Ben was not too nervous as he stood in the great spaces of the British Library’s foyer, contemplating its many levels of brick and glass. He had a good feeling about today.
He liked this building though he did not often visit it. He hung around the new but already-famous bronze bench in the form of a chained book, watching the clock approach eleven. He felt an edge of anticipation which took the form of an urgent need to pee. Deciding he had time enough, he made his way to the loos in the basement.
It was right on eleven when he returned. There was no Philip Maddox. Ten minutes went by and there was still no sign of him. Ben’s heart sagged with disappointment: another man who didn’t care to keep time. At twenty past eleven, he knew there would be no Phil. He took one last look around and slowly moved to the exit.
Out in the courtyard he was nearly overcome by an urge to cry – a form of reaction, he knew. So what did this mean? Had Phil got cold feet and backed out? Yet he had seemed so keen on the meeting. Ben’s suspicions about Phil returned with a vengeance. What was the man hiding?
He sat on a wall for a while and thought. As he did so, he took out his mobile and suddenly noticed that, like an idiot, he had not turned it on that morning. It bleeped, and told him he had several voice-mail messages. The first was more or less incoherent, but he picked out the words: ‘Sorry … car … bump … not serious … police.’
Ben was alarmed. He moved on to the next. ‘Hi, hey, sorry. Ben … can you hear me? No? Look, I’m stuck in Stevenage. I crunched the car on the way to the station. The fucking owner of the other one is making me wait for the police. Says I’m pissed and wants me tested. I’ve missed the 9:45. Next one’s not till 10:45. Please pick up. Look, I’ll be there as soon as I can. Please wait. God I hate being late for anything, but this is beyond! And today of all days!’
Despite everything, Ben smiled. The man prided himself on being punctual. The third message said, ‘Hi Ben! You must have your mobile off. I’m on the train now. I’ll reach King’s Cross at 11:30. Please wait!’
As Ben was listening, a figure came sprinting into the courtyard and slowed down, looking round uncertainly. Fixing on Ben, he halted dead in his tracks. They slowly approached each other. Although Phil was breathing heavily and sweating, he gave a hesitant smile. He looked up at Ben almost with appeal in his face. Ben’s heart went out to him the way it never had to another man, not even Alex. Alex had always appeared invulnerable. This man was different.
And gorgeous too. Ben had already seen his photograph, but the impact of the vibrant, living face – the brown skin, the clear blue eyes, the curling dark hair – was devastating. More considerable yet was the impact of his perfectly proportioned body; naked, Phil would be something else. Yet like Matt White, it was clear that this man somehow had never been fully conscious of his own beauty. And then it occurred to Ben that Phil must be a closet case, because had he ever been much in gay circles, he would have known how seductive he was to other men.
They shook hands, conscious that a clasp of bodies would have been a step too far. ‘You OK?’ was Ben’s first question.
‘Yes … well, a bit puffed and I’ve probably got whiplash, but I made it. Thanks for waiting, Ben. If you’d given up on me, I don’t know what I would have done. It’s been a totally shit day otherwise. Can we get a coffee or something? Better still, tranquillisers would be good.’
Ben smiled. ‘Tell me about it in the Starbucks over the way.’
They walked across the road talking polite nothings, the minds of both engaged on quite different concerns. He’s tall, Phil was thinking. I have to look up to this guy. How does it play out in bed? God, I’m thinking about sex already.
Once they had settled with drinks, Ben asked, ‘What about your car?’
‘Oh, it took the impact on the bumpers; the other car got the worst of it. God, the driver was pissed at me … who can blame him? The police were decent about it, though. I parked up and got on the train.’
Ben looked at him. ‘But that’s not the main reason you’re flustered, is it?’
Phil gaped. How had the man read his mind? ‘Er … no. What do you mean?’
‘Maybe it’s because you’re not used to being out as a gay with another gay man, or maybe it’s something else, but there’s more.’
‘How did you know? Is it this gaydar thing?’
‘Are you gay?’
‘Oh yes, definitely. No doubt about it. But the thing is … look, please don’t judge me on this, but I’m married.’
Oh fucking God, thought Ben. I knew it was too perfect. He kept his silence, but something of what he thought made it into his eyes.
‘Ben, it’s not what you think … look, let me tell you what happened.’ He embarked on the story of his situation and the events of the morning, in full Technicolor detail. Ben sat following his account with growing interest, and something else too.
‘And you put his clothes in the oven?’
‘And turned it on?’
‘So in about half an hour …?’
Ben looked at Phil’s anxious eyes, and there welled up in him the most unexpected thing … laughter: side-splitting, tears-in-your-eyes laughter. Phil looked troubled, then his face cracked, and he too was doubled up. The people on the tables around stared, while the counter assistants grinned.
