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lomax61

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About lomax61

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  1. lomax61

    London

    There’s not another house in the garden. Adrian says”Not only can you see the incredible view at the back now, but people can actually tell there’s a house here.” He means that now the garden has been cleared, other people from outside can see Bryn Bach. I’m not sure why people keep interpreting this as another house.
  2. lomax61

    London

    On his drive back to London on Sunday, Leonard mulled over the events of the night before. After a thorough sweep of the house—and finding nobody hiding, ready to pounce out on them—he and Adrian had locked and bolted the exterior doors, front and back. Nothing had been touched. The dresser, hidden beneath a dust sheet, had not been disturbed. All the intruder appeared to have done was to stroll as far as the French windows overlooking the back garden and then retrace his or her steps out of the front door. No footsteps had marked the stairs. Adrian had been fearless, prepared for any confrontation, his fists clenched in readiness. Leonard had been impressed with his quiet but determined resolve, something that must have served him well on the streets. But the fading footprints had been enough to convince Leonard. Whoever had been in the place, had long since gone. “Should we call the police?” “And tell them what?” Leonard had asked calmly. “There are no signs of a break-in. And most of the footprints have already dried up.” “I took some pictures on my phone,” said Adrian. “And there might be fingerprints. By the size of the footprints, these are clearly men’s shoes, so this has to be your cousin Matthew.” If he was going to be honest, Leonard had thought the same thing initially. But he had read enough mystery books and seen enough television crime shows to know associating shoe size with gender would have even the most junior of police constables raising an eyebrow in disdain. “We don’t know that, Ade. Yes, the person clearly has a set of keys to the house. But my aunt could have had more cut. Wouldn’t it make sense to give a set to someone locally in case of emergencies? This is my fault. I should have changed the locks the moment I got here. On any other job, I would have done. Let’s not push this. Nothing’s been touched and nobody’s been hurt. But if you could arrange for a local locksmith to come in during the week, that would put my mind at rest.” “Bugger that,” said Adrian, still rattled. “I’ll do it myself. As soon as Toni gets here, I’ll find a local hardware store, buy the bloody locks and fit them myself.” “Whatever you say. And once we’ve finished the renovations, I’m going to invest in a home security system. A good friend of mine will do me a good deal.” In the bedroom that night, Leonard thought the intrusion might have dampened Adrian’s sexual ardour, but the opposite occurred. As soon as they stepped into the room, Adrian grabbed hold of him, kissed and undressed him, and made love to him as though Lenny were a patient needing special care and attention. One thing was for sure. Adrian had relaxed into their coupling, slowing down and allowing Leonard to take control sometimes, no longer fast and furious as though he was on the clock. But also, something inside Leonard had clicked awake. The actual act of sleeping next to Adrian felt as intimate as their lovemaking, more so perhaps, something he realised he had missed in his life, missed with all his heart and soul. Even with the cheerful thought of catching up with his team in London, leaving Sunday morning had been an emotional wrench, especially when Adrian had taken the lead to kiss and hug him goodbye at the front door. *** On Monday, after visiting his solicitor’s office for the official call with Dawson, Leonard arrived at his London office just before midday. He stayed at his desk, catching up on paperwork, signing letters and looking over contracts. Although tempted by the offer to go for lunch with his team, he chose to get the backlog of work out of the way. Other things could wait. Helen Wallis’ advice had been pretty much as expected. Unlike Dawson, she did not maintain any old-world politeness and charm associated with her profession; neither did she mince her words. In her early seventies, she had fought her way around a courtroom and bettered lots of male counterparts. These days she preferred loose-fitting, comfortable clothing she could wear just as easily in the garden, her hair tied up with a scarf—and wore the same attire to her office. The handful of clients she agreed to retain were long-standing and accepted her quirks along with her sharp legal mind. “Short of proving you’re not Leonard Day, not actually Colin Day’s biological son, that is, or that your father was of unsound fucking mind when he signed the will—which according to Dawson, he wasn’t—then there is not a court in the land that would rule in favour of your dear Aunt Millicent. These carrot-crunching fuckwits at Hope and Masters know that, but they’ll still happily take the case and empty her bank account. From what you’ve told me, this woman is bordering certifiable, so I strongly suggest you find somebody she will listen to, and get them to bitch slap some common sense into the old bag before she wastes you both a fuck-ton of money.” “That’s essentially what Dawson said. Without the expletives. If this were to go to court, how much are we talking? An estimate?” “All depends on the angle they take and the complexity of the case. If they insist on DNA tests and getting medical professionals involved and goodness knows what the fuck else, then I’d say she should make sure she can put aside between a hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand. Hopeless Bastards will most likely ask for a retainer. How much is this property worth?” “I’ve not had it valued yet. But at a guess, I’d say around three hundred thousand.” “Seriously, Colin. Is there someone who can drum some fucking sense into this woman? Even if by some miracle she were to win, she’d only end up having to sell the property to pay off her legal fees.” “That’s the problem. I don’t know her that well. I might see if I can reach out to her daughter.” “Can I suggest you do that sooner rather than later?” On the drive back to the office, Leonard wracked his brains to figure out how to contact his cousin Mary. First of all, he considered phoning his mother, but then remembered Pippa saying they exchanged Christmas cards. Perhaps she would have an address. Back at his desk, settling into his plush chair, he was about to compose a text message to Adrian, but then decided he needed to hear his voice. After only two rings, Adrian picked up. “Hey, sexy. How’s your morning going?” Leonard could not help the smile and warm feeling filling him at the endearment. “Pretty good. Call between Helen and Dawson as predicted, and I’ve just arrived at the office. How are things going there?” “Toni works like a demon. We’ve already got the equipment in place to take the wall down. And the Redfern outfit turned up first thing this morning. They’re already making quick work of the front garden. We’re stopping for a spot of lunch right now.” “Shit. I wish I was there to see it all come together.” “Yeah. Me too, Lenny.” Adrian’s soft, subtle tone of yearning was not lost on Leonard, and he stalled for a moment, overcome by the sudden flood of emotions. “Hey, I’ve already changed the locks front and back. Drove to the superstore yesterday and found a fairly decent hardware place,” continued Adrian. “I’ll let you have a set of keys when you get here Friday. Toni helped me make sure all windows are secured properly, too. You might want to think about setting up a motion detector light at the front and back. Oh yes, and I also sent you some design ideas for the kitchen and bathroom this morning. Thought you may want to think about getting orders in for kitchen units, in case there’s a long lead time. If you need help with that, let me know.” “You’re an absolute star. I’ll get onto that. And I’m thinking about furnishing the house with some pieces from my antique furniture catalogue, maybe use the place as a kind of showroom. Hey, if she’s there, can you ask Pippa if she has an address for my cousin Mary? She mentioned sending her a Christmas card.” “Will do. What time do you think you’ll get here Friday?” “I’ll try to leave early and be with you by four. Why? “I’ll make sure Toni’s gone by then. Missing you. I’m going to make dinner or get takeaway so we don’t need to go out. And you may need to bring more—um—supplies, okay?” Leonard grinned down at the phone just as a shadow fell across his workspace. When he looked up, he saw the grinning face of Kieran, who slumped across the partition between their desks. Leonard felt his cheeks heat up and coughed involuntarily into the phone. “Will do, Ade. Uh, I’d better go. Got someone hovering, waiting to see me. Give me a call during the week, let me know how things are going?” “Will do. Take care, sexy.” “Um, you too.” Leonard shook his head, annoyed at being forty-seven and still feeling flustered, as though he had been caught out doing something illicit or embarrassing. “Bit of privacy here, Kieran,” he said, pointing to his phone. “This could have been confidential.” “In which case, you’d have taken the call in the fish tank. So come on, Len.” said Kieran, propping his elbows on the partition and cradling his head in his hands. “What’s going on? You’re grinning at that phone like you’ve just won the lottery.” “Hello Kieran. I’ve missed you, too—” “Oh fuck.” said Kieran, jumping back and slapping a hand to his mouth, as though Leonard had just struck him. “You got laid didn’t you? While you’ve been away? That’s what’s written all over your face.” Leonard’s eyes flashed around the rest of the office, which was thankfully still empty. “Keep your voice down!” “I knew it! You finally got your end away. Wait until I tell Kennedy. Who is it?” “Not a word, Kieran. I’m serious. It’s all new and may not lead to anything.” “But look at you,” said Kieran, waving a hand in a circle at Leonard. “You’re so—so—loose.” “What? What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” “Less uptight, less wound up. Chilled. Beaming. Was it good? It was good, wasn’t it? Give me details.” “I’m not giving you details, you little perv,” said Leonard, chuckling. “Get back to work, before I sack you.” “Yeah, that’s never been much of a threat,” said Kieran, his eyes brightening again. “Hey, tell you what. Bring him over Sunday for lunch. Kennedy will cook. We need to give him a thorough professional eval—” “Oh, no. No, you don’t. Like I told you, it’s all new. And anyway, he lives in Norwich. Besides, I’m driving back to Wales next Friday for a—” “Dirty weekend?” “Site inspection. And we’ve still got a whole load of work to do on the place, including sanding and plastering. So, yes, there will probably be dust and— Kieran! Stop smirking at me like that!” No matter how hard he tried, he could never keep a serious face with Kieran around. “You’re spending a lot of time at this place. You did remember that you have tickets for the Harrogate Classic Car Show the second weekend of May? And you’re also booked in to view a couple of properties in and around Dublin the weekend after? Or do you want me to take over?” Kieran’s offer was genuine. Leonard knew him well enough to know he would step in if asked, and wouldn’t even complain. And the truth was that Leonard was enjoying his weekends in Wales, to spend time remodelling the house, working alongside Adrian and then sharing a bed with him. But Kieran needed his weekends, needed to spend time with his young family, and Leonard was not about to mess with that. “No, I’m still good for both of those. We’re getting to a point where there’s not much else I can contribute, where I need to step back and let the professionals take over. And on that note, can you have a word with your husband. I need to have a state of the art security system installed once the makeover is complete. If I give you Adrian’s contact number, can you get one of Kennedy’s team to call him?” “Ah, so his name’s Adrian, is it? And he’s a professional builder. Very nice. You know we’re going to have to meet him one day, don’t you?” “Let’s see how things pan out. With the house, too.” On a video call, he had explained to his whole team about the home his father had bequeathed him, a building that needed extensive renovations. A few soft comments of sweet and wow came down the line, but he knew they all equated the place to just another job added to his company’s long list of renovations. “Ooh,” said Kieran, reaching behind him onto his desk for an envelope. “And on that note, boss. I got you the original plans and history of the house from the Land Registry that you requested. Very interesting reading.” “How so?” “Did you know the house was commissioned in 1888?” “I do now. But that’s kind of what we thought.” “Hang on, that’s not the best bit. The house was commissioned by Lord Charles Hawesworth.” “Okay,” said Leonard, shrugging. “Sorry, should the name ring a bell?” “He was a lord, dummy. Don’t you find that interesting? Anyway, there’s more. But let me start at the beginning. Being the curious but adorable person that I am, I did some digging around and Lord Charlie’s father, Lord Theophilus Hawesworth—who the hell calls their child Theophilus—owned a bunch of textile mills in the Midlands. On the research, he is listed as an industrialist, philanthropist and social reformer. Oh, yeah, and did I mention that he made his fortune exploiting the working classes in Victorian sweat shops, making quality cloth for the upper monied classes? Philanthropist, my arse. Charlie was his youngest of three.” “Very interesting. Is there a point to all this?” “Oh, it gets better. Lord Charlie became an architect and drew up the plans for the house, his own pet project, by the sound of things. Died of tuberculosis in 1897 at the ripe old age of forty-seven, poor sod. And guess who he left the place to?” “Queen Victoria?” “Ha-ha. No, he left the place to one Harold Hampton Day. Your great, great grandfather.” This piece of news caught Leonard’s attention. “Why?” “How the hell should I know? Give him a ring and ask him. After that, the property remained in your family.” “Give me that,” said Leonard, snatching the envelope from Kieran. “And that, Mr Day, is why you pay me the big bucks. So are you at least going to show me a photo of this hottie of yours?” The question stalled Leonard. For the first time, he realised he had no photos of Adrian. “Actually I don’t have one. But I tell you what. I’ll snap one next weekend, and show you next time I’m back.” “The hell you will. You know how to add a photo to a text message now. I know you do, I showed you. So send me a copy as soon as you snap one.” “You’re a pushy little so-and-so, aren’t you? How does Kennedy stand it?” “He’d be lost without me. So would you.” Leonard would, too, but said nothing. If Kieran was as much of a fireball in the bedroom as he was in the office, then Kennedy was one lucky—if perennially tired—husband. *** Friday couldn’t come soon enough. Even with the hectic distraction of the office, Leonard went back alone to his empty house each night. Never before had doing so been an issue. He had resigned himself to the idea of living out his final days alone in the house he once shared with Kris. Was he being given a second chance? On Monday, Pippa had texted Leonard the address for Mary Whitby, his cousin. She had no telephone number or email address, so Kennedy used some of his company letter-headed paper, and send her a note, asking if she could call or email him. Another job out of the way, if not quite complete yet. Every evening, Adrian called—they spoke more than texting now. On Thursday, he told him excitedly about the progress on the house. “Good choice with Redfern, Lenny. Pippa’s crew will be pretty much done by tomorrow. Honestly, the back garden looks amazing and the front is almost finished. Not only can you see the incredible view at the back now, but people can actually tell there’s a house here. I was going to send you photos, but I think you should see for yourself. They’re going to wait for you to decide whether you want to replace the patio tiles before adding the finishing touches. We can discuss that at the weekend. Toni’s helped me remove the kitchen wall and open up the back for the new patios doors. And, as instructed, on Monday I ordered them on your account along with the windows you requested, the wooden framed ones that match the original style. Ten day turn around, they say. So they’re being fitted on Friday of next week. I thought getting things sorted out here in the sticks would be far more difficult. Pippa gave me the name of a local guttering expert, someone who can check, then match replacements or patch what you already have. They’ll be here Tuesday. Toni started checking the electrics this morning. They’re not in a bad state of repair but are going to need updating. She reckons she’ll have downstairs done by next Thursday—so we can start plastering the following weekend—and the rest by the Friday after that. I suggest you get those kitchen units ordered A-sap. Did you get a chance to look at my rough sketches?” “Wow, slow down a bit, Ade. Rough sketches?” snorted Leonard. He had one open on his desktop monitor. “Swear to God, Adrian. These are better than professional architectural blueprints. They’re all to scale too, aren’t they?” “Of course.” “Love the idea of grey and white units, because there will be a lot of natural light from the rear doors, and the lighting design above for the evenings, but they’ll also blend with the original dark pine flooring. In fact, I love it all. And I agree with you on the Aga front. They look fancy and they’re great if you know what you’re doing. I don’t, so I’m going to opt for a simple, but large conventional cooker with a double oven. I’ll also go with a double door fridge freezer. How many bar stools can we fit one side of the kitchen island?” “Comfortably? Four, with one either end. But I imagine you’ll put a family dining table in the space by the patio doors.” “I’ve already picked out and reserved a list of pieces from my antique site. Got a couple of amazing burnished brown leather Chesterfield sofas and side chairs for the living room. And the table and chairs will complement the Welsh dresser.” “Ooh, on that note. Don’t forget the skeleton keys. So we can unlock those drawers. Toni needed the dresser moved away from the wall—to check out the wiring—and had to have a nose around beneath the dust covers. She was really impressed, asked me if you’d consider selling the piece if she gave you a good price. I said she didn’t have a hope in hell.” Lenny laughed. Adrian already knew him well. “You’re right. If Luke wanted it in the house, then so do I.” “Good. That’s what I told her. And one last thing. A slight change of plan tomorrow evening.” “Sounds ominous.” “The handbrake on my truck has been playing up for a while and is getting worse. Nothing too serious, but I’m getting it looked at Saturday morning. The thing is, the mechanic’s from a place called Newton—half an hour’s drive away—but doesn’t know the area well. Rather than him getting lost trying to find Bryn Bach, I asked Megan if I could leave the truck in their car park and the keys behind the bar. The Manor Inn’s a pretty easy-to-find landmark. So I thought I’d drive there tomorrow after finishing here, and park the truck overnight. But that means I’ll need to meet you at the pub tomorrow, rather than at the house. Is that okay?” “So you’re not cooking for me?” “I could still do that. You just have to pick me up from the pub first.” “No, it’ll be too rushed for you. Let’s eat and drink there.” “I’m really sorry, Lenny. I had it all planned, a nice cooked dinner and all. But I don’t want to chance anything when it comes to my brakes, especially on the long drive back to Norwich.” “Quite right, too. I want you in one piece. No problem, Ade.” “I can still cook for us on Saturday night. I’m buying the food fresh tomorrow. That old fridge of yours is running fine, by the way. A bit noisy but working. I’ve even used the stove a couple of times this week.” “And haven’t burnt the house down, yet?” Adrian chuckled. Leonard sensed he had been disappointed about changing their plans, but they would still have the night together. “Nope. The house is still standing.” “See you tomorrow night then, Ade. Looking forward to it.” “Yeah, me too, Lenny. Me too.” When Leonard ended the call, he smiled to himself, pleased he had no nosy Marketing Manager looking over his shoulder. Tossing the phone on to his sofa, he looked about the house he had lived in for twenty years, at the familiar but largely empty walls, at the simple, but now tired and uninspiring furnishings. Since Kris’ death, he had used none of his creativity or enthusiasm to breathe life into his real home, to try and turn the place into somewhere he wanted to inhabit. Instead, he treated the space like a mausoleum. All his recent attention had been focused on Wales. Maybe in the future, with Adrian’s help, that was something he might remedy.
  3. lomax61

