My eyes went straight to Von, and I saw her stiffen. Reading her mind wasn’t necessary just then, for everyone who knew her would understand what it was she was facing. Her left eyelid twitched just once, and then she buckled on her smile, her shield.
“Hello, Eddy. Is… is my boy treating you well?”
I could almost smell the fear coming off the young men, and I admired Will just then; loved him, in fact. Eddy coughed.
“Um, very well, I couldn’t wish for better”
“How did you meet?”
“Um, I’m doing music, and I know Kell and Mark, yeah, and, well, we all went to a gig, and… sort of traditional”
He was terrified, and once more Von’s thoughts were clear, concerning the exact definition of ‘traditional’ in this case. It was Ian who stepped forward.
“How, I’m Ian, I’m his Mam’s other half. And I’m not on a slimming kick, aye, just been a bit off colour for a while. Where are you from, Eddy?”
That released Von neatly from any reply. Eddy wasn’t a tall lad, not more than 5’8”, and a little chubby, but there was life in his eyes, and clearly Will was in them too.
“I’m from near Leicester, me”
Ian raised an eyebrow. “Plenty of colleges round there, I’m sure. Why come all the way up here?”
Von was trembling now, for the answer would be obvious, just as it had been for Will: freedom to live as he needed to, love whomever he had to. She took my arm and raised her chin to her son.
“Can we have a word, love? Ian, cariad, can you see Eddy’s OK, drink and that? Ta!”
She led the way to a corner table that someone had just left, and sat down heavily on one of the round stools. I reached for her hand, and she clutched it to her as if she might fall through the floor if not held up.
“Will, son, baby… this isn’t easy, you know me, you know how I feel, innit? Just… just let me do my best, aye? Please… patience, all I ask for. But…”
There were already tears there. Her voice was ready to break.
“William… does he make you happy?”
His own voice was strained, but he produced his own smile, frayed at the edges but genuine.
“Very, Mum. Very. His parents… he understands me, understands Bamps and all that nastiness, yeah?”
Von was in his arms then, rising so quickly from the stool I thought he would topple. Through her sobs, I could just make out the words.
“If my baby is happy, that is all I want”
For a minute she hung from his arms, then pulled away and took my arm again.
“We need the ladies’, girl”
We had the place to ourselves for a few minutes, luckily, for that was when she let the tears run free together with her sobs. It took about three minutes, which felt like an hour, but eventually she was breathing normally. We were joined by Rachel and my wife, and the former ran a practised eye over the damage done to Von’s face.
“C’mon, you, up to the flat. Get you sorted proper, not in some pub bog”
In an echo of old times, she drew herself up, shoulders back.
“Course I got my own key!”
A grin. “And my own toothbrush, yeah? Nah, got all the girly crap up there you could need, Von, so we’ll go up the back stairs. Ian and Jim have your boys. All sorted. Jill, laters? Be about ten minutes”
She turned to go, towing Von in her wake, but then looked over her shoulder with a much gentler smile than I could ever remember her giving me.
“I keep saying this, yeah, but you, this, HERE… you make so much more sense than Rob ever did. Laters!”
My wife settled against me. “She’s right. If anyone can tell, that’ll be me, and she is spot on. This is where I must be luckier than Von, lover”
“How’s that, pet?”
“I got to meet you before I fell in love, and she only ever met Rob”
There was only one thing I could do in response. It was rather nice, spoilt only by the arrival of one of the other customers.
“Fucking lezzers! Should be a law!”
Larinda took my hand and led me to the door, turning as we were about to walk out.
“You’re just jealous cause my wife is better in bed than those carrots I saw you getting in Bamlings down the road. Don’t eat them afterwards, not nice”
Out the door just before she corpsed. “Sodding carrots! If she knew about your meat and veg… sorry, didn’t think just then”
“It’s OK pet, wasn’t a bad line, that one. Reminded me of the old joke, you know? Madam, that is NOT how you check a cucumber for freshness!”
