I look at myself in the mirror. Someone had once called me 'cute' but I can't see it myself. My ears are too big and though now I've grown my hair and had it styled so that most of the jug handle-like projections are hidden, I don't see how anyone can really think I'm attractive.

"When you've finished admiring yourself," says Mum sharply from the kitchen, "perhaps you'll give me a hand taking out the rubbish."

'Giving a hand' of course means doing the whole job but it's easier to do it than start to argue and have a row. After all my mother will soon be off to the pub in Feltenham and I'll be free to do as I want for the remainder of the evening.

What I plan to do is go over to see my friend, Rick. My friend? Is Rick a 'friend'? How long do you have to know someone before you can call him a friend? Like me he 's a workman (builders' assistant) and the others tease him, as they had teased me once, because Rick is quiet and doesn't push himself forward, doesn't boast about his girls, or how much he'd drunk the previous weekend. Do I even like him or is it that I feel sorry for him?

Anyway us two losers sort of stick together and he's asked me over to his house to go with him to take the dog for a walk – a pretty lame occupation for a Saturday night, but there it is and I haven't had a better offer, or even an offer at all.

Rick has a springer spaniel pup, liver and white, according to him. I like animals so I was fairly enthusiastic. I wouldn't mind having a dog myself except I knew Mum wouldn't allow it. 'Too much trouble,' she'd say, 'and all the mess. And you being out all day. I'd have to look after it' which I suppose is true.

Some time ago I'd met up with a couple, I suppose you'd call them, an older man and a much younger one. They seemed to be happy together and I'd had a brief episode with the younger one, Dominic, which made me wonder whether I was gay too.

Not the sort of thing you can ask your mother though, or your boss, or your work mates, and I knew no one else. Like the dreadful travesty of a queer in 'Little Britain', if I was, was I the only gay in the village?

And Rick! Yes, what about Rick? He's a nice enough guy when you get below the shy surface. Physically quite stocky, a face, much younger looking than his developed figure suggested. Fresh-complexioned with freckles around his nose. His mouth shows white teeth. When he smiles immediately his rather ordinary looking face is attractive in a masculine way. His eyes are green. The turned-up ends of his mouth make comma-shaped dimples just under his cheek bones.

I want to be a writer so I notice these things. The older guy of the pair I mentioned, before he left the neighbourhood, gave me his computer. It isn't a very modern one but it's OK for word-processing, and I write my thoughts down from time to time. I'm trying to turn them into a story, perhaps even a novel but at the moment, it's just vague and unstructured.

But do I fancy Rick? That's a real question. Certainly I like being with him. We pal up together when we're at work. So far I've never been really alone with him so today's going to be a first. To be honest I'm getting quite nervous and when I'm nervous, I start to stammer. I have difficulties with s's.

It's going to be a disaster I know. Perhaps it would be better to give him a ring and say I can't make it. Yet, he's only a bloke, a bloke I think I like so what's the point in giving up like this?

Having made the decision I worry about what to wear.

I have a shower first and then feel that a blue shirt and dark trousers are suitable – for taking a dog for a walk? Completely wrong. I'm not obsessed with clothes or designer labels and stuff but I like to look as good as possible. I change to some jeans. They cling tightly to my thighs and the outline of my cock and balls show. Are they too obvious? Will they scandalise Rick rather than turning him on? Is he even gay? Am I? Jesus, life is just too fucking complicated. I arrange myself so that I'm not too conspicuous. My chest isn't too bad and the T-shirt shows off what muscles I have. Is white a good colour? Perhaps a blue which matches my eyes will be better.

If I don't hurry, he'll have given up and gone off without me. So, ready or not, I'm off.

A pleasant evening! Midsummer and the air is warm and has traces of flower scents in it. Further down the road, someone has just mown their lawn and the cut grass smells sharp, acrid and a bit metallic. I rehearse what I will say to Rick but hope that the dog will provide the best subject for conversation.

It's eight o'clock when I get to his house, a modest semi-detached council house, like mine. Still two hours of daylight to go. My ring on the doorbell seems to echo through the house, almost as if it's empty and I wonder if I'm too late, but then I hear footsteps and hear his voice. "Get out of the way, Sal."

The door opens and Rick is there, a broad smile of welcome on his face. The dog rushes at me, jumping up, her mouth also open as if she's smiling too.

"Down, Sal," says Rick. "She's not very well trained," he says to me. "Just pleased to see visitors."

I bend down and make a fuss of her, rubbing her ears. "She's a grand dog," I say, and notice that I'm not stammering at all.

Rick is wearing a loose T-shirt and baggy jeans which show nothing. They look expensive. He glances at my crotch but I can't interpret his reaction. He shouts back into the house. "We're off, Mum. Don't know how long we'll be."

A woman's voice answers from somewhere in the back but I can't make out exactly what she says. Rick obviously does, because he says. "OK. Will do."