    Freya

    Just to clarify, not small footprints - just footprints...
  4. lomax61

    Freya

    Hi @danalford, The next chapter will be published on Tuesday, but I can’t promise that all your questions will be answered - not just yet, anyway. I am loving all the speculation and questions this chapter has generated. Exactly what I’d hoped for.
  5. lomax61

    Freya

    Maybe he shouldn’t have voiced anything about them getting together later and certainly not have brushed his hand against Lenny’s cock, because throughout the afternoon, whether purposely or not, Lenny kept finding ways to get Adrian hot under the collar. And if he planned to keep on giving Adrian that sly, sultry smile every time their eyes met, Adrian was going to have to haul him off his feet and upstairs into the bedroom. They finished stripping paper from the drawing-room—the smaller room to the left inside the front door—and at each end of the long living room, and now began on the wall housing the fireplace. After Adrian had agreed and marked off the area of kitchen wall Lenny wanted to remove—no point wasting effort doing any work there—he started circling patches where the plaster would need replacing. He gave up on the long wall when clump after clump of powdered plaster came away with the wallpaper. They would need to re-plaster the whole side. Their proximity, combined with the smell of Lenny’s body and the occasional, supposedly accidental touching, had Adrian’s cock waking up and taking notice. To put some distance between them, Adrian suggested he start dismantling the chunky and, frankly, ugly built-in cupboard beneath the bay window. At least that way, they would not be so physically close. Except, every so often, he looked up to find Lenny gazing and grinning at him. “Seriously? You keep that up, and I’m dragging your arse upstairs.” “Promises, promises.” “I mean it, Lenny.” “But I’m filthy,” said Lenny, pretending to be shocked, his hands on his hips. “That look you keep giving me certainly is.” “What look?” “That one! Don’t play dumb. Just pack it in. Otherwise, we’re never going to start upstairs this weekend.” “Oh, we will get upstairs at some point. That much, I promise you.” Adrian couldn’t help but laugh. “Lenny!” “Okay, okay.” Lenny checked his watch while laughing, but then stopped abruptly. “But it’s four-thirty already. And we’ve made amazing progress. We probably need to shower in an hour and get ready to go out. And I’m not going to be here tomorrow. So I just thought—” Adrian stopped and eyed Lenny. The sexy man was getting under his skin. Lenny had already started moving towards the staircase. Adrian followed him up the stairs and into Lenny’s room this time. When he entered the room, Lenny stood by the bed, his hands on his hips, a playful grin on his face. Adrian stepped over the threshold and glanced at the bedspread to see the condoms and lube lying there. Lenny had planned this. Without hesitating, he moved in front of Lenny with only thoughts of getting his fill of the man. “Hang on a minute, Ade,” said Lenny, holding his wrists as his hands reached for Lenny’s belt. Adrian stared back in confusion. Had Lenny changed his mind? “No, no,” said Lenny, smiling and shaking his head, before bringing the hands to his mouth and kissing each of them in turn. “Of course, I want to have sex with you. But I wondered if we could do things more—uh—my way this time?” Adrian eyed him with amusement. “Is this about to get kinky?” “No. Well,” Lenny looked almost uncomfortable and Adrian wanted to tell him not to worry, that nothing could shock him where Lenny was concerned. “Look, I sometimes equate sex—and I know this is going to sound a bit lame—to a rocket firework going off. If you look at things in reverse, the big explosion in the sky is the orgasm, the whizz and fizz as the rocket leaves the ground is the sex leading up to the big bang, and the sizzling fuse is the foreplay. Yeah, I know. Not the best analogy. But—and this is the crucial part for me—kissing is like the light, the match, the flame that sets the whole thing in motion.” “Kissing? Kissing’s not really my thing.” “And that’s fair enough.” Adrian couldn’t help but notice Lenny’s disappointment. “I was just testing the water. I would never ask you to do anything you’re not comfortable with. Let’s just forget—” ”No, no. Hang on a minute. I didn’t say I’m exactly adverse to the idea. I just don’t usually—you know—kiss.” Adrian felt his previous ardour begin to dwindle at the turn of the conversation, even though, in all fairness, Lenny had piqued his curiosity. “Which is fine. But let me ask you this. How often have you kissed someone? I mean, really kissed them. And I’m not talking about a peck on the lips, or the duelling tongues you see in those ridiculous gay porn movies. Kissing for real is about sensation and connection, not a spectator sport. A passionate kiss is all about what occurs inside the people kissing each other.” Maybe Lenny had a point. On the streets, his mates had told him not to kiss any of his tricks. Some wanted to, but he never agreed, so got into the habit of avoiding kissing. He would even say so upfront. Most anything else they wanted, as long as they played safe and paid well, he would be game. One of his straight mates who had a girlfriend told him that if you didn’t kiss the guy before you blew him or fucked him, then it didn’t count, it remained just a job, a way to earn a living. And not kissing had become a way of life. “God, Lenny,” said Adrian, scrubbing a fist in his hair. “You’re making me feel like a sexual novice here.” Lenny snorted with surprise and shook his head. “Novice? Ade, if last night was anything to go by, then you’re far more experienced than me when it comes to sex. I just thought we could try something a little more intimate before we get to the main event. Are you up for a bit of experimentation?” Never in his life had the thought of sex with someone made him feel nervous—until that moment. What if he turned out to be crap at kissing? Would Lenny be put off? Would it ruin what they already had? Fuck, he was almost fifty, and he’d never really kissed someone. How lame was that? “Hey, buddy, stop over-thinking this. You’re in very safe hands. And if you don’t like it, we stop.” “Okay, I think. So what do you want me to do?” “I need us both to strip down to our underwear.” “Now we’re talking. I’m liking this already.” Adrian began to remove his clothes, taking a moment to admire Lenny’s body as he did the same. “Good. Now I want you to get comfortable on the bed, on your back, face up.” “Shall I drop my underwear?” asked Adrian, his hands on the waistband of his briefs. “Nope. Just—as you are.” Adrian did as asked, lying down with his head on the pillow and his arms tucked lazily behind his head. After a moment of appraisal, Lenny climbed onto the bed and straddled Adrian’s waist. A combination of warmth and the hair from Lenny’s thighs, and just the sight of Lenny mounted on top of him had Adrian’s pulse speeding up and his cock taking notice. When Lenny began to lean towards him, Adrian felt himself gulp. “Not sure if it helps,” he said, nerves rising. “But I chewed some gum after lunch.” Lenny laughed affectionately and then smoothed his thumbs across Adrian’s lips. “You could be chewing garlic for all I care. Close your eyes.” Lenny began by pressing soft kisses to Adrian’s lips. Adrian just breathed and lay still, not reacting nor feeling the urge to kiss back, but he did feel his body calming. The sensation wasn’t bad at all, quite pleasant really—just didn’t light any fires. After a couple of minutes, Lenny began to slow down, to press harder, to wet his lips and brush them along Adrian’s and once even pulled Adrian’s bottom lip in his teeth. With the tiny action, the minuscule nip, and Adrian breathed deeply, his eyelids almost fluttering open. As one of Lenny’s hands caressed his hair, the other gently smoothed over the chest and down his body. A tiny quiver went through Adrian, something he had never experienced. Maybe sensing the tremor, Lenny’s tongue pushed past Adrian’s lips, and almost by reflex, he opened his mouth. Lenny must have been expecting this because his tongue slipped inside Adrian’s mouth, connecting their tongues. And that’s when it happened. A regular trick once told Adrian that he had a talented tongue because he could make this guy come just by rimming him. But this was something entirely different. Moist and warm inside his mouth, their tongues wrestled and slithered and snaked around each other, one moment exploring Adrian’s mouth, the next, Lenny’s. Kissing Lenny was lighting fires inside him. Adrian would freely admit to being the one to take control in any sexual activity, but this time he’d let Lenny take the lead. Which, as it happened, had been a total turn-on. And then he heard Lenny’s loud, and downright filthy carnal moan. Right then, Adrian hiked in a deep breath, and his hand came up and clamped around the back of Lenny’s head. Needing more, he deepened the kiss. His pulse spiked, and he felt his cock straining to join in, just as Lenny’s hand brushed against his erection. Instantly, Adrian rolled them over and pulled his head away, staring hotly down at Lenny’s reddened, moist lips and dilated pupils. “Are you sure you’ve never done this before?” asked Lenny, grinning while breathing heavily. “You are a demon,” said Adrian, before diving in for another taste of Lenny’s mouth. At the same time, he lined up their erections and began to move his hips forward, to rub them together, even though they were both constrained by the material of their briefs. No matter, the friction felt incredible, and if the noises coming from below meant anything, Lenny enjoyed the sensation, too. While Adrian braced his arms either side of Lenny’s head, savouring the kiss, Lenny’s hands were free to roam. Pinching both nipples to bring them alive, he rubbed his thumbs around the sensitive flesh. This time Adrian moaned into Lenny’s mouth and began moving faster, pressing their erections harder together. When Lenny wrapped arms around Adrian’s neck and his legs tightly around the waist, he pulled away to take a breath. Instead, when he grazed his teeth along Adrian’s neck, Adrian almost lost control. But Lenny was the one to come undone first, his body stuttering and shuddering through his orgasm, with Adrian not far behind. Adrian flopped onto his back next to Lenny, both of them staring at the ceiling. After a few moments, Adrian felt Lenny’s hand thread into his own, another type of intimacy he had never allowed himself. The simple act had him as confused as the kiss, and rather than give in to the instinct to pull his hand away, he decided to lie there and savour the moment. Lenny was affecting him in a way nobody had ever done, and although he found the effect confusing, even a little worrying, he trusted Lenny. “Okay. So. Messing my underwear wasn’t quite what I had in mind,” came Lenny’s amused voice. “You didn’t enjoy it?” “I loved it,” said Lenny, squeezing Adrian’s hand. “I just—what we just did is a first for me. Not the kissing part. But you keep surprising me, Ade.” “Same here.” “Really? You’re an amazing kisser, by the way.” “And that, believe it or not, was a first for me.” “Was it good?” “Better than. And even though we need to go shower and change now, I’ll give you whatever else you need later tonight, when we’re back here. Deal?” “Shit.” “What?” Adrian sensed Lenny turn his way and met his gaze. “I wish I wasn’t heading off tomorrow now. Imagine what we could be doing if—” “You’re coming back next weekend, though, aren’t you?” “Of course.” “Then we can hold off for a week. Think of the anticipation. Toni will be gone by Friday. Maybe you can check with your work folks and see if you can come down a little earlier.” “Done.” Adrian laughed as Lenny jumped up from the bed and held out a hand. “Come on. The sooner we see Freya, the sooner we can get back in bed.” *** They parked up outside the pub just as the heavens opened. Torrential rainclouds darkened the sky. Adrian pulled up outside the front door and let Lenny out before parking and racing over to join him. Lenny pointed out Pippa Redfern, sitting inside the pub by a bay window, overlooking the gloom of the waterlogged back garden and village green. Facing their way, she waved as they entered, and Adrian wondered if he imagined relief in her expression. The woman sitting opposite turned her head slightly but not enough to see them. She had a shock of pure white hair, worn long and wild, tamed only by thin braids tied off at the back. Both women had hardly touched their drinks, so when Lenny waved back, Adrian opted to get beers for them both. “Now there’s a sight you don’t see every day,” said Mrs Megan Llewellyn, pulling a pint and nodding over Adrian’s shoulder to where Lenny joined the ladies. “Freya Williams?” asked Adrian. “She rarely leaves her cottage these days. Once a month, maybe, she drives to get her food shopping over in the big store in Llandrindod Wells, which in itself is strange because she’s known to be a bit of a recluse. Surprised she doesn’t opt for home delivery. Would have thought she’d hate the crowds in that big building.” “I don’t know. Sometimes you can hide a lot easier in the huge, busy places.” “Fair point. One thing I know for sure, though. Last time she came in here must have been over twenty years gone when her grandmother passed. I’ve not seen her here since. And I’m surprised to see her with Pippa. The two fell out years ago, not long after Freya’s brother went off on his travels. Is she here for your Mr Day?” “She is, yes,” said Adrian grinning. An oddly warm feeling filled him hearing her label Lenny as his. “Mrs Redfern suggested Lenny talk to her about Luke.” Megan shook her head slightly while looking down at the pint glass she filled. “For whatever good it’ll do now. But I suppose he would be interested, being family and all.” “I think that’s it, in a nutshell. Pure curiosity.” Megan carefully set the second pint down in front of Adrian. “And we all know what curiosity did to the cat, now don’t we? That’ll be eight pounds eighty.” Adrian handed over a ten-pound note. “Keep the change,” he