The Tree


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The contents of this story are fictional. Any resemblance of characters to living or lived persons is strictly coincidental. Certain characters engage in sexual acts which may or may not be legal in the state or country in which a reader may reside. Any reader with objections to graphic descriptions of sexual encounters between males who may not have reached the legal age of consent, or whose local, regional, state or national jurisprudence prohibits such descriptions, should not read further.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1999 were to be the first I would spend completely on my own, alone in the townhome Thomas and I bought together in 1975, for the ridiculously dear price of £35,000- plus solicitors' fees of nearly nine hundred pounds.

Given that between us, we only made £9,500- a year, we were tempted sorely to let the offer pass, but David Coster, a dear friend, badgered us for weeks, telling us that we'd be fools to turn down the offer, as there would be no agents commission. He insisted that the place was worth at least £42,000-, given the garden we'd planted, the kitchen we'd had fitted, and the carpet we'd had laid throughout the bedrooms and halls, the tile in the kitchen and baths (we had two, plus two WC's), the hardwood floors in the dining and lounge, and the marble in the entry. Given its proximity to Battersea Bridge and Cheyne Walk, it was the best investment we could have made. David says I could easily exchange in a week for £750,000-, but then, where would I go? How would Thomas find me if I moved? Of course, we had no idea, then.

Those were the days when unfurnished lets were incredibly hard to come by, and we figured we could always sell the fixtures and fittings for a few hundred more than we'd paid for them. There was no pressure to purchase . . . until the agency offered to sell us the freehold, and David went apoplectic. Freeholds are not common in Chelsea.

Moreover, we'd been living under one roof for but three quarter-days, and had dated only two or three months before he moved in. It was a major commitment, and although I knew I was in love with Thomas with all my heart, I feared the usual end to such relationships. Foolish of me.

Thomas was, quite simply, beautiful. In a very masculine sense, I must add. His eyes sparkled with humour and intelligence, and a wee bit of evil, and his body was slim and elegant, long fingers and hands, generous helpings of muscle and sinew, the softest hair I ever held between my fingers, babies included. His lips on mine exuded a magnetism that was impossible to break, and when we merged together in our love-making, we often fell asleep still joined, afraid to break the connection.

I never understood why he loved me so. I'm tall and gangly, only average in the looks department, hopelessly skinny. I still haven't lost my American accent, even after all these years, am seven years his senior, and eternally randy. For him, I mean. Thomas is the person who I shall love for all . . .

I mean, Thomas was. I . . .

Sorry. Where was I? Oh, yes.

So we committed ourselves to a life of penury, the Halifax having first claim on our souls as well as everything we possessed. Believe it or not, we were
able even then to get a joint mortgage. My employer, a City Brokerage, paid no heed whatever to the fact that I was taking out a loan with a man (is there any more proof positive that one is a poofter?).

Thomas even got invited to the office Christmas "Do" at the Savoy every year, and my boss, Simon, had us to tea at his house in Hampstead several times. His wife, Christen, fawned over us.

We never danced together, though -- at least not at the Savoy. We did at Claridges one New Years Eve. It was Thomas' partners who threw the bash, and invited me as Thomas' Partner. Nobody gave a whit when Thomas tapped my dance partner, Melinda Corry (her husband was Managing Partner) and took her place. We both led, which was hilarious until we agreed to switch roles each dance.

Thomas was Scot, from a little hamlet (a "wee village" as his family called it, right near Kirchentilloch, twenty mile from Glasgow. He knew the value of a ha'penny, believe me. Until I got promoted to Floor Trader, and Thomas made Junior Partner in his law firm, we ate lots of cottage pie, beef mince and I even grew fond of haggis. For three years, we had nothing that wasn't absolutely necessary.

But Christmas, Thomas let me off the hook. I was "allowed" to spend up to £250- on presents for everyone, as was he. I never knew how far one could make £250- stretch, until our first Christmas after exchange of contracts, but before close on Boxing Day, the fourth Quarter Day, when the last rental payment was due.

We got our tree from Leicester, a live one that friends wanted to move from their rear garden. We drove up in November (I at least had use of a Company pool Cortina one weekend a month.) and I laboriously hacked it out of the hard ground, then we planted it in an old wine barrel half that Terry Sinders got from his wine merchant employer.

