After dinner Terry sat down with his wife and two daughters to watch television. Only part of his mind was occupied with what he saw on screen. Foremost in his thoughts was that, when he left the house in the morning, he would be away on a work trip for several days. Half a dozen or more times a year, trips away for work provided a welcome breaks from his life at home.

The hour or so of TV after dinner was a family routine, enabling Terry, his wife and two daughters to spend some undemanding time together. Unfortunately he had, over the years, increasingly found himself in a minority of one in choosing what to watch, and had slowly reconciled himself to being satisfied with whatever his wife and the girls decided to put on.

This was easier with some TV shows than others. On this particular evening he had to endure a quiz show that, were he to set aside his fatherly instincts, he would have called loathsome. A compère introduced several pairs of newly weds who competed for the prize of a beach holiday in the sun. With their spouses out of earshot, one of each duo was required to answer questions such as: 'What would you say is the thing that your partner most likes about you?' or 'Now obviously you must know each other really well, so tell me and all the viewers at home, does your partner like tulips?' -- or antiques, or going to the shops, or some other personal trivia. To Terry these details about the lives of complete strangers were of no interest. His wife and daughters, however, clearly found them engrossing.

He sat patiently as the next couple was introduced. 'And how,' the compère Yvette asked, 'Did you two first meet?'

'We met at a night club,' came the response from a terrified contestant, probably alarmed by the enormous smile that that flashed across Yvette's face, the gleaming rows of big bright teeth seeming to crack out beyond the boundaries of her cheeks.

Terry thought about work, where his interests and opinions were not, as at home, judged to be irrelevant. At work one of his colleagues was also the father of daughters, and during beaks they would sometimes share grumbles about the price of girls' shoes, school uniforms and the like.

His firm supplied fire safety equipment, alarm systems, fire extinguishers and, best of all, training sessions for customers' staff who were appointed as fire wardens. He enjoyed meeting customers and discussing their needs for equipment, and most of all he enjoyed giving fire warden training. The trips away, when he taught groups of up to twenty to put out small fires, were his favourite activity. The firm paid the cost of his hotel room and meals in restaurants, as well as a generous allowance for other unspecified expenses, the latter really an incentive to compensate trainers for being away from home. An incentive was hardly needed in Terry's case, but the firm paid it anyway.

The next morning he set off for work in a jaunty mood, knowing it would be three days before he would have to sit down again with his family to watch TV. Calling at the firm's offices, he collected the course materials: the fire extinguishers he would use for demonstrations; the canisters of inflammable liquid; and the paperwork he would hand out to trainees. The mix of age and sex in every group was different, and the trainee fire wardens were always happy to have a change from their routine work, even those who found the practical side of the course frightening. Unless someone was very scared, fort instance visibly shaking with fear, he would get every one of them to put out a controlled fire of some kind that he had carefully set and ignited.

Experience helped him select those who were likely to prove most capable. He would start with paper smouldering in waste bins, progress to a fire in a pan of cooking oil, go on to a larger blaze of inflammable liquid in a shallow tank, and then finish with the most serious fire it was safe for a non- professional fire fighter to tackle, that of a sheet of flame from spilt petrol spreading over tarmac. In setting these fires he had to ensure they could easily be tackled by one person using the right type of extinguisher, and that, should a student panic, he could intervene and extinguish the fire himself.

His first group on this three day trip included three young guys. He guessed they were not much more than twenty, or even younger. They sat together at the back looking at their mobile phones and exchanging whispers and sideways glances. He called one of them to the front and showed him the best way to hold a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher. 'Now read the instructions, and see if you can direct a short burst from it over towards that far corner, no more than a couple of seconds worth.'

The trainee found that when he tried to pull the lever to release the jet of liquid carbon dioxide, a plastic tag prevented it being pulled back. 'You should find all extinguishers have those, it's the way we make sure that they have not already been used and you won't be trying to save lives using an empty extinguisher. If you're strong enough you might be able to break the tag with your fingers, but the best thing is to cut it with a knife or scissors.' After snipping through the tag he directed, 'Now try again.'

This time the jet of carbon dioxide gas shot towards the corner. 'Okay, okay,' Terry said quickly. 'Now lightly touch the body of the extinguisher with your hand. Cold, Isn't it? What you have to remember with carbon dioxide is that, as the contents are released, the extinguisher cools rapidly. If you're touching the cylinder with your bare skin, you'll find yourself firmly stuck to it because, condensation and moisture in your skin freezes, bonding you to the cylinder. That's why I showed you how to hold it firmly by the handle without touching the container.' He took the extinguisher from his assistant. 'Thanks for your help with that little demonstration.'

The young guy returned to his seat. His friends had been watching closely while he was up at the front with Terry, and they all paid attention for the rest of the course. Later, when the time came to spill fuel over the tarmac in a disused car park and set light to it, he chose the same you guy as the one to quell the blazing curtain of orange-red petrol flames by steadily sweeping the hissing jet from the extinguisher from side to side, whilst slowly walking forwards as the flames retreated. When the fire was out his young man relaxed, and as he handed back the cylinder he smiled and nodded respectfully. With a calm serious face he returned to the group of trainees. Terry, pleased with the way he had helped in the demonstrations, felt proud of him.

