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lomax61

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  1. 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."
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. lomax61

    Confession

    Lol. As I wrote in the introduction “Stay alert for clues along the ride.”
  8. 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?”
  9. lomax61

    Cottage

    They are. Just trying not to use the same word twice.🙄
  10. 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.
  11. lomax61

    Cottage

    Adrian woke refreshed but disorientated to the sound of running water. Once his brain made sense of the unfamiliar surroundings, he looked to the bedside table, where the LED lights of the digital clock read seven-twenty. At first, he assumed the noise came from the drone of persistent rainy weather outside the darkened window. After a few moments, he heard variations in the resonance of the falling water, along with a familiar tuneless humming, and only then noticed the empty bed across from his. Lenny had hit the shower already. Almost by unspoken agreement, they chose to move carefully around each other. The previous night, Adrian had stayed behind and chatted some more to the landlady about the local area, giving Lenny time to get changed and into bed before he came into the room and locked up. He pulled himself into a sitting position at the side of the bed in his tee and sweatpants and scrubbed his hands through his short hair. Despite the pervasive smell of paint and an industrial adhesive caulk odour he knew well, one he had used professionally when fitting bathrooms, he had still managed to sleep like a dog. The night before, Adrian had spotted the small kettle sitting on top of the free-standing fridge. In preparation for the morning, he had filled the device with water and placed two empty mugs to one side. With Lenny still in the bathroom, and unsure whether to make him tea or coffee, Adrian opened a single coffee sachet and poured in the grains. Checking the fridge, he smiled when he saw the hotel had provided a half-pint carton of fresh milk. Coffee mug nursed in his hands, Adrian returned to sit with his feet up on the bed and flick through channels on the room television until he landed on a news station. “Smells good.” As Adrian finished the last of his coffee, Lenny appeared in the doorway to the bathroom. Wearing only a white robe, he rubbed his hair dry with a small towel. Even in the towelling gown which reached his knees, he looked good, the dark hair of his chest enticingly visible. Adrian couldn’t help giving him a full appraisal. “Didn’t know if you took tea or coffee.” “Nothing for me. Why don’t you go and shower? Then we should head down and have a huge breakfast with decent tea before we get going. Not sure we’ll eat again until tonight.” “Actually, after you came up last night, I stayed and asked Mrs Llewellyn to arrange flasks of coffee and tea, and packed lunches. To take with us. Wasn’t sure there would be any shops or other places to eat.” “See? I knew there was a reason for bringing you along. Now go and do your business while I get dressed.” “Will do,” said Adrian, standing up from the bed and stretching. “And we’re going to need a lot of waterproofs today, from the sounds outside the window.” * * * Lenny had been spot on about the distance. With Mrs Llewellyn’s directions and landmarks down small winding lanes, they found the track leading to the farmhouse in about half an hour. Finding the property had been another challenge altogether. Even with the GPS running, they drove past the entrance to Bryn Bach three times. Patchy satellite coverage in that part of the world didn’t help. With the SUV stationary, the blue dot representing their car moved around erratically like a flying insect trying to decide where to land. What also didn’t help was the lane—more of a dirt track bordered by overgrown shrubs and trees—wide enough to take one car only and providing no signposts. Coming to a dead-end, Lenny displayed skilful driving with a carefully manoeuvred three-point turn, avoiding dropping the car into ditches either sides of the track. Adrian had to put the light on in the car, to study the picture Lenny had printed off. Nothing at all appeared familiar. The photograph of the cottage had been shot many years ago on a beautiful summer’s day. Hedgerows and trees seemed to be well-tended in the picture. Today, even without being disadvantaged by the dreadful weather and the dull light, greenery crept into the lane, wild and unkempt. When a streak of lightning flooded the road like a flashbulb going off, Adrian spotted their first clue. A bush had covered most of the white signpost to the farmhouse, but the sudden incandescence illuminated the wooden entrance to a driveway. Three long vertical slats of wood had a saltire diagonal cross, holding them together, while a small waist-high garden gate for those on foot sat fixed on the right side. At any other time, Adrian would have shrugged off the structure as an old gate to a farmer’s field. Putting a hand on Lenny’s forearm, he told him to stop the car. Togged out in his well-used yellow waterproof jacket and trousers, Adrian jumped out into the downpour. After pulling back branches of the bush, to show Lenny the sign lit now by the car’s headlights, he went over, unhooked the rusty latch and opened wide the long gate. As Lenny pulled the SUV alongside, he wound down the window and leant out. “Well spotted, Ade. We may as well leave the gate open. Nobody is going to find themselves down this way unless the poor sods are lost. We can close it on our way out.” Adrian nodded and got back into the car, even though he felt uncomfortable leaving the gate open. Closing farm gates had been drummed into him as a young kid by his parents and teachers, whenever they visited farms around Drayton. The short gravel driveway sloped gently down. Untamed bushes and small trees on either side hid the house. Behind a sharp bend, the structure came into view. Due to the endless rain and gloom, the farmhouse appeared like something out of a horror movie, with its slick grey walls and darkened windows. Weeds overflowed from square planter boxes either side of the front door, flaky remnants of white paint barely visible. They parked up right outside the front porch because of the rain which hissed loudly on the gravel as Adrian pushed the door open. Both of them jumped down at the same moment, Leonard dashed for cover while Adrian took time to survey the house. Even with the reduced visibility, the building seemed sound. “Come on, then,” came Leonard’s voice. “First impressions. Tell me what you think?” “Nice.” Adrian strolled to the far end of the house, following the line where the slate roof met the guttering. Large sash windows each composed of twelve square panes sat either side of the front door, while three smaller versions ran above, along the upper floor. “Very nice indeed.” “So not some pile of old rubble, as my cousin Matthew called it?” “Absolutely not. At a rough guess, Lenny, I reckon this place would have been built around the mid-eighteen hundreds. No earlier. Something I can tell you beyond doubt right now is that Bryn Bach was never designed to be a farmhouse. Apart from there being no outhouses anywhere nearby and no direct access to fields, the place was carefully designed, either as a permanent home or a holiday hideaway for someone with money.” “Interesting. How can you tell?” Adrian turned around and looked back at Lenny in his bright blue cagoule with the hood covering his eyes but with a playful smirk. Was he testing him? Surely Lenny knew more than him about old properties. “I know my expertise lends itself more to modern construction, but having worked in and around Norwich, you can’t help picking up a few things about old buildings. And I noticed similar designs on the drive here as when we crossed into Wales. Traditional farmhouses, for example, were built to be functional. Most were single storey and built by the farmer and anyone he could rope in to help. Old dwellings—called longhouses—provided shelter for both the family and their livestock, all living under the same roof. Can you imagine the smell? I can probably point a few out to you on the drive home. Those ones had solid walls of natural materials like stone, earth and wood and used lime for mortars and renders. Earlier ones had thatched roofs, but later on, they used the more efficient slate, like this house. These days, they’re easy to recognise because they look as though they’re ready to fall over.” “The same can’t be said of this house,“ continued Adrian, taking a step back and, despite the rain, staring up at the house and pointing out features. “This building has pedigree. I know the facade appears older—flinty stone in the wall construction—but that’s by careful design rather than necessity. Not just that, but this