Jason went to his room and flung himself down on the bed. He contemplated the ceiling gloomily. He’d been so sure he was loved. The hole which Brent’s suicide had left in his heart—in his life—hadn’t filled. And yet, his pain has lessened. And the reason for that was because he was loved. Or so he’d thought. On impulse, he opened his phone and dialled Luigi’s number.
Luigi and Cody were both deeply asleep, worn out not just by lack of sleep the night before, but also by emotional exhaustion. They’d never slept for a long time in the same bed together. Cody’s need to get back to his wife had always prevented that. Now, like two small children lost in the forest, they clung to each other, finding in each other’s warmth a safe haven, a place where for a while they could be safe. The insistent ringing eventually dragged Luigi from his drugged sleep.
“Oh! Sorry. I didn’t think you’d be asleep. I’ll ring back later.”
“No, it’s OK.” Luigi wet his mouth. It tasted like the bottom of a parrot’s cage. And he hadn’t even been drinking.
“I just thought … I wondered how you were. You and Cody.”
“OK, so far.”
“Would you like to come round and join us? My grandam is giving a party. Lots of good champagne. Cheese straws. Sundry savoury nibblies.” Jason had seen the packets of chips on the kitchen counter.
“Cheese straws! Hell, an irresistible offer! When?”
“About seven. That gives you an hour or so to primp and perk. Oh! I’ve just thought. Will Cody be OK with us? I mean …”
“Yeah. I think so.” Better than he’d be with me alone, Luigi thought.
Jason closed the phone, a half smile curling his lips. He felt much better.
He’d known from all the preparations that his grandmother and Eleanor half expected his friends to join them for the “party”. If they’d been other than who they were, he’d have resented the assumption. But they’d been careful not to make their expectations explicit, so he forgave them. In any case, he was very fond of them both. And having Luigi and Cody there would leaven the mix. Even better, he could watch them and help Luigi get Cody through the horrors he’d been subjected to. When he thought about it, he found himself unable to imagine, really, what it must be like to be raped, cut and humiliated, knowing all the time that he was going to die horribly. I must make allowances, he thought.
He went into the kitchen. “Is it OK if Luigi and Cody join us for the party?” he asked the two women as they tidied the kitchen.
“Oh, that would be lovely!” said Eleanor.
His grandmother said, “It’s always such a pleasure to have friends over and break bread like in the Bible or is it somewhere else I can’t remember it’s supposed to be the earliest form of sharing with even young children doing it is it the Good Samaritan or which story really sometimes I feel quite senile.”
“Never that, grandam! Your mind is as sharp as ever.”
That’s all very well, thought Lucasta, but I do worry about you my dear and Brent and so much loss and unhappiness and I would be very glad if you found a nice young man to love or even two nice young men and never mind what your ninniebarn of a mother thinks all the brains of an earwig.
“Around seven o’clock?”
“That would be very nice,” said Eleanor, also wondering why Jason had looked so down when he’d come home and looked better now. She wondered whether Keith would be coming too and then remembered that he’d be working.
Luigi put his phone back on the bedside table. Cody had barely stirred from a deep sleep. He didn’t want to wake him, yet he was afraid to let him sleep too long because if he woke late at night he didn’t want him to be alone. Night was the worst, he’d found, after he’d broken up with Cody. At two or three am, the city was mostly asleep, and if there were sounds of revellers on the streets, that had just made him feel more lonely, more lost. Now he’d achieved what he’d longed for: Cody next to him in bed, Cody in his house, Cody sharing his life. Yet it couldn’t have happened in a worse way. Cody was horribly damaged. Luigi’s thoughts paralleled Jason’s, a few kilometres away. He will need my help and support, he thought. After what happened, he may never be right again. But I love him. And if I walk away he won’t survive. I know that. So I have a duty to help him recover, to keep him safe. Whatever happens afterwards.
He leaned over and kissed Cody on his cheek. “Hey, handsome. Would you like some tea?” Luigi wasn’t very Italian when it came to tea and coffee. In one sense he was: he insisted on excellent coffee, but since he couldn’t make it to his exacting standards at home, he only ever drank coffee at restaurants or cafés. At home he always made tea. He’d been taught how to by Richard, his cello player lover, and the process of making tea always reminded him of learning how to do it in Richard’s beautiful art deco flat.