said. When Adrian brought the drinks over and took a seat, Lenny did a quick round of introductions. Adrian sat on the same side of the table as Pippa and noticed Freya hugging a cloth carrier bag to her chest, and barely looking at any of them as Lenny talked. Adrian realised then just how good Lenny was at small talk, telling Freya how he had become the owner, about their progress on the renovations, and his plans for the future of the place. “Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that my team is set to start first thing Monday if that’s okay by you?” said Pippa, and then to Freya. “Leonard has hired my company to do the landscaping.” “Great. But so that you know, I won’t be around. I need to get back and check in with my team back in London and get a legal matter sorted out,” said Lenny, “but Adrian here will be staying on next week, so he’ll give you access to the house if you need anything.” “Thanks. Good to know.” “I’ve got another contractor coming to join me,” added Adrian. “We’re doing some structural work. And then it’s plastering and sorting out the flooring. But Lenny has some firm ideas on that.” “Used to be lovely,” said Freya, surprising everyone. “I’m sorry?” said Adrian. “Freya’s right. Used to have lovely varnished floorboards,” said Pippa. “Until Mrs Darlington insisted on covering everything up with her dreadful linoleum flooring.” “Cheap. The woman was cheap,” said Freya, and Adrian couldn’t quite stifle a chuckle. Having heard Freya speak, Lenny asked her a few gentle questions about what she did for a living. They found out she worked from home for an examination board helping to set the curriculum for national school examinations, as well as providing online tuition for students. She answered other questions guardedly, with few words. They discovered she lived alone, or at least with her two rescue cats. From the little she spoke, Adrian guessed Megan had been right, that she rarely left her home or mixed socially. “Can I ask? When did you first meet Luke?” asked Lenny. “When would that have been, Freya? Back in the seventies? I’m the oldest, and I’d have been around fourteen, so you’d all have been, what, twelve?” “Twelve, yes. We were the same age, Luke, Howard and me,” blurted Freya, turning to Lenny. “But Luke was an old twelve if you know what I mean?” “True,” said Pippa. “A bundle of energy and fun around us, but serious otherwise. He was only usually here for three or four weeks over the school summer holidays, but we all took to him immediately.” “Have you met the brother and sister?” asked Freya. “Only Matthew,” said Lenny. “They took after their mother,” said Pippa, a slight roll of her eyes. “Accompanying her on long walks in the countryside. Reading aloud to each other in the back garden. Church service on Sunday mornings followed by lunch in the gardens here. Then home for a simple tea in the afternoon. Like a family out of a Victorian novel.” “Doesn’t sound so bad,” said Adrian. “Mrs Darlington had her rules. They only read sanctioned books—which often resulted in them defaulting to bible passages. And nobody was allowed to speak during their walks, except to smile and say hello to any fellow ramblers they met along the way. They had a television in the house nobody was allowed to watch. She forbade them from making friends here, because she said this was a temporary home, and local children would most likely be unsuitable—” “And yet Luke found you,” said Adrian. “We found each other,” said Freya, which seemed an odd thing to say. “Luke was a bit of a rebel,” said Pippa, giggling at the memory. “Just like in Star Wars, he used to say. The three of us—Freya, Howie and me—were sitting together on the village green the day he appeared. He wandered over to say hello while the rest of his family were finishing their lunch. Just plonked himself down, he did, cross-legged without waiting for an invitation. But he was one of those people you just gravitated towards. I remember seeing his mother get up and march over to get him, and that’s when I saw the annoyance in his eyes. Before she was within earshot, he arranged for us to meet up the next day, same place, same time. Said he would find an excuse to get away from them. And he did.” “Did their father ever come with them?” Pippa looked across at Freya. “I never met him. Did you?” “Once or twice,” said Freya. “And then he only stayed a couple of days. Luke said he worked really hard.” “Strange,” said Lenny, sadly. “To think the two of you know members of a family I never met.” Freya stared at him and appeared to remember something at that remark. She pulled the bag away from her chest and drew out a large brown envelope. “I brought some old photographs. Ones I’ve kept over the years. Thought you might like to have a look.” She reached inside and placed the small pile into the middle of the table. While Lenny sorted through the polaroids with Pippa, Adrian picked up the single, larger monochrome shot of the group, worn and wrinkled but still sharp and clear, taken using what must have been a quality, maybe even professional, camera. In the photo, the young man who was obviously Luke sat cross-legged in the middle of them all, beaming happily at the camera. In the bloom of youth, he had been a beautiful boy—transitioning into a handsome young man—with similar features to young Lenny and even sporting the same messy mop of chestnut hair Adrian remembered on Leonard from school. No wonder Pippa thought she had seen Luke’s ghost when she came to the house. To his left, the somewhat masculine features of a young Freya had been caught in a candid moment, as she smiled adoringly at Luke, so different from the tired and faded woman sitting opposite. Pippa on Luke’s right also caught unexpectedly, had been captured as she glanced sideways up at the camera. Older than the rest, she sat almost kneeling with her legs tucked to one side, a thick textbook open on the grass in front, her fair hair worn long and falling over one side of her pretty face. Behind the three, a boy that had to be Howie crouched down behind Luke, his tongue poked out, and his hands placed either side of his forehead to look like antlers. Even pulling the funny face, and except for wearing his dark hair short, the resemblance to Freya was unmistakable. Overtly masculine, he had the same square chin and a Roman nose, the same bright eyes beneath thick eyebrows. “My father took that one. In their back garden at Bryn Bach,” said Freya. “I thought you said Luke’s mother didn’t like him having friends to the house?” “She didn’t,” said Pippa. “But like I said he used to come down at least a week earlier. To get the place ready for the family, he said. His dad was in sales and the head office was in Shrewsbury, so he used to drop Luke off here. And then we’d all usually help Luke out. The rest of the time, we’d just hang out together.” “His real family,” added Freya. “Can you show me the photo?” asked Pippa. Adrian handed her the picture, and they examined the group together. “Goodness,” said Pippa, chucking softly, running her fingers over the surface. “I remember this well. I must have been twenty in my second year at Durham, studying business management. That’s my huge economics book in front of me.” “How old would Luke have been?” asked Lenny. “Eighteen,” said Freya. “Same as me. But he always looked and acted older.” “Who’s this?” asked Lenny, holding a polaroid up. In the faded photo, a chubby girl with her brown hair tied back in a severe ponytail, ate the remains of an ice lolly, her lips a deep raspberry colour. “That’s Mary, Matthew’s twin sister,” said Pippa. “She was okay in small doses. Fancied the pants off of Howie. She’d often agree be Luke’s decoy, telling his mother they’d gone for a hike so Luke could meet up with us. He’d bribe Mary with ice creams and sweets and the promise of time with Howie, so she wouldn’t snitch on him. We still exchange Christmas cards each year.” “Is anyone eating?” asked Adrian, halfway through his beer. The question appeared to stir something in Freya, and she quickly finished her drink. “I have to go,” she said, squeezing into her waterproof and pulling a closed umbrella from her bag. “My cats need feeding. And I have dinner already prepared at home.” Adrian noticed the disappointment in Lenny. He’d enjoyed looking through the old photographs. “Well, thanks for coming and showing us these, Freya—” he began, collecting them up, and placing them back into the envelope. “No, no,” she said, placing a hand on top of his. “I brought these for you. I thought you’d like to keep them. I have copies of the larger ones and lots of other polaroids.” With Freya gone, they ordered food and drinks, and the atmosphere relaxed noticeably. Pippa handed an envelope to Lenny, the contract for the landscaping work, which Lenny read through and signed at the table. Adrian took the opportunity to chat with Pippa. “Freya was in love with Luke, wasn’t she?” Pippa choked on the vodka she had been drinking. “How did you know?” she asked, eyes wide. “The large photo,” said Adrian. “It’s so obvious. She was totally smitten.” “You know, she absolutely hated when Luke gave me any attention. We fell out about it many times. But I think we all were a little bit in love with him, to be honest. Even Howie. Luke was like the brother he never had.” “Yeah, I can see that,” said Adrian. “Luke had a certain charisma, didn’t he? So he and Howie were only ever friends, if you know what I mean?” Pippa became pensive then. “I was the one he told about him not being interested in girls. I think he sensed my attraction to him and wanted to let me down gently. But I’ve often wondered if there was something more between him and Howie. If there was, though, they kept everything well hidden. I remember one year both Luke and Howie got chatting to an Australian guy, a good-looking casual worker on a local farm, but I think that was more about research for Howie. He wanted to know the best places to visit in Australian. And then, of course, he disappeared off on his travels come his twenty-first birthday.” “When was this?” “Howie disappearing? The year before Luke killed himself. But honestly, I feel sure the two things aren’t connected. Howie’s intention to escape wasn’t a secret. For four years he’d worked a bunch of part-time jobs and saved up money to do exactly that, go travelling once he was past his teens.” “Did you ever hear from him again? After he left?” asked Lenny, looking up. “No. Not even a postcard. But that doesn’t surprise me. Luke devoured books and enjoyed writing letters and cards. Howie read the occasional book, but that was about it. He wanted adventures, the wilder the better. He planned to travel and work his way around the world. And as I said, he couldn’t wait to get away from Hobbiton, as he called this place.” “How about Freya? He must have kept in touch with her.” “So there’s another thing. They may have had some similarities in appearance, but they had very different interests and rarely got along. Which was one of the reasons my mother asked me to befriend Freya. Luke was the one who brought us all closer somehow, partly because we were all so fond of him.” “What about Freya’s mother and father?” “They were brought up mainly by their grandmother,” said Pippa, and appeared uncomfortable telling the story. “I don’t know how to say this without sounding indelicate. Freya and Howard were born out of wedlock. Their father had just turned sixteen, and had a holiday fling with a nineteen year old from Manchester. A year later, the girl’s parents turned up the doorstep and gave him an ultimatum. Either he takes the babies or the girl’s parents would put them up for adoption. Mrs Williams, Freya and Howie’s grandmother, was a thoroughly decent woman, and with the help of her son, the father, they raised the children.” “Is the father—?” asked Lenny. “No, he’s dead. So is the grandmother. I think Freya’s grandmother’s death seriously affected her. Even as a kid, she was never particularly outgoing, but the loss of the steadying presence of her grandmother sent Freya further back into her shell.” Everyone fell silent for a moment, contemplating the story. “Well, this has been a fun evening,” said Adrian, at last, which at least got a chuckle out of Lenny and Pippa. Right at that moment, their food order arrived. “Tell you what, Pippa. To distract us and lighten the mood, why don’t you tell us what plans you have for the gardens of Bryn Bach?” By nine-thirty, they all decided to end the evening. Finally, the rain had stopped, and even a full moon had decided to show up. Adrian offered Pippa a lift, but she only lived a short walk away in the opposite direction and chose to enjoy the night air. After hugging her goodnight, Adrian walked alongside Lenny as they dodged puddles in the lamplit car park, skirting the building and heading towards Adrian’s truck. When Lenny breathed out a loud and steamy yawn into the evening air, Adrian grabbed him by the arm and pushed him up against a wall. “Wh-at?” laughed Lenny, his eyes wide with surprise. “Oh no, you don’t,” he said. “You’re not sleeping on me. We’ve got plans tonight.” And with that, he brought their lips together and felt Lenny chuckle into the embrace, before stilling, taking the kiss deeper and groaning. After a second, he pushed his hands on Adrian’s chest. “Okay, point taken. Let’s get back.” Adrian got them home on the empty roads in record time and parked the truck beneath the tree canopy. Lenny went ahead to unlock the front door, and when Adrian reached him, he had already stepped across the threshold, to flick on the hallway light. When he turned back to Adrian, a glint in his eye, he sauntered seductively backwards into the house, smiling his intention. Adrian snorted and had been about to grab him when something caught his eye. “Lenny. Stop moving.” Lenny must have seen the seriousness on Adrian’s face because he halted and looked around. “What, Ade? What is it?” “The floor. Look at the floor.” A set of damp footprints still glistened and darkened the dusty floorboards, moving from the hallway to the living room and then back out towards the front door. “I think we’ve had a visitor.”
  6. lomax61

