After a night of disturbed and (for me) unusual dreams, I was up quite early. Dad slept late on Sundays. I clothed my nakedness in a dressing gown and staggered downstairs to open the back door and make sure the world was still there. It was, so I made coffee, took it into the living room, and put on Andrew Parrott’s recording of Schutz’s Weinachtshistorie. Totally out of season, but what the hell – it was my favourite and long-tested remedy for calming an uneasy mind.

The Christmas story unfolded, up to the point where the angel appears to Joseph in Egypt. Stehe auf, Joseph, und nimm das Kindlein … ‘Arise, Joseph, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel …’ Emma Kirkby should have been singing it solo, but she wasn’t. There were two flawless voices, the soprano coming from the speakers, the treble from behind me.

I didn’t dare turn round, but lowered the volume with the remote so that Luke’s contribution stood out. It was superb – accurate, clear in sound, faultless in German diction, sensitive to the words. When it was over, I breathed deep. "Luke, that was out of this world. And how appropriate, if Stow is Israel. Were you waiting for the cue?"

"Only for a minute or so. Hope you didn’t mind me coming in. The door was open."

I did turn round now, checking that my dressing gown was done up. "Not in the least. Open house, here. Nothing secret. No nameless orgies going on." He grinned knowingly, as if saying ‘Not yet, but there may be soon.’ Or was my imagination overcharged from last night?

I found myself looking at him with new eyes. He was different from the young Luke of yesterday. The unruly curls were brushed into some order, the scruffy tee-shirt, jeans and trainers were replaced by white shirt and subdued tie, grey flannel trousers and black shoes. He was an older Luke, with a poise verging on the professional. I approved. And, on a different plane, I felt he was radiating an almost tangible force which was trying to pull me to him.

Not the time for analysis. Keep this on a more mundane level. So I merely voiced my approval. "That looks good! You obviously know the drill. How did you sleep in your new room?"

"Badly. Too much to think about. You?"

"Badly. Turbulent dreams." Neither of us looked at the other.

"That all the breakfast you have?" He nodded at my mug.

"Yup. I’m not a breakfast person. "Whereas you … let me guess. You’ve had muesli, boiled eggs and three slices of toast."

"Wrong. Four slices. Joe, have you phoned yet?"

"Not yet. What’s the time? Well, I’ll try. Fred might just be home from early service." He was, heard my news with delight, and agreed to be at the cathedral early. "That’s OK," I told Luke.

"Cool! Thanks. I’ll dig my halo out, then, if I can find it, and give it a polish. I can be nice and cherubic when I want. Even though I’m really a cheeky brat inside, who deserves a good spanking. Did you know?"

"It is slowly dawning on me." I could only smile at his sass. "You buzz off now, and be here with your mum at 9.45, right? I need a shower, a shave and a shit." Why was I talking to him like this? I began to think that I knew.

"I can understand the shit. And the shave" – he was eyeing my barely visible stubble – "But you had a shower last night. Why do you need another? Were your dreams that turbulent?" He said it so sweetly, as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

"Cheeky brat! OUT!" I roared. "Or d’you want me to put you over my knee and spank you?"

A bad mistake. I was draining the last of my coffee – second mistake – as his expression flipped from professional poise into simpering servility. "Oh, please, yes," he crooned in the sexiest voice I’d ever heard. "Please, with my pants down!" It was an exquisite little performance, incredibly funny, and it made me spray my mouthful over the carpet. I didn’t for a moment believe he was into SM. He was just a damn good actor, as well as an imp, on top of everything else.

"OUT!" I roared again, frog-marched him to the back door, pushed him through it, and for good measure booted him in the backside with my bare foot. Third mistake. He twisted round like an eel and grabbed my ankle in mid-air, so that my dressing gown fell open below the waist. He took a quick look before releasing me. "Hmmmm," he remarked in an interested tone, and evidently impressed. "Stehe auf, Joseph!" and with a grin he was gone. Stehe auf, eh? Arise! Stand up! Get erect! I obeyed. I couldn’t help it.

