At one forty-five, the Range Rover drew into the short stay car park at Cheltenham station. Sam jumped out.
“Stay there, and I’ll get a parking ticket and find out which platform.”
He was back in a couple of minutes.
“Here. Shove this in the windscreen. It’s platform four, and the train is on time. Bonnie and I will wait here. You go meet the boys.”
Anna all but leapt out of the car, kissed Sam hastily, then dashed off. Sam put Bonnie’s lead on then let her out of the car.
“Want a wee while we wait?”
Bonnie wagged, so Sam locked the car and they went over to a small square of grass at the far end of the car park. By the time Bonnie had found a suitable place to perform, Sam could see a crowd heading out of the station concourse. He surmised that a train had arrived, and wondered aloud if it was Danny and Paul’s. Bonnie looked at him intelligently and he patted her head.
“Oh yes. It is them. I can see your Mum now. It looks as though somebody has her in a side headlock. Would that be Danny do you think?”
Bonnie wagged, and tugged him gently towards where a biggish, square-shouldered sandy-haired guy was busily mussing Anna up, watched by a slender and very handsome blonde man who was hung about with luggage and trying very hard not to laugh. Bonnie put her feet on the arm of the big guy and growled deep in her throat but with her tail rotating like the blades of a helicopter. The man dropped Anna and fell to his knees on the ground beside the dog.
“Hello Bon Bon, you pleased to see your uncle Danny?”
Bonnie vibrated happily and Danny held out his arms for a big canine hug. Anna came and snuggled Sam’s arm, she was giggling and vibrating almost as much as her dog. The blonde guy was the first to recover his composure. He held out a hand to Sam, who shook it firmly.
“Pleased to meet you. You must be Paul.”
“Ditto. You must be Sam. I’m surprised to discover that Anna displays a modicum of taste in her choice of man.”
“You’ll have to work harder than that to get a rise out of Sam. His best mate is gay, and his partner makes you look butch. Plus. Sam’s ex-wife is Tariq’s latest submissive.”
Paul’s eyes rounded in surprise, then he sniggered.
“Does that mean Sam beats you?”
“No. But I’ll let him beat you if you don’t stop being deliberately confrontational.”
Danny got up from the ground with Bonnie in his arms. “She’s right, love. You are being a bit bitchy.”
“Yeah. I guess I am. Sorry. But you’d better be good to Anna, or I’ll come talk you to death.”
Danny put Bonnie down carefully and reached over to rub his partner’s head.
“By the way she looks, he is… And did you get a load of the rock?”
“I most certainly did not. Show me at once.”
Anna held out her hand.
“It’s exquisite. Who chose it?”
“Sam saw it first, and I was just as bowled over.”
Paul dropped his world weary pose and hugged Anna.
“Be happy you. It’s about time.”
Danny held out his hand to Sam.
“Pleased to meet you. I never thought to see my baby sister so glowing.”
“I’m glowing too, but being a man it don’t show!”
Danny and Paul both laughed, as did Anna.
“C’mon you lot. Let’s get in the car and go home.”
Sam unlocked the car.
“D’you mind if Anna sits in the back with me?” Danny asked almost shyly.
“Course not. You haven’t seen each other for ages. I’m sure Paul and I can entertain each other. And if he don’t behave I’ll throw him out and make him walk.”
“You’re all right. I’ll behave. One: I hate walking. Two: You really aren’t phased by gay bitchiness. Three: Anna seems entirely happy for the first time ever, so it ill behoves me to try and make you uncomfortable.”
“Okay,” Sam said equably. “I’ll be nice too.”
Paul nodded and got into the passenger seat.
“Sorry, I’m feeling a bit sharp around the edges right now. But that’s no excuse for trying to get a rise out of you. Especially as something tells me you aren’t exactly a stranger to prejudice yourself.”
“Indeed not. You might be gay, but I’m black. I think that makes us quits.”
Paul laughed a bit shakily.
“I really owed you that apology.”
“Just forget it.”
“Thanks. It’s just that Danny got told he would be an ambassador by now if I wasn’t on the scene. He ain’t bothered. But…”
“Yeah. That’s a bummer. However. Try looking at it from a different angle. When I was married, it was to a woman who looked precisely the part of a successful doctor’s wife, not only was she blonde enough to compensate for my dark skin, she also knew exactly how to stroke the egos of the great and the good. But she was, and is, an absolute bitch and I was fucking miserable. Even so, when she threw me out my superiors felt it reflected badly on me. A black man like me should have done more to keep hold of a lovely blonde wife. And they didn’t care whether or not I knew how they felt. I actually told one of them to piss off. Could have been sticky, but my representative played the race card for all it was worth and I got away with it. Anyway, that’s not the point. What I’m trying to explain is that you and Danny are happy, and that’s worth more than any job in the world. So don’t feel guilty…”
“I was. But I think I’m not now. Thanks. I think.”
The rest of the drive passed pleasantly, as Sam and Paul felt their way towards friendship, while Anna and Danny talked nineteen to the dozen in the back of the car and Bonnie sat between them grinning a doggy grin.