Sar was at him like a shot, telling him to watch his mouth round her little boy.
“Sorry, girl, I was looking for my nephew”
My little sister pulled a seriously vicious look onto her face.
“You don’t recognise me, then?”
His jaw dropped, and before Sar could make it any worse than it already was, Dad pushed Jim at the old sod and sent them both to the bar. I gave Sar a Look: pull your horns in right now. Dad was the one to calm her down, though. A few minutes later, uncle and nephew (it was the obvious word for Jim) were back, and Arwel sat for a short while clearly weighing his words with care. A quick check on Jim, and then straight to the crunchy bits, but making sure it was in the old language.
“You look just like a fucking woman”
“That’s because I am a fucking woman! Want me to show you my fanny?”
Mam’s hand was on my arm, my wife’s on my thigh, pushing me back into my seat. Mam sighed, and did her best.
“Arwel, stop it. This is what our daughter has been for twenty years, on the outside, and all her life inside. She has come to try and get some sort of reconciliation with her family, because she has proper values, and will request the same courtesies from you”
Arwel grunted, eloquent in the extreme, and spread his arms wide. “Just, I was expecting some pansy, in a dress or something, not a woman with a kid”
His head jerked up, and he fixed Sar with a deeply puzzled look. “How the…hell did you get a kid?”
She couldn’t do subtle, never in any way. She held up her left hand and flashed her engagement ring.
“Jim is my fiancé’s son. This is why I wanted to talk to you, and why I want to see my cousins while we are here. Tony and I are getting married in June, and I want my family to stand with me.”
Still digging, still the same old questions. “This Tony bloke, then, does he know you’re a boy, then?”
I could see her starting to boil over. “Arwel, two things here. Firstly, Tony knows everything about me, apart from what an arsehole you can be. Secondly…”
Mam put a hand to Sarah’s arm that time, but she just jerked herself free.
“Do I look or sound like some fucking ‘boy’?”
Arwel laughed out loud. “Ych, definitely a Powell, then, with that temper!”
He turned and glared at me, and there was something deeply frightening in his eyes, before he turned the same look on Sarah. “This man then, this Tony. Tell us about him, then. He better not be like that little turd Twm told me about”
Sarah winced, and started to give a sanitised version of events involving a little shit who wet his trousers in Custody, as I kept my mouth firmly shut. Arwel sat, stone-faced, while Aunty Gwen tried to make her sniffles sound like a cold rather than emotion.
In the end, the old sod just grunted again. “This…accident that your little cunt had, did your…fiancé have anything to do with it?”
“Not at all, but it’s possible he knew a man who did”
“Good. It saved me paying him a visit properly, though I did have a few words of my own with him later”
It was Sarah’s turn to look shocked. Arwel just took a long sip of ale before replying, with an air almost of wounded innocence. “What? I didn’t touch him! Just told him that once he had healed I was coming for his other nut. He moved away after that, sharpish like”
I very nearly let the cat out of the bag just then, but I had sworn to keep Sarah out of that one. I murmured to him “Don’t make this awkward for me…”
He winked. Shit. Relax, girl. Sarah was coming down from her fighting stance as well, looking completely at a loss.
“Why, Uncle Arwel? I thought you hated me!”
“Sarah, I hate nancy boys”
Oh, thank all the gods. Siân squeezed my leg, Mam winked at me, and Dad just kept his stare on me. You would think that of your uncle? I realised Sar was almost in tears. He wasn’t finished though, as he had to give it one more go at digging his own grave.
“I know it’s not pee-cee or whatever, but I can’t be doing with all that fairy stuff. If you are going to fancy blokes, then fancy real blokes, not some mincing woofter. That’s what I thought you were, but you’re not, are you? It’s like Elaine, she fancies women, not pretend blokes, I mean, look at Siân there, nobody would put her down as a dyke now, would they?”
My wife muttered “I will bloody well put you down, you…” but he was still on a roll.
He lowered his voice. “That boy, he calls you Mam, yeah?”
Sarah almost preened. “Mum, actually”
“Don’t worry, it’ll be Mam by the time he leaves here. Look, love, you’re family. We’ve fucked about too long for this. Yes, I’ll come and stand by you, and if that man of yours doesn’t do right by you I will talk to him too.”
He looked across the table “Gwen, Gethin, are you two going to be sensible here or keep playing arseholes?”
That was it, I realised. It was ever the same with him; once he chose a course he not only stuck to it but he acted as if there had never been an alternative, as if he had never held any other view on the matter. Sarah had thrown Jim at Aunty Gwen to pick what he liked from the bar menu, and after we had all made our own choices, Sarah was off to the bar, looking a little shell-shocked. I caught just the hint of a grin as she left the table, and took the opportunity to return my wife’s affection with a little squeeze of her knee. That brought me a little dig in the ribs.
“Sarah’s got a problem”
Arwel was already moving, as some wanker made his objections to the local language very clear and very loud. My sister took the opportunity to let out some of the venom that her uncle had turned aside, snarling at some pasty-faced tosser in a Manchester United shirt. The accent was from somewhere in southern England, though, which just added to his well-crafted impression of being an arsehole.
Sarah was in combat stance, just like that time when we brought Tony back into her life, and I wondered where my timid little sister-brother had gone over the last two decades. Found her heart, clearly.
“Tell me, how do you know what we were speaking before you came in? This s a Welsh pub, in Wales, and we speak Welsh here, just as they would speak French in a Calais pub. Does your paranoia extend to France as well?”
