Closing Time

I was nearly blind with despair and exhaustion, but I pushed at the rubber handles again and again. Beside me the weights rose and fell, rose and fell. The sweat on my face made it impossible to tell if I had been crying again. Again. Up. Hold. Down. Up. Hold. Down. And. . .

But cool hands closed over mine, and stopped me pushing. I gasped and opened my eyes.

“Are you trying to kill yourself?” he enquired calmly. “And if you are, would you mind not doing it on my shift?”

I couldn’t speak. I knew him. He had carried out my induction at the gym.

He let go of my hands, and I fell forwards, resting my head on my knees. There was nobody left but him and me. All sensible people had long since gone home.

“You’ve been here nearly three hours, and I’m sorry, but I need to lock up. It’s closing time.”

I nodded, still not looking at him.

“But before that, it might be a good idea if you were to tell me what’s going on. I’ve seen you here at this time every night this week, just going round and round from seven o’clock until ten. I checked your card in case you were on some special programme, and I gather you were here four mornings this week from six to eight. What are you in training for?”

“Nothing,” I whispered.

“Then this is too much. I know gym staff aren’t supposed to discourage members from coming in, but five hours a day for nothing is too much. What’s this about?”

“Nothing,” I whispered again, and stood up, stiffly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realise it was so late. I’ll go.”

“Do your stretches first. Come on, I’ll do them with you. You’ll feel like death tomorrow otherwise.”

I would, I thought bitterly, feel like death anyway, but I was too tired to argue. He led me gently through a stretching routine that he could plainly do without engaging his brain. At the end, though, when I stood up to go to the changing room, he put his hand on my arm.

“Tell me what’s wrong. I’ve never seen anybody work so hard with such an air of desperation.”

“It’s nothing. It’s just I’m not sleeping, and I thought if I could exhaust myself. . . I don’t like taking pills or anything, and if I don’t sleep soon. . .” To my horror, my voice cracked, and the easy tears rose again.

“Well, you won’t do it like that. Quite the wrong way to go about it. What’s stopping you sleeping? Worry?”

I still don’t know why I didn’t tell him to mind his own business, except perhaps that he was so patently honest, and genuinely concerned.

“No. My partner has. . . we’ve split up. I’m finding it. . . I can’t. . . I’m not handling it very well. I’m not accustomed to this sort of exercise. My partner brought me here. I joined. . .” I could suddenly see where this was going. There was no possible explanation that didn’t revolve around the fact that my partner was another man.

“You used to come in at about six with a big blond man. Was that your partner?”

No judgment. “Yes. He probably still comes in with his new partner. He persuaded me to join so that we could come together. It was something new for me. He said I was putting on weight; well, I suppose I was. I didn’t like it much but I came to please him. And then he met somebody else, and just left. He said one Friday night that he was going, and he was gone by Saturday lunchtime. I hadn’t seen it coming. And I don’t sleep. I thought if I could get really tired. . .”

“How long has he been gone?”

“Two months. I’m so tired.” And again I fought the tears.

“Come on. Come and change. Let me lock up, and then I’ll make you sleep. I know how.”

I reared back. That sounded. . . He laughed.

“Sorry. That sounded either like unconscionable arrogance, or like a rather cheap pick-up. It wasn’t either. But I think I do know how to get you to sleep. Trust me. You know who I am and where I work, and I promise I’m quite respectable.”

“I don’t remember your name. Sorry.”

“Ross. And you’re Jeremy. I looked it up.”

“Jerry. Are you Australian?”

“Not bloody likely! New Zealand, mate, that’s where I come from. You need to get that right.”

“Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m not very good with accents.”

“Jerry, I’m teasing you. Relax. Come on. Pick up your stuff. Where do you live?”

“Martindale Road. It isn’t far.”

“I know it. I live in Cherbourg Close. Well, I’ve got a room. It’s fairly basic. Have you got everything? Believe me, you don’t want to shower here at this time of night. The water’s cold.”

“I know. I found out. I’ve been going home to shower.”

“Let me get my bag. May I come with you? I’ll put you to sleep. If I can’t do it any other way, I’ll tell you how wonderful New Zealand is, until you sleep out of sheer boredom.”