Ben wiped his eyes. ‘God that was funny. I’ve not laughed like that since I can remember. I’d forgotten what it was like. Bless you, Phil, I hope you didn’t think I was laughing at you.’
Phil grinned. ‘No, but laugh at me by all means if it makes you feel better. I came here to try to make you happier, and it looks like you’ve done the same for me.’
‘Has she rung you?’
‘Jesus, I was thinking so much about you, I forgot about those two. Tells you something.’
Ben gave his rare glowing smile and enchanted Phil’s heart. Was this love at first sight? He’d never believed in it, but it seemed to him to be just that. ‘It certainly does,’ was all he said.
Phil checked his mobile … there were no missed calls. Then he was sobered by the reflection that he must go home tonight to face the consequences of today’s revelations.
‘The marriage is over, Ben, for more reasons than she knows. I’ll just have to think now what comes next. I imagine she’ll try to hang on to the house. I don’t think he’s with anyone. D’you know, perhaps he’ll move in with her and buy me out. Whatever, I’ll get into rented as soon as I can, and let the lawyers sort it. The whole world is on the move, and the lawyers are reaping the benefit from both of us. Where are you staying now?’
‘With my friends Matt and Andy.’
‘Also gay I presume?’
‘Very much so. We were in university together. I have the house to myself this weekend.’ Then Ben blushed. It had not been quite what he meant to say. ‘Sorry, that was not a come on.’
Phil blushed too, because he had hoped it was. But he smiled. ‘Thanks for being so good, Ben. I’m feeling unbelievably better now.’
‘Apart from the whiplash.’
Phil chuckled. ‘No sign of it yet. Well, how about a proper lunch?’
They were together at the barrier of King’s Cross station. It was five and the afternoon had flown by. They had talked literature through lunch, then their educations and families as they strolled slowly through Tavistock Gardens. By the time they were drinking their farewell pints in Marchmont Street, they were exchanging their deepest feelings, fears and hopes. It had all happened so fast, yet it was as though they had known each other all their lives. Phil had never shared himself like this before with anyone, not even Karen; Ben, not since those early days with Alex. They both knew they had reached a level higher than friendship, but neither dared articulate it. It was all too soon for that, or so it seemed.
‘Benny … it’s goodbye for now. But I’ll be thinking about you all the time. When can we meet again?’
Ben laughed. ‘I’d like to say tomorrow, but you have a lot to do at home. I’ll keep you in my heart as you go about dealing with Karen. There’s something better beyond it.’
‘I promise,’ and then Ben closed with Phil’s mouth while the whole of King’s Cross station looked on. He cupped Phil’s chin, his lips lightly massaging the other’s. Then he sucked Phil’s tongue inside his own mouth, licking along it. He broke off, leaving Phil stunned and his bowels turned to water. A young male barrier attendant wolf-whistled, but no one else seemed to notice or care.
‘So … er, that’s … kissing.’
‘The way it should be done. I love you, Phil.’
‘Oh God … this is astonishing, amazing! And I have to fucking go! Now!’
‘Come back to me.’
‘God yes … I love you too.’
With lingering backward glances, Phil headed for the Stevenage train. He stood at the door until the warning signal went and it closed. Ben stayed waving till he disappeared inside.
Phil slumped in his seat, aware that the carriage knew he had said goodbye to his boyfriend and not caring in the least … proud of it, if anything. All he could think of as his train sped north was that sweet, quiet smile.
Reality caught up as he turned his car into the close. There on his doorstep were three packed suitcases. He got the message, but rang the doorbell anyway. It was answered by Alistair. ‘What are you doing in my house?’
‘I’m here to protect Karen from your violence.’
‘I know your sort.’
‘I really doubt it, arsebreath. So how long have you been fucking my wife?’
Alistair shot him an evil glare, giving Phil hopes that he and Karen would eventually be very unhappy together. ‘She’s had enough of you. From what she says, you’ve not been much of a husband to her.’
There was sufficient truth in that remark to sober Phil. ‘OK then … you’re inside my house and I’m outside it. I’m not gonna push my way in, though I have every right to. Tell Karen I’ll be around with a van on Tuesday to clear out my stuff. Alistair, you can have her with my blessing. I won’t fight it, but I expect to be paid for half the house, tell her that. I’m going for a lawyer Monday.’
Alistair had obviously been expecting more of a fight. ‘Ah! Right! Half the house! I’ll tell her … this is civilised of you.’
‘What’s the point of arguing over a corpse, Alistair? Our marriage has been dead for years.’
He loaded the bags into the car, with Alistair actually helping. Then he drove to the nearest Travelodge and booked in for three nights.
He checked the power level on his mobile. There was enough for a few calls. The first was to Ben.
‘How did it go?’
‘Well, strangely civilised after the ritual exchange of insults with Alistair, who was riding shotgun: you fucked my wife, you were no husband, and so on. It all ended with a whimper, hardly worth the neighbours’ twitching their net curtains.’
