Michael Arram








  Justin and Matt arrived in the very early morning at the Highgate house.  Justin felt as though he had truly come home when they hauled their many bags out of the taxi and into the hall.  He now had more clothes than he knew how to deal with.  Matt and he sorted through them.  They were all clean, as the yacht’s laundry system was ruthless.  You just had to drop a pair of socks and they were washed and pressed.


  After that experience, Matt wanted to get the question of dirty laundry in his own house sorted.  ‘Face it Justy, you’re going to be here for a while.  We each do our own laundry, although the cleaner will do the ironing.  Tomorrow I’ll explain how the machine works.’


  ‘Urgh.  Do I really have to come to terms with life?’


  ‘Yes,’ said Matt decidedly.


  Unfortunately for Justin, Fate took Matt literally the next morning.  A ring on the doorbell brought Matt groggily to the front door at eleven.  He’d fallen into bed under the influence of jet lag, as had Justin, still somewhere beneath the duvet in his own room.


  Matt blinked at the black woman on his doorstep.  ‘Yes?’


  ‘It’s Tanya Thompson, Dr White.  You remember me?’


  ‘Oh … right.  Yes.  Justin’s case officer.  I wasn’t expecting you.  Was there an appointment?’


  ‘No.  But I’m glad to catch you.  Is Justin around?’


  ‘He’s flat out in bed.  We flew in from St Kitts at three this morning.’


  Tanya smiled.  ‘The idea of Justin in high society on a tropical island is, to say the least, amusing.’


  Matt invited her in.  ‘He was very good, y’know.  He made a lot of friends, and took millionaires, billionaires and prime ministers in his stride.’


  ‘How do you feel about fostering him now?


  ‘We love the boy.  For all his aggressiveness, he’s brave, funny, clever and dauntless … and he’s getting better every day.  He can learn.’


  ‘The kid needed just one break, and you seem to have given it to him.  I’m so pleased.  But I’m not here just to touch base.  His mother’s ill.’


  ‘Oh … I’m sorry.  Is it serious?’


  ‘It’s terminal.’


  ‘What!  When did this happen?’


  ‘She was taken into hospital two nights ago, after she collapsed in a pub in Manor Park.  When they put her through tests, they found her riddled with cancer.  It had metastasized into her brain.’


  ‘God!  How long has she got?’


  ‘Not very long, I think.  Justin will need to be told.  Now, I’m willing to do it if you’d rather.’


  ‘What?  Er … I’ll get him and we’ll do this together.’  Matt raised a reluctant Justin from the warm pit into which he had burrowed and got him to dress and come down.


  ‘Oy … Tanya,’ he greeted her, still a little dazed.  ‘It wasn’t me, whatever it was.  I was outa the country.’


  ‘I know, Justin.  My, do you look handsome now … the hair, the tan, the clothes.  Nobody’d recognise the Animal of Seven Sisters.’


  Matt placed himself close to Justin on the sofa.


  Justin asked, ‘So whassup?’


  ‘It’s your mother, Justin.  She’s very ill.  She’s in hospital and the doctors don’t give her very long.’


  ‘Uh!  Wha …?  You’re kiddin’.  Can’t be right.  She’s always sayin’ there’s somefink wrong with ‘er, but there never is.’


  ‘It’s cancer, Justin, the unsuspected and fast-working type.  It started in her pancreas.  It’s a matter of days, not months.’


  ‘Aw, jeez, no.  Where is she?  I need to be there.  Matt …?’


  ‘I’ll get the car round now.’


  Matt drove Justin through the busy streets to the North Middlesex General.  It was twelve-thirty by the time they arrived, and Justin had hardly uttered a word.  His heart was pounding as they traced their way through the maze of corridors to find his mother’s ward.


  There were six beds, all but one of them occupied by elderly women.  Mrs Macavoy lay in the sixth bed by the window, linked to a drip feeding morphine into her system.  She was asleep.  Justin stared down at his mother, who looked like a hollow shell of the woman he had known.  Never robust, she now seemed to have collapsed inside.  Her hair was lank, her breathing laboured.


  He sat by the bed, and the movement caused her to stir.  ‘Ma?’


  She struggled to turn.  ‘Justy?  That you?’


  ‘Iss me, ma.  How you feelin?’  He took her cold hand.


  ‘I been better, son.  You been abroad.  How was it?  I’m glad you’re back.  They said I’m not gonna get better.’


  Justin told her about his time in the sun, the things he’d done and seen, and the people he’d met.  He talked and talked to her in a way he had not done since he was nine years old, knowing that his chances to do so would soon be gone for good.  Eventually he was able to say the things he had to say, and ask the questions he had to ask.