    New Day

    Leonard emerged slowly from sleep on Saturday morning, his eyes gradually becoming accustomed to the light of a strange room, dust particles dancing in the ray of sunlight from the crack in the curtains. After a deep breath, he looked around and realised he was alone. Or maybe not. Smells of bacon cooking seeped through the house, igniting his sense of smell. When he shifted onto his side, his body ached in the intimate places he vaguely remembered from his past, sweet aches and a reminder of their coupling the night before. Another session began not long after Adrian finally joined him, pressed up against his back and neither of them able or willing to staunch the resurgence of desire. Did he dream it, or did they fall out of bed at one point, caught up in wild lovemaking and crashing loudly to the bedroom floor? Even still sleep-befuddled, he wondered how Adrian had known what buttons to push. Because the night before had been the stuff of Leonard's most erotic fantasies. Only one small missing piece had him baffled, which was hardly noteworthy, but Leonard enjoyed kissing. All he had managed to get from Adrian last night was an almost chaste peck on the lips. Lots of red welts from bite marks along his neck and upper chest, but no kissing. Still, after such a long dry spell, Leonard was not about to complain. Pulling himself to the side of the bed, he swung his feet down and stood up naked. While stretching his body with a couple of Qigong exercises, he wondered if the morning might prove awkward. He hoped not, because his body that morning felt an inner calm and warmth, despite the chill morning air. Heading to his bedroom, he pulled on underwear, track bottoms and a sweatshirt, before slipping his feet into trainers and strapping on his watch. With a snort, he noted the time. Eighty-twenty. He rarely slept past seven even at the weekend. As he rounded the bottom of the stairs, heading first into the main living area, he witnessed firsthand the mess from something that had collapsed during the night, where the panelling had given way. Before heading to the kitchen, he went over for a closer inspection. Grey dust and rubble covered the back and sides of something that seemed to be a solid piece of furniture made of dense wood. "I think it's some kind of wardrobe." Adrian's voice came from the kitchen doorway. "So that was the crash I thought I'd dreamed in the middle of the night," said Leonard, turning to grin and wink at Adrian. "And here's me thinking it was you rocking my world." Adrian snorted, but his grin morphed into a pleased smile, and Leonard hoped his levity dissolved any awkwardness between them. Leonard's only regret was that Adrian had already dressed in his overalls and black T-shirt ready for the day's work. In the bright light of day, he had hoped to see more of the man's flesh. "I'm making a spot of breakfast: eggs, bacon and fried tomatoes. Very basic and no toast, I'm afraid. Just bread and butter. No idea if this gas thing has a grill for making toast, and even if it did, I wouldn't want to chance blowing the place up. Hope that's okay? After we've eaten and washed up, maybe we can try to haul that huge monster back onto its feet. Give it a good clean up and then have a look at what you've got there." "Sounds good." When Leonard stepped away and headed for the kitchen, Adrian backed up and went to the gas stove. "Anything I can help with?" "The kettle's boiled. Can you make tea and coffee?" "I'm on it." Leonard moved carefully around Adrian, not wanting to take anything for granted. But as he stood at the large sink, rinsing out two mugs, he sensed Adrian stop behind him. Stepping forward, Adrian pushed his body up close, wrapped his arms around Leonard's stomach, and rubbed his nose on the back of Leonard's neck—like an Eskimo kiss—before moving back to the stove. Leonard let out a breath he didn't realise he had been holding in. They sat either side of the foldable table, eating quietly. Now and again, they caught each other's eyes and grinned. Adrian had a calm expression on his face through the meal, something Leonard wanted to talk about, but before he could, Adrian had already started talking. "Now we've managed to rip out the kitchen cupboards, we'll need to start the structural changes. I'm thinking maybe I stop down here this week and get a building pal of mine to join me, knock out this wall. I've taken a few photos on my phone and fired them over. My pal, Toni, is not only a brilliant builder but a qualified electrician. That way you can get the wiring checked out, and then you'll know what needs to be done to bring everything up to code. At the same time, we can open up the kitchen for you. Have everything ready for when you come down next weekend." "Have you checked whether this electrician friend is even free next week?" asked Leonard, hoping he didn't give away the frisson of jealousy he felt when Adrian mentioned the guy's name. "I'll need to find out. But it shouldn't be a problem. There's not a lot of building work going on around Norwich right now. But you really want to get all the wiring work planned to coincide with the design of a new kitchen, with the fixtures and fittings, and the new bathroom. Especially before you start decorating. It'll probably take a couple of weeks to rewire the whole house. Need to make sure everything's in the right place, too. Things like light switches, plug sockets, fuse box." "And would you both stay here in the house?" Adrian eyed Leonard quizzically, a slight deepening of the groove between his brows. "Makes the most sense, don't you think? But not if you don't want us to." "No, I—I don't have a problem." "Don't worry. She'll be fine living on-site if that's what you're worried about. Trust me. We've both stayed in a lot worse places than this to get a job done." Wait, thought Leonard. She? "In case you ever need her skills, by the way, Toni Frankston—Toni with an "i"—is the best builder and electrician in and around Norwich. And I've worked with a few. More importantly, I know she needs the work. Her partner, Jack, is a damned good landscape gardener, but we don't need one of those. You've already got that covered." "I have," said Leonard, smiling down at his plate, at his stupidity. "And will Toni with an "i" be able to give me a quote on what needs doing? Sometime next week?" "Of course. Or do you want to meet her first?" "No. Absolutely not. I trust you completely, Ade." Something hit Leonard hard then, in that he genuinely did trust Adrian. If only he had someone like Adrian on his preferred list of freelance builders back in London, someone who could source other experts in other fields when needed. Maybe that could be another conversation. "Which reminds me. I got a set of keys cut for you. To the house. They're upstairs in my jacket pocket." "Perfect. So let's get these breakfast things cleaned up and then get to work." *** After they had finished, each donned their goggles, gloves and mask and hauled the fallen piece of furniture upright. Each took one side, and Leonard struggled at first, but with Adrian's strength soon had the curio back on its feet in an open space on the living room floor. While Adrian went to fetch a broom to clean the floor and a damp cloth for Leonard to clean the unit down, Leonard made a quick inspection. What he discovered was a beautiful Welsh dresser, much more significant than others he had dealt with before and this one made of heavy oak. When he examined the floor in the newly opened alcove, he noticed one of the floorboards had collapsed over time, probably from damp, which must have caused the dresser to lean forward and buckle the wall panelling. Adrian set about sweeping the rubble from the floor and moving the mattress they had wisely left in place. Leonard tackled the new item with care, and something bordering excitement. From the top-down, the dresser had three shelves to house plates and other chinaware, three deep drawers arranged horizontally at waist height, probably used to house cutlery and tableware, and finally two solid-looking cupboards below. Leonard tried them but found all drawers and doors to be locked. Each drawer was beautifully decorated with identical ornate bronze plates with old-fashioned keyholes, and two matching bronze handles, all age-darkened. Even the woodwork, with the gentle curves and curls running in parallel either side of the shelves, to the floral designs carved into the cupboard doors, spoke of skilled craftsmanship. In all his time in the antique business, Leonard had rarely seen such incredible workmanship. "This is beautiful, Ade. And despite being buried in the wall, it's still in excellent condition. At an auction, this would sell for a small fortune. "Are you going to flog it, then?" "Absolutely not," Leonard answered immediately. "The dresser belongs here, and this is where it stays." "So I guess the question is, why would somebody hide something as valuable as this in a wall space?" Leonard had been so engrossed in assessing the dresser he hadn't considered Adrian's very reasonable question. He stood back and studied the piece before answering. "Everyone seems to think my aunt and uncle were strapped for cash. And I know this sounds a bit mean, but I wonder if they sold off the rest of the furniture. Got someone to give them cash to take the lot away—everything except the beds and the appliances in the kitchen. If I'd been Luke, I'd have wanted to keep this piece safe, and one way to guarantee that would have been to redecorate the place and effectively hide this beauty away from greedy eyes. Honestly, Ade, even back then this would have brought in a tidy sum of money. And remember what Pippa said, that Luke was eventually going to inherit this house?" "Makes sense. If so, Luke was a smart guy. I wonder if there's anything of value in the drawers and cupboards? Want me to force them open?" Leonard felt torn and stood for a moment staring and thinking. He wondered the same thing but also wanted to keep the antique piece intact. Maybe this called for a little patience. "No, let's not risk damaging the woodwork. I've got a set of skeleton keys back in London for this very purpose. I'll bring them with me next time, and we can investigate together. For now, can we set this against a wall somewhere, and put a dust cover over?" "Let's keep it in the middle of the room, until we've stripped all wallpaper, and checked the state of the plastering. Then I suggest we put it into the other bay, which is exactly the same size. That is, if the floorboards are sound." Thankfully, the floorboards to the other bay were undamaged, and the dresser fit the space perfectly. Adrian brought a spare cover from his truck and covered the whole thing, after which they began the job of removing wallpaper. After stopping for a late, frugal lunch of sandwiches and soft drinks, Leonard's phone rang. He didn't recognise the number but told Adrian he would take the call. At the same, Adrian checked his watch and informed Leonard he was heading outside to call Toni. "Leonard Day speaking." "Hello, Leonard." He immediately recognised the soft female voice with the Welsh accent. "It's Pippa here. From Redfern Landscaping." "Hey there, Pippa." "Good morning. Look, you mentioned meeting up at the pub, and I wondered if you were doing anything tonight? Completely by chance last night, I bumped into Freya Williams in the car park outside the superstore in Llandrindod Wells. Told her about you renovating the house. Anyway, I said you might want a chat, seeing as how she knew Luke and all. So I arranged for us to meet up in the Manor tonight, early like. Freya's not a night owl, see? She likes to be in bed by nine. So how does six-thirty sound?" Leonard checked his watch. Two-thirty. "Six-thirty sounds perfect. We might still be in our work clothes, though." "Oh, I'm sure Megan won't mind. She knows you by now." "Great. And while you're on, Pippa. My friend, Adrian, is going to be staying on for the week, continuing the renovations while I check in with my business back in London. Just in case you were thinking of getting started on the gardens this week. Didn't want to worry you if you saw someone beavering away inside. He can also give your guys access to a kettle, in case they need a brew." Just then, he noticed another incoming call: Mr Dawson, his father's solicitor. "That's brilliant. I'm hoping we can start work next week. So thanks for the head's up." "Let's catch up tonight at six-thirty. Got to run. I've got another call coming through." Pippa signed off, and Leonard took the next call. Dawson sounded more than a little rattled. But not with Leonard. "I am most terribly sorry for calling you at the weekend, but we have just had formal notification from a solicitor in Bristol that your aunt and cousins are planning to challenge your father's will." "I see." Leonard stared out the window to where Adrian clamped a phone against his ear. At that moment, their eyes met, and both smiled. Leonard savoured the warm feeling the simple contact gave him, before dragging his gaze away and bringing his attention back to the call. What was it about the property that had his aunt and cousins, the Darlingtons, in such a nervous state? "Honestly, Leonard. I thought I had made it perfectly clear at our meeting what a bad decision doing so would be. Both of you will simply end up incurring hefty solicitors fees and, unless there are extenuating circumstances I am unaware of, they have no hope of winning the case. I'm calling to check whether you wanted me to represent you in this matter. But I have to forewarn you that disputes are not my area of expertise—" "No. Please don't worry, Mr Dawson. I appreciate you letting me know, but I have dealt with business and property disputes for years, and I have some tried and trusted legal contacts who will be more than happy to take on this case. Are you okay if I get them to contact you so you can brief them, and pass over file notes? I'll provide written authorisation." "More than happy." Dawson's call would mean Leonard getting in touch with Helen Wallis, someone he had used for years for any business disputes and one particular personal case. A hardened lawyer, someone he trusted implicitly, she had been briefed on Kris' situation following his death, as a precaution, in case the Goswami family came after Leonard's house. But using Helen would mean Leonard driving back earlier, on Sunday morning, to get to see her in the afternoon. Semi-retired, she only maintained a couple of clients and spent most of her time in the garden of her house in Richmond, which was on his way home. A bit like Leonard, Helen had her quirks, too. She didn't take business calls over the weekend, but he knew she would pick up a text message, and be happy to have a face to face chat over a pot of Assam tea. As Leonard stood there, Adrian came back into the room and winked at Leonard. In turn, Leonard pointed at his phone and gently shook his head. "Okay, Mr Dawson. Well her name's Helen Wallis and she works part-time on Mondays and Thursdays. I'll need to check whether she's available, but she usually moves things around for me. And if so, I'll give you a call from her office first thing Monday. And a quick question. I've already started renovating the property. In your opinion—and I'm not looking for legal advice here, just an opinion—do you think I should stop work until this complication has been resolved?" "With the way things stand right now, Bryn Bach is legally yours, to do with whatever you wish. But once you receive any formal notification, that situation may change. When that happens, the solicitor acting on your behalf will be able to advise you better than I." "Thank you. That's what I thought. I appreciate the call, Mr Dawson. Have a nice weekend." "You too, Leonard." Adrian stood before Leonard, intrigued, his hands on his hips. Leonard smiled at him before quickly finding Helen's contact details and composing a brief message. "What the hell was all that about?" asked Adrian. Leonard hit the send button and looked back up. "What do you want first? The good news or the bad?" "Bad. Always bad. Rip off the plaster." Leonard explained the calls he had taken, explaining the aunt and cousin's legal action, before telling him about meeting Pippa and Freya for drinks later. "I step out for ten minutes and look what happens. What's going on with your aunt, Lenny?" "Heaven only knows. But one thing's for sure. I'm not about to give this place up without a fight." “A battle cry," Adrian slapped his gloved hands together, before placing each of them on Leonard's shoulder. "In which case, you can take it for granted that you've got me in your corner." “Good to know. But I would never take you for granted, Ade." Adrian held Leonard's eye contact, something else going on behind his eyes. For a moment, Leonard thought he might say something more, but the moment passed, and he brought his hands away from Leonard's shoulders. "Well, the other good news is that Toni's on board and she's driving down tomorrow. She's been climbing the walls at home, so she's really grateful for the work. And she's bringing her truck with all the equipment we need to take this wall down. So you'll get to meet her." "Ah, probably not," said Leonard. "I'm going to need to leave tomorrow morning to see my solicitor back in London. I want her on the case as soon as possible." "Oh, okay," said Adrian, his disappointment evident. "Hey, Ade. I need to deal with this," said Leonard, squeezing Adrian's upper arm, before moving past him. "And Toni will be here to keep you company. But not only do I need to go and show my face at work, I need to brief my legal counsel in person." "Sure, I understand," said Adrian nodding. "But in the meantime, Lenny, we've both got some stripping to do." Leonard had been on his way to the stairs, but stopped in the doorway and turned to Adrian. Leaning against the door jamb, he gave Adrian a wink. "We do? Already? Don't you think we should get some work done first?" "Okay, funny man. Where do you think you're going?" "To use the john, if that's okay by you." "Fine. But after that, you get your cute arse down here and get working. I'm on the clock, remember? And save the dirty talk for later tonight." Leonard had been wondering if Adrian would want him again that night. As Adrian approached him, he couldn't help the smile of pleasure that lit his face. "Yeah?" Adrian leant past him to get the broom he had left in the hallway but brushed the back of his hand against Leonard's groin. When their eyes drew level, Adrian almost growled. "Hell, yeah."
  7. lomax61

