MF, chapter 22

  421

The doctor’s medical certificate was in the Luigi’s letter box at the flat.    It said that Cody Williams was unable to work for a week, backdated to the day he had been abducted.  It didn’t say what his medical problem had been.   When Luigi thought about it, it was obvious that a doctor couldn’t and wouldn’t breach the confidentiality of a client.

“Can I use your phone?” Cody asked Luigi.

“Yeah.”

Luigi listened to Cody’s side of the conversation with his employer.   Cody explained that he’d had an accident, that he’d hit his head and had been unconscious and that his memory had only just come back.   There were exclamations of shock and dismay from the other end, and the conversation ended with Cody saying he’d be in to work the next day.

“So far, so good,” he said as he closed the phone.

“Do you wear a suit to work?”

“Yes.”

“We’d better get you one, then.”

“But it will have to be fitted.  It won’t be ready till tomorrow or even later.”

“Then we’ll go and get one from your house.  And some other clothes too.”

“I can’t.  I just can’t.”

Cody looked so disturbed that Luigi immediately dropped the suggestion.

“Well, you’re more or less the same size as Keith.  A bit thinner, maybe”—he smiled—“but it’ll do for now.”

“Jason’s clothes might fit me.”  Cody was thinking of Jason’s trunks which he was wearing.  It was oddly erotic.  Jason had been so tough and firm but also kind.  He seemed such a good bloke.  Ridiculously, wearing his underpants gave him a connection to Jason.

“He prolly didn’t bring a suit with him.  I mean, he’s backpacking.  Why would you?  So … we’ll ask Keith if we can borrow a suit from him and then …” he stopped, considering, “ …Target to get jeans and undies and stuff.”  He knew Cody would have no money.  The sort of gear he, Luigi, wore was far too expensive for the other man.

“I haven’t got my credit cards or drivers licence or anything.”

Luigi snapped his fingers.  “We’ll tell that cute policeman from Macedon.  Maybe he’ll try to use them and then they’ll catch him.”

“Why not the detectives?”

“I suppose them too.  Arrogant homophobic pricks!”

But it turned out that the killer hadn’t used Cody’s phone or credit cards, except that first time just after the interview with the police in Macedon.

  422

They spent the rest of the morning shopping.  Suit (to be collected on Saturday), undies, socks, jeans, work shirts.  Everything was charged to Luigi’s credit card.  Luigi didn’t care that the shop assistants immediately assumed that the two of them were lovers.  Cody didn’t even notice.

Luigi might permit Cody to wear Target trunks and shirts but he flatly refused to allow him to buy Target neckties and so he took Cody to his own favourite clothing shop where he chose for Cody two silk ties.  Which cost more than the suit and the shirts together.

“Lou …. They’re so expensive!  I can’t afford them.”

“They’re a gift.  You can pay me back for the rest when you can.  But ties maketh the man.  A beautiful Italian silk tie makes you look like a prince.  A nabob.  A tycoon.  Somebody to be reckoned with.  A Target tie makes you look like a loser.  A present, Coads.  You’ll look so handsome in them.”  His smile was so beguiling that Cody gave in and accepted.

The last thing on the list was a new mobile phone.  As soon as it was activated they exchanged numbers.

“I’ve only got one number in my phone!  I’ve lost everything!” said Cody, and then, in the middle of Bourke St mall, he began to blub, great racking sobs which shook his body.

“C’mon,” urged Luigi, putting his arm round Cody’s shoulders, “come, let’s go home,” and he flagged down a taxi.

  423

Cody sniffed and hiccupped all the way home, and Luigi noticed the tax driver’s eyes in the mirror looking at them, judging and censorious.  He felt like shouting at the man, at abusing him.  He didn’t give the driver a tip, though, and in return the driver didn’t say goodbye but roared off in his taxi, making the tires squeal.

Needless to say, there was no space in Luigi’s cupboards for Cody’s clothes, but Luigi was sick of half the stuff he had and he was glad to have a clean out.

