Harry and Frederick reached the top of the stairs to find Nicola banging on the door to the room that Harry had been caught in earlier. “Matthew? Matthew, darling, come out!”
“That’s Matthew’s room?” Harry asked.
“Yeah.” Nicola stopped knocking and leant against the door. “He’s locked himself in, he won’t come out.”
Frederick moved over to the door. “Matthew, it’s Freddie. Are you going to let us in? Harry and I would like to talk to you.”
Frederick looked at the other two as they all waited for an answer, but there was none.
“I think I should try and handle it myself. The last thing he probably wants right now is a barrage of people trying to help.”
Harry smiled gently at Nicola. “I know that feeling. Come on, Freddie.”
He took hold of Frederick’s arm as he turned to his aunt. “Listen,” he said, “it might seem bad, but it could have gone worse. At least nobody died.”
“Yet.” Nicola growled out of the corner of her mouth, before pausing and staring at them.
Harry could tell she was referring to Ernest. Despite her previous dismissal of her youngest son, he had seen her visibly seething when Ernest had threatened to hit him.
“If you need us,” Frederick said after a moment, “we’ll be downstairs.”
Nicola nodded and returned to knocking on the door as Frederick and Harry made their way back downstairs.
“What a night, huh?”
After Ernest had stormed out of the dining room, the family had immediately started arguing again. Jennifer and Gary had briefly put aside their differences and turned on Robert, Elizabeth his only defence. Frederick had gotten involved with the argument as well while Nicola had stated bombarding her youngest son with questions. Matthew had turned and fled from the room, and as soon as Harry had managed to pull Frederick away from the edge of a fist fight with Reece, they had followed Nicola upstairs.
“Yeah,” Frederick agreed, “you know, sometimes I forget the reason why I left.”
“Who needs Hollywood when you’ve got this much drama going on at home?”
“It was brave of the kid, though, don’t you think? Announcing to everyone, just like that, that he was gay?”
“You’re telling me,” Frederick sighed as they reached the bottom of the stairs, “I found it difficult enough just telling one person. To tell a whole room of people like he did. Like you did. That was brave.”
“Not really,” Frederick started to lead him down a corridor in the opposite direction of the dining room, “most of the people in that room knew I was gay. Victoria knew. Your mum knew.”
“Pat knew as well, I told her when you were taking our bags up.”
“See, I wasn’t being brave, I wasn’t thinking, I was just… I was just sticking up for my boyfriend.”
Frederick pushed Harry up against the wall of the corridor and gently kissed him.
“So, you think this might mean you’re ready to tell the world about me and you?”
Harry kissed him back. “Well, if you can get the entire world into one room and get your grandfather to pick on you again, then, yeah, I’ll tell them.
Frederick pulled away from him. “Harry, I – ”
“Look, we need to talk, Freddie. Not here.”
Frederick sighed, took hold of his wrist and led him through the door to Harry’s left. They were in a small lounge room, bookcases lined the wall and two thirds of the room were taken up with soft couches. In the last part of the room was a large drinks cabinet, which at that moment was being tended to by Gary.
“Hi, boys,” he smiled, “can I fix you kids a little drink?”
“No, we’re alright thanks.” Frederick smiled over at him and he and Harry sat down on one of the couches.
“Freddie,” Harry lowered his voice so that Gary wouldn’t hear, “I know you’ve been lying to me.”
“What?” Frederick frowned. “I haven’t been lying to you.”
“Yes, you have. For a start you promised me that you wouldn’t tell anyone that I was your boyfriend. I leave you alone for two minutes and you’re telling people.”
“I was upset, I needed to talk to someone.”
“Yeah, well, aside from that, you told me you’d never met your mum’s boyfriend.”
“I haven’t, I hadn’t.”
“You have!” Harry sighed, more than a little exasperated.
“You boys ok, over there?” Gary asked. “You’re sure you don’t want any drinks?”
“We’re sure, Uncle Gary, could you leave us alone for a second?”
