Michael Arram







  June passed into July.  Against everybody’s expectations, Justin’s determination not to smoke held firm.  His temper was often foul as a result, but Nathan was more than willing to put up with it.  He did start fighting back in his own way, however, refusing to be hurt by argument and making subversive comments, which as often as not defused the problem.


  They had a routine by now.  They had become a permanent gardening team after Mr Anderson finally recognised the nature of the link between them.  Although he said nothing about it, and didn’t seem really to mind, he was careful about the teams he put them with.  Like a good manager, he knew which of his people would be uncomfortable with gay workmates.  It saddened Justin and Nathan a little that he never sent them out with the other two boy apprentices.  A few of the older employees also had picked up the rumour, and once or twice made half-humorous comments about their relationship.  Fortunately, Nathan was very popular around Andersons, and Justin was fast becoming the same because he was turning into such a hard and steady worker.  So they were never at any time made to feel resented.


  Andy was around Highgate nearly all the time, working from Matt’s study there, while Matt was at his offices in Camden most days.  They and the two boys reunited for dinner, a ritual Justin was learning to value very much.  There was something indefinably resonant of real family life about them.  Matt and Andy usually had a lot to say about their activities that even Justin found interesting.  Afterwards the four of them quite often sat round and watched TV.  Justin, who by then had developed a real desire to please his foster parents, quite enjoyed curling up with his head in Andy’s lap.  It was a position he got quite to like, as he knew it made Andy go all soppy and paternal.


  Once or twice a week they all went out for a film, or made an evening at a pub or at one of the discrete North London clubs.  Other times the two boys hit the gym or the pool.  It was a secure, comfortable life and Justin liked it, very much.


  Justin was changing and growing.  Physically he was filling out and getting stronger, as advancing adolescence and the gardening work had their inevitable effects.  With his metabolism shifting and his hormones no longer partying quite so hard, his emotional flare-ups were slowly becoming rarer.  Even his language was shifting towards the softer tones and accent of his lover.  There was nothing now left of the Animal of Seven Sisters.


  Andy looked at him one day and saw a tanned, fit, mature and socially confident young man, no longer the pinched and aggressive street urchin.  He smiled to himself and kissed Justin as they passed in the hall.  When Justin looked at him surprised, he grinned and said, ‘You look so good, kid.  Proud of you.’


  Justin almost succeeded in looking bashful.


  One Saturday the boys slept late, as usual.  Eventually feeling the need to go scavenging in the fridge, Justin started down the stairs wearing only his boxers.  He was surprised to be confronted by another dark young man coming up.  It was Tim Caird, who did a double take.


  ‘That you, Justy?’


  ‘It is.’


  Tim gave him a frankly admiring once over.  ‘Wow … who waved the magic wand over you?’  ‘When did you get in, Tim?’


  ‘Last night.  Pete’s in the kitchen.  We’re gonna do the London scene for a few days.  A bit of excitement before we have to think of the new semester.’


  ‘No one said.’


  ‘No one knew.  Pete and I went for it as a last-moment thing.  To tell the truth, it was a good way of escaping from my folks.  We went with them to dad’s cabin near Blowing Rock.  Not a good idea, as it turned out.  My nasty little brothers are getting increasingly shitty and homophobic.  We got tired of the perpetual inane innuendo.’


  ‘Good news for us then, innit?  Hope you got time for a deprived foster nephew.’


  ‘I heard you might be thinking of becoming a genuine nephew.’


  ‘I’m still thinking about it.  I haven’t given up the idea of adoption, I just don’t know if I’m ready for it yet,  or ever will be.’


  ‘A new little gay Peacher boy for the media to fasten on to?’


  ‘It’s not that.’


  ‘Then what?’


  ‘It turns out I have a real dad out there after all.  I’m hoping to find him one day.  Only then will I be able to make that sort of decision.’


  ‘Fair enough.’  Tim suddenly brushed his hand up Justin’s inner thigh, slowly, his fingers poised below the bottom of his boxers, ready to go further.


  Justin recognised the coy but passionate look in the other’s eyes.  He’d seen it before in St Kitts.  Tim had been sizing up Justin’s body as they talked and his interest was clearly more than friendly.  Justin’s penis twitched and thickened, his body tingling with a sudden desire.  Then he remembered Andy’s look on hearing what this same randy teen had done with Ramon and Terry. He discovered in himself a loyal core that didn’t want now to disappoint his foster father, hot though Tim undoubtedly was.  But how to get out of the seduction Tim was busy scripting in his head, and with which his own body would be only too happy to collaborate?  ‘You think you can give us a hand?’ he asked coolly.