Cody didn’t help, but sat on the bed and then lay down with his face to the wall.

Luigi lay down next to Cody and put his arms round him.  Cody remained unresponsive.  Luigi kissed his neck, but didn’t speak.  He was at a loss how to proceed.  No matter that Cody had hurt him, Luigi still loved him.  But Cody had been so damaged by the abduction and rapes, by the sinister violence, by the close brush with a horrible death.

  424

He kissed the back of Cody’s neck again.

Cody turned to look at him, his eyes immeasurably sad.

“I do love you Cody.  And I’m here for you.  We’ll get through this time, and things’ll get better.”

Cody didn’t answer.

Luigi kissed him on his lips, but Cody remained passive beneath him.

Luigi kissed him again, with resolution.  He lifted Cody’s T-shirt and began to kiss his nipples and the line of hair trailing towards his groin.  He ran his tongue down the indentation in the middle of Cody’s stomach until he reached the button of his jeans.  He undid the button and pulled down the zip.  He pressed his nose against Cody’s trunks and breathed in the rich odours of his groin.  He nipped Cody’s cock through the soft fabric of Jason’s trunks.  He moved back up Cody’s torso, back to his mouth.

Cody remained inert.

Luigi sat up, and tugged Cody’s jeans and undies down to his knees.  “Never,” he said, grabbing Cody’s cock, “never have I failed to give a man a hard-on yet!”

Luigi looked so indignant that Cody gave him a watery grin.

“It’s just … Lou …. It’s not you … but after …”

“I know, love.  But … I want you to enjoy love again.  What he did wasn’t love.  What he did was a perversion.  Something loathsome.”  He stopped for a minute, still holding Cody’s cock in his hand.  “I’ve had my bad times.  I whored around.  Some of it for money.  Some of it for companionship.  I hated myself, see.  Being gay and swishy.”

“Don’t hate yourself, Lou.  You’re a top bloke.  And anyway, I haven’t exactly been a saint.  And I hate myself too.”

  425

“But that’s the point, see, Co.  Jace and Key have shown me that … well, it doesn’t matter if I’m a clothes-obsessed queen.  What matters is that I’m me.  And they are my friends for me, no matter how I dress or swish around.”

“If you weren’t so beautiful, would they be so forgiving?”

“I dunno.  But there’ve been lots of men who despised me even while they were fucking me.  ‘Cos I wasn’t manly enough.   Oh they came beautifully.  Great orgasms.  Just … I wasn’t quite up to it.  You know.  Being a real man.  Even though I am ‘so beautiful’.”  He would have put air quotes round those words, but he had to convey his sarcasm in his voice, because ever since he had seized Cody’s cock he had been gently massaging it, and as it was now starting to firm up nicely he had no intention of stopping.  “So, it’s not that.  They like me for what I am.  For me.”  He leaned forward and put his mouth on Cody’s cock and kissed it.  Cody’s body twitched, and Luigi took that for assent.  He swallowed the head of the other man’s cock deep into his mouth, and was happy to feel it swell to its full extension as he caressed it with his tongue.  Yes!  I will make him forget, teach him to love again.

He brought Cody to the brink of orgasm twice, pulling back each time he felt him start to tense.  On the third time, taking pity on Cody’s incoherent pleas, he kept going.  Cody groaned in ecstasy and jetted his jism into the soft warmth of Luigi’s mouth.

They kissed, Luigi’s mouth flavoured with cum.  Luigi pulled Cody into his arms.

“You like?”

Unable to speak, Cody simply hid his head in the space between Luigi’s head and his shoulders.

“I’ll be here for you Co, love.  Any way you want.”

