HENRY IN FINKLE ROAD
The Wednesday morning, Eddie woke Henry with a coffee and a smile.
‘You okay?’ Henry asked with a sleepy grin.
‘That was a rough night, Henry. You deserve this.’
‘Well thanks … can you remember next time that I don’t take sugar?’
‘What makes you think there’ll be a next time?’
‘Whatever. Any movement from poor Gavin?’
‘I’ll go see, and ask him if he wants a drink too.’
‘You’re excelling yourself, Eddie.’
‘Maybe you’re transforming me into someone caring and considerate … not!’ He went out with a laugh and came back a few minutes later. ‘Still asleep, but at least there’s not blood leaking out everywhere … urgh, the state of him last night. What an asshole that Wayne guy is. What did he do exactly? I’ve got two gay brothers, and neither of them had this problem, or at least I don’t think they did.’
‘It’s penetration, Eddie. You can’t just stab someone in the arse and expect your dick to go in, not unless the bottom guy is pretty much experienced, and you still have to be careful. Even if you get past the anal ring … do you really want to know all this?’
‘Hell, yeah! I wanna fuck a woman up the ass one day. It’s on my to-do list. Can’t be any different.’
‘Right. I might have guessed there’d be something decadent behind it. Anyway, once you get inside, the inner wall is dry and not all that flexible, and with some guys it’s a pretty thin membrane anyway. Without lube and a good deal of patience, you can tear it. This Wayne apparently rammed himself into Gavin without preparing him in any way and just ripped him up. It must have been appallingly painful for the kid.’
‘Someone needs to fuck this dude up big time,’ Eddie said, looking truly murderous.
‘He’ll get away with it. Gavin won’t want to talk about it, and what can you say? It wasn’t rape. Gavin wanted so badly to lose his virginity, the poor naïve kid, he just chose the wrong man to do it for him. You have to trust yourself to someone in the end, and he picked a bad one.
‘On an entirely different subject, you’ve got your first lecture at eleven. Don’t you think you’d better get going?’
‘You’re not serious! You really think I’m gonna go to class?’
‘Yes, perfectly serious. Check your timetable and you will find that it is Dr Oscott on Myth and Conspiracy in Modern Literature.’
‘I see you realise the significance of the name.’
‘If I don’t show for that one, Andy’ll be down here asking questions and then Dad and ... oh fuck it, I guess I’m shit outta luck.’
‘On your bike, Eddie. Want to borrow a pen?’
Henry couldn’t restrain a wicked grin as his housemate disappeared in a panic to start turning over his shambles of a room, looking for something he could use to take notes. A few minutes later, Eddie pounded down the stairs and out into Finkle Road. It was a quarter to eleven.
Henry showered and dressed, then went up to see Gavin, whom he found awake.
‘Hey, Gavin,’ he said with a smile, ‘how’re you feeling?’
‘Hey, Henry.’ Gavin looked very vulnerable and confused. ‘Thanks for looking after me last night … you were so kind and the other guy too.’
‘Yes … is he American?’
‘Yes he is, from California.’
‘Is he gay?’
‘No. And he should know, too. He has two gay elder brothers, so he’d have noticed the signs. By the way, I’ve put your clothes in to soak, though I don’t give your jeans much of a chance for a full recovery. Gavin, look, you can stay here for a while. This bedroom’s free, and I really don’t mind having you round the house … you look like civilised company, which is in short supply at 25 Finkle Road. Don’t worry about being a nuisance, you’re low maintenance: bed rest and limited solids don’t seem to be much of a problem. Here’s a glass of water and your antibiotics. Be a good boy now, in one gulp and … hey!’
Gavin was crying. Henry could not but do the Henry thing, snuggling up against him on the bed, giving him little kisses on the cheek. He nursed Gavin for a while till the sobs stopped. Henry gave himself a quirky look in the bedroom mirror. This was so different from living with Ed … the idea of comforting him in distress was pretty much inconceivable. But Gavin was a different, very fragile creature, more fragile than Henry, as it seemed. It was a novel thing for Henry to be the strong one, and a bit scary.
