Henry in Finkle Road
And so we come to the end of the third and final Henry story. Many thanks to all those people who wrote and expressed appreciation. Thanks also to those who wrote with questions and honest criticisms. It was a pleasure to hear from you all. The bulk of the complaints were from the Ed Cornish fan club (with Pam as chair) who had reservations about Gavin as Henry's new love interest, but as you see it has worked its way through and right order has reasserted itself. No doubt there will now be a 'Bring-back-Gavin' pressure group. You just can't keep people happy. But a final special acknowledgement to Terry and Rob, readers and refiners of my stories.
For those who had a mild interest in the advertised anagrams - so necessary in a skit on the Da Vinci Code - 'Dr Bannow' turns (how odd!) into 'Dan Brown' and 'Chad Wardrinski' into 'Richard Dawkins'. Mendamero is not yet fully explained. But it will be by the end of this final chapter.
It was reading week, and Henry had decided he had to bite the bullet. He had not been back to Trewern since that dreadful weekend there with Gavin in February. Calls to his mum had abruptly dropped away. He tried to tell himself he shouldn't have resented the treatment dealt out to Gavin. Everybody had been perfectly civil, but he knew the civility had been no more than a mask for polite indifference.
However, Henry was learning that he must not dwell on grudges. He was also learning that the idols of his childhood, his mother and his first boyfriend, were as fallible and human as he knew he himself could be.
The announcement that he was returning for a few days was greeted with such relief and warmth that he knew the recent distance between them had hurt his parents much more than it had hurt him. The additional information that he was coming with Ed Cornish was greeted with a brief silence and the timorous question as to whether it meant that...
He confirmed that it did indeed mean he and Ed were boyfriends again.
His mother finally said to Henry, 'About Gavin... Darling, we are so sorry we didn't embrace him the way we should have. I realize it was bad of me. It was just that he was so different from Ed, and you know how I like boisterous and lively boys. But the fact you loved him should have told me he was an out-of-the-ordinary person. I should have tried harder. I'm so sorry. Are you dreadfully unhappy about your break up?'
Henry sighed. What he had originally felt for Gavin was beyond his capacity to describe to his mother, and what he felt now, equally so. So he just said he was OK, the separation had been inevitable and there were no hard feelings. He rang off, feeling a bit lighter in heart at least.
Church Stretton station was just the same as ever, and there was Dad in his collar with his arms out. Henry ran into the welcoming hug and felt like a boy again. Ed too got a hug, an even tighter one. They bundled into the Volvo and headed east through the familiar lanes and hedges to Trewern. Ed and Henry relaxed. Ed laughed as he recalled Henry straining to pedal up a particular hill on one of their biking expeditions. Henry laughed as he remembered Ed's bemused but loyally interested expression while being dragged round Shropshire churchyards.
Henry hugged his lover's arm in the back of the car. 'We were so good together as teens, Ed, and I'm so glad we're good again. I know it's stupid to think of people as being destined to fall in love. But somehow I think we were.'
'Just look what happened when I broke it up by going for Cambridge - unhappiness for me and tragedy for you.'
'Oh, Gavin baby was no tragedy, Ed. He was an epic hero hiding in a nerd. He was Clark Kent and I was Lana Lang. It was never going to end happily, but it was in no way tragic. It was more like a mum or dad waving goodbye to their child as he went off into a bigger world. It's sad and hopeful at the same time.'
'Nicely put, little babe.'
'That's "Kapitan-leutnant babe" to you, soldier.'
'Yes, sir!' They laughed and laughed. Mr Atwood smiled softly as he drove. He had his boys back again.
On Saturday, Ed and Henry were lying in the grass in Trewern churchyard, in their favourite place between the graves of Jehoiadah Scudamore and Nathaniel Corner. Henry was resting with his head pillowed on Ed's stomach while Ed was questioning him about his vision at the Marienkloster of Medeln.
'To me that was the strangest thing of all, little babe. You seemed to be talking to Jed Scudamore, who had come to you with a warning. But it wasn't Jed.'