was built into a slope by engineers, which is not something your average farmer would have dared consider. At least not unless he had no choice and didn’t mind running the risk of the whole thing sliding down the hill in the middle of the night. Especially in this kind of weather, which seems pretty common in this part of the country.” “I see what you mean,” said Lenny. “This house does seem pretty solid, doesn’t it? Someone spent money on getting the design right. I wonder who originally had it built.” “Look at those beautiful brick chimney stacks at either end. Definitely Victorian. Designed and integrated, not tacked onto the structure. Features have been carefully planned and incorporated. At a guess, I’d say the grey slate roof and stonework are sympathetic design features, locally sourced materials, to make the structure blend into the countryside. Even the front door is larger than most you would see on local cottages. The portico is a classic design feature of the era but complements the other house materials. There’s nothing shoddy or simply functional about this workmanship. The sash windows, guttering, and downpipes could have been installed later, but I’d bet money they’re original. I’ll also be interested to see the interior layout.” “Come on, then. I suppose we’d better go inside.” “Any chance we can take a look around the back first?” Adrian had noticed an overgrown path of rough stone blocks leading to the back of the building and indicated the direction with his hand. “Lead the way,” said Lenny. At the back of the house, tall French doors opened onto a sizeable patio area, moss-covered concrete slabs with grass and weeds rising in the gaps, all bordered by a shallow brick wall. Half a dozen wide stone steps in the middle with an ornate stone handrail led down into the overgrown back garden. Towards the back, the top of a rusted iron frame of a child’s swing rose above the undergrowth. Beyond that, the beautiful Welsh countryside provided a stunning panorama. Adrian’s reaffirmed his original assumption that the house had never been a working farmhouse. “Well, for a start, this garden’s going to need levelling. Windows appear sound on first inspection, but I’d be concerned about the guttering which looks to be blocked with leaves and overflowing with moss in places. Hopefully, that hasn’t affected the interior walls with damp.” “My cousin mentioned coming down here every year to check the place over. Not sure what he did, exactly.” “But I can see how the family would have loved the garden.,” said Adrian, looking out to the view. “Not only the remote location, but the garden alone is a beautiful, safe space for kids.” “Yes, you’re right. If I’d holidayed here, I’m sure I would have fond memories, too. Maybe my aunt has a point. Let’s go and have look inside.” Adrian trailed behind Lenny on their way back down the path. Entering behind him through the front door, Adrian had to stop for a moment, while Lenny picked up a pile of mail from the floor. Adrian looked down the corridor into the gloom, wishing he had brought a torch with him. “At least the postman knows how to find the place,” said Adrian. In front of him, Lenny laughed softly. He used the light from his phone to check through a couple of the items. Stopping at one of them, he tore open the envelope. “Will you look at this,” he said, waving a sheet of paper at Adrian. “It’s a bill from the electricity company in my dad’s name. Looks as though he pays all the bills automatically through my parent’s joint account. Try the light switch.” Adrian reached over and tried the hall light, which came on instantly, flooding the hallway with light. “That’s going to make checking the place over a little easier,” said Adrian. “I was going to ask if you had a torch in the car. But we ought to make sure the electricity is switched off when we leave. This house would make a perfect home for squatters.” As they moved forward, the scent of dust and neglect hit Adrian. A narrow staircase with a thin worn carpet led upstairs in front, while doors led off either side at the front and one down a narrow corridor to the back of the house. Leonard took the first door on the right and flicked on a light to reveal a spacious room that ran the length of the building, with a large fireplace in the centre. Without furniture, the long room appeared neglected and soulless. Apart from the linoleum flooring—the only touch of colour in faded green and grey—the walls and ceiling had been painted in powdery matt white paint, shadowy cobwebs filling the corners. “Bloody hell. Looks as inviting as a doctor’s surgery,’ said Lenny, somewhat unkindly. “Don’t look at what it is, look at what it could be, Lenny. That fireplace, for example. With that old three-bar electric fire, it looks like something my great-grandmother would have considered hi-tech. And why paint everything white? Beneath a couple of coats of paint, I’ll bet there’s an old black iron fireplace, and those painted-over tiles are probably originals. I doubt you’d be able to have a real fire now—chimney flues will be blocked off—but there are plenty of gas fires produced these days that resemble coal or log fires. Odd though. Usually, there’d be alcoves either side of the chimney stack, not flat, flush walls.” Adrian went over, tapped his knuckle on the wall on the right side of the fireplace and produced a hollow clunking sound. “Plywood. Maybe the previous owner did that to make things easier when they wanted to wallpaper or repaint. Shame though. Little features like alcoves with armchairs or places to showcase an antique chest of drawers are focal points. Looks as though they wanted this place as low maintenance as possible, which makes sense if it was a holiday home. Even with all that, the main thing that strikes me straight away is the light. I know it’s a bloody awful day, but look how much daylight comes into the place from the front and back. Amazing. Imagine this place on a summer’s day?” For the first time since they had entered the room, Adrian turned to look at Lenny. Arms folded, his lowered glower followed the line of old linoleum which had begun to crack and peel away from the skirting board. “Hey, Lenny,” said Adrian, catching Lenny’s attention. “Stop picking out details and see the bigger picture.” “But have you noticed what’s missing?” Adrian looked at the wide-open space, up at the ceiling with beautiful coving and picture rail. Even the decorative plaster moulded roses around the light fittings. “I’m not following.” “Why is there no furniture? Did my aunt not approve of leaving fixtures in the house?” “Is there supposed to be furniture? Maybe check with your solicitor, in case there’s an inventory” said Adrian. “Perhaps it’s in storage. She may have worried about burglars breaking in and stealing things.” “Yeah, I guess so.” “Come on, Lenny. Let’s see what state the kitchen’s in.” Adrian’s suggestion had been meant to get Lenny away from the main room and possibly brighten his mood, but entering the rounded archway into the kitchen left Adrian speechless. Probably last remodelled back in the eighties—maybe before that even—the long room had teal painted units and kitchen backsplash tiles in orange and brown which might have been tasteful once, but Adrian seriously doubted it. Nevertheless, a couple of things stood out for Adrian. An original fixture, the square sink of thick white porcelain appeared solid and on a quick inspection, flawless. If Lenny did decide to keep the house, the basin had to stay, Adrian would make sure of that. All of the countertops had updated electrical sockets. Some houses he had worked on in Drayton had old round pin plug sockets. On the plus side, this meant Lenny might not need to rewire the whole house. Also, the ancient refrigerator was almost as tall as Leonard, and the four-ring gas stove and oven, although old and, in all honesty, in need of replacement, looked in working order. When Adrian walked over and opened the fridge door, he instantly regretted his action and slammed the thing shut. By then, the acrid smell of staleness filled the air in the room. “We’re going to have to give that a thorough cleaning before we switch the thing on to see if it works. If you want to keep it, that is.” “It’ll do for now. But put cleaning equipment down on your mental list.” “Done. How about we take a look upstairs.” Upstairs turned out to be pretty standard with minimal decoration. Two larger bedrooms and a smaller one, together with a family bathroom. Each of the rooms had similar metal bed frames with stain-mottled mattresses that had seen better days. “These are king-sized frames. Nothing special, cast iron, robust enough,” said Adrian. After surveying the room, he lifted the corner of a mattress to check the state of the base, a criss-cross of metal links. He had seen similar designs in some of the houses he had renovated, sturdy and well made. When he turned to Lenny to speak, he noticed