Saturday lunchtime, with a shop full of customers, Nathan’s phone buzzed in his pocket. Aware he had been anticipating a confirmation call from the Eastbourne solicitors, he popped on his Bluetooth earpiece and answered while still serving customers, not something he normally did or allowed in the shop. But the caller turned out to be Polly. She asked if he’d be okay to pick up Jaymes from his office in Mosswold Forest after closing for the day. Jaymes’ Rover had been playing up, she told him, so she’d dropped him off that morning. Nathan smirked. Later on, he’d happily give Jaymes stick about his pride and joy.
After the flurry of messages on Tuesday night, Nathan had arrived home and fired back apologies, in the process agreeing to have beers and a curry with Jaymes and Polly on Saturday night. So while working the till, he agreed to pick up Jaymes. Poor man, perhaps Kell-Bell had more important things to do than climb him like one of his trees on a Saturday night. As soon as the sarcastic voice sounded in his head, remorse filled him. Squeezing his eyes shut for moment, he chastised himself, and told himself not to be weird. Hopefully, Jaymes would be in one of his more upbeat, slightly silly moods, rather than the more serious and pensive one. Seeing more customers entering the shop, he was about to end the call, but then curiosity got the better of him, and he asked why Polly couldn’t pick up Jaymes. Out of the blue, apparently, she’d been invited out on a dinner date.
“You’ve got a date, Polly?”
Nathan couldn’t stop the tone of amazement filtering into his voice. While using tongs to place two chocolate croissants into a brown paper bag, he smiled at the customer. As an afterthought, he popped in a couple of complimentary macaroons.
“No, I uh—” He knew Polly well enough to hear her discomfort. “Just dinner.”
“You said a ‘dinner date’. Your words, not mine.”
At the till, he handed over the bag and took the cash from the young blond girl, one of the Bennington clan. All of the offspring had the same trademark blonde hair, brown eyes, and chubby red cheeks. Before ringing up the purchase, he mouthed an apology about the call and received a slight shrug in return. After handing back the change, he smiled, and nodded to the next customer.
“Can you help or not?” came Polly’s irritated voice.
“Ooh-err. Polly’s got a date. Who’s the date with, you saucy minx?”
“Oh, my God. I swear, you’re turning into Jaymes. Can you help, or not?”
Familiar with his next costumer and her order, he checked before wrapping her order of a fresh baguette.
“Short or long?”
“What?” came Polly’s startled voice.
“Not you, Polly. Sorry, I’m serving right now. Got a shop full of customers. Of course I can help. I’ll drop by after I close up here.”
And right then, the truth sank in. Tonight there would be only Jaymes. No Polly to run interference. Could he cope with that, he asked himself? Maybe later, he’d find out. Because, of late, Jaymes’ face kept insinuating itself into his waking dreams, in a not unpleasant way. Dreams could be forgotten upon waking, though, whereas the two of them together for a whole evening should prove interesting. Still, being out and about had to be better than another Saturday night sat in alone, falling asleep in front of the television.
“Great. I’ll get him to text you.”
“Anything else you need to tell me?”
“Like should he expect you home tonight?”
“‘Bye Nathan,” said Polly, before hanging up.
By seven-thirty, after pulling down the shop shutters, clearing the last of the trays away, cashing up, and racing up the stairs for a quick shower, Nathan paused for breath and texted Jaymes to say he was on his way.
On the drive over, the realisation hit home again, that only the two of them would be hanging out tonight. Taking a few deep breaths, he pulled himself together, told himself to stop overthinking things, that Jaymes didn’t bat for his team. Friends, nothing more. But maybe this would be a chance to get to know each other better. Instead of dwelling on the thought, he concentrated on driving towards the ominous darkened horizon of Mosswold Forest.