“But I’ve already poured them, I was hoping you’d join me.” Gary motioned to three glass tumblers on the side. “I’ll just have to drink them myself, can’t leave them sitting out, can we?”
“Uncle – ”
“I’ll be quiet, you won’t even know I’m here.”
Harry held his head in his hands as Gary started to work on the three glasses of scotch he’d poured.
“Your grandfather told us all that the only reason he even hired Robert was because of your advice. You told him to hire him, how could you do that if you’d never even met him?”
Frederick stared for a moment and Harry could see in his eyes the conflict in his mind. Continue the lie or come clean?
“You remember when I came back home that time, to help my grandfather with that interview? I met him then, that was him. I didn’t know until tonight that he was going out with my mum.”
“So why didn’t you tell her that you’d met him before? Earlier tonight, you just said that, that you remembered his name. You said it was nice to meet him! I don’t understand what’s happening Freddie.”
“I didn’t tell my mum that I’d met him, because I hadn’t told her that I’d come back. I didn’t go and see her while I was here and she would have been mightily pissed off if she’d found out. I guess Robert just took my lead.”
“Right.” Harry nodded but he was still uneasy. Everything that Frederick said sounded plausible, but he could tell he still wasn’t telling the whole truth.
“Look, Harry, I…” Frederick leant over and picked up one of the Scotch glasses from in front of Gary, who had just been nodding sagely. “I don’t see what the big deal is about me lying. What about you?”
“What about me?”
“You’re lying to the whole world! Every day that you hide your relationship with me, you’re lying!”
“Frederick, you said it yourself, Matthew was brave in that room tonight. I just have to work up a little more courage, but I think I’m ready.”
Frederick smiled at him and pulled Harry into an embrace. At that moment, the door opened and Ernest entered.
“Haven’t you two left yet?” Ernest picked up the remaining glass of Scotch and drank from it.
“Grandpa, I – ” Before Frederick could say anything, Gary interrupted, taking the empty glass from Ernest as he did.
“Dad, I think you should leave them alone.”
“Well…” He pulled a bottle of vodka from the cabinet, “my son is one of them now. I… I’m an honourary gay!”
“You’re a what?” Ernest looked as though the top of his head was about to blow off as he looked over at Harry and Frederick incredulously.
“Don’t look at me,” Frederick stuttered, “I… I don’t know what that is.”
“But it’s good that he’s embracing it, don’t you think?” Harry asked, enjoying watching Ernest get madder and madder.
Ernest pushed Gary out of the way and moved into the drinks cabinet. “You make me feel sick.”
“You’re not exactly settling my stomach either, Ern.” Harry smirked.
“Maybe you should go see a doctor, dad? If you’re not feeling well.”
Ernest glared at his son as Jennifer entered the room. “Ernest, I want to make you an appointment.”
“Oh, God, not you as well? Why can’t the two of you just leave me alone?”
“Because, you’re mistaking a make, Dad!” Gary slurred.
“Yes, well done,” Ernest patted his son on the shoulder, “you’ve just proved that there’s absolutely no point in me listening to you. Not until you sober up anyway, at least, and certainly not until you stop making up twaddle about having another brother.”
“Dad, Raymond – ”
“Listen, Ernie,” Jennifer smiled sweetly, “it’s been a tough few months on all of us, not least of all you. I’m – and I’m sure Gary is too – just worried that perhaps things are starting to get to you.”
“Things? What things?”
“Well, there’s Michael’s death. That wasn’t easy on any of us, especially… little Fiona. You know, she was saying to me, just yesterday, that the only reason she’s been able to cope with losing her father, is because she’s got you around, and you… you’re something of a father figure to her now.”
“What’s your point, Jenny?”
“My point, Ernest, is that your little outburst, earlier, after dinner, I don’t think you really meant everything you said.”
“Is that so?” Ernest raised an eyebrow.
“Which is why,” Jennifer smiled cautiously, “I think that perhaps you may need to see a professional. A medical professional.”
