Michael Arram







  ‘How do I look, Nate?’ asked Justin.


  ‘You just love dressing up, you vain babe you.’


  ‘Come on … how does it look?’


  ‘Brilliant as usual, but not as fantastic as when you’ve got nothing on.’


  Justin laughed and fixed the flower in Nathan’s buttonhole.  They were in full morning dress.  They were also very much in love.  They kissed, then left their room hand-in-hand and went to find Matt or Andy.


  It was a glorious October day, the sun was shining and the older couple was preparing to celebrate their civil partnership.  ‘Now we’ve got a kid, Andy,’ Matt had informed him, ‘I’ve got to make an honest man of you.’


  Andy was at the bottom of the stair, fretting.  ‘Morning dad,’ Justin greeted him.  ‘When’s the car coming?’


  ‘It’s already here.  You’d better go.  You’re supposed to be there early to hand out programmes and stuff.’


  ‘Sure dad.’  Justin, followed by Nathan, kissed and hugged Andy, then ran laughing down the steps and into the waiting limousine.  It whisked them to a plush country hotel in High Barnet that was licensed for the celebration of partnerships.  Matt had taken it over for the weekend, expanding its capacity by erecting a small town of marquees around it.


  Dave Evans, who had masterminded the whole thing, was in organisational heaven.  Dressed in a morning suit, he was pacing the grounds with a mobile glued to his ear, while simultaneously haranguing the caterers.  A small orchestra was tuning up in the function room.


  The other ushers were congregating round the doors.  ‘Morning, Your Serene Highness.  Morning, Ed.’


  A friendship was being nurtured.  Ed, one of the Peacher twins, and Prince Fritz were chattering away as only young teen boys can.  They had become instant mates when they first met on the yacht at Nice.  ‘Ya see, Justy,’ Ed had said the previous night, ‘we’re two heterosexual kids in families full of queers, so we gotta be friends … but just friends, okay?’


  ‘Yes, Justy, having gay brothers can put a lot of pressure on you,’ Fritz confirmed.


  ‘Tell me about it,’ added Carl White, sitting close by and already a little drunk.  ‘I had to shag every available girl in Northampton to establish my straight credentials when I was seventeen.  It put me off my training.  You gay guys just don’t realise what you put us through.’


  ‘Me nose bleeds for you all!’  Justin blew them a very gay kiss.


  Ed and Fritz had the programmes sorted and were awaiting the first guests.  As the most high-profile celebration to date of a gay partnership in Britain, it was to be a major occasion.  Cabinet ministers, actors and producers were to be there in numbers, as well as friends and family.


  When the registrar arrived, she got into the swing of things by adopting an academic gown and wearing a hood.  Nathan checked over the desk down the front with her to make sure all was in order.


  The supporters came in soon after. Carl White and Terry would stand for Matt.  For Andy there would be his brother Peter, together with a new guy Justin did not know but had heard a lot about, an old friend of Andy’s called Paul Oscott, a tall and gangling bespectacled man who looked a bit harassed.


  Paul had stopped off at the back to talk with Dave Evans.  ‘So Andy tells me you’re a father now, Paulie?’


  ‘Yup.  Haven’t slept for two months … look at the bags under my eyes.  It’s been so bad that jet lag means nothing to me nowadays, it’s my normal state.’


  ‘What did you call him?’


  ‘Can’t you guess?  Matthew Andrew Oscott, of course.  He’s beautiful, takes after his mum.’


  ‘Couldn’t Rachel come?’


  ‘She’s back in work, her mum’s staying with us in Washington to babysit little Mattie.  You’ve got to come to the baptism; it’s in the new year.’


  Justin leafed through the programme as he was waiting for the first guests, searching for his name.  There it was, ‘Ushers: HSH the Prince of Tarlenheim, Mr Edward Peacher, Mr Justin Peacher-White, Mr Nathan Underwood.’  Justin was gradually getting used to his new name and quite liked it.  With a smile he looked at the front cover: ‘A Celebration of the Civil Partnership between Sir Andrew William Peacher KBE and Dr Matthew Anthony White CBE’.  The honours had come unexpectedly in the aftermath of the kidnap, Andy for services to young people and the disadvantaged, Matt for services to the media.  There had been a reception for Andy at 10 Downing Street and then the trip to the palace.  The PM had let it be known that the Home Secretary, who had come out himself a decade before, had put a lot of pressure on him to properly honour high-profile gays in public service.  The Home Secretary was to be there that day, having gotten quite chummy with Andy.