Three-nil to Luke (or was it four-nil?) in only a few minutes. His pace was fast, this boy, and he was a master of innuendo. I’d no objection to that – it was humorous and ingenious and it seemed, so far, to be only playfully dirty. That was the point. He was playing a game with me, flirting, deliberately provoking and challenging. That one of the most junior boys in the school was teasing the most senior didn’t bother me a whit. I wasn’t one to pull rank, and I was enjoying it. Right, young Luke. I’ll take up your challenge, on your terms. I’m beginning to get your measure. I can give as good as I get, so long as I can stand the pace. And there is more to you than meets the eye – I was right about that.

At a deeper level, a brand-new attraction was inexorably working on me. Already, eight hours ago, it had awakened my slumbering sexuality and a moment ago had confirmed it. Luke had been attractive enough in my mental picture of last night. Just now, looking at him with newly-opened eyes, I’d found him yet more attractive in the flesh.

An analogy occurred to me: not a perfect one – analogies rarely are – but good enough to go on with. It was as if I was working through an experiment in magnetism. I’d heard of the phenomenon before, but never experienced it. Last night, in bed, I’d been reading up the physics textbook. It had opened my eyes, and I had understood it. But it was only the theory. Now I’d just been in the lab for a practical and, for the first time since absorbing the theory, I’d been confronted with an actual living magnet. The force it had exerted was unmistakable. But this magnet wasn’t Luke as Luke. Not yet. For the moment it was only Luke as a boy. That was today’s lesson.

Or, changing the analogy slightly, think of a compass. A mark on its rim was labelled ‘boys.’ I was the needle, and it pointed to ‘boys.’ So at last I knew my orientation. In the next stage of the experiment, which was yet to come, there’d be a mark labelled ‘Luke.’ If that attracted my needle, love could – maybe would – follow.

And as Dad had said, that would demand very special care. It was one thing to leap into the thrust and parry of risque repartee. It was another thing entirely to respond with equal speed to emerging love. And how far could I respond? From his antics just now, one might imagine that Luke was already angling for sex. If so, easy for him. Much more problematic for a responsible citizen like me. Could I justifiably bed a boy who was barely into puberty?

Joseph was still standing up, so I dealt with him in the shower. Then I shaved and shat, and was ready with Dad’s Volvo when Sue and Luke appeared. As I drove, with Luke beside me, I filled him in on the habits and members of the choir. Mindful of Sue in the back, we were both sedately proper.

At Stow, I parked beside the cathedral graveyard and led them through the north door into the nave. Luke went straight to the west end and gazed eastwards with a smile of pure pleasure. "Mud, mud, glorious mud," he announced.


"I like the feel of this place. It says something to me. Some cathedrals like Salisbury, or Westminster Abbey, are tall, like giraffes. Slender. Graceful. This one" – he waved at the thick and dumpy Norman columns and arches, capped by a heavy groined vault – "is squat and lumbering, like a hippo. Just as endearing. It’s lovely." Heavens above, I thought. It takes a creative brain to coin an image like that. But as we wandered through into the Gothic choir he turned professional. "What are the acoustics like?"

"Flat," I replied. "Unforgiving. No reverberation. You have to be careful. Takes some getting used to."

Then I spotted Fred in the aisle, and made the introductions. He beamed at them, and Sue (because she’d handed Luke over to another authority?) excused herself. She was going to inspect the carvings in the chapter house, and would meet us after the service.

So we went to the choir room, where Fred quizzed Luke about his experience and put him through his paces, from the simple to the more difficult, including sight-reading. "Yeeeeees," he said approvingly. "You’ll know Stanford in B flat. But what about the Stabat mater? Palestrina’s? That’s the anthem today." Yes, Luke had sung it, several times. "Let’s try a bit of it, then. Joe, we’ll provide the accompaniment, as best we can." Off we went, ludicrously pretending in bass, tenor and falsetto to be a choir, with help from the piano. But Luke sailed unwaveringly on, completely unfazed, for half a dozen verses before Fred called a halt. "Good," he said. "Very good indeed. There’s clarity there, and accuracy, and diction, and timing, and feeling. Do you have any special party pieces?"

