Towards the Decent Inn

XXII

By Michael Arram

When they returned to Pasadena, the letting agency had acquired a furnished property for them in the south east of the city, near the San Marino limits. It was already paid for by the Andrew Peacher Trust, a housekeeper and a gardener were soon to start.

'Wow,' said Matt, 'Shades of Fresh Prince.'

'It's nice, but a bit on the big side. But hell, it's just for a year. Look at the pool and the orange trees in the yard, and there's a tennis court out back. This can be your study, you need a study now you're an academic. And the main bedroom – our bedroom - overlooks the pool. I can jump in from the window. Dare me?'

'No. You'd do it, you nutter. No don't, you ...'

Andy had taken of his shoes and shirt and dived elegantly into the deep end out of the first floor window. A fountain of water plumed up and soaked the poolside. Matt was badly alarmed. He ran down the stairs and out on to the pool's edge.

'You OK?'

Andy was swimming up and down. He'd discarded the rest of his clothes, which were lying on the bottom.

'Come on in, it's brilliant.'

'I wish you hadn't done that. What if you'd smacked on to the concrete?'

'No chance.' Matt still felt anxious. This recklessness was new in Andy, maybe something Burnett had taught him. But he stripped and arrowed in. His swimming was better nowadays. But Andy was better still by far, and he swam round and under him like an eel. Eventually Andy shot up in front of Matt and he found himself grasped around the middle and they floated together, necking with passion.

They flopped out of the pool and on to two adjacent sunbeds. Matt lay on his stomach, put his hand under his chin and admired Andy, while Andy enjoyed the view of Matt's small and dimpled rump, as tanned as the rest of him after the summer in France.

Matt sighed, 'God. I don't care if the Vatican is right. One day with you is worth a thousand years in purgatory.'

'Only a thousand years? You're underpricing me, Matt.'

'Any ideas?'

'Yes. Stuff the Huntington for a week or two. Let's do California. Let's do San Francisco, and ... yes, Venice Beach.' Andy twinkled mischievously, and an earlier, boyish Andy peeked out at him, the Andy he'd met in the city pool back home nearly two years before. Matt laughed, rolled on his back and stretched. Andy crawled on top of him, kissed him lingeringly and began exploring his body with his mouth. Eventually Matt pulled back his legs and invited his attentions around his genitals. Andy licked at his balls and worked down behind them to his goal. Matt began sighing and squirming; he looked down and caught Andy's eyes and pleaded with him silently. Andy smiled, climbed between his thighs and kissed Matt deeply while his erect penis blindly sought entry beneath his balls. It caught and slid in without any preparation. Matt arched and willed his anus to accept his lover. Then Andy was moving in and out of him with increasing excitement, Matt urging him on more and more loudly. Heaving and gasping, Andy climaxed deep inside Matt, spasming as he shot several loads into his anus. Then he collapsed on him as Matt hugged him hard.

Eventually, lulled by the warmth of the afternoon they slept, Andy on top of Matt, held protectively in his muscular brown arms. They woke to the chirring and creeking of cicadas as the sun began to sink behind the tall palms in the golden sky.

They drove up all the way to San Francisco along the Pacific Coast Highway. For them it was something of a pilgrimage. Both boys had long wanted to go to the place that was irresistibly tied up with the development of their relationship.

'This is the Monterrey Bay Aquarium where the Cetacean Institute was supposed to be.'

'Wow, yeah. But it's miles south of San Francisco, and Kirk and Spock were supposed to have got here over the Golden Gate... funny scene with punk, loud music and Vulcan death grip, remember?'

'Yes, but they were supposed to be going to Sausolito, which is north of the city, according to this map. Doesn't Hollywood screw with geography?'

'Still, this is definitely the Cetacean Institute. Some great scenes here. Let's go in and try to find where George and Gracie were kept.' They had watched Matt's copy of Star Trek V: the Journey Home the afternoon they had consummated their love affair, between enthusiastic bouts of oral sex on the lounge floor. By now they more or less knew the screenplay off by heart. Matt had never dreamed that one day he would visit the actual locations. He felt like lighting candles at significant places.