During his childhood, he’d been there many times. At one end of the public car park, he remembered they had a small lodge and shop—National Trust owned—where they sold souvenirs, maps of walks through the forest, and books about the forest’s flora and fauna. Nathan had loved the eerie quiet in the heart of the forest, feeding his imagination at a time when his nose had been buried in fantasy stories about elves and trolls and ancient kings. With his headlights on full and heater warming the inside of the van, he followed Jaymes’ directions into Mosswold Forest, and spotted the small private lane leading away from the public car park. Following the winding road for a good five minutes, he eventually came upon a plain raised cabin in a clearing in the woods. Empty of vehicles, lights burned inside. Not wanting to step out into the cold, Nathan pulled out his phone and texted Jaymes.
Nathan: I’m outside in the van.
Jaymes’ reply popped up immediately.
Jaymes: Come inside.
Nathan: Too cold. Come out.
Jaymes: Need another 10 mins to finish up. Come in.
Nathan huffed out an irritated sigh. In all his days, he had never met anyone so infuriating. Most annoying of all, Jaymes always seemed to get his own way. After pulling on his woollen hat and gloves, he got out of the van and clumped up the three wooden steps to the main entrance. Opening the door, he peered inside but saw nobody around.
“Jaymes,” he called out.
“In here,” came Jaymes’ voice, from the open door of a smaller office at the end of the cabin.
Built entirely of wood, the space still retained the smell of timber along with the ubiquitous odour of soil, trodden into the flooring. Functional and very sparsely furnished, the larger room he passed through had plain grey filing cabinets and simple metal bookcases stuffed with box files. A single remarkable feature defined the place, one whole wall covered from floor to ceiling with a giant map of Mosswold Forest, multi-coloured pins stuck in various places meaning something to somebody, as well as six or seven darts from a dartboard set, which probably weren’t used for business. In between two of the four desks sat a small, lonely blow heater—switched off now—and if there had been any residual heat in the building, it had managed to escape through the door space, window seals, or gaps between the slats of timber. Nathan couldn’t wait to get back to the heat of the van.
When he walked inside the smaller office, he was met with Jaymes, laid out on his side across the length of the desk. Stark naked, except for a tree axe with the metal head covering his vital parts, the handle sticking up vertically, he grinned comically. One hand cradled his handsome face, while the other lay on top of his thick, muscular thigh. Nathan’s jaw dropped open. Jaymes most definitely had a good figure, but the sudden vision stopped Nathan in his tracks.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“Giving you inspiration. If it’s good enough for you, it’s good enough for me.”
“Are you insane? It’s bloody freezing in here.”
“Yeah, I know. Thought you’d never get here. My nuts have shrunk to the size of peanuts. What do you think of my chopper?”
Jaymes clamped a hand around the handle of the axe, and waggled his eyebrows. Despite himself, Nathan burst out laughing and felt any tension he’d been feeling drain away.
“You are a complete fucking moron, do you know that? Get dressed. You owe me a beer and a curry. I’ll meet you outside in the van.”
“Don’t you want a snap on your phone?”
“Get dressed, Jaymes!”
As he turned, still chuckling, Nathan heard Jaymes moving. Honestly, the things Jaymes would do just to get a laugh. And Nathan hadn’t been kidding. Inside the lodge, the temperature had to be only a couple of degrees above the freezing temperature outside. Despite Nathan’s curiosity and the warm feeling coursing though his body, he did not turn around and grab another eyeful of the man’s amazing body. Friends only, remember?
When Jaymes finally joined him in the van, togged out in his trademark jeans and brown leather pilot’s jacket, Nathan had the engine idling and the heater running on full power. Despite himself, Nathan couldn’t keep a straight face. Just looking sidelong at his friend’s mischievous face, he could tell. Tonight, he would be dealing with playful Jaymes—and without Polly to help him. Heaven help me now, he thought. As soon as Jaymes closed the door and belted up, Nathan began the drive back.
“See, Nate? Easy as that. Now can I come to your photo shoot?”
“Is that what your debauched display was all about? Getting me to agree to you coming to my session?”
“Maybe. So? Can I?”
Nathan shook his head and grinned, while navigating the small lane.
“As long as you behave yourself.” Jaymes clapped his hands and whooped with joy. “And don’t show me up.”
