I felt bad about Randy.
I never should have taken advantage of him.
I know, I know. Most of you will be thinking who took advantage of who? After all, I gave the kid twenty quid, fed him and entertained him for two days then gave him a nice little hand job to finish it all up.
I still felt like I'd betrayed something. I knew in my heart who it was I thought I had betrayed and I cursed myself roundly. Did I think Charlie had spent five minutes thinking about what he'd done to me?
Killarney was even prettier than I'd been expecting. Apparently my great-grandmother had emigrated from there. There was some family story about an amorous landowner and a sixteen year old Amelia O'Sullivan who hadn't returned his affections and had run off to Canada to avoid being raped. I don't know how true it was. It made a good story and my mother still loved telling it at every Christmas dinner when the whole family sat around the table with the turkey.
I found a charming little bed and breakfast tucked away in the old part of Killarney and set about seeing if I could find anyone who had ever heard of Amelia O'Sullivan and her family.
I found someone who might have been a distant cousin and was invited to supper with her husband and their six kids. I never actually found out if we were related, but it didn't stop them from treating me like a long lost brother. By the end of the night Judy -- who may or may not have been my cousin -- had half convinced me I should move to Killarney. I had never been involved with such a large boisterous family and was feeling maudlin enough to embrace the experience.
The next day, Dave, Judy's oldest son invited me to join him and his uncle at a nearby stable the uncle managed. Now the last time I'd been on a horse Trudeau was holding his last term of office. God, did that make me feel old.
Dave was a cute kid, barely fifteen and blessed with more energy than a thousand battery run bunnies. He rode a big black horse that snorted and pawed the ground in a display of temper I found intimidating. In contrast my horse stood with its head hanging down to its knees apparently in a half sleep. That suited me just fine. David's uncle, Ian, was a good looking thirty something man with dark brooding eyes and a slow smile that would have been sexy if I was looking for anything like that.
The first time Ian smiled was when he saw me looking at Dave and his fire-eating horse.
"Trilby ain't as fierce as he makes out. Young Davey's too fine a horseman to put up with bad behavior. Horse's just got spirit, much like Davey hisself."
I was relieved, thinking I might have to explain a mangled son to Judy later in the day. It wouldn't exactly put me on the woman's good side, cousin or no cousin.
The ride turned out to be very low key. They kept to a walk in deference to my arm. Seeing Ireland from horseback though, that's an experience I have to recommend to anyone who can manage it.
Afterward, we dropped Dave off back home then Ian offered to take me for a drink. I accepted, since I'm a big fan of Irish beer.
I didn't even catch the name of the place. It was what I'd come to consider typical pub atmosphere. Good beer, food that wasn't going to win any world culinary prizes but was filling and good in a simple way and lots of people out to have a good time.
It was also decidedly gay.
I stood just inside the doorway and looked at Ian, who was watching me. He offered me a slow lazy smile.
"Thought you might like this place over some of the t'other offerings in town."
"Aye, lad. Me. Though I'm hoping you won't be blabbing it about to everyone. There's some that knows and some that don't, for reasons I don't need to get into."
"Oh trust me, I know all the reasons." I held out my hand to him. "Well, please to meet you, Ian... Sorry, I don't know your last name."
"Dunne. Ian Dunne. And the pleasure's mine, Tyler McKay." He clasped my hand in his.
"Make it Ty."
"Ty it 'tis," Ian said. "What's your poison, Ty?"
I considered a Guinness, but the strong black stout never agreed with my head, so in the end I opted for a light draft ale. Ian was a better man than me and came back gripping a huge tankard of foaming black beer.
"So I was right, then." Ian swept his hand around the pub. A few of the other customers glanced our way. Checking out the stranger in town? "This is no surprise to you."
"You just guessed I was gay? What if you'd been wrong?"
Ian laughed, wiping a moustache of brown foam off his upper lip. "Then I'd be wearing a red face and begging you to forgive my stupidity. But I've been watching you, since yesterday at me brother's. I'm not usually wrong."
"Good gaydar, eh?"
It was a fun night. Ian told me about a couple of times his gaydar had failed him miserably and I told him of a painful mistake I had made once towards the end of high school. The kinds of stories that are hilarious in retrospect, but usually painful as hell when they're happening. Thank God for hindsight.
