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Hardcastle Family Home, Wiltshire
“You’re going on a date?” Elizabeth asked, a surprised tone in her voice.
“Not if you don’t leave me alone to get ready, I’m not.” Frederick pushed his mother out of the bathroom and shut the door behind her.
“Well, who’s it with? Do we know her?” She shouted through the door.
“Yes, you’ve met! Now go away!” Frederick heard his mother turn and quickly move down the stairs.
“Vicky!” She shouted.
He sighed as he spread shaving foam around the lower half of his face. He had hoped to sneak out of the house and then tell them he had been on a date, after the date. He was feeling nervous enough as it was, he didn’t need his mother fussing over him, and he certainly didn’t need his father telling him to ‘give her one for me, son’.
It had been six months since he had split up with Rebecca, but only one since he had told her why. Despite the fact that he had dumped her after being together for more than a year, they had remained good friends, and he’d found he’d been able to confide in her and she was one of the first people he’d told that he had feelings for other men.
To say she had been surprised would be something of an understatement. She had shouted, and gasped, and screamed, and even threw a plate at the wall, complete with half a serving of Spaghetti Bolognese. In retrospect, telling her in the restaurant hadn’t been one of his better ideas. Once she had calmed down, they’d had a long talk, one that had lasted into the small hours of the following morning.
Eventually, they had curled up on the sofa back at hers chatting and gossiping about all the different actors they fancied. It was when Rebecca innocently asked him if there were any real men that he fancied that Frederick made his mistake.
When he told her, she didn’t scream, she didn’t shout and she didn’t throw things. She simply pulled away from him and sat up straight on the couch and muttered that she should have seen it coming. Frederick tried to make a joke about it, tried to make it seem like nothing, but he faltered when he realised just how upset she was. She’d told him to leave and he had, and he’d left her alone for three weeks. Then, three days before, she’d picked him up from his home, and had insisted on taking him shopping. He tried to bring up the subject, but she was ignoring it, and perhaps, he considered, that was for the best.
So, they’d gone shopping, and she’d helped him pick out a new outfit for the date that she had set up for him. They had spent two hours wandering around the shops, trying on several different shirts and trousers. It was only when he suggested that the black shirt would look better on him than the purple one she had picked out, that Rebecca’s smile had faded. Misreading her for a moment, Frederick had explained that not only did the black match the shoes he’d bought, as well as bringing out his eyes, but it would also contrast quite nicely with the décor of the restaurant he was going to. Rebecca had laughed and asked him if perhaps, maybe, he was one hundred percent gay, rather than bisexual.
Frederick sighed and wiped the shaving foam from his face, perhaps a little stubble would be good tonight, he wouldn’t look quite so… innocent. He sprinkled a little water into his hair to help quickly restyle the gel already there and made his way downstairs to the kitchen.
“Wow, looking good!” Victoria whistled. “Was that the shirt Becky picked?”
Frederick checked himself again. “Err, thanks, and no, I picked it. Do you think he’ll like it?”
“I’m not a gay man,” Victoria reminded him, “I don’t know what exactly they look for.”
“Is it tight?”
“Good. What about my bum, does it look big?”
“Is big good or bad?” She began slicing a carrot as they spoke.
“Too big is bad. Too small is bad.”
“Well then, Baby Bear, yours is just right.”
“Thanks.” Frederick grinned.
“When’s he due to pick you up?”
“Another five minutes.” Frederick checked his watch as Elizabeth came into the kitchen.
“How’s the dinner coming, Vicky?” She asked.
“Twenty minutes, mum, don’t worry, it’ll be ready by the time Dad comes home.”
Elizabeth smiled nervously. “Oh, I’m not worried, dear, it’s just that your father doesn’t like to wait. So, err, do you know who your brother’s going out with tonight?”
“Mum, give it a rest.”
“Yeah,” Victoria said, placing the chopping knife into the sink, along with a used saucepan, “give it a rest, you’re going to find out in a few minutes anyway. She is going to find out, isn’t she?”
Frederick hesitated. “Is dad home yet?”
“Then, yeah, you’ll find out.”
“Well, then, I’m just going to… sit in the front room, read the newspaper.” Elizabeth left the kitchen and Frederick knew full well she’d be peering out of the front window looking for signs of his date rather than reading the newspaper. He turned to Victoria.
