A Boy Like Billy (Short Story)
I was so sure they’d send a girl. I could have coped with a girl. She didn’t have to be pretty, just kind, gentle, warm-hearted. Someone to buy dresses for, bake cakes with, keep me company on long, winter evenings. A girl would have been wonderful. But not this….
‘Now, Billy, this is Mrs Dawson. You’ll be living with her for a while. Just while your mother’s in hospital.’
I looked pointedly at the vicar. Surely he could read it in my face.’No boys, vicar, remember?’
Either my telepathic message failed or he was deliberately ignoring it.
‘I’ll pop by in a day or two, Billy, see how you’re settling in.’
And with that, he touched his tweed cap and was off.
I stood looking at the boy. A gawky, thin lad, with sandy hair and acne-marked skin. Must have been about 10 or 12. It was so hard to tell these days. I took in the ripped t-shirt, faded jeans and worn-out trainers and noted his sullen expression.
Then, remembering my manners, I summoned up my courage.
‘I suppose you’d better come in … Billy.’
He didn’t hear me the first time. I wondered if he was hard of hearing when I noticed the earplugs.
I mouthed deliberately and slowly, ‘Come in-side, Billy.’
He opened his mouth then, finally, a look of comprehension dawned. He removed the ear- plugs.
‘What was that? Just listening to The Grunge on my IPOD. Top band, wanna listen?’
IPOD? Grunge? It was a whole new language and one which, at my time of life, I wasn’t sure if I was willing to learn.
It had all seemed so straightforward at the time. There was a family, the vicar had explained at the Ladies’ Guild meeting. No father, the mother was due to go into hospital and there were four children looking for temporary accommodation: three girls, one boy. Rather than handing them over to social services, the mother wondered if people in her old village might help out.
‘Now who’s got a spare bedroom? Louise?’
And he’d looked straight at me. How could I say no? Reverend Watson knew I’d been after that part-time job of church housekeeper for ages, ever since old Mrs Holloway retired. But I wasn’t the only one. Mrs Lever had her eye on it too, and she’d worked as a housekeeper before.
No, if I wanted to keep on the right side of the vicar, I would have to look keen and committed.
‘OK,’ I said, ‘I’ll take one, but it must be a girl!’
I couldn’t have taken on a boy. It had been hard enough looking after John and he’d been my husband. And I’d grown up in practically an all-female family, with my father being away at sea. And we’d never had children ourselves. John and I couldn’t ……..
So how come, I thought, snapping myself back from my reverie and ushering my new protégé into the lounge, I was now faced with looking after a boy? Reverend Watson would have some explaining to do, I determined.
‘You on the net?’ asked Billy, looking round my humble sitting-room.
‘Net?’ There was that unfamiliar jargon again.
‘Internet, you know. Computer?’
‘I’ve got a television,’ I offered faintly, pointing towards the box in the corner of the room.
He took in my green settee, polished teak table, faithful TV and settled his gaze on the goldfish tank by the door.
‘Fish,’ he stated, wrinkling up his nose.
The battle had begun.
I showed him upstairs.
‘This is your room,’ I said, ushering him into a small room on the left-hand side.
He stared at the pink bedspread, pink curtains, and the carnations I’d bought that morning.
‘This is a girl’s room,’ he sniffed.
It was beginning to be a very long evening. This needed sorting out. It couldn’t wait until tomorrow.
‘You must be hungry,’ I said, at last. ‘I’ve got some supper for you but perhaps you’d like to freshen up first. The bathroom’s over there,’ I pointed at the adjacent room. ‘Have a shower. Or a bath,’ I encouraged. He looked like he needed both badly. ‘There are clean towels in there.’
‘Pink ones, I suppose?’ he grunted as I rushed out of the room.
I waited till I heard running water, closed the lounge door, and hurriedly picked up the receiver.
Luckily, the vicar answered straight away.
‘It’s Louise,’ I breathed. ‘Look, it’s about the boy.’
‘Billy?’ the vicar answered, concerned. ‘Is he ok?’
‘I’m sorry, vicar, but I wanted a girl, I did tell you. Not a boy, and not,’ I said, pointedly, ‘a boy like Billy.’
There was a pause. It would be fine, I told myself, the vicar would realise his mistake and sort it all out. With any luck, he might manage it this evening, I thought hopefully.
‘I know what you said, Louise. My difficulty is that Mrs Lever has agreed to take all three girls. I thought it best to keep them together. But if you really don’t want Billy, I could probably place him somewhere else….’
‘No, vicar, don’t worry, it’ll be fine….’
Mrs Lever was taking three girls, I fumed as I got off the phone. She’d do anything to curry favour with the vicar and get that job. Well, I’d show her…
‘Billy, supper’s ready,’ I said, as he came into the lounge.
Considering he’d just had a shower, he didn’t look any cleaner. Still, there was no time to lose.
As he started eating his salmon, strawberries and pink-iced cake, I started forming my plan……..
‘Billy,’ I said, at last, ‘Tell me about your sisters…..’
Billy pondered to himself, taken aback at my sudden interest.
‘My sisters?’ he responded. ‘Well, there’s Amy, Charlotte and Samantha. What do you want to know?’
‘I just wondered, do they have any likes, dislikes or.…,’ I asked, meaningfully, ‘any annoying little habits. ……?’
He paused. ‘Of course, they do, they’re girls. But why do you want to know?’
