Chapter VI - The Scythe

The answering machine light was blinking as we plowed through the door with our bags. Noel put the kettle on for a pot of tea while I threw the dirty clothes into the basket and put stuff away for both of us. It was a good thing we found the second armoire, our first piece of furniture we could call our own. It had enough space for Noel's clothes and his skateboard, when it wasn't already on the porch, as well as our in-line skates. Mrs. Byrne had it up in her mansard, all taken apart, and gave it to us for only ten pounds. I had to go to a D.I.Y. to get a few bits of hardware (six brass hinges and a drawer track) for it, but other than a few minor scratches, it was just about perfect.(We later found out it was a genuine antique, from the early 1800's, but Mrs. Byrne wouldn't take it back.)

When the kettle whistled and he'd warmed the pot, then made the tea, Noel flipped on the message tape.

"Hi, Kurt. Julie here. We're having a retirement lunch for Barbara on Tuesday. Bring £5 for lunch and £3 for her gift. Say hi to Noel! Bye!"

"Old biddy," I said. "Should have retired five years ago. Deaf as a post." Barbara Baker was one of those women who stayed bitter about everything forever after her husband got his ticket punched in Viet Nam. She says she was at an anti-war protest at an Ohio University when Soldiers shot and killed some students. I found that hard to believe. I mean if your husband is fighting in a war he volunteered for, it seems strange -- even disloyal -- to be protesting, and of course I couldn't believe that any American soldiers would gun down college students in Ohio. It's completely against the constitution for the President to call out the Army (or any other military service) to take action against unarmed civilians.

"Dorothy Tuttle here. Noel, call me as soon as you can, home or office. It's important." Her voice was grave, not at all the light tone we usually heard.

There were no other messages.

Noel looked at me with a trace of apprehension on his face.

"You think I should call her now?" he said softly.

"Let's have a cuppa first," I said. "It's just gone five, so she's likely to be betwixt and between."

"Not really. She had the day off too, you know." Noel went back to the sink and poured two mugs of tea for us. For some reason, I like milk and a touch of sugar in my tea, even though I hate it in coffee. "Shall we do laundry tonight?" he asked, as if to push aside the call he had to make.

"You out of anything?"

"No, but I will be by Thursday."

"Let's eat, then decide."

"What's on the menu?"

"I thought I'd make some penne with pesto," I said. There's still a half jar of pesto, and there's plenty of salad fixings."

Noel perched on the back of the chair, his favorite spot for drinking tea, just talking, watching me fix supper, whatever -- other than watching the telly or reading. Or making love, of course. He was looking at the telephone every few seconds.

"Okay," he said, looking at the handset as if it were a stick of dynamite, then picking it up and punching in Mrs. Tuttle's number. I didn't know whether that was approval of dinner or a resigned decision to make the call. I started to rip up lettuce for salad.

"Hello, Mrs. Tuttle . . . Yes, we just got back from The Lake District . . . took a long weekend . . . yes, marvelous, thanks . . . No, Kurt's here . . . Oh . . . No . . . How bad? . . . Where is he? . . . Where is that? . . . When can I see him? . . . tomorrow morning . . . no, I can do it on my own . . . yes . . . yes, thank you . . . all right, Mrs. Tuttle. Goodnight." He put the receiver down slowly, looking at it as if it were still a stick of dynamite.

"Okay, Champ?" I said softly.

"Frankie's in hospital," said Noel, so quiet I could barely hear him. "He's got Aids."

"Oh, shit!" I said, and walked towards Noel, just as he hopped off the chair and moved into my arms.

"Yeah," he said. "He's been in the hospice for three weeks. Mrs. Tuttle only found out by accident, 'cause one of her "boys" told her a young chap named Allen had come into the Aids hospice, and he was trying to get him to talk, but he slipped into a coma or something. She says he's got pneumonia something cystis, as well as some kind of cancer, and won't . . . won't let the doctors treat him, just give him morphine."

"Let's go," I said. "Now."


"Always," I said, hugging him, kissing the top of his golden curls.

"You won't . . . I mean, he can't . . . take me away," Noel said, disjointedly. "He's in a coma."

"Where is he?" I said, grabbing my keys out of my pants.

"Guy's, in the City." He pulled away from me and looked up into my eyes. His lapis eyes were limpid, but his lip was firm. "We've gotta hurry, Kurt. I feel . . . "

We drove into the City on the M4, making record time. There was no traffic, of course, save a little coming out of town. We went straight through, Cromwell to Hyde Park Corner, down to Buckingham Palace, cross and around Trafalgar Square, straight past St. Pauls, faster than if we'd taken the Embankment route.