“Unless you want a slap, darling, I would shut it”
I was out of my seat at that, hand curling for the baton I didn’t have with me, but the old monster was at her shoulder, and the tosser’s life expectancy was evaporating.
“Unless you want to do it without teeth, I suggest you don’t talk to my niece like that”
I got to the bar, and gave the landlord my best “You OK with this?” eyebrow raise, which brought a twitch to his mouth that needed no translation: I am going to enjoy this bit. I turned back to the Englishman and kept my voice as calm as I could.
“I suggest you finish your drinks and head for the ferry. I could start listing the public order offences you have already committed---yes, I am a copper–but the paperwork is a bitch, and I might need to visit the ladies’ and leave you with my family.”
Best feral smile, Lainey. I swept an arm to indicate the other customers, who were now hanging onto every word. “Oh, did you notice all the other sheepshaggers who were listening to you? Now might be a really good time to leave. Don’t hurry back”
I made the obligatory public announcement. “Fun’s over, ladies and gentleman, arsehole is leaving the building”
My expression, or perhaps those of around a dozen local men that were locked on him, got the idiot moving. I followed him and his friends to the door and made sure I clocked the vehicle. There had been quite a few empty glasses on his table, and they hadn’t been cokes or lemonades. Out with the phone, hit the speed dial.
“Hiya, Lainey. How’s it going?”
“Tell you later, mate, but for now it all looks better than I had hoped for, better by far. Got an issue in the pub. Gobby Sais decided to express his views a bit loudly. Blue Mondeo, 57 plate, just leaving the Oak. I think he’s had a few; on his way to the ferry”
“I do believe I may just happen to have a breath kit in my car…”
I swear he was almost giggling, and knew this would be one tug he would thoroughly enjoy. I went back into the pub, to find Sarah walking back to the table with Arwel’s arm around her shoulders. Job done.
The evening carried on without the tension that had opened it, Jim clearly making as much of a difference as the ranks-closing over the English idiot. Our three cousins drifted in later, and Sarah got to play the proud bride-to be, which she did with gusto. I knew she loved Tony, of course, but what was coming from her in waves was pride. She’d found her pearl, and with it came the bonus of a little boy who was starting to tire. We decamped back to Mam’s house for holiday video show from Sarah’s Australian expedition, but just before that I was cornered by Aunty Gwen’s girls Ellie and Karen. I’d had promises from them of best behaviour, and they seemed to be holding to it. Ellie was straight to the point, as our family always was.
“She never was Samuel, was she?”
“No, Ellie, not at all. Now you are seeing what I was trying to explain for so long”
“Aye. I see it now. This man she’s engaged to, what’s he like?”
I shrugged. “I think he’s wonderful, for a man. Not my cup of tea, aye? Sarah will have some pictures, I’m sure. All I’ll say is that he’s more like Hywel than like your Dad, in looks. Big man, aye?”
Karen chipped in. “He got family, Lainey?”
Ellie snorted. “He got brothers, you mean?”
I let the laughter pass. “Just Jim and Tony’s mother, that’s all. He lost his wife a few years ago, and her parents are gone, so just the three of them”
Ellie was nodding. “Aunty Sioned will have said it already, won’t she? About giving them a family?”
“She has, and so’s Dad, same as they did for Siân”
Karen snorted. “I heard about what her Mam did, dear god”
“Her Mam’s a cow, but, well, still her Mam, aye?”
Both girls were nodding at that. No disagreement was really possible, after all. I would never, ever forgive her for what she had done to my wife, but life had to go on. Ellie was musing.
“I could never understand Sam, back when he was here. What it is… what I think, now, looking at her, looking at her with the boy, it’s like Sam was never real, never completely there. She’s, well, she’s here now, and she’s so right in your face. I wouldn’t like to get on her wrong side, Lainey!”
I looked them both in the eye in turn, as I asked the question. “Do you think you will?”
Two cheeky, happy grins, and a chorus of “Nope!”
Karen explained further. “We get our cousin back, and an excuse to go overboard on the shopping, and a wedding to dress up for. Sounds good to us!”
There was beer at the house, and food, and there were pictures, and Karen was jealous as soon as she saw the groom in his rugby shorts. My phone went off half an hour after we got home, and it was Kevin.
“Hiya girl! What an arsehole he was!”
“How’d it go, Kev?”
“Caught up with him on the approach road to the ticket booth. Decided to tell me I could piss off as he was on private land, so we had a short educational session, and then he blew 42”
“Gets better. Got him on the evidential one back at the nick, and I don’t know what he’d been drinking, but he argued and argued, aye? So it’s still going from belly to bloodstream, and he blows 48 and 46. His mate took the car, said he’d still get on the boat, so we waited till he started the engine… He’s done 50 and 51 on the evidential, the fuckwit! Lainey, what did they do?”
“Threatened my sister, Kev. I got to them before Arwel did, though”
“Lucky for them!”
“Kev, as ever, thanks”
“No need, Lainey”
“There’s always need. Anyway, got the family here, got a wedding to plan. This is a good world after all”
“Good and getting better, love. Look, you’ll be first to know, innit? Vicky’s, well, we think she’s about two months. Get your Aunty practice in, Lainey!”
“Give her our best, Kev. Congratulations. You are a good Dad, and you know it, so don’t even start to argue, aye? I’ll let Siân know, if that’s OK?”
“Course. We’ll catch up soon, Inspector Powell”
He was off. I broke the news to Siân in bed that night, and it nearly broke her.
There had to be a way.
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