Gavin gave a wet little sigh. ‘I’m sorry, Henry. I didn’t mean to go all weepy like that. It’s the pain in my bum and the shock and you being so kind, even though you hardly know me.’
‘Well, we can soon change that. Let’s start the swap of information. I went to Medwardine school.’
‘The public school? Are your parents rich then?’
‘No, Dad’s a vicar, and I got in on charity.’
‘Bet you met lots of rich kids.’
‘That I did. What about you, Gavin?’
‘A comprehensive in Gloucester, then sixth-form college. I got the grades to match the Cranwell offer – just – and here I am, the first of my family to get to uni.’
‘I don’t know your surname, y’know,’ smiled Henry.
‘Oh … it’s Price. Gavin Price, pleased to meet you, Henry …?’
‘Atwood. What does your dad do?’
‘He’s in deliveries and distribution, and Mum’s an estate agent. I’ve got two little brothers. How about you?’
‘One big brother in uni at Manchester. When did you know you were gay, Gavin?’
‘I dunno. I just seemed to realise it slowly. Quite young I think. I was getting sweet on other boys by the time I was ten.’ He blushed nicely. ‘Seeing them without tops on, and the bums, gave me a continual hard on.’
‘But you hid it.’
‘Well yeah … if it had got round the school or the estate where I live, I’d have been dead meat. I’m not that robust, as you might have noticed.’
‘I recognise that as a fellow weed, Gavin.’
‘But you were out before you came to Cranwell?’
‘Yes, and in a relationship with another boy, as I think I said last night. But I ended it. We were going in different directions.’
‘You love him still, though,’ Gavin observed, taking Henry’s breath away somewhat. Was it that obvious? He paused before replying.
‘Yes, I love him still. He’s quite the man is my Edward. I don’t think you meet two like him in one life. But it had to be done.’
Why did it have to be done? Henry asked himself … remind me now. Ah yes … it was my immaturity, the impending separation, oh yes, and my unfortunate desire to be in Davey Skipper’s pants as well as Ed’s, a desire consummated more than once. Henry looked at Gavin and wondered how he could have thought that he had problems with self-esteem.
Henry asked, ‘Is there anyone I should tell where you are? You’re in hall, right?’
‘Yes, I’m in hall: Stenton 12. I talked to a few of the people on my floor, but no one’s what you’d call a friend. I’ve only been there since Saturday. I don’t suppose I’ll be missed.’
‘Okay, and now the bit I’m nervous about. You need a shower, and we’ve got to take that thing out of your bum and replace it. Tell me you don’t want to crap, please.’
Gavin blushed again. ‘No … I daren’t go to the toilet, Henry. Are you going to help me?’
‘Yes, if you promise not to enjoy it.’
‘I don’t want sex again as long as I live,’ Gavin said plaintively
‘Don’t give up on it … it can be good. Take my word.’
Gavin was in a lot of pain. It was a hard job cleaning him up and changing the tampon-like dressing in his rectum, and messy too. But Henry did it, reassuring Gavin, who was continually apologising and was utterly embarrassed about being naked with a strange – if gay – boy. His embarrassment was not eased by a constant erection as Henry was attending to him.
Henry was not so clinical that he didn’t check Gavin out, and was quite impressed by his endowment: dark and heavy balls, rather too hairy for Henry’s taste, and a straight and thick penis. He mischievously commented on this to Gavin, who sputtered and became quite speechless. Henry should have remembered that he was only the second interested person to see what Gavin had between his legs.
After getting his guest back to bed and trying unsuccessfully to interest him in some breakfast, Henry retired to his room and fell into a doze. He was awoken by the banging of the front door and male voices in the hall. Eddie was back, with a guest.
‘Get down here, Henry!’ he bellowed.
Henry pulled himself together and found Eddie beaming in the hall passage with a tall, older man in glasses.
‘Hey little dude, this is Dr Paul Oscott. He used to live here when he was a student. He wanted to see the old place and meet you too. Your fame has spread.’
Dr Oscott smiled and said hello. ‘I lived here from when I was in the sixth form actually.’ There was a distinct American twang to his voice, although he was plainly English. ‘Matt and Andy took me in when my mad mother threw me out. I was only seventeen. They saved my life and got me into university. I suppose you know the story, Henry.’
