The Heart of Oskar Prinz

XVI

By Michael Arram

Terry O'Brien pulled Will into a taxi. The boy looked fixedly ahead as he was driven to Terry's hotel, and Terry booked him in. He joined him later with a bottle of whisky.

'It's as well I was following you, my babe, wasn't it? Give me the story, I need to know it all, and fast.'

Will looked dazed at him, then looked down at the glass in his hand. He gulped it down and coughed. He told what he knew, slowly and deliberately, watching the look of compassion growing on Terry's face. His head was pounding, and his eyesight was blurred; the flashing lights of an imminent major migraine began blocking his vision; he had already lost sensation on his left side and his speech was beginning to slur before he finished.

When he had finished, Will sat blankly. Terry stood up and paced the room. It was pointless asking Will what he wanted to do now. Will was in deep shock and looked very ill. He wrapped a blanket round the boy and poured him another drink. Will drank it mechanically. Eventually, as Terry expected, he slumped into unconsciousness, adrenalin shock and extreme stress had overwhelmed him. Terry left him and sat till very late in his own room, making phone calls and tapping his teeth, as he did whenever he was thinking deeply.

Will woke curled on top of his bed in the early morning, where Terry had put him when he returned to check on him. His head was beyond splitting, it had split; it felt like the mother of all migraines. But it couldn't be: last night's should have cleared by now. He lay in great pain. Terry came in just as he vomited catastrophically over the side of the bed. He took one look at him, checked his pulse and got an ambulance. Will was unconscious when the paramedics arrived.

Will came round late that night, to see Terry still there. He was hooked up to a drip and a monitor.

'What happened?' he croaked.

'Massive allergic reaction, babe. Something to do with serious steroid abuse combined with an unregulated adrenalin gland. You might have died if you'd been on your own, but the good people here stabilised you. Thank God you had an E111 with you, or I would have had to have paid.'

'The bastards at Falkefilm nearly got me then.'

'I don't think they were trying to kill you, but that's what they nearly did. Not the best of employers are they?'

'Oskar?'

'Gone. No sign of him or his little dog. I opened his apartment and got your stuff. A very co-operative concierge, happy to do anything you like for a thousand krona. Sort of reasonable human being I can deal with. Then I had a chat with a friend of mine in Peacher Corp Rothenia. He had a friend high in the Strelzen Police, and we all called on your friend Rudi, who is now cooling his heels in a very clean Rothenian prison cell until Hendrik's lawyers can get him out. The Rothenian authorities don't like illegal drugs.

I went to see the good Mr Wilemmin, your employer, this afternoon. An impressive sort of man, and very reasonable too in his way. To tell the truth, I rather liked him, the way you might like a handsome tiger, but wouldn't want to get in the same cage as he was. The thing about Wilemmin is that, like any tiger, he has a good nose, and can smell wealth and power. He smelled it on me. It helped. He wouldn't give up the tapes he had, although a friend of mine was willing to make it worth his while.'

'Has Matt that much money?'

'Matt has quite a lot, but nowhere near as much as this man.'

'Andy Peacher would have helped me?'

'He's a very special man, sweet babe. Awesome really. He cleared me for up to half a million dollars. Anyway, Wilemmin got all arty on me and said the tapes were sensational, and he'd be a fool not to produce the DVD. So I'm afraid you - or rather Jason Williams - are going to be famous. I've already booked my copy.'

'You may not be disappointed.'

Terry laughed. 'What I did do was get your cash from him, with a huge extra bonus, and his regrets that you won't be working with him again. The bonus was because I had the biggest and scariest local law firm serve papers on him this morning to sue his arse for what they did to you. They had fun with his contract. In fact it was more like a damage settlement than a bonus really. I don't suppose you'll grudge the big cut the lawyers took out of it.

Anyway, when we'd got over that social obstacle, Hendrik was an interesting man to talk to; turned out we had some common acquaintances. He said you are one of the greatest natural talents he has ever encountered. I think he meant it.'

'Can you get the money to Oskar?'

Terry looked surprised, 'Serious?'

'Yes serious, that and the money Matt gave me. It must all get to Oskar, it's important.'

'After what he did to you? Will, you're nuts. Oh well, thank God you called me when you did. I could smell disaster all over this affair, and I was not wrong. I shall make a point of delivering it to his Serene Highness, and I may even restrain myself from beating the crap out of him when I do it.'

