vest and trunks, brushing his teeth.
“Hey did you hear Don, he said 'Why I am in the Chinese room, I'm not flaming Chinese!' Idiot! ” said Adam, “What was that about?”
“It's the, you know, decoration” explained Aaron, “That's why this is the blue room. Cause the walls are blue”
“Oh yeah!” said Adam, as if he had suddenly realised. He put the lid back on his tooth powder and padded over to his bed.
“Back at our house, all the walls are white!” he said as he slid under the blankets.
“All the rooms have numbers at my Nan's. Except her's” said Aaron from his own bed.
“Shame that Victoria's married” said Adam wistfully, “I thought she was really nice”
“She's not, she's a widow” said Aaron
“Is she?” said Adam, rolling over onto one side to look over at Aaron.
Aaron rolled over to look back at his friend, “Yeah. Sammy was chatting up that cook for ages. She married an airman but he got killed a while back”
“Aw that's bad” said Adam, “Still, I suppose she's posh, this being her brother's house. She didn't sound posh though. Nothing like Leo”
“No. It's his wife's house. Except she never comes here. Their Dad's a farmer in Yorkshire” said Aaron, “But he manages the place. 'Mr Robert' she calls him”
“He finds a lot out doesn't he Sammy” said Adam
“He says you have to pretend to be interested in what they're saying. If you want to get anywhere” said Aaron
Adam clicked off the lamp next to him and lay back in his bed.
“Well I think its better if you are interested. I think that's they way you'd get on with, uh, anyone, I suppose”
Aaron could see that Adam was picking his words carefully and was grateful. He turned his own lamp off and lay back in his own bed.
“I think she liked you” said Aaron
“Do you?” said Adam
“You're the only one who got a smile out of her” said Aaron.
Aaron couldn't see, but he knew his friend was now grinning
“Night Aaron” said Adam with a yawn
“Night Adam” said Aaron.
But Aaron didn't go straight to sleep. He was thinking of someone with blonde hair, easy charm and a killer smile. He was thinking of Robert.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 12: I'm sure we can sort this out between the pair of us
Aaron always remembered the first time Robert spoke to him. And also the fact that the young miner felt too shy to do anything other than mumble a reply in response.
The first week at the Manor House pretty much established the routine for their stay there. They may not be in the training camp anymore, but the simple axiom that Wartime meant rules applied even here.
For a start, the miners had to wait until the Land Girls had had their breakfasts and headed off to the nearby farm before putting in an appearance downstairs. Or at least, officially. Then the lads would eat before a truck took them to the local mine where they would join the men billeted in the village. Florrie insisted that she 'didn't have favourites' but Adam and Aaron both couldn't help but notice how Sammy's lunch tin always seemed to be more generously filled than anyone else's.
In the evening, the boys were restricted to the rooms in the basement near the kitchen. Again the Land Girls were kept separate, or at least on paper. The library on the ground floor was supposed to be their common room, with no men allowed. But then again, this was Robert's house and they were his books. Or at least some of them. One evening, that first week, Aaron had spotted Robert from the staircase as he stood at the library door. Two of the Land Girls were talking to him and acting as if a real life Hollywood star had walked into the House! But then, he didn't blame them for that. True, Mr Sugden wasn't the first man he had found attractive. Far from it. But this, this felt different. In the past, he'd have pushed those feelings down and forgotten about them. But after the training camp, and Patrick and Daniel, and talking to his Nan, he felt it was time to at least acknowledge those feelings. Even, as he told himself with a sigh, nothing would come of it. Well, nothing could come of it, could it? Not with a married man who, as his smiling face clearly showed when he left the library, obviously enjoyed the womanly attention he was getting to the full. If only he could get that face and that smile out of his thoughts. But for Aaron, it was too late for that.
It was the first Sunday that Robert spoke to Aaron. Most of the Land Girls walked down the country lanes to the Church service in the village that day. Some of the lads had already said that they were going but, once the others knew that was where the ladies would be, there was a sudden outbreak of religious devotion among the remainder. Only Dafydd hung back, insisting his Nan would never forgive him. Still, Sammy kept him company, as he insisted that the late Mr and Mrs Feldman would never have forgiven him either. Also, Florrie stayed at the Manor, for some reason, so that was an added attraction for him.
And Mrs King's rules were clear about Sunday Church service. But then her rules always were.
"Have you read this?" Robert asked, holding out the typed sheet in front of his sister
"Sunday Church service" Victoria started to read out loud, "The Land Girl contingent...", she stopped for a moment, "Why can't she just say 'group', she's showing off if you ask me"
"The contingent will head off five minutes before the miners on the journey to St.Mark's. After the service, the miners contingent will remain at the church for five minutes to allow the Land Girls contingent to walk ahead of them. Mingling between the two groups will not be permitted" Victoria read, "Oh, and she's underlined 'not'"
"I think this War is a Godsend to people like her" said Robert, "She must have waiting years to be able to have a good reason to boss people about"
"What's she worried about anyway? What's she think is going to happen?" asked Victoria
"What do you think?" Robert replied, leaning back in his study chair
"What in broad daylight. On the way to Church?" said Victoria in disbelief
"Uh uh, sis. Not just on the way. Remember there's the journey back too" replied Robert, "And if Reverend Thomas starts talking about sin, well, who know's what'll happen" he added, folding his arms
But when Sunday came the Land Girls followed the rules, up to a point. They did set off before the men, it was just that several of them seemed to be walking just a little bit slowly. So if the front of the miner's continent got a bit mixed up with the stragglers in the ladies group, what could you do about it?
Aaron though, was hanging back in his group and with good reason. Mr Sugden was walking at the back. Once he had managed the steps out of the house, he wasn't that much slower than the other men. Not really. But Aaron's few attempts to catch a glance of him on the way to Church were frustrated by Adam.
"Thing is" Adam said, "I thought I'd speak to her on the way back", he nodded to where Victoria was a little way along the lane, chatting cheerfully to one of the Land Girls, "But what do I say to her?"
"What do you mean?" Aaron asked
"I can't do all that chat. Not like Sammy does" said Adam, "I'm going to muck it up, I know I am"
Aaron paused in the road for a moment and looked at his friend, "Just try asking her about herself. Like Sammy. Pretend to be interested"
Adam looked over at Victoria in the distance, "I am interested" he insisted. Then a thought struck him, "If her brother speaks to you, can you build us up a bit?"
"Come on" said Aaron, "He's not going to speak to me is he?" he replied. But he could not have been more wrong. It was only a matter of time and all thanks to Adam.
- - - - - -
"Wish me luck mate" Adam had whispered as the miners started to leave the Churchyard. Victoria and the Land Girls were already a good way down the road, but he was not going to let this chance slip.
Aaron was the last of the miners to leave, and looked back over his shoulder as he did so. The Vicar was speaking to Robert who, this being Sunday, had put on a suit. Well at least he was able to! Aaron didn't think any of the lads even had a suit. Except Leo and he hadn't brought it with him.
Standing there, spruced up and leaning on his walking stick, Robert looked just as gorgeous as he had when he breezed into the kitchen a few days ago. And it wasn't just the looks that was already stirring something in Aaron. It was the confidence. The easy style. The way he completely looked the part of the Country Squire, even if he was not born to it.
But Aaron knew that was not the whole story about Mr Sugden. After the Reverend had gone back into the Church, Robert had walked up the path but, halfway done, he stopped. He was staring at the gravestones in the near distance. Not at any in particular, they were too far away to read from the path. And just then, Mr Sugden looked, well, so lost. Aaron thrust his hands in his pockets and headed down the path back to the Manor House. He could see that Adam was a way down the road and talking to Victoria. 'Well at least someone has a chance', Aaron told himself glumly.
- - - - - - - -
The Manor House, The Blue Room- early evening
"And I thought it was going really well too!" Adam said, forlornly
"Why, what went wrong?" asked Aaron, who was lying on his bed
"Sammy told me there's this dance in the village hall every Friday. Raising money for the Red Cross. So I thought, I'd ask her is she wanted to go"
"And?" asked Aaron, rolling over onto his side to look at his friend
"She said she can't go" said Adam
"Perhaps she doesn't like dancing?" suggested Aaron
"Nah. It'll be me. I bet you" said Adam gloomily. He stood up as there was a knock on the door.
Aaron was about to tell his friend that he was jumping to conclusions when his attention lurched elsewhere. It was Mr Sugden!
"Can I borrow you lads" Robert asked, flashing that winning smile, "I promised you boys a radio. I just need someone to carry it down for me. It's one of those big cabinet affairs"
"Course. we'll do that, won't we" said Adam, determined to appear willing.
But all Aaron could seem to do was nod in silence.
- - - - - - -
It didn't take Aaron and Adam that long to carry the large wooden radio set down to the kitchen. But it had needed the pair of them, and it had not been easy.
"Oh, excellent" said Leo, as the lads put the heavy cabinet down on the floor.
"Where do you reckon it ought to go?" Adam asked
"In the corner of course" said Leonard
"After you Adam" said Aaron, struggling with the set again
"No, after you Aaron" said Adam as he struggled too
"Oh, I'll move that. Easy" said Dafydd as he walked up behind the boys, picked the set up and marched over to the corner.
"We did the real work though didn't we?" said Adam, turning to his friend
"Oh, yeah. Definitely. All those stairs" Aaron agreed
Leo had soon plugged the set in, "Trouble is" he drawled, "These old sets take a long time to warm up. Bit like my Clarissa really"
- - - - - - -
"My Nan doesn't approve of listening to the wireless" said Dafydd
"Well she'll be happy then won't she?" said Adam, "Seeing as it's not working!"
"Oh, what rotten luck. Can't you fix it?" said Leonard, as he lounged in one of the kitchen chairs
"Why can't you fix it?" Adam shot back.
"Not my pigeon, is it Adam?" Leo asked. He had very clear views when it came to the demarkation of work. It was bad enough having to work in the mine, but he drew the line at doing anything else.
"Hey, no pigeons!" said Robert with a grin as he walked into the room, "Haven't you read the rules? Strictly no pets"
"Is in not working?" Rob asked, "It definitely used to. They listened to the King abdicate on that"
"Which one, William the Conquerer?" asked Leo sarcastically
Robert turned to the young man with an appreciative smile, "It's Leonard isn't it?" he asked, "I've sorted some movie magazines out for you. Just come along to my study later, we can have a chat"
"That's very decent of you, Mr Sugden" said Leo
"Oh, call me Robert" said Rob, "Mr Sugden's my father"
"My friends call me Leo" said Leo
'That's not what I'd call you' Aaron thought angrily to himself. What was Leo doing, sucking up to Mr Sugden like that? Why couldn't he just go away and write a letter to Clarissa or something? Or just go away! Aaron was just reminding himself, completely untruthfully, that he had never liked Leo anyway. He was so caught up in what was, let's face it, a jealous sulk that he nearly missed something important. Something that would change everything.
"Well I'll have a look at it myself" Robert was saying "I used to very good with machines. Did a bit of messing around with electronics in the airbase too"
"Oh, Aaron can help you" said Adam, "He was in an engineering shop before the War, weren't you mate?"
Aaron was silent. In his sulk, he'd almost missed his friend building him up
"Is that right Aaron?" Robert asked, "I'm sure we can sort this out between the pair of us"
"Course" mumbled Aaron, "Whenever you want".
He wished he could have said more. He wished he could have sounded as laid back as Leo. But it didn't seem to matter.
"Excellent" said Rob, flashing Aaron that smile again, "I'll dig my tool kit out. We can have a go tomorrow evening"
And those were the first words Robert said to Aaron. Nothing special really. Just agreeing to get together and fix a radio set for the boys.
- - - - - - - -
Given how little time Aaron had in the evenings, once the truck had dropped the boys back at the Manor House and they'd eaten, it took three nights to fix that set between them.
And it had helped Aaron, it had really helped. While they worked they had the chance to chat and it broke the ice. Aaron still found it difficult. Rob had told him to call him 'Robert', but he'd find himself slipping into saying 'Mr Sugden' all the time. As if, on some level, he was trying to protect himself with a little distance. But each time Robert spoke to him, Aaron could feel himself getting that little bit less shy.
And it didn't stop at the radio. Aaron made sure he always hung back on the Church walks on a Sunday. Just so he would have Robert to himself on the way and on the way back. And Robert didn't seem to mind. He was interested in Aaron and where he was from and what he was interested in. He knew a fair bit about the stars himself,"Well you can't fly up there and not pick something up" Rob had laughed in a self-deprecating way.
And that laugh and that smile was already imprinting itself on Aaron. Even as he lay in his bed, listening to Adam bemoan how he was still 'failing miserably' with Victoria, Aaron would be thinking of Robert. But he was reconciled to the fact that it would never go any further. Rob's wife was never mentioned, except in an oblique fashion but Aaron was still convinced that he had only made a new friend. Occasionally he'd let himself dream. After all, he had seen Patrick's feller Daniel back at the base that one time and he seemed like he was, well, just as regular as the next man. And Robert just seemed like a regular guy, true. But then he'd dismiss those thoughts and decided to just enjoy Rob's company.
But then, one day, Aaron suggested that the view from the roof of the Manor House must be great. So Robert suggested they go up there.
And as we have already seen, one kiss later, and it all started to change.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 13: This isn't just all crafty kisses you know
All too often these days the post means bad news.
Hadleigh Manor House - The Blue Room - a couple of weeks after the radio set had been fixed
Aaron paused before he went into his room. He'd heard what had happened from Leo, but that was only half the tale, he knew that. Adam had received a letter from home that had upset him. Then Donald had said something really obnoxious, which wasn't new. Something like "What's the matter with you? Your cousin turned down your proposal or something?". Then Adam had lost his temper, grabbed the young Scot and was about to punch him before Dafydc prevented it. Victoria had run into the kitchen to see what the commotion was but Leo had assured her smoothly that it was just a bit of 'high spirits'. Then Adam had stormed off.
Aaron thought it must have been bad news, but then sometimes just the postman turning up can be bad news, when it's not who you're expecting.
The Golden Palm Tree Guest House Blackpool- near the start of the War
"Oh, hello Mr Rudge" said Aaron, surprised. "I thought you'd retired"
Truth be told, Aaron was disappointed that it was not Harry delivering the telegrams as usual. Harry was tall, handsome and had a ready smile for everyone. He also had a girlfriend who worked in a chip shop, but at least Aaron could admire the pleasant view if nothing else.
"So had I!" said Mr Rudge gloomily, "But someone has to do the telegrams" he went on, handing one over to Aaron, "There's a War on" he added needlessly.
"Say hello to your Nan for me" he said as he walked away
- - - - - - - -
"Telegram for you Nan" said Aaron as he walked into the kitchen, "It's old Mr Rudge doing them"
"Not so much of the old!" Faith replied, "Bernard's only my age"
"Is it bad news?" Aaron asked, as his grandmother squinted at the text
"It's from your Uncle Cain" said Faith "He says he's in Plymouth and he's found your mother working in a pub"
Aaron's reaction to this mention of his mum was just a small nod.