“I would deal with the devil for a good night’s sleep. How do you think you can do it?”

“Trust me. I can.”

We walked back to my house. Ross did talk about New Zealand. I learned he had a sister who still lived there, as did his parents. It sounded idyllic. I opened the door, and invited him in.

“Would you like coffee?”

“No, and neither would you. Caffeine isn’t going to help you. You need another glass of water; were you drinking as you exercised? Yes? Well, don’t stop. Think that you’re on your way to bed. You’re going to shower, and then go to bed. Think that you are going to sleep tonight. Expect to sleep. Trust me. Where’s your bedroom?”

I led him upstairs. At intervals, my self-preservation instincts screamed that I knew nothing about this man, and that I shouldn’t invite him into my space. I was too tired to care.

“Oh man! What a room! Oh, you are so lucky to have this! Did you do this to the house?”

“No. The previous people converted it. Basically, on this floor, there’s only the bathroom and this room. Then there’s a spare room in what used to be the loft. Downstairs, there’s a sitting room, and a huge kitchen diner. I’ve only lived here four months. I used to live in London, and then Vic was offered a job here. He comes from here originally. I work from home so it doesn’t matter to me where I am. I bought this, and then. . .”

“Then it went pear-shaped.”

“Yes. Sorry. I’m not. . . I’m not coping well.”

“How long had you and he been together?”

“Three years. We had never lived together before.”

“That’s tough. It shakes you up, that sort of thing. Have you no family locally?”

“No. And you see, all our friends were his friends first, from when he lived here before, so I don’t like to look to them for support. I was lazy, really. Because I work from home, I didn’t make my own friends, and I regret it now. But there’s no point in complaining about it. Maybe I should just sell up and go back to London.”

“Would you get a house as good as this in London?”

I laughed. “Dream on! For the money, I might get a broom cupboard!”

“I’d keep the house then, and look for new friends. Anyway, this isn’t getting us on, is it? What I want you to do, is go and have your shower, wrap yourself in a towel, and come back here. Trust me.”

“You say that a lot.”

“Well, you don’t know me, so you haven’t much reason to trust me. But you can.”

Oddly enough, I did. I did as I was told, showered, dried myself, and then tied a dry towel round my waist and went back to the bedroom. He was sitting on the armchair I keep by the window, reading a book of poetry from my bookcase. He had closed the curtains and turned off the main light, so the room was lit only by the bedside lamp. All the pillows were gathered in the middle of the bed, and the duvet was stripped away and left on the floor.

“Lie down on your back.”

From his bag he produced a bottle. “It’s just baby lotion, unscented. I’m a qualified sports physiotherapist, and the bit I do best is massage. Nothing” and he cocked his head at me, “sleazy. Relax.” He sat on the bed beside me, and poured lotion into his cupped hand. “Sorry, this is cold. I’ll put the bottle on the radiator. O.K., ready?”

He stroked my chest and collarbones, up to my throat and down to my waist. Then he touched my face, gentle as silk, round my eye sockets and hairline, across my jaw. I suddenly became aware that I had been grinding my teeth, and let my mouth slacken.

“You’re certainly not overweight now. In fact, you could afford to carry a little more. Shut your eyes. You’re going to sleep, remember? Tell me if anything hurts.”

Only my heart, I thought. But the sensation was pleasurable, not sexy, but comforting. He moved to my legs, and I felt his hands round my ankles, and easing up my shins. I sighed. He smoothed lotion into my thighs, and worked at knotted muscles, never going higher than he could have done in public.

“Turn over.” It was barely whispered.

He started again on the backs of my legs, his fingers hard on my calves, cobweb gentle on my knees, firm on my thighs. This time he went on upward, disentangling me from the towel, touching me strongly across my backside, and then more gently into the small of my back. I felt him renew the lotion several times, with gratitude for the warmth from the radiator. He spent ages on my shoulders and neck, and suddenly I was crying again, I didn’t know why.

“I’m sorry, I just. . . I don’t want to cry any more!” I tried to sit up. He pushed me back down. “Let it go, Jerry. Don’t fight it. Don’t fight me. Let it all go.”