Ernest stared at her for a moment, as if he was waiting for the punch-line, before laughing a little. “Well, that’s very… considerate of you. Yes, perhaps, I will. My fillings have been giving me terrible gyp this last week.”
“Good,” Jennifer smiled widely, as if talking to a small child, “but… I was thinking… you know. Less dental, more… mental.”
“It may be beneficial.”
“Listen to me, my girl,” he pointed a finger at Jennifer, menacingly, “the only professional I need to see is my lawyer! And the sooner he gets here, the sooner I can cut you out of my will.”
It was plain to all of them in the room that Jennifer was seething inside, and there was no doubt that Ernest could see it as well, but she continued on with a pained smile. “This is exactly what I mean, Ernie,” she said, stroking his shoulder gently, “you’re lashing out at the people who love you most. I really think you should see someone before… before leaving everything you own to a complete stranger.”
Ernest nodded. “Ok.”
“Ok?” Jennifer recoiled in surprise.
“Ok. I will see your psychologist before I change my will.”
“Fantastic! We’ll book you an appointment – ”
“But, only if you can get your doctor here within twenty minutes.” Ernest smirked as Jennifer’s face fell. “As I said before, Gregory Lloyd is on his way here to help me change my will, and I’m not having him waste a journey, not on Christmas Eve. Now, that would be crazy.”
“So, you’re just going to ignore everything we say?”
“We?” Ernest asked. “Who’s we?”
“Well, Gary agrees with me. Don’t you, Gary?”
“Agree with you.” Gary muttered emotionlessly.
Ernest rolled his eyes. “He’s so drunk you could tell him he was made out of paper-mache and he’d agree with you!”
“So, you’re just going to leave everything to Robert, then? The business, your money, this house?”
Jennifer stared at him. “Fine. Fine. See if I care.” She turned and stalked out of the room, brushing past Nicola as she entered.
“You’re not really giving all the money to Robert are you?” Gary frowned.
“I’m not giving him anything. I’m making him my heir, and as you may have noticed, I’m not dead yet.”
“Not dead yet.” Gary agreed.
“What’s up with Jenny?” Nicola asked Gary, looking straight through Ernest.
Gary shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“She’s upset with me,” Ernest smiled, “because I’m making sure that she doesn’t have two pennies to rub together, and she’s worried that for once in her life, she might have to actually work for a living.”
“Why is she upset with you over that? There are so many better reasons for her to be pissed off at you.”
“Well, between you and me, Nicky, she’s not that bright, and with girls like her, it’s all about money.”
“Well, to some of us, there are more important things than money.” Nicola said, looking at Ernest coldly.
“Oh, pray tell,” Ernest said, waving his glass around, “why is the famous Nicola Nash so upset with me?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe it’s because you humiliated and embarrassed my son, right in front of his entire family. You insulted him for no good reason and then – ”
“Now, listen to me, that boy had it coming. Reece has been lying to us all.”
“I’m not talking about Reece! I’m talking about Matthew!” Nicola shrieked.
“Oh.” Ernest curled his lip in disgust. “That one.”
“How is Matthew?” Nicola turned around and looked at Harry, as if she’d just noticed he was there.
“He’s not good. He’s still not coming out.” A brief smile splashed across Nicola’s face. “Well, he already came out, and now that he’s out… he’s not coming out.”
“Good. I don’t want to have to look at the filthy little faggot again.”
Suddenly, Frederick stood up, and, without saying a word, punched his grandfather across the cheek. “Why don’t you say that again?”
“Why don’t you get out of my house?” Ernest sneered at his grandson, a red welt appearing across his face. “You didn’t even make me bleed. Faggot.”
“Just sit down, Freddie.” Harry led Frederick back over towards the couch and Gary followed his father back towards the drinks cabinet. Nicola sat down with the boys on the sofa.
“He’s still not letting you in?” Frederick asked.
“No.” Nicola buried her head in her hands. “Oh, I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried telling him that I don’t care what he is, that I love him anyway, but he just keeps telling me to go away.”
