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Jay Mandal

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The Dandelion Clock
by Jay Mandal   

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Books by Jay Mandal
· The Loss of Innocence
· Precipice
                >> View all



Publisher:  BeWrite Books ISBN-10:  1905202782 Type: 


Copyright:  2002 ISBN-13:  9781905202782

BeWrite Books

1986. If David hadn't missed his train, and if Rob hadn't been in the kitchen when his mother was baking a birthday cake, they might never have met.

Both found themselves sitting at the same table in the cafe on Waterloo Station and got talking. There was an instant rapport between them. But was David just being a good Samaritan or were his motives suspect? And why had Rob left home?

1986: not so very long ago. But things were different. The USSR, Czechoslovakia and the old Yugoslavia were still shown on maps. Inequalities in the age of consent persisted despite the ever-increasing powers of the European Union which went by a different name. And people still had record collections. It was the year Argentina won the World Cup in Mexico, Today was launched, and the Greater London Council abolished. It was a year of explosions: Chernobyl, Challenger and the Stockmarket's less earth-shattering 'Big Bang'. And trains were still run by British Rail. He got to the departures board just in time to see the indicator for the train he'd hoped to catch being removed. The next one wasn't up on the board yet, so he waited. His glance fell on a young man standing a few yards away. Everyone else was either staring, mesmerised, at the notice board or walking purposefully along the concourse, but he was looking towards the shops at the rear of the station. Just the usual: a chemist's, a stationer's, and a café together with signs indicating Tickets, Travel Centre, Underground. David stared at him for a moment and then turned back to the board. After a few minutes, David decided he might as well have a cup of tea while he was waiting, as it would be at least half an hour before the next train was due. He'd bought himself some tea and a couple of sandwiches, and found a free table, when a party of Italians entered. They bought coffee and were looking around, wondering where to sit. As they debated loudly in their own language, the young man who, earlier, had been on the station concourse, stood up and gestured to them that they could sit at the table he'd been occupying. They nodded their thanks while he moved to a seat opposite David. As the din from the next table, now surrounded by Italians - six seated and another three standing - erupted, the two Englishmen exchanged brief smiles of amused tolerance. David immersed himself in his book, but after a few minutes he became aware that he was being stared at. Surely the man opposite wasn't trying to pick him up? After all, it was still early and Waterloo, of all the London termini, was scarcely renowned for that sort of thing. Besides, he hadn't looked as if ... Still, how could you tell? Eventually he looked up and realised with relief that he'd been wrong. The young man's interest was obviously fixed on the sandwich on David's plate, but he had the grace to look away when he saw David had noticed. A few minutes later, a middle-aged woman pushing a trolley appeared, collected a cup that had been there when David had arrived, appeared to dismiss the idea of wiping the table and asked David if he'd finished with his plate. He had. "If you don't want it ..." But the woman had already swept the plate from the table, tipped its contents into a small bin, stacked the plate on the pile on her trolley, and moved on to the next table. David looked at his unknown companion with renewed curiosity. "I'm sorry. I hadn't realised you were hungry. You were welcome to it." The young man, or boy, really - David decided he could be no more than twenty-one, and might easily be several years younger - smiled self-consciously. "Probably a lucky escape. After all, it was a British Rail sandwich." But there was something in his eyes that led David to believe he was sorry the woman hadn't heard him. David glanced at his watch, and then at the indicator board where he saw the sign "Train Cancelled" in red letters. Already there were more people milling about the concourse, those waiting for delayed or cancelled trains joined by new arrivals. Time for another cup of tea, he thought with the sort of philosophy that comes to all delayed travellers. At least he didn't have to put up with this day in, day out as the regular commuters did. Still, perhaps they were used to it, hardened by years of unexplained delays. Had it been like this in 1848 when Waterloo Bridge, as it then was, opened? He'd come up to London today, Friday, to visit some bookshops. His father was a keen reader, and David had inherited his love of books. David stood up, went over to the counter, and bought more insipid-looking tea. He returned to the