"You involved with anyone?" I asked after we were well into our second beer. "Or you a dedicated bachelor?"
"Involved. Blacksmith fella, got a place just out of town. Been together three years now. You?"
"No," I said, inevitable thoughts of Charlie surfacing. "I broke up with someone recently. We'd been together two years."
"Pity when that happens. I don't think men are meant to be alone."
"It happens though. You have to live with it."
"As long as you don't settle." Ian waved heartily at the bartender who poured him another Guinness. "You only hurt yourself if you settle."
I nodded sagely, but really didn't want this conversation to go any further. I poured the rest of my beer down my throat. "What's the food like here?"
"Good. You feeling a bit peckish?"
"Feeling major peckish."
"Then let's have us a bite to eat."
The rest of the evening passed in a friendly blur. I got hit on a few times throughout the evening, but nothing I couldn't deflect. After, we walked home and when he dropped me off at my bed and breakfast, Ian promised to have me over to meet his 'blacksmith' before I left. Then he left me and wandered down the street, singing some vaguely Irish ditty that reminded me of a Blackadder episode where Edmund Blackadder and Queen Elizabeth the First sing a ditty about a goblin.
Grinning like the village idiot I let myself into the house and went straight to bed. I woke the next day with a vague headache that faded after the third coffee. I spent the day wandering among the tourist traps and met Ian at four o'clock back at the pub.
After a single pint, we headed over to his place where I met Kelsey, the blacksmith, a big, burley man who embodied the image of the 'black Irish' and who had a rare knack for seeming to be both gentle and tough as nails all at the same time. By the end of the evening I could see why Ian loved the guy. I was half in love with him myself.
"When are you heading back, Tyler," Kelsey roared.
I was finding that he roared everything. He claimed it was working around the forges all day. He had to shout to be heard at all. I think he just liked being loud.
"Unfortunately tomorrow. I have to start thinking about getting back to Canada. I have a business to run."
"Surely you can stay a couple more days," Kelsey said. "Ian and I would love to take you up to Dingle day after tomorrow, so's you can meet some more of our friends. They don't get much chance to meet folks from the colonies."
My flight didn't actually leave for another ten days. Did it make much sense to spend the time in London feeling alone or here, surrounded by new friends and family. It was a no brainer.
"I'd love to."
"It's settled then. Be here day after tomorrow early. Pack a pair of walking shoes. If the weather's fine, we plan some hiking."
"I'll be here."
Dingle was even more beautiful than Killarney. It was a mountainous region, jutting out into the rough storm tossed. Atlantic. A peninsula, rich in history and ancient traditon.
Kelsey was downright garrulous about the place. "There's been tribes and whatnot in the area going back over six thousand years. The area's so remote that over two thousand monuments recording those six thousand years has been preserved.
"Kelsey's a real history buff," Ian said with obvious pride.
"Aye, been studying it all my life. Keeps me out of trouble."
"You mentioned a hike," I said as the Dingle peninsula rolled by the car window. The land looked inviting. A walking tour would be welcomed.
"Aye," Kelsey said. "I'd like to do that up around the Loch a'Duin valley near Cloghane. It's a glacial basin with nearly a hundred stone structures dating back five thousand years. You up to walking around fifteen hundred acres?"
"As long as you don't expect me to cover the whole thing."
Kelsey looked at Ian, they were both grinning. "How 'bout half?"
They burst out laughing at the look on my face.
"And if we get tired there, we can always move on to Riasc, Gallarus, and Kilmalkedar to finish up. You up for it, Canadian boy?"
"Can I reconsider this?"
"Too late," Ian said. He reached over to take Kelsey's hand. "You've past the point of no return."
Kelsey clearly took pity on me. "Don't worry, boyo, I've booked us into a friend's place tonight. He's got a hot tub for spoiled Yankee tourists. I think it'll work on tired Canadian muscles, too."
By the end of the day I remembered his words with wistfulness. At first I thought: I don't want this day to end. It was magical. The Loch a'Duin valley was everything Kelsey had said and more. But later I thought: this day never will end. My feet and legs were one solid ache. Even my arm had taken to hurting again. It was the kind of pain that settled in for a long stay.
