It had taken nearly three-weeks for the upgrades to be completed on Carl's computer. Something always seemed to get in the way of him getting online to find Allan. He needed Allan. He couldn't do it alone. He couldn't understand all the things he was supposed to do, but Allan did. Carl thought to himself that Allan must think he was some kind of dummy. Thing was, he never had to do anything like that before and, he hoped, he would never have to do anything like that ever again. He knew how to use a computer, but he didn't know the first thing about how they worked and, if the truth were told, he didn't really care, just so long as it did.
Allan had been really patient with him. He knew it couldn't have been easy. At times Carl had got angry, not with Allan, but with himself for not understanding what he was doing; he also knew that his frustration was taken out, unnecessarily, on Allan. Poor guy didn't deserve that shit and he felt bad about it afterwards. Allan had been great and the two of them had chatted in general while the upgrades, some of which lasted over an hour, took place.
Carl liked Allan. He was, despite Allan's protestations, a fun person to chat with, even though he seemed to distance himself from some conversations and Carl didn't quite understand why. He didn't push those, though. It wasn't his place to do so. Actually, come to think of it, which Carl had done, he guessed that he did the same thing. There were just some things that you ignored, evaded or played along with.
Allan had asked him on a number of occasions if he had a girlfriend and when Carl had told him that he didn't, Allan had asked why. Why? Carl knew why. Carl knew why only too well, but he couldn't tell Allan. In fact, he couldn't tell anyone. It was his secret, though once - only once - did he panic as he had come close to letting the cat out of the bag. Carl had recovered very quickly and Allan hadn't seemed to notice.
Even Tom didn't suspect. Tom - the lifeguard at the pool. Carl hadn't swum for a while, though he had seen Tom on a few occasions in the pub. On two of those, Tom had seen him and come over to chat. They had grown quite friendly and on his next visit to the pub, Carl had even called to Tom to let him know that he was there.
"Hi, Carl, how're you?"
"Hi, Tom, not too bad, thanks. You?"
"Oh, you know, much as ever."
"It's busy at work, huh?"
"Gonna be even busier next week, the schools are on holiday."
"So, the kids will all be in the pool?"
"A lot of them, I guess. It's always the same, especially if the weather holds. I'm already knackered, so God knows how I'll be next week."
"Well, what you doing here? You should be home in bed."
Tom laughed. "I suppose I should, God knows I need to be, but I haven't anything at home to eat, so I was going to have a quick pint and grab a takeaway on my way home."
"Sounds like a plan."
"Knowing me, I'll stay up watching TV and get to bed late and then suffer the consequences in the morning."
"Sounds like me, only I have nothing to get up for, so at least I can stay in bed."
"Lucky bastard. Another?" Tom nodded towards Carl's almost empty glass.
"I thought you were going home with a takeaway."
"Well, one more can't hurt, can it?"
Carl smiled. "Well, okay, thanks."
Tom headed to the bar and Carl's eyes followed him. He took in the muscular shape of Tom's legs and unconsciously he licked his lips.
Carl had never seen Tom jump in the pool to save anyone, so he had never seen him without his "uniform" polo shirt on and had wondered on a number of occasions just what lay underneath, though he had pictured it in his mind enough times - a strong chest, a finely defined stomach and trim waist.
Carl opened his eyes.
"Oh, sorry, was just thinking about something."
"Well, for God's sakes don't fall asleep, I'm relying on you to keep me awake."
The two laughed and their conversation turned to other things as they drank their pints comfortable in each other's company. In fact, so comfortable were they that when last orders were called, they were still sitting in the pub.
"Holy shit, I can't believe I'm still here," said Tom, glancing at his watch.
"Sorry, I ought to have said something earlier," was Carl's apologetic response.
"Oh, it's not your problem, mate, it's mine, idiot that I am. I knew I wouldn't get an early night. Oh, well. May as well have one more for the road. You?"
"Yeah, okay, but it's my round," insisted Carl, as he stood to make his way to the bar.
"Okay, I'll pay for the takeaways then."
"You eaten tonight?"
"Well, neither have I and I need something to soak up this stuff, so we had both better have a burger, or something when we leave."
