On the following Monday, Geoff plodded up a steep slope leading to the remains of Housesteads Roman fort. The first part of the walk, coming down from the car park, was fine; this section was a different story. At least the sun was shining in between a series of heavy, blustery showers. Tony's strong legs and flexing behind paced some way ahead. It was a view he would never tire of. His boyfriend half-turned around every minute or two to check on him. Geoff reflected it was both endearing and faintly humiliating. His thoughts returned to getting fitter. It had to be possible to do that without making an idiot of himself at some gym or another. He stopped walking for a few moments to catch his breath; a steady flow of people continued past, none of whom panted like he was. Tony strode on, oblivious.
“Hang on!” His breathing rate was starting to slow.
Tony turned round. Even from that distance, Geoff saw the question on his face. He waved his boyfriend closer.
He paced back down the incline. “OK?”
“Yeah.” Geoff used the back of his hand to wipe his brow. Thick hair was a liability sometimes. “And there I was worrying about walking along the Wall.”
The other man chuckled. “You're doing fine. Though don't forget you'll have to do the trip in reverse once we've been round the fort.”
His eyes narrowed. “You have a funny way of encouraging people.”
“Yeah... Don't I? It's a new management style I'm trying out.”
They exchanged fond, amused smiles.
Immediately, Geoff experienced a tightness in the crotch of his jeans. There was something about being on holiday, as he was discovering. Spending all the time in close proximity to his boyfriend meant his dick reported for duty with impressive regularity. Current feelings of happiness and relaxation also contributed, no doubt. He couldn't remember ever enjoying life so much.
He gathered himself. “OK.”
“Not far to go.”
He looked ahead; there wasn't. The ruined stone outline of the fort was clearly visible.
Geoff appreciated both the new sunglasses and his hooded, waterproof jacket. The weather teetered on a very narrow edge; it didn't know whether it wanted to be a fine day or not. Once they sighted one of the dark clouds, it was a question of guessing when the downpour would begin.
They were wandering around the various ancient outlines when he noticed Tony's head turn away. A cold blast of wind caught him by surprise. He followed his boyfriend's example; both of them stood and watched the next squall as it barrelled its way towards them.
“Shit!” This wasn't some passing cloud; a large part of the wide-open sky was turning into one enormous bruise.
“Hmm...” Tony weighed up the situation. “I doubt we'll get back to the car, but being in the dip will give some protection against the wind.”
Geoff took his sunglasses off and zipped up his jacket, closing all the flaps and seams. “We've pretty much seen everything fortunately.”
“Yep. OK... let's see how far we get before Mother Nature turns the taps on.”
He took one last look around before hurrying to catch up Tony who was already striding towards the exit.
Later the same afternoon, the two men, now dried-off and warm, relaxed on the sofa, enjoying the cottage's free wi-fi. Geoff glanced left and spotted his partner deep into whatever non-fiction book was now top of his ebook pile. He preferred fiction, mostly romances. For a moment, he wondered whether his appetite might change, given he was living the romance of his dreams. Taking a deep breath of happiness made Tony look up. Geoff met his enquiring smile with a slight shrug before turning back to his sudoku. Hopefully the slight break would reveal things in the puzzle he'd previously missed.
A while later, his phone rang. They both stirred; the old-fashioned telephone bell broke into the peaceful silence. Reaching out for the handset, its screen informed him the call was from Helen.
Geoff sat up straight. His boyfriend raised an eyebrow.
Didn't realise the council allowed power naps.
He rolled his eyes. “We're on holiday.”
God, I'd forgotten it was this week. There's me thinking I could lord it over you in a quick phone call.
I'm away as well.
He and Helen managed an immaculately timed chorus of “Where're you?” which made them both laugh out loud.
Tony moved closer.
Geoff held an arm out in invitation while continuing the conversation with Helen. “We're in Northumberland. The nearest place is...”
“Haltwhistle.” Tony, now cuddled close, supplied the answer.
Her incredulous outburst reached both pairs of ears. The men stared at each other before Geoff asked the question. “Meaning?”