    Together

    In the front bedroom, Adrian sat on the edge of the bed, the damp towel still wrapped around his waist, feeling an odd mix of embarrassment and craving at what had just happened. At some point, as soon as Lenny had finished showering and his bedroom door had closed, Adrian would need to take care of business. From the aching in his balls to the painful erection he sported, they demanded to be stroked until all tension had been released. He just hoped the old bed frame did not complain too loudly. Having no lock on the bathroom door hadn’t helped. Or the fact that Adrian had accidentally left the door ajar while under the shower. Probably hearing the water no longer running, Lenny had burst in naked while removing the towel from around his waist. Adrian had been standing there equally naked drying his hair. The shock on each other’s faces might have been comical for an onlooker, but both had frozen in horror until Adrian’s lustful eyes had taken over. How could he resist drinking in Lenny’s naked body, the dark hair matted across his chest pouring down in a single line to the beautiful cock nestled in a mound of equally dark pubic hair? Buried memories of things he had learnt, of how to arouse a man’s body into a finely tuned instrument, and echoes of his own shuddering climaxes flickered to life. Mere thoughts became foreplay and Adrian felt his cock filling, ready for action. What did not help was when he had raised his eyes to Lenny’s and noticed him checking Adrian out in the same way. The ensuing stuttered apologies, self-blaming, clumsy covering up and hurrying to get away from each other had been bordering on farcical. Adrian scrubbed his fingers through his short hair and clamped them around the back of his thick neck. He had poured his heart out tonight outside the pub—told Lenny more than he had ever told another living soul—and Lenny had listened sympathetically to every word. What was it about the man that made him open up? He looked up when he heard the door to the bathroom open and close, and let out a deep sigh until he noticed the footsteps along the corridor getting louder. Lenny stood in his open doorway, wash bag dangling from his hand, with only the towel wrapped around his waist, his bare chest exposed. “Mate, I think we need to have a little chat. Don’t you?” “I’m sorry, Lenny. I thought I’d shut—“ “It’s not about that, Ade. Can I come in?” “Of course.” Lenny stepped cautiously into the room but did not look directly at Adrian nor approach him. First of all, he went to the window and pulled back one side of the curtains, stared out into the night sky. “Look, Ade. I’m no good at this—out of practice, I suppose—but I’m also too old to beat around the bush. We both are.” Lenny let the curtain go and turned around, perching his backside against the window sill. “I’m into you. I mean, really into you. I’m sure you know because I’m pretty bloody hopeless at trying to be subtle when I’m checking you out. So I’m sure you’ve noticed. I just don’t want to make an arse of myself, misread the situation, and do something I regret that ruins our friendship.” “Oh shit, Lenny. Of course I’m into you, too.” Adrian lowered his head, stared at his feet, and scrubbed his hands through his hair again. While he sought for the right words, Lenny’s bare feet appeared before him. “But you’re not like my other casual hook-ups. You’re so much more, and I didn’t think someone like you could ever—” With his eyes still lowered, his words stopped short when Lenny’s wash bag and towel dropped to the floor around the man’s feet. Before he had a chance to look up, Lenny’s gruff voice sounded. “So stop thinking. If you want me, Ade, I’m yours.” When his eyes rose slowly, studiously, to take in all the muscles and crevices and beautiful hairy contours of Lenny’s naked body until they reached the darkened gaze, the tension in his body all but exploded. Lenny’s eyes widened as Adrian lurched to his feet, ripping his own towel away before wrapping his arms around Lenny’s waist and pulling Lenny’s body off the floor. At first, Lenny grunted with surprise, but then wrapped his legs around Adrian’s waist and moved his head to kiss him. Adrian gave him a chaste peck on the lips before pushing his nose into Lenny’s ear and nipped his jawline. while clamping his hands onto Lenny’s smooth backside. Turning around with Lenny still held tight, he lowered him onto the bed, before straightening and eyeing his prey. Lenny’s face gleamed with wonder, open and vulnerable, his eyes wide. As Adrian stood there, drinking in the body below him, Lenny began to sit up. But Adrian pushed him firmly back down again by the shoulders. Lowering his own body on top, his hands grasped Lenny’s and held them down on the bedspread. His lips and tongue grazed the skin around Lenny’s throat from ear to ear, before he pulled his head away and waited for Lenny to open his eyes. “Are you sure you want this?” whispered Adrian. Words had escaped Lenny, his pupils dark with desire, and he simply nodded. “All of it?” A gulp and another rounds of nods, more urgent this time. Adrian smiled. “Then you do exactly as I say. And right now, I want to explore you. Shift yourself onto the bed and grab onto the bed frame above your head with both hands. Then lie perfectly still for me without moving until I tell you otherwise, okay?” Without a word, Lenny did exactly as he was told. Adrian took his time. He straddled his friend’s waist, his already semi-erect penis resting above Lenny’s navel. After getting comfortable, he began running his fingers down Lenny’s hairy arms from his hands to his shoulders, then drew his fingertips across the furry chest, thumbing the nipples and producing a gasp. Lenny never once dropped eye contact. When his tongue took over, lapping the gooseflesh skin around this sensitive nipple, Lenny groaned again, and Adrian felt a hot cock tap him on his backside. When he nipped one of the hardened nubs, the erection knocked repeatedly. Adrian brought his mouth away and smiled down. “Someone likes that.” When he shifted himself further down the bed, positioning in between Lenny’s legs, he carefully spread them apart. After drinking in the aroused man, he smoothed his hands down the sides, to his waist, down to his outer thighs, before moving in towards his erection. Lenny’s eyes squeezed shut, his chest rising and falling rapidly, his body seeming to react to every small touch probably in anticipation of Adrian’s final destination. “Beautiful.” Adrian’s breath caressed Lenny’s erection, making the poor thing twitch and leak. Eventually, Adrian used one hand to grab the base of Lenny’s cock, the other cupping his balls, rolling and squeezing gently. Lenny’s eyes flew open then, and Adrian grinned up at him, his mouth an inch from the head of the erection. Wetting his lips with his tongue and not once losing eye contact, he licked the shaft from base to the sensitive tip, his tongue tracing every bulging vein, every inch of Lenny, until his hips jerked upwards, needing more. Without hesitation, Adrian took all of him into his mouth, deep into his throat. Some of the things he had learnt on the streets stayed with him, and giving good head was one. And if the filthy, tortured groans leaving Lenny’s mouth told him anything, Adrian had not lost any of those skills. Pushing both arms underneath Lenny’s knees, he lifted the legs into the air letting go of his cock. This time, he licked from the perineum, sucked on his balls, then licked leisurely up to the top of Lenny’s shaft before taking him in his mouth again. With his arms hooked around the knees, Adrian’s hands reached to pinch each nipple, something Lenny seemed to enjoy, if the soft yelps and whispered expletives told him anything. But he still wasn’t done. Pushing his hips forward, Adrian drew the length of his cock along the crack of Lenny’s backside, while continuing to suck him down, a trick he had learnt. This time he felt the body beneath him tremble at the touch and smiled while still taking his length into his throat. When he eventually pulled his mouth away, Lenny’s eyes bored into him, waiting to meet his gaze. “I want you to fuck me.” Adrian felt a smile curl his lips. “You prefer to bottom?” Lenny appeared conflicted by the question. “No. I mean, yes. I mean, I like both. But right now, I want you inside me. There are condoms and lube in the wash bag.” “Like I said. You are well organised.” Adrian knelt to the floor, opened the bag and pulled out a box of condoms and a tube of lube, both still in their plastic wrapping. Adrian snorted as he ripped the plastic covering off. “So you were planning to get lucky with me this weekend?” “Hoping. Quick word of warning, Ade. It’s been a while, but I’m really sensitive down there. What you might call hyper-sensitive. Kris used to joke that sometimes our—um—lovemaking was over before it had begun because he rubbed too hard in the right place during foreplay. And that was me spent.” “Good note. So no touching the prostate. I’ll save that for the main event.” Adrian dripped generous amounts of lube onto his fingers and, after lifting one of Lenny’s legs onto his shoulder, applied the cooling liquid expertly around the outside of his entrance. Already Adrian had become aroused at the very noticeable tremors coming from Lenny’s body, at the way his cock twitched whenever he touched him in certain places. While probing a finger inside, he turned and lightly bit into Lenny’s calf, to distract him from any discomfort. Slowly, painstakingly, one finger at a time, he opened Lenny up, making sure not to delve too far, until everything about Lenny screamed arousal; the erect nipples, the straining erection, the look of abject desperation in his wild eyes. Withdrawing his three fingers, Adrian reached for the condom, quickly ripped the wrapper open with his teeth, and rolled the latex onto his shaft. After smoothing more lube onto himself, he positioned the tip of his cock, before hooking his arms beneath both of Lenny’s knees and moving forward, but not yet entering. He waited until Lenny opened his eyes and looked at him. “We do this at your pace, Lenny. As slow or as fast as you want. If you feel any discomfort at all—” “I’m ready, Adrian. Stop bloody talking, will you?” Adrian grinned and planted a quick kiss on Lenny’s lips, before moving his hips forward, breaching the entrance. Tightness and heat squeezed his shaft pleasantly, and he resisted his impulse to plough straight in. Lenny would need time to adjust, so Adrian studied his eyes, squeezed shut, and his expression for any sign of discomfort. Each time he felt the muscles relax minutely, he moved further forward, until, finally, he stopped. “That’s all of me.” Lenny’s forehead shone with perspiration, but he looked almost beatific when his eyes opened, and he smiled up at Adrian. “Can I assume you know what to do next?” he quipped. Adrian snorted aloud, before beginning the steady push and pull, bump and grind. Every time he pushed in all the way, Lenny made a soft whimpering sound, his eyes rolling back into his head. At one point, Adrian went to reach for Lenny’s straining erection, but had the hand swatted away and received a gentle shake of Lenny’s head. Sensory overload. Instead, they held onto each other’s hands while Adrian concentrated on his own pleasure, pushing fast and slow, shallow and deep, while moving the legs up onto his shoulder to kiss his shins. Soon, the old bed frame began complaining, thumping out a steady rhythm against the bedroom wall and raising powdery plaster dust. Signs of Lenny’s orgasm came in the tightness of the muscles clenching inside him and the way the pace of his breathing quickened. And then, without being touched, but with a long, blissful moan, Lenny’s cock began spraying shot after shot of cum, at first onto his hairy chest and then on his stomach. All the time, Adrian kept ploughing him, driving deeply but now erratically, his own impending climax stoked at the sight until he could hold no longer. Orgasming was the only time Adrian allowed himself to come undone, to feel free, letting the pleasure, the release, rip through him. Knowing he was filling the condom inside Lenny heightened the ecstasy in a way he had never experienced before. When his eyesight began to clear, to come back to him, when the dopamine haze cleared, he lowered himself on top of Lenny’s body. Heat and wetness met his chest and stomach, but he didn’t care and breathed heavily next to Lenny’s ear. After a few moments, wondering if his weight might obstruct Lenny’s breathing, he withdrew his deflated cock, and rolled to one side, onto his back. They lay together unspeaking, staring at the ceiling. Neither moved, Adrian listening to Lenny’s heavy breathing, and waiting for his own to normalise. “Holy shit. Told you I was a lightweight,” said Lenny, turning nervously to Adrian and chuckling. “You were amazing. Don’t move.” Adrian threaded his fingers into Lenny’s and squeezed once, before getting up from the bed. Without a word, he went to the bathroom, wiped himself down first, and then brought back a rinsed, damp cloth and a hand towel. Very slowly and carefully, he cleaned Lenny’s body. All the time, even though Adrian never looked directly into them, Lenny’s eyes never left his. As Adrian’s hand wiped across Lenny’s chest, he caught Adrian’s wrist and held on until their eyes met. “Can I sleep here tonight? In bed with you?” Adrian’s breath hiked. Sex he could handle, intimacy felt like unchartered territory. Even with his occasional hook-ups, he usually ended up sleeping the night alone in his own home. Apart from Felipe, he couldn’t remember the last time he shared a bed for the night with another man. Perhaps Lenny spotted the dilemma playing out in his head and across his face because he came to the rescue with a get-out. “Only if you want, Ade. No pressure.” “Um, let me just—let me take the cloth back first.” Adrian placed his hands on the cooling edge of the pink porcelain bathroom sink. He needed a few moments to himself, and while rinsing out the cloth, he stared at his reflection in the cracked and mottled bathroom mirror. Why the hell did he feel so apprehensive? Lenny already admitted to being a friend. But the last time he ever showed anything resembling feelings to anyone—Stephan Harrington, his best friend in high school—his heart had been trodden into the dirt. And even though the whole drama had played out over thirty-five years ago, Adrian still remembered every small detail with crystal clarity, of being terrified and ashamed by the disgusted reaction of his best friend. Since then, God only knew he had enjoyed sex, plenty of it, and he had enjoyed a couple of friendships—but never together with the same person. “Are you okay, big guy?” Lenny’s tender voice from the doorway made him flinch, and his eyes jerked up to the naked reflection in the mirror. Lenny appeared equally nervous. “Hey, Adrian, I didn’t want to freak you out—” “You didn’t, it’s just—I worry I might snore and keep you awake—” “We’ve already had this conversation, remember? And we have shared a room before, have we not? Look, if it makes you uncomfortable, I’ll just head back to my room—” “No!” Even to Adrian, the firmness of his voice startled him. “Sorry, I mean, please no. I want you in bed with me. It’s just been a long time. But I want you to sleep next to me. If you would. Please.” And just like that, the smile that blossomed on Lenny’s face made the small gesture worthwhile. Before turning away, he couldn’t help himself and gave Adrian’s body another salacious once-over. “Good. In which case I’m going back to snag the side without the wet patch.” Adrian laughed aloud as Lenny turned and left, purposely showing off his firm backside as he went. Yes, he thought, I can do this. Lenny may be sex on legs, but he’s also different. He would never trample my heart into the ground. At least, he hoped he was right.
  8. lomax61