“He’s taken a big step.” Harry smiled at her trying to comfort her. “Coming out to his family, all of them, like that, it takes guts. I mean, it was amazing. Sometimes, you’re just not ready straight away to listen to people’s reactions.”
“But my reaction is good!” Nicola cried. “I love him no matter what, why can’t he understand that?”
“The way Matthew came out, it was a surprise not just to all of us, but to him as well. When I told my family, when Freddie told his, we had time to prepare ourselves for their reactions. Matthew just isn’t ready yet to face the reality of what he said.”
“He’s probably imagined it a thousand times,” Frederick continued for Harry, “he’s probably imagined a thousand different outcomes, and he needs to make sure he’s prepared for the worst one. He’ll come to you when he’s ready.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely.” Frederick nodded. “But I think, perhaps I should go try and talk to him again. It might be easier for one of us to speak to him first, you know, we’ve been through it too.”
“Yeah, sure.” Frederick stood up and Nicola took his hand and smiled at him.
Harry watched Frederick leave and then turned back to Nicola “You know, when I told my mum I was gay, she just smiled at me, told me that she already knew and then carried on doing her crossword.”
“What’s your point?” Nicola asked.
“The point is that she didn’t make a fuss over it, she just accepted what I said and carried on with life. She didn’t make a big deal, she didn’t cry and say it was the worst thing in the world, she didn’t whoop with joy and drag me out to the nearest gay bar, hunting for guys. She just carried on being my mum.
“So, you’re saying that we should just ignore it?” Nicola asked.
“No, I’m not saying ignore it, embrace it, totally, but let Matthew decide what he’s comfortable with, let him set the boundaries. If he wants to talk to you about it, he’ll talk to you about it. If he doesn’t talk about it, then don’t talk about it, but make sure you’re open enough for him to feel comfortable talking about it.”
“Yeah, well, it’s alright for your mum, she knew already, I had no idea.”
“Really?” Harry asked, with a slight disbelief. “You had no idea at all?”
“No. Why, did you?”
“One step inside his bedroom ought to have told you.”
“Why what’s in there?”
“You’ve never been in there?”
“No, he never lets anyone in, always keeps it locked.”
“It’s, err,” Harry was lost, trying to find the right words, “I guess, you might call it kind of a shrine.”
“To what?” Nicola looked alarmed.
“Gary! Just leave me alone will you?” Ernest rubbed his temples and sat down on a couch in the opposite corner to the rest of them.
“You’re socialising with us now?” Nicola raised an eyebrow.
“I’m socialising near you.”
“Still, after what you said about us all tonight, I would have thought you’d stay in your office until we’ve all gone. You hate us.”
“I don’t hate you, Nicola, I just don’t like you all that much. Besides, there aren’t many people left in this house who haven’t hit me.”
“There’s still time.” Harry muttered.
“Are you ever going to leave?”
“Dad!” Gary threw himself down next to his father, placed an arm around his shoulder and belched loudly.
“Dad, a… a chance. S’all I’m asking for.”
“A chance at what?” Ernest asked with a frown.
“You’re tired, dad, take… take a week off. Let me…”
“Let you what? Spit it out, boy.”
“Crumbleys! Let me run Crumbley’s for you!”
Pat entered the room just as Ernest stared at his son in disbelief. “You’re nothing but a waste of space, Gary, I wouldn’t leave you in charge of a cactus, let alone a business!”
“Ern – Err, Mr Cromwell.” Pat smiled, leaning slightly on the sideboard. “Mr Lloyd’s just arrived, here to see you, he says.”
“Excuse me, Gary, I’ve got business to deal with.”
“Mr Cromwell!” Harry jumped up from the couch as he headed for the door. “Could I have a word before you go?”
Ernest sighed loudly and looked over to Pat. “Tell Gregory I’ll be there in a moment, send him into the dining room and fix him up a meal, he’s been driving for four hours.”
