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Harry of Crack

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Harry of Crack Powered By Docstoc
					This is how this story appeared as of November 30, 2008 at 10:33pm when I submitted it. It's
getting MAJOR revisions. Read at your own risk.

Harry of Crack

Chapter 1

Harry blinked awake to the sight of the piercing blue, bespectacled stare of Harry Potter and
closed his eyes again. He groaned and rolled over hoping when he opened his eyes again he
would be back in his room off campus at the University of Portsmouth. He wanted to still be in
school, still have a girlfriend, still be anywhere but Crack-on-Vyrnwy in Wales. He opened his
eyes again, but instead of Harry Potter, he saw the ginger Rupert Grint smiling back at him from
across the room. He knew better than to turn over the other direction because on the wall
directly next to the bed would be a shirtless picture of Daniel sodding Radcliffe pretending he
knew the difference between the front of a horse and the back. Why his mother let his sister,
Maggie, have a half naked picture of a guy on the wall was beyond him. She wouldn't let him
have pictures of half-naked women hidden under his mattress.

He forced himself to swing his legs over the side of the bed and tried to ignore the Potter movie
posters plastered to the upward sloping ceiling. He closed his laptop lid, not needing the
condemnation of the blinking cursor on top of his hang over. Trying to write after a night at the
pub was doomed to failure from the start, but he hadn't been having any better luck sober so he'd
tried to give it a go. The blank page and the mocking of the cursor had only made him want to
drink more. With the pub closed and no place to buy more alcohol, he passed out to avoid the
illustration of failure the blank page made.

Since he'd come home, he hadn't had a single creative thought. There was no news to report
from Crack, no human interest stories that needed written that he could submit as freelance. The
fiction stories he'd started in his stolen moments at school no longer made any sense to him. He
didn't know where they were headed other than to a dead pile. Whenever he tried to write, all he
could think of was what a shambles his life had become.

He rubbed his eyes and stumbled over to the small bathroom his mother had put in after Harry
went off to school. Harry washed the carpet out of his mouth left over from a night of drinking
with his best friend, Reggie, and did his best not to take the Harry Potter towels and chuck them
out the window.

Maggie was obsessed with Harry Potter and by extension Daniel Radcliffe. When Harry had
moved home after school, he'd insisted on his old room back, but Gwen, his mother, refused to
let him take down the pictures because he would be moving away as soon as he either patched
things up with his girlfriend or got a job. She'd seemed slightly angry with Harry when she said
it making him wonder if she wasn't as eager to have Harry gone as he was to be off. Every
surface of the bedroom was covered with the stupid git. That had been a month ago and the only
job he'd been offered where the odd ones for Reggie's dad, Nigel, that he'd been doing since he
came to Crack at the age of twelve. Some good a university degree had done him. The bastard
coating his walls hadn't finished school and he could buy and sell the whole bloody town just by
waving his wand about. Lucky bastard.

"Harry, you're the man of the family now. Take care of your mother and your sister. I'm sorry,"
his dad had said as Harry stood next to the hospital bed holding his hand, watching and waiting
for the end. At twelve, Harry thought he could handle the task. He'd used the newfound sense of
responsibility and purpose to get through the loss of his father. Harry had sucked up all his tears
and put his own grief aside to take care of his mother and sister only letting it out when he was
alone in his room. He'd started then looking for jobs to do around his neighborhood. A few
people had felt sorry for him and let him stack wood and mow their tiny gardens for a small fee
which Harry (having tried to give the money directly to his mother and been rebuffed) would
hide in places he thought his mother would just forget she'd left money in and put it with the rest.

His sister was only six at the time and had still been inclined to do as Harry instructed. By the
time she was ten, however, Harry had lost all credibility in her eyes. He may have been Harry
(he even looked like the description of the character in the book with his straight always messy
dark hair, average build, and six foot frame, but blue eyes like the actor), but he couldn't do
magic so he could fuck off evidently. Now at sixteen, Maggie was mad because he'd come home
and took his room back and he was lower in her eyes than ever before. She was so mad at him,
she barely spoke to him and hadn't been upstairs more than a handful of times to see her stupid
posters. Harry was quite sure she only came up to make sure he hadn't taken them down.

Gwen had let him think he was the man of the house growing up, but looking back he knew she
was just grateful for him watching out for his sister while she tried to keep them above water
financially. Harry remembered several nights going to bed after kissing his mother's cheek
where she sat at the table and finding her in exactly the same spot when he woke up the next
morning.

She and Harry's father had married when Gwen was eighteen and Daniel was twenty-three. A
kid in the front seat could result in an accident; an accident in the back seat did result in a kid.
His parents never told him he was an accident, but he'd done the math in biology class. His dad
had been a carpenter and they'd had a good life in a suburb of London. Harry trailed after him
thinking he'd climbed up on a ladder with a hammer and nails and hung the moon. His mother
had worked casually as a seamstress whenever she felt like working - usually around Christmas
and birthdays for extra money to buy presents. She had been content to keep the house and take
care of the kids. It was a dream existence and when Harry's dad died a week after going to the
hospital for a headache, they all woke up. Harry divided his life into before and after that point.
Nothing was ever the same again.

Gwen had sold their house, using the money to pay off the mortgage and buy a van to take what
was left of their life back to the home where she grew up in the tiny village of Crack. Her
parents had decided to move into an assisted living community near Cornwall and gave her the
small house to start over. They visited occasionally and Harry, Gwen, and Maggie went down
for the day after Christmas every year. Gwen was especially grateful when Harry got his driver's
license so that she didn't have to quit working for the trip down. Gwen left home only to shop
for supplies and groceries apart from these once a year trips. They stopped off at his dad's grave
on the way back. He'd regarded his dad as a taboo subject for years then after a while he didn't
think of him except for the once yearly trips. Occasionally he had questions about his dad, but it
was easier than dealing with the hurt and the tears to let the questions go and keep the memories
to himself.

Harry had converted the attic into his bedroom right away. He'd cleared out all his grandparents
old Christmas decorations and discarded clothes shoving what he wasn't allowed to get rid of
into the eaves. He started doing bit jobs around the village to buy boards and nails to close in the
parts of his attic room that were too short to stand up in and hide the leftovers.

His sister's room on the ground floor was just slightly bigger than a closet wedged between the
bathroom and the kitchen while his mother's room had become a storeroom for all of her crafting
supplies with her bed shoved in the corner all the way to the back. His sister had taken over his
attic and Gwen had had Nigel install a small shower, toilet, and sink above the bathroom below
and framed it in to separate it from the rest of the room after he went away to school. Yet
another illustration of his sister getting the better deal in everything. Still Harry got six more
years with dad than Maggie did so he felt like they were even mostly. More than once, Harry
had dipped into his food budget or walked instead of buy gas to get around just so that he could
get his little sister something she needed and didn't want to ask mum for. Maggie got more than
Harry did at her age because Harry spoiled her even if he wouldn't admit it to anyone. Harry had
been impatient to say the least to finish school so that he could ease the burden on his mother to a
greater degree than the little gifts he could manage, but instead he'd come home to add to them
and he was beginning to get frustrated.

Gwen made a pretty good living selling Celtic and British historical crafts on eBay and in gift
shops around the area. She was over the moon when DSL came to their little corner of Wales
cutting her posting time in half. She was one of the first people to join eBay when it crossed the
ocean and while she wasn't rich, she had been able to support her children without having to get
a job outside the house past taking her turn at the village library one week a month. She'd even
used her old computer to catalogue the couple hundred titles in the dilapidated little corner of the
post office and did her best to keep the old books from falling apart while adding the new
romance and children's paperbacks to the system and keeping track of them and buy herself a
new computer. A new digital camera lead to better pictures for her listings and she'd done better
than ever while Harry was away at school. She'd bought Harry his battered laptop two years ago.
The keys were worn smooth from the amount of time he spent typing at it, but he didn't know
how he'd ever survived without it.

Harry walked over to his window and looked out at the kids chasing each other in the grassy
common in the center of the village. To the right and across the square people were milling
around the front of the town hall/post office/convenience store/library as was typical for a
Saturday morning. King Sully, town nut and mayor, was holding court under a shade tree near
the entrance. Looking at the clock, he saw that he'd slept until ten - a rare occurrence for Harry
who couldn't remember a day where he hadn't gotten up at dawn to go to one job or another. He
hadn't had much sleep at school, but at least he didn't have any college loans to pay off as a lot of
his friends did.
Harry watched Sully across the green call the children to gather around his bench under the tree.
Harry had always liked Sully. He was always good for a laugh. Harry could use a laugh today,
he thought pulling a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his hiding spot by the bed. Sully was a
war veteran, but Harry wasn't sure which one. He knew Sully had always been a little dotty, but
when he came home from whatever war, his injury (which no one knew what exactly it was) had
caused him to develop a casual relationship with reality. Sully would tell anyone who would
listen the story of the woman in the crack in the mountain that the town took its name from had
presented him with Excalibur and pronounced him the rightful ruler of all of England and Wales.
His family was descended from one of the medieval ruling princes (whose family in Wales
wasn't in some distant way or other?) so that bloodline and the Lady of the Crack as Sully called
her added up to sovereignty. Excalibur in this case was an ancient yardstick given out free when
a needlework store had opened up in a nearby town. The store name barely visible on the thin
piece of wood no longer existed having closed before Harry had even been born.

King Sully was made mayor by unanimous vote sometime in the seventies when Sully's last
remaining relative died. Harry wasn't sure how old Sully was, but if he had to guess the best
estimate he could give would be about eighty. The only thing the mayor of Crack had to do was
make sure the village common got watered and mowed regularly, but the people of the town
provided Sully a small flat inside the town hall and his military pension took care of the rest.
Harry was one of the few people who'd ever been inside due to a leaky faucet under the
bathroom sink he'd help Nigel repair. It was furnished with mismatched furniture and children's
paintings depicting scenes from the stories Sully told whenever he could coral an audience.
There were even a few that Harry had made himself as a child. Sully's walls were an art gallery
of sorts for generations of kids.

Sully had a story ready for any occasion. Harry and Reggie had spent a lot of afternoons sitting
under that shade tree with King Sully hearing tales of Knights and Ladies, Warrior Princes and
Princesses, dragons and pirates, and the local legends both real and fictional. If it weren't for
Sully, Harry wouldn't have decided to pursue writing as a career or been interested in history.
"Sodding git," Harry said taking a deep drag, but he couldn't be mad at Sully. Sitting in the grass
listening to stories gave him a much needed escape after the death of his dad. Maggie would sit
with him sometimes laying down using Harry's leg as a pillow and taking a nap, but Harry spent
more time at Sully's feet than any other kid in the village.

"Harry, are you smoking in the house?" Gwen yelled up the stairs and Harry tossed his lit
cigarette out the open window. July had opened unusually warm this year so open windows had
become the norm. Harry had managed to get screens on his sister and mum's rooms downstairs
to keep out bugs and moths, but he hadn't gotten around to his own room on the second floor.

"No, mum," Harry said hiding the pack and lighter away again in case she came upstairs. Harry
had picked up smoking to fit in at school and didn't do it often, but lately he'd been doing it more
and more even though he couldn't afford it. The pack in his hiding spot was the last one he was
allowing himself before he got a job and they were half gone - most of them chucked out the
window after only a puff like this one. His mum couldn't stand the smell and nagged him
constantly to stop all together. Harry on the other hand equated the smell with standing on the
dock, talking and laughing, while taking a break between unloading fishing boats in the early
mornings before classes started for the day. It was a nice memory and he liked the escape
thinking about it gave him made more vivid with the addition of the smell of the smoke.

"Harry, Nigel needs your help with a riser in the hall. I'll fix tea if you get a move on," Gwen
said from downstairs. Nigel was Reggie's father and the closest thing to a father Harry had had
since he lost his own. Harry wondered if Nigel and Daniel were friends, but since his father was
a subject that made his mother and sister cry, he had never asked. Nigel had lost his wife so
Harry just assumed he wouldn't want to talk about the past any more than Harry's mother.
Maybe he'd ask Sully. Sully knew everything and everyone and all the details of every life in
town. He was ashamed to realize he'd never thought of asking before.

Nigel owned the Prince's Rest, Crack's sole pub. The pub had been handed down from father to
son since Lord Rhys had ruled most of Wales in the 1100s. Nigel's family was one of the
original founding families of the village and Harry made sure to remind Reggie that his family
was responsible for the god-awful name. When the name was Welsh, it hadn't been so bad to be
a village born from a fissure formed by water bursting from the high mountains ringing it on
three sides. There was a stream long ago that originated from a fissure where two of the
mountains formed a steep valley, but now there was only water in it if there was a flood
everywhere else in the country. The town had built a fountain at the original point in an effort to
make the name less of a joke, but Sully's insistence that he was King pretty much sealed Crack's
fate. Every so often there would be a slow news day and someone would send a reporter up to
do a human interest story about the King of Crack. When Harry had been at school, he told
people he was from Shrewsbury across the border in England just to avoid the stigma. Being
named Harry and from a town named Crack made him the target of more than a few bad puns.

"I'll be right down," he said reaching for his trousers from the night before. They reeked of ale
so he tossed them back to the floor and picked up another pair. They were covered in sawdust
from helping Nigel build a ramp for one of the elderly widows down the street, but he put them
on anyway. He put on his last clean tee shirt and his least smelly pair of socks then tugged on his
shoes. His girlfriend had bought them for him for Christmas so they were the most expensive
and best shoes he'd ever owned, but after a month of wearing them for every dirty job Nigel
could come up with they were nearly unrecognizable under a coating of paint splatters and dirt.
He'd saved them back as long as he could, but when his old shoes had split in two at the sole,
he'd had no choice.

"Why, where ever is Reggie?" the old women always asked, crestfallen with a cherry pie fresh
from the oven in their hands or a plate of sandwiches and lemonade. All the little old ladies
loved for Reggie to come to visit. Reggie had always played his motherless status to the hilt. He
was tall and gangly making him appear undernourished to the grandmotherly types around the
village. He had curly dirty blond hair and the features of an ancient Roman soldier handed down
through the ages. He got away with anything and everything by smiling sheepishly. Harry had
been able to get in on some of that growing up, but he was self aware enough to know he didn't
have the same level of charm Reggie was blessed with (or cursed with depending how you look
at it) especially when the grandmothers looked disappointed to see him. He'd learned long ago
not to let it bother him.
The truth was Reggie got away with too much. He was so laid back people thought at first
glance that he was mentally challenged. He had no ambition whatsoever. Playing dumb had
become an art form for Reggie and he enjoyed surprising people with obscure facts or destroying
them at chess with ease. He bounced through life without a care. His grandfather on his
mother's side had left him Crack's only garage and petrol station because he could fix anything
on wheels. Still, Reggie only fixed things when he felt like it - meaning he was hungry or
wanted to buy something.

Reggie's father had kicked him out of their flat over the pub trying to light a fire under him, but
he'd only set up a little place of his own in the storeroom of the garage for when he didn't have a
girlfriend. Reggie had charmed every single divorcee and young twenty-something on her own
in Crack and the surrounding county. Every child called him Uncle Reggie and he was called on
to babysit even after the break ups. He was too loveable to stay mad at for long evidently and he
remained friends with every mother he loved and left.

Reggie even left the petrol pumps unattended most of the time. He'd come out of the garage if a
car from outside the area showed up, but everyone who lived in Crack pumped their own gas and
left the cash in the office. When Nigel cut him off from free food and drink at the pub, Reggie
started doing odd jobs for the lonely grandmothers who would insist he stay for tea. He liked his
life and didn't appear to be in a rush to change it. Harry envied his friend openly for that reason
alone. Harry was always in a rush to change his life.

Harry had hated Crack from the moment he arrived. His opinion didn't get any better when he
fell and broke his leg trying to build real stairs to replace the rickety pull down ladder up to his
room within three weeks of moving in. He was convinced after following his father around for
all of his life up to that point that he could handle the project on his own. He did have the ability
to hammer a nail and cut straight and level, but he didn't have the necessary experience to do the
job as the cast on his leg gave testament to while he watched Nigel build the stairs from the
couch.

Reggie had helped Harry in his attempt at home improvement and they bonded over the lose of
one parent each. Before when Harry had come to visit his grandparents they'd run around and
gotten into trouble together, but once Harry and family had moved in permanently they'd become
inseparable. Reggie had kept him company when he wasn't off at school while Nigel had put in
narrow stairs and a railing to keep more accidents from happening while Harry recovered.

During the day when his sister and friend were off in the next town over for school and his
mother was soldering medieval jewelry or creating Victorian lace, Harry had no choice but to
amuse himself. He'd started dreaming ups stories with him as the brave knight of the realm
(having met King Sully already as well who gave him inspiration) riding boldly on his trusty
steed to save damsels in distress. He got frustrated about forgetting key heroic moments and his
mother had supplied him with paper and pencil to write them all down. Reggie envied Harry's
ability to make up stories as good as Sully's in Reggie's opinion and that's why they were still
friends ten years later - mutual jealousy. Reggie had encouraged Harry to be ambitious while
Harry told Reggie how much he wished he could have Reggie's carefree life.
"Good - good - uh - morning, Gwen," Nigel muttered as Harry came down the stairs. He
rounded the corner and found his mother dressed in jeans tighter than Harry thought a woman of
40 ought to be wearing and a peasant blouse tucked neatly under a braided leather belt. She'd
colored her hair to mask the few strands of grey that had been dotting her auburn hair and she
was wearing makeup again for the first time since Harry's dad had died. Gwen was not the same
woman that Harry had kissed on the cheek and said goodbye to at the bus station four years
previously. Hell, she wasn't even the same woman he'd said goodbye to after Christmas holiday.

In recent months, Gwen had decided to live a little of her lost youth if Reggie was to be believed.
More of the local men were checking out books the weeks Gwen was librarian and she was
spending more time at the pub for meals around her crafting. She went on walks more often and
had lost the weight that her long hours of sitting in one place had inevitably caused her to gain.
According to Reggie, he'd seen her more than once laughing with Reggie's older brother David
over something in David's notebook that he kept behind the bar. When asked, neither Gwen nor
David would say what they were looking at.

Gwen had married at eighteen and been widowed at thirty spending all her time raising her
children and working feverishly to give them a good life. She never complained, but Harry knew
she hadn't been blissfully happy being a single mother and she'd barely taken time to laugh or go
out for a casual meal. He'd done his best not to give her grief and made sure to lay enough guilt
on his sister to shame her into staying out of trouble while he was gone. Gwen had never dated
after her husband died and her home business kept her from having many friends - not that there
were many people in Crack her age. The only time Harry had ever considered hitting Reggie
was when Reggie had mentioned casually that Gwen was hot during a discussion of prospects for
Reggie's next casual living arrangement. He'd made Reggie swear on pain of dismemberment to
stay away from Harry's mother.

Nigel was her age and Harry had long thought that Nigel had a soft spot for Gwen. He never
asked for payment for any of the repairs or improvements he made for Gwen, but he never did
that for anyone. What made Harry suspicious was Nigel expected the person he was doing a
repair for to pay for the materials he used. Gwen had to practically force him to take money for
anything starting with the rather hefty sum for lumber for Harry's staircase. Nigel had to be at
the pub for mealtimes, but when Reggie's older brother David had decided to carry on the family
tradition of pub owner when the oldest brother Brian hied off to Ireland with a girl he met on
holiday to work for her father, Nigel had started coming over more often just before lunch or
dinner on the off chance Gwen might need something done around the house - a trick he'd
learned from Reggie. Harry wondered occasionally if it was disloyal to the memory of his father
to wish Nigel would have married Gwen sometime in the years Harry was growing up. Now as
far as Harry was concerned they were too old. Nigel was about to be a grandfather and Gwen
was forty - they were ancient to Harry's twenty-two year old mind.

"Good morning, Nigel. Harry just woke up and I was going to fix him a sandwich before - there
you are. Like your hair would fall out if you put a comb through it once in a while and when are
you going to bring your laundry down? You really should shave before coming down. I'm sure
Nigel wouldn't have minded waiting a few extra minutes," Gwen said smiling broadly at Nigel
then at Harry when he came into view. Harry wondered if Gwen even thought before she nagged
at him anymore. It was always the same - brush your hair, brush your teeth, laundry, and
shaving. If she was feeling extra motherly, she asked if he was wearing clean underpants.

"I'll be wearing a hat and getting dirty any road. I'll gather up my laundry when I get home.
Morning, Nigel," Harry said in an attempt to ease Nigel's embarrassment. He felt like he owed it
to the man for all the camping trips he let Harry come along on and including him in the
discussion of things with Reggie that Harry wouldn't dream of discussing with his mother. Some
of the happiest times of Harry's life were spent with Nigel and his sons out in the woods.

"Hi, Harry, thanks for your help. The town council decided we need a stage in the hall and I
can't find Reggie - as usual," Nigel said with a sheepish smile. Nigel always got a little tongue
tied when left alone with Gwen. He seemed to recover when someone else came in the room.

"Mum, can I have one of those for Sully as well? I know if I don't he'll be asking a million
questions and we'll never make it inside," Harry said accepting a sandwich his mother had made
for him, thick with lettuce, turkey, and cheese. Sully never let anyone pass by with food without
asking the origin of every ingredient to make sure nothing had been poached from the King's
forest. It was easier to give a royal gift and pass by while Sully investigated by means of tasting.

"Ahead of you, my smart boy," Gwen said smiling and handing him an identical sandwich
wrapped in wax paper after Harry pulled on his father's old tool belt. Gwen always teared up and
turned away when he wore it, but insisted he use it anyway. He knew he looked like his dad and
it always made him uncomfortable when his mother cried while reminding him of the fact
especially with an audience.

"I have one for you too, Nigel. I didn't know if you'd eaten lunch," Gwen said blinking a few
times to clear her eyes and turning back to the counter.

"Thanks, I hadn't thought of it," Nigel said and Harry felt more uncomfortable still when Nigel
and Gwen stepped closer for Gwen to hand over the sandwich. They were looking at each other
the way people looked at each other in sappy chick flicks when they were pretending they didn't
like each other too much.

"Let's push off then. I want to get back to what I was working on last night," Harry lied breaking
the silence. He'd worked on getting hammered with Reggie until Reggie picked up a girl at the
pub then Harry had come back to his room alone. He let the blinking cursor mock him for a
couple of hours then passed out. He hated that blinking cursor. On - off - on - off - lo - ser - lo -
ser. If he could learn how to turn off the blinking, he could write his book, become rich and
famous, and move himself and his family away from the butt crack of Wales as they'd come to
call it as kids. Seeing Nigel eyeing his mother made him want to move himself and his family
even quicker than before. He liked Nigel, but Gwen was his mother and it was just gross to think
about.

"Right. See you," Nigel said nodding to Gwen then heading out the door.
"Bye, mum," Harry said kissing his mother on the cheek then following Nigel outside into the
uncharacteristically bright sunlight. "Mother of god," he said closing his eyes then shielding
them with his hand to protect his head from the pounding the sunlight caused.

"All right, Harry?" Nigel asked even though he knew good and well how much Harry had had to
drink the night before - he'd been the one putting the pints in front of him. Harry didn't normal
drink himself stupid, but he'd been trapped in Crack for a month leaving only to attend
interviews for positions that had already been filled, he was too qualified for, or he hadn't had the
real world experience necessary to be qualified. He'd applied for every newspaper in ever town
and village within the range of his tiny, beat up little car. He'd run out the last of his petrol as
he'd climbed the hill back into Crack and decided to drink the last of the cash he had in his
wallet. He had three hundred pounds in a savings account, but he would not touch that if he
could help it. He needed a deposit on a flat if his girlfriend wouldn't take him back or a deposit
on a ring if she would.

"Headache," Harry replied blinking his eyes and trying to focus when he heard a familiar gasp.

"You have a headache?" Maggie asked standing up from where she'd been pulling weeds out of
the flowerbed by the door.

"It's nothing, magpie, just too much fun last night," Harry said falling into the old nickname and
feeling guilty for his slip. No one said the word headache in their house. When Maggie was
little she'd had nightmares about Harry dying from a headache too. It had been ten years and
Maggie never said she was still having the nightmare, but she still got scared whenever the word
was said aloud. She was old enough to know now that their father hadn't really died of a
headache, but the fear persisted.

Maggie looked at him wearing their dad's tool belt before giving him a fast hug and bolting
toward the door. Lately Maggie would rather roll her eyes disdainfully than hug him and he felt
guiltier still. "I'm telling mom," she said just as the door slammed shut behind her. He looked in
the window to see his mother hugging his sister and decided going back in would do more harm
than good. Harry was beginning to think he liked it better when his sister was trying to get on
his nerves.

"Let's go before they're packing me off to the hospital for a hangover," Harry said tugging on
Nigel's elbow to get him moving. He'd stop off at the tiny store and pick up a couple of Tylenol
on the way in to start on the stage.

"Right," Nigel said falling into step beside him as they crossed the common to the hall. "You
didn't look like you were having fun last night."

"It's been a month and I'm no closer to finding a job. I thought I'd be back with Catherine by
now. I thought I'd have a start on my book, but here I am," Harry said taking a big bite of his
sandwich while ambling across the grass. Harry had never found drinking fun the morning after,
but it had felt good at the time. He'd almost considered going home with a friend of Reggie's
friend for the night, but hadn't been able to get up the nerve to ask if she'd be agreeable. Harry
hadn't ever been as casual about the opposite sex as Reggie was and technically Harry still had a
girlfriend. He would have regretted sleeping with a girl whose name he couldn't remember more
than he regretted having that fifth pint right about now and that was saying something.

"Not to speak out of turn, but why would you want to be back with Catherine? From what
Reggie told me she was - not - the most pleasant person. In three years, she never once came
here to meet your family," Nigel said around the food in his mouth. Harry had always liked the
maleness in Reggie's house. Harry's mother and sister both would have admonished him for
talking with food in his mouth. It never was an issue with Nigel and his sons. They belched and
farted, swore and rough housed - the only admonishment coming if something got broken or
nearly broken.

"It's - she's - I - it's complicated," Harry said with a shrug. It was complicated. Catherine was
cold and could be cruel. She was shallow and vain and the sex was terrible, but he loved her.
She was beautiful and rich and she believed in Harry's talent as a writer. They had made plans
over the last three years. Catherine was going to work at her father's television station during the
day then at night, she would be on the stage in plays written for her by Harry. Harry had never
wanted to write plays, but what Catherine wanted, Catherine got. Harry would write plays for
Catherine around his novel and whatever he had to write for his job.

"How did you meet her?" Nigel asked sounding skeptical as he chewed and swallowed.

"It was odd really. I had this scooter to get around to class and work and such and Catherine said
it was just like the one in some movie - Roman Holiday I think she said. It was an old piece of
shit that I'd bought with the last of my money first year. Funny, she wasn't as enamored of the
piece of shit car I bought with the last of my money last month and she dropped me - can't dip
into that well twice evidently," Harry said shrugging and rolling his eyes. Because Catherine had
everything provided to her by her father, she had a hard time understanding how hard Harry had
to work for everything he had. He had to buy the crappy car for now because he didn't have a
job. As soon as he had a job, he could get a loan to buy a car, but until then he was stuck with
the brown hatchback 1983 Vauxhall Corsa he found on Craig's List for £350. He could have
bought something a little more expensive and possibly a little less rusted, but he was trying to
save up for a ring for Catherine. It got him where he needed to go and that was all that was
important to Harry. It was temporary just like living in a bedroom covered in Harry Potter
posters in his mum's attic.

