Bonus Chapter: A gift from me because I'm going to be away for a couple of weeks with my partner, registering our wedding in the UK. Fingers crossed all goes well.
Nathan goes to see the solicitor.
The next morning Nathan woke alone.
Testament to Jaymes having been there, the pillow next to him still held the indent of his head, but the side of the bed had been tidied neatly. Momentary sadness caught him, but he brushed the feeling away. As quality of sleep went, last night’s had been nothing short of wonderful. And this morning, despite a thick head from too much alcohol the night before, he felt incredible. Waking more fully, he rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. Certain parts of his anatomy still bore a delicious soreness. If he was going to be brutally honest, he still felt an echo of disappointment at waking alone. But Jaymes being Jaymes, he would have got up and left. Of course he would. They’d had a roll in the hay, nothing more.
Absently, he curled onto his side and rubbed his eyes, but then stopped. Something faint but unmistakable caught his attention. Was that the smell of fresh coffee brewing? And bacon frying? And the sound of music playing?
Sitting up now, he moved to the side of the bed and went to reach for his dressing gown kept on the back of the door, only to find the garment missing. Instead, he fished out track suit bottoms and a baggy tee from the wardrobe, and hurried to the bathroom. First things first. Once finished, and after splashing cold water onto his face and drying quickly, he headed to the front room.
Laid with a simple white tablecloth, placemats, cutlery, condiments, butter, and preserves; marmalade, blackberry jam, and Marmite—where the hell had he found that?—a small bowl of apples, as well as cartons of orange and grapefruit juice, Nathan’s small and barely functional dining table had been given an Impressionist’s makeover. Jaymes had even collected the Sundays from the front mat and arranged them on his place setting.
“You didn’t have to do that,” said Nathan, brightening at the sight. On the wall above the table, the kitchen clock read nine-fifteen.
“Morning, sexy,” said Jaymes, turning from the stove and grinning. Sexy himself, he wore Nathan’s navy blue dressing gown. “Told you I love cooking, especially when I’ve got something to cook with and someone to cook for. And I found all I needed in your fridge and freezer. Sit yourself down. How do you take your coffee?”
“Milk with one, please.”
“Sacrilege. Some things should remain pure and untainted.”
Jaymes side-stepped to the coffee machine where a mug already sat, and confidently pressed buttons.
“I take it you like your coffee without. I’m impressed you managed to work the damn thing. I had to read the manual three times before I figured out what buttons to press.”
“I’ll resist the temptation to answer that comment with a sexual innuendo, and simply say that where there’s a will, there’s a way. But as we’re on the subject of pushing buttons, how are you feeling? Sore?”
Okay, thought Nathan, so we are going there. Jaymes moved back to the stove and continued cooking breakfast, his back to Nathan.
“A little. But absolutely no regrets. Feels nice, actually. And I slept like the dead.”
“You were out cold when I woke. Looked so peaceful, I didn’t want to wake you. I’m guessing you don’t get to sleep in very often.”
Toast popped up from the toaster right then. Jaymes reached over and plucked the slices out, dropping them on a plate he’d already prepared. Nathan marvelled at how well he found his way around the kitchen.
“Can I do anything?”
“Yes,” said Jaymes, taking the frying pan off the flame and turning to Nathan. “If you’re not going to sit down as I asked, you can come over here.”
Nathan approached Jaymes, ready to be handed things to take to the table, only to be pulled into a fierce hug.
“I’m sorry,” Jaymes whispered into Nathan’s ear.
“For not following through.”
Nathan didn’t know what he meant. Had he missed something the night before?
“Following through with what?”
“My evil plan to snap on a condom and have my wicked way with you this morning.”
Nathan laughed out loud until Jaymes shut him off by bringing their mouths together. Grateful to have no weirdness between them Nathan wallowed in the embrace. When he realised Jaymes’ tongue tasted of spearmint, he pulled away.
“Ugh, not fair. You’ve brushed. I still have morning breath.”
“Well, I don’t. And after we’ve both had toast and coffee, it won’t matter either way. Let me enjoy this now, before I serve you the best breakfast of your life.”
Nathan gave in without a fight, not too much of a hardship either, and soon his heart began to speed up. Before they went too far, he lifted his mouth away, nipping Jaymes’ bottom lip.
