The Touch Ch. 01byGreenFingers2015©
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.
This version is slightly amended as some orphan paragraphs and lost amendments have come to light since it was originally posted.
Chapter 1 Jamie's Story (Revised)
I first became aware of 'The Touch' when I was eighteen.
My name is James, although I am mostly known as Jamie. I thought at that time that I was a normal sort of guy, I went to work and college, and lived with my mother and my sister Emma, who is a year younger than me, in a large detached house on the outskirts of Salisbury.
There was only the three of us, and it had mostly been that way for ever. I now have difficulty remembering Dad clearly. He was a big, handsome, Irishman, who worked in the building trade, mostly abroad, and was away almost all of the time, but turned up smelling of alcohol every few months, for a long week-end and sometimes for a full week at Christmas and Easter. It was a few days after my fifteenth birthday when he disappeared for ever. He packed his rucksack as usual, kissed us all goodbye and went off to work somewhere in Germany, and that was the last we ever saw of him, he just never came back, didn't telephone, didn't write, nothing!
It was a probably nearly three months before we kids realised that something was wrong, Mum was really upset all the time and I heard her crying downstairs at night after we had gone to bed and then she started working part-time at her sister's garden centre when we were at school.
About six months later, one Sunday afternoon, mum's sister, Auntie Maggie came to tea and we all sat down in the living room and mum told me and Emma what was happening. My father had simply disappeared off the face of the earth. He had not turned up for work in Germany and nobody had seen him since he left home. I learned later that the money had stopped on the same day he left which was why mum had to go to work, and Auntie Maggie had been helping to pay the mortgage on the house. My aunt was up front about her opinions from the start, my father had always been a foot-loose drunk, who never really wanted to settle down, and even after he married my mother, chased anything in a skirt especially when he was drinking. Maggie's theory was that he had taken off with one of his women and was bumming around Spain or some place where there was lots of sun and cheap booze.
Later that evening, I heard mum crying again downstairs in the living room. I checked on Emma to make sure that she was asleep then went down. I sat beside Mum on the couch and put my arms around her and muttered all the crappy, stupid platitudes that adolescent boys come up with, how I would be 'the man of the house', and look after her and Emma, as soon as I could I would get a job to help out with the money, how everything would be all right, and how we didn't need Dad or anybody else, we three were good on our own.
In reality I did actually take those promises seriously and things did work out OK for the most part over the next few years. Mum decided to go back to nursing which had been her career before she married Dad, she continued to work for Auntie Maggie part time and did the refresher courses for nursing in between. I played at being 'husband and father' doing jobs about the house and garden, got a paper round to bring in some money, and once Mum went back to nursing full time, stayed in evenings and weekends to look after my sister, made the breakfasts and lunch boxes for us all, and cooked our tea when Mum was on night shift or early mornings, and tried to protect Mum from my sister's constant whinging about not having any pocket money, no longer having a family car, and us having to look after ourselves when mum was working.
Emma was being a real pain in the arse, but I suppose in fairness she was a teenage girl in the grip of puberty, and she seemed to see Dad leaving as some kind of personal abandonment targeted just at her. She alternated between being withdrawn and feeling sorry for herself, or full dramatics and hysterical out bursts, lashing out at Mum and me for anything or nothing.
I knew that I had to act responsibly for Mum's sake but I sometimes got really pissed off with it all and started acting up in the way the teenage boys do, drinking, smoking and getting into scrapes, we even had the police round once because me and a mate got picked up for kicking bins over in the shopping mall, and swearing at the security blokes. My school work had gone to crap but I didn't have the guts to upset Mum by telling her that I wanted to duck out of my A levels, leave school and get a job somewhere. I did confide in Auntie Maggie, who promised to have a think about it and perhaps speak to my mother for me.
Auntie Maggie came up trumps again. On my 16th birthday we all went to her place for a birthday tea and she took me to one side afterwards and asked me if I fancied a Saturday job at the Garden Centre, "It's up to you," she said, "I will pay you with cash and we will say you are just family helping out if there are any questions."