"What are you doing with a girl who'd drop you for the car you drive? Sounds to me like you're
well shot of her," Nigel said echoing what Reggie had said still Harry couldn't make himself
believe it. It wasn't even official really. No, Catherine hadn't returned any of his calls this past
month, but it could be she's been busy getting started with her new job. She hadn't actually said
they were over, she'd just said she didn't like his car then left with her father. The plan had
always been that Catherine would go on holiday with her parents and get settled before Harry
joined her.

Catherine once told Harry one of the reasons she liked him was because he was the exact
opposite of the kind of man her father wanted for her. Maybe she was trying to manipulate her
father by pretending to throw Harry over. It wasn't the first time he'd seen her use similar
methods to get money or gifts from her parents. He'd thought it a little petulant and childish, but
he'd ignored it for continued peace and harmony.

Maybe she was waiting for Harry to come after her. She wasn't answering his calls because she
was busy at first and now she was angry with him for not sticking to the plan. He'd made her
wait a month, he thought with a grimace. Harry was definitely in for it when he made it down to
Cardiff after it took him an entire month to figure out what was really going on.

"Nigel, you know anyone else who needs some work done. I need gas money," Harry said then
took another big bite of his sandwich. He'd get a job delivering groceries in Cardiff if he had to
until he could get a writing job. Catherine was going to kill him for making her wait this long.
Kill him or make him wish he were dead. Sleeping on the couch would be a step up from
forcing Harry out in the cold after midnight to walk home at least.

"Most the little old ladies around here prefer Reggie because he takes payment in meals. I've got
some things you can do around the pub I suppose," Nigel said with a shrug as they came up to
the tree where King Sully was sitting with a semi-circle of kids sitting on the grass around him
hanging on his every word. He sat waving his sword in the air and telling of the red dragon that
lived on the other side of the ridge behind the town pausing when he saw Harry and Nigel
approaching.

"Oi, squire, what do you have there?" King Sully said breaking into his story to stop Harry from
passing. He pointed the sword at Harry and his half eaten sandwich.

"A tribute, your majesty, from my lady mother," Harry said bowing and handing the sandwich to
Sully. He felt a little silly as an adult treating Sully like he really was the king, but some old
habits just didn't die easily. Anyway it was kind of fun and it made the kids laugh to see a so-
called adult bowing and addressing Sully as royalty.

"And a fine lady your mother is. Now that you're home from your crusade, you need to be
looking out for her and for your sister, the princess. This one's son is no better than an alley cat.
Best to get them settled before he's making himself at home. I'd take your mother as my queen,
but I fear I'm much too old and she's already lost one husband," King Sully said rising from his
lawn chair come throne. "Been waiting for this one to offer his protection, but I'm beginning to
wonder if he's not a bender."

"Hey! Easy there, Sully," Nigel bristled looking around at the children staring wide-eyed back
and forth between Sully and Nigel as if watching a tennis match. Harry was feeling a little wide-
eyed himself - he'd never heard Sully use a word that wasn't suitable for young ears.

"Is it my fault you haven't the goolies to make your intentions known? No, it isn't. I've given
you my royal blessing and you're still faffing around ten years on," Sully said brandishing the
paper wrapped sandwich like a fist.
"Oh sod off you barmy bastard," Nigel said uncharacteristically before stomping into the hall
leaving Harry and the rest of the kids staring after him in surprise. No one ever talked to Sully
like that. Sully never talked to anyone like he just had to Nigel either though if his memory was
correct.

"Uh, your majesty, I'm to help with some work in the hall so I'll be off," Harry said after a beat of
silence starting to back slowly in the direction Nigel had disappeared.

"Aye, mind what I said though, boy. Your mum's not gonna sit on the shelf forever and that
sister of yours is gettin' of an age. Keep a weather eye," Sully said looking Harry right in the eye
and for the first time in Harry's life, he wasn't sure that Sully was as crazy as he acted. "Off you
go," Sully added then waved him off before sitting down and continuing with his story as if
nothing had happened between bites of sandwich.

"When did Sully start calling you 'this one'," Harry said trying his best to break through the
tension when he joined Nigel in the hall. Nigel had already carried in all the supplies he needed
and was setting up the miter saw.

"You could have come to visit more often than over Christmas these past few years. You'd have
been better informed about the goings on, now wouldn't you?" Nigel snapped at him and Harry
blinked. Nigel never snapped. He'd yelled exactly once when he'd caught Reggie and Harry
with a pack of cigarettes behind the garage, but that had been more because we were sitting next
to a pile of oily rags than mad about Harry and Reggie smoking. Nigel didn't smoke and he
encouraged Harry and his sons not to, but he never stopped them save the one time they could
have caught the building on fire.

"I was working," Harry said wishing he sounded more convincing in the lie. He had been
working, but there had been more than once he could have come home during the school year to
check in on his family. Harry always knew that if a problem came up, Nigel would take care of
it. He'd half-heartedly suggested coming to Catherine a few times, but he'd been afraid of what
Catherine would say about his home and his family. Maggie had taken to dying her hair odd
colors and his mother never worried much about her appearance until recently being too busy
with her business to make the effort.

"Not doing much of that now, are you? Stop faffing around," Nigel said picking up a two by
four and swinging around to take it to the saw nearly hitting Harry in the head. Harry ducked
only just in time.

"Yes, sir," Harry said doing his best to push his guilty conscience away. He never willingly
came back to Crack once he was away at school. Before he met Catherine he went back
reluctantly whenever his many bosses made the mistake of giving him the weekend off at the
same time. He'd made excuses about homework occasionally, but he knew he shouldn't just
abandon his mother and sister for months at a time. After he met Catherine, it became
impossible. If he had a day off, she demanded his full attention be it building sets for the drama
club or remodeling her closet for the fifteenth time.
Harry got out his square and measuring tape and started marking boards according to the plans
Nigel had laid out on a stack of plywood. Harry weighed his need to get out of Crack and down
to Cardiff against Nigel's admonishment that he'd been neglecting his family and started feeling
resentment. He was twelve when his dad died. He was a child then and now it was time he
started a life of his own - wasn't it? His mother was a grown woman who could take care of
herself, wasn't she? She'd been doing fine these last ten years. It wasn't Harry's responsibility to
"get them settled" as Sully had put it. This wasn't the middle ages.

"Harry," Nigel said shutting off the saw he'd been using to cut up the board he'd nearly taken
Harry's head off with.

"Yeah?" Harry replied not looking up. He knew he'd been neglectful, but where did Nigel get
off rubbing his nose in it? Nigel wasn't Harry's father or his boss. He was Harry's best friend's
father, but that was the closest they were related. Harry didn't have any uncles or older cousins
even so he'd only ever had to listen to his mother's scorn. His dad had never said Harry was
anything less than perfect - the only thing in Harry's opinion his dad had been wrong about if
Harry's current situation were to be entered into the equation.

"I'm sorry I yelled at you. Sully's been going out of his way to irritate me lately. Do - did your
mother tell you what she's been - doing, what's she's planning to do?" Nigel said looking
genuinely worried and more than a little uncomfortable when Harry pulled his attention away
from his work.

"Just the new costumes she's making for the renaissance festivals. Why? What's she doing? Do
I want to know?" Harry asked with a grimace. He'd been home a month now and nothing had
looked out of the ordinary to him past the change in her appearance.

"She's actually going to wear the costumes and go to the festivals. She said - she said she was
thinking about dating again. That's what Sully's on about. He thinks she'll get married and move
away again," Nigel replied then turned back to the saw to make more cuts on the board. Harry
could tell just by looking that Nigel wasn't doing anything more than making cuts willy-nilly.

"Past time if you ask me. It's been ten years and she'd do better with her business away from
Crack," Harry said not seeing the downside. He wanted more than anything to get his mother
and sister as far away from Crack as possible. He'd miss Nigel and Reggie and Sully, but his
mum would have a husband to take care of problems around the house. Harry wouldn't have
nearly as much guilt about getting on with his own life. Harry didn't think he was being selfish
in his goal to be a responsible adult with a job and place of his own.

"Past time, yeah, but she's fine here. She shouldn't be out dressed like that with all those
blighters lookin' at her like she's just been put there to look at - meetin' blokes from the internet.
It's not right. She deserves better. She works hard and she's a good mother and she's - she
deserves better is all," Nigel said turning off the saw and walking out the door leaving all the
work they were supposed to be doing behind.
Harry shook his head not sure he wanted to know what Nigel's problem was. Harry had
graduated with a minor in history so he knew approximately what his mother had in mind to
wear, but surely she wouldn't go for one of the cleavage baring outfits that the college girls wore
out to those fairs. He'd never had time to go to one, but he'd seen people on their way to a few.
She was forty years old and a mother. She wouldn't wear anything embarrassing. Not his
mother. He'd have a word with her about meeting men off the internet because that just wasn't
safe, but Nigel needed to get a grip about the rest of it. Reggie's comment about Gwen being hot
jabbed at his rationalizations, but he ignored it best he could and got back to work.


Chapter 2

"How's the cupboard coming," Catherine said from behind him. Harry slipped his hammer back
in its holder and stood up turning as he went. He'd just spent most of his day off buying
materials and hardware to put in shelves perfectly sized to hold shoes and the matching
handbags. He'd had to rearrange the hanging bars again for Catherine's wardrobe, but he was
sure that this time he had the closet exactly as she wanted them.

"Just finished. I think you'll like it much better now - more space and all that," he said taking her
in his arms and leaning in for a kiss after hanging his baseball cap on the peg he'd hidden just
inside the door in hopes of Catherine possibly letting it stay there overnight for a change.

"I just got back from my dance class. I'm all sweaty," she said pushing weakly at his chest in
mock protest as she always did. There was always a reason Catherine didn't want to kiss him the
first time he attempted to steal one.

"No worries. I'm all sweaty too," he replied putting his hand on her tight round bottom and
pulling her flush against him. He took his kiss and she gave up her feeble attempt to escape,
wrapping her arms around his neck. His Catherine was beautiful, an actress and art student with
blonde hair always in the latest style and a body she kept in perfect condition with hours of dance
and exercise classes. Harry was fairly certain her boobs were fake, but so long as he got his
hands on them once in a while he didn't much care - better than no boobs to touch at all to his
mind.

Still, he had to play his cards right to get them. He'd rebuilt her closet shelves so he was on good
footing to hop on the good foot and do the bad thing. He had to keep kissing just long enough to
keep her from saying no when he tried to get her clothes off. In the three years they'd been
together he was getting better at guessing the proper amount of lip before he moved on to kissing
her neck and removing all of her resolve. His Catherine was a bit shy when it came to the
bedroom and had to be coaxed carefully.

"Harry, it's still light out," Catherine argued coyly. Harry allowed his eyes to roll behind closed
lids before opening them and looking at his love. She had so many hang ups, but he was sure
once they were married or at least living together she'd lighten up and let herself enjoy things
more.
"You're beautiful, Catherine. You have no reason to hide in the dark. Please, sweetheart?" he
asked not ready to concede defeat. He squeezed her bottom in his hand and nibbled at her ear
hoping against hope he could make her see reason.

"But someone might hear with the window open." Like she ever made a sound when they were
having sex and anyway they were three floors up he thought fighting another eye roll. She'd
loosen up once they were married, he was sure of it. He still tried to push her out of her rigid
rules from time to time, but it was a delicate balance.

"I will close the window and the blinds. Anything you ask," he said reaching between them to
unhook his tool belt while capturing her lips again. It dropped with a thunk to the floor and he
toed off his shoes keeping up the momentum he felt building. She wasn't pushing him away -
she'd even started running her fingers through his unkempt hair.

"You're such a naughty boy, Harry," she said with a giggle and he smiled against her lips. Score!

"You haven't seen the half of it," he replied guiding her backward toward the bed. And
Catherine hadn't seen the half of it. She almost always insisted on total darkness when they
made love and when it wasn't completely dark, she kept her eyes closed until he got into bed
with her.

"Will you help me change the sheets after," Catherine said when he broke away to close the
window as she had decreed. He hurried around the room latching the windows and dropping the
blinds into place then back to her at the bed where she was pulling off her trainers.

"We could take a shower together and avoid the sheets," Harry said hopefully pulling her back
into his arms after he took off his shirt. The spray tan Catherine had insisted he get before
summer had already started to fade, but Harry didn't feel like he was too white for her to enjoy
what she called his workman's muscles. He wasn't ready for a beefcake calendar, but he had
nothing to be ashamed of muscle wise. His small food budget kept his love handles from getting
out of control and intermittent construction work during school breaks kept him from getting
soft. Sometimes she massaged his chest and arms if he could get her rolling quickly enough to
leave an inhibition or two behind.

"Oh, Harry, really. Must you be such a pervert? Honestly!" Catherine yelled pushing him
away. Harry woke with a thud, hitting the floor with a groan.

"Jesus fucking Christ," Harry said rolling into a ball on the floor of his bedroom, holding onto
the family jewels that had taken the brunt of the fall from the bed. Harry Potter mocked him
from every direction and underlining the fact that he'd only dreamed nearly having it off with his
girlfriend. If he ever saw the sodding git in person, he'd be happy to beat him with a broomstick.

"Harry, are you up?" Gwen called up the stairs sounding concerned. She hadn't admonished him
about swearing or taking the Lord's name in vain so she'd only heard him fall out of bed and for
that he was grateful. Gwen had never been religious to Harry's knowledge and the only time
they'd gone to church was for weddings and funerals, but she didn't put up with blasphemy
regardless.

"Uh huh," he answered blinking back the tears in his eyes and trying to uncurl from his fetal
position.

"Are you feeling all right? You sound a bit hoarse," Gwen said and he heard the bottom step
creak. Oh please don't come upstairs, he silently pleaded. He didn't want to explain why he was
rolling around on his bedroom floor to his mum.

"Fine, mum. Be down in a few minutes," Harry said clearing his throat and silently praying for
the pain to go away or death - either would be fine with him right at the moment.

"What's wrong with you, Harry?" Maggie asked looking down on him from out of nowhere.
Thankfully, she looked annoyed instead of teary.

"Dammit! What are you doing up here?" Harry asked jumping in surprise then rolling away
from her. He should have built a door he could lock at the top of the stairs. Couldn't a man
writhe in agony in private in this house?

"This is my room. You just took it over because you're a big loser what can't get a job," Maggie
said standing up straight and crossing her arms while standing disapprovingly over him as he
struggled to get upright while still hiding the battered erection dreaming about Catherine had
given him. She even blue balled him in his dreams. What the hell are you thinking going back
to her, his head argued for the millionth time this week.

There were dozens of less complicated girls at the pub every night. Problem was Reggie was
there saying "don't go for that one, she snores" or "that one makes a good breakfast" the entire
time. He felt weird just thinking about putting his cock somewhere Reggie's had been even if it
had been months or years before. It had been awkward jerking off over the same magazines
knowing Reggie had had the centerfold out in his room the night before. He couldn't do it. He
would go back to Catherine and that was the end of it. Catherine wouldn't give Reggie the time
of day. Catherine hadn't been a virgin when they met, but so long as Harry didn't know who'd
been there before, he didn't have a problem.

"Oh fuck off, Maggie," Harry said taking his bad mood out on his sister. Catherine was still
playing hard to get by not answering her phone or returning his messages. He knew she was just
making him sweat because if she really didn't want him calling she would have shut off his
cellular. He hadn't much liked her getting him a phone and paying for it as a birthday present
shortly after they started dating, but she said it was more because she needed to be able to call
him when she needed help. He'd tried to pay her back, but he couldn't afford it, which was why
he hadn't gotten one for himself in the first place. After awhile he just accepted it as a
convenience for Catherine and made a point to only use it to call her. Occasionally he used it to
call his mum or Reggie, but he didn't make a habit of it.

"Mum! Harry told me to fuck off!" Maggie yelled then trotted off down the stairs.
"Because she called me a loser what couldn't get a job," he argued making himself feel twelve
years old again. He hated being home. He only acted like a child when he was home. He was
only treated as a child when he was home. He'd been an adult for the last four years and he liked
being the man of the house (even when the house consisted of a room in a boarding house) in
fact instead of patronizingly.

"Harry, watch your language with your sister and Maggie, leave your brother alone. He's been
working his arse off going to school and deserves a bit of a break," Gwen yelled upstairs.
"Apologize to each other then get down here for breakfast. Maggie, you'll miss the bus."

"Sorry," Maggie said reluctantly from the foot of his stairs. Harry looked over the railing to see
her standing sullenly in her school uniform below looking up at him.

"Yeah, me too. I'll be out of your room soon so let it rest, all right?" Harry said plunking down
on the top step and leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. He rubbed his hands over his
face hoping to erase the tears that came from racking himself when he fell out of bed.

"What do you mean? Do you have a headache still?" Maggie said starting back up the steps
looking worried and, except for the hair and her size, exactly like their mother.

"No, Maggie, I don't have a headache. I'm moving to Cardiff and looking for a job there. I'm
going down this weekend to get my bearings," Harry said looking at his little sister. Most of the
time she was trying to get under everyone's skin with her black nail polish and pink streaked
hair, but occasionally, like now, she looked five years old again, lost and afraid.

"Is it because I wouldn't take down my posters?" Maggie asked sitting down a few steps below
him.

"Of course not. There's nothing here for anybody not related to Nigel to work at. I shouldn't
have lazed about for so long," Harry said holding out his arm in invitation for Maggie to come sit
beside him. She moved up and they squeezed onto the same narrow step. It had been easier
when they were littler.

"I don't want you to go," Maggie whispered curling up under his arm like she had when she was
little and had a bad dream. In an effort to keep Gwen's worries to a minimum, Maggie had
always gone to Harry to chase away the monsters under her bed.

"Yes you do. You want your room and your sodding Potter posters back. It gives me the creeps
sitting up here with that bloke staring at me from every direction. I'll be able to visit more since I
won't be so far away. You can come down and visit with me and Catherine. Catherine's actually
met him," Harry said pointing at one of the many pictures of Daniel Radcliffe on the wall over
his shoulder. Catherine had gone off to London with her girlfriend's for a theater weekend when
Radcliffe was doing Equus. She hadn't talked about it, but he'd overheard one of her friends
asking if Daniel had called. "If I say anything, you'll be off selling the story to the gossip rags,"
Catherine had said then giggled. He hadn't liked the sound of it, but he'd kept quiet. It was
probably more of Catherine's making things up to make her friends jealous. Catherine couldn't
stand it when he eavesdropped even when it was an accident.

"I thought she threw you over," Maggie said sitting up and giving him the look their mother gave
him when she was trying to judge whether or not he was telling the truth.

"She's just having a bit of a wabbler, but she'll be over it by this time next week. You'll love
her," he said trying to be optimistic, but looking at his sister and remembering how Catherine
treated others, he really didn't see how she and his sister could get on well together. Catherine
could be snobby, but it was just her way of having pride in herself. Everyone was entitled to
their own fashion opinion.

"Sounds like a stroppy cow to me," Maggie said sullenly then flounced quickly down the stairs
before Harry could get a word in for Catherine's defense. Catherine is a stroppy cow, the
increasingly defiant corner of his brain piped up. It was getting harder to push those thoughts
away, but his course was set. He was going down to Cardiff Saturday morning and he'd only be
back to pack up the rest of his clothes. He wasn't going to insult Catherine by assuming she
would let him move right in without a bit of penance on his part.

He'd wondered about moving in with her when they'd been making their plans before graduation.
In all the years they'd been having sex, Catherine had never let him stay the night. "I don't want
you to see me without my makeup. How can I keep you if I let you see I'm not naturally this
beautiful?" she had said then pushed him out her bedroom door in just his boxers with his
trousers and shirt in his hands. He'd gotten used to her roommates ogling him as he dressed in
the hallway over the years. It was flattering in a way. They would giggle and whisper comments
about how nice his ass was and how nicely muscled his arms were. They knew he could hear
them and they knew he knew, but he took the ego stroking and went home.

Catherine never said you had a nice ass. She wouldn't even touch it during sex, his defiant self
reminded him. "Oh belt up," he said aloud grabbing a pair of jeans from the stack of clean
laundry at the foot of his bed. He hadn't put it away because he was going to be packing. He
would finish out this week cleaning the lines from the ale kegs to the taps, collect his pay from
Nigel, get in his piece of shit car, and go get his life back. He yanked on clothes and took his hat
off the newel post then headed down the stairs.

"What do you think, Harry?" Gwen asked him when he rounded the corner into the kitchen. He
looked up to see Nigel and Reggie standing near the door. He waved to them, but they didn't act
like they saw him. They were staring at his mother. Since she'd asked him a question, he looked
at her too and realized those cartoons with the cat's eyes bugging out of his head must have felt
like.

"Jesus Christ mum! What the hell are you wearing? Put this over yourself and go change,"
Harry said grabbing a dishtowel and tossing it over the cleavage displayed for all and sundry to
see pushed up over a medieval peasant blouse supported by a corset. The skirt she was wearing
had many layers which were gathered up at one side to show the many different colors and a
glimpse of his mother's leg when she took a step.
"Harry! Watch your language. What do you think, Nigel?" Gwen asked pulling the towel away
from where it had landed (and to Harry's horror did not fall off given the considerable shelf his
mother's rack created) and turned to the other men in the room. Nigel looked tongue tied as he
stared. If he didn't say something in the next ten seconds, Harry would make sure Nigel's eyes
were too swollen to see through.

"I think you look smashing, mummy," Maggie, the little traitor, said sitting smiling at the table.
"Will you make one for me?" she asked while Nigel sputtered incoherently and Gwen spun
around.

"She most certainly will not," Harry decreed stopping in the doorway with his hands on his hips.
Enough was enough. It was bad enough his mother looked like a medieval serving wench. His
sister was too young to be attracting the kind of attention dressing like that would bring her way.
Harry knew boys his sister's age weren't to be trusted when the girl was wearing a turtleneck let
alone a low cut and loose blouse because he knew how he'd behaved at sixteen.

"Oh, Harry, don't be such a prude. Do I look too old to wear this to you, Reggie?" Gwen asked
rolling her eyes over her shoulder at her son while turning to Reggie whose eyebrows were in
danger of creeping all the way up his forehead and beyond his hairline.

"I think you look absolutely stunning. Beautiful," Reggie said with a charming grin and Harry
wanted to belt him one for the second time in his life when his mother gave a giggle in return.

"Thank you, Reggie. For that you can have Harry's breakfast and he can make his own," Gwen
said flirtatiously to Reggie, but Harry noticed she was smiling at Nigel before she turned away.
"I'm sure I'll be able to sell tons of costumes wearing this at the fairs."

"You'll not wear it out of this house. It's bad enough you've got these two toss pots ogling you in
your own kitchen," Harry said and the two men in question had the guilty conscience and good
sense to peel their eyes off Harry's mother and start looking at the ceiling and out the window.

"My god, that girlfriend of yours gave you a stick up your arse to match the one up hers. Maggie
tells me you're going down to see that prissy bint this weekend and I must say I wish you
wouldn't," Gwen said matching Harry's stance with her hands on her hips when she turned to
face him and shocking him with her words. He'd never heard his mother talk like that.
Catherine had looked down her nose at Harry's mother when Gwen came to watch his graduation
ceremony. Harry hadn't liked it and had told Catherine as much, standing up to her for the first
time in their relationship. Catherine had pouted and apologized then, after his mother left, she
hadn't made him work so hard for a shag for the next few days - until he got all her things packed
up to move to Cardiff now that he thought about it.

"Well, I'm going and I don't have a stick up my arse. You can't wear that around with your - "
Harry said, but couldn't finish the sentence. Gwen was his mother and he couldn't talk about her
boobs in mixed company and especially in front of his little sister. He waved his hand up and
down then back and forth to indicate the body parts in question then continued "- self exposed
like that. It sets a bad example. You're old enough to be a grandmother and you shouldn't be out
like that."

"Mum, I didn't mean -" Harry said when Gwen's bottom lip trembled in contrast with her chin
coming defiantly up. She didn't say a word when she walked regally around Harry, but he could
see how much his words had hurt her feelings.

"Go back to your stupid girlfriend and stay there if you're just here to be a knob," Maggie said
dropping her fork back on her plate and grabbing up her book bag. She was near tears too when
she pushed passed Harry to go out the front door to the bus for school.

"That was shameful, Harry. Your mother is young and beautiful and if this is your attitude Reg
and me can finish up the lines," Nigel said coldly then went down the hall toward Gwen's
bedroom. Harry watched him go deciding he should wait a bit before following after her
himself.

"Not very well done, mate," Reggie said then helped himself to eggs and sausage on the stove.
Reggie never had a problem making himself at home in Harry's kitchen.

"I admit I could have used a better choice of words, but you saw her. I'd have to devote myself
full time to following her around with a cricket bat," Harry said while wondering how much
worse the day could get. Still he couldn't understand what his mother was thinking wearing
something so revealing.

"Better occupation than chasing after that frigid bitch down to Cardiff," Reggie said taking down
a glass and filling it to the brim with milk then sinking down in the chair vacated by Maggie
pushing her half eaten breakfast aside.

"Watch it," Harry said looking to see that his friend had left very little in the way of breakfast on
the stove so he went to the fridge for something else to eat. "Hey, Sully said something to me
the other day - you know that if you laid a hand on Maggie - or mum for that matter - I'd chop off
all the protruding parts of your body, eh? I'd do worse, but we have been mates for a long time,
understand."

"Oh, aye, thanks for letting me live due to friendship, but I'm not the one you need to worry
about," Reggie said lowering his voice and craning his head to look through the kitchen door
and out into the living room before continuing. "Dad's got it bad for your mum. Has for years,
but hasn't worked up the nerve yet. As for Maggie, she's on the way to dishy, but she's a bit
young for my tastes. There's a couple down at her school though I'd be puttin' the fear of god
into if she were my sister." While Maggie had had a crush on Reggie since the beginning of
time, Harry always took comfort in the fact that Reggie looked at her as a surrogate little sister as
back up for Harry's own big brotherly protection.

"Before I stuck my foot in it with mum, Maggie said she didn't want me to leave - even offered
to take down the sodding Potter posters if I'd stay. She's been acting right odd since I've been
home," Harry said looking out into the living room too wondering where Nigel and his mum
were and what they were talking about. It was a small house and if they were talking in anything
louder than a normal voice, Harry would be able to hear them even around the corner and down
the hall.

"She worries about you. I understand your not wanting to hang around here, but when you do
go, it might make Maggie and your mum feel better if you stayed in better touch," Reggie said
with a shrug around a mouth full of food. Harry fought the urge to roll his eyes closing them to
keep from saying or doing something else he would regret today.

"I've had that lecture from everybody, but thanks anyway. Surprised it took you a month," Harry
said then sat down at the table next to Reggie to inhale breakfast. Reggie wasn't saying anything
Harry hadn't been thinking himself. When he got back with Catherine, he'd have to put his foot
down and insist on trips to see his family once in a bit. Harry had been to Catherine's parent's
house in the swanky part of London more than a few times over the years. Granted it had only
been a short drive whereas Crack was across the county, but he needed to find a balance.

Looking around the kitchen and out into the living room, he forced himself to admit that he
hadn't wanted Catherine to see where he'd grown up. Catherine's house was three stories with
servant's quarters on the top floor. It had wings with names and oil paintings of her ancestors in
a gallery. This house wouldn't have filled Catherine's parent's garden. She had maids and
gardeners and handymen to take care of every convenience and repair - a world away from
Harry's mother's little house in Crack where they took turns being the maid, the gardener, and the
handyman.