We set off over the stile and into the fields at the back of the house. That's the beauty of living in a small village, you're so close to the countryside. That's probably the only advantage. There's no clubs, or movies, just a pub, a church, a small library which opens twice a week and a couple of shops which close at five o'clock.

Sal is off, rooting into the undergrowth, looking for something to chase. She really is uncontrollable. Rick and I are a bit shy together – it's the first time we've really been alone – but soon we are chatting, about the dog, and the countryside and eventually about ourselves. Unlike me he's got a mother who cares about him and a father who's at home and with whom he's on good terms. He also has a younger sister who, according to Rick is a real pain, but that's just sibling rivalry I say to myself knowledgeably.

Away from the gang at work and once the ice is broken, Rick is a fun guy. He makes jokes and I tease him about having a mad dog and, best of all, he doesn't mention my ears.

Soon we're striding over the moor and larks are rising singing their little hearts out as they climb into the air and hang suspended so far up. I wonder how they can do it, all that wing flapping and singing away at the same time. Don't they ever get out of breath?

Sal finds a stream and plunges in then comes out and shakes herself over the two of us. We tell her off but don't really mean it. The air is still warm and the drops of water soon dry. But the sun is getting low over the horizon and we turn back, in my case reluctantly. And I think that Rick has enjoyed the walk. In fact I know he has because he says, "We must do this again."

Back at his house, Rick says, "Mum told me to ask you in. Come and meet her. She's a bit mad but harmless."

Is this like meeting the in-laws? OK that was a joke but I do feel that Rick and I are getting close. I put my arm round his shoulders as we go up the path and he doesn't shake it off, just turns his face to me and smiles.

I guess the house isn't much different from mine but the atmosphere is. Though there's some things scattered about, for instance a coat thrown over the back of a chair, some books and magazines lying haphazardly on a coffee table, it's not the same sort of clutter I'm used to. And there's a good smell of cooking in the air and not just fried chips and pizza.

Rick's mother comes out of what is presumably the kitchen. She has a lot of red, frizzled hair and Rick's smile. I realise that I don't know Rick's surname so can't say anything except, "Hello." Perhaps that's a good thing as surely I'd have problems with saying 'Mrs'.

"Can you stay for a meal, Chris?" she asks. "We've got plenty."

I nod and say, "Thank you."

"Had you better tell someone?" she asks.

"No one's expecting me," I say, getting it out without much trouble.

She gives me a sharp look but doesn't say anything.

So we sit around the table in the kitchen with an Aga giving out some unnecessary heat. There's Rick and me and the sister whose name is Katie, and his father and mother. Mr – I really must find out Rick's name – looks prosperous and well-scrubbed. He's changed out of his suit which was what he was wearing when I first saw him and now wears slacks and a polo-necked sweater. I'm quite surprised that Rick is working on such a dead end job.

We have soup, and a tuna and chicken bake and finally some posh yoghurt, caramel flavoured. I could get used to eating like this but probably won't have the chance. My Mum's into chips and convenience foods.

Conversation flows freely over the meal with Katie being particularly curious about me until her mother tells her not to subject me to such an Inquisition. Rick chatters away about work and how I'm the only real friend he has. I get a bit embarrassed but it's nice to hear. I look at him and think he's really good-looking. I like the way his biceps bulge under his T-shirt. I suddenly decide I fancy him. Almost as if he knows what I'm thinking he looks at me and winks.

Katie, of course, notices. "What you winking at him for?" she asks.

I'm embarrassed but he isn't. "Because he's my friend," he says.

Afterwards he says, "Do you have to go home yet?" We're both seventeen and shouldn't have to ask questions like that. We could be out roaring round the town, going into neighbouring Feltenham and visiting the clubs, getting drunk and throwing up in the gutter. Perhaps even getting into fights. Well, perhaps not the last.

"No," I say.

"Let's go and have a drink."

At the moment the minimum drinking age is eighteen, though they're talking about putting it up to twenty-one. Admittedly many guys can get served under that age but I'm a short person. I probably look younger than eighteen. It's embarrassing to get refused in a pub. Anyway I haven't got all that much money. Both Rick and I are on minimum wage and that for sixteen/seventeen year olds is only £3.40 per hour. After my eighteenth birthday that goes up to £4.60 per hour. Big Deal! So I'm not exactly flush with money.

I explain this to Rick but he says, "No worries. I've got plenty. They'll serve us at the Fish and Griddle, no trouble."

The Fish and Griddle is our local pub. I've been in a few times but not all that often. It's a bit spit and sawdust but it smells better now than it did before the no smoking regulations came into force. Sometimes it has a pianist who pounds out old songs and people sing. Mostly out of tune of course, but it seems to be popular especially towards the end of the evening. The guy is old and doesn't have much talent. His left hand vamps away, only occasionally making an accompaniment to the tune. The clients buy him pints so that at the end of the evening his playing is even more erratic.