Well, said Luke modestly, he did like singing the Allegri Miserere. Fred and I raised our eyebrows. It’s one of the hardest things in the treble repertoire, and not easy even for a professional soprano. "All right, give it a go. Dig out the music, Joe." By now quite a few other choir members had arrived, and Fred roped them in. Miserere mei, deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam. And high above our gentle background soared Luke’s voice, hitting the C above the treble stave with awesome accuracy before cascading down to G. It was a hauntingly wonderful experience. Maybe not up to Roy Goodman’s famous recording at King’s, but not far behind.

Fred looked at Luke almost with reverence. "I’ve no words," he said. "The job’s yours."

"Thank you, sir. But only in the holidays, I’m afraid."

"So Joe said. Our loss. Where shall we put you, Luke? Yes, decani, on Kevin’s right. Lord, time’s running out. Joe, would you kit him out, please?"

"That was phenomenal, Luke," I said as I led him to the cupboard in the corner. "I’ve never heard anything like it." We found a cassock and surplice that fitted. The cassock made him quite bad-tempered.

"Bloody hell, not scarlet! It screams at my hair." True, they clashed violently, but we couldn't do much about it. "At Southwark the cassocks are blue." Then he fumbled at his hips. "Hey, at Southwark they had slits here. How’re you supposed to get at your hanky?"

"Keep it up your sleeve."

"How gross. Can you fish mine out of my pocket for me?"

"No way. You’ll only say I’m groping you. Do it yourself." Hah, foiled you there, Master Clayton.

He gave me a dirty but appreciative look, hoisted his skirts and fished out his hanky, grumbling. "Why can’t they just put slits in?"

"Good reason. What do not-so-innocent choirboys do with their hands during dull sermons if they’ve got, er, access?" He suppressed a giggle and actually blushed, adding crimson to the scarlet and orange. Another point to Joe. "Remember what Confucius say?" I added, just to rub it in.


"Man keep hand in pocket, feel cocky all day."

This time he giggled freely. "That’s good! I like you fighting back, Joe. Keep it up."

"Keep what up, young man?"

Now he giggled and blushed. But the clergy had arrived. Just as well, perhaps. Short prayer. Procession. Service. All went smoothly. We were facing each other, he on the decani side, me on the cantoris, and I could see him getting the feel of the place, working out the acoustics, adjusting his voice. To begin with I couldn’t pick it out from the rest, but by the anthem he’d found his confidence and the treble line was much the stronger for it.

The sermon was dull, and I abandoned it to study the young face opposite. Almost triangular, short in length, broad in the brow, tapering to a narrow chin, dotted faintly with freckles, flanked by rather sticking-out ears, punctuated by a wide mischievous mouth and large intelligent grey eyes, capped by that great orange crown. An intriguing and lovable face, I thought, gateway to an intriguing and lovable mind. A mind at once properly juvenile and startlingly adult. Profound, imaginative, observant, devilish, hilarious, alternating at the flick of a switch. He noticed my gaze and deliberately put both hands on the desk in front of him. I’d never had to suppress laughter in church before, but I did today. God, I’d met him barely twenty four hours before, and he was already at the centre of my consciousness.

In the hippopotamus nave we met up with a visibly proud Sue. She knew better than to hug her son in public. She pulled him into the back of the car with her, and did it there. I told her about Luke’s hit with the Miserere, and broached an idea I’d had during the service. "What about putting on a concert towards the end of the holidays? Renaissance and baroque music, to show off Luke Clayton’s treble. With the Avison Consort. In one of the city centre churches, where far more people would turn up than at Stow. Probably St Peter’s – I know the vicar, and he’d jump at it. Wouldn’t be high-power stuff – just local advertising – but fun. And good for your CV. What d’you think?"

To my astonishment, there was no answer. In the mirror, I saw them looking at each other doubtfully. "Thanks, Joe," said Sue eventually. "It’s a lovely thought, but it caught us by surprise. Give us a bit of time to think about it, please."

Very odd, but I could only say "Of course," and move gently away from the subject. "Luke, your Yarborough scholarship’s a music one, I take it, not academic?"

"Well, both, actually. They gave me a double one."

"Cool, clever chap. Well, you’re bound to be in the chapel choir." The rest of the journey I filled, I hoped usefully, with an insider account of the chapel choir’s doings and of its members.

