Think, in this battered caravanserai,
Whose doorways are alternate night and day,
How sultan after sultan with his pomp
Abode his hour or two, and went his way.
Edward Fitzgerald, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
“You want to give it a go, then?” Gavin asked when they were inside. Justin, breathing hard, merely nodded. Gavin led him into the smaller bedroom. He seemed a little scared.
“Shall we start with a hug?” he suggested, and opened his arms. Justin did not hesitate. He charged in, grabbed him round the chest, and roughly pulled their bodies together.
Gavin backed away. “Hey, steady! Haven’t you hugged anyone … No, sorry, of course you haven’t.”
No, he hadn’t. Not properly. Only dutiful, reluctant, touching of shoulders with distasteful relatives. He had got off to a bad start, and felt rebuked and incompetent. But Gavin reassured him.
“Look, Justin. You know I love you, don’t you?”
Justin, his eyes riveted on Gavin’s, nodded.
“So let’s take it slowly and lovingly. Like this.”
He squeezed Justin gently, his face buried in his neck. Justin, dropping his guard, imitated him and hugged softly but firmly back. Gavin nuzzled his ear and kissed his neck. Justin followed suit.
“You see,” Gavin muttered, evidently pleased, “it can be gentle, and it can be good.”
It was. Justin was trying to process what was happening when he realised that Gavin was softly and sensuously kissing his ear. He had never been kissed sensuously. Apart from the deliberately educational and commercial kiss from the Slut, the only kisses of his life had come from Mum and from relatives, those formal pecks which never said ‘I care for you.’ Yet here was Gavin kissing his ear in a way which said just that. Wonder of wonders! This Greek god loved him, even though his dark secrets had been laid bare. He had said so out loud, and now he was telling him so without words.
Gavin ran his fingers across his shoulders, up the back of his neck, into the hair at the base of his skull, and again Justin followed suit. Gavin continued to nuzzle his ear, and began to touch it with his tongue. On top of the emotional discovery, Justin found a physical sensation washing over him, no longer animal lust, but a physical love responding to the physical love he was receiving. He had to reciprocate. He turned his face, found Gavin’s ear, and began to kiss it. At first it seemed strange. Hitherto he had thought of kissing only as a quick stop on the way to the bump and grind of sex. So it had been with the Slut. But this was different.
Gavin’s ear was soft. He felt it yield under the gentle pressure of his lips. He began to ply the tip of his tongue. He heard Gavin sigh, accepting his affection, accepting his gift. He could do it! He could give as well as receive! He moved his hand up to Gavin’s head, stroking it from crown to neck, running his fingers through the long blond hair, at the same time silken and coarse as if its natural softness was tempered by Mediterranean sun.
Gavin sighed again, still stroking Justin’s shoulders and neck. Justin kissed Gavin’s ear again, his tongue roaming until it found the central aperture. At that precise moment his body reminded him that he had an erection, and had had it ever since entering the bedroom. Suddenly he wanted to stiffen his tongue and ram it into Gavin’s ear canal.
Almost as if sensing a change in the emotion, Gavin pulled his head back, looked straight at Justin and whispered, “I do love you, Justin. And I want to kiss you.” He leaned forward and brought their mouths together. For a short while their lips brushed and nuzzled as they learned the new landscape, as they acclimatised to a new experience.
Then Justin felt Gavin’s tongue delicately searching. He opened his lips and accepted it, and his own tongue slipped into Gavin’s mouth. Their hands were firmly on each other’s shoulders, and their bodies, swaying in harmony, were pulled ever tighter together. Justin felt his erection again, pressing now against Gavin’s. He found his mood wavering between tenderness and brute desire. Momentarily he wondered about it. Then something snapped. He ground his body furiously against Gavin’s, and for a while Gavin reciprocated.
“I don’t know what we do next,” he said uncertainly.
“But I do,” said Justin, hardly recognising his own voice.
He clamped his mouth hard to Gavin’s and forced his tongue inside. Gavin instinctively recoiled. With horror on his face, Justin froze, let go, and fell sobbing on the bed.
“Justin, my love, what happened? That was so good, but suddenly it went wrong.”