If he had tried to comfort me, I would either have cried myself into hysterics, or hit him, but he just worked at my shoulders and neck, and back down to my waist, and then up again, and presently the tears stopped. It was the first time I had stopped crying without a great effort, and I wondered sleepily what that signified. I was relaxed and warm, and I thought that when he left me, I might indeed sleep. I would stop him in a few minutes, and thank him, and show him out, and go back to bed.

Actually, it was nearly twelve hours later when I woke up, and that was only because my bladder was sending panic messages. I was warmly tucked under my duvet, the lights were all off, and the front door had been double locked and the keys pushed through the letterbox.

I wondered what to do. I owed him something, obviously, so I went back to the gym. He wasn’t there. “He’s on early shifts now. Did you want him particularly, or will somebody else do?”

“Um. . . he did me a favour, and I wanted to thank him, that’s all. Will you tell him?”

“Sure. Do you want to leave a phone number?”

I did. He rang later that day. “Jerry? It’s Ross. Did you sleep?”

“Like I’d been stunned. I can’t tell you how much better I feel.”

“Yeah, well, you’ll probably be O.K. now that you’ve broken the habit, but if you need to do it again, just let me know.”

“I’m really grateful, Ross. I owe you. Can I buy you a drink or something?”

“That would be great. When suits you?”

“Whenever you like. I’m self employed, remember, so I can work round your shifts, and like I said, I haven’t got much to do at the moment.”

I wondered if that sounded self pitying, but if it did, he didn’t rise to it. “Well, I’m off all day Friday this week. What about then?”

“Good. Does lunchtime suit you better than the evening?”

“Actually, this week it does. Where do you normally go?”

“We’ve been. . . I’ve been going to the King’s Head, but I don’t like it much. I don’t know the places round here. Wherever you like. I’ll buy you lunch.”

“You’re on. Tell you what, I’ll come round to yours and pick you up, and we can go to the Four Feathers. The food’s good there and the beer’s less awful than usual. I’ll be there about twelve on Friday. Call me again if you don’t sleep, O.K.?”

“I can’t. You have my number but I don’t have yours.”

He laughed, and gave it to me, and rang off. I was smiling as I went back to work. I had a more productive day than recently, and I slept well again.

On Friday, the doorbell rang on the dot of twelve. Ross was standing there in leathers. “You’ll need a sweater and a jacket, mate, it’s bloody perishing out here today.” I looked past him, at the massive motorbike. “A bike?”

“I’ve brought the spare helmet. Come on, let’s go.”

“Ross, I’ve never been near a bike.”

“Time you did, then. Go on, sweater and coat. I’ve never killed a pillion passenger yet.”

I couldn’t, off hand, think of any reason to argue. I put on a sweater and coat, obediently, and followed him down the path. He fitted me into the helmet, and settled himself on the bike. “Hop on. Now, there’s a grab rail behind you, or you can hang on to me. Whichever you like.”

I gripped the grab rail. I reckoned he was just being polite. He wouldn’t really want a gay man hugging him. We lasted about a mile and a half like that, before he pulled into a lay-by, and turned round. “You really have never been on a bike, have you?”

“I said so,” I pointed out defensively. “Why?”

“Because you’re leaning the wrong way on all the corners. If we’re going to be at the Feathers before closing time, you need to learn. Look, stick your arms round my waist, and lean against my back. Relax, and go the way I do. It’s easy once you get the feel for it.”

Actually it was, but the feeling of being snuggled against a man’s back was disturbing. I was desperately missing the physical aspects of having a lover, not the sex, but the hugs, the cuddles, the warmth of another body. Then the exhilaration of the bike began to get to me, and by the time we pulled into the car-park of the Feathers,  I was grinning. “Why have I never done this before?”

“Another convert! Next thing, you’ll have a licence and a tiny bike, and your mother will be hysterical, and then you get your test and a big bike like this, and all your elderly aunties cut you out of their wills. At least, that’s how it went for me.”

