With a thick cream towel wrapped around his waist and while still brushing his teeth, Simon tapped on his brother’s door. "Luke?"
They'd stayed pretty late at Quince's the night before, with a second movie not starting until past nine. Luke’s recently-acquired status as a licensed driver really came in handy at times like this, and they took the minivan, arriving back home just under the midnight curfew. By the time they got in, their mum and dad had already gone to bed.
Both Simon and his brother had slept in late that morning.
Through the door came an immediate, “Uh-huh?”
Taking it to mean his brother was already up and dressed, Simon pushed it open. With a mouthful of brush and froth, he poked his head through and said, "Can I gorrow a gair 'o your 'oxers?"
Luke looked across from the screen of his laptop where—yet again—he seemed to be researching new and used cars. He studied Simon with a bemused expression on his face. "If that was 'can you borrow a pair of my boxers', the answer’s no. Go buy your own!"
Simon turned back to the sink, spat out a mouthful, and came back. "Awww—please. Mum hasn't brought up the clean stuff and I'm all out!"
Okay, he had successfully managed to ‘loose’ most of the blues, cutting him down to seven pairs. Hardly any, really! Their mum washed like clockwork, but due to ‘accidents’, it was unfortunate if some days he inadvertently got through two pairs.
Luke was unimpressed. "So? Go down and get some, you lazy sod!"
“Please—just this once. I don't think the washing's done yet."
“That’s what you said last time!”
Simon tried again gearing up to his most pleading as he got nothing but a stubborn look from his brother. “She says we’re going shopping tomorrow for school shirts, and stuff for the new term. I’ll get some more then.” Damn right he was...and she wasn't choosing them!
Luke rolled his eyes and then fixed him with a withering stare. “Well at least you’re asking and not just stealing them.”
Simon tried to exude an innocent demeanor, though inwardly he shrugged. Okay, so he’d lifted a few pairs in his time. Borrowing…stealing…they were just words. Neither of them paid for their clothes, so what the hell did it matter? He waited.
Shaking his head, Luke stepped across to his top drawer, opened it, and tossed Simon the first pair he got his hand on. Thankful as he snatched them out of the air, Simon grinned and, with a quick, “Thanks,” headed back towards his own room to dress.
Simon paused mid-bathroom as his brother's smirky tone followed him. Turning back, he put his head around the door once more. “What?”
“For lunch…don’t you think you should be wearing your school uniform?” Luke's face creased as he started sniggering.
“Funny boy!" Simon grunted, shaking his head. Asshole!Perhaps it had been a mistake to tell Luke late last night that Daniels was coming for lunch, too. Simon did an about-turn, but only made it a few paces.
“Now what?” He didn’t think it would be anything worth going back for, and was right as the giggling rose a few notches and his brother called through, “What are you going to say when they ask you to be a page boy?”
Peeved, Simon reached back around the door of his brother’s bedroom and offered him two fingers.
By eleven-thirty, everyone was beginning to get ready to go out. Him to Toby's, and the rest to wherever they decided they were going for lunch. The four of them were gathered in the kitchen and his mum was being ridiculous.
"Don't you think a polo shirt would be better, sweetheart?" she said as she scrutinized him. The tone sounded like a suggestion until you got to know her better. In her arms she carried a whole bunch of ironed laundry. "Look, you've plenty of nice ones.” She lay the ironing down on the table, and sorted through it, easing one out for him. “What about his one? And those jeans are looking a bit worn, too."
For flips sake!
"Mum, its just Toby's." He shook his head in despair. "I go there all the time!"
"Yes, of course you do, sweetheart." He could see her beady eye measuring him up. "But Grace has guests today. You should make an effort.”
"It's guest, not guests!" He pulled a face. "And I'm not dressing up for Daniels!"
"It's Mr. Daniels…and do you want us to drive you up there?"
Geoff came to the rescue. "Oh, leave him be, Hon. He's fine…and he’s quite capable of taking his bike.” A broad grin plastered his face, and he added, “So, is Grace dating Marcus at last?"
"How would I know?" Simon rolled his eyes at their antics. "It’s just dinner!"
"Well, I bet you he's not there to mow the grass, the old dog!" his dad winked mischievously. It wasn't hard to guess where his thoughts were heading.