'Do you think it's a bit weird that the most romantic moments in our lives were acted out to the Star Trek theme?'

'Of course not, Matt. I want Klingons for our bridesmaids if ever we go to Canada and get properly married. They are such a huggy and sensitive species.'

They spent a week in the city, where fog and early autumn reigned. They were tourists, they shopped, they went to concerts and soaked up the city's gay culture; it was a place where they could walk hand-in-hand. It was not that which caused people to stare. His great happiness at recovering Andy had somehow increased Matt's already great beauty. It was now a sort of inner light, Andy concluded, and he marvelled at it. He carefully chose Matt's clothes to complement it. He literally stopped the traffic in Union Square, as a gay driver braked to stare at him open-mouthed for minutes and blocked the bus lane. Andy shook his head when Matt failed as usual to notice anything.

They drove back slowly down the Salinas Valley, staying in motels and bed and breakfast. Eventually they found their way home. One Monday, Matt slung his laptop bag over his shoulder and put a briefcase in his car. Andy leaned against the front of their house and waved him off. It was a work day.

'Hi, stranger,' said Rhiannon.

'Hello, you still here then?'

'A few more weeks then it's back home.'

'How's it been?'

'Since you left, boring and not much fun. But I've done a lot of work and it should keep my supervisor happy.'

'I'm glad. Shall we have lunch?'

So the long routine began. Matt worked the morning, took lunch with the other postgrads and headed home in mid afternoon to join Andy by the pool. They joined a gym, which was apparently compulsory in Los Angeles, and occasionally spent time exhausting themselves with weights and running machines. Andy was plainly very happy a lot of the time. Some evenings he would play music loudly, sing and dance round the room, sometimes dragging the less coordinated Matt with him, laughing like a kid.

'Come on Matt, you can do it, you really can.' Andy was working hard to get Matt to do a disco set that he had found on an exercise video in the lounge. After a lot of effort Matt managed to perform to his satisfaction.

'How did he do, Mrs Fuentas?' asked Andy.

The housekeeper, looked in smiling, with arms folded 'Very talented, Mr Peacher, but not as naturally gifted as you.'

'You'd better believe it,' agreed Matt.

Mrs Fuentas was already a fixture. Matt liked her because she shared several characteristics with his mum. He also liked her because she was devoted to Andy, and Matt thought it wasn't just the fact that he was her employer. Mrs Fuentas was a middle-aged lady with several grown-up children and she could recognise a lost boy when she saw one; she mothered him discreetly. Andy was already saying that he didn't want to let her go when her contract was up. She must come back to England with them.

Sometimes Andy came to him at the Huntington and they walked with Rhiannon and other friends through the gorgeous gardens around the library and gallery. It was a great place for lunch, and a great place to wander, either in the varied gardens or the dimness and coolness of the art gallery. One day they found their way in the midday heat to the great marble Huntington mausoleum, at a distance from the library, where the founder and his wife lay. 'Et in Arcadia ego,' said Andy, admiringly. 'I'd rather be deposited here in the sunshine than in the dust and rat turds under Westminster abbey. Who'd be a king?'

In the evening, they ate out with Rhiannon and other friends. They began attending the movies, galleries and concerts. Matt was concerned that Andy might get bored and then depressed, but there seemed no evidence of this, despite all his vigilance for the signs. In part, he thought that this might be because of Andy's constant travel up to see his father at Santa Barbara. In part also they were graduating into high society of a sort and it was irresistibly exciting, at least in the beginning.

Andy was in demand at parties and launches. The world had decided a young man from so rich a family must therefore be glamorous, and Hollywood drew all celebrity into itself. And Matt shared the celebrity. They were selective where they went, because Andy would not go anywhere without Matt, but they couldn't turn down invitations from Andy's father's charities. The photographers were, of course, always there. For that reason they kept away from the gay club scene.

