CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
Thomas was transferred through to the Terrington Ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital so they could continue monitoring his condition. I only had to work a half day on Tuesday, and so when Thomas called to say that he was being released, I was more than happy to swing by in the late afternoon and pick him up.
I brought him back to my house, and set him up in my armchair. I ignited a log fire in my fireplace to chase out the cold, and went out to the supermarket to stock up for Christmas. Diane and Roy had invited us both over for Christmas dinner, but ever since an early age I had become accustomed to having a whole array of sweets, cakes, beers, and rich meats handy to snack on over the holiday period. Plus I wanted Thomas to be comfortable and help him to get over the negativity of the last couple of days.
It felt great to have him in the house with me and really drove home how lonely I had been over the last few months. I offered to go to his house and bring over his videogame consoles, but this very near gave him a heart attack. They were all set-up in a very specific way and all of the games had been filed in accordance with his system. I politely backed off and didn’t push the point.
Late Christmas morning, Thomas and I drove over to his parents’ house. The sky was clear and blue and all of the snow and ice had now melted. Thomas sat in the passenger seat holding a white plastic grocery bag containing Christmas pudding and some beer. I backed out of the driveway and drove on down the country lane. Thomas pulled a CD case from his pocket and popped it open. “A little Adam Lambert?” he said.
I nodded. “Sure.”
Thomas inserted the disc and Music Again burst through the speakers. “I don’t want my parents to know about what happened in Aspen,” he said after the opening beats. “I’ve been thinking about it, and I’d rather that just be our secret.”
I pulled the car onto the bypass from the lane and brought the car up to speed. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Haven’t you told them anything?”
“No. I suspect they know it wasn’t a straight forward business trip. I’ll fill them in on snippets if and when I have to. Do people at work know what happened to us?”
We passed the Farmer’s Arms on our left and headed on down the hill into the village of South Wootton, on the outskirts of King’s Lynn. I shook my head. “Just Rachel and Sophie. Rachel might have to tell a few other people, like Janine, but she’s telling them to keep it on the down-low.”
I stopped at a traffic light and took a moment to reflect on how small the roads were in comparison to the ones in the United States.
“Do you think Randy is on Facebook?” asked Thomas.
I laughed. “You know, he doesn’t strike me as person who would use Facebook. What do you think he’s doing right now?”
“Chewing tobacco and taking a shipment of dildos across the country, helping all kinds of individuals fulfill the American dream.”
I drove on over the light. “Not quite sure that has anything to do with the American dream, Thomas.”
“Are you qualified to make that statement, Matthew? You’re British, what do you know?”
I looked across at him, stunned. “Well, you’re British, too.”
“Yes, but I’m opening up conceptual possibilities. You’re shooting them down. If you’re going to shoot something down, you’d better know it’s the truth, otherwise you’ve just shot the wrong duck.”
“Shot the wrong duck?” I repeated. “I wouldn’t want to do that.” I chuckled. “You know, I bet Socrates would’ve loved your analogies for exploring the truth.”
Thomas held up his hand and crossed his index and middle fingers. “Me and Socrates would’ve been liked this.”
When we pulled up on the curb next to Thomas’ parents’ house, Diane welcomed us both inside with a hug and a kiss, and took our beer and pudding into the kitchen. Thomas and I went on through to the lounge where Roy sat by the fire, watching an old black and white movie.
We sat down on the sofa. “Merry Christmas, Roy,” I said, gesturing with my arms. I could smell the chicken roasting in the kitchen, and the whiff of sage and some other herbs and spices made my mouth water.
“And a Merry Christmas to you, too, Matthew,” he said. I noticed he was holding a liquor glass with a good two-fingers of a brown drink inside. His cheeks were high and rosy. “How are you feeling, Thomas?”
Thomas nodded. “Better.”
A convulsion swept through Roy and I thought he was going to vomit. He chuckled. “Look at you two with your shaved heads! Whatever were you thinking?”
Diane sat down next to me on the other side of the sofa. She was sipping red wine. “I like it,” she said, studying us. “Like two peas in a pod.”
“Matthew and I are moving in together,” Thomas blurted. My face flushed and I wondered if there was a tactful bone in his body.
Diane and Roy shared a glance. The cutest smirk curled its way outwards from the corner of Diane’s mouth, although Roy was harder to read. He stared at Thomas, penetrating. “Are you ready for that, son?”
Thomas gripped his trouser legs in both hands and exhaled in one smooth breath. “Yes, dad. I think I am.”
Roy erupted into a fit of laughter and jumped to his feet. “Good for you, boy,” he said, and reached down to hug Thomas and kiss him on the head. He slapped me on the shoulder, and strolled out of the room.
“We thought you two might get together,” said Diane, quietly to me. “I was actually hoping it.”
I felt my insides swell and then melt. “Aw, thanks Diane.” I gave her a hug.
Roy returned with his hand in a packet of Salt and Vinegar crisps. “Are you moving into your house or Matthew’s?” he asked, re-taking his seat.
“Matthew’s,” said Thomas. “It’s a bit bigger. But I’m not selling the house, at least not yet.”
“What can I get you boys to drink?” asked Diane. She fired Roy a scowl. “As somebody forgot to offer you one.” Roy had a mouthful of crisps and made some sort of half shrug half protest apology.
“A beer would nice, Diane,” I said.
“Have you got any Jack Daniels?” Thomas asked. Diane leaned back with a raised eyebrow. “Jack Daniels? Since when do you drink that?”
Thomas sighed. “I have recently developed a taste for it.”
Diane shuffled to face Roy. “Have we got any of that?”
Roy swallowed. “Yeah. Liquor cabinet, behind the Scotch. Your sister bought it for me about two birthdays ago. I’ll get it.” Roy wobbled to his feet and bee-lined for a small mahogany cabinet at the back of the room. He bent down, twisted the handle, and pulled the bottle out from the back. “How do you take it, Thomas?”
Thomas waved his hand. “Oh, just neat.”
Roy removed a crystalline liquor glass from the credenza next to the cabinet. “Oh, aye,” he said. “Never touched a drop in his life, and now he’s drinking bourbon, neat. Keep your eye on him, Matthew. He’s going to be a handful.”
I smirked and put my hand on Thomas’ knee. “Oh, hang on,” I said. “Should you be drinking that after coming out of the hospital?”
A look of realization washed over Thomas’ face. “Yeah, you’re right. I’d better just have a glass of Coke.”
Roy stood holding the glass of Jack Daniels, and glanced from the bottle to the glass and back again. With a shrug he downed the entire contents of the glass and disappeared into the kitchen and began to sing ‘Auld Lang Syne.’
Diane glanced in the direction of the kitchen and frowned. “I keep telling him that’s a bledy New Year song, but he won’t listen.”
Christmas Day with Thomas’ parents was the most fun I had had in a long time. We played board games, although thankfully not Monopoly, and ate enough good food to go into hibernation for the winter. In the evening we settled down to watch a few movies, and in my warm groove next to Thomas on the sofa, I finally felt like my feet were back on the ground and the world had stopped spinning.
In the car on the way back, Thomas napped in the passenger seat, and I navigated the country roads back to our house. I felt profoundly happy, and even though I cherished the thought of the remaining holiday, I was more than ready to tackle work again in the New Year.