Cardiff wasn’t on any of Mossman’s schedules, so I had to take the train. Carol dropped me off at Cannock station early in the morning, which saved me some faff as well as giving her time to speak rather a few words of calm and comfort. I had a rucksack with the basics, plus a sleeping bag wrapped round a single air mattress, as the wedding and sort-of-reception would be at an MC clubhouse, and I had no idea what their sleeping arrangements were.
Mam and Dad had written to me as well by then, simply stating that they would wait for me at the Central Station. All they wanted was an idea of which train, and that was to be posted to Nigel’s place. I ended up standing by the train at Cannock, never mind Cardiff, trying to decide whether to board it or not. In the end, my love of Rosie won out over my sense of loss, and as the door slammed, the guard’s whistle blew, and my choice was made for me.
It wasn’t that long a run down into Birmingham, but the station there was a complete shithole. I was glad to leave the place, buried as it was underground, but the second train was stupidly slow, taking an age to get to Bristol, where I had to change again for reasons that were never explained. Finally, I was on the last run, through the Severn Tunnel and Newport before the last and slowest stretch into the station at Cardiff. I could see the Arms Park to the North, as well as the Brains brewery chimney to the South-West. Mam and Dad should be just outside…
Mam grabbed me first, in a hug that nearly stopped my breath, as Dad simply took my bedroll and wrapped us both up. Mam was in tears.
“We have missed you so much, love! So bloody much!”
Her tears brought mine on, and Dad wasn’t far off, so I squeezed them both and forced a smile.
“Cuppa before we go? Must be somewhere near the station”
We found a place on St Mary Street, which let me cover my mouth for a while as I wound my emotions back down. Dad was over-explaining.
“Van’s parked round the corner, duck. Nigel’s got the trailer and stock for us, so we can pick it up after. Makes getting around the city a lot easier. How are you finding the driving? The big stuff?”
“How? Just like driving the van, Dad. Just a lot bigger, longer, wider, heavier, more expensive”
“Aye, duck, but it’s now a case of I’m bigger than you, and it’s not mine, and I’m not the one that’ll get hurt”
Mam laughed at his joke, but I shook my head.
“Mr Mossman warned me about that idea. Said it’s not a good way to look at things. At least not usually”
He looked at me, eyes narrowed slightly.
“So I was tight, then? The life suits you? Wagons?”
I nodded, grateful to be on a safe subject.
“I think so. I’ll be starting on the actual tests in a month, getting the Cat 2 licence after my birthday, the boss says. A year more, and he’ll see if I’m suitable for the Cat 1. Then it’s open roads”
They both nodded, and as tea was drunk, I started one of the other conversations.
“Solicitor for my mother and father called me into their office, over in Connah’s Quay”
Mam put her tea down as carefully as she could, given the trembling in her hands.
“What the fuck for, Deb?”
“They can fuck right off and fucking die!”
A couple of other customers looked around sharply, and she lowered her voice.
“What exactly do they want, girl?”
I twisted my mouth.
“Nothing, actually. They’re both dead and gone. But they’ve left some life insurance pots and a house”
Dad reached out for Mam’s hand, his expression neutral.
“What have you done so far, duck?”
“I popped over and spoke to them. The lawyers. We’ve got something in the high end of five figures, they say”
Mam shook her head.
“Your money, my love. Not ours”
I couldn’t make my answer polite, even though I tried.
“Oh sod off, you silly woman! Are we not a family? What’s yours is mine, always has been, and you’ve always made that clear, so how is it different if it’s me that’s getting a bit of money?”
Dad started to speak, so I reached across to put a finger to his lips.
“No, not like that. Been talking to some people, especially the solicitor, and what we can do is stick it in the right place and let it grow. Most of it, anyway”
Mam’s eyebrows went up.
“Ah. I see. Ken, love?”
“I think our little girl here isn’t little anymore. Deb, am I right? You thinking of finding a surgeon? Like that travel writer woman, man?”
“Don’t know where to start, do I? Only idea I have is to speak to my GP, see what she says. I think she’s a sound one, so I’ll have a word when I get a chance, but it’s not like there’s books and that in the library. Or entries in bloody Yellow Pages, are there? Anyway, that’s one thing. The other’s up to you two, really”
Dad was the one with the raised eyebrows this time, so I just shrugged, arms out.
“How old exactly is our van?”
“She’s not that bad!”
“Dad, I sat and looked through a road atlas the other day, and when I see some of the places we have been, I wonder how on Earth we ever got back. Look: there are some reasonable Ford Transits about, and Bedfords. Have a think about it, OK? Anyway, I fancy another cuppa”
Mam put her hand on mine, her smile a little sad.