"I guess you're right."
A burger was just what Carl did need. He felt light-headed and wasn't too sure how much longer he could remain upright. They had finished their last drinks and headed onto the streets. The cool air suddenly hit them and both boys laughed for no apparent reason.
"I think I drank too much," said Carl.
"I know, I did," laughed Tom. "Come on, let's get that burger."
The two of the walked, in what they considered to be a relatively straight line, to the nearest takeaway and joined the queue to place their order.
"I think I'll have a cheeseburger and chips," said Tom. "What about you?"
"Sounds good, I'll have the same, thanks."
"That's two cheeseburgers and chips, please," said Tom, placing the order as his turn at the counter came.
"You want salad and relish on those?" asked the man taking the order.
"Err, yeah, okay."
"Yes, on both, please," said Tom, answering the question.
The man rang in the amount and accepted the note offered by Tom, handing him both his change and a small ticket with a number on it and both Tom and Carl stood aside to let the next in line place their order.
The town was busy and there was a lot of noise outside of the takeaway. People shouting to one another, singing, play fighting and playing their car stereos at an unacceptable level for the time of night, but despite all that, no one appeared to be in a bad mood. On a weekend it might have been quite different, the play fighting would be for real and the noise would spill over into the takeaways as the weekend revellers began their assault on the town.
"Thirty-seven," called the man behind the counter.
"What are we?" asked Carl and Tom checked the number on the ticket he had been given - 42.
They waited in silence as one by one people who had been in the queue before them were called up to collect what they had paid for and, eventually, Tom was able to do the same. Handing over the ticket as he accepted the white plastic carrier bag that contained the two polystyrene containers that held their order and then, with Carl, he left the takeaway and walked back on to the street.
"So, you coming back to eat this, or do you have to get home?"
"Oh, I was gonna go home with it," said Carl.
"It's up to you, you're welcome to come back to mine, it isn't far away and I can offer you a coffee, too. A beer if you prefer, but I've had enough for one night."
"A coffee would be fine, thanks. Yeah, okay. May as well, but only if you're sure, I mean, I don't want to keep you from your bed"
"Don't worry about that, I'll sleep like a log, I always do."
Carl wished he could say the same. He woke up quite often during the night for no apparent reason and always had difficulty falling asleep again. Maybe tonight would be different. After all, he had drunk a fair few pints and he still had to get himself home when he left Tom's. Maybe tonight he would sleep like a log, too.
The walk to Tom's took about ten-minutes. It was in the opposite direction to the way Carl had to go home and he estimated that from Tom's flat it would be good half hours, maybe forty-five minutes, walk home. Not that Carl was bothered by that he just liked to know.
Arriving at the block of flats in which Tom lived, Tom unlocked the main entrance door and walked inside, Carl following. Tom headed to the staircase and walked up two short flights before arriving at his own front door.
"Welcome to my world," said Tom, unlocking the front door to his flat and standing aside for Carl to enter. "Go on through."
Carl walked in to an entrance hall and then straight ahead, following the direction that Tom had indicated with a nod of his head.
Carl found himself in a living room containing a sofa against one wall and a chair facing the TV set that stood in one corner near a large picture window; there was a small coffee table to the right of the sofa and wall units were piled high with books and CDs, some vinyl albums and singles and pictures on the wall of people that meant nothing to him.
"Take a seat, I'll just give these a minute in the microwave, okay?"
"Yeah, that's great, thanks," said Carl, removing his jacket and sitting down on the sofa, guessing that the chair facing the TV was for his host's exclusive use.
"How do you take your coffee?" Tom's voice called from the kitchen, which was through a door off the living room.
"Oh, err, black and two sugars, please," returned Carl.
"Same as me, so that's easy enough to remember for the future," came back Tom's acknowledgement that he had heard him.
The future? Did that mean Carl would be invited again? He smiled.
The ping of the microwave indicated that the minute was up and Tom removed the containers from within it and emptied the contents onto two separate plates.
"There you go," said Tom, walking into the living room and handing one plate to Carl, who accepted it readily.
