Frederick jumped back in surprise as he noticed Harry behind them. “Jesus Christ! You scared the shit out of me, Harry!”
“Sorry, I was just exploring.” He looked over at Robert and held out his hand. “Hi. I’m Harry. I don’t think I’ve seen you in any of the photos Freddie’s shown me?”
“No, you probably wouldn’t have.” He said, flashing a set of perfectly straight, white teeth. Harry felt his legs quiver slightly, there was no doubt about it – this man was very attractive, and he knew it.
“Harry, this is Robert, mum’s new boyfriend.”
“Oh, right. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands before Harry turned back to Frederick. “So?”
“So what, Harry?” Harry noted Frederick’s repeated use of his name, a trait that he’d soon learnt in their short time together meant that he was either lying, or about to lie.
“You were just saying to Robert that you needed to talk to him. What’s it about?”
“Oh, nothing, Harry,” he smiled, “just the usual, don’t hurt my mother speech. I thought you were going to go have a shower?”
“Yeah, I was, but I realised you’ve still got my mobile.”
“Right.” Frederick fumbled around in his pocket, pulled out a small mobile phone and handed it over.
For a moment there was an uncomfortable silence, Robert and Frederick were both watching Harry, not even glancing at each other. “Oh, look, Harry,” Frederick said stiffly, pointing to the screen of the phone, “you’ve got a voicemail. It’s probably important.”
“Yeah, probably. I’m going to go take that shower.” He started to move back up the stairs. “I’ll let you two get on with your talk.”
“It was nice meeting you, Harry.” Robert smiled again and Harry nodded to him.
Harry left them downstairs – reluctantly – and made his way back upstairs to the bedroom he would be sharing with Frederick, to find Ella had gone. Frederick’s cases were completely unpacked while Harry’s remained untouched at the side of the bed. He made his way into the en suite, slowly dialling in some numbers on his mobile. There was a magnificent white bath in the centre of the room, large enough for perhaps three or four people. Harry quietly wondered if Frederick had had any say in the decoration of the bathroom when he noticed the ornate bidet on the right hand side of the toilet.
Frederick had always had an unusual – almost unhealthy – obsession with cleanliness and he also claimed to enjoy the sensation of using a bidet. One of his many contradictions, because if anything ever went near his rear end in the bedroom he would bolt from the room.
Harry held his mobile to his ear as he turned the shower on and held his other hand under the stream of water to test the temperature.
“Harry? Harry, it’s me, you really need to start turning your phone on.” Tricia’s sharp voice spat out of the phone, causing Harry to move it away from his ear a little. She had always spoken too loudly on the phone, as if it wasn’t a phone at all, but rather two tin cans connected by a string. “Anyway, I’ve been on the line to Terry, Jack’s dropped out of his newest movie at the last minute, he wants you to replace him. I’ve told him you’ll do it, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to cut short your holiday. I’ve moved your return flight to the day after tomorrow at noon. I’ll have a car waiting for you at the airport.”
Harry dropped the phone on the side and started to undress. “Not even a ‘Merry Christmas’.”
* * *
Harry finished drying himself, pulled on a pair of boxer shorts and was just sitting down on the end of the bed to put on his jeans when a woman’s head appeared around the door.
“Josh? Oh god, I’m so sorry!” The woman clamped her hands to her eyes turning her head, but didn’t leave the room.
“It’s ok, it’s my fault,” Harry admitted, pulling up the jeans and doing up the fly, “I should have closed the door.”
“And I should have knocked.” She smiled.
From what Harry could tell, she was slightly older than him, perhaps around the same age as Frederick, although she held herself as if life had worn her down and she was now just very, very tired. She wore a shiny blue blouse, and a long black skirt, looking like a middle-aged school teacher, and, as if to compliment that, her hair was done up in a tight bun on the top of her head.
Her smile was broad, and it revealed large white teeth. Small wrinkles formed in the corner of her eyes, and large, deep dimples appeared in her cheeks. Harry knew only one other person who had a smile like that.