Still even so, Andy successfully made some unexceptionable friends of his own, including a squash partner at the gym, a man in his mid-twenties called Rick, who was in a stable partnership with another gay. Matt was pleased that Andy had lost his solitariness somewhere in their journey together. Andy said he liked Rick because they could talk, and he didn't seem to care if he was a Peacher. They had a dinner invitation out of it, and sat round a table in the West Pasadena home of Rick and Lawrence, both lawyers. Matt found them hard work; Lawrence was over thirty and a different generation, also he at least was very conscious of who Andy was. He thought the conversation was too much into curtains and interior decorating, but for all he had to admit that it was a pleasant evening and they resolved to have them back some time.

'I expect we'll get like it when we're older,' Matt said philosophically.

'You'd better bloody not, or I'll leave you,' Andy replied. 'I want you always to be the hopeless Matt who can't keep his room tidy and isn't safe to change a plug.' Matt laughed.

Finally they got to walk up a red carpet at a movie premiere, and endured the flare and flash of volleys of cameras going off in their faces, and the shouts of paparazzi, 'This way, Andy! This way, Matt! How about holding hands!' By this they knew that they were famous.

'But what are we famous for?' asked Andy as they reached the foyer.

'Celebrity – like nobility in the olden days - doesn't seem to demand any real reason, but think about it. You're potentially the wealthiest openly homosexual man in the western world, if you hadn't noticed. Also, the film's hero is one of us, so they needed rich and glamorous gays to pad out the list.'

'And you're the glamour, then.'

'Not true.' But he left the party afterwards with a handful of cards from a variety of executives who wanted to discuss projects in which he might be interested. He binned them. He did not enjoy the party for other reasons. He was repeatedly approached by men who were very attractive, and one of whom was a public face. It did his ego no good however. It was if they thought he was a piece of pretty meat to be passed around the rich and famous. The fact that he might have some moral objections to this was not an issue for any of them. He got quite curt as midnight approached. Also, he was anxious – and hated himself for being anxious – about Andy, because it did not take him long to see that drugs were passing round corners of the room.

'Did you enjoy that?' he asked as their car pulled away.

'It was a bit hot in that room, I thought.'

'I thought it was a bit unpleasant myself. I counted four attempted pickups, despite the fact that you were in the same room.' He went into detail. Andy annoyed him by laughing.

'Beat you by two. Every good looking guy in the room seemed to want to hit on me, and I'm not anywhere near as pretty as you are. Two of them almost fought over me, and one was quite keen to do it with both of us, although he was very definitely high on something. Matt, this is California, where some people climb to the top on their backs, and then calculate their success by the number of pretty bodies they can sleep with in a week. My dad warned me about it: sex is power and power is sex here. Seems to apply to gays too: so, welcome to Vanity Fair in all its awfulness. You'll have to get used to it. Just shrug it off; they'll get the message in the end. You're not pissed off because they're fighting over me for a change?'

'No, you little tart, I'm pissed off because I was mistaken for a high class call-boy.' Andy was still guffawing when they pulled into their drive.

Matt and Andy were asked again for a joint interview by Gay Universe and gave it at their new home to a pallid journalist who flew out to California from London. He seemed unimpressed by their level of knowledge of the LA gay scene. He ran the feature under the title of 'Supertwinks'. They groaned when they saw it. But the photo session was hilarious, and they kept their clothes on. The photographer was very pleased, 'You guys are naturals. Really cool.'

'Any chance of modelling?' asked Matt, half-seriously, thinking of his mum's suggestion.

'Sorry kid, you're far too short. The average male model is six three.'

Andy caught the look on Matt's face. 'Matthew! You're actually disappointed.'

'No, not really.'

'You are. You half fancy it. I dunno, vanity finally has got to you.'