Meaning I'm all of ten miles away from you.
He hastily dug around in his memory. Helen told him at one point her idea of a good time away was on an archaeological dig. Then he remembered something else. “I thought you were off to an emergency dig in the City somewhere?”
Nah. Decided I didn't fancy London in the summer: all the heat, pollution, and the bloody expense. Came here instead.
Tony gestured for the handset. Showing Geoff what he proposed first, he turned the speakerphone on. “Tony here. Let me guess... You at Vindolanda?”
Right first time. It's a great place. Got bloody soaked earlier though.
“Vindolanda?” Geoff vaguely recalled the name from seeing it on signposts.
It's the site of one of the main Roman administrative centres for the Wall. There have been some amazing finds.
Tony frowned in concentration. “A hoard of written tablets? Baked clay or something.”
Yeah, containing replies to all sorts: complaints, letters home, demands, family news.
“Wow.” Geoff tried to envisage himself using a stylus on an unbaked clay tablet. “Think I prefer email or texts.”
Laughter erupted from the phone. Hardly surprising! But think... in two thousand years' time, what will people know of our communications?
Tony cocked his head. “Very little, I imagine. Certainly for the everyday stuff.”
Anyway, what did you get up to today?
“I walked all the way from the car park at Housesteads to the fort, and back.” Geoff was proud of his achievement.
The other man sniggered. “We even ran part of the way back 'cause it was pelting down.”
Tell me about it. Bloody weather. So, when you coming to Vindolanda? Plenty more vigorous walking opportunities.
Geoff pulled a face. The broad, loving smile close by made him colour.
“Helen, I think Geoff's had enough of the Romans for a day or two.”
“How about Thursday lunchtime? We've plans in Newcastle for the rest of the day.”
Sounds good to me. I'm here for another ten days.
Geoff snorted. “And then you have a chance to buy your release from servitude?”
Tony intervened. “OK, let's do Thursday. You suggest a place and we'll meet you there.”
Will do. Speak to you later.
Geoff stretched. “That was a surprise. Good one at that.” His stomach gurgled.
Tony leant over to give the offending part of his anatomy a rub, followed by a kiss on the lips. “My big man needs feeding again?”
“Yep. Don't seem to have stopped eating since we got here.”
“Me too, in fact. Must be the exercise and fresh air.” He got up and wandered over to the kitchen area. “Hmm... we could have fresh chicken and cauliflower curry with naans, or I've a couple of...” He paused for dramatic effect. “Steaks here.”
“Steak!” Geoff's eyes lit up. His mouth started watering.
“OK, I know which has your vote. Steak it is.” He bent down to the fridge. “Chips and salad?”
Tony straightened up with the ingredients. “Won't be long.”
Joy squeezed one last top-up from the teapot, tipping it up, holding firmly onto the lid. She was conscious of being watched by her companion.
“Sorry, Gloria. I rather assumed you wouldn't want any more. I can easily make a small pot.”
The other woman smiled. “I'm fine. Thank you.” She returned to looking out the bungalow's front windows. “Your roses are looking good. That shade of pink is very pretty.”
“Hnh.” Joy rattled her spoon in the cup. “Not a patch on the ones in the old garden. These get blackspot all the time.”
It was the close of another of their Wednesday chats.
Gloria dabbed at her lips with a napkin. “Maybe having the pleasure of seeing those roses again would be one benefit from bridging the gap between you and Geoffrey. How do you feel about that now?”
Joy delayed answering by fussing around with the milk jug. Finally she put it down. “You've done a good job in putting his case, Gloria. I have to say that.”
The other woman regarded her. “Geoffrey isn't guilty of anything, Joy. We talked about that some time ago.”
“Yes, yes, we did.” She pursed her lips. “A clumsy choice of words – that's all.”
“Alright. If I said he has nothing to apologise for, what would you think?”
“Is that what you said to your great-nephew?”
“Initially, no.” Gloria shrugged. “I changed my mind though, pretty quickly.”