‘Er ... yeah, Matt told me about it when he said you’d taken up a temporary teaching contract at Cranwell. He said you’d come full circle now. Is this your first lecturing job?’
‘Sure is. Graduated from Georgetown this summer and went straight into the lecture theatre. How’s my barbecue pit out the back doing?’
‘You built that?’ Henry was impressed.
‘I did. Not only that but the lads and I had some fantastic barbies out there in summer. Great days. And you’re the new Oscott at No 25? It was the clearing up of student sick in the front patch that I hated most, that and the endless supply of litter that blows in from the street. The weeding and gardening I could cope with.’
‘I’ve got professional help coming for the garden,’ Henry said with a smile.
‘Justin Peacher-White. He’ll be down tomorrow on an inspection visit. He can sort the plants out when he’s here. He’s the qualified gardener.’
Eddie scoffed, ‘He’s here as a security consultant to keep the newsies away from me He’ll have better things to do, like minding my butt.’
‘We’ll see,’ smiled Henry. Then he added, a little maliciously, ‘Eddie, how was the lecture?’
Eddie surprised him with a burst of enthusiasm which seemed rather more than polite, and not at all fake. ‘Abso-fucking-lutely fantastic! Paul was amazing. Had the whole room totally into it. They’ll be lined up around the building to get in next week.’
Paul was clearly delighted with the reaction from Eddie. ‘Thanks, I did think it went quite well, but it was from my doctorate so I was all fresh and informed. It was still gratifying.
‘In any case, I have to get along now. The wife and little Mattie will be expecting me for lunch. Bye.’
Henry stared at Eddie. ‘You seriously enjoyed a lecture?’
Eddie looked offended. ‘Dude, I’m not completely brainless. I can be inspired, and Dr Paulie was something else. It was as good as the TV. How’s the feeble little wuss with the pain in the ass?’
‘Gavin’s not too good. The antibiotics are knocking him out. But there was only a little blood on his dressing this morning, so I guess things are mending deep inside him, poor kid. Can you look after him? I gotta get on campus for my own first lecture this afternoon. Try, please try, to give the proper pills to him at two-thirty. I’ve put them in a cup under the kitchen boiler. Don’t take them yourself, they’re not opiates or hallucinogens.’
‘I’m not into pills, dude, not shit like that anyway. I’ll try and wake up for it.’
With that minimal level of reassurance, Henry grabbed his bag and headed out.
When Henry got back, it was to discover the pills still in the cup under the boiler, and Eddie flat out and fast asleep on the sofa in the front downstairs room. He sighed. He took the antibiotics up to Gavin, who also was fast asleep, curled up deep inside the duvet. Henry was in a charitable mood. Probably Eddie had gone up to check and found Gavin asleep. Henry shook the boy awake and made him take the pills. He smiled shyly and sleepily up at Henry, and Henry suddenly noticed the warning signs. It was the same cow eyes that he had got from David Skipper in the upper sixth. Gavin had a crush on Henry, and he had sprung a boner too, which the folds of the duvet could not entirely disguise. Oh well, at least the episode with Wayne the Insufferable hadn’t quite put Gavin off sex completely. His libido was still functioning.
Henry examined his conscience. Do I fancy Gavin? No, I don’t, he concluded. The boy was weedy, with a thin chest, not the swelling muscles he had got used to with Ed. He had a sour hormonal odour, and his feet smelled a bit too. His teeth were yellow and he had spots. You could clean him up and he might have a certain waif-like charm, if he could lose the glasses, but he was not Henry’s type, so far as Henry understood what his type was.
‘Go back to sleep, Gavin. It’ll help you get better.’
As he sank back into the pillow, Gavin said innocently and dozily, ‘Night, Mum.’ It was a sudden slip that actually brought tears to Henry’s eyes. I may not fancy this fragile boy, but I do feel responsible for him, and I like him too, his conscience told him. How odd is that?