"There's been a lot of bombing, but they're both fine" added Faith
"What happened to Harry, did he get called up?" asked Aaron
"Oh" said Faith, her face falling a little, "Didn't you hear? He got killed in France just a couple of weeks back"
"What?' said Aaron , "Harry's dead?" he said, his voice breaking a little
Faith curled her arm around her grandson's shoulders, "I'm sorry love, I didn't know he was a friend of yours"
"He wasn't" said Aaron sadly, "But it's just, you know...."
"I know love" said Faith "I know"
- - - - - -
Manor House- The Blue Room
As soon as Aaron walked into their room, Adam quickly rubbed at his face, to try and hide the fact that he'd been crying. He was sitting on his bed with a letter scrunched up in his hand.
"Come on mate" said Aaron gently as he sat next to his friend, "What's wrong?"
"It's like" Adam said, trying to find the words, "It's like everything is just falling apart!"
"Who's the letter from?" asked Aaron
"It's my sister Hannah. She's packed in the farm and joined the ATS. She's a driver in Manchester now!"
"She probably wanted to, you know, just do her bit" Aaron suggested
"It's not just that" said Adam sadly, "She left because she'd had enough of the farm. Said she was too ashamed"
"What about?" asked Aaron, but his friend was silent
"You can tell us" said Aaron, "It won't go any further, you know that"
"My Mum" began Adam, struggling again, "My Mum has been carrying on with a POW"
"What?" asked Aaron surprised
"Yeah. Some Italian. They send 'em out to work on the farms". He fell quiet for a moment.
"I should be home Aaron. Not here!" Adam said bitterly, "I mean, that's my Mum and...." he put his hand up to his face as he started to tear up again.
Aaron just put his arm around his friend, "Everything will work out mate" he said, holding him close
- - - - - -
Adam had calmed down and both boys were lying on their beds, looking up at the ceiling.
"I've blown my chances with Victoria as well" said Adam, "You should have seen her face when I went for Don"
"Leo smoothed everything over" Aaron offered, "Anyway, I thought you were getting on fine, chatting away on Sunday"
"So did I!" Adam moaned "But you know they've got this film on at the Village Hall Saturday night?"
"Well I asked her if she wanted to go with me right..." said Adam
"Uh, well she's wouldn't really be going 'with you' would she, we're all going on a bus" Aaron replied
"That doesn't matter, she turned me down"
"Maybe she doesn't like the film"
Adam rolled over onto his side to look at his friend, "Nah, she does. It's Will Hay. She loves him"
Adam paused for a moment.
"Just before the War I used to have no trouble with, you know, girls. But then all the lads in the village started getting called up. And it was like, overnight, they didn't want to know me. Just cause I was working on the farm" he said . "It was like they were looking down on me" he added sadly
Aaron rolled over on his bed,"But Victoria's not like that. She's been really nice to all us lads since we got here"
Adam still looked glum.
"Maybe it's just too soon" Aaron suggested, "Her being a widow I mean"
"I thought that" Adam conceded, "But then Florrie told Sammy she hated her husband. They weren't even together that long. It must be me she doesn't like"
Aaron thought for a minute, "Listen. Ok. Say she did hate her husband. He was still, well, her husband and maybe she's worried about how it might look"
"I wish my Mum was worried about how things looked!" he said.
Outside The Manor House, the following Friday night
"Right ladies" said Victoria as the Land Girls trooped onto the small green bus parked on the gravel, "You sit on the left side and no mingling, right!"
"I'd never hear the end of it otherwise from that Mrs King" said Victoria as she turned to her brother, "She's only jealous cause she doesn't get any"
"Victoria!" said Robert, pretending to be scandalised, "Why aren't you coming anyway? You love Will Hay"
"I" said Victoria "Am giving Florrie an evening off for a change. Where did you get your hands on the petrol for this by the way?"
"Don't ask" said Robert with a smile, "But if you're looking for our Scotch it's at Dr Gillespie's"
"Oh Robert!" his sister chided him, "He needs that. What if there's an emergency?"
"What if there is?" Rob replied, "Have you seen him lately? Chances are he'd peg out before the patient. Everyone knows he did his training with Florence Nightingale"
"Ow! Robert explained as his sister slapped him on the upper arm. But she was smiling all the same.
"Have fun" said Victoria as she headed back into the Manor House.
Robert intended to. A small group of the miners started to walk over to the bus but he was only interested in the bright-eyed young man hanging towards the back.
"Right lads" said Robert, leaning near the bus door to steady himself, "No mixing with the Land Girls so you sit on the right. And leave the back seat for me ok?" he said.
There was some low level muttering at this, but the miners sat on the right as instructed. Except for Sammy who quickly plonked himself next to Florrie with a grin saying, "Well, you're not a Land Girl are ya?"
"Oh" said Robert as Aaron walked up, "It looks like there's only room at the back. You'll have to sit with me Aaron"
Aaron just looked down a little and grinned.
Hadleigh Village Hall
Aaron, Robert and the driver, Ted, were the last off the bus. Robert had walked to the front using the back of the seats to support him. He suddenly said loudly, "I've only gone and left my stick at the back. Could you fetch it for us Aaron? Save me walking back"
"Yeah course" said Aaron, squeeing past the young man.
"You go ahead Ted" said Robert, "I won't be a minute".
The older man nodded and headed to the door to the Village Hall
"You got the keys?" Robert called
Ted mumbled something incomprehensible and gestured with his hand, which seemed to satisfy Robert, who was now sitting on the front passenger seat on the bus.
"Always immobilise your vehicle" said Robert, looking up at Aaron, but his faced showed quite clearly that he was not thinking about regulations. Robert patted the empty seat next to himself, "Come on, we've only got a minute" he said urgently.
Robert looked around as Aaron sat down. He made absolutely sure that the dark yard outside the hall was deserted before leaning over and pressing his lips against Aaron's.
Aaron smiled as the older man broke away.
"I'm running out of errands for you to help me with" Robert said with a smile
"I could always sabotage the radio" said Aaron with a grin
"Well I was thinking" said Rob softly, "Maybe we could get together for a bit longer. When everyone else in the House is asleep maybe? If you'd like that"
"Yeah. Course I'd like that" Aaron replied.
"We better get inside" said Robert as they both stood up.
"It's great this" Rob added as they approached the door to the Village Hall, "Just like we're 'stepping out' "
- - - - - -
It was a shame Miss Phipps had to put a dampener on the mood, not that she had meant to.
"Every little helps. All for the Spitfire fund!" she said enthusiastically as Aaron and Robert paid for their tickets.
"And such a lot of young men and women you have at the Manor House" the gangly woman continued, "You put me to shame, with just my one little evacuee. Quite splendid!"
"No Mrs Sugden tonight?" Miss Phipps asked
"Uh, no" said Robert, "She's in London looking after her sister. She doesn't cope well with the raids"
"Do any of us?" asked Miss Phipps as she closed the tin box on the table.
Aaron frowned at the mention of Robert's wife. But then he tried to focus on something else. Such as that promise of getting together for a longer time. That was definitely worth thinking about.
The Golden Palm Tree Guest House Blackpool
"Well, are you going to read it?" Mr Rudge asked, putting his mug of tea back down on the kitchen table
Faith sighed, "I'll build up to it if that's all the same to you Bernard" she replied, looking at the telegram in front of her and sipping her tea.
"Have you seen that young lad who's doing my old round?" said Mr Rudge, changing the subject
"Walter?" said Faith, "He's no lad. He's 45 if he's a day. Why, what's wrong with him?"
"He's a gigolo. That's what's wrong with him" said Mr Rudge
"How do you know?" asked Faith
"It was all round the Oak on Saturday" said Mr Rudge, "They say he's had every landlady in this street except for one!" he added
Faith paused for a moment, "That'll be that stuck up Mrs Chorley at Bay View" she said with a smile
Mr Rudge just shook his head and smiled back.
"Come on love" he said "Just read it and get it over with"
Faith took a deep breath and opened the telegram.
"Is it bad?" Mr Rudge asked
"No" said Faith quietly, "Well not as bad at it could be"
She thought for a moment.
"I'd better write to our Aaron. Prepare him for the worst, just in case. He loves his Uncle Cain"
The Manor House - The Laundry Room, the following Friday
It had been Adam's temper that had put Victoria off. She was prepared to make allowances of course and perhaps he'd had bad news from home when he went for one of the other miners. But it was the anger that had made her wary. Sure, he had been charming on the walks they'd taken back from the Church. And he had seemed so kind the first time she met him. Asking about rooms on behalf of that nice, shy friend of his. But then Pavel had seemed kind and Pavel had seemed charming. But he was neither of those things. The real Pavel, he was just angry.
But was she right to judge everybody against him? She had just carried a pile of sheets into the small storage area at the back of the laundry room when she heard two young men coming into the room. What she overheard helped her make up her mind.
"Come on Aaron" said Adam gently, "It's like you tell me all the time. You've got to hope for the best"
"But he's missing!" said Aaron, his voice catching in his throat, "They probably don't even have a boat out looking for him or..."
"Hey" said Adam, putting his arm around his distraught friend, "Course they will. And be fair. If anyone can survive at sea you Uncle can. You told me he's been in the merchant navy for years didn't you?"
"Yeah, I did" Aaron sniffed
The lads sat quietly for a while. Victoria knew she could not walk out of the storage area without passing them so hung back.
"But if he's gone...." Aaron started
"You don't know that yet" Adam corrected him
"Yeah but if he has, that only leaves Nan and me. I haven't seen my Mum for years and I can't even remember my Dad. When Nan's gone, I'll have no-one" said Aaron
"You won't have no-one mate. You've got me" said Adam kindly
"Promise?" said Aaron
"Yeah, course" said Adam, "Now come on. Let's go and listen to the radio with the lads. Shame for you and Mr Sugden to do all that work for nothing isn't it?"
Aaron nodded and let his friend steer him out of the room. As they left, Victoria walked out of the storage area, looking thoughtful.
The Manor House kitchen, Saturday night
Adam was sitting alone in the kitchen, idly flicking through some of the magazines lying about.
"Not with the rest of the lads?" said Victoria brightly as she came in the room
"Nah. Not in the mood" said Adam, "Am I in the way?" he added as he got up.
"No. No you're not" Victoria insisted, "Actually, I want you to meet someone"
Adam looked confused.
On the bus to Hadleigh Village, Saturday night
"Aaron, looks like you're stuck with me again" said Robert cheerfully. But the young man next to him looked downcast as they sat at the back of the bus.
"It's a Tarzan flick tonight" said Rob, trying again, "I've always liked Johnny Weissmuller" he added suggestively, as he leaned over.
Robert was disappointed by Aaron's silence. He hadn't managed to see him during the week, it has just been too busy. He hoped this gloom wasn't down to him.
The Manor House, Victoria's Room
"Oh wow" said Adam quietly, peering over the edge of the cot, "Who's this little person then?" he asked with a smile
"This is my Sarah" said Victoria, as she kneeled on the floor next to the young man
"Is this why you can't go to the dances or the flicks then?" Adam whispered
"I have to let Florrie have some time to herself. She has to miss Church every Sunday as it is" Victoria replied
"So?" asked Victoria, "What do you think of her?"
"I think she's beautiful" said Adam. He turned to Victoria, "Just like her Mum"
Victoria smiled and nervously tucked a strand of her long hair behind her ear. Adam smiled back and leaned forward, pressing his lips gently against her's.
And for Adam and Victoria that is where their story started.
Robert's Study - one week later
"4291" said Robert briskly, picking up the phone on his desk
"Oh, hello" said a mature female voice, "Can I speak to someone in charge please?"
"That'll be me. I'm the Estate Manager, Mr Sugden" said Robert
"Really?" said the lady on the other end of the line, "Estate Manager, you sound very young for such an important job"
"What was it you wanted Mrs?..." Rob asked with a smug smile
"Mrs Dingle love" said Faith "My grandson is billeted with you. I need him to get a message as soon as possible"
"Well Aaron will be at work. The lads won't be back till this evening"
"Could you tell him that his Uncle Cain is fine and he's in Liverpool. He's been missing you see"
"Yes, of course. I'll make sure he knows"
"You are kind" drawled Faith
"Not at all" replied Robert.
Rob looked thoughtful as he put the phone down. Why hadn't Aaron mentioned a missing Uncle?
The Royal Oak, not far from Faith's guest house, Blackpool
Faith put the phone down on the stand in the hall. 'Aaron' is it? she thought to herself for a moment.
"Thank you Arthur" she said as she breezed into the bar. The landlord gave her a smile as she went by, but his wife's expression was far from welcoming.
"That'll be a weight off our Aaron's mind" said Faith as she sat at the table opposite Mr Rudge
"And yours" said Mr Rudge as he lifted a brown ale to his lips, "He's still your son when all is said and done"
"Cain is his father's son, he always was" said Faith
"Do you every hear from him, his Dad I mean?" Mr Rudge asked
"No. He'll have died falling off a bar stool or into a cellar somewhere by now" his companion replied, reaching for her port and lemon.
"Don't you miss a man about the house?" asked Mr Rudge
"No shortage of men in my house Bernard"
"You know what I mean"
"Well, actually" said Faith leaning forward, "One of my sash windows is stuck. You couldn't open it for me could you?"
"Course I can" Mr Rudge replied, "Which window is it?"
"The one in my bedroom" said Faith with a grin.
Robert's Study - That evening
Aaron covered his mouth with his hands and let out the nervous breath he'd been holding and sat down on the side of the desk
"When Victoria said it was good news I was hoping but..." he started
"Is this why you've been down all week?" said Robert, leaning back on the desk next to him. Aaron nodded.
Robert sighed and curled his arm around the young man's shoulders.
"Well next time there's something, you tell me ok?" said Rob gently
"Well, you're busy and I can't just walk in here and..." Aaron started
"Aaron" Robert said firmly, "Listen to me. I like you. I like you a lot. Any problems, you come and find me alright?"
"Yeah, next time, I will" said Aaron
Robert moved his hand onto the back of Aaron's neck and stroked it gently, "Good" he said, "Because this isn't just all crafty kisses you know"
Aaron smiled, bashfully.
"But seeing as you brought them up" said Robert
"No I didn't...." Aaron began, turning to look at the blonde man
But it was too late. Robert's pressed his lips against Aaron's and that was that. Conversation over.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 14: Things both said and unsaid
Sometimes, it is the things that are not said that are important. Aaron himself was painfully aware of this fact. Years of having to keep his own cards close to his chest had helped him to be able to spot the same trait in others. Or perhaps he'd inherited the skill from his grandmother. He could be just telling his Nan about going to a local dance with one of lads from the workshop who had then "gone off with some girl from Boots" when she would innocenty ask, "No one there turn you head then?". He'd mumble a negative reply and she would seem to know not to push the subject.