"Dad, do you mind? He's a teacher!" Luke protested, though the grin on his face was teasing, too.
Lucy swatted at their dad and pierced him with one of her glares. "Behave! I'm sure there'll be none of that!"
"Yeah, right." Geoff smirked as he turned away.
His mum hadn't finished with Simon, either. Before he could scurry out the door she repeated, "Now you behave yourself, too, young man. This is an important date for Grace."
"So it is a date then?" Geoff said, brightening as he paused at the door.
"Go and do something useful!" Lucy hefted the big pile of all their ironed clothing into their dad's hands. “Go put these away.”
"Yes, Hon." A dutiful dad trotted out into the hall. There was a pause, then, from the stairs, Geoff called, "Simon?"
On the way to the garage to get his bike, Simon raised his voice. "What?"
His dad's voice drifted their way. "Take notes. Your mother will want to know everything when you get back!"
Sniggering, Simon made his escape.
Out on the road, he climbed the hill at a measured pace, pushing against the pedals with just enough force to keep him moving. Truth be told, he was feeling a little skittish at the idea of dinner with a teacher. His brain told him that Daniels was just an ordinary person, but on the other hand, it just didn't seem natural. He couldn't imagine what Toby would be thinking!
Daniels had been to the Skerrits before of course, but a last-minute burger on the grill before the movies was different from a planned dinner date! That morning, Simon almost considered pulling out, but it seemed Grace had already squared it up with his mum and there was no getting out of it.
As he came over the rise, he studied the parked cars as he approached. Would Daniels already be there? If he was, what was he going to say to him—and vice-versa? He didn't expect the teacher to call roll, but it was awkward all the same. Relieved he couldn't yet see any other car nearby the house other than Grace’s beat-up Nissan, he bumped onto the drive and came to a halt. He leaned his bike neatly against the front porch rather than dropping it onto the grass as he usually might. Then, stepping onto the porch, he tapped politely at the front door and waited, as jittery as if it had been his date!
As he stood patiently in front of the freshly-repaired mesh outer door, he mused how things had changed the last four months since he and his boyfriend had been together.
Even just calling it that was second nature now—at least here. Toby was his boyfriend and he'd long got past any insecurity about saying it exactly how it was when in their home. Grace knew everything—well, she thought she did, anyway. And if she had guessed about their regular, and often messy, make-outs in the tree house, she didn't let on. The rest of it, she understood and openly approved of. It had become like a second home for him, and a safe place to be. And when Simon came over—which was most days—he either knocked and went straight in, or headed around to the back deck to go in through the kitchen door.
That day, wishing now that he'd worn a neater shirt, he stood on the porch and fretted.
The door opened, and Grace appeared the other side. She looked nice and he felt even more uncomfortable in his jeans and tee. He could also see from her expression that she was expecting someone else. She recovered quickly.
"Simon! It's you." She beamed, but the tone of her voice was more like, 'it's not like you to stand on the porch!'.
"Toby...it's just Simon." Calling down the hallway, her tone became teasing. "You can come out of hiding now."
Grinning, Simon passed her as she held the door for him. He caught a subtle and quite nice trace of perfume that complimented the gentle colors of the pretty floral summer skirt she had on, which were upmarket from her usual jeans. She stepped out onto the porch and he could see her peering into the distance down the hill.
Hell—even she thought it was a date!
He padded down to the studio, where Toby was sticking his head out of the door. From behind him, as she shut the door, Grace said, "If you two want to come outside, I'll bring some lemonade onto the deck."
“Sure,” Simon said immediately. “Thanks!”
At Toby’s studio, frowning eyes and a tight face greeted him.
"I'd rather stay here," Toby muttered, sounding grumpy as he opened the door a little more. Simon had to smother a grin at the collared polo shirt. It looked like he hadn't been the only one being mothered that morning!
He pushed open the door and grabbed Toby's hand before he could back away. "Don't be a dork! It's beautiful outside!" Toby was wearing the cologne he liked and, as usual, Simon’s brain clicked into place. Even though any private time during the night was denied them, anytime after eight in the morning was a good time to be with his boyfriend as far as Simon was concerned.
The polo shirt and neat shorts were an indication that Toby was trying his best and had met his mum half way. Toby had even submitted to a belt to stop his shorts hanging off his backside! But the face gave it away. For someone who rarely got anxious, Toby was sweating bullets!
