and somewhere to live for the summer
by Louise Anne Smithson
The big house at Woodley
As promised, I gave ‘the Runt’ a call the following morning. He was waiting for a bus to the Royal Berkshire Hospital intending to go ‘vegetable sitting’ at his mother’s bedside, but admitted that he would be serving no useful purpose by doing so. I suggested that I should take the next train in to Reading and that we meet up for a coffee and a talk, as there were some questions that I wanted to ask him. If I wasn’t happy with his answers, then at least I’d be able to have a look around the shops afterwards, so my day wouldn’t be completely wasted.
He was waiting for me when I arrived at the station at ten-thirty. This time he was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and looked less like the ‘little lost lamb’ of the day before, but he still looked nowhere near his actual age. I was wearing my usual halter-top and jeans.
‘Hi Jenny, you don’t look so forbidding, as you did in the black dress that you wore yesterday,’ he commented in a jokey voice as we met.
Presumably this was a lame attempt to break the ice.
‘Me forbidding! Bloody cheek!’ I thought.
‘And you don’t look such a wimp, as you did in that suit and tie,’ I replied.
At least my response brought a little colour to his cheeks.
‘Where shall we go for coffee?’ he asked tentatively.
‘There’s a coffee bar in Friar Street near to the Market Place; it’s usually not too busy.’
(After all, I didn’t want to be seen by anyone I know whilst I was out with ‘the Runt’.)
We found ourselves some seats in a corner and I treated him to a cappuccino.
‘Alright young Julian, now tell me some more about this baby-sitting job. I want to know exactly what I’d have to do, where I’d live, and how much I’d be paid.’
He’d clearly been thinking about it overnight, as he now turned to a pocket notebook.
‘Taking those in reverse order, I’ll pay you £200 per week, which is more than you’d earn working in a shop, especially as you’ll be paying no tax or national insurance, and you’ll have no living costs. You’d stay in the spare bedroom of our house which is quite large and well-furnished, but of course you’d also have the use of the rest of the house. Regarding your duties, I’d expect you to follow my guidance and sign any letters as we administer our father’s estate, and be prepared to confirm to any social workers that may turn up that you’re looking after me and ensuring that I’m not in moral danger. I should also appreciate a lift to and from the hospital and for you to take me shopping once a week. In return you could have the use of my mother’s car, although you’ll have to pay for your own petrol if you drive over to Bracknell. We’d share the cooking and housework on a fifty-fifty basis. That’s all.’
‘That doesn’t sound very time-consuming or difficult,’ I said; ‘are you sure that’s all?’
‘The duties are not exactly onerous are they? The main thing is that I’ll be using your name and your legal status as an adult.’
‘Onerous? Legal status? Where does he get these words from?’
‘Talking of ‘legal status’ – will you promise me that we’ll not be doing anything illegal?’
‘Yes, as far as our father’s will is concerned. What you do in your own time is your business.’
‘Did I notice the trace of a sense of humour there?’
‘One other thing you should know, before we go any further, I may not have a boyfriend at present, but I’m not intending to remain celibate for the whole summer, if I can possibly help it,’ I replied.
‘If you wanted to bring a boyfriend back to the house, I’d keep out of your way. I’d probably just go to my room as I’ve always plenty to do on the Internet,’ he replied.
‘What about you, do you have a girlfriend?’
I already knew the answer to that one, just by looking at him.
‘No, I’m a bit of a loner,’ he said sadly, ‘but I won’t be any trouble to you.’
Somewhat against my better judgement, I couldn’t stop myself from feeling sorry for ‘the Runt’.
‘In that case you’d better let me take a look at this spare room,’ I answered.
We took a bus out to Woodley, the suburb of Reading where they lived. On the way I asked for some more details about his family and my father in particular. What he was like? What he did for a living? How they lived? I love my step-dad, and have no regrets about his role in my upbringing, but it became clear that I’d have been somewhat better off financially if my mother had stayed with my natural father. After getting off the bus, it was a short walk to a largish four-bedroom detached house with a double-garage and a well-tended garden. It was secluded on three sides by conifer trees.