To my surprise Rick seems to be known, at least by the barman. whom he addresses as Dan and gets served without any trouble buying a pint for me as well. We take them over to a table in the corner and sit opposite each other, our knees touching.

"Do you come here often?" I ask and then realise how trite that sounds, like a stale pickup line.

Rick, though, doesn't seem to notice. "Quite often." I don't really understand. Rick seems so completely different from the guy who gets teased at work, the quiet guy with nothing to say. Here he is self-confident, very much in charge, with money to spend and no hang-ups at all.

"What's the attraction?" I ask.

He gives me a strange sort of look which I don't really understand and then says, "Well, Dan's quite a nice guy."

It takes me a moment to think who Dan is and then I remember he's the barman. I look over at him. He's probably in his mid-twenties and has very blond hair. He's nice looking and for a moment I'm reminded of Dominic, the younger half of the gay couple I got to know. It isn't so much his looks as the fluid way he moves.

"Are you two friends?" I ask.

"Oh, Dan's a very friendly person."

Suddenly I realise I'm being incredibly naive. There is, must be, has been something between Dan and Rick. That's surely what he's telling me. Rick must be gay and, as if to confirm this, I feel Rick's legs under the table imprison one of mine. His hand touches my knee and moves up my thigh.

I gasp. I don't know what is happening but whatever it is, it's here in this public place and I feel that the table top is transparent, that anyone can see. All the same it doesn't stop me from getting a terrific hard on. I want him to touch me, hold me but I see Dan, from behind the bar looking over at us and I'm sure he knows what's going on.

"S... s... stop," I say. But from his side of the table, Rick can just reach with his fingertips my prick and he knows I'm hard. Gently he touches me, strokes me and I sink down in the seat so that I'm nearer to him, so that he can actually grab hold.

"Are you sure you want me to?" he asks. He is smiling and I am lost. I put my hand over his and press him into me. He moves his hand up and down and I close my eyes, feeling an orgasm build up inside me. I know the effects will show in my jeans but I don't care.

A voice. "You guys enjoying yourselves?" I open my eyes. Dan is standing beside the table looking down at us. Rick's hand withdraws and I feel my erection wither. Just in time.

He doesn't wait for an answer but says to Rick, "Budge up." He sits down beside him, close, and I can imagine his thigh pressing up against Rick's. His hands are below the level of the table top and I wonder if one of them isn't touching Rick.

Shakily I finish up my beer. "I sh... should be going," I say.

"Don't let me drive you away," says Dan, but it's clear that he doesn't mind if I leave. I struggle up, hoping that there isn't any evidence showing of what has been going on.

"See you," I say in Rick's direction, though that's of course also in Dan's.

I go out into the darkness, trying to analyse my feelings. Am I jealous of Dan? Is he jealous of me? What does Rick feel in this? Was it just a spur of the moment action on his part? Does he do things like that with everybody he can?

Rick is an enigma to me. He's completely different from the sort of person I thought he was, quiet, inhibited, shy – a bit like me – and now I see him quite prepared to wank me off in public, perhaps doing the same with Dan now.

I feel let down though why I should I don't know. Perhaps I wanted Rick all to myself. Oh well, I was wrong, completely wrong. And how am I going to face him on Monday? I trudge down the road between the inadequate street lamps telling myself I've been a fool to think that I'd find the love of my life so easily.

Suddenly there's the sound of running footsteps behind me. For a moment I wonder whether I'm about to be mugged but it's Rick.

"Chris, wait," he says and I stop and turn. We are in the dark area between two street lamps and I can't make out the expression on his face.

"Why did you rush off?" he asks.

"It was obvious that Dan didn't want me there. I thought you might feel the same."

"Oh Dan. Take no notice of him. He gets funny sometimes."

"He was jealous," I say.

"He has no reason to be. We're just friends."

"And you and me?"

There is a pause. I am standing with my back against a house wall. Rick takes a step closer to me. "I hope we're friends. Perhaps we could be something more."

One more step and he's almost touching me. Then he is, his body against mine, his lips on mine. This is worse than being groped in the pub. Anyone could pass and see us. But I don't care. I've never kissed anyone before, not like that anyway. We are touching all the way down and his arms are around me. His tongue forces open my mouth, insinuates itself inside and does things to my body that I've never known before. The kiss goes on for a long time and I can feel the muscles in his chest against mine and further down the hardness which again equals mine.

Eventually we come up for air. "I want to feel you naked against me," he says. But this isn't practical.

There is a burst of raucous singing as a group come out of the pub along the road. We draw apart.

"Can we go out tomorrow with the dog?" I ask.

We walk back to his house together but there are people around so we don't even kiss good-bye.

But there is always tomorrow.

