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by Huw Jones

Chapter 16

After dinner and when bath time was over and bedtime stories had been told to the twins, Gareth sat down with Huw to have a chat. "So how are you feeling about the future, Huw bach, after all that has gone on over the last couple of days?" asked Gwyn.

"I'm glad about the change at the top of the school and I'm really glad that the position about bullying has completely turned about. The thing that I can't handle is the price paid for that to happen and that Gareth should have been so badly hurt. I know this is really selfish and self-centred but because this has happened I've lost my only friend at the school and I don't know how I'm going to manage without his friendship. If it hadn't been for you and Janet and for Gareth..." His voice tailed off. "...I, I think I would have tried to finish off what I made such a mess of at the weir in Cilfynydd." He turned away from Gwyn unable to look at him.

"Huw, cariad, I want you to understand that you've become like a son to us and as far as Haddie and Betsan are concerned, you've been their big brother ever since they've known you. We care about you and I want you to promise me that if ever you get really low again, then you'll come and see me and tell me about it."

Huw walked across the room without saying a word and hugged Gwyn. The two of them stood hugging one another for over a minute. Then Huw asked uncertainly, "Did you really mean that when you said that I was like a son to you both?"

Gwyn answered him, "Huw, Janet and I have discussed it at some length and we've wondered about talking to Valerie to see how she would feel about you coming to live with us and for us to become your foster parents, if that's what you would want. We do talk with her from time to time and I know that she doesn't feel well equipped to deal with the needs of a teenage lad, especially one who has faced all the tough things that you have gone through. Obviously, we would need to be approved by Children's Services and we would need Valerie's agreement, but most of all, it would have to be what you want."

Huw was stunned at Gwyn's amazing offer. "Oh, it's exactly what I would want. I wouldn't want to hurt Valerie because she has been so kind to me but I know I have completely turned her life upside down and it's very tough on her. Would it be alright if I talked it through with her tomorrow night when I go back home and if she's happy, I'll tell you what she says and I'll give Sandra a call on Monday."

"Okay lad," laughed Gwyn, "but you need to understand that it's a long process to be approved as foster parents so don't get too excited."

"Gwyn, this is the first good news that I've had in a very long time so I can't help being excited," said Huw with a huge smile on his face.

The rest of the evening passed quickly and Huw had a very poor night's sleep because he was so excited. When he finally did drop off, he had vivid dreams with all the situations of his past and the people of his present all mixed up.

The following day, the five of them left at 9 o'clock to spend a day on the beach at Hayling Island near Portsmouth. It was a wonderful day-out for Huw which almost recaptured idyllic days on the beach at Barry Island with mam and dad, Dafydd and Mair. He made sandcastles with Angharad and Betsan, paddled with them in the sea and comforted Betsan when she dropped the ball of ice cream from her cornet. He took her back to the van to buy a new one and received a huge beam from his little 'sister' in return. Janet and Gwyn watched the interaction between the three young ones marvelling at the closeness of the relationship between Huw and the twins.

"I do hope the fostering works out," murmured Janet to her husband, "I don't think I've ever seen him so happy."

By 5 o'clock, three tired and sunburnt youngsters changed from their swimming costumes and helped put away the folding chairs and pack up buckets and spades ready for the next seaside trip. Within five minutes of starting the car journey home, Huw had a sleeping beauty on each side of him in the back seat. It had been a splendid day out.

It was clear that there would be no time for a visit to hospital that evening as the girls needed feeding and bathing, so with Janet's permission he rang Gareth's parents to say he wouldn't be there until the following afternoon and to get a progress report. Mrs Williams reported that Gareth was still very low but was in far less pain. He asked them to say "hi" from him and to say he'd be along on Sunday afternoon.

After their evening meal together, Huw helped with the evening ritual of bathing the girls and reading their bedtime stories. At nine o'clock he thanked Janet and Gwyn for their hospitality and gave them both a huge hug. He cycled the short journey home and sat down to bring Valerie up-to-date with everything that had happened.

Over the obligatory cup of tea he told her of the events of the day in Hayling. Valerie was really pleased to see how he was still bubbling with excitement about his time with the Evans family and their trip to the seaside. She asked about Gareth and immediately saw a marked change in his demeanour and he began to show some nervousness and hesitancy.

"I saw him on Monday but we were too late back to go tonight so I called his mum. He's in less pain but he's very fed up. I'll see him tomorrow and I'll try and cheer him up then." He stopped speaking and after a few moments he looked down at the floor and continued, "On Friday night we talked about something else." He looked up into her face, "Valerie, you've allowed me to turn your life upside down and you've shown me real love. It can't be been easy opening your home to a moody teenager."