Inside the pub, he ordered fruit juice, saying that he never drank when he had the bike (“short way to a long box, mate”), and I had a pint. “Carl, what’s good today? By the way, this is Jerry. He risked the bike with me, and probably needs a solid meal to settle his nerves.”

Carl the landlord recommended something, I forget what, and we ordered that, and I paid for it. We talked of the gym, and of the national news and of non-controversial things, and Ross made me laugh several times. Presently someone greeted him from the door. “Ross! Day off, or just skiving?”

“Hi, Callum. Day off. This is Jerry. What are you doing here on a weekday?”

“Just passing. I came in to book us a table for next week. Can I get you guys a drink?”

Ross had another fruit juice, and I had a half, and Callum came to sit with us. He was a big brash-looking type with an engaging grin. “Don’t tell me Ross persuaded you onto the bike? Have you no fear?” He was pleasant and chatty, unashamedly inquisitive, and presently, to my surprise, I found myself talking about Vic. I tried hard to keep all the emotion out of my voice, and to speak as if the whole thing were merely unfortunate. Callum was interested in the house. “It’s yours, then? Not yours and Vic’s?”

“No, it’s mine. I don’t really know why we didn’t buy somewhere jointly. I hadn’t thought about it. It was always assumed that I would buy the house and Vic would rent from me.”

“Sounds to me as if he wasn’t serious even then. If he wasn’t talking about committing on the house, he probably wasn’t committed to the relationship.”

“Why ask me to come, then?”

“Safety. A lover in the hand is worth two in the gym, or something. After all, he might not have met anyone he liked better than you. Or anywhere better to live. Look, I’ve got to run. I’ll see you around. Nice to meet you, Jerry.”

I sat in silence for several minutes. Ross watched me over his glass. Presently he said, cautiously, “Callum’s a great guy, good fun and a smashing friend, but he has all the tact and diplomacy of an air raid.”

I looked up. “I wonder if he’s right. I left London making all the noises for ‘with this ring I thee wed’ and happy ever after, and I never even thought that perhaps Vic didn’t. I wonder if I’ve been had for a patsy. A cheap rent option.”

“Not having met Vic, I couldn’t hazard an opinion, but I will say that although Callum looks as if he has absolutely nothing holding his ears apart, he’s the best reader of people I’ve ever met. If Callum doesn’t like someone, it’s worth asking why not.”

We went home in careful style, and I felt I had a great deal to think about. I saw Ross a few days later at the gym, and assured him that I was only coming in every other day, and no, I wasn’t doing too much. He introduced me to a couple of his friends, some of whom I met in the pub, and I began to feel that I wasn’t entirely isolated in the town any more. I saw Callum once, too, and he dragged me off to have coffee with him, and gossiped my ear off. I started to appreciate that there was a network of people who all knew each other, and that I was slowly being absorbed into it. Then Ross invited me to the party.

“Macy and Robin always have a party at this time of year. It’s pretty much open house. Want to go?”

I protested that I couldn’t, I didn’t know them, and he insisted that I could. We went round this for five minutes, until in the end he produced a mobile phone and made a call. “Macy? It’s Ross. Listen, can I bring somebody to your party? All right, grammar freak, may I bring someone to your party? It’s Jerry. I told him you wouldn’t mind, but he’s being shy. Yes, he’s decent and respectable and won’t eat your goldfish or tear up Spike’s plants. Sure you can.” He held out the phone to me. “She wants to speak to you.”

“Hello, Jerry? I’m Macy. Do come. Another guest who doesn’t eat goldfish is always welcome. We don’t bite. There’s nobody more terrifying than Ross invited, and the more we have to water him down the better. Get him to bring you. Saturday, eight o’clock. Ross knows where. See you then.”

I intended to go, honestly. Ross said that James was offering to drive, and that he would take us and Callum. I really meant to go. But Vic turned up. He just arrived on the doorstep on Friday night, smiling at me and asking to come in. I let him.

“Jerry, can I come home? I’m really sorry about messing you about. The thing with the other guy didn’t work out, and you know I love you, I just went a bit mad. I think it was all the upset of the move. I found it stressful, you know? I made a mistake in leaving you. I know that now.”