'No, it wasn't Jed. I just can't decide if it was some sort of angelic being or... Him, you know.'
'Technically, babe, it was more likely to have been the former than the latter. Theology says that God communicates with the world through angelic messengers and agents. He doesn't do it in person.'
Henry mused, 'So was it a common or garden-variety angel, an archangel or one of the really big ones? Seraphim are the highest likely to communicate with the world directly, special messengers from the court of Heaven. But they are rarely ever seen by men. I wish he'd introduced himself properly instead of being all mysterious. And why did he adopt the appearance of Jed?'
'Oh, that's easy, Henry. Angels have a variety of forms, and adapt to need and circumstance. Your guy took a form that he knew would reassure you. Be fair, you always fancied Jed rotten. I don't blame you. He was magnificent, like a young Matt White.'
'Too small a dick, though.'
'How big's Matt's?'
'Pretty large, according to Andy.'
Ed turned to stare at Henry. 'Andy talks to you about having sex with Matt?'
'We have no secrets. He tells me about Matt, and I tell him about you.'
'He never asks me about you.'
'It's a bottom thing. Don't worry about it.'
Henry had reverted to his preferred passive sexuality with great glee. Once again he was surrounded and possessed by a strong male body, and they had been frantically catching up on lost time since the beginning of term. It was no disloyalty, Henry thought, to acknowledge that this was the way he liked sex, being the willing repository for the seed of a powerful thrusting man. Gavin had never been able to do that for him.
The opening of the priest's door nearby caused them to sit up and look.
'Dr Mac!' Henry leaped up and ran to the old man. 'Back from the Caribbean cruise then? You look nicely tanned. How's Mrs Mac?'
'Fine, fine, Henry dear boy. You look like a new man... Ah, back with Edward, I see. That explains a lot.'
'Have you got time for a chat, Dr Mac? There's a lot to tell you about the KRB, the Priory and Mendamero!'
The old man laughed. 'You're welcome to as much of my remaining time as you'd like, dear Henry.'
They sat together on a bench in the October sunlight, and Henry began the story of his latest Rothenian expedition. They talked until lunchtime.
Dr Mac finally scratched his head. 'Always you surprise me, dear boy. That such things happen! I must go away and think about it all.' He stood up stiffly. As he was walking off, he suddenly stopped and glanced back at Henry. 'I had a very amusing thought about the name MENDAMERO.'
'You did? What was it?'
'It's the crossword enthusiast in me. If you rearrange the letters you get the two Latin words Ad Nemorem.'
'Yes? And that means ... ?'
The old man smiled. 'At-wood.'
In the bar of the King's Cross, a small group of old friends had gathered. Paul and Terry were sitting close together, as close as if they were the lovers they once had been. Paul had his arm round his oldest friend's shoulder.
'Y'know, Paulie,' commented Andy, 'you make a very convincing gay.'
'Why thank you, Andy. I shall take that as a compliment. The finest people of my acquaintance are all gay.'
'He means me,' laughed Matt.
'No, me,' grinned Terry.
'I mean all three of you, my dearest friends.'
'So why did you decide to take the offer of a permanent post in Cranwell?' asked Matt. 'Columbia seemed very interested in you.'
'Because when all is said and done, the people I love are all here in England. What worried me was what Rachel would say about it when we discussed the job. But she said she thought Mattie would be better off growing up in a terraced house in a small city in the UK, rather than in some New York apartment block. She's got interviews for a couple of jobs in local government. It looks like we'll do OK, and we'll try to get over to Oregon whenever we can to see her folks.'
'Good,' Andy nodded. 'I'm glad you're over this side of the Atlantic, cos I really want to see my godson from time to time. And little Henry Atwood would have been distraught if he had lost his playmate, not to mention the invaluable source of income he draws from babysitting. Why do you pay him so much?'
'I was once a poor student myself, and I still have the debt to prove it.' Paul smiled to himself. 'You two guys seem to have done the impossible and made a family for yourselves.'