him on the far side of the bed and hesitated. Lenny’s eyes scanned the light fitting before moving towards the window at the view beyond. “Amazing view, isn’t it?” said Adrian. “Even with those storm clouds.” Lenny didn’t answer but kept his gaze on the panoramic scene in the distance. Eventually, when spoke, his voice sounded strange, soft, but troubled. “Do you think this is where he did it? Luke?” Adrian hadn’t thought about the cousin, had been so caught up with the features and condition of the building he had forgotten about the story told them the previous evening. Lenny continued standing there, his arms folded around his stomach, staring out of the window. Adrian could not help the compassion that hit him. Without thinking, he moved over and put his hand on the back of Lenny’s right shoulder and squeezed gently. “I wonder,” Lenny continued. “If we’d had the chance to know each other, would we have been good friends? Would I have been someone he could have talked to?” “You can’t think like that, Lenny. What happened, happened. It’s in the past and all the ‘what ifs’ in the world will never change a thing.” Lenny’s head fell forward then, and Adrian felt like pulling him into a hug but instead left his hand on his shoulder. “I just hate to think of someone being so miserable, so low and desperate. Having no friends to talk to, that the only solution left was to take his life.” “Didn’t the landlady say he had friends locally?” “She did. You’re right. I wonder if any of them are still around?” “Ask her later. Come on, buddy,” said Adrian, squeezing Lenny’s shoulder again and then letting go. “No point dwelling on the past. He’s no longer in pain. Hey, let’s go and see what kind of state the bathroom’s in.” Fortunately, the bathroom wasn’t in too bad a condition, just dusty and dated like the rest of the rooms. Inside, there stood a hard plastic bathtub—a full-length tub in light pink surrounded by a wooden frame—next to a small matching hand basin, and matching toilet. Adrian managed to turn on the water main. From the remains left in the cistern, the toilet flushed fine, and the sink seemed to drain okay. Once again, linoleum had been used to cover the floors, this time a deep forest green, cracked and splintered in places. Everything would need updating should anyone want to buy the home. Adrian watched amused at the disgust on Leonard’s face when Adrian turned on the sink tap, heard a choking gurgle before light brown water spat a couple of times before running clean and clear. “Why in God’s name would someone buy a matching pink toilet, washbasins and bath?” asked Lenny. “Do you think they were colourblind?” “You have an issue with pink?” Lenny grinned then. “Not in the slightest. Just not something I would have in my bathroom.” “But orange and brown tiles in the kitchen are fine? Honestly, Lenny, your family had some seriously dubious tastes in decor.” This time Lenny laughed. “No argument from me there. But, come on, you must admit. Plastic tubs are bad enough, but in pink?” “What can I say? Maybe they had a special offer on bathroom suites back in the day. Or maybe it was all the rage in Wales back in the seventies or eighties. Who knows? I told you. Look at what it could be. First off, this bathroom space is huge. You could either turn this into two smaller bathrooms and make one an ensuite or create one amazing single bathroom. Although, if you’re going to do that, I’d suggest putting a shower in here too and maybe a half bathroom downstairs.” Leonard always seemed to listen intently to Adrian’s suggestions, this time nodding with his hands on his hips, while screwing his nose up at the bathroom furniture. “Best of all, it’s your place, so you get to have the first whack with a sledgehammer if you decide to decide to keep the place. Get rid of some of that mother tension.” Lenny chuckled again. “Never thought of that. You should have been a psychiatrist.” “Of course, the other alternative is to leave everything as it is and let your aunt, or whoever the new owners are, decide what they want to do.” “You know,” said Lenny, stopping a moment and looking around. “In spite of the dreadful decor, I kind of love the vibe of the house. Even in this shitty weather. So I can only imagine how much better this would be in the sunshine with a fresh coat of paint.” “You’re going to keep the place then?” “What do you think?” “Your choice, Lenny. But if you’re asking my opinion, then I’d say you’ve got yourself a nice piece of real estate here. I bet you could have this place looking amazing if you’re prepared to spend a bit of money.” “I know what you mean. And that’s not the issue. It’s whether I have the time to take on a new project.” Adrian watched as Lenny went over to the bathtub and turned on a tap, then checked the connection to the shower over the tub. Satisfied, he sat down on the edge of the tub and critically surveyed the whole room. Right at that moment, the ring tone of the song Master and Servant by Depeche Mode sounded on Lenny’s phone. Even before he pulled out his phone from his jeans pocket, his eyes went to Adrian and briefly raised to the ceiling. “My mother.” Adrian carried on looking around the room while Lenny took the call. He ran a hand over the pipes from the ceiling to the lavatory. Whoever had initially plumbed in the bathroom had not been professionals. Pipes ran outside the walls and along the floor, roughly painted over, with nothing concealed. While checking the work, Adrian couldn’t help listening in to the call. After a while, he got the gist of the conversation. The aunt had been on the phone, pestering his mother about the farmhouse that was not a farmhouse. “For heaven’s sake, Mum. I’ve only just got here. This is the first day we’ve had to check the place over. Can she not give me a chance to look around before I decide?” Adrian opened the wall cupboard in the corner which probably housed towels and other toiletries. A layer of dust covered all the shelves. Yes, they would need plenty of cleaning materials if Lenny decided to keep the place. “Well, if I’m going to be honest, I’m leaning more towards keeping rather than selling. Not only is it beautiful, but I know Dad used to come here for holidays as a kid. Yes, the place will need a lot of work, but I think it could turn out to be a good little investment.” Adrian smiled his agreement. Even the windows—lead framed and cracked in places—could probably do with updating, but the potential was excellent. The only challenge he would have would be in checking over the electrics, but there was bound to be someone locally they could employ. Or better still, he could bring one of his reliable contacts from Norwich down for the week, once they had gutted the place. Adrian could hear Lenny getting agitated by something his mother was saying. “She said what?” A moment passed before Lenny spoke again. “Listen. If she keeps pestering you, stop answering her calls or give her my number? I’ll be more than happy to speak to her if it means avoiding solicitors getting involved.” This time, Adrian sat on the lid of the toilet and made no pretence about listening to the conversation. “Fine. In which case, I don’t need Dawson. I have my own solicitor. I’ve been using her for years.” Once again a short silence ensued, during which Lenny caught Adrian’s eyes and mouthed a quick ‘sorry’. “Well, if she does, you can tell her from me that the place is mine, to do with what I want. If that means putting it up for sale, then that’s what I’ll do. And if she wants to challenge the will, then please tell her to go right ahead. But she’d better bring her best game and get herself top representation. Because, believe me, I will, Mum. As Dawson said, she’s going to have a rough time if she does down that route. Okay. Got to go. Bye, Mum.” After a few moments of thought, he turned to Adrian and thrust his phone away into his pocket. Adrian had never seen the look on Lenny’s face before, but a fierce determination had replaced the usual calm expression. “Would you come down here and help me? I mean, would you be prepared to give me a quote on what needs to be done, and work alongside me to do the renovations? Maybe provide me with some of your ideas and suggestions about how I could improve the place?” “I’d be honoured. And I’ve already got some ideas of things you could do to modernise this place without losing its uniqueness. I’ll make a few sketches when I get back. But right now, I’m going to fetch my notepad from the truck. Then we can continue making a list of what needs to be replaced and where any structural changes need to be made.” “Good idea,” said Lenny, levelling his gaze at Adrian. “You’d think finding family you never knew you had would be a good thing. But it turns out my father was a better judge of character than I ever appreciated. And, fuck it, not only for him, but for me, too. I’ve just this second made up my mind. I’m keeping the place.”
  12. lomax61