“Victoria, right? Freddie’s sister?”
“Umm, yes,” she frowned a little, “who are you?”
Harry stepped forward and shook her hand, “I’m Harry. Harry Hicks.”
“Oh, wow! You are! You’re from the films!” Her face lit up and she started to gush. “Wow, you know, I just loved that last one you did, you know where you played the detective and Sammy Jones was your secretary. Were those rumours about you and her true? Has she really got a tattoo of a lion on her thigh?”
“I, err, I…” Harry stuttered nervously, something he usually did when he met a fan, especially one who seemed to have subscriptions to an awful lot of glossies. “I never got close enough to find out.”
He watched her smile fade as her eyes travelled from him to his luggage sat at the end of the double bed, next to Frederick’s empty suitcases. She looked back at him and a smile quickly returned to her face, though it didn’t appear as genuine as the one it had replaced.
“So you’re… I should have known, my brother has all the luck.”
“We’re just friends,” Harry smiled, cursing himself a little for letting the lie come so easily, “he didn’t tell you I was coming?”
“He probably did.” Victoria admitted, sitting down on the edge of the bed next to Harry. “I tend to forget things quiet easily.”
“And Joshua’s your son?”
“Yes, he’s – oh, God!” Victoria jumped up from the bed. “Do you see what I mean? I totally forgot I was trying to find him. You haven’t seen him have you?”
Harry shook his head.
“Oh, I don’t know where he could be, I’ve searched the whole place,” she clamped her hand to her forehead, “I shouldn’t have shouted at him.”
Harry stood up and put a hand on her arm. He feared that she was about to start crying, and if there was anything Harry could do to avoid a woman crying in his arms, he would do his best to do it.
“Hey, I’m sure he’s all right, come on, sit down.” He pulled her over to a chair by the desk and sat her in it, while he crouched on the balls of his feet in front of her. “He won’t have got far, I mean, he wouldn’t have gone outside, would he?”
“No, of course not. I’m being silly, he’s probably just hiding. I shouldn’t have got so angry.”
“What did he do?”
“He, err… he ate a biscuit.
“A chocolate one.”
“Heavy stuff.” Harry smirked at her, and she let out a small laugh, before starting to wipe the corners of her eyes. He took a tissue from a box on the desk. “Here, take this.”
“Thanks.” She blew her nose, looked at him, and laughed again. “I wasn’t really angry at him, I was just… stressed.”
“Stressed?” Harry settled himself back down on the edge of the bed, his feet starting to go numb from crouching on them so long.
“It’s Christmas, you know, and I’m a single mum. It’s hard.”
“You’re lonely.” Harry thought for a moment about his own mother, and how lonely she seemed at times. She had sacrificed her own life to raise Harry and his brother.
“It’s silly,” Victoria nodded, “I know it is, and I don’t need a man to be complete, but it would just be nice not to have to do everything by myself, to have someone to help me, someone to well… Now mum’s got another new boyfriend, it just feels that sometimes she’s got my life, like she’s forgotten…”
She abruptly stopped and began to concentrate on folding the tissue up. Harry looked at her for a moment, so upset and vulnerable, and he found it hard to believe what Frederick had told him about her history.
“You don’t look like…” Harry started, “well, you know, you don’t look as if you could…”
“You know about that?” She looked up at him suspiciously and he nodded. “He doesn’t talk about that to anyone, he never even talks to us about it. You two must have something pretty special.”
“Not really,” He broke eye contact with her, “Frederick and I… we’re just friends.”
“I’m not gay.”
Victoria nodded, but didn’t seem convinced. For a moment they sat in silence, and when Harry dared to glance back at her, he found her staring at him.
“I’d hate for my brother to be as lonely as I am,” she said, “he deserves to be happy. I want to see him happy. Do you know what it’s like to have a brother, Harry?”
Harry paused for a moment. There’s no way she can know who I am and not know my story, he thought, and as he did, she covered her mouth with her hand, a look of regret appearing her eyes.