  She died late that night as Justin dozed beside her.  He woke to find her hand lifeless in his.  Before calling the nurse, he studied her still body for a few minutes.  You only got one mother, and this had been his, in all her imperfections and weaknesses.  But she had nonetheless been his, and her passing took something out of his life which could not be replaced. .


  The nurse held his shoulder for a while and told him he could have more time if he wanted, but he shook his head.  He wandered out into the corridor, where he discovered Matt, asleep on a bench with his rolled-up coat under his head, looking surreally beautiful in this place of sickness and death, like an angel come to visit.  Justin, very moved, bent down to awake him gently.


  He blinked and looked a question.


  ‘She’s gone, Matt.’


  He sat up, took his foster son in his strong arms and kissed him.  They sat there a while, until eventually Justin put his head on Matt’s shoulder and wept silently.  When he subsided, Matt rose and took him out to the car.  Then he went back inside to the reception desk, where he made the necessary arrangements about the body.


  ‘We’ll take care of the funeral and stuff, Justy.  Leave it to me.  I’ve rung Andy and he’s on the way back now.  I also took the liberty of ringing Nathan.  He’s waiting for you in Highgate.  He’ll be staying for a bit.’


  Justin murmured his thanks and said nothing else till the car drew up outside the house.  Nathan was at the door.  They looked at each other, Justin amazed at how beautiful his boyfriend was and how he could have forgotten it.  Then they were in each other’s arms and hugging, banishing Justin’s feeling of hollowness.  There remained still another soul that loved him unconditionally.


  He would not need to sleep alone again.  Nathan had told his parents that he was leaving for Justin, who needed him.  His bags and possessions were stacked in the hall, and Justin’s room in Matt’s house was his now too.








  The funeral was in the Dominican priory in Muswell Hill, Matt’s and Andy’s place of worship.  Justin and Nathan sat in the front pew of the baroque church, two movingly handsome boys in neat black suits, openly holding hands.  There were a lot of mourners, not just Matt and Andy but all their circle, including Terry, who had flown in specially.  Mr and Mrs Underwood came, which impressed Justin, knowing how upset they had been when Nathan had left them for him.  Justin’s social workers and his mother’s neighbours were there too.


  The priest who took the service did a fine job.  Because Mrs Macavoy’s acknowledged Catholicism justified a full requiem, Andy paid for a choir and musicians and Matt selected the music with the help of some clued-up friends.  The end result was ordered, solemn and beautiful: a poignant contrast to the chaotic life it celebrated.


  The two boys led the mourners out behind the coffin and stood at the church door hand in hand as it was loaded into the hearse.  There were masses of flowers.  There was to be a cremation and a scattering of ashes.  ‘Okay, Justy?’ murmured Nathan.


  ‘Yeah, Nate.  It was beautiful, wasn’ it?’


  ‘I’m not one for churches much, but that was something special.  I’m sure your mum would have been pleased.’


  ‘Yeah.  Nothing like a grand farewell, is there?’


  They assembled at Matt’s house after the committal at Golders Green.  Waiters circulated and the buffet tables were full.  It was a warm day, which encouraged people to spill out into the garden.


  Tanya caught up with Justin and murmured her regrets.


  He thanked her.  ‘So what now, Tanya?  What happens to me?’


  ‘You’re now in council care, Justin, and stay fostered if you want.  Mr Peacher and Dr White certainly don’t mind.  In fact, they’d be very upset if you moved on.’


  ‘What if I’ve got more family?  They might have an idea that I should be in their care.’


  ‘But … do you?’


  ‘Before she died, me mum told me who me dad was.  What if I found him?’


  ‘That would change things.  Legally, he could ask for control, although his long history of indifference would tell against him.  Aren’t you happy here?  You seemed to be.’


  ‘Losing your mum when you’re a kid changes your ideas.  Now it turns out I still have one parent somewhere.  Iss important to me to find the man.’


  ‘Then talk to Matt and Andy.  If anyone can help you, it’ll be them.  Who is he?’


  ‘She said he was a young guy called Jack Whittaker.  She had known him in school and he had got her pregnant, but then wanted nothing to do with raising a family.  It turned out he was gay, which may explain a few things.’


  Tanya shook her head.  ‘It’s not a hereditary thing, Justin.’


  ‘No?  Well, whatever.  He should be curious that he had a gay kid at least.’








