tagNovels and NovellasJogging Memories Ch. 08

Jogging Memories Ch. 08

bySpencerfiction©

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Barbecue

The plan was to thank as many people as possible that had helped Tommy/Bob in the last three weeks. Despite the short notice, most of his new friends responded positively to the invitation with their intention to attend a barbecue at the Morris residence on Saturday evening.

New friends. Everyone who was coming was a new friend to Tommy, except, of course, his Mum. Everyone else knew him as Bob, a person he still did not recognise.

The only thing worrying Tommy more than the very idea of having a barbecue at this late time of the year was that the old Bob was apparently an acknowledged expert at outdoor cooking. He had catered for large numbers on countless camping expeditions, using all kinds of equipment from highly sophisticated to simple open fires and a few sticks for utensils. At home, he had built a barbecue grill in the garden to a high specification. The family possessed several gas patio heaters, which also served to supplement the lighting, and an awning attached to the conservatory, which could be easily erected to keep out rain from above and wind from the side. From the investment involved, Bob clearly entertained in the garden a lot.

Jennifer had shown him where everything was kept, in the commodious shed, where he noticed that Bob had kept all the equipment and utensils meticulously spotless. Tommy was able to see where everything fitted, but as far as he could remember, the 23-year-old Tommy had never even boiled an egg. His mother had always cooked at home and Sally had prepared very basic meals in the tiny galley kitchen at the flat where they briefly resided early in his marriage. Tommy had never even toasted bread by an open fire before. Phoebe had said that with familiar surroundings his memories should come flooding back but so far nothing had risen to the surface after three weeks of living Bob's life.

Tommy finished dressing and joined Jennifer in the kitchen. With Tommy still not confident in his abilities to drive, and yet to be signed off by the doctors in this regard, Jennifer was taking him to the supermarket to select and purchase the food that was going to be required. JJ had helped her Dad with the cooking in the past so she accompanied them too, to help with the provisions.

They had a light lunch after completing the provisions shopping, before Tommy and the boys erected the awning and got the folding chairs and tables out of storage and laid out on the enclosed decking.

"I take it your Dad did a lot of this cooking and entertaining?" Tommy asked the boys, who were clearly proficient at the task.

"Yeah, you did this a lot, Pops," Tig grinned. He thought it was amusing that his Dad spoke of himself as if he was a different person prior to his hospitalisation. Tig had accepted early on that his Dad was different to what he used to be, by a long way. In fact he preferred the cool new dude Pops to the stuffy old one.

Tom was less accepting however, it disturbed him that his Dad, who had been so serious, steady and reliable before, was now jokey, inconsistent and casual about everything. It was disconcerting for him at a time when there was so much insecurity already in his life. Tom was worried about his impending marriage, setting up house with his girlfriend, the coming baby and his tense relationship with his future in-laws. Faced with all that, in the ideal world, he wanted his stable old home life back, including Bob his father, unchanged. He couldn't help wondering how long his parents would stay together, once Dad got his memory back. At the moment it all seemed too fragile to be real.

Tom envied Tig, who apparently accepted whatever happened with the innocence of a child. Even JJ cheerfully clung to her father, assuming that once the shit hit the fan she would simply leave with her Dad if or when he decided to up sticks.

Once the tables and chairs were set out, wiped down, and covered with the gingham tablecloths they had removed from where they were stored, Tommy thanked them for their efforts and dismissed the boys. He got on with assembling the grills and mixing up a couple of barbecue sauce recipes that JJ had sourced for him from the internet.

Like Tig, JJ also seemed to accept the new Dad, loving him just as much as she ever did, even though she now had another male figure in her life, one increasingly occupying her thoughts. That was the reason why JJ wasn't helping Tommy with the grill in the afternoon. Instead she attended a football match that Brick was playing in. She promised her father to be back as soon as dusk fell to dress the tables and assist with the cooking and serving.

Tommy's mother Ann was the first of the guests to arrive, brought as usual by Ralph, an hour or so earlier than expected. She was keen to help with whatever preparation was needed for the party. Jennifer was able to find her something to keep her occupied in the kitchen, while Ralph watched Tommy as he tried to get the charcoal to light.