    Beneath the Surface

    Mr Will (so good you wrote it twice), You are too kind. I went back to the drawing board on this story after going through a professional editor who ripped the story to shreds. But this is the original version and was a work in progress at the time, so some contemporary references may no longer work. This was also One of my early attempts at writing a crime story combined with a romance, so I was in new territory here. Glad you’re still staying with it. Brian
  9. lomax61

    Any Day

    Dear readers, Thank you for your wonderful comments on my new story, Any Day. I won’t set up a separate discussion form, because all mysteries associated with the story will soon begin to unravel, but just wanted to tell you how heartwarming it is to wake up to these great comments, observations, and speculation. At the outset, I planned to post one offering per week, each Saturday (otherwise known in clinical literary terms as chapteral-distancing) but due to all the lovely comments and finding I have a lot more time at home than I had anticipated, I am posting two: Tuesday and Saturday. Just some basic facts about the characters which might answer some of the wilder speculation. Adrian is 49 (almost 50), Leonard is 47. Pippa is 57, while twins Howie and Freya are both are 55. Luke was the same age as Howie and Freya. So unless dear Aunt Millie had an extremely long labour, Luke and Leonard could not possibly be twins. More to come Saturday when Leonard decides it’s “time to take a chance”. Stay safe and healthy, @lomax61 aka Brian Lancaster
  10. lomax61

    Collaborate

    Throughout the afternoon, Leonard did his best to match the strength and energy Adrian put into the work. But anyone could tell—had anyone been watching—that Adrian had years of experience on his side. At Adrian’s insistence, they both wore goggles, masks, and thick gloves and used mainly manual tools—crowbars, hammers and knives—and sheer brute strength to tear out most of the kitchen cabinets before breaking them down to maximise the space in the dumpster. Leonard found the exertion energising and cathartic. Once they had finished only the sink, the fridge and the gas stove remained standing. Before removing one of the lower cupboards, Adrian had fished out a large red bucket full of old, damp sand. “There you go,” he said to Leonard. “Shows how old this place is. These days we’d recommend appropriate fire extinguishers for kitchens. Sand must be what your family used in case of fires, although it looks as though it’s never been used.” “Nice. I’d hate to clean up after using that lot. Shall I dump it in the skip?” “No, leave it by the fireplace for now. We can get rid of the sand later, but that old bucket looks in pretty good nick. Might come in handy.” “What do you think we should we do about the pantry?” A narrow door at the end of the kitchen opened into a large walk-in cupboard with a few steps down to the floor. Empty shelving covered all three walls, and picture frame-sized window sat high up near the ceiling. “That’s your call, Lenny. Personally, I love the period feature. Notice how naturally cooler it is in there, which is why in the past they’d have stored fresh goods in there; meat, butter, milk. But, of course, these days we have fridges for that. Come on, give me hand with this.” Once they finished clearing debris away, they worked separately in the living area. Adrian effortlessly tore up the linoleum from the floor and then ripped off the plywood boards from one side of the fireplace. Leonard tried to keep up but was no match. Adrian worked quickly and efficiently, leaving Leonard huffing and puffing and swearing quietly to himself. But then, he told himself, this was what Adrian did for a living. “Are you okay over there?” asked Adrian. Leonard had been trying to lever the plywood away on the left side of the chimney stack, but the broad panel had been fixed in place securely, and trying to pull out the long nails with the hammer claw was proving tedious but also a challenge. Not only that, but there seemed to be something substantial behind the boarding, maybe loose bricks or debris. Concentrating carefully, he plugged away, attacking each side of the panel in turn, working from the top downwards. When he glanced over, Adrian had not only cleared the whole floor—with a pile of old linoleum broken into smaller pieces and the rest taken out to the skip—but already had the other boarding at the side of the fireplace removed. Just as he had guessed, they had uncovered a small nook of age-yellowed wallpaper with pretty faded red flowers, hiding a stack of old but sturdy planks of wood. “You’re making me look like a rank amateur over here,” said Leonard. Adrian stopped what he was doing and studied the wall Leonard’s side. “Why is the panelling bulging and tipping out like that, Lenny? Careful, it looks as though it’s moving. There must be something—“ Barely had the words left his mouth when, with a series of cracking and popping sounds, the whole wooden panel began to come away from the wall. Leonard, taken by surprise, put his arms out and braced the front of his body against the flat panel, to try and stop the wall falling. But whatever had been squashed in and hidden, weighed a ton. For a moment, he found himself struggling, staggered back a step, and feared the whole weight might fall on top of him. Suddenly, Adrian stood right behind him, with his solid body pressed flush up against Leonard’s, his strong arms reaching out to stop the falling wall. They remained frozen that way for a few moments, Leonard because he was unsure what to do next. Until his mind stilled and his body began to betray him. Adrian’s chest and groin pressed up hard and tight against him, his head over Leonard’s left shoulder and his heavy breath brushing Leonard’s ear. Not surprisingly, strange things started to flutter through Leonard’s stomach, and he began to feel his cock hardening. “Is it me, or is this a little awkward?” he said, trying to diffuse the situation and tame his body’s auto-response. Even Adrian’s chuckle and rumble in his chest only made matters worse for Leonard. “I’m not saying I’m not enjoying this, but maybe we should think of a plan of action before this lot comes tumbling down on top of us both.” Once again, Adrian’s laughter came, and this time Leonard felt sure something clicked in Adrian because he tried to pull his noticeably hardened groin away from Leonard’s backside. “Okay, listen,” said Adrian, becoming serious again. “I’ve got this. When I say so, we push together to get the panel back up. Then I’ll give you space so you can let go. While I hold everything in place, get a couple of those planks over there and hammer them across the top. That should shore this temporarily until we find a better solution.” “Can’t we both just step away and let the thing fall?” “We could. But I’m worried one of us might not get out of the way in time. Safety first, Lenny. It’s drummed into us on every site we work. Let’s do the sensible thing, shall we?” As they pushed together, Leonard felt as though he had done very little, Adrian’s strength shifting the weighty structure effortlessly. Once they had the panel pushed back against the wall, Adrian kept his hands planted on the wall but stepped back a little to make space for Leonard to move. Instead of getting out of the way, Leonard rotated until he had his back braced against the wall, facing Adrian. “Well, will you look at this? I have you in my complete control right now. I could have my evil way with you, and there’s not a damn thing you could do—“ “Lenny!” Leonard jumped into action. He dipped out, grabbed the nearest thick plank of wood and placed it within easy reach. Adrian had left the toolbox open nearby, so Leonard picked up the hammer and some fresh nails. Once he had hammered in one side just above Adrian’s right hand, Adrian moved his hand up to hold the board and the wall. When Leonard moved behind Adrian, his eyes could not help drifting over the muscled torso from behind; the thick-set shoulders and massive back, the muscled thighs and backside, the way his friend effortlessly supported the wall. Minutes later, he had the first plank in place, and Adrian let go. Adrian took over then, hammering more nails into the first plank before fixing the second far more securely and professionally. Eventually, they both stood and surveyed their handiwork. “That should hold for now,” said Adrian. “We’re going to have to deal with it at some point, but I suggest we get some dust sheets, maybe one of those old mattresses to cover the floor beneath, so we’re ready when we let the damn thing go. Don’t want to damage any of these fantastic floorboards.” Before anything, they went into the hallway where they had propped both mattresses against a wall. Once they had one in place beneath the panel, Adrian began tidying up the room and vacuuming the floor. “I wonder what the hell is behind there?” said Leonard, from across the room, hands on hips staring suspiciously at the panel. “Could be anything. But if the bodge job is anything to go by, it’s probably bricks or rubble, or any other kind of rubbish they couldn’t be bothered to toss out.” “Do people do that kind of thing?” “You’d be surprised. One of my mates found an upright piano behind a wall once.” “Owner probably wasn’t a music lover. I’m just hoping it’s not a dead body?” “Wouldn’t be that heavy. Besides, I think we would know already if it had been a dead body. Rumour has it they give off a smell worse than your kitchen fridge when they’re decaying.” “Heavens, you are a mine of wonderful information. At least I’ll sleep better tonight, knowing nobody got buried alive behind a wall.” “Talking of which, do you think we should call it a day?” Leonard checked his watch. Almost five-thirty. His eyes opened wide. “Where did the time go?” Adrian smirked at him, the rank amateur. “So what do you fancy doing for dinner? We could drive into Llandrindod Wells, if you want. They’ve got a bigger selection of local restaurants, even a chippy, if that’s what you fancy?” “How about we go to the pub again? We know the beer’s good, and it’s a nice evening, a bit cool, but not too cold to sit outside.” “Good plan, Ade. Shower first, or shall we go as we are?” “I fixed the shower, by the way. Not only is your old boiler working fine, but the new shower attachment works like a dream. So let’s just wash up, and then head out. We can shower later before bed. And if we sit in the garden, Mrs Llewellyn surely won’t mind us wearing our work clothes.” * * * Adrian’s suggestion turned out to be a good one. In direct contrast to the previous week, the evening felt warm, and although the sun had begun to fade, enough light remained for them to sit out on a bench, enjoy a pint and hot dinner. Being Friday night, a few other people—probably locals—had decided to do the same. Leonard had not been lying when he told Adrian about his talent for sketching. His drawings not only demonstrated a clear understanding of space and design, at least from Leonard’s limited knowledge but also showed an incredible sense of creativity. He would be proud to have any of them framed and hanging on the wall of his home. As he turned again to the third of the bathroom layouts and nodded his approval, he looked up to find Adrian smiling at him. When he grinned back, another little quiver went through him, at peeling away another layer of this incredible but humble man. “Of course, this one might need some work.” Adrian narrated each design to explain what he had set out to achieve. “For instance, you would need to make sure you’ve got the right sized appliances to fit into the gaps between the fitted units.” Amazingly—bearing in mind Leonard could be very particular where design was concerned—they both agreed on the same layout choice for all rooms. Another small piece of a puzzle, of a picture Leonard could not quite visualise as yet, fell into place. When Leonard returned from getting them a couple more pints, ones they decided would be their last because of the quickly fading light, Leonard dared to ask something he had avoided. “What happened to you that last year of school, Ade? My cousin said you disappeared off the face of the planet.” Leonard leant forward and put his hand on Adrian’s forearm. “But if you don’t want to talk about it, then that’s fine. Tell me to mind my own business.” Adrian’s gaze veered away across the village green, and Leonard saw a slight sheen of sadness fill his eyes. Eventually, with his head still looking away, he spoke. “Honestly Lenny, I don’t tell many people because I’m not proud of that period in my life. When some people come out to the people they love, they have a rough time. Others are accepted, some unconditionally. My coming out fell into the first category. Not sure if you remember, but my best friend at the time was Stephan Harrington.” Leonard remembered him. A well-built charismatic player, blond hair and blue eyes, not as good-looking as Adrian but almost as popular. Where Adrian had looked puzzled at Lenny every time they passed each other, to Stephan, Lenny might as well have been invisible. He and Adrian made for an eye-catching duo among their clump of less remarkable followers. “So, at fifteen, I was spotted by a talent scout for Leeds rugby league club. That much everyone seems to know. I heard from them two days after we broke from school for the summer and remember being on such a high that day. No idea why, looking back, but at the same time, I came out to Stephan and told him I really liked him. You know, liked liked. Stupid, looking back, but I felt invincible. Anyway, at first, he thought I was joking. After a while, though, I didn’t get quite the reaction I’d expected. I remember the disgust on his face and the words “You? You’re a fucking queer boy?” coming out of his mouth. And the funny thing is that I was more shocked because, in all the time I’d known him, I’d never once heard him swear. Anyway, before I had a chance to think what to say, or to tell him to keep it to himself, he backed away and ran off, leaving me there, feeling shame, and guilt, and self-disgust. It’s only looking back now I realise I’d bottled those feelings up for years. But at that moment, all I wanted was for the world to rewind by an hour so I could keep my mouth shut and leave those words unspoken.” Adrian let out a deep sigh and took a sip of beer before continuing. “Later, after walking around the town, I calmed down a bit but got home to find my father waiting to confront me. Stephan’s father had phoned him, told him what happened, and how I’d tried to seduce his son. My mother stood by watching, pale and drawn, tears in her eyes, and while my dad lectured me, she didn’t say a word.” “When he asked me if it was true, I suppose I should have denied the accusation, told them Stephan had made a mistake. Because the truth was, I hadn’t tried to corrupt him. But honestly, I thought they would just send me to my room, maybe make me go to confession with my mum, or ground me for a week.” “Instead, my father picked up the phone and dialled a number. Honestly, I thought he was going to call the police. But when he put the phone down, he told me the next morning someone would come from God’s Path to pick me up and take me to a summer camp to help boys like me. Then he told me to go up to my room and pack a bag. Of course, I knew about the place. I’d heard him talk about it before when he thought I wasn’t listening, heard horror stories about kids who had been sent there to be fixed.” “Conversion therapy?” asked Leonard. “Yeah. I didn’t know it was called that, but I knew what they did. When I tried to argue, he told me things I will never forget. Said that if I didn’t get cured, I would never be accepted as a man let alone a rugby player, because I would get laughed off the pitch. Worst of all, he said I would catch AIDS and die, and go straight to hell. I didn’t argue back, but went upstairs to pack my rucksack, and dig out all the money I’d saved and my passport. I could hear them talking downstairs. Felt like forever while I pretended to sleep in my bed in the dark until they’d gone to sleep.” “Fifteen years old, I remember standing outside that house, my home, at one in the morning, staring up at what until seconds before had been the window to my bedroom. My first impulse was to give in, head back and do as he asked. But I stopped with my hand on the garden gate. Even back then, I knew who I was, knew that was never going to change, and now I knew how he felt about me and people like me. Some things once said can’t be taken back. I slept on a park bench that night.” “Didn’t you have anyone you could go to, any aunts or uncles?” asked Leonard. “I did think about that. My Uncle Pat—my mother’s younger brother—lived in London. They didn’t have kids, and whenever they visited, we got on well. I never met any of my dad’s family. And everyone else I knew was either connected to school or the church. And honestly, I wasn’t thinking straight. If it hadn’t been the school holidays, I might have gone to see the school counsellor in the morning. But I was hurting, Lenny, and all I could think about was getting far away from Drayton, from everyone and everything, and never coming back.” “What did you do?” “The next morning, I caught the first train to London. Naive really, but I thought I might be able to find where my uncle lived. No phone number, no address. We’d driven there a few times, but I never paid attention, had slept most of the way. As you probably guessed, I wasn’t the brightest of students, because I’d pinned all my hopes on being a professional rugby player. All I remembered was the town they lived in had the word green in it somewhere. So the first place I went to was Green Park, in the heart of London. But I didn’t recognise anything.” “Christ, Ade. What happened then?” “I ended up living on the streets. This would have been back in the early nineties, so I fell in with other homeless kids. A huge issue back then. A group of them turned tricks to survive, which was dangerous but put food in their mouths. Not sure if you remember, but that was back when Colin Ireland, the serial killer, was on the loose, killing gay men he picked up from The Coleherne leather bar. Makes me shiver when I think about it, because that place was one of our haunts. They warned me some clients could get a bit rough, but I had size and muscle on my side, so nobody tried to mess with me. I didn’t drink alcohol or take any of the drugs they offered, either, so always kept a clear head. Honestly, Lenny, I’m not proud of some of the things I did, but I had to live somehow. Not just that, but doing what we did was illegal—the age of consent was still twenty-one back then—so any clients were also committing a crime.” Leonard stared horrified at Adrian, trying to imagine a scared fifteen-year-old version, desperately trying to survive on the city streets. He took a mouthful of beer, but the liquid tasted sour on his tongue. If only they had been friends at school, if only he had made an effort to say hello. “Eventually, this old guy, Felippe, asked me to move in with him. There used to be this traditional pub called The City of Quebec behind Marble Arch—not sure if it’s still there—where elderly gays would hang out at the weekends. A friend introduced me. He called the place the elephant’s graveyard. Young boys like me could make fast cash, often for very little work. For some reason, Felippe took a shine to me. The few times I went home with him, all I ever did was pour him drinks, listen to him tell stories about his life during the war—he served in the Royal Navy—sponge him down in the bath and sleep next to him for the night. Not once did we do anything sexual. He lived in the heart of Marylebone, a beautiful studio apartment. I’ve no idea exactly how old he was, but I guess he must have been in his early eighties. Anyway, the four or five times he invited me back, I suppose he was trying to gauge whether he could trust me. One Sunday, he asked me to be his full-time houseboy; buying food, keeping the apartment tidy for him—he had an old Irish woman who came in and cooked and cleaned every other day. His eyesight wasn’t good, so I’d read newspaper articles, books, and sometimes letters aloud to him—he’d help me with words I didn’t know, and explain what they meant, so we both benefited. I also made sure he took his medication, bathed and dried him. Sometimes, he had dinner parties at home with these other old gay men—got professional cooks in for that—and I used to act as a waiter wearing only tight shorts and a tight vest. The old boys loved that. I even had a front door key, new clothes to wear, and an allowance.” “How old were you?” “When I started there? Sixteen. Seventeen, maybe. I stayed with him for about four years. One of his nieces came round from time to time to look in on him. She clearly came from money and always turned her nose up at me as though I’d dropped off the bottom of her shoe. And then I came home from the shops one day to find Felippe in his favourite leather chair by the fire. Thought he’d fallen asleep but when I touched his hand, he was as cold as stone. I phoned the niece, who called her doctor friend, and they confirmed he’d died. Peacefully enough. After that, other people came in and took over, and I was tossed back out on the street with the black plastic rubbish sacks.” “Bloody hell, Ade.” “All in the past. But by then I’d lost touch with my street mates. Found out many were either in hospital or had died. One West Indian friend, Tommy, got me into this gay escort agency at night as well as selling the street magazine for homeless people, The Big Issue. Those were some of my darkest days. I was doing exactly that on Christmas Eve, freezing my arse off outside St Martin-in-the-Fields when a man stopped across the pavement and called my name. Uncle Pat. You know you asked me if I was religious and I told you I’d had some special moments? Well, that day, a miracle happened. Yeah, maybe it was just coincidence, but there he was. Said he recognised me from my hair, even though I was a lot older and had lost a lot of weight by then. Told me he’d heard from my mother what happened and she asked him to keep an eye out, in case I’d made my way to London. We went for a coffee, and he insisted I come home with him, and stay with him and Aunt Penny for Christmas. Turns out they lived in Hither Green. Got me an apprenticeship with his building company and that’s how I started in the building trade. I stayed with them until they retired, then rented my own flat locally. And that’s where I remained until I got the call from my mother, to tell me dad had been diagnosed with dementia. At first, I told her to stick him in a home—I still hated the man—but my aunt talked me round. She’d been a nurse before retiring, and I remember her words to this day. She said, “there is no cure for dementia, Adrian. I know he turned his back on you once, but you are a better man than that. In his time of need, don’t be the same man as your father. Go and help your mother.” So I came back to the town I hoped never to see again, and between the two of us, my mother and I took care of him until he passed away.” Thankful for the fading light, Leonard felt tears welling in his eyes. He always considered the way Kris’ family had treated him to be unjust and unfair, but compared to Adrian’s life, he had been living in a warm and comfortable cocoon. “Your aunt was right, Ade. You are an extraordinary man, a better man than anyone I know, and I’m not just saying that because you’re helping me. I wish I’d gotten to know you at school, wish we’d been friends then, and maybe all those dreadful things might never have happened. But then I might not be sitting in front of the same Adrian.” At those words, a smile curled Adrian’s lips. “No, maybe you’d be sitting in front of an ex-England international rugby star. Begging for my autograph.” Leonard laughed aloud. Despite everything, Adrian could still crack jokes. The simple act of surviving what he had been through would have crushed most men. “Yeah, okay. You just keep telling yourself that. Do you ever go back to your uncle’s place?” “Of course. I get back as often as I can. They’ve retired now and live in a bungalow in Hastings on the south coast. Honestly, Lenny, they showed me more love and understanding than my parents ever did. Uncle Pat wanted me to get back into rugby, but that ship had sailed. Wow, it’s getting a bit nippy now. Do you want to go inside? Or shall we head back?” “Do you mind if we head back?” said Leonard, pressing his fingers into a sore spot on his left shoulder. “My muscles are starting to ache. I think I’m ready for a long, hot shower and a good night’s sleep. Do you mind taking the empties back in, while I bring the car around?” “Of course.” Leonard studied Adrian as he headed towards the pub door, the way he moved, so carefully for such a big guy, before he disappeared inside. All this time and he had thought of Adrian as a homophobic bully. Before his father’s funeral, if anyone had asked him if he’d ever known Adrian Lamperton, he would probably have dismissed him as a dimwitted sports jock he went to school with, who probably ended up having everything handed to him on a plate as a professional rugby player. How wrong could he have been? But somehow their lives had collided, and Leonard had grown not only to admire Adrian but to feel an undeniable attraction to him. Maybe Adrian had been right about fate. Both were approaching fifty, both having resigned themselves to what they have, they had also given up hope on finding anything—or anyone—lasting in their lives. Although Leonard was rarely given to such whimsical notions, he had to wonder if their various meetings—at the local pub, by his father’s broken down car—had not been chance at all. Maybe they were both being given a second chance. His friend, businessman Kennedy Grey, once mused to a group of friends that opportunities alone are merely choices that happen to fall into our laps. It’s whether we have the balls to act on them, and what we decide to do with them that changes the course of our lives. Leonard had not been fooled. Everyone thought he had been talking about business, but Leonard knew full well Kennedy meant every word about how he had managed to snag his prize husband, Kieran. After standing and dragging out his car keys, Leonard took a bracing breath of cold air and headed for the car. Time to take a chance.
  11. lomax61