  Tim smiled hopefully.  ‘Sure thing.  Where do you want it?’


  ‘Ha ha,’ Justin responded in a matter-of-fact manner.  ‘Problem is, I’ve developed haemorrhoids.  Too much … well you know what.  I need someone to apply the medication for me.  Nathan’s still asleep so I was looking for Andy.’


  ‘Oh.  Oh!’  The passion instantly evaporated from Tim’s eyes.  ‘I … I’d better leave that for Andy.  It’s a parental-care sort of thing, isn’t it?’


  ‘Guess so.  Okay, well, see you later.’  Justin trotted on down the stairs with a wicked grin back in residence on his face.  He bumped into Terry as he turned a corner.


  ‘I’ll be happy to help,’ said the security man.


  ‘Er … what with?’


  ‘The haemorrhoid cream.  I’ve had some experience of piles.’


  ‘You were listening, weren’t you, you bastard.’


  Terry laughed loudly.  ‘Don’t you want me finger up your arse?  What a lad … but you certainly did throw a bucket of cold water over Tim, at least.  Well done.  Come and have some breakfast.  We need a chat, criminal babe.’


  Peter Peacher was at the breakfast bar devouring a plate of eggs, bacon and mushrooms provided by Mrs Atkinson.  Between bites he was busy chatting her up.  He knew from his experience in his own and Andy’s homes that the balance of power in a large household resided with the housekeeper, whom he wanted to have on his side.  He was quite terrified of Mrs Fuentes, Andy’s American housekeeper, who definitely felt a mission to control him and was not floored by his looks, as most women were.


  It had to be said that Peter was doing a very good job of charming Mrs Atkinson, who literally twinkled at him.  There was definitely a cooler look on her face when she handed Justin his ritual morning bowl of Cheerios.  Justin himself had for once failed in the charm game.  He guessed it might have something to do with his habit of wiping up ejaculate with his used underpants.


  Terry quietly ushered him out to the sunny patio, taking a coffee with him.  ‘Now, me babe,  what’s up?’


  ‘Like what exactly, Uncle Terry?’


  ‘Don’t play innocent … I read Gay Universe on the plane coming over.’


  ‘Aw right, the dad thing.’


  ‘Are you sure you know what you’re doin’ here?’


  ‘He’s me dad.  I got a right to learn something about him, if I can.  I’m realistic, though.  I’m not expecting him to suddenly turn out to be the model father I always wanted.  Most likely he’s a complete jerk and a loser.  But I gotta know, Terry.’


  ‘Put it that way, Justy, and I can’t disagree with you.  If the Gay Universe publicity don’t work, what you going to do?’


  ‘I don’t know.  I thought maybe you might have ideas.’


  ‘I might.  But we’ll see how your first try goes.  I hope you get what you want, but from my point of view, you’ve got to beware of opportunists.  There are lots of men out there who would take advantage of you in a heartbeat to get close to Matt and Andy and their money.  You could be a tempting target for a con artist.  You need to do some careful checks that men calling themselves Jack Whittaker are what they seem to be.’


  ‘Well, yeah, I realise that.  I won’t let anyone get near me unless they can prove who they are.’


  ‘And how will they do that?’


  ‘Me mam told me one or two things about Jack Whittaker that only the real one will know.  That’s as good a check as any, I think.’


  Terry looked pensive.  Eventually he said, ‘Okay then.  The best of luck to you, Justy.  I hope you find what you’re looking for.’








  As luck would have it, a packet arrived that very morning from Gay Universe, enclosing a thick wad of letters addressed to Justin.  He went through them with Dave Evans in Matt’s garage office.  Matt said Dave had huge experience in dealing with his mail, which attracted more than its fair share of nutcases.


  ‘Okay.  Three piles.  Nice fan mail … which I’ll answer for you if you like.  It’s the biggest pile, I’m glad to see.  I’ve got the classy shots Gay Universe took of you.  Sign copies of the ones out that weren’t published with the article, and I’ll send them.




  ‘Oh yeah.  You’re famous now, kiddo.  Then there’s the next pile: perverts and obvious shysters.  The things this guy wants to do to you I’ve not even read on the Internet.  Four are asking for cash, and two of them don’t even pretend to be your dad.  Which leaves just this one.’ Dave waved the letter. ‘You want to take it away and have a good look at it, Justin?’


  Justin nodded, and accepted the open slim manila envelope, with a Sheffield postmark he noticed.  Nathan was throwing a Frisbee with Peter on the lawn out the back, where he could hear them laughing and whooping.  As he had half expected, the two had hit it off in much the same way he had been drawn to Tim.  He went up to the bedroom to sit at his desk and open the brief typed note.


