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CHAPTER 22: Facing The Enemy
"So how's John?"
"Okay," Patrick replies, putting down the phone, a puzzled frown creasing his brow. They're in the kitchen at Patrick's house. Paul's been getting a drink of water while Patrick finally got around to returning John's morning phone call.
"He rang your place and your grandmother gave him a message for me."
"If my mum asks me to go somewhere with her later this week I should go."
"John said she'd explain later."
"We'll just have to wait then."
"While we do I can give you the grand tour. Where will we start?"
"My uncle used to say you should always start with the bedrooms. That's where you spend most of your time."
"There and the loo."
"I don't need the loo right now."
"Don't you want to brush your teeth?"
"You're never going to let me live that down."
"You'll have to make me."
"Now that could be fun." He grabs Patrick in a bear hug and squeezes tight.
"Is that it?"
Paul squeezes tighter. With a cry of triumph Patrick shrugs off his grip and pulls Paul into bear hug of his own. Paul retaliates by leaning forward and kissing him lightly. Patrick tries to kiss him back but Paul evades his lips.
"No kisses 'til you stop crushing me."
Patrick lets go.
"Hey!" Paul protests with a pout. "I only said stop crushing me. I never said stop hugging me."
Patrick takes him in his arms again. Paul hugs him back and this time makes no attempt to escape the kiss. A minute passes, another, then a few more. Breathlessly their lips part. They've set themselves a new record. With a devilish grin Patrick grinds his hips against Paul's. The kiss had had its effect, they are both hard with desire.
"Okay where's the famous bedroom?" Paul asks.
"You just want to get into my pants."
"Actually I'd rather get you out of them."
They run upstairs, stopping at the bedroom door while Patrick searches through his pockets.
"What are you looking for?"
"Something to unlock the door," Patrick explains. "I pushed the catch on the other side before I closed it."
"So I'd know if anyone went in this morning." He fishes out a small coin and twists it in the slot in the handle. The lock pops open. He pushes the door back and with a gentlemanly flourish of his hand ushers Paul inside.
Paul takes in the room with a quick glance, the pale green walls, the extra long single bed under its deep green quilt matching the walls so perfectly, the posters, the overflowing bookshelves with sporting trophies shoved in among the books, the cluttered desk, the walk-in wardrobe, the balcony.
"Great room, pity 'bout the bed."
"We can't all be as lucky as you."
"I suppose if we snuggled up tight we might fit," Paul says doubtfully.
"Want to give it a go?"
"Try stopping me." Paul drops backwards onto the bed and opens his arms wide. Happily Patrick jumps on top of him, landing with his hands on either side of Paul's body so he can't hurt him. He lowers himself gently into Paul's embrace, tickling Paul's nose playfully with his hair. They kiss. Two simple words to describe the exchange of love and desire that kiss encompasses. Paul revels in the joy of it but is surprised to feel a wetness on his cheeks. Opening his eyes he sees tears dripping from Patrick's eyes.
For a moment Patrick is lost for words. He feels so silly to be crying and sillier still to feel so upset. "No one's ever hugged me in this room before."
Instantly Paul's embrace turns from passion into comfort. He holds Patrick as he cries, rubbing his back gently. "Don't let it get to you."
Patrick soon cries himself out. He lies there in Paul's arms, enjoying the peace and comfort.
"You like Boyzone?" Paul asks, trying to get Patrick's mind off his family. There's a large poster of the group on the wall above the desk.
"I like Stephen Gately."
"Because he's gay?"
"Because he's cute."
"Cuter than me?"
"I wouldn't know, I've never kissed him."
"I should hope not."
The sound of the front door closing echoes up the stairs, shattering the calm that has settled in the bedroom.
"Mum's back," Patrick says dully. He rolls out of Paul's arms and stands up, wiping away the remains of his tears with his fingers. "Want to see her?"
"Since I'm here. We didn't get properly introduced yesterday." Paul does want to meet Patrick's mother, if only to get her measure. Can she possibly deserve the disgust he feels for her?
By the time they get downstairs Cynthia, demurely dressed in grey and pearls, is in the sitting room, standing by the answering machine, listening to the last of the messages. She finishes jotting down a phone number before turning to greet her son, lightly touching his upper arm and kissing the air a few inches from his face.
"Hi mum," Patrick says cheerlessly. "How was the meeting?"
"Great. The Mayor's asked us to dinner."
Paul wonders what was so great, the meeting or the invitation? From his immediate impression of Cynthia Paul has a damn good idea of the answer to that question.
