Kingdom Come

Chapter 13

Tom Gentleman did phone later. David had spent most of the intervening hours in tears. Cry-baby, his short-lived room-mate had called him last year. Yes, he had cried a lot, even with me, whether in present anguish of mind, in pain at reliving the past, or in the happiness of love. Never had it been without justification. And now it was in relief. One part of his problem was already being taken care of. The other had been resolved at a single stroke. Small wonder his emotions were raw.

“Dorchester,” the inspector told us, “is now minus its dentist. Look. So far we’ve been feeding snippets to each other. But you’ve obviously been working things out by yourselves. So’ve I. And now we must pool resources. I need to hear everything you know. Everything you guess. Can we have a long session? Tomorrow?”

“Yes. Lucky it’s Sunday. We’re free the whole day.”

“Good. Do you mind coming to HQ at Kidlington? I’ll send a car for you.”

“If it’s a police car, pick us up at the main gate, not the portico. What about half past nine?”

“OK. It’ll be a minion, not me.”

David cried himself to sleep, but woke refreshed and recharged. After breakfast we went to the main gate, to be met and greeted warmly by Kevin, the constable who had been at the pillbox. He seemed to have taken a shine to us, and he was sporting a beautiful black eye.

“Get that last night?” we asked.

“Damn right! He fought like a cat. Good thing he wasn’t prepared. That’s why the inspector hadn’t risked going to him for his DNA. He dursn’t give a single hint that he suspected him. He’s been brooding on all sorts of roundabout ways of getting a sample without him knowing. But then you handed him one on a plate. Which of course I don’t know about.”

He winked at us with the other eye. He drove round the Oxford bypass to Kidlington, ushered us into a vast modern block, and installed us in a small conference room. The inspector came in with a large bruise on his cheek and weariness in his eyes.

“Morning! Excuse me, first things first.”

He went straight to the coffee machine.

“Didn’t get to bed last night. I’m living off coffee. Want some?”

Then he got down to business.

“We’ve managed to take an official swab and it’s already gone to Culham for the DNA. Assuming it’s OK, and I don’t doubt it, he’ll be appearing before the magistrates within a week, charged with murder. And they’ll remand him in custody. For the rest, mind if we tape our talk?”

With the machine rolling, we trotted out our reconstruction, being quizzed closely at every stage. Gentleman had a very large-scale Ordnance Survey map on which to follow the routes to the pillbox, and when even that detail proved inadequate he brought up Google Earth on the computer. When we had talked ourselves dry, despite frequent intakes of coffee, he sat back.

“Thank you very much. Very much indeed. A lot of that’s new to me, and I couldn’t have got it off my own bat. Now you said you could explain everything — as you have done — except the why. I can’t explain it either. Not yet. But there’s a clue from last night. He was vicious — Kevin told you about that? He put up one hell of a fight. And I strongly suspect he’s a psychopath.

“Now that isn’t a term the shrinks use, but it’s a useful one. Psychopaths are totally lacking in empathy and remorse. They’re egocentric and self-important. They can blow up the most minor of grievances into blood feuds. They have an exaggerated sense of what they’re entitled to, and if they’re denied it they can be utterly devious and cold-blooded. So my next major job is to look into Riddle’s background — school, university, earlier jobs. The signs tend to show up quite early. Children who’re going to become psychopaths are often delinquent, they can be cruel to animals, they’re apparently immune to punishment. And psychopaths tend to be bad at relationships. Their affairs or marriages don’t last long. We’ve got to see if he fits that pattern. We may find his motive was some insignificant niggle against your Dad and against Carl’s family, blown up out of all proportion. So another thing I’ve got to do is track down the Faithfulls and ask if they can shed any light. We’ll see.”

David stirred and opened his mouth.

“I know what you’re going to say, David. And yes, I entirely agree. Even before starting that job I’m going to set the ball rolling for your Dad. The first step is to get the Criminal Cases Review Commission in on the act. This is precisely what they’re there for, and with this new cast-iron evidence to show that the original verdict was wrong, there’ll be nothing to hold them up. They’ll appoint a solicitor advocate to handle the case and they’ll send it to the Court of Appeal. It has to go there, because the sentence was imposed by a court, and only a court can quash it.