  426

Cody drifted into la petite mort, which is what the French call that sleep after orgasm.  The little death.  Luigi held him in his arms, his eyes wet, gratitude in his heart.  He didn’t know who to thank.  Certainly not God.  God had made him what he was, had made him suffer the pain of being an effeminate gay, of being beaten up, of being despised and disliked.   Or maybe that was just the Christian God, always angry and judgmental.    Richard had believed in The Goddess, a loving Mother to the world, not nearly so cross and jealous and disapproving.  Luigi knew la nonna believed in Her too.  Or at least, she never prayed to Jesus or God but to Mary and the female saints.  Once she had said to Luigi that Jesus was too busy to care about the problems women faced.  But Mary cared because She was a woman.  She understood women’s hardships and their lives.  Maybe The Goddess Mother of the world was Mary and maybe something quite other, but Luigi didn’t care.  As superstitious as his Calabrian forefathers, he knew gratitude was necessary, or your luck could turn.  So he thanked The Goddess and promised that he would look after Cody.  And, as an afterthought, Keith and Jason too.    Gently, so as not to wake the sleeping Cody, he kissed the blond curls on the top of his head and settled in to wait until Cody woke up.

  427

Cody stretched and yawned, then lifted his head and smiled at Luigi.  His face was creased in that way you get when you have slept deeply, and his eyes, for the first time since Luigi had picked him up on Mt Macedon, were empty of horror.  Luigi knew that this was just a temporary respite, that the memories and the blame would return, but he was certain that Cody had passed the turning point and would get slowly better.

“You didn’t cum,” Cody said.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It does to me!”  And he moved his head down to Luigi’s groin.

Luigi was instantly rigid.  He remembered 6 o’clock winter’s evenings, when Cody would come round after work, and they would make love in the warmth of the tangled sheets, the rain teeming down outside, the streets wet and reflecting the lights, their bodies fitting together, their hearts open and filled with love.  Except, thought Luigi, bitterness like vomit in his throat, he went home to Phillippa afterwardsAnd lied to her.  And to me.  He pushed those thoughts out of his head.  The two of them were here, now, together.  It might work out.  He would try very hard to make sure it worked out.  Because he had promised himself and the Goddess that he would,

“Is your lube still here?” asked Cody, reaching for the top drawer of the bedside table.

Luigi nodded.

  428

Cody slipped a cock jacket onto Luigi’s boner and kissed it again.  He slathered it generously with lube and then lowered himself onto it, his head thrown back, his gaze on the ceiling.  Luigi loved the tight warmth of Cody’s body.  He’d always loved it, from their first time.  And it had always pleased him that Cody was prepared to let Luigi fuck him.  Luigi was used to straight-acting men who were of the opinion that bottoming was proof that you weren’t a real man.  With them, Luigi was always the one who had to act the “woman’s part”.  He didn’t mind the bottoming—he liked that.  But he realised now how much he hated the implicit assumptions behind it.  “The passive partner”  Fuck that!  What he liked about bottoming was the pleasure he brought to the man who was fucking him, even more than the pleasure he got himself.  He loved tightening his arse at just the right moment, pushing his partner over the edge, watching his eyes darken as he came.

And all at once he knew that that was part of what drew him to Jason and Keith, that even when they were role-playing in bed, it wasn’t about some kind of poisonous self-hating internalised homophobia.  It was about love.  Maybe not la grande passion.  Not ‘in love’.  But a sort of fierce affection and friendship.  All the clichés of modern society were about love, het love, wedding dresses and rings and bridal showers.  But the love they had for each other was much more substantial.  It was a love which was neither blind nor self-deceiving but still intense and profound.

He wasn’t sure about what he had with Cody, though.  He had been in love with Cody.  But were they really friends?  Did they really trust and accept each other?  Would their love survive the loss of passion?  Luigi’s relationship with Richard had been passionless.  They had comfort fucks once or twice a week.  But they had all the same loved each other genuinely and totally, and though Luigi had often lusted after strange men, because he’d felt the absence of passion, towards the end, when Richard and he had become a couple, he’d not indulged his desires.  After Richard had died he’d gone back to the hunt, lust—and, now, he acknowledged to himself—also the need to connect driving him to the ultimately empty, sometimes dangerous, pursuit of a chimera.

Never again, he swore.  I have Keith and Jason and, Goddess willing, Cody too.

