Michael Arram







  Justin got the next issue of Hello and was disappointed.  He finally found the photo in one of the gay magazines that Matt’s agent sent round, a new celeb glossy.  There he was with Nathan, grinning, following Matt and Andy out of Poivre Vert.  The caption identified them as an unknown gay teen couple and delicately implied that Matt and Andy were sleeping with them.


  ‘Bastards,’ he snarled, going off the idea of celebrity.  Still, they did look hot.  He blew the image up on Dave’s colour copier and tacked it to a board a workman had installed, where he’d already mounted lots of pictures of Nathan he’d begged from his lover.


  Nathan had gone home after Poivre Vert and their last sleepover with the intention of coming out to his parents.  He was not surprised to learn that they had already made the correct deduction about Justin.  They might not have been happy, but had put no obstacles in the way of further visits.  Still, Nathan had been depressed for days after the big conversation, which was very unlike him.


  For all his brass neck, Justin was reluctant to go out to Harlesden Lodge.  Worried that he might be intruding into private grief, he put it off.  It had been a week since he had seen his lover, though they talked frequently on the mobile.  But today was the day Nathan did Matt’s garden, so they would see each other.


  Justin had got into a routine of sorts at Matt’s house.  It was not a good one.  He woke late and showered.  He talked to Nathan on his mobile, then played games or listened to music.  After the invariable first cigarette in the garden, he might wander into the village.  If Terry was around he sought him out to share a smoke and have a long conversation, for Terry was fun and educational to talk to.  On a few occasions they went out for a drive.  Andy sometimes too chatted, and they began to get easier with each other.  Justin recognised that the kindness was genuine and appreciated it.


  Matt was a different case entirely.  If he was not at his offices in Camden, he just ignored Justin or snapped at him about leaving the place a mess.  There was a problem there, and Justin came to realise that he wasn’t the one responsible.  Still, if he was kicked, he kicked back harder, and Matt often came out of their skirmishes bruised and fuming.


  Mr Anderson arrived with Nathan, who mustered a big grin for his boyfriend.  Justin had been waiting on the drive for twenty minutes, chain smoking.


  Anderson looked startled.  ‘Justin?  Why are you here?’


  ‘I live here.  I’ve been fostered by Mr Peacher.’


  ‘Blimey!  That’s a bit of luck for you, son.  I’m delighted for you.  Really.’




  Justin had put on working gear.  Overriding Nathan’s objections to gardening alongside him, he spent the morning cutting grass, trimming and pruning.  ‘I really missed this.  D’you think Mr Anderson would take me on again?  He won’t have to pay me much.’


  Nathan smiled.  ‘Justy, it’d be an idea if you did get a job.  It must be boring to idle round the house all day long.’


  ‘Oh … mostly.  But the fights with Matt liven things up.  He’s a pushover, and I got lots of time on me hands to think up insults.’


  ‘It’s his house, Justy, you should back off.’


  ‘Nate, I don’t start the rows.  Iss not in me nature to walk away from a fight either.’




  ‘I’ll bite your dick.’


  ‘Later.’  They kissed long and hard.


  At lunchtime they raced into the house, threw off their boots and galloped up the stairs, almost knocking Andy over.  ‘Sorry!’  ‘Scuse me!’


  Later, lying naked together with the scent of their semen and mingled sweat heavy in the air while enjoying gentle moments of kissing and stroking, Nathan asked dreamily, ‘So why do you think Matt’s got it in for you so much?’


  ‘Jealous of me looks, y’think?’


  ‘Must be a reason.’


  ‘I dunno.  You’re better with this sort of thing.  Can he see me as a rival?’


  ‘Why?’ wondered Nathan.


  ‘Well, maybe he thinks I’m coming between him and Andy.’


  Nathan stared at him and shook his head.  ‘Nah.’


  ‘Could it be he fancies me and is high on sexual tension when I’m round him?’


  ‘That’s your huge ego talking, Justy.’


  ‘Or he just got bumped into the arrangement by Andy and couldn’t say no?’


  At last Nathan looked as though he was in agreement.  ‘Now you may be on the right track.  He’s got a lovely home, a brilliant life and masses of cash.  Suddenly his boyfriend drags this gutter kid with huge personal problems …’


  ‘… and a perpetual hardon …’


  ‘… and a perpetual hardon – along with a gorgeous boyfriend of his own – into it.  Stands to reason he’d be a bit pissed at you.  So what you going to do about it?’


