Peter made an exacting and prolonged examination of the knees of his smart, yes Peter; you will wear them, black trousers. Anything rather than look up and observe what was taking place in front of him. His, yes Peter you will wear it, tie had taken on the role of tourniquet and was intent on throttling him, he irritably fingered the knot. He was hot too, his, Jesus Christ! You can’t make me wear that, jacket had acquired the qualities of a 13.5 duvet and was attempting to give him heat stroke. The knees of his trousers lost their appeal and he sighed, bending his head further forward to peer at the tops of his, if you want me to look smart you polish them, black shoes.
After running out of things to examine at close quarters, he closed his eyes and rested his head in his hands, concentrating hard on a vision of decapitating Neil with a blunt machete. A nudge in the ribs almost sent him sprawling from his chair.
“Sit up straight, young man,” whispered the nudger fiercely.
Peter treated Sheila to a look he usually reserved for her brother as he reluctantly heaved himself into a more acceptable position. He remembered he had put his watch on that morning and pushed his sleeve back to examine it, watching the second hand drag itself through its perambulations. It was turning into the longest day of his life.
His younger siblings, Ben and Josie, both highly excited, burst into spontaneous applause as a proclamation was made and the couple in front of the small gathering kissed each other. Ben dashed forward before Sheila could restrain him, making everyone laugh by yelling, “he’s my daddy now, he’s my real daddy.”
Neil grinned, scooping the little boy up into his arms for a hug and kiss. Three-year-old Josie, unwilling to allow her five year old brother to take all the affection on offer, followed hard on his heels holding out her arms for Neil to lift her up too. It was a general cue for everyone to make a move and surge forwards to congratulate the newly married pair.
Peter remained motionless in his seat.
“Come on, love,” Sheila smiled and stood up, holding out her hand, “don’t let that pair of little charmers hog all the limelight, “come and congratulate your mother and Neil.”
Ignoring both the outstretched hand and the invitation, Peter got up and quickly headed in the opposite direction to everyone else.
Sheila clicked her tongue, “awkward little devil,” she muttered.
Neil glanced over the heads of the other guests, catching a glimpse of a surly jacket as it disappeared through the door at the back of the room.
“Won’t be a mo, Jenny, just want to have a word with Pete,” quickly setting the little ones down he kissed his new wife and then headed purposefully in the direction of the jacket. However, the registry office waiting area was empty by the time he reached it, except for a jacket and tie, which glared defiance at him from the green-carpeted floor. He snatched them up and sprinted out of the building and onto the street, scanning up and down, but there was no sign of the reluctant wedding guest. He shook his head, muttering crossly to himself, and then went back inside to rejoin the more willing guests.
Peter, hidden behind a huge display of dried flowers, smiled for the first time in days as he watched Neil, still clutching the jacket and tie, go back into the room he had just got hitched in. Thrusting his hands deep into his trouser pockets Peter left the safety of his floral arrangement and exited the registry office at a sedate pace.
Jenny was understandably upset to learn that her eldest son had done a disappearing act, particularly when the photographer began herding them into groups. She was all for cancelling the photographs, but Neil shook his head firmly, declaring, “if we cancel, it means Peter has won. We’re going ahead with everything as planned and we’re going to enjoy ourselves. Master misery will keep until later.”
Peter rather regretted abandoning his jacket as he scuffed through the last of the autumn leaves that littered the streets. Being November it was too cold for just shirtsleeves. He quickened his pace, heading for the bus stop that would supply him with his transport home. He had brought a small amount of money for just such a purpose. Yeah, he thought, with a satisfied smirk, as the bus wheezed along, you could drag a boy to a wedding, but you couldn’t make him celebrate. He huffed on the window and drew little smiley faces in the mist.
Once home he inserted his key in the lock and then hesitated, trepidation replacing euphoria. What if Neil had hopped in the wedding car and nipped home ahead of him to lay in wait. No, he mentally shook himself, there was no car on the drive and the house was still and quiet. He yelled just to make sure, “Oy, dickhead!”