"Hey..." Simon wrapped his arms around the familiar waist. He knew a good remedy for the worried sick! "Stop fretting. I came didn't I?" He offered Toby a loading dose of medicinal lips and slipped his hand up into the small of his back, rubbing gently.
"Who says I'm worried!" Toby sounded gruff, but he didn't let go.
Disengaging temporarily, Simon popped his head back around the door to check the passageway was clear. Ducking back inside Toby's studio again, he closed the door, backed Toby against it, and offered him a second mouthful of medication. The dosage was stronger this time, and it wasn't very many moments before they began to get quite worked up. This was another thing that had changed over the last months: he'd become a lot more confidant in his own abilities to convince Toby in certain particular ways!
Toby, he’d come to realize over time, was pretty physical. Perhaps a bit too much at times for his liking—some of the highly erotic 'games' Toby liked to play bordered on raunchy!
His boyfriend liked to experiment. That was how Toby described it anyhow, though Simon didn't always see eye to eye with some of it. It wasn't that he didn’t enjoy a regular squirt, but he wanted more than that, too; like talking and caring and shared interests. There were things he liked doing, but often getting Toby out there to share them was like pulling teeth!
That didn't mean that Simon hadn't learned a thing of two from Toby's games, and while Simon knew he shouldn’t manipulate him, he also knew Grace was relying on his ability to keep Toby sweet. So he backed his boyfriend against the door and pressed in provocatively. It wasn't long before there was wood in front of Toby as well as behind!
Jeesh—that hadn’t taken long!
Teasing him to get his boyfriend's mind off what was bothering him, he pushed it a bit further. He drew down the zip and rubbed the back of his hand through Toby's underwear against an almost fully-hardened shaft.
“Oh fuck—” Into Simon’s open mouth, Toby groaned and pressed against the hand, wanting more.
Maybe Simon was being mean, but it was the perfect time to let go! He planted a final soft kiss onto his boyfriend's mouth and murmured, "Now, are you going to come outside with me like that?" He smirked and playfully tapped a raging boner. "Or are you going to hide it first?"
"Bastard!” Toby glared at him and looked disappointed as he fumbled with his shorts, but at least it had got his mind off other things.
Smirking as he made a few of his own adjustments, Simon left Toby to gather himself and went to the kitchen. He returned a confidant smile as Grace raised her eyebrows questioningly.
"He's just coming," he said, smothering another inconvenient snigger.
Toby very nearly was!
Simon guessed that, from the look of relief in Grace’s eyes, her son had been a bit of a pain that morning, but he’d lay odds she had no idea how he'd helped change his attitude!
"He'll be fine," he said; confidently, because he knew how Toby ticked. She nodded, but he could tell she was glad he'd arrived.
And why not? She had other things to worry about that day!
The kitchen was spotless, and he could see through onto the swept back porch where the seats had new cushions on them. She must have gone out and bought them the previous day while he and Toby were at the Quinces. She’d even cut the lawn, and some of the beds had been turned over. She must have spent the whole day on it!
He pulled himself up onto his usual breakfast-bar stool opposite from where she was preparing food and watched while she added sugar to the big glass jug of squeezed lemons and iced water. He sniffed at the tasty aromas coming from the oven. "That smells good."
She smiled warmly at him. "It’s a pot roast."
"Do you want me to do Yorkshires?"
Baking traditional Yorkshire puddings was a skill he’d only recently discovered he had, and Grace was convinced it was his English genes! You just had to get the fat smoking hot, he kept telling her. At least that's what his mum had told him. That, and make sure the mix is thoroughly whisked. He didn't do a lot of cooking, but it made sense if you followed the recipe. Add exactly what they said and cook for the correct number of minutes. You couldn't go wrong!
She beamed and said, "I thought you'd never ask! The meat has a bit to go still, so we'll just wait till Marcus arrives."
"Grace?" Another change in his confidence in their home was Simon’s regular use of her given name.
"Ahha?" Briefly, she looked up as she stirred the jug.
"Does he know?"
It wasn't much to go on. On the other hand, he had a connection with her that he didn't seem to have with his own mum. As she often did, she seemed to be able to read his mind, and studied him before replying.