"He was all right when . . . when you saw him," Noel said. "It was only a few months ago. How could he . . . get so sick, so quick?"

"I don't know, Champ. I guess a lot can happen in four months if you aren't taking care of yourself."

"He went on the Game when he was my age," Noel said softlly as we passed to the left of the Palace. "It was the only way to keep us together. Why do they make it so hard?"

"I don't know, Champ. I don't know."

"He did it without comdoms if the punter paid extra. Somebody had Aids and paid him extra to kill him." His voice wasn't angry, just resigned. "How can somebody do that? Even a . . . a guy on the Game deserves better than that."

"There are a lot of sick people, Champ. In the head, I mean."

"Yeah. We're the lucky ones, I guess." He lapsed into a brooding silence the rest of the way.

There wasn't much in the way of parking, but we found a spot only a block down, and walked back up to Guy's, into this reception area out of an old movie. It felt . . . black and white, but mostly greys, echoes from everywhere and nowhere, faint and mysterious, whispering of sickness and sufferring, life and death. I was surprised to see by the old eight-day clock over the reception desk that it was not yet six. When when we asked after Frank Allen, the sister looked up the name on a screen, then directed us to the hospice section, where another sister gave us the ward number and the name of the floor nurse.

We found the nurse at her station, and McCall, or whatever her name was -- I didn't pay all that much attention to her badge at first, but she looked like a McCall -- took us into the room. I'd expected a big room with dozens of beds, but it was small, cheery, quiet.

There were only two beds, one empty, the other with a much older version of Noel, looking forty or fifty, hair so thin you could see the scalp clearly, skin so thin the outlines of the teeth were visible through the cheeks. I had this awful, hurtful impression of a baby monkey, the hands and arms so thin, the eyes sunken and blackened, the lips a mere line. He had been an attractive man, once upon a time, you could still tell. I'm ashamed to admit that I can not to this day recall what his face looked like in the Cottage, on Saturday, April 13th. I remember only Noel, the smell of the loo, the warmth of his mouth, his offer to do me again . . . .

Noel stood and looked, his face and eyes registering nothing at all. He walked woodenly over to the side of the bed and took his brother's hand in both of his, and looked at the sunken face, then sat on the edge of a chair that McCall found somewhere just when he needed it.

"He's much better looking than this," Noel said. "He's lost too much weight. Someone gave him a really bad haircut"

"He's still a nice-looking man," I lied helplessly. I wanted to hold Noel, help him, so I went to the chair and put my hands on his shoulders. He kissed my right hand, and Nurse McCall said nothing, didn't even flinch. Another angel in white.

Nurse McCormick, as I finally read from her badge, told us that Frank was in a deep coma, under very heavy sedation to keep the pain away. She said it was unlikely he would waken again, as the pain would be too intense. He had signed a "pain-alleviation-only" form when he was admitted with double bronchial pneumonia and Thrush, Kaposi's Sarcomas on his legs and in his gut, and some kind of cancer in his lower intesine. It was the inoperable cancer that was killing him, and which caused the greatest pain. His breathing was shallow, almost not there. There was a faint hiss from the tube that brought oxygen to his nose.

When I asked how long Frank was expected to live, she looked first at Noel, confirming that he was all right, then back at me.

"He's a strong will, but his body is very weak," she almost whispered. "It could happen any time."

Noel didn't flinch from the facts. His chin trembled a little, but he wouldn't let the tears flow. We stayed only a half hour, maybe an hour. There was nothing we could say or do. Noel's brother didn't move a muscle all the time we were there. I didn't even see his chest rise and fall from breathing. No eye movements from that REM stuff or whatever it is when you sleep and dream and your eyes move involuntarily. His skin was gray.

As we drove home, Noel was quiet until after we passed Harrods on the Cromwell Road.

"I'm glad we went," he said softly. "I needed to say goodbye, to say thanks, to forgive."

"You all right?"

"Yeah. He only did what he did to protect me all that time," Noel said, looking at his hands. "He sold his body to anybody who'd give him enough to keep us in food and warm, from when he was my age until he was your age. He did love me, in his way. He tried his best."

"You heard what the floor nurse said?" I asked, as gently as I could.

"Yeah," he said. I could barely hear him over the noise of the wind. "He's already gone, really. It's just his body doesn't know yet, does it?"

"I guess," I said, reaching over with my left hand to caress his, quickly moving back when I had to downshift to avoid a big Merc pulling out of side road just before Earl's Court.


"Yeah, Champ?"

"What if I have it?"

"Have what?"


"You don't," I said, a chill running up my back like an evil snake, ready to bite the back of my head off. "You had the test when you went to the DSS."

