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lomax61 last won the day on May 16

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About lomax61

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  1. lomax61


    Hi @travlbug. Agreed, a lot of uncertainties right now, and there are still a lot of possibilities on the horizon, too. Fingal might be just the perfect person to take on the bakery, but then don't put all your money on one horse - he might have other motives we're currently unaware of, considering who put his name forward 😱in the first place. As you can tell, there's still a lot of story for me to cover to get everything resolved.
  2. lomax61

    Round Two

    Chris is beginning to annoy me now with his relentless self-pity. He’s using Will for sex, even though he wants nothing else from him, and certainly not the relationship Will seems to crave. By his own admission, he doesn’t even like him. By staying with him, he’ll eventually bring them both down. I know he’s had things tough, but he’s turning out to be a perpetual ‘glass half empty’ character, whining about what others have and he does not. “I found myself hating Harry and Pip; I was so jealous of them. I wasn’t attracted to either of them; I didn’t want to break them up; I like both of them; I’m just painfully jealous of what they have.” I’m hoping Chris does find the guts to let Will go, so Will can find some lasting happiness with someone else. I’m sorry to say this again, but Chris needs to start loving himself before he tries to find love with another.
  3. lomax61


    Despite his dreadful treatment by the church, messed up preaching of “The Release Group”, his suicide attempt, and also his entirely understandable discontent with his gay life, Chris has to find some respite, otherwise he’s going to be caught forever in a vicious cycle of shame. Only he can break that cycle, by talking about it, because if he’s looking at a relationship to save him, then he’s simply jumping from one passive dependency to another. I also agree with @Timothy M., that there are not only caring organisations out there, but churches that openly welcome GLBTQ members into the congregation. My partner was recently baptised in our independent Christian church here in Hong Kong, officials who know about us and fully support us. Ever single Sunday service we’ve been to has been like a sold out concert, with many people standing to listen in. Today, more and more, being gay and Christian is not a juxtaposition, not an impossible combination. But Chris needs to take the first step, and do so bravely, to begin loving and accepting himself for who he is. Nothing makes a person more attractive than when others can see their inner calm and acceptance.
  4. lomax61


    I know it doesn't make for dramatic literature, but I know in the real world, with my gay and straight friends, that spending an evening with them in such a contented way is priceless. Glad you picked up on that.
  5. lomax61


    Thank you @Parker Owens. I could not have articulated the connection between Nathan and Jaymes better. It’s one of those chapters that, when you’re writing, it feels as though nothing much is happening, when beneath surface, everything that’s important is.
  6. lomax61


    Thank you, @mfa607. I wanted this to be a ‘cementing’ chapter, one where Nathan has a moment of clarity about his relationship with Jaymes. I hope I hit the mark.
  7. lomax61


    Never sounds old, @Job. Always good to hear.
  8. lomax61


    Thank you, @chris191070. Dilemma much? Any suggestions to help Nathan?
  9. lomax61


    @ObicanDecko - you are spot on. I’m glad you noticed the fact that it’s not only Nathan who’s reassessing what he’s got, and what he’s going to be missing. And I promise the next chapter is going to stir things up and put the cat amongst the pigeons. If you’ve read any of my earlier work, you know just how much I love drama....
  10. lomax61


    Ain’t that the truth. But to be fair, having lived out this way for 20+ years, Malaysia has some amazingly beautiful places to see and Kuala Lumpur is a pretty cool, relaxed place. You simply have to decide where you want to visit.
  11. lomax61