  429

His reflections had distracted him for a moment.  He was startled when Cody pulled off him.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t.  It hurts too much.  He … he hurt me.  He didn’t prep me.  I dunno.  I don’t think it’ll ever be right again.”  Cody sat on the edge of the bed, deliberately avoiding Luigi’s eyes.

Luigi put his arm round Cody’s waist.  “There’s more than one way to make love, Coads.”

Cody ignored him, his regard steadily on the carpet.

“Come, love, let me show you,” coaxed Luigi.

Still Cody wouldn’t speak.

Luigi wanted to explain to Cody the insights he’d just gained.  But he didn’t have the right words.  His feelings were so sure, his perceptions so certain, and yet he found himself tongue-tied.

“Cody, love, it’s about … well … love and caring.  Sex is … nice … but what really matters is whether you love or not.

Cody muttered, “And I’m not very good at that, am I?  Look at how I treated you and Phillippa.  That wasn’t love, was it?”

He turned to look at Luigi and the anger and self-contempt in his expression made Luigi flinch.

“Whatever you said—and didn’t say—I knew you loved me.  I knew it when we made love, I knew it when you smiled at me, I knew it when you came through that door after work, and your face would light up when you saw me.”  Luigi sat next to Cody on the edge of the bed, his arm still round the other man’s waist.  “You did some things wrong, Coads, but only some.  Don’t beat yourself up, love.”

“I deserved what happened to me.  It was just.”

Rubbish!  No one deserves that.  No one!  To be tortured?  Nearly killed? To be drugged, attacked with a knife, have pieces cut out of you, and barely escape with your life?  No, Cody, you didn’t deserve any of that!  None of it, OK?”

  430

Cody turned to look at him at last.

“It will never go away, will it?  I’ll always bear the scars, won’t I?”

“About the sex, well, we can try a series of butt plugs starting at small and working up.  To huge if you want.  They’re hot anyway, even if you aren’t using them to get used to … you know.  About the mental scars …. Well, they heal better than physical ones, I think.  If you have people who love you, who help you forget …”

“ … never.  I’ll never forget!”

“No, prolly not.  But … Coads love, it … we …. all have bad memories.  And we keep going.  We do.  One foot in front of the other.  And if we can find someone to love, someone who loves us … we … we recover.  Slowly.  We get better.  The scars hurt less and less until there are just twinges.”

“How do you know this?”

Luigi told him.

  431

“When I came out to my father, he beat me up.  Locked me in my bedroom.  Told me he wouldn’t let me out until I promised I would be straight.  Well, I couldn’t see very well—he’d hit me on one eye—and there was blood dripping down my face.  My bedroom was on the second floor, so I suppose he thought I wouldn’t try to escape.  But I tied together the sheets on my bed and dragged the bed up to just under the window and tied the end of the sheet to one leg of the bed.  I didn’t know whether it would hold me or how long but, you know, I was beyond caring by then.  I thought … well I thought if I died it might be a good thing.  Best for everyone.”

He didn’t speak for many seconds.  Cody leant his head against Luigi’s shoulder.

“Go on,” he said.

“Yeah.  Well, just as well my ma has an obsession with quality.  The sheets were thick and they held and so did the bed.  I abseiled down the wall.”

“Abseiled?”

“You know, where you let yourself down bit by bit, using the wall and the rope or in this case the sheets.”

Abseiled?

Luigi turned to look at Cody, who was grinning slyly at him.  “Just because I’m a swishy queen doesn’t mean I’m not good at gymnastics.”  He grinned back then pulled Cody closer before going on.  “It helps to have a rope and a harness, but you can do it with two sheets.  Just.  They’re not as long as you think.  And the first floor is higher than you think, too.  I had to drop the last half a metre.”

“Then what did you do?”

“I walked to my grandmother’s.  I didn’t know for sure what she would do but she’s always been on my side.  She’s always loved me.  So I walked there.  10 k’s.”

“How long did that take you?”

“Nearly two hours.”