So Aaron was happy to do that with Robert. Not to push. And Robert had no less than three subjects on which he did not want to be pushed. First, there was his father. Aaron could sit and just listen to Robert talking for hours, and did so. Hanging on each word while trying at the same time to take in each detail of his features. But if the conversation steered to Rob's youth or home life, it was one tell-tale phrase that kept coming up. The 'family'. The 'family' didn't want him to go into the RAF. The 'family' were angry when Victoria married Pavel. The 'family' were unhappy with his own rushed wedding. But Aaron was bright enough to spot who was not being mentioned. Sitting on the floor of Robert's study, the older man's arms wrapped around him in a hug, or even snuggled up against each other in bed, he'd hear about Victoria, he'd hear about Rob's fiesty step-mother Diane and her pub and even, in some quiet moments, about his mother Sarah. But of his father, barely a word.
The other person who shared this lack of the limelight was Robert's wife, Christine. In Rob's vocabulary, she had just become "her". So he'd talk about 'her' house and 'her' difficult father and 'her' bohemian sister. But Aaron was more than happy not to think about 'her'. But the last subject was not a person. It was an event. Sadly, one that cast a long shadow over the young ex-airman. And to peer into that shadow, we have to go back a bit again. To one night when a nervous Aaron is creeping up the staircase of the Manor House in the middle of the night. Heading to Robert's bedroom for the first time.
Hadleigh Manor House
Aaron closed his bedroom door quietly and padded down the hallway to the stairs. He shivered a little, but that was to be expected. For one, it was past midnight and this house was draughty at night. Also, his vest and trunks didn't provide much warmth. He had thought about getting dressed. But then he thought that might make the tale that he had planned for when he came back sound unconvincing. Adam wouldn't believe that Aaron had just 'gone to the lav' as he planned to say. Not when it was only two doors down from their room. Of course, he could have told Adam about Robert but he had decided not to. Well not yet anyway. For now, Robert was just his. Mind you, the downside to that was that he had to wait for what seemed like ages for his friend to nod off. Lying there in his bed, a soppy grin on his face and no doubt dreaming about Victoria.
So the last thing he wanted to do was bump into someone on the staircase. Fortunately Billy Webster, one of the other young miners, wasn't where he should be either.
"Where you going?" Billy whispered in his West Country accent
"Lav" said Aaron, "Someone's in ours" he added quickly.
"Anyway. Where've you been?" asked Aaron, realising that he did not have to be on the defensive
"Seeing my Elsie" Billy replied with a grin, referring to one of the Land Girls.
"Oh, careful if you see that Mr Sugden" Billy warned as he passed Aaron on the steps
"Uh, why would...." Aaron started nervously
"I think he sleepwalks" said Billy, "I've seen him a couple of times at the end of the corridor, middle of the night. My old Mum says you've got to leave 'em alone. Cause if you wakes them up, it kills them. Or something" the young man explained.
"Right. I'll be careful then" said Aaron, filing away the information.
- - - - - - -
Now Billy had gone, Aaron could feel his excitement rising. Despite the worrying thing the other young man had said, all Aaron could think about was being near Robert. It had just been a quick whisper earlier on, just as Aaron had been in the scullery rinsing out some mugs when the young blonde had leaned over and whispered, "My room, tonight".
- - - - -
Aaron still felt that excitement as he opened and closed the door to Robert's bedroom.
If Robert was as excited as he was, he was keeping it well hidden. The young man was sitting on top of his comfy double bed, in his pyjamas and dressing gown and reading a movie magazine by his bedside lamp. He looked as if he was about to walk into the second act of a Noel Coward play. Well, not to Aaron who had never even seen a play. To Aaron, he just looked gorgeous.
And at least that feeling must have been reciprocated. Robert swung himself off the bed and took a couple of steps forwards and held his arms out.
"Come here you, you must be freezing" said Rob as the younger man embraced him, "Why didn't you wear a dressing gown?" he asked
"Uh, men don't wear dressing gowns where I come from!" Aaron replied cheekily, "My Nan wears a robe though" he added
"You saying I'm a woman are you? You bad boy!" Robert replied with a smile, reaching down and giving Aaron a quick slap on his rear.
Then he leaned forward and pressed his lips against Aaron's.
"Not that I'm complaining about the view" said Rob as he broke away
As he stood there, with Robert's arms around him, the cold just didn't seem to matter.
- - - - -
That's was all they did that first night. Hold each other and the occasional kiss. Robert had told Aaron to get into bed, with the promise that he'd soon 'warm him up'. So they'd just laid there, arms around each other. Robert would quietly talk and Aaron would listen. Noticing the things that Rob was saying. And not saying. Robert had mumbled something about setting his alarm clock for 5, to give Aaron time to sneak back to his room. But, as it turned out, Aaron had not needed an alarm.
It was sometime after 4 that Robert had sat bolt upright in bed, his breathing short and nervous. Aaron felt at a loss. He tried to put a gentle hand on Rob's arm but all he could feel was the older man shaking. Luckily, after a while and some deep breaths, Robert seemed to have calmed himself.
"Perhaps you better get back now" Rob had said quietly
"Sure" Aaron had replied
"I've ruined it haven't I?" said Robert sadly, "This was supposed to be special"
"It was" Aaron said truthfully. He leaned over and kissed Rob deeply, running his hand through the back of his blonde hair.
"Perhaps" Robert started as Aaron broke away, "Perhaps we could do this again, another night?" he added uncertainly
"Definitely" said Aaron with a smile. He gave Rob one last kiss before slipping out of the bed.
- - - - - -
But as he pulled his own blankets back over himself in his own room, Aaron was thoughtful. He knew there was a side to Robert most people didn't see. He'd observed him in those few unguarded moments when he could only look from afar. And he didn't think any less of him. Not at all. But to see Rob sitting in bed, shaking like that, that was a concern.
But perhaps, he hoped, it was a one off. Sure, Billy had said he had seen Robert wandering, but perhaps those had been "one offs" too?
- - - - - -
A few night's later, Aaron was sitting up in Robert's bed, one hand gently massaging the back of his neck, just above the collar of his pyjamas. This time, when Aaron had turned up at Rob's bedroom he had found it empty. It didn't take him long to find a dazed Robert staring out of the window at the end of the long corridor. But the hurt in the other young man's face had tugged at his heartstrings.
"Have you been to the Doctor about, you know, this?" Aaron asked, keeping his voice gentle
"He just told me to take a cold bath!" Rob replied
"What set you off this time?" Aaron asked
"I....I don't know" Robert stammered, "Sometimes it's like I can hear the plane again and it's like I'm right back there"
"Can we not talk about it!" Rob suddenly snapped
Aaron took his hand away from Robert's shoulders and mumbled a quiet 'sorry'. Obviously, this was another subject not to be pushed on.
"No, I'm sorry" said Robert with a sigh. He hooked his arm around Aaron.
"Suppose I'm not the hero you thought you'd landed eh?" said Rob, forcing a smile
"Don't talk daft" Aaron smiled back.
Robert leaned in for a long, lingering kiss. That at least, mitigated both their worries. Just for a little while.
But later, back in his own room, as he laid there looking at the ceiling while Adam quietly snored in his own corner, Aaron tried to think about what to do. He needed to ask someone's advice. He needed to ask a friend. This time, Adam was not the man for the job. But Aaron thought there was someone who could be.......
The Manor House, Robert's office - a few days later
Aaron turned to Victoria as he sat down at Robert's desk, "Thanks Mrs K" he said, "I'll be as quick as I can". And there we have something else that isn't said. Try as they might the lads can't get their tongues around the name 'Mrs Kepinski'. Except Sammy of course. Foreign names were 'ten a penny round our way' he had insisted. So to everyone else, she was 'Mrs K'. Except to Robert of course, where she was "Victoria" or 'sis", or to Florrie where she was 'Miss Victoria'. Adam had definitely got the best of the deal though. Aaron had noticed how his friend tended to hang back so he was that last person to get on the truck in the mornings. Just so he could lean in and give Victoria a very quick kiss, whispering "Bye sweetheart" so that the other lads wouldn't hear him.
"Do you know how to use the telephone?" Victoria asked
"Course I do" said Aaron, which was untrue. He'd just said it for show, he'd never used a phone. Why would he? Who would he have rung? There was a phone in the pay office at the engineering works back home. And he knew the landlord at the Royal Oak had one. Oh, and Mrs Chorley had one at Bay View but then, as his Nan said, "It's all a put on you know. She's common as muck really. Her Dad had a fish stall in the market"
"Actually, no I don't" he quickly admitted.
"Have you got the number you want?" said Victoria
"Oh yeah" said Aaron handing over the paper in his hand, "It's for the Sarge back at the training camp"
"Oh I spoke to him before you lot came" said Victoria as she looked at the note, "He seemed really nice"
Victoria spoke to the operator and then gave Aaron a look as she waited, "Careful what you say mind. That Edna on the exchange is a right nosey cow, she'll be listening in if she can". Victoria knew perfectly well the lady in question was probably listening now, but didn't care. Some things needed saying.
"Here you go" said Victoria
"Sergeant Seaton" said Patrick down the crackly line.
"Sarge, it's me! I mean, it's Aaron. Aaron Dingle" Aaron said with a grin as he heard the young man's familiar voice.
Victoria smiled and left Aaron to his phone call.
- - - - - - -
Aaron was choosing his words carefully, "It's the estate manager here, not one of the lads. He goes sleepwalking. Well he's not actually asleep because I bumped, I mean, one of the lads bumped into him in the night and he was just kind of dazed"
"Well, if he's not asleep then he's not sleepwalking. Isn't there some old Doctor in the village, that nice housekeeper said there was? Mrs something-or-other"
"That's Victoria. Hey! She's stepping out with Adam! It's alright though, she's a widow. Anyway, that Doctor's ancient. He said Robert, I mean Mr Sugden, should take cold baths. Anyway, it's not just the wandering about at night. He gets these real bad nightmares, about this big plane crash he was in. Wakes up all sweaty and nervous. Uh, he was telling me"
"It sounds like shock to me. It must have been a bad crash, if they invalided him out"
"It was. He needs a stick to get around and he walks a bit slow. But you've never know to look at him, I mean if you saw him sitting down...." Aaron stopped himself. He thought of Patrick sitting there, with his empty sleeve pinned to his shoulder and that scar down the side of his face. Some things, you just wish you had never said.
"So what should I, I mean, what should we do Sarge?" Aaron added quickly, trying to skirt around his last comment, "I mean, all he has to do is think he's heard a plane and it sets him off"
"Well, the thing is" said Patrick, "This is someone who is reminded every day about that accident. Every time he reaches for that stick. And I know how that feels"
Aaron looked down at the floor of the office, but said nothing
"All you can do with someone like that is let them know that they are fine. That they're safe" said Patrick
"And that will make them better will it?" asked Aaron
"Well, it might make them feel better, for now at least" the Sergeant replied, "He's lucky to have you lads to worry about him" he added, choosing his own words carefully.
"Uh, have you heard from your mate? The one in the merchant navy?" Aaron asked, equally carefully
"He got into a fight in Bristol" Patrick replied angrily, "Well, not just him. Some of the blokes from his ship. Some Army lads said they were taking the easy option"
"Well that's not true for a start. You can still get sunk by a U-boat, even if you're just carrying food. My Uncle's in the same lot so I know"
"He's fine, luckily, And the thing is" said Patrick, 'Daniel's Dad is Spanish. If he wanted to, he could have sat the War out over there. Well, I should say his Dad was Spanish, cause he died in the Civil War". The Sergeant neglected to add which side Mr Perez senior had been fighting on. Again, some things were best not said, especially in the middle of a War against fascism.
"Does that help, about the shock I mean?" Patrick asked
"Yeah, thanks Sarge", said Aaron, "I'll tell the lads" he added, which of course was not true.
"Well, you boys look after your selves, I've not forgotten you lot you know" said Patrick
"Thanks Sarge" said Aaron, "I've not, I mean, we've not forgotten you either"
- - - - - -
Miners Training Centre, the Midlands - Welfare Office
"Here you go boss" said Sam Dingle as he handed the Sergeant a mug of cocoa
"Thank you Sam" said Patrick, "That was Aaron Dingle, you remember, he went with the group to Hadleigh"
"Did you find out if you were related in the end?"
"Nah" said Sam, sipping his own drink, "Last time I was home me Uncle Zac was out poaching all time"
"Shame about those three lads at the other colliery weren't it?" said Sam as he ambled out of the office.
Patrick looked down at the letter in front of him. It was decent of the site foreman to let him know. After all, he already had all the details there. The ones for the next of kin.
But when he had been talking to Aaron, Patrick had decided that that was something to leave unsaid.
- - - - - - -
It sounded to Patrick as if Aaron might, just might have found someone. Someone with problems from the sound of it. But having seen Aaron support Adam through a tough time, he was sure he wouldn't let this new man down, not if he could help it.
And even if Aaron could not find the words of comfort that he needed to provide, he'd find another way. Sometimes, actions speak much louder than words.
Bristol - A dockside warehouse, a couple of year's ago
"Go on" said the tanned, dark haired young man, as he handed Patrick a mug of cocoa, "Get that inside you. Just what you need on a night like this"
Patrick sipped at his mug, but was silent.
"Thing is ",the man continued, "We have to have someone sleeping in the warehouse at night. If we didn't all this could be gone in the morning" he added, gesturing through the open doorway of the office into the room beyond, currently stacked with crates.
"Be on the black market before you could say 'Tommy Handley" " the young man grinned. But Patrick just sat nervously on the end of the bunk against the wall. He wanted to rub at his forehead, but that would mean putting the mug down on the floor, so he just sat there quietly.
The man closed the door to the office and moved over to the bunk.
"That's what I thought you must be up to. When I saw you at first, opposite that pub. But you're no thief are you mate?" he grinned as he plonked himself down on the bunk.
"Course" he went on gently, "I've not been in that pub myself. Some on the lads on the ship have. I've thought about it mind"
'That' pub, Patrick thought to himself. He hadn't been brave enough to go in. Oh he knew what kind of pub it was. Tucked away in the middle of the docks. Out of sight and out of mind. An amiable midshipman had told him about it in the hospital. Right when he got back from France. To think, he'd spent most of his life in Bristol up till then and he never even knew such a place existed. Somewhere where men went. Men like him.
"I mean" the sailor said encouragingly as he put his tin mug down, "If I hadn't been on warehouse duty, I might have gone in tonight. Bumped into you maybe?"
Patrick just shook his head, "Maybe before" he said quietly, "I could have gone in once. Before I went to France I mean. But not now. Not like this"
He had just blurted his reasons out to a stranger. But the feelings of inadequacy that he felt when he had got to the pub had overwhelmed him. He didn't feel ashamed of being who he was. But suddenly, just as he walked up to the door, he had felt ashamed of how he looked.
