Life on the Verge

Short story (following on the two previous ones, 'Runt' and 'Chris')

I thought long and hard about Rick. Rick who was my boyfriend, my lover, my partner – wasn't he? I hadn't been out long, only recently admitted to myself that I was gay and moreover had only just entered into this, my first relationship with someone else.

I was insecure. I felt I needed constant reassurance and then told myself that I shouldn't be such a bloody fool. Rick and I had been together for, what was it? more than six months now, seeing each other as much as we could, and, at least as far as I was concerned, always feeling that same excitement when a meeting was imminent, and the same pleasurable jab in the solar plexus when I caught sight of Rick, opening the door, coming round a corner of the road, seeing him sitting waiting in the corner of the pub.

I didn't want to appear clingy or always demanding loyalty/support or proof of affection so I attempted a light-hearted approach to the relationship. Much as I wanted to, I wouldn't rush into the arms of my beloved, nor demand professions of undying love and consequently when I never got them, I worried.

We had met when we found we were both doing the same job, working for a builder as trainees – the lowest of the low – and being both teased by our older and more proficient work mates had naturally come together as mates. Later, searching for my own sexual orientation, I had found out that Rick was gay and the inevitable happened.

We had been nearly broken up by a jealous ex of Rick's and this had left me with a lack of certainty about whether the relationship with Rick would succeed. My self-confidence/self-esteem had never been very high mostly from the poor opinions and negative attitude of my mother.

Now, Rick had moved on to another job, more money, more interest, better prospects. I was pleased for Rick's sake but upset, no that was too weak a word, almost devastated by the fact that I wouldn't see Rick on a daily basis.

We had discussed the change.

"Chris, do you think I should take this new job?" Rick had asked. "My dad pulled lots of strings to get it for me." Rick's father, unlike mine who had fled the family when I was only fifteen, was supportive and in fact spoiled his son 'something rotten' (as I thought of it).

"Of course you must," I had said stoutly though every fibre of my being argued against the move. "You'd be a fool not to."

"We won't see as much of each other."

"Stop us getting fed up," I said.

"You may be right." Now why, I thought didn't Rick say something like 'we'll never get tired of each other'.

So Rick started on his career as an apprentice in an engineering firm and I missed his daily presence. I could also envisage Rick growing further and further away as his job prospects increased. What would a fully fledged engineer want with a builder's assistant?

But we still saw each other most evenings. I would go round to Rick's house where Mrs Harrison always made me welcome so unlike my own mother who treated me more as an encumbrance, someone who got in the way of her latest 'friend', a burly electrician called Steve.

Rick had described his mother as 'weird', though I decided that, if she was, I liked her brand of weirdness. She was a staunch supporter of homeopathic medicines, that strange belief that the essence of a drug though diluted so much that scarcely a molecule of the original substance still remained, somehow imprinted its memory on the liquid so that it was effective. Or at least that's what Mrs Harrison explained. I couldn't see it, but, as long as she didn't want to cure something serious with her medicines, she was welcome to her beliefs.

She always accepted my arrival as if it was the most natural thing in the world and treated me almost as another son. Rick's dad also seemed to like me. Only Katie, Rick's younger sister, occasionally looked askance at the closeness of the bond between her brother and this 'visitor', especially as, when it occasionally happened, I stayed overnight and the two of us shared the same room. Admittedly there were two beds but Katie on one occasion had been discovered checking them to see if both had been slept in. They hadn't though Rick and I had ruffled the bedclothes to make it appear that they had.

One evening in December I went round to find that Rick wasn't at home. "Never mind, dear," said Mrs Harrison. "He'll be back later but apparently they had to go down to Southampton on some day course and he won't be back until late."

I wondered why I hadn't been told and started to make my excuses and return home.

"Don't go, Chris," said Mrs Harrison. "Stay for some supper, but first you can come with me to my meeting. Rick will be back by the time we return."


