There was a clatter as Thomas took the stairs two at a time. “Who is it?” he asked as he picked up the telephone.
His dad just smiled and went back to preparing dinner.
Thomas rolled his eyes. “Hello?”
He was greeted with laughter.
“Andrew? Is that you?”
“Wouldn’t your dad tell you who it was?” Andrew asked, still chuckling.
“Oh, he’s playing funny buggers again. I s’pose I should be used to it by now.” He poked his tongue out at his father, who was chuckling to himself.
Twenty minutes later Andrew was getting the wind-up signal from his mother, Jocelyn, who was mindful of the cost of the call. The boys took the hint and said their goodbyes.
“Um, Andrew’s having a party for his birthday.”
“Oh, which one?”
“Um, the one this year? Duh.”
“Well, that was a given. What I meant was ‘how old will he be?’”
Thomas sighed. “Dad, you know that! You know Andrew and I are the same age!”
“Oh, yes, I think I remember now.” He paused, apparently deep in thought. “So… how old are you this year? Eleven?”
Thomas grinned. “Wrong! That was last year.”
“Really? Are you twelve already?”
Neither of them could keep up the charade any longer and both burst into laughter. Thomas gave his dad a huge hug. “Oh, I love living with you, Dad.”
They held the hug for a few moments, each lost in his own memories. While Thomas was recalling being taken interstate by his mother and later told that his father had died in a car accident, Geoffrey was remembering the three long, lonely years that passed before he and his son were reunited. They both pushed those thoughts aside in favour of more pleasant memories of the two years since that eventful day.
“Even if you are weird,” Thomas added.
Geoffrey pushed him away, a worried look on his face. “Weird? You think I’m weird?”
And they were off again with the playful banter that had become common when they were together.
Eventually Geoffrey frowned, gave Thomas a quizzical look, and asked, “Now what was that about a birthday? Did you say someone’s having a birthday?”
“Dad, you’ve got the attention span of a piece of wood! It’s Andrew’s birthday, and he’s turning twelve… do you remember that much?”
Geoffrey chuckled. “Actually, yes. So… I guess you want to go?”
“Can we, please? Andrew said we could stay at their place, but he did say one of us might have to sleep with Rusty in his kennel.”
“That would be me, no doubt?” Geoffrey laughed. “Okay, when is it?”
* * *
“I hope you know the way to Andrew’s place,” Geoffrey said, as he and Thomas climbed into their rental car at Tullamarine Airport.
Thomas rolled his eyes, “Dad, I practically lived there. Of course I know where it is!”
Geoffrey grinned as he watched Thomas punch the address into the satellite navigation unit.
“There… happy now?” Thomas asked. “You get us to the street and I’ll show you which house it is. Your kennel’s in the backyard.”
Geoffrey chuckled. “Oh, how I love winding you up, Tom. I’ve never known anyone bite the way you do!”
They were both laughing as the car moved off. Half an hour later they were pulling up in front of Jocelyn and Andrew’s terrace home.
Thomas had just stepped out of the car when the front door of the house opened and Andrew appeared.
Thomas’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “Andrew! You’re walking!”
“Yep!” Andrew was beaming. He grabbed Thomas in a bear hug.
“But… how? Um… I mean, I thought you were going to be stuck in the wheelchair?”
“So did I, but they finally worked out what was wrong… and then it was just a matter of waiting, really.”
Jocelyn came to the door. “Andrew, invite Thomas and his dad in! I’m sure they’re dying for something to eat and drink.”
“Oh, hang on,” said Thomas. “Dad, this is Andrew… and that’s his mum, um, Ms Carter. You spoke to her on the phone the other night.”
“Jocelyn,” Andrew’s mother said, holding out her hand to Thomas’s dad.
“Geoffrey,” he said, as they shook hands. “It’s nice to be able to put a face to your voice.”
“Likewise,” Jocelyn said. “Please, come in. I’ve put the kettle on to make a cuppa.”
“Ahh, just what I need,” Geoffrey said. “Thank you.”
Thomas and Andrew looked at each other and shook their heads, as the adults disappeared into the house.
“My mum’s addicted to tea,” Andrew said, incredulously.
“Tell me about it,” Thomas said, nodding. “Hey, where’s Rusty?”
“Oh, he’s out the back. We thought he’d get excited when you arrived, and Mum was worried he’d trip me up. I’m not real steady on my feet yet. I’ve only been walking for a few weeks.”
“So… what happened? And… mister…” Thomas tried to glare at his friend. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Andrew laughed at Thomas’s expression. “I wanted to surprise you. Anyway, come in and we’ll tell you all about it…”
Over tea and scones for the adults and juice and biscuits for the boys, Jocelyn and Andrew told the story of his illness and recovery.