same table and found its occupant watching the trolley lady wipe the surface with a cloth that had seen better days. David waited for her to finish. At last, he was able to sit down and push a cup of coffee and a pre-packed cheese sandwich across the table. "I didn't …" the young man began to protest. "I can't pay you." "It's all right." They looked at each other. "Thanks." And he smiled as if it was the nicest thing to have happened to him for a long time. Perhaps it was. He had been hungry. David could see that from the way he'd eaten the sandwich, hardly chewing it at all, and from his surprise when he'd realised he'd finished it so quickly. And then his face had become serious as if he would have rationed himself if he'd thought about it earlier. "When did you last eat?" David asked. "Yesterday," came the reply, accompanied by a brief smile to show it wasn't that bad. "Haven't you got any money?" The boy's face registered a slight struggle before he answered. "Yes, but I'm saving it for an emergency." Their eyes met, and suddenly both grinned as it crossed their minds that if being hungry didn't constitute an emergency then what did? "I can buy you another sandwich if you're still hungry," David offered. "No, it's all right. Thanks, though." "Don't you have a job?" The boy shook his head. "I was working in a hotel, but that was only part time so I thought I'd come to London. I'm not sure I want to work here but beggars …" he smiled at the word "… can't be choosers." They continued talking. When David next looked at his watch, he found he'd been so absorbed that he'd missed his next train. Still, he was in no hurry and, much as he liked books, he was intrigued by his companion's story. Apart from ordering cups of tea - it was cheaper than coffee - the boy hadn't spoken to anyone in two days and he liked having someone to talk to for a change. Funny how the more people there were, the less they spoke to each other. Perhaps you had to be more careful to preserve your own space, your own identity. "It's expensive, living in London," David agreed. When there was no reply, he asked: "You have got somewhere to stay?" "Not yet." "So what will you do tonight?" It was too late to do much, he thought. "Well, the same as last night, I suppose. Stay here as long as I can and hope I can get some sleep." He hoped he sounded more blasé than he felt. "I feel a bit of a fraud. It's only my second night, after all. Some people have been sleeping rough for months, even years." His eyes looked bleak, and then he smiled. "Anyway, thanks for the coffee. Here's to another night on a crowded platform." While David went back to an empty house. Stupid, wasn't it? He'd spoken aloud, and they avoided each other's eyes, each suddenly uncomfortable. You couldn't just ask for a bed for the night, no matter how much you needed one. You couldn't just offer a bed for the night, no matter how much you sympathised with someone. They had spoken together for some time, but they were still strangers. They went back to discussing neutral subjects. David talked about books, and his companion told him some of the funny things that had happened or he'd heard about in the hotel he'd worked in. They relaxed again. The café had filled up in the meantime. Disgruntled office workers moaned about another day of train disruption, while others resigned themselves to a long wait. A few muttered about wasting money on tarting up the buildings rather than sorting out the trains. Indeed, it was a very curious thing: it was as if, by painting the stations red, the passengers would fail to notice the late arrival of their trains. When David next looked at the departures board, he decided he ought to be making a move if he planned to get home that night. "I'd better go," he said, standing up. "It's been nice having someone to talk to," his companion said disarmingly. He suddenly looked about fifteen and very lost. "Me, too. Goodbye, then." "Bye," the young man said reluctantly. David turned towards the door. He always wondered afterwards what made him do it. Perhaps the same impulse that had prompted him to buy the coffee. "Look," he said, rather abruptly, turning back. "If you've really got nowhere to go, you could stay at my parents' house. For a few days at any rate." "Where d'you live?" David told him. There was a long pause, during which he had no idea what was going through the other person's mind. Eventually, though, the boy said, "I suppose it must be cheaper than London. It's as good a place as any to look for a job. All right." Back on the platform, they checked the board again. This time, to David's relief, there was a platform number shown against his train which was due to leave in just under ten minutes' time. "How much is the fare?" David told him. "Oh." "Here." David took out his wallet but couldn't find anything smaller than a twenty pound note. "Thanks." The eyes were suddenly wary. "Are you homosexual?" Despite all the people there - ticket collectors, commuters, vendors - it was as if they were suddenly alone. David hesitated for a moment. "Yes." It was a fair question given the circumstances. He objected to the implication, but he'd probably have asked the same question if he'd been in the boy's shoes. And would have refused the offer, too. "I'm sorry - it was a stupid idea. You're right to be careful." The boy held out the twenty for David to take back. He looked oddly disappointed. "No, keep it. Find somewhere safe to stay tonight." David smiled, and ignored his own feeling of disappointment. "Thanks." The boy was grateful and something else. Surprised? His faith in humanity restored? "Well, I'd better go. Time and British Rail wait for no man." They looked at each other, then David added softly: "Take care." He turned and walked away towards the platform. The young man stared after him, still with the money in his hand. He was undecided for over a minute, then he turned abruptly and made his way across the recently cleaned station concourse. David sat on the train, trying to read. He wondered why he'd made such an offer. Concern? Sympathy? A feeling of empathy? He wished his offer had been accepted. He had been offering only somewhere to stay, nothing else, but who in this day and age is prepared to believe such an innocent motive? It was a pity. He could have done with some company. He glanced up as someone sat down opposite him. "I changed my mind. Is it still all right?" Anxious eyes searched David's face for his reaction. David smiled, glad to see the boy. "Yes. My name's David Rees, by the way." "Rob Greenaway. Here's your change." "It's all right. Keep it." Rob hesitated, then put the money away. Suddenly there was nothing to say. The seats next to them were soon taken as commuters spilled out from the mouth of the staircase which led from the tube train platform - where forty-year-old Waterloo & City rolling stock still laboured from Waterloo to Bank and back - on to the platform itself. Then there was an announcement requesting passengers to close all doors as the train was ready to depart. The grille at the top of the stairs was closed, leaving latecomers to watch impotently as their train pulled away without them. At the end of the platform, a few hardy train-spotters jotted down numbers in notebooks. Behind them, they left the NatWest Tower and, on the other side, the Post Office Tower. Rob looked out of the window while David kept his eyes fixed on the page he was supposedly reading. Why on earth had he suggested this? He didn't know anything about the boy. He could have lied about his name. He could be a thief. He could be mentally unstable. He could be violent. It wasn't even David's house, it was his parents'. They would never have believed he could be so irresponsible. How would he explain having invited a stranger into their home? He glanced up, just in time to notice Rob look away. He realised Rob was probably thinking along similar lines. After all, he knew nothing of David either, except that he was homosexual. You weren't likely to lie about that. Christ! You'd have to be desperate to accept under those circumstances. David suddenly felt sorry for him. Surely he was too young to be living rough? "How old are you?" "Nineteen. Why?" "I just wondered." He looked down again at his book. He'd been at university when he was nineteen, not accepting a cup of coffee from a complete stranger. He wondered whether Rob's parents knew where he was. Surely they'd help if they knew he didn't have any money? Why hadn't he asked them? David supposed there'd been a row. Just because he got on well with his parents didn't mean everyone did. Jeremy and his parents didn't, for a start. Judging from what Jeremy said, his parents were pig-headed; and, as for Jeremy, well, he didn't exactly bother about meeting people half-way. David's own mother had made a few choice remarks about him. His mother had never really understood why David and Jeremy remained firm friends; and David thought his father probably suspected there was more than just friendship between them. It was one of life's little ironies: the only close homosexual friend David had, and he didn't want anything other than friendship even though Jeremy had often suggested more. Mostly he'd been joking. David thought that, on the whole, Jeremy was probably as realistic as he was about things - they were too different in most ways and too similar in others ever to be compatible in the long term. He watched as a fellow traveller across the aisle struggled with a window that was letting in the chilly autumn air. Eventually the exasperated man banged on the metal lip, pulled down the window and then quickly pushed it up again with all his strength, this time managing to shut it. Perhaps he'd better not ask about Rob's parents. Perhaps they'd asked him to leave. Why, oh why, had he suggested Rob stay at his house? He told himself he was being stupid. Until Rob had got on the train, David had been wishing he'd accepted his