Joy took several sips of tea. Stewed, of course. Their chats were like this every week: being gently but firmly pushed, cajoled, and persuaded into taking a path she would never have contemplated on her own. And by a woman she used to regard as her inferior.
“I agree reluctantly my son can't help who he is, but that doesn't mean I approve.”
Gloria leant forward. “But does that one part of him obscure all the others?”
She frowned. “Say what you mean, Gloria.”
“I'm only suggesting that Geoffrey's sexuality doesn't change who he is in essence. It sounds as though you got on well enough before you discovered he was gay?”
“He was a dutiful lad; attentive, kind, hard-working in his way. And he's always enjoyed his music.”
“I'll leave you to consider whether any of that has changed.” Gloria bent down for her handbag. “I've got to go – hair appointment. My usual Wednesday schedule.” She smiled. “What about the possibility of meeting Geoffrey again? Think about what might go through your mind.” She put her jacket on. “It's something I did after Josh came out. I found it helped.”
Joy stood up to see her guest out. “I'll look out the cake recipe we talked about for next time. I haven't used it in years.”
“I'd like that. Thank you.”
They walked towards the front door.
“Josh enjoys a slice or two when he comes round.”
A feeling of loneliness welled up, and not for the first time. Joy put on a brave face. “Teenagers will eat you out of house and home if you let them.”
“Indeed. I'll see you next week, Joy.”
Joy emptied the teapot and put the crockery for washing. She sat down at the kitchen table and stared into the middle distance. What was she going to do about Geoffrey? Unbidden, an image appeared from a staff room of twenty-five years ago. All the department heads had been summoned to a meeting after the end of the school day. What about, she had no memory. In her mind's eye, she did a sweep of the room. There was Bob, the Head of PE (or whatever they called it then), sounding off in his usual misogynist way about his recent conquests. Her lip curled. God, he was a repulsive specimen. He got results, but was cordially loathed by almost everyone. She recalled his too-tight shorts and revealing shirts. Ugh.
Why on Earth was he back in her head? She hadn't thought about him for ages. Puzzled, she returned to the remembered image. There, on the other side of the room, was Terrence, Head of History. A small, slight man with a beard and glasses, he too got results but not by threatening, overbearing behaviour. Joy pursed her lips. The kids couldn't stop talking about him. She could hear them now: chattering in her classes about how exciting and real he made the subject, and how he didn't talk down to them. She was under no illusions the same happened about her teaching. Terrence was never seen with any partner or girlfriend, and generally kept a low profile. Not that he was a pushover; he got things done, but in a way nobody really noticed.
With what she knew now, Joy wondered whether he was a homosexual. That hadn't stopped him from being an effective teacher and a kind, courteous colleague. She continued to stare blankly while her mind processed everything. After a while, she got up. There was shopping to be done.
Coming out of a joint shower after an active, sweaty day at Kielder Reservoir, Tony kissed his boyfriend.
Fondling his bare behind, another kiss followed. “You gave me such a nice mouthful, my sexy man.”
“We both enjoyed it?” Another kiss.
His companion had that slightly uncomfortable look that still appeared whenever he talked about their sex life. Geoff nodded.
“Could you taste your cum when I kissed you?”
He shrugged. “I'm not sure.”
“Hmm? OK, more practice required. Much more practice.”
“I like yours.”
“Good. Plenty more to come.”
They both sniggered at the feeble joke before cuddling on the bed. Playtime would be limited by the fact they both needed feeding. Their lunchtime soup and a sandwich had long since disappeared. He smirked. How did those guys in stories do it? Staying in bed all day, fooling around, with no bodily requirements.
Geoff raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”
He continued to play with the dark brown, silky chest hair that fascinated him so much. “Just wondering if we'll ever have one of those days when neither of us leaves bed and we have endless, torrid sex.”
“What?!” Geoff sat up in a hurry, exploding with laughter. “You mean no food? I don't think so. And you'd have to go to the loo, clean up, and so on.”
“You're such a wet blanket.” He rolled over, pulling the other man flat again.