"Sorry, I'm not au fait with this outdoor cooking malarkey either," Ralph apologised, sucking another mouthful from his bottle of cold beer. "I could only heat up ready meals in the oven or microwave, or would fall back to ordering takeaways. I'm surprised Mike got any nutrition at all while he was growing up."

"Hopefully JJ'll be along soon to help me out. She should be back any time now."

Tommy had one more go at lighting the charcoal and managed to get it to light in one corner. Well, it was a start. Clearly there was a knack to it, which he had yet to acquire.

Ralph was getting to the end of his first bottle of beer, so Tommy pulled a fresh one out of one ice bucket and popped the lid, handing it to the retired policeman. Then he pulled a bottle out of a different bin and took off the lid.

"What are you drinking?" Ralph asked.

"Ginger beer, Ralph," he laughed, "I seem to have lost the taste for beer over the years. I did drink a couple after getting home, once I was off the meds for a few days, but didn't enjoy how they made me feel. Apparently Bob hardly ever drank alcohol. I've not missed it at all."

"Started running again, yet?"

"Yeah," Tommy grinned, "Not long distances yet, and only in daylight. My night vision is still shot, and the doctors say it may never fully recover to the extent it was. So I just jog around the park during the day. I enjoy it, you know. Gives me plenty of time to think."

"Any memories come back, yet?"

"Nothing I can put my finger on, Ralph, really. I get flashes of images, snippets of conversations, sometimes I get both things together. But I can't figure out whether they are real scenes from my life or not. I can't help thinking, are they remembered from movies that I've seen? For example I keep getting sea-borne images with sunsets reflecting off the water and stuff like sailing into port or up estuaries or major rivers. Jen tells me we have been on just three cruises in twenty years, all of them in the Med. I hear people speaking German, which I cannot understand, and Ben told me I was speaking German in a dream just after coming out of my coma. Again Jen says we met lots of Germans on package holidays, but she never saw me in conversation with any of them. Those are insignificant snippets, nothing important. I haven't had one single image of the children being born, for example, and I attended all three of them according to Jen. The brain works in really mysterious ways, Ralph. Or more like, doesn't work at all!"

"You can say that again, Tommy!" Ralph grinned, "Your Mum, though, remembers everything and you coming back from the dead, so to speak, has really given her a boost. You know, Tommy, back when I first knew her," he dropped the sound level of his voice, "All the life had gone out of her and she seemed to live only through Brett. And then even Brett was taken away too, when Sally left these shores for Down Under. Your parents were brought closer together by your loss but I think when Alan died she was starting to give up on life. When Mike and I went round to tell her you had turned up, she really looked frail. But now look at her!"

Just then, Ann, Jennifer and a couple of near neighbours stepped onto the patio, all carrying their drinks from the kitchen. The neighbours waved in greeting to Tommy and settled at one of the tables, close to a patio heater. His Mum walked over to the cooking area and kissed him on the cheek, complimenting him on the house.

"Jen's given you the five bob tour already, Mum?" Tommy grinned.

"She did, Tommy, or Bob is it now?" Ann replied, "It's a lovely house, you should be proud of what you've done here."

"I would be, Mum, if I could remember doing any of it!"

"It looks pretty impressive out here, too, Tommy," Ralph added.

"Bob was really keen on cooking outdoors, everyone tells me. I really don't know what I'm doing. Not sure if I can do justice to this lovely food that the girls have sorted for me. At least the barbecue is hotting up at long last. I should be able to start cooking soon. What do you fancy, Ralph, chicken, gammon steaks, beef steaks or burgers?"

"Steak, through and through, for me, Tommy, very well done if possible," Ralph grinned, pulling another swig from his bottle.

"Chicken for me sweetheart, cooked through but not too crisp, though. Your Dad was always overcooking everything when he ever tried cooking outdoors, if you can call a balcony outdoors! But then we never had a set-up as grand as this."

Ralph and Ann moved away chatting away to each other. Moments later JJ bounced up to the barbecue.

"Sorry I'm late, Dad, I had to wait for Brick to get showered. Boys, they take so long to get ready, what with getting their hair waxed and clothes changed after the match. Honestly, most of my girlfriends get ready quicker than he does! Except maybe Shazza, of course."

