“You’ve eaten them haven’t you?” Paul glared accusingly across the table.
Anna feigned deafness, nibbling daintily at a slice of dry toast.
“You have, haven’t you?” Paul poked a spoon around his bowl of cereal. “There’s not one raisin in my shredded wheat fruitful, you came down in the night and pinched all the raisins out of the box. They're the best bit and you've nicked them.”
“I’m telling Gordon.”
“Telling me what?” Gordon entered the kitchen towing James, who he’d found crouched in the laundry basket at the top of the stairs. “Sit down, James, would you like French toast for breakfast?” Gordon prided himself on his French toast. It was one of his few culinary successes.
James obediently sat down, gazing dreamily into space, occasionally nodding his head.
“She’s stolen all the raisins out of the shredded wheat again. It's not fair, she's ruined my breakfast.”
“Stolen?” Anna returned Paul’s glare, “that’s rich coming from you, klepto boy.”
“Made-with-Tony’s-Secret For-mu-la...Why can I read, Gordon?”
“There’s plenty of other fruit in your cereal, Paul, so stop fussing and just get on with it. Anna, you don’t have to be furtive about eating and you are NOT starting the day on one slice of dry toast, you can add cereal or a piece of fruit. Reading is something you learned, Nigel.”
“I wouldn’t mind if she kept them down, but I bet she puked them straight back up. They’ll be jamming up the u-bend on the loo.”
“I don’t remember learning, Gordon, are you sure I learned?”
“James, I asked you a question, so please answer me. Of course you learned, Nigel, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to do it.”
“Gypsy toast,” James turned a sweet smile in Gordon’s direction, “mother said to tell you it’s called Gypsy toast, not French toast. She doesn’t hold with foreign stuff.”
“Do you want some or not, James?” There was a hint of exasperation in Gordon’s voice. Sometimes James’s mother had a mite too much to say for a dead woman.
“Yes please, Gordon, I’d like some French Gypsy toast.”
You’re so immature, nerdy boy!”
“Ah, that’s what I missed most while I was away,” Nat walked into the kitchen. “The pleasures of a civilised and happy family meal. Good morning, my sunbeams. It's good to be home.” He turned to Anna; “ I want a word with you, Miss, straight after breakfast.”
Anna scowled as Paul smirked.
“What’s Tony’s secret formula, Nat?”
“It wouldn’t be a secret if I knew now would it, Nigel?” Nat carefully sat down, helping himself to a bowl of cornflakes. “Whose turn is it for the freebie?” He fished a Smurf out of his cereal, holding it aloft. “James, do you fancy possessing a small blue Smurf, it might be worth a fortune one day when plastic becomes extinct?”
James shook his head. “No thank you, mother says she doesn’t hold with gimmicky trash, and there’s no such thing as a free gift.”
“I bet your mother was a bloody side splitting riot to live with.”
“That’s enough, Paul.” Gordon and Nathaniel spoke in unison.
Nigel stopped reading the cereal box aloud and hopefully held out his hand.
“I’ll have it, Nat, I like Smurfs.”
“You certainly will not,” Gordon crisply plucked the little plastic toy out of Nat’s hand before he could drop it onto the outstretched palm. “Tell Nathaniel why you’re not allowed to have them anymore, Nigel.”
Nigel immediately clapped both hands over his mouth, shaking his head vigorously.
Paul and Anna both started to giggle.
“Very well, I’ll tell him.” Gordon turned to Nat. “I spent two excruciating hours with Nigel in casualty last Tuesday while a doctor fought to liberate a tiny plastic Hobbit that he’d wedged up his left nostril. Nigel screamed throughout the entire procedure reducing patients and staff alike to gibbering wrecks.”
Paul and Anna broke down completely, united for once by malicious glee.
Nathaniel was hard pressed to maintain a stern expression, but he persevered. “Stop it, both of you, it isn’t funny.”
Nigel began wailing, “tell them to stop laughing at me, Gordon. They don’t like me. I like them, but they don’t like me and I was only smelling Mr Frodo, he fell up my nostril and I couldn’t get him down again. I didn’t like having a Hobbit up my nose.”
Paul and Anna became almost hysterical.
“Stop caterwauling, Nigel, and that toy did not fall up your nose as you very well know. You pushed it up.” Gordon then gave the gigglers a look that sobered them immediately. “You’re both on washing up duties for the weekend and if so much as one item gets broken there’ll be trouble.”
“Gordon sent me to bed, Nat,” Nigel gazed at him from sorrowful eyes. “He sent me to bed when we got home from the hospital. I missed Blue Peter and he put Mr Frodo in the bin. I don’t think Gordon likes me anymore.”
Nat reached across the table and patted Nigel’s hand comfortingly, “of course he does, pet lamb, but you mustn’t put things in your nose or ears, it’s dangerous. You’ve been told lots of times not to do it.”
James suddenly pointed at the kitchen doorway. Everyone turned to look to where the new resident was standing. Nathaniel stood up with a smile, “good mor....” The figure bolted leaving Nat’s greeting hanging unfinished in the air. He raised a quizzical eyebrow. “I do seem to have a strange effect on that young man.”
Gordon smiled, “don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m afraid Christopher is something of a reluctant resident. I’ll go and talk to him. You finish up here.” He headed in the same direction as the fleeing figure.
“What a weirdo,” Paul gave Anna a snide grin, “he’s nearly as freaky as you.”
“He probably just caught a look at you, pus face, it’s enough to scare anyone.”
Paul’s chair flew back with a crash as he leapt to his feet, “you need talk. I’ve seen the dog next door bury better looking specimens than you.”
“Enough!” Nathaniel’s eyes and tone of voice blended perfectly in icy harmony. “No wonder the poor boy looked terrified. He must wonder what kind of place he’s come to. Paul, sit down, or do I have to call Gordon back here to attend to you?”
Paul righted his chair and sat down at once.
“As for you, little lady,” Nat turned to Anna, “Those promises you made to me before I went away seem to have amounted to very little. I’m disappointed with your behaviour.”
Anna swallowed, a slow flush of colour spreading across her thin face.
“I want you to apologise to each other for your unkind remarks, and make it sound sincere or I’ll hand you both over to Gordon.”
They exchanged mumbled apologies and limply shook hands resorting to hideous face pulling the moment Nat turned his back. He sighed, well aware of what they were doing. The weather outside suddenly made its presence felt, hurling hard rain against the windowpanes. Nat quickly put down the pile of crockery he’d been in process of taking to the sink. “Action stations everyone!”
They all scurried around placing buckets and containers in strategic positions around the old house, all except James, who refused to relinquish his bucket to be rained in. His mother had apparently taken up residence in it, and he didn’t want her getting wet.
Nat felt cheered as he remembered the money he’d raised. First thing Monday morning he would set about finding someone to fix the roof before the worst of the winter weather set in. He jumped with fright as Nigel suddenly let out a piercing screech, pointing dramatically towards the kitchen window. Nat felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise. Outside, a tall-bedraggled figure stood motionless in the pouring rain, eyes fixed and staring through the streaming pane.
Copyright Cat/Fabian Black 2011