“Now, I know the law is often slow. It can be snail-like. There’s always a backlog of appeals. But this one’s so clear-cut it’ll only last a matter of minutes. I’m sure it can be slotted in soon. The Crown’s barrister will simply say that the evidence offered at the first trial was incomplete, and that new evidence has come in — without specifying what it is — which has led to the arrest and charging of the real culprit — without naming him. He or she will say that the Crown was wrong then, and that therefore the verdict was wrong. And when the Crown says that, the judges of appeal have no option but to reverse the verdict. And your Dad will walk free without a stain on his character.”

David’s eyes were shining. “When?”

“I was afraid you’d ask that. A month? In terms of appeals that’s greased lightning. But it’s only a guess. Please don’t hold me to it. Meanwhile, your Dad must be told. It would be best, don’t you think, if you did that yourself. And Peter with you.”

“Peter? But you said …”

“I did. But now we’re in a whole new ballgame. I’ll tell the governor at Bullingdon what the score is and that his, um, guest will shortly be leaving. Things like this are at his discretion, and in the circumstances I’m pretty sure he’ll give you — both of you — as long a slot as you want, and in a private room, not the public visits hall. I’ll be there too, but only to confirm your news and offer apologies. Apart from that, I’ll stay in the background. Now, can you make Tuesday afternoon? Good. I’ll phone them up.”

He made a note.

“As for the rest, there’s nothing for you to worry about. Or your Dad. The Thames Valley Police, I’m sorry to say, were responsible for this cock-up, and we’ll shoulder the responsibility of putting it straight. Or as straight as can be. Carl’s gone and his family’s been shattered, and your Mum’s gone. Not that those were our fault, and sadly nothing can be done about them. But your Dad’s been behind bars for five years — five and a half, now — when he shouldn’t have been. He’s entitled to compensation from the court. Very considerable compensation — his solicitor will negotiate that — though nothing can really compensate him for what he’s lost.

“And you … in some respects you’ve lost five years of your life too. I’m afraid there’s no compensation for that.”

David, who had been hanging on every word, looked at me and opened his mouth again. The inspector, smiling, held up a warning hand and switched the tape recorder off.

“OK. Go ahead.”

“But I have got compensation. I’ve got Peter.”

Gentleman was still smiling.

“Thought so. It’s all right — you’re both of legal age. My own son’s gay and I’ve no problem with it. That’s why I think Peter should be with you. So your Dad can see what a very good bargain you’ve got.”

“Yes.” David laughed, a laugh of sheer delight. “You’re right. There never was a better bargain driven. And God, we’re grateful to you! Is that reprimand going to be wiped off your record now?”

“Yes, it is. My boss has already told me so. He isn’t happy that we made a pig’s ear of this the first time round, but he knows full well that wasn’t my doing. So I’ve got a feather in my cap instead.”


“And for that it’s me who’s grateful to you.”

“Just one other thing,” said David. “The stuff the police found on the pillbox floor. I don’t give a monkey’s about the Star Wars light sabre and suchlike. But can my Dad have that coin back?”

“I probably shouldn’t release it, but for the life of me I can’t see why not. Yes. I’ll bring it on Tuesday.”

He made another note.


Kevin, having taken us to the canteen for lunch, drove us home. Back in S312, David was thoughtful.

“Peter,” he said. “When Dad walks free, where does he go? It’ll take him ages to recover. And the house was sold years ago.”

“There’s always a welcome for him in Hampstead. Mum and Dad said so. Don’t you remember?”

“Would they really put him up? They’ve never even met him.”

“But they’ve met you. That’s plenty good enough. Let’s check now. We need to tell them the good news anyway.”

I phoned there and then. It being Sunday, they were at home. They erupted in delight and, they being them, renewed the invitation. They promised to visit Mr Kingdom in prison to make themselves known and to offer it in person. And they demanded to speak to David by himself. To give him privacy I went out, and when I returned he was too choked up to talk.

We also needed to tell the good news to other friends. First I phoned Sarah and was lucky enough to catch her between services.

“God did make it come true,” I told her.

“Peter! Wonderful! So Tom Gentleman’s got the real criminal?”

“He arrested someone last night. I’m afraid you won’t be so pleased when you hear who.”

There was a pause.

“I’m pretty sure I know already. He wasn’t at matins, even though he was down to read the lesson. But tell me, just to be safe.”

“Cedric Riddle.”

Sarah sighed.

Before we rang off I asked her for Philip Justice’s number. He had been uncannily accurate, and he deserved to be told so. After a delay while his housekeeper asked him if he would take the call and set up the phone for him, he replied.