"Marcus? About the two of you I guess you mean."
He nodded. It had been on his mind on and off quite a bit during the morning, especially after his brother's page boy quip. The closer she got to Marcus Daniels, the nearer their teacher got to knowing about him and Toby. The more Simon thought about that, the more nervous he got.
She rested the big bag of sugar onto the table. "Of course not, sweetheart. You know I wouldn't do that with talking to you first."
"So when?" asked Toby, appearing just then and crossing the kitchen to join Simon, shuffling onto the stool next to him.
Simon hid a smirk—Toby no longer appeared disheveled, but if you knew what you were looking for, there was still the hint of something interesting in his shorts. There was also something of the usual fire in his eyes, too, so Simon reckoned his impromptu treatment plan had worked.
Grace didn't immediately respond, so Toby pressed on with his train of thought. "When you get serious? When you get married?" He was speaking evenly, and even Simon thought they were good questions; BIG questions that affected him too, though it wasn't his place to ask Grace about her relationships.
She sighed and looked at her watch. Then she pulled up one of the other stools and settled opposite them. He was surprised to see her face was a little troubled as she said, "Sweetheart, to be honest, I don't know."
Simon leaned comfortably against Toby, and concentrated on what she was saying. From experience, he knew it would be kind, but honestly direct. His own mum could learn a thing or two from her on how to talk to and with you, not just at you!
Seeing him snuggling lightly against her son, a soft smile caught her face and he returned it. It was a subtle thing that passed between them now and again, and was to do with their shared love for the bundle of contradictions that he'd settled against.
She continued, "I'm taking this step by step the best I know how. I like Marcus, of course you know I do, but we're just friends. Nobody is talking about getting married."
Toby didn't reply, but Simon felt he had to ask what he felt was the really burning question. "But what if he doesn't like gay kids?"
Even she flinched at that, but it was out there now, and Simon really needed to know. Anything that affected Toby was going to affect him too. If it came to the point of Daniels finding out that Toby preferred guys, then that was going to put him right in the frame. So far he hadn’t even dared tell his own parents, let alone it get around school! From the look on her face, he got the idea that she was way ahead of them in grappling with the question.
"The bottom line," she said at last, looking each of them in the eye, "is you—and I mean both of you—have to know that you're always going to come first. I’m not going to put you in a difficult position." She sighed as if realizing the implications of that commitment. "I'll know what he thinks about that, way before it gets anywhere near you.
"But…" She watched them both carefully, making sure she had their attention. "Outside of me and Simon, Marcus is your biggest supporter, Toby. You know that, and he's been a good friend to us. So let's give him a chance, shall we?"
‘So where is he?” Toby asked, bringing them back to the immediate. “I thought he was meant to be here by now?”
“He gave me a call about half an hour ago.” She checked her watch as she went back to the lemonade. "He was coming for twelve-thirty, but he’s running late with car problems. He was getting a taxi, so I’m sure he won’t be long."
Simon was thinking the same thing as he carried some glasses and followed her out onto the back deck. Daniels was a stickler for timing. Definitely one of his good points! He and Toby settled onto the two-seater, leaving the other two individual cane basket chairs for Grace and Daniels. He poured some lemonade and sipped at it as his gaze swept the back of the house.
"It looks nice," he said. And it did, and it was more than just the cleanup for today. With her books selling like hot cakes, she had picked up another payout from the publishers, and he knew that they finally had enough to pay for a number of the big jobs that needed doing on the old place. The old splintered decking had been replaced and stained, and the exterior woodwork treated and repainted. All the outside the doors had been changed out, too. He'd helped with some of it over the summer.
Grace seemed pleased, too. "It’s coming along," she admitted. "There just hardly seem enough hours in the day, and with school starting soon, I don't reckon we'll get much more done this summer. I was thinking that—" But they didn't get to hear what she was thinking when the sound of knocking came from the front door.
Simon and Toby exchanged a look of trepidation.
"That should be him!" Grace said. Her appearance was breezy and relaxed, but her voice gave her away. Simon could tell she was as apprehensive as them. She left them to go answer the door, leaving him and Toby on edge again. It was like an exam, and he half expected someone to say, 'Turn over the paper now. You have two hours!'
From inside, they could hear muted conversation, which became louder until Daniels strode out onto the back deck. He looked surprisingly jittery!