Luke seemed to be filing it all away. But when we were nearly home he suddenly asked, "Joe, what are you doing next week?"

"Nothing much at all. The Consort meets on Wednesday evenings – do come to that, Luke – and choir practice is Thursday evening. Otherwise there’s nothing booked. I might go out somewhere with Dad – he takes the odd day off. It’s his slack season, what with the courts being closed."

"Courts?" queried Sue. "What does he do, then?"

"Oh, sorry, thought you knew. He’s a solicitor. Senior partner in Randall, Merriweather and Randall."

"Oh. A local firm?"

"Originally, yes. But they’ve got a London branch too, as they do a lot of High Court work. Dad often has to go up for that."

"Does he specialise in anything particular?"

I swung off the street towards our garage doors. "Yes, he handles clients who’re at loggerheads with the media."

As I put the handbrake on I saw Sue and Luke exchanging significant looks.

"Well, thanks again, Joe," she said, "very much indeed. A bite of lunch for us now, and then down to the grindstone. Have a nice peaceful afternoon without Luke in your hair, for once." As clear a non-invitation as I’d met. Suited me, I needed to think.

"Right. I’ll pick you up for evensong at quarter to five, Luke. OK?"

"OK. And thanks for this morning, Joe. I enjoyed that." But both of them seemed a trifle distracted.

Dad had lunch ready. I hadn’t seen him so far today, and there was much to tell. First I filled him in on the events at Stow, and he was impressed. "Dad," I went on. "Me. Last night, in bed, I sussed out the answer to the first question."

He translated the code without difficulty, bless him. "Quick work. Good. And … ?"

"I’m gay. It was pretty clear, once I had someone to … focus on. Luke dropped in this morning. And that confirmed it. I mean, my feelings when I saw him confirmed it. When I saw a boy. Didn’t have to be Luke."

"I’m with you, I think. So the next question is, is Luke the right boy?"

"That’s it. That’ll take longer to answer, no doubt."

"Yes. OK, Joe, you’re on the right track. You’ve taken the first big step, and I’m glad for you for that." He put his hand on mine.

"Thanks, Dad. But are you glad for you?"

"Yes. You know I am. I’m equally easy either way, about your orientation. Anyway, I don’t matter here. You’re the one who does."

"Dad, you’re a marvel.." We didn’t get sentimental together – stiff upper lip and all that – but we understood each other.

"But if Luke is the right boy, then he matters even more. And that’ll raise issues where Sue will matter, very much."

"I wonder how she’d react."

"I can make a good guess. She’s a highly intelligent woman, and she seems pretty liberated, but she is protective. Of course she is. She’s his mother. And how many mothers would consent to their thirteen-year-old having a practical love affair?"

"Not many. Well, no point in putting the cart before the horse. But it reminds me." I told him of Sue and Luke’s odd behaviour on the way home. "They seemed very interested to hear you’re a solicitor." But no more could be said, so there we left it.

I needed to relax, preferably in the sun, and went to my room to find a book. From the window I could see, between the trees, a small patch of next door’s newly-mown lawn. On it was Sue, apparently crying, and Luke with his arm around her. I was disturbed, but could think of no reason to intrude. I went downstairs with my book to sit in the sun, where I promptly fell asleep. Dad woke me at half past four, and after a wash and brush up I presented myself next door. Luke was ready, but very quiet and serious. It was a mile or two before he spoke.

"Joe, may I ask you something?"

"Of course. Fire away."

"Do you go to church just for the music? Or do you believe at all?"

A straight question deserving a straight answer. "No. I don’t really believe. I’m like Pope – Alexander, not the Vatican one – ‘Some to church repair, not for the doctrine, but the music there.’ If it weren’t for that, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t go. I don’t mean school, where you have to. But having said that, I do find the services comforting. A matter of the ritual and tradition I’m accustomed to, I suppose. I might go occasionally, for comfort. What about you?"

Luke was looking at me with interest. "You know, it’s exactly the same with me. No, I don’t believe either. The big churches, the cathedrals, what they offer is pretty bland. On the whole. Tolerant, but not very relevant. Doesn’t demand much thought or effort. Soothing. I think that’s why I’m at home in the Church of England. An oasis. A haven of peace, which I need." He paused, and I didn’t dare interrupt.