Mrs Harrison smiled. "Yes, dear. A Spiritualist Meeting. You'll enjoy it. The medium's a dear old lady but she's very good. Gets messages from everywhere."

I wasn't too keen on the idea. The alternative though was an evening with Steve and Mum, or staying with Katie who gave the excuse that she had homework to do and, much though she'd like to attend the Meeting, it wasn't really possible. She gave me a knowing look and raised an eyebrow as if to say, 'I can find my own excuses. You do what you can.'

Apart from saying I didn't want to go, I could think of no valid excuse. I went.

The Meeting was held in the old Baptist chapel Hall, a long low draughty building with insufficient heating especially on a cold December night like this. It smelled of antiseptic and old hymn books. The chairs were hard and uncomfortable and the little, white-haired old lady, Mrs Florence Cook, whom I was introduced to and who shook my hand with a frail hand of her own that felt as if it could easily be crushed, didn't give me much expectation of excitement.

I wondered if there would be clouds of ectoplasm or ghosts appearing? Mrs Harrison, to whom I whispered my question said, she doubted it.

The lights were low wattage anyway but when half of them were switched off it was almost too dim to see much. However there was one bulb over Mrs Cook which shone on her hair making it appear a white halo and hiding her features.

I was sceptical in the extreme, a view that the opening prayer, chanted by the audience, who were obviously regulars, did nothing to dispel. It seemed to call on the powers of the dead to appear especially any which had special messages for members of the congregation.

"Sometimes, when they come," whispered Mrs Harrison, "the room gets very cold."

I wasn't sure how they'd tell. It was cold enough anyway. I sat obediently though and wished the whole thing was over, that we could return to a nice, warm house and the arms of my beloved.

Suddenly Mrs Cook spoke, her voice sounding much stronger and deeper than it had when she'd greeted him at first. 'Good actress,' I thought.

"Is there anyone here called Rose?"

A woman in the audience held up her hand.

"I have a message for you from your husband, who has recently passed over. He tells you not to be downhearted, that he is safely in the Hereafter and you will both meet up again in due course."

'Oh yes,' I thought. 'A nice, bland message.'

Then Mrs Cook spoke again. "Is there anyone here called Chris?"

I started, then said to myself. She knows there is. We were just introduced.

Mrs Harrison dug me in the ribs with her elbow. "Say you're here," she said.

It was rubbish but I obeyed. "I'm Chris," I said.

"There is a message for you from someone called Ken."

My first thought was that I didn't know anyone named Ken, but then with a sudden shock I realised that I did. I remembered Kenneth Spilling, the author I had met some months before, the one who had gone off to live with Dominic in the little border town of Hay on Wye.

But Kenneth Spilling wasn't dead, was he? Admittedly I hadn't heard of or from him since the parting some six months before. Spilling wasn't all that old and had seemed in perfectly sound health, apart from his leg which had been injured some years before.

Mrs Cook was continuing speaking. "Ken wants to say that someone close to you will let you down. There is a warning of desertion."

She turned to someone else. "Is there anyone here named Sadie?" she asked.

I was left in a whirl of conflicting emotions. Part of me wanted to say that the whole thing was absolute rubbish. The old lady had known I was in the audience, perhaps realised I was impressionable. The message wasn't specific enough to need any particular knowledge, except for the name, Ken. Ken dead? And who was this person who was going to desert me? If there was anything in this spiritualist stuff then surely it could only be Rick. But Rick wouldn't do anything like that. Would he?

I wanted out as quickly as possible but there was no way I could leave without barging through the audience and drawing attention to myself. I had to sit while the old hag up there went through this list of people and passed on banal messages, some possibly of comfort, some of censure or foreboding, until with a sigh of relief the farce was over and we escaped.

Mrs Harrison, though, didn't seem to be much concerned. On the contrary, the fact that I had been picked out for special mention seemed almost a triumph for her.