"Hello, boys," he muttered. "I am so sorry I'm late!"
Simon couldn't help himself and jumped to his feet as though to attention. "Hello, sir... Can I get you a drink?" He motioned to the glasses and flicked a look of irritation at Toby who had stayed on his bum, leaving him feeling a little vulnerable.
"Simon, that would be lovely," Daniels replied. "I'm parched!" He raised a hand. "Hello again, Toby. How's things?"
"Good, sir, thanks." There was a wariness in Toby's tone, though Daniels didn't seem to notice it as he took the glass Simon proffered.
"Thank you, Simon.” The cane chair creaked as Daniels settled into it “As I was explaining to your mom, Toby, my wretched car broke down again on the way over here. Had to leave it by the roadside and get a taxi. Again, I'm so sorry I'm late." He took a long swig from the glass to help recover.
It was funny, Simon thought, as he perched near—but not too near—to Toby, but Daniels didn't feel at all like the Daniels in class. For a start, he'd never seen the guy in khaki shorts before, let alone heard him apologize! Daniels even had legs...muscular and impressively hairy ones at that!
Their teacher's eyes flicked around, scanning the back deck and garden. He seemed to find his rhythm, and this time, the look in those dark grey, beady eyes was familiar; it was the one that didn't miss anything! It locked onto something twenty feet up.
"How’s the tree house coming on, boys?"
"Good," Simon said at once, relieved there was something to talk about. His eyes flicked to Toby, hoping he'd join in. "We got the lift working better, too!"
“A lift?” Daniels seemed impressed. “You’ll have to show me!”
Grace's head popped through the open door, and Daniels stood quickly, and asked, "Is there anything I can do, Grace?" It was so attentive that it was pretty obvious that even he thought it was a date!
"You're fine, Marcus. We've got it covered. Toby, can you just get a fork and hold the joint for me while I pour off the fat?" She had an oven mitt in her hands. "I just need to check the meat and put the veggies on. Simon, I'll shout you when it's time for the Yorkshires."
Simon watched him with amusement as Toby lost no time in scurrying into the kitchen.
"You make Yorkshire pudding?" asked Daniels, once they were alone. He smiled. "I'm impressed!"
Simon grinned. "Grace tells me it's the English genes in me, sir."
Daniels continued to look amused. "I think that in the circumstances, it's okay to call me Mr. Daniels, or even Marcus, Simon."
"Yes, sir." Simon struggled with the transition and failed. "I'll do my best, sir." He shook his head, trying to clear it, and smiled lamely. "It's just a bit...well..."
"Weird?" Daniels offered.
Simon chuckled. "Yes, sir." It still wouldn't come out, but Daniels just chuckled as both of them began to relax.
After a few moments, Simon checked the door and lowered his voice. "Just don't go into Toby's studio without being asked. He's really touchy about just anybody being in there. He can lose it real easy."
Daniels looked thoughtful, and in just as low a voice, replied, "Thanks for the heads up. I'll watch out for that."
The teacher's voice returned to normal as Toby returned from his kitchen duties. "Come on you two," Daniels said. "Show me this lift!"
They left their drinks on the deck and began to stroll across the grass. “I hear congratulations are in order?” Daniels said. “It looked like both of you did pretty well in the exams this year. Mr. Lewis seems to think you’re now his star pupil, Toby!”
Lewis was their History teacher. Simon wondered if Daniels was normally this nice, or whether he was just trying to butter up Toby.
“Really?” Toby’s eyes widened and then he shrugged. “Simon helped me a lot when we were studying.”
“Good for you, Simon!” Daniels sounded impressed. “Is he a good teacher, Toby?”
Toby laughed at last. "On some things, yes. Other things...not so much."
Simon was firstly quite pleasantly surprised that Toby had actually admitted that, good though his results were, none of them were without Simon's help. Secondly, he tried to keep his face straight as he couldn’t help being suspicious that his boyfriend’s reference to 'other things' were usually when they were naked! He'd get him for that!
They reached the tree, and after examining the bottom portion of the food lift, Simon decided it was best he go up first, as he couldn't remember if they'd left the box of tissues in view, let alone some used jizzy ones on the floor.
Or the rope!
