Better trust all, and be deceived
And weep that trust and that deceiving,
Than doubt one heart that, if believed,
Had blessed one’s life with true believing.
Fanny Kemble, Faith
Don Muir loved his Mum and Pop, really. But there were drawbacks in being their son. If someone asked what your father did and you said that he was Archdeacon of Bath, the chances were you would be met with puzzlement or even laughter. It was not as if they lived in Bath anyway, much as he would like to. It did not matter where exactly Pop was based, so they lived in the boring overgrown village of Pucklechurch, because Mum taught at the primary school there.
On top of that, and much more crucial, archdeacons weren’t with it, nor were their wives. Not in this case, anyway — they had married late, both were well over fifty, and neither of them, now that he had reached the mature age of fifteen, was on anything like his wavelength. That was putting it mildly. And if they found out his secret, their wavelengths would be more different still.
He admitted that they did their best for him, as they saw it. The tragedy was that they did not see it better. Like now. They had spotted in the travel agent’s window a cut-price package holiday which coincided with half term, in the remote and exotic wilderness of the Costa del Sol. They had not even consulted him before booking, and were miffed at his lukewarm reception. After all, it was a good centre for exploring Visigothic churches and Moorish castles, wasn’t it? Yes, he’d have to explore with them. The beach wasn’t their scene, and after the recent reports of all those muggings they couldn’t leave him on his own at the resort, could they?
It simply had not crossed their minds that he would much rather go somewhere — anywhere — with a friend of his own age. But he nobly refrained from telling them so. And there were two bright spots. “Oh, and there are a few Roman sites round there too,” they had added as an afterthought — Roman remains were Pop’s only enthusiasm which Don did share. And as a regular if critical reader of the Nifty Archive, he was familiar with the weary cliché of meeting the youth of one’s dreams on holiday and spending the next week in torrid sex. Hardly likely to happen to him, but you never knew.
So, packed like sardines in a tin, they flew to Málaga and were bussed, through an endless ribbon of hideous holiday homes, to Estepona. Others were dropped off at other hotels, they and they alone were deposited at the Hotel Mediterraneo. Hmmm. His own room with twin beds, his own bathroom, his own telly, his own balcony, and a view of the sea. Could be worse. A family saunter showed an unspoiled town centre of cobbled alleyways, though concrete blocks had sprung up all around.
The hotel food was not bad either, and it was plentiful. Over the meal they discussed immediate plans. Next day was Sunday, when archdeacons go to church. So do their families. Pop had done his homework. There was an Anglican chaplaincy ten kilometres along the coast, with a service at half past eleven. That accounted for the morning. And a bit beyond the church was San Pedro de Alcántara and its interesting Roman remains: sensible to do them while they were in that direction. That accounted for the afternoon. Plans for future days could wait.
But … but … might those plans be influenced by another factor? As he looked up from his coffee cup, Don noticed a face gazing at him from the far side of the dining room. A boy of much his own age, fair-haired — might even be English — and yes, decidedly attractive. The cliché couldn’t actually be coming true, could it? He giggled to himself at the thought, and risked a mischievous wink across the room. But by the time they had finished, the boy had gone.
Pop and Mum retired to the lounge with last week’s Church Times. Faced with a choice between their scintillating company and his room, he unhesitatingly chose the latter. He flipped through the TV channels and found what seemed to be a soap. Though he could not understand a word, the boy was well worth looking at. When that was finished he fantasised with mind and hand about the face in the dining room, and slept like a log.
In the morning his parents collected him and they headed for breakfast. Self-service. They worked their way to the front of the queue, and as Pop left with his tray he called back, “Don! I forgot to take any butter. Would you bring some, please?”
“You English, then?” said a voice behind him. It was the boy from last night, looking at him hopefully.
“Yes. Well, Scottish, sort of.”
“Thank God for that! Far as I can see, everyone else is French or German. Is it just you and your grandparents?”
Don giggled. “Parents, actually.”
“Oops! There’s just me and my parents and my dear little sister.” They had left the queue and he nodded towards a nearby table with a nondescript couple and a small shrill girl. “All they ever want to do is sit on the beach and make sandcastles and listen to their walkman. I’m not allowed to go off by myself, and I’m going to be bored out of my mind. What are you doing today?”
