tagNovels and NovellasJogging Memories Ch. 04

Jogging Memories Ch. 04

bySpencerfiction©

CHAPTER FIVE: Family conference

"OK, JJ, what's this 'family conference' all about, then?" asked Tom, as they gathered in the dining room early Sunday morning. "I've got a football match kicking off in an hour and I need to get ready."

"Yeah, JJ," piped up Tigger, "Why did I have to get up at this ungodly hour, anyway? What's the all-fired bloody hurry?"

"Keep your voices down," JJ hissed, "I wanted us to get together without Mum hearing what's going on. You both disappeared pretty bloody smartish yesterday and I couldn't get hold of you both together."

"You got hold of me," protested Tigger, "I was in the multiple-complex and forgot to turn my phone off, my bird was like well pissed off!"

"Your 'bird', sunshine! Was that Caroline Billings? What a cow she is," scoffed Tom, "You won't get nowhere there, Bro, her arse is tighter than her sister's-"

"Shush, the pair of you!" JJ's voice was a sharp whisper, accompanied by a slap with each hand to both boys, knowing that Dad's house rules were defined as "no hitting your sister". It amazed even JJ herself that she normally allowed this rule to curb what she considered her own natural violent tendencies towards her siblings, but when matters were exceptional and there were dire circumstances, those kid gloves came off. This instance she considered was particularly consequential, the future of her family as a cohesive unit appeared to be in desperate jeopardy.

"Do either of you have the vaguest idea what's going on between Mum and Dad? And why Dad has been missing all this week?"

The two boys looked at one another, mystified.

"Dad's been missing?" asked Tom.

"Yeah, what d'yer mean what's going on between Mum and Dad?" added Tigger.

"You plebs are impossible!" JJ tried to keep her voice down but frustration had stretched her constraints to the utmost. "Sometimes I just want to shake both the pair of you to wake up your ideas."

Tom and Tigger looked at each other. Even sitting at the table, either side of JJ, who was perched at the head, the two boys towered over their elfin sister. Tall, slim and blue-eyed the pair of them, Tom was blessed with long, straight blond hair, which he continually fussed over, while Tigger considered himself cursed with tightly curled reddish brown hair that he had to keep cropped short to prevent from looking wild and woolly. In comparison, JJ was petite with dark brown, almost black hair; so curly, tough and wiry that she used to keep it cut quite short too, until recently. Her eyes were a dark green-flecked hazel, which were flashing contemptuously as she alternately directed their focus turn by turn on her idiot brothers.

"What's going on then, JJ?" Tom asked meekly, "You called the meeting, you seem to have some handle on what's going on here. I haven't noticed anything differently, except maybe Mum's being much nicer to me than usual."

"Didn't you think it strange on Sunday, when we got back from weekend camp, that we didn't see Dad at all, all day?"

"No, he was on nights Friday and Saturday, which is why he couldn't come with us. I guessed he was probably upstairs sleeping." Tom suggested. Tigger nodded his agreement with his brother's theory.

"Come off it!" JJ snorted, "It was the last shift of his set on Saturday night. Nothing would have kept him from meeting us off the bus at school. We know his pattern, he goes for a longer run on his first day off, gets home to shower, then has a couple of hours sleep before his lunch and maybe another snooze on the settee afterwards trying to watch catch-up TV. On Sunday it would've been the football that he would've watched or dozed off to. Being on nights, he hadn't seen us all week, had he? So he'd deffo get up early and meet the school bus, and help load up all our gear in the car. And he'd insist that we unpacked and stowed it all before dinner, watching over us to make sure that we did it all properly, wouldn't he?"

"Yeah, come to think of it, he would," agreed the two boys.

"Deffo," added Tigger nodding.

"We didn't get back until three in the afternoon, so Mum even delayed serving Sunday dinner until five," JJ continued, "And we were all so wrapped up in ourselves, chatting on about what we did at camp that we didn't even notice that Dad wasn't eating with us. I didn't realise I hadn't seen him at all since we got back until sometime on Monday night."

Tom and Tigger looked askance at one another.

"Shit!" Tom breathed, "What a selfish bunch we are, I never even missed Dad at all until you mentioned it just now. He's just been a shadow around here for ages."

"Me neither," Tigger's eyes were wide open, "What are we? Monsters?"