“Looks who’s woken up,” said Jaymes, smirking and pointing the tip of his forefinger to the floor. Nathan spotted Jaymes’ erection poking out from between the folds of Nathan’s dressing gown.
“My new best friend,” said Nathan, grabbing a handful, which had Jaymes laughing and pulling his hips away but going in for another deep kiss. Once again, they parted, this time with Jaymes sighing deeply before leaning in and sucking on Nathan’s earlobe.
“Last night was amazing. I could get used to this, Nate,” he whispered, his breath tickling Nathan’s ear.
Jaymes pulled back then, a mix of sadness and cautiousness in his eyes.
“Except I’m only here until June. Got the call this weekend to confirm. They need me in Kinabalu National Park, Malaysia. Probably until the end of the year.”
Nathan understood what he was saying. Originally, he told them he’d be in Mosswold until the end of the year. Despite a moment of hesitation, Nathan made up his mind to look on the positive side. But his hesitation must have registered because Jaymes started speaking again.
“I didn’t plan this. It’s just—we have a reciprocal arrangement with other forestries around the world and it seems as though I’m in demand. There’s also talk about me going to Waipoua Forest in New Zealand early next year. They’re in the southern hemisphere so it’ll be summer there, when they need me—”
Nathan realised Jaymes had begun to ramble nervously, and cut him off with a kiss.
“And?” said Nathan, after pulling away.
“And?” echoed Jaymes, hesitating again, an eyebrow raised. “And are you going to be okay with that?”
“Four months with you, as opposed to what? Nothing? Not a difficult question to answer, Jaymes.”
“No buts. Well, maybe in the bedroom. This way we both know the score going in. We’ll keep things physical, on-the-level. And, even though you’re clearly adorable, I promise not to fall in love. Because I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t want this to be a one-off.”
Even as the words left his mouth, Nathan knew he would have a hard time trying to keep his heart out of the equation. But the response seemed to mollify Jaymes, who smiled affectionately, before taking a deep breath and shaking his head.
“Nathan Fresher, you are full of surprises. Go and sit down. Let me serve you breakfast.”
Over plates of poached eggs on Fresher homemade toasted ciabatta, with Mikey’s Lincolnshire sausages and back bacon, with mushroom and onion compote and grilled tomatoes, Nathan and Jaymes sat enjoying the morning. Jaymes believed in starting the day right. Nathan had rarely enjoyed his living space so much, usually spent Sunday mornings sitting in bed poring over a Sunday newspaper, with coffee and a plate of buttered toast. Jaymes provided effortless company, laughing easily and filling the pauses with talk about his work or reading something aloud from a newspaper. At first, Nathan wondered where the music came from but then noticed Jaymes had placed his phone upright against the fruit bowl, letting soft jazz music accompany the morning fare.
“Aren’t you playing footy today?” asked Jaymes.
“No. The other team cancelled Friday. Too late to organise another team for a friendly.” Each Sunday, when a football match was due, Nathan usually forwent his daily run. If none had been planned, he would still hit the streets. This morning, he happily sacrificed his daily dose of exercise for time with Jaymes. “Just as well, really, we’re heading down to Eastbourne today.”
“Oh shit. My Rover.”
“We’ll take the van. If you still want to come.”
“Of course I want to come. Dying to find out what the big mystery is. What time do we need to be there?”
“Appointment’s at eleven-thirty. I’ve dug out my birth certificate and some other papers they’ve asked to see. It’s only around forty minutes but we should leave an hour clear, in case of weekend traffic, and so I can find parking. And after cooking breakfast—along with everything else—I think it’s only fair I buy you lunch while we’re down there. I know a great little spot.”
“Lunch date, huh?” said Jaymes, grinning playfully.
Nathan smiled back, but then at the word date, something surfaced in his memory, the text message from Clifton on Tuesday night.
“Actually.” Nathan smoothed a hand over his napkin. “Cliff—ton sent me a text last week.”
“Oh yes?” Nathan felt Jaymes’ eyes narrow in on him.
“Wanted to know if me and my—uh—friend wanted to have dinner with him and his husband.”