Ben chuckled. ‘Sad for them.’
‘Yes. They could have been talking about it for years if we had obliged with a punch up. The police only normally get called out for garden-gnome theft in our neck of the sticks.’
‘So where are you now?’
‘In a Travelodge outside town. Looks like I get to keep my car.’
‘Car … d’you know, I’ve never had a car. Can’t drive.’
‘Really? How did you survive in Baltimore? You can’t live without wheels in the USA, or so I’ve heard.’
‘Oh, you can, at least in big cities. They have buses and undergrounds and suchlike. But Alex liked to do all the driving, part of his character really, I suppose. Is it dreadfully lonely, Phil?’
‘Not while you’re on the phone, Benny, and the thought of you will keep me warm tonight.’
‘God … I wish I could be there with you.’
‘You mean what I think … hope … you mean?’
‘God yes, I’m ready for that.’
Phil thought it through – very quickly. ‘Give me directions, Benny, and I’ll be with you in less than an hour. Highgate isn’t it?’
‘Oh God yes, the thought of you and me together. It’s more than my underpants can cope with.’
‘Have you done it with another man?’
‘Mmm, yes – though only to take it.’
‘We’ll sort that out when you get here. Now the directions …’
Phil pulled into the side lane next to the big eighteenth-century town house. Standing before the gleaming front entrance, he looked up at the building. There was serious money here. The bell went but, instead of Ben, a thin woman with a slight smile opened the door. ‘Dr Maddox?’
Phil admitted it. He was ushered into a very luxurious world, the sort you’d see in a colour supplement. Ben was barefoot on the stairs, glowing with excitement. The realisation took Phil’s breath away. He could do that to another man … him.
He took Ben’s extended hand, and together they ran up the stairs. Ben was barely able to return an abstracted ‘yes’ to the housekeeper’s request if there were to be two for breakfast.
They were in the bedroom and Phil’s heart was pounding. They kissed for a very long time, like no kissing he had ever done before. Ben’s scent was in his nostrils, Ben’s hair in his eyes.
Phil broke off. ‘Oh God!’
He began shedding clothes, as did Ben. They were staring at each other intently while they did so. Ben was tall but not too lanky, a thin fuzz of chest hair between his dark small nipples. His erection was very evident and very long.
‘May I?’ Phil whispered and went to his knees. He knew how to give oral sex, but this was quite some serious mouthful. Ben was running his own hands over his upper body as he groaned with the excitement radiating out from his penis. Phil knew to cup and massage Ben’s testicles and then, for the first time, reached into the warmth behind them to go where Jerry had never let him go. Phil’s own penis was slick already with precum as he massaged it with one hand while sucking away at Ben’s.
‘Can I take you, baby?’ he asked breaking off.
‘God please … I like that best.’
‘You do? I’ve never done it.’
‘Then let’s show you what to do. I have all the necessary.’
They lay on the bed facing, stroking and kissing. Phil was mesmerised by Ben’s pale body. He kissed and licked all he could, including the man’s armpits. Eventually he settled in the valley of promise, swiping between Ben’s buttocks with his tongue. He began sucking and working at the pucker before him, hardly believing he could be doing this with such enjoyment that he was moaning from the thrill of it. Ben’s noises too were very arousing.
Under his tutor’s urging, Phil slicked his fingers and began opening up his lover, delicately at first and then, with further urging, more forcefully. Ben was head down in the pillows, his perfect backside slightly raised as he thrust himself against Phil’s probing.
Ben cast a glance over his shoulder, his eyes both preoccupied and sultry. ‘I want it, Phil, please now. On my back, looking in your eyes. Wank me as you do it.’
Ben splayed his legs back and pushed out his arse while Phil shuffled along on his knees. ‘No, a little drop of lube on your dick before you put the sheath on. It’s not like doing a woman.’ They smiled in each other’s faces. Phil murmured, ‘No … it’s far, far better, baby. Because I love you.’
‘Aww yeah! But I love you just as much. You’re my man.’ Ben arched with anticipation as Phil engaged his hole.
Phil rocked forward and, to his astonishment, slid gently home. His cock, though not long, was thick. It looked like his lover was used to size in his partner. He moaned as Ben moved on him, adjusting his interior to take Phil. Phil leaned over and began pushing, making it last. Ben was urging him on excitedly after only a few minutes, completely lost in the experience.
‘You’re beautiful! God, you’re beautiful!’ Ben cried out as he came between them. But Phil did not let him go limp, instead bringing him erect again. Twenty minutes later they came together in the most overwhelming orgasm Phil had ever experienced. This was not just sex, it was joining bodies with a lover, and the emotional impact was as profound as the physical experience. The two of them embraced and eventually, after an age of kissing and whispered intimacies, they slept.