“Hmm?” muttered Cody.
“Coads love, how about some tea?” Luigi kissed Cody again, more a brother’s or a friend’s kiss than a lover’s.
Luigi took that as a yes, and got up.
Cody turned over and watched through half-closed eyes as Luigi walked through to the kitchen, his slim, almost too thin body moving with feline grace, his thong setting off the beautiful curves of his bum and the satisfying sweet swellings of his thighs. Yet to Cody this body, which he had held close as he emptied himself into it, which he’d watched glistening with sweat as he’d fucked it, which he’d seen arch in pleasure as it climaxed; this body seemed to him unreal and unattainable, as far away and hard to reach as happiness or joy. Tea! he thought bitterly. How will that help?
He sipped the tea like an obedient child, but when Luigi suggested they go and visit Jason he shook his head and turned away.
“They’re good people. They won’t press or push or bully. And Jason is so kind and accepting. That was what drew me to him in the first place.”
Cody turned and looked at him, his eyes empty, his face bleak.
“Oh, love!” Luigi put his arms round the other man. He stroked Cody’s back, as if he were a pet or a child. Cody sat stiff and unmoving in Luigi’s arms. “We’ll get through this,” Luigi encouraged. “I love you.”
“Do you? What about Jason?”
If Cody had been bitter or angry it would have been better. Instead he was listless and unemotional.
“I dunno. He’s my friend. You were the great love of my life, you know. I loved you more than I’ve ever loved anybody.”
“I loved you too, Lou. So much. Oh, why did you drop me like that?”
Luigi spoke into Cody’s hair, glad he didn’t have to face him.
“When I saw you with Phillippa, Coads, I was so hurt. I thought, you know, that this was it, that I’d found someone to love, and that you and I would be together for ever. And then I found out you had a wife and kids and …”
“Yes. I’ve fucked up so badly.”
“We can start again. You’ve had a … a terrible experience. But you’re with friends now. And we’ll look after you.”
“Yes. He’s kind and gentle and strong. Listen …”
“After … after I refused to see you I was heartbroken.”
“You were heartbroken!”
“Yes, love. I was. So I went back to my old ways. I went out trying to find someone to fuck, anyone, it didn’t matter. Did you know I used to do that?”
Cody shook his head.
“I’m not proud of it. I whored around …”
Cody turned his head and brushed his lips in reassurance and love against Luigi’s cheek, startling the other man.
“… and … well … I saw Jace in the park and I … picked him up. Thing is … he was so kind to me. They often aren’t, you know.”
“I know.” There were tales a-plenty in Cody’s laconic response.
“And I’ve been there, Coads, in those loveless dark places, I’ve been so alone. A guy’s just fucked me. You can’t get physically closer than that, can you? Yet I still felt so alone. But Jason sussed out my loneliness. I … I cried … because of you … because of everything. And I tried to hide it from Jace. And he saw. And he talked to me. And made me promise to see him again.”
“So you have him now. You don’t need me.”
“You reckon? Do you love Phillippa?”
“Yeah.” Cody was all at once defensive.
“And you love me?”
“You know that I do.”
“Well, Jace is my friend. And I love him. And yes we fuck … but it’s not about the fucking … it’s because he cares”
Cody tried not to let Luigi know he was weeping but his ragged gasp as he asked, “Where does that leave me?” gave him away.
“I told you, you drongo. I told you that you were the great love of my life.”
Luigi kissed Cody on his lips, but didn’t answer.
“And now, Lou?” insisted Cody, turning his head away from Luigi’s questing mouth.
“God fuck me for a fool. Yes. I still love you.” And as he said it, Luigi knew it was true.
“Do you promise, Lou? Do you promise?”
“I love you, Cody Williams. I promise.” There was a long almost peaceful silence. At last, Luigi said, “But you know, I didn’t even know your last name. Who was the man I really loved? The man who never invited me home? The man who often wouldn’t take my phone calls? Who was he, this man I loved more than I could say?”