  Late that night, after everyone was gone, Nathan and Justin were alone with Matt and Andy in the big lounge.  The French windows were open to let in the cool night air and the lights were on in the garden flat.  London hummed with city noise outside.


  The two couples were in the same pose: Andy and Justin lying back on their boyfriends’ laps on facing sofas.  Nathan was stroking Justin’s hair gently, looking fondly down at him, just soaking up the very real pleasure of being close to his lover and not having to leave him.


  Matt broke the ice.  ‘Justy, Andy and I have been thinking.  We’ve talked it through.  We’re ready to adopt you, if you’ll let us.  We want you to know that we’d like to take more than temporary responsibility for you, that we’ll always be here for you … that we love you.’


  ‘Yes,’ added Andy, with a broad grin, ‘this is the point, Justy.  You might not be the sort of kid we’d have chosen to have or dreamed about, but maybe this is a lesson to us that we didn’t really know what was good for us.  You have been good for us, and we can’t imagine now not being part of your life.  Please say yes, punk.  Make our day.’


  Justin did not answer at once.  ‘Would this mean I become Justin Peacher?’


  ‘You could if you wanted to, although it sounds a bit odd.  We just want you to be our Justin, and Justin Macavoy was the name your mother gave you.’


  ‘Would it mean that I get yer money when you die?’


  Matt raised his eyebrows.  ‘Well, yes it would, at least some of it.’


  ‘That would make me very rich, wouldn’t it?  You’re both rollin’ in it.’


  ‘It’d be an awful lot more than a lottery win, that’s for sure.  But we intend to outlive you, so don’t worry about it: the rate you smoke, I don’t fancy your chances,’ added Andy, with a glint in his sharp blue eye.


  ‘But it would mean our taking some responsibility for your financial future, and we’re happy about that.  We’ve both got far more money than we could ever use.  You’re a good use of it, Justy.’


  Justin remained pensive.  ‘I do love you both, you know that.  But two things: I wanna find me real dad and until I do, I don’t wanna think about being adopted.  The other thing is that, if I did let you go ahead, what would people say ’bout me?  “He was suckin’ up to them two fabulously rich queers just to get hold of their cash.  He’s no more than a petty criminal grown up to be an ambitious con artist.”  No.  Iss as generous an offer as I’d expect of the two of you.  But I can’t accept.’


  Andy had sat up now, and was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, as was Matt.  Finally he said, ‘If anything proved how much you’ve grown, Justy, it was what you just said.  Okay then.  We accept your reasons, but we’ll not let you forget the offer was made.’








  Terry had gone to visit his parents immediately after the funeral, but returned four days later.  He had decided to disable the bugs installed by Anson’s team in Highgate.  For weeks some very sophisticated electronics had been feeding innocent random domestic noises into them.  Now he had fried the sensors with an electronic pulse, a process which fascinated Nathan.


  Terry was hanging round the garden when the Andersons van returned with the boys.  Justin had finally been given a full-time job by Mr Anderson and a funded apprenticeship.  He was to start his Ordinary National Diploma in Horticulture in a couple of months with the new term in September.  The two boys were full of fun, despite a hard day cutting the grass at a series of school playing fields.


  Justin launched himself at Terry and hugged him hard.  ‘Uncle Terry!’


  ‘Ooh, you stink, Justy,’ was the reply he got.


  ‘Yeah, we’re gonna have raunchy sex in a sec … wanna watch?’


  ‘Tempting, but no thanks.  I want to be able to keep me supper down.  Hi Nate!  How’s the marriage going?’


  ‘Brilliant, Terry.  Waking up day after day next to the boy I love is happiness you just can’t buy.  Even if he does fart like a pig and smoke like a bacon factory.’


  ‘And you love it too, yer pervert.  Yeah, but there’s somethin’ even better than sleeping together … iss wha’ we do before we sleep.  He ploughed me three times last night.  It was drippin’ out me ears by the time he finished.  Total stud, me Nate.  Got more of a hose than a dick.’


  ‘Boys, boys, boys.  Moderation in all things.  You’ll wear out your body parts.’


  ‘Crap.  We’re teenagers.  Our hormones doan’ understand the meaning of the word.  And from what Pete was tellin’ me, moderation wasn’t something you ever understood when you wuz our age, either.’


  ‘Then I will have to tell your foster fathers, who I expect will be most displeased.’


  Justin made a very rude noise, and the two ran up the stairs, the door of their room closing behind them with a bang.


  Terry shook his head, but gave a tolerant smile.  ‘Kids,’ he muttered to himself.