Still, thinking about it, he preferred his mother's house to Catherine's. Catherine grew up in a
sterile palace. Harry had a home and he felt bad that he not only took it for granted, he'd let
himself be ashamed of it. What would he do if Catherine belittled his home? She'd already been
rude to his mum. What would Catherine say about Maggie? She'd probably be patronizing then
lecture Harry about getting his sister in line once Maggie was out of ear shot.

Harry looked back at the last three years and how many times he'd bit his tongue when Catherine
said something insulting. He'd tucked up his manhood and took it so she wouldn't drop him. It
was definitely lowering to see in retrospect how little he let her know his true feelings. That
would have to change too if Catherine wanted to make their plans a reality. Maybe Catherine
was waiting for him to step up. Maybe she didn't enjoy sex because she needed to see Harry as
the man, not the person what's balls she had in her pocket. He'd work on that.

"I was wondering if you'd give me a lift on your way down to Cardiff this weekend. I bought a
car and I need to pick it up," Reggie said cleaning his plate and getting up to put it and Maggie's
in the sink. He washed both plates and the utensils quickly and put them in the drainer to dry.

"No problem at all. Listen, I'm going to go apologize to mum. I'll meet you at the pub - unless
Nigel was serious about giving me the sack. See you," Harry said putting his plate in the sink as
well before walking out into the living room. He was so busy trying to figure out what he was
going to say to his mother that when he turned the corner into the hall that led to his mother's
room, what he saw didn't immediately register.
He stopped dead and blinked a couple of times trying to make sense of the scene in front of him.
Nigel had Gwen pressed against her bedroom door with his hand on the way up her side heading
toward second base, kissing her roughly and with great fervor. Gwen's arms were around Nigel's
neck and her fingers were encouragingly buried in Nigel's hair. It was more than he could
process and something he definitely didn't think he should be seeing.

"Oi! Nigel, what the hell do you think you're doing?" Harry said before he could stop himself.
If he'd given himself a moment to think, he would definitely have turned tail and pretended he'd
never seen anything at all. Life would go on as normal. Now as he watched Gwen jump and
push an already stepping away Nigel while reaching back to open her bedroom door, he couldn't
make his mind process what he saw. All he could think of was how he'd only ever seen his
mother kiss his father and wondered if he wasn't being disloyal to his father's memory spending
all this time with Nigel as a surrogate father. Now his mother was kissing him? Somehow, in
Harry's confusion, he began to feel like he'd done something wrong in not staying away from
Nigel and keeping Gwen away from him in the years since his dad died. Then the second wave
of thought coursed through making him wonder how long Gwen and Nigel had been kissing each
other and if they were - no he couldn't even ask that question in his mind. If he'd had a minute,
he would have realized his dad would be more upset that Gwen had waited ten years to find
someone and that Nigel was a good man who would take care of her. He was angry and
confused and his head was spinning so rational thought was not about to take hold.

Instead, following the trend of the day - the entire month really, Harry acted like a twelve year-
old. He grabbed Nigel by the front of the shirt and planted him a facer.


Chapter 3

"Nigel, I just want to say how sorry I am again. I was completely out of line. You and mum -"
Harry said accepting his pay from Nigel whose eye had turned a startling shade of purple
overnight. Harry felt terrible for his outburst and the graphic proof of his loss of control only
made him feel like a bigger git. Nigel had looked guilty and ashamed when he pushed past
Harry and out of the house the day before. Harry had gone over to the pub to apologize, but
Nigel wouldn't let him get a word in, only told him to get to work and disappeared into his office.

"No, no, not at all. You were protecting your mother. Nothing wrong with that. I know better
and I can't begin to figure out how I'm going to make it right with Gwen. Did she say anything?"
Nigel asked looking heartbroken behind his bruises. Harry had looked out his window the night
before to see Nigel standing outside the door to Harry's kitchen. He'd stood there for a long time
occasionally lifting his hand to knock then dropping it back to his side. Harry didn't know how
long he stood there, but eventually he turned and walked back to the pub and his flat above it
without ever getting up the nerve to knock on the door.

"She's not speaking to me either. I tried to explain and she left. She's so mad at me she couldn't
even stay in town. She took the car and she hadn't been back when I went home for tea. I
overstepped, not you. You're grown adults, not married to anybody else - better you than some
strange bloke from who knows where. The more I think on it, the more I wish you -" Harry
began only to be halted by a wave of Nigel's hand and a shake of his head. Harry go the
impression Nigel regretted upsetting the status quo he and Harry's mother had maintained over
the years. It hadn't escaped Harry's attention even at twelve that Gwen only smiled - really
smiled all the way - when she was talking with Nigel since Harry's dad had died. Nigel
understood what it was like to lose a spouse suddenly so they were able to support each other. It
was a good thing and Harry should have kept left well enough alone.

"No, I'm too old with nothing but a rundown pub in the butt of Wales to offer. Your mum
deserves better than the likes of me - always did. It's good to know you'll stand up for her should
it take a while to find the right man," Nigel said prodding at the bruise before turning away and
going back into his office closing the door behind him before Harry could follow to argue with
him. He wasn't sure what Nigel had meant or if he should think about it. Harry had no business
interfering in Nigel's relationship with Gwen. He'd already proven it only would end in disaster
if he stuck his nose - or fist - into the middle of it.

"Harry?" a surprised and female voice said from behind him near the front door to the pub. He
turned around blinking to focus on the woman standing silhouetted by the light coming in the
door behind her. The door finally closed and he felt a true smile forming for the first time in
months - years really, but he wasn't going to think about that now.

"Amy! What are you doing here?" Harry said hurrying over for a hug. He felt some of the
gloom he'd be feeling lift as he put his arms around her and squeezed. He held her longer than
was polite for a friend, but it seemed like his mood got lighter with every second of contact.

"I came up to meet with a supplier for my gran, but she's not at home. What are you doing
here?" Amy asked smiling up at him with the mischief he remembered as being typical in her
eyes. He'd met Amy at the theater the first day Catherine had volunteered him to help with set
building for the university's fall Shakespeare performance. He'd still been working on getting
into Catherine's pants at that point so he hadn't paid Amy much mind at first. Over the course of
the year, they worked side by side on a lot of theater projects and even had one class together,
but Amy had left after the spring term never to return. He hadn't had the opportunity to ask, but
he had a feeling Catherine and her friends bullied Amy out off the theater program and then out
of school all together. Still Amy had never seemed sad or hurt. Amy was the most relaxed and
relaxing person Harry had ever met and he'd missed her when she was gone. Catherine would
have made him miserable if he'd even mentioned a desire to stay in touch with Amy as a friend
so he hadn't asked her where she was going before she left.

"I live here. I'll bet you've come to see my mother actually - she makes crafts for gift shops and
the like," Harry said smiling wider even though the more he thought about how they'd parted the
guiltier he felt - guilt was big this week. Amy had been his friend and he'd turned his back on
her. He'd pretended not to notice when Catherine was treating her badly, never once standing up
for her and not doing anything when she said she was leaving to try and change her mind. Life
had been easier for him after Amy left school. He'd always liked being around Amy and
occasionally he'd felt like he'd rather spend time with her than his own girlfriend. Catherine
made her displeasure obvious whenever she found Harry talking to Amy and acted as if he'd
betrayed her even though they were only talking. He'd walked a fine line that disappeared when
Amy had gone away. He'd lost the friendship and the mischief, but Catherine had been less
difficult with Amy gone.

"Noble! I can't believe I didn't make the connection. It's so good to see you," Amy said then
impulsively hugged him again. "I suppose I should have called first. I was just on a jaunt and
decided to stop in to see if your mum had anything new she was working on. My gran has
carried her stuff in the shop for years and years."

"You never said anything at school about knowing my mum," Harry said welcoming the hug,
again holding on longer than was strictly polite. It was July, but he got the feeling that he'd been
cold for a very long time. Hugging Amy and talking to her was thawing him out. He felt warm
for the first time in recent memory.

"Well, I didn't know she was your mum. Lots of people have the same last name and I thought
you were from Shrewsbury," Amy said reminding him of his standard lie he told to new people.
He wasn't even sure he'd told Catherine his true address now that he thought about it.

"Well, I learned in grammar school not to mention it. Silly, but I was afraid I'd end up being
called Harry Crack at university too," Harry said and they both laughed. He hadn't laughed in a
while either. The smile on his face was so unfamiliar his cheeks hurt but he didn't think of
stopping.

"Yes, I can see the thought behind the decision," Amy said then laughed, but not at Harry. Amy
was, with few exceptions, the happiest person Harry had ever met. Her happiness was infectious
and he always loved being around her. The only times he ever saw her sad was when Catherine
was nearby and the day she told him she was leaving school.

"It has just stopped being fun," she had said with a shrug. Amy's family owned an antique book
and gift shop in Carmarthen just next to the castle there and Amy had been helping her
grandmother run it since she was a child. When her grandmother retired, Amy would take over,
but until then Amy had told him she was bouncing around having as many adventures as she
could think of. She was carefree and fun. She'd be all over Europe and America seeing historic
places. She'd applied for school on a lark and when she got accepted, she'd never declared a
course of study. She took whatever classes struck her fancy. Amy's future was assured so she
didn't need a degree, but she loved learning new things. Harry loved learning also and they'd
bonded over that, but Catherine - always Catherine. She ruined everything. Why do you want to
go back to her? Harry shook his head to clear the disloyal thought, but tried not to let it dim his
happiness at seeing his friend again.

"Listen, I'm not sure were mum's got off to, but I know she'll be home at some point. Want I
should show you around - buy you tea - something while you wait?" Harry asked not wanting
Amy to leave.

"I could go for a bite," Amy said and they settled at a table. Reggie's brother David teased Harry
for thinking he was a customer before taking their order. Harry kept an ear open for Nigel to
come back out of his office while he and Amy caught up, but he never appeared. Harry wanted
to introduce Amy to Nigel and his mother for some unknown, but undeniable reason.

"Hey, barkeep, set us up - a round of milk for everybody," Reggie boomed ushering in Aaron
and Arthur, the twin sons of Gillian, Reggie's ex-girlfriend and one of the local single mothers.

"Uncle Reggie, may we have biscuits too?" one of them asked. They were identical twins and
their mother always dressed them alike so Harry never could tell them apart.

"Your mum'll have my arse if I send you home sick again," Reggie admonished putting first one
then the other up on the high barstools.

"We'll be careful not to eat too many this time. Please, Uncle Reggie," the other twin pleaded
looking pitiful. Given Reggie was a push over, he gave in reaching to the end of the counter and
taking some cookies out of the jar there.

"Cheers, men," Reggie said raising his glass to toast with his two charges and draining half of it
in a gulp before turning around. Harry cringed realizing he should have made sure he had Amy
out of the pub before school let out. As much as Harry wanted to introduce Amy to Nigel and
Gwen, he didn't want to introduce her to Reggie. A slow grin spread across Reggie's face when
he spied Harry sitting with Amy. While Reggie liked women of all shapes and forms, Amy was
what Reggie had once described as his favorite sort - long auburn hair, petit, and curvaceous.
"No stick like amazons for Reggie, no sir," he'd said looking around the pub in Portsmouth while
ignoring Catherine and trying to insult her. He'd managed it and Harry had been in the doghouse
for a week.

Reggie knew Harry was still holding out hope for Catherine and that while he didn't know
whether Harry and Catherine were through, Harry wouldn't be chatting up other girls. Reggie
was smart enough to deduce that if Harry was sitting with a woman, she was only a friend and
therefore fair game. Harry knew this wasn't going to end well because he knew how much he'd
screwed up this week. He knew how he couldn't do right for doing wrong and how little control
he had over his reactions to life at the moment. He didn't want Reggie chatting up Amy. Not
today, not ever. Reggie had too much in common with their casual approach to life and their
futures already set with Reggie's garage and Amy's book and gift shop. Harry didn't want Amy
making comparisons and seeing how much Harry lacked even if he couldn't let himself think of a
future with her right now. Harry always planned out a future before he even let him think about
a girl for more than friendship. Reggie never thought about the future and the knowledge made a
knot form suddenly in the pit of Harry's stomach.

"Hiya, Harry. Hello, I'm Reggie and you are?" Reggie asked turning on the charm full force as
he offered his hand to Amy. She took it obviously thinking Reggie would just shake it and let
go. She didn't know the kind of week Harry was having.

"I'm Amy. I met Harry at university," Amy said then chuckled when Reggie bent low and kissed
the back of Amy's hand. Harry felt jealousy filling up every inch of the room as he watched
Amy gift Reggie with her mischievous smile.
"Ah intelligent and beautiful - a winning combination. What brings you to our little corner of
Wales?" Reggie asked turning a chair around and straddling it to sit down between Harry and
Amy.

"She's here to meet with mum. If Arthur and Aaron are home, I'll bet she's back with Maggie so
we should be going," Harry said standing up abruptly. He kept his hand from clenching into a
fist by sheer force of will. He didn't want to hit Reggie. He had no reason to hit anyone. Amy
wasn't Harry's girlfriend and Harry had no business standing in the way if she wanted to stay and
listen to Reggie's bullshit, but he still felt jealousy and a need to keep Amy to himself.

"Reg," David said from behind the bar with a disapproving look and a shake of his head. Harry
didn't know what it was about, but he was grateful for David stepping in before Reggie got on a
roll.

"Yeah, right, well, it's good to meet you. I've got to get back to my drinking buddies," Reggie
said backing off. Amy, thankfully, got up to leave as well.

"Nice meeting you as well. See you," Amy said waving then heading casually for the door.
Harry fought back a sigh of relief while digging for a tenner to cover their food and drink for the
afternoon.

"Thanks for the help around the place today," David said holding up his hand to indicate he
didn't expect Harry to pay.

"Nigel -" Harry started to explain that Nigel had paid him for his work and he didn't need a free
meal.

"I know. See you, Harry. Have fun," David said stepping back from the bar with a sideways
grin reminiscent of his brother's clearly refusing to take any money from Harry. Harry shrugged
and put his wallet back in his pocket and headed toward the door Amy had already gone out.

"What was that about?" he heard Reggie ask his brother before the door closed.

"Harry was laughing," David said but the rest of their conversation was blocked by the door.
Harry could see them both smiling through the window watching Harry and Amy as they passed
and wondered if he'd really been that hangdog for the last month. He must have been if David
noticed. David was usually in his own world scribbling things down on a pad behind the bar
when he wasn't serving customers. He said he wasn't a writer, but Harry had his doubts. There
wasn't much else to do in Crack besides tell stories. Wasn't Sully proof of that?

"Harry, where's mum?" Maggie said sadly apparently oblivious to the fact that Harry wasn't
alone. She had her hood up and her shoulders were slumped as she stared at the ground.

"She went out this morning. I'm sure she'll be back shortly. What's wrong?" Harry asked hoping
Maggie wasn't still angry with him. He freely admitted he'd been a jerk the day before, but no
one was willing to listen to his apologies or forgive him up to now. At least Maggie was
speaking to him.

"Like you care," Maggie said with a sniff. Harry's first inclination was to shrug her off and go
back to having fun with Amy who'd walked a few steps away so as not to appear like she was
trying to intrude or hurry Harry along. She was examining the wind chimes hanging from the
eaves of the pub. Reggie made them from different metals and glass when he was bored. There
were wind chimes hanging from nearly every house in Crack made of everything from old soda
bottles to rusted off muffler pipes.

"Maggie," Harry said feeling more confused and guilty even though he had no idea it was
possible. Had he been self-centered to the extreme point of making his mother and sister think
he didn't care about their feelings? Looking back over the past month, he realized he'd barely
done more than eat, drink, and sleep. He had avoided everyone but Reggie and only talked to
Nigel because he had no choice if he wanted to make any money. To make matters worse, he'd
told Maggie to fuck off, called his mother old, and punched Nigel all in the last twenty-four
hours. He knew it was well past time to take his head out of his ass so he would start now.
"What's wrong?" he asked his sister again deciding he wouldn't take no for an answer.

"You can't help. I need mum," Maggie said pulling the hood of her jumper more firmly around
her face, tugging at the string until her entire face save her eyes, nose, and mouth were hidden.
Harry had to fight to keep the image of Kenny from South Park out of his head and keep himself
from laughing as he tried to figure out the problem. Only mum could help. Okay.

"Maggie, not to worry. I have some - obviously second hand - knowledge on the subject. Come
with me to mum's bathroom and I'll explain the basics, but know you are fine. It's perfectly
normal see -"

"Ew, Harry really. I've been having my period for years. It's my hair," Maggie said then started
laughing. "You should see the look on your face. Thank you, Harry," she said and hugged him.
He laughed too hugging her back realizing his discomfort was plain on his face for the world to
see.

"What's wrong with your hair? You didn't take to the scissors to it again, did you?" Harry asked
pulling his sister along beside him heading in Amy's direction meaning to introduce them.

"I haven't done that since I was seven. No, Thom - people think I'm a freak because of my
highlights," Maggie said resting her head on his should as they walked and started to sniffle
again. This Thom must be one of the boys at school Reggie had warned him about. He'd have to
figure out a way to get a description and make up an excuse to pick up Maggie from school so he
could have a bit of a chat with the blighter.

"I thought that was the point of your highlights. You're not a freak, you're an individual," Harry
said feeling the tide of his week changing. He was saying and doing the right things for the first
time in recent memory. He didn't want to jinx himself or get cocky so he was going to let others
do most of the talking for the rest of the day.
"I don't want to be an individual any more. I'm going over to the market to see if they have
anything in my shade," Maggie said sounding forlorn so he gave her shoulders a squeeze in
support.

"No, wait. I want you to meet someone first. Amy, this is my little sister, Maggie. Maggie, this
is Amy, a friend from school. You know - now that I think on it, you had pink in your hair when
I met you. What happened to the pink?" Harry asked tugging the hood off his sister's head
secure in the knowledge that Amy could and would help.

"Right here," Amy said then lifted her hair with both hands into a ponytail on top of her head
exposing the rebel beneath the respectable. "Hi, Maggie, I've heard a lot about you," Amy added
smiling.

"Wicked. How did you get your hair like that?" Maggie asked eyes wide as she examined Amy's
hair more closely when she let it fall back hiding most of the pink underneath.

"It takes some time, but it's fun. It's like I have a secret, super hero identity," Amy said
spreading mischief and laughter. Harry felt lighter and happier than he could remember ever
feeling before.

"OI! You ungrateful little bastards!" King Sully yelled from across the common. Harry turned
to see a teenager had taken Sully's scepter/sword made from a yardstick and was brandishing it at
one of his mates who were all laughing. Sully stood up reaching to get it back looking ashen
while the boys began running around him taunting him and holding the yardstick out of his
reach.

Harry sprinted across the common then using the top stringer on the fence, launched himself onto
the back of the biggest of Sully's tormentors and tackling him to the ground. Kids who had
gathered for an afternoon story ran screaming in every direction calling for their mothers as
Harry battled the three remaining teenagers (two of them had ran as soon as they saw Harry
coming). It wasn't three against one for long though because Reggie and David had run out with
Arthur and Aaron yelling encouragement.

"Pound him a good one, Uncle Reggie!" one of the twins yelled from behind the fence shaking
his little fist at the interlopers.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw pink and was both proud and horrified to discover his sister
clinging to the back of one of the other boys, punching everything she could reach while he tried
to throw her off. She'd evidently followed his lead in launching off the fence and was kicking
the boy's arse.

"THAT'S ENOUGH!" Nigel yelled and everyone got in a final swing before backing off. Amy
was helping Sully up off the ground from where someone had pushed him over his chair.
Maggie had managed to get her man to the ground and therefore had the opportunity and
inclination to kick him solidly in the side once Reggie had helped her up. He nearly smiled his
pride, but pain from his busted lip prevented it. He accidentally on purpose kneed the bloke
beneath him in the nuts then stood up himself looking around for Sully's scepter.

"I'm sorry, King Sully," Arthur or Aaron said handing the broken piece of wood sadly to the old
man who looked sad and as broken as the stick.

"I can fix it, your majesty," Harry said breaking the silence that had descended under the shade
tree. He wasn't exactly sure what he could do, but Harry knew that Sully's mother had given him
that yardstick. It couldn't be replaced with another and still be the same. He knew he'd find
something in his mother's room that would make it right.

"Aye," Sully said breathlessly handing both pieces carefully to Harry.

"Come in for a spot of tea, Sully," Mrs. Jones said from the door of the hall holding out her hand
to lead him inside.

"Princess Maggie, you will come along," Sully said a bit of his old imperiousness showing
through his shock. He looked pale and fragile for the first time in Harry's memory. Everyone
around them save the stupid bastards who'd attacked Sully looked worried.

"All right," Maggie said looking puzzled at Harry then followed him inside. Maggie at six had
stood up to Sully when he called her "Lady Maggie" informing him that she was a princess
because her daddy had said so. Sully had bowed in deference and apologized and ever since
Maggie was addressed as princess. Sully would instruct the children to treat her as royalty too
when she showed up for a story. He even named princesses in his stories after her to Maggie's
delight when she was little, her chagrin as she became a teenager. It was always the strong,
defiant princess who didn't need a knight to rescue her, which made Maggie smile even now
when she was too old not to be embarrassed by being singled out by King Sully. She'd shown
today she could battle her own dragons successfully.

"You lot don't belong here. Get out and don't come back," Nigel said in a steely voice once all
the children and Sully had been led off. One of the boys had looked like he would argue, but his
mates grabbed him by the elbow and they all went back to a car parked at the end of the building.
None of them looked old enough to drive in Harry's estimation, but he wasn't a traffic cop. He
had other things to do.

"I'm sorry, Amy. I'm not sure how long this'll take, but it's a bit urgent," Harry apologized
walking backward toward his house with the two pieces of yardstick in his hands.

"No worries. Maybe I can help," Amy said following him while everyone else went back to their
business. Since there was no story for the kids, Reggie took the kids whose parents weren't
home yet back to his garage and put them to work sweeping and organizing which strangely was
the second favorite activity in Crack behind listen to Sully's stories for the grammar school set.
"Sure," Harry said then turned around to increase their speed. He'd never seen Sully look so lost
and for some unexplainable reason, Harry's world wouldn't be right until he fixed this ancient
piece of wood and restored it to its owner.

He plugged in his mother's glue gun at her workbench, knowing task one would be making the
splintered ends of the stick fuse back together. That wouldn't be enough though. It needed to be
reinforced so it wouldn't come apart and so it would look right.

"Ah!" he said grabbing two long tongue depressors from the jar on the shelf. He put them on
either side of the jagged break then turned them making them look like the hilt of a sword turned
one way or the cross of a scepter if turned the other. "Perfect," Harry said then got a third
depressor and cutting it with an exacto-knife to form a filler between the two whole ones on
either side of the yardstick. He coated them all liberally with hot glue and sandwiched them all
together.

"Here, use this to wrap the joint," Amy said handing him a spool of golden trim cord.

"Spectacular. Thank you," Harry said after he used clamps to keep the depressors in place until
the glue dried. He removed the middle clamp and started winding the gold cord in a
crisscrossing pattern around the hilt. He used a dab of glue to secure the ends in the middle. He
noticed a gold paint pen and used it to make swirls on the depressors to make them look more
like a sword hilt. He hoped Sully would see his additions as improvements not a desecration.

"Think King Sully might fancy this as well?" Amy said holding up a replica of an orb made from
a foam Christmas ornament covered in gold thread then decorated with a white ribbon studded
with multi-colored faux gemstones and a red and white cross made from beads and wire sticking
out of the top.

"Where did you find that?" Harry asked taking it from her and looking more closely. It was just
the sort of thing Sully would find as fitting and just. Harry had no idea where or when Sully had
gotten his sword/scepter, but the orb would please him just as much if not more and Harry was
grateful that Amy had shown up on this crazy upside down day.

"You're mum has lots of supplies just lying around. The ornament came from that box over there
- here's the ribbon with the stones and I learned to make the cross like that from the historian at
the castle across from the shop at home," Amy said with a shrug and a lopsided smile.

"What's going on in here? Oh my, Harry, what have you done," Gwen said bustling around Amy
to Harry with both her hands raised to his face. "You can't be fighting with Nigel. It's not his
fault I keep - is he all right?"

"I wasn't fighting with Nigel. Some lads were having a go at Sully. Where have you been?"
Harry asked ducking away from his mother trying to prod his injuries. He hadn't looked in a
mirror, but he knew where fists and elbows had landed by the throbbing parts. His lip was split
and he more than likely had a cut near his temple, but aside from a lucky shot at his jaw, the guy
barely touched him. His knuckles were a bit red and swollen, but that was to be expected and
not a real injury.

"I - I went to visit - your - your father. I don't get to go very often and I had time today," Gwen
said turning away as quickly as she'd come at Harry. "Oh, I'm so sorry. I am Harry's mother,
Gwen, and you are?" she asked apologetically after practically bowling Amy over to get to
Harry. Maybe Harry was forgiven for his rude outburst at last.

"Amy, it's a pleasure to meet you. You know my grandmother. She owns The Gatehouse Books
and Gifts in Carmarthen and I came up to see if you had anything new for fall," Amy said
offering her hand for Gwen to shake.

"I'm sorry I wasn't here to greet you. As I said, I was in Reading visiting my husband's grave.
It's a bit of a trek for one day, but I had time today. Harry's been gracious, I hope, aside from
brawling in the streets," Gwen said with a strained smile and a nervous twitter of laughter. Harry
knew Gwen couldn't afford to lose a client right at the moment with her outlay on fabric and
notions for her new clothing venture.

"I know Harry from university so we've been catching up. King Sully's sword was broken in the
scuffle and Harry was just repairing it. I must say your workshop is impressive. I hope you
don't mind, but Sully was so distraught, I made him an orb from your Christmas ornaments,"
Amy said taking the orb from Harry and showing it to Gwen.

"Oh that's lovely. Poor Sully. Where is he? And Maggie? Where is she in all this?" Gwen
asked looking up from the orb in her hand after examining it thoroughly.

"Princess Maggie is attending his majesty in the hall. It's been quite a welcome to the village this
afternoon," Amy said cheerfully.

"Well, we don't normally have this much excitement. I hope you'll stay for tea, Amy," Gwen
said keeping her smile in place, but Harry could see that his mother had been crying all day
judging by her puffy eyes and wanted nothing more than to go straight to bed.

"I wouldn't want to impose," Amy said putting her hand comfortingly on Gwen's arm.

"I thought I could make dinner tonight. I haven't cooked since I've been home," Harry said when
it looked like Amy might leave before dinner because of Gwen's obvious distress. After his dad
died, Harry had made a point of making dinner at least four times a week. The first month, he'd
made every meal for himself and his sister and he got pretty good at it really quickly.

"I'll help. No worries," Amy said and Harry barely managed to hold in a sigh of relief. He
wasn't ready for Amy to leave.

"I'm going over to the hall to take Sully his sword and get Maggie. She had some trouble at
school today - said kids were calling her freak and she wants to change her hair," Harry said
bringing his mother up to speed on the afternoon. He wished his mother had let him go to visit
dad's grave with her. He hadn't been there in over a year between work, school, and Catherine,
he hadn't had the chance. Technically, he could have stopped on the way home from school, but
he'd been halfway to Wales before he remembered he could have made a slight detour. He'd
been upset about Catherine and worried about finding a job. Maybe after he got things settle
with Catherine, he'd drive over.

