The Touch Ch. 10byGreenFingers2015©
WARNING TO READERS - This is a long, rambling, multi-part story and VERY British. The individual chapters will make more sense if read in sequence.
ABOUT THE REVISED CHAPTER The original text for this story was written in the form of handwritten journal style entries started over fifteen years ago. I would often go back and revise chapters after a few days. I have now discovered the later full version of this chapter, which is a little bit longer with a few slight differences, and had been misfiled in amongst the pages for later chapters. This is it, enjoy.
The next day was Saturday and New Year's Eve. The last couple of years we had all gone to Maggie's house to see the New Year in, but this year because the twins and Emma were that little bit older and into the teenage party scene, everybody was doing their own thing.
Mum and Maggie had been invited up to London to a party being given by Uncle Arthur who was my grandfather's twin brother, their uncle and my great-uncle. Uncle Arthur was nearly eighty and lived in a large house on the Outer Circle of Regent's Park with his dotty wife Aunt Laura. I suppose you could say that he was the head of the Grainger clan; we were not a really big family, just Arthur, his twin sons Justin and Michael who were both about fifty and bachelors, and then the Grainger girls, Aunt Susan, Mum and Maggie. I really liked him, he reminded me of my Grandfather who had died when I was about eight. Uncle Arthur had been something big in the City and his sons were both stockbrokers. The twin thing ran in the Grainger family although Mum hadn't produced twins and Aunt Susan had never had children.
Uncle Arthur had invited the whole family but, Lauren and Lucinda had already arranged to spend the night with their own friends in London clubbing and then seeing the New Year in at Trafalgar Square with a group of friends from their boarding school; Emma was partying and then sleeping over with a friend from her school days who now lived in Winchester, so Maggie was going to drop her off on the way into London.
I had arranged to meet Josh and some friends from college and 'do the town' in Salisbury, I was torn between the two, wanting to spend New Year with Mum and Maggie, but had also been neglecting my mates just recently.
I spent the morning working in the garden. We had a half dozen decent Braeburn apple trees at the far end of the garden and Jack had come over last year and showed me how to prune and cut them back to keep them healthy and ensure a good crop of fruit. The weather being mild it was an ideal day to get out with the lime sulphur spray and follow up with some light clipping and pruning. I replaced a couple of the supporting stakes and then cleared up the clippings and spent the rest of the time just raking and cleaning up until Maggie picked Mum and Emma up just before lunchtime. I made myself a good lunch of bacon steaks, eggs and chips and sat on my bed and read a book until it was time to shower and change for going out. I took the bus into Salisbury and met Josh and the guys about seven thirty.
The following morning I woke up with a throbbing head and a mouth as furry as a cat's arse. I went downstairs to make coffee and found Josh sound asleep on the living room floor; I guessed that he had rolled off of the sofa during the night. I couldn't remember inviting him to stay but I couldn't remember most of the previous night either, we had really tied one on, and I think the group of us had visited every pub in the city centre ending up outside the George and Dragon on Castle Street, totally rat-arsed roaring out Auld Lang Syne.
I was glad that I couldn't remember a lot of what Josh told me about later, but it had been good just to let my hair down and behave like a normal teenage idiot for a night. Josh left after breakfast and I needed some fresh air so I spent the rest of the day in the garden and my potting shed until Maggie dropped Mum and Emma off just before dark.
I was at work early the next morning as it was the day that the builders were to start on the renovations and rebuilding. It was still dark when I arrived just after seven, but the lights were on in the office and I guessed that Maggie was already in. As I started up the stairs to the office I heard her call out.
"Jamie, is that you?" I thought that she sounded worried or frightened, "Jamie...get up here...quick!"
I pounded up the stairs and into the office. She wasn't there!
"Jamie, I'm in here! .... HELP ME!" Her voice was getting panicky and came from the stock room across the hallway.
I rushed across and burst through the door not knowing what to expect. Maggie was perched on the top of a step ladder, one foot on the highest rung and her other foot stretched out and on the top of a pile of cardboard boxes. The ladder was starting to shake and move away and the top box of the pile was beginning to collapse under her weight and she was seconds away from falling.