"You know, a month or so ago I went to St James’s Piccadilly. I’d heard about it and wanted to see what it was like. Totally untraditional. Deep concern with social issues. International things. There were Muslims and Jews there, even in the pulpit. It was challenging. Which is right. But I didn’t go back. It was too challenging. For me. At my age. With my … " He tailed off.

Grief, what a revealing confession. I drew a bow at a venture, and picked up where he’d left off. "Too challenging for you, at your age, with your own problems. You need to be soothed and comforted by the good old familiar Anglican liturgy. Don’t feel guilty, Luke. If it does that for you, it’s doing its job. What it’s meant to do. And you need it particularly this evening, don’t you? It’s all right, I don’t want an answer. I’m not probing."

He looked at me gratefully. "Yes, you do understand. I knew you would."

"You find your peace, Luke. That’s all that matters right now."

At evensong he was the perfect choirboy. I could see him absorbing as well as contributing. During the short sermon by an ancient canon I could tell he was listening, actually listening, which was more than could be said of the other boys. Through to the blessing. ‘The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds.’ You didn’t have to believe in the frills to go along with the message.

Back in the car, he seemed more at ease. "Happier now, aren’t you?" I asked as we started.

"Yup. It did work its magic. Even the sermon. Hot air. So predictable it was actually calming. What did you think of it?"

"Same. Load of flatulence."

He grinned broadly, lifted his bum from the seat, and farted resoundingly. Very apposite. I laughed back at him and opened both windows to their widest.

"D’you mind me doing that? Honestly?"

"Fundamentally, no." He cackled. "No, I don’t mind in the least. Specially if it’s well-timed, like that. Not sure about the pong, though, if the ventilation’s poor."

"In which case I’d preach from the other end." He belched with equal gusto, and I laughed again.

"Joe, why’s it so funny to belch and fart?"

"I think it’s because we were told when we were kids that it was naughty. If we’re still kids at heart, it’s funny because it still seems naughty. Like you and your highly risque jokes."

"Which make you laugh. And yours make me laugh. I’m glad you’re still a kid, Joe, as well as a grown-up. Well, almost a grown-up. I wouldn’t love you if you weren’t a kid too."

Love? I didn’t rise to the bait, if bait it was. Nor did he elaborate. We both let the word hang in the air, all the way home. But as we got out of the car and he turned towards his house, he said, "Thanks, Joe, again. You know, it’s not only because you’re a kid that I love you."

I couldn’t leave it like that, not this time. "Love, Luke? That’s something we must talk about properly."

"Yes, we must. But not now. I’ll talk to you again tonight, I hope. But not about this. Tomorrow?"

"Sure. See you."

I went in, puzzled. As usual, tea was almost ready, but Dad was unusually abstracted. "Sue’s asked us round for drinks after tea. She apologised for being organised enough only to water us, not to feed us."

"What’s this all about, Dad? She’s been talking to you, hasn’t she?"

"Yes, she has. But it’s their story to tell, not mine. Patience, Joe." And he fell to studying his lasagne without touching it.

Before long we went next door, where we were supplied with coffee and whisky. Sue and Dad sat in easy chairs, while Luke put me on the sofa next to him. "Joe," said Sue, almost formally. "It’s really for your sake that we’ve asked you and Colin in. While you were over at Stow this evening, I poured out our woes to Colin. He’s already been hugely helpful and I’m sure will be even more helpful in the future. Luke’s adamant that you should be told too. In fact he’ll be doing most of the talking, because he wants to tell you himself. I’m not too happy about that, but he insists, and when Luke insists …

"I know it seems strange that we’re letting our family skeletons out of the cupboard so soon, the very day after meeting you. But you precipitated it, in all innocence, when you suggested a concert starring Luke. I think you saw our reaction. And for that reason if no other, I agree that you have the right to know. OK, Luke? Over to you."