Andrew was eight when he began complaining about pain in his hip. Various specialists examined him and carried out numerous tests but none of them were able to make an accurate diagnosis. The pain grew worse and walking eventually became so difficult that Andrew had to use a wheelchair.
“I remember that you missed so much school it wasn’t funny,” Thomas said. “It was not long after Mum moved us to Melbourne, and you were pretty much my only friend. I hated the days you weren’t at school.” He grinned. “Then you turned up in that chair one day… and guess who got the job of pushing you around?”
Andrew sighed. “Yeah, you were the only one who helped me. Most of the kids I knew kind of drifted away after that. I guess I was too much work.” His eyes moistened. “I didn’t know what I was going to do when you moved to Adelaide,” he said. “I didn’t really have any other friends by then.”
“We were so happy you and your dad were reunited,” added Jocelyn, “but this guy was down in the dumps for quite a while.” She gave her son a sideways hug.
Andrew looked up at his mum with an affectionate smile. “And then Percy turned up,” he said, laughing when Thomas grimaced. “I know, who would name a kid Percy? That’s his nickname. His real name is Jordan Percival, and on his first day at our school someone called him Percy, trying to make fun of him, and it stuck.”
“Some of the other kids weren’t very friendly towards him at first,” Jocelyn explained, “so he kind of gravitated to Andrew and they became good friends.”
“And he became my ‘driver’,” Andrew added. “Did a better job than the last one, too!” He ducked as Thomas took a swipe at him.
Jocelyn continued. “Percy and Andrew began spending a lot of time together outside school. Percy was often here, and his family’s house was wheelchair-friendly, so Andrew was able to spend time there, as well.
“Percy’s mother is a teacher, and she remembered that a boy at one of her previous schools had this rare disease. Andrew’s symptoms sounded familiar, so she contacted someone at that school and got as much information as she could—she even found out the name of the doctor who had treated the boy. And the rest, as they say, is history.
“It turned out that Andrew had Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease, which is a pretty rare condition caused by a disruption of blood flow to the ball of the femur. The bone dies and stops growing, but over time new blood vessels kind of invade the dead bone, and healing occurs.”
“That’s why I said it was a matter of waiting,” Andrew added.
“Wow!” said Thomas.
“So… are you healed now?” Geoffrey asked.
“It’s still a waiting game at the moment,” said Jocelyn. “But he’s heaps better now than he was—he’s walking again, and the pain is pretty well gone. We’re just hoping there hasn’t been any irreparable damage to the head of the femur. They reckon the younger a boy is when he gets it, the better the chance of the dead bone being fully replaced. They think Andrew will be fine.”
Geoffrey picked up on Jocelyn’s use of ‘boy’. “Do only boys get it?”
“Girls can, too, but boys are four times as likely to be affected.”
“Hey, enough of this stuff. Thomas, come and say hello to Rusty. See if he remembers you!”
The boys headed off down the passage to the back of the house, Andrew leaning on Thomas’s shoulder.
Jocelyn’s eyes followed them. “It’s so good to see them together again. Andrew’s really missed Thomas.”
“And Tom has missed Andrew. I’m sure they spend hours every day online, chatting. I’m glad they’re online and not on the phone! But I hope Tom hasn’t been keeping Andrew awake when he should be resting.”
“Oh, probably, but I figure it’s good therapy for him to keep in touch with Thomas. I think that’s more important than getting however many hours’ sleep every night. He has a few good friends here now, but it took him a long time to get over losing Thomas. He was absolutely thrilled when you said Thomas could come for his birthday.”
“Ha! As if I could have got out of that!” Geoffrey laughed. “Not that I would have tried to. Tom has been wanting to come for a visit for ages, and it has been nearly two years since he left Melbourne. We really should have made the effort long before this, but my work has been keeping me busy, and it took a while for us to get used to being together again.”
Jocelyn poured another cup of tea and the two adults chatted amiably, interrupted when the boys returned. “We’re hungry!” they declared.
* * *
Knowing that Jocelyn and Andrew’s home had only two bedrooms, Geoffrey had booked a motel room for himself for the night. He’d intended to drop Thomas off and then spend the rest of the day at the motel.
Jocelyn wouldn’t hear of that. She suggested that they go for a drive to Williamstown. “It’s only five minutes down the road, and it’s like a separate village, even though it’s a suburb of Melbourne. It’s very historic, and I always enjoy a visit.”
There was no way the boys were going to be left out. “Can we go to HMAS Castlemaine? Andrew asked.” I missed out on the school excursion because I was in the wheelchair. Ple-e-ease?”
Jocelyn and Geoffrey exchanged glances. “My shout,” Geoffrey said.
“Yay!” both boys cried simultaneously.