"What, do you think you've got to hide yourself away" the sailor said, "Just because you've been in the Wars"
"Good looking lad like you" he added kindly. Then he reached over and brushed Patrick's fringe away from his forehead with his right hand. Then he gently ran his rough fingers down the scarred side of the young man's face.
"You'll be fine here" he added softly as he hooked his arm around Patrick's shoulders, "Because here, it is just me and you"
And with that, he leaned over and kissed Patrick on the lips.
"I...I don't even know your name" said Patrick, as the other man broke away
"Ah, well I won't tell you what some of the lads on ship call me!" the young man said with a grin, "But my Mum calls me Daniel. But you, I think you can call me Danny"
And with that, Daniel leaned across and kissed Patrick again.
Sometimes, actions do speak much louder than words.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 15: Coming Together, Falling Apart
Hadleigh Halt Railway Station
Robert put his walking stick on the empty seat next to him and stared bleakly out of the window of the train compartment. How had things managed to go so wrong, in so short a time? Just a week ago, things had been going well, or so they seemed. But now? Maybe if Victoria hadn't reacted the way she did. Maybe if he'd talked to Christine the moment she had turned up and not put it off. Maybe if he'd put more thought into it before he spoke to Aaron. That's quite a few maybes. And right now, there's quiet a bit of unhappiness around.
But of course, we have to step back a bit first. True, there has just been a major falling out. One from which Rob is still reeling. But it wasn't the first falling out in this part of our story.
Hadleigh Manor House - The Blue Room - one evening, a few month's ago
Adam plonked himself down on his bed, tucked his fingers underneath his legs and let out a deep breath, "So, you going to tell me?" he asked
"Uh, tell you what exactly?" Aaron replied as he sat down on his own bed
"Come on Aaron!" said Adam, "Where were you half of last night? You weren't in here, I know that. And it's not the first time either"
Aaron remained silent.
"Look mate" Adam said, walking over and sitting next to his friend, "If there's something wrong, you can tell us"
Aaron thought for a moment before answering
"I...I was with someone, that's all" he said eventually
"What do you mean 'with' someone?" asked Adam
"You know, with someone" Aaron replied, embarrassed
"Oh! Right" said Adam, "What, someone here in the House?" he added, surprised
"You can't tell anyone" Aaron insisted
"Course not" said Adam, "Who is it?"
"What. Victoria's brother? You're joking! But he's, he's...."
"He's what?" Aaron demanded
"He's a married man Aaron" said Adam, standing up and walking to the centre of the room
"So?" said Aaron, "You see his wife round here anywhere?"
"No, but" Adam started, confused, "Look mate do you know what you're doing?"
"We're being careful. Course we are" said Aaron
"I don't mean that" said Adam sitting back on his bed, "But, look, he's married. Are you sure he's not just mucking you about?"
"No, he's not!" Aaron replied, his anger rising, "You don't know anything about it"
"I know I don't mate" said Adam. "But all I'm saying is, what happens later? What if his wife comes back?"
"She's happy enough in London. She's got some other bloke there" said Aaron
"Yeah, she's happynow. But what happens after the War? When things get back to normal and, I dunno, she has to do the right thing"
"Yeah, you would say that" said Aaron. His friend's comments had stung him. Adam at least wasn't being critical of what he was doing, just who he was doing it with. But this dismissal of what he thought he and Robert had stung. If it hadn't, he wouldn't have lashed out.
"What do you mean?" asked Adam, taken aback
"That's what you're hoping isn't it? Once the War's over. That your Mum will see sense and do the right thing!"
Adam glared at his friend. Aaron had seen him angry before, but never with him. But this time he wasn't just angry, he was hurt. Aaron was waiting for a sharp retort, but instead Adam just marched out of the room.
- - - - - - -
Hadleigh Manor House - the kitchen yard
Aaron found his friend sitting out on the low stone wall, looking downcast. He sat down next to him and handed him a mug of cocoa as a peace offering.
"Sorry" Aaron mumbled.
Adam just nodded and took the mug off his friend.
"I know you're worried about your Mum and that POW. I didn't mean anything" Aaron added
"Yeah, well I'm worried about you too mate" said Adam
"I..I know" said Aaron
They sat there quietly for a moment.
"Ok. So I don't know what'll happen in the future" said Adam, "Maybe you do eh?" he said gesturing upwards with his mug to the night sky
"What do you mean?" asked Aaron, puzzled
"All that stargazing of yours" said Adam, "You know, star signs that kind of thing"
"No, that's different" said Aaron
"Oh" said Adam, sipping his cocoa and falling quiet again
"My Nan does that though. Palm reading. Bit with cards too" said Aaron
"Can she see into the future then?" asked Adam
"Doubt it" said Aaron, "She didn't know my Grandad was going to run off with that barmaid"
Adam smiled at that comment, which was good to see right at that moment.
"Listen Aaron" Adam started, "You're my mate. And you do what's right for you. I'll be here for ya"
Aaron smiled in relief.
"Uh, don't mention it to Victoria though. I know you're getting, well, close" Aaron replied. His friend looked a bit bashful at this comment.
"Course not mate" said Adam.
No, Adam didn't say anything to Victoria. But she still found out. Maybe if she'd found out another way. Another 'maybe'.
Emmerdale, the Woolpack living quarters - a couple of month's later
"Captain he calls himself!" said Jack Sudden as he tucked into his evening meal, "I wouldn't mind but he's nobody. He's got that garage on the Hotton road!"
"Wasn't he a Captain in the last lot?" Diane asked, looking up from the letter she was re-reading
"What if he was?" said Jack, "I was a Sergeant, they didn't make me the Sergeant did they?"
Diane knew that this was the real reason for Jack's very familiar complaint about the Home Guard, so decided to move the conversation on.
"Victoria says she's bringing her young man up in a fortnight and he wants to have a word with you"
"Me, what's he want to talk to me for?" asked Jack
"Oh, come on pet. What do you think he's going to say? I think its nice. Him asking for permission to marry your daughter"
"Huh!" her husband replied, "That Pavel never asked my permission before he..."
"Jack!" said Diane quickly before he could finish, "Not at the dinner table, please" his wife added
"Why does she want to marry some miner is beyond me" said Jack
"Look pet. She's a young widow with a baby. It's not every feller who would be willing to take that on" his wife replied, "Come on, you know what that's like if anyone does" she added kindly.
Jack was silent. Which was as close as he would come to admitting that she had a point.
"Is there any afters? he asked
"Did you bring us some cream like I asked?" Diane replied
"Well there's no afters then"
Jack pulled an annoyed face.
"He's not a miner anyway. He's only doing that because he was conscripted. He's really a farmer"
Jack brightened for the first time that evening, "A farmer? Well he can't be that bad then!" he added happily.
Diane just smiled and shook her head.
Hadleigh Manor House, Robert's study - a couple of week's later.
They'd decided to keep it low key. No proper announcement until Adam and Victoria had been to visit her parents that weekend. So it was just the two of them and Robert and Aaron who were crammed into Robert's study that evening. The four of them had known about the 'engagement' for the last fortnight and it seemed right that Aaron should be there. After all he was Adam's roommate and prospective best man. Also, it was thanks to him that had something to celebrate with.
It had been a few months earlier that Dafydd had towered over Aaron in the hallway. "Are these any good to you?" he'd said handing over two bottles, "My Nan's home made tonic they are. Can't stand it myself". "Blimey, it's a bit strong" Aaron had said as he'd removed the home-made cork and taken a tentative swig. "Oh no, it's not alcohol!" the Welshman had insisted, "My Nan has strong views on drink". "I had to take them when I visited home. She'd have been offended" Dafydd had boomed. "Well, thank you then" Aaron had replied as the young giant departed.
So maybe the alcohol was to blame? Well perhaps a little.
Adam had beckoned Victoria into the corridor as their small party was breaking up. He'd hooked his arms around her waist and looked deeply into her eyes.
"Listen Victoria" he said softly, "I know you want me to ask your Dad, just cause it's the thing to do"
"Believe me" Victoria had replied, "It'll make things better in the long run"
"Yeah" said Adam, "I know. But as far as I'm concerned I've already asked the most important person. I've asked you. But if your Dad says 'no'..."
"If my Dad is daft enough to say 'no' " Victoria cut in, "Then I'm 21 and we'll do what we want anyway"
Adam's face broke into a large, warm smile and he leaned down a little to press his lips gently against his almost-fiancee's.
"Right you" said Victoria, "Get to bed. We're having to get up at the crack of dawn tomorrow as it is. And I want to get those glasses cleaned and then check on Sarah"
"Bossing me around already are ya?" Adam asked, smiling happily as he broke away and headed down the hall.
Still smiling herself, Victoria turned and opened to the door to the study.
"Right, I'll just do those..." she started. But then she saw her brother and Aaron. Her brother and Aaron together.
- - - - - - - - -
Robert blamed the homemade wine going to his head. But besides, he didn't know Victoria was going to rush back in. And Aaron had just looked, well, so gorgeous standing there with a beaming grin as they toasted the young couple.
"I'd better go and talk to her" Robert sighed, right after his sister had made a hasty exit from the room. But Aaron looked unsure.
"It'll be fine" Rob said, "You go to bed" he added, leaning over and giving the young man a quick peck on the lips.
- - - - - - - - - -
Hadleigh Manor House- The Kitchen
Robert had found Victoria taking out her anger and surprise on a pile of dirty dishes in the scullery.
"Look sis" Robert insisted, "I know what I'm doing"
"Do ya?" his sister replied, "You could go to prison for this Robert"
"We're not hurting anyone" he insisted
"Well I just don't know what Dad would have to say!"
"I've given up on trying to make Dad happy" Rob said angrily, "Marrying Chrissie and all this" he said, gesturing to the house in general, "It still wasn't enough. It never is!"
"Exactly Robert, you're married" said Victoria, "Why did you even get together with Christine if you felt like you do?"
"It's not as simple as that" Robert sighed
"She's still your wife" said Victoria
"Fine. You got to London and tell her. And her fancy man!" Rob shot back.
They both fell quiet for a moment
"Listen, Victoria" said Robert calmly, standing next to his sister and putting an arm around her shoulder, "I don't need to tell you about how unhappy some marriages can be now do I?" he added gently
"Then I'm going to rely on you to be discrete about all this. We're being careful. As long as Chrissie stays in London, what's the problem?"
"Im just worried about something bad happening to ya" Victoria replied.
"Bit late for that sis" said Robert ruefully, gripping his walking stick with his other hand
Hadleigh Manor House- Robert's office, Sunday night
"So, all went to plan?" Robert asked
"It was fine" Victoria replied, "Diane was eating out of his hand, of course and as soon as farming came up Dad was hooked"
"Dry stone walls. I told Adam that would do the trick" said Rob as he sat back in his office chair, arms folded.
"Look Robert" Victoria started, "About Friday night......"
But her sentence remained unfinished as there was an agitated knock on the door and Florrie burst in.
"I'm sorry to interrupt Mr Robert, but you've got a visitor"
"What, at this time? Who is it?" Rob asked
"It's Miss Christine, she's downstairs"
- - - - - - - -
Hadleigh Manor House- Robert's bedroom
Robert had retreated straight to his room and plonked himself down in the armchair in the corner. He was slightly startled by the hard knock on the door but relieved when he heard his sister's voice.
"Did you tell her I'd gone to bed?" Robert asked as Victoria walked in
"I told her you always do, because of your leg" said Victoria, "She seemed to believe me"
"Well she was never that interested in my well being before the accident, never mind after" said Rob, "Where've you put her?"
"In the old Nursery, so she's about as far away from you as she can get" his sister added, sitting down on the edge of the bed
"Look, I don't want to worry ya. But she's bought a load of suitcases. I don't think this is a flying visit"
"Did she say much?"
"Only moaned about all these miners and Land Girls being here. You know, 'when you think of all the history in my lovely family home' "
"Who's she kidding?" said Robert, "This has only been her family home for five minutes. All the history here happened long before her Dad bought it"
"You're going to have to speak to her" said Victoria
"I...I know, I just need to speak to someone else first" Robert said, his face now ashen.
Hadleigh Manor House- The staircase to the rooftop
Robert was sitting on the bottom of the stairs. He only had to look at Aaron's face to see that he was getting this wrong. Badly wrong. The tears told him that.
"So..so just like that. I'm just nothing am I!" Aaron said angrily
Robert tried to take Aaron's arm, but the young man pulled away.
"I never said that. Of course you're not nothing. I just said we should put things on hold, for a while"
"So that's all she's got to do? Just show up here and you're all over her!" Aaron said, wiping at his eyes
"It's her home Aaron" Robert explained, "And she is still my wife"
"Home?" said Aaron, "Months I've been here. She's not set foot in it once!"
"I know" said Rob
"And as for being your wife. Where's she been in the middle of the night? Where was she when you needed someone?'
"It might not be for long" Rob pleaded
"Are you kidding? It took two of the lads to take her cases up to her room!"
Robert couldn't look at Aaron in the eye.
- - - - - -
Aaron was now leaning on the door to the hallway, his back to Robert.
"Adam warned me. He said you might be messing me about" Aaron said quietly
"No!" said Rob, "It wasn't like that. I care about you. I care about you a lot"
"Looks like it" Aaron said bitterly
"Listen, Aaron" Robert tried, "I know I'm not handling this well right now. I didn't realise how upset you'd be"
Aaron turned around from the door, his face angry and distraught
"Upset, of course I'm upset!" he said
"I love you Robert. I love ya" said Aaron
And with that Aaron turned and darted through the doorway, leaving Rob alone.
The Blue Room- The following Friday evening
Robert tentatively knocked on the bedroom door. He heard Adam calling out "Come in"
"Oh, I was hoping to catch Aaron" Robert said, standing awkwardly in the doorway.
Adam looked over from the washbasin where he was just finishing a shave.
"He went straight after shift. Off to his Nan's in Blackpool for the weekend" Adam replied in a matter of fact manner
"Can I come in a minute?" Rob asked
"It's your house. Or you're wife's anyway" said Adam coldly, wiping the last of the lather from his features
"I've made a big mistake" said Robert, lowering himself onto Aaron's bed.
"Have ya?" said Adam, sitting down as well
"You know my....you know Christine has come back?"
"Bit hard to miss isn't she?"
"It's only temporary. It's all for show" said Robert sadly
"What do you mean?" said Adam. He could see his future brother-in-law was upset
"Thing is" said Robert, "She wants a divorce. But she's got to divorce me"
"But she's the one with that fancy man in London isn't she?" Adam asked
"And if I divorce her for adultery, her new bloke's family won't touch her" he explained quietly
"Did you think she wanted to get back together with ya?" Adam asked kindly, "Is that you and Aaron, you know..."