    Renovation

    Wednesday afternoon, Adrian sat in his regular spot on the sofa with his bare feet up on his coffee table. For a change, the television remained switched off as it had been all week. After an early morning jog around the town followed by his indoor workout, and in between skimming an old, well-thumbed John Grisham thriller, he used his time to rough out some ideas for the renovation. On the tabletop, he had a large sketchpad with a roughly scaled design of the house in Wales, and some suggested changes, based on some of their conversation on the way back from Disserth. Something he had always been proud of was his ability to draw things from memory, almost exactly to scale. At his mother’s insistence, he had framed a couple of the pictures he’d penned of famous landmarks and put them up on his living room wall. Three frames held drawings of the Royal Pavilion in Brighton with its Indian architectural influence; others of the Tower of London and the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. This morning alone, he had knocked up two different designs for the bathroom in Wales to add to his ones for the kitchen and the bedrooms. Although he had snapped a rough copy of one for the kitchen on his phone and sent the photo to Lenny that morning, he looked forward to showing everything to him in person on Thursday morning when they met up. He couldn’t believe how much he had enjoyed the previous weekend away and how much he looked forward to heading back with him on Friday. New projects always motivated him, fired him up and filled him with energy. Getting items from his notepad list kept his spirits raised, and the daily text message exchanges with Lenny to remind him of things he needed to bring or buy always ended with him smiling. And that small change didn’t escape his notice either. Even seeing Lenny’s name appear on his phone sent a thrill buzzing through him. On Monday morning, his waking dream had Lenny leaning against the bathroom doorframe of the hotel, but this time with the bathrobe falling open. Waking rock hard and pumped full of lust required him to fist an instant release, spilling onto his stomach and chest, not an unpleasant experience but one that caused a trickle of guilty repercussions. Each time he thought back to the vision, he had to talk himself down to earth, remind himself that even though Lenny had admitted to being gay, the man was way out of his league. He had lived with a university professor, a respected member of the faculty, for goodness’ sake. Why on earth would Lenny Day want anything more than friendship with him? Besides, Lenny also had his own life and successful businesses to take care of back in London, so had no time for anything more, which was why he had returned first thing Monday morning, to check in with his office team. And yet small gestures, throwaway comments, had Adrian thinking something more lay beneath the surface. On the way back from Wales, they had agreed he would return on Thursday morning instead of Friday, to check in with his mother and get her to sign some legal forms. At the same time, they would also to pick up mattresses and buy other items from the furniture store in Norwich and store them in the back of Adrian’s truck, ready for their trip down on Friday morning. Even with Lenny being busy in London—despite assurances to the contrary, he’d had a mound of work to catch up with—he still managed to check in with Adrian each day. As Adrian put the finishing touches to the third kitchen design, and as though reading his mind, his phone pinged with a message. Lenny: Shopping tomorrow. Hope you made a list. Adrian: And checked it twice. Gonna give your credit card a good workout. What time shall I pick you up? Lenny: Ten too early? Adrian: See you then. Text me your address. Lenny: Sounds like a date. Adrian: Well we are picking out bedding together. The phone went quiet for a while, and Adrian worried if he had gone too far, but he could see Lenny was typing. Eventually, another text pinged through. Lenny: Always the funny guy. Thanks again for agreeing to do this, Ade. Make sure you give me invoices for everything this time around. Adrian: Look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Had he overstepped the mark? Maybe he should dial the chumminess down a notch or two. He didn’t want to give Lenny the wrong idea and scare him away. * * * “Is your mother okay?” They had been shopping in the large department store in the centre of Norwich like an old married couple. Lenny turned up dressed casually, in a long-sleeved, old fashioned rugby shirt in purple and yellow stripes, the style they don’t seem to wear on the field anymore, and a pair of well-worn jeans and trainers that only made him look hotter. As soon as they set off from his mother’s house, he told Adrian he had ordered the king-sized mattresses earlier in the week, and they sat in the store’s loading bay ready to be thrown onto the back of Adrian’s truck. Both had the same idea when it came to bedding; something modest but comfortable. Four pillows—two for each bed—two king-sized quilts and covers in ivory for one room, navy blue for the other, together with matching sheets. Not particularly imaginative, but neutral enough so that whatever decor Lenny decided upon, they might still be useable. “I usually don’t see her more than twice a year, so it’s been a bit overwhelming for her lately. And when I do turn up to get her to sign important documents, she reciprocates by handing me a list of things she needs doing. So when I declined and told her I’m only here to pick you up and drive to Wales, she got a little antsy. As you saw.” “So that explains the warm welcome.” “Sorry about that. If it’s any consolation, my mother tends to be somewhat frosty with anyone she doesn’t know. At least she offered you a cup of tea. And I have to say again, Ade, those sketches are amazing, even though I only glanced over them. Maybe you can talk me through them tonight over dinner without my mother hovering over us. To be honest, I could do with someone like you on my team, to give clients some quick, imaginative visuals of how something could look. Professional architects and even interior designers are exacting and take so damned long to produce anything, as well as being expensive. You’ve got a hidden talent going on there. You even managed to get a hum of approval from my mum.” Every time Lenny praised him about anything, a ripple of pleasure ran through Adrian. And Adrian had noticed, too, the way Lenny’s mother glanced at them with something bordering lukewarm interest as she handed him a mug of tea—even though he had asked for coffee. “She probably gets lonely now your dad’s not around.” “Yeah, I did think that. So when I got back to London this week, I phoned her every day, like a dutiful son. On Wednesday, she asked me to stop calling so often. But I know she sees a lot of Aunt Marcie. She lives across the street, and they seem to get on well.” “Maybe I should introduce her to my mum?” Lenny shook his head decisively. “Incompatible. As soon as your mother mentioned anything about the church or religion, my mother would call a cab.” Each of them pushed a shopping cart, as they wandered into the electrical section, while Adrian checked his prepared list. “But all joking aside, Lenny. If she needed anything doing like moving furniture or lifting boxes, manual kind of stuff, you could give her my number. She’s met me now.” Lenny seemed to mull the idea over, but after a while smiled and nodded his head. “I’ll let her know. That’s a nice gesture, Ade.” They walked on again in comfortable silence. Lenny steered them in the direction of the electrical equipment. “So how has your week been?” asked Adrian absently. “Pretty good. Everything seemed to run fine without me being there. Mainly spent my time running through contracts and meeting new clients. Isabelle had a couple of problems while I was away, but used her common sense to sort them out. Maybe not what I would have done, but everything got resolved. Sometimes I wonder if they need me there at all.” “Nah, that there’s the sign of a good manager. They know you’re at the end of a phone in case they need you, but they also know you’re not breathing down their necks expecting them to do everything your way.” Partway down the aisle, they stopped at the lighting section while Adrian pulled out a selection of bulbs of varying wattage including spares. “Kettle,” said Lenny. “We mustn’t forget to buy a kettle.” “I’ve already packed mugs, tea bags, a jar of coffee, milk and sugar,” said Adrian. “So, yes. An electric kettle is a necessity. I’m not sure I trust that gas stove.” After picking out a mid-priced kettle and a couple of long power extensions, they made their way to the towelling section. Adrian was determined to make sure the boiler and the shower above the bath worked, so insisted they needed to have at least a new towel each. He had even shopped for a new shower head, a large container of shower gel, shampoo, and a couple of packs of soap. Other bathroom accessories could wait until they’d finished renovating the bathroom. While Adrian picked towels out, Lenny began to fill him in on other developments. “So I managed to get the number of a gardening company suggested by Mrs Llewellyn. That woman seems to know absolutely everyone in the area. One of their people went along to spec the place out, and they gave me a rough quote on clearing the front and back gardens and making the whole thing look a lot more respectable. Very reasonable, actually, so one of their representatives is going to pop along and see us while we’re there this weekend.” Adrian grinned then and noticed Lenny giving him a quizzical look. “What?” “I thought I was the one fired up about this, sketching ideas of improvements, but seems like you’ve been doing a heap of things behind the scenes.” “Just to clarify, Mr Lamperton. This is my house.” Adrian laughed at the mock-serious tone. “I know, I know. But you have a hundred and one other things on your plate at the moment, what with your businesses. While I’m sitting at home twiddling my thumbs, wishing for the weekend to come.” “Yes, well. Turns out I’m truly getting into this personal project. There’s something motivating and empowering about being able to do things the way I want them, instead of having to please a client. Especially when they come up with ludicrous ideas.” “I hear you there, brother.” “Right, come on,” said Lenny. “Let’s head for the checkout and then load the mattresses into your truck. I’m afraid I have to have dinner with my mother tonight, so I’ll see you first thing in the morning. Don’t be late.” “Six o’clock sharp.” * * * Agreeing to set off early in the morning on Friday had been an excellent plan. Beating much of the rush hour traffic, Leonard drove his vehicle and led the way. With clear weather and lighter traffic than the weekend before, they arrived at the house just before midday, even after a brief stop for a late breakfast. This time Leonard found the home quickly, partly because Adrian had cut away the flora covering the signage for Bryn Bach on their previous visit, and left the gate open, but also because a large metal rubbish skip sat on the lane outside the property. As he turned into the driveway, he noticed Leonard had driven past the front of the house and pulled up beneath a low hanging tree. Apart from his red brake lights beaming, his car was almost hidden from view, leaving Adrian room to park right outside the front door. Turning the engine off, he smiled to himself with approval. At work, he liked his site managers to be smart, proactive and practical. Lenny certainly was, arranging mattresses, landscaping contractors, and now a rubbish skip. Adrian clambered out of his truck and strode beneath the cover of the portico, just as Lenny joined him. Before Lenny fished out his door keys, they both stretched their stiff limbs. “Now what are you smiling at?” asked Lenny, eyeing Adrian while sorting through the keyring. “Nothing.” Adrian nodded towards the front gate. “See you ordered a skip. You’re pretty good at getting things organised.” “If I weren’t, I wouldn’t be in business.” Lenny unlocked and pushed open the front door. “Come on, let’s get the back of your truck unloaded.” They set to work straight away, unloading mattresses, boxes, toolkits, and other items into the front corridor, ready for use. After thoroughly cleaning the fridge and making sure the appliance still worked—which, thankfully, it did—they agreed to clean the upstairs first of all to make the bedrooms habitable. However, that weekend, they decided to concentrate on renovating downstairs, ripping out kitchen units and stripping flooring and walls. Only if they made good progress, would they consider tackling any of the upstairs rooms. Adrian found himself enjoying working alongside Lenny, chatting occasionally but never slacking, someone who seemed to be on the same wavelength. He even felt a pang of pleasure at Leonard’s impressed surprise when he dragged the industrial vacuum cleaner he had brought and started cleaning the floors in the front bedroom. As he worked, Leonard wiped down the bed frame and began removing the plastic packing from the first of the mattresses. “What?” Adrian asked as he switched off the machine. “And you call me organised. You certainly come prepared.” “You pay top dollar; you get only the best.” “So I see. Here, give me a hand with this.” Adrian went over and helped Lenny haul the mattress onto the bed. Although snug, they had measured correctly and the mattress fitted nicely. Even with the stark decor—peeling beige paint, faded floral wallpaper, and drab dirty white curtains—the room had a comfortable feel, and overlooked the short driveway below, although trees blocked any view of the lane beyond. “Do you want this room tonight?” asked Lenny. “Or the one at the back?” “This one is fine.” “You don’t want the one with the view?” “I’ll leave that to the master of the house. Come on, let’s get the sheets and duvet on the bed. Then we can use the plastic sheeting from the mattress to drape over. Even with the door closed, there’s bound to be dust from downstairs.” Just after they finally finished the back bedroom, fitting the navy bedding in place, and stood back to admire their handiwork, a female voice sounded from below stairs. “Hello? Is anybody there?” Adrian met Lenny’s curious gaze. The voice had a very distinctive Welsh accent. “Did you leave the front door open?” asked Adrian, walking over to the door to peer down the stairs. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I?” “Well, it sounds as though you have a visitor. Word certainly gets round in these parts,” said Adrian, grinning, before shouting out. “We’re upstairs. Give us a minute.” “It’s probably the gardening contractor. They’re a little early, which in my book is always a good sign.” Adrian finished securing the plastic packing from the mattress over the bed and descended the stairs behind Lenny to see a woman standing by the front door, her face frozen in shock. “Luke?” “Uh, no. I’m Leonard. Leonard Day. And you are?” Somehow, maybe hearing the timbre of Lenny’s voice or seeing Adrian standing behind, but something appeared to break the spell, and the woman’s face relaxed. She had a tanned complexion and ruddy cheeks, and wore her grey hair tied back severely from her face. Lending to the outdoorsy look, she sported a green Barbour jacket over an oatmeal jumper, with jeans tucked into green Wellington boots. If Adrian had to hazard a guess—he was usually hopeless at guessing the ages of women—he would place her in her early fifties. “I am so sorry. I’m Philippa Redfern. One of the owners of Redfern Landscaping. For a moment there, you reminded me of someone I used to know. Or, at least, how he would look now—“ “Luke Darlington?” asked Lenny. “Yes, actually.” The woman stopped again and stared at Lenny. “Thought I’d seen his ghost for a moment. You knew him?” “I never met him, but Luke is—was—my cousin. So there might be a family resemblance,” said Lenny, before stepping down into the hallway and allowing Adrian to join them. “This is my—uh—friend, Adrian.” Even though he thought of them the same way, Adrian enjoyed hearing Lenny refer to him as a friend. The woman, Philippa, smiled then, and shook hands with each of them in turn, before placing a hand over her heart. “I am so sorry, but honestly, in this dim light, you looked the image of him. Older, of course, than the last time I saw him. But even the way you moved, the way you hopped down those stairs. Gave me quite the start, you did.” “In which case, I’m sorry, too. Let’s go through to the living room. It’s a bit of a mess, I’m afraid. Thanks for being punctual, by the way.” While Lenny led the way in, Adrian pulled open three of the folding chairs around the small collapsible table he’d been wise enough to bring, and they all sat down. But they didn’t get straight down to business, Lenny curious to know more. “In case you were wondering, I inherited this home from my father. Hence the renovations we’re doing right now. I thought you might have had trouble finding the place.” “Ah, well, I’ve been here before,” said the woman. “Many times, actually.” “Really? Is that how you knew Luke?” asked Lenny. “Yes. We were good friends. Years ago, of course. I’d have been Pippa White back then before I married. Used to hang out with Luke and the Williams twins, Freya and Howie.” “Philippa. Yes, Mrs Llewellyn at the Manor Inn pub in Newbridge mentioned you. Thick as thieves, she said.” The woman laughed at the comment, while clutching the sizeable flat valise to her chest. “Not much ever got past Megan or her mother. But yes, we were great friends. And please call me Pippa.” Adrian liked her; she had a nice, open laugh. But he felt uncomfortable sitting, listening as they talked about something personal to Lenny’s family. “Can I make us some tea or coffee?” he asked, standing. “Tea with milk, no sugar, Lenny?” Lenny grinned and nodded in response. Philippa opted for the same. Adrian headed to the kitchen where he’d placed the kettle and box of refreshments. While he wiped down one of the surfaces and set about making mugs of tea and coffee, he could still overhear their conversation. “I suppose you know all about what happened to Luke. Were you here at the time?” came Lenny’s voice. “No, I was away in Durham, at university. I can’t even begin to tell you the shock I felt. His sister, Mary, phoned me. Told me how Luke had accidentally slipped from a step ladder while working on a light switch in the bedroom. I know it sounds odd now, but I believed her. Luke loved doing handiwork around this place on his own. But to happen to someone so talented. Tragic. I moved Heaven and Earth to get to the funeral, but I could tell they were hiding something. It was only at the gathering afterwards that his father confided in me what had truly happened. Which, honestly, made even less sense. I suppose you know that Mr Darlington was the one who found Luke. He walked out on them not long afterwards. I’ve always wondered if the suicide had something to do with that. Of course, the wife could also be difficult.” “Luke’s mother?” “Have you met her?” “Only once, recently. At my father’s funeral. She came across as quite—um—opinionated.” “You could say that. Luke wanted to study photography. In the upper sixth form, he applied to the RCA in London for a degree in arts and humanities specialising in photography. He got accepted, too, and while his father didn’t mind—the father was pretty chilled about everything the few times we met him—Luke’s mother refused, insisted he study something more respectable like law or politics or economics. If you’d ever met Luke, you would know how much he despised those subjects. Art defined him. He could sketch proficiently, and even with his instant polaroid camera—this was back in the eighties, remember—he took some incredible shots. Some people instinctively understand light, shade and composition, and how to capture a scene. Luke was one of those.” “So he didn’t start his studies?” “He planned to. But I don’t know why he didn’t. I know his mother threatened that if he did, they wouldn’t pay a penny towards the fees. But I got the impression they didn’t have much to contribute anyway. Luke didn’t care. He hated the idea of a student loan, so he planned to defer, to spend a couple of years working hard and saving as much money as he could and then take the smallest loan possible, if at all. The people at the RCA were understanding and said they would keep a place open for him. I remember him telling us that after the summer he had lined up a couple of casual jobs, working weekends as an assistant to a wedding photographer, and during the week as a labourer on a building site.” “And what happened?” “That’s all I know. The next thing I heard was that he’d died. If you get a chance, you should have a chat with Freya. I think she still lives around here.” “And her brother?” “Howie?” Something about the way she said his name made Adrian feel that she had been fond of him. “Heaven knows where he is. Timbuktu, probably. Couldn’t wait to get away from Newbridge. Well, from the UK. Born with wanderlust in his veins, according to his dad. For as long as I knew him, he talked about travelling the world on a shoestring.” “But Luke was happy here?” “He loved the area, and especially this house. Often came here earlier than the rest of the family. He’d usually rope us and others into getting the place tidy, or helping get the garden looking presentable. Even did a bit of decorating in some of the rooms.” As he grabbed the three mugs to bring in to the main room, Adrian grinned, realising now why the decorating seemed to have been performed with more enthusiasm than any real skill. “Did you know his grandfather was going to leave the place to him, to Luke?” asked Philippa. “No,” said Lenny. “I didn’t. He left it to my father.” Adrian wondered if Lenny’s aunt wanted the place so badly because she knew about that promise, but decided not to share those thoughts. Instead, he placed the three mugs on the table, before sliding one over to Lenny and then absently squeezing his shoulder. “I imagine that’s because your grandfather outlived Luke.” Before taking the mug, she placed her flat case by the side of her chair. “Ah, tea, thank you, Adrian. Can I ask a personal question?” After Adrian had moved a mug to her side of the table, he found her looking at him. The question had been meant for him. “Of course,” he answered, taking his seat. “Are you two a couple?” she said, plainly, before blowing on the surface of her tea mug. Lenny choked on his tea, while Adrian could not help but chuckle. “No. I’m the hired help for the long weekend. Lenny needed some muscle to assist with the manual work.” “But you’re friends?” Adrian peered over at Lenny. For some strange reason, his cheeks had flushed noticeably. “Are we?” he asked Lenny. “Of course we are. Used to go to the same school back in Norwich. So what proposals do you have for me, for the gardens?” Getting things back on track seemed to get Philippa motivated and Lenny back on an even keel. From her case, she pulled a small booklet with computer-generated plans of the gardens, front and back, which appeared very professional, some designs shown in three dimensions. “This is your copy. I have to be honest,” said Pippa. “The design is not that different from the original layout, but I’ve added easy-to-maintain shrubs to the back garden, in case you’re not here that often. In my opinion, the most important thing is to make sure we don’t block that amazing view. I’ve included replacing the patio with new material—your choice, really—but maintaining the same design. But you’ll see in one, I’ve added a small gazebo at the far end of the garden on the right. Something else that might be of interest is that there are a couple of local gardeners we use, so one of them can come in for maintenance purposes from time to time. Make sure the garden doesn’t end upon in the same state ever again.” Once they had briefly gone over everything, Philippa left the plans with Lenny for him to mull over. He agreed to give her a call over the weekend, to get the ball rolling as soon as possible. As Adrian cleared their mugs away, Philippa stood and shook hands with Lenny. “I’m glad you’re renovating the place,” she said once they had finished. “My good friend would tell you this place has amazing Feng Shui, a real sense of peace and harmony if you know anything about the Chinese practice. Do you know anything about the origins of the house?” “No,” said Lenny. “But I had wondered.” “Luke was doing some digging. I know he found out the house was originally commissioned in the 1880s. That’s about all I remember.” “How did it end up in our family?” “That’s what Luke spent ages trying to find out. We’re talking about the early eighties here, so you couldn’t just search online like you can today. Luke loved a mystery. Maybe that’s why he warmed to the house so much.” “I’m beginning to know how he felt,” said Lenny, and even Adrian understood. “There’s something incredibly peaceful about this place. Hey, Philippa. If you’re around over the weekend, why don’t you pop into the Manor Inn one evening and have a drink with us? Bring your husband, if you want.” “Sounds like a nice idea. Let me check his schedule, and I’ll drop you a line.” Both Adrian and Lenny walked her to the front door before stopping in the hallway. “Before you go, can I ask you something?” said Lenny. “About Luke?” “Of course. Anything.” “Do you think—uh—do you know if Luke might have been different?” Philippa smiled and gazed away, shook her head very briefly, before looking back at him. “Are you asking me if Luke was gay? Because he told us in the strictest confidence. Didn’t want anything to get out to his family. But the simple answer is, yes, he was.” Lenny seemed happy with this answer, but Adrian had to know something else. “And do you think that’s why he killed himself?” “No. Absolutely not. Although I didn’t see him the two or three years leading to his death, studying at the RCA was going to be his liberation. He knew that. He often mused about living in London and becoming the next Robert Mapplethorpe.” “You see,” said Adrian. “That’s what I don’t understand. What you’re telling us is he had everything to live for.” “I know. We struggled, too. You really ought to speak to Freya. She was here the whole time and probably knew him better than any of us. She might have answers for you.”
  12. lomax61

    Confession

    Lol. As I wrote in the introduction “Stay alert for clues along the ride.”
  13. lomax61