“What? By taking my clothes off? Would that constitute showing you up? Because, let me tell you, baby, once the photographer gets a glimpse of this hot body, Nathan Fresher will be totally off the menu.”
Jaymes shoved Nathan in the shoulder and laughed aloud. Nathan rolled his eyes, but kept on grinning.
“You are such a dork. Hey, who’s Polly going out with tonight?” asked Nathan.
“She’s seeing a bunch of girlfriends.”
“The hell she is. She’s got a dinner date.”
“Has she now?” said Jaymes, his voice curious and mischievous. “That’s not what she told me, the saucy little minx.”
Nathan peered out the driver’s side window, grinning. He’d called Polly the same thing. Almost exactly those words. Was she right? Was he turning into Jaymes?
“Do you know which restaurant?” asked Jaymes.
“We are not spying on her. Give your cousin some privacy, for goodness’ sake.”
“You’re no fun.”
Nathan drove for a little while without them speaking, wondering how to bridge the next topic.
“Surprised you’re not seeing Kelly tonight.”
“Kell-Bell?” said Jaymes, apparently surprised by the comment. “Why would I? She’ll be back in Bangor by now. Was only here for a couple of nights.”
“Oh, I see,” said Nathan, his fingers drumming the steering wheel. “She’s nice.”
Nathan turned the heating down. His cheeks had begun to burn.
“Is that your type?
“Is what my type?”
“Long hair? Brunette? She’s a very sexy lady.”
Nathan noticed Jaymes’ grin broaden, even though he kept his gaze ahead.
“And you call me a dork,” said Jaymes. “Let’s just say that Peter, her husband, who is also my ex-colleague and best mate back in North Wales, clearly thought so. Otherwise he wouldn’t have married her.”
“Yes, oh. She stopped by Tuesday to drop off the books I’d left behind. If you’d been a bit more sociable and hung around you’d have found that out. Any more questions? Hang on, is that why—?”
“So where do you want to go tonight?” interrupted Nathan, his cheeks aflame by now. “Couple of pints at the Arms and then the curry place on the high street? Or we could drive to the Golden Buddha Thai restaurant just outside Mayfield.”
Jaymes hissed out a laugh and slouched back in his seat.
“Nah, you know what? It’s bloody cold out, I’m knackered, and I don’t want to waste brain cells trying to think. How about we just grab a Thai takeaway and pick up some beers? Go back to your place and watch some mind-numbing Netflix movie or another?”
Which is exactly what they did. Nathan had turned the heating up in the flat before he left and the place felt toasty warm when they got home. Jaymes, as always, made himself at home, kicking off his shoes and helping himself to beer. If he was going to be completely honest, Nathan really enjoyed having Jaymes over, enjoyed his easy company as much as the banter. Part of him wondered if he ought to offer Jaymes his spare room. He still felt a little guilty about not doing so before. Not that he needed the rent money. He’d inherited the business from his father, with the flat above the shop, including a substantial sum from a life policy. Maybe he would bring up the idea of the spare room tomorrow when they visited the solicitor on the south coast.
After eating Thai food at the table and then relaxing on the sofa with plenty more drinks, they watched an old comedy about a bunch of widows planning to rob a bank. From time to time, whenever he laughed at some of the action, Nathan sensed Jaymes looking at him, studying him. Halfway through the movie, Jaymes excused himself and headed to the bathroom. Nathan quickly checked the time on his phone—ten to eleven—and also wondered if he might have had a message from Clifton, but since Raul had returned, there had been radio silence. Maybe for the best. Absently, he adjusted the volume on the television. Jaymes seemed to prefer the volume louder. He hadn’t even acknowledged Jaymes’ return, until the man threw himself back onto the sofa, and snatched the remote control out of Nathan’s hands. Without a word, he changed channels from the action film to a rugby game.
“Jaymes! I was watching that!”
“Boring. They get away with it in the end, anyway, the heist. Predictable really.”
Nathan folded his arms. Enough was enough.
“My house, my rules. Change the bloody channel back.”
“This is far more interesting.”