“Three years ago, my mum died,” Harry began, “it was cancer, ate her up from the inside out. Vincent, that’s my brother, he came back from Los Angeles for the funeral. It was the first time I’d seen him in six months and the way he looked, it… it scared me. I should have known then, perhaps I did, but I ignored it. Nine months later he was dead and I was sat in a bar in Hollywood talking to the bastard that killed him. From that night, I became my brother. I left my life behind, moved to America, finished the film he was working on and started to live the life he’d always wanted. I owed it to him. I still do. I let him down.
“So, yeah, I do know what it’s like to have a brother, and I know what it’s like to want to protect them.”
Victoria lowered her eyes to the floor but said nothing.
“Frederick’s a very good friend of mine,” Harry said, “I never want to see him hurt.”
“If I were gay,” he said slowly, “if I were, then I would ask that I was left to come out in my own way. Of all people, I’d expect you to understand that… after what happened with Frederick, I mean.”
“You’re saying – “
“I’m saying I’m not gay.” Yet. She nodded, it was clear they’d reached some sort of understanding. Harry pulled a shirt out of his suitcase, shook the wrinkles out and pulled it on.
“I’ll leave you to it,” she smiled again, “unless you need help to find the dining room?”
“I’ll find it. It might not be until next week, but I’ll find it.”
“It was nice to meet you, Harry Hicks.”
“You too, Victoria Cromwell.”
“Hardcastle. I kept dad’s name.” She smiled weakly. “It’s just a name. Besides, Edward Hardcastle, Ernest Cromwell, two very similar men.”
Victoria left the room and Harry moved over to the dresser to check his appearance. He considered himself for a moment, and then slipped on the blazer he’d been wearing when he’d arrived. The look was complete.
He left the room, shutting the door behind him, and as he did he spotted a sudden movement at the end of the corridor out of the corner of his eye. He moved toward the main staircase.
A noise from above made him look up just in time to see a figure move quickly away from the railing. Someone was watching him.
“Joshua?” Harry asked. There was no answer and he tried to crane his neck in order to look upstairs. He could see nothing. But what if it is Joshua? He asked himself. Finding him and getting him back to his mother would probably get me back in her good books.
Even if it it’s not Joshua, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look around and get to know the house. Harry had developed an unfortunate habit of sleepwalking in his teenage years and occasionally, when particularly stressed or nervous, it reappeared. If he did wake up in some far-flung room of the mansion, he’d need to be able to find his way back.
He moved up to the top floor of the house and looked down the long corridor to the left. “Joshua?”
Harry tried the door closest to him, but it was locked. Voices downstairs suddenly made him think that it might not be appreciated if he was caught nosing around where he wasn’t wanted. He’d just put a foot on the top stair when he saw a familiar face staring at him through the small crack of an open door at the end of the hall.
He moved towards it and gently pushed the door open and suddenly came face to face with himself.
Memories of the photo shoot quickly returned to Harry, it was the first one he had ever done. The movie was due for release and the cogs of publicity were rapidly whirring into overtime. He’d been prodded and poked all day, his hair had been gelled, then washed, then re-styled, his clothes were changed more times in that one day than they had been in a whole month before.
After almost two hours of flashbulbs going off and assistants applying foundation and blusher to his face, Harry had stormed out. He’d pushed his way through the nearest fire exit and into an alleyway. In one of the first moments since Vincent’s death that he’d had to himself, the photographer had followed him out and taken several photographs in quick succession.
The first of those images had become almost instantly famous and had since become synonymous with the name Harry Hicks. It had appeared in almost every article about him from that point on and he had soon grown to resent its very existence.
The other photos in the series had never been released, but they showed Harry moving toward the photographer, wearing an angry expression on his face and wielding a raised fist. Tricia was only able to stop him pressing charges by allowing him full distribution rights to the picture he and then subsequently the rest of the media had dubbed ‘The Weeping Adonis’. Since then he’d earned almost as much money from it as Harry had from any of his films – perhaps more.