“Yeah, I think that’s how far I walked.  Yesterday.  Maybe longer, even.”

  432

“Yeah.”  Luigi nodded.  “I’m glad Jace found you, Co.  I couldn’t bear … you … I love you Cody … don’t … don’t … do something stupid.”

“You mean like kill myself?”  Cody’s voice was deeply ironic, bitter and sad all at the same time.

“Yeah.  Like kill yourself.”

“I won’t.  I think.   I … see, I thought about what had happened.  And I know this sounds stupid, Lou, but I feel that I was meant to escape, to live.  So many lucky things happened.  I mean—how likely is that?  But … what will become of me?  OK, I still have a job.  But … will I ever see my kids again?”

“You will.  I promise.”

Cody looked comforted but Luigi had no idea if he could make his promise come true.  He knew lawyers.  Friends of Richard.  The lawyer who’d drawn up Richard’s will and fought on his behalf in court when Richard’s family had contested the will.  Yeah.  He’d fight for Cody.  And Luigi would use Richard’s money to pay him.  He knew that was what Richard would have wanted.

His cock had gone flaccid and the cock-jacket hung on it loosely.  He took Cody’s hand and put it on his cock.

Cody smiled a little sadly.  “What shall I do?”

“Anything you want.  Whatever.  Whatever doesn’t hurt.  How about a good old-fashioned wire-pull?”

Cody pulled him down onto the bedclothes and kissed him slowly, carefully, as if Luigi were something precious which might be damaged.   “I love you, Lou,” he breathed as his hand sought Luigi’s stiffening cock.

After, they lay entwined, the jizz on Luigi’s stomach sticky between them.

They slept.

  433

The watcher stood in a doorway across the road from Luigi’s block of flats, his gaze fixed on the window where he’d seen Cody walk across and then look out into the street.   He knew where the twink was.  He could get him whenever he left the flat.  He’d have to be careful though.  There were people on the street.  Perhaps late at night, when they returned from eating or drinking with their little friends.  When they were at their most relaxed.  Not expecting an attack.

A passer-by looked at him and quickly averted his eyes.  There’s nothing wrong with me! the watcher thought, angrily, glaring at the other man’s disappearing back.  I do God’s work.  I rid the world of filth.  He heard Father McAllister’s approving burr.  Good lad!

Nevertheless, a renewed caution made him go back to his car and drive away.  He did not want the police to start questioning him.  Not until he had dealt with the twink permanently.  After that, God would show him the way forward.  He knew now where they lived.  He had time.  Patience.  Patience.  All would be brought to him.

  434

It was another warm summer evening, the air scented with the odours of the city, of a city living life to the full.  The tunes from the jazz band in the café down along Brunswick Street drifted into air, magical and romantic.  Esmé had seen where the band played, in daylight, and it wasn’t at all romantic, the sofas worn and greasy, the walls stained, and the floor holed ancient lino.  Yet in the dim light at night, with the light glinting of the metal of the instruments, with a glass in your hand, somehow it all seemed glamorous and exciting.

There in the tiny courtyard, the music was softened and muted by distance and the thick air.  There in the courtyard it seemed sheer magic, unspoilt by tawdry recollections, by reality.

The band was playing “Love is the Sweetest Thing” and Keith and Esmé were swaying slowly across the worm flagstones, their dance floor as private as any in the most expensive penthouse apartment.   The tepid air was filled with the orange-blossom scent of Chinese jasmine which grew with robust shiny green leaves over the weathered brick.  She could smell Keith’s Brut aftershave, his male body, his end-of-day armpits, the slight sourness on his breath from the wine.  She could feel his erection.

When he kissed her, it was perfectly right.

  435

“Come!” he said softly.  “Let’s go.  My pad is just round the corner.”

As she locked the street door, even though she wasn’t looking at him, she was conscious of him next to her, his presence solid and … male …. yet not her father.  Good.  Reassuring.  Comforting.  Fitting.

His flat was big.  Almost as big as the whole house she and Luke shared.  It was on the top floor of a Victorian or Federation house, with tall windows looking out on the street outside.