Definitely no Neil. Peter closed the door behind him, scowling at the row of suitcases that waited in the hall ready to be loaded into the car first thing tomorrow morning. They belonged to his mother and Neil and were packed in preparation for their weeklong honeymoon in Cornwall. Peter made a gagging motion, poking two fingers towards the back of his throat. There were other cases too, his and the little sprog’s, they were to be unloaded at Sheila’s, in downtown Huddersfield for their weeklong stay with her. He savagely kicked the largest of the suitcases and then headed down the hall to the kitchen in pursuit of food. He’d refused breakfast that morning, on principal, and he was now starving, the thought of having outwitted his mother and Neil honing the edges of his appetite.
Opening the fridge door he peered hopefully into its brightly lit interior. Smoked salmon, pate, French Brie, Champagne, hmm. Peter’s blue eyes lit up. Obviously his mother and dickhead were planning on a continuance of the celebration once he and the ankle nippers were safely in bed that night.
Smoked salmon, slimy vile! Peter spat it out in disgust. Pate, gross! It was like eating dog food; he sent it in the same direction as the salmon. French Brie, ugh, like chewing on an eraser. Why did people eat this crap? The champagne had entertainment value at least. Peter unwound the wire cage and shook the bottle racing driver style, giving a whoop of delight as the cork shot out, orbiting round the kitchen like a comet, trailing a tail of white foam. It took out a mug on the kitchen dresser before coming to rest in the sink. Cool, Peter was impressed. Anything that could perform tricks like that had to taste good. He put the bottle to his lips and swigged. A grimace followed by a shudder of gargantuan proportions worked its way from taste buds to toes. He’d expected something so fizzy to taste sweet, but it was like sucking on a lemon. Still, he wiped the water from his eyes, and took another experimental swig, sucking on a lemon had a perverse kind of pleasure about it. He lowered the bottle and looked at it, a wave of guilt breaking over him. His mother would be really upset - she hated him drinking straight from the bottle. He crossed to the cupboard and virtuously got a glass out. That was better.
“I’m gonna kill that kid,” muttered Neil, drawing in his breath as he opened the front door and surveyed the contents of the suitcases strewn with liberal abandonment about the hall and stairs.
“Yep, going to murder the brat,” Neil slipped on a salmon slick in the kitchen, only recovering himself by grabbing the back of a chair. He pictured the newspaper headlines in his mind’s eye: stroppy stepson slaughtered by smoked salmon wielding groom in frenzied wedding day attack.
“Peter!” He roared, and then let out a strangled gasp as he stepped on what appeared to be a large dog turd. Gliding across the kitchen floor, leaving a brown skid mark, he smacked into the doorframe, almost knocking himself unconscious in the process. Now he was really vexed. Grimacing in disgust, he wiped the slimy pate from the bottom of his shoes with kitchen paper, while mentally revising the headline: twelve year old terror tortured and terminated by tired and traumatised groom in post nuptial pate attack.
“Peter!” he bellowed again, striding into the hall and wading through the sea of clothing. A small noise from the direction of the upper landing sent ripples of unease through him. “Petey,” he called anxiously, “are you alright?” He took the stairs two at a time, almost falling on the empty champagne bottle on the top step. A shattered glass lay nearby.
“Peter, oh my God!” Neil felt a surge of panic as he observed the prone figure on the landing. The boy’s pallor was alarming. Pulling himself together he grabbed him under the armpits and hoisted him upright. Draping him over his left arm, he slammed his right hand hard between the skinny shoulder blades. Once, twice, three times, the panic accelerated. “Come on, Petey, don’t do this to me, you little horror.” Thank God, the fourth slap produced the desired result and a plug of vomit shot out of the boy’s mouth like a cork from a bottle, followed by a thin high wail of distress. Neil managed to get him into the bathroom and over the toilet in time for him to deposit a seemingly endless stream of sick into the bowl. At last the river dried up. Neil wrung out a cloth in cold water and washed Peter’s perspiring face with it, noting with relief that the bluish tinge had left his lips. He felt sick and shaky, what if he hadn’t come home. He hadn’t wanted to come. Peter had been a nuisance for months, winding everyone up, being unpleasant. He had felt inclined to leave him to his own devices and get on with enjoying his wedding day, but Jenny had pleaded with him to pop home to see if Peter was there and bring him back to the reception.