Catherine - funny how she hadn't come up at all today. Harry hadn't thought about her at all
except to compare her unfavorable to Amy. He felt some of his happiness fade at his disloyalty
to the woman he loved. Maybe he loved her. Maybe he didn't. Still, they weren't officially
broken up and he needed to talk to her before he moved on with his life.

"I'll meet you outside, Harry," Amy said then left him behind with his mother.

"Mum, I'm sorry I was a git yesterday. I would have gone with you today if you'd told me,"
Harry said noticing not for the first time the slump in her shoulders.

"I needed to go alone. Tomorrow I'm going to Tewksbury and I'm going to meet new people and
get on with my life," Gwen said mirroring Harry's own thoughts as she squared her shoulders and
stood up straighter. Still she didn't look happy about the decision.

"I was wrong to hit Nigel. He's a good man. Dad would have approved."

"No, actually he wouldn't have, but he would have understood I think. Regardless, Nigel is not
now nor has he ever been interested in me. I feel like the worst sort slapper letting him kiss me
after he saw me in my costume, but at least now I know I can get a man to look my direction
after all these years, right?" Gwen said falsely bright. "Now, off with you. Don't keep your
friend waiting. Her grandmother is one of my best customers so I hope this dinner of yours is up
to snuff. Off you go," Gwen said pushing him in front of him toward the door.

"But -" Harry tried to tell her that Nigel was interested, but she slammed the door in his face.

"Harry?" Amy said from the living room peeking around the corner of the hallway to where
Harry stood outside his mother's door.

"Aye," Harry said deciding now wasn't the time to try to get his mum to explain about why his
dad wouldn't approve, but understand. He checked to make sure his repair to Sully's sword
would hold and walked out with Amy.

Chaos reigned in the hall, but as soon as Harry walked in, silence fell. Sully was distraught.
"About time," Maggie said grabbing Harry and yanking him by the elbow to where all the
matrons of Crack were trying to get Sully to eat cookies and cakes and buzzing around him
trying to soothe the old man.

"Here you are your majesty. I hope you don't mind, but I added some guilding," Harry said
hurrying forward with the yardstick. He held it like the sword Excalibur as Sully had always
claimed it to be and presented it with a flourish to the old man.
"Oh. Oh," Sully said taking the yardstick from Harry reverently and looked closely at the
changes Harry had made. "Thank you, boy. Thank you," Sully said turning the stick in his hand
holding it up as a cross first to show to the others gathered around.

"Well done, Harry," Nigel said patting his shoulder.

"I have something for you as well, King Sully," Amy said then presented the orb she'd made.

"How lovely," Mrs. Jones said looking approvingly at Amy. Everyone came to life then bustling
around once more to ooh and ahh over Sully's improved sword/scepter and orb.

"Maggie, mum's home. She's a bit down so I'm going to make dinner. Don't be too long over
here," Harry said starting toward the door thinking he would be able to sneak away.

"Boy! Come back here," Sully said standing up and parting the gaggle of old women clustered
around him to get Harry's attention.

"I'm sorry, King Sully, but I've got to get back to the house to make supper," Harry said stopping
and turning just as he got to the door.

"No, I decree this day one of celebration. We will gather at the fountain for a feast in honor of
the defeat of the invaders. Ladies, make haste," Sully said waving his sword.

"I've got a ham sliced."

"I have a couple of pies out to cool."

"I'll have my daughter get to peeling potatoes."

The room cleared as the women mobilized to cater a makeshift picnic. "Boy, see the medic on
the other side of the ridge. You're a right mess, but you'll pull through. You'll be fine. You
fought well," Sully said and Harry didn't think it was him that Sully was seeing or talking to for a
moment. Sully blinked and shook his head seeing Harry once more. "Get cleaned up and bring
your friend," he said nodding and going toward the back of the hall where his room was located.

"Gwen's back?" Nigel asked in a low voice.

"Yeah, went to visit dad. She thinks you only kissed her yesterday because she threw herself at
you and that you must think she's easy. She thinks you don't like her at all. If you don't want
your eyes to match, I suggest you take your balls out of your pocket and tell her she's wrong,"
Harry said then walked out into the sunshine.

"Lot of drama in your little village," Amy said and Harry looked over to see if she was making
light, but she appeared to be curious and non-judgmental - something Harry didn't have much
experience with.
"You picked an odd day to come for a visit. I'm going to get cleaned up. Make yourself at
home," Harry said then hurried up the stairs to his room. He stripped off heading for the
bathroom for a quick shower. He washed quickly, wincing every time his hand strayed near an
injury. He only had three, but they weren't bad. He'd done all right. Still when the soap from
his hair met the cut on his head, it stung. He wrapped a Harry towel around his waist and headed
out into his room proper.

"Bloody hell," he exclaimed when he saw Amy sitting on his bed looking around at the posters.

"Sorry, your mum sent me up with some antiseptic for your head. I uh had no idea you were
such a uh devoted Harry Potter fan," Amy said taking note of the picture of Harry emblazoned
on his towel hiding his bits directly behind. He'd never been more embarrassed.

"Uh, no, Maggie - this is Maggie's room when I'm not at home," Harry said rummaging for pants
and a shirt.

"That's a relief. Come here, Harry," Amy said standing up and walking toward him. The
mischief in her eyes was muted by something else. Whatever it was had Harry breathing faster
and the Potter towel lifting.

"Wait, I should - you should - that is to say," Harry sputtered clutching his clothes to his crotch
in an attempt to hide his reaction to her. It had been a long time since the last time with
Catherine. Catherine, he thought and felt his blood redistributing itself. What's it say when
thinking about your girlfriend causes you to lose your erection? Maybe getting back with
Catherine wasn't the right thing to do after all, but he had to talk to her first. He had to go see her
and get everything settled.

"I was just going to put some of this on your cut. I can go if you're uncomfortable," Amy said
with an amused smile. She tilted her head and held up the tube waiting for him to make the first
move. He couldn't do that. Not right now. Not yet. He'd never kissed another girl while still
linked to another and he wouldn't start now. Even if he wanted to more than he wanted anything
else in the world - ever.

"I'll just put on these clothes and be with you," Harry said walking backward until he ran into the
wall then turned and walked into the bathroom. The argument could be made that Catherine left
him. "Ugh, do not show up on my doorstep in that car. Honestly, Harry," Catherine had said
rolling her eyes and looking down her nose as she climbed into the front seat of her father's
Mercedes. No, that wasn't do not show up on my doorstep period - it was buy a new car before
you get to town.

He'd go to Cardiff tomorrow - first thing in the morning - and tell Catherine it was over. Maybe
he'd find Amy after, he thought pulling on his clothes with a smile. He couldn't tell anyone what
he was about though. Another of his personal codes of conduct dictated that he had to tell
Catherine it was over before he told anyone else.
"Hi, Eric. I'm in Crack. There's a party going on so I'll not move on until tomorrow. Gran's
supplier turned out to be the mum of somebody I knew from school so - no, he has a girlfriend.
Looks like it. You should know by now you have nothing to worry about. Very funny. Must
go. I love you," Amy said into her cellular and Harry felt like he'd been kicked in the gut.

Stupid bastard, of course someone like Amy would have a boyfriend. And what could you offer
her? A room at mum's, covered in Harry Potter posters was not a love nest. Working at
whatever Nigel could think up at a moment's notice out of pity wasn't a job. This Eric chap
probably had a job and a car that wasn't a 1983 Vauxhall Corsa. Just friends. They'd been just
friends before and it would stay that way. No problem.

"I should help carry out tables and the like," Harry said clearing his throat when it didn't come
out the first time he tried what with his heart wedged in his trachea as it was.

"Your mum is going to show me a few of the things she's been working on so I'll have to catch
you up," Amy said and Harry noticed some of her amusement and mischief was gone then he
noticed his picture of Catherine wasn't exactly as he left it. It was on the tip of his tongue to
blurt out his plan to break it off, but Amy headed down the stairs before he could form the
words.

Harry grabbed the picture and chucked it in the rubbish bin then pulled it out again. It was a nice
frame after all. No, it was a gift from Catherine and it belonged in the bin, he thought dropping
it back in. Amy had a boyfriend was the next thought and he picked the picture of Catherine up
again. He sat it on his nightstand and pulled the pack of cigarettes from under his bed.

He shook one out and lit up taking a deep drag blowing the smoke toward the open window. All
the plans Harry had made involved Catherine. By dropping her, he wiped clean every thought
for the future Harry'd had. He was drifting without a course heading. And what about Amy?
Harry really liked Amy. He'd made the decision to end things with Catherine after Amy showed
up. Was he breaking up with his girlfriend of three years because out of sight was out of mind or
was he really ready to move on? Was it infatuation that had him tossing away everything?

What everything? No job, no place to live, said girlfriend hadn't returned his phone calls in over
a month. Amy had a boyfriend. Harry wouldn't be going out with her. Was it better to have a
girlfriend who didn't return your calls or no girlfriend at all? What about his writing? He hadn't
been able to write a word since Catherine had left. What if Catherine was Harry's Zelda? F.
Scott Fitzgerald never thought of Zelda as a stroppy cow. Harry had decided his sister's
uninformed opinion was accurate. Amy or no, Catherine would have to go.

"Harry? Are you smoking in the house?" Gwen called up the stairs and Harry tossed his lit
cigarette out the window.

"No, mum."
"Oi, you todger! What are you doing throwing lit fags down on people? Get your arse out here
and help carry," Reggie yelled up from under his window. Since every window in the house was
open, there was no way his mother didn't hear.

"Watch your language in front of my mother," he yelled out the window hoping to earn some
chivalry points before he had to face Gwen and admit to lying about smoking in the house.

"Want to revise your remarks?" Gwen said giving him a disapproving look over her reading
glasses as he passed through the living room.

"Sorry," Harry said kissing her on the cheek on his way out the door.

"No more smoking!" she called after him as he ran to catch up with the rest of the guys carrying
tables, boards, and saw horses toward the park around the fissure in the rock where the village
got its name.

They worked quickly and in less than an hour, King Sully's celebration was under way.
Everyone brought something and people filed into the park some not even going home to take off
suits and ties after work. The old men set up chairs around Sully and they all started smoking
their pipes and complaining - their favorite past time.

"We never did get around to having a party to welcome you home from school. Well done,
Harry," Mrs. Jones said pushing a fully loaded plate of food at him. The talk was all about the
afternoon's excitement and Harry's part in it. Men smacked him on the back, mother's tried to
feed him, guys his age told him well done, and single girls and women batted their eyelashes at
him. He had a little taste of what it was to be Reggie as the shadows drew longer in the valley.

Harry saw Amy sitting with Maggie and her girlfriends laughing while making daisy chains for
their hair and he made his way toward her. "Amy, I want to show you something. Come on,"
Harry said holding out his hand to her and hoping no one else had the same idea he had.

"Okay. See you," Amy said looking around at the other girls then taking his hand to let him help
her up from her seat on the ground. Harry felt electric current surge up his arm when her hand
made contact with his. His breath caught and his heart missed a beat looking at the mischief in
her eyes and the accompanying smile.

"Come on, we'll have to hurry or we'll miss it," he said pulling Amy with him around an
outcropping and up the steep slope. He hoped it was the same as he remembered it. He pulled a
chuckling Amy up the mountain with him while remembering the last time he'd climbed the
rocks.

"Harry, you don't think anyone will come along," Dawn had said nervously while eagerly
following him upward. Harry knew no one would come to the park without Reggie giving a
whistle, but he wasn't about to tell Dawn that. She might get insulted and he'd miss his chance.
Harry had been waiting for just such a day and hoping. He'd worked out a signal with Reggie
just in case (just as Harry had stood sentinel on Reggie's trip with his girlfriend up to the ledge).
He had a blanket under his arm and condom in his pocket. He was set and Dawn was finally
agreeable.

"No, no one knows about this place but me and my mates and they're all at tea or doing their
homework. You'll love the sunset from up here. I just know it," Harry said climbing onto a
large boulder then helping Dawn up behind him. The rock formed a ledge with a dip deep
enough so that no one could see up from the bottom to what people were doing above. It was
covered in soft moss so it got slippery during and just after rains. The sun had been baking the
little hideaway all day while they were off at school and he knew today was the day.

"What's up here," Amy said pulling Harry back to the here and now. Five years separated then
and now. When he'd come down the mountain last time, he'd had a hickey and a memory for a
lifetime. What would he have when he left this time?

"Sunset," Harry said getting winded. He hadn't been winded when he'd gotten to the top last
time. He'd made a lot of plans that day. He was sure that Dawn would come to Portsmouth as
soon as she finished her A levels, they'd get married, and live happily ever after. He'd come
home that first Christmas break to find Dawn pregnant with some bloke from Birmingham's kid
without so much as a warning in the three months he'd been gone. That part of the memory
wasn't so good actually so he pushed it aside and helped Amy over the boulder. They got
comfortable leaning against the rock worn smooth over the ages by water falling from above.

"Hmm, it is already dark down in the valley, but up here you can still see the sun. Bit nippy
though," Amy said crossing her arms as she looked toward the sun. The wind was pulling at her
hair while the fading sun painted everything (at least up on the ledge) a soft orange glow.

"You could sit closer - if you want to that is," Harry said knowing his was tempting fate and very
nearly repeating history. He'd used the chill of the wind to get closer to Dawn too. The mixture
of the memory and the wary amusement on Amy's face had him smirking and raising his
eyebrows daring her to come closer. He remembered how to flirt with a girl after all, he realized.

"Well, I suppose if it just for warmth," Amy said moving closer and Harry put his arm around
her.

"I wouldn't be able to consider myself a gentleman if I let you freeze after dragging you up here,"
Harry said with faux innocence. They snuggled together watching the sun sink in silence for a
few moments while Harry's better angels warred with his demons. Most confusing was he
couldn't figure out which side of the argument the angels were on - to kiss Amy or not to kiss
her. He'd already decided in his room it was wrong because of Catherine, then he'd heard her tell
this Eric chap she loved him. She's cold, you're warm, Harry reminded the factions. She'd be a
lot warmer if they were making out, one of the demons shouted in his head. A nice romantic kiss
could go a long way on the road to warmth, one of the angels reasoned. No kissing, no kissing,
no kissing, a knight welding a sword cutting down all in his path said as he walked through the
crowd. "You've killed the best man!" he heard in his head and snickered.

"What's so funny?" Amy said turning her head bringing her lips within range.
"Just - nothing," Harry said slowly closing the distance. He lifted his hand to touch her cheek,
tilted his head so their noses didn't bump - almost there.

"Harry," she whispered and he could feel her breath on his lips, but a sound brought him up short
- a whistle from below that sounded almost, but not quite like a bird.

"Bugger," Harry said pulling away from Amy and standing up to look over the boulder.

"Why do I get the feeling I'm not the first girl you've shown the sunset from this little love nest?"
Amy asked with a chuckle.

"Well," Harry said with a shrug helping her to her feet. "Someone's coming or possibly looking
for us," he added looking down at the people below milling about. Harry saw Reggie reluctantly
pointing to show Gwen where Harry and Amy might have disappeared to. Torches were being
lit and Harry decided it was time to head down. He'd come very close to crossing the line.

They got to the bottom, Harry still holding Amy's hand rationalizing that he needed to help her,
amid catcalls and teasing. Harry noticed Reggie snickering next to Gwen who was blushing and
past the understanding looking guilty, but amused. Maggie was there too looking mortified, but
laughing anyway.

"King Sully requests your presence," Nigel said looking grim in this sea of amusement and fun.

"Quiet down, you lot and gather 'round. Oi, shut your pie holes," King Sully said holding his
scepter and free hand above his head and waving trying to get the attention of everyone in
attendance. "Right, now, Harry Noble, approach," he commanded and Harry had a moment's
vision of Queen Elizabeth II yelling at a crowd to shut their pie holes. He coughed trying to
cover a laugh and picked his way between people being careful of little children out past their
bedtime fighting to stay awake on blankets spread on the ground. He really need to work on
reigning in his imagination when other people were about.

"Yes, your majesty," Harry said feeling uncomfortable with all eyes on him all ears listening to
him humoring an old man who thought he was King.

"Kneel," Sully said setting down the orb Amy had made on the table and turning his scepter
upside down to make a sword.

"Uh, King Sully," Harry said uncomfortably looking around, but everyone encouraged him,
nodding and using hand gestures and he knew he'd have to kneel before King Sully.

"You were always an all right sort. Your da was a good sort too and your mum a fine lady. You
never gave her trouble like some of the lads I could mention." Sully paused sweeping the crowd
of silent people hanging on his every word as if he truly were sovereign.
"You've proven your bravery and loyalty to the crown time and again. For that, I dub you Sir
Harry of Crack, Knight of the Realm and sole heir to my kingdom in front of God and this
assembly. Rise, Sir Harry of Crack," Sully said touching his sword to each of Harry's shoulders
then turning it around into a scepter again as Harry stood up to the applause of his neighbors. He
was beginning to wish he'd pitched a tent behind the boulder and refused to come down he was
so embarrassed.

"Oi, what about me? I got a few licks in," Reggie said jovially when the music started up again
and people began milling about.

"You take your head out of your arse and you can be Harry's squire," Sully said with a wave of
his scepter before settling back down in his seat with a tankard of ale. "Now, off you go. Get
back to wooing your bird. Knight's gotta have a lady to woo - save from dragons and the like.
Sorry to interrupt, but I didn't know what you were about until it was too late. Right dishy, that
one. Cheers," Sully said with a wink and a toast with his tankard.


Chapter 4

Harry shifted uncomfortably on the couch turning over to face the back hoping the change of
position would help him sleep. Amy was upstairs in his room - in his bed. She'd made it clear
she was willing to share, but on top of not having things settled with Catherine and the
mysterious Eric, he was sure his mum would have a fit if he and Amy came down the steps
together in the morning. He must have dozed at some point because he didn't remember his
mother coming in after the party and the sun was starting to turn the sky pink.

Harry turned the events of the night over in his head, treading very carefully around the memory
of what happened on the ledge. He knew his mind would enjoy imagining what could have
happened if Reggie hadn't whistled. Then there was the memory of showing Amy where
everything was in his room and changing his sheets for her. He wanted to stay with her, but he
thought she understood why he couldn't. Who is this Eric bloke that she'd feel like he wouldn't
mind her sleeping with an old friend from college, Harry thought, but he didn't get to complete
the thought before he heard the front door open.

"Harry's asleep on the couch. You should go before someone sees you," Gwen whispered then
there was quiet. Harry hated to guess because it was his mother, but he was fairly certain she
was kissing someone.

"Everyone's asleep. Of course if you invited me in, there'd be less likelihood of being
discovered. We've wasted enough time already for subterfuge," Nigel whispered and Harry held
perfectly still. He'd learned his lesson the other day - if Nigel and his mum wanted to kiss each
other it was their business. He just wished they'd do it somewhere else besides right in front of
him.

"I won't have people speculating, Nigel, really. You need to go."
"I won't have people speculating either especially now. Harry told Reggie he's going to have to
start carrying around a cricket bat full time and I've been thinking it's not such a bad idea. I want
to make sure everyone knows you're off the market."

"What do you mean by that?" Gwen said sounding angry instead of charmed.

"I mean if you're going to go about in your new clothes with your hair and makeup all beautiful,
then I want to make sure these blighters don't try to chat you up. You've been hiding for a while
and you don't know how aggressive blokes can be when you look like you're looking," Nigel said
a little louder as well.

"Whoa, just who do you think you are? I can look if I want. We're not married. I'm not your
property just because we -"

"Oi! Not sleeping here," Harry said waving his hand in the air and stopping the conversation
before he was scarred for life.

"Out, Nigel, or I'll find Harry's cricket bat myself," Gwen said and Harry heard scuffling. By the
time he turned over to get up, Nigel was outside the door and Gwen was slamming it in his face.

"All right, mum?" Harry asked wondering if he should stay out of it or go after Nigel - either to
bring him back or beat the piss out of him.

"Who does he think he is? Ignores me for ten years! Ten years! Now I decide I'm over it and
now he's suddenly interested? And just because I changed the way I look? What the bloody
fucking hell was I thinking? How stupid could I be? A single gray hair and he'll be off -" Gwen
ranted breaking off as if suddenly realizing who she was talking to. "I'm sorry, Harry. Go back
to sleep. I'm very sorry you had to see that. Don't think you have to - do anything. It's not
Nigel's fault. I knew better. I - well never mind. Just don't go beating him with a cricket bat on
my account, all right? I can take care of myself. Go to sleep - why are you down here? Did you
quarrel with Amy already?"

"No, we didn't quarrel."

"Well, you're a grown man. I can't expect you not to be getting up to things at your age. I like
Amy very much - she's much better for you than that Catherine. Now that you're not going down
to Cardiff today, you can help me at the fair. Nigel was going to help me, but I don't think I'm
speaking to him anymore," Gwen said batting at her eyes and moving around the room
straightening things that didn't need straightening to avoid looking at Harry directly. Harry felt a
little uncomfortable too so he stared at the floor and ceiling as much as possible.

"I'm still going to Cardiff today. Amy's not my girlfriend, mum. I do like her very much though,
but I'm fairly certain she has a boyfriend as well. Anyway, I wouldn't feel comfortable getting
up to anything with all those eyes staring at me up there. Honestly it took some getting used to
just to be able to sleep," Harry said trying to make a joke to lighten the tension in the air.
"I should have asked your sister to take them down, but you were so insistent you didn't want to
spend a moment longer with us than you absolutely had to," Gwen said facing him for the first
time looking as angry at Harry as she had at Nigel.

"No, that's not what I meant. I don't want to get away from you, just here."

"Well, that's not how it's looked. You've been here a month and you call that girlfriend of yours
three times a day and you only called home once before the Christmas break to tell us when to
pick you up at the train. You've always made it clear all that I gave you was never good enough,
but it's a hell of a lot more than if I hadn't moved back here after Daniel died. I gave up my
entire life for you kids and now I'm going to be old and alone because of it. Go to Cardiff, you
ungrateful bastard. Go be better than everyone else with your prissy bitch of a girlfriend!" Gwen
yelled throwing up her hands and stomping toward her room.

Harry was too stunned to move. Gwen had never yelled at him once growing up. He felt like he
should run after her and tell her he was only going to Cardiff to break up with Catherine and
that'd he'd be back, but from the sound of it, he'd been such a terrible son she didn't want him
coming back. He looked up to see Maggie peeking out around the edge of her door with tears
streaming down her cheeks. "Go back to bed, magpie. It's not morning yet," he said calmly and
evenly then waited for her to close the door before reaching for his shoes. He'd be to Cardiff and
back before lunch then he'd go upstairs and yank down all those bloody stupid Potter posters -
no, he'd take them down gently and put them put them up carefully in Maggie's room. He'd been
a big enough git for one lifetime. He would move into Maggie's room, but they'd already proven
he was too big to fit with furniture in the little bedroom. He could have it all done before they
got home from the Renaissance fair if he got his business handled quickly enough.

Harry turned on the monitor of his mother's computer and did a Google Maps search to find the
fastest route from Crack to Cardiff and printed it out. Mum's printer was wicked fast and he was
on his way out the door before he remembered he was supposed to be taking Reggie with him to
Cardiff so he could pick up a car he'd bought from a chap online.

Shit, he'd have to wake up Reggie, Harry thought walking out to his car. Harry could make a
second trip if he had to for Reggie. He had to get going. He'd waited long enough. He climbed
behind the wheel and stuck the key in the ignition. He turned the key, but instead of roaring
loudly to life, it made a pitiful groaning sound then coughed to a stop. He tried it again and got
only a clicking noise for his trouble. "Fuck me, not now. Start you pile of shit," Harry said
pounding on the steering wheel.

"Oi, now is that anyway to talk to a car? Don't listen to him, sweetheart, you're beautiful in your
own special way," Reggie said jovially patting the roof of the tiny car and leaning in Harry's
open window.

"Reggie? What the hell are you still doing up? Does no one sleep in this bloody place?"

"Stella," Reggie said with a grin that was enough of an explanation. "Where're you off to?"
"Cardiff - you still coming with?"

"Yeah, I'd intended to get a bit of sleep afore hand, but doesn't look like you're leaving in a hurry
any road," Reggie said patting the top of the car again.

"That's where you're wrong. Fix the car so we can get out of here," Harry said hoping Reggie
wasn't too pissed to work on his car. Harry was desperate to be on his way.

"I'm knackered, mate. Can't it wait? And what about the lovely Amy? Surely she's still warm
and cozy up in your bed. Give it up on that frigid bint - dropped you because of a car and doesn't
return your bells. Amy looks to be a bit of all right and she's blind enough to think you're not a
two bagger," Reggie teased, but Harry wasn't in the mood for lighthearted jabs. His mother had
called him enough names this morning to last him a lifetime.

"Sorry, mate. All right. Bring me some coffee and I'll take a look under the skirt of this fine
lady," Reggie said reading his expression correctly and pushing up and away from the car,
making it sway to the side. It was a tiny car with a good portion of its metal rusted away and
wouldn't take much to turn it over.

"I need to leave Amy a note," Harry said getting out of the car as Reggie lifted the hood. Reggie
leaned in with a grimace then stood up with a shake of his head.

"Oh! Not this day - you're not going anywhere in this car. Might as well climb back in bed and
wake her with a smile. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph how did you get this thing up from London?
Poor girl's had a hard life and it's her time, me thinks," Reggie said putting his hand over his
heart and lowering the hood. He patted the metal gently as if expecting the car to bust apart and
fall to the ground if his touch was too forceful.

"How do you know? You just glanced under there. I have to get to Cardiff. You think your da
would let me borrow his truck?" Harry said knowing he couldn't take his mum's van because she
had it loaded with her crafts for the fair. Even if she didn't, hadn't she just given Harry the brush
off regardless? He must have been a bigger tosser than he figured if his mum was through with
him.

"No, David's using it today to pick up some things for the pub today. Plus the reason I had to go
and get a car of my own was he said he wasn't lending it any more. Sleeping anyway, isn't he,"
Reggie said sitting on the hood of Harry's dead car. One more roadblock had been put in front of
Harry and his need to get his life in order. He felt the tension in his neck and shoulders tighten
as if a crank had been turned. He couldn't let this continue or he was going to snap. He had to
get out of here.

"No, he's not sleeping. He just brought my mum home," Harry said then let that bit of bombshell
sink in before continuing. There was so much to think about both to get his journey started and
what he would do once his task was complete. "Hey, you don't think this Stella's going to be
asking you to stay on for a bit do you? I think my mum's had all she can take of me and if I can't
find a better deal, I'll be taking the seats out of this beast to sleep in it," Harry said motioning to
the car as he sat down next to his friend. He knew the backseat would lie down flat, but it was a
tiny car - Harry was almost taller than the car was long and the interior was shorter still when
you took into account the engine compartment taking up a third of the car.

"You didn't do your Knight in shining armor trick again with dad did you? Seriously, Harry, you
can't go around punching my da and still be a friend. You're taking Sully's schtick a little too
much to heart, mate," Reggie said bumping his shoulder into Harry's. Nigel might let him stay
for a bit, but Reggie might get upset since Nigel wouldn't let Reggie sleep above the pub any
longer. Harry didn't have many friends these days and he couldn't afford the loss of his best one
over a place to live.