"I..I don't know" said Robert, "I was shocked. I mean she hasn't even been here since this" he said, gesturing to his walking stick
"But she had it all planned. She spends a couple of weeks here. I go off and, well 'arrange' something. She does the wronged woman act"
Adam leaned forward, "What do you mean 'arrange' ?"
"Oh, there's ways you can do this. You just book into a hotel with a woman. You get some chambermaid to find you both in the morning. You don't even have to actually sleep with her. Just be found"
"Is this what you want to do?" Adam asked
"Well the marriage is definitely over. I knew that really, long before Aaron"
"And what'll happen to ya?"
"Oh. A bit of a pay off. I can stay on here as estate manager, for the duration. Soon as the War's over, she's going to sell it. Her bloke's already loaded, they don't want this place"
"But what about" Robert started, "What about Aaron? I've messed it all up"
Adam crossed the room and sat next to Robert
"Look Robert, you're going to be family one day. And to me, Aaron, well he's already like family. I know things are going to be difficult for the pair of ya. Bound to be. But just tell him what you told me. Tell him she turned up and you panicked and you made a mistake"
"It was a mistake" said Rob, "I know that now"
"He'll be back Sunday night. Just tell him" said Adam, "He'll listen"
Robert nodded, but he was not so sure.
Leeds Central Railway Station, Saturday night
Christine had taken Robert's agreement to the divorce as read, so it didn't take her long to set the wheels in motion. The lady had been easy for him to find too. She was very easy to spot. In the waiting room, in a red dress and cheap stole, with more make up on than the rest of the women in there combined.
As she hooked his arm in his, the blonde woman in her forties talked away at him as they headed to a nearby hotel.
"Now this is a nice place this" she rattled on, "I've not used it before but my friend Lettie says it's good. She's the chambermaid, she'll find us tomorrow. Oh and remember we book in as Mr and Mrs Smith love"
'Won't they ask for identity cards or something?" asked Rob, only half concentrating.
"No love. We book in after dinner, say we don't want food, go straight up. No questions asked"
"You do a lot of this then?" Robert asked
"Beats walking the streets" the lady replied with a smile.
"I don't even know your name" said Rob
"Charity love" the woman replied, "But I don't this for free"
Rob looked up an the night sky. He wasn't thinking about this woman. Or his wife. He was thinking about someone miles and miles away. Someone he wished more than anything, was with him right now.
Blackpool - The Golden Palm Tree Guest House, Saturday night
Aaron leaned on the window ledge in his attic bedroom and looked out into the night. The bedroom door opened and he heard his Nan, "Cup of cocoa for you love" she said, reaching for the lamp on the nightstand.
"Hey, keep that off Nan!" said Aaron, "You'll have that mouthy ARP Warden knocking at the door"
"What, you mean Wilfred?" Faith said, walking over to the window, "He's a lovely man, underneath" she added, handing over the mug
Aaron took the mug from his grandmother gratefully and looked back out of the window, up at the stars.
"You were quiet at supper" said Faith
"Was I?" her grandson answered
"Work alright?" Faith continued, "That young estate manager seemed nice, when I talked to him on the telephone"
"Yeah, I thought that" Aaron said quietly
"Night love" said Faith heading for the door
"Night Nan" said Aaron
Aaron looked up at the night sky. Thinking about Robert.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 16: Forgiven, nearly lost, found again
Hadleigh Cottage Hospital
Aaron opened his eyes, but the room was dimly lit. His head was still throbbing so he closed his eyes again, in the hope it would dull the pain. He heard a door open and a voice saying "Only for a minute mind. He needs rest, he's not long come round".
He heard the door close and someone taking a few steps towards him. He didn't need to open his eyes to know who it was. The two sharp taps of a stick on the tiled floor told him who it must be.
He felt another hand take his, fingers gently curving around his own. Then that familiar voice said softly, "Fancy scaring me like that". But by the catch in the other man's throat, Aaron could tell. This was not a genuine rebuke.
Aaron squeezed the other man's hand and opened his eyes. He turned to take in the face of the young man sitting by the side of his bed, worry carved into his handsome features. He was already feeling a little better. Robert was here now. His Robert.
So we know where this part of the story is going to end up. Now we need to look back at just how we got here.
A cheap Leeds Hotel- three week's ago
Robert put his hat and overcoat onto the bed and sat down. He wasn't in the mood for talk but then, in any case, it seemed Charity could speak for the pair of them.
"Right, now I'll just go and get changed in the bathroom" she said as she headed for the door next to the wardrobe. "You best get into your stuff too, save time later"
Rob nodded silently and opened his small suitcase. He took out a pair of striped pyjamas and a detective book. As he started to strip off and get into his night clothes he reminded himself that the last thing he planned to do tonight was sleep. He just couldn't risk it could he? After all, they were right in the city now. What it there was a raid? What if he heard a plane overhead, any plane. How would he cope? How would he cope without Aaron ?
Robert sighed as he buttoned up his pyjama front. There was one thing that Aaron had been absolutely right about. Christine wouldn't have held him in the middle of the night. Wrapped her arms around him and soothed his nerves. No, only Aaron would do that. Without being asked to, without judging him, Aaron had done that. And he knew why, because Aaron loved him. And now Robert had rejected him. And why? Because for a moment, just for one stupid, fleeting moment he had convinced himself that his worthless marriage might not be over.
"Hey, why the long face?" Charity said as she breezed back into the room. She had changed into a dark nightdress and a pink robe.
"Lovely isn't it? It's real silk that" she said, holding out an arm, "Got it off a sailor I know. He said he was going to give it to his Mum in Blackpool but..." she added with a shrug.
Rob was still quiet.
Charity sat on the bed next to him. From her point of view, this was going to be a long night, so she was determined that the time should pass as quickly as possible.
"Most of the blokes I do this for are relieved" she said, "You know, it's a chance for a new start. They've usually got some little lady friend tucked away already. Bet that's your story eh? Good looking young man like you?" she added, giving Robert a friendly nudge.
"No. Nothing like that. Well, there is someone, but we had a falling out"
"You'll make it up again. You have to make allowances for people. With there being a War on" Charity said encouragingly
Robert nodded, but his face did not look hopeful.
'Right" said Charity, getting off the bed and walking over to her suitcase, "Now you're paying for the night, so what we do is up to you"
"If you want to chat that's fine. Or, we could play cards. Or you can just read your book if that's what you want, I'll be fine with my knitting" she said taking out an enormous black mountain of wool.
Charity sat back on the edge of the bed as Robert opened his book. He looked across at the huge garment Charity was working on
"It's a jumper" she explained
"Who for, Oliver Hardy?" Robert asked, smiling for the first time that evening
Charity looked down at her handiwork, "It's for my sailor friend. Well he seemed bigger in the dark" she said
Robert started to read some more. Charity leaned over and looked at the flyleaf.
"Oh, I've read that. It's great" she enthused, "It's the gamekeeper that's the murderer in the end. But you've never have guessed it"
"No, you wouldn't have" said Robert dryly, now putting the book down.
"Cards it is then" said Charity, walking over to her suitcase again, "Of course, if you want something a bit more, well, personal that'll cost you. As I said, all fine by me" she added with a smile, tucking a a strand of blonde hair behind her ear.
"Uh, let's stick to cards I think, thanks all the same" said Rob.
He eased himself awkwardly onto the floor and they sat next to the bed as Charity dealt.
"So, I take it you haven't always done this?" asked Robert. "Not if you do, well, personal work too"
Charity sighed as she looked at her cards, "I used to have a very good living before. I blame the Yanks myself"
"Why?" asked Robert, puzzled.
"Was a time, I could get good money for what I have to offer" said Charity, "Now, all is takes is some American serviceman with a bar of chocolate and a couple of pairs of nylons and the regular girls are giving it away!"
"This flaming War" Charity fumed.
Robert looked over to the window, the curtains drawn tightly shut against the night.
"I'd agree with you there" he said wistfully.
Hadleigh Manor House - The Blue Room, two's week ago - Sunday evening
"So, how did the trip to your Mum's go?" Aaron asked, as he watched his friend unpacking his small case
"She thought Victoria was great. Wasn't too happy about becoming a grand mother mind" Adam replied
"Doesn't see approve then?" Aaron's asked concerned
"Nah. It's not that. We took some snaps of Sarah to show her and she loved them. She just doesn't want people round there thinking she's an old lady!"
Aaron wasn't sure about his next question, but plunged in anyway, "Everything else alright, uh, at home I mean?"
Adam sat down on his bed, "That's all finished. They had a row and he told her about his wife and kids in Sicily"
"Yeah. She's a tough lady my mum. She's thinking about what she wants after the War. She's asked us to go there, start taking over the farm"
"Is that what you want?" Aaron asked
"I dunno" said Adam, "I mean we're not even married yet"
"Oh, that reminds me" said Aaron, who turned and rummaged under his pillows. He took out a small buff envelope and then slid the contents out before handing it over to his friend.
Adam read the printed titled on the small, military looking pamphlet, 'Married Life - Information for Servicemen'. "Aaron?" he exclaimed, "Where did you get this?"
"I wrote to the Sarge for it" Aaron explained, "He was really pleased when I told him you were getting hitched"
"Why did you have go and do that? Aw, what's he going to think? I bet he was laughing his head off!" said Adam, his face starting to flush
Aaron walked over and sat down next to Adam on his bed, "I wouldn't worry mate. Patrick's got much less experience with women than you"
"Really?" said Adam, surprised, "Cause I thought he was a bit of a looker. You don't notice the scar after a bit and, as for his arm, well girls like a wounded hero don't they? Are you sure?"
Aaron thought for a moment, "Uh, yeah I'm sure" he answered, "And listen. Nobody's laughing at you"
"I was just trying to help, that's all" he mumbled
"Yeah I know you were mate, thanks" said Adam, looking carefully down at the book.
They were silent for a moment. It was Adam's turn to be cagey, "So. You talked to Robert yet? You know, given him a chance to explain"
Aaron leaned forward and sighed
"He's asked me to go and see him at the Gatehouse tonight. So we can have a talk. But I don't know" he said
"What Gatehouse?" asked Adam
"That big cottage, right at the end of the drive" said Aaron
Adam looked blank
"We walk past it every Sunday, on the way to Church"
"I've never seen a cottage" said Adam
"Uh, well you would have done if you hadn't been staring into Victoria's eyes all dreamy, wouldn't ya!" said Aaron
Adam laughed, "Says the man who used to hang back to speak to Mr Sugden " he said with a smile, "And I thought you felt sorry for him cause he couldn't walk as fast as the rest of us"
Aaron just ran his hand through his close cropped hair and looked down at the floor.
"So never mind all that 'I don't know' " Adam said gently, "Just go and talk to him" he added, giving Aaron a small nudge, "Or do I have to write to the Sarge, get a booklet for ya?"
"Uh, the Army doesn't do booklets for this mate" said Aaron
"So, you gonna go?" Adam asked
"You asking just cause he's going to be your brother in law?" Aaron replied
"No. I'm asking cause I'm your mate" said Adam
Aaron gave a small nod.
"Good lad" said Adam, giving his friend a smile
Hadleigh Manor Gatehouse- That evening
There was a time when Robert would pace up and down when he was nervous. Now of course, it was too awkward to do so, especially in this cottage, crammed with furniture. So instead, he sat down on the overstuffed sofa and locked his fingers together.
Just when he had almost given up hope there was a click as the door to the cottage opened and there he was. Aaron. His hands were thrust deep into the pockets of his dark coat and his face was unreadable.
"I thought you weren't going to come" said Rob, forcing a smile
"Why here?" asked Aaron, "So her at the house won't know"
Rob frowned. He knew who Aaron was speaking about.
"Sit down. Please" Robert said.
Aaron nodded and slumped into the seat opposite the sofa. He sat back, his hands still hidden, looking defensive.
"I chose here so we can have a talk. A real talk" Rob insisted
That was indeed true. But on another level, it had been a good decision by the young man. The Gatehouse was ordinary and homely. It had more in common with Aaron's Nan's front room or the back of the Woolpack than with the Manor House at the end of the drive. In this small room Robert seemed different to Aaron. Not as flashy or as in-control as he did sometimes at the Manor. He seemed more earnest. Even a little more relaxed. Not diminished in Aaron's eye, not at all. Just a bit, well, different.
"But as you have brought her up" Robert started. He glanced across at the young man sitting opposite him. Aaron wouldn't lift his face up to look at him.
"I do want to talk about her and what she was" he added.
He then leaned over so he was nearer the other young man, "And that's the important thing Aaron. I mean what she was. She's part of the past now, for me. Or at least she will be, before too long"
"But what I want to talk about most. What I really want to talk about is us".
Aaron had taken his hands out of his pockets and leaned forward too. He was nervously gripping his right hand with his left. Rubbing his thumb along the back.
"Is there an us?" Aaron asked quietly, looking up for the first time.
Robert laid his hand gently onto the top of Aaron's, "I hope so" he said softly. And then he started to talk. Just this once, Robert was saying all those things that he usually left unsaid.
- - - - - - -
He told Aaron about his father and how much of a disappointment he'd been made to feel. He talked about the feelings he had had that he didn't belong in the village he'd grown up in. How sometimes he'd just known he was different.
He talked about the choices he had made, to avoid lowering his Dad's opinion of him. He talked about how happy he'd been when he was married and in the RAF and finally felt he counted for something.
And then he told him about how it all came crashing down. About the accident, about Pavel, about Christine and her affair. About how much he had pushed down all that hurt. Pushed it down so much that he had almost forgotten he was carrying it.
And he told him about the shock of Christine turning up. About how stupid he had been to push Aaron away. How he'd thought that maybe if he could salvage his marriage he could turn the clock back and get past some of his hurt.
He told Aaron how much he cared about him. How he had made such a huge difference to his life. How much he still wanted him to be there. How much he needed him to be there.
- - - - - - -
Actions spoke louder that words, yet again, so Robert had at least some proof that his words were having an effect. Aaron was now curled up on the sofa, his head pressed against the front of Robert's shirt, letting him put his strong arms him this time. He'd even brought a couple of thick blankets down from the bedroom upstairs, just so they could cuddle for a bit.
"It's freezing in here" Aaron complained, rubbing his head against Robert's chest a little
"Well it's not been used since the old estate manager left" Rob explained, giving the younger man a gentle squeeze
"It's freezing everywhere round here" Aaron went on, "Is that why posh women wear fur coats? Cause all their houses are cold?" he added, sitting up on the sofa
"I don't know" replied Robert, "Anyway, I'm done with posh women. Well, nearly done"
"That's good to know" said Aaron with a smile. He leaned forward and pressed his lips against Roberts, kissing him deeply.
They broke away and Aaron snuggled back in against Robert.
As he had walked down to the Gatehouse earlier, Aaron had pretty much decided to go along with whatever Robert has said, however much it hurt. So to hear about the divorce, to hear that Robert's unhappy marriage was going to be over, that was about all he could have hoped for.