"Me too?" Patrick asks Is this the request Grace meant?
"No. Just your father and me." She's staring at Paul impatiently, waiting for Patrick's introduction. Patrick recognises the expression.
"Mum this is Paul Hayward."
Cynthia's expression changes quickly to one of pleasure. "You must be Dame Grace's grandson," she says in a cloying tone. Being the self-centred creature she is, she misses Patrick's wince at the emphasis she places on Grace's title.
"Yes I am."
"How is Dame Grace today? She must be tired out after yesterday's ordeal."
"Actually she's quite well."
"That is good."
"I'll tell her you asked after her. She'll be so happy," Paul lies. "By the way Mrs Grenville-Barker, gran asked if Patrick could come to dinner tonight."
Patrick's eyebrows twitch in surprise. Grace hadn't said anything about it to him.
"Of course. We'd be delighted." Cynthia is overjoyed. It's about time Patrick got to know the right people, not that horrible Carter boy. "What time should I drop him off?"
"We're going to the pictures this afternoon mum and we'll go straight to Paul's after that," Patrick says quickly, wanting to avoid the sight of his mother with Grace.
"How nice. Phone after dinner and I'll come and pick up Patrick."
"Gran said he could stay the night if it's okay with you."
"Of course it's okay." Marvellous! This will give Cynthia an excuse to phone Grace and invite her to dinner. Grace has always turned down her invitations before. But now that Patrick and Paul are friends she'll have to accept. Then she can invite that stuck up Hillary Wickham-Fiennes and show her just who's who in this town.
"Come on Paul, we don't want to miss the film."
"Have a nice time." Cynthia says vaguely and looks at the number she'd just scribbled down. What on earth is the Forthampton Benevolent Society? She picks up the phone.
The boys head back up to Patrick's bedroom. Once they are inside Paul closes the door behind him and turns to Patrick, smiling broadly. "What film are we going to see?"
"I have absolutely no idea. I just had to get out of here. And what's this about dinner? I don't remember being asked."
"Well you have been now. Gran won't mind."
"Does she know she's asked me to stay the night?"
"No, but if she has to choose between that or your mum gushing over her…"
"I know which one I'd choose. What do you want to do now?"
"I know what I'd like to do." Paul grins suggestively and runs his fingers lightly over Patrick's crotch.
"You said it." He gently strokes Patrick's face. "I suppose we could always go to the pictures."
As they leave the house Patrick can hear his mother calling to him. Pretending not to have heard he shuts the door quickly and they run off down the street. They are nearly out of sight when Cynthia opens the door. It'll just have to wait. She smiles happily, her star is in its ascendance.
"I thought you said ten to."
"It's nearly that," John protests as he walks up to the counter where Steven is sorting through rolls of films.
"It will be in ten minutes," Steven concedes looking up to the clock on the wall. The time is 4.38.
"I couldn't wait."
"Neither could I," Steven replies softly. Whatever else he is thinking of saying is lost as his eyes meet John's. He's quite lost in the love and joy he sees reflected there.
"Hm Hm…." A voice interrupts. Then louder, "Hm Hm…"
Steven tears his eyes away from John with an almost physical wrench. "Yes Madam? How can I help you?"
"I've got some photos to pick up." The young woman hands over her receipt. Steven goes to get her pictures. During his brief absence John is amused to find himself the recipient of an interested stare. He smiles politely at the woman and looks away. She is well dressed and rather attractive but is quick to realise that however good she looks this cute young man is not available. His heart is already taken. Good luck to him.
"Here they are." Steven hands the photos to the customer to check. She flicks through them, pays and leaves. Her money rung up on the till, Steven returns to his favourite occupation, gazing into John's eyes.
The look of adoration is unmistakable to Graham Carter as he comes in from the studio where he has been tidying away his equipment before heading home. The two young man are quite entranced, oblivious to the people passing by, lost to the mundane world of the shopping centre. Graham pauses to take in the sight. What was it Steven said? It's only love. Why be scared of that? He heaves a sigh of acceptance. Noting a customer entering the shop he goes over to help him and when he's finished is not the least bit surprised to find John and Steven still chatting peacefully, off in their own world. That's exactly how his grandmother used to describe Sarah and he when they first started going out together, 'off in their own world'. Will she like John? On the whole he thinks she might. Time to break the spell. "Hello John."
John drags his eyes away from Steven. "Good afternoon Mr Carter."
"It's almost time to go Steven. Are you coming straight home?"
"Is it okay if we go have a coffee first."
"Of course. Don't be late for dinner."