"What the.....! I exclaimed, and then burst out laughing; she just looked so funny wobbling there.
"It's not bloody funny....help me! She cried, turned her head to look at me and finally overbalanced. I called 'Mark' and was already moving as she came down and caught her neatly in a classic rugby high ball catch, with one arm beneath her knees and the other around her waist, but the momentum forced me backward, I tripped on a box and we tumbled in a pile on the floor. We lay there for a moment in a heap, the breath knocked out of us, Maggie lying across my stomach, and then simultaneously started to laugh.
Maggie rolled over facing me and started to pummel me on the chest with her fists, "You rotten, sod!" she laughed, gasping, "You did that on purpose! I'm not a bloody rugby ball, you know!" I tried to grab her wrists but I was laughing too much and missed, so I just wrapped my arms around hers and pulled her tight to me and we rolled about the floor struggling and laughing like a pair of kids. It was just mucking about, but I could feel her body against me, every contour and every hollow, her breasts were thrusting against me with every laughing pant that she made. Shit! It was so erotic and so close to the motions of love making that I was getting seriously horny, I didn't have a boner yet but I knew that I would have in a few more seconds, I had Maggie in my arms and I was galloping towards doing something really stupid, but I didn't care!"
"Harrumph!" Somebody in the room was loudly clearing their throat.
Maggie and I rolled apart and lay on the floor looking up and still laughing like drains. It was Jack. He was trying to keep his face serious but I could tell that he was suppressing a grin.
"When you two silly buggers have finished pissing about," he said, "You might consider coming down to the yard; Boris Keppel's foreman has turned up with a JCB digger and a truck load of scaffolding."
I sprang up and pulled Maggie to her feet. "Thanks, Jack," I managed, "we will both be down in a minute."
"Oh!" he added, looking at me, "That sister of yours has turned up as well and is cluttering up my tool shed with her bicycle ........ Don't any of you lot ever sleep?"
He clumped off down the stairs muttering. Jack was terrific, he always turned up for work, put in what ever hours he thought necessary and never asked for overtime unless Maggie or I reminded him. He had taught me everything I knew about plants and had coached me through my Cities and Guilds exams, he was tremendously loyal to Maggie and had been with her from the day she opened the garden centre. Jack loved to act the grumpy old country yokel but it was all an act, he was basically very kind and willing to help anybody who needed it. On top of all that he was just about the best damned nurseryman in the Southern Counties.
Maggie and I got our coats and went out to the yard, still laughing. By the time the builders were organised and ready to work, it was past eight and getting light, Mikey, the remaining student part timer had arrived and we were ready to open for business. Emma had made everybody teas and coffees and volunteered to look after the shop for a couple of hours and although there was a lot for the staff to do I did not think we would be very busy with customers that day.
I took the van and drove into Salisbury and spent a couple of hours collecting the photographs I had taken at Craven Lodge, dropping off the copy for an advertisement for staff at the Salisbury Journal office and delivering some potted bamboos and indoor palms to one of the centre city Indian restaurants. Going out to Craven Lodge with Maggie had made me realize that I needed a good, all weather coat, which would be hard wearing but presentable if I was to be meeting with clients in the future so I went to Greenfields Gunmakers, in Milford Street and bought myself a green Barbour jacket and matching waterproof waxed cap.
By the time I got back to the garden centre, Debbie and Joanna had arrived and Maggie had allocated everybody their work for the day. Joanna was already on the till in the shop and Debbie was working with Emma at one of the temporary stalls setting out a special display of Skimmias which flower in February and are a popular plant at the start of the year. They seemed to be getting along fine; I had been a bit concerned about Emma's re-action after her outburst on the night I had shagged Debbie, I knew that Debbie would be cool about it but Emma could still be a bit unpredictable.
