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by c m

Chapter 8

Nathan and I both have to decide, having passed out initial qualifications, where - career-wise - we both go from here. It's easy for me; I will do my HNC during the course of which I will turn 18, at which point, both in terms of experience and my legal age, I will take equal responsibility for the hotel with my mother. But I'd really like Nathan to stay involved with Sunnybanks as well.

I sit down and talk to my mother and grandfather about it one afternoon.

'I know this all depends on whether Nathan and I stay together, but there are no signs that we won't and it's certainly what we both want – at a personal level. But what I'd really like, if it's possible, is to take over the running of Sunnybanks with Nathan. Eventually, I mean. Not now, of course. Or anytime soon. Just sort of succession planning. It would mean that the future of the hotel is secure – assuming we don't muck it up – and that it would stay in the family. I haven't said anything about this to him because I know you may have other plans. I hope I'm not being presumptuous…I just want to make some plans.'

My grandfather smiles. And so does my mother.

'Funnily enough, I was going to talk to you about this very same thing. And I've already discussed it with your mother, Charlie. Now…I'm not going to go on for ever – that's a fact, so let's all be grown up about it. And it's not presumptuous in the slightest; it shows a commitment to the business which encourages me enormously.'

He smiles at me, before continuing,

'When I go, what I would like to do is leave the hotel to you, Charlie. Your mother has done a wonderful job these past three years, but it is not her calling as it was mine – and as it is clearly yours. I intend to leave my house to your mother for the duration of her lifetime, so she can move in there – but still be close enough to give you any help and advice you may need. You can then move into the apartment in the hotel. But running a hotel is huge undertaking, Charlie, as you already know. Your grandmother and I relied on each other for support, and I rely on your mother – and she already relies on you, Charlie. You will need someone too – and there is no-one I would be happier to see than Nathan providing that support. I've watched him, and I've watched you. You both work hard and you both have a flair and a love for the business. The fact that you will both be qualified is a bonus; you will understand things better and faster than I was ever able to do. And I can also see that you love each other as deeply as I ever loved your grandmother; that's important too, because there will be times when the stresses and strains will take you past the point where professional relationships would snap and into the places where only love will give you the strength and resources to keep you going. I don't pretend to understand the attraction between two boys, but I know love when I see it, and I know happiness when I see it - and that, along with the talent and ability you have, are all that I need to know. This is a long-winded way to say that we, too, want Nathan involved with Sunnybanks – if he wants to be.

We've also talked to Nathan's mother. I hope you don't mind, but ultimately Sunnybanks is a business – a business we want to protect and to grow. If Nathan is happy to be part of Sunnybanks rather than go off and do his own thing – which he may want to do, Charlie; his entrepreneurial streak may need its own space to flower rather than being subordinated to someone else's dream – then his mother is happy for him to continue to live at home and study, and work here with you. We will pay him for his time. It will be an extra cost in the short-term, but an investment for the future which I am very happy to make. I know your mother is intensely proud of you Charlie and, if you didn't already know it, so am I. I hope perhaps that what I've told you is what you hoped to hear. I think you probably need to go and have a talk with Nathan.'

I can scarcely believe what I've heard. It is all – and more – that I could have dreamed of. I run over to my grandfather and throw my arms round him.

'Thank you…thank you so much.'

I look over at my mother. She has tears in her eyes. I let my grandfather go and turn to her and embrace her.

'Thank you.'

'It's no more than you deserve love…and your father would be so proud of you as well.'

'Is it OK if I go and find Nathan?'

'Of course.'

Actually, it's something Nathan and I have already talked about – in principle. I know he'd love to keep working at Sunnybanks, and he's keen on the idea of doing the next level qualification as well. The fact that this means we could still spend our days, as well as some of our nights, together does not, of course, even enter our thinking.

Yeah, right.

But he is aware – in his own mind - that the hotel cannot afford to pay him. Another pair of hands is useful, but he is only there part-time, fitting it in alongside his time at College – as indeed am I - and we do, technically, have the staff to cover virtually everything he does

But we have never really discussed the long term. We've never discussed even the possibility of ending up running Sunnybanks as a couple because I have barely dared to dream it, and the idea of raising Nathan's hopes and then dashing them is something I couldn't bear.

But all this now seems possible.

Nathan's in the kitchen, helping Max.

'Hi, Max…mind if I borrow Nathan for a few minutes?'

'No, that's fine. Nice work, Nathan. Welcome here any time.'

'Thanks, Max.'

He washes his hands, dries them and then comes over to me.

'So…what do you need to borrow me for?'

'Just come with me.'

I lead him up to my room, and sit him down in the chair by my desk. He can see I'm nervous. I pace around. I'm wondering where to start.