    Confession

    During their assessment of each room, and with a new resolve, Leonard felt a growing connection to the house. Adrian’s continued enthusiasm and ideas for improvement helped. But knowing Leonard’s father had holidayed there during his childhood, had probably spent happy, innocent days playing in the garden and going for local hikes, he felt an affinity to the place. Even with the knowledge that a cousin had taken his life in one of the bedrooms did not deter him, only made him more curious about a relative he had never met. According to Mrs Llewellyn, Luke had been at his happiest in Wales, at the house. And even though Leonard mentioned nothing to Adrian, the suicide note left something of a mystery, one he wanted to solve. Back downstairs, Adrian stood inside the arched door to the kitchen, his big hands on the hips of his blue overalls, surveying the walls and decor. Leonard admired his solid frame and quiet strength; the way he had effortlessly ripped up part of the linoleum before gently smoothing the palm of his bare hand along the surface to check the state of the floorboards; how he quickly and singlehandedly hefted the kingsized mattress from the bed in the back bedroom before carefully positioning the stained mess against the wall. Strength and grace, something Leonard found incredibly attractive. “Let me just say right now that if for some batshit crazy reason you decide to keep this kitchen as is, in another decade or two the design might—just might—come back into fashion.” Leonard snorted quietly and watched as Adrian went over and gently tugged open one of the lower cupboard doors which instantly came away in his hand, the hinges rusted and broken. “Or maybe not.” “Careful, cowboy. That’s my kitchen you’re destroying.” “And here’s me thinking you had taste. It’s only the top hinge. I can soon fix that back in place.” Adrian’s humour had kept him grounded. Admittedly, though, the kitchen had probably been left untouched for decades. Dull teal units with their stubborn doors, grease speckled orange and brown kitchen tiles, and sticky linoleum flooring of lemon and lime diamonds might have been tasteful for somebody once—but not anymore, and not for Leonard. He swore he felt a migraine coming on every time they stepped into the room. “No, leave the door. And jot this down on your list. The whole kitchen needs ripping out. I’m thinking maybe we even take this wall down and open up the kitchen into the main living area. Lose the corridor altogether and put in a countertop island. What do you think?” “I’d need to see the original floor plans to check if we’re affecting any load bearing walls,” said Adrian, “But I don’t think that would be a problem. And then you could put four-panel full height sliding doors where the French doors are right now, open up the whole of the back of the house onto the patio, make the most of the view. You could brick up the back door from the kitchen into the garden then, use the space for kitchen units. There will be plenty more light coming into the house.” “Exactly what I’m thinking.” Strange really, but Adrian came up with ideas almost the instant a similar thought entered Leonard’s head. They were most definitely on the same page. “And promise me you’re going to remove this plywood panelling either side of the fireplace,” said Adrian. “Get the place back to its original setting. Every time I look, the eyesore makes me cringe. I’ll bet money behind the gloss white paint, the chimney breast is either red brick or local flint that’s been plastered over.” Adrian pointed out a spot by the fireplace, beside the picture rail, where panelling had split from the wall. “And it looks as though the plywood is coming away already up there. Want me to pull that off now?” “No. Let’s wait until we have all the right tools. I imagine when we come back next time, there’ll be plenty of mess to clear away. Let’s not make any just yet. Hey, listen. In case I didn’t make it clear, I want us to work on this project together on my spare weekends. I’d love to be able to clear a few weeks straight so we could plough on though, but I’ve been away from the business far too long already. And I’m going to need your guidance on what I can and can’t do structurally, but other than that we work alongside each other. Of course, I’ll pay you, but I wanted to check you’re okay with that?” “You don’t need me to come down and keep things going during the week?” “Not unless there are things I can’t help with. I want to be here to see the place transform with my own eyes, and know I’ve been a part of the change. Does that make sense?” “As I said before, you’re the boss, so you call the shots. There are a couple of things I’m going to need professional help with, such as taking down the wall between the living room and the kitchen, and checking over the electrical wiring. Maybe I could do that on a weekday?” “Absolutely. Just give me a heads-up. I’ll get you a spare set of keys cut. And I need to come back to Drayton to tie up a few things with my mother next weekend, so maybe we can meet up again and drive here together. Now what about the staircase? Does that need repairing or replacing?” “Are you kidding? That staircase is a work of art. Let’s go check it out again.” On the way back to the stairs to the upper floor, Adrian pointed out the low rise and how stable the staircase was, no noticeable creaks or wobbly bannisters. Adrian had called it right. The essential structure of the place, at least, had been built by artisans, built to last. “Beautiful piece of craftsmanship,” said Adrian, once again verbalising Leonard’s thoughts. “All we need is to sand off the paint, take everything back to the original wood and either treat the surface or maybe use a light varnish. And definitely get rid of that threadbare stair carpet.” Upstairs, at the back of the house, the bedroom overlooking the overgrown garden also had a fantastic view of the countryside beyond, and, being on a slope, the scene through the large sash window, even on a bleak and stormy day, took Leonard’s breath away. Like the rest of the house, the room needed redecorating and furnishing, had a simple mat on the floor and cast-iron double bed frame. “I can’t believe there’s no bedroom furniture. Do you really think your relatives put things into storage?” “As I said, I have no idea. I might phone my mother, get her to ask my aunt. The way things are at the moment, I don’t want to talk to her unless I really need to. But I’m guessing they either didn’t have any furniture—they only ever came here for short holidays—or gave what they had away if nobody was using the place. Based on the kitchen and bathroom, I’m not sure I’d want to keep anything they had.” At some point, Leonard would need to buy furniture—or maybe choose from his online antique store—and perhaps arrange to have some sympathetic built-in storage included in the renovation. The same story applied to the two other bedrooms, the large one at the front and the small box room, another conversation he and Adrian would need to have. “Can I suggest that when we come back next weekend, we stay here in the house,” said Adrian, out of the blue. “Get a feel for the place. If you’re coming to Drayton anyway, maybe you could buy a couple of new mattresses online from the big department store in Norwich between now and then. Then I suggest I bring my truck, chuck them in the back for the drive down and sleep in the house. I know it’s not exactly five star, but the bathroom works fine, the electricity’s running—although we’ll need to bring a couple of bulbs to replace those not working in the bathroom and the hallway. We’ll also need some sheets and bedding. Downstairs is going to be a mess if we start down there—which would be my recommendation—so I suggest we bring the bare minimum. What do you think?” “Sounds like you’ve got it all under control.” Adrian insisted they drag all three old mattresses downstairs near the front door, ready to put them in his truck for when they returned and dump them wherever local folk were allowed to dispose of unwanted items. Mrs Llewellyn at the pub would know. While Leonard tested the water pressure in the bathroom and kitchen, Adrian managed to find a wooden stepladder in the old shed in the back garden and insisted on checking out the loft space for leaks in the roof and the condition of the joists and rafters. Happily reporting back with good news, they continued the exploration of the house until the afternoon sun began to wane. “Right,” said Leonard, finding Adrian on his back on the floor of the kitchen, inspecting the water pipes. The man loved to get down and dirty. “We’re done here. I suggest we head back to the hotel and shower. And then I’m going to buy you dinner at a steakhouse in town, one I found on my phone, and a short walk from the hotel. As a way of saying thank you.” Oddly enough, Adrian seemed almost disappointed at having to stop working. Leonard noticed how animated and immersed he became when engaged in one task or another, a man in his element. * * * As they sat in the Italian steakhouse—a recently opened place with a bunch of young and inexperienced waiting staff, but fortunately with a top-class chef—Leonard treated them both to dinner with a nice bottle of Italian red. Adrian started with his usual pint of local beer but seemed to enjoy the wine, especially when Leonard impressed him with his knowledge of the wine region. Abruzzo sat on the east coast of Italy, the red being a bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The taste of blackberries and earthiness complimented the food. Whenever Leonard wasn’t talking, Adrian continued to enthuse about the house, the improvements Lenny should make to the property, and frankly, Leonard enjoyed listening to him. “Honestly, Lenny, I’m with you all the way. Open up the kitchen into the main living area by taking out the corridor and make the whole place more communal. And that bathroom is big. You’ve got enough space to install a decent sized bath and a separate shower. I can almost visualise it now.” By the time they finished the wine and Leonard had been brought a plain coffee—Adrian preferring another bottle of beer—and their cheesecakes came, Leonard felt nicely relaxed. He noticed Adrian leaning back in his chair, sated, curiously eyeing Leonard. “So come on. What’s your story, Lenny? Married? Kids?” Leonard stopped attacking the dessert and placed his fork down next to his plate, to give Adrian his full attention. “Do you know, you’re the only person in the world who calls me Lenny.” Adrian’s good-natured grin dissolved when no humour showed in Leonard’s face. “You don’t like it? Why didn’t you say?” “It’s not that I don’t like it, so much. That particular version of my name brings back bad memories, that’s all. Especially coming from you.” Leonard watched as Adrian drank from his pint, his confused gaze still peering inquisitively over the rim. Leonard decided the time had come to confront him. “When we were at school, do you remember calling me Gay Lenny? During my first week? You made all the other kids around you laugh.” Adrian appeared baffled, clearly taken by surprise, his eyes darting away, trying to remember. Eventually, he brought his gaze back to Leonard and shook his head. “I don’t remember. That was a long time ago. Are you sure about this?” Leonard nodded. Some things in childhood you never forget. “During my first ever assembly. When the teachers were calling out names from the register. Mr Jennings called—“ “No, wait. Yes, I do remember. The first time I ever saw you. Teachers used to call the names in reverse order, yes? So instead of Leonard Day, he called you Day, Leonard. And I thought he’d just called you Gay Leonard, so I frowned at him and said ‘Gay Leonard?’ I honestly thought he’d made a mistake. But of course, the idiots I used to hang around with thought I was cracking a joke. Jennings immediately told us to be quiet. Was that why you gave me the stink eye every time I walked past you?” “All of those friends of yours called me Gay Lenny for the whole of the first term—“ “I don’t remember—“ “Never when you were around, now I come to think of it. But even boys in my year, ones I didn’t know called me the same thing. It became a standing joke the way kids pick up on stupid things like that.” “Oh, my god, Lenny—uh Leonard. I had no idea. If I had known, I would have told them to shut their mouths.” Instinctively, Leonard knew the truth of his words. The Adrian he had grown to know could never be inherently nasty or vindictive. Being so was simply not in his nature. Throughout the years, he had thought Adrian to be the culprit, the ringleader. In reality, he had simply misheard what one of the teachers had said—an interesting lesson in how a simple misunderstanding in youth can form a lifelong perception. “Yeah, I know you would. And it’s okay. You still get to call me Lenny. I’ve grown to like hearing the sound of it. And to be honest, after that first term, I used to ignore the boys at school. Kept myself very much to myself.” “And you’ve been holding that in all these years? I always thought you didn’t like me because of me being part West Indian.” “What?” Now Leonard’s face transformed with shock. “No, of course not. I’m not like that.” “You say that, but you never can tell—” “Ade! I’m really not. It’s because you labelled me at school. Unwittingly, it seems. And honestly, I should have let it go by now, but seeing you in the pub when I first arrived in Drayton brought everything back.” “Well, if it’s any help, I apologise for being a dick.” “No need. Anyway, they called me out correctly on one thing.” “What do you mean?” “I am gay.” Adrian pulled his glass away from his lip to stare at Leonard. After a few moments, a huge smile lit his face. “Ah, well, mate. The joke’s on me, now. Why didn’t you say something earlier? When I came out to you?” “Funnily enough, I thought about it. Especially when you struggled to explain about sharing the hotel room in your diplomatic way. But I worried that if you knew I was gay too, sharing a room would be even more awkward and—hey, what?” Opposite him, as Leonard had been speaking, Adrian tipped his head back and began laughing aloud. “Couple of bloody idiots, the pair of us. My mother called it right. Men get worse at communicating as they get older.” Leonard grinned and shook his head. Adrian’s mother was spot on. Throughout his life, the straight men he knew fell over themselves to avoid talking about his sexuality. Feeling as though they had grown closer through their confessions and also taking advantage of their laughter, Leonard decided to take the conversation in a more personal direction. “Did you ever have anyone special, Ade?” “No,” said Adrian, his humour gone, his tone flat and short. Leonard heard the hint of sadness in his voice. “Plenty of—um—encounters, especially in my twenties and thirties, but no keepers, if you know what I mean.” “I’m not just saying this to be nice, but honestly, Ade, I really find that hard to believe. How old are you now?” “Forty-nine.” “And you’re still a catch. You’re such a nice guy, a warm personality and a great sense of humour. Oh, hang on a minute. Is this because you’re fussy? Because I heard your taste in music on the way down here. I mean, do you have some kind of particular type or fetish? Must be over seven feet tall, Kenyan-Icelandic mix, Olympic stature, natural blond, ear and nose piercings, must have a sex swing—“ “Yeah, alright, Lenny. If this is you getting your own back on me for the Gay Lenny thing, then—“ “No, I’m serious. You’re a handsome bloke. I’m just stunned nobody else saw that in you, enough to want to keep you around.” At least Adrian’s shy grin had returned at Leonard’s words. But then, as his eyes seemed to lose their focus and he looked away, his smile slipped again. “Let’s just say I had some very dark days during my late teens and early twenties. And after that, I just wanted things to be normal, learn to like myself again before I even attempted to be with someone else for any length of time. And then, as time went on, I kind of got to like my own company. How about you? Did you have any relationships?” Adrian didn’t want to go into any more detail. That much was clear. Something had happened during those early years. Leonard vowed to himself that when they knew each other better, he would ask again. But right now, he felt ready to talk about Kris, welcoming the notion. Adrian might be one of the few who would understand. He explained how Kris—Krishna Goswami, both of his parents originally from New Delhi—had been an economics professor at his university in Bournemouth, twenty years his senior, and how they had clicked almost instantly. At first, things had been innocent, but clandestine—meetings in coffee shops to talk over study materials, but mostly to be in each other’s company. Leonard had been the one to take things to the next level, pleasing Kris but also worrying him, knowing he had his position at the college to consider. They only lived together after Leonard had graduated. “We were together for fourteen years and lived under the same roof for ten of those. Until his death. He succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of only fifty-six. Everything happened so quickly. The cancer had already spread by the time he was diagnosed. His family knew nothing about us, so as soon as they did, they froze me out, didn’t want anything to do with me. I honestly believe they thought I’d somehow given him the cancer.” Leonard remembered the conversation, with him watching helplessly as Kris tried to argue with his father, but not having the strength, standing stunned as Kris agreed for them to come and fetch him, but promising to call Leonard as soon as he managed to get himself settled. Leonard had argued with both parents and the sister in their hallway, but he could see what they thought of him. “Apart from everything else, I think they saw me as a parasite, riding his relative prestige in academic circles, living off him and his money. If anyone had bothered checking, they’d have found I had my own independent wealth, through my start-up companies. But instead, they simply shut the door on me.” Despite numerous calls to the family home, and even to the hospital where Kris had initially been diagnosed, the family essentially took Kris off the grid. Leonard only met the sister and her husband one other time, four weeks later, when they turned up one Saturday morning to pick up all of Kris’ clothes and personal belongings. The sister had the same stubborn streak he had often seen in Kris and told him nothing. In retrospect, he could have shut the door in their faces—was completely within his rights to do so—but one thing they had in common was Kris’ wellbeing. When she left to rifle through Kris’ things, Leonard had simply let her. The husband stayed behind with Leonard, embarrassed, and appeared genuinely sorry for him. Poor guy, he had tried to help but knew very little, that the family physician had taken over and they had quarantined Kris, locked him away in a part of the family home. “I only found out a year later they had taken his cremated remains back to India, to be scattered in the Ganges river, but had commissioned a plaque in a garden of remembrance near their home in London. Fortunately, when we bought the house, Kris insisted the deeds should be in my sole name, said he already owned his own and his sister’s house. Maybe that was true, or perhaps he wanted to give me some insurance because of our age difference—it never became a topic of conversation—but whatever, that was the one thing the family couldn’t take away from me when he died.” “I’m sorry, Lenny.” “Thanks. Feels good talking about it. I don’t have a lot of close friends, but when we do get together, the last thing I want to do is burden them with this. It was also more than ten years ago—“ “Yeah, but some things stay with you for life.” Leonard almost crumbled under the honesty of Adrian’s sympathetic gaze. No doubt about it, he had his own story to tell. “They do. And you never really get over things like that, they become a part of you. But since Kris, there’s never been anyone serious for me.” “No seven-foot-five African-Scandinavian Olympic weightlifters take your fancy?” Leonard chuckled along with Adrian, before reaching to take a sip of his coffee and then cradle the cup in his hands. “You know, that first year in high school, I used to come along to all the home games. I stood on the sidelines usually hiding behind the other kids. Although I would never have told you so at the time, you were bloody incredible on the field.” By the widening of his eyes, Leonard could tell Adrian was genuinely surprised, but his grin betrayed pleasure knowing he’d once had the attention. All Leonard could remember was the Herculean and, frankly, sexy figure of Lamperton either wrestling another boy to the ground or standing stock still, ready to convert a try and put the team comfortably in the lead. And all the time, he thought this legend didn’t like him, that he thought of Leonard as an insignificant gay kid. “Most of those games that season were played in the rain.” “They were,” said Leonard. “I viewed most from beneath someone else’s umbrella. But man, Ade, you were amazing, the way you ploughed through the opponents. All the kids in my year thought you would go on to play professionally.” Once again, Adrian’s smile slipped, and he looked down at the rim of his beer bottle. “Yeah, well. Some things are not meant to be,” he said cryptically. Leonard wanted to ask more but felt they had already shared enough that night. “So, tomorrow,” said Leonard, bringing things back down to earth. “Depending on the weather and the traffic, we have a good five- to six-hour trip back. I suggest we head off around midday. How does that sound?” “You’re the boss.” “Not yet. But I will be next weekend, once you’re on the clock. So let’s head to the house tomorrow morning, take one last look around. You can tell me what equipment or materials you think we might need, so I can either buy or hire—.” “I think it’s probably best if I do that. Then I’ll invoice you later.” “Well, if you think that works better. And as long as you’re not out of pocket.” “Trade discount. And let me put together a plan of work during the week. We’re not going to get everything done in a weekend, but we can make a good start.” Leonard finished his coffee and paid the bill, while Adrian slipped away to use the restroom. When he returned, Leonard already wore his coat, ready for the short walk back to the hotel. Adrian pulled his own from the back of the chair and slipped the garment around his shoulders. “And if I haven’t said so already, Ade. Thanks for everything. For agreeing to accompany me, for your excellent observations and most importantly, for your enthusiasm. I know this is probably like any other job for you, but I’ve really enjoyed this weekend, really enjoyed your company.” Despite feeling a little awkward, Leonard felt the words needed saying. If he had come to see the house on his own in the pouring rain, he would probably have had one quick look around and ended up selling the place to his aunt. Right now, he felt an excited optimism about the site, and also felt as though he had made a new friend. “Don’t thank me yet,” said Adrian, as they stepped out into a rain-free evening and stopped on the pavement. “Why’s that?” “You haven’t heard the playlist I’ve picked out for the journey home yet.” Leonard stood and laughed, but then became serious when Adrian’s face didn’t return the humour. “Should I be worried?” asked Leonard. “Depends.” Adrian walked on ahead, but then stopped, spun around and folded his arms. “How do you feel about Abba?”
  14. lomax61

    Cottage

    They are. Just trying not to use the same word twice.🙄
  15. lomax61

    Cottage

    In my defence, I do state that this is a slow burn. And the men are older so they’re a little more discerning and less hormonal when It comes to hooking up. But if you’ve read any of my other stories, you know we’ll get there eventually, once the men get to know each other better.
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