“Why do you always have to stick your big beak in? I don’t want you. I want my mum. I don’t feel very well.” There was an accusatory note in Peter’s voice.
The thread anchoring Neil’s temper to earth snapped with a resounding twang, “Of course you don’t feel well, you idiot child,” he bellowed, “you almost killed yourself. If I hadn’t turned up you would have drowned in your own vomit and believe me, finding a dead kid on the landing, however obnoxious, would have seriously cramped my wedding night style!”
Peter began to cry and Neil stopped yelling. Running a shaking hand through his hair, he spoke more gently, “what’s going on, Peter, do you think that your mother loves you any the less because she loves me? The little ones have accepted me, why can’t you?” He took out his hanky, offering it to Peter, who thrust it angrily away.
“Get stuffed,” he got unsteadily to his feet, “and if you think I’m going back to your poxy bloody reception then you can think again.”
Neil sighed. He’d bent over backwards to accommodate Peter and all he’d got in return was abuse. Right from the beginning the child had spurned all his attempts to be friendly and once he and Jenny had announced their intention to marry, he had crossed the line from sullen and unresponsive into sullen and downright obnoxious. He looked sadly at his newly acquired stepson, who returned the look with a challenging glare.
“I’m not going to stay with your ugly sister for a week either. You can’t make me go and if you do, I’ll run away.”
It suddenly clicked. Neil stood up a little straighter. Challenging was the right word.
Peter was challenging him, seeing how far he could go, how much crap he was prepared to accept before saying enough was enough. He was pushing to see whether Neil would stand firm, or clear off when the going got tough. He thought back to what Jen had told him about her first husband. According to her, he hadn’t had much time for any of his children, least of all his first-born. He would clear out, sometimes for weeks at a time, whenever any kind of crisis arose, leaving Jen to deal with it alone. The slightest excuse and he was off, ranging from the kids being ill, to the kids being too demanding and stressful. He would claim to need a break from family life, as if it was something you could pick up and put down like a newspaper whenever it suited. She had then discovered he was seeing someone else, and had been on the brink of divorcing him when he had been killed in an industrial accident. Neil decided to skate around the edges of his theory. “Do you miss your father, Peter, is that what this is all about? Do you think I’m trying to step into his shoes, take his place?”
Peter almost laughed at the idea that he missed his father, almost, only he felt so wretched he didn’t think he’d ever laugh again. He tried to shove past Neil, but was held by the arm.
“Talk to me, son.”
“I’m not your son, so get your hands off me,” yelled Peter furiously, pulling his arm away. “And no, for your info, not that it’s any of your business, I don’t miss my father. He hardly ever spoke to me. I just had to look as if I was going to ask him a question and he’d bugger off. He was a WANKER, just like you!”
Neil drew a sharp breath as a painful kick landed on his ankle. The time for theorising was past. Shrugging off his suit jacket he slung it over the towel rail. Then, taking a firm grip of Peter’s hand, he propelled him out of the bathroom and into his bedroom. “Let’s deal with a few issues here and now shall we,” sitting on the bed he yanked Peter across his knees and wrapped his left arm around his waist. He raised his right hand, “you’re a naughty boy and I’m going to punish you for that mess you made downstairs and for spoiling your mother’s day. How do she think she feels being groomless at her own wedding reception. Then there’s the little matter of you endangering your life.”
Peter jumped as a sound reminiscent of the crack of a whip rang through the room, swiftly followed by a flood of warmth in his backside. He yelped. “I’m telling my mum...let me up…you big BASTARD!” He let out a gasp, squirming, as the hand landed again on the seat of his best black trousers. The shock of being spanked completed the sobering process. Kicking up his feet he shouted, “you can’t do this!”