"It doesn't always show up right away, does it?"

"No. But you didn't have any . . . you didn't exchange body fluids to get it," I said, thanking God my Noel was still a virgin back there.

"I . . . I got some in me mouf," he wailed, and great tears sprung out as he threw his head back. "That frog and the other guy."

"We'll get tested tomorrow," I said. "Both of us. You'll see -- we're both okay. You don't have it. I don't have it. We'll be okay."

My mind said that was true, but my body, or something, was full of cold fear, that Noel might also be sick, that God might want to take him away from me, leave me empty for some purpose I couldn't understand. I cried. I couldn't help it. I pulled the car over in a tiny layby before the Hammersmith flyover, until my eyes cleared enough to drive again. Noel's tears kept flowing, and I undid my seatbelt and leaned over and held him, as he turned into me and bawled his tears of fear and grief, all mixed into a potent soul poison.

We had been so happy that morning, making love face to face, looking deep into our eyes with our cares limited to relatively minor money shortages for the rest of the month, although the need for a tuneup of the car, and for winter clothes pretty soon, loomed as a bigger problem. Suddenly we had sickness and death in our lives, and fear robbed us of the joy of youth, its certainty of immortality. At least for a time.

A few minutes later, the springs ran dry, and we drove home, stopping only to get a pizza from the corner shop to microwave, since it was already gone half nine.

"Where do you go for your test?" asked Noel as we quietly ate the cardboard pizza and drank the last of the milk, watching something or other on the Telly.

"Staff clinic," I said. "I'm probably overdue for a shot of some sort, anyway. I'll say I want to donate blood."

"I'll go back to Guy's in the morning to see Frankie, and I'll get mine done at the clinic there," he said. "I've done my homework, and I can get back in time for work."

"How long does it take to . . . know?" I asked. I never took one before, at least not that I knew. I suppose they test everybody when they join the Corps, just in case, and reject the Positives.

"I guess the same day," Noel said, snuggling into me. "When Mrs. Tuttle got me . . . got my tests run the first day, she got the fax back the same afternoon."

"Champ, it's going to be all right. Don't worry."


We didn't make love that night. It was the first night we went to bed together and didn't "do it" since the one-day moratorium when we first met. Neither one of us was in the mood, I guess. We just held each other and kissed away the phantoms as we fell asleep.

I don't remember much of the next day. When I left, Noel handed me my shirts in the bag. Four of them, since it was already Tuesday. I went to the nurse's station and got blood drawn for tests, I remember. Kate, the duty nurse, took the sample and asked me what I wanted it tested for. I told her everything, from Aids to Zygotes, because I wanted to give whole blood for direct transfusion, and didn't want to take any chances. She asked me if I was "at risk," and I told her that I wasn't as far as I knew, but that I didn't know the name of the girl that I'd "dated" once while I was in Basic, and these days, you could never tell if a girl was what she said she was. She asked me if I was sexually active, and I said I was a normal twenty year old Marine, what did she think? She blushed only a little, and asked if I was having unprotected sex. I told her a gentleman never tells. I got the condom lecture. Small price to pay for reassurance.

While I was making light of it with the Embassy staff nurse, Frankie died. Noel had sat with Frank for an hour or so, but went from there to get his blood drawn at Guy's Special Clinic, the name they give the Clap Clinique or Syph Section. He waited twenty minutes for the sample to be drawn, and took another ten minutes to fill out the forms. When he got back to the room, there was a nurse in front of the door that wouldn't let him in, but a doctor came out just at the same time, and Noel saw Frankie's face covered up with the sheet. At least the doctor was kind, and told him that Frankie had died with no pain, just fell into a deeper and deeper sleep until his heart and lungs went to sleep as well.

Noel called Toni to tell her he wasn't coming to work, then walked home. Twenty miles he walked, he doesn't remember what route. He was sitting in the dark when I got home, curled up on the chair in a little ball. He had no reaction at all to me coming in, didn't seem to hear me as I closed the door and went to his side, kneeing on the floor and leaning on the arm of the chair.

"Hey, Champ," I said as softly as I could, taking him in my arms. I didn't know, not for sure, but I was pretty sure Frankie had passed on. Maybe the Test, but not likely.

He clung to me tightly, his head buried in my neck and shoulder, and shuddered, but didn't cry. I stroked him and crooned a little to him, and we sat like that for what was maybe two hours. I didn't ask what it was. I just worried for Noel's pain, whether it was Frankie, or the Aids test, or both. I didn't know anything else to worry -- and whatever it was, we would get through it.

"He died this morning," he finally whispered in my ear. "Frankie went to sleep while I was getting my blood test, and they wouldn't let me back into the room to see him after."