“Oh God, Lou! I’ve fucked up so badly.” Cody was weeping openly now, his body racked with sobs.
“Shhh. It’s okay. We’ve started again. Now come on, let’s get tarted up and go to the party. Put on our glad rags. Be happy! Well, it’s not really a party, but the two old ladies are calling it that. C’mon, handsome.”
Cody sniffed and wiped his eyes and started getting dressed.
When they arrived at Majorca Flats, Jason was waiting for them, and the first thing he did was to pull Cody in a close hug, not a straight bloke hug, but a full body hug from chest to knees. It was an odd feeling for Cody. This … manly … macho, muscular, big man, who appeared so strong and so self-possessed, was holding him close. It was like a big brother or his father. It felt as if Jason cared. Cody was a small boy again, safe within the wards maintained by his parents. Yet he could feel Jason’s cock pressed against him and though that was surprisingly erotic given what he’d been through, it suggested more, that the warmth Jason was giving him might translate one day into sexual intimacy. Incongruous, given all he’d been through and what he still felt, but not in an unpleasant way. Since he and Luigi had talked, Cody felt better, though the horror of the last few days was never far from his conscious mind. The thought that perhaps, one day, he might again have sex entered his head and wouldn’t be dislodged.
“Come in, come in, my grandam has bought some super champers and they’ve made cheese straws.”
Luigi divined that Jason was being deliberately “jolly hockey sticks” as Richard used to call it, meaning the unreal world of books written about English boarding schools and the supposedly happy times everyone had there. I love him too, he thought, suddenly. Not just because he’s sexy and beaut, but because he’s so fucking kind. Clever and thoughtful. And he thought about Providence and how Jason’s loss had taught him something, just as his own had.
Bolt leapt around excitedly, barking his pleasure at their visit.
“Welcome to our little party!” exclaimed Eleanor. She’d made up her hair and put on some jewellery and scent and looked glamorous and elegant.
“So honest dogs—you know exactly where you stand with them there’s no pretence whereas with people you always suspect them of ulterior motives which sounds like a sort of plant doesn’t it sweet-smelling but with a bee inside but dogs are pleased to see you so they show it whereas we humans pretend either that we’re not as pleased as we are or that we’re more pleased which is polite and politics but I think dogs do it better, don’t you?” Lucasta has also dolled up for the “party”. Luigi was glad he’d also dressed up. Cody was still wearing the boardshorts Michael had given him.
“By which grandam means that she’s glad you’re here,” interpreted Jason with a grin.
“You silly boy didn’t I say so?” Lucasta beamed at them all.
“Some champagne?” Eleanor led then through to the sitting room. “Jason, would you mind getting a bottle from the fridge and doing the honours?”
“I’d love to.”
There were three bottles of Domaine Chandon in the fridge. Jason didn’t know the house, and he read the label. Apparently it was made by the local operation of Moët & Chandon. He realised that he hadn’t had decent champagne since he came to Australia. The bubbly he and Keith and Luigi drank was cheap. The cheapest, actually.
He opened the bottle and went through to the sitting room.
As he poured for Cody, he gave him a smile. Cody didn’t smile back but he didn’t grump either. He looks as if something in him has died, Jason thought. He remembered the first week or two of the hellish time after Brent had shot himself. Thinking back on it, he’d also been as if dead. The pain had been so great that his mind had numbed itself, as the body does with a severe wound. He’d wandered around in a daze, and often, he refused to believe it had happened. It seemed impossible. A bad dream. Unreal. It was only when he had come to Australia that the full horror of Brent’s suicide had become real. He remembered how he had wept after the first time with Luigi. Of how he had understood the sorrow at the heart of life. It had changed him, he suddenly recognised. He’d been arrogant, selfish—a classic handsome upper class twit. He had learnt his lesson. Too late. Too late. But perhaps all the hard lessons of life were like that.