    During Nathan’s Friday morning exercise—his morning runs now confined to Tuesdays and Fridays—he raked over the appearance of fifty-nine year old Fingal Finnegan during the week. Apart from having to listen carefully to understand everything the man said—the Irish brogue very different to local accents—he really liked Fingal, found the man down to earth and probably more knowledgeable than Nathan would ever be about their profession. He reminded Nathan of his grandfather, the light in his eyes sparkling when he talked about his love of his calling. Another huge thing in his favour; he and Arthur Meade got on like old friends, talking about the trials and tribulations of using the now-considered obsolete ovens. If he was going to be absolutely honest with himself, he knew Fingal to be capable of being left in charge for the long weekend, knew the man would know exactly what to do. Which is why he texted Martin back and agreed to drive over and stay for the weekend, driving back Sunday night. But, however irrational the emotion, deep down inside the mere thought of not being there, of being away from the shop for even a whole working day—especially his two busiest days—made his mouth dry, and sent a shiver of cold dread through him. Despite a few curious questions from Jaymes, he hadn’t shared his terror with anyone, had even given an enthusiastic Fingal the spare set of shop keys for the weekend duty. But even as he handed them over, he felt removed from his body, as though someone else performed the treacherous deed. Fingal had spent each day since Monday in the shop shadowing him or Arthur or Molly, going through each simple routine including opening the store, dealing with invoices, and closing and cashing up in the evening. Fingal even suggested a couple of improvements, simple things Nathan had never considered. Just after ten, having stayed to help through the morning rush, Nathan tossed his overnight bag into the back of Jaymes’ Rover. At breakfast, Jaymes explained his need for a diversion on the trip, to drop off files to a colleague in the South Downs National Park, so their route would take them south, a little out of their way. They agreed to stop off for lunch in Winchester, which would get them to Oxford mid-afternoon. After Nathan had texted Martin, and everything was set, they managed to get as far as the end of the high street before Nathan breathing became erratic and he demanded Jaymes pull the car over. “I can’t do it, Jaymes. I can’t leave the shop unsupervised.” “It’s not unsupervised, Nate. Fingal is more than capable—” “I know. I know,” said Nathan, putting his head into his hands and scrubbing at his hair, his heart pounding. “In theory, he is. I know that better than anyone. But I just have this feeling that if I leave, something bad will happen. Don’t ask me how, but I just know.” “Okay, Nate. Now you’re sounding unreasonable. Nothing’s going to happen—” “How do you know?” said Nathan, looking up and glaring at Jaymes, hearing himself getting hysterical. “You don’t. Nobody does. Shit happens. Shit none of us can predict.” “Nate, Nate,” said Jaymes, switching off the engine, and pulling Nathan’s body into his arms. “Christ, you’re shaking, baby. Calm down.” Jaymes’ body heat began to work its magic almost immediately, as he held tight and, with one hand, stroked slow, calming circles into Nathan’s back. “Okay, look. I’m no psychiatrist, but my guess is your worry comes from you feeling as though you’re about to abandon the shop. And, yes, I use the word abandon deliberately. On two occasions when you’ve left in the past—to go to school, or for a run—you’ve returned to find someone’s left you for good. Your mother and your father. Even Clifton. I get it, Nate. I do. But those were other people. Your mother had a choice, your father’s time was simply up. In each case, they left you and there was nothing you could have done. Not really. This time, you’re in control. This time the choice is yours and you’re coming back. You’re not abandoning anyone or anything, are you?” Unbidden, Nathan’s eyes had moistened. Everything Jaymes said, he knew already, had told himself the same thing time and time again. But nobody had ever reflected those words back to him. “I hate this fucking village. I do. And I hate my fucking life here. Why can’t I be normal? Why can’t I have a normal life, like everyone else in the world?” “You think everyone else has it better? Sorry to piss on your pity party, Nate, but that is simply not the case. One of Polly’s teacher colleagues, a single parent, is bringing up a young son with cerebral palsy. And do you know what terrifies her most, what keeps her awake at night? Not the act of living up to the actual caring, which she does brilliantly, but the thought of what’s going to him happen when she’s too old to do so. More people than you could ever imagine are dealing with their own nightmares, just trying to get through each day.” Still held by Jaymes, Nathan quietened for a moment, hearing their hearts beating in tandem. “Look, if you really don’t want to go,” said Jaymes, “we turn around and head back now. But remember that Polly’s going to be stopping over in the flat the whole weekend and she’ll call instantly if there’s a problem. Molly, Arthur and Fingal all have your contact number. And we’re about a two and a half hour’s drive away, in the unlikely event we need to get back urgently. More importantly, you deserve this time away, Nate. You’ve earned it. So what do you want to do? Just say the word.” Nathan straightened up and, without looking at Jaymes, swiped at his eyes with the palms of his hands. “Did you ever see that film The Forgotten?” asked Nathan, trying to make light of his meltdown. “With Julianne Moore. About aliens abducting kids and then observing the parents to see how long it took them to forget about their own offspring.” “I can safely say I’ve never seen the movie.” “There’s a bit where the aliens can just ping a person into the sky, rip them from the earth and whip them straight up into space. I wish that would happen to me right now.” “Really? One movie definitely not to watch. What do you want to do, Nate?” Nathan took a deep calming breath and pushed a hand through his hair. Despite feeling the remains of nausea in his stomach, the undercurrent of his dark thoughts, the moment had passed. “Drive on, Jay. Let’s do this thing.” “Good man,” said Jaymes, starting up the engine again. For the next ten minutes, they travelled in silence, and Nathan simply breathed. If anything, he felt embarrassed about his breakdown, but also found starting up a conversation again difficult. Did Jaymes think less of him because of his show of weakness? Eventually he found some common ground. “His name’s Billy, by the way,” said Nathan. “Sorry?” “The kid with CP you mentioned. Billy Corrigan. Jemma Corrigan’s boy, Polly’s colleague. He goes to St Joseph’s. Absolutely lovely kid. Played in the school football team against us. Has a bit of trouble balancing and staying upright all the time, but the lad has so much enthusiasm and the most amazing laugh.” Without saying a word, Jaymes’ hand reached across and landed on Nathan’s upper thigh. Nathan peered at him, sniffed back the remains of his tears, and smiled at Jaymes’ own grin as he concentrated on driving. And right then, his heart gave a tug and he felt a feeling waken inside him, as though lifting this head to witness the most spectacular sunrise. As inconvenient as the emotion might be—considering Jaymes would be gone in June—he realised something unquestionable in that brief, blindingly obvious moment. Nathan had fallen in love with Jaymes. “Paper tissues are in the glove compartment,” said Jaymes, no judgement, just a statement of fact. When Nathan pulled open the drawer, glad to have something to do, he found a pair of thick leather gloves on top of an untidy mess of other items buried beneath, including sunglasses, letters, paper documents, and packets of unopened tissues. “You must be one of the few people I know who actually keeps gloves in his glove compartment.” “In my line of work, those babies are a life saver. You can wear them if your hands are cold.” “Nah, I’m fine.” Nathan pulled out a few items before getting to a pack of tissues. As he began to replace the documents, he noticed one from somewhere called the Bangor Medical Centre. “It’s okay. It’s just the results of a regular health check,” said Jaymes, noticing Nathan’s attention drawn to the document. “Have a look if you want. FC has me taking medicals annually. That one’s from just before I arrived here. A condition of our medical insurance.” “So I take it you’re fine?” “Fit as a butcher’s dog,” said Jaymes, before a moment of hesitation had him glancing at Nathan. “Goes with the territory, Nate. I don’t have a choice in the matter in my line of work.” “Heavens, Jaymes. I’m not criticising. I’d be the last one on the planet to do that. Since as long as I can remember, my father made me and him have bi-annual medical check-ups together. Ironically, he was obsessive about health, despite being a closet smoker. My last one was in January. And I, too, am in good shape.” “You most certainly are.” Jaymes waggled his eyebrows, before winking at Nathan. Jaymes’ habit of catching his eye, or winking, or smirking had suddenly taken on new meaning, and Nathan found himself blushing. “Are you okay?” asked Jaymes, who missed nothing. “I’m—I’m fine. Sorry, a bit hot in here.” Jaymes did not seem be buying Nathan’s excuse and after staring at him a couple of times, his eyes were drawn to the now-closed glove compartment. “Come on, Nate. Spit it out.” “No I—I just wanted to say thank you. For being a good friend. And not kicking me out of the car.” Jaymes snorted and shook his head, and even though he said