And now, over two years later, in an old man’s mansion in the middle of the English countryside, it was back. An almost life sized glossy poster of himself, back in that alleyway. Harry had been leaning against the wall of the studio, supported by his shoulders, one foot flat against the brick, the other on the ground. The flash of the photographer’s bulb had illuminated his face revealing one hand brushing the hair back from my face, and a single tear rolling down a flushed cheek.
Harry turned to leave, almost tripping on a pile of dirty laundry, t-shirts, socks and a pair of boxer shorts. As he steadied himself, a boy came into the room.
He had cropped brown hair and was about half a foot shorter than Harry. From the small amount of stubble on his lower jaw Harry guessed that he was in his late teens. He didn’t look happy.
“I… I… I’m sorry, is this your room?” The boy’s sudden appearance and angry expression had surprised Harry, and he couldn’t help but stammer.
The boy stared blankly as if Harry had insulted not just him, but his mother and his mother’s mother as well. “No. It’s Fiona’s room.”
“Fiona’s?” Harry glanced down at the boxer shorts on the floor.
“My cousin, she must have forgotten to lock the door.”
“I’m… well, I’m him.” Harry pointed at a cluster of the posters.
“Fiona doesn’t like people being up in her room.”
“Won’t she be upset that you’re up here?”
“I’m allowed.” Matthew replied, a small smile on his face. “My room’s at the other end of the corridor.”
“I was just… I thought Joshua had come up here, I was trying to help Victoria find him and then I saw the pictures.”
Matthew looked at the carefully arranged posters. “She thinks you’re really attractive, you know.”
“Right, well, I’ll have to make sure I thank her for the compliment, then.”
Matthew moved back to the doorway. “I don’t think you should mention it, she’d probably get really mad if she found out you’d been up here.”
“Right.” Harry moved toward him to leave, expecting him to move out of the way, but he didn’t. Harry turned sideways to brush past him and he had to put a hand on the young man’s shoulder to steady himself.
“If you really want to get to know the place, I could give you a tour.”
“Right, thanks,” Harry smiled weakly, “I think maybe I’ll just head down to dinner.”
He started to walk downstairs, feeling the young boy’s eyes boring into him as he went. Harry hastened his pace, practically flying down two flights of stairs and almost careening into an old woman at the bottom.
“Watch it, will you?” She growled at him.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”
“Who are you anyway?”
“I’m Harry, a friend of Frederick’s.”
“Ah! The movie star! Yes, he’s told me about you.” She glanced up at him with astonishingly blue eyes, eyes that seemed to outshine the white hair that framed her crinkled grey face. Probably cataracts, Tricia’s barbed wire tongue whispered inside his head.
“It seems Frederick’s been ringing home and telling everyone about me.”
“Ringing? Ha!” She started to move down a corridor that led off to the east wing of the house. She carried on talking and so Harry assumed he was meant to follow her through. “That boy never rings home. No, he was telling me earlier, when he was helping me set the table.”
She pushed open a door and led Harry in to a large room, immediately facing an elaborately set dining table.
“He was with you?”
“Until about five minutes ago, went upstairs to get changed.”
Harry smiled a little, if he’d been in here with this woman, he hadn’t been with Robert. Perhaps I was just imagining that there was something going on. Just then, Robert stood up, holding a stuffed elephant. He’d been sat on the floor, behind the table.
“Hey, Harry, you found your way around then?”
“I, err… yeah, I did.”
“Don’t worry, Pat had to help me too.”
“Pat.” Harry smiled down at the old lady. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Where were you four hours ago? No, forget about it.”
“We’ll have to stick together, Harry,” Robert smiled, again causing his legs to go a little weak, though thankfully Harry noted, the effect was weakening, “we’re the outsiders after all.”
“Where’d the elephant go?” A small voice came from the floor on the other side of the table, distracting Robert from the blush that had spread uncontrollably across Harry’s face.
“Oh, sorry!” Robert laughed a little and sat back down again.
Harry made his way around the table as Pat left the room, carrying an empty silver platter and found Robert sitting on the floor, with a small boy, a whole host of stuffed animals on the floor around them.
