Another little Jack Horwood story…. It’s the morning of Nico’s birthday and Jack takes him book shopping. This story sits between House Hunt and Swings & Roundabouts, and follows on from When Hope Has Teeth and Claws, Last Night of Freedom, and Hugs and Shortbread.
It was early for a Saturday morning and Jack’s favourite armchair was still free. He dropped his bag, and set a large mug of coffee onto the rough wooden table. Bookshops had come a long way since the first time Rio had taken him to Hatchard’s. He’d been in bookshops all over the world since then, and – if he thought about it – he carried a whole library in his pocket at all times, but these days, Jack loved stores where he could lounge comfortably on a sofa, coffee mug close, and read the day away if he so chose. Gallagher’s was one such store, with cafe-worthy seating near the big front windows and cosy armchairs dotted around the labyrinthine store. Andrew Gallagher, the store’s owner, even provided padded wicker baskets in various sizes for customers to stack books in while they browsed.
Of course, Nico had reached for the biggest of those as soon as they made it to the store. Jack hadn’t argued. He’d watched Nico disappear into the row of interconnected rooms, picked up the book on social engineering Andrew had ordered for him, and settled himself down to read. Knowing Nico, the boy would be a while.
The store was a quiet oasis, but Jack found he couldn’t lose himself in his reading. He was too antsy trying to imagine how the afternoon would go. Today was Nico’s birthday and yesterday the courts had granted him and Gareth custody over the two boys. Gareth had been as delighted with the decision as Jack was. Relieved, too, as if – like Jack – he’d not quite believed matters would settle in their favour. They were planning to tell the boys at the end of Nico’s birthday barbecue, but right then, Jack wasn’t sure he could stand the waiting.
They’d all come a long way since Jack, dressed to bait a pimp, had spotted the two huddled against the far end of the bar in a dance club. They’d been too thin, too scared, and far too knowledgeable about things thirteen-year-olds should have little knowledge of. Had been forced to grow up too fast and too soon, just as Jack had years earlier, and had ended up distrusting everything and everyone. Except Jack and Gareth, who’d worked hard for that trust. But what if-
Jack reached for his coffee to stop the wayward thoughts. What the fuck was wrong with him? After the night he and Gareth had just spent, he should be the epitome of zen, not second-guessing their kids’ reaction.
His and Gareth’s.
Daniel, who’d be marinading steaks and making salad right now while Gareth showed off the results of his night-time baking spree.
And Nico, who was coming towards him now, far sooner than Jack had expected, with a huge grin on his face. He wobbled a little as he walked and the reason was obvious. Jack had told Nico he could choose as many books as he could carry and the little shit was taking full advantage. He’d stacked the basket to overflowing and he could just about keep it off the ground while he walked.
Jack got up and went to help, feeling a grin stretch his cheeks at the absurdity of it all. “I thought I said as many books as you can carry, Nico.”
Nico drew himself up to his full height. His biceps and back strained to hold the laden basket off the ground, but he didn’t stop grinning. “I’m carrying them. Look!”
Jack looked. Saw the books in the basket, arranged like a jigsaw to maximise the space, and had to hold back his laughter. “How many did you get in there?”
Nico blushed. “Thirty-four?”
“Well done. All that Tetris and Jenga practice is coming in handy.” Jack set the basket on the table and waved Nico into the armchair beside his. “Let’s see what you’ve got.” Unsurprisingly, there was plenty of fantasy in the stack, along with crime and adventure fiction. He fished out one of the books and held it up. “You realise you have that on your slate, right?”
Nico blushed. “I know. And ebooks are great for reading, but these… they’re memories. The kind you can touch.”
Jack needed a moment to swallow the lump in his throat, but then he found his brightest grin, utterly convinced now that things would work out just fine.
And if you’d like to catch up with (published) Jack, Gareth and the boys…. you can find all the books on this page.