Matt was embarrassed; and maybe he deserved to be, as he later admitted to himself. But if he was becoming vain, he was under a lot of temptation. He arrived one Monday morning at the library to see several furtive glances thrown his way, and then quickly withdrawn. Rhiannon, in her last week, grinned up at him from her desk. What had he done now? She waved the weekend style supplement of the Los Angeles Times at him. He recognised the two smiling young men on the cover, posing together on a red carpet, especially as one of them was him.

'So what was it like?' Asked Rhiannon over coffee.

'Good film, I thought, but a crap party afterwards. Can I keep the supplement?'

'It was a movie premiere on Hollywood Boulevard for Christ's sake. You were a celebrity!'

'No, strictly speaking, Andy's the celebrity. I'm just his bit of arm candy.'

'Andy is Andy Peacher.'

'Good-looking, if vertically challenged, eldest son of the fifth richest man in the world, and the man in my life, yes.'

'So now at last I understand everything. And I was once in the same car as him. So who's Paul, a Rothschild or something?'

'No, Paul is of the tribe of Oscott, a weirdo we adopted; and we think he's turned out well.'

'What a life. Why didn't you ask me?'

'Sorry, we should have done – it might have avoided some complications - but we only had two invitations.'

'I wasn't serious.'

'I know. We were only two rows in front of Tom Hanks. Do you think this'll change anything between us?'

'No. My frustrated passion for you is unabated. But it may change things around here. I'm not sure that our senior colleagues think a Hollywood gay celebrity can also be a serious scholar. I think that was the view that Dr Matusiak was urging on his friends and admirers, a smaller group than before, but still significant.'

'Maybe so, but I'm not looking for a career in the USA, and you know the good old UK, anything that happens over here is of no concern whatsoever back home.'

'You're planning on going back?'

'Why, yes, of course.'

'Hmm. Well, you know you'll be welcome in York.'

'Thank you. When are you going?'

'End of the week, why do you ask?'

'No reason. You got a nice dress, you know, the long sort with a cleavage?'

'Why?'

'Just be wearing it, Thursday at 4.30pm. We'll be coming to get you at Caltech.'

'Wow, a stretch limo, just like the one we had for our sixth-form prom back in Chesterfield.' Andy was holding the door of the silver limousine open for Rhiannon; he was looking devastating in black tie and tailored evening suit. Rhiannon however had excelled them both. With styled hair, a gorgeous, sheer evening dress in green, and high heels, she was taller than either of them. The long car pulled off smoothly. Matt kissed her.

'So you're not impressed by the car then?'

'I didn't exactly say that. How do I look?'

Matt looked her over and smiled, 'Fantastic. It's enough to turn me straight. But you're missing something.'

Rhiannon looked briefly panicked, 'What? What?'

He offered her a black morocco case. 'What's this?'

Matt opened it to reveal a large and shimmering diamond necklace. Rhiannon boggled.

'Is this real? Can I touch it?' She put her hand out and Matt grinned wickedly as he let it shut with a snap.

Rhiannon squealed, 'I know what this is ... you madmen, this is Pretty Woman! No, you can't be serious.'

'You just wait,' said Andy.

The limo swept onto the tarmac of the private end of LAX, right up to the foot of the nippy Peacher Hawker jet; not quite as impressive as the big transatlantic one, but looking very smart nonetheless, with a red carpet leading up to the steps. The pilot saluted as Andy helped Rhiannon up the steps. They took off, Rhiannon with her hands over her mouth and eyes wide open.

Matt said, 'You always wanted that fairy tale, and for tonight your wish is granted, Cinderella.' He fixed the necklace around her neck. 'Of course you realise this makes me your fairy godfather.'

Right on cue the pilot's voice came over the intercom, 'It should be pretty smooth flight, Mr Peacher. The weather is clear all the way up to San Francisco. We should be there in about fifty minutes.' Andy had given him the words on a piece of paper. The pilot was a Julia Roberts fan too, as it happened, and he was very amused.

The opera house was crowded for the gala donor night, and they were in a corporate box above the stage. Champagne was on ice in a silver bucket.