Justin felt Gavin sit down beside him and lay an arm on his back.
“It’s all right, Justin.”
“Oh God …” Remorse engulfed him. “I’ve wrecked it … I’d better go.”
“You’d better not. You’d better tell me what’s going on. You’d better realise that I want to understand.”
No answer except an unbelieving hiccup.
“Justin, we love each other. And we were showing it. Then something happened. Tell me what. You looked as if you’d seen a ghost. Your frightful fiend, was it?”
“Yes.” Justin sat up, gulping, and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. “Oh God, I’m sorry.”
He put an arm round Gavin, and promptly withdrew it.
“Go on. Hold me. It’s all right.”
“But you can’t trust me now.”
“I can. I do. OK, you were a bit rough. And there was something there that I didn’t understand. But I’m beginning to now. And you did warn me.”
Justin put his arm back, provisionally. “I hoped I’d learned the lesson,” he said dolefully. “But I hadn’t. I do love you, Gavin, and I want to show it. But lovingly. Gently. Like we were doing. Not brutally. My animal instincts ran away with me. Perhaps there hasn’t been enough time for love to … sort of percolate into my head. Or into my prick. Forgive me.”
His tears were dry now, but he was holding Gavin tightly.
“Forgive? Justin, what is there to forgive? I’m just sorry about this … extra cloud hanging over you. We probably went too far too fast. We’ll forget about going the whole hog. But what about just jerking each other off, or jerking ourselves off?” There was a touch of hope in Gavin’s voice. “No more than that.”
Justin knew what he had to say, but it took a severe effort to say it.
“No. I’m sorry, Gavin, but Idon’t trust myself with any sex at all. Not after that … exhibition. Not together. Chances are it would ruin everything. The bloody safety valve’s still dodgy, you see. Holding each other like this … well, that’s different. It makes me feel comfortable, not randy.”
“Fair enough, then. You know yourself best. And I’ve been wrong in egging you on. Your pants have interested me, you know, ever since the train last week.”
Justin’s conscience smote him, and he sighed. “Oh God, I’m being selfish. I know you want it, and I’m refusing to give you what you want. But I daren’t. I’m sorry.”
“Stop apologising! You’re doing what’s right for you. And therefore it’s right for me. And it’s right for our love too. Don’t worry, Justin. Give it time. Work on that safety valve, like you worked on your puritan streak. With luck it’ll be OK next time we meet, whenever that may be.”
In the face of this monumental generosity, Justin could only hold Gavin tighter still.
“Justin. Let’s go to bed. If I promise not to seduce you, are you still happy to share my bed? I’d like that.”
“Oh God, so would I. If you’ll have me. And if we can hold each other, like this. I can’t think why you put up with a temperamental bastard like me. But I won’t misbehave again. Not now. Not if I … sort of put a padlock on my prick.”
“Then I’d suggest pyjamas, not bare skin. Less, um, tempting. Let’s have a pee and brush our teeth and turn in.”
They changed, separately, and curled up together, arms over each other. Justin could feel a tension. The softness and intimacy were gone, for he had destroyed them. He had banished something that he truly loved. He had thrown away the most precious treasure he had ever found. He had not only hurt himself but, worse, he had hurt Gavin. He felt a deep loss. Then he felt Gavin’s hand on his head, stroking his hair.
“Justin, without turning this into a therapy session, can you explain a bit more about what happened back there? Can you help me understand better?”
If Justin took his time in replying, he was not scared. This was not like the usual grillings at the vicarage. He was neither on edge, as if on trial in court, nor prey to feelings of worthlessness. He was with the boy he loved, and he could open his soul.
“I can’t tell you straight out, because I don’t know. But if you ask questions I’ll try to answer.”
“OK. Here goes … What is this fiend? Is it still telling you that sex is dirty?”
