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Julie Bozza

Of Dreams
and Ceremonies

Published by Manifold Press

Text: © Julie Bozza 2013

Cover image: © janaph | iStockphoto.com

Ebook format: © Manifold Press 2013

For further details of titles

both in print and forthcoming

ee www.manifoldpress.co.uk

ISBN: 978-1-19929-1914152-3


Once more, I am humbly hoping for the reader’s tolerance.

Part of this story deals with things that some will say don’t concern me.

But, as before, I do so with nothing in my heart but a love of and a wish for interdependence between all our peoples –

and for that perhaps any infelicities will be forgiven.

Proof-reading and line-editing:

W. S. Pugh

Fiona Pickles

Characters and situations described in this book are fictional and not intended to portray real persons or situations whatsoever; any resemblances to living persons are purely coincidental.



Dave slept late that first morning, and when he woke he was alone. Nicholas's bedroom loomed large and empty around him. It was on one corner of the house, so there were two big windows on each of two walls, and the curtains were hanging wide open - which was apparently Nicholas's habit - so the place seemed full of light and air. The room contained an odd collection of furniture, some of it apparently very old, but all of it comfortable. Almost everything that wasn't wood was blue - upholstery, carpet, curtains, ornaments and oddments. And then there were books, a whole heap of books scattered everywhere.

There was also an en suite bathroom, thank God, which he promptly made use of, but then Dave headed back to the four-poster bed. He didn't get in again, but hefted up to sit on the side of it with his feet hanging some distance off the floor, and he looked around him quietly, still a bit dazed with jet lag. Well, with jet lag and with the enormity of what he'd done.

He, David Taylor of Brisbane, Australia - a quite ordinary bloke who'd spent almost all his conscious life in love with his best friend Denise and assuming he was straight - had fallen in love with Nicholas Goring, the youngest son of an English earl, while acting as his tour guide during a seven-week journey in Australia's Outback. Yesterday evening, having flown halfway round the world to belatedly follow Nicholas to his home in Buckinghamshire, Dave had even agreed to marry the man.

"Well," Nicholas had explained a little later, once his dauntingly large family had finally quit congratulating them, "it's a civil partnership, not a marriage. It's a civil partnership ceremony, not a wedding."

Which all sounded like far too many tongue-fumbling syllables for Dave. "How do you think about it?" he'd asked.

Nicholas had grinned so wide and so happy it was almost impossible to believe that one person could feel so ecstatic. "I'm getting married!"

"Good," said Dave. "Then that's what it is."

Now that he was alone in Nicholas's natural habitat, Dave took the opportunity to consider his surroundings. Though the room was full, it didn't seem cluttered so much as well lived in. There was the bed, of course, a free-standing wardrobe, and three assorted armchairs loosely arranged around a low coffee table. There was a serious-looking desk with a laptop computer and a scatter of papers, magazines and the like. Beside it, a bookcase reached towards the high ceiling, full to overflowing with books. The books were really the only thing that didn't fit in with the blue colour scheme, and so they made random rainbows along the shelves, in a couple of piles on the desk and the table, and in a smaller stack on Nicholas's bedside set of drawers. A couple of paintings on the wall were of landscapes and therefore introduced some green into the room, though really they were mostly sky. There was also a glass case on a side table, containing the pinned remains of various butterflies - at which Dave didn't look too closely.

A large chest of drawers stood by the bathroom door with a tall mirror beside it. Dave leaned a little to the right so he could peer at himself, wondering if he looked as vague as he felt. Yes, he did. It was the different time zones, maybe. Despite his long night's sleep, he thought that maybe his body was still on Australian time - and no doubt as far as his body was concerned it was still the middle of the night.

As Dave sat back up again he noticed four framed photos standing on top of the chest of drawers, and he went over to investigate. There was one of what must be Nicholas's parents - a much younger Richard than the man Dave had met the previous day, formally posed beside a rather smart-looking woman with Nicholas's dark hair and pale skin, his long face and unusual beauty. Another photo was a far more informal close-up of Nicholas and his nephew Robin, all hugs and laughter.

The other two photos had been taken in Australia, at the remote waterhole where Nicholas had discovered a new species of butterfly. The photo of Nicholas was of course one that Dave himself had taken - the first of their butterflies had alighted on Nicholas's Akubra, and there was a wickedly joyous look on the face peeking up from under the brim. The photo of Dave was one he hadn't even been aware of Nicholas taking. In it, Dave was sitting back reading one of his Patrick O'Brian books, lost in the long-ago maritime world. Another of the blue butterflies had settled on his shoulder, and seemed to also be contemplating the novel.

Near the framed photos was a glass cube in which one of the blue butterflies had been preserved. Dave considered it, remembering.

He and Nicholas had spent three weeks as friends, and four weeks as lovers. It wasn't much, perhaps, on which to base a marriage, but once Dave had gotten past his initial resistance, there had been a certainty about the relationship. Though he hadn't admitted it to himself at the time, even his resistance had felt as if he were fighting the inevitable. So it hadn't taken very much to push him into finally following Nicholas back home to England. Maybe it was just the way that Dave did these things: after all, he and Denise had been inseparable since the day they'd first met. Maybe Dave was just an all-or-nothing kind of guy.

