It took half an hour in the car to get back to the estate, but Dominic smiled when his dad made a detour halfway there and stopped off at their favourite restaurant. He noticed Chandler’s long hair being pulled back into a ponytail and a grin appearing on his lips as he prepared himself for food.
Rocco looked confused, so he decided to explain as his dad talked in the background.
“Dad’s going to take you shopping to get you some new things.” He signed to him.
Rocco frowned, apparently unhappy about that.
“He just wants you to have some clothes right now. We can do a real shop for anything else later. But since we might be out for a little while, we’re going inside to get something to eat.” He explained, as Chandler unbuckled his belt and turned to flash Rocco a smile. He was leaning one elbow on each of the front seats, waiting to hear the verdict.
“But it’s not dinner time.” Rocco replied in sign.
“Are you hungry?” Dominic asked him. He knew Chandler was and his stomach was starting to growl at him for waiting so long. It was nearly two o’clock already and none of them had eaten lunch yet, thanks to his morning classes running over. “We’re all hungry, but if you’re not then you don’t have to eat.” He explained, so that he didn’t feel pressured to eat just because they would.
“I’m hungry.” He finally admitted with a faint smile.
“Good. They have great food in here.” He promised in sign, before turning and nodding to Chandler. He practically bounced out of the car and over to the front door.
Dominic shook his head and figured he was just dying to flirt with a particular waitress, as usual. He undid his seatbelt and was about to get out the car when Rocco touched his arm. He turned to see him hugging his clock with one hand and the tablet with the other. And still he managed to sign one handed.
“Where do I put these?” He asked.
“Do you want to take them with you? Because you can. If not, then there’s a secret compartment under your feet. We can put them there until we get back.” He offered, trying to give him options.
Rocco looked down at his feet and nodded.
Dominic got out of the car and walked around to Rocco’s side. “Shuffle onto my seat.” He signed to him.
Rocco did as he asked, and he opened up the compartment in the floor, taking each item from Rocco to store safely inside. When he looked up Rocco looked happy, gave a nod and got out of the car to close the door.
Dominic figured that he was dealing with everything pretty well so he wouldn’t make a big deal out of it. He walked around the car and found his dad with his arm around Rocco’s shoulders as his new brother hugged his side. As soon as he appeared, Rocco grabbed his hand and they all headed into the restaurant. He was pretty sure that there was no way the day could have gotten any better.
“You can get anything you like.” He signed to Rocco, to make sure he didn’t worry about the price or how much he wanted to eat.
They took their usual table and began perusing the menu, while Chandler redid his ponytail, higher up than before. He winked when he noticed Rocco watching him and turned his menu. He pointed to something on the list and then pointed to himself.
Dominic watched, intrigued to see them trying to find their own way of communicating while Rocco ran his finger down a list and suddenly tapped a single item a few times. He looked up at Chandler, seeming quite excited, tapped the item and then pointed to himself.
Chandler raised an eyebrow but nodded. “BBQ Chicken Wings. Nice choice.” He said aloud.
Rocco beamed and kicked his legs under the table like an excited five year old.
It took five minutes for a waitress to appear, winking at Chandler, who winked back. He wasn’t in the least surprised.
“Well boys, what will it be?” His dad asked as he lay down his menu.
Chandler rhymed off his order and his dad gave his, leaving just the two of them left.
Dominic gave his order and then turned to Rocco, who was already prepared. He was ready to sign and find out what he wanted so he could relay it to the waitress, but instead he just pointed to something on the menu.
The waitress smiled and leaned down to read it; she made a note on her computer and then pointed to two different lines underneath. Rocco turned the menu to read the lines and then turned it back and tapped one.
“Right then. That’s one order of grilled chicken, potatoes and green veg; two orders of battered fish, chips and peas and one order of BBQ chicken wings with French fries and salad.” She relayed to them, looking up to make sure she got the order right.
“Did you want the chicken wings with fries and salad?” Deominic signed to Rocco. He nodded and smiled at the waitress, who winked at him and collected their menus. It was adorable to see him so happy and willing to make an effort with the waitress so that he didn’t have to translate.
“Okay boys, that’ll be around twenty minutes. Can I get you some drinks with that order?” She asked politely as she opened one of the menus to the drinks page and placed it in front of Rocco. She tapped the title and watched him frown over it for a second. They all gave their orders, Rocco tapping his on the menu and then she left.
“I told you she was awesome.” Chandler chirped from his seat.
Their dad laughed and sat back to look at Rocco, who was too busy gazing around the restaurant to notice.
“It’s nice here.” He signed, suddenly.
Dominic smiled as he turned to face him, looking curious.
“There’s a picture of your dad on the wall. Who is he with?” He asked, signing with one hand again.
Dominic wasn’t sure what he was talking about, so he turned to look at the place Rocco had been staring at and noticed a wall of photographs. “Show me.” He asked, signing to him. He slid out of the booth and let Rocco go first as he walked over to the wall and touched a framed photograph just at eye level. And he was right; Latimer was in the middle of two other smiling men. He’d never seen the picture before.
Their waitress passed by with their tray of drinks, so he waved to stop her.
“Can I take this picture down? I want to show my dad.” He explained quietly, hoping she would let him.