no more, Nathan could tell he hadn’t completely believed Nathan. Using the GPS navigation app on Nathan’s phone—after completing Jaymes’ chore and having a leisurely lunch—they pulled up outside Martin and Gallagher’s house just before three. On the outskirts of Oxford, the two men’s character converted farmhouse sat in its own grounds. All original features or updates matching them, with mature trees, well-tended bushes and other colourful flora out front, the building couldn’t have been more different to Clifton’s grandparent’s new-build. A familiar Tesla sat in the driveway—Clifton’s car—next to a Range Rover, an older, more traditional design in racing green. Jaymes smiled and grunted his approval, parking alongside. “Nice to see somebody else in this world has taste.” “I didn’t realise Clifton would be here,” said Nathan. “Truly. I thought it was just us.” “Aren’t they filming the series using this house? Isn’t that the whole point of you being here?” “Yes, I—I suppose so.” “Then, of course Clifton’s going to be here.” Martin must have heard them pull up, because as they collected their bags from the back of the Land Rover, he appeared at the front door. Decked out in mustard corduroy trousers and an oatmeal crew neck sweater he looked as welcoming and comfortable as his home. “All morning Gallagher’s been asking me when the real people are going to arrive. And here you are. Thank goodness. You can get him off my back about this whole arrangement. Come through.” Martin led the way through the house, down dark, oak-panelled hallways with intricately patterned rugs on the floor, past beautiful rooms with exotic wall hangings, walls lined with ornate wooden cabinets, bookcases, or hung with antique paintings, past a long bevelled mirror with a polished wooden frame, beautiful blue and white Chinese plant holders—nothing cluttered, but carefully positioned to make the most of both the house’s character and the eye-catching artefacts. “Love your house, Martin,” said Jaymes. “Thank you. You should have seen the state she was in when we bought her. Took a lot of love and care, and hard earned cash to get her looking like this.” “I can image. What kind of acreage so you have?” “Just over eleven. The previous owner sold off a lot of the land to another farmer. But we have enough surrounding us to make sure we’re not encroached upon by developers or other ventures. The field at the back of the house is ours and leads down to the Grendle River. We’ll take a walk there tomorrow morning.” Enjoying Nathan’s or Jaymes’ attention, Martin stopped from time to time to explain one piece or another, citing approximate time periods, countries or origin and, in some cases, even the designer of the piece: painter, craftsman or sculptor. When they reached four huge studio lights, modern and standing in a row and wildly out of place, stored against one wall of what Nathan assumed to be the living room, Martin stopped and heaved out a deep sigh. “Happily, the whole film crew doesn’t descend on us until Sunday morning first thing so we have a day and a half of respite before the show begins, or the shit-show as Gallagher calls it. Although at Giorgio’s request—Clifton’s, more like—we’re hosting drinks for members of the cast tomorrow night. Hope that’s okay by you chaps? Drop your bags here and come through to the conservatory. I know it’s a lovely day, but it’s a bit too cold to sit in the garden. So our sacred pavilion is the next best thing.” Bright light shone from the end of the house where a conservatory built of glass and timber brought natural sunlight into the interior. Lined all around with verdant plants of various shapes and sizes, the humid space felt like a greenhouse, except the stone floor had been laid with a wonderful circular rug of terracotta silk, and the centre of the semi-circular space was filled with comfortable cream-coloured settees and a large oak coffee table. White china containers of milk and brown sugar sat on a large steel tray amid matching cups and saucers, and elegantly designed pots of coffee and tea. The first to catch his attention, Raul looked up and smiled as Nathan entered behind Martin. Clifton sat next to him, talking urgently into his mobile phone, but looked up and waved on seeing their arrival. “Told you I heard a car engine,” said Martin. “Nathan and Jaymes have arrived. Come and get some coffee, boys.” Jaymes entered behind Nathan and squeezed up against his back, a hand draped over one shoulder, his chin resting on the other. When Nathan turned quizzically to him, he pecked a kiss on his lips, before turning to raise a palm in greeting to Raul and Clifton. So much for keeping their physical contact on the down low. Raul grinned broadly and rose to meet them. “Where’s Gallagher?” asked Nathan, after taking turns to give Raul a hug, and then taking a seat with Jaymes around the table. “In the garden on his phone, checking in with staff,” said Martin, pouring them both coffee. “Ever since he stepped out of the rat race, six months ago, he’s been helping run the shops. Probably a hangover from his frenetic life in the corporate world, but he thinks things will fall apart without him there for a day or two.” Nathan felt Jaymes squeeze his shoulder. “Sound familiar?” said Jaymes, to Nathan, and then to Martin. “Nathan’s having similar concerns about leaving his shop for the long weekend.” Martin gave Nathan a grim smile and a sympathetic nod. “I do understand. When we had only one shop, I used to be there all the time. Someone once likened the experience to the one new mothers and fathers have when they leave their kid in the care of someone else for the first time. Feels almost like a betrayal. And they spend the whole time either staring at their phones, waiting for a call or a message, to hear the worst, or phoning and checking in far too often.” “I promise not to do that,” said Nathan, mainly to Jaymes. “Lord knows what Gallagher’s going to be like when the television crew turn up and start clumping through the house, moving furniture around. Thank goodness he’s temporarily moving out.” “He won’t be here?” said Nathan, horrified. “What if they break anything?” “I’ll be here to keep an eye on things. And moreover, everything’s covered by their insurance. I’ve already had the more precious items moved into storage. Not taking any chances. But they’re talking about starting at the crack of dawn and doing a couple of late night shoots. Being isolated here, we’re not disturbing any neighbours. But Gallagher’s a light enough sleeper at the best of times. So he’s moving into the flat above our high street shop for the month until they’re finished.” “You know, maybe allowing them to use my place is not such a good idea,” said Nathan, to Jaymes. “Martin and Gallagher’s house is going to be used as my character’s home, and features in a lot of episodes—eight in total,” said Clifton, who had finished his call, and finally joined their conversation. “Whereas your place will only be used in one, and then only briefly. As the location of one of the witnesses. You won’t get anywhere near the same disturbance or upheaval as Martin, and if what I heard is correct, the shot will be done and dusted in a day—on a Sunday. Don’t worry Nate, there’s no way Giorgio would have agreed to let them interfere during business hours. Because he knows if he did, I’d be looking for a new manager.” While Clifton had been talking, Gallagher walked through the conservatory doors and bent to give Jaymes a hug. After doing the same to Nathan, he thumped himself down next to Marin and glanced around quizzically. “What did I miss?” “Nothing, dear,” said Martin, patting his partner on the thigh. “How are they doing back at the shop? Not burnt the place down yet, I take it.” “On the contrary. This very morning they’ve sold the Victorian dining table, the extendable one.” “Goodness me. We’ve had that piece hanging around for, what, eighteen months? How much did they discount?” asked Marin, clearly impressed. “Nope. Full price,” said Gallagher. “Two and a half grand.” “For one table?” asked Nathan. “I’m guessing it’s not just any old dining table,” said Jaymes. “You’re absolutely right, old man. This one’s a showpiece. Built around the end of the eighteenth century, this beauty extends into a twelve feet table, but unlike modern contemporaries, has amazing workmanship; moulded edge, canted corners together with a winding handle and mechanism, and removable leaves used for the extended table. The Victorians loved to entertain, but they also liked to save space when they could.” “At some point, I’d love to come and have a look around your shop,” said Jaymes. “Looking for something in particular?” asked Martin. “Just interested,” said Jaymes, and Nathan felt sure he was the only one to notice the slight colouring in his cheeks. “I don’t have my own place. Tend to be more of a nomad with my job. But I’d certainly be interested in seeing some of the types of furniture craftsmen have created.” “Maybe we can do that Sunday,” said Martin. “Once everything’s been settled here. Now, back to today. We’re having a barbecue this evening, even though the weather’s a little cold. Nice and informal. Gallagher’s never happier than when he’s conducting his symphony over the barbecue, waving tongs around like the true maestro he is. We’ve been prepping all morning. We also have these amazing free-standing gas heaters, tall aluminium and stylish, too, we can set up on the patio to keep everyone warm. Raul and Clifton are in charge of the drinks trolley and I’ll be playing fetch for them all.” “What about us?” asked Nathan. “You, my dear boys, are here to relax, have a good time, and let us spoil you,” said Gallagher, before casting a brief smirk at Jaymes. “Oh, and you’re on washing up duty later. But