Dave sighed, and reflected that it was time for a cup of tea - or coffee if he could get it. Wherever Nicholas had gone, it seemed he wasn't coming back soon, and it was eleven-thirty already. Dave had a quick shower in the en suite, and pulled on a clean t-shirt and pair of jeans. He was probably hopelessly under-dressed for an English manor house, but his self-imposed budget had only allowed for a couple of new nicer items, and he thought he'd better save them for best.

It was only as he collected his watch from the low table on his side of the bed that he realised Nicholas had left him a note.

Good morning, David - or good afternoon! Take your time, and come down when you're ready. Simon will keep an eye out for you, and I'll be somewhere around. Try the conservatory?

Nicholas x

There was an arrow pointing to the kiss, and a promise:
To be delivered in person ASAP.

Dave grinned, took a breath, and headed out of the sanctuary of Nicholas's bedroom.

As Dave walked down the main staircase into the hall, Simon - the family butler - did indeed put his head out of a door concealed in the wood panelling, and then came out to offer a smile and a good morning. "I hope you slept well, Mr Taylor," he added without even a hint of innuendo, when Dave was all too conscious that everyone must be assuming he and Nicholas spent a fair amount of time and effort the previous night in … getting reacquainted. And their assumptions would be right, too.

"I slept very well, thank you, Simon."

"I'm glad to hear it - " After a moment's pause he finished with "David" rather than Mr Taylor.

"Actually, I know I said David yesterday, but is there any chance of you calling me Dave? You're probably the only person here who will."

"Dave, then," Simon obligingly agreed. "You're probably in need of tea or coffee, and perhaps a late breakfast of some kind?"

"Please, yeah, coffee would be great. And something to eat - though I guess it's almost lunchtime?"

"Come this way, Dave, and I'll show you the family kitchen. You can make your own drinks there at any time. Mrs Gilchrist - our cook and housekeeper - will be serving lunch to the family at one, but of course we'll make sure you have something to tide you over until then."

They'd gone through the concealed door, past an office which Dave thought must be Simon's, and then headed down a very plain staircase to the basement level, where they proceeded along an unadorned corridor. Dave had watched enough British TV to realise that this must be the servants' domain.

"Thanks," Dave said, following along. "I have to say, I am kind of hungry." It was the long sleep and irregular hours, he thought. Never mind the exercise he'd had both yesterday afternoon soon after he'd arrived and last night as well, all in the cause of getting reacquainted. At this point he needed sustenance just to cope.

The family kitchen turned out to be a room off the main kitchen - perhaps it was an old walk-in pantry or storage room converted - with a water cooler, an urn and a fridge, work benches and cupboards, and a high table with stools. Simon gave him a quick tour. "There will always be supplies here for you to make a hot drink and a sandwich, whenever you have need. And we tend not to serve formal lunches if it's just the family. By which I mean the family who live here."

"I get it," said Dave, his attention more on the sandwich Simon was making for him, and his hands wrapped warm around the mug of coffee Dave himself had already made while Simon was showing him round. "Thank you." He was rather relieved to know he'd be expected to fend for himself at some stage during an ordinary day.

Mrs Gilchrist came through from the main kitchen for a moment to be properly introduced; Dave stood and shook her hand before she headed back into the bustle.

"With everyone here," Simon explained, "that's twenty family members to cater for. Twenty-one now," he added with a nod towards Dave. "You'll understand if we're a bit stretched."

"Yeah," Dave said with a wry half-grin, in between bites of the sandwich. "Should have known it would be bad timing."

"On the contrary, it's excellent timing. Everyone is glad of the opportunity to meet you." Simon lowered his voice to confide, "The family are very happy that you came, you know. We all are."

"Thanks," he replied, hoping he had even a small chance of measuring up to whatever these people expected of him.

Simon tactfully changed the subject. "On most days I'm sure you'll be glad to know it's a great deal quieter than this! Nicholas and his father Lord Goring live here, along with Nicholas's oldest brother Robert and his family - his wife Penelope, and their children Robin and Isabelle."

That made him grin properly. "I actually have faces for all those names already."

"Well done," Simon said with a smile that bore not the faintest hint of irony or condescension. "You'll be fine, Dave. There's not a person here who doesn't welcome you."

Dave couldn't help but wonder how that could be. His scepticism must have been plain to read.

"Everyone adores Nicholas, and it's been rather obvious since his return from Australia that you're what makes him happiest."

Dave coloured up, and muttered something about Nicholas having found the butterflies.

"Yes, sir - but he also found you."

Two mugs of coffee, a sandwich and an apple later, Dave was feeling rather more human. "I'm sure you have things you're busy with," he said to Simon. "I shouldn't keep you."

"That's perfectly all right, Dave. I'll take you to Nicholas, shall I? I believe he's in the garden."

"He said something about the conservatory."

"Ah, he and Robin were finished in there by about ten-thirty."

"Right! Garden it is."

Simon led him down another corridor, and then up a narrow staircase to reach a cloakroom at the back of the house - which contained an extraordinary collection of different gum boots, a row of coats, and a laundry-style sink. From there, a door opened onto a large paved area. The basement had been rather a warren, but Dave's sense of direction hadn't quite failed him yet.

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