Matt looked at him. 'We didn't intend to, but yes, we have acquired our boys. Justy and Ed in particular, both young men of whom any father could be proud. But we have Henry and Nate too - loving, splendid men, and both in relationships that have a lot of strength in them. Henry especially seems to be going places. Yet we once thought Ed was the driving power in their partnership.'
Andy tutted. 'Ed will do OK, my Matt. But it looks like we'll be losing them to Rothenia in time. They're both in love with the place, and Henry wants to work with Will Vincent.'
Matt nodded. 'I don't think it matters, though, because we have so many friends there too. How about we buy a castle near Strelzen, a real one with towers and dungeons - though not too big, think of the dusting - something like Templerstadt? I love that house!
'What about you, Terry? How are things between you and Davey?'
'OK. Davey loves the life I live, and he has the freedom to do the things he likes. He really is the dance king of Cranwell club land. Besides, he's taken on the part-time management of the King's Club. He's made it quite the chic venue for young gays in the region. He has a talent for spotting the upcoming acts and booking them. It's not like it was between me and Ramon, of course. Davey's a very different man. Despite my mobile lifestyle, we have a relationship that works, though it would probably be better if we saw each other rather more. But Henry keeps Davey sane.'
He checked his watch. 'Paulie, I gotta be off, but I'll see you and Rachel for dinner, yeah?'
'Absolutely... oh and please don't let Mattie play with your gun this time.'
'Hey, I made sure the safety was on!'
'That's neither here nor there. OK, I'm off too.'
Terry and Paul kissed and hugged Matt and Andy before taking their leave.
Matt looked at Andy. 'So babe, here we are back in Cranwell. I thought we swore an oath to leave it behind us and move on.'
Andy laughed and leaned in to kiss his partner. 'Life has its own ideas, my Matt. Moving on seems to involve moving in circles, don't you think?'
'That's not a problem, providing you learn to deal with things better the second and third times around. Look at Henry and Ed, stronger and wiser men now, in a totally transformed relationship. They'll go the distance, I think, now that Henry has taken over the moral leadership.'
'And Justy and Nate?'
'Two totally different characters. A gadfly orbiting a bowling ball at speed is an image that comes to mind. That is a bit unfair to them, though, because Justy has a great ability to love as well as to annoy.'
'Quite so,' Andy agreed. 'They're a very stable pair, and totally devoted to each other. Haddesley is a place brimming with happiness when they're together.'
The two men smiled and looked into each other's eyes for a while. Matt took Andy's hand. 'We're surrounded by love, my babe. Do you know why?'
Andy shook his head.
'It's no small thanks to you. Your sweetness attracts the good in others. You gently encourage love the way a gardener encourages growth. It's no wonder we have such friends as we do.'
Andy looked up at him through his pale lashes. 'And you, Matt, what do you do?'
'What, me? I love you, pure and simple. That's what I was put on Earth to do. That's all I have ever wanted from life. Thank God for you. Imagine what might have become of me had we never gotten together. I'd probably be a very lost and lonely man, struggling hopelessly to find just a speck of love and warmth, as all too many people have to do. But with you I have the mother lode.'
'You underestimate yourself, my beautiful Matthew. I'm just what you made me, the lost boy you found and gave a home too, here between your arms, the only home I ever need. Odd, isn't it? I could buy anything in the world I fancied, but what I fancy most is being right here with you, and that's a thing no amount of money could never buy. I really am the man who has everything.'
Matt grinned as he looked in those sparkling blue eyes, the same eyes that had gazed into his own in passion while they had made love as teenagers, the eyes that had set his soul alight. There was a web of fine lines around them now and the cracks of crows' feet appearing, but they still were beautiful and always would be. He smiled. 'It's the kids, babe.'
Henry and Ed were coming in through the doors just then, hand in hand. Signalling them over, Matt and Andy rose to greet the younger men, Andy kissing Henry, and Matt kissing Ed. The newcomers took the chairs vacated by Terry and Paul.