'Don't mock him, Terry. He was doing what he thought was right, for his family's future, if not for mine. He kept on warning me all along about the way it was, I just didn't listen to him. I was high on Strelzen and romance. But this place is not safe for the likes of me. This is a place of noble ambition and passion, unrestrained lust and sudden violence. I belong to Berkshire and a cup of tea with the ten o'clock news before an early night.'

Terry gave a long, low laugh, 'Sweet babe, you are one of the best boys. If it wasn't for Ramon, I don't know what I would do. We fly out tomorrow afternoon, anyway. I've borrowed a plane and it's waiting at the airport.'

'Wow.'

Will was dressed and sitting on his hospital bed when Terry came for him the next afternoon. Terry looked at him, smiled and kissed him lingeringly. 'I found the boy where you said he was, at Terlenehem. He did not seem surprised to see me, and I gave him what you told me to. He accepted it, and thanked you.'

'Did he say anything else.'

'Not much beyond formalities, he stood throughout the meeting, as did his sister, a serious sort of babe ain't she?'

'But nice.'

'She told me to tell you something in Rothenian, but I couldn't remember it, and didn't like to write it down. I think it was meant kindly and she said that it involved a kiss on the forehead.'

'Then I know what it was.'

'Come on then me babe, it's time to leave the Land of Fairy Tale, if you get my rather complicated meaning. I'll take your bags.'

Will looked out of the windows as the familiar streets of Strelzen retreated past him, and the cathedral towers disappeared behind the car. So many memories, so much joy and so much pain. His eyes filled with tears, and they streamed down both cheeks. Terry left him alone; the insensitivity was only an act, as Will knew well. At the airport, aircrew in Peacher uniforms were already waiting to take their bags into a large Peacher Corp jet. Will was ushered through immigration like a VIP. The sleek new plane launched itself effortlessly into the air, and he played cards with Terry all the way to Heathrow, although his concentration was poor. A car was waiting and he was dropped outside a house in Highgate that he was ashamed to say that he recognised. Matt White was waiting on the doorstep, and took his bags. They said farewell to Terry, who kissed Will tenderly, like the good man he was, and headed back to the airport to pick up the Peacher jet again en route for Washington.

'Well, young William Vincent, what a summer eh?' said that beautiful man, and took him in his strong arms in the hall. Will sobbed unashamedly on his shoulder for a good twenty minutes, as Matt rocked him gently.

Will stayed with Matt in his handsome house on Highgate Hill for all of two weeks, the butt end of his summer. It seemed accepted and arranged that he would do it, although he couldn't remember how and when. So he occupied one of the guest bedrooms, put his feet up in the designer lounges and walked the well-tended walled garden on warm afternoons.

Matt's generosity was surprising. He gave up most of his time to Will, and Will was very grateful, although puzzled. He knew Matt must have better things to do. After two days he made some noises about getting back to Whithampsted.

'Do you want to?' Matt asked. 'Wouldn't you rather be out of things for a while, lost and anonymous in London?'

'Well, yeah Matt, but y'know it's very generous of you and I don't want to distract you from more important things in your life.'

'Who says you're not the most important thing for me at the moment?'

'That's flattering, but why? We've only known each other a month or so... leaving out the years of fantasising I did over your face and body.'

Matt smiled the smile, and Will nearly fainted again. 'Will,' he said. 'Let me tell you something about myself. It's this. I'm a sad, obsessional bastard.'

'... er, I think those words apply to me, really.'

'Hear me out. This is what I mean. I fell for my Andy in my second year of uni... as you probably know, since you seem to have acquired every bit of available information about me. We had two months of the most delicious and extraordinary love that ever could be, I've never felt so exalted, so alive as I did then. Never have since. Never will. And it ended.

It ended because he hid from me the most important thing about himself: who his father was. Happiness was then replaced with fear of discovery, and when the world and the tabloids did find out, something far worse than that followed: horrible libels, persecution and humiliation. Our happy little gay love affair was ripped open, exhibited, lied about and sneered at. And then the worst thing of all happened. Andy couldn't cope with it and... and he left me, he dumped me and walked away and betrayed me as completely as Oskar betrayed you.'

Matt's eyes teared up as he lived it again in his head. He paused and continued, 'What I felt then was a loss so complete and so horrible I never recovered from it. Oh, in the end we drifted back together. He got in trouble in the USA and I was able to go over and pull him back from the brink. We were a couple again, and a happy couple for most of the time: but I never lost the blackness of abandonment. It's taken me years to recapture the feeling of safety with the poor little guy. The supreme happiness of those first days of loving... that's never coming back, it's just a memory of a lost Eden, one that you can't recover in this world.