I snatched at the offer. "Yeah thanks! That's really great," I said, "we could seriously do with the extra money. When can I start? Can I do holidays as well as week-ends?"
"Just slow down." My aunt replied, "There is a whole raft of conditions attached to this. For one, I have spoken to your mother and she says that you are old enough to decide for yourself how much you want to work, but only if it does not interfere with your school work, so for now just stay at school until we can work something out, OK?"
"Secondly, I want you to promise me that you will keep some of your wages for yourself and not just put everything you earn into the family pool." She smiled, "Buy your self some smart gear that will impress the girls, OK?"
"Yeah, OK!" I replied. I couldn't help grinning. I thought that no one had noticed that I had started seriously taking an interest in totty, especially in tight jeans and sweaters, just like Auntie Maggie was wearing now. I felt a warm tingle starting in my groin, and hoped that I was not blushing.
"Finally," she went on, "get your act together, stop acting like a hooligan and for God sake don't drop me in the fucking shit with your mother!" She noticed my slight shock at her use of the F word. "Oh, come on Jamie, if you look and act like a grown man, don't expect me to treat you like a child anymore!"
I turned up for work the following Saturday. Uncle Ben, Maggie's husband, kitted me out with the centre uniform, green trousers and shirt with a logo on the breast pocket, a matching fleece for working outside and a pair of wellies. I preened in front of the locker room mirror and saw a good looking adolescent with dark wavy hair, already quite broad in the chest and shoulders. I was a keen rugby player and had been in my house team at school until everything fell apart at home. Unlike my father, I was never going to be a tall man, but at 16 I had almost reached my full height and stood about 5'9". Auntie Maggie was right; I could easily pass for 18 plus, and in my new uniform probably even older.
I was glad to have the Saturday job not just for the cash, but because it was a way of avoiding my sister at week-ends as she had become a real pain. Always flying into tantrums and picking fights with Mum, and I was pissed off with constantly getting caught in the middle. When we were kids and mum was at home all day we always used to do everything as a family, but now, because of Mum working shifts we seemed to never all be in the house at the same time, most evenings I would hang out with my mates from school or occasionally hook up with one of the local girls for a snog and, if I was lucky, a quick fumble, but no girlfriend so far, had lasted more than a couple of weeks.
My first Saturdays at work were spent helping the garden centre's only full timer, Jack, who was about 60 and knew everything about plants, flowers and vegetables. I moved and stacked bags of compost, sacks of sand and gravel, plant pots large and small, filled up the displays with potted plants, bags of bulbs and seed vegetables, swept out the greenhouses, watered the plants, and loaded customer's cars, it was hard work but I actually liked it.
Sometimes I helped Uncle Ben to maintain or repair the sprinkler systems and pumps. Uncle Ben was a tall rather pompous man who always wore old fashioned tweed suits and worked as a travelling salesman for agricultural and farm machinery so was usually only at the garden centre at weekends; nothing was ever said but I didn't really like him much and I don't believe that he cared much for me either. He insisted that I always call him Uncle Ben even though my aunt had now asked me to just call her Maggie and treated me the same as the other grown men at the centre. I thought it strange that he was always going off down the lane to use the public 'phone box instead of using the one in the office, but nobody else seemed to notice so I never mentioned it to anyone. Later I was to wish that I had.
Maggie managed the shop and the office and the other staff were part timers like me, there was a really butch girl who was a 6th former at the same girls school as my sister, and a couple of older lads from technical college who were doing work experience for their biology courses. The business was growing steadily but still didn't justify a heap of staff, Maggie just took on temps, mainly students, when they were needed.