They all enjoyed the tour of the ship, a corvette which had served in the Royal Australian Navy during the Second World War. She mostly escorted convoys up and down the east coast and between Australia and Papua New Guinea, but she was also involved in ferrying troops and refugees from East Timor to Darwin.
Nearby there was a craft market selling handmade and homegrown items. Thomas bought a few small gifts for friends back in Adelaide.
The afternoon passed pleasantly. Andrew and Thomas found it was much easier talking and catching up in person than it was online, and it was almost as if they had not been separated for two years. They were too busy to notice that their parents seemed to be getting along well.
They ended the day with dinner at a delightful cafe almost on the waterfront. During the meal Thomas asked his dad if they could make time to visit his old neighbour, Mr Lane, before they returned to Adelaide.
“How about you do that in the morning, while I’m getting everything ready for the party?” Jocelyn suggested.
“Don’t you need help, though?” Geoffrey asked.
“Not really. There’s not a lot to do, and Andrew will be there if I need him.”
“Okay, we’ll do that, then. Tom, can you be ready at ten o’clock?”
Since they had used Geoffrey’s rental car to make the trip to Williamstown he dropped the others at home, then went to his motel.
* * *
“Thomas! My word, how you’ve grown!” Mr Lane exclaimed when he opened his front door to Thomas’s knock the following morning. “And who’s this gentleman?” he asked, nodding in Geoffrey’s direction.
Introductions made, Thomas talked nineteen to the dozen with the elderly man for the next hour. Geoffrey sat back and mostly listened, enjoying the obvious affection the two shared as they caught up on news and teased each other about the merits of their respective football teams. When it was time to leave Geoffrey made sure that Mr Lane knew he was welcome to stay with them if he ever visited Adelaide.
Thomas hugged his old friend and said, with a cheeky grin, “We’ll take you to an Adelaide game so you can watch a real footy team play!”
“Humph,” Mr Lane shot back, “my Bulldogs will make mincemeat of your Crows!”
Geoffrey and Thomas were still chuckling when they arrived back at the Carter home.
Jocelyn and Andrew had almost finished preparing for the party. The adults shooed the boys out of the living room so they could put up decorations and a ‘Happy Birthday Andrew’ banner. They talked as they worked, and Geoffrey discovered that the company Jocelyn worked for was in financial trouble and likely to shut down.
“What sort of work do you do?”
“I’m secretary to one of the senior managers,” Jocelyn replied, then added, “and I hate it. He’s a real sleaze, always trying to pull a swifty on suppliers or clients. And the others aren’t much better; it’s no wonder the company’s in trouble.”
“I think I know someone who’s looking for a competent person to share his workload. He’s a lawyer. Would you be interested?”
“Uh… possibly. I’d love to leave before things get worse, but I can’t afford to be out of work—and there’s Andrew to think of; I wouldn’t want to take him away from the doctors who are helping him.” She paused, thinking. “And I’d need to know that the new boss was a good guy; I couldn’t stand working for another sleaze.”
“Well, this guy’s one of the good ones. Oh, hang on… I think you’ve met him—it’s Philip de Clare, the guy who found Tom for me. My firm has been doing some renovation work at Philip’s offices. One thing we’ve done is create an additional room, and I know it’s for an assistant for Philip. He mentioned the other day that he’s about ready to start looking for someone to fill the position.”
“Yes, I remember Philip. He seemed really nice. Do you know what he wants, exactly?”
“Uh, no, not really. I do know that he works alone and that he’s getting so much work that he’s been having trouble keeping up. He already has a secretary who also acts as receptionist, and I think he’s looking for a kind of personal assistant-cum-office manager.”
“Hmmm, that sounds tempting,” Jocelyn replied. She sighed. “But I’d still have to move Andrew away from his doctors.” She smiled, “But, on the other hand, he would be closer to Thomas, and I know he’d jump at that!”
Geoffrey laughed. “Oh, yeah, Tom, too! He has friends in Adelaide, but Andrew is his first love. I—” He stopped abruptly, realising that he’d probably revealed more than he should have.
Jocelyn smiled. “It’s okay, Andrew doesn’t keep secrets, and it’s obvious how they feel about each other. I had an inkling even before Thomas moved back with you; I guess I’m more surprised that their relationship has survived the separation. In fact, it seems to have deepened.”
“Yes, I’m sure it has. Tom had told me how he felt about Andrew, but I figured they were too young to know how they really felt, and I didn’t take what he told me seriously enough. But having seen them together since we’ve been here—and heard what you’ve just told me—I think it’s more likely that I’ve missed, or misinterpreted, the signs.”
The discussion continued, until Geoffrey and Jocelyn came to an agreement. He would speak to Philip when he returned to Adelaide, and she would approach Andrew’s doctors to find out if there were suitably qualified and experienced specialists in Adelaide who would be able to continue his treatment and monitor his progress.