"No, nothing like that. No, your dad made a dog's dinner of getting with mum, by the by, but
what I did was worse. Called me an ungrateful bastard and told me to get out, she did," Harry
said feeling the words cut a new and more painful gash through his heart to say them out loud. If
they weren't true, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. He felt water filling his eyes so he turned his
head to look at the newly risen sun to give him an excuse to cover his eyes and surreptitiously
wipe the tears away.

"She couldn't have meant it, mate. I never had a mother to know how to work one, but I'm sure
she'll be missing you again if you give her a day or two to cool off like any other woman. Good
to see dad finally giving it a go. I can't imagine how he's stayed sane waiting for all these years,"
Reggie said and Harry had an idea. Waiting could drive even the best man insane and Harry had
no illusions about being the best. He couldn't wait. He was borderline at best already.

"Hang on," Harry said then hurried back inside the house. He went to the computer and pulled
up the map to Cardiff on Google again. There at the top of the directions panel was a drop down
box. He pushed the arrow and selected "Walking" on the menu and a new route appeared on the
map making a somewhat straight line from Crack to Cardiff. The driving route went around to
the major highways and listed the drive time as about three hours to go 121 miles, but the
walking directions said one day, eleven hours to walk 100 miles. They could walk down and
camp over night somewhere along the way. That would give him time to figure out what to say
to Catherine and his mum time to forgive him for being a total prat. He'd still need to leave a
note for Amy and hope she wasn't too offended by his leaving without a word. Wasn't like he
was sneaking out after he shagged her after all. Once he was free to explain, he wouldn't have to
wait any longer.

He hadn't been camping in years, but he'd always loved getting out in the woods with Nigel,
Reggie, and Reggie's brothers. They farted and belched and did male things his mother wouldn't
let him do around the house. It was the best time. He needed a good time about now. He
printed out the map then went back out to show Reggie.

"You want to walk to Cardiff?" Reggie asked sounding like he was questioning Harry's sanity as
well.

"Yeah, then you can drive us back. We'll camp out. It'll be like when we were kids except your
da and brothers won't be along to take the mickey out of us at every turn. We'll be home
tomorrow afternoon," Harry said enthusiastically. He chucked Reggie on the shoulder willing to
beg if he had to get his friend to come along. He could do it alone, but it would be a lot more fun
with Reggie with him.

"Yeah, all right. Whatever. I get some supplies together and a sleeping bag," Reggie said with a
shrug then pushed up off the car. Reggie staggered slightly, but kept himself upright as he
headed in the direction of his garage at a slow unsteady ramble.

"I think my granddad left his old two man army tent in the shed around back. Let's get a move
on, eh?" Harry said then opened the boot of his car to get his school rucksack. He dumped the
books out and left them in the car then went back inside to gather up his gear. He found clean
clothes in the laundry room thankfully so he wouldn't have to wake Amy (or risk temptation of
climbing into bed with her) to get different clothes. He realized he'd gone out in his sweatpants -
wouldn't Catherine have loved to see him turn up on her doorstep dressed as he was. She'll be
tossing him over for sure when he shows up grotty from his camping trip. He wouldn't have to
figure out anything to say at all. He pulled on jeans and a tee shirt and stuffed a jumper in his
bag along with a change of socks and underpants (because his mum would ask if she was still
speaking to him and he didn't need additional strikes against him). He stuffed another shirt and
pair of jeans in the bag and zipped it up before exiting the laundry room.

He looked up at the ceiling and thought about his laptop. He hadn't been anywhere without his
computer since he bought it. It had all his works in progress on it. What if he got the urge to
write during a break? It was a bit heavy to cart all the way down to Cardiff though and there
wouldn't be anyplace to recharge it when the battery died as it did more and more quickly these
days. What if he fell in a creek? That had happened more than once on a camping trip. What if
he needed to check his email or get another copy of the map? No computer, Harry told the
whiny computer addicted voice in his head. His phone could log onto the web for the map if it
became absolutely necessary. He picked up a pen and a small spiral notebook from his mother's
desk. He checked to make sure she hadn't written it or made any drawings for her crafts then sat
down to write a note.

What to write? "Sorry I've been such a huge fucking burden. Be back tomorrow to further turn
your life to hell. Love, Harry." No, not the best note to leave. He scribbled "gone to Cardiff
with Reggie, be back tomorrow probably late, Harry" and tore the page out of the book. He
thought about a note for Amy, but all he could think to write to her was "Who the fuck is Eric?" -
again, not appropriate. He'd go to Cardiff, break things off officially with Catherine, and on the
long walk, he'd decide how he was going to support himself if he wasn't going to get paid to be a
writer. Once he had some means of income, he'd go down to Carmarthen and see how serious
Amy was about Eric. He had one day, eleven hours and a good friend to bounce ideas off of -
surely he could think of something. He'd explain to Amy later, he thought then tucked the
notebook and pen in with his clothes.

While he was down in Cardiff, he'd get his own cellular phone. He'd hand Catherine's back to
her and do his best not to tell her to shove it. The more he thought about the last three years, the
more he felt like Catherine used him as a whipping boy. Still, it boggled the mind why she
would sleep with him just to get him to build sets and rearrange her closet. She could have paid
for those things. She had more than enough money. She had to like him just a little.

Harry got up and went in the kitchen. The coffee pot had turned on automatically and had just
finished brewing. He filled two travel mugs and opened up the fridge looking for something
mobile for breakfast. He found left over bacon and some sliced cheese. He used bagels to make
two sandwiches each and put them in baggies for the hike. They'd have lunch in Newtown and
camp near Llyswen or, if they didn't take too many breaks, in the Breacons, then Sunday
morning get up early and Bob's your uncle be in Cardiff before dinner. Easy peasy.

Harry yawned and stretched then went out to the shed behind the house after dumping his
rucksack and the coffee on the hood of his car. He found his grandfather's old tent and prayed
mice hadn't gotten into the old canvas. His grandfather's father had carried the tent through
France during World War I and Harry remembered a trip to Crack before his father had died
where granddad set it up for him to play inside. His dad almost had his mum convinced to let
him sleep in it for the night, but it started to rain and ended his first camping trip before it began.
His grandfather had offered to let him take it home, but they didn't have a garden to speak of and
the park was too overrun with kids for it to be any fun.

Harry looked in all the plastic totes until he found his sleeping bag and took it, the tent, and an
old ball of clothesline cord out to his car. Reggie joined him a few minutes later. "I found the
old canteens - don't worry I washed 'em out," Reggie said holding up four round canteens on
their long straps as he approached.

"Smashing. Help he tie all this shit together, yeah?" Harry said taking two of the canteens and
slinging them around his neck and under his arm. He arranged them so that they were spaced
evenly across his chest so they'd be easy to get to when he wanted a drink then put his backpack
up on his shoulders. Reggie helped him tie the tent to his shoulder straps across the back of his
neck and his sleeping bag underneath where it'd be easy to sit on for a rest then Harry did the
same for him.

Harry checked to make sure he had his wallet, keys, and pocketknife then handed Reggie coffee
and divided up the sandwiches. "Let's be off," Reggie said and started to walk away. He saw
Maggie looking out the window and waved giving her a weak smile. She turned and walked
back toward her room instead of acknowledging Harry.

Always caught in the middle, Maggie. He thought about sleeping in the living room so she could
have his room back, but he knew the couch was too uncomfortable. No, he'd just move her
posters when he got back. Maggie only had two more years then she would be off to university
anyway. Maybe Harry would find a job near wherever Maggie was going to go to school so he
could keep an eye on her. He'd make sure she stayed in campus housing because it was safer,
but cost more. He needed to get a move on if he was going to be able to afford it. Maggie
wouldn't be working three jobs while she went to school. Harry would see to it or die trying.
Maybe a life insurance policy would be a good investment as well.
"Oh, the map," Harry said going back to the car and pulling it off the seat where he'd left it after
waiting a beat to make sure Maggie wasn't coming outside to follow them as she always had
when she was little. He looked at the map making sure they were starting off the right way - not
that there were more than three ways out of Crack. One of those led north over the mountain,
one led south and east down into the valley, while their path would take them along the ridge to
the south and slightly west. The land sloped downward gently both in front of them and off
either side of the motorway making an easy path to follow. It was one of the last roads built by
the Romans before they started to pull back having extended their empire past being able to
support the expansion.

"So, what are we about then?" Reggie asked once the coffee and the sandwiches were gone.
Harry looked back to see the sun fully up, but Crack was still in the shadow of the ridges around
it. He wondered if he wasn't being selfish and adolescent going off at five in the morning
without facing anyone, but he had a course and vowed to face the consequences when he got
back.

"We're going to Cardiff where you'll get your car and I'll get some things settled once and for all
with Catherine. What kind did you get by the by?" Harry asked hoping to deflect the
conversation away from what Harry had to get settled. He was successful and they talked about
cars for a bit. Reggie explained about the old VW Eos he'd gotten for a bargain and how he was
nervous about buying it sight unseen, but feeling sure the man he'd bought it from was on the
level.

"So what's cooking with you and this Amy?" Reggie asked and Harry shrugged. How much
could he saw without saying too much?

"Not quite sure. I heard her talking to some tosser named Eric on her cellular after my shower
yesterday - said she loved him then spent the evening encouraging me. I almost kissed her up on
the ledge. Won't be able to use that as a hiding place again, will we?" Harry said with a chuckle
while kicking a rock out in front of him and watching it skip off along the cobblestone - some
newer, but some obviously set by Roman soldiers and their slaves a thousand years ago.

"Yeah, well I found out that spot wasn't as secret as we thought. That's what I was laughing
about when you came down. You mum accidently blurted that's where you got your start,"
Reggie said snickering sending a stone after Harry's.

"She knew about Dawn?" Harry asked with a grimace. After that initial trip, he'd managed to
convince Dawn to give it up in various other places and they hadn't gone up there again. Still it
was disturbing to know that his mother knew what he'd been up to all those years ago.

"No, your dad knew about the ledge and took her up there, but wasn't smart enough to be
prepared like us," Reggie said then laughed even harder at the look on Harry's face. Harry could
imagine it was pretty comical and didn't begrudge his friend the laugh.

"More information than I ever required about my parents," Harry said shaking his head. It stood
to reason that they hadn't been the first or the only, but it was a bit squicky to think of his parents
getting up to no good outdoors - even behind doors was gross for the simple fact they were his
parents.

"Speaking of parents - what did dad do to make your mum mad?" Reggie asked reaching back
over his shoulder where he'd stashed an open bag of pretzels so they'd be easily accessible for
snacking.

"Well, from what I heard I guess they had it off," Harry said forcing himself to be objective
instead of sickened about his mother and anyone in bed together while reaching for a handful of
little pretzels for himself. "Nigel said that he was going to start carrying a cricket bat because
mum 'looked like she was looking' and he didn't want anybody else after her. Sounds like a
misunderstanding to me. Mum took his 'looked like she was looking' as meaning Nigel only
liked her because she was working at making herself look better, but I think he meant that she's
been looking for someone and people can tell. She doesn't realize that Nigel's only been waiting
for her to get over my dad most likely."

"That's a tangle. And you didn't put her right?" Reggie asked tossing a pretzel in the air and
catching it in his open mouth.

"I was trying to stay out of it. Anyway, I didn't have the chance. As soon as she tossed Nigel out
on his ear, she started on about me being a great bloody git what never called while I was gone
or came home except when I had to. Said she gave up her whole life for me and Maggie and that
I never appreciated anything then she told me to go to Cardiff with my prissy bitch of a
girlfriend. Like I said, I may be homeless when I get back." Harry looked off into the distance
seeing the green and rolling hills stretching out unbroken as far as the eye could see. It probably
looked exactly the same as it had when the Romans were roaming this same stretch. It boggled
the mind thinking about the ages passing and leaving barely a mark on the countryside. The
history was easier to think about than dwelling on what his mother had said to him.

"She didn't mean it, mate. She knows you were doing the best you could - you worked most of
the time you were at school so you wouldn't have to ask her for anything - shit you worked doing
anything you could when we were still kids. Once your leg healed up, you were always
working!" Reggie said supportively as they walked past the fields and the farmhouses along the
road. Some of the houses looked modern, but a few here and there were the stone structures of
ages gone by. The oldest cottages where run down and housed animals instead of people under
their patched and mended yet ancient roofs.

"I would have called, but this isn't my phone. I mean, Catherine gave it to me so she could call
me, not so I could be calling home. I felt bad enough for having it in the first place. I didn't
want Catherine to think I was only with her for the things she could give me. And I couldn't
afford to come home much regardless," Harry said looking down at his feet for a bit as he
walked.

"Once she's had a kip and dad explains himself, she'll be apologizing and asking you to come
home, mate," Reggie said patting him on the shoulder. He hoped his friend was right because for
now Harry needed a home from which he could rebuild all his plans and dreams from scratch
now that the ones he'd made were destroyed. He didn't have any plans to leave Crack in the near
future. He resigned himself to living there indefinitely and that would be easier in a house
instead of his car. Maybe his mum would teach him how to make crafts and he could help her.
If anyone would hire him out of pity besides Nigel, it would have to be mum.

"If she doesn't, I'll just have to make due. I've got a bit saved - not enough for a deposit on a
place to live, but a bit. The car's a setback for sure. If I can find a job, I'll be able to get credit to
buy one a little less antiquated. Of course, how am I going to get to the job before I get a car. I
think maybe I could go the route mum did - find something I can make to sell on the internet
until I can get on someplace proper. What do you think?" Harry asked feeling a tiny bit better
already now that he'd lowered his expectations to the very lowest place he could think of.

They walked on kicking around pebbles and ideas drawing curious stares as they passed through
towns both smaller and larger than the one where they'd started. Harry's stomach was starting to
grumble just as he saw the sign for Newtown. It was still a few miles away, but they were
making good time on the relatively level roads looking out over valleys and mountains as far as
the eye could see. I was beautiful and green and the air wasn't heavy with the sounds and smells
of the city. It was relaxing for all that his back and feet were starting to ache.

"Oh, by the by, I need your help relocating Maggie's posters when we get back - if I'm allowed in
the house that is," Harry said as they started the upward climb to the town in the distance. It
wasn't steep, but he was leaning forward with the change in pitch.

"You still haven't taken those down? I'd think you'd taken a fancy to boy wizards. Sure you
don't want to keep him all to your onesies?" Reggie teased bumping into Harry's shoulder. It was
a familiar taunt. Reggie always questioned Harry's sexuality because unlike Reggie Harry didn't
set himself on every unsuspecting female he came across. Maybe living with two made him
think twice about doing unto other's little sisters what he didn't want done to his. Harry couldn't
in good conscience use and discard women the way Reggie did. The women were willing and
most likely knew what they were getting with Reggie, but Harry wouldn't have been able to face
his mother and sister let alone look in the mirror if he followed in Reggie's footsteps. Harry was
a serial monogamist much as he hated it sometimes.

"I'll ask Maggie if you can have some for your viewing pleasure," Harry teased back gesturing to
indicate what Reggie would be doing while looking at pictures of the Potter brats.

"Maybe if she's got some of that Hermione - had her knickers out in the tabs not long ago and
she looked all right to me," Reggie said with a grin. Harry rolled his eyes.

"No, I know you - you're all about the ginger," Harry said and they made fun of each other's
sexual and wizard preferences all the way up the hill. When they made it to the top they were
winded, but laughing. Harry spied a place for lunch and they headed inside.

"So what is with you and this Amy bird? Couldn't this Eric chap be a brother or something?"
Reggie asked once they'd started on desert. They were too busy shovel food in their mouths to
talk before then. They'd worked up an appetite on the long hike so they'd splurged on a large
meal. Harry hoped they didn't regret it when they got back out on the road. It wasn't hot out, but
exercise on a full belly was never a good idea.

"I don't know. I like her. I don't think she has a brother, but it's possible," Harry replied feeling
a trickle of hope filter in. Still, he couldn't talk about getting with Amy until he broke up with
Catherine. "What's with you and Stella?" Harry asked trying to remember which one she was. A
lot of people had moved into Crack and the surrounding area because it was cheaper than living
in the bigger towns. It was also conveniently located for people who worked in two different
towns to live together. Crack was a bedroom town with no industry or commerce of its own.
Ninety percent of its residents went off to work somewhere else and came home to the quiet
mountainside village.

"Ugh, I don't know what I was thinking. Bunny boiler that one. I was going to have to make
myself scarce this weekend anyway if you hadn't thought of this little escapade. I definitely
understand why her ex ran screaming, but you'd think the bastard would come around once in a
while to see the little one," Reggie said rolling his eyes and Harry deduced Stella was the tall
brunette with the miniature copy of herself that Reggie had had up on his shoulders for a bit the
night before. "You know, all this picking up birds for the night is getting a little old. I'm
beginning to think I've bounced around enough for one man. Might be time to give up the chase.
Tell me how do you do it? It would give me the willies having all those wizards watching me
wank a dozen times a day like you do, but when you give up women what choice do you have?"
Reggie teased and Harry flipped him off, but they were both laughing again as they paid the
check and headed out into the noonday sun. They were lucky for a day of whispy white clouds
and no threat of rain for their trek. Harry hadn't thought to check the weather before they left
which added a niggle of apprehension for continuing on, but he was determined to reach Cardiff.

"We should be in Llandrindod Wells by dinner then we can find a spot outside the town to pitch
the tent. Sound good?" Harry asked showing Reggie the map he'd printed out at home.

"Listen, mate, let's head over to Welshpool and catch the train," Reggie said leaning forward.
The idea made sense, but Harry was enjoying the walk. He liked looking at the countryside. If
they got on the train, one or both of them would hunker down in the seat and fall asleep. In all
practicality, he hadn't seen his friend in three years. Sure he'd seen him a few times on break and
they'd been spending a lot of time together since he got back, but it was usually while one or
both of them was working on something.

"I don't think so. This is fun, right? There's a train stating in Llandrindod Wells too. We could
catch one there just as easy," Harry said, but he knew that the Llandrindod Wells station would
take them back to Welshpool before turning south for Cardiff.

"I guess," Reggie said with a shrug and they walked on down the road. They walked along the
high street looking in the windows they passed. Harry saw a cellular phone store and noticed the
phone that Catherine had given him cost over £300. He shook his head at the waste spending
that kind of money on something so frivolous represented and continued on down the street
toward the continuation of the Roman Road.
"Do I appear 'kept' to you? Do you think I only stayed with Catherine because of her money?"
Harry blurted out once they'd gotten to the city limits and started down the other side of the hill.

"Well, it had occurred to me. She's a bit of a bitch. All she did the entire time I was in
Portsmouth was complain. For all the clothes and gadgets she bought you, you never looked like
you enjoyed her company any more than I did. She treated you like a servant and you took it. I
figure you had some kinky master/slave thing going on," Reggie said in a friendly
nonjudgmental tone and while his words were bad, Harry didn't feel like he was doing anything
other than give him an objective answer. The best part of having a friend like Reggie was he
knew he'd hear the truth instead of what was polite.

"Kinky to Catherine was leaving a nightlight on. No, I'm just a berk. I never wanted her to give
me stuff, but I only said no a couple of times. I liked being included I guess. I didn't have any
friends the first year with all my work and school. She was real sweet when she wanted
something. Did I tell you I redid the shelves in her cupboards fifteen times?" Harry said and
they talked about all the things Catherine had him build or repair as well as all the trips out on
yachts Harry had been invited on simply because of her. Somewhere during the discussion, he
was sure Reggie figured out what he was on his way to Cardiff to do and didn't ask him any
more questions.

"There's a bus stop," Reggie said when they lapsed into silence again. Harry didn't like the
silence much because it gave him time to look at his life in Portsmouth with Catherine through
and objective point of view. Catherine had kept him as a slave. He'd let her lead him around by
the balls, giving him just enough to keep him from telling her to go hang. The relaxation the
walk had given him was quickly disappearing in a haze of anger at himself for being such a fool.

"I really want to walk it, Reg. If you don't want to come along any more, then stand here and
wait for the bus. For all you know it's just a local one anyway," Harry said not wanting to hear
any dissent. With ever step, he felt a little closer to his freedom. He needed to confront
Catherine and let her know he wasn't as stupid and gullible as she'd treated him. He obviously
had been, but he wasn't any longer and they were through. It was over and he was ending it, he
thought in righteous indignation. Granted the steps were getting a little harder now that they
were winding around craggy outcroppings, but surely it wouldn't be too bad. How could Google
maps say it would only take a day and eleven hours if it was up and down the sides of
mountains? They wiggles in the line on the map were probably the way the road went between
the mountains.

"Pardon me, Mr. University-graduate, but did they not teach you that Wales had more than a few
mountains? You lived here most of your life - did you forget?" Reggie said holding out his arms
to indicate the rocks that seemed be growing taller and more frequent the further south they
went.

"I know there are mountains and so do you. Where was your concern before we left home?"
Harry snapped knowing Reggie wasn't saying anything Harry hadn't been thinking.
"I was half pissed! Some friend you are talking me into going on a hike while I'm not in a state
to make decisions. Now I'm just hung over and I'm thinking this wasn't such a bright idea after
all," Reggie said pulling open his canteen and taking a drink.

"Go back then. I thought we were getting on all right, but I thought Catherine loved me, my
mum wouldn't chuck me out of the house, and a college degree would get me a job making
enough to take care of my family.

"Ungrateful bastard she calls me? Every time I wanted to chuck my books in the sea, I thought
about how much easier I could make mum's life if I finished and got a job. Well I finished
barely passing because of all the time I should have been studying I spent it with my sodding
girlfriend and at all the jobs I had to take just to keep from starving and living on the streets.

"Now, I can't get a job at all because I'm either over qualified because I have a degree or under
qualified because I don't have any experience. I had to move home because I'm a fucking failure
and I know it. I'm a failure. I'm a failure as a friend too evidently so fuck it. Go home. Sorry I
troubled you. Maybe I'll do everybody a favor and fall off a fucking cliff," Harry yelled finally
letting all the pent up shame and anger boil over. He bent over and picked up a rock and
chucked it as hard as he could into the sun slipping quickly lower in the west.

"You're not a failure, mate. Come on, no one can get a job these days and it's not as if you've
been lazing about making everybody do for you. It's just going to take some time. Have a drink
and calm down," Reggie said pointing at the canteens around Harry's neck and leaning leisurely
against a large stone next to the road where the names of the roads that converged at this spot.
Reggie's carefree attitude was making Harry's temper burn brighter.

Reggie couldn't possibly understand. He'd always had a direction to go. Reggie had known that
he'd have the garage from the time he was a kid helping his grandfather. Reggie was loved by
every female in the district from young to old and could take or leave any of them any time he
wanted. Reggie never had a steady girlfriend, he had several girls he drifted around never
making commitments like the one that had Harry hiking through the Cambrian Mountains.
Harry glared at Reggie taking in the way he carelessly bounced through life without plan one.

"That's what I should do," Harry said out of nowhere. Harry didn't have a plan and maybe that
was for the best. Reggie did all right with no plan.

"What?" Reggie said pushing off the rock looking concerned. He put the cap back on the
canteen and started to take off his pack glancing around. Reggie thought Harry was going to
jump off a cliff if Harry was guessing correctly.

"I should do what you do - no commitments, no one woman - I've already been labeled a bastard,
I'll just start acting like one. Fuck 'em all. I should have just left a voice mail and mailed this
bloody leash of a phone back to Catherine. She can fuck off. Maggie and he Potter posters can
fuck off. Mum can fuck off. Nigel can fuck off. Fuck off the lot of you. I'll just go loopy like
Sully - sit under a shade tree blathering on and call it a life," Harry said pacing back and forth
while he explained. He was ranting and he knew it. He knew he would have felt like an ass if
he'd left a message. If he let himself feel it, he'd be devastated if his mother really had written
him off as a bad job. Maggie had a right to her posters; he just wished he didn't have to look at
them. Nigel had been nothing but good to him and Reggie was his friend even though it looked
like he was going to desert him on the side of the road now that it was getting tougher.
Everybody had been on his case this past month and he needed one person to be on his side. If
not Reggie, then who could he count on?

"Calm down and have a drink. Haven't I just been telling you my life isn't as good as it may
seem? It's not all babysitting and getting my knob polished. Sit and have a drink, mate," Reggie
said reaching out and snagging one of the canteens around Harry's neck and turning the cap to
loosen it.

"A drink of water won't be improving my mood," Harry said sullenly seeing the truth in Reggie's
words, but smacking his hands away anyway. He knew Nigel was constantly on Reggie to show
some ambition. How many times had he overheard Nigel say "look at Harry" and compare how
little Reggie was doing with his life. Harry couldn't imagine sleeping with women the way
Reggie did either. He'd been with Dawn a few times before he left for school, one girl for two
months before he met Catherine, and Catherine. Harry knew Reggie had feelings for all these
girls he slept with because it always bothered him when one of them got married. Nigel's
assertion that Gwen deserved better than a guy with a rundown pub in Crack popped into his
mind. Did Reggie feel like he wasn't good enough for more than a brief fling? He had more to
offer than Harry did even with all Nigel's negative comparisons to the contrary.

"It's not water. I filled the canteens with ale. I've got a bottle of whiskey in my pack, but I was
saving it for around the fire tonight," Reggie said breaking into Harry's train of thought while
picking up the canteen again and holding it for Harry to take.

"You filled up the canteens with ale - for a hike," Harry said incredulously looking inside the
canteen. Sure enough, Nigel's best dark ale was filled up right to the brim with very little foam
that only the most skilled of barmen could achieve.

"I didn't think he'd miss it especially not in the state he was in when I walked into the pub.
Didn't even go upstairs, just plopped down at a table and sat staring out the window. The
whiskey, he might wonder where it disappeared to, but I don't think he'll mind because it's for
you - Sir Harry of Crack, university graduate," Reggie said sounding slightly put out, reinforcing
Harry's ideas about the down side to Reggie's happy-go-lucky existence. "You're not really
going to jump off a cliff are you? I mean dad would definitely blame me if you met your end
when I was supposed to be along."

"I'm not going to jump off a cliff. Sorry I yelled. Go back if you want. I'm sorry I dragged you
along. I didn't realize you were still in the bottle when I asked," Harry said guiltily leaning
against the rock and taking a long swallow from his canteen. It was flat and a little warmer than
he liked, but it was just what he needed at the moment.

"We can't hike through Breacon, but we can keep going into that place what had the next train
station. I don't fancy the bus much anyway. Next town we come to, let's make sure we have
matches and the like for a fire, yeah?" Reggie said resigned to continuing on despite the peaks
and valleys to come. Harry had forgotten his lighter upstairs in his room. It was a good thing
Reggie had thought of it.

They pushed off, not talking much as the inclines got steeper and the first canteens emptied.
Rest stops were getting more frequent as well and Harry was beginning to wonder if he hadn't
put too much faith in the technological terror that was Google. They hadn't even made it to
Dolfor which was the next town on his map and it was only three miles according to his
directions. They'd been walking for at least two hours. He knew they were on the right road
because the map hadn't said to make any turns anywhere.

"So where is this place?" Reggie asked coming back after a trip behind a nearby tree. The
canteens held two pints each so Harry had been concerned about finding the road again if they
both went so they'd taken turns.

"We should be almost on it. Probably over this next rise," Harry said hoping he was right. He
didn't want Reggie mad at him again.

"God, I hope so. I'm not backing out, but you know this is crazy, right? No way we'll be
walking twenty miles in these hills the way we did this morning over the low country. Not
without more beer any road," Reggie said with a lopsided grin.