The garden centre was starting to get busy and I began going into work most days after school when Mum was at home to keep and eye on Emma, and when the summer holidays started I was there all day, every day. The garden centre was closed on Sunday and I was really meant to take a day off in the week as well, but most weeks I came in every day, Maggie never made an issue of it and just paid me the extra time. I was now spending most of my time with Jack or Maggie who were teaching me about plants and flowers and the basic skills needed to become a gardener or horticulturalist from the Latin names of flowers to the designing and lay out of gardens. I discovered to my surprise that I really liked the idea of gardens and gardening and was well along the path to deciding to leave school next year and try my hand as a jobbing gardener. I just did not know how to break the news to Mum.
Once again Maggie came to the rescue. She asked me up to her house one lunch time. Maggie and Uncle Ben lived in an enormous eight bedroom detached house at the back of the Garden Centre, with landscaped gardens, swimming pool, the lot. It all belonged to Maggie, the house, the Garden Centre, the money, everything; her first husband had been a very successful architect and garden landscaper, who had died in an accident after they had been married only a few years and had left her a fortune. Maggie, herself, was a well known garden designer so she had bought the neighbouring farm and started the business. She had only met and married Uncle Ben about five years ago after the girls had started boarding school. Mum always reckoned she married him mainly because she was just lonely in that big house, if that was right then she had copped a dud because he was usually away from Monday to Friday out on the road and even when he was home spent most evenings in hotel bars in Salisbury.
We sat in her kitchen with coffee and sandwiches, and she came out with the perfect solution to my problem, "I have spoken to your mother," she said, "and if you are still serious about wanting to quit school and get a job, then I will take you on full time at the garden centre. But...." She added, "not just as an unskilled labourer, like your waster of a father. If you really want the job you have to work for it, and that means committing for three years."
"Fantastic," I said, "but what is this three year thing?"
She put on a serious face but I could see that she was trying not to smile. "Three years is the time it will take for you to complete a day release Cities and Guild course to become a qualified horticulturalist. If you do that then you will have a good start on a worthwhile career. Take the job and you will go onto the payroll, the Garden Centre will pay for your day release classes and Jack has agreed to train you in all the practical aspects of gardening." She paused and looked deep into my eyes, "So what do you think? " She winked at me, "Do you want to be a man or a mouse, a gardener or a time waster? Just don't think you will get special treatment because you are my big, handsome, sexy nephew"
I did not know what to say or do, so I jumped up, picked her up bodily from her chair in a bear hug and swung her around the kitchen shouting "Yes! Yes! Yes!"
I think that it was at that point that I began to realise that Maggie was not just my aunt but was also a bloody attractive woman. I had always had a bit of a thing about older women, and remember even at eight or nine being fascinated by smart mature women in tight pencil skirts and high heels, not really a sex thing then but I just liked to watch them. The sudden close physical contact with her had caused an almost instant re-action and I felt myself starting to get a hard on and so quickly sat back down at the table to conceal the growing bulge in my trousers. From that point onwards I just regarded and looked at Maggie in a completely different way.
That was it....I started work straight away at the centre and began my C&G course a month later, I was really happy, this was what I wanted to do, it was dream come true. The next couple of years were probably the happiest I can remember. Mum was overjoyed that I had sorted myself out and seemed to be acting sensibly again, but I noticed that she had started to pour herself a glass of wine as soon as she got in from her shift at the hospital, even at breakfast time, and there was always at least one wine bottle often more to put out with the rubbish most days. Money was still a problem, Dad had not paid the mortgage for months before he left and had max'd out his and Mum's credit cards so she was still struggling to keep our heads above water, I think that this was the major part of Mum's problem. At least now I was paying a good chunk of my wages into the housekeeping pot which made a difference.
My sister Emma just continued to be a real pain in the arse, she was doing OK at school and looked to be getting good results but was still really moody, and seemed to be at loggerheads with Mum all the time; then she would come whinging to me about how unfairly she thought she was being treated. I probably should have been more understanding but she was really irritating at times and her behaviour just forced us further apart. Her moodiness, combined with Mum's constant worrying about money, and my working full time, meant none of us really talked to each other anymore, and that was adding to the problem.