I was no longer sure a hot tub would be enough.
When we finally arrived at Kelsey's friends I was on the verge of collapse. Ian took one look at my face and yelled for Kelsey.
"I think we pushed him too hard." Ian peered up into my face anxiously. He led me through the house out to where a large four man hot tub did indeed sit beneath a gazebo style structure.
Kelsey appeared moments later with a third man, a thin, balding gnome who looked like he might have been related to an Irish leprechaun. Kelsey introduced him as Graham, his friend and hotelier. He carried a stack of towels, which he set on a bench inside the gazebo.
He took our drink orders before he left again. With Ian's help I got down to my boxers. Then the three of us slipped into the deliriously hot water. I sank down until only my head was above the water. When Graham returned bearing mugs of beer I reluctantly put my good arm out to hold it. The beer went down smoothly and was gone in maybe four gulps. Then I retreated back under the water and closed my eyes.
The swirling water felt incredible. All my aches whirled away with it and I felt a wonderful lethargy encompass me. I was barely conscious of the other two in the tub with me and paid no attention to what they were doing until I heard Ian groan.
I opened my eyes to find Kelsey between Ian's legs, his mouth on Ian's swollen cock, massaging it into rigid hardness. The sight was enough to get me instantly hard. Kelsey worked Ian's cock and balls with an easy familiarity that was still very arousing. I slipped my good hand down between my legs and began stroking myself. I watched Kelsey hoover Ian's cock and matched his steady pumping action. Ian began to moan and I could tell he was close. So was I. I blew my viscous load into the swirling water at almost the same time Ian shot his into Kelsey's mouth.
I leaned my head back against the hot tub wall, feeling even more enervated than before. I didn't dare fall asleep there and dragged my eyes open to find Kelsey and Ian moving apart.
"Hey, guys," I said softly. "We got a bed here too? Sorry, but I'm about ready to pass out."
"Oh, aye, we got beds."
Arm in arm Ian and Kelsey led me back into the house. Graham reappeared and led us down a long hallway only stopping at the end.
"You two are in the green room," Graham told Kelsey. "I know you like it there. Tyler, you can have the blue room. Bathrooms are just down the hall through that door. There's a mini fridge in your room stocked with drinks. Feel free."
I thanked him and crept into the room. The quilted bed looked so inviting I barely paused to undress and slip between the covers. I was asleep in minutes.
I awoke several hours later and groped around for my watch after it became obviously I wasn't going to go right back to sleep. It was early evening in Toronto. I knew Michael would still be up. Night owl Michael never got to bed before midnight.
He answered on the third ring.
"Ty, good to hear from you," Michael cried. "Glad you called. I mean, most friends would send a postcard or something when they went on an extended trip like that, but --"
"Okay, Michael, I got the message." I suppressed my laughter. Glad I'd called. "It's good to hear your voice too. I'm sorry I haven't been in touch earlier."
"Don't tell me, you've been so busy you just can't tear yourself away to let old friends in on the fun."
"Something like that. It has been a bit hectic. So how are things in the new world?"
"Good, good," Michael began to sound enthusiastic. "I've been put on a new show with Rick Mercer. The man's a genius. I just hope the thing gets picked up. Donny sends his love. Wonders when you're gonna be home. Says he's tired of feeding your fish. He's going to have a massive stir fry some day and get rid of all of them."
"Right. Tell him I love him too."
"Will do," Michael said cheerfully. "Where are you right now? Still in London?"
"Nah, I'm up in Ireland." I told him the whole story about cousin Judy and her brother-in-law Ian and Kelsey, the blacksmith.
"Ohhh, blacksmith, you know what they say blacksmiths, don't you?"
"No, what do they say about them?"
"Damned if I know. Sounds like you've met some new friends. Any action along with it? Is my baby getting any?"
I thought briefly of Randy. "Not really. Right now we're up in Cloghane at a bee n' bee that belongs to a friend of Kelsey's. It's probably a little too rustic for you, not a designer fashion outlet for miles."
"Trés boring. Well as long as you're having fun. Coming home soon? I miss you."
