After Edward

Short Story

Michael Gouda

I miss him. Of course I do. But life, as they say, must go on for the rest of us so I don't talk about him much, and my friends don't either, not after the first few terrible months. I think about him though, and I'm pretty sure he thinks of me. I have no proof of this, of course, and I don't have any religious convictions, except one and that is I don't think there's a god - well, if there is, he isn't a loving, caring one who looks after the good and innocent and punishes the guilty. The world, and the state it's in, and the way people behave in it, is surely adequate proof of that.

But there is a part of me that thinks that surely Edward and all that he was hasn't completely disappeared. Is he just there solely in the memories of his relatives and his friends and his lover - me? I suppose you could say that his influences on others, what he did and said and wrote in the world lingers on. Perhaps he changed the lives of some people, certainly he did mine and so that is passed on through me or through anyone else he touched and that I, and they, will do the same. So no one ever completely disappears though they may be forgotten.

Can there be more?

I would have said no but . . .

Well, this is what happened. Judge for yourself.

A couple of months after Edward died, I got a phone call from his mother. Now I must tell you that Edward's parents seemed to have no problem with the fact that he was gay. Actually mine said they didn't either. The thing was they (that's MY parents) preferred not to be reminded of it, so we didn't really talk about my life, my gay life, that is. On the other hand Edward's Mum and Dad were apparently always ready to hear gay anecdotes, the stories, whether true or exaggerated, that gay people tell either against themselves or to boost their self-confidence as regards sexual conquests. Of course he didn't go into explicit details, but was quite prepared to talk of the gay life, its ups and downs.

"Hello, dear," she said (I'm back with the telephone call now), "Leonora here." And then, as I didn't immediately respond because she was the last person I expected to hear from, she added, "Edward's mother."

"Of course," I said, "it was just that I didn't expect you. How are you?"

"Bearing up," she said, and then in a lower, more caring tone, "and what about you, Mark. How are you coping?"

As always I didn't really want to talk about it, because thinking about Edward always made me tearful, but I had to say something. "It's difficult. I keep expecting him to appear, round the corner in the street, you know, sitting in his chair in the front room. And then when he isn't or it turns out to be someone else, I feel the loss more than ever." Strangely I felt better after that little outburst. From outside the window came the sound of traffic - life getting on, as normal.

Leonora said, "I rang, because I wondered if you'd like some of his things, things he left here, but perhaps it wouldn't be a good thing. . ." Her voice trailed away. "Perhaps it would remind you too much."

I've got things that were Edward's. Heaven knows the whole flat is full of things that were his, or his and mine, things we'd bought together. I didn't want any more. But then I thought that I hadn't got anything of his that he'd had before I knew him, things that were pre our life together.

"What sort of things?" I asked.

But Leonora suddenly became almost secretive, obviously considering that the idea had been a bad one. "No, Mark," she said. "It was stupid of me. It wouldn't help at all. It was just that Jack thought we should get rid of them, and I didn't like the idea of just throwing them out or taking them to the Sue Rider shop. Forget I asked."

But, if anything, her trying to back out of the offer, made me all the more determined to have them, or at least to look at them and see if there were any that I'd like to have.

"I'll come round," I said, "have a look. It's ages since we saw each other anyway."

Not since the funeral was the unspoken thought that I'm sure both of us had though neither of us said it.

"Come to dinner," she said. "Make an evening of it. Jack will be pleased to see you."

We compared diaries - mine was as good as empty but hers apparently was quite crowded. Eventually we decided on a date about two weeks in the future. She rang off and I was left alone with my thoughts.

Now you mustn't think that I'd been deserted by my (that is 'our') friends. After the funeral (to which so many of them had come) they'd come round and asked me out all the time, invited me to their houses for quiet meals, accompany them to clubs for more noisy entertainments, theatres, cinemas, trips to the country, holidays abroad but I'd excused myself from all of them and gradually the invitations had understandably dropped off. I don't blame them. It was all my fault and this dinner with Leonora and Jack would be the first time I had gone out since Edward died.

Work and home was my life and my activities at work weren't that successful. In fact I could have lost my job except that my boss was sympathetic but even he was beginning to get impatient. There were conversations which started, "Come on, Mark, you'll have to pull yourself together soon . . ." or "Don't you think you should put a bit of effort into . . ." etc. I couldn't cope though and didn't even try.

