Keith turned his head and looked at him quizzically. Jason met his gaze squarely and then raised his eyebrows. Keith smiled a little, and turned away but kept his hand behind him on Jason’s flank. Jason’s hard-on got even harder. He kissed Keith’s neck, this time well aware of what he was doing, and that Keith would see it as a signal. Keith reacted by patting Jason’s thigh and giving a gusty sigh. Jason felt a quick wash of intense happiness, and then guilt. How could he forget Brent so quickly?
He slowly drifted back into sleep, and he was woken a couple of hours later by Luigi turning over and banging him with his elbow.
“Ungh,” he grunted.
“Sorry!” Luigi pulled his arm away from Jason’s ribs. “It’s a bit crowded here.”
“Yeah.” Jason turned over to face Luigi. He felt Keith stir at his back. It was his turn to put his hand behind him onto Keith’s body. He looked at Luigi, and felt again the sexiness and attractiveness of the other man.
“Good morning.” He yawned. “Sorry. You know, Keithie and Lou, you two are the best, you know that? I never thought when I came to Australia that I would so quickly make friends. I mean … I know I’ve known you just a couple of weeks, Keith, and you, Lou, just the once, but I feel, well … I feel that you are my friends.” Abashed at this show of emotion, he pretended to cough. He started to stroke Luigi’s back, and at the same time, squeezed Keith’s thigh. He could feel Keith’s erection straining the thin cotton of his boxers, pressed against his butt. He kissed Luigi and then turned his head sideways towards Keith. “Hello, handsome.”
“Hello yaself, sexy.”
Jason turned back to Luigi and kissed him again, and then reached down to the other man’s groin. He knew this was rash, and he might regret it later, yet it felt absolutely right all the same. Luigi and Keith together! It would express what he felt, affection, and fondness and, yes — be honest! — lust. He slid his hand past the waistband of Luigi’s superman trunks and put his hand round Luigi’s cock, which was already very firm. Luigi looked at him, his eyes wide, and then he smiled so sweetly Jason wanted to kiss him. He did, slowly and carefully, tasting Luigi’s morning breath, the faint sourness of yesterday’s brandy. He stopped for a moment then kissed him again, harder this time, before turning over to face Keith.
Keith’s eyes were watchful. Jason touched his face. “I know you want to,” he said. “And I want to, too. It’ll be all right, I promise.”
Keith lifted himself onto his elbows. “Whaddya thenk, Lou? Shall we give this fucker what he needs?”
“Yeah, mate,” replied Luigi, raising his own head off his pillow to look at Keith. He reached up past Jason and stroked Keith’s face. Then he kissed Jason again, and as he did, stroked Keith’s nipples. Keith kissed the back of Jason’s head, and he moved his hand slowly over Jason’s stomach and down into his groin. He began to stroke Jason’s cock. He bit Jason’s neck gently at the same time that Luigi bent down and started to softly bite Jason’s nipples.
“Uh, chaps, I’m very close,” grunted Jason. Keith growled something wordless and as Jason’s cock erupted, nuzzled his neck. Luigi bit down hard on Jason’s nipples at exactly the moment Jason came, and Jason cried out in rapture.
For a moment he lay relaxed and then he turned his azure eyes from Keith’s face to Luigi’s and back again. “That was nice,” he said. “Now it’s your turn!”
He bent over Luigi and started to gently bite the bar and studs in Luigi’s nipples. Keith moved past him and lowered his mouth onto Luigi’s cock.
After Luigi had come, Jason turned back to kiss Keith whose mouth was still savoury with Luigi’s jism. “Come and lie in the middle”, he said. “So we can both have a chance at your cock.” Now that he looked at it, he realised that Keith was b-i-i-i-g. The biggest he had ever seen, fat, beer-can fat, and long, too. Though in truth, he’d hadn’t that much experience: Stewart at school; Chris briefly, though that was more just curiosity since Chris was a friend and they had both wondered whether it would work; and then Brent. Oh, and there was a guy at a party once. He was beginning to feel quite humble about his own junk next to these two.
“Ungh. Better not.” Keith shook his head.
“Why?” Jason leaned over Keith to get a better look at his expression.
“Can’t we change your mind?” joked Jason.
“No, I mean … I mean … I’m HIV positive.”
“Oh, man,” said Jason, trying hard to be empathetic. “You poor fucker.” But at the back of his mind, he felt terror and rage rise from swamps primeval; monsters and bogeys, ugly things dripping with slime.