“Oh no. Not now. It did, once. After all that religious tripe that sex is bad, that sex is dirty, yes, I did get disgusted when I jerked off. And especially when I’d been with the Slut. But I got over that, like I said. Thanks to Robert. I was pretty sure I had, and I have. You’ve proved it ― the thought of sex with you doesn’t disgust me at all. Right now, if it haven’t been for that damn fiend, I’d be deep inside you. Or you in me. And in seventh heaven. You would be too, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh yes,” said Gavin. “I don’t see anything shameful in it either. I mean, I wouldn’t want casual sex, only with the person I love … expressing my love. I just see it as … well, normal. The Greeks didn’t think sex was dirty and nasty, whether straight or gay. It was Christianity that dreamt up the whole ‘sin of the flesh’ business, wasn’t it? And made sex unmentionable. Or worse. So we agree there. But what did happen? I mean, you caught me by surprise, but for some people what you did was just a normal part of love-making. Or so I’m told. What did your fiend do?”
“Well … it made me lose control.” Justin was back with his sackcloth and ashes. “As if I wasn’t myself any more … It almost happened a couple of times before … but you hugged me and kissed me, which was wonderful, and drove it away. But after a while it came back … and brute lust took over.”
“But what prompted it?”
“I don’t know. I suddenly went from tenderness to animal instinct. I’d had a hard-on ever since we got in. I wanted sex, desperately. But the tenderness kept it under. Till the animal broke out. It was the same with the Slut … worse, in fact, because that was the first time I’d been there, and because I didn’t love him. So I was even more brutish. It didn’t matter, in a way … because that’s what he was there for, almost. But with you it did matter … does matter … because I love you.”
“But you think you can get over it? Get that fiend into chains?”
“Yes, I think I can. I know the symptoms now. And you’re teaching me how good it is when it’s done right. I didn’t know that before. It’s a case of live and learn.”
“Any way I can help?”
“Only by understanding. And being patient. As you are doing.”
“That’s not difficult.”
They kissed, not passionately, but softly. It was long before Justin fell asleep. His urges tried to resurface, but he suppressed them quite easily, for in the flow of Gavin’s compassion his drained soul was already refilling.
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, long-suffering and of great goodness.
When he came to, it was broad daylight. He felt the warmth of Gavin alongside him. He smelt the smell of Gavin, warm and sweet. Gavin was lying on his back, hand behind his head. His pyjama top was sleeveless, and a few inches from Justin’s eyes was an armpit sprouting a few modest hairs.
Justin smiled and delicately stirred the hair.
“Hey, that tickles!” Gavin smiled back, lowered his arm, and put it round Justin. “Hullo!”
“Hullo. You been awake long?”
“A while. I’ve been lying and thinking.”
“Lots of things. You, mainly.”
“What about me?” Justin was suddenly nervous.
“You said you weren’t strong. But you are. You said you’d put a padlock on your prick. Ididn’t think it would work. Two randy gay teenagers in bed with nothing happening ― who’d have thought it? But nothing did happen. You are strong.”
“I don’t know about strength. What I do know is that it’s a choice between love and animal sex. For me, at the moment. They don’t go together. And I know which I’d rather have. Anyway, you’ve been just as strong. You were longing for sex, and you could easily have seduced me. But you didn’t.”
Gavin blushed and did not reply.
Justin felt a profound humility. Gavin, despite his disappointment last night, had truly forgiven him. God too, he knew, had forgiven him. Which meant, in practical terms, that his conscience had forgiven him, that he had forgiven himself. He was at peace.
“What else were you thinking?”
“Well …” said Gavin. “You’re not going to tell your Mum where you woke up this morning?”
“God, no! No way!”
“Well, if you don’t mind, I’ll tell my Dad. He knows I’m gay, and he trusts me. He won’t be shocked in the least. And there’s something else I was thinking … But let’s leave that for breakfast ― I need a pee. And what about a shower? I like your smell, but …”
They showered, separately, Justin first. When he had done, he waited in the lounge and looked out of the window along the Albany courtyard, brooding on the improbability of being where he was, and on what the future held. The beggar was back, he saw, and was now sitting at the corner where the courtyard met Piccadilly. Then Gavin came in and laid out coffee and muesli.
“Hope this is enough for you. And sorry, there’s only long-life milk. We’re here so little that we can’t keep properly stocked up …
“But I was saying … the third thing I’ve been thinking about … it’s something else we’ve got in common. Beyond the fact that we’re in love and think alike, beyond our interests. You’ve been a soul in torment, haven’t you?”