A moment later, Tom brought the coffee through and then came back with his own plate, placing himself in the chair, he picked up the cheeseburger with both hands and bit into it and emitted a small groan of instant pleasure.
"What's wrong?" asked Carl.
"Bloody relish just dripped down my shirt. Bugger, I need this for tomorrow."
"Better go rinse it out, before it stains."
"Yeah, when I've finished," laughed Tom.
Carl almost choked. He watched as Tom removed his shirt and took an intake of breath as the body he had so long dreamed about was displayed for the first time and he was not disappointed. How could he be? It was better than even he had imagined.
"At least I can stop anymore dripping onto it," said Tom, throwing the shirt aside and sitting back down again to finish the burger. "Is yours okay, or do you want some ketchup?"
"This is fine for me," replied Carl. "But thanks."
They ate in silence and Tom finished first. He took a long drink from his mug of coffee and licked his lips. Smiling with contentment he let out a long sigh and said: "Just what I needed, that really hit the spot."
Carl had to admit the burger was pretty tasty, though not as tasty as the sight of a shirtless Tom. He smiled at his host as he finished eating and picked up the mug of coffee he had been given and, like Tom before him, he took a long drink.
Tom stood up and took Carl's plate and, along with his own, he returned them to the kitchen. Returning to the living room, he picked up his shirt and looked at the grease mark left by the relish that had dripped on to it.
"Damn it. What the hell is gonna get that out?"
"Let me see," said Carl, outstretching his arm.
Tom passed his shirt to Carl and the boy stood up. Holding it up to the light to get a better look he could smell the odour of Tom in the fabric and almost fell back on to the sofa as the sweet smell filled his nostrils and made him even more light-headed than he already was. However, he managed to regain his stance and turned to face his shirtless host.
"Got any carbon tetrachloride?"
"Any what?" Tom queried, as he raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"Carbon tetrachloride," repeated Carl.
"No, I don't think so."
"Used to be able to get it at chemists, but I think they banned it, or something."
"Okay, what was it?"
"Some kind of bleaching agent that would have removed this grease mark."
"Yeah, but I think they must do an alternative. It was toxic, so they stopped making it, but some people still have it."
"I never even heard of it."
"Well, if you do get something else, test it on a small piece of the fabric first, like a seam or something and turn the shirt inside out and treat it from the inside, okay?"
"If you say so," grinned Tom.
"What's so funny?"
"Well, something's amusing you."
"Just you knowing all this stain removal stuff."
"Oh, I see."
Tom laughed: "Don't get paranoid, I think it's great. A little complicated, though."
"Well, washing up liquid might do it just as good."
"It would be easier to get a new shirt from the store tomorrow."
"Well, why the fuck didn't you say you could do that in the first place?"
"Just occurred to me."
Carl rolled the stained shirt into a ball and threw it in Tom's direction, his aim was a little high and Tom reached up to catch it, giving Carl a glance of his underarm and, again, he almost fell back on to the sofa. This was getting a little too much for him and he could feel his heart beating fast and he knew that unless he got out of there as soon as possible he would cream his underwear.
Glancing at his watch, he said: "Hey, I gotta go, but thanks for the coffee and the burger, I've had a great time tonight."
"Yeah, me, too. I guess it is getting late. Listen, do me favour, will you?"
Take this downstairs and leave it with the rest for me, will you? The dustman comes tomorrow and it'll save me having to go down early tomorrow morning."
"You want me to take out your trash?"
Tom smiled. "Please?"
Carl took hold of the black plastic dustbin bag that Tom had picked up from his kitchen floor and held out to him.
"Will I see you tomorrow?"
"Sure. I'll walk down to the pub with you, I'll come to the pool and have a swim first."
"Great, see you there."
Tom led the way to the front door and opened it to let Carl out. As Carl headed down the stairs, Tom called after him.
"Here, may as well stick this in there, too."
Carl looked up as Tom threw the stained shirt in his direction. He caught it and shook his head and then laughed.
Tom smiled and closed the door as Carl disappeared from view. At the bottom of the stairs Carl deposited the bag of household rubbish with those already gathered there and headed for the main exit from the block of flats, Tom's shirt still in his hands.
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]
* Some browsers may require a right click instead