offer. As soon as he had, David had begun to wish he hadn't! David had said he could stay for a few days - how did he think Rob was going to find somewhere else so soon? What was he going to do if Rob couldn't find a job or anywhere else to stay - drive him back to Waterloo so he could sleep rough again? Cardboard City was no place for anyone, let alone someone still in their teens. It would be winter before long - how on earth did people keep warm and get enough to eat when they were homeless and jobless? But why should David go out of his way to help Rob? He knew nothing about him. They probably had nothing in common and David would find his life totally disrupted. And that was ignoring the likely awkwardness of the situation. He'd scarcely be able to get straight out of the bath and then go into his bedroom to get dressed in case he met - and embarrassed - Rob on the landing. He wouldn't be able to call the house his own any more. Still, at least he had a home, he thought, putting aside his own worries for a moment. Straight, light brown hair, direct blue eyes and a pleasant face - Rob didn't look like a thief, especially when you remembered that he'd innocently admitted having some money and that he'd tried to return David's to him. Neither did he look unstable - a little nervous, perhaps, but that was understandable. He didn't look as if he'd be dangerous either; of the two of them, David thought himself the stronger. Although a few years older, he knew from his games of squash that he was fit, and Rob still had the slightness of youth. He could always hide the carving knife, David thought, smiling to himself. Or, if he got really paranoid, put it under his pillow. "Where d'you come from?" The train was just pulling out of a station and the seats next to each of them had been vacated, making conversation easier. Rob told him, a little uneasily. "I've been through there, but I don't really know it." "It's quite a nice place to live. Less built up than down here. What's your parents' house like?" "Oh, detached. Quite a large garden when you compare it with those of the houses they build nowadays. A fairly quiet road. I've lived there since I was eight. I like it." "What about work? Are there plenty of jobs around?" "I think so. I mean, there often seem to be notices at the Job Centre or in shop windows. There's supposed to be a shortage of school-leavers. But then they said a few years ago that we were going to have more leisure now that computers could do so much but that didn't seem to happen. Apart from the people who couldn't find a job and had too much." He smiled. "What sort of job did you want?" Rob shrugged. "Oh, anything. The hotel I worked in was nothing special - long hours and poor pay. The staff were friendly, though. What do you do?" "I work in an office." David mentioned the company's name, but Rob hadn't heard of it. "Have you been there long?" "About six years. Before that I worked somewhere else for a year, but I didn't really enjoy it so I moved." "And now?" "Yes, I'm happy where I am. I wouldn't stay if I wasn't." They smiled at each other, then Rob turned his attention to the passing countryside, where the dying leaves were shades of bright yellow and dry brown with the occasional fiery red, and David went back to his book. After about ten minutes, he looked up, too. "Next stop," he said as they sped past a station whose name Rob didn't have time to read. "D'you live near the station?" "About ten minutes' drive." The train began to slow, and David unconsciously stretched. It must be a trigger mechanism, he thought, smiling to himself. Like when a film has finished and the lights come on. Rob yawned. "Tired?" Rob nodded. "Well, you should be able to catch up on your sleep tonight." People nearby were putting on coats and collecting briefcases from luggage racks or from spaces between the seats. Commuters apparently sound asleep suddenly opened their eyes and stretched. Others moved through the carriage so that they could alight as near to the ticket barrier as possible. David fished out his ticket and closed his book. "What are you reading?" " 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' " "That was a film, wasn't it?" "Mmm. Gregory Peck, I think." "Who wrote it?" "Harper Lee. A woman," he added, as the name didn't seem to mean anything to Rob. "What's it about?" "Childhood, I suppose. She reminds you of things you'd nearly forgotten. It's strange how much your perspective changes as you grow older." He got to his feet. As he followed David off the train and then out of the station, Rob was seized with doubts. He hesitated by the car, then he got in. Was he completely lacking in common sense? To accept a complete stranger's offer of a bed for a few days? Especially when that stranger had admitted he was gay. He must be out of his mind. It must be safer spending the night in London where he'd at least be with other people. Safety in numbers. Why had David kept looking at him on the train, and