'What I'm saying is this. You can't compare Oskar and Andy, but you can compare what I felt then and you feel now. We were both betrayed in the middle of something wonderful and we both have been abandoned. I took the wrong way of dealing with it. I let the blackness get to me, I got obsessed about it, I blamed Andy and went under the waves of grief. I didn't let my friends help, though they tried, and it was only when I realised that, because of my own selfishness, I was in a fair way to abandoning another friend who needed me desperately, that I snapped out of it.

It doesn't need to be like that for you. So live here with me and talk about it. Get away from it for a while; get perspective, but most importantly, let your friends help you. I am your friend, Will, you poor silly sod.'

So for whatever reasons of sympathy and shared disaster, they did become close friends, and they talked as freely as close friends do. Lying on Matt's sofa, with Matt holding his head in his lap, playing with his hair and kissing it, they talked a lot about love and disappointment, and Matt told him some more stories that helped him. They walked the North London parks. They ate out sometimes, and Will got used to being stared at when he was with Matt, he even got snapped with his hero by a solitary paparazzo with nothing better to do. On good days, they talked also about their love of history and did some serious work on the Elphberg project, painful though Will found it to look at Oskar's handwriting.

Will kept faith with his lost love, and no word of the Rassendyll story ever escaped his lips, or ever would. He also remembered Marie at the Modnehem Gallery, and Matt duly sent a handsome donation towards the collections. Will wrote an affectionate letter in Rothenian to accompany it, and gave her his address if she wanted to reply. He often played Rothenian classical radio, which you could get over the internet, and it comforted his heart to hear again the beautiful language that he had grown so to love. He swore to keep it up somehow.

He woke up on his last day in Highgate to hear a flurry in the hall below. His door burst open and Terry bounced on to his bed.

'Thank God, babe, I knew Matt would do his magic on you: you look vaguely human. Oh. No clothes. But I love the six pack. Rudi might have been a bastard, but he's given you a physique to die for... oops, you almost did!'

'You've been taking those sensitivity lessons then, Terry?'

'And the sense of humour's back too. What more could we want?'

'What are you doing here?'

'Ah. The boss is here with me. Look! Shoulder holster. Real gun. S'OK, I have a permit for it. And worse, I've brought Jenna, ice maiden of sudden death. Come on, get up. We're having breakfast.' And he bounced out again, like Tigger.

Will showered slowly, reluctant to join a social group, but he couldn't drag it out for ever, and so he dressed and went down. They were all sitting in the big handsome kitchen. He recognised Andy Peacher at once, sitting at the kitchen table hand in hand with his Matt. He was smaller than he had expected. Andy got up and shook Will's hand, with almost the same smiling formality as a Rothenian. He was introduced to Mark, his PA, and Jenna, his driver and bodyguard; apparently they were a married couple, on their way to see her parents in Missenden.

Will didn't contribute much to the conversation, but they didn't expect him to. They were talking about friends he didn't know, and the impending new semester at John Adams College. It was suddenly borne in on Will, that the new term for him at Whithampsted Grammar would begin in only ten days.

In the end, he found himself alone with Andy, and he found himself wondering why. But he said what he had to say, thanking Andy for trying to help with Falkefilm, even though there was no need.

'It was worth a try, Will,' Andy replied in a marked American accent. 'If money could have done some good, you were welcome to it. The way dad's coining it at the moment, we may soon control the world economy anyway. Have you looked at Falkefilm.com? Jason Williams's model shots are on there, and I have to say they are something else... not that I printed them out of course. They're advertising the "American in Strelzen" DVD for September.'

Will's heart lurched. But he knew the possible consequences of what he had done when he had done it, and would take them when and if he had to. He told this to Andy, who nodded.

'I just want you to know,' he said, 'that if it goes pear-shaped, I can get you away from it all pretty damn quick, and I will do if you just ask. Ring Terry and he'll arrange it instantly.'

'Thanks, Mr Peacher.'

'Andy. Now I've got to go and look at a Youth Project in Hackney, and attend a reception at the Prince's Trust. I think Matt wants you to look in before you go.'

They said goodbye. Later that morning, Will had his bags packed and he looked in on Matt in his study. 'Did you ever tell Andy what pain he caused you?' he asked, because he knew there was nothing now that he could not ask Matt.