"Fancy you having a message, on your first time too." She didn't seem to bother that someone close to me was going to desert me. I who had always been worried that this might happen, and especially since Rick had started on his new career, was cast further into depression.

It was in low spirits, therefore, that I returned to the Harrison house to find that Rick still hadn't arrived and, though both Mr and Mrs Harrison pressed me to stay for a meal, I found I had lost my appetite and prepared to go home.

I was in fact just on the doorstep when the phone rang.

"Hang on," said Mr Harrison. "This may be him."

It was.

The coach bringing the apprentices back from Southampton had broken down in a dead spot where there was no mobile phone signal, so he'd been unable to tell us earlier. However they wouldn't be able to get back home that evening and would stay the night at an hotel in the New Forest. Rick didn't sound disappointed. In fact he made it sound like an adventure and one which Rick was enjoying.

"See you soon," he said airily and broke the connection.

I was disappointed. I again refused the offer of a meal and went home where all I could find to eat was a day old piece of pizza in the fridge which I ate, accompanied by the sounds of Mum and Steve having sex in the front bedroom. These rather grim noises, creaking springs, harsh breathing (presumably Steve) and little squeaks (probably Mum) or it might have been the other way round, doing little to cheer me up.

The message from Mrs Cook was obviously utter drivel but at least Rick could have sounded more disappointed at not being able to meet up with me. I worried about it during the night, waking up two or three times and then not being able to doze off again immediately so that I overslept in the morning and it was only when bossman, Jas sounded the horn outside the house in the morning that I awoke. I had no time to do anything else but struggle into my T-shirt and jeans, socks and trainers, have a piss and grab my jacket.

Jas grumbled at having to wait, but that was nothing new.

My stomach rumbled uncomfortably all the way to the job site. I realised that I had had hardly any food since the day before morning and the ride was long – Hereford being some forty miles from Elmcombe – so that I felt slightly sick when we arrived. That would indeed have been adding insult to injury if I'd thrown up in the van on the way.

Luckily, Jas always had his priorities. "Put the kettle on, Chrissy," he said and with a cup of tea inside me, and a bacon sarnie from the shop down the road, I would feel better.

I wondered what Rick was doing, presumably not acting as 'tea boy' and fetcher of the sandwiches for the rest of the group. 'See you soon', he'd said but when?

It was when I was at the shop that a road sign caught my eye. It indicated that the road ahead led to Hay on Wye, 27 miles. This, of course brought all the thoughts and worries of yesterday back to me. Twenty seven miles. It wasn't far but to me who had no form of transport except a rickety bicycle back in Elmcombe, it was as distant as Timbuktu.

At the job I was hanging around doing very little and waiting for someone to demand some more plaster be made up when the owner of the house drifted in. He was a mild-mannered man with glasses and a failed comb-over.

"I suppose none of you young men know your way round a computer," he said.

Jas, who liked to help out customers, especially when it didn't cause him personally any work, said, "Chrissy, you've got one. See if you can help the gentleman."

I had an extremely old word processor, donated by Kenneth Spilling when he had left Elmcombe, the same Kenneth whom I wondered if he was dead, was about to protest. But I had, in the course of my somewhat intermittent school attendance, been to quite a few I.T. classes (more interesting than Maths or French) and thought I might be able to answer at least simple questions.

It was indeed a simple problem. "I'm looking for suppliers of certain goods," the man told me. This was inexact but perhaps he had his reasons.

"No problem," I said. "All you need is to put what you want into a search engine."

The man looked vague, so I pulled one up, and then had an idea. "Suppose I want to search for Bookshops in Hay on Wye," I said. "I'd put in 'Bookshops' and "Hay on Wye". I did so and clicked on 'Search'. Almost immediately I was told that there were about 23,000 sites answering to this description. I clicked on the first and a list of bookshops appeared. Almost forgetting that I was supposed to be helping the old gent, I skimmed down the list. It was in alphabetical order and there I saw it: Dominic Spiller and the phone number.