don’t worry too much. We’ve just had a brand new dishwasher installed.” “In the meantime,” said Martin, glancing at his watch. “It’s almost three. Did you have lunch yet?” “We did. On the way here.” “In which case, once you’ve finished your coffee, why don’t I show you up to your room, let you have some personal space to rest and freshen up. That’ll give us time to get things started down here. And then we’ll all meet in the garden at six for drinks. How does that sound?” “Sounds perfect.” Martin dropped Clifton and Raul off first, and then led Nathan and Jaymes to a small, cosy bedroom overlooking the garden. With yellow and grey themed walls, a steel framed bed housed a thick double mattress, covered in a simple grey quilt patterned with lemon yellow embroidered flowers. “It’s a little on the small side, but this one has a beautiful view and its own bathroom off the door in the corner. There’s a jug of drinking water on the sideboard and towels in the bathroom. Make yourselves at home.” Once Martin had left them, and after Nathan had used the bathroom, he emerged to find an amused Jaymes in socked feet stretched out in the bed. “Come and try the bed out.” Nathan prised off his shoes and jumped onto the bed next to Jaymes causing the mattress to bounce and recoil deeply, the springs groaning and wheezing loudly like a braying donkey. Both of them laughed aloud. “Unless you want us to wake the whole house, I think sex is off the menu this weekend,” said Nathan, after leaning in and kissing Jaymes. “Aw,” said Jaymes. “We could be quiet.” “When are you ever quiet? And besides, this bed can’t help itself.” After chuckling softly, they both lay still for a moment, staring up at the ceiling. “On the way down,” said Jaymes. “When you found my health check, were you going to ask if we could ditch the condoms?” “What?” said Nathan, rolling onto his side to look at Jaymes, shock registering on his face. He most definitely had not put that particular two and two together. “No, Jaymes. I wouldn’t do that to you. I know you’ve been hurt before and would never push you into doing anything you didn’t want to do. Most of all, I want you to feel safe, to be able to trust me.” “I do trust you, Nate. That’s the point.” Jaymes turned to take in Nathan. “And you know how much I hate the damned things.” Nathan hesitated. More than anyone he had ever met, he trusted Jaymes. But conceding on the condoms would take their relationship to a new level, a relationship already doomed to end. “Let’s have this conversation again when we get back to Crumbington, shall we?” Which is what they agreed to before Jaymes pulled Nathan over, kissed him and gathered him into a hug. Before long, both had fallen asleep and Nathan roused first to late afternoon light through the window and a faint smell of food cooking. Checking his watch, he saw the time as five-thirty. Rousing Jaymes, they took turns to shower quickly and changed into warm clothes, before joining the others already in the garden. Martin and Gallagher had set up comfortable cushioned rattan furniture just beyond the conservatory, four tall pyramid-type heaters on a low setting arranged behind the chairs, and casting heat and light over them all. Soft music played through a Bluetooth speaker on the low table, the only sound disturbing the peaceful evening in the backwoods. Clifton already sat there, looking fresh and ready for his close-up, legs crossed elegantly at the knee, a tall aquamarine cocktail in one hand, an arm slung over the back of the settee. As promised, Gallagher held court over the huge barbecue, a white chef’s hat worn largely for decoration, while Martin stood beside him, a tall glass of something opaque in one hand, frowning down critically at the grilling fare. “What is your poison?” called Raul, who had just handed Gallagher a bottle of beer, and headed back to the drinks trolley. “I’ll have whatever Gallagher’s drinking. How about you, Nate?” said Jaymes. “I can’t believe you let him call you Nate. You used to hate that,” said Clifton, taking a sip from his drink. “He can call me anything he wants,” said Nathan, placing a hand on the back of Jaymes’ neck. “As long as he cooks me breakfast every so often—among other things.” “He’ll have a beer, too,” said Jaymes, wisely not getting dragged into the conversation. While they sat together—Raul and Martin eventually joining them, leaving Gallagher to the cooking—Clifton explained how the film crew would set up, where they would be stationed and exactly how intrusive the whole intervention could be. He also did a great job of selling the excitement surrounding the experience, and by the end, Nathan had relaxed about the idea. Afterwards, he announced the good news about the pilot being warmly received by the network and not only commissioning the full series of eight episodes, but fully expecting to have a second season. Casting had worked furiously to get all the characters posts filled. Giorgio, he explained, had invited many of them for the drinks party on Saturday evening, something even Clifton had no idea about. Just as Gallagher brought over the first platter piled with barbecued food, at around six-thirty, Nathan’s phone chimed in his pocket. “Fingal,” he said with an anxious glance at Jaymes. “He wants to FaceTime.” “Don’t worry, Nate. He’s probably just checking in.” Without another word, Nathan jumped up and marched into the centre of the darkening garden to take the call. Fingal’s laughing face filled the frame. “Bumper day today, Mr Fresher. We’ve all been fairly rushed off our feet. Couple of customers asked after you, so I told them you’d taken a well-deserved break. Seriously though, Nathan, you’ve got a nice little outfit going on here. Although you’re missing a trick or two, could do with tightening up a few loose ends, so to speak. We’ll have a little chat when you come back next week. I’m doing some other work Monday and Tuesday, but I’ll drop by and see you Wednesday, if that’s okay?” “Of course it’s okay,” said Nathan, Wednesday being a quieter day, they would have more time to talk. But right then, something else had caught his attention. “Is that Arthur in the background? What happened? Is there something wrong with the ovens?” “No, nothing’s wrong. I’m taking him and Molly out for a drink and a bite to eat.” Nathan felt his face flush with guilt. In all the years the two of them had worked for him, he’d never thought to invite them out for a drink or a meal. Yes, he’d given them generous bonuses over Christmas and for their holidays, but he’d never considered taking them out and socialising with them. Already Fingal was proving the better man, the better boss. “Save the receipt from the first round and I’ll reimburse you Wednesday. And tell them both I’m grateful for all their hard work.” “They already know that, Nathan, but thanks for the drink. We’ll be sure to toast your health. How are things there? It seems pretty dark.” “Oh no, we’re having a barbecue in the garden, so I stepped away from the conversation. Sun’s almost gone now. But it’s going really well here. And thanks again, Fingal.” “Any time, my boy. Any time.” “Let me guess,” said Jaymes, as Nathan sat back next to him. In his absence, Gallagher had piled the small table with ribs, burgers, steaks, sausages, baked potatoes, and an assortment of salads. “Nobody died. Everything worked out fine.” “Fingal says they had a really good day,” said Nathan, taking his bottle of beer back from Jaymes. “He’s taking the team out for drinks.” “And how does that make you feel?” “Surplus to requirements.” “Come on, Nate. Don’t beat yourself up. Anyone can shine for a day or two. You seem to manage the same fifty-two weeks of the year. Fingal has someone like you who understands and appreciates his efforts. Who do you have? Give yourself a break, baby.” Once again Jaymes had nailed Nathan’s mood, and he sighed deeply before leaning into Jaymes’ body heat. How many busy Fridays and Saturdays had Nathan managed over the past years? Hundreds. Instead of dwelling on the thought, he took a good tug on his bottled beer and helped himself to food. Throughout the evening, everyone took turns to tell stories. After a certain amount of coaxing from Gallagher, Clifton let on about the storyline of the pilot of his television show, but not before swearing them all to secrecy. Afterwards, Raul talked briefly about his upcoming schedule, but then began to grill Jaymes and Nathan about their individual work. Eventually Martin and Gallagher took over the reins. “I’m really enjoying this,” whispered Jaymes, later on, as Gallagher told another comical story from his days living out of a suitcase while working in the corporate world. “Nice to think of Martin and Gallagher as our friends.” Strangely enough, Nathan’s attention snagged on the word ‘our’ and he stiffened for a moment. “What’s the matter?” “It just—makes me sad when I’m reminded of how little time we have. Would be nice if we could build more things together, but you’ll be off in June, and I’ll be back to my usual solitary day-to-day.” “I’m only in Malaysia, Nate. Not on Mars. And I’m sure to be back from time to time.” “I know. I suppose it’s just my usual over-dramatic way of saying I’m going to miss you.” This time it was Jaymes’ turn to fall silent, staring off into the night. Nathan felt bad then, and joined in the banter with Gallagher until Jaymes’ attention drifted back. Later on, noticing him yawn a couple of times, he pulled Jaymes’ head down onto his shoulder, and wrapped an arm around him, getting a rumbled growl of approval from Jaymes in return. Tonight, sitting there surrounded by friends, with Jaymes glued to his side, Nathan felt like the luckiest person in the world. Enjoy the time you have, he told himself. Tomorrow can wait.
  12. lomax61