    Wales

    Located on the first floor, the Dylan Thomas room smelled faintly of fresh decoration and solvent from newly installed fitments. With grey carpet and walls of spearmint paint, the latter adorned with colourful abstract art in stark reds, greens and whites—the colours of the Welsh national flag—the space felt modern. Even the quality white duvet covers, sheets and pillowcases with the forest green runners on the two double beds seemed more appropriate for a business class of hotel. Leonard glanced at Adrian, who looked at the layout and furnishings with trepidation. Did he not like the room, or did he have a problem sharing? Had Leonard messed up? Undeterred, Leonard dropped his bag onto the bed nearest the window and went into the bathroom. Modern chrome fittings, new fixtures and fittings, with pristine white tiles on the walls and floor lent the space a clinical cleanliness. Not only did the room have a free-standing tub, but also a large shower cubicle. Leonard had stayed in a lot worse. He hadn’t realised Adrian’s presence until a voice sounded from over his shoulder. “How much did this lot set you back?” “It’s low season, so the rooms are reasonable. Besides, you don’t need to worry. This is on my account, remember? But I reckon this will do nicely. Are you hungry?” “I’m always hungry.” “Dump your bag, and we’ll go down and get something to eat before the kitchen closes.” After a slight hesitation, Adrian did as asked and headed straight out to the central stairway leading to the bar. Leonard stayed back to lock the door and then stopped to check his phone for messages. He read a couple of updates from Isabelle but found nothing urgent, so hopefully no dramas. When he reached the saloon, Adrian already propped up the bar, his long legs crossed at the ankles, a pint in front of him. The landlady stood behind the counter, pulling one of the beer pumps to fill another glass, while also checking the glasses her daughter had cleaned and occasionally tutting. As soon as Leonard appeared, she smiled a welcome. “Room to your liking?” “Very much so, thank you.” “Lovely.” She set the full pint of beer in front of him. Leonard smiled at Adrian, who had chosen which beer he would drink. “Let’s have your credit card to check against the booking, and then you’re all set to go. Breakfast’s from seven until nine in the dining room around the corner of the bar. We get a selection of dailies in, too, if you like to read while you breakfast. Do you need dinner tonight?” “We do, actually,” said Leonard, handing over his business credit card. “Ade? Have you chosen?” They ordered food, this time Adrian opting for local fish with chunky chips with Leonard going for the house special of lamb hotpot. Once they placed their order, Mrs Jones called out something in Welsh down the corridor. Within seconds a big bear of a man wearing a white chef’s apron appeared. Blind to Leonard, he gave Adrian a lingering once-over, smiled and nodded once. Leonard felt a pang of annoyance and drained a good third of his pint. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the landlady pointing a finger between Leonard and Adrian, before reciting something in Welsh which he assumed to be their order. After she made eye contact with him and nodded out into the saloon area, Leonard got the message and led them over to seats at a table near the open fire. Before sitting, Adrian put his drink on the table and quickly excused himself to use the restroom, a move which had Leonard feeling another stab of irritation. Was he going to chat up the chef? But he returned too swiftly. Leonard sensed a tension in Adrian but had no idea how to ask. Fortunately, the food arrived, generous portions that had Adrian’s eyes widening. After silently swapping condiments and sauces, they both fell to enjoying their meal. Finally, Adrian spoke. “Do you think we should have checked other options? Other hotels?” Leonard stopped eating and gave him his full attention, before replying. “Doubt there are any, Ade. Not this late in the day. Look, I know the one-room situation isn’t perfect, but this place is otherwise ideal. We’re about ten to fifteen miles from the house. We won’t find anywhere closer. Or do you have a problem sharing?” “No, it’s not that. I—I just don’t want you to be uncomfortable. And if we’re going to share a room, then there are a few things you ought to know about me.” Adrian had also stopped eating; his eyes fixed firmly onto his plate of food as he spoke. “Go on.” “For starters, I snore.” “Yes, well. Join the club. Luckily, I have earplugs.” Kris had snored. At first, the sound used to keep Leonard awake. Even with earplugs, he could still hear the droning. Ironically, when Kris passed away, Leonard couldn’t sleep due to the absence of snoring. A friend once likened the situation to people who complain about living near busy roads or motorways, who then find sleeping difficult when they stay in quiet places, like the suburbs or the countryside. “I—I’m also gay.” The comment caught Leonard off guard, and he almost laughed but could see by Adrian’s troubled face, the difficulty at expressing the fact. Leonard answered softly. “And?” Adrian looked up at him. “And I thought you ought to know. I don’t normally tell people outright, although I don’t hide the fact, either. But then I don’t usually share hotel rooms with friends. Straight friends, I mean—” Adrian appeared to be struggling over something Leonard already knew. But to tell him he knew might give the impression he listened to idle gossip. Instead, he leant forward, placing his elbows on the table. To lighten the mood, he reached over, stole a chip from Adrian’s plate and popped the whole thing in his mouth. “Seriously? That’s what’s worrying you?” “Some guys can get funny when I tell them. And I didn’t want to make things awkward between us.” “Do you take me for one of those narrow-minded idiots, Ade? It’s cool. Look, unless you’re about to confess to having a psychological condition that involves you sleepwalking and murdering roommates in their sleep, then we’re good.” Adrian smiled with relief before narrowing his eyes at Leonard’s hand. “Fair warning, though. You pinch any more chips off my plate, and you might want to consider sleeping with one eye open tonight. Just saying.” Leonard laughed aloud. Seeing the tension drain from Adrian’s shoulders, he almost let on about his own orientation. Surely that would be for the best all round so they could loosen up around each other? Then again, maybe coming clean might make sharing the room even more uncomfortable. Adrian had, after all, called him a straight friend, so he had no idea about Leonard being gay. What also didn’t help was the intense attraction he had developed for Adrian. Even if he hadn’t shown anything knowingly, Adrian would surely guess by the little tells he couldn’t help making, staring at Adrian’s chest, or freckles, or his thick muscular arms and thighs. If he came clean, all that might change and make this situation more awkward, especially if he wasn’t Adrian’s type. More importantly, he had invited Adrian along in his professional capacity, to survey the farmhouse and give him an expert opinion, not to be his bedmate. Besides, if anything between them were to happen, it would be doomed from the start. Adrian lived and worked in Drayton, Leonard in London. Maybe the physical distance didn’t matter, but Leonard knew himself well enough to know he could never survive on a diet of daily telephone calls and text messages, and the occasional weekend hook-up. Moreover, Leonard had never been a casual, one-night-stand guy. Kris had been his first and only lover. If he decided to jump, he did so with both feet the whole way and expected a partner to do the same—no half measures. “Are you okay, Lenny? I thought I’d lost you there for a moment. Having second thoughts?” Leonard, who hadn’t realised he’d checked out, lost in thought, stared up into Adrian’s eyes. “No, but… Have I just been a complete knobhead? Did you want your own room because you’re looking to get lucky over the next few days? I was, and still am, totally fine with sharing, but I didn’t even consult you when I said yes, which is wrong of me. I hate to think I’ve just pissed on your—“ This time Adrian burst into laughter. “What?” asked Leonard. “You haven’t pissed on anything. Genuinely, Lenny, my concern was for you. But if you’re fine then let’s leave it there. You can use your earplugs, and I promise I won’t murder you as long as you let me finish my chips. Are we okay?” “We are. But remind me to consult you in future. I tend to travel on my own, so I usually jump in and make snap decisions on things. Okay, so back to business. Can I suggest an early start tomorrow? Are you okay to get up at seven-thirty?” “Not a problem. And I’m happy to navigate again if you want. Do you have that picture of the place we’re trying to find?” Leonard pulled the envelope given to him by Mr Dawson from his jacket where he had placed a copy of the photograph he had dowloaded and printed. “Any idea if the place is marked on GPS? Or are we playing this by ear?” Right then, the landlady came to their table to collect their plates and Leonard used the opportunity to talk to her. “Mrs Llewellyn. We’re going to take the room. But can we have a quick word? Just need some information about the local area.” “Of course, dear. Be my pleasure. Not