“So, why are you cooking dinner instead of mum? It’s not like she’s been doing anything else all day.”
Victoria’s face fell and she sighed as she faced her brother. “I think Dad’s hitting her again.”
“What?” Frederick gave a small laugh of disbelief. “No, he can’t be, he stopped, remember, he doesn’t drink anymore.”
“You don’t need to be drunk to be violent, Freddie. I came home the other night, and she was crying. I can’t be sure, but I think he’d hit her.”
“Why would he hit her?”
Victoria shrugged. “I don’t know, but I’ve been cooking every night this week, and when he says how good it tastes, she keeps telling him that she’s been trying out new recipes.”
“He’s hitting her because she’s taking the credit for your cooking?”
“No, that’s the point, he’s stopped hitting her since I’ve been cooking.” Victoria stressed as they heard the doorbell.
“He hit her because he didn’t like the way she fried her bacon, is that what you’re telling me?” Frederick asked. “No, I don’t believe that. Dad only ever hit her when he was drunk, and he doesn’t drink any more.”
“Vicky! It’s for you!” They heard their mother shout from the other room.
Victoria exchanged a small look with Frederick and shouted back, “Who is it?”
“It’s Graham, darling.”
Victoria squeezed Frederick’s hand. “Good luck.” She whispered, before dragging him into the front room.
“Graham!” Victoria hugged him. “How’s everything going at that new place you’re at?”
“Oh, yeah, yeah, it’s all good.” Graham smiled gingerly “Everyone there is really friendly, really helped me settle in, you know.”
“You know, Graham,” Elizabeth said, glancing out of the window again, “I don’t want to be rude or anything, but we’re about to sit down for dinner, and you know how Edward can be if he has to wait. Were you planning on staying long?”
Graham paused and looked at Frederick. “Err… well, no. I’ve got a date.”
“A date!” Elizabeth exclaimed, with a wide smile. “What a coincidence, Freddie’s going out on a date tonight as well.”
“Yeah, it’s, err… it’s funny that, mum, I – ” Frederick mumbled, but his mother interrupted him.
“Of course, he’s being all secretive about it, you can hardly blame him of course, it’s his first date since he and Rebecca split up.”
“Mum.” Frederick protested.
“Although, I don’t see why he couldn’t tell me, I am his mother after all.” Elizabeth laughed a little. “Well, I’ll guess I’ll just have to adopt you as a son instead, Graham, I bet you wouldn’t hide anything from your mother. The gays tell their mothers everything, don’t you?”
“Well, not quite everything,” Graham smiled, “there are always some boundaries.”
“Of course, of course.” Elizabeth patted his arm. “So, if you’ve got a date, why are you here? Does he live nearby?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Well, don’t keep me in suspense, who’s the lucky guy?”
There was a long silence as both Graham and Victoria looked at Frederick. Frederick looked down to the floor, and then back up at Elizabeth, who was frowning, confused by the sudden silence.
“Sorry, honey?” Elizabeth asked, as if she’d forgotten what question she had asked.
“Graham’s date. That’s me.”
“Graham’s date.” Elizabeth repeated. “Oh. Oh! You’re his – he’s you’re – the two of you – you’re –?”
“Err, yes I am, yes he is, yes we are, and… yes. I am.”
Another long silence filled the room.
“Listen, Mrs Hardcastle,” Graham broke the tension, “I know this is a bombshell, but we’ve got a reservation, we should really get going.”
“Going, right.” She slowly sank into the armchair behind her, trying to digest what she was hearing.
“We can talk tomorrow, mum, I promise.” Frederick kissed her on the side of the cheek and walked out of the front door, just as Edward was coming up the drive.
“Hey, boys,” he said, “you not stopping for dinner tonight, Freddie? Your mother’s trying one of her new recipes again.”
“Err no…” Frederick said, feeling slightly awkward. “Me and Graham, we’re… we’re going out.”
Frederick studied his father intently to see what effect this would have, but there seemed to be none.
“Right then,” he smiled, “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Frederick gave him a weak smile and climbed into the passenger seat of Graham’s sleek orange Tigra as Edward went inside the house. He picked up the post from the small table by the door and smiled at Elizabeth and Victoria.
“What are the boys up to, then?”
Elizabeth and Victoria both looked at each other, a small hint of panic in their eyes.