"I'll buy," Harry said grinning back. Even as the road got harder, Harry's mind wandered more.
He started thinking about the knights and ladies that Sully used to talk about and the Welsh
princes taking time out of fighting each other to push back the Normans. He wondered how it
would have been walking this road in the sandals of a Roman soldier carrying armor and
weapons, not knowing if he'd live to see family or friends again. His back and legs were starting
to ache with just his change of underpants and booze load.

He imagined himself and Reggie with spears and heavy wooden shields walking in a column
with a hundred other men and boys most younger than they were. A lucky few would be riding
horses - the commanders. Or maybe Harry and Reggie were the scouts sent ahead to reconnoiter
the town prior to attack. A story of daring formed in his head as Harry, conscripted native, and
Reggie, career Roman soldier approached in disguise to infiltrate the tiny village to gauge
defenses. Would they be able to march through the town unscathed, bartering supplies or would
they have to pillage and burn. Harry had volunteered for the mission with ulterior motives - his
lady love and her family lived in the town and he had to get her to safety before the commander
saw her and demanded her for his own as payment for not burning the place to the ground. She
was the most beautiful lass in all the land and Harry saw no other outcome if she were to be
captured. He would have to appeal to Reggie's better nature along the way to win him to Harry's
side. If he made a misstep, the Roman would run him through for being a traitor and all would
be lost.

That's not bad, he thought pulling out the pad and jotting down a few notes as they walked.
Harry put the pad away and pulled out his phone wondering if he shouldn't try calling Catherine
one more time. Maybe she'd break up with him over the phone and they could just walk back
down to that bus stop Reggie'd pointed out. No bars gave the lie to the cellular phone company
commercials and he put the phone back in his pocket.

"Blimey, there it is. Finally," Reggie said when they got to the top of a steep hill. The first
houses of the town of Dolfor were finally in view in the valley below.

"I'm beginning to think I shouldn't take Google at face value," Harry said and Reggie laughed.

"You think, do you? Let's get enough for dinner while we're here and press on. Maybe we'll
make it halfway to the train. A plan?" Reggie asked sounding so jovial, Harry wondered if he
hadn't finished off both of his canteens full of ale and started on the whiskey. Still the plan was
sound so they set off with new energy for the tiny hamlet ahead.

"Brilliant. What all do we need? You said you were bringing supplies - surely you brought
more than just the liquor?" Harry said as they neared a convenience store.

"Pretzels and we're about out of those," Reggie said chagrined. "I told you I was still half drunk
when we agreed to this trek."

"Beer and pretzels for a camping trip. You know, that's just the kind of supplies we need. This
barmy adventure would definitely make more sense if we get shitfaced along the way. I'm sure
the selection in cans won't be as tasty as what Nigel had on tap, but at least it won't be flat. A six
each then? Maybe get some energy bars or something for the morning and a bottle of water and
Bob's your uncle," Harry said cheerfully with his hand on the door handle. He stepped aside
letting a woman and small child pass before going into the store.

"Right and I'll look for matches and another bottle," Reggie said warming to the idea. They split
up making the grey haired old lady behind the register nervous as she tried to keep an eye on
both of them. He'd be concerned to if two strangers stumbled in off the road with packs and the
smell of ale about them so he didn't let her lack of faith disturb him. He picked up a pack of gum
looking longingly at the packs of cigarettes in racks behind the counter. He would stop smoking
to make his mum think better of him as well as all the other changes he was going to be making.

"What the fuck is that?" Harry asked when Reggie put his purchases next to Harry's on the
counter. Instead of the expensive energy bars, Harry had gotten a selection of candy bars. He'd
picked out a block of cheese and an inexpensive box of saltine crackers. He'd picked out a
middle of the road bottle of wine to wash it down with thankful his pocket knife had a built in
corkscrew. Bless the Swiss for knowing what was important in life. A travel size of enough
Tylenol to battle the hangover they were sure to have and Harry thought they were set.

"I forgot my toothbrush," Reggie said with a shrug. Reggie's selections were slightly more to the
healthy side as well - trail mix, water, a couple of apples, and the agreed upon beer. If Harry
were to look inside Reggie's pack, he was sure to find a complete shaving kit and deodorant.
"We're camping! You don't have to brush your teeth when you're camping! Mum's not going to
catch us and we're not twelve any more. No teeth brushing. We're being men and doing as men
do," Harry decreed putting the toothbrush back on the rack where Reggie had taken it from. "A
toothbrush - honestly," Harry said grinning at the little old lady and shaking his head. She tallied
up the damage grinning back as she put everything in plastic bags for them to take on their way.

Deciding the ale in the canteen was only going to get flatter, they finished those off before
starting on the cans. They were laughing, stumbling, and basically having a good time as they
trudged up the biggest rise yet. The sun was getting close to the horizon when they got to the
top.

"Blimey," Harry said looking back over the way they'd come. The land rolled and curved as far
as the eye could see. It looked kind of like a green ocean with the wind making the trees wave
back and forth like a gentle current. The town they'd stopped in for more booze and a bit of food
was just starting to twinkle with lights because the sun had sunk low enough to cast the
mountains shadow over it like a blanket. He wondered what it would look like after dark.

"Come on, Harry or we're not going to find a good spot to camp and get set up before it gets too
dark," Reggie reminded him tugging on his arm.

"Yeah, all right," Harry said reluctantly and started down the slope with his friend. He knew if
they were close to the road or near a house, they might get arrested as vagrants - and drunks
since they were on that path as well. From their lofty height at the top of the hill, he could see a
copse in the distance that looked dense. From what he could guess, there would be shelter from
being seen from the road and all he could see was fields around it. There looked like there might
be a fair going on closer to the far road, but they would probably be able to camp far enough
away not to draw attention to themselves. Destination fixed, they wandered as best they could
down the slope.


Chapter 5

"Harry," Amy whispered against his lips, but this time there was no whistle, no people milling
below. Harry kissed her while running his finger through her hair. It was soft and silky and
smelled of lavender. Amy's arms went encouragingly around him and her lips parted in
welcome. He laid her down on the soft moss cradling her in his arms as they kissed more
passionately.

They rolled around, kissing and groping, tugging at each other's clothes until finally they were
skin to skin. Harry was aware of the cool breezes whispering around them, but he felt warm
cocooned in Amy's arms.

Whispering? Breezes didn't whisper on a cliff face. People were whispering. That wasn't right,
Harry thought as his dream started to fade. He nearly whimpered as the dream image of Amy
disappeared and the reality of hard packed dirt and stone barely cushioned by his too thin
sleeping bag intruded.
Harry stirred rolling onto his back, his stomach continuing to roll after all the wine, beer, and
whiskey they'd consumed the night before. They'd had to sleep in the open after all when Harry
discovered the tent poles missing from the pack which was just as well. He'd had a hard enough
time keeping Reggie from snuggling up to him for warmth with the whole woods to spread out
in. If they'd have been in the tent, Harry'd have been scarred for life. The fire had long since
died and the sleeping bags were little comfort in the mountain air. It was July, but it still got
close to freezing at the higher elevation.

"Shut it, Harry, Christ," Reggie mumbled from beside him and the whispering stopped. Reggie
was telling Harry to be quiet and the sound had stopped, but Harry hadn't been the one to make
the noise in the first place. His alcohol fogged brain now with the beginnings of a fierce
hangover was having difficulty with logic in the early morning chill.

"I didn't -"

"AAAARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!"

"SHIT!" Reggie yelled in tandem with Harry as the forest was filled with the battle cry of at least
twenty warriors in full armor standing in a ring around Harry and Reggie struggling to get free of
their sleeping bags.

"Take this and keep your back against mine," Reggie said thrusting a heavy metal sword into his
hand. Harry noticed a red wooden shield with a white stripe and three black ravens emblazoned
on it laying near him and grabbed it up as well. They started to circle or rather Harry followed
Reggie as he turned around on the spot in a circle as the warriors started to slowly close in
around them.

"What now?" Harry croaked watching and waiting while hoping he was still dreaming. The men
and one scantily clad woman all in leather were covered in war paint holding deadly weapons
threateningly over their heads ready to attack.

"Follow me," Reggie said then gave a whoop and advanced on the weakest part of the circle if
Harry had to guess. He started swinging the sword and the people moved out of the way. It
suddenly struck Harry that for warriors, they sure were having a laugh. One of the warriors
advanced and metal clanged against metal as Reggie fought back, but no one came after Harry
and for that he was grateful. Harry had never been as good at swordplay as Reggie. Sully
should have made Reggie the knight and Harry the squire if they were to be judged on skills
instead of foolishly jumping on the backs of blokes twice Harry's size while outnumber three to
one. Sounded more foolish than brave in retrospect.

"Whoa, now, stand easy. We were just having a bit of sport. You're gonna hurt someone, mate,"
the man fighting Reggie said while everyone in the wood laughed. Some were leaning on pikes
or swords to stay upright they were laughing so hard.
"Jesus Christ, Reggie, we're at the Renaissance Fair," Harry said stabbing his sword into the
ground and taking a deep breath. Reggie stopped fighting and lowered his sword and shield as
well then. Another scene for the story of the Roman soldiers started to take shape in Harry's
head as he looked at the Celtic woman warrior smiling through her green war paint and batting
her eyelashes.

Reggie had had enough of his soldiering life and had helped Harry and his fair lady escape into
the woods. The villagers had known the Romans were coming and had hid most of their women
and children in the dense woods leaving the men behind with a few brave women so the Roman's
wouldn't get suspicious when they were allowed to march through unimpeded taking the meager
supplies left behind. Meanwhile they were arming and barricading themselves to stave off the
invaders. Of course Harry would have to rename his soldier hero. Who ever heard of a Roman
named Reggie?

"You do all right though. Who're you with?" a giant of a man said walking up to take the big
shield and sword from Reggie.

"With?" Reggie asked leaning his behind against a tree and bending forward if Reggie was
feeling any of what Harry was feeling, he was trying not to throw up.

"Yeah, who do you fight with? We thought we had all the re-enactors in the area in for the fair,"
another person said taking Harry's shield and sword with a nod and a smile. Someone came out
from behind a tree with a video camera and Harry knew they'd be featured on the fair's blooper
reel for this year.

"I'm not a re-enactor. I just always like swords. You scared the hell out of me, you bastards,"
Reggie said pushing off the trunk of the tree after a rest and offering his hand. Harry was more
inclined to plant someone a facer, but they were all wearing armor and carrying deadly weapons.
Reggie's diplomacy was better than what Harry had in mind.

"Listen, if you hang around for a bit, I'll give you my card once we route those blighters across
the field. I could definitely use more skilled on my crew. Have you a sword?" the man asked as
the group around cheered waving their weapons in the air. Harry looked through the trees to see
another group of armored men across the way yelling and getting ready for battle as well.

"I make them in my garage," Reggie admitted and Harry blinked. He had no idea Reggie was
making swords in his garage. The reason Harry's tent didn't have poles was because Reggie and
Harry had used them as swords as kids and forgot to put them back.

"Oh, smashing! Hang about, but you can't stay here. Simmons, Mitchell - help these fellows
clear up their camp," he ordered and two of the younger combatants put their things down and
started rolling up the discarded tent and their sleeping bags.

"Don't scrimp on a camping trip, eh?" one of them asked holding up the nearly empty bottle of
whiskey Reggie had taken to his sleeping bag with a skin mag he'd brought from home to finish
while Harry wrote down some of the things he'd thought of while they'd walked during the day.
Without the blinking cursor to taunt him, Harry had no trouble filling page after page with
words. He just hoped he'd be able to read them when he wasn't half in the bottle.

"Things worth doing, it's worth doing right," Harry said picking up his notebook from beside the
rucksack he'd been using as a pillow and stuffed it and his pencil inside the bag. "You wouldn't
know how far we are from the train station would you?"

"Oh, at least another day, day and a half walking through the mountains. It's a rough hike, it is.
Me and my mates went from near here to the Breacon National Park and it took us about four
and a half days," the other one said expertly tying the gear together.

"That can't be right," Harry said pulling out his map while the experienced hiker looked over
Harry's shoulder at the paper in his hands.

"Google maps," the first one said and everyone laughed loud and hearty again. Harry stuffed the
map back in his bag and swung it up on his back not making eye contact with anyone. He was
an educated person. How could he have possibly been duped by the internet into believing he
could walk a hundred miles through the mountains in a day and a half?

"At least you stuck to the roads -" one of the men standing in the outer circle. The rest joined in
for "- and stay clear of the moors," referencing the werewolf movies. They were a jolly lot and
Harry wouldn't mind so much if the half a bottle of wine he'd drank wasn't making his head
pound mercilessly. He vowed then and there to never drink again - or at least not as much while
camping next to a historical battlefield.

"There's coffee a plenty over in the food tents. Don't get on the road yet, eh?" the leader said
again looking pointedly at Reggie. Reggie shrugged and shook the man's hand again before
putting on his pack too. They gathered up their trash and walked slowly on pain filled and
probably blister covered feet toward the tents of the fair proper.

"Harry!" Maggie yelled and launched herself at him. He caught her in a hug with a grunt barely
managing to keep on his feet.

"Oi, what are you wearing? What was mum thinking letting you out of the house like -" Harry
asked realizing his sister was wearing the same serving wench garb that he'd gotten in trouble for
forbidding his mother to wear, but stopped when he saw Gwen approaching dressed exactly as
his sister in different colors. Behind her was Nigel, Amy, and surprisingly Sully who Harry
thought never left Crack except for trips to the doctor. He was surprised to see Amy as well, but
she faded back and away after looking Harry in the eye. Amy looked sad, but in comparison
looked absolutely cheerful when he looked at Gwen and Nigel. Nigel was the only one who
hadn't dressed for the occasion. Amy was wearing a costume similar to Maggie and Gwen and
Sully was wearing his best makeshift regal wear complete with a crown Gwen had made him that
he saved for special occasions.
"Ugh, Harry, you smell like the trash out behind the pub," Maggie said after nearly strangling
him with her hug. She dropped down and stepped back holding her nose. Harry tore his eyes
from his mother's disapproving stare and looked down at his little sister.

"You messed up your hair," Harry countered not knowing what else to say. It was second nature
to meet his little sister's insults with one of his own in return. Maggie's pink streaks were gone.
She had a yellow garland ringing her head holding back her long, now auburn to match mum's,
hair braided down her back.

"It's not messed up. It's normal," Maggie said sullenly yet she couldn't hide how happy she was
to see Harry. Maggie looked hopefully at Gwen then a little desperately leaned forward as if
trying to encourage Gwen to say something to Harry. He hoped Maggie hadn't taken it upon
herself to try to guilt Gwen into apologizing for something that clearly wasn't her fault. Harry
didn't blame her for a minute for tossing him out, he just wished she'd change her mind and tell
him she still loved him even if he was a total jackass.

"Boring," Harry argued when the silence caused by waiting for Gwen to speak lasted too long.

Harry had always rolled his eyes and expressed his wish for his sister to make her hair look like
everyone else's. For some reason, now that it was "normal" and "like everyone else's", he didn't
like it. He thought it might have something to do with his sister hiding her individuality to get a
boy to like her - kind of what Harry had done to get Catherine to keep him around. Harry had
given up most of himself for Catherine's favor and he knew how miserable it made him in the
long run. He wanted to protect his sister from the same mistake.

"Stop telling her that," Gwen said looking near tears when she turned away. Harry wanted to say
something, but the shame and failure he'd been feeling balled up and lodged in his throat when
his mother barely acknowledged him before walking away. Overnight clearly hadn't been long
enough for Gwen to forgive Harry and he'd have to deal with the consequences a while longer.

"I'm going to find a place to clean up and change. Please excuse me," Harry said when he finally
got his mouth to work. He turned heading in the opposite direction not really knowing where to
go to accomplish his stated goals, blinking to get rid of the pooling tears in his eyes and hoping
anyone who noticed would attribute it to the bright sunlight.

"How'd you get here?" Harry heard Nigel asking Reggie not far behind him as he pushed his
tired muscles as fast as he could.

"Walked," Reggie said then lowered his voice saying something Harry couldn't quite make out.

"All right, see you," Nigel said then went back toward the others. Reggie caught up and they
walked in silence toward a sign labeled "Privies." Harry just hoped they were a little more
modern than the name suggested.

"What say we ask my dad to drive us down to the train station?" Reggie asked carefully like he
was scared Harry was going to snap again and start yelling.
"Yeah, sorry, Reg. This was a stupid idea - the latest in a series. From now on if I have a bright
idea, be a mate and remind me I'm a fucking moron would you?" Harry asked dryly then heaved
a sigh.

"Oh, stop feeling sorry for yourself. This has been good fun - just like you said yesterday.
Maybe next camping trip we'll stay closer to home or take a vehicle of some sort, but it was a
nice change to do something besides lazing about home. I didn't realize how much it sucked
until last night. Next bright idea, I won't argue so long before I agree," Reggie said slapping him
on the shoulder as they rounded a corner. Happily, it was more than a privy as the sign
promised. It was a dressing area for the re-enactors complete with a foot pump fed sink to wash
some of the dirt off. What he'd really like was a shower but that would have to wait.

"Thanks for that, but you and I both know -" Harry said stopping and turning to face his friend.
Usually he could count on Reggie for the unvarnished truth, but Harry felt like Reggie was just
saying things to make Harry feel better.

"Stop feeling sorry for yourself! When did you become a whiny old woman? Get changed.
Maggie's right - you stink," Reggie said tossing his pack into one of the empty changing stalls.
Or maybe Reggie wasn't just trying to make Harry feel better. Well, everybody gets tired of
listening to someone else's problems occasionally and that occasion usually came around quicker
with a hangover.

Harry changed quickly then washed his face and hands. Clean clothes over a dirty body made
Harry feel slightly more human and presentable enough to be in company. Reggie, always
concerned about being presentable and ready for conquest, pulled out a comb and deodorant
which he shared with Harry who'd brought none of these things just as Harry had predicted.
Harry realized he was subconsciously doing all the things that would earn Catherine's wrath so
that she would break up with Harry and he wouldn't have to do it. Maybe he should just do it
over the phone. He didn't really care if she thought badly of him. Thinking back, she hadn't
treated him like she had any good thoughts of him already. Still, breaking it off over cellular
phone wasn't something he felt he could do. He pulled the phone out trying to decide the best
course of action and saw he had a message.

"She called me back," Harry said as he and Reggie made their way to the food tents. Some
Tylenol and caffeine would go a long way to easing Harry's punishment for overindulging and he
was sure to find what he needed there. In addition, Harry wasn't ready to see more shame and
disappointment in his mother's expression so he was going to stay there while Reggie went to get
Nigel for a ride to the station. Harry sat down at an empty table and pushed the button that
would connect him with his voice mail.

"Hi, Harry, I hope you're not to cross with me. I've been so busy getting settled I haven't had
much free time. I've missed you so, darling, and I'm so pleased you're finally coming back to
me. I found a lovely job for you. It isn't writing to start, but I'm sure it won't be long before
you'll be promoted to the writing staff. I hope you're bringing that sexy tool belt of yours. Get
here as soon as you can. Bye, my love," Catherine said sweetly and Harry's insides twisted in a
knot while his mind whirled and his heart pounded.

"Please tell me she told you not to come so we can pick up my car and go home," Reggie said
putting a bowl of thick stew and a steaming cup of coffee in front of him on the table.

"No actually she said for me to hurry up and get there because she's found a job for me," Harry
said thoroughly confused.

"Not pleased with her closets, is she?" Reggie said with a derisive snort.

"She said I'd need my tool belt, but I could end up a writer. She works at a television studio -
maybe she's got me a job building sets and it'll get my foot in the door for script writing," Harry
said looking up to see Amy walking toward him. What was he going to do? He wanted a job -
any job - in the worst way. He wanted to start a relationship with Amy and he didn't feel he
could do that until he'd broken up with Catherine and gotten a job. Catherine had a job for him
that he surely wouldn't get if he broke up with her.

Harry could pretend to still like Catherine then when he had the job they wouldn't be able to fire
him because Catherine was angry with him. No, he couldn't do that. Sure, he could make sure
she was mad at him at bedtime every night, but he didn't want to be with Catherine any more.
Maybe he could find out what the job was and apply for it without Catherine's help. It was her
father's television station though so chances are he wouldn't get it even if the only other applicant
was a monkey with a toy hammer and a hard hat.

Harry watched Amy as she walked closer. There was a breeze that was picking up the ribbons
trailing from the garland of flowers in her hair. Every other step he could see the many colored
petticoats hidden under her skirt. She was curvaceous and lush without the corset, but with it,
her curves were more pronounced. She definitely wore medieval wear well. She had a curious
look, but she was smiling as she approached. The closer she got, the more his heartbeat returned
to normal and the knot loosened in his gut. It was like she had a cloud of calm that surrounded
her and went before her. Catherine could offer him a job as prime minister if she wanted, but
Harry wasn't going back to her for anything.

"You all right?" Amy asked sitting down across from him and leaning forward on the table.

Must not stare at her cleavage. She has a face. "Yeah, just anxious to get to Cardiff. I've got
something to return there," Harry said wiping his mouth with a paper napkin. He hadn't taken a
bite of his food yet, but he feared he might be drooling. He forced himself to look into her eyes
hoping she wouldn't notice the way his eyes were drawn to her boobs like a magnet to steel.

Amy must have noticed because she sat back. "Your mum and sister were sad to find you gone
yesterday," Amy said and Harry wanted to ask if she'd missed him too. His sister had watched
him leave and his mum had told him to go so Amy was either trying to make him feel bad on
purpose or his mum and sister were better actors than anyone knew.
"I'm sorry about that. I didn't plan to leave so abruptly, but -" mum was mad and he needed
some closure and that was the plain and simple truth. Amy had apparently spent a lot of time
with his family the last couple of days.

"You were anxious to get to Cardiff, yeah, you said. Maggie told me you'd been planning to go
ever since you got home," Amy said still smiling, but there wasn't any mischief in her eyes like
he was used to seeing. What had Maggie and Gwen said about Harry and would it hurt his
chances with Amy once he was free?

"Yeah, I haven't been the most pleasant person to be around lately. I'm hoping that getting this
trip over with will make everything better for everyone concerned," Harry said hoping Amy like
Reggie could guess what he was about and cut him some slack - possibly tell him Eric was an
elderly pensioner who thought Amy was his long dead wife, but otherwise harmless. "Should
have taken the train when my car wouldn't start, I suppose, but we saw a lot we wouldn't have
seen if we'd gone another way."

"I've never hiked much in the mountains. Cardiff's only a couple hours - I can just drive you on
my way home. It's a bit out of the way, but at least you'll have that part of the trip over. The
train would take you almost all the way back to Crack before it took you south to Cardiff," Amy
said mirroring his thoughts from the day before with a shrug while avoiding Harry's eyes.

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble. I'm supposed to meet a bloke about a car," Reggie said after
washing down the half bowl of stew with a long drink of water.

"That's settled then - I want to stay and watch the procession, but after that we can go. I'll give
these togs back to your mum when she comes down to the shop next week," Amy said pulling at
the scooped neckline of her peasant's blouse and drawing Harry's eyes back to her cleavage.

"What are you doing here - not that I'm not pleased to see you," Harry said closing his eyes to
break the spell her boobs had cast and opened them to look at her face once more.

"I love these fairs and your mum needed help," Amy said as if it were the most natural thing in
the world for her to stay two nights in the house of a woman she'd never met before.

"What's Sully doing here? He never leaves his kingdom," Reggie said starting to devour the
bread bowl his stew had been served in making Harry realize he still hadn't eaten a single bite
yet. He let Reggie take over the conversation and tucked in.

"I think he did it to get under Nigel's skin. He kept saying Lady Gwen and Princess Maggie
needed a real man along to discourage knaves and scallywags. He's so funny. I could sit and
listen to his stories for hours," Amy said turning her smile on Reggie.

"Aye, I barely watched the telly growing up because Sully was always the better bet," Reggie
said smiling back. Harry felt the stew he'd gotten down turn to a lump as he watched Reggie
chatting up Amy and her letting him. It was all Harry could do not to blurt out he'd called dibs
on Amy like when they were kids arguing over the last biscuit. Harry knew that if Reggie turned
on the charm, Harry would never have a chance of winning Amy. "I licked it, it's mine" wouldn't
work as well with a person as it had with a cookie. That's the way it always had been and Harry
knew he wasn't up for a challenge should Reggie mount one for Amy's heart. Harry should have
dropped Catherine years ago at school and gone for Amy.

Harry watched Amy and Reggie chat and laugh, forcing himself to finish his food while trying to
catch Reggie's eye to warn him off. Surely going up to the ledge would have spelled out loud
and clear what Harry's intentions were to his old friend. What happened to honor among thieves
and the no poaching rule?

"Sir Harry, a word," Sully said just as Harry finished eating. The leader of the re-enactors was
walking their way too to talk to Reggie so everyone got up from the table.

"I'll go tell your mum the change of plans and catch you up," Amy said touching Harry's arm
before walking back to his mother's stall where she was selling her crafts and taking orders for
costumes.

"What can I do for you, King Sully," Harry said after watching Amy's skirt swish back and forth
a few times as she walked away. So close, yet so far.

"How goes your quest?" Sully asked sinking down on the wood bench Amy had just vacated.
Harry sat back down too wondering how much Sully knew and who told him what.

"Not so well up to now, actually, but Amy's offered to drive me to Cardiff to complete it.
Reggie's bought a car so we'll drive it back to Crack - should be home tonight if all goes to plan.
How's yours? I hear you're still egging Nigel on about my mum," Harry said feeling a
surrealness falling around him. He'd never had an actual conversation with Sully. Sully usually
made pronouncements or gave orders then sent Harry on his way.

"I hate to see people wasting their youth over silliness from the past," Sully said shaking his
head.

"I'd hardly call my dad and Nigel's wife dying as silliness," Harry said noticing again that Sully
seemed more sane than he remembered. Maybe it was just an act he'd perfected over the years.
He may have started out crazy just after his injury, but decided it was in his best interest not to
change his behavior once he was well.

"No, that's not what I'm talking about, boy. No, it's gone on longer than that. Your mum chased
after Nigel as a girl, but he didn't pay her any mind at first - like he shouldn't have because she
was twelve and he seventeen. Your mum got to sixteen and Nigel took notice, but your da got
there first. Wooed her right proper with flowers and gifts all manner of pretty words. Broke up
Daniel and Nigel's friendship, it did. Daniel and Nigel were best of friends - close like you and
Reggie. Your da convinced Nigel he could make a better life for Gwen and Nigel gave her up.
Got another girl up the duff and was married before the year was out. Your da went out and got
himself established then came back to take your mum away just when Nigel's Mary died. So
sad," Sully said trailing off as he slumped a little looking off into the distance remembering.
"I don't want to tell Nigel's business, but he went a little wild. Spent a lot of time doing as young
Reggie - alley-catting runs in the family. Letting his mum and da take care of the little ones
while he went through the local women and a few in the next town over. His da finally said
enough and put Nigel behind the bar at the pub. He straightened up, started being home every
night for the kids, left the ladies alone. He went on for years with barely a smile to spare. Last
trip before your da died, he went over to the pub, but they rowed again. Nigel never got over
that. Now Gwen's decided she's been alone long enough, but Nigel's pride and his guilt won't let
him do right by her. I'm not saying Nigel didn't love his Mary or Gwen didn't love Daniel - they
made their choices. I'm just saying they love each other too and it's not right the way they're
fighting it. You'd think two people who know how fragile life is wouldn't go throwing it away
like they do," Sully said indignantly.