"No," JJ said, amazing herself as she rested a comforting hand on each of the boys' hands. She only ever allowed herself to touch them using the occasional well-directed slap. "We are just normal teenagers. I think..." she hesitated a moment, "I think we need to accept though that Dad has finally had enough of Mum's playing around."

"You think Dad found out about Mums and 'Wetshirt'?" stuttered Tigger. That was the school's nickname for Mr Western, the sports master at their school.

"What!?" spluttered Tom, "How d'you know about that?"

JJ added, "What DO you know, Tigger?"

"Hell guys, I only know what you know, I expect, I saw the pictures, too."

"Damn! How long have you known?" JJ swore under her breath.

"A couple of years or so, I dunno, maybe something like that."

"You were only 12 then," JJ said quietly, "We didn't think you knew about it or wanted to know."

"I didn't," Tigger admitted, "I still wish I didn't, or that I could forget it ... I can't. One of my so-called schoolmates decided to show me, without warning me what I was about to see on his iPad. We came to blows over it."

"This is such a bloody mess," sighed Tom, "What do we know for sure about Dad, then JJ?"

JJ cleared her throat, "I think Dad came home early on Sunday morning, probably really early, before dawn, and he climbed in through the bathroom window."

"What?" both Tom and Tigger exploded together.

"Shush!" JJ whispered, her hands held out palms downward, patting the air to quiet the boys down. "Keep it down."

She paused and tilted her head, listening to hear if her mother had heard them and reacted to the noise. Then she reached down under the table and pulled up a sports bag.

"That the bag that Dad takes to work?" Tigger suggested.

"Yeah, that's right, it is Dad's," JJ confirmed, "So we know he came back and he left this on the garage roof having used the step-ladder from the shed-"

"I wondered who put the step-ladder there," Tom interrupted, "When I got my bike out of the shed last week."

"It was Dad, he must've climbed in through the bathroom window," continued JJ, "In this bag are his change of clothes from the previous evening, a used towel, his mobile phone, a keyring with his identity pass for work and a locker key on the keyring with his pass, I think," she pulled out the objects in turn as she spoke, "And, there was this arm sling ... Dad was injured at work and was sent home early. Too late to catch Mum still up, and he considered it was too early to wake Mum up. But it was not too late to catch her playing at home while we were all away."

"Bloody hell, JJ," Tom laughed, "Nancy-bloody-Drew's got nothin' on YOU, girl!"

"Where did you find this bag, again?" Tigger asked quietly, fingering one of the handles.

"On the garage roof, just underneath the bathroom window," JJ answered. "I wanted to speak to Dad about something on Monday and Mum fobbed me off with some spiel about this so-called training course Dad was on."

"Mums never said nothing to me about where Dad was," Tigger said, "When I wanted help with my physics homework. She just said that he wasn't in and I accepted it without question."

"He hasn't been on any courses for years," JJ continued, "The company has cut out all the training since the recession started. Mum's so full of it and I just didn't believe her. Earlier in the week I rang Dad's mobile number several times and it went to voicemail every time. I had left a couple of messages each day during the week without reply. I tried again on Friday afternoon, when Mum was indoors cooking and I didn't want her to hear me. So I rang him from the garden and that's when I heard Dad's phone ringing. Took me ages to find it, though. I had to climb up the step ladder before I identified what direction the tone was coming from."

"You up a ladder, JJ!" Tom observed with a laugh, "You hate heights."

"Yeah, getting back down was the worst think, though. I didn't want Mum to know I knew she'd been lying at that stage and had his changing bag as evidence, so I had to be really quiet. I played back all of Dad's messages in my room, until the battery went flat. His charger must be in their bedroom, and no way I was going in there, eugh! There was one message on there from his supervisor at work, asking Dad if his arm was alright and to let him know if he wasn't fit to come in on Saturday. That's when his shifts restarted. No mention of any training course."

"So Dad's left us, left Mums and us-" Tigger wailed.

"Not so hasty," JJ said, "If this was as sudden as it appears, then Dad hadn't planned on doing this."

"You think?" asked Tom.

"Sure. He needs time to sort things out," JJ insisted, "He needs to find somewhere to live. A hotel room to start with until he can sort out what he can take out of their savings. Then perhaps he'd look into renting a small flat until this house was sold, splitting the proceeds between the pair of them, before he can buy something else on his own."