'Charlie…what's up? You're making me nervous….oh god, you're not going to break up with me are you?'

'WHAT?!?!' Break up with you?…are you mad? Of course I'm not! I love you to distraction. How can you…?'

'Sorry…but you've sort of gone all weird….'

'Have I? I probably have. Sorry. It's just…I have the most amazing news….Nathan…how does the idea of one day you and me owning and running this hotel appeal to you?'

'Us? Owning and running…? You and me…?'

I'm nodding like a demented dog.

'Oh my god…you can't be serious.'

'I am…totally. I've just talked with my grandfather and my mother. It's what they want…once my grandfather's gone. I'll get the hotel…but he wants us both to run it. Together. He says it needs two. Two people who love each other and who work hard. They see how well we work together…how much in love we are…but only if that's what you want, Nathan. Grandfather says you might want to go and do your own thing - follow your own dream - and that if that's what you want you must do it. And of course he's right. But…I was hoping…'

Nathan gets up – a bit unsteadily – and comes over to me and puts his hands on my shoulders.

'The only dream I've had is to be with you. This…prospect, this…possibility…is extraordinary. Is this for real, Charlie?'

'Yes. Completely real.'

'Well of course I want it. It's everything and more I could imagine in my wildest dreams. Oh my god Charlie. I don't believe it. But there must be a hundred…a thousand people who could help you run this hotel better than me.'

'In theory, perhaps. More knowledge…more experience…but you heard what my grandfather said: 'it needs two people who work hard and love each other'…and while there might be other people who work as hard as you – though I doubt it – there is no-one else I love. So you're stuck with it. Sorry.'

And we kiss. And I suddenly want him more urgently than I have ever felt in my life. My hands shake as I fumble with his clothes - and he catches the urgency too. I hear a button ping off as my frustration gets the better of me with his shirt and he positively rips off my trousers. Our briefs are flung away and then he's pushing me back on the bed, lifting my legs over his shoulder, spitting in his hand and rubbing it on his erection before slamming it into me in a single thrust.

The pain and the pleasure are exquisite. I have never been taken so hard and so fast before. It is exactly what I want. When he explodes inside me it's with a yell that I imagine can be heard a mile away. And then it's over. He collapses on top of me.

'Oh…my…god,' is all I can say.

His breathing is still coming too fast and too shallow for him to say a word.

'Jesus,' he says, eventually, 'what the hell happened there?'

'I don't know…but I wouldn't mind finding out again.'

'Not possible,' he says, '…or not yet anyway.'

As he lies there on top of me, I see where my briefs have ended up. I start to laugh.

'What's so funny?'

'Turn over.'

He rolls off beside me and looks up. He starts to laugh too. Above my bed is one of those fans with lights underneath it. It is going round on its slowest speed with my underwear hanging off one of the paddles.

He reaches down into my groin. I'm hard. Sometimes just having him inside me brings me to orgasm, but not this time. It was all over too quickly.

'While we're waiting for me to recover, I don't suppose….?'

'With pleasure,' I say,' all aboard!'

He giggles, then straddles me. We take our time. It's almost the polar opposite of how he took me - but it's equally as good.

Afterwards we get dressed – once I've retrieved my briefs.

'What is it about making love in the afternoon that's so good?' asks Nathan.

'Dunno. But let's keep trying to find out.'

'You say the sweetest things.'

'Back to work?'

'Back to work.'

On my eighteenth birthday, Nathan moves in with me. Obviously I discuss it with my mother first but she wholeheartedly approves. She loves Nathan every bit as much as she loves me, and she can see how happy we make each other.

Six months later, we get engaged.

Nathan and I get married a week after our nineteenth birthdays. Chris is our best man, and Tash and Chris' sister Becky our bridesmaids. It is a glorious late-summer weekend and it passes off without a hitch – and with much laughter, joy and celebration. Chris' speech has everyone in hysterics.

My grandfather is in the terminal stages of prostate cancer, but he is determined to be there and he is; pushed in a wheelchair by my mother. His wedding gift to us is a new car to replace the rather elderly VW Golf which is all Nathan and I have been able to afford for the past eighteen months since we passed our driving tests – also within a week of each other.

'Can't have two successful hoteliers – and mark my words that's what you two will be – driving around in a skip. Gives the wrong impression to the punters. Here are the keys to your present. You'll find it on the drive of my house.'

He throws me a key fob. It has a very distinctive circle with three spokes in it on one side. I don't know what the model is, but it's obviously a Mercedes.

'Grandfather…this is too much.'

