A Tortured Soul
Chapter 1: Home
Copyright© 2016 by Marc Nobbs
Coming of Age Sex Story: Chapter 1: Home - After almost a year running from his grief on a road trip around The United States, Paul returns to Westmouthshire for a fresh start at university. But he knows he can no longer run from his problems. He knows he has to turn and face them if he is ever to get on with his life. But that's not as easy as it sounds. New friends. An old enemy. And a voice that haunts his days and fills his dreams. Will Paul ever find a cure for his tortured soul? "A Good Man" *must* be read first.
I adjusted the time on my father’s watch back to BST, rolling it forward five hours, and then stared out of the window. I still thought of it as my father’s watch, even though it had been mine for nearly two years.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” said the elderly lady in the seat to my right, her melodic Welsh twang adding emphasis to the word.
Her name was Gladys and she was returning home from an extended stay in New York, where she’d been visiting her daughter and grandchildren. They’d moved to The Big Apple a few years ago, at the start of the global financial crisis, after Gladys’ son-in-law was offered a position on Wall Street.
I’d found out all this and more during our seven hour flight—despite both of us being asleep for most of it.
At the time, we were high above the English countryside. Or at least, we were according to the map on the screen in the headrest of the seat in front of me. I had the window seat, Gladys had the aisle seat, and I’d been looking out of the window as she spoke. There were no clouds, so the rich tapestry of fields, hedges, roads, woodland and villages lay before us in all its glory.
“Yes,” I replied, quietly, my gaze still focused out of the window. “It is.”
“I remember the first time I saw England from the air. It was many years ago now, of course. We’d been on a package holiday to Spain and coming back it took my breath away when I saw it, it really did. Oh, it was beautiful. But do you know what I noticed the most?”
I looked at her. “No. What?”
“How green it all is.” She grinned. “It’s the climate, see. Lends itself to lush green plants. I knows, ‘cause I gardens, see. All this grass, these trees and hedges. They need the rain, you see. Not every country is that lucky. No, it is beautiful. Not as beautiful as Wales, mind.” Her grin widened.
She’d told me just after take-off that although she’d enjoyed her time with her family, she was looking forward to going home to the small village in the Swansea Valley, or Cwm Tawe as she called it, that had been her home all her life. All seventy-plus years of it.
I couldn’t say I was looking forward to going home that much. Not at all in fact.
I’d been away for almost a year, and everything that forced me to leave would be waiting for me when I got back. The time away was supposed to help me heal, help me cope with what was to come, but I wasn’t sure it had. I guess only time would tell.
We touched down at Heathrow a little after 9am, London time, having left New York in the late evening. After clearing passport control and collecting my bags, I headed for the arrivals lounge, looking up at the signs to find my way to the train station. My plan was to catch the shuttle service into central London, get a train to Westmouth and then a bus to Micester. Vicky knew I was due to arrive, but she’d apparently pulled the breakfast shift and couldn’t come and pick me up.
I was still scanning around for the train station sign when a familiar voice called, “Paul!”
I looked in the direction of the voice, but didn’t immediately recognise anyone. Then she started waving.
“Paul! Over here.”
Emily looked very, very happy to see me. Her grin was as wide as I’ve ever seen. I hurried over and she wrapped me up in a bear hug, despite the backpack slung over my shoulder.
“Oh, I’ve missed you,” she said, hugging me tightly.
I patted her back. “Missed you too, Ems.”
She pulled away and with a cheeky smirk said, “Liar. I bet you’ve had plenty on company on your travels.” She even made air quotes with her fingers.
I shrugged. “Not as much as you think. It’s hard to make friends when you’re constantly on the move.”
“I guess.” She suddenly looked embarrassed, nervous even.
“What are you doing here anyway?”
She slapped my arm. “I’ve come to pick you up, silly.”
“Well, I kinda figured that. But how did you know which flight I was on?”
“Vicky, of course. She called last weekend, as soon as she knew when you were arriving, and asked if I could pick you up because obviously she couldn’t?”
“Last weekend? But how did she know she’d be on the breakfast shift then?”