  Justin was astonished.  ‘S not my problem!’


  Nathan grimaced.  ‘Look, Justy.  You didn’t create it, but it is your problem.  It’s time to start relating with other people than just me.  Throw the bloke a line.  Help him come to terms with it.’


  ‘What … be nice to him?’


  ‘No … well, yeah.  That’s part of it.  More to the point, try to teach him you’re not just a filing cabinet full of ASBOs and aggression.  Hiding behind the Animal there’s a real Justin who’s brave, cool, affectionate and beautiful.  He’s the Justin I love, the Justin Andy and Terry have recognised.  Stop running from the fact that you’re a really brilliant human being, against all the odds.’


  Instead of continuing the repartee, Justin went quiet and pensive.  Nathan snuggled closer to him and waited patiently for a response.  Justin played with his hair and kissed his head for a while.






  ‘I’m not what you want me to be.  I really am not a brilliant human being.  I’m selfish, foul-mouthed, arrogant, violent and deeply fucked up by years of abuse. People like me shouldn’t even be allowed on the same planet as someone like you, Nate.  I can’t be trusted.  I’m not good, or kind, and I’ve never done anything for anyone else in all me life.  About the only thing to be said for me is that I can make you laugh.’


  ‘Even if all that were true, Justy – and I don’t admit it for a moment – the point is that unlike some people who’ve had your disadvantages, you do know yourself.  Cos you do, you’re changing.  You’re doing it so fast I doubt your mum would recognise you now.  You are brilliant, and I love you for it.’


  They showered away the sweat of their coupling, and went back down to the garden.  It being the afternoon for weeding, they were down on their knees side by side while Nathan patiently taught Justin which plants were weeds and which were not.  After an hour, Justin burst out, ‘I think I got an idea about Matt.’


  ‘Great.  What is it?’


  ‘I’ll tell yer later.’


  At the end of the afternoon they hung round waiting for Nathan’s ride.  When it came, Justin begged straight-faced to be taken on again.  ‘Please, Mr Anderson.  Don’t tell me you don’t need the help.  Nathan’s often on his own.  You don’t even have to pay me.’


  Anderson looked thoughtful.  ‘Well, I won’t say you’re not a good worker, Justin.  You’re learning the essentials quickly too.  I can’t take you on permanently, but it is true that we’re run off our feet at this time of year.  But only on a weekly basis, right?  And you’re on basic.’


  ‘Legend!’  He and Nathan grinned at each other and high-fived.


  ‘Seven-thirty tomorrow in the driveway.  You’ll be doing the herb garden at Ireton House down the road.’




* * *




  When Matt returned home just after Nathan left, he found Justin sitting on the stairs waiting for him.  He put his briefcase down, looked the boy over coolly and asked him pointedly if he’d had a productive day.


  Justin ignored the needle in the remark.  ‘I got a job today.’


  Matt was taken aback.  ‘Oh.  Er …wonderful.’


  ‘Yeah.  Ol’ man Anderson wanted me back.  Good, eh?’


  ‘Well, yes.  It’s very good.’


  ‘Pleased wiv me?’


  ‘I wouldn’t go quite so far.’


  ‘Wassa problem wiv me, Matt?’


  ‘How long have you got?  Smelly.  Horny.  Untidy.  In my house.’


  Justin mastered his first impulses, remembered how much he loved Nathan, and asked mildly, ‘Matt, iss not my fault that I’m here, is it?  Anyways, could ya do me a favour?’




  ‘Run me down the Seven Sisters Road.  I wanna see me mum.’


  ‘Can’t Terry do it?’


  ‘He’s out wiv Andy.’


  ‘How long will it take?’


  ‘Juss half an hour or so.’


  Matt shrugged and got his car keys.


  Justin continued his campaign as they tooled down Archway Road in the powerful little Mercedes.  ‘You got family, Matt?’


  ‘Mum and dad, and a younger brother, Carl … the Olympic distance-swimmer.’


  ‘They must be proud of both of ya.’


  ‘So they say … but we’re proud of them right back.  They were brilliant parents.’


