To Mend a Broken Wing
Fearne Hill © 2023
All Rights Reserved
“Darling, which do you prefer, Moonlit Navy or Magenta Surge?”
The job description had outlined caring for three children, all under the age of five. The wording had been economical with the truth. By my calculations, there were four. Number four had recently celebrated a milestone birthday and was a smidge sensitive about it.
“The navy’s good,” I hedged, examining the nail polish on both of the earl’s elegant index fingers, pressed side by side. “It complements your…er…outfit.”
He sighed in consternation. “Moonlit Navy is my go-to normally, darling, but I’m concerned it’s beginning to complement not only this divine outfit but my knobbly blue veins too. Don’t you think?”
During my three years of study at childcare college, none of the modules had offered handy tips on how best to sensitively reassure a gay earl dressed in a sky-blue satin nightdress that he could paint his fingernails navy, magenta, or pink with yellow spots, and no one would notice. For the simple reason that the trillion-carat diamond adorning his ring finger, not to mention the other sparkly rock in his ear, and the string of boulder-like pearls around his neck, kind of drew the eye. And did I mention the nightdress?
“Magenta,” came a masterful deep growl, accompanied by two strong arms wrapping themselves loosely around the earl’s shoulders from behind. “I like you wearing magenta.”
Leaning back into his husband’s wonderfully secure hold, my boss tipped his face up to meet Dr Sorrentino’s and accepted a tenderly loving kiss on the end of his patrician nose. Thank God. The cavalry had arrived. I averted my eyes as they shared a swoony moment.
“Magenta Surge it is, then,” the earl declared. His voice took on a throaty, sultry tone.
Never taking his eyes off his husband, he addressed me. “Toby, my darling. I do believe Jay and I will sojourn to the west wing for a while. The light is so much better up there for nail painting, wouldn’t you agree?”
As sex euphemisms went, this was typically delicate.
“Absolutely.” As if I’d ever dare disagree with my boss on such matters. “I’ll listen out for the children.”
“Thank you,” the earl replied graciously. “You are an absolute treasure.”
Tell me something I didn’t know. Pushing himself back from the table in a single fluid movement, the earl stood and took Dr Sorrentino’s waiting muscular arm. Another swoony kiss; anyone would think they’d been married six minutes, not six years.
“I don’t know how we’d cope without you, Toby,” he added, giving his husband’s arm a squeeze.
You’d have a hell of a lot less sex with the delicious Dr Sorrentino, probably. I pushed that thought aside. I did not envy my boss. I did not envy my boss.
I watched them dreamily wander out of the kitchen, already oblivious to my presence. The earl’s satin nightdress trailed soundlessly along the floor behind him, and I shook my head, smiling to myself as I cleared away the forgotten pots of nail polish.
My phone pinged—a daily text from my mother, checking all was well in my world. And, as usual, it was, as long as I ignored the teeny fact that my knight in shining armour had missed his cue to take centre stage. Despite that, I shouldn’t and wouldn’t envy the earl. He might have the delectable Dr Sorrentino carting him off to bed at two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon, but how could I ever be envious of a man with his grim family history?
The tragic deaths of the fifteenth earl and his oldest son and heir eight years ago had cut deep into the soul of Rossingley. I’d been fifteen years old, and the shroud of grief that settled over families like mine was a testament to the Duchamps-Avery stewardship of the village. Rents in Rossingley for local families were low, and the Duchamps-Averys had never succumbed to the lure of greedy property developers. The current earl’s money kept the village pub alive, provided the school with much needed extras, funded new church bells as required, and repaired holes in the church roof.
The profound impact of the accident on the current earl didn’t bear thinking about. While Rossingley mourned, Lucien Avery vanished, leaving my Uncle Will, the estate manager, to keep the Avery affairs functioning while the reclusive new earl grieved in private.
Stories sprang up about him, of course, almost overnight. The silliest being that he was a vampire. Or a ghost. That he’d died in the helicopter crash along with everyone else. That his continued existence was a fabrication to prevent his wicked uncle getting his hands on the dosh. That he’d been sighted wearing a flowing white dress, dancing in the moonlight down by the still lake. That he swam in the lake at midnight. That he walked on water. That he spent his days wandering the attic rooms calling for his lost brother. That he was crazed and locked in a basement asylum.
Uncle Will debunked all these myths, and more, but people carried on spouting them anyhow. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story?