“Well, who else would be doing it?”
I shrugged. “One of the other chefs. There’re plenty of them up at The Hall.”
“Oh, that’s right, you don’t know, do you?”
She smirked. “Nothing. It’s nothing. Just a little surprise Vicky’s got for you when you get home, that’s all.”
“Come on, Paul, it wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you, would it? It’s nothing bad, I promise. Now, let’s go shall we? Are these all your bags?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“Okay then, follow me.”
It was a fairly uneventful drive home although the M25 was its usual unpredictable self. At times it felt as if we were the only car for miles and at other times it lived up to its reputation as the world’s largest car park.
“This feels weird,” I said about twenty minutes into the journey.
I gestured to the dashboard in front of me. “This. Sitting on the left with no steering wheel in front of me.”
“Huh? I thought you were too young to rent a car over there. Don’t you have to be twenty-one or something?”
I shrugged. “Dunno. I didn’t bother to find out. I just bought one instead. Well, I say I bought a car but it was a proper old American pick-up truck. I almost felt American driving one of those things. Almost.”
“But why would you do that? Buy a car I mean. Or a truck or whatever.” Emily asked.
I shrugged again. “I didn’t want to be tied to public transport. I stayed in New York for a while, but when I was ready to leave I paid cash for this ten year old Ford from some slimy second hand dealer. Only cost a couple of thousand dollars. He even gave me a discount for paying cash. The insurance was expensive, but the petrol was much cheaper than over here so they cancelled each other out. And, I mean, it’s not like I can’t afford it.”
Emily knew about my financial situation. She was the only person beside Vicky and Will that did. She was the only one I trusted. A trust built on our mutual relationship with ... her ... and solidified in those horrible few weeks last autumn.
“Wasn’t it difficult to drive on the wrong side of the road?”
“I got used to it. Actually, getting out of New York was the most difficult bit of the whole trip. After that, everywhere else felt like a piece of cake.”
“Where did you go after New York?”
“West, well, south-west, to Philadelphia and Washington, then back north-west through Pittsburgh and Cleveland and across to Chicago. From there I took the old Route 66, winding down to L.A., just like the song says. Two thousand miles all the way.”
“Hang on, let me think, so you went through Saint Louis?”
“Chaplin, Missouri? Oklahoma City? Was it pretty?” She giggled. “Hey, did it show the way to Amarillo? And were you ever twenty-four hours from Tulsa?”
I chuckled. “Yes, yes, yes and yes. I think. Maybe. Only it’s Joplin, Missouri, not Chaplin.”
“Really? So you’ve mean I’ve been singing Chuck Berry wrong all these years?”
She took her eyes off the road for far too long in my opinion to look at me and smile. Then her eyes went back to the road as the traffic went through one of its heavy periods.
“After that?” she asked.
“Back east. Las Vegas, Dallas, Houston, then along the south coast to New Orleans and on to Florida.”
“Not as much fun on your own as I expect it would be with friends.”
“Oh.” A pause. “Then what?”
“North, along the east coast back to New York and then ... here.”
She went quiet again, for longer this time, concentrating on the road as the traffic became the worst we’d seen so far. It cleared just as quickly five minutes later.
“What about when you came home? What did you do with the car?”
“Sold it to some other slimy second hand dealer. Got back over half what I paid for it too, which wasn’t too bad. It paid for an upgrade to my flight.”
“You know,” she said after a pause, “I’ll never understand why so many countries drive on the wrong side of the road. Can’t they all drive on the left like normal people?”
“You mean about ninety percent of other countries?”
“Is it really that many?”
“I think it’s only ex-empire countries that drive on the left, isn’t it? Makes you think we’re the ones driving on the wrong side.”
We looked at each other, grinned and simultaneously said, “Nah!”
It was almost lunchtime when we got back to Micester. As we entered the town, I was reminded of just how much I hated the place. It wasn’t just the bad memories, it was the whole damn town. Everything about it. I could feel myself tensing up. It didn’t help that one of the first things you come across as you enter the town, is the cemetery.