exactly rushed off our feet tonight. And you can call me Megan, if you prefer. Whenever I hear someone calling for Mrs Llewellyn, I expect to see the in-laws coming around the corner to scold me.” Leonard pulled out a chair for her to sit. With the dirty plates still in her hands, she peered quizzically at the chair. With a quick nod, she turned, headed to the bar, and dropped them off, before returning. “So a quick question,” said Leonard, as she took a seat. “How well do you know the area?” “How well do I—?” she began, with a chuckle. “Better than most alive, I’d say. I’ve lived here in this pub with my folks all my life, at least up until I married. Twenty-five I was. Went to live with Roger’s folks in Vancouver running his family’s hotel until they sold up. Then we decided to come back and take over this place because my mum and dad wanted to retire. Been running the place ever since. So yes, I know the area very well, and most of the people who live here. What do you need to know?” “I’ve inherited a house down this way. A farmhouse called Bryn Bach in—“ Leonard noticed the slight surprise in Mrs Llewellyn’s eyes as she finished his sentence. “Bryn Bach in Disserth? Yes, I know the place well. The owners—previous owners now, I suppose—used to come up from Bristol every summer. Sometimes at Easter, too. Mike and Millicent Darlington. Had three young-uns, one older boy, and a twin boy and girl. How come you inherited the place?” “Mrs Darlington is my aunt, my late father’s sister. After my grandfather died—he was the rightful owner—he left the house to my father, and Dad left it to me. We’re going to look the place over tomorrow, so if you can help point us in the right direction, that would be really helpful.” Mrs Llewellyn got up, waddled to the bar, and brought back a small tourist map. “Good job you asked. The place is a nuisance to find unless you know what you’re looking for.” “We’ve got GPS,” said Adrian, holding up his phone. Mrs Llewellyn glanced at the phone and snorted. “Good luck with that, dear. You’ll be lucky to get a phone signal down that way, let alone directions. Look, I’ll write you out the route with landmarks. That should get you close enough. It’s the only house on the lane so once you find that, you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the house.” As she wrote on the map and marked a few prominent spots along the way, she also talked about the Darlingtons. “Loved this part of the world, they did. If not for the husband’s sales job back in Bristol—they often came here without him because he was so busy—I think they might have thought about settling here. Every Sunday, they’d go to church and end up in here in the pub afterwards for a roast lunch. Her eldest came here a couple of times on his own. Loved the place, he did. Such a shame what happened to him.” “What did happen?” “You don’t know? Maybe it’s not my place—“ “My mother said he took his own life, but she didn’t know any details. Mainly because my father and his sister—my aunt—didn’t get along. So I know very little about any of my cousins. I only met her and my cousin Matthew for the first time at the funeral for my father.” “Did you know your grandfather?” “Grandpa George? Yes, I met him when we were kids. Not often, because we lived so far away. I think Dad felt guilty after Grandma passed away. So we’d go see him at least a couple of times a year.” “George and Rene Day. Yes, they used to own the house in Disserth. My mum used to talk about them. So your dad would have been Colin?” “That’s right.” Leonard realised Mrs Llewellyn, rather than being curious, was testing him, to make sure she had the right person. “Your cousin, Luke, hanged himself. His father and brother Matthew found him. Terrible business. Twenty something years old, bright as a new star, and everything to live for. Came as a huge shock to all of them, as you can imagine. Not much happens around here, so this tragedy touched everyone.” An oddly detached grief rippled through Leonard. Luke, his own flesh and blood, would probably have been less than ten years older than him. And something had driven him to take his own life. As a child, he had always believed he came from an unremarkable family. Yet something terrible had happened to his cousin to make him end his life. While he grappled with the notion, he barely heard Adrian ask a question. “Did he leave a note or anything?” “Of sorts, according to his father. A piece of paper with a few words written in Luke’s hand. Taken from the Bible, we think. They who love the greater love lay down their life; they do not hate. Funny the things you remember, isn’t it?” Leonard felt a deep sadness. Clearly, the words had meant something to Luke. “It’s not from the Bible,” said Adrian, surprising Leonard. “But I can understand how you might think so. The line was penned by Wilfred Owen, one of the war poets, a poem called At a Calvary Near the Ancre, in which he likens the battlefields of the Great War to the crucifixion of Christ. The last verse reads: The scribes on all the people shove, and bawl allegiance to the state, but they who love the greater love, lay down their life; they do not hate.” “You’re a religious man?” asked Mrs Llewellyn, an eyebrow raised at Adrian. “Not so much. But my father was a minister, and I had an old friend I used to read to, who loved the war poets. And even though I wouldn’t call myself a religious person, there are certain passages from the Bible that resonate. The one I believe Owen is referencing is John, chapter 15, verses 12 to 13. This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” “But why?” Leonard heard himself say. Mrs Llewellyn’s attention returned to Leonard, and she appeared genuinely moved. “Nobody seemed to know. The whole thing’s still a mystery. Last time I saw them all was the year before I got married and moved abroad, and everyone seemed in good spirits, especially Luke, who would have been around fifteen. Of them all, he was the most friendly and charming. And a handsome lad, too. Whenever they came into town, many a young girl in the village only had eyes for him.” “Did he have friends here? Or did he mainly stick with the family?” “He had a couple of really close friends. Gang of four, they called themselves. Good kids, too. Freya and Howie Williams, the same age, and Pippa White, the oldest of the group. I got the impression Luke enjoyed time away from his family. Don’t get me wrong. His sister was fine—quiet, but polite—but the twin brother was an odd sort. Looking back, I think he probably suffered from an undiagnosed form of autism. And his mother could be overbearing if you know what I mean? The younger son stuck to her apron strings like a leech and rarely ever smiled.” To Leonard, that sounded exactly like the Matthew he had met at the church. “Anyway, after the tragedy,” continued Mrs Llewellyn, “they rarely came back to the house. Understandable. Who would want to relive seeing their eldest hanging lifeless from a bedroom light fitting.” “He killed himself in the house?” asked Leonard aghast. That part of the story had not registered. “Yes, dear. Didn’t I say? They hadn’t heard from him for two or three weeks, contacted everyone he knew locally and searched the places he used to visit out in Clifton. Eventually, the father and brother came down here and found him in one of the bedrooms. Had to deal with the whole aftermath with the police and emergency services. Millicent drove down later, to be with him and help out. But as for the father. Mum said she’d never seen a man so utterly lost and defeated in her whole life. After that, we never saw them. Well, sometimes the brother would come, but only to check the place over, as I heard it.” Leonard began to understand why his aunt might want to keep the place, rather than have strangers living in the house where her firstborn killed himself. How on earth did a mother manage to console herself after such a dreadful tragedy? “Anyway, I’d better start clearing up,” said Mrs Llewellyn. “What time do think you’ll have breakfast in the morning?” “We’re planning an early start,” said Leonard. “How does eight o’clock sound?” “Perfect,” said Mrs Llewellyn. “And as you’re our only guests, I’ll cook breakfast to order tomorrow.” “Thanks for your help, Mrs Llewell—er, Megan,” said Leonard. “I know it’s early, but I’m ready to turn in after that long drive. How about you, Ade?” “Yeah, me too. But you go on up, while I sign for our food and drinks.” “Don’t pay for anything,” said Leonard. “Just put everything on the room bill. Remember, you’re doing me a favour here, so I’m paying for all your expenses. And I don’t want any arguments.” “Whatever you say, Lenny. Just make sure you leave the room door unlocked for me.” Leonard felt sure Adrian was being a gentleman, wanting to give him time to change and get into bed without worrying about Adrian being in the room. At some point, he needed to clear the air with his new friend. But not tonight. After the long drive and with a couple of pints of ale inside him, he already felt exhausted. He used the bathroom without showering, just a quick face wash before climbing into bed and checking his phone. He had no idea when he fell asleep or what time Adrian returned, but woke the next morning with the mobile phone still sitting next to his pillow and Adrian in the bed across from him, his broad back on view.
  13. lomax61