“Mr Truelove, do I deduce that you have news for me?”

“Yes, sir. Your suspicions were right. The sexual assault was set up. Mr Kingdom was innocent.”

“I am very much relieved to hear it. My felicitations to you both, and to Mr Kingdom, and to the inspector. Has he made an arrest?”

“Yes, sir. Cedric Riddle, the dentist.”

There was a laugh which sounded lopsided even over the phone.

“Was he the person you suspected, sir?”

“You must excuse me if I do not answer that. He remains innocent until a court finds him guilty. Until then, the laws of defamation still apply. But never, I fancy, has a judge been more content that a sentence of his was about to be overturned.”

“And may I ask, sir, why you suspected the rape had been set up?”

“Because it all seemed to me so blatant. There was no attempt to disguise the evidence. Were Mr Kingdom the perpetrator, would he not have tried to conceal the crime? Would he not have destroyed the empty ampoules in his surgery? Would he not have buried the body or weighted it with stones and thrown it in the river? The scene smacked of an artificially contrived stage set, deliberately designed to mislead and to direct police enquiries along an erroneous path.”

A minute later I relayed all this to David.

“Cautious old bugger,” I added. “But it’s crystal clear it was Riddle he suspected. And he’s a cunning old bugger too. All right, we did get as far as wondering if the set-up was too good to be true. And so did Tom. But we didn’t follow that far enough.”

An hour later David was miles away, gazing into infinity.

“Penny for them,” I said.

He came back to earth with a start and smiled at me. I was thoroughly familiar by now with his repertoire of smiles. The watery sort was long since gone, but there was the sly, there was the cheeky, there was the seductive, there was the brilliant, there was the plain happy. This one verged on the apologetic.

“Nothing to pay. I wasn’t thinking. Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.”

“That sounds like a quote.”

“It is. Mabel Lucie Atwell, I think.”

“Never heard of her.”

“Oh … Kids’ writer and illustrator, from the twenties or thirties. I’ll never forget my Granny — she died when I was quite small — reading me all her Atwell books. And that quote was the caption to a picture of a sweet and chubby little girl sitting on a potty. All right, I’m not sweet and chubby. I’m not a girl. And I’m not sitting on a potty. Or sitting on the loo. Or even shitting on the loo. But that caption still fits. After yesterday and today I seem to have passed beyond thinking.”

Later still the inspector phoned to confirm the Bullingdon appointment on Tuesday afternoon. But, he warned, some red tape still applied. We would both need ID. David still had his passport with him, of course. I did not, but first thing next day I browbeat the school office into giving me some sort of certificate of identity. And so we counted down the hours.


This time Gentleman collected us in person. For the first time in our acquaintance he was in uniform.

“Cuts more ice,” he explained, “with the prison staff.” As he had foretold, we were to meet in private with nobody listening in. “Mr Kingdom knows I’m coming,” he added. “But not why. Nor that you two will be there.”

That visit was another experience never to be forgotten. I had not been in a prison before, and hope I never will again. Not that I saw much of the business part of it, for we were taken to a comfortably furnished room. When we arrived, Mr Kingdom was already there, sitting on a sofa and looking confused, as well he might. His face was lined and careworn, as well it might, a far cry from the happy face in David’s photo. As we entered he gasped and stood up. David flew into his arms, unable to speak for tears. Hugging his quaking son, Mr Kingdom looked over at us.

“Inspector,” he acknowledged, nodding at him. “And you must be Peter! Forgive me that my hands are too full to greet you properly.”

But the truth was beginning to dawn. Gentleman was smiling benignly. My grin was doubtless stretching from ear to ear. Incredulous hope spread across Mr Kingdom’s face. He bent his head to nuzzle the curly dark-chestnut hair.

“Tell me, David,” he said gently. “Tell me.”

David pulled free enough to look his father in the eye. “It’s all right, Dad!” His voice was thick. “Everything’s all right! They’ve found who really did it!”

For ten seconds Mr Kingdom closed his eyes and bowed his head. Then he turned enquiringly to Gentleman.

“That’s right, sir. I’m here to confirm it. An arrest has been made. And I’m also here to offer my apologies. The official apologies of the Thames Valley Police will follow in due course, and so will compensation. But I want to say personally how ashamed I am as a police officer that your case was so badly mishandled. And how glad I am that the truth has at last come out.”