They kissed deeply.
Geoff sighed. “Only one more day of this.”
“Have I broken you into the idea of holidays?”
“Oh, yes. I've had a wonderful time.”
“I know I'll never forget it; being here with you is special.”
Geoff looked straight into his eyes. “I can't ever remember being this happy. Or ready to make love.”
The self-deprecating tone of the second statement was so typically Geoff,
“OK... Sounds as though we better take advantage of the situation. Yes?” A nibble at the beard line.
Another kiss followed.
The following evening, both men were part of a steady stream of humanity making their way from the Sage concert hall in Gateshead back over the Tyne to Newcastle. At peace, they let the crowd pass them by as they strolled over the pedestrian Millennium Bridge. About halfway, they stopped to take in the view of the other bridges close by, all bathed in the last of the day's sunshine.
Geoff frowned as he continued a conversation from earlier. “I don't get how you can operate two sets of bellows at different speeds while also playing a tune on the chanter.”
They were discussing the finer points of playing the Northumbrian smallpipes. The concert of local folk music was the first time either of them had encountered the instrument.
“She seemed to have no problem at all.” Tony snorted in admiration. “And the fiddle player was damn good as well.”
Geoff stood, looking out from the bridge, mimicking playing the smallpipes. He gave up in frustration. He couldn't get all three elements to work at the same time: no sooner were both his elbows working imaginary bellows, than wiggling his fingers on a phantom chanter threw everything into disarray. Slowly flapping one elbow was scarcely possible when combined with the hand movements.
Tony moved behind him to tickle his ribs. “Come on, big guy. Fancy a snack and something to drink?”
He turned around. “Yeah. I think a couple of pints'll go down without any difficulty. Where we going?”
They resumed their stroll.
“The gay quarter's past the Central Station apparently. A place called the Blonde Barrel sounded the best for us.”
“Hmm?” Geoff continued to replay parts of the concert in his head.
“It advertises itself as offering craft beers and food.”
“Any loud music?” As a musician, he loathed an assault on his ears.
Tony shrugged. “Dunno. There's no cabaret certainly. We'll find out when we get there.”
Ten minutes or so later, they arrived outside the bar holding hands. The sight of other couples around who allowed themselves the luxury of discreet affection, emboldened them to do the same. Safety in numbers. In an uncharacteristic blue moment, Tony wondered whether they'd ever be able to wander around, harmlessly showing their connection, without having to take account of where they were.
Geoff squeezed his hand, seeming to sense the darkening of his mood. “OK?”
His open, loving expression had its usual effect.
“Yeah.” He emerged from under the pall. “Pleased we can be ourselves here.”
“Unlike most times.”
“Yeah.” He took a deep breath. “Let's make this the perfect end to a perfect week.” A quick kiss on the other man's cheek followed.
The door guy looked on, amused. “No need to ask you two whether you're in the right place.”
“Nope.” Tony held up Geoff's hand in his.
The man stood aside. “Have a good time, guys.”
Geoff stretched out his legs. “This is nice.”
They were seated on the outdoor terrace at the bar. A few other couples came and went around them.
“We can hear ourselves think, at least.” Tony took a sip of his fancy, non-alcoholic cocktail.
At something past ten, the night sky still had a deep gold and pink fringe.
“It's weird. The days seem to last much longer up here. I mean, we're not that much further north.”
“Two hundred and fifty miles.”
Geoff shrugged. “Sure you don't want to try this ale?” He indicated a half-full glass by his elbow.
“No. Don't forget, I'm driving us back. And…” Tony grimaced. “My blasted testing stuff is still in the cottage. God… it's the first time I've forgotten it in ages.”
His boyfriend raised an eyebrow without saying anything.
“It's fine. Really. I've got my emergency rations here, and I'll do the deed as soon as we get back. There's insulin in the fridge.”
Geoff's “Hmm.” made him smile.
“You can't be madder at my carelessness than I am.”
More ale disappeared from the glass. “You did spend a long time getting ready.”