Don pulled a face. “Boring things too. Church in the morning. Roman ruins this afternoon, though that should be all right. I’m not allowed out on my own either. But if they let us do things together, I reckon I could be free tomorrow, and after that. Meet in the lounge this evening and make some plans? Say six? I’m Don, by the way.”
“And I’m Matt. K. See you then. Can’t wait!”
They grinned at each other conspiratorially.
“Oh, bugger it,” said Don, remembering. He barged through the queue to grab a couple of packs of butter, and when he emerged Matt had joined his family.
“Who was that, Don?” asked Mum.
“Well, he’s English, and his name’s Matt, but that’s all I know. Except that he’s bored and wants company. We’re going to meet up this evening and make some plans. Will it be OK for me to do things with him, so long as we stay together?”
“Well, that would be nice, dear, but we’d have to meet him first and talk to his parents.”
They took a bus out to the church, where a pale young curate was lurking like a spider awaiting flies. He was overwhelmed, when they introduced themselves, at having a real live Archdeacon in his church. But only half a dozen others turned up, and the service was pallid. So was the sermon. Which, as usual, gave Don the chance to do some thinking. Not that he had much to go on yet. Matt seemed cool, and was good to look at. Straight blond hair, blue eyes and a wide mouth full of mischief. Yes, he reckoned they could hit it off and have some fun together.
What sort of fun, though? Well, have to wait and see. Don was, on the face of it, a gregarious and extrovert type who saw the best in people. He was also a randy young man who kept a weather eye open for a kindred spirit. He had not met one yet. True, he had randy friends, but their randiness lay in a different direction from his. But it was early days — he had known he was gay for less than a year — and he was optimistic. If he met enough boys, sooner or later he would meet a like-minded one. No denying it, he was out for quick fun.
But he knew very well there was more to it, should be more to it, than that. His make-up was stratified. Below the friendly, the mischievous and erotic, his deepest layer was serious and introspective, and here he was as bright as they came. Despite his outward openness, he was fundamentally lonely inside. The churchily ponderous affection he got at home hardly helped. He felt the need of a richer friendship. Quick fun was one thing. He saw it as a useful — and surely enjoyable — step along the road. But he knew real friendship would be harder to find.
The service over at last, Pop invited the curate to a nearby marisqueria for lunch. The conversation was strictly ecclesiastical shop until they mentioned their plans for the afternoon, at which the curate insisted on driving them to San Pedro and acting as their guide. They inspected the impressive ruins of a Roman bath-house, and of a villa with a wonderfully lifelike mosaic of food and kitchen equipment. Fish and fowl were hanging there, ready for the pot, alongside jars and jugs and bowls and colanders.
“That amphora is depicted so accurately, they say,” enthused the curate, “that you can date the mosaic from its shape.”
“Looks like Dressel 17 to me,” said Pop, who was genned up on these things.
The curate was clearly lost.
“Heinrich Dressel worked out the standard typology for amphorae,” Pop explained kindly, “and their dates. Amphorae of his shape number 17 typically contained garum. Late second century.”
“Oh yes. Garum was a ghastly sort of fish sauce” — the curate was blissfully unaware that they knew all about it already — “made of fish guts and heads, fermented for months in the sun. Used for flavouring. Or disguising the taste of meat that was a bit off, since they didn’t have fridges. If you go to Almuñécar you can see the actual tanks they processed it in.” Don, who was fascinated by the nuts and bolts of Roman life, did prick up his ears at the last bit. That sounded worth a visit. Matt permitting …
The curate drove them back to the hotel with plenty of time to spare. Don showered, and borrowed Pop’s guidebook to look up Almuñécar. Yes, promising. And it gave its Roman name, which made him snigger. And while he was at it, he read up Estepona too, which he had not bothered to before. His eye was caught by one particular facility it offered. At six he made his way to the lounge, to find Matt already there, sprawled in an armchair and thoroughly pissed off.
“Bad day, then?”
“Oh Gawd … The pool’s full of squawking kids, the sea’s full of turds, the beach is full of boring and unbeautiful people. Including my family. I’ve already finished the books I brought. Don’t ask any more. What about yours?”