* * *




  Matt had become desperate.  The laundry was beginning to get on top of him, and the huge demands made on his fridge and cupboards by the appetites of two active and healthy teenagers were outstripping his ability to shop.  Biting the bullet at last, he had employed a housekeeper.


  Mrs Atkinson was a quiet but unflappable woman who had already got the cleaner under control, and was standing up well to the demands of Matt’s highly unconventional household.  She was even beginning to insist on proper meal times.  The only emerging problem was the attitude of Dave Evans, who viewed her appointment as a reflection on his oversight of the house from the garage.


  Everyone had drifted into the dining room by seven, and despite what they had told Terry, Justin and Nathan were now clean and barefoot in fresh casuals.  With Andy still in Highgate, he and Matt took up opposite ends of the table.  Nate and Mate, as they liked to be called, sat down one side, while Terry and a man strange to the boys sat opposite.


  Matt did the introductions.  ‘Nathan and Justin, this is Will Vincent, a business associate of mine and also a close friend.  He’s stopping over in London for a few days, so be nice to him.  Will, these are the two lads who are complicating our lives enormously at the moment.’


  ‘… but in a nice way,’ added Nathan sweetly, smiling at Will.


  ‘Dave sends greetings, ’ Matt continued, ‘but refuses to come into the house as long as Mrs Atkinson is here. which is also complicating my life.  Nate and Justy, he asked me to pass on a message for you.  It’s from the features editor of our old friends at Gay Universe, wanting an interview – strangely, not with me or even Andy, but with you two.’


  ‘What?’ they exclaimed simultaneously.


  ‘Oh yes, the gay press has developed an entirely predictable interest in you two celebrity teens.’


  ‘Wow!  We’re celebrities now.’  Justin grinned broadly at the idea.


  ‘It’s not what it’s cracked up to be, Justy,’ cautioned Matt.


  ‘You’re telling me,’ added Will Vincent.  He seemed to be recalling something painful.


  The teens stared at him.  When he smiled at them, he suddenly looked awfully familiar, although Justin couldn’t work out why.


  ‘The fact that two high-profile gays like Andy and I have fostered a gay teenager who is in a relationship with another boy has caught the attention of people in that section of the gay community which watches soaps.  It’s mostly prurience, and you’ll have to expect the questions will deal with little more than your raging hormones and your sex life.’


  ‘Yeah,’ interjected Justin, ‘but that is all there is to talk about, innit?’


  ‘Not at all, Justy.  Anyway, I told the editor I’d speak to you, but cautioned him there will be no skin shots unless you want and unless I can veto them.  And there’s to be no feature at all if you say you want to pull out.  If you do that and they don’t keep off your backs afterwards, we have lots and lots of lawyers from our favourite chambers of Rottweiler, Doberman and Co who will have some very cogent arguments as to why they should.’


  ‘Me and Nate’ll think about it then.  You okay with it, Nate?’


  ‘I’m not sure, but we’ll talk.’


  The conversation turned to the impact the media had made on their lives, even if they hadn’t wanted it.  Andy told his story about how he’d been outed when he was nineteen, and how the nastiest fringe of the press had nearly destroyed him.


  Terry didn’t have such problems, he said, for he moved in the shadows. The main problem the press gave him was how to keep the paps away from his employers.  ‘Mind you, sometimes celebrity can be fun, don’t you think?’  He winked at Will, who blushed.


  Justin studied the man.  He was good looking and obviously worked out, but there was something else about him that was attractive as well.  He projected a mixture of shyness and sexiness that was a decided turn-on despite his age.


  Justin recognised the face too.  ‘Ere, I knows you, doan’ I?  I seen you in mags.’


  ‘Oh Christ … there’s no hiding it even from kids!  You’re a dirty little tyke, aren’t you?’


  ‘He is,’ interjected Terry.


  ‘Waddya mean?’  Justin was instantly full of suspicion.


  ‘He means, criminal babe, that you’ve been looking at gay porn.  Will also answers to the name of Jason Williams, porn star extraordinaire.  So when did you run into him?’


  ‘Aw … now I knows.’  Justin sniggered.  ‘Yeah, it was in a stack of gay mags I found in a burned-out garage.  Wanked over them for days, I did.  So, Jason, you still in porn?’


  ‘No, he isn’t,’ declared Matt.  ‘He’s now CEO of a very respectable and successful media business in Central Europe.  He’s just bought three TV channels in the Czech Republic and Rothenia.’


  ‘But I keep myself off the TV screen, believe me.  And I daren’t go near gay clubs … unless, that is, I want a thrilling night.’