  ‘Hey, Gramps!’ Justin called, as Tony White, Matt’s father, wandered in.


  ‘Hullo, yer scamp!’  He was happy to have taken on the role of grandparent to Justin, who was the sort of lad he could understand – unlike Matt, as he freely admitted to Justin.  ‘Always reading, that lad, so very clever.  Made you nervous about talking to him, sweet though he always was.’


  After the formal adoption, Justin had enjoyed a happy weekend with Matt’s mum and dad in Northampton, being spoiled rotten by the woman he was happy to call ‘Grandma White.’  They had sent him a card and present on his birthday.


  ‘Have yer seen Dick Peacher?’


  ‘Not yet, Gramps.’  Tony White and Richard Peacher had a strangely warm relationship for two such wildly different men, brought together by the homosexual liaison of their sons.


  ‘I’ll go and see if I can find him outside, then.’


  Justin suddenly noticed that arrivals were beginning and called the team to order.  Soon they were busy handing out programmes and directing the uncertain until they finally had everyone settled.  While they awaited the arrival of Matt and Andy, the orchestra was playing away at light classics, and almost against his will, Justin found himself humming along with the tunes.


  Matt and Andy did not want to do the wedding thing by marching up the aisle.  Andy flatly refused to contemplate carrying a bouquet, which he thought was silly.  The point about gay relationships, as far as he was concerned, was that they weren’t marriages, they were something different.  He had no intention of imitating the straights, he said, preferring to establish new traditions to fit new circumstances.  So they had decided to come in from the side and take up positions in front of their supporters, where they would make their promises and sign the legal documents.


  They entered to great applause from the witnesses.  Andy had insisted on wearing his order with rose-pink ribbon, star and badge, leading Matt to don the red sash and star of his Rothenian order as well as the badge of his CBE.  They looked very distinguished, although, as usual, ill-matched in height.


  The orchestra played subdued mood music while they made their promises, holding hands and kissing at the end.  Then there were hugs with the supporters behind them and embraces with the families.  The orchestra struck up a march – not Mendelssohn – and they exited slowly, shaking hands with the guests, and hugging and kissing the boys keeping the door.  ‘Love you, dads!’ Justin told both of them with tears in his eyes.  ‘Love you too, son, and so very proud of you!’ was the emotional reply as they hugged him.








  Noticing that Ramon was off dancing with Andy somewhere, Justin finally got Terry to himself late that night in the corner of a lamp-lit marquee.  He had seen Terry a few times, but never to talk to on his own.  Terry looked well, at least.  ‘How you doin’, Uncle Terry?  No … really.’


  The reply came with a quirky smile.  ‘Okay.  And that’s about all I can say, sweet babe.  I had to take a year out from my course at JAC.  Thass not too bad, as I was year ahead of Ramon anyway, so we’ll both be juniors together.  But it’ll be a while before I’m fit for dancing again, and that’s a real pain.  I’ll always be a bit nervous of the splits too.’


  ‘Does it … y’know, slow you down in bed?’


  ‘Losing one of me balls?  No, actually it doesn’t. They put a prosthetic in, so I’ve kept me balance in the scrotum department.  I can still get it up and squirt to order.  I’ve lost me confidence in other ways, however.  I resigned from PeacherCorp Security, although Richard Peacher’s made me a director and given me a payoff that means I’ll never need to work again.  But I just seem to want to stay at home and read, or go out and jog, or – best of all – lie in bed late with me Ramon.  It’ll take time, I suppose.  Now, what about you, me favourite teen babe?’


  ‘I’m okay, Uncle Terry.  I doan like thinking about that time in the cellar, but I doan have nightmares about it.  You can’t miss a dad you never had, and he was a shite sort of bloke in any case.  World’s better off without him.’


  ‘You seem very settled with your Nathan.’


  ‘E’s a good man, and such a safe one.  I’ve stopped needing to shove him about, which is good, because he shoves back if I does anyway.  We’re gettin’ very mature now.  We just sort of snuggle together, laughing and having fun.  We doan need sex three times a night like we did, only twice a night now.  Do you s’pose that means we’re gettin’ old?


  ‘The college is hard goin’ but I’m better behaved than some of the others on me course.  And whoever thought they’d hear me say that?


  ‘Then there’s Matt and Andy.  They’re so … dadlike, is that a word?  Sort of concerned and funny and generous, just like you want dads to be.  They’ve changed me, made me feel wanted and happy.’