Thomas made ornaments from balls of styrofoam he carved from discarded telly packaging he sponged from the local Dixon's, on which he'd stretched fine morsels of fabric gleaned from his Brother's employer, a weaver in Flanders (I think near Brugge) that he represented. Then he stitched tiny pearl strands purchased in July at one of the street markets, rope of gold that came from extra brocade he got with the big "George Washington" chair he bought for my birthday our first year together.

He'd recovered my chair in a fine . . . jacquard, I think it's called. I don't sit in it anymore, of course, as it is too precious to me.

Thomas never discarded anything that might conceivably have value. It was the Scot in him - his mother, wee Bea, was the same way. She could make a feast of carrots and leeks, with only a cube of Oxo and a little flour, some Worcestershire sauce and other magic things she had in her spice and herb pantry.

I spent twenty quid on my parents in California, They live in the Monterey area, and were thrilled to get hampers from Harrods, flown in by Riley, who had a trip to SFO as First Officer on the Saturday before -- Riley's with Virgin Atlantic.

Twenty went for my office gifts, all little baskets I made up from paté dishes I got from the local butcher, fabric from Thomas' stores, Belgian cheeses and chocolates, and my homemade chutney. Twenty went for Bea. The rest went for Thomas. And a little more, truth be told. What's a skipped lunch or two a week?

The tree was piled with things for Thomas. A burgundy cashmere Burberry's scarf from an estate sale, never worn, a beautiful camel coat from the July clearance sale at Selfridges, kid gloves, and a dozen pair of very sexy black knit knickers from Marks and Sparks. And on, and on.

Naturally, he outdid me, finding the perfect presents, things he'd seen me admire over the year just gone. He swore he never went over his limit, but I'll wager he saved every copper all year long, just to have a little more to spend on me.

I loved Thomas as I loved every person near and dear to me, but a thousand times more. I slept well only when he was in my arms, his chin pressed into the hollow under my shoulder. He was worse - if he had to go to Manchester or York, or Swindon -- where his firm had a number of clients -- he would often have to stay overnight, and would come home haggard, begging me to sleep with him from teatime until breakfast.

Our sex life was as perfect as I could ever have wished. I'm not going to go into details -- that's too personal. You can always insert a few paragraphs from another story that meets your individual fantasy, I won't mind.

Then, for whatever reason God needed him, Thomas died in that awful smashup at Paddington, on his way back from Swindon, where he'd had to overnight to hold a client's hand. He wanted to get to the tube to the City right away, so he'd taken a seat in the first car. When the local train pulled across the track where Thomas' express was hurtling towards the station, everyone in the front car died instantly. We cremated his remains in Glasgow, and his ashes are buried on the hill overlooking the glens around Kirchentilloch.

I was a wreck for months. David was a rock, and so were Riley and Jonathan. I never wanted for invitations to dinner, and they often came to the house for Sunday lunch - which generally turned into an all-day affair. My associates on the trading floor were very kind, as well, but I don't think they really understood how deeply I loved Thomas.

Now, David and his love, Martha, had gone off to Martha's parents in Perth, Australia, and David and Riley were in America, in New Orleans. They'd invited me along, of course, but it didn't feel right.

I sat alone in the lounge, looking at the tree, now fully fourteen feet tall, in the conservatory we'd built as an extension of the lounge two years ago. Thomas had made hundreds of ornaments over the years, and it had taken me an entire Saturday to dress it, after hauling it in from the garden. Thomas would have loved it this year -- the spare side of the tree had grown in nicely, after we started turning it a quarter turn every time we watered it.

The breakfast things were on the tray, the Kings College Boy's Choir on the wireless. Strange how that word has replaced "radio" in my lexicon. I closed my eyes and remembered the Christmas Eves past, how Thomas and I would make slow, but passionate love after breakfast. On the great carpet before the fire, or in The Chair, or on the Kitchen floor (heated from below, thank God, but still very hard on elbows and knees, tailbone and shoulder blades -- but then, who cares?) My mind raced through every single one of those Christmas Eve mornings, and I remembered every detail, I swear. Had only I known we were creating the memories that would need to do me for the rest of my life down here, perhaps another forty years. My Dad died at eighty-five, and my Mom at ninety, so who could tell? I was the last of their kids, born after Mom thought she had gone through "the Change," and they stopped using "the Rhythm Method."

Mom and Dad were devout Roman Catholics all their lives until Thomas and I became a couple. Our priest was from the old school, and spoke of fire and brimstone, and they resigned from the Parish the day after the little tirade Father Colby unleashed on me. In absentia, of course.