'Nonsense. It's a reliable piece of engineering in a classy exterior. Like the hotel. Like your mother. Like you. And it's designed to last – like the pair of you. Enjoy it; just don't wrap it – or the business – round a lamp post. Not that I think you will. Oh, and it's insured. Now…would somebody please bring me a glass of champagne.'

As we make our way back to the hotel much later that evening, we stop by my grandfather's house. And there it is. A silver Mercedes GLA. Nathan and I just look at each other.

My grandfather passes away while we're on honeymoon. When we get back, my mother tells me that he'd used up every last ounce of his energy and willpower to make it to our wedding, and had then simply faded away. I think I wept as much for him as I did for my father when he died.

The consequence, of course, is that under the terms of his will, the plan that he and my mother had discussed with me two years earlier comes into effect. I am now the owner of Sunnybanks, and Nathan is my partner. I have also been left a substantial amount of money; almost half a million pounds.

Of course, I've seen the hotel books in some detail for the past year, and it is a highly-profitable business – but nonetheless, my grandfather must have made some very shrewd investments to build up the inheritance that is now mine. And there is the house as well.

I am in no hurry for my mother to leave the apartment , but she is keen to move into grandfather's – now her – house.

'It's important you boys have control of the whole enterprise. I'm happy to help when and if I can, but you don't need me under your feet. And it means you can be totally uninhibited as well.'

She says this with a little smile.


'Don't you 'mum' me…I'm not deaf. I do try to keep out of the way, but sometimes….well, let's just say I'm pleased you have so much fun together.'

'Oh my god….' is all I can say.

I persuade her to wait until the house has been redecorated and recarpeted - and fitted with a new bathroom and kitchen – which takes about two months. Once she's left, Nathan and I get the apartment redecorated to our taste – and we move into the master bedroom. It means that our old room is available for friends.

We bring one or two fresh ideas to the hotel – but without spoiling its quietly luxurious ambience – and the occupancy rates creep up another point or two, meaning that it's even more profitable. We also agree to take on one or two students each year from the same hospitality course we did as a way of giving something back.

The next good piece of news is that Chris has a new girlfriend. His sex-fuelled relationship with Tash was already heading for the rocks when the damage was completed by his going off to Uni. Although the sex had been amazing, there wasn't much to their relationship beyond that. And that was never going to be enough for Chris. And now, he's found love with a drop-dead gorgeous Asian girl (much to his mother's delight), who's doing the same course as he is.

'She's fun in bed too,' he tells me one day ,'but we get to do other interesting stuff together as well.'

He introduced me to her when he came home on vacation. She's called Lucy and I love her to bits.

Another six months goes by, and then, one day, a letter arrives with a York postmark; it's from Luke's grandmother.

Dear Charlie

I hope you don't mind me contacting you, and if what follows angers or upsets you, I promise it is not my intention – and you are free to throw this letter in the bin.

Luke has, finally, become at peace with himself and decided who and what he is. He has found someone with whom he wishes to settle down. A woman, whom he has asked to be his wife.

He is getting married in a few months time and he has asked me to contact you to ask if you would consider coming to his wedding. He realises that this may be the very last thing you would want to do, so rather than just send an invitation that might be unwelcome, he has asked me to get in touch first.

I know that he treated you very badly following our visit three years ago, but he still talks of you fondly. I appreciate that you may not feel the same; you would have every right not to.

From a personal point of view, I would love you to come; I had the highest regard for you at the time and remaking your acquaintance would give me great pleasure.

If you were able and willing to come, it goes without saying that the invitation would be extended to your partner if you have one - though I cannot believe that someone as charming as you could still be single.

I hope that you don't find the idea offensive. I know it would mean a lot to Luke to have you there.

With very best wishes

Daphne Marshall

I read it through a second time then pass it across the table to Nathan. He reads it and then looks up at me.

'Wow. What do you want to do, Charlie?'

'I honestly don't know. I'm certainly not angry or offended. And I'm pleased Luke has sorted his life out. But do I want to be there? And why does he want me there?'

'A chance to apologise in person, perhaps? A chance to seek redemption?'

'Maybe. How would you feel about me going?...about us going?'

'I don't bear him any ill will. It wasn't me he had a fling with and then dumped. In fact, without him, I might never have met you. If you want to go, I have no objection. Provided you're sure it won't just awaken bad memories.'

I think about it.

'For a long time now, Nathan, it's sort of been a good memory. That fortnight anyway. And like you say, without him maybe there wouldn't be us. I don't bear him any ill will either. And I'd like to see him happy.'

'Let's say 'yes' then.'

'Are you sure?'

'Provided you don't decide you prefer him to me once you see him again.'

'That, o love of my life, will never happen.'

'Would your mum be OK looking after the hotel if we both go?'

'I'll ask her.'