    Park Life.

    Nice continuation of the story. I agree with the previous comments especially that ridiculing these conversion cults needs to be done as often as possible. I also hope that eventually they’ll be outlawed. We live in hope. I also like how you are developing the character of Chris, his optimism at finding a ‘him’, the small hints at a previous and painful existence, one he’s managed to escape from, but not without scars. Good that he has Kay and Nina looking out for him. Looking forward to reading more.
  13. lomax61

    Round One.

    Good start. Love the harsh realism behind the scene, but I also can’t help but admire Chris aspiring to more that a one-nighter. Shawn, although typical, is never going meet his match, and if he ever gets close, the person will probably reject him, citing their own list of physical and emotional prerequisites. Good job.
  14. lomax61


    Subject: Third Meeting of the Crumbington Summer Fête Committee: Thursday 10 March Attendees: Arlene Killjoy (chair); Doris Watts; Nathan Fresher; Polly Fischer; Arbuthnot Mulligan; Michael Stanton Guest(s): Jenny Gillespie Living in the church-owned house adjacent to the village hall, Father Mulligan always arrived first to committee meetings, to unlock doors and put out chairs, drinks and snacks. By the time Nathan arrived for the meetings, as soon as he’d locked up the shop, Arlene and Doris had usually joined Father Mulligan. Polly and Mikey arrived last of all. Despite Nathan being later than usual that evening, courtesy of Jaymes’ habitual horniness, Doris sat alone in her seat of choice. “Did I get the wrong night?” said Nathan, hesitating in the doorway. “Arby’s gone to get a small table to put Arlene’s fancy snacks on. She called and doled out instructions. And said she’s running a little late,” said Doris, rising slowly from her seat and hobbling over to him. “Apparently she’s picking up the photographer who’s got pictures from your calendar. Can’t wait to see, can you?” “Hmm,” said Nathan, purposely looking away. As he stood there, she reached him and hooked her hand under his arm. “Come and join me. Try a cup of Arby’s cooler.” At the previous meeting, Father Mulligan and Doris had made up a jug of cranberry fruit mix, a berry flavour Arlene detested and not something any of the others had wanted to try. “Not for me, Doris. It’s one of the few things Arlene and I agree on. I find cranberries on the sour side.” “Most people do, which is why Arby and I shake things up a bit by using our own secret recipe. Just try one cup. I promise you won’t be disappointed. And I wanted to have a chat with you, anyway.” As Nathan settled and took a tentative gulp of the juice, his taste buds exploded, just as the burn hit the back of his throat. “What in heaven’s name..?” “Shush, dear. Arby ran out of Smirnoff, so he’s using something called Balkan 176 this week. But I find a cup or two of Mulligan’s Cosmopolitan Cooler helps oil the wheels and makes Arlene’s meetings run more smoothly. Amazing the little things that man picks up in his religious circles. Now, about you. Thought I was right last month. And now I am seeing almost pure red. Energy, sex, and passion. More vibrant than the colour of this cocktail. I am right, aren’t I? Somebody’s having a marvellous time in the bedroom department right now. Your aura’s burning brighter than a bonfire.” “Is it?” said Nathan, his cheeks reddening. “Yes, things are—quite good—in that department. I suppose.” “You suppose? Goodness me. I’m worried if I sit too close, I might burst into flames.” Nathan gave a shaky laugh and polished off the rest of his drink. “Nathan, you are such a lovely boy. Anybody else who’d been through what you have, would have run a thousand miles from this village. But that’s not you, is it? Loyal to a fault. Your father would be so proud. You know, at my wedding to Ned, my late husband, my mother told me that if my son or daughter ever found someone special, I was to pass these onto them. Unfortunately, we never had any children, so I hope you’ll do me the honour of being the son I never had.” Doris handed over a small, deep blue velvet pouch, tied together with black drawstrings. When Nathan opened the bag and tipped the contents into the palm of his hand, out fell two silver Claddagh rings. He’d seen similar ones before, Irish rings used to indicate someone’s search for love and whether the person is in love and taken. “If you’re available, you’re supposed to wear this on your right hand with the point of the heart away from the wrist. Pointing towards the wrist—I always think it looks upside down—indicates you’re not looking for a relationship because you’re already in one. Of course, it could also mean you’re simply not looking. On your left hand pointing to your wrist means you’re engaged, or taken for good.” “Why two? One for each hand?” “Silly boy. Of course not. The other’s meant for the person who shares their heart with you.” “Oh. Not sure if I’m ready for that yet.” “Perfectly fine, Nathan,” said Doris, wrapping her veined hand around his and smiling. “Then keep them safe until you’re sure.” Nathan wondered if Jaymes would notice if he popped a ring on his right hand the way Doris had described. Then again, maybe that would be a bit too much, considering the circumstances. When he held one ring up to the light, he smiled. “She’d have wanted you to be happy, you know.” “Sorry?” “Your mother. She’d have wanted to see you happy and settled.” Nathan popped both rings into the pouch and put them into his pocket. “How well did you know her, Doris?” “Everyone knew your mother, dear. Well, on the surface anyway, but apparently not as well as we thought. But she was friendly enough with me and the other ladies of the village. Refused to join in the gossip, and never had a bad word to say about anyone. Her only close friend was Margie Hogmore.” “Clifton’s mum. I remember. I’m sure I’ve asked you this before, but do you know why my mother left? The real reason?” Doris grimaced then. “You know what us old ladies are like. We all had our opinions and suspicions. Rarely grounded in any truth or facts. She was a popular woman with everyone, so we assumed she’d met someone else. But the true answer is, nobody really knew. She told none of us. The only person she might have told would have been Margie. But if so, Margie never breathed a word.” “She’s coming back here next month. Mrs Hogmore. To visit her son, Clifton. He’s working over here.” “Is she now? That’ll be nice. Maybe you and her should have a heart to heart.” Maybe we should, thought Nathan. Maybe the time was right. Right then, Arlene Killjoy burst into the room, a huge black bag dangling heavily from one hand, her designer handbag in the other. Apart from being weighed down, she appeared in unusually high spirits. “Nathan. Be a dear, will you? Go and help Jenny with the projector screen and the projector. We’re having a bit of a production tonight. Got some wonderful things to show you.” Over the next twenty minutes, as Mikey and Polly arrived, everyone took instructions from either Jenny or Arlene in setting up the hall. Anticipation ran high when they arranged the usual horseshoe of chairs around a low table of canapés and a selection of drinks including beer and wine, with a projector and screen set up at the open end. “Well, everyone,” said Arlene, clapping her hands together, once everyone had seated themselves and relaxed. “We’re going to dispense with the usual agenda this month because I’m absolutely delighted to report that it’s all good news. Very shortly, we’ll be showcasing some of the football team calendar, which, I am pleased to report, has turned out far better than anyone could have expected. I’ll let Jenny talk more about that and some other amazing developments. In addition, I have a three dimensional computer animated walkthrough of the stall plan for the fete, something my husband’s department helped create, so you can see where every stall will be set up. And before I start, let me tell you that all village stores remain pride of place on the green. The last thing I’ll talk to you about is a couple of the sponsors I’ve approached. As usual, let’s make this open to any comments or suggestions. Now, I’m going to hand over to Jenny.” Jenny Gillespie was about to stand, but then thought better of it, and sat back down again. “Okay, so if I tell you I was a little sceptical about the calendar idea, I’m certain you’ll understand. I know some of you had doubts yourselves,” she said, glancing around, her gaze and smile settling on Nathan. “A lot of the team members had reservations, too. But I can tell you here and now, that, as Arlene intimated in her introduction, I am immensely proud of the end result. Both personally and professionally. What I’m going to show you tonight is only a draft of the final version—some of the twelve players still need to sign consent forms for us to use their images, so those I cannot show you today, even though I’m sure they wouldn’t mind—but even so, I hope you see the quality and potential. Father Mulligan, can you hit the lights, please?” As the lights dimmed, Jenny played with the laptop on the table in front of her, until the first slide popped up, of a white screen. In plain black, the words Crumbington United Uncovered headed the empty shot. “We’re still in two minds what to have here. Arlene and I wondered about a whole team photograph in the changing room, but logistically that’s difficult to organise.” “Pop along Sunday,” said Mikey. “We’ll all be there for the game against Christchurch.” “Nice idea, in theory,” said Jenny. “But a candid shot of the team without the professional touches of all the other photos is going to look out of place. And, no disrespect, but to put that on the front cover might cheapen the overall effect. I’m considering have a collage of all the team shots in December. For the cover, I’m actually thinking along the lines of having a monochrome shot of a recently vacated changing room. But let’s keep an open mind as you see the other photos. Okay, these are in no particular order of which month will be which. So I’ll start with Ken Mills, the gym instructor.” As soon as the shot appeared, Nathan could tell exactly what Jenny meant. Professional. Pure resolution, skin tones and sensuality, the shot was exquisite. With wall bars as a backdrop, a naked Ken scaled a huge braided rope held tightly between his thick hairy thighs, the corded muscles of his arms and defined furry chest, his feet crossed around the rope at the ankles and his handsome features in full view even though his tense concentration was fixed on a spot above his head. “Oh. My. Giddy. Aunt,” whispered Polly, next to him. “Is that really young Kenneth Mills? If so, I need to change my personal trainer.” “Sorry, Polly,” Nathan whispered back. “But he bats for my team.” “Of course he does.” “Arby, dear. Can you give me a top up and some more ice,” said Doris, holding out her plastic cup to him. “I’m going to need lots if they’re all like this one.” The next photograph had everyone instantly laughing aloud. Mikey—stark naked, his hairless skin oiled liberally and caught by the studio lights—held a meat cleaver in his hand which had just sunk into the surface of a thick wooden trestle, nicely covering his groin area. With a startled but comical look directly at the camera, his other hand held the rim of his white butcher’s hat, which had the words ‘Fresh Meat’ in red plastered across the top. It looked as though whatever he was supposed to be chopping had just escaped. Either that, or he had just managed to avoid chopping off his chopper. But once the laughter had died down, and on second glance, Nathan realised how Jenny had captured Mikey perfectly, his comical personality, but also his amazing body, large and muscled which dwarfed the trestle. “Fresh meat, indeed,” said Polly. “What did Bev make of this?” Beverley was Mikey’s wife. “You’re all the first ones to see any of the photos in their finished format,” said Jenny. “Well, when she does,” said Polly. “Just make sure your mother-in-law has the kids that night.” Everyone laughed, but a quick look at Mikey, and Nathan could see pride shining from his eyes. Sat next to him, he leant over and nudged Mikey in the ribs. “Pleased you got involved now?” he asked. “I can’t believe that’s me,” said Mikey, scratching his head. “Definitely one to show the grandkids.” Jenny went through more. Dennis Abraham the plasterer, originally from the West Indies, his flawless polished walnut skin contrasting amazingly with the roughly plastered and whitewashed wall behind him; Mel—Melchior Slubowski—landscape gardener, with his Polish origins, and almost bleached ivory skin but lean, muscled body pushing a lawnmower set against the verdant greenery of a beautifully trimmed garden. Even George Collier, Bob’s son, and now the village postman, who quite frankly could do with losing a few pounds, had been captured brilliantly, another comic pose, lying facing the camera on a conveyor belt with parcels and packages, a postman’s hat on and a heart-shaped package covering his vitals. A couple of others were not only stunning but also interesting, such as the