But only 'about' all. As Aaron lay there, enjoying just being close to the person he wanted more than anything he thought about all that had been said. There was only one thing that Robert hadn't said.
He hadn't said that he loved him
- - - - - - -
Hadleigh Manor House - Robert's study- yesterday
Robert was just getting dressed again after his examination. As usual, Dr Gillespie had seemed to spend more time looking greedily over to the drinks on the sideboard that doing anything medical.
But it was what happened next that hit him hard. Harder than he thought anything could hit him. It was Victoria bursting in, tears streaming down her face and saying, "You've got to go the cottage hospital now Doctor, there's been an accident at the mine"
It was just those four words. That was all that been needed to deliver the hammer blow.
Dr Gillespie started to fuss and pack his belongings into his ancient black leather bag.
"Did they say what happened?" Robert asked gently, hooking his arm around his shocked sister while trying so hard to keep his own feelings in check.
"Just that one of the tunnels gave away and some of the men had been injured and..." Victoria struggled to get the words out , "and some of them didn't get out!" she addd burying her head in her brother's chest.
"Doctor, we'd better come along with you" Robert insisted
"Yes, yes, of course" the Doctor replied, padding his jacket pocket to reassure himself that his car keys were there
- - - - - - - - -
Hadleigh Cottage Hospital
Victoria clung tight to Robert in the back of the small saloon. He knew what she was feeling, he was feeling it himself.
So he didn't blame her when they got into the entrance of the small hospital and she let go of him and literally ran into Adam's arms. The young miner looked unhurt, but shaken. His fiancee had buried herself into his chest as he held her close, reassuring her that it was alright.
Robert has slowly followed, his walking sting echoing down the hallway. If he had had any doubts about whether Adam would be a good brother in law they faded when the young man immediately told him what he wanted to know without being asked, "Aaron's alright. He got knocked out, but I got him in the cage"
"The doctor says he'll wake up in a bit. He's one of lucky ones" Adam said, as he continued to hold tight to Victoria.
'No" thought Robert, letting out a deep breath. 'I'm one of the lucky ones'
- - - - - -
It was a shock to everyone, except for the mining supervisor. He'd sat in the hallway of the hospital, repeating how he'd said they should never have re-opened that part of the mine, his voice getting quieter all the time. Eventually, one of the older miners had helped him up saying" Come on chief, let's get you back to the village". He'd paused by Adam as he led the other man away, "Let us know that young Aaron's alright" he said as he passed.
"We'll ring the pub" Adam replied quietly
- - - - - -
Later, Adam sat in the hallway outside Aaron's room, his arm curled around Victoria's shoulders. Robert had just given him a firm pat on the arm before going off to find the nurse.
"I can't believe it" Adam said, his voice breaking as he spoke, "We were lucky we weren't as far in as the others. Aaron just got knocked out. And Don broke his arm. But Dafydd, he was right at the front. So was Sammy. And two of the older blokes from the village. All gone, just like that"
- - - - - -
Robert was holding Aaron's hand tightly.
"Adam's fine. He's just a bit shaken up" said Robert quietly. He knew Aaron would want to be reassured about that.
"Are the rest of the lads alright?" Aaron asked
"I....I'll find out later" said Rob.
He fell quiet for a moment,
"I thought I'd lost you" said Robert, letting out a nervous breath
Aaron gently rubbed his thumb against the top of Rob's hand.
"I love you Aaron" said Robert
Aaron squeezed Robert's hand just that little bit more tightly, and smiled at him.
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 17: Losing and Winning
People cope with loss in different ways. Some people go quiet, withdrawing into themselves. Others, channel their grief into anger. Some throw themselves into activity. Anything rather than think about it. And some people, they make plans.
Now Robert Sugden has, luckily for him, not suffered a loss. Aaron. His Aaron, has survived the recent accident and is in one piece. It doesn't mean that he hasn't been hurt though. The loss of two friends has been a cruel blow. And if Aaron is hurting, then Robert is hurting. That's just the way it is now.
For Rob, the thought of his future being snatched away has made him focus sharply on what exactly he wants that future to be. He knows who he wants that future to be with. Now it is time for him to start filling out some of the details to try and make that happen. And that means that some people are not going to get their own way. For a change.
Hadleigh Manor House - Robert's Office
Victoria found her brother at his office desk, talking into the telephone
"Right I've got that" said Robert, as he wrote on the notepad in front of him, "The Metropol last June and The New Royal in August and September"
Victoria looked puzzled as she walked over to Rob
"I'll say this for your Bunty, she's got a good memory!" Robert said with a smile, "And she's definitely happy to put that in writing? That's great. It won't come to that, I'm pretty sure. Well thank you. Really. You give my best to the rest of the boys. Bye"
"Who were you talking to?" said Victoria
"That was Lewis. You remember Lewis? He's still at the airbase thank God" Rob replied. He fell silent for a moment, lost in thought
"I remember" said Victoria, putting her arm around her brother's shoulders and leaning on him, "Who's 'Bunty' when she's at home?"
"That's his sister" Robert replied, "She's been helping me out with some information"
"I know that look on your face" said Victoria, "What are you up to?"
"Christine" said Rob, "Wants me to take the blame for the divorce and then walk away with a cheque. I've got other plans now"
"Oh Robert. Don't say you've changed your mind. You can't, not after everything"
"Oh no, I'm still walking away, but things are going to be different!" Robert said with a smile
Then he fell quiet for a moment. When he looked at his sister his aspect was serious, "I've got someone else to think about too"
- - - - - - -
Hadleigh Manor House - The Yellow Room
The beds had been stripped down to the bare mattresses. You wouldn't have known that anyone had been in this room at all, Aaron thought as he looked down at the two small cases now lying on the bed nearest the wall.
"There you are" said Adam as he walked into the room, carrying three tin mugs in his hands.
"WVS Hadleigh Village Hall" said Aaron reading the label on a case, "That'll be Sammy's stuff I suppose" he said quietly
"Yeah" said Adam, "Well, there's no one to send it to is there? Not after his family copped it in that raid. Florrie said to send it to the volunteer ladies in the village to sort" he added as he put the mugs down on the bare dresser.
"What's that say?" Adam said, looking over his friend's shoulder as he looked at the label on the second small case, "Ab something?"
"It'll be Welsh" Aaron explained, "That's Dafydd's stuff going to his Nan. Somewhere by Merthyr, I think"
"Well, least someone will be at his funeral" said Adam sadly
"Oh, he'll be getting a good send off" said Leonard breezily as he walked quickly into the room, a green bottle in his hand. Some people coped by being relentlessly cheerful. Or at least, pretending as if they are.
"This is the last of his Nan's tonic " said Leo, "I think that would be appropriate, don't you? Come on Adam, you're mugs monitor"
Adam and Aaron sat down on the empty bunk by the window as Leo topped their tin mugs up. He then closed the door and sat on the bed next to the cases.
"How do you know? That'll he'll get a good send off I mean?" asked Aaron
"Suggers let me ring up Sarge at the camp. You know, find out some gen" Leo explained, "His Uncles are all miners down there, so the Union is going to organise it"
"That's good" said Aaron, "I mean, it's good that his Nan's not on her own"
"Come on lads!" Leo said, in an attempt to lighten the mood a little, "Dafydd and Sammy. The boys!" he added, thrusting his tin mug towards the other two lads
"Yeah" said Adam, forcing a smile and pushing his mug forward too, 'The boys"
Aaron clinked his mug against the other two saying "The boys" too.
They lads all took a sip from the mug. Aaron pulled a pained face.
"The lot we had at my engagement drink was better" said Adam
"Be fair " said Leo, "We have to make do. There's still a War on. Well, just about"
The boys fell silent
"You know" said Leonard, "I liked to think of our little group, well, we were the 'Three Musketeers" of Hut A"
"But there were five of us" said Adam, looking puzzled
"Three now" said Aaron quietly, looking down into his mug.
"Do you remember that time we were in the pub? That fight with those Army boys"
"Yeah, I remember" said Aaron quietly
Without saying a word, Adam reached over and gently rubbed the back of his friend's shoulders.
'Well, nobody messed with Dafydd now did they?" said Leo
"Yeah" said Aaron, "But he was a nice bloke, He didn't throw his weight around did he? He just stood up for his mates. And he was proud he was a miner too. Really proud"
"I think that landlady would remember Sammy" Adam said with a smile
"Oh yes" said Leo, taking another swig from his mug, "Our Sammy made a lot of older ladies very happy"
"Talking of ladies" Leonard went on, "I've spoken to Clarissa, we're going to bring the wedding forward. Well, life's too short isn't it boys?"
Adam nodded in agreement.
- - - - - - -
Miners Training Centre - The Midlands
Patrick was standing at the gate to the training centre. He was wearing his long Army coat and his cap and had a small case in his hand.
"Here you go boss" said Sam Dingle "Sandwiches for the train" he said, as he handed over a brown paper bag
"Lady in the canteen done 'em" he explained, "All the ladies liked Sammy in there"
Patrick put his case down on the floor and clicked it open, "Now" he said, as he packed the sandwiches away, "Have you got that letter I gave you? For your interview tomorrow?"
Sam nodded but looked unenthusiastic, "Yes boss" he said, "But I still don't think they'll take me on. It's like a hospital isn't it?" he added, just as Mr Pollard marched briskly up towards the pair.
Patrick ignored the Camp Controller as he stood up, "It's a sanitarium Sam" he said, "It's laundry work and being an orderly and you know you can do all that don't you?" he said encouragingly
"Suppose" said Sam
"And it's near Bradford, you won't be far from your folks" Patrick went on
"You got yourself all sorted boss? For tomorrow I mean" Sam asked
"I'll be fine" said Patrick, "There's no family but the Rabbi said I can stay with them"
Sam nodded and then sloped off without a further word.
"I'd have thought you'd have been more worried about your future. Not the likes of Sam Dingle" said Mr Pollard primly
"Oh, why do you say that?" asked Patrick. In truth, he wasn't interested. Now that the camp was being run down, Mr Pollard seemed to have decided that even if he did not have a centre to run he could still annoy him.
"Our boys will be in Berlin soon!" said Eric, "And there are no more young hooligans coming here, thank God!"
"They were not hooligans" Patrick replied sharply, "They were just lads. Some of them away from home for the first time"
"And some of them aren't going home are they?" he added, but Mr Pollard seemed unmoved.
"Well regardless of all that, they're not going to need a Welfare Officer for a bunch of Bevin Boys here now are they!"
Patrick's reaction to grief was the same way as he dealt, or didn't deal, with stress. He pushed it down and down until, eventually, it exploded.
"Welfare Officer ! " he said, his voice loud and angry, "That's a joke! Who'd have been the MO if you didn't have me? Who'd have been your quartermaster and done all the books for you? We'd have had three dozen lads in scout tents here if it had been down to you!"
Eric look furious and kept his voice tight as he replied, "Well the War's nearly over now isn't it Sergeant ? Things will be different afterwards, they'll be some proper organisation around here. Some proper method! Just 'muddling through' like we've have to just won't do!"
"And you think you're going a part of that do you Mr Pollard? New methods? You couldn't be more pre-War if you tried!" he added just as the Army truck pulled up outside the gate.
Mr Pollard made no effort to help Patrick as he put his case down and pulled the heavy gate open with his arm.
"In fact" said Patrick as he turned to pick his case up again, "You even look like Neville Chamberlain in the right light!"
Eric tried to ignore this comment and brushed at his white moustache with his forefinger.
"Now if you'll excuse me" said Patrick, "This is my lift"
"Yes, well" Mr Pollard started to reply, "Well the Army looks after it's own doesn't it!" he snapped, before walking away furiously
"Yes" Patrick said quietly to himself as he stood at the gate, "It's my lads no one seems to care about"
"You coming Sarge?" the corporal at the wheel called, bringing Patrick back to the here and now
"Coming" said Patrick, as he headed for the truck
- - - - - - - - -
Hadleigh Manor House- Victoria's Room
Victoria paused at the doorway to her room. Adam was standing over the cot, baby Sarah cradled in his arms, her head on his shoulder.
"There we go" Adam said softly, "That's a good girl. That's my little princess" he added and he rocked her gently.
He lowered her back into the cot as Victoria walked up behind him. She was smiling happily. When she thought about Pavel and how he'd cursed Sarah and how he'd been 'tricked' into marriage. He'd never even seen her!
"Everything alright?" she asked, keeping her voice low
"Yeah. All fine" Adam smiled back, "How's Florrie now?"
"She in a terrible state. I mean I know nothing was, you know, going on but she always had a soft spot for Sammie"
Adam hooked his arm around his fiancee's shoulders
"Thing is" said Victoria, "You lads, and all the girls on the farm, you're like her family. I mean, her husband died long before the War and neither of her boys came back from North Africa"
Adam said nothing, but his hand gripped Victoria's shoulder a little bit tighter. He steered her to the doorway and then removed his arm.
They stood either side of the doorframe as Adam reached over and took Victoria's hands in his.
"I was thinking..." Adam started
"What about?" Victoria asked
"Well Aaron was telling me how he nearly had to have his Dad's name. His surname I mean. And he wanted his Nan's"
"Uh huh" said Victoria encouragingly
"Well, you know we said we'd go and live with my Mum. Once it's all over and we're married?"
"Well, I was thinking. It would be good if, when we got there, and we're Mr and Mrs Barton. I thought it would be good if little Sarah was a Barton too. So I was thinking, if you thought it was a good idea, that I could, you know, adopt her"
"Well" said Victoria, " I think Sarah should have her Dad's surname"
Adam looked crestfallen
"So, Sarah Barton it's going to be" she added.
Adam's face broke into a huge smile. He leaned forward to kiss Victoria but stopped as they heard the sound of raised voices and a door slamming from the far end of the corridor.
"Well no prizes for guessing who that is!" said Victoria. She gave Adam a quick kiss on the lips.
"Right, you go and sit with our daughter for a bit while I go and sort this out!"
- - - - - - - - -
Hadleigh Manor House - Robert's study
"What's all this shouting about?" Victoria demanded as she stormed into her brother's study
Robert was looking smug as he sat in a chair, a very small whiskey in his hand
"Well, I'm afraid my soon-to-be-ex Wife is not very happy"
"This about your phone call earlier?" his sister asked, plonking herself down into the other free chair
Rob leaned forward
"Thing about Christine" he explained, "Is that she's got money but she wants more. So she's marrying it"
"Yes, and?" said Victoria
"Well, the thing about rich people is that all know each other. Or they know people who know people and so on. And they go to the same places and bump into each other. And Christine and her rich new husband. Well, I should say, future husband have not been discrete"
"Is that what that Lewis was telling you?"
Robert just smiled, "She wants to play the wronged wife, I'm told her I'd play the wronged husband too. All our dirty linen coming out in Court"
"You're not going to do that are ya?" Victoria asked
"No!" said Robert
'Why couldn't you just take the money she offered ?"