“Yeah?” Tony regarded his form-fitting tee and chinos. “Worth it, I believe. I wanted to look good for you as well. Though…” He smirked. “You did draw the line at those black shorts.”
“Excuse me! They were indecent.” The face opposite him darkened in the strange-coloured, outdoor lighting. “And great. I couldn't take my eyes off you.”
He leant across the table to give his boyfriend a kiss. “Perhaps I should've worn them? Watching you trying to hide a stiffy all evening might've been fun.”
His wrist got slapped for that comment. Their sniggers dissolved into a period of mutual gazing before Geoff broke the trance by kissing him on the nose.
“Cruel and unusual punishment would be a better description to my mind. I'd have no problem with you wearing them at home.”
Tony dipped his head. “Thanks for the permission. … You always look great in that shirt, and the sun on your skin has made it look even better.”
It was true. Wearing the same pink, sprigged shirt as he wore at their sole supper party, Geoff looked delicious. And so sexy. “I can hardly wait 'til we get back. Shower, then bed. But don't expect to sleep. I've got something going on that'll take some satisfying.”
Geoff's eyes widened. He looked around surreptitiously before remembering where he was. “I'm not used to this in public.”
“Nobody's close enough to hear. And why shouldn't it be normal for us? I imagine straight couples talk like that without thinking.”
To make his point, he leant over to nuzzle Geoff's neck briefly, heading straight for the spot that made his man shiver. A muted wolfwhistle made him look up. The doorman, now taking a break, was staring unashamedly. Tony gave him the finger, though with a grin. The guy licked his lips before heading back inside. Geoff didn't see much of the encounter, but was on the defensive.
“It's OK, love. An interested spectator, that's all.”
His boyfriend's jaw dropped open.
He smirked. “I guess someone finds you just as sexy as I do.”
Two gulps of ale disappeared from a second pint as Geoff tried to calm down.
Tony checked the time. “Shall we finish up? It'll take us another hour to get back.”
“OK.” The glass emptied quickly. “I'll just pay a visit on the way out.”
“See you outside?”
A youth vaulted over the Metro exit barrier and landed feet first on the other side with a satisfying thud. He moved swiftly out of the way. Several travellers heading in the opposite direction tutted loudly. Leering in their direction, he waited for two other men to take the same leap. Not that they did it in anything like his style. A shouted “Oi!” from a bloke in uniform set them sprinting towards the exit onto Grainger Street.
The three young men came to a halt further down Grainger Street.
“Works every time.” He felt satisfied at bucking the system yet again.
“Aye, the wankers canna do anything about us.”
This guy was a friend of sorts; more a follower really, standing there with a sycophantic grin on his face. The third was a friend of a friend; he scarcely knew his name. He eyed the first of the pair; he'd be home, binge-watching some mindless American shite, if it wasn't for him.
He smoothed down his lucky shirt. All the lasses would notice how sharp he looked. Getting laid was the plan. He didn't give a fuck what happened to the other two. No way was he hanging around until they found something to shag. The buzz going on in his head felt good – putting a few drinks away beforehand always got him going.
“Keep up, yer tossers!” He paraded on down the road towards Central Station and a club he'd been told about.
The other two followed dumbly in his wake.
On the way, he spotted an opportunity; not one to be seen every day. He turned round. “How's about a fight?”
His acolyte blinked at him blearily.
“It'll be a piece of piss. There's a pair of arse bandits on the opposite side, holding hands.” He indicated with his head where they were. “They need teaching a lesson. It'll only take a minute before they take off, snivelling.”
“Err…” The other two guys exchanged looks.
“You faggots an' all?”
He fumed. It had been a shite week so far: work, finances, parents; everything. He needed some outlet for his stress and anger. Not waiting any longer, he strutted across the road like a bantam cock.
Outside Central Station, Geoff watched on in amusement as his boyfriend interrogated Google maps.
“Ahh…” He stared at the screen. “Yes, there's our car park.” The relief was evident. “God… I'm too young to forget where we left the car.”