  ‘I never knew me dad.  In fact, I doan’ think me mum’s quite sure which of half a dozen blokes he was.’


  Matt looked uncomfortable.  ‘Oh … really?’


  ‘First bloke I can remember in our flat was the first stepdad, black guy.  He liked shagging her in front of me while I was playing with me toys on the floor.  Said he got off on it.  He had to go, although not before he’d broken one of me arms.  He got off on beating me up too, even if he was always sorry afterwards.


  ‘The second stepdad was a bit nicer … least he had lots of cash and made me mum happy, which was the problem.  He got his thrills screwing me little arse when I was nine and ten, but I couldn’t tell cos I’d ’ave ruined things for mum.  So I took his dick most nights and didn’ say a word.  Didn’ even mention the blood when I shit.


  ‘Now the third stepdad …’


  Matt pulled into the kerb.  ‘Stop please, Justin.’


  ‘He was just a useless loser, nothing much shockin’ there, ’part from stealing me mum’s cash and leaving us wivout any money for food.  When I was twelve, I had to beg outside a chippies or starve.’


  ‘Why are you telling me this?’


  ‘Thought we could become mates, like.  Tell each other a few funny stories.  Get to know each other, sorta thing.’


  ‘Is it all true?’


  ‘Iss in me file, just ask Tanya … apart from the anal rape.  I was only able to start talking about that with Nathan.  Hey … and I talked to you about it, I must be cured, doanchya think?’


  ‘You’re teaching me a lesson, aren’t you?’


  ‘What, a thick, useless layabout like me, teach a brilliant god like you anyfing?’


  Matt looked sheepish.  ‘It’s worked.  I apologise.’


  Justin gave Matt an odd look.  ‘I’m not askin’ for an apology, Matt.  I juss wanted you to know how much crap I’ve had to tunnel through to get this far.  I still live in a dark place, Matt.  What Nathan’s teaching me is that there’s light and air outside, and I might get there one day with him.  His love is what’s pulling me out.  If there’s anyone you should apologise to, it’s that boy.  He knows how hard a job I am.  He needs your help.’


  ‘Do you still want me to take you to your mum’s.’


  ‘That’s where we were goin’, wannit?’


  They drove off in silence, and Justin directed Matt to what he said was a reasonably safe area to park.  ‘Want me to come with you?’


  ‘Yes, please.’


  It was not what Matt was expecting.  The television was turned off when he entered, and the small flat was tidy.  Justin’s mother looked reasonably respectable.  She was a small woman in her mid thirties, smaller than Justin, but as dark of hair and pale of skin as he was.


  She looked worriedly at her son.  ‘Has he been good?’  She obviously regarded Matt as an authority figure, along with the social workers and police that Justin had also brought into the house.


  ‘He’s doing well, Mrs Macavoy.  He’s got a job off his own bat, and isn’t causing any problems.  He also has a nice boyfriend …’


  ‘I never knew he was gay.  He hung round girls so much and there was that Jade girl who said he got her pregnant.  So she was lying … the little bitch!’  There was a red spot on each pale cheek as she defended her son.  ‘I knew he didn’t.  He was a good boy at home.  It was those friends of his, talking him out of going to school and egging him on.’


  ‘If I could just get him to tidy the kitchen after he uses it …’  Matt looked at Justin, smiling at him for the first time since fostering the boy into his house.  When Justin smiled back, Matt acknowledged to himself at long last that there was more to him than just a lost delinquent.  How else would a boy like Nathan have fallen for him?


  As they left the flat with plenty of assurances that Justin would keep in touch, especially from abroad, Matt flipped his mobile and had a muttered conversation.  Once in the car, they drove straight into town and headed down to Knightsbridge.


  ‘Where we goin’?’ Justin finally asked.


  ‘You need a haircut.’


  ‘I do?’


  ‘A proper styling.  You’ve got fine thick hair and it’s just growing straight out of a crewcut.  It’s messy.’


  ‘You’re big into hair, then?’