"You know he had to go," I said. "No one survives, not yet."


"Where will we take him?"

"I dunno, Kurt," he said. "Can I . . . do I have a choice?"

"I think so," I said. "We need to talk to Mrs. Tuttle."

"Yeah," he said looking up at me. His eyes were full, but not red. He hadn't cried yet. He needed to get to it, but I couldn't push, he had to cross there himself.

"I'll call my duty officer and find out if I can get tomorrow off."


"We'll need to make the arrangements for him, make sure he gets a service, the right . . . place." I wondered how much it would cost, whether I should bring money over from my little nest egg. Mr. Albertson's funeral cost more than $10,000- when he died in 1989. I wondered if it cost that much when I stroked his neck and kissed his forehead, and felt him relax just a little. "Shall we call Mrs. Tuttle?"

"Yeah," he said.

I punched the number on the speakerphone, and on the second ring a man picked up and said "4963." I presumed it was Mr. Tuttle.

"Mr. Tuttle, my name is Kurt Carson. One of Mrs. Tuttle's clients, Noel Allen, has just lost his brother and needs her help."

"Put 'er right on," he said gently. "Give me a sec. to track her down." We heard him put the telephone down and walk away, then call out in the distance "Dor? Dor? There's a call you need to take in the study, Luv . . . Right-o." We heard him tromp back to the phone, like he was wearing heavy shoes. "She's going into the house now, should be with you in a minute. I'll hang up as soon as she picks up."

"Thank you, Mr. Tuttle," I said. "Sorry to intrude."

"Not to worry, son. It's why she's 'ere."

Just then, Mrs. Tuttle picked up, and the sounds of the garden were shut off with a click. "Noel? That you?"

"Yes'm," Noel said in a soft but strong voice. "Frank died this morning. I don't know what's supposed to be done next."

"How do you feel, Noel?"

"Numb, I guess. I want it not to be true."

"You'll be all right," she said softly. "It will take time."

"What should I do to make sure he gets . . . taken care of?" Noel went on.

"We'll file a next of kin statement tomorrow morning, and find an undertaker who'll accept a DSS burial or cremation. Do you know which?"

"Cremation," I think," said Noel. "He was always afraid of the dark. But I don't have much money." I looked at Noel and pointed at myself, but he shook his head.

"That's not a problem," she said. "Because you are his only known relative and a minor, and Frank died in poverty, the DSS will take care of reasonable expenses. Is there anyplace special where the ashes are to be spread? Or do you want to keep them in an urn until you decide?"

"Can I spread them anywhere I want?" Noel asked.

"Just about," she replied. "As long as it is on property where the owner -- public or private -- has given written consent. That includes lakes and rivers and the sea. But Government usually says 'no' to public parks and lakes and rivers."

"I'm not sure yet," Noel said. "I need to think."

"No rush, love. The body won't be cremated until Friday or Saturday, and the ashes delivered the day after."

"What time do you want to see me?"

"Well . . . you're working afternoons, aren't you?"

"Yes'm. One to six."

"Let's say nine o'clock, then. Hot chocolate will hit the spot."

"Yes'm. Does Kurt need to be there?"

"I think we can handle the paperwork together," she said. "Why don't you save his energy and support for the service and the scattering?"

"Yes'm. Thank you Mrs. Tuttle."

"Quite welcome. You there too, Kurt?"

"Yes Ma'am."

"Then I'll say goodnight to you both. My prayers are with you."

"Goodnight," we both said, then Noel said for us. "Thank you." We hit the "off" button and just sat and looked at one another for a while.

"Dinner?" I asked finally. I switched on the stereo. Elgar's "Wand of Youth," of all things. Noel likes Elgar sometimes. Saturday afternoons, mostly.

"Starved," he admitted. "I didn't eat since this morning."

"Fairy Pudding and salad sound okay?"

"Yeah, but lots of salad," he said. "And the brown macaroni, not the white. I got the runs." Ever since he read the Nutritionist's Handbook, he knows more about some qualities of food than I do. I had the runs, too, but I figured it was just all the restaurant food. Noel says it's not getting enough fiber. Whatever. Now, of course, I follow his guidance on eating, as well as the clothes I wear and the money part of the farm. He does what I tell him in the music, exercising and gardening areas, as well as the day-to-day stuff on the farm.

"Okay. You do the salad."

While I cooked the noodles and mixed up the condensed soup and a double tin (can) of tuna, and crushed the cornflakes, Noel ripped up a head of frisée and cut up a small onioin and a tomato, a few pickled onions and olives, a pimento and a sweet green potiron. I made a sweet dressing of sour cream, milk, honey and dry mustard to counter the bitterness of the frisée, while Noel held on to me and watched. He needed the touching, and I reminded myself to be extra attentive -- as if I needed an excuse.