“This morning, boring, as expected. Afternoon, OK. Roman sites.”
“You into Roman stuff, then?”
“Big time. And I’m doing Latin at school. It’s fascinating, you know. Well, I think so. They were so like us, but fifteen hundred years ahead of their time. Reckon they knew some things we still don’t.”
“Know what you mean. I live up at Hexham, so I’ve done most of Hadrian’s Wall. It’s cool. Ever been there?”
“Yup, a couple of times.”
“Know what I like best? The shithouse at Housesteads and its water supply. Half way towards a modern bog. But bloody hell! It was communal — imagine sitting there crapping with people watching you!”
The thought obviously horrified him, and Don agreed in general, though he could see nothing wrong with being enthroned in the presence of one person, the right person, from whom you had no secrets. But he did not know Matt nearly well enough to say so, and he changed the subject.
“One thing I’m glad we haven’t borrowed from the Romans, though. D’you know about garum?”
“No. What’s that?”
“Eeeewww!” Matt screwed up his face. “Putrid!”
“Literally. Mum bought some Thai fish sauce once, the nearest thing you can get these days. And experimented with it. Yuck! After that it festered for a year before she chucked it. And you know what fish sauce is called in Thai?”
He was deliberately testing the water here.
“Prick nam plah.”
“Not really?” Matt’s grin of sheer delight showed that his heart was in the right place.
“Really. And hey! At Almuñécar — that’s a bit beyond Málaga — there was a factory where the Romans made the stuff. You can still see the tanks where it was fermented. Must have stunk worse than a sewer. With luck I can persuade the parents to take me there. And there’s another reason for going.”
Don was testing the water again.
“The Roman name for Almuñécar. It was Sexi.”
“Oh? What was it, then?”
“Bugger it, I mean Sexi was its name.”
“Nope. Just think, you could say you’d been to the only genuinely Sexi place in Europe. Or the world. So if we do go, like to come too?”
“You bet! Do your parents know about the name?”
“Pop does, probably. He knows everything. But I wouldn’t mention it to him. No way. He’s a bit, um, stuffy about that sort of thing.”
“What is he? Teacher?”
“No. He’s an archdeacon.”
That got the usual reaction. “What do archdeacons do?”
“Oh, they call them the bishop’s eyes. Sort of regional managers for the bishop. Liaise between him and the parishes and the priests. Don’t have a church of their own.”
“Where do you live?”
That got the usual reaction too.
“So what are they doing the rest of the week? Apart from Sexi?”
“Probably going off on coach excursions. They’re mad on Moorish stuff.”
“And you’ll be free? Apart from Sexi?”
“Hope so, but have to negotiate. If we’re allowed, hang out together? Check out the town? Find a better beach?”
“And hey, know what?” They both spoke together, read each other’s minds, laughed, and continued together. “There’s a nudist beach too!”
“Can’t miss! How do we get there?”
“It’s only three kilometres away. Just walk along the beach, I suppose. It’s all public.”
“Wheeeee!” They grinned at each other in lascivious comradeship.
But it was time to eat, and they went to collect their parents.
Over the meal, Don asked if they could go to Almuñécar one day. Yes, said Pop, he’d been thinking the same. There was an excursion there on Wednesday, so he’d book them in. Could Matt come with them? Er, yes, if his parents were willing. And tomorrow there was an excursion to Ronda, and on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday to Málaga, Seville and Gaucín, which they wanted to go on. Don said firmly that he woud rather stay in Estepona with Matt, and he laid out their plans, or those that were fit for chaste ears. At the other table, presumably, much the same was going on, because Don saw Matt grinning across at him. Mum and Pop agreed to talk it over with the … um … what was their surname? Don did not know.
So Pop went over and suggested they all have coffee in the lounge. There it was agreed that the boys could go off together, and ground-rules were hammered out. The Oswalds (as they proved to be) were pretty laid back. All they insisted on was that, because of the muggers, the boys stay together and be careful. The Muirs further insisted that they consume no alcohol, go no further west than the end of the main beach (no prizes for guessing why), and report to the Oswalds at lunchtime. As for the Sexi trip, not that anyone called it that, the Oswalds were happy to be rid of Matt for the whole day.