    Will

    Oops, we’ll caught. That should be 46 years ago.
  14. lomax61

    Will

    I think you’re getting mixed up with another story.
  15. lomax61

    Request

    LOL. In that part of the world, there's unlikely to be an alternative, at least not without a long drive. Remember also that Lenny already knows Adrian's gay, but poor Adrian is totally in the dark. There's nothing like a bit of farce before the fun begins.
  16. lomax61

    Request

    Adrian laid back into the corner of his sofa, bare feet up on the coffee table, drumming the fingers of one hand on the armrest, the remote in his other hand, flicking mindlessly from one television channel to the next. Nothing caught his imagination. Repeats of old shows aired on the major networks, and sports he didn’t really follow ran on the cable channels. With no work on the horizon, and all the grocery shopping he needed already done, he had stayed indoors all day, trying to find things to keep him busy. After a morning run followed by an hour’s workout with the multi-functional weight machine in his spare bedroom, he tackled his domestic chores. Right now, the apartment shone spotless, each room scrubbed clean, bedding changed, washing and ironing done, the open kitchen sparkling once again after a frozen microwave dinner of spaghetti carbonara and grilled garlic bread. Being alone with his own thoughts made him cagey, threatened to unsettle and unnerve him, like an itch he couldn’t quite pinpoint and scratch. He needed distractions. Exactly this kind of sullen mood had first led him to Chappies in town and to his chance meeting with Nick. And that would never happen again. Had it been any other day than Wednesday, he might have considered going to see his mother—however painful on the ear that might be. But on Wednesdays, she had her church group meeting which normally entailed a day trip out somewhere in their minibus. Honestly, his mother had a better social life than he had ever enjoyed. During the good times, punishing manual work provided the perfect antidote. Getting on site early, working hard all day in the open air, pushing himself to get things finished even if that meant working late, then getting in exhausted when all he craved was fast food, a hot shower, and sleep. Most of his work onsite meant grafting alone. During tea breaks or after they had all clocked off for the day, he would often end up somewhere with their group of workers, most of them familiar, in a pub or cafe, grumbling about this or that, making one inappropriate joke after another, about race, religion, gender, sex or sexuality. Nothing became taboo in this far less male dominated environment, political correctness cannon fodder for their funnies. Some knew about Adrian’s sexuality but nobody cared, treating him as they did everyone else. As communities went, he found the camaraderie comforting and supportive—and strangely liberating. Today, all day long, his phone had remained silent. If only he felt more confident, he might have dialled any one of his builder buddies and dragged them out for a brew. But social connection had never been a strong point and he usually waited for one of them to call him. In a fit of irritation, he threw the remote down on the sofa just as the phone on the arm of the chair pinged with an incoming message. With desperate expectation, he grabbed for the device. Lenny Day. Amazed at how reading a name could instantly put him in a better mood, he shifted his feet onto the floor and read the text. Lenny: Fancy a pint at the Lion? I have a favour to ask. Adrian grinned broadly as his thumbs flashed over the display keyboard with a response. Adrian: Oh, yes? Should I be concerned? Lenny: It’s a job, actually. Only if you’re interested. I’d rather explain in person than over the phone. Lenny: Plus my mother’s driving me up the wall and I need an excuse to get out of this house before I get put away for matricide. Adrian laughed at the phone. Adrian: Matricide? Is that something to do with beds? Lenny: Funny man. So is that a yes? Adrian: OK, you’ve got me intrigued. What time shall I meet you? Lenny: It’s 6:30pm. See you there in an hour? Adrian: Done. And I’ll have a pint of my usual as you’re offering to buy. Lenny: Did I mention anything about buying? Adrian: I listen a lot better when someone else is paying. Lenny: ;0) See you there. His mood brightened, Adrian threw the phone on the couch before peering down at his clothes. Grimy grey tee, baggy sweats and flip flops. He jumped to his feet and headed to his bathroom. With the Lion only ten minutes’ walk away, he had time for a long shower and also to decide on something decent to wear. When he heard the voice in his head, he told himself to calm down. This was not a date, simply a new pal meeting up for a drink. Still, no harm in looking good. * * * Traditionally, except for diehard locals who had nothing else to do with their time, punters avoided the pub until later in the week. When he opened the door, he realised this particular evening was no exception. Adrian found Lenny sitting at the same table they had bagged on Saturday, facing the pub door and with two pints of ale already sitting on the table. Lenny had clearly been anticipating him, because his gaze raised from his phone towards the doorway and the smile that transformed his face had Adrian beaming instantly back, a tingle in his stomach. “Evening, Adrian. You’re looking sharp.” Adrian had picked out a pair of denims he filled out nicely, with a tight, long-sleeved burgundy tee—knowing the pub interior would be warm—and his wool lined black hoodie hanging open. Lenny’s reaction stalled him for a moment, the way his gaze travelled slowly up and down Adrian’s body, until their eyes met again. Only then did Lenny’s smile falter and his eyes flutter to his drink, as though he had been caught openly checking him out. Interesting. Lenny recovered quickly, looking up and maintaining eye contact this time. “Under Armour? The tee? I’ve got the same one in my wardrobe. Something we have in common.” With a twinge of disappointment, Adrian looked down at his burgundy shirt, realising perhaps Lenny had not been checking him out after all. “Oh, yeah. I like their designs. Got the same style in three different colours.” “Looks better on you. Anyway, thanks for coming. Pint of beer, as ordered. Sorry to drag your arse out on a Wednesday night. What have you been up to?” After waving a greeting to the pub landlord, Adrian thumped down on the booth bench opposite. While sitting, he twisted out of his hoodie and once again found Lenny either checking out his chest and biceps, or maybe the design of his tee. With a resigned sigh, he realised he was losing his touch, used to be able to interpret the signs of attraction a lot better when he was younger. “Me? Not a lot. Stuck indoors all day. My flat has never been so clean. I think I must have scrubbed the kitchen at least three times. My mum would be proud.” Lenny grinned and Adrian met his gaze, also smiling. Up close, he realised not only how nice his eyes were, a kind of slate grey, but how his greying goatee betrayed dimples whenever he smiled or laughed. “Shame,” said Lenny. “What? Why?” “Because I’ve been stuck inside the house, too. I should have called you. We could have done something together.” Adrian took a sip of beer and studied Lenny’s face. A complete mystery, the man bore no resemblance to the angry boy he’d known from high school. If they got to know each other better, he vowed to find out why he had been so antagonistic when they were younger. “I thought you were sorting out your dad’s estate, or something. Doing all the legal stuff?” “Done. We were in the solicitor’s office for barely an hour. Pretty straightforward, actually. Well, most of it. Ted phoned me about the car this morning, by the way.” “And?” “It’s exactly what you said. New alternator and battery. But he says he’ll also need to do some work on the brakes, steam clean the interior, and patch up some of the bodywork, so he’s offering me fifteen hundred cash.” “Bollocks. He’s trying it on—“ “It’s fine, Adrian. If it means the damn thing is no longer gathering dust outside the house, then everyone’s happy. Mum doesn’t want the car or need the money. Their mortgage is already paid off, and dad’s pension and his life assurance payouts will take care of her even if she lives long enough to get a telegram from the Queen.” Adrian nodded, but felt irritated. Ted would make over three and a half thousand pounds on the secondhand Astra, probably nearer four. What rankled was the idea of a nice guy like Lenny being taken for a ride by an old crook like Ted. Oddly enough, Lenny sensed Adrian’s annoyance. “Let it go, Adrian. Remember I deal with the buying and selling of cars all the time. Not bulk standard ones, like the Astra. But don’t you think I haggle when I get called out to visit the owners of old jalopies, usually left to rot in their garages? One guy wanted to sell off an old Daimler as spare parts and scrap metal. Honestly, we’ve made tens of thousands on some of the cars we’ve bought and renovated. And in my book, as long as you can settle on a good price that keeps the owner happy, then it’s a win-win all round.” “Yeah, I suppose.” “Anyway, change of topic. Any work on the horizon?” “Sod all. Not even a sniff.” Lenny stopped then, took a long gulp of beer, and settled back against the back of the bench. “Well, on that note, the reason I asked you down here tonight, apart from my mother annoying me to hell, is because I seem to have inherited a holiday home from my father. And before I decide what to do with it, I thought I’d go down there and see what kind of state the place is in. But I could really use a professional eye and a second opinion. So I wondered if you might be interested in being hired as my—not even sure what it’s called—structural consultant?” “Holiday home?” “That’s what they said. I’ve never been there, but my father’s family used the place as a holiday home when they were kids. It’s not a caravan, in case that’s what you’re thinking. It’s a farmhouse in the Welsh countryside.” Adrian had worked on a number of cottage style houses in and around the area, so had no reservations about whether he could be of any help. “How many bedrooms?” “No idea.” “Is it a one or two storey structure?” Lenny laughed and shook his head. “Honestly, Adrian. It’s all a mystery. Until the reading of the will, I had no idea the place even existed. All I know for sure is it’s a holiday home, a farmhouse called Bryn Bach in a tiny Welsh village called Disserth. Although he promised to email a photograph to me, the solicitor gave me no blueprints or floor-plan, which is why I want to go for a look-see myself. According to an online map application, it’s in the Welsh countryside about forty minutes from the English border. My aunt mentioned the nearest main town being Newbridge. So I thought maybe I could book us into a local pub or a bed and breakfast for a couple of nights, and we can go and see exactly what kind of state the place is in.” “When?” “So you’re in?” “Got bugger all else to do, have I?” “When would be good for you?” “How about after we finish these drinks?” Lenny laughed, a sound Adrian had already begun to enjoy, as well as the way his eyes crinkled in the corners. “I think we might both want to pack a bag first. So how does tomorrow sound?” “Perfect. I assume we’ll be driving there?” “Yes, I’ll take my SUV. I promised to drop my mother off in Norwich town centre at nine, but we could leave straight after. It’s around five and a half hours cross country, depending on traffic.” Adrian already found himself getting excited about the road trip, about getting out of Drayton for a couple of days. And the fact that a little mystery surrounded the building made this even more of an adventure. “So that means if we set off at ten with an hour’s break for lunch, we should be there around five. Yeah, that would work. You know, if we took my truck I could bring some ladders and equipment, so we could do a proper check of the roof and guttering, assess the plumbing, and check out any structural issues. But if we don’t arrive until after five, it’ll probably be too dark to do a full inspection until morning. Although I’ve got some floodlights we could use, ones I’ve employed on site before. Does the place have utilities like electricity and running water—” While Adrian talked, Lenny had been tapping something into his phone, but had started chuckling even before he looked up. “Slow down a bit, Adrian. Loving the enthusiasm, but we’re only going down to have a quick inspection of the interior and exterior. I