identical twins Eric and Tom Milton, painters and decorators, and their wallpapering shot. Eric stood to the left of the shot facing the camera, behind a wallpapering table which stopped just above his groin, a pasting brush in one hand, but had been caught turning and laughing at something his brother had said. Tom perched halfway up a short stepladder, one leg raised to the top step, completely naked but facing the wall, about to hang a sheet of paper, turned to his brother, caught mid laugh. Neither had gym-wrought bodies, but the shot was nevertheless flawless, not only showing humour but incredible skin tones and the stunning likeness between the two younger men. Others shots, Jenny went on to describe briefly, unable to show them because consent forms had not been completed. Shots such as Benny Cheung the mechanic—who had been worried about being photographed with Ken, and Gupta Mahtani, who had stalled a couple of times about whether to take part fearing the publicity might hurt his professional career until his daughter had all but threatened him. Nathan noticed Jenny hadn’t shown his photograph yet and wondered if maybe something had happened to make them decide to withdraw his pictures. Until the next slide lit up the screen. This time Polly, next to him, gasped quietly. Jenny had chosen the one where Nathan started to get a hard on, so had rolled onto his stomach and glared at Jaymes. Except the overall effect became something entirely different. Even if he did say so himself, Nathan’s backside had been captured perfectly, his socked feet crossed at the ankles of his long legs, a slight dusting of hair visible on his nicely defined chest. But the stare—or perhaps carnal glare would be a better expression—was nothing short of incendiary. In a good way. More importantly, technically everything about the shot appeared perfect; the focus, the detail, the tones, the lighting. “I’m very proud of this one,” said Jenny. “Good God, Nathan!” said Polly, before thrusting a hand over her mouth. “Sorry, Father Mulligan. I was going to comment on your amazing bum, but that sexy stare is nothing short of explosive. Nuclear. What lucky so-and-so was on the receiving end of that?” “What did I tell you,” said Jenny, smiling satisfied at Nathan. She had taken great pains to impress on him how people zero’d in on faces before bodies. “Actually, Polly, I was giving your annoying cousin the evil eye, because he was misbehaving. As usual.” In the semi-darkness of the room, Nathan sensed Polly’s gaze land on him. “I have to come clean, Nathan,” said Jenny. “I showed a couple of your shots to a friend of mine who’s a reporter. They’re always looking for good stories and he wanted to know if they could do an article on the village calendar for their newspaper. Arlene knows and loves the idea, but I’d need your consent. He’d want to use this picture or one of the others. But there would be amazing publicity, not just for the fête, but for your shop.” “Who is it?” “HuffPost.” “Isn’t that an American publication,” asked Polly. ‘Why would they be interested in us?” “More international, these days,” said Jenny. Nathan noticed Arlene had said nothing, had let Jenny do all the talking. “And they love local interest stories. Bread and butter of modern day media.” “I don’t see why not,” said Nathan, shrugging. “Don’t you?” said Polly. “With shots like that, darling, you’re likely to end up being invited to do movies.” Mikey choked on a laugh, until Polly elbowed him in the ribs. “Not those kind of movies, perv,” she said, before her attention shifted back to Jenny. “But why can’t we use our own local newspaper? Wouldn’t that be more appropriate?” “And we will,” said Arlene. “Before anything else. But wouldn’t it be good to entice people from further afield to come to our little festival in this neck of the woods?” Nobody could argue with that. Jenny even offered to talk to Katherine Osmond and provide a couple of sample shots for the paper. Arlene then went on to show them the three-dimensional model of the actual fete on the screen, which was actually extremely cool, even though the model stalls had no particular detail. The way it had been designed felt as though those watching strolled into the village green, past the Fresher name and logo above the first stall, around the small fairground in the centre of the green, past Mikey’s stall, the newsagent and confectioner, Doris’ florist stall, the shoe shop, and the haberdashery, all interspersed with fun stalls such as hoopla and coconut shies. Out onto Church lane, other stalls had no names above them, supposedly not yet confirmed, but the whole thing appeared professional and at the end, everyone applauded, even Polly. For all her pushiness, Arlene had done an incredible job. Once the lights came back on, she stood to address them all. “I’ve got a number of investors onboard already—Shawbanks, Radleigh and Posner—and a few more irons in the fire, but I’m sure once they’re aware of the calendar, the celebrity hosts, and other surprises we have in store, many more will commit. As far as the calendar is concerned, we’re considering a retail price of £14.99, which, as long as we sell the minimum five hundred, will give us a clear profit of ten pounds per calendar, so five thousand pounds, already twice the amount we raised from the fête last year. Officially the calendar launch will be the third week in June, here in the village hall, with all the players signing copies and, of course, Jenny explaining her concept. We’re expecting to have a number of members of the press in attendance especially as Clifton O’Keefe and Raul Jurado will be here, too. So, of course, we’ll need to lay on more canapés, bubbles and cocktails for the event. Fortunately a friend of mine is a caterer and will take care of all of that. But it’s almost nine-thirty, so I think that’s enough for one night. Once again, a big thanks to Jenny for her superb work.” Among the small group, everyone gave a polite round of applause. “And I must add, Arlene, you’ve outdone yourself. You were right all along, this event really did need an injection of new ideas,” said Father Mulligan. Even Polly nodded her approval, although her smile didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Hear, hear,” said Nathan, just as his phone vibrated in his pocket. Jay: How’s it going? Nathan grinned down at the display. Every time Jaymes’ name popped up on his screen, a smile lit his face and he felt his heart get lighter inside. He quickly thumbed a response. Nathan: Top notch. Just got to see myself naked. Jay: If you’re trying to impress, don’t bother. I get to do that every morning and night. When can I get my hands on this calendar? While others around him began to clear things away, Nathan halted for a moment. By the third week in June, at the official calendar launch, Jaymes would already be on the other side of the world in Malaysia. He shook his head quickly to suppress the twinge of sadness seeping into him. Nathan: Don’t worry. I’ll get you an advanced copy. Jay: Magic. Are you done there? Nathan: Almost. Give me 15, just in case. Jay: I’ll order your usual. Tell Poll and Mikey I’ll get theirs, too. Before leaving the hall, Nathan approached Jenny and went to shake her hand, but she pulled him into a hug. “You’re very photogenic, Nathan. And you look after your body. If you ever wanted to do any modelling—” “Heavens, no. That is not me, Jenny. I do look after myself but I don’t want to have to worry about everything I eat or every grey hair that appears. That is simply not me.” “Well, just to let you know, my journalist friend’s name is Franz Kingston, and he will most likely contact you by telephone, ask you a few questions about the fête and the calendar. Hope that’s going to be okay?” “Fine. I’ll also mention the brilliant photographer.” Jenny chuckled and awarded him with her warm smile, before raising an eyebrow. “And if you and your boyfriend ever consider coming in for a couple’s session, just let me know.” Nathan pulled a face and shook his head at a still smiling Jenny. Once in front of the camera was enough for a lifetime, but he looked forward to telling Jaymes about her offer later. As he held the door open watching Jenny depart, once again his phone buzzed. Raising his eyes to the heavens, and sure to see another text from Jaymes appear on his phone, he was surprised to see one from someone else. Martin: Giorgio mentioned you coming up to Oxford to see the film crew setting up. He said something about arranging a local hotel for you, but I told him you’d stay with us. Hope that’s okay? But why don’t you and your lovely man come for a long weekend? Drive up Friday and back Monday. We’d both love to have you here and your man will help keep Gallagher from murdering members of the TV crew. Stood now in the middle of the church hall, Nathan chuckled at the words. Lost in thought, he puffed out a sigh and gently shook his head. “What’s the matter?” asked Polly, in the process of carrying plates to the small kitchen. “New friends. They’re inviting me to their place in Oxford for a long weekend.” Nathan stuffed the phone into his pocket and began to help with the tidying, “Obviously, I can’t go.” “Why obviously?” asked Arlene, in the process of shutting down her laptop computer. “Yes, Nathan,” said Polly, stopping inlace and adopting a familiar admonishing tone. “Explain to Arlene. When was the last time you had a proper holiday?” Nathan rolled his eyes at Polly and said nothing, folding one of the chairs around the small table. “That would be when his grandfather was still alive,” said Polly, raising her eyebrows at Arlene. “And it rained the whole time we were away. I’d have been eight, I think. Grandad was still around to look after the shop while we went to Blackpool for the week; mum, dad and me.” Despite the terrible weather, Nathan still had snippets of good memories from their one time away. “And since your father passed away, when was the last time you had a holiday or even a week off?” asked Polly. “Sorry, scratch that, how about a whole weekend off.” “Okay, Polly. I get the point,” said Nathan, glaring at her as he carried a couple of chairs to the storeroom, and continuing as he returned. “Since dad died, I don’t really feel confident burdening anyone with managing everything. Molly can look after things for a couple of hours, but she has never cashed up or dealt with orders and invoices. And heaven knows what she’d do if one of the ovens packed up, or something worse. So I’m usually not far away, in case she has any difficulties.” “Because, of course, Oxford is on another continent,” said Polly, heading towards the kitchen. “You know, Nathan,” said Arlene, as she packed her laptop away in her bag. “My husband’s friend, Fingal, has run a professional baking outfit in Dublin for the best part of thirty years. He’s semi-retired now—has been for over five years—and lives with his new wife just outside Mosswold. If you want, I could put you in touch?” “I’m not sure.” “Nathan Fresher,” said Polly, hands on hips, a tone he knew only too well. “Don’t make me slap you.” “No obligation,” said Arlene, with a shrug. “Meet him, have a chat, and if you think he’s okay, consider having him step in. I get the impression he’s a little bored right now, so the work and a little bit of pocket money might be just what the doctor ordered. And don’t you think it might be good to have someone as a backup in case, at the very least, you’re ever under the weather?” No sooner had she finished than her attention turned elsewhere. “Father Mulligan, can you show me where you store this extension lead you lent me? In case I need it again?” Arlene trailed behind Father Mulligan in the direction of the small storeroom. “As much as I mistrust her, she might have a point,” said Polly, arms now folded. “If he’s got experience, why not at least meet up with him?” If there was one thing living with Jaymes—albeit for a short while—had taught him, it was that he had to start living again, grabbing every scrap of life thrown his way. What could be the harm in meeting this person, Fingal? Maybe he needed to start letting go a little, listen instead of always finding reasons why he couldn’t do something. A long weekend away from the shop with Jaymes and in the company of new friends sounded like heaven. Surely he was entitled to a little slice every now and again? “Okay, Arlene. I’ll meet this friend of yours, Fingal. Let me know his number and I’ll call him tomorrow.” In the cold light of day, he thought, he could always change his mind and decide not to call. “Better yet, Nathan,” said Arlene, as though hearing his thoughts, and plucking her phone from her bag. “I’ll call him now for you. Get him to come and see you at the shop first thing. That way you can let your friends know tomorrow whether you’re going to see them or not.” When Nathan turned to Polly, she simply shrugged and gave him a supercilious smile. Even Doris patted him on the arm as she went to leave with Father Mulligan. “Okay, okay. Thank you, Arlene. I’d love to meet your friend.” Maybe they were all right. Maybe the time had come to shake things up a little. What harm could there be?
  15. lomax61