Luke sat up very straight, looked sideways at me, and swallowed hard. "Joe, this is a nasty story because it’s about my father. He’s not around because he’s in prison. He’s a paedophile, Joe, and a murderer. But it’s a nice story too because it’s also about Mum, and how she’s bust her guts to protect me. It all started five years ago, when I was eight …"

He was speaking very simply, and the effort and the pain were clear. I couldn’t leave him like that, so near to me but yet so far. I’d hardly touched him before, but if ever he needed human contact it was now. I moved over and put my arm round his shoulder. Was this why he’d sat me next to him? He gave me a small smile, and carried on.

Let me cut his long story relatively short. Five years before, over a period of a few months, a dozen boys aged around thirteen were raped or sexually assaulted in their part of London. The final one was strangled. Sue already had vague fears that her husband was up to no good, and on this occasion her suspicions were so strong that she told the police. It was soon after DNA testing had become reliable, and that was enough to convict him. And on his computer, apart from a large collection of porn, was information enough to convict the members of a paedophile ring, though one man escaped prosecution through lack of adequate evidence.

Sue immediately divorced her husband, resumed her maiden name, and went ex-directory. Luke, obviously, knew that his father was a criminal, though Sue hid the details for as long as she could. But a subtle hate campaign was stirred up. A couple of months after the trial, articles about the paedophile ring and about Luke’s father in particular began to appear in the gutter press. They were relatively trivial, and certainly not actionable, but they were enough to revive an otherwise dead story. At the same time, a whispering campaign was started among Sue and Luke’s neighbours. Nobody ever found how it had originated. The message, passed around by word of mouth, was twofold: that Sue had assisted her husband in his crimes and had shopped him to save her own skin, and that both homosexuality and paedophilia were hereditary and therefore that Luke was an abhorrent and dangerous boy.

Where paedophilia is concerned, righteous indignation can reach unrighteous heights, and reason often goes out of the window. So here. The whispers were widely enough believed to make Sue and Luke’s life a misery, at home and school and work. They changed their name and moved to a different part of London. Exactly the same happened again. The stories in the press, not in themselves outside the law, were traced to a journalist writing under an pseudonym, who turned out to be the supposed member of the paedophile ring who had escaped. Sue was convinced that he was the culprit, acting out of revenge. But in the eyes of the law he had committed no crime. The whispers could not be traced back to him. There was no evidence to persuade the police, and her lawyer was unimaginative. Even the social services proved unhelpful and unsympathetic.

Luke was now ten. He understood better what the problem was, and suffered correspondingly worse from the jibes of his schoolmates and their parents. Up to this point in his story, it had been ‘Mum’ who did things, who took the decisions. She had been supporting and shielding him. But from this point on, as he told it, ‘Mum’ began to give way to ‘we’. He was supporting her too. They discussed their problems together now, they understood each other’s strengths and frailties. The decisions were joint. It was a partnership of two brave and loving people.

At this stage Sue gave up her job for a home-based one as a literary publisher’s reader. She took Luke out of school and taught him at home herself (and a damn good job she’d done, I felt). They lived a discreet and reclusive life, going out little except for Luke’s music, and for three years things remained relatively quiet.

Then, only three months ago, it had all started again, this time with graffiti daubed on the house and bricks thrown through the windows. They had upped anchor and left London for good. Leafy suburbia in the provinces was new and, they hoped, safer territory. As had long been planned, Luke was about to go to Yarborough where, they hoped, the more civilised culture would shield him from slander. They hoped. It was all they could do. Changes of name and address leave so many traces in the bureaucracy of modern life – medical records, National Insurance, bank, utility companies – that an unscrupulous enquirer can quite easily track them down. Clayton was the fifth surname they’d borne in five years, but there was no guarantee it would protect them any better than the others. And their flaming hair marked them out. They could have dyed it, but here they were defiant. They would not be forced into the last indignity of physical disguise. They just continued to hope.

But they had to keep their heads down. A redhead in the choir of a village cathedral was one thing. Luke Clayton’s name plastered on city centre posters and on bills pushed through letterboxes was another. "We can’t risk a public concert. I’m sorry, Joe. I’d love to, but I daren’t." And he burst into tears.