“Thank you, inspector.”

“Don’t thank me, sir. Thank David and Peter. Without them we’d never have got here.”

“No, Dad,” protested David. “Don’t thank me either. Thank Peter. He hasn’t just saved me. He’s saved you too.”

“Peter, come here please.” Mr Kingdom, still holding David with one arm, extended the other, and I joined in the embrace. By now all three of us were in tears. I have no idea how long the electricity of communion flowed between us before we disentangled ourselves to sit side by side on the sofa. Gentleman faced us in a chair.

“Tell me, then,” said Mr Kingdom. “Who was it?”

David and Gentleman both looked at me.

“You say, Peter.”

“Cedric Riddle.”

He nodded very slowly.


“Go on, Peter.” That was Gentleman. “You’re the expert.”

So I described how, in fair detail. He winced when he heard what had been done to him under anaesthetic.

“And how did you find all that out?”

I spelled out the steps in our journey, emphasising the roles played by Sarah Friendly and Philip Justice, and especially by Tom Gentleman: good people all, who hated the thought of injustice.

“The inspector,” I ended, “is more than a policeman, Mr Kingdom. He’s a friend. Of ours now, and still of yours. He never really believed that you were guilty.”

That produced another hug of gratitude, and a “Thank you, Tom.” Not inspector now, but Tom.

“And why,” Mr Kingdom asked, “did Riddle do it?”

“There,” Gentleman broke in, “we’re still floundering. We’re hoping that you can shed some light. Did he have anything against you? Or against the Faithfulls?”

“Nothing serious. Not that I know of. Nothing to justify what he did … as if anything could. He didn’t like us, any more than we liked him, but I doubt he hated us that much. All three of us stood for election as parish councillor and district councillor and community governor of the school. Bill Faithfull and I got in, he didn’t. He was panting for prizes for his Limousins at the County Show, and didn’t get them. I was one of the judges, and he thought it was my doing. That might conceivably be a motive for murdering us, I suppose, but not an innocent boy.”

Gentleman was nodding, as if it added up.

“Thank you, sir. But if you didn’t like him, why did you employ him as your dentist?”

“Simple convenience, no more. He lived next door. Otherwise the nearest dentist was in Oxford. And there was nothing wrong with his dental expertise.”

Talk turned eventually to the future. Tom Gentleman explained the steps the police were taking, via the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the Court of Appeal.

“It’ll all take, I hope, no more than a month. Meanwhile, sir, I’m afraid you have to stay in here. In the eyes of the law you remain guilty until the court overturns the verdict. We could put the Parole Board onto it, but they’re so sluggish they’d take longer than the route we’re following. But you’ll be under a very much lighter regime, with many more privileges. The governor’s going to have a word with you about that. And it may prove helpful to have a bit of time to accustom yourself to the prospect of freedom.”

“You’re a wise man, Tom. I think it would.”

“And when you do come out, Dad,” David said, “you’ve a standing invitation to stay with Sophie and George. For as long as you like.”

“Sophie and George?”

“Oh, sorry. Peter’s Mum and Dad. In Hampstead. They’re brilliant. Like him.”

“Brilliant, yes,” I had to put in. “but not like me. But they’re intending to come to visit you soon, so that you can see if you like them enough.”

That led us on to Hampstead and schools and the newly-revived hope of freedom from the bondage of Dorcic.

“Peter,” said Mr Kingdom finally. “If my rascal calls your parents George and Sophie, you can’t call me anything but Charles, can you? And you, Tom, can’t you drop the sir and get back to Charles as well?”

“Thank you, I will,” the inspector replied. “Let informality reign. In which case, David and Peter, perhaps it’s time you called me Tom too. Regard me as an honorary uncle if you like. So long as you don’t call me Uncle Tom — that doesn’t sit quite right. Oh, and David. You asked me bring something along.”

He passed over an envelope.

“Oh yes. Thanks.”

David opened it and shook out the contents. A silver coin of Constantine III, which he gave to his father.

“We thought you’d like it back.”

Constantine III silver coin

And so, in a state of uplift, we said our goodbyes.


As Tom drove us home, David was elated and at the same time thoughtful.

“Almost the only person who hasn’t heard,” he said, “is Carl. I know it’s irrational. I know he can’t hear. But somehow I feel I need to tell him.”

Irrational maybe, but very human and endearing.