then avoiding his eyes? Why had he asked him his age? Had he intended handing him over to the police if he was too young, or had he hoped Rob was over the age of consent? Would he be deterred that Rob wasn't twenty-one yet? Telling himself that David's open admission was evidence of good faith didn't help reassure him; neither did the fact that, despite being alone in a car with him, David hadn't attempted anything. Oh God! he thought, suddenly realising that David might have jumped to conclusions and interpreted his acceptance to mean that he was willing to sleep with him for the sake of a roof over his head. No wonder he hadn't bothered to try anything in the car, when he probably thought he was onto a sure thing. By the time the car drew to a halt and David announced this was it, Rob was in a state of panic. He stared at the house - it looked solid and well-cared for, mellow brick, a shiny, blue front door with four panes of glass at the top, large, white-framed windows, all seemingly innocuous - and made no attempt to get out. Hoping to gain some time, he said: "I didn't think it would be so big." Christ, he thought, he couldn't have said anything that had more sexual overtones if he'd tried! "It's my parents', really. They're abroad." "So it's just you living there." He swallowed and gave no indication of any desire to move from where he was. "Got everything?" David asked. Rob nodded, unable to speak. They got out of the car and walked to the front door. As David looked for his key, Rob blurted out, "Look, I don't know …" and stopped abruptly. David, not having paid much attention to him while he'd been driving, suddenly realised Rob was worried about something. "Why don't you phone someone and let them know where you are?" he suggested. "There's a phone box on the corner, and you'll be able to see the name of the road from there." Although it was only just beginning to get dark, the street lights were already on. Rob considered the idea. Who could he call? There was no one. He shook his head. "No, it's all right," he said miserably. "I'm not Jack the Ripper," David assured him. Was he just a Good Samaritan? Rob wondered. "I suppose not." As he shut the door behind him, Rob wondered what he was letting himself in for. "I'll make some coffee," David said, talking his coat off and hanging it on a hook in a hall that must have been at least twice the size of that in Rob's parents' house. "Is that all you've got?" He was looking at the small holdall Rob had just put down. "No, I've got some things in a left-luggage locker. I can go back for them tomorrow." It would be an excuse, if he needed one, to leave. They went into the lounge, where David put down his book, and Rob looked about him. It was a pleasant room. Although most of the furniture was obviously expensive, nothing seemed ostentatious and everything looked comfortable. It was a room that was lived in. It felt like a nice house, he thought, following David through to the kitchen, which was warm and reminded him how hungry and how tired he was. He sat down at the kitchen table, and then stood up again to take off his coat. Although the room was full of gleaming pots and pans and electrical appliances, he smiled as he noticed some unwashed dishes by the sink. "I didn't get round to doing those before I left," David admitted, noticing what had attracted Rob's attention. "No dishwasher?" He looked about, apparently trying to sort out the various gadgets. "Yes, over there, but it doesn't seem worth it when there's just me. When my parents are at home, we use it. Dad works in America a lot, and my mother usually goes with him now. He started working overseas when I was about fifteen, but my mother stayed here until I left school. No," he corrected himself: "No, she didn't go with him until after Holly, our Labrador, died." They both smiled at the thought that David's mother had viewed the dog with at least equal concern. For a moment, Rob believed once more that David's motives weren't as suspect as he'd imagined. When the coffee was ready, David brought it over to the table, where, for a while, they sat companionably sipping their hot drinks. "Would you like a biscuit?" David asked. "Yes, please." He took a chocolate digestive from the tin David held out. Biscuits had become luxury items. "How old are you?" Rob asked. "Twenty-eight." Somehow that worried Rob. He'd thought him younger. "Why are you still living at home?" he said with the directness of youth. David grinned. "Various reasons. I get on well with my parents, they need someone to look after the house when they're away, I've never …" He stopped, amazed to find himself about to say that he'd never met anyone he'd wanted to live with. Only minutes ago, he'd been thinking of Rob simply as someone he'd been fool enough to invite to his home; now it was as if they were back in the anonymous intimacy of the café at Waterloo. "I've never wanted to move," he finished lamely. "There's really only one bedroom you can