Sunday. I didn't get much sleep last night. My emotions are in a turmoil. I've never felt like this before about anyone, nor indeed experienced anything like what happened yesterday. I laid awake thinking about what Rick and I had done – or nearly done – and became aroused. But, perhaps it was stupid, I didn't want to jerk off which probably would have been the best thing, because in some way I wanted to save myself for Rick.

And again I wondered about Dan. Were he and Rick just 'friends' as Rick had said, and what did that mean? Rick had also said that he and I were 'friends' but that obviously didn't exclude a physical aspect. And had I any right to be jealous of what he and Dan might have done before I knew either of them?

Then I wondered about tomorrow and what would happen. Who would make the first move? Would Rick regret what we had done?

Eventually I drop off to sleep but Mum's bustling around the house wakes me up early. She is a really aggravating person. For months she does little or no housework at all and then, on a Sunday morning when I could have welcomed a lie in, she starts hoovering at the crack of dawn.

As I come downstairs blearily blinking sleep out of my eyes, she announces that a 'friend' is visiting and she hints that it will be fine by her if I go out, even stay out overnight. There was a time when I used to stay at Dominic's and his friend's house but since they've moved away, there's no possibility of that. But I'm not going to admit this and I say, it's OK by me. I wonder if I can possibly stay at Rick's place, though this will be difficult to explain to his parents.

There's a scratch breakfast, a shower, a change of clothes and I'm off to Rick's house. It's obvious that I've arrived in the middle of their breakfast, but his mother doesn't seem put out in the slightest and dispenses waffles and syrup which I've never had before but think they're a good substitute for toast and vegetable oil spread, which I can tell from butter.

Rick says we're going out for the day and taking sandwiches and stuff which his mother has prepared. Katie decided that she'd like to come along as well and I hold my breath to see what the result of that is. Rick says it's boys only and she scoffs and mutters, "How gay." But it might just mean in the sense that she disapproves and has no deeper significance. Anyway we ignore her and set off with Sal leaping beside us in utter and abandoned enjoyment.

I'm a little shy after yesterday's passion and my imaginings of last night but once away from the village Rick grabs hold of my hand, turns me round and kisses me. Then he laughs and runs off, hotly pursued by Sal – and me. He's playing hard to get but I notice he doesn't run particularly fast and I catch up with him, grab him around the waist. He falls and I land on top of him. We wrestle together, Sal barking excitedly on the edge. She seems to know that we are just playing probably because we are laughing all the time.

Rick is lying on his back and I am astride his body. I inch back down so that I am sitting on his groin. I can feel a shape there which is rapidly growing hard. I feel my own erection build and know it is pushing out the front of my jeans. He grabs hold of it while I lift myself and put my hand underneath to feel Rick's swelling cock. All the time my eyes never leave Rick's face. Then he shuts his eyes, though he doesn't not say anything, nor release his hold on me.

I quickly get off and turn round so that I am facing the other way round. I sit astride Rick's chest and lower my face so that it is within inches of his groin. My hand still gropes at the now fully extended cock under the concealing denim. Almost trembling, I feel for the zip and slowly draw it open. Rick is wearing a pair of soft white underpants which still hide what I am looking for. With a boldness that only lust can account for I lick the material until it is damp and almost transparent. Underneath I can feel the hard strength of Rick's erection. There was still no sign of protest and I can wait no longer. I pull down the elastic waistband, dive into the warmth and draw out that prick that I had only dreamed of. It stands up, proud and erect, the head already exuding a transparent drop of excitement.

Slowly, and with great care, I extend my tongue and lick away the drop and then enclose his cock with my own warm, moist mouth. Behind me I hear a sigh.

Afterwards. After we have done the most incredible things to, with and in each other's bodies, things I would never have even dreamed about. After we have both exhausted ourselves, we walk together up the hill side by side, occasionally our arms brushing companionably. Sal, pleased that we are walking again, forages for rabbits. We reach the top where the wind breathes, blowing aside for a moment the burden of everyday pressure and responsibility. Fluffy white cumulus clouds drift across the rain-washed blue sky. It is like being on top of the world. I sit with my back against a standing stone which has odd chiselled markings on it. I wonder how many thousands of years it has stood there and who had originally put it up. I pick a blade of grass and chew the end. The valley dips and stretches out in front of us to where the Welsh hills mark the end of the world. Rick lies on his back next to me and gazes at the sky. We don't speak and each keeps our own thoughts to ourselves but as the sun warms me through my jeans, I feel the warmth lapping my body, sensuously penetrating my clothes, playing intimately with my skin. I spit out the grass stalk and cup my hands behind my head, spreading my legs so that I lie, open and vulnerable, a sacrifice to the sun. Feeling myself constricted I move my legs and cover my loins, bulging now, with my hands, one on top of each other, protecting, hiding, the under hand gently squeezing, easing myself so that my prick extends unimpeded along my leg.