They all smiled contentedly at one another. Matt took some time to size up Henry and compare him with the prematurely wise sixteen-year-old who had turned up on his doorstep that anxious night long ago in Highgate, when Ed had been abandoned by his feckless parents. Matt had loved the boy Henry was then for his tender support and loyalty to his boyfriend. He admired the full-grown man Henry had now become for his great courage and endless capacity to be true and loving without reserve. Matt acknowledged to himself that beyond any doubt Henry was the finest man he had ever met. Henry had grown in strength and maturity during that summer of crisis. Ed was taller and broader physically, but Henry had an air of confidence that marked him as the leader of the pair. He had great things ahead of him in life, so much was clear.
Andy was asking them about their immediate plans. Ed was replying, 'Henry wants us to get over to Rothenia for a week. Colonel Antonin has plans to throw a party at the Guards barracks in Strelzen for the two ornamental adjutants with whom the Guards Brigade has been saddled. The other officers are keen to meet us, apparently.'
'Yeah,' laughed Henry, 'I bet they've got some sordid initiation rites to put us through involving anal sex. Will they be surprised!'
Andy tutted. 'What a corrupt imagination you have, little Henry. I blame Terry.'
'It's easy to blame Terry, Andy, but I'm afraid the decadence is all self-generated. Even Gavin couldn't suppress it, and my baby was on the threshold of sanctity.'
Ed laughed too. 'The colonel actually wants to put us through a crash course in weapons training and military drill. He says he can't stand the idea of having two officers who aren't able even to salute properly, let alone give an order. Henry can ride a horse, but I've got to learn now too, so we can ride in Rudi's staff on National Day in January in the big parade. We're even gonna get paid when we're on duty, though only at reservist rates. Still, every little helps.'
Matt smirked. 'Is that why the piercing is gone, Henry?'
Henry looked impish. 'Oh, I had to take the brow one out in Rothenia. But I... er, got another one as compensation, though it isn't visible to anyone but Ed.'
'What, nipples, bellybutton...'
'No,' guffawed Ed. 'It's lower, and a bit thrilling when we do certain things.'
Henry gave a quirky smile. 'I couldn't in all conscience be VP for Gay and Lesbian Affairs in UCSU unless I had something way out to prove to the troops that I am seriously alternative. So far, however, no one's asked to see it apart from Davey, the perv.'
Matt and Andy laughed long and hard. 'And you showed him?'
'It's nothing he hadn't seen before.'
It was a measure of how far Ed had changed that he was laughing too. His jealousy of David had been a thing of the moment. He and Henry trusted utterly in each other.
Suddenly their eyes caught and drank each other's in. They leaned close and kissed with a passion that defied the world and caused the room to fall silent in appreciation. When they broke their liplock, Henry could have sworn he saw a waif-like face smiling at them through the crowd at the bar.
The company of guardsmen straightened as their captain barked. The Guard Fusiliers of Modenehem were a gorgeous sight in blue and gold tunics with white facings. Their plumed shakos tossed as they presented arms at the sergeant major's order. The captain, his two lieutenants and the sergeant major drew swords and brought hilts to their lips, for the king and queen of Rothenia were riding by in their carriage. The bells were ringing across the city and millions of rose petals were blowing like a pink and red snowstorm into the faces of their majesties, who waved and smiled to either side. When King Rudolf caught the captain's eye, he winked.
Kapitan-major Edward Cornish OHL, Rothenian citizen and professional soldier, smiled as he ordered his men to stand at ease. He sheathed his sword and let the sergeant major marshal his company back to the barracks. They had leave that night in Strelzen and were itching to hit the town. The city was in party mood, for the king had married his queen. The fountain in the Rodolferplaz would be running with torrents of wine, as it had not done since 1854 at the marriage of Rudolf V with Flavia.
Ed walked with the crowd up to the palace railings, stopping on two occasions to have his picture taken with groups of American tourists. 'My God, but you speak English very well, sir,' said one gentleman. 'If you'd told me you were an Englishman, I'd have believed you.'