Luigi climbed out of bed and got in on the other side of Keith, and put his arms round him.
“It’s not a death sentence any more,” said Keith, avoiding their eyes. “At least, not here in Oz, not like in poor countries. The government pays for treatment. I take my pills regularly. I just … I just didn’t want to … you know … without telling you guys. I shouldn’t have … Shit! I mean … Fuck! Listen guys, I’m sorry.”
“There are other things we can do, Keith,” said Luigi, and he kissed the other man behind his ear and then trailed his tongue down his stubbly chin. He began to talk dirty to him. “You sexy fucker—I wanna do you good—I wanna make you squirt your stuff all over me—lemme at you, sexylegs,” in a continuous whispered monologue.
Keith turned to face Luigi. Luigi was surprised and moved to see tears in his eyes. When Jason hugged him from behind, he started to weep for real.
“Hey, hey,” said Luigi, “none of that! What are we to do with you, hey?” His look met Jason’s over Keith’s shoulder. Do something! his eyes said.
Jason took Keith’s cock into his hand. It was flaccid, so he began to slowly caress and squeeze it. He kissed Keith’s back, and his neck. He felt Keith start to plump up in his hand.
“That’s better!” he said, not knowing quite how to handle this situation but trustingly following Luigi’s lead. He bit Keith’s neck softly, then wondered whether you could catch HIV like that.
On the other side, Luigi was kissing Keith, and now Keith’s cock was rigid in Jason’s hand. He pumped it fast, and felt it swell as Keith came. The warm spurt of jizz over his hand would normally have felt so good, a celebration of life and love, but now it carried an aura of death. He surreptitiously pulled his hand away from Keith’s stomach and wiped it on the sheets.
And suddenly he felt unbearable grief, for Brent and himself, for Keith, for Luigi bullied at school, even to his surprise for his horrid parents, so hidebound and snobby and unhappy.
They lay in bed silent, their arms round each other, their legs tangled and their bodies relaxed, their thoughts far away.
“Sorry, mates. I should of told you before.” Keith was staring at the ceiling.
“Why?” asked Luigi. “You told us in time.”
“Some people get bent out of shape. You know how it is.”
“It’s not your fault!” It struck Jason how strong Luigi was, not physically, but how his character was like steel. He had courage and compassion and generosity while he, Jason, had none of these things. He felt how little he knew about the world, and how he had so often chosen the easier path. He was deeply ashamed of his cowardice.
“Lou,” he said at last to break the silence which was threatening to become awkward, “did I introduce you properly to Keith? I don’t want to break any important social laws. Mummy always told me I should get introduced before I fuck.”
“Pleased to meet ya, Keith,” said Luigi drily. He poked Jason in the stomach. “You slacker! Why didn’t you introduce us? Just as well we aren’t shy, right, Keith?”
“Yeah,” said Keith. He reached across Jason’s torso and said in a fake American accent, “Shake, pardner!”
“You’re welcome,” Luigi replied, with as bad a fake accent.
“I’ve gotta get up. I’ve got to tidy up the pub before opening time,” sighed Keith. His voice was still a little shaky. “Ya blokes want some tea?”
“I’ll help,” said Jason, feeling for his trunks which had got lost somewhere in the bedclothes.
“Don’t you have coffee?” grumbled Luigi. “I’m a nice Italian boy! Tea is for aristocrats and homos!”
Keith laughed. “Nah. Pointless. I can’t make coffee as nice as the café round the corner. But that would mean ya’ve gotta get up and get dressed.”
Luigi rolled out of bed and pulled on his superman undies. He grinned at Keith. “Tea’ll do, sexylegs.”
The kitchen was large and had a lovely view over a courtyard and beyond that a alley with the back gardens of Victorian terrace houses.
Keith put on the kettle and washed out three mugs from the clutter in the sink.
“There’s bread there and butter here”—he gestured towards the fridge—“and paynut butter and cheese and stuff, and somewhere there’s muesli.”
“Why have you got to clean up the pub, Keith?”
“We didn’t do it last night.”
“Oh right. Of course. Hey, did I say thank you to you guys?”
“Only about a million times!”
“Fuck you, Lou.”
“That’s for next time.” Luigi grinned.
“If there is a next time.” Keith was sullen.
Luigi shot a glance at Jason. “Grumpy little fucker, aren’t you?” he said, his tone kindly. He didn’t look at Keith.
Keith didn’t answer.
“We’re not pissed at you, Keith.” Luigi’s voice was firm.