When it was all sorted, the boys went down in triumph to the now almost deserted beach, and began to get to know each other.
On Monday they investigated the bustling flea market, the marina filled with multi-million-pounds-worth of boats, the bullring which looked like a sculpture by Henry Moore (though they agreed that corridas weren’t their scene), and the tatty tourist shops. They drank soft drinks by the gallon, and illicit beer in moderation. The Oswalds were far more generous with spending-money than the Muirs, but Matt was equally generous in sharing it.
They were saving up the Costa Natura for the end of the week, and they made the Playa del Castor their headquarters. It was quieter than the main beach, more desirable — it seemed to be turd-free — and with more desirable patrons — plenty of beautiful boys and plenty of girls, some topless. Matt stared at both impartially, and Don felt it wise to do the same. Both developed the art of staring without seeming to. They had a whale of a time.
When they got back to the hotel, they turned by unspoken consent into the nearest of their rooms, which happened to be Don’s. Without any inhibitions, Matt stripped to the buff, grabbed a towel, and disappeared into the shower, leaving Don to ponder on what he had just seen — markedly more developed than his own. Soon Matt emerged, plying his towel, and Don took his place. When he came out, Matt was still naked, but now erect and gently stroking himself.
“Need to get rid of the thoughts of the day,” he announced. “Do you mind?”
“Not a bit. I need to too.”
They lay down, each on a bed, each attending to his own needs. Matt was obviously and properly dirty-minded. But whether he’s straight or gay, thought Don, I’ve still no idea. Certainly no suggestion so far of a joint effort. So he probed.
“Matt, what are you thinking of?”
“Beautiful bodies” was the unhelpful reply.
“And which was the most beautiful body today?”
“Hmmm. Maybe that girl with the frisbee this afternoon. Who do you think?”
“Well, maybe that boy in the rainbow speedos.”
“Yes, he was cute. Take your point.”
Which no way answered the major question. But both were close to coming, and the matter was shelved.
Tuesday followed a similar pattern, ending with a race to see who came first.
The Sexi Wednesday was different but just as enjoyable. Mum and Pop put themselves out to be nice to Matt, without in the least cottoning on to the sub-plot. They started in the archaeological park with the garum factory and its battery of fermenting tanks cut into the solid rock. They moved on to the aqueduct which had supplied fresh water to the site. They ended at the museum where Don studied the tall and narrow Dressel 17 amphorae with markedly more enthusiasm than Matt did. He also studied the painted inscriptions on them which, like a modern label, described the contents.
Matt was much more taken with a miniature bronze phallus, erect, beautifully made, and adorned not only with balls but with wings and a ring for suspension.
“A fascinum,” explained Don. “A charm against the evil eye. You’d wear it on a necklace or a bracelet.”
In a kiosk outside they spotted a postcard of the fascinum labelled SEXI SOUVENIR, and Matt bought several while Don distracted Mum’s and Pop’s attention.
Thursday followed the same pattern as Monday and Tuesday, except that Pop and Mum had gone to Seville, a long way away, and would not be back till late. By prior arrangement the Oswalds, having dumped their daughter in the hotel creche, took the boys out for the evening as a thank-you to Don for the Sexi trip. They went with a coach-full of Brits from other hotels to a display of flamenco dancing somewhere in the hills inland, dinner thrown in and as much wine as you could hold. The dancing was spectacular. So was the booze. The Oswalds did not seem to mind how much the boys put back, and when they finally staggered to the coach they were almost legless.
On the way home some of the revellers started taking the piss out of the bashful young courier. “Billy,” they sang to his profound embarrassment, “has a two-foot willy!” Which led on to renderings of ‘The Harlot of Jerusalem’ and ‘The Engineer’s Song’, highly educational to boys who had heard neither before. They enjoyed themselves hugely, and the Oswalds seemed totally unfazed. If Mum and Pop had been there, Don thought wuzzily, none of them would have known where to look.
Friday saw the boys up late, too late even for breakfast. They eventually made it to the Playa del Castor to complete their recovery and then, after a drink at a kiosk and reporting to the Oswalds, set out on the climax of the week. Their friendship was sealed by now. Matt put an arm round Don’s shoulder, and Don revelled in the contact.