'If not, you go and I'll stay.'

'I'm not sure about that.'

'Don't be daft. It's you he wants there.'

'But it's you I want with me.'

'Just ask your mother. We can talk about it again once we know how she feels.'

My mother is slightly surprised at the fact that Luke wants me to be at his wedding, and even more surprised that Nathan and I want to go.

'Well, if you both want to, that's fine. And I'll be fine with the hotel. Jack, the student from the College, is very good. Perhaps he would be prepared to work that weekend as well?'

'I'll ask him, mum. And thanks.'

So I write back to Mrs. Marshall and say that I, and my partner Nathan, would be delighted to accept.

A week later the invitation arrives. There's a hand-written note on the back.

'I'm so pleased you are both coming. Thank you.' It's signed by Luke.

A few days later another letter from Mrs. Marshall arrives.

Dear Charlie and Nathan

I am so very pleased that you are coming to Luke's wedding. I know it's a long way for you to come, so would you do me the honour of staying at my house for the nights before, and of, the wedding? I have masses of space here and it would be nice for some of the other rooms to get used for a change. You are welcome to come up earlier and stay longer if you are able to do so.

If you have already made other arrangements, or would prefer to stay elsewhere, I will not be in the least offended, although as well as making you comfortable (I hope), you will have noticed from the wedding invitation that the reception afterwards is in the grounds of my house, so I hope it might prove convenient as well.

With very best wishes

Daphne Marshall

I ask Nathan how he feels about this.

'Why not? As she says, it's convenient and she clearly still has a very soft spot for you. Or would you rather keep some distance from Luke's family?'

'I liked her – and she obviously lives in some pile with acres of grounds. Why not?'

I write back accepting and say that if it's alright with her, we would love to arrive the afternoon before the wedding and then be on our way the day after.

I also talk to Jack who is delighted to help my mother out over the weekend. I tell him to bring an overnight bag and use the apartment. He's thrilled.

The girl Luke is marrying also comes from York, so the wedding is at their local parish church just outside the city, which is less than a mile from Mrs. Marshall's house.

Nathan and I drive up on the Friday. It's a good six-hour drive to York and we share the driving – although the Merc makes easy work of the miles. We pull into the driveway to Mrs. Marshall's house just before four in the afternoon, having stopped for a pub lunch just off the motorway on the way.

I had expected a substantial country house, but what greets us is something else entirely.

The drive is at least half a mile long, through an avenue of trees surrounded on both sides by neatly manicured lawns and a tall evergreen hedge. It ends in a huge circle of gravel, at the centre of which is a fountain. Facing us is a Georgian mansion with three pillars each side of a pair of double doors at the top of four broad stone steps.

'Fuck me.' says Nathan, 'are you sure this is the right place?'

'Mowbray Manor,' I say, checking the letter, 'Yup. This is it.'

We both get out of the car, and as we do so the doors of the house swing open. Mrs. Marshall is standing there with some sort of servant behind her. She walks slowly and elegantly down the steps.

'Charlie. How lovely to see you. You're even better looking than I remember. And this must be Nathan. What a handsome pair you make. You're both most welcome.'

She half turns and addresses the man standing a respectful couple of paces behind her.

'Jenkins, take their bags to the Blue Room, please, and then we'll have tea on the front terrace.'

'Yes, ma'am.'

'I assume tea will suit you,' she says, turning back to us, 'or would you prefer coffee – or something cold?'

'Tea will be fine, thank you, Mrs. Marshall.'

'Please…call me Daphne.'

She guides us into the house, through the hall with its broad staircase that branches into two at the top, one side going left and one right. The hall itself has a marble floor, with two doors leading off each side, and a pair of double doors in front of us. She opens these and takes us through into a beautifully sunny room filled with comfortable-looking sofas and armchairs. There's a huge fireplace to the rear of the room, with an antique mirror over it. On the walls are what I assume are tapestries of some considerable age.

'This is the drawing room,' Daphne announces, 'It's where we would normally take tea but it's such a glorious day I thought we'd take it on the terrace instead.'

She point to the far end of the room where there are another pair of double doors.

'The dining room is through there. I have organised dinner for eight o'clock. I hope that suits you?'

'Most kind, Daphne,' I say.

'We will meet in here for drinks at seven fifteen. Strictly informal, no need for jackets or ties.'

She leads us out onto the terrace. A round metal table is offset to one side of the French doors that we go through onto the terrace. Around the table are four wicker chairs with bright-coloured cushions. Shade is provided by a large, striped awning that is stretched over and above the table and chairs.

In front of the terrace, an enormous lawn sweeps away into the distance, punctuated by flower beds down the sides. In the middle of the lawn is a marquee, dressed in shades of pink and green. The venue for the reception, I assume.

