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Part 6

7 – When You Get Home And Your Dog Goes Bananas

They were in flat 6a of the Relief Village for very nearly three years. Things changed. The country changed. Things started getting better. The country started to grow things again, started to make things again. The roads were cleared. Most of the cities were cleared. Businesses started up again, and schools and banks and all of that stuff, although it was mainly the ‘business’ side of things that his mum was interested in. He knew his mum was keeping an eye on Fitton, seeing when they’d be able to get back, when they’d be able to get MJN up and running again. The Navy had taken good care of Gerti since they’d landed her on the aircraft carrier – they’d still be able to fly her.

Their little group didn’t change all that much. There was a time when it looked as if Douglas might have been having a thing with Zoë’s mum again, but it ended up not working out after a little while. Douglas was all right about it – he said he’d never be able to afford marrying her again anyway. Skipper stepped out with a few people, for even briefer periods. There was an incident with a soldier on a bus. Arthur had one girlfriend for a few months, actually, but it didn’t really go anywhere. Their whole set-up felt so temporary that not many people were making commitments to boyfriends and girlfriends, because no one knew where they’d be within the next month or so.

Herc and Arthur’s mum seemed to know, though. They were pretty set. Wherever they ended up, it would be together. It was nice. Arthur liked Herc. After Arthur had found out that his dad had died, Herc just sort of sat with him for a while. They hadn’t said anything, they’d just sat. And that had been nice.

They heard word that people from the big cities were starting to get moved back to their original homes during their third Winter in the Relief Village. In August, news got to them that people were starting to move back to Fitton. It was just before Halloween that they were sent notification that Arthur’s house was suitable for human habitation once more.

They all went back to the house. No mention had been made of Douglas or Skipper’s houses being cleared, connected to utilities and generally fit for purpose yet – to be honest, Arthur had barely even considered that. As far as he knew, it hadn’t even been discussed, just assumed by everybody that it would be as natural as Herc coming back to live with them. They’d just got used to it, over the years – although going from a two bedroom flat to a four bedroom detached house certainly had pretty big advantages.

‘The main guest bedroom’s a little larger than the… well. The spare spare bedroom, I suppose you could call it,’ Arthur’s mum told them on the journey back. ‘Although technically before the Incident, the “spare spare bedroom” was Arthur’s games room, so Arthur, I’m afraid you’re going to have to have a re-organise of things unless Martin particularly wants to sleep on your Fussball table.’

‘Brilliant,’ beamed Arthur. ‘We can have the games downstairs, I suppose. Or in the shed! Yeah! We can have a Games Shed!’

‘Why is it automatically assumed that I’ll be taking the spare spare bedroom?’ added Skip.

‘Oh, don’t worry, Martin,’ replied Arthur’s mum. ‘There’s still plenty of room in there for a double bed. Your own private space. You should be pleased! No more sordid snatched moments with soldiers in burnt-out double deckers.’

‘Oh for pity’s sake, Carolyn, that was one time!’

‘One time that you got caught,’ said Douglas with a wry smile. ‘I’m sure it’ll do wonders for troop morale in Fitton to hear you’ve got your own bedroom.’

Skipper went all red around the nose and neck. ‘Douglas! It isn’t like that!’

‘Of course not. Remind me – was it Corporal Munroe in the bus, or Sergeant Black?’

‘Alex Black was a completely different…’ Skipper blinked, and closed his mouth, firmly.

‘A completely different bus?’ suggested Douglas, helpfully.

‘You’re not going to be like this all the time, are you?’ Skipper replied. ‘Once we’re… You Know.’

Martin.’ It was Douglas’ turn to glare at Skipper, now, and suddenly Arthur felt as though he was sitting in the middle of something unspoken and important.

‘Got a little secret to share have we, Gentlemen?’ asked Arthur’s mum.

‘Well,’ said Skip, ‘yes. I mean, sort-of. I mean. We were going to tell you soon. Later. I mean, it’s not a massive announcement, it’s just that…’

‘Bloody Hell,’ said Herc, ‘you two aren’t getting married, are you?’

‘No,’ said Douglas with a sigh. ‘But neither are either of us inclined to spend the rest of our lives in spare rooms, having spent the past three years cooped up in a tiny flat. Since my whole street rather inconveniently burned down during our time away and I doubt that Parkside Terrace was ever fit to live in in the first place, Martin and I have decided to take a stroll around the new housing complex they’re building where the industrial park used to be see what our amassed credits can afford us. Certainly a decent sized flat with all mod cons, from the looks of things.’

‘Just settling for Cohabiting Partners, rather than the full white wedding, then,’ said Arthur’s mum.

‘Surely you’ve got no cause for complaint,’ replied Douglas, ‘if it’ll mean sparing your home the social stigma of becoming the place Martin brings all his soldiers back to…’

‘Yes, thank you, Douglas,’ added Skip. ‘Besides which, Carolyn, they haven’t even finished building the complex yet, so we’ll certainly still be with you for the next few months. Um. I mean. If that’s all right, I mean.’

‘Of course it is,’ cooed Arthur’s mum. ‘It’s my honour to be temporary landlady to my employees until a nicer place for them to live comes along.’

‘Oh, we’re “Employees” again now, are we?’

‘The RAF still needs relief planes and pilots,’ Arthur’s mum said, curtly. ‘I know of several other small commercial companies taking up the slack for extra credits – why not us? Gerti’s still perfectly airworthy, after all.’

‘You mean we could all go flying again, just like before?’ Arthur beamed. ‘Wow. That would be brilliant! I haven’t flown since… Well. Since The Incident.’

‘We could,’ replied his mum. ‘And furthermore, we shall. Not by the skin of our teeth any more, I’d say, from the way the RAF credits relief fights.’

‘You mean, you’ll actually pay me, this time?’ asked Skip with a faint smile.

‘Yes,’ trilled Arthur’s mum. ‘Thanks to the Armed Forces – I trust you’ll show your appreciation to each and every one of them, in your now traditional manner.’

‘Oh, for crying out loud…’

The car pulled up in the old driveway. It crunched, the way cars had always crunched on that drive for as long as Arthur could remember. His wellies were still outside the side door from where he’d left them before they’d gone away and The Incident had began. They were covered in algae. He could see the tops of the swing he’d had when he was little, still tied to the big oak tree at the back.

Home. He was home.

They all got out of the car. Arthur’s mum surveyed the scene, and tutted.

‘Look at the state of the garden! And the roof. And the windows. Dear Lord.’

‘At least whoever cleared the house boarded them up,’ said Herc.

‘Two of those have been covered up with cardboard,’ protested his mum. ‘Oh, no, no, no. This won’t do. We have a lot of work ahead of us, it seems. Let’s just hope some glaziers survived the Incident.’

Arthur got out of the car last, struggling to hold Snoopadoop, who whined and strained in his arms.

‘That’s right, girl,’ he told her. ‘You know where this is, don’t you?’

Snoopadoop scrabbled out of his arms, dropped and ran over the driveway to the front door.

‘Yes, all right, all right.’

The spare key was still under the big flowerpot by the garage, just as it always had been. It was a bit brown with rust, but it still worked. Arthur’s mum opened the font door. Snoopadoop barked delightedly and ran through, skittering on the floorboards as she pelted from room to room, turning happy circles as she went.

They were home.

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