Pat mumbled to herself as she limped out of the door. Although he couldn’t quite hear what she had to say, Harry could tell a few choice words were shot in Ernest’s direction.
“So, what is it then, boy? What do you want?”
“Could we, err, talk alone?” Harry followed Pat into the hall and watched as she slowly made her way down the corridor. Ernest reluctantly followed him. “Mr Cromwell, I wanted to talk to you about Frederick. About me and Frederick.”
“I don’t think I want to know anything about you and Frederick, thank you very much. It’s bad enough that the two of you do it, I don’t want you describing it to me.”
“I’m not going to talk about our sex life, Mr Cromwell.” Ernest recoiled slightly at Harry’s use of the word ‘sex’. “I just wanted to know if it’s true. Is Frederick really the brightest business mind you know?”
“I wouldn’t have said it if it wasn’t true.”
“So, why not leave Cromley’s to him, then? What has he done wrong?”
“What has he done?” Ernest looked at Harry with a genuine look of horror and bewilderment on his face. “In a word? You! You are what he’s done wrong! You’re a man! And he’s a man! It’s not natural. It’s disgusting, it’s –”
“It’s love!” Harry shouted loudly and Ernest quickly shut the door to the drinks room. “Me and Frederick met, in a bar. I was at a bad point in my life, my brother was not long dead, and he’d just moved out to LA, neither of us had anyone!”
“So, you… what? Missed England so much that you just jumped into bed with the first Englishman you met?”
Harry rolled his eyes. “We became friends. Pretty soon, I was telling him everything. I’d see something funny on the pavement and I’d ring him up to tell him, because I hated the fact that he wasn’t there to share it with me. I’m still the same. He’s my best friend, and I want to share my life with him, he has the most beautiful soul you could ever want in a partner and most of all, he loves me. He loves me for who I am and I don’t have to pretend to be anything or anyone else when I’m with him. Have you ever been in love, ever truly been in love?”
Ernest was taken aback slightly, his eyes bulging in shock. “Yes.”
“Then you know.” Harry said simply. “You know what it’s like. My love for Frederick, his love for me. It’s no different to the love between you and your wife.”
“Don’t you dare compare the depraved acts you and your boyfriend get up to with me and my wife! What you do is disgusting, what me and Doreen had – ”
“What you and Doreen had was disgusting!” Harry spat back at him venomously, changing tone so suddenly that both of them seemed surprised. “I… I’ll bet that’s what they said when you and her got together. A woman of that age, with a boy so young! And have you heard the whispers? She’s pregnant, and they’re not married. Ooh, it’s a depraved act that she’s committed, whispers one woman to the next, and the next agrees. Rape, she cries, that’s what it was, that poor boy, that poor defenceless boy, taken advantage of by that sick, sick woman.”
“Doreen was not – ”
“Soft in the head! That’s what the men were saying while their wives were gossiping about Doreen. The boy must be soft in the head! To let a woman take advantage of him like that! It’s disgusting!”
Ernest glared at him and stalked off down the corridor. “I’ve got things to do, leave me alone.”
“Is that what you said to Raymond?”
Ernest stopped suddenly and slowly swivelled around to face Harry. “How the hell do you know about Raymond?”
Harry smiled as he walked up to him. “You can fool your own family, Ernie, they’re not expecting you to lie, not about something as big as that. Besides, they’d remember, wouldn’t they?”
“What are you talking about?”
“I met him.” Ernest stared at him for a moment. “A few years back now, I had a little Saturday job in Cromley’s, one of those ones that pretends to be a corner shop. I wasn’t there for long, I had to move away, but I was there long enough to get a few extra late shifts every now and then. One night, this guy came into the shop and he hid himself away. I found him when I was closing up, hiding under a table, gripping hard onto this little lighter.
“I thought he was going to burn it down or something, but then he said he was your son. His father owned the shop. I was trying to calm him down, trying to get him to change his mind, and then suddenly he ran out and I never saw him again. I thought it was an insurance scam, but now… I’ve met you. I think he was looking for you. I think he was hoping you were in that shop. I think he wanted to kill you.”