We sat to supper just as Haendel's "Water Musik" began. Gardiner, I think, as the sound was crisp and unwavering. Strange how some details stand in the memory while others evaporate -- I can't for the life of me remember what Noel was wearing, what we talked about, what time we went to bed, but I remember the meal, the music and our lovemaking in excruciatingly intricate detail. He fell asleep curled up in my arms only a minute or two after we made tove to each other, with one another, kissing and hugging, caressing and cuddling.

Noel slept until I got back from my run, had my shower, and had breakfast ready. I woke him with a kiss, and we made love again before we ate, almost as if he was recharging his battery for the day. That's not to say I didn't cherish the loving, it's just that his need was far greater than mine, and he took me almost greedily into his throat, as if he would swallow me whole.

"You'll call me if you need me?" I said, stuffing down a piece of toast as I got ready to run out the door to catch the Tube. I had given him my number at work some weeks earlier, in case there was an emergency, but not for casual chat.

"Yeah," he said. "But I think Mrs. Tuttle's right. I'm going to need you more at the . . . service." We kissed tenderly, but a little hurriedly, as I was five minutes late, and would have to hustle to catch my train.

"Bye, Champ," I said. "I love you." I was out the door and gone before he could reply, but his eyes said it. I barely made it on time to the Tube, huffing with the fast walk I took to get there just as the train pulled in; I got to work almotst fifteen minutes ahead of schedule -- there was no delay at Acton or Earl's Court at all, and we got to Hyde Park Corner two minutes ahead of normal, letting me catch the bus before my usual one.

I was distracted all day. At the "luncheon" for Barbara, which was actually pretty well done, considering the budget, I answered Julie's and Tom's and Rod's questions about the weekend a little perfunctorily, I guess, because Julie -- who would be an excellent replacement for Perry Mason -- went right to the core of the matter: "All right, Kurt. Give. You had a fabulous weekend, you tell it like it was a comic strip, and your face is as long as a horse. Troubles at home?"

Rod and Tom looked at me with concern.

"Noel's brother died yesterday morning, " I said.

The usual looks of 'I should be sympathetic here, but I don't know what to say, so I'll wait.'


You could almost see the shrinking at first, then the outpouring of "I want to be supportive here," then The Questions.

"How is Noel taking it?" "Are you all right?" "Is Noel all right?" ('All right,' of course, meaning "clean.")

"He hasn't really accepted it yet, I think. He hasn't cried. We've just taken the tests, won't have the results until tomorrow or Friday"

"Did one of you . . . "

Uh-oh. Incest or infidelity enters into the realms of possiblity they see. Gotta quash that right quick.

"Of course not," I said before the question was fully asked. "But Noel had open cuts occasionally, and they slept in the same bed. You never know, so we're taking every precaution."

The conversation died. Completely. We finished our lunch in silence, listened to Barbara's testimonials from her bosses and friends, then her surprisingly intimate speech. She said she was grateful to us all for helping her fill part of the void left after her husband's death, because she loved him more than she knew until he was dead, and the reason she stayed on long after she would have retired was that she was afraid of being alone again, but now she had a place in a widow's sanctuary in Western Pennsylvania, right near Punxatawny, and we all had standing invitations to tea on Groundhog Day. I got this sad feeling in my chest, because I knew what she meant about loving someone completely, and if I ever lost Noel, I would be a lot more bitter than Barbara.

As soon as I got the chance to wish Barbara well, I made for the Nurse's station to see if my results were in. Kate told me to stop bugging her, the results wouldn't be in until the next morning for some of the tests, but that I was okay on Zygotes, TB, Syphyllis and Gonorrhea.

When I got home, one train early, Noel was at school, of course, so I fixed supper timed for his return, and waited, listening to Hayden's "Seven Last Words" by Harnoncourt. I resolved to buy the CD when I started my collection some day.

Noel got in at about eight, and we ate, but didn't go to the Y. He was a little morose, quiet, withdrawn. I had to pull on him to get me to tell me what had happened during the day.

Mrs Tuttle took him under her wing and got all the forms and things filled out, and made the necessary arrangements for the service. It would be at a crematorium in Sussex, south of the Thames, and just the two of us and Mrs. Tuttle and a pastor, since there were no relatives or friends we knew of. After some discussion, Noel signed a release for Guys to conduct an autopsy on Frank in the Teaching Hospital Surgery, in case anything could be learned, with the conditions that he would learn nothing of the results unless there was evidence of foul play. The hospital agreed to pay for the Urn and provide some flowers. No notice was to be put in the papers, other than obligatory notification, which was seldom published. Cardiff records were already taken care of, and additional flowers weren't needed, as the Crematorium usually was left with heaps of them.