'He knows deep down, I think. But that's in the past now. He has grown up, and grown into a very loving man. He has no hard side left to him. He truly is a man cascading with warmth and affection, and I'm so very proud of him. The problem in the end was me not him. I grew tougher, if not harder. Eventually, after two years silent suffering I left him. But when I did that, I realised that I was just trying to get back at him in kind, and I was as wrong as he had been. And, praise be, it turned out that there was something unexpected and deeper in both of us beneath all the hurt and the suppressed anger. It was a different kind of love: something patient and calm, not exciting and not exalting, more of a foundation rock really. Nobody can get excited over foundations, but you try building things without them. And that's what we are doing now. We may have lost paradise, but we're building something more human and intimate, more fit for this world, in hopes of a world to come.'

'And what will become of me, Matt?'

'Nothing bad, unless you give into the blackness. But I don't think you will. You have your kids to teach, and they'll not let you moon around being tragic. And, when all's said and done, you know you don't hate Oskar. Oh... he was wrong, make no mistake about it. He used you... maybe not ruthlessly or without cost to himself, but he did use you. But there was something noble in him. He did what he did to help others he loved in what he saw as a great cause. When Andy betrayed me, it was because of his fear and pain. He betrayed me as a scared child would. Oskar at least betrayed you looking in your eyes. He stabbed you in the heart as a prince might for reasons of state, like King Henry the Lion and his would-be Bavarian assassin. So don't hate him for it. And also there is always this. You've loved well once, if not too wisely. You can love again.'

They embraced for a long time and kissed, and Matt made him promise to let him know if he could help in any way, and told him that the job offer would always be open. He told him also that he would miss him a lot; that he was to think of the house in Highgate as his own, and that they must meet regularly. And so Will's oldest daydream came true, although not in the way that he might have expected.

A taxi took Will to Paddington and the express got him to Didcot in less than an hour. He sat next to a Rothenian family and chatted fluently and happily all the way to Didcot with them. They were from near Modnehem. He shook their hands formally when he disembarked, they were utterly charmed. It was only two thirty when he was climbing the steps up to his flat.

Most of the plants had died, so he had to assume that Harry Baxter had forgotten his promise. The place smelled stuffy and so he threw open the windows. He leaned out the back window, looking across the narrow backstreet gardens to the church. He stayed there just breathing in the air of normality till the church clock struck three. His eye was caught by his DVD player and the discretely stacked gay porn. He shoved the boxes in a bag, and decided to dump them at the first opportunity. He was no longer the man he had been at the beginning of summer. He began work on the drifts of unread mail.

Weeks passed by. Term recommenced and the choir geared up again. It was as though his wild summer had never happened, but of course it had. Yet Matt White had helped him a lot, and he blessed the man for it: he had perspective again and the darkness did not overwhelm him.

Harry was very keen to see him and even keener to resume sexual relations, but Will was having none of it. He had chosen the love of his life, and although he had chosen disastrously, there could be no other, particularly someone like Harry. And Oskar still haunted his dreams and day dreams. He still had the attar Helge had given him. He opened it and sniffed it once. The reaction was so powerful that his eyes were flooded with tears and his brain with maddeningly vivid memories. He put it away.

So time healed him in its rough way, even though the scars were still there. The demands of schoolteaching were as ever enormous, and allowed no self-indulgence. Will was soon submerged in his routine of preparation and marking, and the old delights of the job had not left him. He found that the most helpful of all. He sang next to Harry in the choir on Thursdays and Sundays, and they remained apparently cheerful with each other. So the crash of his world at the end of November was all the more shocking.

As ever he came into school early, but found the head waiting for him. 'Will, can you give me a moment?'

'Sure.' They sat in his study.

The head passed him a printout. 'I found this pinned to the Year 10 noticeboard when I came in this morning.' It was the picture of a smiling and provocative Will from the publicity set, naked and erect, his legs crossed, leaning back on his arms. 'It says it is an American called Jason Williams, but it is you isn't it?'

Will was sombre but ready for this moment. 'It is.'

'I've just checked the site, it's East European porn, and you are all over it. I take it you are gay?'

'I am.'

'I don't like to ask these questions, as being gay is neither here nor there. But being a porn actor is.'

'I understand. The parents will be in arms if and when it gets out. And it looks like some pervy Year 10 boy is determined that it will get out. I'll clear my desk. My resignation will be with you by tomorrow.'

'Why did you do it, Will? Was it for the money?'

Will smiled sadly and shook his head, 'No sir, it was for love. I'll be off now. I have to find a new life.'

The head took his hand kindly and held it. 'I'm so sorry Will, you were the best young teacher to come to this school in years. We'll all miss you. I do wish you well and there will be no trouble about references, even if you want to carry on teaching some time.'