“You okay?” Emily asked. I guess she could sense my unease.
“I understand. We could stop if you want.”
“At the cemetery. Go see Clarissa. Let her know you’re back.”
I shook my head.
“I said no. Not now. Just leave it. Besides, it’s not just there. It’s here. This place. The whole town. I wish I didn’t have to come back here.”
“At least it’s only for a week, huh?”
I nodded. “The sooner term starts the better, as far as I’m concerned.”
“Do you know where you’re staying yet?”
“One of the Halls of Residence. You know those four that are together on the edge of the campus?”
“That’s where I was last year. I was in Wintersmith. Do you know which one you’re in?”
“Not a clue. Does it matter?”
“Absolutely. Wintersmith rocks. The best of the four.”
“It just is, okay?”
“If you say so. Where are you this year?”
“One of the campus flats. Not that far from the Halls actually. There’re six of us sharing. The girls are cool. You’ll like them. And they’re all dying to meet you. Especially Amanda. You’ll like Mands. She’s a lot of fun.” She raised her eyebrows and grinned.
“You’ve not been talking me up, have you?”
“Well, I hope they’re all prepared for a disappointment.”
“I don’t think they’ll be disappointed.”
A few minutes later, I turned to her and said, “Ems, thanks for coming to pick me up.”
She glanced at me and smiled. A big, beaming smile. “You’re welcome.” A Pause. “Actually, I’m just glad you’re back. It’s been weird at Westmouth knowing you really should have been there but weren’t. It was like there was a big hole in my life where you should have been. Two holes actually, but...”
“Yeah. I know.” This was a subject I’d rather avoid. Thankfully, the conversation couldn’t go any further because we passed right by my street.
“Ems, you missed the turning,” I said, turning in my seat to look behind.
“No I didn’t. I’m not taking you home.”
“You’re not? Where then?”
“You’ll see. It’s a surprise, remember?”
We headed into town—why, I had no idea. Guess I’d find out soon enough. After a few more minutes, Emily parked the car at the kerb outside a greasy spoon café on the high street. At least, it had been a greasy spoon when I left. It didn’t look like one now.
Sleek and modern, I suppose it could be justifiably called a ‘bistro’. On each of the two floor-to-ceiling windows either side of the entrance that made up the frontage was written the word “Millie’s” in a script that looked vaguely familiar.
“Come on,” said Emily. “They’re inside.”
“Everyone. You’ll see.”
She led me into the restaurant and I was greeted by a loud chorus of “Surprise!” This was followed by a cheer and a few calls of “Welcome back,” and “We missed you, Slim.” That last one was my old friend, Billy, who it seemed was still calling everyone ‘Slim’—I never did work out why. He was joined by most of my old school friends, all standing behind two round tables that had been pushed together directly in front of the door—which couldn’t possibly have been the usual layout.
“Wow!” I said. “I never expected ... Wow. Thanks, guys.”
“Well,” said Vicky, walking towards me. “It wouldn’t have been a surprise if you’d have expected it.” She looked at Emily. “Everything okay?”
Emily smiled. “Fine. He got a bit confused when I missed the turning.”
“I was hoping you’d keep him talking so he wouldn’t notice.”
“Yeah, well. He’s just too damn observant for that.”
“Excuse me,” I said, “Can you stop talking about me like I’m not here, please. And why aren’t you at work? You told me you were on the breakfast shift.”
“I am,” Vicky said.
“So what are you doing here?”
She raised her eyebrows and gestured to the room. It took a few seconds for me to realise what she meant.
She nodded. I knew she’d always wanted her own restaurant, but I never thought she’d actually go through with it—especially since she was nailed on to be head chef at Micester Hall when the current one retired in a few years.
“So ... Millie’s? You named it after Mom?”
She just smiled and wiped away a tear before it had chance to form.
“Wow. Well done, Sis. But ... What about the job at the Hall? Head Chef?”
She shrugged. “The Hall has its own menu style. The next chef will have to stick to it—or at least not deviate from it too much. Here, I can create my own style.”