“Yeah, well, any sane person would be, roight?”
“For fuck’s sake, mate, you fuckin’ told us! Jesus Christ on a stick, stop beatin’ yourself up!”
Keith pushed his chair back and went to stand at the window. “I didn’t plan on havin’ sex. I really meant it when I said it was for Jace, just for comfort, ya know, spendin’ the night with him. I didn’t want to … you know … and then it all sorta happened.”
“OK, first off, you did tell us. Second, it was good. Third, there’s a whole heap of stuff we can do which has pretty low risk…”
“…but not zero…”
“… nothing is risk-free, Keith. Nothing. You gonna be a monk till they find a cure?”
“Don’t talk to me about monks!” And Keith laughed abruptly and turned round to look at the others. “Buncha perves!” His brown eyes were sparkling with amusement or tears. All at once Jason felt how nice the other man was, and how much he liked him.
“OK,” began Luigi, “lemme tell youse two something. Have you got time?”
“Yeah,” said Keith. “I can go to work all crusty and unwashed. Some of the patrons like that!”
“Talk about fuckin’ perves!” Luigi, dismissively.
“I dunno. It’s sort of hot,” demurred Jason.
The corners of Keith’s mouth curled.
“Yuck!” was Luigi’s comment.
“You probably wondered about how I could afford the clothes I wear,” began Luigi. “Well, maybe you didn’t. But I can afford these clothes and I own my flat and I have investments. I don’t have to work. I do though, for charity. I work at the gay helpline, and for an AIDS charity. And I can because I have the money.
I was a … let’s be honest … a whore for a while. A high class whore. Like there’s any difference, really. Between high class and low class.” He avoided their eyes.
“Yeah, big dayil,” said Keith, his accent strong again, “I was too, mate. So fuckin’ what? I was on the strayits for a whoile. There’s nothin’ fuckin’ immoral about it whatever those happy clappy religious drongoes say. Nuthin’. I gave payple pleasure. For twenty minutes. They gave me money. No harm done!”
“You’ve got to remember, Keith, I was brought up strictly Catholic. No sex before marriage, gay sex an abomination, even pulling your wire against God.” Luigi smiled grimly.
“Yeah! Bullshit! Maynwhoile the fuckin’ priests are diddling the altar boys.”
“Not our priest! Cold as ice he was. Anyway, I was at a gay pub, The Lord Grey, as it happens, and an old bloke came up to talk to me. When I say old, I mean old. He offered me money if I would have sex with him. He wanted me to fuck him, ‘cos he couldn’t get it up. Being old and all.”
“So anyway I said yes. I knew nothing about any of that stuff. I mean, I knew I was gay. I’d known since I was eleven or so. But I’d never been paid before. So I fucked him and he came and he was so effing happy afterwards. He gave me $300 …”
“…Fuck! I never got that!” interrupted Keith. “The best I ever got was $100! Once!”
“… and asked me to be a regular. Once a week. So I did. He would take me out to the ballet, to opera, to arthouse films, to expensive restos, and he always paid. He bought me clothes, expensive clothes to go out in, a tuxedo which cost $2000. I still have it. He was a really nice bloke. Kind, gentle, a top bloke. He took me to Europe, and we travelled together. He didn’t make it obvious that we were a couple, but we were by then. I never fell in love with him. But I did love him. They’re not the same, you know. ”
Keith nodded. Jason listened with complete fascination. Other peoples’ lives were so interesting. He realised how narrow his own circle of acquaintances, family and friends had been. Until Brent.
“I didn’t realise how much money he had. I mean I knew he was comfortably off. He spent money on me, which he liked doing so much I just let him. And to be honest, I liked the stuff he bought me. After we came back from Europe I moved in with him. He always treated me good, always. So when he got sick, I stayed with him. I visited him in hospital, every day for as long as they allowed me. They got used to me. The nurses would smile. Maybe they thought I was his grandson. I was with him at the end. Anyway, I didn’t know he’d left it all to me. His family never visited him. There were only some nephews and nieces and a brother. But they never visited him. When they heard about the will, though, they took it to court. But Richard had drawn up the will very carefully, or anyway his lawyers had, and they lost. Afterwards in the lobby of the courtroom, they called me a whore and a faggot queer. I just looked at them and then I asked them where they were which Richard was sick. Or lonely. Why didn’t they visit. The nephew tried to punch me and some police in the lobby restrained him. Richard loved me. And in the end I loved him.” He was silent for a while. “All I have left of him now is the memories. And some recordings. He was Richard _________, the famous cellist.”