Will started packing up his flat, and gave the landlord the month's notice required. He sat and thought of what to do next. There was not much choice really, and it was not a hard one when it came down to it. He rang Matt White's PA and asked for an interview. Matt was out of the country, he was told, but he had left instructions that Will was to be referred to the Marlowe Productions office in Camden, if he took up the offer, and the house in Highgate was his.

So, on an early December morning, Will shook the dust of Berkshire from his feet and followed his worldly goods up to London, where Dave Evans, the PA, had said that Matt was happy for him to stay at the Highgate house again for as long as he liked till he got sorted, or for good if he preferred. It was a big and empty house, but Dave was in an office in a converted garage out the back, and was quietly kind and helpful.

They regularly had coffee together in the kitchen, and Dave amused Will very much with his gossip about the Peacher circles in which he moved. Dave, it seemed, had been in the same year and department as Matt and Andy, and had seen the great romance unroll and then unravel in front of his eyes. Dave filled in a lot of details for him about Matt as a student.

'He was so... so beautiful as a boy, you wouldn't believe it,' Dave said in his soft southern Welsh accent. 'Hang on, I've got some pictures.' He reappeared with amateur snaps of himself, Matt and their circle of friends. One of them was truly sensational. Somehow the essence of the young Matt had been caught as he turned towards the camera. It captured an nineteen-year-old boy of deep lovability and heart-breaking vulnerability, as well as a beauty far beyond the ordinary. 'I'm so proud of that one. That was just after he and Andy got together. You can see why I was so jealous of Andy Peacher. God, that boy Matt had it all. The whole world loved him. But he changed.'

'How did he change?'

'It was the breakup. He became moody and withdrawn, and never got back to the innocence he once had. So even though most people would now say his beauty has matured and grown, and it's maintained and polished by trainers and consultants, still, they never saw him the way he was when he was eighteen. But I did. It breaks your heart.'

Will had a telephone chat with Matt, and the first Monday after his arrival he turned up for his new work as a production assistant, on twice the salary he had enjoyed as a teacher. The Marlowe offices were near the Sainsbury's in Camden in three houses in a shabby nineteenth-century terrace. The office was already busy and he knocked on the door marked 'Producer'. A good-looking older woman looked up at him with a tight smile.

'You must be Will. Matt's told me about you. To be honest I'm glad you're here, the Elphberg project's suddenly become a nightmare. We had a translator but she's gone back home for Christmas with no promise she'll be back, and Matt says you're fluent.'

'I get by.'

'It's a lifesaver for us, however good you are. I've put you in the office with Melanie, you'll work with her on the Elphbergs and the Grimaldis. She'll take you through the files. Staff meeting at three this afternoon.'

'Cheers.' Will wandered off to find Melanie, who turned out to be a recent Oxford graduate in what seemed to be a semi-permanent tizzy. His assigned desk was shabby and stacked with her files. She helped him move them on to the floor, and he set up his laptop. A phone and modem turned up later and were jacked in.

Will spent the day getting his bearings. Media types seemed to work in a state of chaos and panic, laced with hopeless optimism. He was bemused, because order and organisation were what he preferred. The staff meeting was at least revealing of the plan behind the chaos. There were three teams, all working on two projects, one of which was further advanced than the other. The pressure was on him and Melanie to be first to present a draft screenplay and script, because the Elphbergs were to be the first episode. Since neither of them was experienced, the producer was taking a close supervisory role.

Will took to the job, although it took a while for him to get used to a work day that was not divided up into 45 minute chunks, punctuated by bells. He imposed his sense of order on Melanie and their joint environment. He was soon popular around the office, even more so than he had been at his school. He had changed, though he did not know it. The tragedy had made him softer, more patient and sympathetic. His uncertainty had been burned away now too, he knew exactly what he was, and was his own man at last. People warmed to his combination of good looks, level gaze and half-sensed sadness. He stopped hiding from a world which was getting increasingly keen on him. The change became a bit clearer to him over the holiday season.

At Christmas he boarded the train for Plymouth and his parents. He was not looking forward to it. His father and he had a long history of mutual coldness, and his holiday visits had tended to be short since he had left home.

His sister met him at the station in his mother's car. 'Will! Wow! You've been working out, man, and what have you done to yourself? You're like... a god!' He smiled and kissed her. She had grown up. He heard all about the recent boyfriends and the progress of her studies in Electronic Engineering.