The fortnight passed slowly. I refused an invitation to drinks at a guy called Ross's place. He got quite edgy with me in fact. "You'll have to start getting out and about," he said. "This hermit-like existence isn't doing any good for you at all." Then he mentioned 'the' name. "I'm sure Edward wouldn't have wanted you to behave like this."

At which I lost my temper. "How the fuck would YOU know what Edward would or wouldn't have wanted me to do?" I blazed and slammed down the receiver. Well, that was one friend I guess I wouldn't be hearing from again.

After a while I realised that I'd behaved like an hysterical queen and rang him up to apologise. He wasn't in, or at least he didn't answer the phone so I left a message on his answer phone, hoping I sounded suitably contrite, but he didn't ring back.

Leonora and Jack welcomed me with open arms. I knew we'd be talking about Edward so had prepared myself for it. Even so, at the first mention I felt a jolt go through me like a dose of adrenaline.

"Do you want to look at Edward's things first or have some drinks and the food?" Leonora asked.

I mumbled that I'd take a look and they took me up to his old bedroom. I'd been there before, of course. In fact it was in that room that we'd first made love - no, to be accurate, had sex because he'd trolled me back from a club while his parents were on holiday in the Algarve or somewhere.

It wasn't until a good bit later that I realised I was in love with him - and he with me.

The room was smaller than I remembered it. All the pictures (copies of Cocteau ink drawings) had been taken down, the walls repainted a sort of eau de nil though if the Nile is really that viscous green, I'd be very wary of eating anything that had been caught out of it, and the bed was unmade - just a bare mattress with, I noticed, some rather dubious stains on it which I and the parents studiously ignored.

"We're clearing it out completely," said Jack, "and turning it into an office for me. I work from home now, you know."

I didn't but I nodded anyway.

It crossed my mind that they had 'got over' their only son's death much more than I had. In a way I felt slightly offended but then wondered if they weren't doing the right thing. Getting on with their lives.

Edward's belongings were in a large cardboard box in a corner of the room.

"We'll leave you alone to sort through them," said Leonora. "Take what you like. Everything that's left will be got rid of."

"Don't you want anything?" I asked.

"We've taken everything we want," said Leonora. "Some photos of Edward as a kid, and one of both of you at that barbecue." I remembered the one - in fact I had a copy of it myself. Edward and I were standing side by side, one of his arms round my shoulder and mine round his waist. He, tall, blond and slim, me slightly shorter and darker. We were both wreathed in smiles and looked overpoweringly happy. So happy, indeed, that I'd shut my copy up in a drawer as I couldn't bear to look at it.

They left and I started to look through the things. There were the Cocteau prints all drawn with that characteristic economy of line and, more often than not, an over large penis. I remember being slightly shocked when I'd first seen them and realised that presumably Edward's mother must also have seen them when she dusted the room or whatever she did. Edward had laughed. "Take more than that to shock Mum," he'd said.

Why he hadn't brought them with him when he'd moved into the flat we shared, I'm not sure. Perhaps it was because we had wanted to get things that we'd chosen together.

Anyway I took them out in their narrow black frames and put them on the bed. Six of them there were - a reminder of that first time we'd fucked. Actually, come to think of it, I don't think we did fuck. We'd both been a little nervous and the sex was very vanilla, a bit of sucking and finishing off, me with my prick between his legs and his in my hand. Then we'd cuddled and fallen asleep until we sort of repeated the process in the morning.

There were some clothes, obviously from his mid teens because they'd never have fitted him or me at any recent time. I'd like to have seen him as a gawky adolescent dressed in a bomber jacket and jeans. I'd have been one too and, if we'd met then, perhaps we could have had a longer time spent together. On the other hand, at that age, I was terrified that I was queer and was making every effort to pretend to be straight, boasting about the girls I'd been out with and what I'd done with them. So I'd probably have never even dared to speak to Edward if I had met him in those far-off days.

There were some books, kids stuff really, annuals. I'd never realised Edward had once been interested in football and yet there they were, the Arsenal year books for 1986, 1987 and 1988. Some comics, the Beano and the Dandy, not the sort of lurid horrors you buy in today's 'comics' but innocent adventures of Dennis the Menace, Desperate Dan and Biffo the Bear. Get a good price for those now, I thought but left them.