He looked at Cody. What had happened to him would either crush him or make him stronger. And there was this: he owed it to the universe, to Providence, to God, to the Goddess—whatever you liked to call it—to do what he could to help. It was a kind of superstitious bargaining, he knew full well. Let me be kind and generous so the Furies are kind to me in return. It didn’t work like that, he knew. In his heart, he knew what that luck and happiness were random. But he couldn’t bear the thought that Brent had died in vain, that all that life, all that learning, and suffering, and happiness; that all that love, could be pointless.
“Would you like to borrow some jeans and stuff?” he whispered into Cody’s ear. “Everyone’s so dolled up. I could lend you some.”
Cody gave him a small grin, tremulous and wry. “I’m already wearing your trunks.”
Jason raised his eyebrow. He’d practised for ages in front of the bathroom mirror to lift just one, to produce exactly the worldly, slightly cynical, witty expression he’d seen on one of the sixth-formers in school when he was in the fourth form.
Cody smiled, more genuinely, this time. “My feelings exactly.”
“Well, then, the rest will be easy! Come on. Let’s go to my room.”
He took Cody’s arm and led him out.
Luigi watched them go. He didn’t realise that his face showed his worry. Eleanor noticed.
“Have you tried one of my cheese straws?”
“No, I haven’t. May I?” He forced his thoughts away from Cody and concentrated on the cheese straws. They were indeed delicious and he complimented her on them.
“It’s an old recipe. I used to make then for Bart. They were his favourite.” At Luigi’s inquiring look, she added, “My son. He …. died. Years ago now.” She gave a determined smile, but Luigi had seen the sorrow on her face.
“I’m sorry,” he said, meaning it.
“They’re Jason’s favourite, too,” she said, resolved not to let her old sorrow spoil this party.
“Well,” he said, following her lead back to safer topics, “I can see why!”
“You young people can eat all you want and remain slim and svelte but when you are old you’ll find that even if you eat like a sparrow you gain weight mind you I read somewhere that sparrows eat their body weight each day such nervy little creatures always bouncing and hopping and alert.” Lucasta had also seen Luigi’s worry. As usual, what she wanted to say and what she actually said seemed to bear little relationship to each other. She wanted to say just love him, just take care of him, don’t give up. Garble, garble! she thought to herself. How I do rattle on.
She thought to herself how extraordinarily beautiful Luigi was, almost too beautiful to be male. You can see he’s gay, she thought to herself, but you can’t with Jason or Cody. Why is it different? He has the assurance and self-confident awareness of his body and the effect he has on men just like a beautiful and sexy woman. Like I was, once—and she smiled a little mordantly to herself. And dear Harold! He’d been so very handsome. They’d made the perfect couple, a society wedding, photos in the Times and The Tatler, and even Lillibet had come and they’d been so happy and then there was the dreadful, awful time when Harold had had that thing with that actress but she had pretended nothing was happening because she knew it wouldn’t last but it did for five years and then the actress had left him and he’d been heartbroken although he hadn’t said a word about it to her which had made her love him more you can’t help loving people even if they wrong you. She wondered whether Cody’s wife would take him back. Who knew? She had kept Harold and it had been the right decision that’d had brought them so many years together of happiness odd that how betrayal and forgiveness had cemented their love and their marriage.
“Nice room,” said Cody.
Jason replied as he opened the cupboard to fetch Cody a pair of jeans. “Yeah. I was lucky to find it. And Eleanor is such a great landlady. More a friend really.”
“I hope I find somewhere like this.”
Jason gave him the jeans and asked, “Won’t you be staying with Lou?”
Cody shook his head without speaking.
“He loves you, you know.”
“Not any more.”
Jason sat on the bed and drew his knees up and put his arms round them. “You’re wrong,” he said. “The first time he and I … made love …. he cried.” Jason looked away, remembering. After a heartbeat, he looked at Cody and he continued, “He said he was always being hurt by straight guys. He thought I was straight. That I would fuck him. Use him. Leave him. For my wife. My girlfriend. A woman.”
“Oh, God!” ground out Cody. “Oh Jesus fucking Christ!” He stood hunched over, holding the jeans in one hand and scrubbing his face with the other, too bitter, too down even to weep.