“Well, I wasn't any help, was I? So…”
“Err…” Tony looked around to orientate himself. “We head up there.” He pointed to the street in question. “Then we turn left and it'll be obvious. In between two Metro stations.”
Mellow and happy, they strolled in the direction indicated, keeping close and connected.
Geoff's thoughts returned to earlier in the day. “That display of discarded shoes and sandals really got to me.”
Tony took a moment to catch on. “At Vindolanda? Yeah. Of course, part of the impact is because leather, hide, and other materials rarely survive. That's part of what makes the stuff discovered there so important, and…”
He noticed Tony's eyes scanning ahead, like radar. His hand was gripped more tightly.
“Keep walking.” Tony picked up the pace.
“What?!” His skin prickled with anxiety. He tried looking past the other man to see what was the matter.
Tony brought them both a halt suddenly. A young guy blocked their way, moving sufficiently to ensure neither of them could get past. Geoff freed his hand.
“What've we got here?” A head thrust forward aggressively. “A pair of fucking queers.”
Heart thudding, Geoff noticed two other men hanging further back.
“Let us past.” Tony's voice was even, reasonable. “We're just minding our own business.”
He went in front, moving up against the shopfront to get past. A shove in his chest stopped them both.
“Why the fuck should a pair of pansies be allowed out here, in my city?”
Tony's back tensed. Geoff felt sick, and he had an urgent need to go to the loo again.
Another voice joined in. “Cut it out. There're bloody cameras everywhere.”
In that moment, Tony took the chance to push forward again, not caring this time if he had to elbow the guy to get past.
What happened next was almost too quick for a stunned Geoff to take in. One second, Tony was seemingly in control; the next, he was a groaning heap on the pavement, trying to defend himself against another kick to his guts.
All fear forgotten, he strode forward. Tony's assailant was aiming for another brutal attack. Instead, the man found himself staggering backwards under the force of a furious, two-handed shove. And again. That occasion, he nearly fell to his knees. Taking one look at Geoff closing for a third time, he backed off before sprinting further down the street and melting into the general throng.
Geoff was violently sick into the gutter, spewing up beer and part-digested tapas, keeping himself upright with one arm braced against the wall. Once free from the nausea, he immediately turned to help Tony. His boyfriend was sitting up, gingerly inspecting his torso and face for injuries. Kneeling down to join him, Geoff felt powerless. He wasn't first-aid trained and he had nothing useful with him.
The obvious thing to do became apparent. “I'll phone for an ambulance.”
“Don't bother, love.” Tony dabbed a finger at blood coming from a cut above his eyebrow.
“I don't want to spend five hours in A&E waiting for treatment I don't need.”
A woman approached. “You OK?”
Geoff stood up, letting her see Tony's injuries.
“I'm an off-duty nurse. The name's Kylie. Let's have a quick look. Any pre-existing medical conditions?”
“Yeah. Type-1 diabetes.”
While they talked, Geoff took his phone out. Why hadn't he thought to take a picture of the homophobic prick? Of course, police! Something made him wait until he could ask Tony. Involving the authorities could mean a lot of time and expense being wasted without a prosecution to show for it.
The woman helped Tony to his feet, making sure he was steady before letting go. “You'll live.”
“Thanks for your help.”
“No problem. Pity the bastard ran off – I'd have enjoyed giving him a taste of my mixed martial arts training.” She pointed to the left turning ahead. “There's a twenty-four hour supermarket along there. It's not far.”
Tony winced. “The car's that direction as well.”
“Get yourself some painkillers, anti-septic wipes, and plasters. Your ribs should heal by themselves. If you experience difficulties breathing or the pain gets worse, see a doctor. And your mate'll better drive.”
She smiled. “Mind how you go, now.”
After the woman left to rejoin her friends, Geoff moved in to lend support, wrapping one arm around Tony's waist.
“D'you think we should call the police?”
Wearily, Tony shook his head. “I just want to get home.”
They set off again, Tony walking with the gait of an old man.