I thought that was the lot but then noticed that there was a bit of a bump on one side of the pile of comics, hoisted them up and found a bear. Obviously it had been much loved. One of its ears was loose, a glass eye missing and the fur was rubbed almost bare on its stomach. It had a sad, hangdog appearance, as the ear drooped over and the missing eye looked as if it was winking. In my mind's eye I could see the young Edward walking around, dragging it by the loose ear but refusing to be parted from it. It smelled a little musty but not unpleasantly so and I knew that was one thing I'd certainly take.

I went downstairs with the bear and the Cocteau drawings. "The comics are probably quite valuable," I told Jack, "and I'll take these drawings just so you won't be embarrassed taking them to the Oxfam shop."

"Oh you've chosen Teddy," said Leonora. "I'm so glad. Edward did so love that bear. Once, when he thought he'd lost it, he wouldn't eat for two days. Turned up behind the radiator though we never found out how it had got there."

"Have a drink," said Jack.

"The meal's nearly ready," said Leonora.

It was a pleasant evening but when I got home again I was even more depressed. Putting up the Cocteau pictures, occupied half an hour but when I saw them lined up round the spare room which was really a euphemism for Edward's room which he never used as we both slept together in the larger of the two bedrooms, I suddenly didn't like them so I took them down and shut them up in a cupboard.

It was nearly midnight but I didn't feel tired. I sat 'Teddy' on a chair facing me across the room which sometimes was called the sitting room, or the lounge, or (geographically) the front room. "Welcome to your new home," I said and looked at the bear. 'Teddy' winked at me. Well, he was winking all the time I suppose but as I glanced at that missing eye, it seemed as if it had suddenly shut. His loose ear hung over and he looked sad - as sad and lonely as I felt.

At about two o'clock I was ready for bed and went. I pondered whether to take Teddy with me but decided against it. Edward might have slept with it but of course, he'd slept with me much more recently and taking my late lover's toy bear to cuddle with sounded too tacky for words.

I couldn't sleep and I kept thinking of that ragged toy sitting alone in the front room. Of course it had been 'alone' in the box at Leonora's and Jack's for possibly years. Eventually I went and got it (him) and placed him on the pillow next to me. I slept like a log, better than I had for some time.

I dreamed of Edward, not an erotic dream, but a sort of mix up of the first time I met him.

So it seemed that the dream was set in the library where Edward had worked and where I had taken out a gay book - The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst, I remember He had looked at me and smiled, that smile which, that first time and forever after always made my heart jump and my throat catch. In my dream, though, I felt as if I was choking. Something was blocking my nose and throat and I struggled to wake.

And woke up to find the bear lying across my face. There was hardly any pressure from the toy and my feelings of constriction must purely have been psychological rather than physical. My panic died and, as it did so, I suddenly felt amused.

"What were you trying to do?" I asked looking at the bear which I now placed further down the bed, sitting, arms and legs stretched out, its ear hanging loosely. It winked in the cool, dull light of dawn. The green figures of my radio alarm clicked over. It was as good as time to get up. As I did so, Teddy fell off the bed and I said, "Sorry" before picking him up and felt foolish at apologising to a stuffed bear.

In the office I sat at my desk staring at a pile of work. The telephone rang. It was Ross, my friend whom I'd shouted at so rudely when he'd asked me out and said that Edward would have wanted it. I immediately felt embarrassed for, though I'd rung him back immediately afterwards, I hadn't tried again. But he sounded as cheerful and chatty as always. He was an incredible guy. He always knew what was going on though where he got his information from I could never understand. He'd have been a Godsend to MI5 or any intelligence organisation. Perhaps he was. I wasn't sure exactly what he did for a job. I knew what he did for entertainment, chasing unsuitable bits of rough trade and very successfully apparently.

"Hear you went to see Edward's parents the other day," he said. "I hope this means you're getting out and about again."

"How did you know?" I asked. I'd told no one and, as far as I knew, Leonora and Jack didn't know him particularly well though they must have met him at the funeral.

