By John Yager
This on-going series has now continued for almost two years, far longer than I ever imagined when it began. I've appreciated the incredible loyalty of readers who've stayed with me from the beginning and those new readers who contact me from time to time saying that they've discovered the series and ventured through the collected chapters. I am always glad to receive comments, questions, criticism and encouragement and hope to continue hearing from you. I try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it is only because of the pressures of work.
Andrew continues to give much needed proofing and editorial help, for which I am sincerely grateful. I could not post chapters as
quickly as I've been doing without his invaluable assistance.
This work is copyrighted © by the author and may not be
reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.
All the stories I've posted on NIFTY can be found by looking under my name in the NIFTY Prolific Authors lists. If you'd like to receive e-mail notification of subsequent postings, previews of upcoming stories, and other bits and pieces, please let me know by sending your request to the e-mail address below.
The evening was interesting and a bit odd. Peter had clearly tired to plan a sort of 'California Cook-out,' I suppose in honor of Roger and me, although neither of us was really from California.
When we came back to the house Simon was just finishing preparations for the evening meal and sat up a huge grill on the terrace.
William and I had returned from punting an hour before and, as if by some sort of unspoken mutual consent, had gone off to our own rooms, I to mine, he to his. I think we both knew that if we ventured together behind closed doors there was a very good chance that we'd not make it down in time for the party. We also knew that if we failed to put in an appearance Peter would be very miffed.
I'd showered and changed and was making a final adjustment of my tie when there was a soft knock on my bedroom door.
It was William, coming to see if I was ready. He was beaming, and so handsome he took my breath away. Dressed in impeccable pale gray slacks and a dark blue blazer, he wore a college tie and had a little red carnation in his lapel. His skin glowed in the soft light from the hall and his golden hair fell in a casual arch over his high forehead. He looked for all the world like a male model, the absolute Apollo of male models.
Standing there, smiling at me, he held out a second carnation, identical to his own.
"Good evening, Robert," he said softly. "I wondered if I might have the honor of escorting you this evening?"
"Gladly," I said. "I was dreading going down alone."
I put on my gray herring bone tweed jacket and William insisted in putting the buttoner in my lapel. Once in place, he stood back to judge the effect, and then leaned forward and kissed me softly on my willing lips. Then, side by side, we walked down to the huge entry hall and out onto the terrace at the back of the house.
I noticed as we went through the
conservatory that four tables, each with four places, were arranged around
a larger round table, which was already covered with a variety of hors
d'oeuvres. At one side a drinks table had been set up and two men who appeared
to be in their early thirties were chatting as they mixing gin and tonic.
I made a quick count and determined that most of the guests had already arrived and were having drinks. There seemed to be a total of eight there at that point and the last two arrived soon after. Along with Peter, Roger, William and myself, the entire party came to sixteen, all of whom were men.
But somehow it all looked a little
alien, even a little pretentious. You really can't pull off an authentic
California cook out on the terrace of a Tudor mansion in the middle of
Sussex, even if it is largely a pseudo-Tudor mansion.
In addition to the odd sense of place, everyone there was dressed in twill or flannel slacks and tweed jackets, most of which, I was sure, had come from exclusive little shops on Savile Row.
William and I made our way on out to the terrace and found Peter and Roger, who were standing with two other men, one of whom was Allen Beaker, the chairman of the British Film Institute, whom I'd already met at our earlier meeting.
When William introduced me as Robert Ballinger, I saw Roger give me a quick glance and silently mouth the name, Robert.
Simon was going back and forth. He'd put out a variety of dishes on the round table in the conservatory and then turned his attention were he began to grill an assortment of meats.
As the conversation continued, I looked around at the other guests and determined that Beaker was probably the oldest man there. Peter was probably just a little younger and most of the others were younger still. Most of the men seemed to range from their late twenties about forty. I was pretty sure that William and I were the youngest men there and he, as I'd already determined, was about a year younger than me.