“And Mum too, I suppose … Please,” he asked Tom, “would you drop us off in the village, not at Dorcic? The flower shop should still be open, and we can walk back.”

“Of course. Broad as it’s long.”

We reached the flower shop before it closed, thanked Tom from the depth of our hearts, and bought two bouquets and cards. First to the churchyard. At Carl’s grave David stood tapping his teeth with his ballpoint.

“How about this?” he asked. “‘Carl, old friend. It’s all sorted now, though sadly too late for you. But justice is being done, and at last you really can rest in peace. You’ll be all right, and I’m no longer alone. All our love, David and Peter.’ Something like that?”

“Fine by me.”

He wrote it carefully on the card, stuck the card into the cellophane wrapping, and laid the bouquet at the foot of the headstone. We stood back, hand in hand, his eyes on the ground, mine on him.

“I’ll never forget you, Carl,” said David softly. “We had some damn good times together, didn’t we?”

With a little smile, he produced a loud fart.

“Beat that!” he said.

It was astonishing, but I could swear I heard a ghostly echo of a fart from the grave.

“Thanks, Carl,” David went on, smiling broadly now, “for being a good mate. For being you.”

I find it difficult to explain. Carl could not possibly have heard that either. Maybe it was just our consciences telling us we had done the right thing. But we both received a message of gratitude and peace.

Then to the cemetery. This was very different. David thought hard before writing his message. He showed it to me, but did not ask for comments.

‘Mum, Dad was innocent all along. You needn’t have lost faith in him, or in yourself. I’m sorry you did. I nearly followed you myself. My love, David.’

No mention of me. That was, I confess, a relief. I had the feeling she would not have understood my presence in the equation.

“I’m sorry, Mum,” he repeated aloud. He laid the flowers down and we stood in silence. There was no response. Everything else was silent too … as silent as the grave.


That night I was first in bed. David was standing beside it, bending over to pull off his socks and giving me — unintentionally, I am sure — am unimpeded view of his bottom. It was brightly lit by the bedside light. It was as smooth as a baby’s. The cheeks were parted to reveal the only part of him I did not yet know in intimate detail, and I found myself longing to be allowed entry. But, as the counterpart of where Carl had been so ravished, this was forbidden territory, as out of bounds to me as Mecca is to the infidel. He threw his socks on a chair and climbed in beside me. This was emphatically not the occasion, after all the deep emotions of the day, for anything wild or orgiastic. Instead we just hugged and kissed and gently humped.


Providence — or whatever — was still smiling on David. Next day I came out of morning school alone because he had to stay behind for a short but doubtless tedious session with Mr Grumbold, our form tutor. As I hung around waiting I switched on my mobile. There was a voice message — a female voice which gave no name — asking me to phone a number I did not recognise. I did so.

“Patricia Faithfull here,” was the reply.

I gulped. It must be Carl’s Mum.

“Oh, hullo. This is Peter Truelove. You asked me to ring.”

“Oh good. Thank you. Could I have a word with David Kingdom, please?”

“Not at the moment, I’m afraid. He’s closeted with his tutor. But he’ll be out in five minutes.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. You’ll do. Sorry, that sounded rude, didn’t it? But the rector said you’re thick as thieves. Oh dear, that wasn’t very polite either.”

A bit of a twitterer, it seemed.

“But the point is, we very much want to talk to you. Bill and I, that is. You see, we’re on a flying visit to Dorchester, and when we went to Carl’s grave we found a bunch of flowers and a message. We guessed who the David was, but we just couldn’t understand the rest. So we got hold of the rector’s number to see if she could explain, and she knew at once who you both were. She said it was really you who should explain it, not her. She told us you were both at Dorcic and gave us your number.”

“It’s very good to hear from you,” I replied. “David’s been wanting to get in touch for ages now, but hadn’t a clue where you’d moved to. And yes, we’ll be more than happy to explain”

“Oh thank you! I know it’s horribly short notice, but I don’t suppose you could come to lunch with us, could you? Right now? We’re at the White Hart.”

“No problem. We’ll be with you in, oh, say twenty minutes.”

“Bless you, Peter. We’ll be in the lounge.”

We rang off, and soon David emerged, groaning.

“Grumbly Grumbold! Christ, what an undiluted pillock! I want my lunch.”

“And you’ll get it. But not in school. At the White Hart. Come on.”

“The White Hart? What on earth’s up?”

As we walked, I told him. He was jubilant.