I held him especially closely after we did the washing up, watching some rubbish or other on the box. We made love, but it wasn't as fulfilling -- for either of us, I think. I just kept telling him I loved him, hoping it would act as a salve on his hurt.

The next day I was on pins and needles all morning. We did the usual run and breakfast, but sort of numbly, wanting to know the results but afraid of them at the same time. Noel was going to Guys for his results, sometime after ten, then to work. I made him promise to call me if he needed me at all. I didn't think to tell him to call me no matter what. One telephone call in twelve months wasn't any big deal. If my Sergeant got pissed off at me, tough shit.

We had the usual duty day, just one little man who had a letter opener in his attaché case that we had to hold until he left the building, and a group of sixty or seventy protesters out front, across the street, waving placards protesting the Gulf War. The Bobbies had it all under control. I marvelled at a society where the police could maintain order without firearms. Naturally, we had a platoon of Marines armed to the teeth inside the embassy in case of real trouble. Ridiculous, almost. We could have repulsed an armed attack by a mob of thousands. There's a lot more defensive stuff in the embassy than you'd think, but I can't talk about it. This time, it was like having flamethrowers to fight off an attack by a dozen moths.

I got no call. I prayed it meant everything was okay. I cursed myself for not telling him to call me no matter what. The second hand on the clock moved so slowly! At lunch, we talked of everything except Frank -- who was suddenly no longer "Frankie" in the eyes of Noel, I realized. Julie was a little withdrawn, but Tom and Rod seemed to be back to "normal," wisecracking about the "tatty" look of the protesters across the street, wondering if they went to a special outfitter to get that look just for the TV cameras that inevitably showed up. I made excuses after inhaling a sandwich, and rushed to the Nurse's station again, to be there at exactly one.

Kate said I had a completely clean bill of health, no exposure to Aids or Hepatitis, but that I had high allergen levels, and should probably avoid giving direct transfusions. I felt like a helium balloon, tethered to my leaden soles. I called home in case Noel might come in after work before I got home -- I couldn't remember if he had school that night or not -- then changed my mind about leaving a message that I was "clean." If he was . . . infected, I didn't want to chance that he would take it hard and run from me. The balloon ran out of helium all of a sudden.

"Dear God," I prayed, "Let him be spared. Don't let him hurt any more. Please, God."  I said the Lord's Prayer a hundred times, on duty when there was no one in queue, on the bus, on the Tube on the way home, as I walked to the flat. Silently, of course.

I got home at five thirty, and of course he wasn't home. He didn't get off work until six. I drove to the store, parking illegally on the double yellow line at five fifty-eight, waiting for him to come out.

At six-oh-one, he came out the front, his backpack light, swinging from his hand, his step jaunty, and I knew he was safe, he didn't have it, and I got so damned choked up that I almost forgot to tap the horn to get him to see me.

He ran to the car as soon as I beeped, and crashed into his seat at the same time as he said "Clean! I'm clean!" He leaned over and gave me a kiss on the lips, right on the High Street of Richmond, and I didn't care if the President saw me or not.

As it was, we got a grin from a slim Bobby who walked up to the car, then just motioned with his hand for me to move on.

"I am, too," I said to him as we pulled away.

"Of course you are," he said. "I'm the first bloke you . . . "

"No," I said. "Frank took me that day."

"You can't get it that way," Noel said, playfully hitting me on the thigh.

"Yeah, Champ, you can," I said. "The nurse says that if somebody has bleeding gums, you can get it as easily as in the other end. Either person."


"Yep. Scout's Honor." I said. "Any contact at all with the blood or semen of a person with HIV on an open cut, the eyes, the mucous lining of your butt or willie or nose or mouth -- they're all entry paths for the virus. We're just damned lucky, the both of us."

"Yeah, I guess," Noel said softly. "Frank did us both, didn't he?" It wasn't a question that needed any answer. "Do you think . . . there's really an afterlife? That maybe he can see us, hear us?"

"I believe in Heaven," I said. "It's being with God. I don't know if that means we can look back at what we've left behind. I suspect not. I don't even know if we can be together with each other after we die. I sure as Heaven hope so."

"Will you love me that long, do you think?"

"I'll always love you, Champ. No matter what happens. I know that with all my soul." Why do I always make my most profound statements while driving a car, or climbing a ladder, or something equally demanding of my attention and hands? I turned into our street. An empty space awatied almost in front of the flat. He was really smiling on us.