* * *
Elizabeth sat nervously on the edge of the couch, as Victoria came down the stairs and slipped quietly into the front room.
“How is he?” Elizabeth asked her daughter.
“He’s not happy. I talked to him, tried to get him to calm down, but… he just wanted to be held. You know what he can be like.”
“Yeah. Your brother was the same at that age.” Elizabeth nodded absently. “He’s asleep now, though?”
“Yeah. How is he?” Victoria motioned to her father who was sat in an armchair, staring into space, his barely touched dinner, sat on a tray in his lap.
“No change, he still hasn’t said anything.”
“Dad?” Victoria edged towards Edward. He hadn’t spoken since Elizabeth and Victoria had told him just what the boys were up to, a few hours before. “Dad, perhaps – if you’re finished – I should take that.”
As Victoria reached for the plate, Edward mumbled incoherently. “What?”
“I said, sit down.” He didn’t make eye contact with her, he just kept them staring straight ahead into the blackness of the television set.
“But, Dad, it’s been a couple of hours, I really think I should do the washing up. Come on, just give – ”
“Sit down!” Victoria jumped out of the way, and Elizabeth squealed as Edward threw his plate at the wall above the television.
Victoria backed off and sat on the opposite end to the couch of her mother, not able to tear her eyes from the mashed potato sliding slowly down the wallpaper.
“When your brother gets home,” Edward said calmly, “we are going to have a family meeting. Until then, no one does anything without my permission.”
“Edward, perhaps…” Elizabeth trailed off when he turned and glared at her.
A silence filled the room, as Edward, Elizabeth and Victoria all sat on the edge of their chairs and several tense minutes passed until the three of them heard the slow crunch of car tyres on the driveway outside. Elizabeth and Victoria watched nervously as Edward calmly stood up and walked out of the front door.
He moved over to the passenger side of Graham’s car, tapped on the window and waited as Frederick opened the window.
“Hey, Dad, you all right?”
Edward glanced past his son to Graham in the driver’s seat, before looking down at the ground. “Five minutes, family meeting, dining room.”
* * *
Frederick watched with a frown as Edward moved back into the house.
“What was that all about?”
“They told him.” Frederick said, bowing his head.
“They wouldn’t do that, would they?”
“You don’t know my dad, he’s probably beat it out of them.”
“Is that what he’s going to do to you? Try and beat it out of you?”
“You don’t seem too bothered,” Graham said, “if I was in your position, I think I’d be pretty angry at him right now.”
“I’m used to it.” Frederick turned back to Graham and smiled. “I really enjoyed tonight it was fun.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it. I thought that maybe you would be a little nervous.”
“I was nervous, believe me.”
“Yeah,” Graham nodded, “me too.”
Frederick gave a small laugh. “You were nervous? The famous Graham Granger, nervous about going on date with little old me?”
“I wasn’t nervous over that. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I was excited, but there was other stuff making me nervous.”
“What kind of other stuff.”
“Your sister. Becky.” Frederick looked away from Graham. “They haven’t really spoken to me since you told them. I don’t want to lose them, but I don’t want to lose anything that I might have with you either.”
“Vicky doesn’t seem all that bothered by it. When I told her it was like she already knew. I kind of figured that you’d told her about… you know… before.”
“I wouldn’t have told her that. I still haven’t, I probably never will.”
“I didn’t think you’d be able to resist. You are a public information service, after all.”
Graham gained a look of mock surprise. “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”
“Oh, come on, I didn’t even go to the same college as you three and I still feel like I know everything there was to know about everyone who went there.”
“I never told you everything.”
Graham smiled and then pursed his lips, scrutinising the younger man sat next to him. “Joshua’s father. I never told you about him, Vicky asked me not to.”
“Very true,” Frederick nodded, “of course, Becky already told me, it was your psych teacher.”
“The girl is worse than me, I swear.”
A comfortable silence filled the car as the two men collected their thoughts.
“I really enjoyed tonight, you know.” Graham said. “I hope we can do it again some time.”
A wide smile spread across Frederick’s face. “I’m so glad you said that, I didn’t want to be the only one who felt that way.”
“Freddie, you’re a really special guy, I’ve had a really great time. I’ve never felt this way about another guy.”