“Oh brilliant! The Faithfulls are almost the last thing on my wish list!”

“But look, David. It may well come out that we’re gay. Are they the sort of people to mind?”

“No way.” He was emphatic about it. “They’re tolerant types. Right-minded.”

The White Hart was a half-timbered Tudor coaching inn in the High Street. We found the lounge and we found the Faithfulls. I liked them from the start. They were open and honest and you could readily see why they and the Kingdoms had hit it off so well. They recognised David instantly and gave him great hugs, but were plainly confused that he looked exactly as he had looked when they last had met. Then they asked hospitably what we would have to drink. “Sherry please,” I said, and though they must have known or guessed my age they raised no objection. But when they turned to David it was the old story. Eleven-year-olds are expected to go for a Coke or the like and, when he asked for sherry too, eyebrows did go up.

“He is sixteen,” I murmured. “Same as me. Almost seventeen.”

They were so apologetic that there and then we had to explain why David still seemed to be eleven and what was being done about it. Then we had to explain the message on the card and that Charles Kingdom was innocent and Cedric Riddle had been arrested. Then we had to explain how the crime had been committed. It all put them into something approaching a state of shock. They had booked a table for lunch, and it took a great deal of nagging by the waiter to shift us into the dining room. Once installed there, none of us did more than glance at the menu and order what our eye first lit on.

That sorted, they asked after Charles’s state of body and mind, and promised to visit him.

“We’re beginning to feel horribly guilty,” they said, “about assuming he really was the culprit and not doing more to support him. Or to keep in touch with you, David.”

David blushed and said nothing. I knew he was hurt that the Faithfulls had not wholly lived up to their name, so I answered for him.

“You weren’t the only ones. Pretty well the whole of Dorchester assumed the same. And pretty well everyone treated David as tainted and an outcast. It wasn’t till we bumped into the rector that anyone did anything about it.”

That made them ask how we had bumped into the rector, and how I came into the picture. It took more explanation, including our relationship, at which they did not bat an eyelid.

“That sounds to be a very good thing, for both of you. You know, David, we used to wonder sometimes if Carl was going to turn out gay, and if you would too. You’d have made a good couple.”

“Yes, like Peter and me. But no better and no worse. Because Peter’s very like Carl. Not to look at, of course. But always considerate. Always helpful. And if it hadn’t been for him we’d never have got anywhere near this outcome.”

It was my turn to blush. “Nonsense. It’s all Tom’s doing, with help from Sarah and Mr Justice.”

Which meant we had to explain about Mr Justice and Tom and their doubts.

“The judge — yes. We did feel at the trial that he was bending over backwards to be fair. And Tom Gentleman — we met him once or twice when he came to Bridge End to talk flowers with Charles. A nice man.”

“That reminds me,” I said. “He wants to talk to you. The evidence against Riddle is cast-iron, but his motive is still in doubt. Tom wants to ask if you can shed any light. How long are you down here for?”

“Till tomorrow morning. Then back home to York.”

So there and then I phoned Tom and told him that the Faithfulls were at the White Hart, and that if he saw them today he’d save himself a long journey. He was grateful, and said so.

“He’s coming straight over,” I reported. “We’ll wait till he arrives and then we’d better tear ourselves away.”

The lunch had hardly been a gastronomic success, because everything was cold by the time we got round to it. But that did not matter a whit. Over coffee in the lounge the flow of questions and explanations continued. Then Tom rolled up and having introduced them, or re-introduced them, we left with fond farewells and promises to keep in touch.

“They were right,” David said as we walked home. “Looking back at it, I think Carl might very well have been gay. He kissed me once, you know, after we’d been wanking together. Not deeply, like we do. Just a peck. But it took me by surprise. After all, boys don’t kiss boys, do they? Not normally.”

“So we’re abnormal?” I asked laughingly. He made protesting noises. “It’s all right, I know what you mean. Boys don’t normally kiss boys unless they’re gay and in love. What did you do?”

“Kissed him back. But if he was gay, and if things had developed from there, and if all that stuff hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have met you. What if, what if? I’m still desperately sad about Carl. Of course I am. But I couldn’t have been happier with him than with you. Anyway, I’m over the moon to have made contact with the Faithfulls again.”

“You said they were almost the last thing on your wish list,” I remarked. “What’s the last?”

“Puberty, of course. Not just the promise. For real.”

Of course. Silly of me.