He entered the house and to his own surprise took and shook his startled father's hand. 'How are you, sir?' he said coolly and confidently, and his father was even more astonished. Rothenian formality had made deep inroads into Will's soul. After that, his father was cautious about this new, polite and deferential but still assertive Will, keen to talk and be talked to. Also he was plainly glad that Will had given up teaching, so much so that he never asked why he had done it. His mother glowed at him. He stayed the whole week. He wished his sister would have blessed him when he left and kissed his forehead, but such things did not happen in England.

Matt returned to London in the new year and was seen round the office a lot. Will took care to claim no special friendship with him, and he could tell that Matt approved of his cheerful presence in the office. In the first week of January, he had moved out of Highgate into a small flat that Dave Evans had found him in Kentish Town, expensive but quite near the tube. He and Dave, and sometimes Dave's partner Steve, when he was not on shifts, began drinking on quiet evenings in the gay pubs of North London. Matt never did, for obvious reasons. But it was not long before Will also found a reason not to.

They were in a pub near Camden Lock rather later than usual one night. It was live music night and very busy. Steve and him were enjoying a pint and a good laugh in a corner, when Steve looked startled. Three grinning and drunken teenage boys had settled on the other side of the table. The cheekiest of them, an Asian lad, said to Will, 'Hey mate! We think you're fit, we do. We think you're that Jason Williams, innya!'

'You what?'

One of them said, 'Nah! He's English. Listen to 'im.'

The first looked unconvinced, 'Look at 'im. Iss 'im all right. I got the DVD. Iss fuckin' fantastic mate, even on a pirate copy. You can 'ave my arse anytime you want. Hey! Can you get me into porno? I reckon I'd be great.'

'Nah,' said another, 'Iss foreign where they make 'em. Innit mate. Russia or somewhere like that.'

Steve, a vast and intimidating man, leaned across the table, 'Why don't you baby queers just fuck off, so I can finish my drink.'

The mouthiest of them seemed to fancy his chances of facing down Steve, but his friends took one look at him, and dragged their mate away. But they stayed within eyeshot, making comments and staring.

'OK,' said Steve, 'are you going to tell me what that was all about? It suddenly occurs to me that half the bar is looking at you, Will.'

Will blushed. There were indeed a few sidelong glances from others in the pub too. He sighed. So this was what it was like being Oskar in Club Liberation in summer, only here in London it would be all year round. 'Er, well, Steve... have you ever heard of Falkefilm?'

The explanation took a good half pint to make, and when he had finished, Steve whistled. 'So you're a famous gay porn star. Funny, you look such an innocent guy. Well... it's a pleasure to meet you Mr Williams.' As he laughed, Steve mentally made a note to check the web tomorrow.

So Steve, Dave and Will started drinking in straight pubs, where they got mercifully no attention. Although Steve said with a smile that he had enjoyed the notoriety of drinking with the famous Jason Williams.

It was less straightforward in the gym. Will had achieved his physique at an appalling personal cost, and he decided that it would be idiotic to let it go, so he exercised, toned up and consulted respectable trainers. He got the eye sometimes, though, in that peculiarly British way where people both looked and didn't look at you at one and the same time. Once a cheery and genuine-looking younger man on a running machine tipped him a wink and called out, 'Hey, Jason!'

'Hey back you!' Will said, in his Bostonian drawl. They grinned conspiratorially at each other. They even had a chat over an isotonic drink later, and Will checked him out. Well why not? He thought it might be a distraction and there was no one for him to be faithful to any more. He began coming on to the guy, whose name was Tony, he said. Will was astonished to find that he could come on to a man, and at what an exotic flirt he had become. Tony was desperately interested and invited him back to his flat, only a few streets away.

Will found himself in the unusual position so far in his life of making all the running. Tony was clearly extremely nervous, although he seemed to be not just out, but experienced. He had all the right equipment. OK then, thought Will, let's be the hot porn star here. He pulled Tony to his feet, locked lips and began undressing him slowly, using all the little tricks Oskar and Felip had taught him. He had got them naked and had just begun serious work on Tony's straining dick when he caught a faceful of premature ejaculation.

'Oh God! I'm so sorry, Jason! Oh, I didn't want it to be like this.'

Will smiled up at him through the face trail. 'Just lick it up, Tony. It happens. I'll take it as a compliment.'

Tony looked at him earnestly, 'God, you're just too hot. It's like living a total fantasy. No one is going to believe I was in bed with you, no one.'