"I've already told Nigel I was all right with him and mum together. Granted it was after I'd
already blacked Nigel's eye, but I don't know what else I can do," Harry said processing this new
information. "Mum said dad wouldn't approve of Nigel, but he'd understand."

"He wouldn't approve of her hiding in that house the way she does. Of course he'd want Nigel to
take care of his family - went to try to make amends didn't he? Fools, all of 'em. Oi, and you
take note," Sully said coming out of his reverie and pointing warningly at Harry as he sat
forward. "I think highly of the Lady Amy, but don't you let her split up you and Reggie. I'm
glad to hear she's turned your head from the stroppy cow. Princess Maggie and I are in
agreement on that score."

"Between you and me, I agree. My next quest after this one is to -establish myself then go back
for Amy. If she's available that is," Harry said looking around to make sure no one was listening.
Sully wasn't in his right mind so it didn't count telling him before telling Catherine it was over.

"Want I should talk to Reggie?" Sully offered and Harry smiled feeling silly for thinking Reggie
was the only friend he had left after this past month of being a complete jerk. He'd taken Sully
for granted.

"I'll make my intentions known, but I think he's already aware," Harry said looking over at
Reggie then back to King Sully feeling the Tylenol kick in and new energy seep into him. There
was light at the end of Harry's long dark tunnel. He needed to get on his way again. He'd just
have to wait the trouble out and finish his quest. Everything would be easier soon.

"Smarter than he acts, that's for sure. Right then, off you go," Sully said shooing Harry with his
sword. Reggie was still deep in talks about weapons and armor so Harry moved off on his own
to look around the fair. Harry spotted his sister and another girl her age surrounded by boys
laughing and talking like teenagers do. He was only three years removed from being a teenager,
but even that short amount of time was enough to make their conversation indecipherable. He
and his friends had had a code of their own so it stood to reason others had a different one of
their own. His mother was talking with her customers explaining the history involved. Nigel
stood uncomfortably nearby wrestling with his conscience most likely.
Harry sat down on a low wall next to a small pool leaning his pack against it and pulling out his
notebook and pen, but he didn't want to write just now. He was still digesting the story Sully had
told him, but they notebook and pen felt natural in his hand. He needed to have them to think.
He looked up at Nigel and tried to imagine him at seventeen. Harry wondered what his dad and
Nigel fought about the last time. It had been thirteen years. Surely Nigel wasn't still mad at dad
for taking mum away. He'd been married with two kids and one on the way when Daniel came
back for Gwen.

It occurred to Harry that he never asked which house his dad had lived in growing up. His Noble
grandparents had died when Harry was just a baby and he had no memory of them. His mother
on the other hand had been the girl next door to Nigel. Had she trailed after Nigel the way
Maggie sometimes followed Reggie around? Harry flipped open the notebook to the back and
wrote some questions he wanted to try and find the answers to when he got home. He'd never
realized how many stories there were in the little village of Crack waiting to be told.

Harry bent over his notebook and started writing something new. He didn't have a story in mind,
just a scene and people walking through it, each with a story all their own. Which one to tell
first? Harry put himself in the scene under a shade tree watching the people coming and going
around him. This is how Sully must feel, Harry thought and realized he should start with Sully's
story.

Harry straightened up and looked around his surroundings doing in real life what he'd been doing
on the page a moment before. He'd always wondered where Sully got all his stories, but his tale
about Harry's own parents and Nigel proved that he got them by sitting under that tree and
watching the world go by. It reminded Harry of the song "Fool on the Hill" by the Beatles.
Harry would be the fool on the hill for a while - if his mum let him come home that is. He
waited until her customers had paid for their purchases and moved on to the next stall before
approaching her. Unfortunately, his phone chose that moment to ring.

"Yes, Catherine?" Harry said turning away and walking back toward the pond where he'd left his
pack.

"Where are you, Harry? Honestly where are you coming from - Scotland?" Catherine said
impatiently no longer as sweet as she was in her message. Catherine was never long on patience.

"I'm at a Renaissance Fair, actually. I'll be along in two or three hours," Harry said looking at his
watch to see he'd been writing for over an hour without stopping. Maybe Sully had the right of
telling stories outside as well.

"Two or three hours? But Harry," Catherine said and he could picture her pouting and trying to
look irresistibly cute as she had done a million times before when she wanted something. How
she thought it would work over the phone was beyond him now that he saw through her act.

"There's nothing for it. There are mountains between here and there," Harry snapped not finding
her manipulating cute any longer.
"You don't have to get huffy. Just make sure you're ready to start when you get here.
Everything has to be ready for tomorrow," Catherine replied with a huffy sigh.

"About that - I - we - I don't have my tools," Harry said knowing that he couldn't say what he
wanted to without having to have the entire break up conversation over the phone with drunks in
medieval wear all around him not to mention his mother might hear and be even more
disappointed in him.

"Then don't bother, Harry. I swear I don't know why I put up with you!" Catherine said
hysterically with a small overwrought sob as punctuation thinking it would help her get her way.
Did she think he could do magic and conjure the tools she wanted him to bring out of thin air?
Stroppy cow, Harry thought with a weary sigh.

"I'll be there in a couple of hours and we'll discuss it then," Harry said and then for the first time
in the three years he'd known Catherine, he hung up on her. It started to ring immediately so he
shut it off. It was a struggle not to throw the thing in the little pond. When Harry turned around,
his mother was gone, her tent closed and Nigel was nowhere to be found.


Chapter 6

"Oi! Stop that! Would you please grow up?" Harry said knocking the ribbon Maggie was
tickling him with away from his ear. He'd been trying to add more characters to his notebook by
placing them in the village square scene. He'd also wondered how much of their story he wanted
to tell. Did he want to go Dickens on them and begin the stories of their lives with the beginning
of their lives by recording they were born or did he start with a defining moment that made the
rest of their life unfold as it did like his dad dying had defined Harry. Judging by the level of
asshole he'd risen to, it stood to reason that if his dad hadn't died and Harry had the opportunity
to become sullen and rebellious as a teenager he would probably have ended up in jail by now or
as one of the pricks what had attacked Sully.

"Hey, you two, don't make me turn this car around," Amy said with a snort of laughter. Harry
and Maggie were wedged in the back seat of Amy's Mini and Maggie had started her old tricks
twenty minutes into the journey. It had taken ten minutes of arguing who would sit where before
they set off and after directions were given and the weather discussed Harry had pulled out his
notebook and got back to work.

Gwen was still nowhere to be found and Harry didn't feel like he should leave his sister with just
Sully for oversight so he'd been forced to allow her along. Harry didn't like how boisterous the
crowd of his sister's admirers were being either. They'd told Sully where they were going and
when to expect them in Crack.

"I told you I should have taken the back," Reggie said looking over his shoulder in the cramped
car.
"Let you sit back here with my sister? Are you mad? Amy's only safe because she's driving,"
Harry said trying to tug the garland and offending ribbon off his sister's head so that he could
chuck it out the window. Maggie had jumped into the backseat first thing and while Harry
wanted to sit next to Amy, Reggie wasn't sitting in the back seat of any car with his sister even if
Harry was in the front seat to keep an eye on him. He'd suggested Maggie sit up front, but
Reggie had said no then started telling porkies about who was trying to cuddle up to who in the
cold the night before. Anyway, Harry was shorter than Reggie and had a better chance of fitting
in the back seat without doing permanent injury.

"Stop pulling my hair, you todger," Maggie said retaliating by going for Harry's midsection to
tickle him.

"Hey, watch that," Harry admonished grabbing her hands while doing some mental arithmetic on
how much longer he would be trapped in the car with his little sister. Another hour at least - he
was in hell.

"That's what Reggie calls you," Maggie retorted struggling to get free.

"Reggie isn't an example you should be following," Harry said carefully bringing his leg up to
fend off any unscrupulous attacks.

"Hey," Reggie said feigning hurt at Harry's insult. "So, Amy, after we drop off the kids, what
say we get tea before you head home?"

No, he was wrong before. He wasn't in hell until just now. Maggie stopped fighting with Harry
and looked out the opposite window while the moment stretched out. Say no, he silently willed
while Amy looked to be doing some mental arithmetic of her own.

"No, I think I'll have to get back on the road straight away if I'm to make it home before dark.
Perhaps another time," Amy said and Harry relaxed enough to notice Maggie was sniffling.
Harry knew he hadn't done anything to cause physical injury so he knew the tears got their
beginnings in Maggie's crush on Reggie. It hurt her feelings that Reggie was chatting up Amy
right in front of her. What was Reggie about anyway? Harry knew it was better Maggie got her
heartbroken early and moved on to other, more age appropriate boys, but it was still not very
well done of Reggie.

"Of course, can I have your number then?" Reggie said and Harry thumped him on the back of
the head with his pen. "Thanks, Harry and they pad as well, yeah?" Reggie asked taking the pen
out of Harry's hand and reaching for the notebook in Harry's lap. Reggie had a look in his eyes
when they met Harry's that said "trust me" as loudly as if he'd yelled it out the window.

"Yeah, all right," Harry said handing it over. It looked like Reggie was setting Harry up instead
of trying to make a run around him. Amy looked perplexed when she glanced in the rearview
mirror at Harry. He'd explain it to her as soon as he got a phone of his own tomorrow. If he
wasn't buying a ring or moving out of the house, he had the money for a phone and a couple
months of service. He'd worry about how he'd continue to pay it once he had a better idea where
he was headed.

"Jesus, Harry, you sure there's any ink left in this pen. Nearly has all the pages filled, he does,"
Reggie said paging through looking for a page that Harry hadn't written on. He finally found one
and Amy told him the number sounding reluctant. Harry hoped it wasn't a false number. He got
the feeling that Reggie's charm was failing him for the first time.

"So what were you and that bloke talking about for so long?" Harry asked eager to change the
subject. Maggie had rested her head on Harry's shoulder and was doing a very good imitation of
being asleep.

"Sir Ian Darby's his name. He wants to come up to see the swords I made. I've been hiding them
up in the rafters so the kids don't get any ideas. I'm thinking I might go down to check out their
practices - did you know they practice fighting - have honest to goodness warrior training
classes. Sounds like a bloody good time - no pun intended," Reggie said enthusiastically.
Reggie talked about different kinds of weapons and armor then somehow managed to meander
back to telling stories about the epic battles they'd pretended to fight as kids with sticks.

"And the tent poles," Harry added. "We had to sleep out in the open last night because we forgot
to put the tent poles back in the pack - I'm trying to remember - were we being Knights of the
Crusade that time or had Sully got us into being pirates by then?"

"I don't think we ever had any delineated phases," Reggie said and Amy started. Harry always
liked to see people's reactions when they realized Reggie had a brain.

"You were saving me from a dragon," Maggie interjected quietly and Reggie turned around in
his seat looking perplexed.

"Yes, you were always getting abducted by dragons, weren't you Magpie," Reggie said and
Harry got the impression he'd realized what effect Reggie asking for Amy's number had on
Maggie. "Regular dragon epidemic back in the day. You haven't needed saving recently though.
Been slaying your own dragons lately, then?"

"I'm not a child anymore," Maggie said not opening her eyes, but Harry recognized the firmness
in her features that she'd inherited from their mother. It was on the tip of Harry's tongue to say
that yes, she was still a child. She was only sixteen. Of course he wasn't far enough removed
from sixteen to not know how she felt and old enough to know better than to open his mouth on
the subject.

"I'm not saying you are. I'm saying you don't need anyone to fight your battles for you. You had
that bloke crying in the dirt Friday," Reggie said missing the point.

"Thom is an asshole and a wimp," Maggie said sitting up and staring out the window again.
"The bastard who said you were a freak? You should have told me and I'd have started with him
instead," Harry said putting a hand on his sister's back. He had missed out on a lot in the last
three years. He was overdue in his big brotherly duties.

"Yeah, well, my hair's normal now, but he knows I can kick his arse so it's come to the same
end," Maggie said with a shrug. Harry looked out the window feeling like if he wasn't looking at
his sister he was giving her some privacy. It was impossible to give her any space because she
had to practically sit on his lap for them both to fit in the back seat of the tiny car.

"What are you doing changing your hair for some blighter what would attack Sully?" Reggie
asked and Harry looked to see a fleeting look of jealousy cross his friend's features before it
disappeared. Harry hoped he'd just imagined it because he didn't want to chop off his best
friend's protruding parts as he'd promised in the kitchen back at the house. It was crazy to think
Reggie who'd been with at least two different women this past week and who knew how many
just in the past month would be jealous of someone else being interested in Harry's little sister.
Hadn't Reggie already said Maggie was too young?

"Oh belt up, Reggie, I'll change my hair for whatever reason I like," Maggie snapped then did her
best to curl up in a ball against the opposite side of the car. Harry knew Maggie had been talking
to Reggie about how she felt and confiding in him when she had a problem because Reggie
always told him. They were friends too after all these years. Maggie still had the little girl crush
mixing in with the friendship evidently, but surely it was on its way out if she was snapping at
Reggie.

Reggie opened his mouth and started to reach out a hand, but then thought better of it. Silence
descended once Reggie was facing forward again. They were nearly at the Cardiff limits. The
houses were becoming closer together and the city skyline was morphing from a blob into
individual buildings.

"I'm sorry you won't be able to have a bite with us before you head off, Amy," Harry said leaning
forward. It was an awkward and oppressive silence that felt like it didn't want to be broken, but
Amy had barely said a word for the entire trip and he felt like he was missing an opportunity to
let her know he was interested in her.

"Oh, I'm sure Catherine would adore me inviting myself to tea. No thanks. Which direction
should I be taking," Amy said with a trace of bitterness in her voice that matched Maggie's.

"I - we're nearly there actually," Harry said pulling his phone out and turning it on to access the
map to Catherine's he'd bookmarked. He saw he had fifteen voice messages and five texts and
turned it back off once he'd figured out which streets they'd need to turn on to reach their
destination. He wanted to tell her they wouldn't be having tea with Catherine, but knew he didn't
know what was about to happen. The smart move would be to pick up Reggie's car and have
Amy on her way before getting to Catherine's who very possibly might be looking out the
window. If Catherine saw Harry get out of Amy's car, everything would start off on a bad foot
and get worse. Would Catherine take the news well and want to talk? Not likely. Would she
pitch a fit and toss him out of her flat? More than possibly, but how long would it take her to get
to that point? How long would it take him to get to the point? He still had nothing to say for
himself. He longed to chuck her phone at her and run. Hysterics were on the menu this
afternoon to put it mildly. He didn't want to take Maggie with him for this, but didn't know what
else to do.

"Well, good luck, Maggie. Remember what I said," Amy said pulling up in front of Catherine's
building. She put the car in park and turned to look over her shoulder. She looked resigned and
not mischievous at all which in Harry's opinion was worse than all the tears Catherine could
generate.

"Why doesn't Maggie come with us, Amy? Magpie, all right?" Reggie asked bending down to
look into the car when he moved to let Harry out of the back seat. Harry looked at his friend and
wondered why Reggie was trying so hard to paint his sister as a child all the sudden. He had
done everything but offer to get her an ice cream if she was a very good girl.

"My name is not Magpie. I'm supposed to meet the strop - Catherine and see where Harry's
moving to for mum," Maggie said with a sniff. Her face looked like a thundercloud full of
defiant fury.

"Maggie, I would really like it if you went with Reggie and Amy. I don't know how long I'll be
and you can keep Reg company," Harry said grasping at the lifeline his friend was throwing him
even if Reggie was being rude in his method. He didn't want Maggie to see just how correct she
was in her assessment of Catherine's character and there was the possibility that Catherine would
say something mean about the way Maggie was dressed. The peasant girl outfit was very
flattering with the flowers, but Catherine didn't like to see anything positive in anyone but
herself. She'd criticize Maggie to tears just to get back at Harry for throwing her over. Maggie
was quite obviously having a bad enough day already without exposing her to the caustic
Catherine.

"I don't want to keep Reg company," Maggie said emphasizing the name with a derisive tone as
if he were a bug she wanted squashed as soon as possible while climbing out behind Harry. Both
Harry and Reggie's heads snapped in her direction. She must really be upset because Maggie
had never turned down a chance to spend time with Reggie. Most of the time when they were
growing up they'd had to hide from Maggie to keep her from following them around all the time.
She'd had a crush on Reggie since the first trip when his dad was still alive.

"Please, Maggie, what if Reggie gets lost getting back here to get us?" Harry asked checking to
make sure he had the phone and his wallet. Reggie getting lost was ridiculous, but Harry was
grasping at straws in an effort to get the interview with Catherine over with as few witnesses as
possible. He looked up and down the street and noticed an upscale coffee shop. If he couldn't
get Maggie to go with Reggie and Amy, he'd give her some money and send her there. Things
were going to get ugly and Maggie didn't need to see it or even be in the next room to overhear
it.

"How about a compromise? You take Maggie up to meet Catherine and we'll wait down here for
her so you can have your happy reunion in peace," Amy said sounding concerned and conflicted.
When Harry looked at her, she kept her eyes averted to hide her true feelings. Amy liked
Maggie and knew how cruel Catherine could be first hand, but she clearly would rather be
anywhere but here waiting while Harry went to see his girlfriend.

"He shouldn't be having a happy reunion. He should be coming home," Maggie said defiantly
crossing her arms and looking exactly like mum only shorter.

"I will be going home. You don't want to meet Catherine today. Trust me. Go with Amy, Mag -
gie," Harry said stopping himself before he called her Magpie again. He needed to get on her
good side to get her to stay in the car and drive away.

"I know why you're trying to get rid of me and it's gross. You are so desperate for a shag, you're
leaving me at the mercy of the horniest loser in Crack," Maggie said throwing up her hands after
pointing at Reggie. Harry was so stunned to hear his little sister talking like that, his mouth
dropped open.

"Now see here, you ungrateful little brat. When have I ever done anything to you to deserve
that?" Reggie yelled stepping closer. Harry blinked wondering if he wasn't in some bizarre
dream world. Why was Maggie taking out her temper on Reggie and why was Reggie rising to
the bait?

"It's not me what you've been doing - just everybody else in town. If you didn't think Harry
would murder you, you'd have chatted up mum by now. She's all that's left after the grannies
save me in town," Maggie said getting right in Reggie's face. The fight went out of Reggie with
a minute slump of his shoulders. He looked genuinely hurt by Maggie's harsh words. It was on
the tip of Harry's tongue to demand she apologize, but before he could get a breath in, Reggie
spoke.

"Well then, you should know you and your mum have nothing to fear from me. I promise not to
get any loser on you if you get in the car and come with us," Reggie said coldly looking Maggie
right in the eye. It was a battle of wills and Maggie looked away first.

"Harry, can I wait in the coffee shop? Please? I have some money," Maggie said looking up at
him with tears swimming in her eyes. Just then a group of lads walked by and into Catherine's
building with tattoos and piercings in every visible unacceptable place. One of them looked at
Maggie and smiled invitingly as he passed. Harry was grateful to see Maggie didn't smile back,
but rather rolled her eyes and looked away.

"No, it's not safe for you on your own. This is a city, not home," Harry said shaking his head.
So much for the idea of leaving Maggie in the coffee shop. Maggie obviously wasn't interested
in freaks, but that didn't mean the freaks wouldn't harass her or worse if they found her
unprotected somewhere.

"I'll stay. We can catch the train over to the man's house for my car. I was never chuffed about
being such a burden, Amy," Reggie said hanging his head after looking apologetically at Amy
who'd witnessed more than a few meltdowns the last two days. She had to think they were all a
bunch of nutters consigned to live in Crack to save the rest of the population from the craziness.

"Harry? What are you doing down there with all those people? Get up here now," Catherine
yelled down from a third floor window then slammed it shut without waiting for a response.

"I need to go. Maggie, please stay with Reggie. For me? Please?" Harry asked walking
backward toward the door to the building. Catherine was angry already before he began so there
was no way the next few minutes would be anything but ugly.

"Oi, take my phone. The man I'm meeting's number is saved in it. Call him when you're ready
to go," Reggie said tossing his cell to Harry. Harry had never seen Reggie so sad, but now
wasn't the time to discuss it.

"Go with Reggie, Maggie," Harry said then opened the door. He turned and walked quickly to
the lift looking out the door at the three people still standing on the sidewalk out front. He had
no idea what was going on with anyone and it was bothering him to walk out in the middle of the
discussion. It was a bit selfish, but he was on a mission. He had to finish things with Catherine
then he'd be free to go back and smooth over - whatever was wrong with Reggie and Maggie.
Amy would have to wait for another day altogether. One step at a time, Harry thought getting
off the lift on Catherine's floor and walking down the hall.

Harry was shocked to see the lads from the street were being welcomed into Catherine's flat by
one of her roommates from school wearing a black corset, a demi-mask, braces and fishnets, and
thong underpants that left only the most private parts to the imagination. Harry blinked as if he
could clear the disturbing sight simply by closing his eyes. As apprehensive as he was, Harry
followed the others through the door.

"Harry! About time, love," she said reaching up to stroke his face with her hand. He managed to
just avoid her touching him by bouncing his head off the doorframe opposite. The flat was full
of people in various states of dress and undress. The goth lads walked forward and were greeted
as old friends by some corporate looking type in a suit and tie. Hanging off him was another of
Catherine's roommates dressed in a red outfit that matched the first girl in black.

"This is Harry? Well, won't he be a change," one of the lads said with a raised eyebrow before
turning and walking deeper into the flat.

"Harry! I've missed you so," Catherine said walking into the hall in a white get up to match her
friend's black one and Harry's eyes nearly came out of his head. Everyone and everything
stopped at the sound of Catherine's voice.

"Catherine? What the hell is going on here?" Harry asked stopping dead just three steps inside
not wanting to get too far from a means of escape.

"It's a bit of a long story, but you're going to love it. I promise. Come in Harry and I'll explain
everything," Catherine simpered walking toward him. Everyone parted and bowed their heads as
if the queen were walking down the hall. He looked past her to see where there should have
been living room furniture lights and cameras arranged around a bed.

"No, I think I can guess. I just came to return your phone and tell you so long so - so long,"
Harry said pulling the phone out of his pocket while walking backward. He was nearly certain
he was dreaming because everything was too bizarre to be real. Still, he was going to complete
the task he'd set himself then hopefully find the white rabbit and the bottles that made him big
and small so he could get back through the looking glass.

"Oh, but Harry, I was counting on you to help with sets and writing," Catherine pouted walking
forward. Suddenly he was pinned between Catherine and her friend whose back was pressed
against the closed front door. "Who were you talking to? Who were those girls? You know
how I feel about you looking at other women. You're mine, Harry, and I won't share you,"
Catherine said and Harry laughed. It was nervous laughter, but the whole scene was absurd.
Catherine, who thought having sex in any other position than missionary was a first class ticket
to hell, was now a dominatrix.

"I'm not yours Catherine. I just came to end it because we weren't ever truly compatible and
we're really not compatible now. Different worlds and all that. Jesus - how did you end up in all
this in a month's time?" Harry asked, his curiosity getting the better of him when he caught a
glimpse of naked people walking around the bed in the far room.

"A month?" Catherine's friend said with a snort while running her hands up Harry's sides from
behind. She curled her long nailed fingers over his shoulders and started to massage expertly. It
felt nice, but Harry wasn't going to hang around for the happy ending which judging by the props
lying around wouldn't be very happy at all.

"We're very compatible, Harry. I've never had anyone as willing to please me as you have been
these last years. You've been such a good boy and it's time for your reward," Catherine said
putting her hands on Harry's chest.

"You know, the best reward I could ask for is for you to take this phone and let me out of here.
Must be off," Harry said pushing the phone into Catherine's hand then her away. He moved her
friend out from the door and opened it not wasting any time in getting as far as possible from the
craziness. Maybe he should bring Amy up and show her by comparison that Harry, his family,
and his friends were normal really and how crazy crazy could be.

"Harry!" Catherine said then stomped her foot like a four year-old about to throw a tantrum. She
followed Harry out the door and down the hall toward the lift catching up to him after he'd
pushed the button. He looked for a stairwell, but there didn't appear to be one.

"Don't be like that, Harry. Harry, please, my daddy said he likes you after all - if you don't want
to be involved in this, we can go back to the way we were at school. If daddy finds out about
this -" Catherine said pulling her mask off and turning on her pout full force. She batted her
eyelashes and simpered looking completely stupid acting the baby while dressed as a whore.
"He won't hear it from me. Honestly, I can't think of anyone who'd believe me if I told them
what I saw in your flat. Goodbye, Catherine," Harry said hard pressed not to laugh in her face.
He'd been such an idiot. Harry just hoped everyone hadn't left yet. If he'd known how easy it
would be to end it, he would have asked them to wait. He'd barely been upstairs five minutes.

"I don't want to let you go. You were very naughty making me wait a whole month. I thought
for sure you'd come after the first call I ignored," Catherine said confirming Harry's suspicion
that she'd been trying to and succeeding at manipulating him for years.

"I thought for sure you were a frigid bitch. Looks like we both were wrong - well half wrong in
my case. What are you doing now? You can't go out dressed like that - you'll get arrested,"
Harry said giving in to the laughter when she got on the lift with him. He liked women in
skimpy lingerie the same as any heterosexual male, but Catherine looked ridiculous.

"You are not leaving and that's the end of it," Catherine said striking a Wonder Woman pose in
front of the gate when the lift stopped on the first floor. If she was trying to intimidate him or
inflame his lust, she failed miserably. Maybe if she'd dressed up like that for him alone as a
special treat he would have felt differently, but knowing she was dressed as she was for attention
from cameras and strangers was a complete turn off. She was a joke at least, mentally unstable
at best, and heading for disaster definitely. He wasn't going to be along for the ride. He wasn't a
white knight and even if he was, there was no saving someone from themselves. He thanked
God Maggie had stayed outside.

"It's been - interesting, to say the least. Be seeing you," Harry said walking toward Catherine
hoping she'd get out of his way on her own. He put his hands on her waist to try to move her, but
she took it as an invitation and grabbed him around the neck and start kissing him. Harry used
this to his advantage, turning around so that he was standing outside the elevator while doing his
best to keep Catherine out of sight of the glass front doors. Harry looked out to see Reggie
covering Maggie's eyes and her struggling to get free while he led her away from the doors. Out
of the corner of his eye he could see Amy looking vaguely owl-like with her eyes wide open in
shock and her hand covering her mouth. Harry understood the sentiment. He was pretty
shocked himself.

"All right. Thank you so very much, but no," Harry said struggling to disentangle himself from
Catherine. She was putting up a good fight and eventually after pushing her hips away didn't
work, he pried her arms off his neck.

"You don't tell me no. No one tells me no," Catherine said reaching for Harry again, but this
time Harry didn't think she had hugs and kisses on her mind. The claws had come out. Her teeth
were bared and her eyes were blazing with anger.

"I've been thinking and I should have told you no a long time ago actually. It's just not going to
work out. You have all your new friends to console you after all. Let's not fight," Harry said
getting short of breath from the struggle to keep Catherine from scratching his eyes out and the
situation under control. Finally, he let go of chivalry. He had both Catherine's wrists in his
hands so he used them to push her as hard as he could against the back of the lift and made a run
for it.