Happy though he was with that training session, it was not the high point of his trip. He had arranged for a caller to visit him at his hotel that evening. For a long time sex with his wife had been very tame, and was becoming increasingly rare. Their love-making had not really recovered after her second pregnancy, which had been a difficult one. Growing sexual hunger had led him to explore erotic sites on the internet. Almost by accident, one day he happened upon a video clip of two men kissing passionately. Not only was he sexually stimulated, but they filled his mind with wonder, even longing. He easily found many similar images of men kissing, and others too that showed men making love together. He became fascinated to know what it feel like if he held a man in his arms. Looking at sites where 'male masseurs' or 'male escorts' advertised, someone seemed to be offering a sexual massage in every town he visited .

The very first time he 'rented' a guy for sex he had been worried and nervous. There were risks. The photograph might be misleading, or to look at pictures on a screen might stimulate him, but physical contact with a man in the flesh might be a let down. What if his visitor stole his credit cards and scarpered? If he call the police, word might get out to his family or his colleagues. What if he caught a sexually transmitted disease? Even if the sex was fine, his perception of himself as a good husband and father would surely not be the same afterwards.

In fact that he did not suffered any of the imagined potential disasters. Rather, the relief his sexual encounters brought had made them the high spot of his few days away. They eased the burden of family life. In himself he became generally happier than before, and hence surely a better husband and father. The firmness of a male breast pressed against his, the act of exploring male shoulders and hips with his hands, of closely experiencing the strength and straightness of a fit young man's body, brought him an overwhelming sense of release. He felt as he imagined someone would feel who stepped out into fresh air and sunlight after years of being hemmed in by the walls of an institution - a prison or closed mental asylum. After vigorously embracing and caressing his hired visitor for half an hour, Terry was so sexually aroused that no huge effort was needed for him reach orgasm. He had not felt the need to press on to penetrative sex, though he was curious about it.

Once or twice out of his twenty or more encounters, his visitor had wanted to be brought to orgasm too. This latest occasion was one more of those. Terry happily put his right hand to work, and enjoyed the reward of seeing the contented expression on the face of this latest hired lover as he climaxed. That done they dressed, and on impulse Terry asked if the escort would like to join him for dinner. 'If you're hungry, the hotel restaurant has a reasonable choice, and the food's good.'

'Well, I haven't eaten yet. I can't stay with you for more than an hour and a half though. If you're sure you'll be okay with that...'

This was a first for Terry. Since he would be paying for the meal, he was in a sense still buying the escort's time, but he had enjoyed their session in his hotel room so much he loved the idea of the guy's company over a meal. As they ate their conversation was guarded but friendly, their faces full of smiles.

The next day Terry had another class of students to train, and another night in the hotel. This time, though, he would eat and spend his evening alone. The glow from the previous night's encounter would take days to fade, and part of the thrill of his secret encounters was, he knew, that they were infrequent. Had he chosen his second night away for his visitor, he might have appeared so elated when he returned home that his wife would have been suspicious.

As usual, before leaving the hotel, he pocketed a small unused tablet of soap, one of several left by the chambermaid for his use. He drove back home, arriving just in time for dinner. His wife was cooking in the kitchen. She looked up briefly and asked if the trip had gone all right. The girls were at home, but barely acknowledged his presence. After dinner they put on a nature program, and at first he was relieved, thinking they had settled down to watch something he would like. Unfortunately the programme was about a pack of Hyenas, which he learned were a matriarchal society. He became more and more uncomfortable as it progressed. The dominant females made sure that the males behaviour demonstrated their subservient role. A young hyena was shown approaching another in what looked like a friendly way, but the commentary explained that he was not showing the deference due towards his sister from the same litter. The female bared her teeth, snarled, and snapped at her brother. Cowering and whining he retreated. Terry glanced occasionally at his wife and daughters to see they were absorbed. He was thankful when it was over.

When the girls rose to go up to bed, his wife said, 'Remember we've got something to ask daddy before we go up.'

They wanted new costumes for the ballet classes they were starting next month. He was puzzled that his wife made a point of getting them to ask him themselves. The cost was no greater than other outfits they had needed in the past. Guessing wrongly that his wife did not want the girls automatically to expect to be given everything they wanted, he put on a show of reluctance and asked: 'Won't the modern dance costumes they have do?'

He was nonplussed when she said sharply, 'Don't be silly dear, ballet costumes are completely different. Unless you don't want them to go to ballet classes, they have to have new costumes.'

His elder daughter picked up the dismissive tone and said 'Silly daddy.'

'Silly daddy,' echoed his younger daughter.

He forced a smile: 'Well then, of course you must have new costumes. I'm sure you'll look lovely in them.'

He suspected they had deliberately tripped him up by the way the question had been put, but his sense of well-being was not to be so easily challenged. With his fingers hidden in his left hand pocket he felt the wrapper of the small tablet of soap he had brought with him from the hotel. One of the desk draws in his office was cluttered with similar souvenirs from his business trips, little reminders that he would not have so long to wait before the next one.

Copyright Alan Keslian 2010