I steal a look at my friend lying quietly beside me but Rick's eyes are closed, perhaps he is even asleep. His shirt is rucked up showing his flat stomach and his legs are spread. He looks sprawled and defenceless and I know a moment of complete happiness. I give a quiet sigh, apparently not quiet enough because Rick opens his eyes, looks at me.

And from there he can't help but see the outline of my erection. Rick smiles. "I want to feel you inside me."

"We'll wear each other out," I say.

"What a way to go."

"If we could spend the night together."

"Why not?" Rick asks. "My parents wouldn't mind your sharing my room. And it's got a spare bed in it, which we needn't use."

"My Mum is only too pleased to see the back of me," I say remembering her last remark to me.

And so it is. Rick's Mum and dad don't seem to find anything strange in my staying overnight. Only Katie gives us an odd look; she's too wily by half but there's nothing she can do about it.

We have a scrumptious meal, then watch a bit of television but this is not what we really want so after making an excuse that we are tired after our day out, we go upstairs.

As I go into his room, I gasp with surprise. I know it's a trite cliché but I can't help it. It is like Aladdin's cave. There is a huge 26" plasma screen TV, stereo equipment to fill the Albert Hall with sound (well not quite), latest computer laptop, mobile phone with screen which can do practically everything. There's a large bed on one side and a smaller one on the opposite side. I know which one we'll pick.

"Where did you ...?" I ask.

But Rick is suddenly not very communicative. "You know..." he says, which obviously I don't.

I suspect that he's a bit embarrassed that he's been given all this stuff by his father. I still don't really understand why Rick's got this dead end job but I'm not bothered. There are more important things to think about. Or rather not to think about, just to indulge in.

The bed is here, Rick is here, I am here and all three of us need to get together – fast.

Rick slips the lock on the door and we tumble into the bed, that bed so firm, so yielding, just like Rick.

Now I'm not going to describe what happened. Perhaps later when I think about it afterwards. Suffice it to say that we strip each other, revealing our bodies which we cover in . . . No, that's enough for now.

I am inexperienced but Rick certainly knows his way around and introduces me to all sorts of practices which are so stimulating, occasionally a little painful but in the end so erotic that he has to clamp his hand over my mouth to stop me shouting out.

At last, even we are satisfied and we go to sleep, clasped in each other's arms, even legs entwined and all parts touching. There's nothing I discover so sensual and so comforting as naked skin next to mine.

So, that is how my relationship with Rick starts and proceeds.

Monday, of course, means back to work and I have to rush home to shower and change ready to be collected by the boss. I don't want to wash Rick off me but I suspect that it's better that I don't get to work smelling of him – or he of me.

I meet Mum's 'visitor', an unshaven guy with a bit of a paunch who doesn't give a toss about me. Why should he? He probably doesn't care much for Mum either, just a casual shag and then off. Is it any different to Rick and me? I think so. I certainly hope so.

No one at work of course suspects and we return to our usual characters, quiet, unassertive and biddable. Occasionally though our eyes meet and we smile knowingly in secret complicity.

Today we are in a grand house on its own and set in a large garden with an orchard at one side. Alterations are to be made, knocking down a wall and building it somewhere else, constructing a conservatory. The owner, a tall thin man with a fruity voice and no chin, points out where everything should be and 'bossman' makes notes though I doubt whether it will make a difference. He knows what he's going to do and that's it. Because they are posh people the owners haven't removed the decorative bits and pieces. There are loads of porcelain statuettes and some pictures. We are given the task of wrapping these up and storing them away in boxes. I suppose Jas thinks we'll do a good job and not break anything. He does though warn us that they are very valuable and very delicate. No pressure of course!

There are about a hundred of the little horrors, girls in ballet tutus, Victorian ladies with parasols, rather effete young shepherd boys with broad hips and no bulges to speak of where it counts – we giggle a bit over them – each one to be carefully wrapped in newspaper and placed in boxes but, because I'm with Rick, I don't mind the job.

Occasionally 'bossman' pops in to see how we're doing and to hurry us up. Seeing that we're nearly finished he takes me off to help the other lads unload some stuff from a lorry – I've been upgraded.

So that was the day, day three of my affair with Rick – I note them all on my computer, a story in the making, seeing that the tale of Dominic was so inconclusive. I wonder whether I'm too close, someone once said (I remember it from my English literature lessons at school) that poetry is 'emotion recollected in tranquility' and I guess prose is the same, though I'm anything but tranquil. Even thinking of him gives me a raging hardon and I ache to hold him in my arms again, like we did last night.

At the end of the day, when 'bossman' has dropped us off at our separate houses – I want to go to Rick's but he whispers "later – see you in the pub" and I go in alone.

The man (Mum's 'friend') is still there. Apparently his name is Steve and he's being treated right royally by Mum who has splashed out on Waitrose 'coq au vin' and raspberry trifle. He must, I think, be a good fuck. I have a couple of slices of pizza but I don't mind.