wasn’t planning on us going up ladders or knocking down walls. But maybe a small toolkit would be a good idea. As far as utilities are concerned, I have no idea. Sounds like it’s been left empty for a number of years, so my guess is no. Also, you’re right. By the time we get there, it’ll already be getting dark, so I suggest we drive straight to the accommodation and head to the house first thing Friday. This morning, I checked and found a pub hotel in Newbridge that provides accommodation, so I’ve just booked us rooms. Hope that’s okay?” “Brilliant.” Right at that moment, Adrian’s phone buzzed repeatedly in his jeans pocket with an incoming call. When he squeezed the device out and saw the name on the display, he let out a soft, irritated sigh. Nick. If he didn’t take the call, he knew Nick would leave messages and pester him with more calls all night. With a quick apologetic glance at Lenny, to pressed accept. “Hey, Nick.” “Ade, how’s it going?” At least Nick sounded sober this time. “Fine. What do you want?” “I’m here at the hospital with Janice. She’s most likely going to have a caesarian Friday morning, a planned one, something to do with the baby being turned the wrong way. It’s usually straightforward enough, they say, but they want to keep an eye on her, because her blood pressure’s been a bit up and down.” “Sorry to hear that. What can I do to help?” “So, what with me working, her mum and dad are looking after Todd until Janice gets back from the hospital, so I wondered if tomorrow night you might be free to—“ “Let me stop you right there, Nick. I’m going to be out of town until—“ Adrian stopped and checked with Lenny, who mouthed the word ‘Sunday’. For a change, he had a legitimate excuse to push Nick away. “Until Sunday. So I’m not going to be around. Sorry I can’t help, but I hope everything turns out okay. Give my love to Janice.” “Yeah, thanks a fucking bunch, pal.” “Bye, Nick.” Adrian thumbed off the call and breathed out a sigh, slamming the phone down on the table. “Problem?” When Adrian met Lenny’s eyes, he grimaced and shook his head. “Nothing important. Someone pestering me for a favour I’m not in a position to give.” “Talking of which, how much do you charge?” About to take a mouthful of beer from his glass, Adrian’s hand froze midway, Lenny’s words confusing him. “How much do I charge?” “For your professional consulting services?” Finally he caught on, and, after a brief chuckle, immediately put the glass down. “Don’t even think about it. I am not taking your money just to go and look at an old building.” “Come on. I can’t ask you to give up your time and provide a professional assessment without—“ “Transport, food and accommodation. That’s all I need. And a promise that if you do decide the place is worth keeping, and you need a decent builder—that’s me, by the way—then you’ll give me first dibs at quoting for the job.” Instead of answering straight away, Lenny appeared puzzled, staring down at his drink, the smile still on his face but his head shaking gently from side to side. When his eyes finally raised to meet Adrian’s, he appeared ready to say something, but then hesitated. Instead, what came out was a simple thank you. * * * “Then who’s going to pick me up? Look at this weather.” Leonard’s mother sat unmoving in the front passenger seat after they had parked under shelter in the municipal parking block in Norwich town centre. Adrian heard Lenny breathe out a second soft sigh of irritation. Sat quietly in the back, pretending not to hear the exchange, Adrian stared out of the rain spattered window, wishing he could be anywhere else. “We talked about this last night, mum. You have your umbrella. So get a bus. You keep telling me you don’t use your bus pass enough. Or if you’ve got a lot of shopping, call a taxi.” “Taxis are expensive. I don’t see why you can’t wait until I’ve finished. Your father would have. I’m only going to be a couple of hours, at the most.” “Mum, we have a five or six hour journey ahead of us. And we need to set off now if we’re going to get there before dark. We’ll be back Sunday afternoon.” “Sunday? I thought you were going to finish the back garden Saturday.” “Like I said, I’ll do that next week if the weather improves.” “If? It’s always if with you.” Adrian noted a distinct change in Lenny’s tone then. Before answering, Lenny pushed the button to start up the engine. “I’m driving away now. So you either get out of the car this minute, or you’ll be coming to Wales with us. Your choice.” After a moment, his mother yanked on the door handle, got out, and made a point of slamming the door behind her. Without turning around, she headed for the carpark lift which would take her directly to the mall. Adrian sat in the back saying nothing, observing poor Lenny’s stiff posture as he watched his mother step through the elevator doors. “Not a patch on my mother,” said Adrian, quietly, after sitting there for a moment. “Sorry?” “Your mum’s performance. Some of the wobblies my mum threw when I was a kid were worthy of an Academy Award. Your mum doesn’t even swear.” Lenny laughed and turned in his seat. “Come and sit up front. We need to get moving.” Once Adrian sat next to him, securing his seat belt in place, and as soon as they had begun navigating their way out of the carpark, Lenny let his frustrations out. “Honestly, Ade. She drives me crazy. Do this, do that. I’m going to have to sit her down and have a serious chat about the future. I’m forty-bloody-seven and I’ve got a business to run. I can’t be here permanently at her beck and call. Does your mother treat you the same way?” “No. She’s busier than the queen. I try to see her once a week. But she has so many friends, I usually have to book an appointment weeks in advance.” Lenny laughed again, and Adrian sensed some of the tension leave him. After a few moments of quiet, as they waited to join the mainstream traffic, he turned to Adrian. “Thanks for agreeing to do this, Ade.” It hadn’t escaped Adrian’s notice, had warmed him, that Lenny already had a shortened name for him, even if it was the same one Nick used. “No problem. Who doesn’t love a road trip? Hey, do you want me to take a turn at driving at some point? I’m cool, either way.” Lenny waited until the car had stopped at a set of traffic lights before answering. “Let’s see how I get on when we stop for a break. I enjoy driving long distances—do it all the time—so it shouldn’t be a problem. But if you could be principal navigator, temperature controller, and music selection director, then I’ll be very happy.” “Now we’re talking. But first things first. Stay on this road and follow signs for the A11. Secondly, how about some 80s music? Let’s start with bands. Pop quiz. Which would you choose out of the following? Tears for Fears, Fine Young Cannibals, Fleetwood Mac, or New Order. And let me just say, the answer to this question is vital if we are going to get along over the next couple of days.” In answer, a grin blossomed on Lenny’s face. After taking one hand from the steering wheel and tapping his forefinger against his lips a couple of times, he nodded once. “No competition. All of the above.” “Congratulations, Mr Day. That is the correct answer.” Heavy downpours hampered their progress. Motorway traffic frequently came to a standstill due to the relentless deluge. Adrian noticed Lenny adhering strictly to speed limits and slowing often when sudden heavy torrents hit, rendering his windscreen wipers almost useless. To keep the mood light, he chose a channel with random songs from their youth and challenged Lenny to ‘beat the intro’, by guessing the song title from the opening bars. Lenny seemed to enjoy the game, his competitive streak shining through. Occasionally, he would also sing along to a song, not particularly in tune, and often using unintelligible lyrics. A couple of times he caught Adrian smirking at his effort, and laughed good-naturedly, too. Lenny even told stories of his life at the time when one particularly memorable song climbed the music charts. Adrian had nothing to reciprocate. His few good memories of the early eighties were eclipsed by those towards the end. Around one o’clock, rather than stopping at one of the generic motorway service stations, Lenny took them off a slip road and found a small cafe in Bedford, one he had frequented before. Once again, Lenny made a great choice, ordering them both mugs of hot tea and the lunchtime special of steaming beef and ale pie with mashed potatoes and garden vegetables. Before leaving the cafe and darting back through the rain to the car, Adrian offered to take a turn at driving, but Lenny wanted to keep going. Adrian understood, noticing him content behind the steering wheel, negotiating roads and bends, and safely overtaking slower vehicles. * * * Slowing to a stop, the SUV headlights illuminated silvery shards of rain as they pulled up in front of the brightly lit Manor Inn pub in Newbridge. Once Lenny killed the engine, they grabbed their holdalls from the back seat and made a dash through the chilly weather to the front door. With only one entrance, they were brought straight into the toasty warm bar, which appeared empty. Carpeted throughout and with dark oak framed furniture and a blazing open fire, the place felt homely enough. Lenny spotted a bored looking girl cleaning glasses behind the bar. After a quick exchange of words, she called out to someone through a doorway, and then told them to take a seat. Five minutes later, an older woman with a large black bound ledger came out from a back room and waddled over to them. Caked in far too much makeup, she wore pink framed glasses on a chain, and a long grey cardigan which had seen better days and which sat over a pale pink dress. “Hello, my loves,” she said, taking a seat. “Megan Llewellyn, landlady. My husband, Roger, normally deals with bookings, but he’s in Aberystwyth tonight at the national brewery convention, see? So you got me instead. Which of you’s Mr Day?” “That’s me. I know the booking was last minute, but please tell me everything is okay? We don’t relish the thought of driving back to Norwich in this weather.” “Know just what you mean. Raining knives and forks out there, it is. No, well, we got your booking okay. Only, there is a slight problem.” Lenny looked to Adrian who shrugged and waited for Mrs Llewellyn to continue. “One of the two rooms you booked, The Burton Room, named after Richard Burton—all our rooms are named after famous Welsh people, see? Anyway, this one has the king size bed, and is situated at the front of the pub, overlooking the village green. Best room in the place, my Roger says, usually the most popular during the summer months when we’re at our busiest and—“ “Mam, get on with it, will you?” The whiny voice came from the young girl behind the bar, who had put the towel over one shoulder and now leant on one of the beer hand pumps. “You get on with cleaning them glasses,” she called back, before meeting the eyes of Adrian and Lenny. “Honestly, kids today think they know it all. Now, where were I?” “The Burton Room.” “Oh, yes. So. We had a down-pipe burst overnight which is right outside the bedroom window and rainwater came in through the frames and the ceiling. Weather’s been like this all week, see? Whole room got flooded and damp. Only found out when I went to get the room ready a couple of hours ago. Even the carpet will need replacing which means the room’s not habitable. I try to contact you via the email you used—the telephone number gave me an unobtainable signal—but I imagine you were driving at the time. We have a single room in the attic, but we’re in the middle of redecorating that one. So we only have the one available room, The Dylan Thomas, which has twin beds and an ensuite bathroom. Now is that going to be okay for you? Obviously, I’ll only charge you for the one room.” “What telephone number did you use?” “The one on the online booking form, love. Here.” When Lenny checked the form, he closed his eyes briefly and shook his head. “I miskeyed the last digit. Should be a six not a five. I’m really sorry, Ade. I messed up. Are you okay to share? Personally, I have no issue.” Adrian hesitated. He couldn’t remember the last time he had shared a room with another man where sex had not been on the menu. He felt Lenny and Mrs Llewellyn’s eyes on him. “Look, my loves. Why don’t I give you the key, and you can go and see the room first,” said Mrs Llewellyn, probably sensing the hesitation. “See what do you think?” Adrian nodded. Checking the room might give him time to think of something, if necessary an excuse to stay somewhere else. “Sounds like a plan.”
  17. lomax61