“Jeez! He lived in Australia? I never knew that! Wow!” Keith was rapt. Jason had never heard of him. It impressed him that Keith had.
“He retired here after he stopped playing in public. He said that Europe was too cold in winter, and though it got cold in Melbourne, Sydney was too barbarous. Melbourne reminded him of his home town.”
“He was from somewhere in the south of France, wasn’t he?”
“Well, he was originally English. His name sounds French, but it isn’t. He came from the Channel Islands. Apparently they used to be part of France. But he lived for a long time in the south of France. Anyway. The point is this: if you think hard about it, I was a whore. So it’s no biggie, Keith. And … it was just good luck that I didn’t get infected. I mean, I never even thought to ask if Richard was pozz. And he wasn’t, but he could have been.”
“You know,” said Jason, “how is what you did any different to what that woman who married that Texas billionaire did? He was 75 or something, and she was a young model. You know that old joke, don’t you?”
“Which one?” asked Keith.
“A man goes up to a woman at a party, and asks whether she’d sleep with him for fifty thousand pounds. So she simpers a little, then says yes. So then he asks her whether she’d sleep with him for fifty pounds. And she says, indignantly, ‘what do you think I am?’ So he goes, ‘Madam, we know what you are. Now we’re just negotiating price.’”
“That’s a mean trick!” cried Keith, outraged.
“Yeah. But you get the point. And you know, I wonder how many marriages in my own family, going back over the centuries were because one side or the other had money? It’s a kind of whoring.”
“No, not really,” said Keith quietly. “Believe me. First off, maybe they grew to love each other. Even arranged marriages sometimes work. But … I had to go out every night to find a guy who wanted to root me. Every night. And some of them were … horrible. Horrible.” He looked away. “They thought because they were payin’, they owned my soul. Somehow … somehow they felt they could be as cruel to me as they wanted. And so many of them insisted they do it bareback. They thought they wouldn’t catch the big A if they topped.” He stopped again and swallowed, and shook his head. “Ya knaow what? The blokes who were kindest to me were the married older half-straight and closeted men. They used to thank me. They always told me how handsome I was, how attractive. Some of them wanted to see me again. They were kind. They treated me like a regular bloke. They would talk about the footy. Stuff like that.”
“What happened?” Luigi was leaning against the kitchen counter, and once more Jason admired his body, his beauty.
“I met Tom. He owns The Lord Grey. He took me off the strayts.” Keith’s accent was strengthening again. “He’s not much to look at I knaow. But he has a kind heart. He’s the first person I met who loved me for me.” He looked directly at Jason. “I said some dismissive things to you about him, mybe. That was wrong. He’s been good to me. Yeah, we slept together at the beginnin’, and sometimes do now. But he would never do anythin’ to you … ya knaow. Never.”
“What about us?” asked Jason. “I mean … wouldn’t he mind if we had sex?”
“Naoh. He’d be glad if I was happy.”
“You know I still love Brent, Keith? And probably I always will?” Jason went across to the other man and kissed him.
“Yeah,” said Keith, looking away. “I knaow.”
“Doesn’t mean we can’t be friends.” Jason held onto Keith’s hand. “Friends with benefits.” He turned and looked at Luigi. “All right?”
Keith was half in love with Jason, but he knew better than to push it. He nodded.
Luigi wasn’t sure what “friends with benefits” was, entirely, but he nodded anyway. It struck him as odd that before he’d met Jason he would have found only straight men attractive. That was what had drawn him to Jason in the first place — his aura of straightness. But now that he knew that he wasn’t, it didn’t matter. He found him just as compellingly desirable and attractive as he had before, when they’d been acting out their roles of super macho straight and ultra queeny gay. He was so handsome with his blond hair and blue eyes and strong sportsman’s body, and though he’d been in love with a bloke, all the same, he seemed just like an ordinary guy to Luigi. He thought of himself as the stereotypical gay femme man, and he wasn’t attracted to that at all in other men. He smiled wryly to himself. Didn’t the activists call that internalised homophobia?
“What are you grinning at?” asked Keith, smiling a little himself.
“I was just thinking how weird attraction is. Here I am — an effeminate young queen, not even a wise old queen — and here you two are. Macho as. And very sexy with it.” Luigi ducked his head, shyly, not able to meet their eyes.