"We won't be back will late," says Mum. They go out, climb into a not too old Mondeo and roar off. I am alone again. I have a bath, change into some reasonable gear (I'm suddenly envious of Rick's clothes) and set out for the pub. I think of calling in at Rick's house but I don't want to make it too obvious by arriving uninvited – Katie will be bound to make some caustic comment. Anyway, Rick said the pub, so the pub it is.

Of course Dan is behind the bar, blond hair glinting under the lights. My own, mousy brown, needs another visit to the stylist in Feltenham to put back some of the magic that makes me just presentable. Rick, I see because there aren't many people in on a Monday, hasn't arrived yet.

Dan gives me a look which is difficult to interpret. Does he really dislike me? If so will he in fact refuse to serve me because I am underage? I can't hang around waiting for Rick so I go to the bar.

For a moment we stare at each other then I say, "Can I have a beer, please?"

There is another moment of silence and I feel myself going hot. Will he ask me how old I am? And will I blush and stammer as I lie?

Then Dan says, "Of course you can, sweetie, " and starts to pull me a pint.

From behind I feel a body pushed into me, intimate, familiar. "And one for my friend too," I say without turning round.

But Dan has obviously seen Rick come in for he is already filling a second glass.

We take our drinks to 'our' table and sit as we did on Saturday night, opposite each other, knees touching. I notice that Rick is still wearing his work clothes, a grubby T-shirt with a grey sweat shirt and faded jeans. He hasn't had a bath or shower either and there's a slight smell of sweat. This doesn't upset me. In fact it rather turns me on. I think I prefer the smell of Rick to that of deodorants and soap.

Nevertheless I remark on the fact. "You haven't changed," I say.

"I had to go into Feltenham," he says, "and I didn't want to miss you."

I nod, waiting for his explanation of the trip into town but he doesn't say anything more and I don't ask. Instead we talk about other intimate things, things we couldn't mention at work, about our night together and what we did. And how we felt. And how we must do it again.

"And again," I say. "And again."

"You'll get fed up with it," he says.


He smiles and feels under the table. I grab his hand and guide it to its target. This, of course was where Dan appeared the last time and I glance across but he's still behind the bar.

Rick works me up into a frenzy until I suddenly say. "This is no good. Let's get out of here and find somewhere where we can do it properly."

As we sent out, Dan called, "Going so soon?" I'm not sure if he's being sarcastic so I ignore him.

Rick waves and we go out.

"There's no one at my home," I say. I'm too excited to worry about what Rick might think of the state of my house but when we get there and I see the mess, the shabby furniture, the dust which lies on the surfaces – Mum may have cleared up for Steve but her housework isn't of the best – I know Rick must compare it unfavourably with his own house. And my room is, as usual, a complete and utter tip. Even the bed is unmade and books and CDs are littered around as well as, I'm embarrassed to say, some grungy underwear and socks.

I try to kick them surreptitiously under the bed but of course Rick notices. "I'm sorry," I say. "I'm a slut."

"And I haven't had a bath," he says. "Let's be sluts together."

And indeed we are. I blush at the things we did, and the things we used to do them with. Sometimes the scents and functions of the human body are a complete turn-on and this was one of the times. Even in this, my private writings, I have no intention of telling what we did and how we did it. But it was fucking marvellous and when we finished, sprawled exhausted on a bed which before hadn't been too clean but was now fairly revolting, I didn't regret it for one moment.

"I think I could do with a shower now," says Rick after a while, and we have one together.

Rick says he has to get back, some family visit. He asks me as well but I decide that I don't want to meet even more of his relatives. We'll meet again tomorrow at work and, after a tender good-bye, he leaves.

Unfortunately everything goes wrong the following day. When bossman in the van calls, Rick is not aboard. He's been put on some other job, so I'm the 'junior' again, mashing tea and mixing muck. This job is the other side of Feltenham.

"No boyfriend today," says Alf one of the lads, but I ignore him. I expect it's just his idea of a joke.

The day seems longer than ever. Rick and I haven't made any arrangement to meet but he'll either be in the Fag and Fisherman or I could call at his house so I'm not especially worried. We actually finish early so, when bossman gives us a lift back and we pass through Feltenham, I ask to be dropped off there.

"Meeting a bird?" suggests the same guy. Really how can he have it both ways?

In fact I've decided to visit the Unisex Hair Salon to have my usual. I'm not embarrassed now and the girl who usually does my hair has become quite a friend. "Same as always, Chris?" she asks, and I nod.

Of course I have to get the bus back but that's no problem and I get to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare. Time indeed to browse some of the shops. There's a clothes shop with a sweat shirt in the window which is like the one Rick has but a different colour. I like it but it's way too expensive for me, especially after I've just spent thirty quid having my hair done.

Again I wonder how Rick can afford all the things. Rich dad obviously.