“I know it’s a little early,” Frederick mused, “but does that mean I can officially call you my boyfriend?”
Graham paused to think. “Yeah,” he said eventually, “I think I’d like that.”
“Come here.” Frederick leant into Graham and slowly started to kiss him, after a few moments Graham pulled back.
“What about your dad? Didn’t he say he wanted to see you?”
“Whatever it is, it’ll keep.”
Graham smirked again and continued to kiss his boyfriend. Boyfriend. He said the word over in his head again. He’d never had a proper boyfriend, just a string of crushes and one night stands, and had always believed he would never make a commitment to just one man. But still, now that he’d said the words, now that he was here with Frederick, he couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. Something inside told him that everything would be just right, that things were going to work out ok.
Just as this thought passed through his mind, he felt Frederick pull away. He opened his eyes to find Frederick being pulled violently from the car.
* * *
“I told you five minutes.” Edward said locking the front door, as Graham banged on the glass on the other side.
“Well, I’m late,” Frederick shrugged, “sorry to disappoint you.”
“Disappointed? This goes far beyond disappointed, my boy. Dining room, now.”
Edward shoved his son in the back, causing him to stumble as they entered the dining room where Elizabeth and Victoria were sat on opposite sides of the table.
“So, what’s this all about?” Frederick asked slumping into one of the chairs.
“What’s this all about?” Edward repeated incredulously. “I’ve just found my only son sticking his tongue down another man’s throat! What the hell do you think this is all about?”
“Oh, that.” Frederick thought for a moment as the banging at the front door stopped. “Did you have a problem with that?”
“A problem? A problem, he asks! Of course, I’ve got a problem with it! The problem is my son is a fucking queer!”
“Dad,” Victoria stood up, “as long as Freddie’s happy, surely it doesn’t matter who he loves.”
“And if he loved little children?” Edward asked. “If he loved dogs, or corpses and was going around sleeping with them, would you still expect me to stand back and do nothing.”
“No, but it’s hardly the same.” The knocking returned, but was now coming from the back door in the kitchen.
“It is the same! It’s disgusting, it’s not natural! Why am I the only one who can see this?”
“Because you’re the only one who’s a prejudiced old fool!” Frederick shouted over the loud knocking.
“Somebody stop that frigging queen from knocking my house down!”
Victoria moved into the kitchen and Frederick stood up again to face his father. “I thought you liked Graham? You always seemed to get on with him, what’s changed?”
“He wasn’t exploiting my son before.”
“But you knew he was gay, you never had a problem with him.”
“I didn’t know he was fucking my son then! I don’t want anything like that in my family!”
The room went quiet as Graham stepped into room from the kitchen, Victoria wasn’t with him. Fredrick smiled and put an arm around Graham. “Don’t say things like that, Dad, Graham might be family one day.”
Edward narrowed his eyes and curled his hand into a fist. Before anyone could stop him, he launched it into Frederick’s face. Frederick crumpled to the floor and a smile of triumph flashed across Edward’s face, but it was only for a moment before he too received a smack in the face and joined his son on the floor.
Edward was in shock as he looked at Graham standing over him. “Frederick is going to spend the night at my house. If you try and stop either of us, I’ll hit you again.”
Edward remained silent as a small trickle of blood ran down from his nose. Elizabeth moved over to him, but he pushed her away and pulled himself up to face Graham. Elizabeth moved to her son and pulled him up.
“Come on, Graham, let’s go.” Frederick took hold of Graham’s hand and pulled him towards the kitchen.
“Honey,” Elizabeth said, “think about this for a moment – ”
“Mum, I’m going. I will think about it, but not here, not under the same roof as him.”
“At least let me pack you some of your things, some clothes.”
Frederick turned and looked at his father. “I don’t think we’re going to need any clothes.”
As Edward’s face started to turn a deep red, Graham dragged Frederick into the kitchen and shut the door between the two rooms.
“You wound him up on purpose.” Victoria glared at her younger brother.
Frederick shrugged. “I can’t help it, it just seems to happen.”
“Well, perhaps you ought to try thinking before you speak.” Victoria said as she poured some water into the sink.
“Vicky,” Frederick smiled, “come with us. You and Joshua shouldn’t have to be in the same house as that man. You don’t need to stay with him.”