I made a mental note of this and then turned. "See how easy it is," I said.

The man was impressed. "I usually get the wife to do the computer work but this one I can do on my own."

I hung around to see if he needed any more help, but it appeared that the man didn't really want an audience for whatever it was he was looking for so I left.

Why Dominic had taken Kenneth's surname, I had no idea. Was it something to do with Ken's death, if he had actually died? I'd ring up and find out as soon as I could. In the meantime, I found a pencil and wrote down the number before I forgot.

That evening I again went round to Rick's house. Again, though, Rick wasn't there. "He's been back earlier today," said Mrs Garrison, "but he said he had to go out again."

"Did he leave me a message?" I asked.

"'Fraid not, dear. He was excited about something though he didn't say what. I expect he'll be in touch later this evening."

But no phone call came and, alone in my house for Mum and Steve had gone out, I waited, and waited, and waited and no shrilling of the telephone disturbed the silence of the house.

You know what it's like when you're expecting a call, especially a call from someone special, and it doesn't come, you start to imagine all sorts of dreadful things, accidents, deliberate snubs, desertion. I felt all of these, but my pride wouldn't allow me to ring up the Harrisons. If Rick didn't want to get in touch, then I wouldn't go a-begging. But I felt sick with disappointment and worry and frustration.

Eventually, rather than going mad I decided to ring the Hay on Wye number. If it was just a shop there wouldn't be anyone there at this time of night but perhaps they lived there. I could imagine Kenneth living in a room surrounded by books, the smell of dusty old volumes in the air but a smell that Spiller would love. I couldn't exactly picture Dominic in such surroundings. I remembered him, running through the countryside with the collie dog Shannon at his side.

I dialled the number and then, suddenly losing my bottle, I put the phone down again as soon as it started ringing at the other end. Then, calling myself a stupid coward, I reached out my hand for the phone again when it rang.

My heart missed a beat. It must be Rick after all. I grabbed the receiver and said, "Hello. About time too."

But it wasn't Rick's voice at the other end.

"Is that Chris?"

"Yes, Who is it?"


Confused I said, "I was just going to ring you."

"You did already, and then rang off before I could answer. I got the Elmcombe number from BT and assumed it was you. How are you?"

I didn't know what to say. How was I? Confused? Upset? Why in fact had I wanted to get in touch with Dominic. Then I remembered. "How's Ken?" I asked.

"I'll tell you when we meet. You do want to meet don't you? It would be good to see you again. I've often wondered what's been happening to you."

"It's difficult to get over to Hay. It was just that I'm working at Hereford and saw a signpost."

"There's a bus from Hereford to Hay," said Dominic. "Or if you tell me the time, I can come over in the car and fetch you."

Things were slipping out of my grasp. What was I letting myself in for? Almost in a panic, I said, "But how will I get back?"

"Do you have to?"

I could imagine what Dominic would look like. Sitting in an armchair holding the phone. Dark hair cut short, a smile revealing white teeth. When I'd last seen him, his face and body tanned by the Mediterranean sun after his Greek holiday.

I had never been one for the sudden, impulsive decision but I made one now. "I'd like that. Is it OK if I ring you when we finish tomorrow? Won't you be working though?"

"Self-employed," said Dominic. "I can shut up shop when I like."

We left it like that.

I wondered whether I ought to tell Rick that I might not be available the following evening. I didn't exactly feel guilty because nothing was going to happen, and why shouldn't I meet an old friend whom I hadn't seen for some time. Rick after all had left me in the lurch for the past two days without even an explanation of what he was doing, or even where he was.

If Rick phoned, I would tell him of course but there was no phone call and I went to bed and slept reasonably well. After all I'd had a sleepless night the night before. I was disturbed when Mum and Steve got back but soon dropped off again. I dreamed of Rick, or was it Rick? Could it have been Dominic? Anyway it was a wildly erotic dream and in it I was rolling around in a bed with some incredibly sexy person.