Oddly enough, I could feel Callum like a ghostly presence in the corner of the room. “Where have you been living, Vic?”

“In his flat. But I can’t stay there any longer, and I want to come home. Please, Jerry. I love you. Say you’ll have me back.”

“I don’t know. I, well, I don’t think I can. I’ve moved on, Vic. Closure, they call it.”

He tried to persuade me, but I had seen the ugly flash in his eyes. Callum was right. I was an easy landlord. I sent him away, and managed to be pleased with myself for an hour. Then I was overcome by panic, and misery again, and spent twenty-four hours in a state of nauseous despair.

James, and Callum, and Ross all appeared on my doorstep at five past eight. James was slight, elegant and cultured looking; Callum looked more like a puppy than ever; Ross looked like Ross.

“Come on, mate, you’re not half ready. Get a shift on.”

“Ross, I’m sorry. I can’t. I’m not fit.”

“Why not?”

“Vic came. I sent him away, but I can’t face a party. I’m sorry. Apologise to Macy for me.”

“Strikes me that a party is exactly what you need. Come on, Jerry, it’ll do you good.”

“I can’t. I just can’t. Another time.”

The three of them turned away, and I shut the door, but I watched them through the glass. At the bottom of the path, they stopped, and there was an animated conversation. James mostly, with occasional input from Callum, seemed to be talking with great conviction. Presently, he and Callum sat down on my garden wall, and Ross marched back up the path and put his finger on the doorbell. When it was obvious that he intended to stay there until the battery was flat, I opened the door. Ross pushed in, slammed the door, and caught my arm. Without speaking, he dragged me up the hall and into the kitchen.

“Now, are you going to get ready for this party, or do I have to make you?”

“Ross, I told you, I just can’t face. . .”

Somehow, I was off balance. He had tripped me, twisted my arm behind my back and was pushing it up between my shoulderblades. I leaned forward automatically, and before I could quite tell how it was done, he was sitting on the kitchen stool, and I was face down over his lap. It’s a peculiarly helpless position; although I am at least as tall as he is, my feet were off the ground, and I could gain no leverage to get up. “What are you doing? What the hell are you OW!”

Well, it was fairly obvious what he was doing. The trouble with elastic waisted sweatpants is the ease with which someone can peel them off, and the trouble with tight briefs is that they provide absolutely no protection when a strong and irritated sports physio decides to hand out a spanking. If I had felt any doubt about Ross’s strength and fitness, I couldn’t maintain that position. The hand coming down on my backside was hard, and was powered by solid muscle. I fought and twisted, and, to my shame, tried to bite. He paid no attention, and peppered my behind with resounding and stinging spanks, until I was wriggling and squealing shamelessly. He slowed eventually, and settled into a steady rhythm of slaps, while he addressed me.

“You are” (WHACK) “going to the party” (WHACK) “and you are not” (WHACK) “going to be a wuss.” (WHACK.) “I’m glad” (WHACK) “that you’ve seen off Vic,”  (WHACK) “and I think” (WHACK) “that you were right” (WHACK) “but you aren’t” (WHACK) “going to let him” (WHACK) “spoil any more” (WHACK) “of your life.” (WHACK.) “You’ve coped” (WHACK) “perfectly well” (WHACK) “without him recently” (WHACK) “and you aren’t” (WHACK) “going to fall” (WHACK) “into a self-pitying decline.” (WHACK.)  “Is that clear?”

It was admirably clear, and I hastened, in a rather high-pitched voice, to tell him so. “Right. Upstairs. Shave. Shower. Clean clothes. Go. You’ve got twenty minutes before I come to fetch you. And if I have to do that, we’ll repeat this little scene, and you won’t be able to sit down afterwards. Got it?”

I had got it. I stood not upon the order of my going, but legged it for the stairs. As I shot into the bathroom, I heard him open the door, and by the time I came out of the bathroom to dress, I could hear three voices in the kitchen. Obviously James and Callum had been allowed off the wall.

“JERRY! YOU’VE GOT TWO MINUTES BEFORE oh, there you are. Good. Come on. We’ve waited long enough. Jacket on. Where are your keys? Out through that door. Get in the car. You and Callum can go in the back.”