  ‘How’s Oskar doing?’ Terry asked, with an aside to Justin, ‘That’s his former boyfriend, a very famous porn god called Marc Bennett.  You’ve doubtless wanked all over him too.’


  ‘Oskar’s running the TV side of things now; he’s just opened the Prague office.  I was hoping he might be coming here too, but he said he’s got too much on his plate right now to let him get away.  He’s become very secretive of late.  It may be because he’s found a boyfriend, we think.  He’s cagy about letting on who it is, which means it’s probably someone very common and he’s embarrassed.’  Will looked at Justin and smiled.  ‘Oskar’s a genuine aristocrat, born a prince no less, and sometimes a bit too conscious of it for his own good.’


  ‘How’s your Felip doing?’


  ‘He’s a cameraman.  Mostly legit.  But against my advice, he’s still taking work on for Falkefilm.  He says he gets more of a buzz from filming copulating men than documentaries on economic stagnation in Slovakia.’


  ‘Oh,’ quipped Terry, ‘then Max Wolf still lives.’


  ‘Yeah, but not in front of the camera, at least.  It’s that Hendrik.  He still has a lot of influence over his former porn models.  They can’t think of him as someone who exploited them when they were young and vulnerable.’


  ‘Now he’s a weird one,’ said Terry.  ‘I liked him, though.  Nice bloke in some ways.  He asked me to join him at his villa on the Croatian coast this summer.  Probably wanted to talk me into doing wicked stuff for him … maybe he fancied me as a porno star too.  If only I’d met him when I was a teen … I’d have been as good as Oskar, I bet.  Maybe not as good as you, Will, but still up there with the best of the Rothenian boys.’


  The talking, laughing and stories went on for a good two hours.  Justin found the meal fascinating, as much so as the adults round the table, their lives and bizarre experiences.  Secrets of the security world, the manoeuvres of media empires, and the kinky sexuality of the Central European porn industry went past him in baroque procession.


  In the middle of it all was Terry, whose life touched every aspect of it.  He told the story of how he had saved Will from the grips of a porn king and a devilish trap set by some very clever men.  He was like some hero of ancient days: endlessly resourceful and courageous, totally cool and confident.  More than ever, Justin felt the tug of Terry’s world.


  They ended up in the lounge with glasses of wine and spirits.  The adults were still going strong at ten when Nathan yawned and prodded Justin with his foot.  The demands of the gardening job sent Justin to bed now at times he would never have tolerated during his time on the streets.


  As they were ascending the stairs hand in hand, Terry called up and threw them a DVD box that Nathan fielded.  The cover had a picture of a nude Will in a clinch with another nude and beautiful young man, backed by a view of an ancient city.  The cover said An American in Strelzen.  Terry put his finger to his lips and winked.


  Nathan protested at setting it going in their room, and found plenty to make fun of in the opening scenes.  When the sex began, however, his mouth fell open and he said no more.  His hand was soon inside his boxers fondling his own member.  Justin threw off his clothes, lay out and stroked himself.  Soon they were side by side, naked and stroking each other as scenes of hot and amazingly passionate copulation played out before their eyes.  By the time the last ejaculations spurted on the screen, Justin was impaled on Nathan’s cock, bouncing up and down, while Nathan stared round his slim body at the film.


  After their own climaxes, the boys looked at each other.  Nathan said, ‘Well if gardening ever gets boring, I know what I fancy doing.’


  ‘Yeah, but only wiv me, lover.  I wanna talk to Will tomorrow.  Got a lot of questions for the bloke.’


  They nestled together naked and satiated in the dark.  Before they fell asleep, however, Nathan asked, ‘Justy babe, you’re up to something over this Gay Universe article, aren’t you?’


  ‘Er … why d’you say that?’


  ‘Cos, my babe, I can read you.  There was a little furrow of concentration on your forehead when you were thinking about it.  It’s a sign there’s a clever idea brewing in that pretty head of yours.’


  The bedclothes rustled as Justin rose up on his elbows. ‘Okay.  So I am.  Me dad is Jack Whittaker.  What do we know about him?  Only that he’s gay.  What’s the biggest circulation gay mag in the UK?  Only Gay Universe.  The sad story of little orphan Macavoy is going to get out, along with his desire to meet his long-lost father.  We may get a response or we may not, but issa start, innit?’


  Nathan pulled his lover close and gave him a lingering kiss on the mouth.  Letting Justin go he said quietly, ‘In that case, my chavvy babe, I’ll go along with the interview.’


  There was silence, followed by a small voice: ‘I love you, my Nathan.’


  ‘And I love you, my Justin.’