Sundays were a real drag as they have been since forever....everywhere was closed, no shops except for the newsagent, and the cinemas did not open until 4 on Sunday afternoon. When Mum was not working we still had a family cooked lunch and then tried to just spend time together but Emma and Mum would just end up arguing again. I think we all started to give up and Mum and I spent most Sunday afternoons working in the garden, it hadn't been touched for several years and needed a lot of work. Some Sundays I would volunteer to go into work; the plants and shrubs needed watering seven days a week during the summer even though the garden centre was closed to the public. I left Emma to do her own thing which was perhaps unfair of me.
The next couple of years seemed to fly past and my eighteenth birthday came round, I was now officially and legally a man! Once again it was Maggie who organised everything. My birthday is in early June and she arranged a poolside party at her place; it was just for immediate family, the guys from work, and a couple of my mates. Uncle Ben was working away, thank God! I had started to seriously dislike that wanker, but I really didn't know why. Mum took the afternoon off work and Emma as usual sat in a corner sulking. She had got good exam passes and could have applied to university but refused to consider leaving home or even think about her future and spend most of her time loafing around the house or at the shopping Mall with her drippy friends. Thankfully she was clean...she didn't drink, smoke or use drugs, and she had never had a boyfriend. She was just becoming a total waste of space who expected to be kept in clothes and pocket money by me and Mum.
Maggie and Mum unveiled my present....they had clubbed together and bought me a brand new, bright red Vespa moped, complete with jacket and helmet. With any luck I would have my full driving licence the following week. Maggie had insisted on paying for lessons and a driving test for me, saying she needed me to be able to use the firm's van for deliveries and collections.
"You will probably want to buy yourself a car soon," Mum said, "But until you do you at least have transport to get you in to work and back." I was thrilled with the Vespa, even if I did get a car later the moped was seriously economical transport, with no parking issues, a lot of the guys that I knew had kept their mopeds or scooters long after getting themselves cars.
It was a nice day and we all spent time in the pool, except for Emma. Couldn't help noticing how great both Mum and Maggie looked in their bathing costumes and had to make a serious effort not to be caught watching them. They both looked seriously sexy, and because they were twins it was impossible to feel horny about one of them without feeling the same about the other. I probably should have felt guilty or something getting turned on by my aunt and my mother, but I seriously thought that they were the most attractive women present, probably anywhere.
There were barbequed burgers and beer and wine, and I think all the adults, my self included got just a little pissed, Mum got totally rat-arsed and surprised everyone, I knew she sometimes got quietly wasted at home but this was the first time she had done it in company. Emma was normal for Emma, she got really uptight and started screaming at Mum, calling her a piss-head who had driven Dad away, then as usual burst into tears and ran off and spent the rest of the evening sitting on a bench at the far end of the garden.
I had a discreet chat with Maggie about Mum. "She is drinking too much and seems so unhappy all the time; I don't know what to do."
"She is just very tired, she works terribly long hours at the hospital you know, added to which she is still struggling to pay of your fathers debts and is terrified that he will come back and the whole cycle will start over. The only thing that you can do really is just be there for her, to understand what she is going through."
Later, when we got home, Emma just stumped off up to her room with hardly a word and I made coffees and sat beside Mum on the settee. She was near enough sober now and looked a little sheepish. I sat very close and put my arm around her shoulders comfortingly.
"You do know that I am ALWAYS here for you, don't you?" I said softly. I could feel the slight quivering of her body that told me she was silently crying, and put my finger against her chin and turned her face towards me. She was so lovely. I could see a small tear starting to trickle down her cheek and instinctively just kissed it away the way that she had done to us when we were children. "I love you, Mum."
"Thank you, my darling," She whispered. "Don't know what I would have done without you, you are not just my terribly grown up and supportive son, you are my best friend as well, you know? That means everything to me."