The shop next door is one of those antique ones selling old furniture at incredible prices. Strange when you can get much cheaper stuff from Ikea but I remember how Dominic's friend told me that the old stuff is made with love and attention and lasts much better than the new mass-made things.

On a table are displayed some porcelain figurines, like the ones we were wrapping in that job yesterday. Just out of interest I look at the price tabs. £150 each! Not for the lot! One of them is just the same as the willowy guy Rick and I laughed at, the one with big hips and no cock. If there as common as that I wonder why they're so expensive.

There's still ten minutes before the bus is due so I go in and ask the guy in charge why they are. He's a little guy with a bald head and glasses. He sniffs at lot as if he's got a cold or perhaps he's just sniffing out a bargain.

I point to the figurine. "The Goose Boy," he says. "Perfect, isn't it?" He picks it up and rubs it sensuously between his fingers and thumb. Sort of creepy. "It's expensive because it was the only one made." He gestures at the table of statuettes. "They're all one-offs."

"I saw one yesterday exactly the same," I say.

"Impossible," he says. "Or if you did, it must have been this one. I did in fact only buy it yesterday."

I look at him. "Who from?" I ask.

"I never divulge my sources."

Through the window I see the bus coming so I run out to catch it.

On the way home I have a lot to think about. If that was the same 'Goose Boy' that we were packing yesterday then someone must have pinched it. Or the owner sold it, but why should he do that? I would have seen if Rick had taken one except that I'd been taken off packing at the end and told to unload the van. And Rick had been to Feltenham yesterday evening before meeting me at the pub. Could he have sold it to the antiques dealer for perhaps £100. £50 is quite a good mark-up profit. Perhaps some of the others are also from the same source. I hadn't paid much attention to the Victorian ladies but I did remember one with a parasol and there was certainly one here.

It feels disloyal to think of Rick as a thief but his possessions and his ready money suggest that he's not living entirely on his wages. Far from it. He can't be earning more than I am and there's no way, I could afford the clothes he wears, the equipment I've seen in his room and his ability to buy drinks in the Fish and Griddle on a regular basis.

My lover, Rick, a thief? Stealing from the houses he works in and selling them to this dealer? But wouldn't the losses have been noticed? When the builders are in, of course, there's confusion and perhaps a few disappearances would have escaped attention.

Did I even care? As someone who had regularly shoplifted from Woolworth's in my youth I can't claim that I was as driven snow as regards crime. But those were really to prove I was one of the lads and I'd never thought of doing it for profit, just for street credibility.

If Rick had embarked on a life of crime, could he be trusted in other matters? Clearly I'm confused. I could ask him, of course, but do I want to drag it into the open. Do I want to show him that I don't think of him as anything but my glorious, sexy lover?

So perturbed am I that I nearly miss my stop but get off just in time. Steve is still in residence and Mum looks happier than she has done for years. She doesn't snap at me, and I'm included in the dinner arrangements which, for a change, are not 'chips with everything'.

I'd have said yesterday that my sexual adventures have given me a sunnier personality. Today I'm not so sure.

As soon as I can, though, I escape by offering to do the washing up, and then I'm off. I call at Rick's but Katie informs me, with a note of glee in her voice – or am I being too sensitive? – that he isn't in and she doesn't know where he is.

I go to the pub but he isn't there either. And nor is Dan behind the bar. I ask the barman where he is and he rather grudgingly tells me it's his night off. There's no point in my staying here so I go home in a state of mingled jealousy (are the two of them out together?) and worry.

I try to watch some telly but there's nothing of interest on the five terrestrial channels (we don't have Sky). I write a bit on the computer putting down my thoughts but it just makes me more miserable. Where is Rick?

Towards eleven o'clock, Mum and Steve come in. An early night for them but perhaps they want to go to bed. At their age. Gross! Mum starts fiddling around in the kitchen and I realise that I haven't eaten anything since a pie at lunchtime. Often she brings back a Chinese or Indian but tonight she's doing the Jamie Oliver – beans on toast! And she even does one for me. I take a bite but suddenly find I've lost my appetite. I don't want to cause a row so I battle on manfully.

Then the phone rings. Mum says, "Who on earth can be ringing at this time of night?"

Steve grunts – his usual form of communication. Mum picks up the receiver, listens and then says to me, "It's for you."

Speed of light across the room. Even Steve is moved to comment. "Must be a girl friend," he says.

Mum says, "It was a bloke."

And Steve grunts.

But I don't care. "Hello," I say.

It's Rick. I nearly blurt out what I feel, how glad I am to hear from him, that I love him, that I want to see him immediately, touch him, kiss him – and all the etceteras that that implies. But I force myself to be calm.

"Missed you today," I say.

"Sorry," he says, his voice sounding a bit strained and strange. "There were problems."

"What sort of problems?"

"Can you speak?" he asks.

I look round at Mum and Steve who are attending closely. "No."

"Can we meet?"