I was a little amazed how quickly the builders had progressed, the yellow JCB mini-digger had already gouged out trenches to bring power, water and sewage to the new restaurant building and a truck had arrived with piping and conduit and several men were unloading these alongside the excavations. A second team were rapidly cladding the old barn and outhouses with scaffolding and Mikey was carefully setting up the red and white cones, barriers and tapes to ensure that visitors did not drift into the building zone.
I was surprised to find that there were quite a few cars in the car park and about thirty people wandering about already; so I spent the next hour or so drifting about the centre talking to customers, giving advice and arranging for post sales deliveries then went up to the office to have lunch with Maggie. It had become our habit to have lunch together most days, it was our 'catch-up hour' when we could talk about what was happening with the business that day, make plans for the next day and I could make my reports on anything that I thought Maggie should be aware of, or that I could not deal with alone.
That week turned out to be really busy. Maggie and I spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday going over the photographs and sketches of the Craven Lodge gardens and putting together some initial estimates for the first work phases. Maggie telephoned Georgia Craven with the starting estimates which were immediately accepted and we agreed to begin work early in February.
I had not seen very much of Debbie and Joanna during that first week, it was not that we had deliberately avoided each other, but events conspired to keep us apart, I genuinely needed to work late nearly every evening, and both of the girls had comittments to other friends or family in Salisbury before they went back to university. On the outside our relationship had reverted to how we had been during the summer, good friends who worked together.
Debbie continued to flirt with me outrageously as she always had before, and Joanna and I exchanged the odd secret joke but I do not think that anybody else was aware of our special friends with benefits, threeway affinity. I was really glad about the girls' attitute towards commitment; whilst it would have been fantastic to shag with either or both of them night after night it would probably have led to emotional ties that none of us wanted or were ready for.
By Thursday we had received over fifty job applications for the vacancies at the garden centre, some with quite impressive curricula vitae, the applicants ranged from unemployed farm labourers, shop assistants seeking new pastures and a couple of experienced gardeners and nurserymen. I spent the morning with Maggie sifting through the applications, nine were very promising and we telephoned them to arrange interviews immediately, the rest were sent letters for interview appointments or refusals.
I really was not looking forward to wasting a day hammering the typewriter to get all the letters out and in the end it was Emma who came to my rescue by voluntering to take on the task, I had not even realised that she had taken a basic typing skills course at school. She had all the letters typed up, ready for signature and posting by Friday afternoon and Maggie and I were very impressed, which naturally brought us to the subject of what we wanted to do about Emma at the end of the month. By then she would have paid off her debt to me and any obligation that she had to carry on working for Maggie would be ended. I knew that the time had come to have a serious talk with her about her future in general.
Friday evening I decided to take the bull by the horns and after closing up about six o'clock drove straight home. Mum was on middle shift and not back from work yet; since she got her promotion to senior sister she now generally only worked early and middle shifts at the hospital and the occasional night shift to cover absent staff. Emma had got back ahead of me and was sitting in the kitchen with a cup of tea still wearing her green garden centre sweatshirt. I made myself a cup of coffee and sat down with her.
"Thanks for doing that typing for me, today, Emms," I opened, "I really appreciated it, and you made a fantastic job of those letters." It was the truth, she had.
"That's OK," she replied, "I enjoyed doing it."
"Emma, we need to talk," I said seriously, "about what you intend to do with yourself this year." I saw her face fall and take on a moody expression again. "I'm not going to hassle you, but....."
"You are not my father, you know!" she started. Emma could go into one at the drop of a hat and I didn't want this to become a fight before I had got to what I really wanted to say to her.
"I know that," I said as kindly as possible, "But I am your big brother, and I do care about you!"
Her face softened a bit and she gave a big sigh, "Go on then, let's get it over with, I suppose you want me to get a job, or sign up for university...is that it?"
I took the opening that she had inadvertently given me, "You've got a job, Emms," I said, "you will have a job at the garden centre for as long as you want it, full time, full pay." Her face brightened up immediately, "Maggie and I have discussed it and we would like you stay for as long as you want to, the garden centre is a family business and you are family so there will always be a place for you!"