have," he said, changing the subject. "We've got four, but one's just used for storing things in and as a rather cramped study." "Oh, anything's better than sleeping on a bench. Or not sleeping at all. You don't appreciate a roof over your head until there isn't one." Despite its being hot, he drank the coffee quickly. "D'you want some more?" David offered. "No, thanks." "I'll finish this and then I'll show you the room." Upstairs, David pointed out the bathroom to Rob, and then opened the door of the spare bedroom. "Well, here we are." Rob stepped inside. It was much larger than his bedroom at home. It was mostly blue - light blue walls, dark blue curtains and carpet, and the patterned duvet cover contained blues and mauves. The furniture was mostly white - a white bedside table, white wardrobe, a white chest near the window with a blue and green rug thrown over it - though there was an obviously old brown chair in one corner. David was saying something about putting the radiator on, when Rob looked at the bed and froze. He turned to David, his eyes hard. "It's a double bed," he said very quietly. "Look, when I changed my mind about coming here I didn't mean that I intended …" He stopped, not wanting to put his fears into words. "Neither did I," retorted David, beginning to lose his temper at the unjustness of the accusation when he was in fact trying to do someone a good turn. "But the only single bed in the house is in my room and I'm damned if I'm giving it up. If it's not to your liking, you can sleep on the sofa." His anger died as quickly as it had come when he took in Rob's expression. He hadn't realised the kid was petrified. He was only young, after all. Perhaps this was the last straw. "I'm sorry," he went on. "But, honestly, this is the only room you can have." He could see the struggle reflected in Rob's face as he tried to make up his mind whether to believe him. Perhaps at the station someone had tried to pick him up and now he was wary. It was an unusual situation, to say the least, and he could hardly be blamed for expecting the worst. Rob looked round the room again. It was a nice room. Not too fussy or cluttered, not so recently decorated as to feel more like a show piece than somewhere you could feel comfortable. Why did he have to make such a fuss? If David was sincere, Rob was surprised he hadn't been thrown out of the house in view of his remark. And if he wasn't? It didn't bear thinking about. What alternative was there, anyway? "Is there a key?" he asked at last. "What?" "To the door. Is there a key?" He stared at the empty keyhole as if one would materialise. At least he could try to minimise the risks, he thought. Perhaps he could barricade himself inside. "I'm not sure. There might be one downstairs. I can have a look." "It's a nice room," Rob conceded slowly. He put his bag down at last. He'd made his decision. He'd made his bed, he thought wryly. "Thank you." "I'll make us something to eat. You're welcome to have a look round the house or watch television." Now that it came to it, David didn't quite know what to do with his guest. "Could I have a bath?" ventured Rob. "Yes, of course. I'll find you a towel." "And could I use the washing-machine? Someone spilled beer over me last night." "That's all right. Leave everything you want washed outside the bathroom and I'll put them in for you. You can borrow a dressing-gown," he added. Rob balked at the idea of a dressing-gown: he would have felt vulnerable. "Could you lend me some clothes instead? Just a pair of trousers and a pullover, I mean." They were about the same height. "Yes, OK," David agreed. From his room he got an old, but clean, pullover and a pair of trousers he'd not worn much. He gave them, together with a towel taken from the airing cupboard, to Rob. "The water's been on since six, so it should be hot. Supper won't be ready for at least half an hour so you should have plenty of time. If you leave your clothes outside, they can be washed tonight and dry by tomorrow." "Thanks." Rob smiled awkwardly and closed the bathroom door behind him. The bathroom was pleasant, with its relaxing warmth and restful green walls and tiles. A plant whose name he didn't know cascaded from a high ledge. He thought he'd better wash his hair, too, so he opened a cabinet and searched for some shampoo. There was a mirror on the cabinet door. He looked at his reflection as if he hoped he could see his future. He turned away. He was being fanciful. After fetching some clean sheets and leaving them in the spare room, David went downstairs and searched for something to eat. He'd been intending to have fish, but there wasn't enough for two. He found a couple of pork chops in the freezer so he took those out and defrosted them in the microwave. The potatoes he peeled and put in a saucepan to boil, while the chops he put under a low grill. Then he took out some frozen peas, put enough for the two of them in another saucepan, but didn't light the gas as they wouldn't