In the car, Callum grinned companionably at me. “Don’t worry, the sting wears off soon enough. Unless he used something? Hairbrush or slipper? No? Try to avoid the hairbrush. Hurts like hell, and smarts for hours.”

I was inclined to be offended, but Callum was so innocently friendly that I couldn’t manage it. I fidgeted a bit. The sting was still quite enough to go on with, despite having rested my bum against the cool glass of the shower screen, and turned the water to cold. My backside had been bright red when I undressed, with several obvious handprints. I was still in shock. Nobody had ever done that to me before: nobody had ever even spoken to me like that before. Why on earth had I given in? (Answer: because I believed as an absolute article of faith that Ross had been serious when he said he would do it again, and that I would regret it.)

I was introduced to so many people at the party that my head swam. I got Macy, and Robin, who seemed to be her partner, but what was the relationship between them and Spike? Callum introduced me to a man called George, who produced a pleasant woman called Alex as his wife, who in turn introduced me to no end of other people. Rather to my surprise, and despite the steady throb in my behind, I was enjoying myself.

Naturally, I ended up in the kitchen. The best bit of a party is always in the kitchen. Macy was there, and Spike, and Callum and James and Ross. Ross was telling Spike about my house, which Spike seemed to know. “It’s that one with the big magnolia tree, isn’t it? You’ll need to do something about that next year. Are you a gardener?” I admitted that I was not, and suspected that I had fallen in Spike’s estimation. “So have you known Callum and James long?”

Callum butted in here. “Come on, Spike, keep up. You know who he is. Ross has been rambling about him for a month. He’s Ross’s new squeeze, the one he’s been so besotted with.”

There was a horrible silence, and Callum turned a deep crimson. James said calmly, “Some day, Callum, I’ll manage to teach you to engage your brain before opening your mouth.” I looked round and saw Ross, who was a ghastly white, to Callum’s red.

“I’m sorry, Jerry,” he said, quietly. “I know it’s too soon for you. You haven’t achieved closure with Vic. And even when you do, it may not be me. But I hoped. . . I wanted. . .” He wound down.

I must have looked utterly shocked. Callum came over to me. “Jerry, I’m sorry. I didn’t think. I didn’t realise you didn’t know. Everybody will tell you, I’m always doing this. I’m always in disgrace for running off at the mouth. I really didn’t mean. . .”

“No, but you did,” said James, coolly. “I don’t think this can wait until we go home. Excuse us, please, everybody. Upstairs, Callum.”

Callum went to the door, without argument, and James followed him, rolling up his sleeves. They were half way up the stairs, before I could make my voice work. I had one of those moments in which a whole zoo of thoughts and emotions pass through the head all at once. I was suddenly filled with affection for all these people, for Ross, who had been courting me so gently, and who was waiting so patiently; for Macy and Spike, willing to absorb me into their network of friends, for James, who was prepared to punish his lover for hurting my feelings when he had only met me that evening, and for Callum, who obviously accepted that a punishment was due.


He stopped on the stairs, and looked down at me. Callum was already on the landing.

“I don’t think. . .” My voice was too high, and not quite steady. I tried again. “I don’t think you should punish Callum for telling the truth.” They all looked at me. I held out my hand, without looking in Ross’s direction, and felt his fingers curl round mine.

“Callum’s been warned before about letting his tongue run away with him.”

“But there’s no harm done. There’s no blood. I’m not offended. Let him off. Please?”

James came slowly down again. “Callum? Jerry’s begged you off. What have you to say?”

Callum, obviously recovered, bounced down the stairs, threw his arms round me and lifted me off my feet. “Thanks, Jerry, and I’m really sorry, right?”

James swatted him sharply. “Graceless pup. Go on. Out. Yes, I’m coming too.” Macy muttered something about opening another bottle, and pushed Spike out ahead of her. I was left with Ross. A second later, I was in his arms and his mouth was on mine.