I didn't oversleep and was ready when Jas and the boys arrived. Leaving via the hall, I suddenly noticed that the telephone receiver was off the hook. Had I left it there or had Mum taken it off so that she and Steve wouldn't have been disturbed? If Rick had phoned, he wouldn't have been able to get through but it was too late to worry about that now and I didn't want to share my private calls in the van using my mobile. By the time we reached Hereford, Rick would have left for work so I'd have to wait until the evening.

When work ended, I told Jas I wouldn't need taking home. I was seeing a friend who would pick me up and bring me back in the morning. "Found a rich boyfriend?" suggested Alf but there was no malice in his tone and they all laughed.

As the van disappeared, I had a moment's panic when I wondered if Dominic, for some reason, wouldn't be able to fetch me and I'd be left alone with no means of getting home, but Dominic answered the mobile immediately and said he'd be there in half an hour at the latest.

I hoped he wouldn't be any longer. It was a cold though clear December evening and, though the street lamps were on, they weren't bright enough to hide the stars appearing overhead together with half a waxing moon. In the bus shelter which was where I had arranged to meet Dominic, I rang Rick but only the answer phone responded.

I left no message.

The car, a Ford Mondeo, drew up just when I was starting to worry. Dominic leant out of the window. "You must be frozen," he said. "Hop in." He looked no different to what he had done when I saw him last, dark, good-looking, a ready smile, qualities that always made me feel inferior – yet it was he who had called me 'cute' that time on the hill when we had walked the dog.

The car heater was on and it was comfortably warm inside. Dominic leant across and planted a kiss on my cheek. I was surprised but far from upset. We started out into the night and soon left Hereford behind. I decided I'd have to find out what I needed to know. After all the whole thing depended on Mrs Cook's assertion that Kenneth was dead and from the after life had warned that I would be deserted by someone close to me. Certainly Rick's behaviour over the last few days had implanted suspicions and doubts about his faithfulness.

But how to put it? I tried a neutral question. "How's Kenneth?" I asked. I had asked before over the phone and then had not got an answer.

There was a silence and I was sure that this time the answer would be that Dominic's partner had died. But then Dominic said, "Surely you came to see me, not Kenneth."

Another evasion. "You both were very kind to me," I said, "when I was feeling very low. Of course I'm pleased to see you but Kenneth started me on this writing business and ..."

"How's the writing going?"

I hadn't written anything really since my affair with Rick had started, so I was non committal. "OK," I said vaguely. And to change the subject, I asked, "And how's the book business?"

Dominic launched into an account of how it was quite lucrative, how the business was flourishing (hence the Mondeo) and what the Book Week meant for individual book shops, even that there'd been a winter weekend Festival with visiting authors, book signings and all the paraphernalia of a literary shindig.

Soon we were in Hay and drew up outside a double fronted shop with what looked like Tudor beams and a sign saying 'Dominic Spiller – Antiquarian and Second-hand Books'. Dominic unlocked the shop door, switched on some lights and led the way through aisles of bookshelves to the back where there was a flight of stairs and at the top a door.

The room immediately inside the door had a sofa and an easy chair, a pine table under the window, a CD player and a TV set with video. Book shelves held books of the sort that I knew must have been chosen by Kenneth, but there were no other signs of him. A cabinet with drawers against the wall had some bottles and glasses standing on top. A door in one corner led off to a kitchen, there were others shut which presumably led to bedrooms and a bathroom. Several rugs spread scarlet patches over the floor and some pictures, framed views of sea coasts, hung on the walls. An appetising smell of something cooking made my taste buds drool.

Dominic took off his jacket. Unexpectedly uneasy, I stood uncertain what to do next.

"Now for some food. It's been cooking all afternoon. Hungry?"

"You bet."

Dominic switched on the television and went into the kitchen. "Sit down," he said through the doorway. "Make yourself comfortable."

