Kenneth Taylor has bright plans for a future as an engineer. In the summer of 1957, as soon as he returns home to Bristol from two years of National Service in the Royal Signals, a furious row with his dad means he’s thrown out of the house, and his prospects are in jeopardy.
He finds lodgings in the hilltop, bomb-damaged suburb of Kingsdown, determined to be independent and juggling night school with his humdrum day job. He soon meets Gino, the good-looking son of a local café owner and is thrilled when the attraction proves to be mutual. As their romance blooms, Kenneth finds unexpected encouragement from an apparition in the mirror who inhabited the house in the late 18th century.
When the ghostly vision of Kit also appears to Kenneth in his dreams, it seems they have much in common when Kit reveals his dilemma at a similar age, concerning his growing attachment to a young man, Ned. Past and present intermingle as Kenneth faces parallel and difficult decisions. But can he trust Kit? Or is it all merely a trick of the light?
Kenneth got in the habit of dropping into the café when not in a rush for the bus. It wasn’t only the charms of the waiter but the hospitable atmosphere of the family-owned establishment that helped him pine less for his mum and sister.
Despite unprepossessing beginnings, his room on Kingsdown Parade was starting to take shape. The hilltop area might be a bit worn and battered, but he had all he needed nearby and was grateful for the convenience of the Co-op store at the top of the road. Also, his mum had sneaked a few items to give to Pamela to pass on to him, so his digs looked a bit more homely.
But as autumn began, he had to admit he was cold. He only switched on the two-bar electric fire for a short while in the evenings as he couldn’t afford to keep the electric meter ticking over too fast. One blustery Saturday afternoon, when his fingers nearly froze as he sat at the desk in front of the draughty windows trying to complete his homework, he decided he needed a change of scene.
Grabbing his bag of dirty washing to take to the launderette, he snagged his satchel and required textbooks and headed off down the hill. Once his laundry was in the machine, and the woman on duty kindly promised to put the wet load into the drier, he crossed the road to the café. He hoped that by now, he was enough of a regular customer to get away with ordering only the milky coffee he’d acquired a taste for.
He’d missed the lunchtime rush and was glad he’d had a sandwich at home beforehand since the scent of hot food was always tempting. Instead of the waiter, it was a girl who served Kenneth today. She looked young enough to still be in school, most likely expected to help out at the weekends, the resemblance to her brother evident in her dark eyes, olive skin, and wide smile.
She didn’t quibble at his order of coffee, so Kenneth arranged his books on the table and started to study. He was so focused on his calculations that he was taken aback when a voice asked, “Would you like a top-up?”
He looked up from his exercise book to see the waiter smiling down at him. Hesitating, he started to scrabble in his pocket for any change remaining from his trip to the launderette when the waiter said, “It’s alright. It’s on the house.” With another smile, he took the cup and saucer, allowing Kenneth to admire his departing backside.
When the waiter returned, he seemed inclined to chat further, asking, “What are you studying, then?”
“Engineering,” Kenneth replied. “Well, the bare bones of it anyway.”
“Smart fellow,” the waiter retorted, raising his elegantly arched eyebrows. “Dad would like me to study,” he said with a nod to the man behind the counter. “But I’m flat-out here most days, and anyway, I'm not brainy enough,” he added with an eloquent shrug of his shoulders. It seemed unfair to Kenneth that someone so attractive and personable should lack confidence in his ability. Without pausing to feel self-consciously tongue-tied, Kenneth replied, “If you can remember every order and give the right change all day, every day, then you must be savvy. There’s plenty of education growing up and working in a café."
“Maybe so,” the waiter agreed with that charming smile.
He seemed about to continue the conversation when a call came from the counter. “Gino, service for table two!”
“Speak of the devil,” he said. His smile deepened as he lingered.
“Doesn’t your dad need you?” Kenneth asked. As soon as the comment was out of his mouth, he wished he hadn’t spoken aloud.
“Nah, my sister’s helping too, so there’s no rush,” Gino replied. “Dad would soon let me know if it’s urgent. And anyway, I’m not usually in the habit of dawdling at the tables chatting up pretty boys, so I’m sure he’ll let me off this once,” he added with a dazzling grin as Kenneth felt a blush rising over his face to his hairline.
“Arrivo, Papa,” Gino called over his shoulder, before sauntering back towards the counter with a distinct sway of his hips.