"Get in the car! The car!" Harry yelled sprinting as fast as he could toward the door. He saw
Amy get in and start it up, but Reggie and Maggie were still arguing over Reggie's manhandling
to save her from seeing what a slut her brother had gotten himself involved with.

"Protecting my innocence? Who are you to lecture on innocence?" Maggie yelled oblivious to
the danger following Harry out the door of the apartment building.

"Jesus Christ!" Reggie yelled seeing the furious and sluttily clad Catherine limping out the door
with a stiletto in her hand (the other on her foot). Reggie scooped Maggie up as Harry dove into
the back seat then got in with Maggie on his lap. "Go!"

Amy stepped on the gas the second Reggie got the door closed and they were away. Catherine
was swearing and brandishing her shoe as they drove away. A few of her friends joined her,
thankfully with a dressing gown which was thrown not only over her body, but over her head.
Maggie was the weather girl on the local Cardiff station and it wouldn't look good if the bosses
daughter was involved in a sex tape scandal so early in her career. Harry started laughing when
they turned the corner. "Well, that didn't go exactly to plan," Harry said with a snicker.

"I'd say not," Reggie said, but he didn't sound like he was laughing. Maggie was struggling with
her many skirts on her costume, trying to get them to lay flat and cover her knees while blushing
furiously. Amy on the other hand was laughing with him.

"So the 'thing' you had to return?" Amy asked looking at Harry in the rearview mirror.

"The cellular phone Catherine gave me for my birthday. As you probably guessed I came down
to end it with her. I didn't expect her to take it well, but - uh, well - this was a little worse and a
lot more bizarre than I expected. I couldn't say anything until I told her first and I couldn't tell
her over the phone. Just rude, you know," Harry explained leaning forward to talk. Amy handed
him a tissue and he wiped the lipstick off his face where Catherine had attacked him lips first.
Amy's eyes met his in the rearview mirror and Harry got the impression she understood and
respected his code of honor.

"Fascinating - could we stop somewhere, please?" Reggie said gesturing toward Maggie on his
lap while doing his best not to touch her with his hands or arms and turning red. Harry had never
known Reggie to blush even when he was mad, but he was doing it now. "Stop squirming, for
the love of God," Reggie said through gritted teeth and Harry understood. He was grateful for
Reggie doing his best to protect his sister's innocence, but what was his friend doing getting
turned on because Harry's sister was on Reggie's lap?

"Don't worry, I won't get little girl on you," Maggie said huffily while Reggie did his best to look
anywhere besides at Maggie directly. For that, Harry would allow him to live.
"Of that you can be certain," Reggie said putting one hand on the door handle and the other on
the center console. Harry thought he could hear Reggie's teeth grinding over the sound of the
tiny little car's engine. Maggie for her part had pulled her arm from around Reggie's neck and
was sitting completely still with her arms crossed in front of her.

"We're almost to the place you wanted to pick up your car, Reggie. Sorry, Maggie," Amy said
entering a roundabout. Reggie instinctively steadied Maggie when she leaned with the inertia on
the curve, but returned his hands to their previous spots when the roundabout was behind them.
Harry had never seen Reggie so out of sorts or Maggie so mad at someone besides Harry. Even
when she'd been fighting on Friday, she'd looked more annoyed than angry.

"No worries," Maggie said quietly looking out the windshield with a frown.

"Thank you for bringing us down here, Amy. I wasn't thinking straight when I left the house
yesterday and trusted Google Maps," Harry said not wanting to let this opportunity to talk to
Amy slip away even if it could only be over the awkward silences between Maggie and Reggie.
Yes, he was admitting gullibility, but hadn't being under Catherine's thumb for years already put
paid to that flaw in his character?

"That's quite all right. If I'd known why you were coming down, I would have brought you the
entire way. I never knew what you saw in Catherine - well until today that is," Amy said with a
snicker.

"Oh, no, that, no - I've never seen her dress like that before. She wasn't even doing it for me,"
Harry said then looked over at his little sister. "Remind me to tell you about it some other time."

"Yes, wouldn't want the infant to hear you old folks talk about s-e-x," Maggie said disdainfully
shifting on Reggie's lap slightly so that she was sitting up straighter. "Hypocrites," she muttered.
"Especially you, Reggie," she added with a sniff.

"What did I say? I'm minding my own business here! We've already established I'm a huge
blooming man whore loser what you can't stand the sight of - new topic please," Reggie said and
the two of them fell into silence again. They were really angry with one another and it made no
sense, but since everything today fell into that category, he focused his attention back onto Amy.

"Are you sure you won't have dinner before you head home?" Harry asked hoping Amy didn't
think badly of him for trying to chat her up after breaking it off with Catherine twenty minutes
earlier.

"No, I don't think I should. I need to get back, but you've got my number next time you're
down," Amy said glancing back at Harry in the rearview mirror the mischief that had been
missing all day was back in her eyes and Harry gave her a wide smile in return.

"Right. I'll call you when I get a new number of my own so you'll have it," Harry said ignoring
the passive aggressive sighs and throat clearing issuing from his sister and his friend in the
passenger seat.
"All right?" Reggie asked when Amy hit a bump and bounced Maggie's head lightly off the
ceiling.

"Yes, sorry," Maggie said leaning back against Reggie for a moment when he wrapped his arms
around her waist to keep her from coming to any more harm. She sat back up almost
immediately with a dark red blush and Reggie went back to making a study of ways to keep his
hands to himself. They turned into a drive where a tarp covered car sat next to a brand new
BMW and Amy put the car in park.

"Uh, just out of curiosity, Amy - who is Eric?" Harry asked when she shut off the car.

"My uncle," Amy answered smiling over her shoulder and getting out.

"Uncle, hear that?" Harry whispered smacking the back of his fingers against his friend's
shoulder.

"Good for you. Help me with your sister," Reggie said with emphasis on the last two words as if
reminding himself of the relationship.

"I can get myself out," Maggie said reaching for the door handle.

"Oi, careful there," Reggie said and much wrestling and sounds of surprise and pain ensued.
Finally Maggie extracted herself, behind first, from the car. Harry was certain she'd given
Reggie an unimpeded view of her rack, but since it wasn't Reggie's fault he wouldn't hold it
against him. He was too happy at the moment to care much as it was.

A man came out the front door with a smile and a set of keys having heard them pull up
evidently, but Reggie was still in the car. "Reggie? What are you still doing in the car?" Amy
asked after greeting the man politely.

"Thinking of the queen," Reggie muttered then got out. Maggie, surprisingly, snickered and
walked over to stand next to Amy with a bounce in her step.

"We'll just be over here," Harry said once Reggie finally introduced himself to the man and
moved toward his new car. "Go look at Reggie's new car, Maggie," Harry said taking Amy's
hand and pulling her back toward the driver's side door of Amy's own car. Maggie, never being
easy to ditch stuck to them like glue.

"I don't want to spend any more time with Reggie than is absolutely necessary," she said loud
enough for Reggie to hear. Reggie for his part looked over at her while the man pulled the tarp
off the other car. It was just a glance, but Harry could tell Maggie had hurt Reggie's feelings
which was the second oddest thing to happen to him today after Catherine's revealing her double
life, but before being attacked in the forest by re-enactors. They'd had a hell of a day.
"Maggie, stop poking at Reggie. What's wrong with you?" Harry said stopping in his tracks. It
was going to be a long ride if Maggie didn't get her crabby attitude under control. Reggie hadn't
done anything other than treat Maggie as he always had - as Harry's little sister.

"Mind your own business," Maggie said then stomped off to the back of Amy's car and leaned
against it facing away from everyone. Harry wasn't sure if she was crying or not, but he didn't
have time to talk to her right now anyway.

"Amy - I don't know how soon I'll be able to make it down. I don't have a job and my car isn't
fit for recycling. I'm trying to figure out my plan B. When I do, I'd like to see you - if you're
free of course and if you want to that is," Harry sputtered. "Geez, what made me think I could be
a writer when I can't even make a declarative sentence work out," he said taking both of Amy's
hands in his and looking down at her.

"You're a great writer. Your mum showed me some of the stories you wrote as a kid. It's only
been a month, Harry. Don't be so rough on yourself," Amy said stepping closer. "You are Sir
Harry of Crack. Something will come up," she said with a sly smile. When Amy looked at him
like that, he felt like he could do anything.

"Oi, let's go. If we hurry, we can be back at the fair before the close and help Gwen pack up,"
Reggie said gruffly walking around to the driver's side door of a blue late model Volkswagen
Eos convertible. How the hell had Reggie been able to pay for it? Harry blinked and shook his
head and turned his attention back to Amy.

"Probably a good idea - I need to get on mum's good side before bedtime otherwise I'm going to
be sleeping in the woods again," Harry said laughing at his joke that wasn't. He wondered if
Amy knew how mad at Harry Gwen was and if she'd heard Gwen throwing him out the morning
previous. She'd have to be a pretty heavy sleeper not to, but she hadn't mentioned it to him.
Maybe he'd write Amy a letter on the ride back to Crack. Judging by Maggie and Reggie's
attitudes, he'd wouldn't have to worry about making conversation much.

"Well then, I guess this is it. Your mum's coming down to the shop. If you're not busy maybe
you could come along," Amy said suddenly shy. She bit her lip and squeezed his hands.

"I'll do my best. I'm so glad we ran into each other again," Harry said squeezing back. He
wanted to kiss her, but standing in the middle of a bunch of people in a stranger's drive, it didn't
seem like the right place or time. Instead he hugged her harder and a little longer than was polite
hoping she'd understand and appreciate his need to wait for the perfect circumstance for such an
important milestone. He wondered if he could get her back up on the ledge at some point. That
would be perfect.

"See you soon, Harry," Amy said hugging him back then stepping away. Their eyes met and
held and he got the impression that she did understand what he was thinking. Harry didn't want
to be the first to look away, but he could feel at least four eyes fastened on the two of them and
he chose to give a killing glare to the closest and most annoying pair - his little sister's. When he
looked at her though he saw they were ringed in red and slightly moist and he didn't have the
heart to try to scare her away with a look.

"You forgot your notebook," Maggie said handing it to him then giving Amy a hug. Amy
whispered something in Maggie's ear Harry couldn't make out, but Maggie chuckled and nodded
before walking toward the door that Reggie was standing next to with her head held high.

"Nice meeting you, Reggie. See you," Amy said tugging the notebook out of Harry's hand and
opening it after taking the pen from inside the metal spiral where Harry had clipped it. "I gave
Reggie the wrong number. Don't tell him. I didn't want to hurt his feelings," Amy whispered
crossing out the number Reggie had written and writing another below it.

"Maggie's got that covered. Next time you come up, we'll try to have less drama," Harry said
accepting the notebook from Amy with a big grin as they walked back to her car.

"I had a good time," Amy said once Harry had her door open for her.

"Believe it or not, so did I," Harry said running the weekend's events through his head. Despite
the fights, getting kicked out of the house, getting chased out of a building by a nutter trying to
stab him with a shoe, he'd had a good time.

"So, see you," Amy said reluctantly getting inside her car.

"Yeah, see you," Harry said equally reluctant as he watched her fasten her seatbelt.

"For the love of God let's go already!" Reggie yelled from inside the car. Harry closed Amy's
car door and stepped back while keeping his eyes firmly on her face. He may have glanced at
her cleavage, but it was only because he would need something pleasant to think about for the
long ride home. It was almost medicinal in nature, his lecherous look was. Amy started the car
then waved as she backed out. Harry kept walking backward until she was out of sight then after
a wave to the man who sold the car to Reggie, got inside on the passenger side. He'd expected to
fight with Maggie over the front seat, but she was silent as a statue and equally stiff sitting in the
back seat.

"Wow, this is a nice car, Reg. Well done," Harry said feeling the soft leather seats before putting
on his seatbelt. The car looked brand new.

"Thanks. Not bad for a loser, eh?" Reggie said bitterly flicking a glance in the rearview mirror at
Maggie as he put the car in reverse.

"Weren't you going to put the top down?" Harry asked as Reggie pulled out on the street driving
the opposite direction from the way Amy had went. He looked back in time to see her turn a
corner and disappear.
"No, her royal highness's lovely tresses would get too mussed," Reggie said sourly confirming
Harry's assessment of the mood that would be dominating the trip north. Harry had been moody
and quiet on the trip down so it was only fair for Reggie and Maggie to have their turn.

"Harry, can we take the train home?" Maggie said from the back seat matching Reggie's tone
perfectly.

"No, we can't. What are you two on about?" Harry asked, but got stony silence back from both
his best friend and his little sister. "All right, fine. Everyone's tired - can't say anything nice and
all that - shall we listen to music then?" Harry asked, but didn't wait for an answer. He turned on
the radio and fiddled with the controls until it was playing something hopefully everyone would
like. Everything would work out in time.


Chapter 7

Harry walked out of the bathroom after his shower with only Maggie's ruddy Harry Potter towel
around his waist to find Amy standing naked beside his bed. Instead of saying she didn't know
he liked Harry Potter so much, she reached out to him without a word and took his hand. Harry
dropped the towel and folded her warm, soft body in his arms. He was chilled from his shower,
but in his gut a fire was building. Their lips touched gently at first, then more firmly until they
were tangling their tongues together and breathing in fast pants.

Harry reached behind Amy and pulled back the blankets then laid down next to her. They took
their time touching and exploring, rolling around in his bed, which for some reason was bigger
than he remembered it. Harry reveled in how lush and soft Amy was settling with her above
him. Amy sat back, smiling serenely down at him. She opened her mouth to say something, but
it wasn't her voice.

"Dreaming again," Harry groaned trying to stretch out, but not having much luck in the cramped
car. Harry had folded down the back seats of his car and hung his grandfather's tent from the
ceiling with a staple gun to block out the sun so he could sleep past dawn. He was exhausted
after the weekend's adventure and had planned to sleep until at least noon. He'd never done that
in his life and he'd decided to give it a go. He was unemployed and homeless, he might as well
act like it. Looking at his battery-powered alarm clock, it was clear his bright idea to keep
sunlight at bay had worked, but it was only seven and someone was tapping on his window
wrecking his master plan. He knew it wasn't Reggie because Reggie had helped him push his
Corsa behind the garage where the nosy old ladies out for their morning strolls wouldn't see him
and start telling tales. He'd showered at the garage and moved into his new lodgings with just
the smelly clothes on his back. He just hoped his mum would let him in the house to get clean
ones on occasion so he wouldn't have to try and fit everything in his tiny car.

"Harry, wake up, lad," Nigel said louder giving the car a shake. Harry rubbed the sleep out of his
eyes and moved the tent aside to roll down the window. He'd been careful to make sure the tent
flaps were in a place to make getting in and out by the driver' side door possible. Since the
passenger door stuck and the window didn't roll back up once down, it was only solution.
"Good morning, Nigel. I'm sorry, but I'm not working today," Harry said blinking to get used to
the gray morning sunlight framing his best friend's father.

"What are you doing sleeping in your car? You're mum is so mad at you, she said more than
three words to me this morning," Nigel said leaning down to look into the little lair Harry had
made for himself.

"You said it yourself - mum's mad at me. I was hoping she'd feel sorry for me and let me in to
get clean knickers, but I must say it doesn't sound promising," Harry said feeling a little stung.
He was extremely happy to be free of Catherine and to know that Amy would rather give her
phone number to Harry than to Reggie, but remembering how his mother had yelled at him hurt
dimming what should have been a pretty good day to start a new life. "Still and all, Nigel, I'm
taking a day off. Haven't had one since God was a boy and I think I'm due. Whatever it is, I'll
tackle it tomorrow - ah damn - mum's got my tool belt too. She won't want to give me dad's
tools. Just about the only thing of his she kept. I'll have to borrow some of yours if you want my
help. I can't afford new right now," Harry explained matter-of-factly not wanting Nigel to think
Harry was wallowing in self pity or anything.

"Of course she'll give you Dan's tools. He wanted you to have them. This pig headed stunt of
sleeping in your car has got to come to an end. Get up and go apologize to your mother. You're
lucky to have her - ask Reggie if his life wouldn't have been better with a mother, why don't
you?" Nigel said frowning down at Harry. It was on the tip of Harry's tongue to say it wasn't a
picnic growing up without a father either, but he held himself in check. He was starting new
today and that meant no more letting his mouth get him in trouble. He was going to think before
he spoke from now on.

"It wasn't a pig headed stunt. I'm surprised you didn't hear since the windows were open - mum
called me an ungrateful bastard and told me to get out when I told her I had to go down to
Cardiff Saturday instead of helping her at the fair. I would have stayed, but I felt like I needed to
get things with Catherine done and out of the way," Harry explained sitting up as best he could in
the cramped space. "I figured if I stayed out of her way and didn't cause her any more work on
my account she'd let me come home eventually. That's the other reason I'm taking today off.
I've wasted enough time and money thinking I'm a writer. I need to figure out what I'm going to
do. You think mum would let me rent my room? If I got a job, that is. I understand this is a
small town and it's embarrassing for her to have me about, but I can't spend too many nights in
this car or I'm going to end up a hunchback."

"She didn't mean it, Harry. Come in the house and talk to her. Have some breakfast," Nigel said
crouching down so that he was even with Harry.

"No, she did and she was right. She's spent years taking care of me, trying to get me to be
something, but I failed and she's fed up. Who wouldn't be? Look where I live, Nigel. I'm really
very tired and I've got a lot to think about. I'd invite you in for tea, but I all I've got is a bag of
pretzels Reggie nicked from the pub - I should probably pay you for those come to think of it,
but later all right?" Harry said then dropped the tent back over the window. So much for an
optimistic new start.

The first dent in Harry's bright outlook had occurred during the hour and a half it took to get
back to the fair. Maggie and Reggie gave snappish, one word answers to every question Harry
had asked in hopes of starting a conversation. Harry had wanted to ask Maggie if their mum had
said anything, but Maggie looked upset enough already so he'd tried to stick to neutral topics.

The second came, not unexpectedly, when they got back to the fair. His mother had ignored him
completely as he loaded her van almost entirely by himself. Reggie had gotten out of the car and
stormed off leaving the door open and the seat forward to let Maggie out as a fleeting nod at
chivalry. Harry thought he was off talking to Sir Ian Darby about armor, but Sir Ian had stopped
by and asked after Reggie just as they were finishing up. Nigel had already left in his truck with
Sully and Maggie took the only open seat in the van. She gave Harry a pained look as Gwen
climbed in and started the engine. Harry closed the side doors and watched his mum and sister
drive off without him. Nigel had taken his pack so Harry was glad to see Reggie when he
stepped out from behind another of the tents. The ride home was silent, but not as tense as the
ride up from Cardiff with Maggie. Harry had wanted to tell Reggie about Catherine shooting a
porno in her living room, but Reggie didn't look like he was in the mood for a laugh.

Recounting his sins to Nigel made them more real. Couldn't hide from something once it was
out there. All he could do was move forward. Granted, moving into his car wasn't going
forward, but it was what he had and it wasn't like the car was good for anything else. At least
living in the car wasn't moving back to mooch off the parents - or in Harry's case parent. He'd
need to remember to put blocks around the wheels so that he didn't go to sleep in Crack and
accidentally wake up in the Vyrnwy down the hill. Harry wrestled around trying to get
comfortable, finally ending up leaning against the forward leaning passenger side seat with his
feet against the back window. It wasn't the softest mattress, but at least Harry wasn't curled in a
ball.

He pulled his sleeping bag up and tried to go back to sleep. He tried to focus his mind on Amy
in hopes of picking up his dream where it left off, but it was no use. Something was shaking the
car slightly and there was a sniffing noise coming from below the open window on the other side
of the canvas. Thinking he'd have to scare away a dog big enough to shake his car, Harry picked
up one of his heavier books and pulled the tent out of the way praying that it wouldn't jump in
the window and eat him. He was having a bad enough day without being devoured by a wild
animal, thank you very much.

"Maggie, what are you doing here? You should have been on the bus to school already," Harry
said sticking his head out and looking down to see the bowed head of his little sister whose
crying was causing the slight tremor that had been keeping Harry awake. Why was everyone
always crying? Amy didn't cry. He should have went to Carmarthen. He wouldn't have been
any better off, but how much worse could he have had it? It was probably warmer at night in
Carmarthen being in a river valley as it was instead of up in the mountains. He was going to
have to find something before fall regardless. If nothing else he could go be homeless in
Cornwall. It was always warm in Cornwall.
"If I take down my posters and put different towels in the loo, will you stay home?" Maggie
asked turning around and looking up at him. Her eyes were swimming with tears and her bottom
lip was trembling. Harry flashed back to her at six crying for her daddy not to leave and he felt
about three inches tall.

"You know that's not why I have to go. Mum's had it with me. You heard her. It won't be like
when I was away at school. As soon as I get settled someplace with a job and what not, you can
come visit. You need to go wash your face and I'll find some way to get you to school," Harry
said reaching for his shoes.

"I'm not going back to school."

"You most certainly are. I've already filled the family wastrel quota so you're going to have to
finish school, go be brilliant at university, then select the best position of the dozens and dozens
you're sure to be offered. You'll get married and bring your children to visit poor, loopy Uncle
Harry out living in his very well built shipping carton twice a year," Harry said sticking his head
back out the window to urge Maggie to move so he could get out. "So long as your degree isn't
something worthless like history and journalism, you'll do well," he said with a grin he hoped
would make his sister stop crying and smile too. It didn't work.

"Please don't leave again, Harry. If I go to school will you be here when I get back?"

"What choice do I have? I don't have so much as a bicycle and as I found out Saturday, Wales is
chock full of mountains - makes it hard to get anywhere without a vehicle. Who knew?" Harry
said hugging Maggie and rocking her back and forth like he did when she was little and had a
bad dream. Harry'd always done his best to get her quiet before mum woke up thinking it was
part of the duty his dad had left him. Whenever Harry had had a bad dream, his dad would
always rock him and tell him not to wake mum. Harry wondered what life would have been like
if his dad hadn't died then felt a flash of anger at the burden he'd dropped on Harry robbing him
of his childhood and the even bigger burden on Gwen. He quickly pushed the anger away. His
dad didn't die on purpose. He had an inoperable brain tumor. It was stupid to be mad at him, but
Harry still got mad every so often. These flashes were always followed by guilt which he didn't
need any more of right now.

"Everybody who has ever seen a map knows Wales is full of mountains. So you promise you'll
stay then?" Maggie asked looking up at him and biting her lip.

"Promise. I'm going to talk to Sully today I think. Let's find Nigel so you don't get in trouble
with mum for missing the bus. He tells me she's too mad at me to be mad at anyone else, but
let's not tempt fate, shall we?" Harry said as a fine mist started to fall. It was the kind of rain that
would last all day. Harry rolled up his car window then walked with Maggie around the garage.
When Harry poked his head around the corner of the garage to check if the coast was clear since
mum would be able to see them walking across from the garage to the pub if she were looking
out the front window, Reggie nearly knocked him over coming the other direction.
"Dad's having another row with your mum. I'll take Maggie to school. Come on," Reggie said
solemnly giving Maggie a deep frown. Maggie opened her mouth to protest, but thought better
of it and nodded.

"Don't forget your promise," she said giving Harry a pleading look.

"We'll have dinner together at the pub, yeah?" Harry asked anxious to do anything to stop his
sister crying. If he thought begging his mum on hands and knees to let him come home would
help he'd do it, but that would just be another reason for mum to add to the list of ways Harry
had failed.

"Okay," Maggie said and finally smiled.

"Thanks, Reg," Harry said and received a nod from his friend before he walked Maggie inside
the garage where the car was parked. Harry watched them drive away before going into Reggie's
bathroom behind the shop.

He was scruffy with three day's growth on his chin and he hadn't brushed his teeth in that long
either. He thought about going over to the house, knocking politely on the door, and asking for a
few of his things, but Reggie had said Nigel and mum were in a fight. Getting in the middle of a
fight between Nigel and mum was what prompted his mother to kick him out in the first place so
he decided that might not be for the best at the moment. He used some of Reggie's mouthwash
so he wouldn't knock Mrs. Jones out when he said good morning while buying a new toothbrush
and decided the shave could wait until he wasn't homeless any more. He'd never had a beard
before and now that mum wasn't speaking to him, she wouldn't nag him to shave he had the
opportunity to grow one. Harry supposed that if there was a silver lining to the situation he
found himself in, that would be it.

Harry wandered across the town square just as Sully came out the door. "G'morning, your
majesty. Had breakfast yet?" Harry asked ambling over to the older man and helping him step
down the two risers to the sidewalk.

"I was headed over to see what young David might have on the grill this morning. How was
Cardiff?" Sully asked when Harry fell into step beside him to walk back the way he'd come.
Breakfast at the pub wasn't a bad idea. He'd be spending plenty of time there regardless and
when Sully went back to his day doing whatever it was he did while everyone else was working,
Harry could sit in a corner and figure out his finances and decide what his next step would be.

"It was - good and bad. My ex-girlfriend chased me out of her building trying to stab me with a
shoe, but at least she's my ex now which was a good thing. I've got Amy's number to call her,
but I don't have a phone to call her with. I'm going to have to figure out a way later to get to
Welshpool or somewhere to pick up a few things. I was going to check the papers to see if
there's any place near hiring. What about you, Sully? How was the fair? Have a good time?"

"Bit of a laugh it was once away from the sourpusses. I can't stand to see people wasting time.
One of these days they'll be old and they'll wish they'd not faffed around quite so much. I know
what I'm talking about. Not a day goes by that I don't look back and find years on end of faffing
around that I'd love to get back. I should have known better. Did you know out of my squad, I
was the only one to come back from Korea? Me mates are probably up there looking down on
me debating on who gets to kick my arse first for not doing more with my life," Sully said with a
chuckle.

"I was a turret gunner. Somebody got a one in a million shot through one of the lookout slots
and I got a ricochet bullet in the leg. They dumped me out with the medics and got a mortar
smack on top of them before they even got down the road. Bobby came out alive, but he was
burned up bad," Sully said solemnly looking down at the ground as he walked slowly along.

"I'm sorry, Sully," Harry said not knowing what else to say. The Korean War had been over for
fifty years, but Harry felt like he should say something. One of the options Harry had been
contemplating was going into the military, but hearing Sully's story had him crossing it off the
list.

"Yeah, me too. But enough of that - what of you, Sir Harry? What of your battle with the shoe
demon?" Sully asked and for the first time Harry told a story to Sully. He had Sully laughing
over Harry's description of Catherine's rage and the quick getaway they'd made by the time they
walked into the pub. They got food from David then went to sit at a table where Sully told Harry
a similar story from his youth, but it was the mother of the girl Sully had been caught with and a
hard-soled bedroom slipper chasing Sully out the door with his hands over his head.

"Sully, where did my dad live before he moved away with mum?" Harry asked when they came
to a lull in the laughter. Harry was almost ashamed of waiting ten years to ask someone, but
talking about his dad with his mother always made her cry so he'd learned not to talk about him
at all. Until Sully had told him the story of Nigel and his dad the day before, Harry hadn't even
known Nigel and Daniel were friends.

"Your dad didn't live in Crack. He'd come up from school with Nigel every day until his parent
drove up in their fancy car to fetch him. Lived across the street from the school he did. Had a
bicycle he'd ride up on before he was old enough for his license then his parents got him a nice
new car to take off to school with him when he went. They weren't too chuffed when he dropped
out of school after a year and took up building. He was a natural at it - just as you are. He'd be
proud of you for finishing. You'll do well once you catch on," Sully said reaching over the table
to whack Harry on the shoulder.

				
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