Ernest’s face filled with a dark red colour and he looked like he was about to burst, just as Jennifer and Fiona came from down the corridor that led to his office.
“Ernest!” Jennifer jumped, not having seen them. “Fiona and I… we were just…”
“Getting my top from the wash room.” Fiona finished for her mother. “I spilt some water down it, and I wanted to get it dried before I went to bed.”
Ernest looked from Harry to Fiona and then to Jennifer. “I… I don’t care. Just go away.”
Fiona and Jennifer scuttled off towards the stairs as Harry watched Ernest move over to the door to the dining room where a middle-aged man was standing outside.
“Gregory,” Ernest smiled nervously, running a hand through his hair, “what are you doing out here?”
“Well, I… I didn’t want to interrupt them.”
“Interrupt who? Come on, don’t be so silly, let’s get you something to eat.” Ernest pushed open the door to the dining room.
“I’m not finished with you, yet.” Harry shouted, following him over to the dining room. “How can you treat your own flesh and blood the way you’ve treated Frederick and Matthew?”
“Yes! Yes, I fucked him!” Harry stopped as he heard the shouting from inside the dining room. Ernest stood next to him, the lawyer named Gregory stood on the other side of the doorway. All three of them remained silent as they looked over at Robert, Frederick and Victoria on the other side of the room. Robert continued his rant. “And yes, I fucked her!”
“Robert – ” Victoria began, as she caught sight of their audience.
“No, no, the two of you are absolutely right! I screwed around with a young college girl, just because I could, and she wasn’t the first, and she certainly wasn’t the last! And so what if I got her pregnant? Who cares? Who wants to look after some fat, spotty kid, anyway? Speaking of fat and spotty.” Robert moved his gaze to Frederick.
“I am not fat or spotty!” Frederick protested, he still hadn’t seen any of them watching.
“Not all of you, but that fat, spotty arse of yours that I fucked, makes me feel sick, every time I think of it, you filthy little whore. You let me do that to you, and then you convinced your grandfather to hire me and for what? I screwed you, and then I screwed you over! You’re pathetic. And now,” Robert laughed, “the two of you are whining, not because I fucked you, but because I stopped, and neither of you can handle the fact that now I’m screwing both your mother and your grandfather! And you know what? There’s nothing you can do about it!”
“Maybe we can’t.” Victoria said, not breaking eye contact with her grandfather. “But he can.”
Ernest’s face had turned from a deep crimson right through to a dark purple and his whole body shook as he managed, just about, to squeeze out a few words. “Gregory. Office. Now.”
Ernest and Gregory turned and left the room, and for a moment Robert did nothing, but stare at the empty space in the doorway, before turning and running after them, brushing past me on his way out.
Harry just stared across the room at Frederick who was looking at Victoria and smirking, seemingly happy to have gotten one up on Robert. Victoria nudged him and he finally noticed his boyfriend in the doorway. The colour drained from his face.
“Harry, I – ”
“You… you let him… do that to you?”
Frederick said nothing, he just bowed his head, and Harry turned and walked quickly from the room. Frederick ran ahead of him and blocked his path down the corridor.
“Harry, I – ”
“Just don’t say anything.” Harry turned away from him, not knowing where he was going, just moving away from Frederick. He passed Robert banging loudly on a door and slipped through the opposite door into a small bathroom. He slid the lock across and slumped against the door.
“Ernie! Ernie, open up!” Robert’s shouts drifted through the locked door.
Harry heard the office door flew open, from the sound of it, the force used could have easily pulled it off its hinges with the full force of Ernest’s rage. “I suggest you leave before I do something I regret.”
“But, we’ve got business to discuss, the – ”
“You’re fired!” Ernest practically screamed. “You must be kidding if you think I would leave you in charge of my business. Not now. Not ever!” Harry heard two thuds in quick succession as Ernest shoved Robert away, against the door to the bathroom, and then slammed his own door shut.
Read the next chapter here