  Matt grinned.  ‘It’s my weakness, as Andy will tell you.  Justin, I am sorry.  All the bad temper has not been your fault.  It’s Andy.  When he’s in crusade mode there’s no stopping him.  He never really bothered to ask me if I was ready for a big responsibility … and you are a big responsibility.  We have to house and feed you now for some time to come.  We both travel a lot.  More than that, Andy’s in the USA for two thirds of the year, and I’m the one on whom the whole thing will fall.  He can’t take you with him when he goes.  He says he asked me if it was alright, but he just assumed it was.  I promise, though, I’ll come to terms with it … if you just promise not to mess my house up.  Okay?’


  ‘Deal,’ agreed Justin.


  ‘Now here we are at the best hairdressers in Europe, and you have an appointment in five minutes.  I’m their favourite customer, so they could fit you in.’


  Matt simply left his car outside, despite the yellow lines.  Justin thought he was showing off and demonstrating he could be a bad boy too.  The salon, in a converted bank, was large and busy.  There was a receptionist, and as soon as Matt appeared, the owner and two acolytes emerged to hear his requirements.  They looked Justin over, pursed their lips and directed him to a chair.  He was uncomfortable.


  When he was released half an hour later, he stared gobsmacked at himself in the sheet mirrors.  He looked like a male model.  His hair now curled in different places than before, and looked unaccountably … right.  He had been given a styled fringe that made him appear both boyish and incredibly cool.  One of the acolytes was tutoring him in how to maintain the look, to which he was only half listening.  The other half of his mind had fallen in love with his own reflection.


  Matt walked him to a neighbouring late-opening designer clothes store, and handed him over to the staff.  He was kitted out in leather and denim, with great care and phenomenal expense.  Then Matt drove him to a fashionable café-bar full of good-looking, well-heeled people, and sat him down behind a cappuccino.


  ‘So okay, what does this prove?’ Justin asked.


  ‘Look in the mirror and what do you see?’


  ‘A very cool Justin Macavoy.’


  ‘And what are other people doing?’


  ‘They’re staring at us.’




  ‘Cos you’re very beautiful.  They had posters of you all over that barbershop.’


  ‘Actually, it’s you as much as me they’re staring at, especially those girls and boys over there, because you’re beautiful too.  And now the big question: Do you feel any different from the Justin Macavoy who looked in the mirror in your mum’s flat two months ago?’


  ‘No, apart from the fact that I love Nathan.’


  ‘So the lesson is what, Justy?’


  ‘Dunno.  Well … these people, they see the image you just created, not the real me.  Is that what you mean?’


  ‘You could put it that way.  But you could also say that Justin Macavoy the chav was never more than a step away from the cool Justin sitting opposite me.  He just had to find out how to take the step.  And, yes, it’s the love of Nathan that did it.  When you two emerged from the bathroom in my house that afternoon hand in hand, I’d never seen a more gorgeous sight in all my days.  You were flushed and utterly besotted with each other.  I was dead envious.  You only ever get a few moments like that in your life.  What I’m saying, Justy, is that the clothes and the stylists do nothing more than point out what’s already there.  You’re an amazing boy, and love’s what’s bringing it into focus.  Any chance you might give up smoking?’






* * *




  Andy was equally gobsmacked.  ‘Wow!  I leave him with you for half an hour, Matt, and look what you do to him!’


  ‘Justy,’ said Terry, ‘You’re amazin’.  Like a boy-band star, not that you weren’t good lookin’ before, but … damn!  What a bit of money can do.’


  ‘Thass good, cos tonight I’ve got the toughest thing of all to do.  I’m gonna meet the in-laws as Nate’s lover.  Can you run me there in the big car?’


  ‘What?  No, I don’t do chauffeur ’cept for Andy.  But Jenna will, she’s even got the Peacher uniform.  I’ll have the car round for you in ten.  Do they know you’re coming?’


  ‘Nate said iss supper in an hour and, since he’s making it, I’m welcome.  I’ll take a bag.  I may stay over.’


  They all waved him off from the door.


  The big black limousine pulled up next to Nathan’s parents’ cars.  Jenna, under orders from Terry, hopped out and opened the door for Justin.  The house door was already standing wide, permitting the state arrival of Justin Macavoy to be witnessed with as much amazement as amusement.


  Nathan kissed him on the cheek and held him round the waist.  ‘Gee Justy, when did you turn into a rock god?’  Justin kissed him back with a smile, catching the troubled looks on the faces of Nathan’s father and mother at these demonstrations of homosexual intimacy by their son.