Jenkins emerges onto the terrace from the left-hand end bearing a tray with cups, a jug and a teapot on it. He is followed by a middle-aged lady carrying plates of sandwiches and cakes. These are set down in front of us.

'Will there be anything else, ma'am?'

'No. Thank you, Jenkins.'

She turns to the lady behind him.

'This is cook. Now…are there any things that you don't or can't eat?'

'No Daphne. Nathan and I are omnivores in every sense of the word.'

She laughs.

'Excellent. That simplifies things a lot. Apparently we have vegetarians, vegans and pescatarians coming to the reception. Not to mention people who can't eat shellfish or are allergic to nuts or gluten. It must be a caterers nightmare. I'm glad all I'm doing is signing the cheque!'

The sandwiches are filled with smoked salmon and cucumber, and the cakes are delicious. The tea is Earl Grey which is Nathan's favourite. Daphne is easy company and we talk about al sorts of things. She's keen to find out how the hotel is running, and cannot hide her slight surprise when she learns that Nathan and I are now the owners and managers.

'But you seem so young. But then these days everyone does, of course. Is your mother still involved?'

'She's looking after the place right now. She's an enormous help.'

'And have you plans to change anything?'

'No. One or two small updates and additions, but we have a wonderful reputation in the market, so it would be foolish to throw that all away.'

'Very sensible. I must return soon and see for myself,' she says.

'It would be a pleasure to welcome you back,' I say.

Then she wants to know about how Nathan and I met. By the time we've answered all her questions, it is almost six o'clock.

'Now, I mustn't keep you any longer. I expect you'll want to go and freshen up before dinner. Do take a shower if you would like; one of the modern conveniences that we've added over the years are some rather nice – if I say so myself – guest bathrooms. Fifty years ago it would have involved a traipse down the corridor to a rather spartan room with a bath in it and no shower. Whilst I personally still appreciate a bath over a shower, I realise that the modern preference is the other way round. One of Luke's cousins will also be staying here for the wedding. He and his partner will be here in time to join us for dinner. I hope you'll like them. In the meantime, please make use of any and all the facilities here. Take a walk in the garden if the mood takes you – or there is the billiard room that goes off the other end of the drawing room. The library is through the second door on the left in the hall if you want somewhere peaceful to sit and read. If you need anything, just ring the bell and Jenkins will oblige.'

'Thank you…thank you very much, Daphne.'

'It's a pleasure… it really is. I'm so pleased that you're staying.'

She shows us back into the house and then rings a bell. Jenkins shimmers into sight.

'Jenkins, be so good as to show these young gentlemen to their room.'

'If you'll follow me, sirs.'

He leads us up the staircase and onto the right-hand landing. We go down a corridor with thick, oak planking. There are oil paintings on the wall down one side, mostly pastoral scenes that reek of quality. We stop in front of yet another oak-panelled door.

'The Blue Room, sir. You'll find it connects through to a bathroom on one side, and a dressing room on the other. I hope you'll be comfortable and please ring if you need anything. Did Mrs. Marshall mention that drinks will be served in the drawing room from seven?'

'I think she said seven-fifteen.'

'That is the time she always arrives. Guests are welcome from seven.'

'Thank you.'

'My pleasure sir.'

Nathan opens the door and we enter. It is not called the Blue Room for nothing. The four-poster bed is hung with silk curtains of a deep indigo hue, and the panelling on the walls is inset with squares of cornflower blue. The carpet is cream with a complex blue knot-pattern running round the edge. The sofa under the window is in the same indigo as the bed hangings. It is breathtakingly beautiful.

Our bags have been unpacked, and the clothes put away.

'Oh…my…word,' say Nathan.

We walk over and open the door to the bathroom. There is a bath, a shower, a basin and a toilet. But they are all on a grand scale. The bath must be at least six-feet long and deep enough to sit in with water coming up to your chin. It is partially sunken – presumably because otherwise you wouldn't be able to get in or out. The walk-in shower is huge with two shower heads above and various interesting looking jets and nozzles on the sides. The toilet is an imposing Japanese affair. I've seen one before; it cleans you with warm water and dries you with hot air. The basin is a double bowl of crystal on a stand, and our washbags are sitting on a fitted shelf underneath it. The floor is tiled in blue quartz that glitters, and it has underfloor heating. There are a mass of fluffy towels on the heated rail.

'This is amazing,' says Nathan, 'I may be in here for some time tonight.'

'I'm certainly looking forward to finding out what all those jets and things are in the shower.'

We go back into the bedroom and across to the dressing room, which is almost as big as the bedroom, with fitted wardrobes running down both sides. At the end, between them, is a locked door.

