“Up a bit at your end,” said Cousin Billy. Ricky grunted, put his back into it – bend at the knees, stand up straight, he reminded himself belatedly – and hoisted the sofa up a couple of inches. He wasn’t sure that this was going to work – the sofa looked just a bit too wide to pass through the front door – but he wasn’t going to argue. After all, Billy might have been tiny, but he was wiry with it; and he was, after all, the handyman of the family.
Billy grunted too, but it was a soft snort of satisfaction, rather than effort. Sure enough, the leg of the sofa had just scraped through the doorframe. Thank goodness for that, thought Ricky: he could imagine how the oldsters would moan if they didn’t have somewhere to sit down when they got there: most of them had trouble standing up for very long. Uncle Gary would moan about his back. Granddad Richard and Great-Uncle Barry would start grumbling about their feet. But Great-Great-Aunt Lucy would say nothing at all; she’d just squat pointedly in silent, purse-lipped disapproval.
Ricky was a little resentful, too, that he’d been roped in for this job – he was big, but tired easily. If he asked for a rest, though, Billy would rib him about it for ages. He had a knack for making Ricky feel inadequate, even though Billy was actually quite a bit older and didn’t have much going for him. He was a survivor, you had to say that for him, but he was a drifter, too. To Ricky, it seemed as though Billy was going nowhere fast: no real job, no place of his own – and no children. Billy at least had Flo, even if her mother had done a runner.
Where had the kids got to, anyway? Off trying to get the fire started, he supposed, despite the cautions of their elders. They weren’t much for honest hard work; it was all gadgets and chat with them. Probably for the best: it was brains, not brawn that you needed to get ahead these days. If it was brawn you wanted, though, you couldn’t do much better than Cousin Tony: with his massive bulk, he could probably have dragged the sofa out all by himself.
Ricky smiled to himself. Tony was your original gentle giant: he looked scary, but wouldn’t hurt a fly. Didn’t even eat meat. But Tony was off on an Outward Bound Course somewhere on the West Coast of the US. Ricky could just imagine him stomping about in the woods, putting his big feet in every muddy puddle going. Tony was a sucker for travel: he’d been all over – even to the Himalayas, of all places. Heaven knew what he’d got up to over there.
“Okay, let’s take it straight back,” said Billy, gesturing with one long arm towards the garden gate behind Ricky, while the other stretched effortlessly to support the sofa. “You can manage that, can’t you Ricky?” Ricky smiled weakly, despite Billy’s slightly sneering tone, but inside he groaned. He’d have preferred to put it down and drag it, but then the legs of the sofa would rake furrows through the lawn. If only there was some way of rolling it! It needed something under the feet, something round, but –
His train of thought was interrupted as Heidi emerged from the kitchen. “All right, lads?” she said. “Hard at it, I see. Fancy a cuppa?”
“Bless you, you’re an angel,” said Billy. Ricky, labouring under his half of the sofa, simply nodded grateful assent. His sister had the same rangy frame as him, the same heavy jaw and low forehead. But it looked better on her: there was tacit acknowledgment throughout the family that she was the good-looking one. And the smart one.
Still, Ricky bore her no resentment: to him, she’d always be his little sister and he was proud of her. And he was as fond of her boys, Andy and Sebastian, as he was of his own little Flo. “Right you are,” she said. “I’ll put the kettle on.” She smiled at Billy, then shot Ricky a quick look that said: Don’t let him wear you down.
They had reached the bottom of the garden now, Billy hollering “Mind your backs!” to clear a path through the gathered family members. They were from the Parry branch of the family. Most were a lot older than Ricky, so he didn’t know many of them well, although he recognized Robbie and Boisey and their mum Effie. Ricky found it difficult to communicate with the Parry clan: he didn’t have much in common with them.
For that matter, there were a bunch of relatives from overseas that he didn’t really know how to talk to either: George, Rod and Rene. He hardly ever saw any of them; in fact, he wasn’t really sure how they were even related to him. But he ought to make the effort, he thought: they had come a long way to be here. And then there was Lincoln, who he couldn’t see anywhere. But then, he probably hadn’t turned up: he was always missing. And there was –
“Hello, Terry,” said Billy amiably. Ricky’s dad watched, with the air of a foreman, as they put the sofa down. “Hello, Billy,” replied Terry, with a grin. Ricky was momentarily jealous: he suspected that his dad, a workman all his life, secretly wished he had turned a bit more like the practical Billy. “Good job you’re doing there, keep it up – ah, tea, lovely.” Heidi had come out with a tray full of mugs and they each took one appreciatively.
They stood for a moment, sipping the sugary tea, and watched with slight concern as the kids messed around by the beginnings of the bonfire. Ricky wondered who’d finally managed to get that going – they’d been trying and failing all day. He was glad to see Flo joining in, alarmed as ever that she looked so tiny next to the other kids: she was certainly small for her age. She looked particularly tiny next to Andy’s heavyset frame: he was devouring a chunk of meat that looked as though it had spent barely any time on the barbeque.
But it was Andy’s brother, Sebastian, who caught Ricky’s attention. He was bossing the other kids around, getting them to build something out of stones. Probably him who’d started the fire, too. Ricky could just about hear the rapid patter of his voice – Sebastian spoke so quickly, and was always using big words. And he was always coming up with some scheme or another: Andy tried to keep up, but was always being overshadowed by his clever kid brother.
Despite his youth, Sebastian was already taller and better groomed than most of his relatives. And he had a kind of masterful air about him that was a little spooky: looking at him made Ricky feel as though he was a bit past it. He wasn’t alone. His dad and Billy were both looking at Sebastian thoughtfully, too. “You mark my words,” said Terry, after a moment’s consideration. “That one’s going to rule the world some day.” And Billy and Ricky looked at each other, and nodded. ##