“Sorry for the mess,” he apologised.

She shook her head.  There were clothes on the sofa, and small piles of books everywhere, as well as bookcases made of bricks and planks.  It felt like home, warm, accepting, unjudging, happy.

She felt unshed tears ready to fall.  Home.  This was what a home was like, not the prison she’d grown up in.  The walls here weren’t scented with fear and pain.  She swallowed hard.  She would not cry.  She would not.

  436

Keith kissed her again. He slid his hand over her bum, underneath the waistband of her jeans.  They were warm against her flesh.  He squeezed gently.  His lips and tongue plundered her mouth.  He kissed his way down her neck to the hollow between her shoulder bones, pulling the neck of her t-shirt down to reach it.  He lifted her t-shirt off her head, and undid her bra.  He kissed her breasts softly and she felt them tighten as wires of lust and pleasure stretched to her groin.

Her father had only ever bothered to do this the first few times he had sex with her.  Before he’d started to hit her.  She hadn’t known how good it could be.

He undid the button on her jeans and pulled the zip down.  He lent in to kiss her neck, then knelt to kiss her stomach and her hips just above the line of her jeans waist.  Then he tugged her jeans down.  They puddled round her feet.  His tongue traced a charged trail down from her breasts to the top of her panties. He kissed her just above the elastic.

He rose and tried to tug her into the bedroom.  “Just a minute!” she whispered, and kicked off her shoes before stepping out of her jeans.

The bed was unmade and next to it on the carpet were spread discarded undies and t-shirts and socks.  It didn’t bother her.

Keith kept hold of her hand.  They kissed again as they sat on the edge of the bed.  For the first time she returned his kisses, copying what he did, knowing no other example.

  437

He tugged her down to lie on the bed.  They lay facing each other.  When he smiled at her, she felt certain her smile back was manic and over the top.  But it didn’t appear to faze him.  He moved until his mouth was touched her bare skin.  He kissed thrilling paths down her neck, across her breasts to her groin.  His hand, warm and firm, slid underneath her panties and caressed her bum and then after a spine-tingling pause, her cunt.  He pulled her undies down over her hips, and his mouth moved down and his tongue moved into the folds of her body.

She gasped in surprise and pleasure.  Her father had never done this.  But then, it had never been about her pleasure.

Keith lifted his head and looked at her and his eyes were almost black instead of their usual warm chocolate.  He smiled.  Their enjoyment was shared and mutual in a way that was magical and marvellous to her.

She heard the sound of foil tearing and the snap of a condom.  He lifted his torso off hers and guided himself into her with one hand.

She turned her head sideways.  She felt herself tighten up.  She tried to will herself to open to him.  She couldn’t.  Oh, God, it was going to hurt just as much as it had with her father.

Keith stopped.  “You OK?” he asked, concern in his voice.

She was unable to speak.  A tear trickled down her cheek.  She couldn’t meet his anxious look.

He abruptly pulled out of her.  Don’t go, she wanted to cry.  Don’t!  And then, Dad has won after all.  Why did I ever think it would be all right?  What a fool I am!

Keith pulled her into his arms and held her close.  His eyes smouldered with anger.  But his rage was not for her—his voice was gentle.  He kissed away her tears.

“It’s OK, Ezzaloona-babe.  There’s more than one way to make love.  Let me shaow you.”

  438

He softly lifted her off his arm, and began to stroke her body.  His hands were warn and made her skin tingle.  Once more, his mouth moved down her torso, slowly, tantalisingly, and reached her pussy.  His tongue moved into body.  Her whole self had shrunk down to just this exquisite, almost unbearable bliss.  It seemed an age and also far too short a time until waves of pleasure moved out from her groin through her body, intense pleasure, so strong it was kin to pain.  But she knew the difference.  She knew pain.  This was new.  This was ecstasy.  This was something she had never experienced before.

Keith held her close until she had stopped shaking.  Then he lifted his head from her body and looked at her, his face shining with triumph and pleasure and gladness.