I considered the easy chair, then chose the sofa. The TV set picture showed the news. It wasn't particularly interesting and I picked up a paperback which was lying open, face down on the table behind. It was an American crime story by someone I had never heard of. There was a picture of a man in a broad-brimmed hat on the cover. Hardly Ken's choice.

I realised that I still hadn't settled the problem of Ken. I decided to come out with it. "Where's Ken?" I asked.

The answer was unexpected. "Leeds," Dominic said. "There's a house clearance there with, it's rumoured some pretty interesting books. You can't keep Ken away from things like that."

Ken wasn't dead! Mrs Cook had made the whole thing up or at least had deluded herself with her 'messages from the other side'. Which meant that the information which I had decided referred to Rick probably wasn't true either. Yet Rick's behaviour over the last few days had given me the distinct impression that there was something wrong, our relationship was turning sour.

"Food, glorious food," said Dominic, bringing in two steaming plates.

The meal - a slowly cooked moussaka, layers of minced lamb, aubergines, tomatoes, topped with a creamy cheese sauce served with a green salad and a bottle of white wine - tasted delicious.

"I didn't know you were such a good cook," I said.

"It's the only thing I can make."

To complement the Greek dish, Dominic admitted to having bought some baklava from the local delicatessen, a sweet pastry with nuts, dripping with honey. He made the coffee while I gobbled up the dessert.

Afterwards we sat on the sofa, side by side. "It's good to see you after so long," said Dominic. "I've thought about you a lot."

I wondered if I could say the same. If I were honest, since Ken and Dominic had left Elmcombe for Hay, my thoughts had been elsewhere and centred on Rick.

"I've missed you too," I said, and it wasn't entirely a lie, just something that I hadn't admitted to myself.

Dominic put his arm round my shoulders in what I assumed was a comradely gesture. I turned to face him and our lips met. Then Dominic was kissing me with a fervour which was far from 'comradely'. I smelled his scent, a mixture of after shave and 'young man'. I remembered it from the last time, when we had wrestled together on the hill above Elmcombe. At the same time his free hand was in my' groin feeling for, and finding my cock through the layers of clothing.

To say I didn't react would be a lie. Although I had only recently admitted to myself that I was gay, I was as ready as any other healthy gay man to get excited when an attractive guy sticks his tongue in my mouth, has his body pressed next to me and holds my cock in his hand.

I did manage though to let common sense prevail. "This is making things more complicated," I said as well as I could when my mouth was full of tongue and more than anything I wanted that hand to go inside my trousers, and perform skin to skin.

Then it was as if I had unzipped my trousers and invited Dominic inside. Anyway that's where his hand went and his mouth fastened on to mine like a lamprey, his tongue forcing my lips, teeth open and roving around inside until I felt that a tonsillectomy was imminent.

Parts of me (my cock in particular) seemed to take on a life of their own when groped by questing fingers. "No. No," I attempted to say though my mouth was full of probing muscle. "Yes. Yes," said my cock rising to its full extent.

But there were no excuses for what I did and allowed Dominic to continue doing. I knew I'd feel guilty afterwards but that didn't stop me putting my hand onto Dominic's groin, feeling, through the material, the softness of scrotum and balls, and then a hardening shape. Dominic breathed deeply and I grasped hold of his cock, using my other hand to find and draw down his zip. Inside, the softness of underwear. I pushed Dominic's trousers down to his knees. I felt Dominic's hands on the back of my head drawing me down towards Dominic's groin and I could smell the exciting scent of man, see the outlined shape obviously impatient to be out of the confines of his briefs.

I obliged and took it out, feeling the soft silkiness of the surface skin surrounding the hard stem. I kiss-licked the top, prepared to take the whole thing into my mouth when –

There were sounds from below and feet clumped up the stairs in a heavy limping rhythm.

A voice, Kenneth's voice, called, "Dom, I'm back."

"Shit," Dominic said and stood up hastily.

