My thanks go to my proofreaders for their assistance in preparing this yarn for posting.
I must admit that I was completely in the dark and had no idea what Sue was ranting-on about, when I arrived back at the house that afternoon.
"See, she just took a picture of Mark!" Sue was raving to her brother, as I entered the lounge. "I tell you Mike, they're spying on us!"
On seeing me – as was her usual wont – Sue came over, greeted me with a familiar hug, saying "Hi Mark!" as we touched cheeks, in what -- since aspiring actress Rachelle, had joined our little community a year or so previous -- had become the traditional female to male (and female to female, come-to-that) greeting in the house.
Us manly guys just kind-a nodded to each other and grunted, by the way. But if a shapely and very alluring female deigns to offer you a friendly hug in greeting, what right-thinking red-blooded male is going to refuse? Actually being greeted by Rachelle herself was my favourite; Rachelle never failed to kiss me on the lips ... and stir my blood, while she was at it.
However Sue's greeting of me, had not interrupted her conversation with her brother Mike.
"Sue, there's no way anybody could take a decent picture of anyone from that distance!" Mike had replied.
After that, I kind of lost track (and interest) in their conversation, as I passed on through the lounge and into the communal kitchen. Sue and Mark might be twins, but they were alike as chalk and cheese. To find them in mild disagreement – usually concerning something so innocuous that most people wouldn't consider it worth mentioning -- was not uncommon.
I think I was hoping that someone had a brew on the go that I could filch.
Finding myself out of luck, I set about filling the coffee machine and then I put the kettle on, in the event anyone wanted tea when they arrived home.
Barry was the next to show his face. He squinted at the coffee machine, looked me in the eye and then glanced at the door to the lounge, behind which Sue and Mike's voices could still be heard.
I should add that Sue and Mike were almost always the first two home of an evening and ... well tradition had it, that the first home got the coffee on the go, if nothing else.
"What's got up Sue's nose, this evening?" Barry grinned at me, as he opened the dishwasher and began emptying that morning's load.
I didn't reply in words: I just threw Barry a frustrated glance as I took the mugs from him and began lining them up on the worktop.
"Like an old married couple those two! I pity Ron and Sheila." Barry went on.
I still didn't reply, poured-out four coffees, picked-up my own and then headed for the peace and quiet of my own quarters, leaving Barry with the job of delivering Sue and Mike theirs.
I had myself a little suite of rooms on the top (second) floor. Bedroom, private lounge and bathroom. Larger than anyone else's domain, but – technically -- I was the landlord, so no one objected.
Possibly this is a good point for me to explain my living arrangements, which were a little on the unusual side for single bloke of my age. Er, alright 34 if you're that interested. Anyway I apologise, if this explanation is a little on the long side, but my life up to that date had had its complications.
The house (my usual weekday residence) had originally been my grandparent's abode. I'd been brought-up in the place until I was eight years old, when my father passed-on somewhat prematurely. My mother had never been a 'big city person' and ... if I'm being totally honest ... she had never really hit-it-off with my grandmother either. We'd only lived in the suburbs because of my father's work. Once he was no longer keeping her there, mother lit out for the stud farm (her own childhood home) as soon as she could respectfully arrange it. Taking me along with her, of-course.
Hey, there had never been any real hostility between the two women; they just had opposing outlooks on life. My mother was at her happiest sitting astride a fifteen-hand plus, hunter, whereas my grandmother's preference would be strolling around Harrods, taking tea in the Ritz or in some other upmarket establishment. My grandmother didn't do mud, if you get my drift.
To be honest the two women had worked very hard to maintain a good relationship – probably on my account - after my father had passed-on, but they had such conflicting interests and outlooks on life, that I find it amazing that they were as successful as they were. Anyway that's really unimportant, as they were both distant memories by the time I'm talking about.
I'd returned to live at the town house during the latter period of my education, while I attended university in London. My grandfather wanted me to work in his company after I'd completed my education, but ... well, to be honest, I took-after my mother in some respects and never really felt at home in the big city. In consequence I'd returned to live in what had by then become my mother's stud farm out in Hertfordshire and settled down to a job with a local company there.
I believe the guy who owned the establishment I found employment with, had at onetime been suitor of my mother in their younger days. Way back before my father had entered the equation.
Just over a year after I'd completed my education, my mother had an accident while out exercising a (visiting) stallion one morning. Consensus is, that something startled the animal, causing it rear and roll over backwards on top of her. Two days later my mother succumbed to her injuries.
At my mother's funeral, my grandparents suggested that I should return to town to live with them. I suppose -- to them -- it would have seemed the logical move for me to make. But as a virile young man in his mid-twenties ... yeah, I'm sure you understand.
Anyway my mother's passing, had left me with obligations. i.e. I had her animals to think about (five dogs, half a dozen mares, two/three in foal, plus assorted foals and yearlings) and there was no way I could abandon or sell them. Well, I could sell the young stock when they were old enough, but not my mother's other... "babies!"
I had to get used to fending for myself though, but it didn't take me too long to get organised. I'm not sure what my grandparents made of the two horse-mad young ladies -- Vanessa and Averill -- who became my house mates at the stud. Basically they were employed to run the house, mind the stock, and look after the dogs.
However -- just in case anyone starts getting the wrong idea -- I employed the girls to run my mother's stud farm. Not to join my own, if you get my drift. A sort-of sibling relationship had rapidly developed between the three of us and nothing untoward ever went-on. Not that I'm sure my grandparents were ever convinced of that fact.
My grandparents always were a little uncomfortable with (what they termed as) my and my mother's bohemian outlook on life. There'd been a few ... strained interludes while I been at studying university; but generally they'd tolerated my transgressions.
Whatever - my grandparents' weren't around for very long after my mother died. Less than eighteen months later, they were both killed when a gas explosion and fire laid waste to their town house.
A consequence of that was that my life took another unexpected turn. Well, some silly bugger had to run my grandfather business, didn't they?
I did look around for a suitable candidate to buy the concern. However the few people I could find, were only interested in shutting it down and asset stripping the company. I'd known a lot of the staff -- personally -- almost all my of life, so I felt obligated to keep the place going, somehow.
Besides, the place was surprisingly profitable for such a small enterprise; only twenty-five staff and it did virtually run itself, most of the time.
My next problem was what to do with what was left of my grandparents' house. It was pretty-well gutted, but it had also been very well insured.
I suppose that my most profitable path would have been to pull the ruins down and then sell the plot as a building site. A developer would probably have jammed ten or fifteen houses, maybe more, onto that site. Or even built a block of flats; possibly both.
But a surveyor's report informed me that the walls were perfectly sound, so I felt obligated to rebuild the property myself. You see, my grandfather and my father had both loved the place.
I realised it would be prudent to take a few liberties with the rebuilding though. Because I'd felt obligated to keep my grandfather's business going, I'd have to have a home in town myself. But I didn't want or need a house that large for my own use.
My first thought had been to rebuild the house as several flats, but retaining roughly the same external design. But then the idea of a house of multiple occupancy came into my head. I had a few friends from my time at Uni (Barry and the Turner twins) who were forever complaining about the scarcity of suitable living accommodation in town. So I sounded them out on sharing the house with me. To say that they jumped at the idea would be putting it mildly.
So after nine months of hell, commuting almost every weekday, I moved into my very comfortable three-room suite on the top (second) floor of the house. And then I settled into a three nights at one address, and four nights at the other, lifestyle. Varying the when and where I slept depending on how my belly or business commitments guided me.
.... There is more of this story ...