The last four words were almost shouted in duet, and we were giggling like rather elderly schoolgirls when we got back to the rest, Mam giving us a Look as we came up to her. She gave me another look, this one a question.
“Upstairs with Rach, Mam. Getting a bit sort-out, like”
“Aye. She’s a canny lass, that one. Jim’s done well”
I gave her a hug, and looked across to my stepfather.
“Aye, and so’s Raafie, like. Eddy?”
“Over at the bar with the rest of the student layabouts. Oh, and that brother of yours has finally showed his self”
I took my wife’s hand again, because I could and because I, for one, was indeed a fucking lezzer, and it felt so, so different from that day, so long ago, when I had met Kirsty Armstrong and her colleagues just after the thugs. I had been so ready back then to throw it all away, life, love, everything, and I realised that absolutely nothing had changed in real terms. Everything I had now, I had had back then. That depth of despair had been needless, for my life had been there, ready in place around me, just waiting for me to step into it. Granted, the cry back then had been ‘Tranny’ rather than ‘Lezzer’, and I now had some tits of my own, but essentially all I had needed to do was open my eyes.
Neil was at the bar with Ian and the four young layabouts, beers, wines and cokes assembling in front of them. Jim was serving, a broad grin on his face as some dodgy or other assembled itself through the laughter. Both Neil and Will looked round as we came to them.
“She’ll be fine, boys. Rach has her upstairs, doing some work on her eyes. No, Will, no, not your fault. It is just the way things are, like, and she’ll be fine---oof!”
The last was because somebody had just grabbed me from behind and planted a kiss on my cheek. Jim’s grin got even broader.
“How, didn’t Ah say Wor Kid was up the weekend? Hiya Alec, what fettle?”
Crash and burn. I ran to the ladies’, Larinda behind me, and after a minute of incoherence I got it into noises that made sense to someone other than myself. She just held me, as patient as ever, till I could talk again. Sodding hormones.
“I am sorry, love, it was just, well, that stupid bitch with the carrots, and I got to thinking about that attack, and I realised…”
I pulled a little away from her. “I was just thinking, and it was all warm thoughts, like, how I hadn’t realised at the time, aye? I had all the support, all the friends anyone could have wished for, and I was so weak, so poor-little-me, like, and I was feeling good, and there was Neil, and suddenly I had a moment”
She just stood and waited as I thought, assembled the words I needed.
“Love, I very nearly made the worst mistake in my life, except it wouldn’t have been in my life at all, cause I wouldn’t have been, and you know what brought this on? I just realised that at the time it all made perfect bloody sense and…”
I had to say it. “Look, all this I am doing now, it all makes perfect sense right now, aye? What if I am just as wrong now as I was when I was getting ready to wave goodbye?”
She looked at me, steadily, softly. Her mouth opened a couple of times, and then she found her own words.
“No. You aren’t. You identified where you were wrong, when you were cutting everyone off, you got that bit right, and don’t ask how I know, yeah? Rachel, Von, me, we talk. Alec even says one or two things, despite his wotsits, confidentiality thing, yeah? Know this, lover: this is you. Rach said it a little while ago, yeah? This is right, this is you, our bed is made and you will be sharing it with me, and it won’t be as no hairy bloke, got me?”
She kissed me with real passion, and then murmured “Still miss my breakfast, though, but we can’t have everything. Come on; face to repair, young people to embarrass”
Ten minutes later we were back out, Just as Rachel returned a happier Von. Will smiled broadly at her.
“Ed, I need to do two more introductions. This is Hayley, and Bethany, and they are my new sisters”
Von blushed, and William laughed out loud.
“Come on, Mum, you always wanted a girl, and now you can have two, and they’re already housebroken”
Confidence, that was the word. The William I had known was blooming now, happy and relaxed. Von caught my smile and then my eye, and returned them with a sharp nod and a thumb up. Perhaps, just then, she had come to the same understanding as I had. Whatever was to happen, for good or bad, she would not face it alone.
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