Ed thanked him and smiled even more broadly. He pressed on through the dense crowds. A word with the state police on the side palace gate got him access to the courtyard. He saluted the standard of the Foot Guards on parade as he paced under the arch. Then he relaxed, and sprinted up the stairs to where the wedding reception was laid out in the state rooms.
He went straight for another uniformed figure, a colonel in the blue and red uniform of a royal aide-de-camp. With no sense of incongruity at all, he saluted the colonel and followed up with a grin and a pantomime of a kiss. People around just smiled, for the love affair between Kapitan-major Edward Cornish and Henry Atwood was well known and approved in the court of Rothenia.
'Got your speech sorted, little babe?' Ed grinned a little mischievously.
'Yeah, and I'm wearing a diaper in case I wet myself when I have to stand up. They're all here, y'know, the surviving crowned heads of Europe, God knows how many prime ministers and presidents, and half the EU commission - not to mention my mum and dad!' The Rev'd and Mrs Atwood had moved that year to Strelzen to take over the chaplaincy and be near their son and his partner.
Will Vincent sidled up with Oskar. 'Don't drink too much, Henry, you're only playing soldier. You're still duty-producer on Eastnet tomorrow. I want to see you dispensing the news, not making it.'
Henry looked quirky. 'Yes, Herr Baron.' For Will Vincent had been granted the title that past week for outstanding services to the Rothenian media and industry.
Fritz escorted Helge up to join the group. His on-off affair with the princess royal meant that at the moment they weren't being seen together. 'She has the Elphberg temper, Henry,' Fritz had confided, 'and you know what that means. I'm lucky to escape with my balls intact sometimes. But she is addicted to me, and especially my sizeable... y'know. She can't keep away from me, and one day soon she'll surrender and realise it was meant to be.'
After a long chat with the Tarlenheims amid a lot of laughter, Henry dragged Ed over to the Peacher family group. Richard Peacher, who had just given his daughter away, stood proud with his sons and younger daughter gathered around him. Sylvia Peacher was chatting in a rather forced manner with another, taller woman, very elegantly dressed. Henry looked at her with interest. It was the mother of the twins and Peter, the notorious Mrs Marquesa, there to see her daughter become a queen.
Henry sidled up to Eddie and grabbed him under the arm. His friend grinned at him. 'Hey faggot Henry! Don't you gay guys just love the dressing up?'
'It's the nearest I get to being a tranny, Eddie. And we know how you like trannies.'
'Hey, no fair, Henry dude! I had a drink with Tina only last week in the King's. Tina's had the operation and now he's a she.'
'What were you doing down in Cranwell?' Henry was intrigued. They had all graduated the previous year and left their alma mater.
'Oh... seeing Dr Paulie. Y'know I've taken a year out? I finally decided what it is I want to do, so next year I begin my doctorate in nineteenth-century science fiction, under Paulie's supervision.'
Henry was delighted, though not surprised. Eddie's starred first in English had made research work a decided possibility. Henry expressed his pleasure the only way he knew, with a hug and a kiss, which were graciously received by his friend. He caught a look of disgust crossing the face of Eddie's mother, and but couldn't have cared less.
A stir in the crowd brought the king and queen their way. Henry and everyone else close by bowed and curtsied. Harriet was more beautiful than ever, and looked born to be a queen. Rudi too was glowing, with a warmer and kindlier expression on his face than any Henry had ever seen there before. Rumour had it that an Elphberg crown prince was already on his way into the world.
'Well, Colonel Outfield, let's head for the balcony. The Peacher and Elphberg families will join us, and I want you to stand beside us too.'
Henry bowed as the king and queen passed him and stepped through the French windows on to the great balcony. He followed Rudi out into the sunlight, to be met by the roar of hundreds of thousands of human voices. He looked up to watch a squadron of F-15s thunder low across the palace and out over the Rodolferplaz, trailing red, white and black smoke. Henry smiled and waved a white-gloved hand back at his fellow countrymen. This was home, and what a home it was. Here were friends and everyone he loved, and somewhere out there too was his Gavin. 'Hey baby,' he said to the vacant air, 'didn't we do well!'
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