  A cough at his shoulder preceded a request from Jenna, who was hamming up the subservience.  ‘Shall I take your bag in, Master Justin?’


  Justin gave her a lopsided look.  ‘Thank you, Jenna.  That will be all.’


  There were handshakes all round in the hall.  Professor Underwood looked his son’s boyfriend over.  ‘Justin, when you said you were being fostered in Highgate, I didn’t quite realise either what sort of boy you were, or who the fostering was being done by.’


  Mrs Underwood gave him a cool look.  ‘There’s clearly a long story ahead of us tonight.  Nathan said he would not tell us till he could do it with you.  But first, you two say you love each other?’


  The boys took each other’s hand, almost as if looking for comfort.  ‘We do,’ Nathan confirmed.


  ‘You’re neither of you adult yet.  How seriously do you expect us to take this declaration?’


  ‘It’s everything to us, Mrs Underwood,’ replied Justin.  ‘I’m not going to try to convince you.  You can believe us or not, but it’s real alright.’


  ‘How far have you gone?’ she asked.


  ‘All the way,’ said Nathan, ‘We’ve been having full sex for several weeks now.’


  ‘You take precautions, I hope.’


  ‘Yes.  We’ve not been reckless.’


  ‘Justin needs to be tested for STDs.’


  Justin gave her a cold stare.  ‘You take it for granted that I was the one who initiated the sex.’


  ‘As it happens, it was I,’ Nathan corrected, cold in his turn.  ‘And we’ll both take the test.  I think, mum and dad, you’d better get used to the idea that Justy and I are sexual partners, that our relationship isn’t simply going to go away.  I’m not a victim here.  Justy isn’t exploiting me and using me for his sexual satisfaction.  I’m as sure as I can be that this is love between two men, not infatuation.’


  When the Underwoods looked unhappy, Justin had the grace to feel sorry for them.  This was not the way they had supposed their golden boy would turn out.  First he wanted to be a gardener, then he formed a homosexual attachment to a delinquent.


  They went into the dining room, where Nathan sat him down between his parents while he brought in dinner.  Neither of the adults seemed to have much idea what to say to Justin, despite their being a professor and a QC.  He was unable to relieve their embarrassment.


  Eventually Nathan finished serving and invited them to eat, which they did in silence.  Occasionally, one or the other cleared their throat and heads bobbed up, only to drop down to the food again.  Nathan caught Justin’s eye at one point and shrugged his shoulders.


  As they were finishing off his ale-and-beef pie, Nathan said deliberately, ‘You look great, babe, what did they do to you?’  The endearment caused an appalled look to appear on Nathan’s father’s face, and he dropped his fork on his plate.


  Justin smiled faintly and gave an edited version of his visit to his mother and Matt’s decision to accept him as a foster son.  ‘Point is, Matt was fighting against it.  When he changed his mind, he went a bit over the top to prove the point that he was sorry, so he had me done over to look like a male model.  We may ’ave to do shoots together.’


  Nathan looked pleased.  ‘So you did sort that problem out, Justy.  I’m so proud of you.  I knew you could do it.  You see, mum and dad, it’s not been easy for Justin to deal with Matt and the others, but he’s come through brilliantly.  He’s shown his quality, and why I love him so much.’


  ‘Tell me how it was that you ended up in the care of one of the richest men in the western world, Justin,’ Mrs Underwood asked.


  Between them, Justin and Nathan recounted their story.  Of course they left a lot of it out, but even so, it gripped the adults.  By the time the tale was finished, the atmosphere had eased considerably.


  ‘I suppose you’ll be sleeping together tonight,’ Professor Underwood remarked.


  ‘Yes,’ replied his son, without any uncertainty.


  ‘Very well.  Then so be it.  We’ll just have to get used to it.  Go to bed boys, Mary and I will clear the plates.’


  ‘So that’s it?’ Justin wanted to know as they lay together after a vigorous bout of sex to celebrate their reunion.  ‘The in-laws are happy wiv me?’


  ‘I wouldn’t go quite that far, but they’re coming to terms with it.  God, I love your hair, Justy, and the gear and those boots, fantastic!  Think Matt will take me shopping too?’


  ‘Nope, iss me who’s his special friend,’ Justin informed his lover smugly.