Will suddenly remembered his first night with Oskar, 'At least you didn't faint, Tony. But I'm a real person, believe it or not. Forget the fantasy. Now let's get into some mouth action, we'll have you up and ready again in no time at all. ' Will found himself having to take Tony in a number of positions, and didn't get the penetration he so liked, but the evening was still an important milestone for him. His sex life was not over, even if it had taught him that men from now on were going to have unreasonable expectations of him. He found himself answering the same questions from Tony as they lay in bed that he had asked Oskar. He didn't stay the night. He never told him his real name and although he took his mobile number he didn't continue the relationship. He hoped he wasn't getting like Harry.

There were odd times like that when being Jason Williams didn't bother him much. But he made no attempt to buy the DVD or check on the web about the state of his celebrity. But sometimes it was forced on him. He bought Gay Universe, and Falkefilm took ads in it. For months he could not avoid the ad for 'An American in Strelzen' with a cover picture of Oskar and him naked and grinning at the camera. There were some highly coloured reviews down the sides. The next month too he found Jason Williams had been elected 'Most Promising Newcomer' in a porn magazine called BoyMan. One of his audition shots was made into the magazine's front cover. He wondered wistfully and stupidly if there was any money involved. His modelling set was all over the next Gay Universe. This was fame, of a sort.

Money or not, there was definitely fame. He found himself walking Old Compton Street on another Saturday afternoon in February. Now he was a Londoner, and he had an Oyster Card to prove it. He did not walk sheepishly past the gay bar this time, but strode directly into it. He perched at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic, catching the double take of the barman with a smile. There were sidelong glances everywhere he looked, whether because he was recognised or because he was just confident and hot, he couldn't tell. He suddenly realised that, had he been a different man, he could have screwed half the men in this place without too much effort. The drink arrived and he gave the barman the change, 'Cheers, Jason,' he said with a conspiratorial grin.

Will turned round and rejoiced perversely in the attention, Jason Williams was at home here. One table of young men, who must obviously have a good collection of wanking material between them, was particularly gobsmacked, and, as often is the way in London, Will recognised one of them. He got up, smiled sunnily down at the group and asked if he could join them. They smiled, shuffled and mumbled, and he took a chair. They may have been worried as to what he was after: and perhaps they should be, said Dangerous Jason in Will's head.

They were first-year students from Imperial College, as it turned out. The boldest of them said, 'We thought you were American, Jason.'

'I'll take that as a compliment to my acting abilities, but no, I'm from the West Country.'

'What took you to Rothenia?' another asked.

'A holiday, originally, and then I just couldn't get away.'

'So are you and any of those other guys you have it off with boyfriends.'

'No. I'm unattached. There was a guy...'

'Yeah, that Marc Bennett, it was pretty obvious, though Max Wolf seemed dead keen on you too. Did Marc cheat on you or something? Sorry, you don't have to answer that. I was being nosy.' These were nice boys, and Will suddenly liked them a lot.

Will said, 'It just didn't work out, but it was the best while it was happening.'

'We could tell. Are you going to do any more films?'

'Nope, I've had enough of fame. I'm keeping my head down in London for the time being. It's a good place just to disappear.'

They talked about being gay students and coming out. Two of the boys were only gay in London. He sympathised. After half an hour or so he finished his drink and said goodbye, but he caught the eye of the quietest of them, winked and indicated with a slight nod. He had only been outside a few moments when he was joined by the boy, very attractive and coy, as complete a turn-on as when Will had last seen him.

He smiled with a mixture of shyness and impishness, 'Hello sir.'

'Robert Franks. So you came out in London.'

'Sir.'

'Just call me Will. You don't even have to call me Jason.'

The Whithampsted boy laughed, 'It doesn't seem right... Will. I couldn't believe it when I saw you in that DVD that the lads bought. But then my mates still in the sixth said you'd been forced to resign 'cos of you being caught out doing gay porn films, so there was no doubt after that. It's weird seeing one of your teachers being so incredibly hot and sexual, almost like watching your dad doing it'

'Totally gross, Robert. I'm only four years older than you.'

'I'm Robby now.'

'Nice. Does Robby have a boyfriend?'

'Well sorta, but not really. I went boldly to GaySoc as soon as I arrived, and this second year guy picked me up. He was nice to me, but he was high on being my gay mentor. He wanted to mould me and educate me. I just wanted a good fucking.'

'Robby! What would they say at St Mary's?'

'That was what I was escaping, Will. Did you ever find out who had informed on you?'

'No. Not that it mattered. It was a disaster just waiting to happen.'