“You must be Joshua.”
“Who the hell are you?”
Robert smiled at him. “This kid’s got quite a mouth on him. Somebody ought to have words with his parents.”
“Yeah, right.” Harry smiled back. “I’m Harry, I’m a friend of Uncle Frederick’s.”
Joshua looked up at Harry blankly for a moment and then turned to Robert. “Where’s the elephant?”
“I kind of got lumbered with the babysitting.” Robert shrugged by way of an explanation.
“Yeah, I see.”
“It’s not too bad, he’s a cute kid.”
“Harry!” Harry turned around to see Elizabeth swan into the room, now wearing an emerald green ball-gown, the make-up on her face seemed to have doubled in depth since he’d last seen her. “Harry, come and sit down over here.”
She pulled him over to a comfortable set of chairs to the side of the room. “Elizabeth, hi, I like your dress.”
“You noticed?” Her eyes almost seemed to bulge with pleasure. “Fantastic! I mean, it’s fantastic, isn’t it?”
“Well, it’s…” He looked down at her ample cleavage almost spilling out of her top. “It’s green.”
“Hi, darling.” Robert got up and kissed Elizabeth on the side of the cheek and Harry found himself feeling a pang of entirely inappropriate jealousy. “Harry’s right, the dress is gorgeous.”
“Oh, bless you!” Elizabeth batted him away as he ran a finger down the side of her dress, and then turned to Harry. “Don’t you just love him?”
“Well, I, err…” Harry began to bluster and Robert smirked. Did he know? Could he tell I was attracted? Thankfully, Elizabeth didn’t seem to notice Harry’s hesitation.
“So, tell me about Frederick.”
“You… want me to tell you about your own son?”
“I want you to tell me about his life in Hollywood. He barely rings home at all these days.”
Harry smiled at her softly. “Well, I’m afraid I wouldn’t know too much about that. We don’t usually spend too much time together, you know, outside of work.”
“Harry, dear,” Elizabeth glanced over at Robert, who had returned to playing with Joshua, and lowered her voice, “Frederick may not say much when he rings home, but… when he is home, he tells me things. Things, that perhaps, he shouldn’t. I know, Harry.”
“You know?” Elizabeth nodded and Harry felt his throat tighten, his pulse quicken. “About me and Frederick? When did he tell you?”
She laughed a little. “He didn’t, darling – you just did.”
“I…” Harry’s mouth wouldn’t work, his brain was too busy kicking itself.
“Oh, don’t worry, your secret’s more than safe with me. Look, I’m very much on your side, it must be hard for you, with your job and all.”
“Yeah, I guess. My agent thinks it might ruin my career, Hollywood is making me into a kind of matinee idol.”
Elizabeth nodded her agreement. “And women won’t want to watch a matinee idol whisking women off their feet in his films, knowing all the while, that in real life his own feet are somewhere over his head.”
“Maybe not how I’d put it, but that’s pretty much it.”
“And,” Elizabeth shrugged as if surprised at how simple the logic was, “why risk such a lucrative career as a matinee idol over a casual fling.”
Harry lowered his voice. “Frederick’s not a casual fling, Mrs Cromwell, I love him.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth frowned. “Well, then… I’m not sure I understand at all.”
The door to the dining room opened and Matthew entered, with an older man and woman. Harry assumed they were Gary and Nicola, Frederick’s aunt and uncle and Matthew’s parents, although neither of them looked anything like him. Matthew, while attractive in his own right, was not exactly drop-dead gorgeous, but compared to his parents, he was a true Adonis. Gary seemed to be a much younger version of his father, only perhaps slightly taller, while Nicola slightly resembled a toad. She was ever so slightly overweight, but it was the offending purple dress that made it all the worse, accentuating each roll of fat just that little bit more.
“Look,” Harry whispered to Elizabeth, “can we talk about this some other time?”
“Ah!” Gary shouted loudly. “This must be Freddie’s latest boyfriend!”