'I guess this leads through to another bedroom.'

'I quite fancy a soak in the bath. I'm a bit stiff from driving and I could do with a bit of a relax before dinner,' says Nathan.

'OK. I'll go and run it for you.'

While he takes his clothes off, I turn on the huge gold taps and a stream of water tumbles into the bath from a lion's head above the tub. I adjust the temperature and then notice the array of bottles on a shelf built into the surrounds of the bath. I empty a god glug of Rose & Rhubarb bubble bath under the stream of water, and a wonderful fragrance fills the air. The top surface of the water soon disappears under a mass of bubbles.

Nathan walks in. Seeing him naked still gets me aroused. I kiss him and can't stop myself from fondling his balls with one hand while I do so. I feel him harden.

'Why don't you join me?' he says.

By the time I've stripped off, he's already sunk into one end of the bath. I take the other. The water is up around our armpits. He slides gently down, his leg between mine, until his foot is against my erection. He moves it up and down.

'Don't make me cum, Nathan. I have other plans for later.'

'Ooh, OK…sounds interesting.'

He moves his foot away and instead stands up, turns round up and then sits back down between my legs, leaning his head back on my chest. There's plenty of room for this to happen. I run my hands over his upper body and twiddle his nipples gently.

'Isn't this amazing? It's like being in a luxury hotel only better. Maybe we should create a couple of rooms like this at our hotel.'

'Worth a thought,' I say.

His red hair is going a darker shade of copper in the heat and the steam.

'I wonder what Luke's cousin and his partner are like. Come to think of it, is it a male or female cousin? We didn't ask.'

'Well, if it's girl, I hope her husband's nice, and if it's a boy, I hope his wife's nice. Be good to have some younger company whichever way. Daphne's lovely, but a bit of variety will be nice.'

'I'm sure she wouldn't have invited us if she thought we wouldn't get on with her other house guests.'

'Or maybe she invited us first and chose them because she thought we'd get on.'

'Could be. I guess we better get out of this thing. It must be getting on for seven,'

The towels turn out not only to be fluffy, but huge. Once dry, we both stand in front of the full-length mirror in the bedroom. We are about the same height, and of similar build. There is no spare weight on either of us. We are nicely defined but not muscly. We are both lightly tanned. We neither of us have any chest hair or happy trails. And we've both shaved off our pubic hair. My cock is a little longer than his in our floppy state, but it is our hair and our eyes that really set us apart.

'We look good, don't we?' says Nathan.

'Yes…yes we do.'

'I think we have time for a little cuddle on the bed before we get dressed.'

We like cuddling each other. Just holding one another close, exchanging kisses. His skin feels good against mine, and though we both get hard, we make no attempt to touch one another. Those are the rules of the cuddle. I hear the clock on the landing strike seven.

'Come on. Time for more of this later.'

We both give ourselves a squirt of cologne – we each have our own favourite – and then get dressed in chinos and a linen shirt. Blue in my case and green for Nathan. As we get to the top of the stairs, Daphne arrives from the opposite direction.

'What perfect timing,' she says,' and may I say how smart you look. Very classic.'

As we go down the stairs, we can hear voices from the Drawing room.

'Ah, I see that Lindsay and Evelyn must have arrived. Lindsay is Luke's cousin and Evelyn is his partner.'

'You don't come across many girls called Evelyn these days,' I say.

'Indeed you don't,' she says with a half-smile.

As we enter the drawing room, I realise the extent of my foolish assumption. Waiting for us are two boys, one of whom is very good-looking. The good-looking one sticks out a hand.

'Hi, I'm Lindsay and this is Evelyn.'

I shake Lindsay's hand. His eyes are still on mine. I meet his gaze evenly and then give a little nod of my head.

'Pleased to meet you. I'm Charlie and this is my husband Nathan.'

'Husband? How long have you been married?'

'Almost a year.'


'Thank you.'

As he holds out his hand to Nathan, I hold mine out to Evelyn. He smiles at me and the smile transforms his rather ordinary face into something quite arresting. I understand what Lindsay must see in him. His voice, when he speaks, is very gentle.

'Hello, nice to meet you.'

'You too.'

One other guest arrives while we are introducing ourselves to each other. It's one of Daphne's neighbours, a retired Colonel who has lost his wife to cancer a few years earlier. He introduces himself as Peter. I assume he's there to even up the numbers. And he seems perfectly at ease with four gay teenagers, two of whom are married. It's another stereotype I'm going to have to reconsider.

Jenkins asks us all what we would like to drink. Daphne's preferred tipple is sherry. I opt for a G&T, and so do Nathan and Lindsay. Evelyn has a Bloody Mary. The Colonel goes for a scotch and water.