Justin had admitted it to himself, but never to anyone else. He nodded self-consciously.
“Well, the point is,” Gavin explained, “I know something about torment. Not my own, mind you. I’m lucky — I don’t have too many hang-ups. But Dad torments himself. He can get very like you. And if I tell him off for tormenting himself too much, he sometimes quotes a bit of Milton at me —
The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.
Does that strike a chord with you?”
Justin hardly had to think about it. “Yes. It does. Now you put it like that, I suppose I have made my own hell, although I didn’t do it all by myself. You’re saying I’ve tormented myself more than I needed to?”
“Not necessarily. You’ve had a pretty rough ride. But I think Dad overdoes it, sometimes, though I can see why.”
“So why does he?” Justin mumbled through a mouthful of muesli. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“I don’t mind, and I don’t think he’d mind me telling you. Because this is the other thing we’ve got in common, you and me. You see, if you’re the result of an indiscretion, so am I.”
Justin’s interest, already deep, deepened further.
“Dad’s gay too, you know,” Gavin went on. “It was illegal, when he joined the diplomatic service. And even when it became legal, it was heavily frowned on. They reasoned that if you’re gay, you’re open to blackmail. If you’re married, you’re safe. That’s what they argued.”
Gavin gave a rueful little laugh. “So Dad hid his gayness. Then one day when he was back here, he got drunk at some diplomatic party and was lured into bed by a girl. He got her pregnant. Her parents insisted that if he didn’t marry her they’d raise a stink, and Dad’s boss told him that marriage was the only option. So they did marry, and Dad took her out to Belize with him, and in due course I arrived. And not long afterwards my mother caught some tropical disease and died of the complications.
“That’s what Dad torments himself over, even now. He didn’t love her, and in some ways he’s glad she died. Of course he is. He’s human. It freed him from an impossible situation. Yet he knows that he was largely responsible for the mess. That in a sense he caused her death. And he still agonises over it.”
Gavin grew sombre. “But I’m one result of the mess. OK, I wasn’t in the least responsible for it. But I reckon it’s up to me to lend a hand in mopping it up. So I try to be worthy of Dad. Try to help him feel that the anguish was worth it.”
“Oh God. But you being you, I’m sure he must. I know I would, if I were him.” Justin put his hand on Gavin’s. “Feel it was worth it, I mean, having a son like you.”
“And your Dad,” Gavin said, “would feel the same about you, if only he knew you.”
“Depends what kind of bloke he is, doesn’t it? My guess is that I was conceived in the same sort of way as you …”
“Ummm …” Gavin looked very innocent. “What other way is there?”
Justin barked with laughter. “Bugger it. You know what I mean.”
“Yes, I do. Sorry about that. Couldn’t resist it. Have some more coffee.”
“No thanks. But my guess is that my father wasn’t as self-confident as yours. That he retreated from the mess rather than face up to it.”
“Are you sure they didn’t marry, then get divorced?”
“Positive. Mum would never go for divorce. Anyway, I saw my birth certificate once. Under ‘Father’ it said ‘Not known’. That can only be a fib. Mum knows well enough.”
“You couldn’t be … the result of rape?”
An unwelcome thought. Justin pondered.
“Possibly, I suppose. Mum’s certainly not the person to go for an abortion, any more than a divorce. But she says my father’s going to get in touch when I’m old enough. Would he, if he were a rapist?”
“Mmmm. Probably not. And old enough for what?”
“Huh! If it’s old enough to understand the facts of life, I’ve understood them for years. If it’s old enough to understand that human beings aren’t always perfect, I’ve known that all my conscious life. How old were you when your Dad told you about his indiscretion?”
“Oh gosh. I’ve always known something about it. But Dad gave me the full story, when? — oh, I remember, we were in the Gambia, so I must have been about eight.”
“Good for him. He obviously trusts you. Like you trust him, if you can tell him about us.” Justin was deeply envious. “So he’s still gay himself?”
“Oh yes, at heart. But he’s never had any affairs, not since he was at school. His boyfriend let him down with a thump, but Dad still pines for him.”