"Be with you in a minute John." Steven races off to get his bag.
Graham leans over and whispers conspiratorially to John. "I talked to my wife." He remembers his conversation with Sarah. He phoned her in the mid afternoon while Stephen was off getting them both coffee. At the time he wasn't sure that she was right about treating John like a member of the family, now he is. "We'll be having the family birthday dinner on Thursday so Friday's okay for the party. Can you join us on Thursday?"
"With pleasure," John accepts happily.
"Good. Oh and…" The sound of a cupboard door creaking shut alerts Graham to Steven's return. "I've made copies of those pictures Steven took of you. Do you want to take them with you?"
"Is it okay if I pick them up tomorrow?"
"You just want an excuse to drop by," Steven exclaims as he rejoins them, his bag slung over his shoulder. John blushes with embarrassment. Graham can't help a chuckle which only makes John's embarrassment worse.
"Go and enjoy yourselves," Graham tells them.
"See you later dad."
"Bye Mr Carter."
"Bye." Graham resists the urge to remind Steven again not to be late. The boy's growing up, he's responsible enough to remember the time. He's always been reliable, apart from his odd absences over the last few months. Now Graham understands the reasons for those absences.
John and Steven head out through the shopping centre to the street. Talking quietly they walk along unhurriedly. They've decided against coffee and in favour of a coke in the nearest park. As they near their destination they pass a couple of young men walking the other way. Steven recognises one of them from school but can't remember his name. It doesn't matter anyway. John nods to the familiar face in greeting. The nod has an unexpected result. The familiar youth turns angrily to John and screams.
"FUCK OFF FAGGOT!!!"
John reels in shock as if he has been punched, his face draining of colour. The youth stops a few yards away as if wanting an argument. John advances on him, quite prepared to give him exactly what he wants. Angrily they face each other, rage burning in their eyes, arms held stiffly to their sides, fists clenched tight.
"What did you say?" John demands. There is no answer. "WHAT DID YOU SAY?"
"You heard me."
"Pretend for a minute I'm deaf and say it again," John says slowly and intensely.
The young man pauses. This isn't going right. Queers are scared, yell at them and they run away. Queers don't fight back and Dixon's a queer. He is on unsure ground, uncertain whether to fight or fly.
Steven can't think what to do. Should he try and get John away or should he join him and fight. He has become used to verbal abuse. Long ago he decided that the best reaction was no reaction. That's worked for him but he cannot see John taking that course. He waits in an agony of uncertainty for John to act.
The tense stand off doesn't last. The young man's companion, looking almost as shocked as Steven, grabs his friend by the arm and pulls him away.
"Johnny," Steven says quietly, not trying to deflect John's anger, merely to let him know he has Steven's whole hearted and unquestioning support.
"You said it."
"I thought, I hoped…"
"That everyone would be okay?"
John nods. Now the immediate danger's past he's feeling too numb to say much. Steven puts his arm around his shoulders trying to comfort him. John flinches away. Thinking he might be too shocked to cope with a display of physical affection Steven begins to drop his arm but John reaches up to pull his hand back onto his shoulder.
"It's okay." They walk on into the park and find a quiet bench. John takes Steven's hand and sits beside him deep in thought. The calm of the trees and the joy of the birdsong slowly repairs his shattered happiness. Steven watches him tenderly, waiting for time to do its magic. He helps it on its way by lovingly stroking the back of his hand. Little by little the strokes erase the hurt.
"I never realised," John murmurs. He never thought the words would hurt so much. What right has anyone to inflict this pain on another human being? What's so wrong with love? What's so wrong with the world? With a flash of incite he understands exactly what Steven has had to endure. "How long have you had to put up with that?"
"A year or so."
"It's not fair."
"Life's not fair Johnny."
"It should be." John is calm now, his face has returned to its normal colour. What was it that stunned him so? Was it the words or the person who said them? "The bastard!"
"Who was it?" Steven asks.
"One of the running team." He can't bring himself to use the boy's name. "I thought he was a friend."
"Not if he acts like that."
"If he can't accept you for who you are he's not a friend. He never was."
"I suppose so."
"I know so."
"Then why didn't you tell your friends?"
"Fear." Steven smiles to himself. "I'm great on theory but lousy on practise."
"Scared they'd reject you?"
"Not exactly. I suppose I got so used to telling lies that I didn't know how to stop."
"But you did."
The concern and the love he can see deep in Steven's eyes reaches into John's heart. The incident is put away, not forgotten, but relegated to the past. A world with Steven in it is worth living in.
"I love you."
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