"Oh, Jay, thank you ... thank you so much!" she exclaimed. She jumped up and ran around behind my chair and put her arms around my neck from behind, "I hated the thought of having to leave at the end of the month!"
"Don't thank me," I said, "Thank your Auntie Maggie, she is the boss, I just do as I'm told, OK!" In fact when I discussed it with Maggie that lunchtime she had left the decision entirely up to me, knowing the problems we had had with Emma in the past. "But..... There are a couple of other things you need to think about."
"Such as what?" she asked warily.
"Well, firstly; I know Mum would like you to still consider going to university in September! If afterwards you want to come back to work at the centre there will still be a place for you," I told her. Emma was really bright and we all wanted her to have the best opportunities for a career, I had ducked out of 'Uni' but she was a lot more intelligent than me with a lot more potential.
"Yes, OK," she replied, "I promise that I will seriously think about it, but I may still say no."
"Secondly," I continued, "With the business expanding fast and this new landscaping project coming up, Maggie and I are getting seriously hard pressed to cover all the bases ourselves. In particular we need somebody to help Maggie look after the office, deal with the supplier invoices, help keep the accounts, manage customer orders and assist with the payroll, and so on." I looked at Emma's face, the penny had not dropped yet, "We could advertise for an office administrator," I teased, "but we both think that you would be fantastic at the job......if you wanted it...of course?"
"Oh, bloody hell, Jay! Do I want it? Of course I want it!" She exploded and hugged me even harder until I had to ease her arms from around my throat. I stood up and she put her arms around my waist and laid her head on my shoulder, "I love you, Jay," she said, "You really are the best brother in the world!" She raised her face and started to cover my face and chin with little pecking kisses whilst clinging tightly against me. Her warm breath on my face and the closeness of her body was starting to turn me on and I stepped back and firmly held her at arms length. She looked happier than I had seen her for a long time and it was an effort not to pull her back into my arms. I needed to break that chain of thoughts, right then!
"Well how about making your fabulous brother a cup of coffee, whilst I get dinner ready before Mum gets home?" I laughed, released her, and turned away to the cooker. I glanced back over my shoulder and she was just standing looking at me pensively, then she gave a little laugh and started getting cups down from the cupboard.
I was really glad that she had accepted the job offer and I knew Mum would be too. Emma was starting to sort herself out, perhaps it was the stabilizing effect of having a job and she was now seeing less of those weird friends of hers and spending more time with her cousins. Lauren and Lucinda may have been a bit flighty and career shop-a-holics, but they lived in the real world and were years ahead of Emma in the growing up stakes, probably the product of a traditional girl's boarding school education. The three of them had always been very tight friends as girls and I was glad that they were close again now.
Sunday was a free day for me. It was Maggie's turn to do the morning checks at the garden centre, Mum was on middle shift so would be at work from mid-day to early evening and Emma was planning to go out somewhere with the twins, so I had the day to myself. Never-the-less, I was still up and about just after dawn, took tea up to Mum and Emma in bed, and had breakfast ready for them when they got up.
I had brought the van home from work on Saturday night with some seed trays and pricking out pots that I needed to start growing the spring and summer bedding plants for Mum's garden, and I had borrowed the heavy duty, petrol motor, strimmer to make the first pass of the year over the lawn and the long grass at the end of the garden. I was well along with the grass cutting when Mum brought me a mug of coffee about eleven o'clock and said that she was going to drop Emma off to meet the twins on the way to work at the hospital. By mid-day I had raked up the cuttings and moved them to the compost heap and cleared a heap of accumulated rubbish from my shed, which I sacked up and put into the van. I locked the house and then drove down to the council waste recycling centre and disposed of the sacks.
Driving back I had to pass the end of the road where Josh and his family lived and decided on a whim to see if he wanted to hang out for the afternoon. I parked in the drive and rang the door bell, there was no reply but I could hear somebody at the rear of the house and so walked round and opened the gate to the back garden. I was immediately greeting by the family dog, a small dachshund called Rudi who followed me yapping cheerfully down the garden to where I could see Rebecca Hill, Josh's mother, unloading large boulders from a wheelbarrow.