“I see. Where?”
“Some place called Benedetti’s in London.”
“Back of Soho. Figures. Place will be full of posers; thespians, as well as models, managers, casting agents and rent boys. Inside has huge mirrors on every wall so the narcissists can admire themselves while they eat. Make sure not a hair’s out of place. What did you tell him?”
“I didn’t. Not yet.”
“Then tell him yes.”
“Fuck yes. As long as he’s paying. Tell him next Saturday, so you can let your hair down. You okay with that?”
Nathan’s grin almost hurt his face as he nodded, but he also had a niggle of worry about how Jaymes might behave. Later on he would text Clifton and accept his invitation.
“Excellent. What with that and the photoshoot on Wednesday afternoon, and my social calendar is filling up nicely.”
Nathan had forgotten he’d invited Jaymes to come along for moral support.
“You know you called me Jay last night?” Possibly Jaymes had picked up on Nathan’s concern and changed the subject.
“Did I? I can’t remember. I was somewhat distracted with you pounding my prostate. Is that a problem?”
“Not at all. To be honest, I liked it.”
Nathan felt his cheeks flush, and went into deflection mode himself.
“Hey, I’ve a notion Polly went out with Benny last night.”
In the process of popping a corner of buttered toast into his mouth, Jaymes froze.
“Footballer? From the pub?”
Crunching loudly on the bread, Jaymes vehemently shook his head.
“Not in a million years.”
“Really? Why do you say that?”
“He’s not her type.”
“Oh, so she does have a type. And what exactly is that?”
“Almost the same as mine,” said Jaymes, peering across the table at Nathan. After a second, a bare foot landed softly on top of his under the table. “Dark hair, green eyes, handsome, nice smile, lean, and takes care of himself. Looks almost exactly like the owner of the local village bakery. Oh, and for her, definitely older. By at least a handful of years. She has enough teaching young kids at school. She doesn’t want to have to provide instruction in the bedroom.”
Nathan stared at Jaymes then, wondering if getting together might cause problems.
“Are we going to have to tread carefully around Polly?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, if she warned you off me, do we have to keep our distance? You know, be discreet?”
“Nate, forgive me if I’ve read this wrong, but we’ve just agreed to become fuck buddies. Other than that, nothing has changed. I’m not going to be holding your hand or touching you intimately in public, or kissing you on the street. So if we both stick to that, Polly should be none the wiser.”
“I know, I know. I just don’t want to be the cause of any friction between the two of you.”
Jaymes picked up his coffee and grinned at Nathan over the rim.
“No wonder she likes you so much. Always looking out for her.”
Soft strains of a female jazz singer oozed from the phone, and another comfortable silence fell over the table. When Nathan observed Jaymes from across the table, cup in one hand, newspaper in the other, he felt a wave of affection hit him.
“Are you still searching for somewhere to live?”
Jaymes frowned and shook his head, staring out through the front window.
“You’d have thought it would be easy. I’ve tried as far as Collingwood, but nothing. I thought someone somewhere would have a spare room, at the very least. Even though she hasn’t said anything, I know I’m starting to get under Polly’s feet.”
“Perfect solution, then.”
“I have a spare room. You need a spare room.”
Jaymes’ eyes grew wide as his gaze flicked to the bedroom corridor, then came back to Nathan’s. A touch of hesitation, of guardedness, tempered otherwise enthusiasm
“Are you absolutely sure?”
“I’ve got a spare room, Jaymes. Nobody ever uses it.”
“So I’d have my own room and my own bed?”
“Yes, but you’re not using that. I want you in mine.”
“I’ve never wanted anything more,” answered Nathan, in all honesty.
Jaymes snorted and grinned at Nathan.
“How much for the room, dingbat.”
“Oh, well— Home cooked meals every now and again, and...”
“Plenty of sex on demand.”
“I need to pay you something, Nathan.”
“Why? The place is bought and paid for. And as you said, you’re only here until June.”
Jaymes went quiet and thoughtful for a moment, before a full smile blossomed in his face.
“This is turning out to be one incredible weekend. All these sweet deals.”
“My thoughts entirely.”