Jason stood up and put his arms round Cody’s shoulders. “He loves you, you know. He does. He didn’t tell me that day. But as we got to know each other, he told about you. He was heartbroken. But he never stopped loving you.”
“I … hurt him so much. And I loved him so much.”
“Yes. I did too. My guy, I mean. I loved him. And … and he’s dead, now. Because I—because I—didn’t do right by him. At least you’re still alive.”
“What happened?” For the first time since he’d been abducted, Cody was interested in what had happened to someone else.
“I’ll tell you. But not now.” Jason ruffled Cody’s hair, smiled and pointed to the jeans. “Get dressed. We’ve got to get back.”
In silence, Cody changed into the jeans. He felt all at once no shyness in front of Jason. No need to be shy. They’d opened to each other. They were going to be friends. Perhaps …. Perhaps he would somehow be all right. Despite everything.
When the two of them came back in to the sitting room, it was obvious to Luigi that Jason and Cody had formed a bond, and that Cody looked a bit more like he used to be.
Eleanor also sensed that Cody had lost some of his tension and sadness, and she was pleased. She had only just met Cody but she did know that he’d been through a very bad time. She accepted that she would never be able to exactly understand what Cody had endured or what he had felt while he was being raped, all the time aware that he would be eventually killed. Poor boy! Well, not a boy really, but all of them seemed so young, still with the innocence and hope of young people who have no appreciation of just how hard life could be. Except of course for Cody, now. He knew, and her heart went out to him at the hard road he would have to travel before he once again was content. Jason, too. He knew how hard life was. But he remained upbeat and happy. She knew he grieved, and that he regretted the selfish mistake which had led Brent to take his life. But he still had an optimistic outlook on life.
She herself had no one left now; Bart was dead, her husband too, and all her family members were gone. She had Bolt …. and Jason. She hoped with all her heart that Jason would stay. He felt like family now; and how nice he was! She knew that it was likely that he would go, that he would return to England one day. Probably there was stuff about his visa. But she tried not to think about that. He was here until he left.
The point was, as far as she was concerned, that Jason was like a son to her now, a new son, not taking the place of—how could he?—but in addition to the one she’d lost so long ago. And Cody was his friend, in a way. So she cared about him, too.
But these justifications were just that, not that she acknowledged or accepted this insight. The truth is that her own sorrow and mistakes had made her kind and filled her with compassion. And Cody needed to be loved. And if she could do something to help his grief and shock, she would.
Lucasta was thinking something similar. In her own inimitable way.
So old and silly but I must do what I can and certainly Jason isn’t going to get any help from his mother or his brother though he seems to have made friends here perhaps Australians really are friendlier than we are though maybe it’s because he’s making love to them how well I remember the first time with Harold and what an epiphany that was or is that only a religious experience? My brain looped and rented tatteredness is that the quote from King Lear how long ago school was to be sure well that’s my mind now full of holes all crinkly like my skin. But I must be kind. Poor boy so worn-looking I wonder if Jason gave him a good talking to he’s so good with that I remember him comforting Parker when Ahasuerus died and saying sensible stuff and so kind to her and he made he laugh through her tears I think he’s the strongest of all my grandchildren especially now after Brent what’s that word annealed when they dip red hot swords into water like King Arthur what was that silly book which said he was bisexual they probably all were men are I think well some men I never asked Harold about Eton but those boys together without girls so unhealthy like us at St Anne’s all those pashes though really I was quite fond of Gladys or was it Rose I can’t remember.
Giving no sign of these thoughts she smiled benignly at Cody.
Luigi felt like kissing Jason in gratitude. Cody was on the mend.
“The cheese straws are delicious. I left you some. Amn’t I the tops?” He smiled at them both.
“Some more champagne, anyone?” Jason was being careful not to be too jolly but also not to be too serious.
Eleanor and Lucasta both nodded yes, but Luigi responded with “I can’t, I need to drive home.”
“Stay the night.” And Jason’s eyes were so warm and intense, their blue the happy azure of a summer sky, that Luigi’s cock in his thong instantly hardened. For shame! He thought to himself, all you can think of is sex!