"Sis" said Robert, "I'm not being greedy. Once the War's over she's selling this place. What would happen to me then?"
He lowered his voice and looked serious, "And what would happen to me and Aaron?"
"Alright" said Victoria, "So you've come up with some great plan. You going to share it with me?"
Rob smiled and picked an envelope up from the floor.
"All I wanted from her is one little signature" he said "On this he added as he passed over a document to his sister"
"I'll get to stay on for the duration here and be alright after won't I?" Robert added
"But don't say anything yet sis" Rob said, "I need to speak to Aaron"
- - - - - - - -
Hadleigh Manor Gatehouse- that evening
This time there was no distance between them when Aaron opened the door to the cottage.
"Come here you" said Robert as he wrapped his strong arms around the younger man.
"I know we've not had much of a chance to speak since the hospital" Robert went on, moving his right hand up so he could run it through Aaron's hair, "And I am sorry, really sorry about your mates. But I'm glad you're safe. And that Adam's safe too, for Victoria's sake"
"We've been talking about them. The boys" Aaron said quietly, "And we had a quick drink, in their room. Well, what was their room"
Robert said nothing, just squeezed him tight
"Sarge is going the funeral. Well the one in London" said Aaron as he broke away
"The Sarge?" asked Robert
"You know, Patrick, he was the Welfare Officer up at the centre. I told you a bit about him" said Aaron as he sat on the sofa
"Oh, Patrick I remember" said Robert as he sat down next to him
Robert took in the unhappy look on Aaron's face and hooked his arm around his shoulders
"Did I hear you shouting earlier?" Aaron asked
"Uh, yes, that was me and well her" Rob replied, "But don't worry. She's off tomorrow. for good"
"Good" Aaron agreed
"Actually, I want to ask you something" he started
"What?" said Aaron, laying his head on Robert's chest
"No. It'll wait. Let's just sit here for a bit. That ok with you?" said Rob
"Yeah. That's great" said Aaron, curling his arm around Robert's waist.
- - - - - - -
"So you see" said Robert as he walked out of the first bedroom. "This was designed way back. So the estate manager would be living here and have a servant"
"What if he had a family? It's a bit small for a family" said Aaron as Robert showed him the small bathroom in-between the two bedrooms.
"Oh, they'd only take on a single man. You think things are bad now, but it was all rules back then. People at the 'big house' always got their way"
"I keep forgetting you're older than me" said Aaron with a smile.
"Well I've seen this bedroom. I got the blankets from here" Aaron said, matter of factly as he walked into the next room.
Robert smiled and sat on the bed. He leaned on his stick with one hand and patted the mattress with the other.
"Well, what I want to ask you" Rob started as the younger man sat down
"What I wanted to ask is, which one of these rooms would you put a telescope in? You know, for stargazing"
"You'd be better off in the Manor House, up on the roof" said Aaron
"Yes, I know that.." said Robert
"Anyway, what sort of telescope is it? I didn't know you had a telescope" said Aaron
"I haven't got a telescope" said Robert
"So why are you asking me which room to put it in?" asked Aaron, confused
"Aaron, I'm asking you!" said Robert, "I'm asking which room would you put your telescope in!"
"But it's at my Nan's in Blackpool" said Aaron, still at a loss
"I know, but you could bring it here couldn't ya?"
"What do you mean?"
'I mean, you could bring it here and put it in our room" said Robert, as he took Aaron's hand.
Aaron looked shocked
"Listen" said Robert, "This place, it's mine. Not in the future, not after the divorce. It's mine now. Well, soon as the solicitor does his bit. But anyway, even after the War, when she sells the Manor House, this is still mine"
"And I..." Rob started, "I want you to come and live here, with me"
Aaron looked downcast, which wasn't the reaction Robert had hoped for
"Don't you want that?" Rob asked quietly
"Course I do. I want that more than anything" said Aaron, "But how can we do it? What would people say round here? How could we even..."
"Shh. Shhh" said Robert soothingly. He let go of Aaron's hand and wrapped his arm around his shoulders.
"I'm going to be working after the War. Well just a bit because I'm not daft. I'm not taking this place instead of some cash. And I'm going to need a driver to take me about. And, well. I'm not going to be able to look after this cottage. I'd need a handyman to do the garden, get in provisions and everything"
"I mean" said Robert, leaning close and keeping his voice soft, "You wouldn't leave a man with a walking stick to fend for himself out here would ya?"
"So that's what we tell people? I'm here cause I'm your butler or something?" said Aaron still looking down
"Something like that" said Rob, "But we'll know the truth won't we?"
"What's that then?" said Aaron. Robert was concerned at the young man's reaction. Perhaps it was too soon after the accident. Perhaps it was too big an idea to be taken in just like that. But whatever the circumstances, Rob was going to persevere with what he wanted to say
"I want you here, with me. Because I love you" said Robert gently
"And I....I love you" Aaron replied finally looking up at Rob
Robert smiled and pressed his lips against Aaron's for a kiss.
"So" he said, breaking away but keeping his face close, "Once the War's over. You fancy taking me on?"
"Well, it wouldn't be fair to leave you on your own" said Aaron, "I mean, there's all those stairs"
"Uh-huh, the stairs" said Robert, kissing Aaron again
"And it is a long way to the village"
"Uh-huh, long way", said Rob, planting another quick kiss on Aaron
"But there is one thing I have to say. And it's really important" said Aaron
"I'm listening" said Robert, looking at the young man intently
"This is definitely the best room for my telescope"
Robert smiled and leaned in for another kiss. This time deep, long and lingering
TO BE CONTINUED
Chapter 18: "It's the end of the War, but it's not the end of me and you"
Hadleigh Gatehouse- December 1945
"Well don't give us a hand or anything" said Aaron grumpily as he put the large wooden packing case down on the floor next to the door to the cottage.
Robert looked up from his desk in the corner, "Excuse me, I am actually working" he said, indicating the ledger in front of him.
Aaron just mumbled to himself as he pulled the heavy curtain over the back of the door to keep out the draught
"Anyway, it's your parcel isn't it?" said Robert as Aaron peeled off his thick gloves and took his cap off
"It's freezing out there" said Aaron as he hung his scarf and heavy coat on the wall
"Is it? I'd never have guessed" said Robert sarcastically, looking out into their snow covered garden
"Why are you in a bad mood? You're been in here in the warm" said Aaron as he kneeled down and started to open the case
Robert sighed deeply and leaned back in his desk chair, folding his arms
"Mr Rutherford came over from the Manor to drop his books off. I had an hour from him on how the Labour Government are going to tax him out of existence. He reckons he'll have to sell up, way it's going"
"That won't affect us will it?" said Aaron, as he took some astronomy books out of the case
"No, not at all" said Robert, "Just might mean new neighbours, that's all. What's all that anyway?" he asked
"It's all the stuff from my Nan's" said Aaron "My telescope and all that"
"Really?" said Rob, raising an eyebrow, "I thought a telescope would be more, well, telescope shaped"
"It's in bits. It has to be put together. But don't you worry, I'll be doing all that" said Aaron
Robert sighed. He stood up and took the few steps to the sofa.
"Come here" he said, as he lowered himself down
"What?" said Aaron
"Come here" said Robert, more insistently
Aaron walked over and plonked himself down next to the older man.
"Now I know you" said Robert, curling his arm around the young man's shoulders, "Why this mood all of a sudden?" he asked
"When I was at the station" Aaron started, "I had to go to the parcel office bit and there were a few people there and they were all talking"
"What about?" asked Rob
"Well, nothing" said Aaron, "About the weather and Christmas coming up and some of the lads in the village being demobbed. But, I don't know, it was like the War never happened. They were all just saying the same thing about 'getting back to normal' and 'like things were before the War' "
Robert reached over and took one of Aaron's hands in his, "Is this about that talk we had? After that party on VE night?" he asked gently
"Sort of" said Aaron, "And I was putting that crate in the back of the car and I just thought, 'will I have to pack it all up again later?' "
"Have that last few months really been that bad?" Robert asked, moving his hand onto the back of Aaron's neck and stroking it
"Of course they haven't" said Aaron, "It's been great, I know. It's just, all that all about going back to how things were..."
"Aaron, listen to me" said Robert firmly, "Me and you, we're not going back. We're just going forward, together"
"You ok about that?" he added gently
Aaron nodded and smiled
"Good" said Rob, flashing Aaron a broad smile back. He leaned forward and pressed his lips against Aaron's.
- - - - - - - - -
But of course, we've jumped ahead a bit there. For a start, we need to go back to the party Robert mentioned......
Hadleigh Manor House - May 1945
Everyone agreed afterwards that it had been a fantastic party. Even if it did seem that most of the people there spent the whole night disagreeing. Not arguing as such, just putting forward different views on what life was going to be like after the War.
"I said it would all be over before that last seam ran out!" Adam beamed
"Oh come on" said Leo, "You were only right by a week"
After the accident, some safety inspectors from the Ministry of Fuel & Power had been down and, after much sucking of teeth and with great reluctance, agreed that a large chunk of the works was too unsafe. There had been much speculation among the boys into how long this job would then last.
"Well I'm glad they're shutting the mine" Robert had told Mrs King. She had come over with a group of Land Girls from the Wentworth Farm to swell the numbers and, just this once, was letting her hair down.
"It's in that bad a state the Government won't want it even if they do nationalise everything" he added
"Don't be daft" said Nicola, taking a swig of punch, "The socialists won't get in. People won't turn their back on Mr Churchill" she asserted
"Well I......" said Victoria, "Will be glad when rationing finishes, whoever is in the charge"
"I'll believe that when it happens" said Robert, "Luckily not all of life's little pleasures are rationed" he added with a sly grin.
As he said it, he sought out where Aaron was standing in the room. He was near the fireplace, chatting to Adam and Leo. But he looked unhappy.
Robert was about to walk over to him when Nicola grabbed his attention
"Before I forget" she started, "Party or no party my girls will still be here for the next couple of months. It'll take a while for the men to be demobbed"
"No, no. That's fine, they can stay here as long as they're needed on the farm" Rob assured her. He looked back over to the fireplace, but Aaron was gone.
- - - - - - -
"So, you've set a date then?" Adam asked
"August. And I'm telling you if they don't release me I'm going to kick up a hell of a fuss. What about you and Victoria?"
"Soon as I know I'm released too. It won't take as much organising as you, it'll be in the Registry Office"
"Oh well" said Leo, "Looks like we both have something to look forward to then" he added with a cheeky wink
Adam looked slightly embarrassed but his blushes were spared when Robert walked over to them, squeezing his way though some Land Girls
"I did like your speech Suggers" said Leo, as Robert approached
"Oh, thank you" said Robert, "Well I think it needed saying. Everyone here has done their bit for the War effort, down the mine and on the farm. Even if you weren't in uniform"
Adam gave Robert a pat on the arm and glance down at his walking stick, "You've done your bit too mate" he added
"Actually, I was looking for Aaron" Rob replied
"Said he wanted some air" said Leo
"Ah right. I'll know where he'll be" said Robert
- - - - - - - - -
Aaron was sitting on the small dividing wall away from the edge of the rooftop, staring up at the night sky. A familiar voice called out, breaking into his thoughts.
"Hey. If you're going to run away from me, at least do it someone without so many stairs" said Robert, as he walked slowly over
Aaron turned to look at him, "No, it wasn't that I was escaping. Not you"
"What is it then?" Robert asked gently as he sat down on the wall.
"It's just that, well, with the War over everyone has plans. Adam, Leo" Aaron explained, "And I know, I know we've got our plans. But I'm thinking, you know..."
Robert nodded. He hooked his arm around the young man.
"This is how I see it" said Rob, "It's the end of the War, but it's not the end of me and you"
Aaron smiled. Robert leaned forward and planted a kiss on his lips.
"I thought you'd be here" said Rob as he broke away, "This is where me and you started isn't it?"
Aaron smiled again. "Actually, I'd already fallen for ya, before we came up here that night"
Robert pressed his lips against Aaron's again. "Me too" he said softly, before leaning in again
- - - - - - - -
The Golden Palm Tree Guest House, Blackpool - a week after VE night
"It's alright love" said Faith as she hovered next to the stove, "Just move those ration books to one side"
"I was hoping to see the back of all that. I burned mine on VE night. And my identity card!" she added as she filled a china tea pot from the kettle
"Oh, that was a night!" said Faith as she sat down at the kitchen table, "I was at a party at the Oak, down the road. Where were you love?" she asked
"I was in a party in a pub in Liverpool" said Patrick, "With, uh, a friend"
Faith smiled for a moment and leaned over as she took Patrick's hand in hers, "Now, you're alright here love" she said kindly, "Our Aaron has told me all about you, you can be open with me"
"Was it your sailor friend, the lad in the merchant navy?" Faith asked, as she poured the tea
Patrick nodded and smiled.
- - - - - - -
A week ago in Liverpool.............
It had been another one of those pubs, down near the docks again. But the atmosphere this time was completely different. For one, the door was wide open to the street and the noise of the people celebrating inside was spilling out into the night.
Two drunken sailors had staggered past him as he approached the door, the first had hooked his arm around him and kissed him on his left cheek, saying loudly, "Bloody marvellous ain't it mate?" in a Cockney accent.
"I don't know what your Lilly would say about that!" his companion said as they walked down the street
"Ah, leave it out" this first sailor replied, "It's a celebration ain't it?"
"I don't know why I let you drag me here" the second sailor complained as they vanished into the docks
The atmosphere in the pub was as lively as it had sounded outside. There was someone on the piano, making quite a good fist of some popular songs while a group of men nearby joined in with the lyrics. Or at least, they were quite close to them. The rest of the pub was full of laughter.
But then, for Patrick, it all faded away. Standing right in front of him was that familiar tanned face, a broad smile plastered over it. A white Royal Navy cap, which was certainly not his, was resting on top of his curls.
"Patrick" Daniel breathed, wrapping his strong arms around the other man in an embrace. He squeezed him as if he was trying to re-assure himself that he was real.
Daniel moved his head, which was pressed to the side of Patrick's, just to plant a kiss on his neck. Then he hugged him again.
"We made it then. Me and you" said Daniel
"Yes, Danny. We made it" Patrick replied
Daniel moved back from the embrace a little. His dark eyes looked intently into Patrick's as he leaned forward and pressed his lips against his.
- - - - - - -
"So, what were you doing in Fleetwood?" Faith asked, snapping Patrick back to the present
"Oh. I was just visiting one of the families of the lads who died in the accident. Not the one at your Aaron's colliery. This was another one. I couldn't manage the funeral and he had only had a sister...." said Patrick, trailing off
"Well, I'm sure she appreciated it" said Faith, "Does the War Office send you?"