"Where is Brick? I er haven't really had a chance to talk to him properly, yet, sweetheart."

"He's parking the car, having dropped me off at the door first. He wanted to park it under a lamppost. He's very protective of that car." JJ laughed, shaking her head in amusement. "He'll be here in a minute." She looked behind him at the grill. "Looks like you're almost ready to start cooking."

Tommy turned to see that the flames had not only spread from their tiny corner foothold but across the whole barbecue.

"What do I start with cooking, eh, JJ?"

"Not many people here yet, so we'll just bung on a few sausages and thicker burgers. They cook pretty quickly and when they are done you can put them up on that higher rack out of the way to keep warm. The other stuff gets hard if you do that, so best cook the steaks and chicken to order. Less wastage that way."

"Well, your Nan and Ralph have already put in their orders, for chicken and steak."

"Better pop them on now then and the smell of cooking will guarantee bringing the others over," JJ smiled as she looked up, "Ah. Here comes Brick, now."

"Hi Mr M," Brick greeted him cheerfully, "This looks a brilliant set-up you've got here. Where do you want me to help?"

Tommy could see behind Brick that another group of neighbours had come in, along with their friends Emma and Richard. Jennifer got up from the couple she had been speaking to and welcomed them in. Tommy knew that Tig was looking after answering the door and taking coats, while Tom and his scatty blond girlfriend Susannah were in the kitchen dispensing drinks.

"Hello, Brick, how did you get on in the game?" Tommy asked.

"Not bad, we held our own against a much better side in the cup. We went down 2-1 in the end but could even have sneaked it with a little bit more luck."

"Not too disappointed with the result then?"

"No, it was the third round of a cup that we didn't expect to get that far in anyway. We're second in our league with a game in hand, so we may be top by the end of the season."

"Well, help pile these sausages and burgers on the grill at that end, Brick." Tommy turned to his daughter, "JJ, can you take this notepad round and get a rough idea of what people want and I can start off a batch of everything?"

"Sure thing, Dad, what you got to offer?"

"The usual, beef steaks, gammon steaks with pineapple, lamb kebabs, ribs, chicken breasts, king prawns, as well as the burgers and sausages. I've also got some salmon steaks if anyone fancies fish."

"Sure," JJ flashed them both a grin and ran off.

"I wanted a word with you on your own, Brick," Tommy said as the youth piled some sausages on the grill. "JJ said that you originally approached her with an offer to give her a lift home after you heard I had some problems with my memory. That right?"

"That's right, Mr M, my sister Lucy found out about ... your situation through one of JJ's friends and I knew that she would want to get home from school as soon as possible, especially those first few days that you were home."

"And why would you want to help her?" Tommy asked, "Her Mum tells me JJ never even mentioned you before recently. Why the sudden interest on your part?"

"I don't know what JJ's told you if anything, Mr M. My sister Lucy is named after our favourite Aunt. She was my Mum's youngest sister and was only about ten years older than me. She was great fun and everyone loved her but none of us realised that she had some mental problems to contend with. The family didn't fully comprehend what these problems were, although some suspected things weren't right with her. Aunt Lucy suffered from depression, too, and, before anyone recognised the signals she was giving off, they had grown until she felt she had had too much to contend with and ... she committed suicide. That was two years ago, so it is very fresh in our minds. Afterwards everyone regretted not taking action to help her early on."

"So, you were just concerned about what she was going through, and you don't really have a relationship with JJ, other than just helping out a casual acquaintance?"

"Well, before Lucy mentioned you being in hospital with memory issues, I didn't know JJ at all. I knew you, of course, from all those school trips and stuff I attended, but not JJ. I'd seen her around school, of course, but not really noticed her before. Then Lucy asked me to check with JJ to see if she needed a lift home. Since then, of course, I have got to know JJ properly and, well I've found that we actually get on really well together, so, it turns out I like her and I like her company, she is one special girl."

"That's fine as it stands, Brick, but I want you to bear in mind the age difference between you. You being 18 and JJ only 16 is a big gap at your present ages. It means that she could be quite impressionable and may think that you being friendly with her means something more than it actually is. Like she might get the impression that you are her boyfriend. I guess a guy like you has no trouble getting dates, right?"