Lindsay has pretty much button-holed Nathan, so I chat with Evelyn. He turns out to have a quiet, understated sense of humour and a brain the size of a planet. He's studying astrophysics at University, which is where he met Lindsay.

'So how did you meet Nathan?' he asks.

I realise that this is a question I am going to be asked a lot over the weekend, and I have to decide how to deal with it. I don't know how many of the guests will know about me and Luke. And then I realise that 'So how do you know Luke?' is going to be just as common a question as how did I meet Nathan. And I haven't thought about how to answer either of them.

I figure I'll start with a 'less is more' approach.

'We did the same Hospitality course at College,' I say.

'Oh, so you left school early. Academic study not for you?'

'Not exactly. I left school at sixteen to help my mother run the family business. But I left with ten GCSEs.'

'Oh dear,' he says, blushing, 'I'm always doing this; putting my foot in it by making assumptions. I do apologise.'

'There's no need. I do exactly the same thing all the time. When I heard that Lindsay had a partner called Evelyn, I assumed it was a girl.'

We both laugh

'And what's the family business?'

'A hotel. That's how I know Luke. He and his grandmother came and stayed with us about three years ago.'

Evelyn says nothing. Either he doesn't know about Luke and me or else he's too well-mannered to bring it up.

'And what's your role in the hotel?'

'I own and manage it. With Nathan.'

'Oh gracious…thank heavens I didn't ask if you were the barman!'

'I'm sometimes that as well,' I say with a smile.

'And how long did you know Nathan before you got married?'

'Three years.'

'And I know you called him your husband, what does he call you?'

'His husband.'

He blushes.

'More wrong assumptions?' I say with a smile.

'Yes…I'm afraid so. Oh dear. I'm hopeless at all this. I mean, I'm gay, of course I am, always known it, but Lindsay was…is…the first person who ever took an interest in me in that way. He's lovely, and is helping me to discover all the well….how can I put it…the fun things. But I don't really know anything about the whole gay…scene…is that the word? I'm afraid that I probably spend too much time with my head in books. The whole social thing is quite difficult for me. I was dreading this weekend, in fact, but you are being very kind to me. Thank you.'

'I think you're lovely,' I say.

He blushes again.

'If what you and Lindsay have is what you and Lindsay want, then why should you fit into anyone else's idea of what being gay is?'

He smiles. And his face lights up.

'What a lovely thing to say. I think Nathan must be a very lucky man.'

'I'm not so sure about that – but I'm certainly lucky to have him.'

In the hall, a gong sounds. Jenkins appears. 'Dinner is served.'

At dinner, I'm seated between Lindsay and the Colonel. Nathan is opposite me with Daphne on one side and Evelyn on the other.

During the first course – an excellent pate that had been homemade by the cook – the Colonel makes small talk with me; the fact that my grandfather had passed away due to cancer gives us something in common, I suppose. He is also very open about his views on homosexuality.

'Nothing against it. Not my thing, of course. But the Greeks encouraged it. Thought that a soldier would fight harder to save the man beside him if they were lovers than if they didn't know each other from Adam.'

During the main course – guinea fowl braised with fennel and orange – I have Lindsay's full charm turned on me. And, inevitably, he asks The Question.

'I met Luke when he and your grandmother came to stay at our hotel,' I reply in answer to it.

And it is immediately obvious that he knows all about that.

'Oh gosh, so you're the…' then he catches himself. 'Sorry. You probably don't want to talk about that or not here, anyway.'

I have never been so relieved in all my life. And my opinion of Lindsay goes up several notches.

'Thank you,' I say.

'Completely understand,' he says. And he gives my knee a squeeze under the table. And it is a genuine squeeze of friendship; nothing more.

I can see Nathan enjoying his chat with Evelyn. I want to know more about him.

'Tell me about you and Evelyn. He seems lovely.'

Lindsay smiles.

'He is. He's a bit…unusual, but he has the gentlest nature – and he can be very amusing. He is of course a genius, academically speaking, but he and I just seem to get along. It took me weeks and weeks of knowing him to even discover he was gay. And weeks and weeks more to…well…get him into bed. Although that revealed a side of him I hadn't expected…but what we do in bed is the least important part of our relationship.'

I find I like Lindsay more and more.

'You've always known you were gay?'

'Oh Christ, yes. Well…from the age you can do. About eleven I think. Usual fooling around with other boys at school - and then discovering it's more than fooling about that you want.'

'But you never…with Luke?'

'No. I had no idea he was bi – if that's what he is…or was. Wouldn't mind talking to you about that later…somewhere more private perhaps…if you don't mind?'