‘’The Runt’ will be quite well-off if he inherits this pile,’ I thought, as we entered the front door.
The house was comfortably furnished and not at all messy, other than a pile of opened cards and letters of condolence on a table by the front door. But the living room, with an expensive HD television set and hi-fi, and the large well-equipped kitchen, were both clean and tidy. Clearly my half-brother had done some cleaning up over the last week, which, given his circumstances, was quite commendable.
‘I’ll show you the spare room,’ he said, leading the way upstairs to a nicely furnished bedroom with a double-bed, built in cupboards, a chest of drawers and dressing table. It was more than twice the size of my bedroom at home.
‘This has definite possibilities as a boudoir,’ I thought, ‘and I wouldn’t have Mum breathing down my neck all the time, or listening out for creaking bedposts.’
‘Unfortunately your room doesn’t have en-suite facilities, but there’s a bathroom and shower just across the corridor, another one in the master bedroom, and also one downstairs, so we are unlikely to get in each other’s way.’
There’s plenty of cupboard space,’ I said sliding open one of the doors.
There were two dresses hanging inside, together with a pair of high-heels and a couple of other items of clothing.
‘Those are Mum’s, I’ll clear them out for you before you move in,’ he replied blushing a little.
‘She appears to have had quite modern taste for ‘a Crusty’ - at least she did so before she became a Vegetable.’
‘It’s not a bad room, I suppose,’ I said.
‘Dad used the room next door as a study,’ he said leading me to another slightly smaller room. ‘There’s a computer here with Internet access, a printer, etc. all of which you’d be welcome to use, or else there’s also wireless throughout the house, if you’ve your own laptop.’
I asked to use ‘the facilities’ as I needed to change my tampon, and in any event wished to inspect them. They were clean and fragrant. No-one had been dripping urine on to the floor or the seat. There was soap in the hand basin and a clean towel.
‘And you wouldn’t expect me to do all the housework?’ I asked as I emerged.
‘No. I promise we’d share it fifty-fifty,’ he responded.
‘What about our laundry?’
‘There’s an automatic washing machine, a tumble dryer and a rotary iron in the utility room. We can either share the work or else do our own individually, whatever suits you best,’ he answered looking hopefully at me.
‘And the garden?’
‘You’re welcome to use it for sunbathing. The back garden is fairly secluded and cannot be seen from the road. A firm comes and mows the lawn, and trims the hedges each month during the summer,’ he said.
Things seemed to be getting better and better. The wages were good, the duties virtually non-existent and the house was much more spacious and comfortable than ours’ was in Bracknell. There was also access to a car. Why should I look such a gift-horse in the mouth?
‘Alright Julian, you’ve a deal. I’ll come and look after you for the summer. I’ll have to talk to my Dad to see when he can bring my things over.’
‘Great,’ he replied, looking genuinely relieved at the prospect. ‘Do you have your driving licence with you?’
I fished it out of my bag and handed it over to him.’
‘Let’s get you sorted to use Mum’s car, as It’s just been sitting in the garage since the accident. Dad’s car was bigger, but it was written-off in the crash.’
He went to a drawer in the study, pulled out his mother’s car insurance renewal letter and rang the number. This kid was amazing - so self-possessed. He pretended to be his mother, which was easy enough for him to do as his voice had not yet broken. He answered all the security questions without hesitating and gave her policy number. He then said that he wanted to add my name to the policy and handed the phone over to me whilst I answered various questions. Inevitably there was a sizable excess to pay, given my age and lack of driving experience, but he took the phone back and quoted his mother’s credit card details. Ten minutes later we had received and printed out a new insurance certificate, sent to his mother’s email account.