“Okay,” said Jaymes, starting to collect up plates. “Even though I’d love to head back to bed, it’s ten already, so I’m going to clear up here. I would have suggested we shower together—to save time and water—but your shower cubicle is smaller than a Hobbit’s phone booth, and knowing I would not be able to restrain myself, I fear two men our size in that thing doing what I have in my mind, are likely to end up in casualty. So I suggest you go shower and change, out of temptation’s way, while I tidy up.”
“Do you want to phone and delay the appointment?”
“Then move your arse. We have all afternoon and evening, now that I’m living here.”
Nathan’s heart filled with pleasure on hearing those words.
“So you’re moving in? You never said yes.”
“Hell, yes,” said Jaymes. “Apart from finally sleeping on a mattress instead of a sofa, I’ll have you next to me. I can think of nothing better. Can we swing by Polly’s place later, pick up my suitcase and boxes? Maybe even find out what she got up to last night.”
For the next thirty minutes, the apartment became a hive of activity, Jaymes and Nathan never missing an opportunity as they passed each other to touch or kiss, albeit briefly. By exactly ten thirty, they were on the road in the baker’s van, on the way to Eastbourne.
They found parking on the same road as the solicitors, in Moon Lane, two roads back from the seafront. One of a row of Edwardian houses, each with three storeys and a basement, the one announcing Miller, Price and Cawthorn had been elegantly decorated in shades of cream and white, the sky blue plaque announcing the name of the partnership an eye catching addition. Unlike others with their more gaudy pastel shades of greens, blues, yellow and pinks, the solicitor’s appeared almost regal.
“Who are we seeing?” asked Jaymes.
Nathan already warmed at hearing Jaymes use the ‘we’ word, which oddly made him feel less alone in the world, like have am arm slung around his shoulders. He had loaned Jaymes one of his baggier white button-down shirts, baggier for Nathan anyway. Jaymes’ shoulders and chest had filled out the material to the full, the buttons down the front straining to keep everything in. Nathan’s mouth watered when he thought about undoing those buttons later in the afternoon.
“Ms Philippa Cawthorn. She’s been appointed by Flynn & Fox to handle things this end.”
Inside the offices, decorated elegantly and continuing the Edwardian theme with antique furnishings and brown leather Chesterfield settees, Nathan found the air oppressively hot and humid. Ms Cawthorn herself met them at the otherwise empty reception, clearly working with minimal staffing on Sunday. An unsmiling woman in her forties, she did not seem amused to have to work on the Sabbath. Dressed immaculately in a plain but stylish black pant suit, white silk blouse and black heels, she epitomised middle-class insouciance.
“And you are ?” she asked Jaymes, after shaking Nathan’s hand.
“A friend. Here to lend moral support.”
“Is that correct? Mr Fresher, are you sure you’re happy for your—friend—to hear these private matters?”
“I am, yes. Jaymes is my best friend.”
“As you wish. Please come this way.”
As she led them away, Jaymes turned to Nathan and pulled a face, which had Nathan smirking. After his father’s death, he’d had a number of visits to solicitor’s offices, so they no longer daunted him. In a smallbut plush conference room along the corridor, papers had already been laid out carefully along the oak table, with Day-Glo tabs indicating places for signatures. Nathan knew the drill well.
“If possible, I would like to get this matter over and done with as soon as possible.” Nathan had the impression she was not asking permission, merely warning him not to make waves. “My husband’s taken the children to his parent's for lunch and I have a car waiting to take me to there straight after this meeting. Now, before we begin, do you have the documents I asked you to bring?”
Nathan handed over the papers; birth certificate, utility bills, passport, and his father’s will. After a cursory once-over, Ms Cawthorn left the room and returned around fifteen minutes later. Placing copies into a file, she handed the originals back and got straight down to business.
“Mr Nathaniel Collier Brooks died on the fifteenth of December in Melbourne. He is survived by an only son, Mr Grant Collier Brooks, but in a strange turn of events, it appears that you are also a relative. Mr Brooks was a property developer in Melbourne, but sold the business eight years ago. He left most of his estate to his son, but also wanted to bequeath a sum of money to you. The amount is detailed here.”
Ms Cawthorn twisted a sheet of paper around and tapped a pencil at a figure written part way down.