Valerie laughed, "It's been a pleasure I promise you. Well, most of the time. I did find it hard when you were so withdrawn and hurting. Gwyn and Janet must take the credit for turning that round."

"That's what I wanted to talk about. I don't know how to say this without sounding ungrateful. But they happened to say how much they appreciated me as a sort of son and the girls see me as a big brother. Gwyn offered -- if you agreed of course -- and if it was what I wanted that they'd be prepared to offer themselves as foster parents for me." He tailed off too embarrassed to continue.

"Huw, that is a most generous offer and I'm not offended in the slightest. You know that I have neither the experience nor knowledge to be able to meet the needs of any teenage boy, let alone someone who has gone through so many difficult experiences. I don't want you to feel that I'm trying to pass you on, you've become very special to me, but I do think that Gwyn and Janet are who you need in a parental role right now. I'll be supportive and recommend them to Sandra as potential foster parents if it will help and if that's what you want."

Thrilled at Valerie's response, Huw rushed across the room and gave her a huge hug which was warmly returned – a far cry from her embarrassment in their first meeting. Later on, Huw settled down for the best night's sleep he'd had in ages.

Events moved rapidly in the next four weeks. Gareth came out of hospital after a further three days and the boys spent as much time as they could together. Huw spent two weekends with Gareth and his parents. At the end of that second weekend it was time for the boys to make an emotional farewell. A couple of days later, Gareth's family moved back to Caernarfon.

Huw had called Sandra at his first opportunity and told her of the offer Gwyn had made and that he was keen to make the move. Sandra knew the Evans because she had met them when she came up to formalise the twice-weekly contact in their home. She promised she would give it the highest priority. The timing of the call turned out to be very opportune because he was due a full case review. She decided to bring it forward and made an appointment to visit the Evans, Valerie and Huw later that week.

Sandra had taken to phoning Valerie regularly as it was clear that she was out of her depth and struggling to meet Huw's needs. Sandra was shocked when Valerie brought her up to date with the full story of the drama that had taken place at school and saddened by the destabilising effect that Gareth's family move would have on Huw. She pulled out all the stops to facilitate a fast and simple transfer to the Evans. She was relieved that Valerie not only was supportive but was actively promoting the move.

She completed the necessary interviews with Gwyn, Janet, Valerie, Huw and even Haddie and Betsan on her first long day. In addition, Gwyn arranged for one of his school colleagues to come to the house so she could interview him for a reference and she also interviewed the Evans' next-door neighbours. After this marathon session of information gathering, she spent the next two days writing up her reports and preparing a submission for the review panel which was due to meet on the following Monday. Strictly speaking, she had missed the deadline but she managed to persuade the departmental manager to include Huw's review on that day because of its urgency and the disastrous way Huw's earlier placement had worked out. She had hardly needed to remind him how badly the department had handled the placement previously, as it was still a source of disgrace for the department. A few days later Sandra presented her submission to the review panel and managed to create a departmental record for a rapid approval of a foster placing. She rang the Evans with the good news that evening and then called Valerie and Huw to let them know and to discuss a date that he would move across.

They all agreed that he should move at the weekend and he decided not to go to the Evans at all that week in order to spend as much time as possible with Valerie. The two of them went out for a special meal on Friday night and they began to discuss the future together.

"Valerie, I can't tell you what a difference you've made in my life and I don't know how to thank you for opening your home to me and allowing your life to be so turned upside down," he said over their dessert course. "I hope you understand that my wanting to move to the Evans is about needing a mam and dad again and having two little sisters is a wonderful bonus. It's not because there's anything wrong with what you have given to me."

"Of course you must move, Huw. It's a huge weight off my mind that there is someone who can meet your needs as a young man. I never married and I know that I don't have the depth of understanding to provide the emotional support as well as the practical support you need."

Huw walked round the table and hugged her. He handed her a small package that he pulled out of his pocket and said, "This is just a small present for all you've done for me."

Valerie opened the packet carefully and pulled out a small leather-bound book. It was a beautifully hand-tooled leather-bound copy of 'The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning'. "I know you like her poetry because I've seen some of your poetry books open at her poems. I haven't written in it because it didn't seem right somehow to spoil it but I want you to know that it comes with all my love."

Valerie was overcome with emotion at such a lovely present given with beautiful sentiment, way beyond his years. They went home happily together, bringing their close day-to-day association to an end in a lovely way, although they still planned to see each other regularly in the days ahead.

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