    Nathan smirked as he peered into Benedetti’s, waiting in line with Jaymes to talk to the maître d'. Jaymes had described the place perfectly. Large mirrors lined every wall, just above the top of each burgundy leather booth, but tilted gently in such a way that diners got a full view of the whole floor space. Even the ceiling had been mirrored in places. Just a quick glance into the heart of the place, and Nathan spied a sea of celebrity faces, both major and minor, all immaculately turned out in their weekend finest. “Do you think if I shout the word ‘cut’ at the top of my voice, they’ll all freeze in place?” murmured Jaymes, leaning into Nathan, his warm breath dusting his ear, as though hearing his thoughts. Nathan chuckled and caught the eye of the equally amused maître d'. Nothing seemed to faze Jaymes, who had been upbeat all the way to town in the taxi. Nathan had been looking forward to Saturday night all week, not so much because of meeting with Clifton and his husband but to having Jaymes to himself in his bed later without having to worry about waking early Sunday morning. Better still, he knew Jaymes had been looking forward to the same thing. He and Polly had been clothes shopping earlier in the day because Jaymes felt he had nothing showy enough to impress Nathan’s celebrity friends. Honestly, Nathan no longer cared what Clifton thought about Jaymes, but he had to admit, seeing Jaymes dressed up in a black silk shirt and snugly fitting grey trouser suit, two thoughts came to mind. One, to show this incredible specimen he happened to be intimate with off to the world, or otherwise to cancel the dinner date altogether in favour of slowly stripping the man and having his way with him. Fortunately, before they’d dressed, he and Jaymes had put aside time in the bedroom to ‘take the pressure off’, so to speak. Blow Jobs only, admittedly, but enough to take off the sexual edge. Since last Saturday—it had only been a week—his life had been transformed. Jaymes’ books and a few photos now filled the previously half empty bookcase. Jaymes’ clothes hung alongside Nathan’s in the master bedroom, and they had even rearranged the kitchen to suit them both. Breakfast together at five-thirty had become a ritual. Fresh fruit, muesli, coffee, freshly baked Fresher wholewheat toast and conversation—largely instigated by Jaymes—against a backdrop of subdued news from the small television, became the order of the morning. After a short wait, one of the servers led them to the booth, where two men already sat. Holding a conversation behind their menus, with only their similar dark hair visible, they looked like a couple of naughty school kids. Neither noticed Jaymes and Nathan heading their way. Only as the server stopped and introduced Jaymes and Nathan, did the pair emerge smiling. “Apologies,” said Clifton, placing his menu down on the table. “Raul was catching me up on some of his antics in the States.” With his bronzed skin, Raul Jurado glowed with veritable health. Absently, Nathan wondered what Doris would make of his aura. Something positive, no doubt. His alert brown eyes seemed happy in the way they assessed the new guests, and his generous smile felt authentic. If anything, he stood out among the sea of celebrities as the genuine article. Unlike Clifton, he got to his feet—a little awkward from behind the booth table—and reached out a hand to greet them, leaving an amused Clifton still seated. “Nathan, Jaymes. Meet the husband, Raul,” said Clifton. “Hope you don’t mind this place. Bookings are hard to come by, but my manager, Giorgio, has connections here and managed to pull some strings. I just hope you don’t mind authentic Italian.” “Who doesn’t like Italian food?” said Nathan, sitting in the chair opposite Clifton. “Actually, to be absolutely precise, it’s Sicilian,” said Raul, clarifying. Nathan instantly liked his voice. A deep, soft, staccato Mexican accent evident on certain words and syllables, combined with American pronunciations, his voice like a younger Gael García Bernal. “Mafia inspired, then?” quipped Clifton, to Nathan. “Watch out for bullets in the food.” “Many people refer to Sicily as God’s Kitchen because of the variety of dishes and natural ingredients. While for others the cuisine is considered peasant food.” “I’ll be right at home, then,” added Jaymes, seating himself next to Nathan, opposite Raul. “Both you and me,” said Raul, grinning back. Nathan felt himself relax. Jaymes’ approval of anyone did not come lightly, so he felt relieved to see him warm to Raul. Hopefully, there would be no need to leave early tonight. But he also loved seeing Jaymes relax and enjoy himself. Already he had turned on his charm offensive. As though hearing the voice in his head, and although they had agreed to no PDAs, Jaymes’ warm hand landed on Nathan’s thigh and squeezed. “There are six place settings. Are you expecting someone else?” Nathan asked Clifton. “Giorgio and his girlfriend might join. He’s dropping the kids off to his ex-wife’s place. So as long as there are no dramas and he can get away, they’ll join. Whenever he comes here, he chats with his pal, the chef, and we end up getting amazing things that aren’t on the menu. So I suggest we order drinks and maybe a sharing platter of appetisers while we wait to see if he shows.” “Fine by me,” said Jaymes. “And apparently, he needs a chat with you, Nathan.” “Me? Why me?” “I have no idea. But, hopefully you’ll find out later.” Raul ordered a cold Sicilian antipasto platter of assorted cured meats, eggplant, stuffed olives, assorted bell peppers, artichokes, and a long roulade of vine tomatoes and mozzarella, all served with a basket of fresh Pane Siciliano with its sesame seed crust. For the table, he ordered the house red wine, a very decent Chianti, saying that Giorgio would probably insist on a particular wine once he arrived. “Nothing fancy, I’m afraid,” said Clifton, grimacing at the huge serving dish. “Are you kidding?” said Jaymes. “This is what I call good honest food. Give me this any day of the week over some poncey, flavourless, overpriced, tiny-portioned nouvelle cuisine creation.” Nathan’s head snapped to Jaymes. Had the remark been meant for Clifton at what Jaymes had labelled the pretentious meal he’d endured at Clifton’s grandparent’s house? Fortunately, Clifton didn’t seem to register the comment and instead Raul began to respond. “I like you already, Jaymes. When it comes to food, I am like you and I often tell Clifton he favours style over substance,” said Raul, before placing a hand on Clifton’s arm. “But I must also say, to his credit, he’s taken me to a few amazing places where they produce both. So I’m always open to new food experiences. Except when I’m training, of course. Then my coach gets to dictate everything I eat, down to the last stick of celery.” “You’re not training at the moment?” asked Nathan. “Nothing intensive, no. I still have my regular fitness routines, but the intensive competition training will begin in early June.” “You know, I think I remember your debut performance,” said Jaymes, stroking his chin. “At the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, wasn’t it? Took everyone by surprise. You performed to the Mission Impossible theme. Mesmerising. When the American commentator introduced you, he quipped about you skating for that well-known Winter Olympic nation, Mexico, and I remember a few people in the background laughing. Then he went on to make some smartass comment about not many ice lakes to practise on in Acapulco. Man, did you shut that idiot up with your performance. You came fifth, if I remember correctly?” “You do, and I did. In that particular heat, anyway. Thank you for remembering.” “I would never have taken you for a figure skating fan, Jaymes,” said Nathan, breaking a bread stick and bumping shoulders with Jaymes. “And you’d be right. I’m not, specifically. I’m more of a toboggan and ice hockey fanatic,” said Jaymes, catching Nathan’s eye and winking. “More rough and tumble than finesse. But when Winter Olympic sports are on the television, I’ll binge watch all the events. And Raul’s performance that year really stood out.” “You are now officially my new best friend.” “So how’s the television series coming along, Cliff?” asked Nathan, realising Clifton’s attention had drifted elsewhere, scanning the room. “On and off. The big boys at HBC4 had a screening of the pilot last week and, as a result, want changes made to tighten up the script, especially the dialogue. So we’re furiously reshooting scenes right now to meet the May deadline. Which means days of very early mornings.” Welcome to my world, thought Nathan. “Something you and Nate share in common,” said Jaymes, echoing Nathan’s thoughts. “What’s the name of the show?” “Candle Wishes,” said Nathan. “At least, that’s the working title of the pilot.” “Sounds like a birthday party. What’s the story about? Or are you not allowed to tell us?” “Can’t give the wider plot away, mainly partly of being held to secrecy, but also because I don’t know. We’ve only been given the script for the pilot, so a lot either hasn’t been written yet or is under wraps. We tend to find out a week before shooting. But it’s a modern day thriller. Part political, part conspiracy, partly a modern social commentary. Very disturbing, if what we’ve filmed so far is anything to go by. Headless twin boys found in a houseboat.” “And what part do you play?” “CID. A British detective inspector working the case from the UK side, alongside my US counterpart played by Helen Monash. The case—or cases, I should say—straddle both countries, both continents.” “Wow,” said Nathan. “I’m already hooked. Have you been on set, Raul?” “He doesn’t really get the time. Not at the moment, anyway.” Clifton and Raul shared a knowing look, before Raul spoke. “I’m retiring from the sport this year.” “Huh? How old are you?” said Nathan, aghast. “Twenty-six. But I’ve had a couple of recurring injuries which aren’t getting any better. Plus the fact that Nathan and I are expanding our family. Can I show them?” “Of course you can.” Raul pulled out his wallet, and prised out a photograph from one of the compartments. After leaning into Clifton, with both of them grinning at the image, he passed the picture across the table to Nathan. The image showed a pregnant woman leaning into a man who was clearly an older version of Raul. “It’s my sister-in-law, Miguella, with my older brother, Javier, next to her. They live in San Diego with their six kids, aged between four and twelve. I send them back money when I can, but they simply can’t afford