  ‘Dear Justin,’ it said, ‘I read the article in Gay Universe and recognised the Macavoy name immediately.  You will be Lisa’s boy and yes, I am your father.  I’m not sure whether it would be wise to meet.  I have had nothing to do with you all your life, something I can imagine you might hold against me.  There were reasons, however, and if you would like to discuss them, my e-mail address is at the bottom of the page.  J.M. Whittaker.’


  Justin read it twice.  The guy, whoever he was, knew his mum’s name, which was not mentioned in the article.  That indicated he might indeed be the man himself, although it would be feasible for a determined con man to have found that out.  But why bother?


  Justin pondered whether to discuss it with his foster parents or with Terry, but decided not to.  This was his business and his alone … well, maybe Nathan’s too, a little.  He would talk to Nathan.


  Dinner that night was a lively and hilarious affair with four boisterous teenagers around the table.  Afterwards, Justin took Nathan by the hand and led him up to their room.  Showing him the letter he asked simply, ‘What should I do, Nate?’


  Nathan replied equally simply, ‘E-mail the guy.  Give him the chance to explain himself, then make your mind up if you want anything else to do with him.’


  ‘What shall I say?’


  ‘I dunno.  Tell him a little about yourself, what you’re doing and stuff.  But not too much.  I suppose you gotta decide what sort of relationship you want with him.’


  ‘I don’t wanna live with him and be a fake family.  I love Matt and Andy too much, and I know they love me because they’ve proved it again and again.  But it would be nice at least to talk to my biological father.’


  Nathan and Justin sat and pondered what to type into the blank e-mail box open in front of them on the screen.


  ‘Dear Dad …?’ suggested Nathan desperately.


  ‘Nope,’ said Justin firmly.  ‘He’s just a sperm donor at this point.  He ain’t earned the right to affection from me.’


  So he typed, <hi.  it’s me, justin.  i got your letter.  maybe you’re right about meeting being a bad idea.  but i want to know a little bit about you anyway and why you left my ma.  she said you were gay.  so why did you sleep with her?>


  They looked at the message, and then looked at each other.  ‘Okay?’ Justin asked.


  ‘Looks good to me,’ agreed Nathan.


  Justin sent the e-mail on its way.  Then they shut the computer down and went to join the rest downstairs.


  Matt was buzzing with something, and he had got Andy excited too.  He was handing around flute glasses of champagne and had two ready for Nathan and Justin.


  ‘Boys, I have an announcement.  This morning I received a phone call from the Rothenian embassy to tell me their government has decided to honour me with the Order of the Rose of Rothenia.’


  ‘Cool,’ said Peter.  ‘Does this mean you’re gonna be a knight or a lord or something?’


  ‘Not in today’s decadent world, no,’ Matt admitted, ‘but it’s got a lovely red ribbon and a pretty silver star.  It’ll go so well with evening dress.  I Googled it on the web.’


  ‘Why you, Matt?  Pardon me for asking,’ Nathan said apologetically.


  ‘Not at all.  It’s for services to the Rothenian media industry.  My company made a major documentary on the country – huge international success, you may have seen it.  No?’ Nathan and Justin shook their heads.  ‘Well I have a DVD of it somewhere.  Did wonders for their tourism industry, apparently.  Then I got involved in the promotion of a new Rothenian media empire, which has just taken over half the Czech TV channels.  The Rothenians aren’t that fond of the Czechs, and they’re a bit delighted to be controlling the airwaves over Prague.  You remember my friend Will Vincent who was here a few weeks ago?  He’s the main man.  He was British, but he’s just taken out Rothenian nationality so he can become chairman of the company.  He’s got a lot of influence with the government.’


  ‘So when are you gonna get your medal?’ asked Justin.


  ‘It’s not a medal, it’s an ancient order of chivalry founded in the sixteenth century.’


  ‘Okay, when?’


  ‘In a fortnight, Justy.  And we’re all going.  In August, Andy will be leaving for the States and the start of his senior year at JAC.  Since we won’t see him again till nearly Christmas, apart from the Thanksgiving holiday, we’re going to make a summer holiday out of it.  You’ve got some time owing from Andersons, so there’s no reason you both can’t come, is there?’


  Justin looked puzzled.  ‘But where’s Rothenia?  Is it in Europe?’


  ‘It’s east of Bavaria and south of the Czech Republic.  Quite a large country.  Twelve million people at least.  Central Europe’s gay entertainment capital has its headquarters in the capital, Strelzen.  It’s a beautiful city.  You’ll enjoy Club Liberation if we can sneak you in there one night.’