“Can’t keep delaying it, love. You know what we’re all here for. I’m just, we’re both glad you decided to come. Rosie will be, as well. Sorry, but welcome to adulthood. The world isn’t always how we’d like it, so, well, we make the best of it. Things happen. We like them, or we don’t. We deal with them and move on. I think we should get out of here, love, and get over to our pitch”
“Yup. Dad’s got the tent, the big one, as well as yours, set up by the clubhouse. Shower’s set up, the lot”
She looked across at Dad, who nodded.
“We understand how this hurts, love, so we thought you might want a little space set aside, just in case you need it”
“I don’t think I’ll be out on the pull!”
“Not what we meant, Debbie. We just thought you might need some time on your own. Anyway, time’s moving on. Who’s paying for this lot?”
I did, which felt weird, and followed them around a couple of corners to the old van. Out of the city, almost like old times, with a meandering drive through some green spaces, and finally a collection of low buildings in a walled compound: the clubhouse. Dad drove through a gateway manned by some very big men, around a large number of motorbikes and onto a grassy area at the rear, where our two tents stood beside a few others, Gandalf sitting outside one. His face lit up on seeing me, and he turned to call into what was clearly his tent.
“Sam! Got company!”
Another radiant smile from his son on seeing me, and when he stood, I was astonished at his height. He may not have been as sharp as many of those around him, but he was certainly gifted physically. Two more bonebreaking hugs, from both men, Gandalf lingering over his before stepping back a little, his smile now wistful.
“She’s helping set up the bar in the clubhouse, girl. Why don’t you go in and say hello?”
He could clearly feel my shakes starting, so he hugged me once more.
“Got to be done, love. Your Mam and Dad will have said this to you already. Am I right?”
I nodded, and he squeezed me one last time.
“Go to, then. She’ll be glad of a hand”
I turned from him, the tears already fighting for release, and walked in the door he indicated. Rosie was stacking plastic glasses at the other end of the room, a couple of other women helping, one of whom turned as I walked in, giving my oldest friend a tug on the elbow.
I have no idea how many emotions went across her face, but I am sure I was exactly the same. She handed her burden to the woman next to her, then walked slowly down the length of the room until she was standing almost nose to nose with me. Her arms rose slowly, hesitantly, so I took over, pulling her to me as she lost her self-control, the tears starting quickly as her hands dug into my shoulder blades.
The right words didn’t seem to be coming easily to her, so I just shushed her.
“How could I not come, love? Now, is there a kettle boiling yet? No?”
“Standards are slipping, woman. Let’s grab a seat and have a catch-up with a cuppa!”
She called over her shoulder to a taller woman with a cluster of tattoos on each forearm.
“Becks? Could you do us a couple of teas? Got some major catch-up stuff to do. Personal shit. Old friend, aye?”
Becks nodded, reaching across to flick the switch on a kettle to one side of what was a professional-looking bar as Rosie towed me to a corner of the large room where she pulled a couple of chairs up to a small table.
Her eyes stayed downcast, and she said nothing more until we had our mugs before us.
“How are you, Debbie?”
“At a crossroads, Rosie. No jokes about driving, OK?”
A ghost of a smile.
“Agreed. What are you planning? I know that look”
“Ah, Rosie. I could never keep anything from you, could I?”
The smile settled a little, her shoulders easing.
“True, Deb. What’s up?”
I wanted to ask ‘Apart from all this shit?’, but kept that thought to myself.
“Found out my mother and father have both snuffed it. Gone”
“You missing them?”
“Fuck, no! Who was it dumped me in that hellhole in Runcorn? Not that, Rosie; that’s not what set me thinking. They’ve left me some money”
“How much? Sorry, rude question”
“Enough. Been talking to Mam and Dad, and I want to spend some of it on… I’d like to look for a doctor who can sort me out. There”
I watched her face, waiting for a reaction, but there was nothing visible.
“You not surprised?”
“Why should I be? Woman has a medical problem, one which can be sorted, where’s the surprise when she sets out to do just that? You found anyone who can do it yet?”
“Not yet. Going to speak to my GP. She seems sound, so might know the right person, or at least the right people to ask. Keeps it at arms’ length, too”
I drew a slow breath before changing the subject.
“Now, what’s the plan for the weekend?”
The smile was now a genuine one.
“Ah, in the morning we go down to the Registry Office and terrorise the straights. That gets the official legal shit out of the way. Handfasting is back here. Then we party”
“Aye. Old style of marriage. We’ll need you, love, if you’re willing. Witness at the Registry place, and then maid of honour for me. You up to that?”
Was I? There was no other choice open to me.
“What do I have to do?”
“Stand by me. Dad walks me in, you wait at the front. You… You actually hand me over to him. The man I am marrying. Carl”
The tears were back, so I held her as she sobbed out how sorry she was, and as she settled, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Carl was standing behind me, a smile of his own softening his face. I rose, and rather than hug me, he simply took my head in his hands, kissing me on the forehead.
“You have class, Debbie Petrie. Real class”
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