“I’m not staying with him,” she sighed, “I’m staying with her, you know she’ll never leave him, and I’m not leaving her alone with him, especially not now.”
“But you understand that I have to leave, right?”
“Of course,” Victoria nodded, “you go. I’ll ring you tomorrow.”
“You ring me if there’s any trouble, I’ll come over straight away.” Frederick hugged her and Victoria looked over to Graham at the back door.
“You look after him.”
Graham nodded. “I will.”
Frederick broke from their hug and he and Graham turned and walked out of the back door. Victoria closed her eyes for a moment, before moving through the door into the dining room to find her parents had moved into the front room. Edward was sat in his armchair again, saying nothing, Elizabeth was sat nervously on the edge of the couch.
“It’s all right, darling, I’ll take care of this.”
“You’re sure?” Victoria doubted her mother was able to take care of anything.
“It’s fine. Besides, didn’t you say there was washing up to be done? Perhaps you should do that.”
“Right.” Victoria nodded, looking at her father with a worried look on her face. “I’ll just be in the kitchen if you need me.”
Elizabeth slowly nodded and Victoria moved out of the room, quietly closing the door behind her. Elizabeth stood up and walked over to her husband, standing beside him, a comforting hand rubbing his shoulder. For the longest time there was silence between them.
“It’s your fault, you know.”
Elizabeth frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Frederick. This… thing of his, it’s your fault.”
“It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s not a fault.”
“What exactly is that supposed to mean? Of course it’s a fault! He likes to screw with other men! And it’s because of you that he’s like that!”
“How? How is it because of me?” Elizabeth frowned.
“Well, it’s certainly nothing to do with me, there’s never been any of that sort of thing in my family.”
“And we’ve never had it in mine! Anyway, it’s nothing to do with that!”
“Well, you’ve probably mothered him so much! You and that daughter of ours, always sleeping around with different men, all those magazines and posters, it’s enough to warp any young man’s mind!”
“Maybe I wouldn’t have had to mother him so much if his father had spent a little more time with him. That’s probably what turned him gay, he’s just after some male attention.”
“Shut up!” Edward stood up and hit Elizabeth hard around the face. Her small scream shot through the air and out the open window where it was heard and ignored by a neighbour outside walking his dog. It was heard upstairs by Joshua who woke up and started to cry. It wasn’t heard, however, by Victoria who was sobbing into the washing up bowl in the kitchen. The volume on the radio turned up high so that she couldn’t hear her parents arguing.
The more she washed, the more she slowed down in order to prolong the time before having to step out into the arena formed by her parents. It was as she was moving onto the cutlery that Gloria Gaynor finally stopped surviving and Victoria heard something she wasn’t expecting. There was no shouting, no fighting, no smashing or crashing. She frowned as she opened the door, stepped into the dining room and heard that there wasn’t a silence, just a small, gasping noise.
She moved through to the front room and dropped the knife she was holding in shock as she saw her father stood over her mother, grasping and squeezing on her neck.
“Dad!” She screamed as she grabbed hold of him, and tried to pull off of him. “Stop!”
She grabbed hold of his arm and he jerked it away, elbowing Victoria in the face, causing her to fall to the floor. From her point on the carpet, Victoria made eye contact with her mother, her face turning redder and redder by the second. Victoria grasped at the carpet to pull herself up, and as she did, her fingers connected with the large chopping knife she’d dropped on the floor moments ago. She stood up holding the knife, and without thinking plunged the knife between her father’s shoulder blades.
She pulled the knife from his back straight away, her eyes filled with tears of shock. His fingers released themselves from his grip around Elizabeth’s throat, and Edward turned on his knees to face his daughter.
“Vicky…” he gasped, and fell face down onto the carpet.
Elizabeth pulled herself to her feet and stood next to Victoria, both of them staring down at Edward, their faces stretched in surprise.
Victoria sank to her knees and listened to her father’s slow, stilted breathing. She looked from his bloodied shirt, to her mother’s bruised face and marked neck, and then down at the dripping knife in her hands. She started to remember every time he had made fun of her brother, every remark he had made about Joshua’s parentage and every time she had walked into the bathroom to find her mother concealing her bruises with foundation. Her insides started to boil with rage and she looked up at her mother again.
“Don’t.” Elizabeth whispered.
Victoria thought for less than a second before plunging the knife into Edward’s back once again.
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