David Skipper. The positive thing about Henry’s new student life was that he had Davey to share it with, even though Davey was in the Business School and Henry was in the Faculty of Arts. Henry flipped his mobile when he was downstairs. ‘Davey?’
‘Where are you?’
‘On the train, of course. That’s where people always are when they answer mobiles.’
‘When do you get in?’
‘We just left Reading. About twenty minutes, I suppose. Wanna meet up at the station? I can take you over and show you my pad.’
‘Sweet,’ grinned Henry. David had got into a relationship earlier that year with Terry O’Brien, a security executive in his mid-twenties. Terry was a native of Cranwell and not short of money. He had bought a cool service flat in a Cranwell city-centre block, in which David was living and in which the lucky pair rutted continuously whenever Terry could get away from his office in Canary Wharf.
There were some grounds to wonder if the relationship would continue to work in the long term. Terry had a tragic history, and David had a certain wilful naïvety about him. How could such a man and such a boy survive as a couple? But David was sensitive, loving and beautiful, while Terry, for all his tragedies, still had deep reserves of kindness and devotion. So far as Henry could see, the relationship was not just holding firm, it was deepening, which pleased him immensely. Davey was a good friend, and Terry he loved and admired to the point of adoration.
Henry was waiting at the central station when the Swansea express came in. David hopped off, a leather travelling bag over his shoulder. He turned heads. He was a seriously handsome young man, and he was dressed expensively. Terry was a multi-millionaire and very generous with gifts to his young lover.
‘Walking alongside you, you fashionable git,’ Henry said, ‘I’m gonna have to do something about my image.’
‘Henry, I love you, but you have no image. You just wear pale jeans and tees and stuff … stuff in fact you’ve been wearing since I first met you. We need a vision for Henry.’ He smiled. ‘And now’s as good a time as any. To the market, and that right soon.’
Laughing, they found their way to the city’s Victorian market hall. David assumed the role of fashion guru, making Henry buy a few second-hand suit jackets and some striped scarves. ‘OK … what do you think?’
‘Hey … very simple, but not bad when you loop the scarves that way. Yeah, stylish but cheap. I like it. It’s the Henry image, at least for now. Stylish and cheap, that’s me.’
‘Now if we could only do something about your hair … it needs streaks to set off how dark it is, now it’s so much longer.’
‘Streaks! My mum would faint.’
‘We’ll try it this weekend. I’ve found a good stylist in Riverside. Reasonable price but talented.’
‘Your hair does look good, Davey. But you’d look good even if you went bald. I’m not in your class.’
They made their way to the bottom of High Street, where a converted brewery housed some modern service flats. David and Terry’s pad was in the penthouse, which had a splendid view over the city roofs.
‘Oh my God! Split-level. Pine. Stainless steel. Modern art. This is heaven on earth for a student. And you keep it so clean and tidy.’
‘I’m Terry’s rent boy, it’s my only duty.’
Henry frowned. ‘Don’t say that, Davey, it’s not nice. You and Terry love each other. There’s nothing commercial in your relationship.’
David’s face blanked briefly. ‘But that’s what my mother called me, a rent boy.’
‘Oh no. Really? God. So coming out was not painless?’
‘No, Henry. We haven’t all got parents like yours. Dad left the house, just went out, didn’t want to know, and Mum interrogated me about Terry. She decided that he had corrupted me to be his live-in whore in Cranwell, that he was some sort of gay Zvengali destroying her innocent little Davey. Not a good stay. I couldn’t take any more of it this morning. I told them I’d be back when they’d grown up a bit, and not to expect to see me for Christmas.’
Henry sighed. ‘Let’s hope they come to their senses before then. Look, I’ve got to get back to Finkle Road.’
‘Want to meet up at the Union later and check out guys’ butts like two gays on the loose?’
‘No. Sorry. Not tonight. I’ve picked up a responsibility.’ Henry explained what had happened.
David gave Henry an odd look. ‘Nothing changes does it, Outfield mate … you’re still out to save the world for niceness.’
‘Don’t be silly, Davey.’
‘Don’t ever change, Henry. I’ll be round at No 25 with a bottle at half eight. I’d like to see this poor little nerd.’