Jason’s eyes sparkled as if he knew exactly what Luigi was thinking. He’d spoken softly enough that only Luigi had heard what he said. He winked at Luigi, unobserved by the others. Luigi coloured, and his hard-on got even stiffer. He found the way Jason and Keith treated him as both a friend and a lover entirely pleasing. He hadn’t had it with Richard, while with Cody it had all been too intense for friendship. Maybe that would change now. Maybe they could resurrect something from the disaster.
“Another glass, then,” he said, and this time it was Jason who got a chubby as he saw the look in Luigi’s eye.
Luigi turned back to Cody who was listening to something the two old ladies were saying. He thought, Cody’ll need a new family, new friends, people who don’t judge him. He’s judged himself cruelly enough. I’ll take him to visit nonna. But not yet. She hasn’t forgiven his betrayal, and he doesn’t need a skelling out right now. But these old ladies are kind and accepting. Maybe they weren’t when they were young but now they won’t judge Cody—or me, or Jace, or Key—for being what we are. And if Cody and I … But he stopped himself there. There was a long journey to make before he would believe that their relationship would work again.
After Eleanor and Lucasta had gone to bed, the three men stretched out on the sofas still nibbling cheese straws and chips and sipping champagne. Luigi pulled Cody closer to him and though Cody at first resisted, in the end he rested his head on Luigi’s shoulder. Jason put his head on Luigi’s stomach.
“The one advantage of being fat, Lou, is that stomachs are a bit softer. Yours is too flat. You’re useless as a pillow.”
“Too bad so sad. Eat your heart out straightboy. At least I’m not a plump little schoolboy like you!”
“This is all muscle!” said Jason patting his own stomach. “Just solid, steely muscle. Gayboy.” He turned his head to grin at Luigi and caught Cody’s eye and winked at him.
Cody had never had gay friends. His friendships with straight men had always been awkward. They were too remote for him and he was too intense for them. He was always half falling in love with his male friends. He didn’t know how to josh and tease like these two were. He was envious. And saddened. What had he been missing all these years? And what would happen later? They were being kind to him now, but what would happened after a few months. Would he be discarded?
“When must you go back to work, Lou?”
“Tomorrow, I suppose. You?”
“Yeah. I can’t let Key do it all on his own. What about you, Cody?”
Relaxed by the beat of Luigi’s heart, and by Jason’s easy acceptance of him, he replied, “I don’t know if I still have a job. I have to give them a medical certificate and if the whole story doesn’t make the news then maybe it’ll be OK.”
“Well, if the worst comes to the worst, you can come and work with us at The Lord Grey.”
Cody knew The Lord Grey well. He’d picked up several men there. He realised He hadn’t been there in the last few months.
“I might need that,” he said.
“Mind you, Tom might want to sleep with you.”
“Has he slept with you yet?” asked Luigi, curious.
“No. He’s been entirely proper.”
“Yeah. A bit. Key says he hits the spot. Every time.”
“Is that why he sleeps with him?”
“No. Tom and he … they have a … they love each other. Hey, Lou, do you think het love has so many forms as gay love?”
“What would I know about that?”
“I s’pose. Not that I know that much. I mean I’ve had a couple of girlfriends, but I dunno, I’ve always felt closer to men. What do you think, Cody?”
Luigi realised that Jason had deliberately and delicately directed this conversation to get to this point. Clever, he thought. But … is it wise, right now? He was ready to intervene when Cody spoke.
“I don’t know any more. I … love Phillippa. But … I need … I … God, this is so difficult … I need men.”
“It’s a bugger’s muddle. So to speak. You know what I mean!” Jason chuckled. He continued, more earnestly, “You know, if loving men is half of you, it’s hard, very hard. I knew a man once, in England. Brent and I met him at a pub, and we connected. He must’ve picked up the vibes. He was in his—I dunno, late fifties, early sixties—and he said he’d been gay all his life. Like 100% gay. He’d been in the Coldstream Guards …”
“ …mmm … uniforms …” interrupted Luigi.
“ … and his whole life had been spent with men. And then one day he met a woman and he fell in love with her and they got married.”