I put my other arm round him in a proper hug. Nobody could misinterpret it as sexual. I did feel a thrill, but it was of love, not desire, and my own eyes leaked. He needed the peace, the reassurance, of the familiar. And I felt that tribute should be paid to Sue for her noble part in the story. So, just as if I were soothing an unhappy toddler, I sang, very softly, the melody line of this morning’s anthem. Stabat mater dolorosa … ‘The mother stood mournful, weeping beside the cross as her son suffered. A sword pierced her sorrowful soul as it groaned and grieved. How sad and stricken was that blessed mother for her only child.’

It did the trick. His sobs subsided, and he sat in my arms hugging me back. I looked round to see Sue, wet in the eyes, nodding at me in appreciation. "Sorry about that," said Luke shortly, in a small voice. "Better now. I’m going to bed. Thanks, Joe. You’ll help me get to sleep." Lord, was I perverted in seeing innuendo even in that?

He got up and gave Sue a long cuddle. He offered his hand to Dad, who pushed it aside and hugged him hard instead. He came to me and planted a firm kiss on my lips. "I didn’t think it would be about love tonight," he said, so softly that the others couldn’t hear. "But it was, really, wasn’t it? And I love you." And he was gone, leaving me in the new-found knowledge that my needle did point to ‘Luke.’ Surely it did. Surely I loved him too.

We looked at each other wordlessly, Dad and Sue and I, in the silence of admiration for a stalwart and courageous young soul. "Sue," I said eventually, needing reassurance on one point. "His father didn’t … abuse Luke too, did he?"

"Thank God, no. His … tastes didn’t run to boys as young as Luke was then. But I visited him in prison last year with my lawyer – there was a question over the divorce settlement – and I showed him a current photo of Luke. The lust which it brought to his eyes …

"Well, Joe, you now know the worst. I’ve put it all in Colin’s hands, in case he can suggest any way out."

"We’ll have a damned good try," said Dad. "It’ll mean a lot of inquiries, to find some evidence to pin on this blighter. It’ll have to be compelling before the police will take any interest. But if it’s suggestive enough, we could try for an injunction to prevent him from writing about … all that, and from coming anywhere near here. There’s a hell of a lot of work to do, but I’m not unhopeful. Sue’s coming to the office with me first thing tomorrow, Joe, so we can get the story down in detail and set the ball rolling."

"And if there’s any time left, I’ve got to trawl the shops for curtain materials for the whole house. Colin’s offered me a lift back too, so don’t expect us till about six. You’ll be by yourselves the whole day. You’ll have plenty to talk about. Joe … " she tailed off, and picked up again.

"Joe, I have to say this. Thank God you’re here for Luke. He took to you at first sight, you know that? And remember I told you last night not to feel obliged to spend time with him? I was in duty bound to say that. But in my heart I was hoping you would. He hasn’t got any friends at all, not real friends. Obviously none here. It’s the penalty of the damned lifestyle that’s been forced on us. OK, I hope Yarborough will look after that, but new friends’ll be his own age, and live any old where. He needs a male in his life, a male here, preferably a male who’s older than him, but not too old. I know it. He knows it. And he thinks he’s found one. That’s you. But there’s a problem.

"Joe, we only met yesterday, but I like what I see of you, a great deal. Until yesterday Luke was very apprehensive about going to Yarborough. Not surprisingly. But he’s suddenly full of confidence. That’s your doing. And Colin tells me you’re trustworthy, and of course I accept that. But I still know very little else about you – there hasn’t been time. Look, Joe, I’ve got to be blunt. Luke may ask you for … for more than friendship, and that makes me uneasy."

She was struggling to put tactful wrappings round delicate matters, and I had to help out. It wasn’t easy for me, either.

"Sue, I’m with you. Entirely. He’s almost asked me for that already." Her eyebrows rose. "Yes, he’s said that he loves me. More than once. Last time was just now, as he went to bed. So yes, I know that he’s gay. But there’s been no chance to find out exactly what he means by love. Look, he’s got to speak for himself. But let me put my cards on the table and be absolutely honest. Two things.

"First, I’m gay too. I’ve only found that out very recently. And yes, I think I’ve fallen for Luke as well. How it’ll work out, I’ve no idea. If it really is two-way love, real love, how far can it go? I’m pretty sure Luke wants to bring sex into the equation. I admit I’m tempted, but I’m hesitant. He’s so young. We’re going to talk about this tomorrow – we both want to – so long as you’re happy that we do. It’ll be no more than talk, I can promise you that. I wouldn’t take it further until we all know – all of us – exactly where we stand, which may take time."