"Me, too, you know? It's not something you can figure out the why for, only the what and who."

"No school tonight?" I asked with a leer.

"If I did, I'd get me mum to call me in sick." He felt Hank while I backed into the space. "I got a special 'pointment tonight."

"I have a special appointment tonight," I corrected.

"You too?" he said evilly. "Imagine!"

We got into the flat and everything got kind of slow-motion. No pretense of what we were about to do. Noel put on the stereo, very soft, and closed the drapes against the still-bright day, and I opened the sofa as he lit two tapers on either side table. I went to him and held him from behind, slowly unbuttoning his shirt, as he and I both kicked off our shoes. He turned as he came out of his shirt, and opened my shirt while our mouths fused, my hands opened his black work trousers and they fell in a heap at his feet. Mine soon followed, and he lifted my shirt over my shoulders, and our chests caressed one another at last. We stepped out of the heap of trousers at our feet, and lay slowly on the bed, our under shorts slipping off as we sank to the pillows.

His hands were all over me, and mine over him, touching lightly every part of him except his sex, savoring the anticipation of having him in me at last. I reached for the tube of lubricant we kept in the top drawer of the side table, behind him, but he rolled quickly and grabbed it from the drawer.

"Let me," he said. "I've wanted this for so long, so long . . ." He opened the tube, puncturing the top with the cap, as it was another new tube, and spread some of the clear jelly on his fingers. His hand reached for me, and Hank was annointed all over, and I realized he wanted me to come inside him, and waited while he applied lube to his butt, not believing it was going to work, not caring, because I loved him completely no matter how we made love.

I was on my back, and it seemed the best way to begin, to let him control the entire process, so I wouldn't hurt him. I lifted him over me, his legs moving up so his knees were on either side of my waist, and his winkle was in contact with Hank's head. I looked down, and Hank was at maximum hard, impossibly long and wide to get inside my Champ without damage. So was Hal -- at maximum hard, I mean. I lapped a timy bead of clear juice from Hal, then put my head back to watch my beloved's face, staring into my eyes, his mouth lowering quickly to mine.

"Don't try too hard, Champ," I whispered into his mouth. "We have the rest of our lives to get it perfect."

He sealed my mouth with his, and I felt him grasp Hank and hold him steady as he put downward pressure, his hole straining desperately to let me inside. He moaned, and pushed harder, and I felt movement, felt the head of my dick enter a tight ring, felt the blood being pushed down towards the shaft, and a sudden lurch and a deep moan from Noel, and the ring snapped over the head of my dick, trapping it inside my love.

The downward pressure continued, as my hands caressed his back, his bum, his neck, his trembling legs, as he lowered himself ever so slightly onto me. Hank was in a warm, hot embrace, and went deeper and deeper, perhaps half way in . . .

I came. I didn't even know I was going to, and I let out a yell in Noel's mouth as I felt myself rushing into the column of my dick, felt my sperm starting to spasm, then shoot into him with an almost painful pressure, my dick trying to expand his tight ring to let the life-giving liquid through, and feeling his sperm splash into the hollow of my neck as he stroked himself once or twice to catch up with me, and broke his kiss.

"Oh, Kurt! I feel it inside me, I feel you there, putting it into me, oh God, it is so good! I love you, man I love you so much . . . "

I couldn't talk. I was jetting what felt like great masses of my seed into him, the pressure of his ring intense, holding me back, even as his hand was milking more of me into him, more of his sperm onto my chest and belly. I was only a little more than half way into him, and it was the greatest satisfaction I had ever had, just being there, pleasing him. He kept trying to get more of me into him, but the pressure made Hank bend, not go in any farther, and I had to stop him, tell him it hurt when it bent like that.

He collapsed onto my chest, and we cuddled, relaxing, loving.

"Don't take it out," he said. "I want you to stay inside me for a while, let me hold you inside me." We rolled onto our side, his right leg under my waist. He squeezed his legs against the small of my back, keeping me from falling out.

"You'll start to digest me," I said, joking.

"You think?"

"No, Champ. It feels wonderful."

We stayed joined like that for tens of minutes, perhaps an hour, saying nice to each other, how complete it was, how I had never thouight we would be able to accomplish that, how much I wanted him to come inside me the same way. He was so proud to have more than half of me inside him, on the very first try, and it had been only a little pain at first, then so good when I hit his prostate.

"You haven't gone soft," he whispered into my neck, just below my ear. He moved a little, and I realized I was still hard. Maybe even a little farther inside him than before.

"How can I go soft when I have the sexiest guy on earth in my arms?"

"Sexy enough to make you come inside me again?"

