|Geoff Maynard had made himself a secret den in one of the Freudesheim attics, out of an assortment of broken old furniture and old boxes. It was such a secret that he hadn’t even told his twin sister about it. It was nice to have a place that was for his exclusive use, where he could hide his various treasures and sit and think. |
It was Christmas Eve and it was quiet up in the attics. Con had often sat up there with her typewriter, but now she wasn’t living at Freudesheim anymore. Geoff wished she was. He also had his biggest and most secret wish that his Mamma and Papa would come back from wherever they had gone. Mary-Lou had explained that Papa was tired and needed a long rest, but Geoff didn’t see why Mamma, Claire and Rosli had gone away as well.
He frowned, thinking about it. Mary-Lou was nice, but she was going to have her own babies come out of her tummy soon and then she and Rix wouldn’t want the Maynard twins. What would happen to them? Len had said something about going away to school in England soon but Geoff didn’t like the idea of that, even if it meant more boys to play with. He didn’t want to go away.
Christmas Day without the vast majority of his family ended up being more fun than Geoff had anticipated. Len had taken the twins to Midnight Mass at Our Lady of the Snows and it had been exciting to stay up so late. Reg had also handed over a smashing amount of money for a present. Maybe even enough for a train ticket to Biel, Geoff thought hopefully, counting it once again on Christmas morning before tackling his stocking.
"Where’s Mary-Lou?" he asked, as they finished up breakfast.
"Church," Rix said, shortly, pouring himself more coffee.
"Did she go on her own?" Phil asked.
"No, with the Rosomons. That reminds me, you two, I want you to be especially nice to Peter when you go back to school."
Geoff looked up, alarmed. Did Rix know? He didn’t look angry, so Geoff relaxed. He couldn’t know. Peter wouldn’t have said anything.
"Why?" Phil demanded.
"Daisy told me she was worried about him, he hasn’t been very happy lately. I rather thought you two could try and be his friends. You don’t mind, do you?"
"No," Geoff said, frowning. He decided to change the subject. "Why don’t you go to church, Rix?"
"Because I’m a man of science." Rix answered, grinning at Geoff’s bafflement. "I just don’t. That’s enough questions. Why don’t we go and open presents?"
"But Mary-Lou’s not back yet." Phil stated, slurping down the last of her milk.
"I just heard the door." Rix started to stack the used china. Due to the advanced state of Mary-Lou’s pregnancy, the rest of the Maynard children had been invited to the Quadrant for Christmas as Anna had gone to spend a fortnight with her family in the Tyrol. The twins however, had asked if they could stay at Freudesheim.
Mary-Lou came in, shivering slightly.
"It’s so cold! I think it’s going to snow. Any more coffee in that pot, darling?
"Of course," Rix poured it for her, pulling out a chair for her to sit down on. She was now seven months pregnant and very large. Neil Sheppard had confirmed beyond a doubt that she was expecting twins.
"Hurry up, Mary-Lou! Presents!" Geoff cried and Phil danced around the room in excitement. Mary-Lou pulled a face at them and bolted her coffee.
As soon as he could after they had opened the presents, Geoff escaped upstairs to his den. He had felt a hateful, shaming feeling inside when Rix had mentioned Peter Rosomon. His conscience was starting to wake up and tell him that he had done something very bad indeed.
By the end of their Christmas dinner, it was snowing hard. The twins pressed their faces against the window to watch. Rix had gone outside to let Bruno have a run around the garden and a smoke.
“It’s really coming down.” Phil said. “Will the Rosomons be coming tomorrow still, Mary-Lou?”
Geoff was startled, “Are they coming here?”
“Yes, for lunch.” Mary-Lou said, adjusting the curtains. “I thought you knew. You’ll have Tony and Peter to play with, so hopefully the snow will freeze overnight and you can go outside for sledding.”
“I can’t go sledding, can I?” Phil asked, woefully. “Papa says not till next winter cause my leg’s not strong enough now but it might be then.”
“Why don’t you have a snowball fight, then?” Mary-Lou said, with a smile at little Phil, who still showed signs of delicacy following an attack of polio in her babyhood. “Mary’s probably too small, but I’m sure Uncle Laurie and Rix will join in – and I wouldn’t put it past Daisy either!”
“Why not you?” Phil asked. “Because of the babies in your tummy?”
“Well, yes. I can’t run round until they’re born. Geoff, you’re very quiet, what mischief are you plotting?”
“Nothing.” Geoff replied. He was worrying about Tony. What if Peter had told him about the time he had smashed up the den or pushed Peter over on the path? Tony was ten and went to school in England, making him appear very grown up and important.
He slept badly and woke early the next morning, still worrying. Usual he had a fine appetite for breakfast, but today he stirred his porridge around until it grew cold and lumpy and refused toast and marmalade.
“Are you ill?” Rix asked, with some humour. Geoff usually demolished everything put in front of him.
“No! Besides, you’ve only had coffee yourself!” Geoff retorted, so tightly coiled with tension that he nearly shouted.
“Do you think you could manage to behave yourself?” Rix asked, with the icy politeness that Geoff knew meant he was annoyed.
He subsided at once, to return to stirring his porridge. He glared at the table trying to will the tears back into his eyes, wishing that he had never done anything to Peter.
The Rosomons arrived early, the boys had brought their sleds and kind Daisy had brought a selection of games to amuse Phil.
“Hi Geoff.” Tony said, easily. “What do you think of my new sled? I got it for Christmas. What did you get?”
Geoff told him, feeling some relief, but the look on Peter’s face made him feel awful again. He looked frankly terrified.
“Why don’t you three go out into the garden? Take Bruno out with you, if you like. Don’t go into the school grounds though.” Rix said, before moving away to talk to Laurie. They were at least on speaking terms now, although too much had happened for them to ever really be friendly again. Still, Rix wanted to give him the latest news of Con before Mary-Lou let it slip.
Tony ran on ahead, with Bruno, leaving Geoff to walk with Peter. Peter was silent.
“What did Father Christmas bring you?” Geoff asked, but Peter still didn’t say anything.
Geoff was nothing if not persistent, so he tried again, asking Peter when Tony would be going back to his prep school.
“Why do you want to know?” Peter responded, his eyes filling with tears. “Leave me alone – I hate you!” he added, with uncharacteristic anger.
Geoff stared at him for a few seconds, then suddenly dropped the rope of his own sled and ran away, as fast as he could through the heavy snow.
Deliberately disregarding the fact that he had been told not to leave the grounds, he went through the gate in the hedge and stumbled across the large lawns of the school, looking for a place of refuge.
Tony came dashing back to his little brother.
“Where’s Geoff gone? Why are you crying?” he asked. “I’m going to get Dad. Were you fighting?”
“He – he hates me, he said he did...” Peter sobbed, incoherently. Bruno came over and nudged him gently with his head.
“Stay here – I’m going to get Dad.” Tony said, dumping his prized new sled and heading back into the house as fast as he could.
Sequel to A Problem for the San