"Thank you, Joe. That’s very clear and frank, and I suppose I’m relieved that you know about Luke’s orientation already. Let me be frank too. I like to think my ideas are quite modern. So yes, I can’t object to you both exploring the ground in the way you’ve said. But I do have two qualms. Or do I mean words of advice? Maybe a bit of each.

"My head tells me that gay relationships can be just as valid as straight ones. Therefore, in my head, I’ve nothing whatever against gays of the right sort, and you sound to be the right sort. But I’ve everything against gays of the wrong sort, like paedophiles. They’ve loomed so large in our life that their shadow still hangs over us. In my case, my heart contradicts my head, and it makes me see filth where maybe none exists. I can’t help seeing a paedophile behind every tree. So I’m desperately worried for Luke. More than ever since he told me he was gay. He’s heard enough at second hand of lust without a smidgen of love. He must never experience it at first hand. Can I trust you on that?"

"You can indeed. I don’t like the idea of casual or experimental sex either. It’s emphatically not my scene."

"Good. The other qualm is his age. As you say, he is so young. If he were seventeen like you, and if everything else were right, it wouldn’t really be a qualm at all. Oh, he’s frighteningly intelligent, I know. If you’re discussing serious matters, he thinks as clearly as an adult – clearer than most adults – and it’s totally wrong to talk down to him. He gets mad if he thinks you’re treating him as a kid and not trusting him. Rightly so, because he is so responsible and mature.

"But yet, but yet. Sometimes he can be childlike. Thank goodness, I suppose one should say. But he’s insecure, and he’s perfected two sorts of self-protection. He doesn’t like hurting you, so sometimes he says what he thinks you want to hear, which can hurt much worse than if he were honest. And when it suits him, he reminds you that he is only thirteen and has no experience. Of course that’s literally true, but it’s his easy way out, and it can be utterly frustrating. So be warned."

"You make it sound like walking a tightrope."

"It is. But being male and nearer his age, maybe you’ll find it easier than I do. He’s a genius at word-play, for instance. I can’t give him the playfulness he needs there – it’s been beaten out of me. But he says you’re the perfect sparring partner. What with that, and your common interests, and your responsibility, you’re good for him as a friend, whatever else may happen. I don’t need convincing on that.

"What’s at issue is his happiness and well-being. All my instincts say he’s too young for a sexual relationship. My mind’s not totally closed, but I’ll take a lot of persuading. So if you do both end up in love, real love, well, let’s talk it over. Till then, let’s not cross bridges before we come to them. Joe, you’re not within my jurisdiction, if you see what I mean. But Luke most definitely is. I have the right to forbid, or to allow. Agreed?"

"Agreed. And entirely understood." I turned to Dad. "Dad. Sue and I have both put our cards on the table. But I’m still within your jurisdiction. What’s your line about forbidding or allowing me?"

"I’m going to do neither. You may not be of legal age, not for another – what? – seven months, but you’re plenty mature and responsible enough to make your own decisions, and I trust you to make the right ones. I’m not easy either about you going the whole hog. But since you agree to abide by Sue’s verdict, I won’t stick my oar in. If Sue were to allow it to Luke, how could I forbid it to you?"

"Thanks, Colin," said Sue. "Joe, you’ve calmed my fears quite a bit. I see what Colin means, about you being mature and trustworthy and responsible. I see why you’ve got to where you have in school. I think I see why Luke’s captivated with you. Colin, you told me that I’d brought up a wonderful son. So have you, you know."

"Thanks, Sue. I do know, very well. Right. Does that tie things up for now, then? Because it’s been a stressful day for all of us. Home, wonderful son!"

Sue and I exchanged a hug. So did Sue and Dad. So, back at home, did Dad and I. The whole evening had demanded hugs. "Joe, I’m proud of you. Sleep well!"

"You too, Dad. Thanks. Night!"

Luke saw me to sleep again, and this time my dreams, if any, were quiet.