"Every day for the rest of my life," I said

"How about now?"

"I don't want to hurt you, Babe."

"Then love me again Kurt. Get deeper inside me and let me feel you come like that again. That's the best feeling on earth, feeling you come inside me."

"I get too deep, you're gonna tell me, yes?"

"Sure," he said dreamily, his hands on either side of my head, massaging, drawing my mouth to his.

When we started kissing again, I mean heavy stuff kissing, breathing the same air twice, Hank got all stony again, and Noel's warmth didn't help any. I got so's my heart was beatin' hard, and my breathing got heavy, and I moved a little, and I was inside him more. Somehow, we rolled farther so's he was on his back, and I was on top of him, Hank plugged more'n halfway in, and he wiggled or something, and I felt myself slip further inside. I pulled back a little, so's not to hurt him, but he pulled me back with his legs, and damned if I wasn't a little further than before. I started a slow and gentle fuck against his prostate, which I felt like a sott knuckle along the top side of my dick as I moved in and out. He found my balls with his right hand, and rolled them, pulled them, urged them towards him, and I felt myself slipping further into him still. My right hand slipped under his gorgeous butt, and lifted him a little to me, making the entry smoother.

He pulled away from my mouth for a second and looked into my eyes with those hypnotic lapis eyes, and said "I love you Kurt. All my heart, all my body. Go!" His mouth went back to mine, stifling any objection, and he hunched his butt up towards me, hard, and I felt his bottom inside give way somehow, and I was almost all the way in, only a tiny bit to go, and I lost it. I just lost control, plunged into him, back out, into him all the way, back out half way, into him to the bottom, back out almost all the way, plunging into the man I loved more than life, as much as my God almost, the only person I would ever want in my bed for the rest of my life, and we became almost as one, our shouts of joy ringing through our little flat, his heels on the small of my back pulling me into him, his butt lifting up to slap against my pelvis as we danced the most ancient of New Wave dances . . . and he started to come. I felt his muscles tensing inside, the grip on my penis increasing, as if a glove was inflating around it, his keening getting louder as mine became deafening, then the sudden giant squeeze on my dick as he roared his climax into the room, his dick sending a great glob of his seed onto his chest, and I pulsed, expanded, pulsed again, drew back and fired a first salvo into his depths that should have reached his Adam's apple, making me dizzy from the overload of my nervous system.

"Kurt . . . Kurt . . .it's all the way in me . . . you're in me all the way . . . it's in me . . . I can feel it . . . Oh, God, I love you so much! Oh, God, love me!"

Once again, I have no recollection of what I said. I felt everything, his arms, the pale hairs under his lip, the spasms of his orgasm all the way at the tip of my dick, the steel ring of his anal muscles as they contracted each time he jetted his sperm between us. I saw his eyes widen, the irises contract the pupils to points, then dilate them to cover half the irises, contract them again. I smelled his sperm, sweet and pungent, his body odour, musk and incense and cinnamon and cloves, lemon and milk and salt all combined, and most of all I knew his love for me, pure and strong, and I almost cried, it was so good.

By the time we came down from the emotional peaks we'd reached, we were exhausted. Physically as well as emotionally. It takes a lot to admit to yourself that the person you're fucking is more important to you than your own life, and maybe even more important than your religious convictions. We took a long time to catch our breath, especially since we couldn't keep our mouths apart for more than a couple of seconds at a time. I couldn't stop marvelling at how much I loved him, how much God had smiled on me that day at the Cottage.

I reached over the side of the bed and pulled up the duvet to cover us, as the heat of our passions waned and we shivered a little from the cool of the room. We did a flip, so that he was in the nest, but with Hank still deeply imbedded. It was dark outside, and the tapers more than  halfway gone, the flickering light reminding me of the campfires we'd had as a kid, huddling round them as the Scoutmaster told tales of when wolves roamed Kansas, and Indians built their fires to keep them at bay, and I fantasized that Noel and I were Indian warriors next to our fire in the wilderness, the two of us deeply in love . . .

I woke at half past eleven, my stomach churning with hunger and thirst. I was still inside Noel, although twisted around so that I was sort of beside and under him. My penis felt a little swollen, pretty tender.

"Hungry?" Noel whispered.

"A little," I admitted.

"We could eat the leftover salad and the pesto we couldn't eat the other night, with some wheat macaroni," he said.

Which is exactly what we did. I pulled out of him -- slowly at first, then more quickly as I started to get hard. We ate quickly, did the washing up, and were back in bed, drowsing off, by half midnight. Noel was back in The Nest, and held my arms to his chest firmly, his butt against my pubic patch.

"I love you," we said in stereo, and promptly went into Dreamland.