"No, it's just something I wanted to do" said Patrick quietly
"Is that you demob suit?" she asked, "You must have been released quickly"
"Quickest ever!" said Patrick, with a forced smile, "Only took weeks. The Army said I wasn't really Army cause I'd worked at the Miners Centre and they said they couldn't keep me cause I was only on loan from the forces"
Patrick fell silent. Faith thought for a moment and looked at the young man sitting opposite. He seemed so lost.
"Well, you must stay here for tonight at least" she offered
"Oh, I don't want to put you out. It's just Aaron told me to pop in if I was ever in this neck of the woods"
"Course you won't put me out" said Faith, "It is a Guest House after all"
"Anyway" she said, standing up, "You can have our Aaron's room for tonight, he wouldn't mind"
- - - - - - -
Patrick looked up at the night sky through the telescope propped up against the window. There was a quick knock and Faith came in, with a mug in one hand and a ledger tucked under her arm.
"Thought you'd like a nightcap" she said with a smile as she handed over the cocoa
Faith lowered herself carefully onto the bed and opened the ledger
"Actually, Patrick, I wanted to ask you to do me a favour" she said, "If you could"
"What is it?" said Patrick, sitting next to her
"I can't get these books straight" she said as she opened the messy book, "Now I used to have a gentleman friend who helped me out with all this, Mr Lotterby. But he had to stop because there was this huge problem"
"What was that? Mrs Lotterby?" asked Patrick
Faith smiled. 'I think we're going to get on fine', she thought to herself. Which was a good thing, seeing the idea she had in mind.
"Have you done any book-keeping?" asked Faith
"Oh yes" replied Patrick, "I did all of the books at the training centre"
"Did you have any special training?" said Faith
"No. I just had to do it because the camp controller was a lazy bugger" Patrick replied as put the book on his lap and flicked through the pages, "I couldn't do this for you tonight though"
"Well" said Faith, "In that case, why don't you stay for a few days, help me out a bit?"
"Oh, that'd be alright" said Patrick, "Just for a few days"
"There's a good lad" said Faith with a smile, patting Patrick on the leg.
- - - - - - - -
Leeds Station - August 1945
"You didn't have to come and see us off" said Adam, smiling at his friend
"Yeah I did" replied Aaron, "I'd had enough of Robert's Dad at that reception"
"I know!" said Adam, "Talk about miserable. He had me for half a hour on why they should have kept the Home Guard. You'd think he misses the War the way he was going on"
Aaron gave his friend the smallest of nods and gestured with his eyes as Victoria joined them.
"Here she is Mrs Barton " Adam beamed, hooking his arm around his new wife
"I hope our Sarah will be alright" said Victoria
"Come on Victoria, she'll be fine with me Mum" said Adam, "And our Hannah is going back with her. Well, this weekend anyway" he added
"Well, you'll definitely have a good time at my Nan's in Blackpool" said Aaron
Adam smiled at Victoria, his eyes that little bit brighter, "Yeah, we will" he said quietly
Later that evening - on a train heading to Haleigh
Robert and Aaron sat in the train carriage. Although they were the only occupants, they kept just a little away, just in case.
"Well I hope Victoria enjoys her second honeymoon" said Aaron
"No. This'll be her first" said Robert, "They never went anywhere first time round"
"Oh" said Aaron, falling quiet
"What did you think of my Dad?' Robert asked
Aaron thought and chose his words carefully, "Bit miserable wasn't he? Considering it was a wedding"
"He kept going on at me" Rob nodded, "How can you waste your money on a driver? Why don't you just move into the village?"
"He just can't see the advantages" said Robert, lowering his voice and leaning in
"What advantages?" asked Aaron
"You know. Of having someone living in " Robert said with a smile.
The carriage plunged into darkness as the train entered the tunnel. They weren't in the tunnel that long, but it was long enough. Long enough for Robert to do what he had wanted to do all day. Lean over and kiss the man he loved.
TO BE CONTINUED
COMING SOON- LOVE ON THE HOME FRONT - EPILOGUE
Hadleigh Village Shop - June 1953 - a few days before the Coronation
Mrs Smedley was in full flow. Well, Mrs Allbright had only just taken over the shop, it was only right that she have fair warning of who her customers were going to be.
"Well it used to be the Petersons up at the big house. Oh, lovely family they were. They had real class. Then it was the Whites. New money they were. The daughter took over after her father died. Well I say she took over, she barely showed her face round here. It was her husband that used to run it. Well she was no better than she should be if you ask me..."
Aaron walked into the shop and headed over to the magazine rack in the corner
Mrs Smedley went on, "Then it was the Rutherfords for a bit and now it's the National Trust. You get people going up in coaches over the Summer. Not that they set foot in the village mind so you won't see a brass farthing from any of that lot, I can tell you!"
Aaron turned the rack around, trying to find the Radio Times that he wanted.
"Mr Sugden, that was the husband, he's up at the Gatehouse. Invalided out of the RAF he was. Walks with a stick but he's a lovely looking man"
Aaron smiled as he overheard
"That feller in the corner" Mrs Smedley went on, "That's Mr Dingle. He's his handyman. Drives him about and that. Mind you, there's one thing you ought to know about that Mr Sugden....."
Mrs Smedley leaned close across the counter to Mrs Allbright and lowered her voice, as if some dreadful, dark secret was about to be revealed
"He's divorced" said Mrs Smedley
Aaron smiled again
Blackpool- The Golden Palms Guest House - the day before the Coronation
"I just want to check it's still working" that's all said Faith.
"It was all right yesterday Mrs D" said Daniel, who was kneeling on the floor in front of the television set.
"What's this programme supposed to be?" said Faith, refusing to lift up the glasses hanging around her neck on a chain. The screen seemed a blur to her.
"You got to wait a minute, it's still not warmed up properly" said Daniel
"I'll fetch the Radio Times" said Patrick, "it's up in my room" he added as he left
"I'll get it" Patrick called from the hall as the doorbell rang.
"Of course, Mrs Chorley at Bay View got her's month ago" said Faith, "The way she's being going on about it you'd think she'd invented the thing"
"Blimey mother, a television. You've come up in the World" said Cain, dumping his kit bag on the living room floor
"I got it for the Coronation love" said Faith
Cain nodded. Then a look of surprise came across his face as the curly haired young man kneeling on the floor turned around
"Daniel?" said Cain, "What are you doing here?"
"Hello Cain!" said Daniel brightly, before then going back to fiddling with the controls on the set
- - - - - - - -
"Mr Rudge is coming over. You know, used to be our postman" said Faith as she walked over to the kitchen table with a teapot in her hand
"Oh aye?" said Cain "Still doing his special deliveries is he?"
"Don't be coarse" said Faith with a smile as she sat down, "And Patrick will be here, as he's a resident"
"You charging him full rent yet?" Cain asked
"Don't be daft son" said Faith, "He doesn't charge me for doing my books now does he? And that's a good little business he's got going now. And he's paying for the telephone to be put in"
"Telephone Mother?" said Cain, "There's posh"
"Well actually" said Faith smugly, "There'll be two. One in Patrick's room up on the first floor and one in reception! If that doesn't wipe the smile off Lettie Chorley's face nothing will" she added as she filled a teacup and passed it across the table to her son
"A phone in reception? Very grand. I'd better look for somewhere else to stay when I'm on leave" said Cain
"It'll be no trouble to put them in. A young man from the GPO was round the other week, having a good poke around" said Faith
"Ah well, he wouldn't be the first would he mother?" said Cain with a grin
Faith didn't rise to the bait and changed the subject.
"And there's the guests of course, there's only four of them at the moment mind, plus Danny" she went on
"Yeah, about him...." Cain started
"He's been coming here since the War, how do you know him?" asked Faith
"He's on my ship" Cain explained, "Has been for six six months now"
"Well he's been here for the last three days. Came straight up when he docked In Liverpool" said Faith
"And?" said Cain
"So where have you been?" asked Faith, "Not that it's any of my business"
"You're right, it's not" said Cain, "But if you must know I went to Leeds. Visiting a lady friend"
"That's nice love" said Faith
"Not really. We had a flaming row. She was chucking a load of stuff at me from her bedroom window in the end!" said Cain
"Which reminds me, I've got a silk dressing gown in my kit-bag if it's any good to ya" he added as an afterthought.
Faith just nodded and smiled to himself. Cain was thinking for a moment.
"Thing is, about that Daniel" said Cain
"What about him love?" said Faith, sipping at her tea
"Well he's a good bloke. But you ought to know. He's one of those"
"One of those what love?" asked Faith
"I don't need to spell it out do I mother" said Cain, embarrassed, "You know, one of those"
"Get away!" said Faith, feigning surprise
"Oh yeah" said Cain, "He's got some lad tucked away ashore"
"No!" said Faith
Cain thought for a moment.
"And you say he's been coming here for years?" he asked
"That's right" said Faith
"Well it's obvious isn't it?" said Cain
"What is love?" his mother asked
"Well, that feller of his. He's probably right here in Blackpool somewhere"
"You think so?" said Faith
"I'd put money on it" said Cain, sitting back and folding his arms smugly
- - - - - -
In the living room, Patrick leaned over and put his hand onto Daniel's shoulders.
"All warmed up now?" asked Patrick, as he gently rubbed the back of Daniel's neck
"Nearly" said Daniel, turning around and flashing him a broad smile
- - - - - -
Hadleigh Manor Gatehouse
Robert looked up from his desk as a handful of post dropped through the letterbox. Mr Wilkinson's Garage accounts could wait, he decided. He had only been filling the time while Aaron came back from the station at any rate.
'Work, work' he thought himself as he skimmed through the small pile and then spotted an airmail letter, 'Who do I know in America?" he mused as read the back. He sat down on the sofa and opened it up.
It was from Lewis. He hadn't seen him since that reunion in 50! 'Dear Suggers" it started. Robert read on
"...........so we got the train up to see Jennifer's cousin Clarissa who lives in Boston and to meet her husband. They've been over here since 46. I didn't go to the wedding because it was when I'd just had that big bust up with Jenny when her father said he wouldn't pay for our shindig unless I'd cleared my debts! Of course, my old man cleared them in the end. Thought he could get shot of me if I made an honest woman of Jenny I suppose! Fathers eh!....."
Robert smiled to himself ruefully for a moment
"..........and it turned out her chap knows you! Said he was up at the Manor House at the end of the War. Leonard Robertson-Ash is his handle, but everyone calls him Leo. Says he was pals with that farmer feller your sister married and that young man that stayed on as your driver. Talk about a small World!....."
"........he's something in engineering now. Anyway he asked to be remembered to Aaron and to your brother in law when you see him......"
Robert's reading was interrupted by that very brother-in-law's voice as the door to the cottage opened
"I thought that manor house was massive first time" said Adam as he walked in, "It doesn't look half as big now" he added as Robert stood up.
"Aaron says you have to pay to get in now!" said Victoria as she walked over and gave her brother a big hug
"The kitchens are a cafe now" Rob explained
"Well I don't know what Florrie would have to say about that!" said Victoria
"You can ask her" said Aaron, "She runs it"
"Does she?" said Victoria, "Oh, I'll have to see her while we're here"
"She's coming over tomorrow to watch the Coronation" said Aaron, "There's only two televisions in the village. Ours and Dr.Gillespie's"
"I had the first one!" said Robert insistently
"I know Robert!" said Aaron, rolling his eyes. He turned to Adam with a grin, "He always says that. Soon as anyone mentions a telly"
"Come on mate" Aaron added, "Help me take your cases up to the room"
- - - - - - -
A few hours later, Victoria was sitting at Robert's desk, talking into the phone. Robert was sitting on the sofa, his arm casually draped over Aaron's shoulders.
"Allright, I'll get him for you now" said Victoria, turning away from the phone for a moment, "She wants to speak to her Dad" she added
Adam got up from his armchair with a grin and headed to the corner of the room
"Hello sweetheart" he said, beaming, "Yeah, we'll be watching it on Uncle Robert's telly tomorrow. Now you be a good girl for your Nanna Diane won't you" he said, "Oh, and for Grandad. Bye now" he added as an afterthought before handing the phone back to his wife.
"You wouldn't believe the fuss your Dad made when they had a phone put in at the pub" said Adam, returning to his chair
"Uh, yes, I would actually!" said Robert "You should have seen him when there were the first cars in the village"
"He says there's no future in them" said Adam, "When you can write a letter for next to nothing"
"Not that he ever writes letters" said Rob, "Oh, that reminds me. I had a letter from Lewis"
"You remember Lewis?" said Robert to Victoria as she sat down
"He's over in the States now and he was visiting his wife's cousin. Turns out she's married to Leo. You remember, your mate from the War? I'll show it to you later"
Adam and Aaron both smiled.
- - - - - - -
Blackpool- The Golden Palms Guest House - Coronation day, the evening
"Night boys" Faith called up the stairs as she walked back into her living room. Cain was snoring in the armchair, the last of a long line of bottles of brown ale in his hand.
"Well, I suppose I ought to be going" said Mr Rudge, easing himself up from his own chair.
"Actually Bernard " said Faith walking over with a smile, "You couldn't help me with my bedroom window. It's only gone and stuck" she said, leaning in and hooking her hands around his waist
"Again?" said Mr Rudge with a smile as he hooked his own hands around Faith. "You want to get a man in" he said with a smile
- - - - - - - - -
"I can't believe it" said Patrick as he slid into the left side of the bed and lay down.
"Can't believe what?" said Daniel rolling over on to his side to look at the other man
"The Queen, she's younger than I am!" said Patrick
Daniel smiled and reached over. He ran his fingers down the right side of Patrick's face
"I would't worry" he said softly, "You're looking good on it" he added, gently turning Patrick's face towards him and leaning in for a kiss
- - - - - - - -
Hadleigh Manor Gatehouse
"Why have I got to wear these?" said Aaron as he walked into the bedroom, flattening down the collar on his pyjama jacket
"I told you, we've got guests" said Robert, putting his detective book on the nightstand
"It feels like I'm back in the infirmary at the training centre" said Aaron as he slid into the left side of their bed
"Excuse me, Aaron" said Robert, "Those were expensive. I got those in Jermyn Street in London for ya"
"Fine. Thank you" said Aaron, lying down on his back
"Anyway" said Robert, rolling over on to his side, "They're nice. Red, white and blue stripes. Very patriotic"
Aaron rolled onto his side to look at Robert.
"Besides" said Robert, leaning forward and planting a kiss on Aaron's lips, "You don't have to wear them all night, do ya?"
Aaron smiled. He hooked his right hand around the back of Robert's head, running his fingers through his blonde hair.
They leaned in for another kiss........
I put the first chapter of this up a few weeks ago just as a taster to see if people wanted more. Well, thanks to the positive reaction it's turned into 19 Chapters and over 50,000 words. Thank you to all those that commented along the way. Without that encouragement and don't think I would have been able to keep it going as quickly as I did.
Hope you enjoy the epilogue and it's happy ending.