As I suspected he didn't answer but instead embarked on a long and lurid tale about some car mechanic who'd come round to attend to a defect in his car (probably self-inflicted by Ross) and had stayed for wild, raunchy sex. This had included a certain amount of S/M activity and ended with Ross being well and truly impaled on his huge (according to Ross) schlong so that he'd scarcely been able to walk for the remainder of the day.

I laughed and realised that it was the first time for a long time when I'd done so.

"Come out, Mark," said Ross. "It'll do you so much good. Somewhere quiet, a few drinks, perhaps a film."

"With you nothing's quiet. You'd probably be having it off with the projectionist and the whole film would grind to a halt.

"Projectionists aren't nearly butch enough," said Ross. "They're almost professional class. Ugh." He paused then repeated, "Do come out. Weekend."

I wasn't prepared to commit myself but I was drawn. "I'll ring you," I said.

"Any time day or night," he said. "If I'm in the middle of extreme coitus, I'll stop it for you - even make him take it out, so I can chat to you normally."

I smiled again and attacked the pile of work in front of me with something like enthusiasm. My boss nodded approvingly as he saw the pile in the out tray grow by the end of the day.

That evening though I was depressed again. I opened a bottle of wine and had a couple of glasses. Over a microwaved Tesco frozen meal - chicken pasanda with pilau rice - I stared at the bear which was sitting at the other end of the table. He stared, monocularly, back at me. For weeks past I'd been sad at living in the empty flat, now I realised that I was bored as well as sad.

"Shall I go out with Ross at the weekend?" I asked. I filled my glass again and drank it down. It was fairly foul stuff but it did its job of deadening feelings.

Teddy said nothing, though I thought his ear drooped rather more than it had before.

"I still miss Edward," I said. "It hurts like hell. In a way it would seem like betraying him to go out and try to enjoy myself."

If anything the ear drooped even more.

"What did you think of him?" I asked. "I suppose he just dragged you around by that poor old ear of yours. But you meant a lot to him." I looked at the bedraggled little monster. "And he meant so much to me."

Teddy fell over. I swear I didn't touch the table or anything. He just toppled over onto his nose and lay there, butt in the air, praying to Mecca, or perhaps to Jerusalem.

"Oh you're just pissed," I said and finished my glass. Teddy stayed where he was, well, what did I think? That he'd get up again?

"You're obviously not interested," I said, " but I'm going to phone Ross."

As it was the middle of the evening, I didn't expect Ross to be in but he was and presumably alone. At least there was no groaning and panting in the background when his clipped and slightly effete tones announced, "Ross here at your service. How can I accommodate you?"

"Mark here," I said. "About this weekend . . ."

Instantly his voice changed to one of seemingly irrepressible good humour. "I'm so glad, doll," he said. "I promise you I won't do anything outrageous. In fact my sister will be here with her friend and we can send them out if you don't want company other than mine."

I hadn't been planning on extra people and I paused, glancing up across the table where Teddy was. He was sitting up watching me. I didn't remember picking him up from his prostrate position but obviously I must have done. I was about to make excuses to Ross when the expression on the bear's face seemed to change. It must have been a trick of the light but suddenly it looked quite mean, almost savage. Of course the thing didn't have a moveable mouth but it was almost as if part of its lip lifted into a sort of snarl.

"OK," I said to Ross. "That will be fine and of course you can't send your family out. I'll look forward to coming over and meeting them."

We made arrangements as to times and rang off.

I looked at Teddy and the face was back to normal. I'd obviously been alone too much.

I left the bear down in the kitchen and had a bad night, tossing and turning, remembering how Edward and I had fitted together in that bed so that, even when we didn't have sex, we touched and held each other and the first thing I always saw of felt when waking was his warm and affectionate body, the smile on his face when he woke, that smile that ever since the first time moved me to distraction.

The following morning Teddy looked disapproving as I made coffee and burnt some toast under the grill.

"OK," I said, "I'm sorry I left you here. We can sleep together tonight." I almost blushed as I heard myself saying that. Thank goodness there was no one to overhear my foolish fancies, but, strangely enough, having made that promise, I felt better and I even took time to scramble some eggs to hide the burnt bits on the toast.