Harry looked across to Elizabeth for help but she shrugged. “I’m afraid I don’t know quite what he is, Gary, we were just having a little chat about that.”
“I’m… we’re…” Harry bit his tongue to try and stop his stutter. “Frederick’s just a friend.”
“Just a friend?” Nicola raised her eyebrow as she led her family to the end of the table. “I’ve met a few of Frederick’s friends before. They’re usually in a bathrobe at the breakfast table, though.”
“I’m not gay.” Harry smiled politely
“No, of course you’re not.” Robert looked up at him. “I can’t imagine why anyone would think you are. After all, you’re just a young actor, living in Hollywood, living the bachelor lifestyle, spending Christmas with the family of a well-known poofter.” Suddenly, Harry started to feel the attraction to him fade.
“Robert.” Elizabeth chastised him gently.
All the eyes in the room were on Harry and he could feel the tension pouring from them, cutting through him.
Before Harry could stop himself, the words blurted from his mouth. “It’s hardly as if I have a family of my own to visit. They’re all dead.”
The mood in the room shifted immediately and everyone but Robert bowed their heads. While Harry felt guilty for playing the dead family card, it had at least worked. He would worry about karma later.
Elizabeth was the first to break the silence, just as Frederick entered the room with Ella, who was carrying a tray of wine bottles. “So, Harry, have you got a girlfriend?”
Frederick visibly winced as he heard his mother’s question. “Mum, leave him alone.”
Elizabeth stood up, kissed her son on the cheek and whispered so that only Harry and Frederick could hear her. “I’m just teasing, honey.”
“She knows.” Harry whispered just as quietly, and Frederick looked at him questioningly.
“We’re telling people now?”
“Not on purpose.”
“I played a nasty trick on him.” Elizabeth giggled as she reached out and took a glass of wine from Ella.
“Freddie,” Harry stood up, giving him a nervous smile, “you going to introduce me to the rest of your family or what?”
Frederick looked around the room, and quickly pointed at them all in turn.
“Err, well, yeah, there’s Robert, mum’s boyfriend you met earlier, Joshua, my nephew, and of course, you already know Ella as well. This is Uncle Gary, his wife Nicola and their son Matthew.”
Matthew gave a small wave. “Yeah, we’ve met.”
“I went exploring, he found me lost in, err – Fiona’s room?” Matthew nodded with confirmation as Harry quickly explained, suddenly feeling a sense of guilt, although he wasn’t sure what for.
“Funny,” Nicola frowned, “she normally keeps her room locked.”
“She probably forgot,” Frederick said, a slight smirk on his face, “these are exciting times. She’s out in the hall… waiting for Reece.”
“Reece?” Nicola asked. “He’s still not here?”
“He’s probably drunk in a gutter somewhere.” Matthew said, not exactly quietly, but Harry seemed to be the only one who heard it, as at that moment, the door opened again, and Ernest marched into the room, almost growling at the tall blonde woman following him.
“We’ll talk about it later, Jennifer.” He said, barely restraining the annoyance in his voice. “Is it time to eat yet, Ella?”
“You’re still missing three grandchildren, Ernest.” Jennifer muttered and Ernest looked around doing a quick head count.
“Well, I shouldn’t imagine they’ll be much longer. Go and tell Pat to start bringing it through.”
“Right away, Mr Cromwell.” Ella went to leave the room as the door opened and a young man, who appeared to be quite drunk, stumbled in, falling to the floor.
“Oh, hello, Ella,” He pulled himself up but continued to address Ella’s legs, “you’re looking very fine today.”
“Thanks Reece.” She smiled and skirted out of the room around the young girl who had followed him in.
Harry quickly calculated that the girl was Jennifer’s daughter, Fiona, on the very basis that she was an almost exact replica of her mother, and that he had met everyone else. Both of them were very attractive, with natural blonde hair. The only real difference between them were signs of age, the less developed body of the young Fiona and the small wrinkles starting to appear on Jennifer’s face.