Keith went over to him and kissed him, putting his hand onto Luigi’s junk and squeezing it. “Ya knaow what, mate? Ya’re incredibly hot. I think so anyway.” And he kissed him again, hard, pressing himself against Luigi’s body. Luigi could feel Keith’s erection straining against his own. He smiled at Keith. “I thought you had to go to work?”
“Shit! I do!” he yelped. He grinned like a madman. Giving one last caress to Luigi’s package, he turned and headed for the shower.
“You’re strong Lou. I saw it last night. You might be “gay-boy” but you have steel inside you. I don’t feel that about myself, at all. I feel that so far I’ve just gone with the flow.” Jason knew he had to tell this to Luigi. He had so much to atone for. What was it his nanny had used to say? La moitié fait que commence bien: Starting well means the task’s half done. Time to start doing this right.
Luigi put his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “Courage doesn’t mean not being afraid, Jason. It means doing what’s right anyway, even though you’re afraid. That’s what I’ve learnt.”
“Yeah, you have courage all right, Lou. But I meant more that you know what’s right to do. And you do it.” Luigi had kept on kneading and stroking Jason’s shoulder while Jason had been speaking.
“Jeez, Jase! If you only knew!” said Luigi, shaking his head. Still he kept his hand on Jason’s shoulder, and Jason felt warmth flow from the hand down into his body, putting him into a trance of contentment and acceptance.
“I’m just going on what I see … saw,” replied Jason, putting his own hand on top of Luigi’s. “When Keith was upset about his AIDS status, you launched straight in and comforted him. And I was paralysed. You give this impression … like when you picked me up … that you were a …” Jason faltered. He was digging himself deeper into the doo.
“ … a little queen?”
“C’mon, Lou! You’re …”
“… a queen. It’s OK. It’s just the way I am. I’m not ashamed.” But he was, deep down. He was. And he hated himself for that.
“Fuck, Lou, someone like you … you’re so … you’re unique. You’re so hot, so beautiful, so sexy … and fuck me, Lou, so farking courageous and strong. And yeah. That surprised me. I’m sorry. I know I’ve got a lot to learn. I don’t really know much about being gay.”
“Yeah. It’s OK.” Luigi pulled Jason to him and said very softly into his ear, so close Jason could feel his breath, hear the movements of his tongue and lips, “Jace, just be yourself. You’re good, OK, like you are. I understand about the way blokes see me. People think all kinds of shit about me all the time. What matters is that they get over it. Like you did.” And then he kissed Jason’s ear. Jason’s cock immediately went rigid.
“JeeSUS! Lou! I so want to fuck you again! You … jeez … that time … I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. C’mere! Lemme kiss you!”
Jason pulled Luigi close and pressed his groin against Luigi’s and his tongue into Luigi’s mouth.
“I see, I see,” said Keith, coming out of the shower wrapped in a towel, “practically up each other before I’ve even left the house. While I go out for a day of honest toil, you boy-toys stay home and fuck! Jeez, guys! Couldn’t you wait till I’d left?” He put his head on one side and assumed a downcast look.
“No we’re not! I’m coming with you to help clean up. And then we’re going to fuck!” Jason let go of Luigi and grabbed Keith. “And you’d better be there, handsome!” He started wrestling with him and then both fell to their knees on the carpet. Keith’s towel fell away. Jason put one hand on Keith’s cock and started tickling him with his other hand. “You ticklish, Keith?”
“I swear, Jace, you tickle me and I’ll kill ya, for sure.” Keith was laughing.
Jason just grinned. He felt so happy … for a moment, until he remembered Brent. He rolled away from Keith and they both stood up.
“Well ya’d better get a jizz on, Jace —” Keith paused, then grinned slyly in the way Jason was coming to know, “— so to speak! — ‘cos there’s work to be done. I promised Tom I would clean up before opening time ‘cos we couldn’t do it last night.”
“I’ll come clean up with you and go shower afterwards. I’ve got no clean clothes here.”
“Ya could borrow my boxers and socks and a T-shirt if ya wanted.” Keith turned to Luigi. “You too, if ya’d like.”
“They wouldn’t fit!”
“You sayin’ I’m fat?”
“Only where it matters,” answered Luigi with a grin. “Anyway I like guys with a bit of heft. I like your tummy. It’s sexy.” He reached over and patted it.
“Yeah, yeah. Listen, I’ve gotta go. It’s nearly 10 and there’s a motza work to do.”
“I’ll come help,” said Luigi. “I wanna tell you blokes about something.”
“There’s no time to shower,” said Jason. “Let’s get dressed and go.”