Nathan glared at Jaymes, but the bigger man simply smiled his annoying smile and continued to watch the game, stubborn as ever.
“Jaymes. Give me the remote.”
“If you want it, come and get it.”
“Give me the bloody channel changer!”
Nathan tried to snatch the remote back, but with each attempt Jaymes pulled the device out of reach. Losing his patience, Nathan tackled him on the sofa and the two tussled together. Eventually, they both rolled onto the carpet, and although Nathan had been annoyed at first, he soon found himself chuckling. As always, Jaymes’ face shone with mischievous playfulness, but also a fierce competitiveness. No way was Nathan getting the remote. For all his jokiness, Jaymes had size and strength on his side, and before long he had rolled Nathan beneath him, straddled him and pinned both his wrists firmly to the floor. Nathan writhed and squirmed, until Jaymes tightened the grip of his thighs around Nathan’s midriff.
“Get off me, you big oaf.”
Jaymes shook Nathan’s wrists, his head hovering over Nathan’s face.
“Say it, Nate. I win.”
“Get off me—”
Nathan’s stopped struggling, and lay still, met Jaymes’ mock glare, their eyes locked like male bucks clashing horns. Nathan’s chest rose and fell quickly, his breathing loud and pronounced.
“Okay, okay. You win, Jim.”
At first, Nathan smirked up into Jaymes’ eyes. But then, as though a switch had been flicked, the light in Jaymes’ eyes darkened, and Nathan experienced a sudden spark of arousal. Staring at each other for a few seconds longer, neither laughing anymore, Jaymes brought his lips down to meet Nathan’s. The kiss started out slow, tentative; but not innocent. Jaymes knew how to kiss. And then Nathan caught up, thrusting into the embrace, pushing his tongue past Jaymes’ teeth and into his hot mouth, wrestling Jaymes’ tongue. Which appeared to be all the permission Jaymes needed before twisting his head to take the kiss to the next level, releasing Nathan’s wrists to hold Nathan’s head in place and probe deeper with his tongue, exploring the depths of his mouth. Nathan pushed his groin up to meet Jaymes’, erections rubbing together, causing the larger man to utter a deep, guttural moan and thrust back. Only as Nathan wrapped his arms around Jaymes’ neck, did Jaymes suddenly freeze and pull away. Shocked, he stared at Nathan, before recoiling and lumbering to his feet, wrenching himself out of the embrace, as though only then realising what he had done.
“Shit. I shouldn’t have—”
Nathan sat up, wondering if Jaymes might bolt for the door. But instead, he threw himself back onto the sofa and put his head into his hands. Crisis of conscience. Nathan needed to pick his next words carefully, give Jaymes a get-out.
“Okay, Jaymes, you’ve done nothing wrong here.”
Jaymes remained silent.
“Look, we can put this down to a moment of insanity, an alcohol influenced delirium, and you can phone Polly now, tell her to come pick you up. Neither of us is fit to drive. Or you can stay over and sleep it off on the sofa or in the spare room. If you can bear to be here. Nobody needs to know what happened. I give you my word I won’t say anything to anyone, especially Polly. What do you want to do?”
Jaymes sat on the sofa staring down at his hands before rubbing each of his wrists, as though someone had just removed his handcuffs. After a moment of hesitation he pulled out his phone. Thumbing across the screen, he eventually prodded a number and put the phone to his ear. Nathan felt a tinge of disappointment, but quietly understood Jaymes’ decision. When he looked up, Jaymes was not so much staring straight at him, as into him.
“Got her voicemail. Hi Poll. Jaymes. Just wanted to let you know. I’ll be sleeping over at Nate’s place tonight, so don’t wait up for me.”
After ending the call, he put the phone away but continued to stare at Nathan.
“Which way to the bedroom?”
“The spare room’s down the hall on the left.”
“Not the spare room, Nate. Yours.”
A bit of a change of events here. What's going to happen next? Is it what you expect? And is it actually going to happen? Or will something stop this happening?
Loving the comments, suggestions and reactions - so keep them coming.