"I'll be back about six," I called back from the open door just as one of the tenants from upstairs was coming down the communal staircase. She didn't say anything but gave me a glance as if to show that she thought I'd got someone indoors. My blush must have made me look guilty and I wondered whether she was thinking, 'so soon after his friend's death and now he's got someone else'.

I pondered on that as I took the Underground to the West End where I worked. Of course there was no one in the flat, and no one likely to be, but would it have been 'soon' if I had wanted to bring someone back? It had been months since Edward had died. How long exactly? I worked it out. Seven and a half months, give or take a few days. Of course some people mourned for years. Look at Queen Victoria. Her Prince Albert died in 1861 and she never really came out of mourning until she died in 1901, that was forty years, though of course there had been the 'relationship' with John Brown, whatever that consisted of.

The train was full and I was strap-hanging surrounded by morning commuters who were forced into intimate contact. Some tried to ignore the intimacy; others perhaps enjoyed the contact. I was suddenly aware that someone standing with his back to me was pressing his backside into my groin. I tried to move away but the crush was too much. I couldn't see the guy full face but from the back and side he was young and not unattractive. It was obvious that he was pushing intentionally. Though the train moved, his body movement was much too pointed to be unintentional. I started to get an erection. It was months of course since I'd had any sexual release, or even wanted one. Now my body was reacting and the guy could obviously feel my hardness for he pushed even more and moved his buttocks against my cock. He turned his head and smiled. His hand snaked back and grasped me between my legs and I felt a sexual shock of pleasure, something which I hadn't felt for ages.

I shouldn't be doing this, I thought, Edward wouldn't like it and then I realised how stupid that was. Edward probably would have liked it. He'd have come home and told me what had happened and we'd have laughed about it together. But of course nothing was going to happen here and the train drew into Green Park station, people started to push to get out and it was my station anyway. I gave my 'friend' a smile and he patted my cock before we parted forever.

I emerged into the sunlight. On the other side of the railings the grass looked green and lush. Parks are the lungs of London and this one was at the moment anyway overcoming the petrol and diesel fumes from the street. It was almost like being in the country. Some pigeons strutted on the grass and a blackbird sang in the branches of a tree. I suddenly felt the urge to walk in but of course I didn't.

My boss said, "Glad to see you're getting on top of the work, Mark. I'm looking for someone to visit our Dover branch next month just to check on things. If you feel up to it, perhaps you'd like to go."

I made enthusiastic noises feeling that I'd been letting him down over the past months and that anyway Dover, not a very exciting town but at least by the sea, would be a change, and perhaps a welcome one. I did quite a bit of work that day.

That night true to my promise, I took Teddy to the bedroom and sat him at the foot of the bed. I'd told him about the guy on the train and also about Dover and, it seemed to me, he'd looked approving. I slept beautifully.

Saturday evening I went round to Ross's flat. His sister was an almost exact replica of him, slim with dark, short hair and deep blue eyes. Only his slightly squarer jaw line and, obviously the masculine shape of his body made the difference. "Polly and I are twins," said Ross. I hadn't known anything about Ross's family, our conversation over the years I'd known him had usually been concerned with his conquests, of which there were legion, and snippets of gossip and information, of which there were even more.

Another surprise was his sister's 'friend'. Although Ross hadn't specified the gender I'd assumed that the friend was a she. In fact it was a 'him' and the most beautiful 'him' I'd seen for many a long day. He was a slim young man with glossy black hair, the sort that looks good even when you've just got out of bed in the morning after an athletic night's uninhibited sex. Even across the room I could see that his eyes were blue-grey, those sort of very light, come-to-bed eyes which I find very attractive. And he was gay. That was made clear right from the start when Ross introduced us and he came straight across and kissed me - on the cheeks certainly but it was more than a casual continental 'muah' kind of kiss. It wasn't a come-on. just a generous greeting from one gay guy to another.

His name was Leander. And the three syllables tripped off the tongue, contrasting strangely with my monosyllabic, Mark.