  ‘Cool!  Sounds good already.’ Nathan grinned; he loved travel.


  So did Peter.  ‘Can we come too?  Uncle Terry says the sex industry there is really something.’


  Andy gave Terry an old-fashioned glare.  Terry tried to look innocent, a lost cause.


  ‘We won’t stop you, if you really want to join us,’ Andy told Peter.  ‘To be honest, it would be nice to have family there for the investiture.  Matt’s dad refused point blank.  The only way we could get him to America was because at least they speak English there.  Rothenia was a hopeless case.  His brother Carl, however, said he’d try his best to be there for the ceremony, though he has commitments.  If you’re coming, it’s morning dress.  The Rothenians are a very formal people, you know.’


  ‘Great,’ crowed Justin, ‘more new togs.’  He had developed a passion for clothes, which Andy and Matt very generously supported.  He and Nathan between them were colonising a spare room with their overflow, causing Mrs Atkinson to complain that they needed far more wardrobe space.


  Before they went to bed, the two boys booted up the computer one more time, but there was no message from Justin’s father.  Four days went by before a reply entered the inbox.


  ‘Not that prompt a correspondent, is he?’ mused Nathan when they saw the address.


  ‘Seems not.  Maybe he’s not sure what to say.  Okay, here goes.’


  <Dear Justin,  I am so glad you contacted me.  I’m not at all surprised at the question.  When you were conceived, I was a Royal Marine officer cadet.  I knew I was gay alright, but gayness did not then go down too well in the forces.  I had been in school with Lisa, your mother, who had a thing for me.  She became my token girlfriend and I slept with her on leave – to establish my straight credentials more than anything else.  Her getting pregnant wasn’t part of the plan.  Neither of us were organised about prevention.  It just happened.  When it did, there was a row and I told her the truth, that we could never live together because of my sexuality.  I was gone long before you were born, and the terms on which we parted meant there was no chance I would ever play the part of your father.  Besides, I was abroad most of the time.  I didn’t resign my commission till last year.  I hope that answers your question, Justin.  It doesn’t show me in a good light, especially in view of what happened afterwards to you.  But we were young and stupid.  If that’s a lame excuse, it’s the only one I’ve got.  Jack>


  ‘So your dad was a soldier, an officer too.  That’s pretty cool, Justy.’


  ‘It’s a good enough answer to the question too.  Doesn’t try to excuse the inexcusable, at least.’


  ‘Are you going to answer it?


  ‘Yes, I will.  He seems intelligent.’


  <hi it’s justin again.  ok, i understand why you got my mam pregnant and maybe why you left her and went away.  didn’t you ever get curious about how i was doing?  have i got grandparents on your side?  have you got a partner?  what are you doing now?>


  Nathan smiled.  ‘That’ll keep the dialogue going for a bit.’


  Justin pressed the send button.  The reply came three days later.  It appeared his father was not in a relationship and never had found much time for them.  Yes, Justin had a grandfather and grandmother in Staines, as well as an uncle in Melbourne and an aunt still living in Islington.  At present his father was between jobs, doing some consultancy work on the side for friends.  He didn’t say what the consultancy was.


  Justin took to the keyboard once again.


  <hi, jack.  are you living in london or where are you?  you’ll know from the press that me and my nathan are in highgate.  we’re very happy and love each other very much, and we don’t fight much … well we do a bit, but we’re learning to deal with it.  andy and matt are brilliant to me.  i love them loads and don’t want to upset them by being too open about the fact that we’re talking on line.  they’d be cool about it i suppose, but why worry them?  so what do you do for a living?>


  This time the answer came back within twenty-four hours.


  <Dear Justin,  I’m glad you managed to find two such great guys to take care of you, although I’m amazed it could have happened.  You must tell me one day.  As for what I do – when I have a job – I’m in computer systems.  Fortunately my contracts tend to be profitable, if short term, so I can be between jobs for quite a while.  Since I travel around a lot, I rent a service flat when I’m back in London.  At the moment I’m in Ealing, just off the Common, not a bad place, although small.  Jack>


  They chatted daily from then on.  Justin learned that his father, now thirty-five, was still very much into the scene, and often went clubbing with a set of mates.  Remembering his and Nathan’s adventure several months earlier in the club in Camden Town with … what were those guys’ names?  Frank and Clive? … Justin hoped his dad wasn’t as predatory as those two.  He had dark hair like his son’s, not grey yet and not dyed.  He worked out, which Justin supposed meant he was pretty fit looking.


  Justin told described his gardening and his job, and – so far as one could tell over the web – his father seemed genuinely interested.  Justin was just puzzled as to how to take things further, or even if he wanted to.