    Will

    hi @FanLit. Nice reasoning and insights. And it shows how M&M (love it) have no idea what motivates Leonard, and that hard or bullying techniques will have the opposite effect. I’m going to post the next chapter soon, but I’ve had a sudden flurry of work hit me (I’m not complaining) which has sidetracked me.
  18. lomax61

    Will

    Okay, for the record. Not that kind of story!
  19. lomax61

    Will

    There might be another reason for his aunt’s reaction.
  20. lomax61

    Will

    Lol, @Danilo Syrtis. Well spotted with the character mix up. Now amended. No romance yet. They’re barely friends right now. But don’t worry, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed. Thanks for reading.
  21. lomax61

    Will

    Leonard’s father had used the same solicitor for as long as Leonard could remember. Not that he had needed him that often in any official capacity. Once for conveyancing forty-six years ago when they purchased their current home, another time for the dispute with a neighbour over a shared driveway, and, of course, for the writing of his last will and testament. Mr Dawson—neither Leonard nor his mother had any idea of his given name—used to be a sole practitioner, his office a single room above a newsagent on Norwich High Street, but had joined a larger legal firm some years back. Haven and Trollope, the new firm, stood in a modern characterless three-storey complex on the outskirts of town. One advantage to the location was the many parking spaces designated to the law firm clients. Leonard’s mother insisted he drive around the car park three times until she pointed out a parking space that met her approval. Best of all, the drive barely took half an hour during which time his mother sat quietly, listening to the car radio which she insisted be tuned to BBC Radio Four, to a topical political debate. Leonard’s mind had been elsewhere but he occasionally heard her tutting whenever she felt someone had made an inconclusive statement or had circumvented answering a simple question. All day Sunday, while he had begun to tackle the back garden and then cleared his business email, Leonard mulled over his chance meeting with Adrian. By Sunday evening, he had almost called and invited his new friend out for a drink. But he had no idea what Adrian did at the weekend, didn’t know if he would be intruding, feeling sure such a good-looking guy would have other plans which probably included a boyfriend. Strange, really, but even though they had only just met—because they had never been friends—he felt really comfortable with him, as though they had known each other for years. After heading to The Red Lion, they enjoyed a couple of drinks, both opting for the same pub lunch of home-made Shepherd’s Pie and fresh garden vegetables, and chatted about their old school. Adrian seemed purposely vague about his life after leaving the education system, deflecting with trite sayings such as ‘oh, you know, here and there’ and ‘a little bit of this and that’ which Leonard took to mean he didn’t want to talk in detail about his young adult life. Sensing the guardedness, and knowing from Eric about Adrian being gay, Leonard pointedly avoided probing into Adrian’s romantic life and noticed Adrian did the same with him. What he did find out was that Adrian worked locally, although he had no jobs on right now. From stories of work he had carried out, Leonard could tell his popularity with the local community, including some the clientele in the pub he indicated, who he had done work for at some time or another. As the afternoon wore on, Leonard realised he liked Adrian and, before they parted ways, swapped mobile phone numbers and agreed to meet up again after the weekend. Inside the reception for Haven and Trollope, after asking to see their identification, one of the two receptionists, a pretty young thing his mother openly gawped at, with bright orange hair and multiple piercings in one of her ears, led them up a flight of stairs to a large glass conference room. Inside, Aunt Millicent and Matthew already sat there quietly, looking sullen and bored. After offering Leonard and his mother drinks and both declining, the young girl left them alone. His aunt and cousin had already stood, and his mother went to shake hands, with Leonard waiting to do the same. Once they took their seats, each pair on opposite sides of the table, the room fell once again into awkward silence. To Leonard’s relief, Mr Dawson entered ten minutes later. In his mid-to-late sixties, he reminded Leonard of one of his old college professors, with his olive green tweed suit, black and white polka dot bow tie, steel rimmed glasses with thick lenses, and full head of pure white wavy hair, held firmly in place with either too much Vaseline or hair gel. In his hand, he carried a thick manila folder, which had a large label on the front. Leonard could easily make out the full name of his father in large capital letters. Without shaking hands, he lowered himself into the seat at the head of the table, immediately opened the folder and took out a single sheet of paper from the top. “Good. Well. Thank you all for coming here today and being so punctual. Apologies for my tardiness, but I had a call from another client that went on longer than I had expected. I am Hubert Dawson of Haven and Trollope, and the deceased, Colin Montgomery Day, appointed me as the sole executor of his will. This is a simple enough matter and should not take long. Rather than read all the legal speak in the formal last will and testament, I’ve had a one-sheet summary put together, but naturally, all those named as beneficiaries will receive a full copy of the legal document. Is everyone present comfortable with this?” Although nobody spoke, everyone around the table nodded their assent. “Excellent. Well, in summary, the deceased left almost everything to his wife, Mrs Geraldine Olivia Day, which includes their unencumbered residential home, 14 Collier Drive and all investments, shares and possessions in Mr Day’s sole name, his pension and, of course, the proceeds from his life assurance policy.” That his father had left him nothing came as no surprise to Leonard. His father, being a pragmatic man, had spoken at length about the eventuality of his death, during which Leonard emphasised his own financial independence, and his desire for his father to make sure Leonard’s mother would be the principle beneficiary. “There are two caveats to this is under the General Provisions clause. The first is that he wishes to donate the sum of ten thousand pounds to the college research facility, and the second, that the family’s country home, Bryn Bach in Wales, changes ownership to his son and only child, Leonard Frederick Day.” Leonard had never heard his father mention a holiday home before and began to turn to his mother for clarification. Before he could, Aunt Millicent drew everyone’s attention when she let out a loud strangled gasp and sat forward in her chair. In the room, only her son Matthew seemed unsurprised by her reaction. “No! There must be some mistake. As the last surviving sibling, I should be the one to inherit Bryn Bach. It’s what our mother and father would have wanted, and something Colin promised me, should anything happen to him.” Mr Dawson sorted through the larger document, the full will, and flicked to a particular page marked by a yellow post-it note. “Mr Day’s instructions are very clear; specific; straightforward and unambiguous, Mrs Darlington. And unless you have any legal documentation which supersedes the terms of this will, then there is no mistake. Under the Additional Provisions clause, Leonard’s father leaves in its entirety the farmhouse, Bryn Bach, in Disserth, Llandrindod Wells in Wales to his son, Leonard Frederick Day. He reviewed his will at the end of each year, the last time being December just gone. There is no mistake in—” “He promised me. We spent our school holidays there as children, my brother, Colin, our parents and me. Until he went off to college on the other side of the country, and thought himself too high and mighty to associate with us, especially when he met her.” At that she glared pointedly at Leonard’s mother. “And when my ex-husband started a new job in sales, when we had barely enough money to survive on, we still managed to provide summer holidays for our three children because my father let us use Bryn Bach. We have many fond memories there. And in return, we have decorated, maintained, and cared for the place without asking for a penny in return. Since our father passed and left the cottage to my brother, he has not once been there. I know this for a fact. We still have friends in Newbridge. And my Matthew checks the cottage over every year for broken pipes and any defects, even though the place is deserted now. Falling to rack and ruin.” “This is all very well, Mrs Darlington. But legally the property now belongs—“ “What does he want with it, anyway? He’s never even been there. None of them have.” Leonard peered sideways at his mother, noticed the disapproving assessment at her sister-in-law’s outburst, glaring at her as she would a recalcitrant student. Poor Mr Dawson lifted his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. If he was going to be completely honest, Leonard didn’t care about a holiday home in Wales. He had enough old properties around the country on his books without adding one more to the list. But his father had specifically left the place to him. Surely that meant something? “What if we were to challenge the will?” This time, Matthew spoke. Leonard felt a flash of anger ignite in him at the thought of a family member challenging his own father’s specific wishes. For his part, Mr Dawson sat up straight in his chair, his lips pinched together. With both hands pressed together beneath his chin, as though in prayer, he leant forward, elbows on the table, and peered over the top of his glasses. “I am not your solicitor, Mr Darlington, but if I were, I would strongly advise you against doing so. Not only would you end up spending an unsightly amount of money in legal fees, but in my long experience, challenges of this nature are rarely successful. Possession truly is nine tenths of the law in this country. Look, rather than go that route, why don’t you begin by asking Mr Day junior if he would be prepared to sell the property to you? Or to come to some kind of arrangement?” Aunt Millicent’s eyes darted to Leonard, a glimmer of hope in her eyes, and a smile replacing the previous unpleasant grimace. “Would you, Leonard? Would you consider selling our lovely holiday home back to us? It holds such dear memories for me and my family.” “It’s as good as derelict at the moment,” added Matthew, still unsmiling, but something lighting in his eyes. “Worthless. We’d be doing you a favour taking the pile of rubble off your hands.” Up until the challenge from his relatives, Leonard had been even-tempered and might have considered coming to some arrangement, as Mr Dawson had put it. But now? He took a deep breath before replying. “My main concern today was in making sure my mother was taken care of financially, and it appears my father has done that. Until five minutes ago, I had no idea he owned a farmhouse in Wales. But he clearly wanted me to have the place. So I’m not going to make a decision right away. Before anything, I’d like to drive down there and give the place a quick once over. After that, I’ll make up my mind. But rest assured, if I do decide to sell the property, I promise you will get first option to buy. My mother has your contact details, if that is the case. And Mr Dawson here is witness to my promise. So is my mother.” “Excellent.” Mr Dawson clearly wanted to move the matter along. No doubt, like Leonard, he hadn’t anticipated anyone to contest the will. But Leonard’s aunt hadn’t finished. “You’re just like him, aren’t you? Just like your father?” Her caustic tone and scowl left nobody in any doubt about her true feelings, except this time Leonard had no hesitation in glaring back across the table. “If that’s what you see, then I am honoured.” Leonard turned his attention back to the solicitor. “Sorry Mr Dawson. You were saying?” “Um, yes, so in order to finish matters off, I’ll need you and your mother to sign the necessary paperwork, and then get copies made for our records. Shouldn’t take more than another fifteen to twenty minutes. In the meantime, Mrs Darlington, if you and your son wish to leave, I can get someone—” “Don’t bother. We can find our own way out.” Neither Aunt Millie nor Matthew seemed happy at being dismissed, but they said no more. Instead of waiting around, they rose abruptly from their seats and left without bidding farewell. After the door shut behind them, Mr Dawson waited a few moments before looking apologetically at Leonard and his mother, gently shaking his head but saying nothing. “Did you know about this family house in Wales, Mum?” “I didn’t. Your father mentioned nothing to me. But you know him as well as I do. He did nothing without thinking things through meticulously. In spite of what your aunt insists, if he wanted you to have the farmhouse rather than leave it to her, then there is no mistake and you should trust his good judgement.” Before they left, Mr Dawson furnished Leonard and his mother with their copies of all the signed paperwork. Leonard thought they had finished, and began to rise until Mr Dawson handed him a bulky envelope. “The deeds to the property will continue to be kept here, Mr Day, in our safe-keeping, unless you wish them to be held elsewhere. But they will be transferred into your name. These are the keys to Bryn Bach. Somewhere on file we have a photograph of the place so I’ll get my assistant to email a copy to you. And for the record, I agree with your mother. Your father clearly wanted you to have the place, and as such, he did so for a reason.” All well and good, thought Leonard, as he and his mother strolled unspeaking down the plush corridor, but if that was the case, then his father had taken the reason to the grave with him.
  22. lomax61

    Rescue

    Hi @Job - I’m glad you’re enjoying this story. I reached a block with Hooking Trout and have put it on hold. I’ve had a stop/start love/hate affair with the story but I am committed to finishing it once my muse returns.
  23. lomax61

    Rescue

    Thanks @chris191070 - next instalment next weekend.
  24. lomax61

    Funeral

    Thanks @dughlas - some good questions. Why does Millicent feel she needs to hang around for the reading of the will? Maybe she has trust issues. Or is she expecting something in particular? Hold that thought. As for Leonard and Adrian, well the whole story hinges on these two, so you’ll see them being brought closer together in one way or another over the next few chapters.
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