‘Here you are, but take care not to have an accident, I’d have some awkward questions to answer if they were ever to discover that she was in a coma at the time that your name was added to the insurance policy.’
‘I thought you didn’t expect me to do anything illegal?’
‘I’m sure Mum would have agreed, if she’d been able to so,’ he replied.
‘Oh well I suppose it would be you rather than me who would take the rap for this.’
The Vegetable’s car was a new Ford Fiesta hatchback – exactly the right size for me. They also had wonderful devices that opened the garage doors from inside the car, and closed them again afterwards. You could drive straight in to either of the two garages and then exit from the back directly into the kitchen. The garages were spacious and quite different from the tiny concrete box in our front garden with a creaking ‘up and over door’, where you could barely manage to squeeze in and out of the car and inevitably knocked your boobs as you were doing so.
It was still only late morning so we went out in the car and did some grocery shopping together at the nearby Waitrose Supermarket in Crockhamwell Road. I asked him what sort of food he liked to eat, and was relieved to discover that he wasn’t addicted to junk food like most kids his age. His mother had even taught him how to cook and he liked to include plenty of fruit and vegetables in his diet. In fact ‘ the Vegetable’ currently in the Royal Berkshire appears to have brought him up quite well. I could see our summer together working out quite nicely.
Julian paid for the groceries using cash, but afterwards went over to a cash dispenser where he used his mother’s debit card, and personal identification number to withdraw a further £300.
‘Did your parents entrust you with all their financial details?’ I asked as we walked to the car carrying our shopping.
‘No, but fortunately Mum stored all her details on a file on her computer, including the access codes to her internet banking and her PIN. She rather foolishly used my date of birth as the password. I’ve been able to transfer the contents of her savings account to my own name and am now using her current account; otherwise I’d have been in financial difficulties. As soon as Dad died everything in his bank account became frozen until we can get a Grant of Probate. I’m taking cash from Mum’s account as quickly as possible and saving it in case she should die as well.’
Again I was impressed by the controlled and organised way in which he was bending the rules to deal with his extraordinary situation.
After lunch I dropped him off at the hospital and drove to Bracknell in the Vegetable’s car, taking great care at first until I got used to driving it. I arrived at home, parked in our drive and folded down the rear seats. I went up to my room and proceeded to pack everything that I might need for the summer from my bedroom. This included about half of my clothes, my makeup, toiletries, hairdryer, curling tongs, laptop, and a couple of my favourite teddy bears for company. I was just loading it all into the hatchback when my mother arrived and asked me what I was doing, and where the car had come from.
‘I’ve found a job for the summer as the guardian of my half-brother. The car belongs to Julian’s mother, but I’m insured to drive it,’ I said, showing her the new certificate with me as a named driver.
‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ she asked, in such a way that clearly conveyed that she didn’t think I did.
‘Yes thanks. This is where I’ll be living,’ I said, handing her a piece of paper with my new address and the home telephone number.
‘Well at least hold on until your dad comes home,’ she said coldly.
Reluctantly, I agreed, but for his sake rather than hers.
Dad thawed things out when he arrived, and I eventually made my exit from my parents’ house with reasonably good grace, promising that I’d call in from time to time and contact them if I needed any help. I also phoned the Runt and arranged to pick him up from the hospital on my way back to Woodley. By ten o’clock that night I’d installed myself in my new bedroom, and had eaten quite a respectable evening meal prepared by new charge.
The first few days of our living together went very well indeed. Julian didn’t turn into a helpless slob the minute a female took up residence, as I feared might happen. If he made himself a piece of toast he would sweep up the crumbs afterwards, put the butter back in the fridge and the plate in the dishwasher – relatively simple tasks that were beyond the capabilities of several guys I have known including my dad. We used separate bathrooms and only really saw one another at meal-times or when I ferried him to and from the hospital each day. He paid me in cash for the first two weeks of my stay and so I had some spending money, and he raised no objection on those occasions when I drove over to Bracknell to see my friend Susie in the evenings. When I told her the details of my new job she was quite envious that I’d found myself such an easy ride for the summer.