"It'll have to be something really small after a split," Tom spoke sagely, having looked into property prices when Susannah dropped him the news about the kid, "He wouldn't get any more'n a ten-year mortgage, which'll limit his choice. Not much room for the five of us."

"There's only going to be room for Dad and me, you know I can't stand living with Mum," JJ insisted, "Anyway, maths genius, where'd you get five from? Mum ain't in the picture as far as I can see."

"Susannah, too. That means six eventually, counting the sprog," Tom said imperiously, "You can't get me to live anywhere near her parent's house, and I'm certainly not stayin' with Mum once you and Dad have moved out."

"Nor me," chipped in Tigger, "You're not leavin' me behind, either of you!"

<<<>>>

"Good mornin', Tommy," the bright African-accented voice raising the patient from his gentle dozing, "How is you this fine Sunday mornin'?"

"Oh, hello, Ben, I'm fine, it's the rest of them you need to worry about," Tommy said, sleepily, "Just a little bored, no visitors today. Sharon's working all day, and Helen's got an essay she needs to put in by tomorrow. I think they must've preferred keeping me company when I was asleep. Anyway, I thought this was supposed to be your day off."

"Overtime, Tommy, I thought I'd get some in while it was quiet."

"Quiet? I didn't think hospitals are ever quiet."

"Well, Sunday mornin's count in that category for me, no doctors' rounds, no sister chasin' us, few of the support departments are in either, or just have a skeleton staff in. This is as quiet as it ever gets 'round here."

Tommy got out of bed and plopped down in the chair.

"Well, Ben, if you've got half an hour spare, you could help me catch up with a bit more of what's happened over the last 32 years. How old are you, by the way?"

"Twenty-nine, I was born in eighty-four."

"And how long you been in England?"

Ben chuckled, a deep throaty rumble, "I was born here, man. Then I left and came back - I really missed them cold winters!"

"Really?"

"Nah, man, I'm messin' with ya. My Mum and Dad were students from The Gambia and over here in the late seventies, early eighties. They had me and my brother while they were here, then we all moved back home when I was ten. We had two sisters added to the family back in the jungle."

"Really in the jungle?"

"Nah, we lived in Gunjar, a quiet place near the coast. Bit too quiet though, for me. I moved back here about nine years back, and my brother moved in with me three years ago. What d'yer wanna know, then Tommy?"

"Everything. For a start, when I ... left this planet for wherever place I went to, Notts County were in the First Division..."

"Oh boy! I am goin' to need my iPhone for this!" Ben rose to his feet.

"Eye-phone? In my day phones were just for your ears!"

"Man, are you in for some shocks once you get to grips with Google," at the doorway Ben turned, grinning, "What kind of music did you used to like back in your day?"

"Old stuff mostly, The Beatles, Kinks, Rolling Stones, some pop music, I really liked glam rock like the Slade and Gary Glitter."

"I've got some earphones with me, so I'll let you listen to my tunes. But I definitely ain't got no Gary Glitter, no one has!"

"You got a Walkman? I could never afford one, though I used to have a few tapes for an old music centre a mate let me have because the turntable was shot."

"Oh man, my iPhone'll open your ears and eyes, wait'll I play you some Rap!"

<<<>>>

Emma and Richard were in their kitchen, with Emma peeling potatoes, while Richard was making coffee. Emma was softly whistling a tune during her task. Richard pricked up his ears. She was happy, he thought. She hasn't a clue what he was up to when she wasn't around. He liked that.

"So, does it feel strange that you're not round your Mum's on a Sunday?" he asked as he poured boiling water onto the instant coffee in the mugs. "I've got confused since your sister wanted to swap the days you were covering."

"Yes, sweetheart," she replied, "I am going up about mid-morning on Thursday, after I've sorted out your meals for the next few days. I'll leave 'em in the fridge marked up Thursday, Friday and Saturday. You can pop them in the microwave when you get in from work. Plenty of bread, sliced meat and cheese for your sandwiches, and I'll top up the fruit before I go. You shouldn't go short, Rich."

"No, I definitely won't go short, Em," Richard said, placing the steaming mug next to her, "Don't you worry yourself about that."

<<<>>>

Sharon was just finishing up an enquiry from a young couple who she had shown around the Show House and discussed options for one of the smaller houses planned for a future phase but not yet built. Shame, they were a really nice young couple, with a small child at home that Granny was looking after, but it was clear reading between the lines that even one of the small terraced starter houses planned for this estate was way beyond their pockets.