take long to cook. Upstairs he found Rob's discarded clothes, a pair of socks being the most intimate item Rob had chosen to leave outside the bathroom door, which he took downstairs and put in the washing machine. He'd set the table in the dining room, opened a bottle of wine and was doing the washing-up from that morning when Rob reappeared. David didn't hear him enter. "I used some shampoo - I hope you don't mind." "No, of course not." David dried his hands and turned round. He was unprepared for the sudden rush of desire he felt. Rob stood there, his hair still damp, his feet bare, smiling a little self-consciously. Perhaps the fact that he was wearing David's clothes made David feel some sort of intimacy. David hurriedly turned towards the cooker before Rob noticed. "Why don't you go and sit down? I've just got to do the peas and then we can eat." "OK." Rob went out and David busied himself with supper, trying to put all wayward thoughts out of his mind. Rob had, although luckily David was unaware of the fact, registered the effect his presence had had on David; but he'd also realised David's profound confusion and the way he'd dealt with the problem. In a way, he supposed, it was a compliment. But it was also a complication. By the time he'd dished up, David was in control of his emotions again. He carried the plates into the lounge and then poured out a glass of wine for each of them. He decided that he'd better not offer to replenish Rob's glass in case it looked as though he was trying to get him drunk. Rob looked at the table - the full plates, the shining cutlery, the wine - and the room, and for a second he was close to tears. Reaction setting in, he told himself, trying to pull himself together, to the sudden change from being homeless. Utterly ridiculous; he'd slept rough only one night. It must be the prospect of continuing to sleep rough. "Are you all right?" David asked as Rob just sat there, not eating. Was he a vegetarian? Surely he'd have said if he was? "Yes, I'm fine." Rob picked up his knife and fork and began to eat. "Oh, I found the key, by the way. I put it in the lock." "Thanks." "I think some of the keys are interchangeable, though. I'm sure I remember my cousin locking himself in when he was young, and Mum and Dad finding another key to the door. But I'm not sure which room that was. Oh, that reminds me - I usually turn the burglar alarm on at night. It's connected to the front and back door, and to some of the downstairs windows." Rob ate hungrily. David, trying to make him feel more at ease, talked about work. "Would you like something else to drink?" he asked eventually, as Rob had taken only a sip of wine. "There's some orange juice in the fridge." "Yes. Thanks." David went out to the kitchen, got another glass, poured some orange juice into it, and then returned. "I'm not really used to wine," Rob explained apologetically, accepting the glass David offered. "Thanks." He drank the orange juice quickly. After they'd finished eating, Rob looked up awkwardly. "I'm sorry if I offended you earlier. It's just ... I don't know you." "That's OK." David grinned. "Honestly, the only thing you need worry about is whether or not I defrosted the pork chops properly." Rob looked at him, assessing what he'd said, and then suddenly he smiled and his face lit up. For a moment David was engulfed, not by the desire he'd felt earlier, but by a bitter-sweet longing for something intangible. "Anyway," he continued more soberly, "you'd have to be mad nowadays to sleep with someone you didn't know." "Almost as mad as inviting a total stranger to your house," Rob joked a little warily. David grinned. "Mmm. I can't say I didn't have second thoughts." "Just say if you'd prefer me to go." Although what he'd have done in a strange place at this hour, he had no idea. "No. You're welcome to stay." "Thanks." David stood up. "I'm going to make a cup of coffee. Would you like some?" Rob nodded. While they drank their coffee, David noticed that Rob could hardly keep his eyes open. His head would start to nod and then jerk back as he tried to stay awake, whether from politeness or just putting off going to bed, David didn't know. "Why don't you go to bed?" suggested David gently, although it wasn't late. "What about the things in the washing machine?" "Oh, I'll see to those. Don't worry." "Thanks." Rob put down his empty cup and stood up. His eyes searched David's face. David wondered what he saw. "Have you got everything you need? I left some sheets in your room." "Yes." He looked young and shy again. "Well, goodnight, then." David smiled. "Goodnight."   

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Reader Reviews for "The Dandelion Clock"

Reviewed by Shirley Harber 4/14/2007
I had read about this book on the talkback web site so it's nice to be able to read some of it at last. I enjoyed this very much, it is well written and the characterisation is excellent.

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