After providing us with generous drinks, Ross and Polly, brother and sister, disappeared into the kitchen to prepare the food leaving Leander and me alone. It was an obvious move and I felt slightly embarrassed but he was a pleasant guy - as well as being ravishingly good looking - so that we soon found ourselves chatting companionably together as if we'd been friends for years. He told me about his job - he actually worked for the Forestry Commission and knew a fascinating amount about our native trees and the animals and plants that grew amongst them. We talked about Polly and Ross - I wondered whether looking after trees was a sufficiently 'butch' occupation for Ross to be interested in, but didn't quite dare ask that. Leander and Polly though had known each other since school days and had remained friends ever since - platonic, he mentioned casually so I didn't need to ask. The only thing we didn't mention was Edward and I suspected that Leander and Polly had been well-briefed about that by Ross before my arrival.

We talked of our interests, his were vaguely outdoor - he skiied every Easter in the Austrian Tyrol, mine more bookish, books and films and we occasionally coincided when he and I both admitted to liking American musicals.

The return of Polly and Ross bearing viands and more alcoholic beverages after what seemed a very short time interrupted our conversation and I caught Ross raising Leander a quizzical eyebrow to be answered by an ambiguous smile. No doubt they'd be 'tete-a-tete'ing after I left.

But whether it was a plan to get me back into the romance arena or not, I enjoyed myself immensely. We had planned to go to a film but, by the time we'd finished the meal which took a long while because it was accompanied by the most salacious anecdotes of Ross's adventures which were if not sometimes a bit chilling - he took enormous risks - usually wildly funny, it was much too late.

"I must go home," I said when I realised it was well after midnight. "I haven't been out this late for months." It wasn't mentioned that I hadn't actually been out at all for months.

"We must do this again," said Ross.

"And next time make the film," said Polly.

"We must indeed," said Leander.

I kissed them all good-bye when the minicab arrived to take me home, this time though Leander aimed for my lips.

Half-asleep I told Teddy about the evening. It was obviously my imagination but I thought he looked disgruntled when I had come into the bedroom alone. Though I'd been sleeping well for the past nights, I woke up suddenly. My radio alarm showed it was 3.23. Sleepily I reached out to the other side of the bed feeling for a warm body. "Edward," I said but the face I conjured up wasn't blond, the hair was lustrous black and the eyes, pale blue.

I was horrified that I could have been sexually aroused by a stranger on a train, that someone I had met only the evening before could have supplanted the love of my life in my mind's eye.

Was I losing my memories of Edward? Obviously not because I could remember the things we had done together, the big things like the holiday we spent in Florence and the small things like staying in in the evening, me reading while he watched the TV.

The shape of Teddy at the bottom of the bed was silhouetted against the window lit by the street lamps from outside. "I won't see Ross again," I promised to the bear, though when I said 'Ross' I think I meant 'Leander'.

I didn't think I'd be able to sleep but almost immediately I dropped off. I dreamed of the time Edward and I had gone to Epping Forest, that patch of woodland just outside London. It had been a beautiful day. We had wandered along the paths through the trees and eventually struck off into a thicker patch. There amongst the oaks and ash and beeches, far away from everyone else, we had made love on a grassy bank sprinkled with white wood anemones. This time though something was wrong. I reached out for Edward, wanting to hold him close but he held up his hands. "No," he said. "No!"

The rejection made me feel almost sick, something rose in my throat and I was choking. I awoke threshing around. Like the previous time, Teddy was lying across my face. There was no pressure but as I pushed him away, I couldn't understand how he'd got from the bottom of the bed to the top. Perhaps I'd kicked out in my dream and moved him - but a distance of five feet? And towards me? Impossible, - yet how else could it have happened?

At breakfast the following morning, Teddy looked distinctly cross. There were some 'frown' lines on his forehead that I hadn't noticed before. "What's the matter with you?" I asked but he just glowered at me, his one remaining eye looking almost balefully accusing.

"I'm going to Dover at the end of the week," I said. "If you cheer up, I'll take you with me." That didn't seem to make any difference and I left for work without saying anything else.

In the Underground I looked out for the young guy whom I had 'met' the previous week though whether it was to avoid him or to carry on from where we had left off, I didn't want to ask myself. In any event, of course, I didn't see him.

I went into conference with my boss about what I needed to do at the Dover office - basically make sure that everything was running smoothly - the annual inspection he called it. The annual 'snoop', they would probably think of it as.

"There's a guy called Jim Daniels who will look after you," said my boss. "See you're all right. Show you around, if you know what I mean."