  ‘They did the same for Paulie … you met him?’


  ‘Yeah … he’s a bit of an egghead, innee?’


  ‘Oh yeah, although so’s Matt.’


  ‘But when you look like Matt, you doan think of ’im as a clever bloke, just as an amazing face … and the rest.  I saw him nude the other day.  Couldn’t take me eyes off him.’


  ‘Watch out, Justy, it’ll be incest next if you’re not careful.’


  Justin actually blushed.  ‘Nah … he’s not like that, me neither.  He’s too … sorta in the moment and controlled, know what I mean?’


  ‘You still working for that nice Mr Anderson?’


  ‘Oh yeah, we’re still a team, Nate and Mate.  I got a raise last week.  We’re goin’ on holiday over Christmas to Rothenia, payin’ for our own tickets an’ all.  Oskar, Will and Fritzy’re takin’ us skiing in the Rothenian Alps.  I never went skiing before.  Nate’s takin’ me to the practice slope in Hendon.  He’s learnin’ to drive.  His dad’s buying him a car when he passes, and then I’ll be learning too.’


  ‘So are we happy now?’


  ‘Blissful, Uncle Terry.  Can we come and stay wiv you in America next year some time?  Andy’s gonna give us a lift in his jet.’


  ‘Yeah, it’d be great.’


  ‘And can we do sex in a foursome?’  Justin grinned lasciviously.


  ‘Wha …!  Who told you?’


  ‘Pete let it out.  He said Tim and Ramon had an itch and wanted to scratch it, so you and Pete decided to go along.  Sounds wicked.  I’d love to give it a try.  I’d really like your …’


  ‘No.  Forget it.  Absolutely not!  Totally no way!!  You’re a very naughty boy, you know that?’


  ‘Yeah, so they say.  But not as naughty as you, according to Pete … nine inches, wow!  I’d love to see that.  I’d love even more to feel it inside me.’


  ‘Calm down, tyke.  Remember what happened with Pete and Tim.  I’m pretty sure the group sex didn’t help them in the end.  If I’d been thinking with something other than me dick last year, I’d have realised it said nothing good about Tim that he initiated it.’


  ‘Yeah, but I’m not Tim.  I doan wanna be laid by half the western world.’


  ‘You might mention it to Nathan then.’


  ‘Er … perhaps not.’


  ‘Just trying it on, like I thought.’


  ‘Nate does know Tim sucked me off in the Caribbean, though.  After hearin’ what he gave Pete, I was worried he mighta given me the same thing, and I mighta passed it on to Nate.  So we both got tested and came up clean.  Whatta relief!  But Nate wasn’t at all happy.’  Justin sat quiet for a moment and, Terry thought, began looking unusually pensive for him.  ‘Uncle Terry?’


  ‘Yes, me babe?’


  ‘How long do you think me and Nate’ll last?’


  ‘What’s worrying you, little one?’


  ‘Gays doan have a good track record in relationships, do they.’


  Terry smiled gently.  ‘Depends on the gays, but no, we don’t.’


  ‘Then how much time have Nate and me got?’


  ‘Hard to say.  Me and Ramon have been going for three years, and we don’t get less in love as time go by.  Matt and Andy have been together now for seven.  They ain’t ever going to split up.  But Pete and Tim, they were fragile.  I didn’t see it coming any more than they did.  The point is, little babe, it’ll last as long as you both want it to and are willing to work at it.  Tim lost it, you may not.  And I say you, not Nathan.  He’s the rock.  You have to decide whether you want to stay anchored to him.  So think twice about foursomes, babe, or cheating on him.  My … that was almost wise wasn’t it?  Don’t think Matt could have done better.  A brush with death doesn’t half give you perspective.’


  Justin kissed Terry before making his way across the floor among the dancing couples.  He smiled to see Nathan and Ramon together.  He wandered out of the marquee into the evening.  As the music got fainter, muffled laughter drew his attention to two dark figures close together between two clipped bushes.  Both were tall, with the light shining off their blond heads: Oskar and Pete, and they were kissing.


  So a new boat was being pushed out on to the ocean of relationships and into the tides of chance.  Still, Oskar will have an advantage over the rest of us, Justin thought.  If Pete takes one step out of line, a grey spectre will certainly be there to tell on him.


  Justin walked back into the marquee, laughing gently to himself.  Nathan met him at the entrance, eyes shining.


  They kissed.














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