I explained my dilemma. About the job and about Mrs Lever. After all, what did I have to lose?
At first, he seemed unsure whether to play along.
‘I know where you can get access to the internet,’ I said, remembering the computers in the local library. ‘So, what can you tell me?’
As it happened, he was prepared to reveal quite a lot. How Amy had hyperactive episodes after eating anything with sugar in it, how Charlotte loved little creatures, particularly spiders and mice, and how Samantha ………
‘Really?’ I asked, in astonishment. ‘Isn’t that unusual for a girl?’
‘I promise you,’ was Billy’s response. I gulped.
Somehow I was starting to think that having girls around might not be so easy after all.
‘I was just thinking,’ I said on the phone to Mrs Lever after Billy had gone to bed. ‘Why don’t we have a little party for the Grahame children? We could invite the vicar and ….’
‘Wonderful idea,’ enthused Mrs Lever, ‘We’ll have it here. Saturday afternoon. You leave it to me.’
I knew she’d fall for it. Over breakfast, the next day, I explained my plan to Billy. He brightened up at the thought of a party.
‘What can we take to make the girls feel at home? I think we need to go shopping ……’
I left him at the library, getting to grips with the computer in the reference section, and made my way round the village.
‘So good of you to take Billy on,’ encouraged the vicar, seeing me coming out of the Post Office. ‘I was told he could be a handful. And so kind of Mrs Lever to hold this party for them all. Such a treasure ….’
There was no time to lose. The pet shop owner was most helpful.
‘Mice or spiders? Certainly Mrs Dawson, we could even throw in a lizard…..’
And the baker was just as obliging.
‘A cake with icing and sugared almonds? No problem at all.’
So that just left Samantha………
‘Billy,’ I said, as I collected him from the library. ‘I’m taking out you this afternoon. Burger bar, cinema, anything you like……’
Billy perked up, ‘There’s a new film I’ve been dying to see, ‘Revenge of the Lost Zombie Terminators III’. Fine, perfect, whatever………
A few days later, the day of the party dawned. Somehow, with all the excitement, the time with Billy was passing quite agreeably. One evening, I’d even found a box of John’s old toy soldiers. I wasn’t sure if he’d like them at first, but after a while, ‘Take that, bang, bang,’ I heard coming from Billy’s room. I guess boys don’t change that much.
‘Billy, love,’ I called to him, ‘Best get ready, Mrs Lever’s party will be starting soon, and we need to do those errands on the way.’
‘Louise,’ Mrs Lever effused on our arrival, kissing me on the cheek. ‘So glad you could make it. And Billy too. Do go in. The vicar’s already here.’
‘Girls, come down,’ she called, ‘The guests have arrived.’
Three teenage girls came running down the stairs. I took in their nose piercings, respectively dyed green, red and yellow hair, black lipstick, black tops and shiny black jeans. Not a pretty pink dress in sight. Ah well…..
They made a big fuss of their little brother. He blushed with embarrassment but seemed secretly pleased.
‘Oh vicar, it’s all going so well,’ Mrs Lever remarked loudly to Reverend Watson. ‘The girls are such a treat, no problem at all.’
‘I’m delighted,’ said the vicar, ‘and so will their mother be. Quite a thing taking on three teenage girls. I can see you’ve been managing beautifully.’
There was no time to lose.
‘Billy and I have brought presents for the girls….’
‘Presents, how kind’, said Mrs Lever, ‘Hand them to me and I’ll make sure they get them later.’
Oh no, she wasn’t pulling that one. This was my moment.
‘I’m sure they’d like them now,’ I insisted, looking at the vicar for confirmation.
‘So thoughtful,’ said the reverend. ‘Honestly, the ladies in this village are kindness itself.’
‘Now Amy, this is for you,’ I said, calling over the shortest girl. She took the baker’s box and looked inside.
‘My favourite,’ she shouted, and ran off with it to the kitchen.
‘And, Charlotte, this is for you,’ I said, giving the white box with the holes in it to the middle girl. I winked at Billy. ‘Maybe take it up to your bedroom’ and off she ran.
And that just left Samantha…………
‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ said the vicar, once we were back in my cottage having tea. ‘Amy running round like that, screaming at the top of her voice. Goodness if Mrs Lever can’t control a girl of 13 …….’
I murmured sympathetically. Billy giggled.
‘And as for those big rats running around the kitchen… Filthy! Doesn’t she know how to keep a house clean? Goodness, what would she be like looking after a vicarage?’ Billy and I exchanged knowing looks.
And as for Samantha…. Well, perhaps, the less said the better. It wasn’t just the sight of her pointing the aerosol can at Mrs Dawson’s living room walls, it was the words she’d painted on there. Words that Reverend Watson hadn’t heard since he was an army chaplain.
‘Well, Mrs Dawson, that settles it. After today, I’ve seen everything. When it comes to that little job,’ and here he tapped his nose and winked, ‘It’s yours.’
I was delighted.
‘I hope you don’t mind, Louise,” whispered the vicar when Billy had gone to the kitchen to fetch more cake, “But Billy’s mother won’t be out of hospital for a little while. I know you wanted a girl but I hope you won’t mind looking after him for a bit longer.”
‘Not at all,’ I reassured him, “Looking after a boy is fine with me. Especially,’ I beamed at him on his return, ‘A boy like Billy.’