As they ambled along the beach, a big notice board announced the beginning of the Costa Natura. Beyond it everyone was stark naked and, curiously, seemed to be stratified roughly by age. The first stratum they hit was marked by drooping boobs, sagging bellies, and white body hair. Not in the least what they’d expected. “Fucking hell!” muttered Matt, in deep disappointment.
But soon they moved into the middle-aged zone, abreast of a complex of buildings which a notice said was a naturist centre, open to non-members on payment of a fee, with holiday flats to rent. Except that it called them condominiums, a transatlantic word which Don had met in his researches on the net but was not otherwise in his vocabulary.
“Why does that word always make me laugh?” he murmured to Matt.
“Because your mind’s as dirty as mine.”
Beyond the buildings they entered the youth department, which was what they were really after. They were now in another world, an exotic world full, as far as the males went, of studs, twinks, teens and pre-teens, if Don had his terminology right.
“Oh God,” he said under his breath. “Look at that one! Red hair and big dick. I’d give anything to have a go with him.”
“Same here.” Matt was wide-eyed. “And that girl with the big boobies. And the bloke with her. Jesus, look at his …! Don, you ever had sex with anyone?”
“No, worse luck.”
“Nor me. But let me loose with this lot … ”
The nudists, unaware of the threat, were totally unconcerned. There was not a hard-on to be seen. Not even on Don and Matt, who were still clothed and carried their towels in front to disguise things even more. Beforehand, they had contemplated stripping off and joining the majority. But they could not, not in this state. At the far end they stopped and consulted.
“Christ! No way am I stripping off here,” said Matt.
“Nor me. My thing’s positively hurting.”
“So’s mine. Back to the hotel and deal with them there?”
Defeated but yet triumphant, they beat a retreat. Through the youth, middle-aged and geriatric wards, and all the way home, the faithful towels did their duty. Only in the safety of Don’s room could they cast them aside.
“Whew!” said Matt, stepping out of his shorts. “Quick shower, then to work!”
Don sat on the end of the bed, mentally panting. Matt soon emerged, as rampant as when he had gone in, and stood in front of Don, his head hidden in his towel as he scrubbed his hair dry, his equipment throbbing a foot from Don’s face. As clear an invitation as Don could wish for.
“Do you want me to … ?”
“Course. Go ahead.”
So Don leant forward and cradled the whiskery balls in his hand and fed his mouth over the cock.
“Geroff!” shouted Matt, backing away. He swung his fist into Don’s face and knocked him flat on his back on the bed.
“You fucking poof! I meant go ahead on your own cock, not mine!”
Don clapped his hands over his nose and mouth. Through waves of pain he was vaguely aware of Matt pulling on his shorts, running out and slamming the door. But the worst pain came from wounded pride.
A moment later there was a knock and the door opened again. “You all right, dear?” said Mum’s voice. “We’ve just bumped into Matt, who said we’d better take a look at you. He seemed very upset. Have you … Ohhhhh!” Don had lowered his hands to reveal blood pouring from his nose on to the sheet. Mum rushed over, Pop at her heels.
“Oh, Don! Were you mugged?”
Incapable of speech, Don shook his head slightly.
“Then how … ? Did Matt do this? Did he hit you?”
Don nodded fractionally.
Dimly, he saw a dismal prospect ahead. The balloon was going to go up and he could do bugger all about it. But right now he was in no state to explain, or even to think, and merely shook his head again.
“I think he’s too shocked to talk, Janet,” said Pop with unexpected insight. “You look after him. I will find Matt. And his parents.”
In her younger days Mum had been a nurse, and she knew what to do. With Don’s face flannel, and with tissues which he kept beside the bed for a quite different purpose, she cleaned him up and inspected the damage.
“I don’t think it’s too bad, dear. Your nose doesn’t seem broken, and your teeth aren’t loose, though your lip’s cut. But I’m sure it hurts like billy-o. Look” — she folded the cold wet flannel into a wad — “hold this to your face, as firmly as you can. It’ll help stop the bleeding and reduce the swelling. I’ll just nip back to our room for some paracetamol. All right?”