Susie was my one friend who’d decided not to stay on at school, instead she’d taken a job in her mother’s beauty salon in Wokingham (which is only a few miles from Bracknell) in order to learn the ropes, on the understanding that in a year or two she would take over as manageress. That was alright for her but wouldn’t have been my cup of tea; she was expected to go into work each day looking like a ‘daisy’, and spend her time trying to perform miracles on the sad, the fat, the middle-aged and the downright ugly.
Julian and I did spend a couple of hours together on Sunday afternoon when he explained the procedures for administering a will and applying for probate. It wasn’t as complicated as I’d imagined, and, in any event, he’d already done most of the necessary work. He showed me the various documents that I needed to sign, and the evidence that we needed to supply to the Probate Registry in Oxford. There would be no inheritance tax to pay as most of the most valuable assets - such as the house - would be transferred directly to the Vegetable, even though she would never be able to appreciate them. But even, so there would still nearly £112,000 left – possibly more once the insurance claim was settled. One quarter of this would eventually come my way. I noted that my expected legacy had increased by three thousands in less than a week as Julian learned more about his father’s financial affairs. He had already obtained a letter from the doctors at the hospital confirming that his mother would be incapable of administering her husband’s will, and that I’d be applying in her place. My half brother seemed to know exactly what he was doing and so I signed where he told me, and I left it for him to sort out the remaining details.
It wasn’t until the Tuesday night that there was any cloud on my horizon.
‘I don’t expect to be home until the early hours of the morning, Jules, several of my girlfriends are going to a new night club which is opening in Bracknell.’
‘Don’t worry, I’ll be fine,’ he replied. ‘I was wondering if you were going somewhere special.’
I had rather gone to town with my appearance, since I did not have the dead hand and disapproval of my mother to curb my enthusiasm. I was wearing my shiny silver boob tube, black leggings and extra high heels. As a rule, I don’t go in for a lot of makeup but my friend Susie had given me a free sample of a new crimson shade of lipstick and I’d treated myself to a so-called ‘volumising mascara’ out of my first week’s earnings.
‘Well, you never know, this might be my opportunity to meet that ‘special someone’ to have some fun with – a final fling before leaving for Nottingham,’ I replied laughing as I left.
However, when we arrived at the club we found the evening had been cancelled. They had not acquired the relevant licence in time and had postponed the opening for a week. My friends and I stayed for a while in a pub in town complaining about the awfulness of Bracknell, but I could only drink orange juice as I was driving. I tried to persuade Susie and a couple of the others to come with me to a nightclub in Reading, but they were unwilling to do so; they’d already made transport arrangements and were worried about how they would get home afterwards and I did not relish the idea of running a taxi service around Bracknell and its environs in the early hours of the morning. In the end I decided to call it a day and drive back to Woodley. It was only just after eleven o’clock and I wasn’t too pleased about my wasted evening and disappointed hopes. As I drove the car into one of the two garages, I noticed the light on in The Runt’s bedroom.
Unusually, my brother had left his mobile phone on the kitchen work surface, and it began to ring as I entered. I answered it then rushed up the stairs looking for him. His bedroom door was half open and the light was on, but there was no sign of him inside. Then I noticed a light shining under the door of the master bedroom. He was probably using the bathroom in there. This was no time to worry about politeness. I opened the bedroom door and walked inside calling out to him. I was faced by the startled image of my half-brother sitting at the dressing table, wearing one of the dresses that had previously been hanging in the wardrobe of my bedroom, together with a pair of tights and high heels.
‘That’s all I need, I’m sharing a house with a tranny!’
‘Julian, you’d better get yourself changed and wash off that makeup; someone at the hospital has just telephoned. They think you should come in as quickly as possible to be with your mother.’
(Next time - The Royal Berkshire hospital and aftermath.)
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