Phil woke to the sound of church bells. It was Sunday, the first day of the rest of his life as an out gay person. The sound of gentle breathing came from the man still sleeping next to him, the man he believed he loved. He turned and gazed at Ben’s profile. The nose was straight and perfect, the lips open as he breathed, the closed eyelids bluish and delicately veined. The man truly was a delight just to look at, and Phil did that for the next twenty minutes until a change in breathing and a flicker of eyelids told him that Ben was waking. ‘Morning, Bennyboy.’
Ben turned smiling towards him. ‘Morning, Phil my guy.’
They moved into an embrace, before Phil renewed his mouth lock on Ben despite the puffiness of his lips after last night’s exercises.
When he broke off, Ben asked, ‘You hungry, baby?’
‘Mmm. Does the housekeeper lady do food then?’
‘Oh yes, Mrs Atkinson has a mission to make everyone in this house obese, if we let her.’
‘The guys who own this place, Matt and Andy, where are they?’
‘It’s Matt’s house. Andy’s got his own place down near his family in Suffolk. That’s where they are at the moment. Andy’s recently picked up a grandson.’
‘They old guys then?’
‘No, same age as us … it’s complicated. You wouldn’t believe how complicated. But Andy loves seeing little Damien, who’s a real handful according to Matt, but strangely sweet once you get to know him. I couldn’t say, I’m not that much into kids. Up baby, let’s go downstairs. Dress is informal.’
‘What, naked like this?’
‘Not Garden of Eden informal, no. Here’s a pair of my boxers and one of my tee-shirts. That’ll do.’
The tee-shirt was a bit big for Phil, but he liked being in Ben’s clothes. They padded down to the large and impressive kitchen at the back of the house overlooking the garden. The coffee was freshly brewed, the bread newly baked. Eggs and bacon and the full English were soon sizzling in frying pans. All the main Sunday papers were laid out on a side table.
‘Wow, these friends of yours live in style, don’t they?’
‘You could say that. Come into the dining room and I’ll introduce you.’
Phil stood silent and rooted in front of the full-length double portrait at one end of the room. He noticed it was carefully sited so as to catch the light. Cars passed by in the road outside while he stood and stared.
At last he said, ‘I know these men. The dark one in particular … it’s Matt White. You know that god?’
‘We were in university together, yes, and Andy too for a while.’
‘My God, then that’s Sir Andrew Peacher! The gay über-couple! They’re your friends? This is their house? Bloody hell!’
‘They took me in when Alex threw me out. They do that. They’re the best friends you could ever hope to meet. They’ll be your friends too.’
‘My God. This is something else. I need coffee and lots of it.’
Smiling and chatting, they sat opposite each other at the table, rubbing their legs together like love-struck teens.
Phil found he could do full justice to Mrs Atkinson’s skills. He thanked her when he finished and had to be restrained from clearing his plates up.
‘Let her do it,’ Ben chuckled. ‘It’s her job.’
They returned to Ben’s room, and were soon naked and entwined once again. Their sex play went on till early in the afternoon, by which time Phil delightedly announced that he’d exhausted his imagination so far as gay sex went. Then Ben showed him some things he had not imagined. ‘You’re my god, Benny, my sex god. You are so gorgeous and so passionate. How lucky could I get?’
‘What about me? A week ago I was in the depths of misery and rejection. Look what you’ve done for me. This is beyond anything I could have hoped for.’
Eventually they showered off their sweat and stains and dressed properly. Phil had no fresh clothes, so he left off his underpants. Ben laughed. ‘Why didn’t you bring a change, silly?’
‘I was too eager to get here to think with my brain. I was just following my dick, and it’s got no interest in clothes at all.’
‘What do you want to do with the rest of the day, Phil my baby?’
‘Sit and stare in your lovely hazel eyes? Tell you over and over again how you’ve finally allowed me to love another human being? Kiss your long slender feet in homage to the gorgeous thing you are? I seem to have quite a long list, now I think about it.’
They walked hand-in-hand out into the garden and down the path. The weather was fresher than it had been, allowing Ben to admire the effect of the breeze ruffling Phil’s curls.
‘What are you going to do when you go back to Stevenage, baby?’
‘I’ve got to hire a van to take my stuff into storage, then I have to find a place to rent. I’d love to sleep every night in the same bed as my Benny, but it’s not going to happen, is it?’
‘Not yet, maybe not for a while, but one day. We have to get ourselves sorted – you in Stevenage and I in London. You have your job and I have mine, and we take our jobs seriously. We’re old enough to realise that obligations come before inclinations.’
‘Nicely put, Bennyboy.’
‘Do you know what I like best of all? It’s your calling me that. Alex called me it too, but when you say it, it comes out all freshly minted, as though you were the first ever to give me that name. You’ve cancelled out all the pain from the breakup – how lucky can I get?’
‘It’s only what you deserve, my Benny.’