"Miss you too. Soon probably."
"Well let me know. We'll have dinner and you can give us all the scoop in detail. Love you, Ty."
"Same to you, Michael. Give Donny a kiss for me."
I hung up and was finally able to get back to sleep.
We spent the next day doing more walking. Then back in the hot tub. This time I managed to recover enough from the hike to eat supper with Graham and his family. I was feeling lively enough after supper to sit up at the mention of a pub visit by Ian and Kelsey.
We walked to it too. It wasn't a gay bar, but we had a good time and after a convivial evening I slid back into my bed and slept straight through until morning.
I didn't really want to leave, but I knew Kelsey had a smithy to get back to and, while Ian had a few more days off from his job as stable manager, he didn't want to stay without Kelsey. We decided to have one more short hike through a section we hadn't hit yet, follow it up with lunc, then return to Killarney before full dark.
This time the short walk barely tired me out. I was sitting down to a substantial meal with lots of cheese, fresh baked breads and a beautifully cooked lamb when Graham was called away from the table. He came back moments later with a massive package in his hands and a puzzled look on his pixie-like face.
He met my inquisitive gaze. "It's for you, Tyler."
My first thought was Michael had sent me something. Who else knew where I was? But as he handed it over Graham added,
"It's from the United States. It came overnight by private courier. Whoever sent it wanted to make sure it got here fast - that's gotta be expensive."
My hands were shaking when I took the plainly wrapped package. It was rectangular, and had to be over a meter on each side and less than thickness of a big Stephen King novel. I worried the stiff paper and was grateful when Graham handed me a pair of scissors. When I unwrapped the outer layer I found it was further encased in tissue paper which crinkled under my scrabbling fingers.
Finally it lay exposed. I held my breath while I studied the object in my hands. It was a painting; a Charlie Reid painting, but not one I'd ever seen before.
Two male lynxes squared off under our willow tree. The picture was riddled with tension. The animals seemed beyond alive, they projected a vitality that was mesmerizing, I could almost hear the soft sound of their breathing, their savage growls as they faced each other for dominance under the twisted boughs of Lynx Wood's oldest and most prominent tree.
"My God, it's beautiful. And who might this be from?" Ian stood by my shoulder, his voice hushed as he studied the painting.
"A friend," I managed in a strangled voice. Then I spotted the folded paper taped to the bottom right hand corner of the glass encased painting.
"Your friend has talent to spare," Ian said. "I've naught seen anything so powerful before."
I propped the painting up against the back of a cushioned sofa and lifted the paper up and unfolded it with fingers that wouldn't stop shaking. I recognized Charlie's bold writing, the same one he used to sign his masterpieces.
|Tyler, please come home. I need you. Charlie, Gatlinburg, TN.|
Ian must have read the contents of the note. He lay his warm hand on my shoulder and murmured directly into my ear. "More than just a friend, I wager."
"I used to think so."
"Perhaps he wants to be again."
Could it be true? Had my dreams come true and Charlie decided he couldn't live without me? I stood there and stared down at the painting where it lay against the sofa. Everyone was crowded around it now, admiring it openly. Only I studied the two animals with a different eye.
Two very dominant, alpha animals vying for control. Their masculinity was unquestionable. Their strength and their haughtiness was unassailable. Who would come out on top?
"Charlie," I murmured so softly I doubt even Ian heard me.
Suddenly I glanced at my watch. "I have to get back to Killarney. I need to call the airline and find out if they can move my flight up. I --"
A massive hand closed over my shoulder. I looked up to find Kelsey grinning at me.
"Don't worry laddie, we'll get you there. We'll get you to Heathrow too, if that's really your wish. Truth be told, ye'd make better time out of Shannon. Come on, let's get this lovely thing wrapped up again. I wouldn't want any harm to come to it in it's long journey back."
We were on the road in less than thirty minutes. I was on a train back to Shannon early the next morning.
I would be in Tennessee by midnight the next day.
None of it was happening fast enough. I didn't know time could move so slowly.
[More to come]
If you like this story so far, let me know at Patrick I'm always happy to hear comments, suggestions, anything. You can also read all my stories at Archerland