'Sorry,' said Andy, 'It's the new production of the Pirates of Penzance. We tried to bribe them to change it to something by Verdi.'

'I don't give a monkeys, you clowns, oh this is too much!' She burst into tears.

'Is she happy?' asked Andy.

'Difficult to tell with women. Here you are, Rhiannon, see if you can sort out how these opera glasses work.'

Since the film let them down on precise after-performance details, they had booked a select restaurant after the show, with a good view of the twinkling lights of the Oakland Bridge over San Francisco Bay. They drew the eyes of the entire restaurant as they entered; Andy's father was a valued customer and it seemed that the entire staff wanted to take them to their table, the best in the house.

Andy was buzzing with the evening. 'Matt, we've got to do more opera and classical. My head's exploding with it.' He'd been scribbling on his programme. After the first course he told the others to shut up and listen, and in his very pleasant tenor he sang out in perfect pitch and quite unembarrassed:

'I am the very model of the modern undergraduate,

My courses failed and all my tests and dissertations late.

Of information practical I am entirely desolate;

Of career and promise now I rather doubt that I will ever rate.'

The surrounding tables looked and smiled, and one applauded. Andy stood like the exhibitionist he was, and bowed towards them, while Matt and Rhiannon exchanged wry glances. Matt noted in passing the way that the little rhyme reflected their joint anxieties about Andy's future.

They talked the rest of the night away, about research, about California, about what they missed of Britain, and life in general. Rhiannon at last got their full story, and she was a good audience, although the two kept interrupting each other with wild contradictions and subversive jokes. She was very amused at the idea of the two of them stalking each other. Matt found that it helped a great deal to talk it all over again with Andy next to him. Things seemed to fall into proportion as they did it. Andy seemed to think so too. They were surprised to find that it was long past midnight and the other tables were emptying, when it barely seemed that they had sat down. Andy said that the Peacher name would have kept the restaurant open till dawn if he had stayed in his seat: 'Though they would have expected me to pay for it.'

It was an evening somewhere far beyond wonderful, and Rhiannon slept as they flew back down the coast. Andy and Matt finally got her back to Caltech at four, in the beautiful cool before the southern Californian dawn. She handed back the necklace, and kissed both of them.

'Goodbye, boys. You are the maddest and nicest men I have ever met. I'll never forget this night as long as I live. Here, sign my programme. I love you both. You'll get me to the airport on Saturday, Matt?' She waved as the limo hauled them off to their house.

'That really was fun, you mad little thing,' said Matt. It had all been arranged by Andy.

'It was fun, wasn't it? When you go grey, you'll look just like Richard Gere, I think.'

'Haven't got his nose and my chin's nicer.'

'Yeah, but you're just as short as he is.'

'This from you, dwarf.'

'I'll come with you on Saturday to pick her up and help with the bags; she's really nice, for a girl.'

The next weekend they both went to Santa Barbara. 'Matt. This is great.' Richard Peacher beamed at him.

'Hullo, sir. Hullo Ellie.' She presented a cheek, but her eyes were not friendly.

This time, Andy and Matt had the same bedroom in Andy's suite. In that respect it was just as in Northampton, although the room was a lot bigger, and had an outlook over the Pacific rather than a railway and recreation field.

At the poolside they lay out in the sun, but didn't join the kids. It was Peter's birthday. They had brought back a big range of European model warriors for him. It was Paul's idea. He had spent most of the dog years between his father's death and the age of sixteen reading, painting and gaming. He said it had been useful therapy and educational, and from what he had heard, Peter needed therapy badly. Since neither of them had any better ideas, they had bought a small crate full of them, with paints, manuals and brushes. Peter had seemed tempted to sneer at the gift, but his friends' obvious interest and curiosity had persuaded him otherwise. Andy even got a grudging thank you.

The twins came and sat next to them, intimidated by the bigger boys with their brother. Andy was persuaded to brush Harry's long hair, and Ed tried out magic tricks on Matt.