“Paul? There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
I nodded. My other friends had sat down and started talking amongst themselves. They knew I’d get to them eventually. Vicky took my hand and led me to the back of the restaurant, where a woman I didn’t recognise was waiting. I’ve got to say, she was very attractive, even if she was a little old for me—mid-to-late-twenties perhaps, something like that. Probably about Vicky’s age actually.
“Paul, this is my partner, Jessica.”
“Nice to finally meet you, Paul.”
“Partner?” I said, taking Jessica’s proffered hand. I looked at Vicky and said, “I’m surprised you needed one. I assume you used the money we got from selling Liddington’s to start this place.”
“I did. Mostly. But I didn’t mean business-partner. I meant partner. You know?”
“Partner?“ I looked at Jessica again, who smiled nervously. Turning my attention back to Vicky, I said, “You mean? As in ... Girlfriend?”
I stared at my sister. “Wow! I never ... I mean ... Since when have you... ?”
I nodded dumbly.
“Pretty much always. Although I only really realised it when I was about your age, I guess. Maybe a little younger.”
I nodded again, unable to believe my sister had never told me she was gay.
“How come I didn’t know? I mean, was I just too wrapped up in myself to notice or what? Thinking about it now, you never did seem to go on dates or anything, but I figured you were just too busy with your job or something.”
She smiled a kindly smile. “No, it wasn’t you. I’ve pretty much kept it a secret—I mean, you know what this town is like, don’t you? I’d probably have lost the job at the hall. I know they’re not supposed to sack you for being gay, that it’s against the law and stuff, but do you think that would have stopped them?”
I shook my head.
“And besides, I never really met anyone I’d risk coming out for. Until now.”
“Oh. Right. So how long have you two... ?” I pointed from Vicky to Jessica and back.
“About six months. I advertised for someone to run front-of-house while I was in the kitchen. Jessica applied for the job and...” She reached for Jessica’s hand and they smiled at each other.
“We hit it off straight away,” Jessica said.
I nodded again. “Well, this is unexpected. Still...” I looked Jessica up and down with an exaggerated leer. “At least my sister has good taste in women.”
Both girls laughed at that and the tension that had started to build evaporated.
“So you’re cool with it?”
I shrugged. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“I don’t know. I just ... You know what this town’s like.”
“Hey, stuff everybody else, right? As long as it doesn’t cost you too much business, that is.”
“People come here for the food,” said Jessica. “Which is fabulous, by the way. Your sister’s an excellent cook.”
“Tell me something I didn’t already know. No, wait, you already did that.” She laughed and I took Vicky’s other hand. “Look, I’m happy for you. Okay. As long as you’re happy—”
“—then I am too. Now, this is my welcome back party, right?”
“So, you won’t be offended if I go talk to me friends. I need to find out how many of them knew my sister was a lesbian before I did.”
She grinned at me. “All of them, since I came out while you were away. But go, I’ll bring some food out.”
She ducked into the kitchen while I went back to my friends. Will, who’d been sitting at the end of the group and looking a little out of place in his suit and tie, stood as I approached. He held his hand out to me and I shook it with a firm grip—as if we were two men greeting each other as equals.
“Welcome back...” There was a slight hesitation before he added, “Paul.” I swear, he just stopped himself from saying ‘Welcome back, son’. It was a common enough expression in these parts, so I briefly wondered why he’d checked himself. But I put it to the back of my mind.
“I’d say it’s good to be back, but...” I left that thought hanging. “I’ll just be glad to get to Westmouth and start the course. Give me something to concentrate on, you know?”
He nodded. “So did the trip achieve its goal?”
“I suppose so. While I was out there. Now I’m back ... Guess only time will tell.”
“I’m sure it will. Look, I’d love to stay longer but this is really about you and your friends of your own age. And besides, I have a meeting in...” He looked at his watch. “Half an hour. I wanted to be here to welcome you back. Now I have. I’ll give you a call when you’re settled in Westmouth and we’ll see about having you around for dinner. We’ll talk about finding you some work experience at the firm.”
“That’d be good. Thanks, Will.”