“Sure honey.” She smiled at him and then walked off.
Dominic removed the picture from the wall and studied it as he stood there. A lump formed in his throat.
Latimer was in the middle, with Beau on his right. His dad had his arm around both men flanking him, but he didn’t know the third man.
Rocco touched his hand and showed him sad eyes. “Did I do something wrong?” He asked in sign language.
“No,” he smiled and handed him the picture. “This man is dad. This one is Beau, our other dad. But I don’t know this man.” He explained to him, pointed to each man as he talked about him.
Rocco nodded and pointed to a figure in the background. “I know this one.” He signed in return. “He lived with one of the families that wanted to foster me.” He informed him, so matter-of-factly that Dominic let out a sigh and thought about how many people that could be now. How many random faces had Rocco been asked to think of as family?
“Let’s go show dad.” He suggested.
Rocco nodded and practically bounced back to their table to take his seat. He slid the A4 sized photograph across to their dad with a sweet smile that said he was presenting him with a gift.
“Well,” he could hear Latimer saying with a smile. “I haven’t seen this in years. This was taken just before your father died.” He claimed, lifting the photograph and gazing at it with a warm smile and sad eyes.
Chandler leaned in and frowned at it before turning back to his drink.
Dominic wasn’t surprised by that; he had taken Beau’s death hard. It wasn’t easy being an orphan and then suddenly having the perfect family for seven years. Especially since Chandler had been closer to Beau back then than Latimer. He had really bonded with the free-spirited musician. Now he clung to Latimer like a life saver.
“Rocco knows the guy in the background.” He told them as he took his seat beside his brother. When he signed that to Rocco, he nodded and pointed to the figure standing in the background.
“Oh yes, Freddie.” Latimer said, nodding to himself in recollection.
Dominic translated everything he said into sign language for Rocco, who nodded his agreement.
“I didn’t know him very well, but he was just a boy back then. Probably no older than fifteen.” He confessed, while smiling to himself. “He was gay and struggling to come out of the closet, so he sort of latched onto Ryany, the man I’m standing with. He became his pet project.” He said, quite amused. Then he looked up at Rocco and smiled at him. “You liked Freddie, didn’t you?” He asked.
Rocco nodded and smiled, signing a reply.
“As a friend.” Dominic translated for them all.
Latimer nodded. “He was a sweet boy. Like you in many ways. Freddie did mention that his parents had taken a young boy in, a few years ago. That would be you?” He asked.
Rocco nodded again, his face lighting up at the thought of someone mentioning him to other people. It was so adorable.
“When was the last time you saw him?” His dad asked.
“I would have been fifteen.” Rocco signed to him, so Dominic relayed that information and watched his dad smile and nod.
“Let me think…two years ago. That would be the last time I saw Ryany in person.” Latimer guessed, staring at the picture in wonder. “Freddie had just come out of the closet and moved out of his parents house. He must have been twenty or so around that time. He and Ryany took off to France. I believe they’re getting married at the end of the year, if you’d like to go?” He offered, sliding the picture in front of Chandler so discretely that no-one mentioned it.
“But, I don’t know him any more.” Rocco signed.
Dominic smiled and answered him honestly, not even bothering to translate to his dad, because he understood what he was offering.
“Dad was invited to the wedding. We all were. The whole family. Now that you’re our family too, you can go see him.” He signed back to him.
Rocco blushed but nodded that he’d like to go. Which seemed to settle the matter.
Dominic was happy to be the intermediary through dinner, translating everything that was said or signed. Their dad told them stories about Ryany and what Beau had been like when they first met. All the while Chandler stood the photograph up against the side partition of the table and barely took his eyes off it.
Rocco barely signed a word through the whole meal. From the moment he slid his hand across the table, before their main course arrived, to just before Latimer got up to pay the bill, he sat there holding Chandler’s hand. He seemed to understand how sad he was and that he needed the comfort.
Dominic had seen people die before, lost them and watched them waste away. Losing Beau so suddenly was a blessing for him. He’d had an intense heart attack after playing football with them in the back garden. He’d been brave, saying his goodbye’s while lying on the sofa, waiting for the ambulance to arrive. By the time it did, an hour and a half later, he was already dead.
Chandler had been distraught, draped across his lifeless body, sobbing, while Latimer held him and they both fought off the urge to join him.
Dominic hadn’t cried until much later, when he crawled into Chandler’s bed and tried to calm him down. He’d been screaming, crying, breaking his heart over the loss while all he could do was hold him and cry silent tears.
Latimer had pretty much been a zombie for the next six weeks. He only cried at the funeral while he hugged Chandler tight and held onto Dominic’s hand. He’d contained his emotions and broken down later that night, when he thought they were both sleeping. But Dominic had heard him.
He’d lain in bed, listening to the quiet click of his bedroom door closing down the hall and then a few minutes later his dad had finally let it all out. He didn’t stop crying for three days.
Dominic would tell Rocco that one day. He would tell him how heartbroken Chandler had been and what a gift it was to see him laughing and smiling again. He would tell him how strong their dad was, how he’d put his children before himself, even when his heart was breaking. But not yet. He didn’t want to upset him.