Astonishingly, Don promptly fell asleep. His mind was already knocked out, and his body followed suit. He did not wake when Mum returned, nor when she checked his pulse and breathing, nor when Pop came back and they held a muttered conference and decided he could safely be left while they went down to dinner.
Nor, of course, was he aware of what was said in the dining room. Pop had found Matt in his room, full of righteous indignation. He had not denied that he hit Don, and he had said why. Pop fetched Mr Oswald in from the beach, and the two men and Matt talked in the lounge. Matt told the whole tale, unvarnished, including their jerking off sessions on previous days, including the trip to Costa Natura, including its aftermath.
“Don’s gay,” he ended, “and he must have got it into his head that I was gay. But there was no way I was going to let him, um, interfere with me.”
Mr Oswald backed him up, outspokenly. “Look, Kenneth” — it riled Pop to be addressed by his first name by someone he hardly knew — “all we were bothered about was that Matt shouldn’t be by himself, remember? Because of those muggers. It was you who insisted they shouldn’t go to the nudist beach. OK, so they shouldn’t have gone. But I’m not in the least surprised they did. I’d have gone there myself. That’s what being a boy is all about. So is all the rest of what they did. And if I’d been groped by a poof, I’d have socked him too.”
He almost added “Wouldn’t you?” but had second thoughts. Perhaps it was not the question to ask a pompous grey-haired clergyman. “I’m sorry Don had to get hurt. But I stand by Matt. And so will my wife.”
All this Pop reported to Mum. Don, they agreed, had probably learnt a good lesson, however painfully. But what rocked them to the foundation was the news that their son was gay.
They were right-wing, in every way, the children of priests, brought up traditionally, insulated from the hurly burly of modern life. Pop’s career had started in a rural parish where his flock’s problems were traditional ones. His skills at organisation and diplomacy had led him early into the archdeaconry, where he interacted with church officials, with vicars and churchwardens, not with ordinary inhabitants of an increasingly permissive world. Mum, as a reception teacher, was marvellous with five-year-olds but a total stranger to the problems of modern teenagers.
In their younger years, homosexuality had been a crime in law and a sin in the eyes of the church. Their upbringing told them it was repulsive. Very reluctantly they accepted it with their heads, but not with their hearts. Those who suffered such weaknesses of the flesh should be pitied and helped. Of course they should. But certainly not encouraged. The same went for all forms of extra-marital sex.
So how to deal with Don? Their half-hearted meal over, they went up and found him awake. He looked at them without emotion, his brain too numb for fear or evasion or rebellion. The truth would out, and he would take what was coming. They asked how he was feeling, and sat on the bed.
“Donald,” Pop began. The full name meant trouble. “Matt has told us what happened. Everything. How you, ah, pleasured yourselves. By yourself, we might overlook it. But not together. He told us how you went to the nudist beach. We are disappointed that you disobeyed us. And he told us what happened afterwards. We dislike his attitude and his values. Had we known about them, we would not have allowed you to go off together.
“But we do understand why he hit you. If you tried to rob him of his money, would you not expect him to resist? You tried to rob him of his, ah, purity. Is it not equally natural that he resisted? In our opinion he over-reacted, but we understand why he did, and we cannot blame him for it. What have you to say to that?”
“I know, Pop. It was my fault.” It was difficult to get his puffy lips to work. “He knew I was gay, and I thought he was too. From what he’d said. I even asked him if he wanted me to, and he said yes. But he’d misunderstood me. I got it wrong, that’s all. Just bloody wrong.” He saw them wince at his language, but did not care. “So I understand why he hit me. Sort of.”
But only sort of. He had made it plain enough to Matt that he was gay. But how had he misread Matt so badly? Or had Matt misled him? He had come across as utterly uninhibited and blatantly bi, equally interested in bedding boys and girls. Had he pretended to be interested in boys so that Don should not feel left out? Was he interested in other boys but not in him? Or was it all just bravado? Don could not work it out at all. He simply felt let down. Betrayed.
“Well, if you understand that, you have learnt a useful lesson. But what distresses us much more is to hear that you think you are, ah, gay.”
Don had not intended to fight back, but he had to. “I don’t think I’m gay. I know I am.”
“Hmmm. Well, when you discovered you had unnatural desires, why did you not come to us for advice, to help you overcome them?”