"I promise you, Mr Morris, that although I do get a lot of silly girls chasing me, I am not dating any of them, nor am I remotely interested in dating silly girls. JJ and I only met a couple or three weeks ago, so it may be a bit early to talk about boyfriend-girlfriend at the moment. Can I tell you a bit more about myself, sir?"

"Yeah, seems like a good idea, Brick. For a start, I have been wondering, why do they call you 'Brick'?"

Brick grinned, "Do you know anything about the Alexander family business, Mr M?"

"Only what Jen - Mrs Morris - told me, that your family run the builders' merchants in Bridge Street. She also said that you are a scratch golfer and a good footballer, too; weren't you signed on Derby County's books as a junior?"

"Yes, I was, but didn't quite make the grade they were looking for in a professional footballer so wasn't offered an apprenticeship. As for the family business, what Mrs M said is partly right. The family has connections in the construction industry. We do run the builders' merchants and the timber yard on the corner of Bridge Street and New Station Drive, plus there are family interests in partnerships doing house renovations, extensions and small to medium new-build projects of up to about a dozen houses at a time."

"Sounds like a good steady business."

"Oh it is, but the emphasis is all about family. The original firm was founded by my great grandfather, as a partnership business, so each of the senior partners, like my father, uncles and a few of their cousins have varying shares both in the foreground businesses as well as some of the various projects. I work part-time in the businesses, after school, weekends and I earn an hourly wage. When I leave University I do not intend working in the business, unlike my older brother who already does. Therefore I am not a partner, nor will I ever be one, I don't get any dividends from the businesses and don't expect to inherit anything from them, either."

"So we can't regard you as a meal ticket for JJ, then?" Tommy smiled at him.

"No sir, gold-diggers definitely need not apply," Brick grinned, "Anyway, that's where I got my nickname, from working Saturday mornings in the builders' merchants, doing menial jobs like stacking tiles or bricks." Brick paused for moment, lifting a few more sausages up to the barbecue's warming tray. "I don't tell this to everybody, Mr Morris, but in this case I need to make an exception. My full name is ... Bartrum Reginald Alexander, I was named after two of my great-great-uncles, who both died young, back in the war. It pleased my grandfather at the time I was born that I got these two names. I hated them when I was small and asked the family to call me 'Barry' instead of 'Bart', which they did for a while, in fact some distant cousins who I rarely see still do.

"By the time I started secondary school I asked the kids to call me 'Alex', which I thought was way cooler than 'Barry'. Because I changed my name as soon as I started at the school, the teacher read out 'Alex Alexander' each morning from the register. Then one of my classmates came into the shop during one Saturday morning and caught me stacking bricks. He heard my workmates, mainly brothers and cousins, calling me Barry, because nobody at home ever called me Alex. When he got to school on the Monday he told the other kids 'If he doesn't like "Barry", we'll call him "Brick" after what he was stacking', and the name stuck."

"Actually, it sounds a lot cooler than either 'Barry' or 'Alex'." observed Tommy, turning over a burger, pleased with himself that he didn't actually drop it.

"Yes, I do too," agreed Brick companionably, "Perhaps not immediately, but it has grown on me."

"So, let me get what you are saying straight, Brick. You aren't wealthy, you don't chase silly girls and you don't try to attract them either?" asked Tommy, seeking clarification, the boy nodding, "Even in your flash new car that your Daddy bought you?"

"First of all, it is not flash nor is it a new car, it is six years old and pretty much the basic model. That means it is cheap to run but new enough to get me through 6th form college and university hopefully without any serious mechanical problems. My Dad did buy the car, I admit, but he used the money from an account that he set up to deposit half of my part-time wages into years ago, from about the age of 11, I think. So technically it was purchased using savings from my own earnings but Dad legally retains the ownership of the car. My Dad holds me and each of my older brothers on a tight leash: for example, if I get three points on my licence for speeding, I will lose the car for three months. Dad does pay for the insurance and the annual service, but that was partly for his piece of mind and partly the result of a wager between us that I wouldn't pass my driving test while I was still 17. I managed it with two days to spare. I still have to find petrol and oil costs, though, from what is left of the wages that I do receive in hand for part-time working."

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