'Sure,' I say.

I don't know what it is he wants to know – and I'm certainly not going to go into any personal details – but I trust him and like him enough to listen to what it is he wants to know.

Dessert is a perfectly-judged crème brulée, and coffee is served in the lounge, with liqueurs. At ten, the Colonel makes his apologies and leaves, and Daphne also announces that it's time for her to turn in.

'Busy day tomorrow for me,' she says, 'but there is no hurry for you young people. Breakfast will be available between 9 and 10 and you will need to be at the church by 12.30 for the service at 1. Jenkins will drive you there. Do whatever you want to in between – but don't get in the way of the caterers in and around the marquee.'

'Goodnight Daphne,' Nathan and I say almost together.

'Good night grandmama,' says Lindsay.

Nathan announces that he and Evelyn are going to play snooker in the billiards room.

'But you've never played,' I say.

'Evelyn has - and he's going to teach me.'

'Good luck with that one, Evelyn, ' I say, 'I'll be along in a minute to watch the carnage.'

As they go, I turn to Lindsay and say, 'So what is it you want to know about Luke…and me?'

'Well, all I knew was that Luke was going out with some girl….Diana was it?'


'Ah, yes, Donna, that's it. And then he goes away on holiday and comes back saying he's head over heels in love with a boy he's met at the hotel. That's you, yes?'


'He says he's realised he's bi, but that the gay side feels like the real deal and that you are the best and most wonderful thing that has ever happened to him. And that Granny agrees. Well, that was a bit of an eye-opener for a start. Anyway, this was the first I'd heard of him being bi, I said to him that presumably what he meant is that he'd had some amazing sex and welcome to the club. But he categorically denied it. He said the sex had been brilliant, but it wasn't about that. That he'd met someone who he really cared about and who really cared about him. And the way he said it…I believed him. Then the next thing I know is that's he's back with his girlfriend. What happened?'

'I don't know, Lindsay. I was hoping maybe you could tell me. But…it's good to know that he really did feel something for me, that it wasn't just an act or a meaningless holiday affair. It felt real to me – and that's one of the things that helped me get through what happened.'

'Having met you, Charlie, I can see why he fell for you…and why he cared about you. He must have been mad to drop you.'

'Thank you…that's very kind. Maybe I'll have the chance to ask him direct tomorrow or on Sunday…I understand that they're not going away until Monday?'

'That's right; there's a family-only brunch here on Sunday – though if you're staying here, I'm sure you'll be invited too.'

'Do you think we should go and see how the other two are doing at snooker?'

'I suppose we should.'

We both get up and collide with each other as we make to go through the same gap between the chairs.

'Gosh, sorry.'

'My fault.'

We smile at each other, then Lindsay just gives me a hug.

'You're lovely, Charlie. I'm so sorry my idiot cousin treated you the way he did. But it's great that you're here; it's a wonderful added bonus for both Evelyn and me to have the company of a gay couple as nice as you and Nathan over the weekend.'

'Thanks, Lindsay. I like you very much too. And Evelyn. And if it hadn't been for Luke dropping me, I'd never have got together with Nathan, so every cloud and all that….'

In the billiard room, Nathan is bending over the table. Evelyn is standing right behind him, up against his buttocks, bent over him with one hand on Nathan's. In other circumstances it would have been alarming, but it's clear that all Evelyn is doing is making sure Nathan's cueing arm is coming through straight. Nathan strikes the white ball, which then clips a red neatly into the top corner pocket.

'Excellent shot, Nathan, you're really coming on. Oh hi guys,' says Evelyn as he notices we've come in, 'he's a natural.'

Nathan straightens up.

'It's a lot more difficult than it looks on tele,' he says.

'How do you two fancy a match?' Evelyn asks.

I can't believe how much more confident he is doing something he clearly enjoys.

'Me and my protege here against you two.'

'I've only ever played about three times in my life,' I say.

'I've played a bit,' says Lindsay, 'but not for a while. You OK taking them on?'

'Let's give it a go,' I say.

We get thrashed. Evelyn is good and Nathan does, indeed, appear to be a natural. I am hopeless and despite Lindsay's best efforts we go down to a 78-15 defeat.

'Again?' ask Evelyn.

'I think bed calls,' I say,' and I have a different game involving my cue and balls in mind….'

'Charlie!' says Nathan.

But Lindsay and Evelyn are hooting with laughter.

Upstairs, we take off our clothes and go and brush our teeth. The Japanese toilet is a revelation in terms of getting clean and nice. The bed is big and very comfortable. I lie back and relax.

'So,' says Nathan, as he hops in beside me, 'Is it me and my cue going first, or you?'

'You, please,' I say.

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