He kissed me in the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later, he kissed me in the conservatory. I went upstairs to the bathroom, and he passed me on the stairs and kissed me there. When I came out, he was hovering on the landing, with the express intention of kissing me. And every time he did, he slid his hands down my back and cupped my bum. And every time, I jumped. Eventually, I accused him. “You’re getting a buzz from this, aren’t you? That hurts!”


“Well, it stings. Smarts.”

He pulled me close again. “Yes,” he murmured into my neck. “I am getting a buzz from it. Feel me.” He ground his hips against me. “I was so hard when I had you over my knee that it hurt. You wriggled so delightfully. And I’m hard now. I want to go home.”

“Tough,” I said with some satisfaction, sliding my hand up the front of his jeans and making him twitch. “We can’t go until James and Callum do.”

It was nearly one o’clock when James managed to tear Callum away. We piled into the car, but this time Ross came in the back with me. “Well?” asked James. “Where to? Two houses or one?”

“One.” I said firmly. “Mine.”

“Do you want to stop at the all night supermarket?” asked Callum innocently.

James looked suspicious. “What for?”

“Condoms. Lube. Spare toothbrush.”

“Callum!” James howled. “Jerry begged you off last time, but I swear I’m going to tan your hide before you go to bed! A little tact, please!”

Ross had his head in his hands, laughing. “Thank you, Callum, but I have everything Ross might need. My last toothbrush was buy one, get one free. I can even lend him a clean shirt in the morning.”

“You might have to,” said Ross, sniffing his sleeve distastefully. “I’ve been talking to Elaine, and she was smoking.”

Eventually we drew up at my house, and Ross and I climbed out, trying to be quiet for the neighbours. James leaned across Callum, and called to me. “Listen, that event tonight. . . it wasn’t Ross’s idea. It was mine. I just said that I wouldn’t let Callum get away with behaving like that, and that I thought you needed a shock. So if you’re going to resent somebody, make it me, not Ross. Ross was horrified when I suggested spanking you. He said he’d never done it before.”

Ross came back to look into the car. “No, but I’m going to do it again. Good try, James, but I’ll carry my own responsibilities, thanks. If Jerry messes me about, I’ll have him over my knee again. Look, he’s blushing.”

I broke and ran for the house, with Ross in pursuit. I could hear James and Callum laughing as James started the engine again. Ross caught me as I fitted my key in the lock, and wrapped his arms round me. “Do you resent me?”

I thought about it. “No, I don’t think so. I’m too happy to resent anybody. But you needn’t think you’re going to do it again.”

“Oh, I am, I am. But only when you deserve it. Can I have a shower? I reek of cigarettes. Actually, so do you. Is there any hot water at this time of night?”

We didn’t turn on any lights, just stood in the hall and kissed, until I began to ease Ross towards the stairs. Then we kissed on the stairs, and on the landing, while we unfastened such items of clothing as we could reach. There was hot water, so we shared it. Ross seemed to have an excessive number of hands, one of which was permanently on my backside, which was still flushed pink. “Have you really got lube and condoms, or was that just for Callum’s benefit?”

“I really have. Come to bed. No, you don’t smell of cigarettes now, you smell of soap. Clean and sweet. Good enough to eat. Now there’s an idea! Go on, lie down.” I eased down beside him, and nestled my head on his thigh, presenting my own hips suggestively. He ran a hand over my bottom and I jumped again. “Will you stop doing that!”

“No. I like doing it. Does it still sting?”

“Not much. But it really did hurt earlier. You could kiss it better.”

He did that. I had the sudden thought that he kissed better than Vic, but I had enough sense to keep it to myself. We rolled together, kissing, stroking, investigating. I hauled up onto one elbow, and scrabbled for the condoms and lube. “Turn over. Who’s going to. . .?”

Actually we both did. It was nearly dawn when we fell asleep. I sleep perfectly well now. Ross has bought a half share in the house, and I work my educational textbooks (sorry, that’s what I do, didn’t I say? Technical assessment and peer review) during his shifts at the gym. I don’t need to go there to exhaust myself, I can get Ross to do it at home. And like I said, I sleep without any difficulty. Well, except when I have to sleep on my face, but that isn’t more than about once a week. Callum’s right about the hairbrush, though.

Idris the Dragon

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© , 2005