Naturally, nothing was set in stone, since there was no guarantee that Jocelyn’s skills would meet Philip’s requirements or even that he and she would be able to work together. Jocelyn would not even entertain the idea of moving interstate unless Andrew was happy to do that, and there was the matter of accommodation as well.
They decided to keep their plans from the boys until there was something more concrete to tell them.
* * *
The party was a huge success. Andrew had invited Percy as well as a couple of other friends, Robbie and Paul, and the five of them had a blast.
It soon became obvious to Andrew’s other friends that he was a changed person with Thomas around and that there was more to the relationship than they had realised. None of them seemed bothered by that. In fact, Robbie told Andrew, “If anyone ever gives you grief about being gay, I’ve got your back!” That earned him a huge grin from Andrew, who knew that his friend would be quite capable of defending him. Robbie was a karate champion.
There was some good-natured teasing later—“Ooooh, lover boys!” and “Get a room, you two!”—when Thomas sneaked a kiss from Andrew when he thought no one was looking.
Jocelyn, keeping an eye on the boys’ highjinks during the afternoon, also noted the change in her son. Geoffrey realised that Thomas was different, too. They kept their thoughts to themselves, but both hoped that they would not have to separate their boys again.
After Percy, Robbie and Paul had left Geoffrey and Thomas helped Jocelyn put the house back in order while Andrew rested. When it came time for Geoffrey and Thomas to return to Adelaide there was sadness all round. Andrew and Thomas were mollified by the promise that Jocelyn would take Andrew to Adelaide for a visit before too long.
On the flight home, Thomas was uncharacteristically quiet. When Geoffrey asked what was wrong Thomas merely said he missed Andrew. Geoffrey found it hard to not reveal what might take place, and hoped fervently that everything would work out. He was rather surprised when he realised that his hopes involved Jocelyn as well.
* * *
Back in Adelaide, Geoffrey approached Philip de Clare and put in a good word for Jocelyn.
Philip remembered Andrew’s mother. “She struck me as a very competent lady,” he said, “and very committed to her son.” He agreed to set up a telephone interview. If that went well he would arrange to meet with Jocelyn in person.
Geoffrey confessed that he had an ulterior motive. “Remember how you thought there might have been something more to Andrew and Tom’s friendship?”
“Well, I reckon you were right. I watched them over the weekend and I’m convinced there’s a budding relationship there. They were both really upset when Tom and I left, and it was hard to see them separated again.” He paused. “Um… and… it’s actually more complicated than that, because I think I would like to see more of Jocelyn.”
“Well, I can’t promise anything, Geoffrey, but if she fits the bill at least you’ll be in the same city!”
* * *
The next few weeks were a flurry of activity. Philip was very impressed with Jocelyn’s telephone interview and arranged to meet with her when he flew to Melbourne for a business appointment a few days later. He hired her on the spot, subject to Andrew’s approval and Jocelyn’s success in lining up medical care for Andrew in Adelaide.
Everything came together nicely, and two months after the party Jocelyn and Andrew watched the furniture van carrying their belongings set off on its way to their new home. Rusty was in the cab with the crew, who had promised to look after him well.
Andrew said a tearful goodbye to Percy, Robbie and Paul, at the same time extracting from each a promise to visit. Jocelyn had given her old car to a needy family, so she and Andrew took a taxi to the airport. Geoffrey and Thomas would meet them in Adelaide.
* * *
Thomas was pacing impatiently. “How long does it take for them to get off the darned plane?” he grumbled, as he watched dozens of other passengers streaming out of the gate. He gave his father a stricken look. “They wouldn’t have missed the plane, would they?”
“I sure they didn’t,” Geoffrey replied, “because here they are!”
Thomas turned back to the gate and saw Jocelyn and Andrew coming towards them. His jaw dropped. “Andrew, why are you back in your wheelchair?”
“Relax, it was just a precaution. Mum didn’t want me to get trampled by the crowd.” Andrew stood and hugged his friend. “See, I can still walk!” He did a little jig to prove it.
Thomas grabbed him in another hug, fighting back tears. “Oh, man, I thought you’d had a relapse or something.”
“Nah, I’m fine,” Andrew reassured him. He looked around. “Where did Mum—” He broke off with a giggle.
Thomas turned around, wondering what was funny. “Oh, there she is,” he said, chuckling. “Looks like we’re not the only ones pleased to see each other!”
Geoffrey and Jocelyn were totally engrossed in their own hug.
“Oh, my gosh!” Andrew exclaimed. “They’re even kissing!”
Copyright © 2017 Alien Son
My thanks to Pedro for his many helpful suggestions.