Here I am, fifty-one years old, and perhaps another forty to go before Thomas and I shall be together again. How frustrating -- especially when my religious convictions justify suicide only in the case of terminal Illness accompanied by unmanageable pain.

I started as the news reader came on at eight, something about the Jews and the Syrians. Yet again. How tiresome it all is!

I had to go to the butcher to pick up the little goose I was going to have the morrow, and would pop into the greengrocer for some really nice veg. I hate the supermarket stuff in cello packs. Besides, Tony has known us for near twenty years, and he's like an old friend. Why ever would I go to a supermarket?

Naturally, none of the old shops are left in the Kings Road, sky-high rents and chain stores having driven them all out of business, so we had to go up to Harrods Food Halls from about 1980 on. At least there, they knew me, talked to me, all that.

I used the shaving mirror briefly, took a quick bath, and threw on some clothes, deciding to walk to Battersea Road and take the bus. Far more practical than taking the motor. For one thing, parking is impossible this time of year (and any other, for that matter), for another, I am tired of having the sides of my car "keyed" in public parkings. I told Thomas when he gave it me that I thought a Boxster was a little ostentatious, but he countered that it was "only a thing," not all that important in the scheme of things, and it was my 25th anniversary present, like it or not. I liked it a lot!

The air was nipped with a feeling of frost, crisp and slightly moist. My breath hung in sheets as I walked down past Christchurch, then over to Battersea. It was still early, so the traffic was light, and a bus bound for Victoria came almost at once. I got on, with the intent of changing to an 11 at Sloan Square.

He was on the top deck, the last seat. He could have been Thomas' younger brother. The same little moustache, grey and blonde, the same stature and fine features, the same creases around the eyes that came from laughter and smiles. The same honey-blonde hair, lightly curled, worn without part, uncombed but not unkempt.

He looked up at me as I went to take the seat across the aisle, and his eyes were the same chestnut and green, surrounded by whites so clear they were almost blinding. My knees damn near gave way, but I managed to sit, and pulled out my bus pass for the conductor, as this route still had the old Roadmasters.

Alan comes from Northern Ireland, north of Belfast. His Partner, Ruben,  had the misfortune to be broadsided in his little Mini by a lorry whose driver had just downed five pints of Brown and Bitter at the pub up the road. Only a few months before. He was on his way to Harrods to pick up a last-minute housegift for his hosts in London.

We chatted non-stop until we got to Victoria, and both laughed self-consciously as we advanced three buses in the queue to go back to Sloan Square, only to realize we could take the (28?) directly to Harrods, just the next queue over.

We quickly made our purchases, first mine at the Food Halls. Tony was all smiles and nods; he looked at Alan, then winked at me. I blushed -- I could feel it light up my face like a damned jack o'lantern. We then descended into the pits of the Egyptian horror, and a very practical but tasteful desk set found its way into a gift box, in exchange for Alan's signature.

We fled the growing crowd, and had coffee across Cromwell road, where we shared the stories of our departed loves. Not maudlin at all, just straightforward reporting on the person we had cherished. Ruben sounded like a prince of a guy, a couple of years older than Thomas, mature, organized. They had almost twenty years together before the "accident."

Alan came back to the house with me for tea, and to see our tree. He was duly impressed, and spent not a little time examining the ornaments, most of them with the year of their fabrication in tiny thread of gold. When I brought the tea from the kitchen, he turned into my arms just as I stood from setting the tray on the low table, and our lips brushed, circled, then homed in.

Hours later, we made love for the first time under the tree, before he took leave of me to go back to his hosts' home. None of the ornaments fell off, despite some vigorous shaking at one point.

I think Thomas understands. Alan may be just a passing schooner, but I can not live yet two score years without human affection, without sex. I shan't pay for it, or cottage, or any of that. When Alan comes over on Christmas Day, I shall take him to the bed I once shared with my Thomas. It won't be the same, but it will be special nonetheless.

I squinted at the tree, the lights turning to gauzy spheres, the reflections from the ornaments' brightwork making little pinpoints of lesser light. Thomas would so have enjoyed the tree this year . . .

I wondered if the little bugger had just given me his Christmas present, and tears came from nowhere. I had nothing to give him in return, my beloved Thomas, just the packages of things I had accumulated over the first part of the year, wrapped and ready in my "private cupboard."

The tree stood in silent beauty, warming me with his love.