“Sorry I didn't…”
“Geoff, love. Who saw the bastard off?”
“Ehm…” He felt embarrassed.
“You. You did great. I'm proud of you.”
Geoff felt cold, despite the warm night and Tony's body tight up against his.
A few minutes later, they made it to the supermarket. Geoff insisted his boyfriend sat in one of the seats at the entrance, ignoring the weird looks they got from the security staff. Grabbing a basket, he went round the pharmacy area, selecting what was necessary before paying at one of the automated checkouts. He was shivering continuously. Leaving the bag with Tony, he used the customer loos. Though he wasn't sick again, the sight of his pale, clammy face, staring eyes, and soiled beard reminded him they both looked very much the worse for wear.
When he returned, Tony was already applying the wipes to his face. He paused, giving him a look of concern and pointed to a nearby seat.
“Are you gonna be OK to drive?”
Geoff shook his head. “I'm probably over the limit. More seriously, I can't stop shaking.”
“You and me both. It's the reaction setting in.” He put the wipes down and fished around in his pockets until he produced some sweets. “Here; get some of these down you.”
Geoff followed instructions, crunching the boiled sweets between his back teeth.
“OK… what're our options?” Tony resumed cleaning himself up.
“Doubt a cab would accept us. Public transport won't take us anything like close enough. Shit.” Geoff ran a hand through his hair. “What a fucking mess.” He felt close to tears.
“Hey. We're fine. Or we will be once we get back to the cottage. Helen. Would she come and pick us up, d'you think?”
“She'll probably kill us first. It's well after eleven.”
They both sniggered at the weak joke.
Geoff fumbled for his phone. “Here goes.”
A sleepy voice answered. This had better be good, Lumsden.
“Helen, can you come and collect us from Newcastle? We've had some trouble.”
His friend sounded suddenly awake.
“Tony…” His voice caught. “Tony's…” A tear dripped down one cheek.
His boyfriend gently took the phone from him. “Helen? Sorry to wake you up. We had a run-in with some homophobic prick in the centre of Newcastle and now neither of us is able to drive back.”
A gasp was followed by a short silence. Right. Her voice was now brisk. I'm in the living room. Less chance of disturbing the others. What the fuck happened? Do either of you need medical treatment? Are the police involved?
“Helen, we just need you to come and pick us from the Tesco's in the city centre. Off Grainger Street. Please?”
Of course. It'll take me about forty-five minutes. Sorry. Can't be any quicker.
“It's fine. We're safe and warm. If we get hungry or thirsty, I'll send my gallant rescuer off to buy something.”
OK. Hand the phone back to Geoff.
“Yeah?” He tried hard not to sound teary.
You did good. Even without hearing the details, that's plain. Love you. See you both very soon. Yeah?
“Thanks, Hel. Bye.”
The two men moved the seats closer together and prepared to pass the time supporting each other, as had become second nature.
A whispered “Love you.” made Geoff smile. “Really? Who'd have thought it? … Love you too.”
Geoff found a parking space right in front of the house. Tony was asleep in the passenger seat, one side of his face a testimony to the previous night's encounter. He took a deep breath. Such a wonderful week tarnished by one ignorant, gay-hating moron. A rueful smile appeared. Tony was adamant the incident shouldn't be allowed to overshadow everything else. True, but difficult at that moment to put into practice.
He leant over. “We're back home.”
Tony stirred and stretched without thinking. “Fuck!”
Geoff got out and moved round to his door. “Come on – let's get you inside.”
Together they shambled up the path to the front door. The luggage would wait until he got Tony settled. Going into the living room, he noticed the light flashing on the landline phone. Puzzled, he stared at it. The only person who ever left a message was his mother. He heard Tony moving slowly in the kitchen. After a moment, a finger reached out to press the button.
'Hello, Geoffrey. This is your mother. I wonder if… if we could meet?'
My thanks to Parker Owens who has supported this story throughout.
I love to see your thought, comments, and suppositions. I expect the story to restart sometime in early 2020. Thank you for your support. It means a lot.