It was a smaller party than the one I'd attended with Roger at Dex Cohen's mansion, but apart from the setting and the dress, the men looked very much the same. All seemed to be film executives or younger aspiring members of the film community, in this case, however, the British film community.
After a short while, William excused himself and me, saying that he wanted to introduce me to the other guests. We strolled around the terrace, were a couple of little groups had formed. William knew everyone and it was clear that they were all fond if him. It was also obvious that they were curious about me and my connection with William.
"Robert is one of the new Nathan Fellows at NSB," he said, which seemed to gain me immediate credibility.
"Aren't you interested in that program, William?" a man named Colin Riggs asked.
"I'd certainly like to study film at the University of Southern California, but I don't know if I'd be in the running for a Nathan Fellowship."
As the conversation went on I began to suspect that Riggs and another man named Tommy Longstead were probably a couple. When the others drifted away to refresh their drinks Colin asked if William and I were "spoken for."
"How do you mean?" William said.
"The seating arrangements," Colin said."
"Oh, I don't think dad has anyone assigned to set any particular place. Would you two like to join us?"
"Love to, William," Tommy said, smiling broadly.
It wasn't long before Peter got everyone's attention and said that dinner was served. It had been a lovely day but I was glad the tables had been placed in the conservatory. As the evening had come on it had gotten cooler, in typical English fashion, and a dark bank of clouds was moving in from the west.
The mean was served buffet style and once we'd made the required trip to the grill and then made our way around the central serving table, we went on to join our table mates with our plates laden with wonderful food.
Colin and Tommy had taken chairs on adjacent sides of the square table leaving the other two for William and me. Over dinner I learned that Colin Riggs was a writer with Peter's company. Longstead was an aspiring actor who'd been well received in a film and one small part in the West End.
"Tommy's family have scads of money,"
Colin said, "so if it takes him years to make a go of it, he'll not starve.
I, on the other hand, have to slog along on my own."
"You're not alone, Colley," Tommy teased. "Not as long as you have me."
"Are you two a couple?" I ventured to ask.
"Oh, lord, yes," Tommy laughed. "My family hasn't figured it out yet but we've been sleeping in one bed for about four years now."
"As a matter of fact, William," Colin said, "any chance of accommodations here tonight?"
"Certainly," William immediately said. "I'm certain there's a spare bedroom."
"Oh, good," Colin responded enthusiastically. "We tossed a bag in the boot and I really don't fancy driving back into London tonight."
"Besides," Tommy teased, "if you can bed us down here we can enjoy a bit more of the wine."
"And the brandy later," Colin scolded, then added, "I suppose I really should ask your father, though. With this bunch he may have already promised all the beds."
"Oh, don't bother asking dad," William said. "Robert has a room and chances are he'll end up with me anyway." As he said this he gave my leg a little squeeze under the cover of the table cloth.
"Absolutely," I quickly agreed. "I'll just move my stuff to William's room."
At that point Simon made a fortuitous pass and William got his attention. "When you have a minute, Simon," he said.
"So are you two a couple, as you put it, Robert?"
Before I could respond William answered for both of us. "We are on the way to becoming a pair."
"Wonderful," Tommy sighed. "Young love, how endearing."
"Yes," Colin agreed. "There's nothing like wedded bliss."
At that moment Simon arrived. "Did you need something, sir?" he said to William.
"Yes, Simon," William said. "When things settle down a bit, would you move all of Robert's things to my room and remake the bed. Mr. Riggs and Mr. Longstead will be staying over."
"Certainly, sir," he responded. "I'll
see to it as soon as the sweets and coffee are served."
I don't know how long the party went on. At ten-thirty William took Colin aside and explained which room he and Tommy would be using.
"Now, if you'll excuse us, Robert and I have had a long day. We'll see you at breakfast."
We quickly made the rounds of the other guests, said our good nights to Peter and Roger, letting them know that Colin and Tommy were staying over and that they'd be using the room I'd been in the night before. With our excuses made, Robert and I went up to bed.
It had been a long day and it would
be an even longer night.
To be continued.