The bell on the showroom office, built into a double garage of one of the bigger houses on the estate, tinkled to let her know another potential client had entered. Sharon looked up and saw it was her daughter Helen. They nodded to each other and Helen hung about by the door, waiting for Sharon to finish her sales pitch.

The prospective couple left all smiles, clutching their pamphlets and promising with sheepish smiles to return once they had made up their minds. Sharon smiled in acquiescence to their putting a brave face on seeing hopes for their dream home end in overall disappointment once they had found out the price, wishing them the best and hoping to see them again.

"Tough job, huh Mum?" Helen said, once the office was empty, watching the couple get into their rusty old car and rattle off up the road. The showroom window was thin shop glass and would be removed once all the houses were sold and the double up and over garage doors installed, so they could hear the rasping exhaust as it drove by.

"Yes, tough," Sharon agreed, knowing only twelve of the first phase of thirty-six properties had been sold so far, when the forecasts had predicted thirty by now. The second phase of building had started last week even though the target had not been reached. The developer was considering slowing the work on the phase and mothballing the final phase altogether. Sharon wasn't too concerned about the longevity of the job - it was only pin money for her. The houses were overpriced, anyway, so she didn't feel she was to blame for their slow turnover.

"Cup of tea?" she offered Helen.

"You having one?"

"Oh, yes," Sharon laughed, "I definitely need one."

"Go on then."

Sharon busied herself with the kettle and mugs, wondering why Helen was here. She had said the previous evening she had an important essay to write.

"How's the essay coming on?"

"So-so," Helen replied, "Can't think about it at the moment."

"Want to talk?"

"Yes, Mum," Helen paused, "This Tommy thing is getting to me, what's it doing for you?"

"What do you mean?" Sharon knew exactly what she meant.

"I mean, I like Tommy, I like him a lot, and I know you like him a lot too, don't you?"

"Yes, I do," Sharon replied with a whisper, putting her mug down and smoothing out her skirt, having noticed a huge Mercedes just then park across the street and a tall, distinguished gentleman emerge and start to cross the road, the car's lights flashing behind him as the self-locking secured the vehicle.

"It's a bugger about his new wife, isn't it?" Helen asked.

Sharon agreed, momentarily distracted, "Yes, Helen, it's a bugger."

<<<>>>

"Richard, you total wanker, I told you never ever to ring me on this phone any more." Jennifer was incensed. Surely Richard had his own bloody home life to worry about keeping together, without bothering her every five minutes.

"Honestly, Rich, you are worse than the bloody kids. JJ's been badgering me all week with 'Where's Dad?' every five minutes. I think she believes I'm having an affair and that I've bumped him off and buried him in a shallow grave in the woods."

"Well, we are havin' an affair."

"We were, Richard, 'were' being the operative bloody word, but it's all over now. OK, before I hang up on you, what did you want to ring me about?"

"Just wondering if you had heard anything about Bob. After all is said and done, his best friend can ask after your husband's general welfare and whereabouts can't he?" came the wheedling voice at the end of the line.

"I suppose so," Jennifer admitted reluctantly, "And the answer is nothing, absolutely nothing. They won't tell me anything until the detectives on the case speak to this man tomorrow. I don't think he can possibly be anyone else but Bob. I pleaded with the police until I was blue in the face yesterday afternoon on the phone, but they still refuse to budge. There's something funny going on here, Rich. Apparently this man in hospital says he has another family and they are still trying to get in touch with them."

"Do you mean Bob's been carrying on ... like we have?" Richard thought about that possibility a little longer and its implications for pleasant possibilities, permutations; Jennifer was quiet at the other end of the line, too.

"Or maybe worse than us, if he has a whole new family tucked away." Jennifer said, close to tears. "Either that, or he's making it all up about who he is so the police won't let me anywhere near him," she paused again for a moment, "That's why the delay, I think, he's made up this other family out of thin air and the police can't find them."

"So why is he in hospital?"

"They won't say anything about that either. I think they bit off their tongue, having let slip to me that he was in hospital at all."

"You don't think he tried to, you know-"

"No!" Jennifer was emphatic. The thought of what Bob may have attempted to put him into hospital, which also popped into her head was discarded in an instant. No, Bob was a quiet, introverted man, rarely discussing his problems with either his wife or his best friend. He wouldn't let it all get on top of him like that, would he?

Richard went quiet for a moment.

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