Harry asked Andy, 'Andy, what's a faggot?'

Andy's ears flared red, 'Why do you want to know, sweetheart?'

'Petey said you and Matt were faggots.'

Andy put down her brush, 'He wasn't being nice when he said it, was he?'

'No he wasn't. Ed and me were saying how you were much nicer to us than he was. And he said you were faggots and then he said he wouldn't play with faggots 'cos they were sickos.'

Andy meditated a moment, then said cautiously, 'The fact is, Harry, faggot's a rude word for someone like me and Matt, boys who live together. So don't use it.'

His sister hugged him, 'I told Petey to go play with the traffic.'

'And that wasn't nice either.'

Andy looked over at Matt, raised his eyebrows and shrugged. It was a small incident, but it told them how long a way they still had to go.

The bigger kids eventually disappeared off in a procession of SUVs to a paint ball range. The twins skipped off with their English nanny. Andy and Matt ordered iced tea on the patio.

'Stepmom's up to something.' said Andy.

'What makes you think so?'

'Just a feeling. She's been on to dad. I can hear the poison dripping somewhere.'

'That adds a certain spice to the weekend, then, doesn't it?'

The Sunday afternoon, Andy's father whisked him off to his study. Matt sat in one of the enormous lounges overlooking the city, and leafed idly through the glossy magazines. His and Andy's faces were evident in the celebrity sections. It was flattering to find himself getting the pop star treatment. One of them even called him 'British gay icon, Matt White.' They didn't seem to know much about him, though. Only one of them had any idea that he had a life as a historian and was in California on a student visa. Similarly Andy was assumed by all of them to be a US citizen: 'Santa Barbara boy-billionaire, Andrew Peacher, and his long-term partner, gorgeous Brit Matt White.' He decided to package them up and send them home to his mum and to Paul.

The difference from the press approach in Britain was considerable. Caution brought on by predatory lawyers, Matt guessed. Magazines and papers generally avoided the salacious, and made approaches for interviews only through the Peacher media office. Few had been given. Andy's problems and tragedies were known, but not often alluded to. The paparazzi did know where they lived, however, as they realised when a picture of them sunbathing together nude by the pool appeared in the lower class of supermarket tabloids. After that they were more careful, although Andy had framed the photo in his own study: 'But your little bum looks so cute, Matt.' Mrs Fuentas was clearly not amused, but said nothing.

It was quite a while before Andy reappeared from his father's study; Carlos already had the bags in the hall ready for the car.

'OK?'

'Yeah, yeah.' replied Andy, but he clearly wasn't.

In the car driving east Andy elaborated: 'She's been at dad alright. Or at least I think so. She's been really cunning this time, that's the problem. She's just insinuated what she knows already bothers me: the question of how I'm going to pass this life. Apart from a year of credits from the UK, I'm still at least two years away from a degree. I don't think dad means to badger me, but his work ethic won't let him leave it be. He can't stand the idea of anyone idle. At the moment I'm being let off the hook because I'm "not well". But sooner or later he'll decide I'm "better", then the nagging will start.'

'So that's not too bad. We saw it coming, and we can handle it.'

'Ah, yes. But the poison's in the wound. She knows it irks me too. But we won't let her get to me, huh?'

'We certainly shall not. We will devise a plan.'

Andy smiled and settled back in his seat, 'This I must hear. Go on. You're on a roll.'

'I haven't got one yet; I'm working on it. By the way, you don't think I'm getting sort of ... camp, do you.'

'Er, no. Why this revival of your old anxiety?'

'Apparently I'm a gay icon, which is alarming. I'm worried that I may be turning unconsciously into Quentin Crisp.'

'It's a different world now. They were our grandparents' generation. They lived in a subculture, and you're the historian, you know that subcultures invent languages and codes for their own protection. Things are different now, and those bloody straights keep on nicking all our best ideas anyway.'

'OK. Thanks. That's reassuring. I think.'

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