I knew Jim Daniels from e-mails and conversations over the phone though I'd never met him. His voice sounded sibilant and I thought he was probably gay. Was everyone trying to get me into bed with someone else?

So there I was, in Dover, on the Friday evening, walking along the Marine Parade, the sea on my right, waves slowly rolling in and breaking, tall Victorian houses, mostly turned into hotels on my left, ahead the road rising to the tops of the White Cliffs and Dover Castle.

It had been a long day. Jim Daniels, his gayness confirmed though not predatory - he had a long-established live in lover to whom I had been introduced - hadn't been the slightest bit upset at my probing into what was in fact HIS part of the business. What I had seen had been perfectly kosher. He was doing a good job and my report to the boss would be, after I finished the job on Monday, very creditable. Probably result in a rise for Jim.

He'd been a good companion too, taking me to lunch - with the boyfriend - at a very good vegetarian restaurant and offering to show me around in the evening. But I thought I'd explore on my own in spite of Jim's protestations. In the end he'd agreed, given me a list of gay places obviously, with a wink, assuming that I wanted to do a bit of trawling on my own and wished me good luck.

I left Teddy in my hotel room, which was like all hotel rooms, comfortable enough but obviously a commercially decorated and furnished room with bathroom en suite. The evening was fine, the air, to my town-accustomed nostrils, fresh and ozone tinted. Ozone of course is a gas given off by an electric discharge and has nothing to do with the seaside, but the smell of the sea and probably rotting seaweed gives a deceptive imitation of the aroma. Gulls screamed and floated overhead in the air currents.

OK. I was lonely. I was away from home where I'd been for months, alone certainly but there surrounded by familiar objects so that I had been sad but not with this completely alone feeling. I wondered why I had refused Jim's offer which now seemed stupid, but the thought of gay bars or clubs, heaving with liveliness and mankind on the desperate hunt for a dream, was equally repellent.

So I wandered along the street, which was full, it being still early evening, of people on their various missions, looking for a good time, on their way to meet friends, loved ones or, perhaps equally lonely as I was.

My mobile phone rang. I had switched it on during the day in case my boss had wanted a 'private' word with me rather than using the public telephone in the office and had forgotten to switch it off. Ross's number showed on the screen. For a moment I thought of switching it off without answering but after all he was fifty miles away and I felt the need to talk to someone.

"Hi, Ross," I said, "sorry I haven't been in touch. Been busy."

But it wasn't Ross's slightly nasal twang that answered. Instead a voice I remembered and which gave me a jolt of alarm (was it?) or pleasure. "Mark, Leander here. Thought you might like to meet up again."

Suddenly I realised that that was exactly what I would like to do, wanted to do. "I'm really sorry," I said regretfully. "I'm not in town at the moment. I'm in Dover. It's a bugger. I could do with some company." What was I saying? But I knew I was safe with all that distance between us.

And then of course I wasn't.

"Dover," he said. "But that's just down the M20. I know it quite well. I could be with you in under an hour. Where are you staying?"

I couldn't protest. Perhaps I didn't want to. "The Kensington," I said. "It's in Townwall Street."

"I know it," said Leander. "I'll meet you in the bar. Seven thirty at the latest."

And here I am. Waiting. Feeling slightly scared. I've changed into a blue shirt and tight white trousers. I know they're a bit old-fashioned but they show me off to my best advantage, I think. I told Teddy about Leander coming all the way from London and the frown lines have gone. Honest. And it almost looks as if the corners of his mouth have turned up a bit. Smiling? Course not, but that's what it looks like. I don't know what Leander and I will do, whether we'll go out and have a meal, or go to a club, or - possibly I'll ask him up to my room. I think that's what Edward hopes - I mean Teddy. What a stupid mistake to make.

I'm really feeling quite nervous and shy which is idiotic. It's not as if I'm a teenager on my first date. I'm experienced, know my way around. I won't stammer and stutter when I see him, look gauche and terrified. I'll manage things with suave sophistication, look him straight in the eye - and melt!

Oh God. Here he is, just come in through the door. He's smiling. He's beautiful.

* * * * * *

Date started: Friday, May 27, 2005
Date Ended: Thursday, July 7, 2005
Word Count: 6,617

If you'd like to respond, please write to


Stories delivered in your email (or call for them online)
Or you could visit the website