"Yes. I'll wait outside the church." He rings off.

"Gotta go out," I say. "Important."

"Not getting yourself into trouble, are you?" asks Mum.

"More like getting someone else in trouble," is Steve's comment.

I ignore them both and make for the door. Insanely I am singing 'Get me to the church on time'.

It is dark. Of course it's dark. It is nearly midnight but I mean dark, dark. The street lights have been turned off and there's only a trace of a moon, smiling on its side through a break in the clouds. Soon though I get accustomed and can make out the dark shapes of buildings, with the occasional lighted window.

The church is a great slab of blackness against the grey sky with a tall tower at one end. I can't see anyone waiting there but as I get close a shadow steps out from under the lych gate.

"Rick?" Who else can it be?

But it isn't. The figure isn't right. Too tall. As he gets close, the hair isn't right. Too light. He grabs me around the chest imprisoning my arms. He's strong, and though I struggle, I can't get free. His smell is wrong too. Not Rick's at all. A pungent, acrid smell, fear and anger combined.

His mouth is close to my ear. "Nosy little fucker," he snarls.

I know who it is. "Dan," I say.

He holds me with one arm and even that is strong enough to keep me against his body. His other hand snakes down and grabs hold of my balls. He squeezes and I scream with the pain, doubling up and falling to the ground. He follows me down, lying across me. I can smell him even stronger and still his hand doesn't leave go.

He is whispering venomous words. "Asking questions, you little shit. Not minding your own business. If you ever want to come again, you'll forget everything you've been poking your nose into. Understand?"

I am past being able to speak. I nod.

He gives another squeeze. I feel sick with the pain which has spread from my groin through the whole of my body. "Understand?"

It is all I can do to grunt out a 'yes', and he relaxes his grip.

I am crying and I lie on the ground curled up, moaning.

He moves away but then returns and kicks me in the ribs. "Forget everything," he repeats.

I don't need telling again. It's difficult to think when I'm in such agony, and only another male can know the pain that crushed testicles can produce but as I slowly get up and hobble, bent double towards home I work out the possibilities. Obviously the antique dealer I visited and 'interrogated' in Feltenham has told Dan that someone is on to him, presumably described me and Dan has decided to frighten me off. No problem there. I thought he was going to kill me.

But the real doubt is whether Dan and Rick are in this together in which case I've been well and truly shafted by someone I trusted, indeed thought I was in love with, and that caused more pain than my poor balls.

I am glad that Mum and Steve have gone to bed when I get in. They'd surely have commented on how I crawl so painfully up the stairs and into bed. Not that I get much sleep. I wonder if I am terminally damaged and also if my heart is broken.

Next morning I plead sickness and ask Mum to tell bossman that I won't be working today. I hear her doing just that and also hear Jas grumbling about how it's impossible to rely on workmen these days and whether he wouldn't be better to employ Polish or East European workers who are much more reliable. He's also having a shout at someone else but I bury my head in the pillow and try and shut out the outside world – for ever.

A little later I hear the bedroom door open and assume that it's Mum who, out of the goodness of her heart, has brought me up a cup of tea or at least a grilling as to what is really wrong with me or if I'm just being a lazy wanker.

"Not now, Mum," I say.

A voice says, "Chris."

I peer out from under the covers. In the doorway is Rick. Christ! I must look a mess, eyes, red-rimmed, hair all over the place, ears no doubt sticking out like jug-handles. Does it even matter now?

He comes in and sits down on the bed. "Chris, I'm so sorry," he says.

Sorry for what? Sorry for setting Dan on me? Sorry for being in with Dan and just using me as a temporary fuck?

He touches my cheek with the palm of his hand. This tenderness is too much for me. I start to cry. He bends his head and kisses the tears that are rolling down my cheeks.

"It wasn't me," he says. "I didn't steal anything. Just talked about it to Dan. He did the breaking in and pinched the stuff. I knew he was doing it but he was my friend. I couldn't shop him."

"All that money you had," I say. "I thought it was you, stealing and selling the stuff."

"Just gifts from my Dad. I was embarrassed to admit it. He's generous with his money, to me and to Katie."

"Did you know Dan was going to do that to me. I thought he was going to kill me."

"Of course I didn't. I didn't get home until late. We were all questioned by the police. They didn't let us go until really late. Dan told me what he'd done to you. Sounded pleased with himself. 'Scared the shit our of the little fucker,' he said."

"He was right," I say.

"It's all over between Dan and me." Rick lies down beside me and tenderly holds my face in his hands, kissing me gently on the lips.

I want to push myself against him but it's too painful. I am getting a hardon though which is a good sign. Perhaps I'm not permanently damaged.

I hope I can trust Rick. I want to – but life is so fucking complicated innit?.


© Michael Gouda 2007

Date started: Saturday, October 27, 2007
Date finished: Thursday, November 15, 2007
Words: 8,754

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