Neil drew back his hand, “oh believe me, young man, I can indeed. Now, let’s talk about how things are going to be from this moment on. First. I don’t like the language you use. It stops here and now. Second. I’m not going to disappear the moment a cloud dots the horizon. If you’re unwell, I’ll be here,” he brought his hand down hard on the seat of the black trousers eliciting shrieks of protest. “Furthermore, you can ask me as many questions as you like and if I can, I’ll answer them.” He calmly grasped Peter’s hand as he tried to use it to protect his bottom, holding it securely out of the line of fire. He then continued to spank and talk. “If you need help of any kind, I’ll be here along with your mother and, no matter how badly you behave, you won’t scare me off. I’ll always be here. Right where I am now in fact, sitting on this bed with you over my knee.” He reiterated the point with several brisk slaps.
Peter yelled, but managed to fight back the tears that were building up in his eyes. He wouldn’t cry, he wouldn’t. Neil’s voice sounded above him, keeping perfect pace with the rise and fall of his hand.
“I’ll do anything to help and support you, but you need to understand that I won’t put up with any more nonsense, Peter. There might well be times when you wish I would just disappear. Because if you step out of line in future, you’ll get a good spanking, just like you’re getting now.” Neil stopped talking for a few moments to concentrate further on the task in hand, peppering Peter’s backside with rapid, firm smacks. “In fact, if you ever kick me again, I won’t hesitate to take down your trousers and spank your bare backside.”
Peter finally gave way to his tears. The very thought of being spanked on the bare bottom was too much to even contemplate, not when being spanked over his trousers hurt badly enough.
Neil lifted Peter from his thighs, standing him back on his feet, expecting him to pull away from him, but he didn’t. A pair of arms locked about his neck as Peter clung to him, his tears trickling down inside his collar. He put his arms around him, giving him a cuddle of comfort
Peter got his hitching sobs controlled enough to manage speech. “You told Josie and Ben that they could call you daddy. You never said that to me. My own dad couldn’t be bothered with me and I thought you didn’t want to bother with me either.” The tears started up again.
“I’m so sorry, Peter, to be honest I didn’t think you’d welcome me making such an offer to you.” Neil was appalled that he hadn’t taken into account how such an omission could be interpreted. “I thought you’d tell me to get lost, that you were too old or something. I apologise. It wasn’t lack of desire, I promise you. I’m more than happy for you to call me daddy or, if that’s too babyish, dad.”
Peter continued, crying harder, “Josie was only a baby when dad died and Ben doesn’t remember him. It’s like you can be a proper dad to them, the only one they’ve known, but I remember our first dad, which means you can’t be a proper dad for me.”
“Course I can,” Neil frantically tried to analyse the child logic at work behind such a statement. “Someone who didn’t feel like a proper dad would just shrug your behaviour off. However, because I’m your dad now, as well as spanking you for your bad behaviour, how about I ground you and stop your pocket money for the rest of your childhood. Would that be proof enough of how seriously I take my role as your father?”
Peter reached a hand back to rub his sore behind. “I think the spanking is more than enough proof on its own, thank you.” He managed a watery smile.
“That’s okay then, we’ll leave it at that,” Neil returned the smile and then stood up, brushing the blonde fringe back from Peter’s forehead. “Go and brush your teeth then get changed, while I clean up that mess on the landing. Then we’ll get back to the party and put your mother’s mind at rest. You make sure you say sorry and give her a big hug.”
Peter nodded, then a sudden glint of mischief appeared in his eyes, “dad, can I have a glass of champagne when we get there?”
“Water for you, my son, and nothing more,” Neil aimed a swat at Peter’s rear, which he evaded with a giggle, dashing off to the bathroom. Rolling up his sleeves Neil began cleaning up the sick on the landing. It wasn’t really how he’d envisaged spending his wedding day, but then, he hadn’t really planned on being a dad to three kids as soon as the marriage register was signed. He smiled; he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Copyright Ester Phillips / Cat 2009 / 2015