Wormington was a diverse little village, placed on the cusp of the county borders of Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. It sat proudly amongst the nearby Oxfordshire villages of Stanton-St-Joan and Weatherly, due to the way the Cotswold stone houses adorned the quiet streets and lanes. It was, in fact, a Buckinghamshire village, part of the home county. It was a retreat for the wealthy who earned their fortunes in the financial hub of London and a base for the academia of Oxford.
The Fallow family’s home, a four bedroom semi-detached house, resided in a sleepy cul-de-sac off the main street of Wormington. You’d rarely stumble across the road as it was on one of the corner’s of a double ‘s’ bend. The trees and bushes aligning the kerbs made the entrance almost hidden.
The Fallow’s driveway offered room for up to four cars. With the two boys, Henry and Stewart, having left home and their father James passing away nearly five years ago to this day, the drive was rarely filled to its capacity. Today was an unusual day, Henry’s Iridium Silver metallic two month old Mercedes hogged most of the drive. Having been reversed in, its nose faced away from the house and glared at the road. To its left, squeezed into the available space beside the living room window, Stewart’s dark blue ten year old Ford Focus bled oil into the cracks of the brick laid drive.
Stewart had lit the wood burner in the living room. The fireplace was brick with a wooden fascia. On the mantelpiece were pictures of the family. The biggest picture, with a plastic white frame, was of Henry and Stewart when they were teenagers in their school rugby shirts. The one in the centre with a dark wooden frame was a black and white picture of their dad in his army uniform. Their mother loved that picture. It was the uniform James wore when he proposed to her. She’d say to him ‘it’s a good job it’s in black and white, you almost look handsome.’ He would then chase her around the house with her screaming in delight. The last picture was a rare shot of the family all together. They were on holiday in Cornwall and their mum wanted a memento and arranged a professional portrait. Out of place in the middle of the mantelpiece was a white box with a red ribbon tied around it. Written on the top in their mum’s handwriting was ‘For Stewart’.
“I’m sorry I took so long to get here,” said Henry. He sat forward in the chair, trying to make eye contact with Stewart, but Stewart remained fixed on the flames dancing around behind the glass window of the wood burner door. “I really appreciated everything you did for Mum. You did all you could.” He stood up and walked to the mantelpiece and looked down at the box. “Are you ever going to open this?”
Stewart said nothing. His eyes were still red from the tears an hour earlier before Henry turned up. He was always the more emotional of the two. His father often warned ‘that boy sets himself up for hurt, he can’t keep wearing his heart on his sleeve’. It was Stewart’s nature, he couldn’t change, he didn’t want to change. He was born to help, though his selflessness was also a curse. By giving himself so readily to others, he gave little time for himself and never found someone to share his life.
“Come on Stew, talk to me. I’m still your big brother. We used to do everything together.” Henry reached out and tapped Stewart’s knee. “Remember Mum’s Kenwood mixer?” Stewart couldn’t help but smile. “Yeah, you do.” Henry smiled back. “It was Dad’s birthday wasn’t it? She was trying to make a cake but the mixer stopped working. You offered to fix it for her, although she was a bit sceptical. So you..”
“..grabbed Dad’s screwdriver, the red handled one he got as a leaving present from Rover, and adjusted the tensioner for the belt,” Stewart said, still staring at the wood burner.
“You got it working, well sort of. Mum wasn’t particularly happy. She poured in her eggs and switched it onto the low setting.”
“I was only ten, how was I to know the tensioner wasn’t meant to be fixed tight?”
“You secured it so it was stuck on high speed. As soon as she switched it on the mix went all over her and us. She turned around to you with the egg hanging from her nose, all angry and shouted ‘you little bugger!’” Henry laughed. “But then you started to cry and Mum felt so bad for shouting at you, she cuddled you and said something. What was it again?”
“It was something like ‘you can’t fix everything’.”
“Then Dad came in, looked at Mum and started laughing. He said ‘It’s alright luv, I’ll stick with a sandwich!’ ” They both laughed.
Stewart’s laugh gradually turned into a cry. Henry hesitated before going over to Stewart. Henry had always been focused and ambitious. He longed for the high life and the trappings of a materialistic lifestyle. He excelled at it. His move to London was the perfect thing for Henry, but then Henry was already so well versed in looking out for Henry. His dad was alive when Henry made his first million and he couldn’t have been any prouder. ‘Never thought I’d see the day when a Fallow wore a suit and not due int’ court’ his dad said when Henry visited in his first Mercedes. He took after his dad, stoic and strong. The rock of the family. Henry struggled with empathy, but seeing his little brother crying tore at his heart. He put his arm around Stewart and squeezed. “Let it out Stew,” he said.
Stewart got his tears under control and insisted he was okay. He gestured to Henry to sit back down. “I missed you, you know. So did Mum,” he said.
“I know. All I can do now is promise I’ll be more in your life. You’ll soon be sick of me,” said Henry.
“Soon?” said Stewart. They both laughed. “You know, as soon as I picked up the screwdriver and tried to repair the mixer, that was the day I knew what I wanted to do in life.”
Henry nodded. “Mum said you’d do great things. You did and still do. I envy you, the way you are with people. You make everything right all the time. You fix everything for everyone. I am proud of you little brother.”
Stewart smiled at Henry, the tears welled in his eyes again. He kept them in, giving himself a sore throat. “But I couldn’t fix her,” he said.
Henry looked down at his feet for a moment. He stood up and picked up the box. “Come on, Mum left this for you. Open it, let’s see what it is.”
Stewart took the box from Henry and placed it in his lap. He untied the ribbon and lifted the lid cautiously.
“Is that?” Henry said before Stewart cut him off.
“Dad’s Rover screwdriver,” Stewart finished saying. He lifted the screwdriver from the box exposing a handwritten note from his mum.
“What does it say?” Henry asked.
“I can’t read it,” said Stewart handing it to Henry. Henry unfolded the note and began to read. For the first time Stewart could recall, his brother had tears in his eyes. He looked up at Henry apprehensively.
Henry cleared his throat and regained his composure. “She says ‘Stop blaming yourself, you can’t fix everything.’ ”