Reece, despite the fact that he was struggling to stand, was just as attractive as his brother. He moved towards his grandfather and father, hooking one arm around each of their shoulders to support himself. This had the effect of dragging the two older men closer into each other, something both of them looked uncomfortable with. Given the opportunity to see Reece next to his father, Harry started to wonder if perhaps Nicola hadn’t always remained faithful to Gary.
“Bloody drunk again are you, I suppose?” Ernest grumbled.
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, Granddaddy,” Reece protested, “this isn’t drink, it’s, err… it’s – well, it’s Christmas spirit!” He gave a big grin, as his arms flew around his head, gesturing wildly.
“More than one spirit, I’d imagine.” Ernest rolled his eyes.
“Can’t you just give the boy a break?” Gary asked, downing his own drink. “He’s just trying to have a bit of a laugh.”
Reece took one of the glasses of wine from the table and winked at his grandfather.
“Come and meet, Joshua,” Frederick whispered in Harry’s ear, dragging him over to where Robert was still sat with the small boy, “you’ll love him.”
“Yeah, he’s a charming little guy.” Frederick didn’t notice the sarcasm in Harry’s voice, as he crouched down beside his nephew.
“Are you all right, Joshy?”
“Yeah.” Josh didn’t look up at Frederick as he continued to play with the toy animals that Robert had set up for him.
“Hey, how about you come over here and play with me. I’ve got a football.” Frederick suggested.
“No, I like playing with Robert.” Josh said, laughing as Robert made a horse jump over a fence.
“Right.” Frederick turned away and caught Harry’s eye. Forgetting their earlier arguments and Harry’s own suspicions, he gave him a comforting smile in return.
“Where’s his mother, anyway?” Nicola drawled pointing to Joshua. “Why are we all looking after him?”
“I don’t see you doing much looking after.” Gary muttered.
“All I’m saying is, she’s just dumped him on whoever’s around. Just what is so important that she isn’t looking after her son?”
“I’m looking after your son.” Victoria said as she entered, tucking her purse into a small handbag hanging off her arm. “Someone had to pay his taxi fare.”
“Victoria, darling!” Elizabeth squealed. “You’ve hidden yourself upstairs all day!”
“I have to make myself look attractive, mother. We can’t all just fall out of bed and look like you.”
“Oh, sweetie,” Elizabeth smiled, kissing her daughter on the cheek, “you’re too kind to me. Robert, Harry, this is my daughter, Victoria. Vicky, this is Harry he’s Frederick’s – ”
“Friend.” Both Frederick and Harry said at the same time and Ernest looked at them suspiciously as they both suppressed a smile. The fact that Frederick was beginning to smile about it, suggested to Harry that they might just make it through the holidays.
“Yeah, I’ve already met Freddie’s friend.” Victoria smiled, taking her own glass of wine as Harry sipped from his.
“And this is my new boyfriend,” Elizabeth widely and proudly. Robert – ”
“Robert Forrester.” Victoria said breathlessly. “Yeah, I remember.”
Harry turned to look at Robert, realising for the first time that he’d stood up and was just staring across the room at Victoria.
“Why does everyone always interrupt me when I say that?” Elizabeth asked, clearly annoyed at having her thunder stolen by her children.
Harry’s suspicions returned as Frederick laughed nervously and answered his mother. “Well, you, err, you don’t stop talking about him, do you?”
Robert stepped forward and gently kissed the back of her outstretched hand, both Robert and Victoria had a look of genuine shock on their faces.
“I see you’ve already met my son.” Victoria smiled a plastic-looking smile, not breaking eye contact with Robert.
“Josh is your… he’s your son?”
“He is. He’ll be seven next month.”
Robert paused for a moment. “I think I need a drink.”
“Oh, fantastic,” Reece gargled through the last dregs of his wine, “I’ll join you, I’m absolutely gasping.”
Gary looked up. “Pour me one while you’re there, son.”
“Son.” Harry heard Robert repeat with a nervous laugh as he passed him on the way to the drinks cabinet.
Read the next chapter here