Frantic adjustment of cocks and underwear and doing up of zip fasteners. Dominic slipped back into the armchair and I looked – I hoped – composed.

"Come in, Kenneth," said Dominic. "We have a visitor."

It was a classic situation. The guilty pair discovered in flagrante. But Kenneth Spiller looked anything but angry. He smiled with such innocent enjoyment when he saw me that I felt guilty thinking of what so nearly had happened. I thought he looked younger than ever in spite of the greying hair. Obviously living in the book world with Dominic suited him.

Explanations followed, how I had been working in Hereford. How seeing the road sign to Hay had reminded me of the two of them (Accent on the 'two' which in a way was true). How searching the Internet for the owner of the house we were working on had brought up the telephone number and how Dominic had invited me over for a meal.

"Excellent," said Kenneth, "And has he fed you well?"

"Delicious moussaka," I said.

"Ah, the only thing he knows how to make."

"How was the house clearance?" asked Dominic.

"Disappointing! Which is why I'm back so early. There was nothing of any real value."

"Ken thinks that nothing published after 1850 is worth his attention. I try to convince him otherwise but you know how old people get set in their ways."

Ken laughed. Clearly he and Dominic had reached a stage in their relationship where teasing was given and accepted in good grace. I thought I envied them, but then wondered about what had so nearly happened. What did that say about the relationship. And what, I asked myself, did it say about mine and Rick's possibly already shaky one.

There was no time to think about that for Ken was asking me about my own life since we had parted, then insisted on showing me some of the 'treasures' that he had managed to acquire since coming to Hay.

Suddenly I remembered. "Where's Shannon?" I asked, having a liking for the affectionate collie which had brought the three of us together after the disastrous flood which had ruined Ken's cottage. "And Princess," I added remembering the cat.

"They're still here, or at least with my parents at the moment."

"We can take Shannon for a walk tomorrow morning if you like," Dominic said. "I can still get you to work in time."

I stayed the night in the spare room (or so they called it). It was a bit like a cupboard with a narrow single bed in it and piles of books all around. In fact they had to clear the bed before it could be made up for me. I guess Dominic had been planning on both of us sharing the main bed before Kenneth made his unexpected appearance.

I was confused, to say the least. I felt I had let down Kenneth, let down Rick (though this wasn't quite confirmed. I didn't know what he had been doing or indeed what the situation was between us). I must admit I didn't sleep all that well and the fact that the bed wasn't particularly comfortable wasn't the only reason. Why on earth, I wondered, did I believe some crackpot old woman whom I'd now proved to be wrong?

At six o'clock I was awake and up and Dominic and Ken were making toast and coffee. It was still dark but Dominic and I collected Shannon. I had wondered whether the dog would remember me but I needn't have worried. With an excited yelp she flung herself at me, jumping up and trying to lick my face, then lying on her back so that I could stroke her stomach. Typical dog! Princess, the cat, was much less effusive but I think she did remember me. Dominic's parents, he said, were not yet up.

We set out with a torch but it wasn't really necessary. It was one of those cold winter mornings, when the temperature was way below freezing, the grass was white with frost crystals and the stars and the half moon provided all the light that was needed. We had to walk quickly just to keep the blood circulating and there was no question of our stopping for anything physical, but Dominic put his hand in my jeans pocket and I in his and we went along together, Shannon gambolling gleefully beside us.

We didn't talk much. I wanted to ask him about his relationship with Ken but thought that would be too intrusive and he didn't volunteer any information. The silence, though, was comradely and not embarrassing. On the way back, Dominic stopped and kissed me just once.

"It's good to see you," he said. "And Kenneth told me that he hopes you're getting on OK with everything."

I would have liked to have been able to say that everything was fine, that I had a lover, that we been fucking like rabbits at every available opportunity and that I was the happiest guy alive but . . . Instead I just said "I'm OK."

And he said "We must keep in touch," and then he drove me back to Hereford talking about other things and arriving just as Jas unloaded the crew.