In retrospect, he was glad he got there in time to hide the evidence before Daniels poked his head through the door. Toby wasn't far behind.
"It’s an amazing view from up here!" Daniels murmured once he was safely up. “I remember making something like this when I was young.” He settled on the edge and watched as Simon operated the clever little lift.
“So how’s the summer been, you two? The house is looking good, Toby. It looks like you’ve been busy.”
“Yes, sir.” Toby sounded more enthusiastic now.
“Did you go anywhere on holiday, Mr. Daniels?” Simon asked, making a determined effort to not get left behind.
“Yes I did, Simon. I went to visit my parents. They live in Orlando, and amongst other things, I went to Disney World.”
“Disney World? You went to Disney?” Toby sounded as gobsmacked as Simon felt himself! “By yourself?”
“No, of course not by myself, Toby.” Daniels chuckled and remained confidently assured. “I often go there with my sister and her family. They live not too far from the park. They have an annual family pass, and I just tag along.”
Toby's mouth dropped open. “A pass? You lucky—”
It was probably a good job they didn’t get to hear the rest as Grace called up from the deck. “Simon...do you want to come and get the Yorkshires going?”
“Sure thing,” he called back. They all scrambled back down.
"Toby, why don't you show Marcus your studio?" Grace suggested when they arrived into the kitchen.
"Holy moly, Grace!" Daniels said at once. He seemed taken aback. "I can't do that!"
Now it was her that was taken aback, and she frowned. "Why not?"
He shook his head. "I would never, ever, let anyone I didn't invite into the studio at my place." He glanced at Toby, who was watching the exchange carefully. "I don't doubt Toby is the same. It's like..." He paused and then grinned. "Call it an artist’s man-cave!"
Simon saw a knowing smile creep across Toby's face. Yep, this was going well!
"Mr. Daniels," Toby said, affecting a formal voice that turned into a smile and became a wide grin. "If you would like to visit my man-cave, I'd be honored!"
As they trooped out, Simon was amused to see the 'I have no idea what just happened' look on Grace's face!
* * *
After dinner was done, Daniels sat back and sighed. "All I can say is thank you! Grace, you’re a wonderful cook—and Simon, you definitely have the knack when it comes to,” he cocked an eyebrow, “Yorkshire puddings you say they are actually called?”
Simon grinned. Knowing something that Daniels didn’t was the icing on the cake of a great meal. Pot roast and Yorkshire puddings, followed by apple pie and cream, and then coffee, had left him totally stuffed!
Daniels pushed his chair back. “Sadly, much though I wish I could stay longer, I think I'd better go try to recover my car!" He looked a little anxious as he reached into one if the deep pockets of his shorts. "And let's hope it's not already been towed! If you'll excuse me, I'll just ring for a taxi."
Simon was surprisingly disappointed that Daniels had to go so soon. In the end, he'd actually enjoyed having him there with them for Sunday lunch. Go figure! The guy seemed a lot different when he was outside of the school. More like a normal person. From the energetic conversation around the table, he got the idea that Toby had enjoyed it, too. He and Daniels had a lot in common with their shared interest in art, and earlier, the pair had spent a good long time in Toby’s ‘man-cave’ talking.
"Oh pfffttt!" Grace waved her hand dismissively as Daniels fumbled with his phone. "You'll do nothing of the kind, Marcus. Let me drive you."
"Really, it's fine...I left the wretched thing quite some distance away. It took me thirty minutes to get here."
"You are not going to waste more money on a taxi, when I can just as easily take you!"
“Well, if you don’t mind,” Daniels said. “I would really appreciate it.” The smile was grateful, but there was something more there, too. Apparently he seemed quite willing to grab some one-on-one time with her in the car!
Five minutes later, Simon and Toby stood on the front porch waving one final time as the car pulled off the short drive. Shutting the front door after Daniels and his mom had left, Toby wrapped an arm around Simon.
"That was pretty good, don't you think," Simon said at once. "He's a really nice guy!"
There was a glint in Toby’s eye. "Yeah, but you heard what she said. He told her he was thirty minutes away. Thirty minutes! Even if they went there and back without stopping, that's an hour—and who knows how long they’ll have to wait for the pickup truck?” Toby grinned, and it wasn’t hard to guess what was on his mind. “We’ve got ages!"