“Two hundred and fifty thousand Australian dollars? How much is that?” said Nathan, shocked, and turning to Jaymes.
“Given the current exchange rate,” said Ms Cawthorn. “it’s around one hundred and thirty thousand pounds. A tidy sum.”
“But hang on. Are you sure about this?”
“From our end, and our counterparts in Melbourne, yes, everything is in order,” she said, before drawing a letter from out of her file. “But I think you might want to read this letter, Mr Fresher. I understand this may help to clarify things. Would you like some time alone in private? To read the details?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m happy for everyone to stay.”
Nathan was surprised at how pristine the envelope appeared, and respectfully untucked the sealed pouch. Inside, the words were written in neat handwriting, using a ballpoint pen.
First of all, I want to let you know we met in person eight years ago. My son, Grant, and I visited your shop in Crumbington. Not that you would remember. But my son had a long chat with your father. Funnily enough, he placed our accents exactly. My father, Jeremy Brooks, had passed the same year, which is what prompted my visit. During his final days, he told me the truth about my birth family. Something that our elders took to the grave with them.
I was born in 1938. According to my Australian birth certificate, my birthplace is Melbourne, where I’ve lived my whole life. However, on the official certificate my father gave me before he died, one he had kept hidden all these years, I was actually born in Crumbington, delivered at home by local midwife, to John and Mary Fresher.
I am not sure how familiar you are with history, but 1939 was the outbreak of World War II, and the British government had made the tough decision to evacuate children—Operation Pied Piper, it was called—from urban areas to the countryside, or seaside towns, where the risk of bombing raids was much lower. Some children, particularly those with relatives in the colonies, were shipped to Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. According to my grandfather, I was brought to Australia by my birth mother’s sister, Emily. Her and her husband, Jeremy Brooks, could not have children of their own, and with uncertainty in Europe, they were asked to adopt me.
Nathan, I have had a long and wonderful life, loved and nurtured by my mother and father, married a wonderful woman and had Grant later in life, someone who has been a source of endless joy for both me and my late wife. And I know I could go quietly to my grave now, and keep this hidden forever. Believe me when I say I have been conflicted about what to do. But like my father, I feel people deserve to know the truth, especially you and my son. As Thomas Jefferson once said, half a truth is often a great lie. And I will not die being a party to a half truth. I didn’t get to know my real father and mother, or my brother. I half suspect my real father, your great grandfather, had some influence in the choosing of your name, so similar to my own.
My son is learning about this at the same time. He is not that much older than you, so I hope the two of you have a chance to meet one day. I’ve told him the same thing. And although I’m leaving most of my wealth to my son, I’ve left you something as a way of apologising for not saying hello to you and your father when I had the chance, because at the time, I lacked the courage.
Have a beautiful life, Nathan.
Great Uncle Nathaniel.
When Nathan finishes, he sat back stunned. A warm hand landed on his shoulder and rubbed gently there.
“Are you okay, buddy?” he asked.
Nathan peered across at Ms Cawthorn.
“Do you know the content of this?” said Nathan, holding the letter up.
“I do,” said Ms Cawthorn, “Nathaniel Brooks provided copies of all letters for the solicitors, Flynn & Fox. They’re paying all our fees.”
“So you know I have a cousin?”
“Yes, Grant Collier Brooks. He’s your first cousin once removed. Son of Nathaniel Collier Brooks, your great uncle. Grant is around thirty-seven now.”
“I have family.” Nathan said, to Jaymes, stunned still.
Whether because of her professional vocation or just her general bearing, Ms Cawthorn hadn’t once smiled, despite Nathan being a hundred thousand pounds better off. Eventually, after Nathan had signed the necessary papers and given bank details, she sat back and softened a little.
“Before you head off, Mr Fresher, I believe it’s my duty to warn you. This windfall, this familial development comes with a potential complication. Which is why I asked you to bring those particular documents.”
“According to the copy of your father’s will, and a clause insisted upon by both your father and his father before him, it states that upon their respective deaths, the business and everything associated with it, including the premises, should be bequeathed to the oldest surviving heir of the Fresher family.”
“Technically, Mr Fresher, that’s no longer you.”
Loving the comments, suggestions and reactions - so keep them coming.