"At least you're on time," said Jas typically.

"New boyfriend?" asked Alf.

"Old acquaintance," I snapped, shutting him up. "At least I've got friends."

It had been three days since I'd seen Rick and two since I'd even talked to him. I was dreading actually making contact after last night's fiasco but I did ring the Harrisons when I had a spare moment and wasn't surrounded by the gang and Alf's flapping ears.

Mrs Harrison was home. "Rick's been trying to contact you," she said. "He said it's most urgent but you haven't been at home and apparently your mobile's switched off."

It had been. Getting calls at work wasn't exactly welcomed by Jas and anyway Alf was too curious by half.

"Did he say what he wanted?" I asked.

"No, dear, but he did say it was very important."

"I'll call round this evening."

Heart thumping and wondering if my peccadilloes would actually show like some dreadful spreading leprosy over visible parts of my body I called round. Actually I'd been home first but neither Mum nor Steve were in so I had a shower, hoping this would wash away my sins.

Rick opened the door. I stood and looked at him for a moment almost as if he was a stranger. Then, breaking all my rules I stepped forward, enclosed him in a bear hug and kissed him. I expected, hoped for a similar response but I what I got shocked me. He pulled back and a voice from behind explained the reason.

"I always knew you two were gay," said Katie from the shadows in the hall.

"We'll tell Mum and Dad in due course," said Rick. "You just mind your own business."

"Expect they know already," said the dreadful child, "from the way you're always carrying on."

"Come upstairs," said Rick.

He took my hand and dragged me in. As we passed the kitchen, Mrs Harrison's called out, "Is that you, Chris? Special meal tonight. Hope you're hungry."

"Down in a minute, Mum," said Rick.

Once in his room, he pulled me to him. "Where have you been?" he asked. "I've been ringing and ringing."

"Same here," I said, "but you were never at home."

"What about last night?"

"I was staying with a couple of friends in Hay on Wye. I told you about them once. Booksellers."

Rick nodded and then we spent a bit of time doing what came naturally.

"I thought you'd gone off me," I said. It sounded wimpish when I said it but I didn't care. "When you went off to Southampton and then didn't seem to want to see me."

"You prat," he said. "You fucking prat. Do you know what I've been doing these past few days? Apart from worrying about you of course."

"So what have you been doing?" I was glad he wasn't asking me as I'm sure I'd have started blushing when I thought about what had nearly happened with Dominic last night.

"It's time I stopped living at home. I've been looking around for a flat. Of course I'd need someone to share it with. I'd like it to be you."

I was dumbfounded. The objections seemed immense. I struggled to put them into words. "But . . . how could we afford it? You're only an apprentice and I'm on minimum wage."

"That's no problem," he said. "Dad's agreed to buy it for us and we can pay him back over time."

Again I was at a loss. "How did you know I'd want to? Didn't you think I'd want to see it first?"

"Why do you think I've been so anxious to see you, to discuss it with you. The chance came up. You must look at it of course, but I think you'll like it. There's even two bedrooms for when we have a row." He smiled and I kissed the smile. And to think I had been worried that he'd be the one to desert me. Never again would I go to a spiritualist meeting or trust a bloody medium.

We went into a clinch again and would have gone even further had we not been called down to eat. Who needs food at a time like this? But we had to observe the conventions. I'm sure that Katie knew that something was up. Rick, I noticed was flushed and looked excited and I was probably the same.

Such a lot to think about, and to worry about, if the truth be told. I guess I nearly was the unfaithful one and yet it was Rick I always feared would wander first. What does that say about me?

Of course it was Mrs Cook who got it all wrong, but I'll tell you a curious thing. It wasn't Rick but my Mum who let me down. She deserted me to go off with Steve, the man in her life. Did I care? What do you think?

Date started: Sunday, November 25, 2007
Today's date: Saturday, December 15, 2007
Words: 6,795

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