“But Pop, you can’t overcome them. They’re not unnatural. It’s the way you’re made. It’s like being left-handed. You don’t try to change that, do you, Mum? I can’t help it.”
“Maybe you cannot help yourself. But, with prayer, God can help you.” Don groaned to himself. “This is not the time to discuss these matters in depth. All we are saying is that true God-given love can exist only between man and woman. Not between man and man. What this modern age likes to call homosexual love is really only lust, which is wrong. The only place for sex is in marriage.
“Now, we cannot dictate what thoughts come into your mind. Remember, it is not a sin to be tempted. Only to yield to temptation. But we can forbid you to act on your thoughts. To allow a temptation to develop into what you like to think is love. To allow it to develop into, ah, physical activity. Those we do forbid. Will you promise to obey us?”
Don looked at them dully. He had expected to submit to whatever they said, but he had not expected that. He knew, in the depth of his being, that true love was possible between males, and he hankered for it. He could not give that promise. It would be betraying himself. It would be like castrating himself — castrating not his body, but his mind. And he felt that they had betrayed him by demanding it.
“No,” he muttered, his voice tight. “No. I’m not tempted by anyone I know now. But I’m bound to meet new people. I can’t tell what might happen then. I can’t promise. I won’t promise.” He burst into tears.
Mum and Pop sighed, realising that, for the moment, enough was enough. They said goodnight and left like inquisitors, aware of the frailty of wayward humanity but sternly convinced that God was behind them.
Don slept fitfully and woke with a dull ache in his face. Luckily the Oswalds had left early for their flight to Newcastle, and their own to Bristol was at lunchtime. Mercifully, too, his parents were brooding and quiet, which allowed him to search his soul.
Yes, they were betraying him. That surprised him little, because he was well aware their views were old-fashioned. He could even — in the light of bitter experience — go along with them in deploring casual sex. That had been the name of the game with Matt. Two horny youngsters seizing an opportunity. Fun, but no depth to it. A million miles from love. Yes, he could forego jerk-offs or blow-jobs with the likes of Matt.
But he had deep needs as well as shallow ones. He pondered the issue about love, real love, the love of his choice. He had not met it yet, but he longed for it, more clearly now than before. He could never agree to foregoing that, if and when he did meet it.
But what hurt most of all was the mistake he had made. After a great week, everything had come crashing down round his ears. He thought he’d read Matt right, but he’d read him wrong. He’d been over-trusting and made a bloody fool of himself. He freely admitted that. But he wasn’t solely to blame, was he? Hadn’t Matt led him up the garden path and dumped him in the shit? They were so like-minded in so many ways. They’d had a really cool time together. They’d built up a good friendship. Yet Matt had let him down with a thump.
In his devastation, Don failed to notice the pun. He had trusted a friend and been deceived. What price, then, his faith in other friends? In knee-jerk reaction, his philosophy of life swung from blithe trust to rank mistrust.
The rest of term was purgatory. The bottom had fallen out of his world. The cheerful, outgoing, mischievous boy turned into a morose, introspective, suspicious one. All the fun had been knocked out of him, and all the randiness. He no longer even wanked. At school, he could trust neither himself nor anyone else. His friends tried to find out what was wrong, to help him through whatever it was. He told them to mind their own business, that he could look after himself. He hated himself for being unreasonable and redirected his self-hate on to them, which made him hate himself the more. One by one, they gave him up as a bad job. He too became a tortoise hiding inside his shell.
At home, he tried hard to keep his relationship with Pop and Mum alive, because it was his one remaining lifeline to normality. But they insisted on harping on that grisly subject, badgering him, laying down the law, irked by his refusal to toe the line. Don’s life was at its lowest ebb. It would have been lower still had he known that they were in touch with the diocesan counselling service.
There was only one bright prospect to look forward to. For the last two years he had been on a dig at a Roman temple north of Bath. The archaeology and the site had captivated him, and he liked to think he made a useful contribution. He was going again. It was a world totally detached from home and school, with a totally different agenda, stimulating but safe. He liked the regular diggers well enough. They were all much older, they were only acquaintances, and they were no threat. And as for Bob … well, Bob was perhaps the only person left in his life whom he did still trust implicitly.