Like all gossip, two-thirds were total bullshit, but some held a grain of truth. The earl did wander the estate dressed in flowing gowns, albeit with the addition of green wellies. I’d seen him with my own eyes, an almost ethereal, waiflike presence, as I helped Uncle Will refence the north fields during the school holidays. I recall I’d stared and stared at him, fascinated, half expecting him to float away on a strong puff of wind, up to the heavens to join his beloved family. When my uncle noticed my staring, he ordered me to let the poor guy grieve in peace. Joe, who worked in the gardens, reported the new earl spent his days sitting on a bench smoking himself to death. Steve—another gardener, now retired, said he’d been ordered to place fresh flowers on the family graves every single day.
And then, a couple of years later, a ray of light burst through the new earl’s grief, lifting the thick bank of clouds. Once again, bright sunshine beat down on the lush green fields of the Rossingley estate. By then I was eighteen and working with Uncle Will every spare moment I wasn’t in school, saving for college. A mysterious new car appeared in the big house yard, a flashy red Audi, its owner a burly hunk of masculinity, equipped with brawny arms and a mass of black curly hair.
They were spotted together, the stranger and the earl, holding hands by the lake, kissing against the south wall of the old stone chapel. Reuben, the new gardener, told everyone the stranger was another doctor, that the new earl had found his one true love (Reuben was a French romantic), that the man with the Audi would be staying for good. Seemed he was right because a wedding followed not long afterwards. The village celebrated; I drank far too much free champagne, vomited in the walled garden rose bushes, then snogged Rob Langford, the dairy farmer, for the first time. But that’s another story.
I busied myself with preparing the children’s supper. Five-year-old twins, Eliza and Arthur, were at their weekly riding lesson with Emily from the village. Orlando, the most scrumptious bundle of fifteen-month-old goodness to ever exist on this planet, would soon be awake from his afternoon nap. Mary, the housekeeper, had finished for the day, and the earl and Dr Sorrentino would be indulging in afternoon delight for at least another hour. Which gave me a rare quiet moment all to myself.
The house phone rang, a number known only by a very few—Dr Sorrentino’s family, the earl’s family, Uncle Will, the children’s school, and the earl’s closest friend, Marcel. All other calls were routed through the estate office. The chance of interrupting Dr Sorrentino in whatever pleasures he was currently providing, in order to answer a phone call was roughly as likely as my Prince Charming galloping through the kitchen on one of the children’s ponies. So I answered it myself.
“Oh, Lucien, you are never going to believe what’s happened. You should probably pour yourself a glass of something orange and vile and sit yourself down.”
The voice sounded breathy, flustered, foreign, and familiar.
“Uh, hello, Marcel. Sorry, it’s Toby. The manny.”
“Oh, my goodness. Toby! So sorry! Is he around? I called his mobile, but he didn’t pick up.”
Right. First rule of Rossingley: you do not talk about Rossingley.
“Um…yes; he’s…um…somewhere, I believe?”
“Thank goodness. I’m having a teeny-tiny, non-asthma-related crisis, and I’d really appreciate his pearls of wisdom right now. Although, obviously, don’t ever tell him I admitted that.”
I’d experienced one of Marcel’s non-asthma-related crises the last time he came to stay. It involved a tricky sudoku and the French Minister of the Interior. From his urgent and breathless manner, this one sounded more serious. I checked the time. The earl had been gone less than twenty-five minutes.
“Okay.” I stalled, rapidly assessing the situation. “I’ll…um…shall I…um…ask him to call you as soon as he’s…um…available?”
Second rule of Rossingley: When Dr Sorrentino eye-fucked his husband in that tone of voice, then tugged him purposefully towards the west wing, it was a brave soul who dared interrupt. Or someone who had been best friends with the earl for yonks, like Marcel.
“Toby, my dear?”
Some of the breathiness left Marcel’s tone, replaced with a touch of steel. “Lucien is in bed, isn’t he? In the middle of the day, with that ravishing hunk of a husband.”
“Listen. And this is very important. Go upstairs to the west wing, bang on the bedroom door—loudly—and inform Lucien I need to speak to him. I expect he will decline.”
“Um…yes…I, yes, you may be right.”
Marcel knew my boss exceedingly well.
“When he does, you have my permission to inform him if he doesn’t bring his skinny, oversexed, ridiculous aristocratic self to the telephone at once, Marcel will whisper in Jay’s ear a little story about a porcupine cactus, a Cuban waiter, and a silver teaspoon. During that memorable trip to…aah…Morocco.”
Morocco. Third rule of Rossingley: If ever Marcel dropped the M bomb? Fetch the earl at once.
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