'It was Simon Baxter. He was suspended for it, and now everyone thinks he's gay, but he isn't, take it from me.'

'Simon Baxter! What, Rupert Baxter's son, the nephew of Harry Baxter, the solicitor?'

'That's him.'

'Jesus wept,' Will said, 'then it does matter.' It did. There could be no doubt then that Harry Baxter had not been as cool about Rothenia and losing Will as he had pretended. Maybe also he was envious at Will's seedy triumphs in Strelzen, from which he had been excluded. He must have found out all about "An American in Zelden", being such a devotee of hardcore porn, and it would have been quite in character for Harry to get peeved at him and decide to take a petty revenge using his own nephew as his dupe. But in the light of what Harry had known about Will's devotion to his career, the revenge had been anything but petty really. It was truly vicious. Will felt both chilled and appalled at that sort of callousness, too appalled even to be angry. Never mind what Andy had done to Matt, or Oskar to him, what Harry had done was the real depth of betrayal, mean and deliberate with no morality behind it.

He and Robby found a Starbucks and he spent a while filling in him in detail on what had happened. The kid was shocked and really sweet, he was almost on the verge of tears as Will sketched in for him the consequences of his big mistake. They talked and talked, and Will felt a real connection beginning. They moved on to a pub near Seven Dials, and, well before ten, Will knew how it was going to end. They took the Northern Line to Kentish Town and fell into his flat trying to suck each other's tongue out by its root. They began undressing in his living room.

'This is so totally cool, Will. I'm going to have Jason Williams's cock up my arse.'

'Actually, I'd just as much have Robby Franks's cock up mine.'

Robby dropped his pants and looked comically down at himself, 'It's not so big, and you're used to such well-equipped guys; that Max Wolf, mmm! What's he like really?'

'Do you know, it's odd you should ask. I didn't get to know him that well...'

'... apart from his fucking the crap out of you.'

'Well, there was that, it's true. But he was an odd bloke. I thought he hated me when we first met, but then he did some really quite sweet things. He even tried to help me I think.'

'Did he love you?'

Will thought about it, 'No. I think he loved Marc Bennett. Who knows? Anyway, now that we're both naked, and now we've got the necessary, and I see that you have a penis of some sort there, let's get busy.'

It was a really enjoyable night with an eager and pretty, if inexperienced, boy. They took turns and Will was delighted to wake up next morning with a skinny boy, naked with tousled hair, in his kitchen making himself breakfast and singing Coldplay songs. They never left the bed all that Sunday and ended up spinning a coin as to who went on top. They met up for sex several times throughout February, and it was always good. For a while it seemed as though Will might have found a regular partner, if not love, but somehow, neither of them wanted to take that step, and the affair petered out at the end of the month. Will didn't resent it, Robby was out to learn about life in a better and more courageous way than he had chosen to do, and he wished him well.

He had Matt and the others to talk things over with, and that helped. Matt was often in the States with his Andy, but when he was back in London he had a select and small social circle, into which Will was drafted because, unlike Dave and Steve, he was interested in music and art. It included close women friends, which should not have surprised Will as much as it did. So one night he found himself at a Covent Garden first night in evening dress with Matt, Rhiannon and Katy.

It was like being out on a conventional date, as Matt naturally gravitated to the smaller Katy, his cousin and a high flying criminal barrister, while Will, being six foot tall, matched nicely with the svelt and taller Rhiannon, a young university lecturer.

'Yikes!' Will exclaimed, as a volley of cameras went off in his face.

'That's the trouble with Matt and premieres,' said Rhiannon with resignation, 'the paps. You get used to the reflected glory. The trouble is that when you get in the supplements and celeb mags people see it and make unwarranted assumptions. My students are impressed, even though my husband's a bit quirky about it. But as long as I'm only on the town with gays he can't complain.'

A breathless phone call the next week from Will's mother confirmed this. Who was that very beautiful woman she saw him with in Hello magazine? Why didn't he tell her he was seeing someone? What didn't he mention he had famous friends, even if they were homosexuals?

Will pondered telling her the truth at that point, but decided it could wait a month or two. He wondered if she might like to know about his own modelling career, but sternly suppressed the thought.

As it was, Gay Universe ran a few pictures of him and Matt under a half column gossip feature: 'Is it the end for Andy and Matt?' There was a rebuttal from Matt's office saying that the mysterious date was no more than Matt's work colleague and friend, Mr William Vincent. Fortunately nobody connected Will with Jason Williams, or things could have got very hairy.

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