to raise any more kids. They’ve been very careful since little Marco was born, but shit happens. When she found out they were expecting twins, they told the family they’d decided to give them up for adoption. Clifton and I were planning to adopt anyway, but maybe not for another year. But when we stepped in and offered to be the adoptive parents, we weren’t sure how they’d respond—my family are staunch Roman Catholic—but everyone was stoked at the idea, even my grandma. Clifton and I have a place in San Jose, around seven hours drive up the coast, so we’d raise them up there. Means the families still get to see each other regularly.” All the time Raul had been speaking, Nathan tried to read Clifton’s face. But although he had his usual fixed grin in place, his eyes did not meet Nathan’s, instead looking to Raul from time to time and then scanning the other diners. “That’s amazing. How long until they’re due?” asked Jaymes. “She was around twelve weeks in that photo. So if all goes to plan, we’re probably looking at August.” “And do you know the sex of the babies? Or is it too early yet?” “At the time of the picture, they didn’t know. But now it’s confirmed. They’re—,” said Raul, stopping and squeezing Clifton into him. “We’re—having a boy and a girl.” “Even my mother has offered baby-sitting duties,” said Clifton, smirking, his attention returned to the table. “Can you imagine, Nate?” Both Raul and Nathan laughed. “Why’s that funny?” asked Jaymes, who appeared irritated at the private joke. “Cliff’s mother was never what you’d call maternal. I once heard her describing her experience of having Clifton saying bringing one child into the world was enough for a lifetime. Totally ruined her figure, complexion, nails, and gave her permanent bags under the eyes. Maybe if she’d waited until she was in LA, it might have been a different story.” “But then I’d never have known you,” said Clifton, quietly, smiling at Nathan. “And let’s not forget, she also managed to produce an in-demand movie star,” said Jaymes, an arm landing around the back of Nathan’s shoulders. “Who has an equally hot husband.” “Yes, well, all that came a lot later,” said Clifton, smiling his understanding at Jaymes. “She’s flying over in March. You ought to meet her. I know she’d love to see you, Nate.” “We could present her with your calendar as a keepsake, Nate,” said Jaymes. “Oh, my God, Jaymes,” said Nathan, putting his head in his hands. “I swear, you are evil.” “Hey, I forgot to ask,” said Clifton. “How did that go?” “It went,” said Nathan, meeting his gaze. “Let me tell you,” said Jaymes, pulling Nathan’s body into his own. “My man rocked the shoot. No kidding. The photographer said she produced some of the best shots she’s ever taken. And this from a professional. Wait until you see. I had a hard-on for most of the session.” “Jaymes,” said Nathan, looking mortified onto Jaymes’ eyes, but grinning still. “What?” said Jaymes, kissing him on top of the head. “Just telling it like it is.” “Well, I would love to see the finished product,” said Raul. “When does it go on sale?” “I’m guessing you guys will get free copies as you’re hosting the event. But I’d imagine it’ll be ready to go on sale in April or May. I can text you when I know more. Or you can keep an eye out on the Crumbington Summer Fête website.” “Don’t worry, we will,” said Clifton. “Ah, here’s Giorgio.” Giorgio and a pretty girl half his age approached them. After Giorgio introduced her, Toni, they began to play musical chairs but Giorgio insisted on everyone staying put, and seating themselves either end of the table. As Clifton expected, the first thing Giorgio did was to head to the kitchen, to sort out platters of main courses. All in all, the evening went extremely well. Toni turned out to be a minor celebrity too, openly admitting to using Giorgio to give her career a boost, even though she was also really fond of him. On a couple of occasions, people stopped by to say hello to either Clifton or Raul, and during another occasion, when Clifton excused himself to use the washroom, Nathan found himself chatting to Giorgio. “Not sure if Clifton told you but I have a favour to ask. How would feel about us using your baker’s shop for one of our episodes? It would mean filming on your day off, and although there’d be a nominal fee involved, this kind of thing always brings in publicity. Maybe even get the local reporter to snap some shots and publish them in the weekly rag. All media interest has got to be good, eh?” “I suppose that would be fine. As long as we could get everything done and dusted on the Sunday,” said Nathan, noticing Jaymes deep in conversation with Toni. “Jaymes is living with me now, so I’d need to check with him to make sure he’s okay, too.” “Good. And I was going to suggest the pair of you come up to Oxford, to see what’s entailed. The men you met at Clifton’s dinner party—” “Martin and Gallagher—” “That’s right. You remember them?” Nathan had received a friendly email from Martin a few days after the party, telling them to pop in if ever they found themselves in Oxford. As if that could ever happen with his working hours. “We got on really well.” “Brilliant. So we’re setting up and starting the shoot in three weeks. Their home will be Clifton’s home in the show. Wondered if you and your partner would like to come and see what’s entailed. You know; setting up cameras and lights, meeting the crew and some of the cast. I’m sure having you there would make Gallagher a little less anxious. Martin seems to be fine with the idea, but Gallagher usually has a million and one questions. You’d be doing Clifton a big favour, too. How does that sound?” “Sounds great. Once again, as long as it’s on a Sunday.” “Okay. Leave things with me. I’ll contact them and get back to you. In the meantime, thanks.” “How long is Clifton over here?” “For the first stint? Until July. Then he heads straight back to start shooting a movie in LA. As well as an important—uh—personal matter he needs to take care of back there.” “He told me.” “He did?” said Giorgio, his stern gaze swinging to glare at Clifton. “What the hell? He’s not supposed to be breathing a word just yet. If the press gets wind, it’ll be all over—” “Hang on. Surely starting a family’s a courageous thing. Why would he need to keep that under wraps?” “Oh,” said Giorgio, his concern melting, his gaze coming back and his head nodding. “Oh, I see. That. Yeah. He has that as well, although Raul is gonna be the principal stay-at-home parent in the arrangement. Hoping to get some positive PR coverage outta that little life changer.” “And I’ve no doubt you will,” said Nathan, intrigued now as to what other personal matter Clifton might be dealing with. Should he approach Clifton directly? Maybe they could have an informal chat later. Conversations came to a temporary end when sharing plates arrived, of grilled mixed seafood, cooked meats, pastas, cannelloni, arancine—rice balls—and other of Giorgio’s personal favourites. At the end, everyone chatted happily, immersed in their own conversations while waiting for coffee to arrive. Nathan took the opportunity to sit back and glance around himself. Giorgio and Clifton had their heads bowed together, with Clifton listening intently, his expression neutral, nodding occasionally at something Giorgio said. No doubt at all, Clifton’s features had sharpened over the years, were more sculpted and breathtaking. Even his eyes shone with life and attraction. An adjective used more often to describe women, the man was truly beautiful. At the other end of the table, Raul, Jaymes and Toni laughed at some shared joke or another, nothing forced or guarded in their reactions, clearly enjoying each other’s company. Leaning back, Nathan stared up into the tilted mirror and his eyes were naturally drawn to Jaymes. And something that should have been obvious struck him then. Of all people around the table, only Jaymes brought a smile to his lips and made his heart beat faster. Absently, Jaymes ran his tongue across his own bottom lip, wetting the rim, and something in Nathan’s stomach wriggled, his cock stirring. As though sensing the scrutiny, Jaymes gaze raised to the mirror to meet Nathan’s. With a lopsided grin, he winked at him, before returning to the conversation. A moment later, however, Nathan felt a foot hook around his ankle beneath the table. Eventually conversations were interrupted temporarily by two waiters bringing a selection of coffees on silver trays and serving them to everyone. “How are you doing?” asked Jaymes, leaning into Nathan and leaving Raul to chat privately to Toni. “Great. I’m really enjoying tonight. I haven’t done this in— You know, I don’t think I’ve ever done this.” “Poor Nate. They’re good company, aren’t they? Did you know Toni’s father works in my field of work. Bit of a rock star, actually, he’s a famous dendrologist. Studies and classifies all types of trees, shrubs, and lianas. Published a number of books. And Raul is such easy company. They’re going to make amazing parents, him and Clifton. I’m glad we came along.” “Me too. Thanks for coming, Jaymes.” “Hey,” said Jaymes, leaning in and kissing Nathan on the cheek. “If it means I get to spend more time with you, I’ll come anywhere and anytime you want me to.” Jaymes eyebrows flicked with humour at the comment but Nathan’s heart filled, and he had to look away for a moment. Fortunately, Giorgio silenced the table with a fork clanging against his glass. “So,” he announced, at around ten-thirty. “There’s this tiny private jazz club around the corner, not Ronnie Scotts, but one where Toni has a private membership. We’d normally head there on our own, but you guys have been so much fun tonight we wondered if you’d be interested. Anyone fancy a cocktail nightcap to the cool strains of Unthinkable Things?” Jaymes leant into Nathan and whispered into his ear. “How tired are you?” “Wide awake.” “Me too. And I’m really enjoying tonight. What say we join them for a drink or two, watch a couple of numbers, and then disappear before the witching hour arrives? Because there are a few unthinkable things I still want to do to you tonight.” Nathan turned and kissed Jaymes full on the lips. “Deal.” When he turned to nod to Giorgio, he noticed both Raul and Clifton had been watching, intrigued. “You know,” said Clifton. “I had my reservations about you two. But I can see I was wrong. Good for you both. Nathan could do with a bit of good luck in his life.” Nathan didn’t have the heart to tell him his good luck came with a June expiry date.
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