He cradled her in his arms and she rested her head on his chest. She could hear the solid reassuring thump of his heart.  Her head rose and fell with each breath he took.

I shall never be happier, she thought.  Already she was locking away her memories deep in her heart.  She didn’t trust that her happiness would last.  It never had before.  After a while, he said to her, “now you must do me.”

She coloured.  She hadn’t thought of that.  She’d assumed—she didn’t know what.

“Here!” he said, giving her a bottle of lube.  “Squirt some on me, and then put your hand round me.”

She did as he said, glad of his guidance.

“Now move your hand up and down,” he suggested.

The yellow of the street lights illuminated his body.  She would never forget that oddly coloured half-light of his bedroom, of their first time together.  For her it would always have something other-worldly and fantastical about it.

“Kiss me,” he said, his voice warm.  She could tell he was smiling.

She could taste herself on his mouth.

She quickly got the hang of it.  In a few moments, he went rigid under her and growled, and jism splashed across his stomach.

“That was … lovely,” he said, wiping himself down with the trunks he’d been wearing.

Too shy to speak, she burrowed her head into the curve of his neck.

  439

 

In the morning, she had to leave early to attend a lecture.  Keith rolled out of bed and pulled on a pair of trunks from one of the piles on the floor.  He offered her tea and breakfast but she was afraid to stay, in case it all started to go wrong.  At the door as he kissed her goodbye, she was hesitant. She didn’t know what to say.  She’d never made love with a man before.  She’d never spent the night with one.

He hugged her and kissed her.

“See ya tonoight,” he said.

“Yeah,” she said, glad to run away from the embarrassment, glad also that they were going to meet again.

The whole day at uni she was filled with happiness, going from classroom to classroom in a daze, barely registering what the lecturers said.

Luke was at the student café in the uni grounds at lunch, sitting as usual at the end of a refectory table by himself, ignored by the students around him.

“Well?” he asked, on a rising tone.

“Well nothing.”

Something.  You spend the night out and come back looking like the cat that got the cream.  Was it nice?”

She didn’t want to talk about it.  Talking would spill the happiness.  It had to be kept secret, private, or the happiness would vanish.

“Yeah.”  She grinned defiantly at him.

“Well, tell me, then.”

“No.”

He looked so hurt she amended that to, “maybe later,” and then added, reluctantly, “but it was good.  Mostly.”  She didn’t want to talk about how she’d tightened up.  That was too personal even for Luke.  She was suddenly filled with melancholy and amazement that she shared something intensely private about herself with another man, now.  Not her father.  Nor her best friend.  Just a bloke she’d met in a café.

  440

“So, it was Keith, right?”

Esmé glared at him.  “No, it was Fred.”

“Fred?”  Luke wasn’t sure whether she was teasing him.  “Fred?  I haven’t met a Fred.”

“I don’t bring all my men home, you know.  I mean, hundreds fall at my feet, bow down before me.  Hundreds?  Thousands!

“Yeah, right.  Like me.  Just a constant stream of sexy studs.  I just fatigued all to hell every morning.”

“Aren’t we just the cat’s pyjamas?”

Luke grinned at her.  “We are.”

“Yeah, well, of course it was Keith.”

Luke looked at her.  Presumably they had made love and it had all worked out but …. Keith was gay.  Mostly.  His own gaydar wasn’t well developed, because he was never sure whether blokes weren’t interested because they were straight or because they were just, well, not interested.  Not that he blamed them.  Who would be in a fat fuck like him? All the same he was certain that Keith was gay.  The way Keith had sassed him out wasn’t the way straight guys looked at another man.  Keith was gay.  Gay-shaded, anyway.  But Esmé seemed so happy.  He didn’t want to spoil that.  When it all went wrong, as it most prolly would, then ….   That would be the time to pick up the pieces.  That was tomorrow’s problem.

“I’m glad,” he assured her.  He meant it.  But all the same, he couldn’t help wondering when he himself would find someone to love.

Chapter 23

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