He clapped me on the shoulder, straightened his jacket and went to say goodbye to Vicky before he left. I looked up at the rest of my old school friends. Part of me was dreading this. I wondered how much I still had in common with them. Sure, I’d kept up with their lives via a social network on the internet, but most of them were working people now—earning a wage and forging a life for themselves. And, honestly, their status updates were ... How can I say this? Boring? No. It was worse than that. It made their lives seem dull and just a little empty. Or maybe it was my life that was dull and empty and that’s why I’d spent the last nine months trying to fill it. Or was I running from it?
Kevin and Billy had rented a house together. Kevin was still with Lauren and while she supposedly still lived with her parents, she spent more nights in Kevin’s bed than her own. Billy was newly single—not that it meant he spent all his nights alone, at least that was the impression his status posts gave.
I smiled at them both as I sat opposite.
“Hey. Where’s Lauren, Kev?”
“The bank wouldn’t let her have any time off. She told them it would only be a couple of hours, but they said no. I’ve got to invite you over later so she can see you. There’s a match on tonight, we’ll make it a beer and pizza night if you’re up for it.”
“So how come you two were able to get time off?”
“Night shift,” said Billy.
“Huh? I didn’t know the factory ran shifts.”
“A lot’s changed in the last year,” said Kevin. “The first thing the Germans did was introduce a three shift rotation. Mornings, evenings and nights.”
“Yeah,” said Billy, “It meant they didn’t have to lay anyone off, didn’t it?”
“But, I don’t get it. If they’re running the machines all the time, that must mean they’re making more stuff.”
“Exactly,” said Billy.
“But ... Why? The economy’s still as shit as it was. Isn’t it? I mean, I know I’ve been away for nearly a year, but...”
“Not in China, Slim.”
“Yeah,” said Kevin. “China. There’re a lot of newly rich people over there and they like to spend their money on British stuff. Cars, clothes, and stuff. They think it’s classy or some shit. So the Germans are flogging half of what we make over there.”
“How come no-one thought of that before they sold the company?”
Billy shrugged. “Fucked if I know, Slim. I just work there.”
“It’s something to do with distribution channels or something,” Kevin said. I raised an eyebrow and he smiled. “I listen,” he said. “I need to if I want to force my way onto the management program.”
I smiled. He was showing some ambition–or Lauren had ambitions for him. Either way, good for him. I hoped he was able to make it onto the program. The guys said they needed to go and get some sleep to be up in time for the football. They were both on the night shift again and needed to be at the factory for ten, but it was their last day before a two day break and then they moved onto the morning shift. All the machine operators apparently worked for four days and then had two days off after which they moved onto the next shift in the rotation.
Kelly and Gavin, who were still together, had only stayed long enough to say hello, then left to do something together. I couldn’t imagine what. Okay, I could imagine what, but I didn’t really want to.
That left just Emily and Lisa, who’d been happily chatting away.
“What you girls talking about?” I asked as I took a seat next to them.
“Comparing notes,” Lisa said with a grin.
“You,” she said, dismissively.
Emily rolled her eyes. “Ignore her. We were comparing Westmouth and Cambridge. It sounds like they have to work much harder there then we did last year.”
“Yeah, well, it’s Cambridge,” I said, “I bet Oxford is the same. There’s a reason most of the government went to one or the other. Hell, a lot of foreign leaders went to one of them at some point.”
“I suppose,” said Emily.
“It’s not like you make it sound, Paul,” said Lisa. “Yes, there’s a lot of focus on our academics, but we have time to relax and have fun too.”
“I never said you didn’t, Liss.”
“What?” I asked.
“No-one’s called me Liss for ages. Not even you for about five or six years or something.”
“No, it’s okay. I don’t mind.”
“Whatever. So, are you two going to run out on me like everyone else?”
“I’ve got nowhere pressing to be,” said Lisa.
“Me neither,” said Emily.
“Looks like you’re stuck with us.” Lisa grinned. Emily matched it.
“Hmm,” I said. “Maybe it was worth coming home after all.”