“But he still doesn’t let on that he’s gay? Doesn’t come out officially, I mean.”
“No. Not being actively gay, he’s no reason to, anyway. Though I think he’s senior enough now — trustworthy enough, in his bosses’ eyes — for it not to matter. Or not to matter so much.”
“What is he, then? An attaché or whatever they call it, at the Embassy?”
“Not Embassy. Cyprus is a Commonwealth country, so it’s a High Commission. No, Dad’s the High Commissioner.”
“Good God! I thought ambassadors and suchlike were all old buffers. How old is he?”
“Forty-one. He’s the youngest High Commissioner there is. Or ambassador. British, anyway.” There was love in Gavin’s voice, but no boasting.
“I’d like to meet him.” Justin was wholly sincere.
“And he’d like to meet you, when he hears what I’m going to tell him. It’s OK, it’ll be the most glowing of reports. Yes, I hope you will meet. Even more important, when are we going to meet again? It’s going to be murder being apart.”
They chewed over the where, the when and the how. The vicarage was a non-starter at any time. Albany was only possible for a very short period, like now, if questions were not to be asked. Anyway, neither Gavin nor his Dad expected to be in Britain until next summer, and the only place that guaranteed freedom was Cyprus. But there was no way Justin could get leave of absence over Christmas. Easter was a slightly better bet.
“Always provided our school holidays coincide,” Gavin said. “Greek Orthodox Easter’s usually on a different date from western Easter. Hang on, it’ll be in my diary … um … well, Greek Easter’s on the 18th of April and my holidays start on the 9th. Western Easter’s on the 11th. When do your holidays start?”
“Not sure, off the cuff. But it’ll be the day before Good Friday at the latest. That’s the, um, 8th. That’s all right, then. All I’ve got to do is get permission. And beg, borrow or steal the fare from somewhere.”
Cross those rivers when he came to them, although he foresaw severe problems with both.
“There’ll be a bonus, too,” said Gavin, “if you can come. My birthday’s on the 9th. It would be great to share it with you. When’s yours?”
“All Fools’ Day.” Justin was a trifle ashamed. It was another of his burdens, if not a major one.
So it was left. Easter if possible. If not, back to the drawing board. At least there was every chance of spending a sizable part of the summer together, and they promised each other to do so.
“Oh Lord,” said Gavin looking at his watch. “I’ve got to head for the airport in less than an hour.”
“Then I’d better go. Don’t come down with me, Gavin. I’d rather say goodbye in private.”
They did, at length, with all the bitter taste of parting. Feeling forlorn, Justin let himself out. At the main entrance the porter touched his hat and — was he imagining it? — gave him a wink. Justin, as he approached the beggar on the corner, looked back at the front door and its top-hatted guardian. He looked across Piccadilly at Fortnum & Mason, purveyors of over-priced provisions to the toffs. Dammit, he thought, I’m not that well off, but I’m not as broke as this poor sod. He emptied his meagre change into the filthy hat.
“Fanks, mate. Go’blessyer.”
What Justin could not see was Gavin watching from the window, turning as if to run after him, and thinking better of it.
God bless you, Justin reflected as he hefted his bag and wove his way along the crowded pavement. Yes, God has blessed me. He is blessing me. He will continue to bless me. Except that now I’ve got to walk to London Bridge because my ticket to Blackheath is only valid from there. Three miles, maybe.
But there was plenty to occupy his mind, for love was on his mind. Love still unconsummated and, in the circumstances, rightly so; but next time …
In Piccadilly Circus he saluted Eros the god of love, isolated on his pedestal amid the traffic, and turned down Haymarket to Trafalgar Square. Another salute there, to Nelson on his column — only one arm, only one eye, but by all accounts a mighty lover. Over Hungerford footbridge and through the back streets of Southwark. It was probably somewhere round here, handy for the theatres, that Shakespeare had lived and loved and penned his sonnets. Forget the Dark Lady. What mattered was the Fair Youth.
Oh Gavin, my own fair youth, my love, my soul-mate at last, my other self …
Yea, the darkness is no darkness with thee, but the night is as clear as the day:the darkness and the light to thee are both alike.